Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Alpine (wild) strawberry smoothie

Alpine (wild) strawberry smoothie

All the wild strawberries you can find
One banana
Natural apple juice

Photos and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, December 2, 2013

Super quick vegetable risotto

Quick Risotto di verdura


1 small onion
1 small carrot
1 celery stalk with leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp chopped parsley
400 g carnaroli rice
1 glass white wine
1.5 vegetables stock
1 portion of frozen spinach
4 tbsp frozen peas

Chop the onion, carrot and celery, then sauté with olive oil. Add the parsley and rice, then a glass of white wine. Add the vegetable stock ladle by ladle, stirring constantly. Halfway through cooking add the spinach, and 5 minutes before finishing add the peas. Serve hot.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fregolotto (Fregola risotto)

 Outside Italy it is very difficult to find fregola, but Israeli couscous is readily available in many shops now, and can be a great substitute. 


1 small onion
1 capsicum (any colour)
1 celery stalk with leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
400 g fregola (or Israeli cous cous)
1 cup Italian tomato passata
1.5 l vegetables stock
Parsley and cherry tomatoes to decorate (optional)

Chop the onion, capsicum and celery, then sauté with olive oil. Add the fregola and stir, when hot add the Italian tomato passata and then, ladle by ladle, the vegetables stock, stirring constantly like when making a risotto. When the fregola is cooked and all the liquid absorbed serve, decorated with parsley and cherry tomatoes (optional).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wonder of Venice beans with parsley and garlic

I don't like to boil beans, I rather stew them slowly. For this recipe I just sizzled some garlic with olive oil, then I added the beans (washed and topped and tailed) and then cooked them on low with the lid on, adding just a tiny bit of water and a pinch of salt. They take about 20-30 minutes. In the meantime I chopped some garlic, parsley and salt, and then added this mixture to the beans once they were cooked. So simple, and the taste is so good!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fruit pearls

Quick post today, and a quick idea!

I make fruit salad with watermelon and blueberries quite often, scooping the watermelon with one of those gadgets that makes little balls (and using the watermelon shell as a container). I really like the colours together, and there is no need for sugar. This time I also added some Cape Gooseberries and some Alpine (wild) strawberries from the garden, very effective, and a sugar free healthy dessert!

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rangpur, not Tahitian limes

Sue brought me some organic citrus fruit from a friend's garden in Coromandel, she told that they were Tahitian limes. I heard this before in NZ, I think that this is the common name here, but they don't look like limes, more like yellow mandarins, and they taste a bit like grapefruit. So I did a quick search and found that they probably are Rangpur, a cross between a mandarin and a lemon.

What to do with them? Well, I read that they are great for gin and tonic (maybe this is why they call them limes), but usually I only drink gin and tonic when I go to other people's houses (a very common pre-dinner drink in NZ), but they can be used in desserts and to make agar agar puddings. And I can add that I had a good use for the peels: I put them in a gauze and tied it up to make a gigantic 'tea bag' to put in my hot bath. The fragrance is divine, a bit like a bath with the Japanese yuzu fruit, very citrusy and full of 'zest'.

Please let me know if you know this fruit, and what you do with it.

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pumpkin with coconut cream and basil (and add tofu to make it into a main!)

I had half a pumpkin to use, but just a little bit of Thai herbs mix (ginger, lemon grass, chili, garlic and coriander), certainly not enough to give my pumpkin a spicy flavor! Still, I felt like coconut, so I cut the pumpkin and two celery stalks with leaves and put them in my pot, then I added one can of coconut cream plus one can of water (to rinse the cream out), the remaining Thai herbs mix (about half tsp) and one organic veggie stock cube. I cook the lot until the pumpkin was soft, then I adjusted it for salt and added plenty of fresh basil leaves. I wanted to add some of my Vietnamese mint but it has all dried up (no rain in Auckland either) but the basil was strong flavored and I was surprised how nice this tasted in the end! I though of using this as a side dish (like in the photo) but I run out of time to make the main and since this dish had so much sauce I just added some cubed firm tofu to it when I warmed it up for dinner. I served with Thai rice. Very nice way of eating pumpkin in summer!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, September 16, 2013

Vegan pot-sticker dumplings

I love this type of dumplings, for the filling I use what I have at hand really, but generally the base is tofu, Chinese dried mushrooms, soaked and boiled first (keep the broth for later) and fresh coriander. For flavouring I used sesame oil, soy sauce and a little fresh ginger. Blend everything into a smooth paste.

The folding is easy if you are doing it with friends. The fact is that after the first ten I got tired and bored, and I had 50 more to do! So I didn't make some particularly pretty ones to look at! My son loves them, and I wanted to make him fold a few ("so that you can learn darling!"), but he politely declined saying that he was going to take some photos of me making them instead (he is so good at finding explanations!).  One of the things I do when folding the ready bought dumpling disks is to wet the borders with water so that they stick well. And then I dip (lightly) the bottom of each dumpling in a plate lined with vegetable oil. In this way the dumplings don't stick to the tray, and then to the pot (even if they are supposed to be 'pot-stickers'!) 

Easy step by step images (this time by Arantxa, they are from this post)

These can also be simmered in broth (I always make a little broth for a just a few, just simmer them until they come to the surface and then they are ready!) or steamed in dumpling baskets. I learned the  pot-sticker method in Japan, where these are called gyoza (but have meat inside). 

Cook the dumpling in a very hot pan, and as soon as the bottom has started to brown turn them and brown both side as well. Then cover with a lid and let the steam finish the cooking for a minute or so. At this stage I do add a spoon or two of water or, even better, the stock left over from cooking the mushrooms.  

Serve them hot! They can be eaten with chopsticks or fingers, dipped in sweet chilli sauce or soy sauce,  Max had about 25!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini and Max and Arantxa Zecchini Dowling©

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rye Bread

Rye Bread

300 ml warm water
2 tsp active yeast granules
1/2 tsp brown sugar
300 g rye flour
200 g high grade flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp caraway seeds

Place the warm water in a large bowl, add the yeast and brown sugar then set aside for 5 minutes. When the yeast starts to bubble, add both kinds of flour, salt, molasses and caraway seeds. Work into a dough for about 10 minutes using your fingers; it will be quite sticky so knead it in the bowl. Shape into a ball, sprinkle it with rye flour and leave to rise in the bowl, covered with a damp tea towel, for about 2 hours. Punch the dough and knead it for 1 minute. Form into an oval shape (this time I made it into a long loaf instead), sprinkle with more rye flour and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Leave the dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Bake in a preheated 230°C oven for approximately 30 minutes or until the loaf makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tofu with Smoked Paprika and Pomodorini, vegan and gluten free main

This is a great vegan main, full of flavour and proteins. I cooked it for Bence and Judit, they like tofu and they asked for the recipe, so here it is:


10 pieces of dry tofu (Japanese)
500 ml vegetable stock
2 shallots
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika (or more, to taste)
1 can Italian cherry tomatoes (I used Mutti)
1 cup of water (to rinse the tomato can)
1 carrot
Salt to taste

I used ten pieces of dried tofu (like this one), soaked in 500ml of vegetables stock. Dry tofu is like a sponge and it will absorb flavors well (so use some good vegetable stock!). Then I sizzled a couple of finely slices shallots with 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, then I added the tofu (soft after soaking in the vegetable stock) and sautéd it on both sides for a minute, then I added one tsp  (well, probably a bit more...) of smoked paprika, sizzled the tofu in the spice for a little longer, and finally one can of Italian cherry tomatoes, one cup of water, and one carrot, cut into thick slices). I cooked everything until the sauce was reduced and quite thick, and the carrots soft.

Add salt to taste and serve. Tofu is yummy!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Balsamic glazed onions - Cipolline con Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

These lovely and aromatic little onions can be served hot or cold, as an antipasto or side vegetable.

I should have used little Italian flat onions, like the borrettane, but they don't sell them in NZ so I used some normal pickling onions. Peel the onions, soak in water for two hours, drain and then cook very slowly with a dollop of vegetable margarine (or a tbsp of olive oil), a few fresh sage leaves and a pinch of salt for a long long time. I cooked them in a Le Creuset pot, with the lid on, stirring often. Check to see if you need to add just a little water half way through, but personally I didn't need it, mostly they cooked in their own steam (Le Creuset pots have great lids!!) and they caramelized a little too, becoming sweet and fragrant. All in all they took about 2 hours. Once they were cooked I turned the element off and added a drizzle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena Extra Vecchio (25 year old), covered them again with the lid, and let them rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.

Popular variations include adding cloves, or grilling the onions instead of simmering them (obviously the flat onions are easier to grill than the round pickling onions!).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pineapple and mint flavoured water

Just an idea for a healthy drink. Instead of juices or sweet stuff I like to put fruit in water, and then store it in the fridge. Refreshing and no calories!! Pineapple and mint is a good combo, although I leave the mint in only for a couple of hours (I think that my garden mint is particularly strong...). And it looks good too!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Roast potatoes with red onion and thyme

Cut the potatoes in small cubes. Chop one or two red onions, and some good olive oil and mix.
Place on an oven try lined with baking paper and sprinkle with salt. Bake on high for about 30-40 minutes, shaking the potatoes from time to time (I do this by lifting the baking paper). When the potatoes are ready add a few thyme sprigs and mix well (I like to add the thyme at the end, it will smell lovely!). I also like to use thyme with red onion, but sage could be a good alternative.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, June 17, 2013

Strawberries and kiwi, so good together!

Just a quick idea for a vitamin C boosting salad: slice strawberries and kiwis, add a bit of lemon juice and a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Stir and let the fruit marinate for a couple of hours at room temperature, the place in the fridge and serve cold. Super yummy! Otherwise, to maximize the vitamins, just skip the marination bit and eat straight away!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, June 3, 2013

Freeze dried raspberries, lychees and feijoas dipped in dark chocolate

I like dried apricots, nuts and other dried fruit dipped in dark chocolate, but this time I used Fresh As freeze dried fruit. The flavour is really intense, and the texture completely different, crispy and fresh! I used dried raspberries, dried lychees and dried feijoas. I had friends around and everything disappeared in no time. Most people preferred the raspberries, but I preferred the lychees and Max the feijoas. I did the mandarins already here, and I am pondering about the next fruit to try!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Capsicums (Bell peppers) with capers

2 yellow capsicums (Bell peppers)
2 orange capsicums (Bell peppers)
1 red capsicum (Bell pepper)
1 garlic clove
half carrot
1 small celery stalk
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus more to drizzle at the end)
1 tbsp tomato puree
A little water
1-2 tbsp capers
salt to taste (if the capers are not too salty)
chopped Italian parsley to finish

Wash and cut the capsicums into thin strips. Peel the garlic and cut into two. Wash and chop the carrot and celery into small pieces. Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the vegetables, then add the tomato paste, a little water, the capers (rinsed) and a little salt (unless the capers are already too salty). Cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time, and adding more water if necessary. Adjust with salt at the end, if necessary, and finish with some freshly chopped parsley and another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve hot or cold, with some nice crusty bread or bruschetta, or even to dress pasta.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mountain pawpaw with lemon and sugar

This is a sweet smelling mountain pawpaw. Apparently you can eat the seeds like for passion fruit, but I planted mine (unfortunately it has been really dry and I think that they didn't survive!). For the flesh I just added a few drops of lemon juice and a tiny bit of sugar, and then I let the fruit marinate for a few hours. Very nice for dessert, snack or breakfast (with your cereals).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mango and banana ice-cream, only two ingredients, vegan and gluten free!

Now I don't know which one tastes better: this one, or the berry-banana ice cream? Same principle again, but I used some Indian canned mango puree (this is sweetened, so I cannot say that this ice cream is actually 100% sugar free, but if you have fresh soft mangos they would be perfect too!). I sliced two bananas and froze them (keeping the slices separated by kitchen paper, so they didn't freeze together), I also froze about one cup of mango puree, directly inside the white container for my upright blender (this container has become my new instant ice cream machine, perfect dose for 4!). Then I added the frozen banana slices, blended everything, and this was the result! I think that you can guess how good it tasted just by looking at it! And once again, two ingredients, vegan, and very creamy!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Berry banana instant ice-cream: vegan, raw, gluten free, sugar free, fat free, ice cream maker free.... basically you have to try it!!!

This is so easy and simple that I wasn't even sure if it was worth publishing, but it is so delicious! I have been making instant frozen berries sorbet for years, but at first I used to make it with the frozen berries blended with a little sugar. It was good, maybe a bit watery, but good. But then I tried to add a banana, and I never turned back! A banana makes the sorbet creamy like an ice cream, and you don't need any sugar! I made it a few times and then the other day I discovered frozen banana slices, and for this I have to thank Sue. Yes yes of course I heard about froze banana before, but the way Sue made her ice cream was inspiring and really made me think that maybe frozen banana slices were what I needed all along to 'upgrade' my recipe!

And yes, I can confirm that it is better to use frozen bananas! The sorbet/ice cream stays 'frozen' for longer, and it tastes amazing.

So, all you need is one big banana, cut it into slices and freeze it (try to keep the slices separate, do not freeze it as a block!). The put the slices into a container, add about one cup of mixed frozen berries, (or just frozen raspberries, or blueberries... your choice) and blend with an immersion blender. This is the result. It looks like an ice cream, taste like and ice cream, and can be eaten immediately. 

Sweet NZ image
I like to enter this post for Sweet New Zealand #36, the blogging event open to every one blogging in NZ, and all the Kiwi bloggers living overseas! This month of July is hosted by Libby at Ditch the Carbs. Click here to enter! 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, March 11, 2013

Quinoa with flowers

Quinoa with flowers

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 small carrot
1 small cucumber
1 bunch onion weed (or spring onions)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
edible flowers

Cook one cup of quinoa with two cups of water for 20 minutes. In the meantime chop very finely a small carrot, a small cucumber and a bunch of onion weeds (or spring onions). Put the still hot quinoa into a serving bowl, add two tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, the chopped vegetables, the juice of half a lemon and salt and pepper to taste. This dish can be served warm or cold (yes, even if it has cucumber it can be served warm!). Just before serving add edible flowers: I used onion weed flowers, marigold, violets and bok choy flowers.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Vegan chocolate-hazelnut spread and Vegan chocolate brownie

This didn't start as a brownie, it started as a vegan chocolate-hazelnut spread. I had some hazelnuts to roast, and after doing that I decided to use a few for a nutella like spread, but vegan... and more chocolaty :-). 

Vegan chocolate-hazelnut spread

5 tbps roasted hazelnuts (remove all skin too!)
3 tbps rice bran oil
100 gr dark chocolate (72% and dairy free)
50 ml hot water

Blend the hazelnuts and oil with an immersion blender until you get a cream. In the meantime melt the chocolate with hot water at bain-marie (nothing bad will happen, just keep stirring!). Mix everything together. If the hazelnuts are not fresh or oily enough you may need a bit more oil.

But my problem is that when I have a chocolate spread I don't spread it, I eat it all with a spoon! Too dangerous, I had to make something with it. What about a Vegan chocolate slice, a bit like a Vegan chocolate brownie...

Vegan chocolate brownie

6 tbsp of Vegan chocolate-hazelnut spread (recipe above)
100 g ground almonds
2 tbsp sugar
100 g self rising flour
200 ml soy milk
100 g dark chocolate broken into small pieces with a knife
Icing sugar to dust (optional)

Gently heat the chocolate-hazelnut spread until is soft (not melted) enough to make it easier to fold in the rest of the ingredients. Start with the ground almonds first, then add the sugar, half of the soy milk and half of the flour. Fold in the rest of the ingredients (if it looks too thick add a bit more soy milk) and the chocolate, then pour into a square or rectangular baking tin lined with baking paper. Bake at 160 C for about 30 minutes, or until the surface looks cooked but the centre is still a little soft. Dust with icing sugar (optional) and set aside to cool down. Cut only when completely cold and set (in fact wait for a day if you can!).

It is yummy and delicately nutty with lovely pieces of dark chocolate melting into every bite.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Japanese dinner: the last course, rice and eggplant and tofu miso soup

These are the final dishes of my Vegan Japanese dinner. For those of you who missed some 'episodes', the antipasto was raw avocado sashimi, and the main Fried tofu puffs simmered in vegetable broth, and by clicking here you can find the side vegetables, Broccoli and cauliflowers with easy miso sauce, and Quick Japanese Cucumber and Radish Pickles.

So, how do you finish a Japanese meal? Usually with soup and rice (dessert is optional really, a little seasonal fruit is preferred, like in this Autumn meal, where the fruit was persimmon, this fancy Japanese picnic basket, with mandarins - they are easy to carry, or this Summer meal, where dessert was... berries). 

But not fruit tonight, we just finished with rice and soup. Rice is served at the end to fill  the stomach, and diners eat what they need according to their body mass (this, I was told by a Ryokan chef in Kyoto, Nami, is it true?). By the time I served the rice and soup the light was gone, so apologies for the bad photos. Also, I had to hurry before the soup got cold! The rice is short grain and needs to be rinsed a few times, and then cooked by absorption. Usually I don't add salt to it. When ready I just put a umeboshi (pickled plum) on top, something usually done for breakfast in Japan, but I don't eat rice for breakfast so I use my umeboshi for lunch or dinner :-). And for the miso soup? Well, I like all types, but miso with eggplant is my favourite!

Miso soup with eggplant, tofu and onion weed

First you have to go back for a moment to the Fried tofu puffs simmered in vegetable broth, I used some light vegetable stock to cook the tofu puffs, and the leftover broth after draining the tofu was the base for my miso soup. Then I cut two long eggplants into six pieces each. I took the stock back to simmering point and I added the eggplants and four small cubes of Japanese freeze dried tofu (available in Japanese shops - but I have Japanese friends who send it to me by post regularly. Thank you Hideko and Atsuko!). I simmered everything for 30 minutes, then I took the miso paste left over from Broccoli and cauliflowers with easy miso sauce (in Japanese Zen cuisine everything is recycled!), and added a bit more miso paste to get the amount I wanted - personal taste here, and mixed it well. With chopstick I picked up the eggplant pieces and tofu and divided them between four bowl (3 pieces of eggplant and 1 small block of tofu for each bowl) then I quickly mixed the miso paste with the broth, and poured it into the bowls. To finish I topped the soups with some chopped onion weed. I love miso soup with eggplants! Did I said that already? :-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Light and quick Japanese pickles

These were the side vegetable dishes of my Vegan Japanese dinner. For those of you who missed some 'episodes', the antipasto was raw avocado sashimi, and the main Fried tofu puffs simmered in vegetable broth. I wanted to have a cooked and warm side vegetable dish, and a raw one. Of course variety, colour and difference in texture were as important as taste. For the warm vegetables I used broccoli and cauliflowers with a very easy miso sauce (click here for the recipe) and some easy pickles.

Quick Japanese Cucumber and Radish Pickles

1 cucumber (possibly the short Japanese type)
A few young radishes, with leaves
Salt (best to use unrefined salt)

Wash the cucumber and cut the into slices, and then into quarters. Clean the radishes well and then cut them into halves or quarters (depending on size). Leave the young leaves whole but trim excess stalk.
Place the radishes, leaves and cucumber pieces into a bowl and add 1 tsp of salt. Cover with with something heavy to press the vegetables down (for example fit another bowl on top and then put a heavy rock on top). Leave for a few hours (preferably overnight). Before serving rinse off all the salted water, squeeze lightly and drain well. Arrange the pickles on a small side plate. 

I like to grow radishes in pots, easy to pick as I need them...

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Broccoli and cauliflower with miso dressing

These were the side vegetable dishes of my Vegan Japanese dinner. For those of you who missed some 'episodes', the antipasto was raw avocado sashimi, and the main Fried tofu puffs simmered in vegetable broth. I wanted to have a cooked and warm side vegetable dish, and a raw one. Of course variety, colour and difference in texture were as important as taste. For the warm vegetables I used broccoli and cauliflowers with a very easy miso sauce:

Broccoli and cauliflowers with easy miso sauce

A few broccoli and cauliflower florets
Hot vegetable stock (I used the broth strained from cooking the Fried tofu puffs simmered in vegetable stock - recycling is everything in Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine!)
Miso paste

Steam the broccoli and cauliflowers for a few minutes (they should be cooked but not mushy, nor too crunchy). In a small ball thin down about a tbsp of miso paste with some hot vegetable broth to make a thin paste. Arrange the broccoli and cauliflower florets in pretty serving bowls or small plates and drizzle just a little miso dressing on each dish. Don't overdress, as miso is quite salty, but leave some miso sauce in a side bowl for diners to help themselves if you like, or use the remaining miso sauce to make miso soup (this will be the last course, recipe coming soon).

 Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©