I’m just back from my amazing Italian holiday but in my thoughts I’m still lingering in Naples. During my 10 days trip at the Naples bay and in Naples I’ve made many new discoveries and among was the loquat fruit or in Italian the Nespolo. When I tasted the ripe fruit I really liked its sensational aroma therefore I’d made some research about it. Here it is:
The loquat or nespolo belongs to the species of flowering plant in the family Rosaceae, and native to south-central China. In the Neaples golf it was a large evergreen shrub or sometimes small tree, grown commercially for its yellow fruit, and also cultivated as an ornamental plant. It is also known as the Japanese medlar or Japanese plum, Chinese plum (in Japan it is called biwa, in Chinese it is called Lo Guat in Cantonese and pípa in Mandarin). In Hebrew it is called Sheseq, in Turkey it is known as malta eriği, meaning Maltese plum or yeni dünya, literally new world, while in Malta it is known as naspli. In Italian it is commonly known as Nespolo.
Loquats are unusual among fruit trees in that the flowers appear in the autumn or early winter, and the fruits are ripe in late winter or early spring. The flowers have a sweet, heady aroma that can be smelled from a distance. Loquat fruits, growing in clusters, are oval, rounded or pear-shaped, 3–5 centimetres long, with a smooth or downy, yellow or orange, sometimes red-blushed skin. The succulent, tangy flesh is white, yellow or orange and sweet to subacid or acid, depending on the cultivar.
Self-fertile variants of the loquat include the ‘Gold Nugget’ and ‘Mogi’ cultivars. The loquat is easy to grow in subtropical to mild temperate climates where it is often primarily grown as an ornamental plant, especially for its sweet-scented flowers, and secondarily for its delicious fruit. The boldly textured foliage adds a tropical look to gardens, contrasting well with many other plants. It is popular in the American South as an ornamental plant for its blossoms, though winter frosts rarely allow the flowers to survive and bear fruit the following spring. There are many named cultivars, with orange or white flesh. Some cultivars are intended for home-growing, where the flowers open gradually, and thus the fruit also ripens gradually, compared to the commercially grown species where the flowers open almost simultaneously, and the whole tree’s fruit also ripens together. In temperate climates it is grown as an ornamental with winter protection, as the fruits seldom ripen to an edible state. In the United Kingdom, it has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. In the highland parts of Central America, the loquat has become naturalized, and is often found growing wild in areas that have been disturbed but abandoned, its seeds having been dispersed by birds. Below 1000 meters, the fruit remains inedible for its high acidity, but above it, the wild fruit is appreciated and much harvested for its sweet, fruity flavor. It is occasionally planted for living fenceposts, as the tree is long-lived, not much subject to disease, and the wood is hard and durable. Good quality logs are much sought-after by furniture makers in Central America, who prize its hardness and durabilities.
The skin, though thin, can be peeled off manually if the fruit is ripe. In Egypt varieties with sweeter fruits and fewer seeds are often grafted on inferior quality specimens.
The fruits are the sweetest when soft and orange. The flavor is a mixture of peach, citrus and mild mango.The loquat has a high sugar, acid, and pectin content. It is eaten as a fresh fruit and mixes well with other fruits in fresh fruit salads or fruit cups. The fruits are also commonly used to make jam, jelly, and chutney, and are often served poached in light syrup. Firm, slightly immature fruits are best for making pies or tarts. The fruit is sometimes canned. The waste ratio, however, is 30 percent or more, due to the seed size. The fruit is also processed into confectioneries. Loquats are abundant in Pakistan, from Islamabad north, during the month of April, where the sour unripe fruit are used to make chutneys and sauces. Loquats can also be used to make light wine. It is fermented into a fruit wine, sometimes using just the crystal sugar and white liquor. In Italy nespolino is very popular. In Neaples the most popular to make nespolo liquer which is made from the seeds, reminiscent of nocino and amaretto, both prepared from nuts and apricot kernels. Both the loquat seeds and the apricot kernels contain cyanogenic glycosides, but the drinks are prepared from varieties that contain only small quantities so there is no risk of cyanide poisoning. Among the liqueur my husband “fell in love with” the sfogliatella pastry which is also made with nespolo oil and liqueur! To be honest the following recipe is quite an undertaking:
Sfogliatelle with nespolo oil (on the picture sfogliatelle is the third-first on the second tray from the left)
Ingredients for the dough: 3 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting, 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, 3/4 cup water plus additional,1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened, 4 ounces lard (1/2 cup), softened
For the filling:3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/4 cups semolina flour, 3 large egg yolks,1 tablespoon vanilla and nespola and orange oil, 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, 2 cups fresh ricotta (1 pound),1/4 cup finely chopped candied orange peel
Special equipment: a heavy-duty standing electric mixer with paddle attachment, a pasta machine, a small metal offset spatula, a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip, and parchment paper
Methods: Make dough Mix together 3 cups flour and sea salt in bowl of mixer at moderately low speed, then beat in water. Gently squeeze a small handful of dough: It should hold together without falling apart. If it doesn’t, add more water 1 teaspoon at a time, beating after each addition and continuing to test. Continue beating at moderately low speed until dough forms a ball, about 5 minutes (dough will not be smooth).
Halve dough and roll out each half into a rough 12- by 5-inch rectangle (1/4 inch thick) with a rolling pin. Put dough on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Set smooth rollers of pasta machine at widest setting. Feed 1 piece of dough through rollers 6 times, folding in half each time. Feed remaining piece of dough through rollers in same manner.
Stack both pieces of dough and, using rolling pin, roll together to form 1 (1/2-inch-thick) piece. Feed dough through rollers 10 more times, folding in half each time. Fold dough in half crosswise, then fold in half again. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 2 hours and up to 8.
Beat together butter and lard in a bowl with mixer until pale and fluffy. Quarter dough. Keeping remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap, roll out 1 piece dough into a rough 4- by 8-inch rectangle (1/4 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Feed rectangle through rollers of pasta machine (dust dough with flour as necessary to prevent sticking), making space between rollers narrower each time, until dough has gone through narrowest setting (dough strip will be about 4 feet long). Cover strip loosely with plastic wrap. Feed another piece of dough through rollers in same manner.
Put 1 dough strip on lightly floured surface and trim ends to make even. Spread 3 tablespoons lard butter evenly over strip with offset spatula. Gently stretch strip to 9 inches wide with your fingers, moving slowly down length of strip. Beginning at a short end, carefully and tightly roll up strip, stopping 1 inch before end, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. Spread other dough strip with 3 tablespoons lard butter and stretch to 9 inches in same manner (do not roll up). Overlap 1 inch of a short end onto exposed end of first roll, then continue to roll up first roll to form a tight cylinder (about 9 inches long and 2 inches in diameter). Feed remaining 2 pieces of dough through rollers and make another tight cylinder in same manner. Wrap cylinders well in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 3 hours. Chill remaining lard butter.
Make filling: Bring sugar and water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add semolina flour in a slow steady stream, stirring, and cook, stirring, until mixture becomes a thick heavy paste, 2 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and spread 1/4 inch thick. Chill and covered with wax paper, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Tear semolina into pieces and mix in bowl of mixer at low speed to break up. Add yolks, vanilla, sea salt, and cinnamon and beat until smooth. Mix in ricotta and candied orange peel at low speed. Spoon into pastry bag and chill it.
Form pastries Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove remaining lard butter from refrigerator.
Working with 1 cylinder at a time, trim about 1/2 inch from each end, then cut cylinders into 3/4-inch-thick slices (about 12). Lay 1 slice flat on work surface and gently flatten into a 4-inch round with heel of your hand, starting in center and smearing out in all directions.
Form round into a cone Scrape carefully round off work surface with a knife or metal spatula. Put your thumbs underneath round and first two fingers of each hand on top, then gently push center upward with thumbs and simultaneously pull side downward with fingers, keeping layers overlapping slightly (imagine a collapsible travel cup).
Cup the cone in palm of your hand, pipe in about 3 tablespoons filling. Pinch edges of dough together to seal and put pastry on a baking sheet. Form and fill more sfogliatelle in same manner with remaining slices and remaining cylinder.
Brush sfogliatelle with some lard butter. Bake in batches in middle of oven (keep second batch covered with plastic wrap while first bakes), brushing with remaining lard butter twice during baking, until very crisp and golden brown, about 30 minutes total. Transfer pastries to a rack to cool slightly then serve.