Monday, 30 July 2012

Tomato, basil and mozzarella pasta

Red, white and green, the Italian flag (and coincidentally, the colours of Y Ddraig Goch, the Welsh Dragon) on a plate. Yes, it's another dish based on my favourite Italian trinity of mozzarella, tomato and basil (for other recipes featuring these flavours have a look at Insalata Caprese and Baked pasta with mozzarella and tomatoes). I make no apology for this, I happen to think that the combination is simply perfect for the warmer summer weather.

The recipe below is for a standard, hot pasta dish. However, Italians often prepare this as a cold pasta salad in the hot summer months. If you want to try it like that, cook the pasta until just al dente, then drain it and refresh in cold water. Then simply toss the other ingredients with the pasta, without cooking them, omitting the onion and dressing with a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil.

As there's still time (just!), I'm sending this over to Laura (this month's host) at and Nazima of  Working London Mummy for the July One Ingredient challenge - Tomatoes.

RECIPE - serves 3-4

350g pasta (any 'short' kind, I used fusilli)
7-8 large tomatoes
125g ball mozzarella
half a small onion or 1 shallot
extra virgin olive oil
handful fresh basil

Chop the onion or shallot very finely. In a frying pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the base and add the onion/shallot. Cook gently until very soft, about 10-15 minutes. 

While the onion is sweating, prepare the tomatoes. First, you have to peel them, not a particularly pleasant job but worth doing for this dish. The easiest way is to score a small cross in the skin of the base of the tomatoes. Place in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave for a minute, then place the tomatoes in cold water and peel off the skin. After peeling, roughly chop.

Chop the mozzarella into small dice.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in lots of boiling salted water. When the pasta is almost ready, add the tomatoes to the softened onion and cook for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper. 
When the pasta is al dente, remove from the heat, drain well and toss with the tomatoes and onions and the fresh basil, roughly torn. Just before serving, scatter the diced mozzarella over the pasta and gently mix it in, drizzling over a little more olive oil.
NB: Don't be tempted to mix the mozzarella in any earlier because it starts to melt as soon as it hits the heat and instead of it being evenly distributed through the pasta, you end up with a mass of melted mozzarella that won't mix in! I speak from experience...

Monday, 23 July 2012

Sydney Specials (or Chocolate Crunch Slices)

These were a constant feature of family gatherings when I was growing up. I loved everything about them, but particularly the name. I have no idea where it comes from but that's what they were known as in our family and that's what I will continue to call them.

I've already written about my Aunt's seemingly unending recipe range for little cakes, bars and slices (see here for another of her delicious bakes) and sure enough, Sydney Specials originated with her although they were made by all branches of our family.

There are a number of reasons why you should try these: they are ridiculously easy to make, they taste really good, somewhere between a cake and a biscuit, and everybody loves them, young and old alike. Please don't be put off by the fact that cornflakes are one of the ingredients - you can't taste them or see them really, they just add a pleasing crunch.

The ease with which they are made, their universal popularity and the fact that they are covered in chocolate make them ideal for selling at cake stalls so I'm sending them over as a second entry to this month's Tea Time Treats Challenge, with the theme of Cake Stall Cakes, run by Karen of Lavender and Lovage (this month's host) and Kate at What Kate Baked.


175g butter
110g soft brown sugar
25g cornflakes
50g dessicated coconut
1 tablespoon cocoa
150g self raising flour
pinch salt
200g milk chocolate for the top

A baking tin, 17 x 26cm approx, greased and base lined with greaseproof paper

Preheat oven to 160°C

Melt the butter and sugar together over a low heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Pour and press evenly into the prepared tin.
Bake for 20-25 mins. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
Melt the chocolate and pour over the top.
When cold, cut into squares or rectangles as you prefer.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Involtini di melanzane

Aubergines just shout summer to me. I know you can get them all year round but they're at their best from July to September, and seem to typify mediterranean cuisine. These little aubergine involtini are common throughout southern Italy. Most versions include mozzarella and ham although GL's mum uses mortadella in hers, saying that it adds a certain aromatic dimension. My rendition though comes via Nigella. There's no meat in it but the combination of salty, sharp feta with milky, melting mozzarella works perfectly. The added crunch of pinenuts that she suggests are a perfect contrast to the softness of the cheese. I don't however use the raisins that she includes in her recipe - even though they are used quite extensively in Sicilian savoury cooking, I personally only like them in sweet dishes. I add fresh mint and oregano rather than parsley and dried mint and dispense with the melted mozzarella topping, preferring just to use a small amount of passata with a few fresh basil leaves thrown over after I've taken it out of the oven.

I'm entering this into the fabulous Forever Nigella challenge started by Sarah at and hosted this month by Amy from Cooking, Cakes and Children Let's hope that the Sizzling Summer will have arrived by the closing date at the end of July!

As it includes lovely fresh mint, basil and oregano, I'm also sending this over to Herbs on Saturday, thought up by Karen from the wonderful Lavender and Lovage, with guest host this month Vanesther of Bangers and Mash

RECIPE (adapted from Nigella's recipe in her fantastic book Feast)

2 large aubergines
100g feta cheese, crumbled
125g ball mozzarella, finely chopped 
25g parmesan, grated
75g pinenuts
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, crushed
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

about 400g passata
extra oil for grilling the aubergine slices

Cut the aubergines into thinnish slices and brush with oil. Cook on a very hot griddle until soft and striped. Remove to a plate as you go.
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
Mix all the other ingredients together (except the passata).

Put a small amount of filling on each aubergine slice and roll it up, making sure the filling won't fall out. Place them into a lightly greased gratin dish, pour over the passata, a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Bake for about 25-30 mins.
As Nigella states, this is better if you can leave it to cool slightly once it's come out of the oven - 10 mins should probably be enough.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Coffee and walnut cupcakes

The atmosphere in our house has been somewhat subdued lately. It started with Italy's humiliating defeat in Euro 2012 and the constantly leaden skies and autumnal climate are certainly not helping to lift our spirits. GL, who finds it hard to believe that it is actually summertime, is suffering from a lack of warmth and sunshine. Phone calls to Italy don't really help matters as everyone there complains about how unbearably hot it is and how they simply have to go to the lake or seaside in order to cool off a little in the water. When we mention the rain and the temperatures we've been getting here, they say they envy us and how they would do anything to have some cooler conditions. They don't fool us though, we know they don't really mean it...

 I made these toothsome little cupcakes in a bid to cheer GL up, coffee and walnuts being two of his favourite flavours. I initially thought of doing a classic iced coffee layer cake but that has become one of my mum's staples so I came up with these, a slightly more subtle and dare I say it, elegant take on the aforementioned classic (a perfect example of which can be found here on the great Baking in Franglais blog and which is, incidentally, almost identical to the one my mum makes).

Anyway, I digress. The coffee flavour in the cupcakes comes from fiendishly strong espresso (a perfect excuse to include a photo of my beloved Gaggia, without which GL and I, coffee addicts that we are, would probably not be able to live in the UK) and a sprinkling of real fresh ground coffee, an idea that I picked up from Dan Lepard in the Guardian a few years ago. The two elements combine to give a distinctive, mellow coffee flavour without it being too overpowering. 
As GL prefers these without icing, I left half the batch as they are and I iced the other half with a coffee water icing. You could also top them with a traditional coffee buttercream.


As this month's letter is 'W' in the brilliant Alphabakes challenge by Ros from TheMoreThanOccasionalBaker and Caroline (this month's host) at Caroline Makes, I'm sending this as my entry. I'm also entering it into the Tea Time Treats Challenge, with the theme of Cake Stall Cakes, run by Karen of Lavender and Lovage (this month's host) and What Kate Baked.

RECIPE - makes 12 cupcakes

120g softened butter
120g caster sugar
120g self raising flour
half a teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
one very strong espresso, about half a standard espresso cup
half a teaspoon fresh ground coffee (dry)
50 g chopped walnuts

12-bun muffin tin lined with 12 cupcake or muffin papers

 Pre-heat the oven to 190°C

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Mix in the espresso and the ground coffee
. Sieve the flour and baking powder and fold in. Lastly, fold in the chopped walnuts.

Spoon the mixture in to the cases, filling each case as equally as possible.

Put in the oven and bake for about 15-20 mins or until the cakes are cooked and golden brown on top.

Remove from the oven. Take the cakes out of the tin as soon as you can and leave to cool on a wire rack.
When completely cold, ice with water icing or buttercream (see note above) or just serve dusted with icing sugar.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Pasta with prawns and courgettes

Another light, easy, meat-free pasta dish. I realise that this has been a bit of a theme in recent posts so I feel I should explain; a few weeks ago, GL and I had a holiday in Austria. It was all wonderful - stunning scenery, good weather, friendly locals, wooden chalets with flower-filled balconies and delicious food.

Hintersteinersee, nr Scheffau

View from Hohe Salve, nr Söll

 However, as you might expect, the cuisine is rather meat based. Now, as two confirmed carnivores, GL and I loved it. Nevertheless, we deemed it best to ease up on it slightly once we got home.

RECIPE - serves 3-4

350g 'short' pasta, eg. penne
3 small or 2 large courgettes
1 clove garlic, crushed
300g king prawns, deveined and cut in half if very large
half a glass dry white wine
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

Cut the courgettes into smallish dice (I slice the courgettes lengthways into quarters, then cut them at approx 1 cm intervals). Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the garlic. Cook the garlic for a minute or two being careful not to let it brown.  Add the courgettes and cook them over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes, until they're soft and golden. Add the prawns and chilli if using. Throw in the wine, let it bubble up for a minute or so and season with salt and lots of pepper. 
In the meantime, cook the pasta in lots of boiling salted water. When it's al dente, remove from the heat, drain well and toss with the courgette/prawn mix. Drizzle over a little e.v. olive oil and serve with the chopped parsley if using.