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!

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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Route of the ‘Cipolliane’: an Amazing Adventure in the Prehistory

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Last Sunday morning, our destination was the majestic Ciolo inlet: 30 meters above the sea level, a precious case, which represents an amazing study of the Upper Paleolithic, and its bridge, a modern architecture and outstretched view in front of the Ionian Sea, in the regional natural park ‘Costa Otranto-Santa Maria di Leuca and Bosco di Tricase’, in the deep South of Apulia. From Santa Maria di Leuca, it takes only few minutes of driving to get there. The promise for nice mild weather was fulfilled. Totò, our eco-guide from ‘Avanguardie’, introduced the ‘Cipolliane’ route and, all of us, a quite large number of people, already were looking forward the pleasure of the exploration. The first part of the trekking was by the sea.

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The eyes in direction of the horizon, toward distant lands: only the sea and the white smooth rocks could tell, in the long course of million years, the transit of creatures, human beings and goods by whatever transport was available. Indeed, our feet were travelling all over history and prehistory standing on a coral reef where it was possible to notice, for example, traces of minerals like glauconite, sedimentary deposits of corals and their shelves, etc. Just for a moment, we had the awareness of a quick glance coming from the sea and it was not far from where we were. We distinctly heard a splash in the water and when we tried to follow with the sight, ‘something’ had already provoked a whirlpool that spread out in concentric rings on the surface, while a tail, followed by foam and bubbles, was disappearing underwater with swiftness. Totò explained us that once the place was home for the Mediterranean monk seal and, because of the presence of the human being, nowadays, it is more rare for this specimen to live by the coast. Anyway, as it is reported by local news, it seems that recently the monk seal has been seen again and again in the area. If it is true, the choice to rebuild its own natural habitat there should be respected letting this specimen to live in tranquillity.

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Following a narrow winding path, we then reached what it could be defined as an amazing work of art sculpted by the hand of nature, a grotto that invited to contemplation, about 10 meters above the sea level: it could remind of a natural cathedral and its motherly arms in order to show us all its mysterious beauty. 

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Our trekking adventure went on through well preserved terraces used for the cultivation of olive groves and, in the end, we followed a path along an ancient canyon rich of vegetation that took us up on the hill first and again to the bridge in front of the sea. 

Many thanks and compliments to ‘Avanguardie’ for the splendid excursion they designed for us.

 

A Sunday Walk into Beauty and Autumn Fragrances

Fragrances and beauty of Nature on a Sunday walk

In the light mist of a mild Autumn Sunday morning, I joined a couple of friends, Emanuela and Totò (founders and CEO of ‘Avanguardie’ environmental studio and expert guides) and a large group of trekking excursioners. Our 3 hours walk today was up on a hill, in the heart of Apulia region and Salento countryside. Soon, we stepped in a forest and had a dip into an atmosphere made of overflowing energy and tastes of fluttering Mediterranean fragrances.The light danced through the soft swaying of tall pines and just little later, it was amazing to see how the steppe,the forest again and then Mediterranean landscapes alternated one to an other until we walked along an ancient Roman path that took the group to the final destination, the rural architecture of ‘Le Stanzie’.
Besides,it was interesting to listen to the accurate explainations of doctor Marcella Saponaro: the fascinating narration about ancient myths bound to the natural world and plants; on natural remedies and, in particular, about the range of plants we met along the path; the healthy benefits of essential oils, when wisely prescribed by professionals. Oil of cedar wood, for example: one drop of it on each knee and one drop under the feet can help the balance and stability during the trekking training.

Hope you all had a nice weekend!