eat in my kitchen

To cook, to bake, to eat and to treat.

Ricotta Polenta Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

Polenta-Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

No flour again! After my Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange, I got a little hooked on no-flour cakes. I don’t follow a gluten-free diet – luckily, my diet is far from this – it’s just for the fun of it. The texture is different when you work with ground nuts instead of wheat or spelt, it’s more juicy, and here, the polenta adds some crunchiness. I’ve already experimented with a few polenta-almond combinations and enjoyed this one a lot: poppy seeds, ricotta, and lemon. I use ground poppy seeds, they don’t look as pretty in the cake but they have a richer aroma than the whole seeds. The juice and zest from the citrus fruit makes it nice and fresh and helps me to forget that the variety of fruits that I can use for my baking projects is still quite limited. It’s mainly citrus, apple, and pear but I’m coping. Only a few more months left and all those berries will be back in my kitchen.

This weekend, I’m spending some quality time with my mother. It’s carnival and, according to our annual family tradition, we all meet in the countryside to make Berliner (jam filled German doughnuts). We dress up funny (some of us) and listen to silly music, it’s actually so silly that it’s better to drink some wine or Champagne while it’s on to stand its distinct humour. Two years ago, I wrote about this family feast and shared the recipe for our sweet treat. If you’re up for it – carnival isn’t over yet – here’s the recipe. And if you prefer the Greek version, here are my Loukoumades with Honey, Cinnamon, and Pistachios.

Polenta-Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

 

Polenta-Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

Ricotta Polenta Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

ground skin-on almonds 150g / 5 1/2 ounces
fine polenta 80g / 3 ounces
baking powder 2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
unsalted butter, at room temperature, 100g / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons
granulated sugar 200g / 1 cup
organic eggs 4
fresh ricotta 100g / 3 1/2 ounces
freshly grated lemon zest 3 tablespoons
freshly squeezed lemon juice 3 tablespoons
poppy seeds (preferably ground) 50g / 2 ounces

For the topping

icing sugar, sifted
freshly grated lemon zest 1 teaspoon

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (preferably convection setting). Butter a 20-cm / 8-inch springform pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the ground almonds, polenta, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between until creamy. Add the ricotta, lemon zest, and juice and beat for about 1 minute until combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the almond-polenta mixture and the poppy seeds until well combined. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden brown and firm on top. If you insert a skewer in the centre of the cake, it should come out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, then take it out of the pan. Dust with icing sugar and sprinkle with a little lemon zest.

Polenta-Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

 

Polenta-Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

 

Polenta-Almond Cake with Poppy Seeds and Lemon

 

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Beet Ricotta and Roast Shallot Sandwich with Spinach and Fried Thyme

Beet Ricotta and Roast Shallot Sandwich

Few things frustrate me as much as trying to make vegetable chips and failing completely. The kitchen is in mess, everything is coated in a layer of oil (including myself) and the result is so hopelessly bad that it has to go right into the bin. My parsnip chips from a couple months ago turned out so perfectly that I felt brave enough to think it would be that easy with any kind of roots or greens. But I was wrong. I had thin, crisp beetroot and spinach bites on my mind but a burnt disaster on my plate. It was so frustrating as I already had the perfect sandwich for this composition ready in my head: the chips were supposed to lay gracefully on a bad of sweet, juicy shallots roasted in the oven in their skins. I could already see the bright purple and green screaming in front of the pale onions. But reality was different. There was no bright anything but a black, bitter disaster.

I know I should have done it before, but afterwards I read and learned that beet chips can be cooked in the oven, which should be much easier. At that point my mood had reached such a low point that I decided to go for a different creation. I looked at the two beetroots that were lucky enough to escape the scorching hot oil in the pan and stuffed one of them in a blender along with some fresh ricotta, olive oil, thyme, and lemon juice. You could boil the root first but I actually enjoyed the crunchy raw bites in the dip. Fried thyme was next and a success – the tiny leaves thrown into sizzling olive oil and taken off the heat immediately, were just right – neither dark nor bitter. And all this piled up on a thick leaf of raw spinach. You could make a juicy ciabatta sandwich with it but I was too lazy to go to the bakery so I grabbed my dark spelt potato bread. It added heartiness to the earthy flavours. This is a proper winter sandwich, stuffed with taste and vitamins.

Beet Ricotta and Roast Shallot Sandwich

 

Beet Ricotta and Roast Shallot Sandwich

Beet Ricotta and Roast Shallot Sandwich with Spinach and Fried Thyme

Makes 2 large sandwiches

For the roast shallots

medium shallots, in their skins, 8
olive oil 1 tablespoon

For the beet-ricotta dip

peeled beetroot, raw or boiled, roughly chopped, 120g / 4 ounces
fresh ricotta 100g / 3 1/2 ounces
olive oil 3 tablespoons
freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 teaspoon
fresh thyme leaves 1 heaping teaspoon
fine sea salt
ground pepper

For the fried thyme

olive oil 3 tablespoons
fresh thyme 8 small, young sprigs

For the sandwich

dark bread 4 slices
large mature spinach leaves 4 (or a small handful of baby spinach)
black peppercorns crushed with a mortar

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

For the roast shallots, in a baking dish, toss the shallots with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn them over and roast for 15 minutes on the other side. If they feel soft when you push them down gently, they’re done; set aside.

For the beet-ricotta dip, combine the ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and thyme. If the dip is too dry, add more olive oil.

For the fried thyme, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over high heat, add the thyme sprigs. Take off the heat immediately and set aside.

Brush 2 slices of the bread with the thyme oil from the saucepan and cover with spinach leaves. Sprinkle with generous dollops of the beet-ricotta dip. Snip the ends off the roast shallots and squeeze them out of their skins onto the dip. Lay some fried thyme on top and sprinkle with crushed peppercorns. Close the sandwich and enjoy.

Beet Ricotta and Roast Shallot Sandwich

 

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Perfectly Fudgy Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

Over the past few days, I’ve been working on last year’s tax declaration, a rather frustrating task that is only bearable with lots of sweets on the side. Or a glass of wine, which I don’t recommend to avoid serious problems with your tax office due to illogical inconsistencies caused by a tipsy mind. This highly responsible – but absolutely boring work – needs lots of concentration and sugar to keep the brain cells awake. I think any kind of cookie would have worked in my case – I’m always happy when I have these sweet, chunky bites in my mouth – but I was after a powerful treat, packed with spice and bittersweetness.

And here’s what I came up with: Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies. I would call it a proper man’s cookie, at least our male friends who passed through our flat recently were absolutely hooked on them and praised the perfect balance of softness and crunch. They are very dark, with chocolaty depth, I used melted bittersweet chocolate plus roughly chopped chunks and only a little bit of flour, which had an amazing effect on the texture. These cookies are soft inside, a bit fudgy, and wrapped in a thin, shiny crust – perfect. I stirred in plenty of freshly grated ginger and finely chopped fresh red chili pepper. The result was hot, citrusy and fresh – don’t expect a slight hint of the spices, they are present.

You have to take these cookies out of the oven at the right point, when the dough is just done. I made 11 cookies, 10 were perfect, and only 1 of them (for whatever reason) was still too gooey inside for my taste. The chocolate flavour is intense, I wouldn’t use chocolate much darker than 55% for this recipe, the bitter note can become too overpowering and disturb the spices – even for men.

Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

 

Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

Makes 10-12 cookies

bittersweet chocolate (about 55%) 300g /10 1/2 ounces
unsalted butter 45g / 3 tablespoons
freshly grated ginger 1 heaping tablespoon
ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon
plain flour 65g / 1/2 cup
baking powder 1/2 teaspoon
organic eggs 2
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
medium hot fresh red chili, finely chopped, 2 teaspoons

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F. Line 1 baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roughly chop 1/3 of the chocolate  (100g / 3 1/2 ounces) and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining chocolate, the butter, ginger, and cinnamon over low heat, stirring occasionally. Let it cool for 2 minutes.

Combine the flour and baking powder and set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the eggs, sugar, and salt for 2 minutes until light and fluffy. Whisk in the melted chocolate until well combined. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the flour and chopped chocolate until just combined. Stir in the chili and scoop 1 heaping tablespoon for each cookie onto the lined baking sheet, leaving a bit of space between the cookies. Don’t flatten the cookies. Bake for about 11-12 minutes or until the cookies are a little crunchy outside and slightly soft in the middle. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and let the cookies cool for 10-15 minutes before you transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely, the chocolate will need a little while to become hard again.

Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

 

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Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

 

Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

 

Ginger Chili Double Chocolate Cookies

 

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Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

I once read that the 3rd Monday of January is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year – Blue Monday. I don’t know if it’s true, luckily it has already passed, and I didn’t notice my mood drooping drastically that day. However, I’ve felt a rising impatience for more light and warmer weather to come back into my life. So much so that I had to book flights to Malta last night. This always makes me feel so much better, no matter how far in the future the departure date lies, just the thought of it puts me in a good mood.

Another way to lift my spirits is food. Cosy food, colourful food, or simply delicious food. This dish combines all of it: nutty Beluga lentils, topped with thin slices of rutabaga, quickly cooked in the pan with lots of ginger, orange zest and juice, and fresh rosemary. The rustic root is as bright as the sunrise over Malta’s east coast and its earthy flavour can easily deal with some strong aromas. I was surprised how well it merged with the dark legumes.

Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

 

Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

Serves 3-4

For the lentils

Beluga 
lentils, or any lentils (no soaking required), 280 g / 10 ounces
small sprig fresh rosemary 1
bay leaf 1
olive oil
balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon
fine sea salt
ground pepper

For the rutabaga

peeled rutabaga, cut into wedges and very thinly sliced (use a mandoline or cheese slicer), 300g / 10 1/2 ounces
freshly grated ginger 1 tablespoon
freshly grated zest of 1 orange
freshly squeezed orange juice 100ml / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons
fine sea salt
ground pepper
finely chopped fresh rosemary needles 1-2 tablespoons
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar

Place the lentils in a saucepan with plenty of (unsalted) water, add the rosemary and bay leaf, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until al dente (or follow the package instructions). Remove excess liquid with a ladle if necessary and stir in a generous splash of olive oil and the vinegar. Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the rutabaga: In a large, heavy pan, heat a generous splash of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the rutabaga and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and al dente. Scrape the rutabaga to the side, add a little more olive oil to the pan along with the ginger, cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the orange zest (leave a little of the zest for the topping) and juice and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the rosemary or use as a topping once the plates are ready. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until the desired texture is reached.

Divide the lentils between plates and lay the rutabaga on top. Sprinkle with rosemary, orange zest, and crushed peppercorns and drizzle with a little olive oil (optional). Serve immediately.

Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

 

Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

 

Beluga Lentils with Ginger Orange Rutabaga and Rosemary

 

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Germknödel – Austrian Yeast Dumplings with Plums, Poppy Seeds & Vanilla Custard

Germknödel

Somewhere in the snowy mountains in northern Italy, is a tiny village that you can only reach through a dangerously narrow road. Winding up higher and higher, dark fir trees on one side and deep gorges on the other, it makes you pray with gratitude once you get to the village safely. I used to spend a lot of time there, skiing and walking through the woods, through knee-deep snow until I reached one of the cosy wooden huts that are luckily spread all over to offer the frozen wanderer a bit of warmth, rest, and food. The culinary treasures of this region – in South Tyrol – are outstanding and one of the best things you can give your body when the temperatures are freezing.

One of these treats actually originated in Austria but crossed the border and became a staple in the local cooking: wonderfully fluffy Germknödel. It’s a yeast dough dumpling, usually filled with plum butter (thick and sticky plum jam) and topped with melted butter, poppy seeds, and icing sugar. It’s one of those dishes that you can easily eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I used to enjoy it so often on the terrace of a very old hut, it had a breathtaking view over icy-white mountains, often framed in a sparkling blue sky. The chef used to serve it with thick vanilla custard instead of the melted butter and that’s what I do in my kitchen as well. I also replace the plum jam with whole plums for a bit more fruitiness. The only difficult task I had to solve, was to decide how I would steam the dumplings (I don’t have a steam cooker in my kitchen). You could also blanch them in water but the results aren’t as nice. A quick phone call with my mother and my problem was solved. I did it the way my granny Lisa used to cook dumplings: on a cotton tea towel tightened with clothespins over a wide pot filled with simmering water – old-fashioned, cheap, and my Knödel were perfect. I could have steamed them one after the other to give them a pretty round shape, but I was impatient. I cooked all at once, up against each other, and broke their fluffiness apart when they were done. Warm, tender, and fragrant, you don’t want to eat anything else ever again.

Germknödel

 

Germknödel

Germknödel

Makes 4 large dumplings

For the dumplings

plain flour 270g / 2 cups plus 1 heaping tablespoon
granulated sugar 25g / 2 tablespoons
ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon, plus more for the plums
fast-acting yeast, scant 2 teaspoons
fine sea salt 1/4 teaspoon
milk, at room temperature, 120ml / 1/2 cup
butter, melted and cooled, 40g / 3 tablespoons
organic egg 1
preserved plums, cut in half, 2

For the topping
ground poppy seeds 2-3 tablespoons

For the vanilla custard

whole milk 500 ml / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
organic egg yolks 4
granulated sugar 100 g / 1/2 cup
cornstarch  
30 g / 1/4 cup
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
vanilla pod, split lengthwise, 1

To steam the dumplings, you need a large, wide pot (mine is 24cm / 9 1/2″ wide), a cotton or linen tea towel plus 4 clothespins to fix the towel, and a metal (or heat-resistant) bowl, large enough to cover the pot as a domed lid.

For the dumplings, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, yeast, and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk together the milk, butter, and the egg – the mixture should be lukewarm. Add to the dry mixture and mix with the dough hooks of an electric mixer for a few minutes or until well combined. Continue kneading with your hands for a few minutes until you have a soft and silky dough ball. Place the dough back in the 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 70 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for about 30 seconds. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and use your hands to form each one into a 10cm / 4″ disc. Lay 1 plum half in the middle of each dough disc and sprinkle with a little cinnamon. Fold the dough up and use your fingers to squeeze the dough together to close the dumplings and seal the plums tightly inside. Roll into balls with your hands and transfer the dumplings to a lightly floured baking dish or baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes until puffy.

While the dumplings are rising, fill about 1/3 of the pot with water and bring to the boil. Take the pot off the heat and lay a cotton or linen tea towel over the pot (mind the hot steam). Fix the towel with clothespins at the handles so that the towel can hang in the pot without touching the water. Lay the dumplings – 4 at once or in batches, if you want to have round shaped single dumplings – onto the towel, they shouldn’t touch the water. Cover with a tight fitting metal bowl (upside down) and transfer the pot back to the heat. Turn the heat down to a low simmer (medium to medium-low) and steam the dumplings for 20 minutes without lifting the top (!).

While the dumplings are cooking, make the custard: In a small bowl, whisk 4 tablespoons of the milk with the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until well combined. In a medium saucepan, bring the remaining milk and the vanilla pod to the boil. Take the vanilla out and scrape the seeds from the pod into the milk. Whisking constantly, add the egg yolk mixture to the hot milk and bring to a boil. Take the saucepan off the heat; continue whisking for 2 minutes and set aside.

After 20 minutes take the pot off the heat and the top off the dumplings – mind the hot steam. Carefully transfer the towel with the dumplings to a table, wait for about 2 minutes then use a knife to peel the dumplings off the towel. If you cooked all of them at once, break them into 4 pieces. Serve immediately with the warm vanilla custard, sprinkled with poppy seeds.

Germknödel

 

Germknödel

 

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Germknödel

meet in your kitchen | Capri, Lobster & Pasta e Patata at Hotel de Rome in Berlin

Pasta e Patata

I always had a weak spot for grand hotels. It must have been my mother who planted this seed in the early days of my life. We used to travel a lot together, to Europe’s old cities, Mediterranean getaways and snowy villages in the mountains. And wherever we went, we fell for the splendid charm, beautiful architecture and culinary excitement of a luxurious hotel – we’re girls after all. Be it for a few nights, or just a cappuccino or glass of wine at the bar, these places tend to take us into another world as soon as we walk through the revolving door.

In Berlin, you can find one of these magical houses at a beautiful piazza framed by the imposing buildings of the Humboldt University and the Berlin State Opera, right on one of the city’s most prominent boulevards – Unter den Linden. Walking into Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Rome reveals a house full of elegance and history. The former Dresdner Bank Headquarter was built in 1889, thick stone walls, marbled columns, gold leaf mosaics, and Berlin’s prettiest ballroom covered by a huge skylight, are symbols of an era of grandeur. The bank managers’ former offices have been turned into chic suites, and in the basement, where the hotel’s spa is located in our days, you can still see the rooms secured by heavy iron doors where the bank once held its gold deposits. Its a piece of the city’s history, preserved and turned into a place to relax, enjoy and savour. My personal highlight is the spacious roof terrace overlooking the city, it’s one of Berlin’s best locations to enjoy a sundowner on a warm summer’s night. I can’t wait for them to come back.

Pasta e Patata

The Hotel de Rome combines two cultures – Germany and Italy – and especially in the kitchen, the Mediterranean side took over. The legendary Tuscan Michelin-stared chef Fulvio Pierangelini, Director of Food responsible for the honest approach to Italian cuisine in a few hotels of the Rocco Forte family, has a fantastic team here in Berlin. Jörg Behrend, Executive Chef, and his Sous-Chef Davide Mazzarella create such delicious treats at the La Banca Restaurant that I decided to meet them in their kitchen. On an icy-cold and snowy morning, I walked into the hotel’s bar in desperate need of a warming tea. After a chat with the Bar Supervisor, Jörg Wischner, I found out that the choice wouldn’t be easy. He offered me a selection of 40 delicate leaf compositions, which you can also enjoy at a traditional afternoon tea ceremony at the hotel’s cosy Opera Court, inspired by their London sister, the Brown’s Hotel. While I was sipping on a fragrant golden green tea, he explained the extensive cocktail menu, which made me wish I had come in the evening. But I was here to cook and learn about Capri’s cuisine.

Davide’s family used to have a renowned restaurant on Italy’s little island in the Gulf of Naples, when Capri was still the place to be for Europe’s high society and American movie stars. He says those days are over, but the traditional recipes he learned to cook from his family, the time spent with them in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and chopping vegetables, made the young man want to become a chef and take his home’s scrumptious food out into the world. Jörg Behrend is from western Germany but he feels strongly inspired by Italy’s culinary treasures. Through traveling and working with his Italian-German team for many years, he has almost become Italian himself. So it didn’t take long for us to decide what we’d like to cook together: Pasta e Patata all Astice. It’s a Capri classic that was completely new to me, thinly sliced potatoes and spaghetti cooked like a risotto and topped with a lobster. The everyday basic version is made without seafood, which isn’t necessary, but it turns it into an extravagant treat. Pasta e Patata is often served as one of many courses during a special family lunch.

Needless to say, the meal was perfect, it’s one of the secrets of Italian cooking, you don’t need many ingredients to create something outstanding. I find it even better than risotto. To make our Italian lunch complete, we enjoyed it with crisp white wine at a big table together with the Hotel de Rome family. This is how it feels at this hotel, it’s a family taking care of you. Thank you Jörg, Davide, Türkan, Sebastian, and Jörg (at the bar) for a bit of Capri in Berlin!

Pasta e Patata

 

Pasta e Patata

Pasta e Patata all Astice

Serves 4

olive oil
garlic, crushed, 1 clove
onions, peeled, 220g / 8 ounces
red chili pepper, seeded and thinly sliced, 1/4 – 1/2
waxy potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2cm / 1/4″ slices,  500g / 17 1/2 ounces
vegetable broth, about 1 1/2l / 6 1/4 cups, more as needed
dried spaghetti spezzati (broken into 6cm / 2 1/2″ pieces) 400g / 14 ounces
cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, 10
Parmesan, freshly grated, 180g / 6 1/2 ounces
fresh basil, a handful, torn into pieces
fine sea salt
ground pepper
lobster, cooked, removed from its shell, 2 (each about 500g / 17 1/2 ounces)
butter 1 tablespoon
a few thyme leaves

In a large, wide pot, heat a generous splash of olive oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic, onions, chili, and potatoes for a few minutes until the onions are golden and soft. Cook like a risotto, add a little vegetable broth to cover the potatoes, let the potatoes soak the liquid, and add a little more when it’s all soaked, stirring occasionally. Repeat until the texture is velvety thick and the potatoes are almost soft. Add the spaghetti and more broth and let the spaghetti cook, stirring, until al dente. Add more broth as necessary. In the last few minutes, let the dish thicken like a risotto. Stir in the tomatoes, Parmesan, basil (leave out a few leaves for the topping), and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and let sit for a few minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the lobster: In a medium, heavy pan, heat the butter and thyme over medium heat, add the cooked lobster, and cook until golden.

Divide the pasta e patata among plates, lay the lobster on top, and sprinkle with fresh basil leaves.

Buon Appetito!

Pasta e Patata

Jörg, you are Chef de Cuisine at Rocco Forte’s Hotel de Rome and the La Banca Restaurant where the kitchen is run by a German-Italian team: Sous-Chef Davide Mazzarella is from Capri and Fulvio Pierangelini, Director of Food and founder of the famous – but now closed – Gambero Rosso in Tuscany, was born in Rome. Did this experience make you a little Italian? How important are different cultural backgrounds in the kitchen?

Jörg Behrend: My Italian side grew considerably through working in our team. To understand the philosophy, the easiness, and the purism of the Italian cuisine, it’s important to have this constant exchange with my Italian colleagues. It helps to create delicious dishes.

Davide, you worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy, the L’Olivo in Capri and Davide Scabin’s Combal. Zero in Rivoli, before you decided to work abroad. What are the differences between working as a chef in restaurants in Italy and in Germany?

Davide Mazzarella: I don’t think that the differences between Italy and Germany are that big. It’s important to work professionally, in both places. There is a difference regarding the availability of ingredients and products, it’s much easier to get them in Italy. Always fresh and seasonal, it’s possible to buy whatever you need twice a day. In Germany you have to trust your suppliers and hope that they bring you what you need.

Jörg, you are from Limburg, a picturesque town in the west of Germany. Does your home region’s cuisine come through in your work sometimes?

Jörg Behrend: Unfortunately not, my home’s cooking is quite rich and rustic. There are also a few popular combinations that might be hard to understand if you’re not a local, like potato soup with plum cake.

Davide, you grew up in Capri where your family ran a renowned restaurant for decades. How did this restaurant influence your life? How did Capri change over the years?

Davide Mazzarella: I learned the kitchen basics in our family restaurant and I have to thank my grandmother and parents that I’m a chef today. They inspired me and they passed their passion for this job on to me. Capri is beautiful, and famous, but it had its glorious days between the 50’s and late 70’s. In the past 20 years, the island became too touristy and, with time, we lost many traditions.

How important is the food and the cuisine that we grow up with as children for our adult life?

Jörg Behrend: The cooking of our childhood is essential and a guidance for the rest of our life. Looking back, I’m very thankful for my mother, giving us fresh, homegrown vegetables, freshly squeezed juices from the fruit from our own trees. The meat and cold cuts we ate came from butchers and farmers, where the animals were treated well. My grandmother was the queen of preserving. Be it sauerkraut or raspberry jam, all year round, she was busy preserving fruits and vegetables. It came with age, that I understood how – unknowingly – conscious my mother used to cook. This is a guideline for me and my wife, which we’re trying to hand down to our own kids, and to show them the recipes from our childhood.

Davide Mazzarella: It’s everything. What we eat as a child and what we like is saved as a memory for the rest of our life. The smell is also important. The smell of tomato sauce still excites me as it did then, when I lived at home.

How did the German and the Italian cuisine change over the past 10-15 years?

Jörg Behrend: The old recipes were forgotten. Then Nouvelle Cuisine took over, followed by a renaissance of the Deutsche Küche (German Cuisine) with the most modern techniques. Today, we cook regional, seasonal, and sustainable. We use the most simple products to create culinary highlights. We also use the entire animal again, rather than single parts. Back to the roots.

Davide Mazzarella: After the Nouvelle Cuisine, and the Spanish cuisine – with Ferran Adrià and the Molecular Cuisine – the Italian cuisine found it’s way back to its roots. Many recipes from the 18th century have been re-discovered and newly interpreted, with new cooking techniques and methods.

How important is seasonal and local produce for your creations?

Jörg Behrend: The quality is important, if you can’t find the right quality in your region, you have to search for it outside the regional borders. We use seasonal produce for our creations.

Davide Mazzarella: It’s very important. To work with seasonal and local produce is a MUST in our days. I love it, when our suppliers bring the produce from small producers from the countryside to our kitchen, it makes cooking more fun.

How do you develop new recipes? Where do you find inspiration?

Jörg Behrend: There’s a growing influence through social media, and through travels to Italy, looking for original recipes.

Davide Mazzarella: Tradition, experience, personal technique, and knowledge. Inspiration comes naturally, and sometimes you have to take a peek at what others do.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in the kitchen? Who or what inspired you to start a career in food?

Jörg Behrend: Friends of my parents owned a hotel with a very good restaurant. I used to work there during my summer holidays and I was fascinated by the kitchen processes and the dishes they created. They offered me an apprenticeship and I gladly excepted.

Davide Mazzarella: My family, but especially my grandmother and my mama.

What was the first dish you cooked or baked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

Jörg Behrend: My earliest memory is the smell of fresh jus in the cooling room. I can never forget about it. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my first dish.

Davide Mazzarella: I think it must have been spaghetti aglio e olio. It was disgusting.

And I can never get the smell of O’ Rau (Neapolitan Sunday and holiday dish) out of my head.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Berlin? 

Jörg BehrendRestaurant Grünfisch in the Gräfekiez, the farmers’ market at Karl-August Platz in Charlottenburg, Frischeparadies on Morsestrasse, Cafe Set´s on Schlüterstrasse, Küstlichkeiten in the Markthalle Neun.

Davide MazzarellaVitaminchen at Oliver Platz, Frischeparadies on Morsestrasse, Masaniello Pizzeria on Hasenheide.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Jörg Behrend: Beef stew, together with my mother.

Davide Mazzarella: Neapolitan Salsiccia wrapped in fig leaves and cooked in ashes, together with my father.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

Jörg Behrend: Everything that I can find in the fridge, and everybody should bring something to the table.

Davide Mazzarella: There will definitely be something on the table, I just don’t know what yet.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

Jörg Behrend: Spinach, potatoes and egg in my childhood. Salt-baked fish with artichokes and a salad of bitter lettuce leaves whenever I can get it. Or pasta sugo in all its variations.

Davide Mazzarella: Riso e lenticchie (rice and lentils) in my childhood. Today: spaghetti aglio e olio my way.

At home, do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

Jörg Behrend: At home, I let my wife cook. When we have guests, everybody is involved.

Davide Mazzarella: I don’t like cooking at home. And if I did cook, it would have to be for a beautiful woman. 

Which meals do you prefer when you cook privately, improvised or planned?

 Jörg Behrend: Improvised.

Davide Mazzarella: Improvised.

Which meal would you never cook again?

Jörg Behrend: Snails. I had to cook them during my apprenticeship.

Davide Mazzarella: Once I got a sturgeon, alive. It’s an experience I don’t need ever again.

Thank you Jörg and Davide!

Pasta e Patata

 

Pasta e Patata

 

Pasta e Patata

 

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Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange

Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange

No butter and no flour: The traditional Galician Torta de Santiago is only made with almonds, sugar, and eggs plus a little lemon zest and sweet wine for flavouring. Originating in the Middle Ages, when people didn’t really think about gluten-free or butter-free baking, it’s a cake that happens to please even the ones who want to cut down on calories or avoid normal flour in their diet in the year of 2016.

I’m neither of them but I got hooked on the idea of baking a cake with only three main ingredients – about one third of this cake is nuts, the other third is sugar (it’s still a cake) and the rest is eggs, seven to be precise. No baking powder or baking soda. The original Galician tart is more flat than mine – I wanted a juicy cake – and it has a pattern of the Cross of Saint James in the icing, which is where the sweet gets its name from, it translates to Cruz de Santiago. I skipped the religious reference. I also replaced the lemon with blood orange (zest and juice) and left out the wine. Cinnamon crept in instead and gave it a warming, wintery touch. Although this cake may seem quite unspectacular, it tastes wonderful: It’s moist, nutty, and fragrant. The inside is almost fudgy, but before you get there, you have to break the crisp crust. It’s as delicate as the outside of a French macaroon and once you cut through it with a knife, the center of the tart will collapse a little, just a bit, there’s no need to worry. This combination of soft cake and crispiness – apart from its delicious taste of course – is my personal highlight of this Spanish cake classic.

Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange

 

Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange

Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange

ground almonds (or hazelnuts) 350g / 12 1/2 ounces
freshly grated blood orange zest 2 tablespoons
ground cinnamon 1 tablespoon
organic eggs 7
granulated sugar 350g / 1 3/4 cups
freshly squeezed blood orange juice 2 tablespoon
icing sugar, to dust the cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F. Butter a 20 cm / 8″ springform pan.

In a large bowl, combine the almonds, zest, and cinnamon.

Using an electric mixer, in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar for 1 minute until creamy.

Fold the almond mixture along with the orange juice gently into the egg-sugar mixture until just combined. Bake the cake for about 55 minutes or until golden brown and springy on top. Check with a skewer, it should come out almost clean. The centre of the cake will be a bit fudgy. Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before you take it out of the pan. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange

 

Spanish Almond Tart with Blood Orange

 

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spanishalmondorangetart7

Turkish Pide with Provençal Olive Tapenade

Pide Pizza with Provençal Olive Tapenade

Anatolia – my new favourite cookbook by Somer Sivrioglu and David Dale – inspired me to create a cultural fusion. Turkey and France meet in my vegetarian version of Somer’s Lahmacun – thin pide (Turkish pizza) spread with a thin layer of minced meat and chopped vegetables. The original recipe uses minced lamb and tastes fantastic, but when I enjoyed this crisp treat a couple weeks ago, I decided to try a meat-less variation of it.

Compared to Italian pizza, it’s a quick project. The dough is made without yeast and doesn’t need to rise, and the ingredients for the tapenade pulsed in a blender don’t need much time and attention either. The topping is dark and concentrated, lots of Kalamata olives, parsley, red onion, capers, anchovies, and mustard. It’s quite an addictive little snack, the two of us ate all four pide in one go at lunchtime!

Pide Pizza with Provençal Olive Tapenade

 

Pide Pizza with Provençal Olive Tapenade

Pide with Provençal Olive Tapenade

Serves 2-4

For the dough

plain flour 270g / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
salt 1 teaspoon
water, lukewarm, 125ml / 1 cup

For the tapenade

pitted black olives, preferably Kalamata, 200 g / 7 ounces
flat- leaf parsley leaves 20g / 1 large handful, plus more for the topping
medium red onion, chopped, 1/2
capers, preferably preserved in salt, rinsed and dried, 25 g / 2 tablespoons
anchovy fillets, rinsed and dried, 4
olive oil 8 tablespoons, plus more for the topping
freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 tablespoons
Dijon mustard 2 teaspoons
Ground pepper

Fresh red chili pepper, thinly sliced, 1/2

Preheat the oven to the highest setting (at least 260°C / 500°F) and put a baking sheet on the bottom of the oven.

For the dough, combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, add the water, and mix with the dough hooks of an electric mixer for a few minutes until well combined. Transfer the dough to a countertop and continue kneading and punching it down with your hands for 5 minutes until you have a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Divide the dough into 4 balls, place them back in the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and leave to rest while you prepare the tapenade.

Purée the ingredients for the tapenade in a blender or food processor until smooth.

On a floured table or countertop, roll out the dough with a rolling pin into four 23-cm / 9-inch rounds and cover with a tea towel. Transfer 1 round to a floured pizza peel (or medium cutting board) and spread evenly with 1/4 of the tapenade (you might need a bit less) and sprinkle with a little chili pepper. Transfer the pide to the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Take the pide out of the oven, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with a few parsley leaves. Repeat with the remaining pide. Enjoy warm or cold.

Pide Pizza with Provençal Olive Tapenade

 

Pide Pizza with Provençal Olive Tapenade

 

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Clementine and Saffron Cake

Clementine and Saffron Cake

In the past few days, my oven hardly stopped working – I baked, and baked, and baked. I wanted to give some recipes from my book a final test run, which meant we ended up with three cakes, a bowl of cookies, and a huge pot of soup on the table. We couldn’t cope, so a bunch of friends came over yesterday – my happy helpers when there’s more food in my kitchen than two people can possibly eat. We started with mulled wine in the late afternoon, had an extensive cake and cookie tasting session, enjoyed the soup to balance our sugar shock, and finished the night with even more mulled wine. The dishes were all received with great enthusiasm (and with different favourites, which is fantastic), and this morning I woke up without a headache. It’s a good weekend!

Before I jumped into my test baking, I put a new creation in my oven, a fragrant clementine and saffron loaf cake inspired by Marilena’s Milk Pan di Campobasso – a traditional cake from the Molise region, in Italy. Marilena’s cake is infused with saffron threads and Strega liqueur (an Italian saffron spirit), and covered with a crunchy hazelnut chocolate icing. It was the first time that I used this sumptuous spice for sweets and I learned that it’s absolutely delicious when used moderately. It’s been almost two years since I mixed saffron into a cake batter so I thought it’s time to take it out of the spice box again. I added the sweet juices of clementines, a little zest, and some buttermilk, and turned it into a juicy teatime cake.

Clementine and Saffron Cake

 

Clementine and Saffron Cake

Clementine and Saffron Cake

For a 24cm x 10,5cm / 9.5″ x 4″  loaf tin you need

buttermilk 90ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
saffron threads 1/3 teaspoon
plain flour 210g / 1  2/3 cups
cornstarch 70g / 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon
baking powder 3 teaspoons
salt 1/4 teaspoon
butter, soft, 180g / 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar 180g / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
organic eggs 3
freshly grated clementine zest 2 tablespoons
freshly squeezed clementine juice 3 tablespoons

For the clementine syrup

icing sugar 2 tablespoons
freshly squeezed clementine juice 3 tablespoons

For the topping

freshly grated clementine zest

Set the oven to 160°C / 320°F (preferably convection setting) and butter a 24 x 10 1/2-cm / 9 1/2 x 4-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl, add the buttermilk and saffron and stir to combine.

Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until fluffy, add the sugar and continue mixing until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between. When the mixture is light and creamy mix in the zest and juice. Fold in the flour-cornstarch mixture with a wooden spoon in batches, alternating with the saffron-buttermilk (about 1/3 of each at a time). Pour the dough into the buttered pan and bake for about 52 minutes or until golden on top (slightly longer if using a conventional oven). Check with a skewer, it should come out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes before you transfer it to a wire rack.

For the syrup, whisk the icing sugar and clementine juice until combined. Prick the warm cake. Slowly pour the clementine syrup over the cake, sprinkle with a little clementine zest, and enjoy!

Clementine and Saffron Cake

 

Clementine and Saffron Cake

 

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Celeriac Salad with Caramelized Honey Kumquats and Walnuts

Celeriac Salad with Caramelized Honey Kumquats

My little cookbook library got extended by a few amazing recipe collections. Santa (or rather my Maltese mama Jenny) was so kind to leave a few gems under our tree: Nigel Slater‘s new The Kitchen Diaries III, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (finally!), Vegetarian India by Madhur Jaffrey, and the fantastic Anatolia by Somer Sivrioglu and David Dale. The latter blew me away! This book is gorgeous, the pictures are mouthwatering and the dishes inspired me as soon as I laid my eyes on the first page. I’ll definitely write about it again in the next few weeks, I already tried one of the recipes for a Turkish pizza and it was divine. Madhur is a new find for me, I haven’t had much time to thumb through the pages of her book but what I’ve seen so far looks promising. Nigel’s book is a cooking bible with 250 (!) recipes – and I’m already struggling with the amount of work I have with the 100 recipes in my book! I love his approach to creating recipes, the way he writes about them and the beautiful photos taken by Jonathan Lovekin who’s also been responsible for Nigel’s former kitchen diaries, which I’m equally obsessed with. I’m sure I’ll spend quite some time with this book in the next few years.

One of Nigel’s creations, which is the 248th recipe in the book, struck me right away: a gorgeous celeriac and blood orange salad sprinkled with nigella seeds and capers. I haven’t tried it yet – but I will soon – however, it made me think about celeriac salad. I like the addition of citrus, especially my beloved blood orange, but so far they haven’t been in sight at the market. Kumquats came to mind, caramelized and softened in sizzling honey, I used these sweet, sour, and bitter bites for my luscious Orange Blossom, Ricotta, Kumquat, and Pistachio Tartine last April. It was quite a beauty. For my salad of grated celeriac, I also added a creamy yet light yoghurt-cardamom dressing, and sprinkled it with walnuts. Some honey drizzled on top to enhance the sweetness and my first winter salad of 2016 was born. Thank you Nigel!

If you’re not that fond of kumquats, you can replace them with orange fillets.

Celeriac Salad with Caramelized Honey Kumquats

Celeriac Salad with Cardamom-Yoghurt, Caramelized Honey Kumquats, and Walnuts

Serves 3-4

For the dressing

yoghurt 200g / 2/3 cup
olive oil 2 tablespoons
freshly squeezed orange juice 1 tablespoon
ground cardamom 1/4 teaspoon
freshly grated orange zest 1/2 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon for the topping
fine sea salt
ground pepper

For the salad

peeled celeriac, grated, 250g / 9 ounces
freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tablespoon
runny honey 1 tablespoon plus 1-2 tablespoons for the topping
freshly squeezed orange juice 4 tablespoons
kumquats, cut in half lengthwise, 12
(or 12 orange fillets)
walnuts, 1 large handful
a few black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar

For the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients until smooth and season to taste with salt, pepper, cardamom and orange juice.

In a large bowl, mix the grated celeriac and lemon juice, using your fingers. Sprinkle with the dressing.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the honey in a small, heavy pan on high heat, add the kumquats and the orange juice and cook for about 2-4 minutes or until soft and caramelized, turn them once or twice and mind that they don’t burn. Take the pan off the heat and arrange the kumquats on top of the salad.

Sprinkle the salad with walnuts, crushed pepper, and additional orange zest, and drizzle with honey. Enjoy immediately or let it sit for a few hours. It won’t look as pretty anymore but tastes just as good.

Celeriac Salad with Caramelized Honey Kumquats

 

Celeriac Salad with Caramelized Honey Kumquats

 

celeriackumquatcardamom6

 

Celeriac Salad with Caramelized Honey Kumquats

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