Tag Archives: cooking

Beyond boundaries: cat's tongue cookies

Lingue di gatto ("cats' tongues") cookies

Lingue di gatto (“cats’ tongues”) cookies

I dedicate this post to Her Majesty and not because she is my daughter but because she is that person in my life who pushes me to step out of my comfort zone and experience situations that otherwise I would never put myself in.

Hope you are ready for another chapter of my “awkward motherhood saga”! 😉 Oh well! Here we go.

Last year a mother from Her Majesty’s school approached me at dismissal. She is Japanese – Her Majesty and her daughters are very good friends and we ended up becoming friends too. She explained that she was putting together a group of mothers coming from different countries in order to be able to offer an international language program as an after-school activity. I knew immediately I was about to enter dangerous territory and then – of course – it hit me … inevitably and very hard: she asked me if I would be willing to join them and teach a class about Italian culture and language. Bam! Needless to say, the Evil Queen immediately showed her true self. I simply and firmly said … thank you, but no thank you!  Just the thought of me in a classroom teaching a bunch of kids from first grade to fifth grade made me hyperventilate. I knew it was for a good cause but I could clearly feel my temple veins start bulging and pulsing like crazy and my natural instincts telling me to get out of that situation and … get out fast. And so I did! Another mother would have gotten offended by my abrupt refusal but not my friend. I think it is because of the culture she was raised in. Haven’t you noticed that Japanese people are among the most gracious and kind human beings on earth? She sure is. She told me not to worry but gently invited me to think it over. She was going to ask me again the following year hoping I would change my mind. End of the story … or so I thought.

The new year started and there we were again at dismissal. Only this time I wasn’t by myself. Her Majesty was by my side talking with my friend’s daughters. When the fearful question was asked again, my brain was just in the process of looking for the right words of refusal but those few seconds of hesitation kind of stole my moment. The only thing that I could hear was Her Majesty’s voice saying that, yes, of course we were going to do it, that she would be my helper and we were so excited to be part in this program. Yay!!! My wonderfully social daughter! More mature than her mother in so many instances, always entusiastic of socializing and spending time with others!!! What was I supposed to say? There are moments in life when even the Evil Queen must recognize that she has been defeated and that was one of those moments!

Lingue di gatto ("cats' tongues") cookies

Lingue di gatto (“cats’ tongues”) cookies

I thought about how to teach that class for quite a while. I knew I wanted to cover all the Italian basics (history, art, food and language) but the most difficult thing for me was to come up with a plan to catch and keep the attention span of younger kids for
the whole duration of the class. As always, the solution came to me in my favorite place: lying in bed with a book in my hands. Kids love fairy tales and stories. I just had to connect any subject I wanted to talk about to a legend or an anecdote and only God knows if Italian
history and culture aren’t full of them. My next step was the public library. In my “office career” days, research and due diligence were an essential part of my job. Still today, whatever I’m doing, my first thing is research. It’s just my modus operandi and I wish I could do the same when it comes to human beings! 😉 Anyway, I made an outline of my talking points, I created handouts for the kids, I let Her Majesty pick the subjects she wanted to cover and prepped her and I asked Stefano to buy a few memorabilia during his latest trip to Italy to be given to the children at the end of class. I also considered some slides but – on second thought – I realized I would have gone a bit overboard.

Eventually, my teaching day came. I’m not new to meetings and presentations. Back in the old days, I used to spend countless hours in conference rooms talking with people that would have done pretty much anything just to close a deal. So what was all the fuss about? I don’t know but I sure was a nervous wreck. Thank goodness, Her Majesty was by my side giving me the talk and telling me that everything was going to be fine. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

How did it go? Oh well, only time will tell! All I know is that Her Majesty did a great job, I survived and, most importantly, the children got out of that classroom unharmed and – hopefully – with a few notions about another culture! Sounds pretty good to me for a
first time, total amateur teacher! 😉

As a way to thank my daughter, I made one of her favorite treats: cat’s tongue cookies. These little tongues are pretty popular in Europe and Italians serve them either as cookies accompanying an afternoon tea or as a final touch for fruit salads, creamy desserts and
ice creams. Made with very few basic ingredients (powdered sugar, butter, flour and egg whites), they are super easy to make and you can unleash your creativity in terms of flavor combinations and/or dip them in chocolate ganache for a very decadent effect! The best thing about these babies? There is no magical recipe. You are just required to own a scale and follow a very simple rule: the weight of the egg whites must exactly match the weight of each of the other ingredients. In this case, I used 3 eggs whose whites weighed 98 grams.

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

Lingue di gatto ("cats' tongues") cookies

Lingue di gatto (“cats’ tongues”) cookies

Ingredients:

98 grams, powdered sugar
98 grams, softened butter (at room temperature)
98 grams, flour
98 grams, egg whites
half vanilla bean (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven at 325 F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the sugar and the butter and mix until they are perfectly blended. Split the vanilla bean down its length using a knife. With the help of the same knife, scrape out the seed on both halves and add the scraped seeds to the butter mixture. Add the flour and beat until the flour is completely blended. Add the egg white and mix until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Stop and scrape the bowl.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Prepare a pastry bag with a medium start tip and fill it with the mixture. Create cookies long about 6/7 cm (they must be as thick as a pinkie). Make sure to leave some space between each cookie (they will grow). Cook for about 10 minutes or until the edges get lightly brown. Remove from the oven, let them cool completely on a wire rack and dust them with some powdered sugar before serving them.

I wish all of you who celebrate it a very Happy Easter!

Francesca xo

PS: I think everybody should have a person in their life that encourages them to be a little more adventurous and try out something different, maybe something they are a bit afraid of because it is new to them and out of their comfort zone. As a very wise woman once
said: if you do something, something good can happen or something bad can happen but if you don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen! 🙂

Doing it my way: Strawberry and Pastry Cream Puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

I have a set of rules I try to live by every day. One of them is never to judge others and stay away from judgmental people as much as I try to avoid contagious diseases.

I like to live my life the way I please without having my choices as a person, woman or mother judged by anyone. By the same token, I don’t judge anyone and I think that  anyone should be allowed to do or say whatever they want as long as everything happens in a polite and respectful way. I don’t think there is always one right way or answer when it comes to big themes of life such as marriage or parenthood: what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others and vice versa, but that doesn’t mean that one way is better than the other one.

Today I’m once again sharing my experience and feelings with you about something that happened to me without any further agenda. Today it is just me being me.

As you know, I don’t have a sweet tooth but Her Majesty does. A big one! Since she was in kindergarten, she has been asking me to make cookies and cakes for school parties and home playdates. To be honest with you, I wasn’t that keen to do it, mainly because of the various food allergies that Her Majesty’s schoolmates and friends suffer from. God forbids any kid gets an allergic reaction to something I have made! Just the thought makes me hyperventilate! Anyway, one day I decided to put aside my anxiety and fears and make her happy. 

The cookies and cakes I make come from the most traditional Italian cuisine: they are made from very few basic ingredients and lots of fruit or jam. I’m not against the general concept of kids eating a treat. I just believe that some treats are healthier than others and I try not to let Her Majesty eat super-sugary and super-rich sweets. Less is more doesn’t work only in fashion!

False modesty aside, my food usually gets some pretty enthusiastic reactions and I had no reason to believe that it would be any different this time. To my huge disappointment, most of the kids simply ignored my treats and went for the more colorful, sprinkled, super-sweet and most of the times store-bought cakes and cookies.

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

What did I do as a result? Oh well, another mother – a better mother – would probably have found some sort of common ground by both changing the recipes of her treats to make them more appealing to the toddlers and trying to educate them to a healthier taste at the same time. The point is that I’m not that kind of mother. I’m the kind of mother that, on the night of the school open house, reading the letter that her daughter left for her mommy on her school desk noticed that her nine-year old daughter misspelled one word and wrote her back saying that she made a mistake, while her father watched the whole thing in disbelief, thinking about how many therapy sessions his daughter would need to go through in order to cope with a mother like that and overcome the trauma… 😉

So back to what I did. I quit! I decided I didn’t need the aggravation (and yes, my pride had been hurt!) and I stopped cooking for school parties and playdates altogether. Every time Her Majesty had a playdate, I made sure I had plenty of fruit so I could offer fruit shakes and fruit salads as a snack. And the Evil Queen kept dismissing the never ending requests of Her Majesty for her to change her mind and lived happily ever after! Or at least she thought so!

Recently things have started changing, mainly for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, Her Majesty and her girlfriends have been paying more attention to what they eat lately. They are reaching that age when they get more body-conscious because they see their body changing and they start realizing that the lucky time when they can eat whatever they want to without gaining an ounce of weight is unfortunately coming to an end. Mothers play a big role too. Her Majesty’s best friend is the only kid I know that doesn’t eat burgers. Her mother is a very well-educated woman and she had the intelligence to teach her daughter over the years how to eat healthy and how to eat everything (except burgers, that is!) in moderation.

Secondly, some of Her Majesty’s girlfriends have Italian ancestors and are fascinated by Italian lifestyle and customs. When they come over, they ask me if this or that is authentic Italian food and they are eager to taste the real thing.

Soooo, making a long story short, I’m still not volunteering for any school event, but I’m willing to make treats for playdates when Her Majesty begs me to!

For our last playdate, the begging had been going on and on for over two weeks and, taken by exhaustion, I yielded!

Her Majesty adores pastry cream, so I decided to make these very simple and yet delicious puffs: puff pastry, vanilla pastry cream, fresh strawberries, some powder sugar, a bit of your time and… voila’! Les jeux sont faits! Can’t get any better than this! 😉

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Strawberry and pastry cream puffs

Ingredients:

2 sheets, frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 lb box of strawberries
3 Cups, whole milk
3 Tbsp, sugar
2 yolks
4 Tbsp, flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 vanilla bean
Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

Wash the strawberries under running water and let them dry completely. Slice the strawberries and put them aside.

Lay the sheets of pastry on a floured surface. If there is any crack in the pastry, press together to seal and roll over the sealed part so that you have a smooth sheet.

Cut each pastry sheet into rectangles of the same size. Put some parchment paper on a baking sheet, place the pastry rectangles on the parchment paper and bake them according to the directions on the puff pastry box. When ready, remove the pastry rectangles from the oven and let them cool completely.

In the meanwhile, in a small pot, pour the milk and add the lemon zest. Cut the quarter vanilla bean in half lengthwise. With the help of a knife, gently scrape the seeds out of the bean and add the seeds to the milk.

Start warming the milk on a very low heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg and the sugar. Add the flour and whisk until you obtain a smooth mixture.

When the milk is hot, remove it from the stove and, with the help of a colander, filter the milk in order to eliminate the lemon zest. Put the milk back on the stove on a very low heat, add the egg mixture to the milk and keep whisking for 10/15 minutes or until you obtain a smooth cream.

Take one pastry rectangle, place some pastry cream on top of it and add the strawberry slices on top of the pastry cream, placing them into two adjacent rows. Take another pastry rectangle and put it on top of the strawberries. Dust with some powdered sugar. Repeat the same process for the rest of the pastry rectangles.

As I said: easy peasy lemon squeezy! 😉

Have a wonderful week!

F. Xx

When the kitchen calls your name: Ricotta and Edamame Flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

4 Servings

Hello there!

Hope you had a great summer. We had a lovely time in Italy and Corsica (France).

This year I decided it was time for Her Majesty (who is 9) to start getting to know my hometown like a true Roman. It does not happen to every child to get to spend part of their summers in Italy and I want her to understand and appreciate how privileged she is. So I decided to prolong our stay in the eternal city a little longer than usual before going to my parents’ beach house in Sardinia.

Rome offered Her Majesty its well known treasures as well as lots and lots of hidden ones – those only known to people who live there. The weather was simply gorgeous and our cultural tours were interrupted by lunches and aperitifs at my favorite restaurants and bars.

During our cultural sessions, we were lucky enough to catch a Chagall exhibition held not just at any place but at the Bramante Cloister: Raffaello’s and Chagall’s artwork coming together under the same roof, in a magical embrace between one of the most brilliant architects of the Renaissance and one of the most influential European painters of the XX century. Can it get more fascinating than that?

We dined out every night with family members and friends and Her Majesty got to know some of my closest friends and spend time with my best friend’s children. She was excited and eager to try and see anything new and I was very proud of her accentless Italian pronunciation.

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Since she has recently started moving her first steps in the fashion world, I thought it was time to spend a few hours downtown Rome and visit some Italian and French designers’ stores to show her what fashion really means, teach her some basic rules and explain her the basics of how to build a timeless closet. Of course, we couldn’t resist spoiling ourselves by buying a few items, but better not go into too much detail there because I like Stefano to remain in the dark when it comes to my purchases. 😉

Sardinia and Corsica were gorgeous as always. Countless hours on the beach sun-bathing, swimming, eating, relaxing and reading. As amazing as it can sound, this year I even managed to make a few new lovely acquaintances… thanks – of course – to that 9-year old social butterfly of mine. She definitely didn’t take after me! 😉

And the food? Oh well! I’m proud to admit that I haven’t really cooked for the past two months!!! 😉 I have spent my days outdoors, enjoying gorgeous weather, people and places and devoted many hours at night to reading thousands of pages. I think I can start working as an editor! 😉 That doesn’t mean however that I starved myself for two months. Actually, I was lucky enough to be able to enjoy and appreciate the creations of other chefs and cooks who introduced me to new ingredient combinations and new dishes that I will be sharing with you in the upcoming fall and winter months.

This is my first attempt to get back to some kind of kitchen routine. Her Majesty is back in school and Stefano longs for his meals the way they used to be before my rebellious summer. Can you believe the nerve? 😉

A flan that I had in Italy contained fava beans. I thought edamame would be a great variant. I love edamame: they are low in calories and high in proteins, fibers and vitamins, and they pair beautifully both with proteins and carbohydrates.

The real key to this flan is the quality of the ricotta cheese. There is a lot a bad ricotta around. A lot! And I know that by experience. Fresh ricotta is such a delicate and yet distinctively flavorful cheese that must melt in your mouth. You should pick a ricotta that tastes delicious by itself to the point that it delights your tastebuds even without adding any seasoning to it. A poor-quality ricotta will make a mediocre flan and the flavors of the other ingredients are not going to be able to compensate that of a “faulty” ricotta.

This is a very delicate dish which can be served both as an appetizer or as a light lunch, if you do lunch – I simply don’t! Maybe because mid-day is when my brain really starts functioning! 😉 It is very easy to make and it requires very little time. So, what’s not to love?

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Ingredients:

1/2 lb, fresh Ricotta
3 eggs
4 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
1/2 Cup, boiled and peeled Edamame
Salt
Ground black pepper

Edamame and ricotta flan

Edamame and ricotta flan

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a blender or food processor place the ricotta, the Parmigiano cheese, the yolks, some salt and pepper (to taste). Blend until you obtain a smooth mixture. Taste it to check whether you need to add more salt and blend again.

In a bowl, beat the egg whites until they get fluffy. With the help of a spatula, incorporate the beaten egg whites into the ricotta mixture and, then, incorporate the edamame with the help of the same spatula.

Coat the ramekins with butter and fill them with the mixture. Place the ramekins inside a large, shallow pan. Add warm water to the large pan such that the lower half of the height of the ramekins is under water.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let them cool.

Invert onto a serving plate, add a salad of your choice on the side and serve right away.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

F. Xx

Going against the "season trend": Cremini Mushroom Soup for TDPC

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

The Dinner Party Collective’s Winter Menu is finally out and it looks amazing!

At the beginning of this social roller-coaster, I asked our lovely Chief Editor Margot to be given a chance to play my first food round in the opposite hemisphere. Margot and Sandra graciously allowed me to join them and I “won” the appetizer.

After a few email consultations with my co-conspirators, a mushroom soup got two thumbs up. So I did what I usually do when cooking time comes: I took out my magic wand and… bibbidi bobbidi boo… I had a lovely mushroom soup!

No, not really! 😉 You see, this time my magic wand had to work a little bit harder because… ok, here is the ugly truth: I do not like mushrooms! Oops!

But, don’t you love a challenge? I do! Especially when it calls for ingredients that I don’t like (but let’s no go there because the list is quite long!) I love the way this soup turned out: it’s well-balanced, creamy and full of flavors. It is a great appetizer and I ended up making it for Stefano already a few times.

If I could do it, you… yes you… I’m sure you love mushrooms… you can do it too and your dinner party will be off to a perfect start. If you feel inspired, you can find the recipe on The Dinner Party Collective’s blog.

Stay tuned for a wonderful first course by Sandra and a delicious and gorgeous dessert by Margot – plus Stefano’s wine pairing suggestions of course! 😉

Have a great week!

Francesca Xx

Mushroom soup

Mushroom soup

When conversations get surreal: potato and saffron soup with pancetta croutons

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

A couple of days ago Stefano was getting ready to go to work and he told me that I must have done something wrong with the laundry because his pants felt tighter.

Now, you can tell me anything (because any human being is entitled to their opinion!), you can even offend me but you cannot, and I underline “cannot”, tell me that I did something wrong with my laundry!!!

I modestly like to think of myself as the “Pavlova of the Laundry”! 😉 Let’s not even talk about the time it took me to find just the right detergents that would satisfy me. I can spend hours in the detergent and cleaners aisle and every time I see a new product I get pretty much as excited as when I see a designer’s new collection!

Let’s talk about the process: every stain is pre-treated, loads are divided by fabric and color, every washer cycle is carefully selected, the dryer is reluctantly used (we do not use dryers in Italy and I wouldn’t dream of putting an item that I bought in my country in the dryer – it simply wouldn’t survive) and everything gets ironed. Yes! Everything including sheets, towels, underwear and socks. That’s how Italian houses roll (or should roll) and mine is no exception. 😉

Potato, saffron and pancetta soup

Now you see what I mean when I say that there can’t possibly be anything wrong with my laundry? The ugly truth? Stefano has put some weight on and he is in total denial!

And what do you do when someone is in denial? Desperate times call for desperate measures! I cut all the fatty dishes out and I declared soup season open! Soups are fantastic and when you want to lose some weight, they really can do magic. They are low on calories yet healthy, very satisfying to your stomach and, above all, delicious!

Last night Stefano was particularly famished, so I decided to make some potato soup with a twist. I played with some saffron and the result was fantastic. The saffron really complements the potatoes and the pancetta croutons are really the cherry on the cake! 🙂

So that’s how I did it! 😉

Ingredients:

6 Potatoes, cut into cubes
1/4 Cup, extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 Cup, chopped pancetta
1/3 Cup, finely chopped spring onion
2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 and 1/2 Sachet, powdered saffron
2 Tbsp, Mascarpone cheese
1 Cup, Milk
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Potato, saffron and pancetta soupIn a non-stick medium/large pot, heat 1/3 cup of olive oil, add the pancetta and fry, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta gets golden and crispy.
Remove the pancetta from the pot and place it on some paper towel so it can lose the excess oil.

In the same olive oil where you fried the pancetta, place the spring onion and cook until it softens. Add the potatoes, the stock, some salt and white pepper (to taste) and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. Eventually, the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate. Add 1 sachet of saffron and toss to coat until the mixture gets a vibrant yellow color.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender. Add the mascarpone, the rest of the olive oil and the milk and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the pot and, on low heat, cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates, add some fried pancetta on top and garnish with some powdered saffron.

Will Stefano manage to lose some weight? Only time will tell! 😉

When celebrity chefs feel the need to reinvent the wheel: Carlo Cracco and his infamous garlicky Amatriciana

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

Last month, the Italian culinary world has been shocked by the Amatriciana recipe suggested by one of our superstar chefs: Carlo Cracco.

While attending an Italian TV show, the famous chef listed a garlic clover as one of the ingredients of the worldwide known pasta dish!  Anyone who is only vaguely familiar with (authentic) Italian cuisine knows that garlic does not belong in the Amatriciana (for reference, check out our recipe for an authentic Amatriciana)!

As if the first slap in the face of Italian culinary tradition wasn’t enough, during an episode of the Italian edition of Masterchef, first Joe Bastianich and then Cracco himself suggested that one of the contestants use some onion when making “pasta alla Gricia”, the famous ancestor of the Amatriciana which doesn’t call for tomatoes and… most certainly does not call for onions either!!!

Enough was enough, so much so that specialized media, social networks, restaurant owners and even the Mayor of Amatrice “took the field” ready to crucify Cracco and his garlicky dish in defense of the one and only recipe. The Amatrice Culinary School went as far as to publicly invite Cracco to visit them so he can finally taste the real thing! Ouch!

I think one of the commentators hit the nail on the head: nobody can dispute that you can get creative in the kitchen and experiment as much as you like, but when you decide to add garlic to the Amatriciana, don’t call it that – because it’s not! As good as it may be with the addition of the extra ingredient, it’s simply another dish!

Spaghetti all'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

My reaction to all this fuss? One of kind of sadness and disappointment. Both Italian and non-Italian gourmands who happen not to be experts in my country’s cuisine often look up at celebrity chefs like Cracco to learn the Italian food gospel. I think that people who enjoy all that notoriety have the moral responsibility to… spread the word, and spread it right. How can I go on happily complaining about the oh so many restaurants in my adopted country that serve me Amatriciana with garlic and/or onion when one of our star chefs is teaching exactly that? 😉

Anyone who knows me a bit is well aware of my aversion toward social networks. However, in this case, I truly hope their popularity will help to set the record straight!

Curious about a third slap in the already bruised face of Italian culinary tradition? Another Italian hugely popular chef, Davide Oldani, recently declared that butter can be used in making pesto!!! I mean, butter. Seriously? I believe people from Genoa (including Stefano!) and the Liguria region in general must be incessantly calling the food police! Such an affront.

I’m telling you: if another Italian celebrity chef comes along suggesting that heavy cream can be used in making Carbonara, I’ll consider giving up my Italian citizenship!!!

Hope you enjoyed this little foodgate!

F. Xx

Those little "goodfellas": Brussels Sprouts and Hot Sausage Tortiglioni…

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

2 Servings

Brussels sprouts are not very popular in my country and they certainly weren’t on my family’s table. I don’t think I can recollect one time that I ate them in my house or anywhere else in Italy.

Things started changing a couple of years ago when I decided to host my first Thanksgiving’s dinner. During my “due diligence” period, in my quest for dishes traditionally served in the US for that holiday, I found out that Brussels sprouts were a must as a side dish, stir-fried or roasted, preferably with bacon or pancetta and even with raisins.

Little by little my acquaintance with these little guys turned into a beautiful friendship and now I’m totally in love with them for several different reasons.

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

First, their appearance – because no matter what they say, appearances still count! 🙂 Their vibrant green has the magical power to put me in a good mood and their shape reminds me of a mini peony bud, one of my favorite flowers. I wouldn’t mind arranging them in a vase. I’m sure they would look lovely on any table! 😉

Second, they are really good for our health: they are an excellent source of vitamins, essential minerals and fiber. Since I’m on a perennial diet, they are a winner in my book!

Third, these buds are super versatile. They complement meat or fish wonderfully, they can been thrown in any salad and they go beautifully with pasta.

Needless to say, pasta is always one of my first picks 🙂 especially on weeknights! “Dressing up” some pasta with healthy vegetables and a little flavor is very easy and requires very little time, with the additional benefit that your conscience is virtually clean because, after all, you are eating your veggies!

For this recipe, I decide to use some hot sausage to go with the Brussels sprouts. If you decide to cook it for your kids, you may replace it with some non-spicy sausage. Her Majesty is not into spicy food and your kid may not be either…

Brussel sprout and hot sausage tortiglioni

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup, Extravirgin olive oil
1 Carrot, finely chopped
1 Celery, finely chopped
1/3 Cup, finely chopped onion
2 Hot sausages (about 7 ounces), loose
About 10 ounces, small Brussels sprouts, rinsed and cut in halves
1/2 Cup, beef or vegetable stock
About 7 ounces, Tortiglioni
2Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt

Directions:

In a non-stick medium pot, pour the olive oil and add the carrot, the celery and the onion (in Italian, we called this mixture “soffritto“) and cook until the onion softens and becomes translucent.

Add the sausage and some salt (to taste) and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp. Using a strainer, transfer the sausage mixture to a bowl to drain. Put the sausage mixture aside, and return the drained olive oil to the pot.

Add the Brussels sprouts, some salt (to taste) and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the stock is almost completely evaporated. Transfer the sausage mixture back to the pot, toss to coat and let the rest of the stock completely evaporate.

In the meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta and put it in the pot with the Brussels sprouts and the sausage and toss to coat.

Put the pasta into the serving plates/bowls and dust the top of each plate with some Parmigiano cheese.

I dedicate these little green buds to all the people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! Hopefully the leprechaun will love them! 😉

Talk to you soon!

F. Xx

Glass statuette and flower composition with Brussel sprout backdrop

Have I been chopped? Speck, Pea Shoots and Marsala Meatballs

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Don’t you get tired to always cook the same dishes? During the last years, I have mastered some recipes that have become my signature dishes. I always have the essential ingredients for them in my refrigerator and I can cook them with my eyes closed. And, of course, I always shoot for one of those dishes for a weeknight meal.

Unfortunately, Her Majesty does not always agree upon my… menu choices. She is starting going through that phase where changes are exciting and routines are boring and she always wants to experiment something new. So, to put an end to her complaints, I decided to change my basic meatball recipe and give it a twist.

The version that I cooked for Her Majesty did not have any Marsala. Nonetheless, her critique was quite brutal. She told me that the taste was not that great and that the meatballs were… kind of chewy! Seriously!!! Not the feedback that I was expecting!

Since I thought that this dish was quite delicious, I decided not to give up and to test the other “mouth” of the house. My beloved husband is never eager to pay me a compliment. He says that he does not sugarcoat his comments for my own sake so that I keep pushing myself striving to always get better at what I do. Lucky me!!! 😉

Anyway, instead of crucifying me like her Majesty, the oracle’s response was positive and flattering so I will keep making these meatballs for me and Stefano over and over. Who knows? Changing her mind is a girl’s prerogative. Maybe Her Majesty will learn to appreciate this recipe when she gets older. At least, that’s what happened to me with some of my family’s recipes.

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb, Ground Meat of your choice
1 slice, Speck (¼ inch thick)
2 eggs
6 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
2 slices, White Bread
2 Tbsp, Milk
Some leaves of Pea Shoots, chopped
3 Tbsp, Flour
2 Tbsp, Extravirgin Olive Oil
1 and 1/2 Tbsp, butter
Juice, half lemon
2 Tbsp, Marsala wine
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Speck and pea shoot meatballsCut the speck into cubes and set aside.

In a bowl, pour the milk and soak the bread into the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, using your hands combine the ground beef, the eggs, the chopped pea shoots’ leaves, the speck cubes and the Parmesan cheese. With your hands, squeeze the bread and add it to the meat mixture. Add some salt and pepper (to taste) and combine with your hands. Shape the mixture into meatballs.

In a large non-stick skillet, pour the olive oil and add 1 Tbsp of butter. When the butter is completely melted, add the meatballs and cook them until they brown. Add the lemon juice and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the Marsala wine and keep cooking until the Marsala evaporates. Remove from the stove and add 1/2 Tbsp of butter. Toss to coat until the butter is completely melted. Serve immediately.

Have a wonderful weekend!

F. Xx

PS: In case you are wondering what Pea Shoots are, they are the young leaves and tendrils of pea plants. I didn’t even know they existed before using them for this recipe. They are delicious and their scent is so delicate. The perfect addition to many, many dishes. 😋

There are witches in the air: purple cauliflower soup

Purple cauliflower soup

2 Servings

Looking at Her Majesty’s Halloween menu, I had the impression that something was missing. What was it? We had the bats and the skeleton and the ghost … so? But some witches of course!

Purple cauliflower soupOver the last few days, I have been thinking about a dish which would be reminiscent of witches and when I saw a purple cauliflower at the grocery store, the idea struck me like a thunder. Isn’t purple a typical witch color? How about a purple soup to be served after the bat eyes and before the skeleton stake? 🙂

I decided to use very few ingredients – kind of a basic soup recipe, because I didn’t want the color of the other ingredients to alter the purple color of the cauliflower. And since witches are always a little bit sinister, I thought that a touch of yellow was a must, beside contrasting nicely with the deep purple (no, not the band…). So I sprinkled some olive oil and added some lemon strips on top of the soup. I was very pleased to find out how beautifully the citrus flavor contrasts with that of the cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower soupHer Majesty was so excited by the purple color that for the first time ever she ate some soup without making any fuss. Actually, I couldn’t believe my eyes! 🙂 And I’m pretty sure that if you serve this dish for a dinner party, your guests will be really surprised and amazed at the same time. 🙂

Ingredients:

1 shallot, chopped
2 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
2 potatoes, diced
1 purple cauliflower
1 1/2 Cups, vegetable stock
1 lemon
Salt
Ground white pepper

Directions:

Wash the cauliflower and cut the florets off. Set them aside.

In a medium/large pot, place 1 Tbsp of olive oil, the shallot and a couple of tablespoons of water and cook, on low heat, until the shallot softens.

Purple cauliflower soupAdd the cauliflower florets, the potatoes, some salt and pepper (to taste) and the vegetable stock and toss to coat. Cook, stirring often, for about 20/25 minutes. Eventually, the florets and the potatoes will turn kind of mushy and the stock will almost completely evaporate.

In the meantime, using a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the lemon peel. Set them aside.

Transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender and blend until it is smooth and creamy.

Return the soup to the pot and, on a very low heat, cook for a few minutes, stirring often.

Pour the soup into two serving bowls or plates and add some olive oil and lemon strips on top of each.

We wish you all a super fun and sweet Halloween!

Francesca Xx

My goodbye to summer: tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiIt is time for me to let it go. Summer is my favorite season. It is when I feel my best. Every day I pick a pretty dress (preferably with a floral pattern) and a pair of ballet flats (I have way too many of them!) even if I just have to go grocery shopping. Oh by the way, is there someone out there that can explain to me once and for all why men (including my beloved husband) think that only women wearing high heels are sexy and feminine? How can’t they possibly understand that flats are very difficult to wear because they do not elongate the leg but it’s the leg itself that must be proportionate? Does the name Audrey Hepburn ring any bell? Wasn’t she feminine and chic with all her flats? I believe she was one of the most glamorous women on earth!

But I’m digressing. Back to summer. I drink lots of water and I eat tons of fruit and vegetables. I can easily follow a very healthy diet and lose a few pounds. This year I managed to lose about 14 pounds which – of course – I’m going to regain in the next few weeks because that’s just how my body reacts to the cold weather. I feel like mama bear preparing for going into hibernation, and I need a layer of fat to keep myself warm! 😉

Unfortunately, mother nature has her own agenda. Everything is turning brown and orange and temperatures are lowering. Don’t get me wrong: fall is a wonderful and colorful season, but I’d rather enjoy it from the warmth of my house. 🙂

So, I have decided to kiss my summer goodbye by sharing a recipe where tomatoes are the main character. I’m talking about those incredibly red tomatoes, so juicy and flavorful and whose scent is able to capture your nostrils from a distance. In Italy we called them “sauce tomatoes” and all by themselves they manage to turn the simplest tomato sauce into a winner! Of course, I couldn’t find sauce tomatoes in October, but the tomatoes that I used were really decent and so I said to myself: What the heck! Let’s draw the curtains over summer in style!. 🙂

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghetti

Ingredients:

1,5lb, fresh tomatoes
2 garlic clovers
5 Tbsp and 1/2 cup, extravirgin olive oil
10 leaves, basil
1/2 cup, black pitted olives, cut in half
6/7 oz, spaghetti
1 eggplant
salt

Directions:

Wash the tomatoes and cut them up into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.

Rinse the basil leaves and shred them. Set aside.

Tomato, olive and eggplant spaghettiUsing a citrus zester, cut some strips out of the eggplant skin. Add some salt (to taste) and set them aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 Tbsp of olive oil. Add the tomatoes, the garlic, the basil, some salt (to taste) and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the skillet and add the olives. Keep cooking on a low heat until the water from the tomatoes has completely evaporated. Remove the skillet from the stove and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Put a pot of salted water over the stove to boil. While the water is warming up, in a small pot, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant strips and cooked them until they brown. Remove the strips from the pot and place them on some paper towel.

When the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the spaghetti, put them in the skillet with the tomato sauce and toss to coat.

Put the spaghetti into the serving plates and add some eggplant strips on top of each plate.

I wish you all a great end of the workweek and a wonderful weekend!

Francesca Xx