Tuesday, December 13, 2016

cracking nuts for Christmas

Every year, since I can remember, this pangiallo has found its spot on our Christmas table. There was a time that my grandmother, mother and aunts, had a family reunion just to crack the shells of the nuts that went into it, and let me tell you, we’re talking about piles of nuts for copious amounts of pangiallo. After delivering those that went to one family, and to other, the ones to our next door neighbors and those that needed to go to our doctor, our dentist, the bus driver, the milkman and the guy that sold us the nuts, we still had enough pangiallo to cover the Christmas season and more for months to come. You can understand why my sister and I couldn’t stand the sight of it anymore, I mean, really, not even from afar, especially when we found slices in our school snacks, almost everyday. 

Nonetheless, the years went by, my sister and I married, the family expanded, and the pangiallo never failed to make its appearance around Christmas.  We stopped the nut cracking reunions when my beloved mother and nonna passed away, we also stopped making our own pangiallo because there was always someone that would gift us with “their” pangiallo anyway. Until we began to feel a sort of nostalgia for the taste of “our” pangiallo, the nut cracking, the aroma of roasted nuts, the nutmeg, the family gatherings and all. Somehow I found myself buying nuts again, cracking them  with my nonna’s personal nutcracker, roasting them and making copious amounts, almost like a beautiful nightmare, if that makes any sense to you as it does to me. Suddenly the pangiallo saga was back and not only for the nostalgic memories but because, for us, it simply isn’t Christmas without it.

*measurements are for shelled nuts
*makes 4 medium size pangialli

300 gr almonds
300 gr walnuts
300 gr hazelnuts
100 gr pine nuts
800 gr raisins
850 gr honey
zest of 1 untreated organic orange
freshly ground nutmeg (1)
500-600 gr flour
200 gr good quality dark chocolate
2 tbsp. dark chocolate cocoa powder
Melt the honey and chocolate in a microwave or in a pot over a low flame, pour over the mix of nuts. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the nuts are covered with the honey and chocolate mixture.  It should be of a fairly hard consistency. Mix the chocolate cocoa powder and flour and stir it in the nut mixture, a little at a time. At a certain point you may need to use your hands, make sure to wet your hands with some vegetable oil before you do so, it will be easier to work the nut dough.  Divide in 4 equal balls and shape into round or oval loaves. Bake for 40 minutes up to 1 hour at 140 – 150 ºC.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Live the Authentic Truffle Hunt

Picture this, clusters of autumn colored crackling leaves. An emerald whorl of fronds susurrating in the breeze. A flowing river echoing nearby. A far-off whistle and the thud of swift paws from happy dogs. The smell of earth, the aroma of truffles. The sound of silence and the liberating feel of nature. This is just part of an exciting experience you can have during a weekend with Andrea, the expert truffle hunter, Zara and Briciolo, his two loving dogs, and us Barbara Toselli and Elvira Zilli with the company of Antonella Renelli at la Fattoria di Vibio in Umbria. 

Join us for an Authentic Truffle Hunt and Cooking Experience on October 22-23. 

Book Now! 

For info, tel. +39-333-69-03741 or email: info@fattoriadivibio.com


Provate ad immaginare: foglie croccanti colorate dall’autunno che scricchiolano al vostro passaggio, la brezza che fa ondeggiare spirali di fronde color smeraldo, il gorgoglio delicato di un piccolo fiume che scorre in lontananza. Un fischio leggero e il suono dello zampettio veloce e scattante dei cani. L’odore della terra umida del sottobosco, il profumo del tartufo. Il suono del silenzio e la sensazione di totale libertà, immersi nella natura.

Questo è solo un assaggio delle sensazioni che potrete provare nel corso di un week-end dedicato alla scoperta del tartufo umbro, in compagnia di Andrea, esperto cacciatore di tartufi, che ci accompagnerà nei boschi con i suoi cagnolini Zara e Briciolo svelandoci i suoi segreti. E in compagnia di Barbara ToselliElvira Zilli per cucinare insieme i frutti della preziosa caccia. Il tutto in compagnia di Antonella Renelli nella splendida cornice della Fattoria di Vibio.

Il prossimo 22-23 ottobre, unitevi a noi per vivere la vera esperienza della caccia al tartufo.

For info, tel. +39-333-69-03741 or email: info@fattoriadivibio.com

Friday, October 7, 2016

changing the topic

Draw a slit down the middle. Lengthwise. Not all the way through but deep enough so that the bottom remains intact and the top opens to welcome fresh whipped cream. I warn you, this can be a messy affair. Slurping your tongue around the corners of your mouth and licking your fingers a few times is part of the pleasure but, if you really think it’s necessary, you can always use a napkin. In any case, your instinct will drive you to a voracious bite and you won’t really care if it’s messy or not.

Soft, sweet, with bits of candied fruits and pine nuts, this bun is known in Rome as Quaresimale similar yet different than the well known Maritozzo, which I'm sure you may already know all about. This, is a treat you can find in Roman bakeries and cafes when entering the Lent season - the solemn religious observance that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approx. six weeks later, before Easter. In Italian, Lent translates to Quaresima and from here the name Quaresimale. Now, I'm expecting the question and before you even ask, here's the answer.  The reason why I'm proposing this glorious bun of all sorts in October - when it's not even Christmas and far from Easter - is simple.

So, let me explain.

Every morning, for years, and more than once a day I go to my favorite cafe, Moma, right next door from where I work. The first morning stop is the one I prefer most because Pino, my favorite barman, makes a cappuccino that deserves a separate solemn observance just for that. Then, there's Franco, one of the owners, the man who makes all the pastries and cookies you see lined up on the counter every morning. The Quaresimale, which Franco makes year round, is my favorite, not too sweet, not too much candied fruit, not too many pine nuts.  Everything meets my morning desire in a bun made of two-three bites. He doesn't accompany it with whipped cream unless you ask for it. The thing is that no matter how many times I'd ask Franco for the recipe, he'd always end up changing the topic. Years have gone by and I still have not been able to get that recipe from him. The trick of changing the topic keeps distracting me and so you know what?  I made it a point to make my own Quaresimali and to then take a picture to show Franco. This is the picture I showed him and trust me they look just the same! So Franco looks at the picture and says "where did you get the recipe?" ...and I, well, I changed the topic :)

I have to admit that even if they do look the same, Franco makes them so delicious that I'd rather just eat his than make my own. So, for those of you that can't go to Moma, here's the recipe.


1/2 kg bread dough
a handful of raisins
2 heap tbsp pine nuts
1 heap tbsp candied orange peel, in small diced pieces
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 heap tbsp of powder sugar

Flatten the bread dough on a clean surface. Add the raisins, the pine nuts, the diced candied orange peel, the powdered sugar and the extra virgin olive oil.  Knead the dough to work in all the ingredients.  Divide the dough in small equal pieces, the size of a small bun.  Place them on a lined baking sheet, cover with a clean cloth and let them rest in a warm corner of your kitchen.  When they've doubled in size, bake in a preheated oven at 200ºC for about 20 minutes.

Glaze the buns hot out of the oven.

For the glaze, mix some powdered sugar in very little water, enough to dissolve the sugar,  Once you've glazed the surface, put the buns back in the still warm (but turned-off) oven.  Leave them in the oven just a few minutes, enough to dry the glaze.

If you decide to try these with whipped cream, allow the buns to cool completely before filling them with fresh whipped cream.

Or eat them as they are, nice a warm.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

bringing a piece of Sicily home with me

Busiati & Pesto Trapanese
Like every year, I need to bring something back from my summer vacation. Usually it's a recipe, something that really impresses me and knocks me out at the first bite. It happens quite often I admit, you know how I am about good food. But when it happens in a way that preoccupies my husband as I get up from the table, swing back the chair and walk straight into the kitchen to meet the chef, well, be sure that will be The Recipe I literally bring home with me. Sacredly stored in the back of my head with hints scribbled in my mind I go home and try it for days until I get as close as I can get to what I ate that day I felt those goosebumps running down my back.

The recipe I'm talking about is busiati pasta with Trapanese pesto. I tried it for the first time this past summer in Sicily. The pasta shape itself is good with many different types of sauces, it twirls and swirls within the sauce and keeps a good al dente texture. It's made with durum wheat flour and water. You can see how I shape the pasta on my instagram by clicking here. The web will show you so much more. Of course you can always go buy them ready made.

But what I really love is the Trapanese pesto, it is totally different from the pesto Genovese yet similar in its preparation. You don't necessarily need to use busiati pasta for this but as they say in Italy, è la morte sua, it's to die forFirst of all, do not use a blender, I know it's much easier but just don't. Get yourself a pestal mortal, I used a wooden one and it came out a charm. Secondly, use fresh in season ingredients. As you know tomatoes grow in the summer, so don't make this at Christmas, you know what I mean. September is a good time because tomatoes are still around and since it's the end of the season you can find really good prices.

So let's get started with this recipe.
 Busiati & Pesto Trapanese
Busiati & Pesto Trapanese
Busiati Pasta with Trapanese Pesto
serves 4 people

500/600 gr pasta busiati

500 gr ripe peeled and deseeded tomatoes, preferably cherry tomatoes.
40 gr peeled raw almonds
150 gr grated pecorino cheese
8 fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
extra virgin olive oil

In a pestal mortal crush the garlic and almonds, then add the basil leaves and grind until you get a rough paste. Add some extra virgin olive oil and you work the paste.  Remove the paste from the mortal into a big wide glass bowl and without rinsing add the peeled tomatoes and crush to get a rough paste. Now add the crushed tomatoes to the bowl with the almond-basil paste.  Add the pecorino cheese. Add more EVO, enough to form a creamy texture, don't overdo it.  Add a pinch of salt and taste.  Add more salt if necessary but keep in mind that the pecorino cheese is already very salty itself. Mix well.

Cook the pasta al dente, drain and add to the bowl that contains the pesto. Quickly mix with a wooden spoon.

Tip: with the use of a knife, cross an X on the bottom of the tomatoes.  Throw them in a pot of boiling water for about 1 minute.  Remove from the pot and into a bowl of cold water.  Peel back the skin, it will come off easily.  Keep the water used top blanch the tomatoes, you can cook your pasta in it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I'll bring the cherry pie

cherry pie
I wish I had a cherry tree in my garden.  One of those big old cherry trees.  I'd hang a hammock right under its shade and there within the reach of an arm I'd lay relaxed eating cherries as if there were no tomorrow.

Whether it's cherries straight off the tree or from the market, I can't resist, I'll never say no and I'll go get as much as I can. Now in the full bursting season and when cherries are as juicy and sweet as they could be, I make my cherry pies. Lots of cherry pies! Actually that's all I've been doing these days. I stop only when cherries are no longer on trees and then, I wait another year to make more. So go get your cherry pitter friends, it's time now!

... and when a delicious pie is served on a pretty ceramic, like the one you see up there, it becomes even more irresistible.

Giorgia Brunelli is the artist of this lovely plate.  She lives in the woods and is inspired by the nature that surrounds her. Each of her objects have an intrinsic poetic spirit that brings a lovely atmosphere on your table. When you see her work you can tell she puts her heart into it and these are people I admire.  Those that do things with a passion.  Go take a look for yourself www.giovelab.it  .
cherry pie
Cherry Pie
Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie

1 kg fresh cherries, stoned
2 heaped tbsp sugar
1/2 lemon juice
1 vanilla bean
2 tbsp maize starch

350g flour, plus extra for rolling
200g cold butter
2 tbsp sugar, plus extra for finishing touch
1 egg

Put the cherries, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan and cook over low heat for about 4 minutes, add the lemon juice and cook 1 minute.  With the use of a colander, drain the cherries over a wide bowl so that the juice is separated from the cherries.  Allow to cool.

Make the pastry either by hand or with a food processor.  I used a food processor.  Blitz the flour, sugar and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Add the egg while the food processor is running.  As soon as the mixture starts to come together, transfer to a working surface and quickly form a ball, without kneading. Divide the ball in two pieces, one should be slightly larger. Place in the fridge for about 5 minutes. On a lightly floured surface roll out the larger ball to fit and slightly overhang a 23 cm round pie dish.  Fill the pie with the drained cherries.

Add the maize starch to the juice you've previously separated from the cherries and whisk until the liquid absorbs the starch, leaving no lumps behind.  Pour the juice evenly over the cherries within the pie shell.

Roll out the smaller ball and gently cover the pie.  Make a small hole in the center and glaze with the beaten egg and sprinkle some sugar on top.

Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes at 200°C.

Allow the pie to cool before serving or serve cold.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Il Circolo degli Artisti

Senza titolo
In the city of Torino, on a lonely stretch road, right behind a big wooden door of an historical building is this unexpected courtyard. Not a crink through the door reveals it's charm from the outside. There's no sign of the restaurant we're looking for, the street address, though, seems to be exact. Via Bogino, 9.  Lost, we ask the guard standing in front of the building if he can help.  We're looking for Il Circolo degli Artisti. The guard tilts his head in sign of consent and greets us in with his hand showing us the way. We walk in and there we stand in a dreamy state of bliss admiring the majestic courtyard. Quiet, peaceful, lovely, just lovely. The guard shakes us awake and tells us to take the stairs on the left.

As I run my fingers along the stone handrail that accompanies the large steps of Palazzo Graneri della Roccia, I feel there's something that goes beyond it's obvious bellezza. There's sentiment, passion, this place has a soul, a tangible elegant and discrete soul. I reach the first floor and the feeling materializes through magnificent paintings, a gentleman reading in a quite corner, the sound of a teaspoon swirling sugar within its cup, the breeze of a slightly open window that flips the page of a newspaper, the sound of glasses that cling, the whispers of those that converse, the old wooden floors that squeak and creak as I move around curious through the 11 rooms and 2000 square meter space of this old, very old building. As it was then, it is now, since 1847 Il Circolo degli Artisti, the Artist's Club, continues its art exhibitions, concerts, events and conferences in this incredible space.
The true heart of this club is found on the mezzanine floor where the traditional "Tampa" is located. A simple trattoria where members of the club would eat and drink. Today the restaurant still exists, it's just not a simple trattoria anymore. It's become an elegant, not too fancy restaurant. Throughout the years, self-portraits of club member artists were added on the walls forming an extraordinary collection of more that 500 paintings. This is why I came here in the first place without knowing what to expect and finding myself surprised in all its aspects.  Probably the most beautiful gem found in Torino. At least that's my thought.

So now lets talk food!

The meal was very impressive.  We started with a taste of typical cheese, several types, all so good served with bread sticks wrapped in a paper towel with a print of a poem on those who love to read. The restaurant in fact is called the il Circolo dei Lettori, The Readers Club. I took the paper towel from the table and tucked it away in my purse. It's now framed and hanging on my kitchen wall. I love it. Sly move, uh?!

We ordered a few typical dishes, caramelized onion served with crisp codfish and parmatier cream with lemon and thyme.  Ravioli del plin (small ravioli with beef, rabbit and pork). Veal tenderloin with Marsala reduction and Santena asparagus and for dessert, homemade violette ice cream, Moscato wine sorbet and Carpano vermouth sorbet.  Was it good?  Yes. Would I go back? Yes. I would go back over and over again without hesitation.

The enthusiastic me keeps this feeling going on for days and with it I have an urge to repeat a meal I particularly enjoyed.  SO...here's what I made at home.

Cipolla caramellata nella sfoglia, baccala' mantecato e parmatier al limone e timo, con germogli di ravanello; Caramelized onions, whipped codfish, parmatier with lemon and thyme, topped with radish sprouts.

My adaption was the whipped codfish instead of the restaurant's crisp fried version, just because I didn't feel like frying, and the simple topping with radish sprouts, just because it's good for you :-) and because it gives that extra twist.
BQ8A3115 BQ8A2971

Caramelized Onions, Whipped Codfish, Parmatier with Lemon and Thyme, topped with Radish Sprouts 
serves 4 people
adapted from the restaurant's menu Il Circolo dei Lettori

Caramelized Onion
1 sheet of ready puff pastry - I used the store bought
2 large red onions
4 teaspoons of brown sugar
salt to season
extra virgin olive oil

Cut 4 big round disks of puff pastry using a cookie cutter and fit each in a portion of a muffin tin. Remove the outer skin of two big round onions and slice each in half, horizontal wise. Place the onions in the puff pastry rounds, in the muffin tins.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar on each onion. Cook in a preheated oven for 20/30 minutes at 180ºC.  Lower the heat if the onions begin to brown and/or cover with parchment paper.

Parmatier with Lemon and Thyme
1 potato
1 leek
lemon zest
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock

In a saucepan, add the butter and extra virgin olive oil, stir in the previously chopped leek and diced potato.  After about 5 minutes add the warm vegetable broth, season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and fresh thyme. Allow to cook until the potatoes are tender. Mesh the mixture through a sieve to to form a smooth cream.

Whipped Codfish
200 gr dry codfish previous soaked and rehydrated or fresh
1 cup milk
extra virgin olive oil

Cook the codfish in 1 cup of milk until tender about 15/30 minutes (depending if you're using fresh or dry previously soaked codfish).  Drain the milk and set the fish aside to cool.  In a blender mix the codfish, add just a pinch of salt and pepper and slowly drizzle in a cup of extra virgin olive oil while it blends.  You can also use a wooden spoon and stir in the oil until the fish fluffs. This procedure is called baccala' mantecato.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

it's so darn easy!

Falafels and Chapati
quinoa falafel and chapati bread
the cloth in the background is handmade by the artist Assunta Perilli
I like making my own bread but I only have time on weekends.  It's on weeknights though, when I desire it most. That's why I fell in love with chapati bread, it gives you what you want in no time.

The Indian flat bread goes well with anything you can possibly think of.  You name it, it works!

burrito - check
panino - check
butter and jam - check
as pizza - check
use to mop the sauce - check
with hummus - check
with scrambled eggs and bacon - check
with chocolate and ricotta - check
as bruschetta - check
brushed with oil, garlic and parsley - check
with grilled cheese - check
as a panzanella or crumbed in salads - check, check!
wear it as a hat - I dare you to check :)

I've tried them all.  The thing is that it's so darn easy to make how could you not?!

Let me get to the point. Two cups of plain flour (I used wholewheat and it works perfect), one cup of cold water, a couple of pinches of salt. That's all. Combine the ingredients in a big bowl and knead the dough until it no longer sticks to the bowl.  Let it rest for 10 minutes. That's it!  No rising, no waiting.

Divide the dough in 8 round balls. Dust the surface of your working space with some flour and with a rolling pin, roll each piece in 8 round evenly thin disks. If the dough sticks to the surface, dust more flour on the dough and on the surface.

Preheat a non-stick pan, large enough to fit the rounds.  Place the flat bread on the pan, wait 3 minutes, flip it on the other side, wait another 2 minutes and flip again. Last flip is direct on the stove's flame or continue on the pan.  On the third flip the dough will inflate like a balloon.  Done.  Move on to the next disk. Watch this video to see how, click here.

Once the chapati bread is made, everything and anything goes well with it. I'm pretty sure you're thinking of something right now.

Chickpea and quinoa falafels, with veggies and a yogurt lemon zest and mint sauce - check! This ecletic mix of flavors has become a staple at my place.
quinoa and chickpea falafel
Chickpea and Quinoa Falafels with Chapati

250 g dried chickpeas
100 g cooked quinoa
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small onion
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
1/ 1/2 tbsp flour
2 cups breadcrumbs
1 litre peanut oil for deep-frying

Soak the chickpeas over night in a big bowl with water.  The next day drain the chickpeas.  Alternate the chickpeas, garlic, parsley and coarsely chopped onion in a meat grinder.  Grind it twice.  If you don't have a meat grinder use a blender and blitz.  Place the mixture in a big bowl and add all the other ingredients.  Mix well with a wooden spoon, or use your hands.

Wet your hands with water and make small balls the size of a walnut.  Roll them in breadcrumbs and set aside. Place the falafels in the fridge for about 30 minutes before deep-frying.

Preheat a deep frying pan with the vegetable oil. When it reaches the appropriate temperature, 180ºC, fry until golden brown.

Serve with fresh chapati bread, your favorite veggies and a tahini and/or yogurt sauce.

To make the yogurt sauce: greek yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, some lemon zest, salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mint leaves.  Mix thoroughly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

from Rome to Toronto and back again

bello di mamma
You see that hotdog up there? It’s not a hotdog, it’s a salsiccia or sausage, homemade, the way we like it at home. I choose my meat and I mince it with the tip of a sharp knife. I then add some spices, they may be hot or mild. There’s always a bit of lemon rind and I never miss out on the fennel seeds. Fennel seeds. What’s this world without fennel seeds?! Maybe once in a while I'll add paprika or saffron, a hot, really hot, chili or just salt and pepper. Once, I made sausages entirely with vegetables, vegan style, giving it a kick with pistachios. Try with boiled beets and potatoes, chop them up and once they’re in the pork’s intestine (ok, not entirely vegan), you’ll confuse them with the meat version, at least the sight of it. And if you think this is just too much work, go out and buy your sausages because today it’s not about my homemade hotdog salsicce. It’s about the caviar mustard that goes with it.

My friend Antonella intrigued me with her mustard caviar when she posted it on instagram. It would have been so much better if she was on this side of the globe to share more of our passion for food. We did have a chance that time she came to Rome when we went for an aperitivo on the beautiful terrace of a Hotel overlooking the roman rooftops. The sun was settling down, the sky was tinted gold and the Vatican's cupola was right there before our eyes. Easy and laid-back, drinks and apetizers kept coming as we conversed the night away. Between a bite and a sip, our food thoughts met as we mentioned a few cookbooks, a favorite brand for knives, a good restaurant, where to buy some excellent chocolate in Rome, a particular spice and a Chef. Chef Ema.

Chef Ema works at the George Brown Culinary school in Toronto.  She's from Italy and lives and works in Toronto. I'm from Toronto and I live and work in Rome. Antonella, who lives in Toronto too, takes cooking classes at the George Brown Culinary school where Chef Ema works.  All three of us have a passion for food and everything that goes with it. This, is what brought us in connection. I've learned so much from Chef Ema only steeling with my eyes what she posts on her instagram. Sometimes I'm so inspired that I try to recreate what she does in the little corner of my kitchen. Which brings me back to the caviar mustard.

It's to die for! I had to try it immediately. Chef Ema sent me the recipe and that same day I ran out and bought the mustard seeds. Now, I always have a jar ready and I'm ready to make more when I'm about to run out of stock. I use it for so many things which I'll show you sooner or later here on the blog, but this is how I first tried it. On this homemade salsiccia, with a homemade bun, some stir fried cabbage and ok, I bought the ketchup. Nobody's perfect!

To give you an idea of its tastes. It's just like caviar.  Once you bite into it, it pops on your tongue. The heat spreads in your mouth while the flavor fills your nose. Then, it hits you all at once, the sweet, the salty, the spiciness, the sage, the honey and the bourbon. You must try!
mustard caviar
caviar mustard
Here's the recipe the way Chef Ema gave it to me.

Mustard Caviar

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup water
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 large spring of thyme
1 bay leaf
20 black peppercorns
1.5 oz or 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
1.5 oz or 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
2-3 tbsp bourbon
1.5 tsp maple syrup or honey
up to 3/4 tsp salt

Step 1
Combine vinegar, water garlic, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool and infuse.

Combine mustard seeds, and bourbon in a glass bowl. Strain vinegar water mixture over it. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight and up to 2 days.

Step 2 
Stir in maple syrup or honey and transfer mustard to a sterilized container and let stand at room temperature until it achieves desired spiciness, then refrigerate for months. Or leaving a head space of 2.5 cm (for 1 cup jars) seal and boil 15 minutes. Turn off heat. Rest in hot water 10 minutes then remove and cool.

Monday, March 7, 2016

this chicken ate better than me

A free range organic raised chicken. That’s all I ask for. Sometimes it seems impossible to find one that even looks close to a chicken, but then, one day at the farmer’s market, right behind the cashier, a sign catches my attention. “Qui si vendono polli, quelli veri!” Here we sell chickens, the real kind! As I hand over the money to pay for the crate of oranges I’ve gone there for, I ask the cashier what they meant by the real kind. She walks over to the other side of the counter and pulls out a chicken holding it from its neck. A whole chicken, head and feet included, was slapped on the counter before my eyes.  The cashier looks at me and says, do you find these at the supermarket? Of course, no! “These chickens eat better than me, they’re certified organic”, she says. Direct and straight to the point,“Signora, i polli li ammazziamo di venerdi’, se viene sabato o domenica ne trova quanti ne vuole, ma venga presto!” ...we slater our chickens on Fridays, you’ll find quite a few on Saturday or Sunday but make sure you’re here early!”  

Wrap one up for me, thanks! Soon later, the oranges and the chicken were on the back seat of my car as I chauffeured them home with me. 

For this chicken, I thought I'd dust off mom’s clay pot. The last time she used it was back in the 80s for a duck, I can’t remember if she ever used it again after that.  Any kind of oven pot will do, but a clay pot goes that extra mile you're looking for. The pot is soaked in water for at least 20 minutes, the time to absorb as much water as possible. It then goes in a cold oven and as the temperature rises the chicken cooks within the humidity that slowly builds and  releases from the pot itself. The flesh remains moist without any need of extra fat to do the job. A squeeze of a couple of oranges, a bunch of fresh herbs with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil are rubbed on every inch of the meat. After 50 minutes the lid is removed, allowing the skin to brown, and after a total one hour, this is what it looks like.

Monday, February 1, 2016

beignets della domenica

sunday pastries
my sister
Sunday is...

a calm morning rise, coffee in bed, a few pages of a book, a slow breakfast, a kiss from my husband, a double morning kiss from my son, a bonus hug, a pair of jeans, a sweater, some music, a walk somewhere, anywhere, maybe in the woods, at the beach or just at the market. Talks, laughs, a long tel conversation with a friend, a nap on the couch, a good ol' movie on TV, some home cooking and ....pastries.  Yes, pastries! It doesn't matter if we miss out on one or two of the above but never, ever, will we fail to meet our love for Sunday pastries, even if we need to make them ourselves!

And if, on a particular Sunday, my sister and her family just happen to be over for lunch, this means that my little assistant is in town and family photography adds on top of all of the above. I don't know how long I can still manage to convince that little rascal of my nephew with all the...look here, tilt your head, look up, look down, smile, say cheese, but as you can tell by the pictures it wasn't so difficult after all. A plate of cream puffs within an easy reach did the trick.

I'd say I won his heart through his stomach.  What do you say?  

sunday pastries
sunday pastries
sunday pastries
sunday pastries
my nephew in action

Cream Puffs

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter, cut in pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup shifted flour
4 eggs

In a medium size saucepan, bring water, butter, sugar, salt to a boil. Quickly stir in shifted flour with a wooden spoon until one big mass is formed and a film sticks to the saucepan.

Remove from heat and stir in 1 egg at a time. Stir vigorously to incorporate each egg before adding the next one.

Transfer the choux in a large pastry bag. Line baking tray with parchment paper and form rounds of pate choux on the tray. Keep a distance of 2 cm from one another. You can make them small or big, it depends on your preference.

Bake in a preheatd oven at 180ºC for 20 minutes the smaller ones, 30 minutes the bigger ones or until puffs rise and are golden brown.

For the filling, I used simple unsweetened whipped cream.

Dust a few with icing sugar.  Dip some in melted chocolate and then fill with whipped cream and dust with icing sugar.

Your choice.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

a sandwich, or something close to one

Think of this as a savory strudel, that's not a strudel but a bread, that's not really a bread but a pizza that becomes a sandwich, or something close to one. Excuse the play on words, I couldn't find a better way to say it.

Go get that cheese you've tucked away in the fridge. Some of those preserved artichokes laying at the bottom of a half empty jar, or the sun dried tomatoes you bought and forgot all about, a few olives, ham, prosciutto, a scrambled egg maybe? Make a quick pesto with some parsley and walnuts, when basil and pine nuts are not handy. Here, you can use just about everything or anything you have hanging around the fridge and in your pantry. This kind of pizza, if pizza I may say, is rolled like a strudel and eaten like a sandwich, it's practical, easy, you don't even need a fork and knife.

The ideal eating method, for women: put on your favorite movie, find a spot on the couch, pull up your feet, and bite into a slice or two. Ocean's Eleven is the film I recommend. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia will take up most of your visual concentration, you need something to unconsciously bite into that equally satisfies your visual appetite.

The ideal eating method, for men:  adapt :)
stuffed bread
Once the bread dough is ready (click here for the recipe) and your filling is decided, the rest is easy. Use your hands to expand and stretch the dough to a rectangular shape, large enough to contain its filling. Stack the filling along the center, then fold the two extreme ends inwards to partially cover the filling.  Now, fold the horizontal end of the dough, closest to you, over the top.  Flip the opposite end to cover once again.  Delicately stretch the dough and tuck it under the loaf. If the dough should rip, repair the hole by pinching the dough back to shape. This will seal the dough and prevent the filling to spill as it bakes.

NOTE: do not use wet ingredients, such as a fresh milky mozzarella, or fresh tomatoes.  They'll make the dough soggy.

The filling I used: smoked cacio cavallo cheese, evo preserved artichokes, prosciutto and a ready made parsley and walnut pesto.

The day after:  place a slice on a preheated non stick pan. Allow the filling to warm up so that the cheese melts once again, flip the slice on the other side and give it enough time to warm through.

Bake the loaf in a preheated oven at 220 ºC, after 20 minutes reduce the heat to 200 ºC for a further 30/40 minutes until bread is golden, crisp and brown.
stuffed bread

Thursday, January 14, 2016

when it comes to chocolate I go bananas

Banana Chocolate Bread
If I choose to eat chocolate, it's got to be dark. For me, the darker the better, the bitter, the better. You'll most likely find me eating a square, a cube or a chunk with a piece of bread, preferably a toasted slice.  Not the spreadable kind but the kind that makes that muffled sound in your mouth as soon as you bite into it, something like, stunc...you know what I mean. It needs to melt in my mouth and not in my hands, and if I find a boozy cherry inside, I won't mind at all, but if there's a couple of drops of coffee instead, I'll enjoy it even more.  Not to mention if I get my hands on those with a thin layer of mint.

..but when that dark chocolate, finds its way in a tin to become soon later what is more than just a cake, then my friends, my dear, dear, friends, we are on a totally different planet, the one closest to heaven!
Banana Chocolate Bread
Chocolate Banana Bread (Cake)

2 whole eggs
150 g raw sugar
150 g flour
16 g baking powder
50 ml milk
100 ml extra virgin olive oil, the mild kind
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pinch salt
30 g good quality dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 banana, mashed
1 banana, whole

In a big bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy, add the extra virgin olive oil and whisk until absorbed in the liquid. Add in the milk and 1 mashed banana, whisk again. Now stir in the dry ingredients, sieved flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon, salt and cocoa powder.

Pour the batter in a tin lined with baking paper. Slice a banana in lengthwise in 4 and place on top. Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC 40 minutes, check with a skewer if it comes out clean and bake a few more minutes if necessary.