Apple News – Rachel Roddy’s recipe for apple strudel | Food
My mum jokes in all seriousness when she says that all my difficulties stem from the fact that she once told me I would never be good at making pastry because my hands are too warm. And, according to food writer Paola Bacchia’s mother Livia, her daughter’s hands were too small to stretch the dough for strudel, a recipe that connects her to Friuli Venezia Giulia, and to Monfalcone and Trieste.
The capital of the now Friuli Venezia Giulia region, Trieste is a city and port at the end of the narrow coastal strip that caps the Gulf of Trieste like a beret. It is underpinned by the Adriatic Sea and surrounded by Slovenia, with inhabitants the writer Jan Morris describes as “of many races, loyalties and histories”. Trieste has been argued and fought over for centuries: Rome colonised it; Venice intermittently occupied it; then, for hundreds of years, it was part of the Habsburg monarchy(and at one point the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian empire after Vienna, Budapest and Prague, a great port and the end point of the Maritime Silk Road). It was at the end of the first world war, when the Habsburg empire collapsed, that conflict flared. The fact that Trieste was appended to newly unified Italy was contested by the newly formed Kingdom of Yugoslavia. That conflict was later compounded by fascism, the second world war and the cold war, and, for a short period under the United Nations’ free territory project, Trieste became an independent nation. Then, in 1954, it was handed back to Italy while its immediate surroundings became “then” Yugoslavia.
It was almost exactly at this time that Nello Bacchia, a young man from Pula in Istria, and Livia, from Treviso, met. Both were living in the city of Monfalcone, just 72 miles from Trieste; she because her family owned a bar there, he for work and the hope of migrating. Nello and Livia married in 1948 and two years later made the month-long journey to Australia. Their daughter, Paola, and I talk on the phone, WhatsApp making light of the 10,000 miles between her kitchen in Melbourne and mine in Rome. She tells me that it was at one of the many social clubs founded by young Italians in Melbourne in the early 1950s, in the company of other young Friulani, Giuliani, Istriani and Triestini, that Livia learned to make strudel, to hand-pull the dough in pairs, to spread and roll. The name is German, of course, and means “whirlpool” or “eddy”, though it was the pastry of Turkish baklava, introduced into Austria in 1453, that is thought to have laid the foundation for strudel, which diffused with the Habsburg empire.
Spreading, or rather extending, is key to strudel. The pastry should be thin enough that you can read a newspaper, or love letter, through it. Or, in my case, a magazine with bold type – a concession for a beginner. I was pleasantly surprised by how satisfying the rolling was: feet firm, music loud.
While she was happy to give it to me, it didn’t seem right to have Paola and Livia’s recipe, which Paola teaches, and is in her book Adriatico, and also a new version will be in her next book Istria, published later this year. The recipe I follow is from the reliable Giallo Zafferano website, although it is inspired by Paola’s description – and hands, which happen to be almost as good as her mamma’s … almost. Livia was good at strudel because of “ste vecie manasse” (“these big old hands”) – capable hands that stretched and made an edible whirl of many races, loyalties and histories, best consumed quietly, with cream.
140g plain flour
1 pinch salt
10ml olive oil
700g firm apples (about 3 large ones)
100g caster or golden caster sugar
30g fine breadcrumbs
60g raisins, soaked in 30ml brandy for 20 minutes
20g pine nuts
1 tsp cinnamon
30g fine breadcrumbs
Working in a bowl, mix the flour, salt, water and oil, and bring them together into a firm dough. Knead until smooth, then cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Peel the apples, cut them into quarters, remove the core, then cut the fruit widthways into 3mm slices. Put in a bowl with almost all the sugar (save a tablespoons for the breadcrumbs later), the soaked raisins, pine nuts and spices, stir and leave to sit until the pastry is rolled.
Melt all the butter and mix half of it with the breadcrumbs and reserved sugar.
Lay out a clean tea towel on a flat surface, put the ball of dough in the middle and, using a rolling pin, start rolling any which way, until it is thin enough to read a magazine through.
Leaving a 2cm margin all around the edge, brush the pastry with butter, sprinkle with the crumbs, then spread the apple mix over the top. Use the cloth to help you roll the whole thing up into a log, then tuck in the ends. Brush with more butter and bake at 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 for 30 minutes, until the pasty is nicely coloured and crisp on the outside.