Summer’s here – in full, hot, sunshiny glory. Our little village is ablaze with roses and hollyhocks. Cricket, village fetes, cold drinks in the pub garden, all perfect and classic ways to spend the long light days. But how about a day of Italian cookery in the stunning kitchen of a beautiful old stone village house? Not so usual, but just as wonderful. Shall I tell you about my day at the Cici Coco Kitchen?
Cici Coco is an artisan food company run by the immensely talented Giuliana Cortese. Famous locally for her wonderful lasagne, and consistently winning awards for many of her handcrafted products, it’s a natural step for Giuliana to branch out into offering cookery classes. Cici Coco means “things that go well together” and Giuliana’s passion for using the absolute best ingredients (with an emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal food) along with her expertise and Italian flair just sums that up perfectly. Take a look at the website http://www.cici-coco.com.
So on to our day. Giulina (below on the right) gathered a few of us together and over coffee and cake we looked at the menu she had planned for us to prepare. An ambitious, generous menu – we had our work cut out!
So we got to work. We made fresh creamy Ricotta cheese. We made silky sheets of fresh pasta with spinach. We peeled and cooked artichokes. We prepared a heavenly long simmering ragu of beef, pork ribs and sausage. We rolled and filled delicate pasta parcels of smoked cheese and ricotta. We made a vibrant salad of tomatoes, bread and capers. We baked a luxurious, fragrant Ricotta and Almond Cake.
The artichokes, braised with capers, baby onions and anchovies is amazingly delicious – but I had to laugh when I looked at this photograph of the dish in preparation. Have you ever noticed how much anchovies can resemble earthworms? I’ve offended the food styling gods with this one!
On to the pasta making. Is there anything more satisfying, authentic and just pure fun than making beautiful smooth sheets of fresh pasta? It helps to have an expert by your side.
Are you hungry yet? I certainly was, and it was such a sweet moment when we all sat down – with a glass of crisp white wine – to enjoy the delicious food. I could so easily have lingered the rest of the afternoon – but no, it was time to meet the school bus on the village green.
What a lovely day. I learned so much. Thank you Giuliana.
Well it’s a long time coming – Spring, that is! Every morning I eagerly look for little bulbs to emerge or a sprinkling of delicate blossom. But Winter is clinging on, long overstaying its welcome in my view. Just this week I’ve seen more flurries of snow. The perfect food for this weather – when you are longing for fresh Spring flavours but still need some warmth and comfort – is a big pot of mussels, steamed with wine, garlic, fresh green herbs and a dash of cream. And some crusty bread of course! What do you think?
Mussel shells are so beautiful, aren’t they? That inky blackness and the sparkling reflections on the wet shells. Makes you dream of the sea.
Mussels are very quick and easy to cook. The only slighty troublesome bit is taking the time to clean the mussels and pull off the little seaweed like beards. But this is a contemplative task, an opportunity to sit at the kitchen table or stand at the sink and reflect on your day while you work. It is also a great task to dish out if someone asks what they can do to help!
So this is how I like to cook mussels. You will need:
2-3 shallots, or a small red onion, finely chopped
a knob of butter, about 25g
a large glassful of white wine, about a quarter of a bottle
a generous spoonful, or three, of double cream (you can leave this out – it’s still nice, just not as deliciously decadent)
a handful of fresh herbs, parsley is especially nice
Rinse the mussels under cold water. Give them a little scrub if necessary, and pull out the little beards. Discard any broken mussels
In a large heavy pot, gently soften the shallots or onions in the butter. Add the wine and let it bubble away and reduce down for about 5 minutes. Dump the mussels into the pot, cover tightly with a lid and allow to steam for about 3 minutes. Check and see if the mussels are all open and just cooked. If so, take the pot off the heat – 0therwise continue steaming for a minute or so longer. Pour over the cream and sprinkle on the herbs and stir together. That’s it! Your mussels are ready to enjoy with lots of crusty bread to soak up the lovely sauce. I often make some chips to go with the mussels too – the classic match made in heaven.
And look! I did find a few sprigs of blossom!
I’ve been working on some interesting projects over the past couple of months – hope to share more about that soon.
Hope you are all well – drop me a comment and let me know!
“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey…” The words of that evocative song keep going around my head and really resonate with me at the moment. It feels that winter is snatching the last glorious colours of autumn and the grey skies are making themselves comfortable. Earlier this month, I spent a couple of weeks in California, and now home, I’m dreaming of the West Coast sunshine – the light, colours and mood. Still, there is a beauty too in the muted tones of an English November, and what better to cheer a gloomy day than a cup of tea and a home baked biscuit? A shortbread biscuit, with Californian pistachio nuts.
Look at the extraordinary colour of these ground pistachios! I bought a big bag of these Californian Pistachios (ground to a fine flour/meal) in my beloved Santa Monica Farmers’ Market to bring back. I say ‘my’ market because for the many years I lived in Santa Monica, my twice weekly market shop was a steadfast ritual and I have never stopped missing it since I moved away. Fruits, nuts, honey, shellfish, wild mushrooms, flowers -a true cornucopia of the region – all found at this market. So my pistachio nuts, what will I do with them? To start, these very tasty little shortbread biscuits I think.
Pistachio Shortbread Biscuits
50g caster sugar
125g plain flour
75g ground pistachios
a few drops of vanilla (optional)
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sir in the flour and pistachio nuts, and vanilla if using. Divide the mix into about 20 small balls and place evenly spaced on a large, lined baking sheet. Flatten each ball gently. Bake at 190 degrees centigrade for 10-12 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack. Dust with golden icing sugar if you wish.
Now I thought I would share a few photographs from my travels, from San Francisco down the coast to Santa Monica. I’ve driven that route a few times and every time it just seems more beautiful. And the pumpkin patches and farm stands were in full swing.
Santa Barbara was celebrating the Dia de los Muertos when we were there. It’s the day when many people honour and celebrate the lives of ancestors and loved ones who have passed away. Favourite foods and drinks are enjoyed and presented in shrine, along with bright decorations,bunting and intricate sugar skulls. The festivities are joyful and we were so happy to join in the craft making, eating and drinking.
To finish, a most wonderful plate of carnitas and carne asada, tortillas and salsa. I miss that Californian Mexican food – but at least I brought home lots of corn tortillas too!
Thanks for visiting. A Christmas post next, I think.