Sunday, 19 May 2013
Gnocchi (o pasta) alla Melanzana e Mozzarella. Ottima! Gnocchi or pasta with a wonderful aubergine (eggplant) and mozzarella sauce. Simply to die for!
When I was a young girl, I used to spend my evenings at home and my two big sister would visit every afternoon... some days they spent all day at our house, which was always filled with the sound of children's voices, laughter and cry. Their little children came, too, and filled us all with so much joy!
It was a bit like a "Little Women" atmosphere, with lots of activities going on: reading, knitting, crochet, watching TV, doing crosswords with our Babbo (we were all good at it!) and watching TV, all after I had done my homework, of course!
Our mamma would normally be busy, in the kitchen, cooking supper. She didn't really knit, do crochet and was rubbish at crossword puzzles, but she could cook and she could certainly love. It was on one of those evenings that she used air freshener, instead of hairspray! We laughed so much!
One evening, as I was looking through a magazine, I found a recipe: "Spaghetti al telefono" ... it sounded so delicious, I made it and it became a family classic, which I would cook, as my mum never strayed away from classic Italian cuisine!
I never made the dish with spaghetti. Instead, I used penne or rigatoni, as I thought a short pasta shape would suit the sauce better. Eventually, this dish became a family favourite we called and still call "Pasta alle melanzane" because that's what it is: pasta with a most delicious aubergine based sauce!
Today, I made this dish, using gnocchi. I love gnocchi so much, though we never had gnocchi at home.
I want to share this recipe with you, hoping that you will try it.
Gnocchi alle Melanzane e Mozzarella
( Gnocchi or Pasta With my Aubergine and Mozzarella Sauce)
( three generous servings )
500g ( just over 1lb) gnocchi
1 large mozzarella, finely chopped
For the sauce:
(enough to cover the bottom of the pan- be generous!)
1-2 garlic cloves
1 unpeeled aubergine
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 tbs passata
chilli pepper, fresh or dried
(as much or as little as you like)
Cut your aubergine in half, then dice (smallish pieces.) Place your olive oil in the pan and when piping hot, add your garlic, This should turn a nice golden colour, but not black. Add your aubergine and stir. If you think you don't have enough oil, you can add some. Aubergine does tend to absorb oil! Cook until the aubergine cubes look translucent or even golden.
At this point, you can add your tinned tomatoes, which you would previously have squashed, with the help of a fork. Add salt, pepper and chillies.
While the sauce is cooking, remember to put some water in another pan, ready for your gnocchi (or pasta, if you prefer!)
Cook the sauce on a medium heat for 20-25 minutes. When your sauce is ready, add your mozzarella to the sauce, finely cut, and stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce has gone a pinky colour.
Cook your gnocchi, by plunging them in boiling hot water. Gnocchi only take about a minute to cook. When they start floating, they are done!
Drain and add to the sauce and don't forget to add a lot of lovely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese!
This dish can be eaten as it is, or, if you want a golden crust, it can be grilled. It is also delicious with rigatoni or penne.
I hope you try it, as it is not just delicious... it's also easy!
Saturday, 20 April 2013
Spaghetti o Linguine ai Capperi e Tonno ( Alla San Giovannino) Spaghetti or Linguine in a delicious Tomato, Tuna and Caper Sauce!
She went outside to pick some parsley for her mamma. It was Christmas Eve and everyone was busy chatting, playing games, running about the house, up and down the long black marble corridor. It was always polished, really shiny and you could "ice-skate" on it!
As she ran back indoors, as she always liked to run everywhere (and she still does!) she slipped and landed on the floor. The little stems of fresh parsley were dropped all over the place, so she quickly gathered them and went to wash the sweet smelling herb, under running water, in the kitchen.
The smell of garlic, frying in the pan, and the sound of the tuna, being "dropped" very skilfully in the pan,by her mother, were mingled with a sense of happiness. We were all together, under the same roof. All our windows were steamed up and we felt cosy, and happy. It must have been Christmas Eve, I think...
I must have somehow been able to capture that sense of feeling happy, protected and loved. I must have locked it away in here... in my heart, or in my soul. It's in me and I can feel it. How I wish we could still, all of us, be together. There is still so much we didn't say... so much we didn't do... the rest is all here... with me... I love to open a window on my childhood. I know that Proust said it before me, but... smells... fragrances are the key to the past.
And I want to go back, through the smell of this dish to an "Eve"... Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, The Eve of Saint John's Day, in June, when you might quite likely, in Puglia, eat this simple dish, which is absolutely delicious!
Spaghetti "Ai Capperi e Tonno" alla San Giovannino. This dish, as promised in my previous post is very easy to make and, like all good Italian dishes, only uses a few ingredients. Though might be eaten on special occasions (the Eve of a celebration) also forms part of what we call "cibo quotidiano" EVERYDAY FOOD!"
Spaghetti ai Capperi e Tonno
(Alla San Giovannino)
(Spaghetti with Tomato, Tuna and Caper Sauce)
olive oil (cover the base of your pan with it!)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large tin of best tuna chunks
in brine, or olive oil
300g (10 oz) cherry or fresh plum tomatoes, chopped
1 small tin plum tomatoes
1 tbsp capers in vinegar
generous bunch of fresh parsley
freshly milled black pepper
300-400g (about 1 lb, or just under) spaghetti
You can cook this in a saucepan, or a frying pan or wok. Put the olive oil in the pan you are using, wait until it gets piping hot, then add the garlic. Don't let it burn, as it will taste bitter if it does. Stir, then add your tuna (if you are using tuna in brine, remove all the liquid, first.)
Quickly add your tuna, stir, then half cover with a lid, as the tuna will splatter all over the place! true! Give it a couple of minutes, enough time for the flavours to blend, then add your tomatoes (fresh or tinned- squash your tinned tomatoes up before cooking, if you want a good sauce!) some salt, and black pepper and bring to the boil.
You can now turn the heat down and cook your sauce for 20-25 minutes. By now, your kitchen should be filled with a wonderful aroma: garlic and tuna are fantastic, together.
Towards the end of cooking time, add your capers (I use lots, as I love the vinegary flavour!) and, before serving, take half of your parsley, roughly chop and add to the sauce, which, I assure you, is going to be magnificent!
Cook your spaghetti or linguine, drain and serve with the sauce. Top each serving with extra parsley and black pepper. And now I feel hungry!
D E L I Z I O S O!!!!!
Tuesday, 9 April 2013
Sformato.Ciambella di Tagliatelle ai Funghi e Zafferano (Baked Tagliatelle, Mushroom and Saffron Ring)
Ciambella di tagliatelle ai Funghi e Zafferano (Baked Tagliatelle, Mushroom and Saffron Ring) Don't be put off by the name of today's dish, as it's really easy and quite quick to prepare and very... very delicious!
I would like to say that this is one of my mamma's recipes, but it isn't.
My mother wouldn't have known what to do with saffron, as it is an ingredient mainly used in Northern Italy, in risotto dishes. Our food, in Southern Italy, tends to be light and fresh. My tagliatelle, on the contrary, is quite rich, but deliciously so! I love the taste of saffron and, I must admit: bright yellow food cheers me up.
I found the sauce recipe in one of my Italian magazines a few years ago and I thought it would bind my tagliatelle together very nicely, with some cheese, as I wanted to make a baked pasta ring, a kind of deliciously savoury "Ciambella" lovely to be eaten for supper, or sliced, an ideal dish for a party! It would go well with some chilled dry wine!
Here is my recipe:
Ciambella di Tagliatelle ai Funghi e Zafferano
(Baked Tagliatelle, Mushroom and Saffron Ring)
For the sauce:
1 tsp butter
8 tbs olive oil
500 g ( 1 lb, 1 oz) brown mushrooms
1 tbs plain flour
1 vegetable stock cube
500 ml (1pt, 1 fl oz) hot water
2 generous pinches saffron
1 small cup milk
1 tbs passata
400 g (just under 1 lb) tagliatelle
100 g ((3 1/2 oz) Fontina Cheese
Preheat oven (200C, 400F, Gas 6)
Before you start, prepare your vegetables: peel and chop your onion, wash your leek very carefully and cut into chunks. Don't peel your mushrooms: just wash and slice or cut them into wedges. Boil some water (about 500 ml- about 1 pt) You can do this in a kettle.
Having done this, put your butter and onion in a deep saucepan. When hot, add your onion and leek.Stir and combine these ingredients, until they turn a nice, golden colour. You are now ready to add all your lovely brown mushrooms!
While your mushrooms are cooking and turning a translucent, shiny colour, measure your hot water: you need about 500 mls. Add a stock cube and your saffron to the hot water, which will, after two or three minutes, turn a very bright shade of orange.
While your stock is standing, take two tablespoons of flour and add to the pan. Mix and take off the heat. Now, you can start adding your passata and, gradually, the stock and saffron. You should get a beautiful silky-shiny sauce, bright yellow, almost orange in colour. Again, mix these ingredients and finally, add your small cup of milk. Taste for salt, add some black pepper, if you like and... your sauce is made!
Cook your tagliatelle really "Al dente." Remember that the water needs to be boiling, before you can add your pasta or you'll be eating glue!
While your pasta is cooking, coat a ciambella ring (or a normal, round oven dish, if you don't have a ring shaped tin) with butter and then breadcrumbs.
Drain your tagliatelle and place into a bowl. Pour two thirds of the sauce over your pasta, mix, making sure you have enough sauce, then add two generous handfuls of Parmesan cheese and 100 g Fontina cheese, cut into very small cubes, or grated Cheddar cheese, if you can't easily get hold of Fontina. Mix, arrange round the tin, pressing down as you go along, then bake in a hot oven (200C, 400F, Gas 6) until you get a soft crust.
This will take between 20 and 30 minutes. Take your dish out of the oven, let it cool for ten minutes, then turn it out, onto a plate, or wooden board.
Serve cut into thick slices, with some of the reserved sauce. found that rucola (rocket) is a good accompaniment, as it adds a pleasant element of spicy, hot, crunchiness.
My "Ciambella" is lovely eaten cold, with salad. I think that cut into thinnish slices, even cold, it would make a delicious addition to a party buffet.
Saturday, 30 March 2013
The sky was blue and full of light. The swallows chased each other and danced in the blue sky, while below, the church bells rang everywhere, telling the world it was Easter.
With visions of chocolate and silky bows, she walked home. Easter was in the air! Everything seemed to say:"It's Springtime!" and she felt so happy deep inside... that kind of happy feeling which, no matter what happens in your life, you'll never forget.
As she walked home, she stopped to look at shop windows: enormous shiny, dark chocolate eggs had been masterfully decorated with icing, to make flowers and leaves. Myriads of sugar almond blossom adorned the hugest eggs she had ever seen!
At home, Easter was a time for being together. Before lunch, my Babbo would stand up, before we ate, to bless the family, by dipping an olive tree branch in "acqua santa" Holy Water, my mum would have brought from the church. She always went to Church at Easter!
My dear Mamma, you know by now, didn't make desserts, cakes or sweets, except a few "classics!" I remember, though, how once, at Easter, she made my brother and I these massive biscuits, decorated with colourful sugar strands and... a hard boiled egg, she had coloured red, cleverly placed on the biscuits and held in place by two strips of dough.
The biscuits are what we call "Scarcelle." Apparently, they are typical of the Puglia region, where I was born, though I believe they have something similar in Greece.
Having found the recipe, today I made some. I was so surprised when I took them out of the oven: they looked so pretty and, most of all they looked like the "scarcelle" my mum made, only a more contemporary version.
This is how I made them:
(Easter Cakes-Biscuits from Puglia)
(makes about 6)
1 kg ( 2.2 lb) plain flour
400 g ( 14 oz)sugar
2 tsp baking powder
the rind of 1 lemon
2 dl ( about 6 fl oz) olive oil
pinch of salt
1 extra egg for the egg wash
6 hard boiled eggs
(hundreds and thousands)
icing, to decorate
(you might need some milk, if your dough is too dry)
Before I started, I preheated my oven (180 C, 350 F, Gas 4 ) and put my six eggs in a pan of boiling water, to cook. These need to be hard boiled.
Next (this is really easy and quick!) I put my flour onto a board, made a well and added all the ingredients in the middle. I made a dough, using flour, eggs, oil, sugar, salt, baking powder, some vanilla essence and lemon peel. As the mixture was a bit dry, I added some milk (maybe I should have used larger eggs")
I placed my dough in the fridge, so it would rest for half an hour. I used this time to ice my Easter cookies... so cute! I feel like a "bambina!"
Anyway! Half an hour later... I took the dough out of the fridge, and decided to make my scarcelle in the shape of plaited Easter wreath and hearts. You can see from the pictures how I made my wreath, step by step. It was easy!
Having made my plait, I joined the ends and, next I pushed one of my boiled eggs into the pastry and kind of secured it by crossing two strips of pastry over the egg, to make a cross.
I did the same with my heart shapes, then "painted my scarcelle with egg yolk, sprinkled some pink and blue sugar over my biscuits and baked for about half an hour.
My scarcelle smelt so good and looked so sweet, I wanted to try one, but I didn't...
I let my biscuits cool down, first, then decorated with icing and rice paper daisies. They looked lovely! Though they were not as nice as the ones my mamma made, as they contained the extra ingredient! Remember LOVE?
BUONA PASQUA A TUTTI!
Thursday, 21 March 2013
It was a hot Summer's night and she sat outside with her sister... the sky was so deep and dark ... so many stars, so many sounds... familiar sounds of a past life filled the Italian night.
A sudden breeze brought the scent of waves and seaweed. As she closed her eyes, she smelt freesias... sweet scented freesias... that scent was there, again...
"Did you smell that?"- she asked her sister "Yes, I did... it's her scent!" Was she there with us? I don't know, but I felt love all around.
My mother smelt of freesias, her lips were as red as tulips and her eyes as silver as a deep lake. I liked to think that she had come to "visit."
She loved Spring. In Spring, our house was filled with the scent of almond blossom, tulips and freesias. When she opened the windows, every morning, a sea of multicoloured anemoni ran through the house, whilst the swallows sang a beautiful love song and I imagined ancient olive trees running towards the sea, as the wind bent and chased them. I knew it had done that for hundreds of years...
Our mother brought scent, beauty and colour in our lives... she brought sun, she brought life and love. She had a wonderful smile...
She loved Spring and blue skies, most of all. I believed my mother "was" Spring. We lived in the city, but our mother always brought us gifts which told stories about the sea and the countryside.
Spring didn't last very long, in Italy, as the weather suddenly got so hot, you went straight into Summer.
I knew it was Spring, as our house was filled not just with flowers, but also with lots of culinary "joys": silvery green artichokes, zucchine flowers, bright green peas still in the pod and... ricotta! When I say ricotta, I don't mean a tiny, little ricotta, but something which could weigh up to 1 kg! Beautiful, creamy, white, soft ricotta...
At Easter, we made "Pizza di Ricotta" a lattice pie, filled with a sweet filling of ricotta, egg, sugar, vanilla and lemon peel. We also had "ricotta fritta" slices of ricotta, dipped in flour, then beaten egg, just simply fried and dipped in lots of sugar (Spring delight, believe me!)
My mum made the loveliest soft biscuits, or were they cakes (?) using ricotta as one of the main ingredients. I found the recipe and decided to make the little cakes. This is how I made them:
Ciambelline Pasquali alla Ricotta
(Ricotta Ring Cakes for Easter)
(makes 18-20 ciambelline)
300 g (10 oz) ricotta
400 g (14 oz)plain flour
100 g (5 oz) caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
the rind of 1 lemon
a few drops of vanilla essence
a few drops of vanilla essence
some extra caster sugar
Preheat your oven (180 C , 350F, Gas 4 )
Place your ricotta in a bowl and, with help of a fork, mix it, till it reaches a creamy consistency. Set aside.
Put the flour on a surface or a large pastry board, and make a well in the middle. Add your caster sugar, eggs lemon peel, vanilla, baking powder and carefully incorporate. If the mixture is too liquid, add more flour.
Your dough should be solid, but soft, at the same time. Cover the dough and leave to rest for half an hour. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and wait...
Half an hour later...
Make your dough into a big cylinder shape, then start making your ciambelle. Cut the dough into slices, about 2 cm wide, roll each one into a thin "sausage" shape, join the two ends, to form a round "ciambella" (a circle) and... that's it... your first one is done! To make the cake look prettier, as it cooks, you can, like I did, make a few incisions into the dough, with a knife.
I managed to make eighteen ciambelline. In fact, I made ciambelline and a few knot shaped little cakes, by simply using the "sausage" to make a knot.
Each of my ciambelline and knots were dipped in some caster sugar I had set aside on a plate, and then placed on greaseproof paper, on a baking tray.
The cakes only took about twenty minutes to cook.
Once out of the oven, I let them cool down, then decided they would look prettier if I sifted some icing sugar all over them. And they did!
Saturday, 9 March 2013
From Italy With Love: Tortelloni pasta filled with cheese and green vegetables ( I Miei Tortelloni verdi alle Erbette e Gorgonzola)
She sat next to her mother. She had to have a small chair, as she was tiny. Watching her mother make pasta (she occasionally made orecchiette or cavatelli) was a special treat. The little girl often played with plasticine... (she had made hundreds of crocodiles and roses) but... watching her mother produce those perfect little ears out of dough was quite something! She was clever and so fast!
She never mastered the art of making "orecchiette"... very ,very hard... but, for as long as she lives, she will never forget her mum's clever hands.
That little girl was me! And yes... I remember sitting next to her and eating little bits of pasta dough, but I never learnt how to make "orecchiette." Deep down, my mum knew that I belonged to a new generation of Italian women, the kind who can walk into a food store and by orecchiette made by a machine which could almost replicate the real thing. Shame the main ingredient is missing: LOVE!
I made ravioli, today... green ravioli, using rocket, fresh spinach and basil to obtain the colour I wanted. The dough turned out a delicate shade of green I loved. My ravioli was big... so big, you would need just three, or four, if you are a bit greedy, to fill you up (lovely starter-primo piatto!)
It was very exciting, as I created this recipe all by myself. If I could have shaken my own hand, I would have done, as my creation was full of flavour and truly delicious!
Please don't be put off by the list of ingredients! The dish is really easy and well worth trying! If I can make it, so can anyone!
Ripieni di Verdure e
For the pasta:
250 g (8 oz) plain flour
1/2 cup warm water
1 handful rocket
3 sprigs basil
1 handful fresh spinach
or some frozen spinach, thawed
100g (about 4 oz) Gorgonzola cheese
1 clove garlic
some chilli pepper
1 handful grated Parmesan
2 handfuls uncooked rocket
a few basil leaves
For the sauce:
8 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 sliced chilli pepper
1/2 kg ( 1lb, 1oz) baby cherry or plum tomatoes
2 tbs Balsamic vinegar
3 handfuls rocket
100 g (about 4 oz) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
To make your pasta, cook the vegetables first, in some boiling water. Drain, then blend, till you get a soft, smooth "cream."
Place the flour on the table, make a well in the middle, then add one egg, the blended vegetables and some salt. Knead till you get a smooth dough. Cover and let the dough rest for twenty minutes.
You are now ready to make your filling. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk until fluffy, then add your Gorgonzola, crumbled, pepper, a handful of rocket, a sprig of fresh basil, and a generous handful of grated Parmesan. I also added a very small clove of garlic, very finely chopped. As you can see... some chopped chilli was also added!
Mix all the ingredients together and... it's made!
You are now ready to roll out your pastry. Cut the dough into several pieces, the size of a small bread roll. Roll each out, into a long shape, trying to obtain, from each piece, four squares (about 15 cm long and wide)
Place a very generous teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each square, then fold the square into a triangle "paint water on two of the sides, to make sure the triangle is sealed so the filling stays inside.
Place the triangle down, on a surface. With some water, join the two corners at the base of the triangle and... ABRACADABRA! You've made a tortellone!
If you follow this recipe, you should get between 14 and 16 tortelloni. It depends on how big or small you make them.
Cook in salted boiling water, for about 5 minutes, then drain.
While your pasta is cooking, make the sauce: put the oil in a pan, heat, then add your chilli pepper and the tomatoes (cut into halves if you are using baby ones-do not squash.)
Five or six minutes later, you can pour your Balsamic in.
Let evaporate, stir and finally add two very generous handfuls of rocket and some basil. After adding salt and pepper, take off the heat, add your cooked ravioloni (be gentle with them!) and serve, with a sprinkling of Parmesan and some crumbled Gorgonzola.
Don't ask me how it tastes, because the flavour is unique and words could not describe how good this dish is. I find it really exciting!
I am loving Balsamic vinegar. Added to a light sauce, it certainly makes it taste truly special!
Look inside my tortelloni!