Fennel-scented Seabass

Now this is a very easy dish. All you need to do is bake some seabass with the addition of a handful of ingredients to get yourself a tasty and colourful meal. The recipe is a free adaptation of one found in one of the many cooking magazines I buy, so please feel free to experiment with the ingredients you like the most and add them on to the fish.

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Ingredients

  • 2 seabasses, whole, descaled and gutted (you can ask your fishmonger to do this)
  • 1 fennel bulb, finely sliced – leaves put aside
  • 50g black olives, pitted
  • 2 red chillies, finely sliced
  • 1 bunch of basil, finely sliced
  • 1 whole lemon, sliced (I used limes here)

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 160C. Line a baking tray and put the fish on top of it, with their heads facing opposite directions. Season both sides of each fish with plenty of salt and pepper.
  2. Fill the cavities of the fish with the fennel leaves, some basil and one or two lemon slices.
  3. Arrange the rest of the ingredients around, under and above the fish, then drizzle with some olive oil.
  4. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the fish is cooked but not dry.
  5. Remove from the oven, fillet and serve.

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Chocolate Swirl Biscuits

I had been wanting to make these for a while, but partly because I sometimes delay projects and don’t come back to them until later and also partly because I had tried to make them and they had turned out ghastly, I still had to manage these visually stunning biscuits. Until now. I found this recipe posted on a food blog, but as they are not the author’s I will quote the original source, that is the Green & Blacks Recipe Book. These are shortbread biscuits but, hélas, very buttery, so not for the fainthearted.

They are kind of easy to make, provided you stick to the chilling time advised and try not to rush the whole biscuit-building process. It is fundamental that the two types of dough are very (very!) cold before and during assembling, or the whole swirl will just melt. Also, do not try and bake these at room temperature (as I did the first time), but rather put them in a really hot oven from fridge cold. You can see that mine are not exactly round and they look like they were melting on the outside. That is because the silly me forgot to check the oven temperature and it was too low to start with… Ahem…

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Ingredients (for the vanilla dough)

  • 150g plain flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 125g butter

Ingredients (for the chocolate dough)

  • 125g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 125 butter
Method
  1. Start by making the plain (vanilla) dough first. Sift the flour in a food processor, then add the sugar and butter. Start to blend. This will take a few minutes, but you will see the mixture starting to come together in clumps. When the sound of the food processor changes and you see bib blobs of dough going around, turn the engine off and tip the dough on a working surface. Bring together with your hands and lightly knead to incorporate all of the ingredients, then shape into a ball, flatten it, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  2. Repeat the same process for the cocoa mixture. There is no need to wash the food processor. Remember to sift the flour and the cocoa powder this time. Wrap and chill the chocolate dough for the same time as the plain one.
  3. Once the two types of dough are very firm and thoroughly chilled, take them out of the fridge and lay two sheets of baking parchment on your work surface.
  4. Lightly flour a rolling pin, then use it to roll out each dough (on a sheet of baking parchment respectively) to the thickness of a pound coin. You should obtain a large rectangle.
  5. Once both types of dough are rolled out, take the chocolate dough and lay it on top of the plain one, using the baking parchment to help you to lift it. Place the longest side towards you, then start gently rolling the dough up, carefully wrapping it and making sure not to break it. Tightly wrap it, then remove the baking parchment, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge to firm up completely for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line two baking sheets with parchment (you could even use the ones you used to roll out the dough).
  7. Remove the sausage-like biscuit log from the fridge, then use a very sharp knife to cut thin slices of the log. You will see immediately that the biscuit has a spiral-like hidden pattern. Lay these on the baking sheets, then put them in the fridge to firm up again for 10 minutes.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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Ham, Potato & Spinach Tart

The main concept behind this dish is how simple it is to make. Forget fiddling about with pastry cases, having to blind bake them and hoping the bottom doesn’t come out soggy. The filling here is encased in a potato crust, which makes is a lot easier to prepare (all you need is a piping bag – but you could also spoon it in the tin) which is then enriched with cheese and herbs, to make it tastier. I have used ham and spinach for the filling, but really any other fillings would do as well. Try chicken, tuna, crab, wilted salad leaves and you will get a very tasty yet easy dish every single time.

Also, I used a 20cm springform tin as I currently do not have a standard cake pan (heaven forbid, I know), but as long as you grease the sides any cake tin would do, even a standard sandwich one.

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Ingredients

  • 800g baking potatoes
  • 600g spinach
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200g smoked cheese. grated
  • 150g sliced ham
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 70g freshly grated Parmesan
  • 4 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped

Method

  1. Peel and quarter the potatoes, then boil them for about 15 minutes in plenty of salty water. When they are cooked, drain them, then tip them back into the pan and add the butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.
  2. In the meantime, drizzle some olive oil in a frying pan and cook the spinach over a medium heat until wilted (about 10 minutes). Transfer to a sieve and leave to drain from the excess water.
  3. When the potato mash has cooled, add the Parmesan cheese, the breadcrumbs, rosemary and the egg yolks, then mix well to combine. Spoon it in a piping bag and simply snip off the end of it (no need for nozzles).
  4. Now start layering your tart. Begin with the potato mixture. Pipe it in concentric circles on the bottom of the tin, starting with the outer one. Slowly make your way to the centre of the tin. Once you have covered the bottom, start building up the sides by piping more outer circles. Use all of the potato mash you have, this should be just enough to create a potato case for the pie.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  6. Tip half of the spinach onto the bottom of the tart and spread them around, then cover with half of the cheese and half of the ham. Repeat a layer of spinach, but this time top it with the ham and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
  7. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the top turns golden and the potato case creates a crust on the top.
  8. Remove from the oven, unmould and leave to cool down for about 10 minutes before slicing.

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Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

Here is a recipe inspired from Emma’s take on it, although mine is a baked cheesecake, mostly because I did not trust adding raw eggs into the mixture. I therefore omitted gelatine altogether. The result is a very creamy and moreish cheesecake which, surprisingly enough, is not too sweet. If you look at the list of ingredients, you will see that there is no added sugar. The sweetness is provided only by the inner treacliness of dulce de leche which, let’s be frank, I could eat on its own – and have, in fact, done (tablespoon after tablespoon).

If you like me could not find dulce de leche at your local supermarket, you can easily make your own. All you need is a tin of condensed caramel and a water bath. You can find the information on how to make it here. I used the oven method as I couldn’t be bothered having to check over the stove every once in a while whether the caramel-like cream was ready. It worked perfectly.

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Ingredients

  • 130g digestive biscuits
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 130g full-fat cream cheese
  • 200g dulce de leche
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp dulce de leche (for the decoration)
  • icing sugar (for the decoration)

Method

  1. Grease a 20cm springform tin and set aside. Pre-heat your oven to 150C.
  2. Put the biscuits in a bag and bash with a rolling pin until reduced to very fine crumbs or put in a food processor and whiz for about 1 minute. Add the melted butter and stir to combine.
  3. Transfer the mixture to the tin and press it down to create an even layer. Place it in the fridge to firm up while you make the filling.
  4. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the mascarpone with the cream cheese and beat until smooth. Add the dulce de leche, eggs, vanilla and double cream, beating well after each addition and scraping the sides from time to time. The mixture will be fairly runny but that is fine.
  5. Take the prepared tin out of the oven and pour the filling on the biscuit base, then place in the oven and bake for 1 hour or until set.
  6. Once cooked, turn the oven off but leave the cheesecake in. Ideally, you should allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature in the cooling oven, but in my case I left it in for 20 minutes and then chilled it in the fridge.
  7. To decorate the cheesecake, fill a piping bag with the dulce de leche, then snip the end off and draw your favourite pattern on top. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

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Boeuf Bourguignon

When you think of quintessential French cuisine, I bet this recipe comes straight to your mind. And rightly so, mostly because the name is in French – and all it means is ‘Burgundy-style beef’ – and because the recipe dates back to a time where farmers could not afford the most expensive cuts of meat and came up with a clever way of making even the less noble cuts tender and tasty – stewing. The recipe was then made famous by the likeness of Auguste Escoffier and Julia Child to the French and English-speaking audiences respectively and it has become a flagship dish ever since.

Let me start by saying that there are a few things you should bear in mind when making this. First of all, the meat should be lean and not excessively fat. Also, it should be cut in big chunks and not in small ones like you would for a British stew. Secondly, you need a big cast iron casserole which you can use both on the hob and in the oven. The meat needs to slow cook for at least 3 hours in a very low oven, so the better quality your pan is, the better. I have been asked to make this using a slow cooker, but as that does not involve much cooking at all, I refused to do so. I do however understand you might be pressed for time sometimes, so you could decide to use that instead. Last, but not least, the wine: the traditional recipe obviously asks for a good Burgundy red wine, but should you not be able to afford/get your hands on one, then a full-bodied red would be just as good.

You can serve this dish à la Française, that is with either tagliatelle or rice cooked in beef stock, or you can opt for a simpler approach and have it with either mashed potatoes or on its own. This recipe comes from the GialloZafferano website.

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Ingredients (for the beef stew)

  • 1.5 kg lean steak beef, cut into 6cm pieces
  • 1 litre Burgundy wine
  • 1 litre beef stock
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 200g pancetta or rindless streaky bacon, cut into small chunks
  • 200g carrots, chopped
  • 200g onions, chopped
  • 30g plain flour, sifted
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed/finely chopped
  • 25g tomato puree
  • 3 sprigs of rosemary and thyme, tied together to make a bouquet garni
  • 3 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper

Ingredients (for the onions and mushrooms)

  • 300g small onions or shallots
  • 500g button/chestnut mushrooms
  • 100ml beef stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Once you have cut the meat in big chunks, lay some kitchen paper on a surface and put the pieces of meat on it, then cover with some more kitchen paper to pat dry the meat prior to searing it. This ensures the meat does not stick to the pan and forms a nice crusty layer on the outside, keeping all of the juices inside.
  2. Drizzle some olive oil in the cast iron casserole and put it on a medium heat, then add the cubed pancetta/bacon and fry for 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pot and set aside.
  3. Now get rid of the kitchen paper, turn the heat to high and sear the meat chunks in batches of 4 or 5 pieces at a time (if you crowd the pan too much the meat will steam), then remove to a dish and continue until you have seared all of the meat.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium and add the carrots and onions, stirring frequently. Make sure to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the casserole while stirring, then cook for about 10 minutes, until softened and golden.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 250C and turn the fan on.
  6. Return the pancetta to the casserole together with the meat, then cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until all of the juices have evaporated. Add the flour in two batches and stir well after each addition.
  7. Transfer the casserole to the (really) hot oven WITHOUT the lid and leave it for 10 minutes, mixing well every 5 minutes. This ensures the meat browns well on the outside and forms a slightly charred and harder crust, which will seal the juices inside and make the meat extremely tender.
  8. Remove the casserole from the oven and put it on a medium heat. Turn the oven down to 130C (no fan) or 110C (fan-assisted).
  9. Add the wine to the casserole and mix well, then add all of the stock, but reserve about 2 tbsp to melt the tomato puree in a small bowl, then pour that in as well. Add the bouquet garni and the bay leaves, then bring to a simmer.
  10. When the liquid is gently simmering (do not boil it!), clamp the lid on and put it in the oven for 3 hours. Once that is done, turn off the oven and leave the meat inside to gently cool down until stone-cold.
  11. In the meantime, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Peel the onions and remove the hard bit at the bottom, then drizzle some olive oil in a shallow pan and gently fry the onions until slightly browned. Add the beef stock, put a lid on and gently cook until softened.
  12. In another pan, prepare the mushrooms. Clean the mushrooms, then slice them in halves (or quarters). Drizzle some olive oil in the pan, then add the clove of garlic and gently pan fry it (do not burn it!). Add the mushrooms and pan fry them until golden but still firm. Add the chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
  13. Now take the big casserole with the meat and the juices. Using a slotted spoon, transfer all of the meat to a plate. Also remove the bouquet garni and any other herbs you might have used.
  14. Place a sieve over the casserole and pour the onions and the mushrooms into the sieve, so that the juices would run straight into the casserole. Transfer the juices to a blender and blend until smooth or transfer to a bowl and use a liquidiser to blend them.
  15. Place the meat, onions and mushrooms back into the casserole, then pour the gravy-to-be in a shallow pan and reduce by at least half its volume. You need to reach a velvety consistence, thick enough to cover the back of a spoon. Once that happens, pour the gravy over the meat and vegetables and serve at once.
  16. If you are feeling very French, you can serve it the original way, that is with some tagliatelle seasoned with a pinch of cracked black pepper.

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The Russian Braid

The name “Russian” merely refers to pattern you give to the dough rather than the recipe itself. Take it from someone who knows what he’s talking about, this recipe is far from being even remotely related to Russia. I found it on an Italian food blog, Profumi e Colori (Scents and Colours), and I decided to keep the name the blogger used in the first instance. Little did I know that it would lend itself to some sort of play upon words too (sometimes a linguist really finds these things attractive).

Right, the recipe itself is not difficult, all you need to ensure is that you respect the three proving intervals, otherwise your braid will not be as soft as it should be. Creating the actual braid is not difficult and the link above takes you to the original page (in Italian), where Manu has made a step-by-step picture guide to help you to create the pattern. I will try and describe it below. Also, please make sure you use (strong) bread flour for this recipe and for any recipes which include yeast, because you need a flour with a high gluten content to allow the yeast to work its magic and make the dough rise.

I have slightly modified the original quantities only because I thought the original recipes was a little bit too buttery for my taste.   Also, the recipe does not ask for any filling in particular other than butter and sugar, but you can always use cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices you like. Jam is also an option, although it would have to be a very thin layer in order not to moisten the dough too much.

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Ingredients

  • 200ml whole milk, at room temperature
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 90g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 600g strong bread flour
  • 7g sachet dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 30g unsalted butter, softened (for the filling)
  • 1 tsp caster sugar (for the filling)

Method

  1. First, prepare your “dough” for the first proving. To do so, mix the milk with the dried yeast in a large bowl and start adding flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, slowly whisking that in with a balloon whisk, until the mixture thickens up nicely and reaches the consistency of custard. I used approximately 5 tablespoons. Once that is done, lightly dust the surface of the mixture with some extra flour and put aside to rest in a warm environment until big cracks appear on the flour layer and the mixture below starts bubbling up, more or less like a volcano. This is called “starter” or “leavened dough” and all it does, is that it creates a yeat-rich base for the dough to be built around.
  2. If for whatever reason the yeast doesn’t start working and no cracks appear on the surface, you can speed up the process by warming up a little bit of water in a big pan and suspending the bowl with the starter on top.
  3. Next, incorporate all of the other ingredients and knead the dough for at least 10 minutes, until very soft and pliable. Once that is done, shape into a ball and put it in a bowl, cover it tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for at least 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size. This is the second proving.
  4. Now comes the fun part. Lightly dust your working surface with flour, then tip the risen dough onto it and, using a floured rolling pin, stretch the dough to a big rectangle. Try and keep the edges straight as much as possible as it will make it easier to roll it up later (I know it’s easier said than done!).
  5. In a bowl, mix the butter and the sugar served for the filling until creamy, then spread on the dough in an uniform layer. Next, roll the dough. Start from one of the shortest sides and tightly roll the dough up into a long cylinder – well, Swiss roll more like it.
  6. Trim the edges with a very sharp knife so they are straight. Cut approximately 3cm worth of roll from one of the edges and keep aside. This will be used to make one of the roses.
  7. Using a very sharp knife and making sure not to squash your roll, cut it vertically in the middle, leaving about 2cm at one of the ends. Separate the two strands you obtain.
  8. Now, grab one strand with each hand right where they meet to form the bit you haven’t cut through at the top, then turn that inside out. This will create one of the roses.
  9. Start braiding the two strands by alternating them on top of each other until you finish the dough.
  10. Transfer the braided dough into a greased and floured loaf tin, ensure it sits nicely inside and then join the two strands at the bottom with the rose you had cut from the dough previously. You should now have a rose at the top and one at the bottom.
  11. Cover with clingfilm or put it in a plastic bag and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This is the third proving.
  12. Pre-heat your oven to 180C, then put the loaf tin on a baking sheet, then slide into the oven and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, until puffed up and golden.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly, then unmould from the tin and serve while still warm.

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That Chocolate Cake

When I bake, I tend to be wary of recipes which claim “this is the best (insert dish) recipe you will ever find” as, frankly, said claims tend to fall flat in most cases. However, I think I might have to make an exception with this cake.

Let me start by saying the batter is a very (veeeery!) liquid one and it took me almost twice the stated baking time to ensure it was all cooked through. Also, a standard sandwich tin would not do as the batter would have seeped out and covered the inside of my oven – which, FYI, needs a thorough scrub anyway – with chocolate-scented muck. Fortunately, I happened to have tinfoil baking dishes, which worked perfectly. It also is an extremely rich cake, so be wary when you cut a big fat slice as you might not be able to finish it. I also found out that you should try and use chocolate with a very high cocoa content (above 70% if possible), mainly because any lower that 40% would make your icing too sweet, as it was in my case.

Last but not least, let me pay tribute to the source for this recipe, Emma’s wonderfully sweet blog, Poires au Chocolat.

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Ingredients (for the icing)

  • 275ml double cream
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • 130g 99% unsweetened dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 100g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 450g granulated sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 85g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 275ml milk
  • 135ml vegetable oil with no flavour
  • 275ml boiling water

Method

  1. Start with the icing. Combine the cream and sugar in a large saucepan. Put over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Once it starts to properly bubble, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 6 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool for one minute then add the butter and chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth then transfer to another bowl and stir in the vanilla. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter, line and flour two 8″ cake tins (not ones with removable bases, the batter is too liquid).
  3. Place the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer with the beater attached. Stir on the lowest setting until a uniform brown colour. Add the beaten eggs, milk and canola oil then turn the mixer up to medium and beat for 2 minutes.
  4. Boil the kettle while it beats then turn off and pour in the water. Mix it on low until smooth – it is very soupy. Divide between the two tins. Carefully transfer to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until a skewer can be removed from the centre cleanly (mine took 1 1/2 hour). Leave to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes in the tins then turn out and remove the paper. 
  5. By the time the cakes are totally cool, the icing should be thick enough to ice – it should hold its own weight. Place one of the cakes onto a serving plate. Spoon some of the icing into the middle and spread it out. Add the top layer then spoon about half the rest of the icing onto the top. Drag down and over the sides and smooth over. Add the rest as you need it, working fairly quickly. 

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Courgettes Stuffed with Tuna

I am really sorry to have been sporadic these past few days, but when you need to combine a full-time job with a part-time one, it is sometimes hard to find the time to also update your blog. Anyway, I will try to be more regular in the future.

This is a recipe which reminds me of my childhood. My grandmother still makes these, although she uses minced meat and tomato sauce for the filling rather than tuna. My mother, on the other hand, has always made them with tuna. According to this recipe, which I used as a source of inspiration (I also ditched pine nuts in favour of peanuts), this is a traditional dish from Liguria, the Italian region where Genoa is. Some of the comments on that page have outlined that the amount of ingredients required in this version of the dish would have not been available to hunger-stricken, poor Ligurians, therefore do not expect the recipe to be 100% authentic, but more of a modern take on an Italian classic.

The quantities reported below are enough to fill 6 big courgettes and have some leftover filling. You are more than welcome to use it to stuff peppers, tomatoes, onions or any other vegetables. I opted for some meatballs, but should you decide to follow my steps, then add about 100g of breadcrumbs to the mixture and give it a good night’s sleep in the fridge to firm it up a little bit.

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Ingredients

  • 6 big courgettes
  • 2 onions
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 slices of bread, better if stale
  • 50g Parmesan
  • 2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
  • 20g salted peanuts
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 x small tin of anchovies, drained and finely chopped
  • 2 x tins of tuna in oil/brine, drained
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Method

  1. First of all, start with the courgettes. Bring some water to the boil in a big pan, throw in some salt and add the courgettes (whole, not trimmed). Leave to gently simmer for about 10 minutes, until slightly softened and wrinkled, then drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Tip the bread slices in a bowl and pour over the milk, then leave to soak until softened.
  3. In the meantime, finely chop the two onions, heat some oil in a pan, tip in the onions and cook them over a medium heat with the anchovies for about 8 minutes, until the anchovies have melted in the mixture and the onions are cooked.
  4. When the courgettes have cooled down, trim the top and bottom, then slice them in half. Carve each half to remove the flesh. You can use an ice-cream scoop, but I found using a knife was a lot easier for me. Once you have removed all of the flesh, finely chop it and add it to the onion mixture. Cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Using a food processor, whiz together the soaked bread, tuna, capers and peanuts until you have a very smooth mixture, then remove from the food processor and set aside.
  6. Still using the food processor (no need to wash it), tip in the onion and courgette mixture and whiz that as well. Remove to the same bowl with the tuna mixture and mix well to combine. Leave to cool down.
  7. Once the mixture has cooled down, add the two eggs and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  8. Line a baking tray with some baking parchment, then pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  9. Lay the emptied courgette halves on the baking parchment, then fill them with the mixture. You will have some leftover. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, then bake for 30 minutes until golden and slightly scorched.

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Mint Pan di Spagna Cake

Today I discovered a very interesting food blog written in a beautiful, artistic and very sophisticated Italian (and I do love a well-written piece, being a linguist myself). The blog is called Fragole a merenda (strawberries for breakfast) and that’s where I got the inspiration for this cake from.

As documented by other foodie websites I refer to, pan di Spagna was originally called Pâte Génoise, Genoise sponge. Does it ring a bell now? If you are interested in a bit of history, it all dates back to the 18th century, when Italian chef Giobatta Cabona prepared an incredibly light and soft cake during a trip to Spain with the Italian ambassador. The cake was a roaring success and it was named pan di Spagna (literally, bread/pastry of Spain) in honour of the Spanish court, who hosted the chef and the ambassador during their trip. If the original recipe asked for all the ingredients to be mixed over a pan of simmering water in order to make the eggs increase five-fold, the modern version only relies on a good whisk and plenty of air incorporated in the mixture.

There are two ways of preparing pan di Spagna. In the first one, the flour is added only at the end of the preparation and slowly and gently folded in so as to knock out as little air as possible. According to the second one, you should instead alternate flour and egg whites. This prevents the air in the egg whites to be knocked out right at the end when the flour is added. Also, by adding the flour a little at a time you ensure it is fully incorporated by the time all of the egg whites are added, which gives you a spongier and more delicate result. I used the second one, and you can check out the recipe I used on here (in Italian), although I used one less egg than indicated.

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Ingredients (for the pan di Spagna)

  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 160g plain flour, sifted
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp mint extract (optional)

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 250ml double cream
  • 1 tbsp crème de menthe or other mint-flavoured liquour
  • 300g mixed berries (I used blackberries, blueberries and strawberries)

Method

  1. First of all, make sure you line, butter and flour a 23cm springform cake tin. I used a 26cm one here, but if you want your base to be thicker then reduce the diameter of the tin you are using. Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Now, make the sponge. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar using an electric whisk until very pale, light and fluffy. This should take at least 5 minutes. If you are using it, you can add the mint extract.
  3. In another bowl (I used my KitchenAid), whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  4. Sift your flour on a piece of baking parchment, then pour it into a bowl.
  5. Sift (yes, again) one fourth of the flour into the yolk and sugar mixture, then whisk that in with the electric beaters.
  6. Using a rubber spatula, fold about one third of the egg whites into the floury mixture using very ample, delicate and regular movements in order not to knock any air out of the mixture.
  7. Start alternating the flour to the egg whites. Always make sure you sift your flour into the mixture and that the previous egg white or flour batch has been completely incorporated before you add anything else. The last addition should be flour.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, level the top and bake for 45 minutes, by which time the top of the cake should be golden and the cake should have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Turn the oven off but do not remove the cake. Instead, leave it inside for another 5 minutes and only then remove it from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. This prevents the fragile cake structure from collapsing when the temperature suddenly drops.
  9. To make the topping, whip the cream to soft peaks, then add the mint liquour and mix that in.
  10. Pour on top of the cooled sponge cake, then spread it around using a palette knife and decorate with the berries. If your cake is thicker than mine, you can even cut the cake into half and fill it with more cream and berries, much in the way you would do with a Victoria sponge cake.

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Spinach and Walnut Malfatti

One of the many magazines I read (more or less) frequently is Food & Travel, mostly because it comprises my two favourite things in life. I have to admit it is slightly pompous in places and it does provide mostly insights and advice on places I probably never will go to, but looking at the pictures of green valleys and outstanding traditional and regional food does the trick for me anyway.

This is an Italian-inspired recipe. ‘Malfatti’ literally means ‘badly made’, mostly because these spinach balls will turn out very different one from the other and that is their charm. The name evokes a certain nonchalanche when preparing them which is typical Italian (or French, but that’s a different story altogether). They are very easy to make and provide instant comfort. Last note: these are served with a tomato salsa and Parmesan sprinkles. However, due to the flexible nature of malfatti (I sound like an engineer now), these will be fantastic even if you put them in a baking tray with some tomato sauce and bake them, more or less like you would do with lasagne.

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Ingredients (for the malfatti)

  • 300g spinach
  • 20g butter
  • 250g ricotta
  • 100g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 3 tbsp corn flour
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg yolk

Ingredients (for the salsa)

  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped into small pieces
  • 15g parsley, roughly chopped

Ingredients (for the sprinkles)

  • 50g Parmesan, finely grated
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 orange, zest only

Method

  1. Put the spinach in a large pan and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Add 1 tsp salt and bring to the boil, by which time the spinach will have wilted. 
  2. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain well, then squeeze out the excess water from the spinach. When done, chop finely and put on kitchen paper.
  3. Melt the butter over a low heat. Once it’s sizzling, sauté the spinach for 4 minutes, stirring often. Put in a colander and put to one side to cool completely. Put a large pan of water on to boil.
  4. Using a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. In a large bowl, combine them with the ricotta, Parmesan and corn flour. Stir in the spinach and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in the egg and the egg yolk.
  5. Scatter a baking tray with some flour and another with some oil.
  6. Mould the malfatti into small balls using your hands. Place them on the floured tray. When the water is boiling, throw in 1 tbsp salt and add some malfatti at a time to cook. Wait until the float back to the surface, pretty much like gnocchi. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Let them drain, then put them on the oiled tray.
  7. To make the salsa, warm the olive oil in a pan, then add the tomatoes and parsley. Season lightly with sea salt and  black pepper.
  8. To make the chilli Parmesan sprinkles, simply combine all three ingredients in a bowl.
  9. Serve the malfatti with some salsa e sprinkle with the chilli Parmesan.