Saturday, March 18, 2017

Schiacciata con pomodorini - cherry tomatoes schiacciata, and a meal from the garden

I had a great summer of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, the reds are always the best for flavour, but the yellow are pretty to look at and I like a contrast of colour on my plate, so why not! This schiacciata is easy as it doesn't need muck kneading.

For the schiacciata:
Place 300 ml warm water in a large mixing bowl, add 2 tsp active yeast granules and 1/4 tsp raw sugar. Wait 5 minutes then add 500 g high grade flour and 1 tbsp wheat gluten flour, plus a good pinch of salt. Mix well then dust with four, cover with cling film and let it rise for 2 hours. After 2 hours place a little olive oil on your hands and then gently mix the dough, pick it up and place it on a baking sheet cut so that it will fit you over tray (I have a 90cm oven so one long tray is good for me, for a standard oven divide the dough into two pieces). Roll the dough to cover the baking paper and then place on the baking tray. Brush with more oil if you like, then cut the cherry tomatoes into halves and place over the down, pressing them down lightly. Sprinkle with salt and oregano (chopped garlic too if you like).

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200° C for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until you can see that the bread is baked on top and on the bottom (lift to check). Eaten warm is fantastic, but it keeps well for a couple of days, or at least, it would, but we tend to eat it pretty quickly! 

We had it for dinner with a Caprese salad (cherry tomatoes again, mozzarelline, basil and borage flowers) dressed with olive oil and salt, plus flat beans from the garden (teghe) boiled and dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt (my daughter loves these!) and a simple guacamole (avocado, garlic, salt and lemon juice, made in the nutribullet!).

This is a perfect meal for me!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, March 13, 2017

Eat your colours in a minestrone

Lovely colourful vegetables from the garden (except the red onions), all ready for a minestrone. From the bottom: red onions, rainbow chard, carrots, yellow beans, silverbeet stalks, celery, green beans, flat beans, kale. Just add water and salt.

Wishing you all a colourful week!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 10, 2017

Two variations on Caprese Salad

Caprese with edible flowers and Caprese with tree tomatoes and two basils

Caprese is probably one of the world best known salads (and antipasto), and there are many variations, so here a couple more:

Caprese with edible flowers

I used red and yellow cherry tomatoes, and mozzarelline (the cherry size), plus added some edible flowers (borage and dianthus from my garden, organic of course). Add small basil leaves too before serving, if you like. Suitable also for a cocktail party, and ever so pretty!

Caprese with tree tomatoes and two basils

I used a mixture of vine tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and semi-dried tomatoes, mozzarelline (but you can use regular mozzarella cut into slices or pieces) and green basil and purple basil leaves. Dress with olive oil and salt. A filling salad or light lunch.

And now some pictures from my garden!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tofe con friarielli (cime di rapa) - and Lewis Road Creamery Strawberry Ice Cream with Matcha

For the first time in my life I planted friarielli (cime di rapa), I got the seeds from Slow Food Auckland and I was so excited that I didn't wait for Autumn but I planted them straight away. Auckland is hot and wet, so they grew fast and started flowering quickly, I had to pick them before they seeded even if the tops were small. But they were delicious. I also have to confess that I ate some as salad, when the leaves were very young, and they are probably one of the best alternative to rocket salad around.

After I got my first batch I cleaned it and then cooked in a pan with olive oil, garlic and salt. You can add chilli, but I prefer to taste the friarielli rather than the chilli. Simmer them slowly with a lid for 20-30 minutes stirring often, if they are fresh you don't need to add water (mine came directly from the veggie garden!). The best pasta to have them with is orecchiette, but I didn't have any so I used some tofe, which are close enough in shape, but different in flavour! Still, they were great, or maybe it is just me, happy with my new crop of friarielli!

And now for the bouquet of the day from my garden!

and for dessert....

Lewis Road Creamery Strawberry Ice Cream with Matcha

Well, I didn't really make this, but it is a great idea and so I am sharing it: sprinkle a little matcha (Japanese green tea powder) over strawberry ice cream, the two flavours go beautifully together and it looks pretty too!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, February 13, 2017

Crema Bruciata, or Crème brûlée, with nectarines, plums and cherries

The original recipes comes from my book Sweet As... ,  my own recipe which doesn't require steam baking in the oven and includes nectarine slices. Plum slices and cherries were also added here, and the result was delicious!  In Italy we also call this crema bruciata, but crème brûlée is most commonly used now as it sounds sophisticated :-).

To make the crème you will need one egg yolk for each 100ml of cream and 1 tbsp of sugar, for this recipes I used 5 egg yolks (thus 500ml cream and 5 tbsp of sugar) and I filled 8 ramekins, plus I had a little left to fill three miniature ones. Of course if you don't put any fruit on the bottom you will need more crème.

It is up to you how much fruit you put in, generally I just line the bottom of the ramekins with 4-5 think slices, this time I think I overdid it (thus the leftover crème) sicne stone fruit season is not long in NZ, and I wanted to use more fruit than crème! Don't use watery fruit and remove any juice from from cutting: you don't want to have a soggy base!

For the crème you need to mix well the egg yolks with sugar, then add the cream and either some vanilla seeds scraped from a vanilla pod, or a few drops of pure vanilla essence. If using vanilla essence add it when the crème is thick. A whole pod of vanilla is good too, but I find it to be in the way while stirring the crème!

Put the bowl with the mixture over a saucepan of boiling water and cook at bain-marie stirring constantly. It will take a long time, at least 30 minutes, possibly more, and your wrist will get tired and you will get bored. You can read a book at the same time, as long as you are careful. When you cannot take it any longer the cream will magically thicken, and when it is thick enough (remember that it will need to set in the fridge, not in the oven) and it looks bright yellow, remove from the heat and let it cool down lightly, always stirring.

Then pour over your fruit (or into the ramekins if you don't have any fruit). Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, better overnight, or a whole day. One hour before serving spread some brown or sugar over the top and caramelize under the grill, or with a blow-torch. At this stage I realized that I got rid of my old oven upstairs, the one that I never used since moving the kitchen downstairs 16 years ago except for the grill, and crème brûlée. The grill in the downstair kitchen is not as good, the oven is too big and it takes too long, still, I managed to melt the sugar (mostly).

Then refrigerate again for one hour and serve. The top should be crunchy and the centre smooth. It will be more creamy than the standard crème brûlée puddings that we find in restaurants, which have more of a 'set' texture, but if the crème is far too runny it means that you didn't cook it long enough at bain-marie, so you will know next time :-). If the top is not crunchy it means that you have left it in the fridge too long after caramelizing the sugar.
Mine was yummy and delicious, although thinking back at the grilling part (and seeing the details in the photos) I think that is it time for me to get a blow-torch. I never had one, it should be fun!

And the miniature ones? Well, they were so pretty next time I am just going to make a tray of them!

And now for the flowers of the day, all from my garden!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Risi e bisi coi baccelli - Fresh pea risotto with pea pod broth

Peas are a precious crop for me, I don't like to buy big bags of frozen peas like everyone seems to do in New Zealand (and other countries), it makes them feel 'cheap' and 'common' and an everyday boring side veggie... In fact I think that in so many years of blogging I have posted only one recipe using frozen peas and it is here (cooked with some foraged onion weeds - so the point of that recipe was to have a very low cost dish).

I like my fresh peas and I like them to be the main player in a dish, like for risi e bisi, a traditional risotto dish from Veneto, Italy. And the best part of growing them? Is to keep the pods, and as I am a NO-FOOD-WASTE advocate, to use them to make stock, which will be the base of the risotto. So shell the peas and keep the pods, wash them well and place them in a pot with water (I used about 1.2 litres of water for a basket of peas) and rock salt and simmer for at least one hour. You can also add a little parsley or celery leaves to the stock, but not too much as they have very strong flavour. Filter the stock and keep hot. You can also cut the pods into tiny strips and add them to the risotto, but I just gave them to some hungry visiting chickens (big mistake, they are always around my house now!!).

To prepare the risotto chop an onion and saute with butter, plenty of butter! Butter should still be bubbling when you add the rice (I used arborio). Stir until the rice is hot then add the peas.

Stir again and then start adding the stock, little by little. If you use a good casserole you can cover the risotto from time to time and let is absorb the liquid, otherwise keep stirring and adding stock until the risotto is ready.


Towards the end test for salt and add a little pepper if you like. Serve with plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, February 3, 2017

Vivere in Nuova Zelanda: il paradiso degli uccelli a Tiritiri Matangi

L'isola di Tiritiri Matangi è un santuario per animali (in particolare uccelli ma anche il tuatara) aperta al pubblico. Ratti, opossum e altri predatori sono stati eradicati e molti uccelli in via d'estinzione trasferiti sull'isola dove possono vivere ed essere osservati dai visitatori e ricercatori.

Ci si può arrivare con la propria barca (attenzione a non avere topi e ratti a bordo!) o con il traghetto, un bel viaggio di 50 minuti circa da Auckland. Conviene prenotare anche un tour dell'isola con una guida (tutti volontari e qualche ranger) che solitamente portano in giro piccoli gruppi per poter meglio osservare gli uccelli senza disturbarli. Si può anche stare la notte con la possibilità di vedere un kiwi (se si è fortunati). Si deve portare il pranzo al sacco (in vendita sull'isola ci sono solo tè e caffè instant e qualche bibita o gelato confezionato), ma il negozio di souvenir è eccellente, molto meglio di tanti negozi simili in città o all'aeroporto, e con buoni prezzi, in più tutto il ricavato va al mantenimento dell'isola e agli uccelli :-).

Purtroppo non avevo una macchina fotografica adatta, e non volevo neppure avvicinarmi troppo, quindi scusate le foto, ma sono felice di aver visto per la prima volta in vita mia alcuni uccelli neozelandesi 'liberi', cioè non nello zoo! L'isola ne è piena, il mio preferito è il kokako (sotto in alto a destra).

From top left clockwise: takahe, kokako, oyster catcher and hihi (stich bird)

L'isola di per se è piccola e bellissima, con acqua cristallina e moltissimi alberi, camminare nel bosco con il canto degli uccelli fa pensare a come dev'essere stata la Nuova Zelanda due secoli fa, quando era quasi interamente coperta da foresta vergine, e piena zeppa di uccelli.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pasta con crema di finocchi - Pasta with Fennel Cream

The Florence Fennel seeds from NewWorld Supermarket's Little Gardener have grown into big long fennels, not the round fat fennels unfortunately. So I decided to pick them before they became too tall and create something with them. I washed them, removed the leaves and cooked them with a tbs of butter and a little light vegetable stock until they were tender, and then I added another tbs of butter I blended them into a cream which I used to dress pasta with. It was delicious! I have a couple more fennels in the garden and this will be their destiny too! 

PS: The leaves are just for decoration

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Plum and strawberry smoothie

This is the season for plums, and we also have a few last strawberries in the garden, enough to add to smoothies and make them sweet! In fact I love the fact that plums are a little tart, but they do benefit from the strawberry sweetness. As a base I used half apple juice and half coconut water. Perfect breakfast!

And now a few things from my garden!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Vivere in Nuova Zelanda: la Costa di Tutukaka in Northland

Verso la Costa di Tutukaka, paesaggio visto dalla strada

Quando arriva l'estate molti Aucklanders (gli abitanti di Auckland), partono per le vacanze, in particolare a nord della città, a Waiheke e nel Coramandel (dove ci sono spiagge e montagne). Molti hanno il batch, ovvero la casa delle vacanze, che può essere tanto una catapecchia come una modernissima e lussuosissima casa in riva al mare. Altri vanno in campeggio, spesso nello stesso posto, e ci riuniscono tutta la famiglia per un Natale mooolto rilassato! Sicuramente manca la situazione 'balneare' stile europeo con alberghi ed ombrelloni... Meno male! Non si addice proprio al paese, che poi non è neppure attrezzato per questo tipo di turismo.

La marina di Tutukaka

Fra i miei posti preferiti ci sono le spiaggie del nord, nella Costa di Tutukaka,  che includono la mia spiaggietta preferita di tutta la zona: Whale Bay (baia delle balene), una piccola baia con spiaggia semicircolare che si raggiunge solo in barca o attraverso una breve camminata (circa 10 minuti) nel bosco. Per questo motivo è più tranquilla di tutte le altre spiagge.

Scendendo verso la spiaggia di Whale Bay

Molto bella è anche la spiaggia di Matapouri, ma essendo vicino a tante case e campeggio è molto più trafficata di Whale Bay. 

La spiaggia di Matapouri

Per gli amanti del surf c'è Sandy Bay, che è molto grande e popolare con i giovani e i campeggiatori.

Sandy Bay, il mare era un po' piatto questo giorno ma solitamente ha le onde perfette per fare il surf 

Fra Matapouri e Sandy Beach, e proprio davanti a Whale Bay, c'è Woolleys Bay, dove vado di solito quando vengo da queste parti. Mi piace perché ha molte meno case di Matapouri e Tutukaka, è anche più tranquilla di Sandy Bay, e da qui si arriva a Whale Bay facilmente, anche con la canoa volendo (ma io preferisco andare a piedi, non ho abbastanza stamina per remare!).

Woolleys Bay

Ho amici che hanno la casa di vacanza proprio davanti a Woolleys Bay, e quindi ci sono andata diverse volte in estate ma anche in altre stagioni, quando si possono fare lunghe passeggiate, andare a cavallo, o cercare conchiglie (se ne trovano di bellissime). Potete trovare qui alcune foto fatte in primavera (freddino ma bello). Per chi invece volesse venire a lavorare qui, ci sono diverse fattorie che prendono wwoofers, oppure bisogna cercare un lavoro stagionale, ma sicuramente ci sono più opportunità andando più a nord, nel Bay of Islands, dove il turismo è più sviluppato.

E per chi vive ad Auckland, consiglio di passarci, anche solo per un fine settimana, non è un viaggio lungo (considerando le distanze neozelandesi). Confronto a Bay of Islands ci sono pochi turisti, e quasi nessuno straniero, poche barche nelle baie, e poca gente in generale.

La spiaggia di Woolleys Bay

La spiaggia di Woolleys Bay

Prendere il sole - La spiaggia di Woolleys Bay

Decoro style 'marino'
Conchiglie, incluse le paua con la madreperla blu
Ancora conchiglie trovate sulla spiaggia

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini©


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