Upside Down Fruit Pie

A while ago, while visiting my family in Italy, I asked my mum, who is a cook, to show me how to bake a wholemeal-flour pie. Despite her pointing out that using only wholemeal flour would be tricky, I wasn’t going to take no for an answer: “Isn’t it nice for you to challenge your skills sometimes, especially when you’re a professional?”

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Ingredients.

I only go back home about four times a year, so she hardly ever says no to my requests! We started straight away.

As a side note, in Italy you find lievito vanigliato, which is raising powder with a vanilla hint. If you don’t have that, just use normal raising powder and then add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the mixture when you add the egg.

Lievito vanigliato.

Lievito vanigliato.

I have to say the speed my mum was working at – I barely saw how she mixed the crust, that she was already stretching it. But fear not, I took notes.

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The final result is a slightly crumbly but soft pastry (due to the raising powder) with a very sweet and soft filling.

What you’ll need:

For the pastry

  • 250 gr wholemeal flour (we used organic)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla raising powder (or normal powder plus separate vanilla extract)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 160 gr granulated sugar
  • 100 gr good quality butter (we used our local) at room temperature, chopped in small cubes
  • 1 egg
  • icing sugar

For the filling

Any fruit you have kicking around your kitchen that might need using, we used

  • 1 banana
  • 1 apple
  • 1 medium-sized pear
  • A handful of strawberries
  • 1 apricot
  • 2 tablespoons (30 gr) of granulated sugar
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My mum’s expert hands were too fast for the camera.

Preparation:

Mix the raising powder, salt and flour together. Create a well with the dry mixture, place the sugar inside it, then place the room temperature butter inside it and finally the egg. Start kneading making sure your hands are cold and work on it until you obtain a smooth dough ball.

The pie filled and ready to be covered.

The pie filled and ready to be covered.

Cut off a third of the pastry and keep it wrapped while you roll out the rest, and use this to line a pie tin – 20-22cm round and 4cm deep – leaving a slight overhang. Roll the remaining third to a circle about 28cm in diameter and place it on a side. Now fill the pie with all the chopped fruit trying to distribute it evenly. Sprinkle the sugar all over the fruit. Brush a little water around the pastry rim and lay the pastry lid over the fruit pressing the edges together to seal.

All sealed.

All sealed.

Make a few little slashes on top of the lid for the steam to escape. Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden, then remove and let it sit until it’s only tepid.

Done!

Done!

With a knife go over the edges of the pie trying to detach it from the tin very gently. Now place a large plate on top of the tin and turn upside down, letting the pie drop onto the plate (but not on the floor!). Dust all over with icing sugar and scoff serve.

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Pork Cotechino with Polenta and Green Lentils

I am often asked what the typical Italian Christmas dinner is, and the truth is: there isn’t one. Every family has their own traditions depending also on where in Italy they live, so it’s hard to pinpoint a specific meal and say with certainty that it’s what most Italians will be cooking up and down the country on 25 December. It is, however, easy to guess what Italians from Turin to Palermo will be eating on their New Year’s Eve dinner: lo and behold, I give you the cotechino.

Its origins are shared between Emilia Romagna, Lombardia, Veneto and Molise, all regions that suffer from very bitter winters. Cotechino (pronounced coteh-keeno) is therefore a hearty, filling dish that is served with polenta or mashed potatoes and always paired with lentils, which, according to the Italian tradition, bring good luck and prosperity for the whole year ahead. Cotechino is a sort of large salami made of pork meat, and its name derives from the word cotenna (rind). The traditional recipe consists of creating a salami of pork meat (in the past they used to stuff it with all the parts of a pig that wouldn’t get any other use) and wrapping it in pork rind, then letting it cook for several hours. Nowadays, however, most people buy the ready-made, precooked version of this dish, which doesn’t include rind and cooks in an airtight pouch for only 20 minutes. I served it with some instant polenta and tomato green lentils.

Pre-cooked cotechino as it is sold at the supermarket.

Pre-cooked cotechino as it is sold at the supermarket. The outer box suffered a little during transport.

I decided to introduce my partner, who is British, to this dish, and despite the initial hesitation due to the admittedly slightly startling description, he much enjoyed the richness of the meat. The very high fat content is not for the faint-hearted, but eaten once a year it’s a great tradition and one that I will love to keep up.

This recipe served three of us very generously.

What you’ll need:
1 precooked, good quality cotechino (I brought mine back from Italy, and bought it from the equivalent of the “finest” range from the supermarket Coop)

For the lentils

  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large golden onion
  • 1 stick of celery, leafy end removed
  • 250gr green lentils, soaked overnight to ensure quick cooking times, and rinsed
  • 2 very ripe, medium-sized tomatoes, chopped into cubes
  • 2 bay leaves, rinsed
  • 2 rosemary sprigs

For the polenta

  • 1 lt vegetable stock
  • 250gr instant polenta
  • 1 generous knob of butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Sorry about the steam, it was very hot and I couldn’t wait to eat it!

 Preparation:

Fill ¾ of a large sauce pan or a spaghetti pot with water, bring to the boil and put your cotechino, still in your sealed pouch, deep into the water, making sure it’s all covered.

In a large frying pan place your diced onion and celery and sweat in the hot oil to make a soffritto. Once the contents of the pan are translucent and soft, but not brown, stir in the lentils, bay leaves and rosemary and mix all well. Let everything bind for a minute or two and add the tomatoes and just a splash (about 100ml) of water. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and cover, letting simmer for about ten minutes. Once ready, add a generous pinch of salt and pepper and keep warm.

Bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a large pan. Slowly stir in the polenta, whisking continuously. Keep stirring over the heat for 15 to 20 minutes. You can add a little more water to make it the right consistency. Add in the butter, season and serve straight away, before it hardens by cooling. While you cook the polenta, take your cotechino out of the water after the 20 minutes’ cooking time very carefully, discard of the water and, once the airtight pack is cool enough to handle, cut it open with a pair of scissors and remove it from the meat, which should have a soft but firm consistency and the shape of a large sausage.

Once everything is ready, split a serving plate between the lentils and the soft polenta, and place the sliced cotechino on top.

Make sure you serve this rich meal with a medium-bodied red wine, such as a Merlot or a Bonarda.

All plated up.

Chickpea and Vegetable Curry

Here’s a food post – sorry, I do realise it’s been a long time coming, but I’ve been too busy to cook these days!

I thought I’d write about this vegetarian curry, which is low in calories but contains plenty of vitamins and a fair amount of protein from the chickpeas – and it’s dairy-free, which is always a plus to me, as I am dairy intolerant (in spite of all those recipes on this blog that contain dairy, which I find difficult to resist to, sometimes).

This recipe is for two people.

Chickpea curry

What you’ll need:

  • 160g or slightly less than a cup of brown rice
  • 2 tsps of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 can (400g) of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tsps of curry powder
  • 2 tsps of ginger powder
  • 1 can (140g) of chickpeas, drained
  • 4 balls of frozen spinach (or about 100g of fresh spinach)
  • A few leaves of fresh coriander (cilantro) to garnish

 Preparation:

Wash the brown rice thoroughly and add it to a pot with water – I usually go 1 part rice, 2 parts water. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Once the rice is cooked, the water should have been fully absorbed so just cover it and let it steam. This is my way of cooking brown rice, but everyone has their own method.

While the rice is cooking, chop the onions and garlic very finely and shallow fry them until lightly golden. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and your spices. I added about 3 teaspoons of curry and 2 of ginger, but feel free to adjust it to your own taste, and, if you prefer, go ahead and use fresh chillies and ginger instead. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about five minutes. Add the chopped green pepper to the sauce pan – make sure you cut the pepper into fairly small cubes, about ½ inch – and the drained chickpeas and pour enough water for all the ingredients to be covered. Now cover and let simmer another 15 minutes, making sure you stir the contents regularly. Add your frozen spinach to the mixture and cover the pan, letting them defrost for about 15 minutes. If you add fresh spinach, just wait until they wither. Now check for salt and serve it over the brown rice, topped with the coriander.

Dreyfus Café in Hackney – A Review

Hackney is a great place to grab some Saturday breakfast, with so many choices and new cafés opening at the drop of a hat. A couple of weeks ago I decided to try the new café Dreyfus, in North Hackney, on the edges of Lower Clapton, as it looks very inviting from the outside and I live literally around the corner.

Dreyfus outside

The airy two-room interior sits nestled in one of the corners that overlook the beautiful, late Georgian Clapton Square. The décor is relaxed and very cosy, with retro, framed posters all over the walls and a strong 1950s feel. My visit there was filled with sun shining through all the windows, which made the place even more welcoming and warm.

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The menu nods to a slight American good-food trend and is largely destined for breakfast, brunch and lunch meals. It includes some classics – eggs Benedict, Florentine and Royale, muesli and full English; and some surprising options such as pancakes with Speculoos sauce – which, outside of Belgium, I’ve only ever seen in New York so far – pancakes with grilled bacon and maple syrup, and pastrami and sauerkraut on rye bread.

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The great thing about ordering eggs here is that you don’t have to necessarily get two, which means that you can mix and match or, if like me, you find the cake counter too inviting to resist, you can just have one, and leave a little room for dessert.

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Speaking of cake… their selection is very rich and inventive, and when faced with the impossible choice between Hungarian bread and butter pudding with a spongy meringue topping and white chocolate and orange cheesecake, the kind man behind the counter sensed the mild panic that took over me so he offered I’d have half a slice of each. “Can I really do that?!” They were both even better than I expected, but the cheesecake won my heart. Their cake and sweet bakery selection, however, is ever changing, so it is worth going back every now and again to try different desserts.

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Other than that, I had an egg Florentine, which was spinach-rich and helped me feeling less guilty about my second “course”, and Rol had a full English – the sausages were very flavoursome and herby.

The only tiny teeny ickle downside about this great place is the wait. I think we had to wait about 25 minutes for our breakfast, which is not an eternity, but it feels worse than it is if you are borderline ravenous due to the previous night’s antics.

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I am definitely looking forward to going back, as I am yet to try their Nordic meatballs with lingonberry and beetroot sauce.

If you are in Hackney, give this place a go, it won’t disappoint.

My Trip to New York 1

Part One – the Food

A few weeks ago, I returned from New York, where my friend Sara and I stayed in Brooklyn at Robin’s, the swellest girl in the whole city. It was my first time in the US, and, despite knowing that the Big Apple is not a true representation of the whole of the United States (just like London is not really synecdochic of the UK), being there highlighted how New York and London are so very different. Sure enough, Manhattan’s vibrant streets were heaving with people of all sorts of backgrounds and trades, buzzing with flickering lights beckoning passers-by, and steaming with an endless array of memorable scents, just like London’s Westend. But it made me realise that the British are a population of their own. With their self-pride, friendliness, exaggerated mannerisms, heartfelt involvement and loud enthusiasm when saying even the mildest of things, I would be more inclined to likening New Yorkers to the French or the Italians, rather than to their British counterparts. Of course it is not right to generalise to a smaller degree, such as saying whether I found one people more helpful in giving directions than the other, but I can definitely say that New York seemed to hum that little bit louder.

The food was outstanding, though that could have been that Sara and I were painstakingly selective when choosing where to have our next meal, but my favourite restaurants, which I would definitely recommend, were as follows:

Babbo

Not that it needs recommendation – this restaurant was the most up-market stop of the whole trip. Robin, Sara and I felt very much like grown-ups here, and despite only sharing a starter, a bottle of wine, a dessert, and only having a full primo (pasta main) each, we left feeling very full, which made this restaurant surprisingly affordable, particularly for its atmosphere and outstanding quality. The waiters were also impeccable – we were highly impressed by how they scooped up the crumbs from the tables making a spoon dance and glide on the tablecloth. The jewel-clad lady sitting next to us even commented on that little trick to the Jeeves-like waiter.

Luke’s on the Upper West Side

This has to be my second favourite meal of the trip, simply because now, if I were ever allowed one last meal in my life, my choice would have shifted from Osso Buco to a mighty, mayo-free but butter-soaked lobster roll. The huge chunks of lobster are velvety and melt in your mouth faster than you can say “fishing lobsters in Maine”. This roll is unfussy, simple and doesn’t need anything else added. It’s perfect. Go have it.

Luke’s on the Upper West Side. Picture taken by Sara.

Lobster Roll

Katz’s Delicatessen

This classic sammich deli did not disappoint. The sharpness of the pickles and sauerkraut cut through the richness of the pastrami, and the wholeness of the rye bread binds everything together beautifully. Needless to say, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and in hindsight we should have just ordered one to share. After we were done with (half of our) platefuls, we both silently pretended we still had a good reason to sit there for a little longer, just because neither of us could even waddle. And no, I didn’t do a Meg Ryan impression, the place was so rammed and loud that nobody would’ve noticed, anyway.

Sara with two strangers.

What she’s having.

Shake Shack

Ooh that Shack-cago hot dog was excellent, and the curly fries were a bit different – was it maybe the first time I ever had curly fries? I think it might well have been.*

A collage of our Shake Shack experience made by Sara.

230 Fifth

We didn’t eat here, but I had a delicious Dirty Vodka Martini and the view from the rooftop was breath-taking. It was a sunny yet windy late afternoon, so they provided warm, hooded red capes for everyone. Doesn’t get much better than sipping a vodka drink in a dressing gown in front of a beautiful view – and nobody seemed to care! I really loved the vintage-like lanterns all around the rooftop.

Another cool collage made by Sara.

A small part of the view from the rooftop.

Beautiful lanterns.

Watch this space, as I am soon to post about the little fashion gems I found in New York.

*I have since discovered that what we ate were actually crinkle fries — goes to show…!

Savoury Fruit Salad

Last Saturday was very warm and sunny here in London. There was no way I was going to  have a proper lunch, so thought I’d make a salad. Put together a few ingredients and then realised that yep, they were all fruit, rather than vegetables: orange, avocado and tomato. It’s a fruit salad!

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I dressed it very simply with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, cider vinegar, Maldon salt and white pepper.

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It’s summer!

Lemon Drizzle 61 Revisited

 

Last Saturday it was my friend, and flatmate, Lauren’s birthday. About two months ago I had asked her what her favourite cake was; I thought I’d give it a while so she wouldn’t suspect anything and without hesitation she answered “Lemon drizzle!” So, early on Saturday morning I snuck out of the flat, bought eggs, almost forgot to buy lemons, and rushed back to bake. Sadly, she woke up before the cake was all done, but she was not allowed into the kitchen until it was all ready.

I found this recipe on the BBC GoodFood website but I decided to revise it slightly, using plain flour and baking powder and making it a little extra lemony for Lauren, whose famous motto about lemons is “the more, the better”. This recipe is easy to remember, as butter, sugar and flour are all the same quantity, and the final result is very lemony but not sour, as there is quite a lot of sugar in the drizzle.

One thing I’ve learnt is that, even though recipes suggest you to heat the oven first thing, that’s not a great idea. Anyone who tells you that a cake preparation will only take 10 minutes is living in denial. What about the weighing? How about the chopping, melting, washing and grating? Liars. By the time you are ready to stick that cake into the oven, you’ll have wasted a good 20 minutes of gas – feel free to call me stingy. It doesn’t take that long to heat the oven, mine is old and dreams of holidays in the sun, but it takes less than 10 minutes to heat up. Just turn it on when you know you’re 5 to 10 minutes away from being done with the preparation.

Without further ado, I give you… Lemon Drizzle 61 Revisited.

What you’ll need:

For the cake

  • 225 gr unsalted butter
  • 225 gr caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 225 gr plain flour
  • 12.5 gr (2 and ½ spoons) baking powder
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

For the drizzle

  • Strained juice of two lemons
  • 115 gr caster sugar

Preparation:

Wash the lemons very thoroughly, dry them and grate the zest finely. Set it aside. In the meantime soften the butter until very soft, but not hot! Combine the butter with the sugar and beat them with an electric whisk until they have become a soft, pale cream. Add the eggs one by one and keep beating the mixture until everything is well combined. Now preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160C/gas 4. In a different bowl mix together the flour and baking powder, making sure the powder is well distributed. Now sift that into the cake mixture and add the zest, mixing all thoroughly. Get yourself a loaf tin, grease it with butter and coat it with flour. Pour the mixture into the tin and then flatten it evenly with the back of a spoon. Bake for about 45 minutes (try the wooden toothpick trick – if it comes out clean, the cake is ready). While the cake is in the oven, get working on the drizzle. Squeeze the two lemons and sieve the juice into a bowl with the sugar. Mix well. When the cake is ready, prick it all over with the same toothpick and then pour the drizzle over the entire surface area, letting it sink into the holes. Let it cool and then, with a flat, butter knife detach the sides of the cake from the tin, being careful not to scratch the metal if you are using a non-stick tin. Remove the cake from it, place on a plate, slice and eat eat eat!