Saturday, 31 December 2011

"You are love itself - when you are not afraid."

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I Am That"

Monday, 26 December 2011

Coconut milk pannacotta with passion fruit 'pepite' and agave syrup (Concours White and Gold)

I am very pleased to introduce this post, as it represented a great challenge to me.

As you probably may have read here , I have recently decided to take part in my first contest ever.
The theme of the contest (held by the French website Culinographie) was «White and Gold Christmas», a theme which I didn't feel quite comfortable with...

When I work on a recipe, inspiration usually comes from a/some ingredient/s or a creative combination of them based on their sensory elements (taste, texture, smell..). Colours have a role, of course, but not at the starting point. Developing a recipe from assigned colours was the first challenge I had to face.

Talking about colours, I am in love with white. White is Space between shadows and colours. White is Light. And these are the elements I like to play with while I am shooting a photo.
As for Gold... that's hard to explain, but I've never quite liked it. It must have something to do with my catholic upbringing and all that baroque art I have been massively exposed to as a child, when I forcefully attended Mass... 

Though I am not keen on gold, I knew from the beginning that passion fruit would have been among the ingredients: those sweet and sparkling golden beads would have brightened up the simplest dessert. And it had to be a dessert. I was pretty sure about it.
The first recipe I experimented with was some kind of 'Mini Pavlova with Passion Fruit' .
Unfortunately, it didn't actually turn out the way I had expected (you can learn more about this culinary failure here).

As a second and last attempt I tried out a 'Coconut milk pannacotta', a personal version of this recipe, which has always appealed to me. Passion fruit and agave syrup simply add a sweet and exotic note, plus a sparkling beam to this candid and immaculate white dessert.

As for the food styling, I was determined to convey a light, bright atmosphere that matched well with the light-ness of this recipe. And I was also concerned about keeping it simple, just as the dish the photos had to portray.

Inspiration came unexpectedly.

As I was decorating my house for Christmas with my daughter M., I found some tiny golden candles I had completely forgotten about. I loved the way they reflected light...and it immediately struck me...I thought I could play with it - Gold and Light -  and style the recipe using these candles and some golden fabric to lighten up the elements of my composition.

I spent a couple of hours taking photos of the recipe with my camera and macro lens, merrily playing with the different options I could choose from...

The whole process (devising, making, styling the recipe, and shooting the final product) really challenged me at different levels. It was a great way of 'learning by doing', discovering new elements I'll play with in the future.

This post ends with a special thank-you-note for Aline, Parigote, and Christelle
Thank you for hosting the contest and for the wonderful opportunity it has provided to bloggers. Thank you for the ecxellent work you are doing as creators and contributors of the food photography blog 'Culinographie'!

Best whishes for the New Year to everyone!

Ingredients for the pannacotta (serves 6):

full fat coconut milk: 350 ml
silk tofu: 100 gr
agave syrup: 2 + 1/2 tablespoons
vanilla bean: 1 - seeds scraped, pod reserved
agar agar: 2 teaspoons
unflavoured vegetable oil (optional)

Ingredients for the passion fruit coulis:

passion fruit: 12 - halved, pulp and juice scooped out
agave syrup: 4 tablespoons

Combine coconut milk and agave syrup in a saucepan over medium heat, add the vanilla pod.
Bring to boil and stir in agar agar.

Reduce to lower heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool down. 

Remove vanilla pod and discard.

Liquify silk tofu in a food processor and stir in the vanilla seeds. 
Whisk the liquified tofu into the cooled coconut milk mixture.

Divide mixture into 6 individual glass bowl or ramekins greased with vegetable oil (this will make it easier sliding the pannacotta out of the ramekins).
Let the pannacotta chill in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours.

While the pannacotta is chilling in the fridge, prepare the passion fruit coulis.
In a medium bowl combine the pulp and juice of passion fruit with the agave syrup. Reserve.

Remove the molds form the fridge. 
Submerge the molds (bottom only) in a bowl of hot water, then remove from water and run a sharp knife along the edges of the pannacotta to loosen it from the ramekin.

Turn the ramekin upside down on a serving plate and gently tap the sides of the mold to help the pannacotta slide right out.

Serve the pannacotta with the passion fruit coulis and garnish with some mint leaves.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

"All division is in the mind. There is none in reality. Movement and rest are states of mind and cannot be without their opposites. By itself nothing moves, nothing rests."

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I Am That"

Friday, 16 December 2011

Apple cake, by mistake

Things don't always turn out the way we expected. 
As simple and thruthful as this may seem, the lesson is hard to learn. At least for me. 
Whenever I take the resolution to move in one direction, life flows in the opposite one.

I usually get disappointed as I realize I have little control over serious or trivial events, but when I allow myself to accept things as they are, something interesting and unexpected happens, and a  casual mistake may lead me through an unpredicted creative path.

This is how a brand new project, or a recipe, may be developed.
Take this story, for instance.

As soon as I decided to take part in my first contest, hosted by the French website Culinographie, I visualized both the recipe and the styling for the post I would have submitted: 'Mini pavlova with passion fruit syrup'. The idea really appealed to me, and the more I thought about it, the more I craved for it.

I should have known better, though.
I've always liked meringues, but, apparentely, they have never liked me! I've always had problems cooking them, and this last attempt was no exception.
These last two attemps, to be precise.

The first one ended up as soon as I started. As I carefully whipped the egg whites and added the sugar it was perfectly clear that the consistency of the froth was neither foamy nor stiff, as it should be, but all too watery. I set aside this mixture and decided to have another go...
The second attempt was not very lucky either, since the meringues that came out of my oven after two hours were apparently overcooked on the outside but quite raw inside.

No wonder I felt quite discomforted at this stage. I needed some sort of comfort food to brighten up the day (very rainy, too), and as I still had the egg whites and sugar mixture in the fridge I conjured up this "happy" apple cake. By mistake. (I had six yolks in the fridge, but I forgot to add some to the cake batter!). 

As I originally planned to submit this recipe to the contest, I played a bit during the styling and editing stages, adding a couple of white and gold stars to convey a beaming atmosphere.
Hope you like it!


all-purpose flour: 220 gr
unsalted butter: 150 gr - melted
egg whites: 3
sugar: 110 gr
baking powder: 16 gr
small Gala apples: 4
whole milk: 50 ml

for garnish:

whipped cream
icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°. Meanwhile grease a round cake pan (I used a 20cm- diameter one) with butter and coat with flour. Peel, halve and core the apples; set aside in a large bowl, covered with cold water, to avoid oxidation.

In a glass or metal bowl whip egg whites and gradually add granulated sugar while continuing to beat with an electric whisk. Sift onto the bowl the flour and the baking powder, then add the melted butter (at room temperature) carefully stirring dry and wet ingredients with a spatula until the batter gets smooth and fluffy. Gradually add some milk if the mixture is too thick (I used approximately 50 ml of milk, at this stage).

Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a spoon. Cut the halved apples thin - but don't cut all the way through - and place them on top of batter. Sprinkle with butter flakes.

Bake for for about 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean in the center of the cake. Remove from oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream or crème - fraiche.

"View everything in a simple way, and then you can see things as they really are.When we see and accept others the way they are, we can relate with anyone."

Sachiko Adachi, 'To live as we are'

Monday, 5 December 2011

Gingerbread cookies

My mother has never liked cooking very much, but one thing she really enjoys is baking Christmas cookies with her nieces.  

This family tradition started with my brother's daughters and was resumed as soon as M. was old enough to cut out shapes from a rolled out dough.

Being italian and quite traditional in her cooking habits, my mother had never heard of - not to say tasted - a gingerbread biscuit before stepping into an IKEA department store.
And of course she has always been skeptical about my efforts and endavours whenever I've tried to bake an italian version of the more internationally famous gingerbread man. 

This all started when I began teaching english to very young learners: a couple of weeks before Christmas I used to tell them that old favourite story of the 'Gingerbread Man' (remember the refrain 'Run run as fast as you can, you can't catch me I am the gingerbread man'? Even italian children enjoy repeating it! ). The story inevitably inspired me to cook this kind of cookies and that's how I got stuck into different versions of the same recipe, with such exotic ingredients as molasses (where the hell can you find it?) and a never-ending list of spices ...

Anyway...a few days ago M. and I visited my mother (wasn't I talking about her?) and offered her some of the cookies you see in these pictures as a present. 

I couldn't but be proud of myself  as my mother tasted and appreciated - at last - our gingerbread 'biscotti'. Even though not always perfect in their shape  (I beheaded some of the ladies while taking them out of the oven) - they tasted so good!

We made almost three batches of them. M. enjoyed kneading as well as cutting out pine trees and snow flakes from the rolled out dough. A dark brown dough providing sweet and spicy cookies. 

A taste of winter, as simple as that.


all-purpose flour: 350 gr - 12,3 oz
wholemeal flour: 130 gr - 4,6 oz
muscavado sugar: 200 gr - 7 oz
                           or, alternately, a dark brown sugar
unsalted butter: 160 gr -  5,6 oz  -room temperature
whole eggs: 2
ground ginger: 3 teaspoons
ground cinnamon: 2 teaspoon
ground cloves: 1 teaspoon
baking soda: 1 generous pinch
salt: 1 teaspoon

In a medium bowl, sift together the two flours, baking soda, salt and spices. Add muscavado sugar and mix well. Make a 'well' or a 'fountain' in the centre of the dry mixture. Add the other ingredients (butter and eggs) in the well and knead the mixture with your hands until it forms a ball of dough. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap each of them in plastic film and keep in the fridge for at least one hour. 

Preheat oven to 180° C (350°) degrees, position your racks just in the middle, and line a couple of baking trays with parchment paper. Set aside. 

Roll the first dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board roughly 3-4 mm (approx1/8-inch) thick and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 7 -10 minutes according to the size of your cookies (8-10 minutes will be fine for 10 cm - 4 inches cookies, but larger cookies will take a bit longer).

Remember the cookies will continue to bake for another couple of minutes once you take them out of  the oven, don't overcook them otherwise they will easily dry out!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Leeks and chickpeas cream soup

The temperature has been dropping all week. 

I didn't realize it at first, then one morning I got into a freezing cold car, heading for the kindergarten with M. and noticed a frosty white lace covering the fields.

Though the beautiful landscape helped me recover from the 'thermic shock', I couldn't avoid listening to the cold whispers of late Autumn. 

As usual, when days get shorter and colder, I try to keep my body warm by eating and drinking any sort of steaming liquid, be it a soup or a spicy tea (not to mention hot chocolate).

I like making soups, especially during this time of the year. I love the simple gestures involved in the process, like chopping vegetables, for instance. The concentration this action requires immediately helps me to focus and calm down. As crazy as this may sound it has a hypnothic effect on me. Does this happen to you as well? 

Making soups boosts my creativity too. I am always willing to try out new ingredients and new combinations of flavours. Take this cream soup, for example. Once I had decided the main ingredient - leeks - I started to add a bit of this and a bit of that, as inspiration (and the leftovers in the fridge) guided me.
The result really surprised and pleased me, and so I'd like to share this recipe with you.

p.s.:You can serve the soup with toasted bread or croutons as I did, but you may also add any grain of your choice (I recommend 'farro' -tr. spelt- or wholemeal rice). This will turn yuour soup into a tasty as well as healthy and nourishing meal.

Ingredients (serves 4):

leeks: 280 gr - 9,88 oz. - 3 + 1/2 cups - trimmed, halved, washed, thinly sliced 
potato: 100 gr - 3,53 oz. - 1 cup - washed, peeled and diced
pre cooked chickpeas: 150 gr - 5,29 oz. - 1 cup - rinsed
fresh ginger: 1cm - 0,39 inches - peeled and finely chopped
green pepper: 25 gr - 0,88 oz - 1/8 cup
raw vegetable stock: 3 teaspoons + water: 750 ml - 3 cups
              or, alternatively, vegetable stock: 750 ml - 3 cups
vegetable cream: 2 to 3 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil: 3 to 4 tablespoons
sea salt: to taste
freshly ground nutmeg: to taste
freshly ground pepper: to taste

for garnish:

sweet green peppers
fresh chives
hot chili

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the raw vegetable stock and the fresh ginger, stirring carefully. Add leeks, potato and green pepper, cook - don't forget stirring -for approximately 10-15 minutes until vegetables have softened. 
Add chickpeas and 3 cups of warm water- or veggie stock - bring to boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered, until the vegetables are perfectly tender. Remove from heat and blend until you reach a smooth consistency, add water or stock if necessary.
Add the vegetable cream and season to taste with salt and spices.
Ladle the soup into small individual bowls, top with chickpeas and tiny green peppers squares, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with ground chili peppers and fresh chives and serve warm.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

About a new camera and a resolution

 If you have been reading this blog over the past months you may have noticed a (hopefully) better quality in the images I've posted recently. It is all about a new camera. This one.

Up until mid October I used to take all the pictures with a 'point and shoot' camera, and though I found it extremely practical I felt it quite limiting. No manual function. No lenses. I knew a digital reflex camera would help me progress futher in my food-photography 'apprenticeship'.

I'd been dreaming about it for months, and had been browsing through websites and photography-related blogs, looking for information and reviews, trying to figure out the best option. I felt quite confused reading all that technical stuff and couldn't figure out exactly what I needed. Talking to people - both professionals and amateurs - helped a lot. ..and borrowing their camera for a couple of hours was as exciting as helpful (grazie Cecilia, grazie Elena, e grazie zio Didi per la pazienza!).

I have to thank a special friend, though, for giving me the right information at he right time. Thank you Angela!
I bought both camera and lenses (Canon EF-S 18/55 mmSigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro)  from a second-hand shop in Milan (here, to be more precise). How lucky I was to find there what I needed. I couldn't really believe that!

Anyway, having a new camera doesn't make you a professional photographer and thus I made a resolution: to practice with the new camera as soon as I had some spare time. Unfortuately, as it always happens with this kind of resolutions, my plans got messed up by several adverse conditions.

I shot all the images you see in the post a week ago. The last sunny day before it started raining. And raining. And raining. It still does. (Heavy rains and floods caused major problems in Northern Italy this week - as you may read here - with Torino and Genova being the most damaged cities).
As if it wasn't enough, our daughter M. got ill. Nothing serious, bur still, the poor girl spent many sleepless nights coughing and sneezing...and many long homely afternoons with me on the sofa, watching The Little Marmaid over and over again. No appetite. No cooking. No photographying.

I am quite happy she is recovering though, and according to the weather forecast tomorrow the rain will stop.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Saturday, 29 October 2011

"There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so."

William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"

Thursday, 27 October 2011

On chickpeas

Talking about vegetarian alternatives to meat or other high-protein sources (such as cheese, tofu, or seitan) chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) are on top of our shopping list. Why? Because we consume them twice or three times a week and we are now completely addicted.

Be it for their delicate and slightly sweet and earthy flavour, or for their buttery  texture, everybody here at home has a flair for this bean. Just pick one of our 'can't-do-without' recipes and you'll find chickpeas (ceci, in italian) amongst the ingredients: 'pasta e ceci' or 'farinata' or 'panissa' (just to stick to the Italian cooking tradition), hummus dip or falafel (still mediterranean) and chana masala (going a bit farther East into Indian cooking).

Nutritional facts seem to encourage our insane consumption of chickpeas, as they are a helpful source of zinc and folate and they provide a high level of phosphorus and magnesium too.
They are also a good source of fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels. This makes them a great food especially for diabetics and insulin-resistant individuals. As I am likely to become one of those individuals (my father and other members of his family happened to be diabetics) I welcome the opportunity to prevent insulin related problems eating one of my favourite foods.

I wrote down a few notes on how to cook dried chickpeas and store them, both economizing and avoiding piling up useless tin cans or packaging stuff. It's just as easy as buying precooked beans, you just have to remember soaking them in advance, at least 12-24 hours. Cooking time is not short either, I acknowledge, but you can still pressure-cook them if you are in a hurry. You'll be surprised to discover how better they taste, compared to canned ones!


dried chickpeas (gorbanzo beans): 200 gr
fennel seeds: 1 teaspoon
or kombu seaweed: 1 stripe
sage: 4 leaves
or bayleaf: 2 leaves
sea salt: to taste

1-Soak the dried chickpeas in cool water for at least 12 - 24 hours, depending on the hardness and the age of the beans. After soaking time, rinse well and transfer the chickpeas to a colander to drain. Remove and discard any discoloured chickpeas.
2-Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with plenty of fresh water (at least three times their volume). Add fennel seeds or a stripe of kombu to the saucepan to enhance their digestibility and prevent flatulence. Choose fennel seeds if you want to enhance the sweet flavour of chickpeas, or kombu for a more neutral taste. I also add garlic and sage (or bay leaf) to add flavour and get a tasty bouillon I'll reserve and use for other recipes.
3-Bring the water to boil then reduce the heat and simmer covered for between 90 minutes and 120 minutes (depending on the age of the chickpeas and soaking time) topping-up the water as needed.
4-When the chickpeas are about 80% done, season to taste with sea salt then continue cooking, uncovered, until the chickpeas are soft and almost all the liquid has evaporated away.
Pressure cooker chickpeas: Follow step 1 and 2. Bring the pressure cooker up to high pressure, then pressure cook the chickpeas for 40 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the pressure come down naturally. Check a couple of chickpeas for doneness then season with sea salt to taste.

5-Drain the cooked chickpeas in a colander (reserve the cooking liquid in a glass jar as they make a great bouillon four soups!) and can the beans in a salt solution (brine) in sterilized glass jars. Store them in the fridge. Shelf life: one week approximately.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

"The opportunity that is concealed within every crisis does not manifest until all the facts of any given situation are acknowledged and fully accepted. As long as you deny them, as long as you try to escape from them or wish that things were different, the window of opportunity does not open up, and you remain trapped inside that situation, which will remain the same or deteriorate further."

Eckart Tolle, "The Power of Now"

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Home made grape schiacciata

Kneading the dough was one of my favourite kitchen activities when I was a child. 

I impatiently sat on a chair, observing my mother's simple and precise gestures as she mixed basic ingredients such as flour, water, oil and turned them into a smooth and elastic dough. 

Only then could I plunge my little hands in the bowl, witnessing the magic transformation that had occured. I liked kneading of course - squashing and pushing and folding and flattening the dough, but I always ended up making little holes in it with my tiny fingers. 

That's something every kid loves doing. Exploring with the senses. Touching. Taking time to feel and absorb every sensation that rises in the here and now.


I can't help watching my daughter as she performs the same actions I did as a child.  
Over and over again. Like a mantra, or a meditation. She gets quite absorbed, you know.

I usually leave an extra piece of dough for her to experiment with, and she loves the idea of preparing a treat for her dad, or for any guest who is visiting us. This time it was raisins schiacciata.

We usually bake rosemary or sage focaccia (or schiacciata, as they call it in Tuscany), thus Maddalena was very intrigued by the fact that this time I added sugar to the dough, which of course made her want to taste it immediately. She wanted to add raisins to the dough, and it came out as a good choice too!

As far as the treat I was baking, there's a just a few words I'd like to add. Grape Schiacciata is one of those italian regional recipes that celebrate the harvest time of the year. Grape vines are very common in most Italian regions but they are nowhere as famous as in Tuscany, where this recipe originally comes from. It requires a long preparation so it makes the perfect activity for a rainy and homely autumn afternoon. Choose sweet seedless grapes and a mild extra virgin olive oil to get the best results, and enjoy the juicy and soft consistency of the schiacciata once it's ready. It makes a perfect match with a glass of Italian moscato (a sweet white wine) or with a cup of herbal tea.

Ingredients (serves 8):

strong bread flour: 500 gr - 17,64 oz
caster sugar: 150 gr - 5,3 oz + 1 tablespoon for the first dough
filtered water: 200 ml - 6,8 fl oz +  5-6 tablespoons for the first dough
fresh yeast: 25 gr - 0,88 oz
seedless black grapes: 600 gr - 21,16 oz
extra virgin olive oil: 5 tablespoons
salt: one pinch

Prepare the first dough: dissolve the yeast in 5-6 tablespoons of warm (but not hot!) water mixed with a tablespoon of sugar. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes. Add 4 tablespoons of flour to this mixture and mix well. Cover with a dishcloth and allow it to prove at room temperature for about 30 minutes. 

Once the first dough (or starter) has doubled its size you can pour the remaining flour in a big bowl and work in the dough, adding  200 ml of warm water gradually, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing and kneading. Knead the dough carefully in order to get a smooth and elastic dough. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary. Make a ball out of the dough, make a cross on top of it with a knife. Sprinkle this second dough with flour, then set aside in a bowl. Cover with a dishcloth and allow it to rise at room temperature for at least one hour, until it has doubled in size.

Meanwhile wash the grapes, then place on a tablecloth or towel to dry and reserve until needed.

Once the second dough has doubled its volume, add 50 gr of sugar, one pinch of salt and 5 tablespoons of oil. Mix the ingredients well and knead energetically. Allow to prove for another hour. 

After an hour knead the dough again, then halve it. Flatten one piece of the dough on a wooden board dusted with some flour using your fingertips or a rolling pin.

Grease a baking pan (mine was 28 cm - 11 inches in diameter) with olive oil then cover the entire surface of the pan with the first layer of schiacciata . Drizzle half of the grapes on it, sprinkle with 50 gr of caster sugar then cover with the remaining dough flattening it and sealing the edges. Sprinkle with the remaining grapes and sugar.

Bake the schiacciata in a preheated oven (180°C - 356°F) for about 40 minutes then serve warm or cold, according to taste.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Silk Tofu with white grapes, ginger and pine nuts

This is a personal thank you note for Valérie Lhomme.
'Who's that girl?' you'll probably been asking yourselves.
Valérie is a talented recipe developer, food stylist and photographer, and I've been quite obsessed with her work lately. I like her innovative style, easy-to-do recipes and awesome pictures... just in case you want to know more about her you can click here, or visit here.

I'd love to share with you one of Mrs Lhomme recipe I've recently found in Marie Claire Idees- September 2010 issue, a magazine I bought almost one year ago and ended up on the library shelf, almost forgetten I have to confess, until a couple of days ago, when I came back from the super market carrying 4 lbs of grapes, trying to figure out how could I possibly consume those white and purple grapes before other members of the family came back home and sacked the fruit basket (we do love grapes, here).

Valérie contributed to this Marie Claire Idees issue with an article packed with excellent ideas: 'Grapes and Red Onions Tart', 'Caramelized Grapes with Sesam Seeds', 'Grapes, Pear, Apple and Raisin Crumble' and some other treats I will try out one day or the other.
The 'Silk Tofu with Grapes&Ginger' recipe was the one that really struck me, though. Probably because I love the ingredients, or because I haven't tought of such a combination yet, before stumbling into this recipe. Who knows?

The main ingredient of this starter dish is silk tofu, a japanese quality of tofu. It's consistency is softener than the regular one, with a creamy texture and a delicate flavour, which makes it perfect to cook vegan desserts (it can also be used as a yolk substitute in baking).
We usually eat it japanese style, with thin cucumber slices, wakame seaweed, sesame seeds and soy sauce, but I welcomed the idea of trying out a variation on this theme: Valerie's recipe really appealed to me, so I only added a nutty note to the plate, giving an extra bit of flavour, balancing the sweetness of apple and grapes, I guess.

So here is my own personal version, hope you'll relish this refreshing appetizer too!


silk tofu: 260 gr - 9 oz.
white grapes: 12
fresh ginger root: 2 cm - 0,80 inch.
apple: 1/2
pine nuts: 2 tablespoons - slightly roasted
soy sauce: 4 tablespoons
water + lemon juice

for garnish:

leeks or spring onion ring
marjoram or thyme leaves

Wash the raisins, split them in twos and deseed them. Reserve.
Peel and grate the ginger root. Mix it with the raisins in a small bowl.
Wash the 1/2 apple, remove central core and seeds. Thinly slice it and reserve (sprinkle with lemon juice to avoid oxidation). Cut the silk tofu into four parts and display each of them on an individual plate or in a small bowl. Distribute the grapes and ginger mix on the silk tofu, then add a couple of apple silces and some roasted pine nuts. Garnish with leeks or spring onion rings, marjoram or thyme leaves. Season with soy sauce, according to taste.

Friday, 30 September 2011

"'One day I'll make it'. Is your goal taking up so much of your attention that you reduce the present moment to a means to an end? Is it taking the joy out of your doing? Are you waiting to start living? If you develop such a mind pattern, no matter what you achieve or get, the present will never be good enough; the future will always seem better. A perfect recipe for permanent dissatisfaction and nonfulfillment, don't you think?"

Eckart Tolle, "The Power of Now"

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Zucchini 'in carpione', my way

September. Last summer days.
The weather has been indulgent and has provided unusually hot temperatures over the past two weeks.
No way could we keep M. at home once she was back from kindergarten school, and outdoor activities had to be planned almost every day.
As if she wanted to squeeze the last drop of summer light before the Autumn sets in.
As if she could feel it. The end of Summer.

Don't get me wrong. She loves autumn too.
Cosy, homely afternoons.
And apple tarts. And walking through the woods, harvesting chestnuts.

Still. Summer always brings precious gifts.

Open spaces.

What is it that makes it so special?

Anyway... back to the recipe... I was visiting an uncle of mine during one of those outdoor afternoons with M. and he walked us to his home garden, still as lush and colourful as in the midst of August, thanks to this particularly temperate weather: tomatoes, green peppers, salad leaves, and so forth...

"Would you like some zucchini?" - my uncle asked, proudly showing me his 'zucchini trombetta', or 'tromboncino zucchini', an italian summer squash variety. Fruits are long and slender, light green in colour, with a  fine sweet flavour. I simply love them. I couldn't say no.

Being one of my favourite vegetables I've been cooking zucchini in different ways throughout this summer: in salads, pasta, frittata (pancakes) or torte salate (tarts) or baked and stuffed with grains or cheese and vegetables. 

I've browsed magazines, books and blogs and finally I've come to this version of 'zucchini in carpione'. That's to say fry marinated zucchini. My way, since I added an extra sweet touch to this traditional sour recipe. It comes from the Piedmont region cooking tradition, and it's considered a 'piatto povero' (poor dish) since the ingredients were easily affordable to peasants: vegetables, olive oil, vinegar, fine herbs. Of course different varieties of this recipe have been developed through time, but basically it consists in frying the vegetables and then marinating them with vinegar and white wine.
Choose fresh and tender zucchini and you'll get the best results. And a good olive oil too, of course.
You can serve zucchini in carpione as a starter or a side dish. You can also treat yourself with an in-between-meal: slice some wholemeal bread, spread some goat cheese, top with zucchini in carpione, sprinkle with peppers and that's done! Enjoy!


zucchini: 900gr-2 lb
onion: 1 small - thinly sliced
garlic: 3 cloves - unpeeled
apple vinegar: 160 ml-2/3 cup
dry white wine: 250 ml-1 cup
extra virgin olive oil: 250 ml-1 cup + 5 tablespoons
dry raisins: one handful - soaked in water for 10 min.
sage: 2 bunches
almond flakes: 1 tablespoon
salt: 1 teaspoon or less, according to taste

Clean the zucchini and cut them lengthwise, then slice them into 4 to 5 cm pieces (1 to 2 inches).
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the zucchini and fry them until slightly brown and crispy. Drain the slices and blot them with paper towels, sprinkle with salt. Arrange the zucchini in a glass baking dish.
At this point you can choose to follow the traditional indications or go healthier.
In the first case: sauté onions, garlic and sage in the same oil, then add the white wine and the apple vinegar and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Pour this hot mixture over the fried zucchini, let it cool down. Add raisins and almonds then refrigerate for at least 6 hours (the longer, the better).
In the second case: heat 5 tablespoons of extravirgin olive oil in a pan over medium heat, sauté onions, garlic and sage, then add white wine and apple vinegar and let simmer for about 10 minutes, as above. From this point follow the same instructions.

The second method is highly reccomended - for your health at least - but it must be said that traditional recipes provides a simply delicious treat!

Shelf life: keep in the fridge for 7-10 days

Saturday, 24 September 2011

"Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to 'die before you die' and find that there is no death."

Eckhart Tolle, "The Power of Now"

Thursday, 22 September 2011

"Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life."

Eckhart Tolle, "The Power of Now"

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Penne pasta with italian green sweet peppers and lemon sauce

Italian green sweet peppers. Not until I wrote this post I discovered the english translation for the italian word 'friggitelli'. Baby peppers, you could as well call them, as you have to pick them when they are young and crunchy. Italians love to fry them (hence the name 'friggitelli' from 'friggere' = to fry), but you can eat them raw, in a salad, for instance, or 'in pinzimonio'. 

Talking about the recipe, this is the kind of dish I cook on a regular basis during the summer, even though it's not one of our daughter's favourites ('What are those greenish things in your plate, mummy?'). This pasta is quite simple to make and cooking it will surely take you less time than it took me to wrote down the recipe... - especially translating it from italian to english- the title being one of the hardest task of my blogging adventure so far (how the hell do you say 'friggitelli' in english? I need to thank wikipedia once again for the amazing discovery).

Even writing these few lines happened to be hard work, I confess. I scrabbled down some notes as I was cooking, then changed them several times in my mind, and finally ended up with a completely different introduction for the post... had I waited any longer to write the post, it would not have been the right season anymore...

Ingredients (serves 4):

penne pasta: 340 gr / 12 ounces
italian green sweet peppers:8
- or alternatevely, 1 green bell pepper -
spring onion: 1
organic lemon zest: 1/5 teaspoon - grated
lemon juice: 1 + 1/2 tablespoon - filtered
parsley or chives: 1 tablespoon - roughly chopped
salt and pepper: to taste
extra v. olive oil

for garnish:

organic lemon zest - grated

Peel and finely chop the spring onion. Wash the green peppers, remove top and seeds and cut them into thin 5 cm (2 inches) long strips.
Heat two to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with some water (1/8 cup) in a small frying pan, then add the chopped onion. Cook for 15 minutes on a very low heat or until the onion has softened. Remove from heat and reserve.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a wok over a high fire until the oil surface ripples. Add the peppers and stir-fry them for about 15-20 minutes, until they shrink slightly and become tender. Add some water if necessary. Meanwhile prepare a citronette whisking together three tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, salt an pepper.

Place a big pot of water over medium heat and bring to boil. Add salt and cook pasta 'al dente' according to cooking instructions. Sautè in the wok with the green peppers and onion over a medium heat, season with the citronette and finally add chopped parsley leaves.

Serve the penne pasta and garnish with grated lemon zest.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Garlic and tomato bruschetta

Summer weather, hot and sunny days have welcomed us back home.
During these last days of vacation we have been visiting friends and relatives, sharing holiday tales and memories. M. at last could play around with her cousins and peers while we were asked many questions about our trip to Montrèal, which of course we were very glad to answer...
I didn't have much time to cook and unfortunately we bought more stuff than we actually needed.

Take bread, for instance. As usual, we had some that was going stale in the cupboard....
Italians have always been very creative with stale bread though: bruschetta, panzanella, pappa al pomodoro, canederli, and so forth.

Garlic and tomato bruschetta is our favourite. Cheap, easy and tasty. 
It makes a perfect appetizer or a healthy snack between meals.
R., my husband, is the master chef. He will perfectly toast the bread golden brown and coat it - litterally coat it - with garlic.

Tuscan crusty bread makes the best bruschetta, but other kinds of bread will do as well (as you can see in the picture we used a baguette...). The main ingredient is a good extra-virgin olive oil, then you can be creative! In fact, there are many variations on this basic tomato bruschetta recipe and we often add any of the leftovers at hand in the fridge: grilled aubergines and black olives being among my favourite during the summer....

Ingredients (serves 2):

tuscan crusty bread: 4 slices (approximately 1 cm - 3/8 inch thick)
garlic: 1 clove - peeled
cherry tomatoes: 1 cup - diced or roughly chopped
fresh chilli pepper: 1 - whole (optional)
extra virgin olive oil: 4 teaspoons
salt: 1pinch
basil or oregan: to taste

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Toast or grill the bread on both sides until the slices are golden brown (5 minutes approximately). Arrange the bread slices on a plate then rub with garlic clove and chilli pepper.
Add the tomatoes and season to taste. Garnish with fresh basil or dry oregan. Drizzle with olive oil and serve while still warm.

Monday, 5 September 2011

"Intention, I say, is kamma. Having willed, we create kamma, through body, speech and mind."

The Buddha

Monday, 29 August 2011

Au revoir, Montréal

Mont-Royal Park

We've just come back from Montréal, where we had a great time.
We inevitably fell in love with this vibrant, lively, cosmopolitan city.

We never left the town during the time of our stay, save for a week end trip to Magog, on the Memphremagog lake. We spent one night there, in a romantic B&B, 'A l'Ancestrale' (highly recommended!) where we had a wonderful rest and were offered an energetic and healthy breakfast!

You don't need to do great things or visit magnificent places to have happy holiday memories.
Travelling is also about making new friendships. Meeting new people and seeing things for different perspectives. Sharing. 

So I guess it's about time to tell how grateful we are towards the special people we met in Quebec.

Thanks to Barbara for being so welcoming and friendly.
Thanks to Violette for her enthusiastic encouragement (from the very very beginning!).
Thanks to Monique for her special attentions and for the cutest Teddy Bear my daughter has ever cuddled in her sleep.
Thanks to Cinzia for her happy smile (and the almond biscuit as well!)

Without you guys this yourney wouldn't have been so special.

Au revoir Montréal. We'll be back soon!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

"Stay without ambition, without the least desire, exposed, vulnerable, unprotected, uncertain and alone, completely open to and welcoming life as it happens, without the selfish conviction that all must yield you pleasure or profit, material or so-called spiritual.
Abandon every attempt, just be; don't strive, don't struggle, let go every support, hold on to the blind sense of being, brushing off all else. This is enough.
Refuse attention, let things come and go. Desires and thoughts are also things. Disregard them."

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, "I Am That"

Monday, 22 August 2011

Mesclun mix salad with blue cheese and blueberries

'Bluettes' (=blueberries)
That's a nice word to learn.
Even Maddalena picked it up immediately.
It's amongst the bunch of words that make up her French vocabulary up to now, together with 'sac à dos' and 'bibliotheque' (the library being one of the places we visit regularly).

Besides, blueberries are in season here in Quebec, which isn't hard to notice.
You just have to take a quick walk in Jean Talon marketplace here in Montreal and you'll find blueberries stalls in every corner.

We headed to this popular marketplace a few days ago.
Blueberries immediately captured my attention: their colour so vibrant and their flavour so sweet here (compared to the less savoury ones you can find in Italy) that we simply had to buy some, a small basket at least.(I'd rather buy a small quantity of fresh blueberries and consume them in two or three days, since they are extremely perishable...)

The idea of adding them to a salad didn't occur to me until we reached a stall selling the freshest selection of greens and fine herbs of the market (and the most expensive too, I later discovered): argula (rocket as it seems), argula sprouts, watercress, baby spinach and mesclun mix amongst the others, and edible flowers too – like wild pansies. 

I thought that 'mesclun mix' was the equivalent of Italian 'misticanza' (a salad 'mix' - as the word suggests - of baby green leaves ), but after tasting it I had to admit I was wrong and that the combination of tender green leaves must be different in the two countries.
Nonetheless I really liked it and decided to combine mesclun mix and blueberries with some blue cheese, just to see how their flavours matched together.

I served the salad with a rather simple dressing – olive oil, salt and pepper – but I am sure it would be sensational with balsamic vinegar (which unfortunately we didn't have close at hand).

I really enjoyed it and, to my surprise, even my husband R. – who despite being a radical in politics, is a rather conservative guy as far as eating habits are concerned – gave me a thumb up.

Needless to say, M. didn't even taste it, just the smell of blue cheese made her wince...

p.s. We bought blue cheese at 'La fromagerie Hamel' a cheesemonger's and deli shop which is absolutely worth a visit, if you happen to be at Jean Talon marketplace.

Ingredients (serves 4):

mesclun mix: 1 small bunch
alfa alfa sprouts: 1/2 cup
blue cheese: ½ cup
blueberries: 1 cup
walnuts halves: 12

for the dressing:

extra virgin olive oil: 4 tablespoons
balsamic vinegar (optional): 1 tablespoon
salt: 1 pinch
pepper: 1/2 pinch

Whisk together oil, salt, ground pepper and balsamic vinegar.
Combine mesclun mix, alfa alfa sprouts and walnuts in a separate bowl then toss with dressing. Delicately stir in 3/4 blueberries. Serve the salad in four individual plates, adding scrambled blue cheese on top and garnishing with remaining blueberries (¼).

Sunday, 14 August 2011

"It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, and lead us on the right path to follow."

I Ching

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Montréal, Plateau-Mont Royal

Au Festin De Babette
'Welcome to Canada'

That's what the officer said to us as we went through customs, after our twenty-hours-trip to Montréal. I felt grateful and pleased at the same time.
Happy we arrived safe and sound.
Happy. And terribly tired.

We fell asleep as soon as we laid out heads on the pillow, but guess what? M. woke me up in the middle of the night (around 3.35 a.m. to be precise) and asked me to entertain her with some storytelling and card games...This happened the second night as well, but I managed to skip card games and go back to sleep in an hour...

We had our difficult time to recover from jet lag and our daughter's insomnia... that's way I didn't feel like staying at home cooking, I'd rather explore the Plateau-Mont Royal neighbourhood, its beautiful parks (swimming pools included) and charming restaurants and cafés.

Here are some of our picks, our 'coups the coeur', as they say here.

Au Festin De Babette
Au Festin De Babette (4085, Rue St Denis) is probably our daughter's favourite one: a good selection of high quality ice-creams, slushes & milk-shakes 'maison' (homemade) are just what you need to keep her quiet on these hot and damp days here in Montrèal. There are also other luxurious treats you could indulge in, like exquisite French chocolates, crepes and cupcakes.
I simply like to sit back and relax in the decadent and charming atmosphere of this café, playing cards with M. and pouring green tea out of a stylish teapot...

Au Festin De Babette
If you like the idea of sipping a good tea as I do, another place you could head to is Kawha Café (263, Ave. Mont Royal Est) where you can find a good selection of organic and fair-trade coffees.

The shabby chic interiors and the art works displayed here will certainly capture your attention, but the thing I like the most is the back terrace: a tiny but cosy space furnished with wood benches and old arm chairs, flower pots and candle lanterns. It's definitely a good choice if you want to have a late evening rest and escape from the street buzz...

La Grand-Mère Poule
La Grand-Mère Poule (1361,  Ave. Mont Royal Est) is a family friendly, country style restaurant. It gets quite busy and crowded during lunch time I have to say, but service is quick and of a high quality. You have to like eggs though, because that's the main ingredient of almost every dish.

If you want to go vegan Aux Vivres (4631, Boul. St-Larent) is the best option in the Plateau-Mont Royal area.

Indian-inspired 'Lassi a la Mangue' with coconut milk is a real treat as well as the 'gateaux faux-mage' (vegan cheesecake) and the chocolate truffle...
As for the brunch you can choose from three different menus: 'Le complet' (grilled tofu, tempeh, spicy sweet potatos and cornbread); 'La polenta (fried polenta, guacamole, and salad.....); and 'Gaufres dorées' (two gaufres served with maple syrup and fruit salad).
I had 'Le complete' menu and I still think it's the best choice if you want to have a tasty and healthy lunch.

So far, these are the best places we went to and the food we ate.
We still have to get used to new flavours and ingredients (why are you guys here so obsessed with cilantro?), but I guess it is part of the game...

La Grand-Mère Poule

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