Creamy Almond Ricotta

DSC_1668More and more alternatives to dairy products are entering the market. Lots of people are either Lactose intolerant or want to cut on cholesterol so avoid dairy, or others are looking into cutting out dairy from their diet for environmental/ethical issues. Nut and seed cheeses are great plant-based alternatives that provide protein and other high quality nutrients. Unfortunately the ones you find at the supermarket aren’t that nice, at least in my opinion. Apart from the flavor, the ingredients used are often not so healthy, for example soy lecithin or other emulsifiers, preservatives etc. I believe that in the future there will be lots of options out there, but for now the best thing would be to make your own!
When I was doing the Matthew Kenney culinary course in Thailand we were making tons of nut cheeses and letting them ferment to get that wanted umami taste. You can use many nuts and seeds but the best are cashews, macadamia and almonds. Flavor them with herbs, spices, making a “crust” and lots of different variations.
This “ricotta” is made with almonds and I added some lemon zest to give it a twist. you can easily mix in some herbs or anything that pops up in your head. It can be used just like a normal cheese, for example today for lunch we added the ricotta to pasta with tomato sauce, it was perfect together.

I also made a short video tutorial on making this cheese:

→1 1/2 cups almonds (raw, unsalted)
→1/2 cup almond milk (or water)
→3 teaspoons lemon juice
→1 teaspoon lemon zest
→1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
→1/4 teaspoon salt

Soak the almonds overnight or at least 6 hours.
Drain, discard the soaking water and rinse well. Pour boiling water over the almonds, let sit for 2 minutes, then drain.
Peel the almonds (pouring boiling water will help a lot to remove the skins).
Put the almonds and the rest of ingredients into a blender or food processor and start blending. Scrape down the sides every once in a while and blend until smooth (feel the texture with the tip of your fingers, it shouldn’t feel grainy).
Taste and adjust salt and lemon if needed. Refrigerate and use within 4 days.



Summer Gazpacho

DSC_1663It has been so hot and dry here in north of Italy, it hasn’t rained in ages and the heat storm arrived earlier than usual. This time of year calls for a light and fresh diet, the last thing I would want to eat is something overcooked, filling and simmering hot.

Gazpacho is a traditional Spanish cold soup, made of summer vegetables, usually tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, onion, garlic – there are many varieties to it as you can imagine. And it can be eaten cold or room temperature, sometimes served with ice and dry bread to make it more creamy. It is delicious, extremely easy to make and very healthy.
For the tomatoes I used “cuore di bue”, in english it would be the “beefsteak” or “heirloom” variety. As long as they are ripe and tasty, any variety is fine.

•INGREDIENTS• (for 4/5 servings)
→1 yellow onion
→2 garlic cloves
→3 cucumbers
→5 big and ripe tomatoes (cuore di bue or heirloom)
→1 celery stalk
→4 tbls extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving
→red pepper (fresh or dry)
→salt & pepper
→basil for garnish

Wash and chop the vegetables (you can leave the skin on the cucumbers if not too bitter), and blend everything with the olive oil, salt, black and red pepper. It is best if refrigerated before serving. Drizzle olive oil and garnish with basil leaves upon serving.

It is great also the next day! and can be eaten as an appetizer, as a main, served in glasses even!


Molise trip: ancient wheat salad

IMG_8353I recently came back from a study trip in Molise with my university. Now, most people will think where in the heck is that? Molise is a very small region in the center-south of Italy, right above Puglia (the heel of Italy). I went in a group of 15 for one week, we visited many producers, farmers, foragers, bakers, all of them producing food on a small-scale and according (more or less) to slow food philosophy, so most of them were all organic, growing as sustainably as possible, using local and old varieties (no hybrid seeds from Monsanto!), supporting local communities and so on. Molise is a wonderful region, I don’t think I would have gone there by myself because most people in Italy don’t even acknowledge it as part of the Italian territory but it truly has lots to discover from. Their gastronomy is similar to the mediterranean diet of many southern regions, but of course with some differences…lots of bitter greens (they call them “garden greens”), olive oil, fish etc. We discovered many new recipes and like most southern cuisines it also was mainly a “poor” diet, meaning that most recipes call for leftovers, many plant foods, grains etc. Nonetheless, we also visited a cheese producer (specialized in CacioCavallo) and also the fish port in Termoli.
It was a great trip, thanks to the group of people and mainly to the wonderful people we met. It is one thing to study about food on the books and all the issues/challenges we face today, and another thing to actually visit and talk to people really helping our planet growing food in a certain way, without following the “flow” of modern agriculture and going against today’s lobbying interests.

I left with an empty suitcase because I knew I would be bringing back food from the trip (and also to stay light since we were sleeping in a different place every night!). By the end of the week I had gathered 6 liters of extra virgin olive oil, ancient grains (wheat, barley, spelt), corn flour, hemp flour, pastas, tomato cans…

We would visit many farms or family run businesses and part of the learning was also eating their food prepared by them… it’s understandable we all came back weighting a few more kilos than before…but that’s ok, that’s what diets are for. 🙂

So, last weekend I prepared a dish we had on the trip, using this ancient wheat variety I brought back from this farm owned by Modesto Petacciato. To be honest, I had thought of planting it in our garden, but my mom saw the bag in the counter and decided to cook it; it’s ok, I brought plenty back so there’s more to use as seeds 😉
I made a salad with the wheat and fava beans (aka broadbeans, still in season here) and brought it over to friends for dinner.

•INGREDIENTS• (for 4-6 as side)
→200 gr wheat berries (or use farro, barley..), soaked for 4-6 hours or overnight
→200 gr fresh fava beans, shelled
→large bunch of mint
→1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
→1 big spring onion
→juice of 1/2 lemon
→extra virgin olive oil
→salt & pepper

Drain the soaked wheat and cook in a big pot of salted water until done but still crunchy, drain and let cool. In the meantime toast the seeds, chop the onion, shell the fresh fava beans and if necessary (if they’re really big) take also the outer layer off, it’s a time-consuming job but it will be well appreciated.
Mix the wheat berries, favas, chopped onion, chopped toasted seeds, chopped mint. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil (ratio 1:2), salt and pepper.
It will keep in fridge for couple days after too.



Spring-inspired Quinoa Salad

springquinoa7Spring is here! the beautiful flowers and trees blooming, the smells and aromas, the birds singing in the morning….And what I love the most about spring is the abundance of new market produce, when I think of this part of the year my mind goes straight to fresh peas, asparagus, broadbeans, small potatoes, strawberries, herbs, onions…so good.

I recently finished reading two books from my History of Medieval diet Professor and many interesting facts came out of it. For centuries our ancestors have been fighting the seasons and changes of climate, finding new ways to preserve food in case of shortage or for winter seasons. They would plant many different varieties of plants in case one or more wouldn’t be successful so they would have many options to choose from (this is what Biodiversity is). In any case Nature, and it’s sudden “changes of plan”, has always been seen as the enemy. And all the attempts at preserving food the best way wasn’t for pleasure but for Survival, making people see seasons in a negative way, and their idyllic world was one without seasons.  The world we live in now is one where canning tecnquics and other preservation methods have improved exponentially, and also transportation systems make it no problem if in one part of the globe the tomato harvest of the summer went badly. And this is exactly what our ancestors wished for. But yet, in the last decade or so, the food media is all about buying local and seasonal foods, in Italy we say “km zero” (meaning zero miles). There are websites able to calculate food miles and many other things. And the same goes for “regional” /local cuisines. In medieval times, the aspiration was to create a universal way of consumption, while in today’s mass industrial society, after globalization, we are now searching for local cuisines. If you go to a restaurant in Italy for example, the restaurant will likely not just serve Italian food, but Sicilian, from Piedmont, from Florence or Rome and so on.
What is right or wrong is difficult to say, but what is clear is that it seems like mankind is always searching for what he doesn’t have, he is driven by desire of the unreachable.

Anyways, the books my professor Montanari wrote are very interesting and this was only one of the many reflections that made me think while reading his books. (“la fame e l’abbondanza” & “il cibo come cultura”, all translated in several languages.

Back to the recipe! This is a simple easy to make (ahead also) salad perfect for a spring picnic, lunch on the go or dinner with friends (this was my case).

→1 cup quinoa
→1 big bunch of asparagus, 1-inch chopped Continue reading

Master tonic

mastertonicdsc_1371Master tonic, aka Fire Cider, is a homemade natural remedy for colds and flus. Its ingredients are anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral, making it a great go to when in need of some immunity support for our body.
It’s the first time I make this, and I’ve decided to make a bigger batch next time. You basically put all the ingredients into a jar with apple cider vinegar and let “infuse” for some time, then strain.

Look at this video on youtube, quite funny the amounts he did:

→fresh turmeric
→fresh ginger
→apple cider vinegar Continue reading

Foraging wild garlic


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This past weekend I spent it in my countryside house in the Piacentini hills, with some friends from uni. A pleasant way to spend the time there is to take walks in the fields, surrounded by nature. We’ve noticed in the past years lots of wild garlic in the fields, but never paid much attention to it. But every time we take a walk with someone not from the area, they always notice it! This time we actually started picking it, and when we realized it would take too much time digging with our hands we went back home, picked up 4 shovels and back to fill up two big bags of it.
The flavor and scent were so delicate and earthy. After cleaning it (which took a long time), we contemplated on what to make with it. Since it was so unique we decided first of all to keep it raw and to make a sauce adding just a few ingredients to accentuate the main one.
The result was AMAZING, we spread it on toasted bread, taralli and had it with some buffalo cheese as aperitivo….Perfect way to spend the weekend.

A few notes on garlic: native to central Asia, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world and has been grown for over 5000 years. Today it’s used around the world for both culinary and health remedies. In fact it has cardiovascular benefits, lowering blood pressure, it’s anti inflammatory, and mostly known for it’s anti bacterial properties. It’s truly one of those Super foods.
Lots of people in Italy don’t eat garlic, some just cook with it and then throw it away before serving the dish, because they are afraid of the breath you get from eating it, or because they don’t digest it. I think Italians have a bit of phobia about it. Personally, I have no problems with it, although the day after we ate this we asked people if we smelled like garlic and some said we did, BUT we did eat A LOT of it. I don’t care that much, unless I have an important meeting I try to avoid it, especially if it’s raw. Garlic is so good, I couldn’t imagine a hummus or basil pesto without it?!

→ wild garlic (with the green ends)
→ extra virgin olive oil
→ lemon juice
→ salt & pepper

Just blend every thing in a food processor. We added about 1 tbsp of lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil and lots of salt.
Enjoy as a spread or topping for a soup or pasta dish.



Golden mylk

dsc_1423Tried this for the very first time and had to share… it’s basically a turmeric latte. So delicious and comforting, yet extremely good for you!! We all now turmeric by now, and all it’s great great health benefits.
So here is the recipe..
INGREDIENTS• (1 serving)
→ 250 ml / 1 cup soy milk (or nut milk)
→ 1 tbsp freshly grated turmeric
→ 3 cardamon pods
→ 1/2 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder)
→ 1 tbsp honey (or less if you don’t have a sweet tooth)
→ 1 star anise

In a small saucepan heat the milk with the turmeric, cardamon, cinnamon and star anise. Turn off the heat before it starts boiling. Add the honey, stir and strain your milk.
You can froth the top of the milk with a milk frother or serve as is, with a sprinkle of cinnamon.