Sunday, September 26, 2010

Italy - Caffè e Sfogliatelle

Finding Italian breakfast was very interesting. In America, Italian cuisine is heavily influenced by immigrants adapting to local custom and available ingredients. A book that exemplifies this fusion is Buongiorno! by Norman Koplas. It has some great looking recipes in it but they are ideas in Italian cuisine adapted to breakfast with a few authentic dishes mixed in here and there.

This blog post discusses the difference between the two countries. Her assertion is that Italians mostly eat grains, breads, and, cakes in the morning and that meat is for the evening. This clue started us looking books of Italian baking and desserts. We found two fantastic books in The Southern Italian Table and Desserts and Sweet Snacks: Rustic Italian Style. Both of these volumes have some excellent recipes. The Southern Italian Table provided provided confirmation of these assertion and offered a long list of breakfast treats. The author provided us with the information that most Italians buy these from bakeries.

Our first stop was Sessa's, an Italian deli in Davis Square.  Not being a bakery, they did not have exactly what we were looking for, though they are well-stocked in other Italian foodstuffs.  The next idea was to try Modern Pastry up in Medford Square. Kitty had forgotten her forgot bus pass, so we decided to walk over. Serendipitously we passed Lyndell's Bakery during our wander and went inside. We were lucky enough to find and recognize sfogliatelle, aka lobster tails, a specialty of Naples recommended by our book.

The next quest was for the appropriate coffee. We decided on two drinks that are almost ying and yang to one another: caffellatte and latte macchiato. Caffellatte is milk added to espresso and latte macchiato is espresso added to milk that is foamed on top.  To make both, we used our brand-new Moka pot, and about 1 cup of milk frothed by the mason-jar method.  For the caffellatte, just pour one demitasse of coffee, then one of milk (save the foam for the macchiato).  The latte macchiato is a little more involved: pour the rest of the milk and foam into glass, and then gently pour in, over the back of a spoon, about ½ demitasse of coffee, which should settle between the milk and the foam.

Results and Discussion
The sfogliatelle was great. The custard filled center is surrounded by a bready pastry. This pastry is then surrounded by a thin flaky pastry wrapped around in single stands that pull off the pastry in a continuous spiral. It was quite fun to pull off and I would have had someone hold one end and run across the room to watch it unwind, but I was told this was not allowed. I would like to try making these from scratch because they are tasty and showy.

The Moka pot makes a nice strong coffee, good for espresso drinks without needing all the complicated machinery.  The latte macchiato was very nice. I like coffee flavor but I find espresso overpowering. Blending the espresso with mostly milk cuts the strength and leaves the flavor. The presentation also looks complicated and this will impress your guests.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

United Kingdom - Full English Breakfast

The full English breakfast is a well-known meal, so our research was a simple Google search. The BBC Food site provided an excellent menu and a preferred sequencing of ingredients to best use the grease produced by the sausage and bacon. The basics of the English breakfast are sausage, bacon, baked beans in tomato sauce, browned mushrooms, toast, tomatoes, a fried egg, and black pudding. Naturally, you serve the breakfast with tea.

One element of the English breakfast we omitted was the black pudding (a type of blood sausage) mostly because it was by far the most difficult item to procure, and we already had enough meat for two people. Kitty has also eaten plenty of tasty blood sausages in Asia and feels that we were not shirking our duties by skipping over it here.  Should you also be unable to find black pudding, these other blood sausages are available at Asian markets; the idea being similar though the taste rather different.

(In U.K. English, the word pudding also describes a bready or milk-based dessert. I became interested in how the same word came to describe two very different dishes. Fortunately the country that posed this etymological challenge also created the solution in the Oxford English Dictionary. The word's first appearance in Latin is in the context of sausage in 1287. The first time it describes a dessert is in 1543. The shared use of the word comes from both dishes being cooked in water while encased in something.)

Please see the BBC Food site for the recipe.

Results and Discussion
“Full” is a very accurate modifier for English breakfast. I was not really hungry again until dinner. It also covers a full range of flavors and textures. You have have the savory, dense, and flavorful sausages with the golden casing giving them a wonderful snap. We got these at Savenor's in Cambridge and they were spectacular and reasonably priced. The sweet fresh and moist tomatoes have an excellent contrast of being warm on the surface but still a little cool in the middle; the mushy beans and lightly crunchy toast provide a nice contrast
The sequencing of the elements and grease management are also important for getting the right results. Under optimal condition one would have a griddle and some slightly fattier bacon so we could spread the grease around and have more things cooking at the same time. The bacon we chose was much too lean and as a consequence we had to supplement with a lot of olive oil. The single pan approach does help cut down on dishes which is very nice.
This breakfast is very similar to the southern breakfast I learned growing up watching my grandfather. It is exactly what he would make minus the beans and mushrooms. He also taught me the importance of good grease management.
We will be making its counterpart, the full Irish breakfast, in about 2 years.