Sweet Treats: Raspberry & Chocolate Cheesecake

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I have been neglecting the blog recently. And this is due to my oven being broken and also spending way too much time outdoors. This summer has not been very hot but then I guess I am getting used to the English mild temperatures. Unfortunately my oven decided to give up on me and it seems to be on a mission to wreck every cake I make. So let’s keep the fingers crossed for the engineer to fix it up really quickly.

On the other hand I found a new yummy recipe for an unbaked cheesecake. I have been experimenting a bit with fresh fruits. I know raspberries and chocolate are a superb combination and so I have tried to mix them into the cheesecake. First, I thought it would be a great idea but then I realised that raspberries have fallen apart very quickly and therefore they got a bit lost in the mixture. So I decided to place raspberries on the biscuit base and to keep them intact. I was delighted that the raspberries did not get crushed. But I quickly realised it is not so easy to spread the chocolate on top of them. However the final cheesecake looked really lovely and tasted delicious.

This cheesecake is very rich and the best way it to keep it chilled. I would strongly recommend to take it out of the fridge about half an hour before serving as it is much easier to cut. Also I prefer to eat it at the room temperature.

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Sweet Treats: Raspberry & Chocolate Cheesecake (serves 8-10)

Ingredients
170 g digestive biscuits
35 g melted butter
1 tbsp golden sugar
350 ml double cream
200 g soft cream cheese
40 g icing sugar
300 g dark chocolate
200 g fresh raspberries

Line the sides of 9 inch cake tine with baking paper, preferable one with high sides. Brush the side of the tin with melted butter in case the paper does not want to hold on the sides . Crush biscuits with the rolling pin, until they become breadcrumbs. Then mix with golden syrup and butter. Press the crushed biscuits to the cake tin and level out, then leave in the fridge to set.

Place washed and dried raspberries on top of the biscuit base.

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Melt the dark chocolate over the boiling water and set aside to cool. Whip the double cream until it thickens, then add icing sugar and cream cheese. Finally add cooled chocolate to the mixture and mix well. Once all the chocolate is incorporated with the cream, transfer the mixture to the tin and spread carefully over the raspberries.

Leave the cheesecake to set in the fridge for at least 4 hours before serving.

by Maria

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Asparagus and White Wine Risotto with Crispy Chorizo

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Asparagus season is always so exciting! I was not impressed by asparagus as a child. Back home we had only pickled white asparagus. The colour of it was a little bit off putting. My mum was very curious but we gave up very quickly, as none of us liked it. However I was still determined to try it fresh when I moved to London. And I can honestly say that I just love the fresh green asparagus! So no surprises I have been gorging on it for about 3 weeks now… Some shops sell the thin variety which is super easy to prepare and tastes lovely.

My favourite way of having asparagus is in a risotto. I love how well it goes with the rice and peas. A little bit of chilli sauce is excellent to enhance the flavours. I have decided to add some of the goat’s cheese just towards the end of cooking. The crumbled pieces melted beautifully into the risotto and add some delicious nutty flavour.

I also like to add a bit of meat just to bring a bit of saltiness and a crisp finish. Sliced chorizo is delicious when fried on a hot pan. In this way each slice crisps up and some of the fat melts away. If you prefer you can also fry a few prawns or just keep the risotto as vegetarian option.

Asparagus and White Wine Risotto with Crispy Chorizo

200g asparagus
80 g frozen peas
1 cup rice
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil
80 ml white wine
400 ml vegetable or chicken stock
70 g goat’s cheese
50 g sliced chorizo

Chop the garlic into small pieces or if you have a garlic press put through to create a paste. Fry garlic with olive oil on ow heat until it become darker in colour. Add white wine and leave to simmer until wine and oil incorporate together. Wine is cooked off once all the oily spots disappear and the mixture has one consisted colour. Add the rice and fry further until all liquid is soaked up. Keep on the heat for a bit longer to fry the rice. Add part of a chicken stock and leave to simmer. After 5 minutes add asparagus and frozen peas. Keep pouring the stock as required to keep the rice covered. Keep stirring until mixture starts to thicken.

Once rice is cooked, add broken cheese pieces and chilli sauce. Mix well to allow cheese to melt. Fry chorizo slices in a separate pan until crispy. Plate up risotto and decorate with fried chorizo slices.

by Maria

Caponata penne

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This caponata pasta is the lighter adaptation of a traditional dish from Sicily which is a true lush vegetarian delight. It would be difficult to define it, because it is simply too good, so essential, yet leaving you with the most fulfilling feeling only a vernacular masterpiece can deliver. Caponata is symphony of warm colours, intense smells and flavours, all mingling with its own ancient history.

The aubergine is the protagonist of this dish, combined with celery, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, pine kernels, basil, and olive oil, lots of it–as you are supposed to fry the vegetables in it. The whole lot is magically concocted with some sugar and a splash of vinegar. It sounds funny today to think that when aubergines arrived in Sicily with the first Arab invasion they were deemed to be apples that had gone off and carriers of diseases.

The earliest appearance of caponata in Sicily seems to date to the eighteenth century and its origin is of the poorest ones. A renowned local dish used the fish ‘capone’, quite expensive, which was deep fried and served with a sweet-and-sour sauce made with vinegar. The sauce was so delicious that it started to be prepared with aubergines and tomatoes, some of the cheapest and most available vegetables for anyone, especially those that could not afford the capone fish.

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Caponata penne (serves 2)

200-250 g penne
1 aubergine
100 g sun-dried tomatoes (drained)
30 g pine kernels
1 tbsp of sliced black olives
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clover
1 mozzarella (about 150 g drained)

Gently cook the garlic in a frying pan with 1 tbsp of hot olive oil, till golden. Chop the washed aubergine and cook at mid-high heat for 10 minutes, tossing them now and then. After 5 minutes, add the sliced sun-dried tomatoes and olives. There is no need to add salt or pepper.

After the first ten minutes of cooking, lower the heat to minimum, add the pine kernels, while you put the pasta in salted boiling water–penne usually cook al dente in 11 minutes.

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Before the last minute of pasta cooking, take the caponata off the fire and add diced mozzarella. One minute later, drain the pasta, add it to the caponata pan, and mix to let the mozzarella melt.

Serve hot (!), with 1 tbsp of fresh olive oil and a couple of sun-dried tomatoes to decorate. You can also add two leaves of fresh basil if you like to strengthen the bitter flavour.

by Max

Vegetarian impromptu: Courgetti with mushrooms and smoked scamorza cheese

FotorCreated.jpgA funny fridge-emptier, quickly prepared and very tasty. Vegetarian spaghetti, in this case spiralised courgettes, are just a good excuse to have a weird vegetable pencil-sharpener in the kitchen. It is useful if you feel lazy to prep. I had a few vegetables left in the fridge and Portabellini mushrooms are a good combination with the scamorza cheese which I had bought last week–and forgot about (how?!?). I added half a boiled egg for the sake of colour, mainly, and I apologise to those vegetarians who do not eat eggs. This dish would taste as good also without the egg.

The sweet, nutty flavour of the Portabellini mushrooms sings a tasty duet with the smoked scamorza. This is a simple yet fine cheese. It originates in southern Italy, even though my favourite one comes from the central regions like Marche, Abruzzo, and Molise. These regions still remain lands of real famers and you can always go around the countryside and find some fresh scamorza. I love its texture, thick and yet soft, almost spongey and chewy. In the large cheese family, scamorza sits between mozzarella and caciocavallo, and it is prepared with cow milk and warm water. The smoked version is slightly almondy, alabaster coloured, and with a thicker skin than the normal white scamorza, but equally filante–our word for stringy. A truly generous ingredient.

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Courgette spaghetti with mushrooms and scamorza (serves 2)

2 courgettes
250 g mushrooms
100 g scamorza cheese
25 g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
a few sage leaves
1 clove of garlic
(1/2 boiled egg)

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Melt the butter in a frying pan on middle heat while you chop the washed mushrooms. I sliced them longitudinally rather than dicing them because they cook better and look nicer. Add the garlic either cleaned and chopped or still unpeeled. When the butter is starting to foam, add the sliced mushrooms and the sage. Cook at medium heat for about 6-7 minutes.

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While the mushrooms get cooked, prepare the courgetti–or simply finely slice the courgettes with a mandoline slicer. Add the courgette extra bits remaining from the cutting to the mushrooms and cook together for another 2-3 minutes at high heat. Meanwhile, quickly cook the courgetti in a frying pan with the tbsp of oil at mid-high heat.

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Start serving with a larger nest of your courgetti, on top of which you line a layer of thinly cut scamorza slices. Place the mushrooms still hot on top of the cheese slices, in the middle of your courgetti nest. Add a few scamorza flakes and, eventually, half a boiled egg.

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by Max

Courgette pesto risotto with almond flakes and pine kernels

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Risotto is a vital part of my food. It says heritage and cooking experience to me. The options are always many, the last one was a fresh discovery. This risotto is cooked in courgette pesto and its flavour makes it a light, green-tasting new tint for me. The courgettes are prepared raw with cheese and some nuts, and then cooked with the rice. It takes little time to prepare and it is worth it.

Italian food has honoured courgette for centuries, literally. Arriving in Europe with the ingredients from the ‘New World’, courgettes were at the beginning confused for the European pumpkin, which was already widely diffused. Already in the seventeenth century, Italian courgettes from Modena were renowned for their versatility in the kitchen and for apothecaries uses.

Courgettes are the kind of vegetables that you go and get from the garden at home, and that is why they are prepared in so many ways, from vernacular roots to a posh finish, across Italy’s many local traditions. This version is geographical catch, because risotto is typically cooked in Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto, pesto comes from Liguria, and green courgettes are equally diffused north and south of the Boot.

Courgette pesto risotto (serves 4)

400 g rice Carnaroli–ideally, otherwise Arborio
1 l vegetable broth
1 glass of white wine
1 shallot
200 g courgette
20 g basil
1 clove of garlic
20 g pine kernels
10 g almond flakes
50 g goat cheese
oil

Start with washing the courgettes, cut extremities off, and shave each one at a time through a grater. Add a pinch of salt and let them drain some liquid.

Wash the basil leaves and blend with pine kernels, almonds, the cleaned garlic clove, and a tablespoon of oil–keep a few nuts for the serving decoration. Add the courgettes and another bit of oil. Your pesto has to look and feel soft and even.

Warm the oil in the pan, add chopped shallot till golden, and then raise the fire to toast the rice. After the first few minutes, the rice starts to lightly toast and smell very ‘cerealy’: add now the wine and let it reduce. Lower the fire and let cook for about 18 minutes adding the broth from time to time. Add your courgette pesto at the end with the very last bit of broth. Instead of creaming with butter, add the goat cheese and mix.

Serve with a sprinkle of the remaining pine kernels and almond flakes.

by Max

Cannelloni with aubergine and ricotta

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Fresh pasta is one of the easiest dish to prepare in the kitchen, yet too often dismissed as elaborate, time consuming, and messy. In reality, all you need is flour, eggs, and the will to prepare it. Fresh pasta opens really many options for food. You can prepare traditional basic dishes such as lasagne or tagliatelle, or you can venture out into more creative stuffed pasta types, such as ravioli, tortellini, caramelle (pasta candies), or baskets. I chose cannelloni for today’s meal because I had some aubergine to use and because I felt a bit nostalgic.

Cannelloni to me means tradition, home, simplicity. Close your eyes and think of a wooden table lightly covered by flour. Now, feel that coarse, grainy surface and look outside to see a warm, late morning. You are in my auntie’s kitchen, in Bologna; it is a small flat in the city, but the little garden in front of the building is enough to relieve you from any wish to be in the quiet countryside. She walks in, holding a bag of flour and a few eggs, makes a little white mound with a well in the middle–we call it fontana, fountain–and cracks two or three eggs in it. Then it’s like finger finesse: you see one hand first mixing the ingredients slowly and in no time both hands are working together with the mix ready to be kneaded.

Every time I sit there and watch, I start asking her silly questions, like a little kid wondering about the secret of a magic trick, but it’s all there in front of me. “Just work the dough for a ten minutes and then set it aside for half hour, well covered”, she says. The next step will be the rolling pin. In the meantime, you can choose what you want to eat and make the stuffing or the sauce ready.

Cannelloni are one of the simplest, yet most refined uses of fresh pasta. I genuinely love them. It is not my favourite meal, but I have a huge crush on them and there is nothing I can do about it, but eating them. If regularly, even better.

A similar addiction struck the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, who was indeed a modern gourmand ante litteram. In his energetic and passionate life made of military stiffness and hedonistic pliability, living his duality of aesthetics in a rigor of opulence, he literally depended on the caring attention of his home chef Albina Becevello, possibly the only woman he did not objectify in his life. And in his many written messages to Albina with specific culinary requests of all sorts, at any time of day and night, one can find a true praise for her cannelloni. No wonder. The dualistc pleasure of a fresh pasta roll and its filling, poor ingredients and rich finish, can conquer any human heart and stomach.

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Cannelloni with aubergine and ricotta (serves 3)

For the pasta
200 g ’00’ flour
2 eggs

For the filling
3 aubergines
250 g ricotta
100 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp olive oil

For the Béchamel/white sauce
100 g butter
100 g flour
1 l milk
1 pinch of grated nutmeg
1 pinch of salt

For the finish
20 g Parmigiano-Reggiano

Start with the pasta mix: prepare the flour fontana, crack the eggs in it, slowly break the eggs into the flour well, and stat amalgamate the whole into a doughy ball. Knead it for at least ten minutes till it becomes smooth, cover in cling film, and let rest for at least 30-40 minutes.

Chop the aubergines, place them in a sieve and cover them with a weight to let them lose their water (you can salt them in the meantime, if you prefer); when drained, sauté them till golden in a frying pan with the oil. When almost entirely cooked, let them cool down, and then mix them with the ricotta and the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The Béchamel is ready in a few minutes as well. To help the preparation, leave the milk out of the fridge for a little while, to reach room temperature. Start from the roux, melting the butter and adding the flour–sift it if you can, it will make the sauce smoother. After a couple of minutes with the flour, the roux should turn light gold: slowly add the milk with the fire still on and whisk the mix. When it thickens, sprinkle with grated nutmeg and a pinch of salt.

Work the pasta dough with the rolling pin, till you can make rectangles about 15 x 10 cm, roughly 2 mm thick (I made 14 squares). If you want to make your life easier and the pasta a little bit better, dust the table with some flour and some semolina, but never the rolling pin! Boil the squares–ideally one or two at a time–and prepare the filling in a piping bag. Take one square, fill it with the aubergine and cheese mix, and roll into one cannellone. Prepare the oven tray with a base of Béchamel sauce and start lining the cannelloni while you make them.

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Once prepared the tray, cover the cannelloni with more Béchamel sauce and dust with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in hot oven at 200ºC/180ºC fan/mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes, plus an additional 5 minutes to grill.

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by Max

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

 

Risotto with porcini mushrooms and Castelmagno cheese

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Cooking a nice risotto is one of the simplest actions in the world. It needs practice, of course, as anything else in the kitchen. But all it takes is a combination of basic ingredients and a few passages. You start with an onion soffritto, you quickly toast the rice, splash it with wine to be steamed off on high fire, stir in the broth, add your other ingredients (porcini and cheese, here), and repeat broth stirring till the job is done. Take it off the fire when cooked, add a cube of butter, and mix gently. In this foodamazers’ version, Max has decorated our risotto with two porcini crisps which were panfried in butter. We accompanied it with one glass of Verdicchio di Matelica (DOC)–perhaps two.

Today, we had the luxury of two amazing Italian ingredients for our risotto: porcini mushrooms from Borgotaro (PGI) and Castelmagno cheese (PDO). Borgotaro is a village of seven thousand souls in Emilia, famous for its porcini and chestnuts, and is one of the Parmigiano Reggiano production centres. Castelmagno sits on top of the mountains west of Cuneo, in Piedmont, and counts less than one hundred inhabitants. The people from these villages are used to great, natural flavours, and the richness of the ingredients we used today reflects the authenticity of those lands, made of smells, colours, and taste.

Risotto with Borgotaro porcini mushrooms and Castelmagno cheese (serves 4)

360 g Carnaroli or Arborio rice
400 g (fresh) or 50 g (dried) porcini mushrooms
70 g Castelmagno cheese (20 g for cooking, 50 g for grating)
20 g butter
1 l broth
1 glass of wine (for cooking, possibly white)
2 tbsp oil
1 onion/shallot
1 pinch of salt

Sauté the onion/shallot in a pan where you have heated up the oil. When the onion turns lightly golden, add the rice and raise the heat to toast it uniformly.

After a couple of minutes, add the wine, which will evaporate in about one minute, and sprinkle the pinch of salt. When the wine is drying out, lower the heat to medium and stir in a couple of broth ladles to cover the rice.

Let the rice simmer in broth and slowly replenish the pan during cooking. Ten minutes before the end, add the mushrooms and a few minutes later add small cubes of Castelmagno (about 20 g).

When the rice is cooked, the broth should have evaporated, leaving a creamy coating to the grains. Remove the pan from heat, add the butter (at room temperature), and gently mix together. Dish the rice onto flat plates or pasta bowls, as you prefer, and finish with grated Castelmagno.

Buon appetito!

by Max