The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cauliflower in Winter

I think I am a reasonably good cook ("we hope so"! you must probably think) but somehow I don't think I'm good at creating from nothing. I mean there are those people who can generate a mouth-watering dish using only their imagination. I need a recipe. Even if I don't follow it (as I often don't even seem able to read) I still need some starting point from which to divert.

I am sure that cauliflower doesn't make anyone fantasize. Especially as you know that it is really good for you - full of vitamin, anti-oxidants etc. And that off-white colour is probably not the most inspiring. However, even cauliflower can be promising. And I managed to come up with a recipe all on my own and which was even tasty!

If you also have in your cupboard potatoes, leeks and cheese, then you're fine. I added a few extra frills to make it a bit less hospice-taste like...

Cauliflower with pine nuts, paprika and lemon

For 2 people

half a cauliflower
half a leek
2 medium potatoes
100ml milk
50g parmesan (or white cheese like brie)
zest of 1/4 lemon
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tsp paprika

1. Peel and cut into medium pieces the potatoes. Boil them in hot and salted (2 tsp salt) water for 5 minutes or until almost tender.

2. Cut the leek in rings and cook it in a large frying pan in a knob of butter for 5 minutes. Add the milk and stir well. Add the cheese and melt it well.

3. Cut the cauliflower and add it to the potatoes once they are almost cooked.

4. Drain the above vegetables and add them to the leeks. Grate the lemon zest and stir well as otherwise the milk stars curdling.

5. Add the pine nuts and continue stir frying the vegetables so that the nuts toast. Sprinkle the paprika over the vegetables and serve immediately when still warm.

You can also add some raisins. That really makes it very Christmassy and I suspect could be a nice side dish to the boring turkey.

Monday, 29 November 2010

First snow and mini scones

On Saturday we started seeing our first snow in Cambridge. I always get so excited when I see 2 mm of it on the roof opposite our bedroom window...but we managed to have more than an inch and cover everything properly. I don't know why but when it snows I become even more childish than I am already...

I have never understood though how a few centimetres of snow can drive the whole country into complete chaos. And every year! As if they were in some all year-Sun-blessed-country where they have only seen snow on TV or in What a wonderful life at Christmas! You keep on hearing of all sorts of have they not managed to be slightly more organised than they are?!? It must be "the wrong type of snow" surely...

However, despite the snow, our guests did manage to find refuge in our humble home and celebrate all their great news with us. An oncoming adoption of two boys, a new position in a very posh school, a baby coming out soon, the publication of a much more news can you desire? So I was ecstatically whizzing around with a bottle of Prosecco and a cake stand full of mini scones filled with sour cream, dill and chive, and smoked salmon.

I would recommend this idea for parties, especially if you want to make a finger buffet (do people really eat fingers??). The ingredients and method is the same as for scones, meaning:

Scones with smoked salmon, herbs and sour cream

220g flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1 pinch of salt
200ml milk
40g butter
100ml cream
half a lemon
smoked salmon
a handful of chive and of dill

1. Mix the flour with the baking powder the salt and sugar. Mix well.

2. Rub in it the butter in small pieces reducing it into crumbles with your finger tips.

3. Add to the mix the milk mixing first with the knife and then mixing using your hand. It doesn't need to be kneaded for long.

4. Place the dough on a floured surface and roll it to make a pasty of 2cm high. Cut the scones using a port glass (or something sharp and with a 3cm maximum diameter).

Tip: roll them out leaving them quite thick as otherwise they won't raise much (like a cake would do). This is the real secret for having tall scones. Also add a pinch of sugar to the mix as this helps the raising process while salt stops it!

5. Place the scones on a greased tray, spread a drop of milk on the top so that they become shiny when then cook, and place in the oven at C220 for 1o minutes.

6. Remove them from the oven and leave them to cool down. Prepare the cream by mixing the cream with the juice of half a lemon so that it curls up - whisk with a spoon quickly. Spread it in the scone with some chopped herbs and a few smalls bits of salmon.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Goan-style fish curry

The Asian cycle has started already ! Let's see if there are any positive effects on my it got even colder, I think it reached 1C and I couldn't avoid leaving the house (I was running out of, really, the basics...) so I wrapped up warm and faced the cold. "Courage!" I said to myself. I was probably looking more like I was going on an expedition to the Arctic...

I must confess that I have no merit whatsoever in the making of this dish - except giving inspiration... R. did it all. And I was so pleased with it - I even had it twice (which doesn't happen often). But I twisted his arm and extrapolate the recipe..hopefully he didn't innocently omit a key ingredient!!

What we had last night was exactly what I was after. Some warm and spicy food which made me think of distant white sands and waving palms. I had something similar in Mombasa last January, with the only difference of king prawns instead of pollock.

Kenyan coastal food has strong influences from India - I think it has a specific name but I cannot remember now. It combines all the old favourite spices together with coconut, coriander and ginger. What we had is called in Kenya Kuku Paka. It is normally made with chicken but variations on the theme are common.

Fish Kuku Paka (or Fish Curry)

For 2 people

2 pollock fillets (or cod, haddock or sea bass, if you feel rich)
3 tinned plum tomatoes
2 sweet potatoes
1 tsp coconut cream
half an onion
2 garlic cloves
vegetable or fish stock (1l water)
1 handful fresh coriander

1. Sprinkle a generous handful of salt on the fish. Chop it into small/medium pieces.

2. In a large pan fry the chopped onion and crushed garlic in 2 tbsp of oil. Peel and chop in small pieces the sweet potatoes. Put the cubed potatoes in the pan and stir well to make sure they coat with the onions without burning.

3. Make the broth by melting the stock cube in a litre of water. Pour the water onto the potatoes to cover them and let it simmer on high heat. Add the fish and continue stirring.

4. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes to ensure the sauce thickens up. If it doesn't you can add a tea spoon of corn starch mixing well to avoid lumps.

5. Add the coconut cream and cook for another 5 minutes.

6. Before the curry is done, cook separately the rice (ideally basmati ) in enough water to cover the rice of only half a finger having added to the water a couple of tea spoons of salt and a knob of butter.

7. Sprinkle some chopped fresh coriander to the curry before serving. Sprinkle some more once it is served on the plates. Serve it with the rice.

The photo is not great as my eye was suffering last night so I couldn't see whether I was putting on focus or not...I am only using manual focus now so deep concentration is required!

I leave you dreaming on these images now that outside is freezing and you are shivering in your mean I am...well at least we are in the same boat! I am also shivering! Brrrrrr.....

The idea of going for a peaceful walk on the beach in Mombasa (at least around the hotels) is simply a dream. Unless you are very resolute and on the brink of rudeness, and you are a woman (small detail I was about to forget) you will inevitably be accompanied. But to my surprise I even found myself giving trade mark advice on a possible logo infringement more random could it be?

The city of Mombasa is not much. Faded beauty and forgotten poverty which most of those tourists enclosed in luxurious resorts don't want to see. People seemed suspicious somehow but once you started talking to few of them they seem genuinely interested. It was pretty nice.

Getting lost in the market and the maze of little road is always good fun - and you can be sure to find somebody who wants to point you to the right direction, perhaps after having taken you to his cousin/uncle/father's shop...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Chocolate Winter warmer

I did promise to feed you with more chocolate. I think the weather requires it. It is so cold here and my feet are suffering - I do sound like an old granny when I say that I suffer from chilblains..many people don't even know what they are!

Probably I should increase my diet of chilly and spicy food. I should start planning a cycle of Asian dinners to R's joy. I will keep you posted on this.

In the mean time I am drinking litres and litres of hot tea (that ground floor loo has turned out to be useful after all! My mother-in-law was right....). So to go with my tea, I have clearly finished the Dutch bread, I have made a new cake combining my favourite Winter ingredients: chocolate, orange, cinnamon and pine nuts. Et voila! A chocolate with orange, cinnamon and pine nuts cake!

Winter Cake

200g dark chocolate
2 eggs
1 egg yolk (this means you use three eggs!)
100g sugar
100g flour
100g butter
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cointreau (or whisky or Grand Marnier)
2 tsp cinnamon (or mixed spices)
zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp orange juice
3-4 tbsp pine nuts

1. Mix the flour with the baking powder and the cinnamon.

2. Melt baigne marie (in a glass bowl over a pan with steaming water) the chocolate chopped in pieces to speed up the process together with the butter. Mix well and set aside to cool down.

3. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and grate the orange zest in it. Add the liquor and mix well. Add the pine nuts and mix well. Add everything to the chocolate mix. Mix well to ensure everything is well incorporated.

4. Sift in the wet mixture the flour and mix well to make sure the flour is absorbed.

5. Pour the mix in a shallow or plump cake tin previously buttered and floured to avoid the cake sticks to the bottom or the sides of the tin.

6. Cook the cake in the oven at C180 for 30 minutes.

7. When it is cooked, leave it on a rack to cool down and then sprinkle either cacao or icing sugar (I would have preferred the icing sugar but I realised I had finished it when I did the carrot cake and couldn't be bothered to walk out in the cold...I think it looks pretty even in dark!).

P.S. Now that I have taken a photo of it, I can go and eat it!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

More ravioli

Pasta has endless worlds. You can come up with any new sauce and the same shape will acquire a completely different taste. And even if many don't believe it, each pasta shape does have its own combination. You couldn't possibly serve pesto with farfalle, or ragu' with linguine...simply wrong! (By the way did you know that at some point (a long time ago hopefully) Brits thought that pasta grew on tree?).

Yesterday I tried to impart this basic concept to the girls I am teaching Italian cooking to - who by the way are as expected all much taller than me...the only one who has my height is a 12 years' old girl...In any case I hope they took me seriously despite my lilliputian stature and believed in the Pasta Bible first commandment.

To show me that he has got the concept clear, R. gave me a present (I wonder what he had done...), a book called "The Geometry of Pasta". I will need to make my way through it - and you will surely know all about it.

So on Saturday I thought of having a variation of ravioli (see a few posts back) and fill them with pumpkin - how seasonal! The varieties of pumpkins that you can find are extraordinary - I must remember to take a picture tomorrow at the market.

Pumpkin Ravoli

For 4 people

300g pasta flour
3 eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
700g pumpkin
150g parmesan
100g bread crumbs
50 grounded almond

1. Make the pasta. In a well of flour, crack the eggs and with a fork beat them slowly catching slowly the flour around it so that it gets incorporated. Add the olive oil so that it becomes smoother. At some point you won't be able to mix the flour using the fork, so just use your hand making a kneading movement. The result is a ball elastic and firm. Cover it in cling film and leave in the fridge to chill for half an hour.

2. Prepare the pumpkin. Cut it in piece removing the skin and the seeds/filaments. The pieces should be of around 4-6 cm wide and 5cm long (please don't take the tape measure though!). Leave them on a tray with a couple of tbsp of oil and some salt and roast in the oven at C200 for around 45 minutes.

3. When the pumpkin is soft, remove it and blend it to make a mash. Drain it in case there is excessive water. Add to this mash the bread crumbs, grated parmesan and grounded almonds. The filling has to be compact.

4. Remove the pasta from the fridge. Take part of it and make a patty. Pass it through the pasta machine using the widest slot and then passing it again (and flouring both the pasta and the slots) thinning it down using thinner and thinner slots. You can fold the pasta if gets too long and pass it again, it will make it even more elastic.

5. Create long strips (5cm wide) and using a tea spoon place a small amount of the pumpkin filling on the strip leaving 2 cm between each. Fold the side of the strip onto the other side to close the filling in it.

6. Using a finger, press the pasta in between the filling balls down and then cut both in between and on the sides. Seal each raviolo using the ridges of a fork.

7. Place the ravioli aside on a floured surface to avoid they stick together.

8. Cook the ravioli in boiling water (and a tbsp of a salt) for a couple of minutes. Apart melt in a pan 100g of butter with a few sage leaves. Drain the ravioli using a slotted spoon.

9. Dress the ravioli with the butter and sprinkle with more grated parmesan.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Dutch Spice Bread or Pan di Spezie

For some time I have seriously thought that nobody was really reading this blog. Not even those few bribed friends who under duress subscribed as followers. But then the marvellous doors of technology opened to me and I discovered that you can trace the traffic of readers and even their location! I was over ecstatic! Three in Chile!! Now, our friends Anna and Struan are in Chile which makes me think that the statistic could count them separately and then together, but that would mean that they have or use 3 different computers...well, better not nosing around and live in the illusion I have multiple readers!

A couple of our friends even started to say that I might become famous and turn the blog into a book like Julie Powell in Julia & Julia. Ha, ha, haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! Funny, very funny. But it's nice to be told that. Although the character of Julie is violently irritating. Never had a real egg?!?

However, I wonder why there are no men blogging about food when then they populate the famous kitchens - no time? Also we are literally inundated by blogs, some of them excellent. What makes a good blog?

Last night it was really cold in the house, and so I thought of warming myself up with the oven. Nothing that dramatic as gas suicidal... but simply baking a cake to have with my tea.

I had this wonderful and rich spice bread when I was in Amsterdam. I bought it in one of those cozy bakeries which only Northern countries seem to have. And Amsterdam has a special atmosphere of an old fashion village spiced up by ladies in windows and red glitzes. What I love of the place is the relaxed pace; flowers decorating bike handles, after office net tidying...

This bready cake is really easy to make and perfect for the Winter with all its aroma. You can decide the proportion of the spices in the way you want. My cousin who hates cinnamon will probably drop this ingredient all together.

Pan di Spezie (Spice bread; Pain d'epices; Gemberkoek)

250g flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp starred anice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp grated ginger or powdered
zest of 1 orange (and candied orange if you have it)
1 egg
200ml milk
200ml honey
100g brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder

1. Warm in a pan the milk and melt in it the honey and sugar. Do not let it boil or it will form a gloopy effect once in the flour. Set aside to cool down.

2. Mix the flour with the baking powder, the spices and orange zest.

3. Beat the egg and add it to the milk making sure it doesn't turn into an omelette by stirring energetically.

4. Sift the flour into the milky mix until well incorporated. It will be quite dense.

5. Pour the mixture into a buttered and floured plump cake tin. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes at C180.

It is true that Amsterdam may give the impression of being very similar at every corner, but I can guarantee that each canal and bridge has its own character. Next time I'm there I will even be brave and hire a bike. Shouldn't be the risk of falling into the water hopefully....

P.S. This bread is very dangerous. Once you have it in the house, you just can't stop eating it...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The real meat loaf or Polpettone

I know that you will think I have something against that poor woman of Nigella. The thing is that I don't think this time she's getting anything right, or at least very few (let's be positive!).

You might remember a few posts back on how to make Pesto alla Genovese (and a few family members scattered around Liguria can testify for me that it's THE authentic recipe). Nigella doesn't use pine nuts; the result is probably of some mushy basil leaves in oil. Pine nuts are essential.

Now, without even knowing that it was on Nigella's menu, my mother made meat loaf, also better known as Polpettone. My mother's recipe, without being vintage, is superb. No bread crumbs, as this would make it too dry, but parmisan to give it a mellow kick, and no chunky onions which I am sure will fill your mouth when you give a bite to it.

To confirm I am totally right, I will make them both and R. will be my judge (I am not competitive at all)...that the battle of polpettoni begins!

Polpettone di Mamma Rita (or Mamma Rita meat loaf)

600g lean (max 12% fat) beef mince
2 thick slices of white bread
100g parmisan
2 eggs (beaten)
parsley (two handfuls)
a quarter of garlic
2-3 hard boiled egg
1 egg
100ml olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

1. Prepare the mayonnaise first. Leave an egg out of the fridge for at least 1/2 hours before using it (this is tricky as I always think of making it too late! so half an hour might do providing your kitchen is a bit warmer than mine).

2. Crack the egg in a long and thin container, salt (1 tsp will do for now) and the juice of the lemon. Start beating it with blades (Moulinex blender will be ok) adding slowly the oil. Incorporate the oil and then add gradually more. You need to get a consistent but smooth sauce. Add salt if necessary. Set it aside in the fridge covering it with cling film to avoid it make a thick layer on the surface.

3. Soak the bread in a bowl with enough milk to cover it. Just leave it in the milk for a minute as it only needs to soak and not disintegrate... Squeeze the milk and tear it into small pieces.

4. In a large bowl put the mince, add 1 tsp of salt (not too much as the parmisan will add the flavour) and mix well. Add the soaked bread and mix well.

5. Grate the parmisan and add it to the meat. Add also the finely chopped parsley and the quarter garlic very finely chopped (if you have it, you can replace parsley and garlic with salsa verde).

6. Add the egg and mix well. Make the loaf into a flat square. Place the boiled eggs on half of this square and fold the other half to close it well.

7. Cooking: two options. 1. Boiled in a cloth (the cloth will release some juice which you can use to pour onto the meat and make it more moisture) in boiling water for 30 minutes; 2. Roasted in the oven wrapped in silver foil for 40 minutes at C220 (after the first 30 minutes open the foil on the top so that the surface of the loaf golden up a bit without burning).

8. Serve either options above with the prepared mayonnaise.

I must recognise that the addition of bacon while cooking in the oven could be good (Nigella gets something right from time to time), so do try it and let me know!

This is a really easy recipe which can be used both for an informal meal or for a buffet and a real warmer. You can embellish the meat loaf with raisin and pine nuts (the first ones soaked in sherry for 10 minutes, then squeezed and added to the mince, the second ones tossed in a pan and added to mince) as well as some sausage meat (reducing the mince quantity, e.g. 450g mince meat, 150g sausage).

Polpettone is a real childhood madeleine for me. We have it in Autumn when days start getting shorter and chilly. The photos below are from our garden.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

More chocolate

I did warn you that more recipes involving chocolate would have followed. I hope I will make some of my followers happy!

Last weekend I was in Siena at my parents' and every time I'm there I feel that I need to cook something for them. It might be as a way of thanking my mother and be in charge of the kitchen for a tiny bit after she slaves behind the cookers for days; or it might be to finish up some of the ingredients that lay around the cupboards for months (if not even years!) until complete father and I have often suspected that my mother was running for the Nobel prize in medicine of moulds.

So before the Easter egg chocolate started acquiring that suspicious grey colour I decided to go through a wonderful book on chocolate that my mother has on her "cooking library" which must contain more than 150,000 recipes! And made dark chocolate tartlets. On Sunday the weather looked rather dodgy and inspired a real oven session instead.

The day before though the sun was shining and the temperature scarily warm. So I suggested to go and inspect the castle where my sister is planning to organise her wedding. I thought that was my duty of older sister....the photos below were sneakily taken in the garden.

In the garden there was an amazing tree that the owner claimed her son normally climb until the very top - that is something that needs to be tested...maybe not during the wedding though!

But back to our chocolate treat. The recipe is quite simple. What you need to make sure you do is to leave the base dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or it will be all floppy and difficult to arrange on the moulds.

Dark Chocolate Tartlets

Makes 6 medium tartlets

200g flour
100g cocoa powder
3 eggs
200g butter
100g caster sugar

200g dark chocolate
20dl cream
10 dl milk
1 egg

1. Make the base first. Mix the butter with the egg and whisk well. Mix the cocoa to the flour and sift them to the wet mixture.

2. Work quickly the paste and form a ball. Cover it with foil and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (up to 2 hours).

3. Prepare the cream. Melt the chocolate at baigne-marie and then add the cream/milk and the beaten egg. Whisk well to ensure everything gets incorporated.

4. After the cooling time in the fridge, remove the base and use it to cover the bottom and sides of 6 tartlet moulds which you will have greased and floured before to avoid the pasty sticks to the bottom.

5. Cover the pasty with silver foil and fill them with dry beans so that the pasty won't raise while it is cooking. Don't pour the beans without the foil as I did once!

6. Cook them in the oven for 8 minutes. Once they are cooked, remove the beans and foils and set aside to cool down for a couple of minutes.

7. Fill the bases with the chocolate cream (if it has formed a foil on the surface, just whisk the cream again) almost up to the top leaving half a cm.

8. Cook the tartlets in the oven at C180 for 10 minutes.

9. Remove them from the oven and leave them to cool on a rack for at least 1 hour. Sprinkle before serving them with icing sugar.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Wild Boar in spicy chocolate sauce

I'm sure that many of you will think I've gone nuts. Wild Boar and chocolate...?!? I know, it does sound a bit odd. However, true chocolate lovers (and conoisseurs) will understand me when I say that the combination genuinely works and will realise that it's a fantastic match. And it's a dish to impress your guests!

Not sure whether this is my chocolate period (il tempo della cioccolata) considering that I have never thought of myself as a chocolate gourmand. Not like my friend A. who could buy a bag of Brazil nuts coated in chocolate and devoured them in less than 5 minutes...not sure how she does!

I must recognise though that chocolate, if dark though (and not that one with nuts, raisins, milk as Brits are used to), has unexpected wonders. A. will be interested in this part...

lowers blood pressure
lowers LDL cholesterol
stimulates endorphins giving a feeling of pleasure
anti depressant as it contains serotonin
stimulates attention being rich in theobromine

I doubt you can still resist to chocolate now...more recipes will follow! For the moment I give you this one that comes from the Medici Family in Renaissance Florence. So I thought of adding a few snaps I took in Florence (where I was hunting for a leather jacket).

If you go to Florence I would make sure of not missing to have aperitif at Finisterrae in via dei Pepi, dinner at Zaza' in via della Stufa (on the other side of the Arno), and a snack with panino & lardo di colonnata (an indescribable cold meat made of pork fat cured with salt, pepper and herbs out of this world) at I Fratellini in via dei Cimatori just off via del Corso. And of course tea and chocolate (to take away) at Cafe' Rivoire in piazza della Signoria!

Below is the recipe. Please don't be freaked out by the long list of ingredients, they are all easily available and reasonably cheap!

For 4 people

1kg wild boar (or venison or beef) cut into 5cm cubes
90g dark chocolate
0.6dl olive oil
1 medium onion
1 big carrot
1 celery stalk
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp powdered cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1,8 dl red wine
6dl white wine vinegar
2.5 dl meat stock
0.6dl grappa (or schnapp)
4 tbsp walnuts
2 tbsp raisins
3 tbsp pine nuts
3 tbsp candied lemon rind
2 tbsp sugar
salt and black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a shallow but large pan. Chop the onion, carrot, celery, onion and parsley to the oil and cook for 10 minutes tossing often until they are soft and lightly pan fried.

2. Add the meat and cook it quickly for a few minutes. Add the salt, the spices and bay leaves. Pour the wine and cook for 5 minutes. The wine will evaporate. Add the vinegar and let it evaporate too.

3. Add the stock and cover to let it simmer for 45 minutes or until the meat is tender. Add more stock if you think that the sauce is too thick or is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

4. Melt at baigne-marie the chocolate. Add to it the grappa, walnuts, raisins, pine nuts and candied lemon rinds, and the sugar. Mix well and remove from the heat.

5. Remove the meat from the pan and place it in a plate. Remove the excessive fat from the pan.

6. Add to the chocolate a few tbsp of the cooking broth and add it to the meat which you will have placed back again in the pan.

7. Simmer everything again for a further 3minutes.

You can serve it with roasted potatoes (without any herbs) or just a plain mixed salad. My mother would probably serve it with polenta as she loves it and comforts her in winter....I frankly cannot stand it so I won't...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sunday whimsies

Sometimes the best recipes are the result of mistakes. I might not got that far to claim that what we made tonight amounted to great food. But it was pretty nice. And overall quite easy, even for those who don't think they like spending too much time behind the cooker.

The original ideas came out of the aftermaths of our walk in the country side. Inevitably around this time of year you will hear me saying "why don't we go for a walk where there are trees"?

And our search brought us to Wandlebury. I am sure most of you know my obsession for the Autumnal colours. And I will never get bored enough to my ooohhs and ahhhhas.

So once back home I thought of having a menu which could go nicely with the atmosphere. Pumpkin ravioli seemed appropriate (with the plus of giving me the chance to practice once more before the next cooking class I'm going to give).

The recipe requires that you peel and cut the pumpkin into small pieces. However, our pieces were far too small and thin. The result was that they cooked too quickly and turned into crispy layers of vegetable. But they were actually rather nice with a sprinkle of salt and coarsely grated parmisan on top, a healthy snack.

Pumpkin crisps

Makes 25

250g pumpkin
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp grated almond

Peel and cut the pumpkin into small and thin strips. Distribute on a greased tray and cover and toss with the oil.

Cook in the oven for 40minutes until crispy. Sprinkle with salt and almond. Before serving sprinkle some roughly grated parmisan.

With a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, they're perfect as little nibbles.

Despite our detour, we decided to carry on with the menu. As the ravioli had lost their main ingredients, i.e. the pumpkin, I thought they could have worked equally well with porcini. I would strongly advise that you use chestnut mushrooms as they taste a lot better than normal mushrooms and probably closer to porcini. You can increase the flavour with dried porcini (the same tricks you would use for the risotto, see two posts ago).

Porcini ravioli

For 2 people

200g flour
1 egg
1 tbsp olive oil
150g mushrooms
100g dried porcini
100g grated parmisan
1 garlic clove
1 handful of parsley

1. First make the pasta. Make a well with the flour. Crack the egg in it and using a fork beat the egg catching some of the flour at the time. Pour the oil in it and continue whisking to incorporate all the flour. Finish the mix by using your hands. If it is too wet, add some flour and knead for a couple of minutes. Make a ball and wrap in cling film.Leave in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

2. Make the filling. Soak the dried porcini in warm water and cover the bowl with a lid to ensure the water the porcini are soaking in remains in the bowl.

3. Cook the fresh mushrooms in a pan with a tbsp of oil and the garlic (only chopped into half so that once it is become brown it can be removed). Once they are almost cooked, add the parsley.

4. Squeeze the porcini from their water and add them to the fresh mushrooms.

5. I added also some strends of saffron to be fancy, but if you don't have them (and usually people don't unless they've recently been to Syria or a similar place and a friend of yours bought 3 boxes for the price of half of what you get here!).

6. Skipping most likely step 5, blend the mushroom in a mixer. Add the parmisan. The mix needs to be quite thick. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.

7. Remove the pasta from the fridge and slowly pass it through the pasta machine making sure that you go through each number of thickness to avoid holes (from larger to thinner).

8. Once you have made long strips, place a small tsp of mushroom mix on the pasta strip making sure you leave some space in between.

9. Fold the half (horizontally speaking) of the pasta onto the other half so that filling gets closed. With a finger, create the ravioli and then cut them using a knife or a ravioli wheel.

10. Finish each raviolo making sure that each side is properly sealed as otherwise the filling will come out while they are cooking.

11. Cook them in salted boiling water for 5-6 minutes and then serve them with melted butter and sage with a generous sprinkle of parmisan.

We made a few tortellini as well but I think it is a bit too difficult to explain without showing you in person. But let's try....Essentially, you make a series of circles and in each circle, in the middle, you put a small amount of the filling. Fold the circle into half to make a half moon and seal the sides. Then stick together the edges of the moon and bend slightly the little head left. Let me know if you've tried following this explanation. IF they work, then I'm genius!

More snaps from our inspiring Autumnal walk...