Lots of people I recently talked to, even some experienced travellers, never heard of town called Gubbio, one of the great Medieval stone towns in Italy. I don’t know why it gets overlooked by all sorts of tourists guides?
If you like history, Medieval architecture, Gothic palaces and churches, cobblestone streets, markets and good food, plus all in a beautiful natural setting, but far from the mainstream tourist flows, you don’t need to look any further. Go to Gubbio!
Lake Como is a timeless classic. For hundreds of years it’s been a popular destination with the rich and famous but there are plenty of things to do at Lake Como for the humble tourist. I found that it doesn’t matter how lavish looking are the hotels and restaurants around, the natural beauty of the Lakes and surroundings are taking advantage and overshadow everything else. So much beauty in one place!
Lots of people can be put off by thinking it’s the exclusive place of holidaying oligarchs and film stars (George Clooney has a place there). I also thought initially that it’ll be too much for our budget. But if you opt like we did for self-catering, it can be very affordable, because all the best things there, like breathtaking scenery, fresh air, swimming in the lakes, wonderful walks around are FREE!
We stayed in Bellagio – perhaps the most well known town on Lake Como, but the house we rented situated just outside of city centre, perched on very VERY steep hilltop. And although the walk to the town and back required physical effort at least twice a day (well, we have to burn off all these Apperitivi and gelato some how!), we were rewarded with peaceful surroundings and the most stunning views.
As the title suggest, these are not your usual loaded with Cheddar cheese straws, these are a much lighter version, made with the Cottage Curd Cheese /Twarog
You can snack on them, serve instead of bread with soups and dips, or even with tea and coffee, if you don’t have a sweet tooth. They are very addictive though.
Also there is no limit to toppings. Traditionally, they are sprinkled with caraway or poppy seeds, but you can sprinkle with whatever takes your fancy: paprika, linseeds, sesame seeds, curry powder, chopped nuts or as a sweet option with sugar and cinnamon.
COTTAGE CHEESE STRAWS
250g twarog cheese (available at Tesco or other Polish supermarkets)
250g butter, at room temperature
350g plain flour
2 eggs (1 — for a dough, 1 for the topping)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Options for topping:
- Beat the cheese with butter until smooth.
- Add the egg and sugar, beat again. Add the flour, salt and baking powder. Knead lightly until the dough comes together and is quite soft.
- On floured surface roll out to a of 7-8 mm thick and cut into sticks with a width and a length of about a finger.
- Place the cut out strips on a baking sheet, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with caraway seeds, sesame seeds or anything else of your choice.
- Bake in a preheated to 180C oven about 13-15 minters or until the straws are tender and golden brown.
Meatballs – one of those dishes which unites the nations, everybody cooks them, everybody loves them. But apparently, according to history, Romans knew better. When you ask an Italian about meatballs, you can get into all sorts of discussions about what goes in to a meatball. But one thing is (almost always) certain: they tell you that their mother, their grandmother or their aunt made the best polpette. Other then that, it can be debated how the meatballs should be served or eaten: on its own, with or without the sauce, or even with some pasta.
Today’s recipe is from wonderful Polpo book.
There is a bit of love required to make the tomato sauce but the polpette are a breeze and the combination of fennel and pork tastes great, just a little bit unusual. You can reduce the amount of chilli flakes or fennel seeds to suit your taste. The original recipe asks for 20g of fennel seeds (in comparison, standard supermarket’s jag is 34g), I wasn’t brave to put more than half of it, I added 10g only and it was plenty to my liking.
PORK AND FENNEL POLPETTE
For the sauce:
100ml extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
small pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 small handful of oregano, finely chopped
pinch of caster sugar
For the Polpette:
1.5 kg minced pork
3 medium free-range eggs
large pinch of dried chilli flakes
10g fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground in a pestle and mortar
salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- To make a sauce, heat half the oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion, garlic, salt, pepper and chilli on a medium heat for about 15 minutes. When transparent, add the fresh tomatoes and the rest of the oil and cook on a low-medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer. Leave to bubble on the lowest heat for about 1 hour. Turn off the heat and add the heat and add the oregano. Taste and see if it needs any sugar. When you’re pleased with the taste, blend together with a hand blender or in a food blender. Sometimes I like to leave my sauce chunky.
- To make meatballs, preheat the oven to 220C. Put the pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, chilli flakes, ground fennel seeds, salt and pepper into a large mixing bown and massage thoroughly. Roll into approx 45g balls, place them on a greased baking tray and roast in the oven for 10 minutes, turning once until they are starting to brown.
- Poach meatballs in the tomato sauce for 10 minutes.
- Serve on its own with some nice crusty bread or focaccia, or if you dare even with pasta.
I was given a bag of organic Jerusalem artichokes grown in a local allotment. Although it’s still a mystery why they are called artichokes, as they are more likely to come from potato family; and why they are ‘Jerusalem’, if they are originated from North America and has nothing to do with Holy Land.
However, I know that one of the best options to appreciate the delicate, sweet and slightly nutty flavour of this wonderful vegetable is soup.
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE SOUP
(Adapted from BBC Food)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5-7 (depends on the size) artichokes, peeled, chopped
100ml white wine
300-400ml chicken or vegetable stock
50ml double cream
salt and pepper to taste
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter (do not allow to burn). Add the onion, cook gently until it has softened.
- Add the garlic, cook for another two minutes.
- Then add the artichokes, white wine and stock, continue to cook for 15 minutes or until the artichoke has softened. Pour the mixture in to the blender, add cream and blend mixture until smooth.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Another bake from ‘Baked in America’ book and another success. To be honest it even exceeded my expectations.
One of the downside of this book is a lack of photographs. I’m not into step-by-step ones, however, I appreciate at least one photo to go with any recipe. Especially if it’s a completely unknown to you recipe, at least to know what this dish should look like. In this case, there was a photo with the recipe, but it was so dark that I presumed the bake included some chocolate or cacao powder. I read the recipe again and again and still couldn’t understand what was added to make the bake so dark. Then I realised, that if you put the required amount of sugar ( a whopping 450g for the filling and another 100g for the base!!!) that anything will turn black, as well as all your taste buds will be numb forever.
Actually, this time I baked with my friend and we decided to follow the recipe precisely, apart from adding only 1/3 of the asking sugar amount. Other than the sugar issue, it is a good bake with a rather short but firm buttery base and wonderful topping, slightly gooey, but full of texture with lovely cardamon aroma.
APRICOT AND PISTACHIO BARS
For the pastry base:
90g icing sugar
300g plain flour
225g butter, softened
For the filling:
225g dried apricots
115g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 ground cardamon
190g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g pistachios, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the tin (30x23x5cm), and line with parchment.
- Place the dried apricots in a pan, cover with water and simmer for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them. Drain, cool, chop the apricots, then leave them aside.
- For the crust base, using mixer or processor, on a low speed combine the sugar, flour and butter until the mixture is crumbly. Dump the whole lot into the prepared tin, press it on to the bottom and slightly aside (I found the back of the metal spoon is good for that). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just barely browned. Remove from the oven, put aside, let it cool.
- For the filling, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamon and set aside. Using the same bowl from the crust mixture, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla until evenly mixed. Then add the flour mixture, until it well incorporated. At the end, fold in the cooled apricots and the pistachios. Pour the batter over the cooled crust and smooth it.
- Bake it for another 25-30 minutes, until it evenly browned. Let the bake cool in the tin completely , then cut into squares or triangles, sprinkle icing sugar on top, if you wish.
Parsley the sauce please!
Excuse this bad joke, but I just couldn’t resist..
I have to admit that not only have I never made parsley sauce, I never even tried it before. One of my colleagues always says how much she loves it. I had to try it to see what it’s all about.
I see the appeal now, it’s a really delicious, quick and no fuss sauce to make and can be used with ham, fishcakes, baked fish, or even vegetables. We had it simply with baked salmon and green beans.
CLASSIC PARSLEY SAUCE
(adapted from BBC Food)
Tip: Make it just before you need to use it.
25g plain flour
a good handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a saucepan.
Stir in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, watch the heat to ensure sure the paste does not burn.
Gradually stir in the milk to get a smooth sauce. I prefer to use a whisk for that, stirring all the time, bring to the boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer gently for 5-7 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper, stir in chopped parsley, serve it straight away.