Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Gramigna con panna, funghi e noci

Gramigna is a type of pasta usually found in Emilia Romagna. Shaped like curls, it comes in different sizes and sometimes is green (or mixed, like here). It requires a 'heavy' or creamy sauce, so it is common to see it with bolognese sauce or sausage and cream or similar. It is not my favourite pasta, but every now and them I would have it, and my vegetarian suggestion is to serve it with a creamy mushroom sauce. 

Soak some dried porcini mushrooms, clean and slice some fresh mushrooms. 
Pan fry the fresh mushrooms with a little butter, then add the porcini mushrooms and their soaking water, plus  half an organic vegetable stock cube, if you are cooking for 2, or a whole one, if you are cooking for 4. When all the water has been absorbed add 100-200 ml of cream and a handful of walnut kernels, and cook for five more minutes. Finely chop a peeled garlic clove with a handful of Italian parsley (adding a pinch of salt too to aid the chopping). Add to the sauce. Finish with black pepper and then dress the pasta. If too dry add more cream. In Italy the cream for pasta is thick and mixes well, in NZ we only have one type of cream, rich but very liquid, the important thing is to make sure that the result is not too watery. Serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and accompany with Lambrusco or Pignoletto wine.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, February 12, 2018

Turmeric semifreddo, and Turmeric Mousse

10 years ago I made a turmeric cake, it was well before the 'turmeric fad', and definitely an experiment (that came out well!) but the most important thing for me is that it made me look at the spice in a new light, i.e. for desserts! This time I made a creamy mousse which, when frozen, becomes a delicious semifreddo. I made 8, 4 for the fridge and 4 for the freezer, I liked the semifreddo more, and so did my son, while husband and daughter preferred the mousse, it is all a matter of taste of course, but conveniently this recipe makes 8 portions and everyone could be happy.


1 egg
1 tbsp cornflour
3 tbsp sugar
half tsp turmeric powder
250 ml milk
300 ml cream
cornflowers to decorate (optional, and see note at the end)

Mix the egg with the cornflour, sugar and turmeric powder, then add the milk slowly and bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a whisk. When the custard is thick remove from heat and keep stirring until it cools down, adding 50 ml of cream (not whipped) as you do so, to make the custard nice and creamy. 

Whip the rest of the cream and then start adding it to the custard, little by little, and folding gently with a spatula. 

Halfway through (when you have used half of the cream), do the reverse: add the custard to the cream bowl, always folding gently. 

The resulting mixture will be quite pale, but it will become more bright and yellow after freezing and/or refrigerating. 

Now spoon the cream into 8 ramekins (still gently, to keep it nice and fluffy) 

Sprinkle with petals (optional) and then freeze for a few hours (for a semifreddo) or refrigerate overnight (for mousse).

For a semifreddo remove the ramekins from the freezer 20-30 minutes before serving; serve the mousse straight from the fridge. FYI, I have also tasted the custard before adding the cream, and it was scrumptious, perfect for a tart or to fill a sponge or for a trifle... will work more on it!

As for cornflowers, usually the they have a little pungent taste (a bit like clove) and I never used them for dessert before, but these from my garden didn't taste pungent, in fact they were quite 'bland', maybe because of all the rain we had? Not sure, but anyway, they are pretty and edible, and as I was using some to garnish basmati rice I kept the rest for the dessert. Taste them before using them though, and if they are pungent choose another flower for this (or any) dessert.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fanano, and lunch in Canevare

Next fo my village there is another pretty village, with old houses and traditions. We went for a guided tour and were lucky enough to visit the clock tower (something that many friends who lived all their life in Fanno told me they never did!). Ahhh the beauty of coming back as a tourist! It also made me appreciate more everything that I use to give for granted when I was leaving there!

The staircases inside the clock tower

Homes, churches, towers, roofs, streets, little details, and everything surrounded by snowy mountains 

Not far there is another tiny village, which is under the Fanano Council, the name is Canevare, and it has a beautiful stone church and square, high up in the mountains.

There is also a fine restaurant (and hotel), Albergo Ristorante Gabriella, where they make their own pasta (ok, all restaurants do the same here, we are in Emilia Romagna after all), beautiful jams, cakes and so on... anyway, this was the menu in January

I had the Rustici di Patate (potato ravioli with pomegranate and rosemary), and it was divine!

Husband and kids all had the spaghettoni ai funghi (homemade spaghetti with mushrooms), which were good, but not as good as my rustici!

Lovely mountain style decor throughout the place

Then we had some cheese, accompanied by Gabriella's famous jams and preserves, delicious!

And they brought us a complimentary basket of gnocco fritto, my favourite fried bread!!

Grappa and liqueurs to digest
Will definitely be back here! Ciao Fanano e ciao Canevare!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Two layers Vegan Chocolate Soy Cream Pudding

In Italy I found a really delicious soy cream which inspired me to make a rich chocolate pudding.

1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp raw sugar
500ml soy milk
120 g best quality dark chocolate
(plus some to grate)
200ml soy cream

Mix the flour and sugar, add the soy milk slowly and then bring to the boil. Add the dark chocolate and stir until thick. Pour half of the mixture into the bottom of for dessert bowl (better if glass, so you will be able to see the two different chocolate layers - alternatively you can use some pretty glasses).

Let the chocolate pudding in the bowl cool down and set, in the meantime stir the remaining chocolate (still in the pot) until cool, then add 3/4 of the soy cream and mix well. Divide between the 4 serving bowls, then top with a dollop of cream, swirl it with a spoon or a toothpick and finish with grated chocolate.

Can you see the two layers in the last photos? Still intense chocolate, but with a creamy heart! Refrigerate and serve, everyone will love it!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, February 2, 2018

Vegetarian in Madrid

Madrid is a beautiful and grand city, full of art, life and food! I spent five days there visiting sites, museums and art galleries, and eating well with my vegetarian family. Naturally every day started with breakfast, and breakfast sets (generally at special prices in most cafes) include coffee (some places have soy milk), freshly squeezed orange juice, and then a choice of a pastry, or a croissant with butter and jam, or tostada, toasted bread (like baguette) with a tomato salsa, olive oil and salt. For an Italian it may seem strange to start the day with something that reminds me of bruschetta, but it is great if you like a savoury breakfast, or if you are vegan. Anyway, I tried and I liked it! 

Another discovery for me was that with hot chocolate you can have not just churros but also porras (the difference is that porras are bigger, straighter and more chewy). Also, both churros and porras are not sweet like the churros I had in South America, in fact they are quite bland and really need to be dunked in chocolate (in my opinion). Do not try to get them with coffee, it doesn't work, they need chocolate!!

We stayed at the Hotel Mediodia, conveniently located next to the Reina Sofia Art Museum, which we visited twice (second time in the evening, when is free entry), plus the annexe in the Parque del Retiro (alway free). It was quite amazing to know that we were sleeping only about 200 m aways from Guernica.

Although it is not possible to take photos of Guernica, all other exhibits can be photographed and there is some amazing art!

Josep de Togores, Formes, Reina Sofia Art Museum

Joan Miró, Femme et chien devant la lune, Reina Sofia Art Museum

Back to food now! Fish and meat abound, of course, but many restaurants that serve paella will also make a vegetable one, suitable for vegans, very nice and filling and a must try, sadly the cost is the same as all the other paellas with animal bits in it, and I don't understand why, but I was glad to have the choice and did not raise the questions with the restaurants involved - they make money out of tourists after all.

Again for Vegans: if it is hard to find food in restaurants just stock up in stores and supermarkets and take back your bounty to the hotel: bread is yummy, and in supermarkets you can choose among a large variety of gazpachos, plus there are nuts and seeds and fruit to die for, and fantastic guacamole. For those with a sweet tooth there are several almond paste sweet breads made with a variety of fruit (I tried the almond and apricot one and it was amazing, a calorie bomb, but surely full of proteins!).

If dairy and eggs are ok, then the pastry selection is huge, and so are the torrons and all the traditional sweets which also make beautiful souvenirs to take home. I especially liked the xocolada a la pedlar d'Agramunt, artisanal dark chocolate flavoured with vanilla or cinnamon (or plain) to use to make hot chocolate.

A must visit for gourmands is the Mercado de San Miguel, where you can buy food or eat tapas all day long!

Banderillas are skewered pickles and olives, delicious, but make sure you ask for those without anchovies.

Tapas can be meaty and fishy too, but there are vegetarian options. In fact we basically just had Tapas for lunch everyday, and that was enough! Tapas bars are the best, but one day, while we were visiting the city centre we ended up in Tapa Tapa, a cheap and cheerful 'fast food' tapa chain, where we had Pimientos del Padron Fritos (best vegan tapa, fried peppers, mostly mild with some surprise hot ones in the mix), Patatas Bravas (everyone knows these), Brie Frito con dos sesamos y marmalade de tomatoes (fried brie coated with sesame seeds and sweet tomato jam), Alcachofas Fritas (fried artichokes) and more... after all that fried food we could not possibly had lunch as well!

Tapas bars and restaurants may have less choices than Tapa Tapa, (especially if small) but you can always find a potato tortilla, cheese (manchego is the best!) and olives.

We also had to try sangria, even if it was winter! This was at La Taperia, which felt a bit like a 'family restaurant' but was choosen because they had veggie burgers (and a few other veggie dishes - which you can find in the English menu under 'starters'!). Nothing special but easy and filling after spending a few hour in the Museo del Prado (near by, and AMAZING). 

More city tips: although several museums and the Parque del Ritiro were at walking distance from our hotel, for two days we also used the bus city tour, very convenient to reach places like the Royal Palace or to get to the modern northern part of the city (especially since it was winter and quite cold). On the last day we also did a walking tour of the old city centre (one of those free walking tours where you leave a tip at the end). It was cool as, and good for practicing our Spanish (although there are also tours in English). We also managed quite a bit of shopping in the city centre (including in the department store El Corte Inglés, which has a lovely food court). 

To end out trip on the last evening we went to a cute Vegan restaurant. Distrito Vegano is not only cute but also tiny, so it pays to book. Luckily we ate earlier than the locals, so usually there is no problem in finding a table at 7pm, as most diners don't show up until after 9pm or much later.

No traditional Spanish food though: Quinoa (vegan) cheese burger, Chilean hot dog, Nachos, Red velvet cake (this was nice and creamy!), panna cotta, chai latte... basically it felt like any other Vegan menu you could find in Auckland or New York... I would have preferred a Vegan version of Tortilla, or some traditional Vegan Spanish dishes, but this is not a place for tourists, and the locals probably prefer vegan burgers and other 'international' vegan treats. Still, the food was good and we liked the place, plus we could order anything from the menu without having to ask the usual questions about ingredients.

Bye bye Madrid, we had a great time!

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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