Summer is almost here after what seemed like the longest winter (and year) in living memory. It feels like the right time to wake up from the slumber of lockdown and to revitalise my blog and my cooking classes, that sat in limbo for much of 2020. Although the year has been slow and locked down, I have devoted time to growing a little garden on my terrace for the first time. It started off with silver beet and kale when it was cooler, and has now moved to zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers and long yellow capsicums. I feel like I am channelling my dear departed papà and his extraordinary vegetable garden. I often dream of having a real garden with fruit trees and in-built vegetable beds like he had, but when I shake myself from the dream, I realise that I have not done too badly on my terrace. Many thanks to my friend Verdiana who grew the tomatoes and zucchini from seed and gave me the seedlings to start off my summer terrace garden, born of a pandemic and now flourishing. What a special gift.
So today I bring you a recipe inspired by the tomatoes growing on my terrace (though not the actual tomatoes as mine are still green) and by the very talented cookbook author and cooking class teacher Belinda Jeffrey. I also have exciting news from my little cooking school; but first the recipe, which was also born out of the emergence from lockdown. We know that socialising outdoors is preferable; so catching up with friends (or just getting out of the house) has involved picnics and picnic food: tarts, hand pies, things that are easy to transport and not too difficult to eat seated on a picnic rug. In “The Country Cookbook”, my favourite book of Belinda’s, there is a terrific recipe for shortcrust pastry; my recipe differs somewhat as I add Pecorino cheese to the pastry, but I follow her clever technique for sealing the pastry. Once the pastry shell had been blind-baked, egg wash is brushed over it before popping back in the oven for a few minutes. This seals off the pastry so that it does not get soggy. Just brilliant! The pastry shell can be made the day before as well, which I generally do if we have a lunch time picnic. The filling is a bit like a quiche, but with chunks of goat’s cheese and plump small tomato halves (I cannot wait to use the ones that are growing on my terrace).
So now for news on cooking classes. Most in-person classes were cancelled for 2020, and I commenced online classes in August. I was initially skeptical about the online format, but after chatting with both Carla Tommasi and Domenica Marchetti (thank you ladies) who had started using Zoom classes, I took the plunge. I have been able to connect with so many of you living interstate, or overseas, stepping into your kitchen via a screen from places as far away as Singapore, India, Dubai and the USA. I love the way we connect from so far away. Going forwards, my cooking classes will be a combination of in-person and online. My mix of classes will change too; Pasta 101 will be split into two different pasta classes, so that participants can either focus on hand-made pasta with semola and make several different shapes like orecchiette and fusilli (and others); or on egg pasta made with a hand-cranked machine, and a few different shapes of filled pasta. I will no longer run Pasta Sauces classes or Italian Sweets classes, but will continue to run Let’s make gnocchi and Apple Strudel classes.
- For all those with class credits and vouchers purchased in 2019 and 2020 – I will be honouring all tickets for classes that have been cancelled because of pandemic restrictions. If you have a voucher for a class that was purchased in 2019 or 2020, the validity date will be extended to the end of 2021. If you have not yet received an email from me regarding this, please contact me ASAP and I will slot you in to a class.
- In person classes – these will commence again in December 2020. The first batch of classes, up to March 2021 will be for the people with class credits from 2020. That said, there are a few spots available, so if you would like to buy a ticket for a class in the next few months, please click here for my online shop to find out what is available. These include Pasta 101 and Pasta Sauces no.2. Please head to my cooking classes page to see my new class types and the dates that they will run. The schedule stops mid May 2021, as I will need to re-assess the pandemic/restrictions as winter approaches. My first in-person class with an available spot is Saturday 12 December 2020.
- Online classes – I will run the occasional (probably monthly, depending on demand) online class from this suite of classes: “crostata and castagnole”, “pasta with semola” and “potato gnocchi”. Click here for my online shop
- Vouchers – I have vouchers for both in-person and online classes. To purchase a voucher, please visit my online shop
In other news,
- Cookbook news – I have submitted the manuscript and photos for my third (yet to be named) cookbook about the people, stories and recipes of the Istrian peninsula in the northeast Adriatic Sea to my publisher Smith Street Books. It will be an evocative book, full of memories of the time when my grandparents and father lived in Istria, when it was part of the region of Venezia-Giulia (Italy), and before that when it was part of Austria. Apart from 80 recipes, some shared by family and friends and others based on old cookbooks from Istria, there will be many stories of the Italian-Istrians who left their homes after World War 2, many black and white photos and snippets of old letters and postcards. Writing and cooking for the book occupied much of my time during lockdown in the Melbourne winter. The book will be released in October 2021. My other cookbooks Italian Street Food (2016) and Adriatico (2018) are also available via my online shop (if you are in Australia, they make a great Christmas gift) or else via various online booksellers such as Booktopia
- Podcasts/Instagram Live – I have been quite busy in this space. I recorded a podcast with the lovely Katie Clarke from Untold Italy a few months ago. we chatted about food and travel in Puglia. Find the link to the podcast episode here . I also recorded a podcast with the talented Olivia Cummings from Cleopatra’s Bling, (check out the jewellery she designs, it is divine!) which should be available in the next month. Last month I joined bubbly Alessandra Lauria, also known as the Pasta Queen on her virtual pasta tour of Italy. We chatted about bigoli, which is the most typical pasta shape of the Veneto region of Italy, and about lots of other foodie things related to Veneto. The link to the video is here.
Well, it is good to be back writing blog posts! I promise to write again and post another recipe in preparation for Christmas soon. Much love to all who are reading
goat's cheese and tomato tart with a pecorino crust
220g plain flour
30g Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
120g butter, diced and cold from the fridge
1 large egg, plus one yolk
2-3 teaspoons chilled water
1 teaspoon milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup thickened cream
1/4 cup milk
15g Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
1/4 tsp salt
cracked black pepper
100g crumbly goats cheese
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
Line the base and grease the sides of a 24cm diameter loose-based tart tin.
To make the pastry: place the flour, cheese, salt and butter in a food processor. Pulse until crumbs form, then drop in the egg and as much of the chilled water as you need to bring the pastry together. Drop onto a floured work surface and knead briefly to bring the pastry together. Flatten with the palm of your hand to form a disc and then roll into a circle using a rolling pin, so that it is large enough to cover the base and sides of the tin. Make sure you keep turning it and flipping it over so it does not stick to your work surface (you may need a bit of extra flour). Carefully lift if (using a rolling pin if you like) and drape it over the tin. Push it into the base with your knuckles or fingertips, and then up on the sides of the tin, trimming excess pastry. I always leave the sides of the pastry a little higher than the sides of the tin (as it will shrink as it cooks). Cover the pastry with a clean tea towel and place in the fridge for an hour (or even overnight).
Preheat the oven to 180C conventional. Prick the base of the pastry with the tines of a fork, then lay a sheet of baking paper on this. Place baking weights (I use dried chickpeas) and blind bake for 20 minutes. Remove the weights and bake for another 5-7 minutes until the pastry is starting to turn golden and is firm to touch. Whisk the egg yolk with the teaspoon of milk to form an egg-wash (save the egg white for the filling). Brush the pastry with the egg wash and bake a few more minutes, until the egg cooks and is golden. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool (it can sit there for several hours or even over night as long as it is well covered.
To make the filling, place the three eggs plus the remaining egg white from the pastry into a large bowl. Add the milk, cream and salt and whisk by hand to combine. Toss in the grated Pecorino Romano and cracked black pepper to taste and stir so it is homogenous. Place the tin on a baking tray (it is easier to manoeuvre this way) and pour the filling into the pastry base. Arrange the cherry tomato halves in the filling skin side down, and scatter the goats cheese in the spaces between the tomatoes.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until the filling is set and golden. It might puff up but will settle again as it cools. Slice when it has cooled completely. Lasts about 3 days in a sealed container in the fridge.