The first picture of today’s post caught the moment I held my Eat In My Kitchen cookbook in my trembling hands for the first time. I had to sit down, or rather, I fell into my beloved old chair in our living room. This chair has seen many emotions, sad and happy, it’s been with me all my life and it’s the place I want to be when the world around me becomes a little overwhelming. So a couple months ago, on a hot day in July just a day before we flew to Malta, this chair had to catch me once again. My knees were wobbly and I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, so I did both. I received a package from my publisher and I knew what it was before I even opened it: two books, mybooks.
Tomorrow is a very special day, my German book, Eat In My Kitchen– essen, backen, kochen und genießen, will be published and in a week the English book will follow: Eat In My Kitchen– to cook, to bake, to eat, and to treat, on October 4th. The book is already on Epicurious’ list of ‘The 25 Most Exciting New Cookbooks for Fall 2016’ and my heart is jumping for joy!!
So many people keep asking me how I feel about my big publishing day(s), whether I’m excited, proud, or nervous. To be honest, I can’t really say how I feel. Maybe confused and overwhelmed? As much as it felt normal to write this book at one point, to cook and bake the recipes, and to take the pictures, strangely enough it’s starting to feel normal to know that it’ll be out soon. It may sound weird and maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ll have a nervous breakdown at one point, maybe when I present the book in front of an audience (in the next few weeks, all over Europe and in the US), or when I see it at a book shop, or when I watch people pulling it off a shelf and buying it. I don’t know.
Luckily, I don’t have much time to think about all this, which is sometimes the best thing that can happen. Eat In my Kitchen feels as intuitive, natural, and close to myself as it can get. The physical book just as much as this blog. I’m in my comfort zone, constantly, which I consider to be the greatest gift. I don’t take anything for granted in life, I’m here and I want to learn, grow, and experience everything. I don’t know if I’ll fail or succeed with this book, but it’s also nothing I want to worry about. Every recipe, every story and picture that fill the 256 pages of this book is totally me, to question or doubt its relevance, would be fatal. That would mean questioning my passion and my beliefs, before this book even sees a shelf in a bookstore.
I can say that I’m unbelievably happy that this book exists. With a big smile on my face, I stand behind all I’ve created and written in the past year and a half to fill its pages, in both the German and the English book. I went through many lows and I took the highs with great pleasure, I suffered and I cried, I changed some decisions and stood strongly behind others. I’ve been through my battles, while working on these pages. But now I let go. A month ago I wrote about this transition, this process of letting go of a project. Tomorrow, this process will be complete.
Today sees a premier on the blog, I’m sharing the first recipe from my book with you and, also for the first time, I’ll share a recipe in English and in German. I get many requests to write my blog in two languages, and as much as I’d love to do that, I simple don’t have enough time. I appreciate the effort of so many of you who aren’t that familiar with the English language but still give it a try and follow my recipe instructions in a foreign language. Today, my German readers, you can relax and bake the most delicious, spongy chocolate olive oil Bundt cake, topped with a thick chocolate glaze and sweet and crunchy caramelized orange peel. I love this cake!
Next week, I’ll share another recipe from my book with you, on the 4th October, on the day when my English readers can hold the book in their hands for the first time. I’ll be in Malta at that point, celebrating the book at my launch at the gorgeous Villa Bologna before my journey takes me to London, New York, and Washington. I’ll try my best to keep up with writing about all this here on the blog – and I also intend to start sharing videos on Instagram, so please come over and join my journey in the next few weeks and months.
Today I want to thank my amazing team here in Germany, all the wonderful women and men who made this book possible. Thank you everyone at Prestel in Munich, especially Pia, Julie, and Adeline. Thank you so much Ellen Mey for being my editorial guidance.
So very soon the book will be available in bookstores, and in case you can’t find it on the shelves, you can order it at any bookstore in the world, or here:
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 small handful very thin strips of fresh orange peel
Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C (preferably convection setting). Butter a 7½-cup (1.75 l) Bundt pan and sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In a large heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate. Let cool for a few minutes then add the olive oil, eggs, milk, orange zest, and orange juice, and beat with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or until smooth. Add to the flour mixture and quickly mix with an electric mixer for 1 minute or until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden brown and firm on top. If you insert a skewer into the cake, it should come out clean. Let cool for a few minutes then shake the Bundt pan a little and turn the cake out onto a plate. Let cool completely. Trim the bottom of the cake to even it out.
For the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil and whisk until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, evening it out with a knife or leaving it in voluptuous drops.
For the candied orange peel, in a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil. When it starts to caramelize add the orange peel. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the peel is golden and soft—mind that it doesn’t burn. While the caramel is still liquid, quickly transfer the candied peel to a piece of parchment paper. Let cool for 1 minute then peel it off the paper and decorate the cake while the glaze is soft.
Schokoladen-Gugelhupf mit Olivenöl und Kandierter Orangenschale
aus Eat In My Kitchen – essen, backen, kochen und genießen, veröffentlicht bei Prestel
FÜR 8–12 PERSONEN
Semmelbrösel, für die Gugelhupfform
260 g Mehl
200 g Zucker
3 TL Backpulver
1 TL Speisenatron
1 Prise feines Meersalz
140 g Zartbitterschokolade
150 ml Olivenöl
50 ml Milch
1 EL Orangenabrieb
50 ml frisch gepresster Orangensaft
FÜR DIE SCHOKOLADENGLASUR
140 g Zartbitterschokolade
1 EL Butter
1–2 TL Sonnenblumenöl
FÜR DIE KANDIERTE ORANGENSCHALE
50 g Zucker
2 EL Wasser
1 kleine Handvoll sehr dünne Streifen Orangenschale
Den Ofen auf 180 °C (Umluft) vorheizen. Eine Gugelhupfform (1,8 l) einfetten und großzügig mit Semmelbröseln bestreuen.
In einer großen Schüssel Mehl, Zucker, Backpulver, Speisenatron und Salz vermischen.
Die Schokolade in einer großen Schüssel über einem Wasserbad schmelzen. Ein paar Minuten abkühlen lassen, dann Olivenöl, Eier, Milch, Orangenabrieb und Orangensaft dazugeben und mit einem Handrührer etwa 2 Minuten glatt rühren. Zu der Mehlmischung geben und mit dem Handrührer etwa 1 Minute gut verrühren. Den Teig in die vorbereitete Gugelhupfform gießen und etwa 35–40 Minuten goldbraun backen, die Oberfläche sollte fest sein. Ein Metallstäbchen sollte nach dem Einpieksen in den Kuchen sauber sein. Ein paar Minuten abkühlen lassen, dann die Gugelhupfform ein wenig rütteln und den Kuchen auf eine Platte stürzen. Komplett auskühlen lassen und, falls nötig, den Boden gerade schneiden.
Für die Schokoladenglasur Schokolade und Butter in einem Topf bei niedriger Hitze schmelzen. 1–2 TL Sonnenblumenöl dazugeben und glatt schlagen. Die Glasur über den ausgekühlten Kuchen gießen, mit einem Messer verteilen oder in üppigen Tropfen herunterlaufen lassen.
Für die kandierte Orangenschale Zucker und Wasser in einem kleinen Topf zum Kochen bringen. Wenn es anfängt zu karamellisieren, die Orangenschale dazugeben. Bei mittlerer Hitze etwa 3–4 Minuten köcheln lassen, bis die Schale golden und weich ist – aufpassen, dass sie nicht anbrennt. Während der Karamell noch flüssig ist, die Orangenschale schnell auf einem Stück Backpapier ausbreiten. Ein paar Minuten auskühlen lassen, von dem Papier abziehen und den Kuchen damit dekorieren, solange die Glasur noch weich ist.
My late summer of 2016 feels like a mental and emotional roller coaster. And when there’s too much work to be done it’s so easy to panic, to be overwhelmed or to just give up. But I believe that we don’t give up because there are wonderful people around all of us who catch us when we fall.
Many people catch me at the moment, some must already have sore arms and I can’t thank them enough for being there for me and going through this rather intense time together with me. They listen to a crazy woman whose first cookbook will come out soon, in just a few days, and whose ups and downs can be more than tiring. They listen to me, they cook for me, they calm me down, and make me laugh. Many of them have been in my life for years and years, some I’ve only met a few days, weeks, or months ago. This post is for all these amazing people around me, thank you!
When I needed a spontaneous translation of a press release from English to Maltese a few days ago, I could count on my dear friend Jessica who even worked on it during a camping trip on the weekend. And Nikola, who I never even met before, made it possible to proof read it within a couple hours after I got in touch. My boyfriend is my rock, there wouldn’t be this book without him, and Eat In My Kitchen wouldn’t be as inspired as it is – my man is the biggest joy one can possibly have in life. The other day I was looking for accommodation in New York and someone who I haven’t even met before helped me out without hesitation. And when I was chatting with Hetty McKinnon from Arthur’s Street Kitchen about a meet in your kitchen feature this week, I mentioned that I’m planning my book launch event in NY at the moment and that I was struggling. It’s a bit tricky when you’re on another continent, everything takes much longer. Within a split second, Hetty offered to cook my recipes for my book launch event in Manhattan. I could go on and on, the list of people who’ve helped and supported me is long and I know it will become longer and longer in the next few weeks.
We’re not alone, and that’s wonderful, there are times to help others and there are times to receive help from the people around us. We should never forget that we’re not alone.
I dedicate this recipe to everyone who has helped me, to my friends, my family, and everybody who I met and will meet on this journey and who makes it even better. It’s a recipe that combines different tastes and textures: nutty Beluga lentil burgers and creamy mozzarella di bufala sprinkled with fragrant dukkah spice and nut mixture and juicy pomegranate. It’s as vibrant, rich, and colourful as we all are. You can turn it into a sandwich, as I did, but that’s not even necessary.
A big hug to all you wonderful people around me! xx
Beluga Lentil Burger with Mozzarella, Pomegranate and Dukkah
Makes 2 sandwiches
For the dukkah
30 g (1 ounce) skin-on hazelnuts
30 g (1 ounce) salted pistachios
30 g (1 ounce) white sesame seeds
30 g (1 ounce) sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
For the lentil burgers
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs fresh lemon thyme
60 g (2 ounces) beluga lentils (no soaking required)
40 g (1 1/2 ounces) drained canned cannellini beans, rinsed and roughly mashed with a fork
1 spring onion (green part only), thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 large egg
40 g (1 1/2 ounces) Parmesan, finely grated
20 g (2 tablespoons) dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
olive oil, to cook the burgers
For the sandwiches
2 rustic white buns, cut in half
4 lettuce leaves
125 g (4 1/2 ounces) mozzarella di bufala, torn into small pieces
1-2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
You won’t need all of the dukkah for this recipe. Store leftover dukkah in an airtight container and use it in salads and soups.
For the dukkah, pulse the ingredients in a food processor until crumbly—the mixture should be dry—and transfer to a bowl or an airtight jar.
For the lentil burgers: Fill a large pot with water, the bay leaf, and thyme. Add the beluga lentils and bring to the boil. Cook, according to the package instructions, for about 18-20 minutes. The lentils should have some bite. Remove and discard the herbs, drain the lentils, and let cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the lentils with the beans, 3/4 of the spring onion, the garlic, egg, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Use your hands or a large spoon to mix until well combined. Wet your hands and form the mixture into 6 burgers.
In a large, heavy pan, heat a generous splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the burgers, flipping once, for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown. Transfer to the lined baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes in the oven.
Divide the lettuce leaves, lentil burgers, and mozzarella among the sandwiches and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, fresh lemon zest, the remaining spring onion, and some dukkah. Close the sandwiches and enjoy!
On Wednesday, I mentioned my unstoppable appetite for plums. I turned the sweet and sour fruit into a caramelized topping for a rich cheese omelette and made a heavenly ciabatta sandwich. Today I turned them into muffins, fluffy muffins, refined with lots of cinnamon and pretty plums on top. I need my sweet dose of homemade cake at least once a week and there’s no better day to indulge in this treat than on a Sunday. And if I don’t have much time, I go for muffins. A batch of 12 is just enough for the two of us for breakfast and tea time, and the last nibbles are reserved for dessert.
I like to use German plums for baking, also known as Damson plums, but feel free to use Italian plums or any variety you can find. Apples, pears, or blueberry work just as well, I’d even give some late summer peaches or figs a go.
plain flour 200g / 1 1/2 cups
granulated sugar 70g / 1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons for the topping
baking powder 2 1/2 teaspoons
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
a pinch of salt
ground cinnamon 1 1/2 teaspoons, plus 1/2 teaspoon for the topping
buttermilk 190ml / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
butter, melted and cooled, 90g / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
organic egg 1
large plums 8, cut into thin wedges
paper baking cups 12
Set the oven to 200°C / 400°F (preferably convection setting) and line the 12 molds of a muffin tray with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
For the topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon.
In a large bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, buttermilk, and egg, then pour into the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until you have a lumpy dough, with a bit of flour left here and there. Keep in mind, the more you mix it, the more it will lose its light texture. Divide the dough between the muffin cups and arrange the plum wedges on top. For the topping, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and bake for about 15 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until the muffins are golden and firm on top. Let them cool for 1-2 minutes before you take them out of the tray.
The changing of the seasons, the short gap before the next season takes over, is a great gift. It’s a time that tends to fill me with great excitement. Autumn’s waiting in the wings, yet summer isn’t ready to say goodbye. There’s no need to rush, I can indulge in Vorfreude – the German word for the happiness and excitement that we feel before a special event. The idea of coziness and comfort food, long walks in the forest and snuggly sofa time is already more than appealing. I replace my flowery dresses with a pair of jeans and a cardigan and spend just as much time outside as I did in the past few months. The sun is lower and wraps the world around me in a gorgeous golden glow, everything looks softer and warmer. My appetite shifts from lighter treats to the richer pleasures of the kitchen, and my mood is full of joy and curiosity for everything that the next couple months will bring into my life.
Cooking plums with spices is a celebration of late summer, but with a subtle nod towards the festive season. I had this aromatic duo in mind when Leerdammer asked me to create a new sandwich, a sandwich that fits my current mood. The fruit caramelized in sugar, cinnamon, and coriander seeds, sits on top of a rich cheese omelette. This whole juicy joy is layered in a soft ciabatta bread, sprinkled with a bit of fresh thyme. Just one bite and I’m ready to celebrate the season. I love to indulge in the produce that every month of the year offers, especially when there’s fresh bread on the table: Be it in my Cheese, Bacon, and Egg Sandwich with Garden Vegetables, a summery light creation in June, or the pleasures of zucchini cheese fritters and strawberries piled between two slices of bread. Maybe I should come up with a sandwich calendar one day.
I usually spend late September and October experimenting with roots and winter squash, with grapes, plums, and apples. I try out new meat dishes and enjoy my trusted classics. But this year, I’ll ‘lose’ a month in the kitchen. I’ll be traveling through Europe and the US pretty much all of October to launch my book and to finally present my recipes, printed on paper, physically and not just in the digital spheres of the world. As much as I know that I’ll miss my kitchen, I can’t say that this circumstance fills me with sadness. I’m nervous, excited, even a bit hysterical at times, but I can’t wait to finally open the pages of the Eat In My kitchen book and show it to all the people who I’m going to meet soon.
To make up for the kitchen break ahead of me, I spent the past few weeks cooking and baking with all the ingredients that I’ll miss out on. Plums are at the top of my list – for sweet and savoury dishes. If I had to choose one flavour to describe this time of the year, it would be plums. I love their sour fruitiness, especially cooked, in combination with aromatic spices. Add them to a bowl of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream and you can still taste summer, turn them into a fragrant chutney and stir them into the thick sauce of a venison stew in a couple months and you’re ready for winter. Dumplings, jam, cakes, or sandwiches, there’s no recipe that this fruit can’t deal with.
The preparation of a little sandwich masterpiece is usually not particularly time-consuming, but the result can easily be unforgettable. Leerdammer came up with a website where you can choose a sandwich that fits your own or a friend’s mood and send it as a greeting card to your loved ones. You might not share your sandwich, but you can at least share the good feeling that it creates.
This post has been sponsored by Leerdammer.
Spiced Plum and Cheese Omelette Ciabatta Sandwich
Makes 2 Sandwiches
For the caramelized plums
granulated sugar 2 tablespoons
unsalted butter 2 tablespoons
coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar, 1 teaspoon
ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon
large plums, cut into quarters, 4
For the omelette
organic eggs 3
heavy cream 60ml / 1/4 cup
freshly grated nutmeg
fine sea salt
butter 1 teaspoon
For the sandwich
lettuce leaves 2-4
small ciabatta bread, cut into 2 buns, each cut in half, 1 Leerdammer cheese, thinly sliced, about 60g / 2 ounces
a few fresh thyme leaves
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
For the caramelized plums, in a medium, heavy pan, heat the sugar, butter, and spices over medium high heat, stir, and add the plums as soon as the butter is golden and sizzling. Cook the plums for about 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden and soft. Turn them gently one by one, and mind that they keep their shape. Take the pan off the heat.
For the omelette, whisk the eggs and heavy cream and season with nutmeg, salt, and ground pepper. In a small, heavy or non-stick pan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, scramble very lightly and fold onto itself. When the bottom side starts to become golden flip the omelette around. Cook it shortly from the other side for about a minute or until the omelette is just set. Take the pan off the heat and cut the omelette into large chunks.
Arrange the lettuce on top of the two bottoms of the buns. Divide the warm omelette between the buns, spread the cheese on top, then finish it off with the warm caramelized plums. Pour the buttery juices from the pan used for the plums over the fruit and sprinkle with thyme and a little crushed black pepper. Close the bun, squeeze a little – gently! – and enjoy!
Our long wooden dining table has seen many luscious lunches and dinners. It has its scars and scratches and I’m sure that a few of them came from an unexpected meal with friends a few months ago. It must have been spring, I was still busy proof reading my book and I was rather stressed. What was supposed to be a one hour snack with a friend from Malta turned into a little Friday feast, with three friends, salads, cheese, and salami, and with a few more bottles of white wine than one should open (and empty) on a Friday afternoon – but who cares, we had a wonderful time. We laughed so much that I managed to relax and forget my duties for a few hours – and it was the start of this meet in your kitchen feature.
One of the friends who sat at my table that day was my dear Heilala. Whenever we meet, we get lost in long conversations. Between nibbles of cheese and sips of wine, she told me about a friend from her school days who just published her first cookbook and had also gone through all the excitement that comes with the adventure of being a book author. Her friend lives in the heart of Tuscany, in Florence, once the breeding ground of breathtaking Renaissance art and architecture. If you’ve seen it once, you’ll never forget its magical beauty. So Heilala told me that her friend lives right there, in this Italian paradise with her Italian husband and their little daughter, she writes a food blog and as I found out later, she’s already at work on her second cookbook – she’s called Emiko Davies.
I knew Emiko, not personally, but I’ve been a huge fan of her work for quite a while. Her recipes, her writing, and her photography have depth, every single aspect of her work shows that she’s knows what she’s talking about. Every picture she shares speaks of the beauty that surrounds her. If you live in a place that’s so full of history, culture, and evolving traditions, where the fine arts have flourished for centuries, you can only grow. The former art and history student dug deep into Florence’s culinary traditions. Like a scientist, she observed, read, and learned about the original cooking and baking of this part of Tuscany, a region that’s so versatile and rich. Florentine, The True Cuisine of Florenceis a declaration of love, of someone who has experienced the city from the outside and has now become a part of it.
The curiosity and persistency of this food loving woman fascinated me – even more so after I found out that we share a beloved friend. We only got in touch last week, but I immediately knew that I wanted to meet Emiko in her kitchen. For know it’s just a virtual meeting, but I’m planning to visit her next year, in real life – to be continued.
All pictures in this post are taken by Emiko Davies.
Schiacciata all’uva | Grape focaccia
from ‘Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence’ by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books
For one or two fleeting months of the year from September to October, the appearance of schiacciata all’uva in Florence’s bakery shop windows is a sign that summer is over and the days will begin to get noticeably shorter. This sticky, sweet focaccia-like bread, full of bright, bursting grapes, is a hint that winemakers are working hard at that moment harvesting their grapes and pressing them.
These days, it is usually made with fragrant, berry-like concord grapes (uva fragola) or the more traditional sangiovese or canaiolo wine grapes. These grapes stain the bread purple and lend it its juicy texture and sweet but slightly tart flavour. They are also what give the bread a bit of crunch, as traditionally the seeds are left in and eaten along with the bread. Avoid using red or white seedless table grapes or white grapes for this – they just don’t do it justice in terms of flavour or appearance. If you can’t get concord grapes or it’s the wrong season, try replacing them with blueberries. It’s completely unorthodox, of course, but it’s a very good substitute, giving you a much closer result than using regular table grapes.
Makes 1 large schiacciata, serves 6–8
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/21/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast
400 ml (131/2 fl oz) lukewarm water
75 ml (21/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) concord grapes (or other black grape)
80 g (23/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon aniseed (optional)
icing (confectioners’) sugar (optional)
Preparing the dough
This can be done the night before you need to bake it, or a couple of hours ahead of time.
Sift the flour into a large bowl and create a well in the centre.
Dissolve the yeast in some (about 1/2 cup or 125 ml) of the lukewarm water.
Add the yeast mixture to the centre of the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the water little by little, working the dough well after each addition to allow the flour to absorb all the water.
Add 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil to the dough and combine.
This is quite a wet, sticky dough. Rather than knead, you may need to work it with a wooden spoon or with well-oiled hands for a few minutes until it is smooth. Cover the bowl of dough well with some plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from draughts until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If doing this the night before, leave the dough in the bowl to rise in the fridge overnight.
Assembling the schiacciata
Separate the grapes from the stem, then rinse and pat dry. There’s no need to deseed them if making this the traditional way.
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).
Grease a 20 cm (8 in) x 30 cm (12 in) baking tin or a round pizza tray with olive oil. With well-oiled (or wet) hands, divide the dough into two halves, one slightly larger than the other. Place the larger half onto the greased pan and with your fingers, spread out the dough evenly to cover the pan or so that it is no more than 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick.
Place about two-thirds of the grapes onto the first dough layer and sprinkle over half of the sugar, followed by about 30 ml (1 fl oz) of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of aniseed.
Stretch out the rest of the dough to roughly the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer of dough, stretching to cover the surface. Roll up the edges of the bottom layer of dough from underneath to the top, to seal the edges of the schiacciata. Gently push down on the surface of the dough to create little dimples all over. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes and evenly sprinkle over the remaining aniseed, sugar and olive oil.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are oozing and cooked.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and enjoy eaten with your hands. If you like, dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar just before serving – although this isn’t exactly traditional, it is rather nice.
This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day.
You’ve lived in many countries and experienced a variety of cultures in your life, your mother is Japanese, your father is Australian, your husband is Italian and you grew up in Beijing. How has your diverse cultural identity influenced your life and cooking?
Moving around a lot and identifying with different cultures, I grew up not feeling like I was particularly attached to just one place. I think this made it very easy (perhaps even necessary – at least that’s how I felt about it when I was 20!) for me to pick up a suitcase, buy a plane ticket and move to a new country to learn a new language and discover the new culture. I am also pretty sure this travel and experience partly contributed to me being an adventurous eater – always willing to try anything once. From the beginning, I understood that food is a way to connect with and understand a new culture – if, for Florentines, their number one beloved comfort dish is a warm panino made with the fourth stomach of the cow (it’s known as a panino al lampredotto), then you can be sure it’s one of the first things I tried – and fell in love with too!
What do you love the most about Florence? Do you find anything difficult to connect with?
There are many sides to Florence and the longer I live here, the more I discover another aspect! When I first moved here, it was so easy to fall head of heels for Florence – especially for someone who studied art and art history as I did! Everywhere you look, the place is touched with the Renaissance and the most important artists in history, it’s like one giant museum. That’s what drew me in. And it’s what drew a lot of expats to Florence, so there is a large expat community with many similar-minded people, who are all here for similar reasons (love, food or art, usually!). I made friends easily here and felt really at home, ironically (as I always feel more at home amongst expats). But having said that, I find it’s really difficult to make friends, really good friends, with Florentines. That’s been a struggle. I ended up meeting and marrying one, but I have to say, he’s quite different from the typical Florentine man!
Was it easy to become a part of the Florentine way of life?
I think yes and no. Living it the historical centre of Florence, visiting the local butcher or fruit vendor or bakery for your shopping, the same bar for coffee every morning, you begin to get to know your neighbourhood and they begin to know you, it becomes your little world. I’ve met some wonderful people this way, and this feeling of a neighbourhood or quarter is something I love about Florence – something that I hope everyone who still lives in the centre continues to cling on to, as tourism tends to take over in a city like Florence. On another aspect, since having a child, I can see the cultural differences coming out more than ever! My parenting ideals are much more anglo-saxon and more often than not they seem to clash with the ‘norm’ here!
Your husband is head sommelier at the Four Season’s Michelin-starred Il Palagio, do you find it inspiring that both of you work in the fields of the culinary pleasures of life?
Always. We work in two quite different worlds – I write about and cook homely, traditional food, while he has, for the past five years or more, worked solely in fine dining and wine. But at home we always cook together and we have a similar appreciation for good food and good ingredients, cooked properly. He inspires me and helps me in ways he probably doesn’t know.
You say that “Italian cuisine doesn’t exist, there are many cuisines”. Why do you think regional cuisine is so diverse in Italy?
There are many theories, but the simplest answer is history. Italy is actually a very young nation – it was unified in 1861, that’s little more than 150 years ago! But the traditions, dialects, dishes and ways of life of each region are ancient. In many cases, even the differences you’ll find from town to town are huge. This is what makes Italy such a fascinating place – it’s not really one country to discover but so many different places, which means it’s almost a new cuisine in every town you visit.
On your blog, you mention an author called Pellegrino Artusi and his cookbook, known in English as Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, published in Italy in 1891. Can you tell us a bit about this book and why it fascinates you?
Italy had only been unified for 30 years when this book – documenting 790 “Italian” recipes – was published. It became the sort of cookbook every household acquired and had sitting on the shelf. Artusi himself was from Emilia-Romagna but he spent much of his life in Florence, so many of the dishes are Tuscan, or familiar to Tuscans. But it wasn’t meant to be a regional cookbook, it was more like an encyclopaedia of recipes for the “modern” housewife. I love it because it’s not only a snapshot into what Italian food was when the country was newly unified, but also because many of the recipes are still made the same way, so it’s a fantastic reference for traditional recipes. It’s a good read, too, Artusi is witty and at times hilarious in his anecdotes that accompany recipes.
Why do you think that there are many Florentine dishes that didn’t change much since medieval times?
Traditions change very slowly in Florence! They have this saying here, la squadra che vince non si cambia, or the don’t change a winning team. It’s a bit like the phrase, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Partly there’s that at play, it’s the proud nature of Florentines to continue to prepare and eat their all-time favourite dishes more or less the way they’ve been prepared for centuries. There’s also the philosophy to cook the local ingredients that have always been available for Florentines, and to use the long-time staples of the cuisine – bread and olive oil being two of the most important! These have been around for a long time and are still what humble, earthy Florentine cuisine is based on.
Can you imagine living in Tuscany for the rest of your life?
For the same reason that I’ve always found it easy to pick up and move, I can’t really imagine being in one place forever! But I’ve lived in Florence longer than any other single place on the planet, so that’s already quite an achievement! Italy is not an easy place to live in, despite the romanticism and beauty. I think that we are lucky to have the option to be able to live in two wonderful countries – Australia and Italy – whenever we want. For now, it’s Italy’s time.
Florentine, your first cookbook, came out in March this year. At the moment you’re working on your next book, Acquacotta, which will be about the cuisine of the southern Maremma area of Tuscany. It will be published exactly a year after the first one. Why did you decide to start working on the new book immediately and what feels different now, after the experience of the first book?
It came about quite quickly because we were living in Porto Ercole, in southern Tuscany for six months last year, well before Florentine came out, and it was just such a beautiful place I knew it had to be shared in the form of a cookbook! So I contacted my publisher and we talked about the pitch for a couple of months and came up with Acquacotta. She was aware that starting to work on it while I was living there would be the best way to bring it to life, so essentially I started working on Acquacotta while I was still finishing Florentine. It’s been difficult to juggle between the two and ‘switch’ from one to the other when Florentine finally came out, but the experience of the first book has helped me feel much more confident about the second one – from the recipe testing to the writing to the photographs, even how the recipes were made and shot. It really helped that I have the exact same wonderful team from Florentine working on this book too, it felt really good and seemed to just make itself, almost!
Your photography is stunning, do you prefer taking the pictures of your dishes yourself?
Thank you! I still feel like I have a long way to go – my background is in analog film photography, and I still feel like I struggle with digital photography, especially the editing part. I’m self-taught for the most part. For my blog, I take all my own photographs, but for the cookbook I took the location photographs, leaving the recipe shots to a wonderful photographer Lauren Bamford. In Australia, a cookbook is really a team effort, with one professional looking after each and every aspect of the book. For the recipe shots, I wanted to make sure the dishes looked completely authentic and real – just like how you’d find them in Florence. So I cooked them myself (with some help from my husband Marco and a home economist) and while I was busy in the kitchen, Deb Kaloper, an absolute magician in food styling, styled the dishes and Lauren Bamford took the photographs. It was a dream to work with them.
How do you develop new recipes for your book and your blog? What inspires you?
What inspires me most is travel and seeing how a place – its landscape, its history – is so strongly connected to the food that is made there and vice versa. It’s why I am so interested in regional Italian food. In Florentine I wanted to share how the food in this city belongs entirely to Florence – not just Tuscany. It’s not Tuscan food. It’s Florentine food. And for Acquacotta, which is still about Tuscany, I wanted to show people how different Tuscan food is when you come to a place like the Maremma – more isolated, less touristy, hidden, and full of beautiful, rugged landscapes, mountains and the sea, which inspire the food. For the blog, I talk about not only dishes that I’ve found in old cookbooks or tasted in a new place, but also create some travel pieces for people who might be coming to Italy on holiday and want to avoid touristy food and know where to taste the real deal.
Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?
In every day cooking, it’s probably my husband. Everyone who likes to cook for other people knows that the best thing about cooking is making something that you know someone else will love! In developing recipes for the blog and my books, it’s usually some old cookbooks that inspire me to try new dishes – aside from Artusi, I also love Ada Boni’s 1921 cookbook, Il Talismano della Felicita’ (known as The Talisman in English) and Elizabeth David’s Italian Food. I’ve discovered some other older cookbooks recently that I have at my bedside table too, like Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed and Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book.
What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?
I can remember a few mud pies when I was very little, but from memory the first real food I made was scrambled eggs. My grandmother in Sydney taught me how to make them, using real butter and showing me how to take them off the heat when they’re still soft and wobbly, just before they look ready so you don’t risk overcooking them. I still make it the exact same way.
What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Florence?
My favourite food market is Sant’Ambrogio. It’s a local market on the eastern edge of town. It’s not huge but it’s got everything you’d ever need and more. Plus there’s always a nice neighbourhood vibe there, and we have a little ritual of stopping off at the news stand, then going to a pastry shop for coffee and a mid-morning treat. It’s the little things. Many of my favourite restaurants are in the same square as the market – Caffe Cibreo is a really pretty spot for coffee or lunch, and the buffet lunch at Teatro del Sale is one of my favourite food experiences in Florence. Pasticceria Nencioni a little down the street is a wonderful, tiny pastry shop and right next to the market, Semel, a little hole in the wall panino shop, makes a fantastic quick lunch – a crunchy roll with maybe some anchovies, fennel and orange (my favourite one) and a small glass of wine.
If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?
It’d probably be my mum, I’d ask her to make me my favourite Japanese dishes – cold somen noodle salad and chargrilled baby eggplants if it’s summer, miso soup with clams, her sushi and sashimi platters. Whenever I’m home I always request sukiyaki or shabu-shabu (a hot pot dish where each diner cooks their own food in the bubbling pot in the middle of the table) at least once.
You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?
Food that is unfussy to make (i.e. easy for the cook) and easy to share (i.e. fun and informal for the guests) – a creamy chickpea soup or a steaming pan of freshly tossed vongole and spaghetti, a roast of some sort (a whole roast fish or chicken are my favourites), stuffed with lots of herbs on a bed of roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes so you have the main and side dish in one. Dessert, either an after-dinner stroll to the gelateria or some whipped, coffee-laced ricotta with homemade lady finger biscuits to dip.
What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?
I loved everything as a child, but in particular I loved Japanese food and Japanese sweets – anything with sweet red bean paste is my weakness! They’re still my favourite, most comforting foods, but it’s very hard to get good Japanese food in Italy so I wait until I’m visiting my mother to indulge in it.
Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?
I like the social aspect of cooking together, when you’ve got something special planned and there’s a lot to do, it’s nice to have someone to chat to while you’re chopping, or kneading or stirring all day. But when I get the chance to have some time to myself (rare these days, with a three and a half year old around!), I like to be alone in the kitchen, cooking is very therapeutic and relaxing, almost meditative, for me. That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the cooler weather, so I have a good excuse for long, slow cooking and baking, my favourite ways to cook.
Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?
I do like both, but I think I might be rather good with improvising a meal! One of my best food moments was pulling together a totally improvised meal for my very new boyfriend (so new I probably couldn’t even call him that!) from a practically empty fridge. I made him pasta with broccoli and garlic. He took one bite and said “I’m going to marry you.” And he did.
Which meal would you never cook again?
I don’t know if there’s something I’d never do, but probably things I’d change the next time I tried it. For me, right now, being a mother and writing cookbooks, I have to be a bit picky with what I cook when I have the time to do it, so I tend to lean towards low maintenance, unfussy, simple dishes. Things that are fiddly and require every minute of my attention are things I avoid lately – caramel, for example, is something I may not try for a while!
The lack of time can be as fruitful as frugality. My mind tends to work quicker – and come up with surprisingly good ideas – when I don’t have time and ingredients in abundance. It makes me creative. My boyfriend often asks me what we should cook for dinner in the early afternoon. In the past, I would have just gone to the grocery store if I hadn’t made up my mind yet, I would have looked at the fresh produce and gone back to my kitchen to start cooking. But that’s not possible at the moment, I’m lucky if I manage to do my beloved grocery shopping once or twice a week. Time is a gift that I never treasured as highly as I do right now.
But I don’t want to complain, it’s a different kind of cooking, but nonetheless inspiring and still very satisfying. Like these little golden bites of Belgian endive (chicory), sautéed for just a couple minutes until golden and then wrapped in a thin layer of prosciutto di Parma. It was delicious! In my pre-cookbook life I would have made a side out of it and not given it my full attention, or at least bought a fresh loaf of ciabatta to dip into the juices in the pan. But no, a few slices of my leftover spelt bread where just as good and the simplicity of this meal caressed my taste buds.
Sautéed Belgian Endive wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma
medium Belgian endive, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise, 2
fine sea salt
prosciutto di Parma 4 thin slices
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
In a small, heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil over high heat and sauté the endives for 1-1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and still al dente. Season lightly with salt and take the pan off the heat.
On a large plate, spread the prosciutto di Parma and wrap each half of Belgian endive tightly in one slice of prosciutto. Put the pan back on the heat and cook the wrapped endives for 1 minute on each side or until the prosciutto is golden but still soft. Divide between plates and sprinkle with crushed pepper.
Some days call for lavish teatime treats, especially when it’s Sunday and I’m in the mood to spoil myself with some tasty calories. The 7th day of the week should be dedicated to rest and calm, but in my life it’s also dedicated to baking. I take advantage of the fact that there are no duties and tasks waiting to be taken care of, so I can give my full attention to a quiet kitchen instead. I’m willing to share my baked treats with my loved ones, it’s my kitchen credo after all, which led to my blog and my book’s subtitle: To cook, to bake, to eat, and to treat. Cake always tastes better when you share it, but the process of baking it gives me some time just for myself.
So this week I got hooked on the idea of combining a swiss roll with New York cheesecake – without the cookie base obviously. I was after a spongy roll, fluffy but structured, and I know that my beloved swiss roll recipe manages to satisfy this demand with ease. It’s been with me for two decades, I trust this roll. My usual filling would be whipped cream, as in my Blueberry Lemon Swiss Roll recipe. But it seemed too light for my current mood, I wanted creamy richness, a denser filling, with cream cheese and mascarpone – and a few plump blackberries – for my cheesecake swiss roll. My body’s ready for the next season and it doesn’t care that I’ll be in Malta again in a few weeks, sitting on the beach in a bikini under the burning sun. I’m set for autumn and my Maltese boyfriend deeply disapproves of my decision – I think every Mediterranean man or woman suffers when summer comes to an end. But for a northern girl, the next season promises coziness and hearty treats, lonely walks in golden forests, and a chilled breeze whistling through the streets.
Cheesecake Swiss Roll with Mascarpone and Blackberries
Makes a 15cm / 6″ long swiss roll
For the swiss roll
organic eggs, separated, 2
a pinch of salt
granulated sugar 40g/ 1/4 cup, plus 3 tablespoons the sprinkling
plain flour 35g / 1/4 cup
cornstarch 15g / 2 tablespoons
Set the oven to 220°C / 425°F (conventional setting) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt for a few seconds before adding half the sugar, continue beating until stiff.
In a second large bowl, mix the egg yolks and the remaining sugar with an electric mixer until thick and creamy. Using a wooden spoon, fold the egg white into the egg yolks. Sieve and combine the flour and cornstarch and fold gently into the egg mixture. Spread the dough on the lined baking sheet, covering a rectangle of roughly 15 x 30cm / 6 x 12″ and bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 6 minutes or until golden and spongy.
Sprinkle a kitchen towel with 2 tablespoons of sugar and flip the warm sponge onto the towel. Peel off the parchment paper and carefully roll the sponge with the towel, the roll should be 15cm / 6″ long. Leave it rolled up until cool.
For the filling, in a medium bowl, whip the mascarpone, cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest and juice until creamy.
When the sponge is cool, unwind the sponge roll and spread the filling on top, leave a small rim (see picture below). Cover with the blackberries and roll it up tightly. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and a little lemon zest. Serve immediately or keep in the fridge before serving.
Eat In My Kitchen will be out worldwide in 34 days (in English, on October 4th) and my German book will see the book stores even earlier, in less than a month, on September 26th. It’s becoming real. It’s the transition from a project that existed as an idea in the heads of a handful of people to a finished, physical book, which will lean against other books in book shelves and hopefully come to use in many kitchens. Soon, this transition will be complete and then it won’t just be my ‘baby’ anymore. Then it will be out in the world, it will live its own life, create lots of stories around food, and I won’t be a part of it anymore. Soon, it won’t be in my hands anymore.
You could say that it’s not really a huge difference to the blog, which is true to a certain extent. For almost 3 years I’ve been sharing my recipes (more than 600) here, in the digital world. Whoever felt inspired cooked or baked them, many sent me pictures or emails, and enjoyed it. This interaction still made me feel like I’m a part of it, a part of my Eat In My Kitchen blog that changes constantly, it grows and evolves. But the book is different, it’s done, it’s printed, it reached the warehouses already, there’s nothing I could change, even if I wanted to. Now, I have to learn to let go.
Although there’s no work left to be done on the physical book, there’s tons of organization left. My book launch events in London, Berlin, Malta, New York, and Washington seem to need my attention 24/7, there are interviews and photo shoots on my schedule, and so many things that come along with a book, things that I never thought about. It felt like a lot of work writing this book, but to send it out into the world seems even more crazy.
I have a habit, whenever my life resembles a rollercoaster, I try to be a little more disciplined and create a rhythm that I stick to. I have my rituals, I take Saturdays off, I go jogging more regularly, I set up more tea time breaks than usual, and I don’t skip dinner. It’s often quite simple, due to a lack of time and inspiration, but that doesn’t matter. I chop my vegetables, nibble on my cheese, and sip at my wine glass (not every night though). I try to create normality within the chaos, a routine, and that helps me.
My current life leads to recipes that neither require much work or time, nor many ingredients. Unfortunately, the time that’s left for my beloved grocery shopping decreased considerably in the past few months. But there’s no need to complain, those dishes created out of spontaneity taste just as good. On one of those late nights, I opened the door of my fridge, I spotted a head of cauliflower, a jar of my homemade preserved lemons, and capers from Malta. I cut the cabbage into pieces, tossed it in olive oil and my tasty preserves, and ended up with the most delicious comfort food. It was a happy night.
If you’re curious about my Eat In My Kitchen book, you can pre-order it here:
Roasted Cauliflower with Capers and Preserved Lemon
cored cauliflower, cut into medium pieces, 600g / 1 1/3 pounds
olive oil 60ml / 1/4 cup
preserved lemon, thinly sliced, 1/2
capers, preferably preserved in salt, rinsed, 3 tablespoons
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.
Spread the cauliflower in a medium baking dish. Add the olive oil, preserved lemon, and capers and toss to combine. Season with a little flaky sea salt (mind that the capers are salty) and crushed pepper. Roast for about 18 minutes or until the cauliflower turns golden. Flip the cauliflower and roast for about 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, turn on the grill (broiler) for the last few minutes, if you prefer it a bit more crispy. Serve warm or cold.
Piles of plums, peaches, and apricots fill my kitchen’s countertops. Plates with tiny yellow mirabelles and slightly larger greengage plums make it look and smell like a farmers’ market, the fruit flies are having a feast. Every season has its culinary highlights, but late summer is the most lavish time of the year. Figs and berries are at the their peak, packed with sweet juices. The whole variety of stone fruits is ready to be picked from the trees, and early apples tease me with their sour quality, which is so perfect for baked treats. Sponge cakes, muffins, tarts, and pies are just waiting to be paired with one of these summer fruits – who needs whipped cream or butter cream frosting? Now is the time to stir some fruit into the dough and enjoy one of the best sweet combinations ever: cake and fruit.
Sunday is my favourite day to bake cake. I start the oven right after breakfast, which tends to end rather late. Not so much because we sleep in, it’s more because I enjoy the luxury of not having to rush after a busy week. I take my time, lots of time.
Looking at the long tradition of baking in my life, I think there have been two recipes that I have come to use far more often than others, not only on Sundays. The first one is my fluffy German waffle recipe, it’s a family weekend ritual, and the other one is a fruit cake, any kind of fruit cake. It may sound quite simple but there are a million possible variations of this treat: you could add white chocolate, cornstarch for a lighter texture, or put some crumble on top. Olive oil creates a warm flavour and adds a juicy texture, great for a cake but also for my fig and ricotta muffins.
So here we are, today I went for a classic French yogurt cake, which is usually enjoyed plain. However, my enthusiasm for fruit led to a juicy filling of greengage plums. They were supposed to become a topping, but gravity, in combination with a light sponge dough, had different plans and the fruit sunk. The dairy product is mixed with mild olive oil, no butter (!), and adds a slightly sour hint. The yellow-green plums make it sweet and fruity, it’s just right for my late summer Sunday.
French Yogurt Cake with Greengage Plums
Makes a 20cm / 8″ cake.
plain flour 230g / 1 3/4 cups
baking powder 2 1/2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
plain yogurt 155g / 2/3 cup
mild olive oil 155ml / 2/3 cup
organic eggs 3, lightly beaten
granulated sugar 200g / 1 cup, plus 2 teaspoons for the topping
zest of 1 medium lemon
greengage (or normal plums), cut on 1 side and pitted, 500g / 18 ounces
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (preferably convection setting). Butter a 20cm / 8″ springform pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Add the yogurt, olive oil, eggs, sugar, and lemon zest and mix with an electric mixer on low speed for about 1 minute, just until there’s no trace of flour left and the dough is combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and arrange the greengage on top of the batter (vertically, see picture above). Sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar and bake for about 60 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden brown on top. If you insert a skewer in the center of the cake, it should come out almost clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes before serving.
Besides all the excitement that our Mediterranean summer offered last month, we also got the chance to spend a more than relaxing, but nonetheless very inspiring evening at one of our friends’ house. Alex and Benjamin live a life that’s just as busy as ours, which makes it a bit difficult to meet. They love to travel, they celebrate their weekly gatherings and dinner parties with their loved ones, and they also split their life between Malta and London. And this I’ll never understand and I’m sure you’d agree if you could see their gorgeous palazzo in the silent heart of Żebbuġ – if I lived there, I’d never leave the house! However, we managed to find a free evening, or rather a few free hours, and visited them for drinks and nibbles.
When you meet Alex, a man who seems to either work or spend his time in his beautiful kitchen (click here for pictures), you’re treated to the most scrumptious culinary pleasures. Even his ‘nibbles’ are heavenly. He’s a true connoisseur, a man who loves the fine arts, exquisite food and wine, and who’s always up for a good conversation. Alex is a critical mind and and you’ll never feel bored in his presence. Benjamin is the most beautiful person who’s helped me deal with the struggles of my current crazy life more than once. Whenever my mind and body can’t keep up with the challenges anymore that come with writing a book and organizing book launch events, I call Benjamin. He’s the best reflexologist I know and whatever problem my body comes up with, Benjamin will fix me! And if you happen to be in Malta and you have some time off, spoil yourself and book an appointment with him (I wish I could do that right now!).
But back to the nibbles: I’ve always been a huge fan of Alex’s dips. Be it hummus or smoky grilled eggplant, they are all addictive. And there’s one of his creations that struck me with its subtle salty note. I couldn’t make out what it was at first, but I loved it since I enjoyed the first bite last summer, spread lusciously on a thick slice of crusty Maltese bread. Alex purées boiled yellow split peas, mixes in chopped onion, olive oil, lots of lemon juice, and – here’s the secret – capers. The salty fruits add a special flavour, it doesn’t really taste like caper, it could also be canned tuna. I totally fell for it and couldn’t stop eating the thick spread. Now I made it at home, it was my first try, but in my version I use canned cannellini beans. They are sweet and smooth, velvety, and fit just as well to this Mediterranean composition. A few thick slices of golden sautéed zucchini, some ciabatta, and lunch – or dinner – is served.
Bean and Caper Dip with Golden Sautéed Zucchini
For the bean caper dip
rinsed and drained canned cannellini beans 360g / 13 ounces (you could also use boiled yellow split peas as in Alex’s original recipe)
capers, preserved in salt, rinsed, 20g / 1 ounce
small shallot, roughly chopped, 1/2 -1
olive oil 60-75ml / 1/4-1/3 cup
freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 tablespoons
small zucchini, cut into thick slices, 2
fine sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
fresh ciabatta 1 small loaf
For the dip, purée the beans, capers, 1/2 of the shallot, 60ml / 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and lemon juice in a blender. Add more of the shallot to taste and purée until smooth. If the texture is too thick, add more olive oil, and, if necessary, season with additional lemon juice and salt to taste.
In a heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil over high heat, turn the heat down to medium-high, and sauté the zucchinis for 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden with brown sprinkles. The zucchini should only start to soften outside and still have some bite on the inside. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the zucchini between plates and add a dollop of the bean caper dip. Drizzle the dip with a splash of olive oil and sprinkle with a little pepper. Serve with fresh ciabatta, enjoy warm or cold.