Monday, March 18, 2013

Habemus Papam Franciscum

Pope Francis is going to be formally installed tomorrow. And at my house, where we happily waved goodbye to Benedict XVI, we are celebrating!

All of my loved ones are undoubtedly tiring of my obsession with the conclave, the pomp and circumstance and spectacle and glory of all the proceedings, the Latin, the chants, the intrigue, the mystery, the suspense, the new details gleaned about the pontiff as I read everything I can about him. You can take the girl out of the Catholic Church, but there's a reason we're always called "recovering" Catholics! The fascination lingers.

I didn't just have one "Vatican cam" on my computer screen at all times during the conclave - I made sure that I checked in regularly with two different ones, just in case there was some issue with one site or the other. (Go ahead, shake your heads along with me. I know, I know ....)

And, of course, the white smoke came just as I sat down in my Hebrew class, which is offered where I work, after having paid so much attention to the chimney! (As they say, a watched pot never boils.) Everyone knew how fixated I was upon this entire scenario, so I immediately received 4 texts and 2 phone calls all at once to disrupt the class. Fortunately, there were only 7 of us and everyone indulged my announcement of the news even though we didn't know who'd won the election yet. I got back to my desk just before the presentation at the balcony.

So now, instead of babbling incessantly about what might happen and what I wanted to have happen, I am babbling about what did happen. A new pope! From the New World! A Jesuit, from an order noted for intellectualism, education, and service. A transitional figure with ties to Rome by virtue of his Italian immigrant parents, but raised in Argentina. A man who brings many "first"s to the Vatican.

My favorite photo of Pope Francis, who has a wonderful smile.
I am enormously happy to read about Francis' humility, of his devotion to the poor and to those who are most marginalized in society, of his support for those whose choices he might not agree with but whom he still views as God's children (i.e.: caring for patients with AIDS, saying Mass for prostitutes, baptizing the babies of unwed mothers). He seems to strive to truly live the gospels and to follow Jesus' example.

And so, with significantly more hope than I've had for the Church in ages, I welcome Pope Francis.

And how could I not love this about him: the new pope is someone who is noted for preparing his own meals!

His favorite dinner is baked skinless chicken, salad, fruit, and an occasional glass of wine - healthy, benign dietary choices.

But this is a celebration! So, although he might eschew dessert, it seemed only fitting to make a beloved Argentine treat which is infused with Italian tradition - perfect for a man raised in Buenos Aires by parents who emigrated from northern Italy.

There is a sizable Italian community in Argentina, and it has distinctly influenced the cuisine. Pastas are enormously popular, but the flavors differ somewhat (Argentines seem to always add peppers to the sauce, as well as cumin and paprika); Argentines also sauce their pasta much more heavily than is done in Italy. Pizza is another favorite that crossed the Atlantic; but in Argentina the crust is much thicker, and the dish is often also served with a chickpea-flour flatbread called fainá [fah-ee-NAH].

But today, we are enjoying Pasta Frola [PAH-stah FROH-lah], a fruit-filled pastry with a buttery crust that is reminiscent of Italian crostata [krohs-TAH-tah]. According to Wikipedia:

"Pasta frola is a typical Argentine recipe heavily influenced by Southern Italian cuisine, also known as Pasta Frolla in Italy. Pasta frola consists of a buttery pastry base with a filling made of quince jam, sweet-potato jam or milk caramel (dulce de leche) and topped with thin strips of the same pastry, forming a squared pattern .... The traditional Italian recipe was not prepared with latticework as it is in Argentina, but with a lid pierced with molds in forms of heart or flowers."

Quince products are readily available in Latin markets. And I just happened to be near one of these stores recently; so I took the opportunity to buy a can of dulce de membrillo [DOOL-say day mem-BREE-yoh], which is quince paste (a product much thicker than jam). If you don't have access to this, however, a thickened jam or Solo pastry fillings would be excellent substitutes.

And so, a toast to Pope Francis! He has quite a lot of work to do to rebuild the Church, as the inspiration for his papal name - St. Francis of Assisi - was charged with doing. May God bless him and help him.

And in his honor, enjoy a slice of this lovely tart with a cup of espresso or a glass of Moscato, both of which are popular in Argentina as well as in Italy.

Habemus Papam Franciscum!

Pasta Frola
(adapted from this recipe)

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup + 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs divided
1 tablespoon water
confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1-1/2 cups dulce de membrillo (quince paste)
3 tablespoons water

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar. Add all of the butter and mix in with your fingers until crumbly.

Combine vanilla and 2 eggs; pour over dough and stir to mix. Knead dough on countertop just until it comes together. Cut dough into two portions: 1/3 and 2/3. Wrap in plastic for 30 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine quince paste and 3 tablespoons water; cook over low heat, stirring, until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll out the 2/3 dough portion to a 13" circle; carefully place into the tart pan, letting excess hang over the edges.

Fill tart with quince paste, spreading to edges.

Roll out the 1/3 dough portion to a 10" circle. Cut into 3/4" strips. Lay 5 strips vertically over the tart pan, then fold back the 1st, 3rd, and 5th ones.

Lay a strip across the remaining two strips of dough, then fold the strips back down.

Fold back the 2nd and 4th dough strips, lay a strip of dough across, then fold the strips back down. Repeat until you have a lattice top formed of 5 dough strips in each direction.

Press dough strips against the bottom crust to seal, then trim edges flush with the baking pan.

Combine remaining 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash. Brush over the dough, then sprinkle with the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar. Place tart onto a baking pan, to catch any drips.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until tart is golden. Let cool completely, then dust lightly with confectioners' sugar.

Makes 12 servings.

(I found I had enough extra dough left over that I could likely make another tart. Gather any scraps, knead them together briefly, and save for future use.)


Jenn said...

I think this is a great way to say hello to Pope Francis! You and I have had our chat about Francis, so you know my feelings on him and the small hopes I have placed on him!

Candace said...

That is a picture perfect dessert, Mary!

Chris said...

All of my BBQ friends kept commenting about how we could get a nicer smoke from our grills ;)

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