Category Archives: Eating in

In My Kitchen, August 2019

Well after over eighteen months, last month we finally moved back into our house.  There’s a lot that isn’t finished, frankly I’m not sure we will ever be finished, but at least we are home. And it’s wonderful to be back.  The Small People – who these days aren’t that small and are about my height – initially dubious about how it would all turn out, are loving it.  One of them has taken possession of the attic and set up a bedroom there.  They love its quirky rooms, the sloping ceilings, the nooks and crannies.  Hearing their chatter and laughter trickle through the house is the best bit of it all.

It was great unpacking things I’ve had in boxes all this time away, many of them wedding gifts.  I still remember who gave me each one, and I think of them each time I use them.  Yesterday I messaged a friend because I was folding the placemats she sent me from Ireland almost eighteen years ago when she was living there.  It made her smile that I remembered, likewise she remembered buying them in Dublin.

My bell from the early 1900’s is back in commission.  I need it here – if the Marito is in a corner of the garden, and the Small People are on the opposite side or in the attic, calling out is futile.  The bell is a very effective summons (“I think they can hear it across the river, mum” one of them quipped) as the Small People know it means food, which always results in quick appearance.

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We’ve also finally been able to unpack and use the giant coffee “bowls” we bought in Puglia last year (a regular coffee cup next to them for reference!) – we love them.

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In my kitchen is a pot filler. These nifty little taps sit above the cooktop for pasta pots, soups, braising.  They’ve been in the USA for years and years and I’ve always thought they were such a good idea.  While I bought a lot of door, window and cabinet hardware from overseas (way more choice and much cheaper), taps is one thing you can’t due to Australian standards. But finally last year a local company started making pot fillers.  It’s funny seeing people walk into the kitchen and look at it somewhat puzzled.  “What’s that?”.

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Behind the kitchen is what I call my “prep kitchen” with a long stainless steel bench.  Chopping, pastry, pizza dough – I’m going to have fun here.  The servery doors face the dining room (which doesn’t quite exist yet), so when there’s a dinner party on all the mess can be thrown straight in here.

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There is also a long rack of hooks.  So great to be able to hang bags for shopping here so that I won’t forget.  There a collection of aprons – most of them are a memory of some sort.  Among them is one was given to me by a restaurant patron in Florence, another by a friend when we got together for a girls cooking night, another from Christmas volunteering with OzHarvest.

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The pantry is well stocked, though with two incessantly hungry teenage boys, nothing ever seems to last long – the Open 24/7 sign is pretty accurate.

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In my kitchen are these gorgeous brass measuring cups.  My sister in law saw them at this cute homewares shop when we were down the coast many months ago.  I went back to get a set but they had sold out.  She’d actually bought me one and put them away for the new kitchen. Love them!

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It’s been a while since I’ve joined Sherry’s Pickings In My Kitchen series – take a peek at kitchens around the world.

In My Kitchen, February 2019

It has been a scorcher of a summer here in Sydney, with almost unbearable levels of humidity.  With no air conditioning in our temporary home, we have felt every degree of it.  The chooks have come through it ok, though they stare curiously at the ice blocks I add to their water on the worst days.  The press on the hardship facing farmers seems to have dried up since last year, replaced by inane pre-election political jousting articles,  though I imagine they continue to do it very tough.

Turning on the oven in our furnace of a house is a trial, but cook for the family one must.  Here’s what’s been happening in the Napoli kitchen of late.

The (ever growing) Small People received this very cute Christmas gift from one of their aunties.  The doughnut pans worked really well.

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We’ve been really enjoying some gorgeous floral honey from some friends who have started keeping bees.  I don’t do supermarket honey, I don’t like it.  This stuff is a different proposition all together.  It reminds me very much of a giant jar of wild honey we bought back from a small island in Greece.  The Marito and I have been putting a dollop on our yoghurt, the Small People on their oats. Our lovely friends have earmarked another jar for us from their “harvest” last week.

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imkfeb19 (7)In my kitchen is Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE.

I’ve been making quite a few recipes from it of late.  It is certainly one of his better cookbooks, and plenty in there for my vegacquarian Marito.  The prawns with risoni (or orzo as they call it in the UK) and marinated feta was just delicious, and the other day I tried the hazelnut and peach cake, loved it.

 

I’ve also been looking at his weekly column in The Guardian.  This pastis garcon, a French apple tart made with filo, was also a hit.

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I read somewhere that you could preserve basil with salt and olive oil.  Mamma Rosa has a ridiculous abundance of basil at the moment, so I tried doing it.  The oil seems to have solidified so not sure if I did it right.  If I did it will be good to have during the winter months.

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The reno site is starting to look less like a mess and more like a house.  Having resolved all the structural, insulation, electrical and plumbing problems that come with a 125 year old house, we are now getting to the “fun stuff”.  There are samples everywhere around the kitchen and dining table.  While my kitchen hardware is from the UK, all my bathroom hardware was made right here in Sydney, the door locks are from Tasmania, the fireplace from South Australia. There is still some fine local manufacturing going on. There will be a lot not finished when we move back in, I won’t even have a proper laundry, but I really don’t care, I just want to be back home.

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Thanks to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings who hosts the IMK monthly link up, take a peek from kitchens around the world!

 

Today’s cake – peach and hazelnut cake

Hello. I haven’t written any thing here for quite a while (though I have been posting a few things on my Facebook page). In my little “tribe” of bloggers that I’ve gotten to know over the years, some who I have met in person, at one point or other the blogging mojo is lost and it’s pens down. So I guess it was my turn.  But back now, sort of, from my hiatus.  “Where have your cakes gone?” asked my blog mother.  So Signora, this one’s for you.

Recently, I’ve been trying quite a few recipes from Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE.  There is plenty in there that appeal to my vegacquarian Marito.  This is one of the desserts, though I did modify it as it contains raspberries which I don’t really like, I’m more of a mulberry and blackberry girl.  While we have all these lovely summer peaches, I definitely recommend making this one.  It’s making the cut in my very old “yellow book” where I have scribbled recipes I like over the years.

Ingredients
3 large peaches (ripe but not squishy)
300g caster sugar
130g blanched hazelnuts
200g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
3 large eggs
125g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Making it
Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees fan forced. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin with baking paper.

Peel the peaches and cut into eight wedges. Place in a bowl with a tablespoon of sugar, gently stir and set aside.

Place the hazelnuts into a food processer and blitz until coarsely ground.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the remaining sugar and butter and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time and beat till combined, then and the hazelnuts, flour, baking powder and salt and continue to mix till all combined. Pour the batter into a cake tin and smooth it so that it is level. Arrange the peaches in a single layer on top, then place in the oven for 70-80 minutes, testing with a skewer at about 70 minutes. If you notice the top getting too brown you can cover with foil during cooking.

Remove from the tin and allow to cool for 20 minutes before turning out. Once cool, dust with icing sugar and serve. Seriously yum!

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In my Spring kitchen, October 2018

How lovely that Spring is here, which means there is a lot more going on outside the kitchen.  The chooks are past their winter slow down, and laying up a storm, and lots of planting is going on.

Outside my kitchen is a collection of fruit trees.  A couple of months ago I pre-ordered some rootstock from Yalca Fruit Trees – a dwarf pear, dwarf apple, dwarf peach and dwarf plum, which we plan to put in the courtyard once the renovation is done, as well as a fig and two mulberry trees. Two months later and they are thriving! I can’t wait till we pick our first fruit.

I’ve also planted several tomatoes and zucchini which are coming along nicely.  Everything has to be carefully netted at our temporary home as it’s a possum festival at night.  The chooks also adore tomatoes.

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I still have to plant a few more things, having bought an interesting collection of seeds from The Seed Collection.

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Back inside, recently I took a look at Jamie’s new book, Jamie Cooks Italy.  I don’t buy too many cookbooks these days, partly because at the moment I have nowhere to store them, but also because our local library has a rather amazing cookbook section.  There are some nice recipes in this one.  I tried his vegetables al forno (before and after shot), which is really a cross between a zucchini parmigiana and an eggplant parmigiana.  It was very tasty. There are a few other recipes I have bookmarked.

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The (not so) Small People had a birthday and it was baking time for a family afternoon tea.  I made an apple cake, a blueberry crumb cake, some M&M cookies and a lemon ricotta cake.  It won’t be long till they are taller than me, but they will always be my Small People.

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Have a lovely Spring! Have a peek at other kitchens on Sherry’s Pickings, our lovely IMK link up host.

 

Focaccia Barese

All around Puglia in bakeries, takeaway holes in the wall and cafes, you see big delicious looking slabs of focaccia barese.  Traditionally, it’s covered with cherry tomatoes, and sometimes with olives.  We ate plenty of it.

During our time in Puglia we noticed a definite difference in the bread, pizza and other bakery goods – the taste, the texture and the lightness.  It was without a doubt the flour.  They are big users of semola rimacinata in the region, a twice milled, super fine flour.  The Bari Nonnas told us that is all they use for their orecchiette and cavatelli, whereas tipo 00 or other flours they were more likely to use for tagliatelle.

Wandering into the local supermarkets, I saw a huge array of types of flour.  Tipo 00 I use in several recipes, but I had never heard of Tipo 0 or Tipo 1, nor had I ever seen them in Australia.   They are very particular in this part of Italy about which should be used for certain recipes.  Next time I’d love to have some lessons from the nonnas and learn more.

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Once back home I went to Skorin Deli in Concord, who stock quite a good range of specialty flours, and got some semola rimacinata, keen to have a go at making some focaccia. This will make a medium size focaccia. You’ll need a tray with a bit of depth, not a flat pizza tray.

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Ingredients
125g of tipo 00 flour
125g of semola rimacinata
125g of mashed potato, cooled
3.5g of dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
200g cherry tomatoes
Dried oregano to taste
1 teaspoon salt
Salt, extra
Olive oil

Making it

In a bowl, combine the flour, semola, salt and potato and mix with your hands until completely combined.

In a separate bowl, combine 120ml of tepid water, add the yeast and sugar and combine well and let sit for five minutes. Add to the flour and potato mixture and combine, then add another 30mls or so of water and knead till you have a soft sticky dough.

Grease a tray with olive oil (I used a 30cm round tray), place the dough on it gently spreading out with your hands, leaving a 1cm space around the tray, which will fill as the dough rises. Cover and allow to rise for at least an hour.

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Halve the cherry tomatoes and gently press them into the dough. Turn on the oven to 180 degrees fan forced and let the dough continue to rise while the oven is heating.

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Sprinkle the focaccia with the oregano, salt and drizzle generously with olive oil, and cook for 25-30 minutes until golden. Yum!
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In My (Puglian) Kitchen, August 2018

Recently, we spent nine fantastic days in Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot (a series of posts can be found here). Whenever I travel, buying goodies for the kitchen is inevitable. Of course, do declare it all at customs. I had a chuckle when one of the owners of the masseria we stayed at told me he loved watching Australian Border Security. So here’s what is in my kitchen this month, and thank you to Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this monthly link up featuring kitchens around the world.

In my kitchen are a set of pasta rolling pins. I am guessing this is what they used to use to make pasta before machines. (My nonna also used to use the dried stalk of a wheat plant to make a bucatini style pasta by hand, I remember her showing me years ago and so regret not taking photos). Some months before our trip, I saw a video of someone using the thin one to make spaghetti and thought they were pretty cool and said to The Marito that I would get one if I saw it. I stumbled across the four pack at a food shop near the Grotte di Castellana, and thought that the large one, which is for pappardelle, would also be handy when you are making the criss-cross pastry for a pie to get consistent strands. I paid €7 for the four, which was a steal, and lucky I did as I did not see them again except for in Matera, where the guy wanted €8 each!

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I bought a little book of classic Puglia recipes. Like most Italian cookbooks the details are fairly light and in some parts there are no specific quantities, it will be trial and error.

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These are “proper” moulds for pasticciotti, a delicious Puglian custard tart. I tried to make these and did buy moulds here a while ago but they weren’t exactly the right shape. Now that I have these and have also finally gotten to try a few authentic versions of pasticciotti, I will tweak my recipe and make them again.

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Of course I had to get some orecchiette, these ones are squid ink and truffle flavour. The Nonna’s in “nonna alley” in Bari told me that they only use semola rimacinata to make them, not flour. I had this amazing squid ink orecchiette dish with tuna at a restaurant in Monopoli, one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten, and I want to try and replicate it.

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And these are taralli; we were given a basket of these to munch on when we sat down at every place we ate at before ordering. The first time we were served them I thought they would be hard but they are feather light and delicious. They are made with white wine.

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In between checking out of the first place we stayed at in Monopoli and checking into the second place in Cutrofiano, I thought it would a great chance to take a detour to Grottaglie, a small town in Puglia highly famed for ceramics. There were some amazing studios with beautiful pieces. At Nicola Fasano’s studio we bought this pretty plate, and The Marito picked up these four small cups for espresso. I have my eye on a dinner set; they happily ship to Australia.

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In Cutrofiano, the town of our masseria, Fratelli Coli also have a large studio with indoor and outdoor ceramics. I bought some little trays, and we loved these giant oversized mugs which are bowl sized.

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In my kitchen are a couple of baking products that I often see in Italian recipes from the very entrenched Italian baking brand Paneangeli.  We get some of their products in Australia but not the full range.

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Barilla have a range of pasta called Emiliane which I haven’t seen in Australia, it is made with egg instead of water. I thought this little square shape was very cute and had to buy a packet. I will use it in some soup.

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After Puglia, we went to Florence. The Lindt store there had so many products you could take home to make which I haven’t seen here – chocolate cake mix, mousse, muffin mix and many more. The Small People are rather partial to hot chocolate so I bought a packet of it. I also bought the Lindt competitor to Nutella – it’s claim to fame is that unlike Nutella, it does not contain any palm oil. I noticed that several products in Italy had highlighted on the packaging “no palm oil” so it must be fairly topical there. The verdict – absolutely delicious.  Not as sweet, great texture and a much more pronounced hazelnut flavour, with 40% hazelnuts versus Nutella’s 13%.

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In my kitchen are lots of truffle goodies also bought in Florence – truffle oil (which actually has a sliver of truffle in it), truffle salt, truffle salsa, and a truffle and parmesan spread which is ridiculously good.

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And finally in my kitchen is a “portafortuna”, also bought at Fratelli Coli, a good luck charm. You will see these everywhere in Puglia, they are called “pumi” and represent a flower bud.  Historically they were put on corners of balconies when building as a good omen for new beginnings.

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That’s it from the Napoli kitchen. What’s happening in your kitchen this month?

Quick “Pantry Brownies”

These are so called because the ingredients are ones I pretty much always have in the pantry.  So I can whip them up at a moment’s notice – and do very frequently – when I need a quick and easy treat for the Small People and their friends, or for a school bake sale or an unexpected visitor.  One pot, one baking tray and a whisk makes it all even easier.   They would probably keep for a few days in an airtight container but they never ever last that long.  Using a rectangular baking tray of approximately 23x33cm, I cut these into 24 brownies. You could probably jazz them up with nuts of your choice or chocolate chunks if you have them on hand.  Try and use good quality Dutch process cocoa.

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Ingredients
300g unsalted butter, cubed
500g caster sugar
150g Dutch process cocoa
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
6 eggs, lightly beaten
150g plain flour
Icing sugar, for dusting

Making them

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees fan forced.

In a pot on medium heat, place the butter, sugar and cocoa, and whisk gently until butter is all melted and it is well combined. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and salt and combine. Add the eggs and combine well. Finally add the flower and whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy.

Line your tray with baking paper and tip the mixture into the tray, giving it a gentle shake so that it is evenly spread.

Bake until just set (check after about 15 minutes).

Remove from oven and using the baking paper lift onto a wire rack to cool. Cut using a serrated knife to desired size and dust with icing sugar.

Orecchiette with chickpeas, capers and olives

My friend Francesca over at Almost Italian (my “blog Mother”) has been doing a lovely  “Pasta della settimana” series – pasta of the week – so I thought I’d get in on the action and give her one to try.

This particular pasta dish was actually inspired by Ottolenghi, who does a spiced up North African influenced version where the chickpeas are fried off in cumin and caraway.  I ditched both and “Italianafied” the concept.  I really liked the end result – you have the smokiness of the paprika, the sweetness of the tomatoes, the saltiness of the capers, the zing of the touch of lemon and the freshness of the herbs.  If you don’t like smoked paprika you could use standard ground or sweet, or if it came to it, omit it entirely. They can be harder to find, but I much prefer capers in salt than vinegar, so that’s what I have used here (Italian Zuccato brand, but I think Sandhurst also does them now if you want to go local), and I’m a fan of Sandhurst’s green olives too. I used Molisana orecchiette which were great, it has become one of my favourite dried pasta brands.  Serves 4.

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Ingredients
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 medium brown onion, diced
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp smoked paprika
3 tbsp. capers, well rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 tsp lemon zest
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted green Sicilian olives
500ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
400g orecchiette
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup coarsely chopped basil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped continental parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Making it

In a large deep frying pan on medium heat, add the oil and onion with a pinch of salt and fry off until the onion softens. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir occasionally gently, until the tomatoes just begin to soften. Add the paprika, lemon, capers, olives and combine and then add the stock and bring to a simmer.

Add the orecchiette and two cups of water as needed (you’ll need to regulate the amount of water and add a little as the pasta cooks if it is looking too dry) and simmer gently until the pasta is cooked to your taste. When the orecchiette are almost cooked, add the chickpeas and simmer for another couple of minutes. Season as desired. Finally stir through the basil and most of the parsley, reserving a little parsley to sprinkle on top for serving. Delicious.

In My Kitchen, May 2018

A new month has rolled around and with it a new edition of the IMK global monthly link up, currently hosted by Sherry’s Pickings.   Here’s what has been happening in the Napoli kitchen the last few weeks.

In my kitchen is a new – and very appropriate – sign above the pantry.  The Small People have no sooner finished a meal when they are sticking their head in the pantry or fridge looking for “a little snack”.  Having been premmie twins, they have always literally been very skinny Small People and friends and family are left agog when they see the staggering quantities of food they are currently putting in those tiny frames.  A growth spurt is due methinks.

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A darling friend who is Greek Orthodox recently bought me over a batch of her koulourakia, Greek Easter biscuits.   They were absolutely delicious, I’ve asked her to translate the recipe for me.

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In my kitchen is a fresh yuzu!  Yuzu is a Japanese citrus often used in sauces, dressings and desserts, which is now starting to be cultivated locally (usually it’s just imported from Japan in concentrate form).  A lovely friend has a gorgeous farm in the Blue Mountains where she is growing them.  Her harvest is eagerly sought after by Tetsuya, Rockpool and Sake (“our Yuzu Lady is here”, cry the Japanese chefs). But with very little rain this year, it has unfortunately not been a great crop, so I felt very special when she gave me one! It’s incredibly fragrant.  I made a little Japanese style dressing for a salad.

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Also on the Japan theme, I love a lot of the little Japanese gadgets at Daiso.  It’s been a very handy place over the years to find stuff for many of the Small People’s school projects, craft, special theme days and for their stationery.  But they have a lot of great kitchen gadgets too.  I saw this mini mandolin and thought I’d give it a whirl.  If I need consistent very thin slices for just one onion or one cucumber, this little version is great and much handier than getting out my large full scale mandolin, as well as quicker and easier to clean. For $2.80, it’s a win.

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A #kitchenfail (which we don’t often share on IMK!).  I’m a bit obsessed with Puglia at the moment, and I thought I’d try to make one of the region’s popular dishes called a Tiella Barese.  It’s basically onion, tomato, aborio rice and mussels baked in the oven.  I was wondering how the rice would cook with the small quantity of liquid suggested, and I was right it didn’t.  So I probably did something wrong.  It did look and smell awesome so it’s a real shame it didn’t work out!

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In some sad news, one of our chooks, Lily, passed away recently.  The girls were scratching around the yard and some kind of disagreement went on between them and Lily was knocked over.  I scooped her up and held her but she was clearly stressed and breathing heavily and not long after I think her little heart gave out.  The Small People took it badly.  It’s strange going to the coop every day and only seeing five of the girls, it will take some getting used to; they were very quiet in the days that followed. You were a good little chicken Lily.

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I hope you are having a lovely autumn, or spring for my northern hemisphere readers. And wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there.

 

 

 

Torta della Nonna

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I don’t like chocolate ice cream.  I couldn’t care less if I never had a piece of chocolate cake for the rest of my life.  Mars Bars, Snickers, Milky Way, please don’t bring them anywhere near me.  But hand me a bowl of custard, and I know that any attempts at resistance will be futile.

The custard urge came upon me this weekend, so I thought I’d make this popular Italian dessert, Torta della Nonna.   Word has it that it wasn’t actually made by anyone’s Nonna at all, but it was put on a restaurant menu in northern Italy many many moons ago and named such, and has since become an Italian staple in many a bakery.   It’s a simple tart with a classic custard with a  hint of lemon and adorned with pine nuts.

If you’re like me and can’t avoid the temptation of custard, also check out my attempt at Pasticciotti Leccese and Limoncello Custard. Oh, and if you’re wondering to do with all the leftover egg whites, try a batch of almond bread or amaretti.

For the pastry
400g Tipo 00 flour
150g caster sugar
200g chilled unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

Combine the dry ingredients and the butter in a food processor until it starts to look like breadcrumbs. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs and process until it starts to come together. Turn out onto a floured surface and kneed until almost smooth. Shape into a disc, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for one hour. While the pastry is resting, you can make the custard filling.

Custard
8 egg yolks
200g caster sugar
80g plain flour
1 litre full cream milk
Rind of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place milk, vanilla extract and lemon rind in a large saucepan over low heat and bring to just before boiling point. Remove from heat and allow to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Remove lemon rind from milk.

While the milk is infusing, whisk using an electric mixer the egg yolks, sugar and flour in a bowl and combine well.

Add milk a cup at a time to egg mixture while whisking until all milk has been added. Pour the combined mixture back into saucepan over low heat and whisk constantly until mixture has thickened. You always need to be very attentive with custard, it’s one of those things where it looks like nothing is happening and then thickens in a split second.

Once thickened, remove from heat, and pour into a large bowl. Place cling wrap directly over custard to prevent a skin from forming. Allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Assembly
50g pine nuts
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C (fan forced). Grease a 25cm tart tin with removable base (or you could also do this in a normal springform cake tin). Divide the pastry into pieces in a ratio of 1/3 to 2/3.

Roll out the 2/3 piece on a lightly floured bench and place into tin. Pour in the custard (you may not need to use it all). Roll out the remaining pastry large enough to form a lid and cover the tart, gently pressing the edges to seal.

Rinse the pine nuts with ice cold water (this can help stop them burning), sprinkle them on top of the tart and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden. Allow to cool, remove from tin and dust with icing sugar to serve.

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