Bread, Veggies

Butternut Pumpkin and Blue Stilton Loaf

I would kill for a slice of Blue Stilton. No kidding. I absolutely adore the pungent flavor of this cheese, its color and how it combines with sweet ingredients. Honey, of course, pears or grapes. And how about fig marmalade? Orgasmic. BUT, have you ever tried it with butternut pumpkin?

If the answer is no, this is your lucky day. Here’s a recipe that will knock you out. It’s a simple loaf with pieces of butternut pumpkin and Blue Stilton, and you’ll need approximately 3 hours to make it.

This doesn’t mean it’s a difficult process. You only need time to make the dough raise and cook it in the oven. It could be a nice way to spend your Sunday morning… 🙂

Butternut Pumpkin and Blue Stilton Loaf

400 gr. butternut pumpkin, pealed and cut into small pieces (1 cm)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

a pinch of sea salt

a pinch of black pepper

200 gr. Blue Stilton, cut into small pieces

For the dough

500 gr. all-purpose flour

2 tsp caster sugar

2 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp of chopped rosemary

2 eggs

1 onion, pealed and cut into small pieces

125 ml extra virgin olive oil

125 ml milk

2 tbsp active dry yeast

125 ml warm water

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Preheat the oven at 180° C (350°F). Peal and cut into cubes the butternut pumpkin. Season them

with extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until tender.

In the meantime, mix the dry yeast with warm water in a bowl, stir and let it rest for 10 minutes in a warm place. Put the onion, milk, oil, sugar, salt, rosemary and eggs in a food processor and wiz until smooth (you can also use an immersion blender).

Take a large bowl, add the flour, the liquid mixture and the yeast, then stir well to combine all the ingredients. The dough should be smooth. Cover it and let it rest for 1 hour and a half in a warm place.

At this point, add the butternut pumpkin cubes and the Blue Stilton to the dough. Stir well and pour the mixture into a lightly greased 2 liters loaf tin. If you don’t have this size, use two smaller tins. Bake for 1 hour and let it cool 10 minutes before serving it.

 

 

Lactose free, Rice, Veggies

Spelt Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic and Thyme

I’m always looking for new ideas to use spelt, barley and other substitutes of rice, because I love their crunchy consistency and their flavor, that in some way reminds me of nuts. The spelt salad I’m going to tell you about is one of my favorites.

Take the smell and colors of summer in the Mediterranean, then add a pinch of rural home cooking, and you’ll obtain a simple dish, but full of flavors and nutrients that will give you the energy you need to live your day in the right way.

Of course, you need time to cook the spelt and roast the tomatoes and garlic, but I assure you that this spelt salad is worth it! Plus, you can also eat it cold, just adding some fresh extra virgin olive oil and some leaves of basil. Yes, cooking your lunch break can be THAT EASY.

If you don’t like spelt, you can use bargain or brown rice, the result will be awesome anyway! And if you’re wandering about the roasted garlic, don’t panic! Your social relationships will not be affected by it! The garlic cooked in this way loses its strong and – sometimes- unpleasant flavor, and it becomes a delicate and digestible cream that will make your spelt salad unforgettable!

Spelt Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic and Thyme (4 servings)

1 kg mixed tomatoes

2 bulbs of garlic

400 gr. spelt

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

a bunch of thyme

1 tbsp of honey

zest of 1 lemon

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Preheat the oven at 180° C ( 356°F).

Take a baking tray and cover it with baking paper. Then cut the biggest tomatoes in half, and leave the small ones as they are. Also cut the bulbs of garlic in half, without peeling them.

Place the vegetables on the baking tray, and season them with thyme, sea salt, black pepper, the honey, the zest of lemon and a generous supply of extra virgin olive oil. Roast them for about 40 minutes.

In the meantime, cook the spelt as suggested on the package. When it’s done, put it in a large pan and add some of the tomatoes (leave one or two of the big ones to decorate). Take the garlic and squeeze it on the spelt. The cloves will be creamy and very sweet. Now add the sauce you’ll find in the baking tray, then mix your spelt salad.

Decorate every bowl with a roasted tomato and, if you like, add some extra virgin olive oil and fresh leaves of basil.

 

Fish, Lactose free, Veggies

White Asparagus Soup with Scallops and Prosciutto Crudo di Parma

I’ve read an article on the Huffington Post titled “Everything you Need To Know About White Asparagus”. Now, the article wasn’t so thorough as it promised, but I liked the definition of this lovely spring ingredient as the “vampire of the vegetable world”. Not only it highlights its mysterious nature, but also its rarity.

As you may know, white asparagus are not white just because. They become white after a forced procedure where they are grown underground. The absence of sunlight prevents the formation of chlorophyll and ta-daa! No green color on them. But there’s more. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t explain how it happens, but they also become more tender and sweeter than normal asparagus.

Plus, they are SO fancy! White asparagus are certainly among the fanciest ingredients you can possibly eat during springtime. I’ve found an even fancier way to cook them. There’s a soup (dah..), but there’s also Prosciutto crudo di Parma (look here for another way to serve it) and sweet scallops. In a word, a real orgasmic food experience.

I’ve tried the combination white asparagus-prosciutto crudo in Berlin, three years ago. At the beginning of Spring, farmers markets proliferate with these delicacies. In the baskets, white asparagus are close to ready-made hollandaise sauce and already cut and packed prosciutto.

Apart from the dubious quality of the last two ingredients, the idea is very nice! Boiled asparagus served with high quality prosciutto and homemade hollandaise sauce is a fantastic recipe! So, try it too.

Now, here’s my soup. Very simple, very fancy, friends will love you AND this dish. Maybe, not in this order.

White Asparagus Soup with Scallops and Prosciutto Crudo di Parma (4 servings)

1 big bunch of white asparagus

2 spring onions

2 big potatoes

1/2 lt. of vegetable broth

150 gr. Prosciutto crudo di Parma

4 scallops

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Bring the broth to a boil. In the meantime, thinly cut the spring onions and the potatoes. Begin to cook them in a large casserole with 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil. While they cook, cut the white asparagus into small pieces, then add them to the other vegetables and stir.

Add some salt and pepper, and let the vegetables cook for 5 minutes. Then, add the broth and turn the stove down to a minimum. Let it cook for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. Add salt if necessary, then blend the vegetables to obtain a creamy soup.

In a small pan, roast the prosciutto slices on both sides – they should become very crispy. Put the slices on a kitchen towel, then roast the scallops in the same pan. They will roast in the grease left by the prosciutto (yum!). Cook the scallops for 3 minutes on each side, until they’re nicely browned.

Time to serve! Pour the soup in small bowls, then add two or three slices of prosciutto, one scallop for each bowl and some black pepper on top. Lovely!

Pasta, Veggies

Bigoli de Bassan with Anchovies and Savoy Cabbage Cream

It’s always a pleasure to buy veggies from a boat. Every Friday night I wait for the boat that comes from Saint Erasmus island. I wait at a bacaro – a traditional Venetian bar -, sipping a glass of wine, chatting with friends, enjoying the beginning of the weekend.

You don’t know which vegetables you’ll find in your bag. You just wait for the arrival of the little boat, which bravely crosses the lagoon at night, full of wonderful organic veggies. Of course, not knowing what to expect makes the whole thing even more special!

When I made shopping for veggies last Friday, I found a beautiful Savoy cabbage in my bag. I’m serious when I say that Savoy cabbage is just perfect with Bigoli de Bassan and anchovies. It’s a true love affair.

You don’t know what Bigoli de Bassan is, right? Don’t feel ashamed. It’s quite normal to ignore its existence in the enormous variety of Italian pasta. Nevertheless, it’s never too late to start filling this gap!

Bigoli de Bassan is the typical pasta of Bassano del Grappa, a beautiful village near Venice. It’s quite similar to spaghetti, but thicker, and it’s made with a special press called bigolaro. Durum wheat semolina, water and nothing more. These simple ingredients contain all the culinary traditions of the Venetian region.

Savoy cabbage and anchovies will do the rest. The salty presence of the lagoon finds a perfect balance with the sweetness of the veggies grown on Saint Erasmus island. Still tender and light green.

I love this dish. It feels like home.

Bigoli de Bassan with Anchovies and Savoy Cabbage Cream (4 servings)

400 gr. Bigoli de Bassan

7-8 anchovies in oil

2 cloves of garlic

40 gr. breadcrumbs

400 gr. Savoy cabbage

2 shallots

150 ml of whole milk

extra virgin olive oil

black pepper

sea salt

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Bring a huge pot full of water to a boil and salt it. In the meantime, thinly cut the Savoy cabbage and the shallots. Brown them in a large pan with 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil, then add salt and black pepper. Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes, or until they become tender.

Blend the Savoy cabbage and the shallots while adding some warm milk. You should obtain a creamy texture, not too liquid. Taste the Savoy cabbage cream and add more salt or pepper if needed.

Start cooking the pasta. Meanwhile, take a large pan, add 2 tbs of oil, the garlic and the anchovies. They should melt into the oil. Add more oil if you need it. In a small pan, toast the breadcrumbs for 3-4 minutes.

After 10 minutes, drain the pasta and add it to the anchovies sauce. Add some cooking water and keep stirring the pasta while it ends its cooking time absorbing the sauce. When it’s still al dente, add the breadcrumbs.

To serve it, pour some Savoy cabbage cream on the bottom of the plate, then create a nice nest of Bigoli on top of it. A few drops of oil, some black pepper, and you’re ready to serve it!

Fish, Veggies

Sea Bass in Salt and Herbs Crust with Sicilian Salad

Walking by in the morning and say hello to the fish seller of the Giudecca island is one of the thing I love the most. Fresh sea bass, sea bream, black cuttlefish and precious shellfish look at me from the counter. They come from the Venice lagoon. Their marine, clean smell permeates the street and mingles with the salty wind from the Giudecca canal. And that’s one of the best thing about living in Venice.

Baking in a salt crust is an ancient cooking technique. The salt insulates the food, cooking it gently and evenly. That’s the reason why it works so well with such a delicate product as fish. By protecting the sea bass with the salt crust, the fish will stay moist and fragrant. The addition of herbs and lemon zest to the crust enhances the fresh flavor of the sea bass, without altering it.

In my opinion, there is no need to add anything else! Just a few drops of extra virgin olive oil, some black pepper, and that’s it! I have decided to serve it with a fresh Sicilian salad with fennel and oranges, and simple boiled potatoes. Enjoy this healthy and delicious dish!

 

 

Sea Bass in Salt and Herbs Crust 

1 kg. table salt

1 kg. cooking salt

sea bass (1 kg. for 2 persons)

4 egg whites

1 clove garlic

1 lemon zest

an aromatic bouquet with: rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley and bay laurel

black pepper

 

Sicilian Salad 

1 fennel                                                                                        sicilian salad

1 orange

black olives

a pinch of chili pepper

sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Preheat the oven at 200°C (392°F).

Let’s begin by preparing the crust. Thinly slice the herbs, together with the clove of garlic and the lemon zest. Keep 1 table spoon of sliced herbs aside: you will need it to season the fish. Whisk the egg whites and add the herbs. Then add the salt to the mixture and stir. You’ll obtain a grainy crust.

Gut and clean your seabass. Brush and season the inside with the herbs. Now take a large baking tray and cover it with baking paper. Spread half of the salt crust on the baking tray, following the shape of the fish. Then put the fish on top of it and cover it completely with the rest of the salt mixture. Gently press it.

Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. Break the crust with a small hammer and serve the sea bass fillets with Sicilian salad and some simple boiled potatoes, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper.

For the salad Thinly slice the fennel and the orange, previously peeled. Season the vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of chili and add some black olives.

 

Rice, Veggies

Pumpkin Risotto with Fried Tuscan Kale

Free the pumpkins! Let them flourish on the fields with their bright colors and funny shapes! Make kilos of pumpkin risotto! I love this time of the year, and I’m an enthusiast of this knotted, almost Jurassic vegetable. The pumpkin is versatile and healthy. It’s sweet but it doesn’t make you gain weight (thanks a lot). I mean, pumpkins are great! They should be honored with a sort of prize for the best vegetable of the year, or something like that.

Now that you’ve got the point – yes, I’m desperately in love with pumpkins – I would love sharing this recipe with you. It’s a quite traditional pumpkin risotto, but with a twist. In fact, to contrast its intense sweetness I’ll serve it with fried Tuscan kale, which has a bitter and salty flavor.

Tuscan kale is quite new on my table. As a matter of fact, I’ve started exploring its potentialities only recently. This type of kale is mostly used in Tuscany (duh…) and it’s the main ingredient of a traditional soup called Ribollita, with carrots, beans, Savoy cabbage and onions. I’ve made it, and it’s a fantastic soup. But these wrinkled leaves give excellent results also used as a side dish, with anchovies, garlic and chili, or to make pesto.

But fried…this is another story. Its flavor changes, it becomes more similar to cauliflower, but still keeping that elegant bitterness. You should try it. Believe me!

 

Pumpkin Risotto with Fried Tuscan Kale (4 servings)

240 gr. rice (arborio or vialone)

1 small onion

50 gr. unsalted butter

1 lt. broth

400 gr. pumpkin

4 small leaves Tuscan kale

50 gr. grated Parmesan cheese

1 tbsp. butter to make the rice creamy

the zest of a half lemon

a pinch of nutmeg

a few drops of balsamic vinegar (optional)

sunflower oil

 

LET’S DO IT! 

Bring the broth to a boil. Mince the onion and brown it with butter in a large casserole. Let it cook until it becomes transparent, then add the rice. Stir and toast it for about 3 minutes. Chop the pumpkin in very small pieces and add them to the rice. Mix the rice, adding a spoonful of broth at a time. The rice must absorb all the broth before you can add another spoonful of it.

While cooking the risotto, keep stirring: this will help releasing the starch that makes the risotto creamy. When the rice is cooked (not overcooked!), it’s time for the creamy-effect! Turn off the burner and add a bit of broth. Then add the lemon zest, the nutmeg, a tbsp of butter and the grated Parmesan cheese, then mix vigorously. Let it rest, covered, for 3 minutes. In the meantime, deep fry the Tuscan kale leaves in a casserole with sunflower oil.

Time to serve! Put the risotto in a soup plate, than arrange the fried Tuscan kale leaves on top of it and, if you like it, complete with few drops of balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

Veggies

Erbazzone Pie: a Traditional Recipe from the Italian Food Valley

The Erbazzone Pie has been a constant presence at birthday parties, when I was a child and my mom used to serve it cut into squared slices. Everyone loved it warm and greased, with little salty bacon crumbs on top of it. It tasted like the countryside where it came from and where we loved to play. It still tastes that way to me, even now that I’m thirty!

If you’re looking for traditional Italian recipes, Erbazzone Pie is a great dish to start your research. Moreover, it’s not very well known and I think that this anonymity guarantees its authenticity even more. In fact, no variations have altered the antique recipe, that goes back to the farming roots of Emilia Romagna. More specifically, Reggio Emilia. When poverty deprived the families of nourishing meals, Erbazzone Pie was a way to put something on the plates anyway. The ingredients are quite simple indeed: chard, spinach, water and flour for the dough and some lard to give flavor. That’s it. The presence of Parmesan cheese was a very rare addition, to be used only to celebrate special occasions.

This aspect hasn’t changed that much. Erbazzone Pie is still a way to celebrate, to spend lovely moments with friends and to eat a sinful dish without regretting it too much. Cut into small slices and accompanied with sweet Prosciutto di Parma and arugula salad, Erbazzone Pie will give the best of itself. Give it a chance!

 

Traditional Erbazzone Pie 

For the filling:

1 kg. chard

400 gr. spinach

80 gr. minced bacon

1 small onion

1 clove of garlic

100 gr. Parmesan cheese

extra virgin olive oil

black pepper

sea salt

1 pinch nutmeg

2 tbsp parsley

 

For the dough: 

300 gr. whole flour

1 tsp sea salt

50 gr. butter

warm water

1 tsp lard (if you like the idea)

80 gr. extra bacon for the crust

 

LET’S DO IT! 

To begin with, carefully wash chard and spinach, then put them to boil in salty water. Boil the vegetables for 5 minutes, then let them drain thoroughly. In the meantime, thinly mince garlic and onion, and put them in a large pan with the minced bacon and some extra virgin olive oil (or butter). Let them gently cook for 5 minutes, then add the vegetables that you have previously squeezed and grounded. Brown the mixture for 10 to 15 minutes, then add salt, pepper, nutmeg and fresh parsley. When it’s almost completely cold, add the grated Parmesan cheese and stir.

Let’s prepare the dough. Process flour, salt, butter, lard (option) and slowly add the warm water, until the dough is elastic and smooth, as you can see from the picture above. The quantity of the water depends on the humidity of the flour, so add it drop to drop. Let the dough rest for half an hour, then divide it into two parts, one a bit bigger than the other.

Take the biggest piece of dough and roll it very thinly – about two millimeters thick – on a floured surface with a rolling pin. Put the dough in a 23 cm wide baking tray, then add the filling. Cover it with the second piece of rolled dough and close the edges. Punch the crust with a fork and spread the minced bacon on it.

Bake the pie at 220°C (425°F) for 30 minutes. Serve it warm or cold, it’s delicious anyway!

Pasta, Veggies

Tagliatelle with Honey Fungus and Taleggio Fondue is All You Need

I love mushrooms. They’re super versatile and they give you an extra dose of satisfaction when they decide to grow in your garden. This morning I have found bunches of honey fungus. I’m not a mushroom picking specialist, but I’m used to this specific type. It’s quite popular in this area. The frost of last night made the colors of leaves and grass brighter. It was so nice picking them, frozen and perfect in my hands, with their characteristic golden color.

Nice, right? Well, be sure to cook them and never eat them raw, because they’re poisonous. These little guys are a delicacy, they can compete with porcino mushrooms, but they contain a toxin that may give you a very bad night. You only need to cook them thoroughly, then you’re fine. I promise!

To bring out their nutty flavor in the best way, I have decided to prepare a first dish of tagliatelle, mushrooms and Taleggio cheese fondue. Of course, if you can’t find honey fungus, feel free to use morels, porcini mushrooms or any kind of wild mushroom you like. The same freedom can be used in the choice of the cheese for the fondue. Parmesan cheese (real Parmesan, please!) is perfect, or you can use Gorgonzola cheese for a stronger flavor, but use more milk in this case. So, get ready for a foodgasm.

 

Tagliatelle with Honey Fungus and Taleggio Fondue (for four persons)

400 gr. tagliatelle

400 gr. honey fungus or other kinds of wild mushrooms

50 gr. unsalted butter

a sprig of fresh parsley, finely minced

1 clove of garlic

sea salt

black pepper (don’t be cheap with it)

150 gr. Taleggio cheese

125 ml. whole milk

125 ml. cream

50 gr. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (yes, more cheese)

extra virgin olive oil

 

LET’S DO IT!

Clean the mushrooms from dirt and grass. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the clove of garlic and the minced parsley. Let it cook gently for about two minutes, then add the mushrooms. Stir and add a pinch of sea salt and a lavish pinch of black pepper. The honey fungus will release their liquid, but I suggest adding some water. Let them gently simmer for about fifty minutes, or until tender.

Now it’s time to take care of the cheese fondue. Heat up milk and cream, but don’t let them boil. When the mixture is hot, add the Taleggio cheese that you have previously cut into small pieces. Now stir and be patient – your fondue needs time and a soft touch. It should simmer, but never boil.

Boil the water for the pasta in a big pot. When the water is boiling, add a pinch of salt, then pour the tagliatelle in. Since it’s fresh pasta, it doesn’t need to boil too long. In fact, if you do, your dish will turn into a complete disaster! So, do not go over the time indicated, that should be six minutes. When the pasta is ready, drain it and keep a glass of the cooking water. Cook the tagliatelle with the mushrooms and the grated Parmesan cheese until creamy. If you lack some liquid, use the cooking water you have saved.

Time to serve! Pour some of the fondue at the bottom of your plate, than make a nest of tagliatelle and lightly place it on top of the fondue. A sprinkle of parsley and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil will turn this dish into a special moment to enjoy with your loved ones.