Friday, April 18, 2014

For Easter: Lasagna with a Mediterranean Twist

I was going to make you something typical for Easter, like lamb or eggs or Easter bread, but then I thought... pasta.  Still traditional, but with a fresh Mediterranean twist that goes well with anything else you plan to make.  

Delivered by the gods of gluttony, here's a luscious lasagna coming your way.  

Wishing you all a Happy Easter....I'm off to Florence.  A presto!
Mozzarella Bufala-Piccadilly Tomato-Basil-Parmesan Lasagna
You will need,  the tastiest-small-ripe-red tomatoes you can find on the market, a big juicy flavoresome mozzarella di bufala, so juicy...very juicy? The milk needs to drip off the corners of your mouth in just one bite.  That juice will be added to your besciamella sauce and let me tell you, it makes a whole lot of difference.  Last but not least, is some fresh basil, some freshly grated parmesan cheese and of course homemade pasta. 

A good mise en place will make this preparation easier, so get all your ingredients organized and set up. 

The rest comes easy.
Mozzarella Bufala-Piccadilly Tomato-Basil-Parmesan Lasagna


homemade lasagna pasta sheets
1 big (juicy) mozzarella di bufala (squeeze the milk from the cheese and put aside for the besciamella)
500 gr fresh datterini tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes, or piccadilly)
200 gr freshly grated parmesan cheese
besciamella sauce
extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil leaves

besciamella sauce:

50 gr butter
30 gr flour
1/2 litre milk (use all the milk you squeezed from the buffala mozzarella and add regular milk to reach 1/2 litre in total)

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour.  Mix to form a cream.  Pour in the milk as you continue to whisk. Mix until it starts to boil.  Add salt, lower the heat and continue to mix as it slowly becomes dense. Approximately 15-20 minutes.  Add the nutmeg mix and remove from heat.


Cook the lasagna sheets in salted boiling water and put aside.  Let them cool separately on a big table cloth.  

In a wide pan, heat 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and 2 whole garlic cloves.  When the garlic is golden color, remove from the pan and add the datterini tomatoes whole (do not slice them).  Season with salt.  On high heat toss and mix tomatoes by moving the pan (not with a spoon). As the skin begins to wrinkle remove from the pan, approx 5-10 minutes. The tomatoes need to remain whole in aspect.

Make the besciamella sauce by following the recipe above.

Once all your ingredients are ready prepare la mise en place.

Spread a film of extra virgin oil all around the bottom and edges of the lasagna dish.  Start by adding one layer of lasagna, distribute pieces of mozzarella di buffala on the lasagna sheet, add some tomatoes, basil, parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, place another sheet of lasagna on top and now add a generous amount of besciamella and more parmesan cheese.  Continue with one layer of buffala mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, parmesan and a drizzle of oil, and one layer of besciamella and parmesan. build the layers until you reach the top of the dish.  Finish with tomatoes, basil, besciamella and parmesan. Place in a preheated oven at 200 °C for 45-1 hour.  Remove from oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. 
Mozzarella Bufala-Piccadilly Tomato-Basil-Parmesan Lasagna

Friday, April 11, 2014

chocolate avocado tarts with cashew and date crust

Raw Tarts with Avocado Chocolate
Raw Tarts with Avocado Chocolate
Hello!  It’s Friday and we’re all happy to hear that!  Here’s a quick recipe you absolutely need to try.  When I saw these tarts I couldn’t hold myself from making them.  They are RAW, no cooking, no baking involved.  It’s an all crude and natural dessert that I discovered on instagram through my “virtual” friend, Asima (Haute Sucre)
Asima is a Pastry Chef at one of the largest Canadian Pastry companies. She studied in Paris and worked for Hotel de Crillon in the two Michelin star restaurant, Les Ambassadeurs, as well as at des Gateaux et du Pain in Paris, she's now in Toronto.

I know that one day I’ll meet her in person just to try one of her macaroons!
Raw Tarts with Avocado Chocolate
Raw Tarts with Avocado Chocolate
Take a look at her instagram, she’ll tempt you for breakfast, lunch and dinner any time of the day.  Sooner or later, your eyes will not get enough of her food and out of the blue, you’ll find yourself cooking an Asima-type-of-thing, just because you saw it on her these Chocolate Avocado Tarts with a Cashew and Date Crust.

I varied a few things from the original recipe because I wasn’t able to find the exact ingredients.  In place of the raw cashews, I used raw pistachios.  Instead of the dates, I used dry figs and I reduced the raw sugar that goes in the chocolate avocado filling.  Although the slight variation of ingredients, the tarts turned out amazing ... but that’s something I was sure of.

Here’s the original recipe from Asima’s facebook.  You'll find my variations in brackets.

All you need to do now is make them.

A presto!
Raw Tarts with Avocado Chocolate
Chocolate Avocado Tarts with a Cashew and Date Crust (RAW)

4-6 small tart shells (with removable bottoms) or 1 - 8" springform pan
(Line the bottoms with parchment for easy removal)

tart base:

1 cup raw cashews (or raw pistachios)
5-6 medjool dates, pitted OR 8-10 small dates (or dry figs)
2 tsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch of fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse.
Spoon nut mixture into tart bases evenly and level with back of a spoon.
Put the tart shells in the freezer to set whilst preparing the filling.


1 ripe avocado
1/3 cup dark cocoa
1/2 cup raw sugar (I personally reduced the sugar to a little less than ½ cup)
1/4 tsp fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt
5 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract or the seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth.
Transfer to a piping bag with a decorative tip and fill the tarts or spoon into the tart shells and level off the tops. Put them back in the freezer until ready to serve.

*remove the tarts from the freezer 5-10 min before serving.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

wood oven baked bread & more

Senza titolo
If only I can staple the aroma of this bread to these images.  

From the minute my hands meet flour to the moment I pull the bread from the oven, everything, to me, becomes extraordinarily rewarding.  The kneading and the rising of dough renders so much gratitude. I can say it is the thing I love to do most in my kitchen.

Saturday we decided to make some wood oven baked bread, which brought to the tasting of focaccia… which brought to some genuine hand cut prosciutto…a light rucola and pine nut pesto, lots of extra virgin olive oil and salt.  This is the type of “merenda” (or light afternoon snack meal) you would typically find over at my place on a beautiful sunny day.  No invitations needed.  The whole family was together and this casually called for the event, making bread taste even better.  
wood ovenbaked bread2
wood oven baked bread7
wood ovenbaked bread1
While my nice-perfectly-puffed-dough, was on the table, ready to go in the oven… my curious little ninja-nephew gets an itch and pokes his finger in one of the loafs, then he goes to the next one and gives it a pinch.  

Picture my facial expression.

Now, picture his facial expression.  

The contrasting difference is evident, no?  My favorite little guy is lucky I make him get away with everything but I was luckier when I saw the dough, unbelievably, bounce back into shape. 
wood ovenbaked bread4wood oven baked bread8
paninowood oven baked bread9
I am so used to making my own bread that I go by the eye.  I never stick to the same dose, because it always depends on the flour I use, but I do stick to the same ingredients, flour, water, yeast and salt and I always vary the types of flour.  My bread recipe, which is very basic, may give you a different result just because you may be using a flour that absorbs more or less water than the four I used when making this bread. 

I’ll leave you with some really good books I’ve read on the topic and from which I learned so much.

Monday, March 24, 2014

wild asparagus

wild asparagus
wild asparagusThe magnolia in my nextdoor neighbor’s garden has announced the season through its lovely flowers. The light outside shines differently now, the greens are greener, the whites are whiter and the days are longer. I’m wanting to grab flowers as I see them bloom. I feel the need to regenerate and breathe the fresh air. The allergies have come, the sneezing with them but I know that spring is here and even if it brings some craziness in constant changing weather, it’s making me feel good. 

And look! Wild asparagus. 

As the earth comes back to life, this delectable seasonal treat is of worthy pursuit.

Here's something that brings spring on a plate. Choose a tender batch of wild asparagus, snap off the tough ends and use them raw in a salad, add some mandarin pieces, (maybe some green leafs and sesame seeds too). Make a vinaigrette with good extra virgin olive oil, the juice of a mandarin, some salt and a dash of whole grain dijon mustard. Give it a good whisk and dress your asparagus salad.  As simple as that.
wild asparagus salad