Southern Italy and North Africa, not so distant cousins.
I adore dishes which bear testament to shared histories and the exchange of tradition, the type which are so strikingly alike that they surpass borders between two seemingly different lands. With the Arab conquests of Sicily and Calabria, the presence of the Spanish with their Moorish influence until the 18th century and the natural proximity of land, its no wonder we can find huge similarities in food, language and architecture between the regions. The occasion pastries of Southern Italy and North Africa demonstrate just this with the common use of of floral essences, spice, ground almonds, pistachios and honey. In Italy at Christmas we see deep fried honeyed dough steeped in honey (like fragrant Neapoletan Struffoli and Puglian Cartellate), and around Ramadan we find Moroccan Chebakia in abundance; rose shaped, spiced pastries also deep fried and steeped in honey. The trick is to use a light honey, such as Rowse Light & Mild, so the flavour of the spices aren’t overcome.
My recipe is a take on the afore mentioned dishes, on the methods and depth of flavour shared by both regions who it seems are not so far apart. These spiced honey and sesame curls are best accompanied by a strong, unsweetened Turkish style tea; since we’re already in the Mediterranean flavour mood, why not!
Burrata is a thing of beauty. It is delicately flavoured yet rich and luxurious, often eaten with nothing more than the faintest drizzle of olive oil. Pictured above, this delight was flown in from Italy and delivered straight to my door thanks to NifeisLife, an online Italian grocery store with a passion for fresh, authentic ingredients.
I served the queen of cheeses with crisp flat bread and a homemade rocket and walnut pesto, just a bit mind you as I didn’t want to over power its subtle flavour. My rocket pesto is a wonderful tool for cutting the richness of dairy, adding a fiery kick to steak or potatoes, an interesting addition to otherwise boring sandwiches and it will also give you a serious nutritional boost.
The rocket widely available in the UK tends to be smaller and more bitter tasting than its large leaved Mediterranean cousins, unless that is, you’re lucky enough to find it bunched up in street markets or Turkish/Middle Eastern food stores. Paired with walnuts, lemon and a touch of parmesan, the recipe takes about 2 minutes to make!
This savoury recipe is a great idea for picnics, breakfasts, lunch boxes, tea times and snacks. I always adored this ‘cake’ in the breakfast rituals and afternoon tea times of my Turkish friends and neighbours, when accompanied by strong, clear tea I’d gladly indulge in seconds and thirds.
You can make your own take on it easily, adding to or replacing any of the flavoursome ingredients. Why not try adding spring onions, chopped sun dried tomatoes or fresh dill?
Happy Easter e Buona Pasqua to everyone! I hope your day is full of family & gorgeous food. I’m looking forward to my mother’s Pastiera, a fragrant Neapolitan Easter pie made with ricotta and wheat which symbolises new life, rebirth and abundance.
On a festive note, I wanted to share my date & walnut mini eggs recipe with you. A healthy alternative to chocolate eggs, these vegan friendly treats are easy to make and contain no refined sugar. This Easter I gave them as presents to my wellness seeking loved ones.
My own delicious take on a classic Turkish style salad Kisir – this white cauliflower version is nuttier, crunchier and dare I say it slightly more exciting due to a whisper of Moroccan flavours. It requires barely any cooking and guarantees a refreshing vitamin hit. Ready in just 15 minutes, this super simple recipe jumps slightly on the fashionable ‘raw’ food bandwagon and is vegan friendly.
Its satisfying and tasty enough to be served alone and makes a great accompaniment to lamb or fish.
İrmik Helvası – Semolina Halva with Cardamom & Pistachio
After significant absence from NazarBlue, my apology comes in the form of an easy to make, tasty treat; Turkish style semolina helva with my own special twist.
It can be served hot (with ice cream) or once cooled in slices as the perfect accompaniment to tea (in our case, çay!).
The various words for ‘Halva’ derive from the Arabic Halawa, meaning sweet. Halva / Helva / Halawa is a typical Mediterranean / Middle Eastern / Asian / Balkan / Eastern European confection which can be made from various ingredients; primarily grain flour resulting in a gelatinous texture (most typically semolina or wheat flour is used) or ground nuts which result in a more solid texture (you’ll be familiar with sesame halva.) Other more exotic bases for Halva are chickpeas and other beans or carrots and flavourings vary wildly from pistachio to chocolate, honey or simply plain.
Another pregnancy niggle; loss of appetite, rather, everything edible in sight making you feel sick to the stomach.
The smell of lettuce, a rogue mushy blueberry, meat.. Every unexpected smell and off-key texture led me to eat ‘safe’ beige food for the best part of six months. For a lover of food, I was more than frustrated with plain pasta with cheese, cheese on toast and butter on bread near enough forming part of my daily meals.
Luckily, as the bundle is almost here, my desire to be more daring has returned – yippee!! But I wont be eating mackerel just yet, by any account.
The other morning, I gathered a few more exciting beige ingredients together and formed a treat, light enough to be free of guilt and tasty enough to want more. Normally, I’d have drizzled the finished pastries with honey and smattered them with sesame seeds, but this time round a light powdering of icing sugar sufficed.
Dried fruits and nuts give much-needed energy and nutrients when fresh produce isn’t readily available. One example of their significance is found in the traditions of the Middle East at Ramadan, when evening Iftar (breaking of the fast) commences with a date.
At the moment I’m suffering from one of the pregnancy niggles, where you, ahem, simply ‘can’t go.’ Lucky then, that when Murat went to Green Lanes, Harringey last week he returned with kilos of dried fruit and nuts!
Apart from enjoying them in their deliciously sticky state, I decided to make Khoshaf, a perfumed compote of rehydrated fruit and nuts, hailing from various Middle Eastern kitchens.
Use whatever you have at hand.. It’s the type of recipe free to artistic licence (aren’t they all?). Fruit are soaked in a mixture of water and orange flower essence until plump, and nuts rejuvenated to their former milkiness. Most versions call for the use of sugar too, however let’s keep it healthy and appreciate the natural sweetness of the fruit themselves.
All Souls day, which falls on the 2nd November, is a significant event in the Catholic calendar which pays homage to the dead, especially those whose souls are stuck in purgatory.
In Napoli, a city enrobed by superstition, shrines and shadowy under layers of catacombs, All Saints day (1st Nov) and All Souls day present an opportunity to pay respects to deceased relatives by visiting graves. Older, alarmingly morbid practices are still carried out where church crypts are lit up and coffin lids are opened or removable glass panels taken out so that the relatives of the decaying can see their faces, caress the corpses and make the sign of the cross over their head. This of course, is no longer common practise and remains a ritual for the religiously devout.
In Napoli, every event calls for an edible homage. Around the time of All Saints & All Souls day, sugared skulls and skeletons appear and temp children for a pittance.
With such a great respect for the dead and in timely coinciding with Halloween (a Pagan celebration of the dead who’ve passed before us), I have made another sweet treat usually associated with festival.
As the blustery Autumn winds whip and lash, what better to do than hide under layers of snug clothing and eat wholesome comfort food?
My quick and easy beef & bean stew is wholesome and hearty. The recipe usually calls for dried beans and braising steak, but for those of us who can’t spare the time to soak beans over night and braise meat for hours, I have used sirloin steak and tinned cannelini beans thus cutting cooking time to a mere fraction.
I’m assured on good (and fussy!) authority that my version is just as tasty and satisfying.