Friday, 26 October 2012

"Dolcetto o Scherzetto?" Gnocchi di Zucca ( Delicious Pumpkin Gnocchi)

It's rose hips, chestnuts, quince and berries time. It's time to say goodbye to Summer time, sunny days and seaside time. It's time to remember... days in the sun, smiles, happiness, being together... it's time to remember the past and rejoice in the gifts of the new season.

I don't mind Halloween but, to be absolutely honest, until I came to live in this country, I had never seen a pumpkin, in Southern Italy!
But now...  under the influence of American soaps, on Halloween, believe it or not, you will get, in Italy, children knocking on your door asking for: "Dolcetto o scherzetto?" "Trick or treat?" The unthinkable has happened! What next?
When my poor little boy Lawrence decided to go trick or treating for the first time, I wasn't happy. I never liked the idea of my child knocking on people's doors to ask for sweets (what's the point, anyway?) Poor boy, he knocked on the door of a Jehovah Witness, can you believe it?  He gave him and his friends a good telling off and a handful of  leaflets.  He was so upset when he came home in his little costume, I could have cried!

All the supermarkets and greengrocer's, here in UK are filled with the gifts of the season, amongst which pumpkins of every colour, shape and size! Had my mother ever cooked anything with a pumpkin? NEVER! Had a pumpkin ever entered our home? NO! The only pumpkin I had ever seen, in the sunny, hot Southern Italy, was the one which turned into Cinderella's coach. It made such an impression on me! 

This year I decided to cook with pumpkins, like I did a year ago, when I made (for this blog) a savoury pumpkin "cake." In fact, last weekend, I made a couple of delicious gnocchi dishes using pumpkin as a main ingredient. Obviously dishes from Northern Italy, land of colder climates and heavier food. I do love gnocchi, though, so... "Scherzetto o dolcetto?" Here are my lovely autumnal recipes!

 Gnocchi di Zucca al Formaggio
(Pumpkin Gnocchi with a Blue Cheese Sauce)
Serves 4
1 kg (2 lb, 4 oz)  pumpkin
200 g (7 oz) Plain flour
1 egg
some nutmeg
black pepper
For Sauce # 1
5 tbsp milk
100g (3 1/2 oz) Gorgonzola-Mascarpone
(also known as Dolcelatte, soft Italian Blue Cheese)
Parmesan cheese
I topped my dish with:
Some cabbage, shredded and fried in olive oil, garlic and
chilli flakes!

Before you start, preheat your oven (180 C, 350 F, gas 4) then cut your pumpkin in half, discard all the seeds from the centre, clean and, without peeling, cut  into 2 cm wide slices. Place the slices in an oven tray, with some olive oil, salt and black pepper and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the flesh has softened.

Take the pumpkin out of the oven, leave to cool, then peel. The skin will come off every easily. Place into a bowl, add your flour, the egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg, if using, then mix, till you get a soft dough. If the dough is too soft, add flour, until you get a dough which can be shaped into a thin "sausage!"
Take a small amount of dough at the time, roll it till you get a "sausage" about 2 cm in diameter. With a knife, cut it into small pieces, about 3cm long. Using the back of a fork, or even a cheese grater, gently press down each one of your gnocchi, till you get a pattern and the characteristic gnocchi shape, as you can see in my picture ( I used a small wooden tool I bought in Italy, to get a ridgy pattern on my gnocchi) and... that's all there is to it!

Cook your gnocchi in plenty of salted water. Add to the water, as soon as it comes to the boil. Your gnocchi will be ready when it begins to float (only takes seconds!)

I made a simple sauce by warming some milk in a pan ( recipe above) and then adding my cheese.

 When this was melted, I added the drained gnocchi, some Parmesan, of course and, to add extra texture, I also added some shredded cabbage, I previously fried in oil and garlic! A generous helping of dried chillies made my dish look and taste magnifico!

Sauce #2
Salsa con Zucca e Patate
Pumpkin and Potato Sauce Gnocchi
Serves 4
5 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp passata
50 g ( 2 oz) pancetta
200 g  (7 oz) raw pumpkin
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
Parmesan Cheese

Place your oil in a saucepan. When hot, add the onion and pancetta, and cook until golden and crispy. Add your potato, pumpkin  and passata. Stir, then add salt and pepper. Stir to mingle all the flavours, then add some warm water, enough to cover the vegetables and bring to the boil. Turn down and cook until the pumpkin and the potato become soft.

This is all there is to this sauce.
When the sauce is almost done, put some water in a largish pan and wait for it to boil. Cook your gnocchi until they come to the surface, drain and serve with the sauce, lots of lovely grated Parmesan and black pepper. I also added some of the shredded cabbage I used in the previous recipe, with lots of lovely dried chilli flakes, which I love!


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Torta Mediterranea ai Fichi, Mandorle, Noci e Solleone (Sunny Fig, Almond and nut cake-very old Italian recipe!)

It's raining outside... I can smell soil and moss. The sky is too grey  and doesn't file like smiling. The birds are hiding... no love songs in the air. The only sound I hear is rain... rain on the window pane, rain on the leaves... rain, rain, rain... rain on me...

I look out of the window, wishing that I could see some blue...
I have, inside me, a universe of colours, faces, places, which hold my hand and make me smile when the sky is sad.
I am going to find refuge inside my world...
I grew up in the city, only aware of the sky, the heat, potted geraniums and, luckily, for most of my childhood I did have a garden. I can see Anna, now, skating round a fountain and hiding, to watch the white and black cat give birth inside a huge trough full of marguerites.
My mother took me to the countryside, whenever she could, and she taught me about nature, beauty, the wonder of the a scent, and the power of wild herbs. All the vegetables she bought were organic  "Senza concime!" Our very fresh fee range eggs were often brought to the house by a farmer, who came to the city to deliver the precious goods.
One day, he rang the bell. I heard voices (my mum's, mainly as, like me, she liked talking!) The door was then shut "Ci vediamo!" Then she walked into the kitchen, with a beaming smile. She was holding a beautiful basket. A layer of big leaves hid something "It's a treasure!" -my mum said. She slowly lifted the "lid" made of huge, highly scented leaves and, underneath... beautiful, magnificent, enormous figs!
My mum told me these were very special, bright purple inside, as green as a chameleon, on the outside. We washed the figs and ate some of them. Mine were as big as my hand and tasted just delicious. My mum said I shouldn't peel them, as "La pelle contiene tutte le vitamine!" ("All the goodness is in the skin!") and, just like la Nonna in Saturday Night Fever, said to John Travolta, my mum said: "MANGIA, MANGIA!" "Eat up!" to me. And I ATE!
Last Summer, encouraged by some of the local old ladies in the little town of Ogliastro (they really like me!) I decided to dry some figs. A lady called Teresa gave me step by step instructions, so, I picked a basket full of ripe figs from one of our trees and, very patiently, I put them out in the sun, hoping they would dry for me and be very delicious!

My daughter Gabriella picking figs in Italy

I watched my figs for over a week, as the sun turned them golden, juicy inside and very sugary...

When I took my figs with me to Bari, I only had to leave them in the hot sun for one day and WOW! They instantly were ready for the next stage! I plunged the figs in boiling water for just one minute, took them out, drained and dried them.
I cut the dried figs in half, then put some filling in each (almonds, some fennel seeds and a few "bits" of lemon peel) and... my beauties were ready to be baked!

I placed my figs in a hot oven (180C, 350F,Gas 4) until they turned golden, making sure they wouldn't go hard and very dry. This took about 15 minutes.
When the figs came out of the oven, I did just what my friends Teresa and Tittella had done with their figs: I threaded each one onto a wooden skewer, alternating with bay leaves. I am sure the ancient Romans must have done this! 

My figs looked beautiful and tasted like solid honey, mixed with sunshine, sea breeze and touch of the past. A butterfly told me so!

Torta Mediterranea ai Fichi,
Mandorle, Noci e Solleone
150g ( 5 1/2oz) butter
90g (3 1/4 oz)  plain flour
3 eggs
1 tsp honey
140g (5 oz) sugar
1 tsp honey
50ml (1-2 fl oz) sweet wine
60g (3 oz)  nuts
(I used almonds and walnuts)
200g  (7 oz) dried figs
Preheat oven (180C, 350F,Gas 4)
Today, as I needed to feel sunny, I made a truly delicious cake, using dried figs, almonds and walnuts. As I prepared my ingredients, I thought that this cake (it's an Italian recipe!) would be and look like a little "treasure chest" full of sun, and sweetness, and love, mixed with a bit of past and lots of lovely thoughts.
Before I started, I prepared my ingredients, by weighing them, and chopping my figs and nuts. I chopped my nuts quite roughly, as I wanted to add crunch to my cake.

I separated my eggs (yolks in one bowl and whites in the other.) Using my electric whisk, I combined my yolks with sugar and honey, until they become zabaione like and fluffy. I was now ready to add my softened butter and Sherry. I didn't use a lot of Sherry, to prevent my ingredients from separating.
Next, I whisked my egg whites until they formed stiff peaks and put aside. I went back to my egg mixture and carefully added my chopped nuts, flour and baking powder and finally my figs. I blended the ingredients together and then gradually folded in my egg whites.

The mixture looked lovely and somehow Christmasy. By now I had visions of sugar plum fairies mixed with sea foam and almond blossom.
I baked my cake in a preheated oven. I chose to bake it in a loaf (plum cake) tin, so it could easily be sliced. It took longer than the 40 minutes it should have taken. I just kept checking, until it felt firm and looked a rich, sunny shade of gold.


I know that in the "olden" days this was considered a Christmas cake, but, to me, it was a cake full of honey, blossom, fruit and sunshine! It's truly delicious! I never knew figs could taste that good!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Zio Mimmo's Sweet Delight (Crema di Limoncello)

In the heat of an Italian Summer, you can  easily forget long Winter's days and short nights. The snowy footprints of a cat outside your door, a sprig of holly, the smell of the earth on a rainy day, seem so far removed from life in a hot climate.

I'm thinking of hot days and even hotter nights, when it's hard to sleep and every little sound, from the street, becomes as deafening as thunder. It is sometimes impossible to stand that kind of heat... it takes over your life, but I love it!

I'm thinking of Summer evenings, at my sister's house, spent laughing and chatting, and watching the world below... so many lives, so many people and cars... cars and then cars. The whistle of a smartly uniformed police woman stops the noise... for a few seconds, and then... the carousel starts again: voices, laughs, music, cigarette smoke and the smell of sun lotion in the air.

I love Italy! I love the colours, the music, the lack of discipline and the fact that every Italian is an individual. In Italy, we don't like uniforms...

Our house up on the mountains of Cilento, is something else: peace, quiet, the sound of the wind softly blowing through your hair and the scent of wild herbs and lemon trees. I love our house and the pace of life ( we couldn't do it for over 5 weeks, though! Too quiet for us!)

This Summer I found out that we have tiny baby gekkos living in the box which covers the door bell, and I saw a snake, making its way down the stairs, outside our house right behind my husband. I told him later...

So, I have brought back with me the scents, the colours and the music of my native beautiful Italy. I sometimes stop and wonder: if it's true that God created the World, why and how could he have placed so much beauty just in one place? Italy is a land blessed in many ways.

 With these very happy thoughts in mind and a little supply of beautifully scented and coloured lemons, I decided to make Crema di Limoncello, following my brother Mimmo's recipe. He's quite THE CHEF!

Crema di limoncello is creamy, lemony and very, very smooth. It goes well with any cake made with ricotta, which is what I did: I made a ricotta and strawberry cake, using a new recipe (to follow.)

If you want a real smooth, soft, velvety taste of my Italy, try this recipe. I used Spirit, which I brought back from Italy. Vodka is a subsitute, but I cannot guarantee it will taste the same... but it's better than nothing, I guess!

Crema di Limoncello di Zio Mimmo
(Uncle Mimmo's Crema di Limoncello)

Makes about 1 1/2 litre of wonderful liquer

1/2 litre Spirit or Vodka
(use Spirit if you want an authentic flavour)
The zest of 6 lemons
( my mum always used 4 lemons and 2 limes)
1 kg sugar
1l whole milk
250g pouring cream
some vanilla

Very easy to make! Peel the zest off your lemons and limes (if using) making sure to avoid the white pith, as this would make your liquer bitter (and if you were making normal limoncello, it would also make it cloudy!)

I put my Spirit (which I brought back from Italy) in a jar, then added my lemon zest, made sure the jar was tightly closed and placed in a dark place for two days.
Two days later... my spirit had turned a lovely shade of bright yellow and I knew I could now make my lovely creamy liquer.

In a saucepan, I brought my milk and sugar to the boil and, stirred continuously, to make sure the sugar was melted. I then let the milk cool down and waited... I was so impatient... I couldn't help it... it was quite exciting... Eventually my molk was cold and I was ready to add all my beautiful cream, my vanilla (did you know the pods are orchid seed pods?) and the spirit.

All I had to do, now, was stir, and taste... so good, so creamy... just fantastic! Mimmo was right: adding cream makes Crema di Limoncello really delicious!

I took some photos of my beautiful vintage bottle, filled with the sweet delight I made. I went outside and picked what possibly might have been the last of the Summer's bloom: roses and hydrangeas, to add colour and beauty.

 The little vintage glasses were given to me by an old lady at a flea market. It had been a beautiful day and I thought I would make a ricotta cake, as, apparently, ricotta and Limoncello go well together. I made my cake look pretty, with leaves and fruit. It tasted delicious!

We had a wonderful Italian meal with a "Gran Finale": my chilled Crema di Limoncello and my Torta alla Ricotta were a fantastic combination!

As you can see... I'm finally back to share my Taste of Italy with you all!


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Cannelloni Ripieni di Carne e Mozzarella ( Cannelloni With a Beef and Mozzarella Filling! Simply the BEST!)

I really wish I hadn't had to wear a tutu`! Why is it, that every time I was a bridesmaid I was made to wear that short little white tutu`, with white socks and hairband with bow! Why did that lovely wedding photo have to be spoilt by the fact that my mother had to take me to her hairdresser and have my beautiful very light blond hair cut? How much I cried, inside, nobody ever knew... my lovely hair on the floor... dead, lifeless... why?
But the weddings were always beautiful (my cousins' weddings always were!) and I can still smell the sweet scent of gardenias and fresh orange blossom and I still get that sense of excitement deep within me, when I remember. I loved weddings and, more than everything, I loved seeing my mum and dad on the dance floor, doing all the old fashioned Latin American "numbers."  My dad always asked me to dance with him, once or twice. I was so little, I had to stand and dance with my feet on his shoes. We would twirl and laugh together, until I lost my balance. Then he would pick me up, hold me in his arms and do a Tango with me!
Weddings were special occasions and the menu, when I was little was always the same and it included lasagne or cannelloni, as a pasta course!
Wedding menus are now much more varied and just unbelievable! Cannelloni, when I was little, wasn't a dish we would normally have at home. It was confined to weddings, until... weddings became very expensive and sophisticated  and cannelloni became a dish relegated to everyday Italian cooking, or part of a Sunday lunch.
My mother would never had made cannelloni, maybe because she didn't like meat, especially if it was minced  ( cannelloni are very big pasta tubes, usually filled with minced beef) so... as a teenager, I made the dish for my family. Big success! Everyone loved it and, as my mother wouldn't make it, it was always up to me to prepare it, every now and then (often on a Sunday!)
I would never have ricotta in my cannelloni (they sell these ready made in supermarkets in UK and in the USA: not nice!) I find anything filled with ricotta,  heavy, the texture is too soft and as interesting and exciting as eating slugs. No, thanks! I make my filling with meat, and I also created my own vegetarian version, where, instead of meat, I use diced courgettes (zucchine.) It's delicious! If you wish to, before baking the dish, you can cover it with a layer of Bechamel sauce (I very often do!)
Here is my recipe for Cannelloni Ripieni di Manzo Tritato.
Cannelloni Ripieni
(Serves 4)
16 cannelloni tubes
300 g (10 oz) lean minced beef
1 egg
4 slices of white bread
or: 200g ( 7 oz) bread
a very small onion
2 small mozzarelle, diced
some parsley
black pepper
a generous handful of Pecorino
or Parmesan cheese

For the sauce:

6-7 tbsp Olive oil
1 onion
a few pieces of pancetta
700 mls  (1 and half small cartons) passata
a handful of Pecorino
or Parmesan Cheese
Sprig of basil

Before you make your cannelloni filling, make the tomato sauce. I heated some olive oil in a medium saucepan. Next I added a small amount of pancetta, cut into small pieces and let it cook until golden. This was followed by my onion, which I had previously chopped and, when this was golden and translucent, I was ready to add my passata.

 When my sauce came to the boil, I turned down the heat and let it cook for at least 25 minutes. Towards the end of cooking, I added some basil and a lovely big handful of grated cheese! This is the simplest of sauces and is so delicate! Please don't use garlic in this, as a garlic based sauce is pungent and not as delicate tasting (it can spoil a dish!)

While my sauce was cooling down (it needs to be cold, otherwise the cannelloni will crack!) I made the filling, by heating a small amount of olive oil (you can use butter instead, if you prefer.) To this I added my beef, which I let brown very slightly, followed by the onion, finely chopped.  

I let these ingredients combine. As the flavours mingled, I could smell a wonderful, kind of homely smell, much improved by the addition of my grated cheese, salt, pepper and some parsley. Having mixed these ingredients together, I was ready to add my bread, torn into very small pieces (no crust!) and one egg. I quickly incorporated the last two ingredients, to make a soft mixture. After five minutes or so, I took my pan off the heat, as the filling needed to be cold, like the sauce, if I wanted my pasta to stay whole!

When I was ready to fill each of my cannelloni, I chopped a mozzarella into small dice and added to the beef mixture, which was so delicious, I could actually have eaten it there and then.

I placed my filled cannelloni in an oven-to-table dish, made sure it was covered by a very generous layer of my delicious tomato sauce, and sprinkled more cheese on the top ( a layer of bechamel sauce improves the flavour and texture of this very delicate dish.) Be generous with the sauce, otherwise the top of your dish will stay hard and dry (not nice!)


I made a silver foil lid for my dish and baked in a moderate oven (200C /400F/gas6  ) until the sauce was bubbling up. 

Towards the end of cooking, I removed the "lid" so the top of the dish would brown. You will know when your cannelloni is cooked, by testing it: if the fork sinks into the side of a cannellone, then it's done! I think about three or four per person is the right amount, though when I was a teenager... I... ate... I'd better not tell how many!

As you can see, I also made a little side dish, by  slicing two courgettes into thin ribbons, with a vegetable peeler.

 I then fried two garlic loves in olive oil, with lots of lovely red chilli pepper. When the garlic was a nice golden colour, I added my courgettes and cooked for 3 or 4 minutes. I can't tell you how delicious it tasted, but... you can guess, can't you?

Friday, 29 June 2012

Baby Lasagna ai Frutti di Mare e Zucchine (Open Lasagna with Prawns, Squid and Zucchine Ribbons)


Today I made this dish: a combination of delicious "fruits" of the sea and the land, to remind me of home: gorgeous, shiny green courgettes, garlic, calamari and prawns, all went into my fantastic sauce. A good recipe for  a musical rapsodia!

What would my mamma have made of this "open" lasagna idea? I think she would have loved it! If she hadn't... I would have been able to tell, just by the way she played with the food and held her cutlery! True!

I made some lasagna sheets (if you make this dish, you can use shop bought lasagna, fresh or dry) using just plain (all purpose) flour and semolina, with warm water and salt. No eggs in my pasta, as , I rember that my mother only put egg (but not as many as some TV chefs use!) in pasta to be eaten with brodo (Italian consomme`)

I used my mum's recipe: good texture and cholesterol free, to make lasagne, which I cut into smallish 10-12 cm squares.

The sauce smelled absolutely delicious, and I couldn't help feeling a bit homesick for Italy, but then, I told myself: not long till you're there, Anna... not long till you can smell the seaweed, play with the stars at night and falll asleep in the arms of a silver moon, with music all around...  not long till you walk through avenue of palm trees, laden with dates, kissed by a hot Southern wind...

We need to wake up from the dream, now and make my new dish:

Baby Lasagna
ai Frutti di Mare
e Zucchina
(Individual Open
Lasagna with Prawns, Squid
 and Courgette Ribbons)

Serves 2
For the Fresh Lasagna:

125 g (4 oz) semolina
125g (4 oz) plain (all purpose) flour
Large pinch of salt
Some warm water
1 large courgette

For the sauce


Olive oil
(as much as you like)
2 garlic cloves
250g (8 oz) cherry tomatoes
2tbsp passata
200g (8 oz)  peeled prawns
6 whole squid
chopped parsley
black pepper

I made my pasta by hand, by simply placing my dry ingredients onto a bord, making a well in the middle and adding enough warm water to make a soft, but consistent  dough.

I rolled the dough with a rolling pin, but, if you prefer your lasagna  very thin (I don't!) you can use a "Paperina", a pasta machine, to make pasta strips, to be cut into 8 squares big enough to fit in the middle of the plates you are going to use.

Next, using a peeler, cut your washed courgette (zucchina) into ribbons (use all of it and, if you would like to use more than one, you can!) Set aside with your baby lasagna squares, till you are ready to cook your pasta.

I made my sauce in a wok, as I fancied doing that. I placed some olive oil at the base of it and while this was heating, I chopped two lovely cloves of my beautiful garlic from sunny Spain. This was added to the hot oil and followed by my  little cherry tomatoes I had previously washed and halved.

I let the tomatoes cook for a good 5-7 minutes, then added a couple of small tablespoons of passata, as I wanted to make a thickish sauce, suitable for a lasagna dish. I turned down the heat and cooked for a good 15 minutes (sauces need to cook- don't believe those TV chefs who undercook everything! )


Having washed and sliced my squid, I added it to the sauce, followed by my delicious prawns. I will be honest with you: the aroma was driving me crazy: WOW!

When I could see my fish was cooked, I added a generous handful of fresh Italian flat leaved parsley, full of flavour and sunshine. My sauce was ready!

I cooked my lasagna in a pan of boiling water (BTW: I have seen people here in UK do a most horrific thing: THEY COOK THEIR PASTA IN COLD WATER! A good recipe for home made glue, I would say, and very wrong: pasta is cooked in boiling hot water.)

As my pasta was fresh, it cooked within 3 or 4 minutes. At the last minute, I added my courgette ribbons to the pan.
Having drained my pasta and courgette ribbons, I made alternate layers of pasta (lasagna) and sauce, to finish off with plenty of seafood and fantastic parsley. Black pepper is a must, with seafood, so I used plenty of that: its aroma is wonderful!

The dish, unlike traditional lasagna, is not baked, but served immediately: fresh, colourful and just molto, molto delizioso!