A sentimental journey into my past and into my present, as there would be no present without the past. A collection of recipes, pictures and thoughts. A vehicle, really, to allow me to "find" myself, once again, through my travels in a wonderful time capsule smelling of Borotalco, green Palmolive soap, basil and the smell of the sea, which came in through our windows in my past and forever present time in the place where my soul wants to be: MY WONDERFUL ITALY!
I have loving memories of some of the sweet things my mum used to cook: the almond cakes with a burnt, black bottom, her delicious focaccia, with a burnt base, the black toast she used to like (you had to toast it twice, so it would burn) and... when she bought bread, it had to be slightly burnt.
She once made black cherry jam... needless to say, it really was black! It stuck to the bottom of the pan and burnt! Needles to say: it was fantastic for being slightly burnt. We just loved it. Our mother was a chef... she was just much better at savoury, than sweet things, as, like me, she didn't really like cakes and sweet stuff. But she had the Mida's touch: everything she touched became GOLD or got burnt!
One Christmas she made these little panzerottini... little pastry half moons filled with jam. I was so excited she had made something different from the usual, for Christmas, I had to have a taste... my goodness me... "What spices did you put in this?" Well... she'd only put origano in her little half moons. Not good... it should have been cannella (cinnamon!)
I found a recipe for my mum's panzerottini and I actually made some. I didn't use any spices in mine, but I did fill them with hazelnut chocolate spread and... dark cherry jam and soft (crean) cheese! They look so yummy!
Sweet Half Moons
(This quantity made 25 small half moons)
300 g (11oz) white flour
50g (2oz) butter
1 tbs sugar
pinch of salt
rind of 1 lemon
1 tsp baking powder (if baking)
For the filling:
some icing sugar
preheat oven (160C) if you wish to bake
I placed the flour on a board, then made a well. In the middle of this I put: sugar,1 pinch of salt, my butter, 1 whole egg, the rind of 1 lemon. I mixed all the ingredients, till a soft plyable dough was formed. My dough was a bit dry, so I added some cold water, to soften it.
I wrapped in foil and refrigerated for half an hour...
....Half an hour later... I rolled out the dough, onto a floured surface, cut out discs, about 8 cm in diameter. I filled half the discs with chocolate spread (over half a teasp is enough) and the other half I filled with a very small amount of cream cheese and cherry jam.
Filling my panzerottini
I closed the discs using cold water and a fork,to make half moon "pockets" then fried in really hot oil. I tried baking some of my panzerottini, but they were too hard, as there's no yeast or baking powder in this recipe. I decided that next time I would eitherjust fry my panzerottini, or add a teaspoon of baking powder to the mixture, to make the recipe more suitable for baking (160 C)I actually think the recipe would work batter with the addition of baking powder, whichever cooking method you use.
I dipped cherries in melted chocolate, to go with my panzerottini and decided I wanted my presentation to look Victorian. It looked so good... even if I had to only eat this with my eyes, I would be happy!
I made some spiedini, yesterday a kind of Italian kebab! A twist on my Insalata Caprese recipe and an addition to my "Mozzarella Day!"
Last Summer, we went to a Sagra della Bufala, in a little town in Campania, Italy. For ten Euros you could buy a three course (buffalo based) meal: a starter (tomato and buffalo mozzarella kebabs) a small portion of fusilli pasta with buffalo meat sauce and cheese (very nice!) and barbecued buffalo meat with... patatine fritte (chips) You even got a glass of wine... how about that!
The kebabs, though, were very bland and without dressing, and I really can't eat a piece of tomato without dressing, so... I thought of a new, more interesting version. Here it is! I included grilled meat for texture (should have been buffalo, but I won't have access for a few weeks!) and a dressing I "created"... and it worked!
Spiedini di Insalata Caprese e Pollo
Con Salsa Verde Piccante
Capri Salad and Chicken Italian Kebabs
(with a very good hot dressing!)
4 chicken breasts
4 tomatoes, washed and deseeded
3 mozzarelle, diced
a few basil leaves
for the marinade/dressing
A few big glugs of olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
the juice of half lemon
Louisiana jalapeno pepper
or sliced red chilli pepper
Cut your chicken breasts into cubes, toss in some olive oil and cook. I grilled mine in a "Lean, mean, fat grilling machine" and added rosemary from my garden, for extra flavour. You can bake the chicken pieces in the oven or grill, or fry them, if you prefer. My chicken only took 10 minutes. Leave to cool.
Next, using some bamboo skewers, start assembling your kebabs, by alternating quartered tomatoes, basil leaves, mozzarella and the cold chicken.
I put the marinade in a flat dish. I used a lot of chopped basil and parsley and made sure to use really good olive oil. The lemon juice and the hot green chilli sauce created a really interesting flavour. I placed my kebabs over the marinade and kept turning, to make sure everything was coated. You can use sliced fresh red chillies, instead of the hot green chilli sauce, if you prefer.
I let all the flavours infuse and develop, before serving my nice cold dish.
The Spiedini (kebabs) tasted really delicious and fresh... you could taste every single ingredient and the different textures made it interesting. Just the right kind of food for a Summer's day! I served dish with a Mediterranean potato salad and some crusty bread. And Italian dry white wine (I like Frascati, chilled)
Italy... land of extreme beauty, blue sea and sky, exceedingly good looking people and fantastic food. All good things to eat come in three colours: green, red and white, the colours of our tricolore!
Today, I prepared some food. The colours of the Italian flag, really predominant: red tomatoes, green parsley and basil and beautiful, soft, white milky mozzarella.
In Italy we LOVE our cheese. Unlike other nations, we try not to make a big song and dance about how good it is. The truth is that if you want to have a REAL cheese experience and try something different from the soft "plop" you get in supermarkets, there's only one place to go: ITALY!
According to celebrated English cook Jamie Oliver, who wishes he were Italian and whom we very dearly love, our cheese is the best and burrata, from my area, is the best cheese ever! Good man, Jamie!
I took a photo of a fantastic stall in Alberobello, not too far from Bari where they sold lovely cheese and meats.
A stall where they sold cheese and meats... and a lot more!
I love the place, with its original architecture. I have been there millions of times and the best time was in Winter, when the tourists have gone away and I could really be nosey and look through the net curtains to see the local people live their daily life, only if just for an instant.
Trulli, in Alberobello, Bari
Last week, I was at my friend Emily's farm, Norton's Dairy Farm, in Frettenham, Norfolk. Emily is an enthusiastic farmer, who is in the process of perfecting the art of cheese making. Emily already makes fantastic butter which looks deliciously golden, without the addition of E numbers and can be bought at the Farm Shop. Emily demonstrated how to make mozzarella, on a very small scale, outside of Italy, for a group of school children and their teachers. I gave a little talk and answered questions. It was fun. A lady called Bibby from the Country Trust even made focaccia!
Cheese making in a very old barn
Emily looks like a scientist... a pretty one!
Today, I wanted to make something using mozzarella, as I love it! When I am at my little house in Campania, with my husband, I buy fresh buffalo mozzarella, which we find delicious to eat fresh. For cooking, cow's mozzarella is better, as buffalo mozzarella doesn't melt and stays lumpy. A "man with van," who sells cheese keeps trying to sell me the basic stuff you need to make mozzarella with. Next time, in Summer, I will give it a go.
Four or five servings
4 mozzarelle, sliced
4 large tomatoes, sliced
handful of basil leaves
handful black olives
few generous glugs olive oil
the juice of half a lemon
freshly milled black pepper
mixed salad leaves
(as much as you need to fill the middle of your
This is so easy! Slice your tomatoes and mozzarella and arrange alternately, in a circle, round the rim of a large serving plate. I also used some artichokes, preserved in oilve oil, as I really love artichokes!
In the middle of this "crown" place some green "stuff" anything you like! I used arugola (rocket) and baby spinach leaves, then added a handful of black olives. But you can be as creative as you like! I dressed my salad with olive oil and lemon juice, but just good olive oil and plenty of black pepper would be enough. Olive oil does have a wonderful taste!
It's late Spring and everything is about to burst into flower, in the garden. My beautiful roses are beginning to bloom and the little miniature strawberries which came to live on my rockery three years ago (they are so tiny and sweet!) are looking promising.
A beautiful rose, in my garden
I have edible cherries on my tree, which I hope the birds will let me pick and enjoy (like they did last year) and (will have) big strawberries. They say "There's nothing like a good English strawberry!" Well... I do know that Italian strawberries smell like nothing on Earth and are sun ripened and naturally BIG and beautiful!
They WILL be red! (my cherries)
Strawberries and my Italian parsley live together in "perfect harmony... side by side"
as Sir Paul would put it!
I like red soft fruit, especially cherries, which are plentiful, in Italy, this time of year. When you buy them, they usually came in twos or threes, on the same stem, with leaves as green as... green! The cherries on my tree, though do taste delicious! And I just hope the birdies don't get them before I do!
I wanted to make a fruit sorbet (granita ai frutti di bosco) and a frozen yogurt ice cream (gelato allo yogurt) and I did. Next, I will make lemon sorbet, which my husband adores... he goes to a BAR opposite my sister's especially for that. I will master the art of sorbet making, so my lemon sorbet tastes better than CAFFE` ROMA.
Frozen mixed berry sorbet
(Granita ai frutti di bosco)
500g (1 lb 2 oz frozen or fresh mixed berries)
4 tbs sugar
a small cup of water
Put the water in a pan. When hot, add the sugar. Bring to the boil and stir until the sugar melts 2-3 minutes. Add the fruit (can be frozen or fresh) and cook for a further 4 or so minutes. Next, puree the fruit in a mixer, then sieve, to remove all the pips.
My fruit looked like beautiful Murano glass... gorgeous!
When cool, pour into an ice cream maker, churn until thick and freeze. I just collected the puree into a container and placed it in the freezer. I kept stirring, in order to obtain a soft, ruby coloured granita. If you leave this in the freezer for too long, and do not stir, it will become hard.
This is what my sorbet (granita) looked like on its way to the freezer
Frozen Berry and yogurt ice cream
(Gelato di yogurt ai frutti di bosco)
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain yogurt
400 g frozen mixed Summer berries
4 tbs sugar
This is really easy! Place your frozen fruit in a blender or mixer. Mix in a blender, for just one minute, as you don't want a puree, if you can help it. Add sugar and yogurt, mix, churn and freeze. I just froze mine and it was good. Just make sure you stir ever so often, so your ice cream doesn't harden. Serve after about four hours or so.
My frozen yogurt ice-cream looks delicious!
I served my granita and gelato allo yogurt together, in an Italian Champagne glass, with a strawberry, a white chocolate leaf which I made and some delicious whipped cream. It was really really dolce e molto buono! You can be really creative when you serve this pudding.
Walking round the ancient temples of Paestum, Italy, is such a joy, if you don't mind being slow roasted! The heat is so intense, you can't help feeling like a chicken, slowly roasting at a really high temperature!
Good job Bar Anna (one of the many bars and restaurants along a parade of souvenir shops) is not far and, once out of the fence, you can relax with a glass of Martini Bianco with lots of ice! It's a welcome refreshment, I can tell you! And then you go on to Ristorante- Pizzeria delle Rose for lunch (their pasta dishes are wonderful and their pizza, too, but I'm not a massive pastry and pizza eater, fortunately!)
Anyway... there I was, walking round Paestum Temples when I thought I could smell something: wild mint, very tiny mint was growing amongst the ruins, and then I found wild thyme and finally, dulcis in fundo: masses of beautiful, fragrant arugola (rocket.) "Anybody got a bag?"
Sandra actually had a bag... a plastic bag in Paestum?
And there I was, picking wild rocket and smelling the mint and the thyme... Never mind the temples, I was in (Baudelaire) heaven! I picked rocket, my friend Sandra picket rocket, we took home so much of the stuff, we ate it with pasta and made a fantastic salad with it. It tasted good and was very, very hot! Just how we like it!
Wild rocket, which in Italy is sold by the bunch, has quite large, very long leaves and stems which can be quite wooden, so, before eating it, you have to pick each individual leaf off what is a small plant.
Arugola in Italy... looks good!
I made "Rotolo di Spinaci" today. Like I said before, in my part of Italy we only tend to use ricotta in cakes. Whereas in Campania they would use ricotta in many savoury dishes, we don't, as it makes food heavy and is not easy to digest. But... de gustibus! We prefer to use mozzarella, instead.
Well, the pasta I made does have ricotta as one of the ingredients for its filling and it works, as you don't really feel the soft consistency of the cheese when it's combined with lovely green "stuff." I didn't use just spinach for my recipe, but a mixture of baby leaves, which included rocket and some of my fresh basil. To add flavour, I added a lot of Parmesan cheese and an Italian cheese I love called Cacioricotta, made from goat's cheese. I was brave, so I also added just a little touch of red chilli, because it made the filling look beautiful! I don't know if it will spoil the delicate taste of the dish, but... we'll see!
Some of the ingredients. I love my 107 year old plates!
Rotolo di Spinaci
For the ricotta pasta filling
250 g (9 oz) ricotta cheese
450g (1 lb) mixed baby leaves or
spinach (can use frozen)
2 handfuls grated Parmesan
2 handfuls cacioricotta
(you could use some Manchego
or Feta, instead)
some fresh basil (optional)
small piece of red chilli
Put your vegetables in a pan, with just a few tablespoons of water, lid on (or defrost your frozen spinach and cook.) This will only take five minutes. Don't let it burn! Drain any liquid out, as the vegetables need to be dry. Next, add all the other ingredients, blend together with a fork and set aside to cool.
fresh spinach and arugola
My red chilli makes it look special!
Make your pasta dough
400 g plain flour
cup of warm water
If you are feeling lazy, you can put all the dry ingredients in a mixer, add some warm water and mix into a soft, but firm dough. If it feels too soft, just add more flour. Mix until you get a ball of firm dough, place onto a board, drench with more flour and roll out into a large circle. This doesn't need to be too thick.
It looks like pizza!
Next, place all the ricotta mixture in the middle of this, spread with the back of a spoon, then roll into a "sausage" as if you were making a Swiss Roll. Fold both ends over, then tightly wrap in foil.
Your pasta roll
In a large pot, bring some water to the boil, place your wrapped pasta in the pot (if it's easier, you can make two smaller "sausages, rather than one big one. This is what I did) and cook for a good 20-25 minutes. When cooked, take the "packages" out of the pan and slice, as you would a Swiss roll, about 3 cm, just over 1'' high. Your pasta should be looking really "joyful" by now.
I also made some pasta with artichoke and garlic filling
Extremely easy tomato sauce
Few glugs olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 cartons passata
I made a very simple tomato sauce using one chopped onion fried in piping hot olive oil, as a base.
Nice and easy tomato sauce
To this I added 1 1/2 cartons of passata, fresh basil and grated cheese and then seasoned with salt. I cooked this for a good 25-30 minute. Remember that passata and any kind of tinned tomatoes are NOT cooked and that, in order to make an edible sauce this has to cook for at least 25 minutes. If you make too much sauce, never mind, as it tastes good on plain old pasta!
Now you are ready to assemble the dish!
Cover the base of an ovenproof dish with tomato sauce, (if this is too thick, you need to dilute it with some warm water) then make a layer of sliced pasta, cover with more sauce, sprinkle Parmesan all over and then bake (200 C, gas 6, 425 F) until it's bubbling and the top of the dish is beginning to brown.
My lovely old dish
Serve hot, as a first course or a main course, if you prefer. It's a really delicate dish and does look wonderful on the table. The kind of think to be shared with friends! I never serve individual portions, so people can just help themselves!
As the plane came in to land, I felt dizzy. The sky was the darkest shade of navy blue. To everyone else down there, it was just another April night... "I" was looking at Van Gogh's Starry Night, because looking at the sky of my native Puglia, I just wanted to cry... Millions of stars were holding hands... I knew they were greeting me. I wanted to jump out of the aircraft, make myself the shiniest shade of silver and join the stars. I thought I could see a ferry on its way to Greece, but I discovered we were flying over the Isole Tremiti, the islands, and they wearing their most glamorous evening dresses covered in silver sequins. The Islands had lit all their lights to welcome me, I thought. And I felt so happy!
I stuck my nose to the small window and felt like I did as a child when, before Christmas, we would get out all our fairy lights and switch them on... the magic never failed! And it was happening again. Only, this time, I was a woman!
And that's how I felt as the plane started to make its way down, towards Bari Airport. My ears were hurting so much, but MY city was so big and beautiful and totally lit, like a huge Christmas tree, a bonfire on the 5th of November. I had Pink Floyd music playing inside my heart. It was beating fast. I was Michael Shumacher driving a red Ferrari. I could feel the adrenaline flowing. I felt happy to be HOME once again, and though I was temporarely deaf in one ear I could hear the sweetest music ever and I knew I would sleep extremely well, that night...
As we waited for our bags, I looked through the doors, as they opened to let passengers out. I knew I would spot my sister's smile immediately! It was bright and beautiful and she was waving!
Out of the airport it was hot... nine o' clock at night... it was dark, it was busy with people laughing shouting, moaning, people kissing "Hello" and "Goodbye." The palm trees greeted me with a samba. I felt like I was on the set of "Love, actually" "Love is all around you" How true is that, eh?
I remember sitting right where that girl is, in the fashionable Via Sparano, Bari.
Il Lungomare, Bari
This where my Babbo's family originated from. Bari.
The Norman- German Castle, Bari
Outside Palazzo Mincuzzi, department store, Bari
Palazzo Mincuzzi, with Benetton
We even have our own Giorgio-Franco Armani (he ate my cheesy pig!)
I bet you didn't know you could light a BBQ with a hairdryer!