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!