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!










ravioli melograna 1Twelve days ‘til Christmas and it’s just been snowing in the mountains. A clear starry night now beckons us outside promising roasted chestnuts, a glowing fire and a steaming glass of vin brulè mulled with warm spices! We’re celebrating!

burning logTomorrow is December 13th an important date here because it heralds ‘La Festa di Santa Lucia’ – but the kids are getting excited for tonight…..before Babbo Natale entered Northern Italy’s culture it was Santa Lucia, patron saint of light and eyes, who brought presents for the children.

Arriving by donkey on the night of 12th December, she distributed gifts of food, sweets and candles to deserving children but left only coal or ashes for those undeserving ones – although of course now the ‘coal’ is a slab of dark chocolate!

angel 3© Jacqueline Stutz

Along with their list of wants, the children originally had to leave Santa Lucia a cup of coffee and some bread, plus water and hay for the donkey…..I’m sure she gets more these days, even in our household us kids were firmly told Father Christmas liked a very large brandy and several mince-pies!

Santa Lucia was one of the first Christian martyrs and came from Syracuse in Sicily where they celebrate with a week of festivities, fireworks and eating, but – in recognition of her also saving the city from famine – they abstain from eating pasta and bread.

pumpkin1I’ve just discovered that she’s also patron saint of Mantua – very providential as I’d devised a no-pasta version of the traditional “tortelli di zucca” (pumpkin ravioli), a pasta dish originally enjoyed at the medieval court of the Gonzagas and now enjoyed by all!

red onesWhen we visited Mantua a few months ago the city centre was under scaffolding, a reminder of the huge restoration work still being carried out after the 2012 earthquake which devastated the surrounding area and cracked some of the glorious medieval buildings of Mantua.

View from Clocktower 1aEarthquakes apart however, nothing could rock the stable foundations of the “cuisine of princes and the people” with its specialities of salame mantovana; cotechino (traditionally served at Christmas-time in northern Italy with lentils); agnoli in brodo and tortelli di zucca; luccio in salsa (pike); caponne still cooked and served according to the Gonzaga family chef’s 1622 recipe; gran padano & parmigiano reggiano cheeses; the famous sour apple and pear mostarda mantovana and light, flaky desserts such as sbrisolana… name but a few!

eating under the archesBut tortelli di zucca are my favourite – those fragrant pasta pouches, stuffed with soft pumpkin and crushed amaretti biscuits, lounging in hot melted butter and sage.

For my ‘no-pasta’ version I’ve substituted wafer-thin slices of raw topinambur or Jerusalem artichoke for the ravioli pockets, sandwiching teaspoonfuls of the classic pumpkin and amaretti filling between two slices.

I happen to love Jerusalem artichokes – raw or cooked – and being health-conscious I love to use them whenever I can (within reason as they’re not referred to as ‘windy’ for no reason!). They’re not only packed with B-Vitamins, potassium and iron but are also highly recommended for diabetics as they help to reduce and stabilise blood sugar levels.

For 4 (as a pasta course – makes about 40 small ‘tortelli’)
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes


Preheat oven: 200C/400F

2 medium/large-sized jerusalem artichokes or topinambur
1 small pumpkin or zucca (about 1 kg)
1 egg
100g grated parmesan cheese
100g crushed amaretti biscuits
50g chopped mostarda mantova (or use an apple or pear chutney)
Zest of ½ lemon
Salt & pepper
½ tsp grated nutmeg
Pomegranate seeds for decoration



Halve the pumpkin, remove all seeds and stringy bits and slice (you can keep the skin on).

zucca slices

Bake for about 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, then spoon out the flesh and put into a bowl.

Add all the other ingredients, tip into a food processor and mix until you get a smooth-ish puree.

zucca puree

Wash the artichokes well – I prefer keeping the skin on, but you could also peel them. I cut off some of the knobbly bits to make the slices more equal.

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Finely slice both artichokes – it’s easiest with a mandolin and you should get about 20 slices per artichoke this way.


Spoon small amounts of pumpkin puree (very small teaspoonfuls) onto half of the artichoke slices and cover with the remaining slices.

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Take a steamer – here I have my bamboo & wok ensemble.

The bamboo steamer-stack means I can fill each layer with ‘tortelli’ and steam them all together. But if you have another form of steamer you could put parchment paper between layers. Steam for 8-10 minutes until soft to touch.

Serve warm on separates plates dusted with nutmeg and grated parmesan cheese and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.


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