February 9, 2012

Sweet and sour chilli sauce

chilli sauce

 

I should have told you about this first. I wanted you to have plenty of time before the Seville orange season is over to enjoy this sauce. But life goes on, and the days are short and the time to take pictures is even more compressed with these gloomy winter days, and my harissa was mouldy and I could not find it new nor had I time to make some. Whiny me.

Whining apart, I hope you have some time left, or you let me know how it turns out with oranges and limes, or other souring agents. I will stick to my favourite ingredient for this period of winter. Bitter or Seville oranges are a rare find in Italy. When we did find some, we’d always make Vin d’Orange, the most elegant and sophisticated drink ever. Very boozy too: all too easy to drink too much of it in the first warm days of spring, maybe on the first barbecue of the season.

Here Sevilles are plenty and cheap: all greengrocers stock them and they’d invariably warn me that I have picked up marmalade, not normal oranges. I buy loads of them, although I have never made marmalade with them. I make sorbet, curd, and a variety of orange flavoured cakes. I soon found out that Sevilles are brilliant in savoury food as well: wherever you’d use lemon or vinegar, roughly. Which is more or less everywhere for me. Continue reading

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February 5, 2012

Nutella day: pear and Nutella mini-pies

Nutella pear pie

World Nutella day found me unprepared this year. I’m in a period when my relationship with food is changing. I feel a need to become lighter and less cluttered in general, and part of it is reflecting in the way I eat. I have started again some physical activity, and although I am quite limited by my ongoing knee problems, I have recovered all of my addiction to moving. I finally feel my body becoming more compact, more flexible, the way I am used to feeling it. In this picture I just don’t crave unhealthy food that much. But everything in moderation, including moderation. It is World Nutella Day after all, and such occasion should not go unnoticed. Continue reading

January 25, 2012

A new love: freekeh

Freekeh salad

Meet my latest food crush. Crunchy and juicy, with a challenging but yielding texture interesting enough to make you want for more, but not actually get tired of it. A subtle whiff of smoke, the smell of a thousand and one nights, and its bronzed hue betray its Middle East origin, while a tiny hint of grass makes you dream of the wild outdoors. Like all love relationships, it wouldn’t work long-term, if it were not good for you.

Meet Freekeh, Green wheat. Think unripe grain, smoked to dryness. Better than it sounds. Easier than it sounds, too. I have never much liked simple whole wheat, but this is another story. This is up there with farro. This is marriage material. Continue reading

January 20, 2012

Pasta with cannellini and mussels

Pasta con cannellini e cozze

An alternative and popular technique for cooking pasta is to cook it as if it were a risotto, adding water a little at a time. It  does require slightly more attention than the normal method, and certainly cannot be applied to all sauces, but it is more convenient for an easy weekday dinner, since it really is a one pot meal. It is all the more surprising that I never used it while I was living at home with my parents, and only started when my partner told me of his favourite way of making pasta with chickpeas.

The technique works particularly well for two categories of sauces: seafood sauces, where the starch in pasta actually binds an otherwise too thin sauce, and legume-based pasta, and I make all of them like this now . It is a bit like making a pasta e fagioli, but with less water so you can eat the end result with a fork. It is  particularly forgiving, since you don’t have to stir that much, provided the food does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Continue reading

January 13, 2012

Tortelli di zucca

Tortelli di zucca

I always feel a bit disappointed when January comes and spring is not already here. The days are still grey, the nights are still deep and long, vegetables are still cabbage and roots, and I’ve already had my fair share, thank you: I’m ready for spring. Not that it is cold, not here, and not that I expect spring or summer to be any less rainy – if anything, I know from experience they will be more.

Christmas day this year was just like that. A grey, overcast day, warm, short. We woke up suitably late, opened our presents, had pancakes for breakfast, and then we got to work. Our family was in Italy, we were here all by ourselves. It felt unusually quiet and intimate. We spent the morning making roasted squash tortelli. We ate them for lunch, and they were like little pockets of sunshine. Continue reading

January 6, 2012

A brand new year, and a few festive bits

Sea in Plymouth

.. It’s been quite quiet around here lately, hasn’t it? I have barely opened my computer – any computer – in the last two weeks. I needed time, I’ve been needing it for quite a long time: time off, simple as that.

It’s been two long weeks of taking time. I stayed here in my new home or quite close by, alone or with my partner, or with some friends. I’ve been missing my family, an inevitable feeling at Christmas. But all in all, it was a great time. I had time to talk it over and to think about what I want to do: although I have not taken any decision yet, I feel more confident and in control. I had time to explore the surroundings with the leisurely lazy pace of the local, not the frantic-holidaymaker-who-ticks-all-the-boxes pace I usually have. I had time to sleep, to start taking care of my garden, to read books. Continue reading

December 16, 2011

Buckwheat obsession: pizzoccheri

Pizzoccheri

Do you ever get periods when you are obsessed with some ingredient or flavour? Whenever I imagine to cook something right now, I think it would taste better if it contained some buckwheat. I am not sure what triggered it. It is a grain I’ve always found rich and complex and I’ve always been fond of.  In the mountains around Milan, where I grew up, it is a common fare. It is a hardy, resistant crop able to grow in poor soils, and it actually likes the cool and rainy summers in the mountains. It does not need as much sun as ordinary wheat, a grain with which buckwheat bears no connection whatsoever, other than  the name. Continue reading

December 7, 2011

Late nights and cookies

Buckwheat biscotti

These cookies are golden, crunchy and smooth. I was surprised how much a conversion to black and white revealed of their texture. When you see them in colour, they are a triumph of golden, rich hues and the little cracks are easily overlooked.  When you bite into them, they snap and crunch, but then they are actually easy to munch and swallow, a texture that matches their flavour perfectly. They contain buckwheat flour, intensely nutty and with a raw taste, mellowed out by the conspicuous amount of butter and sugar. They are once again a creation of Kim Boyce.

We ate almost all of them with a glass of whisky while chatting with an old time friend who is here with us now. It was a good evening. This weekend we are going back to Wales. Many of our friends are still there and I almost feel as if I did not move, as if those two years never happened. It is a good feeling. I am going to bring them big boxes of cookies if I can. They are in season right now.

 

The picture goes to Black and White Wednesday, hosted by Susan of the Well Seasoned Cook.

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December 2, 2011

Late autumn dinner: pear and almond galette

Pear and almond galette

I feel much better, although I’m not sure how long it is going to last. Add to this that the season is just perfect for baking: it is not yet cold outside, not really, and I don’t keep the heating on that much, but a warm oven is definitely welcome for the little heat it produces. So here I am, in the middle of a baking frenzy.

I am becoming friends with the new oven. I still need to dig out the instructions for it, because it is of a type I never had before. It is made of two smaller ovens stacked one on top of the other, both gas fuelled. The top one seems to have a broiler and some sort of ventilation going on, but I don’t really get it. The bottom one seems more conventional. In Italy I always had gas ovens but they were larger – the monster being my mum’s 90 cm large oven, spectacular in its early days, when you could bake a roast, potatoes, bread and a cake, if you could make the temperatures somehow work together, or you could bake half a kilo of biscotti for our Christmas production in one go. This oven collapsed a few months ago, and was recently replaced with an equally sized beast, after a long agony where making it work involved a complicated process with a protective metal plate and some mountaineering ropes. I hope the new one will do as well as the old one, although I feel it is a bit oversized. Continue reading

November 23, 2011

Apple strudel

Apple strudel

A while ago, Sigrid asked her readers to share a grandmother’s recipe for an apple cake or pie. Adding the link, I realized it was quite a while ago, much longer than what I intended; on the other hand, this is just the best period ever for making apple cakes. I actually have two of those recipes that are part of my tradition; they both are recipes my mother regularly made for me. One of them is a simple, moist apple cake, perfect for dunking in milk. I think the recipe comes from my grandmother, but who knows where she took it.

The other recipe is a more challenging and ‘grown up’ dessert: strudel di mele. Strudel is a thin layer of dough rolled with something in it; it can be savoury, or more often sweet. Most people are accustomed to the variety made with puff pastry, quite greasy and sugary, which I don’t particularly like. The original has a thinner, less fat dough, quite common in the (also) German-speaking part of Italy and in Austria. In the regions where Austria met the Balkans, like Slovenia, an even thinner version is wide-spread, with almost no fat in it: actually, given that Wikipedia traces the origin of strudel to Levantine pastries like baklava, this is probably the most faithful version. The recipe we use in my family definitely belongs to the latter group; it comes straight from a lady who ran from the occupied Istria to Italy at some point. She was Italian – or rather, she spoke Italian as a first language, but her hair was blonde, almost white, and her eyes were blue; I’m not sure whether she would have considered herself being Italian, since these otherwise straightforward adjectives can be quite unaccurate and very dangerous  when applied to some sensitive parts of the world.  Her granddaughter is my mom’s best friend. She too is blond, in a way very few Italians are. Continue reading

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