Blog - Curry Twist

Tomato Bread Soup In Orvieto

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Orvieto, situated right on top of a huge volcanic cliff, rose majestically in the distance as we drove up. Surrounded by a lush green valley dotted with vineyards, olive groves, farm houses and cypress trees, it's sheer height seemed all the more imposing up close. Instead of braving the steep cobbled streets, we took the funicular right into the heart of town.

Here we were charmed by beautiful old buildings, balconies spilling with flowers and narrow streets going up and down, affording us plenty of exercise! The town is small and easy to walk around in. Corso Cavour, it's main street is where the action lies. Lined with shops, bars, restaurants and cafes, it is a fun place to people watch as you leisurely sip a glass of wine or savour a gelato.

The most breathtaking sight in all of Orvieto is its magnificent Gothic Duomo (cathedral). One of the finest we have seen in Italy, it has charming candy stripes inside and out, glittering mosaics on its facade, and fabulous bas reliefs on its pillars. Inside are gorgeous frescoes by Signorelli which always draw a large audience. There was a beautiful wedding going on inside when we visited, adding to the wide eyed wonder of the crowds!

One of the sights we were very keen to see was Orvieto underground. A labyrinth of about 440 caves, dating back to Etruscan times, these are a fascinating glimpse of life lived centuries ago, when people sheltered here when the city was under siege by the Romans. These caves have also been used to raise pigeons, as storage and wine cellars as well as WWII bomb shelters.    

Orvieto produces some of the best wines in the region and has many excellent wine bars dotted around town. We know because we tried a good many of them anytime we wanted to rest our feet! And since we couldn't possibly have wine just by itself, we also got to sample some of the famed local wild boar charcuterie, cheeses and pates.
One of the restaurants we ate in - Al Pozzo Etrusco, had fantastic pasta. I ordered hand made pasta in a chickpea flour meat sauce. It was so unusual, earthy and delicious, unlike anything I'd had before and it reminded me so much of Indian cuisine as chickpea flour is used in many of our dishes too, although with loads of masala!

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This rustic, hearty tomato bread soup is one of my favourites and is very simple and satisfying. I've used fresh tomatoes here and roasted them to concentrate their flavours. You can just as easily use canned tomatoes and skip the roasting step. I like to use fresh bread as I love the way it soaks up the soup, turning into soft, velvety pillows of flavour that are a delight to eat!

Tomato Bread Soup

2 lb (about 10-12 large) ripe fresh tomatoes, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus a few extra for garnish

6 tbsp olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling over top of soup

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 1/2 cups small diced/torn Italian bread, crusts removed

Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Combine tomatoes, garlic, basil, 4 tbsp of the olive oil, salt and pepper in mixing bowl. Spread in a single layer on tray. Bake for 30 min until tomatoes are roasted, lightly browned and giving up their juices. Reserve.

Warm remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in skillet over medium heat.

Add onions, saute until lightly browned and softened, about 5 min.

Add red pepper flakes, saute 30 sec till fragrant.

Add reserved roasted tomato mixture, broth and bread. Mix well, cover and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 min or until soup has thickened and tomatoes have broken down completely. Stir occasionally, mashing tomatoes gently.

If soup is too thick for your liking, thin it down with some more broth or water. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, garnished with basil leaves.

Serves four

Pasta With Fresh Tomato Vegetable Sauce In Assisi, Italy

Assisi is one of the holiest places in the world for Catholics, being the birthplace of St. Francis, among the most beloved of all saints. The town is dominated by the Basilica of St. Francis, which attracts pilgrims from all over the world. The interior of the Basilica is covered with brilliantly coloured murals,  that are stunningly beautiful illustrations of scenes from the life of the great saint.

The town of Assisi is much older than the Basilica, dating back to the Roman era. As in many other places in Italy, medieval churches and castles have been built on the ruins of Roman temples and amphitheaters, very often merging later buildings with the remains of much older structures. Wandering through the narrow lanes of the town it is hard to know which era you are walking through.

The slopes of the hills surrounding Assisi are covered with fields and vineyards, where monks have tended their crops for centuries. The calm beauty of the landscape adds to the serenity of the town and is a fitting memorial to St. Francis, who loved nature and animals so much that he is said to have preached to the birds!

The produce from the farms finds its way to the kitchens of the restaurants in Assisi, who create an amazing variety of dishes. Our lunch at a small, but well known restaurant, called Osteria Piazzetta dell'Erba was the best we've had in all of Italy! Faced with all this bounty we could only invoke the prayer of another famous saint - St. Augustine - who is said to have exclaimed "Lord give me continence, but not just yet"!

This is the sauce to make when you have lots of lovely vine ripened summer fresh tomatoes. Combined with the heady aroma of fresh basil, there is no better summer pasta than this one. If you're feeling decadent, throw in some whipping cream for a richer sauce! Serve with Grilled lamb chops for a meatier option.
Check out my Lamb Ragu with papardelle for another delicious recipe to try out!

Pasta With Fresh Tomato Vegetable Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup each, chopped small: eggplant,  zucchini, sweet red pepper

2 lb (about 10) finely chopped fresh, ripe, juicy plum tomatoes (peeled if desired)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 lb uncooked penne pasta

2 tbsp butter

1/2 cup each: chopped fresh basil, grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, warm oil in deep skillet over medium high heat.

Add onions and garlic, saute 5-7 min until softened and lightly browned.

Add eggplant, zucchini and red peppers. Saute 10 min until vegetables are softened and lightly browned.

Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Remove skillet from heat, let sauce rest 10 min for tomatoes to soften.

Add the pasta to pot of boiling water, reduce heat to medium and cook until pasta is just al dente, about 12 min. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Add hot pasta, butter, basil and Parmesan cheese to sauce in skillet. Mix well, then let pasta rest 5 min to absorb some of the sauce. If tomatoes aren't juicy enough, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to create more of a sauce. Serve right away with additional Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top.

Serves six

Grilled Lamb Chops In Cortona, Tuscany

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I fell in love with Cortona when I first saw the movie Under The Tuscan Sun, parts of which were filmed here. So of course we had to spend a day exploring this charming little mountain town when we were driving around Tuscany recently.

It seemed that I was not alone in my love for Cortona for we came across an entire wedding party traveling all the way from America, to hold their ceremony in the beautiful old church. Under The Tuscan Sun still has many fans! Indeed there were old movie posters all over town, proudly showing the locations where the movie was filmed.

Most of Cortona can be seen in one day, especially if you are wearing good walking shoes! The steep, winding medieval alleyways, the ancient town walls affording glorious views of the amazing Tuscan countryside with glimpses of Lago Trasimeno (lake) shimmering in the distance, the fortress at the very top of the hill, and the the main town square of Piazza della Repubblica will keep you happily exploring for hours.

There is also the famous Diocesan museum housed in one of the old churches that is well known for it's fabulous works of religious art. The churches here date back to the 12th century and are lovely to explore while soaking in the peace.
And when you want to give your feet a rest, there are plenty of good restaurants and cafes to relax in. We had a delicious meal of grilled lamb chops with garlic and rosemary, pasta in cream sauce and a sun ripened tomato caprese salad that, along with a huge gelato, revived us wonderfully.

These lamb chops develop fantastic flavour when marinated overnight. Serve them with some crusty bread and a salad to complete the meal.

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Grilled Lamb Chops

8 lamb rib chops, each about 3/4 inch thick

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 long sprig of rosemary, coarsely chopped up

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 cup each: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine

Combine all of the ingredients in a resealable plastic bag, shake well to coat lamb with marinade.

Refrigerate overnight, shaking bag occasionally.

Preheat barbecue to medium high.

Remove lamb from bag, discarding marinade.

Grill chops for about 6 min or until done to your liking, turning once.

Transfer lamb chops to serving platter, tent with foil and let them rest for 10 min before serving.

Serves Four

Strawberry Tiramisu In Volterra, Tuscany

The best way to see the wonderful sights of Tuscany is to drive around in a car. You can meander your way through Cypress tree lined avenues, pull over to the side of the road and admire vineyards, olive groves, rolling hills and ancient ruins and take lots of pictures of the gorgeous scenery.

you can also get away from the hordes of tourists and get to know the real Tuscany, letting the warmth of it's people and it's serene beauty seep gently into your soul.

One such drive took us to Volterra, a lovely mountaintop town that has been in existence since Etruscan times, made famous these days by the Twilight series of books and movies which are set here.

Volterra still has some remnants of it's Etruscan glory days, such as the Porta all'Arco, a stone arch dating back to 400 BC and parts of the old city walls, also dating back to those days when it's population was double what it is today. In those days, as in now, Volterra was a major center for alabaster, attracting many skilled craftsmen to base their studios here.

Once you are done shopping in the many alabaster shops lining the street, head over to Piazza dei Priori, the medieval heart of this town, with a palace and tower at one end. Explore this lovely, ancient town as you stroll through it's narrow cobbled lanes, winding up at one of my favourite sites - the Teatro Romano or the Roman theater and baths. Built in the 1st century BC, it is still an imposing sight, giving us a fascinating glimpse of the actors who played on this stage and the audience who applauded them.

 

On our way back from Volterra, we stopped off in the tiny village of Montemagno for dinner. Trattoria di Montemagno is a cheerful, bustling place, serving such incredible, authentic Tuscan fare that their tables are always full, with a lineup of hungry people waiting to get in!

We had their home made pasta with chickpeas, a divine eggplant tart, the likes of which we have never seen before and a local specialty known as Trippa (tripe). We rounded off our meal with an unusual dessert - strawberry tiramisu.

Never having come across a fruity tiramisu before, we were intrigued and had to order it. It turned out to be fantastic! Luscious, ripe strawberries layered with clouds of rich, creamy mascarpone, drizzled with strawberry syrup - what's not to like?!

My easy recipe tastes a lot like the tiramisu we had in Montemagno. Of course there is ground cardamom in it because I am incapable of making a dessert without it! I think it works well and adds an aromatic, citrusy depth to the dessert. You can always leave it out if you like. The overnight resting time is crucial in allowing the flavours to develop properly.
And if you want classic tiramisu, try my recipe here!

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This is a dessert to enjoy when fresh, ripe strawberries are in season. They have so much sweetness and flavour that you don't have to macerate them or fold with preserves to enhance their taste. Keep it simple and savour every bite!

Strawberry Tiramisu With Cardamom

For Syrup:

1 1/2 cups sliced fresh ripe strawberries (use extra juicy ones)

2 cups water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cardamom

For Zabaglione:

3 egg yolks

3 tbsp granulated sugar

2 tbsp water

For Tiramisu:

1 1/4 cups 35% whipping cream

1/4 cup granulated sugar

275g tub Mascarpone cheese

200g Italian Savoiardi (ladyfinger) cookies

3 cups halved ripe strawberries

Make syrup by combining sliced strawberries, water and 1/4 cup sugar in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer 5 min until strawberries are soft and syrupy. Cool 15 min, add 1 tsp ground cardamom, then puree strawberry mixture. Reserve.

To make zabaglione, half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, combine Zabaglione ingredients in a rounded bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan without touching the water.

Beat with a whisk until thickened, increased in volume and lightened in colour, about 5 min. Remove from heat and continue beating for 1 more min until smooth. Reserve.

In separate bowl, beat whipping cream and 1/4 cup sugar with hand mixer until thickened, about 5 min.

Add reserved zabaglione mixture and mascarpone cheese to whipped cream, beating lightly with hand mixer with each addition. Chill and reserve until needed.

You can assemble the tiramisu in a large, deep, flat bottomed glass dish or in individual cups, according to your choice.

Transfer strawberry syrup mixture to a shallow flat bowl and warm for 2 min in the microwave.

Dip the savoiardi cookies generously in the prepared strawberry syrup mixture, allowing them to soak up the syrup lightly, and lay them in a single layer in bottom of dish. Top with half of reserved zabaglione cream mixture. Layer half of the halved strawberries over top.

Repeat with one more layer of cookies dipped in strawberry syrup. If you have any syrup left, sprinkle it all over top of cookies.

Spread remainder of the cream mixture over cookies. Arrange remaining strawberries over top.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for best flavour.

Serves six - eight

Mango Kulfi Gelato In Rome

Romans have always loved exotic flavours. Ancient Indian texts write of Roman ships arriving on the coast of southern India and returning home laden with spices. Warehouses in first century Rome were filled with Indian pepper, cardamom and cinnamon, and popular cookbooks gave detailed instructions on how to use these ingredients.

It was a thrilling experience to walk past stalls in the ruins of ancient Roman markets and to think that one time they were filled with the scent of spices carried all the way from Kerala and other distant reaches of the world. Two millennia ago chefs must have walked through here, gauging the quality of the produce on offer.

Some things never change, because Romans still love their food markets. Campo Dei Fiori is one of my favourite open air markets to visit in Rome. You can find just about anything here - fresh fruit and vegetables; pickles, jams and preserves; oilve oils, juices, pasta, and my favourite - spice and herb blends of every variety.

When we were last in Rome thirteen years ago, I bought a lot of spice and herb mixtures from Mauro who had a large stall in the middle of the market. You can see him in the lower left picture, proudly holding up a sign for his Pizza Erotica spice blend. I was happy to see Mauro again this time (lower right picture), still holding up the same sign and looking just a little bit greyer. So, of course I bought a whole lot of his spice mixtures again but couldn't get his recipe for this famous Pizza Erotica. My Italian isn't that good, unfortunately!

One of the highlights of being in Rome is the amazing food. From award winning handmade pasta enveloped in a rich meat sauce to rosemary roasted leg of lamb literally falling off the bone, from pistachio studded mortadella and fennel scented salami in our antipasti platter to creamy coffee laden tiramisu, dusted with chocolate, every single meal we ate was memorable. I have come back resolved to make my own fresh pasta and serve a salami platter and tiramisu with practically every meal!

Gelato is one treat we didn't even try to resist! Trying to decide between the many flavours was always hard. While coffee gelato was an easy choice, there were also many fresh fruit ones high on our list to try. We decided to do as the Romans do and have several helpings of gelato throughout the day! Mango pistachio gelato was one of my favourites and reminded me so much of Indian mango Kulfi. Just add cardamom as I have in my recipe below and you have the perfect fusion!

Delicious and refreshing, Mango Kulfi is the perfect finale to any meal! I like to serve it with fresh diced mangoes when they are in season or with any kind of berries.

Mango Kulfi Gelato

1 cup each: mango pulp (canned or fresh), whipping (heavy) cream

1 can (300 ml) sweetened condensed milk

1 can (370 ml) evaporated milk

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp saffron strands

1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped
 
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix well.

Cover bowl and freeze overnight.

Remove from freezer, uncover and rest at room temperature for 1 hour or until kulfi is starting to thaw and soften. Break up kulfi into smaller pieces with a knife. Using a hand blender, blend kulfi until it is smooth.

Cover and freeze again for another 2 hours or longer.

Alternatively you can churn kulfi in an ice cream maker, following manufacturer's directions.

Scoop into serving bowls and serve.


Serves six

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