Tag Archives: italian

A Sunday Savoiardi extravaganza

My godmother (or comare in Italian), who I adore, is a fabulous cook.  Like Mamma Rosa and others who grew up in Italy in the decades following the second world war, they took simple ingredients, often home grown, and figured out firstly how to make them go as far as possible, and secondly how to make them as flavoursome as possible.  Once in Australia they adapted and learnt new things and new ingredients – comare’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni crepes are to die for –  but may of the traditions and recipes remain true.

Also like Mamma Rosa, comare is a damn good biscuit maker, both of them can whip up amaretti and crostoli like nobody’s business.

A while back my comare bought me a particular plate of biscuits that I loved and I wanted to learn how to make them.  She called them savoiardi but was quick to point out that they aren’t “savoiardi della nonna”, the traditional variety.  So this morning comare and I met half way in Mamma Rosa’s kitchen for a Sunday baking session. Laughs were had, stories were told, hugs were given.

In typical Italian handed down fashion, there isn’t a strict flour measure.  It’s the good old phrase you’ll find even now in many an Italian cookbook: the flour should be “quanto basta” or “quanto se ne prende” (literally “however much is enough” or “however much it takes”, both extremely useful measures). You need a piping bag for these, the mixture is sticky and difficult to handle – if it is easy to manage with your hands then you know you’ve gone too far on the flour.

My comare’s savoiardi

These use only yolks, so you’ll have a dozen whites to use – so often after making a batch of these she makes almond bread.

Ingredients
12 egg yolks from large eggs, at room temperature
1 slightly heaped cup of caster sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup Grand Marnier liquor
2 teaspoons baking powder
Approx. 450-500g self raising flour, sifted

Making them

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees fan forced and line a tray with baking paper
  2. Using an electric mixer, whisk the yolks, then add the caster sugar and whisk until thick.  Then add the canola oil and the liquor and continue to whisk until combined
  3. Finally add the sifted flour and the baking powder and combine.  The mixture should be reasonably thick but quite stickysavoiardi (2)
  4. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a large attachment for biscuits (ie not one for pastry decorating).  Comare had a bad ass version, have to get me one of these. You can go for either ridged or smooth, but the ridges largely disappear as they rise. savoiardi (1)
  5. Pipe the biscuits to the desired length and then put in the over for 10-15 minutes until golden.

savoiardi (4)savoiardi (5)savoiardi (6)

So so good.

After we whipped these ones up, comare says “let’s make the other ones too”.  Who am I to argue?

Savoiardi della Nonna

These follow largely the same method, just a slightly different mix of ingredients.

Ingredients
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 slightly heaped cup of caster sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons baking powder
Approx. 500g self raising flour, sifted

Making them

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees fan forced and line a tray with baking paper
  2. Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, then add the caster sugar and whisk until thick.  Then add the canola oil, vanilla extract and lemon and  continue to whisk until combined
  3. Finally add the sifted flour and the baking powder and combine.  The mixture should be reasonably thick but quite sticky
  4. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a large attachment for biscuits and pipe the biscuits to the desired length and then put in the over for 10-15 minutes until golden.

savoiardi (7)savoiardi (8)

Thank you comare xxxx

The Festival of Nonna

DSC02534

 

The Festival of Nonna celebrates the Italian matriarch, the epicentre of the clan, the recipes that have been handed down verbally by generation, without measurements but by feel, taste and a love of simple and fresh ingredients.  The series of dinners, being held in Sydney and Melbourne between 8 October and 26 October, feature Italian chefs and their mothers, Nonna to their children.

This evening we have Luca Ciano, who came to Australia from Milan Michelin starred restaurant Il Luogo, and his delightful mother Nonna Anita, at A Tavola in Sydney’s Darlinghurst.  She is full of energy and enthusiasm, in spite of having ended her 20 plus hour journey from Italy that morning, and just adorable.  Together they start making Anita’s Bolognese.  It begins with a classic “soffritto” of onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil, followed by the addition of mince of veal, pork and meat from an Italian sausage.  Red wine, crushed tomatoes, and bay leaves are next.  She also adds thyme, I’ll have to give that a try next time.  Like me, she does not include garlic, which would probably surprise a lot of people.

Such a sauce would typically slow simmer for hours, and Nonna Anita is a little mortified that we are tasting it before it is fully cooked, served with some fluffy gnocchi that Luca has whipped up in the blink of an eye in the meantime.  The gentle ribbing and arguing between them in Italian is very funny and reminds me of my conversations with Mamma Rosa.  There’s plenty of opportunity to chat to them both through the evening, as they hand out jars of special Festival of Nonna pasta sauce, and while we enjoy a beautiful and extensive Italian menu, accompanied by very drinkable prosecco and wine. The lighting is not great, so apologies for the photos which don’t do any justice to the food.

It is the nature of these special relationships, often developed in the kitchen, that led the Lubrano family behind Sandhurst Fine Foods to launch the Festival of Nonna last year. Mimmo, his wife and Nonna Geraldine, the Sandhurst Matriarch, are there that evening and I have a wonderful time talking to them.  I’ve always wondered why an Italian family company has a name like Sandhurst so it was great to ask them in person.  When they bought the farm in the 1960’s – then owned by a Russian, a Pole and an Englishman – it was called Sandhurst Farm and they never changed it.  Back then Geraldine and husband Vince ran a deli.  Vince was a fisherman in Italy before coming to Australia; neither of them really knew much about farming, manufacturing, and distribution.  But like many Italian migrants who came to Australia for a better life, hard work did not scare them and they seized the opportunity.  And so it began.

It was all in for the family, with their two sons Mimmo and Ray being embedded in the business from the beginning. I love hearing that the family still sits down to lunch every day, prepared by patriarch Vince who is 86.

Over time, they looked for other family businesses to work with who would provide them with the quality of ingredients they expected. Sitting next to us is a couple from far north Queensland, the Torrisi family, who’ve been supplying them all their basil for twenty years.  Similarly, the eggplant they use comes from a family in Mildura.  The importance to them of family relationships extends to long lasting business relationships.

DSC02545

I want to adopt Nonna Geraldine, and I’m sure she means it when she gives us an invitation to join them for lunch one day.  A few weeks ago I became Nonna-less.  I was very blessed in both my Nonnas – kind, strong, selfless and loving women who never breathed a word of complaint about the hardships they endured and the poverty of post war Italy.  My Nonna in Italy, who I am named after, had a wicked sense of humour and was remarkably open minded for one of her era.  I’ll never forget her laugh.

The Festival of Nonna, October 2017
http://sandhurstfinefoods.com.au/nonna/events/

Napoli Restaurant Alert dined as a guest of Festival of Nonna

Today’s cake – Amor Polenta

Such a romantic sounding cake, one with the word love in the title.  Hailing from Lombardia in Italy’s north, it is not an extravagant cake, but typical of Cucina Povera where polenta or cornmeal was often used to take food a little bit further.   Traditionally Amor Polenta is prepared in a ridged cake tin, but no reason why you couldn’t use a normal loaf pan.  The tin I bought was a little too big for this quantity of mix, as the cake is usually nice and high, so next time I’ll make a double batch of mixture (or buy a smaller tin, but I think I’ll go with the double batch as it’s a gorgeous cake).   You need very very finely ground polenta or cornmeal for this, not the typical polenta used in savoury dishes, or you’ll get a very grainy texture.  The Strega – an Italian liquor and a favourite of Mamma Rosa, added a delightful subtle fragrance to it. The Marito loved it, so did I. This one is going to become a regular for sure.

Ingredients
120g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8g baking powder
100g fine cornmeal (polenta)
80g flour, tipo 00
70g almond meal
Splash of liquor such as Strega or rum
Icing sugar, for dusting

Making it

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and grease the tin with melted butter. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until combined then add the eggs and beat till nice and creamy. Add the vanilla and baking powder and combine. Add the cornmeal and combine, then the tipo 00 and combine, and then finally the almond. Lastly add the Strega. Pour the mixture into the tin and use a knife to smooth the batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool and dust with icing sugar.

 

Bacco Osteria e Espresso, Sydney

A cobbled laneway.  An Italian osteria.  Chefs who know Italian food.  It’s all looking positive for Bacco, recently opened in Ash Street.  Since Fratelli Fresh fell into the hands of a large dining conglomerate and Andy Bunn left the scene, it isn’t quite the same, so was good to see a new casual Italian diner around this end of town.  It’s a handy spot to catch up with a friend for a chat, who is about to make me jealous with her itinerary of three months of travel.

The interior is unfussy, true to an osteria style.  And the menu is compact but broadly appealing, other than some specific offal dish which doesn’t tempt us.  Be prepared to get to know your neighbours, the tables along the side wall are so close to each other that they may as well have been joined.  Not the place if you’re looking for privacy.

bacco-osteria (1)

The dishes we try are tasty and the flavours good. What lets them down that night is the service. Drinks have to be chased, attention is hard to come by, and when my credit card payment doesn’t get processed properly there’s more waiting because the waitress disappears so fast that I can’t catch anyone’s eye to fix it. A runner would have been easy. So there’s a bit of work to be done but it’s early days. Anyway here is what we try

A couple of simple potato and prosciutto croquettes. I’m partial the odd croquette, especially when they have a good crunchy coating.

bacco-osteria (2)

The artichokes with straciatella is Italian simplicity done well. The straciatella is gorgeous

bacco-osteria (3)

Grilled quail with witlof and pine nuts.  Simple, nicely cooked quail but the dressing is a little tart for my liking.

bacco-osteria (4)

The pasta dishes are very nicely executed. Though at $24 and $26 they don’t have the portion generosity of a Flour Eggs Water. CBD rents and all that.

Gnocchi with pistachio – petite little pillows combine with nutty crunch

bacco-osteria

Strozzapretti with a pork and guanciale ragu – very nice indeed.

bacco-osteria (5)

Bacco Osteria e Espresso, 1 Angel Place, Sydney Ph 02 9235 3383
http://www.bacco.com.au

Bacco Osteria e Espresso Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Timballo of eggplant, peas and scarmorza

Have you ever designed a dish around an ingredient? That’s what happened here.  A very thoughtful long time friend bought me some smoked scarmorza recently, and I was thinking of something delicious I could use it in.  I used most of it here and the rest in a zucchini parmigiana, which I usually make with mozzarella. I used eggplant and peas as well as the scarmorza for my timballo but you can use all sorts of ingredients.  Sydney’s Buon Ricordo does a devine version with tiny veal meatballs, quail eggs and provola. I’ve seen others where each pasta tube is piped with spinach and ricotta, and others which are done with a Bolognese sauce. It’s a fiddly dish but worth it.

timballo (10)

Timballo filling
1 medium eggplant
1/3 cup plain flour
2 hard boiled eggs
1 small onion, finely diced
150g frozen peas
150g smoked scarmorza
Olive oil
Salt

Chop the eggplant into small cubes (small enough to fit inside rigatoni, I used a chopping contraption I got from Williams and Sonoma which I bring out when I have a recipe requiring perfectly consistent slicing or chopping).  Put the flour in a plastic freezer bag, add the eggplant and shake to coat.  Place a frypan on high heat with about 1cm of olive oil.  Once the olive oil is hot, fry the eggplant, in batches if needed, until golden, and drain on a paper towel. Season and set aside.

timballo (1)

Place the peas in a bowl and microwave for a few minutes.  In the meantime, put a tablespoon of oil in a small frypan and saute the onion until soft.  Add the peas and saute for another 4-5 minutes. Take off the heat and put the peas and onion in a bowl and allow to cool.

Chop the eggs into small cubes, small enough pieces to fit inside rigatoni, and add to the peas.  Likewise with the scarmorza.  Finally add the eggplant to the bowl and combine all the ingredients.

timballo (5)

Tomato sauce
4 tbps olive oil
2 x 400g tins whole tomatoes
4-5 basil leaves
Salt

Heat the oil in a small pot, add the tomatoes, 1 cup of water, the basil and salt and allow to simmer on low to medium heat for 30 minutes.  Take off the heat, puree with a stick blender and set aside.

Pasta
500g rigatoni
1 egg
50g grated parmesan, plus extra for serving
Chopped basil, for garnish

In a large pot, bring some salted water to the boil and cook the rigatoni until al dente, circa 8 minutes.  Strain and lay the rigatoni on a tea towel to dry and cool.  In a large bowl (large enough to fit all the rigatoni), crack the egg and beat lightly.  Add the parmesan and then add the rigatoni and combine.    Add two ladles of sauce to the bowl and combine to coat the rigatoni.

Assembly

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius fan forced.

Grease a 19cm springform cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.  Starting from the rim, place the rigatoni standing up until the tin is full (you may have a small amount of rigatoni left over).

timballo (2)timballo (3)timballo (4)

Gently start filling the rigatoni with the timballo filing mix. (I didn’t use all I mix, I thought it was pretty full, but once I cut it post cooking I realise I could have stuffed more in, so don’t be shy). Once done, spoon a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce on the top and give the tin a gentle tap.

timballo (6)

Cover the filled springform tin with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes. Place a plate over the top of the cake tin and flip the timballo.  Loosen the springform tin and remove and remove the baking paper.

timballo (7)timballo (8)

Garnish with parmesan and chopped basil and serve.  You can also spoon over and remaining tomato sauce.

timballo (9)timballo (11)

In my kitchen, May 2017

It has been a glorious few weeks of Autumn in Sydney.  Beautiful warm blue sky days and slightly crisp evenings.  It’s been so mild that a couple of tomato plants we had left in the ground have gotten confused and started producing tomatoes again; our basil plant looks like we’re in the prime of summer.  My hen friends have loved the sun, scratching out comfortable spots and lying down and sunbaking, I half expect them to call out for a round of Pina Coladas.

imkmay17 (10)

Meanwhile, in my kitchen, is chocolate left over from Easter.  The mountain is considerably smaller than a few weeks ago and the Small People are slowly consuming it.  I plead guilty to taking the occasional little egg from their stash.

imkmay17 (4)

In my kitchen is some Italian smoked scarmorza, a gift from a thoughtful friend.  Scarmorza is an Italian cheese, similar to mozzarella. She said she’s struggled to find a smoked one in Australia as good as those in Italy; this one was pretty damn good. She used hers in a lasagne,  I’ve got some yummy plans for this one for a pasta dish too.

imkmay17 (1)

More cheese….a beautiful freshly cut chunk of parmiggiano reggiano from the Italian deli; it will be used in lots of dishes.

imkmay17 (3)

I also bought some green lentils at another local deli, these are type of lentils I prefer.  One of these days it will cool down and lentils are great for winter soups.

imkmay17 (8)

In my kitchen are “mustazzoli”.  These are very traditional ginger and honey biscuits.  They can be made chewy or ultra hard.  Typically, they are sold and Italian Festivals and Fairs; my father-in-law bought them at a festival recently.  The Marito loves them, I’m not terribly partial.

imkmay17 (2)

Tidying up the other day, I found a recipe for a limoncello cream that my cousin in Calabria had jotted down on a piece of paper for me years ago….now I need to find the other post it note with the method!

imkmay17 (6)

In my kitchen is some deliciousness from Mamma Rosa.  They are crumbed artichoke.  She bought them over ready for me to cook.  She slices the artichokes, gently poaches them in stock, then allows them to cool and crumbs them. Then they are lightly fried.  I adore them.

imkmay17 (5)

I’ve been experimenting with hydration (water) levels in my bread, gradually working my way higher.  When I first started baking I was using circa 55% hydration (ie 55% of the weight of flour in water), this loaf is 70%.  It is much harder to shape but ends up with a better result.

imkmay17 (7)

And finally in my kitchen is a tiramisu I made today to take to work tomorrow (recipe here).  The Marito looked on somewhat jealously and asked if he was getting one too. So I made him a mini one.

imkmay17 (9)

What’s happening in your kitchen? Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings has taken over hosting this monthly blog link up which I so enjoy (thanks Sherry!).  Have a peek into kitchens around the world!

 

Making pignolata

pignolata (26)

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.

pignolata (1)

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).

pignolata (2)pignolata (3)pignolata (4)pignolata (5)

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.

pignolata (6)pignolata (7)pignolata (8)pignolata (9)

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.

pignolata (10)pignolata (12)pignolata (11)

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.

pignolata (13)pignolata (14)pignolata (15)

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.

pignolata (16)pignolata (17)pignolata (19)

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.

pignolata (18)pignolata (20)pignolata (21)pignolata (22)pignolata (23)pignolata (24)

pignolata 27

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!