Tag Archives: Christmas

Making pignolata

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A few days before Easter, I give Mamma Rosa a call and suggest we knock together a pignolata, we haven’t made it for ages. “You know”, she says, “I was thinking the same thing”. We’re getting into the territory of hardcore traditional Southern Italian sweets, and for me one that comes with a lot of memories. Nonna, Mamma Rosa and I would get a little production line going to make it happen. When I was growing up, pignolata would typically be made at Christmas and Easter, in the shape of a wreath. But Mamma Rosa, clever lady that she is, often made it into other shapes, giant number 18’s or 21’s depending on the birthday, and there was a dove or two here and there.

Like all of her recipes, none of the quantities are exact, it’s really about look and feel and experience. The dough for pignolata is very similar to that of crostoli, it’s just what you do with it that’s different. The amount we made was quite a big batch – it can produce two large pignolate, or three smaller ones. (By the way other Italian readers may know this sweet as struffoli, but in my mother’s village it has always been pignolata).

So off we go. We start by putting ten large eggs in a large bowl of the electric mixer. Next, says Mamma Rosa, “metti ‘na cucciarinata di zucchero per ogni uovo”. That’s one heaped spoon of caster sugar for each egg. Whisk them in the electric mixer till combined and fluffy.

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Next, add about half a cup of olive oil. Mamma Rosa never uses standard cup measures. Its just “ ‘na tazza” and typically whatever coffee cup she grabs from the cupboard. I guessed it to be about half a cup. Then half a cup of Sambuca (Molinari the only acceptable one at their house!) or Millefiore. She loves Millefiore, a lovely floral Italian liquor she often uses in sweets, but she says its dreadfully expensive here compared to Italy. Combine the oil and liquor into the egg mixture with a wooden spoon.

Now it’s time to add the flour. Like crostoli, she uses two parts plain flour to one part self raising flour. At a guess, I’d say we used about 800g of plain and 400g of self raising. You want the dough to be soft and pliable. We fold in the flour with a wooden spoon then we used the dough hook attachment to bring it together for a couple of minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead until smooth and form in the shape of a log. (If it is too much to knead in one piece just split it in two).

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Cut the log into discs, then roll each disc into long thin strips, kind of like breadsticks. They do need to be quite thin because the dough does puff up when cooked due to the self raising flour. Dad grabs a giant tile from the garage and Mamma Rosa and I take a seat and get rolling. As we roll she chatters as she often does about growing in Italy. She tells me that when Nonna used to make pignolata she’d make seven or eight at a time, and hand them out around the village. It would be the same with bread, biscuits, blankets,  whatever she was making. “Mama era di mani larghe” she says. “She was of big hands”.  Generous, she means. I miss Nonna. But the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

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Once we have all our strips ready its time to cut. Grab a serrated knife and cut the strips into little pieces, about 1cm long or so.

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Then it’s time to fry. Heat some oil in a deep pan (Mamma Rosa used canola) and then fry the dough balls in batches until nice and golden. Set the fried balls aside and give the pan a clean. At this point we divided the balls in two to make two separate pignolate. The honey mixture below was just for one of them. If you don’t want to make two at once you can store the fried balls (once cooled) in an airtight container then go again another day.

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Return the pan to the heat and add about 350g of honey and half a cup of caster sugar on low/medium heat. (You can also add a little cinnamon but I’m not really a fan). Stir constantly until it starts to go golden and caramelise – but not toffee –  (was a good ten minutes or so), then add in the dough balls, combine till well coated keep stirring till the honey starts simmering, and continue to stir for another 5-10 minutes.

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The next step is to shape it. You can either shape it on a board or on the plate you’re going to serve it on. Be very careful, the honey is scaldingly hot, so we had a bowl of iced water at the ready. You can’t really let it cool down much as then it will begin to set before you can shape it. We spray the board with olive oil, put a glass down and then tip the honey coated balls around it and begin to shape. Add some sprinkles for decoration, remove the glass, then leave it to harden and set. Once it is set store in the fridge until you are ready to serve and cut with a serrated knife.

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It keeps well in the fridge in a sealed container for several days. It took the two of us a good three hours to make this, so it is a labour of love, but well worth it!

Roasted salmon and beetroot

This lovely and simple recipe comes courtesy of Curtis Stone’s Good Food, Good Life cookbook. In it he calls for golden beetroot, but I don’t come across them much so went for the standard red variety; I used the thinnest setting on my mandoline (0.75mm) for slicing.  He also suggests using one large 750g salmon fillet, which I tried the first time I made it, and while this looks nicer from a presentation perspective, it is easier to get an even cooking result with individual portions.  The tarragon is lovely, it is not a herb I use much, and I forgot how fragrant it is.  A nice green salad would go well on the side. Serves four.

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Ingredients
4 medium beetroot (about 500g) scrubbed and very thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 individual salmon fillet portions
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon

Making it
1. Preheat oven to 230 degrees and line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. Toss the beetroot with 1 tablespoon of the oil, season, and lay on the baking tray slightly overlapping. Roast for 20 minutes and remove from oven

3. Place the salmon on top of the beetroot, brush with olive oil and season. In a small bowl combine the herbs and then sprinkle over the salmon. Return to the oven for about 15 minutes or until salmon cooked to medium rare (should be pink in the centre). Remove from the oven and serve.

In my Christmas kitchen, December 2016

‘Twas three weeks before Christmas, and in the Napoli house,
the KitchenAid was stirring, much faster than a mouse.
Pretty boxes were laid with paper doillies with care,
Wouldn’t St Nicholas have a feast if he arrived there.

I think St Nicholas would be pretty delighted if he stumbled into my kitchen in the midst of my frenzy of Christmas sweet making in my kitchen. At this time of year, I love to make biscuits and sweets to give to friends, the boys’ school teachers, work colleagues, and clients. It is even more fun hand delivering them.

This weekend’s haul included crostoli, recipe here

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Some moreish little whiskey biscuits, recipe here

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Almond bread, which turned out particularly fantastic, I had to put it quickly in boxes before I ate it all, recipe here

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And some pistachio biscotti, recipe here.

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After that I needed to sit down for a bit.

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Fortunately, with all the eggs I needed, our chooks have been going great guns, each of them laying every single day for the last ten days or so.  One of the girls (my bet is on Lily), has been laying some whopper eggs.  We were pretty impressed with this 88 grammer a week ago

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But then, last Friday morning out of the nesting box came this one, 105 grams! I liken this to giving birth to a 14 pound baby, and I’m surprised whoever laid it didn’t sit down for a week to recover. But no, she laid the next day too.

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Here is the Monster Egg as we called it pictured next to a 70 gram egg, which is considered “extra large” in the supermarket.  It is exactly fifty percent more in weight. And here it is in my hand, to give you a feel. I’m hoping this means the girls are happy!

I hope you are having a lovely December in your corner of the world.  Have a peak at other kitchens in the In My Kitchen series, hosted by Lovely Liz at Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things.

Buon Natale from the Napoli Household.

Panettone and Pandoro

To me, it never feels like Christmas is coming until I open the first panettone.  In late November, the Italian delis around Sydney are filled with different varieties shipped from the big brand Italian bakeries – the more traditional with candied fruit or sultanas, or more recent varieties with flavours like limoncello cream and chocolate.  I am a bit  particular about the ones I buy, and that means mostly avoiding the ones you’ll find in the major supermarket chains. Among the mass produced ones, brands I like include Motta, Paluani and Bauli, which you’ll typically buy for $10-$15. Pay up and you’ll get something more bespoke or artisan.

There are lots of stories about the origin of panettone, including one that it was named after some bloke called Tony (“pane di toni”). In any case it is known that it originated in Milan and was always made for Christmas and New Year, with Angelo Motta becoming one of the early large producers back in 1919.  Pandoro (“bread of gold”) on the other hand comes from Verona, and, as its name implies, is a golden fluffy sweet bread without any fruit.  Typically made in a star formation, give it a shake in the bag with the provided icing sugar and it is meant to resemble snow falling down a mountain.

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If you are ambitious, you could try and make some of your own, but its a three day proving process and a real labour of love.  I’ll leave it to the experts thank you very much; but if you’re up for it, you’ll find a recipe in a book I have and really like, The Italian Baker.

I love my panettone and pandoro straight up with a good espresso.  But there are plenty of other things you can do with it, starting with making it French toast for breakfast. Slice your pandoro or panettone to the desired thickness; in a bowl beat an egg, a little milk, a little icing sugar and some vanilla extract, dip your pandoro and fry in a pan with melted butter.  Add some yoghurt and fresh fruit and dust with icing sugar.  Buonissimo.

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Then there are plenty of desserts, like this Amalfi lemon delicious with limoncello custard, recipe here.

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Or this caramelised panettone with grilled peaches, recipe here

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For a very rich and very extravagant dessert that will feed a crowd, try this blueberry, mango and praline trifle, recipe here

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A family favourite is this Torta di Verona recipe.

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How ever you have it, you can’t go too far wrong. Buon natale!

Caramelised Panettone with Grilled Peaches

A few years back, I received a special edition panettone from Ferrero made at Christmas time and shipped from Italy. It is probably one of the few things they made that didn’t have any chocolate or hazelnuts! And it was one of the best panettone I’ve ever eaten in my life, pity they don’t sell them in Australia anymore. Anyway this Tobie Puttock recipe came with it; if you find yourself with excess panettone and too much Summer fruit after Christmas, this recipe is great. If you don’t have Vin Santo other dessert wine will be fine. Serves 4

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Ingredients
4 ripe peaches
80 ml Vin Santo
4 eggs
seeds from 1 vanilla pod (or teaspoon of vanilla bean paste)
pinch of each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cardamom
good pinch of brown sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar, extra
4 large thick slices of panettone
80 g butter
icing sugar, for dusting
crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream to serve

Making it
1. Preheat the grill to high. Cut the peaches in half and remove the stones. Grill the peaches until they start to colour, then flip and cook for another minute.

2. Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Transfer the peaches to a baking dish that will snugly fit them side by side. Pour over the vin santo and add a few tablespoons of water. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the peaches are just cooked all the way through and the skin is pulling away from the flesh. Cool for a few minutes before removing and discarding the skin. There should be a nice syrup in the bottom of the baking dish. Lay the skinned peaches flat side down in the syrup and set aside.

3. Using a fork, combine the eggs with the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and a good pinch of brown sugar. Lay the panettone slices in a baking dish and pour the egg mixture over the top and allow to sit for a few minutes.

4. Melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter starts to sizzle, lift the panettone slices out of the egg mixture, holding them up to drain off any excess. Cook in the hot butter until the egg has set and the panettone is golden brown. Remove from the pan.

5. Wipe out the pan with paper towel and place it back on the heat with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 tablespoons water. As soon as the sugar starts to caramelise, return the panettone slices to the pan. When the first side of the panettone is covered in toffee and becoming crunchy, carefully flip and repeat for the other side.

6. Arrange the caramelised panettone on serving plates with the peaches. Pour over any peach juices, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately with a dollop of crème fraiche or ice cream.

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In My Kitchen, December 2014

Every month the generous and talented Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial hosts a segment on her blog called In My Kitchen, where food bloggers write about, um, what’s in their kitchen! Here’s what’s currently in mine.

Mangoes! How do I make thee? Let me count the ways. Mango smoothies, mango with yoghurt, mango with crepes, mango tiramisu, mango parfait, mango trifle, the possibilities are endless. It is one of my favourite things about Summer. I am a bit of a mango snob though, I will only eat Kensington Prides.

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Panettone and Pandoro. These arrive from Italy each Christmas and Easter. I read the other day that 180 million are sold each year in Italy alone, quite staggering considering the population of the country is 60 million. Picked up this stash at my regular Italian deli the other day. One is for me to open on Christmas morning to have with my coffee (my Christmas ritual while the kids are in a mad rush of excitement opening their presents), one is to make my torta di verona for a family get together, and others for friends.

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Caramelised balsamic. Also picked this up at the deli. Husband and I recently tried the Pakura one and we loved it. There was none in stock that day so we’re giving this one a go. It is quite pricey,  both brands are around $24 a bottle, but as Joe, my friendly deli hand said, it takes more than 5 litres of balsamic to make one of these bottles.

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Zucchini flowers, courtesy of my father-in-law, who always has a bag of this, a little of that, from his garden to give us. Honestly how can anyone not love the warm months when there is food like this around!

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Rosemary. Our rosemary plant has gotten enormous. Think it will be taller than me soon. Such a great, fragrant, versatile herb.

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Callipo tuna. I discovered on one of our trips to Italy that the Callipo factory is actually quite near my mother’s village. It is our favourite tuna, so flavoursome.

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Recipes, torn from magazines and newspapers.  I will file them in my recipe folders, one day…….

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Biscotti – for Christmas gifts. This is my morning coffee biscuit recipe, I make these all the time and they are always appreciated by friends and at the office.

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Hope you are enjoying whatever is in your kitchen!

Today’s Cake – Mango Tiramisu

A lovely summer dessert. Very easy and quick to prepare and will serve a decent crowd.

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IMG_3321 - CopyIngredients

500g mascarpone
300ml thickened cream
50g pure icing sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 500g packet savoiardi biscuits
2 oranges, juiced
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
4 mangos, sliced
Flaked almonds, to garnish

Making it

1. whip together mascarpone, cream, icing sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla until thick and smooth

2. combine the orange juice and Grand Marnier in a bowl big enough to dip the biscuits

3. place a 23cm springform cake tin on a serving plate (without the base). Spray the sides with olive oil spray or canola spray and line with baking paper.

4. take a biscuit, dip one side into the liquid for a few seconds, then place this side face up in the cake tin. Repeat until you have a layer of biscuits. You can cut a biscuit into smaller pieces to fill any gaps

5. cover the biscuit layer with 1/3 cream mixture, then layer with slices of mangoes

6. repeat until you have 3 layers. Garnish with flaked almonds.

7. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours (you could make the day before serving if desired, but don’t add the top layer of mango until ready to serve). Remove the springform tin and then the baking paper and smooth the sides with a knife if needed.