In these days, we are continuously searching for a semblance of normality. We have slightly loosened our rhythms, but we try to keep a work routine, creating new projects, removing dust and cobwebs from dreams lost in a drawer. Mainly, though, I bake: bread loaves, focaccia, cakes.
The words of my grandmother telling me about the war years echo in my mind: frugality and inventiveness, not throwing anything away, transforming leftovers into new nurturing dishes. We are living a totally different situation, of course, but we are asked to do our part. This moment of epochal crisis demands us to reflect on what is happening, on which is our role, on how we can act.
As always, my reflections begin right there, in the kitchen.
I have always tried not to waste, but now, more than ever, I feel this impellent need and responsibility. The fennel scraps become a soup along with a lonely potato and some frozen chicken broth. I turn the now yellowed cavolo nero into a soup with chickpeas, which then becomes a farinata with corn flour, and eventually I recycle this into polenta sticks. Their golden crust is everything.
Perhaps I spend more time cooking than I did before, if this could even be possible, as, basically, I used to live into my kitchen. What I do now, though, is to cook exclusively for us, breakfasts, lunches and dinners, to give a rhythm to days that look all the same. I try and adjust the recipes for sourdough bread and focaccia, I dig up very old recipes from the blog to recook them for Tommaso, as he was not around during those first years. I’m also very good at marrying leftovers, with huge satisfaction and pride.
With a basket of old apples that had already lost their crispness, I made a crumble, something that Tommaso had never tried before, and then a pie, just like those baked by Grandma Duck.
Recipe developed for Sapori 1832
If I had to choose a traditional American dessert, just one, to eat every day, I would choose a fruit pie. That’s because the seasonal fruit is the true protagonist, enclosed in a buttery crust that is not stealing the attention from the filling.
Each season has its pie, from a spring strawberries and rhubarb pie, to summer pies with peaches or blueberries, the juiciest ones, up to an apple and blackberry pie, in between summer and autumn.
Although the filling is the reason why I fell head over heels for a pie at the first bite – all that fresh, seasonal, generous and juicy fruit – it is the outer shell what I find most ingenious.
I found the recipe a few years ago on a booklet entirely dedicated to pies, Bubby’s Homemade Pies, and, since then, it is what I make every time I need a quick pastry, both for sweet and savoury pies.
You can whip it up in 5 minutes, with very simple ingredients – flour, butter and icy cold water -, and after a rest in the fridge for a few hours, or better overnight, it is ready to make pies, galettes, but also savoury cakes and strudels.
It is a plain crust, very easy to prepare. It puffs up wonderfully, almost by magic, even though, in reality, it is thanks to the hazelnut-size pieces of butter that get entangled into the water and flour mixture.
Obviously, it is not a puff pastry, but when you do not have time to make it, or the chance to buy a ready-made one, this is the ideal solution.
Today I made a pie with the last apples of the season: the smell of cooked apples is one of the most comforting and reassuring ones, and we know how much we need comfort in these days. Along with apples, I crumbled into the filling some Colombelle alla Mandorla Sapori 1832, Easter almond paste cookies which replaced the sugar, adding also a subtle almond aroma.
Bake the apple pie a few hours in advance, allowing it time to cool down, so that the apple juices will set. Then you can serve it in the afternoon with a cup of tea, or an espresso, or as a dessert to close a meal, paired with a vinsanto.
Apple pie with almond paste cookies
Ingredients for the pie dough
- 250 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 160 g (5 2/3 oz) butter, cold
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) ice cold water
Ingredients for the filling
- 1 kg (2 1/4 lb) apples
- 150 g (5 1/4 oz) almond paste cookies, Colombelle Sapori 1832
- ½ lemon, juice
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon cane sugar
- Add the flour with the salt to a large bowl, then add the butter. Coat the stick of butter with flour in the bowl, then using a bench scraper cut the butter lengthwise in half, then lengthwise in quarters, coating each newly cut side in flour. Dice the butter and cover each piece in flour, then with a pastry cutter press the mixture as you would mash potatoes.
- Add the ice-cold water little by little and mix quickly with your hands just enough to create a ball of dough. Work the dough as little as possible.
- Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, better overnight.
- The day after, prepare the filling. Peel the apples, quarter them to remove the seeds and dice them.
- Collect the diced apples into a bowl and drizzle them with the juice of half a lemon. Add a spoonful of corn starch and a pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly, then add the crumbled almond paste cookies.
- Take out the pastry dough from the refrigerator and divide it in a half. Roll out half of the pastry dough with the help of a rolling pin on a floured surface to line an 18 cm (7 inches) round pie pan, previously greased with butter and dusted with flour. Roll the dough into a larger circle so that there is enough crust to go up the edges of the dish, so that you can seal the filling inside and trim the excess dough afterwards.
- Now scoop the diced apple filling into crust.
- Roll out the second piece of dough and cut it into strips. You can weave them directly on top the apple filling, or create a lattice pattern on a sheet of parchment paper, press it gently with a rolling pin to help it retain its shape, then slide it over the apples.
- Close the edges of the pie crust by pressing them with your fingers, then trim the excess dough with a knife or a pair of scissors. Now seal the edges with the prongs of a fork.
- Sprinkle the pie with a spoonful of cane sugar and stash in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, heat the oven to 220°C (425°F).
- Bake the apple pie for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 190°C (375°F) and bake for 30 more minutes.
- Leave the apple pie on a wire rack to cool down for a few hours before serving.
How can I help you?
Whether you are in Italy, somewhere else in Europe, in the US, in Canada or in Australia, you might be experiencing what we just lived here in our country. The fear, the confusion, the feeling of being helpless and powerless.
I’m not a doctor, a nurse, or a politician. I can’t tell you how you should behave, or when this situation will be over, but I cook. I’ve been cooking and teaching for a living for over a decade now, so if I can help you with recipes, with pantry staples, with fresh pasta or a basic bread loaf, ask me, send me an email, find me on Social Media. This is the time to share, to support each other and to find joy and solace in honest, home cooked food.
How to support our business?
When the lockdown of Italy began, I was worried because I didn’t know what the future would bring to small businesses like ours. You asked us how you could support our business now that all classes have been cancelled for months and that most of our projects are in standby.
Thank you for your words of encouragement and support: they helped us immensely, as you gave us many ideas and tips on how to get through this difficult moment.
So, if you want to help us, you can do one of the following things.
- Share our cooking classes and edible experiences with your friends, as when this absurd time will be over, we’ll be ready to welcome you all back to cook up a storm in our studio. As a plus, in these days of lockdown, I’m working on so many new recipes that I can’t wait to share with you (think about sourdough focaccia!).
- Share our recipes and our podcast, Cooking with an Italian Accent, with your family, your friends and on Social Media. Our recipes are simple, seasonal ideas, often based on all those ingredients that you have already in your pantry. This might be an interesting post right now: A Tuscan pantry – Staple ingredients, recipes and a tuna sauce.
- Buy and review our cookbook, From the Markets of Tuscany. If possible, purchase it from small independent bookstores, as to support their business, too.
- If you think that our Podcast is interesting and relevant for Italian food lovers, you can leave a review. How to do it? At the moment, just Apple users can leave a review, but it is very simple and straightforward. Open the Podcast App, click on our podcast and scroll to the bottom of the podcast main page. There, you can rate and review the show. This will help us enormously to be more visible, so that new people can discover us and share the same passion for Italian food.
- If you are dreaming about a future trip to Italy and you are planning to include Tuscany in your itinerary,you can buy from us a gift certificate to attend a cooking class. Just send us an email and we’ll give you all the info.
- To shorten the distance, in a time of social isolation, and to bring some Tuscany in your kitchen, we also just launched a Patreon project, a community of Tuscan food lovers to get exclusive access to video recipes and tutorials, step by step recipes and foodie guides to different areas of Tuscany. I’ll help you build a Tuscan cooking repertoire, made of reliable family style recipes, to bring Italy into your daily life and kitchen. I’ll share the backstage of the recipes I’m developing for the blog and we will discuss the new episodes of our podcast, Cooking with an Italian Accent. You can learn more about it here.
- Why we are all irrational panic shoppers, by Helen Rosner for The New Yorker. Fear is contagious: when we see people go out of their way to protect themselves from disaster, no matter how unlikely, we don’t want to be the only ones left undefended.
- Quarantine Baking in Times of Crisis, from Eater. Among the plethora of activities one could do with an abundance of free time at home, bakingseems to be a no-brainer. Just scroll through Instagram, or do a quick Twitter search for “anxiety baking” or “stress baking,” and you’ll find all the cakes, pies, and cookies that momentary recluses are taking solace in these days.
- How to make the perfect apple pie, by Felicity Cloake for The Guardian. Grigson and Day-Lewis baste the apples with butter, which gives the whole dish a lovely, silky richness – elevating it from a simple, homely pleasure to something really quite special. Which is as it ought to be.