Monthly Archives: August 2009

Easing back slowly.

My holidays are nearly over! I don’t mind too much, It’s been good month. It’s actually rather nice to be home in Rome, and apart from the occasional wave of  irrational anxiety – the kind I experience on Sunday nights, Monday mornings, the end of a break and the start of anything new however nice – I am quite looking forward to going back to work.

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I think! Just writing that has brought on another wave. So anticipating the waves, I have been trying to get myself back into some of the nicer rhythms of my everyday life – the ones which have been happily kicked aside these holiday days – hoping they will help soften the blow of routine which starts on Monday; getting up at a reasonable hour, going to the market earlyish in the mornings, having the laundry under some sort of control; having breakfast at about breakfastime and lunch at about lunchtime; Not having a glass of wine with every meal. And pasta lunches.

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When I say pasta lunches, I’m talking about the ones I talk about all the time. The ones we both come home for because more often than not Vincenzo is playing at night. The ones we can have because some jobs in Italy still recognise how nice it is to have a good lunch at home before going back to work. The ones that don’t take too long, The ones Vincenzo claims are fundamental, afterall, he’s Sicilian, he is of a pasta dependant nature.

A bit like the cake, I can count our core and faithful simple pasta lunch repertoire on two hands, it varies, we improvise, but basically it’s; the tomato one, the other tomato one and the other tomato one, the chickpea one, the clam one, the courgette one, the garlic and chilli one, the pecorino and pepper one.

And now there’s this one, a new arrival, for the summer repertoire at least, Pasta with a raw sauce of tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, chilli, rocket and loads of really nice olive oil.

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It is most defiantly a summer pasta because it all about good, red, ripe, juicy tomatoes. When I first made it I was a little worried, it all looked a bit fragmented, and Vincenzo, a man who likes his pasta coated with a slow cooked sauce that clings to every piece, looked alarmed. Then we ate it. It is good,light, fresh but deeply flavoured, with a real spark, heat. from the peppery rocket.

The flavour is such, because you make the sauce beforehand, allowing the roughly chopped tomatoes, salty capers, olives, chilli, mashed garlic and oil to sit for a while, lounging and mingling before mixing it with the warm pasta. Then you have a lovely light sauce of tomato juices and oil infused with the garlic and the intense, deep flavours of the capers and olives to coat the pasta.

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We had a glass of wine, after all I am still on holiday. We thought me might need Parmesan on top, we didn’t really, I put some on my second helping just to see and it was very nice, but unnessearay. I think a blob of ricotta would be really good on top.

Now I really should sharpen my pencils and unpack the last holiday bag – I would rather stab myself in the hand with a sharpened pencil than unpack that bag. Maybe I will have a cup of tea first, after al,l I am still on holiday. Oh and on a practical note, the meze maniche is good (it means short sleeves by the way) but penne would work just as well.

Pasta with tomatoes, garlic, chilli, olives, capers and rocket.

From the lovely lovely ‘Acorn House‘ cookbook by Arthur Potts Dawson

For 6

  • 1kg ripe, red, juicy, plum or roma tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small dried pepperoncino chilli
  • 150g salted capers (soaked for 30mins in water)
  • 200g black olives
  • a big handful of washed rocket
  • 600g pasta
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for serving

Slice the tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds and then chop them coarsely.

Peel the garlic and smash the cloves with the back of a fork into a little pile of salt (1 teaspoon.)

Crumble the chilli, rinse the capers and chop then coarsely, pit the olives and cut them in half.

Coarsely chop the rocket.

Mix the tomato, chilli, garlic, capers, olives and olive oil in a large bowl, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir and leave to sit for 30 minutes.

Cook the penne in a large pan of fast boiling, well salted water until al dente. drain the pasta and then stir it into the tomatoes.

Add the rocket to the bowl, stir.

Serve and finish with more extra virgin olive oil.

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Piedmontese peppers again.

Do you mind if I talk about Piedmontese peppers again….

It has been a while since I first wrote about them and I hope you agree such a simple, good recipe deserves another outing…oh and I have made them rather alot lately.

Them being these.

peppers agian 1

It’s like this..

…red and yellow peppers are halved lenghways, the cavities sprinkled with bit of maldon salt, then filled with tiny plum tomatoes, slivers of garlic and sloshed with olive oil…….Then you roast them slowly until they are wrinkled, soft, just a little sweetly charred and filled with little pools of oily, garlicky, sticky peppery juice. Even quite average peppers transform into something quite delicious.

I first ate these peppers years ago at a party, I must have been 15, it was New Years Eve, I was wearing a silver T-shirt and I thought George Harrisons ‘I got my mind set on you‘ at number 14 in the charts had been written especially for me. I was so painfully in love with the host’s son and so afraid it may be unrequited I thought I might die. My love sickness it seems, did not however affect my appetite, the food was beautifully simple, trays of peppers, a glorious baked ham, vast bowls of green salad and homemade bread. I ate 3 peppers, thought they were one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten. Then the boy kissed me, only on the cheek, just as he had kissed everyone else in the room as the clock struck 12, but it didn’t matter, he kissed me.

Many years later I came across the recipe in Simon Hopkinson’s book ‘Roast chicken and other stories.’ Memories, the taste of them and that particular night flooded back. I made them, even without the kiss they were as nice as I remembered. I even put a big tick by the recipe and wrote ‘wonderful’ which is true if not a little nostalgic.

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They have become a trusted favourite in our kitchen, dependable, simple, pretty as a picture.

A perfect antipasti, sitting alone on a big white plate and served with some nice bread and maybe some salty salami and a few olives. They make good partner for plain chicken, roast lamb or baked ham or simply squashed with some peppery rocket leaves in a sandwich.

We made them for lunch while we were away in Umbria. We ate them just warm draped with salty anchovies alongside a slice of frittata, some bread and tomato salad and a glass of Caprai grechetto, then I had another one squashed on some bread, then I went to sleep.

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Piedmontese peppers

From Elizabeth David via Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast chicken and other stories’

  • 4 fine sweet red or yellow peppers
  • 4 plump cloves of garlic peeled and finely sliced
  • about 30 cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Anchovies to decorate

Heat the oven to 220°c

Halve each pepper and carefully cut away the white pith and shake out the seeds but try and leave the green stem intact – a totally aesthetic exercise.

Season the insides of the peppers with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Put a few slices of garlic in each halve and then cut the cherry tomatoes in halves and tuck 4 or 5 in each one, of course, the number of halves will depend on the size of your pepper

Season each pepper halve with a little more salt and pepper and transfer to a baking tray.

Dribble olive oil quite generously over each pepper halve and then roast in the oven at 220°c for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 180°c and roast the peppers for another hour or so or until the peppers are tender, collapsing and gently charring at the edges.

Allow the peppers to cool in the tin for a good long while while before carefully transferring to a serving plate, being careful to catch and precious juices and spoon them over the peppers

If you are going to add the anchovies, drape them over about 30mins before serving.

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A nice plain cake

 

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I can count my true cake repertoire on one hand. I’ve flirted and made others with varying degrees of success, but I invariably return to one these five: the ginger onethe chocolate onethe clementine one, the other chocolate one and this, the nice plain one.

I make this cake about once a month, maybe twice if Vincenzo is lucky, he really likes cake and milky coffee for breakfast and mumbles buona with his mouth full. It is golden yellow with a moist but firm crumb that tastes of what it is butter, sugar, flour, eggs, milk and a flick of vanilla.I am quite partial to a slice for breakfast myself.

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I have always called it a nice plain cake although I think it would be just as happy to called a kind of pound cake or a madeira cake. I like that it is both dainty and workaday at the same time, not too sweet, straightforward and very nice.

My mum made two of these nice plain cakes while we were away in Umbria, she used a loaf tin which worked perfectly – this cake is not fussy about it’s tin, she’s a flexible kind of cake. Mum got up early while the rest of us were still rolling around in bed wondering if we drank a little too much Rosso di Montefalco and then remembering we didn’t care if we did, because we were on holiday. By the time we reached the kitchen the scent of warm cake led us to the breakfast table.

Fruit salad, plain yogurt, coffee and cake…

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It is happily nice and plain to make, you only have to remember to take the butter out of the fridge some time before so it’s nice and soft.

A nice plain cake

Based on Jane Grigsons madeira cake from her book English food and shaped by numerous attempts and advice from Nigella Lawson.

  • 120g / 1 stick of butter
  • 250g /1 1/4 cups of fine sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 small teaspoons of vanilla essence
  • 260g / a cup and a half of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 8tbsp/1/2 cup of whole milk

Set the oven to 190°/375F and butter a deep 8″ round tin or a loaf tin (a 9″x 5″ x 3″ I think !!)

Cream the butter and together until it is pale and light and fluffy.

Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar one at a time until you have a smooth silky batter and add the vanilla essence.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the batter gradually, stirring firmly after each modest addition and add salt.

Stir in the milk a bit at a time.

Pou the mixture into your greased tin and bake at 180°/350F for about 30 – 40 minutes or when a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow the cake to sit for a a nice 20 minutes before turning it out of the tin.

I think this cake is best eaten the day it is made, best of all when it is just just warm. It keeps well for another two days, just wrap it carefully in a layer of baking parchment and then another of foil.

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Granita days

lemon granita 1

I think I predicted that this would be the summer I ate granita. It is. Hot days here interrupted and tempered by a glass of fruit granita at about 5 o clock. A shot of a slightly slushy, icy, crystalline mass that’s somewhere between a drink, a sorbet and a water ice, with just a hint – a nostalgic one – of popsicle. Refreshing and clean, the icy crystals infused with fruit dissolve on your tongue and leave the roof of your mouth wide, like a vast, icy cavern.

At this point I must hand most of the credit to my brother Benjamin. After the almond granita we made together on the first day, Ben picked up the granita gauntlet and ran, producing a veritable rainbow of icy pleasure. Each day a new flavour. First lemon granita, the picture at the top, sharp, sweet and lip puckeringly good. Then, orange granita, served over Campari at sunset. Next, Wednesday I think, dark icy shards of coffee granita. Finally, for two days in a row and maybe our favourite, sweet, rosy-pink watermelon granita.

There is nothing clever or complicated about granita, you just freeze the subject – some fruit juice, pulp, coffee or almond milk – which may or may not be diluted with some water and sweetened with a little sugar. Once it starts to form crystals, you agitate it with a fork and tuck it back in the freezer. You repeat this process several times, until you have an icy, slushy, crystalline mess to be served in a glass with a spoon.

Granita is not an exact science. The amount of water and sugar required depends on the season, the sweetness and water content of the fruit. Lemon granita for example, needs a good dose of both water and sugar or it is a little too lip puckering. Orange granita on the other hand, needs less additional sweetness and maybe the juice of a lemon to sharpen things up. Watermelon granita needs very little extra sugar or water possessing plenty of both. Coffee granita, well that very much depends on you. I’m not a sweet coffee person so my coffee granita follows suit.

lemon granita serving

lemon granita

  • 8 large, juicy lemons
  • 500ml water
  • 250g fine sugar

In a small pan over a low flame dissolve the sugar in 250ml of water. Once the sugar has disolved, set it aside to cool.

Squeeze the juice from the lemons.

In a jug mix the lemon juice with the – now cool – sugar syrup and add the water.

Pour the liquid into a shallow dish and tuck it in the freezer.

After about an hour, once it starts to form crystals, agitate it with a fork and then tuck it back in the freezer. Repeat this process several times, until you have an icy, slushy, crystalline mess to be served in a glass with a spoon.

I think this would be good served over a shot of vodka or lemoncello.

orange grania serving

Orange granita

Now orange, as we know, is much sweeter than lemon, so you need very little sugar and some lemon juice to give the granita edge.

Experimentation is the key. We liked about 100g of sugar for 12 oranges.

  • juice of 1o oranges
  • juice of  2 lemons
  • 100ml water (you may need extra)
  • 100g sugar

In a small pan over a low flame dissolve the sugar in 100ml of water. Once the sugar has dissolved, set aside to cool.

Squeeze and then strain the juice from the oranges and lemons.

In a jug mix the juice with the now cool sugar syrup. You may need to add a little extra water to get the dilution and sweetness you like.

Pour the liquid into a shallow dish and tuck it into the freezer.

After about an hour – once it starts to form crystals – you agitate the granita with a fork and then tuck it back in the freezer. Repeat this process several times, until you have an icy, slushy, crystalline mess to be served in a glass with a spoon.

Orange granita over bitter-sweet Campari is very good.

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Coffee granita

If the truth be told Ben can’t actually remember how much sugar he added. He claims not to like the constraints of a scale. I think it was about 100g. Anyway, as always the golden rule of granita is: if the liquid tastes good to you, so will the icy result.

  • 500 ml very strong espresso coffee
  • 100ml water
  • 100g fine sugar (you may need a little more depending on your taste)

In a small pan over a low flame dissolve the sugar in 100ml of water. Once the sugar has dissolved, set it aside to cool.

Make the coffee and allow it to cool

Mix the coffee with the now cool sugar syrup. You may need to add a little extra water to get the dilution and sweetness you like.

Pour the liquid into a shallow dish and tuck it into the freezer.

After about an hour, Once it starts to form crystals, you agitate it with a fork and tuck it back in the freezer. You repeat this process several times, until you have an icy, slushy, crystalline mess to be served in a glass with a spoon.

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Watermelon granita

We didn’t strain our juice before freezing as we liked the fleshy, cellulose texture. You might like to.

  • 1kg of deseeded, peeled and cubed watermelon
  • 100ml water
  • 100g sugar
  • juice of a lime

Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water over high heat, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Let syrup cool.

Put the watermelon and the lime juice in a heavy-duty blender and process until smooth. Add the simple syrup and pulse until combined.

Pour the liquid into a shallow dish and put it in the freezer.

After about an hour, once it starts to form crystals, agitate it with a fork and tuck it back in the freezer. Repeat this process several times, until you have an icy, slushy, crystalline mess to be served in a glass with a spoon.

A splash of vodka could be good.

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Before I go…..

Take 5 things;

Tomatoes

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Mozzarella di Bufala

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Basil

basil for caprese

Extra virgin olive oil

olive oil

Salt

salt

Slice, tear, arrange, sprinkle, pour…….

Insalata caprese

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I am off to Umbria tomorrow so see you in a week or so.

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Coniglio alla cacciatora or Rabbit hunters style

Other wise known as lunch in Livorno.

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‘Rabbit

Lisa declared like a verbal stamp of the foot

‘Rabbit

She repeated, in exactly the same tone that she had announced she needed granita di limone about 30 minutes previously .

for lunch I want rabbit.’

We both came to a standstill in the middle of the noisy abundance, bussle and colour of Livorno market. Lisa rubbed her belly now unmistakably 5 months rounder

it wants rabbit too

I was not about to argue with either mother or bump- both clearly at the mercy of very specific and particular cravings – nor such a good idea, rabbit it was.

I find it a very pleasing fact that in Italy Coniglio (rabbit) is as unsurprising and commonplace as chicken on many menus and tables. Even more so that it is cooked and eaten with such passion, it’s lean, aromatic, flavoursome meat prized and appreciated as all good food should be.

I have barely, even among Italians who choose not to eat or dislike rabbit, heard a whisper of squeamishness, never mind horror or disapproval at it’s presence on the table. Actually that’s not true, I have heard disapproval, but that was everything to do with the suggestion the rabbit on the menu may have dubious – intensively reared – origins and nothing to do with it’s place on the menu.

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You often find rabbit cooked alla cacciatora (hunters style) which can be loosely – I say loosely there are as many versions as there are cooks – defined as;

First cooking the rabbit joints in padella, in a frying pan, and then the aromatic additions – vegetables, garlic, wine, herbs, olives, pancetta, capers, anchovies or vinegar – are all added later, then the joints are cooked covered to obtain a very dry result, the joints bathed in a very little concentrated sauce.

Our lunch was the simplest kind, the most basic of recipes taught to me by a friend who says a good rabbit needs nothing more than a clean shot, a good clean, a pan, a lid, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, white wine, a low flame, an hour or so, a table and a grateful stomach.

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You cut (or ask your butcher nicely) to cut your rabbit into pieces. First soak the rabbit pieces in a mixture of water and white wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Rinse the rabbit pieces, pat them dry carefully and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a deep frying pan with a tight fitting lid (wide enough to accommodate all the pieces of rabbit without them being too over crowded) warm the olive oil with a couple of plump cloves of garlic for a few minutes. Remove the garlic and set it aside, turn the flame to medium, once the pan is nice hot add the rabbit pieces and cook, turning frequently until they are nicely browned and golden – wear an apron as the oil splatters and spits somewhat.

Add the wine and return the garlic to the pan, allow the wine to sizzle and bubble energetically and then using a wooden spoon scape the bottom of the pan to dislodge any meaty goodness from the pan in into the sauce. Once a half the wine has evaporated away, turn the flame down, cover the pan and allow it so simmer for about 50 minutes stirring every now and then. If things look a little dry, which they shouldn’t if you didn’t evaporate away all the wine and the flame is low enough. add a little stock of plain water to the pan.

coniglio lunch

We made a warm salad as well, rocket, red onion and fresh piattelli beans

like fresh cannelini… but better

said the formidable lady behind the handsome and popular market stall which bustled with Livornese preparing for the weekend.

A good salad, dressed with a bit of coarse salt, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, very nice with the rabbit.

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The best rabbits are wild ones who live on herbs and woodland shrubs, the meat is tougher but more flavoursome.You need to become or make friends with a hunter with good shot to obtain one of these, Next best thing is a decent butcher who has a reliable source.

As I said before this is the simplest of recipes and one to be practised and played with and elaborated, the additions of rosemary, pancetta and olives are worth trying.

Coniglio all cacciatora

serves 4

  • 1 rabbit (about 1,3kg – 1.5kg), cleaned, cut into about 14 pieces, washed.
  • 1 litre water mix with 175ml white wine vinegar for soaking
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 plump cloves of garlic peeled and gently squashed with the back of a knife
  • 200ml dry white wine

First wash in fast running water and then soak the rabbit pieces in the mixture of water and white wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Rinse the rabbit pieces very carefully, pat then dry carefully and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a deep frying pan with a tight fitting lid (wide enough to accommodate all the pieces of rabbit without them being too over crowded) warm the olive oil with a couple of plump cloves of garlic for a few minutes.

Remove the garlic and set it aside, turn the flame to medium once it is modestly hot add the rabbit and cook, turning frequently until they are nicely browned and golden.

Add the wine and return the garlic to the pan, allow the wine to sizzle and bubble energetically and then using a wooden spoon scape the bottom of the pan to dislodge any meaty goodness from the pan into the sauce.

Once a half the wine has evaporated away, turn the flame down, cover the pan and allow it so simmer for about 45 minutes stirring every now and then. If things look a little dry, which they shouldn’t if you didn’t evaporate away all the wine and the flame is low enough. add a little stock or plain water to the pan.

Allow the pan to rest for at least 10 minutes and stir the contents of the pan so each piece is coated with the thick sauce before serving.

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Granita

granita pesca, fig and arance

Rather than berating me for my extremely overweight suitcase the security man, simply nodded knowingly and smiled approvingly at the contents of my bulging luggage- particularly the 2 kilos of almonds and the same weight of almond paste- before he quietly ushered me through the security check with a Sicilian wink whilst whispering something about making granita di mandorla.

He was right, granita, granita di mandorla (almond granita).

Our 5 fiendishly hot and wonderful days in Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily were punctuated with granita – one of the simplest and nicest of the great family of ices, a slightly slushy, grainy mass of flavoured sweetened water frozen and crushed to make something between a drink and a water ice. Taking our lead from the locals and our Sicilian hosts, breakfast each morning – in one of the bars hidden within the labyrinthine medieval streets of sultry, civilised, old Siracusa – was granita di mandorla, mopped up with a warm brioche, a gloriously delicious, cold, icy, sweet, soft, nutty, creamy, nourishing, slithers down your throat way to begin the day.

granita di mandorla w brioche

About 11 30 pleasantly weary from happily doing nothing, beginning to wilt a little under the scorching sun we would find another bar for our second granita appointment, this time choosing the clean freshness of sharp/ sweet lemon or orange, to startle and awaken our palates and bodies into some kind of lazy activity before lunch.

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Post lunch was the time for granita di cafe, crystals of very sweet strong coffee in place of espresso, sometimes indulgently topped with cream, eaten first with a spoon and then the last inch slurped pleasingly through a long straw.

Mid afternoon we took to having granita di gelsi or pistaccio, the former a deep red, rich and regal to the eye but clean and fresh in the mouth. Pistaccio smooth and creamy giving the impression of being more indulgent but in reality just as light and refreshing. It was a beautiful moment last Friday afternoon when, in between the beautifully traditional catholic wedding service we were in Sicily to be part of and the elegant reception, the entire wedding party including the bride and groom took refuge in the coolness of the local bar to inhale a granita before continuing with the wedding proceedings.

granita limone, gelsi and pistaccio

Post dinner- our friend Bruno declared as he does – was the time for granita di limone once more. I rebelled once or twice bewitched by granita di mandorla but in retrospect I think he is right, the clean citrus is right at night after a late Sicilian dinner when the scent of warm sea air hangs heavily over the dark city.

Back in Rome with almond gifts for Vincenzo who did not come back to Sicily with me this time and the taste of granita di mandorla still on my lips I set about making a primitive and rustic version for us.

I have the almonds to make some almond milk at some point but for now I used the marzipan-like almond paste I bought in Siracusa which is simply ground local almonds, sugar and just a few bitter almonds (which lend it an intense and most extraordinary flavour) bound togther into a paste with a little water.

On first glance I thought it was soap…..in a pasticceria…. what can I say, it was hot…..

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You dissolve the paste in water to make almond milk – 140g of paste to each litre of water, blast with the blender and then freeze in a large shallow container for a couple of hours pulling the container out every 30 minutes or so to agitate it with a fork to incorporate the crystals back into the liquid and obtain a rough, slightly slushy, grainy mass. You need to keep an eye on it slushy is the key word here, too long in the freezer and you have a block which you could knock someone out with.  This primitive method does not produce the creamy granita you find in Sicilian bars where it is slowly churned at carefully observed temperatures, but it is delightful just the same and pleasingly simple to make, no clutter, no cumbersome machines and all that.

It’s like slushy almond flavoured snow…..

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Then you serve it in little glasses with a little spoon and a straw if you have one, on a hot day with somone you love, you eat it slowly (as the Sicilians always remind you) or it will shock your stomach and you may faint !!

He didn’t faint and he ate with impressive speed.

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Maybe it was the company, maybe it is because I am still on holiday, maybe it’s the heat but it almost…almost tasted as good as in sicily, it needs some work, I don’t think I quite acheived the right consistency of slush but thats my fault.

Yes it needs work, but nice work, the fumbling, playing in the kitchen kind we all seem to like.

This sounds similar and nice too.

Granita di limone next and then cafè…then pesca…then pistaccio….then fig….then mint…then rose….then gelsi… then campari…I think this may well come to be known as the summer I made granita.

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