Thursday, February 21, 2019

Baby perlas potatoes two ways: hot 'in padella', and salad with flowers

I received a few potatoes to try from Potatoes New Zealand to celebrate November Means New Potatoes, and here are my first creations.

  I started with baby perlas, which I knew already. These little new potatoes are cute and a real little treat, so they deserve special attention!
I boiled them first (no mint... just cannot bear minted potatoes, sorry Kiwis!) and then I divided them: half I used for salad, I picked the 'bigger' ones and cut them into two pieces, then I mix them with Vegan mayonnaise (recipe here), chopped onion weed bulbs and stalks, nasturtium buds and petals, and Impatiens' petals. 

Keep a few flowers aside for decorations, and onion weed flowers too, if you like. I think that a lot of people now are comfortable with eating nasturtium flowers and buds (I left some buds for decoration too, and for you to see). Buds taste a little like capers. Young tender leaves are nice too (see soup below). Not so many people would eat Impatiens though, or know about them. They taste a little like rocket, and I prefer the red ones, although I always add a few pink ones just because the colour is so pretty. My preference for red ones may be just because I observed the chickens eating all the red ones while leaving behind the other colours, but maybe they are just colour blind? Anyway, I tasted all the colours and decided that the chicken were right... Of course don't eat the flowers if you spray your garden with chemicals!

As for the smaller potatoes, I just heated it some garlic with olive oil in a skillet and then tossed the potatoes around, with an extra good pinch of salt, until hot. Then turned the heat off and added some fresh thyme, another toss, and ecco fattoPatatine novelle in padella al timo!

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Marzipan with Amaretto

Assorted natural flavours and colours, including green tea, cherry syrup, berry juice, candied citrus,
and some stuffed dates too!

Last Sunday I did a demo about making Marzipan at the Auckland Art Gallery, to celebrate Italian Language week with the Dante Auckland. I have a basic recipe which I always follow (without egg white, thus suitable for Vegans too) and you can find it here. But since almonds don't have much taste in NZ (sorry... need to be said) I always add a few apricot kernels (not too much, they are poisonous!) so follow this recipe carefully! Now, apricots are not in season yet, and I made a little variation, which worked well: I added a little drop of Amaretto.

Marzapane with Amaretto

200g raw almonds
100g icing sugar
1 tsp Amaretto

Blanch the almonds in boiling water and remove the skins. Keep a few almonds aside for decoration, if you like, and ground the rest into a fine powder, almost like a paste. Add the icing sugar and Amaretto and mix until you get a dough. Shape into your favourite morsels, and colour with berries, green tea powder, spirulina, or anything you like. Some ideas for shapes and colours here.

Perfect for presents! Coloured with cocoa, green tea and berries
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Carrot leaf fritters, Vegan and gluten free

Having munched through everything green in the veggie garden I am left with the leaves of carrots, I usually make frittata with them, or fritters, and this time I tried a vegan experiment which was very successful (the kids looooved them). To be repeated soon, in the meantime here is the recipe.

Pick your carrots (mine are always small, since they grow in clay soil poor things). Keep the leaves, wash them well and remove the thicker stalks (a bit like cleaning parsley really).

To make the vegan batter I used the liquid from a can of chickpeas, two tbsp of chickpea flour, a good pinch of salt (or two), and the tip of tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander and ground turmeric.

Then I added the carrot leaves

At this point you can add a chopped spring onion, or some chopped onion, or chives, but since I picked my first onion weeds I added a couple, bulb, stems and leaves, You can also add the flowers, but I kept them for decoration (i.e. to take the photo!). 

Spoon into a frying pan with hot vegetable oil and cook on both sides until crispy.

Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt (optional) and then serve, hot or cold, with a good squirt of lemon juice.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, January 14, 2019

Italian chips - patatine fritte (with olive oil, garlic and rosemary)

How silly can a recipe be? I never thought that I would bother writing something so basic, but the world where I live is so full of chips, and terrible chips I must say, that I very rarely eat them out, and very occasionally I like to make them at home the Italian way, patatine fritte, like we made on special occasions, usually on a Sunday. These are not deep fried but pan-fried, and they are flavoured with garlic and rosemary, 

Peel the potatoes, cut the potatoes into chip sizes, rinse (or just soak in water) and pat dry. Sizzle some garlic in a frypan with extra virgin olive oil, then add the chips and pan-fry stirring and/or shaking the pan constantly. I add just a little salt at the beginning, and remove the garlic before it burns. Then I add rosemary when they are nearly cooked (they takes about 20 minutes), finish with more salt and eat immediately (although if you cook them this way they are also tasty when cold, unlike British style chips). 

And now for something completely different (especially if you like birds!)

A Kereru! The New Zealand native wood pigeon, all puffed up and using her chest for a pillow.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Orecchiette con cime di rapa (o friarielli) e broccoli

The only reason I made these with both cime di rapa and broccoli is because in the garden I had just a handful of cime di rapa, so the broccoli made them go... further.

Wash the friarielli and broccoli, cut onto manageable pieces. Boil the water for the orecchiette, adding plenty of salt when the water boils, and before adding the orecchiette. In the meantime in a pot sizzle chopped garlic and a chili with olive oil, add the cime di rapa and broccoli, a small pinch of salt, and cook them stirring often, and adding the boiling water from the orecchiette (but only after you have put the orecchiette in!) from time to time. The cooking water from pasta is very useful for pasta sauces and for cooking vegetables this way. When the orecchiette are ready drain and add to the cime di rapa, stir well, add more olive oil and serve.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Vegan chocolate semifreddo, two ingredients only

This is intense and delicious, and yes, only two ingredients are required (well, plus water...). It tastes quite a bit like nama choco, an amazing Japanese chocolate which is made with cream, but there is no cream here, and it is also incredibly easy to make.


200 g dark chocolate (dairy free, and the best you can find)
100ml water
the liquid from a can of chickpeas (aquafaba)

Break the chocolate and place into a bowl with the water, and then onto a pot of boiling water to melt at bain marie. If you heat the water and the chocolate together they will mix perfectly. 

In the meantime beat the aquafaba until you get stiff peaks. 

When the chocolate is melted beat it with an electric beater until it cools down.

Add a spoon or two of aquafaba to soften, and then, spoon by spoon, add the chocolate to the aquafaba mixutre, folding well.

Pour into an ice cream container. It will look quite pale and have the consistency of a 'runny' mousse, but it will turn back into a strong dark chocolate colour while freezing.

Freeze for a few hours, then remove from the freezer 10 minutes before serving, wait for the edges to melt a little and then cut into slices and serve. This is really, really good!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mashroom Magic with Tofu Puffs

Mushrooms are my favourite vegetables, except that they are not vegetables... they are fungi, and I like all fungi (as long as they are edible). For this dish I used a mixture of dried and fresh mushrooms. The dried mushrooms are an Asian mix of different mushrooms, which I soaked in water for an hour or so. The fresh one are oyster mushrooms and common button mushrooms. I cleaned them and then sliced the button ones, while I left the oyster mushrooms whole (a pity to cut them!).

In a large skillet I heated a little vegetable oil with a few drops of sesame oil, then added all the mushrooms (I drained the dried mushrooms, but kept the water) and cooked them turning often until they stopped trowing out water. At this point I added the tofu puffs (fried tofu pieces, available in most tofu shops and Asian stores) the mushrooms water and Japanese soy sauce (not too much). After all the liquid was gone I added a little lemon juice, tasted to see if more soy sauce was needed (for salt) and finished with chopped coriander. Golly they were delicious, and so simple too! Serve with rice.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Capsicum staffed with couscous and crispy roasted capsicum skins

This recipe is also about not wasting food!

It is very common to find capsicums (bell peppers) staffed with rice, but couscous can be as good. First boil wash well and the whole capsicums for 5-10 minutes to soften. In the meantime place a cup of instant couscous in a bowl that you can cover with a lid, add some olive oil, salt, and a mixture of dried and semi-dried tomatoes, cut into stripes. Cover with boiling water (and here you can use the capsicums water, if you want to save it!). Cover with a lid.

remove the capsicums from the hot water (use for the couscous) and cut the top off (careful, they will be hot!) and if it peels off easy, the skin. Keep the skin aside. When the couscous is nice and fluffy use it to fill the capsicums. At this stage you can add more things, like tempeh, tofu or anything you like. 

Place the capsicums top on and bake for approx. 30 mins.

You can also roll out the skins, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and then bake until golden.

They will come out like thin crisps, super delicious, and perfect as an aperitif or as a garnish to your stuffed capsicums. A good way to use the skin of tomatoes and other vegetables too!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Miniature Sushi, every piece is a grain of rice

I find it very relaxing to make miniature food, and I particularly enjoyed making this. 
Could it be the smallest sushi in the world? Each piece is exactly a grain of rice! But it is easier that you may think, just check the video out.

I made the rice like regular sushi rice (recipe here) and for the toppings I just used a variety of Japanese pickles, plus nori and bamboo shoots, so this is actually a vegan sushi. It looked super cute!!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, November 16, 2018

Smoothie with fresh turmeric (curcuma)

After a few smoothies with turmeric powder (lovely, I must say), I decided to buy the fresh root and give it a try. It is milder (well, I didn't use tons!) and fresher, with a different 'zing', a bit like fresh ginger.

For this smoothie I used a banana, some frozen mango, a kiwi gold (yellow kiwi), a piece of fresh turmeric root (peeled) and coconut water as a base. I was expecting the smoothie to be more yellow, of course not as yellow as with turmeric powder, but at least a bit more than what I got, so more cutting of roots and more 'experiments' are needed :-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, April 16, 2018

Schiacciata con pomodorini - cherry tomato schiacciata

 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! 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Eat your colour in a minestrone soup

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 ©

Monday, March 12, 2018

Tofe con friarielli (cime di rapa)

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!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Risi e bisi coi baccelli - Fresh pea risotto with pea pod broth (waste not!)

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.

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 margarine or soy butter (olive oil ok but vegetable butter is better for this). 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. Eat hot. Leftovers are good to make croquettes or arancini the day after.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©