Monday, March 29, 2010

March Cooked Poem: "Mele in Gabbia"

Several weeks ago when I was looking for a poem for this post, I noticed that Jane Hirshfield also has many poems about food. She writes about sticky figs and leatherskinned pomegranates. She also has one about a lover whose fingernails are blackened with marjoram and thyme and who mercilessly cuts up vegetables into very small pieces on the kitchen’s butcherblock. When I started reading her poems years ago this was not something I had noticed. It therefore was a new discovery, and one poem in particular, “Mele in Gabbia,” struck me as particularly tasty as I read each line.
I then started thinking about this one writing strategy I was taught in an education class in which you present students with a painting or photograph, and then have them generate a piece of writing from the image. They can write a poem, a story, or a song. Many writers and poets have done this (Ekphrasis is the official term to denote writing concerning itself with the visual arts), and my professor showed us Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus as an example, and then William Carlos Williams's poem that was written as a result of the famous painting, also appropriately titled “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.”
So then I thought, why not generate a recipe from a poem, just like a writer would generate a poem from a picture? “Mele in Gabbia” would be the perfect first poem to do this with! Surely I can make these little apple pastries that inspired Hirshfield's poem, I thought. And surely there are countless other poems that can inspire a culinary creation of some sort too. William Carlos Williams also wrote that little poem about the plums, Pablo Neruda is always comparing some lover’s body to a loaf of bread, and Billy Collins has a poem entitled “Osso Buco,” after all.
And hence my new blog project, Poems Cooked was born! That’s right, I know you are all as excited as I am to learn that every month from now until whenever, I will feature a poem inspired recipe. I will find a poem that describes a food or ingredient in detail, research the recipe, attempt to make it, and post it here for all of you. And please! Feel free to send me any poem you think is fit to be cooked!
I hereby now commence the Cooked Poem Project, but in truth, this first one is really a baked poem, since we are dealing with pastry. Here it is:
Mele in Gabbia
The pastry
is dusted with sugar.
The slices of apple inside,
just sour enough.

The name,
“apples in a cage.”

I eat them
in this good place-
the pastry warm,
a little bit chewy,
the linen
impeccably white-
and consider.

I had never encountered or even heard of “mele in gabbia” until I read this poem. I asked my father, who grew up in Italy, if he had ever eaten "mele in gabbia."
"No, never." He said.
Some internet research revealed that mele in gabbia is in fact just this, a baked apple in a pastry “cage.” I must admit that I do not traditionally enjoy making pastry. I find it annoying. But for the sake of the project I decided I would take it on. I found a recipe for pate brisee, which I had also never heard of before, and got to work.

Midway through, as I attempted to roll out my pate brisee and “encage” the apples, I realized I had perhaps embarked on something rather beyond my ability level. Every time I lifted my cut pastry to cover the apple, it would break into many small pieces and fall onto the counter (see photo # 4). I found myself cursing under my breath and declaring that if I was to ever try and make "mele in gabbia" (or whatever the heck it is) again, it would have to be for an extremely special person. An Extremely. Special. Person.

By the time I had gotten the apples somewhat successfully encaged in pate brisee, it dawned on me that it really is not as difficult as I was making it out to be. Patience is really all you need here, and the ability to not overcomplicate things, which I have a tendency to do. I think the first run through was the toughest, and that making it again would be much less complicated. So instead of an extremely special person, you really could make this for just a special person, if you really wanted.

Hishfield described the pastry as “a little bit chewy,” but mine was not. It was delicious and buttery, but not chewy. It is a rather simple dessert, since the apple is only brushed with water, and the pate brisee is not very sweet. The dates in the middle of the baked apple therefore gave it a little extra sweetness, which I think is a wise addition. A little ice cream on top would probably be nice with this too, but I just ate it plain.

Mele in Gabbia (Apples in a Cage)

8 dates, pitted and diced
4 apples (I prefer tart baking apples, like Granny Smiths) peeled and cored
2 jasmine tea bags
Pate brisee
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Submerge the dates in the tea and let them infuse for ten minutes. Drain and stuff the cavity of each cored apple with the dates. Brush apple with some water and set aside.

Quarter the pate brisee and roll each quarter out into a disk (do each apple/dough disk one at a time).
Cut a small hole in the middle of the disk, and then make small slices radiating out from the hole (like a sunshine, sort of). With a spatula carefully lift the dough and place it over the apple so the hole is at the top of the apple. Carefully press the dough together at the bottom of the apple and then place the “caged” apple on in a baking pan. Bake the apples for about an hour and a half, until the apple is completely baked through.

Pate Brisee (the pastry dough)

1 ¾ c. flour
2/3 c. butter, cut into small pieces
1 tsp. sugar
1 egg
1 Tbs. cold milk

Put the flour, butter, sugar, and egg in the food processor and pulse until the dough takes on a grainy texture. Add the milk and pulse until the dough comes together. Remove from food processor and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.


  1. Sophie,

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the new blog idea and can't wait to see what you come up with. Ah, creativity...I miss you!(It seems to have abandoned me in NY) How are you doing, by the way?

  2. Always enjoy your writing. Good luck!!!!

  3. I'll sum up what I said before I mistakenly (stupidly) deleted my comment the other day:
    Inspiring, Brilliant, and so Creative. I love reading this blog and can't wait for it to become a cookbook! :)