Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Birthday...

...sorry, no posting this week, we are on the road again, visiting Tuscany this time, and internet connections are difficult! The weather is beautiful and the Region even more so, good place for a birthday, will drink Chianti and celebrate in style :-)

Till next week


Friday, April 23, 2010

Going to the lake to eat gelato

Much to explore in the Valley! The other day our friend Martina took us to Lovere, a truly charming small city on the lake Iseo.

And because it was a warm sunny day we sat down for gelato on the lake front. Now, when I go to places like these I dream to have an ice cream place in New Zealand. We really miss it: young and old, men and women, families and groups of youngsters, all sitting at tables and eating lovely ice cream concoctions, which don't look artificial and over-coloured artificially. And the gelato quality is, of course, excellent!

But I don't know....would it work in NZ? Would Kiwis sit down for 30 minutes (or more) to eat an ice cream like Italians do? Would they make it into an outing like the do here? Would they pay for it? These were about NZ$10 each, very big and with whipped cream and fresh fruit (almost a meal), and served in a lovely cafe with tables on the lake front. The place was quite full even if it was just a Wednesday afternoon and not the week-end.

Maybe I should start a gelato appreciation society :-)

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Paccheri with tomato, parsley and garlic.

Paccheri are hollow pasta tubes that look like rigatoni or tortiglioni, but with a difference: the paccheri tubes flatten once they are cooked. Usually the have very rich sauces, but I am one for
'less is more' these days, and so here I just warmed up a ready made Italian tomato passata (a good one).

Once the passata was hot I added some salt, extra virgin olive oil and finely chopped Italian parsley with garlic. These days I am chopping a lot of parsley and garlic together, it is too early for basil, and parsley taste really good in Italy! Also, I like the idea of having a cooked sauce but with raw herbs and garlic in it: the taste changes completely. Simple but really effective!!!

If you are not vegan you can add some ricotta to this.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mafalde Corte with Zucchini

I cannot believe that I bought zucchini! After eating so many from my garden I thought that I would not want to see them for at least six month, instead...I discovered that I missed them!
And since I don't have a veggie garden here in Valcamonica, I have to buy my veggies!
These are the first zucchini of the season, probably from some hothouse, but at least they come from Italy, not a far away country. I decided to try another of the Garofalo pasta (since so many Italian bloggers talked about it) and I though that for my dish this format, mafalde corte, would work well. And it did!!!

500 g pasta
Rock salt for the water.

for the sauce:
4 zucchini
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salted water from the pasta (very important ingredient, read more later)
Freshly grated pepper (optional)
Freshly chopped Italian Parsley

Wash and cut the zucchini and saute in a large pan with the garlic and olive oil. Stir often, the zucchini should not burn! They actually contain quite a bit of water, so if you turn the heat down you should be able to cook them by themselves for about 15 minutes (as long as you stir often!!). Start cooking the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, and keep your pot near the zucchini pan. When the zucchini finally start to dry up ad stick to the pot add a first ladle of water from the pasta.

Now, using the salted and starchy water from the pasta is normal in Italy, it is used to thin sauces, add taste, and even salt (since the pasta's water is usually very salted). But if the pasta is of very good quality, if it is a type that takes longer to cook, and it the sauce is white or green, rather that red (i.e., pesto, cheese, zucchini and other green vegetables, rather than tomato based sauces), the cooking water from the pasta becomes, in my opinion, the best ingredient you can add to it - and most people outside Italy don't know it!!!

I find it particularly suited to the zucchini, because it gives them a kind of butter. Basically all you have to do is to add a few ladles, one by one, of pasta's water, always simmering very gently, and stirring often. Taste for salt, and if you like add some freshly grated pepper. At the end add some chopped parsley, drain the pasta and stir into the zucchini pot, and serve.

It may look simple from the photo, but this was one of the best tasting zucchini pasta I had made, and my daughter, who is very attentive to flavours, asked me if I had put butter in it!
I swear it tasted like it had lots of butter, instead nothing: just salted water from the pasta!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Monday, April 19, 2010

Did I say spring?

Yep, I did, but actually the evenings are still cold, some days are cold, most are wet!!!

And then there is this dust cloud, my husband couldn't fly to London for the Book Fair on Saturday, but in a way I was happy: many of our friends are stranded in other continents, and unable to get home, it would have been worst if he was stuck there instead. I really feel for all those travelers, being so often one of them, and unsure about our own future plans now.

So, more evenings at home with the family, and more 'wintery' food on the stove.

Polenta with mushrooms

I discovered frozen mixed mushrooms (apparently with some pieces of porcini in it, but I couldn’t see many). In any case, unable to forage now, these looked good to me.

I used a 300g bag of mixed mushrooms

30g dried porcini mushrooms,

a few garlic cloves

olive oil

tomato passata


The dried porcini mushrooms need to be soaked for a an hour or so.

Sauté the garlic with the olive oil, add the frozen mushrooms, and after five minutes the porcini mushrooms and their soaking water. Add the tomato passata (about a cup) and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir often and add water if necessary. Add salt to taste.

I served these mushrooms with polenta, and then, since I had a few left over, I made some pasta the day after.

I heard from other bloggers about the Garofalo brand, in NZ I could only find it in one shop, and it was too expensive even to consider, so I thought that I should try it while I am in Italy. I choose mezze maniche for this dish.

Mezze maniche with mushrooms

I cooked the mezze maniche al dente. In the meantime I warmed up the pan with the left-over mushrooms and added 250 ml of cream. Then I added some freshly chopped Italian parsley and some freshly ground pepper. I drained the mezze maniche and passed them in the pan with the mushroom and cream sauce. They tasted great!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Friday, April 16, 2010

Red Radicchio, Florence Fennel and Walnut Salad

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini©

A lovely and crisply salad made with fresh mixed leaves and red radicchio (the round type, which is crispy and lovely to eat raw). I find red radicchio a bit bitter, this is why I like to mix it with other green leaves. Then I added some finely cut Florence fennel, and some freshly shelled walnuts. For dressing I just used some good extra virgin olive oil, some lemon juice and some salt.

Also, I had some salad left over and I made a mega panino using crusty ciabatta bread, this salad (without dressing) and some gorgonzola cheese. It was super!!!!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sick Animals (toys)

This is not about food, or travel, or books...but please indulge a mum who loves to play with her kids :-)!! Well, maybe this post is a little about travel really, traveling with children in fact. We have been away for 7 weeks now, the kids could only carry a handful of toys, and now we live in an apartment and they go to the local school (weeks in and weeks off) and self-study as much as they can. They are learning so many things, from the Italian language to history and geography, and art. But the lovely thing about children is that they never stop playing, wherever they are. This is what keeps them happy and healthy!

And I though that this was so cute!!!! Their animals got sick, several broken limbs and heads, improvised hospitals and bandages, and lots of get well cards and presents...I feel all 'soft', I just had to share it, after all I am traveling too ;-).

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Monday, April 12, 2010

Basmati Rice with Lenitils and Lemon

Spring!!! Finally! I am now moving away from soups and into fresher ingredeints.

For this I used:

500 g basmati rice
1 x 400 g can brown lentils
1 cup washed Italian parsley leaves
3 garlic cloves, peeled
salt to taste
1 lemon, plus one more for decoration
1 grated carrot
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more to drizzle
freshly ground black pepper.

Wash the rice and cook by absorption. Rinse the lentils, and add to the rice when is nearly cooked. In the meantime finely chop the parsley leaves with the garlic and some salt. Place in a bowl and add the juice of one lemon and the grated carrot. Remover the rice and lentils from the heat add the parsley and lemon mixture, the olive oil, and stir. Divide between 6 plates, and top each one with one slice of lemon and some freshly ground black pepper. Add more salt and olive oil if you like, and enjoy. This is a full, balanced and healthy meal!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, April 10, 2010

New Sweet Book

New Holland Publishers Ltd has just released this new collection of 130 sweet treats, which includes some of my recipes. A photograph accompanies each recipe and there is a useful introduction on how to get you started, covering basic equipment and ingredients to make biscuits, cakes, pancakes, ice creams and a whole lot more. The Big Book of Sweet Treats is suitable for keen cooks or bakers looking for new ideas, and it is available in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and other countries.

Also (while I am here promoting I may as well go the full length!), if you live in New Zealand and Australia please look out for the latest issue of Dish Magazine with my article about the Balsamic Vinegars of Modena.

Have a good week-end!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nigella Potatoes

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini©

This is not a Nigella Lawson’s recipe, but a recipe using nigella seeds.

I don’t have many spices (yet) in my new kitchen, but this possibly makes me more inventive. Also, I am not sure if this could be defined as Indian food, certainly it is Indian inspired, I served it with a Dahl and basmati rice, and it was a winner!!! Of course your comments are welcomed!

Here is the recipe:

Nigella Potatoes


500 g potatoes (Agria or similar ‘floury’ potatoes)

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tsp nigella seeds

half tsp ground coriander

half tsp cumin powder

1 tsp turmeric

salt to taste

one cup fresh coriander (or parsley) leaves

Peel the potatoes and cut into 4-5 cm cubes. In a large wok or frying pan with high borders heat the oil and add the garlic cloves and nigella seeds. When the seeds start to crackle add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, and a little salt. Add the cubed potatoes and coat well with the spices. Stir constantly, and when the potatoes start to become too dry add a cup of water. Cover and simmer on low, stirring from time to time and adding water every time the mixture gets too dry. When all the potatoes are cooked, and most are almost pureed and creamy, remove from the heat. Finely chop a cup of washed fresh coriander or parsley (or a mixture of both) leaves, and add to the potatoes. Stir and serve.

Serve as part of an Indian meal, and if you like top with natural yogurt.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Vegetable Soup with rice, spelt and barley

Photo by Alessandra Zecchini©

For this soup I used a packet of 3 parboiled cereals: rice, barley and spelt. The brand is Gallo – a mainstream Italian rice brand. Traditionally Gallo brand had rice only, so I was happy to discover this 3-cereals combo, which is easy to use.


1 carrot

¼ green cabbage

1 leek

1 celery stalk, with leaves

100 g fresh borlotti beans

a few parsley leaves, chopped

2 l water

rock salt to taste

black pepper

200 g Gallo brand mixed rice, barley and spelt

1 tbsp tomato puree

Extra virgin olive oil

Cut the vegetables and place in a large pot with the water. Bring to the boil, remove the scum that may form at the top, add salt and pepper and then simmer slowly, for 10 minutes. When the beans look cooked add the cereals (they are parboiled so they will take about 15 minutes, but cook them for at least 20 to get the flavour through). Add the tomato puree, and then remove from the heat. Serve hot or warm, drizzled with olive oil. It tastes better the day after.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Prehistoric Rock Drawings in Valcamonica

Running man, Capo di Ponte

The stone carvings of Val Camonica constitute one of the largest collections of prehistoric rock engravings, there are possibly 300,000 in Valcamonica, concentrated around the areas of Darfo Boario Terme, Capo di Ponte, Nadro, Cimbergo and Paspardo. So far I have visited the ones in Darfo Boario Terme, where I am staying, and the most famous at Capo di Ponte. They date from 10,000 years ago until until Iron Age (I millennium BC), with the former being the work of nomadic hunters, and the latter of an agricultural civilization which could work metal.

There 'graffiti' are a 'must see' in the region of Lombardy, World Heritage recognized by the Unesco in Italy (1979) they represent the first expression of art in Europe.

Women, Capo di Ponte

Deer, Capo di Ponte

Most of the graffiti are outdoors, but this ornate rock where in a little hut under glass, sorry, the photo is not very clear. Capo di Ponte.

Below: More hunting scenes, Capo di Ponte

Halberds, Darfo Boario Terme

When we got home we painted our Easter Eggs, and the theme was: 'i Camuni' (Camuni being the people who live in this Valley - Valcamonica, and also the ancient people who did these rock engravings thousands of years ago).

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Happy Easter and capsicum recipes.

The first time I ate this salad was in Turkey, the mother of a good friend of our made it, all her food tasted amazing, but this recipe is particularly easy, and can be made anywhere in the world, without the need of special ingredients.

Just roast the capsicums whole, then put in a paper bag to sweat, then remove all the skins and seeds. Dress with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt (but just a very very little!). Mix some natural yogurt with some garlic, several cloves, squeezed through a garlic press. Add salt and, if you like, fresh mint leaves. Pour over the capsicums.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

And then I made a variation to serve in verrines, possibly in shot glasses for a fancy summer party. I blended the capsicum with olive oil, salt and a drop of lemon. I added some parsley to the green ones to have a stronger colour. Then I made layers and this time I used thick Greek style yogurt (always with garlic and salt). A vegan variation, without yogurt, is fine, if you like some layers of 'almost white' colour use a cannellini beans hummus or a mush potato salad (both beans and potatoes go well with roasted capsicums).

Very effective!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stewed Borlotti Beans with Smoked Paprika

I cannot buy dried borlotti beans in New Zealand, they are all imported and heat treated, or fumigated, or not sure what they actually do with them at MAF, the fact is that they are impossible to cook!

‘Untreated’ beans are easy to cook, and they make a fantastic stock.

Soak the borlotti in water for 10 hours, changing often the water and washing them at the same time. Then cook them with plenty of water, removing any scam that forms at the top with a slotted spoon.

They should cook in one hour, taste to see. I add salt when they are nearly ready, and when I stopped removing excess scum from the top. Your beans are ready for any recipe now! Keep the stock, it can be used for soups, or as stock when a recipe requires it.

Stewed Borlotti Beans with Smoked Paprika

Here I chopped a small white onion, a small carrot and a celery stalk with leaves. I sautéd the vegetables with some extra virgin olive oil, and then I added the beans, and some of their sock, which is already salty.

I cooked the beans, adding stock little by little, until they started to mush lightly. I added some smoked paprika, stirred, and served with some crusty bread on the side.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©


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