Italia Calling

italy book

“If you ate pasta and antipasti, would you still be hungry ?”

-Anonymous

This week has certainly been one of culinary note. The arrival of two long lost friends, a catering proposal and a free kitchen spurred on what only could be described as a ‘cookathon’ in my London home. Below lies a smattering of sweetened delights to amuse your bouche this Halloween and a few winter inspired stomach pleasers. Much to your amusement, I have yet to put to bed my love of sweetened meat. I am quite frankly obsessed and for this I apologise. Family, friends and followers please bear with my mutterings as I have a few surprises coming your way!

Aside from Easter Sunday, 31st October acts as a sugar free for all for everyone aged thirteen and under. In suitable tooth decaying fashion, I have spent this week busying myself with an array of scrumptious, ice cream flavours. On the blog menu today we have; salted caramel, nutella and peanut butter swirl. I can guarantee you that the ice cream machine has never seen so much action in one week! Rumoured to be quite a challenge to make, homemade ice cream is one of the easiest things in the world whether you have an ice cream maker or not, plus it keeps for months. Ahh…the beauty of frozen food!

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If you’re without an ice cream maker fear not! It sounds rather fancy but all an ice cream maker is, is an icy bowl with a churning spatula! Homemade ice cream can be made just as well without one. All you do is place the mixture into a tupperware box and put in the freezer. For the first three hours, take out the box on the hour and bash the mixture up a bit. This breaks up the big crystals and makes it the consistency of proper ice cream. The salted caramel recipe is sensational. From experience it is an absolute hit with both adults and children!

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Rule #1 when making the caramel: do NOT stir. Swirl the mixture by holding the handle.

Last week I talked a little about different types of pesto. Since then, a friend from a former life in Italy visited me in London and brought with him a fair few cooking tips. I may as well call him the ‘il re della pasta’ because every time I see him, he cooks up a delicious pasta based treat. This time he made basil pesto with pistachios instead of pine nuts (inspired and tasty) and a lemon zest and mushroom sauce made up of three different types of mushrooms. I really recommend both sauces, although perhaps the mushroom sauce is better for a more formal occasion with a nice glass of red wine. Here are the recipes straight from the heart of Italia:

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Pistachio Pesto:

300g Pistachio (shell them before using)

Glug of olive oil

Handful of basil leaves

Salt and Pepper

Two cloves of garlic

Combine all the ingredients together in a blender. Check for taste and serve with a hefty helping of parmesan cheese!

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Three Mushroom Pasta Sauce:

One box of button mushrooms

One box of chestnut mushrooms

Two Portobello mushrooms

Two/three cloves of garlic

Glug of oil

A glass of the cooking pasta water

Zest and juice of one lemon

Finely chop all the mushrooms and add to a saucepan on a medium heat with the oil and pressed garlic. Stir the mushrooms until soft. They will produce a lot of water but don’t worry as the water will evaporate fairly quickly. Add the lemons zest and juice and then take half of the mixture out of the saucepan and blizz. With the other half of the mushrooms (in the pan) add a glass of water from your cooking pasta. This gives a little more flavour, prevents any last minutes burning and keeps them soft. Return the mushrooms to the pan and season. Serve once again with parmesan cheese over a bed of pasta. For this dish I prefer to use a more interesting shaped pasta. I could be pretentious here and list off a few Italian pasta types however, I’ll refrain and simply say, anything tube-like or with a flowery swirl. How intelligent am I right now!?

http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pasta

I would also like to mention something extra about pesto. It may sound obvious but pesto isn’t just good on pasta. I sometimes mix it into vegetable broths and stews or even use it as a fish marinade. For my other European guest this week, a talented musician who plays in the Finnish band Beastmilk, I made a classic pesto with pine nuts and spread it upon two salmon fillets. It was incredibly easy to make (see last blog for the pesto recipe), and salmon is so quick to cook in the oven or grill (10-12 mins at 180ºC) that the food was served within minutes of walking into the kitchen and getting started. Equally, the sundried tomato pesto would be gorgeous with chicken or as a pizza base sauce. And with these wonderful ideas swimming about your heads, I say ‘Go! Get creative and get down with pesto!’ God, I’m awkward…

http://www.beastmilk.bandcamp.com

Oh, I mustn’t forget my last pasta recipe of the day. A lovely slow cooked beef ragu that is a wonderfully warming treat at the end of a winter’s day.  No passata necessary, just love and a big ol’ bottle of red wine. Same difference really!

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Slow cooked beef ragu:

Two shallots

One onion

Glug of oil

Two cloves of garlic

500g of beef mince

A few glugs of balsamic vinegar

One and half glasses of red wine

Two sweet peppers (yellow, orange or red)

Approx. 14 cherry tomatoes

A good handful of basil leaves

Salt and Pepper

Combine the oil, shallots, onions and garlic together in a big saucepan over a low heat. Make sure the onions and shallots are finely chopped. Once the onions become soft and see-through, add the mince and brown. Then, add the peppers, balsamic vinegar, wine and a cup of pasta water and stir. When the moisture has absorbed a little, place the tomatoes on top of the mince and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the dish with the basil leaves, lower the heat and put the lid on the pot. The tomatoes will begin to steam and the basil leaves will infuse the meat. After fifteen minutes, take off the lid and stir. The tomatoes will be very soft and the basil leaves will have wilted. Taste the meat, add a little more vinegar or wine if necessary and leave to simmer for another ten minutes. Serve immediately on pasta with a glass of red at hand. If there is any left at the end, keep for lunch the next day. It’s great cold too…. This is an example of slightly sweetened meat. Taste it and you’ll see why.

Finally, after some token savoury recipes we march backwards to the sound of the sweetened drum. Today we finish with something quite special. Its direct translation from French is chocolate lava and well, with a name like that you know that it sounds a little more than promising. This devilish delight is a glorified chocolate fondant. Within its chocolate-y centre lies a gooey layer of salted caramel…..(insert Homer Simpson gurgle noise).

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I discovered this recipe a while ago in Rachel Khoo’s The Little Paris Kitchen but hadn’t the time to make these beauties as there are a few elements to prepare. Firstly, the caramel needs to be made and cooled before any other preparation has begun, allowing you to pipe it into the fondants just before the go into the oven. Secondly, the fondants must sit in the fridge for an hour (or the freezer for half an hour) before you cook them in order for the middle to remain a liquid when cooking. This dessert is a big, sexy hug if ever there was one. These lava desserts are very naughty so, sod the diet and try these moelleux au chocolat asap. I promise you, these little treats will silence even the most persistent of chatterboxes and the most strict diet observers!

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Until next week followers. All my love and happy Halloween!

E. Wells x

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