Category Archives: Italian

Review: My Cousin Rosa: Rosa Mitchell’s Sicilian Kitchen

Oh wow, I went to the Book Depository to get the link for My Cousin Rosa and discovered that Rosa has another book out!  And that was probably the one that Rita (aka The Italian Lady at the farmers’ market)’s daughter was telling me all about last time I saw her.  This has totally and completely distracted me from my cookbook review.

Let me start with an objective statement: I love this book.  I love the recipes, I love how the recipes are written, and I love the way it reminds me of my Nonna.  And I’m already trying to decide whether I should be buying it for my Italian relatives for Christmas, or for my Australian in-laws, so that they can better understand my Italian relatives… or there’s always both, of course.  Yeah, I am clearly a totally unbiased reviewer here.  But that’s probably because this is the sort of book that is more or less made for me.

How can I tell this?  Because it has cardoons in it.  Obviously.

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Recipe: Pizza Serafina (Sultana pizza)

Sultana pizza

I work in a Medical Research Institute, and the nature of research is that people travel a lot for their careers.  My current Divisions include scientists and students from France, Germany, Switzerland, Algeria, China, New Zealand, Sweden, The Netherlands, The Cook Islands, Afghanistan, Japan, Brazil, England, the USA, Serbia, Spain, Iran, India, Scotland… oh yes, and a few Australians. (I’m sure I’ve missed a country or five in there, actually).  And of course, at least half of the Australians  – myself included – in the lab have parents who were born overseas.

So tomorrow we are celebrating Australia Day a day early by having a lunch for our two Divisions, with everyone bringing a dish from home.  Wherever home is for the person in question.  (I wish I could say this was my idea, because I think it is absolutely wonderful, but one of the RAs came up with it, and more power to her.)

As it happens, I’m one of the few people in the lab who is of Italian extraction, and since food from home often means food of one’s childhood, I’ve decided to have another go at making my Nonna’s pizza recipe.  So far tonight, it’s been a case study in why you should add the water gradually, but we’ll let that pass for now. 

Nonna, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, had two traditional pizzas she made  for us when we visited – one topped simply with oregano (green pizza), and another topped with tomato passata (red pizza), and maybe the odd olive or anchovy or pepper.  (It’s the cuisine of poverty – you don’t have many ingredients, but you make the best of the ones you do have.)  But she was also very fond of spoiling her sweet-toothed grand-daughter, so when I was quite little, she invented a sultana pizza which she would make at the same time.  I’ve never really grown out of it.  I’ve also never made it successfully, largely because until recently, the only recipe I had for Nonna’s pizza was extremely vague – Nonna knew all the quantities by feel and cooks pizza ‘until it is done’, which is not very helpful to the novice cook!  The recipe I have now (via my aunts) has actual quantities for everything except the water, and, as I will explain later, I’ve learned this evening just why the water measurement is as vague as it is – so I’m hoping I’ll get it to work (I’m writing this while I wait for it to rise the second time).  I’m also going to make oregano pizza, of course, but what I’m truly hoping to feed my colleagues tomorrow is my Nonna’s sultana pizza – pizza Serafina!

Your Shopping List

2 small potatoes (about 165g)
1 kg bread flour
1 tbsp salt
35 g fresh yeast (the kind that is a beige, spongey block, not the powdered kind)
100 ml olive oil, plus more for your hands.  Oh yes, definitely more for your hands.
‘Enough water to make a sticky dough’.  This is somewhere between 450 and 550 ml.  Which is to say, it was 550 ml a couple of weeks ago, but tonight that turned out to be way too much and my dough is impossibly sticky and I couldn’t knead it properly at all.
2 tbsp oregano, or 175 g sultanas and 2 tbsps raw sugar, or about 500 ml passata, or pick two of these options and use half of the quantity.

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Planning and Pizza

I was hoping to write more here while I was on holidays, but the combination of my usual December activities, plus confectionery, plus the funeral, all followed up with several days of drainingly hot weather have left me more exhausted than I could have imagined.  The notion that I might, at some point, not be tired doesn’t even seem possible.

Still, tomorrow is a Shakespeare evening, and having been completely uninspired all week, I’ve decided to simply celebrate the last of Shakespeare’s Italian plays (we still have Coriolanus, of course, but that is Roman, which is a whole different cuisine) by doing a proper Italian-style feast in the manner of my Nonna or my aunts.

Be afraid.  Be very, very afraid.

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Recipe: Baked Ricotta

Today is horrendously hot, and the next two days threaten to be worse.  I have therefore spent the afternoon… cooking.

No, really, bear with me, it isn’t as mad as it sounds.  Cooking in this weather can only be described as a penance, but one can’t have takeaway every night (or at least, I can’t).  So I have a strategy for these hot days, though I admit it works better when I am organised enough to get started on it before the weather really heats up.  Basically, on the first day, I buy bread and cold meat, and I make a tomato salad, baked ricotta, and roast a lot of garlic  (which I set aside), capsicums, eggplant, and any other vegetables which take my fancy.   We eat these at room temperature.

The next day, we have more bread, baked ricotta, and the roasted vegetables and garlic get mixed in with  tinned chickpeas and herbs and maybe tomato to make a salad. I’ll usually make a cucumber salad, carrot or beetroot salad or similar – basically a salad which is happy in the fridge for a few days.  The day after that, we have the last of the roast vegetable salad, leftover vegetable salad, and the bread gets grilled and added to a fattoush-style salad. And we still have baked ricotta, or if we don’t, I buy some nice cheese.

And so forth – the idea is that I only have to cook a maximum of one item per day, and if possible I do it in the morning, before things heat up too much – the rest of dinner is just a matter of assembling things that are either raw or have already been cooked.  But one still has a reasonably healthy and varied diet and doesn’t wind up eating the same food each day.  Sometimes I’ll mix things up by marinating lamb or chicken for kebabs the night before, or making felafel to cook right before dinner, but basically it’s bread, salad and cheese all the way until the cool change which, Melbourne being what it is, is usually only a few days away, and thank goodness for that.

So here’s the baked ricotta recipe with which I will start my week.  Don’t be put off if you’ve had baked ricotta before and haven’t liked it – mine is, apparently, very non-standard indeed, and people always comment (with some surprise) that it doesn’t taste like baked ricotta and it’s actually really nice.  Which makes me wonder what other baked ricotta tastes like – but not enough to buy any…

Your Shopping List

375 g fresh ricotta from the deli (whole-milk, not whey, and not the stuff you get in a tub, which is far too wet for this)
1 egg
75g parmesan
salt, pepper, and herbs of your choice – I like rosemary, oregano and dried lavender, and I probably use 2-4 teaspoons, depending on how I feel
breadcrumbs (from a packet is fine)
olive oil

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Recipe: Easy Pasta Dinner

For some strange reason, nobody ever gives me hampers.  Possibly, they have some idea that my house is full of food already and a hamper is the last thing I need.  I can’t imagine where they would get such a notion.  Fortunately, I have aunts who are, if anything, even more determined to feed everyone than I am, so this Christmas they both gave me hampers!  I haven’t actually seen hamper #2 yet, but that’s just fine, because I have by no means exhausted the charms of hamper #1.

And hampers are endlessly exciting – I tend to spend a lot of December eyeing them off in shops.  There’s something utterly and compellingly desirable about a big basket of enticingly arranged and interesting foodstuffs that you haven’t chosen yourself.  Often, there are things you would not normally eat in there, but you know, if they are in a hamper you have to try them, and you never know – they might turn out to be excellent!

Anyway, this hamper is especially good because it contains Panettone (the Italian New Year’s Eve food of my youth), and a fascinating Sri Lankan lentil curry mix (just lentils and spices and you add water and coconut milk), and a  chocolate and aniseed vincotto (which I mistook for something you drink when you get home from the funeral and Really Need A Drink, but turns out to be something you then ladle out of your wine glass and pour over icecream, where it is equally efficacious), and then there is my all-time favourite brand of herbed salt (how did she know?), and jam, and good olive oil, and all sorts of other stuff, but also a bottle of really nice passata and a couple of packets of good pasta.  Which, when it comes down to it, is just what you need when you  are just exhausted after a very long month and don’t really feel like making an effort for dinner.

The following recipe is just tonight’s version of an endlessly varied pasta meal that I make with passata and whatever vegetables I have to hand.  Sometimes, I toss it through pasta, sprinkle it with cheese and bake it.  Sometimes, I stir chunks of feta cheese through it.  Or bocconcini.  Or, if I’m feeling particularly well-behaved, chickpeas.  But this is the straightforward version.  You should try it.

Your Shopping List (or garden list, ideally – this recipe works best if you start by wandering around the garden, seeing what happens to be ripe)

olive oil
4-6 cloves of garlic
1-2 smallish zucchinis, any colour, and hail damage is fine
1-2 capsicums, ditto
oregano, chilli, salt and pepper, or Italian herbed salt
1 1/2 cups passata (this is an Italian tomato sauce, which is basically just tomatoes cooked down and pureed into a thick sauce which isn’t quite a paste)
a handful each of basil and parsely leaves, chopped
200-300 g good pasta
grated parmesan or feta to serve, optional

(this amount serves 2-3 people, I should think)

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Recipe: Balsamic Strawberry Parfait

Strawberries again.  What can I say?  They are still deliciously cheap.  This is one of my favourite desserts.  I like to pretend its healthy, but that’s basically a lie.  I also don’t measure anything anymore, so this is a bit of a best-guess scenario.

For those of you who looked at the title of this post and thought, ‘Oh, here we go.  It’s the garlic fudge all over again – Catherine has completely lost the plot,’ well, firstly your scepticism wounds me, it truly does, and secondly, it’s entirely misplaced.  Strawberries with sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar is actually a traditional Italian dessert, and while it is phenomenal when you have really good strawberries and balsamic vinegar, it’s also a good way to improve rather average strawberries – the sugar adds sweetness and juiciness, and the vinegar adds a sharp tang, and the result is strawberries that taste even more like strawberries.  

Traditionally, these strawberries are served with mascarpone.  I have at least ten different ways I serve them, including on top of pavlova or puréed and made into icecream, but mostly I like to layer them into a big, tall Sundae glass with mascarpone, grated chocolate, and maybe a wafer or two to finish them off.  Delicious.

Your shopping list

500 g of the nicest strawberries you can find – small strawberries work best for this
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (again, use the nicest you can find)
200 g mascarpone
20 g dark chocolate
wafers, meringues, lattice biscuits or chocolate teddy bear biscuits (why not?), or any other nice crispy thing to garnish

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Recipe: A Stew for Spring

This is lightly adapted from a recipe in Jack Bishop’s book The Complete Italian Vegetarian.  Mostly, I adapted it by screwing it up.  But you don’t need to do that part.  The rest of the adaptation was a matter of what was  looking beautiful at the market and the greengrocer’s this week.

This meal is surprisingly hearty for an all-vegetable dish, and it has heaps of flavour – far more than I would have expected.  It’s nice served with mashed potato, semolina or polenta, or with bread to mop up the juices.  I served it with roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes which was a mistake, really, if roasted potatoes can every actually be considered such a thing (I don’t know that they can, to be honest).

Your Shopping list

1 cup shelled borlotti beans (or you can use any other fresh beans, or shelled peas).  You’ll probably need three or so cups un-shelled, but this is not a precise recipe.
olive oil
4 french (golden) shallots, or a similar volume of spring onions, or four teeny tiny baby leeks
5 medium roma tomatoes
3 wild fennel bulbs, or 2 baby fennel bulbs, or one adult one
3 cups stock, any kind, but preferably home-made
a handful or two of baby carrots, or small carrots, peeled
2 bunches of asparagus.  Or more.  500g is good.
2 tablespoons butter
1-2 tablespoons flour or cornflour (optional)
freshly grated parmesan, to serve

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Recipe: Orange Me Up (Scotty)!

What do you get when you cross orange salad with tiramisu?  In my case, you get something a lot like a very orangey, boozy, rich, trifle.  Which I choose to call ‘orange me up’, because tiramisu means ‘pick me up’, and I find the phrase ‘orange me up’ amusing.  And I was feeling decidedly oranged-up after eating this.  Though ‘Orangey Sue’ also has a certain silly appeal.

This, incidentally, is what happens when I try to make a light, healthy dessert.  I do fine at moderately healthy fruity desserts, such as fruit crumbles or fruit pies or balsamic strawberries with mascarpone, and sometimes I even like fruit salads, but there is something about the whole fruit-in-fruit-syrup that just brings out the worst in me.  I can’t leave it alone. It’s not a proper dessert.

But… there I was, with no idea what to make for dessert, and I saw this recipe  in Cook Simple for citrus fruits in orange and rosemary syrup, and it had blood oranges (which I have from the market), oranges (of which I have a tree full), lemons (ditto), rosemary (which I have in my garden) and grapefruit (which are certainy in season)! Clearly, this was the way to go.  The recipe suggested serving it with crême fraiche and almond biscuits.  I started enthusiastically planning acts of Extreme Biscuit Baking, but realised that with guests only an hour away and dinner not really made, this would be a bad idea.  And then the supermarket had sponge fingers on special, and I thought, hey, mascarpone is better than crême fraiche, and also, mascarpone + sponge fingers = tiramisu!  Which is way, way, too rich, and moreover has coffee in it (ugh!), but oranges would cut the richness…

And here we are.  This recipe makes enough to feed at least 8 people, and would probably be better spread around 12.  I suspect it would stretch to 16, especially if you made a little more of the orange salad.

Your Shopping List

500 ml fresh orange juice
200 ml water
175 g white sugar
3 sprigs rosemary
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 oranges
3 blood oranges
1 pink grapefruit
2 tangellos
175 g sponge finger biscuits
50 ml grand marnier
125 ml semi-sweet sherry
250 ml fresh orange juice
250 g mascarpone
250 g ricotta (the softer kind that comes in a tub)
2 tablespoons caster sugar, or to taste
50 g good dark chocolate

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