madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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chocolate hazelnut bacio gelato

my favorite ice crea:  gelato al bacio

my favorite ice crea: gelato al bacio

It’s 1901 and Luisa Spagnoli – the daughter of a fishmonger – opens  with her husband  a small confectionery business in the center of Perugia. She will become one of the most eminent business persons in Italy, founder of the Perugina chocolate factory. The women’s fashion clothing brand which has her name still, after almost 90 years, represents a standard of Italian elegance in the world.

In the 1920’s, with the purpose of reducing production costs, Luisa blended some leftover chopped hazelnuts with chocolate and the famous Bacio Perugina was born. Initially, due to its knobbed shape, she rather clumsily named her delicious creation “cazzotto” meaning “punch” – as in punch in the face. Because of the instant success of the confection however, the name was changed to Bacio meaning “kiss”. Each candy was enveloped in a love note and then in silver foil like we know it today.

It’s only too obvious that an ice cream inspired by the delectable – and let me say it – romantic combination of hazelnut and chocolate has become a classic in virtually every gelateria (ice cream shop) in the country.

Gelato al bacio – kiss flavored ice cream – there cannot possibly be a better name for a gelato.

  • 60 gr (2 oz) plain peeled hazelnuts, finely chopped
  • 100 gr (3 oz) dark 70 % chocolate
  • 2 heaped tablespoon dark cocoa powder
  • 120 gr (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream plus additional for decoration (optional)
  • 200 ml (4/5 cup) full fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small skillet over low heat, dry toast the hazelnuts with 1 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt. Keep stirring to coat the hazelnuts with the melted sugar. Continue for a few more minutes until nuts caramelize to a golden brown color, about 5 minutes. Spread them out on a non-stick surface to cool. When cooled, pulverize in a food processor or chop again to obtain a praline.

Meanwhile, heat the milk with the chocolate and sugar. Add the cocoa powder and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat, stir in cream and and vanilla and refrigerate for at least one hour. This will shorten the churning time.

Process the gelato mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is set, sprinkle in the praline and process until it hardens further. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Serve with whipped cream and absolutely no sauce.

Serves 6


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limoncello profiteroles

 

delicate limoncello profiteroles, a lovely summer dessert

delicate limoncello profiteroles, a lovely summer dessert

If you are under the opinion it might be difficult to make profiteroles, then just think you will be making very soft cookies.

Cookies are not intimidating aren’t they? Even the most inexperienced baker can make cookies. So. You can make profiteroles.

They are a breeze to whip up and you don’t necessarily need equipment such as a pastry bag or syringe. I usually shape my choux with the help of two teaspoons and when they are ready I split them open with a small serrated knife which I then use to fill them. It’s less messy and as beautiful.

I have developed this recipe as a way to use leftovers. After a few days of cooking classes, dinners with friends and my daughter’s birthday I found my fridge overflowing with all sorts of goodies. I had a bowl of chantilly, a jar of lemon curd and enough eggs for an army. I also was dying to try to make choux pastry with my gluten free cake mix. To my delight I found out that it works just as well as wheat flour.

Recipe

For the profiteroles:

  • 75g (2½oz) gluten-free cake mix or 00 wheat flour or pastry flour
  • 50 g (3.5 tabsp) butter
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 2 medium eggs
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • a pinch of salt

For the filling:

For the sauce:

  • 4 tablespoon lemon curd, bought or homemade, see recipe below
  • 2 teaspoon limoncello

Before you start, preheat the oven to 180°C/360°F/ and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Lemon curd:

Put 2 whole eggs, zest and juice of 2 lemons, 170 gr (3/4 cup) sugar and 30 gr ( 2 tabspoon)  butter, cut into cubes, into a pan over low heat. Bring slowly to low boil. Remove from heat and strain immediately into a jam jar. Let it cool and close. Keep refrigerated.

Choux pastry:

Place the butter and water in a pan and melt over a gentle heat, then bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the flour, salt and sugar. Beat well, until the mixture forms a ball in the pan.

Allow to cool slightly, then gradually add one egg at the time, beating well after each addition. I actually transfer the ball of dough in the food processor, start the blades on high then add the eggs one at the time.

The dough needs to be a stiff dropping consistency. GF flour tends to absorb more liquid than wheat flour. As a consequence, it may be necessary to adjust the amount of eggs depending on the type of flour used. If using wheat flour, you might not need the whole second egg so whisk it and add it by the tablespoon.

Place small spoonfuls of the mixture  onto the baking sheet, about the size of a small walnut. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

When the profiteroles are well risen and golden brown remove from the oven. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Assemble dessert:

Using a serrated knife, make a slit in the side of each profiterole, then fill with cream or custard. If you prefer, pierce a small hole in the bottom of the pastry and fill them using a pastry syringe.

To make the sauce, stir the limoncello into the lemon curd to obtain a smooth syrup.

Fill the profiteroles with whipped cream and arrange on a serving plate.  Any filling should not be added until the last possible moment because it will make the choux pastry soft. Just before serving, pour over the limoncello sauce.

Makes approx. 30 profiteroles. Serves 5-6

limoncello profiteroles1

gluten-free profiteroles, just as perfect as the “normal” ones

 

 

 

 

 


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vitello tonnato: veal in tuna sauce

Italian veal with tuna sauce

This recipe is the gastronomic demonstration of the Aristotelian pronouncement that “there is no great genius without a mixture of madness”.

Tuna on veal is pure genius. As crazy as it must sound to some of you, a fish based sauce on beef is a marriage made in heaven, it totally works.

In fact, it’s been working for a long time as this famous Piedmontese appetizer has been first published by no less than Pellegrino Artusi in 1891.

And if you think about it, the combination of fish and meat is not even too odd. Consider the widespread use of fish sauce and oyster sauce in South-East Asian cuisine. Consider the importance of garum in the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium and of Worcestershire sauce in modern Western cuisine. Did you ever realize it’s a fish sauce?

And how about paella, gumbo and fish wrapped in bacon? OK, bacon is no beef but they all are fantastic examples of fish and meat combinations.

For me vitello tonnato is a memory of summer which is the only time it makes sense to have cold roast. I don’t think my mum ever discovered the recipe was from Piemonte. I am also pretty sure she didn’t know that there are many versions of it, hot, cold, boiled, roasted, with fresh eggs, hard-boiled eggs or no eggs in the  tuna sauce.

My mum thought mayonnaise was an evil fattening food. As a consequence we adored the version with mayo because we were deprived and this was a treat. I still love it like this, with the meat roasted rather than boiled and slathered with rich, eggy softness.

Evil in disguise.

Recipe

  • 900 gr (2 lb) veal loin trimmed and tied in a cylindrical shape with kitchen string
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 160 gr (6 oz) Italian tuna packed in olive oil
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tabsp lemon juice
  • 1 tabsp capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoon chopped flat leaved parsley

 

Bring the beef at room temperature. Preheat oven at 150 °C/300 °F.

Heat a ovenproof  casserole pan over medium-high heat and when hot add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the meat and brown it evenly, turning every few minutes. This step will take about 5-10  minutes, depending on the size of the roast. Keep the pan covered  to avoid hot oil splatter.

Add onion, rosemary and wine, cover again and transfer into the oven. Bake for 30 min. turning every 10 minutes and adding more wine if necessary.

Remove roast from the oven and let it rest, still covered and in its cooking liquid, until completely cold.

For the sauce, filter the cooking liquid into a food processor and blend it with the tuna, anchovy, lemon juice, capers, mayonnaise until very smooth.

Cut the roast thinly and transfer it on a serving plate, coating every slice with the tuna sauce.

The veal benefits greatly from a resting time of at least half a day but it’s way better the next day.

At this stage, distribute the rest of the sauce over the slices, cover the plate until needed and refrigerate. When ready to serve sprinkle with fresh chopped flat leaf parsley.

Enjoy as an appetizer or a light summer main accompanied by crusty bread and a crispy green salad.

Serves 4-5

PS. for a traditional recipe see Frank’s perfect instructions here.


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roasted rosemary mushroom parcels

 

I made these parcels with a sheet of transparent oven paper

oyster mushrooms wrapped in parcels made with a sheet of transparent oven paper

After having been involved with teaching and thinking about food for over than 10 years,  I am completely convinced  that the art of Italian cooking is to extract flavor from food rather than adding flavor through elaboration. This is the ultimate discovery of modern Italian cuisine. Not the foams, not the rare ingredients, not the fancy presentations. That’s culinary school stuff and to me it rarely has something to do with real food.

With time I have realized that to take something very simple like a vegetable, or a piece of meat or fish or a package of flour and bring out its original flavor is difficult. It can only be done with excellent ingredients and to obtain that you need to constantly research and evaluate the quality of what you are using. Obtaining good ingredients for everything you cook is a form of inner discipline and not always obvious or easy.

But why is it so worth it? We humans love food not only as a form of sustenance but also because of its chemical complexity which stimulates the brain and induces pleasure. The more you have something fresh, grown in a natural way and not treated with chemicals or long refrigeration the more fragrant and complex the original taste of the food will be. As a consequence you hardly need to do anything to it except a minimal manipulation to bring out and enjoy its native flavor.

This recipe is an example of what I mentioned above. It will be heavenly if you have wild mushrooms. And even with the cultivated ones, it will only work with fresh mushrooms and herbs and really good olive oil.  There is not much else in it after all.

Recipe

  • 350 gr (12 oz) fresh whole mushrooms, cleaned.
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 small garlic cloves, peeled
  • 4 slices pancetta or guanciale (optional)

Preheat oven at 180°C (360°F).

For this recipe you need to have fairly large pieces to retain the meaty texture of the mushroom. Thin slices will basically boil in their own moisture and as a result will be gummy or stringy.  Whole oyster mushrooms and small chanterelle will need no slicing. If you use large portobello or porcini it’s better to slice them in half or quarter by the length.

Cut four 20×20 cm (8×8 inch)  pieces of parchment paper or prepare 4 small oven bags. Arrange 1/4 of the mushrooms on the paper together with a sprig of rosemary and one garlic clove. Add a slice of pancetta if using. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper, drizzle  with one teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, then  seal the paper parcel or oven bag and transfer in an oven tin.

Bake for 20 min and serve warm directly in the parcels. You can also serve them at room temperature in which case remove the parcels and transfer into a dish. Drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil just before serving.

Serves 4.

PS. I am not at all opposed to cooking the parcels on the BBQ. In this case I’d use foil, not plastic or paper.

baked oyster mushrooms

beautifully baked and fragrant, if you can ever call a mushroom “beautiful”

 

From Wikipedia:

“En papillote (French for “in parchment”), or al cartoccio in Italian, is a method of cooking  in which the food is put into a folded pouch or parcel and then baked. The parcel is typically made from folded parchement paper but other material, such as a paper bag or aluminum foil may be used. The parcel holds in moisture to steam the food. The pocket is created by overlapping circles of aluminum foil and parchment paper and then folding them tightly around the food to create a seal. A papillote should be opened at the table to allow people to smell the aroma when it opens.”


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how I got to be on TV

If you see where I live, atop a magical mountain in a rural area of Italy, you will find it quite surprising that anyone finds me at all.  And it’s probabaly even more surprising that myself and my family can make a living with our B&B and cooking classes. Mysteries of the internet, most likely.

Indeed, after having scrutinized my website statistics for years, I still have no idea how people ever gets to know about us.

Take last August, for example. I was in the car in front of a hardware shop waiting for my husband. He spends 50% of his time in the hardware shop. It was hot and I wanted to go home.

Then my cellphone rang. At the other side of the line someone with a velvety voice said “I am a TV film director”. And “we want to come next week to film one of your cooking classes for a BBC program”. Suddenly I did not feel that hot, but my head was spinning. No, I don’t often get phone calls from TV people.

A few days later I was walking in Santa Maria degli Angeli with a couple of newly wed Scottish people, Ruth and Stuart. Under the bright August sun, I was trying to tell them that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Umbria, and that I can have lots of great food here.

Right, easy peasy, this is my stuff, isn’t it?

In front of me a young crew of BBC TV people – headed by handsome John Bonny – was trying to convince me to stop hitting the microphone and to walk slowly without looking in the camera which was almost attached to my nose. Easily said than done: nr. 1 I am Italian and I talk with my hands, nr. 2 all the village people was looking at me walking with a TV crew. Try to concentrate on the camera when your butcher is watching.

escape to the continent Umbria01

Hot and clumsy and weird, my TV day went on. Do you know they put a furry microphone virtually in your bra? It did take me a while to get acquainted with the microphones.

We had to go into my friend’s Barbara shop to buy prosciutto and pecorino. That took about one hour because we never said the right thing about the pecorino and we had to repeat. Beautiful John had not given us a script.

escape to the continent1

Then we proceeded to my house to cook. We made stringozzi with a Norcina sauce. The original recipe only uses one egg, but we went through a whole box because we were not capable to break it in the right way. I was terrified we would run out of eggs. Until this very day I am not sure what’s the best way to break an egg for the camera.

escape to the continent Umbria07

Ruth and Stuart had moved house the day before, then they had jumped on a plane at 4:00 a.m. to come to Italy. We had been filming in the sun for several hours. No wonder we were starting to falter. Notwithstanding our clumsiness, John, his delightful assistant Bella and the rest of the crew stayed kind and smiling until the end. Only then I realized how difficult it must be to work with people who has no idea how to behave in front of a camera.escape to the continent Umbria11

Finally, we did manage. The pasta was cooked, stirred in the sauce, blanketed with truffle shavings. escape to the continent Umbria14

The best part – and it’s a pity it’s not on screen – was to see everybody’s eyes becoming soft because of the heavenly smell. It was way past dinner time. You could almost hear them salivating. Everybody relaxed. We shared a few forkfuls of pasta, they packed the cameras and left, leaving us with 5 failed pasta doughs and a few more stringozzi to cook.

escape to the continent Umbria17

Ruth and Stuart with my helper Maria who took care of the failed pasta doughs

And guess what? I asked John how he found out about me, and he said “on the internet”.

Of course. I shouldn’t have asked.

If one sits at the top of a mountain, someone, sometimes, will pass by.

 

PS. the program is named Escape to the Continent (Umbria), if you can’t access the link here, you might be able to  see it on BBC i-player or just google “Escape to the continent Umbria”. You can see me from approx min. 24

 

 

 

 

 


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gluten free bruschetta bread

 GF bruschetta bread!

a beautiful gluten-free loaf of bread!

 

This has been very difficult. And slow. And sometime a little discouraging. It often happens with gluten free cooking, you probably already know it.

I have started to experiment with gluten-free flours about 3 years ago and to try to make GF bread about one year ago. Last September, I got the first bread that looked like something I would actually want to eat. It has taken me another 7 months to perfect it.

Of course I don’t bake bread everyday. In addition, I am a small eater so each loaf lasts me several days as I am the only GF person in the house. But still, I must have made at least 20 different recipes to get to this point.

You will probably say: “what’s the big deal? the internet is full of GF bread recipes, why don’t you make one of those? “. I know, I have obsessively read hundreds of gluten-free bread recipes. However, I was looking for a specific result, let me explain please, it’s going to be a bit long.

bruschetta, the real one, no-frills

a slice of rustic bread made with wheat flour

1) I wanted  bruschetta bread, meaning an Umbrian style white loaf with a neutral taste, a crunchy crust and a relatively light and dry crumble. This type of bread is ideal not only to make bruschetta or crostini, but is a perfect accompaniment to and Umbrian style appetizer of cured meats (like prosciutto or salami) and pecorino or rubbed with garlic and doused with olive oil on top of a soup.

2) I wanted to make bread that works with different gluten-free flour mixes. Often recipes of GF mixes call for ingredients I can’t buy locally. Besides, if my mix has ingredients not available to you – who are probably living on the other side of the planet –  you will not be able to reproduce it.

3) I wanted to make bread without eggs, nut flours and soy as they are allergenic. I use butter in this recipe but you can easily substitute it with vegetable shortening if you are intolerant or vegan. I wanted bread that could be modified according to people’s allergies. No corn? Use millet.

4) last but not least, I have been absolutely appalled by the incredible high amounts of yeast used in many recipes. GF dough needs a little more yeast than a wheat based dough, but anyone who knows anything about bread making will tell you that over-yeasting is never a good idea. The bread is less digestible and definitely less palatable than the one made with small amounts of yeast and allowed to raise slowly at relatively low temperature.

Based on the above requirements, here is what I found out so far:

a) IT’S ALL IN THE METHOD. All commercial GF flour mixes are based on variable amounts of cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca and potato starch. A mix is generally added with one or more thickening agents like xanthan, pectin, guar, psyllium or cellulose. After so many experiments, I think that with a bit of patience and method any gluten-free flour mix based on starches and seed flours can be used to make a reasonable bread. I think small amounts of bean flours might also work but I haven’t tested it.

I have made this bread with 4 different commercial gluten-free flour mixes. GF bread flour in Italy is added with guar and cellulose not with xanthan. Some mixes have milk some don’t but I don’t think this has an influence on the final result. I find that every mix has a different aftertaste so you might need to try a few to see which one you like better.

I also find that every flour absorbs a different amount of water so you might need to adjust the final amount. If your dough is too dry the bread will not raise. If it’s too wet you will not be able to give it a shape.

b) A pre-ferment also named poolish or Italian sponge is essential for a light bread.

c) Adding steam to the oven while baking bread is the key to a high loaf with a crunchy crust. Cooking it in a pan will invariably produce a less crispy crust than a shaped loaf.

d) butter in the dough helps achieving the desired texture, olive oil not so much.

Recipe

With gluten-free bread you need to weight your ingredients. Please also weight the water or convert accurately

  • 1/2 kg (18 oz) of your favorite gluten-free flour mix for bread
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) tapioca or cornstarch
  • 50 gr (2 oz) very fine corn meal or polenta flour*
  • 2 tablespoon psyllium husks
  • 4 gr (1 teaspoon) dry yeast
  • 25 gr (1 oz) butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt

*the corn meal is used to flavor the mix. I use a type of Italian cornmeal called “fumetto” wich is as fine as wheat flour. You can substitute it with any flour you like, e.g. buckwheat, chestnut, quinoa, sorghum, teff or simply more rice flour provided that it is very finely ground to avoid grittiness.

Make the pre-ferment (poolish):

In a tupperware, mix the tapioca and corn meal with 150 ml water and 1 gr (1/4 teaspoon) yeast to make a thick batter. Add 1-2 tablespoon extra water if the mixture looks dry and clumpy. Cover, wrap in a tea towel and store overnight in a draft free place. I keep it in the microwave if I am not planning to use it. The poolish is ready when the surface is covered with small bubbles.

mix the poolish ingredients in a plastic box

mix the poolish ingredients in a plastic box

GF_bruschetta_bread02

to obtain a thick batter

when the poolish is ready it's covered by small air bubbles

when the poolish is ready it’s covered by small air bubbles

Make the dough:

The next day, using a stand mixer or food processor, mix the flour first with the psyllium and the softened butter then add all the poolish plus 3 gr (3/4 teaspoon ) of the dry yeast and salt. With the machine running at medium speed, start adding the water. GF flours absord incredible amounts of water. You will need 280-300 ml to obtain a really sticky dough. If the dough forms a ball, add more water as it will too dry to raise, particularly if it’s winter.

a very sticky thick batter

a very sticky thick batter

Using a spatula transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap then with a tea towel and put it in a draft free place to raise.

the dough before rasing

the dough before rasing

and after

and after

Form the bread:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and flour it well. Using a spatula, place the dough on the paper, cut it  into 2 or 3 loaves and roll it very carefully in the flour to give them shape. Don’t knead the dough as it might deflate.

GF_bruschetta_bread11

Place the dough on floured parchment paper.

GF_bruschetta_bread12

cut the dough into 2-3 loaves and roll carefully away from each other

Bake the bread:

Preheat oven to 180 °C (360° F) and place a pizza stone in it. You want to start cooking the bread on a hot surface. If you don’t have a pizza stone use an empty metal cookie sheet or large metal pizza pan which is what I do.

GF_bruschetta_bread14

cover the dough with a towel supported by the handle of a pan so it does not touch the loaves

Cover with a tea towel as explained in the picture and let it rise again 45 minutes to one hour.

the loaves raising on top of the warm stove

with the oven on, I place the loaves raising on the stove so they keep nice and warm

If your dough is to wet, the loaves might spread out. If this happens, fold them in half along the length just before baking and roll them carefully in flour. Brush the surface with a mixture made with one teaspoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon milk or butter. A this point you can decorate it with sesame or other seeds if you like.

Slide the parchment paper with the loaves over the pizza stone or the hot pan that you have previously placed inside to heat up. Add a pan of hot water to steam the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes then remove the pan of water. Continue baking for additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until light golden all around.

Remove to a rack to cool. Don’t cover it until is completely cool otherwise the crust will become soft. Allow to cool completely before slicing or opening.

The bread keeps well for several days without crumbling or falling apart. I slice one loaf and freeze it and then revive it in the toaster when I need it.

In the video below by my favorite Italian GF bloggers you can see how thick is the dough how to form it on parchment paper and cook it on a hot surface. Note that they don’t use a poolish in this recipe nor steam the oven. Nevertheless the results are wonderful.

post submitted to Yeast Spotting

 

 

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