Thursday, May 28, 2015

Vegetable Garden Risotto

Yesterday afternoon, upon returning home, I found my little one still napping.
The perfect occasion to have a nice, quiet tour of my vegetable garden, look at the buds, the flowers, the well being of my newly planted basil...

I was delighted to see a lot of new basil "babies", peeking out of the soil for the first time!

Then I collected a lot of spinach leaves, swiss chard leaves and about 4 or 5 broccoli-rape tops:

These are delicious blanched and then fried with garlic, just like my mother does, but I don't have enough to do that.
So I added them to the spinach and swiss chard leaves and came up with this fantastic Green Risotto!

Soften half an onion in a small bit of olive oil, add a clove of garlic, chopped very tiny, and then, throw in your greens!

I used the swiss chard leaves, the spinach leaves and the broccoli-rape tops.

After less than a minute, add enough water to cover the veggies:

Salt to taste and let simmer for as long as you wish.

Once you're almost ready to eat, blend everything, as if there's no tomorrow!

Then throw in your risotto rice and, just a minute before completion, throw in some goat cheese:

It was a very tiny piece I had in the fridge, our good friend Alex brought that around some days ago.

Cook for another minute, turn once and serve:

The cheese will melt very quickly, that's why you want to add it at the end.

It was really yummy, and I was very pleased and proud to cook my own veggies :)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Spilling the Beans...

My au pair, Dalia, had some intolerance tests done while in Italy, and she found out she must not eat too much gluten, yeast, yoghurt... So we are changing now the way we eat here, and hopefully this will lead to more inspiration for those who cannot eat those things.

Yesterday I cooked something very simple, but it's worth sharing because it tasted very very nice.

We made Beans with Rice.


Soaked Pinto Beans
Tomato Sauce

A hint of Smoked Paprika


Salt to taste

Cook the beans in water and salt for about 1 hour.
Drain the beans once cooked and set aside. In the same pot, place some olive oil, some sausage pieces, half an onion and a couple of garlic cloves.
 Here, I added a few more sausages just so we had some extra for today.
Add the beans you has set on the side and stir.
 Add enough water to cover everything.
 Add a few spoonfuls of tomato passata.
 Cover and simmer on low heat for about 30 minutes, just enough time to get a nice sauce.

Cook some basmati rice with salt and turmeric, so it is healthy and yellow :)

Once everything is ready, serve and enjoy!

Mother Yeast

The holidays are now over, we got back home Thursday night at 4 am.
I brought with me many memories, pictures and a general feel of well being and happiness. Spending time with my family really fuels my soul.

I also brought with me Mother Yeast, or Pasta Madre, or Lievito Madre.

My mother got some from a friend who got it from her brother-in-law, who got it from a family somewhere else.

This is a dough which is usually passed down for generations in the households of rural Italy.

Some families had Mother Yeast passed down for the past 400 years. The older the dough, the better it works. It's something amazing to think about: you might be baking using a natural yeast  your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother used to bake.

You may be kneading the same flour they kneaded. 

However, it is hard to come by because it's not sold in any shop, you must find someone who has extra and is willing to share it.

My mother has some now, and she insisted I take some.

It needs to be renewed every week, some people renew it every single day. In fact, the more you renew it, the better it works.

Some chefs say it is at its best after 3 or 4 years of "life".

Now, to the renewal process.

First, you get the Mother Yeast out of the fridge, where is kept in a glass jar with the lid on.

Then, prepare the tools: scale, spoon and a clean bowl.
 Cover the scale plate with some tin foil, and lightly dust it with flour, so the Mother Yeast will not stick to it.
 Place the Mother Yeast on the scale and weigh it. 
Add the same amount in fresh flour.

 Place both in the bowl.
 Measure half the amount in water, for example you have 100 grams of Mother Yeast, so you'll add 50 millilitres of water.

 Knead it well as if you were making a bread loaf.

 Now, place it in the bowl, make a cross on it with a knife and cover the bowl with a clean cloth.

 When it looks like this, it is ready to go back in the glass jar and in the refrigerator.

I have renewed my own Mother Yeast today, on a Sunday, so that each week I will make sure I do it, as Sunday is usually the day we bake. It takes literally 5 minutes for the renewal process and it is great to be able to bake without any store-bought yeast.

I will be giving it a try soon, and report back ;)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

And Beauty is Around Every Corner

My husband and I managed to go out on our own a few times, during this trip.
It is nice to be able to just sit by ourselves, with a nice drink, and chit chat like two adults.
It does not happen often, and so we cherish each and every time we can indeed leave the children with the grandparents and simply go out.
We went to Gaeta, a city on the Ulysses' Riviera. It is a wonderful place, it is also called the City of 100 Churches.
Around each corner you may put up your nose and find a real treasure of old architecture.
Sometimes I wonder how people managed to erect those impressive buildings all by hand.

Below are some pictures, taken at night. Go for a walk around this place, keep looking up and you will wonder too...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Land Where Food Is Sacred

I'm not joking. Food, here in Italy, and, I believe, especially in the South, is indeed sacred.

Food has a direct link with the mothers of this Country, and we are known to be one of the population who live longer under the parents' roof. It is not by accident. We love Mamma's cuisine too much, we love the security of the family, but are often not ready to create a new family of our own.

Behind this, lie mostly economical reasons. Work does not come easy and often a full time job does not mean you can afford to rent your own place AND eat.

It is a weird Country indeed, extremely corrupt and in a deep, deep generational crisis.
However, it is also immensely beautiful and the food... Well, the food is awesome.

A few days back, we visited my auntie's home, she offered us coffee and placed this very simple sponge cake on the table. She's a very good cook herself, so after tasting the sponge I asked how you make it.

Easter Sponge Cake

She told me there is no need for a scale to make it. Fantastic, I thought.
You start by beating separately the yolk and the egg whites.
The whites must be beaten for a while, until they become nice and fluffy, as you would do to make meringue.
For each egg, she adds a spoon of regular white flour and a spoon of sugar.
She cooked it in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius until, on the top, a nice, light crust appears.

She told me, back in the days, for Easter, all the women would gather to make sponge. While the bread was cooking in the wood fired oven, each would be preparing the mixture for this. After removing the bread from the oven, which cooks at very high temperatures, they would put in the baking trays with the sponge mixture and let it slowly cook.

It was one of those events where women came together to cook. They would exchange news and gossip. There were no TVs... She also told me sugar was extremely expensive back then: to purchase 1 Kg of sugar, my grandparents had to sell 9 liters of cow's milk.

My mother, then, went to the polytunnel they build right behind the house. She came back with these:

In the picture above, courgettes flowers and rocket salad leaves, fresh from my Mother's vegetable garden.

The courgettes flowers are washed, quickly wet in beaten egg, then lightly dusted with flour and fried.

Needless to say, they are one of my favorites... This way, you can cook courgette and aubergine slices, too.

A variation of this recipe is to stuff the flowers with mozzarella. Yum!

I then spent a couple of days at my in-laws'. They are 60 Km away from my parents, they live on the coast, and they eat way different!

One of the things my mother-in-law cooked for us was Mozzarella in Carrozza, which can be translated in Mozzarella in a Carriage. Funny name :)

To make these, she uses toast bread, she removes the crust and places, in between two slices of it, mozzarella slices and cooked ham.

She will then bathe the bread in beaten egg, dust it with flour and fry it.

What you see above is the final result. Very very nice!

My mother-in-law also cooked something else I really like, Scapece Courgettes.

Scapece is a way of cooking vegetables, usually courgettes, which involves mint leaves.

These are thinly sliced, fried and then, once cool, dressed with vinegar, salt, a couple of garlic cloves and mint leaves.

Below, my Capricciosa Pizza, a take away from a local restaurant. Needless to say, it is cooked in a wood fired oven.

And this is what you can get for breakfast, if your barman likes you ;)

Come visit Italy, it's truly worth it.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Artichokes... stuffed!

I am away from home, on holidays.
I am in my favorite place on Earth.
I am at my parents' house.

This is the valley where I come from. The food here is amazing and tastes like nothing else. All is home grown, or I can buy foods that are produced with such dedication and care, they taste like they were made especially for me.

The second day I was here, a trip to the local butcher was in order. They make their own Mortadella, Porchetta, Ham and many many more delicacies.

In the counter, under the glass, I saw it: cow's milk cheese matured in May hay... I cannot describe what I felt when the boy who was serving me gave me a tiny slice to taste it.

You may not believe it; however, it was like eating wild flowers, it was like I was able to eat a smell I remember from my infancy, from the Spring.

This cheese in particular comes from somewhere in Terni, I don't know exactly where but I will find out.

My father loves collecting wild things to bring home, this time of the year it's asparagus. They obviously look nothing like the ones we buy in the shop.

 They are thin and long, very dark at times, and I cannot see them in the woods for the life of me. The few times I tried to go and gather the asparagus, I could not see even one.
You need to divide them in tiny pieces, starting from the tip, and stopping at the point where they don't "crack" anymore. That bottom part must go.

This does not mean my mother throws it away. Here is what she does; she will place them in a tray in the little glassed room outside the kitchen.
Once dry, she will grind them all and obtain a powder to use for risotto and other dishes. Imagine, asparagus-based dishes all year round. I said it before and I will say it again: she's a genius in the kitchen.

Tonight, for dinner, we had pasta with a cream of artichoke hearts and asparagus.

My mother cooked the asparagus and the artichokes hearts in a bit of water and salt, then blended everything and, in the end, added some cream.

The pasta was really good, and very light. Artichokes are known for their detoxing properties and eating them on a regular basis helps cleanse the liver and the kidneys. Even if they didn't really clean anything, who cares? They're yummy!

Now, finally, to the title of this page: Stuffed Artichokes. I love artichokes, and since they are not to be found in Ireland, I love them even more... That's part of the emigrant's curse.

Finally, the recipe for Stuffed Artichokes.


5 Artichokes
3 Eggs
1 Dry Sausage
A Handful of Mince Meat
A Bit of Breadcrumbs
A Garlic Clove
Salt to taste

 Remove a small bit of the bottom and some of the outer leaves.

 Place them in water while preparing the stuffing.

In a bowl, place the breadcrumbs and the mince meat 
Cut the sausage lengthwise in two and then in four.

 Then cut it in small pieces and add them to the bowl.

Now add the parsley.
Some garlic, in small pieces.
 Add the first two eggs.

Mix and add the last egg.

 Push apart the artichoke leaves and start stuffing it.

 Once stuffed, place them in a pot, cover with water and a spoon of tomato passata.

On top, place some sticks to make sure the artichokes do not come afloat.
Place them on low heat and let them boil for about an hour.
And now, enjoy...