Tag Archives: cucina italiana

Today’s cake – Italian apple cake

The Marito is a big apple dessert fan, and I used to make this cake for him regularly when we first got married.  But somehow I forgot about it, and recently finding myself with excess apples, made it and remembered how good it was.  It’s almost custard like in the centre.  I have used Granny Smith and Golden Delicious for this, but you could also use a mixture of varieties depending what you have in the fridge.   Strega is an Italian liquor (and a favourite of Mamma Rosa) the addition of which is optional.

applecake

Ingredients
5 medium apples
Juice of 1 large lemon
Grated rind of 1 large lemon
4 eggs
150g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt.
20ml Strega liquor
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Icing sugar for dusting

Making it
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees fan forced. Grease a 20cm cake tine and line the base with baking paper.

2. Core and peel the apples, halve and slice thinly. Place in a bowl and cover with the lemon juice.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and fluffy. Add the lemon rind and Strega and combine.

4. Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and sale. Carefully drizzle in the melted butter and gently combine, then finally add the apples and gently fold in.

5. Place the mixture in the prepared tin and level it out. Bake four about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. If the cake is browning too much on the top and not cooked in centre, cover with foil. Remove from oven, rest in tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

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.

panettonepandoro-1

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.

panettonepandoro-2

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

IMG_3611

Or this caramelised panettone with grilled peaches, recipe here

caramelisedpanettone

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

napoliblueberrytrifle

A family favourite is this Torta di Verona recipe.

DSC02545_marked

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

Mamma Rosa’s rice balls (polpetti di riso)

Mamma Rosa rules supreme in the “rice ball” world, as we call them.  For as long as I can remember, a plate of steaming hot rice balls appears at any family get together for us all to snack on before the main event.  Countless times over the years she’s been asked to make them for parties of family friends and relatives too.

One Sunday I say to the Marito “I’m going to have a crack at making them myself”.  There is a sharp intake of breath – it is like I am committing a transgression, or heading into some seriously dangerous territory.  I use the recipe she scribed in my little book. I need about another twenty years practice to get them like hers, but I’ll get there.  These are best if you cook the rice a day ahead of making them.

Ingredients
500g long grain rice
200g grated Parmeggiano
5 eggs, lightly beaten
Finely chopped parsley, to taste
Breadcrumbs
Salt
Oil for frying

Making them
1. Cook the rice in a large pot of well salted water. Once cooked, let strain for at least an hour then put the rice in  a large bowl. If you are making them on the day, wait till the rice is completely cooled, otherwise put the rice in the fridge for assembly the next day.

2. To the rice, add the eggs, cheese, parsley and season.  Combine well with your hands.  Once combined, start shaping the mixture into rissoles then roll in breadcrumbs to coat. Once formed, put them in the fridge for at least an hour before cooking.

riceballs-1

Here are my uneven, awkward, and slightly too big ones

riceballs-2

Here are Mamma Rosas petite uniform ones

riceballs-4

3. Heat the oil in a heavy based frypan and fry gently until golden. Serve hot.

riceballs-3riceballs-5

Roasted capsicums with breadcrumbs and olives

This simple dish comes courtesy of Rosa’s Farm, a lovely cookbook with recipes you would actually cook, and not just imagine cooking.  It can be served as part of an antipasto or as a side dish with a main course. In the recipe she suggests putting the capsicums on a baking tray; I put it in a baking oven-to-table dish so that I could prepare and serve all in one dish. I also upped the quantity of parsley

roastcapsicum

Ingredients
6-8 red capsicums
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
3/4 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
1/3 cup chopped continental parsley

Making it
1. Preheat oven to 180C

2. Cut the capsicums, remove seeds and cut into strips. Place in a bowl, add oil and season to taste with salt and pepper, mixing well. Place on a baking tray or in a baking dish and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes – stir them three or four times while cooking

3. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the olives and breadcrumbs, mix and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until capsicum are tender

4. To serve, sprinkle with parsley

Casarecce with asparagus and baked ricotta

With the arrival of Spring comes an abundance of Australian grown asparagus, rather than the wilted imported stuff we get a lot of the year.   Often I gently bake it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, but that evening I felt like throwing it in some pasta.  I chose casarecce, but any short pasta will work well.  The ricotta can be done a day ahead. Serves four.

asparaguscasarecce

Ingredients
250g fresh ricotta, well drained
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
3 bunches of asparagus, cut into 3cm length
500g casarecce, or pasta of your choice

Breadcrumb topping
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbps olive oil
Half a cup of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup finely grated parmesan
2 tbps finely graded lemon zest (optional, or to taste)

Making it
1. For the ricotta, add a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper and combine. Place in a mini cake tin or loaf pan sprayed with olive oil, and bake in a 200 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool in tin then remove and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. For the breadcrumb topping, heat the olive oil in a small pan, and gently fry the bread crumbs until golden and crunchy. Place in a bowl and allow to cool. Add the parsley, parmesan and lemon zest and combine.

3. Blanch the asparagus for a minute in a pot of boiling water, remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside. You can then use this water to cook your pasta

4. While the pasta is cooking, in a frypan, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the asparagus for 3 or so minutes. Add the drained cooked pasta once read, crumble in the baked ricotta, season and drizzle with a little more olive oil if desired, and serve. Top with the desired amount of the breadcrumb mix.

Caponata – Italian sweet and sour

Caponata is a humble but delicious Sicilian eggplant dish.  While the origin of the name is unknown, it is considered by many Siciliani to be a core dish of the region’s cuisine . Typically served at room temperature or even cold, it makes a great side dish for fish or grilled chicken.  Or even for breakfast on some crusty bread with a fried egg.   The quantity below is enough as a side dish for 8-10, however it keeps well in the fridge for a good few days if you’re keen on making a batch and eating it gradually. I had some the following day from the refrigerator and it was even tastier with more developed flavours. Variations on the theme – some versions add toasted pinenuts and sultanas. Also add some fresh basil if you have it on hand.

caponata3

Ingredients
4 medium eggplant
Salt
Olive oil for frying
2 tablespoons olive oil, extra
1 large brown onion, diced
2 cups celery, cut into 1cm pieces
1/2 cup green Sicilian olives, pipped and quartered
2 tablespoons salted capers, well rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon raw sugar
50ml red wine vinegar
1 tin peeled tomatoes

Making it
1. Cut eggplant into 2cm cubes, sprinkle with salt and leave for 20-25 minutes. Rinse and dry with paper towels.
2. Put a generous amount of olive oil in a frypan, heat, and fry the eggplant in batches until golden and soft but not collapsing. Line a colander with paper towels and drain the eggplant, using more paper towels as needed.


3. In a heavy based frypan, heat the 2 tablespoons of extra olive oil and saute the onion until soft, then add the celery and saute for another 5-7 minutes. Add the eggplant, capers olives, sugar, red wine vinegar and tomatoes, gently combine and simmer on low heat, covered, for 10-12 minutes
4. Remove from frypan and place in a serving bowl and allow to cool

 

Biscotti al latte (Italian milk biscuits)

These very simple biscuits made with pantry staples are more like a mildy sweet bread.   Italians aren’t big breakfast eaters, usually opting for a brioche and a caffe latte; biscuits like these are especially for that purpose.

biscottiallatte

Ingredients
1kg plain flour
16g baking powder
400g caster sugar
250ml full cream milk
250g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk, extra

Making them
1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and caster sugar in a bowl. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on low speed, add the butter, milk and four eggs and combine until smooth (this could also be done just with a wooden spoon if you don’t have a mixer). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees fan forced.
2. Remove from the fridge, tip onto a lightly floured surface and give it a brief need. You can then start shaping biscuits in your desired shape/size. I rolled the dough into thin logs (as if you were rolling gnocchi) then cut with a knife. Lay out on a baking tray lined with baking paper, ensuring there is a couple of centimetres between each biscuit
3. Combine the egg yolk and extra milk in a small bowl, then using a pastry brush lightly brush each biscuit. Put the trays in the oven and bake for 10 or so minutes until lightly golden (if the bottoms are golden they are ready). Remove from oven and allow to cool. Will store well in an airtight container.