Nonna Marcella, my grandma, oh she passed me so many recipes, either chatting lightly at the table, over a perfectly stewed rabbit trying to explain me why it was to tender and flavourful, or standing next to me in the kitchen, checking every movement I was making to verify it was made by the book, respectful of the traditions of many women of our family.
She passed me her recipes but also recipes that someone else passed her over the years, and every time she adds bits of information about the great woman behind a dish, a relative or a neighbour’s wife. A recipe is not just a recipe in front of my grandmother’s eyes, is a key to access to a past moment, unravelling stories of weddings, country works, family gatherings, short trips that back in that years looked like enormous travels.
Every time she passes me a recipe with a story, the proper serving dish to be used, the special occasion that could be celebrated with that recipe, a funny anecdote, the way to stir the custard or to fill the pot, when to add the salt and why. Every recipe is a page of her personal book of life, something she is passing me and that won’t be forgotten. If I have to find one single reason to keep blogging, besides the great fun I have in sharing recipes with you, well it would be this enormous archive of family recipes I’m building and preserving for the other members of our family.
When I was younger I used to write her recipes, along with my mum’s recipes, in a big notebook that I still cherish, stained with the first splashes of my culinary experiments. Now everything is more evanescent here on the blog, but it takes just 5 minutes to turn everything into reality again, something real with a shape, a smell, a taste – a good one, believe me, when it involves grandma’s recipes.
So well, I am particularly proud to share this recipe today. It is again Italian Table Talk, and today we chose a special theme, we will talk about family recipes, something out of space and time, season and month, a recipe that someone in our family passed us, something to preserve, cherish and keep alive. Emiko is sharing the rabbit ragu made by Marco’s grandma, Valeria a hearty minestra e fagioli and Jasmine her grandmother’s roast. I asked grandma to teach me finally to make choux pastries, bigné, something she’s famous for among the family, her signature dish. No surprise is a dessert, grandma has a sweet tooth!
There is no birthday, Christmas, special Sunday or occasion that needs to be celebrated without bigné. To respect the tradition, they must be filled up to the bream with crema, our thick Italian custard. When you bite into them you must pay attention to the lemon custard that will spill everywhere, you are supposed to lick it from your fingers, perfectly admitted into our family. She used to bake trays and trays of them, because everyone was ready for a second and third serving, and there’s nothing better than a bigné bursting of custard the day after for breakfast.
I also managed to take some shots of her while she was researching for the recipe into her hand written notebook and this made me extremely proud, as she always runs away in front of the camera. She was to eager to share the recipe and bake them again to notice the camera.
Her choux pastries are made with olive oil, instead of butter. Since I’ve grown up with their flavour, I find it just perfect, even more than butter, because it adds that subtle extra fruity aroma that makes you ask for a second serving, and a third one… Paired with a thick lemon custard they are just the perfect afternoon treat.
My grandma's choux pastries
Ingredients to make the choux pastries
- 50 g (3 2/3 tbsp) of extra virgin olive oil
- 100 g (3 1/3 floz) of water
- 100 g (3/4 cup) of flour
- 3 eggs
Ingredients to make the custard
- 500 ml (2. cups) of whole fresh milk
- Zest of one organic unwaxed lemon
- 2 eggs
- 4 tablespoons of caster sugar
- 2 heaping tablespoons of corn starch
- Make the custard in advance, so it will have time to cool down. Heat the milk in a saucepan with the zest of an organic lemon and remove from the heat as soon as it starts simmering.
- In another saucepan whisk the eggs with the sugar and the corn starch: do it carefully to avoid any lumps. Pour slowly the hot milk in a thin stream over the eggs, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent scrambled eggs.
- Bring the saucepan back on a low flame and stir constantly with a whisk until it thickens, you will need about 5 minutes. Transfer into a bowl, cover tightly with cling film and let it cool down completely.
- Now make the choux pastries. Pour water and olive oil in a small non stick saucepan, bring it to the boil. As soon as it starts bubbling add the flour in one go. Toast the flour for about five minutes, beating constantly and vigorously with a wooden spoon, until you have a golden ball of dough that will leave the sides of the saucepan clean.
- Remove from the stove, transfer into a bowl and let it cool slightly. After a few minutes add the beaten eggs and whip with an electric beater for about five minutes, until smooth, glossy and thick.
- Heat the oven to 210°C and line a tray with parchment paper. Shape mandarin sized balls with two tablespoons and lay them onto the lined baking tray. You should obtain about 8 choux pastries.
- Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and puffed up. Remove from the oven and let them cool down.
- Spoon the cooled and thick custard into a pastry bag and fill the choux pastries. Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Not to lose a single post by the Italian Table talk girls, these are our Social Accounts:
- Emiko, her blog is Emikodavies.com, @emikodavies on Twitter, and her Pinterest
- Valeria, her blog is Life Love Food, @valerianecchio on Twitter, her FB Page and her Pinterest
- Jasmine, her blog is Labna.it, @labna on Twitter, her FB page and her Pinterest
- Juls, my Twitter @Julskitchen, FB page and Pinterest
The hashtag to follow the conversation on Italian Table talk on Twitter is #ITabletalk (easy, isn’t it?) and now you can find us also on our new Facebook page Italian Table talk. So now, tell us your most loved family recipes, we are eager to know!