Mamma Rosa is one of the queens of Italian biscuit making – her range is quite diverse and they are all pretty sensational and outdo a lot of pasticcerie. This one is a classic she’s been making for years and while she’d written down the recipe for me in a book, nothing better than having a first hand lesson.
8 egg whites at room temperature
500g caster sugar
2 tbps. baking powder
2 tbsp. almond extract
1kg almond meal
250g flaked almonds
Icing sugar for dusting
1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius fan forced
2. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites, gradually adding caster sugar until well combined and thick and fluffy
3. Add the baking powder, almond extract and almond meal and fold together with a wooden spoon until combined
4. Place the flaked almonds into a bowl or tray. Using a dinner sized spoon, scoop out spoonfuls of the mixture into the flaked almonds, roll, very gently shape and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. You need a very light hand for this, you don’t want the flaked almonds pressed into the mixture, they are more like an outside coating. Dust liberally with icing sugar
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes until very lightly golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.
We’d had a manic day and no cooking was going to go on in the Napoli household that night. So we headed up to Lane Cove to check out a recently opened seafood café in the plaza. It’s got cute nautical theming (I like the blue chairs outside) and the staff were friendly and efficient.
There’s some good value, straight forward food going on in a casual setting. The grilled fish and chips – take your pick of barramundi, salmon or swordfish – is a good choice at $18 and comes with a refreshing crisp salad.
So too is the fisherman’s basket, for $26 which has a tasty fish fillet, crumbed prawn, calamari, chips, a couple of oysters and some olives.
The chargrilled octopus was a little disappointing, a little chewy, and it was cold (I asked if was meant to be, the waiter wasn’t sure) but I did like the salad underneath.
On the off chance you’re going to a seafood restaurant but don’t actually want seafood, there’s a steak option as well. In addition to the normal menu, there’s a selection of specials. The lunch menu varies slightly and has a fish burger.
Fourth Fish Café & Restaurant, 12-16 Burns Bay Road Lane Cove, ph 02 9427 4896
Growing up, every Sunday was pasta Sunday. We did have pasta dishes other nights too, but Sunday was the day of the traditional, slow cooked tomato sauce. Mamma Rosa would always get up early to start it, so that the meat, usually pork and beef, would gently braise for four or so hours, falling off the bone and luscious to eat. If I were to drop in on any cousin, Zia, Comare or other close family friend on a Sunday before lunch, I would find the same slow cooking sauce going on, it was like there was a code.
These days there is also a vegetarian sauce bubbling away on the stove for my Marito. Mamma Rosa took the non meat eating quite well when I first bought him home for Sunday lunch during the dating phase. My relatives in Italy, not so much. You know that scene from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where there is stunned silence when she tells them all her boyfriend does not eat meat? We had that exact moment with my Zia in Calabria. She had prepared some melanzane ripieni – stuffed eggplant – for our arrival. After a moment of looking at us incredulously, and asking “what do you mean” three or four times, she insisted that he could eat them anyway, because the amount of meat in them was “ ‘na fesseria “, trifling, so it didn’t really count.
But regardless of the sauce, Mamma Rosa’s silky strands of homemade tagliatelle are an absolute treat. Eggs, flour and a little salt. The ingredients seem so simple, but the art is in the lightness of touch, getting the amount of folding and rolling right, and knowing when the sheets are ready to become the pasta. Today we got together for Mamma Rosa’s birthday. When it’s all of us, and our children, its quite a group and the giant oversize pasta pot comes out. It is cooked in a few minutes, drained, the hearty sauce is added, and we sit around the table and the sounds of contentment and slurping of tagliatelle follow.
This simple side dish, from the lovely book Sharing Puglia, goes very well with a nice piece of fish. Serves 6 and very easy to make.
60ml olive oil
Olive oil, extra, for drizzling
1/2 cup rosemary leaves
1/2 cup fennel fronds
4 large all purpose potatoes, peeled
4 large bulbs fennel, sliced 1cm thick
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated pecorino or parmesan
salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Put the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a simmer and cook till potatoes are par boiled. Drain, allow to cool, then cut into 1cm thick slices
2. Meanwhile, bring a separate saucepan of water to the simmer, add the fennel slices and simmer for 5-6 minutes, strain into a colander and allow to cool slightly
3. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees fan forced. Put the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a roasting dish, add the rosemary, and allow to heat a little so that the rosemary flavours the oil. Remove from oven and take out about three quarters of the rosemary leaves, put them in a bowl and combine with the fennel fronds
4. Layer the potatoes and fennel in alternating rows in the roasting dish, seasoning well with salt and pepper as you go, drizzling with a little oil, and sprinkling through the rosemary and fennel frond mixture
5. Top with the breadcrumbs and cheese, give a final drizzle of olive oil and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden.