Crostini with Mushrooms

CrostiniFunghi1

Have found a fantastic food blog/photography website written by an Australian girl – www.two-loves.com. Beautiful photos and lots of amazing advice. Used some basic advice on props (interesting) and background (minimal) and did a couple of photos that I really love for today’s recipe…. Crostini with Funghi (Mushrooms).

Super easy this one – chop a handful of parsley with a clove of garlic and start cooking in a pan with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. Peel and chop mushrooms and add to the pan. Salt and pepper to season. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, for ten/twelve minutes. Top your baguette slices with the mushrooms and serve. You can add a little mozzarella to each one and put in the oven for another ten minutes (180°c) – optional.

CrostiniFunghi2

Brains!

brains

One of the many things I love about my job are the people I meet. I’m living in what lots of guests say is everyone’s “Dream” i.e. under the Tuscan Sun! And I’d be the first to say that it’s a beautiful place to have landed and stayed in. However I am in the middle of nowhere in a tiny village of 20 houses and the next biggest town is still only 3000 inhabitants so it’s a little restricted at times with regard to conversation and variety. With the regular guests from the US, UK, Canada, Australia … and so on I have a little peek each day into other lives and other realities. It’s so much fun to talk to everyone about what they do, where they live and where they are traveling/have traveled (my favorite topic!).

This year is proving to be very interesting indeed. One of my favorite days so far was with two Australian gentlemen. They’d left their wives in Chianti to ride horses and came to me for two days of good food and wine.

We’d been talking on the first day about flavors and textures and the subject of brains came up – not intelligence but the eating thereof! I was told that if I could procure a brain they would cook it for me during the lesson next day. I’m always up for a challenge so trotted off to my local (and excellent (more on them another day) butcher) and happily purchased the single sheep’s brain that they had on sale.

So in the middle of cooking very typical Tuscan food .. Pici Pasta, Pesto etc … the various ingredients for a stock (carrots, onion and celery) were chopped finely to make a light broth (boiled for 15 mins). In the meantime capers and basil were diced and chopped and a lemon was sliced. The brain was rinsed and popped into the boiling broth for exactly four minutes. Drained, sliced and plated on the bed of capers and basil, lemon squeezed over the top and tasting spoons at the ready.

I have to interject at this point that my cook Paola was very dubious of the whole process – a good Italian will never admit 1) that anyone outside Italy can cook or 2) that there is anything good outside of Italy to eat. I was jollying her along saying that she must at least taste for politeness sake.

My first taste and I was so happy. It was the consistency of soft foie gras and the tart flavours of the capers and lemon gave it a lovely zing.

Paola took her taste and immediately said she’d be trying it again the next evening for guests at home!

A success all round.

Even the plating was beautiful. Gotta love those Aussies!

Savoury Zucchini Tart .. and taking food photos!

zucchinetart

So I got another zucchini recipe underway yesterday … Savoury Zucchini Tart. I chose some of the smaller zucchini from the veggie garden and chopped fine rings. Into a pan with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and a splash of water, a lid on top and let them simmer and sweat down until al dente. Leave the lid off for the last couple of minutes for the liquids to evaporate and then set aside to cool. Prepare a puff pastry in a dish (I usually go for round) with parchment paper underneath. Beat an egg in a bowl and add 2 tbs of grated parmeggiano and the zucchini. mix well and then spread into pastry base. Fold edges of pastry and baste lightly with egg wash (or milk). I sometimes add some small cubes of brie on top which melt into the zucchini. With beautiful fresh sweet zucchini I didn’t do this today – no need. A little more grated parmeggiano on top doesn’t go amiss, before putting into a preheated oven (180°c/350°F) for 15/20 mins.

zucchinetarttriangles

It took as much time photographing the tart after making it as it did to make it, if not more! It’s an aspect of photography that I’m trying to improve on (people/portraits are more my forte). Here are my best results… am now researching a good food photography course to take!

zucchineslices

 

Cutting Boards – Wood v Plastic

I get a lot of comments regarding the fact that I have wooden rather than plastic chopping boards and thus the issue of hygiene and bacteria so I’ve started doing a bit of research on the matter. I’ve gathered together snippets from various places to form my argument Pro Wood!

It would seem that wooden boards are not nearly as unhygienic as people have been led to believe. In fact bacteria tends to remain much more in the grooves of plastic boards. Various studies have shown that wood cutting boards contained less salmonella bacteria than plastic. On wood cutting boards, the bacteria sinks “down beneath the surface of the cutting board, where they don’t multiply and eventually die off.” On plastic boards, however, bacteria gets caught in knife grooves that are near impossible to clean out, whether the board is washed by hand or in a dishwasher. So although sparkling new plastic cutting boards might be easy to disinfect, any weathered plastic board will hold onto bacteria.

In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin they tested bacteria known to produce food poisoning – Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli. These bacteria were placed on cutting boards made from seven different species of trees and four types of plastic. All the wooden boards consistently outperformed the plastic.

The scientists found that three minutes after contaminating a board that 99.9 percent of the bacteria on wooden boards had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic. Bacterial numbers actually increased on plastic cutting boards held overnight at room temperature, but the scientists could not recover any bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way.

It’s evident that both wood and plastic will be safer if they’re cleaned well and replaced often. When boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves you need to get new ones.

If both wood and plastic are prone to bacteria if not properly cared for and replaced, it comes down to preference and longevity. I personally prefer a hard wood cutting board* because it won’t develop grooves as easily as plastic and you won’t have to replace it as often if you are diligent about upkeep. (Be sure to always wash and dry your board well, and also lightly rub it with mineral oil to prevent moisture and bacteria from seeping in.) Furthermore, not only will your wood board last, but it will also help your knives last, because hard wood boards won’t dull your blades as quickly as plastic boards will.

*Hardwoods, like maple, are fine-grained, and the capillary action of those grains pulls down fluid, trapping the bacteria – which are killed off as the board dries after cleaning.

It’s also a good habit to use separate cutting boards for raw meat and poultry, and for your vegetables, fruit and prepared food. This limits cross-contamination, which is the biggest danger of all.

Another plus point for wood v plastic is that Wood is completely biodegradable and renewable.

Looking more closely at plastic boards:

Have you every considered that using plastic cutting boards might just be the easiest way to actually eat plastic? They get nicked, cut and scratched. Guess where all the plastic shards end up? And those lovely little nicks and cuts are a favorite nesting spot for bacteria to grow. Hard plastics can contain bisphenol A, which makes plastic strong but can damage the reproductive system, disrupt hormones, mimics estrogen, and is linked to bread and prostate cancer. Not too appetizing.

And no, plastic unfortunately is not more sanitary than wood boards just because you can put them in the dishwasher. Most dishwashers don’t get hot enough to sterilize  (Dishwashers typically reach temperatures of 120-140F, but solid surfaces need to be at a temperature of 250F for 15 minutes to be properly sterilized.) Second, washing plastic cutting boards wears them down, which may make more plastic leach into foods, especially fatty and oily foods

So, in conclusion – I’m sticking to my wooden boards and now have my arguments ready to back up my choice. Thanks for reading. Lesley

So much Zucchine .. what to do?!

Preserves

Preserves

It’s that time of year again when the zucchini seem to appear from nowhere overnight and this year I’ve decided to do as many different recipes as I can find – let’s see what the results are over the next few weeks.

I started yesterday with Zuchine Sott’Olio – a classic Italian way to preserve summer produce for use later in the year. Zucchine cut into strips, salted to draw out excess liquid (2 hours), blanched in boiling water (2 mins) then put into sterlised jars with some garlic, chilli pepper flakes, mint leaves and black pepper, topped off completely with extra virgin olive oil. The filled jars look so colourful and I can’t wait to try these from September onwards (min one month in jar recommended).

Ravioli

Ravioli are a type of filled pasta composed of a filling sealed between two layers of thin pasta dough. The word ravioli is reminiscent of the Italianverb riavvolgere (“to wrap”), though the two words are not historically connected. The word may also be a diminutive of Italian dialectal rava, or turnip.

The history of ravioli is an interesting tale. So far as Italy is concerned, the earliest records of ravioli appear in the preserved letters of Francesco di Marco, a merchant of Prato in the 14th century. The pasta is described as being stuffed with pork, eggs, cheese, parsley and sugar, and during Lent a filling of herbs, cheese, and spices was used. There were both sweet and savory kinds. The city of Cremona claims to have created ravioli. But Genoa claims that too, insisting that the word ravioli comes from their dialect word for pasta, rabiole, which means “something of little value” and referred to the practice of poor sailors who suffered left overs into pasta to be eaten for another meal.

In 14th century England Ravioli appears in the Anglo-Norman manuscript Forme of Cury under the name of Rauioles. In Malta Raviul dating back before the North Italian ravioli, are stuffed with ricotta from the local sheep.

Here’s our version of Home-Made Ravioli Pasta with suggestions for fillings and accompanying sauces.

Ingredients

4 Eggs
400g Plain Soft Flour
Pinch Salt

How to make the Ravioli Dough

  • Start by putting the flour in a heaped pile on the table or pasta board (spianatoia).
  • Break the eggs into the ‘volcano’ of flour. Add a pinch of salt.
  • Use a spoon or fork to lightly beat the eggs in the middle before slowly bringing the flour into the mixture.
  • Once the mixture is not too sticky work it with your hands. Knead well for at least 15 minutes until the dough is smooth and suppliant.
  • Set the dough aside for half an hour and get your filling ready.
  • After the dough is ‘rested’ divide into two halves and roll each out as thin as possible, 1mm thin if possible. If you have a pasta machine then you’ll find it much easier to get the required thinness. Remember to pass the dough through at one thickness then gradually reduce the size and pass it through again.
  • Whether you decide to roll a circle (comes more naturally as a circle if hand rolled) or a more square shape then do both pieces the same shape.
  • Put a small dollop of filling at even intervals over the dough (see pictures). Smooth a little water between the dollops of filling.
  • Once completed lay the second half of pasta over the top and gently press between the mounds of filling. With a pastry cutter cut round the mounds to make the ravioli squares. Seal the edges with a fork.
  • An alternative method to using two pieces, one on top of the other, is to place the fillings in one half of the circle or other shape and then fold the other half over – see pictures.
  • Cook in boiling salted water for 4 minutes. Serve hot. See below for ideas for fillings & sauces.

Serves 4

RAVIOLI FILLINGS

Spinach & Ricotta

  • Cook the spinach in extra virgin olive oil and a little water with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Once cooked make sure you drain out all the water.
  • Chop very finely.
  • Add fresh ricotta cheese, one egg beaten, a pinch of salt & pepper and a dash of nutmeg.
  • Optional additional ingredients – finely chopped walnuts, grated parmesan cheese.

Marrow

  • Cook and mash (blend) the marrow.
  • Add fresh chopped parsley, one small chopped and lightly cooked onion, a pinch of salt & pepper and a dash of nutmeg.

Optional additional ingredients – grated parmesan cheese.

RAVIOLI SAUCES

Sage & Butter

  • Melt a generous amount of butter in a frying pan.
  • Add several fresh sage leaves.
  • Cook on a low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Pour over ravioli once cooked.
  • Season with grated parmesan cheese and finely chopped walnuts.

Caccio e Pepe

  • Grate 50g Parmesan cheese and 50g of Aged Pecorino Cheese.
  • Add a generous quantity of freshly ground black pepper.
  • Once the ravioli is cooked, drain it and put it in a frying pan.
  • Add the cheese & pepper mix and cook for another 2 minutes until the cheese starts to melt.

Serve immediately.

Tiramisu

TiramisuThere are at least three different stories surrounding the origins of Tiramisu.

The first is that it was was initially created in Siena, Tuscany. The occasion was a visit by Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III, in whose honor the concoction was dubbed zuppa del duca (the “duke’s soup”). The erstwhile duke brought the dessert back with him to Florence.

The second theory is that is was a cake specialist from Torino who invented in honour of Camillo Benso the Count of Cavour to sustain him during the difficult job of unifying Italy.

Northern Italians will swear blind however that it was invented in Treviso and was a favourite of Venice’s courtesans to fortify themselves between their amorous encounters. Tiramisu literally translated means Pick Me Up.

Whatever the true history behind Tiramisu it has become one of the most popular and well known Italian deserts.

You will find hundreds of variations, some light and fluffy, some rich and creamy, some strong on the coffee and others with more emphasis on the liquor.

The Italians use Savoiardi biscuits to soak the coffee and liquor – the American version would be Lady Fingers.

The Mascarpone cream cheese used today is a replacement for the custard used in the original recipes.

Here is our light fluffy version of this wonderful desert.

Ingredients

2 Eggs
250g/8 oz Mascarpone
A packet of Savoiardi (Ladies Fingers)
2 Tablespoons of Sugar
Cocoa to decorate
2 Cups of Strong Expresso Coffee
½ Cup of Milk
Small glass of Desert Wine or Liquor
50g Dark Chocolate

How to make the Tiramisu

  • Separate the eggs into yolks and whites.
  • Add a tiny pinch of salt to the whites. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff. Set aside.
  • Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to form a creamy paste. It will go from a bright yellow to a pale cream colour. Add the mascarpone and stir. Mascarpone is a cream so if you use an electrical mixer use it very briefly otherwise you may find the cream separating.
  • Fold in the egg whites gently. Set aside.
  • Make a jug of strong coffee and mix it with the milk. Add a small teaspoon of sugar if you have a sweet tooth. Add the desert wine/liquor to the mixture.
  • Dip each Savoiardi in the coffee/liquor mix to soak. Arrange the soaked biscuits into one layer in a serving dish.
  • Once you have the layer of soaked biscuits cover with a layer of the cream mix. Sprinkle with a layer of grated chocolate.
  • Repeat the biscuit and cream layers until the dish is full.
  • Finish by sprinkling generously with the cocoa.
  • Cool in the fridge for at least two hours before serving. Please note that this is a dish that should be eaten the same day that it is made as it is made with raw eggs.

Serves 4

RICH VERSION TIRAMISU

  • To make a richer version of Tiramisu leave out the egg whites – use only the yolks. The preparation is the same as above but no folding of whites required.
  • This version may require a little more than two hours in the fridge to allow more time for the cream to soak in.

FRESH SUMMER PINEAPPLE TIRAMISU

  • Some good Italian friends of mine made me a pineapple tiramisu and it was amazingly fresh and a great alterative summer desert.
  • No coffee required. Instead mix the pineapple juice with the liquor and soak the Savoiardi in this.
  • Instead of the chocolate and cocoa layers there are layers of pineapple fruit on top of the savoiardi then the layers of the cream.

Try one or all of these – they’re delicious!

Marmalade Crostata

Marmalade CrostataThis is a simple Tuscan cake often served as a dessert. It can be made with any type of marmalade and if it’s home made marmalade then even better.

The history behind the Crostata is unclear with some saying it was a gift from grateful habitants of Napoli to a pagan goddess of the sea in pre-Christian times, created from ingredients that symbolised strength and richness (flour), rejuvenation of life (eggs) and the sweetness of the siren’s song (sugar). Other legends place the Crostata as an Easter tradition; the cake that finally brought a smile to the face of the Queen of Austria when Ferdinando II di Borboni was king – he declared it as an Easter dessert to guarantee his wife’s smile at least once a year; or a symbol of the resurrection of Christ created in the ancient convent of San Gregorio Armeno.

In any case it became a popular dessert to exchange among friends at Easter and as such over time different versions were created as each person wanted to make their gift slightly different. Now you will often see it on menus all year round and especially at events such as harvest festivals and Easter of course.

Ingredients

3 Eggs
200g Butter
200g Sugar
350/4oog Plain Flour
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
One small cup Vermouth
250g Marmalade

Instructions

  • Beat/whisk the eggs with the sugar. Add the butter and mix well into a creamy consistency. Add the flour and the baking powder a little at time, mixing well. Add the lemon rind and vermouth.
  • Once you have a smooth dough set aside a quarter of it then roll the remainder to form the base of the Crostata. Put into a baking tin/flan case – round or square as you please.
  • Spread a generous amount of marmalade across the whole of the dough base.
  • With the set aside dough roll then flatten strips and place across the top of the marmalade to make a lattice pattern.
  • Cook at 180°C/350°F for 20/25minutes until the lattice is golden brown.
  • Serve warm or cold as preferred with cream or ice cream.

Serves: 4 – 6

What’s new for 2015

We’ve been adding new recipes and menus every year and now have a pretty big selection. We’ve been told many times that having such a big choice and being very flexible with the menus is what makes our classes so attractive. For us it’s fun to do something different each time so we’re more than happy to have special requests for menus and for you to mix and match your menu selections. This coming year there are no set menus at all but an open choice from each section of appetisers, primi piatti, secondi and desserts.

We’re currently experimenting with a local favourite which is Cinghiale … Wild Boar. We’re planning on adding this as a special menu choice in the form of a ragù. It makes for a rich tasty ragù which we’ll combine with the local pappardelle pasta (home made by you of course!). I’ll add photos and more on this once we’re ready with the recipe.

The new site will be phone and tablet friendly which is a must in 2015!