A Hearty, Healthy Bean, Kale and Pepper Soup

This soup starts with a soffritto, a fried mixture of finely chopped vegetables with herbs that gives a wonderful base flavour. Cut the vegetables by hand or use a food processor to blitz them briefly. Use tinned beans or soaked and cooked dried beans instead. This soup is full of fibre, warmth from the chilli and nourishment from the chicken stock. To bump up the protein poach eggs in the soup.

Bean, kale and pepper soup with poached eggs

Serves 6

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus a little more to finish

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

1 small leek or an onion, finely chopped

1 red pepper, diced into 1 cm cubes

2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

1 15cm approx. sprig of rosemary or few sprigs of thyme

Half to 1 teaspoon of red chilli, finely chopped, or dried chilli flakes, added according to taste

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 x 400g tins of beans such as borlotti or cannellini, drained

2 tablespoons tomato puree

400g tin of Italian plum tomatoes

1.5 litres of warm chicken, vegetable, ham stock or hot water

200g roughly chopped leaves of any kale, cabbage or spinach leaves

6 eggs, optional

Heat the oil in a pan over a low to medium heat and add the finely chopped carrot, celery, leek or onion, red pepper, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Leave to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften.

Next add the beans, tomato puree, tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Give the soup a gentle mash with a potato masher to break up some of the tomatoes and beans which will thicken the soup. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the leaves to the pan, with any tougher leaves going in first, and put on the lid. Leave to cook until they wilt. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

If cooking eggs in the soup; crack the eggs into the soup and scatter with a little salt and pepper. Put the lid onto the pan and leave for 3 to 5 minutes depending on how you like your eggs cooked. Serve straight away drizzled with extra-virgin oil.

Per serving including one egg: carbs 17g, 10g fibre, 19g protein, 18g fat, 328kcal

Best Low-Carb Bread Recipe Ever!

Low-carb bread rolls

This bread brings a smile to Giancarlo’s face every time I make it. Finally he gets the joy of tearing and eating bread without the gluten and carbs. I love to alter the texture with the addition of seeds and nuts and the recipe adapts well to various shapes. The bread, once cooked and cooled, last for 3 days in the bread bin and freezes well too.

Pysillium husk, from a plant, can create a dark purplish brown colour; if you want white bread buy blonde psyllium husk instead. Use the correct measurements for psyllium husk and the very fine powder. It’s available at health food shops and online. One word of warning, the psyllium husk needs to cool down after it is baked, so no nibbling on the bread before it is at room temperature or you will find a soggy dough consistency. It firms up as it cools. Our recipe is an adaptation of one from Maria Emmerich and her inspiring website mariamindbodyhealth.com.

Makes 6 gluten-free, low-carb bread rolls

Per roll: Total carbs 2.2g, fibre 16g, protein 11g, fat 17g, 233kcal

 

150g ground almonds

5 tablespoons psyllium husks or 4 tablespoons of psyllium husk powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

Half teaspoon fine sea salt

3 medium eggs

250ml (1 cup) boiling water

A little olive oil to grease the tray and shape the dough

2 tablespoons of seeds to decorate the loaves, optional

 

Heat the oven to 175oC. Grease an oven tray with a little olive oil.

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl or food processor or in a stand mixer with a dough hook.

Add the eggs and mix once more to combine well. 

Boil the water and pour into the dry mix, stir through with a fork or whizz in the processor.

If the dough is very wet leave it for 10 minutes to allow the psyllium husk to soak up the moisture.

Drizzle a little oil on your hands to stop them sticking to the dough. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 6 even sized balls. Mould them to shape and make the surfaces smooth, use a little more oil if necessary. Lay them onto a greased baking tray and sprinkle with the seeds, if using.

Bake for 50 minutes or until hollow when tapped and when they move off the trays easily. Allow to cool to room temperature before cutting or eating.

Variations to add to the dough – add these to the dough before shaping

50g finely chopped mixed soft herbs such as basil, parsley, celery leaves, oregano, chives

50g of roughly chopped nuts such as walnuts or pecans

3 tablespoons seeds such as sesame, sunflower, poppy or pumpkin

25g finely grated Parmesan cheese or other hard cheese and a handful of chopped chives

50g finely chopped sundried tomato and 1 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary leaves

A large handful of chopped olives and 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

 

Guilt Free Coconut Pancakes

Coconut Pancakes, Whipped Coconut Cream & Raspberries

There is no sugar in these pancakes, but they are naturally sweet from the coconut and vanilla, so they make a guilt-free breakfast, brunch or dessert.

Coconut flour is made from the dried flesh of the coconut. It is high in fibre and works as a binder. It is also very absorbent, so you can’t simply swap it for wheat flour as it needs much more liquid. These pancakes are delicious served with Raspberry Chia Jam (a recipe for which is in our book ‘The Diabetes Weight-loss Cookbook, or simply with a few berries. The coconut cream is also gorgeous on desserts, or stirred into coffee. Make sure you have a 400ml (14fl oz) can of coconut milk that has been left in the fridge or a cool cupboard before you start, so it has time to separate into the denser cream at the top and the water below; don’t shake it.

 

MAKES APPROX. 16 PANCAKES  (ABOUT 6CM/2½IN ACROSS)/

SERVES 6

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or

½ teaspoon vanilla powder

120ml (4fl oz) coconut water from

the can, coconut milk or cow’s milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons coconut flour

small pinch of salt

2 tablespoons coconut oil, ghee or

butter, for frying

For the whipped coconut cream

approx. 130g (4½oz) coconut cream

(from the top of the can or bought

separately), chilled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or

½ teaspoon vanilla powder

 

Per pancake: 1.1g carbs, 0.6g

protein, 3.1g fat, 0.9g fibre, 37kcal

 

Per serving of whipped cream

1.2g carbs, 0.9g protein, 6.9g fat,

0g fibre, 74kcal

 

To make the whipped coconut cream, carefully spoon the cream out of the can leaving the water below for the pancakes.

Whisk it in a bowl with the vanilla for a couple of minutes until thick and firm.

Leave in a cool place until you are ready to serve.

Whisk the eggs with the vanilla and coconut water or milk in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients.

Little by little add the dry ingredients to the wet, whisking all the time until you have a thick cream consistency.

Heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add the fat. When melted and just starting to bubble, swirl the fat around the pan to coat it.

Drop 1 tablespoon measures of the batter into the pan, making sure they dont touch as they spread out. Use a fish slice or spatula to gently turn the pancakes when they are set and firm on one side.

They will take 34 minutes on the first side and only 12 minutes on the second.

Remove the pancakes from the pan when done and serve straight away or keep warm while you make the rest.

Serve with the whipped coconut cream and raspberry chia jam and some raspberries, if you wish.

Low-Carb Pizza Perfection

We all know that a good pizza is hard to beat. I have experimented with various alternative bases: cauliflower bases have an overpowering taste; cheese-only bases are just too fatty; and sweet potato bases are too high in carbs.

So here we have it – ta-dah! Our perfect pizza base is made from the humble courgette and a handful of almonds. It is both crisp around the edges and supports the taste of the topping without overwhelming it – and the kids love it, too.

I peel the courgette so that it doesn’t have green flecks in the dough, but use the whole vegetable if you prefer.

Italy’s “pizzaioli” (pizza-makers) are divided between those who prefer cow’s milk mozzarella and those who would only dream of using buffalo milk mozzarella. The latter contains more water but, in my opinion, the taste is superior. If you choose to use cow’s milk mozzarella, don’t buy the one the manufacturers say is for making pizza – it is rubbery and flavourless. Just buy full-fat mozzarella. Whichever you opt for, tear the cheese into pieces and drain in a sieve while you make the bases.

MAKES 2 PIZZAS

For the base

extra virgin olive oil, to grease

25g (1oz) Parmesan

2 medium eggs

1 teaspoon salt

150g (5oz) ground almonds

1 medium courgette (approximately 175–220g/6–8oz), peeled and coarsely grated

For the tomato sauce

125g (4½oz) canned whole Italian plum tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

For the topping

75g (2¾oz) mozzarella, drained

A selection of the following

a handful of olives

8–10 slices of salami

8–10 slices of spicy chorizo

8 anchovies, drained from oil

thin strips of red pepper

2 spring onions, finely sliced

pinch of chilli flakes

extra virgin olive oil, to finish

a few basil leaves, to finish

Per serving with the tomato sauce and mozzarella but minus the further topping 9.8g carbs, 37g protein, 65g fat, 13g fibre, 647kcal.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/fan 180˚C/gas mark 6. Line two baking trays with baking parchment and brush them with oil.

Put all the ingredients for the pizza base together in a bowl and mix with a large metal spoon. It will form a fairly thick dough.

Divide the dough into two and put a mound of the dough onto each lined tray.

Press and shape each half with wet hands into a circle 1cm (½in) deep and 18–20cm (7–8in) in diameter

Bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, blend the ingredients for the tomato sauce together in a mixing bowl.

Remove the trays from the oven and slide the parchment onto the worktop. At this stage, the bases can also be cooled, wrapped tightly in clingfilm and kept in the fridge for 3 days or frozen for 3 months. Defrost before use.

Put the oven trays back into the oven upside down to form a very hot, flat surface to cook the pizzas on. Increase the oven temperature as hot as it will go.

When you are ready to cook the pizzas, top each one with half the tomato sauce, leaving a finger-width border around the edge.

Tear over the mozzarella and add the toppings you like. If you have a large cake slice, flat baking tray or flat wooden pizza peel, use this to move the pizzas onto the upturned trays.

Bake for 6–8 minutes until the mozzarella is bubbling and the crust becomes crisp and browned.

Remove from the oven and serve with a drizzle of oil and the basil leaves.

 

 

Hot Chocolate Loveliness

Hot Chocolate Pots

This recipe is a chocoholic’s idea of heaven, as my son Giorgio will vouch. At the age of around 9 years he ordered one of these at a restaurant in Italy. After eating every last scrap he disappeared from the table and then appeared some time later clutching a small piece of paper. He had gone to the kitchen to ask for the recipe and came back with a few words and measurements written on the back of a till receipt!  I have been grateful to him ever since as we all love this dessert. Over the years we took the sugar levels down and down as our tastes changed. If you pour out a couple of small cups for the children, you can then add a shot of booze to the remainder for the grown-ups! And if you don’t mind the bitter notes in dark chocolate, leave out the date or the honey and lower the carbs even further. We serve this in our restaurant as a quenelle with a scoop of thick cream next to it. Pure indulgence but very good to finish off a meal.

Serves 6

1 small Medjool date, stoned and finely chopped or 1 to 2 teaspoons mild honey

125ml cow’s or almond milk

125ml double cream

2 egg yolks

75g good-quality dark chocolate (minimum 85 per cent cocoa solids), coarsely grated or cut into very small pieces

3 tablespoons rum or brandy (optional)

Melt the date in 3 tablespoons of the milk in a bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute or in a small pan over a medium heat. It will become soft and can be mashed with a fork.

Put this mixture into a sieve and push it through with a spoon into a medium saucepan. Discard the skin of the date. If you don’t want to use the date add a teaspoon or two of honey, to taste,  to the custard at the end.

Add the remaining milk to the pan, along with the cream and egg yolks, and whisk to combine. Put over a medium heat and bring almost to boiling point. It needs to reach 85°C (190°F) to sterilise the egg and thicken the custard.

If you don’t have a thermometer, check that the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon and, if you run your finger through it, the line remains visible.

 

Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and whisk to melt. It will look lumpy to begin with but will soon become velvety smooth. Add the rum (if using).

Pour into espresso cups while it is still hot.

You can drink it, dip strawberries into it or serve it with a spoonful of whipped cream while it is hot or if left to cool in the fridge the chocolate will set and can be eaten the following day as a mousse topped with whipped cream, grated chocolate or raspberries.

Per serving 7.2g carbs, 3.2g protein, 21g fat, 1.7g fibre, 247kcal

For other low-carb recipes see ‘The Diabetes Weight-loss Cookbook’ our Amazon Best Selling Low-carb cookbook. You Can buy signed copies HERE.

Comfort Food Low-Carb Style

Hot Raspberry Sponge Pudding

I will be serving these buttery, jammy indulgences over the festive period as they are perfect for entertaining and easy to whip up.

In a typical ready-made sponge pudding there could be up to 63g of carbs, ours have just 11g so your blood sugar levels won’t hit the roof. However, the butter and almonds used in these puddings do push the calories higher so have them as a Christmas treat rather than an everyday occurrence. They are ideal for those watching their carbs like my husband Giancarlo who has managed to reverse his diabetes type 2 by lowering his daily carb intake to no more than 50g a day.  Individual metal or silicone dariole moulds are ideal for this, around the size of a standard muffin, approx. 8cm diameter. I use frozen raspberries to make the jam when they aren’t in season or you can substitute them with strawberries or rhubarb. We have used minimal dates as a sweetener rather than artificial sugar as we prefer to eat natural foods. Dates do have some nutritional benefit and by combining them with the protein, fat and fibre from the rest of the ingredients the release of glucose will be slowed.

For more recipes like this do see our book The Diabetes Weight-loss Cookbook, a life-changing diet to reverse diabetes type 2 HERE.

Serves 6

150g butter, softened plus more for greasing

300g apx raspberries, frozen or fresh

3 fat medjool dates, pitted

3 eggs

150g ground almonds

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ teaspoons baking powder

 

Heat the oven to 170oC fan. Generously grease 6 moulds with butter.

 

Put the raspberries (you can do this from frozen) and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract into a saucepan. Bring them to a boil and use a potato masher to mash them to a pulp as they heat and soften.

Turn the heat to low and let them simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour the raspberries into a sieve over a bowl and push them through with a spoon until you are left with only the pips to discard.

You should be left with a pouring consistency like that of soup. If it is very runny heat the sauce for a few minutes to reduce and thicken it. Pour a tablespoon of the sauce into each mould and keep the rest for serving later.

Melt the dates in a small bowl with 3 tablespoons of hot water and mash with a fork until smooth.

Push the mixture through a fine sieve into a large mixing bowl, discarding only the thin skins. You will be left with a wickedly-rich caramel puree.

Add the butter and beat together briefly by hand, crack in the eggs and beat again. Add the almonds, vanilla and baking powder and stir through with a wooden until well combined.

Spoon the mixture into the moulds and put them into an ovenproof dish and transfer to the oven. Use a jug or kettle to fill the dish with very hot water to come up half-way up the sides of the moulds.

Bake the puddings for 25 minutes or until the sponge is golden brown and feels springy to the touch.

Carefully remove from the oven and leave them until you are ready to serve. They will sit happily for up to 30 minutes.

When you are ready to serve, heat the extra raspberry sauce in a small pan or in the microwave briefly. Lift the moulds out of the water. If they are still hot use tongs to do this. Run a knife around the edge of the mould and invert each one onto a warm plate with a little of the extra sauce poured over the top.  Serve with hot custard, cream or mascarpone.

Per serving: 14g carbs, 9g fibre, 12g protein, 37g fat, 464kcal

 

Hold the pasta, cabbage for us today

Since we’ve gone low-carb in our household we have fallen in love with the crunchy, versatile charms of cabbage. They have a fraction of the carbs of pasta, are very cheap, locally grown and make a meal in under 10 minutes. What’s not to like? In fact we have added soft cabbage ribbons to our menu in our restaurants for those preferring their traditional pasta sauces on something a little less traditional. See here to read about Giancarlo’s journey into a low-carb lifestyle and reversing his diabetes type 2. Please don’t worry, all our signature fresh pasta dishes are still there, we are just giving you the choice.

All the cabbage family have different cooking times and flavours. White cabbage’s neutral flavour means it has versatility; we use it to substitute pasta with any pasta sauce, finely sliced it will transform into noodles in a stir-fry or tear the leaves and served buttered as a side rather than potatoes.  It will take 7 to 10 minutes to transform into soft, tender ribbons. The more delicate, bitter green leaves of savoy or kale mean they are excellent with meat stews, robustly-flavoured fish or any cheese sauces; cook for no more than five minutes. Red cabbage is best paired with onion, apple or both. Their sweetness befriends and softens any bitterness.  Slice red cabbage thinly for coleslaw, stir-fries or sides and watch out for its strange ability to turn things blue.

How to cut cabbage

Separate the tough stems from savoy (12 o’clock) and kale (7 o’clock). Cut them thinly and boil or add to stir-fries. White cabbage (2 o’clock), cut into tagliatelle-sized ribbons, hard core removed and ready for the pot. The outer leaves of red cabbage  (5 o’clock) spiralled up and cut through into fine tagliolini sized ribbons ready for a stir-fry.

Savoy, Curly Kale, Cavalo Nero or Sweetheart Cabbage with Butter 

This makes a simple side dish to sausages, roast meats or a cheese main course. It is also good with a couple of poached eggs on top.

 

Serves 2

300g kale, cavalo nero, hispi, sweetheart or pointed cabbage 

20g knob of butter or olive oil

4 tablespoons water

Salt and pepper

15g Parmesan, finely grated, optional

Remove any very tough stems, damaged leaves or hard core from the cabbage. Tear the leaves into pieces around 5 cm across or roll the large leaves up into a spiral and cut through into fat or thin ribbons. Put it into a microwave bowl with the salted butter, water, salt and pepper. Microwave on full power for 5 to 7 minutes, covered in a plate, stir once half way through.

Alternatively put the pieces into a medium saucepan with the butter, water and seasoning and cover with a lid. Cook over a medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until  tender. Drain and serve in a warm bowl with cheese, if you like, as a base for pasta or as a side dish.

Per serving: 3.7g carbs, 3.3g fibre, 7.6g protein, 17g fat, 208kcal

  

Giancarlo’s red cabbage and apple fry-up

Giancarlo often doesn’t have time to eat when he is at work so he loves dishes he can whip up quickly and eat in front of the footie when he gets to relax. This is one of his latest ideas, it’s simple and quick to make and he loves it with bacon added to the cabbage and two fried eggs. It’ll make an excellent breakfast, lunch or dinner. Add more eggs, sausages, mushrooms as you wish.

 

 

Serves 2

 

2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely sliced from root to tip

2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped, or lardons, optional

200g red cabbage, finely shredded

1 small apple, coarsely grated, optional

Half a teaspoon of caraway seeds, or 2 sprigs thyme, optional

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 eggs

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the onion and bacon, if using, and stir through. Cook for around 7 minutes or until it is soft and lightly caramelised. Add the cabbage, apple, seeds, if using, and seasoning, turn the heat to low and stir again.

Put the lid on and leave it to cook for around 10 minutes or until the onion is lightly browned and the cabbage is soft and tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Serve straight or cool and reheat when it is needed.

If you are having it with eggs, simply move the cabbage to one side of the pan and crack in the eggs. Fry until they are done to your liking and serve straight away.

Per serving: 15g carbs, 5.8g fibre, 15g protein, 24g fat, 344kcal

 

Plant Based Pasta Perfection

Having had a busy week with our new book ‘The Diabetes Weight-loss Cookbook’ being featured every day in the Daily Mail and becoming an Amazon bestseller I decided to drop down to Eastbourne to see family and friends. While there I knocked up this quick and simple low-carb, plant based supper on the beach… with a little help from the local bird life!

Caldesi Cauliflower Pasta with Tahini and Hazelnuts

Small shapes of pasta such as orrechiete (little ears), fusilli (spirals) or rigatoni (ridged tubes) are designed to trap the sauces served with them. However, if you are avoiding carbs, small florets of cooked cauliflower or broccoli do the same job. We love this vegan dish with a Middle Eastern-inspired tahini sauce; it ticks all the boxes for flavour, looks, as well as differing textures.

Serves 2

50g hazelnuts or walnuts

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 spring onions or 1 shallot, finely chopped

250g head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets, with leaves, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 small green chilli, finely sliced, or pinch of chilli flakes (according to taste)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

120ml almond (or cow’s milk if not vegan)

3 tablespoons tahini

salt and freshly ground black pepper

a small handful of coriander leaves, to serve

1 teaspoon sesame seeds, to serve

Preheat the oven to 220?C/fan 200?C/gas mark 7. Roughly chop your cauliflower.

Put the nuts onto a baking tray and roast for 5–8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and lightly crush with a rolling pin or in a small food-processor. Keep them fairly chunky.

Dry fry the sesame seeds in a large frying pan until golden, pour onto a plate and set aside.

Put 3 tablespoons of the oil into the same pan and heat over a medium heat.

Add the spring onions, cauliflower and salt and pepper, and sauté with a splash of water with the lid on for 5 minutes or until the cauliflower is just tender. Give the pan a shake frequently.

Remove the lid and allow any water to evaporate. Add the garlic and chilli, stir through and let them sizzle for a couple of minutes. Add the cumin and stir through.

Warm the milk and tahini together in a microwave or a small pan over a medium heat, whisking until smooth. Pour this over the cauliflower in the pan and stir through.

Transfer to a warm serving dish or leave in the pan decorated with the nuts, a swirl of the remaining oil, the coriander and sesame seeds.

Per serving 12g carbs, 14g protein, 59g fat, 7.7g fibre, 646kcal

For signed copies of ‘The Diabetes Weight-loss Cookbook’ see HERE.

A Warming Recipe From The Italian Alps…

Goulasch – a rich, intense sticky beef stew from the mountains

While most people who go to a ski resort descend mountains at speed by strapping slippery long boards to their boots others prefer the slower, calmer activities that the mountains have to offer. While our boys went careering down black runs, fell over a lot and drank Bombardinos, Giancarlo and I decided to give the slopes a miss. This year we spent our time hiking through the stunning scenery and, since we can never keep out of the kitchen, cooking with the locals for research for our alpine menus at our restaurants.

 

Our destination was Santa Cristina, part of the Val Gardena region where umpteen long pistes meet on top of the glorious mountains in the Dolomites. Our boys skied for 14 miles in one direction, so it is an excellent ski destination I am told; and, more importantly, the food’s good too! The area produces some fine white wines, delicate cow’s milk cheeses and plenty of thinly-sliced speck, the local smoked ham.

The alpine menu is flavourful and hearty all year round having evolved for the hard- working contadini – the mountain farmers. Influences from Austria and Italy combine with local produce to make specialities such as canerderli, round bread dumplings with spinach, beetroot or cheese, buckwheat cake, lingonberry jam, fried apples, spatzle pasta, goulasch and nutty, seeded rye breads spread with herb or poppyseed butter.

Our hiking guide told me of a group of local women who formed an association of contadini cooks to preserve their heritage recipes. They have published a book and teach cookery. After knocking at a few doors in the village we managed to get a lesson with one of them who was free on a Sunday afternoon. She was concerned we would never find her farm on a remote hillside above the town so came to pick us up. As we drove around the hairpin road to her house the view became more and more stunning.

 

Isolde Grossrubatscher Ploner learnt her repertoire of local recipes from her mother. She was born in Ortesei, a neighbouring village, and married a farmer from Santa Cristina. Her mother was a furniture painter and her father a woodcarver; they were also musical. Apparently, the whole family sing together at gatherings. (It all sounded delightfully like the Sound of Music but there was no sign of her rustling up her children’s dresses from the curtains). They have three children who she hopes will carry on the tradition of farming. Isolde showed us around the farm, the cows, rabbits and chickens as well as the pastures now covered in snow. The house was warm and welcoming. Although her kitchen was small, she had a view to die for. If it was my kitchen, I don’t think I would get any work done, I would be endlessly staring at the view watching the changing light on the mountain tops.

Isolde offered me some walnut bread that she had made to go with her homemade butter. It was remarkable, punchy with spicy herbs and textured with nuts and sunflower seeds. She showed me the herbs she had used – lightly crushed fennel and caraway seeds and a curry-flavoured herb called trigonella that grows locally. I believe it is a relative of fenugreek which seems extraordinary so far from Asia. I have seen that www.artisanbread-abo.comsell an alpine blend of herbs for breadmaking.

She makes her own butter when the cows have a calf as they have a lot of milk. She shapes and presses in it a wooden mould. It lasts just a few days in the fridge.

We learnt to make a gammon and barley soup, canerderli and a buckwheat pancake that was gluten-free for Giancarlo, traditionally eaten with homemade lingonberry jam and yoghurt. But most importantly we were there to learn to make goulasch, the rich, beef stew that I remembered my uncle Alfred making when I was a child. He had lived in Austria and had perfected the recipe over the years. The word gulasch is from “gulyas” meaning “shepherd” in Hungarian. Apparently the herdsmen would make a stew on the move from dried meats softened in hot water. We have eaten goulasch in many countries and always enjoyed it but I was determined to make the Italian version and what better way to do it than asking the locals.

We also spent a morning in the kitchen of our hotel, the Alpenhotel Plaza run by the family Schenk with Chef Arturo Schenk.  He showed us his way of making goulasch.

Isolde browned the meat in the pan for a long time to really get the water out and bring out the flavour. Arturo cooking for a crowd often browns the meat in the oven first. Both used the traditionally fat of butter with a little olive oil but you could you beef dripping if you have it. Isolde’s goulasch was subtle in additional spices using a small amount of unsmoked paprika; Arturo added juniper, bay leaves, a little chilli and caraway which he ground in a pestle and mortar. Both used lemon zest and plenty of tomato puree. The Germans, he told us, add a little sour cream to the stew at the end which might not be authentic Italian is very good.

So here is our hybrid recipe from our Tyrolean teachers which we love. My sister Carly and I tried cooking the stew all in one go without pre-cooking the onions or beef but it wasn’t a patch on the traditional method. I think we have done Uncle Alfred proud and as the dish is popular and easy to make it will now become one of our family traditions.

Italian goulasch

Choose a cut of beef that has plenty of connective tissue such as the shoulder or neck. It will break down into gelatine creating a rich stock as you cook offering flavour as well as thickening the sauce. The gelatine is also good for your gut.

Serves 6

50g salted butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 kilo (apx) of stewing beef

1 teaspoon salt

Plenty of freshly-ground black pepper

2 onions

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

150ml red wine

3 tablespoons tomato puree

2 tablespoons unsmoked paprika

1 teaspoon lightly crushed juniper berries

Pinch of chilli flakes, optional

1 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed

2 bay leaves

1 finger-sized strip of lemon zest

Few spoonfuls of soured cream, optional

 

Brown the meat with the salt and pepper in half of the butter and half of the oil in a large heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat. It will take between 15 to 20 minutes to do this thoroughly so chop the onions finely while you wait, stirring intermittently. In another frying pan, soften the onions in the remaining fats until translucent. Do this slowly over a low heat so that they don’t brown. Add the garlic to the pan for the last few minutes.

When the water has evaporated from the beef and when it is really browned and almost sticking to the bottom of the pan, add the wine. After a few minutes add the tomato puree. Stir through and then add the onions, spices and bay leaves to the pan.

 

Combine with the meat and stir again. Add hot water from the kettle to cover the meat.  Add the lemon zest and leave to cook for 2.5 to 3 hours until the meat is soft and tender. Top the goulasch up with hot water if the meat appears dry. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. stir in the soured cream, if using. Serve hot with something starchy to absorb the gravy such as canerderli, soft polenta, mashed or fried potatoes.

Fabulous Fonduta…

For several years each January we have held a succession of very merry “Apres-Ski Evenings” at Caldesi in Campagna, when staff and customers donned bobble hats and salopettes and ate fondue, gnocchi and downed grappa as if they had just come off the slopes. As the dishes and ambience was so enjoyed by the customers we decided that in 2019 we would extend this to a whole Alpine Menu for January and February to kick off the new year.  We will be bringing the food and wine of the alpine slopes of Italy to our restaurants in Bray and London. The chefs and I have been busy polishing the fondue pots and perfecting our recipes from Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta and Trentino alto Adige. Our family have now become so enthusiastic about cheese fondue and the endless list of ingredients you can dip into it that I thought I would share our recipe with you.

I should also mention the difference between the Italian and Swiss fondues. Although the Swiss brought it to the rest of the world in the 1930’s and set a trend that continued into the 1970’s, the Italian version called “fonduta” has continued to be made in mountainous regions of Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta to this day. My first taste was of fonduta was served in a copper pot with shavings of white truffle and hunks of fresh bread to tear off and dip in. It was heaven in a bowl and I asked for the recipe. Normally fonduta contains no wine and it is thickened and enriched with butter and egg yolks rather like a savoury custard, while the Swiss use plenty of wine, kirsch and sometimes add cornflour to the mix.

After much experimentation with our head chef from Caldesi in Marylebone Antonio Cannavacciulo and head chef of Caldesi in Marylebone Gregorio Piazza we have decided on our version which contains a little reduced wine as we like the flavour and a combination of Fontina and Taleggio cheeses. If you can’t find these it is fine to use Asiago, Emmenthal, Gruyere instead of firm, nutty Fontina and Robiola or even a ripe camembert instead of the creamy, gutsy tallegio. Each cheese imparts its own personality to the finished dish so I would encourage experimentation.

Fonduta is usually served with crisp dry white wines to cut through the fat such as Tocai or Roero Arneis but we also like full-bodied reds such as Dolcetto d’Alba or Refosco so we will be serving a selection by the glass for you to try.

The heat is important when making a fonduta – think slow and low. Ideally it should be prepared in a bain-marie, a double boiler, or simply one pan sitting on top of another containing gently boiling water. Don’t let the top pan touch the water below however, it should simply be heated by the steam underneath. The finished fonduta is quite stable so you can allow it to cool and reheat it gently in the bain-marie or even in a microwave.

Fonduta di Formaggio
Italian Cheese Fondue

Serves 4

100ml dry white wine, chardonnay is ideal

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

200g fontina or 200g tallegio

150ml whole milk

50g salted butter, cubed

4 egg yolks, preferably with a good orange colour

Ingredients for dipping, served in bite size pieces

Sausages
Sauteed mushrooms
Steamed broccoli spears
Radishes
Endive leaves
Bread
Roast or boiled potatoes

Remove the outer rind from the cheeses as this doesn’t break down. (If you hate waste like me you can add the rinds and blitz the fondue later if they don’t break down). Cut the cheeses into sugar lump sized pieces and put them into a container with the milk.

Push them into the liquid with the back of a spoon and cover. Soak the cheese in the milk in the fridge for at least two hours or up to overnight. It will swell and become whiter.

Prepare your bain-marie by boiling the water in the base pan. Get your fondue and dipping ingredients ready. Your fondue dish shouldn’t be freezing cold so keep it somewhere warm.

Heat the wine with the garlic in another small pan until reduced by half.  Pour it through a sieve into your top pan pushing the garlic through with a wooden spoon.

Set the top pan above the boiling water but not touching it and add the butter. Stir as the butter melts with a wooden spoon.

Add the milk and cheeses to the pan and stir through as they melt and combine together.

When they are creamy and smooth change the spoon for a whisk and add the egg yolks one at a time whisking them in as soon as they hit the pan.

The mixture will become deep yellow and thicker.

At this point decant it into your warm fondue dish and served over the flame below. With forks a-ready, start spearing and dipping to your heart’s delight.

You can also enjoy Fonduta at our restaurants Caldesi in Marylebone and Caldesi in Campagna in Bray on Thames throughout January and February see the restaurant websites for details.