Saltimbocca alla Romana

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Saltimbocca are some of the fastest, easiest, and most succulent meat dish you can prepare. Their name, ‘jump-in-a-mouth’, kind of says it all… In Italy, we call them ‘the Roman way’ since at least Pellegrino Artusi’s description in his famous 1891 cookbook, even though they probably originated more to the north, in the town of Brescia. Nevertheless, across the country and around the world, this dish has now become one of the symbols of the food from Rome and Italy in general.

Saltimbocca alla Romana (serves 4)

600 g veal escalope
10 slices of Parma Ham
a few sage leaves
50 g butter
1 glass of white wine

Start with prepping the meat: beat it until thin–about 2 or 3 mm thick. I have used the bottom of a moka-pot, but you can use a rolling pin or even a meat pounder, but do not tenderise the meat with one of those spiky hammers, just flat it out. Then, cut the meat slices into smaller squares.

Once you have prepared the meat slices, cover each one of them with a prosciutto slice, in order to have the surface of the meat completely covered. Place one sage leaf and pin it with a tooth-pick going through all the way. Some people love the silky flavour of sage more than others; if this is you, then double the leaves on each saltimbocca slice you are preparing. You will not need to use any salt, as the prosciutto flavour will take care of that for you.composite_14566979392441.jpg

Once the prepping is done, melt the butter in a wide frying pan; when it starts to turn into small white bubbles, place your saltimbocca for a couple of minutes per side at medium/high heat.composite_14566989461332.jpg

After both sides have been cooked, turn them again with the prosciutto side facing up, add the wine at high heat and let it evaporate. After one minute, start placing the saltimbocca slices on the plates, while you let the wine sauce reduce. Dress your saltimbocca with a sprinkle of ground black pepper and the wine reduction sauce. You can serve them with pretty much any sort of side dish, potatoes, chips, peas and carrots, or a fresh salad.

by Max

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Sweet Treats: Mini Croquembouche Filled With Caramel Cream

 

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I still remember the first time I tried to make profiteroles…and the second, and the third, and also the fourth time… It was not an easy task but they were absolutely perfect, once I realised what went wrong. So, be brave and don’t give up if the first batch doesn’t work out. It is so worth it to make these glorious little golden globes! Plus choux pastry is amazingly versatile and it could be used for desserts as well as starters and nibbles.

The origin of profiteroles is rather mysterious and hardly anyone could find out who was the first person to make this delicious treat. However, we do know that cooks in Southern Germany and France during the thirteenth century already started experimenting with puff pastries. It is more likely they were made with savoury filling based on cheese. One of the stories claims that it was actually one of the cooks of Caterina de’ Medici who came up with the idea. Nonetheless, choux pastries are wonderful and such a great fun.

Profiteroles look their best in croquembouche, which is traditionally made for weddings, baptisms, or other family gatherings. There are some spectacular ones and of course you can choose caramel or chocolate to stick choux pastries together. They can be decorated with a variety of ingredients, most traditionally sugared almonds. Last Saturday, I  decided to make this simple mini croquembouche just for a few close friends who came for dinner and they loved it…

Mini Croquembouche filled with Caramel and Cream  (Serves 5-6)

For the choux pastry
3 eggs
200 ml cold water
85 g unsalted butter
115 g plain flour
pinch of salt

For the filling
250 ml double cream
50-100g carnation caramel

For the caramel
100 g sugar
25 g water

For the chocolate sauce (optional) 
50 g dark chocolate
25 g butter
125 ml double cream
1 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven 200°C/180°C fan/mark 6.

Place water and butter into a pan and heat gently until the butter melts. Once the water starts to boil, tip in the flour and mix quickly until combined. Continue mixing on very low heat, preferably with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the edges of the pan. This allows the drying of the batter, in order to avoid the profiteroles ending up soggy.

Leave to cool slightly for about 5 minutes and then mix in one egg at the time. When you add the eggs, the mixture will split into smaller chunks, but keep going and it will come together into smooth and glossy dough. Once all the eggs are incorporated, transfer the mixture into a piping bag with a 1 cm nozzle. If you haven’t got a nozzle, just cut off the end of the bag with scissors.

Pipe small balls in a regular pattern on a baking sheet and glaze with egg or just press the top with a wet finger. Place in the oven and leave to bake for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow profiteroles to brown slightly. Lighter colour would make them wet inside once cooled down.

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For the filling, whip the double cream until almost stiff, then add as much caramel as you please. Do not overmix, as it will curdle when pipping. Remember, the caramel will make the filling rather sweet, so there is no need to add sugar. Make a hole in each profiterole with you finger and fill with the cream mixture. It is easier if you are using a small nozzle.

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For the caramel, place sugar and water into a pan, and slowly bring to boil on a low heat. Don’t be tempted to stir and move the pan, as this would encourage the formations of crystals. Let it boil slowly and the caramel will start to brown. You can turn the heat down once the caramel is turning darker, just to prevent burning.

Please, be very careful when arranging your croquembouche, as the caramel will be extremely hot. Dip the tip of each profiterole into the caramel and start to build base in a circle, then continue by adding more layers. Caramel will act as glue and it will hold all profiteroles together very well. Finish of by carefully pouring caramel over your completed croquembouche.

For the chocolate sauce, break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Mix the rest of the ingredients and heat in a separate bowl until combined well together. Remove from the heat and add the melted chocolate. Stir well until combined. When you serve the croquembouche, show off first, then serve several profiteroles in a bowl for each person, and dress with the hot chocolate sauce.

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 by Maria

Wholewheat penne with saffron

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When I feel like having a healthy, tasty bite, and quick to prepare, I have two ‘superfoods’ that save my day: wholewheat pasta and saffron. They offer great combinations with many other ingredients, such as vegetables, cheese, fish, and meat. Today I added toasted sunflower seeds and pine kernels, a few porcini mushrooms, and a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Wholewheat pasta is a blessing for a carbs-lover like me. In Italy we eat pasta almost every day (well, forget that ‘almost’) and it is common to have either durum wheat, wholewheat, or egg pasta. Wholewheat is rich in fibre, protein, and vitamins, but we actually have it when we want to add a crunchier and nuttier flavour to our pasta dish. Metabolism does the rest.

Today’s special guest, though, is saffron.

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Saffron offers you a palette of warm autumn colours: it is yellow on your food and it comes from the red styles of a precious purple flower. The plant itself grows slowly out of the summer into its autumnal ripeness. The little bulbs are planted in August and not watered, because they have to wait for early September rains. Then, the first leaves jut out of the soil and the flowers can be only hand-picked during the second half of October, before they open at dawn. Six purple petals hide three yellow, male anthers and the three red, female stigmas which are then toasted on almond and oak embers. Only the stigmas give flavour, but it is not uncommon to find also bits of anthers left in saffron bags, which will add more colour to the final product. You need up to 200,000 flowers for 1 kg of saffron. Luckily, you need only less than a gram for your cooking.

Its flavour alone is quite enigmatic, almost bitter and sharp, but yet so smooth and almost sweet when you let it dissolve in your food. It tastes like its ancient Greek myth, where the flower was the tragic end of Crocus, a young lover of nymph Smilax, favourite of god Hermes. And this bitter-sweetness is reflected in your food. I would recommend using Italian saffron from l’Aquila (PDO), but there are also other ones available on the market, particularly from Iran and Spain.

Wholewheat penne with saffron (serves 4)

400 g wholewheat pasta (penne/fusilli/any short shape)
1 bag of saffron (stigmas or powder)

Optional:
2 tsp sunflower seeds
2 tsp pine kernels

While you get the water for your pasta boiling, place in hot oven (180°/fan 160°/mark 4) a tin containing the sunflower seeds and pine kernels with a pinch of salt an a drop of olive oil. They will toast for about ten minutes while your pasta is cooking.

Add the pasta to salted, boiling water and let cook as indicated on package–usually, it is 11 minutes for short pasta. Do not cook too much al dente when you use wholewheat, because this type of pasta retains its crunchiness a bit longer than the durum wheat one.

To prepare the saffron, you can either leave the stigmas in a bit of warm water (the time depends on how long they have been toasted, it is usually specified on the pouch) and add them and their water to the pasta pot a couple of minutes before the pasta is ready to be drained. If you are using saffron powder, then keep some of the cooking water when you drain your pasta. Place the pasta in a pot, dust the pasta with the saffron powder, and add the little cooking water directly onto the saffron. Mix well.

If you are going for the optional extra of today’s recipe, add the toasted sunflower seeds and pine kernels before serving and don’t forget a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano! Enjoy!

by Max

Sweet Treats: raspberry and chocolate cake

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Birthday cakes are very special kind of cakes. They can be excessively extravagant, decorated, and shaped to anything you wish them to be. I like cakes to be simple but, at the same time, I want them to stand out and let the candles brighten up everyone’s face. Keep that in mind if you are struggling to find a perfect birthday present…

Chocolate and raspberries taste sublime together and bring a wonderful colour contrast. It is always easier if you try to arrange the raspberries on the side rather than straight onto the cake, to allow a regular pattern and to ensure you won’t run out of them before finishing the cake.

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Raspberry and chocolate birthday cake (serves 10-12 people)

175 g salted butter, plus 10 g for greasing
75 g dark chocolate
300 g plain flour
375 g golden caster sugar
25 g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
200 g buttermilk
100 ml boiling water
4 tbsp raspberry jam
250 g fresh raspberries

For the chocolate ganache
170 g dark chocolate
120 ml of double cream

Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/mark 4. Grease with butter and line two 8-inch cake tins. Boil the kettle with water. Put chocolate, broken in small pieces, and butter into a small pan, then heat gently and continuously stir until melted. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, and soda bicarbonate together with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Whisk the eggs and buttermilk until lighter in colour then add to the flour mixture together with melted chocolate. Add 100 ml of boiling water and whisk preferably with electrical whisk, until the mixture is lump free.

Divide the cake mixture into two tins and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remember to swap tins halfway through the bake if place on different shelves in the oven. Also rotate tins if you put both tins next to each other to allow even rise and bake. Check with a skewer every now and then. Cake is ready once the skewer comes out clean. Take the cake out of the oven and allow to cool down before decorating.

For the chocolate ganache, pour the double cream into a heavy based pot and bring slowly to boil. Then pour over broken chocolate and leave it to melt the chocolate for a few moments. Be careful when stirring the ganache, if you stir it too soon, not all the chocolate will melt. If you have a few lumps of chocolate left, then place the bowl in warm water to allow the heat to melt the rest of the chocolate.

Squash a few raspberries with a fork and mix with raspberry jam. Spread the jam over the first sponge and place the second sponge on the top. Spread another but thinner layer of jam on the top sponge. You can also spread some of the chocolate ganache over the first sponge if you wish to make this cake a bit richer. Pour the chocolate ganache over the cake and cover all the sides. Leave the cake on the side for about 10-15 minutes to allow the chocolate to set.

Wash all the remaining raspberries and dry. Then place them on the top of the cake. Dust with icing sugar if you wish.

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by Maria

Sweet Treats: afternoon tea @ Hush, London

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Afternoon tea lovers living in London are most definitely spoiled for choice. You can find yourself a traditional one, those with a twist, boozy ones, and let’s not forget the posh high tea. We decided to go for a Gin&Jam afternoon tea in stunning Mayfair-based Hush bar/restaurant (www.hush.co.uk/afternoon-tea).

You can either call and make a reservation for a set date or order a voucher with an open date. We were really pleased with friendly and very efficient approach of the lady who took our call. In less than five minutes, our confirmation email arrived and all was set.

Hush is located in the quiet Lancaster Court, with a stunning terrace which was winter themed at the time of our visit. Staff was welcoming and attentive, and showed us to our table where a magical tea experience started. The selection of teas varies from lighter green tea, fruity ones such as raspberry and chocolate infused, to some heavier and festive ones (Emperor’s tea). They all smelled delicious and ever so tempting. Whilst we were sipping our welcome cocktail ‘Pink Rabbit’ from a teacup, we were asked to choose one of the Gin&Jam cocktail–all sounded sublime. And of course all contain bespoke Hush Mayfair Boutique Gin.

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The afternoon tea then arrived, with beautifully arranged choice of sandwiches, scones and adorable macaroons with earl grey tea infused crème brulees on the top. We were taken by superb jams on offer and tried all four with our butter scones. Sandwiches were rather simple but beautifully done (cucumber, egg mayonnaise, and salmon). The overall atmosphere in The Silver Room was relaxing and we enjoyed the subtle presence of staff who made sure we had everything we needed.

Overall Gin&Jam afternoon tea is a wonderful experience and worth trying with your family or as a weekend treat with your friends. We hope you will be charmed by this unique experience just like us.

by Maria

Parmesan cheese lollipops

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This is an easy, fast recipe for a tasty snack. All you need is the king of cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Dealing with royals is simple: there is no obligatory code of behaviour, they say, but it is much better to stick to tradition. And this is all Parmigiano-Reggiano is about. In their way, producers respect the Consorzio’s etiquette: they honour the oldest tradition of food production standards–even older than Champagne or Bavarian beers, and actually stricter than those. To make it, you are allowed to use only cow’s milk, salt, and rennet (a natural enzyme). Nothing else. The milk has to be milked on the same day, it has to come from the local healthy cows, who have eaten only local grass. That’s it. Strictly local, strictly natural, pure breed.

You need 14 litres of milk to make 1 kilo of cheese, which adds up to about 550 litres for each wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. That is 15% of all Italian milk. But most of the final product remains at home, only 1/3 leaves Italy. Minimum aging is 12 months, reaching 30 months at max.

Now that you know what making the king of cheese is like, picture yourself there. Imagine a green lowland dotted of yellows and browns, with a few soft hill towards the southwest, warm, quiet. Everything moves with its own time, not too fast, not too slow. You’ve got to wait for at least twelve months, anyway. And that’s only when the first official control comes. This is the coolest job: the analytical protocol examiner smells the cheese, looks at each wheel’s colour, roundness, and internal structure, and gets to gently ‘play’ it like a drum with a cool little rubber mallet. It can only sound right, there is no falsetto, out of tune, or wrong note. Otherwise, it is not royal. So, when you cook with Parmigiano-Reggiano, you become part of something special, ancestral, essentially flawless: enjoy it!

Pamigiano-Reggiano lollipops (4 of them)

60 g Parmigiano-Reggiano (I usually prefer 24 or 30-month-old)
4 skewers

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Preheat the oven at 220°/200° fan/mark 7. Meanwhile, line an oven tray with some parchment paper and a little bit of butter. Grate the cheese and place it on the oven tray in small discs, less than half a centimetre high. Place the skewers on top of the cheese discs and cover with a little more grated cheese. You can mix the grated cheese with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, tyme leaves, or other herbs–see the picture on the right.

Lower the oven at 180°/160°/mark 4 and place the tray in the middle of the oven. Leave for 5 to 10 minutes, according to the thickness of your lollipops.
Take out of the oven when the cheese is golden and starting to make bubbles. Let the lollipops cool down completely(!) and only then remove from the parchment paper.
by Max

 

Sweet Treats: almond and blueberry cake

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Almonds, blueberries, and cream…that just can’t go wrong! An absolute Foodamazers’ favourite: we love this scrummy cake. This was one of Maria’s, our patissier, first cakes, the one she would make for friends. It is simple and works really well as a light dessert for a dinner party or just as a little treat for one of those lazy Sunday afternoons. It just feels like home. If you are not keen on blueberries, you can replace them with any other fruit you fancy, like strawberries, blackberries, or even passion fruit. And if you feel double cream is a bit too heavy, whipping cream will also do the job.

Almond and blueberry cake (serves a few good hungry friends)

4 eggs (preferably large)
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
50 g ground almonds
75 g plain flour
3 tbsp Lemon and lime marmalade
300 ml double cream
220 g blueberries
1 lemon zest
20 g toasted flaked almonds
icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 180°/160° fan/mark 4. Grease or line two sandwich tins with baking parchment (if you have only one 8in cake tin, it’s fine, just slice the sponge in two discs once cooked).

Whisk the eggs with caster sugar and vanilla extract until pale and twice the original volume, usually about ten minutes. Be patient when whisking because this will determine how well the sponges will rise in the oven. Keep going until the eggs turn light, almost ivory colour and full of bubbles. Mix flour and almonds in a separate bowl and slowly fold into the whisked eggs. The trick is not to overmix and lose the volume.

Pour mixture into the sandwich tins in the oven for about fifteen minutes (or thirty minutes if you are using one large tin). The cake is ready once it is turning golden and pulls away from the sides of the tin. Let it cool in the tin for a few moments and then release to cool on a wire rack.

Prepare the base sponge spreading lemon and lime marmalade on it. Then whisk the double cream with lemon zest and spread half over the sponge. Add two thirds of the blueberries and then top with the second sponge. Spread the rest of the double cream on the top and scatter with the remaining blueberries and toasted flaked almonds. To finish, dust with a little icing sugar.

Now, treat yourself!

by Maria