Apple, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Ricotta Muffins

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We Italians are very opinionated, bordering on fastidious, when it comes to cakes and all things sweet. We proudly cook family recipes that have been passed on for generations without so much of a written note and each family strongly believes to be the sole keeper of a perfectly moist cake recipe. And then, one day, only a few decades ago, we heard about this miracle cake batter, an Anglo-Saxon recipe sure to produce the lightest, fluffiest afternoon tea treat: the muffin recipe! It was love at first bite. We all make muffins now, just as proudly as we whip amaretti cookie dough. We may have swapped the melted butter for extra-virgin olive oil and, in this case, added a few tablespoons of ricotta, but the miraculous principle has remained the same: lumpy batter=moist cake.

That’s Amore!

INGREDIENTS, makes 12

2 1/4 cups of self-raising flour, sifted

1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon, plus extra for dusting on top

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2 eggs

2/3 cup caster sugar

70 ml Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

4 tablespoons of full cream ricotta

2/3 cup of milk

2 handfuls of semi-dried apples, chopped up (or 2 fresh apples, chopped up)

Demerara sugar and almond flakes for sprinkling

HOW TO

  1. Preheat  your oven to 170°C (390 F)
  2. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 muffin cases or baking paper.
  3. Put flour, lemon zest and cinnamon into a large bowl. In separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until apple and creamy. Add the ricotta, oil and the milk, mix well, then pour the liquids into the flour, lemon zest and cinnamon mix. Stir until just combined. The batter should be a little lumpy and slightly sticky and thick. Add a n extra splash of milk if too thick or another 1-2 tablespoons of flour if too runny. All flours then to vary, according to how they are milled and to how they react to humidity, so feel free to adjust quantities to suit your needs. I always do it.
  4. Add the chopped apples and spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Sprinkle with demerara sugar and almond flakes * and bake for 2-25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool at room temperature, dust with cinnamon and consume with unrepentant pleasure!

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* If you’d like to top the muffins with a piece of semidried apple, like in the pictures, make sure to cover the muffins tray with oven paper for the first 15 minutes, otherwise the apples may color too much. Remove the paper after 15 minute to allow the top of the muffins to rise evenly and develop a healthy sun-kissed look.

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Home-made Calzone with Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes and other lovelies!

Just when you think Italians could not possibly top their most famous export, pizza, enters a magnificent parcel of folded, slow risen dough, filled with oozy ricotta, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and freshly picked basil leaves, coated with a shiny drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

As you cut the bronzed crust open, watch the filling slowly and inexorably spill out onto the cutting board, as you salivate yourself into oblivion…

My very personal tip to successfully reproduce this very humble joy of the palate is to use the freshest ingredients, never be tempted to stuff it with low-fat ricotta and allow for the dough to prove slowly, in the fridge for a minimum of 24 hours.

It is the slow rising of the dough that will provide that essential light and crispy crust. Not to mention easy to digest.

Even the fiercest ‘I don’t eat wheat’ person will have to reconsider….

The recipe for the dough is the same as the one I use for Pizza

Ingredients for the dough (makes 2 large calzone of 4 smaller ones)

3 1/2 cups  00 type flour (or plain)

1/2 cup  wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon of dry yeast

1-1/4 cup  lukewarm water

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of slat flakes

Extra-virgin olive oil, to grease the bowl and to drizzle on top.

How to

Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Stand for 5 minutes or until frothy.

Place flour in a large mixing  bowl, add the yeasted water and mix for 1-2 minutes, then tip the dough onto a floured surface, add the salt and knead vigorously for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball.

As all flours tend to differ slightly, you may have to add a little more water of a little more flour in order to have the perfect dough. You want a soft, pliable dough, but not too sticky.

Rest the dough in an oiled bowl, covered with a tea-towel for 30 minutes, then lift it out, place it back onto a floured surface, stretch it with your hands and fold it into three and then back into a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl to rest for another 30 minutes, then stretch and fold again.

As tedious as this process sounds, this is paramount for obtaining a light, crispy and easy to digest base.

After the second stretch-and-fold, place the dough in a large oiled container fitted with  lid (like a Tupperware one). Place in the fridge (with the lid on) and slow-prove for a minimum of 6 hours, up to 36 hours.

When you are ready to make you pizza, take th enough of the fridge and place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with a tea-towel. Rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

Your dough is now ready to be stretched, topped, folded and baked.

For the filling

2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin oil + some for drizzling

2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar (or regular)

1 scant tablespoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt flakes

1 garlic clove, cut into half

a little freshly ground white pepper

1 spring onion, chopped up

1 cups of full cream ricotta

1 cup of bocconcini

freshly picked basil leaves

How to

Place the tomatoes, oil, vinegar, garlic, spring onion, pepper, salt and sugar in an oven tray lined with baking paper. Roast on a medium oven for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are slightly blistered and juicy.

Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to high. If baking using a baking stone, put in the oven to heat up now.

Roll the dough to the desired thickness ( I always prefer a thin base, but over to you and  your personal taste) and shape into two large (or 4 smaller) disks.

Fill one half of each disk with the roasted cherry tomatoes, 3-4 table spoons of ricotta, a few bocconcini and and basil leaves. Top with the other half of the disk and seal the edges by pinching them with your fingers. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of the cherry tomato juices and a pinch of salt.

Place the calzones on baking paper. Dust the baking stone with corn flour and place the calzones with the baking paper on top of the stone. Bake for 15 minutes, then slide off the paper to allow the base to crisp up.

In not using a baking stone, simply line an oven tray with baking paper, place the calzones on top and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is bronzed and nicely puffed and the bottom is crispy.

Serve hot, with cold beer and a green salad.

Ricotta and Beef Meatballs with white wine

Oh Spring, Where Art Thou?

The cool and wet Sydney weather, and a massive case of jet lag, inspired me to make this dish for lunch today.

It is very simple to make, so even the foggiest, travel-stricken mind can successfully attempt to work this straight-forward combination of ingredients out.

It is also delicious to eat, preferably on the couch, snuggled up under a furry blanket, close to you favourite person.

First off, place 3 slices of stale bread, crust removed, in a food processor along with 80 gr of parmesan cheese in chunks, a handful of parsley, leaves and stalks. Blitz until combined, then pour mix onto a large metal bowl and add 150 gr of full-fat ricotta (life’s too short for low-fat anything, really), 400 gr of beef mince, 1 egg, salt and pepper. Amalgamate using your hands until all the ingredients are nicely mixed together.

Cover the bowl with cling wrap and rest in the fridge for half an hour.

Shape your meatballs the size of large walnuts using wet hands, dust them with a little flour.

Make a soffritto with  1 chopped up onion, 1 small,diced carrot and two cloves of garlic ( simply bash them with the back of your hand and leave the skin on) and pan fry with two tablespoons of EVOO for a few minutes, until fragrant. Add the meatballs and brown them gently in the soffritto. Deglaze the pan with half a glass of dry white wine and allow for the alcohol to evaporate, then add two ladlefuls of vegetable stock and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Place your cooked meatballs on a serving dish, liquidize the cooking liquid and vegetables in a blender and pour over the meatballs.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and lemon zest.

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Torta di Mandorle, Ricotta e Limone (almond, ricotta and lemon cake)

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As I was walking in my garden last Sunday, I noticed that my lemon tree was suddenly looking heavy with ripe, juicy, bright yellow fruits. These home-grown lemons with a rough and gnarly peel make the best Limoncello and Gin&Tonic, but my alcohol intake being limited by the joys of breastfeeding, I resorted to pick a few and bake them in an almond and lemon torta. What a sweet consolation that was!

INGREDIENTS, serves 8

3 whole eggs

200 gr (1 cup) caster sugar

75 ml (1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil (or plain olive oil, or canola oil)

170 gr of full cream ricotta, well drained

210 gr (2 cups) of sifted self-raising flour

70 gr (2/3 cups) of almond meal (almond flour)

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, juice of 1

1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract (or half of a freshly scraped pod)

1 tablespoon of Amaretto liquor

HOW TO

1. In a bowl, beat  eggs with sugar until pale and creamy

2. Add oil and Ricotta and incorporate until smooth

3. Add  flour and almond meal and incorporate gently into the eggs mix then add the lemon zest and juice, vanilla and a tablespoon of Amaretto (Italian almond liqueur).

4. Pour the batter in a cake tin (buttered and floured) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 170 C (340 F) for about 35/40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin before serving.

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Dust with icing sugar and help yourself to a large slice…

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