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All the elderflower bushes are in full blossom now and they fill our garden with wonderful smell! It means to me that summer is definitely coming! Last weekend I couldn’t resist to chop off some of the flower umbels in order to make delicious and gorgeous cupcakes and elderflower pancakes. Here are the recipes….
Ingredients for 12 cupcakes: 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds of 1 vanilla bean pod, ½ cups buttermilk, 1/8 cup elderflower syrup, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
For the frosting: 2 cups mascarpone, 1 cup cream cheese, powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons elderflower syrup
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a cupcake pan with muffin liners.
In a bowl mix together flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside. In a separate bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until well incorporated. Now slowly add half of the buttermilk, the elderflower syrup and half of the flour mix and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each about 1/2 full.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Let it cool completely.
For the frosting mix together the mascarpone cheese, the cream cheese, the elderflower syrup and the powdered sugar. Fill the frosting in a piping bag and frost cupcakes. Decorate with freshly picked elderflower, dust with vanilla flavored-powdered sugar.
Ingredients: 6 elderflower umbels, 3/4 cup flour, a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup beer, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon oil, powdered sugar
Beat egg whites on medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Set aside. In a separate bowl mix the flour with the salt. Then stir in the beer, the egg yolks and the oil. Carefully fold in the whipped egg whites. Now dip the elderflower umbels in the batter and fry them in a pan. Dust with powdered sugar and serve them right away!
Ingredients: 8-15 mini-round shaped potatoes, half cooked,
for the filling: 200 gr blue cheese, 50 ml milk, 100 gr cream cheese, such as Philadelphia, salt and 1 tbsp basil and parsley, chives
For frying: 100 gr flour, 2 eggs, bread crumble (panko), oil for frying
Methods: Cook the potatoes in their skin for about 20 minutes. When they are almost cooked peel them.
Prepare the filling: put blue cheese, cream cheese, basil, parsley and chives in a mixer add milk as well. Work in pulses. If pieces of cheese remain stuck to the sides of the jug use the spatula to release them and distribute them around the jug before running 2-3 additional pulses.
Cut in half the potatoes and make holes insides (from the excess of the potatoes you can make croquette) fill them with the cream cheese mixture. Place the two sides of potatoes onto each others and then bread them: first in flour then egg, then panko bread crumbs.
Fry the breaded potato pralines in oil until crisp. Serve with sauce.
I prepared paprika sauce ( I grilled the paprika, flavored with grill spices and I puréed adding coconut milk and some olive oil)
Italy was where Maria Callas began her career, lived in many cities, fell in love, and sang
The “La Divina” arrived in Verona from the U.S. New York in 1947 because she had to meet Giovanni Zenatello, impressario of the Arena Opera Festival who engaged her for La Gioconda, the opera to be performed that season. On June 27th Maria Callas had already been in Verona, she’s staying at the modest hotel Accademia, (today a luxury hotel). For dinner she went to Pedavena restaurant in Bra square, almost in front of the Roman amphitheater (today in the beautiful building where Pedavena was, there’s a restaurant). There she met Giovanni Battista Meneghini, a wealthy industrialist, with a passion for the opera who soon began courting her. In August Maria Callas song in the Arena directed by Tullio Serafin.
Reviews were good but success didn’t come yet. In 1947 she song in Florence and in many other Italian cities. Two years later in 1949, unable to find a replacement for Carosio, Maestro Serafin asked Callas to sing Elvira in I Puritani at La Fenice in Venice. It’s an enormous success, it was the turning point in Maria Callas career.
In 1950 she debuted at the Scala theater in Milan and it’s the beginning of a long period of success in which both the audience and critics loved her.
The Wedding at Filippini Church
In the meantime, after a long courtship, Maria Callas accepted to marry Giovanni Battista Meneghini. The wedding was celebrated in a side room of the church of Filippini in Verona. Maria’s a Greek orthodox Christian, and she didn’t want to convert to Catholicism so that the wedding couldn’t be performed as an official rite. Meneghini left the management of his factory and became the manager of his wife.
Maria Callas in Zevio
When she’s not on a tour, Maria Callas lived with her husband in his villa in Zevio, in the countryside south of Verona. Her years in Zevio were quiet and serene. She practiced in the beautiful park of the villa. People of the village climbed on the wall surrounding the building to hear her singing.
When she’s not too busy she enjoyed cooking, she prepared typical dishes of Veronese cuisine: pearà, risotto al tastasal, pastissada.
She liked the bar Sport on Santa Toscana square and bar Commercio on Marconi square and she visited them quite often with her husband.
Now, the town of Zevio, together with the Maria Callas Foundation has undergone an important project to celebrate the presence of the “Divina” in the Veronese countryside.
In the old town hall a museum was created in which the collection of Maria Callas memorabilias are displayed collected in more than 40 years by one of Maria Callas greatest fan, Giancarlo Tanzi. It’s a collection of thousands of pictures, old records, magazines, dresses of the great singer. The museum has been operating for December 2007 and it’s followed by a concert hall hosting operas and international events.
Maria Callas in Sirmione
Maria Callas and Giovanni Battista Meneghini spent few weeks in their villa in the heart of Sirmione at Lake Garda, away from the crowd. Maria Callas arrived at Sirmione for the first time in 1952 and spent 7 summer holidays there (until their bitter divorce). Today, in the heart of Sirmione peninsula, people still admire the beautiful and elegant villa in which Maria Callas spent the best years of her life. Local people still remember her as a simple and friendly lady. She often stopped for an aperitivo at Caffé Grand Italia.
But in 1959 Maria Callas met Aristotele Onassis and left her husband. It’s the beginning of that tragic relationship that would lead her to downfall and she never came back to Sirmione, but she always missed Lake Garda and its atmosphere.
Callas’s international career began in 1947 when opera singers were expected to be overweight. But at 108 kg Callas felt miserable and regarded herself ugly and unlovable. When the director Luchino Visconti told her to lose 30 kg before he would work with her, she dropped 40 kg. She then went on to lose another 8 kg. When she lost that incredible 40 kilograms in one year she transformed herself from fat and dowdy opera singer into svelte and elegant diva. But the pressure to stay thin was tremendous for the food-lover soprano, whose newly published personal papers show how she tried to comfort herself during her tormented battles with her weight.
According to legend, Callas’s enormous weight loss came about because she deliberately swallowed a tapeworm. Bruno Tosi, president of the International Maria Callas Association, said she did have to have treatment for worms, possibly because of her fondness for raw steak, but she dropped the weight by following a diet based on consuming iodine.
“It was a dangerous treatment because it affected the central nervous system and changed her metabolism, but she turned into a beautiful swan”- said Tosi.
Callas began a habit of meticulous recipe collecting, scribbling down instructions for her favorite dishes as she traveled the world. She would ‘steal’ recipes from famous cooks in hotels, writing them on scraps of paper and stuffing them into her handbag. But they were for food she herself would never eat. “She loved food, especially cakes and puddings, but lived mostly on steak and salad”- said Callas expert Bruno Tosi, who was allowed the handwritten recipes to publish for the first time in Italy. “Writing down these recipes was a vicarious pleasure because she rarely allowed herself to taste any of them.”
Callas never ate pasta and favored meals of rare beef or steak tartare. However all the time -and during her love affair with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis – she collected recipes: tomato omelettes, veal l’oriental, bechamel sauce with capers, mustard sauce, golden pound cake, chocolate beignets and a cake she called ‘my cake’ which was heavy and laden with sugar. The recipes were sent back to her personal cook, who served them at Callas’s dinner parties. While her guests tucked in, Callas ate only a few morsels. She rarely drank wine, but liked champagne because it was less calorific. She was like many women, struggling her entire life with her weight,’ said Tosi.
In spite of her diet Callas died at age of 53, in Paris in 1977, still heartbroken at Onassis leaving her to marry Jackie Kennedy. But in Italy, 41 years after her death, Italians still love her. In Venice the Ponte della Fenice bridge was renamed Ponte (Bridge) Maria Callas after 100,000 signatures were gathered by the Maria Callas International Association. In Sirmione, park, restaurant, streets are called after her.
The classic,Tuscan-born tart, Torta della Nonna has to be one of the most widespread and well-known Italian desserts. Its success likely lies in its simplicity: it consists of nothing more than two sheets of slightly leavened sugar pastry enclosing a creamy heart of lemon-scented custard. The top is studded with crunchy pine nuts and dusted with icing sugar, and no variants on this theme have ever gained much momentum. Although the name might suggest otherwise, Torta della Nonna (Grandma’s cake) isn’t a homestead creation; it wasn’t, in other words, invented by some pastry-savvy grandmother somewhere in the hills of Chianti. Rather, it appears to come from the kitchen of a restaurant. The origin is actually contentious, and is still reason for much debate between the provinces of Arezzo and Florence, each claiming this tart as their own brain child.
The most accredited version states that it was a Florentine chef who first coded it – Guido Samorini of restaurant San Lorenzo. Rumor has it that he put the tart on the menu to jazz up the slightly monotone dessert list, and that the tart became an instant hit, so much so that it was never taken off the menu ever since.
Be that as it may, the combination of pastry, custard and pine nuts seems to have been around since much before Samorini; at least since the late 1800s, as Artusi mentions he tasted such pasticcio (hash) in one of his travels across the peninsula. And it is precisely by Artusi that my recipe for Torta della Nonna is inspired. The pastry is a slight riff on one of his three pasta frolla (sugar pastry) recipes, (with the only difference of a pinch of leavening added to the dough). As for the custard, Artusi scents his solely with vanilla, while a classic Torta della Nonna filling has a bit of lemon zest thrown in there, too, so I worked it in his crema pasticcera recipe. And finally, a trick to prevent the pine nuts from burning is to rinse them thoroughly in cold water: they’ll come out of the oven perfectly golden, and just on the right side of toasted.
This sumptuous Torta della Nonna recipe from my friend Valentina Z. offers a slice of Tuscan indulgence, with a sweet pastry base giving way to lemon-and vanilla-scented custard filling. Topped off with a thin layer of pastry and crunchy pine nuts so this tart is a real treat.
Ingredients for the pastry: 300g of 00 flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 130g of caster sugar, 150g of unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes (plus extra for greasing the tin) 1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked 1 un-waxed lemon, zested
for the custard filling: 5 large egg yolks, 100g of caster sugar 30g of 00 flour, 600ml of whole milk 1 un-waxed lemon zest peeled into thin strips 1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
To serve: 80g of pine nuts, rinsed in cold water icing sugar, for dusting
Method: Start by preparing the pastry. Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl and rub the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers until you have a coarse, crumbly mixture. Add the egg, the yolk and the grated lemon zest, and knead until the dough comes together into a smooth ball. Wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the custard. In a medium glass bowl, whisk the yolks with half of the sugar until the sugar has dissolved completely. Slowly add the flour and keep whisking until fully combined. Pour over 60ml of the milk, whisk it in and set the bowl aside temporarily
Place the rest of the milk in a saucepan with the rest of the sugar, the lemon zest strips and vanilla seeds. Set the saucepan over a low heat and bring to a slow simmer. Remove from the heat, discard the lemon zest and pour the hot milk over the custard base in the glass bowl in a thin stream, whisking continuously until smooth
Place the custard back in the saucepan and set it over a low heat. Cook the custard until dense and glossy, stirring frequently and trying not to scorch it (don’t let it boil). Once thickened, remove the custard from the heat and place in a clean glass bowl
Set the bowl over an ice bath so the custard can cool more quickly. Cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool to room temperature
Next, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Butter and flour a 26cm deep tart tin and set it aside Take the pastry out of the fridge and divide it into 2 pieces, one being 2/3 of the total. Roll the larger piece into a 2mm-thick circle that is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the tin. Flip it onto the tin, press it with your fingertips so it sticks to the surface of the tin and cut off any overhanging. Pierce the surface all over with a fork
Fill the pastry shell with the cooled custard and level the top. Roll the remaining pastry into a thin circle that is large enough to cover the top of the tart completely. Trim any excess, then pinch the top and bottom edges together
Top the surface of the tart with the slightly damp pine nuts and press them down gently so as to make them adhere to the pastry
Bake the tart for 45 minutes, or until deeply golden all around. Allow the tart to cool completely before dusting it with icing sugar, slicing and serving
As I mentioned in my previous blog I decided to keep moving northwards in Italy, and ended up all the way in Trentino (Alto Adige), an autonomous, German-speaking region stuck right up under Austria. Needless to say, it’s gorgeous. I should go to visit these area more often and not only because of the nature but also because of the excellent food. I have to make a confession, one of my weakness is the sweet stuff so that I’ve sampled a few of the cakes and sweets on offer in the malghe from sweet omelettes with lingonberries to cherry strudel but my favorite by far became the Buckwheat cake (la Crostata di grano Saraceno). First I found it in the bakery of a local shop and it was so good it almost made me feel like I’d like to stay here forever because of the cake. It was so good that I went in search of it every day during my 10 days staying. So good that I called my Italian friend, Valentina whose husband has a restaurant in Pontremoli (Tuscan village) and she had to search for me in her Italian cookbook for the recipe so that I can recreate it at home. She told me the secret of the cake is that it’s made with the combination of buckwheat flour and almonds (ground). It’s moist and rich but not heavy at all or cloying. In true country fashion the main ingredients (butter, sugar, flour, almond meal) all weigh the same are easily thrown together. And the result you really can taste the country. It’s earthy and complex but I doubt it would scare away an even-keeled 5 years old. Valentina told me that the cake is filled with lingonberry jam, sprinkled with icing sugar and served with a big dollop of lightly whipped cream. In other word, this cake is a perfect pick-me-up during a long, romantic, high altitude walk (Monte Baldo-Mount Bald in Malcesine) or whenever you feel like going back in time! Here is Valentina’s recipe:
TORTA DI GRANO SARACENO (Buckwheat Cake)
Serves at least 12
Ingredients:250 grams (1 1/3 cups) sugar, 250 grams (2 sticks + 2 tbl) butter, softened, 6 eggs, separated, 250 grams (2 cups) buckwheat flour, 250 grams (1 cup)almond meal (or finely ground almonds, 500 grams (one big jar) lingonberry jam (available at IKEA or substitute blackcurrant, cranberry or similar), icing sugar (for dusting) whipping cream (to serve it’s optional)
Methods: Preheat the oven to 325°F/170°C. Butter and flour a 9″ springform cake pan. This cake will stick if you don’t.
In a large bowl, use a hand held beater to cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks in slowly, and beat until they are completely incorporated. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the buckwheat flour and almonds. It will be pretty heavy and sticky.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with clean beaters until it’s stiff, about 5 minutes. Gently fold the stiffened egg whites into the batter. It will be a bit tricky, but just keep folding until it’s all incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.
Once cool, slice the cake in half horizontally and spread the bottom half with ample lingonberry jam (or a close substitute like cranberry, blackcurrant or cloudberry). Place the top half back on top, dust with icing sugar through a sieve and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
I’m just back from my Italian vacation loaded with beautiful memories. I’ll tell you more about my adventures later because now I just want to share the story of my one day trip to the mega rich family’s island with a private jet.
On the third day of my staying at the Lake Garda in Malcesine I discovered a program about a guide tour to the gardens of Isola Del Garda! The price (33 Euros or 27 Euros it depended from which city the bout or private jet had you to pick up) included the bout journey, the guided tour, a welcome drink and the olive oil tasting. It sounded so interesting to me so I decided to participate on it.
The island is inhabited by the Borghese Cavazza family and they open their home for guided tours from April to October. During the visit, which took us through an untouched park, the gorgeous Italian and English gardens,-we could discover the rich history of this spectacular place that has housed many famous names from the Roman period to the present day. The tour also included to visit two rooms from the neo-gothic Venetian style villa from the early 1900’s, currently still lived by the owners, princess Charlotte Chetwynd-Talbot from England and Camillo Cavazza and their seven children who run different businesses in Garda city such as olive oil company, lemon industry etc. What was really amazing during our guided tour was the wine and olive oil tasting. As a snack we got a typical Italian delicacy, the Taralli! Its simplicity but extremely unique flavor just enchanted everyone. I asked for the recipe from our Italian guide and she provided me with her own grandma’s! Here it is!
Be aware! This is an old recipe, hence the enormous measurements. Makes enough for a huge Italian family or for a party! You can half the ingredients of the recipe; but keep the amount of yeast and eggs the same. They are excellent with wine or coffee, and make good snack biscuits if you leave out the fennel seeds.”
Ingredients: 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast, 1 1/2 cups water, 1/4 cup margarine, 1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 egg, 5 pounds all-purpose flour, divided, 1/2 cup fennel seed, ¼ cup water
1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Let stand for 5 minutes.
2. In a large bowl combine butter or margarine, sugar, salt, and egg. Add yeast mixture and 1/2 of the flour and mix until smooth. Stir in the remaining flour and the seeds. Mix in additional water as needed to make a stiff dough.
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead well. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and turn once to coat surface. Cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm spot to rise for about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Roll dough into short ropes about 1/2 inch thick. Join ends to form donut shape. Set aside to rise for a few minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
6. Fill a large saucepan half full of water; bring to a boil. Drop Taralli into water and boil for 1 minute. Remove from water, letting both sides dry on a sheet of waxed paper.
7. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) on a lightly greased cookie sheet, turning a few times during baking until medium brown and crisp.
Ingredients: 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup burgundy (red), 2 tablespoons burgundy, 1/2 teaspoon celery salt, 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon onion salt, 1/4 teaspoon allspice (ground), 1 tbsp sage (ground), 1 tbsp marjoram, 1 teaspoon thyme, 2 teaspoons bacon drippings
12 quail (cleaned), butter (melted)
- Combine first 8 ingredients, mixing well; add quail. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least 24 hours, turning quail several times.
- Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, basting with marinade. Remove quail from marinade; grill over hot coals 10 to 20 minutes, basting often with melted butter.
- Serve with grilled mushrooms and pumpkin purée and potato chips.