Saturday, July 27, 2013

Winter things

It's properly winter today: frosty morning, a bit of sunshine then the clouds built up and it rained for most of the afternoon.  The jonquils are out..
and the hellebores are starting to flower...
It really is the time of year to light the fires and get thyself in front of some good telly with a bowl of soup.  Is anyone else loving Broadchurch?  No-one can do a murder story like the British.  Well, with the possible exception of the Danes.  I have just finished the marathon that is The Killing.  The Danish really know how to do gritty, dark thrillers that just keep you glued.  They're not bad at  political drama either, I loved Borgen and can't wait for the next series.

My soup of choice last week was Celeriac and Apple.  I am growing celeriac in the veggie garden but it seems to be taking forever..
Yes, it looks impressive but there is not much action down below.  
What I love about soup is that there are really no rules, you just go with what you have.  To make this I softened a chopped onion in butter and added a peeled and chopped celeriac, some chunks of chopped apple and a peeled and chopped potato.  Then I tipped in chicken stock to cover and simmered it gently until the veg was soft.  I used a stick blender to puree the soup and seasoned well with salt and pepper.
To finish I quickly fried some sage leaves in a little olive oil which adds a nice crunch.  So easy, and a beautifully warming soup.
Within this jar is the beginnings of bay leaf liqueur, which I read about in a Sicilian cookbook.  It could be disgusting, but I did think it was worth a try.  I'll let you know how it turns out.
Lots of lemons on the tree

Friday, July 5, 2013

The moon...

How incredible was the full moon last week?  So beautiful.
I just have a few more tidbits from our time in Italy, and then I promise, I'll stop.  Can I just say that if you haven't been to Sicily, then you must try to go.  It has amazing diversity: in its history, landscape, architecture and food.  The layers of history are seen at every turn and tells the story of a strategically placed island in the Mediterranean which has been inhabited and occupied by a long list of conquerers who saw the value of the volcanic soils, good harbours and vast coastline.
The food is essentially Italian Mediterranean, especially on the eastern side of the island that we visited, so it's all about pasta, vegetables, lemons, pizza, olives, olive oil and of course the dolci.  We tasted olive oil and wine, donkey (and various other) salami, eggplant parmigiana, cannoli and gelati.  We were treated to a generous and wonderful Sunday lunch at the family home of Carmel's cousins and were able to watch how the pasta, bread and dolci were prepared...
 watched as various bits and pieces went into the wood fired oven..
and sat down to a remarkable lunch which included a variety of local delicacies..
Scacce and caponata
Finished off with a bit of enthusiastic toasting..
What you've got to love about the Italians is their unabated love for food and family.  Carm's family embraced us with open arms, barely a word of English between them, and showed us real Sicilian culture as it is today.  As for the food!  You see more adults than children tucking into a gelati...
Bus driver with a bus load of waiting passengers having a restorative gelati
everything is full fat, full carbs, full cream, in fact it would be verging on offensive to ask for a skinny latte. There is not a gym or yoga studio to be seen, whereas there is one on every corner here;  women just do not wear lycra.  They are wonderfully rowdy and shouty and it is on for young and old at the "passeggiata" when the entire village is out on the town.
After some lively dancing and a few more, ahem, aperol spritz at the Bar in Scoglitti
Photo - Gina Milicia
out came a round of scacciuni, which is basically a wood-fired pizza with a top and a bottom and is utterly delicious.  I tried to make this with the kids last week, but I think the wood-fired oven is the key.
Utterly delicious too, is gelati.  We sampled LOTS of gelati.  Just so you know, if it is fluffed up like this:
it probably has an additive that gives it the extra volume.  Authentic gelati won't sit up like that.  We went to see gelati being made in Scoglitti (another of Carm's cousins), which is done in a big machine. 
 I also learned that my perennial favourite, coffee, may have been superseded by hazelnut, and that was one of the first things I tried to make when we got back:
That is a bit of hazelnut chocolate on the top
I googled away and found a few recipes to make the hazelnut-infused milk, which you then use to make normal vanilla ice-cream.  You can actually buy hazelnut paste which is what they use in Italy from specialist delicatessens.

2 cups hazelnuts
3 cups milk

Preheat the oven to 180c.  Put the hazelnuts on a tray and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until they start to brown (give them a shake half way through).  Allow to cool a bit, then put onto a clean tea towel and rub off the skins.  When they are completely cool ut them in the food processor and grind coarsely. 

Put the nuts and the milk in a saucepan and gently bring to the boil.  Take off the heat and allow to sit for about 2 hours for the flavours to infuse.

Strain the mixture through a square of muslin or chux over a sieve into a bowl, really squeezing out the milk.

You can then use the milk in a normal vanilla ice cream recipe, such as this one below:

2 eggs and 3 egg yolks
3/4 cup castor sugar
a vanilla bean, cut in half
1 1/2 cups hazelnut milk
2 cups cream

Put the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla bean and bring to the boil.  Remove from heat and allow vanilla to infuse for a few minutes.  Scape out seeds and add to the milk.
Beat the eggs and sugar for a few minutes until pale, then gently pour in the milk whisking.  Return the mix to a clean saucepan and stir continuously until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  Do not allow it to boil.  Cool slightly then refrigerate until cold.
Add the cream and a tablespoon of Frangelico if you fancy, then churn in an ice cream machine.

Sicilian Food Tours was a fabulous experience.  It is not a tour for food snobs, it is a tour for food lovers who want to have FUN.  Just remember...