Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fiocchi di Neve... (Snowflake shaped fresh pasta with a fantastic roasted tomato sauce!)

Christmas time... I sometimes wish I could recapture the past, but I also like to have a foot here, in my present, and experiment with just being "me" And Anna is someone who likes to experiment and try new things.
This holiday I made pasta, like my mum used to make, without any eggs or fuss, using just water and semolina, just like she used to do. The recipe was simple... I just needed to add olive and creativity, to make my own, fantastic dish. And here is the recipe:

Fiocchi di Neve
con Pomodori al Forno
e Basilico
(Fresh Pasta Snowflakes
with Delicious Roasted Tomato, Garlic and Basil Sauce.)
2 or 3
For the pasta:
 300g semolina
some plain flour
warm water
pinch of salt
For the roasted tomato "sauce"
300 g plum or cherry tomatoes
5-6 garlic cloves
a few very generous lugs olive oil
a generous handful fresh basil
black pepper
grated pecorino or
Parmesan Cheese

I made pasta, like my Mamma used to make, without eggs, or fuss. I placed my semolina (you can use plain flour if you like, but I like the firm texture of semolina!) on a surface, made a well in the centre, added warm water and some salt and kneaded till I got a firm, but soft dough. If the dough felt too "wet", I added some plain flour.
I left my dough to rest for about 40 minutes, then, with the help of a rolling pin, I rolled it out, a few small pieces at a time, till I got  thin layers of dough. As it was Christmas time, I used a cookie cutter, to make snowflake shaped pasta.
When all my dough was used, I sprinkled a lot of flour all over my lovely snowflakes, and set aside.


I was now ready to prepare my tomatoes. I cut each of them horizontally and placed onto a baking dish. I then chopped my garlic and tore my beautiful, sweet smelling basil and distributed all over my tomatoes. I finished the whole thing off with a generous lug of olive oil, all over my tomatoes, followed by salt.

My tomatoes were roasted in the oven (180 C) until roasted. My kitchen was "invaded" by a wonderful aroma in no time at all I knew my dish would be an absolute winner!
Half an hour later... I cooked my pasta in boiling, salted hot water, until soft, but firm, I drained, and reserved some of the water.

 My pasta was added to the roasted tomatoes, gently stirred... some gorgeous freshly grated Parmesan was sprinkled all over the dish. A tiny amount of the pasta liquid was added, and... it was HEAVEN! I felt so proud of my creation, as it really tasted wonderful!

 Please try this dish as it really is exceptional! If you wanted to add capers or anchovies, I think they would "marry" well with the fresh tomatoes and basil!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

You can do it, Cinderella!

Thank you so much for inviting me to your masked ball. Of course I accept the invitation. I'll be coming... but I'm late, I know... one whole day late! But I have my own transport, so I can be there for the 18th!
Thinking about it... I think I might need a... magic wand!

Because... a party at Christmas time wouldn't be a party, without any snow.
So... here we go! I'm bringing SNOW!

A bit of magic:
It's snowing!
I will arrive in one of these (they have wings, you know?)

It will be magic... and, like Cinderella, I will have not one, but two footmen... let me wave the wand: Oh! It's Alain Delon

and Marcello Mastroianni! Viva la Dolce Vita!

I know you'll be providing masks, and I'm not quite sure what to wear... possibly this ...


Decisions, decisions, decisions... I can't make up my mind!

Oh, well... I'll bring all of these and I'll change every half hour.

You are going to be so puzzled, I know. But we will have fun, won't we, Helen? Well... until midnight, that is...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Rose di Natale (Christmas Roses-filo and ricotta pastries)

She walked out of the door. As always, barefoot. The grass was cold under her feet. The hydrangeas, still beautiful but  dry as paper, a reminder that Summer must have been here, as she could still see "signs" The old fashioned roses, sporting small, bright red hips were still trying to sing a song, but the frost on the ground told a Winter story.
Her mother had been born in the month of December "A Winter Rose" a pretty bud, later in full bloom.  Throughout her life,  her petals displayed a rainbow of coulours: one for every season and for every day of her life.
I was thinking about my mother, today. It will be her birthday in a week... the last rose shed its petals today... I can see them on the ground. It must be nearly Christmas!
With her in mind, I decided to make myself feel "happy" and maybe cook something for Christmas that she would have liked. I bought some ricotta, yesterday, and filo pastry. With my beautiful green limes and some chocolate, I could make some roses... sweet Christmas roses!

Rose di Natale
Christmas roses

Sweet filo pastry "roses" filled with ricotta cheese

Makes 7-8
1 pack frozen filo pastry
350 g (12 oz) ricotta cheese
icing (confectioner's sugar)
as much or as little as you like
1 green lime, or lemon
one egg yolk
about 8 squares chocolate
vanilla extract
some melted butter
(for the filo pastry)

Before you start, prepare your ingredients: break the chocolate into small pieces, and peel your lime, as you will need its fragrant zest.

Next, put your ricotta in a bowl, then add your sugar, zest, egg yolk and chocolate. Mix all the ingredients to form a smooth creamy, sweet mixture.

Place your  filo pastry onto a surface and, with the help of a pastry brush, "paint" 3 sheets with melted butter. Keep the sheets layered. Now, with a sharp knife, cut the pastry into 7 or 8 squares (each of these will have three layers of fillo... it's extremely thin!)

If you have a patty tin, brush each "hole" with butter, then  press a square of the pastry layers into the middle of seven or eight of the "holes", so there is room, at the base of each, for the filling.

 The pastry looks better if it's a bit "messy." I gathered it, so it would look like a rose. Fill each of the "roses" with some ricotta mixture, then bake, 200 C, Gas 6,  400F, until the pastry looks golden, but don't let it burn. Also check that the bottom of your fillo "roses" is cooked.

I thought my Christmas roses looked beautiful and I know they will taste delicious! (They can be frozen until Christmas!)

 My  Christmas Roses look very pretty!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Je T'aime... moi non plus! (Melanzana al Funghetto-Caponata-Addictive!)

Christmas is fast approaching...  my kitchen is already smelling like Christmas... Summertime, sunshine, sea and Italy seem a lifetime away... not really!
But I love Winter... I have really come to love those cold frosty morning, when tiny little drops of dew freeze on the webs, little gems of beauty that money can't buy.

I love my old Welsh dresser. Here it is
all dressed up for Christmas!

But deep, deep inside, the sun somehow keeps shining and the memories of Winters past sometimes come to the surface and mingle with my present.
The scent of soap in my aunt's bathroom, my mum's perfume and the smell of ... food, yes, food... are continuously fighting in my mind to bring back memories... good memories, happy, serene memories of life in the sun.
I sometimes get the urge to cook and taste food, simply because it's a way, for me, to smell "home."
This morning I went out, feeling rather nostalgic, so... I thought :"Why not do some "building?" Let us try to rebuild a slice of home. Baudelaire said it and Proust confirmed it: food is the "Missing link!"
Anyway! I made a dish, today, just like we make at home, following Rosa's recipe! Some may call it caponata. Where I come from we call it "Al Funghetto", translating from a word in barese dialect which sounds something like "foonjetidd." In Campania, the word sounds very similar. There is a similar dish, in Campania, called "Ciaulella" with an added ingredient: potato and, when in season, courgette (zucchine) flowers. I think I prefer the healthier original version, but Ciaulella is good, too!

Melanzane al Funghetto
Serves 4
Olive oil
(enough to cover the bottom of a medium size saucepan)
1 large aubergine (eggplant)
3 peppers
1 large onion
4-5 fresh celery sticks
7-8 medium to small plum tomatoes
(can use 4 tinned tomatoes)
black pepper
some water
This dish is very healthy, as it's rich in fibre and there is no frying involved. All the prepared vegetables go into the pan with the oil, at once!
So, all you need to do is peel your onion and dice (small). Cut your celery sticks (I also like to add some of the leaves, as I like the flavour) into pieces the same size as the onion. Half your tomatoes, then cut and dice your aubergine (medium sized pieces-look at the photo!)

My chopped vegetables

You now need to cut your washed peppers in half (you should wash all your vegetables) discard the seeds, then cut into squares (about 1 1/2 '', 3 cm.) These should be about the same size as your aubergine pieces.
You are now almost ready to cook your dish! Place all the prepared ingredients in the pot, with the cold oil, add your small tomatoes, cut into halves, stir, the... turn on the heat!

 In the pot!

Stir with care to make sure you keep your vegetables whole. If you think you need more oil, add some at the beginning. As you stir, make sure the vegetables don't stick to the base of the pan. Add a small glass of water, salt and pepper, then cook on a low heat (with a lid on) for about 15 minutes. Check and taste, let some of the water reduce and just keep tasting (remember to leave some for later, though!) until all the vegetables are quite firm, but cooked.

This dish is delicious served just with bread (we have in the evening, in Winter) but... if you want to, it can be eaten (minus juices) as a side dish. I am showing you two ways of serving my "caponata" : with crusty bread (YUM!) or with my very delicious chicken and potato, like my mum used to make! It's so good and it will taste even better tomorrow (if there's any left!)

Two ways to serve one delicious dish!

My chicken and potato dish
But that's another easy recipe!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

I miei fantastici involtini di pesce! ( My Fantastic fish Involtini! )

The dish I made today is traditionally Sicilian (well, I should say "was" as I changed it and created my own version!) Sicily is not only an island, but one of Italy's Regions (like Tuscany, Puglia, Abruzzo, etc.) Anyway! The fish used in the original Sicilian recipe is swordfish, which is widely fished along the coast of Calabria and Sicily. I used haddock, in my version, because I couldn't get swordfish, and also because I though it had the right firmness.
The original recipe consisted of a thin swordfish steaks, filled with pine nuts and sultanas, then rolled and baked in a tomato sauce with a top layer of breadcrumbs. I really couldn't eat fish with sultanas... not even if they forced me to... the thought of that is just too alien to me! In Bari we mostly descend from the Normans and the Svevian  and the Arab culinary influence so strong in Sicily kind of bypassed many of us baresi.

Images of the Med, as it "kisses" the Bari Coastline
and a man selling fish in a street market outside the city.

I made my Involtini di Pesce by devising my own filling, based on the one we use for cuttle fish and stuffed mussels, in Bari. And.... it was good! I saved my sultanas for next time I make a fruit cake!
Involtini di pesce
(Rolled fish fillets with
a yummy stuffing!)
Serves 4 as a starter and 2 as a main course
4 large  fish fillets
3 slices bread
1 egg yolk
chopped parsley
a couple of leaves raw spinach
a tiny handful cooked spinach
black pepper
some parmesan
fresh parsley
For the tomato sauce:
1 carton passata
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp olive oil
To serve: some crostini
(grilled or baked slices of

Before I started, I washed a few of my spinach leaves, then cooked and chopped them. I also chopped some parsley and a few uncooked spinach leaves (for texture). I put 1 and 1/2 slices of my bread in a bowl of water for a few seconds, then I squeezed all the water out. I placed this bread, with the cooked and the uncooked spinach, my  parsley followed by 1 egg yolk in a bowl. To this, I added salt, pepper and some grated Parmesan cheese. I mixed all these ingredients together to make my lovely stuffing.

my stuffing

Next, I made a very quick tomato and garlic sauce, by frying the garlic in 2 tbsp of hot oil, followed by my passata. I added salt and cooked for about twenty five minutes. Some basil always makes a tomato sauce a bit special, if you feel like adding some. I love it!

my sauce is bubbling up

While my sauce was cooking (about 20-25 minutes)  I placed my fillets on a clean surface, and then put some of the stuffing inside each, rolled up and secured with a cocktail stick.

fish fillets with stuffing

I placed the "involtini" in an old Italian earthenware quite shallow pan (I wanted to see if it could be used in the oven!) almost covered in tomato sauce, but not swimming in it! (if you have made too much sauce you can have it on pasta tomorrow!) Look at my sweet old terracotta pot!
Having made breadcrumbs with my remaining bread, I covered my dish with these and baked in a hot oven (200 C/400F/GAS 6 )until the top was golden and the sauce was bubbling up.

1) my involtini 2) with sauce 3) I added breadcrumbs and baked

Having checked that my fish was cooked, I was ready to serve. My "involtini" looked really appetizing served over fresh green beans which I previously cooked, drained and tossed in little olive oil and garlic. The crostini I baked with the fish went very well with it! Success! My creation was very good, indeed!

My fish was ready. I served it with beans
and lovely crostini

This is just one of my involtini!

If you would like to know how it tastes, you'll have to make it!
PS: Salmon not suitable for this recipe!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Pettole Della Mamma (sweet and savoury pettole-"zeppole") BUONISSIMA!

Some Winter mornings, she would get up early to make us breakfast. You knew it must  be cold outside when you could smell  yeast and hot chocolate and you could hear the loud sound of something being dropped into a hot pan. That smell... we always knew when our mother was making pettole!
She didn't often make sweet things for us and her "sweet repertoire" wasn't extensive, but everything she made was beautiful and tasted so good that, for as long as I live I will never forget!
What we call pettole in my part of Italy, is the equivalent of "zeppole" in Campania (and in America, too!) But I can tell you that "zeppole" is a small ring of choux pastry, fried or baked, decorated with three or four "rosettes" of piped thick custard and, on the custard, an amarena (preserved cherry.)  Zeppole they are sold in huge amounts on March 19th (St. Joseph's Day, also Father's Day, in Italy)
So, I will call what I made "Pettole" as, they are made from a simple, stringy, thick batter, its only ingredients: flour, yeast and water.
I made two kinds: sweet and savoury, today. You can just have plain pettole, which you serve on individual small plates with a little mound of sugar, for dipping. THEY ARE SO... SO... GOOD!
Basic pettole recipe:
200g plain, all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/2 bag dried yeast
or 20g live yeast
warm water
oil for frying
Makes 10-15 small pettole
Easy: place the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and add: salt and as much warm water as it takes to make a soft, stringy, but not watery mixture. A bit like a foccacia mix.
Mix using an electric whisk, or whatever you prefer, then place in a warm place, until it doubles up in amount.

In a frying pan, heat some oil (it can be vegetable oil, as it is lighter) then fry several tablespoonfuls of your batter at the time, taking care to turn over the little doughnuts, as they cook.

Taste to make sure the batter is cooked in the middle, then place each pettola onto a plate with plenty of kitchen paper, to absorb some of the oil. Pettole are really "Naughty, but Nice!"
Pettole ai Frutti di Bosco
(Sweet Pettole With Berries and sugar)

Basic mixture
A handful of berries of your choice
Sugar to decorate
As you can see, I added berries to my batter, then fried each little cake and finally decorated with pink sugar, edible pearls and some confetti (sugared almonds)

 My pettole turned a kind of golden lilac colour, because of the fruit. They looked so beautiful, though!

My sweet pink pettole

Pettole Salate agli Spinaci
(Savory Pettole with Spinach)

Basic mixture (batter)
Some fresh spinach (large handful)
Sprinkling of chives
Chilli Pepper
(as much as you like)
Vegetable oil
My lovely spinach is still live and kicking, outside, so I decided to add some to my basic pettole mixture. I cooked it, added some fresh chives, cress and some very hot Scottish Bonnet chilli peppers.

My savoury pettole turned out a lovely golden colour! Last week I used asparagus and cheese, instead. These are really lovely with tuna! Try them, they are good. Zeppole recipe to follow, sometime soon!

my savoury pettole you can be creative with!

Isola del faro (testing!)

Vieste, Isola del Faro

I am just testing, as I am having problems with my text!

I hope you like this painting

Not as nice as the cakes I had to delete

and the lovely comment from Helen, though!

I will post my pettole recipe again, tomorrow!



Thursday, 27 October 2011

Love and Peas ( Peas cooked with pancetta and onions-also good with pasta!)

She followed her mother as they crossed the railway line. She had to run fast as she only had little legs. Aged five, her mother called her "La mia coda" "My tail" as the little girl followed her everywhere. It must have been a Spring day, because, as they left the city behind, she could smell wild garlic and she could see  little blue irises  growing in a little shady corner, on their right. She knew it was Spring, as you could always smell Spring in the air, and her mother smiled a lot!
Eventually they came to a long path, fields on either side, such a contrast from the big city so near, yet so far, already adorned with the gifts of Spring.
An old lady (she thought she must be old!) called Caterina, lived in a white farmhouse. Mamma went inside. She brought bred for Caterina's hens. The rooms inside the farmhouse must have been huge and the ceilings high, as the voices she could hear sounded very loud and far. The little girl sat outside on a step, watching the hens running around, the listening to the chicks and the kittens as they sang a Spring song.  Above her a roof kept the already hot sun, at bay. Sat on a step, she closed her eyes and suddenly felt very happy. It was that special, really deep kind of happiness... yes, the kind of happiness which doesn't last very long, but sinks deep, deep, very deep inside your and stays there, so when you grow up you understand what happiness is.
Her mother would come out with Caterina and, after a long chat, the two women would kiss, the little girl would get a smile and a little box of warm eggs, and the three of them would start making their way towards the path, which led back to the big city, so near and yet so far.
Fields on either side were rich with crops: tiny little baby artichokes, just a tiny bit bigger than her mum's thumb were being picked. She looked at Caterina, hoping she would understand... and she always did! " Go on, take some artichokes and some peas!" So... there she was, tiny little city girl, loose in a field encrusted with wonderful green gems. Was she really allowed to take some home? The plants were huge! Then the ritual began: one by one, they picked baby artichokes, and then lovely, sweet, tender little pea pods, a gift of the land and the sun.
Once home, the peas would be shelled. Tiny little five year old handfuls of green balls would be avidly eaten. Most, would end up in mamma's pot, though,  to be turned into treasure.
I can still feel that special, really deep kind of happiness inside me, when I remember doing all the things I did with my beautiful mother. Food is special, as it tells stories, it connects you to the past, it reminds you of happy times. It reminds ME of happy times in the sun!
Now I want to share some of that happiness, by cooking my mum's Easter Monday pasta. It's a simple dish, but to me it means a lot more than that.
Here is my recipe:

Piselli con pancetta e cipolla
 (Easter Monday Pasta)
(Peas with Onion and Pancetta)
Side dish or pasta sauce
Serves 4
400g ( just under 1lb) peas, fresh or frozen
6tbs olive oil
1 medium onion
100 g pancetta
some flat leaved parsley
1 beaten egg (optional)
black pepper
(lots of!)
This dish is really, really easy. Put some oil in a pan ( you can use more than the suggested amount, if you prefer) and heat it. When you can see there is smoke coming out of it, add your onion which you would have previously chopped. Stir until the onion is slightly brown, then add your pancetta. Again, stir to blend the lovely flavours, then, a couple of minutes later, add all your peas (frozen peas are very good, too!)

Pancetta and onions cooking in the hot olive oil

Stir again, until the peas are coated in hot oil, leave for a couple of minutes or so, then add enough water to cover the peas a bit more. Bring to the boil , then lower the heat and cook until the peas are tender. I like to add half a stock cube, as it deepens the flavour.
You will know your peas are ready when they are firm, but soft. Make sure the liquid doesn't dry out, though. A little sprinkling of roughly chopped fresh parsley makes the dish really interesting and a generous sprinkling of black pepper adds that exotic note and aroma I really love.
If you would like to add a beaten egg to your peas, you can do so, now. But make sure you stir until the egg kind of scrambles. You don't have to have egg, if you don't want to. It's optional. I love it!

The finished dish can be served as a side

This dish can be served as a side dish or, as a kind of a sauce, if you add some chopped first, then cooked, and drained spaghetti and more black pepper to the peas. You can add some of the pasta water if you want the dish less dry.

Pasta with peas (no egg added)

We have this dish all year round, as "Pasta e Piselli" but on Easter Monday it is traditional in my part of Italy to have this as a first course, followed by lamb with peas and artichokes and more delicious Spring time goodies!

Pasta e Piselli
1) No egg 2) With egg
Both versions DELICIOUS!