This week I wanted to start off by asking you a question if I may? ‘Who inspires you to cook and create in the kitchen’? Do you cook because you have to provide a wholesome meal every night for your family, I most certainly do and sometimes I absolutely hate it purely because I have to cook and not because I actually want to? There is such a difference! The reason I ask is simple. I recently popped across to our next county Bedfordshire to visit my Nonna Carmela (grandmother) who has just turned 88 years old. From as young as I can remember she has inspired me to cook. From the tiny little curly haired girl sitting on the unit top to being a few years older and perched on a stool in the kitchen rolling pasta in a fashion and eating copious amounts of it raw too! Older with a little know-how I have been inspired to make simple ciambella cakes (a round lemon flavoured cake with a hole in the centre) and taralle (hard biscuits great to dip into a little wine or as part of your antipasti) biscotti to family table pleasers and of course Nonna taught me my basic pasta making skills.
As an author I was lucky to be able to script most of Nonna Carmela’s recipes into a book before they would be forgotten and lost forever. But regardless as to how many times I made certain dishes as nonna would they never turned out quiet the same and seemed to always be missing an ingredient *puzzledface. I will of course keep trying and above all remain inspired by her for as long as deemed possible. She recently said to me how proud she was of me and how she loves to see my work. Nonna clearly feels a sense of pride and now I wish to share my skills with my four children Rocco, Natalia, Santino and Chiara. So whilst baking or even just prepping the evening’s dinner just remember to inspire others and to share your recipes and knowledge with the little people in your family….
So from the lady herself and to celebrate her 89th birthday on the 7th August here is her recipe for…….
This recipe is taken from my first book ‘ Southern Italian Family Cooking’,
Rice cake with ricotta and lemon
Torta con riso, ricotta e limone
I always try to have just a small slice of this torta, but find within minutes I am slicing another generous piece. Usually made by Nonna at Easter for the whole family. A traditional feast tart from the South of Italy. With moist ricotta, soft pudding rice, zesty lemon and fabulous aromatic strega, this torta really comes alive. You can substitute the Strega liquor for another spirit such as rum or amaretto if preferred.
Serves: 8 Preparation time plus chilling: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
300g 00 flour
Pinch of salt
85g granulated sugar
1 egg white (reserved the yolk for glazing)
2 tsp vanilla extract
85ml extra virgin olive oil
½ lemon juiced
Line 9” loose bottomed tart tin
250g pudding rice
100g granulated sugar
550g fresh ricotta
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon, zest and juice
30ml strega liquor
- Into a bowl add the flour, salt and sugar, stir.
- Make a well into the centre of the flour and add the egg white, vanilla, olive oil and lemon juice. Use a wooden spoon and combine the mixture to form a dough.
- Lightly flour the work surface and tumble the dough out. Knead the dough for 2 minutes until smooth.
- Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- Roll the dough out to the thickness of a pound coin and line the tart case. Trim off the excess pastry using a knife and set to one side to make the lattice top, wrap in cling film.
- Place the tart case back into the fridge to chill whilst you make the filling.
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Lay a baking tray into the oven.
- Cook the pudding rice as per packet instructions until just tender. Drain and set aside.
- Into a mixing bowl sprinkle in the sugar and add the eggs. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Crumble in the ricotta and mix.
- Add in the cooked pudding rice, vanilla, lemon zest, juice, strega and butter.
- Mix well for a minute to combine fully all of the ingredients.
- Spoon the mixture into the chilled pastry case.
- Roll out the remaining pastry dough to the thickness of a 50p coin and slice the dough into long strips. Lay the strips in a lattice effect over the tart.
- Whisk the egg yolk and using a pastry brush egg wash the lattice pastry.
- Gently place the tart onto the baking tray and bake for 1 hour 30mins.
Photo is of Nonna Carmela and Carmela – Selfie birthday photo.