Category Archives: Italian Regional

WHAT TO DO WITH A ZUCCA (An overgrown zucchini – a marrow).

Those zucchini grow rapidly and before you know it, they become zucche (plural of zucca,) The marrows I am talking about are no longer than 22 cms, still tender and have flavour – any larger than this they become tasteless and dry and are good for the compost. Usually, zucche are stuffed, but these can also be used successfully to make a salad.

I use a mandoline (kitchen utensil used for slicing and cutting) to cut the marrows into matchsticks and then use a method similar to the one for making Italian vegetable preserves.

Sicilians (and southern Italians) are fond of preserves – the most common are made with eggplants or green tomatoes, sliced, salted, squeezed dry (the next day), then placed in vinegar for a day, squeezed dry and finally placed in oil and oregano.

I treat marrows in a similar way, but because I want to eat them fresh it is unnecessary to go through the lengthy process I have described above – the salting process takes about 30 minutes and the rest is completed in no time at all. If I am using zucchini, I slice them long-wise and very thinly (a potato peeler can be good).

The following amounts are for processing 1 marrow…..and not too large or seedy.

INGREDIENTS

marrow, 1

salt, 1 teaspoon

white, wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon

extra virgin olive oil, 1/3cup

oregano, ½teaspoon dried is more pungent,

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

PROCESS

Cut marrow  into half, remove seeds. Cut into match sticks or use a mandoline or a turning slicer which cuts into spirals.

Place in a colander with salt. Leave to drain for at least 30mins. Squeeze dry.

Dress with the oil and vinegar and crushed oregano.

Leave for about 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.

CIOCCOLATA CALDA (Hot chocolate)


One of my friends is enjoying drinking cocoa – the English way, as genteel ladies once drank it, made with good quality cocoa, water and a dash of milk. And in a fine cup.

I too like my cocoa unsweetened and made with good quality cocoa. During my many visits to Italy I have drank many hot chocolates in bars and each one I ordered was different in taste and thickness.

As a child living in Trieste, I grew up with drinking hot chocolate. It was my breakfast, it was drunk at childrens’ parties and at bars while the adults drank coffee. Trieste is close to Austria and the hot chocolate I was used to was always presented in a fine tea cup with a blob of whipped cream. It was always made with a generous quantity of quality cocoa powder and with milk. My mother always made it in a pentolino (we had a special small saucepan that we only used for heating milk) and she would stir the mixture until hot. When in bars the same ingredients were used, but the milk was foamed like in a cappuccino or caffé latte.

When my family travelled to Sicily (each summer), my relatives gave me milk with a dash of coffee for breakfast – hot chocolate did not seem very popular and I remember the hot chocolate in bars being rather watery and very sweet.

I tasted my first, thick hot chocolate when I first went to Mantova. It was almost the consistency of custard. Those of you who have ordered hot chocolate anywhere north of Rome (except Trieste) would know what I am talking about – milk, sugar, thickening (usually corn flour or potato starch), and chocolate (often cocoa powder). No thickening seems to be used anywhere south of Rome.

Traditionally, thick chocolate was made in the top of a double boiler, over boiling 
water – good quality, dark chocolate (not cocoa) is melted in water and stirred until it is dissolved. Still over heat, it is then whisked by hand for at least 3 minutes (in a modern kitchen, an electric wand can be used).

Another recipe for making a good tasting, thick, hot chocolate also contains some shaved good quality bittersweet chocolate (high level cocoa-70-80%) as well as the good quality cocoa, milk and sugar to taste (Italians like sugar). In a milk saucepan, mix the sugar and cocoa with a little bit of milk till smooth. Add milk and stir over medium heat. Add the bits of chocolate to taste (and preferred thickness). Keep on stirring till melted.

It can be an alternative to dessert.

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PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

My friend Kate has left a comment (see Spaghetti con pesce e pomodorini) about her liking pappardelle (the widest ribbons of pasta).

I am not surprised by this, she loved Tuscany, drinks red wine and she and her husband are marvellous cooks so I am including a recipe for a typical sauce usually associated with this shaped pasta.

Pasta shapes are synonymous with certain sauces. Generally, thin sauces which contain a lot of oil (for example made with seafood or with a few vegetables) are better suited to long thin pasta shapes (spaghetti, spaghettini).

Thicker sauces, made with meat or with larger vegetables are better suited to shapes with large, uneven surfaces (rigatoni, penne). Their shapes help to trap the ingredients in the thick sauce.

Pasta shapes are also regional. While the south of Italy may prefer small pasta shapes for thicker sauces (fusilli, casarecci, orecchiette) other parts of Italy enjoy long, flat ribbons of pasta (tagliatelle, fettucine). Fresh ribbon pasta made with a large number of eggs is enhanced by sauces made with delicate subtle flavours, often with cream.

Niluzza rolls pasta_0002 copy

Tuscany and Umbria specialize in sauces for pappardelle and I hope that all of you who have visited these regions of Italy were able to eat some when there. Now Kate, I do not want you to get jealous, but when I was in Tuscany in December 2008, I enjoyed many primi of pappardelle, one in particular in Sansepolcro ( very close to Umbria) – the accompanying sauce was made from wild boar and it included pieces of chestnut.

The photograph is of Alex, my small friend: it was taken in Greve. He is outside of the butcher shop (we were staying across the road) and he is patting the stuffed wild boar which decorates the front of the shop. Wild boar is very popular in the winter months in Tuscany but I have also eaten some very fine boar meat in Calabria. I bought a hare in Greve and cooked it the same way.

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Pappardelle are usually the favourite shape of pasta for strong sauces made with strong tasting meat especially game: either cinghiale (wild boar) lepre (hare), capriolo (venison), coniglio (rabbit), anatra (duck). If not game, maybe salsicce di maiale (pork sausages) or funghi (mushrooms), and preferably the wild ones stronger in taste. Often the pappardelle may have a fluted edge to prevent the sauce dropping away off the sides. These are sometimes called reginette (regina- queen, crowns) but once again, there is local variation in the names.

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Sauces made with strong tasting meats as above are usually cooked slowly in a ragout (ragù in Italian) and made in the same way as a Bolognese sauce. Because of their rich taste and choice of ingredients they are autumn and winter dishes, most probably enjoyed with a glass or two of red wine.

Sometimes porcini mushrooms are also added to the ragù.

Ragù

Sauté in extra virgin olive oil: ½ onion, 1 carrot, ½ stalk of celery (all cut finely).
Add the hare, rabbit, boar chopped into sections complete with bones and brown (some add pancetta as well). If using sausages leave them whole but prick them, if using mushrooms slice into thick pieces.
Add 1 glass of red wine and evaporate briefly.
Dilute about 2 tablespoons of tomato puree in a little warm water and add to mixture. Stir carefully and add 1 cup of broth, salt, pepper, 3 bay leaves and a little grated nutmeg and simmer until liquid is almost evaporated and the meat is tender and falling off the bone (this could take 2-4 hours for the hare or boar). Continue to check on the liquid and add more as necessary.
Remove bones from the meat and return to the sauce. Some add a little cream and more nutmeg at this stage.
Dress the cooked pappardelle. Present with grated parmigiano, as a choice for each person. I for one do not add cheese to these sauces – I prefer the unadulterated taste of the ragù.

SPAGHETTI CON PESCE E POMODORINI (Spaghetti with fish and cherry tomatoes)

It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy.”

Giuseppe Garibaldi, on liberating Naples in 1860

When eating in Italy, the usual structure of the meal will consist of two courses. Il primo (the first ) will be a soup, risotto or pasta and in Sicily (and in the south of Italy) it is more likely to be pasta

Il secondo (the second) is the main course – the protein component and one contorno (vegetable side dish) or two contorni.

There have always been two courses in my mother’s home, and in the homes of our Italian friends and relatives. Although this is not something that I have continued to observe in my own household, I generally prepare a primo and a secondo when I am cooking for friends. If this is the case, as is the customary practice in Italian homes, nibbles can just be a very simple plate of olives (or the like) and the dessert, fresh fruit.

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These days, I am into easy recipes, something I can prepare in minutes.

Eating pasta with fish is still not very popular in Australia (at the time of writing) but it is very much so in Italy and of course – Sicily. It is an island after all.

Spaghetti is usually the preferred shape of pasta for fish sauces.

Cherry tomatoes appear to have become very common in restaurants in Italy in the last few years. They are called pomodorini, or cigliegini in Italian and most commonly known as pizzitelli in Sicilian – little things.

Some of the cherry tomatoes in Australia may be small but they lack flavour and sweetness (maybe from over watering if this is possible in Australia). One of my friends in Adelaide is growing a variety called currant tomatoes in pots – very small and sweet and ideal for this dish.

Use any fish which will hold together when you sauté it.

Sicilians prefer tuna or swordfish, but because I like to use sustainable fish (pesce sostenibile) I select Albacore tuna when I can get it, tailor or flathead or snapper and mackerel . To keep the fish moist and to prevent it from overcooking, i keep the fish in large pieces when I cook it and then break it up onto smaller pieces.

From Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide by Australian Marine Conservation Society – 2009 (AMCS)

INGREDIENTS

spaghetti, 500g
fish, 500g, cut into dice
garlic, 5 cloves, chopped finely
cherry tomatoes, 1 punnet, if too big cut in half,
extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
fresh herbs, use either: a handful of basil or parsley, or fresh mint,
white wine, 1 glass
salt and freshly ground pepper (or chilli flakes)
Cook pasta and make sauce as it cooks.
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Sauté the fish ( you can keep it all in one piece if you wish), add the cherry tomatoes. Remove the fish and tomotoes from the pan but leave the juices in the pan.
Add the white wine and reduce .
Add the herbs and stir through the sauce.
Return the fish and tomatoes to the pan. Separate the fish into the size pieces that you wish.
Drain the pasta and return to the pan where it was cooked.
Mix in the sauce and serve.
Australia:
http://www.marineconservation.org.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SALSA VERDE ( Green Sauce – serve with boiled meats and corned beef)

My take on corned beef

I have a Brazilian friend who is still discovering the delights of Anglo–Saxon food in our Australian food culture and a true blue, born and bred, Australian friend who misses his mother’s cooking. They are coming to dinner tonight, so as a surprise I am cooking them corned beef (I managed to buy low salt, low saltpetre). Probably I have not eaten this since my English Mother in law last cooked it for me, and she died a long time ago.

Of course there will be the boiled vegetables and mustard. And I will present it with some of the homemade chutney that another friend has given me. But it is so very much like bollito (boiled meat) that it could be accompanied with a little salsa verde on the side – chopped parsley, capers, green olives, boiled eggs, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy and a little white bread with vinegar to thicken it as much as I like and on this occasion I want it thin.

Part of me remains Italian to the core. Will I sauté the carrots in a little onion with dry marsala and raisins?  Or will I present it with sweet and sour pumpkin? ( Sicilian and called FEGATO DI SETTE CANNOLI).

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Of course I will add peppercorns, a carrot, onion and some celery to the beef whilst it cooks, after all this is what I add when I make carne in brodo (meat cooked in broth). I will add the cloves to the broth (Sicilians use cloves in their savoury cooking) but I will not add the malt vinegar or the sugar.

Is it still corned beef?

 

See:  SALSA VERDE (2015)

 

 

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

My zia Niluzza who lives in Ragusa is an excellent cook and when I visit her she fusses over me and cooks constantly.

Ricotta is one of the most common ingredients in her kitchen and she must eat it fresh – made on the day and preferably eaten warm. Any ricotta which is one day old (it is never older) is cooked.

One day, I had been speaking to her about frittate (plural) and how I had read in a book about Sicilian cuisine that frittate were not common in Sicily.

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The next day I found her preparing this a simple frittata (see photo) made with crumbled fresh pork sausage, freshly laid free range eggs and ricotta. Sicilians do make frittata but in Sicilian, it is sometimes referred to as milassata and frocia. I have already written about this on Janet Clarkson’s blog: The Old Foodie, An authentic frittata).

INGREDIENTS

eggs 7, lightly beaten (free range)
pork, Italian sausages 2 ( made from good pork mince with sometimes fennel or orange peel or white wine)
ricotta, 200g
salt and pepper

PROCESSES

Heat some olive oil into a large heavy-based fry pan.
Crumble the sausage and sauté into the frypan till cooked.
Add the ricotta slices and lightly fry it.
Pour the eggs, mixed with the seasoning into hot oil.
Process for cooking all frittate:
Fry the frittata on the one side. Turn the heat down to low and, occasionally, with the spatula press the frittata gently on the top. Lift the edges, tilting the pan. This will allow some of the runny egg to escape to the sides and cook. Repeat this process until there is no more egg escaping.
Invert the frittata onto a plate, carefully slide the frittata into the pan and cook the other side.

A frittata is never baked; fritta means fried in Italian.

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PASTA CON ZUCCHINE FRITTE (Pasta and fried zucchini)

Fresh Taste, Simplicity and Low Cost.

Sometimes the most simple ingredients make the most sumptuous dish.

My friend and I have just been discussing how fresh, young zucchini can make a great pasta sauce. They can be the  long, dark green skinned variety or the newer pale green ones. The round zucchini are becoming more common; these can be dark  or pale green in colour and some are variegated.

Round zucchini_0083

Often, when guests come, I remind myself that having costly ingredients is not the most important factor. What is fresh, in season, and have they had it before, are far more important factors.

Pasta chi cucuzzeddi fritti (Sicilian), Pasta con zucchine fritte (Italian) is very common all over Sicily and consists of thinly sliced zucchini fried in extra virgin olive oil. Garlic is used to flavour the oil and is then discarded.

It is important to fry the zucchini in plenty of oil in a wide frypan – the zucchini will release liquid if they are overcrowded in the pan and if necessary fry the zucchini in batches.

My partner took some left over zucchini pasta to work and I was amazed when he reported to me that one of his collegues referred to this vegetable as tha blandest vegetable! I think I will need to invite this person to dinner.

Thin spaghetti is the favoured pasta for this dish – a coating of flavoured oil is preferred. Short, tubular or ridged, surfaced pasta may trap too much oil.

Like so many of the vegetable paste sauces it is made in minutes and makes me wonder why takeaways are seen as a quick solution.

 
spaghettini, 400g
zucchini 800g, sliced into approx 10 mm slices
garlic cloves, 4 squashed with the back of a knife
extra virgin olive oil, 1cup
salt and pepper
ricotta salata or pecorino pepato, grated
Heat the oil in a wide frypan and add the garlic. When it is golden discard it.
Ensure that the oil is very hot and add the zucchini – this will seal the surfaces. You could do this in a couple of batches but keep the oil very hot and add fresh oil to fry each batch.
Turn and toss till golden.
Place the fried zucchini into a bowl and add salt ( the salt is added at this stage otherwise the zucchini would have released their liquid).
Cook the pasta in salted water till al dente and drain.
Toss zucchini, oil and pasta together and add plenty of freshly ground pepper.
Serve with abundant freshly grated cheese and pepper.
 
VARIATION
· After the zucchini have been fried and set aside, reheat the oil (or add more), add about a cup of chopped parsley and 2 cloves of chopped garlic and fry this mixture for a few minutes before adding it to the pasta.
· For a favourite summer dish add a dollop of tomato salsa and fresh basil on top.
· Add a dollop of ricotta either with or without the tomato salsa.
· Chopped mint sprinkled on top of the dressed pasta is probably not traditional, but I like to do it – it accentuates the fresh zucchini taste.
And by the way… the ini at the end of any Italian word (zucchini) means small, those bigger than a finger are zucche (marrows).
Pick them young as they are intended to be.

 

SARDINE, CRUDE E CONDITE (Sardines – raw and marinaded)

Where would Sicilian food be without fish?

Sicily is an island, and a Catholic one at that, where the people were obliged to fast and abstain — refrain from eating meat — on certain days, mainly Lent and on Fridays.Catholics are no longer required not to eat meat on Fridays but Sicilians eat a lot of fish.
One very popular fish is the sardine, still relatively cheap in Sicily and easily available. The photograph was taken in the Palermo market in December 2008. At that time 4 euros were about $8.00 Australian.
 Sardines boxed
For example you cannot go to Sicily and not eat Pasta con le sarde. There are many regional variations of this sauce, often called by the same name, but the most famous is from Palermo made with wild fennel, pine nuts, saffron and currants.
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Sardines are perfect on a BBQ, and baked, but Sicilians also like them crude (raw) e conzate (and dressed), crude e condite in Italian. Although they are called raw, they are cooked by the lemon juice in the marinade.

Sardines are sustainable, and a good choice if you are concerned about the environment. Marinaded sardines make a great antipasto and lose that strong fishy taste that those people-who-do-not- like sardines hate.

When I first came to Australia we were unable to buy sardines, now they have become very popular (similar to squid, both were used for bait!).

The sardines must be fresh, freshly cleaned and filleted with no head, central spine or innards. Begin your preparations one day ahead.

INGREDIENTS

sardines, 1-3 per person
lemons, juice of 3-4
salt, pepper
garlic, 3 cloves, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
parsley and fresh oregano, ¾ cup, cut finely.

 

PROCESSES

Arrange the fish in one layer on a plate or wide vessel and pour the juice of the lemons on top (this lemon juice will be discarded).
Seal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-6 hours. They are ready when they have turned almost white.
Drain the juice well. I use a colander and then quickly dry the fish on a paper towel.
Arrange the fillets in a single layer on a large plate.
Sprinkle the fish with herbs, garlic and salt and pepper.
Dress with the extra virgin olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for about an hour until ready to serve.

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COZZE-Mussels, Crostini (canapés)

Crostini made with mussels.

I do like mussels (called cozzuli in Sicilian and cozze in Italian) and they are sustainable, but more often than not I cook too many (usually steamed in a little white wine, garlic, parsley, chili and eaten with bread). What to do with left over mussel meat? This is not ever a problem, but for something different try these.

Crostini (from the Latin, crusta – crust) are thin slices of toasted bread, cut small, brushed with olive oil and then toasted. Crostini are eaten like canapés spread with different toppings (usually chicken livers) and served with drinks. But these Sicilian crostini are different and remind me of French toast. In this recipe, the mussel shells are discarded; the mussel meat is made into a paste and is then sandwiched between two small slices of bread. It is then dipped in beaten egg, and fried. They make wonderful morsels.

Perhaps there is some French influence in this recipe because it contains besciamella. Some Italian culinary historians believe it was brought to France by the Italian cooks of Marie de Medici but the most common story is that the court chef named the sauce after an important steward in Louis fourteenth’s court – Louis de Béchameil. Originally béchamel was made by adding cream to a thickened stock but the more common and more modern version is made by adding hot milk to a roux of butter and flour. Some béchamel also contains the vegetables found in stock.

INGREDIENTS
mussel meat, about 1 cup (chopped, Australian mussels are much larger than those found in Catania)
bread, thin slices, good quality, sourdough or pasta dura, no crusts. Day old bread will cut better. (I like to use sourdough baguettes – good size for mouths)
pecorino cheese, ½ cup , grated
eggs, 3 extra virgin olive oil for frying
tomato salsa, 1 cup (made with 500g of tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, fresh basil leaves, sea salt, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil).
Place all of the ingredients and any liquid from the mussels in a saucepan and cook uncovered until reduced to about 1 cup. Use cool.

Besciamella (besciamelle or béchamel sauce), 1 cup:

1 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk, freshly ground nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Melt the butter and add the flour in a saucepan over a moderate heat, cook the mixture while stirring with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes. Over the heat gradually add the milk while stirring to stop lumps occurring. When all the milk is added continue to cook while stirring until the mixture thickens (it should be quite thick). Season, add nutmeg, remove the pan and allow to cool.

PROCESSES
Mix the salsa, besciamella, ground pepper, mussel meat and cheese.
Cut the bread to size and thickness about 1cm.
Spread this mixture thickly between slices of bread, like when making sandwiches.
Dip the sandwiches briefly in the egg but allow the egg to soak in. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and fry the sandwiches on each side. Serve hot.

Chine va chjanu, va sanu e va luntanu (Sicilian proverb).
Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano. (Le cose fatte con calma sono le migliori).
The best things are made when calm.

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TORTINO DI FINOCCHI (A flan of cooked fennel)

I keep on seeing stunted specimens of fennel for sale in stalls at the Queen Victoria Market (Australia).

Where are they coming from at this time of year? One of the stall holders thought it was from Victoria or maybe Tasmania because it can still be cold there in certain parts at this time of year (January).
I am always amazed how people still want to buy produce which is well out of season. One such customer who was standing next to me at one of the stalls, bought some of these weedy specimens – small, dull and flat (late in the season with evidence of going to seed) and not very suitable for eating raw.
(Good specimens of fennel. The photo was taken at the Saturday morning street market in Greve, Tuscany in December 2008.).

It is easy to strike up a conversation while standing in front of a stall and the buyer was surprised when I told her that fennel can also be cooked.

My grandmother Maria (from Catania, Sicily) was fond of making a fennel tortino.
A torta in Italian is a torte or a cake, but it can also be a savoury cake, flan or pie. It is usually made of vegetables and partially baked. It may include pastry.
The ino as the ending in tortino implies that it is smaller, but this is not always the case. I have seen similar dishes called a sformato or a pasticcio and in Sicilian a turticedda. All this can be very confusing for a non-Italian, as basically they are the same things.
This tortino is made with fennel. Being an old Sicilian recipe breadcrumbs are used to thicken the vegetable dish rather than béchamel (white sauce) or eggs found in the modern recipes. Similar recipes are found all over Italy and if it is made in the the north, butter instead of oil and parmesan cheese rather than pecorino cheese are commonly used.

This dish is very versatile. I have presented it hot and cold, as a contorno (side vegetable dish) and as an antipasto. The fennel can be cooked beforehand and left until you are ready to assemble the dish or alternatively the tortino can be prepared and stored in the fridge (for 1-2 days).

The following recipe is for 6-8 people.

INGREDIENTS
fennel bulbs, (to weigh 1k)
onion, 1 large, finely sliced
parsley, 1 cup, chopped finely
oregano, dried, ½ tablespoon.
garlic, 2 cloves finely chopped
pecorino, 1 cup grated
extra virgin olive oil, about ¾ cup to sauté the fennel and some more to coat the oven dish and to drizzle on top of the ingredients.
salt and pepper,
coarse breadcrumbs, about 2 cups made from 1-3 day old, quality bread. This will be used to scatter over the sides and bottom of the oven dish and between the layers of fennel.

Optional – Use a little wine or stock, rather than water, to add to the fennel as it cooks (modern rather than traditional).

PROCESSES
Preheat the oven to 180C
Make breadcrumbs.
Slice the fennel lengthwise and thinly. If possible add the soft green fonts chopped finely, as these will add colour and flavour.
Sauté the onion in the extra virgin olive oil, then add the fennel until it is slightly softened and coloured.

Add salt and pepper. You may need to splash a little water or a little white wine to the vegetables and cover them with a lid until they begin to soften.
Select an oven dish, which will accommodate all of your ingredients (I use a pan which is about 10 cm deep).
Oil a baking dish (I use glass or ceramic ). Lard instead of olive oil was common in many of the older traditional recipes.
Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs over the greased surface of the baking dish (be generous, as this process will prevent total sticking of the ingredients).
Mix the remaining breadcrumbs with the parsley, grated cheese and garlic. Begin with a layer of the fennel, then the breadcrumb mixture and repeat until you have used up all of the ingredients and you have at least 4 layers. Finish off with the bread mixture.
Compress the layers with your hands and top with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil .

Cover with a heavy lid or a layer of foil with a weight on top so as to keep all of the layers compressed. To prevent sticking, my Sicilian grandmother used an ovenproof, terracotta plate as the weight.

Place the dish into a preheated oven 180 C for about 40-50 mins.

Check to see if the fennel is soft (cooked.) If it is not cooked or if it appears too dry add a little more water (or wine or stock). Cover and return to the oven until it is cooked.
Remove the cover, drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil and bake for a further 10 minutes until it has a golden crust and the liquid has evaporated.
The tortino should resemble a moist cake and should slice easily.
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