As a few of you may know already, I recently moved back to Italy. Blogwise, it’s kind of like going home – this is where it all began two and a half years ago, in Genova. This time I’m in Turin, which is not too far away from Genova, but an entirely different kind of city. For the next year at least, I’ll be here, so we’ve got some good Northern Italian treats coming up.
If I can suck up the courage, that is.
You see, I have a confession to make. I am terrified of cooking for Italians. They’re just so picky and particular about their food, you know? And the worst thing is, not even all of them are amazing cooks, but they still have that attitude of someone who knows best. If an Italian can’t cook, it’s just because they’ve never learned to, or they’ve always been too lazy or too busy, or their mums have always cooked for them so there’s never been any need. There’s always some sort of excuse, but it’s never because they just don’t have a clue about food.
However, as a foreigner, even if you’re a pretty good cook, you’ll be judged and scrutinised in a way that Italians never have to suffer. It’s like women in high positions: if a female president screws up, it’s because clearly women aren’t fit to lead a country – never mind that men have been doing a lousy job for years without having their collective capacities questioned. Similarly, as a foreigner in Italy, if you mess something up in the kitchen, it’s because you’re an uncultured barbarian from the North, it’s because you’ve only ever learned to boil turnips and onions where you’re from, in short it’s because you’re not Italian and therefore unfit to cook just about anything.
This means the pressure is on. My new flatmates like to cook and eat together, which I think is great, but I felt quite insecure about making them just about anything. Go for something Italian, they might not like the way I make it. Go for something foreign, they might judge my choice of cuisine. It’s not that they’ve done anything to deserve this mistrust, by the way, they’re both lovely and they’ve eaten everything I’ve cooked so far without even raising an eyebrow. But irrational fears are not cast aside so easily and I’m still very insecure about cooking for them – I nearly shat myself the other day when I was making some risotto and one of my flatmates told me risotto’s one of his specialities. (It turned out OK. He said mine was nice, too. But I feel he thought I was a cheat for using butter.)
Anyway, to ease myself into this cooking thing, I thought I could maybe start off with cakes and dessert. I’ve lived in Scotland for 4 years, and if there’s anything those Northerners do well, it’s making sweets. Maybe this was the way to gain my flatmates’ trust. It’s plum season just now, so I decided I’d work with that. Add in a bunch of booze, and you can’t go wrong, really. Marsala plum tartlets with almonds. Easy and pretty delicious, and they look cool.
For 4 tartlets, you will need:
- about 200gr puff pastry
- 3 or 4 plums (depending on size)
- one glass of Marsala (this is a sweet dessert wine – you can probably get some from a large supermarket or otherwise at your local booze station)
- some cinnamon
- a handful of almonds
- some butter, softened – maybe about 30 gr or something
- some icing sugar – about 4 tbsp
- 1 egg
Slice the plums into thin(ish), half-moon shaped slices. Chuck them in a bowl and add the marsala. Leave them to soak for about an hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Roll out the puff pastry so that you can make 4 circles out of them. Use a wee plate or a saucer to make them nice and round. Stick them on a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray.
Beat the egg, pour about half of the mixture in with the softened butter and add 2 tbsp of the icing sugar. Finely chop half the almonds and add those in, too. Beat the mixture until it’s smooth, then divide it over the four pastry circles, leaving a border of about 1 cm.
Arrange the plum slices in a nice pattern, then sprinkle them with some cinnamon and the remaining almonds, roughly chopped, and stick them in the oven for about 10 minutes. Take them out, load a bunch more icing sugar on top, then stick them back in for about 5 more minutes. That’s it!