I've followed Skye McAlpine for a while on Instagram as I love her beautiful food photography. She seems to really capture the energy of the Italian dining table in her images and many are interspersed with scenes of Venice, which is always going to be a good thing!
Not being a born and bred Venetian like Stefano myself, I also really identify with the way her love of the cuisine and traditional Italian kitchen has grown nonetheless, as a result of being so totally immersed in life there.
I love this quote from her blog:
''I grew up with the belief – and more than ever, I live by it now – that there are few greater pleasures in life than to invite people into your home and share a meal with them. Where friends and food gather around a table, a certain indescribable magic occurs... Food is more than just sustenance, it is love and memories and much more in between.''
A Table in Venice was published this year, back in March. The fact that it is a new book not strictly true, I've had it a for a month or so just poring over the typically gorgeous photography but just recently attempted to put it to the test .
The book begins with a lovely introduction on how Venice came to be home and childhood memories around food.
It is well divided into chapters inspired by the rhythm and activity of a Venetian day starting with recipes to complement a morning coffee, for using the produce from a trip to the market and later in the day to accompany a spritz for Aperitivo.
My initial flick through the pages had me briefly worried that I would be disappointed, as I like cookery books to have an image of the food as inspiration. However if you are similar do not despair, I soon discovered that images of every dish are referenced and located on nearby pages. On reflection, I found this a good thing as there is something very lovely about an uninterupted double page spread of delicious looking foods and a Venetian backdrop...
Picking out a few recipes, I really liked that the author was not afraid to suggest a shortcut when it came to pre-made pastry. We all know that the beauty of great Italian food is the passion and attention that goes into it, the slow pace in order to extract exquisite flavour from simple ingredients but this need not necessarily entail faffing about with pastry! Of course, this depends on the dish but where the pastry element is playing more of a supporting role, we can focus instead on getting straight to the heart of the Venetian flavours and ingredients. I particularly liked the breakfast dishes Kranz (Apricot and Raisin Pastries) and Kiefer (Almond Paste Croissants).
For the keen baker she includes several recipes which do involve starting from scratch, such as Apricot Croissants or a Pine Nut and Custard tart.
For my first test I decided to make Pesche all' Amaretto - Peaches poached in Amaretto syrup and Crema al Cioccolato con Amaretti - Chocolate and Amaretti Custard. Both were simple to make together in an afternoon whilst being accompanied by an energetic toddler - definitely a big plus for me at the moment!
Pesche all' Amaretto
650 ml water
100g caster sugar
6 firm/slightly underipe peaches, halved and pitted
1. Pour the water into a large saucepan with the Amaretto and sugar. Heat and stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
2. Set to simmer and snugly fit the peaches into the pan. This will probably need to be done in two batches.
3. Poach for 5 minutes or to preference, turning midway.
4. Leave to cool in syrup then remove skins.
5. Arrange, cut side down and cover with syrup.
6. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
7. Serve with mascarpone or ice cream.
'' The flesh of the cooked peaches turns a magical ombre colour, reminiscent of a tropical sunset- or, in the case of white peaches, a seductive shade of pink'.
This created a delightful aroma whilst the almond and peaches simmered away. In fact it was a real sensory treat from the simmering start to the skin peeled finish when the beautiful blush tones of the fruit are fully revealed. I found there was plenty of syrup left over after serving. This in itself is lovely with a really subtle peach taste amongst the amaretto. I used the remaining syrup as a mixer with some prosecco to create my own twist on the infamous Bellini.
Crema al Cioccolato con Amaretti
25g plain flour
60g unsweetened cocoa
90g caster sugar
a generous pinch of salt
500ml whole milk
80g Amaretti biscuits
1. Mix the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a heavy-based saucepan on a medium heat.
2. Stir in the milk and cook, stirring constantly for around 5 minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken. I used a whisk.
3. When it starts to bubble, remove from the heat, cool and thicken for 5 minutes.
4. Crumble half the Amaretti into dishes.
5. Spoon the chocolate cream over them and leave to cool.
6. Chill for 20-30 minutes.
7. Crumble the remaining biscuits over the top before serving.
These really did not last long in our house, Stefano had two in one sitting! What I really liked about this recipe was how easily it can be made from store cupboard bits and pieces. If you didn't have Amaretti biscuits at home, Skye recommends using ginger nuts, shortbreads or any other biscuit.
This week I have also made her Chocolate Cake.
My cake did not turn out as beautifully as the one in the book here and seemed a little dry and flaky on appearance but the taste was actually rather good, almost like a great Brownie but with the added deliciousness of sweet cream. Another recipe I tried was the Torta di Ricotta e Amaretti Brulee pictured below.
It is on the menu tonight, so I will let you know my verdict on this one!
I thought the true test of this book would be to gather Stefano's thoughts also. He describes it as a real copy and paste of just how he grew in his Veneto home kitchen to love cooking and the recipes have authenticity. Skye's commentary on how the region is more influential than the nation on the food habits and tastes of Italians particularly resonated with him.
I am as delighted as I hoped I would be with this book. It is a pleasure to browse through, cook from and to gather a sense life in Venice through the author's words . I enjoyed learning the background to some of the recipes as she makes them because, as with any dish passed on through localities and families, everyone has their own tips and way to create it. It was exciting to see some familiar recipes and foods from my time spent in the Veneto presented in her contemporary and pretty style. The images offer a real sense of the food being enjoyed and the vibrancy of life going on around it.
I am looking forward to trying some of the savoury dishes next, keep an eye out for some more favourite recipes from this book coming soon...
Next on my reading list is Limoncello and Linenwater by Tessa Kiros as recommended by Lucie on our Facebook page.
Which Italian recipe collections have inspired you?