An Italian cooking in England: food, photography, recipes.

Macerated strawberries lollies

Posted on August 2, 2015

FCG_macerated_strawberry_lollies_1One of my favourite things about British summers is the abundance of berries throughout the season. Back in Italy, strawberries are a late spring crop, abundant in May but quick to disappear as soon as proper summer settles in, leaving room for stone fruit, melons and watermelons. Here, though, from June through to August strawberries are abundant, as are raspberries and a whole host of other berries. Throughout the summer months, I make sure a steady supply of fresh berries flows in my fridge for my morning yogurt and muesli, emergency mid-afternoon snacks and odd smoothies.

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I generally always eat strawberries raw, because I’ve never liked the flavour of cooked strawberries. Heat may intensify their flavour, but it dissolves their fresh, sweet and slightly pungent scent. The problem with frozen strawberries (and hence the problem with lollies made with raw strawberries) is that, having a high water content, the flavour gets somewhat lost, perhaps getting too faint for our tongues, shocked by the contact with ice, to grasp. Last summer I had a go at making strawberry lollies and even though I remember using a good batch of ripe strawberries, the result was somewhat disappointing. This year I went down the macerated route, which is the process of adding (mainly, but not exclusively) sugar and acid to fruit and berries to soften and intensify flavour. Saveur explains that macerating fruit usually involves an acidic element like vinegar or lemon juice, but that you don’t want to add any more liquid to a fruit as watery as strawberries. I added a little lemon juice anyway, mindful of the fact that flavours get more subdued when cold: the muted sweetness of the strawberry more often than not benefits from a tiny acidic kick. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of sugar in a bowl of chopped strawberries, and half an hour later you’ll have the perfect strawberry syrup, dense, fresh, fragrant, sweet and intensely red.

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Macerated strawberries lollies

Use ripe and flavoursome strawberries.Yields about 10 lollies.

Ingredients
700 gr strawberries
100 gr demerara sugar
juice of half a lemon

Wash, hull and cut the berries in pieces in a glass or ceramic bowl. Add sugar and lemon juice, mix, cover with a lid or cling film and rest in the fridge for half an hour. Blend the strawberries and their syrup until smooth. You can sieve the mixture and get rid of the seeds if they bother you, but I like the tiny crunch. Fill the lolly moulds, add a wooden stick to each, then freeze until solid. To ease the lollies out of the moulds you can soak the moulds briefly in hot water.


Cardamom and rye chocolate cake

Posted on June 14, 2015

FCG_chocolate_cardamom_rye_cake_6As I type this, I’m sitting in at the dining table, sipping a warm chamomile (my new favourite drink, it appears. What can I say… I lead a rock’n’roll life) and eating my usual breakfast, plain yogurt with homemade muesli. Today, though, Scottish strawberries and raspberries have also found their way in the bowl. I’ve worn sandals for the past 3 days in a row. My usual make up makes me look pale, because my face is lightly tanned. In other words, the unpredictable British summer is here, and, to my shame, today’s recipe is conspicuously un-summery. Oh well. It’s a chocolate cake, substantial, moist and flavoursome. Our oven broke in April and for weeks I couldn’t bake anything. At the time, I was also going through my handwritten and cut out recipes, organising them in a ring binder. I found lots of recipes I’d drafted or saved from magazines years ago, and never made. After months of not feeling like experimenting much in the kitchen, a rush to bake my way through the ring binder got me. My birthday was coming up, so I picked two recipes that I’d be able to prepare in advance, that would be easily transportable in plastic boxes, to bring to the office on the day. One was this. Luckily, a new oven arrived just in time. I jumped on the chocolate and rye flour combination bandwagon, which seemed to be mentioned everywhere this past winter, and liked it.

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As I mentioned above, my birthday happened, a few weeks ago now. So much unexpected stuff happened in my life since I turned 27 last year, I almost feel less experienced and prepared for what’s ahead of me. Which, thinking about it, is probably because the ‘what’s ahead of me’ used to be a lot clearer a year ago than it is now. There has been a lot of change, compromise, rearranging and reassessing my own expectations, hopes and circumstances. It has been difficult, not least because of what I’ve inflicted upon others with my choices. Unprepared and inexperienced, perhaps, but overall more resilient, more aware of my own faults and thoughts. All of this, together with being handed over responsibility for a work project with a crazy deadline, meant that my stress levels have gone up, my brain power down, and everything has had to do with a much less energetic Roberta. I’m not complaining, I like being challenged and learning the hard way as a result. It takes some adjusting to, but it’s worth it. So, to cake, summer, unseasonal recipes, hard lessons, life and sandals. Happy birthday to me!

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Cardamom and rye chocolate cake

Yields 8 big slices, or 12 thinner ones. Adapted from a cake called ‘La bella caprese’, by Gino d’Acampo, originally published in the festive season 2011 issue of the Costco Connection, but I’ve just found the same recipe on the Mail Online website too. The chocolate I used was around 70%, the ground almonds lightly toasted in a pan then cooled. My cake tin is 18cm, the original recipe calls for a 23cm one: anything in between will work, just give a different height to the cake. You will have to keep an eye out while it’s baking too, as timings will vary depending on the tin width.

Ingredients
butter and cocoa powder to grease and dust the cake tin
100 gr unsalted butter
250 gr dark chocolate (I used 70%)
5 cardamom pods
4 medium eggs
160 gr icing sugar
80 gr ground almonds
70 gr rye flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Grease and dust your cake tin, and turn the oven on to 175°C fan. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. In the meantime, bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar, discard the outer pod and stringy bits, and add the seeds to the chocolate mix. Once everything is melted, take away from the heat and leave to cool. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together until fluffy and pale. Add ground almonds and chocolate mixture, and mix until evenly combined. Add the rye flour and baking powder last. Quickly stir to combine, then pour in the prepared tin and bake for 35/40 minutes. Start checking after 25 minutes if the tin you’re using is wider than mine. You want to take the cake out when it still has the tiniest (and I mean tiniest) wobble in the middle. Also, the sides of the cake should be shrinking away from the sides of the tin. Leave to cool before unmoulding, and take care when doing so as the cake is soft and tends to break.


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