Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Creamy Pumpkin Risotto

Whenever we buy and crack a whole pumpkin this dish is a must along with cream of pumpkin, ravioli, and of course, a pie. It's a bit of a pain to dissect a pumpkin, but once done it is good for several great dishes, and steamed and mashed pumpkin can be frozen as well for future use. Hack the pumpkin in half, empty the inside (seeds & stringy stuff) and slice into wedges, about 4-5 cm at the widest, steam them in a large pot, 15-20 minutes counting from the boiling point should be enough.

Creamy Pumpkin Risotto

for 4 people
320g carnaroli rice
1 medium onion, chopped
100g speck (or English style bacon), finely julienned
30g butter
360g cooked pumpkin, roughly mashed or diced
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
500ml boiling hot vegetable broth
100g soft-semi soft cheese, recommended: robiola for mild flavour, smoked provola (diced) for more piquant flavour
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano

-sautè the onion and speck in butter in a medium sauce pan.
-when the onions are soft, add the rice, continue to sautè, tossing frequently, until the rice grains become partially transparent.
-Add the pumpkin pulp and nutmeg, turn up the heat and cook on the high heat, stirring frequently and thoroughly, until the pumpkin reaches the boiling point.
-start adding the broth, 1 ladle at a time. When the broth is mostly absorbed, add another ladle. Stir frequently.
-continuè to cook in this fashion for about 20 minutes, until the rice becomes al dente. the broth need to be hot, so reheat the remaining broth as you cook, as needed.
-When the rice attains the desirable texture, slightly al dente, melt the cheese into the risotto and blend it in thoroughly.

Serve immediately with generous serving of parmigiano/grana padano.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Mango Colada

Here is another new idea for a refreshing festive beverage for the festive season. We had some extra mango perfectly ripe to be enjoyed, as mango being just as tropical and delicious as pineapple, I thought why not pairing it with pineapple's best friend coconut and voila, here it is... I invented this recipe without crushed ice, as we have lost our ice crusher, and it works perfectly as long as you think ahead by a couple of hours!
Also I have no doubt it will be just as delicious on a beachside on a hot summer day! :-)

Mango Colada (for about 3 servings)

1 large ripe mango, peeled, deseeded
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange
200ml coconut milk
70-80ml rum
2 tbsp sugar
water to bring the amount to 750ml

Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix until it attains a smooth texture.
Let it rest in the freezer for a couple of hours until it becomes dense and slushy (but not solid... if you are tend to be distracted may be an idea to set a timer to check!)
Give it another quick buzz on the blender before serving to even out the texture.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Cottage Pie

This is a lovely comfort food for a wintry evening, a classic dinner number from Great Britain. It is almost identical to the famous Shepards pie but beef mince is used instead of lamb here, thus it turns into "Cottage" Pie. Make sure to use a lean mince, as the fatty one will make the dish look and taste too greasy. As usual I couldn't help but doctoring the traditional recipe just a wee little bit and adding a little sultanas and pine nuts, which gives a subtle but particular Mediterranean touch, which would be an optional addition. Below is a dose for about 5-6 with regular appetite(though 3 of us easily finished it off in one go.. :-p).

Cottage Pie

800g lean beef mince
800g potatoes
2 tbsp butter
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano, as needed
little milk
1 tsp nutmeg
2 onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
100g green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 tsp powdered vegetable bouillon
extra virgine olive oil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
25g sultanas(optional)
20g pine nuts(optional)
worcestershire sauce
1 egg

-soak the sultanas in just enough water.
-lightly toast/dry roast the pine nuts.
-peel the potatoes, boil or steam them until they are fork tender.
-Mash the potatoes, mix the butter and parmigiano (you can as cheesy or less cheesy as you prefer) while hot, adding a small amount of milk to smoothen the texture. Set it aside.
-Saute the onion and carrot in just enough olive oil. When they are tender add the mince, peas, bouillon and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, cook until the mince are thoroughly browned.
-Add the sultanas, pine nuts, pepper and splash (not pour) the worcestershire sauce to your taste, add a little more bouillon powder or salt if needed.
-Let the ingredients blend well, cook for another 3-4 minutes.
-Pour the mixture into a baking dish, even out the surface.
-Add a generous layer of the mashed potato mixture on top, smooth out the surface.
-Using a tip of fork, draw ridges across the surface.
-Beat the egg, and brush lightly and evenly the entire surface.
-Bake the cottage pie at 180°C for about 30 minutes, or until the surface takes on a golden colour.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Ricotta Pumpkin Pie

Here is another seasonal, festive dessert, pumpkin pie :-) I added a wee bit of Italian touch using the ricotta instead of more traditional condensed milk, which also gives a distinct, rich flavour!! Nice choice for a dessert at a holiday gathering, as the touch of spice will also appeal to some of those people who are usually not particularly keen on sweets. Happy holidays everyone!!

Ricotta Pumpkin Pie

pasta frolla
2 cups pumpkin, cooked, well drained and mashed
150g dark brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp clove
50ml pure maple syrup, corn syrup or light treacle
250g ricotta
3 eggs (or 2 large), beaten
several drops of vanilla essence

Prepare the pasta frolla as described.
Line it over a 25cm diametre pie form.

Cook the pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, spices, and syrup in a saucepan over moderate heat until thick, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the ricotta, eggs and vanilla essence, and cook over low heat for another 5 minutes, mixing/whipping vigorously at the same time. Let it cool down to lukewarm-room temp.
Pour into the pie form, and bake for 10 minutes at 200°C, and then at 175C° for 40-45 minutes, or until the toothpick comes out clean.
Serve with generous heaping of whipped cream.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Kiwi daiquiri

Occasionally we run into certain problems with kiwi, we would buy them while they are pretty hard, assuming they would ripen in some days. Well some kiwis are pretty stubborn, they would remain like rocks and go straight into a shrivelled up state instead of ripening. The last time this happened, we found a great solution. A delicious, refreshing dose of kiwi daiquiri!! Of course more reasonable, ripened kiwi can be used as well, just adjust the amount of the sugar. This recipe will be a welcome idea for the upcoming merry season!

Kiwi Daiquiri
(for 3-4 portions)

-6-7 tough kiwis, peeled and cut into a few chunks
(if the whitish centre part is very hard, cut it away)
-half cup of sugar (or adjust the amount as needed. if you use mature kiwis obviously much less sugar is needed)
-80-90ml rum
-juice from 2 limes
-a little water to make it to about 750-800ml

place all the ingredients in a blender, buzz them until the mixture becomes smooth.
Place it in a freezer for about 2 hours, or until the mixture attains a slushy texture.
Put it back on the blender and give it a quick whip for a couple of seconds

Enjoy, slurrrrp

Thursday, 3 December 2009


As the Christmas season is getting into its full swing, I would like to introduce a special Chrissy treat from Siena, Ricciarelli. It's a melt in your mouth, delicate, rich and soft "marzipan biscuit", for a slight modification you can use the orange zest instead of lemon. Do not try with the juice as it severely interferes with the delicate texture!! Every year we triple or quadruple this recipe and pump them out, it's always a surefire huge hit for the merry season!!

Ricciarelli (Siena, Tuscany)

1 egg white
250g (8,5oz) peeled almonds*
300g (10,5oz) sugar
a few drops of vanilla essence
a pinch of salt
20g (1 tbsp) honey
grated lemon zest from 1/2 of lemon
powdered sugar, as needed

*Almonds need to be peeled in order to obtain the very light colour. You may be able to find ground almonds at a specialty store or large supermarket, to skip the first process.

- In a food processor finely grind the almonds to fine granules (almost powder).
- In a bowl mix sugar and the almonds together.
- Beat eggwhite with vanilla and a pinch of salt to soft peaks, then pour it into the sugar/almond mixture, delicately blend them in with the rest of ingredients.
- Dust a flat working surface with plenty of powdered sugar, then roll out evenly the almond mixture upon to about 1-1,5cm (half inch) thickness.
with a sharp knife also dusted with powdered sugar, slice the dough into small diamond(or oval)shapes (about 6 x 3,5cm, or 2,5 inch x 1,5 inch more or less).

- Lay out a baking paper on the flat baking sheet/pan, place the ricciarelli and bake at 140°C/280°F for about 15 minutes, or take them out of the oven as soon as they take on a golden colour just slightly. This is crucial, watch them carefully as they need to remain very light in the colour and tender inside.
- Let it cool completely without touching. (while warm they are still very very soft, only when they are cool they would attain the right firmness.)

- Cover each ricciarelli generously with powdered sugar.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Zesty Coconut Chutney

This recipe was introduced to me by my friend Yakuta on www.discusscooking.com when I was looking for a good recipe for fresh coconuts when I wanted to try something savoury with it. It's unique and refreshing flavour will surely be a crowd pleaser during the season full of get-togethers and group dinners!
As a serving suggestion in above picture I used the chutney with grilled chicken breasts and tossed the chutney with cooked couscous.

Coconut chutney

1/2 of a fresh coconut, chopped it into small cubes
2 bunches of fresh coriander washed and roughly chopped
juice of 2 limes
4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
greek yogurt or sour cream
2 tsp of sugar

Blend all of this together in a food processor/mixer with just enough yogurt/sour cream to make the mixture smooth. The texture of it should be thick not runny.

Serve with grilled fish fillets, chicken breast or as a condiment for seafood/avocado salad. Nice also for canapè!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Brussels meatballs

Well, it is not exactly a recipe from Belgium, I sort of invented the name. I always feel sorry for brussel sprouts as so many people vehemently detest them. For me it is a delicious versatile vegetable which go well with so many flavours and ingredients, and I always suspected they are hated because of unimaginative poor preparations to which they are subjected to. Surely they are not so attractive when they are simply boiled to death to the point they become greyish brown!! This is one of my favourite brussel sprouts recipes which are quite fun to eat also as an idea!!

Brussels Meatballs

for 4 people

24-30 (approx,depending on the size) brussel sprouts, cleaned and the bottoms cut off
500g lean mince, beef
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp Lea&Perrin worcestershire sauce

500ml passata (tomato puree)
100ml. red wine
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
1 tsp herbs of provence (or mixture of oregano, thyme and majoram)
1 bayleaf
1 tbsp brown sugar
(alternatively a tomato based pasta sauce, homemade or store bought, can be used for a shortcut)

Steam the brussel sprouts with little water in the microwave, until al dente (about 4-5 minutes) let them cool. Brussel sprouts should be on the firm side, but not too much. Test with a toothpick for the texture and if it is still too tough, cook further for another minute or two. Let them cool.

Mix all the rest of meatball ingredients, just as you do with regular meatballs/meatloafs.
Take each brussel sprouts and wrap them with the meatball mixture. Meatball part should be about 5mm thickness or little less.

To make the sauce, sautè the onion and garlic in olive oil, until they are softened.
Add the herbs, pepper, and wine and cook until the major part of wine is evaporated.
Add the passata and brown sugar. Bring it back to boil and simmer, stirring often for about 15 minutes. If needed add a pinch of salt.
Combine the meatball ingredients until blended in well.

Arrange the meatball wrapped brussel sprouts on a buttered baking dish, pour the sauce over, covering each meatballs completely.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake in the oven at 180°C for 25-30minutes.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Savoury Mushroom-Cheese Strudel

I improvised this recipe the other day when I defrosted a sheet of puff pastry meaning to make a quiche, then realizing too late I only had 1 egg left. :-( Thank god puff pastry is so versatile, and I jumped on the opportunity to use up some left over mushrooms and brie still left in the fridge. This turned out to be a yummy hit, and it will surely turn into a proper repartoire when an occasion calls for a quick snack or a hors d'oeuvres!!

Savoury mushroom-cheese strudel

250g mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 slices of speck or english style bacon (optional)
dash of herbs provençal
butter, just enough to sautè the above items
1/2 tsp granulated (powdered) vegetable bouillon
dash of pepper
150g brie, chopped (or your choice of cheese)
generous handful of parsley, chopped
1 sheet of puff pastry (about 300g)

Melt the butter in a skillet and prepare the sautè mixture, starting with onion.
When onion starts to soften, add mushrooms, garlic, speck/bacon, and the seasonings. Continue to cook on high heat stirring well, until onions and mushrooms are completely tender.
Just before turning off the heat, add the parsley.
Let it stand to chill to the room temperature.*
(*if the mixture is too warm it will soften the pastry dough immediately, and it will be difficult to flip over in the process.)
Roll out the puff pastry dough, flatten it to about 3mm thickness if the sheet is thicker, spread it flat on a baking sheet.
Mix in chopped brie into the sautèed mixture, blend in evenly.
Arrange the filling on the surface of the pastry sheet across the centre, about 6-7 wide, leaving about 2cm each on both sides (so it can be secured).
Fold the pastry sheet in 3, folding over the both sides together, overlapping slightly at the centre.
Carefully flip over the strudel, so the seam side will be at the bottom. Press the opening edges on both sides gently with a fork to secure them.
Make a few diagonal slits on the surface with a sharp knife.
Bake the strudel in the oven at 200°C for about 10 minutes, or until the surface is thoroughly golden brown.
Let is stand to cool slightly to stabilize the texture before slicing up.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009



Hummus is a delicious dip/spread made with garbanzo beans/chick pea, popular throughout in the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern region. The name "Hummus" is transliterated from the arabic word for garbanzo, thus the spelling can vary widely, and it can be written also hamos, hummos, hommus, houmous etc. A very versatile snack, tapa, antipasto, enjoy Hummus with toasted pita breads (alternatively crusty toasted bread or crackers), or accompaniment to falafel, grilled or raw vegetables.

300g dried garbanzo(chickpea)*
80g tahini (middle eastern sesame paste)**
1 lemon
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 tsp cumin
Extra Virgine Olive Oil
pinch of cayenne pepper

Soak the garbanzo beans overnight (12-15 hours) in water with 1 tbsp of baking soda mixed in.
At the end of soaking rinse the garbanzo several times, then boil for 1,5 hour, or 45minutes in a pressure cooker.
Drain and transfer into a food processor/mixer. Add the rest of ingredients, with first about 1/4 cup of Olive Oil, pulse a few times, check the consistency and the flavour and adjust the amount of oil, add it gradually to make a smooth, creamy texture, as well as the salt and spice to your taste.
Garnish with chopped flat parsley or fresh coriander leaves if desired.

*It IS a bit of pain preparing the dried garbanzo while you can just pop open a tinned chick peas, but the difference in flavour is so significant it is highly recommended to use the traditional method with the dried beans!! Garbanzo beans are so versatile, you can prepare multiple doses in one go and make a few different items as well!

**as an emergency solution when you can't find Tahini, you can mix in some good intense quality sesame oil with the Olive oil, about 2-3 table spoons. Not exactly the same thing and significantly lighter in taste, but quite similar essence can be attained.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

La Cucina Italiana the magazine

La Cucina Italiana, this beautiful series of monthly magazines is undoubtedly the queen mother of magazines when it comes to a real Italian cooking in depth. As soon as I could sort of waddle through the italian writing, I was hooked and now I have been a faithful subscriber for well over 5 years since. It is so much more than a collection of recipes, every edition is filled with interesting reads about cultures behind each regional cooking, monographs on specific/seasonal items, introductions of great chefs and their secrets, gastronomic anecdotes, not to mention hundreds of mouth-watering gorgeous photographs. This month the magazine celebrated its 80 year anniversary, and one of the special features were stupendous collection of cakes specially created and dedicated by their appointed chefs. Here are some examples which will surely make your eyes drool :-)

Naturally the main editions are issued in Italian, however it's popularity has well extended into the international market, and now they are also issued in different languages, notedly in English, in German, in Dutch, and in Czech, each editions stick to the true Italian way as much as possible and keep the "international" modifications to the minimum so as to transcend the spirit of its founder and authenticity, so if you are in a bookshop or newsstand next time, check and see if a copy of "La Cucina Italiana" can be found near you!! There is also a worldwide site in English where you can learn the 101 of Italian food, so have a visit!!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Tagliatelle al cacao with Traminer sauce

I found this highly intriguing recipe on the latest issue of "La Cucina Italiana" and just HAD to try it out immediately. The result did not disappoint, faint touch of cocoa flavour from the pasta matches perfectly with the aroma of Gewurz Traminer, celebrated alpine wine famous for it's fruity refreshing fragrance, accented by speck, another delicacy which represents the alpine region. What's more, the dark chocolate coloured pasta does produce an interesting choreographic effect as well. The key is not to overcook the wine in order to maintain the distinct flavour and aroma!!

Tagliatelle al cacao with Traminer sauce

Ingredients (for 3-4 people)
-for pasta
220g flour (plus more for dusting)
30g unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs
1tsp extra virgine olive oil
pinch of salt

-for condiment
180g speck*, finely julienned
250g onion, thinly sliced.
60g butter
360ml Gewurz Traminer
Freshly shredded parmigiano reggiano or grana padano
*if Speck is unavailable, try with a well smoked English style bacon

Knead the pasta ingredients thoroughly until the dough becomes elastic and smooth.
Roll out the dough thin, 1-2mm, and cut into strips about 5-6mm wide.
Let the pasta air dry a little, by hanging or on top of a dry clean cloth, lightly dusted.
(for the detail of pasta dough making technique consult this page)

In the meanwhile cook the condiment. Sautè the onion in the butter, when they begin to soften, add the speck and cook a few more minutes. Add the wine and bring it boil, turn down the heat and let it simmer for 7-8minutes.

Cook the pasta in a generous amount of boiling water, it takes just about a minute from the point the pasta floats up to the surface. Quickly drain the pasta and toss it with the condiment.
Serve with a generous amount of freshly shaved/grated parmigiano or grana padano

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Homemade Pancakes

Here is a favourite treat for just about everyone, great for brunch, afternoon tea, late night snack or any time of the day when you feel peckish!! Contrary to the belief of many it doesn't require a special ready made mixture, it is just as simple making it totally from scratch!! While it IS a quick and easy recipe but it may take a bit of practice to get the hang of it, so I tried to explain step by step in detail, please don't be intimidated by the longish entry, the procedure is much simpler than it looks!!

If you can find a self rising flour, that would be the perfect pancake making flour. This type of flour has already a rising agent mixed in so your pancakes will puff up without fail!!

However, if you can't find it in stores don't despair, you can mix about 1,5 tea spoon of baking power into about a cup of regular all purpose flour for the same effect as well.
Make sure though, the baking power is well preserved and well within the expiration date, many people make the mistake of using the poorly preserved "dead" baking powder which surely leads to a disappointing result!!

1 cup of flour (self rising, or all purpose + 1,5 tsp baking powder)
1 egg
2 tablespoon sugar
milk (preferably at room temperature)
juice of half lemon

Beat together all the ingredients, gradually adding the milk little by little, to bring the texture to a "muddy" consistency (not too dense not too liquid, it will be lighter than the regular cake batter, but not so liquid like the crepe batter)*. it's okay if it is not perfectly smooth and slightly lumpy.
Let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes.
Lightly grease a hotplate or non-stick skillet and heat it.
Give a quick thorough stir to the mixture before start to cook it.
Drop about a ladleful (you can make it as small or as big as you want, but regular pancakes are usually about 10-15cm diametre).
Observe the pancake, after a while the bubbles start forming on the surface. When there are lots of bubbles all over and the edge of the batter start to dry, quickly flip it.
The side comes up should be nicely golden brown (not burnt), if the colour is still too pale, flip it back when the second side is fully cooked.
The other side should take much less time to colour. You can just raise the edge slightly with a spatula to check the colour/doneness.
When the both side is fully cooked, take off from the heat and repeat the procedure. (the first one usually takes the longest, as the hot-plate/skillet heats up more the cooking procedure gets quicker. If you are using a burner you may want to turn down the heat just a little when it starts to cook too quickly)

Enjoy the pancakes with
generous amount of butter plus
-pure maple syrup
-fruit preserve/sauce
-nutella etc. etc.!!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Licia's Quiche Lorrainishe

This is a cross between quiche and Italy's torta rustica (savoury pie), while the recipe is basically inspired by the famous quiche Lorraine, there are a few key modifications I made, so it became "Lorrainish" :-p Possibilities for variations are abound, you can use any cheeses that melt well, or potatoes can be substituted with broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus depending on the season. They are also great for picnic or potluck as they still taste good at room temperature.

Licia's Quiche Lorrainishe

1 small onion, chopped
150g speck or smoked bacon, shredded thin
1 large potato, chopped into small cubes (a little less than 1cm for quick cooking)
Olive oil
3 eggs
250g ricotta
80g gorgonzola, cubed
100g fontina (or gruyere, emmental or edam), shredded
dash of black pepper
240-300g sheet of puff pastry dough

In a large skillet heat up about 2tbsp of olive oil. Add onion, speck/bacon and potato until onion and potato are cooked through. Transfer the mixture on an absorbent paper and let it cool to the room temperature.

In the meanwhile line a pie form about 28cm diametre with the puff pastry sheet, covering well also the side.
Punch some holes on the bottom surface, cover with a wax paper and pour some dried beans evenly(just to loosely cover the bottom surface in a single layer).
Blind bake the pie shell for about 10 minutes at 200°C, until the edges are lightly browned.
Beat together the eggs and ricotta until well blended. Add the cheeses and the sautèed mixture, season with a dash of black pepper. Mix well.

Remove the beans* and the wax paper from the pie shell, and pour the egg-cheese mixture over the shell. Spread it out evenly.

Put the pie back to the oven and bake another 12-15 minutes, until the surface is nicely golden.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Strawberry Millefoglie (Mille-Feuille)

Strawberry Millefoglie (Mille-feuille)

Using the ready made puff pastry sheets, this is a magical dessert that is very easy to make and looks and tastes absolutely fantastic!! Of course for a variation, you can try other fruit sauces, raspberry, blackberry or peaches also work very well. My recommendation also is to make some extra strawberry sauce, which will be always handy for ice cream, crepes, strawberry shortcakes etc!!

3 ready made puff pastry, about 20-22cm square*
*you can also cut the squares out of unbaked sheets, poke some holes on the surface with the fork and bake at 190-200° until golden brown.
custard (crema pasticcera), about 700ml see recipe at http://muchogustaio.blogspot.com/2009/07/crema-pasticcera-custard.html

strawberry sauce
500g strawberry, fresh or frozen
200g gelling sugar for jam (sugar with pectin added)
juice of 1/2 lemon
powdered gelatin, if needed

Prepare the custard. Let it chill.
Prepare the strawberry sauce, by roughly whipping the strawberries in a mixer, leaving them still a bit chunky. In a sauce pan heat up the strawberries, sugar and the lemon juice together, bring to a boil and let it simmer for a few minutes. Stir often. If it is still too liquidy, mix in a tiny bit (half a teaspoonful or less) of powdered gelatin, stir well and let it dissolve and add to the cooking mixture, let it boil for another minute or so. Let it cool down.

Spread the custard generously over a sheet of puff pastry, then cover with another pastry sheet. repeat the procedure with the rest of the custard cream twice. Over the surface (should be the top layer of the custard) generously spread the strawberry sauce.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Oven Roasted Bell Peppers

Oven Roasted Bell Peppers (Sicilia, Lazio)

They are delicious "tapa" by themselves, or an alternative topping for bruschetta. While roasting, do not worry about the burnt patches on the surface, they are just external skins which are to be easily peeled off. Alternatively the peppers can be roasted on a barbeque grill during a cookout, which makes a nice accompaniment to the meal.

4 bell large bell peppers (for choreographic effect, 2 red 2 yellow)
4 garlic cloves
handful of capers
handful of pine nuts
extra virgine olive oil

Cut off the top of the bell peppers, place one garlic clove inside each bell peppers.
Place the bell peppers on a shallow baking dish, roast them in the oven at 180°C for about 30-35 minutes, or until they are full cooked and limp. Turn over the peppers once around 15-20 minutes into cooking.
Take off the peppers and let it cool off, until you can comfortably handle them. They should be still quite warm.
Peel off the external skin of the peppers. (once the peppers cool off too much it becomes more difficult to peel!) Then rip them into several strips.
Take the garlic from the inside of the peppers, mush them up.
Rinse the capers under running water to eliminate the excess salt, then chop it up.
Toss the pepper strips with the mushed up garlic, caper and pine nuts.
Drizzle with good quality extra virgine olive oil, serve at room temperature.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Chick Salad al Avocado

This is no ordinary boring chicken salad, avocado is a wonderful companion of chicken, crispy bacon and toasted cashew adds the nice flavour kick for your sandwich/wrap. Turkey can also be used in place of the chicken, and this will be a fresh idea for the leftover roast during the upcoming holiday season!


-450g/1lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked* and roughly shredded
(*Grilled, pan fried, boiled in a light broth with a bayleaf, or leftover roast, according to your preference/convenience)
-100g/3,5oz bacon crispily cooked and flaked
-50g cashew, crushed and toasted
-2 big plump ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
-splash of lime juice
-mixture of mayonnaise and sour cream, as needed to coat the ingredients sufficiently, but not to drown them
-dash of black pepper.

combine all the ingredients, coating them with the condiment thoroughly.
Serve chilled or at room temperature, by itself or as a filling for wraps/sandwiches.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Stuffed Zucchini (Courgette) Flowers

This is a very popular antipasto (especially at a pizzerias) or tapa, delicate yet flavourful. Traditional recipes come with a piece of anchovy fillet along with mozzarella, I personally like it just with the cheese. Courgette flowers are sometimes sold with a baby courgette intact, in this case you can leave the courgette attached to the flower and cook altogether, just make sure to remove the stamen inside the flower.

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers (Campania, Lazio)

15 courgette flowers
100g, or as needed 50/50 flour/corn flour(maizena) mixture
2 eggs
cold water, as needed
200g fresh mozzarella
15 anchovy fillets (optional)
frying oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Carefully eliminate the stamen from inside the courgette flowers and gently rinse the flowers, being careful not to break them.
Heat the oil* in a large frying pan (deep enough to let the flowers "swim") or an electric fryer to about 175°C.
*If you don't use a fryer or a thermometre, drop a small piece of bread in the pan to check the hotness of the oil. It should sizzle and turn golden within 40 seconds.

In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs with a little salt and pepper. Add the flower mixture and little by little, cold water. Mixing well and bring the batter to a smooth consistency, something like a crepe batter.
Slice the mozzarella into thin strips and pat dry the anchovy fillets to eliminate excess oil.
Fill each courgette flower with a strip of mozzarella, 1 anchovy fillet and mozzarella. Make sure the mozzarella will stay within the flower petal, not sticking outside. This way the petals will close themselves while being cooked, preventing mozzarella from oozing out.

Dip the stuffed flowers into the batter, coat thinly and evenly.
Gently slip the courgette flower into the oil, cook about 3 at a time. If you are using a fryer, do not place them in the raised basket as the batter will stick, drop the flowers directly in the oil and let it swim.
Fry for a couple of minutes on each side, until they turn golden.
Gently remove each flower with a slotted spoon and let them rest on an absorbent paper.
Serve immediately.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Caramelized Apple cake

There are many variations of apple cakes, this is one of our favourites!! Sort of an apple upside down cake, but the melt in your mouth buttery richness, and the hint of orange liqueur gives the extra classy touch to this memorable dessert!!

60g+100g butter
100g+160g sugar
60ml water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large firm apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
150g flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 shot glass of Grand Marnier or similar orange liqueur + a bit more for brushing
some drops of vanilla

Butter a round non stick cake form about 22-24cm diametre. Lightly coat the form with sugar. (or silicon form, no coating necessary in this case)
Arrange the sliced apple pieces to cover the bottom of the cake form. (can be slightly overlapped)
Melt 60g butter in a skillet. Stir in 100g of sugar, 60ml water and cinnamon and bring to boil.
Beat together 160g sugar, egg yolks, eggs, Grand Marnier and vanilla in a bowl to blend. Gently stir in sifted dry ingredients.
Fold in 1/2 cup melted butter.
Pour the syrup over apples in pan, then the batter. Bake at 175°, about 40 minutes (do a toothpick check for doneness).
Cool the cake for some minutes. Brush bottom of cake with a bit of Grand Marnier.
Turn over the cake out onto a platter.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Melanzane (aubergine) alla Parmigiana

Melanzane (Aubergine) alla parmigiana (Sicilia-Campania)

Another well known classic favourite. Apart from the parmigiano as a topping, you can also use different type of cheese to insert in the middle, such as firm sliced mozzarella, provola or fontina. Also as a short cut you can use a good quality readymade pasta sauce, however don't shortcut on preparation of the aubergine in order to maximize the flavour and the texture. For the amount stated below it should feed about 6 "average" people served with some garden salad and fresh baked bread, however in our household we are easily capable of gobbling it all down in one go between the 3 of us! When you are making a sauce, prepare a generous amount, if there will be an extra left, it will always be handy for another day for some other recipes!

1kg-1,2kg Aubergine, sliced in circles slightly less than 1cm thickness
oil for frying
2 onions
2 large cloves of garlic
2 carrot
2 bayleaves
olive oil
1 tsp. herb mix provençal
salt, pepper
1-1,5 lt. passata (or 1/2-1/2 of tomato puree & diced tomatoes from tin)
about 100g parmigiano reggiano or grana padano, freshly grated
some bread crumbs

Soak the aubergine slices in a cold, salted water in a large bowl, let them rest for at least 30min.
Rinse the aubergine slices under running water in a sieve, then pat dry.
Deep fry the slices in hot oil (about 175°C), a little at a time so the temperature will stay high, cook each slices until they are golden brown. Let them dry on an absorbent paper.
Finely chop the onions, garlic and carrots (or smash them together in a food processor), sautè them in sufficient amount of olive oil in a large skillet.
Season the mixture with salt and pepper as needed.
When they are completely soft, add the herbs and tomatoes, bring it to boil and let it simmer on a low heat for 15-20 minutes, or the sauce somewhat thickens.
Generously coat the bottom of a baking dish (about 30x40cm) with the tomato sauce.
Arrange a layer of aubergine slices closely lined together to cover the bottom.
Add another thin layer of tomato sauce over the aubergine slices.
sprinkle generously and evenly a mixture of bread crumbs and cheese on the surface.
Repeat the procedure until you run out of the aubergine (usually about 3 layers), ending with a layer of tomato sauce. (at this point you should have enough bread crumbs/grated cheese left to make one more layer)
Cover the dish with an aluminum foil, secure the edges well if the oven is ventilated, so the foil will not fly open.
Bake for 20 minutes at 175°C.
Take out the tray from the oven, turn up the temperature to 200°C, take off the foil and arrange the final top layer of bread crumbs and grated cheese over the surface.
Put the tray back uncovered, continue to cook for about 10 minutes or until the topping is golden grown.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Herb Ricotta Bites

This is a very easy and simple snack/antipasto for an impressive result. A well esteemed friend of ours passed on this recipe to us, according to her this is a very antique Roman recipe, she translated it from a Latin text!
The dose of course can be multiplied as this would also make a great party nibble!!

fresh bayleaves (10-12 circa) or sage leaves (20 + or -)
1 tub (250g/8 oz) ricotta
about 50-60g freshly ground parmigiano, pecorino or grana padano
1 large tablespoon (heaped) of flour
1 tsp baking powder
dash of pepper

Rinse clean the herbs, pat dry.

Mix well the rest of ingredients in a bowl.

Arrange the leaves on a baking tray, and on each leaf drop a spoonful of the mixture, roughly making the shape to match the form of the leaves, in about 1cm thickness. Bake at 180°C about 12-15 minutes, or until golden.

Note: leaves are to be peeled off when they are eaten. In case of sage leaves though (which are much more tender than bayleaves), some people would happily eat them without any harm!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Pan fried Catfish fillet alla mimosa

A spur of the moment improvisation turned out so very well! The name is given because the bright yellow coconut/lemon/saffran condiment reminds me of the glorious spring flower, which also gives this dish a nice choreographic effect, thus a dish delicious both to your appetite to your eyes. Catfish can be substituted with any firm white-fleshed fish like haddock or ocean perch.

2 catfish fillet (200-250g a piece)
60-80g fresh coconut flesh chopped in small pieces
2tbsp liquid from coconut
1 lemon
1 packet of saffran

Carefully peel the lemon.
In a food processor or hand mixer grate the coconut and lemon zest with the coconut liquid and the juice of the lemon, until they are small flakes.
Pat dry the fillets, and coat them with the flour.
Heat about 2tbsp of butter in a large skillet (enough to generously cover the surface)
lightly sprinkle a little salt over the butter (not necessary if the butter is already salted)
Fry the fillets in the butter until thoroughly cooked, about 10 minutes turning them over about half way.
Scoop out the fillet, let them dry on an absorbent paper and keep warm.
Add another 2tbsp of butter in the skillet and lightly sautè the coconut/lemon zest mixture for a few minutes.
Add a packet of saffran and distribute well in the mixture, continuing to cook for about another minute.
Return the fillets in the Skillet and gently coat them with the condiment.
Serve hot with the extra condiment heaped onto the fillets.

Saturday, 29 August 2009


Flaky, sinfully rich treat are widely enjoyed from the mediterranean to the mid-eastern countries, they are deeply integrated part of the culinary tradition equally in Greece, Lebanon and Turkey, with slight variations. One of the yummy options that are practised in some of the regions is to use pistacchio instead of walnuts, which is equally worthy to be experimented!

500 gr. walnuts, or almond, or mixture of the two, coarsely chopped
60 gr. sugar
dash of cinnamon

1package Phyllo pastry (about 500g)
180g (or as needed butter) melted

100 gr. sugar
300 ml water
2 cinnamon sticks
juice from 1/2 lemon, or a few dashes of orange flower water
100g honey

Butter the base and sides of a large, relatively shallow baking dish, rectangular or round.
Brush each layer of phyllo with melted butter and spread over the base of the baking dish. Carefully stack 4 layers.

Sprinkle evenly a thin layer of filling all over the surface.
Carefully stack 3 more layer of phyllo, then the filling, repeat the procedure until you finish with the ingredients, take care to finish with 2 layers of the phyllo.
Fold any excess pastry on either of the sides over the filling and brush it with butter, especially very generous at the top.

Trim any excess pastry with a small sharp knife, keeping in mind that it will also shrink.
Slit just the top layers of Phyllo carefully to make diamond shapes (or square).
At this point do not cut right down to the bottom.
This procedure will make cutting and lifting the pieces out, once it is cooked, much easier and efficient.
Lightly sprinkle a little water all over the surface and bake at 180°C for about 30minutes or the surface is evenly golden.

Meanwhile place the ingredients for syrup except the honey, in a saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let it immer for 6-8 minutes, add the honey and simmer for additional 5 minutes until it thickens slightly.
When the baklava is chilled carefully drizzle the hot (not boiling) syrup evenly over the surface.
Let it stand and absorb the syrup.

Important note!

If you have purchased a frozen package of the phyllo, it is essential on your part to think ahead, take the package out of the freezer the night before cooking and let it defrost gently and gradually in the fridge. If they get defrosted too quickly the texture will get sticky and too limp, and becomes unmanageable for the delicate treatment required for this recipe.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Pan fried potato wedges Calabrese

This is a very tasty alternative to regular chips or french fried potatoes to accompany your main plate or burgers. A litte touch of balsamic vinegar gives a distinct flavour twist. It's important not to overcrowd the skillet in order to cook the potatoes correctly, with the amount stated below I use 2 skillets together so I can cook them in one go!

400g Red Onions (Tropea if can be found), thinly sliced
600g Potatoes, skinned and cut into wedges
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Fry the potatoes, not too many at a time, should be loosely one layer with some room to be shifted. When the potatoes are halfway done, just lightly coloured, add some onions (amount proportionate considering the remaining potatoes). Salt to taste, continue to cook until the potatoes are thoroughly golden brown and the onions are lightly caramelized. Scoop out the potatoes and onions, let them rest on a absorbent paper. Keep warm (for example inside lightly heated oven about 150°C) and repeat the procedure with the remaining potatoes and onions.
In a serving tray or bowl drizzle about 1tbsp of balsamic vinegar and toss thoroughly, serve hot.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Pasta Salad alla Caprese

This is a lovely fresh tasting pasta dish for a hot evening, easy to prepare and you use the heat only to boil the pasta. The idea is taken from the classic Italian dish Insalata Caprese, I tossed in the pasta to make more substantial for a first course. Not only it tastes great, its red, white and green colour looks so typically Italian as well!! As with any simple recipes , the quality of each ingredients is the key. Make sure to use a good quality olive oil and fresh mozzarella, and the perfect tomatoes plump, red and firm, and oh, a fresh batch of basil leaves. This is a perfect example why it is so handy to grow a small shrub of basil at home during the warm months, even if you don't have a garden it grows very well on your balcony or window sill!!

Ingredients for about 2-3 people

200g dry pasta (short versions, like fusilli, orecchiette, farfalle etc.)
3-4 tomatoes
250g mozzarella, preferably of buffalo milk (di bufala)
generous handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
Extra Virgine Olive Oil
salt, pepper

Cook the pasta as indicated on the package, drain and rinse under the cold water. Drain
Eliminate the stem and core from the tomatoes, then roughly chop them
Chop the mozzarella into bite sizes. (Or you can use the "bocconcini" version, which come in small balls)
Toss the pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella, add salt and pepper to your liking, sprinkle with the basil leaves then drizzle the olive oil.
Preferably let the salad rest for at least half an hour, as the flavours blend together better while resting.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Paella Portuguese

The original recipe was taken from my favourite magazine La Cucina Italiana, it was introduced by a guest author from Portugal, it was simply called "seafood rice", however I found a striking similarity to a paella from the neighbouring Spain, so I took the liberty to call it Paella Portuguese... I use frozen prawns but if you can find a fresh batch I am sure it will be even better, in any case make sure to use a good sized plump variations, not the tiny popcorn shrimps!

1-2 onion (depending on the size), chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 med. red or yellow bell pepper, julienned
olive oil
2 tsp. powdered vegetable bouillon
1-2 bayleaves
3-4 tomatoes, peeled and diced
100g frozen green peas
200ml. dry white wine
240g basmati rice, uncooked
400g prawns (more if they are whole)
pepper, salt
Fresh coriander leaves, chopped.

Sautè the onion, garlic and bell pepper in plenty of olive oil using a large sauce pan and they are completely softened.
Add the bouillon powder, bayleaves, tomatoes and wine, bring it to boil and let it simmer for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile quickly boil the prawns, drain, saving about a cup of cooking water, and clean off the excesses of prawns, set them aside.
Add the cooking water to the veg. mixture and continue to cook for another few minutes.
Add the frozen green peas, mix well and bring it back to boil.
Add the rice, let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often and adding a little hot water as needed to give the mixture the wet consistency (but NOT swimming like "soup"), until rice attains a pleasant texture. (firm but not tough or crunchy)
Adjust the flavour with salt (optional) and pepper as needed.
At the last stage add the prawns, mix them well and heat them through.
Serve with a generous sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

P.S. fresh coriander adds a lovely, unique fresh flavour, however it is not shown in the above picture, our poor batch on our balcony just died, and it was made during the national holiday so all the shops were closed so we had to make do without it :-(

Friday, 14 August 2009


This is a classic outdoor favourite, particularly in North America, when they gather around a campfire. I suddenly thought of this when Cristiano found a bag of marshmallows in a supermarket and bought it out of curiosity. We have an indoor gas grill, so that was a perfect tool to toast the marshmallow after we had our grilled dinner, it turned out so well we ate 3 portions each :-p You can also use any gas burner if there is no campfire available!! It may take a few marshmallows for you to practise on to get the hang of roasting them evenly, but it's actually quite simple and easy, so don't panic if the first marshmallow doesn't roast well, uneven, or drop, you will get it quickly enough!

What you need

-twice the number of crunchy thin type biscuits* for the number of smores to be made.
*The original recipe calls for graham crackers, but since they are rarely found here in Italy I used the round oatmeal crisps from IkeaFood (Kakor Havreflarn).

-not too thick chocolate slabs, milk or semi-sweet depending on your preference.


-wooden skewers

What you do

Break up the chocolate slabs, lay the pieces in the middle of half of the biscuits.
Secure a marshmallow at the tip of the wooden skewer, insert it fully so there will be less risk of dropping while you are roasting them.
Hold the marshmallow just above the open fire, turning frequently until the surface turns golden.
Place the hot, coloured marshmallow on top of the chocolate/biscuit, place another biscuit on top and lightly press on it, carefully remove the skewer.
Give it some seconds and let the chocolate soften with the heat from the marshmallow.
Enjoy :-)

Curiosity about its name
Smores, or S'mores, is said to be a shortened form of "some more", as they were always enjoyed so enthusiastically and everyone would ask for "some more" --- becoming "s'more" while it is spoken hastily full mouthed with this sticky gooey treat. ;-)

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Nasi Goreng al Curry

This is one of my few variations of nasi goreng (fried rice) inspired by the famous Indonesian dish. I also like it with prawns in place of chicken, which I toss in directly towards the end of sautèing just until they become opaque, or vegetarian version is nice as well, in which case fried potato cubes will give an added flavour and texture. Other selections of vegetables can be added/substituted as well, such as green peas, chopped broccoli or cauliflower.
Also if you don't have all these different spices, you can just use 50/50 of galam masala and ready made curry powder.

300g boneless chicken breasts sliced in strips
(for marinade)
1tbsp ketjap(indonesian sweet soy sauce) or teriyaki sauce
1tbsp olive oil
1tsp freshly grated ginger
1 clove garlic, smashed

1 large onion, or 3-4 shallots, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
2 clove garlic, smashed
(I usually zap together these 4 ingredients in a food processor)
Olive oil
1,5 tsp coriander seeds
1,5 tsp fenugreek
*1,5 tsp bouillon base in powder, or more or less as needed
1,5 tsp galam masala
1 tsp turmeric
0,5 tsp cumin
0,5 tsp cinnamon
0,5 tsp clove
2 eggs
1 courgette, finely julienned
about 3 cups of cooked basmati rice, completely chilled
0,5 tsp cardamom powder
drizzle of sesami oil
(optional) chopped fresh coriander leaves

-marinate the chicken strips in the following 4 ingredients, let it rest for a few hours, turning occasionally.
-dry roast the coriander seeds and fenugreek in a skillet (ideally SS or cast iron), taking care not to burn them. Grind the toasted spices well in a pestle.
-Sautè the onion, carrot, bell pepper and garlic in generous amount of olive oil on high heat in a large wok or skillet, tossing vigorously. Add the bouillon powder and spices (except cardamom) halfway.
-Prepare a batch of scrumbled eggs in a separate skillet.
-When the vegetables are completely well cooked and soft, add the chicken and courgette, continue to cook until chicken strips are cooked through, still tossing regularly.
-Add the rice, scrambled eggs, dash of cardamom and drizzle of sesami oil, toss all together thoroughly, breaking any lumps of rice and blending the flavour well.

Sprinkle the coriander leaves (if desired) and serve.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma is one of widely loved pasta dishes originating in Sicilia (city of Catania to be exact). According to the legend, the name Norma comes from Bellini's opera Norma. the composer hails from Catania and the fans who were taken by the beauty and the excellence of this opera starting to use "alla Norma" to express something particularly well crafted, and this includes this recipe.

Pasta alla norma (Sicilia)

80-120g of dry pasta a person, depending on appetite/custom*
for 4 people (with 320-480g pasta)
2 slender type aubergene, cleaned and sliced in 1cm thickness then quartered
3-4 shallots or 1 onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic
olive oil (to fry, as needed)
6-7 firm, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped(peeled if prefered)
salt and pepper
Ricotta salata**
fresh basil leaves
coarse granuled salt

Soak the aubergene chunks in a large bowl of cold water, sprinkle some salt and leave for about 30min.-1hour

Rinse the aubergene, pat dry very well.

Fry the aubergene in hot oil until golden, taking care not to burn. Drain the excess oil on an absorbent paper and keep warm.

Sautè the shallot/onion and garlic until tender and golden in a large skillet.

Add the chopped tomatoes, season with salt and pepper.

Cook further until excess liquids are somewhat thickened.

Toss together piping hot pasta cooked al dente, tomato mixture, aubergene.

Dress the pasta with chopped basil leaves and freshly grated ricotta salata generously and serve hot.

*use your choice of pasta shape, short or long. My personal favourites are orecchiette, penne or fusilli.

**ricotta salata is a Sicilian specialty, much more solid and much less moist than regular ricotta and salted. If not available aged pecorino (ideally Siciliano) or parmigiano reggiano can be used.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Pasta Frolla (Tart base/Pie crust dough)

This is another essential recipe for dessert making, you can fill the shell with cream filling(crema pasticcera etc.), then top with fruit, nuts, chocolate chips or anything you fancy and you will have a lovely treat! Alternatively, this is also a basic sugar/butter biscuit recipe, you can make a little extra to be cutted with a special cutter, then coated with various glazes for a decoration on top.
You can also freeze the prepared dough in advance for your convenience!

Pasta Frolla

300g flour
100g cold butter or lard, or mixture.
100g sugar
1 egg

Pour the flour into a large bowl.
Beat the egg in a separate smaller bowl
Cut the butter in small cubes, or drop cold lard in little drops, rub them into flour until the mixture becomes like fine bread crumbs.
Add the sugar and beaten egg, knead vigorously until the ingredients are thoroughly blended in and attains a soft but compact, slightly crumbly texture.
Make into a ball, wrap in a plastic sheet and let it rest in the fridge for half an hour.
On a smooth flat work surface roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Form the dough into desired size.
When you bake a larger pie, you can blind bake the crust to ensure a more even result. Prick some holes on the surface of the dough with a fork. Line with a wax paper, then spread loosely a single layer of dried beans (or you can obtain "pie pebbles" manufactured just for this purpose from a specialty shop) onto the surface, bake in the oven at about 200°C for 15minutes, or until the crust takes on a light colour (not too dark!).
The excess bits and pieces can be used for decorations on top, or baked into biscuits.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Crema Pasticcera (custard)

This is an essential recipe for any dessert making, so verstile and delicious as a filling for tarts, pies, cream puffs, crepes, doughnuts, base for ice cream, or as a dessert sauce...if you can manage not to eat it all with a spoon while you are making it!! :-D

1 heaped tbsp flour
100g sugar
4 yolks
500ml milk (room temperature)
a few drops of vanilla essence

Beat the york in a double boiler.
Add about 400ml of milk, sugar and vanilla, turn on the heat and whisk.
In a separate cup whisk the flour briskly in the remaining 100ml of milk until the flour is dissolved. Add into the double boiler. Mix well.
Heat the mixture on low heat, stirring often, until the cream thickens.

If the double boiler is not available, you can
1. Layer a smaller sauce pan over the larger sauce pan filled with boiling water
2. Use a thick bottomed saucepan with extremely low heat, constantly stirring from the bottom, taking care not to have it boil over or burn at the bottom. (If the cream starts to get overheated take off the saucepan from the heat for some seconds)

Further tips

For a liquidier cream for making a sauce, reduce the amount of flour.

The cream can be further flavoured with real vanilla bean pod*, lemon or orange zest, cinnamon, cocoa powder, rum or amaretto.

*make a slit length wise on the pod, scrape out the seeds into the egg yolk at the beginning. Put the pod in as well, just as the cream begins to thicken, take out the pods.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Homemade pasta

Nothing beats freshly made homemade pasta, and it is actually quite simple to make!! Of course if you have an electric mixer and an Imperial type pasta cutter it makes the process much easier but even without them it is not a mission impossible, until two years ago when we bought them, I used to do it all by hands quite regularly, and it's really worth the effort, also you can make enough for 2-3 dinners in one go as it keeps in the fridge for several days!!

1 egg to every 100g of flour
Have some water in a little cup/jug handy

1. Kneading

-with an electric mixer

Put the flour in, then make a slight dent and crack the eggs into the dent.
Turn on the mixer, first on slower, then turn it up gradually. If the dough is too dry, add a little water, a few drops at a time. The dough must remain full of body, and shouldn't turn sticky or runny. When the consistency of the dough stabilises turn the mixer up to a vigorous cycle near full speed. Let it knead for about 5-10 minutes, checking intermittently, until the dough is smooth, elastic and very compact.

-by hand
Before you start, keep extra flour handy, make sure your hands are dry and covered with flour.
Pile the flour on a clean, smooth, flat work surface, thoroughly dusted with flour. Make a well in the centre. Beat the eggs, and carefully pour the mixture into the well. Carefully let the top edges of the flour into the eggs, then smoothing up the flour from the outer sides towards the centre to guide into the eggs, let it slowly incorporate into the pile of flour. If the egg spew out don't panic, swiftly push the "lava" into the flour and continue to work. Once the eggs are roughly amalgamated into the flour, start kneading vigorously, thoroughly from every angle, utilising your body weight. If the dough is too dry and crumbly, add just a few drops of water (and no more) at a time, to make the dough smooth enough to work with but never let it become sticky or runny. Sprinkle generous amount of extra flour on the work surface as needed. Continue to knead in the same manner for at least 20 minutes, until the dough is elastic, smooth and compact.

If you are rolling out the dough by hand,
Cover the dough with a plastic film, and let it rest for about an hour. This resting will "tame" the elasticity and make flattening process easier.

2. Flattening

Again prepare a clean, smooth, flat surface to work, strewn with flour and smear more flour onto your hand as well, and more flour ready nearby.

-with a pasta cutter

Secure the pasta cutter on the work surface.
Separate the dough into smaller pieces in order to fit them through the cutter easily and evenly. First Roll each pieces out on the thickest setting.
Narrow down a couple of notches and repass each pieces. If it gets too long, cut in half.
Continue until each piece is about 1,5mm thick sheets for lasagne or filled pasta (ravioli, tortellini etc.), 1mm for tagliatelle, trenette etc.

-by hand

Separate the dough in a few pieces. With a rolling pin flatten out each piece evenly, gradually working into thin sheets, 1,5 mm for lasagne or filled pasta (ravioli, tortellini), 1mm for tagliatelle, trenette etc. Do not worry if the dough spreads into irregular shape, in the end the odd ends can be sliced off, and there is always a way to utilise them. Make sure to cover the work surface with additional flour from time to time as the dough absorbs the loose flour.

3. Cutting:

Tagliatelle/Trenette: With a pasta cutter, choose the size of the pasta form and cut each sheets. By hand, slice them with a sharp, fairly large, smooth bladed knife into desired width. They are best air dried first before being put away, if you have a rack, that will be ideal so every strip will be aired all around.

Lasagne: if they are reasonably regular size, leave as is or slice them into roughly the same sizes.

Ravioli: use a round ravioli cutter, to be filled and folded over in half moon shape, or alternatively put spoonful of filling with even spaces directly on to the sheets, then cut through in between the filling (making sure there is enough space around the filling to secure the edges all around) to make square shapes.

Extra remains: It is normal for you to be left with some odd bits and pieces. They also have a "status" and are called "maltagliate" in Italian. If they are rather large slice them into tagliatelle like strips, and enjoy with sugo, ragù etc. just as you would with other pasta.

4.Hang dry

Let the cut pasta dry for about half an hour, a special rack shown in the above picture is an ideal equipment, however you can also use a rack from your oven as well.

5.. Storing:

Coat the pasta with dry flour as you put them in a container that closes tightly. If you stack lasagne sheet or ravioli, use a sheet of wax paper in between.

6. Cooking:

Fresh pasta cooks very fast. After dropping the pasta into generous amount of boiling water, two minutes will suffice for the pasta to be ready.
For filled pasta, watch carefully and scoop each pieces out as they float onto the surface. Do not overcrowd the water so as not to affect the temperature too drastically.
To make lasagne, no need for precooking the pasta. Lay them directly between the layer of sauces and cheeses. Make sure the surface of the pasta is covered completely with the sauce before baking, so it will be cooked properly.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Alfredo who?

As it happens to many ethnic cuisines, “la cucina italiana” has met considerable amount of “interpretations” and modifications once arriving in other parts of the world, taking its own form and becoming quite different from what the Italians actually cook in this country. Today I would like to talk about some of the popular dishes widely known as “Italian” in many other countries, and the truth about it, perhaps some of you are in for a surprise!!

Spaghetti with meatballs: as I mentioned in the previous entry, Italians are not big on “one pot dishes”. Thus they don’t take to the idea of throwing in meatballs (which are considered as a part of “Secondi”, or second course) onto their plate of pasta, which is a part of primi, or first course. They would much rather have a simple pasta with tomato sauce (or other type of lighter condiment) then afterwards take a plate of meatballs separately.

Manicotti: Okay, large tube shaped pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach is a popular dish also in Italy, but they are called cannelloni, considered as a variation of the meat stuffed versions. The word “manicotti” is not an appetizing one for Italian diners, as it only means “sewer pipes”.

Fettuccini Alfredo: This vastly popular dish is practically unknown in Italy. According to its legend, it is not entirely a foreign invention, as it is said to have been created at a Roman restaurant called “Alfredo’s” who was catering for some foreign VIPs, but the idea never really took off locally while it had been embraced with enthusiasm abroad. You are most likely to draw a bemused blank look if you try to order this dish in Italy.

Chicken Parmigiano/Chicken Parmesan: this is a pure foreign invention, I have seen some specialty recipes in which parmigiano was used in a chicken dish in different ways, but this “standard” version, a breaded chicken cutlet doused in tomato sauce and grated parmigiano thrown on top of a bed of pasta doesn’t exist, for the same reason as spaghetti with meatballs, the idea simply doesn’t sit well with the Italian diners.

Caesar’s salad
: again a pure foreign invention!! Some of the touristy restaurants may have heard of it and try to serve them, but chances are you will be getting their own version, something quite different… Italians prefer to enjoy their salad in a simple fashion, just with a good quality olive oil and salt, pepper and perhaps a dash of balsamic vinegar. Also noted that they do not have such thing as “Italian dressing” either!!

Panini: the terminology Panini, or Panino as a singular form, means ANY kind of sandwiches, not the specialty flattened grilled oblong sandwiches which are considered as “Panini” elsewhere. Sandwiches can be grilled but frankly I have never seen this particular form of so called “Panini” sold in any takeaway places. Also the simple sandwiches made with a white square bread cut in a triangle form are called “tramezzini”.

Marinara sauce: “Salsa marinara” exist but it is interpreted quite loosely. As the word “marinara” suggest something related to the sea, many recipes include some seafood like anchovy, sardine, tuna, clams etc. Some are type of sauce which can be conserved well to be served to the sailors upon the sea. Simple tomato sauce is commonly called “sugo al pomodoro”.

Garlic bread: Everyone’s favourite companion to pizzas and pasta, or is it really? You may find yourself in need of a good explanation when you want a slice in an restaurant in Italy. Bruschetta and Crostini, both grilled or toasted pieces of bread with various toppings are very popular, but a toasted bread simply smeared with butter and garlic isn’t quite the tradition of the Italian dining.

These are just a few example of the truth and myth about Italian foods. Of course some of the foreign inventions are delicious in their own rights, but it is very important to know the difference, especially when you decide to visit this country. You will be in for a whole new experience!!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Tips: dining out in Italy!

It is now amidst high summer holiday season and some of you may decide to visit Italy. As you can imagine there are many myths and misinterpretations concerning “Italian food” abroad, and I would like to talk about a few things so everyone can enjoy the real Italian dining to the max when you guys make it here…

Today I would like to share a few pointers about dining in the restaurants and trattorias. The Italians have a few particular customs they tend to adhere to, and when you eat out it comes in handy to be aware of them, not only in a formal place but also in a casual dining atmosphere.

Firstly, they are not very accustomed to eating one big heap of “one pot meal”, they traditionally eat their meals in series of courses in relatively small portions. Roughly they are divided into

-Antipasto (hors d’oeuvres)

-Primi (usually pasta or risotto, or similar dishes)

-Secondi (dishes based on meat, seafood, or frittata/omelette etc.)

-Contorni (vegetable based side dish, often served alongside “secondi”, but on separate plates)

-Frutta (fruit) or Dolci (dessert)

Average everyday suppers at home are simpler, usually 2-3 courses (Primi & Secondi OR Contorni, plus either antipasto, frutta or dolci), and on a big formal occasion there will be many more courses to be added to the above.

In addition, there are a few key points which I would like to remind you….

-Portions of pasta dishes are much smaller than you would expect, as it is not considered as a “main dish” and they assume the diner will be having something else after you finish the pasta.

-I have seen some confusions between foreign tourists and waiters, as the diner asks the waiter “what does it come with?” when they order a dish of “Secondi”. A plate of secondi (for example a cutlet, steak, roast etc.) does not come with anything, it is served alone. For a “side” you need to order “contorni” separately!!

-speaking of “sides”, tossed/garden salads are usually considered as “Contorni”, not as a starter like it is believed in many part of English speaking countries. Same thing as soup, soup is usually considered as a part of “Primi” for light eaters for whom pasta or risotto is too heavy.

-unless you are eating at a restaurant catering mainly to the foreign tourists (these joints are to be avoided at all cost!! Food are generic at their best, and prices inflated!), do not ask for things like spaghetti with meatballs, chicken parmesan, manicotti, fettuccini alfredo, garlic bread etc. You will draw a bemused look as they are not at all authentic Italian repartoire. (I will speak of this more in separate entry!!)

-also a few things when you eat at sit-in pizzerias… pizzas are mostly sold in one size, one pizza per person. (they are much lighter than, say, American counterparts.)

-At tables they tend to eat their pizzas with knife and fork, instead of manhandling them. This rule only applies in a restaurant though, there are many people munch on takeaway pizzas on the streets, or at home you can also pick up a slice bare handed.

-There are many variety of pizza Bianca (white pizzas) which are made without tomato sauce. They are very tasty and highly recommended!!

-If you are in a mood for a snack during the day, try some of the pasticceria (bakery for sweets), fornaio (bakery for various bread and related savoury treats), take away pizzeria, and gelateria (ice cream shops), which are to be found everywhere!! There is absolutely no need or reason for heading towards one of those ubiquitous McDonalds outlets!!!

Try to keep these in mind when you are in Italy, and if any of you guys have more suggestions and ideas let me know, I will add to the list!! Buon appetito!