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Making Easter Calabrian Cuzzupe with Zia Vincenzina

There’s nothing quite like absorbing family history while also learning to make the age-old recipe for Easter cuzzupe with Zia Vincenzina… Read on...


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Recipe: When Life Gives You Mandarins, Make Mandarin Jam

Making this easy mandarin jam recipe is not only a great way to use up a bunch of mandarin oranges, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to slow down and reflect on what is truly important in life.

Read on...

Homemade apple butter

Face Your Fears with Homemade Apple Butter

Homemade apple butter

Homemade apple butter

I had a love-hate relationship with the basement of my childhood home. I hated that the cellar was always cool, dark, and creepy no matter how many lights I’d turn on. The whole space freaked me out, especially the old coal bin, but nothing made my heart beat faster than those first few steps from the top when the staircase became open underneath.

Goodness only knew what was waiting for me under there.

As it turned out, nothing ever was, but of course I knew what was sitting just behind there up against the wall: shelves and shelves of deliciousness. That’s where my grandmother kept the jarred tomatoes, peaches, “chow chow” (Pennsylvania Dutch-style pickled vegetables), various fruit jams, and so much more.

Enter love — and the requisite motivation to conquer my fear of the cellar.

I wish I could say it got easier after the first time I descended only to find nothing threatening or scurrying about. Nope.

Fears aren’t very formidable opponents if they go away that easily.

It took a while. Years probably. Even writing about it now, I’m right back there, that little girl staring into darkness, heart beating wildly, taking deep breaths as I prepare to run as fast as I can down there, get whatever I was sent for, and run back upstairs. I can proudly say, though, there was never a time I flat out refused to make the trip. Not once. Of course my family never gave me the option of doing so either.

Sometimes you just have to fake the courage and play through the fear.

And sometimes fears don’t get conquered at all. Sure if you’re lucky like me, eventually something gives, and you can walk at a leisurely pace up and down the cellar stairs without an anxious wave sweeping over your body. Calmness and peace isn’t always possible, but the good news is that if you’ve played through the fear, the end result is pretty much the same — you’ll have accomplished what you set out to do, and you should be proud.

*

Apple butter cooking on the stove

Apple butter cooking on the stove

I had forgotten all about those creepy stairs until I got to thinking about canning and jarring here. As many of you have witnessed, over the past several years I’ve been moving toward making just about everything from scratch. Canning and jarring, though, still hasn’t been on my radar despite having grown up with it.

Could it have been the subconscious scary cellar connotation that was holding me back? Quite possibly, yes, along with a healthy fear of botulism, but whatever the reason, I recently decided it was high time for me to break out the jars and get moving — to play through.

Fake it till you make it.

And I’m in the perfect setting for it. Here in rural southern Italy, seasonal eating and preserving is a way of life for many as we simply can’t find most fruits and vegetables out of season — and believe me, I’m not complaining. Strawberries are an anxiously anticipated treat and the flavors of everything are at their best when we have them. So it makes sense to stock up on your favorites when they’re around and preserve them as best you can for months when you won’t find them fresh. Besides that, preserves are always a great snack slathered on some fresh bread, and they make thoughtful gifts as well.

Best of all, the canning and jarring process simply warms the soul.

If you haven’t done it, you probably think I’m crazy, but if you regularly make preserves, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Allow yourself to really be present during the process, fake that confidence if you must, but be mindful and appreciate each step on the way to the finished product. For me, every stir of the preserves pulls me that much closer to the generations that have come before me. There’s something fundamentally comforting about carrying out an age-old process while I let my iPod Touch lie silent in the other room and the only sounds I hear are the spitting and bubbling of the preserves and our rooster Jimmy crowing in the distance. Seriously, it’s like he does these things on cue.

*

Face Your Fears with Homemade Apple Butter  on Punk DomesticsApple butter, for those who don’t know, is a Pennsylvania Dutch creation, a spiced apple spread; there is no butter involved unless you spread that on your bread before putting on the apple butter (yum!). Not surprisingly, apple butter isn’t on grocery shelves in Calabria and good homemade apple butter may not be easy for you to find either, but the ingredients aren’t difficult to locate for most of us. So with a desire for a taste from home, I knew I had the perfect Sunday morning project for me when I revisited Mary’s recipe for apple butter (anche in italiano) at The Flavors of Abruzzo.

Although making apple butter is time-consuming because of the stirring on the stove, it’s actually not difficult at all — the apples are handled within a few minutes at the beginning (no peeling or coring), and you can adjust the sugar, salt, and spices along the way, so it’s hard to mess up the flavor as well. I’ve seen recipes that call for specific kinds of apples, but I took Mary’s advice and just used a mix of whatever was at the market that week — worked a charm. Also, you can easily cut in half or double, triple this recipe depending on your needs.

May this apple butter remind us that facing a heart-thumping fear can indeed lead to sweet, sweet reward — figuratively, of course, but also quite literally if your grandmother happens to store all the good food in the dark, creepy basement.

*

Homemade Apple Butter

(Adapted from Mary’s recipe at The Flavors of Abruzzo)

Homemade apple butter

  • 4 lbs apples
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • Sugar (measurements below)
  • Salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

*NOTE: I got about four pint-sized (average marmalade-sized) jars of apple butter and one small jar of applesauce out of this recipe, but I believe I used slightly more apples than the recipe called for.

Apples through the food mill

Apples through the food mill

1. Wash apples, cut out any damaged parts, and cut into quarters. Leave the skins and cores as you want the flavors from those, and they’ll take care of themselves later.

2. Put apples in a pot and cover with vinegar and water. Bring them to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until they are soft enough to be put through a food mill. To test this, take out a piece, put it on a plate, and mash with a fork. If that happens easily, they are ready, but if there is resistance, let them cook some more.

3. Remove apples from pot with slotted spoon and put in food mill for processing. My technique is to have an empty bowl on the side for the apple remnants from the top of the food mill once it starts to gets messy and crowded up there; save those remnants because you can run them through a few more times and get lots more puree out of them. If you enjoy homemade applesauce, congratulations! You’ve just made some.

Once you’ve churned the apples down as much as you possibly can, you should end up with very little waste — and if you happen to have chickens, well they’re in for a treat that day.

The jar on the right was gone by the next evening.

The jar on the right was gone by the next evening.

4. Add 1/4 cup of sugar for each cup of puree (50 grams of sugar for each 300 grams of puree). Stir through and then a pinch of salt and add spices. I say cloves are optional above because I’m personally not a huge fan of cloves, but do feel free to play around with measurements and spices.

5. Taste and adjust.

6. Put puree in a wide, thick-bottomed pot (you don’t want this to burn, so the thicker the better) and simmer on low heat, stirring constantly. This takes between one and two hours, so do set aside the proper time.

7.  To test if the apple butter is done, put a spoonful on a cold plate. You want the apple butter to remain solid with no liquid seeping out.

8. Put apple butter in sterilized jars, top with sterilized lids, and boil for 10 minutes. Once they’re done, turn off heat, take off lid, and just let the jars in there until they’re cooled off.

For a fuller explanation, see Canning Basics for Preserving Food. And for lots more canning, jarring, and other ideas for at-home preparations of food, be sure to check out the community at Punk Domestics.

Buon appetito!


Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Green Beans, Pancetta, and Potatoes

What's Cooking WednesdayThis week’s What’s Cooking Wednesday recipe screams summer because of the gorgeous fresh fagiolini (green beans) that star in the dish; a more hearty version of this basic combo can be found at my recipe for Pork, Green Beans, and Potatoes in Tomato Sauce.

Now, before we get started, if you think you don’t like green beans, please find some fresh ones. Trust me, they have nothing to do with canned green beans (to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of those either). As with any beans, they take a little prep work (washing, snapping off the ends, and blanching), but they are *so* worth it.

We didn’t grow our own fagiolini this year, but we will definitely give it a go next year. The beans used in this recipe, of course, are locally grown though. And if you’re curious as to what *is* going on in our garden, check out our:

Lettuce/lattuga:

Our first lettuce on Flickr

Onions/cipolle:

Our first onions on Flickr

The cucumbers and tomatoes are ripening as I type! Yay!

OK, the recipe. Traditionally instead of the pancetta, the Badolatese would use “carne salata,” spicy, salty lard particular to here; (luckily) we didn’t have any, so we substituted pancetta, and it worked great. You can use cubed ham if you’re short on pancetta.

Green Beans, Pancetta, and Potatoes
Fagiolini con pancetta e patate

Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta on Flickr

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Half kilo (about a pound) of fresh green beans
  • One medium onion, diced
  • 100 grams (about 1/4 pound) of pancetta, cubed
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks or cubed (your choice)
  • Salt to taste

1. Wash beans and snap (or snip) off ends.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil, then drop in beans for about 3-5 minutes until they are bright green but still rather al dente. Many say to then drop them into a waiting bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process, but I never do–they’re always fine, and I save myself another dish to wash. You just have to get used to when to take them out, that’s all.

3. Put about five tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and heat over medium. When the oil is hot, add the onions and let saute for a couple of minutes.

4. Add pancetta to pan, again letting it saute for a couple minutes, then add potatoes and mix together.

5. The potatoes will take the longest to cook, of course, so let this mixture cook for about 15-25 minutes–depends on how large your potato chunks are.

6. Add the green beans and some salt and mix everything together. Let cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring and adding water if it gets a bit dry. The dish is ready when the potatoes and beans are cooked to your satisfaction. Be sure to adjust for salt.

7. Serve hot with bread–or eat leftover cold the next day as a salad. YUM!

Buon appetito!


Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins

What’s Cooking Wednesday: Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins

Home of What's Cooking WednesdayOne of the American magazines my mom so generally sends me from time to time is All You. Have you heard of it?

I *love* this magazine. The writing is casual and comfortable, and it includes many ideas that I’m actually likely to use–not just things that although I find interesting would never attempt.

One of those fabulous ideas was an easy recipe for Apple-Cinnamon Cupcakes in the December 26, 2008 issue, and this week’s What’s Cooking Wednesday recipe is my adaptation.

Aside from making delicious muffins, this recipe doesn’t make very much–so it’s great for those of us who will have to eat most if not all of the muffins ourselves.

I added oatmeal to make them a bit more muffiny as opposed to cupcakey and also to add more nutritional value, although as they were, these were actually respectable as far as sweets go (nutritional information is listed in article on page 114). These came out extremely moist and quite dense–just the way I love baked apple cakes, er, muffins.

Plus I figure with the oatmeal, these are now totally OK for breakfast, right?

Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
(makes 5-6 muffins)

Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins

For muffins:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple
  • Juice of half a small lemon
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal

For icing:

  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients for muffins.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, milk, oil, and vanilla, and stir into dry ingredients until just combined.

4. Peel and grate apple into fine mesh sieve over the sink, being careful to stop before hitting the core. Squeeze in lemon juice and mix to distribute among apple.

5. Stir apple and oatmeal into muffin mixture.

6. Grease muffin pan and fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake until golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (about 20 minutes).

7. Let muffins cool for five minutes then remove and place on wire rack.

8. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice, and then drizzle over muffins.

Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins

Buon appetito!

P.S. Remember today is Pesce d’Aprile in Italy!

For more fun, check out April Fool’s Backfires!


Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time.

 
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Recipes

 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
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