madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


Grazia’s chantilly cream

Italian style Chantilly aka crema diplomatica

I must be the only woman on the Western hemisphere who is not on a diet after the holidays. It can’t be healthy to be on a diet in the dead of the winter. Besides – with all my food intolerances – I live in such a modesty I can afford some culinary cuddling. Don’t you also need a bit of consolation?

This recipe is from my friend and wonderful cook Grazia of Ristorante Nanà in Perugia. I will be forever grateful to her for wisely revealing that custard can be made with whole eggs. It’s disarmingly easy and not wasteful. In addition, it magically produces  a large amount of a delightful dessert with a small amount of fairly ordinary ingredients.


for the custard:

  • 250 ml ( 1 cup) milk
  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 scant tablespoon maizena (corn starch)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon lemon jam or the zest of 1/2 organic lemon

to finish:

  • 250 ml ( 1 cup) whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoon organic brown sugar or  6 tablespoon caramel
  • light cookies or – much better – crumbled puff pastry

Please note that true Chantilly cream is sweetened whipped cream. In Italy however, this concoction of egg custard and whipped cream is called Chantilly and sometimes crema diplomatica.

Make the custard using my microwave method and let it cool completely. Please note that this recipe is slightly different from my classic custard as it has more sugar  and a whole egg. Whip the cream until firm and add to the custard. Refrigerate until needed.

Just before serving distribute the cream into pretty serving bowls, crumble the puff pastry over it and sprinkle with brown sugar or drizzle with caramel.

Beware, you will be asked for more.

Serves  6


orange scented custard with flambé berries

please throw away that custard powder and make this instead

There is always a point in the winter when I can’t eat one more apple. When I go to the market I longingly look at those petrified mangoes dreaming of their sexy flavor. Just for once, I tell them, could you please have some  flavor?

I hopefully examine those half-white strawberries. No hope. I don’t even look at the plastic plums. It’s February for heaven’s sake. Plums will be in season in September here. Where are you coming from little Frankesteins? I am a low-carbon-print girl, I am a seasonal girl, I really cannot bring myself to do it. Buy the out of season monsters. No, I don’t.

The Mind is strong however, but the Body is weak. The Body screams: PEACH! CHERRY! LOQUAT! FIGS!

So I go to the fridges, I get myself a bag of frozen berries, they are good for you, aren’t they, with all the antioxidants. I go home and I make myself some custard, it’s even wheat-free, dessert can hardly get any healthier. I make it in the microwave in two minutes. Then I can have some fruit. Sort of.



  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tabsp corn starch
  • 1 tabsp sugar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) milk
  • zest of 1/2 organic un-waxed orange or 1 tabsp orange marmalade

Using a tall glass container heat the milk and the orange zest until hot to the touch, about 2 min. Alternatively blend the orange marmalade in a few tablespoon of milk until smooth, add the rest of the milk and then heat it up.

Using electric whisks, in a different tall container, whisk egg yolk, sugar and starch until smooth. Remove the orange zest from the milk. While whisking the yolk, add the hot milk, first one tablespoon at the time until smooth and then all the rest. Transfer the mixture into the microwave and heat for one minute.  Quickly stir, then microwave for one more minute or until the mixture is almost at boiling point. Whisk again. At this point the custard should be thick and smooth. Set aside to cool and refrigerate if using later in the day.

Flambe berries:

  • 2 cups whole frozen red berries.
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons orange liqueur or limoncello
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • juice of half a lemon or orange

You need a heavy bottomed non-reactive pan which you need to make very hot before adding anything to it. Stainless steel  or copper is good.

As soon as the pan is very warm add the butter.  When it starts sizzling, add berries, lemon juice and sugar. The frozen berries will defrost instantly without loosing their shape. You want to glaze them with sugar, you don’t want to make jam! Add liqueur from a small glass. The mixture will flambé. If it doesn’t, your pan was not hot enough, but it’s not a problem. Just reduce the liqueur until syrupy, one more minute. Turn off the fire as soon as the flames subside and serve on the cold custard.

Serves 2-3


quick Béchamel sauce

homemade bechamel

homemade bechamel

According to food historians sauce was used in 200 A.D. by the Romans to disguise the taste of food and possibly to conceal lack of freshness. In contrast with what  has been done in the last couple of thousand years, modern Italian cuisine  makes scant use of sauces. A sauce is now intended as a subtle background to a combination of the freshest possible ingredients. A few tablespoon of our good old Béchamel or white sauce works wonders if used to soften and combine flavors in baked dishes. I make it in the microwave, so it’s ready in a breeze.


  • 1 tabsp butter
  • 1 tabsp flour*
  • 250 ml (1 cup) milk
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

* for a gluten-free alternative use 1 scant tablespoon cornstarch or my GF cake flour mix

Using a tall glass container, heat the milk until hot to the touch, about 2 min. In a different tall container melt butter 30-60 sec.  To make a roux, add flour to the butter and  mix thoroughly using electric whisks until smooth. While whisking, add the hot milk, first one tablespoon at the time until smooth and then all the rest. Transfer the milk and roux  mixture in the microwave and heat for one minute.  Quickly stir, then microwave for one more minute or until the mixture is almost at boiling point. Whisk again. At this point the sauce should be thick and smooth. Season and add a pinch of grated nutmeg if desired. If too thick, add some more hot milk and whisk carefully to incorporate.


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