Tuesday, 12 January 2016

TUSCAN BEAN SOUP, Kind Of Like Ribollita.

This is such a flavorful soup!  Love it! Two tricks involved: use dried beans, the ones that need to be soaked overnight, and also use a nice dose of vegetable broth or a combination of chicken and vegetable broth if you like to have chicken broth (canned beans? Who's kidding, they'll do in a pinch)!
This soup is very similar to ribollita soup. I have left the bread out because I try not to eat too much bread these days. It's just as good without it. In fact, it's so good that I can eat it cold, or I can even eat it for breakfast! Okay ... as the trend goes, this is the part of the blog where I regale you with some cute personal incidents from my adventurous life. Stillness ... Can't think of any. Some other time perhaps. Not disappointed, I know you are not disappointed! 


1 pound dried cannellini beans
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
1 shallot sliced
1 (15-ounce/500 gram) can whole tomatoes
1 leek, cleaned well and chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
½ bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped
1 bunch kale, chopped
¼ Savoy cabbage, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
the leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
8 cups vegetable broth
6 cups water
For topping:
grated Pecorino cheese
extra virgin olive oil


Soak the beans overnight.
In a large heavy pot heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and sauté the sliced onions and shallots until they have caramelised. While sautéing, season the onions with some of the oregano.
Mash the tomatoes and add them to the pot. Add the juice the tomatoes were packed in, and also add two cups of the water.
One by one add all the vegetables, stirring to mix after each addition.
Add the herbs and the rest of the olive oil.
Allow the mixture to cook for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, puree nearly half of the beans and add them to the vegetables.
Add the rest of the beans.
Add the broth and the remaining water. Mix well and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cover the pot. Allow the beans to cook for two hours, stirring occasionally.
Ladle into bowls and top with the grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.
Store leftover soup in the refrigerator for about 3 days or in the freezer for one to two months. 

Monday, 4 January 2016


She's looking good, isn't she? Very easy to make.
Lovely brandy and citrus flavours. This is a vasilopita made with baking powder instead of yeast. Its texture is that of a dense cake, which is characteristic of a vasilopita. The celebratory Greek New Year's cakes have a more substantial, doughy texture than the average cake. 

By now you may have noticed the Santa decoration. You might ask why he's still hanging around. Doesn't Santa take a much-needed vacation after Christmas Day? No, not really. He still has the Greek New Year's Eve to contend with: that's when Santa visits Greek households. 

You might ask why so? I'll tell you: Saint Basil and Santa are one and the same in Greek tradition. Saint Basil's feast day is on January first, therefore, Saint Greek Santa (Agios Vasilios), puts in his appearance directly after the arrival of the New Year. Oh, then there's the coin. There is a coin involved. It's hidden inside every vasilopita. You might ask why so? I'll tell you: Saint Basil was a generous individual, a philanthropist, so the coin commemorates that fact. 

The actual practice of hiding a small trinket inside a cake, a surprise meant for a lucky recipient, dates back to pagan times. The practice was very popular and rather than eradicate it, the early Christian church incorporated it into its own rituals. It's a fun practice that survives to this day. 

I wrapped a shiny penny in aluminium foil and dropped it in the dough right before baking. A penny I thought, not the usual quarter. To me, a penny is symbolic of much more than a quarter dollar can ever be. Problem was, the penny being small, people had trouble finding it. "Did you forget?" they asked me several times. I was entitled to two slices, one for myself, and another for an absent friend. I took them apart; who wants to eat vasilopita when the coin can't be found? I turned those slices into crumbles ... but cake crumbles are just as nice to eat as regular cake.

Everyone else also smashed their slice into tiny pieces. "Is it that important?" my nephew Alex asked. This from the kid who a few years ago used to storm upstairs and hide in his room if he couldn't claim the coin as his. "Yes, Alex, it's important, it's very important." 

The next day at breakfast, Alex finished eating his slice, and there was the penny, he found it and claimed it. "Somewhere in the middle of the piece," my brother said when he called. I had asked him for the coordinates. 

Below is the recipe. Decorate the cake as you wish, perhaps use a dollar coin, it's larger, or you may want to use a penny, much more fun! As you probably know, the alcohol in the brandy gets burned off during baking, and only the flavour of the brandy gets left behind. For those of us either permanently or temporarily on the wagon, that's a plus!


All ingredients should be at room temperature. Remember that beating egg whites into a meringue requires a bowl and a whisk that are free of oils. Make sure no yolk has accidentally fallen into the egg whites.

4  cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Grated zest of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon

5 eggs, separated
1 egg left whole, do not separate
a pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup of sugar (can use an additional 1/4 cup for extra sweetness)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft, almost melted
1  1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
one or two tablespoons brandy (optional)
1 vanilla bean 

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F/160° C.
  • Grease well and flour a 12-inch/30-cm, round cake pan. 
  • In a bowl, whisk together the flour, the baking powder, and the baking soda. Set aside.
  • In the large bowl of your mixer, on high speed and using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until stiff peaks are achieved. You want a nice, thick meringue. When ready, remove it to another bowl and set it aside. 
  • Clean your mixer bowl.
  • Add the yolks to the bowl. Beat with the whisk attachment until the yolks are creamy. 
  • Scrape the vanilla bean and add the vanilla to the sugar. Mix it in well. 
  • Add the sugar and beat until creamy and pale in colour.
  • Add the one whole egg and beat.
  • Add the butter and beat until incorporated. 
  • Add the orange juice, the orange zest, the lemon zest, and the brandy if using. Beat until incorporated.
  • Slowly add the reserved flour mixture to the yolk mixture. 
  • Halfway through, switch to mixing by spatula and mix only until incorporated. 
  • Fold in the reserved egg whites. 
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. 
  • Bake the cake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. 
  • Cool on a wire rack before removing from the pan. 
  • Decorate as you like: let your inner artist take command!

Season's Greetings Everyone!!!
Happy New Year!!!!