Life is too short, and I’m Italian. I’d much rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0.
Sophia Bush

Lombardian promotion at ItaliaLombardy seems to be in the news for all the wrong reasons recently, with Nicolle Minetti and Silvio Berlusconi keeping the news hot with the  bunga bunga investigations. Meanwhile, Lombardy is doing the foodie rounds here in New Delhi with a unique Lombardian promotion at Italia,  the celebrated award winning Italian restaurant from The Park, which offers a variety of authentic Italian cuisine.

Lombardy which lies in the North of Italy is very famous for its food, culture, fashion, joy for life and football. Culinary delights from this part of  Italy are very rich and mainly consist of rice, cheese and meats. Butter and cream are used much more liberally than the traditional olive oil base for sauces. Famous Italian cheese like Gorgonzola, Parmigiano reggiano, Taleggio and Provolone are produced in this region. Beef, lamb and pork are in abundance in the recipes of Lombardian food. Signature dishes include risotto milanese, veal ossobucco, cotoletta alla milanese, cassoeula, baked polenta gnocchi, pasta norma, tortellini bolognaise to name some.

I was recently invited to sample the Lombardian menu at Italia for a food event held to celebrate the cuisine from the region. The restaurant manager, Vikas did everything to make us feel at home, and Chef Sumopriyo came to talk us through every course. There were surprisingly very few patrons at the restaurant that afternoon, it being a public holiday; maybe a late lunch was the call for the day.Lombardian promotion at ItaliaThe restaurant offers a fine dining experience, is well laid out and offers seating both indoors and outdoors, both casual and semi-formal. We chose to sit indoors as the winter sun was very hot outdoors. Interestingly, Italia also offers the option of ‘Private Dining‘, a separate room you can reserve for a private party, which offers seating capacity for up to 12 people. My plebeian tastes however make me feel happy sitting amongst the crowds… Lombardian promotion at Italia 26th January, Republic Day, meant a ‘dry day‘ in India, so there was no wine with the meal, but I have to say it wasn’t missed. An array of dazzling mocktails made way for starters. Polenta frita or pan fried polenta cakes, which I had sans pancetta, with mozarella was a perfect beginning to the meal.  The texture was wonderful, mildly crisp, and the flavours outstanding. {Didn’t get a picture here as the platter was far too inviting!}. The  focaccia was sadly dry and tasteless,  nothing to write home about.

Insalata di barbabietole e formaggio caprinoNext came Insalata di barbabietole e formaggio caprino, an oven roasted beet and goat cheese salad with balsamic and argula. That had us scraping the platters clean. Excellent in every way, a fabulous blend of flavours and an endearing drizzle of balsamic over the salad! This salad had a winning touch to it … the colours, the textures, the creaminess of the goat cheese. This was my most favourite part of the meal, well almost {dessert always wins in the end}! The inclusion of arugula, a pungent, peppery salad green, continued throughout the meal, as the leaf is widely found in the Lombardy region.

nsalata di barbabietole e formaggio caprinoTime for the minestrone al risso, a classic minestrone soup with Parmesan and risotto. Risotto in the soup gives it regional character, arborio used quite a bit in the region as per the chef. There was plenty of vegetarian option in the menu put together by the chef, welcome for me as I prefer a vegetarian spread, even though I eat both. I found the higher use of polenta instead of flour in the cuisine strangely comforting and welcome.Lombardian promotion at ItaliaThe soup was followed by pizza con patate, pollo e gorgonzola, or pizza with potatoes, chicken and gorgonzola cheese. Took me right back to my one and only visit to Milan in the late 1980’s where we tasted our first authentic Italian pizza, and were totally blown away. The one at Italia was sans a pizza sauce, very light {almost too light for a main meal I would say}, a paper thin crust, almost like a popaddum, yet pleasantly satisfying. It had more a starter like feel to it.Lombardian promotion at ItaliaThe next 3 items came in small portions on a single platter {on special request to the chef} as the meal was now beginning to get filling already.  Even though the portions were small, after a while eating and tasting so much becomes laborious, and I wanted to do justice to the menu. We had risotto alla milanese, a classic saffron risotto, which I found a tad disappointing. No deep or outstanding saffron flavours in it. The tortellini alla bolognese, mince meat dumplings with Parmesan which I left for Mr PAB to do the honours as I was too full. The dumplings he said were very good, the sauce was just a regular creamy tomato one. I did sample the 3rd dish, ravioli de zucca, pumpkin ravioli in a butter walnut sauce, which offered a gentle mingling of flavours. This was one course I could have gladly skipped for the next.Lombardian promotion at ItaliaCotoletta alla milanese, breaded veal escalopes served with a spaghetti tomato basil sauce followed. This was excellent. The escalopes done just perfectly, with a great flavour combination. Very very enjoyable. On the platter too was pangasio al farno, or baked river sole with salsa verde and mustard potatoes. I am not much the fishy person, but Mr PAB enjoyed the flavour on the sole a lot. The third sampling on this platter was the malfatti ricotta e spinaci, ricotta cheese and spinach malfatti, which was very passable. I found it far too dense and low on taste. A good malfatti is amazing and addictive, even though the name might mean ‘poorly-made‘!Lombardian promotion at ItaliaThe chef had put together a selection of the menu, a total of 13 items and I do wish I had seen some mushroom on my selection;  I sorely missed that. The meal was lavish, course after course. Each course had a good selection on offer though the pressure of tasting so much was soon bearing down on me. In my humble opinion, I think the tasting menu might do better if it is trimmed down to a fewer items, and a lower cost perhaps. There is no way I could do justice to the huge selection on offer without feeling full.Lombardian promotion at ItaliaWe finished the meal with an indulgent dessert, one that was fabulous – panna cotta alla vaniglia e lamponi … an sublime & satisfying  vanilla bean panna cotta with raspberry sauce. Yes, it was wonderfully creamy {as heavy cream panna cottas always are}, not overbearingly sweet, perfectly complimented by the raspberry sauce. Thank you Italia and the Park Hotel Group for having me over to sample the menu.  I do wish I had a much larger appetite and could have sampled each item.

The event is on until the 6th of February 2011 at Italia, DLF Promenade, so do hurry over if you are in the New Delhi region.
Make sure you go with a big appetite!

Date: 21st Jan – 6th Feb 2011
Venue: ItALIa, 2nd floor, DLF Promenade
Timings: Lunch and Dinner
Average price for meal for two: Rs.2500+taxes (without alcohol)

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“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it…”
Oscar Wilde

Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream SauceHaving kids completely changes the meaning of the word Mondays, and the meaning of manic as well. Before ‘they came along, I never had an issue with Monday, e v e r,  since the airline industry where I worked with worked the year around on rotating rosters. The cliche “I Hate Mondays” and “TGIF” made little sense to my existence. Not so now. I meant to post this yesterday for Meatless Mondays, but drama is part of our lives. All night Sunday the daughter threw up incessantly … which meant LAUNDRY {that was my first thought!},  and mopping and cleaning till kingdom came. It also meant a 6am dash to emergency to get her a couple of shots to stop the ‘volley‘  {Just as well, there’s nothing almost nothing that an injection can’t fix!!} Yesterday was B A D, but all is well now!

Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream SauceRecently read that quote above @ Barbara Bakes and it fit right in when I saw Sara’s post on beautiful One Tribe Gourmet. I forgot about my last VERY disastrous experience with gnocchi, the elusive little pillows of heaven, which had floated away in oblivion. I forgot that my last attempt, as part of a Daring Cooks challenge, left me crying copious tears of grief, while the sympathetic family slowly slurped the salvaged clouds from deep platters. Remind me never to try gnocchi again I ordered Mr PAB!Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream SauceHe walked into the kitchen, saw me elbow deep in flour, and gave me a quizzed horrified look. Yes, he has the memory of an elephant. “What’re you making today? Haven’t you made this before?”, he said trying to keep it ‘mild’.  I suspect he saw my pale face and did the disappearing act, past memories quite obviously reflected in his expressions. Why O why, I kicked myself, did I have to get tempted again? A 2 year gap must have honed my culinary skills in some good way I pleaded with my inner self, yet dashed off to beam the One Tribe Gourmet girl in from twitter! I needed H E L P & a boost of twitter self-confidence!Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream SauceLuckily she was there, and halfway through my tediously sieved boiled potatoes {I still can’t believe I sieved 3 pounds of boiled potatoes, while Man Friday stared at me bemused!} Bet he never thought anyone would ever push boiled potatoes through a sieve. Well, neither did I, but here I was. Man Friday knows better than to question me when I am elbow deep in dough, so he returned to humming his irritating songs and returned to do the dusting! Tweet-time ….’Sara, help! Am I right or am I wrong? Consistency of the dough? Help help help!’ YIKES, I had done it again! There was no backing off as by now I had the potatoes done & the peppers roasted.Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream SauceGnocchi is fiddly, but not as fiddly as macrons. Keep in mind that you must not boil them aggressively on a full rolling boil. A mild simmering boil is good for these pillowy whimsical creatures. You must read Sara’s advice for the perfect gnocchi, and if you still are unsure, catch her on twitter. She is most helpful and one of the sweetest girls around. If you say you know Shahrukh Khan, she might even fly down and make gnocchi for you in your kitchen … she’s his biggest fan!! Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream SauceSurprisingly enough gnocchi keep well. We had them for lunch and I boiled some and kept them flat out on a tray for the kids for dinner as they were in school. I thought I’d reheat them, but had second thoughts and decided to make them a little luxurious. So I simmered some unsalted butter with Tuscan spices that my younger sis had brought for me recently, and gently simmered the ready gnocchi in the flavoured butter. The daughter was over my shoulder with a fork, and dug in every 2 minutes to have another! The kids really enjoyed them too, and the sauce with a dash of Worcestershire sauce! It was worth all the hard work, and a great meatless meal. Of course I served it with a char grilled broccoli salad, my favourite winter side from Ottolenghi!

Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream SauceHomemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce
Adapted minimally from Sarah’s post @ One Tribe Gourmet
Recipe Adapted from Ron & Colleen Suhanosky’s book Pasta Sfoglia
Potato Gnocchi
3 pounds Idaho Russet Potatoes { I used our local variety}
3 cloves of garlic, minced
50gms grated cheddar
1 1/4 cup all purpose Flour {extra for dusting} {Original recipe has 1 cup APF}
2 tsp salt
1 egg
Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce -makingMethod
Boil or pressure cook the potatoes until tender. {Use a knife to determine if the potatoes are tender}
Drain, peel the potatoes and pass them through a ricer, food mill or a sieve. {I sieved them, a first for me, and though it was hard work, the result was unbelievable smooth}.
Spread all purpose flour on a clean, dry work surface and place the potatoes on the flour. Add the salt, egg, minced garlic & cheddar.
Knead the dough gently into a 10 by 8 inch log. let it rest for 2 minutes.
Lightly dust a clean, dry work surface with flour. Cut the log into 4 equal pieces.
Roll each piece into a 1 inch thick rope .
Cut the rope into 1/2 inch wide gnocchi.
Mark the gnocchi with rolling it over back of a fork. {These marks help the sauce cling to the gnocchi}
Boil the gnocchi on medium high heat. Drop few gnocchi pieces at a time. Let the gnocchi come up to the top and drain.{I fished them out with a tea strainer}
Add to the sauce.
Roasted Pepper Cream SauceRoasted Red Peppers & Cream Sauce
4 red bell peppers, roasted
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce {optional/to taste}
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup low fat cream
Fresh Basil, few springs, chiffonaded
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Place the peppers on a baking sheet, coat them with a little oil.
Bake until skins are blistered. Take out of the oven and let them cool covered in a glass/steel bowl covered with a kitchen towel/napkin.
Peel & seed the peppers. Add the pulp into a blender and process until smooth.{I used an immersion blender}
Sauté onions & garlic in the olive oil.
Add the pepper mixture and Worcestershire sauce. Mix.
Add salt & pepper, and then add the cream and basil leaves.
Saute for 2 more minutes over low heat.
Drop the gnocchi into the sauce and mix gently to coat.
Serve with a garnish of fresh basil.
Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Roasted Pepper Cream Sauce
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This recipe is off to Val’s event Best Thing I Ever Ate (recently) challenge at More Than Burnt Toast.

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“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
Oprah Winfrey

Quark & Apple Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Quark & Apple Crostata

A crostata is an Italian baked dessert tart, and a form of pie. It is traditionally prepared by folding the edges of the dough over the top of the jam/marmalade filling, creating a more “rough” look, rather than a uniform, circular shape. The jams that are traditionally used as a filling are cherries, peaches, apricots, berries. The crostata can also be filled with pieces of fresh fruit and pastry cream (crema pasticcera), but then it is called torta di frutta. A typical central Italian variety replaces jam with ricotta mixed with sugar, cocoa or pieces of chocolate and anisetta; this is called crostata di ricotta.

Quark & Apple Crostata I got to baking my crostata pretty early this month, and only because of the pressure of my home made quark which was nearing expiry. I didn’t think it would last another day, so I hit fast track and decided it was time for pie! I followed the pastry recipe that Simona provided, meandering from it characteristically as I was in a hurry, and used granular vanilla sugar instead of powdered sugar. Also added a scraped vanilla bean as I am wary of eggy flavours in pastry. I have a good stash of vanilla beans on hand, and love to use them where possible.

Quark & Apple CrostataFor the filling we had the option to go creative…pastry creme, baked fruit, fresh fruit, jam…whatever caught our fancy! My fancy? You guessed it … my crostrata would have quark! I had some quark that I had made yet again for a cake I wanted to try, but then along came this challenge. I decided to try my luck here. I also had on hand some apple mix left over from some Apple Walnut Cinnamon Parcels I had made a couple of days ago. The crostata was already a quark-tata, and would be a ‘fall tart’ I think I made a crostrata de quarka!

Quark & Apple Crostata The filling was to be sweet, full of fall flavour, topping the experimental quark filling. I considered adding cream to the quark, but once beaten it looked quick thick and delicious, so I skipped the cream. Added some eggs and a spoon of flour to help set it, and thought if it wouldn’t set, we would just scoop it into our mouths! By the time it was baked, and beautifully puffy, I gave it a tiny poke on top to see if it was jiggly, and I was thrilled to see it was set. I think I love experiments, especially ones that work out well…LOL!

Quark & Apple Crostata This is what I love about being a Daring Baker …the creative part. They give you a recipe, a basic which you need to follow, and then open it out for you to stamp it your own little way! This one was fun fun fun! I used a loose bottomed tart pan that my sis had got from the US, and a pastry cutter that she recently sent. I was dying to do the lattice, but figured that lattice on a hot pie might not work. I didn’t take into account the apple layer which was cold, but stuck the edges in a hurry. Next time, will try to weave a proper lattice. For this time, I was quite happy!

Petit Fours...cookies with whipped lemon curd cream I used the left over pastry to make sugar cookies as suggested by Simona, and have hung on to them for too many days. The weather being cold, they have been sitting happily in an air tight box. I found them 2 days ago, and almost gave them to the kids to chomp. Then in a burst of creativity, decided to top them with some whipped home made lemon curd cream, left over from my Mum’s birthday cake, a Lavendar Chiffon with Lemon Curd Whipped Cream, yet to be posted!

Lavender Chiffon CakeHere’s what I made last night…

Petit Fours...cookies with whipped lemon curd creamPetit fours … biscuits topped with home made lemon curd whipped cream, topped with strawberry cream, topped with fruit and biscuit bits. Ooooh this was good too, and definitely delicious!

Thank you Simona for the exciting challenge, and thank you as always Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice for hosting this fab kitchen!!

Quark & Apple Crostata Quark and Apple Crostata
Pasta Frolla {pastry/tart shell}
1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option)
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl with 1/2 a vanilla bean, scraped

Put sugar, flour, salt, and lemon zest in the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
Add butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
Empty food processor’s bowl onto your work surface.
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball. {I needed a tbsp of chilled water to bind my dough}. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.
Lightly butter/grease the tart pan.
Roll out the pastry and line the pan. {I used about 2/3 pastry only}. Chill in freezer, while the oven is preheating at 190C
Bake blind for 20-25 minutes using pie weights, or as I did, a heavy metal plate {or metal bowl placed over baking paper}
Cool base in pan once done.
Pie Filling
200g quark, well drained {homemade recipe here}
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean scraped
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 tbsp flour
Place all ingredients in a large bowl, and beat till smooth, 1-2 minutes. Turn into baked and cooled pie shell, and bake at 180C for 15 minutes.
While it’s baking, prepare the topping.
Quark & Apple Crostata MakingTopping:
2 apples, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1tsp flour
Apple filling:
Toss together all ingredients till apples are well coated. Take pie out after 15 minutes, and add topping, and lattice on top. Brush the lattice with egg white, and sprinkle over with vanilla sugar. Bake for another 45 minutes till nice and puffy. {Cover loosely with foil if the pastry is getting too brown.}. If you touch it gently, you will see that the filling is set and not jiggly. Allow to stand for at least an hour before slicing. Serve with unsweetened low fat cream!
Quark & Apple Crostata

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