27 February 2012

LIFE: Awww, Nuts

SARONNO, Italy – Now here is a perfect example of why it took Italy more than 2,000 years to unite. Last week I posted a recipe for nut sauce (http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.com/2012/02/auntie-pasta-nuts-to-you.html) that was credited to Bartolomeo Stefani, chef to the Gonzaga Dukes of Mantua. It was a typical Renaissance dish served in the princely court of Mantua. 

Freshly Peeled Walnuts
I don’t remember saying that the Mantua nut sauce was the ONLY nut sauce in Italy, and so I don’t know what the Ligurians  are so worked up about. Everyone knows that the Ligurian nut sauce is way older than the Mantua nut sauce, which may make it the first nut sauce developed on these shores. The key word is may. 

 Sicilian Nut Pesto and Pesto Rosso
If you do an internet search for “nut sauce” you’ll find more than one web site offering recipes for nut sauce including http://www.makepesto.com/classics/sicilian-nut-pesto/ which offers a nut and basil pesto recipe which is even more stripped down than mine. Here, take a look.
Sicilian Nut Pesto
1 bunch basil, leaves picked
1 – 2 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
1 cup cashews
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
squeeze lemon
Whiz together in a food processor. Eat.
They even call their sauce “pesto” which rankles the Ligurians no end. Truth be known any sauce that you make by pounding the beejeebers out of a bunch of ingredients can legitimately be called “pesto” since pesto comes from the verb “pestare” which means to pound.
Except for the fact that the Sicilian nut pesto recipe calls for cashews, which don’t grow in Italy, the connecting thread for all of these nut sauces is that when they were developed at a time when people made food out of whatever ingredients they found in their area. If they were rich, like the Gonzaga Dukes, they could afford to add exotic bits like cinnamon and nutmeg and jazz the dishes up a bit but otherwise they were limited to what grew outside their door. Think about it, if you walked out your door today and tried to put together a meal using what you found growing about your house or apartment, how successful would that be?
For me it would mean a gloppy soup of chopped grass and boiled twigs. Not particularly appetizing, so I give the Italians a lot of credit for what they managed to do with a handful of nuts.
For the sake of equality of all, here’s the Ligurian recipe,  “Tocco de nux”, which is delicious served with Genovese pansotti (little bellies), a Ligurian version of ravioli.

Ligurian Tocco de Nux

Garlic  - 1 clove  
Milk - 250 ml
Marjoram – small bunch of fresh
Walnuts – 250 grams
Extra virgin olive oil – ½ glass

Crustless bread – 40 grams
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – 40 grams
Pine nuts – 30 grams
Salt q.b. (you know this means to taste, right?)

First blanch the walnuts in boiling water for about 5 minutes (1), or long enough that the skins peels off easily. After 5 minutes, drain the nuts and let them cool.  In the meantime cube the crustless bread and put it in a bowl along with the milk (2) and when the bread has absorbed the milk squeeze them and set them aside, saving the milk.(3).   

 Peel the walnuts one by one (4) and put them in a food processor (or pestle), together with the pine nuts, garlic, paremesan cheese (5) and the oil (6) .  

Add the bread, sprinkle in the marjoram (7) and whiz together adding a little milk (you can use the milk you soaked the bread in), and mix until the cream is dense (8) then add the salt. The nut sauce (9) is now ready to serve over plain pasta, ravioli (not meat filled) or pansotti.  

Note: It’s a lot easier to just buy already peeled walnuts, which is the way all packaged walnuts are sold.

No comments:

Post a Comment