madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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Giulia’s elderflower jelly

elderflowers soaking in a lemony sugar syrup

elderflowers soaking in a lemony sugar syrup

 

Making a jelly from flowers has an alchemic feeling to it. It ‘s not the same as making a jam from fruit. It’s more like making a perfume, except you can eat it.

Flowers are ephemeral creatures and so is their scent.

The scent we so love is not made for our own pleasure. Actually, it ‘s designed to vaporize into the warm spring air in order to attract pollinators. When its function is accomplished it will disappear together with the flowers.

A flower jelly is a way to capture this evanescent pleasure inside a sugar syrup. To collect the scent you need to follow your senses more than a measuring cup. Here is what you need to know:

  • Pick flowers that are fully opened with petals still firmly attached to the stem. Full bloom will assure maximum emission of scent.
  • Choose flowers away from roads and dust and keep them in a large container so they are not crushed. Washing and mechanical damage will remove most of the scent.
  • Be gentle with heat when extracting, otherwise the scent will boil away. Dip flowers in hand-warm sugar syrup and cover to prevent evaporation.
  • Don’t over-extract. After more than a couple of days the flower-syrup mixture will start fermenting and you will have to discard it as it has a foul taste.

I have been given this rare and wonderful recipe of elderflower jelly by my pal Giulia of Locanda della Valle Nuova.

Here is her original recipe. She uses dry flowers while I use fresh ones. Either way I can assure you this is a spectacular jelly, with a flowery fragrance similar to honey. It’s lovely on toast, on my  ricotta mousse  but also with some aged pecorino. Or just out of the jar, if you must.

Recipe

For the syrup:
1/2 liter ( 2 cups) water
200 gr (1 cup and 3/4)  sugar
15 elder flowers
1 organic unwaxed lemon

For the jelly
800 ml (3 and 1/2 cup) elderflower syrup
800 gr (3 and 1/2 cup) sugar
liquid or dry pectin according to package instructions

Using a large shallow pan bring the syrup-water and sugar to near boiling point to dissolve the sugar, then cool until warm but not scalding. Add the flowers head down, the juice of the lemon and the two squeezed halves as shown in the picture above.  Cover and let them soak for 24 hours.
Filter the syrup into a tall pan making sure to squeeze off any liquid from the soaked flowers and lemon. You can use some warm water ( 100 ml/ half cup) to remove additional syrup from the flowers.

Follow package instructions to make a jelly using pectin, the syrup and the additional sugar. Transfer into clean jars and seal.
Use after at least one month.

Makes approx. 2 and one half  1 pint jars.

a fragrant elderflower


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spiced grape jelly

magnificent fall colors in Umbria

I love October in Umbria. Soon the winter sadness will descend on us, but right now colors are working full-time. Everywhere is golden and red. Everything seems to taste sweet, chestnuts, pears, grapes. There’s wonderful grapes everywhere.

We are the lucky owners of a 1/2 century old vine-arbor. We don’t make wine with the fruits, too much of a fuss. We just leave the bunches there to capture the last bits of sun. During one of those mellow afternoons, I go outside to harvest them and enjoy the technicolor.

a gorgeous sunset from our terrace

I pick the best bunches, put them in a large bucket, sit comfortably with (dog) Google at my feet and remove all the stems.

Then I pour the cleaned grapes in a cauldron and heat it until the grapes start bursting. I subsequently proceed to sieve the grapes through a mouli to remove skins and seeds.

Next, I transfer the filtered grape juice back into the cauldron where I bring it to slow boil and let it simmer until is reduced by half. Finally I can make the jelly.

For that, I use same amounts of sugar and reduced grape juice (weight), powdered pectin according to package instruction, the zest of 1/2 lemon, 2 cloves and 1 inch cinnamon stick per liter/quart grape juice.

The whole process takes several hours. A small mountain of tiny wine grapes only yields a few precious jars. Every year I think I am crazy. Every year I hope I have captured some of the last sun in the jar.

grape jelly made with green and red wine grapes


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the limoncello factory leftovers

if life gives you lemons….

My mom has always produced industrial quantities of limoncello.  A set of tiny crystal tumblers and a lovely bohemian bottle full of the golden liqueur  was a permanent installation in her living room. She did not make it for herself, she hardly ever consumed alcoholic drinks, but proudly offered it to all guests at all times of the day. Ok almost, a guest was allowed a cup of espresso if it was earlier than 11:00 a.m.

Of course I also make it for my own guests. This is the right time of the year as  the best quality lemons, juicy and aromatic are available. It’s an end-of winter tradition: every year I zest, infuse and bottle. Then, I am left with lots of peeled lemons  I don’t know what to do with. They sit there, naked in the fridge and eventually they go to waste.

There is only so much lemon juice one can use in March  in rural Umbria. It’ is not really granita time, we’ve had snow 3 days ago. After several experiments however, I have created this naked lemons jam which is delicious on toast but also on vanilla ice cream, crostata and pannacotta

Recipe

  • Bring to the boil a pan of water large enough to hold all the lemons under water. Add 1 tablespoon salt per litre/quart
  • Drop the whole peeled lemons in the salted water and let them boil 15 min. This will remove the bitter taste from the pith
  • Strain and refresh under cold water.
  • [UPDATE] Another method to remove the bitter taste is to soak the lemons in water for three days like I do for oranges. However note that because the lemons have no peel, there is obviously no need to score it. This method is a bit more work than salt-boiling but the jam is a less sharp.
  • Place lemons over a cutting board and cut into small dice, pulp, pith and all. Discard seeds. Place a saucer in the freezer.
  • Transfer lemons and their juice in a tall pan, add equal weight of sugar and slowly bring to the boil stirring from time to time.
  • After about 30 min test for setting point. To do this, place 1/2 tsp jam on the cold saucer. If after half a minute a skin has formed, and it wrinkles, the jam is ready
  • Pour the boiling hot jam into warm, sterilized jars. Seal immediately with lids and place the jars upside down on a table until cold. You can actually eat it after a couple of days but it can be stored for a year.

…..make lemon jam

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