More Christmas Balls. Almond Flowers from Agrigento

A few days ago, I made a batch of Sicilian Cherry and Chocolate Amaretti, (Amaretti di Cioccolato e Cilegie ). They disappeared too quickly: some were wrapped up and given away, others popped into our own merry mouths. Sicilian sweets taste so evocative, medieval and ancient. All the flavours of the island seem to be rolled up in these little festive biscuits- dried fruits and figs, orange and lemon peel, Marsala wine, Arabic spices, honey, almonds, pine nuts and pistachio, to name a just a few ingredients favoured by the Siciliani.

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Ready to go out the door. Fior di Mandorle.

This year’s festive cooking is beginning to look like a cook’s tour around Sicily. Last week Siracusa, now today’s festive balls, Fior di Mandorle, a specialty of Agrigento. Come to Sicily with me this month as I delve into my collected recipes from each major town. Map provided, in aid of travel fantasy.

I love a good map.
I love a good map.

Fior di Mandorle.  Almond pastries with honey and spice

  • 200 g freshly ground almonds or almond meal
  • 50 g/3 tablespoons of fragrant clear honey
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • grated zest of  1 small organic orange
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1  large, or two very small beaten egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • icing/confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 150c.

Mix all the ingredients together, then knead until the oils from the almonds are released into the pastry.

Shape into smooth little cakes around 3 cm in diameter. Place onto a baking paper lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack, then dust generously with icing sugar. Makes around 20.

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno 2016.

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Fior di Mandorle. A taste of honey and spice. Very Arabic.

My next Sicilian instalment will be Nucatoli, from Modica, which are similar to last year’s Cuddureddi, but come in an amazing shape.

Christmas Biscotti from Siracusa

I’m looking forward to a quiet, relaxing Christmas this year. During the weeks leading up to that day, I won’t be counting plates, cutlery, wine glasses, napkins, gutting rooms and borrowing chairs, moving furniture to make more room, ironing table cloths, emptying fridges, making lists and more lists, and anticipating an event for 29 or so guests. On the day, I may be sitting under a shady tree, eating some simply cooked fresh fish, followed by a few light biscotti, enjoying a conversation, good music, and a bottle of wine.

biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia
Biscotti da Siracusa, Sicilia

Despite this once in a lifetime opportunity, or escapist retreat, the making of festive delicacies is, for me, very much part of December and still continues. Last year I enjoyed making Cuddureddi, a spicy little Sicilian tart. They were eaten in the weeks leading up to Christmas day or were given away to friends. This year, I am looking to Sicily once again for inspiration. What could be more tempting than chocolate, almond and cherry biscotti, usually found in the pasticcerie in Siracusa, Sicily?

Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliege
Anaretti di Ciocccolato e Ciliegia

These little almond, cherry and chocolate bites can be thrown together very quickly and only take around 12 – 15 minutes to cook. They are soft centred, with the texture of a truffle more than a biscotto. They are gluten-free, dairy free and very moreish. Wrap a few in cellophane to give to your child’s favourite teacher, or give little gifts to loved ones during Advent. Dicembre e` un mese bellissimo, mentre il giorno di Natale puo` essere stressante!

Amaretti di Cioccolato e Ciliegia/  Chocolate cherry amaretti biscuits

  • 250 g finely ground almonds
  • 120 g caster sugar
  • 50 g dark ( 70%) chocolate, grated
  • 60 g dried sour cherries, chopped
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 extra-large egg whites, ( or three medium )
  • a pinch of salt
  • 30 gr icing/confectioners’ sugar

    bisoctti ready for oven
    biscotti ready for oven

Preheat the oven to 160 c.

Mix the almonds, sugar, chocolate, cherries and lemon zest together. Whisk the egg whites until firm and add to the almond mixture with the salt. Mix well. The mixture should be damp. ( Note- if you have used two egg whites and feel that the mixture needs a bit more moisture, beat another until stiff and add it to the mixture.)

Place the icing sugar in a bowl. Form balls with the almond mixture then roll them in the icing sugar. Place them on paper lined baking sheets.

Bake until they have a golden tinge, approximately 12- 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes around 20 balls. Note, my edited pics make the balls look rather large but they only measure around 4 cm.

biscotti di Siracusa
Biscotti di Siracusa. Amaretti con ciliegie e cioccolato

Adapted from Flavours of Sicily, Ursula Ferrigno, 2016

For my dear friend Diane. Let’s spend next Christmas in Sicilia, cara mia.

In My Indian Kitchen. December 2016

Curries, dhals, chutneys and spices are often present in my kitchen. Inspired by a new cookbook, Spice Kitchen, by Ragini Dey, I’ve been making a few onion Bhajees and curries of late. I borrowed this book from the library two months ago, and as I found it difficult to return, I realised I needed my own copy. Libraries can be dangerous like that. Unlike many of my other Indian cookbooks, this one doesn’t list too many ingredients. It also has that Indian- Australian modern touch.

Spice Kitchen
Spice Kitchen by Rajini Dey. Published 2013, Hardie Grant Books.

Every time Mr Tranquillo opened the spice drawer, millions of little packets of seeds and spices threatened to tumble out, assaulting his senses on the way. He called it the Dark Arts drawer, so I was forced to sort it out. Below is my orderly spice drawer: now all the spices are fresh and some even have labels. The freshest spices in Melbourne come from BAS Foods, Brunswick, where they pack spices weekly in their warehouse next door.

Dark arts drawer.
The Dark Arts drawer.

An old Tibetan Bell with Dorje lives near the kitchen. I was so devoted to my first Dorje bell, bought in India in 1978-9, that I called my youngest son Jack Dorje, a name that really suits him.

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Tibetan Bell reminds me of India and my son Jack

I found some good quality green prawns yesterday so the Bhajee recipe was given another trial, this time with prawns. I added some cumin seeds and chopped spring onion to the batter. I’ve always had a stand-by pakora batter recipe but this version is sensational. The key is the addition of white vinegar to the batter mix. (recipe below). Served with a mango chutney for dipping and a crisp wine, we watched the sunset highlighting the ridges along the horizon, our own Von Guerard view, a reminder that life is good.

Prawn pakora or Bhaji.
Prawn pakora/ bhaji.

Two days ago I made the Rajma Curry from my new book. Such a simple version and so easy to whip up. Have you noticed that curry tastes better when left for a day or two? The Rajma ( red bean) curry turned into this morning’s baked beans and poached egg breakfast. A breakfast fit for an Indian Queen, especially with a cup of Chai.

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Rajma ( red bean) curry with poached egg and yoghurt.

This year I am attempting a Christmas free December, but I couldn’t resist this little Indian ornament from Ishka. I love the half price sales at Ishka. Going there allows me to openly embrace my inner hippy. Although that’s not too difficult.

Ishka bells, Ishka bells....
Ishka bells, Ishka bells….blah blah all the way. Oh no, those songs are back.

And now for Spice Kitchen‘s recipe for Onion Bhajees. ( photo for these are on the header at the top of this post ). Pop on an evening Raga or a famous Bollywood playback singer to get into the mood. Eat them with the setting sun.

Ingredients

  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 55 gr besan ( chick pea ) flour
  • pinch of chilli powder
  • pinch of turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying.

Mix together the onion, besan, chilli powder, turmeric, vinegar and salt in a bowl.

Add 1/4- 1/2 cup of water to the mixture gradually, and mix together until the besan coast the onion. There should be just enough besan mixture to hold the onion slices together. The amount of water required to achieve this consistency will depend on the type of besan you use as some besan flours retain more liquid that others.

Heat the oil in a wok to 180c. Deep fry a few Bhajees at a time for about 6-8 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels and serve hot.

My Notes.

I prefer to mix the batter first then add the onion rings to the batter. Mix the batter to a custard like consistency for onion Bhajees or thicker for pakora coating. The batter must be thick enough to hold the onion rings to it.

I don’t use a kitchen thermometer. I test the oil by immersing a chop stick and if the oil bubbles around the stick, it’s ready.

Make the batter a little thicker to coat prawns. I doubled the amount of batter for 14 large tiger prawns.

I add other things to Indian frying batters, such as cumin seeds or nigella seeds, just for fun and flavour.

My onion bhajees cooked much faster than the time suggested in the original recipe above. They really don’t take more than a minute or two. Many are eaten by kitchen hoverers and never make it to the plate.

prawn pakora
prawn pakora with mango chutney.

Thanks Liz, once again, for hosting this amazing series. While IMK may seem to have a life of its own, it flounders without someone organised like Liz, from Good Things at the helm. By opening the link, you can discover other kitchens from around the globe. Why not write one yourself?

Fave Dei Morti, Biscuits for The Dead

If you’re not Siciliani or Greek, you’re probably wondering what fave or broadbeans have to do with biscuits and the dead. Fave beans are the emblematic dish of death,

“The ancient Greeks saw the black spot on the petals of the broad bean plant as the stain of death and used the beans in funeral ceremonies but refused to eat them. Pythagoras thought that their hollow stems reached down into the earth to connect the living with the dead, and that therefore fave contain the souls of those who have died. The Romans honoured their connection with death but cooked and served the beans as the most sacred dish at funeral banquets.” ¹

Fava( broadbeans) flowering late in my garden.
Fava( broadbean) flowering late in my garden. They look beautiful and a little spooky too.

The day of the dead, I Morti, is celebrated in Sicily on November 2 with Fave dei Morti, little sweet biscuits formed to look like broadbeans,  as well as other sweets such as ossi da morto, bones of the dead, and sweets shaped like human figures. For many Siciliani, a tablecloth is laid out on the family tomb, complete with chrysanthemums, the flowers of the dead, and the family gathers for a picnic. This may sound rather morbid until you consider that on the day of the dead, I Morti, ancestors and relatives sneak back into the living world, back through that fissure in time, to be with the living again.

Fave dei Morti
Fave dei Morti

Given this fine Italian tradition ( not to mention its connection with similar Celtic practices), I went in search of a few customary and very simple recipes, from Siena to Sicily, to leave a few sweet things on the table or the grave, come November 1 and 2.

Fave  Dei Morti

These tiny, crunchy biscuits are easy to whip up and are wonderful dunked in something strong. Despite their simplicity, they taste festive and are very moreish. I need to make another batch for the otherworldly ‘visitors’ on November 1.

  • 100 gr almond meal ( or almonds finely ground to a powder)
  • 100 gr sugar
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbls rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 70 gr unbleached plain flour ( AP flour)

Place the ground almonds in a bowl with the sugar, lemon zest, egg and rum. Mix until well blended. Add the spices and flour and stir until the dough is well blended.

Divide the dough into four pieces. Flour a work surface very lightly and roll each piece into a log the width of a finger. Cut into 4 cm ( 1/12 inch) pieces and place them on a baking paper lined tray. Flatten each piece slightly.

Heat oven to 175ºC and bake until barely browned, around 16 minutes. Makes around 40 pieces. Dust with icing sugar and store well in a tin.

Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.
Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.

¹ Celebrating Italy, The Tastes and Traditions of Italy as Revealed through its Feasts, Festivals, and Sumptuous Foods. Carol Field. 1990

Salmon with Spiced Orange Sauce, Spring Peas and Mint

The Spring weather is so wet and cold this year that I’ve been forced to spend far more time indoors. The gardens and summer vegetable planting have been put on hold- again. To compensate, we are having four days of cheffy home cooked meals, little dinners for two that require a degree of concentration, an interesting sauce and some clever assembling at the last-minute. And that, dear reader, means more recipes on this blog. Today’s recipe started off as Duck Breast with Orange Spiced Sauce. I often find myself substituting fish or vegetables in meat based recipes found in good cookbooks, especially if there is a good sauce involved. In this way, each section of the book gets used. You should try this trick. Fresh Atlantic Salmon is probably the best substitute for meat, given that it is fairly robust and holds its shape well and is readily available.

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Salmon, spiced orange sauce, Spring peas, mint. Bad low light.

The recipe is for four people. I simply halved it for our little dinner for two. The original used 4 200 g duck breasts, skin lightly scored. I have substituted fresh Tasmanian salmon and used around 160 g per person. This quantity is plenty for one serving, despite the tendency of major supermarkets to cut larger pieces, another reason to adopt a good fishmonger.

Ingredients

  • 4 oranges
  • 4 salmon pieces, ( not tail pieces) around 160 g per piece
  • knob of butter and a little olive oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon 5 spice powder
  • 1/3 cup ( 80 g) brown sugar
  • 50 ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 cup grand Marnier ( or brandy)
  • 2 cups baby green peas, just cooked
  • mint leaves to serve.

Preheat the oven to 220c. FF

Zest all the oranges, juice 2 oranges and set aside. Remove the peel and white pith from the remaining 2 oranges, then slice them into thin rounds and set aside.

Cut each salmon pieces across into 3 pieces. Combine 5 spice powder with 2 teaspoons sea salt, rub them into the salmon pieces in a bowl and set aside.

Place a large non stick pan over medium heat, add butter and oil to the pan and fry the salmon, skin side down, until quite crisp. Remove the fish and place them on a metal tray in the oven to complete cooking for 5 or more minutes.

Return the pan to low heat. Add the sugar and vinegar to the pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cinnamon and star anise, then cook on low for 3 minutes, until caramelised. Add the Grand Marnier or substitute, the orange juice and zest, then simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. Add the orange slices for 1 minute to warm through.

Cook the peas until just done and keep hot. Tear the mint leaves.

Warm the serving platter and plates. Place the peas on the serving platter, add salmon pieces and any juices from the tray, place the orange slices and mint leaves around the fish, then pour over the hot sauce. Serve it on hot plates.

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The rain pours down, the light is low, let’s light the fire and eat well.

Adapted from a recipe found in Delicious, Simply the Best, Valli Little, 2011. p. 18

 

 

 

 

Easy Mix Lemon and Almond Syrup Cake

When the young ones ask me which football team I follow, I always reply ‘The Seagulls’. They look bewildered as there is no major AFL (Australian Football League ) team with this bird as their logo. I quickly follow this with an explanation, that I barrack for real seagulls, the birds that land on the grounds during a match and annoy players, lest they think it’s time to send me off to the funny farm. I am not a football fan at all. In fact, it bores me to tears – please feel free to substitute that other very Australian colloquial phrase which refers to ‘a state of being during which one is without feces’.

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After the cake has rested a little, pour on the lemon syrup.

On rare occasions, I allow myself to watch ‘the footy’. It is usually forced upon my consciousness during the grand final season, when all sorts of non footy followers suddenly convert. Not me. I allow myself snippets of the game to waft over me, but would rather be the tea lady – or the beer/wine/cake/biscuit gatherer- during the broadcast.

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Cake ready to slice.

My mother, born and raised in Footscray, the original home of the Bulldogs team, was excited and anxious during the grand final this year. We had joined her to watch the big event, especially given that the last time her team won was in 1954. That’s pre- TV, a very long time to wait for a victory. She mentioned a few names of the players, the much-loved captain of the Bulldogs who retired earlier this year due to injury, my eyes were glazing over, and another one she referred to as ‘The Package’, a player who was bought for a large sum but who wasn’t living up to expectation. I kept calling him ‘The Packet’, at which point, the assembled football devotees suggested I should take a nap. I was happy to grab my smart phone and head to the backroom for a surf and a snooze.

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Lemon almond cake, cut into Middle Eastern shapes.

I woke up for the last 12 minutes, and enjoyed the match thoroughly. I can recommend this approach to my fellow football- loathing friends: just watch the last 12 minutes- that’s when the real action happens. You won’t have missed a thing.

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The lemon zest candies a little when cooking down the syrup, adding to the glazed surface.

I made this lemon cake for the day. As it turned out, it was a celebratory cake – the Bulldogs won. I can recommend this cake for its excellent keeping qualities ( up to one week in the fridge) and for its simplicity. It is now my favourite lemon syrup cake and can easily be adapted to gluten- free. The recipe comes from Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffries. I have made minor adjustments to the method.

Lemon Almond Syrup Cake

  • 50g plain flour ( or GF flour if required)
  • 200g almond meal
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 190g castor sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into large chunks
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp almond essence
  • 1½ large lemons, finely zested

Lemon Syrup

  • 150g of castor sugar
  • 2 lemons zested ( or one large)
  • 125ml of lemon juice
  • 250ml of water

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 160c or lower for Fan Forced. (150c FF worked well for me). Butter a 20cm – 24 cm square cake tin and line the base with paper. Butter the paper and dust the tin lightly with flour.
  • Put the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Whiz them together for 20 seconds, then tip into a bowl.
  • Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and whiz them together until they are light and creamy. Scrape down as you go, then add in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Stop the processor, add the vanilla, almond essence and lemon zest and blitz for another 10 seconds or so.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the food processor and pulse until they are mixed. Do not over pulse. Scrape the sides to make sure all is well mixed.
  • Scoop out the mixture into the prepared tin and flatten surface. Bake for around 50-55 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the lemon syrup. Place all ingredients into a pot over a high heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and allow it to come to boil. Let it bubble for 10 – 12 minutes or until it looks thicker and like syrup. Then off heat and set aside. Keep warm.
  • When the cake is ready, place the cake in the tin on a wire rack for 10 mins. Invert onto the rack and remove the paper. Now brush with the lemon syrup. I used all the syrup as the cake happily absorbed it but the original recipe advises using half and serving the rest of the syrup alongside the cake. If using all the syrup, the cake will be very moist and very lemony.
  • The cake stores well for about 1 week in the fridge. Warm it slightly before serving if from the fridge. Other lemon and lime cakes from my blog can be found in the links below.
  • Limoni di Mama.
    Limoni di Mama.

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/lemon-lime-and-poppy-seed-cake-with-books/

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/lemon-ricotta-and-almond-cake/

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/easy-lime-syrup-cake/

Get My Swan Costume Ready. School Holiday Pavlova

It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.

Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack
Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack. Photo from Pinterest.

We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.

kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen sculpting a Pavlova

Pavlova is an easy dessert for young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out misshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.

Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )

  • 4 egg whites ( room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • few drops of pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 180°c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150° c and cook for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.

From Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion

While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse pavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.

Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.
Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.

Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.

  • 200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
  • a dash of rum or brandy
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • some whipping cream to loosen.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.

A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.
A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.

PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte 🙂

Anna Pavlova and jack the swan
Anna Pavlova and Jack the swan

Take Three Eggs

Eggs are always in season around here, though the number increases dramatically during Spring. I’m now gathering around 15 eggs per day, requiring some strategic marketing as well as more baking. My grandmother, with regard to the economy of keeping chooks, used to say, ‘put in a shilling and get back sixpence’, and I often think this is true. Fresh egg pasta is one simple way to reduce the stash.

Cenci or rag Pasta
Cenci or rag pasta

Take three eggs and crack them into a bowl over 300 gr of plain white flour, do a little mixing, some kneading, some waiting, followed by some cutting, and within one hour, you have enough pasta to feed a crowd. Of all the transformations that happen in my kitchen, pasta making is high up on the list, running a close second to the mystical and semi- religious transfiguration of flour, salt and water into bread.

An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.
An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.

I often use a softer flour for pasta making, such as an Italian doppio zero ’00’ flour but really, any plain white flour is just as good. After measuring the flour, add it to a bowl, then crack 3 large eggs into the centre and mix well. There is no need to make a little volcano of flour on a flat bench with eggs cracked into its crater. Volcanoes are messy things and explode in unexpected ways. Use a bowl. I usually have an extra egg yolk on hand, in case more moisture is needed to bring the dough together. I don’t use water, salt or oil. Just flour and eggs! After the dough comes together, knead well on a floured bench for around 10 minutes. As you knead, the dough will turn silky and more elastic.

assembling the spinach and riicotta caenneloni
Assembling the spinach and ricotta cannelloni. The pasta squares must be cooked briefly in boilings salted water before assembling.

I often cheat, and who doesn’t, by mixing the dough in the food processor, then when it forms a ball, I remove it to knead on the bench. There’s no getting out of the kneading: it is the only tedious part of pasta making so turn the radio on. (Did I hear you sing that old song, ‘who listens to the radio, that’s what I’d like to know.’? Has Jon Faine become a shock jock? Turn that man off and play some Puccini instead.)

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Don’t overdo the tomato element.

Take the ball of kneaded dough and flatten into a disc, then wrap it in plastic and leave it for at least half an hour to relax and further hydrate. It won’t hurt to let the dough rest for longer so you can go out at this point, saving the fun part for later.

Hand cranked pasta machines: a basic and economical kitchen tool.

Attach your pasta machine to the bench. Flour up some cutting boards and tea towels. Cut one sixth of the pasta dough and feed through the machine at its widest setting. Fold it in half then feed through again. This makes the pasta sheet wider. Then continue to feed the pasta through the rollers, lower the setting cogs down a notch each time, stopping at number two. This part of pasta making is best shared with a helper.

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Two trays of cannelloni: one for four and the smaller one for two.

Now you get to choose the shapes you want. My last week’s batch produced enough pasta squares for two trays of cannelloni, some cenci or rags which I love to add to soup, and a pile of cappellini, a finely cut spaghetti. Three eggs. Three hundred grams of flour. Three meals. It really is much simpler than my long winded description and the results are worth the effort.

I followed Stefano de Pieri’s recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, from his Modern Italian Food, 2004, which is reproduced here, unchanged. Sometimes it’s good to follow a recipe for a dish that you think you know well. You might learn some new tricks. I always use a heat diffuser when making besciamella or white sauce as it has a tendency to catch. And you will need to cut around 20 squares from your fresh pasta batch for this amount of filling.

Ingredients

300g spinach
1 tablespoon butter
500g fresh ricotta
2 eggs
100g parmigiano reggiano, grated, plus an extra handful
salt and pepper
200g  home made egg pasta

Bechamel Sauce

150g unsalted butter
100g plain flour
1.5 litres hot milk
freshly grated nutmeg

Method

  1. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter and mix with the flour. Cook a little but without browning. Stir in the milk, bit by bit, mixing with a wooden spoon. Initially the mixture will be like a gluggy lump but as you add the milk it will break down more and more. Cook it gently for 20 minutes or more, taking care that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg to taste. This recipe should yield a fairly soft sauce, which is what we want. If it is too thick add more milk or water. If you think you have some lumps in it, pass it through a fine sieve and everything will be all right.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the spinach, drain and squeeze dry. (I far prefer using proper bunches of spinach, rather than ready-trimmed little spinach leaves.) Roughly chop the spinach.
  3. Heat the butter in a large pan and briefly sauté the spinach. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and mix well.
  4. Roll the pasta through the last setting on your pasta machine and cut the sheets into sections about 10 cm wide. Cook the pasta sheets in plenty of boiling salted water, then plunge into a bowl of cold water. When cold, place on a tea towel to dry.
  5. When you are ready to cook the cannelloni, preheat the oven to 180°C. Spread a third of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the pasta sheets on a work surface and spoon some filling along the centre of each. Roll up to form fat cigars. Arrange the filled cannelloni in the baking dish and spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the extra cheese and bake for around 15 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden.
  6. If you like, you can introduce a tomato element to this dish. Spoon a few tablespoons of home-made tomato sauce over the béchamel before topping with the extra grated cheese. Don’t overdo the tomato though, as the acid can rather dominate the flavour.

Next Post- what I made with the Cenci Pasta.

Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

There are so many versions of Lemon and Ricotta cake out there that I was reticent about adding another. This one, I can assure you, will go straight into the hand written sepia toned exercise book that I reserve for very good cakes. The recipe includes 4 lemons, and the batter is lightened by 6 eggs, the whites whipped and folded through at the end. It is an expensive cake but then it serves around 10 people, or two greedy people who eat it every day for dessert and afternoon tea. When served hot, it resembles a lemon delicious pudding. When served cold, it becomes more like a lemon cheesecake. It also keeps well. In summer, store the cake in a container in the fridge. Buonissimo e Molto Siciliano.                                         l

Torta di Limone, Ricotta e Mandorle,  Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

Ingredients

  • 250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 6 free range eggs, separated
  • 250 g almonds, ground
  • 75 g self-raising flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • zest of 5 organic lemons and juice of 4 organic lemons
  • 400 g fresh ricotta

    Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake
    Lemon, Ricotta and Almond Cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C (Gas Mark 4).

Butter and paper a 25 cm round springform cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until very light and fluffy. With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, until all are incorporated.

Combine the ground almonds with the flour, salt and lemon zest. Fold into the batter.

Whisk the lemon juice with the ricotta until light and airy.

Fold into the cake batter.

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold them carefully into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 50 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the cake. It should come out clean when cooked through.

Remove the cake from the oven and turn it out onto a cake rack to cool. It will remain moist for a few days. Store in the fridge in warm weather.

From Four Seasons, Manuela Darling-Gansser, Hardie Grant Books.

And Manuela’s great food and travel blog can be found here.

Lemon, Lime and Poppy Seed Cake with Books

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Cooking has taken a serious nosedive around this casa of late. It’s always the same after returning from a trip. The reality of cleaning, cooking, planting garlic, raking Autumn leaves, making compost, pruning, just to name a few tasks on the never ending list, makes me want to run away. Combine this cooking reluctance with Melbourne’s cold weather, a house full of bronchitis, a dodgy shoulder, and a very inviting wood fire and a stack of novels, and there you have it: ‘let them eat cake’, she said.

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This little cake was fast to make, didn’t involve too much mess for someone else to clean up, and goes very well with cups of tea, books and lethargy.

Ingredients

  • 125 g butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tsp lime zest
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200 g self-raising flour
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of poppy seeds
  • 100 ml plain yoghurt

the syrup

  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar

the method

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and line a 30 cm loaf tin with baking paper, then butter again.

Place the butter and zest in  a mixing bowl of a stand mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add the sugar gradually and beat well after each addition. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Fold in the flour, poppy seeds and yoghurt, alternating between wet and dry. Spoon into the prepared tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave for 5 minutes then turn onto a wire rack.

To make the syrup, place the juices and sugar in a pan, simmer gently and stir continually until the sugar dissolves. Make holes in the cake with a skewer and pour the hot syrup over the hot cake, aiming at the holes and centre.

The cake will last for three days, but ours didn’t.

Adapted from The New Cranks Recipe Book, Nadine Abensur 1996.

A larger lime syrup cake recipe can be found here:  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/easy-lime-syrup-cake/

Novels read with cake:

  • A Thousand Spendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini, 2007. Kindle edition. Thanks Rachael P for the recommendation.
  • Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas, 2013. Allen and Unwin.  A must read before the TV series is released.