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Frenchie and the Fig Apricot Crostata

5 Apr

Inspired by a friend’s recent trip to Italy and my own desire to be in Italy right this minute, I adapted a crostata recipe found in Gourmet Italian Kitchen Issue and made it a bit different with citrusy flavors and vanilla aromas. The pâte brisée or pasta frolla as the Italian call it will remind Americans of shortbread. If you’re not used to deal with pâte brisée aka sweetcrust pastry, you will need to know that it breaks easily but can be patched back together very well.

Ingredients for the dough:

2 cups (200 g) of flour

1/4 cup (50 g) of sugar

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1.5 stick (170 g) of butter (cold and cut in cubes)

2 large egg yolks

2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

In a big bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter cubes and mix well with your hands, warming the cubes, and creating small lumps of butter. The mixture should be coarse. Dig a well in the center and add the yolks and vanilla extract. Slowly, start filling the well with the flour around and gently stir with your fingers. The dough should start to form at this point. Knead gently. Once the dough is formed and rolled into a ball, divide the dough in half with a sharp knife and wrap in plastic. Keep in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Ingredients for the filling:

10 oz. or 1.5 cup (280 g) of soft dried Calimyrna figs (stemmed and cut in half)

1 cup (150 g) of dried apricots

1/2 cup (100 g) of brown sugar

1 1/4 cup (30 cl) of water – replace some of the water by Cointreau or Grand Marnier if you feel like it

1 cup (25 cl) of grapefruit juice

1 stick (115 g) of butter (melted and cooled)

3 eggs (beaten)

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

4 teaspoons of lemon zest

1.5 cup (170 g) of walnuts (chopped) – or mix with some almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C).

Cook the figs and the apricots in a saucepan with the water, grapefruit juice and sugar. Stir often and let simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Pour the mixture in a food processor and blend. You should get a thick mixture. Transfer to a bowl to cool a bit. Stir in the butter, eggs, vanilla, zest and walnuts.

Remove 1 dough ball from the fridge. Roll it out into a 11-inch disc. I used a 9-inch pan for this recipe. If you are having issues with rolling the dough, try rolling it between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Place the dough in the pan and adjust with your fingers pressing it onto the bottom. Trim excess dough on the sides. If it broke in the process, patch it together with left over dough. Put the pan in the fridge to chill some more.

Roll out the second dough ball – same process. When the 11-inch round disc is ready, cut 10 strips of dough (about 1-inch-wide) and place on a tray. Put the tray in the fridge for 20 min.

Assemble the crostata by removing the pan and the tray from the fridge. Pour the fig/apricot filling into the tart shell and arrange 5 strips of dough 1 inch apart on the filling. Do the same with the remaining 5 strips so as to create a lattice. Trim the excess dough if needed from the strips. Sprinkle the crostata with a bit more sugar and bake for 50-60 min. The crostata should be pale golden with a tiny bit of brown when ready.


Frenchie and the Italian Skunk

7 Dec

“You know, it is possible to be too attractive!” – Pepé Le Pew, fictional character in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.

Have you ever wondered what the French could possibly think of this Pepé Le Pew? This French skunk constantly strolling the streets of Paris, running after the ladies, talking about l’Amour with a big A, never giving up on a possible romantic lead and of course, as every skunk should, smelling terribly bad? What do the French say? How do they react? And does it even air in France?

Speedy Gonzales is Mexican. We all know that. Pepé Le Pew is French. Well… not entirely. See Pepé Le Pew is French… except in France! Quoi? How could that be? Isn’t it ruining the character’s true [pungent] essence? After all, Pepé Le Pew represents all of the millions of stereotypes Americans have about the French, so why would Pepé’s nationality change in France of all places?

I discovered what the French stereotypes are when I moved to the U.S. How could I be aware of them beforehand? It’s not like we’re taught what our own stereotypes are around the world in school. I learned very quickly that the French smell, they don’t shower, the women don’t shave their legs or underarms, they drink wine all day long from breakfast on, they eat cheese all day as well, carry a baguette under their arm, wear a beret every day, are extremely rude, speak with a very strong accent and most importantly laugh with this impossible obnoxious laugh – a laugh that comes from so deep within, the first time I heard someone perform it in front of me as a very American joke, I thought I heard the new sound effects for Jurassic Park 4 by an old T. rex who smoked all his life. Eet iz rathere fueny, neaux? Honhonhonhonhonhanhanhanhan! French people never laugh, they are serious.

“Ahhh… la belle femme skunk fatale!!”

When references were made in conversation about Pepé Le Pew being French, how funny the cartoon was, the accent, the trail of smell coming from his tail etc. I thought to myself… how could I have missed that? I watched Looney Tunes all the time when I was young and I could not remember this French character. And then it hit me… Pepé Le Pew is Pépé le putois, this funny skunk I used to watch all the time on TV, being real suave and smooth while trying to get all the ladies… Yes! That was really funny! And I also loved his strong Italian accent because it reminded me of all of the stereotypes the French have about the Italians. Oui, Pepé Le Pew is Italian in France.

If you think about it for a minute, it makes sense after all. Would a loud obnoxious American speaker carrying a hamburger and a can of Coke while wearing a cowboy hat and boots with a gun on his side and a Marlboro pack in his pocket be a funny character in a cartoon in the U.S.? Probably not! But it would be in the rest of the world. Now that I watch Pepé Le Pew in English, I really appreciate the humor and creativity that went into it – especially the signs and titles with bad franglais and accents or apostrophes added rándo’mly òn ev’ery wôrds. In any case, accents or no accents, smell or no smell, when Pepé’s on screen, romance is in the air! “How is it that she can sleep when I am so near? We must stoke the furnace of love, must we not? […] But madame! I have overstoked the furnace, yes? Madame! Your conduct is unseemly! Control yourself! Madame!” And here is the real treat: double le Pepé vidéos. “And if you have not tried it, do not knock it!”

See French Pepé in English here.

And discover Italian Pepé en français here (fast forward to 2’00 min.)

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