Monday, April 30, 2018

Colomba Sestolese - A traditional sweet pie from my Italian village in the Apennines - step by step photos and instructions

This cake is traditionally made in Sestola on 6 December for St Nicholas' Day, so I am totally out of season here, but I have a good excuse: my friend Stefania gave me a jar of jam she made with rusticane plums, and the flavour was just right, not too sweet and a little sour... just like the plum jams they make at home, and an essential ingredient for this preparation. Please note, this is a VERY ITALIAN CAKE, not one that Kiwis may like as in this country the preference is for somewhat soft and 'moist' cakes (although my husband ate this happily, but with cream on the side!!!).

I am sure that every family has a lightly different recipe, this is mine and works pretty well. In a large bowl, or on a wooden table, measure 500 g of plain flour, 200 g sugar, 1 tsp of baking powder and 120 g of butter. Usually in Italy we use unsalted butter, so add a pinch of salt, but here in NZ I used salted butter, so no more salt is needed. Mix just a little then add 3 free range eggs and a small glass of liquor. I used Sambuca, Sassolino is best, but hard to find here, and Sambuca is a good substitute. You can also add the zest of a lemon or some citrus peels (I added citrus peels, about 1 heap tsp).

Mix well, don't worry if it feels too dry at first, you need to work on the dough and with a little patience you will get a soft dough.

Shape into a ball then cut into three pieces. Take the bigger piece and roll it (add more flour for the board/table).

Line a 20cm round cake tin with baking paper and place the rolled piece inside, building up the borders a little.

Now add about three or four tablespoons of plum jam.

Chop some almonds and chop some walnuts. You can also add pine nuts, or even hazelnuts, the important thing is always to have walnuts! 

Top the jam with the chopped almonds,

Then with walnut pieces, and sprinkle with sultanas.

Roll some more pasty and cut a circle to cover the filling, add some leftover pastry to lift the border where necessary.

Repeat! Jam, chopped almonds and walnuts, sultana...

Roll some more pastry and cut another circle to cover the filling. Always lift the border with more pastry where necessary.

And repeat for the third time: jam, nuts, sultana and one more circle of pastry. 

Use the pastry strips left over to seal well the borders with the top, I press everything down with a teaspoon for a neat look.

Make some light incisions with a fork on the top.

Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 180/200°C for about 40 minutes.

Let the pie cool down before cutting, even if the fragrance will be irresistible.

Ok, I was going to cut the cake the day after and take a great photo... but my daughter got up first and had some for breakfast.... and then it went so quickly that this is the only photo I have... anyway, you can see the three layers, and the crust is like a biscuit. It was delicious, and this is a good thing: when we make this cake in the village we have a proverb which says that if the cake is good it will be a good snowy season (mountain village you see, we need snow for skiing), and now the family hopes that this year Mt Ruapehu  will have lots of snow and a great skiing season!

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Autumn preserves: quince paste, feijoa paste and fig jam, all good with cheese!

It is Autumn and there is great produce around, in particular I like quinces, which I can find at the local orchard in Oratia (Dragicevich and Sons, in West Coast Rd). I usually make jelly (recipe here) or paste, the paste needs less sugar and you get more out of it, although the cooking process is quite long. 

Wash the quinces, quarter and then remove the centre but not the skin. Cook with a bit of water until soft then blend. Add 60% of weight in sugar and a pinch of citric acid, and then bring to the boil, and boil, boil and boil until quite thick, stirring most of the time (ideally all the time, but I took breaks away from the heat!!). Then pour into a mould or a rectangular container.

Let the paste set for a few days, then cut and wrap in baking paper.

This year I had quite a few feijoas in the garden, so I though of doing the same. In the past I made jam (recipe here) and it was so solid that I realised that it had been a mistake to put it into jars: feijoas are like guava and guava makes a paste similar to quince paste, great for cheese too!

So I followed the same steps as for the quinces, but instead of removing the core I removed the skins with a knife. If you want to use the skins for something else you can try this feijoa cordial.

 Finally, the fig trees have a few figs, not big and as soon as they ripen the birds eat them, so the only thing I can do is to pick them when they are still green, not so good for eating fresh, but good for jam. 

Boil them first for five minutes then discard the water and scum (from the white sap that comes out), cut them into two and put them back in the pot, once again with 60% sugar, and a little water. 

 The figs should mush easily while boiling, if you keep stirring them with a wooden spoon, but if you want to keep a few whole remove them from the pot before mashing the rest, and add them back during the last 5-10 minutes. This jam went into jars, it looks great, but I have the feeling that it will also be quite hard (I added some pectine - jam setting mix) and probably next year I will end up making fig paste instead of jam!

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, April 16, 2018

Jackfruit for tacos

I love tacos, tortillas and Mexican food in general, and for me it goes with beans, but everyone is talking about jackfruit these days, so I gave it a try. Got myself a jar of green jackfruit in beans and started the experiment.

First I fried some onion with olive oil and a Tio Pablo Mexican spices, in the meantime I drained the jackfruit and cut it into smaller segments, like in the photos.

I added the jackfruit to the onions and cooked it until the jackfruit become soft and easy to break with the wooden spoon. 

 Like this. Various recipes suggest breaking it up so it resemble shredded chicken... not sure I like the idea, never had shredded chicken and I don't see the appeal of it, but the jackfruit 'core' is a little hard, so some mashing goes well here, and the spices combined well. I used this to fill tacos, with the usual salad, tomatoes, guacamole and salsa verde, it was good, and I made several variations ever since, but I now use cans of organic Jack Fruit, they are easy to find in all supermarkets! And I got better at mixing my own spices ;-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, April 1, 2018

How to make perfect rice balls with the plastic Kinder Surprise capsule

This is a good trick, and suitable for onigiri, rice croquettes, supplì... anything really, works with cold and hot rice (the best thing for hot rice is that you don't even burn your hands!!). as long as it is short grain, Japanese of Italian style rice (i.e. for sushi or risotto). 

In no time you will have lots of perfect little rice balls, just look here, it takes 30-40 seconds!

And where did the egg capsule came from? Well, today it was Easter so we had an egg hunt, breakfast with eggs (real and chocolate) and since we are Italian and for us a Easter egg MUST have a surprise inside, the kids got Kinder Surprise eggs (the only Easter eggs in New Zealand with a surprise inside). I used the same trick with smaller Kinder Surprise capsules, but they make very small rice balls (ok for canapés, but not much else...) so I quickly took my chance and used the bigger one from my daughter's egg.

Happy Easter!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


Related Posts with Thumbnails