Courgette and Lemon Cake

Yesterday at the supermarket we ran into a friend who had been working in her orto and she kindly gave us some of her surplus round courgettes. So when I got home I looked at these lovely sunshine coloured globes and wondered what to do with them. Then the word, cake popped into my head and I thought: I know, I’ll make a carrot cake but without carrots I’ll use courgettes.

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So I adapted my carrot cake recipe and here’s the ingredients: I used:

350g grated courgettes. 200g soft brown sugar.  300g plain flour. 2 tsp baking powder.      3 eggs.125ml sunflower oil. 1 tsp butterscotch essence. Zest of a lemon. Juice of half a lemon.DSCF2250

First squeeze as much water out of the grated courgettes then add them to a bowl alongside the oil, eggs, sugar and lemon juice and zest. I added the butterscotch essence as I had no vanilla, but to be honest it didn’t add anything to final cake flavour. Mix together then fold in the flour and baking powder, but don’t over mix it.

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    Make sure you have the oven pre-heated to 180C (160C fan) gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of your chosen cake tin and fill with the cake mixture.

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Bake in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes until it’s golden coloured and the kitchen smells all nice and cakey. (that’s a correct technical term – Mary Berry told me)*

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Similar to carrot cake it’s a dense crumbed cake but unlike carrot cake I decided not to do a cheese frosting and opted for Mary Berry’s recipe for lemon drizzle, which is 50g of granulated sugar and juice of a lemon. Mix together and pour over the warm cake. Let it cool and then scoff at will.

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* blatant lie

Green Pies

Before moving to Italy a pie for me had either steak and kidney or chicken and mushrooms inside. I was never a fan of the British meat and potato pie, it just seemed odd to have a vegetable like the humble potato inside a pastry case and to be honest it felt like a reason to use less meat. But here in Italy they make pies filled with no meat at all and so far I’ve been lucky to have sampled some delicious ones. One of my favourites is artichoke pie (torta carciofo) and the best one I have ever tasted was made by Bruna and served during family lunch with friends in Lanciano.

Before moving from the UK I used to host what I called al fresco day, and I’d invite around thirty friends over and cook for them. During one of these days I did once make Antonio Carluccio’s torta verde (green pie) but my English friends eyed it with suspicion before turning their collective backs upon it. Sad really as it tasted fabulous.

So yesterday I was rifling through the freezer and grabbed some veg and shop bought pastry and  the result was my take on a green pie.

The ingredients were:

600g of frozen spinach

200g of blanched cime di rapa

2 broccoli florets that were rattling around at the bottom of the freezer drawer.

a handful of breadcrumbs

100g grated Italian cheese*

2 eggs

salt and pepper

Sorry that I can’t be precise on ingredients, but I just go by sight.

Cook the greens in a pan of boiling water, then rinse with cold water to retain the colour. Once cold squeeze the living daylights out of it to get rid of all the water. Add to a bowl with cheese, breadcrumbs and 2 eggs, season with salt and pepper and stir the mix together.

Filling

Next take a pack of pre-prepared shop bought pastry (100g) unroll it and line a baking dish that’s been lightly oiled. Don’t worry too much about neatness, as it’s all about taste not presentation. It’s a pie, It doesn’t have to look pretty.

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Once lined add the mix and pat down so there’s no pockets of air.

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Fold over the edges of the pastry, try to cover as much of the pie as you can, but don’t worry too much if there’s a few gaps, a rustic tart can be just as nice as prissy pie. Give it an egg wash then put it into your oven for about 25 minutes until the top is golden brown. I have a temperamental oven so the actual temperature is a mystery to me.

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Once cooked turn it out and let it cool. I know it’s tempting to dive right in but best not as hot pie can play havoc with the soft tissue of your mouth’s interior.

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Once cool, slice and eat at your leisure. It doesn’t last very long in this house to be honest as slices seem to disappear at an alarming rate.

Don’t be tempted to us a good quality parmesan cheese, it’s all about tasting the veggies so a shop bought generic Italian cheese mix will suffice. Other fillings that work really well like artichokes are, asparagus and broccoli, spinach and pine nuts and a mix of cime di rapa, cicoria and radichio which makes a lovely bitter tasting tart best served cold with antipasti.

Dough on the Dash

One thing that has changed since moving to Italy is my bread consumption. I’ve never been a fan of the English white sliced, always preferring crusty farmhouse cobs. Here in Italy there’s such a selection of breads available from ciabatta to foccacia and piadina to pagnotta, so there’s always the right bread for the right meal. As flour and yeast are so cheap here I’ve taken to making all the bread we require; it works out at roughly sixty cents to make a large loaf which when compared to the commercially made loaves available works out better economic sense, not to mention the fact that you can moderate the amount of salt included in the recipe.

At the weekend I decided to make a ciabatta for a change, my favourite is a fennel seed and garlic one, but today I’ll make a plain bread. Ciabatta, meaning, slipper is a popular bread back in the UK, it’s spongy texture making it an ideal bread for soaking up good quality olive oil and sauces, especially when making the little shoe, (fare la scarpetta). In the summer making bread is relatively easy as once the dough has been made it’s a case of leaving it on the windowsill and letting the warm sunshine help it to prove and double in size. The January temperature isn’t quite high enough for dough proving, and as we don’t have a cupboard housing the hot water tank, it a case of resorting to finding other ways of warming the dough enabling the yeast to do its magic. I look at our car sat at the top of the lane, it’s basking in the sunshine and I guess the interior is quite warm. I take a stroll up and open the door and the warmth inside seeps out, it’s perfect for proving dough, so the tray with the ciabatta sits on the top of the dashboard in the afternoon sunshine and doubles in size before being ready to pop into the oven to bake.

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A passing family in a Fiat Panda give me a puzzled look as I later remove it from the car, I smile wave and under my breath I say, “It’s amazing how resourceful we Britalian contadini can be when we need to be.” They just smile and give me a half-hearted wave, I can read their minds as once again they think, si straniero pazzo, (you crazy foreigner).

Bread and Wood Burning

It would be fair to say that today my senses have had an olfactory workout. First the kitchen is enveloped in the delicious smell of fresh baked bread, my olive and pepper loaf sits on a cooling rack as, Never Can Sat Goodbye  by Gloria Gaynor plays on the iPod.  I transferred the song from my sister’s original 7” vinyl single onto my hard-drive and formatted it for my Apple device many years ago. To be honest I always preferred the b-side of this classic, We Just Can’t Make It.

Compared to commercially made bread, I love homemade. There’s sense of satisfaction when you throw together a handful of ingredients and out comes something so delicious. I say, throw, as when I’ve finished making bread the kitchen is a mess and looks like a mad baker has had a fit during the kneading process. I’ve had no training in the kitchen, but my paternal grandfather was a baker, so maybe there’s a bit of flour in my genes. This past two-weeks I’ve produced a rosemary focaccia, a fennel and garlic ciabatta and a couple of crusty white loaves, so am feeling like I’m becoming a little more like a traditional Italian peasant farmer. I was chatting to my friend in the local independent supermarket a few days ago and commented that they don’t sell bread. “We sell flour and yeast, why should we sell bread?” was her reply. “Every Italian mother knows how to make bread, why waste money buying a loaf when it only costs cents to make it at home?” I agree with her, as for the cost of one loaf you can buy the ingredients to make three or four.

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Later in the evening we decide it’s time we tested the wood burner. We purchased it two-years ago from a friend in Cellino Attanasio, and the cast iron burner took us nearly three hours to transport back as it weighed down my old Berlingo as we criss-crossed mountain tracks. The fire was laid and tentatively the paper was lit, I opened the windows expecting the room to be filled with smoke, but none came, it travelled up the chimney, as it was intended to do. The windows are closed and our living room is bathed in a red glow, twenty-minutes later the windows are opened again to let in some cool air, the room is stifling. Not having a handbook or instructions and being wood-burner virgins, we fiddle with vents and dampers and soon the heat is brought under control and a log glows seductively behind the glass-windowed door. Or fiddling has let the aroma of burning wood float into the air and it assaults the senses.

There are some smells that give pleasure more than others, and everyone has their favourites, be it freshly ground coffee or tarmac. It might be vanilla or even wet dog. But for me it has to be fresh bread or wood smoke, so today’s olfactory perception has been pleasurable on two counts. I just love days like this.

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