Sunday, 27 March 2011

Zuppa Inglese

Layers of squidgy, liqueur soaked sponge, custard and raspberry jelly, topped with dark chocolate shavings - add whipped cream if you can take it

Zuppa Inglese is essentially layers of liqueur-soaked sponge cake, custard, chocolate and maybe whipped cream. Harder to define the origins of the name. However, the soggier versions do bear an uncanny resemblance to an English trifle. My version aims for simplicity but because it is rich I prefer to take it in small doses. In Bologna they often stain the sponge a vivid red with a liqueur called Alchermes. Instead, my recipe uses Marsala – for flavour - and a raspberry jelly for flavour and colour. The zuppa is made in a 15cm square (6 inch) cake tin with a removable base. I don’t top it with whipped cream but you can if you prefer. Incidentally, while the photo shows two layers of sponge, I've decided that the recipe works better with just one layer.

Try it.

Serves 4.


200g sponge cake or sponge fingers

100ml Marsala

170g raspberry jam

2 sheets of gelatine

4 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

25g flour

1 lemon’s zest

500ml milk

25g dark chocolate


1. Line the cake tin with cling film.

2. Prick the sponge all over on both sides with a fork. Trickle half the Marsala over one side; turn over and repeat with the other side.

3. Make the custard by whisking together the eggs, sugar, flour and lemon zest in that order, then gradually adding the milk that you have heated up, stirring it constantly over a low heat until it starts to bubble and thicken. If it becomes lumpy use a hand held processor to break it up. Cool the custard.

4. Soften the gelatine in a bowl of cold water.

5. Place the raspberry jam in a bowl over a pan containing a few centimetres of simmering water. Strain the gelatine and stir in.

6. Sieve the mixture through a fine mesh and allow to cool.

7. Assemble the zuppa by carefully spooning the custard into the cake tin to create a level layer. Next comes the raspberry jelly, then the cake. Wrap the cling film over the cake and refrigerate.

8. Leave overnight if possible for the flavours to develop and  for the zuppa to firm up.

9. To serve, unwrap the clingfilm, and allow the zuppa to slide out onto a plate. Carefully remove the clingfilm and grate over the chocolate.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Ragù di coniglio con pappardelle - Rabbit ragù with pappardelle

Tastes better with pasta you made yourself
For richly flavoured stews and pasta sauces, it’s hard to beat game. Since they are becoming more widely available, I wanted to add rabbit and boar to the growing collection of Bolognese classic recipes here. Specialist butchers, rather than supermarkets, are your best bet and even if they don’t have game on display, they can usually obtain it for you. I know wild sounds better than domesticated or farmed but the latter is what you will get and in this case that is not a bad thing; the meat will be healthy and may even taste better than the more athletic wild version.

Let’s start with the rabbit. The secret is to begin by browning the meat and then adding it to the classic ingredients of the ragù: onion, garlic, carrot, celery plus lots of bay and rosemary and some bacon or pancetta. You don’t need to cook the rabbit for very long – an hour at the most – otherwise you will end up with stringy meat. Remove the meat from the bone and add it back to the ragù and you are ready to serve it with the pasta. I had a lot of help in the kitchen on Saturday so I got two of my assistants to make some pappardelle, the wide pasta that traditionally accompanies game sauces. You will need a pasta machine or a rolling pin and strong arms.

Serves 4


300g pasta flour

3 large eggs

1tsp salt

1 whole farmed rabbit

3tbl olive oil

100g streaky bacon or pancetta

1 large onion

2 carrots

2 sticks of celery

2 cloves of garlic

1 glass of dry white wine

1tbl rosemary

6 bay leaves

500ml chicken or ham stock

4tbl tomato paste

salt and pepper


1. To make the pasta mix the flour, salt and eggs and knead for about 10 minutes until you have an elastic mass. Cover in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

2. Roll out the pasta until it is half a centimetre thick then cut into eight pieces and put each through a pasta machine until they are as thin as the narrowest setting. Cut into ribbons 2.5cm wide.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole over a medium-high heat. Add the rabbit cut into three or four pieces and brown all over. Remove.

4. Add the bacon, carrot, celery, garlic and onion – all finely chopped - and fry until they are soft and begin to colour. Add the wine and raise the temperature to drive off the alcohol.

5. Add back the rabbit plus the bay leaves, the rosemary finely chopped, the tomato paste and the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for an hour until the rabbit meat is easy to slide off the bone.

6. Remove the meat, take it off the bone and chop into small dice. Combine the meat with the sauce, and add some more water if the sauce is too dry. If the sauce is too wet, drive off some of the liquid before adding the rabbit meat back. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente, and then drain. Combine with the ragù and serve.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Sformati di patate con salsa di aglio selvatico – Potato flans with wild garlic sauce

Sformato di patate with asparagus sauce is a winning starter from Teresina on via Oberdan. Ruth and the girls were up for the weekend and we decided that we would try it with a wild garlic sauce – in the new spirit of foraging - as the opener of a three course dinner. On a walk up the stream and through the woods earlier in the day we’d noticed the green carpet of new wild garlic which is still tender enough to eat in a salad but which makes a subtlety garlic inflected sauce to accompany the sformato.

The main course – which will appear here later in the week – was rabbit ragù with pappardelle – followed by zuppa inglese. More of both later.

If you have the Silver Spoon cookbook you’ll see a long list of vegetable sformati, including leek and spinach. You may have tried my recipe for leek sformati with a red pepper sauce. Do try the potato version. If you don’t have a conveniently sited bed of wild garlic you could make a sauce with leek or spring onion.

Makes enough for six.

50g butter

35g plain flour

350g milk

6 bay leaves

½ tsp nutmeg

salt and pepper

500g waxy potato eg Charlotte

3 large eggs

75g parmesan grated

3tbl olive oil

150g wild garlic, well washed

1 onion

100ml double cream


1. Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and steam

2. Make a béchamel sauce by melting 35g of the butter, adding the flout to make a roux and adding the milk to form a smooth sauce to which you add the cheese, nutmeg and seasoning to taste. When cooler, stir in the three lightly beaten eggs.

3. When the potato is cooked, mash, and amalgamate with the sauce.

4. Butter six metal moulds or ramekins and spoon in the potato sauce.

5. Place the moulds in a bain-marie filled with water two-thirds of the way up the containers. Cover with foil and place in a medium oven – about 170 degrees C. for 30 minutes. Use a skewer to check that the sformati are cooked – it should come out clean - remove them from the bain-marie and allow to cool. Then, run a knife around each sformato and tip onto a plate.

6. Make the sauce by softening in olive oil a finely chopped onion. and then adding the wild garlic.

7. Add the cream, cook for three minutes on a medium heat, then liquidise to create a smooth sauce.

8. Spoon some sauce around each sformato and serve.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Foodie Bugle

At last, a well-designed e-zine that brings together the best of food writing from all over the world to  tell 'the whole story of simple, frugal, seasonal food and drink from farm to fork, from soil to shop, from grape to glass.'

The Foodie Bugle is the  brain child of Silvana de Soissons, a tireless enthusiast for honest eating. A cooperative online magazine,  it will  'promote education and understanding in a subject that unites all of mankind, leaving aside the cult of celebrity, aspirational advertising and passing fads.'  The first edition features South African food, decadent desserts of the world, an artisan baker on the south coast of England, Persian cookery, eating in Provence and a piece by me about the pasta makers of Bologna, le sfogline.
Make a note to visit it every week at

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pollo alla cacciatora – Chicken cacciatora

Pollo alla cacciatora is basically chicken pot roasted in a tomato sauce. Cacciatora hints at an intriguing ancestry, related to hunting, just as carbonara suggests charcoal burners in forest clearings. But try to follow the trial and it peters out. One Bolognese cookery writer sees a connection with the sort of aromatics you might use if you were cooking game but only one of the dozens of recipes I’ve consulted confirms that view. Instead, there are endless variations on the ingredients although the basics are always the meat – and it can be rabbit or wild boar or venison – and the tomato sauce. Anyway, here is my version, the sort of thing you could expect to eat in a Bolognese trattoria. A good accompaniment would be roasted potatoes.

Ingredients (serves 4)

8 skinnned chicken thighs

3tbl olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

3 sticks of celery finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic finely chopped

75ml white wine

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

sprig of thyme, finely chopped

sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

salt and pepper

bunch of parsley, finely chopped


1. Heat the olive oil in a roasting dish with a lid. Add the chicken and gently brown it.

2. Remove the chicken and add the vegetables, frying them until soft with the lid on.

3. Now add the wine on a high temperature to drive off the alcohol, and then the tomatoes and aromatics. Cook the sauce with the lid off until it is reduced and dense.

4. Replace the chicken and put the roasting dish in the oven at 170 degrees C with the lid on for 40 minutes.

5. Test to ensure that the chicken is cooked, then add the chopped parsley, season to taste and serve.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Macaroni con patate al forno – Marcaroni and potato gratin

March brings the uplifting prospect of longer days, daffodils and cherry blossom. And sometimes the shift to more spring-like weather. But not this year, so far. We woke to a deep frost on Saturday morning and a biting wind so I took refuge in this winter-warmer dish raise my spirits, and maybe yours as well if you are in the northern hemisphere north of Rome. As a variant you could add crisp pancetta or bacon to the final mix, but it’s not essential. Preparation time is about 25 minutes and cooking time 35 minutes which gives you time to set the table and pour a glass of wine.

Ingredients (serves 4 generously)

500g potatoes

200g macaroni

50g butter

50g flour

500ml milk

100g parmesan

2 egg yolks

½ tsp nutmeg

1 large onion

20g butter

1tbl olive oil


salt and pepper


1. Peel and dice the potatoes, and boil until al dente in salted water. Strain

2. While the potatoes are cooking, make a béchamel sauce by melting the butter, stirring in the flour and gradually adding the milk already warmed until you have a smooth sauce. Then stir in the egg yolks, half the parmesan, the nutmeg and finely chopped parsley. Season to taste.

3. Put the macaroni on to cook.

4. Fry the onion finely sliced in the remaining butter and the olive oil until it begins to caramelise (for maximum flavour).

5. Now assemble the ingredients, placing them in a well greased baking dish. Strain the macaroni and add to the potatoes, then amalgamate with the sauce and the onion. If you are using pancetta, add it at this stage.

6. Scatter the remaining parmesan on top and place in a moderate oven – 170 degrees C. with a piece of foil to protect the top of the dish. Remove the foil after 20 minutes and allow the dish to brown which should take a further 10-15 minutes.