For all our wonderful culinary stylings, Italians eat some weird shit. Yes, the food is exceptional… full of flavors and aromas and mostly full… as in you get stuffed. We really don’t do light. Still, we live long lives. My Nonie, who I mentioned in my last post, lived until she was the vibrant age of 95. She never really had an ailment until the final sickness that checked her into the hospital and a week later took her away. I knew then that God needed her. After all, who was going to lead the others in cooking the wedding feast of the lamb?
Still, all that being said, Italian food isn’t all sauces and cheeses and breads and olive oil. It’s also using every bit of the turkey including the neck, wings and heart. It’s shots of annisette that is about the only alcohol I don’t miss now that I’m sober. It’s a ridiculously pungent lettuce called Radicchio that tastes a bit like a foot… one that kicked you in the cheek. But why do I ramble and digress and filibuster so? Because this week the test kitchen took up one of the bitterest Italian treats, popular this time of year as a cultural-chic-ey thing that folks buy each other to be cultured and unique until they actually taste it. It’s an Italian sweet bread called Panettone. And frankly, its awful. My son once wrote that only panettone would be served at his funeral so everyone would be sufficiently sad. A family email chain jumped the shark three times and just kept on going with all the discussion about the origins of this godforsaken “treat.” But my mother loves it and I wanted to make her some for her birthday. I also wanted it to be edible. Hence, the test kitchen challenge.
I began with some research, starting with my Nonie’s recipe:
Suffice to say, this is direct from the old country. (If you need help translating the Italian, let me know). But too often the fruits in the panettone are from the old country as well, or at least taste 100 years old. And that distinct, bitter flavor — anise — simply had to go in my version.
I made up a loaf, cut it into slices and mailed samples of it to relatives in three states, most of whom had spent the week before deriding anything panettone. The reactions are in from most everyone and I haven’t heard a complaint. My wife actually tried it, knowing it was panettone. My son actually liked it, but that took some deception! Getting both to judge proves nothing is beyond the artistry of this Effer… uh…you know.
“I like it because it’s more like bread than a scone. Yumm,” my son wrote.
After I told him it was panettone he wrote back “uh… what makes it panettone.”
Skeptic that he is, I confirmed I used all the required ingredients, including dried fruit (in this case cranberries with pomegranate juice) and citrus zest. I did not use anise, which as I said, I find to be the most disturbing of ingredients. Stylistically I used low pans, like pie pans instead of the prototypical tall panettone mold, which I don’t have (though I am going to use a metal tin can as a mold for display next time I make one for a present… more on that in just a sec) Why anyone would buy a mold, let alone the bread itself, is distinctly for this is beyond me.
The finished result won the seal of approval from a family of Italians and their non-Italian significant others. Unlike many of my test kitchen creations, this one actually scores high on the artistry.
Next I made my mother’s present, the true — and truly rare — lover of panettone. I wrapped it up pretty and gave it to her at family brunch:
But the final verdict came a couple days later. My mom said it was wonderful. What more can a test kitchen effort hope for?!
Favorites from the Panettone email chain:
“I think we found a winner for the annual panettone giveaway”…
“I think I just threw up in my mouth…”
“Wasn’t it the wedding he wanted it served at???”
“Considering I am a small, but mighty, part of the wedding, panettone will have no place on the menu. Sorry not sorry.”
“Maybe it was supposed to be a wedding gift?!”
“You are uninvited if you bring that rat poison around…”
“What if you pick out all those little dried fruit things? What exactly are those? How long ago could it actually be considered fruit?”
“If you remove the century old fruit and find a cake that’s light and fluffy, that’s called bread. It’s definitely not panettone.”
Effin Arist: “Just last night, I was organizing my four notebooks of various recipes that I have (I know…. I need help. organizing four notebooks? and who spends nearly six hours over two nights organizing while ignoring his beautiful wife??? Sigh…) and what did I find???
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
GRANDMA NONIE’S RECIPE For PANETTONE! It’s like she was the judge, ruling from heaven to all the panettone haters out there (yes, I mean all of us!) to say, “Eh… it’s goooood.” (dismissive wave of the age-spotted hand)… “you should tryyyyy it.”
“Can’t argue with nonie!”
“Oh, to think that Nonie was looking down on this conversation. Maybe I was channeling her like the Long Island Medium. Oooo, that would be cool. I was thinking about how it could be that the non-Italian in the family actually liked an Italian specialty while all of you with strains of Italian blood running through your veins were such downers on it.”
“I think the Panettone thread has “jumped the shark” when the pastor’s wife is becoming the Long Island medium. just sayin…”
But no it didn’t jump the shark… it went on and on… nothing stirs up the family like the weird shit we eat. I told you…
Then much later… the final words (for now):
“I happily concede the panettone challenge. That bread was freaking tasty!!
Effin artist indeed.”