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 ©

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Make your own vegan meat

It is quite satisfying to make fake meat, meat eaters will not understand this, but they should try too, when the fridge is empty and you have little time. No hunting, killing, butchering … cheap and so versatile for many dishes. All you need is some gluten flour, and the flavouring of your choice. 

This is also called seitan and can be made in many different way, but I find that the easier for me is to mix one cup of gluten flour with one cup of water. To the gluten flower you can add salt and pepper, herbs, seasoning… smoked salt or paprika, garlic flakes, dried sage and rosemary… anything really. Then you mix everything with your fingers and then work into a dough. Once the dough is ready shape it into a sausages and with a pair of scissor cut into very thin slices directly into a pot of boiling vegetable stock and simmer for 30 minutes (it will grow and absorb more flavour). For this dish I drained the fake meat slices and then pan fried them with a little oil to brown them, then I added so sauce and lemon juice. In a separate pot I sautéed some green beans and then added a bit of the leftover stock and simmer them for a few minutes to absorb the liquid, then I added the fake meat and some chopped up onion weed. A final touch with a bit more soy sauce and lemon juice to taste and serve everything on top of rice. 

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More party photos of the Italian Festival Season in Auckland

Opening of Tosca, 17 September 2015

Festival Italiano Gala at Non Solo Pizza, 15 September 2015

Festival Italiano Gala at Non Solo Pizza, 15 September 2015

Festival Italiano Gala at Non Solo Pizza, 15 September 2015

And some pics from Spy Magazine, New Zealand Herald (click on the link to see them)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Italian Festival Season in Auckland starts today - 13 September

The first Italian event of the Season will be a special concert featuring visiting Swedish violinist and conductor Tobias Ringborg, here conducting New Zealand Opera’s production of Tosca.
1. Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945):
Intermezzo and Easter Hymn from “Cavalleria Rusticana”
2. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)/Ernest Alder:
“La Bohème”: Trio for violin, flute and piano

3. Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840): Cantabile, Op. 17
4. Cesare Ciardi (1817-1877): Gran Concerto, Op. 129
Andante – Maestoso
5. Carlo Cammarota (1905-1990): Arioso e Fuga
6. Nino Rota (1911-1979): Trio for flute, violin and piano

Luca Manghi, flute
David Kelly, piano
and special guest Tobias Ringborg, violin
St Luke’s Church, 130 Renuera Road, Auckland
13 September 2015, 7:00pm
Tickets sold at the door $30 ($25 for Dante Members)
A light refreshment will be served after the concert.

ProseccoBorgosanleo Peroni-ItaliaAperol Logo

Edited: photos from the party after the concert. Fantastico!

For more events check the Festival Italiano Website or FB Page

Friday, September 4, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower with spicy yogurt crust

This is a really yummy way to cook cauliflower, and to transform a side vegetable into a masterpiece!

Remove the leaves and wash the cauliflower under running water, then place whole into a stock pot filled with salted water. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes (it will depend on the size of your cauliflower) until it just starts to soften, but it is still nice and firm (i.e. no florets breaking off!).

 In the meantime prepare a marinade with plain yogurt and the spices and seasoning of your choice. I used smoked paprika, crushed garlic, cumin, olive oil and salt. Roast the cauliflower until the top is crunchy (I roasted some potatoes and onions at the same times, but the potatoes had been part-boiled before, so about 30 minutes.

The cauliflower can be cut into slices, there was a lot and the leftover slices I pan fried the day after and they were even better (like all leftover fried food lol!).  I did try this recipe with a raw cauliflower to start with, and it didn't work: first the salt water needs to go through the vegetable or the centre will taste bland, and second, it was too hard. So make sure you boil it in salted water first!

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Is still winter here!

I made a snowman

Add caption

Blue ski in Whakapapa

Snow fresh beer
 Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, August 24, 2015

Vegan meringues with chickpea brine (Aquafaba)

After making Aquafaba Vegan Pavlova I tried to make meringues. I changed the recipe only a little, and used less sugar (still experimenting though!)

1 Can of chickpeas (just the brine - i.e. water, which already has salt)
200 g icing sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
A few drops of lemon juice 
a few drops of vanilla essence
Fresh As plum powder (optional)

Beat the brine first, then when it is nice and peaky add the sugar, one tbsp at the time, and the cornflour. Add the lemon juice and vanilla at the end and beat some more. I added some Fresh As plum powder to half of the mixture and then piped the two types of meringues onto a tray lined with baking paper and baked them at about 75°C fan for about three hours.

I offered them to some adult students at the Italian school to taste them, about half of them tried them but I didn't tell them that they were vegan, they liked them and when I told them what they were they could not believe it! Hearing that the other half of the class wanted to try them too, out of curiosity, and they liked them! Only a couple then said that they were a different from 'normal' meringues (one said less sweet and the other less crunchy). And then they asked for the recipe! 

"Vegan baker Goose Wohlt coined the term aquafaba ("bean liquid") to describe the liquid, which French chef Joël Roessel discovered could be used in recipes much like egg whites."
Source; Wikipedia

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Famous Aquafaba meringue makes a good Vegan 'Pavlova'

First a confession: I am not a fan of Pavlovas, not at all. But I love meringues, and ever since I have heard of the aquafaba meringue, or meringue made with the water from a can of chickpeas (very popular in Italian blogs, and not necessarily Vegan blogs, everyone is making it!) I couldn't stop thinking about it! 

"Vegan baker Goose Wohlt coined the term aquafaba ("bean liquid") to describe the liquid, which French chef Joël Roessel discovered could be used in recipes much like egg whites."
Source; Wikipedia

 Well, what a success!! Basically all you need to do is to drain a can of chickpeas, keep the liquid and then beat it. Don't do it by hand though, unless you have strong harms, it takes longer that egg whites. But wow doesn't it peak! And white and fluffy too! I got quite emotional seeing it, like a wonderful chemistry experiment.

After beating for 3-5minutes
After 7-8 minutes
After adding sugar and cornflour
But what to make first?  I was tempted to make an Italian meringue, but didn't want to add hot syrup to my new discovery, in case the magic stopped! No, I decided, I'll do that next time and stick to a easy icing sugar meringue.

There are plenty of recipes online to chose from, and then I saw one for a Vegan Pavlova, Pavlova of course being a loose term overseas, but there you go Kiwis, karma for having far too loosely reinterpreted too many Italian (and other nations) traditional recipes! This particular recipe was my top choice and had nice photos, but looked like a tree-layer meringue to me. Also I changed a couple of ingredients and quantities, and recorded:


1 Can of chickpeas (just the brine - i.e. water, which already has salt)
250 g icing sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp white vinegar
a few drops of vanilla essence

1 can coconut cream
1 tsp golden syrup
a few drops of vanilla essence
Green and gold kiwi fruit and strawberries (out of season, but I saw two punnets for $7 and wanted them for the photo!)

Beat the brine first, then when it is nice and peaky add the sugar, one tbsp at the time, and the cornflour. Add the vinegar and vanilla at the end and beat some more.

Not confident enough to try a single Pavlova I made two disks, plus some little ones to see how they baked. I had the oven on first very hot, and the at about 75°C fan for about three hours, actually more, it seemed to take forever! In the meantime I also whipped some coconut cream (Vegan Pavlova, remember?), I find that the Family Choice coconut cream has the thickest cream of all, in fact so thick that you don't need to refrigerate the can first, and can use the liquid a the bottom of the can to thin it down. I added a tsp of golden syrup (Maple syrup is good too) and a few drops of vanilla, and then set the cream aside in the fridge.

Coconut cream
 I didn't end up assembling the 'Pavlova' until the day after, but the meringue was still good and the cream nice and stiff. I only put fruit in between the two layers, and reserved the cream only for the top. Possibly the disks were too large and they cracked a little, the smaller meringues looked great and made me plan for macaroons.  

The taste

Ok, I don't like Pavlova… but I loved this one!!!! Wowowowow! My daughter loves Pavlova, yet she found this version to be better, and my husband liked it and thought that it was less sweet that regular Pavlova (I can hardly believe it, with 250g of icing sugar??? Really? I was already planning to experiment with less sugar….). Also the texture, no, not a crunchy meringue all way through, but a soft marshmelloy centre, and even if it was in two disks it still tasted more like a Pavlova than a meringue cake.
But there will be more experiments, for sure!

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Vanuatu - photo essay

Where we stayed


Lovely little things


The Market in Port Vila 

The Fruit

The Blue Pools


 Around the Island

 Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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