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italian

Baking

Torta de Ceci with rosemary

torta di ceci with rosemary

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! And a very special Happy Birthday to my sister, Ruth.

When we were little, Mum always made Ruth a nice big birthday cake decorated with green icing for her birthday on St. Patrick’s Day. When my sister turned 17 on the 17th, (I think our parents were away) I baked her 17, yes seventeen, mint green birthday cakes. We had 17 guests and we sang Happy Birthday 17 times. We had a lot of fun.

When this blog turned one year old, my sister wrote “make me something nice”. And I’ve been racking my brain since then about what to make. My sister follows the keto diet, so without grains or sugar, it’s difficult for this mostly baking food blogger to know what to make.

So, in the last few months I would look through cookbooks, and blogs and websites searching for something that’s easy to make but unique, made without grains or sugar. And then I came across Torta di Ceci and it seemed to be the perfect discovery.

torta di ceci with rosemary

Torta di Ceci is made with chick pea flour, olive oil, water, salt and rosemary and that’s it.  And oh my! If you have never made this yourself or tried it in a restaurant you must make this recipe. It’s so so  good. Torta di Ceci is crispy on the outside and creamy almost like a custard on the inside.  It is so amazing right out of the oven, you will want to eat the entire pan yourself. But, I suggest you share.

Torta di Ceci is dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan and keto-diet friendly. So you can’t go wrong when you serve this up.

In Europe, Torta di Ceci is a popular street food snack. It is found in many areas and goes by a few different names such as Torta di Ceci, Farinata or Socca in France. Traditionally it is eaten plain, although sometimes people will put rosemary on top. That’s really good. The second time I made it, I added coarse sea salt. Also really good. I think parmesan cheese would also be delicious grated on top…and I wouldn’t rule out bacon either.

torta di ceci with rosemary

I looked at many recipes for this popular snack food. The main difference between everyone’s recipe is the amount of water to use. Some recipes called for a ratio of 1:1 of chickpea flour and water. Some called for a ratio of 3:1 and some called for 4:1. My recipe uses a ratio of 2:1. I liked this flavour best.

Recipes also soaked the chick pea flour in the water anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours. I found 2-4 hours just right. Although I have not let it soak for 12 hours, but I can’t imagine the taste improving any better than what I made.

After you soak the chickpea flour and water and add some olive oil, salt and pepper, you bake the torta in a piping hot oven for about 15 minutes. So fast. torta di ceci with rosemary

Happy Birthday, Sis! Hope you enjoy your torta!

Torta di Ceci with Rosemary

Print Recipe
Serves: 8 Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 100 grams (1 cup) chickpea flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • a few good grinds of fresh pepper
  • 1 spring of rosemary
  • coarse sea salt (optional)

Instructions

1

Mix together the chickpea flour and water.

2

Let soak for 2-4 hours (covered), stirring when you think of it. (I put mine in a tupperware container and shook it occasionally).

3

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

4

Add 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt, a few grinds of fresh pepper.

5

Rinse the rosemary.

6

Add about 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil to a 12 inch oven-proof skillet. Heat the oil until it is very hot, not smoking.

7

Pour the batter into the skillet. Careful you don't get spattered.

8

If the batter looks lumpy when it goes in the pan, very quickly whisk it smooth. If it still looks a bit lumpy, don't worry about it, it will be fine.

9

Cook on top of the stove for a few minutes, until it's slightly drier, but not completely dry.

10

Before you put it in the oven, very quickly scatter the rosemary and sea salt.

11

Put the skillet in the preheated oven on the bottom shelf.

12

Put an oven mitt by the stove, so you don't forget to put it on after it's done.

13

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until golden around the edges and golden on top.

14

Very, very carefully, with an oven mitt on your hand, take out of the oven.

15

Let it cool on a rack or an upside down baking tray.

16

Then carefully, remove it from the pan.

17

Slice up with a pizza wheel.

18

Enjoy!

Notes

You will need a skillet that can go in the oven at 450 degrees F.

Baking

Festive Mocha, Almond, Brandy Strazzate

Mocha, Almond, Brandy Strazzate

Christmas Cookie baking has begun! I started my baking season with these Vegan Mocha, Almond, Brandy Strazzate. This cookie is normally made with Strega, a herbal liqueur from the Basilicata Region of Italy, which supposedly goes really well with chocolate. That liqueur is difficult to find where I live, so I used brandy, which I always have on hand this time of year., and which also works well with the mocha, almond flavours in this cookie.  This is a super delicious cookie, made without eggs or butter.

 

Mocha, Almond, Brandy StrazzateI woke up the other morning to this snowy site and decided it was the perfect day to begin my Christmas Baking.

Mocha, Almond, Brandy Strazzate

It’s never too early to start baking Christmas cookies or playing around with Christmas lights: two of my favourite winter activities.

These Mocha Almond Brandy Strazzate cookies come together very quickly. And the taste is divine. A cookie dough made with cocoa powder and chocolate chips so you get chocolate goodness in every bite. The dough also contains ground almonds + chopped almonds – double goodness again! And the espresso coffee blends with the chocolate to create than umami mocha flavour that is so powerful.

Like I mentioned above, this cookie is traditionally made in the Basilicata Region of Italy where Strega is made. I think any liqueur/liquor that goes with mocha and almonds would work. If you don’t drink alcohol, try a strong spiced herbal tea or chai. Those would work too.

Mocha, Almond, Brandy Strazzate

You can eat them plain, or sprinkled with some icing sugar. So tasty. Make a splash with your Christmas Baking this year. Try something new.

Mocha, Almond, Brandy Strazzate

Print Recipe
Serves: 16 Cooking Time: 30

Ingredients

  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp finely ground almonds
  • 1 tbsp roughly chopped almonds
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp white flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 2 tsp espresso powder, dissolved in 1/4 c. boiling water

Instructions

1

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2

Mix together the ground almonds, chopped almonds, flour, brown sugar, chocolate chips and cocoa powder and olive oil.

3

Dissolve the baking powder in 2 teaspoons of hot water.

4

Add baking powder solution, coffee, and liqueur.

5

Give it all a good brisk stir. The dough will be very wet.

6

Form into 30 gram balls (or 1 ounce).

7

Place on parchment paper about 1 inch apart.

8

Bake in oven for 30 minutes, until dried out and set. The bottom will be slightly golden.

9

After 30 minutes, remove from oven.

10

Let dry on baking tray for 2-3 minutes.

11

Remove from baking tray to cool on a rack.

12

Enjoy!

Notes

These cookies will keep in a coo, dry place or 3-5 days. Or you can freeze them for up to one month.

Recipe slightly adapted from Saveur Magazine February 4, 2013.

Baking

Focaccia Bread with Sea Salt and Black Pepper

Focaccia Bread with sea salt and black pepper on a plate with butter and knife and drink

The first time that I had focaccia bread was at a little sandwich shop in downtown Toronto. It was so delicious:  chewy, warm, fragrant with olive oil drizzled on top and crunchy with salt and rosemary.

Years later Ifinally learned to bake it myself, after I had bought Antonio Carlucci’s Italian Feast cookbook.The back cover of his cookbook shows four variations of focaccia bread, each one as delectable ss the next.

I don’t know why I waited so long to bake sme, as Focaccia bread is very simple to make. It only has one rise so there is minimal kneading, and it is baked flat  on a cookie tray – so no shaping! And in the summertime, we bake ours on a pizza stone on the barbeque, so you don’t even need to turn on the oven.

Focaccia Bread with sea salt and black pepper on a plate with butter knife and drink

Focaccia bread is delicious eaten plain at dinnertime, or you can use it for sandwiches.  You can also make killer breakfast sandwiches with a simple omelette nestled inbetween two soft warm slices of focaccia.

This bread is delicious at room temperature, but I love it when it’s soft and warm. To warm the focaccia, simply wrap some slices in tin foil and put in the oven on low for about ten minutes, or inside the barbeque for 3-5 minutes.

Focaccia is an excellent starter bread for beginners. This bread bakes up very fast and when baked on the barbecue has a lovely smokiness to it. Baking bread on the barbecue means you can bake anytime of the year.  And the crust is simply amazing; crunchy, hot, smoky. Yum!

Focaccia makes great picnic food. It pairs well with sliced meats, cheese, tomatoes, roasted red peppers and other pickled vegetables. And makes fantastic picnic food.

Sometimes on a hot summer night, we’ll just pack up all our picnic foods and lay them out in the backyard. A picnic in your backyard: nothing could be simpler.

Focaccia Bread with Sea Salt and Black Pepper

Print Recipe
Serves: 4 Cooking Time: 15 - 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • For the Dough
  • 500 g (1 1/4 lb) strong white plain flour
  • 15 grams fresh yeast or 7 grams dry
  • 300 ml lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 g sea salt
  • For the Topping
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (or chopped onions rosemary or other herbs)

Instructions

1

Preheat oven to 475 deg F (with pizza stone) or preheat BBQ with pizza stone

2

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Once yeast has bubbled up, add to flour along with the rest of the water, oil and salt. Mix everything together and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and springy. You can do this in your kitchen mixer with the dough hook.

3

Put the dough in a bowl that has been slightly oiled with olive oil. Place a damp cloth over top and leave it for one hour until double in size.

4

Knead the dough again after an hour to knock out any bubbles. Flatten the dough until it is an oval shape and about 1" thick. To create indentations, press your knuckles into the dough several times, keeping the indentations about 1 inch apart. Spread about half the olive oil over the dough. Sprinkle on the toppings. Leave to rise again for about 30 minutes, then pop in the hot oven or BBQ for about 15 minutes until the base sounds hollow when tapped, or when the bottom and top are a nice golden colour.

Adapted from Antonio Carlucci’s cookbook, Italian Feasts.

Cooking

Tuscan Tuna, Bean, Tomato Salad

tuscan bean salad in a bowl

My Tuscan Tuna, Bean, Tomato Salad is as delicious as it is nutrient-dense. This Tuscan Tuna, Bean, Tomato Salad contains beans and tuna for protein, torn naan bread for carbs, tomatoes and herbs for fibre and vitamins and is sprinkled with olive oil and red wine vinegar. The olive oil will keep the salad moist, keep you filled longer and provides numerous health benefits.tuscan tuna, bean, tomato salad in a bowl

I created this recipe last week when the temperature hit an all-time high of 47 degrees celsius in Ottawa. That is the hottest day I have ever experienced, and that includes visiting Hawaii in August!  I was inspired to make a Tuscan salad after leafing through Emiko Davis’s cookbook, Florentine. So many of her Tuscan recipes feature so many of my favourite  ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, onions, fresh herbs, country bread, and beans.

tuscan tuna, bean, tomato salad in a bowl

I love italian food, but Tuscan recipes are even more special.  Everything is so simple, and yet come together so naturally, like all the ingredients belong together. This simple salad can be prepared in about 10 minutes with a tin of tuna and beans, fresh cherry tomatoes and some other pantry supplies.

This salad is perfect for a light backyard lunch, a picnic at the beach or a packed lunch. Whatever the occasion, this salad’s fresh flavours and contrasting textures will provide you with a delicious nutritious lunch.

This salad would also work with  garbanzo beans (chick peas) or romano beans, if you don’t have pinto beans. I’m just partial to pinto beans. You can make this salad vegan by eliminating the cheese and tuna. Then increase the other ingredients by about one third.

tuscan tuna, bean, tomato salad in a bowl

Tuscan Tuna, Bean, Tomato Salad

Print Recipe
Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 100 grams pinto beans
  • 100 grams tuna, in oil, drained
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in quarters
  • about 12 basil leaves, or a few squeezes of basil paste
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • a drizzle of red wine vinegar
  • a pinch of coarsely grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 a naan bread, torn into pieces

Instructions

1

Drain and rinse the pinto beans.

2

Drain the tuna.

3

Add the pinto beans and tuna to a bowl. Add the cut up cherry tomatoes. Add the basil.

4

Tear up some naan bread, and add to the bowl.

5

Drizzle over some olive oil and a bit of red wine vinegar. I usually like a bit more oil than vinegar.

6

Mix everything loosely with your fingers.

7

Sprinkle parmesan cheese over top.

adapted from Florentine by Emiko Davies

Cooking/ Preserves

Robust Red Tomato Sauce

pitcher of tomato sauce and tomatoes

Tomato Sauce is one of the simplest pantry items anyone can make. It also freezes beautifully. It’s so handy to have a few tubs in the freezer so whenever I have time to make some sauce, I make double or triple the amount and freeze it for a quick dinner.

You can make SO many quick dinners when there is a ready made tub of tomato sauce in your freezer: pasta + sauce + parmesan cheese; pasta + sauce + sausage; pasta + sauce + any green vegetable from the crisper drawer such as spinach, zucchini, or even just onion or garlic; or tortellini + sauce + parmesan. Homemade sauce is so simple, and so much tastier than store bought that I try not to purchase bottled sauce too often. It is also more economical and healthier as there is much less salt.

This Robust Red Tomato Sauce is my go-to sauce for all pasta or pizza dishes. I love it because it has a very deep rich tomato flavour. I know other people like to add onions, garlic and sometimes carrots for sweetness, but I like the rich tomato flavour scented with only bay leaves.

pitcher of tomato sauce and tomatoes

If you are lucky enough to have a vegetable patch in your yard, or perhaps you rent an allotment garden, you could try growing your own tomatoes. Tomatoes used to make sauce are a different variety than eating tomatoes. You’ll want to look for paste tomatoes. Paste tomatoes have fewer seeds and have a firmer texture. They also all ripen at the same time, so processing the tomatoes into sauce is easy. Paste tomatoes may seem a bit bland when eaten raw, but when cooked down, they turn into a delicious sauce. Some varieties to look for are: San Marzano, Amish or Roma.

Personally, I buy whatever tins of tomatoes are on sale at the local grocery store. I also tend to buy tins with No Salt Added. However, if I am making a special pasta dish for guests or perhaps taking a lasagna to someone’s house, I would search out a more expensive brand such as Muir Glen, Eden Organic or San Marzano tinned tomatoes. These tomatoes do tend to have a richer and pastier texture. And the taste is divine.

Winter is the perfect time for making tomato sauce and all the accompanying pasta dishes. So, next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up a few tins of tomato sauce and simmer them on the stove while you browse through your favorite italian cookbook and bookmark a few italian dishes to make with your gorgeous homemade tomato sauce.

pitcher of tomato sauce and tomatoes

Robust Red Tomato Sauce

Print Recipe
Serves: 4-6 Cooking Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 1 can (796 ml) whole tomatoes (I use no salt added, but you can use either)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small can tomato paste

Instructions

1

Empty the can of tomatoes into a large pot. Squish all the tomatoes with your hands until well broken up.

2

Add two bay leaves.

3

Simmer on low for about 30 - 40 minutes, until reduced by about 1/3, with the lid half covering the pot.

4

Add tomato paste to taste. I usually add about 2-3 tablespoons.

5

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Notes

This recipe multiplies well. Increase the cooking time to about an hour for large batches. It should reduce by about 1/3.