Saturday, 30 March 2013

Scarcelle Pugliesi (Big Easter Cookies-Cakes from Puglia, my home!)

The sky was blue and full of light. The swallows chased each other and danced in the blue sky, while below,  the church bells rang everywhere, telling the world it was Easter. 
With visions of chocolate and silky bows, she walked home. Easter was in the air! Everything seemed to say:"It's Springtime!" and she felt so happy deep inside... that kind of happy feeling which, no matter what happens in your life, you'll never forget.
As she walked home, she stopped to look at shop windows: enormous shiny, dark chocolate eggs had been masterfully decorated with icing, to make flowers and leaves. Myriads of sugar almond blossom adorned the hugest eggs she had ever seen!
At home, Easter was a time for being together. Before lunch, my Babbo would stand up, before we ate, to bless the family, by dipping an olive tree branch in "acqua santa" Holy Water, my mum would have brought from the church. She always went to Church at Easter!
My dear Mamma, you know by now, didn't make desserts, cakes or sweets, except a few "classics!" I remember, though, how once, at Easter,  she made my brother and I these massive biscuits, decorated with colourful sugar strands and... a hard boiled egg, she had coloured red, cleverly placed on the biscuits and held in place by two strips of dough.
The biscuits are what we call "Scarcelle." Apparently, they are typical of the Puglia region, where I was born, though I believe they have something similar in Greece.
Having found the recipe, today I made some. I was so surprised when I took them out of the oven: they looked so pretty and, most of all they looked like the "scarcelle" my mum made, only a more contemporary version.
This is how I made them:
Scarcelle Pugliesi
(Easter Cakes-Biscuits from Puglia)
(makes about 6)
1 kg ( 2.2 lb) plain flour
400 g ( 14 oz)sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
vanilla essence
the rind of 1 lemon
2 dl ( about 6 fl oz) olive oil
pinch of salt
1 extra egg for the egg wash
6 hard boiled eggs
sugar sprinkles
(hundreds and thousands)
icing, to decorate
(you might need some milk, if your dough is too dry)
Before I started, I preheated my oven (180 C,  350 F, Gas 4 ) and put my six eggs in a pan of boiling water, to cook. These need to be hard boiled.

Next (this is really easy and quick!) I put my flour onto a board, made a well and added all the ingredients in the middle. I made a dough, using flour, eggs, oil, sugar, salt, baking powder, some vanilla essence and lemon peel. As the mixture was a bit dry, I added some milk (maybe I should have used larger eggs")
I placed my dough in the fridge, so it would rest for half an hour. I used this time to ice my Easter cookies... so cute! I feel like a "bambina!"

Anyway! Half an hour later... I took the dough out of the fridge, and decided to make my scarcelle in the shape of plaited Easter wreath and hearts. You can see from the pictures how I made my wreath, step by step. It was easy!

Having made my plait, I joined the ends and, next I pushed one of my boiled eggs into the pastry and kind of secured it by crossing two strips of pastry over the egg, to make a cross.

I did the same with my heart shapes, then "painted my scarcelle with egg yolk, sprinkled some pink and blue sugar over my biscuits and baked for about half an hour.


My scarcelle smelt so good and looked so sweet, I wanted to try one, but I didn't...

I let my biscuits cool down, first, then decorated with icing and rice paper daisies. They looked lovely! Though they were not as nice as the ones my mamma made, as they contained the extra ingredient! Remember LOVE?


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Ciambelline Pasquali alla Ricotta (Ricotta Ring Cakes for Easter)

It was a hot Summer's night and she sat outside with her sister... the sky was so deep and dark ... so many stars, so many sounds... familiar sounds of a past life filled the Italian night.

A sudden breeze brought the scent of waves and seaweed. As she closed her eyes, she smelt freesias... sweet scented freesias... that scent was there, again...
"Did you smell that?"- she asked her sister "Yes, I did... it's her scent!" Was she there with us? I don't know, but I felt love all around.

My mother smelt of freesias, her lips were as red as tulips and her eyes as silver as a deep lake. I liked to think that she had come to "visit."

She loved Spring. In Spring, our house was filled with the scent of almond blossom, tulips and freesias. When she opened the windows, every morning, a sea of multicoloured anemoni ran through the house, whilst the swallows sang a beautiful love song and I imagined ancient olive trees running towards the sea, as the wind bent and chased them. I knew it had done that for hundreds of years...

Our mother brought scent, beauty and colour in our lives... she brought sun, she brought life and love. She had a wonderful smile...

She loved Spring and blue skies, most of all. I believed my mother "was" Spring. We lived in the city, but our mother always brought us gifts which told stories about the sea and the countryside.

Spring didn't last very long, in Italy, as the weather suddenly got so hot, you went straight into Summer.
I knew it was Spring, as our house was filled not just with flowers, but also with lots of culinary "joys": silvery green artichokes, zucchine flowers, bright green peas still in the pod and... ricotta! When I say ricotta, I don't mean a tiny, little ricotta, but something which could weigh up to 1 kg! Beautiful, creamy, white, soft ricotta...

At Easter, we made "Pizza di Ricotta" a lattice pie, filled with a sweet filling of ricotta, egg, sugar, vanilla and lemon peel. We also had "ricotta fritta" slices of ricotta, dipped in flour, then beaten egg, just simply fried and dipped in lots of sugar (Spring delight, believe me!)

My mum made the loveliest soft biscuits, or were they cakes (?) using ricotta as one of the main ingredients.  I found the recipe and decided to make the little cakes. This is how I made them: 

Ciambelline Pasquali alla Ricotta

(Ricotta Ring Cakes for Easter)

(makes 18-20 ciambelline)
300 g (10 oz) ricotta
400 g (14 oz)plain flour
100 g (5 oz) caster sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
the rind of 1 lemon
a few drops of vanilla essence
some extra caster sugar
icing sugar 

Preheat your oven (180 C , 350F, Gas 4 )

Place your ricotta in a bowl and, with help of a fork, mix it, till it reaches a creamy consistency. Set aside.

Put the flour on a surface or a large pastry board, and make a well in the middle.  Add your caster sugar, eggs lemon peel, vanilla, baking powder and carefully incorporate. If the mixture is too liquid, add more flour.

Your dough should be solid, but soft, at the same time. Cover the dough and leave to rest for half an hour. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and wait... 

Half an hour later...
Make your dough into a big cylinder shape, then start making your ciambelle. Cut the dough into slices, about 2 cm wide, roll each one into a thin "sausage" shape, join the two ends, to form a round "ciambella" (a circle) and... that's it... your first one is done! To make the cake look prettier, as it cooks, you can, like I did, make a few incisions into the dough, with a knife. 

I managed to make eighteen ciambelline. In fact, I made ciambelline and a few knot shaped little cakes, by simply using the "sausage" to make a knot.
Each of my ciambelline and knots were dipped in some caster sugar I had set aside on a plate, and then placed on greaseproof paper, on a baking tray.

The cakes only took about twenty minutes to cook.

 Once out of the oven, I let them cool down, then decided they would look prettier if I sifted some icing sugar all over them. And they did!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

From Italy With Love: Tortelloni pasta filled with cheese and green vegetables ( I Miei Tortelloni verdi alle Erbette e Gorgonzola)

She sat next to her mother. She had to have a small chair, as she was tiny. Watching her mother make pasta (she occasionally made orecchiette or cavatelli) was a special treat. The little girl often played with plasticine... (she had made hundreds of crocodiles and roses) but... watching her mother produce those perfect little ears out of dough was quite something! She was clever and so fast!
She never mastered the art of making "orecchiette"... very ,very hard... but, for as long as she lives, she will never forget her mum's clever hands.
That little girl was me! And yes... I remember sitting next to her and eating little bits of pasta dough, but I never learnt how to make "orecchiette." Deep down, my mum knew that I belonged to a new generation of Italian women, the kind who can walk into a food store and by orecchiette made by a machine which could almost replicate the real thing. Shame the main ingredient is missing: LOVE!

I made ravioli, today... green ravioli, using rocket, fresh spinach and basil to obtain the colour I wanted. The dough turned out a delicate shade of green I loved. My ravioli was big... so big, you would need just  three, or four, if you are a bit greedy, to fill you up (lovely starter-primo piatto!)
It was very exciting, as I created this recipe all by myself. If I could have shaken my own hand, I would have done, as my creation was full of flavour and truly delicious!
Please don't be put off by the list of ingredients! The dish is really easy and well worth trying! If I can make it, so can anyone!

  Tortelloni Verdi
Ripieni di Verdure e
Serves 4
For the pasta:
250 g (8 oz) plain flour
1/2 cup warm water
1 egg
1 handful rocket
3 sprigs basil
1 handful fresh spinach
or some frozen spinach, thawed
1 eggs
100g (about 4 oz) Gorgonzola cheese
1 clove garlic
some chilli pepper
1 handful grated Parmesan
2 handfuls uncooked rocket
a few basil leaves
For the sauce:
8 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 sliced chilli pepper
1/2 kg ( 1lb, 1oz) baby cherry or plum tomatoes
black pepper
2 tbs Balsamic vinegar
3 handfuls rocket
some basil
To serve:
Grated parmesan
100 g (about 4 oz) crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

To make your pasta, cook the vegetables first, in some boiling water. Drain, then blend, till you get a soft, smooth "cream."

Place the flour on the table, make a well in the middle, then add one egg, the blended vegetables and some salt. Knead till you get a smooth dough. Cover and let the dough rest for twenty minutes.

You are now ready to make your filling. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk until fluffy, then add your Gorgonzola, crumbled, pepper, a handful of rocket, a sprig of fresh basil, and a generous handful of grated Parmesan. I also added a very small clove of garlic, very finely chopped. As you can see... some chopped chilli was also added!

Mix all the ingredients together and... it's made!
You are now ready to roll out your pastry. Cut the dough into several pieces, the size of a small bread roll. Roll each out, into a long shape, trying to obtain, from each piece, four squares (about 15 cm long and wide)

Place a very  generous teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each square, then fold the square into a triangle "paint water on two of the sides, to make sure the triangle is sealed so the filling stays inside.

Place the triangle down, on a surface. With some water, join the two corners at the base of the triangle and... ABRACADABRA! You've made a tortellone!

If you follow this recipe, you should get between 14 and 16 tortelloni. It depends on how big or small you make them.
Cook in salted boiling water, for about 5 minutes, then drain.
While your pasta is cooking, make the sauce: put the oil in a pan, heat, then add your chilli pepper and the tomatoes (cut into halves if you are using baby ones-do not squash.)

 Five or six minutes later, you can pour your Balsamic in.
 Let evaporate, stir and finally add two very generous handfuls of rocket and some basil. After adding salt and pepper, take off the heat, add your cooked ravioloni (be gentle with them!) and serve, with a sprinkling of Parmesan and some crumbled Gorgonzola. 

Don't ask me how it tastes, because the flavour is unique and words could not describe how good this dish is. I find it really exciting!

 I am loving Balsamic vinegar. Added to a light sauce, it certainly makes it taste truly special!
Look inside my tortelloni!