Monday, 27 December 2010


When I think of my childhood Christmases, my mind is flooded with memories of Christmas cakes from the pasticceria and home made struffoli. I still crave for them every year. As I live now in Lucca and I do not have a Neapolitan pasticceria nearby, my nostalgia is soothed by making struffoli myself.
Struffoli are sweet fried dumplings coated with honey syrup. They are a very archaic recipe probably going back to Ancient Greece as Naples was founded by the Greeks in the 8th Century BC.
Today struffoli use sugar as an ingredient but last year I tried to imagine how my Classical Greek ancestors could have made them so I recreate a honey only version and it worked very well.
This is the recipe my mother used. I love it because it is very tasty and it’s not too rich.


Serves 10

Flour: 1 pound (450 grams) plus a little extra if required  
Granulated Sugar: 4 ounces plus 4 ounces
6 regular size eggs
2 ounces (55 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
The grated rind of 1 unwaxed and untreated Orange
The grated rind of 1 unwaxed and untreated Lemon
Brandy: 1 tablespoon (15 ml)
A pinch of salt
½ pound  (225 g)  good quality honey
Good frying oil (sunflower or peanut)
4 ounces ( 110 g) of candied lemon peel
4 ounces (110g) of candied orange peel
hundred of thousands to decorate
silver/gold balls
Water: 2 Tbsp (30 ml)

1) On a pastry board place the flour in a mound and make a well in the centre. Have the extra flour ready in case it is needed.
Put 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks in the hole making sure that they do not overflow.
Add 4 ounces of granulated sugar and the butter, a pinch of salt, the  grated lemon and orange rind and the brandy.

2) Using a wooden spoon start mixing slowly from the centre of the well making sure that the liquid does not spill over.
Slowly incorporate the flour.
When the dough becomes denser start mixing it with your hands and finish incorporating all the flour. If the dough is too wet add some of the extra flour.
Make the dough uniform in colour and consistency and shape it like a ball and wrap it in cling film (this stops it drying out).
The dough must rest for 1 hour at least in a cool place.

3) After the resting time remove the cling film and divide into smaller pieces.
Each section must now be rolled into a long sausage about ½ inch/1.5cm thick.
Cut the sausages into small 1/3 inch/1cm dumplings (the size of the dumplings is not canonical, some people likes them very small)
Place all the dumplings on a clean tea towel.

4) Pour enough frying oil into a deep frying pan and heat the oil slowly. Do not overheat the oil.
If you think that the oil has reached a good temperature add one dumpling. If it starts frying you can add a small load of dumplings. Turn them using a frying spoon so they brown evenly. In about two minutes they turn golden so remove them from the oil and place them on kitchen paper to dry. Fry the rest of the dumpling in small loads making sure that they do not turn too brown so be quick to remove them from the hot oil when they’re ready.

5) Now in a saucepan put the honey, 4 ounces/100g of sugar and the water. Heat it slowly and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the sugar and the honey are melted and look like syrup, test its consistency by pouring a drop on a cold plate. It has to settle like jam. Make sure you do not burn it!
Turn the flame off and slowly add all the dumplings, the orange and lemon candied peel. Now with a large spoon very gently start moving them in the pan so they can be coated with the syrup. Do it with care as you do not want to break the dumplings.

6) Pour them on a serving plate in the shape of a volcano (some people prefer the shape of a ring).
Scatter hundreds and thousands on the top and then add the silver/gold balls to decorate.

Wait until the syrup has settled and they’re cold before serving. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Penne with Green Cauliflower

Yesterday I took a ten minutes break after a busy morning in front of my computer screen. I went out, bought a newspaper and couldn’t resist a quick detour to our local greengrocer where I saw a beautiful green cauliflower, so beautiful that it looked liked a piece of art, a great sculpture. I couldn’t spend my time admiring it, so bought it. I love the fact that this shop has a neat pile of paper bags of varying size to put the fruit and vegetables in and not the normal role of mangled plastic bags. I moved to the till.

It was nearly lunch time so it could be used immediately. Because the way our life is arranged we are still able to keep the Italian tradition of lunch as the main meal.
Back home I put the green cauliflower on a cloth as I didn’t really want to cut it. Somebody told me that they are green because during their growth the leaves are removed so the exposed flower starts producing chlorophyll and turns emerald. Other sources claim that it is an hybrid between white cauliflower and broccoli.

I decided to prepare a quick Pasta con Cavolfiore (Pasta with cauliflower). I had a look on the kitchen shelves and found garlic, black olives and capers. I always keep fresh flat parsley in a little vase.

I have used local black olives that are very tasty. Try to find good olives as canned pitted olives are often tasteless. I didn’t have the time and the energy to pit the olives so if you want to emulate me, please mind your teeth! Do use capers kept in salt; avoid capers in vinegar, so far I’ve not been able to work out what they’re for.

Penne con Cavolfiore Verde - Penne with Green Cauliflower

Serves 4
Time: 30 minutes


1 medium size green cauliflower
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
30 black pitted olives
1 or 2 tablespoons of capers preserved in salt. Rinsed.
1 pound (450 grams) penne
Sea salt as required

1. Fill a large saucepan with water, add the required salt and boil while you are preparing the cauliflower.

2. Remove the leaves and cut the cauliflower into florets.

3. Place the florets in a steamer and steam them until they can be pierced with a fork (about 10 min)

4. While the two saucepans are performing their duty put on a low flame a large frying pan with the olive oil, a chopped clove of garlic and the olives. Cook for 3 minutes or until the garlic turns light golden then add the rinsed capers and the chopped parsley.

5. Put the pasta in the boiling water.

6. The cauliflower should be ready by now so add it to the frying pan. Add some hot water from the steamer when required. Keep cooking. I did not add salt because both the olives and the capers are salty but if you like more “saporito” taste and do not have problems with your arteries, add your required amount.

7. After draining the pasta add it to the frying pan and mix all with a wooden spoon.

8. Serve it

It took about half an hour to prepare this beautiful tasty and healthy dish. I don’t know if it is just my impression but I find the green cauliflower more intense and sweeter in taste. We all loved this dish.