Saturday, 31 January 2015

The amazing thing that is... Pizza!!

Pizza, boy do we love Pizza in this house, we eat it atleast once a week! We are not fans of premade pizza though. I mean some of them are edible like the super expensive supermarket 'fresh' ones that cost as much as a small child but they are quite convenient when they are on offer. Frozen pizza? never ever liked it, in fact, confession time.. as a child I hated pizza, like really loathed it because we only ever ate that icky, super cheap, frozen pizza at home. You know the kind, they cost about £1 for 4 and are full of sugar, salt and other nasties. Take away pizza? Forget about it, they are so horrificly bad and over priced!  It was only when I tried making my own pizza once I got into cooking that I discovered that actually it was pretty good! Then I met Mr. Grad and tried proper pizza, made in a pizza oven in a resturaunt run by a little old mamma and there was no turning back! It was heaven... it was also gigantic! Ever since then I've developed a very good appreciation for pizza and enjoy it quite a lot!

There are many recipes out there for pizza, some good, some not so good. Whilst you will rarely ever be able to make the awesome pizza that you eat in pizzeria's in Italy at home (unless you are amazing enough to own a pizza oven in your back yard, and if you do... can I be your friend??!!) this one is pretty darn good! This recipe I got from a little old grocer in the village that we stay in in Italy and it's soooo good and tasty! It's also really easy and  cheap. In the time it takes for your pizza to be delivered you could be eating this and I guarantee you it's a million times better and has no hidden nasties in it!

This recipe is also so customisable. Once you've made the base, go wild! .We added sliced onions at the same time as the mozzarella to one of ours. You could add thinly sliced Aubergines, or break apart some sausages and scatter over or perhaps some pepperoni. Mushrooms also go really well, just slice them thinly and add with the mozzarella, try adding some mascarpone with it too, or ricotta! Artichoke hearts are tasty too. To jazz up a plain old margherita scatter over some fresh rocket and a few shavings of Parmesan. Even bacon works well on pizza!

You can also totally skip out the tomato sauce and make 'white pizza'. Just follow the instructions above omiting adding the tomato sauce and cook as directed. Onion and Mozzarella are super tasty. You could also go the Quattro Formaggi way and add dollops of Ricotta, lashings of mozzarella and pieces of creamy gorgonzola (or stilton!) topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan for a truly delicious cheesy pizza (you can also add cheddar if, like me, you don't like blue cheese.)

Friday, 30 January 2015

Apple and Blackberry Crumble

You know those days when the weather outside is awful, its raining and cold and windy? The days that bring on a hankering for good old fashioned comfort food that you can tuck into whilst curled up on the sofa watching TV. Today was such a day.

The weather here has been so cold and windy and wet over the last few weeks so I was really craving something sweet and warm and oh so comforting. Enter... Blackberry and Apple Crumble! It's a dish that I remember so fondly from my childhood that would always start appearing late September-ish, just as it started getting colder in the evenings, usually as a pudding to the traditional Sunday roast.  

Of course as kids, every year we'd regularly go out to pick the blackberries that would end up in this dish. It was always so much fun tramping through the hedgerows, getting snagged on the bushes, and eating your weight in blackberries at the same time. We'd always return home with purple stained fingers, (and mouths) and a few scratches, proudly carrying our bounty. Blackberry picking is still something I do even as an adult and it's still so much fun! The blackberries that went into this crumble I picked back in late September and froze so that I could get that wonderful comfort food all through the winter even after the bushes were bare. They also taste so much better than the ones you can buy in the supermarket, which really kinda taste like water and cost a fortune! 

This crumble really is so easy to make and tastes just divine especially when served with a good quality Vanilla Ice Cream (Bailey's Ice Cream is also delicious!). The one I remember from when I was a child was much simpler, literally just blackberries and apples with some sugar but I decided to experiment a bit with flavours by omitting the sugar, the apples are usually sweet enough, and adding some Lemon Zest, Ground Cloves and Cinnamon. It gave it a wonderful depth of flavour that was so warming and comforting. If you don't like Cloves you could always leave them out or just go with the Cinnamon if you prefer. I also don't think it matters what apples you use, personally I use whatever I have around, usually Granny Smiths (because i'm a total apple snob and it's the only one I like) or Cox or Braeburn apples. All taste equally delicious, just use whatever you have to hand! I do like that bit of bite that firmer apples keep though.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Zuppa Inglese

There are some foods that, no matter how popular Italian Cusine is around the world, you just can't find in the UK.

Since moving here Mr. Grad has embraced british cusine quite well, though I admit to cooking alot of  Italian based dished because they're usually so quick, cheap and yummy! So he hasn't missed his staple foods too much!  But, there have been a few things that he's hankered after, good Salami, proper Italian Sausages, not the spicy kind that I don't know what the heck they are but I've never seen them in Italy, but proper Italian Sausage that you can eat raw on a slice of bread and also, Zuppa Inglese.

Zuppa Inglese, or English Soup in well... English, is a traditional Italian dessert that somewhat resembles the British Trifle but its way more delicious... at least according to Mr. Grad. I think it's an Italian thing. I mean I like it but I don't love it... perhaps its the alcohol taste that is pretty strong! I think I miss the fruit too.

Anyway, Zuppa Inglese is Savoiardi biscuits dipped in Alchermes Liquor and Rum and then layered up between copious amounts of Chocoloate and Vanilla Custard and topped off with whipped cream. It's not for the faint of heart or anyone trying to stick to a diet.

The difficulty in making it in the UK is finding the staple ingredient, Alchermes. Alchermes is a spiced liquor that is bright red in colour and has a really wonderful flavour, kind of aniseedy but sweet and more subtly spiced. You cannot find it anywhere in the UK and the few places online that you can buy it are prohibitively expensive which is really annoying since in Italy its so cheap!

So, Mr Grad was craving a taste of his childhood favourite and after a week or so of searching for Alchermes, there was only one thing to do: Make it myself! I poked around online and found this recipe at All Things Sicillian & More. It takes a few weeks to make, and by make I mean stuff everything in a jar and leave it in the cupboard for a few weeks then add vodka, lots and lots of vodka, oh and some sugar and ta da! It tasted amazing! The addition of a little food colouring for the obligitory red colour (traditionally they used cochenial but you can't find it here and this way it's also vegetarian!)

He had to wait a few more weeks to satiate his craving but boy was he overjoyed by the result! I mean it has such a rustic homemade charm about it, none of this plastic looking, perfectly packed nonsense. It's messy and uneven and looks just like it should! and tastes even better! You could perhaps layer it up in a trifle bowl and make it all neat and tidy but 1. I don't have a trifle bowl, 2. This is how I first ate it and 3. I like the rustic look, turned out onto a plate, dusted with cocoa and then attacked with a giant spoon! Mr Grad likes to add an extra drizzle (or flood) or alchermes over his portion for extra flavour.