Read this: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
by the Italian Academy of Cuisine


So, at almost 1000 pages long, it’s not exactly a “curl up with a pot of tea and read it on Saturday morning” kind of book. But, it’s also a lot more than just a cookbook. I’ve found myself picking it up and flicking through it more than usual lately, and as you can probably tell by the top of the dustcover, I spend a bit of time with this book…

A few decades ago, some thoughtful, clever Italians came together with the idea of preserving their culinary legacy. They formed the Italian Academy of Cuisine and set their sights on the lofty goal of recording the classic Italian recipes from all over the country. Including/especially those very specific, regional ones that have (until now) only been passed down verbally through the generations.

With over 7,600 members across the country, they were able to get their paws on some 2,000 recipes, covering everything from pasta to vegetables to desserts and literally everything in between. These are the precious recipes that are cooked in only this or that region of Italy. Recipes that have graced the dinner tables for generations. Recipes that would have eventually been lost as the generations stopped cooking them, or stopped remembering how much flour and salt Nonna said the dough needed.

Not only are there the recipes, but like in the photo below, scattered throughout the book are little snippets of “local traditions;” with half of my family from Northern Italy and the other half from Southern Italy, there’s a lot in between I don’t know much about! And if you love to travel and learn about other cultures through their culinary traditions half as much as I do, you’re going to find a veritable treasure trove in these pages…

One of the most beautiful things about this book is the point made in the introduction – it is very much recognised that every Italian has their own way of making a dish their own (I can vouch for that), so this is not intended to be a “correct to the last letter” type of cookbook…

“Interpretation, improvisation – these are essential characteristics of Italian coking. Thus while we have strived to present the most iconic version of key regional dishes, it is up to you, the home cook, to make them your own.”

Pick up a copy here and start reading/cooking!

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Cook this: Vanilla raspberry protein loaf (lactose, sugar & gluten free)

I actually really enjoy baking with protein powder, and think it can be a bit of an underrated ingredient in the kitchen. If you can find one with a good flavor (I love a strong vanilla), it’s a great addition; it’s also a convenient way to pass off treats as “healthy”  ; )

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Anyway, when I saw this recipe on my blog roll a few weeks ago, I saved it to make later, and I finally got around to it this week. It’s a great one for those with special diets (you can substitute flour for more nut meal or GF flour if you’re coeliac), there’s no refined sugar unless you want to add some (but I find the sweetness from the berries good enough for me), you can use oil instead of butter if you prefer, and you can use any milk you want if you need a lactose free version. While the original recipe uses raspberries (and used them too because they’re my favourites), you can really use any frozen berries.

Also, it’s Friday – and if you want to treat yourself without totally eating crap, you may as well 🙂 Here’s my version of the protein berry loaf, inspired by Healthy with Anja’s recipe.

 

Ingredients:
– ½ rolled oats
– ½ cup plain flour, sifted
– ½ cup almond meal
– 2 scoops protein powder (I like vanilla Vital protein, which also happens to be vegan and dairy/soy free)
– 1 tsp baking powder
– ¼ heaped cup shredded coconut
– 2 large eggs, whisked
– 25g butter, melted and cooled
– ½ cup milk
– 1 heaped tbsp plain Greek yoghurt
– 1 cup frozen raspberries

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC and line a loaf tin with non-stick baking paper.

2. Combine the oats, flour, almond meal, protein powder, baking powder and coconut in a large mixing bowl.

3. Use a wooden spoon to mix in the eggs until completely combined, then add in the butter, again mixing until completely combined.

4. Stir in the milk next, a bit at a time (you may not need it all) until it comes together in a good cake-batter consistency.

5. Pour half the batter into the prepared tin and spread about two thirds of the raspberries over it. Cover the raspberries with the rest of the batter, and sprinkle the remaining berries over the top.

6. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and cover with foil; bake for another 15 – 20 minutes, until cooked through.

 

 

** Note – this is definitely more of a loaf than a cake in terms of sweetness, so if you want it a bit sweeter, add a tablespoon or two of caster sugar in with the dry ingredients **

Baby shower baking like a boss :) Cook this: orange blueberry tart

As a general rule, I don’t have a maternal bone in my body. I’m closing in on 30 and still feel no urge to procreate – I don’t think I have that “internal clock” so many women my age freak out about when they hear ticking. I’m not much at all into babies or kids, and don’t really enjoy spending time with them – don’t even think about asking me if I want to hold one. The only exceptions at the current time are my two nieces, who are deliciously cute, and pretty cool little monkeys, thanks in large part to their amazing mum/my sister-in-law. You know how some women just have it? Like, they’ve just got the whole mothering thing down pat, they make it look almost fun, even on the crappy days, and they somehow handle those crappy days with dignity and grace? She’s one of those mums, one of those freaky magical unicorns who you don’t think can actually exist in real life. What a star.

Anyway, my other sister-in-law is also pregnant, which I predicted would happen when I booked my trip to Japan, and we’re going to have another little lady joining the family soon!

Side note: How was I able to predict a baby with travel? Simple; every time I whip out my passport and book a trip overseas, someone in the family has a baby. Niece #1 was born on our honeymoon. Niece #2 was born a few days before we went to Egypt/Europe. Cousin’s baby was born a few days before America. So when I booked Japan, it was pretty obvious someone was going to be getting knocked up, and true to form, niece #3 is due the day before I’m due to fly back to Melbourne. So, sisters and sisters-in-law, upcoming trips I’m planning include one either October-ish or Christmas time-ish 2016, and another one around the same time in 2017. One or more  of you will be having babies over the next 2 years. Consider yourselves warned.

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But back to my lovely sister-in-law currently carrying the newest addition to the family – she’s going to be just as amazing a mum as her older sister. Again, calm beyond belief, so very level-headed, and very drama free, she’s a totally amazing woman; I couldn’t be happier for her 🙂 And, despite my dislike of baby related things and gatherings, I was stoked to be asked to do some baby shower baking for the day, which went off beautifully yesterday, hosted by my mum-in-law and with my sister-in-law surrounded by a whole lot of happy, supportive friends and a few pink balloons!


I arrived armed with freshly baked mini lemon meringue tarts, raspberry pistachio blondies, chocolate fudge cupcakes and a blueberry orange tart (can’t even tell you how exhausted I was after baking all that between 6pm Thursday night and 3pm Friday afternoon)…

While I’m generally a chocoholic, I surprisingly really love the blueberry orange tart, a super quick and easy recipe I found months ago in one of those freebie supermarket recipe magazines that sit at the check out. Actually, that’s a lie – the recipe I found was for a lemon blueberry tart, but I like orange blueberry better, so (as usual), I made some changes. Anyway, it’s a delicious one that’s pretty easy to throw together, especially if you need something relatively last minute, got heaps of flavour (the orange zest always comes through so well), and you can play around with it a little, using other berry/citrus combinations – I’m thinking of trying raspberry and lemon, or maybe strawberry and lime next…

Ingredients:
– 2 sheets of frozen shortcrust pastry, or 2 serves of this homemade stuff
– 2 eggs, at room temperature
– ⅔ cup caster sugar
– finely grated rind of one orange
– ½ cup plain flour
– ⅓ cup milk
– freshly squeezed juice of half an orange
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
– icing sugar to dust (optional)

 

Method:
1. If you’re going to make the pastry from scratch, follow the link above and make that first. Once it’s rested for half an hour in the fridge, pre-heat the oven to 180°C and roll out the pastry. Then, carefully lay the freshly made or pre-made frozen pastry into a large greased pie, tart or rectangular cake tin.

2. Place a sheet of non-stick baking paper over the pastry and throw in some pie weights or rice, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the baking paper and weight, and bake for another 10 minutes.

3. While the tart shell is baking, make the filling – whisk the eggs, sugar and orange rind together, then sift in the flour and whisk in until completely combined.

4. Whisk in the milk, orange juice, and vanilla. Then, once the pastry is baked, pour the mixture in, sprinkle the blueberries over the batter and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden and just set.

5. Let the tart cool enough to handle before removing from it’s baking tin to cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar to serve, if that tickles your fancy.

Cook this: Cake drops V.2 – the Jaffa edition (orange, polenta & cacao)

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So, last week I posted a recipe for “superfood” cake drops, made with goji berries, cacao nibs and chia seeds, the inspiration for which came from Heather at Skinny Fat Girl. Anyway, over the week, I was thinking about other ways I could play around with this versatile little recipe, and make it more my own. One of my all time favourite sweet combinations is orange and polenta (looove orange and polenta cookies!), and I’m obviously a chocoholic (thanks, dad), so I decided to combine the lot to give it a bit of a Jaffa spin – while I absolutely cannot stand Jaffa lollies, with their crappy quality chocolate and rancid imitation orange flavouring, I absolutely love the combination of REAL orange and REAL chocolate!

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Ingredients
– ¼ cup plain flour (gluten free if needed)
– ¼ cup almond meal (if you don’t have this lying around/don’t want to buy it, just use another quarter cup of flour instead)
– ½ cup polenta
– 1 tsp bicarb soda
– ¼ cup caster sugar (alternatively, honey for refined sugar free version, maple syrup for FODMAP friendly version, or Stevia or similar for lower calorie version)
– 125g yogurt (I like Liddells lactose free plain vanilla, but if you’re not lactose intolerant, plain, natural Greek yogurt is perfect)
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
– 1 egg white
– 2 tbsp toasted cacao nibs
– finely grated rind of 1 orange

Method
1. Preheat to 180ºC.
2. Combine the flour and/or almond meal, polenta, bicarb and sugar in a large bowl, then stir through the yoghurt, vanilla extract, orange juice and egg white until completely combined.
3. Stir in the cacao nibs and orange rind, until they’re evenly mixed through.
4. Baking option 1: scoop out tablespoons of batter onto a lined oven tray.
Baking option 2: scoop batter into mini muffin tins, either lightly spraying the tins first with a neutral cooking oil, or lining them with mini cupcake cases.
5. Bake for 10 minutes, or until just golden on top. Once cooled, these can be stored for almost a week in an airtight container

Just like the original “superfood” cake drops, these are light and airy, moist and delicious. And because they’re so quick and easy to make, come from all pantry staples, and can be made to be so tummy friendly, they’re now basically a staple in our house!  polenta cake drops 3

Cook this: Cornbread pudding

I found this recipe while on The Culinesstress’ site last week, and the gorgeous photo caught my eye pretty quickly. I read on to find a pretty simple recipe, and thought I’d give it a go, too – it seemed a really great winter-warmer type dish.

I haven’t really messed around with this recipe as much as I usually would – I actually had most of the ingredients in my pantry already other than fresh corn, which only cost $1 per ear at the market. The great thing about this recipe, other than it’s simplicity and the fact that it’s actually not terribly unhealthy, is the fact that it’s already gluten free, can be made lactose free, and as well as being low FODMAP friendly (by using only the green tops of the spring onions). So here’s how we do…

 

Ingredients (serves 2)
– butter, to grease tin with, and to serve (optional)
– 1¾ cups corn kernels, fresh if possible
– 4 tbsp thinly sliced spring onions
– 2 eggs
– ½ cup milk
– ½ cup loosely packed grated parmesan cheese
– salt (optional)
– 4 tablespoons cornmeal (polenta)

 

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C  and grease two small baking dishes or larger ramekins with butter – I know the proper ‘Murican way to do cornbread is in a case iron skillet, but sadly I didn’t have any of those lying around…

2. Mix together ¾ cup of corn kernels and the spring onion, and set aside.

3. Throw the remaining 1 cup of corn along with the eggs, milk, cheese (if you’re like me, reserve a little of the cheese to sprinkle over the top at the end before baking!) and cornmeal into a food processor or blender, and blend until it a smooth batter just comes together – be careful not to over mix! You can add a little salt here too, if you want – the parmesan may make it salty enough for you anyway, or if you’re like me, you may want a little more, because salty food is delicious.

4. Pour the blended batter into the pie tins and mix in the corn/spring onion mix, diving evenly between the two tins. If you saved some cheese from step 1, now would be the time to sprinkle it on top, before it goes into the oven.

5. Bake corn pudding at for 30 minutes, until cooked through and golden brown on top. Optionally, serve with a dollop of butter and sprinkle of salt on top.

It’s soft, surprisingly light and full of flavour, real winter comfort food 🙂 If you’re also enjoying the Melbourne cold at the moment, think about this for a quick, warming dinner this week!

Cook this: quick & healthy – lamb, haloumi & lentil salad

Every culture has their Easter traditions, most of them having something to do with food. Lamb is a popular choice in a lot of cultures, particularly European; references to the “sacrificial lamb” as a symbol of the crucified Christ pepper the writings in the Bible. While I’m not a religious person, I thought that I’d try to do a lamb dish at home this Easter long weekend; we had some beautiful Melbourne sunshine, despite the colder temperatures, as well as plenty of chocolate, so I went with a light salad option; it turned out surprisingly well, so I won’t be waiting for Easter to cook with lamb again!

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INGREDIENTS (for 2)
– small lamb back strap, around 200-300g
– salt, pepper and dried basil
– 100g haloumi cheese, sliced
– 1 tin lentils, drained
– 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
– ¼ cup fresh mint leaves

 

METHOD
1. Season your lamb with a little salt, pepper and basil. Two options to cook your lamb are:
a) fire up the BBQ , sear it on a lightly oiled hot plate for 2-3min on each side. Then, move it off the direct heat, close the BBQ lid and cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how you like your meat cooked and how thick the back strap is.
b) sear the lamb on a hot pan on the stove with a little oil over high heat for 2-3min on each side, then transfer to the oven and cook 5 – 10 minutes (to your preference) at around 170°C.

2. While your lamb is resting after cooking, prepare the salad – throw the lentils, baby spinach and tomatoes together in a large bowl with a drizzle of olive oil.

3. Heat a non-stick fry pan over high heat and cook the sliced haloumi for a minute or two on each side, until it bubbles and turns a little golden and soft.

4. Divide the salad between two plates, top with the haloumi, sliced lamb back strap and mint leaves.

Cook this: quick & healthy – lentils with pancetta & olives

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I’m a bit OCD at times, in that I like to be organised when I can, particularly when it comes to food; I’m an emotional/boredom/binge/any-excuse-for-food eater, and if I don’t have a plan, I use that as an excuse to eat all of the foods. Having a weekly meal plan done in advance gives me the illusion that I’ve got my shit together; I rarely do, honestly. Anyway, it’s usually a Thursday night I sit down and look at the diary and start planning out next week’s meals, so I’m ready for the weekend’s grocery shopping. Last Thursday night I was in a bit of a daze; I’ve got a lot going on at the moment, and instead of slowing down and taking stock, I tend to just go twice as hard, preferring to distract myself rather than actually deal with stuff. Until I crash and burn, hopefully spectacularly. Then I’ll deal with it. Totally normal, right?!

So, I’m sitting there at the kitchen table, staring into space. Beyond that space was my bookshelves full of cook books. Feeling a little flat and uninspired, I wondered over to the shelves, and sat myself on the floor in front of them. Donna Hay called to me; I plucked her Fast, Fresh & Simple cookbook I got for Christmas a few years ago and started flicking through; fast, fresh and simple was exactly what I needed for some inspiration. A recipe caught my eye, probably because of the golden pink fried pancetta sitting next to it. I quickly scanned the recipe (ie looked at the picture), put the parts of it that I liked on the grocery list and added my own stuff because I can, and here’s what we ended up with for a very quick and relatively healthy dinner…

Ingredients (makes 2 serves):
– 1 small eggplants, diced
– 1 bunch broccolini, chopped
– 50g pancetta or bacon, roughly diced
– 1 garlic clove, minced
– 2 tsp dried basil leaves
– olive oil
– 1 tin lentils, drained
– half a cup of red wine
– 3 tbsp black olives, pitted and sliced

Method
1. Put the diced eggplant in a large bowl lined with paper towel, and sprinkle some salt over it (around 2 teaspoons worth) – set aside.

2. Boil a pot of water, throw the broccolini in when it’s at a strong boil. Leave them in there for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, then drain and set aside.

3. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat and add the pancetta. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes until it starts to get a little golden. Then add the garlic and basil, cook for anther minute, until you can really smell the garlic, then remove from the pan and set aside.

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4. Squeeze the eggplant with the paper towel to take out any excess moisture, then drizzle a little more oil in the pan and add the eggplant. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or so, until the eggplant starts to shrink and brown.

5. Add the lentils and wine, turn the heat up to medium and simmer for a few minutes, until the lentils start to soak the wine up.

6. Throw the broccolini and pancetta into the pot, cook for another minute or two, until the broccolini heats up. Remove from the heat, mix in the olives, season with salt and pepper to your taste and serve warm. Enjoy  : )

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