Ricotta al caffè (coffee ricotta cream and tips on home-made “ricotta”)

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One of the foods I miss most from Italy is fresh ricotta – the real deal of course, not the  industrial type which I can get also here, a tasteless and pappy substitute. Fresh ricotta is another thing altogether: sweet, milky and light, creamy and yet not insubstantial: with a sprinkle of sugar or with a drizzle of olive oil, it is culinary nirvana. Here in the UK, even in London, fresh ricotta is still very hard to come by: I tried the Neal’s Yard’s one (made in England) and I was not impressed, but I also saw beautiful looking Italian fresh ricotta at Gastronomica, in Borough Market (I was told it is flown in every few days).

Because it’s so hard to find good ricotta in the UK, many years ago I started making “home made ricotta” – though it is actually nothing more than fresh cheese: milk coagulated with some acid (lemon juice, vinegar, rennet, citric acid the most common) . Continue reading

Pàn de mèj (Elderflower and polenta sweet buns from Milan)

It is elderflower time now in England: on a sunny day if you come across elderflower bushes, you are hit by their unmistakable, intensely floral, sweet smell. Sambuco (elderflower) is the star ingredient of these very old, crumbly, perfumed Milanese buns, centuries ago  made with millet flour, later with corn (polenta) flour.  Traditionally, in Milan until the post First World War years, pàn de mèj buns were eaten on the 23rd April, St George’s day, the patron saint of lattai, milkmen. On that day, lattai used to offer single cream to their customers,  knowing that they would later on customarily pour it over the pàn de mèj . Continue reading

Biscotti al mais (polenta shortbread biscuits)

One can find biscuits made with corn (maize or polenta) flour in many parts of Northern Italy. They can be plain or with sultanas, are always rather buttery, and are most often flavoured with vanilla, lemon or orange. Sometimes they’re crisp and short, sometimes softer and more cakey.
I particularly like this version: not too rich, sweet but with a salty bite, super crisp and with that lovely crunchiness of polenta flour.  I have them for breakfast with my espresso and in the afternoon with tea, but they also go very well with fruit compote and  ice cream. Continue reading