In a couple weeks we’ll be off to Malta and my heart is already there. There isn’t a single day that passes without thinking of my family and friends in the Mediterranean. With every month that summer gets closer, I feel the urge to go there and the pain of not yet being there becomes almost unbearable. As much as I love Berlin – it’s my home – I see myself spending far more time on my beloved archipelago south of Sicily.
You can ask any Maltese person living abroad what he or she misses the most and almost everybody will tell you the sea and family. I’m not Maltese, but I agree. With every passing year I feel closer and closer to the life we live there. Being surrounded by the sea and the people who are so important in my life is a great gift I don’t really want to let go off, but it’s also the food, the pace, the culture and lifestyle that makes me miss this place so much.
In two weeks I’ll be starting my days with a cup of tea in my Maltese mama’s garden, sitting under her citrus trees. Then I’ll pick some honey sweet fruits and crisp vegetables from my favourite mobile vegetable truck in Msida and prepare a luscious breakfast. For whatever reason we started the ritual to have very opulent and rich breakfast sandwiches when we live in the South. If we leave out my spontaneous (but very regular) visits to bakeries, cafés and pastizzi shops, we only eat twice during the day: before we go to the beach and afterwards, and both meals are little feasts. We end our days with Mediterranean inspired dishes but we start the day following the small country’s British tradition. There are fried eggs, different kind of cheese, and a bit of meat on the table. Be it crisp bacon or a selection of course sausages from our butcher in Sliema – classic Maltese style with fennel and coriander or English sausage with apple and sage – our breakfast is quite a hearty affair, often sandwiched between two slices of Malta’s amazing sourdough bread. But what comes with baked beans in the cold North is served with fresh garden vegetables in the South. Juicy cucumber and tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, or sautéed zucchini – qarabali in Maltese – there are always the freshest fruits from the garden involved. You could easily leave out the meat and keep it light and vegetarian, sliced fennel bulb, sautéed onions, or a juicy caponata are nice too, but the current star of the toast scene – thinly sliced avocado – made it into my creation, along with cucumber and red bell pepper.
This is the third sandwich of the tasty trilogy I created for Leerdamer:
Egg, Bacon and Cheese Sandwich with Garden Vegetables
Makes 2 large sandwiches
breakfast bacon 8 slim slices
organic eggs 4
flaky sea salt
peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
large rustic buns, cut in half, 2
Leerdammer cheese, or another mild hard cheese, very thinly sliced, about 170g / 6 ounces
small red bell pepper (and or tomato), cut into rings, 1
small organic cucumber, rinsed and scrubbed, very thinly sliced with a mandoline or cheese slicer, 1
medium ripe avocado, very thinly sliced with a mandoline or cheese slicer, 1
In a heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil and cook the bacon until golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper, but leave the fat in the pan.
In the pan used to cook the bacon, cook the eggs for a few minutes until the egg yolk is still liquid, season with flaky sea salt and crushed pepper.
Divide the cheese between the bottom sides of the buns and arrange the bacon and vegetables on top. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Finish it off with 2 eggs for each sandwich and close the bun. Squeeze and enjoy!
As soon as the air is filled with flickering heat and the sky over Berlin is painted in the deepest sparkly blue, my mind tends to travel to the South, I’m desperately lost in Mediterranean daydreaming. One of my favourite imaginary destinations – apart from Malta – is Italy. Take me to the soft hills of Tuscany, the Renaissance statues at Florence’s Piazza delle Signora, or to the ancient city of Rome and my heart is filled with joy. My schedule doesn’t allow me to travel in person, but thanks to two American girls and their gorgeous cookbook Tasting Rome I can travel without having to leave (although I wouldn’t mind moving south for a few days).
The first time I was in touch with Kristina Gill, she asked me to come up with a sandwich recipe for her In the Kitchen With column on DesignSponge.com. She was happy with my creation, a lusciously stuffed Mediterranean Baguette, and we stayed in touch. I always assumed that Kristina lives in the US, Design Sponge is an American site. But the girl from Nashville moved to Rome almost two decades ago and dug deep into la dolce vita – into the culture, food, and history of her newly adopted hometown.
Years of walking down Rome’s cobblestoned streets, soaking up the loud scenes on the piazzas, and passing by baroque fountains and silent palaces also made her aware of the city’s vivid contrasts. To see the past and present meet, old buildings taken over for unconventional use, kitchen traditions being respectfully transformed into contemporary dishes – this lively process fascinated Kristina. When she met her pal, Katie Parla, who’s a New Jersey native, the two girls realized that they explore and experience their city in a similar way. Katie, who has a master’s degree in Italian gastronomic culture, and Kristina, the photographer and food and drinks editor, both loved documenting Rome’s lost recipes and contemporary innovations. So they decided to use their vast insider knowledge to write a cookbook together.
Tasting Rome is a collection of traditional Roman recipes and their modern interpretations. You can find pasta, vegetable, and meat classics side by side with scrumptious pizza variations and sweet Italian treats. I was impressed – and also glad – that the authors didn’t skip the city’s peasant tradition of using the whole animal, including offal, like sweetbread, liver, or tongue, and the more simple cuts of meat. It’s a tradition that corresponds with the great movement of eating sustainably and with respect for our environment.
The two women developed the recipes together and asked the city’s great chefs for advice when it came to pizza and cocktails. The colourful pictures in the book that make you want to pack your bags and go straight to the airport – or at least to a Roman restaurant for dinner – were all taken by Kristina. Together, Katie and Kristina manage to share a taste of Rome through their words and delicious dishes.
I chose to share their recipe for Maritozzi con La Panna with you, tender sweet yeast buns filled with whipped cream. Apart from enjoying 4 (!) of these little temptations in one go with great pleasure, I was quite impressed to learn about a very simple technique that they use to roll the buns to give them a tight surface. Usually, I roll yeast buns between my two hands, holding one like a dome and the other one flat, rolling the dough about 20 times. Tasting Rome taught me to use only one hand, rolling the piece of dough and pressing it against a lightly floured kitchen counter until it’s a firm ball. It works perfectly!
The beautiful Rome pictures are by Kristina Gill, the food pictures are taken by me.
Maritozzi con La Panna – Sweet Buns with Whipped Cream
Makes 12 maritozzi
For the sponge
warm milk (between 40-45°C / 105-115ºF) 120ml / 1/2 cup
active dry yeast 1 1/4 tablespoons (I used fast-acting yeast)
bread flour 130g / 1 cup (I used white spelt flour)
granulated sugar 1 tablespoon
For the dough
unsalted butter, at room temperature, 100g / 7 tablespoons
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
large eggs, at room temperature, 4
bread flour, plus more for dusting, 325 g / 2 1/2 cups (I used white spelt flour. I added 90g / 2/3 cup to the dough)
For the egg wash
large egg 1
whole milk 1 tablespoon
For the filling
heavy cream 480ml / 2 cups
granulated sugar 1 tablespoon my addition: ripe strawberries
Make the sponge: In a medium bowl, whisk the yeast into the milk, then add the flour and sugar and stir to combine. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and set aside until it becomes puffy, about 20 minutes.
Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and eggs on low speed.
Replace the paddle with the dough hook. Pour in the sponge, mix for a few turns, then add half of the flour. Mix on low until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining flour and mix again on low until the dough is smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. When the dough was smooth, but still too sticky, I added 90g / 2/3 cup of flour and mixed it for another 2 minutes on ‘4’ on my KitchenAid.
Allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 10 minutes, then run the mixer on low for 10 minutes to stretch the gluten. Meanwhile, line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into twelve equal-size pieces (each approximately 70g / 2 1/2 ounces). Using one hand, roll each piece into a tight ball, pressing it against the counter to ensure a smooth, tight surface. Next, using both hands, roll each ball into an elongated loaf shape, fatter in the middle and tapered on the ends, about 4 inches long, similar to a small football.
Place maritozzi on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them (at least) 4cm / 1 1/2″ apart. Cover with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel, and allow to rise in a warm place (20-25°C / 70-80ºF) until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 175°C / 350ºF.
Make the egg wash: Whisk the egg with the milk in a small bowl. Immediately before baking, brush the tops of the maritozzi with the egg wash.
Bake until deep brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack.
While the maritozzi cool, make the filling: Whip the cream and sugar to firm peaks.
Slice each maritozzo open without cutting all the way through. Fill with the whipped cream, dividing it evenly, and serve immediately. Optionally: serve with fresh strawberries.
From Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright (c) 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
When and why did you move to Rome?
I moved to Rome in October 1999 for work. I was in the US diplomatic corps.
What fascinates you about Roman culture? Was it easy to adapt, to become a part of it?
Roman culture was a bit different then than now – internet was far less diffuse, and people were still pretty insular. It is hard to break into a ‘friendship’ culture in which bonds are created from childhood and don’t really change. Luckily, one summer several years before I moved here for work, I stayed in an apartment in Rome with other students, and they introduced me to their friends, so when I subsequently studied in Florence and Bologna, their parents made sure I was introduced to families in both cities with children my age. I guess you could say I adapted well because I was adopted! I spent a lot of time with these families – I was never alone on holidays. As time went on, the internet brought more curiosity about other places and people, and provided a way for Romans to cultivate their interests more – people wanted to connect more and that sped up forming relationships, especially around common interests, that their traditional network didn’t provide, so I’ve seen over time that Romans have become much more open to expanding their friendships beyond that childhood crew.
What do you miss about your life in the US?
Where to start? The cheeseburgers, the supermarkets, the variety of food available from different cultures, the variety of food available period, gourmet ice cream, parking, airconditioning, well-heated homes in winter… The ability to realize a dream with your own two hands. There’s a sense of freedom in the US that I don’t feel here – young people are leaving Italy in droves so that they can pursue their dreams. I’m lucky that I am able to be a part of both places.
What is your favourite spot in Rome and why?
My Savoir Bed is my favorite place…sleeps like a dream! But if you mean in the city, there are so many public squares to sit in and soak up thousands of years of history, which I find so mindblowing and relaxing. But lately, I think my favorite place is the MAXXI Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid, where I can check out contemporary art exhibitions. Just a small modern parenthesis in the middle of an otherwise gorgeous ancient landscape.
Can you see yourself living in Rome for the rest of your life?
I would like to move back to the United States to be with my family after so many years of being away and missing everyone. Seems like my cousins’ children were born last year, but are already studying at university!! I’ve missed out on a whole generation!
You wrote your book, Tasting Rome, together with Katie Parla. How long have you know each other and who came up with the idea to write this book together?
I can’t remember how long, however, we met over Twitter, a few years back. I already had the full proposal written when I met Katie, and a couple years after we knew each other, she mentioned that she had written a proposal, a memoir I think, that had been unsuccessful and was a bit down so I said – well, I have one that you might be interested in that we could do together! I sent it to her and asked her if she thought she saw herself in it. We added her name and bio to the proposal, and worked on some refinements with an agent I had already been in contact with. I approached Katie because I thought her knowledge of the history of Roman dishes and food culture would be a valuable addition to the book that would help ground it in fact and set it apart from the typical expat book that is written more from a personal perspective and is often an adaptation of cuisine. I wasn’t wrong!
How did you develop the recipes in your book?
From the proposal and through signing the deal, I was originally going to do all of the recipes and photography in the book, and Katie the features and headnotes, but once we started working on the book and came up with the list of recipes, there were clearly items that I had never eaten, like the offal chapter, and items for which I had no capacity to develop recipes, like the baking chapter and the cocktails chapter. Also, for the classics: Amatriciana, Gricia, Carbonara, and Cacio e Pepe, since Katie spends a lot of time eating out and had written numerous articles on which restaurants’ versions were the best in Rome, we agreed that she was in the best position to identify those recipes. That left roughly half of the book for me to develop, which I did over the course of four and a half months. Sometimes I did eat out to test recipes against my memories, but for the most part, I had clear ideas of how I liked the food I was working on, I knew the elements and knew more or less how to prepare. I had to check technical books for proper frying temperatures as starting points, or baking science (sweets). I did also consult with a friend who is a pastry chef for guidance on the maritozzi because I knew I wanted a rich soft brioche dough for that, and wanted to explore various options. I also talked with a couple of chefs to find out their views on the “proper” way to prepare certain dishes. Interestingly enough, they went over both the tradition and their variations. This gave some latitude and discretion in determining an approach for the book which remained authentic. For the other half, Katie procured recipes from local mixologists, local chefs and restaurant owners, and a good friend of hers who is an amazing baker for the baking chapter. When I look at the book, I think it represents the perfect mix of everything you would encounter in Rome today that defines Rome.
Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?
On a personal level, Lucia, the mother of the family I stayed with when I studied in Florence. She has since passed away. She grew up in a town called Ristonchi a little outside of Florence, with chickens and a garden and the usual rural life. She could make the best food out of any ingredients you gave her. I loved the food made from leftovers the most. Her ribollita was the best on the planet, and her mother’s chicken broth which was liquid gold (and pure fat) made an indelible mark on my palate! She introduced me to Alessandra from Padova, whose mother, Gianna, took the cooking crown (and still wears it). Lucia, Alessandra and I both agreed that Gianna is the best – and between the three of us, we have eaten a lot of Italian cooking. Eating at Gianna’s house was better than any restaurant – and she took ‘orders’ in the morning before each meal so that when lunch or dinner came around, you had anything and everything you wanted. My inspiration from Gianna and Lucia came from their knowledge of how to prepare food, and how to be resourceful, and really how to eat. Gianna’s father was a baker. Food was always a central part of both households and you could tell that each meal was to be savored.
Has food always played an important role in your life? Do you come from a family of foodies?
Not really in the way you would think. I grew up in a household which consumed its fair share of whatever junk food was popular at the time – but which also shopped at the farmer’s market for weekend meals. My grandmother kept her own garden and fruit trees, and three freezers to keep all the produce throughout the year. I used to think she was a magician because this amazing feast appeared on the dinner table from food I hadn’t seen in the refrigerator during the day. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned about the other freezers!!
You took all the pictures in your book, when and how did you discover your passion for photography? What do you love about it?
I started taking pictures to be able to produce the In the Kitchen With column on DesignSponge, in 2008 I think. I think I started to love photography when I started taking more than just food pictures and found that capturing my environment was a way to see all the things I overlooked when I just passed through on my daily routine. It was like discovering a new world.
Do you prefer to capture the atmosphere of a city with your camera or delicious food?
Both. I love to explore a culture through its food, why certain ingredients or cooking techniques play the role they do, how the cuisine of one city differs from another and why. I love to capture the mundane and everyday of a city with my camera.
What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
I can’t remember! But in high school I think I used to make pizza from ready made pizza dough, and at university, I prepared a meal from an African cookbook, featuring mostly Ethiopian food and my friends and I all liked it a lot!
What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Rome?
My Saturday routine is concentrated in one neighborhood. Before the market I have a pastry (made in house) from Fabrica, a cafe near the market. Then at the Trionfale market I buy fish, produce, and a lot of Asian food staples (lime, rice noodles, bok choy, tamarind paste, palm sugar, ginger, galangal etc). I get cheese and nduja from La Tradizione (which is near Trionfale market). I pick up wine and alcohol from an enoteca named Costantini. I pick up oatmeal (flakes) from the healthful store around the corner from my office. It is a chain called Il Canestro. When I don’t have time for breakfast at home, I stop by Bar Benaco on the way to work because they make all their pastries in house and I can get them while they are still warm. I don’t eat out a lot because I have a bazillion cookbooks and am always excited to try new recipes, but when I do, I eat most often at Cesare al Casaletto because they always find me a table, or takeaway pizza from a place near my house or at pizzeria Tonda.
If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?
Bryant Terry, anything he’d like. I would love it all. Unless it had beets in it.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
I learned about Bo Ssam pork at a meal at Matt Armendariz and Adam C. Pearon’s house. I would prepare Bo Ssam, and a selection of Asian-inspired salads. For dessert, a maple hazelnut cookie by Nigel Slater, and a selection of chocolates and coffee.
What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?
This is tough because I have no memory of a favorite food… Meatloaf maybe! Now… I have too many favorites, but cheeseburgers are top of my list. And dumplings. Chinese, Korean, Japanese…
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years working on the book alone – not just developing the recipes, but also preparing food for the photography. I styled about half of the recipes in the book, and Adam C. Pearson did the other half and the cover. When I was in the studio shooting, I did a lot of food prep as well, and enjoyed the atmosphere and working with Adam and his team of stylists. It’s definitely easier working with others! But sometimes, cooking is therapy and being alone is great.
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
As long as it’s good, either is fantastic!
Which meal would you never cook again?
I made some dog biscuits for my dog once that were made of like chopped liver and garlic or something. When they started to bake, the smell was SO BAD, I thought I’d have to move out of my apartment. He loved the cookies, but that smell stayed around for a LONG time and it was AWFUL.
Whenever I cook fish al cartoccio and I enjoy the tasty fillet’s firm perfection, I ask myself, why should I ever cook cod, salmon, trout, or monkfish any other way? If the timing and seasoning is right, the texture will be flaky and the meat infused with whatever aromas you decide to add to the paper bag. Fresh herbs, warming spices, fresh or preserved lemon, olives, capers, thinly sliced vegetables or prosciutto even, there are endless possibilities to turn dinner into an exciting package of flavours. However, when I’m in my Maltese mama Jenny’s garden in Msida, I feel the same about barbecued fish: Why should I ever turn on the oven again when there’s a nice catch from the fisherman on the table?
When we set up our BBQ in Berlin, there’s mainly meat and vegetables on the roast, fresh fish is a rather rare occasion, it stays in my indoor kitchen most of the time. In the city, I never plan my seafood meals, I buy what looks fresh and yummy and then I decide what’s going to happen with it. My thick piece of cod from the Atlantic got wrapped in a package, but before I closed it, I added lots of fresh parsley, green olives, white wine, and lemon slices. It was a beautiful Mediterranean lunch, which you should enjoy on a Saturday or Sunday, when there’s no more work waiting for you and you can pull a bottle of crisp white wine out of the fridge (without feeling guilty). Just relax and break chunks off an oily loaf of ciabatta to dip into the juices – summer perfection!
Cod al Cartoccio with Olives, Parsley and Lemon
Serves 2 for lunch
cod fillet (or any firm, white fish, such as monkfish or halibut), preferably a thick center piece, about 350-400g / 12-14 ounces
fresh flat-leaf parsley 1 medium bunch
green olives, with pits, 14
organic lemon, rinsed and scrubbed, 2 slices
white wine 2 tablespoons
freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tablespoon
fine sea salt
Set the oven to 200°C / 400°F (convection setting).
Cut 2 pieces of parchment paper large enough to wrap the fish and lay them on top of each other. Brush the top sheet with olive oil, place all but 1 sprig of the parsley in the middle, and lay the cod on top. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put the remaining parsley on top of the fillet and finish it off with the lemon slices. Arrange the olives around the fish. Whisk the wine with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon juice and pour over the fish. To close the package, fold the sides over, twist both ends of the parchment paper, and fold the top twice so it’s well sealed. Place the parchment package in a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes. If you can flake the fish gently with a fork, it’s done. If not, close the parchment again and continue baking for up to 5 minutes. The cooking time can vary depending on the fillet’s thickness, but mind that you don’t overcook it.
Whenever I ride around the city on my bike at the moment I feel wrapped in the sweetest smelling cloud of elderflower, black locust (acacia), and chestnut flowers. I don’t know if it’s me – maybe I’m more sensitive this year – but as soon as I open my kitchen window in the morning until I close it at night, I’m mesmerized by the smell of early summer.
A week ago, we went on one of our Saturday escapes to the countryside. This time we chose Beelitz, outside Berlin, to spend a day far from noise and distraction. I wrote about this area two years ago, it’s a picturesque village surrounded by fields and dense woods and it’s famous for Germany’s best asparagus (you can see the pictures here). Last time we went a little earlier, in May, the asparagus fields were still covered in foil (white asparagus grows in the dark), but now, in June, the scene looks completely different. What used to grow under ground is now a filigree green plant blowing in a gentle breeze. White asparagus season in the forest of Beelitz is over.
After our 2 hour bike ride through forest and fields we deserved a break and enjoyed tender asparagus with Hollandaise sauce at a secluded restaurant, called Landgasthof Rieben. We chatted with the owner and learned that you can only grow asparagus on the same field for 7 years, then it needs a break, also for 7 years. The magic number.
One of the flowers that smell most captivating right now, are elderflowers and their season is almost over too. I love to use their sticky syrup for refreshing Hugo cocktails (you find the recipe in the link for the syrup), or to make caramelized onions or chicken taste even sweeter. But using it for baked sweets, is one of the best ways to enjoy elderflower on a Sunday afternoon. I baked a simple loaf cake intensely flavoured with lime, pricked the surface, and poured a wonderfully fragrant syrup made of lime juice and elderflower over the warm cake. Sometimes, these simple cakes are the best!
Elderflower Lime Cake
Serves 4 to 6
For the cake
plain flour 210 g / 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
cornstarch 70 g / 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons
baking powder 3 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
butter, at room temperature, 180g / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar 180g / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
organic eggs 3
freshly grated lime zest 2 tablespoons
freshly squeezed lime juice 3 tablespoons
buttermilk 90ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
For the syrup
elderflower syrup 100ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
freshly squeezed lime juice 3 tablespoons
For the topping
a few elderflowers (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F (preferably convection setting). Butter a 23 x 10 cm / 9 x 4-inch loaf pan.
For the cake, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. In a second large bowl, beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, incorporating each egg before adding the next one, and beat for 2 to 3 minutes or until light and creamy. Add the lime zest and juice and beat for 1 minute. With a wooden spoon, fold about 1/3 of the flour mixture gently into the batter, followed by 1/3 of the buttermilk. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and buttermilk, folding just until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden on top. If you insert a skewer in the center of the cake, it should come out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack.
For the syrup, in a small saucepan, bring the elderflower syrup and lime juice to the boil and cook for 1 minute over high heat.
Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer and slowly pour the elderflower-lime syrup over the top. Decorate with elderflowers just before serving.
Soon I’ll be eating stuffed vegetables in the kitchens of many Maltese mamas and I know that I’ll never want to eat anything else again once I get into the groove. This dish is a cozy classic in Malta’s Mediterranean cuisine and I love it for its simplicity just as much as for its pure taste of summer. Ripe zucchini, bell pepper, and eggplant turn into juicy shells full of flavour to wrap scrumptious fillings of cheese, meat, seafood, or even more vegetables. Brunġiel mimli (Maltese for stuffed eggplant) is the most popular of them all – and the richest, stuffed with Bolognese – but there are endless possibilities to turn this recipe into a lighter summer treat.
In mid July we’ll be off to spend a few weeks with our family in the South and this will have a huge effect on our daily routine and on our cooking and eating habits. There will be far more fruits and vegetables on the table, they will taste much better than in the North, I will complain less about quality (or not at all), and the results that I stir up in the pots and pans in my Maltese mama’s kitchen will give me deep satisfaction. I love to cook in Jenny’s kitchen (on gas), with the best produce you can possibly ask for, fresh from my favourite farmer.
There’s always a pile of round and long zucchinis in the vegetable drawer, which I either slice up and sauté until al dente or scrape out and stuff – often with ricotta, the island’s most popular dairy product. To get into the mood, I came up with a recipe that uses a fragrant composition of dried-tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, and orange zest stirred into feta – instead of ricotta (I’ll eat so much of it while I’m in Malta that I should take it easy for now). It looked and tasted like a summer holiday and it was so easy to prepare that I’ll make it soon again.
Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts
sun-dried tomatoes (preserved in salt) 3
pine nuts, toasted until golden, 40g / 1/2 cup
medium zucchinis, cut in half lengthwise, soft pulp scraped out, 2
fine sea salt
feta 200g / 7 ounces
fresh basil, chopped, about 15g / a large handful, plus a few leaves for the topping
freshly grated orange zest 1 teaspoon
flaky sea salt
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).
In a small saucepan, bring the sun-dried tomatoes and a little water to the boil and cook for about 3 minutes or until soft. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen paper and chop finely.
Chop half the pine nuts with a large knife or in a food processor.
Spread the zucchini in a large baking dish (cut side up), brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a medium bowl, mash the feta with a fork and add the chopped pine nuts, basil, dried-tomatoes, orange zest, and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix and mash until well combined and season with pepper to taste. Divide the feta mixture between the zucchini halves, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts and a little flaky sea salt. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a little water and bake for about 45 minutes or until the zucchini feels soft when you prick it with a metal skewer. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve.
It makes a great lunch or easy dinner, but you can also serve it at a summer picnic.
I had a passionate discussion about ‘the best cherries’ with the owner of a vegetable shop in my neighborhood. He’s a kind and very hard working guy from Turkey who never seems to sleep. No matter what time I pass by his shop, the young man is always busy as a bee and he helped me out so many times when I needed a certain fruit or vegetable for a photo shoot that wasn’t in season. Calling his buddies from all over, he makes the impossible possible. He managed to bring red currants to my kitchen when everyone else laughed at me when I asked for the little berries weeks before their season. He always finds someone in Spain, Greece, or Turkey to make me happy and my photo shoot work. My private cooking follows the season but unfortunately, editorial schedules don’t.
So last week he told me that he has very good cherries at the moment, he praised their glossy beauty, but also their outstanding taste. He went even further and said that they are better than German cherries, which, in all respect, is quite a strong statement. In my eyes, I had the best cherries of my life in my granny Lisa’s garden and I don’t think that anything in the world is ever going to change that. Those fruits were not only packed with juices and flavour, but also with the most precious memories. And this is something I love about summer fruits. Take strawberries, blackberries, red or black currants, or cherries, almost everybody, at least in the northern hemisphere, seems to have childhood memories connected not only to these fruits but also to picking and eating them. And this is priceless, and also in a very beautiful way saved for a lifetime. For my vegetable man from Turkey, the Turkish cherries will always be the sweetest and juiciest and I understand why this is how he feels, and for me, the crop from Lisa’s garden used to beat every cherry in the world, because it was her tree – and I miss it.
When I tried my friends fruits at the shop, I had to admit that they were really good. So I bought a huge bag full of them, went straight home, and baked a cherry lemon tart. It’s a tea time classic in my kitchen and the sweet and sour filling can easily take a little summer-makeover – the cherries make it a bit sweeter and juicier. Next time I’ll make it with red currants, but they’ll have to be in season where I live.
Cherry Lemon Tart
For the pastry
flour 200g / 1 1/2 cups
granulated sugar 65g / 1/3 cup
a pinch of salt
butter, cold, 110g / 1/2 cup
organic egg yolks 2
For the lemon filling
organic eggs 2
organic egg yolks 2
heavy cream 100ml / 1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons
crème fraîche or sour cream 3 tablespoons
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup, plus 1-2 teaspoons for the topping
a pinch of salt
ground cardamom 1/4 teaspoon
freshly squeezed lemon juice 3 tablespoons
lemon zest 2 1/2 tablespoons, plus 1-2 teaspoons for the topping
cherries, with their pits, 20 (plus a few cherries for decoration, optional)
For the pastry, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the butter and use a knife to cut it into the flour until there are just small pieces left. Quickly rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until combined. Add the egg yolks, set the mixer to medium speed, and mix until crumbly. Form the dough into a thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze for 12 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).
Roll the dough out between cling film and line a 23cm / 9″ tart pan (preferably loose-bottom) with the pastry. Prick with a fork and bake for about 10-12 minutes or until golden and crisp. Take the pan out of the oven and set aside.
Turn the oven down to 180°C / 350°F.
For the filling, in a large bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks, heavy cream, crème fraîche, sugar, salt, and cardamom for about 2 minutes until well combined. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and mix well. Pour the lemon filling on top of the pre-baked pastry, spread the cherries in the filling, and carefully transfer the tart pan back to the oven. Sprinkle with a little sugar and bake for about 40 minutes or until set.
Let the tart cool for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with a little lemon zest and decorate with the remaining cherries (optional). Serve warm or cold.
I got my first KitchenAid and I feel like a little girl on Christmas Eve. To call the current mood in my kitchen excitement would be a serious understatement.
After years of seeing – and admiring – these sparkly, polished beauties in the kitchens of my friends and family (my sister has two!), the time had come to get my own. At a certain age, one deserves these special treats. I’m a strong believer that it’s good to wait for things in life, it strengthens your character and makes you deeply appreciate what you have. But 20 years of waiting was more than enough, that’s how long it took me to finally see this powerful stand mixer on my marble counter tops.
In every period of my life, I had my favourite KitchenAid colour. In my young twenties, I loved the creamy white surface, followed by a fascination for the 50s and their soft pastels. Light blue, mint, or pink, I would have taken any of them. Then I got into puristic minimalism and only a black mixer would have made it into my kitchen. In my thirties, I fell for light yellow, but now, all of a sudden, I had to make a decision and decide which colour I would finally get and see for the rest of my life. It wasn’t easy and it took a few visits to various appliance shops. In the end, I had to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of cream, yellow, black, copper (which looks really hot), and brushed stainless steel. This process brought back lots of memories of the different eras of my life connected to each colour. After a couple weeks, my decision was made: brushed stainless steel is the winner! When the large package arrived I couldn’t wait to see my object of desire on my counter tops – I was almost hysterical, which is excusable in my eyes, it’s been 20 years after all. So here it is and it looks amazing. The mixer’s metallic surface fits perfectly to my white marble and brushed aluminium wall panels. I’m totally in love and can’t stop looking at it.
Testing its functionality was the next step, I had never used a KitchenAid before. My unbreakable hand mixer, a gift from my mother when I moved into my first flat two decades ago, has been a loyal partner during all my kitchen adventures. I was a little nervous and decided to start with two easy recipes – Sunday morning pancakes and Sunday evening pizza. This allowed me to get used to the three different attachments. My hand mixer only has two, but my new beauty offers a whisk, a paddle, and a hook – I needed a conference call with my sister to figure out when to use what.
Before I switched on the power, I had to call my boyfriend for this special moment. And this was our maiden voyage: I – rather the mixer – started beating the egg whites with such calm, persistence, and firm perfection that I thought I’d never touch my hand mixer ever again (sorry hand mixer). My next project – pizza dough – gave me the same satisfaction. The yeast dough was well mixed, smooth, and ready to be kneaded with my hands for a few minutes, which I always do to turn it into a soft and silky ball. I thought I’d use the time while the dough was getting mixed in the machine to prepare the toppings, however, I couldn’t help but sit next to it with a glass of rosé wine in my hand and watch it work with elated enthusiasm.
Our first KitchenAid pizza was such a great success that I made another one only three days later, but this time it was an oily pizza bianca topped with green asparagus, Italian salsiccia, and mozzarella di bufala. On our latest Saturday leisure trip, we went to the food market at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg in Berlin and enjoyed a luscious piece of very oily pizza bianca at Sironi. The baker, Mr. Sironi, went for a topping of broccoli, sausage, and mozzarella. It was very minimal and very good and a reminder that it’s time for a white pizza in my kitchen. I find it lighter and quicker to prepare and it tastes just as good when it’s cold, which makes it perfect for summer picnics or easy dinners on the balcony or in the garden. I’m really impressed by the simple combination of greens, mozzarella, and sausage. Asparagus is in season at the moment, but feel free to replace it with broccoli, leek, zucchini or whatever veg comes to your mind. You could also add a little garlic oil, which I don’t find necessary. But we’re talking about pizza, so everybody should just follow their personal preferences. Enjoy!
Thank you KitchenAid for helping me make my little kitchen dream come true!
Pizza Bianca with Green Asparagus, Salsiccia, and Mozzarella di Bufala
I start to prepare the dough 2 hours before I bake the pizza to give it enough time to rise and I bake it on a hot baking sheet, which has a similar effect to a pizza stone.
Makes 2 pizzas
For the dough
plain flour 350g / 2 2/3 cups
fast-acting yeast 1 (7g / 1/4 ounce) envelope
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon
water, lukewarm, 180ml / 3/4 cup
olive oil 6 tablespoons
For the topping
green asparagus, trimmed, 14 young stalks
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
large Italian salsiccia sausage (or any other coarse sausage), skin removed and cut into chunks, 1
mozzarella di bufala, torn into chunks, 125 g / 4 1/5 ounces
For the dough, combine the flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the lukewarm water and olive oil and knead on medium-high speed for a few minutes until well combined. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Transfer the dough to a table or countertop and continue kneading and punching it down with your hands for about 4 minutes until you have a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Place the dough back in the mixer bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place, or preferably in a 35°C / 100°F warm oven, for about 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, prepare the topping: Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a large, heavy pan and sauté the asparagus, turning occasionally, on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes. Season with flaky sea salt and crushed pepper to taste and set aside.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, take it out of the bowl, and divide into 2 parts. On a well-floured work surface or pizza peel, stretch or roll each piece of dough into a 28cm / 11″ disc. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for about 30 minutes or until puffy.
Place a baking sheet (or pizza stone) on the bottom of the oven and preheat the oven to the highest temperature, 260°C / 500°F or higher.
Once the baking sheet is hot, carefully take it out of the oven, flip it over, and place it on a trivet or other heat-safe surface. Arrange 1 of the risen dough discs on the baking sheet and spread half the asparagus, salsiccia, and mozzarella di bufala on top. Push the asparagus gently into the dough. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a little flaky sea salt, and crushed pepper and bake on the bottom of the oven for about 10 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and crisp and the mozzarella is golden. Repeat to make the second pizza and serve hot or cold.
The amount of recipes I’ve been creating by request in the past few months could almost fill another book. My mind had to come up with all sorts of sandwiches, roasts, seafood dishes, salads, and cakes, which to be honest, is one of the most satisfying things I do amongst all the fields that I’ve worked in since I started my blog. I love to write and take food photos, but there’s something very calming and, at the same time, very exciting about creating recipes. Re-thinking culinary traditions, playing with old and new combinations and various ingredients in my head until a whole dish finally comes to the table is my true passion. It’s one of the few things that never pressures me, it comes out so easily that I wouldn’t dare to call it work.
Working on so many new creations at the same time has one side effect: I have to remind myself to keep it simple – my personal kitchen mantra. I tend to go further and further, adding more and more ingredients, and forgetting that kitchen magic often lies in the little details. A small change can add a completely new quality to a dish, like to my chocolate cake – or the darkest Gâteau au Chocolat. It’s a good cake, with chocolaty depth and a moist texture. As in all of my baked treats, I prefer chocolate over cocoa powder, taste and texture is what I’m after when I want to satisfy my chocolate cravings. Back to my cake, there was no need to improve on this formula, it’s just right, but I’ve been wanting to bake a rhubarb cake for days so I just combined the two. I added so much rhubarb to my dark loaf cake that it ended up being the juiciest and fruitiest chocolate cake I ever baked – with a slightly sweet-sour note.
A short note: I let the loaf cool for just a few minutes before I cut it – I was too impatient – but I recommend letting it cool completely, otherwise it’s a little too fudgy. So be patient, let it cool, and enjoy! For my Gâteau au Chocolat, I used very dark chocolate (99%), however, for this rhubarb chocolate cake I would go for a lighter one, 55% was my chocolate of choice.
Rhubarb Chocolate Cake
trimmed rhubarb 450g / 1 pound
dark chocolate (about 55%) 150g / 5 ounces
butter 150g / 2/3 cup
organic eggs 4
a pinch of salt
plain flour 130g / 1 cup
ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon
ground cardamom 1/2 teaspoon
granulated sugar 180g / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
For the top of the cake, cut 5 thin long pieces of rhubarb, about 25cm / 10″ long. Cut the remaining rhubarb into 2cm / 3/4″ long pieces.
Set the oven to 180°C / 360°F (preferably convection setting) and butter a 11 x 25cm / 4 1/2 x 10″ loaf pan.
In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter over low heat, whisk well, and let cool for a few minutes.
Whisk the egg whites and salt until stiff.
Combine the flour, cinnamon, and cardamom.
Mix the egg yolks and sugar until light yellow and thick, then whisk in the chocolate-butter mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture and mix until well combined, then gently fold in the beaten egg whites. Fold in the shorter rhubarb pieces and scrape the batter into the buttered pan. Arrange the long rhubarb pieces on top of the cake and bake for about 75 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until the cake is golden brown and firm on top. If the top of the cake gets too dark, cover it loosely with aluminium foil. Check with a skewer, it should come out almost clean. Let the cake cool completely for a couple hours before you take it out of the pan.
Golden roasted potatoes eaten straight out of the pan are an unbeatable culinary delight. Spice it up with crushed coriander seeds, mild fresh chèvre, and aromatic lemon thyme and you’ll have an easy summer lunch (or dinner) that won’t disappoint you. It’s a rustic side for barbecued sausage, steak or ribs, you could even serve it as a cold or warm salad. But don’t forget to cook the potatoes a few hours, or preferably a day, in advance. To create crispy potatoes, they have to be cold and dry from the start.
I often enjoyed pan roasted potatoes with my mother when I visited her for a one-night sleep over while I still went to university. We would open a nice bottle of red wine, fry some onions and Tyrolean prosciutto, and mix in the crispiest potatoes. These were the perfect girls’ nights, just us, chatting and cooking, and enjoying the simple treats of life, which my mother mastered to perfection!
If you’re looking for more inspiration for roast potatoes, here are a few scrumptious recipes:
Crispy Pan-Roasted Coriander Potatoes with Chèvre and Lemon Thyme
Serves 2-3 people
waxy potatoes, peeled, boiled, and rinsed, about 700g / 1 1/2 pounds
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
quality coriander seeds (preferably organic), lightly crushed in a mortar, 2 tablespoons
fresh chèvre, crumbled, 100-150g / 3 1/2-5 ounces
fresh lemon thyme leaves (or regular thyme and a little lemon zest) 2-3 tablespoons
Let the potatoes cool and dry on a wire rack for at least 1 hour or a day and cut them into thick slices. In a large, heavy pan, heat a generous splash of olive oil and roast the potatoes on medium-high for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Cook them in batches and turn them one by one with a fork. Season with flaky sea salt and crushed pepper to taste and transfer to a plate. Cover them with a lid to keep them warm.
Heat a splash of olive oil in the pan used to roast the potatoes and cook the coriander seeds on medium heat for 1 minute (they shouldn’t get dark). Add the roasted potato slices to the pan, mix gently with the coriander, and sprinkle with crumbled chèvre and the lemon thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy warm.
No flour and no butter – the Hemsley sisters did it again! The two gorgeous girls from London impressed me with a recipe that leaves out all the ingredients that I usually pull out of my pantry and fridge when I turn on the oven to bake a sweet treat.
There’s a beautiful cake in the sister’s new book Good + Simple that surprised and challenged my traditional idea of sweets and baking. When they published their last book I was in a similar situation, I gave their raw avocado lime cheesecake a try and I was more than a bit sceptical in the beginning. However, there was no need for any doubts, the Hemsley’s taught me that you can make a cheesecake without cream cheese, using avocados instead. It has the same creamy texture, it tastes great, and it’s healthy! But this time, Jasmine and Melissa went a step further, they made a sponge cake with canned cannellini beans and a little coconut flour. To my big surprise, the result looks like a sponge cake, feels like a sponge cake, and tastes like a sponge cake. It was a little like a science project that works out when you least expect it. I could not imagine how canned beans could turn into a spongy cake, layered with chocolate avocado frosting. I got used to the avocados from their last book, but the beans seemed a bit far fetched. I was wrong. It’s kitchen magic, I don’t know how, but the mashed legumes become a light cake (with the help of a few other ingredients).
I always believe that it’s important to have an open mind in the kitchen, to exchange ideas with other great minds that love food just as much but maybe follow another diet, a different approach. Our culinary traditions can only evolve if we try out new recipes, ingredients, and combinations. I’m lucky, my own diet only follows my mood, I don’t suffer from any allergies or food intolerance. You’ll see a cakey nibble on my plate quite often during the week – and an even bigger piece on the weekend. My health doesn’t mind my little sweet treats, but even I changed to white spelt flour (type 630) for all my baking recipes (sweet and savoury) a few years ago. I just prefer its nutritional value. So we all have to find out which kind of food makes us feel good, the body and the mind. The beans were a great reminder for me that there are many ways to enjoy the sweet side of life.
On my last trip to London, I visited Jasmine at the new Hemsley+Hemsley café at Selfridges in London. She and her sister told me about their latest project so enthusiastically when we last met in Berlin that I couldn’t wait to see their new “baby”. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a little shopping break, to snack and feel good. If you happen to be in the capital and you’re after the kind of food that gives you energy during a busy day and tastes delicious at the same time, follow the Hemsley’s to their new kitchen.
Cannellini Sponge Cake with Chocolate Avocado Frosting
I only made half the recipe and used an 18cm / 7″ springform pan. I baked the sponge cake for 25 minutes.
For the sponge cake
coconut oil, melted, 125g / 1/2 cup, plus extra for greasing
cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, 3 cans (each 400g / 14 ounces)
medium eggs 9
vanilla extract 1 tablespoon (I used a pinch of fresh vanilla seeds, scraped out of the bean)
maple syrup 220ml / 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespooms
apple cider vinegar or lemon juice 5 teaspoons
coconut flour 90g / 3 1/4 ounces
baking soda 2 1/2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
fresh mixed berries 150g / 5 ounces, to decorate the cake
For the Chocolate Avocado Frosting
medium, ripe avocados 4
coconut oil, melted 5 tablespoons (about 75g / 2 1/2 ounces)
raw honey 8 tablespoons (to taste)
cocoa powder 10 tablespoons
vanilla extract 1 tablespoon
lemon juice 2 tablespoons
orange extract (not essence) 1/2 teaspoon (I used a little freshly grated orange zest)
a pinch of sea salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F (convection setting), then line the bases of two 25cm / 10″ springform pans with baking parchment and grease the sides with butter or coconut oil. (I baked one cake after the other in the same pan and kept the dough in the fridge while the first one was baking.)
Blend all the ingredients for the frosting together in a food processor until smooth, adding a dash of cold water if needed. Adjusting the flavouring to taste, then transfer to a bowl and set aside in the fridge.
For the cake, add the cannellini beans to the cleaned food processor bowl along with the eggs, vanilla extract, and maple syrup and blend until smooth. Add the remaining cake ingredients, except the berries, and blend to combine.
Divide the cake batter between the prepared cake tins, spreading out evenly and smoothing the surface. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until well risen and lightly golden on top. Check the cakes after 25 minutes and swap the tins between shelves, if necessary, as they will cook at different rates.
Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely in the springform pans before turning out.
While the cakes are cooling, gently wash the berries and dry them carefully using kitchen paper or leave to air dry; they must be thoroughly dry before adding to the cake.
Spread half the frosting on one of the cooled sponges, top with the other sponge and spread over the rest of the frosting. Store in the fridge and bring to room temperature to serve. Decorate with the fresh raspberries just before serving. (I sprinkled the berries with icing sugar and added a few mint leaves.)