Fromage With Love

The recipes & food loves of a wanderlust cook.

Month: July, 2013

Gnocchi al Forno con Olio di Tartufo (Oven Baked Gnocchi with Truffle Oil)

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On this blogging journey of recreating the delicious meals I had the pleasure of eating across Europe, the day was bound to come where I would meet the challenge of my favourite mouthful. In the last stop of my Florentine nostalgia, we have today’s dish.

On our final night in Florence we crossed the river and headed to this large square. A simple church loomed over a group of teenagers who sat on its steps. In the centre, a fountain sploshed away surrounded by trees. And there, over in the far corner, our restaurant was spotted – string lights draped from the roof down to the pavement, making it rather hard to miss!

What greeted me was an absolute explosion of flavour – my bubbling ramekin came out to me fresh from the oven, a glistening sheen of truffle oil on top. This was not the time to feel guilty, but simply give in to the pure pleasure of it all. I was on holiday, after all, and had the first day of a 150km trek beginning the day after to rationalise the whole thing.

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I decided to make my own gnocchi this time around – it’s a rather fun weekend activity, especially if you get other members of the house involved (thanks Buzz). Plus I think it makes the meal more authentic and definitely taste better. You can of course use premade gnocchi, but please try to get the best that you can (that means maybe go for the gnocchi that sits with the refrigerated pasta, rather than the dehydrated potato that sits with the packet pasta). Feel free to modify the recipe if you wish – I found that the combination of a soft cheese and a harder cheese worked really well, so if you stick to that formula and pick your favourite cheeses – perfect!

For the harder cheese, I chose a smoked Italian cheese, which kind of had the same consistency as a Swiss cheese. I highly recommend a smoked cheese as it balances the mozzarella nicely and adds another layer of flavour.

Now with buffalo mozzarella and truffle oil, this is definitely a treat meal in every sense. But why save it for a special occasion? Sometimes you deserve a treat meal, no matter what day of the year it is!

Gnocchi al Forno con Olio di Tartufo (Oven Baked Gnocchi with Truffle Oil) (Serves 4 – 6)

1kg gnocchi (I used Gennaro Contaldo’s recipe here)
sea salt
one tablespoon olive oil
30g butter
4 sage leaves
small handful of rosemary
one buffalo mozzarella ball (cow’s mozzarella is fine to substitute)
one cup smoked hard cheese of your choice, grated
one teaspoon truffle oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Put a splosh of oil, the butter and herbs into an ovenproof pan over a medium heat and gently cook til butter is melted.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Carefully drop the gnocchi into the water. When the gnocchi float to the surface of the water, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan and put them your butter mix.

Pull apart the mozzarella over the gnocchi and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Mix so everything is evenly coated in the herby butter melt.

Bake in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes until bubbly and golden. Drizzle over a few drops of the truffle oil to taste.

Serve with a fresh green salad on the side, if you feel the need to redeem yourself a little. Otherwise, put a large pile in a bowl and gleefully enjoy the cheesy potatoe-y indulgence.

Melbourne

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Today Buzz and I got up bright and early to visit the monthly market held at a nearby convent. It’s hosted by the Melbourne chapter of the Slow Food Movement and was a wonderful array of colourful stalls and deliciousness. The chilly (but sunny!) morning was resisted by a foamy hot chocolate and a fresh bunch of daffodils didn’t hurt either. Speaking of which – Spring is almost here! I can’t wait.

After the markets we headed into the city and down to Carlton to go to a few of the fancier delis in town where I indulged and spent far too much money.  Those young Italian men working behind the counter get me everytime!

Viva Firenze – Encore

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Florence has stolen a piece of my heart and I’m totally okay not to get it back. All it means is I’ll have to occasionally visit to feel whole again.

Any visit to Florence is not complete without a visit to the Uffizi. World famous, and rightly so, this gallery sits right on the River Arno, a beautiful U shaped construction that is a former palace. It hasn’t lost its majesty, and lining the interior courtyard are small alcoves, each containing an immaculate life-size statue.

Like the Mona Lisa being the drawcard for a visit to the Louvre for many, here it is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus  that has tourists lining up for more. But of course, there is so much more to see. Paintings upon paintings upon paintings. I always wonder in my art ignorance what makes one painting rise to fame over another – to me there are so many unbelievably magnificent pieces I find it hard to distinguish the skill involved.

But it’s not only the artwork that held my attention – the whole entire building itself is a piece of art. The corridors are awe-inspiring and particular rooms that are roped off and all you get is the chance to peek your head in – those are true beauties.

Halfway through the winding building, you emerge onto a rooftop cafe, laden with flowers and water fountains and here you are surrounded by the terracotta red of Tuscan roofs. I highly recommend a cold drink in the sun.

After this, continuing the cultural immersion, we ticked off Michaelangelo’s David. From the lobby you round the corner and there he stands, larger than life, at the end of the walkway. I think I actually gasped.

On our last day, we visited the Boboli Gardens that surround the old palace. Greenery stretched upward as we climbed to the top where hedges and pink flowers bloomed in a private sanctuary. It’s a place of many worlds – magical leaf covered tunnels that stretched further than your eye, century old trees that stood tall and proud in uniform rows, painters standing at their easels as they watched couples in love on park benches.

We spent hours wandering through and once you get to the edge, you start to see the Tuscany you already have in your mind – wide green fields spotted with the occasional villa. I couldn’t wait to get down there.

Kitchen Edit – Bianca

Sometimes it’s nice to have a blank canvas to let your ingredients shine. These white and neutral tones ensure your food is the star of the show (though I think those hedgehogs do a pretty good job of stealing the limelight!).kitchen-edit---white

1. Kookery, Pastry – That’s How I Roll Tea Towel, $26.95

2. Anthropologie, Measuring Hedgies, $36.00

3. Provincial Home Living, Blanc Egg Carton Plate, $7.95

4. Ikea, Varme Teapot – White, $12.99

5. Caz Hildebrand & Jacob Kenedy, The Geometry of Pasta, $23.35

Fennel, Orange & Mint Salad

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I must admit I’ve been having a big love affair with fennel lately. This relationship developed slowly, as growing up I was terribly against anise and all its friends (I still cannot stand liquorice). Fennel seems to have charmed me and kept me enamoured longer than I thought possible. I first fell in love after a friend served his famous Southern fried chicken with some roasted fennel. Being polite, I took some on my plate, but shortly went back for seconds. I was hooked.

My first foray into raw fennel began with a late summer salad that involved mango and avocado and it was absolutely sublime. I think I ate it everyday for a week until I started getting funny looks in the lunchroom at work for my overzealous appreciation of fennel. Fresh salads are in abundance in the summer; they go hand in hand with sunshine like two best friends. As we delve deeper and deeper into Winter, I craved the interesting salads of Summer. I have been indulging in my fair share of comfort food, as one does when it gets chilly outside, but I know that it is a flaw of many of us that we do not eat enough raw food on the whole, and there’s only so far dressed greens can take you.

The problem that many of us find is the unappealing nature of some raw vegetables – the texture may not have a comfortable mouth feel, or in the case of fennel, the flavour can be just that bit too strong. The trick is slicing them as absolutely finely as possible, transforming them into a delicate hum and hint beneath the overall meal. Experiment with other vegetables you don’t usually see as potential raw salad players – grated broccoli adds a wonderful texture, ribbons of raw zucchini or carrot are beautiful and silky additions – and you are left with a world of opportunities for a healthy meal or side dish when stodgy pies or bakes get a little too overwhelming.

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fennel_heroI’m not sure where this combination came from – I’m sure it’s not terribly original and I’ve stumbled across it somewhere – but all I know is that I dreamed of it (I often dream of food, it’s an awful flaw) and began craving it for lunch the next day. Mulling it over, the tastebuds of my mind decided it made sense. Citrus will always work well with raw vegetable salads and has the added bonus of softening the vegetable into a nicer texture. Orange works particularly well as the sweetness balances out the sharp, anise nature of the fennel. Mint? Well that adds a refreshing undertone that ties all the pieces nicely together in a delicious little bow. This is dressed simply – no need for fancy work here, as you have everything you need to create a well rounded taste. The only thing that I would add, and suggest you do if you are so inclined, is some very finely chopped chilli sprinkled over the whole thing, which will give it a delightful little kick.

Otherwise, I highly recommend you pair this with something spicy – chilli pan-fried fish comes to mind as the perfect partner.

In this case, I have served my salad with some homegrown edible flowers – pansies – which not only give a bit of pepperiness, but also look quite lovely.

Fennel, Orange & Mint Salad (serves 1)

half of one fennel bulb
half of one orange
one small handful of mint
one tablespoon lemon juice
two tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Wash fennel and remove hard outer leaves. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife, shave the fennel into fine slices. Arrange as a bottom layer on your plate and set aside.

Peel the orange and remove as much of the white pith as possible with your knife. Slice into half centimetre rounds and separate into segments, placing on top of your fennel.

Sprinkle mint leaves across the plate, drizzle some olive oil and squeeze some lemon juice over the top. Season with salt and pepper to serve.

Cake

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Melbourne yet again blessed us with a sunny Winter Sunday, though kept us from getting too excited by staying absolutely freezing! Still, there’s something lovely and cheery about a bright day outside where you can fling the curtains open and let the light spill in. Most of the day was spent inside being rather productive, I’m proud to say. Some of those niggling tasks on the to-do list finally got scratched off, the floors were swept and mopped and there was still some time left to spend in the kitchen. It may have been cold outside, but the oven and a lovely blueberry and lemon cake with cream cheese frosting ensured we were warmed up right to our toes. I’m afraid I didn’t write the recipe down for this one, but it’s still on my radar, I promise! I hope you’re warm and cozy wherever you are, and there’s a slice of cake and a cup of tea waiting for you.

Happy Sunday x

 

Bucatini all’Amatriciana (Bucatini Pasta with Spicy Tomato Sauce)

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I may have previously mentioned that my penchant for chilli has most definitely increased since Buzz Lightyear stormed his way into my life. For as much as he loves pizza, he loves chilli more, with a chilli pizza sitting at the crux of his food fantasy. This obsession of his has led to our tiny balcony garden containing not one, but four chilli plants, one of which has demolished the home of my poor little chives.

This being said, I am beginning to look for chilli in almost everything I eat, and I do not disagree that chilli can be mildly addictive. When growing up, the base of nearly every single meal my mother cooked was olive oil with crushed garlic and chopped chilli. Not so much that you even get a tingle of heat on your tongue, more a subtle hum that sang beneath every dish. My life has thus far travelled along a chilli spectrum and I believe it is only just now that I am starting to appreciate the finer nuances in our little red friends.

However, before Buzz and after my mother’s extensive use of mild chilli, there was always pasta all’amatriciana. I can’t place the exact moment that I tried it, but I remember loving it straight away. Who couldn’t love a sauce that took the best parts of napoli and carbonara before adding a delightful little kick to the tastebuds? Not I, that’s for sure, not then and not now.

There we were, in a beautiful piazza in Florence, looking for somewhere to eat when I saw, scrawled on a blackboard sign “AMATRICIANA”. I think I actually squealed in delight and took not only Buzz but our whole group, and probably a few stray Italians too, on a direct mission to this restaurant that promised gustatory happiness.

There was noone else dining in the restaurant (bad sign) and menus the size of novels that were laminated in plastic. Still, I persevered. Some of us were rewarded, such as Buzz, who got one of the most delicious margherita pizzas I’ve ever tried in my entire life, while others, less so. While it takes a truly ghastly place to ruin pasta in Italy, and luckily this was not one of them, it didn’t give me the same heart-skip love at first sight as the first time we met.

While I would never dream of challenging an Italian at a pasta-making, I was going to give it a red-hot go myself and worst case scenario – I had four chilli plants worth of heat to get it right.

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I struggle with telling people the measurements of certain things when cooking. Things like salt and pepper, garnishes like herbs and cheese and in this case, also chilli. Who am I to tell you how salty, spicy or hot you like your meal? Part of the beauty of cooking is the alchemy of it – adding little bits of this and that, tasting as you go, til you reach that magical point where the stars align in your saucepan and you can feel the perfect balance of flavours in a mouthful.

Start off with a half teaspoon of chilli flakes and a pinch each of salt and pepper, keep tasting and adding until you get that little tingle that this spicy tomato sauce needs that’s just right for you. The thing about Amatriciana is it’s lovely and simple, merely a handful of ingredients. What sets it apart is the chilli, so don’t be shy.

Bucatini are like thick spaghetti that are hollow in the middle. They make a wonderful slurping sound as the air catches while you eat. If you can’t find these, spaghetti is a little less traditional, but just as delicious.

Flat panchetta looks like a slab of bacon before it’s sliced, and the outside is rubbed with herbs and spices during preserving. Buying a chunk of this rather than using the pre-sliced panchetta lets you cut the meat into chunky cubes which are profoundly more tasty than their floppy counterparts.

Bucanti all’Amatriciana (Bucanti Pasta with Spicy Tomato Sauce)

180g flat panchetta
half a brown onion, diced
two garlic cloves, crushed
olive oil
chilli flakes
one 400g can of diced tomatoes
half a cup passata
250g bucatini pasta
salt and pepper
fresh grated parmesan to serve

Chop your panchetta into generous sized cubes and throw into a large hot frypan that has a glug of olive oil in it. Cook the panchetta until the fat starts to render and the meat is lightly golden. Add onion and garlic and cook in the fat until softened.

Put enough water in a pot to cook your pasta along with a tablespoon of salt. While this is coming to a boil, to your frypan add chilli flakes (start off with half a teaspoon if you’re new to the heat game), diced tomatoes and passata. Taste, add salt and pepper and extra chilli if needed. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn down to a simmer for twenty minutes.

Once your water has boiled, add your pasta and cook til al dente, 8 – 10 minutes.

Turn the heat off under your pasta, but don’t strain it, instead use a pasta server or tongs to drag the pasta across to your sauce. Mix the pasta in with the sauce, which will thicken from the starch in the pasta water.

Sprinkle with a big handful of freshly grated parmesan, and serve.

Kitchen Edit – Verde

In honour of the first swatch of the Italian flag, in honour of basil and in honour of pesto, I present to you a mean, green collection of delights. Welcome to the first in our mini-series of Italian flavoured Kitchen Edits (three guesses what next week’s colour will be!).Untitled-1

1. Kauniste, Metsa Green Apron, $49.00

2. Pop Plant, Small Cacti Pot, $20.00

3. Rose Carrarini, Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery, $39.95

4. Le Creuset, 26cm Round Casserole in Rosemary, $499.00

5. Black+Blum, Box Appetit in Lime, $22.00

Pesto is the Best-o

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Wow! Today was the most gloriously sunny Winter day, the kind of day that makes you forget that you spend the nights rugged up in fifteen layers plus a hot water bottle and three blankets just to go to sleep. I took the rare chance to dust off my little red bike and rode across town to my parents’ place, where mum had a pot of homemade fish & barley soup bubbling on the stove for lunch. I slurped down a bowl with a hunk of crusty bread and rode back home in the sun. Absolute bliss.

It was the perfect day to celebrate flavours of Summer as today I time travelled back to Florence in my kitchen. On a warm night we walked across the River Arno and back through some winding streets to a small square, where a Vespa stood outside of a gelati shop. Unfortunately, protocol and a restaurant reservation meant we couldn’t go straight to dessert, but what followed was a delicious meal with antipasti, perfectly formed salads with hunks of salty cheese on top (this appeased the Greek in me very much) and a beautifully fresh and simple pesto rigatoni.

In its essence, that’s what pesto is. Simple. It’s not showy or over the top, despite its beautiful emerald hue. Basil is just great friends with a key handful of ingredients and like all good friends, if you get them together and mix things up – magic happens.

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IMG_1555This is by far one of the easiest recipes to have in your repertoire. Why buy a jar off the shelf that has been sitting there for months on end? Put the jar back on the shelf, make a couple of stops in the other aisles and you will have a delicious and versatile sauce-come-dip-come-toast topper that’s fresh as fresh can be (plus you then get ultimate bragging rights).

Use with pasta, on toast, in sandwiches, as part of a salad dressing, on roast potatoes, on a antipasti platter – the list is endless! This will keep in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to a week.

Best-o Pesto (serves 6)

60g pine nuts
50g basil leaves (or two standard bunches)
one handful mint leaves
one clove garlic, crushed
sea salt
60g parmesan cheese, grated
half a cup extra virgin olive oil
one anchovy fillet
a squeeze of lemon

In a dry pan, toast your pine nuts over a medium heat, swirling the pan occasionally for 8 – 10 minutes until nice and golden. Set aside to cool.

Pick basil and mint leaves off the stems – avoid washing if possible, but if necessary, run under some water and leave to dry on a tea towel.

Crush garlic and mix with a pinch of sea salt.

For chunkier pesto
Combine everything except the pine nuts in a food processor or blender, and puree until you have a nice smooth paste. Add in pine nuts and pulse so still chunky.

For smoother pesto
Combine all ingredients, including pine nuts, in a food processor or blender and puree to desired consistency.

If you don’t have electricity or are experiencing a blackout
Super simple to do in a mortar and pestle – just use some elbow grease!

Enjoy for breakfast (try pesto soldiers with soft-boiled eggs), lunch (try chicken and pesto sandwiches) or dinner (try pesto coated fish, or tossing with boiled potatoes).

This Little Blogger Went to Market

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Buzz Lightyear and I spent a lovely morning today at the local markets – I usually go each weekend while he has a little snooze in, so it was nice to have his company! The morning drizzle gave me the opportunity to finally break in my bright yellow raincoat I bought on our recent trip to Paris and even got the approval of a couple of drunken backpackers who we passed on the walk home, who told me “the future is bright – the future, is yellow”.

The uncharacteristic quietness of the markets was a nice change, as it felt like we had the lay of the land as we strolled around at our leisure. I found this beautiful bunch of kale flowers and as it’s a little tradition for me to buy a different bouquet each week, these were the winners this time around. The paper wrapping even matched perfectly with my raincoat, so I think it was meant to be that they came home with us.