Friday, 23 September 2011

FELICE AUTUNNO! Pumpkin and Prosciutto Savoury Cake (Torta Salata alla Zucca)


It's Autumn harvest time: in Italy the vineyards have already been stripped of all their jewels of alabaster, though Summer is still there, alive and beautiful, dancing round the fields and along the seashore.
The grapes have been harvested... the new wine is probably already bubbling up. The olive trees are laden with green and black olives, fleshy and beautiful in their plump evening gowns.
Autumn is fast approaching, bringing new colours, smells and flavours. In my garden, the vegetables are beginning to fade away, as the nights get colder... This is when I really, really wish I could be in Italy. The beaches are empty, though the sea is still warm and the temperatures as high as in August. The world is back at work, in the busy cities and towns. Everything is so beautiful! And the city has come back to LIFE!
Oh, I am so nostalgic! How I wish I could relive an Italian Autumn! Maybe I will, soon...
In my garden, a tiny, little pumpkin is telling me we are into a new season. In Italy, by the way, they were selling pumpkins everywhere. What do people do with pumpkins in Southern Italy? Who knows...
In a recent copy of Vero Cucina, an Italian Food Magazine I buy when I'm there,  I found a recipe: Torta Salata Con Zucca e Prosciutto Crudo, Savoury pumpkin and Parma Ham Cake. It is, in fact, a kind of savoury plum cake, which I made today and... Is it delicious, or is it delicious? And... apparently a "Torta Salata" (Savoury cake) is a MUST when you have a party!
So, here it is:
Torta Salata con Zucca e Prosciutto Crudo
( Savoury Pumpkin and Parma Ham Cake)
(makes 7 or 8 servings)
150 g ( 5 oz) plain (all purpose) flour
300 g (10 oz) pumpkin
3 small eggs
100 g (4 oz) butter
80 g (3 1/2 oz) Parma Ham
80 g ( 3 1/2 oz) Parmesan cheese
1 tbs dried yeast
poppy seeds
Before you start, place your butter in a mixing bowl and let it soften at room temperature. In the meantime, peel your pumpkin, de seed, cut into largish chunks and grate.
When the butter has softened, beat it with a wooden spoon or a hand wisk, till you obtain a creamy consistency, then add your eggs, flour, dried yeast.  Mix, and finally add your grated pumpkin, the Parmesan, (I used Pecorino Romano, instead) your ham, chopped into 1 inch squares and some pepper. I didn't put any salt in my torta, as I used salted butter and cheese which was quite salty. You can add some salt, if you like.
You can now mix your ingredients together, till they blend to form a lovely bright mixture. When all the ingredients are blended together, pour the stiff cake mixture into a plum cake (or loaf) tin, which you would have  previously buttered and floured.


In the tin, ready for the oven

Sprinkle with poppy seeds and bake in a preheated oven at a temperature of 180 C, Gas 4, 350 F, for about 50 minutes. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for a good 20-25 minutes. It needs to rest, so the texture is just right.
I served individual portions with a lovely salad made using my "innocent" ( organic) baby Swiss chard, basil, parsley, olives and shavings of Pecorino cheese.
The peppers I used to top the bread were cooked in olive oil, garlic and capers (peperonata)

A slice of my Savoury Pumpkin cake

Main ingredients for peperonata

A delicious meal to brighten up an Autumnal day!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Bolognese Barese (my mamma's Bolognese recipe)

When I was in Italy, last week, I saw my big sister busy, in the kitchen, chopping celery, onions and carrots, in a food processor. I shut my eyes and saw myself, very young, in our kitchen, at home, in Italy, when I was a little girl. My mum always cut her vegetables by hand, on a wooden board and with love. She didn't need a food processor, as she had a very keen little girl whose job was to help and assist the chef! God knows how many celery stalks and carrots I must have chopped and how many tears I must have shed whilst peeling onions every time my mum made a Bolognese sauce!


When we make Bolognese, in my city, we make a healthier version as, together with minced beef, we use a lot of fresh vegetables (in this case grated or finely chopped celery, onions and carrots.) The end result is a much healthier and lighter version of this classic dish.
Contrary to what people in other countries believe, we usually have Bolognese with tagliatelle, not spaghetti!
I made Bolognese, today, as I was in a nostalgic mood... I needed to smell aromas which reminded me of a house, now empty, but still full of voices, songs and laughter, right here, in my heart...
Before I become too sentimental, here is the recipe. Try it: it's healthier than the traditional one and delicious!

Bolognese Barese
Serves 4-5
4-5 celery stalks
1 medium sized carrot
2 medium onions 
10 very generous glugs olive oil
(the amount of oil you use is up to you.
Use a quantity you are happy with)
600 g (1lb 6oz) very lean minced beef
glass of wine (optional)
700 mls ( just under 11/2 pt) passata
600 g (1 lb, 5 oz) tagliatelle
Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Before you start, peel the onions and the carrot, then break each celery stalk in half and get rid of the filaments.
Finely chop the three vegetables (you can use a mixer, for this task, or simply a chopping board and a sharp knife) and reserve.

My vegetables are ready

In a largish pan, heat the oil until really piping hot, then add your chopped onion. Stir and cook for about three minutes. When it's beginning to smell delicious, add the celery and the carrot. Again, stir and cook until all the vegetables begin to look translucent (about 5-6 minutes)

looking translucent and already smelling good

You are now ready to add your meat to the base (the fried vegetables.) Do that and keep stirring and cooking, until the meat begins to brown, then, if you have a glass of wine, add it to the mixture and then let evaporate.

The meat is browning in the pan

Finally, you need to add your passata, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and cook for a good 40-50 minutes! Remember that passata and tinned tomatoes are actually raw and therefore they need to be cooked.

All the ingredients are blending together

Keep checking your Bolognese to make sure that it doesn't burn and remember to keep the heat really low. Should your sauce look a bit too thick, add a small amount of water.
My mum always used to put a piece of Parmesan or Pecorino in her sauce... it smelled so good, made the sauce much more interesting and I always got to eat the delicious cheese.
When the sauce is ready, cook your tagliatelle in a large pan of boiling salted water, according to the instructions on the packet, then pour some of the sauce over each serving and top with a very generous sprinkling of Italian cheese. Try it... it's so... buonissima!

Looks beautiful, whichever way you look at it!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Ricotta all'arancia (Orange Ricotta sweet delight!)

Back from my time in my native Italy, here I am... Beautiful pictures, most of them in my head, memories, good and bad and... colours... Italy, my country, is blessed with "colour"... blue sky, blue sea, dark green olive leaves, lizards and geckos and yellow... lots of yellow, lots of sky... and sun!
I feel so inspired when I'm there. I see beauty in everything and I feel so lucky!
This Summer, as every Summer, we visited a Dairy Farm called Tenuta Vannulo, in Campania. I managed to get very close to the buffaloes who seem to have a truly enviable lifestyle. They are so happy, plodding along in the hot sun, covered in mud. They turn round and look at you when you say "CIAO!"
Buffalo milk makes the most delicious ricotta cheese ever! I just love eating it as it comes... it's creamy, looks beautiful, smells of rich milk and it's just really yummy!
One afternoon I decided to make a sweet, using ricotta, oranges and some figs I just picked from one of our trees and... this is what I made!
(Ricotta and orange
Makes 4 delicate servings
3 oranges
500g (1lb 2oz) ricotta
25mls (2 1/2 fl oz) honey
5tbsp sugar
2tbsp water
2tbsp orange liquor
( I used the BIG GM!)
or limoncello
To serve:
4 slices orange
fruit of your choice
This is a very easy and light sweet... small, but quite rich portions of Italian delight!
Before you start, cut two of your oranges in half, squeeze the juice and reserve in a bowl. When you have done this, peel the remaining third orange and cut the peel into thin strips .
Place the orange peel in a small saucepan with the sugar, water and the liquor. Cook on a low heat until the peel is tender and golden.
Place your delicious ricotta in a glass bowl with a tbsp of sugar, add the juice from the oranges and mix, until you obtain a soft, deliciously creamy mixture (I also added some grated orange rind to add texture and extra flavour!)
You are now ready to finish off your sweet. Divide your ricotta into four equal portions. Arrange each one onto a slice of orange placed on a plate. Pour some runny honey over each portion, followed by some of the juices in which the orange peel was softened.
Arrange some of the caramelized orange peel over each portion, so your pudding looks pretty, then add fruit of your choice. I had fresh figs with mine, because they added colour and looked very pretty.
My ricotta tasted delicious and was light, fruity and very Italian indeed!