Monthly Archives: March 2011

Zaeti … Venetian Polenta Biscottini

My favourite city in the world is Venezia.  I love her air of mystery, uniqueness, her astonishingly beautiful art, culture and history, and always that lingering sense of an undiscovered dark side to La Serenissma that you’ve just missed by turning a corner.   No wonder Carnevale masks are a symbol of the city.  The freedom to be anyone or anything in complete anonymity.  😉

I used to manage a stop-over there on every trip to Europe.  I haven’t been back since 2000.     *sound of my heart breaking*            I did spent three whole weeks there, though, just hanging out like a local.   My soul feels at home there.   The only souvenirs I ever brought home are watercolours by a local artist and hand-made traditional Carnevale masks … the one in the photo is a traditional papier-maché mask with pressed flowers.  Isn’t it fabulous?  I’d love to travel back to Venice in the 1700s … just imagine.

Cities and regions of Italy each have their own signature pastries and Venice is no exception.  Every panificio and pasticceria has its own fugaxxa (fu-gahs-sah), a sweet yeast bread not dissimilar to pandoro but less rich.   Many of the biscuits and cakes are quite rustic, full of dried fruit and nuts or spices like the pan dei pescatori (fisherman’s bread).  My favourites are the more delicate biscuits that you find in pastry shops around the city and that you won’t find anywhere else in Italy.   The best?  Zaeti (ZAH-EH-TI).  It’s Venetian dialect for “little yellow ones”.   You might find them referred to as Zaleti but no true Veneto would ever pronounce the “l” 😉

Polenta, tangy lemon, vanilla, and plump sultanas.  Bake a batch and the house smells like your very own pasticceria Veneta.  Makes me feel like I’m back in Venice again, at least for a while.

Oh!  Anyone heading to Venice should visit the Pasticceria Marchini.  No way you can pass by and not stop to buy a pastry, biscuits or their fabulous chocolates.  Amazing.

I have found that using instant polenta produces a better result, avoiding that “uncooked maize” flavour.  I use an Italian brand, Squisito, that’s readily available in Melbourne.   I get consistently good results with that.  When using ordinary polenta, I pulse it in the food processor if it is a little too coarse.  Don’t be tempted to buy polenta “flour” as it is too fine and the recipe won’t produce a good result.  You need that little crunchiness from the polenta!

This recipe was first published in The Age Epicure.  Yep, it’s mine.  Took ages to get them close enough to the ones you find in Venice …

Makes: 36 biscuits

225 grams (1 ½ cups) yellow cornmeal (polenta)
225 grams (1 ½ cups) unbleached plain white flour*
100 grams (½ cup) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
185 grams (¾ cup) unsalted butter, chilled
1 lemon or small orange
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla bean paste
110 grams (¾ cup) sultanas or raisins

icing sugar to serve

*For a gluten-free version, replace the plain flour with a 50/50 mixture of white rice flour and cornflour.  I used to make this version for the Journal Café in Melbourne.  Make sure you use gluten-free baking powder.

Instructions are given here for mixing the dough in a food processor, making the process easier.   Because the dough is essentially a type of shortbread, be careful not to over-work the dough in the food processor or it will heat the dough and melt the butter, resulting in a heavier biscuit.  If using a food processor, knead in the sultanas by hand at the end or they will be chopped in the food processor.  Sometimes I just add them in with the eggs, to the food processor bowl.  Lazy 😉

You can, of course, mix the dough in a large mixing bowl.  In that case, rub the butter into the dry ingredients, followed by the liquid ingredients, bringing the dough together with your hands.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (175°C in a fan-forced oven).  Line two baking trays with non-stick baking paper or silpat sheets.

Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.  Add the lemon zest and butter, cut into pieces, and pulse again just until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs.

Beat the eggs with the lemon juice and vanilla.  Add to the flour mixture in the food processor.  Pulse until the mixture just comes together. The dough will be a little crumbly.

Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface.  Add the sultanas.  Working quickly, knead in the sultanas and bring the dough together until it holds its shape.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a log, based on the measurements given in the diagram below, and flatten slightly.  The log should measure about 3 x 36 centimetres.  Cut logs diagonally into 4 cm lengths.  Each log will yield 9 pieces.  If you have trimmings from the ends of the logs, shape into extra biscuits.

Place the zaeti on the baking sheets, leaving a little room for spreading, and bake for about 15 – 20 minutes, until they are light golden in colour.

Cool on wire racks and dust with icing sugar to serve.

Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 10 days.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Biscuits & Cookies, Fruit

Red Cross e-doorknock For Humanity

A very quick post that’s totally unrelated to recipes today.  As we are all painfully aware, the last few months have brought devastation and trauma and an horrific loss of life and subsistence to many across our region.  We’ve had the devastating floods here in Australia from Queensland to Victoria, a traumatic earthquake situation in Christchurch, New Zealand, and now the unimaginable with the current earthquake, tsunami, and unfolding nuclear dangers in Japan.  The number of people without access to fresh food and water, let alone power, fuel etc, is staggering.

It does leave one feeling sick at heart and utterly helpless to do anything useful at times like this.  The scale of what has, and continues, to occur in Japan is so immense that even the authorities and the world’s foremost aid and disaster relief agencies are struggling.  The Red Cross is not immune from being stretched to capacity in dealing with these disasters.  To help them raise funds and continue their great work, they’ve launched a program called Red Cross e-doorknock For Humanity.

I wanted to do my bit to help out but wasn’t sure what I could do.  I registered with the Red Cross a few years ago as I have a great respect for the work they do around the world.  I heard of the e-doorknock program and thought it was a great way to help out.  So I’ve set up a fundraising page, with a humble goal of reaching $100,000 to support the Red Cross in providing aid to those most in need across the region.

It’s easy to feel donation fatigue after all the appeals and fundraising over recent weeks and months.  But I urge you to lend your support to this fabulous organisation.

If you would like to donate, please click on the link below to my fundraising page on the Red Cross site:

Chocolate Chilli Mango’s Fundraising Page

I’ve also included a link to the page under the Search bar of my blog page.

I’d greatly appreciate it if you could also share the link with friends, family and your social networks.  If you’d like to join and be part of the action, I’m happy to convert the fundraising page to a team page and you’d be most welcome to join me.

It would be great to get to $100,000, extraordinary to surpass it.

The fundraising page will be active from 16 March 2011 until 14 May 2011.

Thank you so much for your support.

PS A recipe post will be on its merry way soon, I promise … I’m in the mood for baking as the weekend nears and I certainly need something cheery to do for my mum’s birthday coming up.

Leave a comment

Filed under All Recipe Posts

Inner Beauty Hot Sauce & Chilli Jam … Peruvian style

Do you ever find yourself attracted to a recipe just because it’s humorous or maybe it sounds a little dangerous? I confess that’s what first drew me to a recipe for Inner Beauty Hot Sauce.  I’ve always loved chillies but it was not until I was at university that I discovered a love and obsession for the Habanero.  It is still my favourite chilli pepper.  It’s one of the hottest chillies but it also has a wonderful fruity sweetness that makes it really versatile.  While writing my thesis, I spent more time than I should trawling recipe newsgroups on the web for Habanero recipes,  leading me to what has become my absolute favourite hot sauce.  Apparently, its origins are Jamaican and the recipe I found was originally sourced from Big Flavors of the Hot Sun by Chris Schlesinger.  Every post I’ve seen since appears to transcribe the same blurb that comes from the book.

What got my attention?  Most really hot Habanero sauces come with names that include words like death, inferno, and hell.  They also carry a warning of some description.  Not this one.  Inner Beauty Hot Sauce.  It sounds so pretty.  Not deadly at all.  But the author had me laughing hysterically from the opening line which was, of course, a warning (quoting from Big Flavors of the Hot Sun by Chris Schlesinger):

“WARNING: Hottest sauce in North America.  Use this to enhance dull and boring food.  Keep away from pets, open flames, unsupervised children, and bad advice.  This is not a toy.  This is serious.  Stand up straight, sit right, and stop mumbling.”

I’ve been making this hot sauce ever since.  The first time, I made it according to the recipe. It was OK, but not that great (no disrespect intended to Mr. Schlesinger!).  Over the years I experimented and the recipe I use now is still true to the spirit of the original but I’ve adapted it considerably and I think the flavour now is spectacular.  Most importantly, good quality ingredients will make this sauce sing.  Just because it is seriously hot doesn’t mean you cannot appreciate the flavours that the other ingredients bring to the sauce.  My version is also a little hotter than the original.  So the warning stands!

I’ve grown Habanero, red savina, cayenne and bhut jolokia (Dorset naga) for years.  Unfortunately, the weather this year hasn’t been conducive to the fruiting of my chillies.  It’s been too wet and too cool for everything bar the cayenne.  Only now, as autumn takes hold, are the bhut jolokias starting to produce fruit.  The Habanero is just sitting there wishing it were in Mexico.  Enter my mum’s hairdresser, the lovely Angela.  She has a large and productive rocoto chilli plant, although she had no idea what it was until she gave me a few chillies last year.  The rocoto chilli is native to Peru and is the only chilli pepper to have black seeds.  It grows very well in cooler climates.  Angela has an abundance of rocotos this year and I’ve reaped the bounty of the harvest and her generosity.  She has a big heart … and a family with a low tolerance for hot chillies 😀  And yes, I got seedlings for my garden.  We are now in cahoots!

Rocotos are fairly close to habaneros on the Scoville heat scale (they both sit in the 100,000 – 350,000 range).  By comparison, the naga jolokia sits in the 855,000–1,359,000 range.  Whooaa.   Guess who’s stupid enough to have whizzed some in a food processor and eaten a teaspoonful or two only to find herself lying on the floor unable to breathe?  Oh, are those fingers pointing at me??  Right.  I did that twice.  You know, just to be sure.  Don’t mess with hot chillies.

Anyway, this year I decided to make a Peruvian style Inner Beauty Hot Sauce and use those lovely perfect rocotos.  The Inner Beauty Hot Sauce is sweet, spicy and hot.  A total party in your mouth.   At this point you’d be wondering … she’s got chillies and mangoes.  Uh-oh.  Where’s the chocolate?  Well, funny you should ask.   I added a little grated 100% cacao chocolate to half the sauce – Willies Cacao Peruvian Black San Martin in keeping with the Peruvian theme.  It adds a depth of flavour that’s fantastic with the fruit and spices.  Chocolate.  Chilli.  Mango.   In a hot sauce.  Seriously.  Win!

I got some more chillies delivered a few days ago so I made some rocoto chilli jam as well.  It’s got a beautiful ruby colour and a delicate balance of sweetness and heat.  This jam is very simple.  No onions, tomatoes, capsicum, or spices.  Just chilli pepper, sugar and a little lemon juice.  I like the purity of it and its simplicity makes it much more versatile.

Both the sauce and jam make a zingy accompaniment for chicken or fish dishes.   The jam is also fabulous with cheese.  You could even use the jam sparingly in sweet dishes to add a little zing.  No, I didn’t use any chocolate in the jam this time.  It is a fabulous idea though, isn’t it?

Best advice for handling hot chillies is to wear gloves.  Do not rub your eyes or face!  Take care, especially if you are not used to handling chillies or this is your first time cooking with them.

Inner Beauty Hot Sauce … Peruvian Style

Adapted and hotly vandalised from the original recipe in Big Flavors of the Hot Sun by Chris Schlesinger.  But thank you Chris.  (Pun intended).

Feel free to use other chillies to make this sauce if you prefer less heat.  Alternatively, use the Habanero or rocoto (or a mixture) but use less of them.  The sauce will still be wonderful.

Ingredients for the Peruvian version (Rocoto)
25 – 30 rocoto chillies
1 large ripe mango
250 grams Dijon mustard
45 grams brown sugar, packed
65 millilitres apple cider vinegar  (or good quality white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground dried Habanero (or 1 tablespoon cayenne powder)
10 grams Willies Cacao Peruvian Black San Martin 100% cacao, grated (optional)
salt, to taste

Ingredients for the Habanero version
20 – 25 Habanero chillies
1 large ripe mango
250 grams Dijon mustard
45 grams brown sugar, packed
65 millilitres apple cider vinegar  (or good quality white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne powder
salt, to taste

Whizz the chillies in a food processor until finely minced.  Add the mango flesh and all the other ingredients and pulse until  well mixed and smooth.  Be careful not to stand too close.  The fumes will make your eyes water.

Pour the sauce into clean glass jars or bottles and seal.  This sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several years.  There is no need to process the sauce in a water bath.  Bacteria wouldn’t be game to go near it.  It’s probably corrosive.  I’m kidding.  But do keep it refrigerated and it will last.

Quoting Chris Schlesinger again:

“Be careful though: If it spills, it will eat a hole in your refrigerator.  If you ever want to dispose of it, call the local toxic waste specialists.”

Giggle 🙂

Rocoto Chilli Jam

Not adapted from anywhere.  Just me doing my own thing with the jam making.

You could make this jam with any chilli pepper you like.  I usually make it with my beloved Habanero but this is a really beautiful version.  I can’t wait to harvest rocoto chillies of my own later this year! *fingers and toes crossed*

I left the seeds in there as I think they look very pretty flecked through the jam.  You can remove the seeds if you prefer.  It doesn’t change the heat profile, it’s simply an aesthetic preference.

I used a non-stick heavy based saucepan to make the jam as I find it helps prevent burning.  If the jam starts to burn, it’s pretty much ruined.  Be careful to keep the kitchen area well aired while making the jam.  The fumes from the chillies can be fairly potent while it’s on the stove.  If you make this with habaneros, you most definitely need to keep windows and doors open.

Rocoto Chilli Jam

360 grams rocoto chillis
650 grams sugar
2 lemons

Whizz the chillies in a food processor until finely minced.  If you prefer, de-seed the chillies before processing.  Place the chillies into a large saucepan and add the sugar.  Juice the lemons and add the juice to the other ingredients.  Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Bring slowly to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on it and test the jam by placing a small dab of the mixture onto a cool plate.  If it gels quickly, within seconds, it is ready.  Remove from the heat.

Pour the jam into clean sterilised jars and seal.  Allow the jars to cool and then process them in a water bath for about 30 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  Remove from the water bath, dry the jars, and slap on some labels.

The jam will keep, stored in a cool dry place, for a long time.  I’ve kept it for several years this way when I’ve had a glut of chillies and made more than we could use in a year.


Quick update on 23 March 2011:

I mentioned adding the 100% cacao Peruvian Black to the jam, right?  Well, I got another bag of rocotos to play with so I made the jam and added 20 grams of the chocolate, grated.  I added it right at the end, after I took the jam off the heat.  Simply stirred it in and hey presto!

It’s beyond awesome.  It’s FANTABULOUS.  I’m going to put it on my toast 😀  It’s less clear obviously because of the chocolate:


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Chocolate, Sauces & Condiments, Special Diet

Revisiting an old friend … with a twist

This time of year is my family’s most active time for celebrations. Everything seems to happen early in the year.  We all have our birthdays between January and March.  Let’s not forget we recently had Christmas (it seems so long ago now!) … New Year … and of course there are signs of Easter slowly creeping up on us.  Probably won’t know what to do with ourselves after that.  *twiddles thumbs*

February is also the month when my parents have their wedding anniversary.  This week they celebrated 47 years together.  Not a bad innings all up and they have their sights firmly on getting to their 50th.  I certainly hope so.

As always, we celebrated this remarkable achievement with cake, or tart to be more precise.   My mum loves my ricotta tart so it was a good time to make it again. Sure, that means I didn’t make anything new to add here, but of course that doesn’t mean I didn’t change anything … *evil grin*

It was a good chance to update the main photo for that first recipe post, for starters.  Not that I’m claiming the new photos are much better, but you do get a clearer view of the tart so that has to count for something 😀

As usual, I took the opportunity to vary it a little so for those of you interested, you might like to try this variation out.

To the pastry, I added a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.  Subtle, but it gave the pastry an extra little something.

For the filling, I used fresh buffalo milk ricotta.  I love buffalo ricotta.  It’s usually more suited to savoury dishes but it was brilliant in this tart.  Instead of the pure cream, I used a thick crème fraîche to give the filling a little tang.

I also cut back a bit on the chocolate (quelle horreur!!).  I used a scant 20 grams of 100% cacao chocolate and I grated it.  This allowed the chocolate to distribute more evenly throughout the tart and using the 100% cacao bar meant the flavour was more intense so I could use less.  Which chocolate?  Willie’s 100% Cacao.  This time I used the Peruvian Black – San Martin.  I’m still working my way through some of the varieties and they are really good.

All up, I was really pleased with the result.  The flavours were lovely and a slightly fresh twist on an old favourite, without changing it too much.  The full recipe can be found in the original post: Torta di Ricotta Siciliana.

Congratulations to my beautiful parents.  Wishing them a wonderful 48th year together and many more to come.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Chocolate, Tarts & Patisserie