Home-made ravioli and the vegetable garden in the wintertime

   It is the third Advent week, and it is less than ten days for Christmas day. Outside, in the garden, the air is crisp and invites to have a cup of warm coffe in your hands. Three small candles brings light into the darkness of the early morning. Soon, the sunrise will fill the sky with its golden pink brightness. Winter season is just behind the corner and, according to the good agricultural practice, fruit trees need to be pruned in order to be prepared for the new Springtime. Since every season has its own crops, now it is time for beautiful plants of cardoon in our vegetable garden, they are ideals for warm tasteful soups and, at this proper, in Apulia, Southern Italy, it is common to cook cardoons in many different ways. The recipe, I am going to make today, combines, calling to a culinary harmony, savours and food products of the Northern regions with those coming from the South. Step by step, we are going to build the dish, by adding the ingredients it needs.

   First of all, let’s work a mixture made of good ecological flour and water and make sheets of pasta for ravioli. I have used 200/ 250 gr of Senatore Cappelli flour and about a glass of water. You can help yourself by using a manual Nonna Papera machine for home-made fresh pasta at first, then choose to use a fan-shaped mould for ravioli or simply use a glass to make discs and, in the end, once the filling is in the center of the disc, press the tips of a fork to seal along the border of ravioli. 

DSC_2932 sfoglia

As for the filling, make a mixture made with mashed local potatoes (at this proper, I steamed  Sieglinde potatoes, a variety that is firm on cooking and has high nutritional values), add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, chopped onion lightly fried into extravirgin olive oil, a couple of soup spoons of grated local ‘pecorino’ (sheep milk) cheese, small cubes of Speck from Alto Adige and raclette cheese, rosemary. Fill the center of the raviolo disc and close it in the way suggested above.

DSC_2940 ravioli

   The third step is to prepare the cardoon cream. Sauté the cardoons and some cherry tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil and then add vegetable bouillon. Keep on cooking the cardoons until they are tender and then make a cream with them, by adding a couple of spoons of crème fraîche and tasteful pecorino cheese.

   Cook ravioli in salted boiling water, strain and serve them very warm on a plate with the smooth cardoon cream. Decor the dish with some fresh rosemary and ‘buon appetito’, bon appétit, smaklig måltid!

Wishing everybody a good third Advent week

Taraxacum potato gnocchi on a velvet Taleggio cheese cream

   Hello and welcome to a new Autumn week-end, which will bring a new good recipe to try for those of you, who love cooking! The morning crisp November air is an inviting call for a relaxing walk through narrow paths in the countryside, where, perhaps, it is possible to find out and picking wild (safe) vegetables, mostly known as excellent ingredients for a tasteful kitchen. So, taking inspiration from a simple, seasonal soup, made with taraxacum, which is pretty popular in Apulia, in Southern Italy, and that my Mom keeps on preparing quite often at this time of the year, on this Sunday, we are going to make taraxacum potato gnocchi on a velvet Taleggio cream. In my opinion, this delicious dish seems to be an ideal junction  among genuine ingredients, which, coming from different places from North to South, have both benefit healthy qualities and peculiar tastes that can be clearly perceived from gourmets.

   We will start 1.steaming potatoes and then replacing them in the fridge for a night. (At this proper, I would like to add that I found some good local potatoes at the food market, which still had the earth on the thin peel and looked compact inside in the middle, ideal for preparing gnocchi). The next day, before lunch time, we will keep on preparing the dish, by 2.mashing the potatoes and 3.boiling the taraxacum for few minutes. Then, after 4.straining the vegetable, we will keep on 5.cooking it in a pan with some extra-virgin olive oil, an idea of garlic, little chopped onion, salt and pepper, few fresh tomatoes, a sprinkle of goat cheese. Since we will 7.add the minced taraxacum to the mashed potatoes and 8.work both the ingredients together for making a mixture, it is highly recommended to 6.’dry’ the taraxacum from the juice during the cooking process, in order to have a solid mixture. The proportion of ingredients I used and I may suggest for potatoes and taraxacum mixture is about 200/250gr potatoes : 100/150gr cooked taraxacum. Of course, it depends on the type of potatoes used, the cooking process of the taraxacum and the number of guests at your table. As for the mixture, I added an egg and some organic durum wheat flour (not too much, since I prefer to feel the potato taste rather then the flour’s that has the task to bind the main ingredients) during the working process. Once the 9.mixture looks compact, we will 10.make a long thin cylinder and then 11.cut it in small gnocchi. For 12.preparing a smooth taleggio cream, it is necessary to melt a couple of generous pieces of Taleggio cheese, a knob of butter into some crème fraîche and to add a sprinkle pepper in it. Then, we will 3.pour the gnocchi in boiling salted water and wait for a couple of minutes until they will come out on the surface of the water. In the end, 14.strain accurately and serve them on a dish with some velvet Taleggio cream and parsley. 

I hope you will enjoy the recipe some time and wish everybody a good new week!

Buon appetito, bon appétit, smaklig måltid!

Rice au gratin, an old family recipe that children love

   It was wonderful to spend some time with my Swedish friend Katarina and her beautiful family last week-end. We arranged to meet for going to the food store together and choose some ingredient for preparing an old recipe my grandmother used to make at Christmastime, when the whole family was finally together at home.

   Children agreed with us for the choice, indeed they welcomed the idea of rice au gratin with a cheerful ‘wow!’ and, on the other hand, they had the task to prepare a special dessert for all of us.

   At home, Katarina and I started to peel carrots, chopping them with celery, onion and garlic and, once everything was done, all ingredients went in a big sauce pan, on a stove. We poured some extra-virgin olive oil and the vegetables started frying lightly. Then, it was the turn for the veal minced meat and a sprinkle of thyme and, after the lumps of meat were all melt with a wooden spoon, we added the tomato sauce, some salt and kept on steering, being careful the sauce did not stick on the surface of the sauce pan. Besides, some water was added in order the sauce be not too much thick.

   In the meanwhile, the rice was prepared in an other big pan (boiling salt water) and when it was done and the rice was strained, few roses of butter and grated parmigiano reggiano were added for ‘mantecare’ it. Then, off from the stove, the tomato sauce was poured in the pan, where the rice was, and Katarina kept on working on it with great energy until it was all homogeneous.

   At last, we made layers of  rice in a casserole (greased with few drops of extra virgin olive oil), alternating them with layers of mozzarella and placed it in the oven at a temperature between 200° – 250° C for about 20 minutes in order to have a golden surface on the rice. In this case, we didn’t add breadcrumbs nor eggs, since the rice was well ‘mantecato’, having a similar ‘gratin’ effect as well in the end and, what is more, it is a gluten free recipe.

   All the family liked this delicious and simple dish very much and, in the end, we did enjoyed the presentation of a fantastic dessert our little pâtissiers made with meringues, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate for decorations (worth a couple of spoons  for taste and some more).

   Wishing everybody a good week!

 

 

 

Autumn and its culinary poetry: the light taste and seasonal ingredients for a homemade lasagna

   It is time to welcome the Autumn season and its very distinctive fragrances, its amazing natural landscapes made of warm shades and golden foliage! There is a world filled with inspiration in Albert Camus’s quotation, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”, which makes you long to wander, at the week-end, through the woods and countryside paths of Apulia, for rediscovering those familiar places, where you know you can find those peculiar, seasonal ingredients for your kitchen. September mild temperatures, a bit more of humidity and little rain, from time to time, become the elements for the growing of new little plants of wild chicory, for example, that is one of the main ingredients of the homemade lasagna I’m going to prepare. It was a long time ago when I made this recipe for the first time and every year, by the arrival of the Autumn season, I enjoy to make it again and again.

   So, I start with making lasagna pasta, by using local organic Senatore Cappelli durum wheat (it is excellent for homemade cooked ‘al dente’ pasta). For about 4 portions, you will need about 250 gr of flour and some water for making into a mixture that you need to work very well by hands, in order to be compact and not sticky. Perhaps, you may help yourself, by adding a sprinkle of flour on the surface of it. What is more, in Apulia, we do not use eggs in the pasta mixture, since it does not belong to our local culinary tradition of ‘cucina povera’; on the other hand, dishes are lighter and more digestible when using only water. Once the pasta mixture is well done, you can use your traditional nonna papera pasta machine for making thin layers of pasta; then, leave them to get dried.

   In the meanwhile, boil some water in a pan, add and cook the cleaned wild chicories (about 500 gr) for few minutes. Strain the chicories very well and add them in a pan with some extra virgin olive oil, small cubes of bacon, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. 

   Prepare your béchamel sauce, firstly by working a couple of spoons of (semola) flour and some cold milk (between 250 ml and 350 ml – it depends on the consistency you prefer for the sauce) together in a saucepan, by melting all the lumps, add a sprinkle of salt, an idea of hot pepper, grated nutmeg. Secondly, put the saucepan on a small stove and a very moderate heat and start steering the spoon in order the flour does not stick on the surface of the saucepan. Then, as soon as the sauce starts slowly boiling, keep on steering just for little while more until it is well done but not too much thick, since the lasagna requires it be not too much thick. In the end, melt a knob of butter in the saucepan and some grated goat cheese.

   Now, before starting to prepare lasagna, it is necessary to cook the layers of pasta for very little moments, perhaps a couple of minutes, into boiling salt water. Strain the layers and make them dry on a cotton napkin, then, grease a baking pan with butter or few drops of extra virgin olive oil. Start fixing layers of pasta, then add small spoons of béchamel, a layer of chicories and bacon, one more of fresh mozzarella and then keep on doing again with a layer of pasta etc, until you have filled the bakery pan. A sprinkle of goat cheese on top and then place it in the oven 250° C for about ten minutes. When the mozzarella is melt and the surface of pasta appears little grilled, you can remove the lasagna from the oven and wait only few moments before making portions and serving them in the plates. 

   Pair the lasagna with your preferred wine and ‘buon appetito’!

 

 

Garlic, a natural healthy ingredient for a very simple and tasty Italian recipe, ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’

   Hello! There is a soft breeze in the air that gently touches flowers, trees, foliage in the garden today and nature is in a mesmerizing dance of light. Small pink flowers of wild garlic (allium), resembling tiny bright cups among lush backgrounds of artichokes plants, softly move and humbly bend on their own thin long stalk in a gracious bow. Inspiration! I just came up with the idea of making an old recipe belonging to Southern Italy culinary tradition: ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’.

   As well as being one of the main and mostly used ingredients in gastronomy, garlic has also been known for centuries for its therapeutic benefits. Indeed, in the past, its intense taste was wonderfully much appreciated both as remedy and in the kitchen. Actually, it seems that in the old Egypt, the slaves, who built the pyramids, used to have garlic in plentiful quantities, in order to feel themselves stronger and healthier. What is more, it was found out that in the tomb of Tutankhamen, bulbs of garlic were there, perhaps in order to keep evil spirits far away.  Even Hippocrates, the father of medicine highly recommended garlic for its medicine benefits. Pliny the Elder in his well known Historia Naturalis made references to the garlic for its therapeutic qualities. In the Middle Age, physicians used masks stuffed with garlic to protect themselves from diseases. During the First World War, the garlic was widely used for disinfecting wounds carefully, when there was lack of conventional antiseptics. In addiction to all this, garlic is an excellent vasodilatator, since it lowers the blood pressure and it helps to prevent heart illnesses.

   If in the Chinese cuisine, garlic and ginger are considered the most important fragrances, both for the Indian and West cuisine, garlic adds taste to all different kinds of meat, fish and vegetables dishes. It is a privileged ingredient for the Mexican and South-American cuisine and also for the French cuisine, where it is possible to enjoy garlic fragranced butter, mayonnaise and soup.

 

spaghetti alla carrettiera

   As for the Italian dish, ‘Spaghetti alla Carrettiera’, the traditional recipe specifically coming from Eastern Sicily and widely spread everywhere in Southern Italy with all its own variations, we can point at it as representative of simplicity, since, it is very easy to make and based on very few ingredients that mostly we have in our kitchens. At this proper, garlic is one of those ingredients that we use quite every day.

  First of all, chop fresh parsley and garlic and fry gently in some extra-virgin olive oil. Add rings of onion, hot pepper and a sprinkle of oregano. In the meanwhile, cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water. Even though it is a very simple recipe, the ingredients have been carefully chosen, for keeping the high quality of the dish. So, here we have artisan ‘spaghetti alla chitarra trafilati al bronzo’, which are excellent for their rough surface that holds all different kinds of condiments and they taste perfect when ‘al dente’. Drain the water (save just a little of it, in case you have to add later on in the cooking process) and pour spaghetti in the pan, where you fried chopped parsley and garlic. If spaghetti look dried, then add little of that water you saved before and keep on cooking shortly on high flame. In the end, after removing from the stove, serve spaghetti very warm with a sprinkle of fried golden breadcrumb and ‘buon appetito’!

 

Cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc… Celebrating last days of Carnevale season with a typical ancient dessert that takes you around Italy

Carnival is at the end of its season and, in Italy, we like to celebrate it by preparing a well known light dessert, which has many different names, according to the region we visit, and perhaps it has its roots in the ancient Roman festivities called “frictilia”. 

The recipe is simple and it doesn’t take too long for preparing this fragrant delicacy at home. Of course, the recipe for making cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere can be slightly different from a place to an other in Italy or even among families. The ingredients that follow belong to the traditional recipe that in my family they have been using for years. It is always a lovely feeling to open that old, turned yellow exercise book, where my aunt Lucia diligently took note of her recipes: some of them were expression of our local culinary tradition, some others were the fruit of her experiences in the kitchen and some more were found on old fashion magazines. 

Ingredients: 

  • 500gr. wheat flour
  • n.2 eggs
  • n.2 spoons of sugar
  • 50 gr. butter
  • a sprinkle of salt
  • a bit of anise
  • a bit of white wine

Mix all together and work the mixture until it is well done, then cover it with a kitchen napkin and leave it to rest for a couple of hours. After this, make a sheet of pastry that should be a couple of millimeters thick (you may use your rolling pin or your Grandma Duck for making homemade pasta). Once you have made graceful ribbons (call them cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc) from the stripes, fry them deep into peanut oil until they are fragrant, golden and crisp. Dust icing sugar on their surface. At this point, (according to my personal taste and inspired by typical Swedish pastry – making confectionery that is well known for the use of a range of fragranced spices) a tiny suggestion to this inviting afternoon snack might be a light variation to the traditional recipe, that is by adding also a sprinkle of cardamom or of the spice you prefer at best. Serve this light dessert with your coffee or tee and enjoy a beautiful Mardi Gras!

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 

A spiced chickpeas soup with coriander, turmeric and cumin to welcome this new September weekend

Hello! Soon a new weekend is going to start, so let’s welcome it with the spicy fragrances and healthy lightness of a warm soup made with chickpeas and zucchini. The spices in the soup remind of the inviting fragrances of the Mediterranean lands: the fruits of coriander (a plant that is very similar to parsley and coming from East Mediterranean area) have a delicate, warm aroma, a hint of nut and light citrus aftertaste. The second spice that we will add to the soup is turmeric: for Ayurvedic medicine, the natural root of turmeric is well known for its health benefits, as strong balancer, for its natural cicatrizant, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory effects. India is the main world producer of turmeric, a yellow ochre powder that reminds of the precious saffron fragrance, but, of course, it has a cheaper cost. The black cumin (nigella sativa) is very well known and appreciated in all Middle East and India for its peculiar benefits. Besides, cumin is also cultivated in Europe, North Africa and Asia, it has digestive properties, whets the appetite, prevents spasms and intestinal fermentations. It is highly recommended to use cumin with parsimony, since its flavour is very intense, spicy and it has just an acrid hint.

 Let’s have a look at the recipe now: 

we need about 50g chickpeas per person, 1 or 2 small zucchini, a small onion, some water or bouillon made with vegetables (onion, carrot, celery, tomatoes, herbs, extravirgin olive oil, a pinch of salt) coriander, turmeric and black cumin, salt and pepper, extravirgin olive oil.

 As for how to prepare chickpeas, the process takes a little bit longer, since we need to make the pulses to rest into a bowl full of water for a night: we will help to make the cooking process easier and cheackpeas will taste softer by adding also a sprinkle of salt or bicarbonate. Next morning, in a typical pot made of clay, pour some extra virgin olive oil, add rings of onion, chopped celery and carrot, a couple of small cherry tomatoes, one or two cloves, coriander, hot pepper, salt, chickpeas and water to cover them. We let chickpeas boiling very slow until they get done, tastefully little crunchy outside and soft inside. 

Once chickpeas are done, wash and dice zucchini and then fry gently some chopped onion in few drops of extravirgin olive oil for a couple of minutes, add chickpeas, zucchini and cover them with some bouillon made with vegetables. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper and let the soup boiling. You won’t need to cook it for a long time, (about 10/15min) since chickpeas are almost cooked and zucchini taste better when they are still little crunchy. Please, won’t forget to add half coffee spoon of coriander, turmeric and cumin, but only few minutes before the soup is done, in order to keep almost intact and distinct the different aromas of the spices.  Serve the soup with cubes of warm bread and cheer the arrival of the new season with a glass of rosé wine. On this occasion, I chose a rosè wine coming from Provence (Château Routas Rouvière): fresh delightful pairing with the warm flavours of the Mediterranean cuisine.

Buon Appetito and enjoy a good weekend!

Genuine Fruit Taste in the Dish: Pork Tenderloin and Plum Velouté

  It is already September and, even though Autumn season is at the door, we still keep the fragrances of Summer season. At this proper, I would like to introduce a recipe made with plums (it should be Santa Rosa variety) from a young tree that was planted no more than four years ago in our garden and, in the last couple of years, has elegantly made low bows for inviting to the crop of its pulpy deep red round fruits. Yes, and it is time to prepare something particularly delicious with them. So,  I chose a tender lean pork fillet to make this dish and the other main ingredients are: 4 plums, 2 or 3 leaves of bay, 4 or 5 juniper berries, an idea of garlic, a clove, 3 or 4 spoons of extravirgin olive oil, a spoon of sugar, less than a half glass of white wine (your choice), salt and pepper.

  As first step, make a pesto with garlic, clove, and juniper berries in a mortar. Then, rub the tenderloin with pesto you made, add drops of extravirgin olive oil, leaves of bay and let it marinate for a couple of hours. 

  For the velouté, wash the plums, peel them and make small cubes. Start frying them very gently in extravirgin olive oil, add thinely chopped onion and leaves of bay. In few moments, you’ll see how the beautiful shades of colors of the plums will get even livelier. Add some white wine and let it evaporate. It should take about 15 minutes to have a velvety compote, it depends on how much water the plums have inside. Add a coffee spoon of sugar (at this point, a good suggestion might be to taste the velouté to be sure it is right and delicate, in good balance between an acid hint and sweetness). 

  Last step is to add the pork tenderloin in the pan and keep on cooking all together before the velouté is done. The fillet will be good in few minutes and if you notice that the velouté is getting dry too fast, add a couple of soup spoons of water in order to have a moist creamy result for the recipe. Salt & pepper in the end.

  I would serve this mouthwatering dish by decorating it with slices of plum and bay leaves and I would pair it with a glass of good red wine. Any one you prefer will be the right choice for enjoying a delicious meal. 

Bon Appétit!