Apulia, its unusual white dress of fluffy snow and a warm vegetable soup that tastes of simple life!

The Epiphany weekend is already behind us and Apulia region, mostly characterized by mild temperatures, even at winter time, like other places in Southern Italy, is extraordinarily wearing a white dress of fluffy snow in these days. Indeed, it is almost unusual to taste arctic weather and contemplate snowy landscapes, which are more typical of Northern European Countries, right in the small baroque styled towns and Mediterranean countrysides that cover the South of Apulia. There, the presence of the snow is attested only in very rare occasions in the years. Perhaps, according to the perspective of a very young child, who has never seen the snow before and watches it with amazed eyes for the first time, it represents a small gift under the Christmas tree: ‘NEVE’, that is the Italian noun for ‘SNOW’ and it will be associated by the child to the cold, light, white, tiny ‘thing’ from the first moment in his life he experienced it on. The silent snowing in the night, the bright sky and view during the day, the sound of walking steps deeping in the cold soft carpet along the narrow, winding streets of small centers, everything calls for new explorations of ancient corners forged in the tender honey shaded stones and snow.  After taking a long walk and wondering about the amazing beauty of nature, seen in tiny snowflakes, perhaps a good soup, to warm our bones, would be very welcome! The cosy space by the fireplace looks very inviting in these days and it reminds of older ages, when the ladies of the family daily cooked simple meals in those typical local pots on embers. So, I took homegrown peas from the freeze, (a taste of Spring season even at Winter time is an authentic bliss!) and prepared a cream for warm bruschettas as appetizer and a spicy cauliflower and barley soup (of course you may opt for spelt or rice, for example) as main dish. Here there are some suggestions:

  • Fry gently peas in extra virgin olive oil with onion, a hint of garlic, tiny cubes of speck (from Alto Adige), salt and pepper. Add little vegetable bouillon, keep on cooking by letting the bouillon to evaporate a little and add leaves of mint when peas are soft. Make a smooth cream by using a hand blender and serve it on slices of warm bread and goat cheese.
  • As for the soup, cut the cauliflower in small pieces and make it slightly golden in extra virgin olive oil with rings of onion. Add tomatoes, a hint of garlic, a mashed boiled potato (of course it depends on the proportions of your soup) and then let simmer gently in vegetable bouillon until it will be a bit creamy. Right at the end, add the barley (already boiled) and a tea spoon of a typical spicy ricotta cheese (made of sheep milk and with a very strong spicy taste), which represents a delicacy and very ancient tradition for ‘poor’ gastronomy in Apulia region. Cook for little while more in order to combine and get flavour. Serve the soup in a bowl and a sprinkle of chopped parsley on its surface. Choose your wine and … Buon Appetito!

children-and-snow

A small timballo of aubergines for this first October weekend

   Hello, a nice weekend to you all! October was announced this morning by good weather and mild temperatures. On this occasion, I would like to introduce a recipe that my mother taught me when I was a child; indeed, it comes from my culinary memories at Summer holidays, best time for learning how to cook! So, today, the recipe to dedicate to the first weekend of the new month will be a small ‘timballo’ made with aubergines.

   Looking back very briefly at history and at the long tradition of this amazing vegetable, which has its origins in India and perhaps is 4000 years old, ancient docs attest its arrival in Italy during the Middle Age, but it is only in the 17th century, through the great work of spreading and promotion of the religious Carmelite Order that the aubergine is finally appreciated in Southern Italy at first and then all over Europe. From then on, the aubergine has come one of the main ingredients of the Italian cuisine. During the WWII, it is common among shepherds and peasants to use even the leaves of the aubergines, by drying them in the sun for making cigarettes and sigars to smoke instead of tobacco, since this latter was not available by that time of history.

   Back to our recipe, dice an oval black skinned aubergine in small cubes (please, do not peel it, since its skin has relevant healthy benefits for pancreas and guts, whereas the pulp is rich in fibers, potassium, phosphor and calcium, vitamin A and C). Then, in a large pan on the stove (medium temperature), pour some extravirgin olive oil and let it to get warm. As soon as the oil starts lightly hissing, add chopped onion, scallion, a tiny idea of garlic, three or four cherry tomatoes, a couple of pieces of lemongrass and mix all together. In the end, add the diced aubergine and keep on cooking all ingredients together. Pour little white wine and a sprinkle of thyme, majoram, bay, hot pepper. Since the aubergine has a spongy pulp, I would suggest to add more extravergin olive oil in case the aubergine seems too dry. Any way, by adding a sprinkle of salt, the aubergine will release some water since this vegetable is made 90% of water. Keep on cooking until it becomes smooth and almost creamy. Then, out of the stove, pour the mixture in a bowl and leave it for some minutes to get cooler. Add one egg, grated parmigiano, some breadcrumb to make the mixture thicker, parsley and small pieces of speck from Alto Adige  (the fragrance of it will be particularly tasteful with the aubergine).

   Next step is to grease a terracotta mould for timballo with few drops of extravirgin olive oil and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. Pour the mixture in it and bake for about 15 mins (moderate temperature, about 200° C) until the surface becomes golden and crispy.

    Serve it warm, perhaps with some julienne vegetables, or, even better, add a couple of spoons of warm tomato sauce, it will taste delicious!

Buon Appetito 

Beetroot cream: a simple recipe for inviting appetizers. Have a try!

Hello! Sometimes, when I’m in Stockholm I enjoy to visit the Saluhall  in Östermalm, the ancient food market built in 1888. There is a nice cosy atmosphere and people may sit and have a meal or look for special food and delicacies. Since I like trying recipes, once I bought some fresh beetroots and Chèvre cheese and, at home, I prepared a light tasteful cream for appetizers. 

  • First of all, it is necessary to peel and steam the beetroots to get them softer. Then, chop and fry them very gently in extra virgin olive oil just for few minutes. In the pan, you may also add rings of red onion, scallion, very little lemon grass, salt & pepper. Right at the end, a sprinkle of parsley and some pine nuts are the perfect tasteful touch for the recipe. Perhaps you might serve a small portion of it as salad. Better if it is warm, indeed, you will find that its flavour is delicious !

  • Next step, make a cream of all ingredients with a mixer.

  • Or add crème fraîche to all ingredients and then process with the mixer.

Sourdough rye crispbread and rosemary flatbread are perfect for spreading this velvety delicacy on. 

I may suggest some pine nuts on top of one version of the appetizer and small pieces of Chèvre cheese and parsley on top of the other.

I hope you will enjoy the taste and wish buon appetito!

Have a good week.

Mandel potatoes and kantarellen for a warm fluffy sformato: genuine ingredients in a pot!

   In Stockholm, from Spring to Autumn season, at the weekend, from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm, it is nice to have a walk for visiting the local farmers market in Katarina Bangata, in the nearby of Götgatan. Small, sometimes improvised and graciously decorated stalls are all along a pedestrian area in the heart of Södermalm, set like colorful, natural gems in a crown made of high trees and their own light, dancing foliage. People enjoy meeting old friends and neighbourghs, talking and tasting what farmers prepare and offer them. It’s a feast of flavours for any palate: there is a plenty of local cheese, jams, fresh bread, corn, kale, inviting salami and sausages, pickled herrings, salmon and different kinds of sauces.   

‘Help yourself’, a friendly lady invites me to choose some mandelpotatis: suddenly, a recipe peekaboos in my mind and… yes, I will add kantarellen. Indeed, in this farmers market, you can see little hills of kantarellen here and there and, perhaps, this might be the reason why you can also smell a good fresh fragrance like being in the wood. Scallion, onion and eggs and then let’s go home for baking a fluffy ‘sformato’.

   We can start by steaming our mandelpotatis, it will take only few minutes. In the meanwhile, let’s fry gently, in extravergin olive oil, some chopped onion, scallion, our flavored kantarellen, salt, pepper, origan, rosemary and, right at the end, we will add also small cubes of Culatello di Zibello DOP…mmm…indeed, the fragrance of Italy pairs so well with Swedish kantarellen!

   As second step, mash the mandelpotatis and add some drops of extravirgin olive oil, a generous sprinkle of parmigiano, breadcrumbs, and one egg to make the mixture thicker. Then, in a pot, greased with butter, pour a half of the mixture. Make a second layer with the cooked kantarellen, scallion, onion and the small cubes of Culatello di Zibello, add slivers of provola piccante and a new layer of the mandelpotatis mixture. One more sprinkle of breadcrumb and few drops of extravirgin olive oil on top. Place the ‘sformato’ in the oven 200° C for about 10 minutes, or at least until the surface will be golden and crispy. Serve it warm. 

   In the end, I would toast to a friendly table by raising a glass of Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay, a fresh, young wine with notes of fruity aromas and light mineral.

   I wish everybody ‘Buon Appetito’. 

Sunday Recipe: Spaghettoni and Cauliflower Cream, the Light Taste of Summer in the Dish

The beginning of Summer is officially round the corner and the weather is a bit bizarre sometimes, any way everything looks more limpid in front of our eyes and we inhale fresh air for reinvigorating in body and soul. The rain is also a blessing for plants that gratefully share their daily ration of nourishment. Lively voices of young children, who play in the small squared garden, and those of grown-ups, who lazily sat on the benches, entertaining themselves in small conversations with their own neighbours, come and go out of the open windows. In the kitchen, as music background to sip slowly like a persistent and tannic ruby wine, a soft ‘Mediterranean Sundance’, magistrally played by the guitars of Paco de Lucìa and Al di Meola, becomes the authentic frame for our Sunday recipe. In the fridge, a small cauliflower peekaboos everytime the door is open, so it might be a good idea to cook it and prepare a nice sauce for our spaghettoni.

Let’s make a vegetable bouillon with carrots, selery, onion and tomatoes: chop everything and start gently frying in extravergin olive oil for two or three minutes, then add also some water and let boil. Again, cauliflowers will go in the boiling water until they will have a soft consistency and the bouillon will be reduced. Then, mash the cauliflowers and make a velvety cream by using the minipimer. Add a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper and melt small pieces of cheese with the fragrance of truffle in the cream. At this proper, for this occasion, I have used  Castello® white with truffle, it has an excellent taste. Besides, it is necessary to underline the fact that there is no crème fraîche in the recipe and this means that each taste is enhanced in a natural and lighter way.

Cook Spaghettoni for the right time suggested on the package, in order them to be cooked ‘al dente’ and, after having strained them, serve on a plate with a couple of spoons of cream and thyme for decoration of the dish. By the way, check whether it is necessary to add some water from the cooking process of pasta: in this case, it might not be necessary, since the cream has been prepared with bouillon and it should be moist and velvety. The taste is really good and it is worth to try.

I hope everybody can enjoy this recipe and wish a good start for the new week!

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A Light Lasagna Stuffed With Summer Vegetables

Hey, we are in Stockholm in these days and right now, while we are in the kitchen, serving a delicious lasagna stuffed with Summer vegetables, we are enjoying the beautiful bright light of the evening. Some little birds are cheerfully playing on the branches of the tree in front of the window and its green foliage dances and shines to the swish of a soft breeze. In the distance, you can even listen to the dominant sound made by the siren of a ship. Two or three segulls on the top of a roof, in the direction of Sofia kyrka, fill the air with their singing.

If you are interested in making this lasagna, here there are some suggestions that might be useful.

As for the tomato sauce, pour some extra vergin olive oil in a pan, small stripes of fresh bacon, a sprinkle of rosemary (better if it is fresh), salt and pepper, chopped onion and garlic. After two or three minutes, add the tomato sauce and let it boiling for a while. At the end, when it is good and thicker, add a small cup of water (or two), since we are going to cook the lasagna pasta straight in the oven with all ingredients.

In the meantime, we have already diced aubergines and bell peppers and we have chopped some leeks, then placed the vegetables in the oven to grill for 10 or 15 minutes (according to your own taste)

At this point, we can start preparing our lasagna, by pouring some sauce on the surface of the baking pan. Then, let’s make some layers by alternating, lasagna pasta, vegetables, spoons of tomato sauce and mozzarella. In the end, before placing the lasagna in the oven for about 15 min/ 20 min (200°), add curls of parmigiano and a sprinkle of nutmeg on the surface.

This dish is ideal served warm, paired with a glass of rosé wine for celebrating the cheerful dress of nature and midsommar, which is almost at the door here in Sweden.

Weekend Recipe: Snails from the garden and drops of homemade garlic sauce

068 lumache e salsa all'aglio

Off the busy activities of the week, here we are to relax and enjoy one of those little things that we love to do at the weekend and, since cooking is one of my favourite, let’s do it, let’s go in the kitchen! In the meantime, the splendid voice of Ella Fitzgerald will flow like a soft wave, and the light of the day will paint of vibrant colors this Sunday afternoon. We had a bizarre weather, during the last week: how good occasion to explore the garden in the early morning and look for snails! It is an old tradition that I learnt from my family when I was very young and, since we do not use pesticides in our small orchard and on our vegetables, the only way to prevent the snails from eating our salad is to prepare a delicious dish by using them as main ingredient.

So, here we have a good handful of snails that we submit to the ‘cleaning’ process by leaving them in a covered bowl for two or three days, and then, after having sprinkled some flour on them, leave them again to rest for a couple of days more. Then, wash and strain them and add some salt. Keep on working energically with your hands (in the bowl) in order to get both foam and impurities out of the snails. Wash, strain and start cooking them.

In a pan, pour and heat some extra virgin olive oil, add rings of onion and leaves of sage and, as soon as the extra virgin olive oil starts sizzling, add the snails and keep on cooking. The fragrance of sage will melt in the air with the fruit spiced flavour of the extra virgin olive oil. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

As for the garlic sauce, which is widely prepared in all the Mediterranean area and served in different and well distinct versions, crush a couple of cloves of garlic in the mortar. Then, by using the pestle, work it, add an egg yolk (room temperature), few drops of lemon, white pepper, a pinch of salt and pour gently, drop by drop, some extra vergin olive oil. Whisk the emulsion like a mayonnaise. As for me, I prefer to do it by hand instead of using the blender for having a velvety thin sauce. In case the sauce will be thicker, you may add a teaspoon of warm water at a time.

Serve the snails by decorating the plate with few drops of garlic sauce and fragranced leaves of sage, warm crisp buttered bread and pair the dish with a glass of very good beer.

Enjoy a nice dinner!

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Golden Quinoa Croquettes, inviting Idea for Conviviality

Spring is finally in the air and a rich variety of colorful vegetables, fruits and other season products cheerfully peeped out the stall at the food market, where I was to choose the ingredients for a tasty dish. It came in my mind by using quinoa (chenopodium quinoa) as main ingredient, which is not a cereal, rather a member of the same food family that contains spinach, Swiss chard, and beets : 5000 years are in the historical background of this seed, actually known as the ‘mother of all seeds’, which originated in the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile and was considered to be sacred for Incas civilization. So, this time, our dish takes us to a different place of the world, where the scenery is made of high peaks and outstretched views, in spite of the previous culinary suggestions and typical food coming from the sunny Mediterranean landscapes. Indeed, quinoa is particularly versatile in the art of cooking and is also a high nutritive valued food for many reasons. One of these reasons is its considerable amounts of both lysine and isoleucine, which allow the protein in quinoa to serve as a complete protein source. Going into details, here there is a link to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health for more interesting thorough explainations that might be worth to be read.

   Now, back to our recipe that can be served  as appetizer: it’s about light golden quinoa croquettes to be paired with some fresh goat cheese and a glass of excellent organic wine. First of all, place the quinoa seeds in a fine-meshed strainer and run cold water over the quinoa while gently rubbing the seeds together in your hands, in order to remove the saponins that gives that certain bitter taste. Then, if you prefer a nuttier flavor, place the quinoa in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir for about 5 minutes, otherwise go straight to the next step, that is, add some vegetable bouillon and cook the quinoa for about 20 minutes. Leave it to swell for about 10 minutes. In the meanwhile, dice some pumkin and cook it with some extra virgin olive oil, rings of onion, salt, pepper, little wine and let it to evaporate. Mash the mixture, add a hint of truffles cream and aromatize with leaves of mint. Now, it is time to mix all together: pumpkin, some grated parmigiano, the quinoa and an egg or two, it depends on the number of your guests, of course. Work and make croquettes on the palm of your wet hand and place them in the oven for about 10 minutes or until they will have a golden look. As already mentioned, serve croquettes warm on a dish with cheese and some vegetables (for this specific occasion I have chosen broccoli to garnish) and a glass of red Cono Sur Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere seems to me a very good suggestion to try. Thnx and wishing you all ‘Buon Appetito’!

Cono Sur

 

Genuine Homemade Jam and Fresh Ricotta Cheese for Light Dessert Ideas

It’s a Sunday morning, Spring will be here very soon and, in the meanwhile, at breakfast time, we are keeping on spreading a spoon of apricot jam on bread as a healthy habit for daily energy. It is nice when you have homemade jam, since you can choose to prepare it with less sugar and at the same time it will taste of the real fragrance of genuine fruit. Of course, you can also use it to prepare delicious desserts for your family, both children and grown-ups, or even for your guests.

Here there are a couple of suggestions that I’m glad to share with you:

In the first example, we have a typical ‘burrata’ from Apulia region, in Southern Italy, which is stuffed with fresh sheep milk cheese ricotta on apricot jam and a sprinkle of cardamom. It is really worth a taste! Besides, I may suggest to warm lightly your jam in order to have a kind of pleasant contrast with the freshness of the burrata and to decor with some mint, which will exhalt the fragrances of the dish.

As for the second culinary suggestion, you won’t need eggs to prepare the dessert, nor to bake it and, what is more, it will take you only a very short time since it is very easy to make. It could be a cheerful idea for a children party for example!

Ingredients for 5/6 desserts (approximate quantities for glasses):

  • 100 g biscuits (even better if they are homemade)
  • 75   g almonds
  • 65   g fresh butter
  • 500g fresh sheep milk cheese ricotta on apricot jam and a sprinkle of cardamom + crème fraîche
  • icing sugar
  • organic apricot jam
  • cardamom
  • cinnamon
  • mint
First of all, you have to crumble biscuits and mince peeled almonds while golden butter is gently melting in a pan on the stove. Then, mix all together (butter, almonds and biscuits) in a bowl and add a generous sprinkle of cardamom. Place the mixture in the fridge for about 20 min.
Delicately whisk the fresh ricotta cheese (according to your taste, you can choose among the ones you prefer, such as cow, sheep, goat..) and add also some crème fraîche, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a spoon of icing sugar. Make a velvet, smooth cream.
Out of the fridge, start filling glasses making a uniform, compact base with 1 cm biscuit and almond mixture. Gently press it and add some ricotta cheese on it, then, a couple of tea spoons of organic jam on top and some little more cardamom and fresh mint. In the fridge again for about 15 minutes.
Serve this light dessert cool, your little guests will appreciate it!
Wish a beautiful Sunday to you all! 🙂

The days of the female blackbird and a genuine millet soup for children and grown-ups

February is already here and, unexpectedly, this year the last three days of January, which by tradition are cold and most often snowy, were pretty mild. Indeed, this first timid attempt of Springtime is now visible in our countryside, since the branches of almond trees are in bloom. In Italy, the last three days of January are called the ‘days of the female blackbird'(i giorni della merla) to remember a poor female blackbird and an old legend that tells us about its adventure to find a safe warm shelter by a chimneypot, where, inevitably, its feathers became dark for the smoke.

   Anyway, it’s still winter season and with a cold weather our body needs more energy to feel healthy and light. This is the reason why today I would like to suggest a smooth tasteful soup made with decorticated millet and artichokes, which is ideal for children and for grown-ups. The millet (panicum miliaceum) is one of the cereals at the base of nutrition for several populations in Asia and Africa. The origin of the millet are found back to the Neolithic and then, again, its use spread during the Middle Age in India, China and Europe. Nowadays, even though the millet has a high nutritional value, it is not very much used in Europe for reasons bound to the production and difficulties for the harvest. On the contrary, India, China, Russia, Ukraine, Africa are the main consumers of this cereal so rich in vitamin A and B, iron, magnesium and silicon.

   Back to this easy recipe, at the food market I have found excellent local artichokes and winter tomatoes. The fragrance of these latter was a sweet epiphany of childhood: a delicious morning snack at school, made of bread, yellow tomatoes, a sprinkle of salt and extravirgin olive oil to share with the best friend. Once, these tomatoes were in every house, like intertwined gems, hanging on the wall of the storeroom. At home, I started frying gently rings of red onions, tomatoes, a hint of garlic and chopped artichokes. After pouring some white wine (choose the one you prefer) and let it to evaporate, I added some vegetable bouillon and kept on cooking for about 15 min (do not forget to add a sprinkle of chily pepper and salt). In the end, I worked the artichokes with a minipimer and made a smooth cream. As second step, the millet was cooked in some vegetable bouillon for about 15/20 min (a full espresso coffee cup or a cup and a half should represents the right portion for a person). Then, I added the golden grains of millet to the artichoke cream, a couple of spoons of bouillon and served the soup with some bread. Children and grown-ups would love it.

   Wish you all ‘buon appetito’!