Elderflower cordial recipe
Now that spring is in full voice, the mornings are filled with birdsong and the scent from the herb garden. We are lucky to have a couple of magnificent Elderflower trees that provide blooms and berries at various times of the year. The warmth and sun have brought out a fabulous display of elderflowers this year and the trees are heavy with the blossom. The delicate flowers are so numerous that we can pick plenty for this year’s elderflower cordial without making much impact on the display in the garden.
This elderflower cordial recipe has to be the perfect drink for a summer’s day, a splash of elderflower cordial topped up with sparkling ice cold water and a slice of lemon. Later in the evening a drop of the magic cordial in a glass of prosecco rounds of a hard day in the garden.
- 4kg white sugar
- 2.5lt Boiling Water
- 40 Elderflower Heads
- 150g Citric Acid
- 4 Lemons sliced, plus their grated rinds
- Shake elderflower heads to ensure they are free of insects.
- Place the water into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Add the grated rind and sliced lemon with the citric acid.
- Place the elderflower heads in a bowl and pour over the boiling water.
- Leave for at least 12 hours covered with cling film.
- Sieve the liquid, to remove the solids and strain through muslin to clarify.
- The cordial is quite concentrated so only a small amount is needed to make a refreshing drink. Sterilised bottles filled to the brim and stored in the door of the fridge will last 2 weeks, if you can keep it that long!
Rosemary and Garlic Focaccia
The best thing about baking this bread is the aroma of rosemary and garlic which fills the kitchen. I use rosemary straight from my garden and at this time of year only the freshest new growth from the ends of the stems. Rosemary is so versatile and can be added to many dishes such as roast chicken, roast potatoes and vegetables. I add loads when making a stock and also add it to soups. It’s aromatic and beautiful and I wouldn’t be without this herb. Being blessed as I am with an Italian herb garden full of rosemary, I can pretty much rely on it to flavour my food all year round. At the moment it is a purple flowered bee heaven, but it is the fresh green sprigs I pick for culinary use.
Rosemary was the first herb that I wanted to plant in my Le Marche garden as it never thrived in my English garden. ‘Rosemary for remembrance’ they say and I do have a treasured memory linked to this herb about a lady who lived in my house many years ago. She sadly passed away last year but during our first weeks here, she would pass by, take my hands in her hands and kiss me on my cheek, then lead me around all the trees and plants she had planted twenty or so years before. On one such visit she openly scoffed at my small pot of rosemary I intended to plant somewhere. I needed no understanding of Italian as she led me a few paces down the road to a huge bush she had planted herself. The locals, she told me used to walk down here to pick sprigs to flavour their homemade proscuitto. Although I have indeed planted more rosemary I always use her plant in cooking as it grows in full sun and seems particularly aromatic.
- 350ml luke warm water
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 650 g bread flour or Italian 0 flour
- 2tsp salt
- 2tsp sugar
- 2 7g sachets yeast
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2/3 garlic cloves
- lots of rosemary sprigs
- sea salt
- Add to your bread machine in the above order and select dough function.
- Or mix by hand into smooth dough and allow to raise covered for an hour or so.
- Knead the dough until smooth, then roll out to fit a large baking tin. It is a very springy dough so needs some pulling and stretching to shape.
- Leave to rise for 40 minutes.
- With your knuckle make dents all over the surface.
- Sprinkle with salt.
- Spread a few cloves of mashed garlic all over and then brush on lots of extra virgin olive oil
- Finally push the rosemary sprigs into the dough.
- Bake at 180 degrees centigrade for approx 25 minutes, until lightly golden.
- Slice into strips, triangles or simply tear and share with others. Add halved cherry tomatoes with the sprigs of rosemary if you wish.
Torta al Limone
Torta al Limone: As the temperatures begin to rise in Le Marche the potted lemon trees can be put outside. Down at the coast lemon trees grow quite happily in the ground but as we are in the hills we need to protect them from frost. Funny thing is…my lemons are not lemons as an Italian gardener friend told me – they are cedri! They are grown principally for their thick and aromatic zests and are used to make candied lemon peel. This then explains why when I have asked for lemons from a market stall I’ve been asked ‘do you want them for zesting or for juice?’ What I know as an ordinary lemon is only used for juice and I must admit the zest of my cedri is beautifully strong in flavour and they don’t give much juice.
I have italianised an old recipe for Torta al Limone cheesecake by using ricotta rather than double cream and I find it much lighter. Here I’ve used a plain biscuit base but you can use crushed amaretto biscotti instead.
This desert would be ideal after an Easter feast and may well make an appearance at the end of our Easter meal this weekend.
- 250 g biscuits (digestives or Italian biscotti di amaretti
- 100g butter
- 500g ricotta ( include some mascapone if you want a creamier texture)
- 170ml cream/or full fat milk
- 200g sugar
- zest and juice of 2 large lemons ( or zest of cedri and juice from normal lemons)
- 3 eggs
- Crush the biscuits in a large bowl with the end of a rolling pin
- Melt the butter and mix in the crushed biscuits
- Press the mixture into a cake tin, and let it firm up in the fridge
- Beat the ricotta (or ricotta/mascapone mixture) with the sugar
- Then beat in the eggs. I use a hand held electric mixer.
- Add the cream/milk, lots of lemon or cedri zest and the lemon juice.
- I often check the taste at this point to make sure its nice and lemony! can always add more zest and juice.
- Pour carefully onto the biscuit base and bake in a low oven (150degrees centigrade) for an hour, until the centre is firmish.
- Switch off the oven and leave in for 15 minutes.
- Then allow to cool.
- You can top the finished cheesecake with fresh fruit. Strawberries are coming into season here in le Marche or blueberries or fruits of the forest.
Crescia di Pasqua
Crescia di Pasqua. This typical Le Marche Easter bread is actually so rich that it is more like a cake – a huge cheese filled and rather moreish cake that when baking fills the kitchen with a lovely aroma. It is traditionally eaten at Easter, after the period of Lent when Italians long for some rich food. It is packed full of eggs and the local cheese, Pecorino and can be eaten on its own or with local cold meats and salamis. Many locals will have their secret family recipes passed down through the generations and will bake several breads to give as gifts to friends and family. This is a bread that will also be offered up to the local priest to be blessed.
I have to admit that I made the dough in my bread machine and although a little concerned about the excess moisture from the cheese it turned out just fine and saved me a lot of time. Being English I have to make my hot cross buns and my easter chocolate cake as well as the Le Marche Crescia di Pasqua.
- 6 eggs
- 100ml luke warm milk
- 650g 00 bread flour
- 220g of grated pecorino cheese (or a mix of pecorino/parmesan)
- 160g margarine (or lard)
- 40g dry yeast
- 2 tsp salt
- tsp atleast of pepper
- Place the ingredients in bread machine in the order above and set to dough mode
- Knead the dough well on a floured surface
- Place in a large, round, deep cake tin and allow to rise in a warm place for atleast an hour.
- Bake in a 180 degrees oven for about 50 minutes
Le Marche Tripe
Tripe is a dish known throughout Italy from north to south. Each area has its own variations on cooking and preparations. I was personally inspired as a young boy to create this delicious dish and I learned the recipe from my grandmother Luigina a lady of just 90 years young. In turn I am happy to pass on this recipe which has been handed down through the generations of my family. Each time I cook tripe this way I remember with delight my “nona” grandmother and look forward to the pleasure that comes with the taste of this delicious but great value dish. Clearly, given its wholesome and warming properties this dish is only recommended in cold seasons.
- 1 kg tripe - ox \ calf
- 2 onions
- 2 carrots
- 2 sticks celery
- 1 glass white wine
- 2 potatoes
- bunch fresh marjoram or parmesan knob
- oil for frying
- cut the tripe into pieces of one cm and boil in salted water for about 45 min, in the meantime, finely chop the onions carrots and celery and fry in the oil. Boil 1.5 liters of salted water and add the tomato paste and two potatoes, peeled and shredded. Drain the tripe and add to the frying vegetables, sauté together with the white wine, pepper, and the fresh marjoram or dried rind of Parmesan. After 15 min add in the potatoes with some of its cooking water, cook for two hours on low heat, stirring occasionally. Add more of the potato water to prevent the stock drying out.
- Serve with fresh parmesan cheese and accompanied with a fine full bodied rosso piceno.
Ruccola and walnut pesto
Ruccola and walnut pesto. Whether you call it ruccola, rocket or arrugula this salad leaf turns up often in Le Marche cuisine. As a salad ingredient, a pizza topping or one of my favourites, chopped and scattered on top of Tagliata. Apparently, ruccola was believed by classical writers of Roman times to be an aphrodisiac and this was the reason that monks in medieval times weren’t allowed to plant it in their gardens.
Yesterday, the sun was shining here in Le Marche and it felt like Spring but overnight it changed to stormy winds, snow and sleet – the Italian saying ‘Marzo è un mese pazzo’ is particularly fitting today. Luckily I cropped loads of rocket before the snow, which had self seeded from my orto and turned into a huge patch of wild rocket!
Ruccola leaves are peppery to taste and maybe like marmite, you either like the taste or not. I love the taste kick and it definitely livens up a green salad. Like spinach and kale, ruccola is packed full of green goodness and is easy to plant from seed. In Le Marche it grows best in Spring when everything is green and lush. In summer with hot temperatures I find it quickly runs to seed.
I’ve also added walnuts to the pesto but you can experiment with the addition of pine nuts, almonds or other nuts. My crop of walnuts needed using and I’m trying to use ingredients that are local to Cossignano and South Le Marche so I settled with half walnuts and half almonds. Thus this recipe is great for vegetarians and the walnuts provide some extra useful nutritional value as they are high in omega 3 fats as well as many other nutrients and anti oxidants.
What follows is a rough recipe for Ruccola and walnut pesto, but making pesto is more of a technique and you need to find out what balance of flavours works best for you. Also bear in mind that it tastes much milder when mixed with pasta than trying a teaspoon raw which is what I did and found it too pungent. Mixed with spaghetti it tasted fresh and green and not over peppery.
- A few good handfuls of fresh rocket ( I used the leaves and the stems)
- About 70 g parmesan
- A small handful of walnuts and almonds
- A few glugs of extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil
- squirt of lemon juice
- small clove of garlic
- salt and pepper
- Using a food mixer, or a pestle and morter if you want to make it all by hand, first chop the nuts, then add all the other ingredients and whizz to a rough paste, maybe adding more oil or more cheese, tasting as you go. Remember it can taste quite strong on its own but teamed with pasta it is much milder.
- Half I used with pasta and the other is in my fridge to use over the next few days.
- Pesto can be very successfully frozen, maybe in ice cube trays for handy little portions
Frittata with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Spinach
A frittata or omelette makes a super speedy and nutritious lunch or supper dish, especially when you add some healthy veggies such as broccoli and spinach. At this time of year in Italian Ortos the purple sprouting broccoli is ready to pick. Broccoli (which comes from the Itallian word brocco meaning branch or arm) was initially cultivated by the Romans. Broccoli has been grown in the UK and the US since the early 18th century, although the purple sprouting variety has only recently been popular. The plant produces lots of little heads of broccoli rather than one large one which you maybe more used to and the slender, fine stalks should be chopped and eaten too. Of course, if you don’t have access to purple sprouting, then normal broccoli is fine.
The Italian frittata is versatile, in that it can be eaten warm or cold and one can change the ingredients to suit you or to suit what is in your fridge or veggie plot. My Le Marche friends and neighbours give me plenty of organic, free range eggs so this is a lunchtime staple for us.
Broccoli and in particular sprouting broccoli is a super food and is rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur.
Fresh Broccoli is a storehouse of many phyto-nutrients such as thiocyanates, indoles, sulforaphane, isothiocyanates and flavonoids like beta-carotene cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zea-xanthin. Studies have shown that these compounds by modifying positive signaling at molecular receptor levels help protect from prostate, colon, urinary bladder, pancreatic, and breast cancers.Further, it contains very good amounts of another anti-oxidant vitamin, vitamin-A. 100 g fresh head provides 623 IU or 21 % of recommended daily levels. Together with other pro-vitamins like beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and zea-xanthin, vitamin A helps maintain integrity of skin and mucus membranes. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eye-sight and helps prevent from macular degeneration of the retina in the elderly population.
- 5 or 6 eggs
- A couple of garlic cloves, chopped finely
- A glug of extra virgin olive oil
- Handful of purple sprouting broccoli
- Handful of spinach leaves
- Grated parmigiano and pecorino cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Handful of frozen prawns (optional)
- Prepare the broccoli by finely chopping the stalks and steaming the stalks and the florets briefly.
- Roughly chop the spinach and the garlic.
- Gently heat the oil in an omelette pan and saute the garlic and the spinach.
- Whisk the eggs with some salt, pepper and grated cheese to taste.
- Pour the eggs over the spinach and garlic , then add the broccoli.
- Put a lid on the pan and cook over a very low hob for about 15 minutes, until the eggs have set.
- Do not turn over.
- Take off the heat and leave for a few minutes before removing from the pan.
Please excuse the lack of posts but with the good weather the folk of Le Marche are pruning like there’s no tomorrow. Today the heavens have opened which gives you time to take a breather and think about something other than olives!!
There are myriads of useful plants and trees around us in the countryside and in gardens, a lot of which get overlooked in favour of more popular species. Today I wanted to write about my personal favourite and one commonly referred to as the “country medicine chest”, the Elder or Sambucus Nigra. In times gone by people would plant an elder on new plots of land before they even started to build their house on it so that it could be ready for when they lived there.
All parts of the tree can be used and have been since the times of ancient Egypt. However, all parts of the plant have the capacity to poison if not processed properly so follow your recipes to the letter to avoid unpleasant visits to the hospital!
Starting with the flowers which are highly anti-catarrhal, if you pick them when they are in their prime and dry them carefully and away from sunlight they will provide you with a useful remedy for colds in the winter, mixed with the dried flowers and leaves of yarrow, mint and camomile and made into a tisana (discard all flowers and leaves before drinking) and you can use raw honey to sweeten it.
The berries, (note, which are never eaten raw) are vitamin C rich and if you freeze them in the summer you can stew them with apples in the winter to make delicious desserts that are protecting you from coughs and colds.
Although in times gone by the leaves, bark and roots were commonly used in home remedies for everything from skin complaints to headaches, it is not recommended nowadays. Your vegetable plot will welcome the tree’s properties however and if you want an effective insecticide that is supplied by mother nature herself you need to collect a kilo of leaves and simmer in 7 litres of water for 30 minutes. Make up the water lost in steam, strain it and spray. If you add 5ml of coconut oil or 10g of pure liquid soap per litre the spray sticks to the plant better and is therefore more effective. Don’t forget to label the bottle as poison and keep it away from small children!
Focussing on something more positive than human and plant ailments I leave you with my favourite recipe using elderflowers and this is all about lazing under the trees in the heat of the summer with a cool refreshing drink and remembering what life is really about…
For every ten large heads of elderflowers you need 900g of sugar, 600ml of boiling water, 1 lemon and (from the chemist) 30g of citric acid granules.
Wash and drain the flowers. In a large bowl stir the boiling water into the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the citric acid and stir. Add the flowers and the lemon which has had the peel grated in first and then sliced up. Put a plate over the bowl to cover it and leave for 24 hours. Strain through a clean muslin or tea-towel and squeeze to get every drop out. Bottle in sterilized bottles and keep in the fridge. Use as a syrup and add (preferably cold, sparkling) water to taste. Ice cubes with borage flowers in make it a drink fit for a queen.