These light, crumbly, melt in the mouth almond biscuits remind me of cherished holidays in the Canary Islands, when the arid afternoon air induces a need for the perfect pick-me-up; delicias de almendra with a short strong coffee. Easy (dairy-free) recipe here.
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.
Click here for the recipe… Buon Natale!
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!
Today I visited one of my favourite bakeries in Shepherds Bush, Maison Sousse (read about it here), a necessary pilgrimage in the name of late pregnancy cravings for mountains of freshly fried chebakia (in the pic above), North African spiced honey & sesame cookies more commonly seen around Ramadan.
Breaking fast (Iftar) in some parts of the southern Mediterranean sometimes sees lavish table spreads and lengthy meals that commence with dates, Harira soup and chebakia.
My best wishes to those fasting on the hottest, longest days of the year in the ultimate test of faith and endurance. Ramadan Kareem to all of those to celebrate!
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?
I knew I would adore Zayane as soon as I caught wind of it. With Moroccan fusion food, warm hospitality, authentic music and right on my West London doorstep, the venue became a personal favourite as soon as I stepped foot inside. I’ve previously shared the draw of Golborne Road with its diasporic values and English eccentricity, recently opened Zayane seems like a perfect fit.
Zayane, so called after Tamazight speaking nomadic tribes of the Atlas Mountains, was born from a clear vision; refined Moroccan cuisine in a relaxed, unpretentious setting. Casablanca born owner Meryem has created not only a beautiful venue but an amazing atmosphere; her grandmother’s traditional Berber style dress hangs proudly on display and zellige inspired bronze lanterns add a warm glow to the white washed walls. The air is delicately scented with cinnamon and the seating is sociable and intimate with wooden carved partitions and flashes of burnished orange and turquoise. A Gnawa musician sings without a sense of urgency on weeknights, welcoming diners with the type of raw edged infectiously happy voice unique to southern Morocco and a DJ drops beats on the weekends.
With former Thackeray’s Michelin starred chef Chris Bower at the helm, the menus are well thought out and offer alluring dishes for all tastes. Chris masterfully creates a unique Moroccan–British fusion, using British seasonal ingredients and a genuine knowledge of authentic Moroccan spices used with a delicate hand. There are elements of highly refined cuisine here yet elements of utmost authenticity too. Think cured sea bass with a preserved lemon sauce or milk fed lamb mechoui with aubergine caponata. Think also of traditional wholemeal flatbreads which are sold on every street corner in Morocco…
I used to dabble in jewellery making. I used to paint too, large sweeping landscapes on huge pieces of hardboard. Inevitably as real life got in the way, action packed days and countless sleepless nights ebb away into a blur of creative inactivity. Long gone are the productive outbursts I so relished in and the sense of accomplishment that goes with making something meaningful and, if only to myself, beautiful. After years of longing for my creative side to reemerge I finally have the opportunity. So back to jewellery making it is.
As I begin investing what little spare time there is in fiddling with lava, semi precious stones and evil eye beads I realise theres a tiny smile etched on my face. This is what I’ve missed; stolen moments of self indulgence away from technology and that real world which has kept me so occupied. As my mind wanders I tread the realms of fire and sea, reflections of the very elements I’m working with. In reconnecting with myself its as if reacquainting with an absent friend.
Hello dear friend, welcome back.
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!
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