Thursday, 31 March 2011

Orecchiette baresi con cime di rapa (orecchiette pasta with broccoli tops)

If I were to crown a Queen of all Green Things... no... Empress of all Green and Really Yummy Things, the trophy would go to cime di rapa, or broccoli di rape, as they call it in some areas of Italy. To me... it's cime di rapa. A member of the brassica family, very closely related to broccoli (Calabrese and sprouting broccoli) cime di rape is the Anita Ekberg of the vegeatble world: busty, sexy, robust, very, very flavoursome and... definitely  "FEMALE"

To me, cime di rape with pasta ( you can have it with spaghetti, linguine or penne, if you like!) was the signature tune of our Saturday dinners, in Winter. I can still remember coming home from school on a Saturday and being "invested" by the moist, bitter smelling steam produced by the vegetable, as the door was opened to let me into the house.

To me, this also was the smell of Christmas Eve, it was the smell of home, in Winter, when, as a child, I would run to the steamed up windows and, overlooking a traffic jam, downstairs, I would draw a house, with a chimney and smoke coming out of it.

I don't think I had ever seen a house with a chimney, in those days, as I lived in a big city, but I now know, for sure, that when a child draws a house with a smokey chimney, it means that that child has a happy home. And what a happy home Rosa, with the beautiful smile and sweet, quiet Leonardo had made for us.

I will always be grateful to my parents, no matter what happens in my life, for having provided me with such happy beginnings and a childhood full of sweet, tender, untold love and for the loving memories.

Anyway! Here is my recipe:

Orecchiette baresi con cime di rapa

Serves 4

700 gr cime di rapa, cleaned and washed
or broccoli, cut into florets and washed
8 generous glugs olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 red chilli pepper
8 anchovy fillets
freshly milled black pepper

500 gr orecchiette pasta
or spaghetti, penne or linguine

Cime di rapa... beautifully green... wouldn't you say?

This is a quick and easy one. First of all put a large pot full of water on the ring. When it comes to the boil, add the cleaned vegetables. 3 or 4 minutes later add your orecchiette. Cook dry orecchiette for about 20 minutes or other pasta shapes according to the instructions on the packet.

This is orecchiette, handmade in Italy

Dry orecchiette is not bad... quite good, in fact...

While this is happening, heat the oil in a pan and, when really hot add your garlic and chilli. Cook until the garlic is brown, but not burnt (burnt garlic is very bitter!) then add your anchovies. Stir and take off the heat. DONE!

Taste your pasta to see if it's cooked (don't forget to add salt to your pasta, by the way!) then drain it, reserving some of the cooking liquid.

Place the drained pasta in the pan with the sauce, mix, add lots of lovely fragrant freshly milled black pepper, then serve. If you think the end result is too dry, add some of the reserved cooking liquid.

This dish is absolutely wonderful. Don't need lots of ingredients to make fantastic food... do you?

No longer with us... RIP... we ate it! It tasted molto buono!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Reach for the stars

It's a Summer night and I am in my garden. I'm seven years old and I'm standing up on my swing, in an attempt to reach for the stars... I feel dizzy. But I carry on swinging, as I'm trying to grab a star.
There is a fountain in the middle of the garden and I have a few shells hidden away, under a balcony. I keep them hidden behind some pots. I will hide and listen to the sea. You can really hear the sea inside a shell!
Wow! It's a big shell, this one... the sea is rough, tonight. If I close my eyes I can almost smell the seaweed, just like I do in the morning, when my mum opens the windows and the smell of the sea comes into our home.
But look at those stars, and the moon, and... Perry Mason is starting on TV. I know! I can hear the music! And I hear my sister say: "Perry Mason, Perry Mason!" But... I don't care!  I will stay here, with the cats and the moon.
I will write my name on the wall, I will eat the buds from my mum's fern (she keeps wondering why her ferns never grow! I know why!) and smell the passion flowers. I like that smell.

The black and white cat had babies, today. She's watching me right now. She's beautiful... she's a mum who let me pick up one of her babies, today. It was little, skinny and soft. I wanted to call her Margherita, as she was born in a pot full of white daisies. I picked her up and walked towards the kitchen. "I will tie a red ribbon round her neck. She will be my kitten and I will love her. We will have adventures together"- I though, but... my mother SCREAMED when she saw the mousy looking kitten. I got scared and I dropped her. I cried.

The mother cat watched anxiously, as I picked her baby up and put her back into the daisy pot. I could smell good things to eat, though I was a bit upset. The smell must come from our kitchen- I thought. So, I made my way back. The sky was still full of stars and the moon was beaming. I'm sure She winked at me... the moon, I mean. Maybe She didn't! But then.... Didn't I just say I thought think I could hear the sea inside a shell?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Baudelaire would have liked it! Polpettone di manzo con patate-Italian Meatloaf

Baudelaire would have liked my Italian meatloaf with potatoes! He would have, because it smells so delizioso! It's a country inspired dish, as it conjures up images of green pastures, milky cheeses from Italy and France (I use mozzarella and French chevre- goat's cheese, very, very nice and full of flavour) pungent red onions and, of course, garlic!

It's a quietly naughty little dish... very versatile, as the delicious potatoes can be a base not just for a meat loaf, as  you could use chicken portions, or lamb chops, or even sausages instead of a meat loaf. Or how about mushrooms, instead of meat, for a vegetarian version, like my Mamma used to make (but don't use those awful anaemic champignons you find in every supermarket. Be creative with mushrooms!)

Polpettone di manzo con patate
(serves 4)

For the meatloaf:

500 gr. extra lean minced beef
1 egg
1 handful Parmesan cheese
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 panini (bread rolls) soaked in water or milk
or: three slices white bread
3 sprigs of flat leaved parsley
1 mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 thick slice of goat's cheese, crumbled
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
freshly milled black pepper

For the base:

4 largish white potatoes, diced
1 red onion, sliced
1white onion, sliced
4 small plum or cherry tomatoes
or: 3 tinned plum tomatoes, crushed
generous handful of Parmesan cheese
2 or 3 glugs Extra Virgin olive oil
freshly milled black pepper
Grated Parmesan

 Begin by making the meatloaf. In a bowl place your mince, egg, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, handful of Parmesan cheese, and mix. The mixture should feel soft and squidgy. Add your bread which you would have previously soaked in water or milk (the liquid needs to be squeezed out of the bread.) Add salt and pepper and mix again, until the ingredients are all blended together. You should by now be smelling the aroma of the garlic and the fresh parley. (BTW: this is the mixture we use for meatballs)

Take the meat out of the bowl and place onto a board. Press down to make a circle about 3 cm thick (about just over 1'')

In the middle of the circle place your cheeses, more Parmesan, chopped garlic, salt, pepper and your boiled eggs, in a row. Look how pretty it all looks! Next, bring the meat up, to make a loaf shape. Pat it down sightly and make sure there are no "holes" where the cheese, once melted can escape from.

In a baking dish, place the potatoes, the sliced onions, your tomatoes, with salt, pepper, maybe some parsley, as it looks pretty. Place the meat loaf in the middle of the potatoes, add enough water to come up to the meatloaf, but don't drown it, please, as it won't taste very good if you do!

Finish of with some olive oil and another generous sprinkling of Parmesan, and, of course, salt and pepper.

The uncooked meatloaf happily surrounded by potatoes and onions

Bake in a hot oven (about 200C/400F/Gas mark 6) for about 45 minutes, or until the meat and the potatoes look a lovely shade of golden brown and at least half of the liquid has reduced. An excellent everyday dish! Try it with chicken instead of the meatloaf. It's very delicate!

Tagliatelle di zucchine

I served my meatloaf with a side dish of Tagliatelle di zucchine (courgettes thinly sliced and cut into thin strips, cooked in olive oil, garlic and chillies, of course) and a crusty panino!

A slice of my meatloaf, looking definitely appetizingly out of focus!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Almonds, wild chamomille and a sea of sunflowers

We sat on an ancient wall, cracking open fresh almonds with a stone as big as our little hands, in the shade of a magnificent tree. Its leaves were very green, elongated and somehow really elegant. They were almost translucent, as I remember you could see a mysterious green light making its way through their transparency, just like stained glass.

Almond blossom and freesias, with fresh anemoni made its way into our house every Spring time, no matter what! My mother had the ability to bring scents, music and tiny little things  into my life. These tiny little things  would ALWAYS be part of me. They were simple, beautiful things, which made life so very special and unique.

 We lived in the city, so we had to buy branches of the precious "jewels." If I could compare the scent of the small, dog rose like almond blossom with anything, I would say that they smelt of nostalgia, mixed with honey, scented rosemary, Victorian living rooms, and velvet blended with the sweetest of Turkish rose water.


Without knowing it, my mother gave me a passport to the world of "Correspondance" as French poet Baudelaire would have later called the ability human beings have to be connected to a different, far, but not too far away, world, which can sometimes be reached through a simple scent.

But let's go back to the almond tree, before I get lost in a maze of  "memoirs." I'm still there, with my cousin Mariagrazia, on a hot Summer's day, picking almonds from the tree. We are small, so we have to climb (biggest climb was a mulberry tree... but that is another story!) We snap small branches, then get hold of the nuts. They are covered in a thick juicy, bitter coating  protected by an outer green velvety "coat."

We crack each almond, peel the brown inner skin and there: snow white fresh juicy almonds, cool, slippery, deliciously summery almonds! We eat so many of them. Still eating nuts at sunset, just like two sweet little birds, we enjoy the dawn of our life in a place blessed with sun, light, blue sky, kittens, wild chamomile and a sea of sunflowers.

Last Summer, as I left a bar with some family members, on a Sunday lunch time, after an aperitivo, I walked outside to find several stalls, all selling at least six of seven types of olives, and nuts... so many kinds of nuts! And it brought back memories of Sundays past, when our dinner would end with nuts: hazelnuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, almonds, chestnuts and more... 

Man selling nuts and olives
During a "festa" stalls would sell "Ceci e semi" (dried chickpeas and pumpkin seeds.) How many pumpkin seeds I must have eaten! God knows! And how about the delicious baked broad beans? I can still taste the wonderful flavour.

Delicious baked broad- fava beans

Almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkins seeds
dry baked chick peas and peanuts

 We bought olives and nuts, then made our way to a Pasticceria to buy tray of Pasticcini, small cakes filled with cream (choux buns, little choux swans) shell shaped cakes filled with sweet ricotta, citrus peel and chocolate chips, then superb little cannoli di ricotta and just two little rum baba`. On the way back I could smell the cream, the sweet ricotta and vanilla. It was so hot!

                                                        Italian Pasticcini

We found refuge in my sister's house, so cool and shady, with its marble floors, thick walls, high ceiling adorned with big fans, before the fresh cream turned sour. What a relief to be out of the sun! Coming in from the heat and the blinding light, it was hard to focus on things and people. But who needed eyes when so many images had been brought to life inside your mind? "The Universe inside a nut"...  Proust was right when he said that someone's universe could be hidden inside a nut. Did he really say nut or was it "A cup of tea?"  Oh, well...

A scent can open a locked gate...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Funghi Trifolati ( Delicious mushroom side dish)

I made this on Saturday, as I went to the shop and the mushrooms looked so "sexy" I just had to buy them! And... when I saw the little "fiaschetti", small but perfectly formed baby plum tomatoes, I just HAD to make funghi trifolati, a simple, but truly delicious every day Italian side dish!

Here it is:

Funghi Trifloati

Serves 4
4 glugs Olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
400 gr mushrooms
5 or 6 mini plum or cherry tomatoes, chopped
a tiny amount of fresh rosemary, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Some thinly sliced chilli pepper to garnish

For this recipe, I like to use good mushrooms. Those white, anemic mushrooms known as champignons are not very flavoursome, so drop them in favour of, really... anything else!


Place all the ingredients in a pan, turn the heat up and wait until everything is sizzling. The aroma coming from the combination should be absolutely fantastic! There really is nothing to this recipe... just let all the ingredients mingle and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes and... that's it! You have a side dish wonderful with steak, fish, or a little sauce that you can enjoy on pasta, with the addition of some Parmesan cheese. Nice and easy! That's the secret of my food!

A tale of two ladies ... and of dried figs

Dear Reader... whoever you may be, wherever you may live...

Today I'll tell you a short tale of two ladies and of... dried figs!

We have this place in the Cilento part of Campania, my husband and I. It's OUR Heaven, our piece of happiness and of incredible beauty: steep roads, mountains, buffalos, prickly pears, islands, wild rosemary and... figs! We love it!

When we arrive at our place, an army of old ladies suddenly appear: they kiss, hug me, shake my husband's hand and make me feel welcome and very emotional, as they all are very nice and sweet... though... I really don't know who most of them are!

Two ladies I have come to know very well: Antonietta (Tittella) who lives in Boston half the year. Her house is big, beautiful and quite the Italian American kitch house, with imitation antique furniture and beautiful big kitchen, with big fireplace, where we share limoncello made by her late husband and lots of laughs.

Tatella is a very beautiful lady, at 74, blond, looks lovely in shorts and, if I didn't already have a mother, she would be a mother candidate and I know, as she very tearfully said so, that if she had a daughter she would like her to be like me. It IS a compliment, coming from my very beautiful gin and tonic, heads among the swallows, slightly eccentric, on a windy terrace joking, laughing friend!

Across the road lives Teresa, old Italian Mamma. She speaks perfect Italian (no dialect) and is very nice! She keeps chickens and grows her own organic vegetables (and she's not a "trendy".) Tittella and Teresa  kind of fight over my affection, which is very nice for me, because, as a consequence of that, I get gifts of peach shaped cakes and home made limoncello from Tittella (Antonietta) and her lovely maternal hugs, and... delicious gifts of  figs, baked and then sandwiched together, filled with nuts and fennel seeds, and lots of lovely smiles from Teresa, as I let her pick my figs until well into November. My tree is truly beautiful! And I'm glad it provides Teresa with deliciously sweet Christmas time goodies.

Antonietta (Tittella) dries figs in the sun, too. I took photos of her figs and of Teresa's beautiful "Fichi impaccati" (dried, nut and fennel seed filled figs) which I would like to share. A little, big ray of sunshine packed inside figs! Look at my pictures!

 Figs freshly picked from our big tree (usually my breakfast)

Tittella's figs, drying in the sun

 Teresa's "Fichi impaccati" Look like Italian sweet kebabs, don't they?

A picture of Heaven in a chocolate box. To die for...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Straccetti col mio pesto (Home made pasta with pesto)


So much basil in the shops, so many herbs, nuts... the inviting smell of Summer round the corner... Today, no choice! I had to fill my trolley with colourful, sweet smelling "goodies!" I was in the mood for trying new things!

At home, my mother cooked excellent traditional Italian food from our region. I like to extend my horizon, and by this, I don't mean Chinese, Indian or whatever else, but... Italian, from a different part of the country, as food in Italy differs from region to region. Let us remember that Italy, until 150 years ago, was not a nation, but a kind of congregation of eight neighbouring States, each of which had their own entity, language and, of course, culinary traditions.

You could trace the social history of Italy, through its food. Today I "went" to Liguria. The food of Liguria tends to be green, as, especially inland, the people of this region use a lot of very often wild herbs and vegetables which can be picked in the country (though, of course, they DO have supermarkets in Liguria!)

I made pesto for the first time and... WOW! Is it good or... is it good? It truly is delicious, unlike the store bought stuff I tasted a few years back, which put me off wanting to try it again. Actually, I made pasta, too! And I am NOT a pasta maker! But STRACCETTI (little rags) seemed so quick and easy to make, I decided have a go at making it.

My pesto was a bit different, as I used basil, some rocket and walnuts, instead of pine nuts. The end result is pungent and really, really good!


(Serves 2)

For the pesto:
About 30 gr basil leaves
a handful rocket leaves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 small garlic cloves
2tbsp olive oil
a small handful of walnut kernels
1 large handful Parmesan cheese
black pepper

For the Straccetti pasta

150 gr plain or 00 flour
1 egg yolk
warm water
some salt
extra flour for dusting

I made my pesto in a pestle and mortar, by pounding the garlic cloves with the sea salt first. I then gradually added the basil and rocket leaves, followed by a gradual addition of the olive oil and the walnuts, a few at a time. When all the ingredients were used and combined, I added the grated Parmesan and had a taste: if you can describe a taste as "Vivid", that's how it tasted to me! Fantastic combination. I'm sure I was smelling the Ligurian countryside! Quite likely!

Honestly, don't ever buy the stuff in jars: it's really smelly and drab looking. Having made my own, I can tell you... it's really, really delicious! And so easy to make!

Now you are ready to make your Straccetti (home made pasta squares.) I am not a pasta maker... just a pasta eater, but today I wanted to try, as Straccetti is really easy to make.

I used plain flour (or 00), just 1 egg yolk, some warm water and some salt. I made a well in the centre of the flour, placed my egg yolk in the middle, followed by some salt and warm water. I then made the mixture into a dough (if it's not firm, add more flour.)

 (Flour and egg yoke)

(Beginning to look like pasta dough)


I used my pasta machine to roll out the dough into longish strips, which I then cut into squares . You can roll the dough out using a rolling pin, if you wish.

                         (My pasta strips ready to be cut into straccetti)                       

I cooked my straccetti in a pan of boiling water, with some salt, for about five minutes. I drained my pasta, quickly combined it with my very good home made pesto and garnished with a sprinkling of Parmesan, black pepper and walnuts. That was it! Done! I had a taste and yes... it's buono, buonissimo!


Saturday, 19 March 2011

Earth, Sea and Fire (Deliciously hot and sour spaghetti)

It's very hard to describe how it feels belonging to a place which is so beautiful, words to describe that kind of beauty are yet to be invented. This is what Italy is to me: too beautiful for words alone to describe.

We have a little place in Campania. It sits on top of a mountain and overlooks the Gulf of Salerno with the islands of Capri and Ischia. How can I possibly describe the feeling which makes you get up very early in the morning and go outside, so you can be part of the miracle which makes you want to sing and fly with the swallows and dance the minuet with the islands?

But nothing is impossible, as, if you close your eyes you can become a swallow, or an eagle, or just simply the wind, and you CAN touch everything with your soul. No senses needed, just a bit of imagination. Close your eyes and let yourself fly...

Then you CAN go out, in the afternoon, when the world sleeps and "SEE" things, which you wouldn't otherwise see: a stone wall, an olive tree, a lizard, some yellow flowers you had never seen before, and gates, windows, rocks. SO MUCH BEAUTY! And you want to grab it all and make it yours!





We express our passion through our food. It's fiery, hot, passionate, it gives you the "Acquolina in bocca" you want it so much. You eat it with your eyes, your hands, your nose, your soul. It's the food of your land and you love it for that!

Hot and Sour Spaghetti
(Serves 2)

For the sauce:

Few glugs of olive oil
4 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 sliced hot chilli pepper, finely chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, cut into thin slivers
a drop of white wine (optional)
4 small mini plum tomatoes, chopped
6-7 sundried tomatose, very finely chopped
(I buy the tomatoes and preseve them in olive oil
garlic, parsley and chillies)
300 gr prawns, peeled and butterflied
2 small octopi, cut into smallish pieces 
(keep the tentacles whole!)
zest and lemon of 1/2 lemon
three handfuls of rocket
salt and black pepper
parsley and sliced chilli to garnish

300 gr spaghetti

In a wok, heat the oil. When hot, add your garlic and 3/4 of the chilli pepper. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes, then add your yellow pepper, the prawns and the octopus. Cook for a further five minutes, then add some white wine, let evaporate, then put your baby plum tomatoes in the wok with the sun dried tomatoes. Let the sauce simmer.
By now it should smell fantastically exotic, as all the flavours should have combined. Now you can close your eyes and dream exotic dreams. But you can't! As you should be cooking your spaghetti, al dente, draining it and adding  to the sauce.

Stir, mix with love and tenderness, add the juice and zest of your lemon and some black pepper. At the very end, before serving, add your arucola (rocket) then toss and serve, garnished with chopped parsley and sliced chillies.

                                                           Love on a plate!


Thursday, 17 March 2011


"She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes"

Lord Byron

Land of beauty, passion and contrast,
Italy is 150 years old, today!


The Pantheon, Rome

Particular of the fountain at Piazza Navona, Rome

Motorbikes in Rome

Beautiful people in uniform and sunglasses, of course!

A lovely collection of Pulcinella. (Shop in Paestum)

Breakfast in Italy

La FIAT Cinquecento

Charming street in the old part of Modugno (Bari)