Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The best biscuits in the world? Quite possibly yes.

It was The Boy's birthday and keeping with the tradition of "I book, he buys" (he doesn't have the patience to wait on hold after a dozen calls, whereas I am more inclined to do just about anything to not have to buy my dinner when the choice is between me or him to pay), I scored a table at one of our favourite restaurants, Locanda Locatelli.

Ever since our first meal there, I have been obsessed with the amaretti biscuits that are served with coffee. When I say obsessed I don't mean in a "Mmm that was tasty maybe I'll have them again one day", I mean in a "I rushed home looked up the recipe in the Made in Italy cookbook and when I rang up before my next reservation asked if I could buy some" kind of way (The restaurant very kindly had prewrapped some and brought them out when we left. Needless to say we got some confused looks from people.). I majorly crave them. Part of the obsession came from not being able to find apricot kernels that the recipe calls for- I was determined to find these damn things! Lots of phoning around proved fruitless- no one sold the kernels. I could buy them on the internet but how would I know if they were the right ones since I hadn't the slightest idea what an apricot kernel looks, smells or tastes like.

Me and The Boy's next trip there came and who should be sat next to me but Mrs. Locatelli. That got me thinking. If she was here, where was he? A few minutes later, dressed in his whites was the main man. I (quietly) squealed like a teenage girl. Fortunately, The Boy shared my glee as it meant that perhaps Mr. Locatelli himself has shaved the truffle on his gnocchi (that's what the Italians call it but he and I refer to them as "Pillows of Happiness"). I kept one eye on him all night (the other was glued to every morsel that I ate). All night The Boy ribbed me asking if I was going to ask about the apricot kernels. I hemmed and hawed, did I have the guts to go up and start chatting to him? I'm not usually a star f*cker- I never wander up to celebs and ask for an autograph. It's not my style (although Sven and Nancy Dell Olio were there that night and I really wanted to tell her that she's much prettier in real life and looks nothing like a drag queen).

Another meal came to an end and we decided to have a nightcap. A couple of Bellinis later, I sauntered the two steps to the bar and asked if he could answer a question for me. Looking a bit bemused he said ok. I launched into the amaretti biscuit dilemma. I think he finally realised that I wasn't a stalker. He offered to give me some kernels and I replied that it wasn't necessary, all I wanted to know was where do I get these things.

After a twenty minute discussion on the virtues of said biscuits, he said he would get me a few so I knew what to look for. I nearly shed tears of joys when, the next day while determined to make my own, I realised that he sent me home with the exact amount needed to follow the recipe in the cookbook.

He is a very lovely man that Mr. Locatelli.

P.S. A few extra notes. A) My batch were nearly as perfect. B) He suggested going to Middle Eastern grocers to get the kernels. C) He said that you could still make them without the apricot kernels but they do add that little extra something.

Amaretti Biscuits
from Made In Italy

Makes about 35 amaretti


25g roasted hazelnuts
125g blanched almonds
100g apricot kernels
500g caster sugar
120g egg whites
icing sugar for dusting

Crush the nuts and apricot kernels finely in a food processor. Add the sugar and egg whites and process until the mixture all comes together. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag

Line 1 or 2 baking trays with waxed paper and pipe the mixture into rounds on them, spacing them out well. Dust liberally with icing sugar. Leave for 12 hours so that the mixture can dry out slightly. After this time, they will have formed a 'skin'. Pinch the biscuits lightly with the fingers to break this and give a knobbly appearance.

A good half hour or so before you are ready to bake the biscuits, preheat the oven to 180C, gas 4, then bake them for 11 minutes until light golden.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Cheat's Ravioli

The challenge: Dumplings for Waiter there's something in my...
The format: Something made of dough and filled
The methodology: Baked, boiled, steamed, poached but not fried
The possibilities: endless

What to make, what to make?!

There are just too many choices. Dumpling are something I love. I planned on making some Chinese dumplings (which I can eat any time of day)- something along the lines of my beloved Chili Pork Dumplings from Royal China. They have that slightly gummy dumpling dough with a garlicky pork filling with a spicy soy sauce. I mop up every last bit of the sauce with anything I can find. I get mass cravings for the little buggers.

Or should I do gyoza with a chicken and chive filling? Same dough, but with one lightly grilled crunchy side with the other with that lovely dough. Something as tasty as the gyoza I order too often from Ramen Seto in Soho. Or what about making Char Sui Bao- Chinese BBQ pork surrounded by pillowy white dough?

After a week of using Waiter there's something in my... as my excuse to live on Asian style dumplings (and telling Johanna, this month's host that I was making Chinese dumplings) I decided against it.

The other thing I have craved like a fiend lately is filled pasta. Usually I have a love hate relationship- I either never want pasta (The Boy's favourite thing in the world) or I cannot get enough of it. Yesterday was one of those days.

I still had some Chinese fresh dumpling pasta in the fridge and I'd heard that you can use it as a quick dough for ravioli (but I have also thought that it seemed a bit dubious an notion). With a few ingredients stashed in the fridge, it was surprisingly quick and easier and while it's not Locatelli pasta, it still felt good to half make something from scratch. It's easy enough to experiment and change the filling around to something that tempts or to decrease or increase the filling quantity. Mine has an artichoke and sundried tomato filling but get creative and see what works for you. Make some sauce if you like or simply brown some butter and drizzle a little on top.

Cheat's Ravioli

Makes 18+ ravioli


1 packet fresh Chinese dumpling pasta- the round shaped pieces
150 g fresh ricotta
3 grilled artichoke hearts (the kind in oil found at the deli counter), roughly chopped
A few olives, roughly chopped
A few sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
20 g Grana Padano cheese, finely grated

small bowl of water

Put a pot of water onto boil while you make the ravioli.

Place the artichokes, olives and sundried tomatoes in a food processor and blitz to a coarse paste.

In a bowl, place the ricotta and fluff with a fork. Fold in the artichoke paste and season to taste.

Place one piece of pasta on a cutting board and place a teaspoon of filling in the center.

Wet one finger in the bowl of water a lightly wet one half of the pasta (but don't wet the filling).

Fold the dry half over and line the edges up. Press the two halves together, pressing the dough around the filling so that any air gets pushed out.

Using the tines of a fork, press against the edge of the pasta to seal the ravioli and will also make it look nice.

Continue the process with the remaining pasta sheets.

Once finished, place them in a pot of boiling water and cook until the float to the top- about 3-4 minutes.

Drain and serve however you like.

If you want to see what others deemed dumpling worthy, click here.