Yes, spring has most definitely sprung. It’s been a long time coming. Soups may not be on the top of everyone’s list of things to eat as they bathe in the sunshine today, but the night’s are still chilly and a good bowl of soup is satisfying at almost any time of the year. Ribollita is a hearty vegan Tuscan soup made from cannellini beans, stale bread and kale. It may not sound that appetising, but it’s delicious.
Whenever I need to get supper on and I haven’t thought about what we’re going to eat, I inevitably turn to my Pasta’s Last Stand. It’s always delicious, I don’t need any special ingredients, but best of all, I don’t have to think about it. Normally I’d scatter a bit of cheese over the top, but as it’s Veganuary this month, I thought I’d ring the changes and scatter some miso marinated tofu over it instead.
It’s the second week in December and I’ve only just made my first Christmas recipe. Biscuits and cookies make great gifts at Christmas and when I’m organised, I like to make a few of them. I’ve started with these gluten free chocolate pistachio biscotti as I want to get a few sent off in the post and biscotti are great for keeping well.
Pimp up your pasta and have a fabulous weeknight meal that takes no time at all, but feels a little bit special. This seasonal romanesco pasta dish is a taste sensation. It’s quick and simple to make and is also suitable for vegans.
There is no doubt about it, Italians are proud of their food heritage and they have every right to be so. With its fresh flavours, vibrant colours and simplicity, Italian cuisine ranks as one of the world’s best and is one of my personal favourites. It’s had a massive influence on British food. Where would we be without our pizza, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, risotto and more recently the panini? But there is far more to it than these familiar dishes.
Having mentioned the C word in my last post, I am fully committed to it now. In a bid to try and remember what Christmas is all about and to get away from the avid commercialism associated with it, Vanessa Kimbell has created a thought provoking Let’s Make Christmas event. The idea is to inspire people to make their own Christmas gifts this year – or at least some of them. As I’ve always tried to make a few of my own each year, I heartily approved of this sentiment. Then Vanessa came up with a second Let’s Make Christmas event which I was also keen to participate in. She is hosting a food blogger gift swap – in Fortnum and Masons no less. I haven’t been to this shop in many many a long year, but it still lives on in my memory as a perfect Aladdin’s cave of foodie delights. I really didn’t want to miss out on this one.
But oh what to make, what to make? It needed to be something light, that would travel well and could be made well in advance. My first thought was biscotti, as the ones I made last year were so good. On reflection though, I thought this wasn’t very original so contemplated making these chocolate oranges instead. But, having mulled that over, I rejected it, mostly because the only organic oranges I could find were thin skinned and your really need thick skinned pithy oranges for this. Hmmmmm, various biscuits, brownies, tiffin, truffles all came to mind. Then I was sent a copy of Cox Cookies & Cake to review. The review will follow in a later post, but one of the recipes that leapt straight out of the page was this one – oh well back to the biscotti idea after all. But pumpkin biscotti! Surely not many others will be doing that. And we did manage to grow quite a few large pumpkins this year, which nicely tied into my seasonal theme. Having been inspired by Karen’s mixed spice over at Lavender & Lovage, I was keen to make my own for this recipe. The only missing ingredient was chocolate, but chocolate dipped biscotti can only be a good thing, surely?
Something this special required a freshly ground spice mix. I often make my own mixed spice for baking and this was one of those times.
Mixed Spice Recipe
- Ground 2 inches of a cinnamon quill in the coffee grinder with 1/4 tsp of cloves, 2 star anise, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, 1/4 tsp black pepper corns, the seeds from 5 cardamom pods and 1/4 tsp allspice berries.
- Added a good grating of nutmeg then pounded it further in a pestle and mortar to make it as fine as possible.
So here you have my first batch of pumpkin biscotti. I shall make some more for the big do in London nearer the time. I halved the recipe, although the mixture was so wet (probably because I added more pumpkin than I should have) I had to add quite a few spoonfuls of additional flour to the mix, so this is really quite a bit more than half. Here’s how I did it:
Spicy Pumpkin Biscotti Recipe
- Steamed 80g of peeled and chopped pumpkin (Boston Marrow) flesh for 15 minutes until tender.
- Left to drain for a good half an hour to ensure it wouldn’t be too wet.
- Mashed with a fork.
- Toasted 100g mixed nuts in the oven at 180C for 10 minutes until just starting to brown.
- Placed in a pan and fried them in 15g butter for a few minutes.
- Sieved 225g flour (100g white, 125g spelt) into a bowl with 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp of the mixed spice.
- Added 175g dark brown sugar.
- Made a well in the centre and added 1 large egg and the mashed pumpkin.
- Mixed this in, starting in the middle and working outwards.
- Added about 3 tbsp more of spelt as the mixture was very wet.
- Spooned onto a baking tray lined with a silicone mat in a rough log shape.
- Baked for 25 minutes at 180C.
- Left to cool for 20 minutes.
- Cut 1 cm slices diagonally across the log with a bread knife (17 long pieces in total).
- Placed the slices on two lined trays and baked at 160C for a further 15 minutes.
- Left to cool on a wire rack.
- Melted 60g 72% dark chocolate in a bowl over hot water.
- Coated the ends of 8 of the biscotti in the melted chocolate by means of dipping and pouring it over with a teaspoon.
- Left on a wire rack to set.
- Placed in a jar and tied a ribbon and tag around it (I use old Chrismas cards as tags).
Nutty, spicy and delicious, I thought these had the necessary star quality to travel with me to London. I was particularly pleased with the spice mix, which was so much more aromatic for being freshly ground. These were not overly sweet as evinced by CT’s first comment on biting into a piece, “mmmm, tastes like a sausage” – great! However, once covered in chocolate, no more mention was made of sausages, just pleasant grunts of satisfaction were evinced. The only thing I would do differently is to make much smaller pieces – I had to find a very tall jar for these to fit in.
As soon as I saw the post about biscotti over at Fig and Lime Coridal, it was only a matter of time until I had a go at making some myself. I had made some really good chocolate biscotti a few years ago, but having lost the recipe, it went off my radar. However, once reminded, it was a dead cert. These were on my list for Christmas gifts. I used Celia’s recipe as my base line, but adapted it to include melted chocolate. I also found I needed to add some water as the dough was just too dry to come together without it – this may be because I used wholemeal flour. Anyway, this is what I did:
- Roasted 140g hazelnuts for 10 minutes in a hot oven to loosen skins (and make house smell good).
- Allowed to cool, then rolled the nuts between my hands to take off the skins.
- Chopped roughly.
- Melted 72% dark chocolate (72%)
- Sifted 300g flour 150g wholemeal spelt and 150g white spelt) into a bowl with 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda, 1/4 tsp salt (Himalayan pink) and 75g cocoa (G&B).
- Mixed in 200g vanilla granulated sugar (or use 1 tsp vanilla extract) and 2 tsp orange zest.
- Made a well in the centre and broke in 3 large eggs.
- Mixed in the eggs working in the dry ingredients from the side.
- Added the melted chocolate and mixed a bit more.
- Added the nuts.
- As the mixture was very dry, added a couple of tablespoons of water to bring dough together with my hands.
- Divided dough into two and rolled into sausage shapes about 3 inches wide.
- Placed these on a lined baking tray and baked at 180C for 25 minutes.
- Removed from oven and left to cool for 15 minutes.
- Cut the rolls into diagonal 1 cm thick slices to ensure a longish thinish shape.
- Baked the slices for a further 20 mins at 160C, turning them over half way through.
- Placed on a wire rack and left to cool.
- Made 33 pieces
Hoorah, these were a complete success. They looked as good as I could have hoped for with a nice dark chocolatey colour contrasting well with the white hazelnuts that studded them. They smelt wonderful and the aroma scented the house for a long time afterwards. I had a hard time stopping myself from opening the tin every half hour just to inhale their fragrance. They had the classic biscotti texture, which can be a bit of a shock if you are expecting a standard cookie type biscuit; these Italian double baked biscuits are hard and are meant for dunking. This batch was not just visually appealing, there was a depth to the flavour as a result of rich chocolate, nuttiness from the hazelnuts and just a hint of orange – all very satisfying. No surprise then, that I had to restrain myself (and CT) from having more than a nibble as these were destined for packaging and passing on.