Poached pears in red wine and spices

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I was lucky enough to meet the brilliant Italian chef Valentina Harris at a special dinner party thrown earlier this year by Paddy and Judith O’Hagan who are part of the team behind the Wells Food Festival. The party was for volunteers and supporters of the festival, and we were treated to an incredible Italian five-course feast, all prepared by Valentina, who cooked at last year’s festival and is lined up to be involved again this year. There were beautiful canapes, followed by a selection of pasta dishes, then a wonderful risotto, an array of sweet treats and finally cheese.

One of the desserts was poached pears in the most heavenly red wine and spice syrup. I was rather surprised by how much my oldest daughter Jessie enjoyed the pears – so much so, she insisted we take our chances and pop into the kitchen (we’d been warned about the amount of swearing going on in there!) to see if Valentina would share her recipe with us. Continue reading “Poached pears in red wine and spices”

Gratin Polesano / potato and cheese gratin

Gratin Polesano CollageI was given this delicious gratin recipe by Italian chef and cookery writer, Valentina Harris, who I met through my involvement in the wonderful Wells Food Festival, which has now become an annual event in England’s smallest city.

This gratin comes from Northern Italy, and is perfect as a supper dish in itself with a green salad on the side, but if you really fancy pigging out it’s also a great accompaniment to roast chicken or pork for Sunday lunch. Continue reading “Gratin Polesano / potato and cheese gratin”

Ciao bambino! The Family Foodies Italian challenge

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In my eyes, Italian food has to be one of the most child-friendly cuisines in the world, in the same way Italian restaurants are very often the most child-friendly places to eat with little ones in tow.

Italian dishes feature frequently in my family meal plans. There’s the now staple penne with pesto or a simple tomato sauce, spaghetti with meatballs, crowd-pleasing macaroni cheese and homely lasagne. There’s pizza and calzone – both the homemade and from-the-freezer varieties. There’s gnocchi and minestrone soup and risotto. And then there’s the puddings – the ice creams and semi-freddo, the tirimisu and panna cotta.

So for our latest Family Foodies challenge, we’re inviting food bloggers to share their favourite family-friendly, Italian-inspired dishes. From the traditional and authentic to your own unique twists on Italian classics, all are welcome at our Italian-themed feast.

What will you bring to the party?  Continue reading “Ciao bambino! The Family Foodies Italian challenge”

Tuscan panzanella

panzanella

Panzanella is a tasty and satisfying Italian summer salad, perfect for picnics and eating al fresco. We enjoyed it last weekend when the sun was shining and it felt like we were on holiday in our own garden. The weather has sadly turned greyer and damper, but I am hopeful the blue skies will return. Hope, hope!

I took this recipe from a cookery book called Yolanda’s Kitchen, written by Yolanda Pearson who was born in Normandy to a French mother and an Italian father. With that kind of a background, it’s not surprising Yolanda can cook. Yolanda is a good friend of my husband’s family. As a boy, Jason used to play with Yolanda’s son Simon whenever they visited their holiday cottage up in Shropshire and he has very good memories of eating well at their house.

According to Yolanda…

This traditional Tuscan snack gets its name from the ‘Zanella’, the ditches by the side of the fields where the farm labourers used to sit to eat their lunch, and ‘Pane’ (Italian for bread). Thus they mixed leftover and dried-up chunks of bread with whatever salad ingredients their vegetable patch had in season, hastily dressed with wine vinegar and olive oil and enjoyed in the open air as a one-course meal.

I find the salad is enough on its own for a good lunch. I’ve been taking it to work this week in my lunchbox, and it’s surprising how crispy the ciabatta stays even when it has soaked up some of that tasty dressing. I do have to apologise though when I open it up, as it rather reeks of garlic! It’s also good as part of a picnic or served as a side dish with a barbecue.

panzanella

Tuscan Panzanella

Serves 4

1 ciabatta loaf
200 cucumber
3 spring onions
2 celery sticks
1 garlic clove, crushed
250g small plum tomatoes
2 Little Gem lettuces, leaves torn
handful of basil leaves
150ml extra virgin olive oil
50ml red wine vinegar
1 tsp white sugar
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 160°C / gas mark 2-3.

Cut the ciabatta into bitesize cubes, place them on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until it gains just a little colour. Leave to cool.

Peel, deseed and slice the cucumber. Finely slice the spring onion. Dice the celery. Mix together with the crushed garlic.

Cut the plum tomatoes in half. Yolanda says here to remove the seeds, but I must admit I didn’t bother with this bit.

In a large salad bowl, mix together the bread, tomatoes, lettuce leaves, chopped vegetables and torn leaves of basil.

In a small bowl, mix together the oil, vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well before serving.

panzanella

As this is salad is perfect for picnics and outdoor dining, I’m entering into Four Seasons Food, a wonderful new challenge hosted by Chez Foti and Delicieux. The theme for the start of summer is Picnic Food & Outdoor Nibbles.

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And as it contains lots of fresh basil, I’m also entering it into Lavender & Lovage‘s ever-popular Herbs on Saturday challenge.

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