madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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brown sugar steamed custard

lovely light and easy to make custard cook it as you like, stovetop or baked

lovely light brown-sugar custard, cook it as you like, stove-top or baked

Cooking for me is all about sharing. I have never been alone as long as I have been able to share a meal. That’s in fact how I made most friends in my life, around the stove-top and around the table.

And so it is that after publishing more than 100 recipes I have taken the courage to share two ways.

It’s time to ask what you, my readers, like. Of course I can read the blog stats, but I am not interested in soulless numbers, I am interested in people. Would you please help me? I need suggestions.

You know when you are making a search on a website and you click on the “find more like this” button? Please “click” on “write more recipes like this“.

Here is how to do it:

Please go to my recipe list, open your favorite or browse and find one that you intend to prepare. Please post in the comments which one you like and how you would like another similar one.

For example would you like more pasta sauces with vegetables? More simple puddings? More techniques? Why is one of my recipes a favorite of yours?

Please help, I will treasure your suggestions and try to work on recipes that I know you can use and enjoy for special occasion and – even better – for your everyday life.

Today’s recipe is for my friend Sandra who presently lives in a place that does not have an oven. As a consequence she can’t bake cakes. This is compensated by living at walking distance to the Colosseum, poor girl.

This is a delicious pudding that can be cooked on the stove-top in 20 minutes. It’s not only suitable to those who pursue their dreams in small city apartments but to various other occasions.

For example you can prepare it when your oven is full with other dishes or when it’s so hot that you don’t want to heat up the kitchen any further. Or you wish to save energy because you’re cooking for two.

However the recipe can be as easily baked in  the oven in which case you can double it or triple it for a crowd.

Recipe

Pudding

  • 300 ml heavy cream
  • 100 gr dark brown sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sauce

  • 2 organic oranges
  • 3 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brandy

If baking, pre-heat the oven to 150°C / 300°F. If cooking on the stove-top prepare a shallow saucepan that can hold the pudding in its containers, e.g. individual ramekins.

individual custards cooked au bain marie

how to arrange the individual custards in a pan

In a small pan, warm the cream, brown sugar and salt over a medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. I actually microwave the cream/sugar mixture until warm enough to desolve the sugar.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture. Get read of the foam which has formed by straining it into a jug. This improves the custard’s structure.
Pour into 4 x 120ml (1/2 cup) ramekins or heavy custard cups. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil.
Transfer in a shallow pan lined with a kitchen towel as in the picture above. Fill the pan with boiling water until it comes to about a half way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for 20-25 min. The custards will just set but still wobble slightly in the middle (they will set further on cooling). Remove from the pan.
If baking, transfer the ramekins into a deep roasting tin. Fill the tin with boiling water until it comes to about a half  way up the sides of the ramekins. Put it in the oven for 20 min. Remove and let it cool.
Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
Sauce
You can make the sauce in advance as well as at the last minute but make sure to add it to the custards just before serving. If you add it too early its acidity will melt the surface of pudding in a quite unsightly way (I have done it :) ).
Halve the oranges and slice thin, less than 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Arrange in one or two layers in a shallow pan, sprinkle with brown sugar and with a few tablespoon to cover. Cover and simmer on very low heat until the slices are soft. Add brandy. Serve at room temperature or heat up slightly before serving.
you can also make una single pudding and serve it with the soft orange slices on top

you can also make una single pudding and serve it with the soft orange slices on top

In the first picture I have chopped the orange slices before piling it on the custards. Then I have topped them with one piece of my homemade candied peel and curls of dark chocolate.

Serves 4


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olive oil and wine ciambelline cookies

light, crispy and fragrant of fennel and anise ciambelline

light, crispy ciambelline, fragrant of fennel and anise

What an exciting and busy time this is! Summer is finished and fall has descended on us with all its gorgeous beauty. Olive harvest is well underway. This year we are gifted by the much needed help of friends who have come all the way from Singapore for the event, how delightful!

It’s a lot of work but we are having a fabulous time. Beside picking, we have been doing a great deal of laughing, chatting, cooking and drinking. We’ll probably be ready  in one more day and then we’ll need to wait until next week for the pressing and bottling to enjoy our emerald liquid.

The only and real “Alla Madonna del Piatto olive oil“.

The last few B&B/cooking guests will be arriving this week-end for our first – of I hope many – Pasta and Vino Tour. We should actually call it Pasta and Vino and Olive oil tour as it will be heavy on the bruschetta ;).

Pasta and Vino

This is an extraordinary time to be here, wineries are buzzing with activity, there are food festivals and farmer markets in many of the hilltop villages. Olive mills are running 24/7, everybody is out and about with nets and ladders to pick olives until dusk. And if that was not enough, there are mushrooms, truffle, thick farro soups, polenta, pumpkin, fresh fennel and cime di rapa to add to the cornucopia of incredible foods available just now. Add the salami and life is perfect.

Last night, tired after a day of trodding up and down the hill, we prepared a light dish of homemade gnocchi with pesto and these cookies. The term ciambelline means small ring cookies. They are as “seasonal” as a cookie can get as they are made with wine and olive oil.  One can while the night away with a tray of these and a good bottle of sweet wine to deep them in.

Recipe

  • 450 gr (3 cups) 00 or pastry flour, better if organic and unbleached
  • 150 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 150 ml (1/2 cup) white wine
  • 2 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 130 gr (1/2 cup)  light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup white regular sugar for coating

Preheat oven at 160 °C (340 ° F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place all dry ingredients – except the white sugar – in a food processor bowl. Using the blade at high speed, add the oil and wine and blend until most of the mixture forms a soft ball of dough, about 2 minutes.

If you don’t have a food processor or mixer, make the dough in a large bowl by hand and transfer on a lightly floured worktop.

Sprinkle the white sugar on a large flat plate or cutting board. On the worktop, roll the dough into 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) thick cylinders. Cut each cylinder into 10 cm (5 inch) pieces and roll them into the white sugar to coat.

roll the dough cycilinders in sugar, then form the rings

roll the dough cylinders in sugar, then form the rings

Pinch the ends of each cylinder together to form a ring.

Carefully arrange the rings on a the baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 min until just golden around the sides.

Cool on a wire rack and serve with sweet wine like a vinsanto, passito or marsala or a big mug of herbal tea.

Makes approx. 36 ciambelline.


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orecchiette pasta in a creamy zucchini and saffron sauce

orecchiette, little ear shaped pasta from Southern Italy

orecchiette, little ear shaped pasta from Southern Italy

I find making fresh pasta an incredibly relaxing activity. I could fashionably say it’s therapeutic but I don’t feel the need to have therapy as often as having pasta. My latest passion in “pasta relaxation” is orecchiette, meaning little ears, a semolina pasta traditionally made in Puglia.

It’s the sort of thing that gives a good excuse for gathering friends around a table and while away an afternoon. Do watch the video at the end of this post to see what I mean. That woman must have made so many orecchiette that does not even need to look at what she’s doing. It’s magical.

I can’t produce them quite so fast, but it’s actually easier than it looks if you make sure to obtain a firm dough, use a round tipped knife and don’t get discouraged if the first batch of ten will look a little lopsided. As you get the hang of it you will wonder why you ever found it difficult.

Recipe

Dough

  • 200 gr ( 2 cup) semolina flour
  • 80 ml (2/3 cup) water
  • 2 teaspoon olive oil
  • a pinch of salt

I make all doughs in the food processor as explained here . You can also make the dough by mixing all ingredients by hand until smooth and elastic as shown in the video below. It’s most important that you allow the dough to rest at least 20 min and up to one hour. This way the gluten absorbs moisture and makes the dough pliable and easy to shape.

Once your dough has rested, transfer it onto a work-top. A grainy wooden cutting board or pasta dough helps grip the dough.

use a round tipped knife and work on a wooden board

use a round tipped knife and work on a wooden board

Divide the dough into fist-size portions, and cover them with a cotton kitchen towel. Roll 1 portion of dough into a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick rope.

Use a knife to cut and drag a 1/3-inch piece of dough from end of rope facing you.

Holding the knife at a 45-degree angle to the work surface, press and roll dough around the tip of the knife toward you. You will obtain something similar to gnocchi but empty in the middle.
Now turn out each piece of dough over your thumb in the opposite direction to form a concave shape, and transfer onto the pasta board or a tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough. Orecchiette can be stored at room temperature in a single layer overnight.

While the orecchiette dry, start boiling your pasta water and prepare this quick sauce in a saucepan which must be large enough to hold all the pasta once is cooked .

Zucchini and saffron sauce

  • 2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • a pinch of saffron to taste
  • 2 tablespoon heavy cream or ricotta
  • 2 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Saute zucchini and onion in one tablespoon olive oil until just starting to become golden. Add cream (or ricotta) and saffron and simmer briefly until just warmed through. Cook pasta in plenty salted boiling water, drain, transfer in the sauce pan and toss with the sauce over high heat as explained here. Finish with grated Parmesan and a drizzle of  good extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

Any extra unccoked orecchiette can be frozen. First, freeze them in a single layer on a plastic tray, then transfer them to a resealable plastic bag and return them to the freezer. Boil directly from the freezer.


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springtime berry tiramisu

sweet and fresh just like spring, berry tiramisu

sweet and fresh just like spring, berry tiramisu

Life is sweet in Umbria right now. Spring is here in all its over-the-top beauty. There are flowers everywhere, I can practically see the plants growing. In fact, it feels almost like summer, warm, bright and full of promise.

We are busy at the moment. Planning an Olive Harvest celebration for next autumn. Planting rosemary bushes outside the new vacation rental which is almost ready (more news soon).

Our B&B guests have returned to populate our house with laughter and stories. They often spend long evenings on the terrace around glasses of wine, gazing at the views until the stars start twinkling.

Poppies have made their arrivals and so have the strawberries. I want to be like Google, taking naps in the sun, but I must run, there’s so much to do!

Recipe

  • approx 30 Italian lady fingers
  • brown sugar for dusting
  • a pan or plate that can hold the cookies in two layers

for the mascarpone custard

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoon /75 gr. sugar
  • 375 gr / 10 oz  mascarpone
  • 1 and 1/2 cup/ 375 gr. chilled heavy cream (whipping cream)

for the berries

  • 1 cup dry Marsala or other sweet wine
  • 600-700 gr (24 oz) mixed berries of your choice. Fresh is best, but a couple of bags of good quality frozen berries are a life saver if one is short of time or it’s not the right time of the season.

Berries:

Prepare the berries up to 1 day before you need them. Place them in a glass or porcelain bowl, add 3-4 tablespoon sugar and 1 cup sweet wine. Let it macerate  a minimum of two hours so they release their lovely violet juice which you will need to soak the cookies (see below).

Make the tiramisu at least 4 hours before serving and up to one day ahead. I make  tiramisu with a zabaglione  instead of raw eggs, so it’s safe to keep it refrigerated for a little longer if needed.

Custard:

Cream egg yolks and sugar in a metal bowl then set it over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Keep beating using a whisk or an electric mixer until very warm to the touch but not quite boiling. Ideally the mixture should reach 70° C/ 160 °F.  Add 1 tablespoon Marsala and whisk thoroughly for another minute or so. Remove bowl from heat, place it in an ice bath and let it cool. Add the mascarpone and whisk until smooth.

Whip the cream in a separate bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Fold it gently into the mascarpone mixture.

Assemble tiramisu:

Line the bottom of a  pan or serving dish with half of the ladyfingers in a single layer, making compact rows. Spread 1/2 of the berries on top with about half of their juices. Make sure to drizzle the juice evenly over the cookies so they will be soft but not soggy. Cover with  1/2 of  the mascarpone custard. Repeat with one additional layer of cookies, berries, juice and mascarpone custard.

Cover the pan with clingfilm and chill for at least two hours and up to 1 day.  Dust with brown sugar before serving.

Serves 12

you can make it with strawberry or raspberry but I prefer a mixture of berries

you can make it with strawberry, raspberry, blueberry or a mixture of what’s in season


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savory cauliflower crostata

savory gluten free crunchiness, so delcious, so light.

savory gluten-free crunchiness, so delicious, so light

Does cauliflower count for detox? That’s what we are supposed to do for at least one week in January, isn’t it? Have you done the salad treatment and figured it’s bad for you since there’s a foot of snow outside? It’s too cold for self-inflicted punishment.

I am so glad is not bikini time yet. That’s even worse than New Year detox. Lucky me I don’t even wear a bikini anymore.

As a consequence I can have this wholesome, gluten-free food which is every bit as good and crunchy as any gluten equivalent. Not bad for a healthy dose of veggies and – as an added bonus – is wonderfully easy to digest.

Recipe

  • 1 cauliflower, cleaned and separated into florets
  • 1  garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 eggs
  • 5 tablespoon grated parmesan
  • 200 gr (7 oz) young Pecorino or Asiago, diced
  • 125 gr ( 1 and 1/8 cup) tapioca flour
  • 125 gr ( 1 and 1/8 cup) glutinous rice flour
  • 125 gr (1 stick) butter

Preheat oven to 200° C/ 390° F.

Using my food processor method for sweet pastry, make the savory shell using the tapioca and glutinous rice flours, 2 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoon Parmesan and enough cold water to obtain a firm dough. I have tried to make pastry with various gluten-free flours but this is by far the easiest and most consistent in terms of structure and flavor.

Line a 10 inch ( 25 cm) tart pan with parchment paper. Roll the dough into a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thin disk and transfer into the tart pan so to make a case with shallow sides. I roll the dough onto a clingfilm sheet and then I flip it into the lined tart pan.

Cover with the clingfilm and transfer in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 an hour and up to half a day. This crucial step will give you a crispy shell.

Blanch the cauliflower florets in plenty boiling water, drain.  Saute 1 finely minced clove of garlic in 2 tablespoon olive oil until fragrant. Add cauliflower florets and saute briefly to infuse in the garlicky oil. Season to taste with salt and black or red pepper. Set aside.

While the cauliflower is cooling, whisk 3 eggs with 1/2 cup milk and the rest of the grated parmesan. Transfer the cauliflower into the pastry shell and top with diced Pecorino cheese making sure to push the cubes in between the florets.

Pour the egg mixture over the tart and transfer into the oven.

Bake the crostata in middle of the oven 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden. We love it hot from the oven but it’s still good at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a vegetarian main, 6 as a side or appetizer.

PS. If in a hurry, using good quality store-bought puff pastry is a quick alternative to the pastry shell. In this case it’s obviously not suitable for a gluten-free diet.


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Assisi’s apple and olive oil strudel

Rocciata is a rustic apple strudel from Assisi

Rocciata is a rustic apple strudel from Assisi (the red is a sugar and Alkermens glaze ;) )

No. You are not pretty my dear, not even in that red dress. Before baking you, I asked “frog, will you please turn out into a princess?”.

I know frogs are supposed to turn out into a prince, but this one wasn’t promising. Besides, in the fairy tales princes tend to be clad in white. So you stayed frog, thank you very much.

You’re flavorful though, and full of fruity goodness, spices and texture. Slightly crunchy outside with a soft, squishy heart. You are Christmassy as well as Umbrian in your own peasant, medieval, rustic way.

You are not even made with butter, how healthy it’s that at this time of the year?

Recipe

Pastry:

  • 300 gr (3 cups) cake or Italian 00 flour
  • grated rind of 1/2 lemon
  • 5 tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil + extra for oiling the pastry
  • 1 tablespoon sugar + extra for sprinkling
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Filling:

  • 4 large apples, diced small
  • 12o gr (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 150 gr (5 oz ) chopped nuts of your choice
  • 150 gr ( 5 oz) rasins or sultanas
  • juice and rind of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoon alchermens liqueur.

Alchermens is an Italian speciality which contributes a floral scent and the bright red color to the pastry. Read here to learn how to substitute and here about it’s tradition.

Make the pastry by mixing all ingredients to obtain a firm dough. Cover and let it rest at least 30 min so it will be easier to roll.

Peel and dice apples, transfer into a bowl and add all other ingredients. In contrast with the dough, make the filling just before you need it to avoid release of juices wich will break the pastry while baking.

Now roll the dough into a long rectangular shape wich must be about 25 cm (10 inch) wide. The pastry must be as thin as possible but it should not break otherwise the filling will pour off the gaps. Brush the pastry sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle lightly with 1 additional tablespoon sugar.

Spread the fruit down the length of the pastry to within 1 inch of the edges.  Roll up from a long edge. Brush lightly with olive oil. Shape the roll into a coil and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoon extra Alchermens for decoration.

Bake at 180 °C (350 °F) for 45 min or until slightly golden. Brush with 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with a little water to make a soft paste and cook another 5 min.

Serve at room temperature.

happy holidays from Umbria!

happy holidays from Umbria!

PS. Sometime I cut the dough in 4 pieces and make 4 smaller strudels rather than a large one. They are easier to serve as a dessert for a large party. This way it makes 14-16 portions.


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roasted eggplant ricotta dip with fresh zucchini salad

the crunchy zucchini salad makes a wonderful contrast with the soft and silky eggplant puree

Eggplant. It’s been good to have you through this cruel summer, the hottest and dryest in decades.

Sweet, firm, smooth, full of the flavor of Arabian nights. We did a lot of nice things together, hot things.

But now it’s over.

This is the last time. In a short while you will be spongy, seedy and quite frankly, limp. I don’t want you in the winter. Please don’t call me, I will ignore you. But thank you, you’ve been nice, lovely actually.

Recipe

  • 5 eggplants (about 2 kg /4 lbs total weight)
  • 2 onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 250 gr / 1 cup ricotta
  • a handful fresh basil leaves or mint
  • 4 tablespoon toasted almonds
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 zucchini

Pierce eggplants several times with a fork and place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake  in preheated oven at 220 C (430 ° F) until very soft. Turn them around every 20 min so they cook evenly. Let them cool, peel, chop roughly and transfer in a colander with a weight on top to drain the excess moisture. I bake the eggplants the night before, place them in a colander to drain and finish the dish a day later so the rest of the preparation is quick and convenient.

Chop the onions finely and saute in two tablespoons olive oil until translucent. Add the chopped eggplants and cook uncovered for 10-15 min. This will dry them further and bring out the flavor. Stir occasionally.

Add the minced garlic and torn basil leaves, cook for further 5 min, season with salt and black pepper to taste and let it cool.

Transfer in a food processor, add the ricotta and toasted almonds and puree until smooth.

Just before serving, shred the uncooked zucchini and toss with olive oil, salt and a squirt of lemon juice.  Arrange the zucchini shreds in a ring shape on a serving plate.

Pile the eggplant puree in the centre of the zucchini ring, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh basil. Serve with toasted crusty bread, pita or as a side vegetable to roasted meat.

It’s great party food, a sort of Italianized baba ganoush that might please even the unlucky few that don’t love eggplants. I adore them, in the summer.

Serves 10

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