Milk Jelly and other delicacies



Twitter is a super tool for those random food musings and occasionally they result in something quite brilliant. As I grew up with 99% traditional Italian food, things like toad in the hole, shepherd's pie, sandwich spread and scotch eggs are somewhat of an insatiable delicacy for me. I can still remember the truly momentous day I went round to my mates house after school and discovered Branston's Sandwich Pickle. I can also remember the pitiful look on my friends mum's face as I was positively raving about this new taste sensation.

Chattering away, the subject of jelly (another of my missing childhood foods) came up and @samuraijen mentioned milk jelly. Basically an old school recipe of making packet jelly with milk instead of water. I'm sure most of you are rolling your eyes right now but I thought it was truly scrumptious. And a cute retro bunny jelly mould wouldn't have gone amiss here.

I did make a set of espresso cup milk jellies topped with a raspberry to hand out after a BBQ with friends, but I shamefully admit that I scoffed all 8 of them one by one before they even came round!

RECIPE: Purist and Proper Tiramisu



"So, is there anything I can bring?" I always ask when invited to an event or a friends home and nine times out of ten I already know the answer: "tiramisu!"

This ol' Italian classic is one of my most requested dishes. Birthdays, BBQs, weddings, dinners, bar mitzvahs... Well, not bar mitzvahs as I've never been asked to one, but you get the drift.

I've always wondered why this desssert is such a hit, but look at the ingredients - coffee, sugar, booze, marscapone and chocolate! No wonder Tiramisu translates as "pick me up"- you'll be on the ceiling on a sugar high if you eat enough of it!

Historically, I've always been a bit of a purist of this recipe. The inclusion of Tia Maria, rum, whipped cream, coconut, instant coffee or custard would have me pursing my lips tighter than the place an otter keeps his wallet. However, at a recent dinner party, someone mentioned that orange may be a good ingredient to try. I'm not sure if I'm going with zest, orange flower water or orange juice yet but I shall report back my findings!

This purist version makes a nice big dish for 6-8 people or if you're feeling fancy, you can make individual ramekins as in the pic.

RECIPE

2 very fresh egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
500g mascarpone cheese
a dash of milk if needed
400ml cold espresso coffee
4 tbsp marsala wine
32 savoiardi biscuits*
Cocoa powder

In a decent sized bowl, beat the egg, vanilla extract and caster sugar together. Fold in the marscapone and if you need to loosen the mixture a bit (not too much!) add a splash or two of milk. The mixture should be thick but easy to spread with a little assistance.

In another bowl, combine the coffee, marsala. Dip each of the biscuits in the coffee for a second or two and line the base of a dish or individual ramekin. I like to make the base layer wetter than the upper layer for a bit of texture. Cover with half of the marscapone mixture, then repeat the coffee and biscuit layer but this time make sure the coffee mixture does not saturate the biscuit fully. Top with the remaining marscapone then dust with cocoa powder.

It is always better made the day before and refrigerated and whilst you will sacrifice some of the richness, eggs can be omitted if serving to pregnant ladies or if you can't get fresher than fresh fresh fresh eggs. Did I mention they should be fresh?

*Some supermarket own-brands tend to make these a bit flimsy, the branded Italian versions hold themselves better and are a bit bigger. I really fancy making the savoiardi biscuits from scratch. Anyone tried them or got a good tied and tested recipe?

Cookie queen



Yes folks, these are cookies you are looking at, although I wouldn't dare bite into one and crack the incredible decorations!



SweetAmbs makes orange vanilla spice cookies and then works sweet, sweet magic with royal icing. Sure puts my cupcake sprinkles to pure shame.

via Junebug Weddings

RECIPE: Poor but rich roast tomato soup



Time has been precious round these parts with moving home. My usual busting store cupboards have even been run down to Old Mother Hubbard levels. So you could say that there has been somewhat of a back to basics menu emerging from the kitchen as I'm conjuring up lots of impromptu, scant ingredient dishes to make even Ready, Steady, Cook's Ainsley Harriot raise an eyebrow.

After work yesterday, I managed to pilfer a bag of tomatoes from Papa Graphic Foodies garden, a couple of cloves of garlic and an onion (yeah, yeah I use onion AND garlic together - sue me!) and a few remaining leaves from my poor old plucked basil plant.

I "rustically" chopped the tomatoes and onion and popped them on a tray with the garlic, a generous sprinkling of sea salt and a good glug of olive oil and roasted them in a hot oven for about half an hour until the edges of the tomatoes were starting to singe. Then I simply whizzed this up with my trusty hand blender along with a nice handful of basil leaves. The tomatoes were a really flavour concentrated, ugly, pulpy type so they did need thinning slightly with some stock from my reserves but that was it and one of the tastiest meals I've had all week. Roasting really alters the flavour and gives it a creamy texture without the er, cream.

I think it really does help to have the best, pulpy, fragrant tomatoes you can get your mitts on and a top use up for those of you growing your own (when they all ripen at once and you end up with bucket loads!)

Part of me loves frugal time and ingredients cooking. I'd really love to hear all of yours...

Italy: An eating photo journal part 2



More pictures from my week in Italy to visit the family. Again, this is not even close to everything we ate. Most of it was consumed alfresco on the terrace with a variety of tables and chairs to fit everyone on. One year we had so many people turn up for dinner unannounced we took the doors off the hinges in the house and propped them up using my Nonno's old work benches as we had exhausted every source of dining and plastic garden tables. One thing I love about eating here is that you may only be originally cooking for six people but if another six or even sixty turn up there is always enough to go round. Still not figured out how that works...

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Ah what a welcome! The buxom lady of the De Cecco brand greets everyone at Pescara airport. The De Cecco factory is only over the other side of the mountain range from us and have their own spring water source to make the pasta with. Still to find a pasta that even attempts to rival it, especially evident in the wholemeal version. Didn't manage to pay a visit, but apparently you can have a bit of a walk around the factory and that kind of thing excites my little soul. I did pick up a load of shapes that are unavailable back home though.

Beautiful plaits of garlic sold on the roadside.

We had these teeny little meat kebabs called arrosticini one night out on our terrace. Originally a type of street food from the Abruzzo region found on the road side. They are so, so tasty with tons of salt and the smell they give off the BBQ never fails to make me salivate grotesquely.

Yet, more pastries brought to the house as a gift. I don't think that Italy is really famous for it's cakes but pastries it can do. Those flaky looking ones are my favorites after Sicilian cannoli.



We had to go to the Pelino Confetti factory, the original (and best) makers of the traditional sugared almonds for weddings, baptisms etc.. to choose the bonbonniere for our wedding next year. I loved the fact that the air around the factory smelt like sugar. The choice is astounding and overwhelming now. Any colour, most shapes, different flavours. Then from the miles of glass cabinets they have, you have to choose which little fabric pouch or sack you want to put them in, what colour ribbon, what embellishments, what gift you want to give to your wedding guests... it was too hot and we resolved nothing in the end. All I know is that the sugared almonds will be from this place and they will be traditional and white. You can always taste the difference, the others I've tried always taste rancid or a bit stale at best.

One of the first things I rush off to eat when I get to Italy is this red "pizza" made in huge trays at the bakery. The dough is not really like a pizza, more of a very airy thin bread. Even though it is saturated in olive oil it is still firm and has an incredible chewiness. The tomato coating is thin but flavourful, made with ripe, fragrant tomatoes, generously seasoned and with just a bit of basil for flavour. The best bit is the slightly singed, crispy congealed corners. Desert island stuff.

More good fruit & veg from small holders on the road side. Some have big vans they have driven up from the south with gigantic peaches and melons, some are just people with a little patch of land or even the efforts from their gardens or fruit trees.

The bread is so good here - and it's big. I need to carry this home in my arms like a big baby! This loaf of bread can be left for ages and never goes mouldy. If it goes stale, we soak it in water and top it with ripe tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and salt. However, a loaf of bread like this disappears in a day in our family. We never watch our carb intake and quite rightly too. It all gets worked off with lots of good ol' Italian aerobic gestating and shouting.

Italy: An eating photo journal part 1



I've just come back from a frantic visit to my family's village in deepest, darkest Italy to get the ball rolling with my wedding plans out there next year. I have come to realise Italy is not really a great place for organising things. The venues can't believe I want to book a WHOLE YEAR in advance, instructing me with a little shrug to come back two, maybe three months before the wedding. The 90 or so year old priest wrote our proposed wedding date on top of his blood test results and muttered something like "what do I care anyway, I'll be dead by then". There was no sign of humour or irony in his low voice.

All this on top of no less than ten family members at a time shouting, arm waving and arguing amongst themselves about everything from the sugared almonds to the bomboniere gifts to the table decorations and flowers I had in mind. And that's the stuff they don't care about. I can't tell you the whole can of whoop ass that was opened when we started to discuss the food but I swear I saw the ceiling light shake.

So, I didn't really get to do much in the week to relax, but the one thing that Italians always make time for is eating. Here are some of the highlights...

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These biscuits were brought back from the north of Italy by my Aunt. I love these big trays of little biscuits, some filled with jam, some with chocolate. Very hard not to try them all!

It is customary to bring something when you visit someone. The best gift we received was these mountain fresh mushrooms picked that morning by a friend. I love the fact that you never can get the location of where the mushrooms were found from the pickers. They will give you anything in the world, just not their prized mushroom patch! If you get up early the morning following a rainfall, you will see the hills full of little old men foraging around for these. We honoured their dense, woodland flavour and simple pan fried and tossed them through pasta with lots of olive oil.

Italian peasant greens!
A plastic bag of borage turned up from somewhere. I was sad to see that they had not given us the blue flowers as well. The leaves have a rough texture like cats tongues and are utterly delicious.

A local ricotta. My dad used to tell me stories of when he was sent up the mountains to get the ricotta straight from the farmers who made them on-site. The ruins of their little stone huts are still dotted around, although the sheep and the farmers have long gone. You can't beat the taste or texture of proper ricotta. Firm, thick and creamy and tastes a little farmyard. A bit hay-like. Nothing like the bland, watery gloop in the supermarkets.

We make a lot of homemade liquors. Rocket fuel made with a found root of this or a peel of that. You name it, we can make it into booze. When you open our drinks cabinet there are tons of recycled bottles with questionable looking contents and hand scrawled labels. You take it at your own risk, but from experience, most make you lose the feeling in your lips. This example is oddly called cherry, but pronounced sherry and made with just the leaves of the morello cherry soaked in wine. It is so fruity, I was really surprised to find out the base was wine. I guess it was like a er, cherry like sherry really and dangerously drinkable. After dinner we get the bottles out and go for it shot by shot. In any other situation this would be classed as a dysfunctional family situation!



The morello cherry tree out the back had a nice glut on it. We used the Daily Mirror to make cones (best use for it) and just sat on the balcony eating them and, being the classy individuals we are, seeing how far we could spit the pips over the side.

These gigantic peaches must have been the inspiration for a Roald Dahl novel. We picked up 2 huge wooden cases full of them for just 4€ on the side of the road from some Neapolitan. We ate a lot of peaches.

The figs were just coming out and one of the things I really do miss. We bought a massive punnet, again from some old dear on the road side and all I could think of was that they cost practically a quid each back in England. In fact I think I've only ever seen the black figs in the UK but never bother with them as they are over priced and mushy. I just wait and gorge myself on them here.

More carbalicious treats to follow...