Sunday 28 October 2018

New pasta and cake recipes for the autumn

My mum and I experimented extensively during summer and autumn time twisting traditional recipes and creating new ones. We also made different kinds of bread with intriguing flours we found on supermarket shelves both in Italy and in England, like Manitoba flour (from a region in Canada, in English it is called strong Canadian flour), curcuma flour (from turmeric, a root of a plant), soya
flour, pane nero flour (flour for black bread) and malthouse flour. I love making bread, it is easy and quick. You just mix the right amount of flour (500 g), dry yeast, oil, salt and lukewarm water (the ingredients and recipes are usually printed on the packet), and let it rest and rise in a warm place for two-three hours. It is like seeing something growing that once done and baked becomes food, basic food as bread actually is, a nourishing vital part of our life.

Here are some snug recipes for autumn time that came out particularly well.

Black rice

You need: 300 g of black or brown rice (Thai black rice is a good option); for the tomato sauce you need: a can of plum tomatoes, one clove of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, some prawns, half an onion, a courgette, salt, pepper and basil.

Prepare the tomato sauce pouring some oil in a pan and adding the chopped plum tomatoes. Add garlic, salt, pepper and half a tsp of sugar. Let it simmer for half an hour then add some leaves of fresh basil and the prawns. Let it simmer for another half hour. A part prepare the courgette in a frying pan cooking the onion thinly cut in some oil first and then adding the courgette cut in cubes. When it is ready add it to the tomato sauce and mix. Cook the rice, drain it and season it with the tomato, prawn and courgette sauce.

Potato gateau

You need: 300 g of potatoes, one sausage or some cubes of pancetta, 150 g of grated mozzarella, half a tsp of nutmeg, one egg, a tbsp. of breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top and some flakes of butter.

Peel and cut the potatoes in pieces. Cook the potatoes in boiling water, drain and mash them in a big bowl. Cook the sausage (or pancetta cubes) and peel it. Add the meat to the mashed potatoes together with all the other ingredients (except breadcrumbs and butter). Mix well till you have a smooth mixture. Spread the potato mixture in an oiled tin and make it even. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs on top and add some flakes of butter. Bake at 180° C for half an hour. You can serve it cold or warm.

Cake with polenta flour

You need: 100 g of polenta flour, 150 g of white flour, 150 g of white caster sugar, 100 g of butter, two eggs, two yolks, a pinch of salt, two tbsp. of liquor, a tsp and a half of baking powder, a tsp of bicarbonate of soda.

Mix the eggs with the sugar and beat it. Add the melted butter and flours and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients and pour the mixture in a greased plum cake mould. Bake at 180° C for half an hour or till ready. Sprinkle some icing sugar on top while it is still warm.

Focaccia with grapes or plums

For the dough you need: 500 g of Manitoba flour, a pinch of salt, 60 g of sugar, dry yeast, 300 g of warm milk.
For the filling you need: 500 g of black grapes or/and plums, four tbsp. of Demerara sugar, the juice of a lemon. Some flakes of butter and icing sugar to decorate.

Prepare the dough mixing all the ingredients and let it rest and rise in a warm place covered with a damp tea towel for two-three hours. Cut the fruit in pieces and add the Demerara sugar and the lemon juice. Divide the dough in two and roll it out. Line a rectangular greased tin with a dough sheet and pour the fruit mixture on it then cover it with the other dough sheet.  Make some holes on the top with a knife or a cutter and put some flakes of butter on top. Bake at 180° C for forty-five minutes. When ready sprinkle some icing sugar on top.

Maple syrup Swiss roll

You need: 100 g of white flour, 100 g of sugar, 2 tbsp. of Canadian maple syrup, one tsp of baking powder, five eggs, some baking paper.
For the filling you need: 300 g of whipping cream, 1tbsp. of sugar, two tbsp. of Canadian maple syrup, half a tsp of organic 100% cocoa, three tbsp. of warm milk, two crashed crispbakes, some shaves of dark chocolate to decorate.

Whip the eggs with the sugar using a blender for 10-15 minutes. Add the other ingredients and pour the mixture on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Bake at 180° C for 15 minutes or till ready. Sprinkle some sugar on a damp cotton tea towel. Place the cake over it, lift off the tray and peel the paper carefully. Roll the cake in the tea towel and wait till it cools. Prepare the filling whipping the cream with one tbsp. of sugar. Add the maple syrup and the milk mixed with the cocoa powder. Finally add the crashed crispbakes and mix well. Unroll the cake and spread half of the cream mixture on it. Roll it again and place it on a tray. Spread the rest of the cream on top and shave on it some dark chocolate. Chill it for a few hours before serving.

Garibaldi biscuits

This is a popular recipe I revisited. You need: 200 g of self-raising flour (or white flour plus half a tsp of baking powder), 50 g of caster sugar, two eggs, 50 g of butter, two tbsp. of milk, 50 g of dried cranberries, Demerara sugar, some liquor.

Soak the cranberries in some water mixed with some liquor. Beat the sugar with one egg for a few minutes, add the flour and baking powder. Soften the butter in the microwave for 30 seconds and add it to the mixture. Add the milk as well and knead the dough (if it is too sticky add some more flour). Roll it out and cut it in two parts. Drain and squeeze the cranberries and sprinkle them on one of the dough sheets then cover it with the other sheet. Cut rectangular shapes and set them on a greased oven tray. Beat an egg and brush it over the biscuits. Finally sprinkle some Demerara sugar on top. Bake at 180° C for 15-20 minutes.

Sunday 14 October 2018

In touch with my family

While I was in Surrey with my mum, the rest of the family was away for the summer. My autistic daughter Valentina lives in a residential school near Doncaster so we go and visit her every three-four weeks. She was in a creative mood this summer. Every time we went she drew for us whatever she wanted to watch or get, like cartoon characters (Futurama and SpongeBob are her favourites), new clothes or special food. She has become so skilful with it that it is her main way of communicating when there is something different she wants from the usual things. She had a go with the swimming pool the staff arranged for her in the garden but didn’t seem happy to go out when we visited. She preferred to stay inside, enjoy our company and change her clothes arranging them in fashionable funky ways.

My other daughter is in Tokyo so my husband and my son went to see her for a few weeks. They were enthusiastic about it. They described Japan as very well organized and tidy. Trains are always on time, there’s no litter in the streets and people never speak loudly, they whisper or keep silent, and bow of course, at a proper distance from one another. They said museums are not so great, but their art is superb. unfortunately mount Fuji is often wrapped in fog, so it is hard to get good pictures, better download them from the internet. They sent me some funny photos with my husband framed as a geisha and my daughter and son smiling in a busy market place. It was hot, they said, and food is good, though some things, like vegetables and fruit, can be very expensive, £10 for some grapes and £3 for an orange.

We had two family gatherings. One in front of the TV watching the Football World Cup in July. Unfortunately, the Italian team was out but we supported different teams in turns according to our whims. I supported England, of course, and hoped till the end it could make it against Croatia, but the Croatians looked so tense and determined to win, sort of shipwreck survivors’ squad, that managed to defeat the well fed and fit English players. Maybe next time. But I was happy England got so far, I think it was a great achievement.

At the end of the summer, my eldest son and daughter in law came to visit us from Leeds for a week. It was wonderful to have them with us for some time, relax together, watch TV, have a long good chat after dinner. They had time to visit London and meet her relatives in the south as well. We went to a new Italian restaurant together, Rosso Mazara (, where we spoiled ourselves with fantastic gamberoni (big prawns), linguini allo scoglio (linguini with seafood), pasta alla norma (you can find the recipe here below), calamari, sardines and delicious bruschetta and arancini.

My mum and I dragged my daughter in law in our charity shops hunting tours. We could pick up a
few bargains ranging from clothes, CDs, haberdashery, china and glass stuff and toys. I found a little doll with a set of clothes and shoes for my daughter Valentina for £2 and wine and sherry glasses I craved for only £1 each. My mum found a lamp for £3 and some vases she is going to bring back to Italy. Then clothes, of course, a long dress with bead decorations I am going to send to my daughter in Japan and beautiful frames for £1 or £2, sort of vintage style, which I prefer to the brand new ones you pay £10 or more for in department stores.

I use frames for many occasions, above all for photos. I need to have family photos everywhere at home: walls, shelves, near my desk, which is the kitchen table, on the fridge, and near the TV. My children are all away from home and though I keep in touch with them by Skype, WhatsApp and by phone, but it is still hard for me not seeing them often, especially my ‘Japanese’ daughter. So I keep them at hand in family pics I update from time to time creating compositions and collages, crowding the house with their smiling presence.

Shopping in charity shops has multiple advantages. First of all, the economic one, you will never spend much money there, I mean hundreds of pounds, and the money will go for a good cause. Besides, you can find something unique, maybe old style that can add a quirky touch to your outfit, and it can be good quality. Then there is the treasure-hunt, surprise aspect, you never know what you’re going to find, the lucky pick hidden under a pile of faded scarves or felted pullovers. You need to be persistent and follow your instinct, something you may not need today might be vital tomorrow. So buy it, you need some distractions. And if you are not going to use it, you can give it as a present. Spoil yourself, it’s just a few pounds. My mum and I always feel better after our charity shop tours.

After our luscious dinner at Rosso Mazara, my mum and I experimented pasta alla norma at home. It is a recipe from Sicily created to pay a tribute to the great opera composer Vincenzo Bellini, who was from Catania. He wrote the score of Norma where the protagonist sings the famous aria (song) Casta Diva (Chaste Goddess. You can listen here to the aria sung by the great opera singer Maria Callas: ) to the moon to ask for protection and intercession. Though the recipe does not recall the unfortunate story of betrayal and self-sacrifice of the Gaul priestess, it is a very tasty dish that mixes typical Mediterranean products. Here is the recipe.

You need: 300 g of penne or fusilli, 2 aubergines, a clove of garlic, 300 g of cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, grated salted ricotta (sort of hard cheese you can find in Italian deli shops), half of a red onion.

Prepare the sauce cutting the tomatoes in half and cooking them in a pan with oil and garlic for half an hour. Add basil and simmer them for another half hour. Peel and cut the aubergines in cubes, fry them in a frying pan with some oil and the onion thinly cut. When ready, mix the aubergines and the tomato sauce in the pan and add the basil. Let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Prepare the pasta and season it with the sauce. Serve with grated salted ricotta on top and enjoy!