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Plate of Pizzoccheri

Arriverdeci Winter” – “Benvenuto Spring”

I always have a slight moment of panic when trekking through forests and mountains we haven’t been in before. It’s always exhilarating (actually mainly afterwards) but there’s that tiny niggle of fear that we could be on the wrong track – after all you can’t see anything through the trees – and then we’d be fated to wander in the wilderness for ever. Well obviously not – but you know what I mean!

Well this time, just as the niggle of fear started to hit we broke cover and out of the trees, clouds and snow loomed our designated lunch-spot with….even better…. wafts of the hot, garlic-scented designated lunch that awaited us. Heavenly!

mountain chalet

On this particular day lunch was ‘pizzoccheri’, an ancient dish of the Northern Italian region of Valtellina and consisting of a sort of ‘tagliatelle’ made with buckwheat or ‘gran saraceno’ flour, tossed with potatoes, cabbage, garlic and local cheese. A suitably hearty meal for those who work in the mountains, or indeed for those of us who had sweated their way on foot up through woods and snowdrifts!


After finishing our meal in front of an enormous blazing fire it was time for the downhill return journey and much talk – now bravely – of our adventure.

mountain view.jpg

This year, our mild winter has now suddenly changed to cold and damp weather. So when I heard of the snowfall in Piemonte and Valle Aosta and watched the darkening skies out of my window, I felt in need of some comfort food to remind me of warming fires and warm full stomachs……where was that ‘pizzoccheri’?

Checking out my fridge (I didn’t want to walk down into the village with a downpour threatening) I found the only potatoes I possessed were already soft and sprouting green shoots, but I found ‘cavolo nero’  (the Italian equivalent of kale), a small squash or ‘zucca’, some garlic, parmesan and a fancy packet of ‘gran saraceno’ pasta gifted to us for Christmas.


As an aside – because ‘gran saraceno’ grows well in poor soil and harsh conditions it has become an ideal staple food for the mountains – and a plus for some of us is that it’s not a grain but a plant related to the sorrel family and is therefore gluten free.

I rather liked the idea of swapping potatoes in the dish for squash – they would give a dash of vibrant spring-colour and after their migration from the New World five hundred or so years ago ‘zucca’ have truly settled in and integrated themselves into the Italian way of life.

As it was now pouring with rain outside I decided to make my own pasta instead of using the packet one. I looked up the recipe as written by traditional specialists at the ‘Accademia del Pizzocchero’ of Teglio, but I saw they recommend a traditional method of flour and water. I’ve always been advised to use eggs for making pasta so here I’m using egg and milk.


Plate of Pizzoccheri

For 4
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes
Pre-heat oven: 200C/400F


For home-made Pasta
200g ‘gran saraceno’ or buckwheat flour
100g stoneground white flour
1 large egg
Pinch salt
150ml warm milk (appx)

OR – use 300g dried pizzoccheri

½ squash or 1 small squash (about 300g)
Olive oil, drizzle
Coarse salt
Fresh sage leaves

75g butter (butter is mainly used in the mountains here for obvious reasons – olive trees don’t grow but cows do)
1 shallot
1 clove garlic, grated
Cavolo nero or kale (about 300g)
Organic primroses for decoration (optional!) – or freshly chopped parsley

Flour & Egg


Mix the two flours and salt together and tip onto a large wooden board. Make a well in the centre and break an egg into it.

Take a fork and start beating the egg gradually bringing in the flour from the edge of the bowl and slowly adding the milk.

Start using your hands and mix well together – you might need a little more milk if too dry or a little less, or more white flour if too wet.

Knead for a few minutes and when it feels smooth and pliable you’re ready to let it rest. Form into a ball, wrap in cling-film and put to one side for at least half an hour or until you’re ready to roll it out. I actually put mine in the fridge overnight and rolled it out the next day.

Pasta ball

Take a large pastry board. Divide the dough ball in half – I find it easier to roll out two halves rather than the whole ball. But entirely up to you!

With your rolling pin roll out the dough into a fairly thin sheet – it’s too finicky for me to measure the exact millimeter thickness so I have to be infuriatingly vague and say, not too thin that it’s transparent and fragile but not too thick that it looks heavy and unattractive!

When you’re happy with your effort, trim the edges then cut the dough into strips approximately 10-15cm long by 2cm wide and put to one side, onto another floured board or plate.

Pizzoccheri pasta

I’m making pasta by hand because I find it incredibly satisfying and because I don’t make pasta very often. But for those of you with pasta machines you’ll probably use those instead of hand rolling.

Zucca for baking

Whilst the pasta is resting, de-seed the zucca and cut into large chunks. Drizzle with oil and coarse salt and dot with fresh sage leaves. Bake for about 20 minutes or until soft but not squishy. Remove from oven and allow to cool. When cool, remove the skin and dice in to smallish cubes.

Then bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.

Roughly chop the cavolo nero leaves, discarding any stems that are too thick and put them into the boiling water.

After 3-4 minutes add the pizzoccheri pasta strips and cook for 5 minutes (if you’re using dried pasta, check the cooking time).

Meanwhile heat a large frypan with butter. Add the finely chopped shallot and grated garlic and cook until soft but not brown.

Add the roasted pumpkin cubes at the last minute, stir briefly until heated through and season well.

Drain both the pasta and cavolo nero (keep back a little of the cooking water) and add to the fry-pan.

Give a quick stir, adding some of the cooking water, and tip onto plates.

Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and decorate with a few spring primroses or chopped parsley.

Plate of Pizzoccheri

N.B.  Traditionally this pasta has mountain cheese melted in as well as parmesan, but much as I love the local cheese – and Bitto is usually the cheese used for this dish – I wanted to make the dish a little lighter…..a little more ‘spring-like’!










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I’m already thinking post-Christmas and that burning question of what to eat on Boxing Day or the day after…or the day after that…? Left-over turkey, ham and trimmings are always a treat but sometimes you want to pop in a little surprise, something different – but without the work!

Well….I’ve just discovered something rather wonderful thanks to our lovely neighbour who presented us with a large bag of organic, home-grown walnuts. ‘Salsa di noci’ or walnut salsa is this something rather wonderful, a classic Ligurian sauce that’s normally served with pasta but here I’m using it as a dip for chicken wings.

I’m sure somewhere you’ll still have a large bowl of nuts and walnuts left-over from the festivities…..or maybe like me you still have some from last year’s Christmas! If so, chuck them out and start with fresh.

Book yourself some quiet time – light the fire, put on an old movie, find your nutcrackers…. and get cracking walnuts! If you’ve also got some almonds …. crack those too.

Don’t crack all your walnuts – (now there’s a motto for life!) – keep some whole ones back and give this ancient Italian game a try. I’ve just copied the origins and instructions from a wall in the Ligurian village where I found this game and I think you’ll find it reassuringly non-energetic – physically or mentally – for after-Christmas partying!

OMILLA (the triangle in the circle)

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Historical origins:
This game was part of the target games played with walnuts in the classical Greek and Roman times. The triangle shaped area that is drawn on the ground, corresponded to the capital letter ‘delta’ of the Greek alphabet. The throws were done with walnuts (which was a symbol of youth games in the classical period) or small astragal bones from sheep or goats carcasses which were used as dice or for other games in those periods.

Number of players:
As many as wished, minimum two.

Walnuts or small animal bones or even small stones are good.

How to play:
In turns, each player throws the walnuts or bones on the ground from a distance previously decided and the same for everyone, bopping that their own walnut will land within the area where the highest score is marked. Highest total score wins.

Obviously I used my walnuts but if you happen to have any sheep or goat carcasses around …..then bones it is!

Meanwhile, here’s a recipe I did earlier!…

For 6 – to be eaten with fingers

Nut-cracking time: flexible
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

Spiced chicken wings.jpg

Pre-heat oven 200C/400F


24 chicken wings (I’ve allowed 4 each)
1 Tbsp sumac spice
1 Tbsp paprika
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
Salt & ground black pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp olive oil (appx.)

SALSA di NOCI (to use as a dip
125g shelled walnuts
75g shelled almonds
1 clove garlic, peeled
½ tsp salt
5 heaped Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
200ml single cream
5 Tbsp olive oil (appx.)

Mix the chicken wings, spices and olive oil together in a large bowl.

Arrange in one layer in a baking dish and roast in the oven for about 25 minutes.

Remove and allow to sit covered for about 5 minutes.

Put the nuts into a food processor and blitz until they are coarsely ground.

Tip in the garlic, salt, parmesan cheese, cream and olive oil and blitz again until well mixed to make a fairly firm dipping sauce.

Adjust to how liquid you would like the salsa – adding more oil or cream if necessary. Pour into a bowl – or bowls.

Serve the chicken wings on a large wooden platter with the bowl/bowls of ‘salsa di noci’ and perhaps a large green salad. No cutlery needed – these are to be eaten in the fingers – so just a pile of paper napkins.

Follow up with some fresh tangerines and if you can find a bottle of the Italian liqueur made with young walnuts called ‘Nocino’ – then this would be just the icing on the cake!










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 Porcini Tempura1 - Copia

I’m up to my ears in Porcini – not a phrase that’s often bandied about these days  – especially outside Italy!

I frightened the guy at my local market the other day with my excitement at the sight of fresh porcini sitting on his stall. He poor man was mortified as he thought I’d spied some horrific creepy-crawly damaging his vegetables so I had to quickly tone down my ardour. Clearly I need to re-think how I express joy and pleasure as I seem to be giving the wrong impression and just end up scaring people!

Porcini Basket1

On the other hand I saw my neighbour return from a walk recently, not in his usual quiet and calm – bordering on morose – state but thoroughly over-excited and gesticulating in an alarming fashion. He too had seen porcini and couldn’t seem to contain his exuberance. I was therefore feeling rather proud that I might have started to become truly ‘Italian’ in my funghi euphoria.

I had actually been searching for fresh porcini for a while but everyone kept telling me that it’d been such a hot summer that the harvest was bad this year and fresh porcini were scarce. But with the recent influx of rain they started once again popping up in the woods nearby…..or fairly nearby…or actually I’ve no idea where they’d been found. Gathering porcini seems to be a bit like truffle-hunting – but without dogs – their whereabouts are a mystery and top secret.

Porcini Single1

I’d made some Japanese-style vegetable tempura recently, which went down very well with my Italian guests, so I thought I’d make it again but this time with porcini – their meaty yet delicate flesh would be ideal. One of the guests mentioned that they always used grappa or sparkling wine in their batter so I thought I’d try this out.

Prosecco grapes  Prosecco aperitivo - Copia

I’m using Prosecco because we’d just returned from a trip through the ‘strada del prosecco’ – the region around Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, south of Trento. Only now have I cracked how to correctly pronounce Valdobbiadene – the DOC centre for Prosecco! Obviously we bought a few bottles so I thought I’d use some of the last remaining bottle!

So, here’s the recipe which is really easy to make and rather delicious….see what you think!



For 2 as a light supper (or 4 for a starter)

Preparation time: 5-10 minutes

Cooking time: appx. 2-3 minutes per mushroom

Porcini Tempura1 - Copia


8 large porcini mushrooms (use large field mushrooms if you can’t get porcini)

Vegetable oil for frying (about ½ – ¾ litre)

Tempura batter

100g plain flour

25g cornflour

Good pinch of salt

175ml Prosecco, well chilled

Dipping Sauce

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

4 Tbsp Prosecco


Mix the balsamic vinegar and prosecco together, pour into small dipping bowls and set aside.

Carefully wipe each porcini clean with a damp cloth or soft brush.

Slice lengthwise into medium-thick slices – depending on size you’ll probably get about 3-4  slices per mushroom.

Sift the flour, cornflour and salt into a bowl and pour in the chilled Prosecco. Whisk briefly just to combine but don’t over-mix.

Heat vegetable oil in a high-sided pan or wok over high heat. To test if it’s hot enough add a drop of batter to see if it sizzles (heat needs to be about 180C/350F).

Dip the porcini slices into the batter and then immediately into the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan – I did about 2-3 slices at a time.

When they’re a light golden brown (about 2-3 minutes) take out of the pan and keep warm on a plate covered with kitchen paper.

When finished serve with dipping sauce and fresh parsley – and some coarse sea salt.






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Here are another couple of posts I did recently for which I hope you too will like!….

click on:


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click on


Fig & Ricotta meringue

……and for a lovely healthy and easy pomegranate recipe click on:


squares 2b

Hope you like them all…..there’s more to come!



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IMAG3872 - Copia - Copia   Murazzano 2

I know, I know!……I’m sorry I’m way behind on my blog but I?m working on the next one right now and thereafter I should be up to speed!

I haven’t been idly lounging around sunning myself on a palm-edged beach – more’s the pity! But I had an exciting offer from Turin Italy Guide asking if I’d like to write a weekly guest blog about Piedmont, a place I love, and its food. Naturally I was thrilled to be asked and so I said yes please…and grazie!

I’ve now written 3 – with another one being posted this weekend. If you’d like to read them here are the links:



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flowers1aWe could be in the tropics at the moment with heat that rises to 35 degrees during the day followed swiftly by a monsoon-style storm at night….and I’ve even noticed some ominous bites appearing on exposed flesh early evening. That was understandable whilst we were weekending on the Italian coast but very strange to have these same hot sultry nights on our return home to mountainous northern Italy. Apart from anything else there are a lot of hot and very confused sheep around!

M&F in bar  noli beach2

So with all this extreme weather I could feel a lighter more Asian-style supper dish coming on and one in particular I wanted to make was from my time in Indonesia. It was a dish of fragrant banana leaf packages baked in the ashes of an open fire. I remember opening the packages, folding back the leaves and this heavenly aroma of ginger, garlic and basil escaping and mingling with the heady smell of frangipani, the sound of frogs croaking in the rice fields and the rhythmic beating of the gamelan………well, it was paradise!

bird of paradise2Banana trees of course don’t grow here in Italy – although I spotted a member of their family growing along the coast – that symbol of tropical flowers, the stunning bird-of-paradise flower. Inedible obviously, but not to the sunbirds who feed from what looks like the open beak of the flower.

Prov mercato2My local fruttivendolo, resourceful as ever, rose to the challenge and produced the ideal substitute for banana leaves – an inviting tray of zucchini flowers which as well as being feather-light are perfect for stuffing. I’ve eaten wonderful zucchini flowers stuffed with all sorts of different Italian fillings but I wanted and needed something extra light.

small restaurant noli piazza1aIn Indonesia the filling was made with tofu and although tofu isn’t a food that comes naturally to Italians it has now crept onto supermarket shelves, into new fusion restaurants and onto the shopping lists of a growing Italian vegan population. Because of its lightness, softness and blandness it can be incorporated into many traditional dishes like ravioli, cannelloni, pasta sauces, puddings etc.

tofu 2So with my ingredients sourced, this is what I made…….………..ouch I’ve been bitten again…how I hate mosquitoes please name me one, just one, positive thing about them?!

For 2 as a main course or 6 as a starter
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

stuffed flowers3

1 x 250g block firm tofu
2 spring onions, fine chopped
2 tsp finely grated ginger
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
½ red chilli, seeds removed & minced
2 Tbsp finely chopped basil
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp soya sauce (optional – use pinch of salt if preferred)
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 180C/350F
Mix together all the above ingredients – actually I put everything into my small food processor. As you can see the mixture ends up resembling a sort of crumbly herb ricotta.

tofu stuffing1

Take one of the zucchini flowers – handle carefully they’re fragile – and gently pull apart the petals.

Stuff carefully, pushing down with a finger, then bring the petals back together and twist.

Lay all your stuffed flowers in a baking dish, drizzle with a little more olive oil and bake for about 25-30 minutes.

Serve warm with a salad

flowers4N.B. If you can’t find zucchini flowers just substitute any green leaf vegetable – spinach, cabbage, lettuce…