Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Back to my village in Italy and making tortellini without meat




Back to my home village and to my roots, making tortellini with 92 years old Agnese and her son Antonio. Agnese has been making fresh pasta since she was a child, like all the women in these mountains, and before Christmas a number of friends and village women come over to make tortellini with her, because you don't make tortellini alone, you do it in company, as you have to work fast filling and folding and you need many tortellini (at least 30 per plate if eaten in broth, more if served with cream). So you work, and chat at the same time, and perhaps it is this conviviality that makes the women of this area live a long life.


I remember my grandmother and her sister making pasta by hand, with a long rolling pin. Today Agnese (my grandma's cousin) uses a pasta machine because she has arthritis, and her sono Antonio helps her.


But she can still cat and fold the tiny tortellini!




I often make tortelloni, which are bigger and with a vegetarian filling, so it was great to make tiny little tortellini again, hundred of tortellini!



This is to give you an idea of the size.


At home I decided to make them again with my kids, and with a non-meat filling. For the fresh pasta the ratio is 1 medium-large egg for 100 g of flour, considering that 100g of flour make about 2 servings of tortellini. For the filling I made some fresh bread crumbs with stale bread, mixed with a little beaten egg and milk, and added tons of grated aged Parmigiano Reggiano, then black pepper and freshly ground nutmeg (adjust with salt to taste, but since I used plenty of Parmigiano I didn't need any). The filling should be quite firm and easy to roll into little balls. 


Roll one piece of pastry at the time, so it doesn't dry up, then cut it, add the filling, fold into triangles and then each one around your finger into a tortellino. Agnese cuts the tortellini shapes by hands, so some of the shapes differ lightly in size (and may fold differently) but for home use nobody worries here: it is the content and final taste that counts. Restaurants often follow suit, bus pasta shops tend to make all the tortellini the same size so they look better. I got a tortellini square cutter which helps  with the size, and the off cuts of pasta are kept aside too, these are called maltagliati (literally badly-cut) and they are used for soups like pasta e fagioli or minestrone (below you can see them in the tray on the side).


And here are our meatless tortellini! I served them with a vegetable broth, buonissimi!



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tagliatelle ai funghi, in memory of Antonio Carluccio



When I learned that Antonio Carluccio had died I was really sad, I didn't know hime well, but I did meet him twice, and wrote to him once (and got a reply!), he was an inspiration. When I was young and poor and constantly hungry and cold in London I used watch his programmes, and dream of Italy, sun and endless food. I met him in the street there but I was so shy that the only thing I could say was Buongiorno and run away! After writing my first book I emailed him (his publisher) to send him a copy, and got an email reply (signed by him, but I will never know if he wrote it) and a thank you and well done!. Then I met him two years ago at Gusto at the Grand in Auckland, and that was fantastic, I was sitting at his table so I managed to chat a bit with him. What a great memory!



So to honour his legacy I took out my pasta board and went out in the garden, (it was a lovely day), and made some tagliatelle. I even added some flowers to some, just for fun. To make pasta I just use an egg for every 100g of flour, this is good for two people, so double for 4 and so on. Since I have two teenagers I used 300g of flour and 3 eggs :-). 

Then I made a sauce, I had a big pack of dried porcini mushrooms which a soaked, and some other mushrooms, which I cut, and since I didn't have many I added some eggplant, cut and salted (to sweat). If you add eggplant to mushrooms it will absorb the flavour and the texture is a little similar so you can dream that you have lots of mushrooms. I sautéed the fresh mushrooms and eggplant with a little olive oil, chopped parsley and garlic cloves and then added the dried mushrooms and their water, a big bottle of tomato passata,  extra tomato puree and salt to taste. At the end I had a huge pot of sauce, even after I cooked the lot for one hour (to thickens the sauce), I used some for pasta the first day and for a pie the day after.

We had the tagliatelle and mushrooms with Parmigiano, and a glass of red whine, and toasted to Antonio. Goodbye Carluccio, sit tibi terra levis.



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Panna cotta alla rosa - Rose panna cotta


These little roses from my garden smell delicious, I often use them for desserts, liquors, decorations... anything I can think of. They are organic and safe to eat (otherwise I wouldn't be here writing this!)


Panna cotta alla rosa

Ingredients
tiny rose petals, as many as you like
150ml water
a few drops of lemon juice
3 tbsp sugar
500 ml cream
100 ml milk
1 tsp rose water (optional)
half tsp agar agar
more rose petals to decorate



Pick the rose petals and rinse with cold water, then place in a pot with the water, lemon juice and two tbsp of sugar. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.


Let them cool down, the water will turn pink. Add the cream, milk, remaining tbsp of sugar, agar agar and, if using, rose water, and bring back to the boil. Divide between 4 (or 6 smaller) pudding bowls (this panna cotta is very soft, not to be flipped)
Chill and serve, with a few fresh rose petals. Just amazing!!


Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A carrot soup that actually tastes good!



Do you want a carrot soup that taste carroty but not too much? Carrot taste can be a little 'overpowering' and I am tired of seeing so many carrot and coriander soup recipes, so here is a variation with onions and thyme.

1 kg carrots
1 large onion
olive oil
Fresh thyme
salt
vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to season
Yogurt to serve (optional)

Clean and steam the carrots. In the meantime slice the onion and cook in a frying pan with a little olive oil, salt and a few sprigs of fresh thyme until translucent. Place the steamed carrots and onion in a mixer and turn into a puree. Place into a soup pot and cover with vegetable stock. Simmer on low for 20-30 minutes (the longer the better). Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot with a few fresh leaves of thyme and, if you like, a dollop of yogurt (dairy or vegan).




Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, October 30, 2017

Baby perlas potatoes two ways: hot 'in padella', and salad with flowers


I received a few potatoes to try from Potatoes New Zealand to celebrate November Means New Potatoes, and here are my first creations.

  I started with baby perlas, which I knew already. These little new potatoes are cute and a real little treat, so they deserve special attention!
I boiled them first (no mint... just cannot bear minted potatoes, sorry Kiwis!) and then I divided them: half I used for salad, I picked the 'bigger' ones and cut them into two pieces, then I mix them with mayonnaise, chopped onion weed bulbs and stalks, nasturtium buds and petals, and Impatiens' petals. 

Keep a few flowers aside for decorations, and onion weed flowers too, if you like. I think that a lot of people now are comfortable with eating nasturtium flowers and buds (I left some buds for decoration too, and for you to see). Buds taste a little like capers. Young tender leaves are nice too (see soup below). Not so many people would eat Impatiens though, or know about them. They taste a little like rocket, and I prefer the red ones, although I always add a few pink ones just because the colour is so pretty. My preference for red ones may be just because I observed the chickens eating all the red ones while leaving behind the other colours, but maybe they are just colour blind? Anyway, I tasted all the colours and decided that the chicken were right... Of course don't eat the flowers if you spray your garden with chemicals!


As for the smaller potatoes, I just heated it some garlic with olive oil in a skillet and then tossed the potatoes around, with an extra good pinch of salt, until hot. Then turned the heat off and added some fresh thyme, another toss, and ecco fatto! Patatine novelle in padella al timo!


I also tried some more potatoes, a variety called Carrera, which I used to make one of my classic spring soup, with asparagus and onion weed and flowers (yes, using lots of onion weeds and flowers, my Spring staples!), and you can find the recipe here, just substitute the agria potato for the Carrera potatoes and you are done!


Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Strangolapreti (Strozzapreti), with silverbeet, onion weed and sage flowers


I had lots and lots and lots of silverbeet and Swiss chard in the garden, I filled a big basket and though of a recipes to use them all, plus the omnipresent onion weed, plus flowering sage. Strangolapreti is a type of gnocchi made either with spinach or with silverbeet, plus bread crumbs or stale bread. 


First divide the leaves from the stalks and wash well (the stalks will be used in a different recipe)



Then cook the leaves with a little water and a pinch of salt, drain, add the raw onion weed (well washed) and blend.


Place into a bowl, add a couple of tbsp of grated Parmigiano, and some breadcrumbs, enough ti get a soft dough. If using stale bread grate it to breadcrumbs (if very dry), or soak it in milk and break it up, if not dry enough to grate. Add salt and pepper to taste, and if you like add one egg (it will keep the 'gnocchi' more 'together'. 


Shape into longish gnocchi, more or less the size of a cotton bobbin. 


Bring a pot of water to the boil, add salt and then turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Add the strangolapreti one by one, and if you have big quantities cook just a plate at the time. They will loose some green bits during cooking, but not their shape (unless you did something wrong!) Pick them up when they rise to the surface and place them in a plate.


Drizzle with butter, melted in a pan with a few sage leaves, and sprinkle with fresh sage flowers (and onion weed flowers too, if you like). Add more Parmigiano and serve hot.




Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Marzipan with Amaretto

Assorted natural flavours and colours, including green tea, cherry syrup, berry juice, candied citrus,
and some stuffed dates too!

Last Sunday I did a demo about making Marzipan at the Auckland Art Gallery, to celebrate Italian Language week with the Dante Auckland. I have a basic recipe which I always follow (without egg white, thus suitable for Vegans too) and you can find it here. But since almonds don't have much taste in NZ (sorry... need to be said) I always add a few apricot kernels (not too much, they are poisonous!) so follow this recipe carefully! Now, apricots are not in season yet, and I made a little variation, which worked well: I added a little drop of Amaretto.



Marzapane with Amaretto

Ingredients
200g raw almonds
100g icing sugar
1 tsp Amaretto




Blanch the almonds in boiling water and remove the skins. Keep a few almonds aside for decoration, if you like, and ground the rest into a fine powder, almost like a paste. Add the icing sugar and Amaretto and mix until you get a dough. Shape into your favourite morsels, and colour with berries, green tea powder, spirulina, or anything you like. Some ideas for shapes and colours here.

Perfect for presents! Coloured with cocoa, green tea and berries
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Vivere in Nuova Zelanda: Radicchio e orchidee, la vita capovolta

Radicchio leaves with goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, on crackers

Sono mezza veneta, cresciuta con radicchio, non ne sono mai stata entusiasta eppure adesso mi manca. Ma ad Auckland cresce a fatica, troppo caldo e umido nel bush. Tentativi miseri e se non lo mangio quando le foglie sono piccole mi finisce subito in semenza. E cosa cresce invece? Orchidee!! Ho sempre sognato di avere orchidee, e adesso le ho sia in casa che in giardino! In giardino!!! Quando posso vado anche alle mostre di orchidee, queste sono cresciute da professionisti e appassionati, molti belle e curate.










E queste sono le mie (ne ho altre, ma non sono in fiore adesso), un po' misere a confronto, ma gli voglio bene :-). Quelle singole (prese dal giardino) sono in mini vasi giapponesi che svolgono la seconda funzione di appoggia-bacchette.





Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

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