madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


salted almond praline gelato

my homemade gelato


I must confess I generally am not a fashionable cook. On the contrary, I am a firm believer in tradition and repetition. The simpler a recipe, the better. And, if it’s been invented already and everybody knows it, then I am probably not going to be able to improve it.

I have been ignoring fusion food of any provenance for years. Soy sauce on foie gras? No thanks. Lobster ice cream? Rose flavored salt? mpf……..

Then I met salt and sugar. Years ago, before everybody –   including Obama – started to be crazy about salted caramel.

We were on a Thai island, guests of an adorable local family, preparing a dessert of sticky rice boiled in coconut milk and palm sugar. The whole experience was fantastic. However, what it’s been impressed in my memory was how a sprinkle of salt changed and improved the taste of the coconut and sugar combination.

No news, you will say. We have been adding salt to cakes forever.

Indeed, it’s a tradition. I had forgotten and I had to get all the way to the other side of the world to remember.

It’s a good excuse to go back, I think I need more inspiration :)


  • 100 gr/ 3 oz plain peeled almonds, finely chopped
  • 60 gr (1/4 cup) plus 2 tablespoon regular sugar
  • 60 gr (1/3 cup) organic brown sugar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream
  • 200 ml (4/5 cup) full fat milk

In a small skillet over low heat, toast the almonds with  2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt.  Keep stirring to coat the almonds with the melted sugar. Continue for a few more minutes until nuts caramelize to a dark brown color, about 5 minutes. Spread them out on a non-stick surface to cool. When cooled, pulverize in a food processor or chop finely to obtain a praline.

Heat the milk with both brown and regular sugar. Stir to dissolve, add the cream and refrigerate for at least one hour. This will shorten the churning time.

Process the creamy 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.

Please note that  I like my gelato to be egg-free and a relatively modest in sugar. As a consequence  it melts quickly. That is, if you can wait long enough before polishing the bowl.

Serves 4-6

unfogettable fun in Thailand


grilled lemon-and-garlic marinated eggplants

melt in the mouth, grilled eggplants marinated in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil

I think nobody who doesn’t know me already is ever going to find this recipe. There’s 1 million and 970 thousand hits for “grilled eggplants” on Google. With more than 2 million people out there who can grill eggplants this is probably going to be slightly redundant.

The thing is, I did not grow up with grilled eggplants. I have only learned how to make them in relatively recent times.

My mum – as every good Sicilian – only used fried eggplants. She put those juicy slabs on pasta and parmigiana , smothered in thick  tomato sauce and sprinkles of fragrant basil. Heavenly, but with the inconvenient characteristic of migrating directly to the hips to accentuate unwanted rotundity.

On the other hand, the world is full of badly grilled eggplants. Have you ever returned from the BBQ/grill with those stripey bitter shoe-soles trying to decide if they were suitable for human consumption?

Did you swear you’ll never make them again?

Try this. It’s foolproof, smoke-free :) and tastes lovely and light.


  • 1 eggplant / aubergine
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

First of all, please make sure to use plump, fresh eggplants in season. Winter ghosts will not do.

As for cooking, best results are obviously obtained with a charcoal/wood BBQ, but a stove-top cast iron grill is a valid alternative and much faster.

While your cooking implement is heating up, peel and cut eggplants crosswise into 3-4 mm (1/10 inch) thick slices. Transfer in a plate making no more than two layers. Place the olive oil, garlic and lemon juice in shallow bowl to make a marinade. Add some chopped basil or parsley if you like.

Here comes the first surprise. Pop them in the microwave for 1-2 min until they just start getting moist and tender.

And the second surprise. Grill the slices without oiling them, you’ll have no smoke.

As soon as the slices are cooked through and slightly charred transfer them in the marinade and covered so they will infuse.

If you have time, prepare them a couple of hours in advance and serve at room temperature . You can also serve them sooner but let them cool off a little. Season with salt just before serving.

Serves 2-3 as a side dish.


panna cotta

pannacotta, everybody likes it.

pannacotta, everybody loves it.

PANNA COTTA is a delicate dessert of mysterious history and Piemontese tradition. The name means cooked cream. For me it is a life saver as everybody likes it, it’s incredibly simple to make and looks beautiful. In addition one can make endless variations by changing the topping or adding flavors to the milk and cream mixture. Caramel or melted chocolate  make  a wonderful instant topping.


  • 4 leaves/8 gr unflavored gelatin (see here how to use it)
  • 300 ml full fat milk (1 and 1/3 cup)
  • 300 ml whipping cream ( 1 and 1/3 cup)
  • 140 gr sugar (2/3 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Serves 6

For the panna cotta:

Put the gelatin in cold water. Let it soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Whisk cream, sugar,  milk and vanilla in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring a few times until the sugar dissolves and the cream starts to simmer. Remove the gelatin from the water and add it to the milk and cream  mixture, stirring to dissolve. Divide the mixture among 6 dessert bowls. Cool desserts uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate until set (approx. 3 hours).

For a cold fruit topping:

  • 2 cup strawberries or two peaches or mixed berries, cleaned and thinly sliced or cubed (do not cut up berries if they are small)
  • 1/2 cup white vermouth, sweet wine or Amaretto
  • juice of half lemon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Toss fruit, vermouth , sugar, and lemon juice in large bowl to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 h. For children, use only lemon juice and sugar. Spoon over the panna cotta and serve.

For a warm fruit topping:

  • 2 cups whole fresh or frozen berries or cherries.
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Cointreau or other aromatic liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon butter

Place a non-reactive pan on high heat and when quite warm add the butter. As soon as it starts sizzling, add berries and sugar. Frozen berries should defreeze quickly without loosing their shape. Add liqueur from a small glass. The mixture will flambé. Turn off the fire as soon as the flames subside and serve.

N.B. Do not reduce the amount of cream or dessert might not set . Four sheets of gelatin are equivalent to one American or Canadian package. One envelope should solidify firmly 2 cups of liquid and softly 3 cups. For pannacotta you need a soft set.


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