Friday, November 27, 2015

Meeting Antonio Carluccio in Auckland

Last night I met my food hero from the days I was a very young, very poor student in London. I remember I was always cold and hungry and leaving in a grotty place in Kings Cross, and once a week I watched Carluccio on TV and dreamed of home and sun and food. 

Gusto at the Grand, in Sky City, organized a special Christmas lunch and dinner with Antonio Carluccio, I attended the evening with my old friend, and president of the New Zealand Sandro Aduso. Wow we got to sit at Carluccio's table, with name places and all. 

Well, good position for taking photos, right across from Antonio.

The menu was designed by Antonio and by Gusto's talented chef Sean Connelly. Antonio said that Sean really understood Italian food and he was very complimentary, and rightly so, the food at Gusto at the Grand is really really really good!

Well, after a while I got tired to be taking pictures while Sandro was doing all the chatting! Finally Antonio came to sit next to me, yuppy! What a nice man, he even told me that he is writing a vegetarian cookbook!

The guys at Gusto were great though: even if there were enough vegetables for me to eat the also bought me an 'off the menu' vegetarian dish: gnocchi with mushrooms. Remembered to take a photo only at the end… sorry, but they were delicious.

Great evening, thank you to all the team at Gusto at the Grand!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini and friends ©

Monday, November 23, 2015

Peperoni e salvia fritti - fried capsicums and sage

Red capsicums are so nice fried in olive oil, and then sprinkled with a little salt… this time I tried a different pairing though: sage! And it works really well. Of course I really like fried sage, so I guess that that help. (In the background I have some fried eggplants for the parmigiana, but you all know how to make that right?) :-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Easy to make hazelnut milk and instant vegan Nutella

Now that I have a nutribullet I am trying all sort of experiments, and this is my first nut milk.
I used toasted hazelnut, but I guess that if you are into raw food you can use raw hazelnuts. I like toasted hazelnuts though, and a rinsed mine with water to remove as much as i could of the brown skin.

Then I added a bit of water, about twice the amount of the nuts. A quick blend and here is the result!

I passed the milk through a sieve, it tasted great but a bit grainy, so I passed it again using a fine cotton cloth (a clean handkerchief would work).

The ring from the nutribullet jag is ideal to keep the cotton in place while the milk is filtering though!

I got one glass, but where is the photo? Ops, Arantxa drunk it all at once! Max and I just had a taste. The hazelnut taste was great! Plus there was quite a bit of hazelnut paste left over. 

Instant Vegan Nutella

Place the hazelnut paste in a bowl or jug with a few block of dark chocolate, place into a saucepan with some water and bring to the boil to melt the chocolate. Stir. Done.

The resulting chocolate spread has a lovely gianduia flavour (cocoa and hazelnut) but it definitely feels low fat, and it is not too sweet either. Really lovely, and so easy to make!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sugar Christmas decorations

On Sunday we had the Dante Alighieri Society Xmas Market (Mercatino di Natale), and I made lots of sugar decorations for sale.

Ideal for 'baby's first Christmas' trees, sweet pastel colours, they can be used for Christmas cards too!

White and hand painted with a thin brush

Chocolate fondant, they smell great!

Green and silver for the trees

Plain white and red, with some meringues too

I used fondant (white, chocolate, red and green), corn flour, cookie cutters, food coloring (not cochineal!) and a thin brush to paint. We sold the lot!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, November 16, 2015

Florence fennel and asparagus with smoked scamorza

Great shopping yesterday at the Mercatino di Natale (Italian Christmas Market), and look at the beautiful vegetables from Aldo! I made pasta with eggplants last night, and I am planning a parmigiana for the rest (I have plenty and I love eggplants!)

Today I made asparagus (which I had already) and Florence fennels with smoked scamorza (from Il Casaro). I washed and quartered the fennel bulbs and pass them in butter, then I added a ladle of vegetable stock and cooked them slowly slowly, with the lid on, until soft. I used some of their juice to steam a bunch of asparagus, and then I cut the scamorza and put it on the hot pan, on both sides, for a couple of minutes to soften and sizzle (but not melt). Serve with crusty bread!

And now for something completely different:
my soft cane orchids are in flowers! I had to share the photos :-). 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, November 9, 2015

Eating in Auckland: Ghazal, Indian Restaurant, Glen Eden

Being a vegetarian I am usually quite happy to go to Indian restaurants since there are always plenty of vegetarian mains (mains guys, not side vegetables!!) on the menu. But I used the term 'quite' because too many Indian restaurants in NZ seem to serve exactly the same food, and by same I don't mean that it has the same name, but it is exactly the same! Like something cooked in big pots somewhere and then distributed around all the Indian restaurants, and take-aways too. Of course there are exceptions, and Ghazal seems to be one of them.

The place is unpretentious and friendly, plus on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays the mains are only $10. I went with Arantxa and Sue, who organized the evening since she knows the owner well, having a business in the area herself (Sudan Hair). In fact she is a regular and when she goes there she doesn't even order, her husband Dan and her just eat what they bring to the table, accommodating for their tastes too (with Dan being on a no-carb diet, he gets finally chopped cabbage or cauli instead of rice). 

And so we didn't order, since Sue had requested a vegetarian evening for us three, and we just sat down and waited. It is lovely not to have to look at the menu sometimes, and while we were crunching on pappadums two different starters arrived: some paneer marinated in yogurt and spices and then cooked with capsicums, and some unusual vegetarian dumplings in a gravy which had soy sauce in it (soy sauce is used in Northen India). Both dishes were not exactly spicy, came with unusual dipping sauces and tasted different from anything else you usually find in Indian restaurants. 

I was actually full by then, but the two mains were amazing! Gary Smagh, the owner, is vegetarian and he cooked the cauliflower curry, the best I ever had. The chef is not vegetarian, to cater to the general public I guess, but his lentil curry was equally good, in fact it was hard to decide which one of the mains was the best. We had rice and naan, and were so full that we had to take the leftovers home. We ate them the day after, and they tasted great (and without the aftertaste what you usually get if you try to reheat take-away food).

I took a take-away menu on my way home as we plan to return with the boys soon, and yes there are all the standard dishes that you find in all Indian restaurants, including the usual butter chicken. For some reasons I cannot understand Kiwis really love butter chicken, obviously the person who invented this dish (Moti Mahal restaurant?) put together two of the British customers' favorite words: butter and chicken, and got a winner. But there are also novel names on the menu, and I know that if I go there again instead of just looking at the menu I'll ask Gary what vegetarian dish he has cooked for his family that day, and I'll have that too, if there is to spare :-).

Ghazal Indian Cuisine
9/5 Captian Scott Road, Glen Eden
09 818 1122

Photos  by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Asparagus, spinach and onion weed soup

This soup is vegan and gluten free, and makes use of those onion weeds that grow everywhere in Auckland in spring. Forage the onion weeds from a safe and clean place and wash well. The bulbs are fat and delicious just like spring onions (plus they are free!) and you can also eat the stems, leaves and flowers. 

Chop the bulbs, stalks and leaves of a bunch of onion weed and one bunch of asparagus, sauté with a drop of olive oil until fragrant, then add 1 l of vegetable stock and one big potato, peeled and finely sliced. Simmer until the potato is mushy and then add one cup of baby spinach leaves. Blend with an immersion blender and bring back to the boil for one minute. Adjust with salt and pepper and serve, decorated with onion weed flowers.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Vegan Sushi

There are plenty of Sushi rice recipes on this blog, so I won't repeat myself, and this is just an idea. I used lots of seaweed, nori, seaweed salad and a Japanese dried seaweed that looks like the wrapping of a scary mummy.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Martina Doglio Cotto, Global Brand Ambassador for Riccadonna, visits New Zealand


Last week Martina Doglio Cotto, Sommelier and Riccadonna Ambassador, visited New Zealand for the first time hosting an intimate Italian lunch in Auckland. The event started with a Campari aperitif, followed by  delicious dishes matched to the Riccadonna range and accompanied by Martina’s stories about the famous sparkling wines from Asti. Riccadonna is part of the Campari Group and it is distributed in New Zealand by Lion.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, October 26, 2015

Tomato tofu with vegetables and Hokkien noodles

I learned to cook tofu with tomatoes from a Taiwanese friend 13 years ago, and I still remember thinking then how odd the pairing was… until I tasted it! Yes it works, and it is great! 

Heat some vegetable oil in a pan then add some fresh chopped tomato.

When the tomato is starting to mush add the tofu (use a firm type), cubed. Sauté on all sides then add two tbs of soy sauce (I use Japanese sou sauce). 

Add some green vegetables for colour (I use some pak choi), and cook for a few more minutes.

Add the Hokkien noodles (directly form the packet or soak in boiling water for one minute to loosen), and stir well with the tofu and vegetables.

Sauté the noodles for a few minutes, then add chopped coriander and chopped onion weed stalks (my Taiwanese friend would not have done that as she was a Buddhist vegetarian and ate no garlic, onion and chives, so I guess no onion weed!). Stir a bit more then serve, decorated with onion weed flowers.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Instant mango and coconut yogurt vegan ice-cream, and how to make more coconut yogurt from you bought jar to save money!

I have tried a couple of brands of coconut yogurt and it is quite nice, although I am not sure 100% if I can call it Vegan. One of the two labels it as Vegan, but the live bacterias (a part from being 'live', if you see what I mean) could come from dairy products, as usually lactobacillus originally do… so if you know more about it just tell me, I really like to find out!*

Another thing that I have noticed is the price of coconut yogurt… so expensive!!! Around $10! So before finishing the second jar I have filled it up with a can of coconut cream (only about $2.50) and after two days in the hot water cupboard followed by two days in the fridge I got my own coconut yogurt (albeit a bit more runny than the bought one). I am trying the second lot with a thicker coconut cream and I'll let you know if it works.

The ice-cream

One cup of frozen mango
Half a cup of coconut yogurt

Blend with immersion blender

I am glad I remembered to take a photo before they gulped it all up: it was delicious!!

And of course it could count as sugar free, gluten free, and possibly raw vegan*.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Coconut and Lavender Agar Agar, like a Vegan Panna Cotta or Biancomangiare

I like to use lavender for dessert, but the flavour has to be delicate, not too overwhelming. 


one small bunch of Lavender
3 tbsp caster sugar
1x400ml can coconut cream +
same amount in boiling water to rinse the can
1 tsp agar agar

to serve: blackberries and lavender

Pick the lavender from the garden and make sure it is clean, or rinse lightly and pat dry with a clean tea towel. Put in a container and cover with the caster sugar. Put a lid on and leave for 2-3 days. The sugar will absorb the aroma of the flowers. 

 Place the coconut cream in a pot, fill the can with the same amount of boiling water to rinse it and add into the pot. Remove the flowers from the sugar (it will be crumbly and moist) and add it to the mixture. Add a tsp of agar agar and bring to the boil stirring constantly. You can add a few petals of lavender if you like, but don't overdo it - not everyone likes to find 'bits' in such a smooth pudding. Fill 6 individual jelly moulds and let them set. The container with the lavender and sugar still had some sugar around the sides so I put the blackberries there for a few hours to marinate (with the lavender also) and get a bit of juice! I serve them alongside the tipped agar agar, which tasted a bit like young coconut flesh and with a subtle but distinctive lavender flavour.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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