Everything tastes better in Italy. And it’s not just me. I think most of us can concur that there's just something about the food in Italy. I'll try to get at that elusive something in the coming posts, as best as I can in pixels and bytes.
Take, for example, the apricot -- damasco in Spanish and Portuguese, albicocca in Italian. I thought that I'd never eat a better one than the fruit from my friend Mayra's tree in Chile, ripened in the sun of the Atacama desert. But here, in Umbria, the dry heat of Central Italy has produced quite a fruit, the very blossom of summer.
We bought a basket of albicocca at the local market this morning, where we were attended by a balding shopkeeper with a sense of Italian propriety who showed much patience with my patois of Spanportuitaliano. He opened a jar of black truffles that had just been picked this morning and invited us to smell them, apologizing for their poor aroma -- apparently, it's not really truffle season yet (late fall is the better time for them), and we didn't dare ask him where they came from, for fear of offending him with such a prying question.
Instead, we smelled them and fingered the fruit and thought about lunch to come.
Lunch was veal with jarred truffle sauce and fresh mozzarella di bufala, and slow-cooked zucchini on the side. It could deserve its own commentary, but I didn't make it, and the apricot clafoutis was mine, plucked out of The Silver Spoon (oh how glad I am that I brought that with me here!).
I can only describe the flavor of the cooked apricot, drizzled in its own syrup, as a sort of super-albicocca, what you might imagine the first, divine apricot tasted like many years ago, on the plains of Central Asia. It is tart and sweet at the same time, a rare combination, and the creamy base of the egg custard is a perfect complement to such forthright flavor:
Because at least one reader of mine wanted to see recipes with my postings, I reproduce the following recipe for clafoutis alle albicocche (apricot clafoutis) from p. 1056 of the Phaidon Press version of The Silver Spoon:
Clafoutis alle albicocche
1 1/2 T. sweet butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
1 2/3 c. superfine sugar
2 T. vanilla sugar (didn't use, it was fine anyway)
rind of 1 lemon, grated
1 lb. 2 oz. apricots, halved and pitted
3 eggs, separated
1/2 c. all-purpose flour (I substituted rice flour to make it gluten-free)
2/3 c. warm milk
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Grease a cake pan with butter. Pour 1 cup water into a pan, add 1 1/4 cups of the superfine sugar, the vanilla sugar and the lemon rind and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for 5 minutes, then add the apricots and simmer for a few minutes more. Drain and set aside. Beat the eggs yolks with the remaining sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy, then stir in the melted butter, flour, and milk. Stiffly whisk the egg whites in a grease-free bowl and fold into the mixture. Pour into the prepared cake pan, arrange the apricot halves on top and then push them down into the mixture. Bake for 40 minutes and serve warm or cold.