Sunday, February 27, 2011

super easy plum tart

The plum season is coming to an end, let's make the most of it!

All you need here is some frozen vegan puff pastry (I used New Way brand), which is already rolled into squares. Place the pastry on a oven tray lined with baking paper. Brush the surface with water or lemon juice and then sprinkle with caster sugar. Wash and cut the plums into two halves and remove the stone (you will need free stone plums, I used Luisa yellow plums and Black Doris from my local orchard in Oratia for this recipe) and place, cut side down, on the pastry. Bake at 180°C for about 15-20 minutes, or until the side of the tart have puffed up and are golden.

During plum season I make this at least once a week, eat warm (with ice cream) or cold (cut into small squares for breakfast or for lunch boxes).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pasta with Field Mushrooms

Only one thing beats finding field mushrooms: to be presented with some...

Dan gave me a bag of field mushrooms.

To clean the mushrooms let them stand with a little rock salt. This way the worms (if any) will run away...towards the sink! Brush the mushrooms with a damp paper towel, but do not immerse in water.

Sautéed three garlic cloves (peeled) with vegetable margarine, add the mushrooms, chopped. When the mushrooms stop putting out water add 200 ml of vegetable stock. Cook slowly until all the stock has been absorbed, then add a little more margarine, turn element off and add plenty of finely chopped parsley. To get the most out of the garlic remove the three cloves and squeeze them with a garlic press back into the sauce. The garlic will be lovely and soft and with a delicate flavour. Cooked some pasta (I used 500 g, penne), drain and mix with the mushrooms.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kamo Kamo Maori Squash and Italian Borlotti Beans

From my garden, and my friends' gardens

A crop that gives me great pleasure is borlotti beans, not only for their flavour but also because I love the idea of growing protein food! I eat fresh borlotti, or I dry them and then use them to make nice soups and stews. 

A Maori friend gave me some kamo kamo, the traditional Maori squash, and told me that the way to eat it is to boil it (skin on) and then cut it and spread it with butter (or olive oil... for me!) salt and pepper, and scoop the flesh out with a fork.

I had two kamo kamo so I boiled one (as a was told) and cut the other and sauted with a drop of olive oil and other vegetables from my garden: red onion, and celery.

Then I added the beans and some water, salt and pepper, and cooked everything until the beans were soft.

I added water little by little, when necessary, and I thought that this would be good with more vegetables (maybe a little carrot and some parsley leaves) but I didn't add anything else as these have quite strong flavours and I really wanted to taste the kamo kamo as much as possible. The resulting stew (or soup, if you use more water) was nice although the kamo kamo doesn't have a distinctive flavour like pumpkin.

For the second experiment: well, nice to have the kamo kamo as a side vegetables with olive oil, but once agin I think that my husband liked it more than I did. Next time I will need to put something 'stronger" on, like pesto, or a sesame seed and miso dressing :-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Peach Smoothie

From my garden

I have a peach tree, grown from a discarded seed in the bush. Actually, there are two, but one is quite deep in the forest, while the other was struggling in the border of the open garden, battling for space. We don't cut native trees in the Waitakere ranges, this is a protected area, and I wouldn't do it anyway, so no chances of me clearing the space around the poor fruit tree! But it was close enough for me to train it to grow sideways out of the forest and into an open space, over the little Japanese garden I built. In fact it looks quite like a gigantic bonsai now, and in spring the flowers really suit the Japanese garden.

For many years I only had a handful of peaches, but finally this summer the tree was full!

The peaches are smaller than the ones I can find in shops, but they taste great, and they are mine!! What a satisfaction! Thank you lovely tree! A part from eating them by themselves I am making smoothies, like this one, with peaches, banana and apple juice from the local orchard. Blend together and decorate with borage flowers.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Torta di Verdure in Scapece: my Favourite Summer recipe!!!

Yes, this is my favourite creation, it takes time to make but it can last a week, and the flavour gets better and better. For the measures really, just be aware that you will need a lot of olive oil and lots of eggplants (I use both Italian eggplants and the long Asian eggplants), plenty of zucchini, and red, green and yellow capsicums. Cut all the vegetables in long and large strips, sweat the eggplants with salt for 30 minutes, then rinse and pat dry. Then, using plenty of olive oil, start frying. This is going to take a looooong time. First fry the zucchini, then set aside. Fry the eggplants, set aside; finally fry the capsicums (which have the strongest flavour, so they would alter the flavour of the oil). You will need to add oil from time to time, and be very careful to cook well the vegetables without burning them. When the capsicum are cold remove and discard the skins.

Finely chop plenty of garlic with tons of parsley. Add few more herbs if you wish, either a little mint of a little basil are good. Add salt to taste. You should make about a cup of this. Line a container with grease-proof paper and make a layer of vegetables (this will be the top, so make it pretty!), add some chopped herbs, then a few drops of white wine vinegar and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Repeat, making as many layers as you can. Top with some more grease-proof paper and press down gently. Refrigerate for one day. Before serving you can tip the 'torta' on a platter, and then cut into small slices. You will get many portions out of it, as it is so compact and full of flavour!

For a Gluten free version omit the breadcrumbs.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Coconut Rice with Vietnamese Mint

riso al cocco Mint from my garden

This is a lovely way to serve rice, one of my favourites in fact!


400 g Thai rice
1 x 400ml can coconut cream
half tsp salt
Vietnamese or Thai mint (optional)

(In Thailand they also add sugar, but I prefer not to).

Wash the rice a few times with cold water, place it in a saucepan and add the content of the can of coconut cream plus half a measure of water from the same can (in this way you can also rinse the coconut cream out). Add salt and cover with a lid. Cook very slowly by absorption, if your lid is not very heavy line it with a tea towel to avoid loosing too much steam during cooking.

When the rice is ready turn the heat off and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. At this point you can also add some fresh leaves of Vietnamese or Thai mint (they are similar, but I prefer the Vietnamese one!). The leaves will perfume the rice and give it more flavour.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rhubarb Agar Agar

My rhubarb is huge, and ready to eat now! I cooked some for a pie and made some extra juice to make this agar agar.


1 l water

200 g sugar

a few drops of lemon

600 g rhubarb stalks, cleaned and cut into pieces

2 tsp agar agar

Boil the water, sugar and lemon juice. Add the rhubarb and cook until it starts to froth. Drain and use the rhubarb to make pies (or eat by itself). Collect the juice and bring back to boil. Add the agar agar and simmer for 3 minutes.

Pour into a square or rectangular container. Cool. Cut in to squares and store in the fridge. Very refreshing and with a delicate but distinctive taste.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Spirulina Smoothie

This is a wonderful drink that I make very often (in fact almost everyday) for my family.

In a blender put 2 bananas, 4 apricots (stoned), 1 kiwi fruit, 1 teaspoon of spirulina powder, and top with apple juice. Blend and serve!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chestnut Flour Fritters

I grew up in the Apennine mountains of Italy, and during Autumn and Winter I ate chestnuts almost every day. These fritters were a staple in my family, they are easy to make and incredibly filling.

Mix 250g of chestnut flour with 400ml of water, mix well and add a tablespoon of sultana.

With a spoon drop some batter into the hot oil (I used rice bran oil) and cook on both sides; it only takes a couple of minutes.

Place the fritters on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.

These fritters taste better cold, and they are lovely and naturally sweet, full of protein, low in fat and gluten free. Perfect for Vegan lunch boxes ;-).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Sweet and Spicy Tomato Chutney


1 kg tomatoes

1 red onion

3 fresh chillies, finely sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled

1 tsp freshly grated ginger

4 tbsp sultana

250 ml white vinegar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp hot chilli powder (optional)

1 cinnamon quill

5 cloves

400 g sugar

1 apple

Wash the tomatoes and dice into 2 or 3 cm pieces. Peel and chop the onion and dice into 1 cm pieces. Place the vegetables in a large saucepan with the chillies, garlic cloves and ginger.

Bring to simmer, stirring often, and when the tomatoes are starting to break add the sultanas, vinegar, salt, hot chilli powder (if using), cinnamon and cloves. Bring back to simmer point and then add the sugar.

Stir well until the sugar is dissolved, then add the apple, also diced into 2 or 3 cm pieces, but not peeled (apple peel contain pectin, a setting agent). Keep stirring and simmer until the apple becomes soft, but not mushy.

Add some fresh chillies if you like and simmer for five more minutes.

Place the hot chutney into sterilised jars (dried in the oven), then let it cool down and close with the capsule lids. Place the jars in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the jars. Let the jars cool down in the pot overnight and when they are cold make sure that the capsule has popped by pressing gently on the lid. Store in a dark place and then, once opened, in the fridge.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©