TUSCAN RECIPES … today, MARZAPANE ITALIANA
Nonna Margherita Dottorelli in her kitchen, 1905
Some excellent Tuscan recipes from her granddaughter Marta, who refuses to be just a character in a novel called “The Whirling Girl” made up by that writer
My Christmas Marzipan
IF YOU BELIEVE that writer, you will think my life began on the day that the beautiful Chiara arrived to inherit her uncle’s property, the day I — Marta Dottorelli — came riding in on my motorino and made for Chiara a pot of nettle soup.
What do these writers care about the lives we lived before or after they put us in their stories?
TODAY I will take you back to the time when Chiara’s American uncle first moved to the house that I now look after for Chiara. HE WAS A HANDSOME MAN (though that writer, in her idiom, might call his looks “brooding”).
Even the heart of Marta Dottorelli could not help doing a little jump if he looked up sternly from his desk and I — as I passed by with my dusting mop — said some little thing to make him smile.
It was during the month before Christmas that I first realized that he was also a man of mystery.
I brought him, one morning, a gift of the traditional holiday panforte from my own kitchen, decorated with a layer of marzapane and a pretty fruits…
I CAME IN QUIETLY to set the cake on his desk as a surprise.
Allora! What was he was holding in his hands?
Why did he conceal it quickly?
For a moment his face was like thunder.
Then he pretended I had caught him with a gift he intended to give to Niccolo and me.
Later, of course, when we unwrapped his gift of a shiny black pottery jug, I knew it was not the one I had seen that morning…. (Rare Etruscan Bucchero)
DID HE IMAGINE I had not understood that this was a piece of Etruscan pottery that he concealed — very rare and surely of great value — and that this piece still appeared to have earth clinging to it? Did he think we “simple country folk” (as that writer might say) would not recognize our own ancient heritage?
Or did he think I might ask where he had come upon it (still with traces of earth clinging to it)!
That I might inform the archaeological soprintendenza in Florence perhaps (for it is our rule in this country that every archaeological discovery must be turned over to the state).
That I would make some unworthy connection with the coincidence of how — a few weeks later — he bought himself a yellow Lamborghini car for travelling to his newspaper job in Rome. And that never, in any nook or cranny of his house, did that piece of pottery appear again!
Here in these Tuscan hills we know that God sees what even our neighbours do not see. This is the truth we all must face, in the end.
Of course it is helpful in the meantime to know what we can, though perhaps we keep quiet.
NOW I WILL GIVE MY RECIPE for Marzipan:
YOU WILL NEED equal amounts of ground almonds and powdered sugar.
For me, I use two cups of each.
I mix them together, and then add the whites of two good eggs (to which I have added a half teaspoon of vanilla and the same of “almond extract”) and blend this until all is smooth.
THEN you will take your very clean hands and knead this mixture in the bowl, for several minutes, until the sugar becomes a heated just with your hands, and everything becomes very happy together.
NOW you will dust your table with more powdered sugar and you will there knead this mixture a little more, incorporating perhaps a little more sugar powder if it is too “sticky”, until it all comes together to make a “ball”.
WRAP this nicely, and keep cool in your refrigerator until you are ready to use on your cake for Christmas or — as I will show you next time — on your Christmas panforte. When it is on your cake the marzipan will dry out and keep without refrigerating; but while it is wrapped to keep it moist, it is best to use within two or three weeks, because of the egg whites (this is what Nonna Dottorellitold me long ago, when I was a new bride).
AND AGAIN, PLEASE REMEMBER: as we say in Tuscany, To eat well is the best revenge.