Baked apricot and ricotta cheesecake

Posted by Sarah On July - 23 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

This is one of the best things I cooked in Italy (if I do say so myself). I love baked cheesecake, especially when it’s light and fluffy. This one is reminiscent of a souffle in its fluffiness. There are such beautiful apricots in season in Italy, so I couldn’t not cook something with them. If you want to make this and it’s not apricot season, I reckon other stone fruit would work well – try plums, nectarines or peaches. I do love the tangyness and the bright orange of the apricots though.

For the base:

  • 170g crushed digestives (I used an Italian brand – wholewheat with bits of dried fruit)
  • 125g melted unsalted butter
  • 12 apricots, cut in half and stones removed
  • 30ml sugar
  • 750ml water

For the filling:

  • 500g ricotta
  • 80ml cream
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 80g sugar

For the base, mix together the biscuits and butter and spread across the base of a cake tin. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for an hour or two.

Meanwhile, poach the apricots in the sugar and water on a low heat until the apricots start to soften and the skin wrinkles (should be about 10 minutes).

To make the filling, mix together the ricotta, cream, lemon zest, sugar and egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Fold in gently into the ricotta mixture. Lay the apricots, cut side down, on top of the biscuit base. Cover with the filling and bake in the oven at 180C for an hour.

Bruschette

Posted by Sarah On July - 23 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

Another of my Italian favourites – tomato bruschette. Nothing tastes more of summer than this antipasto – hints of garlic, ripe sweet tomatoes, fresh basil and lashings of olive oil. I could eat these every day in summer. For some reason, they taste better in Italy than they do at home. I think it’s something to do with the tomatoes – they just seem to have more flavour. I think bruschette are best when made in summer with fresh, ripe tomatoes rather than ones that have been in cold storage and taste a bit bland.

All you need to make tomato bruschette is a French baguette or ciabatta, which you slice, rub with a cut garlic clove, and toast under the grill (I love those charred grill lines). Cut up loads of tomato, and mix with lashings of good quality olive oil and a handful of roughly chopped basil. Pile the toasted bread up with the tomato mixture and that’s it. Simple and delicious.

Involtini di melanzane

Posted by Sarah On June - 30 - 20101 COMMENT

Ok, here’s another aubergine recipe. I can’t get enough of these Italian aubergines! I had this starter the other night on the Amalfi Coast, and it was absolutely delicious. I know Italians are big on their involtini (rolls of beef with cheese inside) but I had never tried a vegetarian version. These aubergine rolls have provolone (the local Amalfian cheese) inside, which imparts a lovely smokey flavour. They really couldn’t be easier to make – there’s a bit of frying involved, and then not much else.

I got this recipe from the chef who made the beautiful involtini in the photo. He didn’t speak any English and my Italian’s not great, but I think I got the gist of it!

Melanzane di involtini

Serves 4

  • 2 aubergines, sliced thinly
  • 200 g provolone cheese
  • A few fresh basil leaves,shredded
  • A small handful of cherry tomatoes

Fry the aubergine in batches until golden. (If you want to be good, you can grill it instead).

Cut small pieces of cheese and fill each slice of aubergine with a roll of cheese and a few shreds of basil. Roll them up like cigars. Place a slice of cherry tomato on top of each roll and then bake in the oven for about 5 minutes until the cheese is oozing out.

Peach crostata

Posted by Sarah On June - 30 - 20102 COMMENTS

There’s such beautiful fruit in season in Italy right now – plums, peaches, apricots, melons, cherries – all my favourites. As much as I love eating unadulterated fruit, I love cooking with it. Perfectly ripe, sweet fruit needs little embellishment to make a fab dessert. Italians make the most delicious pastries and puddings with fruit. One of my favourite Italian sweets is fruit crostata (tart). This peach crostata is so easy and simple and makes the most of sweet peaches. You could also use other stone fruit in season – I reckon apricots and plums would work well too.

This recipe is taken from My Amalfi Coast.

Peach crostata

  • 250 g strong plain flour (I used Italian ‘OO’)
  • 125 g sugar
  • 125 g butter at room temperature, chopped
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 500 g fresh peaches, sliced (this is about 5 big peaches)

Tip the flour onto a clean board and mix with the sugar. Rub in the  butter with your fingers to combine. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and egg yolk. Mix with your fingers to break the yolks and then lightly knead the ingredients together, making sure not to overwork the pastry. Roll into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Heat the oven to 180 C. Roll out the pastry into a rectangle in a baking tray. Arrange the peach slices on top and sprinkle with a bit of sugar. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

Parmigiana di melanzane

Posted by Sarah On June - 27 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

This is one of my favourite Italian dishes, and the best way to eat aubergine. My sister and cousin made this on our first day in Italy, and it was a great introduction to beautiful Italian summer food – gloriously tomatoey and thick slices of aubergine.

I haven’t found a healthy way of adapting this classic recipe (there’s a lot of oil and cheese involved) but it’s definitely worth the indulgence.

Parmigiana di melanzane

Serves 6

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tins of peeled whole tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • A generous handful of grated Parmesan
  • A cup of grated mozzarella, or two sliced mozzarella balls

Slice the aubergine into rounds, salt them and leave to drain in a colander for an hour. Wash the salt off the aubergine slices and pat dry with a towel.

Fry the slices of aubergine in olive oil until golden (about 4 minutes on each side). Aubergine loves oil and will soak it up quickly so keep adding olive oil when it gets dry. Using a non stick pan will help a lot. Drain the fried aubergine on paper towels.

To make the tomato sauce, fry the onion in olive oil until it starts to soften and then add the garlic. Add the chopped tomatoes, and add a handful of basil leaves and pepper, and leave to simmer for about twenty five minutes. Add a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to season.

Spread a spoonful of tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish and follow with a layer of aubergine. Cover with more sauce, a few torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of Pamersan. Continue layering with aubergine, sauce, basil and parmesan and finish with a layer of sauce. Top with the  mozzarella.

Bake in a 180C oven for around 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and turning golden. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad. It also makes for great leftovers on a sandwich the next day with some basil pesto. Delicioso!