Sweet Treats: Rhubarb Tart

I was thinking recently that I have never tried to bake or prepare rhubarb. This is such an lovely ingredient and still I was never even tempted to try. However this time, I realized that rhubarb is actually in season, as I stood in the veg and fruit section in one of my local shops. So I grabbed a packet and decided to make a tart for my friends as they were coming for lunch in a couple of days.

When I make tarts I always prepare my own pastry. I used the shop-bought one a couple of times and I must admit it is an easy option. But I just love making it myself. It is not so difficult and you can most definitely spot the difference in the texture and also in the overall taste. My hands are usually very cold and this is very useful when working with butter. Some recipes suggest to use food processor when starting the breadcrumb process but I prefer to do it myself. In this way I get a better feeling on how much more liquid is needed and how the pastry is binding together.

Rhubarb itself is super easy to prepare. I bought the forced rhubarb which was unfortunately more green than lovely pink colour. But once cooked the colour became paler and lighter. I was unsure whether the round tin will work when arranging the stalk. But then I figured out the way of placing each segment without breaking it too much.

Sweet Treats: Rhubarb Tart (serves 8)


450 g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 13 cm long batons
1 tsp vanilla essence
50 g caster sugar
juice form 1/2 lemon

For pastry
225 g plain flour
20 g ground almonds
2 tbsp icing sugar
140 g cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk

For creme patisserie
250 ml milk
2 egg yolks
2 rbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp plain flour
50 ml double cream

Put sugar, vanilla essence and lemon sugar with about 300 ml water in a wide pan or casserole and bring to boil over the low heat. Once the sugar is dissolved add the rhubarb batons and ensure that rhubarb is covered with the liquid. Leave to simmer for about 5 minutes. Then take from the heat and allow to cool. Keep the rhubarb in the sirup for another 1 hour or up to 1 day.

For the pastry, mix butter and flour with almonds and sugar in a bowl. Use your fingers to break the chunks of butter and to create breadcrumb texture. Stir the ingredients every now and then to allow large chunks come to the surface. Then add egg yolk and dribble of 1-2 tbsp cold water. Knead the pastry briefly to allow all ingredients come together and to form a dough. Wrap in cling film and allow to chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

For creme patisserie, place milk and vanilla essence on the hob and bring to boil on a medium heat. Whilst milk is coming to a boil, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together with flour in a bowl, until pale and light. Pour the hot milk whilst whisking the eggs mixture. Place the mixture back on the medium heat (in a clean pan) and stir continuously until it becomes thick and covers the back of the spoon. Be careful with the heat at this stage, as creme is very likely to stick and burn at the base of the pan. Scrape the creme into a bowl and cover it to prevent the skin formation. Chill for 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Roll out the pastry to about 1-2mm thickness  and line the tart tin. Press the pastry into the flute edges of the tin and ensure it is also overhanging the edges of the tin. Chill for another 30 minutes. Heat the oven for 200 C/180 C fan/ gas 6. Line the pastry with a baking parchment and place baking beans on top. Blind bake for 20 min and temvoe the baking parchment. Then bake for another 6-8 minutes until pastry is golden and dry. Whilst pastry is still hot trim the edges of the tin with a sharp knife. Cool in the tin.

Remove the rhubarb from the syrup and set aside. Then bring the syrup to boil until it becomes thick and sticky. Leave on the side to cool down.

Whisk the cream until stiff and carefully fold in the creme patisserie. Fill the pastry case with the creme patiserrie and smooth the surface. Then line the rhubarb on the creme and ensure the whole surface is covered with the rhubarb. Glaze the tart with the rhubarb syrup and chill for 30 minutes.

by Maria

Caponata penne

IMG_4411.JPG

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.

IMG_4409.JPG

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.

IMG_4410.JPG

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.

IMG_4400.JPG

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)

IMG_4399.JPG

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.

IMG_4401.JPG

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.

IMG_4403.JPG

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.

img_4406.jpg

by Max

Jerusalem artichoke soup with leek and shallot

jerusalem artichokes soup.jpg

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…

13076641_1131939426826571_2954685086064036106_n.jpg
‘[…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

FotorCreated.jpg

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…

IMG_4355.JPG

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.

FotorCreated process.jpg

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!

IMG_4367.JPG

by Max

Courgette pesto risotto with almond flakes and pine kernels

zucchine pesto risotto.jpg

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

Photo 07-02-2016, 15 54 01.jpg

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.

Photo 25-02-2015 14 08 42

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.

IMG_4308.JPG

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.

IMG_4311.JPG

by Max

Parmesan cheese lollipops

Photo 07-02-2016, 15 49 57.jpg

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

IMG_4309.JPG

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

IMG_4281

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