Looking for an alternative to Christmas pudding? Why not try making Struffoli, a festive dish which evokes the colourful roots of Naples.
Struffoli is one of the essential Christmas dishes in our family. This Neapolitan dessert is unique to the city and not dissimilar to Greek / Turkish Lokma where deep-fried dough is immersed in syrup. Jeweled with candied fruits, sugar covered fennel seeds, cinnamon shards and lightly spiced with anice, Struffoli invokes the spirit of the East and bears a striking resemblance to the national dessert of Tatarstan called Çäkçäk.
I’d like to imagine there is some incredible story of how the dish is unique to two very different places, and of a possible connection which stretches way beyond the Mediterranean Sea.
If you’ve left Christmas shopping a little late (as have I!) or can’t decide what to give a certain someone, why not make one of these two sweet treats? Italian almond sweets, Pasticcini di Mandorla, or Pahklava, Azeri style spiced baklava. Both insanely delicious, they’ll make perfect gifts for loved ones with a sweet tooth.
Wishing all of you a very merry Christmas filled with family, festivity and good food and an amazing 2017.
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!
Mostaccioli and Divino Amore have a special place in the heart of Neapolitans and southern Italians; for diaspora the scent of these ‘dolci’ conjures up sentiments of Christmas.
They are an essential part of our festive season and are found along side other traditional sweets and biscotti like Susamielli, Rococo and marzipan shapes, ‘pasta reale’.
My recipes reduce the amount of sugar usually called for. Mostaccioli are nutty chocolate biscuits which are as antique as they are loved. They remind us that Napoli has been touched by the East with their spiced scent. Divino Amore are baked marzipan dipped in blushing white chocolate, originally made by nuns for Neapolitan nobility. With floral notes and candied peel, they are an authentic taste of the Mediterranean.
They make for perfect gifts so parcel them up and spread the Christmas love. Merry Christmas and Buon Natale a tutti!
Cuccia’ di Santa Lucia is traditionally eaten on St.Lucia’s day, 13th December in the deep south of Italy. St Lucia of Syracuse is the patron saint of eyesight, symoblised in this creamy dessert by soft grains of wheat said to represent her eyes.
I made this dessert for my sister when she had accidentally damaged both corneas and was in a lot of pain. Off I went to Soho’s Lina stores for wheat and proper Italian style candied orange peel with this dessert in mind. She swears that her eyes improved, thanks to St Lucia! Click here for recipe.
I love October; the satisfying crunch of leaves underfoot, gloriously golden days where the sun still warms the brow and chilly nights drawing in. As we near Halloween, I take delight in knowing the season of comfort food is upon us. Here are some spooky (ish!) recipes to consider; Pumpkin, Hazelnut & Ricotta salad, Eggs in Purgatory and Torrone dei Morti – Torrone of the dead!
Easter for me, as for many, has always meant family gatherings and festive foods. Images of palms twisted into crosses on my parents mantle piece, daffodils and sugary coloured decorations are imprinted deep in my memory. I also recall my mother showing me how to empty an egg for decorating using only a pin and deep breaths. Then there was the food; platters of salami, mortadella, boiled eggs with various cheeses, pasta with juicy ragu’ and ricotta, roasted lamb with peas and artichokes, colomba cake and Italian style Easter eggs with brightly coloured foil wrapping. Then there was the Pastiera; a beautiful Neapolitan wheat and ricotta cake delicately perfumed with orange blossom. My father would cut a hole in the centre to ‘make sure’ the year’s offering was up to scratch – it always was 🙂 This is the essence of Easter in our household.
I’ve just realised my last post was in January of this year. This is what having a baby does to you; takes your time and energy, in the best possible way of course! I kept intending to write about coping mechanisms with my noisy bundle of joy (in the way of delicious foods which have kept me going) but just as I found a few spare moments, I lost them just as quickly.
It’s almost Christmas and with the season comes mouth watering flavours and traditions. I haven’t done as much cooking as I usually do this time of year, but here are a few of my Christmas must-haves to get you in the festive spirit. Check out easy Fig and Chestnut delights, (a great gift idea!), Cherry Chocolate Zuccotto (what to do with all that gifted Panettone) and Neapoletan Struffoli.
I wish you and your families a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2014!
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.