Upside Down Fruit Pie

A while ago, while visiting my family in Italy, I asked my mum, who is a cook, to show me how to bake a wholemeal-flour pie. Despite her pointing out that using only wholemeal flour would be tricky, I wasn’t going to take no for an answer: “Isn’t it nice for you to challenge your skills sometimes, especially when you’re a professional?”

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Ingredients.

I only go back home about four times a year, so she hardly ever says no to my requests! We started straight away.

As a side note, in Italy you find lievito vanigliato, which is raising powder with a vanilla hint. If you don’t have that, just use normal raising powder and then add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the mixture when you add the egg.

Lievito vanigliato.

Lievito vanigliato.

I have to say the speed my mum was working at – I barely saw how she mixed the crust, that she was already stretching it. But fear not, I took notes.

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The final result is a slightly crumbly but soft pastry (due to the raising powder) with a very sweet and soft filling.

What you’ll need:

For the pastry

  • 250 gr wholemeal flour (we used organic)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla raising powder (or normal powder plus separate vanilla extract)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 160 gr granulated sugar
  • 100 gr good quality butter (we used our local) at room temperature, chopped in small cubes
  • 1 egg
  • icing sugar

For the filling

Any fruit you have kicking around your kitchen that might need using, we used

  • 1 banana
  • 1 apple
  • 1 medium-sized pear
  • A handful of strawberries
  • 1 apricot
  • 2 tablespoons (30 gr) of granulated sugar
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My mum’s expert hands were too fast for the camera.

Preparation:

Mix the raising powder, salt and flour together. Create a well with the dry mixture, place the sugar inside it, then place the room temperature butter inside it and finally the egg. Start kneading making sure your hands are cold and work on it until you obtain a smooth dough ball.

The pie filled and ready to be covered.

The pie filled and ready to be covered.

Cut off a third of the pastry and keep it wrapped while you roll out the rest, and use this to line a pie tin – 20-22cm round and 4cm deep – leaving a slight overhang. Roll the remaining third to a circle about 28cm in diameter and place it on a side. Now fill the pie with all the chopped fruit trying to distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the sugar all over the fruit. Brush a little water around the pastry rim and lay the pastry lid over the fruit pressing the edges together to seal.

All sealed.

All sealed.

Make a few little slashes on top of the lid for the steam to escape. Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden, then remove and let it sit until it’s only tepid.

Done!

Done!

With a knife go over the edges of the pie trying to detach it from the tin very gently. Now place a large plate on top of the tin and turn upside down, letting the pie drop onto the plate (but not on the floor!). Dust all over with icing sugar and scoff serve.

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Pork Cotechino with Polenta and Green Lentils

I am often asked what the typical Italian Christmas dinner is, and the truth is: there isn’t one. Every family has their own traditions depending also on where in Italy they live, so it’s hard to pinpoint a specific meal and say with certainty that it’s what most Italians will be cooking up and down the country on 25 December. It is, however, easy to guess what Italians from Turin to Palermo will be eating on their New Year’s Eve dinner: lo and behold, I give you the cotechino.

Its origins are shared between Emilia Romagna, Lombardia, Veneto and Molise, all regions that suffer from very bitter winters. Cotechino (pronounced coteh-keeno) is therefore a hearty, filling dish that is served with polenta or mashed potatoes and always paired with lentils, which, according to the Italian tradition, bring good luck and prosperity for the whole year ahead. Cotechino is a sort of large salami made of pork meat, and its name derives from the word cotenna (rind). The traditional recipe consists of creating a salami of pork meat (in the past they used to stuff it with all the parts of a pig that wouldn’t get any other use) and wrapping it in pork rind, then letting it cook for several hours. Nowadays, however, most people buy the ready-made, precooked version of this dish, which doesn’t include rind and cooks in an airtight pouch for only 20 minutes. I served it with some instant polenta and tomato green lentils.

Pre-cooked cotechino as it is sold at the supermarket.

Pre-cooked cotechino as it is sold at the supermarket. The outer box suffered a little during transport.

I decided to introduce my partner, who is British, to this dish, and despite the initial hesitation due to the admittedly slightly startling description, he much enjoyed the richness of the meat. The very high fat content is not for the faint-hearted, but eaten once a year it’s a great tradition and one that I will love to keep up.

This recipe served three of us very generously.

What you’ll need:
1 precooked, good quality cotechino (I brought mine back from Italy, and bought it from the equivalent of the “finest” range from the supermarket Coop)

For the lentils

  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large golden onion
  • 1 stick of celery, leafy end removed
  • 250gr green lentils, soaked overnight to ensure quick cooking times, and rinsed
  • 2 very ripe, medium-sized tomatoes, chopped into cubes
  • 2 bay leaves, rinsed
  • 2 rosemary sprigs

For the polenta

  • 1 lt vegetable stock
  • 250gr instant polenta
  • 1 generous knob of butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Sorry about the steam, it was very hot and I couldn’t wait to eat it!

 Preparation:

Fill ¾ of a large sauce pan or a spaghetti pot with water, bring to the boil and put your cotechino, still in your sealed pouch, deep into the water, making sure it’s all covered.

In a large frying pan place your diced onion and celery and sweat in the hot oil to make a soffritto. Once the contents of the pan are translucent and soft, but not brown, stir in the lentils, bay leaves and rosemary and mix all well. Let everything bind for a minute or two and add the tomatoes and just a splash (about 100ml) of water. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and cover, letting simmer for about ten minutes. Once ready, add a generous pinch of salt and pepper and keep warm.

Bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a large pan. Slowly stir in the polenta, whisking continuously. Keep stirring over the heat for 15 to 20 minutes. You can add a little more water to make it the right consistency. Add in the butter, season and serve straight away, before it hardens by cooling. While you cook the polenta, take your cotechino out of the water after the 20 minutes’ cooking time very carefully, discard of the water and, once the airtight pack is cool enough to handle, cut it open with a pair of scissors and remove it from the meat, which should have a soft but firm consistency and the shape of a large sausage.

Once everything is ready, split a serving plate between the lentils and the soft polenta, and place the sliced cotechino on top.

Make sure you serve this rich meal with a medium-bodied red wine, such as a Merlot or a Bonarda.

All plated up.