Panettone & Ricotta Pudding or as my Italian’s call it Zuccotto Di Panettone

Panettone and ricotta pudding

Panettone and ricotta pudding

To my Italian’s Panettone is like a box of chocolates would be to my family, you bring it when your told not to bring anything.

If you have never heard of this before which I hadn’t either, to give you the run down. The bready cake comes in a square tall box and was first made in the region of Milan, Italy. It  is usually eaten at Christmas and is considered as a poor man’s dessert because it was originally made from leftover bread and dried fruit. It is a light, soft, shreddy, rich, flavorful bread, speckled with candied orange, citron, raisins and lemon zest. The cake is usually eaten with coffee or dipped in a sweet dessert wine called  Vin Santo (holy wine) after dinner.

Sliced Panettone about to be bathed in Vin Santo

Sliced Panettone about to be bathed in Vin Santo

Recently Mamma had been given quite a few from friends, she was getting bothered by them being in her cupboard. Not because they were going to go off, they last forever. But because she didn’t have any other use for them apart from eating with coffee and the family were getting a little bit tired of having it. I told Mamma I would take one home as I wasn’t sick of them yet she was very happy to part with it.

I happened to come across a recipe in one of my favourite Italian cook books ‘Two Greedy Italians’ by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo and they use a whole Panettone in a dessert. So I attempted to make it for family dinner next week.

The ‘Two Greedy Italians’ recipe for Zuccotto Di Panettone (Panettone and ricotta pudding) was easy to follow and quite quick to make. My only suggestions to the recipe would be to-

* Make it the night before I find it sets better and all the Vin Santo has absorbed into the bread.

*Turn it out of the bowl just before you are ready to eat it. After a while out of the bowl it starts to lose its form.

*For the candied fruit I used dried pawpaw and candied citrus.

* I added a little extra (30g each) choc chips and almonds to the ricotta mix as there seemed to little for the amount of ricotta.

Filling

Filling

Mamma and the family devoured the pudding, you know you have made something good when u barely get a chance to get a piece. They were very impressed with the dish so much, that Mamma has given me more Panettone so I can make it again and bring it to the next family function.

pan in bowl

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Secret Nonna Business – The Art Of Pasta Making

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I get it now, when Nonna tells me ” I don’t have a recipe, I just know.” Why?, because this weekend I learn’t how to make ravioli with brother No 2’s girlfriend.

Her background is Maltese and her family makes pasta quite often. She needed to make a big batch for a family function of hers that was coming up and I mentioned how interested I was in learning how to make it from scratch.  She said great and  was very happy to have a second set of hands in the mix. I offered to get the filling and bring wine for dinner for the ‘after the pasta making’  session and she said she would do the rest. The filling for the ravioli was ricotta, parmesan and parsley…simple, yes,  but I was assured that if we have the best quality ingredients we wouldn’t need anything else. She got parsley from her parents garden and I knew of a place that makes fresh ricotta that I could buy direct from the producer – word also got out and I ended up getting extra for family – a total 9kg of ricotta and some parmasen in fact. The Italian lady I ordered it from gave me a quizzical look for ordering that much but as soon as I held that ricotta, I knew it was worth coming here, it is was so fresh and still warm. We set up at her place with another extra set of hands from the youngest sister,  so we were ready to begin. We started with mixing the filling which was done by hand so you can feel and taste when it is ready. Extra pepper and parsley was added to really give it a punch of flavour.

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Then it was onto making the dough. We had a basic recipe to follow and at first I was just following her step by step but after a while I got used to how it is meant to be –  the feel between my fingers, if it needed more flour or water and thin enough to just be able to see my finger tips through the pasta.

During our dough session, the eldest sister arrived and offered to help and if she could enjoy it when we were done. We had a little factory going now, we filled and cut out the pasta like an old Nonna, one that had done it a thousand times, our job made easy with the pasta cutters. We needed to portion and freeze them, flouring each piece so they wouldn’t stick. Pasta making is definitely a workout…no wonder there was no need to go to gyms in our Nonna’s time.

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We made a Neapolitan sauce to go with the ravioli, well the type we made is called Agnolotti the difference being instead of being made from two squares of pasta, ours were made from one round piece and folded – they were named after a cook Angiolino from Monferrato, known as ‘Angolot’ and they had different fillings for different feast days.
Sitting down to dinner after making it all day was such an achievement and a joy watching our loved ones eat it. I can imagine this is what the Italian and Maltese women feel when they make it for their own families but on a weekly basis.
The fresh Riccota made a huge difference, it was so creamy that the pockets of pasta oozed in your mouth like honey.

I am so blessed to have this knowledge to pass down to my own friends and family. Bellisimo!

 

Birthday dinner for My Italian Man

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

My Italian Man is turning 27 and this family night dinner was for him. To make birthday dinner’s a little special, we get to choose what mamma is cooking and what the dessert is for the night. Its Mamma’s personal gift to us. My Italian Man chose spaghetti carbonara followed by rocky road for dessert.

Mamma was a little apprehensive about making the pasta, she hadn’t made it in a while. You might think seeing as they are Italian she would use the best ingredients, so naturally pancetta in the cabonara. No, no, we are not in Italy where it is just ascheap as bacon. Mamma has to make a huge pot to feed everyone, so lean bacon was the choice for such a large amount. I’m sure she would’ve loved to use pancetta but she is much happier to cook enough for everyone to be able to go back for seconds or even thirds which the brothers do. Mamma was not happy because the egg was not right in the sauce, I honestly thought it was great, I had no idea what she was talking about. Mamma and Nonna are never 100% happy with their cooking, they always say they can do better. But I can never find a flaw with their cooking.

Recipe from Mamma's cookbook

Recipe from Mamma’s cookbook

Although traditional carbonara only has egg and no cream Mamma has always followed this recipe, we all like it this way so she hasn’t changed it. I questioned this at first. You would think she’d only make it the traditional way and it would be ‘blasphemy’ any other version. But this is how Mamma’s family likes it and that’s all she is concerned about. The sauce was thick and rich coating each strand of pasta as though it’s a creamy veil. To go with the pasta, we had a garlic bread to scrape our plates clean and a huge green salad. Mamma was especially excited to dress this salad so she can use the gift I found for her. A balsamic raspberry vinaigrette, she loves to try new things and I knew she would like this one. Everyone crowded around the bench waiting for their turn to get some pasta, pulling the long ribbons of pasta up into their bowls and smothering it with the carbonara sauce. Settling down to dinner we all caught up on what everyone had been doing in the past week. I love sitting back sometimes and listening to all the different conversations along the table. This time all the men were talking about their cars and what needs fixing. They never have new cars they are always a project. The women were talking about laundry secrets and hints for removing stains. One I found interesting applying undiluted white vinegar to the rust stain by spraying or dabbing it on. I know this sounds a little stereotypical, they just can’t help it. This family is ‘Old School Italian’, and that’s what I find most endearing.

A little too quite Family Dinner

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This week was a simple family dinner as much as it can be. Although it was unusually quiet because one of the sisters has gone to Cambodia for study and a holiday. Until now, I never realised that she was the loudest one at dinner, it just isn’t the same without her and her man. Whenever you see them they are bursting energy and so much to tell you no matter how mundane it may be. I am looking forward the family dinner when she returns will be a fun one.

wine potatoes cata

For tonight’s feast Mamma made some family favourites.

Succulent steak cooked to perfection. It was never a particular type of steak. But if it was on special at the grocery store that would be the one, she does need 12 of them plus extra for left overs. Cooking them on the bbq was Pappa’s job, he always does a perfect job. Unless he gets distracted by something the family are doing, then you see him rush to the bbq bellowing with smoke to take them off as quickly as possible. Most of the time they are saved.

Wholesome veggies, corn on the cob, green beans from the garden and roast potatoes with Mamma’s blend of seasonings. (I need to find out what they are)

A mixed salad (that is different ever time) it doesn’t sound much but, her combination of Nonno’s home grown tomatoes, juicy ripe and succulent,. Salty kalamata olives, herbs from the garden, red onion, cucumber, feta, every kind of lettuce leaf with the perfect balance of olive oil and Vinegar.

My number one favourite, CATALONGA! Its cooked chicory, but it’s so much more than just fried greens. I will put up the recipe soon.

Nonno’s 81st birthday dinner

IMG_4757This Wednesday night Family dinner was particularly special Nonno turned 81 today, this is Papa’s side of the family. So this was a combined birthday dinner with our weekly dinner, the only difference was there was more food, people and special Grappa to be had after dinner. This Nonno is more “Italian” than the other one. When you greet him you have to say hello and how are you in Italian or you will be corrected.  I have got this routine all worked out now but run into trouble when I do this, he then forgets that I can’t speak Italian and starts having a conversation with me, I just smile and nod that usually works.

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Prosecco and pomegranate spritz

The nights feast started off with chill and garlic barbecued prawns that Papa cooked, this was his job for the night. Zia made all of girls a Prosecco and pomegranate spritz. Just a glass of Prosecco ( Italian dry white sparkling wine) and pomegranate seeds spooned into the glass for colour and sweetness. It was so beautiful to look at with the magenta bubbles rising to the top.

Chili and Garlic Barbecued prawns.

Chili and Garlic Barbecued prawns.

We ate the barbecued prawns outside on the porch, I had never seen prawns being peeled so quickly they all were naturals, in one quick movment. It was a twist with the head and peeled the body and legs shell off all at once leaving the tail on to hold while eating. I didn’t even have to peel any, My Italian Man was doing it for me. All of the women didn’t have to peel any their men did it for them like it was their duty, It was very sweet. We sat out here for a while enjoying the light of the afternoon and listening to Nonno tell us this will be his last birthday, he tell us this every year.

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When it started to get dark we all piled into the huge table and started to chat away while the finishing touches of dinner were being made. Tonight’s feast included two huge slab Lasagna’s, a few salads, bread and the home made family wine. I selected a little of everything for my plate very excited to eat this lasagna its one of my favourites, but it was different this time. I was a  bit confused not eating the usual glorious traditional beef lasagna, this time it was a turkey version. Very strange. I found out that this was not an experimental dish Mamma wanted to try but leftover turkey that had been kept frozen from Christmas. It made me laugh, they will never waste anything it can always be created into something again. It was nice but just not a good a the usual. I would never say that though.

After cleaning up we had the birthday cake, the glow from the candles shone on Nonno’s beaming face showing how happy he was that we were all with him celebrating another year. Candles were blown out and a wish made, it was now coffee and grappa time. Zia had made the birthday cake tonight, very appropriately named ‘Mamma’s cake’ she got the recipe from the ever faithful ‘Women’s weekly Italian’ cook book. It was a coffee/ Kahlua sponge with custard filling and frosting. It was to die for. ( I will post the recipe shortly)

We were all full and happy and Nonno and his sons were well into the grappa having a very interesting discussion but I had no idea what was going on because they had switched to talking in Italian, they do this after drinking grappa. If I followed them closely you could get the idea from their animated hand gestures. The night was ending and we all said our goodbyes with the awkward ‘which way are you going’ double kiss from Nonno.

Wednesday night family dinner

Breaking bread with the family

Breaking bread with the family

My Italian man comes from a family of ten. Dinner time is never ordinary – including all the ring-ins – there are now 15 of us. There is always laughter, knowledge and plenty of food shared at the table. This tradition started when My Italian man and some older siblings moved out on their own or got married. Mamma would forever be saying she never sees us altogether, so Mamma decided Wednesday would be the night ‘La Famiglia’ would all come together.

Mamma spends most of the day cooking for her clan and never dissapoints, she serves up a fantastic feast – traditional dishes, pastas of every variety, homemade potato pillows of gnocchi,  crisp paper thin Chicken Parmigiana, a colossal deep pan Lasagne, wholesome Minestrone like no other, pizza filled with delirious toppings , creamy risotto and the many seafood dishes as the brothers love to go fishing and bring home all kinds of seafood.

On other nights, she will attempt some experimental dishes that she comes across in her library of cook books. For many, this would seem like a chore but she finds so much joy in cooking for her family and bringing them altogether once a week.
Papa’s job is to do the barbequing and getting the family home made wine from under the house to decanter. The homemade wine seems to be a never ending supply (although as we are getting older, the number of bottles keep increasing), he won’t admit it, but he is secretly proud at how many we go through and how much we all enjoy it.
After we have had our fill, chatted a little and mamma has shoved the last bits of salad and bread into us (as it isn’t the best for tomorrows leftovers) all the plates get passed down one by one like clockwork to the end of the table and taken to be washed up by whoever’s turn it is to wash this week.
After dinner is my favourite time. We all sit down at the table to relax and share coffee, dessert and talk about what we have been up to since our last dinner. Occasionally, if Papa feels the need, he will bring out the port and grappa to finish off interesting discussions.The family always look forward to this time, It’s almost turned into a weekly ritual that we rarely miss, If you do, you have to have a pretty good excuse to get it by the family.

Boxing Day lunch and dinner to finish Christmas celebrations

Fruit platter

Fruit platter

Boxing day was another family full event, Lunch with my family and then dinner with Nonna’s family. At my family lunch there was a lot of running around and helping my Mum, Aunt and Grandma cook, I forgot to take any snap shots except for the fruit platter I brought. It was so vibrant and fresh, just what we needed after all of the over indulging. I was happy with the pic but I did intend to make this Christmas fruit tree, the other photo shows I didn’t get too far before I got frustrated and ran out of time. I will try and attempt it next year.

Inspiration and frustrated failure

Inspiration and frustrated failure

Family feast

Family feast

When we arrived at dinner we were so full and over indulged from lunch we hardly ate anything, Nonna thought we were sick she doesn’t understand what full is.  This our huge spread of food these are a few of the dishes we had to choose from, freshly cut ham off the bone with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and olives, a whole turkey, rolled pork, prawn cocktail platter, a spinach and ricotta filo quiche, a few salads, pasta on the stove behind and a seafood salad made my Nonno. I have been told this is one of his specialties that he kept bringing to every family event, even though at the beginning no one really liked it. But persistence prevailed and now dinners are not complete without his touch. Everyone piled up their plates and the brothers especially piled them high having mounds of food covering the plates, they always want to try a little too much of everything. But they amazingly finish it all and thanks to their Italian genes are still slim!

A great day and night to end the Christmas celebrations.

Christmas lunch at Nonnas

The family line up and the Italiano garden

The family line up and the Italiano garden

Christmas Lunch started off with the usual entertaining chaos of some sort, we arrived to a down poor of rain and all the Zii (uncles) and cousins frantically trying to put up every tarp possible. As lunch was in the garage (extending out past it) as its the only spot we all fit, there are about 38 of us now. Once they were up and we were all dry and cosy the feast began. A parade of all the usual Italian suspects pilled on to the table with the must have accompaniment,  Nonno’s home made wine from under the house. We all lined up to get our hands on the amazing food we all pitched in to make with Nonna’s supervision. I was even asked to bring a small dessert. All our plates were piled high with so may dishes to choose from you just have to try a little bit of everything,  topped with salad from Nonna and Nonno’s garden. We were all so full from trying everything  and everyone had to share around with each other what we couldn’t finish as Nonna thinks what ever is left on your plate you don’t like and the last thing we want to her to think is we don’t like her cooking and you get ‘the look’. Even though we were stuffed there is always room for coffee, dessert and grappa (Grappa is a lethally strong Italian alcohol made from distilling skins, pulp, seeds, and stems). My Cookies that I made even got a mention from Nonna.