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Posts from the ‘Italian’ Category

The Asparagus Table – La Vignarola – Italian Spring Soup, Wholemeal Asparagus Tart and Egg Asparagus Soldiers

Some of the simplest things in life are best, how often have you heard that remark?  The long awaited asparagus season is here in New Zealand and keeping it simple with asparagus certainly highlights the veg at it’s best. My favourite way to eat asparagus is just lightly steamed served with eggs ‘anyway’ and lashings of butter,  try a fun quirky way of serving the spears with your soft boiled egg using them as ‘dunking soldiers’. As I was eating the asparagus and boiled eggs my mind had already wandered onto truffle oil drizzled into the shell…watch out shopping bill, truffle oil may well be in the next basket.

The Italian spring soup La Vignarola is perfect for show casing not only asparagus but also lovely spring vegetables of podded peas and broad beans. If you can’t find them freshly podded and don’t have them sprouting away in your garden, snap frozen are pretty convenient and taste great too. A simple tart of asparagus with sour cream and mustard is easy for anyone to whip up, I made a wholemeal pastry but you can always buy pre bought if you are short on time or don’t have ‘pastry fingers’.

La Vignarola – Spring Soup


4 spring onions, sliced

2 bunches asparagus

200g frozen peas, defrosted

200g broad beans, podded (you can use frozen)

200g jar marinated artichoke hearts

3 cloves garlic

2 cups vegetable stock

Large handful each of parsley & mint, finely chopped

Zest and juice 1 small lemon

100g shaved Pecorino to serve

Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper


Cut the woody ends off the asparagus spears and discard, then cut spears into three.

Place a little olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat.

Add the spring onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the asparagus, podded broad beans and stock to the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the peas, artichokes juice and zest of the lemon to the saucepan and season with salt & pepper.

You can add some of the artichoke marinade to the soup also if you wish, tasting as you do.

Add the parsley and mint.

Bring the soup to the boil then remove from the heat and serve immediately, you want the veg to be crisp and green.

Serve the soup with shaved pecorino and crust bread

Asparagus Tart – serves 6

Ingredients – pastry
110g butter

180g wholemeal flour
1 egg

2 Tbsp iced water

pinch of salt

Method – Pastry

Place flour, butter and salt in the bowl and whiz until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Add the egg and water and knead together briefly to form a dough.

Rest the pastry in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Roll pastry out to fit tart tin and press into place, trim edges off pastry.

Ingredients – Tart Filling

1 bunch spring asparagus

250g sour cream

2 large free range eggs

2 heaped tsp whole grain mustard

salt & pepper to season

ground black pepper

Method – Tart Filling

Pre-heat oven at 180C & grease & flour a 20cm loose bottom tart tin.

Remove the woody ends from the asparagus and cut spear in half.

Whisk together the sour cream, eggs and mustard and season with a little salt & pepper.

Pour mixture into the pastry base.

Lay the asparagus half spears on top of the mixture in pastry case, alternating tip and base as in picture.

Grind some black pepper over the top of asparagus.

Bake in oven on a lower shelf (to crisp pastry base) for 35-40 minutes until tart is set and golden.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing tart from mould.
Serve warm of chilled

Conchiglioni with Spicy Sausage and Sweet Peppers


I didn’t actually make this dish, hubby did and I stole it from him, there’s no reason his recipes shouldn’t grace this blog too is there? He just wasn’t going to photograph it or write about it and I had to steal a portion for photographing the next day. When hubby cooks dinner it is more often than not a pasta dish, I think he would live on pasta and pies left to his own devises.

This recipe he put together from a few recipes and a case of what was available and what he fancied and perhaps a little interference from moi (cant help myself) so here it is.

Ingredients – serves 4
6 medium spicy sausages
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red capsicum, seeded and sliced
1 yellow capsicum, seeded and sliced
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 cup water
3 bay leaves
50g fresh Parmesan cheese, shaved
300g dried conchiglioni pasta
Olive oil
Salt and cracked black pepper

To make the sausage meatballs you just squeeze blobs of the sausage meat out of their skins. Do this for all the sausages and put aside.
In a frying pan place a glug of olive oil and the onions and cook over a low heat for 3 minutes until the onions are soft.
Add the garlic and sliced capsicum and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, cup of water and bay leaves and stir through.
Then add the sausage meat bits and shake the pan so the sausage gets covered with tomato sauce, don’t stir at this point as the sausage will break up.
Keep the heat on low and cover with a lid, cooking for 20 minutes, shaking pan every 5 to make sure the sauce isn’t sticking.
While the sauce is cooking fill a large pan with water for the pasta and bring to the boil.
Add a teaspoon of salt and the pasta and simmer until cooked. The larger pasta takes about 8 minutes but go by the packet cooking instructions for the pasta you bought.
Drain the pasta and divide into bowls.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper and divide between the bowls, pouring over the pasta.
Top with shaved Parmesan and a little more cracked pepper.
Buon Appetito!

Salmon and Purple Asparagus Risotto & a few pics from around my Garden


Have you ever seen purple asparagus? I’ve had purple carrots but this is the first time I have seen purple asparagus and of course I had to buy some. From my experience with purple carrots I realized that if you cook them in water they turn back to there original colour, it is only their outer skin that is purple. Roasting them keeps them purple too but since they were very tender shoots I decided to slice them thinly and pop them in the risotto at the last minute.

Risotto is summer might seem a bit odd but when the temperatures drops from 23C to 17C overnight it’s a good excuse to eat risotto. I always use Jamie’s basic risotto recipe and add from there.

1 cup risotto rice
2.5 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch of asparagus, thinly sliced
50g hot smoked salmon
50g Parmesan cheese, I used Pecorino instead
Zest of one lemon
1/2 tbsp butter
salt & black pepper to season

Heat the stock in a pan.
In another pan, heat the olive oil, add the onions and garlic and fry very slowly for about 10 minutes until soft but not coloured.
Add the rice and turn up the heat, keep stirring
After a minute it will look slightly translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring.
Allow wine to reduce and alcohol flavours to evaporate.
Once the vermouth or wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt.
Turn down the heat to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside.
Keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring to release the creamy starch from the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next.
This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice if not cooked carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite.
If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.
Add the asparagus and season, not too much salt though as the cheese is salty. Stir through.
Add the Parmesan, lemon zest, butter and salmon and stir briefly.
Place a lid on the pan and rest for a few minutes before serving, this lets the cheese become gooey.

Bumble bees busy at work and our Doves all ruffled and drying out after the rain.

Mondo grass in bloom which I discovered under the bamboo. My lavender in bloom outside out door which smells amazing.

Baby Octopus & Fennel Risotto

With the temperatures dropping a wee bit at the beginning of this week it has encouraged me cook more ‘substantial’ meals, by this I mean risottos, pasta or roasted food which I have steered clear of for the past few months in preference for something lighter and refreshing. I’m not saying it has gone cold but after several months of hot humid weather even a drop to temperatures in their low 20s (centigrade) makes me excited about winter food and baking again. I think P has been craving winter food, he loves stodgy carb loaded food whereas I avoid them. As part of our European trip back home to Europe this year I am taking him to visit where I lived in Frankfurt in June and I just know he is going to be in heaven eating in the Keipern (Bistros) on plates of dumplings and pieces of meat that hardly fit on the plate.

This risotto is hardly stodgy, far from it, it is creamy and light with the fresh lemon and fennel coming through and it didn’t have me toiling for long over the stove top either. The sun is out again this morning though so I imagine we will be back to salads again tonight!

Ingredients – makes 2

  • 8 baby octopus
  • 4 cups stock, approx (chicken, fish or vegetable)
  • 2 cups Aborio rice
  • 2 fennel bulbs, finely sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt and black pepper to season
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  • To cook the octopus I use my BBQ with an open flame which prevents the octopus from ‘stewing” and gets nice char grill but you can fry it on a very high heat.
  • Season the octopus with salt & pepper and a little olive oil and slice in half if not very small pieces (for faster cooking). For BBQ cooking place on a skewer and grill on high for 2 minutes, just until cooked. For pan cooking, place a cast iron pan on a high heat and quickly fry the octopus for 2 minutes in batches. Do not put all the octopus in the pan at once as the heat will drop and the octopus will stew in it’s juice and be rubbery.
  • Heat the stock in a pan.
  • Remove the core and fronds from the fennel before slicing thinly.
  • Add the olive oil to a large frying pan over a low heat then the garlic and fennel. Fry gently until the fennel is opaque and soft.
  • Add the rice and turn the heat up to medium and stir the rice so it doesn’t stick to the pan. Add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate before starting to add the hot stock.
  • Turn the heat down again and start adding the stock one ladle at a time, stirring the rice to release the creamy starch. Allowing each ladle of stock to be absorbed before adding the next ladle of stock.
  • It will take about 15-18 minutes for this process, taste the rice to see if it is cooked and soft but still with a slight bite. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked add boiling water in place of the stock.
  • Remove risotto pan from the heat and stir in the butter, lemon zest, Parmesan & char grilled octopus then place the lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with cracked pepper.

And for some exciting news this week, my blog along with a few other fab Kiwi bloggers was mentioned in the NEXT magazine this month. Here is the article and do visit the other bloggers mentioned.

Quick Ricotta Gnocchi Recipe & a Workshop

It was a wet and cold Saturday morning, the type of day you just want to stay in doors all cosy and warm eating comfort food, the perfect weather for a cooking workshop which is exactly what happened last weekend. I have always loved gnocchi but often it can be a be ‘gloopy and starchy’ from the potato, that’s why when I found this recipe I fell in love with immediately. The dough is made from only 4 main ingredients; ricotta, parmesan, egg and flour, with not a potato in site and because there is no pre cooking of potatoes it is incredible quick to make, about 15 minutes if you are buying the ricotta. Since ricotta is so expensive here in NZ to buy I make my own and have added the recipe for this also, yet another incredibly quick recipe with only two ingredients and two stages to making it.

We served our gnocchi that afternoon with two very easy to make sauces, sage butter with parmesan and a blue cheese sauce, both of which went down very well with a local NZ Shingle Peek Sav Blanc and made for a very cheerful afternoon despite the weather.


  • 300 g Ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 30 g Parmesan (or Pecorino), freshly grated
  • 75 – 100g g all-purpose flour, extra for dusting the dough/board


  • Discard any excess liquid that the Ricotta’s packaging may contain, or if you make your own you might also have to blend it a little till smooth.
  • Combine the ricotta cheese, egg, salt and freshly grated Parmesan into a large bowl.
  • Add the flour and stir in briefly until just combined, the dough should still be sticky.
  • Generously flour a board and split the dough into three. dust one piece with flour and roll the dough out into a sausage shape about finger thickness.
  • Cut into 1 inch pillow shapes as in photo with a sharp knife, flouring the knife if needed.
  • Place the gnocchi pillows onto a floured tray and repeat process with the rest of the dough.
  • Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt and reduce heat to a simmer.
  • Add the gnocchi and stir once, so they don’t stick to the bottom – they will start floating once cooked which takes about 2 minutes.
  • Once cooked add to the sauce and serve immediately.

Sage Butter & Parmesan Sauce

  • 100g butter
  • large handful of fresh sage leaves
  • Shaved parmesan for serving
  • Cracked black pepper for seasoning


  • Place butter and sage leaves into a large frying pan on a low heat.
  • Cook till butter starts to turn golden brown.
  • Add cooked gnocchi to the butter and ensure each piece is covered in butter.
  • Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese.

Blue Cheese Sauce

  • 50g blue cheese
  • 150ml cream
  • Cracked black pepper to season


  • In a large frying pan add the butter and blue cheese.
  • Cook on a low heat until the cheese has dissolved and the sauce has thickened.
  • Add the cooked gnocchi to the frying pan and coat with cheese sauce.
  • Serve and season with black pepper.

Ricotta recipe

  • 2-3 litres of pasturised full fat milk (it must not be homogenised milk as this in my experience doesn’t work)
  • 4-6 tblsp white vinegar
  1. Put the milk in a solid bottom pan to prevent burning of the milk.
  2. Heat milk to almost boiling point over a medium heat, stir now and then to prevent burning, then turn heat off.
  3. Add the vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time and gently stir the milk in between each spoonful. Once the milk starts to curdle into a lot of lumps stop adding vinegar, this should happen at about 4-5 tablespoons.
  4. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and then scoop curds out into into a clean tea (or muslin cloth) towel inside a colander.
  5. Place colander and contents into a large bowl or pan so the whey can drain freely and leave for several hours or over night.
  6. And what is left in your cloth is the ricotta.
  7. I find homemade ricotta needs a bit of a whiz with the blender to make it smooth for this recipe.
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