Szarlotka (Polish Apple Pie)

A traditional apple pie the Polish way. This is a very warm and wintery dish and, in comparison to its American cousin, the dough is also made in a different way. First you make the base, then you scatter it with apple slices and then, and here comes the funny part, you grate the rest of the dough on top. Yes, you read correctly. This ensures the lid of the pie, if you wish, is very crunchy and has a squiggly look as well, which I find very appealing. The recipe is by Polish home cook and food blogger Ren Behan and was featured in the January issue of the BBC Good Food magazine.

There’s something so homely and warming about Polish cooking which reminds me of the Italian culinary tradition. The kitchen really is put at the heart of the family and this is evident even in the food itself. Plenty is an option here, as this makes a huge cake. Also be careful to stick to the advised chilling time (if not to prolong them), otherwise you will end up with a big mush on top. This cake is best enjoyed with some whipped cream, but I bet it still tastes amazing even if paired with some vanilla ice-cream. Must try!

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Ingredients

  • 6 large Bramley apples
  • 4 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 200g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 tsb vanilla extract

Method

  1. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm rectangular tin (or equivalent). Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Start with the filling. Zest the half lemon and put it aside for the dough. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples, then drizzle them with the lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown. Add to a large pan, then tumble in the sugar, cinnamon and 200ml water. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, then take off the heat and leave to cool in the liquid.
  3. To make the dough, you can either use the food processor (easier and faster) or do it by hand. If you’re doing it by hand, crush the butter pieces in the flour, then add the rest of the ingredients. Otherwise, put the flour and baking powder in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and mix again until the mixture is sandy. Add the sugar, lemon zest, egg yolks and egg, yogurt and vanilla extract, then mix to combine again. Tip it onto a lightly floured surface, then bring together to form a ball.
  4. Cut the dough in half. Wrap one half in cling film and put it in the freezer for at least 1 hour. Use the other half to cover the base of the previously lined baking tin, using your hands to squish it into place and cover any cracks which form in the dough. Try to ensure the surface is smooth, then cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for a good 40 minutes.
  5. When you’re ready to bake it, remove from the fridge, prick the base with a fork and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
  6. Remove the dough half from the freezer, then grate it coarsely (much in the same way as you would do with cheese). Sppon the filling and half of its cooking liquid onto the cooled base, then top with the grated dough. Try not to press it in place but, rather, scatter it. Bake it for 40-45 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack before unmoulding. Enjoy!

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Red Velvet Melting Moments

I have to be honest with you: there’s not much red going on in these and neither is there any velvet. The recipe is from Edd Kimber, the first winner of the GBBO series, who states he decided to combine two of the main classics: melting moments and red velvet. The thing is, these remind me more of whoopie pies and, as I said at the beginning, the red hue does not come through once baked, possibly because these are too dark. That said, they are very nice and I have had quite the positive feedback from these, including my hairdresser, who is usually subjected to pictures of my creations but had never got a chance to taste them herself.

The decoration on top is highly optional. I do like the ridges as they add an extra dimension and I had eyed this type of cookies a while ago, so wanted to give them a try. The filling is a standard cream cheese one, but feel free to use your favourite butter icing recipe instead or substitute that for an equal amount of jam, for instance. The original recipe also called for lemon extract in the filling, but I decided to ditch that and keep it nice and simple instead. A gentle dust of icing sugar at the end would probably increase the dramatic effect.

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Ingredients (for the biscuits)

  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • red food colouring
  • 225g plain flour
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 30g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp milk

Ingredients (for the cream cheese frosting)

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 50g full-fat cream cheese

Method

  1. Line two baking trays with parchment.
  2. To make the dough, put the butter and vanilla into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, then beat on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add enough colouring to tinge it a deep red, then sift the remaining biscuit ingredients into the bowl and mix until it comes together to form an uniform dough. Add the milk if you see the mixture is too dry.
  3. Using your hands, roll the dough into small balls (even number!) and place them onto the prepared baking trays, leaving some space in between them. Dip a fork in plain flour, shake the excess off, then press it lightly onto each of the biscuits, leaving an indent and pressing the biscuits a little flatter.
  4. Transfer the trays to the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I like to give them an extra 5 minutes in the freezer right before I bake them.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
  6. Bake each batch for 20-25 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool on the trays before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the filling, cream the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat until just combined. Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, then pipe a good dollop onto half of the biscuits and sandwich with the remaining ones.

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Pink Chess Cake with Ombre Icing

Yes, I know that, strictly speaking, I have already posted about these two items separately. If you can’t remember them, here are the links to the Chocolate Chess Cake and the Ombre Icing posts. However, this is a cake I made for the 6oth birthday of one of my partner’s work colleagues, Stef. She loved the way I decorated the cake with different tinges of pink buttercream in the shape of roses and asked me to make a similar one. The cake, however, had to look beautiful both on the inside and on the outside, so we opted for a chess cake. Being it for her mum, though, she asked me whether I could make it a pink checkerboard cake and I do like a challenge.

It only took a few twists of the original recipe to make this stunning cake. I decided to fill it with mixed berry jam to echo a traditional Victoria sponge, but the possibilities are, I believe, endless. Also, needless to say, this cake requires you to be extremely patient and to be proficient enough at piping, as that is what makes the sponges and the buttercream decoration. If you don’t like the method indicated here to make a checkerboard cake and you prefer something a little bit more defined, then I suggest you bake 4 different sponges (this is a three-layer cake, but you’ll need the extra sponge to compensate), 2 for each colour, and then you cut equal circles from the cake and re-arrange them as needed.

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Ingredients (for the cakes and filling)

  • 400g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 400g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • pink food colouring
  • 200g mixed berry jam

Ingredients (for one batch of butter icing, you will need at least 4)

  • 125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pink food colouring
  • dark chocolate, to write on top (optional)

Method

  1. To make the sponges, start by pre-heating the oven to 180C and greasing and lining three 20cm round tins. The quantities above might make more mixture than needed, but I always prefer to have extra than to have to improvise.
  2. Put the butter into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the leaf attachment and beat until very creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar, followed by the vanilla extract. Occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure the mixture is evenly combined.Keep beating until the mixture is very fluffy and much lighter in colour.
  3. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides down to ensure the whole butter mixture is thoroughly incorporated. beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, then slowly add the flour and the baking powder and keep on beating until the mixture is even and you can’t see any lumps.
  4. Transfer half of the mixture to a big bowl, then add enough pink food colouring to tinge it a good shade of pink. Remember when baked the colour tends to fade slightly. Add 1 tbsp milk to the pink batter and the remaining milk to the plain one. Transfer both cake batters into two piping bags with no nozzle.
  5. Snip the end of each piping bag so that you end up with a hole about of about 1cm, then start alternating the colours and piping circles in the baking tins. Start from the outside and move towards the inside, ensuring the colour rings are even and alternated between sponges (if you started with a pink outer ring in one tin, the remaining two will have to have the plain one on the outside).
  6. Bake each sponge for about 20-25 minutes until well risen. Check with a skewer that the sponges are cooked, then remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. After about 20 minutes, remove them from their tins and invert them onto a towel on the wire rack. Peel the parchment off the bottom and leave to cool completely.
  7. Now that your sponges are made, you can start making 1 1/2 batches of butter icing to sandwich them together and make the crumb layer. The latter is a plain butter icing layer on the outside of the cake which ensures no crumbs get mixed up with the intricate outer design and spoil it. You will need to apply this in two stages, so allow plenty of time for refrigerating the cake.
  8. To make the butter icing, put the butter and the icing into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the leaf attachment, then beat on medium speed until creamy. Slowly add the icing sugar (this can get very messy!) until fully incorporated and increase the speed to high. Beat for a few minutes, then add the milk and vanilla and beat the mixture for a good 3 minutes, until fluffy and very light in colour.
  9. Transfer the mixed berry jam to a small bowl and lightly beat with a fork to loosen it up. Transfer about 1/3 of a batch of butter icing to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle and get your sponges ready. Place the first sponge onto your cake base/platter, then pipe a thick and even circle of butter icing on the edge. This will ensure the filling does not escape while assembling. Fill the space in between with half of the jam. Top with another sponge, ensuring the outer layer is the opposite colour to the one of the bottom sponge. Use the rest of the butter icing to pipe another ring and fill it with the remaining jam. Top with the third and last sponge.
  10. Now spread the remaining butter icing onto the top and the sides of the cake using an offset spatula or a rubber one, ensuring all the gaps between the sponges are filled and the cake is evenly covered. The final result doesn’t have to be perfect as this layer will be covered with another one. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes, until the butter icing is solid.
  11. Cover the cake with another layer of butter icing, this time ensuring the finish is as smooth as possible, especially on the top. Take your time and don’t rush things as this can be quite tricky. Don’t panic if the butter icing is slightly uneven as you can sort it out with the next step. Refrigerate the cake for a further 30 minutes.
  12. Remove the cake from the fridge and warm your spatula in a jug of hot water for a couple of minutes or under hot running water. Use it to smooth the surface of the butter icing and remove the excess one. The warmth from the spatula will help the butter icing to slightly melt and fall into place. Once done, refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes and prepare more butter icing mixture for the next step.
  13. Now, I find it easier to colour the butter icing gradually as I go and to start from the bottom of the cake as it ensures the roses do not fall off and have something to lean on. That said, if you prefer to make different butter icing colours at the same time, please be my guest.
  14. Start adding a few drops of pink food colouring to the butter icing until you tinge it of a delicate shade. Remember you will have to build up with the colour and in my experience there is a limit to the amount of colour butter icing can take and how dark it can get. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and start piping rosettes all around the base of the cake in an even layer. Once you have completed a layer, squeeze the leftover butter icing back into the bowl and make it a darker shade. As you create each shade, use the darker one to fill the gaps left between the rosettes in the previous colour. This will ensure the colours blend in more gradually. For this cake, I had to leave the top free so as to be able to write something onto it. However, you can also choose to continue the decoration as on the sides (in which case you might want to double the rosette layers you make per shade) or do something else altogether, the choice is yours. Once you are done decorating your cake and are satisfied with the end result, chill it in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but ensure you serve it at room temperature.
  15. If you’re wondering why it looks like the writing is detached from the cake, it’s because I wrote the different letters on baking parchment and then transferred them onto the cake. I wanted it to be perfect and didn’t trust my piping skills enough to do it on the cake directly. If you serve the cake at room temperature, the chocolate will slightly melt and the letters will adhere to the cake better.

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Lasagne alla Bolognese

This is a dish which is very close to my heart and embodies, in quite a lot of ways, my idea of pure comfort food. It reminds me of home and the smell and the taste evoke soothing childhood memories. There are, I suppose, different ways of tackling a lasagna. Much in the same way as pie, the filling can be varied to include meat, fish or vegetables (or, indeed, a combination of those). One think I will not stipulate on is, however, the presence of a solid and homemade béchamel sauce. It is so easy to make it only took me one go to learn how to prepare it and it beats those awful jars of pasty white sauce hands down. I particularly like the fact the recipe below does not require fancy herbs or sauces and it is indeed make with hearty ingredients which we can all find in our local supermarkets.

Also, if you can, try and use fresh lasagna sheets rather than the dried variety. The latter usually requires to be pre-cooked to be softened, which usually means either boiling it or soaking it water. The fresh lasagna sheets provide all of the comfort of the ready made pasta but with none of the fuss as they can be used straight away. The quantities below make a good size lasagna which can easily feed 8 (6 in my flat, were portions are a bit on the heavy side). You’ll also need a big roasting dish to accommodate it all and make sure your béchamel sauce is a bit on the runny side as this will help the filling cook with the lasagna sheets.

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Ingredients

  • 250g packet of fresh lasagna sheets (contains approximately 12)
  • 500g minced pork
  • 500g minced beef
  • 500ml jar chunky tomato passata
  • 100g pancetta slices
  • 70g pancetta cubes
  • 3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 leeks, washed and finely chopped
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 150ml full-bodied red wine + 1 glass
  • 1L whole milk + 1 glass
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 200g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Method

  1. First of all, you need to start making your Bolognese sauce as the longer it cooks, the more flavoursome it will be. Ideally, you want to slow cook it for at least 2 hours, although 3 is definitely better.
  2. Start by preparing the so-called ‘soffritto’, that is by gently frying the chopped carrots, celery sticks and leeks in a dollop of olive oil. On lazy days, I just tumble the vegetables in the food processor and let it do the work for me. This also ensures the mixture is very fine, which is ideal for the sauce as you don’t want big pieces of carrots looking at you. Cook the vegetables over medium heat for approximately 5-10 minutes, until slightly golden and translucent.
  3. In the meantime, finely chop the pancetta slices and add them, together with the pancetta cubes and the two types of mince, to the vegetables. Cook for another 7 minutes over a medium-to-high heat. Pour in the 150ml wine, then let that bubble down over high heat and keep on stirring to ensure the meat is cooked and there is no residual water on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the chunky passata, a third of the stock and the tomato puree. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to low and simmer gently with the lid almost fully on for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Check your sauce regularly and slowly add the rest of the stock a ladleful at a time when the mixture looks a bit on the dry side.
  5. While your sauce cooks, you can make the béchamel sauce. Start by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then take it off the heat and add the flour all at once. Use a wooden spoon to mix the flour into the butter until fully combined, then put it back on the heat and gently cook the flour for a good 4 minutes.
  6. In the meantime, heat the 1L milk in another saucepan. When the flour and the butter mixture (called roux, by the way) is cooked, slowly add the milk, stirring constantly. At this point, I find it easier to switch to a balloon whisk, but if you prefer to use a wooden spoon, be my guest. Gently stir (or whisk) the mixture to get rid of any flour lumps, then  keep on stirring over medium heat until the mixture slowly starts to thicken. You need to mix constantly otherwise it will catch on the bottom of the saucepan and getting rid of the lumps will be a big headache. Your sauce is ready when it covers the back of the wooden spoon, at which point remove it from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and some seasoning. Transfer to a jug or a flat container, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave it to cool at room temperature.
  7. About half an hour before your Bolognese sauce is ready to go, add the remaining glasses of milk and wine, then season generously. Let it bubble until the sauce is on the thick side and it tastes, well, delicious! When ready, remove from the heat and leave to cool ever so slightly before assembling the lasagna.
  8. To assemble the lasagna, start by buttering the oven dish you are going to use and by spooning about 2-3 ladlefuls of the Bolognese sauce on its bottom. You don’t want it tightly covered, but aim for a buffer layer which will prevent the lasagna sheets from sticking to the dish. Pre-heat the oven to 150C.
  9. Place a first layer of lasagna sheets on top of the sauce, then cover with plenty of béchamel sauce. You don’t need to drown the pasta sheets, but aim for a nice and even layer. Cover with a good layer of the Bolognese sauce, then scatter about a third of the Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Repeat with more pasta sheets, béchamel sauce, Bolognese sauce and Parmigiano. Cover with a last layer of pasta sheets. Combine about 2 ladlefuls of the remaining béchamel sauce with the remaining Bolognese sauce, then spread that on top of the dish, ensuring there are no gaps and the pasta sheets are fully covered. Scatter the leftover Parmigiano Reggiano on top.
  10. Bake for about 45-50 minutes. The lasagna is ready when the top layer is of a golden brown colour and the sauce has bubbled on the sides. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for about 15 minutes before eating. Enjoy on its own. A side salad would just be pure heresy.

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Chocolate Layer Cake

The umpteenth chocolate cake, I know. But what can you do? Chocolate has such a soothing appeal to it, when I see a new way of using it, I’m all over it. I had planned to make this as we were supposed to have my partner’s nephew round for dinner. When that plan fell through as he had a football match the following day, I still decided to make it. A chocolate cake is the perfect ending to a busy week, especially if it’s a very rich one. Also, please use good quality chocolate, both white and dark. It makes a real difference to the cake and I found cheaper ones do not blend well with the cake mixture.

The sponges contain chocolate and the ganache is, well, a chocolate one. As if that wasn’t enough, I topped the cake with some chocolate Maltesers! The original recipe asked for white ones (and they would, indeed, provide for a more dramatic effect), but as I couldn’t find them, I settled down for standard dark ones. You could, however, prefer to use different candies or, in fact, omit them altogether. The cake is very rich as it is, you might want to keep the calories within a reasonable limit – not that this has ever bothered me. Also, the original recipe stated to halve both sponges, but I preferred to keep the dark chocolate one as a big lump because I thought it came out a bit on the thin side.

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g white chocolate, melted
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 175g golden sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 195g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp very strong coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the decoration and the ganache)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 50g white chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 small bag of Maltesers, to decorate

Method

  1. Separately melt the white and the dark chocolate for the cake mixture in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl. Once both mixtures are fluid, set them apart.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 180C and line and grease two 20cm sandwich tins.
  3. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat on high speed until fluffy and creamy. Slowly add the eggs and beat until fully incorporated, occasionally scraping the sides of the bowl. Finally add the flour, baking powder and the milk and beat until you get an even mixture.
  4. Divide the mixture into two. Add the dark chocolate and the coffee to one and the white chocolate and vanilla extract to the other. Fold the extra ingredients in with ample and gentle movements, then tip each mixture into a cake tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, until fully cooked. Check with a skewer if the sponges are done, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
  5. In the meantime, prepare the chocolate ganache. Pour the cream into a saucepan and heat until small bubbles start appearing on the surface, then remove from the heat and tumble the finely chopped chocolate in. Swirl the pan to roughly mix the cream and the chocolate, then let it stand for a couple of minutes before finally combining the mixture with a rubber spatula. Transfer to a bowl and let it cool until it reaches a spreadable consistency. This might take a while, so you could also put it in the fridge, but keep on stirring and checking the mixture every 5 minutes to avoid it seizing or becoming too hard.
  6. On a work surface, cut the vanilla and white chocolate sponge in half, then set one of the two halves upside down on a cake stand. Top with about a third of the dark chocolate ganache, then cover with the chocolate sponge. Spread the second third of the ganache on top, then top with the last vanilla sponge and use the remaining ganache to cover the top of the cake.
  7. Transfer the melted white chocolate to a piping bag, then use it to zigzag it the top of the cake. Be creative and use as much as you want, then top with the Maltesers or your favourite candies/chocolates. Enjoy!

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Vegetarian Scotch Eggs

I will be honest with you: I hate frying. It stinks the place up, it’s a mess to clean up afterwards and even back home in Italy my mum used to make a big fuss out of it by segregating herself in the kitchen, window wide open, so that the smell would not permeate the rest of the house. That said, sometimes you just can’t escape it. And, as we say in Italy, everything tastes good as long as it’s fried, even a shoe. Therefore, this time I was prepared. I opened the window, put the extractor fan on maximum and managed to cook these beauties without smoking the place up or turning my kitchen into an oil bath.

I will not go over the history of the Scoth egg. It’s not Scottish, as we all know it, and this article by the Guardian provides both an historical and a cultural overview of this culinary invention. The one below is a meat-free take as per the latest edition of the Good Food magazine. They called it Falafel Scotch Egg, I think ‘vegetarian’ hits the spot a lot better. I also played a little bit with the quantities in the original recipe, so the ones below are the quantities I used. These are very easy to make. I’d say you can get them done and cooked in less than an hour. If you wanted to, you could swap large eggs for quail eggs, for instance, or smaller ones – this way you’d get more mouthful-friendly Scotch eggs and you could also serve a larger crowd. I like how green they look when you cut through them, I think it gives them a whole new dimension.

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Ingredients

  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 400g can of chickpeas, drained
  • 50g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 200g breadcrumbs + 25g
  • 5 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • 2L vegetable oil, for frying
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Method

  1. Put 7 eggs in a pan of cold water, then bring to the boil and cook for about 5-6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drain about half of the water left, then put it in a sink under cold running water until the pan in full again. Drain the eggs, then leave them in the pan and fill it with cold water again. Set aside to cool completely. Once cooled, peel the eggs.
  2. Put the oil, chopped onions and garlic in a frying pan and cook over medium heat just until the vegetables start to turn golden. At this point, add the spices and cook for a further 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool.
  3. Tip the onion and garlic mixture into a food processor and pulse a few times to make a coarse paste, then add the chickpeas, coriander leaves, the remaining egg, the flour, the large quantity of breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Pulse together adding a couple of tablespoons to loosen the mixture a little bit until you get a vibrant green paste which can be moulded easily.
  4. To cover each egg, roll it in a couple of tablespoons of plain flour with some salt and pepper, then dust the excess off and take about 3 walnut-sized pieces of the green filling. Flatten it on your hand, then gently place the egg in the middle and use both of your hands to close the filling around each egg, making sure there are no gaps and the filling is even all around the egg. Roll each egg with the filling outside between your palms to smooth the surface, then set aside.
  5. In the meantime, heat the oil in a saucepan big enough to accommodate two eggs at a time. The oil will be ready when a cube of bread plunged in it browns in a few seconds.
  6. Once all of the eggs have been covered with the vegetarian mixture, place the remaining breadcrumbs and the sesame seeds in a shallow plate, then quickly roll the Scotch eggs in it.
  7. Fry two eggs at a time. They won’t need long, about 3 minutes maximum. Drain on plenty of kitchen paper, then season with a pinch of salt and serve with mustard and/or pickles. Enjoy!

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Pizzette – Party Finger Pizzas

This is a very handy and easy dish for parties and get-togethers. In fact, I wonder why I never made it before. Pizzette are a traditional party food back in Italy and my mum would sometimes make these on a Sunday afternoon for me to have a small party all by myself. The handiness is all in the size because, luckily or unfortunately (you decide), you can put one of these straight into your mouth. In Italian we say that ‘una tira l’altra’ (one follows the other) to stress how moreish these are. They also come in hand – pardon the pun – if your guests are already trying to juggle a drink and a plate with other canapés. These go straight for the mouth in one painless gesture. Very handy, you see?

Needless to say, the topping is highly customizable. The one you find here is the traditional Margherita topping, but please feel free to experiment with alternative ones. Anchovies, tuna and peppers are all stables on a party table back in my home country. The recipe is from Trattoria da Martina, although it appears Anna Gennari is the original author. I have slightly modified the topping quantities. Throughout the recipe I will also share with you a couple of tricks I use when making pizza here in the UK. I find the ingredients contain a lot more water if compared to the ones readily available in Italy, especially mozzarella. This also means that when you are baking them, the pizzas always come out soggy due to the amount of water released.

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Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125ml water
  • 125ml whole milk
  • 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 5g salt
  • 1 medium egg

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 20ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 500g polpa di pomodoro (you can find this in any large supermarket, it’s like a coarser passata)
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 10g salt
  • 200g mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method

  1. To make the pizza dough, put the flour, salt, sugar and dried yeast in the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the hook attachment. In a saucepan, heat the milk and water until lukewarm. Turn on the mixer and slowly add the liquid to the flour, then tumble in the egg. Slowly add the butter while the mixture still roughly mixed, then let the ingredients combine thoroughly. The mixture will be very wet at this stage, but don’t worry.
  2. Once you have worked the mixture in the mixer for a good 5 minutes, oil your work surface and your hands and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it for a good 5 to 10 minutes until fully combined, pliable and shiny. The oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface and will allow you to knead it. It will slowly be absorbed in the mixture, but don’t be alarmed as this will only add up to the texture and the flavour.
  3. Turn the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and let it prove in a warm environment for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the topping. Pour the polpa di pomodoro in a fine sieve and drain off the excess water. Pour the remaining tomato pulp in a small bowl and add the rest of the ingredients but the mozzarella. Drain the latter from its water, then cut in thick slices and pat with kitchen paper to absorb the excess moisture. You might need to change the paper twice or even three times, depending on the quality of the mozzarella used. Set the topping ingredients aside.
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the clingfilm, punch back the dough to its original size and tun it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out to the thickness of about 5mm. Flour an 8cm round pastry cutter, then use it to cut out small dough rounds. These will be your pizzette. Place these on baking trays lined with baking parchment, then cover with a towel and let them prove for another hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Dice your mozzarella into small cubes.
  7. Use the back of a teaspoon to press slightly onto each dough round and make a small indentation. This will host the tomato sauce and the mozzarella. Spoon small amounts of the tomato sauce onto the cavity (be careful not to put too much!), then sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top. Bake each batch of pizzette for 15 minutes, until the dough is nicely golden and the mozzarella on top has melted. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the side, although these are just as delicious when warm.

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