Ricotta doughnuts

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I have realised that Easter came and went faster than a speeding bullet this year and I haven’t posted anything about the food we ate. I won’t rehash the whole day but I must make special reference to the delectable ricotta doughnuts I made for dessert. I was looking for something that wasn’t chocolate seeing as the kids’ bedroom was overflowing with chocolate wrappers.

Of course, it helps if you have delicious, fresh ricotta at your fingertips, however, if you do not and regular store-bought is the only option then the lemon zest will help boost the flavour.  I wish I had a better photo of these delectable, morish balls, however, I have to confess these were made at the end of a very long and fabulous day of eating and drinking way too much so I was somewhat blasé when it came to the photo… I was also caught off-guard when I opened my icing sugar and found it had formed into one solid block, hence the lack of white powder elegance on the above balls. I was also supposed to make a lovely orange glaze to drizzle over these delectable doughnuts, alas I discovered that the oranges had never made it home (can’t say the same for the extra bottle of Prosecco). So I improvised and used pure maple syrup which worked a treat.

I love it when a recipe is very quick and easy, and I love it even more when I can improvise with the ingredients. I’m not sure we really needed these at the end of the day but I know I was pretty excited to eat them when they were fresh out of the oil. However, next time I will make the added effort to check my supply cupboard before I drink a bottle of prosecco and maybe even make a pot of lemon curd to serve with them…that would be really decadent!

Mini fried ricotta doughnuts

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup castor sugar

3 eggs

8 oz fresh ricotta

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon lemon or orange rind

In a large bowl add the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, ricotta, vanilla and zest.

With a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan (approx 1 inch in pot) then gradually drop in heaped dessert spoon sized balls of dough and fry until golden. Repeat until dough is finished.

Drain balls on some paper towel then sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with either lemon curd, orange syrup, maple syrup or whipped cream.

Just be warned they are very morish!

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Sunday Breakfast

This morning the sun was out radiating it’s warmth, something it hasn’t done in what seems like weeks! Nic and I had a Sunday sleep-in (awesome, as did the boys!) and then we went for a run to really embrace the sun and lack of rain (I’m trying to be positive here).

We returned home to cries of “I’m hungry!”…”What’s for breakfast?”…”We are starving!”

As I was running up the last bit of our hill I had the same thoughts running through my head. What I really felt like, what I really wanted to eat, was poached eggs. Not just your garden variety, I’d had a brilliant day the day before with my lovely friends E and Shelly. We took E out for lunch because she had a pretty full-on week at home single-parenting and a ‘girls day’ felt like it was in order as soon as Ross got back from his business trip.

On this ‘girls day’ we had lunch at one of my favourite places, Aquacotta and then proceeded to stroll casually through the streets looking into boutique shops (something you do not do with the family in tow). One of the shops we looked at was a foodie haven (will have to get back to you with the name) and instead of buying a lovely top or dress I was hell bent on the delicious looking sale al tartufo staring me down!

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Heaven in a jar

Like anything new you want to use it asap and considering our lunch then turned into an apperitivo before we headed home for dinner, Sunday breakfast was the first chance I had to test my delicious looking sale al tartufo.

I think after many years of poaching eggs in restaurants I can turn out a pretty awesome poached egg and to make it even more appetising than usual, a sprinkling of truffled salt was in order.

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Poached egg perfection

The sun shining, a run out of the way and beautiful poached eggs with truffled salt was an awesome way to start the day. I love, love, love truffled anything but with the addition of salt, well the list is endless as to what I can create.

What is your perfect Sunday breakfast?

Successo coniglio

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When I go out for dinner here in Italy there are two ingredients I usually hunt down on the menu coniglio (rabbit) and carciofo (artichoke). These are two ingredients I don’t cook with a lot…and if I am really honest I would tell you I had never cooked coniglio, until last night. Artichokes are always classed as ‘a lot of effort’, I’ll make them on a day off or I’ll just eat them out. I am not sure why I have such an aversion toward them but I am guessing it is because I was never shown what to do with them as an apprentice. It wasn’t until I came to Italy, had a ton of time up my sleeve and kept looking at them in abundance at the store that I finally decided I’d give them a smashing red hot go…THANK GOD! So far I have boiled, roasted, made risotto, blanched and marinated them, and every time I try something new it works!

I learned one of life’s lessons with artichokes: they look scary and difficult but if you tinker around with them and have an open mind, you soon work out they are pretty easy to work with, taste amazing fresh and have loads of different cooking methods to explore.

Rabbit on the other hand was a different story and like most things I rant about there is an actual story to this as well. It goes back to when I was a little girl living in Darwin with my family and dad offering to cook dinner one night: ‘Mum used to make the best rabbit,’ he said. ‘I’m pretty sure I can remember what she did…’ Famous last words.

Now I was only very young but this memory has stuck in my mind to this day, you see that was one of the only dinners I can recall when I said I just wanted to go to bed (and skip dinner). ‘NO’ were my dad’s words and then something along the lines of: ‘I’ve worked all bloody day on this sauce, and you will eat it!!’

With that said and a look of ‘geez girls, not much longer’ from my mum, dinner was finally served to us around 10pm. It was rabbit with a beautiful sauce (I don’t remember the sauce, only mum’s instance the sauce really was good). The rabbit was inedible, tough as old boots, you couldn’t even stick your fork in it. Tarsh and I ended up going to bed without any dinner after all.

The years after this episode were haunted by the thought of no dinner (I ate everything, all the time) and eating boots. I was never going to eat rabbit again. Thankfully at some stage in my life, not sure when, I was reinstated with a new found love of rabbit. I love it! Can’t get enough of it when eating out, however, I was never game to try and cook it myself because I had years of dad saying, “I don’t know what happened? When mum made it, it melted in your mouth”

I was not about to suffer the same fate as my dad so I decided to just ignore it…and then Max found a fondness for coniglio. When we first arrived in Italy he was shopping with me at the Coop and spotted the coniglio. “Oh mum, rabbit! lets have some for dinner tonight,” he said and started to toss a packet in the trolley. “Umm, no I don’t think the oven is big enough for rabbit Max, let me go home and make sure”

Pathetic I know but there was no way I was going to fail at cooking rabbit when we both loved it so much. We have now been here a little over 7 months, eaten lots of coniglio and I have been thinking…

It wasn’t until I had a dream the other night, in which I was making a rabbit braise with white wine, lots of garlic and serving it with mash potato that I decided enough was enough, I’m going to make a rabbit dish.

OH MY GIDDY AUNT!

I cannot tell you how delicious it was AND it was not tough (silent cheer from the crowd). Dad I am sorry to bring this up after all these years but there was a story to tell as to why I never cooked rabbit and finally I can put this chapter to bed. This rabbit tasted so delicious I can now see quite a few coniglio dishes garnishing our table. I did look up quite a few recipes and thought I would go with one from Saveur magazine, however, I forgot to pick up the bacon and didn’t have the right beer in the fridge so I decided I’d follow my dream instead. There is no recipe, just a method so if your game grab a pen and paper and jot this down because it is a winner.

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Flouring the rabbit

I am not sure how it is anywhere else, however, you can buy rabbit here all ready cut up into bite size pieces (nice). Some I made a little smaller just so it would go around the four of us. Once I was happy with the size I threw a bit of plain flour, salt and pepper over the pieces and lightly coated them in flour and then browned them in a frying pan until golden (approx. 6 min). Once the pieces were all browned I added them to a baking dish with fresh, whole cherry tomatoes (about 8 of them). I wanted fresh cherry tomatoes instead of using tomato paste because I was after a light, Spring flavour instead of a heavy wintery one. Once that was done I then sauteed diced onion, celery, carrot and parsley in the frying pan with a whole bulb of garlic just cut in half and thrown in.

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Bringing the wine and stock to a boil

Once I was happy with the veggies it was time to add a good slosh of white wine (approx. 3/4 cup) and then same again of vegetable stock. Once this was brought to the boil I then added a good chunk of butter (approx. 2 tablespoons) and then poured the wine, veggie mix all over the coniglio and whole tomatoes so it was just covering.

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Covering the rabbit and cherry tomatoes with wine, stock and veggies

I then covered it with baking paper and foil, popped it in a 180 degree oven (on fan) and cooked it for 40 minutes. Once it was cooked I then removed the foil and added a tin of fagioli cannellini, mixed those in, tested the seasoning and adjusted it then re-covered it with paper and foil and left it until I needed it that evening (it rested for about 5 hours).

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Adding of the fagiolli

I took Max to basketball practice that evening and when we came home, I popped the rabbit back into a hot 180-degree oven without a lid and let it reheat for a further 30 minutes while I made a pot of creamy mash potatoes. The house smelt fantastic and had me praying for success. 

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Spring rabbit with bursts of roast cherry tomatoes

Max was the first to offer up his approval and then Nic and Alex followed suit- I could breathe! The meat was tender, juices were mouthwatering and the effort very minimal. I will make this dish again and then some. I loved how the tomatoes kept their shape and then burst their sweet flavour into your bowl when pierced with a knife. 

So there you have it, living in Italy has taught me to stop being scared of two items I have kept out of my food repertoire for the past 20 odd years. What have you been avoiding because it all looks a bit hard? Reward is in the game of chance, especially when it tastes as good as the rabbit!

 

Carciofi e pecorino risotto

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Carciofi risotto prep

Living in Italy over the winter months is a wonderful eye opener for people who like to cook seasonally. I love being in a country where seasonal produce is abundant, in-your-face and cheap. Don’t get me wrong Australia has all the same foods, however, you also have a regular stock of summer, spring and autumn produce that can at times be cheaper than the in season fruit and veg and that can be really annoying. 

The vegetable I am thinking of when living in Italy in the winter months is carciofi (artichokes). They are everywhere you look bundled up in bunches of 4-5 for 2 euro a bunch…I cannot remember buying them that cheap in Sydney in winter or am I wrong Sydneysiders? Have I forgotten?

I love eating artichokes and this month I have loved experimenting with them in the kitchen (when they are this cheap you don’t mind making the odd mistake, it’s when they’re 2 euro each that you start to treat them like gold!). I had a couple of carciofi left over from a previous meal and they had been in the fridge for longer than I thought was a good idea. Fortunately, they were super fresh when I bought them so the extra few days in my fridge (instead of on the back of a truck being transported from one end of the country to another) didn’t seem to matter. 

I was in the mood for a risotto and I’d had a craving for anchovies too, however, when I suggested to the boys we have an artichoke, anchovy and pecorino risotto for dinner I got more than a few curled lips and ‘Oh come on mum, that doesn’t sound good at all!’. To be fair, if I told Alex I was making a chicken risotto with beans and candied bacon he would of asked for all the toppings without the rice because he hates the texture! I don’t get it. Anyway I wanted to try it out, Nic was excited so I pulled a couple pieces of lasagne from the freezer that I’d made the week before and decided I’d reheat a meal for them and cook a delicious one for us. Everyone was happy.

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Once the carciofi are stripped down to the tender leaves and the stem is lightly peeled leave them in cold water with half a lemon squeezed into the water to stop the carciofi turning a dirty brown colour. After the onion is chopped finely and the garlic thinly sliced, saute the onion with butter (not very Tuscan but very yummy and risotto isn’t Tuscan anyway) on a low heat until transparent.

Whack the temp up to medium and then add chopped carciofi, garlic, a good pinch of salt and two roughly chopped white anchovies for added richness (of course not necessary if you hate anchovies!). The smells are wonderfully sweet and savoury you could just eat it as is.

After the carciofi has been coated in the buttery onion, garlic and anchovy flavours add risotto rice and stir to heat up the rice while the vegetable stock is simmering on the stove top (approx 2 min).

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Adding of the rice

It is important to warm the rice before you add the stock because once the addition of liquid happens the rice activates immediately and the cooking process begins- warm rice, hot stock equals a perfect start to cooking a great risotto. Now there are a million different opinions on how to cook risotto and I am not here to tell you this is the only way to do it. I am not one to stand over the risotto pan and stir and stir until my arm is about to fall off. The approach I take is more for the cook who has to do more than three things at once: add a generous amount of stock to the rice, stir to stop the rice sticking on the bottom of the pan, make sure it is on a steady boil (though not going crazy) and then walk away to do something else. Stir occasionally in the beginning yet keep an eye on it so it doesn’t run low on stock. Taste the rice grain for ‘bite’ and then top up the liquid as needed. Once your happy with the bite of the rice (meaning it is cooked to your liking), stir a few times then take it off the heat and add very generous amounts of grated cheese, in this case I used a local pecorino (An aged pecorino has a much sharper taste which pairs beautifully with the fresh flavour of carciofi, parmesan is also lovely, however, it has more of a creamy flavour).

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Risotto almost finished, just folding in the cheese

A lot of tasting gets done at this point; fold in the cheese, add some fresh thyme, check the seasoning, maybe add a little more cheese (can never have to much) and then serve.

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Carciofi e pecorino risotto with white anchovies

I loved the flavours in this dish and the texture of fresh carciofi is a million times better than anything you get in a can, so if you see a bunch of carciofi at your fruit and veggie shop this winter and you have never bought it before, take the plunge. Buy it and make a delicious, heart-warming risotto, it’s really not as hard as you think.

Note: I hate that the photos are not bright and full of colour, however, I photograph at the time I need the dish and evening light really isn’t the best for food photography, I apologise.

Meatballs

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I was talking with my sister yesterday on FaceTime. It is a great way for us to communicate and for me to engage with my new little nephew who has just turned 8.5 months. He is the cutest little guy. Tarsh lives in Alice Springs, Outback Australia and right about now suffering a hideous heat of about 40 degrees. When it’s morning here, they are heading into the evening so often I get to watch Tarsh cook for her family and perhaps offer a few cooking tips along the way. The pork they had for dinner the other night was cooked perfectly, wasn’t it Tarsh?

Anyway one of our conversations was about meatballs (when your mum’s a chef and your sister’s a chef, you kind of get a lot of advice about food!). I mentioned that I had made some the other night and she also told me she too had whipped up a batch. This got me thinking and I asked her if she does hers in the oven? ‘No,’ was her reply; and then, ‘how do you do that?’ This then got me thinking: maybe others out there are also interested in a new, faster way of making meatballs, without compromising the deep, rich flavour… 

I have taken photos of the steps so it is easier to show you; and you will also note that I am talking about a method that you can apply to pretty much any sort of meatball, be it beef, pork and veal, chicken, turkey, pork and liver…etc. I change my meatball flavours all the time and usually serve them with pasta. However, it was wet and cold here the day I made these so I decided to go with a soft polenta and added green peas at the end because I can’t serve a meal to the boys without any vegetables!

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Ok, so starting off I got some delicious beef mince from the butcher and added finely diced shallots, pepper, paprika, whole cumin seeds, an egg, fresh parsley and oregano. Because I was using beef I wanted to keep the flavour light so I didn’t cook off my shallots beforehand — I like to have that slight bite once the meatballs are cooked. When the ingredients were all blended I got my hands in there and gave the mixture a good squeeze to meld the flavours and then grabbed a baking dish, pre-heated the oven to 180, lightly oiled the bottom of the baking dish and rolled out little balls, placing them in the dish until all the mixture was gone.

When the oven is ready, pop them in and cook until they brown, aprox. 8 minutes but note you do not want them to cook through at this stage, you only want them to firm up and seal so they don’t break in your sauce.

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Beef meatballs with herbs, I love how the parsley shines through at this stage

Once they are done, pull them out of the oven and let them rest while you are finishing off your sauce. At this stage you will notice the juice in the bottom of the pan: DO NOT THROW IT AWAY. 

Ok, so while your meatballs are cooking you start making your tomato sauce. Sauté onions on a low heat in olive oil until they are transparent then add about three cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a dollop of tomato paste. At the same time, I also add in a good chunk of speck or pancetta to enrich the sauce. I let this sauté until the oil turns red and the aroma is intense and making me hungry. At this point, I add a tin of whole tomatoes or a tin of whole cherry tomatoes, a slosh of white/red wine vinegar and a piece of parmesan rind and then bring it to a boil.

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Adding the tomatoes, parmesan rind and vinegar

Once it has come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and let the sauce simmer for about ten minutes with the lid on. Somewhere around this stage, you will have pulled the meatballs out of the oven and so they should be resting on the counter. What you need to do now is tip in the juices from your meatballs into the tomato sauce mixture and continue simmering your sauce for a further 15 minutes (go and have a glass of wine because dinner is only about 15 minutes away from being ready!).

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Tomato sauce with added meat juices

After you have cooked down the tomato and meat juices you then add your meatballs and bring your sauce back up to a light boil. At this stage you can simmer for another 5 minutes or you can turn them off and cool the mixture down and throw it in the fridge/freezer for another night or cook whatever starch you are going to serve with your meatballs and have dinner almost ready.

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Tomato and meatball sauce

It is also at this stage that I add in green vegetables for a family meal. The kids don’t even care at this point, all they see is meatballs!

Just before you are about to serve, pull out the parmesan rind and pancetta, bring it up to a boil and then serve.

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Beef and herb meatballs with soft polenta and peas

For those of you who have never tried making meatballs this way I urge you to give it a go, the flavour is rich, delicious and the washing up is a lot less! Now that I have come to the end of the pictures I’m starting to wish that I hadn’t given Alex the leftovers for lunch yesterday!

 

Eggs poached in tomato

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It is a blistering winters day or should I say week in Florence and I can’t help but want to cook and eat to keep warm. I went for a great walk into town yesterday to meet up with a friend and check out the Christmas markets. It is an hours walk at a good stride and I was striding at my best to keep the chill at bay. I think we got to a high of 7 degrees yesterday and for this Sydney sider that is bloody cold!!

Anyway, the walk was great, I met up with Mel and we discovered we were a week early for the markets so we decided to have a coffee in one of Florence’s best restaurants Cibreo. Actually we went to their coffee shop, although I’ll have to dine in the restaurant because as we were sipping our coffee the owner came in. Mel had met him before so she introduced me (quite a handsome older man, very much the intense chef you meet in places of note). We shared pleasantrles and then went about our business. My business was listening to Mel fill me in on her week while my new mate’s business made my jaw drop.

Being a person who loves to have a good stare I found my mate talking with a couple of guys that look like they really just wanted to go back to the farm, I was interested, however, I turned back to Mel as she had lots to tell (and yes Mel I really was listening!!), but I turned once more to look at my new mate and nearly freaked out. Before him lay about 5 large white truffles!!! The guys were selling to him, I couldn’t believe it so of course Mel and I had to stop, sniff the air for that sweet, sweet flavour of pure joy before continuing with our conversation and then the next minute my mate is in front of me saying “Hey chef, want to smell?”

“Hmm YES PLEASE!!” I took in every ounce of that massive white truffle and I may have be salivating as well. WHAT A TREAT! Of course that made my morning and the only way it could of been better was if I ate some truffle but I’m happy with smelling them right now. So that was my morning and I was feeling pretty happy when I picked Alex up from school at 12.30 (his short day so he can come home for lunch……I’m sure this only happens in Italy?).

I asked him what he felt like for lunch on such a cold day and he asked if he could try the tomato poached eggs I made for a brunch I went to a few months ago (he has a memory like an elephant!). Thankfully I had all the ingredients so I set out to make them and forgot how easy and tasty they are. I first found out about them through Mel, she told me her husband makes them when she is in the throws of the wedding season (she is an amazing cake decorator/maker) when she never feels like eating anything.

I know there are a hundred different ways to make these, you can put a Mexican, Israeli or Aussie spin on them but the technique is pretty much the same. For my Italian tomato poached eggs I kept it very simple. I make a basic tomato sauce, sauteing off some sweet onions with olive oil on low heat to bring out the sweetness on the onions, then add garlic slices, salt, pepper and pour in about half a bottle of passata (I have also used whole tinned tomatoes chopped up and will add extra water to have enough liquid for poaching), reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Once I have tasted it and am happy with the flavour I’ll crack 4 eggs into the sauce and have them on a simmer.

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I leave the lid off for 3-4 minutes and then put the lid on to help with the poaching. Just before I am ready to take them out I will lightly cover the eggs with more sauce to cook that fine egg white film layer on top. We like our eggs runny so I pull them out once the top skin is fully formed, just like a poached egg.

Alex doesn’t like to eat a lot of extra sauce so he has his as they come and served on toast with prosciutto crudo….

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I love the sauce, especially when you get some caramelised onions; I also love eating them with white anchovies, it just tastes fantastic, the salty, vinegary flavour blends beautifully with the gooey egg yolk.

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Max is home today for his ‘early day’ and just before he left for school this morning he turns to me and says ‘We are having tomato poached eggs today right?……you can’t have all the good things when I’m not here, that’s not fair’. So I guess with that said, I know I’ll be making another batch for lunch today….I think I have some coriander in the fridge, I might have to make mine hot and spicy.

Apple pies and a hectic social calendar

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I am happy to report it has been a very hectic, fun and fabulous week…..actually make that two weeks!

I have decided this little slice of Italy would have to be one of the most social places I have ever lived and that isn’t a bad thing. Last week we were out 5 nights out of the week’s seven.  We have had our wonderful friends over from Chicago who never cease to amaze me and have come to visit us where ever it is that we end up. We met this beautiful family when we first arrived in Chicago about 11 years ago and since then K and C have come to visit us in Virginia, Italy, Australia and Italy once more. C and Max became best of friends at the ripe age of 1 and a bit, and haven’t looked back ever since. Each time we see them, Max and C pick up where they last left off- priceless!

With our US connection in town and the wonderful people we have met while living in the village (Italian and non Italian) we had more dinner dates than you can poke a stick at. My good friend E was single parenting all last week while her hubby was doing business back in the States so Nic and I thought we would break up the week and have dinner with her and her girls. The boys love hanging out with the girls as they are like the older brothers…..seriously, they have been asking me for a sister for years so I have been telling them to enjoy little Miss P (age 3) because that is the closest they’re getting to having their own! So far they are happy with that and I think Miss P is also.

E was going to cook us a beautiful dinner and I thought I should at least bring dessert seeing as she wouldn’t let me do anything else. At first I was just going to go to the bakery and buy some mini pastries but then I thought that was a bit of a cop-out so I decided to make some mini-apple pies at the last moment.

I have to tell you this was a bit of an experiment as I bought some pastry that I wasn’t to sure what it tasted like and secondly I was wondering how I was going to put it all together in my funny little kitchen (hence the bought pastry!).

There were no amazing new ideas about the apples, I just peeled about 4, cut them into a dice and threw them into a pot with about half a cup of water, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a tablespoon of butter then put them on to boil.

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As they were boiling I was then looking and thinking I was a fool  because I didn’t actually have a thickening agent (corn starch) and how the hell was I going to make pies with something so wet??! Of course I looked through my cupboard knowing there was nothing there and that was when it hit me: what about polenta? It made sense, it would thicken the apple mixture and if I used the ‘quick’ polenta it would work almost as fast as corn starch (of course this was important because I still wanted chunks of apple in the pies, not just mush). I had nothing else to work with so I thought I would give it a shot.

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I started with a couple of tablespoons and that wasn’t doing much so I added a little more polenta until I just saw it starting to thicken. With a few stirs of the wooden spoon I was starting to get a little bit excited…..this could actually work! The boys were standing at the door wanting to eat what ever was cooking, however, I needed the apples to cool and to dash off to basketball so I had to wait until I got home to see what the end result was like.

At first I was worried all you would taste is the polenta but because I only used it as a thickening agent it wasn’t overwhelming at all and the lovely apple and cinnamon flavour came to the front. I was a little bit excited….again!!!

With the mixture cool and a great consistency I started making the pies. My new gelato bowls came in handy as the rims are the perfect size to cut out the pastry rounds.

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Once the tops were on I just egg washed them, sprinkled over some cane sugar and then popped them in the oven for 20 minutes, until they were golden brown.

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We gobbled them up and I was really happy with the end result, so happy in fact, I made another batch and took them to dinner with our Chicago friends and I figure if I can feed polenta and apple pies to Americans with a tick of approval then I am pretty happy with my new polenta and apple pie recipe.

Has anyone else tried this before?

 

Tomato Soup……pretty sure it isn’t Italian

Winter is starting to lick the heels of Autumn, any day now we will loose the warm days and be struck down with blowing cold winds and snow capped mountains in the distance. We have had a few days where I’ve managed to drag the wooly coat out and walk down the hill but you know it’s not really winter when you are finally at the bottom of the hill and you’ve stripped off down to your knickers because you are boiling hot. I don’t know how the Italians do it? I see them wrapped in scarves, thrice round their necks; big thick coats and long boots all walking along like they have just stepped out of the salon and here is me in a long sleeve top under my coat (minus scarf, boots & gloves) and I’m boiling from the inside out!

Despite my coat being just a bit too hot for me right now I am cooking winter warmers. My family loves soup and I have made quite a bit of the Tuscan variety, however, I am getting cries from the boys regarding their favourites- pumpkin soup and tomato soup. I’d love to make pumpkin soup, however, I am lacking in the blender department and I’m not one for chunky pumpkin soup so tomato it was.

Shelly went on a trip with a friend of hers to Umbria last week and I was lucky enough to score some delicious sweet cipolle which are a real treat.

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I knew they would be perfect for my tomato soup, slowly sauteed with garlic, olive oil and sea salt for ultimate flavour. I have a new found love in the kitchen at the moment and it is Sicilian grey sea salt. The flavour is very soft, light and compliments the cooking process beautifully. I love to saute my onions with more olive oil than I usually would use and a good size teaspoon of this salt. It sets the flavour base for many a yummy meal and allows me to adjust the seasoning throughout instead of right at the end, which I am noticing is a very Tuscan way to cook.

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Tomato soup would have to be the simplest of all the soups, every time I make it I wonder if I have done it correctly because it is pretty much over before I start. Once I have the onions and garlic soft and breaking apart slightly I then add a bottle of passata (smooth tomato sauce with no additives) and two tins of whole peeled tomatoes, roughly diced. Once they are added and brought to a boil, I reduce the temperature to a simmer, add a teaspoon of pepper, tablespoon wine vinegar (red or white), 1/2 cup water and then simmer for about 30 minutes.

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Just before I’m about to serve I’ll add a dash of cream, check the seasoning and then if I’m after a bit more of a treat, I’ll serve it with pesto parmesan bread. A lunch fit for a king…….or at the least two very hungry school boys!

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I know it isn’t typical Italian cuisine but I am wondering if I could serve this to the locals and get away with it?

 

Tuscan bean soup……..or was that bean and vegetable soup?

As the temperature starts to drop gradually and the evenings are longer I am starting to want to be in the kitchen more and more, however, I am also missing all the pots, pans and tools I am so use to reaching for without a moments thought. We were at the supermarket the other day and I spotted some young cavolo nero which got me thinking of Tuscan soup, which then made me wander over to the meat section and pick out a good piece of speck. I may not have my food processors or mixers with me but I do whip up a pretty good Tuscan bean soup. 

I’m not sure if the locals would agree, so when I was asked the other day what I was making I stuck with ‘Oh just a bean and vegetable soup’- what a wimp I am! For a split second I wanted to say Tuscan bean soup but then what if they tasted it and said “This isn’t Tuscan!?” That to me would be a big ego punch and I am not quite ready for that right now, therefor, I am calling it my bean and veggie soup that just happens to taste, so, so yummy and maybe, just maybe even a little bit Tuscan?

I love the way the speck looks raw, not sure why, maybe it is the thought of those yummy sweet meat smells combined with onion and olive oil on a low heat that sends me salivating?

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Whatever it is, I am a big fan. Ok, so once I have all my veggies chopped into small cubes (I mean you need to put a little bit of effort in here because you will see the end result when eating) and my beans all cooked off I then check out how the speck and onions are going before I add all the veggies and garlic.

When you’re building flavours the best thing to do is layer your cooking so you lock in every flavour to compliment all the others, there is no point throwing it all together and then waiting for something amazing to happen- it wont!

Because the onions and speck have been simmering slowly in the olive oil, the oil tastes delicious and is ready to attach itself to all the new veggies I am adding and creating a really flavoursome soup.Image

On a quick side note: I soak my cannellini beans the night before in cold water, throw out the water and then bring them to a boil with new cold water the following day and without salt because I read somewhere that salt makes the beans tough.

Right, now that all the veggies are in and starting to warm I add thinly sliced garlic, a couple pieces of parmesan rind, salt and pepper. The kitchen smells fabulous and hunger pangs kick in so then add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once it has come to the boil, simmer for about 5 minutes and then throw in the pre cooked beans, small diced potatoes and simmer again for another 5 minutes to cook the potatoes.Image

It was around this time when I decided I needed a bigger pot.Image

 

When everything is finished I like to leave the soup for a day so the flavours can meld together. When serving I add a few chilli flakes and a good grate of parmesan cheese for extreme yumminess and as you can see, you really do have mountains of delicious and healthy soup everyone will love.

Does size matter?

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I think I will be forever the queen of small kitchens! Anyone who visited my last apartment in Italy will tell you that it was a TINY kitchen with a tiny fridge and tiny sink and not an ounce of bench space. Our last apartment in Sydney was probably my biggest kitchen I have owned and I did not let that space go unused…that’s right I started up a catering company from home that went gangbusters in the end and I think I was pumping out food for 100 pax each week.

Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t anything fancy; we lived in a two bedroom apartment in a nice end of town but the building hadn’t been renovated since the construction back in the 1990s. I did manage to get a new oven seeing as the original one from the 90s blew up (that was in fact a god send in the end!).

After working in lots of commercial kitchens around the world and making some of the best food I have ever prepared in tiny, shitty, old and rundown kitchens I am starting to wonder if size really does matter when it comes to food?

Of course I scan pinterest with the best of them ‘liking’ my favourite wooden bench tops, great storage ideas for dreamy kitchens but really, would I be cooking any more with a larger kitchen?  I ask myself this question quite often and I am yet to answer it truthfully.

When I first saw my latest Italian cucina (not quite like the Vogue model in my mind), I was impressed at how modern it looked and extremely excited at the hide away dishwasher on the right. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to lose my dishwasher for a whole year. The first 6 years of married life were without a dishwasher and I wasn’t about to give it up so flippantly let me tell you!

It wasn’t until further inspection that I realised I had none, nope, zippo counter space…..hmmmmm this looked familuar. On further inspection I then realised there was only one cupboard for dry food, a cupboard for the bin, one for our dismal pots and pans collection and last but not least, a cupboard for the drying rack (this is something I really love about Italian kitchens, I think they are so cool!). Yep, back to small kitchens and I can only say small and not tiny because at least this time I have a teeny, tiny oven-thingy to cook in (I had a stove top only in my last Vogue kitchen).

With all that said, I am not sad or angry that I have moved back into prepping on top of the sink or storing my poatoes and onions in the third drawer where the tea towels should rightly belong, no I am actually looking forward to the adventure of what I will produce from this marvellous little cucina and what will be the maximim number of people I can feed from such a tiny oven and cook top…….a challenge I except though must make a note to make more friends with the locals!

The weather had a slight dip last week and took the temperature plunging down to a comfy 31 degrees so I thought it was about time I turned on my ‘oven’ and see if in fact it does work and the thermostat was accurate. What better way than to test it out with a chook (aka chicken for all my non Australian readers). The fennel is fabulous this time of year so I chopped up a couple of fennels into chunky pieces, likewise with a white onion and then smashed a few whole garlic cloves to line the bottom of my baking tray. With the chicken I went out into the garden and picked some lovely marjoram then popped it up into the chook’s cavity with half a lemon and a couple more garlic cloves; gently pierced the skin with the tip of a knife and put some butter under the skin (just in case the oven temp was right off and way too high, I didn’t want a dry bird for my first attempt). Generous amounts of salt and pepper were lovingly rubbed all over the chicken skin with olive oil. It was then placed on top of the fennel and onion and cooked in the oven on 170 for about an hour and a half; finishing off resting for 20 minutes while covered in foil on the stove top.

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Potatoes were thrown into the bottom of the oven about half way to see if they would burn or cook and I then held my breath. After about ten minutes the kids were commenting on the yummy smells coming from the house (good sign) and by an hour they were doing the ‘when’s dinner ready, we are starving!!!’ chorus.

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The oven works! I managed to cook our first roast without any hiccups and the clean up took all of about 5 minutes- EXCELLENT!!! There will be many more kitchen outbursts, this I can guarantee, however, there may just come a time when I need more bench space…….or should I say a bench?

So far it’s a positive for small kitchens.