I am so embarrassed that it has been so long since I have written a blog entry. Our only daughter is getting married and I have been preoccupied with making sure that everything is perfect because god forbid I make a “brutta figura”! But I ended up making a “brutta figura” with all of you by not keeping up with my blog posts! If you are Italian, you know exactly what I mean by “brutta figura”. For all the non-Italians read on as I explain in detail of this Italian phenomenon. And for all the Italians out there help me make a “bella figura” by giving me wedding planning advice.
While growing up in my big Italian family, my parents stressed to all of us the importance of always making a “bella figura” so our family looked good. We strived to make “una bella figura” versus “una brutta figura”). In literal translation brutta means ugly and bella means beautiful. Figura means figure as in body shape. Figuratively, these two phrases mean that Italians want to always make a good impression versus a bad impression. Let me give you an example. My first introduction to “brutta figura” was when we would go visit my extended Italian family. The hostess would welcome us into her home and lead us into a beautiful dining room set up with fine linens, china and would serve espresso, an assortment of desserts, and aperitifs. This was her way of making “una bella figura”. (One time we went to a relative’s house in Brooklyn and we had to sit on plastic covered chairs that went crunch when we moved. I don’t know if this could be regarded as “bella figura”.) For us children, so as not to embarrass my parents and create “una brutta figura”, we were urged to partake of the coffee, desserts and even the aperitifs. Yes, as a child I was encouraged by the hostess to try the aperitifs along with everything else. Although I didn’t care for the aperitifs and the espresso to make “una bella figura” I had to try it. But now when I look back I should not have tried so hard with the Italian pastries. I realize now, this was the only drawback to this “bella figura”. All these good impressions I made, ended up on my “figura” which now I need to work on, so I can make a “bella figura” for my own daughter’s wedding.
As I grew up in the restaurant I watched my father and my uncle practice their “bella figura” on their restaurant customers. My father would ho, ho, ho while my uncle would ha, ha, ha, as a customer told a joke. My brother and I would recognize my father’s overly deep laugh and my uncle’s high pitched laugh as fake. We would look at each other and say, “bella figura”. We knew that our dad and uncle were pretending to understand the joke!
I passed on this “bella figura” concept to not only my husband but our kids as well. In the early years when my husband and I were dating, one day in front of my father, my husband bravely downed a glass of fresh warm goat’s milk that was just milked from our pet goat, Daisy so as to make a “bella figura’. Our youngest child absolutely hates butter. Whenever we would go out to dinner and his entre’ happened to be made with butter, he would have a meltdown. We would have to immediately return it and get something else. Now that he is older and married, he makes sure to make a “bella figura” whenever he eats with his wife’s family who use butter to their hearts content in everything they make! The oldest child who was in the Navy avoided many national incidents by practicing “bella figura”. In the Philippines he partook in eating everything that his hosts, the Philippine Navy, served in his honor. It was the first time and last time that he had roasted pigs face. Another time in Iraq he braced himself to accept a date dredged in yogurt from the fingers of his Iraquee guide. He made a “bella figura’’ and ate it as it was passed from one Iraqi’s hands to another’s and finally to his own.
But “bella figura” doesn’t just relate to food. Italians make sure their clothes are neatly pressed with accessories that match to the smallest detail. From the women with perfectly coiffured hair, to the men with their perfectly trimmed beards, Italians take their appearances seriously. But its not just the way they look! Even things must look good. A dessert, a gift, a garden, an entrance to a home, everything must be perfectly decorated with a flourish! Even with their children’s school studies would parents often ask, “hai fatto una bella figura?” when asking how they did in an exam. And let me explain their generosity! Italians always put their hand in their pocket to avoid “una brutta figura”! Even if someone is making a “brutta figura” in front of you, it is best to avoid noticing it. After all, it is a “bella figura” to not embarrass the person making the “brutta figura”!
In Italy one can even make a “brutta figura” while drinking coffee! I drink cappuccino whenever I feel like it. Whether it’s in the morning or after a meal, I have no problem ordering one. But when I am in Italy, I make sure to only order one in the morning because I don’t want to make a “brutta figura”! Apparently, a cappuccino is only a breakfast drink in Italy. They will serve you one, but rest assured, in their heads they are thinking,” Pfft……Americano!” Also, any real Italian, will never drink coffee out of a paper cup! Or even worse, walk around drinking out of one! That is a huge “brutta figura’!
And now to get back to this wedding. I am not only just worrying about the guest list so as not to make a “brutta figura”. I need to make sure the flowers are perfect on the tables, we present a good meal and it’s served with finesse, so we can make a “bella figura”. But honestly, what is stressing me out the most is my dress! I must find a beautiful dress that fits perfectly on this “figura” (literally) just so I don’t make a “brutta figura” (figuratively). Ohh the consequences of making a “bella figura” through the years and now I risk making a “brutta figura” at my own daughter’s wedding!
Zucchini Flower Zeppole
It’s summer time and my zucchini plants are in full swing! We enjoy zucchini year-round, but you need the summer to enjoy the flowers! My family loves zeppole made with zucchini flowers. The flowers are edible and so utterly delicious that we can’t wait for summer to plant zucchini plants! I am going to show how to make these zeppole step by step! If you haven’t planted zucchini plants look for the zucchini flowers at your farmer’s market. Italians love their zucchini never letting them grow longer than 5 inches and are sold with their flowers still attached. In the picture above I have displayed the female flowers which are attached to the zucchini and the male flowers. I only use the male flowers for the zeppole. They have long stems with no zucchini attached. Some recipes call for the female flowers too but I prefer only the male flowers. The female flowers sometimes are bruised and fall apart.
10 to 12 male zucchini flowers, washed removing stamen and leaves
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of baking powder
A turn of pepper mill
½ to ¾ cup of water depending how thick you want the zeppole
¼ to ½ cup of oil for frying depending on what size pan you use. You want to have enough to fry in. I prefer extra virgin oil to fry in for extra flavor but any frying oil is good.
1. Wash the flowers thoroughly making sure that you don’t inadvertently catch a bee inside the flower!
2. Remove the tiny green leaves around the flower.
3. Next break off the stamen
4. Set aside on paper towels to dry. Now to make the batter.
5. Mix the dry ingredients separately and in a separate bowl mix water and egg. Then add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix.
6. Now you have some choices!
a. Some people love to stuff the flowers (keeping the stem on) with ricotta cheese mozzarella and grated cheese twisting the top of the flower to keep the stuffing inside. And then coating them with the batter.
b. You can dip the flower whole (with stem on for presentation only) into the batter.
c. You can also tear the flower in pieces ( be sure to take stem off) and placing it in batter. And putting batter in oil to fry by tablespoonfuls.
7. Next is fry your choice of flower preparation in heated oil in a skillet. I set the burner on a medium high. I like them a golden brown and then flip it over. Check often so you don’t burn them. It can take about 3 minutes or more on each side. I like to line a plate with paper towel to drain off excess oil.
8. Finally serve and eat. I sprinkle them with a little grated sea salt. My granddaughter likes them sprinkled with sugar!