Thursday 10 April 2014

Semifreddo al Cioccolato e Nutella (Chocolate and Nutella Semifreddo) ... You make me smile with my heart...

There's a little window, deep in my heart, where the grapevines are always laden with bunches of sweet fruits of green and gold opal. It is my secret place, where I sometimes like to hide, as, to me, it's like a treasure chest full of all the things I love. Inside, well hidden, are my home, my family, people who came before me and then left... all seems to be in lost in time...  But I know everything is still locked in there, as time cam be switched on, by the beat of your heart and if you really, really want to...


Beyond that window are the blue sea, and the sky. Even the rocks, above the water, are full of life, as little creature live in them and make sounds you can hear, at night, if you walk on those rock warmed up by the sun.

I want to go there, today, inside my secret place, behind the window and the grapevine, and share a little clip from the movie which has been my life, until today.

I am walking home from school, a little girl of maybe eight, with a group of friends. My satchel feel heavy and I feel lazy. There is a place, a kind of enclosed court yard, surrounded by blocks of flats. I know I shouldn't cut through that place, because I am not allowed, but today... today I am going to be naughty, like Collodi's Pinocchio and I will do what I want to do! I am going that way!

We walk and we sing. We swing our satchels, we chase each other and we laugh. Oh, how I enjoy feeling free! They will never come looking for me here!

Suddenly, my friends go quiet. They stop running, singing and chasing me. I stop... I feel him behind me... he's big, he's tall... he's blond... oh, my God! It's my Dad! I shout "Babbo! Che fai?" ( I knew very well what he was doing...)  "Ti ho detto mille volte di non venire qui!" "I told you thousands of times you mustn't come here!" Then, he... gets hold of my letf ear, just like Mastro Geppetto did with Pinocchio, when he sold the gold buttons off his jacket, and drags me, like a donkey, all the way home!

 The pain! My ear is sore, but not as sore as my EGO! Everyone laughs as my dad drags me home! The shame of it! And the pain!( But I learnt my lesson. Though I did go back a few times...)

Once home, there she is, my mamma Rosa, really upset because by now I am crying. My ear is so red and it hurst and I know my friends must still be laughing at me. ( Well... I knew I would have never forgotten that episode, because it was the only time my dad punished me. He was the kindest, gentlest of men. like my sister says:" Nostro padre non era un uomo... era un angelo!"" Our father was not a man, he was an angel!")

Anyway... he must have felt really bad, because a few minutes later, he came to see me and gave me a little plate with a fresh slice of crusty bread with lots of sweet, delicious Nutella spread all over it! "Fai la merenda. Avrai fame!" "Have your afternoon snack. You must be hungry!"

 He then took me out and bought me an ice cream! My poor, dear Babbo! He must have felt guilty!

Last week, I bought an enormous 750g jar of Nutella! Wow! And I actually used some of it  to make a semifreddo. I only made it to stop myself from eating all that smooth deliciousness, but... my semifreddo was so good, so I will make one for you!

And here it is:   

Semifreddo alla Nutella
e Cioccolato


450g  (about 1lb) Nutella Spread
50g (2 oz)  sugar
4 whole medium eggs
100g (4 oz) dark chocolate
50g  (2 oz)  white chocolate
200ml (8fl oz) whipping cream
a few tsp Mascarpone
( this is very optional!)
3 tbs liquer of your choice
Extra chocolate for decoration
(Or a selection of crushed nuts
if you prefer)
Boudoir Biscuits or


Place your Nutella in a bowl and heat for about 20 seconds in the microwave, or in a saucepan, on the ring, if you prefer. Set aside. Till will soften your Nutella.
Next, place your eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk over a pan of boiling water, until you get a beautiful creamy texture (this will take about 5 minutes) a bit like a zabaione. If the water is boiling too fast, turn down slightly. Set aside.
Using a cheese grater, grate your dark and white chocolate.
Your cream will have to be whipped, too, in a largish bowl, as this is where all the ingredients will have to mixed, but make you don't over whip, or it will separate.

Now, you have most of your ingredients ready and you can START! Add the whisked egg mixture to the whipped cream and gently fold. 

 Next, in goes your Nutella, which will have to be incorporated, again, gently. At this point you should get a soft, airy chocolate colour mousse type mixture... very nice!

Add a tbs of liqueur, if you wish, or some vanilla essence, plus your grated white and dark chocolate. Mix lightly and taste. You have to have a taste... you will be tempted!
Now you can line a container with cling film. Use two long pieces which will cross in the middle. Make sure the cling film overlaps the tin. Be generous.

I made my semifreddo in a bread tin, lined with cling film, as I like the shape, and it makes my semifreddo easy to slice. I gently poured my mixture into the tin ( as you can see from the picture, I also added a few teaspoons of Mascarpone, unsweetened. I let it slip into the mixture and covered with a few Savoiardi, or Boudoir biscuits gently and quickly dipped in a sweet liqueur.

 Having made sure I used enough cling film, I gathered the excess over the top of my semifreddo, as you can see from the pictures, and placed in on a flat surface in the freezer.

Semifreddo takes five to six hours to set. When it's ready, you can turn it out onto a serving dish and decorate any way you like. You can use fruit dipped in chocolate, chopped nuts, meringues, mini eggs... anything! Be very creative! you will have such fun!

 I made a few very pretty dark and white chocolate flowers, which I placed all over my semifreddo, with mint shoots from the garden. It looked so pretty! Too pretty to eat, really! But what can you do? A person's got to do what a person's got to do!


Thursday 22 August 2013

Involtini di Melanzane Grigliate Ripiene ai Formaggi( Grilled Aubergine Slices with a Mozzarella and Ricotta Filling. SO GOOD!)

The air was still warm, though a slight breeze played with the lilies and the pink geraniums, on the bedroom balcony. Through the wooden shutters, she could see the sky: beautiful white clouds were chasing red and blue horses, up in the infinite. She felt happy, as she could smell Summer rain in the air.
Have you ever seen a thunderstorm in a hot country, in the middle of Summer, when people are still swimming in the sea, and riding on the high waves? I was one of them. I can still remember being "kidnapped" by waves taller than a house, and letting go, knowing that everything would be alright and that I would just be carried ashore, sailing on top of the waves, with Neptune and the mermaids. Because, you know, they do exist. I have heard the song of the mermaids...
... And that song always leads me back to a time of love, happiness, warmth.. family... my beautiful family... still here... in my heart... in me... why can't we leap back to the past and stay, just for a little while?
There is no consolation, I know, but I do like to remember our happy, sunny, full of music home. And my parents... where are you, home of my young years?
Finding a connection between my family and a recipe... well... it may seem silly, but, being Italian, you can't help loving and sharing food with those you love. It's what I have learnt from my mum. She grew up without a father, in a very strict family where people didn't show affection by kissing and hugging. But she had other ways of showing her love. I still remember falling asleep with my head on her lap, on the sofa, in front of the television, while she "secretly" stroked my hair. You will probably laugh when I tell you that I was seventeen! Nobody taught her how to be openly affectionate, but what I do remember, was all the time we shared together in her kitchen, cooking, laughing and sharing that precious time together. Food... sharing food... doing things together, with love can be more meaningful than a hug.
Anyway! This morning I went out with my sister. The lady in one of the greengrocer's, Teresa (she has the most wonderful turquoise eyes!) was so welcoming and she had these huge, round aubergines for sale. My mum loved aubergines and we often had them in Parmigiana, stuffed, or preserved in olive oil. With her in mind I bought this huge aubergine.

Today, I wanted to try a new way of cooking this versatile vegetable, as yesterday I saw an intereastin chef on TV. The dish he prepared  inspired me. I believe I changed and improved on the original, the chef's version, and made it much more... delicious! A kind of a first for me, as we don't usually use ricotta in savoury dishes.
Anyway... do try this dish and be creative with the filling!

Involtini di Melanzane Grigliate Ripiene ai Formaggi
(Grilled Aubergine Slices with a Mozzarella and Ricotta Cheese Filling)
6 slices aubergine
(2 cm deep)
some olive oil
("painted" with a brush on the griddle pan)
For the filling:
250 g (1/2 lb) ricotta cheese
6 thick slices mozzarella
a generous handful Parmesan cheese
3 basil leaves, chopped
1/2 fresh chilli pepper chopped
black pepper
For the salad:
1/2 kg ( 1lb 1oz) salad tomatoes, de-seeded and very finely chopped
1/4 onion, very finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
fresh basil
1tbsp vinegar
1/4  small onion, very finely chopped
2 spring onions (scallions) chopped
1tbs white wine vinegar
balsamic vinegar
A selection of salad leaves
dressed any way you like
(I just used Extra Virgin Olive Oil
and salt)
I went vegetable shopping with my sister. The choice of fresh vegetables is unbelievable. Everything is locally produced, very fresh and organic. Most stalls are held by local farmers, proud of their fantastic produce. Walking round an Italian market is a feast for the eyes.
I don't know if you have read the Odyssey, but, well... I can't help feeling like Ulysses, who had to be tied to his ship, so he would succumb to the song of the mermaids... I want to buy everything... I look at everything... If I could, I would buy the whole market!
Anyway! I bought just one of those huge aubergines, like the ones my mum used to buy.. big, fat and grown in the southern Italian sun. It weighed more than a kilo! I took it home and decided to try this new recipe. The original recipe was cooked by a chef, on TV, but I have used his basic idea, to produce my own, healthier version.


I cut my aubergine in half. I then cut six 1 cm deep slices. Rather than fry, I decided to use very little oil on my old griddle pan and grill the slices, until they went golden and kind of "toasted."


I placed the slices on my mum's old pastry board to cool down.

 I then proceeded to make my ricotta filling. I placed the cheese into a bowl and with the help of a fork, I worked some chopped chilli pepper, some basil, and some parmesan cheese into it. I actually had some Provolone Piccante cheese in my fridge, so I decided to also grate some of that and add it to my mixture (you can add any cheese you like to your ricotta... feel free to play with your favourite flavours!)


I cut my mozzarella into thick slices... and I was now ready to make my "involtini!"
I spread my ricotta on each of the aubergine slices and placed one slice of mozzarella on top of it. I then added more flavours, using fresh basil, rucola (rocket) a bit of chilli pepper and more Parmesan. I made my involtini by rolling the slicing up and securing with a cocktail stick. DONE!


I served my aubergine with a little tomato salad. As you can see from the image, the tomatoes I used are what we call "pomodori verdi" (green tomatoes) which is a variety of very sweet tomato only used in salads. I de seeded each one of my tomatoes and chopped very finely. I did the same with a small piece of onion. To this I added fresh basil, rocket, olive oil, and some white wine vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is a fantastic alternative, or any kind of vinegar you like!


I placed some salad leaves (the purple one is radicchio, which I love!)  on a plate and dressed with some olive oil and little salt. I placed one or two of my involtini over this and finished my dish with a cascade of my beautiful looking tomato salad. A fantastic Summer dish, also suitable for a cold buffet!


Thursday 20 June 2013

Bistecche di tonno fresco con rosmarino, aceto balsamico e asparagi ( Fresh tuna steaks with rosemary, balsamic vinegar and asparagus )

The sea was rough and the sky cloudy, but the mermaids were still there, singing their song, sailing on waves, and tickling starfish,  while the sun was playing hide and seek. She though of the past, long time ago... that day she went to the beach with her father. She was only little, the waves high and scary. I still don't know why her father sat her on a rock, like a little island surrounded by sea foam, sprays of salt water and bright green seaweed.

She was scared, in her little white and blue swimming costume, she cried and she screamed, but nobody came to help. She was like a little mermaid, all alone, on a tiny island, screaming with each and every wave. To this day, I still don't know why I was left on that rock, all alone, surrounded by waves and wind... I don't know... but I know that on that day, the sea and I became best friends... 

Many of my childhood memories are connected with my father, who was a very sweet, lovely man. He never once shouted, or got cross. He always had so many stories to tell and so much love to give... I miss him!

In Summer, Babbo would take me to the beach. He taught me how to catch crabs and how to hold them, so you don't get pinched. On the way home, he would stop the car and buy us both an ice cream.I always had vanilla... it's still my favourite!  He loved ice cream more than anything! And he loved us. My dad also had a bike. It had a little seat at the front... it was my seat. Sometimes he would ride to the beach, with this tiny, proud little girl sat at the front. He paraded me like a little blond trophy. He was such a special dad, my beautiful Babbo!

I do love the sea and the gift it brings. Many of my happy memories are connected with the sea... the beautiful blue sea...

Today I went to my sister's villa. The beach is right across the street... I love it! On my way back, I stopped to buy some fish.

 A big piece of bright red tuna caught my eye and I bought a couple of huge (expensive) steaks. I brought them home and decided to "create" something delicious with it, which I thought you might like, too!

PS: If you don't like fish, you can make this with pork chops (cooked tuna does resemble pork!) But fresh tuna is so good and can be eaten raw in carpaccio (well... I do!)

This is what I made with my fish:

Bistecche di tonno fresco
con rosmarino, aceto balsamico
e asparagi

(Fresh tuna steak with rosemary, balsamic vinegar 
and asparagus)

(Serves 2)


2 fresh tuna steaks
5 tbsp olive oil
1 small garlic clove
a small handful cubed pancetta
1 rosemary sprig
balsamic vinegar
fresh parsley

8-10 asparagus spears

This recipe is very quick and easy! Place the oil in a non stick frying pan. When hot, add your pancetta cubes and cook until crispy. Next,  add the chopped garlic. Brown, then add a sprig of fresh rosemary. Stir, so the flavours mingle. You are now ready to cook your tuna.

 You need to be very gentle with tuna, as it's very delicate and, if you're not careful, it will break and separate, just like the tinned stuff. Cook gently for about three minutes on each side, then add some lovely balsamic vinegar, as much or as little as you like. I like lots! And, if like me, you like a bit of "spice" in your life, some fresh chilli would be an excellent addition! But it's optional! What you "must" add is a little bunch fresh parsley.

While you are cooking your fish, bring some water to the boil (I used a shallow rectangular dish for this) and cook your asparagus for just three or so minutes. Drain, place  and set aside. If you want your asparagus to stay green, place it in ice cold water, after cooking. I am practical and very quick, in the kitchen, so I don't bother!

Take your fish out of the pan, then put your drained asparagus in the juices and stir. As you can see from the picture... 

 I served my asparagus with the fish and a lovely mixed salad of tomatoes, mixed salad leaves, capers, olive oil, fresh basil leaves and ricotta salata (a bit like Feta cheese, but nicer! Sorry, nice Greek followers!)  You can use Feta, instead!



Sunday 19 May 2013

Gnocchi (o pasta) alla Melanzana e Mozzarella. Ottima! Gnocchi or pasta with a wonderful aubergine (eggplant) and mozzarella sauce. Simply to die for!

 When I was a young girl, I used to spend my evenings at home and my two big sister would visit every afternoon... some days they spent all day at our house, which was always filled with the sound of children's voices, laughter and cry. Their little children came, too, and filled us all with so much joy!
It was a bit like a "Little Women" atmosphere, with lots of activities going on: reading, knitting, crochet, watching TV, doing crosswords with our Babbo (we were all good at it!) and watching TV, all after I had done my homework, of course!

Our mamma would normally be busy, in the kitchen, cooking supper. She didn't really knit, do crochet and was rubbish at crossword puzzles, but she could cook and she could certainly love. It was on one of those evenings that she used air freshener, instead of hairspray! We laughed so much!
One evening, as I was looking through a magazine, I found a recipe: "Spaghetti al telefono" ... it sounded so delicious, I made it and it became a family classic, which I would cook, as my mum never strayed away from classic Italian cuisine!
I never made the dish with spaghetti. Instead, I used penne or rigatoni, as I thought a short pasta shape would suit the sauce better. Eventually, this dish became a family favourite we called and still call  "Pasta alle melanzane" because that's what it is: pasta with a most delicious aubergine based sauce!
Today, I made this dish, using gnocchi. I love gnocchi so much, though we never had gnocchi at home.
I want to share this recipe with you, hoping that you will try it.

Gnocchi alle Melanzane e Mozzarella
( Gnocchi or Pasta With my Aubergine and Mozzarella Sauce)

( three generous servings )
500g ( just over 1lb) gnocchi
1 large mozzarella, finely chopped
Parmesan cheese
For the sauce:
olive oil
(enough to cover the bottom of the pan- be generous!)
1-2 garlic cloves
1 unpeeled aubergine
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 tbs passata
chilli pepper, fresh or dried
(as much or as little as you like)
black pepper


Cut your aubergine in half, then dice (smallish pieces.) Place your olive oil in the pan and when piping hot, add your garlic, This should turn a nice golden colour, but not black. Add your aubergine and stir. If you think you don't have enough oil, you can add some. Aubergine does tend to absorb oil! Cook until the aubergine cubes look translucent or even golden.


At this point, you can add your tinned tomatoes, which you would previously have squashed, with the help of a fork. Add salt, pepper and chillies.


 While the sauce is cooking, remember to put some water in another pan, ready for your gnocchi (or pasta, if you prefer!)


Cook the sauce on a medium heat for 20-25 minutes. When your sauce is ready, add your mozzarella to the sauce, finely cut,  and stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce has gone a pinky colour.
Cook your gnocchi, by plunging them in boiling hot water. Gnocchi only take about a minute to cook. When they start floating, they are done!


Drain and add to the sauce and don't forget to add a lot of lovely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese!


This dish can be eaten as it is, or, if you want a golden crust, it can be grilled. It is also delicious with rigatoni or penne.

I hope you try it, as it is not just delicious... it's also easy!

Saturday 20 April 2013

Spaghetti o Linguine ai Capperi e Tonno ( Alla San Giovannino) Spaghetti or Linguine in a delicious Tomato, Tuna and Caper Sauce!

She went outside to pick some parsley for her mamma. It was Christmas Eve and everyone was busy chatting, playing games, running about the house, up and down the long black marble corridor. It was always polished, really shiny and you could "ice-skate" on it!

As she ran back indoors, as she always liked to run everywhere (and she still does!) she slipped and landed on the floor. The little stems of fresh parsley were dropped all over the place, so she quickly gathered them and went to wash the sweet smelling herb, under running water, in the kitchen.

The smell of garlic, frying in the pan, and the sound of the tuna, being "dropped" very skilfully in the pan,by her mother, were mingled with a sense of happiness. We were all together, under the same roof. All our windows were steamed up and we felt cosy, and happy. It must have been Christmas Eve, I think...

 I must have somehow been able to capture that sense of feeling happy, protected and loved. I must have locked it away in here... in my heart, or in my soul. It's in me and I can feel it. How I wish we could still, all of us, be together. There is still so much we didn't say... so much we didn't do... the rest is all here... with me... I love to open a window on my childhood. I know that Proust said it before me, but... smells... fragrances are the key to the past.

And I want to go back, through the smell of this dish to an "Eve"... Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, The Eve of Saint John's Day, in June, when you might quite likely, in Puglia, eat this simple dish, which is absolutely delicious!

Spaghetti "Ai Capperi e Tonno" alla San Giovannino. This dish, as promised in my previous post is very easy to make and, like all good Italian dishes, only uses a few ingredients. Though might be eaten on special occasions (the Eve of a celebration) also forms part of what we call "cibo quotidiano" EVERYDAY FOOD!"

Spaghetti ai Capperi e Tonno
(Alla San Giovannino)
(Spaghetti with Tomato, Tuna and Caper Sauce)

(serves 2-3)

 olive oil (cover the base of your pan with it!)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large tin of best tuna chunks
in brine, or olive oil
300g (10 oz) cherry or fresh plum tomatoes, chopped
1 small tin plum tomatoes
1 tbsp capers in vinegar
generous bunch of fresh parsley
freshly milled black pepper
300-400g (about 1 lb, or just under) spaghetti
(or linguine)

You can cook this in a saucepan, or a frying pan or wok. Put the olive oil in the pan you are using, wait until it gets piping hot, then add the garlic. Don't let it burn, as it will taste bitter if it does. Stir, then add your tuna (if you are using tuna in brine, remove all the liquid, first.)

Quickly add your tuna, stir, then half cover with a lid, as the tuna will splatter all over the place! true! Give it a couple of minutes, enough time for the flavours to blend, then add your tomatoes (fresh or tinned- squash your tinned tomatoes up before cooking, if you want a good sauce!) some salt, and black pepper and bring to the boil.

You can now turn the heat down and cook your sauce for 20-25 minutes. By now, your kitchen should be filled with a wonderful aroma: garlic and tuna are fantastic, together.


Towards the end of cooking time, add your capers (I use lots, as I love the vinegary flavour!) and, before serving, take half of your parsley, roughly chop and add to the sauce, which, I assure you, is going to be magnificent!
Cook your spaghetti or linguine, drain and serve with the sauce. Top each serving with extra parsley and black pepper. And now I feel hungry!

D E L I Z I O S O!!!!!