If you are ever in Italy ( or you live in Italy), and you want to make flour tortillas, you might want to save yourself some time and frustration, and read this post!
Mexican Aperitivo or Day of the Dead??
As you may or may not know, I am living in Italy for the next few months, and while here, am cooking as much as I can (in between all the other fabulous things one can do).
I knew the day would come when I would pine for chicken fajitas served with home-made flour tortillas. I planned for this by packing a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce into my suitcase.
Ready for an Italian Fiesta
These peppers would go a long way to making sure the chicken would be flavored with the right amount of Mexican-ness (you know what I mean). I was happy to have them when I discovered that jalapeno peppers and cilantro were alien ingredients, and impossible to find. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Italy, for the most part, still eat vegetables that are in season, and what is grown regionally. This is the best way to eat, but inconvenient when one has a yen for something different.
A street in Siena
My problem of authentic flavor was solved with my can of chipotle peppers, and my new “soul-sister” Rebecca (this is what she said we were, and that’s a good enough explanation for why we get along so well, for me!), who lives in Cortona, was going to help me satisfy my craving further, by picking limes from her tree, and making guacamole.
The illusive Strutto
Since I was going to all of this trouble to make this dish, I also decided that I needed to share the experience by making it into a sort of “getting-to-know-you party” and invited the entire faculty at the school.
It also happened to be another new friend of mine’s birthday, and why not make it a birthday party as well!
basic flour (finer than what I usually use)
With everything in place, the last ingredient I had to make sure I had, was the all-important lard for the tortillas. This turned out to prove far more difficult than anticipated.
I asked Rebecca what I should ask for and where I should go to find it. After a bit of indecision (she had never make tortillas before, or probably nothing that ever involved lard whatsoever) and said I needed to ask for lardo, or something called lardo?
From what I could gather, lardo is cured pork back fat. I told her I wanted something more like Crisco, which is a soft, pure white vegetable lard. This is what I use to make my tortillas at home, and it works like a dream.
An enormous pepper from the market in Camucia
The big problem here was not knowing the correct word for the soft lard for making tortillas. Rebecca was at a loss, and trying to ask the local supermarket and butcher shop was virtually impossible with my non-existent Italian. The butcher gave me a hunk of lard, and the grocery shop gave me a tiny bar of soft, yeasted, something-or-other. Where would I find the fat for my tortillas? There was no way to have great Mexican food without them (at least in my mind).
Limes from Rebecca's lime tree (I'm not jealous and I don't hate her for this!)
We all happened to be going to Siena on a field trip and I thought I would have better luck in a bigger city. I walked the streets with Andrea (yes, another new friend), and tried as many places as I could, with no luck.
Self-service from my tiny oven
I had one breakthrough, as I was explaining what I needed to yet another specialty shop owner. Through some miracle (or was it my creative sign language), she understood what I needed. She did not stock it, but she called it “strutto”. I left the shop mouthing the words “strutto, strutto, strutto” over and over again so as not to forget it. Now, where to find it?
they were a big hit!
Right as we were dashing for the bus to take us back home to Cortona, Andrea spotted a small supermarket and dragged me inside. I was a bit anxious as we were on the verge of being late. When I was confronted by the lady at the meat counter, my mind went blank, “what the hell was that word!” I managed to remember a version of it, and she led me right to cartons of Strutto piled neatly in an open refrigerator. I grabbed two containers and we flew out the door.
Not the prettiest of Birthday Cakes, but it served it's purpose (even though Mario forgot to make a wish)
On the bus, I opened it and it certainly looked, and felt like the illusive ingredient. Yes, I was pretty happy about all this!
Of course I then fretted about it not working, and serving all of these new acquaintances of mine lack-luster tortillas.
A lovely after dinner bread from the hands of "Ma Fred"
I’m pretty happy to report that they were excellent, maybe even surpassing all of my other efforts. Those, along with the rest of the dish (fantastic red, yellow, & green peppers, and marinated chicken), made the evening a culinary success.
Ready for shots
Rebecca supplied a dynamite guacamole and zippy little limes. Everyone else came with all sorts of great wine, prosecco, even a bottle of tequila, and the Aperitvo turned into dinner. There was so much food and alcohol; there was no reason to leave.
An odd mix of Italian and Mexican foods, but somehow it worked!
I was left with a spare container of strutto and a half can of chipotle peppers. You know what this means of course…another night of the same!
Happy Birthday Mario!
If you want to make these tortillas (and the rest of the dish) type Tortilla & Fajita in the search box to the right of my blog.
Also, if you are using actual strutto and Italian flour, modify the ingredients as follows, and follow the same method as instructed in previous post:
¼ of the strutto (from a 250g box), 2 cups flour (tipo 0), ¾ cup warm water, 1 tsp coarse salt.