If there’s one thing the Italians know how to do properly, well this is celebrating, whether it is the patron saint of a town, the centuries-old great-grandmother’s birthday, a wedding with a cascade of rice and flourishes of tulle, the baptism of the newly born or simply a Sunday lunch with family and friends.
I love the real home celebrations, when you gather around a table in a dining room or under a porch with your family and your friends. My memories as a child are dotted with those lunches and dinners, old polaroids and more recent photos, people smiling with a dish in their hands, relatives and friends, all sitting around the food to celebrate. I honestly do not remember what we were celebrating, but I remember the smiles and, obviously, the food. Today with the family of the Italian Table Talk we celebrate one year of stories, recipes and discoveries with the food or drink that most represent for us the idea of celebration.
Emiko has prepared one of my favorite desserts, tiramisu, always present whenever there is something to celebrate, Jasmine has a recipe that intrigues me a lot, a tuna paté known as pesce finto, a must for every birthday and her favorite as a child. Valeria chose a drink which is the symbol of every celebration as a grown up, the spritz. I will show you one of the desserts that was always present in my childhood memories and polaroids, my grandma’s crème caramel, known as latte alla portoghese.
Before hitting the recipe I’d like to tell you how amazing this year with Emiko, Jasmine and Valeria has been. These have been twelve months during which I learnt a lot about the traditions of my region, I dusted off childhood memories that seemed already stored away in the attic that now are shining brightly again. I owe a lot to the Italian Table Talk and to the three talented bloggers with whom I share a story every month, but most of all I have them to thank for learning to look with new eyes to the daily routine to give a meaning to what would otherwise be taken for granted.
You should know the ins and outs of the Italian Table Talk: every month there’s a crazy e-mail exchange with which we aim to decided the next theme and after that we define the recipes to be covered on the basis of traditions and memories, then we try to identify a date that will work for all of us, which is not obvious when you consider that we live in London, in Milan, in Melbourne and here in the countryside between Siena and Florence. When it’s time to press the publish button on our blogs, we definitely are even more curious than you and we run immediately to read the recipes and stories published by the other three, because in the end the reason that gave us a go is still the same, the pleasure of conversation that gave the name to our project, the chatter around a table among friends.
One year of Italian Table Talk
- May ’12 – Bread and my childhood afternoon break
- June ’12 – Street food and the Florentine panino al lampredotto
- August ’12 – Summer preserves and French beans in oil
- September ’12 – Grape harvest and September jam
- October ’12 – All Saints’ Day and Halloween and muffins with walnuts and raisins
- November ’12 – The new olive oil and dried black olives
- December ’12 – Christmas and a cardoon flan
- January ’13 – Salumi and the Tuscan buristo with fried egg
- February ’13 – Carnival and the schiacciata fiorentina
- March ’13 – Easter and the Tuscan Easter lunch with roasted lamb
- April ’13 – Foraging and a Tuscan soup made with foraged herbs
- May ’13 – Breakfast and the Italian croissants
I loved every theme as a mother loves every child, but I must confess that my favourite ones were those that gave the chance to wander around Florence with my little black notebook and my camera, feeling a bit like a reporter to tell you about the Florentine street food par excellence, the panino al lampredotto, or our carnival sweet flatbread, schiacciata alla fiorentina.
Which were your favorite themes? Have you discovered something similar to your family traditions or did we manage to tease your appetite? We would also be curious to know if there are any topics that you would love to see covered… Yes, because the Italian Table Talk does not stop here, we have already set the July theme that will be perfectly tuned with the long summer evenings and we look forward to discovering new recipes from season to season.
But now, let’s celebrate with my grandma’s crème caramel.
The crème caramel is the dessert you would find on our table until a few years ago every time there was something to celebrate. From the kitchen, where we usually would have lunch at Grandma’s house, we would move to the bigger living room where a long dark wooden table sat in the middle of the room – the same old table I still use for my cooking classes. We would also take the better tablecloths from the closet, those made of linen and embroidered with the initials on the corners.
You would need two people to lay the tablecloth and the precise lines of the ironing would immediately form a checkerboard, which was then filled with china plates, some maybe a little bit chipped but still beautiful, crystal glasses – the ones with the stem, as I called him as a little girl – and heavy cutlery, setting aside those with the plastic handles suitable just for the ordinary days.
Of course the dessert is always the protagonist of the celebration, though the crème caramel is not an overpowering character, it’s an old fashioned dessert. It let the birthday child at the centre of everyone’s attention and conquer you softly, with a touch of lemon and coffee that unpredictably are meant to stay together.
Its origins are uncertain as any self-respecting classic. The name by which it is usually known – crème caramel – denotes a French origin, but the name by which is known here in my area, latte alla portoghese, Portuguese milk, seems to move it to Portugal more than France. It is also known by another name, latte in piedi, standing milk, which well describes its simplicity. Just milk held up by a few eggs, those simple ingredients that were always present in a country house.
Grandma told me how she learnt the recipe, maybe forty years ago, everything was as vivid as yesterday. Aunt Antonietta and her cousin Vivetta had decided to have lunch together. They have always been modern women and had therefore decided that each one would bring something, not to spend the whole morning in the kitchen to enjoy each other’s company and conversation. They had agreed as follows: Vivetta would bring pasta al forno, Grandma would roast a chicken and Aunt Antonietta would make the crème caramel.
Here’s how Grandma learnt the recipe, an extremely simple dessert made just with few ingredients: a litre of whole milk, seven fresh eggs and as many tablespoons of sugar, peel of a lemon and a coffe cup of strong coffee. To finish a hint of vanilla, which my grandma would obtain by adding a peach leaf while the milk was heating up.
So in a June afternoon I made for the first time my latte alla portoghese to celebrate a year of our project and it tasted exactly as I remembered. A soft trembling pudding with the caramel that opens up in a sweet pond, to which you come back again and again to eat another spoon, just one. It’s a bit like tiramisu, do not ever give me an entire crème caramel because I would be able to finish the whole thing, spoon after spoon, without even realizing it. Then I would also like the plate till the last drop of caramel.
- 1 l of whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, split open
- Peel of 1 organic lemon
- 7 eggs
- 7 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 coffee cup of espresso
For the caramel
- 5 tablespoons of sugar
- Heat the oven to 160°C.
- In a small saucepan heat the milk with the vanilla pod and the lemon peel until simmering, then remove it from the stove and set aside.
- Whisk the eggs with the sugar until well blended, but do not overmix otherwise you would incorporate too much air.
- Filter the milk and pour it in a thin stream into the eggs along with the coffee, stir until smooth. You'll obtain a very liquid custard.
- Pour 5 tablespoons of sugar on the bottom of a pudding mould and let it melt over medium heat until you get a golden caramel.
- Pour the milk and egg custard over the caramel, then gently lay the mould inside a larger mould filled with a few inches of water and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, until set.
- Remove it from the oven, let it cool down then set aside it in the fridge for a few hours.
- Before serving unmould the crème caramel onto a serving platter and cover it with the caramel.
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