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

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Dinner @ Luce e Limoni, London

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Going for Italian food in London is most of the times quite an adventure…escaping chains, fake Italian ‘bistros’, pretentious posh places, or pizza maniacs who don’t have a clue about how pizza should taste, they all drastically reduce the chances of a good find. Luce e Limoni is one of these good, rare finds, at an affordable price. It offers refined Sicilian food.

The restaurant is at 91-93 Gray’s Inn Road, a short walk from either King’s Cross, Russel Square, or Chancery Lane tube stations. Luce e Limoni is open Mon-Fri 12-3 for lunch, Mon-Thu 6-10 and Fri-Sat 6-11 for dinner. The area is fairly busy with mainly offices people during the day and quiet in the evening. I went with a few friends for dinner. My favourite dishes were the fish starters, though the wild boar ham starter, fresh pasta ravioli, and meat mains were equally tasty and refined. The restaurant has a quality wine selection at average London restaurant prices.

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Taste-wise, I usually prefer traditional fish dishes, but I never dispise polished combinations when they make sense. This is the case of the fritto misto with bottarga mayonnaise. The dish included battered deep-fried king prawns, large sardines, and squid. The bottarga mayonnaise was smooth and incredibly delicate–although, I would have added some bottarga to it: I want to smell that fishiness and let it turn into that bitter, roasty flavour when I have bottarga. Still, it is definitely worth another go!

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Another great starter we tried was scallops with cauliflower and anchovies cream. This is quite a classic on the London scene nowadays and reflects a wintery use of the scallops. The presentation could have been a bit more elegant, perhaps spreading a little less cream (used as base) with a brush stroke, adding one more scallop to the dish. A more summery version we usually have in Italy is the scallops au gratin, with garlic and parsley, each mollusk still in their lower shell.

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One of the signature starters of the restaurant is the mackerel timbal with capers and ricotta, peppers coulis, and samphire. The dish looks very appealing and is a lovely, warming way to open your meal. The pepper coulis merries the samfire in a pleasant sweet saltiness which exalts the ricotta and fish timbal. The mackerel was very delicate, smoothed out by the ricotta which softened the taste edge of the fish. Thin potato slices embraced the timbal in a clean and crispy wrap.

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Among the mains, we tried fresh pasta ravioli with sausage, basil, and tomato, mixed fish casserole, and a beautiful veal chop, all cooked to perfection. I was hoping more from my main, which was supposed to be porchetta, but turned out to be a pork belly, served with lentils and Marsala reduction. The porchetta, ideally, is not just the pork belly, but rather the actualy full pork roast on a long turning skewer, stuffed with herbs, and then served in slices. The dish I had at Luce e Limoni was very good, nonetheless, with glazed skin instead of the crackling and a delicate Marsala reduction.

We concluded our meal with Sicilian cannoli and coffee.

The restaurant service is polite, attentive, and quick. It means that you are not assaulted as soon as you walk in, but you get taken care as you would do in a house, where someone greets you, takes your coats, and shows you to the living room while asking how’s everyone doing at home. The same thing, but with nice, large-planked wooden tables. The place has a soft, homely ambience, and you don’t really miss those Impero-wannabe chaiselongs you never see anyone sitting on when you go to those big villas in the south of Italy.

The restaurant’s main room is distinguished by its chandelier-shaped lamp shades and old botanic prints of Mediterranean citrus fruits. The decor is not a distraction, but rather a warm reminder of typical countryside homes in Italy, where we still have those kinds of prints, with birds, plants, friuts, and other encyclopedic illustrations. You never know whether someone got them many years before and just framed the nicer plates, or if time stopped for a while and no one now cares to change the walls decoration. It feels like your grandparents’ dinette or reception room. And you know your grandparents will have a treat for you. It’s guaranteed. That is why the experience at Luce e Limoni was very pleasing, comfortable, and made us happy. If you can, I think you should give it a go.

by Max

Sweet Treats: Chocolate Macarons

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Colourful, chewy but crisp on the outside, delicate but full of rich flavours hidden in the fillings. Macarons are becoming ever so popular these days. Internet is flooded by these brightly coloured sweets, sometimes with rather fancy and exotic fillings. They are most certainly nothing new, as the first mention of macarons dates back to the sixteenth century! At the time there wasn’t any filling to join two macaron shells together. That changed only at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Pierre Desfontaines, the grandson of Louis Ernest Laduree, decided to use chocolate ganache.

Some say that making these delicacies is not easy, even though the ingredients are so beautifully simple. To make things even trickier, there are two different ways of preparing the meringues for your macarons. You can either follow the French technique or the Italian one. I prefer using the French method, as it does not involve any use of the temperamental hot sugary syrup.

You can experiment with any colour you wish, but remember to use either gel or powder food colouring. Introducing additional liquid to meringues would ruin the macaron. I added one teaspoon of cocoa powder to my meringues to complete the chocolate theme.

Chocolate French Macarons

95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds

For the chocolate ganache
80 ml double cream
100 g dark chocolate

Whip the egg whites until still. Keep in mind that you have to add the caster sugar gradually while you are whipping the egg whites. This allows the macaroons to develop their characteristic shine. 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. Always make sure that all piped macarons are the same size, as making them in different sizes would burn the smaller ones. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubles to come out: in simpler words, knock the air out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky. 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. Be careful when taking macaroons shells from the baking paper as they are very fragile and sticky.

For the chocolate ganache, bring the cream to boil on a low heat. Then pour over broken chocolate and leave to stand. Mix together with a spoon and leave to stand preferably in a cool place. Once thick enough, transfer into a piping bag.

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Match two shells so that their size will be as similar as possible. Pipe a little bit of chocolate ganache on one macaron shell and sandwich together with the second one. Leave to cool in the fridge. Macarons are best on the next day and ideally kept in the fridge. Take them out of the fridge about an hour before eating, to allow the ganache to warm up to room’s temperature.

by Maria

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

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

 

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