Monday, 29 November 2010

Chrismas holidays in Italy and festive road trip planning! Can't wait!

I just wanted to share my feeling about how thrilled I am about going to Italy over the Christmas holidays in less than a month time now!
We booked the flight from Leeds and will be visiting relatives and friends from north to south and then back north again: we will land in Bergamo, spend a day in Cremona at my sister's, where we'll rest for one day or two. Cremona is the place where I studied and spent most of my life and where my recent memories belong to so I really look forward to get there.

This is Cremona famous for the traditional nougat made here, the mostarda and the 'Torrazzo' tower. It's a record high bell tower that makes the city famous as the city of the 3 T's "turun, tettas, turas" ( literally nougat, big tits, and torrazzo :))
Then we  travel by car to Napoli to get to my grandma Lucia by Christmas eve.

She's 86 years old and still she spends her days cooking...and planning what to cook for the day after hehe. I love her so much! We'll stay in a nice hotel near her flat in the centre of Naples, Vomero area,  as we are a troup of nieces and with our partners and won't fit all in the house to stay overnight, but for sure I ll take many pictures about all the typical Italian Christmas food.
There will be a seafood based home made pasta, for sure. Ah and struffoli as dessert, it's a typical sweet cake made up by many fried balls of dough then covered with honey melted with water. Needs to be tasted to be described :) I tried just once to make them, over my first Christmas here in UK as I felt really homesick (it's always difficult to spend the festive time away from the family I guess) ... well the result wasn't perfect but it made me feel better! This is how Neapolitan struffoli  look like, but I prefer without the candies, like this version taken by my very talented cousin Fabio:


check out his amazing work on  on this link (his nickname is bluedeepblue)

This one is more 'colourful' version of the same dessert:

Now, I cannot think of another Neapolitan dessert more Christmassy than this one.
Struffoli does remind me of those traditional medieval banquet dishes: full of colors and of...everything! Dont't you think?

I love my hometown, but I particularly love it over Christmas time: I adore taking long walks in the crowded narrow streets in the historical centre of Naples, visiting the area of San Gregorio Armeno is a must do: talented artisans sells hand crafted nativity scenes (famous 'Presepe Napoletano' is a tradion for centuries), and you can smell any sort of delicious food from every corner.

There's not a 'typical Italian Christmas menu' as every region, every town has its own tradition. So the one I am used to is the one from Napoli as this is where I spent my childhood.

The tradition is generally a big dinner at Christmas eve, lasting HOURS. I don't feel like I could be able to cope with such a huge amount of food anymore, but I still love the idea of a moment when the whole family manage to gather together on one happy occasion, and of course good food makes everything easier.

A typical -basic- Neapolitan Christmas menu could be:
Seafood tagliatelle (usually with fresh clams)
Baccala' neapolitan way (cod preserved in salt and then fried,  sorry the description doesn't make justice)
other sea food such as shrimps, or fish such as Spigola (sea bass).
Insalata di rinforzo (salad made with anchovies, green olives and red peppers)
Struffoli (see above)
Roccoco' (another typical chocolate sweet)
and much more...I will be able to show you my picture when we come back, can't wait!

After Napoli we will travel back to Cremona, have a dinner party with all our best friends that live in nothern Italy and the day after travel even further north to Trieste to see my mum's sister family and spend the new year's eve with her family. After this crazy travelling time we'll fly back to Leeds from Treviso airport (it's not too far from Venice/Mestre) and I am sure I ll have PLENTY of picture to share here on the please stay tuned!

                  Here's a nice view of Trieste Piazza d'Italia, the main square of the city,  over the Christmas time.
                                  They' say it's the biggest square in Europe as it faces directly on the bay.
                                                                Quite poetic, don't you think? :)

I am looking into presents to bring over, probably some traditional English festive food like Christmas pudding or ...hemm please help me hehe I lack of ideas!

And here is a picture that makes me smile so much: it's from one of our childhood Cristmas spent in Naples,I was probably 6 here, with my sister Margherita (the one with a beige dress) and my  two cousins Fabio and Claudia. We tired to take this same picture in the same location a couple of years ago as grown up...but I am not brave enough to post it here hehehe.
 In case you wonder, I am the one with the evil face and the red dress hehe. Happy times! Please feel free to comment below and let me know about your plans for the holidays, and if you like also your Christmas menu and home made or original gift ideas!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Genovese style homemade focaccia bread (focaccia genovese versione casalinga)

This was my first attempt in making a focaccia bread, the only other time I made one was a different type of bread that included potatoes in the dough. I firstly need to say this experiment was quite successfull for a first try and I will surely repeat it as soon as I have some friends over for dinner as I think it's a very appetizing starter to share with some Italian typical cheeses and hams and a nice glass of red wine. You can rest assured no one will complain or refuse a second slice of focaccia :)

This particular kind or bread is typical of the Liguria region in Italy, in particular the city of Genoa. Some even have it for breakfast with their morning cappuccino! (and this is definitely not a sweet bread...)
The origins of this recipe date back to centuries ago, and it's part of the popular tradition of the Italian food.

I made three different styles of focaccia: plain with rosemary only, with onions (my favourite one) and with a little bit of tomato paste and feta cheese.

I also need to say that to make this focaccia bread you will need to be quite patient: as the secret of a good focaccia is a well raised if you're in a hurry better plan to prepare this the day before or...change recipe  :)

Here's what I did.

For the dough:
350 grams of strong bread flour
200 ml water (lukewarm)
20 ml oil
7 gr salt
1 tbsp honey (or even better of malt)
7 grams dry yeast

For the condiment:
This is up to your taste/fantasy but for sure you will need:
50 ml of a very good extra virgin olive oil
50 ml water (I use some salt in the water too)
and if you like:
1 onion or
green olives or

I used my precious bread machine as I am too lazy to prepare the dough. I simply poured the dough ingredients in (all but the yeast first, this will be added a little bit later so that it doesn't get in touch with the salt)

and patiently waited for the dough to double its size, it will take approximately 1 hour. If you don't have a bread machine you can leave the bread in the oven (turned off) with just the lights on as it keep the air off and allows the dough to raise at a constant temperature (the one from the oven lights).

Once the dough has doubled its size, set it on a floured surface and fold it once or twice: this will allow the dough to get 'stronger' and easier to work. Let rest for 30 minutes.

In the meanwhile you can prepare your oven tray by using some oil or some baking foil ...I used both :) 
I prepared 3 different trays, as I made 3 different kinds of focaccia. 

Divide the main dough into 3 separate balls and spread each one onto each tray: while doing this make sure you don't 'pull' the dough with you hands but just 'push' it down to spread evenly on the tray surface.
Leave to rest for another 30 minutes. 

And now the focaccia is ready for your fingerprints :) with your fingers create the typical dots texture in the dough. This will not only give the typical focaccia look, but will also allow the oil , the water and he condiments to fills these smalls holes keeping it moist and tasty. Add the olive oil and also some water in the centre of the focaccia, and keep on doing the small dots.

Sprinkle some salt on the surface (better if coarse salt) and add your condiments. If you're using onions I would reccomend slicing them finely and let them in the microwave oven for a couple of minutes first, so they go in the oven softly and won't be raw when the focaccia is ready as it takes only about 15/20 minutes to cook at a 200 degrees temperature.

This is my onions focaccia before baking

Fresh rosemary is totally different, but unfortunately I didn't have it ...

and here's the result!

let cool down for 20 minutes....ok 10 minutes ;)

Time to share with friends and family...buon appettito and I hope you enjoy!