Almond, Pear and Olive Oil Cake

The seasonal change has hit our southern shores, swapping the warm breeze for a crisp chill. I have packed away my summer dresses and sandals to wrap myself in wooly layers, scarves and boots. To accompany the cooler weather, the stalls now abound with glorious winter produce, whose main purpose is to nourish and comfort. As I type this I’m embracing this sunny yet cool day, sipping tea and indulging in my second slice of this incredibly moist pear and almond cake, lightly scented by cinnamon and mandarine. Cold months to come, I fear you not! INGREDIENTS, makes1

3 small pears

3 eggs

1 cup of brown sugar (plus 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the pears)

Cinnamon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of buttermilk

juice of 1 mandarine

1 cup of almond flour (almond meal)

1-1/2 cup of self-raising flour (gluten free flour will also work)

METHOD

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F)

2. Line a round cake tin with baking paper. Sprinkle the base with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a little cinnamon

3. Cut the pears into two, scoop out the core, then cut each half into two, lenghtways. Line the base of the cake tin with the pears.

4. Beat the eggs with sugar until fluffy, add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, oil, buttermilk and mandarine juice and whisk well. Add the almond flour and the sifted self-raising flour and gently incorporate them into the batter without over mixing. Pour the batter over the pears and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.

5. Turn up side down and leave to cool on a rack for 30-45 minutes before serving. Enjoy as it is or with vanilla gelato, cream or thick Greek yoghurt.

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Paste di Mandorle (X’mas Almond Pastries)

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And so, the long-awaited jolly season officially begins at my house, with a tray full of these colourful, soft almond cookies, heralding the impending gluttonous days that this time of the year invariably brings. And although it only feels it’s been a couple of months since my last Christmas, which I spent back home in Milan with my folks, I cannot help feeling comforted by the glorious festive spirit that my children and I exude as we set off to the kitchen to shape these traditional Italian cookies. Some call them Paste di Mandorle, others call them Amaretti, but Raffi and Miro have duly renamed them Rudolph’s nose cookies!

INGREDIENTS, makes 18-20 cookies

275 gr (1 – 1/3 cup)of caster sugar

300 gr (2- 1/2 cups) of almond meal

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

1/4 teaspoon of almond extract

glaceè cherries

 HOW TO

1. Place sugar, almond meal, egg whites, vanilla and almond extract in a standing mixer and beat together for 2-3 minutes or until a sticky dough is formed.

2. Roll bits of dough the size of a large walnut and place them onto an oven tray lined with baking paper.

3. Make an indent in each ball of dough with your index finger, then sit a cherry onto each dimple. Shape the rest of the dough into small rectangles (this is the typical Ricciarelli shape), cover them liberally in icing sugar and place them onto the oven tray with the rest of the cookies.

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4. Bake at 180 C, 350 F for 18-20 minutes of until the bottom is firm, but the cookies are still pale in colour

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5. Allow to cool and further firm up at room temperature before serving

They will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container

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Boost your immune system! Shredded Radicchio, Brussel Sprouts and soft boiled egg Salad

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Here are some interesting facts I researched for you.

Brussel Sprouts: source of sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, chemicals believed to promote DNA repair and block the growth of cancer cells. Radicchio: excellent source of vitamin K, potassium zinc and iron. Mung beans: high in protein, phosphorus, folate and vitamin C. Pepitas (sunflower seeds): rich in amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous as well as loaded with most of the B vitamins, and vitamins C, D, E, and K. Add to these ancient and potent ingredients the proteins of eggs and the anti-inflammatory effects of extra-virgin olive oil and you have gifted yourself and your family with the tastiest immune system booster you can dream of. Great health is just a mouthful away!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

1 radicchio or chioggia

1 cup of brussle sprouts, raw, outer leaves removed

4 tablespoons of pepitas (sunflower seeds)

4 tablespoons of mung beans

4 soft boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tabespoons of vincotto (use balsamic vinegar if vincotto is not available)

salt for seasoning

HOW TO

1.Using a mandoline or a sharp knife (or a food processor fitted with the shredding blade) cut the radicchio into fine strips and the brussel sprouts into thin slices.

2. Add the mung beans and pepitas, season with oil and vincotto, add salt and mix well.

3. Top with soft boiled or poached eggs and enjoy as it is or with a slice of sourdough

Enjoy the benefits of healthy eating!

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Salad Double Bill! Cucumber, Mint and Radish/Roasted Greens and Chickpeas

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Italian feasts are well known for the opulent abundance of festive food, ranging from delightful and varied antipasto spreads, to falvoursome pasta dishes and robust and delectable meat of fish courses. No matter what the occasion, vegetables always make a notable appearance at the table, may they be part of a main dish or served as sides. It is a lesser known fact that Italians consume greens and pulses more than they eat meat and this is probably why we can choose from a nearly endless treasure trove of recipes when it comes to those nutritious goods. The following two are some of my personal favorites, especially served together as a side for roast chicken or lamb. The peppery and refreshing bite of cucumber and radish complements the richer and more complex texture and flavour of chickpeas, gently roasted with with zucchini and capsicum. Open yourself a Pinot and you can’t go wrong!

Cucumber, mint and radish salad

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

5-6 medium pickling cucumber

1 bunch of radishes

1 generous handful of mint leaves

3 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

salt  for seasoning

HOW TO

1. Slice the cucumber and radishes as thinly as you can lengthways. I use a mandoline (or V slicer) to get the job done neatly and fast.

2. Season with salt, oil and lemon just before serving, or the cucumber will get too soft.

3. Add the mint and enjoy!

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Roasted greens and chickpea salad

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INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 zucchini cut into small chunks

1 green pepper (capsicum), cut into strips

1 onion, sliced

1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar or verjuice

salt for seasoning

a pinch of sugar

HOW TO

1. Bring your oven to 180 C (340 F)

2. Arrange the prepared vegetables onto a roasting tin lined with baking paper

3. Season with oil, vinegar, salt and sugar

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4. Bake for 20 minutes, then add the chickpeas and bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through

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Sweet Potato Risotto with Balsamic Vinegar

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My love affair with risotto goes deeper than a simple passion for its creamy texture and irresistible savory bite, it’s embedded in my DNA. I was born and raised in the heart of Pianura Padana in the Lombardy region of Italy, where rice grows abundant and where each lombardo d.o.c (citizen of Lombardy) takes sensational pride in cooking the humble produce of our, otherwise slightly dull, flat land. Risotto is our staple dish. We may have it simply flavored with Grana Padano cheese (similar to the more notable Parmigiano, and just as delightful), or we may turn it into a more sumptuous meal with the addition of saffron strands and slow cooked ossobuco. No matter what the add-ons, and I can’t stress this vehemently enough, there will never be a worthy risotto without a great stock. This is the one time I advocate commitment in the kitchen and ditch cubes and salty powders in flavor of a wholesome home-made stock, may it be vegetable, chicken , beef or a mix of the three. Don’t skimp here, the secret to  a flavoursome risotto lies in its stock. The rest is a simple act of patience, better achieved with a glass of wine in the hand that is not busy stirring the rice…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

For the roasted sweet potato

2-3 sweet potatoes (depending on their size), cut into chunks, skin on (well brushed)

a few springs of thyme and rosemary

1 garlic clove, skin on, bashed with the back on a knife

2 tablespoons of EVOO (Extra-virgin olive oil)

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

salt to season

For the risotto

1 brown onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of EVOO

320 gr of Carnaroli or arborio rice

1/4 cup of dry white wine

4-5 cups of chicken, beef or vegetable stock (preferably home-made)

the roasted sweet potatoes

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese

HOW TO

1. Mix all the ingredients for the roasted sweet potatoes in a bowl, toss well and tip onto an oven try lined with baking paper. Roast in a medium/hot oven for 35-40 minutes or until soft and slightly caramelized. Set aside to cool at room temperature

2. Bring the stock to a simmer. In the meantime, fry the onion in olive oil in a large heavy-sided frying pan. Add the rice and allow to be coated with the oil and to slightly toast over medium heat.

3. Add the white wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate, stirring gently. Pour yourself some wine, while you are at it…

4. Turn the heat down and start adding the stock a ladleful at a time, while stirring gently. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Keep adding stock until the rice is cooked, this will take around 18 minutes. Add the cooked sweet potatoes.

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5. Turn off the heat and add a generous dusting of parmigiano, a tablespoon of  butter and one ladeful of stock. Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, if needed. Stir vigorously to release the starch and create the classic all’onda* texture. Cover with a lid and let it rest for a few minutes to  create the perfect mantecatura, creaminess

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Roasted Carrot and Kale Chips Salad

If you have not heard yet of ‘kale chips’, then, quite frankly, where have you been? The ‘blogsphere’ has gone bonkers over this new healthy fad, and if it weren’t for the fact that I love -LOVE-  kale, I probably would have never had a go at making kale chips just to prove to myself I don’t follow the latest food trends…But the temptation was too high and, here I am, tail between my legs and sticky fingers in my mouth ready to be licked clean, as I gulp down another crunchy mouthful of this new foodie delight. The benefits of kale consumption are beyond good. Not only you will boost your immune system, give your blood a good clean and your insides a beauty treatments, your skin will get a rosy glow, your hair will shine and your DNA will be encouraged to repair damaged cells and  block the growth of cancer cells. So, add this little magic green to your shopping list, please! As much as kale chips have become one of my favorite nibbles to simply serve with a drink before dinner, I have also learnt that they marry happily with roasted root vegetables. Choose you favorite, although I will admit I can’t go past the beauty of the Dutch carrot; its block orange tone and mellow sweetness combined with the dark green and savoury robustness of kale turns this salad into a joy for the eyes, as well as the palate.

Ingredients for 4 people

10-12 medium carrots or 20 baby carrots

6-8 kale leaves, stalk removed, chopped

4-5 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (if unavailable, use white wine vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon of sugar)

1-2 good pinches of salt

freshly gourd white pepper (to taste)

How to

1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 C, 390 F

2. Scrub the carrots clean with a pairing knife or a vegetable peeler. Cut them in half lengthways, place them in a large mixing bowl and season them with the vinegar.

3. Add the chopped kale to the bowl and season with oil, salt and pepper.

4. Put the vegetables onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the carrots are soft and slightly sunburnt and the kale is crispy.

Serve as a side dish, with cheese  or however you prefer.

 

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Sausage and Peas Risotto

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Combine the creaminess of Carnaroli short grain rice with the perfume of red wine and the savoury deliciuosness of pork and fennel sausages, with stewed sweet leeks and a generous amount of butter and Parmigiano and you have got yourself joy on a plate. Risotto is the ultimate comfort food and it is really quite straight forward to make. Having said that, I have to be pedantic and fastidious and insist you only make it if you have a great stock to cook in with. Cubes won’t cut it, I’m afraid…

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 sausages, sliced

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

2 leeks

1 tablespoon of butter +1 extra at the end

2 cups of Carnaroli or Arborio rice

half a glass of red wine

4 cups of good stock

2/3 cup of frozen peas

salt and pepper to taste

freshly grated parmigiano

HOW TO

1. Pan fry  the sausage with oil until browned and almost cooked through. Remove and set aside.

2. Slice two leeks and wash throughly to remove any grit. Stew over a low flame in the same pan with the sausage juices adding a tablespoon and butter a Cover with a lid and stir occasionally. They should turn soft and creamy in about 20 minutes.

3. Add the rice and toast in the pan with the leaks until the grains turn translucent, pour in the wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate. Stir a little to make sure no grains are sticking to the pan, being mindful not to distress the rice too much. You want to make sure the grains keep their shape and texture.

4. As the wine dries out, turn the flame down and start adding the stock, a few ladles at a time, stirring gently. Repeat for about 16/17 minutes,until the rice is almost cooked. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly. Add a cup of frozen peas and your slices of sausage.

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5. Turn off the flame , add a ladleful of stock, a generous grating of Parmigiano and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir vigorously to release the starch. Cover with a lid and rest for 3 minutes. This process is called mantecatura and it is essential in order to obtain a creamy risotto with its characteristic all’onda* texture .

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Serve with lots of Barbera and enjoy!

* The way of the waves.

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