Monday, June 25, 2012

Fusi Istriani

In her preface to the English-language edition of the Encyclopedia of Pasta [2009], Oretta Zanini De Vita writes that her compendium documents “the traditional shapes of Italian pasta—the long, the short, the layered, the rolled, the stretched, and the stuffed.” I’ve read this outstanding book cover-to-cover many times over. I’ll even (sheepishly) admit to having two copies: one kept in the kitchen and the other by my bed stand. Yes, the book serves as both as an excellent reference guide and riveting nighttime reading.

One shape in the Encyclopedia of Pasta has always fascinated me: fusi istriani, an origami-like triangular pasta from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The first time I came across Luciana Marini’s beautiful illustration of this pasta in Zanini De Vita’s book, I admired fusi istriani’s graceful, curvy shape and wondered: Wow! How do you make this?! Although Zanini De Vita briefly describes how each shape in her book is traditionally formed, this information barely qualifies—and was never intended to serve—as a complete recipe. In the case of fusi istriani, Zanini De Vita writes: “[t]he flour is sifted onto a wooden board and kneaded long and vigorously with many eggs. The dough, which must be firm and smooth, is left to rest then rolled out with a rolling pin into a sheet. Small triangles are cut from it, and two points of each triangle are pressed together.”

What I love about this description is that although brief it still gives you just enough information to make the shape if you are so inclined. Being so inclined, I carefully considered Zanini De Vita’s description and tried an experiment or two. Based upon these efforts, I found two helpful hints to making fusi istriani : (1) working with equilateral triangles and (2) using a small wooden dowel to help construct the shape (at least to achieve a diminutive pasta). Here’s the process I followed:

1. Sift 250 grams Caputo tipo 00 flour into a work bowl. Add 2 medium eggs and 2 medium egg yolks and mix the dough until it comes together into a rough ball.

2. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a work surface and knead the dough for approximately 12 to 15 minutes to achieve a “firm and smooth” dough. After kneading the dough should weigh approximately 385 grams. Wrap the kneaded dough in plastic and let it rest on the work surface for 20 minutes.

3. Cut the dough into quarters. Working with one-quarter of the dough at a time (keeping the remaining dough wrapped in plastic), roll the dough to a thickness of approximately 1 mm. (I roll the dough to setting 3 on an Imperia 220.)

4. Cut the pasta sheets lengthwise into 1¾-inch strips. Working with one strip at a time (keeping the other strips covered in plastic), cut the strip into equilateral triangles with each side measuring approximately 2-inches. Working quickly, orientate a triangle so that its base is parallel to the front of your body and the triangle’s apex points away from you. Place a ¼-inch wide wooden dowel perpendicular to and in the midpoint of the triangle’s base with the dowel’s tip over the triangle’s center point. Fold the triangle’s left tip up and over the dowel. Next fold the triangle’s right tip up and over the dowel so it rests on top of the folded left tip. Press down on the overlapping pasta tips to seal. Finally, fold the triangle’s top tip on top of the other tips and press down to seal.

(When cutting out the triangles you will have leftover pieces of pasta. You can gather these scraps and knead them together to run through your machine again. Keep the scraps covered in plastic to prevent them from drying out before kneading.)

5. Cook the fusi istriani in a large pot full of salty, boiling water. Test the pasta about 2 to 3 minutes after the salted water returns to a boil after adding the pasta. When the pasta loses its raw taste yet is still firm to the bite, drain and add the fusi istriani into your ready sauce—the shape is traditionally served with a hearty ragù—and cook the two together for a minute or so. The above recipe serves 4 as a main course.

If you want to delve deeper into the world of fusi istriani—and who wouldn’t—you will find a variant made by wrapping a pasta square around a wooden spoon. Zanini De Vita tells us that fusi istriani means “Istrian spindles” so it’s no surprise that you employ a wooden stick to make both shapes. I like that the curvy fusi istriani is as elegant as the variant, modeled on a kitchen spoon, is rustic. No matter the shape, we owe Oretta Zanini De Vita a debt of gratitude for helping to preserve this regional pasta by including it in her magnificent Encyclopedia of Pasta.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Arnhemse Meisjes

Let’s celebrate two years of A Serious Bunburyist with a biscuit. Last year I featured a recipe for Cream of Celery Soup (here) from Simon Hopkinson’s Second Helpings of Roast Chicken [2001]. Hopkinson’s book contains an eclectic collection of recipes that he amassed over the years. One of these recipes is for Arnhem Biscuits or Arnhemse Meisjes from Roald Dahl’s Memories with Food at Gipsy House [1991] (republished in 1996 and 2012 as the Roald Dahl’s Cookbook). Hopkinson describes Arnhemse Meisjes as “quite wonderful”. Dahl waxed slightly more lyrical about the Dutch cookies: “They were simply marvelous. I cannot quite tell you why, but everything about them, the crispness, the flavour, the way they melted away down your throat made it so you couldn’t stop eating them.”

Are Arnhemse Meisjes the best biscuits in the world? Dahl thought so. Coming from the author that penned some of the most glorious and tantalizing descriptions of food in all of children’s literature, this is high praise indeed. How did the recipe fall into Dahl’s hands? He writes that after tasting the biscuit at a book signing in the Dutch city of Arnhem, he requested and received the recipe from Albert Hagdorn, the baker that developed the cookie. Happily, Dahl decided to include Arnhemse Meisjes in his cookbook. The recipe makes about 35-40 biscuits. The asides are Dahl’s.
  • 190 gr plain flour
  • 100 gr milk
  • 4 drops lemon juice (more later if necessary)
  • 5 gr fresh yeast
  • 105 gr unsalted butter (divided equally into 5 pieces of 21 gr each)
  • a pinch of salt, only if using unsalted butter
  • rock sugar is used instead of a floured surface (I used sugar cubes that I lightly crush with a rolling pin)

1. Mix together the flour, milk, lemon juice and yeast, adding a pinch of salt if necessary.

2. With an electric beater on high speed, beat 1 piece of butter into the mixture for about 2 minutes. Continue in the same way for the remaining butter pieces.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate overnight so that it is easier to handle.

4. Preheat the oven to 275°F / 140°C / Gas Mark 1 and line your baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.

5. Dredge your rolling surface with the crushed sugar cubes (rock sugar), then roll out the dough over the sugar, sprinkling it with some more crushed sugar and continue to roll until very thin.

6. With a biscuit cutter, cut out the dough. (Ovals are the traditional shape.)

7. Place the biscuits on the lined baking sheets and sprinkle with more crushed sugar.

8. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until crisp and lightly golden.

Some notes and thoughts.  A standing mixer equipped with a paddle takes the work out of making this dough, which resembles a smooth taffy.  Rolling this dough isn’t too tricky if you work quickly. I aim for a finished thickness of about 1/8 of an inch. This produces an extremely crisp yet flakey cookie.

And while we are on the subject of crispness, Hopkinson provides a helpful bit of advice: “I noticed that when the biscuits had turned ‘slightly golden’ they were not exactly ‘crisp’. But then this is the case with all biscuits: they do not fully crisp up until left to cool. I only point this out so that you do not feel tempted to cook further (to a darker colour, which ruins them) just so that they turn crisp while still in the oven.”

Roald Dahl and Simon Hopkinson have authored similar yet remarkably individualist cookbooks. Their books present a diverse collection of favorite and meaningful recipes inspired by each author’s palate and memories. As I look back on the recipes featured during this site’s short two year run, it seems to me that A Serious Bunburyist—more by happenstance than design—isn’t too far off the Dahl and Hopkinson model: a varied and idiosyncratic selection of recipes that that hold a strong personal allure. So until my dear, invalid friend Bunbury explodes, more of the same to come.