Spiced chocolate cake

Serves 6-8
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

200g plain flour
100g blanched almonds
100g caster sugar
80g plain cocoa powder
100g candied fruit
Teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 finely ground cloves
120-150ml warm milk
100g plain chocolate

Place the flour in a large bowl and add all the other ingredients with the exception of the chocolate and the milk.  Stir together well.  When all the ingredients are well combined, add 100ml of warm milk and stir in.  Continue adding the milk a little at a time until a soft but firm dough is formed.  Work the dough a little with your hands to form a ball and then shape into a dome.  Place this on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 170ºC for 20 minutes.  Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.  When completely cool, melt the plain chocolate in a double boiler and then drizzle all over the pampepato.  Allow the chocolate coating to set before serving.  This cake is very rich and dense, so it should be served in small slices!

Salame di cioccolato
Chocolate salami

Serves 12
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes + chilling
Cooking time: N/A

150 – 180g dry biscuits
130g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
75g plain cocoa powder
50g blanched almonds
2 egg yolks
1 shot of rum

Place the egg yolks and half the sugar in a large bowl and whisk with an electric beater until light and foamy.  Next, add the butter which has been melted and cooled, the cocoa powder, the rum and the rest of the sugar.  Beat again to mix everything together.  Finally, add the biscuits which have been roughly crushed and the almonds.  Stir together well.

Place a large sheet of greaseproof paper on the work surface and tip the mixture out onto the paper in the shape of a salami.  Fold the paper over the mixture and press down, compacting the mixture and at the same time trying to create an authentic salami shape.  When you’re happy with the final result, wrap the ends up well and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.  Before serving, if you roll the salami in icing sugar it really lends to an authentic salami look.

Mini panettone

Homemade panettone, in my view, always tastes better than shop bought versions. They taste buttery and unctuous and you have the luxury of being able to incorporate the ingredients of your choice. The following recipe is based on the classic Milanese version. I have also included a variation – stuffed mini panettone. I’ve used a mascarpone and candied peel for the filling. You could, however, substitute with chocolate drops, chopped nuts, dried fruits or a combination of any of the above.

Makes: 6

Ingredients for basic panettone
6 mini panettone cases
380g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
12g fresh yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
150g unsalted butter
65g candied peel
80g raisins or sultanas

Ingredients for stuffed mini panettone
6 mini panettone (as above)
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of sugar
250g mascarpone cheese
50g candied peel

To make the panettone, sift the flour and salt together in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast which has been dissolved in the milk and the whole eggs.  Mix enough flour with the milk to make a thick batter and leave to 'sponge' in a warm place for 30 minutes.  Next, add the egg yolks, sugar and softened butter and knead for about 5 minutes until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough.  Let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.  Finally knock the dough down and gently knead in the sultanas and candied peel.  Divide the dough into 6 pieces and place into individual panettone cases and let rise until doubled in size.  This should take about 1 hour. 

Bake in a preheated oven at 170 C for 20 minutes and then cool on a wire rack.  Decorate with ribbon and serve.

As an alternative, you can fill the panettone with a mascarpone cream. To make the filling, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and foamy.  Beat in the mascarpone cheese (leave the mascarpone out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using) and stir in the candied peel. Cut the tops of the panettone, scoop out a little of the filling and fill with the mascarpone cream. Place the lid back on, decorate and serve.

Customised Panettone

If you don’t have the time to make your own panettone, simply buy one at the supermarket and give it a rich makeover. It looks impressive and it tastes even better!

1 panettone (any supermarket variety will do)
2 egg yolks
2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
250gm mascarpone
300gm chocolate grated
250ml double cream
Icing sugar for dusting

To customise your panettone, gently scoop out the middle of the panettone from the base with a knife. Make sure you leave enough around the edges so that the panettone keeps its shape. Crumble the insides into small pieces and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until you have a thick creamy consistency (about 2-3 minutes with an electric beater).Add the mascarpone (make sure it’s room temperature when you do so) and beat into the egg mixture. At this point, should you wish, add a shot of your favourite tipple. To finish the stuffing, fold in the crumbled panettone. Pack the mixture back into the shell and place on a large serving plate.

Gently heat the cream (making sure it does not boil) and then add grated chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and pour over the panettone. You don’t need to be too precise, allow the sauce to drip decoratively down the sides. Allow to cool and then dust with icing sugar and decorate as you please. 

Stuffed slow-cooked roast beef
Tasca ripiena

Serves 6
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 2- 2.5 hours

1-1.2kg piece of beef
500g chard
100g parmesan cheese
30g fine breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 garlic cloves
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper

Chop the chard into 2-3cm pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the chard stalks.  Boil for 5 minutes and then add the leaves and continue boiling for another 5 minutes.  Drain the chard very well, removing as much excess water as possible and chop finely.  Place the chard in a large bowl and add the grated parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, beaten egg, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg.  Mix everything together well. The stuffing should be quite firm. If it is sticky and wet add a few more tablespoons of cheese or breadcrumbs.

Next, take the piece of beef and with a very sharp knife make an incision in the middle of the beef about 4-5cm wide and make a cut that is 2-3cm from the bottom and sides of the piece of beef to make a ‘pocket’. (If you prefer, ask your butcher to do this for you.)  Season the inside of the pocket with salt and pepper and then fill with the stuffing.  Press the stuffing down into the pocket and then carefully stitch up the opening with kitchen string to prevent the filling falling out during cooking.

Place a few tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan and add the garlic cloves.  When hot, add the beef and brown on all sides for 2-3 minutes.  Transfer the meat to an oven dish and place in a preheated oven at 150ºC.  Cover and cook for about 2 - 2.5 hours.  The meat requires a slow gentle cooking to ensure that the meat is tender and the filling does not spilt out.  Once cooked, allow the meat to rest for at least 20 minutes. It can also be eaten cold. Serve thinly sliced with a parsley sauce and boiled potatoes.

Espresso Cake
Torta di Caffé

Makes 1 loaf

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes

80g butter (softened)
120g caster sugar
2 eggs separated
100ml strong espresso coffee (cold)
175g self raising flour

Preheat oven to 180ºC.

Make 100ml of espresso coffee and allow it to go cold. Mix together the butter and 80g of caster sugar until light and fluffy.  Next, as you mix, add the egg yolks one at a time. Now, pour the chilled espresso into the mixture, stirring as you do so. Finally, add the sifted self raising flour. 

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites with the remaining caster sugar until they are stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake mixture and then pour into a greased lined loaf tin. Bake the cake for 35 minutes and check if cooked (you might have to give it an extra few minutes). Once cooked, remove from the tin and allow the cake to cool on a wire baking rack.

Espresso Liqueur
Liquore al caffé

Makes 1 litre

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: N/A

500ml strong espresso coffee
500g caster sugar
5cm piece of orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla pod
200ml alcohol (a strong clear grappa or vodka work just as well, if you can’t find alcohol)

In a heatproof bowl add the caster sugar and the freshly made (very hot) espresso coffee. Stir the mixture until all the sugar has dissolved and then add the spices and orange peel. Leave the mix to cool (this is very important). Once cold, add the alcohol (or grappa/ vodka) and stir. Pour the mixture into a demijohn/ bottle with at least a 1.5 litre capacity. Seal and set aside for 3-4 days in a cool dark place. 

To finish, pour the liqueur through a fine sieve into a bottle, discarding the spices and peel.  Although it can be drunk immediately, the liqueur will improve if you allow the flavour to develop for between 1 and 3 months.

TIP: Serve chilled after dinner or, alternatively, pour a shot of the liqueur over vanilla ice-cream for a delicious and simple adult dessert!

Orecchiette pasta with turnip tops
Orecchiette con le cime di rapa

Serves 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

1kg turnip tops
300g orecchiette pasta
1 or 2 fresh red chili peppers
4-5 sun dried tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Wash the turnip tops.  Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the turnip tops.  Boil for 5-6 minutes until tender.  Drain the turnip tops, but retain the cooking water.  Bring the cooking water back to the boil and add the orecchiette pasta.  Boil the orecchiette for 10-12 minutes until al dente (check packet for exact cooking times).  In the meantime, place 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and add the garlic cloves which have been finely sliced.  Cook the garlic for a few minutes.  Roughly chop the turnip tops and add these to the pan along with the chopped sun dried tomatoes and chili.  Fry over a gentle heat until the pasta is cooked.  When the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the pan with the turnip tops.  Stir everything together well and taste for seasoning.  Serve immediately with a good sprinkling of aged pecorino cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pisareï e Fasò

For the pisareï
300g flour
100g finely grated breadcrumbs
Chicken or vegetable broth

For the sauce
1 small onion
40g lardo
250g borlotti beans
375ml chunky tomato sauce
1 garlic clove
Handful of parsley
Olive oil

To make the sauce
Place the lardo, parsley and garlic clove on a chopping board.  With a sharp knife, chop all the ingredients well.  It should almost form a smooth paste.   Place the lardo in a heavy-based deep-sided frying pan and add a few tablespoons of oil.  Heat gently and then add the finely chopped onion.  Cook the onion until soft and then add the borlotti beans and tomato sauce.  Season with salt and pepper and simmer gently for 30 minutes.  Take the pan off the heat and using a masher, roughly mash some of the beans until you achieve a thicker consistency in the sauce. Give everything a good stir and the sauce is now ready. 

To make the pisareï
Place the breadcrumbs in a bowl and pour over enough hot broth so that the breadcrumbs are soaked but not swimming in liquid.  You will need to do this by eye as different breadcrumbs will soak up different amounts of liquid.  Next place the flour on a board and add the breadcrumbs.  Knead everything together well.  When a smooth dough is formed, tear off walnut sized lumps from the dough and roll into 30cm lengths.  Cut each length into 1/2 cm pieces and with the side of your thumb make an indentation. 

To cook the pisareï, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and then add the pisareï.  When they float to the surface scoop them out with a slotted spoon and add them to the pan with the sauce. Mix together gently until the pisareï are evenly coated in the sauce.

Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Piemontese hazelnut cake
Torta di nocciole

Makes one 24cm cake
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

For the cake
250g self-raising flour
200g roughly ground hazelnuts
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
120g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
150g caster sugar
100ml espresso coffee
100ml whole milk
For the icing
100g icing sugar
2 tablespoons espresso coffee

Preheat oven to 180ºC and grease and line a 24cm baking tin.  In a large bowl sift the flour and then add the hazelnuts, eggs, melted butter, caster sugar, coffee and milk.  Mix everything together well until everything is incorporated.  Pour the mix into the prepared baking tin and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  When cooked, remove the cake from the oven and cool.  Once cool, make the icing by combining the icing sugar with 2 tablespoons of espresso coffee.  Drizzle the icing over the cake and then serve.

Warm pear and goats cheese salad
Insalata di pere e caprino

Serves 4
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5-7 minutes

2 large firm but ripe pears
200g crumbly goat’s cheese
1 head of frisee lettuce
150g thinly sliced pancetta
Knob of unsalted butter
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
Salt & pepper

Wash the lettuce, rip into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  Next, fry the pancetta until crispy and set aside on a sheet of kitchen roll.  Cut the pear into eight pieces, removing the core and fry the segments with a small knob of butter for 1-2 minutes on each side in the same frying pan as for the pancetta.  To arrange the salad, crumble the goat’s cheese in with the lettuce, add the pancetta roughly broken into pieces and the pears.  Make a dressing with the oil and vinegar and add this to the salad.  Toss well and serve while lukewarm with crusty bread.

Pasta with green peppers, quartirolo and mint
Pasta con friarelli, quartirolo e menta

Serves 4
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes

500g friarielli peppers
280g thick ribbon pasta such as reginette or lasagnette
1 garlic clove
200g quartirolo cheese (or feta cheese)
Handful of mint leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and then add the pasta and cook until al dente.  While the pasta is cooking, place a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and add the garlic clove.  Once the garlic begins to sizzle and flavour the oil, add the washed friarielli peppers.  Cook over a medium heat for 10-12 minutes until the pasta is cooked.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the pan with the peppers.  Toss everything together.  Remove the pan from the heat and crumble over the quartirolo cheese and roughly chopped mint leaves. Finish with a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.  Serve immediately.

Buccatini with sweet red peppers and garlic, parsley crumbs
Buccatini con peperoni rossi e briciole all’aglio

Serves 4
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

320g buccatini pasta
2 sweet red peppers, skinned
4-5 sun dried tomatoes in olive oil
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Small bunch of parsley
2 thick slices of day old bread
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

To make the crumbs, roughly tear the slices of bread and place them in a food processor.  Pulse until irregular sized crumbs are formed and set aside.  Place 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan, heat and add the crushed garlic and breadcrumbs.  Fry for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time until golden and crisp.  Add the finely chopped parsley and place into a bowl until needed. 

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and then add the pasta.  In a separate heavy-based frying pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the sweet red peppers which have been chopped into 1cm strips.  Add the roughly chopped sun dried tomatoes, tomato puree, a few tablespoons of warm water and a pinch of chili flakes.  Allow the peppers to simmer gently whilst the pasta is cooking.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the pan with the peppers.  Toss everything together and place into serving bowls.  Top with a generous sprinkling of garlic crumbs and serve.