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Multicultural Inspiration from... Italy
Multicultural Inspiration from... Italy
It is a rare day that my mother and I share a kitchen. We are polar opposites, but both very strong, typically stubborn, Italian women. We also both love cooking, but often have very different ideas on what works well in the kitchen. I learnt almost all I know about cooking from my mum, her mum, and my dad's mum. The women of my family are all incredibly talented cooks, and I feel blessed to have been able to learn from the best! Where we differ, however, is that mum is very traditional in her approach to cooking, especially proper Italian dishes, whereas I like to experiment a little and try lots of different things in the kitchen. So, when I randomly decided it was time for me to learn to make some traditional Italian desserts, mum was the first person I called to help me out and teach me a few tricks (because she knows them all!).
The first thing we made are Brutti Ma Buoni biscuits. These are favourites of mine that mum usually makes at Christmas time, and for other big family gatherings. Brutti ma buoni translates to English as "ugly but good," which they are. They're not the prettiest sweet, but they are certainly delicious! They are a crunchy, meringue type of biscuit, and mum's version is chocked full of hazelnuts and chocolate (yum yum yum!). Here's how we made them...
First up, turn the oven on to about 180°C and line a cookie tray with baking paper. Next, get out the food processor and throw in 80g of toasted hazelnuts and 100g of roughly chopped dark chocolate. Process them in quick 2 second pulses until they're roughly chopped up and well combined, and set them aside.
Next, put 2 egg whites and half a cup of caster sugar into the bowl of your Kitchen Aid, Mix Master, or just a bowl that you can use an electric hand mixer with. Whisk the whites until they are white, stiff, thick and fluffy.
Throw in the nuts and chocolate mix, and gently fold in.
Using one tablespoon, take a spoon full of mixture out of the bowl. With a second tablespoon, push the mixture off, and gently onto the baking tray:
Now, here's the easiest part - into the oven they go, let them bake for 5 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave them in there! If you can leave them in overnight, that's the best case way to go, otherwise leave them in for a good 5 hours or so. If you're like me, you might also enjoy them soft and gooey and fresh out of the oven after the 5 minutes and another 10 minutes rest. Damn good.
They come out like little meringue biscuits, crunchy shelled, and with lots of chocolate and hazelnuts packed in. LOVE them!
Next up, mum decides it's about time I learnt to make tiramisu (meaning, "pick me up"). I have a confession to make; I'm a terrible Italian. I don't really like tiramisu. Because I hate coffee. Yup. Worst Italian ever... sorry mum and dad!!! But, just because I'm not such a fan of it doesn't mean I shouldn't know how to put this iconic Italian dessert together - and hey, I might eventually grow to love it! My favourite part of cooking with mum is going through her dozens, possibly hundreds (no joke) of cook books. A lot of which are hand written. Somehow, mum quickly locates the exact book and page where we can find her tiramisu recipe. This is a very traditional Italian dessert and makes an appearance at almost every single one of our family celebrations.
We grab out the ingredients - all very Italian: mascarpone, coffee, and UNIBIC sponge finger biscuits! What you'll actually need is:
- 250g mascarpone cheese
- 200ml thickened cream
- 3 eggs, seperated
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- 3/4 cup Marsala
- 1/3 cup of strong black coffee
- 1 x 250g pack of sponge finger biscuits
First, beat the mascarpone and sugar in Kitchen Aid (or other device) (and yes, mum is very, very much in love with the Kitchen Aid!).
Then, add in the egg yolks, and beat them in.
In another bowl, beat the cream for a few minutes, until thick...
In yet another bowl, put in the egg whites and 1 tbsp of sugar, beating until thick and fluffy. I'd just like to point out that at this point, the kitchen has turned into a screaming arena, as I need to remind mum constantly (read: every 45 seconds) to slow down, as I'm writing everything down and taking photos. Unfortunately, she works at 10000 miles an hour, and somehow keeps forgetting about me. Anyway, once the egg whites and sugar are all fluffy and thick, put them into the mascarpone mixture, and fold them in gently.
Now, add the cream into the mixture, and again, fold it in very gently.
Ok, leave that mixture for a moment, and grab out your coffee, Marsala and biscuits next. Marsala is an Italian wine, produced in Sicily.
Combine the coffee and Marsala in a bowl, and grab out a big (sorry, not sure of the exact measurements!) dish. Dip the biscuits 2 or 3 at a time in the mixture, and let them soak it all up.
Very gently squeeze out the excess liquid from the biscuits...
... and lay them down in the dish, side by side and tightly packed.
Spread a layer of the creamy mixture over the biscuits, completely covering them.
Add on the next layer of biscuits...
... and another creamy layer.
Half way through making the tiramisu, mum decides that I'm doing such a good job in between taking photos that she's going to take it with her to the dinner party she's going to that night. She passes me a little dessert glass dish for me to make a miniature version. Thanks, mum.
Her final touch is dusting some very good quality Dutch cocoa on top...
... and here you have it! A favourite in my family, and many other Italian families too, I'm sure. From all accounts, it was a hit at the dinner party, so I guess I'll count that as a win for my first attempt!
With a bit of a headache from the constant "MUM! Just slow down!!!!", a handful of brutti ma buoni, two new cook books that mum wasn't using any more (because she has a billion), and a big hug, I head back up the driveway to my car, and have a giggle. I was so determined not to be like my mum when I was younger. I was sure I'd be different. We fought a lot in my younger years, because I was a stubborn, introverted, frustrated and confused teenager, and she was a tough, strict, Italian mum trying to deal with her eldest of three daughters growing up. But, here I was, cooking alongside mum in the same kitchen, and ready to embark on a new career as a travel consultant. The same career my mum started out in. And I couldn't be prouder to be like my mum now :)