Christmas Sweetness

As the big day draws near and we take a little moment to reflect on the year that has passed, I thought I’d take a little moment to thank you all for your kind words, comments and support during what has been a difficult year. Yesterday we celebrated the first of several events without the exuberant, Christmas loving, presence of my father. My brother and his family travelled South to Bexhill on Sea and my mother hosted a family meal. Lots of hard work, a few tears, plenty of laughter, and of course a great deal of good food.

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Not usually much of a dessert maker or eater, you sometimes need to make an exception and Christmas is mine! One of the desserts I made is a great one for anyone who either doesn’t like a traditional Christmas Pudding or forgot to make one. It’s an Italian dish called Zuccotto, and can be made many different ways with little twists of your own. This is a particularly  Christmassy version as it uses panettone and is quickly assembled and feeds a crowd.

INGREDIENTS (to serve about 12 people)

  • 1 panettone (you’ll probably have a little left over to enjoy with a coffee)
  • 750g ricotta cheese
  • 120g icing sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mixed peel
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped dates (or use some chopped nuts, or a mix of both)
  • A small glass of marsala or sweet wine or sherry

A round bottomed bowl (about 1.5l) or large pudding basin

Start by mixing the icing sugar into the ricotta then diving the cheese mixture roughly into 2 portions. Stir the mixed peel and orange zest into one portion and the cocoa powder and dates into the other.

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Line the bowl with plenty of cling film, leaving enough overhanging to wrap the base of the pudding (it will be turned out when finished and chilled).

Cut the top and bottom off the panettone so that you have two discs, about 1cm thick, then cut the rest of the loaf into 1cm slices. Put the smaller disc on the base of your bowl and line the sides with overlapping slices. It doesn’t matter if they are taller than the bowl, you can tuck them over at the end. Brush the bread which is now lining your bowl with the marsala, be generous!

Place the orange and mixed peel mix of ricotta into the base of your bowl and then cover this mixture with more slices of panettone. Brush the bread with masala and top with the cocoa and date ricotta. Place the second round on top to make a lid (which will become the base) and tuck over any overhanging bread. If you have any gaps, fill with any scraps of panettone and give it all a final, generous brush of marsala. Wrap the cling film over the top, place a plate on the  bowl and weigh it down leaving it to chill overnight in the fridge.

When you are ready to serve, remove from the fridge about 15 minutes beforehand, peel back the cling film, place a large serving dish over the bowl and tip the dessert out, flipping it over. Dust with cocoa powder and enjoy.

All that remains for me to say is Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad and Buon Natale to you all. May the year ahead bring you health and happiness and I look forward to seeing you all again in 2018.

Ice Cream

If you do fancy making a more traditional but lighter Christmas Pudding, try this recipe. And don’t forget my Christmas ice cream or my favourite coffee ice cream.

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Ciao ciao

I’ve not written for a while, it’s been hard to find the words, so I’ll keep it simple and short. My very beloved dad, Papà to me, died on 24th February while on holiday with my mum in Spain. Born in Italy,  lived in England,  and died in Spain. A true European if ever there was one.

He was a wonderful man, a loving husband to my mum for over 53 years, a fantastic dad and a great son-in-law to my grandparents who shared a home with my parents for most of my parents’ married life. We had a service and a celebration of his life in Bexhill and shared laughter and memories with so many friends and family whose lives he had touched.  A wonderful tribute to him.

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FRANCO RUSSO

1935 –  2017

Now it’s time to think about the future, not with regret or fear but with some sadness, of course, a smile and many thanks for the person he was and the person he helped me to become.

I’ll be back soon…

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch, Lemons and a Patio – Un Almuerzo, Unos Limones y Un Patio

Our time in Spain is drawing to a close and it’s time to head back to our other life and home in England. It’s been an eventful few weeks running around, sorting out paperwork, bills and bank accounts, we’ve had 2 funerals, 1 first communion, family lunches and dinners, get togethers with friends, gardening, house painting, rubbish clearing and pool cleaning. Although we haven’t had a dip yet…far too cold for us “out of towners”! I’m also going to try and write a little in Spanish as our family and friends here complain that they can’t enjoy my posts properly. It will be appalling, but I’ll give it a go.

Nuestro tiempo en España ya está acabando. Ha llegado la hora de prepararnos para volver a nuestra otra vida, nuestro otro hogar en Inglaterra. Han sido unas semanas llenas – arreglando papeles, pagando facturas y hablando con el banco. Hemos tenido dos entierros y una primera comunión. Comidas con familia y amigos, jardinería, pintando la casa, tirando basura y limpiando la piscina.¡ Aunque estos “forasteros” todavía no se han bañados!

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We picked the lemons off our tree, despite them being still green. They are keeping cool in the garage, but we were also gifted some gorgeous lemons from a friend. If you want some amazing ideas of what to do with a lemon glut, Margot over at Gather and Graze will inspire you. I’ll hopefully be posting some recipes in the weeks to come.

Hemos cogidos los limones de nuestro limonero, aunque están todavía verdes. Están en la cochera, a la sombra. Menos mal que un buen amigo nos ha regalado una bolsa de limones para comer ahora. Si quieres ser inspirada con unas recetas increíbles, vete a ver el blog de Margot aquí. Espero que dentro de unas semanas yo también voy a poner unas recetas usando nuestros limones.

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A recent family get together was held in the garden of one of Big Man’s cousins. It’s an old and beautiful town house in a Pueblo Blanco, behind a huge front door is a stunning house with beams, stone floors, thick walls and an enchanting walled patio garden which is like a little piece of paradise tucked away from the hustle and bustle.

Una reunión reciente con familia tuvo lugar en la casa de un primo de mi “Gran Hombre” y su pareja. La casa está situada en un Pueblo Blanco, y es increíblemente bonito e histórico. Por detrás de la casa hay un patio, casi escondido, como un pequeño y secreto trocito del paraíso.

Chivo
Chivo

Of course, there was good food and wine too – well….what else did you expect?!

Por supuesto, había también comida y vino bueno….¡pues, como siempre!

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home

We´re back from a hectic but wonderful week in London, catching up with family and friends.  We were wined and dined and thoroughly spoilt, drank far too much wine, walked for miles and laughed for the entire week.

We ate broccoli grown in my parent´s London garden.

Best friend Ria made us an amazing Chicken and Leek Pie, and extra marks to her for cooking it in her sister´s kitchen as her heating and hot water weren´t working for a few days.

We spent a day walking through London.

Of course, we stopped for coffee to revive us.

We drank good old British bitter.

Cheers!

We helped our pals Donna and Craig “christen” their new home in style.

We had "Bolly" too - lucky us...hic!

Entertainment in their new home village, Lewes, was fun and quirky.

Check out those amazing sideburns!

We even managed to spend a few days down on the south coast combining business with a little relaxation.  Of course, we had to take a romantic walk along the seafront at night when a sea fog was making everything look very atmospheric. We were in St Leonard´s on Sea, where my parents have a holiday place, and also home of Promenade Plantings.

We spent a wonderful day with my parents walking around beautiful Hampton Court, one of Henry VIII´s amazing Tudor Palaces.

"Mamma & Papá Russo" - the Royal Elders of our family!

My favourite part of the Palace? Well, the Tudor Kitchens of course!

Peacock Pie anyone?!

And last night we arrived home, weary but happy.  Our case was packed with goodies….dressmaking patterns and fabric, antique carpentry tools, some vines from my father´s garden to plant here in Spain, salad seeds, a new mini baking tray… so much to look forward to.  And guess what?  When we unpacked, we found we had a stowaway.  Flat Ruthie has come to visit, so we´ll be enjoying some time with her very soon and cooking together!

Stowaway on Board!

Figs for breakfast

A Kind of Roman Breakfast!

When I was a child, summer holidays were extra special.  We joined the great exodus of Italians “going home” for August.  My father, like many Italians, started his working life in London as a waiter.  Sometimes the restaurant he worked in, usually Italian, shut for the month to allow staff to be with their families.  Other times, it didn´t, which often meant a return from holiday at the start of September with no job for my father.  I´ve only recently thought about this and how difficult and precarious things must have been for the family financially at times and the sacrifices they made for us children.

My family, however, thought it was important for my brother and I to be in Italy with our many cousins and aunties and uncles, spending time being free on the beach, eating meals late at night, talking Italian and sharing that special love that comes from a huge extended family. I thank them for it, I´m sure much of what I experienced in those summer holidays helped make me the person I am today.

We often drove to Italy as putting the car on the overnight train from Calais to Milan was expensive.  Then we faced a further day or two of journey to the very south, the “toe of the boot”, to Calabria. It was an epic journey, but it was made fun with plenty of food, books to read, songs to sing in the car (no DVDs or Playstations then!) and stops along the way to visit more family and friends.

We always stopped in Roma, where my father had spent a portion of his youth and visited Zia Sara and Zio Angelo.  Roma has some wonderful food markets and I have strong memories of someone going out in the morning to buy focaccia for breakfast – that typical flat white bread drizzled with olive oil, coarse salt and sometimes rosemary.  I don´t know if it was a Roman thing, or a family thing, but if we were lucky we also got a bag of juicy figs to go with it.  An extra sprinkle of salt, a little drizzle of olive oil and it was heaven on a piece of bread.  Sweet, salty and peppery all at the same time.

Now I try to recreate it with griddled bread, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a drizzle of our very own olive oil.  It´s not quite the same, but the memories make it all the sweeter.