Berrynana Smoothie (1)

Pizza Party (on a Friday night)

There is something rather joyful about covering the kitchen in flour and making pizza. Granted it’s a terribly messy task, but that’s where the fun is right? We love making pizzas on a Friday night when we have Rich’s children Max and Daisy. It’s a great family activity – everyone gets stuck in. The children go mad for them and love rolling out the dough and choosing their own toppings.

Rich makes a huge load of dough and I knock up a big batch of tomato sauce. Or we swap jobs, but Rich is rather good at kneading dough so I tend to let him do the hard work. We have everything laid out ready for the kids, dough, rolling pins, aprons, tomato sauce and as many different toppings as we can find. We like to see who can make the nicest looking, the biggest or  most flavourful pizza. Max won in the ‘best looking’ category hands down… here is his little chorizo masterpiece. Yes, it did taste as good as it looked.

Max's Pizza CookedFlourMax's Pizza Uncooked

Miss Friday’s Pizza

Mine was rather a funny shape and size, but for me it’s ALL about the flavour and that crunchy texture on the crust – delicious. And a pizza is simply not worth eating unless it has anchovies and olives on it. Of course, the kids would totally disagree – it’s all about cheese and pepperoni.

Making it at home is not going to compare to that stone baked taste you get from making it in a traditional pizza oven, but it’s still pretty darn tasty. I’ve posted about my uncle’s pizza oven before and shared the dough recipe that I use.

Jemima (my 10 month old) even had her very own pizza – future Miss Friday right there!

Do you have a perfect topping combination? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Nicole's Pizza CookedNew Picture (10)Jemima's Pizza

 

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Basic White Bread (and poppy seed loaf)

Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 4 hours (inc rising time)
Yield: 2 loaves

Ingredients:

  • 700g strong white flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp easy-bake dried yeast
  • 25g cold butter, cubed
  • 450ml warm water
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp milk

Cooking Directions:

  1. Sift the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a large bowl, then using your index and middle finger and thumbs rub in the cold butter until you have a bread crumb consistency.
  2. Make a well in the centre of the flour and slowly pour in the water forming a sticky dough, continue until you have used all of the water. The dough will feel really sticky, but don’t panic, this is normal.
  3. Lightly flour the work surface and begin to knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film and pop in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. I use the airing cupboard and normally leave it for around 2 hours.
  4. Once the dough has risen to double the size, knock it back by punching down the dough to deflate it. Remove it from the bowl and knead vigorously for a couple of minutes.
  5. Shape the dough to the desired shape and size and place in a lightly oiled loaf tin if using. Leave covered by a tea towel for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size. This second rising shouldn’t take as long as the first.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 230C.
  7. Brush the loaves with milk and scatter over the poppy seeds.
  8. Bake the loaves for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200C and bake for a further 15-20 minutes, or until the bread has risen and is golden brown on top.
  9. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Ever had a baking disaster?

I can’t believe it’s that time of year again already. The Great British Bake Off is in full swing and the hunt for Brittan’s next best amateur baker is on. There is something quite magnificent about a group of people who share a passion for baking coming together under one roof (or marquee as it were) and battling it out to be crowned The UK’s Best Amateur Baker. It’s TV gold. From builders to actresses, designers and students, this year’s line up is as diverse as ever.
So, having been inspired to get baking, I set about making some bread in the hopes of producing a light and delicious loaf, only to find it had a disastrous outcome. I realised that I’d forgotten the salt in the first batch of dough I made, so that ended up in the bin. Then for my second attempt, the bread didn’t rise particularly well to start with, but I persevered. It looked and smelled wonderful – just like a freshly home baked loaf should – but let me tell you – it was the densest loaf ever. I was the laughing stock of my household for a week. I’d used a pot of yeast that had been open and lurking around in the cupboard for who knows how long, it was over a year passed its use by date and as I’ve learnt yeast won’t work if it’s stale.
My partner joked that it’s a known fact that men are better bakers than women. No I thought, I’m not standing for this – says who? Okay, so my first two attempts were rubbish, but it was the yeast’s fault, not mine. Anyhow this failure and his comment spurred me on to ensuring bread success. I stuck with it and made another loaf (using freshly bought yeast) and I cracked it.
There’s nothing more satisfying that admiring a gorgeous loaf of bread you made, well I guess there is – smothering it with butter and eating it!
Having ruined various batches of dough, but actually managing to master the technique of bread making – even if it did take a while, I feel compelled to share with you my top tips and tricks to bread success:
  • Use the freshest ingredients, yeast that’s been sitting about for ages simply won’t work.
  • Knead, knead, knead – and then knead some more – if you’ve got the ratio of flour and water right your dough will start out really sticky. The more you knead it the more elastic and smooth it will become – really put some elbow grease into it.
  • Be patient – something Paul Hollywood advised on last week’s programme. Leave the bread to rise, just leave it until it’s doubled in size.
  • Master the basic white loaf before you experiment with other flours, flavours of toppings – don’t run before you can walk. It took me three attempts to even get the basics right.
 

So, if you’ve been thinking about baking for a while, now’s the time to dust off your apron and get stuck in. The Great British Bake Off is such a source of inspiration. I’ll be fixed to the TV every Wednesday at 8pm over the coming weeks to see what showstopper and signature bakes look good enough for me to replicate. I’ve earmarked Luis or Martha for winner.

Bread Baking Techniques

Kneading, proving and knocking back – what’s it all about?

If you’re a novice baker like me, you might well find all these terms very confusing.
It’s all very well someone telling you to ‘knock back your dough’ – but if you haven’t the foggiest idea what they are talking about it can all be very baffling. 
My advice is to get yourself a good reference guide, such a decent baking book and spend some time doing your homework. If you get to grips with these terms before you set about making the bread you should have a decent head start.
Start with a simple recipe, such as a basic white loaf and learn the techniques before you attempt to use other flours or flavours. For instance, some wholemeal or rye flours take more kneading than others. There I go, doing exactly what I didn’t want to do – assuming you know what these terms mean.
I wanted to give you a brief overview of a few of the basic bread making terms, but I’m certainly no expert and I won’t pretend my advice is worth noting, so I’ll leave it to the experts.
Read more about bread making techniques at Paul Hollywood’s website
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Indulgent Chocolate Buttons

Every now and again you come up with a recipe that is just spectacular, and this one is. Giant chocolate buttons encrusted with delicious dried fruit and crunchy nuts, utterly delicious! I started out thinking I’d make some chocolate bark, but changed my mind and thought giant button shaped treats would be much more decadent. I’m visiting a friend on Thursday for dinner, so I’m planning on taking a few as a gift, they’ll make the perfect after dinner treat. These would also be lovely for a Mother’s Day gift, there is surely nothing better than a homemade edible treat?
You don’t have to stick to the same ingredients I’ve used, you really can pick any combination of dried fruit and nuts to suit your taste, just make sure the flavours complement each other. I think the salty pistachios and cashews work beautifully with the sticky sweet cranberries and apricots. You could also try using different chocolate, white, plain, milk or dark would all be equally delicious.
I used a combination of 70% dark chocolate and milk chocolate. I love the bitterness and depth of flavour you get from dark chocolate, but combined with the milk you get a slightly more subtle flavour that would suit most pallets. Use the very best chocolate you can afford, trust me it’s worth splashing out a little. The taste of these little jewel embellished treats is only going to be as good as the quality of chocolate you use.
I’m looking forward to experimenting with various flavour combinations; I think hazelnut or honeycomb would be delicious. We have the children over the weekend so I’m guessing they will jump at the chance of making a batch of these chocolate buttons, perhaps with popping candy, marshmallows or Smarties. I’d recommend using milk chocolate for the little ones as dark would be too bitter.


* 150g Green & Black’s 70% dark chocolate
* 200g Green & Black’s milk chocolate
* Handful of shelled pistachios
* Handful of salted cashew nuts
* Handful of dried cranberries
* Handful of dried apricots, roughly chopped
* Baking parchment paper
Start by placing a saucepan of water (about 200ml) on the hob; position a glass bowl on top of the saucepan, ensuring that the glass does not touch the water. Heat water until just boiling, and then turn it right down to a simmer.
Break the chocolate into individual squares and place into the bowl, stir constantly with a spatula, if you continue mixing the chocolate will melt evenly and become liquefied and silky smooth. One the chocolate has melted completely, remove from the heat and place to one side.
Lay out a large section of baking parchment paper and roughly stencil out circles, to your desired size. I found a small drinking glass was the perfect size to draw around. Spoon the chocolate mixture onto the drawn circles and scatter with the fruit and nuts, ensuring that each chocolate button has a couple of pieces of each.
Leave the chocolate buttons on the counter for a couple of hours, at which point they should be hard and dry. Peel them carefully from the parchment paper and place into containers and refrigerate.
These buttons are best eaten cold straight from the fridge and washed down with a nice cup of tea.

lemon-cupcakes

Lemon Cupcakes

I had a rather eventful Saturday, baking batches of cupcakes for a charity fundraising night at my local pub. Having agreed to bake around 70 cupcakes, I was delighted that my friend Sam had offered to help me, she wanted to brush up on her baking skills and I was only too happy to share the load. We decided upon three kinds of cupcakes, lemon, chocolate and coconut and raspberry. The recipes for the coconut and raspberry and chocolate ones have featured on my blog before and can be found by clicking on the links below, so I thought I’d share the lemon cupcake recipe, which comes courtesy of Mary Berry.
The charity night was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and we raised a wonderful £647 from the door entry, raffle and cupcakes which I think is just wonderful for a small local pub. This is the first time I’ve put my cooking skills to use supporting a charity event, and it felt great to help raise money and the feedback was really positive. I’ll certainly volunteer in future to bake for any other events.

Click here for Mary’s Lemon Cupcakes Recipe!

Raspberry & Coconut Cupcakes

 

 

Chocolate Cupcakes

 
 
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Chocolate Button Cakes



Kids love cake, fact! So, it was no surprise when I asked Max (Richard’s boy) if he wanted to make a cake, he jumped at the chance. So, I proceeded to gather all of my recipe books that contained cake and asked him to have a flick through and pick one that caught his eye. Mary Berry’s Heavenly Chocolate Cake is what he chose, splendid choice indeed I thought, especially as I already had most of the ingredients.


Having decided upon making the most calorific cake in the entire world, I realised that although I had nearly all of the ingredients, I had no cake tins – which makes cake making all the more difficult. I’m not much of a baker you see, more of a savoury cook. I did however have a muffin tin and some cake cases, these would have to suffice. Max on the other hand felt quite differently about the absence of a cake tin and decided to have a strop over it. That was until I explained that we’d still be making the same cake, but we’d be making individual ones instead of one big one. Kids ay! So with the ingredients ready, the cooking equipment in order and the mood restored we set about making these delicious little cakes.

I’ve never made a Mary Berry cake before, of course I’ve watched her on the Great British Bake Off and various other foodie programmes, but never attempted any of her recipes. They always look delicious, but aside from the fact that I’m not much of a baker, a sweet tooth is something I’m slowly beginning to lose as I get older. Harrah, there is hope for my ever expanding waistline after all.

These cakes, as well as being devilishly chocolaty and delicious, are somewhat light, which I can only imagine comes from whisking the egg whites and folding them in – the part of the recipe I insisted on helping with, for fear of losing all the air and ending up with a rather dense cake, or dense cakes even. If you’re a chocolate fan you’ll simply rejoice at the thought of a chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing and Cadbury’s chocolate buttons on the top (an addition Max and I felt was essential).

I’ve included Mary’s recipe below, but we obviously changed a couple of aspects, either way I guarantee you’ll end up with a delicious chocolate cake. 

Cuts into 8 slices (615 cals each)

Ingredients

* 125g butter, plus extra for greasing
* 200g plain dark chocolate, broken into pieces
* 2 tbsp water
* 3 eggs, separated
* 125g caster sugar
* 90g self-raising flour
* 60g ground almonds
* 60g butter
* 30g cocoa powder
* 3 tbsp milk
* 250g icing sugar, sifted
* White chocolate curls to decorate

Method

1. Lightly butter a deep 20cm cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.

2. Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl with the butter and water. Put the bowl over a pan of hot water and heat gently, stirring, until the mixture has melted. Cool.

3. Combine the egg yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl and whisk together with an electric whisk until fluffy and very light in colour. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture. Carefully fold in the flour and ground almonds.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the sponge mixture, gently but thoroughly. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C (160°C fan, Gas 4) for 50 minutes or until well risen and firm to the touch.

5. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for a few minutes, turn out on to a wire rack, and peel off the lining paper. Cool completely.

6. Make the fudge icing: melt the butter in a pan, add the cocoa powder, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the milk and icing sugar. Beat well until smooth. Leave to cool until thickened.

7. Split the cake in half horizontally and sandwich the layers together with half of the fudge icing. With a palette knife, spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with white chocolate curls.

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Smoked Haddock Fishcake with Soft Poached Egg & Green Beans

With the festive season well and truly upon us, I am growing increasingly excited about my Christmas dinner and all the other delicious food I’ll undoubtedly consume over the next week or so. Indeed, there could be no better time for a foodie than Christmas and I can’t wait to get stuck into my festive menu. This year I’ll be making curried parsnip soup, turkey with all the trimmings and a panettone bread and butter pudding. That said, the week leading up to the big day has inspired me to try and be a little healthier, so I opted for a homemade fishcake, with my favourite yellow fish, dyed smoked haddock. If you are not ordinarily a fan of fish, I urge you to try it smoked; it boasts a whole different flavour.   

This recipe is certainly a gathering of some of my favourite ingredients, and there is nothing better than the wonderful liquid gold of a softly poached egg spilling out onto your crispy delicious fishcake with a generous pile of steamed green beans. This dish can be prepared ahead (the day before) and is certainly an attractive one, which I think makes it perfect for a dinner party.

Serves 4

8 large potatoes, such as desiree
2 dyed, smoked haddock fillets
400ml milk
3 tbsp freshly chopped chives
1 finely chopped green chilli
Pinch of nutmeg
200g fine green beans, trimmed
6 eggs
2 slices of slightly stale bread
1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the over to 180⁰C

Break two eggs into a flat dish and whisk. Place the bread in a blender and blend until you have crumbs, place the breadcrumbs into another flat dish and set the two dishes aside.

Boil and mash the potatoes, adding a splash of milk and a pinch of salt and pepper, set aside while you poach the fish.

Pour the milk into a large pan; add the fish, nutmeg and half of the chives, season well. Allow the fish to poach gently in the milk for about 5-6 minutes. Remove the fish from the pan and flake onto the mashed potatoes with the chilli and zest from the lemon, mix well to combine. At this point add two tablespoons of the hot milk from the pan and the rest of the chives.

Allow the mashed potato mix to cool enough to handle then shape into fishcakes, dip each fishcake into the egg mixture and then into the breadcrumbs. Once you have completed all of the fishcakes heat a little oil in a frying pan and brown them on each side. Transfer the fishcakes to the oven and cook for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, steam the green beans and poach the eggs.

Serve each fishcake topped with a poached egg and sprinkled with chives. Add the green beans and a wedge of lemon for squeezing. 

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An Italian Dinner Party

I’m certain that a few people will loathe me for saying this, but it’s too bloody hot to eat at the minute. Maybe it’s the muggy weather, but food seems to be the last thing on my mind. There I said it. Truth be told, it’s been an awful week anyway, which may be another reason I’ve taken a side step from the kitchen. My good friend Richard decided to fall out of a window and break his back and his ankles. Ouch! So, with working and doing my Florence Nightingale bit I’ve not even had time to think about pulling out pots and pans, nor, quite frankly, could I be bothered to.
Anyway, enough about me and what I’ve been up to, I wanted to share this recipe/ menu plan with you in light of how busy I’ve been this week. This really is the simplest menu to put on for your friends. Everything can be served cold, which is perfect in this weather, and it also means you can prepare everything ahead of time – no last minute rushing around and working up a sweat which, lets face it, isn’t difficult in this weather.
You’ll notice the Italian theme with the menu, yes; I’m still stuck on Italian food. It’s so simple and tasty, what’s not to love? I decided to take the Jamie Oliver approach with this menu, by which I mean sticking everything on a big platter and letting people help themselves, it’s easier and a huge platter of steak looks great in the centre of the table, doesn’t it?

Italian Canapés

For the arrival of my friends I made some canapés. Perhaps the easiest thing to prepare, but they look really impressive and colourful, people comment on the effort you’ve made, when it actually takes you no longer than 2 minutes, great! Make the canapés by poking a little ball of mozzarella, a sun-dried tomato, a piece of Italian cured meat and a little basil leaf onto a cocktail stick. I’d make about a dozen for four people. Serve with some Italian olives.



Bruschetta Starter

You can’t get more Italian that bruschetta, it’s a simple, colourful and wonderfully rustic starter to serve for a crowd. And, you can be as creative as you like when it comes to the toppings. I’d recently seen a recipe for goat’s cheese and dill bruschetta in Olive magazine, so I knew that was a must, but with one of my friends being pregnant, I wasn’t entirely sure which cheeses were safe, so I thought I’d make few other variations.
Slice and toast the ciabatta bread, remove from the oven and rub with a raw garlic clove, drizzle with olive oil and top with any of the following combinations:
  • Chopped cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella
  • Soft goat’s cheese, dill and semi-dried tomatoes
  • Mozzarella, salami and semi-dried tomatoes
  • Mozzarella and salsa verde

The variations of toppings are endless. Experiment and create different types to suit your guests. I had a pregnant friend, a friend who doesn’t eat goat’s cheese and a friend who’ll eat anything (you know who you are!). Serve your bruschetta as is, or with a bowl of king prawns and a quick homemade lemon, mustard and mayo dip.


Homemade Italian Salsa Verde (for the main)

2 garlic cloves
80g fresh basil, roughly chopped
80g flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
60g fresh mint, roughly chopped
6 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp good Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blend the garlic and herbs in a blender until very finely chopped (you may prefer to do this by hand). Add the other ingredients and blend to combine, pouring in the oil slowly whilst still blending. You should be left with a thick pesto like consistency; it may be a little thinner, which is fine.
The salsa verde will keep in the fridge for 1-2 days

Steak Salad with Salsa Verde and New Potatoes – Main Course

Take a large serving platter and scatter with rocket, watercress and baby spinach.

Using rump or sirloin, season and fry the steak for as long as necessary. I like mine rare so a couple of minutes each side is enough. Rest for 10 minutes and slice thinly. Arrange the stake on the bed of salad and drizzle with a little olive oil, parmesan shavings and toasted diced ciabatta bread. Serve with homemade salsa verde and buttered new potatoes. 



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Authentic Tuscan Ragú


The best Italian food is simple, rustic and colourful

There must be a million ragú recipes out there, but this wonderfully versatile sauce plays such a big part in authentic Italian cookery, so one more won’t hurt. Made with the freshest ingredients and slow cooked to perfection, there is no doubt that a huge pot of rich, mahogany ragú bubbling away on the stove will set your taste buds tingling. The red wine and mix of different meats, beef and lamb mince and chicken livers really set this recipe apart from the rest and creates the most wonderful depth of flavour.
The versatility of this ragú is what I love the most; enjoy it with freshly made pasta or in a lasagne. But, for me its best served on toasted ciabatta bread, topped and vine tomatoes, freshly chopped basil and a few shavings of parmesan, all washed down with a delicious Italian red wine. Make a big batch and freeze it for delicious, but quick, weeknight meals.

I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve recently discovered a love of authentic Italian cookery, so I was delighted when I received an email from the folks at To Tuscany, explaining that they were running a foodie blogger competition, and they wanted me to enter. The idea is to post a Tuscan inspired recipe, which is something I was only too pleased to set about making. Having thought about the basics of Italian cookery, and the simplistic approach Italian’s seem to adopt when cooking, I knew the recipe had to encompass three things, fresh ingredients, good preparation and enjoyment. There is nothing the Italian’s love more that sitting down to enjoy a lovingly prepared meal over a lazy afternoon. And, given that seasonality plays such an important part in Italian cookery, only the freshest ingredients would do.
I’m excited at the prospect of a foodie competition, mostly because it allows me to put my thinking cap on and get creative, but also because I want to win a week in one of your Tuscany villas. Really I do! Imagine sitting in the warm Tuscan sunshine enjoying a glass of the finest Italian wine and munching your way through some delicious bruschetta, knowing you’ve earned your way there by creating a delicious Tuscan recipe. Fingers crossed!
Given that ragú is probably one of the most common Italian recipes, and one that is showcased in various different versions all across Italy, it may seem an obvious choice. But, ragú is all too often ruined by people mistaking it for a simple flavour combination; it’s a far cry from simple, dull or boring. Made with the best quality ingredients and just the right about of love your ragú will have the most wonderful depth of flavour, making you feel as if you’re enjoying an authentic Italian dish on a hill-top hamlet in Tuscany. We can but dream…

Authentic Tuscan Ragú Recipe

Recipe makes a large batch for freezing

250g Beef mince
250g lamb mince
200g Chicken livers, finely chopped
5 tbsp Italian extra virgin olive oil (such as De Cecco Il Classico)
800g chopped tomatoes
5 tbsp tomato purée
200ml of red wine
Salt and black pepper
Handful of freshly chopped basil
10 vine tomatoes, halved
4 tbsp parmesan shavings
A combination of the following ingredients finely chopped is what the Italian’s call Soffritto, which forms the basis of many authentic Italian meals:
2 Red onions
2 Carrots
2 Celery sticks
1 sprig of rosemary (optional in most Soffritto recipes)
2 bay leaves (optional in most Soffritto recipes)

Start by heating the oil in a pan and gently frying the red onion, carrots and celery. Add the rosemary and bay leaves. Cook until golden, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the meats to the pan and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes. Once browned add the wine and stir well. Cook until the wine and fat from the meats has evaporated.
Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée and season to taste.
Serve with toasted ciabatta, topped with a generous spoonful or ragú, a few chopped vine tomatoes, freshly chopped basil and parmesan shavings.

Bon appétit!

 Wine Paring – Piccini Super Tuscan – medium bodied, it’s a blend of Sagiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, particularly good with red meat, pasta and rich tomato sauce – Perfect indeed!


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Homemade Gnocchi with Tomato, Sausage and Fennel Seed Ragù



I was rather excited to be given the most beautifully illustrated recipe book a week or so ago; The Italian Cookery Course by Katie Caldesi. My friend Karly had no use for it and knew just who would appreciate it, me! Giving me a new recipe book to ponder over is like giving a child a very, very exciting toy to play with. So I set about carefully studying many recipes from the book, which is so wonderfully put together, the colourful pages and awe inspiring food photography was enough to keep me captivated by the book for quite some time. The problem is, I inevitably end up with a whole list of recipes to add to my ever growing list of ‘things I want to cook’. I’m sure I’ll get round to them all one day.
It’s important to note that this is far more than just a recipe book, this wonderfully penned bible of Italian cookery features techniques and master classes with beautifully colourful step-by-step photographs for many authentic Italian recipes and techniques. Have you always wanted to make pasta yourself, or quite fancied your hand at baking a Focaccia? It’s all here in this wonderful book. And I’ve a feeling I’ll be making many more of the recipes very soon indeed.
I’ve been meaning to have a go at making potato gnocchi for a while, although I realised this was something that would have to wait until I had a free weekend to really get stuck into it. Luckily, as I’m now off work until mid June, time is exactly what I have. Having said that, I really must set aside some time to pack for my holiday on Tuesday; did I mention I’m off to Majorca?
Having set aside practically the whole afternoon to make my gnocchi and an authentic Italian ragù, I came to realise that it really wasn’t as lengthy a process as I’d initially thought. If I’d realised quite how simple it would be I’d have made it ages ago. 3 basic ingredients, 30 minutes or so and you have yourself homemade potato gnocchi, it really was a pleasure to make too. There is something quite satisfying about having made something you’d normally buy in a packet, and honestly its worlds apart from the dried up versions you buy in the supermarket. You can make your gnocchi ahead of time and freeze them; they  keep for up to 3 months. Alternatively, you can make them a day ahead and keep them in the fridge until you are ready to use them.  
A couple of things that Katie mentions about making gnocchi, the first is that there is nothing more comforting, and I’d definitely agree. The second is that you should opt for potatoes that are not too waxy, and I can see why, the drier the better, something like Maris Piper or King Edward work wonderfully.
The sauce I chose to accompany my gnocchi (tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragù) was mainly chosen because I already had most of the ingredients, and it called for red wine – what’s not to like? The inclusion of fennel seeds apparently makes the sauce typically Tuscan and it works perfectly with gnocchi.
If you’ve never attempted making gnocchi, but often buy it from the supermarket, I really encourage you to have a go at making it yourself; not only is far superior in taste and texture, it’s ridiculously cheap to make.  Next time I’m going to make a large batch and freeze it for weeknight meals. The gnocchi takes about 2-3 minutes to cook, and a couple more minutes from frozen.
There are a few more recipes from the book I’m going to try out very soon, such as honey and pistachio crusted salmon with parsnip mash (an unusual combination, and not one you’d think of as Italian) and I also quite like the sound of the Prosecco and peach jelly. I’m sure my friends will be fans of that one too. Not that I’m implying in any way that my friends a sloshes like me 😉
Serves 4

Gnocchi di patate – Potato Gnocchi

1kg potatoes (King Edward or Maris Piper), unpeeled
150g ‘00’ or pasta flour (you can also use very strong white flour)
1 egg
Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling salted water until very tender – this could take a while, depending on their size. Drain and peel them while they are still hot, either by holding them in one hand on a folk or with a cloth, and peeling the skin with a knife in the other hand. (This might seem odd, but cooking the potatoes in their skin gives them so much more flavour and stops the water from penetrating the potato).
Pass the peeled potatoes through a potato ricer into a bowl. If you do not have a ricer mashing them will suffice. Stir in the egg using a wooden spoon and season. Add the flour to form a soft, pliable dough.
Flour the work surface, turn out the dough, kneed the ingredients together, adding a little more flour if the dough is sticking to your hands or work surface. The more flour you add at this point the heavier the dough will be, so only add more flour if it’s very sticky.
Roll out the dough into long sausages and chop between 2cm and 4cm in length. Store the gnocchi on a well floured surface whilst you make the rest. You can them roll them over the tines of a folk for texture or make an indentation in the top with your finger – this means more sauce will stick to them – or you could simply leave them pillow shaped and plain.
Set the gnocchi aside while you make the sauce (see below). Then come back to the next step.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the gnocchi, you might want to do this in two batches. They cook so quickly that the first batch won’t have a chance to go cold. They are cooked when they bob back up to the surface – this takes about 2-3 minutes. Drain well and toss with the sauce (recipe below).

Gnocchi al pomodoro, salsiccia e semi di finocchio – Tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragù with Gnocchi

6 lean best-quality pork sausages
6 tbsp olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
125ml red wine
400g Italian tinned plum tomatoes
3 heaped tbsp tomato purée
25g finely grated Parmesan
Homemade gnocchi (as above)
Remove the sausages from their casings and chop up the meat to break it up.
Put the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the garlic and salt and pepper. Fry for about 2 minutes, until the garlic becomes light gold. Then add the onion and fry for a few minutes, until translucent. Stir in the fennel seeds and bay leaves. Put the meat into the pan and fry for 6-7 minutes, or until cooked through. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat into mince and stop it sticking. If the sausages release a lot of fat, pour it away, although a little won’t hurt.
Add the wine and allow to reduce for a couple of minutes, then add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée and stir well. Leave the ragù to simmer for 10 minutes while you cook the gnocchi (according to the instructions above).

When the gnocchi are cooked, drain and toss into the ragù, serve with a scattering of torn basil and finely grated Parmesan.
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Making Pizza in an Authentic Italian Pizza Oven (Jamie Oliver Pizza Oven)



I was invited to my auntie and uncle’s house yesterday. Well, I say invited, but I was actually contracted in to help them set up their website. And when I say help, what I mean is that I spent approximately nine hours doing it for them, with a house full of screaming kids, how’s that for dedication? I was however rewarded, very well, for my efforts; my uncle let me make a pizza and cook it in his amazing Jamie Oliver pizza oven and he kept the red wine flowing in to the afternoon, whilst my auntie bustled around making copious cups of tea for the various guests that arrived throughout the afternoon. I’m sure they saw the smoke from the pizza oven and dashed round to get a piece of the action, or a piece of the pizza to be more precise.
I’ll be honest; I’ve never really been a huge fan of pizza, perhaps because I’ve never been lucky enough to know someone with a proper pizza oven, and I have experienced some pretty ghastly American deep pan pizzas which are worlds apart from these thin, crisp based beauties. The art of making pizza is certainly a messy job, but my god was it fun. I don’t think my poor auntie could believe the state of her kitchen when we’d finished. There was semolina flour and various pizza toppings spread about the place, not to mention the dishes!
I’m not going to explain how to build, light or tend to your pizza oven fire as there appears to be a knack to it that only the most experienced of men could master. But then I guess most of you won’t have a pizza oven sitting in the garden anyway. The point is, these pizzas can be cooked in your conventional oven at home and they’ll undoubtedly still taste delicious.
The dough recipe makes six to eight medium sized pizzas – perfect for a crowd, you’ll be surprised just how far they go. One batch of this dough fed nine adults and four children, although we did also have a delicious Italian antipasti starter plate. I know, greedy gits, but that’s what Sundays are all about, aren’t they? For the toppings we had an impressive array of choices from prosciutto to roasted vegetables and delicious cheeses. If you do an antipasti starter you can even use your left over bits and pieces from that, such as the olives and cured meats. My pizza (as pictured) had a simple home-made tomato sauce, a few torn strips of mozzarella and basil leaves, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and onions, a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a very generous sprinkling of red chilli. Once cooked, I topped it with a handful of peppery rocket (dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) – delicious.


Basic Pizza Dough Recipe – Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver
800g strong white bread flour
200g fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
650ml / just over 1 pint of lukewarm water
Pile the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a 18cm/ 7-inch well in the centre. Add your yeast and sugar to the lukewarm water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge – continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat it into a ball. Knead the dough towards you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough.
Flour the top of your dough, cover it with cling film, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. This will make it easier to roll thinly. Now divide the dough into as many balls as you want to make pizzas, i.e.  lots of small ones or a few larger ones, but I suggest that 6 is a good quantity for this amount of dough.
Timing-wise it’s nice to roll the pizzas out 15 to 30 minutes before you start to cook them. If you want to work more in advance, it’s better to keep the dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge rather than having rolled-out pizzas hanging around for a few hours. Take a piece of the dough, dust your surface and dough with a little flour or semolina, and roll it out into a rough circle about 0.5cm/ ¼ inch thick. Tear off an appropriately sized piece of tin foil, rub it with a little olive oil, dust it well with flour or semolina, and place the pizza base on top. Continue doing the same with the other pieces and then, if you dust them with a little flour, you can pile them up into a stack, cover them with cling film, and put them in the fridge.
When you’re ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 250⁰C. Or, get your pizza oven going a couple of hours before!  At this stage you can apply your toppings. Remember: less is more. If you don’t have a pizza oven, try cooking the pizzas on a piece of granite or marble in your conventional oven- if not, do them one by one on the bars of the oven shelf toward the bottom of the oven. (If you’re going to cook your pizzas on the bars of the oven, make sure they’re not too big- otherwise they’ll be difficult to manoeuvre.) Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until pizzas are golden and crispy.