Tag Archives: Italy

Tiramisu / lamington-misu

I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the odd but great things that has happened to me over the last year or so is that I’ve started liking almost all of the foods that I used to dislike and avoid. One of the most significant epiphanies was on eating my Uncle Mario’s superlative tiramisu. I not only started liking this dessert, I became positively obsessed with it.

So for my last birthday, spent in Italy, I asked Mario if he would make a tiramisu for me. In the end he not only made it, but taught me how it is done – such a perfect birthday present for someone like me!

Me receiving wisdom

The really genius part of this tiramisu recipe is the zabaglione. Cooking the egg yolks makes the cream so much more significant somehow: the flavour is much more complex and the texture much lighter. Other non-negotiables for this recipe are good coffee (preferably espresso) and high-quality savoiardi. The soft savoiardi that Mario uses were a revelation and I’ve been able to track some down here down under.

The final part of my story for today is set in Australia, because yesterday was Australia Day, which means compulsory barbequing and eating in this part of the world. When I was thinking about what to take to the event we went to I was split between making a tiramisu and the urge to do something with an Australian theme. I eventually had my second epiphany associated with this dessert and decided to make a lamington-misu.


This was a fairly straight variation on the main recipe, using lamington fingers instead of savoiardi and skipping the cocoa layers (as the lamingtons already have chocolate icing). It was good fun, tasted good and was a great gimmick for our national day, but I have to say the classic beats my experimental version every day!

Tiramisu – the superlative classic version as taught by Mario

120g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons Marsala or Amaretto
500g Mascarpone
500ml-ish fresh coffee, sweetened to taste
Cocoa (pure, no sugar)
400g-ish Savoiardi biscuits (weight needed will depend on the size of the biscuits, your dish etc etc. The soft ‘morbidi’ version are far superior to the dried)

1. First make a zabaglione. In a heatproof bowl mix the 4 egg yolks with 60g sugar and the Marsala/Amaretto. Set the bowl tightly over a pot of simmering water and whisk like crazy until the eggs become a light colour and foamy. It’s ready when the consistency is like pouring custard and there is no raw egg taste.

2. Quickly mix the zabaglione with the mascarpone.

Mascarpone + zabaglione = pure delight

3. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy, then add the other 60g sugar until you have soft peaks. Gently combine the mascarpone and the egg whites. This is your heavenly cream mixture.

4. Get yourself organised with: a large serving dish; a shallow dish for dipping the biscuits in coffee; the cocoa and a sieve.

5. Dip the savoiardi into the coffee and turn then add to your serving dish until you have one layer of biscuits. Spread a layer of the cream mix over the top and then add a thorough dusting of cocoa. Repeat this in layers until you finish with cocoa on top – three full layers is a good guide to aim for.


simple pasta with white zucchini and cherry tomatoes

We eat simple pasta dishes like this all the time in Italy. In fact this recipe almost counts as complicated because it has two main ingredients in the ‘sauce’!

Like most very simple dishes this works thanks to a little bit of precision in the cooking, so the order of adding ingredients does matter. If you can get your hands on some white zucchini this is a perfect way to use them. Alternatively asparagus is amazing in this kind of pasta dish.

to make

Serves 6

500g short pasta
2 cups white zucchini, halved lengthways and diced
1–2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon mint, roughly chopped
pecorino cheese, grated
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Get the pasta cooking in salted boiling water.

Put a frying pan on a medium–high heat. Add olive oil and the garlic cloves. When the garlic is just sizzling add the zucchini and sauté until they are just softening and have a little colour. Add the cherry tomatoes and continue cooking until they are warmed and just beginning to soften. Season to taste, but remember that the pecorino cheese is quite salty.

Drain the pasta and add half to a large serving bowl. Add half of the zucchini mix, half of the mint and a good grating of pecorino. Add the remaining pasta, sauce, mint and some more pecorino and then stir everything well. (Adding everything in two layers helps to distribute the sauce and cheese evenly.)

Serve, preferably at a table set with daffodils:


sort of sicilian salad: with green olives, celery and then some

I learnt two new things while cooking dinner on Friday night. The first was how to prepare alici (fresh anchovy fish). We were making fritto misto for dinner and these were to be one of the varieties of seafood cleaned, tossed in semolina flour and then deep-fried.

It turns out that these little fish are really easy to clean, although the process of ripping the head of, opening the belly and pulling out the backbone isn’t very attractive, so I decided not to make that the focus of this post! Instead I thought I’d share the other thing I learned on Friday night: a new salad recipe.

Working to instructions from Liz I threw this salad together in a few moments. It goes amazingly well with seafood, but would probably compliment chicken or pork just as well.

Using good-quality ingredients is the key to this simple salad. For me that means buying good, pit-in olives. To get the pits out I simply squash the olive with the flat of a knife and then pull the flesh away from the pit. This works fairly well, but if anyone has a better technique I’d be happy to hear it!

to make

2 cups celery, diced
1 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
1–2 teaspoons dried oregano
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2ish tablespoons olive oil

Mix the celery, olives, red onion and oregano in a bowl. Dress with enough lemon juice and olive oil to lightly coat all of the ingredients. Taste and adjust as required.

torta primavera

There are cars abandoned by the side of the road. Elderly men and women wander slowly, eyes down, feet shuffling gingerly. In the beautiful Piedmontese hills this isn’t the apocalypse – in fact it’s the start of Spring and these are the harbingers of the wild harvest.

The lovely Liz

Aiming to join in with this select group of foragers, Liz and I set of on Saturday morning to take part in a hands-on lesson in wild herbs and greens. We started in a hill-side field, and after some brief instruction set to picking dandelion leaves and millefoglie. A sunny hour later, the group moved into the nearby forest, where we learnt about bramble shoots, wild garlic, sambuco, cardo and pulmonaria.

Millefoglie and dandelion leaves.

As a way to spend a Saturday morning it was glorious, and the surrounding landscape was completely beautiful. I still can’t get over the mountains. On a clear day the Alps float in the distance, demanding attention and awe.

An Alp.

Foraging also turns out to be one of those activities that completely change the way you look at the world. On the walk and for days afterwards I looked with heightened attention at the local landscape. Instead of seeing a nondescript carpet of green I’d see individual leaves and plants, looking for anything potentially edible. It was a revelation.

In the afternoon Liz took her new skills into the garden and came back with a huge haul of edibles, including wild chives, violet and primrose flowers.

We’d already decided that morning to use the harvested greens in a savoury tart. The gist of the recipe is below. For those foraging in the supermarket rather than a Piedmontese hillside, almost any other kind of leafy green will work in this tart. Similarly regular garlic can be exchanged for the wild variety.

The wild greens (primarily dandelion, millefoglie and bramble shoots) turned out to have a flavour somewhere between spinach, asparagus and kale. The slight bitterness was definitely eased by the cheesy egg mix. The whole thing was underwritten by the wild garlic and chives and for an experiment the tart turned out remarkably well.

As the flower-strewn tart landed on the dinner table, my Italian uncle looked at it and exclaimed ‘Ah, Torta Primavera!’

to make

Blind bake shortcrust pastry to make a case for the tart.

Mix 6 eggs with a small splash of milk and 2 tablespoons of cream cheese or thick cream. Grate a quantity of pecorino cheese into the mix, along with a tablespoon of chopped chives and some black pepper.

Ready for the oven.

In a frying pan, wilt the wild garlic leaves and the greens. Add this to the egg mix then pour the lot into the pastry case.

Sprinkle more chives, grated pecorino and pine nuts over the top of the tart. Bake at 180º C until set (around 20 minutes).

La torta.

P.S. I also wanted to give a little update on the current kitchen situation. It’s a slight improvement on the last kitchen, in fact I’m fairly sure our whole room in Belgium would fit into Liz’s kitchen! Here it is:


linguine with green bean & tomato sauce

Spending several months in Italy last year provided a lot of opportunities to learn a thing or two about cooking – particularly the pasta arts. That said, it wasn’t always easy to squeeze tips out of the real pros.

Maria is the nonna of my cousins (who are half-Kiwi, half-Italy). She’s from The South and really knows her way around a kitchen, having been on galley-duty her whole life feeding a tribe of relatives. She is also the master of making a lot out of very few ingredients; how she is able to draw every drop of flavour out of a few tomatoes and basil leaves and turn them into the most exquisitely pungent fresh tomato sauce remains a mystery to me.

She is also a financial mastermind, the inventor of an economic philosophy both brilliant and simple. The principle? If you don’t go into shops you won’t spend money. Pure genius. In practice it means using up what you have – particularly food stuffs, but also clothes, cosmetics, anything – before heading back to the shop to resupply. With Nonna Economy you waste less and avoid opportunities to impulse-buy.

Back to food, this was clearly the person from whom knowledge of the secret lore of pasta should be sought – but on the few occasions that Andrew or I tried to watch her in the kitchen we were usually turned around pretty swiftly. I’m not sure if we, as guests, were simply not meant to help out in the kitchen. More probably we just got in the way. On one memorable occasion the diminutive grandmother literally chased all six foot of Andrew out of her tiny kitchen brandishing a wooden spoon.

That said, I did manage to pick a few things up, mostly from attempts to reverse-engineer the masterpieces that arrived on the table. One of the best was to use whole garlic cloves in quick pasta sauces rather than diced, sliced or crushed garlic. The whole cloves aren’t in danger of burning and becoming acrid, and they seem to infuse a much sweeter and more aromatic flavour than you get with garlic that’s had a rougher start to its culinary life. Just remember to remove the garlic cloves before serving the pasta!

So, when I came to thinking about Saturday lunch last weekend the cupboard and fridge were beginning to look a bit bare – but with Maria as my inspiration I decided to make use of what I had lying around.

Fresh green beans braised in a tomato-based sauce and served with fresh parmesan cheese couldn’t be called a revolutionary idea, but with some linguine added I was able to up the ante from side-dish to main meal.

Slicing the beans length ways to form lovely green ribbons adds a little work, but the cohesion you get between vegetable and pasta is well worth the effort.

linguine with green bean and tomato sauce

Serves 2

fresh green beans, a handful
400g tinned tomatoes*
2 small cloves garlic, peeled,
1 teaspoon dried oregano,
olive oil
chilli, salt and pepper to taste

dried linguine 150g-ish

fresh parmesan for serving

to make

Top and tail the beans, then slice them lengthways in halves or thirds – aim for a width similar to that of your linguine.

Get your pasta cooking.

Put a frying pan onto a medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil and the whole garlic cloves and chilli (I used sambal oelek because I had it on hand, but fresh or dried chilli would be fine). Once the pan is hot, and the chilli/garlic have  just started to sizzle, add the beans to the pan.

Cook, stirring, for a minute before adding the tomatoes and the oregano (fresh basil would be a great alternative). Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer while you cook the linguine. The sauce should reduce a little and the beans should soften but retain their bite.

Drain the cooked linguine, keeping about a tablespoon of the cooking liquid. Add the linguine and the cooking liquid to the sauce in your frying pan (still on a low heat) and mix well.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan.


* I prefer the whole peeled tomatoes, which I then chop myself by sticking a knife in the opened tin and thrashing it about a bit. I find these have better flavour and more body than the crushed ones. In the photos above, though, I’ve actually used crushed as I grabbed the wrong can at the shop – so really the crushed toms are fine.