Sweet Treats: Banoffee Pie in a Glass

A few days ago I had a real craving for a banoffee pie. Unfortunately I had no time to make a proper one in a tin and I certainly did not have enough ingredients. So I decided to make just an experimental one in a glass. Well actually, in two glasses. I was not so sure if it will be any good but my flatmate certainly enjoyed it. Even though I ruined her diet as usual.

Word banoffee is a combination of a word banana and toffee. They are my favourite things I am therefore very much in love with this new ‘recipe/invention’. I must admit that it is very simple and does not take longer than 10 minutes to make. However if you fancy something creamy and delicious, I think you might enjoy it too. In comparison to my macaron procedure, it seems rather straight forward. No oven needed or fancy equipment, hardly any waiting time and certainly no piping involved.

I have used dark chocolate on the top as I find milk chocolate far too sweet with caramel. However you can also skip it if you don’t have a fancy grater which I save from my Christmas cracker a couple of years ago. It is impossibly small but incredibly handy when I use chocolate shavings. There is hardly ever any risk of cutting my fingers.

I have struggled to take decent pictures of this dessert though. Due to the shape of the glass and also light was not in my favour on the day. But I guess in the end couple of pictures seemed fairly good.

Sweet treats: Banoffee Pie in a Glass (serves 2)


2 small bananas (cut into chunks or circles)
150 ml double cream
6-8 digestive biscuits (with or without chocolate)
1 tin of carnation caramel
20 g dark chocolate

Break digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and then roll over the bag with a rolling pin to create fine breadcrumb texture. It is fully up to you if you prefer larger chunks of biscuits or fine sandy like texture. Then transfer to a glass to create a base. Scatter chunks of banana over the base and pour caramel. Top the glass with whipped cream and if you wish shavings of dark chocolate.

by Maria

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Jerusalem artichoke soup with leek and shallot

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Due to the snowy spring we are getting here in Europe, I am posting this soup I made in January, before Maria and I started our blog. It might be uneasy to find Jerusalem artichokes after March/April, but if you can get them, have a go! This is simply gorgeous stuff. It takes a bit of time, but it will reward you. Fully.

These tubers were already used by natives in north America and arrived in Europe from Brasil in the 1600s, via Portuguese importers. They then spread across western Europe quite quickly. Their name possibly comes from the misunderstanding of ‘girasole‘, sunflower in Italian, which resembles the word Jerusalem, as said by Italian immigrants in north America.

On the outside, Jerusalem artichokes look like ginger roots, but when you open them, they glow with a unique nacreous shine. Also their taste holds charming secrets, starting from a starch-less, soft potatoey crunch moving to a bitter-sweet nutty finish. I have tried them sautéed or roasted as a side dish, but this time I wanted something comforting, warm, and focused on their peculiar flavour. And in these days, I could really use them again to chase this cold away…

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‘[…retire therefore,] November, depart from this April!’

Jerusalem artichoke soup (serves 4)

500 g Jerusalem artichokes
1 shallot
1 leek
1/2 l vegetable broth
2 tbsp olive oil
a few rose petals

Start washing the tubers and scrub the bulgy edges with a potato peeler. Put them with one tbsp of oil in hot oven at 180°C/160ºC fan/gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When baked, take out and leave to cool at room temperature.

Meanwhile, finely chop the shallot and the leek, and pan fry them in a pot with one tbsp of oil at low heat. Let them slowly turn golden. When the Jerusalem artichokes have cooled down, peel them one by one–the skin will easily come off at this point. Dice them and add to the vegetable base in the frying pan, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, according to how big you have chopped them.

Remove from fire and blend together with warm vegetable stock. Don’t overdo the blending or you will lose the texture of the Jerusalem artichokes. Before serving, warm the soup again in the pot for a few minutes, drizzle with fresh olive oil, and decorate with the rose petals. This will warm you up.

by Max

Vegetarian impromptu: avocado amuse-bouche and warm potato peperonata

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A sunny Sunday in London is a gift, particularly for an Italian guy. And sun makes you want to eat simple, colourful food. The kitchen was pretty much empty, so this happened. The avocado helped keeping the stomach busy while I was preparing the potato peperonata for main course.

First, I cut in half an avocado and dressed with salt, oil, and three drops of balsamic vinegar. I like to eat it off its skin with a spoon–apologies to Pixar’s Wall-e fans, no robot was harmed in feeding this human…

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This simplest amuse-bouche gave me time and energy to see what else could be done with the few ingredients left in the kitchen. I found a few new potatoes and three red peppers, a couple of almond flakes (leftovers from the courgette pesto risotto), and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in my fridge. Enough to prepare a lighter version of peperonata.

Originally, this Sicilian dish was a simple sauté mix of peppers cooked with onions and tomato sauce, something you would have had with bread pretty much, and nothing else. It is a dish that then started to be used on the side of meat and even as a pasta sauce, but its humble origins confirm it was meant to be eaten alone, till you were stuffed. This version is stripped of the heavier base and finds potatoes as a good substitute for the bread. I cooked it in the oven in a little more than half hour.

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Potato peperonata (serves 2)

500 g new potatoes
3 red peppers
20 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
a few almond flakes
2 tbsp oil

Start washing, drying, and cutting the peppers. Lay the pepper slices on an over tray lined with foil, add some salt on the peppers, and leave in hot oven on grill (240°C/gas 9) for about 6-7 minutes. They will lose some water and get a little firmer.

Meanwhile, wash, dry, and cut potatoes. Lay them cut-face up and add a pinch of salt. Take the peppers out of the oven, add the potatoes, and mix all together with the oil.

Place the tray in hot oven at 220°C/gas 7 for about 30 minutes. You can give the vegetables a quick toss during their cooking, but keep the oven closed and hot all the time.

Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and flaked almonds. Eat it hot, warm, or even cold. And remember to enjoy the sun!

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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

Sweet Treats: Lemon Macarons

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Macarons have become my weekend treat. I enjoy making them and find it ever so satisfying to come up with new flavours and colour combinations. There really isn’t too much to it. Just ground almonds, sugar, eggs and of course food colouring.

I have been obsessed with perfecting my chocolate macarons. It takes a little bit of time to get the mixture right and also learn to use a right oven temperature. But this time I was tempted to make a colourful and fresh citrusy tasting ones. Lemon curd is a great filling as it contains butter, therefore it is really easy to pipe. Plus you will most probably have some leftover lemon curd that could be used for next time. If you don’t fancy making it, then shop bought one will be just fine.

My friend watched me the other day when I was banging the baking tray to get rid of the air from the macaron shells. She thought I was upset and that it didn’t work. However, she did laugh after I explained that it is super important to knock the air out so that the shells are not hollow. She probably think I am insane but then again she is too polite to say anything.

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Sweet Treats: Lemon Curd Macarons

For macaron shells
95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
green food colouring (preferably gel)

For lemon curd
65 ml fresh lemon juice
65 g caster sugar
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
65 g unsalted cold butter, cut into small chunks
pinch of salt

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. This allows the macarons to develop their characteristic shine. Add a tiny bit of food colouring to the meringue. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubbles to come out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky when you touch with your finger. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake. Once baked, allow to cool down, and then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven. However, remember that the tray will be hot and will continue to cook the shells even after you take it out of the oven.

For the lemon curd, whisk eggs with sugar, then add lemon juice and place over the bain marie. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and continue to cook for further 5 minutes. The curd is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and you should be able to draw a path through it. Remove the curd from the heat and quickly whisk in the cold butter until it is completely dissolved and glossy. Transfer the curd into a clean bowl and allow to cool. Place the cling-film over the top of the curd to prevent the skin formation.

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Pipe lemon curd onto one macaron shell and then sandwich together. Macarons will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.

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by Maria

Pink linguine

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This is a light version of the classic pasta dish salmon linguine. I play with the contrast between the salmon’s sweetness and the acidity of three types of pepper, while the dish rejoices in its beautiful pink glow.

Salmon linguine are a classic of the Italian cuisine. You can possibly find them anywhere and usually come in a rich, creamy sauce, often gallantly edged by bits of fresh dill. Today, I wanted to stay a bit lighter and to focus my tease on the salmon flavour. So, instead of cooking the fish in onions and cover it with cream, I prepared it in a lighter shallots base, and decided to exalt its taste with different types of spices, chives, and rose petals.

The colour of the salmon’s flesh mutates during cooking, from a deep, almost blood orange red, to a softer, pastel cipria pink. And this optical transformation calls for a taste pairing, specifically in the choice of spices. The first two I have used are Sichuan ‘pepper’ (which is not really a pepper) and pink peppercorn berries; the third spice I have only used as dressing is ground Egyptian black pepper. The citrusy smell of Sichuan ‘pepper’ gives a phenomenal tangy, lemony punch in the final dish flavour, so it is better to use it parsimoniously. The pink peppercorns are a perfect match for the Sichuan, which opens the buds in your mouth for a proper hot kick delivered by the pink berries. Their acidity and hotness encourage the soothing flavour of the salmon flesh, which I have cooked with a few pine kernels and some finely chopped fresh chives. The grand finale is given by the rose petals, which are not there just to look pretty: they literally wrap all edges and excesses of sweet and sourness up in a delicate perfumed finish.

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Pink Linguine (serves 2)

200 g linguine
220 g fresh salmon fillets (wild Alaskan Sockeye used here)
1 tbsp oil
1 shallot
1 glass of white wine
1 tbsp Sichuan pepper
1 tbsp pink peppercorns
pine kernels (ad lib)
a few chives
ground Egyptian black pepper
1 tbsp of rose petals

The salmon sauce can be prepared while your linguine are cooking in salted boiling water, usually about 11 minutes. Start chopping the shallots, while the oil is warming up in the pan. Gently golden the shallots; in the meantime, dice the salmon up, once you have filleted it off the skin, and add it to the shallot base.

Control the fire: higher to warm up the oil, lower to golden the shallots, high again as soon as you add the salmon, because here you need to quickly simmer the fish with white wine till it is reduced. And then lower it again, so that the salmon retains its moisture. Add now pine kernels, Sichuan pepper and pink peppercorns, and let the salmon transform into those nice light pink flesh flakes. Add the chopped chives at the last second.

You can cheat here, and add 1 tbsp of spreadable cheese, to make your sauce creamier. But if you control the heat and the wine reduction, you will not need it.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it but keep a little bit–half a cup–of the cooking water: add this to the sauce pan, add the pasta, and mix evenly. Before serving, dust with black pepper, add the rose petals, and two longer chives.

by Max

Sweet Treats: Mango & Passion Fruit Roulade

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Now that Easter Eggs are all eaten, I am craving a slightly lighter desserts. I love making sponges and especially this airy roulade sponge. It is very easy to put together and taste superb with fruits. Unfortunately strawberries and raspberries are not yet in season. And even though shops are already filled with amazing colours most fruits still lack the lovely sun-kissed taste of the summer. So I decided to use mango again, and of course my current favourite, passion fruit!

If you feel double cream is too heavy,  please feel free to replace it with whipping cream. It will work perfectly well and spreading it is much easier as it is less likely to curdle. Adding vanilla essence will also bring out lovely soft but not overly sweet flavour.

I have gone into one of those moods the other day and looked up the amazing patterns of Swiss rolls around the world. I would be lying if I said I was not super jealous of stunning, imaginative and artistic rolls. But then practice makes it perfect and maybe one day I will be posting my own ‘impressionistic’ Swiss roll. I will keep you posted anyway… 😉

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Mango and Passion Fruit Roulade (serves 6-8)

3 eggs
85 g aster sugar
85 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 ripe mango
1 or 2 passion fruit
200 ml double cream
icing or caster sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 190 (170 fan, gas mark 6). Line baking tray with baking parchment, preferably oblong tray with even surface.

Whisk eggs with caster sugar until pale and light in texture. This will take good 5 minutes with an electric whisk. Then carefully fold in the flour mixed with baking powder, using large spoon or spatula. Add the vanilla extract. Spread the mixture to the baking tray and put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. The baking time varies due to the thickness of the sponge. Once sponge is turning golden and springs back when touched, take out if the oven. Leave to cool slightly. Then separate sponge from the parchment and turn on clean baking parchment, then roll it whilst still it is warm. Keep in the rolled position until completely cool.

Whip double cream until just almost solid. Spread over the unrolled sponge. If you whip the cream too much it will start to curdle when spreading. Always ‘underwhip’ the cream so that is still slightly liquid. Scatter chopped mango and one or two passion fruits over the sponge. Them roll the sponge carefully whilst using baking parchment to hold the outside. Leave in the fridge to cool for about 2 hours. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

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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