Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Daviesis taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: German name, Turkish origins, northern Italian classic -- in short, a crowd pleaser.
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You may not think of strudel as a classic Italian dish: The name strudel isn't even Italian, but rather German. This is what makes regional Italian cuisine so interesting. The country's geography –- its borders, its landscape –- factors into the character and traditions of each region.
Apple Strudel -- a dessert of apples, pine nuts, and raisins or currants rolled up in paper-thin pastry -- is the defining dish of Italy's Trentino-Alto Adige region. This autonomous province borders Austria to the north and is squeezed between the Veneto and Lombardy regions to the south. Knowing this -- and that the region was part of Austria until after the first World War -- helps explain why this Austrian favorite is also beloved in Italy. Strudel's history goes back even further, though: It was brought to Austria by the Turks (there's an undeniable similarity between strudel and the more ancient baklava).
In northern Italy, such as the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions, you can find strudel in various forms -- sometimes made with puff pastry, sometimes with shortcrust pastry. But the Trentino way is very much like what you find in Vienna: a thin, somewhat-flaky, and crisp pastry that gives way to something soft when eaten at room tempearture a few hours after baking.
The main ingredients used in this beautiful, mountainous region have long been cultivated and made there: apples, cheese, and speck (dry-cured, smoked ham made from pork thighs -- like a slightly smoky prosciutto). As such, you would typically make this dessert with sweet, pale yellow Golden Delicious apples, which are grown in the region's Non Valley all year round. They're great in this dessert because they turn meltingly soft when cooked, but you could also use the more tart Granny Smith apples. In the summer, you can also use fresh apricots or berries.
Despite the look of the recipe ingredients and method, this is actually a rather simple dessert to prepare and won't take nearly as long as you might think.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.