Category Archives: dishes + recipes

Epiphany, la Befana and pizze fritte…

January 6th – Epiphany and the visit of la Befana, the wise men and women and marking the end of 12 days of Christmas. Whatever your beliefs, ‘epiphany’ is a lovely word with connotations of insight, discovery and a sudden understanding of something that is very important to you.

Am pleased to say that la Befana brought my nephew some little toys rather than coal last night and also that she managed to find her way from Italy to Australia!

In another Italian tradition… after learning about Abruzzese pizze fritte – its song and secret recipe handed down from mother-to-daughter (and sometimes son), but only on New Year’s Eve – Roger and I decided to end the year by cooking these.

Except, not knowing all of the secret recipe that contains anise and saffron, we decided to make our own version with toppings of basil pesto and crispy prosciutto, bufala di mozzarella, melanzane, tomato and basilico leaves from the garden. The fritte were also cooked in a wok and finished in the oven, which worked well, but isn’t quite traditional! Yet they were delicious and I loved thinking about their connection with Abruzzo.

Wise women and men arrive on Epiphany. Fresco painted in 1303 by Giotto and his team of painters, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Veneto Italy.

And thinking about this today, I guess I had an epiphany of sorts that it doesn’t matter if something sometimes isn’t ‘perfectly traditional’. The fact I’ve grown up on the other side of the world from the Italy of my ancestors and still treasure the centuries-old traditions and recipes is still expressing a love and honour for them, the past and Italia. If it otherwise means not following a tradition at all because it’s too hard or the recipe is lost, perhaps it’s okay to adapt them at times. For that becomes part of our history too, all of us adapting here and there along the way over the years, while still understanding what is important overall. Tanti auguri di felicità per l’Epifania! Many wishes of happiness for Epiphany! xxx

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Oranges and Christmas…

Nonno Anni told me when he received an orange for Christmas during his childhood in the 1920s, he treasured it. I knew he and his Mum were poor and village life in Italy was hard at that time, especially with his father far away in Australia to seek work, but an orange… I couldn’t quite believe it when I found this out as a child in the 1970s and oranges were so easy to get then. But fresh oranges were considered treasures before refrigeration and faster transport. Especially at Christmas considering that since ancient times, oranges have been said to bring joy, good luck and to ward off evil. (What must Nonno Anni have thought once he had a whole display of oranges at his fruit shop and milk bar!)

So, with Christmas oranges in mind, I decided to bake an orange cake since it’s that time of year and it wasn’t until making it that I realised, this one cake of simple ingredients is also made up of elements from several generations… the Christmas orange story from Nonno’s Italian childhood, the cake tin well-used in baking for countless cake stalls and Australian country shows before my mother-in-law handed it onto us, the orange cake recipe in her mother’s 1930s cookbook, also passed on to us with affection. (And I love how the recipe’s first line is, three eggs and their weight in sugar…)

If I’m honest, Christmas isn’t always the easiest time for me as it feels bittersweet with the happiness of those present mingled with the quiet of those unable to be or now gone. But food is so special in that certain dishes can trigger those lovely memories of people dear to us no matter how long it may be since we’ve seen them and this year, I feel happy that oranges can bring that little bit of sunshine.

Warmest wishes and thank you for your lovely support and messages throughout the year. May 2020 be filled with light and some happiness no matter what else it may bring! Wishing you tante belle cose – many beautiful things, Zoe xx

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Two dishes, from two regions and two bisnonne… Abruzzo and Calabria

When we cook the same dishes that our ancestors cooked it connects us to them, to our history and it also brings us back to something within ourselves that we mightn’t have thought of for some time or something we hadn’t yet discovered. Just the aroma of a dish cooking can release a trigger of deep memories that lets things rise up and take shape in us.

I grew up in Australia, far from where my great-grandmothers, Maddalena and Francesca lived in Italy. And yet, here I am, almost a century on, cooking the same dishes they cooked, a lovely connection to these two strong women. The dishes are maccheroni Calabrese (knitting needle pasta) and pasta alla chitarra (guitar pasta) made on a ‘chitarra box’ I got from Abruzzo. I sought to make sauces that reflected their history too. The maccheroni Calabrese (pasta rolled on a knitting needle for its shape) has a richer red sauce with melanzane and chillies that Francesca’s town of Palmi is known for. And the chitarra pasta has bitter, wild greens added to the passata, inspired by Maddalena walking hillsides near Fossa picking wild greens into her upturned apron and taking them back to cook with. It also has pecorino cheese on top because that part of Abruzzo is known for its sheep.

These dishes (pictured) are from my kitchen so they are a little rustic (as are their photos!) and mightn’t live up to those cooked by my bisnonne, but they made me feel happy and reminded me of those before and sometimes maybe that’s all we need when it comes to cooking.
Hope your next time cooking is delicious and joyful! Zoë xx

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Pikelets and scones…

These lovelies are some baking treats from having more time in the kitchen of late (and there’s been some fiascos as well as triumphs, I admit!) Roger is the scone baker in our house so gets credit for these. He likes following set recipes, while I’m more of a ‘bit of this and that’ cook, assessing as I go. The last time I baked scones was in a school ‘home economics’ class where the teacher said my hands were too warm for the dough (cool hands are better so scones aren’t tough apparently).

Great-grandma Charlotte was the scone baker in my family. She even entered some at the Ipswich show and gained second place for ‘best plate homemade scones’ in 1927 (her breads won several firsts!) Her daughter, Lorna, my grandma, preferred talking politics with a cigarette in hand than cooking, though she did make a mean fried rice. I feel for her as she’d have been great in a professional career but most women in those days didn’t get that chance. I had a thing for pancakes and pikelets from a young age and that page of my first cookbook is splodged with attempts. Just like the kitchen now wears flour over the benchtop and a bit on the floor too.

The thing about home cooking is, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out quite right. When there’s that comforting, cooking scent in the house (if not too burnt!), a cloth spread over the table and a cup of tea or coffee ready, eating what you’ve cooked while it’s still warm can unexpectedly bring back happy memories and stories of people loved, now long-gone, and just for a little while, all feels well.

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a basil forest…

Amazing how a much longed-for pour of rain a few days ago has brought about a basil forest in the vegie patch! So, it’s all things basil for a bit with this beautiful harvest… homemade pizza with basil, tomato and mozzarella, basil pesto with orecchiette and crispy prosciutto, as well as bruschetta with basil, tomato and balsamic. (Any other ideas for basil are most welcome. As is a little more rain all round for everyone in Australia!) And I have to say that Costa Georgiadis’ gardening tip of pinching the tops off when harvesting basil is a great one. I reckon it has quadrupled the crop. 🌿  

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The mysterious… spigarello

The mysterious… spigarello, this ancient, Italian, wild green that seems also called cima di rapa, cavolo broccolo, getti di Napoli, spigariello and mistero nero. Some say it’s part of the broccoli family, others dispute it. I found this bunch at a roadside stall in southeast Queensland hinterland, a long way from southern Italy where for centuries women have picked and gathered into their upturned aprons this bitter green from the mountainsides.

And I can say when tasted fresh, it is quite bitter! But when cooked this mellows to an intense, unique, grassy flavour, much more complex than kale and tastes so healthy it must be doing you good. Many traditional recipes suggest frying it in olive oil with garlic and salt, others add lemon zest, pine nuts and raisins or put it in what is called ‘black soup’.

When trying to find out more about spigarello, I often came across words like – ancient, mystifying, heirloom, unexplained, unusual. Not sure why that makes me like it more but there’s something about finding and cooking with ‘mysterious’ Italian greens that have such ancient history behind them.

 

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Mixed grill and pineapple phosphate soda

1940s Astoria Café menu from when my grandparents, Annibale (Joe) and Francesca waited tables there {courtesy Old Brisbane Album}. With many American GIs in Brisbane at the time items like ‘Yankee Lemonade’ and ‘American Beauty sundae’ made it to the menu along with the expected ‘Mixed Grill’ type of fare and perhaps surprisingly – ‘Double Decker Spaghetti Sandwiches’! The Astoria Café was at the busy corner of Edward and Adelaide streets and an office building now sits at the spot – 243 Edward – though I dearly wish the Astoria was still there.

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pasta arrabbiata and an almost full moon…

A little while ago I mentioned some wood-smoked chillies that I’d bought from a roadside stall. I’m going to use some as a bit of a twist on pasta arrabbiata.

In Italian, ‘arrabbiata’ means ‘angry’ and refers to the heat of chilli peppers in this sauce. The recipe varies but usually has some type of chilli mixed with garlic and herbs in a tomato passata. This time I’m also adding red and spring onions.

As for the pasta, I couldn’t resist these little moons and stars… looking out the window I think it is sort of a half moon tonight although almost full! (I will hold back from making any puns about the dish being heavenly. Knowing how hot these particular chillies are, I think it will be the one having more of a say!)

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Pasta alla chitarra…

Making pasta alla chitarra just as my Abruzzese great-grandmother, Maddalena used to make. The shoebox-sized wooden box strung with steel wires must be ‘tuned’ like a guitar (chitarra). A sheet of pasta is laid over the strings and pressed through with a rolling pin, slicing it into strips. And the pasta sauce is like the ‘gravy’ Nanna Francesca cooked (with a few extra greens I added!)

I certainly don’t use the chitarra too often unless I have a few hours to spare but it was lovely to make this and remember my grandmothers. I like how in a way cooking can bring together different generations, even after some are long gone, as only handed-down recipes can do.

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in the vegie patch…

The first of the eggplants are starting to emerge…

I’m already thinking melanzane involtini, eggplant lasagne, baked, stuffed eggplant and slices grilled on the barbecue and preserved in smoked salt and olive oil!

 

Related article: Involtini di melanzane al forno…

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Spaghettini with lemon, chilli, garlic and herbs…

lemon-basil-and-chilli-spaghettini

 

Looking forward to cooking spaghettini with these lovely fresh ingredients!

The ‘dosa spaghetti’ implement for measuring out dry spaghetti portions comes from a little shop in Orvieto, Umbria.

Still often cook too much though…

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pizzette fritte…

pizzette fritteA decadent version of little pizzas with the fluffy dough fried then oven-baked – pizzette fritte. {Apparently, considered the way pizzas were first made.} They are very light and if made well in the traditional way, should not absorb the olive oil.
On the left, pesto, prosciutto e parmigiano. And to the right, tomato, basil and bocconcini. Buon appetito!

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Slow-roasted artichokes, fennel and red onion…

roasted artichoke, red onion and fennelSlow-roasted artichokes, fennel and red onion… perhaps not as pretty as when in their natural state {see link below} but a little more tasty. These I roughly chopped to similar sizes and slow-roasted for about an hour drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkling of salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika and rosemary leaves.

Related post: From the kitchen table…

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home-baked focaccia e tramezzini…

FoccaciaHome-baked focaccia with rosemary from the garden and Australian-grown garlic and olive oil. Although I had a very brief knead of the dough, the credit all goes to Roger for this one. A lovely way to eat it is to make tramezzini by slicing the focaccia in half, spreading the inside of each piece with basil pesto and then for the filling, adding pieces of grilled haloumi, slices of barbecued eggplant marinated in olive oil, ripe tomatoes, a handful of rocket, roasted capsicum and thinly-sliced, roasted pumpkin.

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Sicilian orange and fennel salad…

Sicilian orange and fennel saladI had never tasted this before but decided to make it anyway. Sliced fennel, orange segments, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt may sound like a curious combination of flavours but I was pleasantly surprised. Delicious on its own or great accompaniment to slow roasted lamb.

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Bisnonna’s frittata…

Zoe's version of Bisnonna's frittataFor my Great-Granny Maddalena’s frittata, the main ingredients were eggs, some salt and flat-leaf parsley. She also used a lot of olive oil (her frittata never stuck to the pan!)

In Italy, she included ‘mountain greens’ that she’d collected from the hillsides in her apron, such as agretti, wild asparagus, nettles and an array of ‘wild greens’.

The frittata may also be baked in an oven rather than in a pan. This is a version of her frittata I made with asparagus and red onion – I stress this is ‘home cooking’ not ‘chef cooking’!!

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Chiacchiere… chitter-chatter ~ carnival sweets

crostoliMy Italian grandmother made these all the time so I thought it fitting to serve them on one of her Florentine, painted wooden serving trays on the terrazzo table that sat on my grandparents’ patio for decades.

These crispy ribbons of pastry dusted with sugar are a sweet popular for centuries throughout Italy and across Europe and Asia. In Italy, they are traditionally eaten at the time of Carnevale, when cities, towns and villages celebrate their historical connections. The ‘chitter-chatter’ pop up under the guise of different names in different regions – chiacchiere, crostole, bugie, cenci, sfogliatelle, nodi, ali d’angelo, frappe, cioffe, galani, sfrappole…

Beware, for chiacchiere or ‘rumours’ can be addictive. They are best if light and flaky but still crunchy with some substance.

Ingredients:

  • 450g plain flour {plus extra for kneading}
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 50g butter
  • 100g caster sugar {raw, unbleached if available}
  • 50ml Marsala {grappa or brandy may be substituted}
  • 1tsp vanilla bean extract
  • oil for frying
  • extra caster sugar or icing sugar to sprinkle

Method:

  • Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, butter, sugar, Marsala and vanilla, mixing thoroughly to create a dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth {dusting extra flour across surface to prevent sticking as needed}.
  • Use a rolling pin or a pasta machine to roll the dough to lasagna sheet thinness.
  • Cut into strips roughly 4-5 cm wide, or to your liking {an alternative is using a fluted, pastry/ pasta wheel cutter to give a crinkled edge}.
  • Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry several strips at a time until they are golden.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent kitchen paper.
  • Sprinkle with caster sugar while still hot, or allow to cool completely then cover with sifted icing sugar.

Serves a good gathering chatting over coffee or sweet fortified wine.

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capsico per cena…

stuffed capsicumSaw these sweet, baby capsicums at the market and couldn’t resist buying them, though I wasn’t sure how I was going to cook them. Decided to stuff the capsicums with a mixture of seasoned goat’s cheese, pine nuts, parsley and basil, then bake in the oven. Served with some crusty bread on the side…

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