Wednesday, December 13, 2017

something to keep you warm

I love a good simple meal. The kind that tastes better than it looks and costs less than it’s worth. Resourceful, delicious, slow cooked food that requires the least of efforts and renders the most in flavor. A heartwarming melt-in-your-mouth stew, a deep rich bone broth. You get what I mean!

It’s Sunday, wet and cold. The wind is blowing furiously and all I want is a warm soup.  In minutes, a large pot of water is boiling on the stove. A carrot, a big onion, a couple of celery ribs, some cartilage-rich jointly bones and chicken feet will do the magic. I’d add a bay leaf too, if only I had some. There’s something so pleasing about this, I’m not sure exactly what, perhaps it’s just the fact in not having to do much, if not only to poke my nose under the lid every now and then to catch a whiff of what will be.

All of this cannot be complete without the accompaniment of my nonna’s crespelle. The paper thin savory crepes filled with copious amounts of pecorino and parmigiano cheese.  Each rolled tight and lined one next to the other in a bowl that welcomes both the crespelle and the broth.  It’s unsure if the broth should be more than the crespelle or the crespelle more than the broth.  For sure, one complements the other and God bless whoever put them together! 
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First off, the broth. At the beginning, just before things begin to boil, you’ll notice that a foam gathers quickly on the surface. The usual big metal spoon will do, in scooping it out, but the use of a paper towel will help you achieve a clear broth. Place the paper towel flat on the surface so that it can soak in the remaining foam and any extra grease. Keep using the paper towel until finally you get rid of it all. At the end, you’ll be happy to have a crystal clear broth.

Second, the crespelle.  Before pouring a ladle of batter over a hot pan, grease it generously with guanciale (pork-jowl) fat or pancetta fat. Stick a fork in a big cube of fat, at least 3 x 3 cm, and use the fork as a handle to rub the fat in the pan each time you add the batter. Originally, the crespelle were made only with flour and water, so you can understand why our nonna’s wanted to enhance their flavor with some fat.  Only years later, eggs were added but the pan greased with guanciale remained.

This dose is for approximately 16 crespelle (4 people).  If you need to increase the amount add extra flour and water but keep the amount of eggs to 3. The consistency is what you need to get exact. You may need to try a few before you get it right.  Essentially, make them as thin as you can.  So, to do that, keep in mind, that the thinner the batter the better the crespelle. If the batter is thick, you’ll get a thick crespella and you don’t want pancakes.


2 heaping cups of all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 ½ cups of water
¼ teaspoon of salt
3 x 3 cm of guanciale fat
a mix of grated parmigiana and pecorino cheese ( a spoonful for each crespella)

Combine the flour, eggs and salt in a big bowl and whisk until mixture is smooth with no lumps. Gradually add the water and continue to whisk.  Leave the batter to rest for 1 hour.

Heat a non-stick skillet or a cast iron pan. Generously grease the surface of the pan with a piece of guanciale fat (stuck on a fork).  Add a ladle of batter on the pan and swirl to completely cover the surface.  Cook the underside of the crespella till golden brown or until the top is filled with bubbles and almost dry, 1 or 2 minutes.  Loosen the edges with a spatula and flip to cook on the other side, 1 minute.

You want to try to get a very thin crespella, so you may need to make a couple before you find the right consistency of the batter by thinning it with more liquid or, if too thin, you may need to add more flour.

Pile all the crespelle on a plate and once you’re done, sprinkle a heaping spoon of cheese on each.  Roll the crespelle very tight so that they don’t open when you add the broth.

Place 4 crespelle in each bowl, line one next to each other.  Add the warm broth in each bowl.  Dust with cheese. Serve.   

*Use your favorite broth.  Whether it’s chicken, bone, beef or vegetable broth, these crespelle will suit them all.  


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Latti da Mangiare 3.0

La Storica Fattoria Palagiaccio sent me a selection of cheese with which I was challenged to create a recipe. Two recipes to be precise. The challenge turned out to be more "challenging" then I thought because I was limited to a specific list of ingredients, not at all easy to combine with cheese. The ingredients to choose from were divided into two categories, either seafood or forest. I chose the menu closest to my taste, seafood. And this is what I came up with.

Gnocchi with Gran Mugello cheese, mussels and bottarga. Gran Mugello cheese was the perfect choice for this dish because it is delicate yet present, not overwhelming but maintains a distinct flavor. It goes beautifully with mussels. When they say "fish does not combine with cheese" disregard and give this a try, it proves the opposite.

For the second recipe, I unleashed my creative spirit, (because I do have one you know?! :) by making a roasted pepper roll stuffed with pesto, Blue Mugello cheese, anchovies and balsamic vinegar. Yes, quite a lot of flavors but we've got the sweet, the salty, the acidity, the proteins and fattiness all in one and together they make a perfect bite. This can be either an appetizer or second course.DUO CHEESE
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Gnocchi with Gran Mugello Cheese, Mussels and Bottarga
serves 4

Gran Mugello cheese - freshly grated
500 gr fresh potato gnocchi
500 gr mussels
bottarga di muggine (Mullet Roe)
4 or 5 cherry tomatoes
1 garlic glove
lemon zest - freshly grated
extra virgin olive oil
fresh fennel leaves

Bring a a pot of water to a boil.

In a large shallow pan add a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 whole unpeeled garlic clove, 4 or 5 cherry tomatoes and the mussels. Cover with a lid until the mussels begin to open. Start removing the mussels one by one as they begin to open and set aside on a dish. Now remove the mussels from their shell and set aside. Disregard all unopened mussels. Filter the mussel water and disregard the remains. Pour the filtered mussel liquid back into the pan and set aside.

Once the pot of water comes to a boil, add salt to the water and drop in the gnocchi.  Drain the gnocchi as soon as they begin to float on the surface. Keep some of the pasta water aside in a cup.

Put the gnocchi straight into the pan with the filtered mussel water and on high heat allow the gnocchi to absorb "most" of the mussel liquid, while moving the pan around in a circular motion. Remove the pan from the heat and add a handful of grated Gran Mugello cheese. Keep moving the pan in a circular motion far from the heat until the cheese and mussel liquid form a creamy texture. Just before removing the gnocchi from the pan to your serving plate, add the zest of a freshly grated lemon and mix. Place the gnocchi in each plate and at the last minute just before serving grate some bottarga and Gran Mugello cheese. Garnish with fresh fennel leaves.

Roasted Pepper Roll stuffed with Pesto, Blue Mugello cheese, Anchovies and Balsamic Vinegar
serves 4

Blue Gran Mugello
1 big red bell pepper
fresh pesto
jar olive oil stored anchovies
fresh basil
black sesame seeds

Place one whole pepper roll on the griddle or over a flame.  Once the skin of the entire pepper is burnt, remove from the flame and place on a plate covered with another plate or in a paper bag.  This will help you remove the skin from the pepper easily.  Remove the burnt skin from the pepper once it has cooled off.

Line a plastic film over the counter, roughly 50 cm.  Place the pepper flat open and evenly on the plastic film to form a rectangular shape. Spread the pesto evenly on the peppers. Crumble the Blue Mugello cheese on top of the pesto and add 3/4 anchovies in the center of the rectangle forming a straight line of anchovies. Starting from the longer side of the rectangle closet to you begin to roll the peppers with the help of the plastic film. Once you've made your roll make sure the plastic film is wrapped entirely around the roll, then twist the edges to seal. Place on a plate and in the fridge for an hour.

To serve: cut the roll in equal pieces about 4 cm thick.  Place each piece on a plate, add one anchovy fillet on top and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Garnish with some basil and black sesame seeds.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


Orange and Ginger Roast Chicken
Yesterday the kitchen was filled with the presence of an inebriating aroma. Two cockerel birds were sitting in a citrus, ginger and honey, spicy hot sauce as they slowly roasted. A mingling of flavors were going on in the oven, orange wedges were caramelizing on the side and a fresh salad was in the preps to accompany crispy skin, tender moist, birds soon later ready to land on my table. The recipe comes from Diana Henry’s cookbook Simple. A collection of simple recipes full of flavors and easy to put together. This one in particular was very much appreciated by my carnivorous men that had no shame in devouring those cute little birds, and nor did I.  

Orange and Ginger Roast Chicken
from Diana Henry's cookbook Simple

Circa 1.8 kg chicken ( I used 2 cockerel birds)
250 ml orange juice
4 tbsp honey
1 ½ tsp hot sauce (I used the tip of a hot chili pepper)
3 garlic cloves, grated
2.5 cm piece root ginger, peeled and grated
the zest of 2 oranges
200 ml light chicken stock or water, if needed
4 thin-skinned oranges
Olive oil
some ground ginger for sprinkling
some soft light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 190ºC. Put the chicken into a roasting tin in which it can lie snugly; if it’s too big, the cooking juices round the bird will burn. Whisk the rest of the ingredients for the chicken (except the stock or water) in a jug. Pour some of the mixture inside the bird, then pour most of the rest – reserving one-third – over it. Roast for 45 minutes.

Cut the oranges into wedges and put them into an ovenproof dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Sprinkle with olive oil, ground ginger and some seasoning and toss the oranges in this, then sprinkle the sugar on top.

When the chicken has cooked for 45 minutes, take it out of the oven, scoop up the sticky juices around it and spread them over the skin.

Add the rest of the orange juice mixture to the juices in the tin, stirring well to help them blend, then return to the oven and roast for another 45 minutes. Add the dish of oranges to the oven at this point.

After 45 minutes, take the chicken out and let it rest for 15 minutes. Leave the oranges in for those 15 minutes, so they have cooked for an hour.

If the chicken juices seem too thick or intense, add the stock or water to the tin, set it over a high heat and bring to the boil, stirring to dislodge the sticky bits.

Serve in a jug, with the chicken and orange wedges on a platter. 

Monday, February 13, 2017


SOURDOUGH BREAD from a novice who aspires to bake the perfect loaf shape
"The process of bread baking is at once a simple endeavour, yet at the same time it can be one of enormous complexity. The merest of ingredients are required, and these few are easily procured, requiring little intricacy in their preparation. And since so few ingredients are needed or necessary to the bread baker, from one bake to the next not much seems to change. One style of mixer suffices and can mix a full range of doughs. some couche linens, a few stacks of proofing baskets, a decent scale, a durable work table, a couple of razor blades stuck on slender lames and a sturdy oven. The needs are few. And yet from the time the grain is planted until baked bread is on the table, the hands and skills of dozens of people have been engaged. Farmers in the fields plow, plant, cultivate, and harvest. Grain is transported to the mill to be tempered, ground, sifted, analysed, and bagged — brought from berry to flour. Flour in the bag is tucked and hefted to the domain of the baker. Here the final magic is performed for the flour is nothing by itself — it needs the baker to bring it to fulfillment, to coax all the flavor he or she can from the inert grain. The flour, unable to sustain life on its own, is transformed by the hands of the baker into wondrous bread, nurturing and nourishing. What we hold in our hands months later, the original planting of the seed, is the final resolution of the labor of many: a loaf of bread — ephemeral, fragrant, live". -- From the book Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, by Jeffrey Hamelman.

A few months ago I came across a beautiful picture of wild grapes on Kevin Sharp's instagram and the caption was, "I'm making a new batch of sourdough starter". Those grapes alone were intriguing but more so was the fact that Kevin was making a starter using the flour he had buried the wild grapes with. It took that picture to convince me what I had in the back of my mind for the longest time. And, I just happened to have the last grapes of the season within easy reach in my garden. I grabbed what I needed and I simply began my sourdough starter. Immediately the next day I noticed the first signs of fermentation, some bubbles, a slight presence of alcohol, a small aerated growth. All of this was astonishing to my eyes! Finally, after days of dedication and commitment, Clint Yeastwood, my starter, was born, and together we hopped on a horse and ran wild towards a new journey.

Since then, everyday, every morning and every evening, I refresh my starter. An easy portion of equal measurements - 4 oz starter, 4 oz flour, 4 oz water. Mix, cover and rest. Over and over each day. Yes, it is a commitment, you're really feeding a pet and it was the thought of this sort of commitment that held me back in the first place. Only once you begin and discover what some flour and water can do, you'll never know how fascinating this sourdough affair is. So don't take this post as an instructions manual, I'm not one to teach, as a novice I only have things to share and I'm here to intrigue you as much as I can so you can start too (do you hear me Hazel?)

You know, it does take some failing, a success, some reading, asking, watching, listening. Some more trying, a burned loaf, an under cooked one, less water, more hydration, steam, a cast iron pot, different flours and why not grains and a mill. It's an adventure of discoveries, a learning of patience, and suddenly all becomes a lifestyle. Loaf after loaf, you get better and learn more. Excitement comes from a crackling sing of a good crust, an airy crumb, unfathomable flavors. Here's the beauty of it all and why I never bought a loaf of bread ever again.

The baking of bread, of real sourdough bread. It's my obsession.
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If you want to to begin your own starter here's a link with instructions,

Sourdough Bread, from a novice who aspires to bake the perfect loaf.

For the leaven you will need to use a strong starter, so refresh your starter at least 2/3 times before you use it. If you plan to bake your bread Sunday morning, refresh the starter Friday morning (8:00 am), Friday night (8:00 pm) Saturday morning (8:00 am) and mix your dough Saturday afternoon (4:00 pm), at this time is should be bubbly and active.

You can use a combination of bread flour. or just plain wheat flour.  I like to vary and I usually use
30 g wholewheat, 20 g rye and 50 g wheat flour.

150 g leaven
700 g bottled water
1000 g bread flour, or the mix I use: 30 g wholewheat, 20 g rye and 50 g wheat flour
20 g salt

Combine the water and leaven in a large mixing bowl.  Add the flour and mix with your hands until the flour absorbs the water. Do not add the salt at this point. Rotate the bowl with one hand and mix with the other until the gluten forms and the dough is completely hydrated. Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with a plastic wrap. During the first hour of bulk fermentation, turn and fold the dough every 20 minutes. This will help strength and aerate the dough. With wet hands, from the bottom and along the edge pull a portion of the dough up and fold over, rotate the bowl with one hand and with the other hand continue the turn-fold 4 times. After one hour, add the salt and mix with your hands until the salt is totally incorporated. Repeat the turn and fold 2 more times every 20 minutes. Cover the bowl containing the dough with a plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight. The next morning remove the dough from the fridge and bring it to room temperature.

If you have time, you can skip the overnight bulk fermentation in the fridge. Simply allow the dough to rise for 3/4 hours in a warm corner of your kitchen.

At this time the dough is doubled in size. Remove the dough from the fridge on to a working surface. The dough will be sticky, with the help of a bench knife divide the dough in two and preshape each portion to form a circular shape. Allow the dough to rest for 20-30 minutes. At this stage you will notice that the dough will relax and spread, this needs to happen now. After 20-30 minutes give the dough its final shape, see above picture on how to do so. Place the dough in a well floured linen covered bread basket and place in the fridge to retard the final rise. Remove the dough from the fridge the next morning and when you are ready to bake.

Preheat the oven at 240°C, place a cast iron pot at least 20 minutes in the oven, on the lowest rack. Carefully remove the very hot pot from the oven. At this point you can score the bread with a very sharp knife or leave it as is. Remove the pot's lid and place the dough seam side down, score side up, in the very hot pot. A good score helps the bread grow liberally. Place the pot's lid back on and place the pot in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the pot, lower the oven temperature to 220°C and bake a further 30 minutes, or an extra 10 minutes if necessary. When he bread is ready, remove it from the pot and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. With your hands tap under the loaf, if you hear a hollow sound the bread is ready.  If you like a thicker crust (I do), lower the oven temperature to 180 ºC, put the bread back in the oven, after removing it from the pot, and let it bake an extra 10 more minutes or to your preference.

This video will help you understand a few steps,