Archive for ‘Sauces’

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.

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May 9, 2011

Zum Grillen

Barbecued mushrooms

It is again that time of the year where white signals of smoke dot the valley.

Germans love grilling. Even at Christmas markets there is always a grill stand, with a spectacular round grill hanging from the ceiling, suspended over glimmering charcoals. They grill the much-loved Wursts in all varieties, but also Frikadellen (the über-fatty original of hamburgers), and pre-marinade steaks, mainly pork. There was a recent article on the  local newspaper about how local political representatives decided to volunteer for grilling for charity – the CDU, the right-wing, conservative party, has decided to take care of the Würstchen, while the SPD, the more left-wing party, is going to barbecue pork steaks. Whether the Greens were offering a vegetarian option was not reported, but highly unlikely in my opinion. It was specified however that in order to simplify the organisation, the public should bring the drinks – that is, beer. Both parties are quite moderate in their positions anyway, and the newspaper made it clear that no political connotation would be given to food choice. Here is the picture appearing on the original article:

Another different grilling contribution is given by the numerous Gastarbeitern (guest workers) of Turkish origin who live here. I recently read a book written by a German-Turkish journalist, who grew up in Duisburg, a stone’s throw away from where I live. The title is sweet – “Einmal Hans mit sharfer Soβe”,  Hans being  the archetypical German boy. The title can be translated as : ‘A Hans served with hot sauce, please’. A phrase you’d use to order a kebab. Such a pretty way to capture the author’s torn identity between being German and Turkish, especially when it comes to finding the right man. She herself does not cook, but devotes pages and pages to her mom’s epic cooking and her dad’s equally epic barbecues. Allegedly in Berlin the Turkish habit of grilling in all spaces of public green, particularly in front of the Parliament, has caused some initial grumbles among the Germans, who, after an adjustment period,  have actually joined the Turks in their grilling frenzy.

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January 29, 2011

I tried to dress up my salad

blue cheese dressing

We Italians have a big fault. Well, of course; but I was not talking about politics. I mean, we have a big fault food-wise. We don’t do dressings. We don’t understand them. We dress salad with oil, salt, vinegar, be it balsamic, white or red wine or maybe even apple vinegar; occasionally with lemon juice instead of vinegar. This is it. I personally don’t even use vinegar, and more often than not, I leave out even the salt. And it is only five years, maybe, that I dress my salad at all (a common trauma from bad food at school).  We eat salads like everyone else does – it is after all one of the best office lunch fares on offer in many bars – but I’ve never seen any other dressing being used. Our creativity stops at the ingredients – solid ingredients –  level. When abroad, one of our biggest problems is eating salad. Why do people insist on those horrible dressings? Why would you want to drench your poor, delicate, innocent leaves of salad in cream, of all things?

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January 4, 2011

Ragù, part two: la bolognese

Ragu' alla bologneseSometimes we just forget how good basics are, and this is why we have  holidays, that  give you the opportunity to review the classics. One year ago, roughly, I took my time to cook properly for the New Year’s Eve and made ragù alla napoletana, and sartù. This year I kept it even simpler: I made gulash and classic lasagne, with ragù alla bolognese. The original take on the famed bolognese sauce, yes. I came out with a new resolution: do more of this, the next year.

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September 23, 2010

Not for vampires

Bagna Cauda garlicThere is a love/hate relationship between garlic and Italian cooking. Many foreigners are surprised when I claim that the equation Italian food = garlic is just plain wrong; not that there is anything wrong with garlic, but abroad I have seen (and eaten, unfortunately) dishes  called ‘Italian’, where the Italian touch was simply adding an inordinate amount of garlic.  It is true that the most part of typical Italian recipes contains some garlic, but there are huge differences in quantity and preparation methods, and in most recipes garlic is a soft whisper.

To give you an example, I was brought up by being a garlic hater. One of the worst comment my father can do about food is: ‘e’ impestato d’aglio’, loosely translated as ‘it is plagued with garlic’. However garlic was not banned from our home cooking, far from it: it was one of the staple ingredients. Garlic cloves, peeled, were gently heated  in oil until they released their fragrance, and then removed. With the years my attitude has changed. I love garlic and I eat much more of it, but I have become much more picky towards it. Most international ‘Italian’ food will contain loads of garlic, and taste of barely anything else. Horrible. My rule of thumb when it comes to eating garlic is this one: it is ok to smell of garlic afterwards, with moderation; but it should not overwhelm the food you are tasting and above all, it should not be in any way bitter, sour or rancid.  Most dishes where garlic gets fried are too heavy for my taste, including the ones my parents prepare. I prefer to add it raw in very small quantities, or make it cook in the sauce, after adding some liquid ingredients, not just fat.  I don’t mind mashing and eating it. Actually what converted me to call myself a proud garlic eater is hummus, where the addition of some garlic really brings the dish to another dimension. What would happen to pappa al pomodoro if you removed garlic from it? Or could you ever consider eating escargots without garlic? (yes you can: I had wonderful ones in a tomato, bacon and hot chilli sauce in Bilbao, but this is a different story).

So, in my new role of garlic eater, I had to try it all. The quintessential, ultimate treat for garlic lovers in Italy is bagna cauda.

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July 11, 2010

Cooking with hot weather

The ingredients for pesto

The locals are complaining as if Germany were becoming the  Sahara. For an Italian, it is not that bad. At night you can sleep even with your clothes on. This is not hot, guys. Spend a couple of nights in Milan now – you can’t sleep, you can’t eat.  I kind of missed a proper summer feeling when I lived in Wales, when they start to talk about ‘coping with the heat wave’ when the temperature reaches 24 degrees.  It is still actually quite warm though, and since my kitchen is exposed to the sun especially at evening, I don’t feel like spending a lot of time there. So dinner is mainly salads, hummus, cold dishes, like the big Italian summer classics: prosciutto e melone, pomodoro e mozzarella. Nicer since here I can find proper Italian ingredients.

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June 9, 2010

Green dips

Wasabi and avocado dip

This is a tasty and quick dip I ate at a Japanese friend’s house. She mixed it with a little mayo and served it with tomato and lettuce salad; I omitted the mayo and went for carrots. Both ways, it is a pleasant change if you like wasabi (which I do) and if you have had enough Guacamole (which I don’t). It is probably not as good as Guacamole, then, but it is still quite good.

I also give you the recipe of guacamole as I prepare it. A friend of mine taught it to me, when she came back after a long stay  in South America.  I did not like avocado that much then, and Guacamole was an eye-opener. She was my best friend when we were children, and we have lost and found each other a million times since then. She now lives in South America again, and I don’t have much chances for contact. We occasionally exchange news, because, twenty years later, our mothers  – who  still live next door to each other – became close friends. Still,  I miss her. She’ll always have the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen.

Avocado and Wasabi dip


1 ripe avocado, peeled and stoned
few drops of lemon juice
1 scant teaspoon wasabi (start with a little less if you don’t like hot food)

Method: Mix everything using a food processor or a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately, or it will turn black.



1 ripe avocado, peeled and stoned
juice of one lime
at least one fresh red hot chilli pepper, or more to taste
2  spring onions, most of the green part removed

Method:  I prefer it a little chunky, so I use a fork to smash the avocado and chop chilli and onions. When I don’t have time I just use a food processor. Mix together, add lime juice and salt, taste and add more according to taste. Serve immediately.

February 5, 2010

Very Dark Nutella Curd

This post honors the 2010 World Nutella Day – in spirit, at least 🙂

Nutella curd

This is a coming out.
I am one of those posh, unbearable persons who will turn their head with a disgusted look at people who choose to eat something with Nutella. I will always order my crêpe with real chocolate, or crème de marron, or butter and sugar, rather than having a crêpe with Nutella. When in a hotel, at the breakfast buffet I’d always leave there the little Nutella boxes in favour of.. pretty much anything else.

It is not that I can’t eat it. It is just too cheap and … now I am going to admit it… not very good.

Too sweet, too fatty.

And yet.

Before you start throwing stones at me, I need to finish my confession.

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January 22, 2010

The chef’s trick

Home made bouillon

Finally, I am equipped with a proper kitchen! The best part of it is that it is full of natural light. I have electric plates also for top stove cooking and the oven is a smallish, electric one, which I prefer to traditional gas ones (traditional in Italy, of course).  I managed to clean it just a couple of days ago, and have used it only for cooking the occasional squash or finishing off some busy week dinner. I promise some proper baking is coming back soon. I have been really missing it. Of course here it has been less of a pain than it would have been in the UK, as when I want a decent slice of cake, the difficult part is choosing between the dozens on offer in a cafe’; and bread is fantastic, as I told you. Nevertheless I use the oven a lot for many little finishes to dishes, for grating a pasta or rice dish, or as a healthy alternative for frying. My family has missed my homemade granola as well: I’ll have to source a good health food shop for nuts and seeds and the likes, and then it will be back.

In the meanwhile, one of the first things I did was trying this recipe.

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January 17, 2010

Garden of Eden

Orange trees

Orange trees in Piana di Gioia Tauro

If I had to pick a forbidden fruit, I’d go for citruses. Nothing speaks of Heaven like an orange or lemon garden to me. I expecially have a crush on lemon trees – I find there is something magical and sacred about them.

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