Tag Archives: recipe

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.

brownies

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.

orecchiette

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.

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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Zucchini, feta and dill pie

If you look at the number of recipes I have here that use zucchini, it’s clear that I’m a bit of a zucchini addict. It’s such a great versatile vegetable. This easy to make ‘pie’, by Belinda Jeffery, is great to serve at room temperature and ideal for any meal of the day. I like to use a crumbly feta for this, like Dodoni, whereas for other recipes a firmer feta is required like South Cape or Lemnos. The recipe also suggested a cooking time of 45 minutes, and I have found this not long enough both times I have made it, even with a fan forced setting, and cook it for a good hour. I’ve used standard cherry tomatoes but also a mix of varieties which look pretty.

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Ingredients
700g zucchini
5 x 60g eggs
125ml extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped chives
1/2 cup chopped dill
200g feta
150g freshly grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
150g self-raising flour
8-12 cherry tomatoes, halved


Making it

Coarsely grate the zucchini into a large sieve or colander, sit a plate on top to weigh it down a little and leave to drain. I like to leave it for a good half hour or so, then squeeze out any liquid.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 180C. Grease a 22cm square cake tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.

Break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk them together. Add the oil, chives and dill, and combine. Add the grated zucchini and combine with a wooden spoon. Crumble in the feta, add the parmesan, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the flour and mix it in until it is combined.

Spread the batter into the prepared tin then gently press the cherry tomato halves, cut side up, into the surface. Season with a little salt if desired.

Bake for about an hour, or until the top of the pie is springy when pressed; you can test it with a knife or skewer in the centre, but note it is quite moist. Cool in the tin for 10-15 minutes before turning out and serve hot or room temperature as desired, but I think the latter is better.

Today’s cake – plum and vanilla cake

I’ve had some really delicious plums this season, juicy and with varying degrees of sweetness, depending on the variety.  When my friend Francesca over at Almost Italian posted a plum cake recipe, and The Marito started dropping not so subtle “I haven’t had cake for a while” hints, I knew it was time for  plum cake in the Napoli household. I remembered a good Bill Granger recipe I had made a long time ago, and hoped it wasn’t in one of the cookbooks I’d boxed up in the renovation move (one of the reasons for the lack of cake making is the very ordinary oven in our cheap and nasty rental while we renovate, but needs do as needs must).  Lucky day, the book was in the unboxed stash.  It’s a simple cake with plenty of flavour, and I’m sure the homemade vanilla extract helps. You may need 4 or 6 plums, depending on how big they are.  I must make this again before the autumn plums finish, it really is delicious.

Cake
180g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature plus a little extra for greasing
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
185g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 plums, cut in half and seed removed

Topping
90g plain flour
100g cold unsalted butter
90g caster sugar

Making it
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees fan forced and grease a 24cm springform cake tin with butter

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating after each addition, then add vanilla extract. Fold in the flour and baking powder until well combined. Spread the mixture evenly into the cake tin then gently press in the plums cut side up.

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To make the topping, place the flour, butter and sugar in a bowl and rub with your fingers until crumbly. You can also do this in a food processor (I used my mini whizz for this small quantity).

Sprinkle the topping over the top of the cake and bake for one hour or until a skewer in the centre comes out clean. The top should be nice and golden. Remove from oven and cool in tin for 10 minutes before removing. Yum.

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Torta Pasqualina – Savoury Easter Cake

This savoury Easter cake, which is really more like a pie, hails from the Northern Italian region of Liguria.  It is traditionally served on Easter Monday, and once upon a time it used to be made using 33 sheets of ultra thin pastry, each layer representing a year that Jesus was alive.  These days most recipes make it with four, which is what I did (and if you really don’t want to make pastry, store bought will do).  I needed five bunches of silverbeet to get to one kilo of leaves, it will depend on how big your bunches are; the stalks can be used for stock or soup, they are tasty and often get discarded. A lot of eggs are required here, so it was lucky that the girls had had a prolific laying week. Like lots of old recipes, you’ll see variations on the theme – some combine the spinach and ricotta, as I did, and others do them as separate layers. There are also artichoke versions.

Pastry
600g Tipo 00 flour
350ml water
1 teaspoon salt
35ml olive oil

Place the flour in a bowl, add the salt, water and olive oil and mix gently with a fork until it comes together. Tip onto a floured surface and kneed until smooth. Divide the dough into four balls – two of 300g each and the other two approx. 170-180g each. Place on a tray, cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for one hour.

Filling
1kg silverbeet leaves
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 twigs marjoram
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
250g of well drained ricotta
7 eggs
1 egg extra, lightly beaten for brushing pastry

While the pastry is resting, make the filling. Blanch the silverbeet in boiling water for five minutes and drain. Squeeze out as much excess water as you can and chop finely.

Place the olive oil in a pan on medium heat and saute the onion with a pinch of salt until softened, add the chopped silverbeet and combine and cook for a couple more minutes, then remove from heat. Season. Add the marjoram, nutmeg, ricotta and parmesan and combine well. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Take one of the seven eggs, lightly beat, then add to the mixture and combine well. Set aside.

Assembly
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees fan forced. Grease a 26cm springform tin with butter or olive oil.

Take one of the 300g balls of dough, and roll out thinly on a floured surface so that it is big enough for the cake tin. Gently lift it into the tin and line. Repeat with the second 300g ball, so that you now have two layers in the base. Gently spoon the silverbeet mixture into the cake tin and smooth out. Then take a spoon (I used an icecream scoop) and make seven round impressions in the silverbeet mixture. Into each one crack one of the seven eggs. Season the eggs lightly.

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Now take a 180g ball of dough and roll out big enough to form a lid, and gently place on top of the cake tin. Repeat with the second ball. Trim the excess pastry around the edge of the cake tin, and then curl into a crust to seal (I probably made it a bit too thick, I would do it thinner next time by trimming the pastry a bit more). Take the extra beaten egg and using a pastry brush, brush over the pasty and season the top lightly. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until nice and golden. Remove and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

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Greek stuffed vegetables

Recently, a friend asked me if I’d show her how to make my silverbeet and filo scroll, which of course I was delighted to do.  We gathered at her place with a couple of others, one of whom showed us her Greek stuffed vegetables, called “yemista”, for a very relaxed and fun night of cooking and chatter.   I knew The Marito would like this, so had a go at making it myself a few nights later.

Like a lot of my Italian recipes courtesy of Mamma Rosa, she made it on look and feel so I’ve done my best on quantities.  Also like a lot of our Southern Italian recipes, there are many many versions of this Greek dish, depending on the village or how it was tweaked over the years.  Often, currants and nuts – either toasted flaked almonds or toasted pine nuts – are added, particularly at Christmas.  You can also add garlic when frying off the onion, but my cooking companion, like me, doesn’t cook with garlic (her husband doesn’t like it, and neither does my father, so Mamma Rosa never cooked with it and so I don’t), and other herbs such as fresh oregano if you have it on hand.  For our vegetables we stuffed tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant, but you could just do one of those if you prefer.  Capsicum are also often used. You can also do a meat version of this using a mince combination of your choice. I really loved the use of mint in this dish.

Ingredients
6 tomatoes
2 medium eggplant
4 medium zucchini
1 large red onion, diced
50ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 cup medium grain rice
500ml chicken stock, plus a few tablespoons extra
1 cup continental parsley leaves
1 cup mint leaves
100g feta
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Making it
1. Slice the tops off the vegetables (about 1cm from the top, maybe a little more for the eggplant) and set aside. These will be the “lids” later on

2. Using a spoon, scoop all the pulp out of the tomatoes, chop coarsely, and set the pulp aside in a bowl

3. Similarly, scoop the flesh out of the zucchini and eggplant, to form a boat shape. Leave a good rim otherwise they will collapse during cooking. Chop the flesh coarsely and set aside.

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4. Add the olive oil to a pot with the onion and a pinch of salt, and fry off on medium heat until the onion starts to soften. Add the reserved eggplant and zucchini flesh to the pot and continue to cook for a few minutes until softened, then add the tomato pulp. Cook for a few more minutes and add the rice and 250mls of stock and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Coarsely chop the parsley and mint, add to the mixture, combine and remove from the heat. Check for seasoning at this point and add if needed. Note the rice will still be on the crunchy side, don’t worry about this, it will cook in the next stage.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees fan forced. Place your vegetable “boats” in a baking dish (you might need two dishes) and then loosely fill each with some of the rice mixture. Don’t pack it down or overfill (you’ll see I overfilled my tomatoes and little as a couple split) as the rice will expand during cooking. You might have a little rice mixture left, if so you can add more stock and keep cooking and turn it into a bit of quasi risotto for another day!

6. Cut the feta into small pieces and place one piece in each tomato, two or three pieces in each of the eggplant and zucchini depending on the size. Then spoon a teaspoon or two of stock into each vegetable. Next, place the “lids” on each vegetable, season to taste, and drizzle with a little olive oil on the top. Pour about half a cup of stock into the bottom of the baking dish. Put the dish in the oven and cook, uncovered, for an hour. Remove from the oven and serve, hot if you wish or at room temperature, which is typically how they are served in Greece. Delicious!

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