Friday, 23 March 2012

Ciambella alla Ricotta e Arancia ( Ricotta and Orange Ciambella-Italian Ring Cake! VERY GOOD!)


She knew it must be Sunday, as she woke up to the aroma of  coffee and "Good things to eat!" Mamma had been busy making a ciambella... the scent of orange and vanilla waltzed through the air, all the way to her room... Sunday was such a special day!

She picked up her new pair of black patent shoes and let her little feet slide into each one : she always loved getting new shoes!

Following the aroma, she would make her way to the kitchen. Mamma would be standing by the table, a cup of espresso in her hand, proudly looking at the cake she had just taken out of the oven.

Rosa wasn't a cake maker, but occasionally she would try. No cake ever tasted better and sweeter than her ciambella, though, or the Pizza di Ricotta, she made for the family at Easter.

"Ne voglio una fetta!" ("Can I have a piece?") she would ask her mum "No, aspetta che si raffreddi!" ( "You need to wait till it cools down!") Could she really wait that long? How could her mother be that cruel? Ringo, the canary, flew off the curtain pelmet, and landed on nonna's lap... I think he could smell the happiness, too...

Ciambella has to be the cake which is made in every household, in Italy. It's more popular than tiramisu`, cannoli, or any other sweet. My recipe is a bit special, as it has ricotta as one of the ingredients. It's so easy to make, and really delicious!

Here is my mum's recipe:

Ciambella all'Arancia e Ricotta

250 g (9 oz) plain, all purpose flour
80 g ( 3 oz) cornflour
100g ( 3 1/2 oz) ricotta cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1 orange
150 mls ( just over 5 fl oz)  oil (I used sunflower oil)
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
butter for the cake tin
confectioner's (icing) sugar

For the filling:

200g ( 7 oz) ricotta
some lemon rind
some orange rind
(1 tsp of each)
2 tbsp confectioner's (icing) sugar

Before you start, zest your orange and squeeze, to extract  all the juice out of it. Next, place your 100g ( 3 1/2 oz) of ricotta in a  bowl and gradually incorporate 100g ( 3 1/2 oz) of sugar.

Gently fold in the eggs, a small amount at a time, the oil (very gradually) and the juice of your orange (I added just half, as I didn't want it to be too liquid!) Mix these ingredients.

Sift together flour, cornflour and baking powder (Paneangeli, if you are in Italy) and add to the mixture. If you like vanilla, you can add a few drops of vanilla essence, as it goes well with the taste of orange. By the way, at this stage you can add the orange zest, but remember to keep a small amount to be used in your ricotta filling!

I buttered and floured a ring cake tin (ciambella tin) then poured my delicious cake mixture into it, let it settle, then baked in a  hot oven (180 C,  350 F, Gas 4) for 30-35 minutes.
While my cake was cooking, I could smell those aromas so familiar to me and found myself dreaming... but not for too long, as my ciambella was ready in no time.

I'm not a cake maker, but I must admit that my ciambella looked really good! I decided to add an extra dimension to it, by making a filling. I used: 200g of ricotta, some lemon zest (about 1 heaped teaspoon,) icing sugar and just a teaspoon of orange zest. Having mixed these delicious ingredients together, I cut my (cold) ciambella across its width, spread my sweet ricotta all over the ring, dredeged in lovely icing sugar and garnished with grapes and mint. It looked like a "natura morta!"

I couldn't help thinking how special it would have been, if I had filled the "hole" with whipped cream and fruit, instead! But not too healthy, I guess... but so nice!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Pizzoccheri Vivaldi (Fresh Wholewheat Pasta With Spring Vegetables and Sausage)

A sunny day! I had been so busy working away and writing, hour after hour, for two days, I felt the need to go outside. The birds were singing, the sky was blue, the daffodils fully out, in all their custard coloured glory, my beautiful gigantic camellia in full bloom, big and majestic, like a soprano... it all felt pretty good! 

In my little vegetable patch, my bietole (Swiss Chard) was beginning to show off its shiny green splendour: little green leaves lifting their "arms" towards the sun... and there I was, looking at all of this and trying to find the first few buds on my newly acquired red currant bushes, when I got the urge to "make" something good and beautiful, using some of the ingredients in front of my eyes.

I picked a couple of handfuls of shiny leaves, a lovely sprig of fresh rosemary, a bunchlet of Italian parsley and in I went!

I had seen this recipe in one of my Vero Cucina magazines which I have A LOT OF here and at our house in Italy, a recipe for Fresh homemade wholewheat pizzoccheri (pasta rectangles) with Swiss chard, sausage and fontina cheese.
Having got hold of all the ingredients, I decided to make it. I would also make my own pizzoccheri with wholewheat flour (a first for me!)

I think I definately re wrote Vivaldi's Primavera (Spring) with this one!

Pizzoccheri Vivaldi
(Fresh wholwheat pasta
with Spring
vegetables and sausage
For the sauce
(Serves 4)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
4 sausages
a sprig of fresh rosemary
a small bunch of fresh parsley
a glass of red or white wine
Parmesan cheese
black Pepper
200g ( 7 oz) Swiss chard
1 little gem lettuce
120 g Fontina cheese

Home made Pizzoccheri
(serves 4)
400g (14 oz) wholewheat flour
warm water

I made my sauce first. Before I started, I took the skin off my sausages, so I would only have the meat, then chopped it finely.

Next, I chopped my garlic clove, my parsley  and rosemary (this needed to be chopped extremely finely, as rosemary can be a bit tough and woody.)
In a large frying pan, I heated the olive oil and, when piping hot I added the garlic, cooked until golden, then I put in my meat and fresh herbs. I stirred until the meat became brown, but not burnt.

At this point I added a glass of wine, turned the heat up and let all the alcohol evaporate ( the recipe calls for red wine, but I actually find that red wine is intrusive and turns meat a funny colour I dislike! )


My sauce was  made! At this point I added a lot of grated Parmesan to my sauce, I grated mixed peppercorns all over it and tasted for salt. Quite, quite delicious...
Having washed my chard and my little gem lettuce, I decided to chop the lettuce, but leave my baby chard leaves whole, as they were so pretty, delicate and tender!

At this point, with the sauce off the heat, I put some cold water in a largish pan, to heat. Whilst I was waiting for it to come to the boil, I made my pasta, using flour and enough warm water  to make a firm, but soft dough. It took five minutes. I left my dough to rest for about 15 minutes, then I rolled it out and, using a large knife, I cut out my pizzoccheri. It was so easy!

By now my water was boiling, so I added all my vegeatbles with some salt, cooked for about 6 or seven minutes, then added my pizzoccheri pasta, making sure to stir.
Within six or so minutes, my pasta was ready to be drained, together with all those green beauties.

When I added  pasta and vegetables  to the sauce, and most f my fontina cheese, I began to smell a truly delicious aroma: fresh vegetables, wholewheat flour, fresh herbs, cheese, some meat: music on a plate!

I mixed everything together in the pan, added more cheese and pepper and garnished with more fresh parsley and a few diced pieces of fontina!

Don't be put off by the number of words I have used to describe this dish, as it truly is very, very easy and quick, and, of course, you don't have to make fresh pasta, if you don't want to (I normally wouldn't!)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

"Panini di Funghi al Pesto e Mozzarella" (Mushroom "Panini" With a Fantastic Mozzarella and Pesto Filling )

I  so WANT Spring to be here! I need the warmth, the comfort, the colours and scent of renewal. I want to shake the weight of a long, dark Winter off my mind and my body... I look for "signs" everywhere around me.
This time last year, we were in Italy. I had almost forgotten about the scent of the freesias and the cherry and almond blossom and the sense of happy, new beginnings, under a blue sky. But it suddenly all came back to me...
I felt a bit homesick, today... it was raining over my daffodils and my first camellia flowers were already being bruised by the rain. I felt sad and needed to "create" something really, really fragrant, full of flavour and colour... something beautiful and NEW which would remind me of HOME!
So... I created a delicious new dish you won't find anywhere else, because it's all mine!
Here it is:

"Panini" di Funghi al Pesto e Mozzarella
Mushroom "Panini" With a Mozzarella and Pesto Filling

(makes 2)
4 large Portobello mushrooms
2 eggs
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tbsp grated Parmesan
Black pepper
2 leaves fresh basil
some flour and extra bredacrumbs for coating
some olive oil
(for the baking tin)
For the green pesto:
A handful fresh basil
or a mixture of basil and rucola (rocket)
1 small clove garlic
1 slice fresh red chilli pepper
2 tbsp pine kernels
or any other nut
(I used mixed nuts)
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Before I started, I made my pesto, by simply placing all the ingredients in a small food mixer and blitzing it all together. I also made red pesto, to be used as garnish (see below.)

I then removed the stalks out of the mushroom, which I chopped and placed in small dish, with 1 small egg ( I only used half of the egg white, in case my stuffing was too runny!) 4 tbsp breadcrumbs, a couple of torn basil leaves, some salt and black pepper. I mixed these ingredients to make a lovely stuffing, which I then divided into two equal portions and placed in the middle of two of my four mushrooms.

Next, I placed a small portion of my green pesto, some rucola (rocket) leaves and a slice of mozzarella into the other two mushrooms. Now, I was ready to sandwich the four halves together, to make two "panini!"

My "panini" looked so gorgeous, big, fat, filled with the scent of spring and full of promise! The next thing I did, was to carefully coat my "panini" with flour, then "dipped" in whisked egg (I used egg #2, for this) and finally, coated in a generous dusting of lovely breadcrumbs.
Though I had previously intended to fry my mushroom, I then decided that there was no need for the extra unhealthy calories, so, I judst poured a tiny bit of olive oil on the base of a baking dish and cooked my "panini" in a hot oven (190 C, 375F, Gas 5)

As my mushrooms cooked, I could smell the aroma of my lovely homemade pesto (you can use the bought kind, if you want to simplify the recipe!) and the rucola, the basil, and I could feel the heat coming from the oven!
Twenty minutes later.... my "panini" were ready! The cheese and the pesto had combined their flavour... melted mozzarella was oozing out of the mushrooms... the breadcrumbs had turned a wonderful golden colour and I couldn't help but have a taste of the savoury delight I had created. It tasted so good, a word is yet to be invented to describe my new dish.

PS: I also made red pesto, as I wanted to use it as garnish, using four sun dried tomatoes and a small handful of rucola (rocket leaves) instead of the mixture of basil and rucola I used to make my green pesto. I used a tiny amount of red pesto as garnish for my "panini" and the rest I had with fresh homemade cavatelli (yes, I made them!)

I will not be modest: the result was delicious!