Tag Archives: vegetarian

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.

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.

1kg silverbeet leaves
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 twigs marjoram
Pinch of nutmeg
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.

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.

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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Mushroom and filo scroll

Always on the hunt for good vegetarian recipes for The Marito, I thought I’d give this recipe, courtesy of Belinda Jeffrey, a try. I did make a few changes, using less butter, less and lite sour cream and skipping the garlic. You’ll serve 4-6 with this, more if part of a banquet. I think this is one of those versatile “any time of the day” dishes – it would easily work for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or a late night supper! I used a good variety of mushrooms – other than standard cup I used oyster, Swiss brown, enoki, shemeji and shiitake, about half cup and half the others. It can turn into a costly dish if you go all exotic varieties, and nothing wrong with just using standard cup for the whole thing.

Mushroom filling
80ml olive oil
50g unsalted butter
2 medium brown onions, finely diced
1kg mushrooms sliced
100g lite sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
lemon juice, to taste (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup (about 15g) tightly packed finely chopped dill
60g pecans, coarsely chopped

12 sheets filo pastry
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Poppy seeds for sprinkling

Making it
1. First make the filling. Place the oil and butter in a large frypan on medium heat, then add the onion and cook for 8-10 minutes or until softened. Then add the mushrooms and cook for 15 or so minutes. All the juices will need to evaporate or your scroll will be soggy.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sour cream, mustard, lemon juice (I just used a squeeze), season with salt and pepper and combine all ingredients. Allow the mixture to cool and once cool add the dill and the nuts
3. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees. Place some baking paper on a baking tray and place your 12 filo sheets on a slightly damp tea towel.
4. Take one filo sheet, lightly butter, then place another sheet, until you have three sheets. Repeat so that you have four lots of three sheets. Divide your mushroom mixture into four and spoon in a “log” shape down one long side of the filo. Then roll each of the four lots into logs. Take the first log and shape it into a coil and place it on your baking tray. (You can if you like place the logs inside a springform cake tin to ensure it holds its shape). Lightly butter the outside edge so that the next log sticks and then coil the next log and the next and you’ll end up with a large coil. Brush the top with butter, season the top with a bit of salt and pepper and sprinkle the poppy seeds. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the filo is nice and golden. Slide it onto a serving plate. I find it is easiest to cut using a serrated knife.

Hearty winter lentil and vegetable soup

This is a really easy, filling and healthy family meal. You could skip the risoni if you prefer, or add some cooked rice instead to make it gluten free. Not the prettiest dish, but really tasty. Serves 4.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large ripe tomato, seeds removed, coarsely chopped
1 large potato, cut into small cubes
1 medium carrot, diced
Handful of green beans, cut into 2-3cm lengths
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 large zucchini, cut in half lengthways then thickly sliced
1 cup French green lentils
1 cup risoni
1/3 cup chopped continental parsley
Salt for seasoning
Grated parmesan, to serve (optional)

Making it
In a heavy based pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt, and fry off until the onion softens. Add the diced tomato and continue to saute until the tomato begins to break down.

Add all the vegetables and another pinch of salt, combine with a wooden spoon then add about 1.5 litres of water. Add the lentils then bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the risoni and simmer gently till cooked. Check for seasoning. Stir through the parsley and serve, add parmesan if desired.

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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

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.

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.


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).

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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.

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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.

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

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Mamma Rosa’s Zucchini Ripieni (stuffed zucchini)

Mamma Rosa has been great at catering for my vegacquarian Marito over the years. Though really, in the world of Southern Italian cooking, this isn’t hard. A lot of Southern Italian is old style “cucina povera”, or peasant food, as meat was considered a real luxury, and vegetarian anyway. That is the type of food I ate all of my childhood, and what I often now make my own children. The decades following the second world war, when my parents grew up, were a time of terrible poverty in Italy’s south, hence the name of this type of cooking. My father tells the story of him as a very young boy, sneaking out to the chicken coop to take the eggs, eating them raw, so desperate were the times and so severe his hunger. My nonna would go to collect the eggs wonder and why the chickens weren’t laying. He tells it with a laugh, the story of a mischievous boy who tricked his mother, but there is sadness there too.

But I’ve meandered a little. Flipping through Mamma Rosa’s little book this weekend, I felt like making this stuffed zucchini recipe of hers. Like many of the recipes, it is a little light on detail and quantities, as when she is making something it is generally done by feel and taste, and she found them difficult to scribe for me. She has always used the light green zucchini variety for this dish – the variety you’ll see growing in Italian backyards around Sydney in the Summer – and I think the shape is better for this recipe. The number of zucchini is approximate, it really depends on the size. Mine were on the smaller size so I used eight.  Her quantity of cheese is “a piacere”, a phrase you see a  lot in Italian recipes.  It means “to your liking”. I used about half a cup, but use more or less as you please!

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6-8 light green Italian zucchini
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 leek, white part only, diced
50ml olive oil
1 cup aborio rice
750ml stock
1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Grated parmesan cheese, “a piacere”
3 eggs
Salt for seasoning

Making them

1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil.  Cut the zucchini in half, and place in the boiling water for 4-5 minutes so that they soften slightly.  Drain and once they are cool enough to handle, using a knife and/or a spoon scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin. (This step is rather fiddly, you want a nice thin casing, but not too thin so that it doesn’t hold). Set the flesh aside in a colander to drain.  Place the hollowed out zucchini in a baking dish or a tray lined with baking paper, and season with salt.

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2. In a pan, heat the olive oil then saute the onion and leek until softened. Squeeze the zucchini flesh to remove any excess water, chop coarsely then add to the pan and continue to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice, stir to coat, then gradually add the stock as if making a risotto until cooked. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the parsley and parmesan and stir through. Taste for seasoning and add salt if required. In a bowl, beat two of the eggs and stir through.

3. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Fill each of the zucchini cases with rice. (If you were preparing ahead, after stuffing you could place them in the fridge for cooking later). Beat the remaining egg and brush over the top. Spray some foil with olive oil, cover, and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve.

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Spaghetti with zucchini and baby spinach

This recipe of Adam Liaw’s that appeared in the paper a few weeks ago has become a regular one in the Napoli household. All that lovely green! The original recipe is here but I’ve made some minor tweaks. I’ve upped the quantities to make it a main course instead of an entree, and I’ve swapped some of the butter for olive oil as I found it a bit too buttery. I used a mandoline with the finest Julien setting for the zucchini. And I made it with wholemeal spaghetti which added to the flavour. You could probably also add some nuts to this, either toasted pine nuts, some slivered almonds or chopped pistachio. You could make this vegan by using all olive oil instead of butter and omitting the cheese.
Serves 4


40g butter
250g baby spinach
1 brown onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 medium/large zucchini, cut into matchsticks
salt for seasoning
500g Barilla wholemeal spaghetti
Grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Making it
1. Heat the butter in a pan over low heat, saute the spinach until wilted, season then transfer to a small food processor and puree until smooth

2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frypan, saute onion until softened, then add zucchini and toss for a few minutes until softened. Drain the spaghetti and add to the frypan, season then stir through the spinach puree an combine well so that all the spaghetti is well coated. Serve with parmesan cheese as desired.