CARMELA’S SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

Carmella phot
Carmela Sereno’s demonstration

I really enjoyed a pasta making demonstration by Carmela Sophia Sereno at the New Bookshop in Cockermouth and loved her book-Southern Italian Family Cooking.

Carmela is very engaging and amusing -a more down to earth sort of Nigella without the affectations and irritations of the latter.

From an Italian family she is influenced by her mother and grandmother’s cooking and has then developed her own style and recipes. Her business  ‘Carmela’s kitchen’ has blossomed from teaching in her family kitchen to large scale demonstrations, radio shows and pop up kitchens as well as writing books. Happily, she is enjoying a whirl wind of activity at the moment despite having 4 bambinos at home. I was exhausted just listening to her.

We watched as Carmela made basic pasta, with the speed of someone who does it all the time and knows what she is doing even though she only had a tiny table to work on in the middle of a bookshop! She showed us how to cut all the different shapes and sizes with only some basic equipment. This was an impressive performance whilst keep up the constant chat, anecdotes and tales of her family’s cooking back home. Particularly impressive was the pretty, parsley lasagne-laying individual leaves on the pasta and them repeatedly passing it through the pasta machine until it stretched in situ. Holding the pasta sheet up to the light it did look like very pretty wall paper!

Handmade parsley pasta
Handmade parsley pasta

Carmela’s (first) book –SOUTHERN ITALIAN COOKINGsimple, healthy and affordable food from Italy’s cucina povera is widely available. I liked it, not least, because it is a small paperback (A5 size) and simply printed, in fact just like a family recipe book. It doesn’t have the beautiful photographs you almost always see in cookery books nowadays and is all the better for it. These, dispiritingly, look nothing like the dishes that you will produce at home. Nowadays the camera, almost certainly, will lie. Her recipes are family friendly, easy to follow and you can really feel the echoes of home Italian cooking. I was intrigued by Carmela’s advice not to put cream in Spaghetti alla carbonara and tried her recipe to the letter (now that’s a first for me) and it was lovely and rich without it. It did remind me of when I travelled around the poorer regions of Italy many (many) years ago. I suppose over the time we have ‘anglicised’ Italian pasta dishes serving them with far too much sauce perhaps to disguise poorer quality pasta. Now I am going to try the lasagne without the béchamel sauce.

Also in the book are recipes for antipasti, homemade pizzas, soups, bread, risotto and biscotti, cakes and desserts including a special Tiramisu recipe from her grand-mother. I must give this a go, it must be one of the most popular Italian puddings made here probably incorrectly.

Get in touch with Carmela:
07951 395237

Twitter @carmela_kitchen

Facebook/carmelaskitchen

http://www.carmelas-kitchen.co.uk

Buy Carmela’s book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/q4uq233

Here is Carmela’s recipe for Spaghetti alla carbonara reproduced with kind permission:

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LEEKS WITH A LEMON & THYME CRUST

Creamy leeks with a lemon crust

I like this family friendly, thrifty, and easy to make dish. There are a few, simple ingredients and you may have most of them already. It is much better with fresh thyme but you could use dried. Unfortunately this quickly loses it’s flavour as you only use a little at a time and the little jars can be hanging around in the kitchen for…a very long time!. Try growing your own. Thyme, like lots of herbs from warmer climes such as rosemary and sage ( I feel I should burst into song at this point),  are very happy in pots. Buy small plants from a garden centre, which are cheap in summer, add some extra grit to make the compost free draining and site your pot in a sunny place-not too far from your door. Now you can pick as much as you need -fresh herbs make all the difference to your cooking.

I digress……the leeks, cooked slowly, go nice and creamy, make sure you keep stirring as leeks burn easily. I always make a white sauce in the microwave, I can hear ‘proper’ chefs tut, tutting but i find it a palaver making a proper roux with flour and butter etc etc. Not to mention the possible lumpiness, this way is so much easier and with the addition of some butter at the end I certainly can’t tell the difference. Add the cooked leeks and cheese and top with the breadcrumbs, thyme and grated lemon. I make the breadcrumbs from left over crusts of bread, if you have some and don’t want to use them straight away they freeze well.

Try this on a ‘Meat Free Monday’ – I’m sure you will want to make it any day of the week.

LEEKS  WITH A LEMON & THYME CRUST

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RHUBARB AND ALMOND TART

 

Pretty pink forced Yorkshire rhubarb
Pretty pink forced Yorkshire rhubarb

Now who can resist this beautifully pink delicate rhubarb with its chartreuse frilly hat…not me..I couldn’t walk past my local green grocers without buying this precious delight. It has a very short season, blink and you have missed it. It also comes from Yorkshire so what more could a Yorkshire girl want. It is mysteriously grown in the dark and cut by candlelight-the lack of light ‘forcing’ it to produce the slim, pink wands. A special ingredient needs delicate handling and a special recipe. So here is my rhubarb and almond tart just for you. It was inspired by a similar tart I had at a very special hotel the AltnaHarrie Inn (now closed) near Ullapool in Wester Ross, Scotland. When you arrived on the quay side you had to telephone (from the red telephone box of course-younger readers -that is how we used to make phone calls) and they would send a small boat to pick you up. Very romantic. I made some scribbles on a napkin and from these wrote this recipe 20 years later.

RHUBARB & ALMOND TART

Rhubarb and almond tart
Rhubarb and almond tart

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CHRISTMAS ROCKY ROAD

Christmas Rocky Road
Christmas Rocky Road

Here is a Christmas treat, easy for children to make (with supervision) and a lovely present for them to give (if you can wrest it out of their hands). Best to make two lots I think. Don’t deviate from the recipe-it has to be Rich Tea biscuits and mini marshmallows, good butter and good chocolate…simple and delicious for everybody.

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BEST EVER CHUNKY GUACAMOLE DIP

 

The best ever chunky guacamole!

False modesty has never been my strong point so I can say, hand on heart, that this is really the best ever chunky guacamole ever! I’m a bit of a nibbler and dipper and would happily forgo any ‘proper’ meals for a life of nibbling and dipping. This guacamole is one of my favourites with a homemade hummus coming a very close second (recipe to come), perfect for sharing with friends (as long as they are not too hungry and leave me with none ) and for casual eating.The only slight problem is the general state of avocados available to buy-they tend to be rock hard so you need to plan ahead, buy them hard and leave them to ripen on a sunny window sill. I suppose I can see the supermarket’s dilemma (although I am not generally sympathetic to them) the problem is that you wait and wait for them to ripen and then they do and very quickly go over and spoil, blacken and strangely fibrous inside.

Here is my recipe for…

 

THE BEST EVER CHUNKY GUACAMOLE DIP

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3 HOMEMADE DAIRY ICE CREAMS

 

I’m writing this in the nearest thing that we get to a heatwave here in West Cumbria…better make the most of it then. Heatwaves (or even just a few tiny rays) in summertime  and my thoughts turn to homemade, dairy ice cream. Not just the synthetic, overly sweet commercial ice cream but proper, homemade, dairy ice cream, made with double cream. You can’t make proper ice cream without cream it’s as simple as that….sorry to the healthy eating brigade but I will concede that you shouldn’t eat too much in any one sitting. If it doesn’t say ‘dairy’ on the box it is not ‘dairy ice cream…just a synthetic concoction of skimmed milk products and lots of  other stuff.

I am basically lazy and it is too much effort to get out that ice-cream maker that has been languishing in a kitchen cupboard for…..probably years and too I’m too impatient to leave the bowl to freeze first anyway!  If you want to make the effort and you have an ice cream maker lying around  it does give a creamy result but I think this method makes pretty creamy ice cream too.

Everything goes in together and then pour it into a plastic box and pop into the freezer. Once it starts to freeze around the edges you take it out and beat vigourously, this help to break down the ice crystals you can repeat this again if you are feeling energetic but it’s not really necessaryl.  As a summer bonus for you I have made three different ice creams; Fresh RaspberrySwirl,Velvety Madagascan vanilla ice cream (cleverly sugar free) and a family favourite Crunchy Malteser ice cream.

Have a go at these:

 

FRESH RASPBERRY SWIRL, VELVETY MADAGASCAN VANILLA ICE CREAM AND MALTESAR HOMEMADE ICE CREAM

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ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL SUMMERTIME

Elderflower Cordial

It is officially summer time (in Cumbria at least) although it must have been summer time elsewhere for some time, we are always a tad behind. The hedgerows are full of billowing clouds of elderflowers with their sweet smell and I am looking forward to gathering them for a summer treat -ambrosial elderflower cordial . Here is a very simple recipe, just a compilation of ingredients really but  there are just a few things to bear in mind before you dash out into the countryside: gather the flowers on a sunny day and look for ones that are fully out, they should have a distinct flowery smell. Also don’t pick  those along the roadsides which may be contaminated with car fumes etc. Avoid actually washing them if you can, choose clean ones.

For a delicously summery drink add the cordial to Prosecco or for a non-alcholic version dilute with tonic water and serve with lots of ice, lemon slices and fresh mint. Ideally you should be drinking this in the sunshine in a beautiful summer garden or beside a babbling brook in the shade…………………………………………..but it tastes just as lovely anywhere.

 

You can reduce the cordial to make it more syrupy and then pour this over ice cream or use to flavour cakes and biscuits. It is beautiful with that other fleeting summer treat, gooseberries.  Lightly cook them (just until they burst and no more) in a tiny amount of water. Add sugar and cordial and liquidise (reserving a few for the tip). When cold fold into creme fraiche or greek yoghurt and serve with a drizzle or the more concentrated syrup, the reserved gooseberries and a few elder flowers.

 

ELDERFLOWER CORDIAL

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THE VERY BEST CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

 

The best chocolate brownies

I’m sticking my neck on the line here-the Very Best Chocolate Brownies?  Who does she think she is …well I have been working at this recipe for a number of years and a lot of brownies have been eaten by family and friends-it’s hard for some people.

The brownie world is split into two camps -those that love the more ‘CAKEY’ types of brownies and those that love the  more ‘SQUIDGY’ type. Both have their place in the culinary brownie world but my favourite would have to be the ‘SQUIDGY’. type. To make the ‘CAKEY’ type you have, not surprisingly, a cake type mix but to get the ‘SQUIDGY’ type you are aiming for a batter type mix that easily pours into your tin.

Here are some things to think about before you try these out:

  • Kit matters especially if you are planning to do a lot of baking and investing in the best is a good idea-I’ve lost count of the number of cheaper tins etc that I have thrown out over the years after they have buckled and twisted in the heat. So invest in a sturdy tin they are often called, very helpfully,-brownie pans. I’m not mad keen on the non stick versions, this eventually wears off and where does it go? Yes, it’s in your food. Perhaps I am being a little harsh here as the more modern versions are more durable.
  • Lining the pan is important-you only need to do the base.  I like the re useable ones but if you don’t want to do this use a baking paper with silicone, not just greasproof paper. The higher the sugar content the more your cakes/biscuits/meringues will stick and these brownies have a lot of sugar in them.
  • Take care melting the chocolate-it is very temperamental. On the temperamental scale the easiest to melt is chocolate with a high proportion of chocolate solids eg a good dark chocolate with 70% chocolate solids, the trickiest to melt is white chocolate ( it is not really a chocolate as it doesn’t contain any chocolate solids) and milk chocolate is somewhere in between. I use a microwave, break up the chocolate into pieces and put into a plastic jug-spread them out a bit so they are not just piled in the middle. Microwave this in short bursts on high. Don’t stir it as this can cause it to ‘seize’ up and ruin just turn the jug back and forth until it is melted. Once it starts to melt it will go very quickly-Don’t burn it.

Enjoy making these-VERY BEST CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

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CHICKEN LIVER PATÉ

 

Delicious Christmas PatéNow Christmas is snapping at my heels and there is a vague feeling of panic about all the cooking, buying, wrapping, celebrating etc that has to be done in the next few weeks…my top tip for this week is make a PLAN. I love having visitors to stay over, and I have quite a few, but don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen. I love the idea of floating around with  glass in hand eating beautiful delicious nibbles and cocktails or sitting by the log fire and enjoying time my friends and family. I love beautiful decorations too that make everyone’s stay feel special. I do manage some of this even though I say it myself! How do you do this? Well it’s all about planning the food well in advance and now is the time to get a wriggle on and make some lovely festive dishes that will sit very happily in your freezer waiting to be whipped out at the last minute.

Christmas day isn’t really the problem it’s the days before and the days after that complicate things especially if you have friends and family, like mine, that need to stay over for a few days – I make a sketchy plan for all the meals and even sketchier shopping lists. Ok, it’s a bit anal but if I do this then I can, truly, enjoy the holiday with out burning out on Christmas Eve and having a major melt down.

Here is an old favourite of mine that is already sitting in my freezer and will make an appearance on Christmas Eve so there is no last minute cooking and I can enjoy that glass of champagne!

CREAMY CHICKEN LIVER PATE

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HOMEMADE TOMATO SOUP

 

Tomato soup

 Br…rr it’s cold outside and I want something to warm me up on this cold, blustery day in the Lake District.

Homemade soup is a joy to eat and never fails to raise the spirit-not to mention keeping you warm inside. You can easily add a a few soups to your favourite list of foods; leek and lentil, creamy onion with bubbling cheesy toasts,  chunky spiced vegetable. or what about beef soup with dumplings.  Tomato soup is the stuff of childhood but this soup is nothing like the sweet, creamy, canned version I used to have. Homemade it has a bright and fresh flavour. You could add torn basil leaves and  spice it up with a little chilli powder. For a more substantial meal try these homemade croutons. They transform any soup.

This soup is lovely to eat, keeps you warm and is cheap to make………..a win win situation. Here is my homemade soup made with love for you…

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