Saturday, 23 February 2013

Marvellous Minestrone

During these chilly February days, I personally like nothing better than a nice bowl of hearty soup. And to be honest, you can't get much heartier than the traditional Italian minestrone. This soup is always described as being 'thick', but to be honest, it really is the chunkiest soup I have ever seen!

There's actually no set recipe for minestrone. Instead, any vegetables that are in season are used in this healthy dish, and sometimes pasta or rice are added to give it extra sustenance. Ahh those Italians, they really do involve pasta with almost everything!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of trying some of my boyfriend's mum's homemade minestrone. Here in Puglia, no meat is eaten on Fridays during lent, so it was the perfect meat-free lunch. Now, it may not be as aesthetically pleasing as some other typical Italian foods, but it tasted absolutely DELICIOUS. Some fresh crusty bread was the perfect accompaniment.

Are you a minestrone fan? What's your favourite winter warmer?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Terrific Torta!

It is a well known fact that Italians love their dolce. It is also a well known fact that I love dolce. And so, I recently went on a mission to create the perfect Italian sponge cake- which of course, must include yoghurt. When I make sponge cake, it always involves eggs, sugar, flour and butter. But the Italians aren't too fond of adding lots of butter, so instead they use yoghurt. I've tried several many yoghurt cakes whilst in Italy, so decided to have a go at making one myself. I used an orange and lemon yogurt which gave a subtle tangy flavour, and then dusted it with icing sugar for added sweetness. What do you think??

And here's the recipe:

A small pot (125g) and a half of yoghurt (if you want a stronger yoghurt flavour. If not, use one pot, then half a yoghurt pot of milk) You can experiment with various yoghurt flavours.
250g flour
250g sugar
3 eggs
a small sachet of baking powder (probably about half a teaspoon or so)
a teaspoon of oil (vegetable or olive)
grated lemon
icing sugar to dust

Mix the flour, baking powder, eggs and sugar together, before adding the oil, yoghurt and lemon. The mixture may seem a little runny but don't worry about this.

Put into circular baking tins, and bake for about 15 minutes (exact time will depend on your oven) until the cake is no longer runny in the middle. Take out and leave to cool, before sprinkling some icing sugar on top.

This cake turned out really light and moist, and will keep for about 3 or 4 days in an airtight container. Although to be honest, you'll probably have scoffed most of it after a day or so anyway... ;)

Happy Monday folks!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Buon San Valentino!

A great big Buon San Valentino from Italy!

I hope you are all having a lovely day, whether you have chosen to embrace the romantic Valentine's day traditions or not. Here in Puglia, the shops are full to the brim with chocolates, heart shaped cushions and useless little trinkets. My favourite coffee bar also had some delicious looking heart shaped chocolate cakes on offer this morning...pity I have decided to give up cake for lent. How utterly silly. I haven't given up chocolate though, so I fully intend to gorge on that later. Anyway, I just thought I would leave you all with a little photo...

Ahh, even my two little terrapins (Tim and Jennifer) are feeling somewhat affectionate today..

Monday, 11 February 2013

It's carnival time!

It's carnival time again!

And despite the fact that it's bitingly cold here, the celebrations are in full flow. In case you weren't too clued up on what carnival actually is (I wasn't), it's a celebration that occurs just before lent begins, and is particularly popular in areas with large Catholic populations. So while we fry up a few pancakes and gorge ourselves silly, Italians go all out with elaborate masks and big processions. The best known places to see a great carnival celebration in Italy are Venice, Ivrea (where they launch oranges at each careful of that one) and Putignano. The latter is actually down here in Puglia, and attracts thousands of people every year.

Down here in my small town, the celebrations may be on a much smaller scale, but the carnival spirit is still rife. Children, teenagers and adults alike don silly/outrageous/garish costumes, chuck confetti everywhere and spray whipped cream at each other. There are parties, feasts and of course, processions. We happened to stumble across this little one yesterday:

I bet those panda costumes were actually really warm...

You can tell my town is agricultural...

And of course, there's a conga line.

I think one of these is supposed to be Berlusconi...
 And even though I'm not a massive fan of getting dressed up and throwing things at people around me, I do enjoy one thing in particular: two days off work. Ahhhh..... ;)

Buon carnevale!!!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Tea Traitor??

Here in Italy, when people find out I'm English, they assume several things:

1. I don't speak Italian (not true...even if my grammar is shoddy)
2. The summer heat must be awful for me and my 'pale skin' (often true)
3. I drink tea. At 5pm. (sorry fellow Brits, this is definitely not true!)

Regarding the latter, it's not that I don't like tea...I just don't love it. I haven't actually been into coffee for that long- only since I arrived on Italian shores and realised what I had been missing, did I jump into caffeine city. But tea? I've never taken to it that much. Every now and again when I'm back in the UK I'll have a mug of PG Tips with milk and one sugar, and it does the job. But I can't claim to be head over heels for it.

Believe it or not, even with the abundance of delicious coffee on offer, Italians do actually drink tea every once in a while. But yes, you guessed it: no milk, slice of lemon. I always thought this was sacrilege, even despite my rather unenthusiastic approach to tea. It should be with milk or sugar or both or neither. Why does the lemon have to join in?? How European, I thought.

Well, that was until I tried it. The boyfriend had the sniffles recently (yes, I was the one who gave them to him....woops) and so decided to order a tea at our local coffee bar. It came in this cute little teapot/cup ensemble, which I absolutely loved:

And it also came with these:

So far so good. But look what appeared in the cup!

I gasped, and started going on about how it was the 'wrong' way to have tea, until by man finally persuaded me to a) be quiet, and b) try it. So I did.

And it was lovely. It really was very nice with that bit of lemon floating about in it. So there you have it folks, I am a traitor to my country's tea drinking traditions. Although, if I stick to the milk and sugar option when on British shores, I may be able to hide my filthy tea with lemon habit whilst I'm in Italy...

Have a great weekend folks! Whatever hot beverage you choose....

Monday, 4 February 2013

Croissant, anyone?

Hello everyone! I hope you all had a lovely weekend.

The weather was a bit yucky down here, but luckily the skies are clear today, and the sun is shining. What better way to start the week than with a spot of nice weather!

This weekend, bar doing an examiner course on Saturday (boo), I completely chilled out. I had a marathon True Blood session, drank lots of tasty coffee, went out with friends on Saturday night and then spent Sunday afternoon lounging about doing nothing. Apart from trying my hand at an Italian yoghurt cake of course! I couldn't find a decent recipe so took matters into my own hands a bit. It came out well but it wasn't perfect. Definitely a work in progress- recipe will be posted as soon as I come up with a good one!

 On Saturday and Sunday mornings, me and my boyfriend usually go out for breakfast. We go to a bar for coffee and one of those big, delicious, calorific croissants- it's one of the weekend rituals that I absolutely love. But due to my course on Saturday, we couldn't do it. And on Sunday morning it was chucking it down with rain, so we weren't keen on even leaving the house (how Italian am I?!). So we decided to cook up some croissants of our own. I don't mean we went to the trouble of making the dough and whatnot, but we popped some frozen ones in the oven (luckily, I had bought some for the first time the day before!). After all, that's what the bars usually do, so we thought we'd try and recreate the experience at home. The smell of croissants wafting out of the oven on a Sunday morning? It's really quite heavenly.

And my WORD were they good. Light, fluffy and absolutely delish. If it weren't for the creamy cappuccinos that you can only get if you go to a bar, I think our weekend breakfast ritual would always be confined to the house!