Crepes

The Italian and I made crepes recently, another favorite meal we often reserve for times when guests are in town. This time the occasion arose when a very close friend of mine from university came to London to visit from New York. The Italian uses his mother’s recipe which again is approximate in its measurements so I’ve done my best to quantify the ingredients. We enjoy both savory and sweet crepes and get creative with the toppings each time. I’ve included some of our favorites below following the recipe. Enjoy!

Basic Crepe Recipe

Makes about 9 crepes

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
4 large eggs (5 small)
3 T unsalted butter, melted
1 T sugar
Pinch of salt

Directions:

Combine flour, sugar, salt, eggs and butter. Slowly add in the flour, mixing with a hand mixer or blender until the batter is smooth and slightly bubbly on top.

Let batter sit 15 minutes at room temperature. (Can be refridgerated for up to one day in airtight container; whisk before using).

Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium. Lightly coat with butter. Add 1/3 cup of the batter and swirl to cover the bottom of the skillet. Cooking about 2 minutes until the underside of the crepe is golden brown.

Loosen edges of the crepe with a spatula, then slide over onto the other side with your fingertips (or flip in the air if a master crepe-maker!). Cook 1 more minute. Slide crepe off the skillet and onto plate.

Repeat to make additional crepes.

Serve crepes warm with a variety of different toppings.

Topping suggestions:

Savory:

Prosciutto, Brie cheese, and Rocket (Arugula)

Mushrooms sauteed with garlic and parsley, Sauteed spinach, Cheddar cheese

Goats cheese and Sweet potato (baked in oven with olive oil and salt)

Ham, Cheddar/Emmenthal cheese, and Fried egg

Broccoli and Cheddar

Goat cheese with grilled mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, and truffle oil

Sweet:

Nutella

Nutella and banana/raspberry/strawberry

Lemon and sugar/cinnamon

Jam

Butter and honey

Can top sweet crepes with powdered sugar

Or….get creative! Anything goes when topping your own homemade crepe!

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Sweet potato and goat cheese

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Mushroom and spinach

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Prosciutto, mushroom, and Brie

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Spinach and mushroom on one side, prosciutto and Brie on the other

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Nutella and raspberry

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Sanremo

As fall settles in and the weather starts to turn chilly and brisk in London, I’ve been thinking about warmer days spent in Italy and wishing the sunshine could last forever! Sadly I know that, short of moving to Los Angeles or some other sunny destination, this fantasy is unlikely to come true. So, I will settle in the immediate-term for posting a new blog entry on the Italian and my trip to Sanremo, Italy in August that was filled with warmth, beaches and, of course, some really excellent food!

Sanremo is a small Mediterranean town in western Liguria of north-western Italy. Just a short drive away from Monaco and the French Mediterranean cities of Nice, Cannes and Antibes, it is really an extension of the coastline and often labelled part of the Italian Riviera. The Italian’s parents have a very cute and convenient apartment in the city, and we’ve travelled there a number of times over the past years. Among our favourite things to do in Sanremo include: shopping at the local market for fresh produce and seafood, eating loads of focaccia, a regional speciality, and enjoying a refreshing gelato after swimming in the beach. This trip, we also wandered around the old city cente and got lost in the maze-like streets. Some of the buildings looked so old it was incredible to think they were still standing!

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Walking around in the old city

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Outside De Mattei – an amazing bakery that sold first rate focaccia, croissants, and other baked sweets. 

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Enjoying one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had – cappuccino with freshly made croissants. The bakery filled the croissant with gooey chocolate right in front of your eyes. 

One day, the Italian and I spent the day with some family friends of his who are also from Turin and have a place in Sanremo. After a nice relaxing lunch that involved white wine, good bread and a freshly made green bean salad (the produce was just so fresh and delicious there!), we joined them for a few hours on their boat where we rode along the coast and swam in the water.

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Fresh green bean salad with tomatoes and boiled eggs.

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Fresh produce from the local market

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Swimming pool from the apartment and view of the harbour

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Boat!!

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Also on the trip, the Italian and I did some cooking of our own. One of our favourite meals was grilled swordfish, bought straight from the fish market in the city centre. It was very easy to cook – we just grilled it outside and ate the meat salted and with lemon. Delicious!

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Another meal we cooked was Trofie con Salsa di Noce, a very typical dish from the Liguria region. Trofie are short, thin, twisted pasta from Genova that is typically served with a pesto, either of the typical green variety or the more unique walnut variety. The salsa di noce (nut sauce) is this walnut pesto, made with walnuts, cream, Pecorino Romano cheese, and fresh herbs. I have to admit the Italian and I cheated a bit with this recipe, as we bought the salsa di noce pre-made from the local grocery store. Thus, our cooking really just consisted of cooking the trofie in boiling water and mixing in the salsa di noce. However, the end result was fantastic and tasty. Another time when I’m feeling more ambitious I’ll try making the walnut pesto from scratch.

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Finally, I leave you with one last picture of the Italian and I basking in the sun in Cannes, where we went to visit some friends who have an apartment there. This image is going to have to get me through several upcoming months of cold, wintry London!!

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Homemade Pasta

The Italian and I graduated into real Italian cooking territory the other day when we made HOMEMADE pasta! It was so much fun to make and was facilitated by the gift of a pasta maker by a very good friend of ours, whose culinary delights have already been featured on this blog (here and here.)

The pasta maker is a fascinating machine – you just feed a wad of dough into it and watch as it flattens out right in front of your eyes into a thin sheet. We have one of the hand-crank models that clamp onto your table or counter top with a vice. Our pasta maker has the capability to make three different types of pasta – tagliatelle (long, flat, ribbon-shaped), spaghetti, or flat sheets for ravioli. For our first pasta-making escapade we chose to do tagliatelle.

The pasta dough was fairly simple to make, and just required a bit of kneading. Once that was complete we fed the dough through the machine several times, decreasing the setting each time until we got a very thin, long sheet. Then we fed that sheet through the machine on the tagliatelle setting and got perfect ribbon-like strips! Those without a pasta machine can improvise by using a rolling pin to get the dough as absolutely thin as possible and then cut it by hand into the desired shape.

One thing to keep in mind is while the cut pasta is drying they should not touch each other or they will stick together and form a big pasta lump. Either hang them to dry on the back of a chair or a broom stick or sprinkle flour between the layers so they don’t stick.

We served our tagliatelle with a very simple tomato sauce so as not to overwhelm the flavour of the fresh pasta. It turned out deliciously!

Basic pasta dough

Ingredients:

  • 1 2/3 cups Italian flour
  • 2 medium or large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • A pinch of sea salt

Directions:

  • Sift the flour onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center with your fist.
  • Break the eggs into the well and add the oil and a pinch of salt to the well.
  • Gradually mix the egg mixture into the flour using the fingers of one hand, bringing the ingredients together into a firm dough. If the dough feels too dry, add a few drops of water; if it’s too wet, add a little more flour.
  • Knead the pasta until smooth, 2 to 5 minutes. Lightly massage it with a hint of olive oil,
  • Put the dough into a plastic food bag, and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. The pasta will be much more elastic after resting.
  • Feed dough into the pasta machine until desired thinness/shape is achieved.
  • Note: Fresh, homemade pasta cooks very quickly in boiling water, only needs about 3 minutes!

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Mozzarella in Carrozza (Fried Mozzarella Sandwiches)

This next recipe has a special place in my heart because it is the first thing that the Italian ever cooked for me, before we were dating. We had recently met and he made the sandwiches for a group of friends, although I could tell by his flirtatious laughter and sideways glances that he was trying to impress me (which he later confirmed was true!) And impress me he did. They were delicious, and one of my first thoughts as I bit into the crispy, melty perfection amid sideways glances at him and flirtatious giggles of my own was….hmm this person can feed me…

Mozzarella in Carrozza translates roughly to “mozzarella cheese in a carriage”.  The golden-crusted mozzarella sandwich is a Neapolitan specialty that could be theoretically comparable to a fried grilled cheese sandwich. They are typically served as an antipasto, usually allowing 1-2 sandwiches per person, although I’ve been known to eat three because they are so tasty. The sandwiches are a crowd pleaser and are good for large groups – the Italian and I once tested out the recipe on my family during a ski trip in Colorado to great success!

Thus far we’ve only made them with the mozzarella alone, although some variations could include adding leaves of basil and tomato sauce inside the sandwich which could turn it into almost a fried pizza sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • White bread, crust removed, cut into evenly shaped triangles
  • Mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • Bowl of flour
  • Bowl of beaten eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Directions:

Place a slice of mozzarella cheese between two of the bread slices to make a sandwich. Press edges of bread together.  Does not have to perfectly close.

Dip the sandwich into the beaten egg, then into the flour, making sure both sides are fully covered.

Fry in the oil over high heat until golden brown on each side.

When done, transfer sandwich to a rack or paper towel to dry. Serve immediately and sprinkle with salt and pepper before eating.

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Taralli

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The Italian and I made Taralli, a pretzel-like snack from the southern Puglia region that is often served as an appetiser with white wine or in a bread basket. Similar to bagels, they are briefly boiled before baking, giving them a unique texture.

We regularly buy these when we visit Italy, usually from the Coop (grocery store) where they come nicely packaged and perfectly shaped. But we were inspired to try making them ourselves when a friend did a really nice version served as an appetiser before dinner. (Her blog, which is pretty great, can be found here.) They are definitely worth making them by hand, and while ours were not as consistently and perfectly formed as the Coop ones I personally liked the charm of our multi-sized and rather misshapen taralli rings!

Taralli can be plain, or they can have a variety of different spices in them. The most common spices are fennel seed and black pepper, although you can also try a variety of seeds, garlic, chili or anything else that strikes your fancy. I divided my dough into three separate pieces and made some plain, some with fennel, and some with black pepper. They came out quite good although I don’t think they will last long in the house – think I shall be making these more regularly!

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Ingredients:

Flour – 4 cups (500 g)
Extra virgin olive oil – 1/2 cup (125 ml)
White wine – 1 cup (200 ml)
Salt – 1 tsp (10 g)

Extra spices:
Pepper, Fennel seeds – 1-2 tsp
(can also try chili, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion and garlic)

Directions:

– Mix flour and salt in large bowl.
– Add olive oil and wine. Mix until dough forms.
– Knead dough on a table or board for about 5 minutes. Add the extra spices if desired. Divide dough and add pepper in one and fennel seeds in another. Can also do plain.
– Cover the dough and let it rest 20-30 minutes.
– Pinch off small balls of dough (walnut sized) and roll between your hands or against a cutting board to form a long, thin rope. Should be about ½ inch (1 cm) in diameter and 4” long (10 cm).
– Shape the rope into a ring and seal the edges together. Can also look like a tear drop. Place the rings on a board and cover them.
– Boil a large pot of water. Carefully drop 7-10 taralli into the pot. They will sink to the bottom. After about 1 minute they will rise to the top of the water. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water, and place on kitchen towel to dry. Repeat with all taralli.
– Allow taralli to dry on the towel. Then, place them on a baking tray (no need to grease) and into the oven to cook at 375F (200C) for about 25 – 30 minutes or until golden brown.
– Remove from oven and cool.
– Store in air-tight container.

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Risotto Zucchine e Gamberetti (Shrimp and Zucchini Risotto)

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Ingredients:

(For 4 people)

– 320 g risotto rice
– 200 g shelled shrimp
– 2 zucchini
– 1 onion
– 1/2 white wine
– 2 litres vegetable broth
– olive oil
– salt
– pepper

Directions:

Fry chopped onion in a pot with 2 T olive oil. Cut the zucchini into thin slices and add to the pot.

Add the rice and 1/2 cup of white wine, along with salt and pepper to taste.

After the wine evaporates, little by little add the vegetable broth, allowing the first amount to become absorbed into the rice before adding the next.

After ten minutes add a pinch of saffron and mix until the rice turns yellow. Add a bit more broth and then put in the shrimp.

Continue cooking and adding the broth when needed for another ten minutes. Finished when the rice is plump. Taste to make sure it is cooked through.

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Peaches in Coconut Oil

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I bought some coconut oil the other day from Holland and Barrett (amazing health food store by the way for those who live in the UK). The oil seems to be all the rage these days so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s marketed as a healthy alternative to cooking oils and butters with a hint of coconut flavour. And, strangely enough it is also good for the skin, hair and nail cuticles, so you can also put it on dry elbows or ends. I haven’t tried that yet, but maybe I’ll test it out at some point!

In the immediate term, I tried this great recipe for pan fried peaches in coconut oil, served with ice cream. It was delicious – the coconut aroma was strong and tropical and the cinnamon brought out the warmth of the peaches. Can also serve this dish with Greek yogurt for a slightly healthier version, or whipped cream.

Ingredients:

2 cups sliced peaches
2 Tbs coconut oil
1 Tbs honey
1 tsp cinnamon
greek yogurt (or ice cream, whipped cream)

Directions:

Mix the oil, honey, and cinnamon.

Heat a pan until it is hot. Add the oil, honey and cinnamon mixture, stirring frequently.

When the oil mixture is simmering, add the peaches. Toss in oil until coated. Fry on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes or until peaches are soft, stirring frequently. Turn down heat if they start to burn.

Remove from heat and serve over ice cream, greek yogurt or whipped cream.

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