Pistachios have been on my mind since I tried the most divine breakfast spread during my stay at the stunning Villa Athena in Agrigento in Sicily. Velvety smooth and creamy, slightly sweet and nutty, I’m not surprised that this traditional Sicilian Crema di Pistacchi is so popular in Italy. The texture is similar to the more common chocolate hazelnut spread, but it tastes a million times better, and it’s bright green. I love it and I can’t wait to start working on my own recipe.
However, there are much quicker ways to satisfy my current pistachio longings, for example, with fluffy pistachio orange blossom muffins topped with caramelized pistachios. I replaced a quarter of the flour with finely ground pistachios and stirred in a few roughly chopped nuts to add some crunch. Oranges team up very well with the green nuts, so I used a generous splash of orange blossom water and freshly grated zest to refine my little green muffins with a citrusy note. While you caramelize the nuts for the topping, you could also make a little more dark caramel to drizzle over the muffins’ golden tops. Bittersweet and sticky, it fits really well, but that’s up to you.
Yesterday was a great day, as we felt the united power of women. When I saw the pictures of the women’s marches all over the world, hundred thousands of women raising their voice and showing their strength, I felt, all of a sudden, the cold fading that gathered in my heart in the past few months. #womensmarch
Pistachio Orange Blossom Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
shelled salted pistachios 120g / 1 cup
plain flour 320g / 2 1/2 cups
granulated sugar 150g / 3/4 cup
baking powder 3 teaspoons
baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
butter, melted and cooled, 120g / 1/2 cup
freshly grated orange zest 1 teaspoon
vanilla pod, split and scraped, 1/4
milk 210ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
organic eggs 2
quality orange blossom water, preferably organic, 3 tablespoons
paper muffin pan liners 12
For the caramelized pistachios
shelled salted pistachios, a handful
granulated sugar 2 tablespoons
water 2 tablespoons
honey 1 teaspoon
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (preferably convection setting). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
In batches, rub the pistachios between your hands until most of the salt is scrubbed off. (Alternatively, use unsalted pistachios, in that case add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the dough instead of 1/8 teaspoon.)
For the muffins, in a food processor or blender, grind 2/3 (80g / 3 ounces) of the pistachios until very fine. Chop the remaining pistachios roughly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground pistachios, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the orange zest and vanilla seeds to the butter, whisk, and let it sit for a few minutes to infuse the butter.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, milk, eggs, and orange blossom water. Add to the flour-mixture and stir with a wooden spoon just until a lumpy batter forms. Gently fold in the remaining chopped pistachios. Mind that if you mix the batter too much, the muffins will lose their light texture.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and bake for about 14 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden.
For the caramelized pistachios, rub the pistachios as mentioned above to remove most of the salt and chop roughly. In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the sugar, water, and honey to the boil and, without stirring, let it cook until golden and caramelized. Add the pistachios, stir quickly and top each muffin with a teaspoon of the caramelized nuts. Work quickly, as the caramel becomes hard. If it’s too sticky, transfer the pan back onto a low heat to melt the caramel.
We went to Sicily and it was heavenly – as always in Sicily. But what makes this place so special? Is it the magical light, the outstanding food, the heart warming people? Was it the endless Scala dei Turchi beach, or the breathtaking temples of Juno and Concordia that happened to be right in front of our hotel room? Why did it feel like being close to the Gods when we stayed at the stunning Hotel Villa Athena in the lush, green valley of Agrigento?
Our hotel was luxurious and in a more than fortunate position. The old villa once owned by a noble principessa in the 18th century, is situated in the fascinating Archeological Park and Unesco World Heritage Vale dei Templi. Thanks to the efforts of archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta, the Duke of Serradifalco, we can admire the stunning remains of Akragas, one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily. Founded in 581 BC, this ancient city was spread over 1300 hectares laying graciously on top of two soft hills. Today many traces of its history and rich culture are still present, most spectacularly in the form of a group of temples dating back to the 5th century BC. Best preserved are the Temple of Concordia, the Doric style building is in a surprisingly good state thanks to its transformation into a Christian Basilica in the 6th century AC, and Juno. And this temple literally took my breath away. The Temple of Juno is magical, the atmosphere, the light, the setting, it’s mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off its sturdy columns, glowing golden in the afternoon sun. The light seemed unreal, dimmed and dramatic. You can see it in the first picture, it looks like a painting, but it’s a photograph.
I came to Agrigento to cook together with Hotel Villa Athena‘s renowned chef Salvatore Gambuzzo. Thanks to his verve and dedication, the hotel’s restaurant, La Terrazza Degli Dei, is mentioned in the Michelin guide and the first star doesn’t seem too far away. Salvatore is deeply connected with Sicily and the region of Agrigento, he was born just a few hills away from his restaurant, in Porto Empedocle. He loves his island, he adores its original produce and culinary traditions. Salvatore is a true Sicilian at heart. Inspired by his nonno Giuseppe, a fisherman, and his mamma Giuseppina, he always felt passionate about his home island’s food. Becoming a chef was a wise choice made at the young age of 14. Working in Piemonte and Monte Carlo, and then later, becoming the executive chef of the prestigious Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea in Taormina, made him gather fruitful experiences. But it also made him realize how close he feels to the soil where he was born, so he moved back and joined the team at Villa Athena.
Salvatore loves experimenting with new recipes, using the freshest fish from the sea right in front of his door step and the meat from the butchers who he’s known for years. In the warmer months of the year he can pick the fruits and vegetables right from the villa’s garden, he has absolute control over the produce and products that he uses in his kitchen. Local or regional, mainly organic, and in accordance with the island’s inspiring culinary traditions. He feels the duty to protect his culture and pass it on to future generations. As the president of the Associazione Cuochi Agrigento he’s an ambassador for his country’s regional treasures. We need people like Salvatore to keep our traditions and food culture alive, all over the world.
The chef also has another, quite impressive passion: Savatore falls for food art and creates spectacular sculptures made of potatoes (and other food) preserved with salt and turned into rock-hard everlasting pieces of art. It’s unbelievable, he manages to make potatoes look like marble! With pride in his voice, he told me that he brought home eight gold medals from world wide competitions. The preparation takes weeks, but when you hear him talk about it – especially in Italian – it sounds like he’s talking about a woman.
It was relatively warm and the Sicilian sun was still strong during our stay just a few days before Christmas. The branches of the citrus trees in the beautiful gardens were lusciously filled with plump lemons, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit. And as Salvatore showed me his own ‘little‘ garden, I couldn’t help but feel envious. Bushes of mint, rosemary, green and violet sage, marjoram, oregano, various kinds of thyme (including thymo alpino), borage, sorrel, basil – it’s an orchestra of flavours, always at hand to refine (almost) every creation that leaves his kitchen.
We enjoyed three dinners and two lunches prepared by Salvatore and his team, all of which were rich in aromas and creative in style, never forced or pretentious, and most importantly always heavenly delicious. The chef shows great respect for nature’s creations in his recipes, he works with nature’s gifts, but never tries to distract from their original taste and quality. The first dish on my plate was Sicilian Caponata, one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to dig my fork into. It was fruity, sweet, and juicy, so thick and chunky that it stood on the plate like a dome. Caponata is a Mediterranean classic, zucchini, eggplant, and pepper, tomatoes and vinegar, it’s a simple dish, but this one was so good that I asked Salvatore to share the recipe with me so that I could share it with you. The addition of celery is great and the topping of sugary-sweet dehydrated date tomatoes makes it irresistible. My humble chef was so kind to also share the trick that turns the tomatoes into little addictive bites (see the recipes below).
To give you a little idea of our unashamed feasting, these are some of the dishes we had on our plates:
Insalata di Mare (so simple, divine, I had to eat it twice!), Herb Risotto with Prawns, Spaghetti in Salsa di Cozze e Vongole, Sicilian Cannoli (of course), Mackerel with Citrus and Clams, Taglierini Pasta with Lobster, Belgian Endive and Sheep Ricotta, Spinach Dumplings with Rosemary Squid Ragout, Sicilian Stuffed Red Mullet, Bean Soup with Gragnano Pasta, Lamp Chops in Honey with Sweet and Sour Pumpkin, Sweet Variations of Prickly Pear, Swordfish alla Messinese, Panelle (golden fried Sicilian chickpea fritters)…
And the wine! I must say I’m quite lucky – most of the time – when it comes to picking local treasures from the wine menu, even without guidance. But this time I knew we were in good hands, sommelier and maître d’ Salvatore Di Carlo took great care of us and introduced us to one of his favourites, the fantastic Planeta Chardonnay from the territory of Menfi close to Agrigento. We fell in love with this golden, lush wine, so much so that we had to order it again on our last night. And once in a while Salvatore Di Carlo would stop by at our table, just to smell the aroma, and he’d smile. Our red favourite was the dark Baglio del Cristo di Campobello Lusirà Syrah, also a precious local find.
I’m a huge fan of good bread, I call it my favourite food for a reason, so despite all the culinary highlights that caressed my taste buds, I’ll never forget the bread served at the villa at lunch and dinner time. Still warm and cut into thick slices, generously sprinkled with the villa’s own olive oil, accompanied by a glass of Prosecco and a good chat with our Salvatores – it couldn’t get any better. The bread is made of the indigenous Russello durum wheat semolina. This Sicilian grain is dark, golden, and almost red in colour, like the soil around Agrigento. The baked loaf has a beautiful crust, a light crumb, and its nutritious value is much higher than that of wheat. For a sweeter version, we spread it – thicker than necessary – with the hotel’s scrumptious pistachio paste, one bite and you’ll never ask for chocolate spread at the breakfast table again. I want to work on a recipe to share with you, one of my 2017 kitchen projects.
We met so many lovely Salvatores at Villa Athena, which is not a surprise, as we learnt it’s one of Sicily’s favourite names. If you go there, it’s most likely that this will be the first name you either hear or see engraved in the rocks on a beach (it happened to us). All our beloved Salvatores, be it the chef, the sommelier, or the kind and caring waiters, they were all the reason that we left the villa in sadness – we didn’t want our paths to separate. We laughed so much together, they all did everything possible to make us feel fantastic. We can’t thank you enough for giving us an insight into your culture and cuisine, for making this wonderful stay at your hotel unforgettable, and for spoiling us so much. Thank you Salavatore (s), Roberto, and Claudia!
Hotel Villa Athena is a member of the group of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it’s the right place to treat yourself under the Mediterranean sun for a couple nights. I find that the colder time of the year is best to enjoy the hotel’s extravagant comfort and amenities, it’s all quiet and peaceful in the low season. Even the Vale dei Templi was all for us, we were almost the only visitors, however, the hotel offers an exclusive entrance to the Archeological Park, which means you can skip the long line of tourists even in the summer months.
Salvatore Gambuzza’s Sicilian Caponata
vegetable oil, for cooking the eggplants
celery 800g / 1 3/4 pounds
onion, cut in half and sliced, 1.1 kg / 2 1/2 pounds
green olives, pitted and chopped, 300g / 2/3 pounds
capers, rinsed and drained, 200g / 7 ounces
fresh tomato sauce 1.2kg / 2 2/3 pounds
tomato paste 200g / 7 ounces
salt and pepper
vinegar 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
granulated sugar 180g/ 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
Rinse the eggplants and remove the stems and the ends. Peel the eggplants (optional), cut off the skin as thinly as possible. Cut the eggplants into large cubes and cook them in a generous amount of hot vegetable oil until golden and soft. Transfer to kitchen paper to remove excess oil and set aside.
Trim the celery and remove all the leaves and discard them. Cut the celery into small pieces and blanch in salted water until tender.
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy pan and cook the onions until golden and soft. Add the celery, olives, and capers, cook for a few minutes, then add the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat. When it’s all soft and thick, add the eggplant to the sauce and simmer until soft and mushy.
In a medium saucepan, add the sugar and vinegar and let the sugar dissolve over medium heat, then pour the vinegar over the caponata. Let it simmer until the mixture is thick.
This dish is best eaten cold, topped with candied cherry tomatoes:
We spent our Christmas in the Mediterranean, a premier for me, we normally stay in the cold North. I decorate our tree and the rest of the apartment according to my annual passion for wintery kitsch, and I eat duck, German potato dumplings, and usually (always) too many cookies. 2016 was different, we decided to go to Sicily first and spend a few relaxing days in the heart of the Archaeological Park of Agrigento (I’ll share my impressions with you next week). Malta was next on our itinerary, and with it came along lots of sunshine, rough seas, long walks in the countryside, and my wonderful, crazy Maltese family. It was loud and silly, we ate and drank too much wine in front of my Maltese Mama’s gorgeous crib in Msida, and I was happy.
I learned that a proper crib is an important part of the Maltese celebration, and I’m talking about cribs of rather large dimensions, well equipped with colourful figures, various animals, a real stable setting made of rocks, and most importantly, an impressive light installation to represent the firmament. Every house leaves the main door open, so that passersby can peak through the glass door to admire the re-enacted scenes of Jesus’ birth. I’ve seen impressive installations that leave no doubt that the Maltese take Christmas very seriously.
Being under the hot Mediterranean sun in the coldest season of the year has many advantages, my vitamin D resources are definitely recharged. Everything is fine as long as you stay outside the house, inside it’s freezing cold. A country where the temperature barely drops below 16°C (60°F) doesn’t really have to think about those few days of sharp chill. But a person who’s used to central heating – me – has to get used to the fact that the bedroom (and the bathroom!) can actually feel much colder than the air outside. I coped and complained, but our sunny walks along the lush green Dingli cliffs definitely made up for it.
And I’ll never forget our New Year’s Eve in Gozo, we stayed at a beautiful farmhouse at the border of the village of Qala. We had a gorgeous room, with a large terrace and the most stunning views of the islands of Comino and Malta. We ordered 3 (!) pizzas from the local Maxokk bakery, bought a bottle of local red wine from my friends at Meridiana, and just sat on the sofa, amazed by the peace in front of our eyes.
I had never seen Malta like this, so green and in full bloom. My past travels covered everything from March to October, but I always avoided the winter months. I’d love to show you pictures, but I was on a mission, I didn’t touch my camera, I stayed offline most of the time, and I slowed down my pace drastically. So there are no pictures, but lots of beautiful memories of time spent in nature, silent, without any disturbing technical devices.
However, when we came back to Berlin, I noticed a slight feeling of dissatisfaction, I missed my Christmas. To make up for my nostalgic longings, I decided to have a Christmas week in January. In the past few days, I baked Christmas cookies and my boyfriend had to listen to me singing along to Christmas carols. My celebrations found their festive peak in a Christmas dinner for two with slow roasted duck (I used the recipe from my book), red cabbage with spices and apples, and German potato dumplings. Now I’m cured and we can move on with our lives – also in the kitchen.
My latest post-Christmas kitchen project led to a hearty yet airy focaccia, topped with thickly sliced red onions roasted on top of the dough in lots of olive oil and a generous amount of aromatic Swiss Gruyère cheese. It’s pure comfort food. I cut a thick slice off the warm bread and enjoyed it on a chair that I placed close to the heater. I doubt I ever appreciated central heating as much as I do now.
If you’re looking for some more focaccia inspiration, take a look at these recipes:
plain flour 500g / 3 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons
fast-acting yeast 1 (7g / 1/4 ounce) envelope
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon
granulated sugar 1 heaping teaspoon
water, lukewarm, 260ml / 1 cup and 2 tablespoons
olive oil 120ml / 1/2 cup, plus 1-2 tablespoons to oil the baking sheet
For the topping
Swiss Gruyère cheese, or any aromatic hard cheese, coarsely grated, 100g / 7 ounces
red onions, thickly sliced, 2
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
For the dough, combine the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the lukewarm water and half the olive oil (60ml / 1/4 cup) and knead on medium-high speed for a few minutes until well combined. I mix it on ‘4’ on my KitchenAid. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Transfer the dough to a table or countertop and continue kneading and punching it down with your hands for about 4 minutes or until you have a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Place the dough back in the mixer bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place, or preferably in a 35°C / 100°F warm oven (conventional setting), for about 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
Oil a 25 x 32cm / 10 x 12 1/2″ baking sheet.
When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, take it out of the bowl, and knead for 1 minute. Using your hands, stretch and spread the dough on the oiled baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes or until puffy.
Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F (convection setting).
Using the round bottom of a wooden spoon or your finger, punch around 6 x 7 holes into the surface of the dough. Arrange the sliced onions on top of the dough, pushing the slices gently into the dough. Pour the remaining olive oil over the dough and onion and into the holes. Sprinkle with the cheese and a little flaky sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and light brown. Sprinkle with crushed pepper and enjoy warm or cold. The focaccia tastes best on the first day.
Welcome 2017! May you bring peace, love, and patience to our lives.
On one of the last days of 2016, we gathered a group of friends from Florence, Israel, and London around our long wooden dining table. To keep it cozy, I cooked Swabian Käsespätzle, the famous homemade egg noodles layered with lots and lots of cheese and soft, golden brown onions. This meal is so rich and comforting, it’s perfect for a cold winter’s night. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t find it addictive. Although it’s a classic Southern German dish, I’ve heard quite a few Italians claiming that Italy is its true place of origin. However, my guests from Florence tried it for the first time and they were enraptured.
My guest from Israel inspired me to bake a cake with one of his home country’s most popular products: tahini. I made a fruit cake, similar to an English teatime loaf, but I replaced the butter with tahini and olive oil. To say that it was good would be a total understatement. Light, with a soft hint of tahini, it was delicious, especially in combination with the chopped dates that I stirred into the dough and the sesame seeds sprinkled on top. I served this rustic looking beauty with lightly sweetened tahini whipped cream, we were all smitten.
Tahini Date Cake
Makes 1 cake
plain flour 260g / 2 cups
baking powder 1 tablespoon
freshly grated orange zest 1 tablespoon
ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
tahini, mixed well, 75ml / 1/3 cup
mild olive oil 75ml / 1/3 cup
milk 90ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar 200g / 1 cup
large organic eggs 4
pitted dates, roughly chopped, 100g / 3 1/2 ounces, plus a few chopped dates for serving
white sesame seeds 1 tablespoon, plus more for serving
For the tahini whipped cream (the tahini whipped cream serves 4, you’ll have to double the amount for the whole cake)
heavy cream 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
granulated sugar, to taste
tahini, mixed well, about 1 tablespoon
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (preferably convection setting) and butter a 20cm / 8″ springform pan.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, orange zest, cinnamon, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the tahini, olive oil, milk, sugar, and eggs for about 1 minute until well combined (I mix it on ‘4’ on my KitchenAid). Stir in the flour mixture and continue mixing until no traces of flour are left. Stir in the dates and pour the dough into the prepared springform pan. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden and spongy. Check with a skewer, it should come out almost clean. Let the cake cool for a few minutes and take it out of the pan.
Whip the cream with a little sugar until stiff, adjust sweetness to taste. Add the tahini and whip for a few seconds until well combined. To serve the cake, cut it into large pieces, add a generous dollop of the tahini whipped cream, and sprinkle with chopped dates and additional sesame seeds.
Wrapped in cling film, this cake stays moist for a couple days.
We drove down the winding road to the Grand Harbour in Valletta and stopped our cars in front of an old garage. The wooden door must have seen many storms, the green paint faded and the hinges rusted, it’s the salt in the air that takes over whatever it gets hold of. Our friends Michelle and Michelangelo came down to the harbour in the cutest Volkswagen beetle the world has ever seen – in baby blue (Michelangelo would correct me and say it’s Diamond Blue). Built in 1968, the car only changed owner once, when our friends bought it in 2010 from an elderly lady from the village of Qormi. It was in mint condition despite its 110,000 original kilometres. The previous owner’s name was Teresa and she became the eponym of our friend’s little love bug, since then, the beetle is affectionately called Terez.
Terez – and her original 1300cc single port engine, a fact that Michelangelo points out with pride in his voice – has seen a lot since she found her new owner: four overland trips, the latest being our friend’s honeymoon trip last summer. The three of them (including Terez) attended the Le Bug Show 2016 in Spa and crossed half of Europe to get there. Malta, Sicily, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Germany added 5,400 kilometres to the tachometer and seemed to have made the bond between the car and its owners even stronger.
Every car needs a check up once in a while, especially when it’s nearly 50 years old, and to make it a little more fun, I joined my friends and brought some food and my camera. While Michelangelo laid hands on the tires, I kept mine busy preparing sandwiches for all of us. It’s the peak of winter, a time of year when I usually have to confront Berlin’s seemingly endless, yawning grey sky for weeks and months, but here in Malta I’m spoilt with sunshine and vibrant colours. This inspired me to come up with a snack as fresh and bright as the Mediterranean world around me. It’s a chicken sandwich, the meat tender and thinly sliced, with purple coleslaw and orange wedges, sparkling pomegranate seeds (some of which I turned into a sticky syrup), crunchy bacon bites, and pungent green onions. The composition is rather difficult to eat, but trust me, the pleasure that you’ll feel when you taste it, is absolutely worth it. And the solution is simple, just squeeze it until the sticky juices run out of the sandwich and soak the soft bread – it’s a heavenly mess.
Thank you Michelle, Michelangelo, and Terez for a wonderful morning in Valletta!
My Maltese Winter Sandwich: Pomegranate Chicken, Red Coleslaw, Orange and Bacon
Makes 6 sandwiches
For the coleslaw
cored red cabbage, cut into thin strips, about 230g / 1/2 pound
fine sea salt
yoghurt 5-6 tablespoons
freshly squeezed orange juice
For the pomegranate syrup
pomegranate juice 180ml / 3/4 cup
granulated sugar 4 1/2 tablespoons
For the sandwich
chicken breast 400g / 14 ounces
fine sea salt
bacon 6 slices
lettuce leaves 6
white buns (or ciabatta cut into buns), cut in half, 6
oranges, peeled and cut into filets, 1-2
the seeds of 1 pomegranate
green onions, the green part cut into thin slices, 1
freshly grated orange zest, about 1 tablespoon
For the coleslaw, in a large bowl, mix the cabbage and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and, using your fingers, rub the salt into the cabbage. Let it sit for about 15-20 minutes. Add the yoghurt and orange juice, mix well, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F.
For the pomegranate syrup, in a saucepan, bring the pomegranate juice and the sugar to the boil and cook over medium-high heat (it should bubble) for about 7 minutes or until it starts to thicken. Set the syrup aside.
In a heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil over high heat and cook the chicken breast for a couple minutes on each side until golden, you might have to reduce the heat to medium-high. Season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer the chicken to a baking dish. Roast in the oven for about 8 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Check with a skewer, only clear juices should come out. Let the chicken rest in aluminium foil for about 5 minutes. Cut the chicken into slices (about 18 slices for 6 sandwiches).
In a large heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil and cook the bacon for a few minutes on both sides until golden brown and crisp. Transfer to paper towels, let it cool for a few minutes, then break the bacon into pieces.
Divide the lettuce leaves between the bottoms of the buns and arrange the chicken on top, drizzle with a little of the pomegranate syrup. Spread a heaping tablespoon of coleslaw, 2-3 orange filets, and some pomegranate seeds on top of the chicken. Sprinkle with the sliced green onion, bacon bites, and orange zest, and drizzle with additional pomegranate syrup. Close the bun, squeeze, and enjoy!
I love to end the year with a plate full of spaghetti. It gives me the kind of comfort that pasta masters to perfection. Its beauty and magic lies in simplicity – and in many happy carbs. This year’s combination is tangy, a bit creamy, and nutty – it makes me feel good and that’s all I need. So here’s my Mediterranean creation to celebrate the changeover from 2016 to 2017: spaghetti with lemon pistachio pesto and mozzarella di Bufala.
In the past 12 months of this turbulent year I felt my limits quite often and I flew higher than I thought I could ever fly without burning my wings. I saw my first cookbook being born, being celebrated during my book tour in Berlin, London, Malta, New York, and Washington. I saw the Eat In My Kitchen book reaching the New York Times’ list of ‘The Best Cookbooks of Fall 2016’, which I still can’t really believe. So much love and support came into my life, so much happiness has been spread through this book that feels like a baby to me. There were unbelievable highs, so many wonderful moments, moments that I will feel thankful for for the rest of my life. But there were also lows and losses that tore trenches into my heart that will hurt for the rest of my life. I lost a person who’s been so close to me that I sometimes can’t even say who’s me and who’s him. He was my mentor, my supporter, my biggest critic, my challenger. He was my friend, my most beloved Swabian, and my step father. I wouldn’t be who I am without him, and I’ll never again be who I was before he left this world. Eat In My Kitchen wouldn’t be what it is without him.
I want to thank all of you for supporting me and my book, for being there and for coming back to these pages here on the blog. Eat In My Kitchen makes me grow every day, this blog makes me go back to my kitchen and experiment more than I would do if I didn’t write about it. Thank you for being on this journey together with me.
Have a peaceful and joyful start into the New Year!
Spaghetti with Lemon Pistachio Pesto and Mozzarella di Bufala
dried spaghetti 200g / 7 ounces
mozzarella di Bufala, torn into bite sized pieces, 125g / 4 1/2 ounces
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
For the pesto
freshly grated lemon zest 4 tablespoons, plus more for the topping
freshly grated young Parmesan 4 tablespoons, plus more for the topping
finely chopped shelled pistachios (unsalted) about 1 tablespoon, plus more (roughly chopped) for the topping
olive oil 3 tablespoons
fine sea salt
In a large pot filled with salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and stir in a little splash of olive oil.
For the pesto, in a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, Parmesan, pistachios, and olive oil and use the back of a spoon to press the Parmesan into the oil until well combined. Season to taste with salt.
Divide the spaghetti and mozzarella di Bufala between plates. Sprinkle with pesto, additional lemon zest, Parmesan, and pistachios. Season to taste with flaky sea salt and crushed peppercorns, serve immediately.
There are many ways to celebrate the holidays and a lavish feast is my way of creating a festive culinary frame when the Christmas bells start ringing. To fill the bowls and platters with roast and gravy, stuffed duck or goose, dumplings and various cabbage dishes may take some time, but these hours spent in the kitchen are so precious to me, that I gladly dedicate a few days to the preparation of some of the most unforgettable meals of the year.
But I’m honest, this year is different, this year used up my batteries. As much as I enjoy every second of shopping for the ingredients for any meal, cooking, baking, and waiting for my creations to be done, I know when I have to slow down. Even if it’s Christmas. A meal isn’t special just because of the money that’s spent on it, or the time put into its preparation. A meal is special when it sparks a firework in the mouth; when we enjoy smelling it, looking at it, and tasting it so much, that we almost feel like children again. Memories and traditions turn a meal into something greater that sets it apart from our everyday foods. The cookies baked on December’s snowy weekends using trusted family recipes are different to the sweets that we stir up during the rest of the year. The beloved duck served on Christmas Eve tastes better when the room is lit up with countless candles and the smell of fir is heavily hanging in the air. I love my traditions and I hold them dearly, but Christmas 2016 calls for a break: lots of time for myself and my loved ones, no plans, no duties, just the pleasure of a little laziness at the end of the year. Cooking is fun and it should always reflect the mood that we’re in, and now, I’m going to be as slow as a sloth.
Last week, I kind of unfurled my Christmas menu from the end, starting with the dessert as I shared my Crème Brûlée Tangerine Cheesecake in a Jar. It’s a dish that can easily be prepared a day or two in advance, meaning more time on the sofa, unwrapping presents, eating cookies, and listening to Christmas carols. My main dish doesn’t need elaborate preparations either, it’s a rather minimal composition of honest, pure flavours. The most tender fillet of beef topped with a slice of walnut mustard butter, served along with sweet and earthy beetroot cubes. The red root is cooked al dente, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with Mr. Cini’s flaky sea salt from Gozo. Sometimes, simplicity tastes best.
To finish my Christmas menu, I should share a starter with you next week, but I will allow myself to take a few days off and stay offline. As I don’t want to leave you and your guests hungry, I have a few recipe suggestions for you from the blog and from my cookbook, not just for starters.
I wish you a peaceful Christmas! Enjoy this precious time with the ones you love!
Here’s some more inspiration for your Christmas menu:
Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup with Caramelized Plums and Whipped Gorgonzola Mascarpone (Eat In My Kitchen book, page 75)
fillets of beef, trimmed, 4 (each about 140g / 5 ounces and 4-5cm /1 1/2-2″ thick)
unsalted butter 2 tablespoons
flaky sea salt
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
For the walnut butter
shelled walnuts 50g / 2 ounces
butter, at room temperature, 50g / 2 ounces
Dijon mustard, about 1 teaspoon
fine sea salt
For the beetroot
large beetroots with skin 2
flaky sea salt
shelled walnuts, broken into pieces, a large handful
Take the meat out of the fridge, rinse and pat it dry, and let it come to room temperature.
For the walnut butter, finely grind the walnuts in a blender or food processor, add the butter, mustard, and a little salt, and pulse until combined. Adjust the seasoning. Scrape the butter onto a piece of cling film, roll into a thick sausage shape, and keep in the fridge (or in the freezer for just a few minutes until hard).
For the beetroot, bring a large pot with salted water to the boil and add the bay leaves and beetroot. Close with a lid and let it simmer for about 50 minutes or until the roots are al dente or tender, depending on your preference. Rinse with cold water, peel, and cut into cubes.
In a large, heavy pan, heat a generous splash of olive oil over high heat and sear the fillets for 1 minute on each side. Take the pan off the heat, lower the heat to medium, and add the butter to the pan. Put the pan back on the heat and cook the fillets for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side (for ‘medium rare’), spoon some of the butter over the meat a couple times. Season the fillets with flaky sea salt and crushed pepper, wrap in aluminium foil, and let them rest for 2 minutes. Set the pan with the juices aside.
Divide the beetroot cubes between the plates, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with walnuts and flaky sea salt. Cut the walnut butter into thick slices. Transfer 1 fillet of beef to each plate and lay a slice of walnut butter on top. Drizzle with the juices from the pan used to cook the meat, serve immediately.
There are few things as relaxing as baking Christmas cookies during the busy days of December. Mixing and kneading pounds of dough while the air in the kitchen is soaked in fragrant sweetness is the best anti-stress remedy. Cinnamon, cloves, citrus fruits, and cardamom, chocolate, almonds and hazelnuts, you don’t need many ingredients to give a cookie an extra christmassy touch.
We still have 10 days to go – for the German Christmas on the 24th December, and 11 days for the English and Maltese Christmas. So we have enough time to throw a few more trays of delicious cookies in the oven, to fill the jars, and make our hips happy. Here’s some more inspiration from the last three years of Christmas cookie feasting on Eat In My Kitchen. Happy baking!
Eat In My Kitchen turned 3! So much has happened around me in the past few weeks that I forgot my blog’s birthday on the 23rd November.
I usually create a recipe for this special day – at least in the past 2 years – but now we’re all so busy contemplating lunch and dinner menus for December’s upcoming festivities, that I decided to skip the birthday bash and move straight on to Christmas. I came up with a dessert that’s delicious, gorgeous, and practical in equal measure, a crème brûlée cheesecake in a jar. Its shiny golden prettiness is the perfect finish for a festive table. You can easily bake the cake a day in advance and keep it in the fridge. Sprinkled with sugar, it only needs a few seconds under the hot flame of a blow torch before you and your guests can indulge in the sweeter things in life.
My cheesecake base is made with oat cookies (you can find a recipe for oat cookies in my book on page 234), the filling is a mixture of rich mascarpone and cream cheese refined with tangerine, cinnamon, and vanilla. You could also bake one big cake in a 20cm / 8″ springform pan, but it’s so much more fun to present these beautiful little jars to your friends and family.
Before you jump to the recipe, I’d like to ask you for two favours:
Food52‘s cookbook competition, the famous Piglet Tournament, is now open. You can nominate your favourite cookbook and I’d be jumping with joy if you consider giving your vote to the Eat In My Kitchen book. 2016 has brought many wonderful cookbooks to the shelves, but luckily you can vote for more than one book. You can find the form to nominate here, the deadline is the 30th December.
And here’s my second question:
It would be fantastic if you could also drop a review for my book on Amazon, here are the links:
You’ll need 10-12 maison glass jars or ramekins for this recipe.
For the base
oat cookies 210g / 7 1/2 ounces
unsalted butter, melted and cooled, 60 / 1/4 cup
For the filling
cream cheese, at room temperature 300g / 11 ounces
mascarpone, at room temperature 250g / 9 ounces
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
vanilla pod, split and scraped, 1/2
3 large organic eggs 3
cornstarch 1 heaping teaspoon
freshly grated tangerine zest 1 tablespoon
freshly squeezed tangerine juice 3 tablespoons
ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
For the topping
tangerine zest (optional)
For the base, crush the cookies in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl, add the melted butter, and stir until well combined. Divide the cookie mixture between the glass jars or ramekins, using the bottom of a shot glass to press it firmly and evenly into the jars, especially along the edges. Freeze for 20 minutes.
Place a deep roasting pan, large enough to fit the glass jars comfortably, on the lowest rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F. Fill a kettle with water and bring to the boil.
For the filling, in a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese, mascarpone, sugar, vanilla seeds, eggs, cornstarch, tangerine zest, tangerine juice, cinnamon, and salt until well combined.
Pour the cheesecake batter on top of the chilled cookie base and transfer the jars to the roasting pan in the oven. Slowly pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about one third to half way up the sides of the jars. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the filling is just set but still slightly wobbly in the center. Turn off the oven, leave the oven door slightly open, and let the cheesecake cool for about 5 minutes, then take the cheesecake out of the oven and let cool to room temperature. Once cool, the cheesecake can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days. Or, you can finish the crème brûlée topping right away for serving. (Don’t refrigerate the cheesecake when it’s still warm, or the base will turn soggy.)
For the topping, sprinkle a generous amount of sugar on top of the cheesecakes, about 1 teaspoon for each jar. Using a blow torch, burn the sugar until golden brown. Let it cool for a couple minutes until the burnt sugar is hard, sprinkle with tangerine zest, and serve immediately.
I used to have a huge spice box in my kitchen that didn’t look very pretty and also wasn’t particularly practical. For whatever reason, I decided in my early kitchen years to store all my spice filled glass jars and tiny metal tins in this box and that’s where I kept them for two decades. This beaten and buckled box still exists, I just use it for potatoes at the moment (even a box has to stay flexible in life). I used to arrange my spices in two layers of jars, so when I needed juniper berries from the bottom, I would always have to empty the whole thing. Rather impractical.
Around two years ago, I renovated my kitchen, I changed the sink and cupboards on one side of the room. When everything was set up, I had a skype call with my Maltese mama Jenny to proudly present my work to her. Not that she’s particularly experienced in kitchen renovation, it’s rather the opposite, she still works in her gorgeous sea-blue kitchen gem from the 60s. I don’t remember why, but we started discussing the spice-situation in my kitchen. There’s a slim cupboard with two sliding drawers next to my sink, so when we had our video chat, we both looked at this drawer and decided that it should become my spice cupboard. I arranged everything that same day and since then I’m more than happy to have such a luxurious overview of my spice collection.
The spices I use the most, right at the front when you open the door, are Maltese fennel and coriander seeds, the whole range of peppercorns in black, green, white, and pink, cinnamon, and cardamom. Jars of cumin, cloves, aniseed, allspice, juniper berries, and mustard seeds are right behind. Then there’s the hot section, with cayenne and urfa chilli, plus sumac and a few spice mixtures. I love this cupboard, it’s a bit chaotic, and it’s still a colourful collection of various jars and containers, but it smells beautiful.
Although I generally prefer a certain order in my kitchen, there are zones and tools in this room that seem to follow their own rules. Cookie cutters, for example, tend to end up in places where I don’t even know how they got there. I bought a large metal ring at one point to get my growing collection under control. Every year I buy a couple new ones to add to the classics, to stars, angels, and Santa. I tend to have annual favourites. Squirrel, sausage dog, and deer were popular for a long time, which might speak for my love of cute animals. My collection of three beetles is relatively new, maybe I need a car? Who knows. But apart from giving my cookies a cute look, a cutter should be practical. For example, I barely use the deer anymore because the cookies tend to lose their antlers in the oven, so it looks rather sad. My beetles however are very cooperative, roundish, no narrow parts, and they are even big enough to get a proper royal icing decoration.
I must admit that decorating sweets is not one of my best talents. But I thought it would be nice to bake some cookies at this time of year that you can decorate – especially if there are kids around the baking table. And if you’re as lazy as I am and you have a soft spot for citrus, I have a great alternative for you. Decorate half the batch of these delicious chocolate spice cookies with royal icing (I recommend you trust the pros and buy the mixture from a baking shop) and make your children happy. For the other half, caramelize lemon peel until sweet and crunchy, sprinkle this sticky golden mixture over the remaining cookies and make yourself happy. These are the adult cookies. They aren’t as pretty as the cute hand decorated ones, but the combination of dark chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, aniseed, and candied lemon peel makes up for it. They taste so unbelievably good that you won’t even mind the looks.
Chocolate Spice Christmas Cookies with Candied Lemon Peel
Makes about 50 cookies
For the cookies
plain flour 260g / 2 cups
unsweetened cocoa powder 50g / 1/2 cup
baking powder 1/4 teaspoon
freshly grated lemon zest 1 tablespoon (from 1 large lemon)
ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon
cloves, ground in a mortar, 10 (about 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves)
coriander seeds, ground in a mortar, 2 teaspoons
aniseed, ground in a mortar, 1/2 teaspoon
allspice berries, ground in a mortar, 4
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
butter, at room temperature, 130g / 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon
icing sugar 120g / 1 1/4 cups
organic egg 1
For the decoration (if decorating half the cookies with royal icing and the other half with candied lemon peel)
royal icing mixture, whisked with a little water, about 60g / 2 ounces
granulated sugar 50g / 1/4 cup
water 2 tablespoons
very thin strips of fresh lemon peel, 1 small handful
In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, aniseed, allspice, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and icing sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and mix for about 1 minute or until well combined. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook, add the flour-spice mixture to the bowl with the butter, and mix until well combined. Form a thick disc, wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160°C (325°F) and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In batches, roll the dough out thinly (about 3mm / 1/8″ thick) between cling film and cut out cookies in whatever shape you like. Keep the remaining dough in the fridge while cutting the cookies. Arrange the cookies on the lined baking sheets and bake, one baking sheet at a time, for about 6 minutes or until golden. Let them cool for a few minutes before you transfer them to a cooling rack.
For the royal icing, whisk the royal icing mixture with a little water (following the instructions on the package) and, using a piping bag with the smallest attachment you can find, decorate half the cookies.
For the candied peel, in a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to the boil. When it starts to caramelize add the lemon peel. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the peel is golden and soft—mind that it doesn’t burn. While the caramel is still liquid (you can leave the saucepan on lowest heat), quickly sprinkle the remaining cookies with the candied lemon peel.