Recipe in this post: CARROT & RICOTTA MUFFINS (4 portions)
(600g carrots; 50g ricotta; 15g Parmesan cheese; 1 egg; additional nuts crumble or seeds for the decoration)
Steam the while carrots for about 15-20 minutes till they soften. Cut into batons.
Blitz the carrots with the ricotta cheese, the Parmesan, and the egg. You can use mascarpone cheese instead of the ricotta, if you want to get a richer taste.
Place the mix into paper-lined tins or a muffin tray and bake in hot oven at 180°C fan (400°F) for about 20 minutes.
Once cooked, let the muffins cool down and set for about 10 minutes.
Add some texture and obtain a pleasant polychromatic effect with some pistachio crumb and sesame seeds decorating the top of the muffins, besides using carrots of different colours.
I originally designed this recipe when our child was about one year old and started proper weaning. The fluffiness of these muffins is perfect, even though I do like to elevate them with a combination on different textures, like the pistachio crumble and the sesame seeds in the picture. Adults love these muffins as well!
For the version in the image, I paired the muffins with a mushroom sorbet made with a mix of wild mushrooms, button mushrooms, and dill-infused mascarpone. The gentle sweetness of the carrot muffins works beautifully with the earthiness of the mushroom sorbet. Give it a go and let me know what you like to pair your muffins with!
Recipes in this post: PICI PASTA with CACIO & PEPE sauce (serves 4)
(300g semolina; 70g all purpose flour; 35g strong white flour; 200 ml warm water; pinch of salt)
Cacio & Pepe sauce
(200g grated Tuscan pecorino cheese; black peppercorns & ground black pepper)
Prepare the PICI mixing the three flours and the warm water, with a pinch of salt. No eggs needed. Knead for about 10 minutes till the dough is smooth. Let it rest at room temperature for about half hour and then start to work the dough, flattening it into sheets about 0.7 cm high.
Cut long strips out of each sheet. With two hands and straight fingers, start ‘rolling’ these strips on the counter, from the centre of each strip moving towards the sides, till they become cylinders about 0.3 cm of diameter, similar to very thick spaghetti (see the picture below). While making pici, leave them to rest on a tea towel sprinkled with semolina to avoid sticking.
Bring a pot of water (slightly salted) to a boil. Start the CACIO & PEPE sauce crushing the peppercorns in a hot pan, letting them toast for a few minutes, finishing them off with a spoon of boiling water. Then, add the toasted peppercorns to a bowl with half of the grated pecorino, and add a ladle of cooking water; whisk till you obtain a smooth, silky cream–keep this warm.
Cook the pici in the boiling water for about 8 minutes, drain, and transfer to the bowl with the pecorino cream. Add the remaining grated pecorino cheese and loads of ground black pepper. Mix all together.
Create nests of pici twisting the pasta in a ladle with kitchen tongs. Decorate with micro basil leaves for a fresh, balsamic touch.
Pici are one of the oldest pasta, with their ancestors appearing on banquet scenes in Etruscan burial frescos. Today, pici are officially linked with the food tradition of Siena, in Tuscany. The word ‘pici‘, or ‘pinci‘, (plural of ‘picio‘ or ‘pincio‘ respectively), comes from the gesture used to make them, ‘appicciare‘, i.e. hand rolling the pasta dough strips into the thin, long cylinders tapering at their extremities–see the image above.
Pici are exceptionally tasty in their simplicity. One of the most traditional ways to enjoy them is with aglione, a spicy garlic and tomato sauce, or with game ragù, as hunting hare and wild boar is common in the valleys of the Tuscan Appennino. My favourite classic sauce for pici is cacio e pepe, as in my recipe here. It is as simple as divine. Don’t be stingy on the pecorino cheese (use a Tuscan one) and you won’t regret it!
Dice one apple (or two, if quite small) and gently pan-fry on a butter-greased pan with the sugar, only for a couple of minutes, till they soften and start to glaze. Let them cool down.
Meanwhile, make the frangipane, mixing together custard, almond flour, and ground cinnamon in a bowl.
Stretch the shortcrust pastry to your tin size (I used a squared tin, 23 cm side), leaving about a border 1.5 cm tall, in order to create the edges of the tart. Dock the pastry base with a fork. Add the cooked apple to the frangipane and cover the pastry base with this mix.
Slice the rest of the apples as evenly as possible and place over the frangipane mix. You can arrange them either by length to recreate a visual effect similar to Hasselbacken potato, or layer the apple slices like I did in the single serve tart, pictured above.
Bake in hot oven at 180°C fan (400°F) for about 26 minutes–the tart is ready when the pastry is golden. Finish off with an additional sprinkle of ground cinnamon and even some lemon zest.
This is such an easy recipe, fast, and a guaranteed success. This tart is fun to assemble and the apple slices’ decoration offers a great chance to express one’s creativity. You should try this at home!
Frangipane apple tarts are now a staple at home and at the deli in Camden (The Camden Grocer) where I am working and cooking as their food consultant. If you are passing by the Market, don’t be shy and come get yours!
Warm up the oven to 160ºC fan (350ºF). While it gets to temperature, put the pecan nuts inside with a pinch of salt and sugar for about 10 minutes; let them cool down once done.
Mix the vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs in a large mixing bowl until you obtain a smooth mix. Add the flour, soda bicarbonate, salt, and ground cinnamon to the mix, keeping it as smooth as possible. Grate the carrots over the mix, add the toasted nuts and the zest of 1 orange. Pour the mix inside a lined round tin (26 cm/10″ diameter).
Bake in hot oven at 160°C fan (350°F) for 1 hour 20 minutes. Let cool down outside the oven inside the tin for about 10 minutes and then another 10 minutes without the tin.
Prepare the buttercream: mix the softened butter with the sugar first, add mascarpone and cream cheese (if you haven’t got access to mascarpone, you can use 350g of cream cheese), and place in two piping bags in the fridge to chill–you can do this operation while the cake bakes and cools down.
Slice the cake horizontally into two discs. Use one of the two buttercream piping bags to cover the bottom disc, cover with the second disc, and decorate the latter with the second piping bag of buttercream. I also add a thin rim of 1 freshly grated carrot on the edge to complete the decoration.
The first time I wrote this recipe, I was nervous about the feedback, because here in UK you can never go wrong with a carrot cake, as long as it is perfect! I first tested it with a few friends who grew up in West London and had carrot cake often enough to judge every aspect of it, mercilessly. Luckily, my cake passed the test with full marks.
With this recipe, the cake is moist yet with a good spongy bite. You can feel the carrots’ texture, as they are grated fresh into the mix. The pecan nuts are well balanced and add that yummy crunch here and there in the dough, while the cinnamon and orange perfumes intertwine in the nose. My Italian-tainted buttercream, made with a part of mascarpone, was also happily received, and it does work well without any vanilla, just the way it is. Try the recipe and let me know! Success is guaranteed!
Recipe in this post: BEETROOT ORZOTTO with caramelised chorizo, pine kernels & lime perfumes (serves 2 or makes a great starter for 4)
(200g pearl barley; 1L broth; 2 beetroots; 1 tsp ground coriander; 30g chorizo; 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar; 1 lime zest; lemon thyme; 2 tbsp pine kernels; 1 onion; EVO oil; salt; a splash of cow/oat milk)
Gently pan fry half onion slices in EVO oil till golden brown, then add the pealed and diced beetroots with the other half onion and some ground coriander. Sauté for about 10 minutes till they start to glaze.
Once cooled a bit, blitz the cooked beetroots with a food processor. If they remain too thick, you can add a splash of EVO oil or a little bit of cow/oat milk to smoothen the compound.
Quickly toast the pearl barley in some EVO oil for about 2 minutes. Start to cook the orzotto covering the barley with a ladle of broth at a time and keeping it on medium-high heat. Add the blitzed beetroots to the barley with more ladles of broth. Cook the barley till all the broth is absorbed, which is about 20-30 minutes in total, depending on the consistency you want to obtain.
In the meantime, dice the chorizo in small cubes and sauté them in the balsamic vinegar with the pine kernels and the lemon thyme, till the vinegar is reduced and the chorizo is shimmering.
Serve the orzotto mixing in the chorizo cubes balsamic reduction with the pine kernels, and garnish with leaves of lemon thyme and the lime zest.
Orzotto is a great alternative to risotto, very common in the north-east of Italy. The word itself is a blending of ‘orzo’, Italian for barley, and ‘risotto’. Do not confuse it with a pasta shape called ‘orzo’, which are a wheat pasta shaped like rice grains–in fact we call these ‘risoni’, i.e. big rice grains, in Italy.
Orzotto tends to be slightly crunchier than risotto, even though barley gives that sort of sponginess at the same time. I like to cook it al dente, but it is not uncommon to find it cooked for longer in order to get a softer feel of the grains. Because of its consistency, I like to use it in combination with different textures, such as the crunchy chorizo dices and the pine kernels in this recipe. You can make an orzotto with pretty much anything, from vegetables to fish and even meat like sausages and speck.
Roast the aubergines at 180ºC fan (400ºF) for about 40 minutes; let cool down and peel the skins;
Dice the aubergine pulp and place it on a sieve; squash the pulp with a fork to remove the water inside;
Mix the pulp with the egg, a pinch of salt, the flour, and add the cheese last;
Shape the dough as you please: you can make cubes like I did, or form the more traditional dumplings;
Boil the gnocchi in salty water, as you would do for pasta, and take them out when they are starting to float; serve with warm butter, toasted pine kernels and sage leaves.
Gnocchi are such a rewording meal. I love to make them in many different ways, changing the main vegetable component from time to time. You can use potatoes, beetroots, butternut squash, spinach, etc. They can be also ‘veganised’, removing the egg from the mix (try adding some ackee instead) and replacing Parmesan cheese with any dry vegan cheese. And for the sauce? Really, just go with whatever you please: melted butter, toasted nuts, herbs, a light tomato sauce, a spicy sauce, or a classic beef and pork ragù. Have fun and enjoy your food!
‘Have respect’. My Italian 1980s upbringing could be easily summed up with this sentence. Most of our parents had this phenomenally heavy heritage of humbleness that they had to pass on to our generation–blame it on catholicism or their post-fascist education, possibly both, go figure. ‘Have respect’ was a clear warning before any form of action, rather than a reparatory reprehension like the English ‘show some respect’. In a nutshell, live by the saying ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and you might as well dodge mum’s flying slipper.
The ‘have respect’ admonition used to be considered a perfect fit for any purpose: when you addressed other people, when you had to go somewhere and needed to be on time, or when you sat down for a meal, for instance. Because there was always a good reason to have respect and to make sure you did not miss the opportunity to show it.
Today, even though mostly lost culturally-wise, the daunting pseudo psalm ‘have respect’ still survives within every piece of Italian food prepared from the Alps to Lampedusa. It becomes a ritualistic foreword which prevents you from conceiving a pizza with pineapple (unless it is a video prank in Naples), or ask for cream or ham in your pasta carbonara, for example. The same can be said about pesto: it is delicious in its traditional recipe and that is about it.
Pesto genovese is an uncooked, fresh sauce for pasta originating from Genoa. The Ligurian capital, also called The Superb, is as old as its stones–the first settlement actually dates to the Neolithic. The town boasts a traditionally fierce population, mockingly as stingy as its perched-up mountains slanting onto the sea. So, when you deal with pesto, you had better be careful and have respect.
The original pesto recipe is registered at the local consortium and includes seven specific ingredients: Genoese DOP (Denominazone di Origine Protetta, i.e. PDO, Protected Designation of Origin) basil leaves, pine kernels, garlic, coarse salt, Sardinian DOP Pecorino cheese, DOP Parmesan cheese, and Ligurian extra virgin olive oil (check our previous post on EVO oil). A traditional serving may well include potatoes and green beans boiled with the pasta, in order to add starchiness and texture to the dish.
Pesto Genovese (serves 2, about 250g of pasta)
BASIL (leaves only), 25g
PINE KERNELS, 8g
GARLIC, 1/2 clove
SALT (coarse/rock), 1 tsp
PECORINO CHEESE (grated), 15g
PARMESAN CHEESE (grated), 35g
EVO OIL, 50ml
If you want to do it the proper way, get yourself a marble mortar and a wooden pestle–it also works if you use a marble pestle like I do. Work it clockwise while holding the mortar and spinning it in the other direction. Do it as quickly as possible, in order to preserve all the oils from the ingredients and to prevent oxidation, but do not rush it. Give each of the following steps the time you need to properly complete the process.
Grind garlic and the coarse salt till they become creamy.
Add the pine kernels and continue until they are finely ground.
Add the basil leaves and shred them while moving the pestle.
Add the two types of cheese, previously grated.
Finish with the EVO oil and work it till the compound is almost smooth, yet preserve some texture of your ingredients.
If you want to cheat, use can use a hand blender. In this case, I recommend you keep the blades in the fridge for a couple of hours before using the blender and operate it intermittently rather than continuously, so your basil will not bruise during the process and the pesto will not come out brownish.
The beauty of a good pesto starts with its colours palette, ranging over emeralds, dots of forest green, and sapphire shimmers. If it is a respectful pesto, when you eat it you want to feel the textures of its precious ingredients. Sharp, balsamic spikes hit your tongue with every snippet of basil. Salty, crunchy crystals of cheese gently melt in your mouth’s warmth. And it all makes sense as the heat of the pasta melds the flavours together.
An old Genoese saying goes ‘A l’à a belessa de l’ase‘, literally ‘it has the beauty of the donkey’, possibly a linguistic corruption from the French saying ‘La beauté de l’âge’, or ‘The beauty of age’. In any case, a Genoese calling you that could mean that your only good quality is beauty because you are young. Do not get offended, it is still a compliment. Have respect.
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.
Caponata penne (serves 2)
200-250 g penne
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.
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.
Easy, essential, tasty. Of course, you need to like meat in principle; otherwise, stick to the roast potatoes which are great anyway, even on their own. For the meat, I chose a sirloin steak medallion, very close to fillet and roughly £5 less per kilo. The potatoes are Charlotte ones, because I love their sweet nuttiness and their golden colour. (Also their name, to be honest). This recipe for potatoes is fantastic: it is easily prepared and it gives you a chance to serve lovely roast potatoes with an alluring look. Try it!
Sirloin steak medallion with roast potatoes (serves 4)
4 sirloin steak medallions (about 180 g each)
2 kg potatoes
1 or 2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
40 g butter
a few fresh thyme sprigs
Start with peeling, washing, and drying the potatoes with a cloth. Melt about 20 g of butter and add it to two tbsp of olive oil. Use part of this to line your baking tin–you can line it with foil, but still use the melted butter on top of the foil. Slice the potatoes with a mandoline, about 1.5 mm thick.
Place the potato slices in rows, do not worry if they look a bit tight, it is perfectly fine. If you place them too loose, they will dry out and burn. Brush the potatoes with the remaining melted butter and olive oil mix. Finely chop the shallot and place between the potatoes rows. Place in hot oven for 1 hour at 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
While your potatoes cook, take the meat out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter without covering it–half an hour is usually fine, depending on how thick is your meat cut and if you are using a piece with bone, e.g. a côte de boeuf. I used here sirloin steak medallions, which are a rather lean part of the sirloin, at the top of the fillet.
Once the potatoes have cooked for an hour, take them out of the oven, add salt and the thyme sprigs, and put back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes till perfectly golden cooked and slightly brown on some of the top rims.
Once the potatoes are back in the oven, season the meat, put 1 tbsp of olive oil in a hot pan, add the garlic, and brown the meat. Add the remaining butter (about 20 g) and spoon it over the meat as it melts and foams, and cook both sides. My preference is medium-rare, usually ready in 15-16 minutes. Leave for about 20 minutes for medium, and 25 minutes for medium-well. These cooking times may vary according to the steak thickness and cut.
Take off the fire and let the meat rest for a few minutes, while you take the potatoes out of the baking tin. Serve one row of potatoes–about two or three–per beef steak. Accompany with a bottle of Barbaresco, you won’t be disappointed.
A 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.
Courgette spaghetti with mushrooms and scamorza (serves 2)
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)
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.
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.
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.