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!