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Apple Cake

Apple Cake

    Apple cake is quite commonly seen in Italy especially on dessert lists in restaurants. The Italian version of an apple cake is often not very high so the percentage of apple topping to cake is about 50/50.  I have made this recipe in […]

Vellutata di Broccolo Romanesco

Vellutata di Broccolo Romanesco

After indulging for the whole month of December, it’s time to return to some healthier habits.  The best way for me to do this during winter is by preparing soup, and this recipe is one that I love because it is so quick, easy and […]

Cotechino with Lentils – Happy New Year!

Cotechino with Lentils – Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve in Italy is marked by a large, festive meal which might have seafood as the protagonist.  The dinner on December 31st is called the cenone di San Silvestro or cenone di Capodanno, the word ‘cenone‘ being Italian for ‘big dinner’.  Some traditions see Cotechino with lentils served at midnight – after the main ‘cenone’, although I make it as our one and only main meal for New Year’s dinner.  I might be more creative and add other dishes if we have guests, but if it’s just us – then cotechino with lentils will be the only thing I cook.

Cotechino with lentils is a New Year’s Eve tradition in Italy.  While preparing it this year I asked myself why on earth I don’t make this dish more often – especially during winter.  This is a delicious,  comfort dish and one that I only discovered once I started living in Italy almost twenty years ago! It’s definitely not something we had growing up in Australia. (Although my father and his brothers would have an annual sausage making day, a tradition my cousins continue every year).  Cotechino, is an extremely richly seasoned pork sausage from Emilia-Romagna. It is boiled, sliced and served on top of a bed of lentils.  Italian custom believes it is a good omen for economic prosperity if you start the New Year eating lentils, the more you eat – the richer you will be apparently! Although originally a local specialty, thanks to modern industrial production cotechino (like panettone, originally from Milan) has become a national holiday tradition.

Cotechino with lentils is an extremely poor dish, made with very economical and simple ingredients. The cotechino itself isn’t very expensive and it can be purchased raw from a specialty butcher or already pre-cooked and packaged in a vacuum-packed pouch.  This definitely speeds up the preparation of this dish and like most people, I buy it like this.  This will make life easy because aside from gently reheating the cotechino, all you have do is prepare the lentils and serve. Cotechino is made from fresh pork, fatback, nerves and pork rind, along with various spices. Some producers add wine as well as other flavourings and preservatives.  Historically, this is a recipe that anyone could afford, even the poor peasant families.  

There are many variations of cotechino with lentils, some regions using lentils and polenta to accompany cotechino, especially regions such as Friuli and Veneto where polenta is more common and eaten most days.

Cotechino is not the only kind of sausage eaten on New Years Eve.  You may also find a  ‘zampone’ which is a pig’s trotter stuffed with the same mixture. The presentation is a bit more dramatic, but the taste and end result is pretty much the same.  You can also cook regular Italian sausages and serve them with the lentils.

Cotechino with Lentils

  • 1 store bought cotechino or zampone (pre-cooked)
  • 400g lentils
  • 2 small carrots
  • 3-4 celery ribs
  • 5 shallots
  • 80g pancetta (I used salami I had in the fridge)
  • 125ml white wine
  • 200ml can ‘polpa’ tomato
  • 1 litre chicken broth
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  1. Rinse/wash lentils in cold running water.
  2. Chop carrot, shallots and celery finely, and add to a heavy based saucepan (I prefer a cast iron Dutch oven) and add a generous splash or two of olive oil. Cook on medium heat slowly until onion is translucent and slightly browned.
  3. Add salami or pancetta and bay leaves and cook for about 5minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add white wine and allow to simmer until reduced.
  5. Stir in lentils, mix well with a wooden spoon, and then add the tomato polpa.
  6. Cover lentils with chicken broth, and add extra water to ensure lentils are well covered.
  7. Continue to cook lentils stirring frequently to ensure they don’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. Season sparingly to taste.
  8. Transfer Dutch oven from stove top to oven (after about an hour), and continue to cook at 180°C until lentils are cooked.  Check liquid level and top up with water if the lentils look dry and are not yet cooked.
  9. For the cotechino, follow the instructions on the packet, but usually you place the vacuum packed cotechino or zampone in a saucepan covered with boiling water.  Allow to boil for 30 minutes.
  10. Cut with scissors the corner of the packet, and allow juices to rain out.  Cut open completely and gently remove the cotechino or zampone.
  11. Slice and serve with lentils.
  12. Some people like to quickly sear the cotechino slices in a frying pan before serving.  I like to do this with second day (leftover) cotechino.

 

Cotechino con Lenticchie

La notte di Capodanno in Italia è caratterizzata dal Cenone di San Silvestro.  Da alcune parti, il cotechino con le lenticchie viene servito a mezzanotte, dopo il principale ‘ Cenone ‘, ma io preferisco considerarlo come piattone unico cena di Capodanno. Potrei onestamente essere più creativa, e aggiungere altri piatti in caso di ospiti, ma per una cena intima cotechino e lenticchie sarà l’unica cosa che cucino.

Cotechino e lenticchie è una tradizione del Capodanno in Italia.  Durante la preparazione della cena di quest’anno mi sono chiesta perché non faccio questo piatto più spesso, soprattutto durante l’inverno. Questo piatto l’ho scoperto solo quando ho cominciato a vivere in Italia quasi vent’anni fa!  Sicuramente non è qualcosa che avevamo mangiato in Australia (anche se mio padre e i suoi fratelli hanno sempre mantenuto la tradizione calabrese di fare le salsicce ogni anno, una tradizione che i miei cugini continuano ancora oggi). Il Cotechino è una salsiccia di maiale con origini in Emilia-Romagna.  Viene bollito, affettato e servito sulla sommità di un letto di lenticchie.  Per tradizione, in Italia si crede che sia di buon auspicio per la prosperità economica se si inizia il Capodanno mangiando lenticchie… più si mangiano, più soldi arriveranno! 

Cotechino e lenticchie è un piatto estremamente povero, fatto con ingredienti molto economici e semplici. Il cotechino stesso non è molto costoso e può essere acquistato crudo da un macellaio o già pre-cotto e confezionato in un sacchetto sottovuoto.  Questo sicuramente accelera la preparazione di questo piatto e, come la maggior parte delle persone, io lo compro così.  Questo renderà la vita facile, perché a parte di riscaldare il cotechino, tutto quello che dovete fare è preparare le lenticchie e servire.  Cotechino è fatto da maiale fresco, grasso di maiale, e nervi  insieme a varie spezie. Alcuni produttori aggiungono vino così come altri aromi e conservanti.  Storicamente, questa è una ricetta che chiunque può permettersi, anche le famiglie povere contadine.

Ci sono molte varianti di cotechino con lenticchie, alcune regioni mangiano lenticchie e polenta per accompagnare il cotechino, in particolare regioni come il Friuli e il Veneto dove la polenta è più comune e mangiata quasi tutti i giorni.
Il Cotechino non è l’unico tipo di insaccato da mangiare a Capodanno.  Si può anche trovare un’zampone ‘ farcito con la stessa miscela. La presentazione è un po’ più… drammatica, ma il gusto e il risultato finale è più o meno lo stesso.  È inoltre possibile cuocere semplice salsicce e servirle con le lenticchie.

Ingredienti

  • 1 cotechino o zampone (pre-cotto)
  • 400g lenticchie
  • 2 piccole carote
  • 3 – 4 coste di sedano
  • 5 scalogni
  • 80g pancetta (ho usato salame che avevo in frigo)
  • 125ml vino bianco
  • 200 ml polpa di pomodoro
  • 1 litro di brodo di pollo
  • sale e pepe
  • olio d’oliva
  • 2 foglie di alloro
  1. Sciacquare/lavare le lenticchie in acqua corrente fredda.
  2. Tritare finemente la carota, il scalogno e il sedano, aggiungere ad una pentola a base pesante (io preferisco un forno in ghisa olandese) e aggiungere una generosa quantità di olio d’oliva.  Cuocere a fuoco medio lentamente fino a quando la cipolla è traslucida e leggermente brunita.
  3. Aggiungere il salame o la pancetta e le foglie di alloro e cuocere per circa 5 minuti, mescolando frequentemente.
  4. Aggiungere il vino bianco e lasciare sobbollire fino a ridurlo a metà.
  5. Aggiungere le lenticchie, mescolare bene, e poi aggiungere la polpa di pomodoro.
  6. Coprire le lenticchie con il brodo di pollo e aggiungere acqua in più per garantire che le lenticchie siano ben coperte.
  7. Continuare a cuocere le lenticchie mescolando frequentemente per assicurarsi che non si attacchino al fondo della pentola. Aggiungere sale e pepe q.b.
  8. Trasferire la pentola al forno (dopo circa un’ora) e continuare a cuocere a 180 ° C fino a cottura delle lenticchie.  Controllare il livello del liquido e aggiungere l’acqua se le lenticchie sembrano asciutte e non sono ancora cotte.
  9. Per il cotechino, seguire le istruzioni sul pacchetto, ma di solito si posiziona il cotechino o zampone in una pentola coperta di acqua bollente.  Lasciare bollire per 30 minuti.
  10. Tagliare con le forbici l’angolo del pacchetto, per consentire i succhi di fuoriuscire.  Aprire completamente il pacchetto e rimuovere delicatamente il cotechino o il zampone.
  11. Affettarlo e servirlo con le lenticchie.
    Alcune persone piace scottare le fette di Cotechino in una padella prima di servire.  Mi piace fare questo il giorno dopo con gli avanzi!

 

 

 

Last-Minute Christmas Cake with Glazed Candied Fruit

Last-Minute Christmas Cake with Glazed Candied Fruit

While you might have the very best intentions to bake a Christmas Cake in October, feeding it twice weekly with Brandy leading up to December, sometimes life just gets in the way and before you realise it it’s December and Christmas Day is a week […]

Panforte

Panforte

Panforte is a classic Italian Christmas dessert.  It’s a very dense, rich confection loaded with nuts, candied or dried fruit, and spices (hence its name, which means “strong bread”).  Panforte has a long history. It was made by apothecaries, old-time pharmacists, and it was only […]

Gingerbread

Gingerbread

When looking for a good Gingerbread recipe, two things are important to me, and the first thing is the flavour.  I want gingerbread to have a strong spice aroma and taste – otherwise it’s just not gingerbread!  The second important thing when making cut-out cookies, is the dough must maintain its shape and not spread during cooking time.  I think you will be happy with this recipe, I know I love it!  You can use gingerbread to make a beautifully decorated gingerbread house , you can make gingerbread men, any shaped cookies you like, or you could get a little bit more creative at Christmas or Easter time and make festive wreaths.  The wreaths here were made with Christmas on my mind, but I might just update the photos in this post come Easter – imagine a wreath of gingerbread bunnies or decorated eggs! 

Gingerbread

  • 120g butter
  • 75g packed dark brown sugar
  • 110ml molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 410g plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until well combined.
  2. Add the molasses, and use a spatula to scrape butter from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add the egg and incorporate into mixture.
  4. Sift flour, cornflour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt together, and with the motor running on medium-low, add in batches to the butter mixture.  Continue mixing until the mixture forms a ball of dough, and all ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Divide the dough into quarters and roll it out between two sheets of baking powder.  Refrigerate.  Continue to roll out remaining dough until it is all resting in the refrigerator.
  6. Remove one rolled sheet of gingerbread dough, and peel off the top layer of baking paper. (Use this piece for the cookie shapes).  Using the cutter of your choice, and cut out gingerbread shapes.  Return these to refrigerator and preheat oven to 180°C.  Bake for 8 – 13 minutes depending on size of cookies.
  7. To make a gingerbread wreath It is best to place the gingerbread shapes in the freezer before baking.  Remove them after 20 – 30 minutes, and arrange on a clean sheet of baking paper.  Arrange them overlapping – they will stick together during baking, but be careful once they are cooked because they can be quite fragile.

GINGERBREAD – PAN DI ZENZERO

Quando si cerca una buona ricetta per fare i Gingerbread, due cose sono importanti per me. La prima cosa è il sapore:   voglio che il pan di zenzero abbia un aroma e sapore forte di spezie -altrimenti non è pan di zenzero!  La seconda cosa importante quando si fanno i biscotti è che la pasta deve mantenere la sua forma senza allargarsi durante il tempo di cottura.  Penso che sarete contenti di questa ricetta: io lo amo!  È possibile utilizzare pan di zenzero per fare una casa splendidamente decorate, si può fare gli uomini di pan di zenzero, biscotti di qualsiasi forma, o si può essere un po’ più creativi a Natale o Pasqua e fare ghirlande festive.  Le corone qui sono state fatte pensando al Natale, ma forse aggiornerò questo post a Pasqua – casomai con una corona dei coniglietti del pan di zenzero o delle uova decorate!
Ingredienti
  • 120g burro
  • 75g zucchero di canna muscovado
  • 110 ml melassa
  • 1 uova
  • 410g farina
  • 2 cucchiai farina di mais
  • 2 cucchiai di cannella
  • 2 cucchiai di zenzero
  • 1/2 cucchiaini di garofano
  • 1/2 cucchiaino di sale
  1. Utilizzando un mixer elettrico, battere il burro e lo zucchero fino a che siano ben combinati.
  2. Aggiungere la melassa, e utilizzare una spatola per raschiare il burro dai lati della ciotola.
    Aggiungere l’uovo e incorporare in miscela.
  3. Setacciare farina, farina di mais, cannella, zenzero, i chiodi di garofano e il sale insieme, e con il motore in esecuzione su medio-basso, aggiungerla alla miscela di burro.  Continuare a mescolare fino a quando la miscela forma una palla, e tutti gli ingredienti sono incorporati.
  4. Dividere la pasta in quarti e stenderla tra due foglie di carta da forno.  Refrigerare.  Continuare a stendere l’impasto rimanente e farlo riposare nel frigorifero.
  5. Rimuovere un strato di pan di zenzero, e staccare lo strato superiore di carta da forno (utilizzare questo pezzo per le cucinare i biscotti).  Utilizzando il cutter di vostra scelta, tagliare le forme di pan di zenzero.  Riportarle in frigorifero e preriscaldare il forno a 180 °C.  
  6. Cuocere per 8-13 minuti a seconda delle dimensioni dei biscotti.
  7. Per fare una corona/ghirlanda è meglio mettere le forme di pan di zenzero nel freezer prima della cottura.  Rimuovere dopo 20-30 minuti ed organizzarli su un foglio pulito della carta da forno.  Disporli sovrapposti – si attaccheranno durante la cottura, ma attenzione perché una volta cotti possono essere abbastanza fragile.

 

 

Gingerbread Mince Pies

Gingerbread Mince Pies

It’s no secret I love Christmas fruit mince pies, and while I love the classic version, I’m happy to experiment and try other flavour combinations.  Last year I made Chocolate Mince Pies using a chocolate pastry paired with my mother’s rich fruit mince filling (link below), […]

Blueberry Pie

Blueberry Pie

This recipe will give quantities for one 9-inch (24cm)  blueberry pie baked in a deep pie dish.  I have used these quantities to make 6 individual portions in ramekins.  Once you have the filling and pastry ready, the choice is yours.  Blueberry Pie Pastry 250 […]

CASTRONI – A gourmet International food institution since 1932

CASTRONI – A gourmet International food institution since 1932

 

Per la versione Italiana: The Way Magazine – Fine Living

CASTRONI

The first time I walked into CASTRONI, I felt like Charlie Bucket the day he stepped inside Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory after winning his golden ticket.  I was overwhelmed with joy as I took in the sight before me.   I was inside their flagship store on Via Cola di Rienzo, and at the time I didn’t know that CASTRONI would one day become my daily stop for my morning cappuccino or my afternoon macchiato!  Walking into CASTRONI is like taking a walking speed food tour around the world, and all expats who live in Rome know the sheer heart warming joy that occurs when you find that food from your home country or find that ingredient that is impossible to find anywhere else.  Most foreigners who live in Italy, if they have to visit Rome, will almost always make a CASTRONI visit a must in their otherwise busy itinerary.  A true foodie will find visiting CASTRONI just as important a priority as visiting the Colosseum. 

 When you walk into the store,  it’s the aroma of coffee that first welcomes you, it embraces you and invites you to investigate further.  Sweets and chocolates share the limelight with the coffee, but I really can’t begin to summarise the more than 5000 food products that are sold here.  Think tea, Jams, honey, and biscuits (cookies) from all over the world.  Herbs, spices, wine, (some prestigious bottles costing €220.00 and another €650.00) Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar (the most expensive is a small bottle aged 100 year that costs €250.00 ), boutique pasta brands, American breakfast cereal and a selection of Coca Cola flavours that I didn’t even know existed. There is one section dedicated to varieties of salt, (who knew there were so many types of salt!) another dedicated to gluten free products, and they sell Vegemite!  The Asian section is vast and one of my favourite places to visit.  I put that down to the fact that most of the ingredients there were impossible to find when I lived in Tuscany, and also so many are still such a mystery to me, and it reminds me there is still so much for me to learn.  Special holidays sees whole walls of Tea and Jams disappear to make room for a stunning selection of Easter Eggs or Panettone and Pandoro for Christmas.  Christmas also brings the arrival of English Christmas Puddings, brandy butter and fruit mince pies.  Thanksgiving means cranberry sauce, canned sweet potato and creamy Libby’s pumpkin – and dare I mention the refrigerated products that include specialty foie gras, smoked salmon and even jars of goose fat! (Think perfectly roast potatoes ).

CASTRONI on Via Cola di Rienzo, in the Prati neighbourhood of Rome,  opened it’s doors in 1932 when Umberto Castroni bought the 90mq  store space after selling his ‘kiosk’ that was located ‘lungotevere’ – along the Tiber river.  He continued to sell drinks and fruit juices, and during the war he listened and responded to people’s needs and ‘caffè di cicoria’ became a best seller.  Cicoria Caffè was a coffee surrogate during the war years when coffee was either impossible to find or too expensive for most to afford. It is a healthy, bitter beverage that doesn’t contain caffeine, and is known to have digestive and detox properties.

humble beginnings

Umberto’s siblings entered into the business, they were four women and two men.  The youngest was Marcello, he had a keen eye for business and in 1955 opened the second store virtually around the corner in Via Ottaviano, close to the Vatican City.  It was after the opening of the second store that the family began to divide – in a business sense, and CASTRONI at this point boasted six stores around Rome.  The strong and close family bond is the main reason for Castroni’s  past and present prosperity and it’s this ‘secret’ that guarantees their success for future generations.

Marcello remained at the Flagship store and his clever intuition lead him to begin selling International products following requests from the many Embassies and Consulates based in Rome.  CASTRONI then began roasting and selling their own brand coffee and it was aptly named ‘Augusta’ after their mother.  One of the coffee blends they began roasting was the secret  ‘Miscela Bar’ blend that is served at their bar every day and is also sold to the public.  This is the coffee I enjoy every day, either at Castroni’s bar or at home, yes – we also drink Caffè Castroni at home, buying it freshly ground.

Roberto & Fabrizio Castroni

CASTRONI continued to grow, expand and enjoy increased popularity rapidly over the next ten years.  Marcello’s  two sons,  Fabrizio and Roberto joined the company, and brought with them a fresh, young and new enthusiasm.  Ethnic food items and specialised foreign ingredients became important merchandise to sell especially with the high number of foreigners visiting or living in Rome.  CASTRONI was the first to bring Japan to Rome for example, and sells ingredients that are otherwise impossible to find.   CASTRONI expanded to a floor space of 200mq, then to 400mq. The other CASTRONI stores enjoyed the same success and expansion and by the time the fourth generation entered the business, CASTRONI had 13 specialty International food stores in the Eternal City.

I often wonder how CASTRONI find many of their products.   Roberto Castroni explained to me that he has invested over 30 years in foreign travel  researching speciality food items and over the years they have created a network of International contacts, collaborators and even friends that assist in assuring CASTRONI always has it’s finger on the ‘foodie’ pulse.

 

CASTRONI is synonymous with family unity and pride. This philosophy hasn’t changed since Umberto Castroni began his Empire.  The family takes an active role in the business and you’ll always find a family member in each store.  You’ll find more than one actually – just think there are 30 family members working amongst all the store, and at the Via Cola di Rienzo store they have 44 staff – 8 of which belong to the Castroni family.   Employees who aren’t directly related to the Castroni family remain loyal for years, there is always a warm atmosphere when you walk into CASTRONI and their commitment to customer service never wavers.  Roberto says his employees are happy because they are treated well. He says that his father Marcello taught both he and Fabrizio that to ensure their staff worked well, they must be treated well and looked after – as much as is possible.  In fact, Castroni employees always receive their wages regularly on the 27th of each month.  (Not always a guarantee in Italy today).  They also receive benefits that aren’t common in every workplace in Italy, such as health insurance and monetry incentives for productivity etc.  80% of Castroni employees have worked at Castroni from 10 to 30 years, and  after 25 years, employees benefit from a generous long service bonus for their loyalty.  One employee will be retiring soon after 35 years of service. 

Lovely Antonio has worked here for 32 years.

One thing that is surprising is that bar prices are not inflated, and are in fact kept very competitive.  My daily cappuccino costs €1.10 and a caffè (espresso) costs only €0.90 ! And considering all the pastries and sandwiches are made freshly on site daily, sandwiches costing from €1.90 – €2.80 and pastries only €0.90; Castroni offers quality at a price that’s hard to find in Rome.  This is especially true in a neighbourhood that borders on the Vatican City and is otherwise known as a neighbourhood for the wealthy and elite, not to mention the daily tourists that pass on their way to the Vatican, every day of the year.    Roberto told me that this is actually a historic strategic decision.  The bar not only brings people into the store, but it also creates  a constant circulation of clients inside.  Castroni is also famous for their gelato and especially the coffee “granita” during the hot Roman summer.

Umberto, one of my favourite baristas takes his job very seriously!

For me CASTRONI has become much more than just the International food store across the road from home.  CASTRONI is my morning caffeine fix, served by Rome’s most adorable baristas who haven’t forgotten what old fashioned good manners and personal service is about.  CASTRONI is my go to place for every-day and gourmet ingredients.    CASTRONI is also my ‘pick me up’ when I’m having a bad day.  It’s  where I go for a little chat and a guaranteed smile. I have a wander through, enjoy a coffee, say hello to staff that now feel like life-long friends, look at the many shelves taking in all that is on offer and see if I can spot anything new.  I may not have ‘needed’ anything when I walked in, but you can bet I don’t often leave empty handed (I mean without that famous yellow Castroni logo shopping bag.

 

Today CASTRONI also offers an online shopping service and shipments are made daily throughout not only Italy, but all of Europe.  Castroni’s coffee can also be shipped to Canada and the U.S.A.  Their website can be visited in Italian or English.

CASTRONI’s success surely lies in setting trends and not following them. Our shopping high streets are so often filled with chain stores offering an impersonal service that it’s refreshingly comforting to have a store like CASTRONI in the neighbourhood.   The name CASTRONI has not only become a household name in Rome but it’s a name that will always be associated with excellence, from its humble beginnings to the incredible family business that it is today. 

Make sure you include this on your itinerary for your next visit to Rome.   

 

Always a smile from Roberto Castroni

My father enjoying shopping for Easter.

 

Christmas Custard Cookies

Christmas Custard Cookies

These cookies are so delicious, it’s difficult to stop at just a couple and impossible to eat just one.  It is a variation of a shortbread recipe.  I had every intention to bake the recipe my mother and Aunts would use every Christmas (they made […]