Saturday 24 October 2020

Making life tasty during the pandemic: new recipes

 Tasty food helps in dull moments. I kept on growing pasta madre (sourdough) in the fridge throughout summer and in autumn too and I am still using it in my weekly pizza. I also add a sachet of dry yeast now that it’s back on the supermarket shelves. Using both yeast and sourdough makes my pizza dough softer and it rises better. Cooking also helps me chill out after a busy day at school or in the transition from weekly days and the weekend.

I experimented different pasta seasonings and savoury recipes but also a few cakes that I distributed in tiny pieces in my neighbourhood. Some of the recipes are from newspapers and online magazines but I simplified them and adapted the ingredients to my family’s taste. I find that sometimes online recipes are over complicated, there are too many ingredients and above all they feature great amounts of sugar and fat, especially butter. In the UK there is an emergency of overweight and obese people apparently, so we should follow a healthier diet and hopefully lose weight. For this reason I reduced the doses of fats and sugars in my versions and used instead sunflower oil and/or added the herbs from my trug vegetable garden. For example, I prepared rich frittata with courgettes and courgette flowers adding Majorana and Greek parsley, fantastic roast pork belly with apple vinegar, pink lady apples and thyme and Spanish omelette with plenty of potatoes and onions plus basil lemon and lavender grosso leaves. The vegetable garden also produced a great deal of cherry tomatoes and lettuce and, when the weather turned colder, green tomatoes didn’t seem to turn red, so I used them to season pasta adding olive oil, pecorino and parmigiano.

Here are my achievements:  

Spaghetti with lemon sauce and olives  

You need: 300 g of spaghetti, two lemons, 10 green olives and 10 black olives pitted and roughly chopped, 50 g of butter, olive oil, a clove of garlic, lemon basil, parsley, salt and white pepper, parmigiano.   

Cut the lemons in slices and cook them in a large frying pan with butter and oil. Remove the lemon slices and add the herbs and the olives. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Prepare the spaghetti and when they are ready toss them in the pan adding a few slices of lemon. Serve with plenty of parmigiano and some fresh parsley.  

Rice with lemon sauce  

You need: 300 of arborio rice, half an onion, vegetable stock, 50 g of butter, olive oil, celery stick, one egg, one lemon, salt and white pepper.  

Prepare a soffritto with butter, olive oil, celery and onion thinly cut, add the rice, the lemon grated zest and the lemon juice. Beat the egg in a bowl and add it too. Pour the vegetable stock little by little and stir until the rice is ready. Serve with parmigiano and fresh parsley leaves.  

Spaghetti with burrata  

I found some excellent burrata at the Italian Deli and at the supermarket too. Here is an easy delicious recipe:  

You need: 300 g of spaghetti or linguine, chopped tomatoes, a clove of garlic, olive oil, chilli, fresh basil leaves and burrata.  

Simmer the chopped tomatoes with olive oil, salt, white pepper, garlic chilli and half a tsp of sugar for about half an hour-forty-five minutes. When it is ready add the basil leaves and let it cool. Cook the spaghetti, drain them and mix in the tomato sauce. Serve the spaghetti on a plate with burrata on top and enjoy!  

Spanish omelette  

You need: olive oil, spring onions, two big potatoes peeled and cut in slices, six eggs, basil lemon, majorana and lavender grosso leaves, salt and white pepper.  

Cook the potatoes in a frying pan with olive oil together with the chopped onions. Remove them from the pan and set them on a plate. Beat the eggs with salt and pepper and pour them in the pan then add the potatoes, onions and herbs. Cook until ready covering it with a lid.   

Here are two recipes my mum’s carer, Tania, sent me:  

Moldavian involtini (Sarmale)  

You need: two carrots, an onion, celery, olive oil, some minced beef, tomato passata, salt and pepper, rice, lettuce leaves.   

Cut the carrots, celery and onions thinly and fry them slightly in olive oil (soffritto), then add two tbsp of tomato passata, the meat, salt and pepper. Prepare the rice too cooking and draining it. Slightly cook the lettuce leaves in boiling water then wrap the mixture of meat and rice in the lettuce leaves. Cook the involtini (meat rolls) in a sauce pan covering them with some water. Let it simmer until the water evaporates.  

Moldavian pancakes  

You can mix any kind of vegetables with the dough: courgette, cucumbers, spinach, onions and/or potatoes. You need to cut the vegetables in small pieces first and boil or fry them.  

For the dough you need: 150 g of self-raising flour, two eggs, 50 ml of milk, half a tbsp. of oil, salt.  

Mix all the ingredients together and add the vegetables of your choice. Knead the dough and let it rest for one hour. Form small pancakes and fry them in oil or bake them at 180° C for half an hour.  

Plum cake with orange  

You need: 300 g of flour, 150 g of golden granulated sugar, four eggs, four tbsp of sunflower oil, 100 g of cut mixed peel, the grated zest and the juice of an orange, one and a half tsp of baking powder, 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda.   
Beat the eggs with the sugar. Add the oil and the flour plus baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Grate the zest of the orange and add the juice of the orange as well. Pour the mixture in a greased plum cake mould and bake at 180° C for half an hour or forty-five minutes.   

Cake with lemon cream   

For the cake you need: 300 g of flour, 150 g of white granulated sugar, 70 g of melted butter, two eggs, two tbsp. of milk, one and a half tsp of baking powder, one tsp of bicarbonate of soda.  

For the cream you need: the grated zest and the juice of one lemon, two eggs, 20 g of melted butter, 100 g of sugar. Some parchment paper to line the tin and icing sugar to dust the top.  

Prepare the cream mixing all the ingredients with a blender then cook it in a pan until it thickens. For the cake, mix all the ingredients and divide the dough in two parts. Line a springform tin cake with parchment paper then roll out half of the dough and set the disk at the base of the tin cake. Spread the cream on the cake and roll out the other part of the dough. Set the second disk of dough on top of the cream and bake at 180° C for half an hour or forty-five minutes. When it is cool dust the top with icing sugar.  

Lime cheese cake  

This is a recipe my daughter in law gave me. She made this cake for my son’s birthday in July; it is very tasty and different from the common cheese cakes:  

You need: the grated zest and the juice of two limes, 500 g of mascarpone, 40 g of icing sugar, 200 g of ginger biscuits, 50 g of melted butter, two tbsp of golden syrup.  

Grind the biscuits and mix them with the melted butter. Make the base of the cake using the biscuit mixture. Make sure that the cake tin has a removable bottom. Whisk the mascarpone with the zest and the juice of the limes, add the icing sugar and the syrup using an electric whisker. Set the cream on top of the biscuits and chill for two hours before serving.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Staycation: around Winchester


During the summer, my husband and I managed to have a few days off away from our routines and back garden. We visited our sons in the north of England and had trips not far from our area. Visiting Winchester was very interesting, the cathedral is superb and we also visited the exhibition with an astonishing illuminated Bible on display. The City Museum has interesting Roman and Anglo-Saxon artifacts and mosaics too. Jane Austen lived nearby, at Chawton House, during the last years of her life, which I never knew. She is buried in the cathedral. I found intriguing second-hand books at Chawton House, which is a place worth visiting, from Italian Farmhouse Cooking to Ice Creams, Sorbets, Mousses and Parfaits and a book on The Victorian Kitchen Garden. Fabulous!

The cathedral was our first goal, a Norman building reshaped in a Gothic church in the 14th and 15th centuries. It survived the dissolution of monasteries and displays the different stages of its construction with sober Norman arches in the transept and high Gothic vaults in the nave. Jane Austen’s grave is on the left aisle with an inscription in brass that starts ‘Jane Austen, known to many by her writings,

endeared to her family by the varied charms of her character …’ and ends with a line from one of the proverbs of the Bible: ‘She openeth her mouth with wisdom and in her tongue is the law of kindness’, a true comment to her career and wonderful writings. An interesting exhibition, Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation, displayed some important pieces tracing the history of the city as well as the renowned Winchester Bible, an elegant illuminated manuscript in four volumes commissioned by Henry of Blois in the 12th century. It is a huge work that might have cost as much as a small castle. The parchments are 23 by 15 inches and are neatly written looking like a printed version. The illustrations, especially the initials, reveal great sophistication and expertise as well as the hand of different masters; the colours are still bright as they used gold and lapis lazuli. The exhibition also displayed the relics of Swithun, an Anglo-Saxon saint and the Siebe-Gorman 6-bolt diver’s helmet that William Walker wore when he worked in the foundation of the cathedral for almost five years. 

The City Museum has interesting artifacts from the ancient Roman time including beautiful mosaics. The Celtic settlement was renamed Venta Belgarum (the market place of the Belgae) and became an important trading centre producing pottery, tableware and metalware. Economy and trade thrived under the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans until the Black Death that spread all over Europe in 1348-50 reducing the population by a third. The pandemic changed the course of history as it is happening in a minor scale with Covid-19. Subsequently, Winchester declined and London became the centre of trades. 

During the 19th century retail shops developed their small businesses and luxury products were imported from far away places which were part of the British Empire. Jane Austen’s relation to Winchester is also mentioned as she was born in Hampshire and lived nearby since1809. In 1816 she moved to Winchester to seek medical help but died in April of 1917 assisted by her sister Cassandra. Despite her illness she kept writing and composed a satirical poem, Venta, about Winchester races. Women were not allowed at her funeral according to the law of the time, so her sister could not attend it.

Chawton house, where Jane Austen lived for nine years, is only sixteen miles from Winchester and is a delightful place to visit. It was built in the 16th century by the Knight family and was influenced by

Elizabethan architecture. The current freeholder, Richard Knight, is a direct descendant of Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Luckily, additions and alterations did not change much of the interior and the exterior of the building as the owners did not have enough money to make major changes. The edifice also hosts the Centre for Early Women’s Writing, whose collection includes early feminist writings, fiction, journals and also books of recipes.

The house is beautiful; the main rooms are decorated with wooden panels and 18th century pictures recreate the atmosphere of Jane Austen’s time. The exhibition Man Up! on the second floor celebrated women dressed in men’s clothes during the 18th century. They were female soldiers and pirates that hid their identity behaving as men and cross-dressing. This gave them freedom of movement but was also risky. Women such as Hannah Snell and Mary Ann Talbot served in the Royal Navy and were wounded in battle. Pirates such as Ann Bonny and Mary Read operated in the Caribbean and were eventually convicted. Some of them were fleeing abusive relationships or were abandoned by their husbands and needed a job.  The exhibition also featured famous women writers  and artists such as Mary

Wollstonecraft, the Bront√ęs, George Eliot, George Sand, Mary Beale, Mary Moser, Sara Siddons and Angelica Kauffman. In the final part, besides an interesting bookshop where I found an early epistolary novella, Lady Susan, by Jane Austen, there was a second hand book stall. Here is the list of the lucky picks I bought for a few pounds: Italian Farmhouse Cooking, Ice Creams, Sorbets, Mousses and Parfaits, The Victorian Kitchen Garden, The Golden Age of Finnish Art, Where’s
Spot and Jane Austen: A Celebration. I read through all of them with great interest rediscovering Jane Austen from different angles and appreciating once more her inspiring style and contagious wit. The amazing renaissance of Finnish art in the closing of the 19th century was unknown to me. It is linked to the famous composer Sibelius and the architect Eliel Saarinen. Though Finland was part of Sweden since 1362 and was conquered by Russia in 1808, it maintained its own language, folklore and distinctive art. My favourite books were the cream and sorbet one and the Italian farmhouse cooking. As soon as I came back home, I experimented soups, ice creams and sorbets with fairly successful results. The lemon sorbet was super and I learned some basic good rules about freezing and how to dose salt and use the white of the eggs in sorbets. At the end of our visit, we had a nice walk in the park and a good stretch in the lawn at safe social distance from the other visitors.