Blackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme Fraiche

When I was in New York, I met many unbelievably interesting people, but one in particular has struck me. His name is Sam, and one (or several) particular thing he said, paired with the fact that we share a somewhat similar backstory, triggered these thoughts that I eventually funneled into these scribbles, which I offer here as they are – very random and unabridged.
So this was born as a letter to Sam, but it might very well be a letter to myself. I’ll just read this again whenever I feel like stuff is about to hit the fan – it always helps.

(Also it is the last day to nominate for the Saveur awards! if you like my work, nominate me in the Photography category here.)

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
~ Carl Gustav Jung

Have you ever fallen in love with yourself?
Sometimes, I feel like I’m elbowing and shouldering my way through the process – like getting into a metro train at peak hour, when only those who shove people with fierce decisiveness will eventually get in.
Getting into our own hearts – getting us to go on a serious date with ourselves, is like getting into the 1-2-3 trains on a New York Monday at 6 PM.
When this happens, I feel like I could be a salmon, stubbornly swimming upstream against the currents. Such is the path of those who learn to love themselves before they can love anyone else again: a strenuous, yet refreshing upward race that brings you further from the sea, but ever closer to the source.

Yet, how tempted we are to give up courting ourselves, and be carried away by the currents.
When I feel that the source is beyond a horizon we keep running to, its end impossible to perceive, like in those dreams when you run and never seem to go anywhere, I raise my eyes to the stars.
And I feel like we are bundled up universes of our own; our frustrations being born from the fact that we can only implode and be sucked into our own negativity like dying stars – hardly can we ever explode and express ourselves. And we all know what a struggle it is when the patchwork of the pieces of life that we so craftily tried to stitch together starts to come loose, its seams ripping, when two pieces that do not match will not stick together, and the loves that we stubbornly tried to stitch to our soul will not stick for the life of us and we dig out nails into our hearts, in the effort to hold those water-like feelings in our cupped hands. Because love moves like tidal waves, under the influence of a force that is beyond our control. But happiness cannot be as fickle, and creates folds and crannies into our own distorted universes, which we can tear asunder and ripple and sew back together as we please, in the light-heartedness of knowing that the shapes we will craft it into do not depend on the horoscope or the alignment of planets.
Depending on how we decide to sew together our lives, we realize that solitude can be a blessing rather than a torture. 

Blackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme FraicheBlackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme FraicheBlackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme FraicheBlackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme Fraiche

Do not unload your complaints on the world. Complaint is easy. Complaint is modern-day slavery. Complaint is discharging on the world around you the responsibility to make you happy, and isn’t that slavery? And, when you feel like what you are trying to grasp is like water between your fingers, gently rest your arms and let it fall at your feet.
Let me tell you: do not mourn anyone who walked away. What belongs to you is yours forever. And whatever does not is like that water that you try to grasp, and will wash away over you, spilling over your shoes, and it does not matter the time – be it that you held it for one, two, or ten years: what is not meant for you will eventually slip away. What is meant to be a part of your life will always stick. Do not cry over what you think you lost, or over your loose stitches, as there was nothing to lose to begin with: what is no longer yours was never yours from the beginning, and was never yours for a single moment, as much as it hurts to admit it.
Let all that is not yours wash away from yourself, and make the best of what sticks with you, or of what stays with you while you can hold it.

You are not your past, and you are not the future you do not want for yourself. But right now, you are. You are the chance of being a beautiful speckle of life for every second of your existence. Much like whenI travel, and I realize that I can make do with bringing so little of my belongings, including a heart that, often leaden and hard to drag along, finds its own pocket in my chest and somehow resumes its beating again, as if by the hands of a heavenly surgeon.

Blackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme FraicheBlackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme FraicheBlackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme Fraiche

You know, there are times when, even though I recognize that every single drop that rained on me filled the bucket of my experience, I stop and think that maybe I could have covered up a little better.
Still, as disastrous as our previous (or current) present might have seemed, I realize that the silver lining of the future we were and we were *not* choosing was always there, shining brightly upon us. Horizon are so difficult to put into focus, for people like us, who are smart enough to see the challenge but sometimes not brave enough to accept it. We are ever-becoming horizons ourselves, ever lit by the light of some kind of star.

So I wish for you to chase the light, for the sheer pleasure of bathing in it, and not necessarily to reach a goal. And I wish for you to muster up the bravery to swim against the currents towards the peace of getting to know yourself, stubbornly upstream: like salmons that get further from the sea, but closer to the source.

And when you craft your CV and it feels like putting on a perfect face of makeup to whore yourself, and when you wrap your tie around your neck and it feels like someone is holding you hostage as if by a leash, I wish for you to see how it is up to you to make each day, though repetitively mundane, a repetitively mundane miracle. Make each day a little miracle, in its own glorious, spectacular normalcy, that you can craft with your own hands. And I wish for you to realize that each second being both miraculous and perfectly normal is what makes us find solace even in the unknown. Like with recipes, where it is all a matter of chemistry, and of heat, and of perfect science and gut instinct, and of licking the bowl and your fingers at the end.

I wish for you to see how perfect everything is after all – the good and the bad, the way it is going as well as the way it went. Suffering, bitter, ignorant hearts shed a veil upon the soul. But, shall you be able to lift that veil, in retrospect you will understand everything.
And all the pieces of our jigsaw will fall into place.
Be thankful, breathe, fall in love with yourself time and time again, and have faith.

And, in wishing you all of the above, I am making this tart for you.
You said your favorite was strawberry and rhubarb. I must make it with something else, as we do not have rhubarb in Italy (I know, right?).
And even though this might not be the same, I learned that a creative mind can make do with whatever it has on hand, and maybe – just maybe, drop all expectations and come up with something that is possibly even better in its own right.
But if I make it back where you are, and if you’d like me to, I’ll make proper, greasy, unhealthy rhubarb pie for you – one that you can cry your heart out over, then wipe your eyes and mouth, and move on.

Blackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme FraicheBlackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme FraicheBlackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme Fraiche

This tart is loosely adapted by a traditional recipe in my home, a ‘crostata’, which is similar to a tart but has the peculiarity of having baking soda in the dough, which makes it puffy, pillowy and slightly crumbly and delicious. It was mostly inspired by some of the wonderful ingredients I got in Portland – some Hygge coffee from the #secretsupperpdx, and somey Bitterman Salt Co. I got from The Meadow (<3). I saw marion berries all over the place there, but here I am using these plump, incredible blackberries from my own garden. Feel free to swap one for the other.

If I had access to it, I would use Vermont Creamery‘s insanely good vanilla creme fraiche, but because there’s hardly any creme fraiche to be found around here I decided to make my own an steep it with coffee. The combination of flavors might seem weird here, but I can assure you that it is really, really good – dark chocolate is great with coffee, and berries are great with chocolate. Chocolate acts as a pacifier to make everything and everyone coexist, as it always does.
And this is why you should get the best you can find: choose at least 75% chocolate, and up to 85% if it’s not too much for you. If you can, get coffee-flavored dark chocolate – Lindt makes a wonderful one.
The sprinkling of salt at the end makes it extra fancy. Skip it if it’s too fancy, but if you like salts, it is worth the try.

Blackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme Fraiche
For a 10-inch tart pan
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon roughly ground coffee beans
  • Half a vanilla bean, split in half and seeds scraped
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 200 g whole wheat or spelt flour
  • 50 g coconut flour
  • 80 ml coconut oil
  • 1 egg + one egg white (reserve the yolk for brushing)
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • Splash of milk
  • Vanilla
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 cup blackberry or mixed berry jam
  • 70 g (about 2/4 of a tablet) dark chocolate, or, even better, coffee flavored dark chocolate (see suggestions above), shaved
  • Extra shaved chocolate
  • Vanilla salt
  1. Start this a couple days in advance.
  2. Lightly crush the coffee beans, add them to a tea filter, and steep them in the cream together with the seeds and whole vanilla bean for 24 hours. Then, take out the coffee beans and the vanilla, squeezing them well.
  3. When ready, combine the cream and buttermilk, and leave them to sit on the counter for 24 hours. After that time, they should have curdled into thick cream. Add the maple syrup and mix well. Store in the fridge.
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl until a dough comes together. Add more or less milk as needed for the dough to completely come together, and not feel too dry. It should be soft but not too sticky. Wrap it in clingfilm and store in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  1. Combine the blackberries, lemon juice, sugar and starch, and toss to coat well. Set aside.
  2. Grease and flour a tart tin/mold with a detachable bottom.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 F˚.
  4. Take the dough out of the fridge, and cut ¼ of it off to make the decorative strips. Press the rest of the dough into the mold, distributing evenly in the pan. Cover the bottom with half the shaved chocolate, spread on the berry jam, and top with the remaining chocolate. Finally, pour over the blackberries, distributing them evenly.
  5. Make some strips or other decoration with the remaining dough, and brush the crust with the leftover beaten egg yolk.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Let it cool before slicing.
  7. Serve with the creme fraiche, some extra dark chocolate, and a tiny sprinkling of vanilla salt to make things a little fancier.

Trivial disclaimer: you know when you find yourself in front of someone that has a sort of poised, austere aura, and you feel like you can’t get your sh*t together because you feel like you’re not sure if they’re gonna think you’re stupid, and you eventually panic and say something very stupid regardless? There. I just want to say in my defense that I’m not as stupid as I sounded when I asked how the elevator worked. Thanks.

Blackberry Chocolate Italian Tart with Coffee-infused Creme Fraiche

Creamy Vegan Vanilla N’Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble From Vanelja and Tuulia’s New Book

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NOTE: I will be hosting a workshop + tasting in New York City on June 26th! You can get more info and sign up here!

Have you ever been asked the ‘if you could only bring one food to a desert island’ question? I’m sure you have. What was your answer?

If we’re talking sweet foods, there’s no doubt in my mind that the one and only answer for me would be ‘ice cream’. Even if it were the North Pole I was being exiled to. Don’t care. 

I don’t care about pies, tarts, lava cakes, layered cakes, macarons or pastries. You can keep ‘em. What I love to eat the most on this planet is luscious gelato – digging my spoon and collect a scoop of creamy, cold deliciousness that instantly melts my your mouth in an explosion of flavors is one of those life pleasures I like to indulge in every now and again. 

I also like my ice cream to be organic, made with local ingredients, and low in sugar. Because I have at least three organic gelaterie very close to home that abide to all these rules,I always had very little wish to make my own gelato. And, because it is my guilty pleasure and because I know my trustworthy gelateria makes their own gelato with top notch ingredients, I never really cared about avoiding it because of dairy. If I really feel like going dairy free that day, I’ll just have a combo of coconut milk and cinnamon pear flavors (the cinnamon pear flavor is as amazing as it sounds). 

The only attempt I made at trying proper vegan ice cream was when, last time I was in New York, I looked for Lula’s Apothecary, only to find it closed much to my disappointment. After that episode, I resorted to Victory Garden instead and never thought about vegan ice cream again – especially after eating freshly churned bourbon vanilla ice cream with brownie bits from Ample Hills Creamery, which we had churned ourselves by means of an old-fashioned churner powered by a bike at the Brooklyn Smorgasborg.

Until the ’N’Ice Cream’ book came into my life. 

Chocolate Magic Shell & Pistachio covered cones for Creamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural CookingCreamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural CookingCreamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural Cooking

Virpi from the blog Vanelja and Tuulia Talvio, who both have AMAZING blogs, created a book of icy wonders. I had never tried vegan ice cream before, but if it s only half as good as the one that I was able to make with their recipe I might not even need my beloved ricotta flavor anymore.  

Reminiscent of that wonderful Bourbon vanilla ice cream I had from Ample Hills Creamery, and never having tried vegan ice cream before, I decided to go with their basic Creamy Vanilla N’Ice Cream, made out of cashews and coconut milk. The recipe also has a sub-recipe to make your own coconut milk, which I made before and am in love with. 

With the leftover pulp from making coconut milk, I made a sort of vegan lemon crinkle cookies, which turned out much yummier than I expected considering that I kinda eyeballed them, and that I decided to crumble into the ice cream. Need I say more?

Everything was so delicious – I am really trying to control myself to avoid eating the whole batch, in spite of the fact that I used much less sugar/sweetener than called for in recipes. I’ll mention the adjustments i made, but it is up to youth decide what is bestir your needs. Either way, you cannot go wrong with this recipe. I even made it without an ice cream maker!

I also got some sugar cones and covered them in super dark chocolate and pistachios, more for prettiness than for taste. 

I was sort of thinking of making a berry sauce to go with it, but it really doesn’t need it. Instead, I used the leftover chocolate from the cones to make a sort of magic shell sauce. You could also mix it into the ice cream to make stracciatella, and that would really bring this ice cream over the top.

The only downside to making this without an ice cream maker is that once it’s frozen solid it’s…well, frozen solid. You might need to take it out the freezer some 15-20 mins earlier, and maybe re-blend it to break the ice crystals. I think it is best enjoyed when half-frozen, so calculate your timing accordingly.

For serving, you can go crazy with your favorite toppings! With vanilla ice cream, my faves are dark chocolate or berry compote (or both). Or stir in peanut butter, make a sundae with fruit and granola, or what have you. It’s so good you won’t believe it’s healthy(even though I’d still keep it for a workout day, ha)!

Creamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural CookingCreamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural CookingCreamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural CookingFOR THE CONES + MAGIC CHOCOLATE SHELL:

1 oz / 30 g extra dark chocolate (70% to 90% cocoa mass), broken into small pieces
1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil
4 sugar cones (gluten-free if needed)
A handful of finely chopped pistachios

Just melt the chocolate with the coconut oil in the microwave or over a bain marie, and dip the cones in. Dust with chopped pistachios and let set in the fridge. Put them in a glass so that they stand up straight.

Chocolate Magic Shell & Pistachio covered cones for Creamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural CookingChocolate Magic Shell & Pistachio covered cones for Creamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural Cooking

Creamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble
Recipe type: Dessert
  • The meat from 2 coconuts
  • 3 cups water
  • ¾ cup / 100g cashew nuts, soaked overnight
  • 3 ~ 4 tablespoons maple syrup or other sweetener of choice
  • 400 ml (1 standard can) coconut milk, or 2 scant cups homemade coconut milk
  • 1 whole vanilla bean (or sub a couple teaspoons vanilla extract or powder)
  • 150 g leftover coconut pulp
  • 50 g brown rice flour
  • 50 g coconut flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 50g to 100g whole brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • 1 flax egg, made with 1 tablespoon ground flax and 2 tablespoons water
  • ⅓ cup / 80 ml melted virgin coconut oil
  • The zest and juice from one lemon (leave out and sub with 1 tsp cinnamon or vanilla to change flavors)
  • Icing sugar for coating
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Pierce one of the eyes of the coconut and pour the water into a blender. To break the coconut, I like to wrap it in a towel or resistant plastic bag, then think of something I'd like to smash in the face and smash it on outdoors as if I'm smashing a hammer on an anvil, because it feels nice. If you're less hardcore, a hammer on a wooden board will do.
  2. Break the coconut meat into pieces and add to the blender along with the water. I prefer to keep it plain, but you can add vanilla or other spices you like. Blend blend blend. It will be quite thick.
  3. Line a bowl with muslin or cheesecloth, pour in the pureed meat, and wash the blender with an extra scant half cup water, swirling it to catch all the leftover meat. Pour that water in as well, wrap the cloth and squeeze the milk, squeezing out as much as you can. When done, transfer to a wide mouth jar.
  4. I recommend making the milk the night before. That way, the fatties part will separate to the surface and you'll be able to use it for the ice cream.
  1. Drain the soaked cashews and add to a blender along with the coconut milk (if using homemade, use the top part, scooping up all the fat), the sweetener and the vanilla. I added the whole bean, not just the seeds!
  2. Process / blend until as smooth as possible. Pour into a tray with tall edges - metal will make the freezing process faster. To make this without an ice cream maker, stir your ice cream with a fork for two times for the first hour (every 30 minutes). If you wand to add any add-ins, this is the time.
  3. Then, fluff the ice cream every 20 minutes for another hour or two, until set. The more often you fluff it with the fork, the better it will be. You could even blend it again and briefly freeze it a second time to set before serving to make it super smooth.
  1. Add the coconut pulp to a bowl along with the rice flour, coconut flour, lemon zest (or cinnamon), sugar and baking powder, and mix with your hands to break up any lumps and make a smooth mix.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix the flax meal with the water and set aside for 5 minutes to make the flax egg. Add the melted coconut oil, lemon juice (leave out if making other flavors) and vanilla, mix and pour into the dry mix. Mix with your hand until you come up with a sort of 'sandy' dough, make it into a ball and leave in the fridge for 20 ~ 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 F˚ / 180 C˚.
  4. When ready, roll the dough into 20 ~ 25 small balls, and roll them in the icing sugar. Slightly flatten them, and lino on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for about 30 minutes, until slightly golden. Turn off the oven and let them stand 5 minutes, then take them out and wait for them to completely cool before eating or crumbling into the ice cream.

When making the cookies, make larger balls and flatten them to obtain 3 inch disks. Make a sandwich by stuffing them with a scoop of ice cream, then dip them in the magic shell and into the chopped pistachios. Lay them on a griddle with a tray below it to catch any chocolate drippings, and let set in the freezer for a few minutes before enjoying!

Add a scoop of ice cream to a glass cup (the pretty ones specifically for parfaits if you want to be fancy), top with chocolate or berry sauce, chopped pistachios, and crumble in a cookie. Repeat, and finish with more topping and, why not, with a cherry on top for prettiness (here’s a recipe for Spiced Cherries Preserves in Sweet Spirits if you don’t know what to do with them now that they are plentiful).

Creamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream Parfait with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural Cooking

Thank you Vanelja and Tuulia! I will be making lots more!

PS: if you have recommendations for vegan ice cream in NY (or for vegan eats in general), let me know!
I lived in NY, that’s true, but both myself and the city have changed a lot in the time I’ve been gone, so I need to know what I’ve been missing!

Buy the N’Ice Cream Book

Vegan + Gluten free Coconut Pulp Crinkle Cookies | Hortus Natural CookingCreamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural CookingCreamy Vegan Vanilla N'Ice Cream with Coconut Cookie Crumble & Chocolate Magic Shell From Vanelja and Tuulia's New Book { all vegan + gluten free } | Hortus Natural Cooking

3 Quick, Healthy & Vegan Recipes with Lupini Beans (or Chickpeas)

I am sure you found yourself in a situation in which you really want to have people over for a little dinner gathering, spend days thinking and planning things out, and then nothing goes as planned.
It just happens, doesn’t it?
But then you have to make dinner for 10 people, who are not Veg friendly at all. You state that you’re not gonna cook any meat, and it feels like the world is about to collapse.
Sometimes, I think that some people just *have* to have meat on the table just for the sake of having it, even when you put the unhealthiest, tastiest meatless junk in front of them (and I’m sure you all know there is a fair amount of unhealthy, tasty junk out there – pizza anyone?).
So you just start feeling disheartened, knowing that you’ll never be able to please anyone. Then your mom, who lives right next door, takes the lead and whips up polenta with sausage and mushrooms and everyone is happy. And you feel like a total failure.
These times, I understand the real difference between being alone and feeling lonely.

When this scenario presented itself before me, my thoughts ran back to Los Angeles, where açai bowls and juice bars are actually a thing and where nobody seemed to feel that not eating meat was such a big deal. I thought about the recent debate against the owners of Cafe Gratitude and I was like ’so cool that you can actually complain about a place like that, when its only existence would be considered a gift from the Heavens in my personal Italian book’.

The truth is that, sometimes, there is no contest with Sausage The Almighty. It’ll just have its way with everyone, and that I must accept.
So, sometimes, I just lose hope.

There was no new post last week because I just plain haven’t felt like cooking. I made myself some big bowls of raw salads because, aside being really busy, I just couldn’t be bothered with anything else.
But then I thought that it wasn’t a contest between me and a piece of pork. All I could do was keep doing what I believe in.
Instead of complaining about how I miss LA, and about how miserable my dinners without vegetarian friends are, I could react by showing them what was true to me, and what I really believe in.

So this is what I made for my dinner party, to accompany some of my mom’s cooking. 

3 Quick, Healthy & Vegan Recipes with Lupini Beans (or Chickpeas)3 Quick, Healthy & Vegan Recipes with Lupini Beans (or Chickpeas)Lupini Bean (or chickpea) & Shallot Baba Ghanoush with Mint Olive Caviar {Gluten-free, Vegan, High Protein} | Hortus Natural Cooking

I made these recipes out of a batch of lupini beans I had soaked and prepared a week earlier. Lupini beans are probably the most Italian legume you will ever find, and I am on a quest to bring it back to its ancient glory: this humble, round, gold bean boasts a crazy high protein content with very little net carbs. A portion of dried lupini beans, which would be 50 grams, has 17 grams of protein and 15 g of fiber, with as little as 5 grams net carbs. It’s pretty much chicken breast with fiber added. It is crazy. Because of my PCOS I have to stick to a low/moderate carb regime, and these guys are literally gold.

3 Quick, Healthy & Vegan Recipes with Lupini Beans (or Chickpeas)

They have always been considered poor, peasant food, mostly sold at fairs and festivals. Here in Italy they are very cheap. Your best bet is to find them already cooked and preserved in brine, as preparing lupini beans is quite the hassle: after soaking for 24 hours, they need to cook for 3, and then be soaked again for 5 days (yes, you read that right), changing the water 2 times per day. Buying them ready to use is definitely preferred, and they can be used for recipes as you would use chickpeas, or eaten as is as a snack. You just squeeze them out of their skin and eat / use them!
Lupini taste quite similar to chickpeas, but their consistency tends to be a little more on the grainy side. 
So, if you cannot find lupini, just use chickpeas for these recipes instead.

The beautiful raku bowls are all handmade by the awesome The Freaky Raku, a team of Zaira and her boyfriend Francesco. Check them out!

ALSO I should mention: Me, Zaira and Betty Liu will be hosting a retreat / workshop in July here in the Italian countryside / coast! We will be making pasta, dining and brunching al fresco amongst fruit orchards and olive trees, watching dreamy sunsets along the beautiful coast and harvest vegetables. If you want to join us, drop me an email! While I make a dedicated post about it, click here for more info.

3 Quick, Healthy & Vegan Recipes with Lupini Beans (or Chickpeas)3 Quick, Healthy & Vegan Recipes with Lupini Beans (or Chickpeas)Lupini Bean (or chickpea) Green Falafels with Tahini Pesto Sauce {Gluten-free, Vegan, High Protein} | Hortus Natural Cooking

Oh, but I did not tell you how my dinner party ended.
Alas, in the (greasy, treacly) end, I am sorry to say that Sausage the Almighty won over anything else, though it was a very, very close call (the hummus was gone in a flash).
But it is nice to confirm once again to yourself that there is nothing you can do but what feels right to you.
And that in itself is always, always a win. 


With Toasted Seeds, Fresh Herbs and Spices

For the Roasted Garlic:

Unpeeled cloves from 1 small head garlic
8 tablespoons olive oil

For the Hummus:

Half the roasted garlic
350 g cooked lupini beans, peeled and rinsed (use chickpeas if you cannot find lupini)
3 to 4 tablespoons tahini
Juice of half a small lemon, more to taste
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Water, to thin

For the Pesto:

1/4 of the roasted garlic
2 cups roughly chopped carrot tops (approximately from 6 – 8 carrots)
1 loosely packed cup basil
1/4 cup nuts (walnuts and / or pistachios)
1 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast or grated Pecorino cheese
1/4 cup garlic oil

Smoked paprika, roasted sunflower and sesame seeds, Freshly chopped basil and mint, plain yogurt, Carrot Top Pesto

To make the garlic oil, add the cloves and oil to a small baking dish and roast at 390 F˚ / 200 C˚ until the cloves are soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

To make the hummus, squeeze the meat from half the garlic cloves into a food processor. Add the lupini (or chickpeas if you do not have lupini), tahini, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and process to a paste. It will probably be very thick, so add one tablespoon water at a time to reach the desired consistency. Taste, and adjust lemon juice and spices, adding more if you like. Scoop out into a bowl and clean the food processor.
To make the pesto, Squeeze the other half of the roasted garlic into the food processor. Add all the ingredients except the oil, and pulse to a paste. Gradually add the oil, until the pesto turns creamy. Add a little more if you prefer it runnier. Transfer to a clean glass jar.
To assemble, add the pesto on top of the hummus, along with toppings of choice. Serve with raw veggies or toasted whole wheat bread or pita.

Lupini Bean (or chickpea) Hummus with Crunchy Seeds and Herb Pesto Cream {Gluten-free, Vegan, High Protein} | Hortus Natural Cooking


With Tahini, Yogurt & Carrot Top Pesto Dip

For the Falafels:

300 g cooked lupini beans, peeled and rinsed  (alternatively, use chickpeas)
3 shallots, finely chopped
80 g frozen peas

1/4 of the roasted garlic, squeezed out of its skin
1 packed cup basil and parsley
1/4 cup nuts (preferably walnuts or pistachios)
4 tablespoons seeds (I used sunflower, ground flax and chia)
4 tablespoons lupini bean flour (or sub chickpea flour, or even pea flour)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Olive oil, for cooking

For the Dip:

3 tablespoons natural yogurt (unsweetened soy or plant yogurt for vegan)
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon Carrot Top Pesto (see above)
1 teaspoon garlic oil
Lemon juice to taste

To make the falafels, just mix all the ingredients together and process to a paste in a food processor. Form into small balls – mine were approximately 1 inch wide.
Preheat the oven to 400 F˚ / 200 C˚.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and oil it well with olive oil. Add the falafels, and shake the tray so that they roll around and get evenly coated in oil.
Bake until the outside is crispy, about 20 – 25 minutes. Roll them around halfway through so that they brown evenly.
In the meantime, whip up the sauce by just mixing all ingredients together.
Serve warm with crispy lettuce cups, and plenty of other vegetables (I love shaved carrots with these!), or use as you would normally use falafels.

Lupini Bean (or chickpea) Green Falafels with Tahini Pesto Sauce {Gluten-free, Vegan, High Protein} | Hortus Natural Cooking


With Olive, Mint & Pistachio ‘Caviar’
(Inspired by With Food + Love’s ‘Caramelized + Roasted Eggplant Hummus with Parsley’ recipe)

For the Baba Ghanouj:

2 medium/large eggplants, weighing about 10.5 oz / 300 g each
3 large shallots
1 head garlic
Sea salt
Olive oil, to roast the veggies
1/2 cup cooked lupini beans, peeled and rinsed  (alternatively, use chickpeas)
2 tablespoons tahini
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup (loosely packed) parsley and basil (and mint if you like), chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the ‘Caviar’:

1/2 cup cured olives, your favorite kind (use black for a better visual effect)
1/4 cup pistachios, plus more to garnish
A small handful mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons garlic oil
Pinch salt, as needed, depending on the olives you are using

To make the baba ghanoush, preheat the oven to 400 F˚ / 200 C˚.
Cut the eggplant and shallots in half. Detach the cloves from the garlic head, but leave the skin on.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and oil it well with olive oil. Add the eggplants and shallots cut-side down, scatter the garlic cloves around, drizzle a little more olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper (sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the cut side of the eggplants before placing them on the tray). Roast until the eggplants and garlic are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Turn the veggies and cook for 5 more minutes, until completely cooked. Depending on the size of the eggplants, the shallots and garlic might be ready before the eggplants, so check often and remove them from the tray if they look like they are browning too much.
Once ready, let cook a little and peel the skin from the eggplant. Add the eggplant meat to a food processor along with the shallots, and squeeze in the garlic cloves, which will now have turned soft. Add the lupini (or chickpeas), tahini, lemon juice, herbs, pepper and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process until a smooth paste forms. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, lemon juice and tahini to your liking.

While the vegetables cook or cool, prepare the caviar: pit the olives if they are not already pitted, and chop them as finely as you can together with the pistachios and mint. You can use the side of your knife’s blade to smother the mixture on the cutting board and obtain an even smoother paste. Transfer to a small bowl, and mix in the garlic oil and salt if needed.
Plate the baba ghanoush, make a swirl with a spoon and finish with more garlic oil, mint and basil leaves, and chipped pistachios. As a cute finishing touch, I added some orange thyme flowers.
Serve on toasted bread to make bruschetta / crostini, or as a dip with veggies and toasted pita.

Lupini Bean (or chickpea) & Shallot Baba Ghanoush with Mint Olive Caviar {Gluten-free, Vegan, High Protein} | Hortus Natural Cooking

Morning Rituals: Valeria’s Orange Ricotta Cake for Breakfast

(Thanks to: Evencki for the bed linens, The Freaky Raku for the wonderful bowls!)

I wake in a haze of leftover shreds of dreams, which I remember so clearly every time after I wake up.

I am a late sleeper, a restless dreamer, and an early waker. My 6-hour-per-night sleep routine starts with the longing for the sunlight to arrive again.
My mornings know no rush: in the silence of the morning, I make myself green tea, and I savor it thoroughly before I do anything else. Having the luxury of being a morning person, I can take up to an hour indulging in the rites of the first sunlight – an indulgence that feels more like a meditation, and in which every gesture is made with a consciousness that caresses sacrality: adding coffee to the moka pot and wait for its joyful gargle. Adding water to the pot to make tea, savoring the moment I will dip my hands into the green leaves and smell their Jasmine, herbaceous aroma before dumping a fat pinch into the 80 C˚ water. Diving deep into morning readings, occasionally interrupted by cat-like stretches. A nourishing breakfast, and then it is off to work.

This is my idea of a lovely morning.

Valeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural CookingValeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural CookingValeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural CookingIrene Berni's Lemon Cake | Hortus Natural Cooking

Only on the weekends I let myself indulge between the sheets a little longer (and how could you not, when you are cradling between the tender linen Evencki‘s sheets are made of?) and savor the idea of a breakfast that is more like a treat, as the Italians are used to do: a slice of coffee cake, crostata, and a snow-white cappuccino.
La Dolce Vita (‘the sweet life’), as some like to call it: the art of taking it easy to savor every bite and every sip – in all aspects of life.

I love these moment so much that I decided to dedicate an ebook to them, which will be called ‘La Dolce Vita Breakfast‘ and which I am releasing next month.
(truth be told, it was due to be out last week, but I need to finish some things with my own cookbook Naturally Vegetarian, so I am making sure nobody gets mad at me :) ‘real’ work first!)

A work that would not have been possible without the help and contributions of some bloggers – some of those I admire the most: Riccardo Astolfi (author of Pasta Madre + baker at Stria), Irene Berni (Valdirose Charming Rooms), Cynthia Chen (Two Red Bowls), Valentina Goltara (Sweet Kabocha), Betty Liu (Le Jus d’Orange), Valeria Necchio (Life Love Food), Saghar Setareh (Lab Noon), Zaira Zarotti (The Freaky Table).

To each of these talented people I assigned a weekend breakfast, and they all did the most wonderful job in providing me with beautiful recipes. I am honored and humbled that each one of these people granted me their presence in this little work of mine.

Valeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural CookingValeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural CookingIrene Berni's Lemon Cake | Hortus Natural CookingValeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural Cooking

In this post, I am disclosing Valeria’s recipe for a tasty, fruity orange-scented spelt ricotta cake, which I made two times already. I loved her recipe as soon as I saw it: it is so deeply Italian, and brings such a reminiscence of the smells and flavors I have known since I was a kid. Her Venetian heritage blinks an eye to whatever she does, and cakes like this one breach into the comfort zone of what is familiar to us and makes a place home.

You see two cakes in the picture: one is Irene’s Lemon Cake, but this is a recipe you will have to wait a little longer for…

Irene Berni's Lemon Cake | Hortus Natural CookingValeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural CookingValeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural CookingValeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural Cooking

Since a balance between health and indulgence is essential in life, this cake is thought as a special weekend morning breakfast, to dip in coffee or tea. It is quite thick and dense, with a fruity, fresh citrus aroma that perfectly complements with the subtle taste of fresh ricotta. It immediately became one of my favorite cake recipes and, if you are a ricotta fan, I have no doubt you will love it. The whole spelt flour makes it a little healthier, and I personally love it with half the amount of sugar if you prefer to cut back a little.
I slightly changed the recipe for this cake here, since I doubled it to make it more suitable for the cake pans I have at home. In the ebook, you are going to find Valeria’s perfect and unchanged version.

Valeria's Orange Ricotta Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
  • 1⅓ cup / 150 g (5.3 oz) white spelt flour (or unbleached AP flour, best if stone-milled)
  • 1⅓ cup / 150 g (5.3 oz) whole spelt flour
  • 3 heaping teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup / 200 g (7 oz) raw cane sugar
  • 4 medium free range eggs
  • 1¼ cup / 300 g (10.5 oz) fresh ricotta, drained & passed through a sieve
  • 150 ml (1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons) oil: I used half fruity extra virgin olive oil, and half flavorless vegetable oil (coconut is perfect too)
  • Zest & juice of 2 organic unwaxed oranges (preferably Navel)
  • Zest from 1 organic unwaxed lemon
  • 50 g (1.7 oz) slivered almonds
  • 3 tablespoons icing sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C˚.
  2. Combine the flours with the baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until white and fluffy, add the ricotta and the oil and whisk to combine. Stir in the orange zest.
  4. Pour the wet mixture onto the flour mix and fold through until just combined, trying not to overwork the batter.
  5. Transfer to an oiled round spring-form pan, about 23-cm wide. Even the surface with a spatula, then scatter the slivered almonds on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the centre of the cake.
  6. Remove from the oven & let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently run a knife around the edge to remove the spring form. Lift from the bottom and finish cooling on a rack.
  7. Meanwhile, whisk the filtered orange juice with the icing sugar until dissolved. Pour it all over the still-warm cake. Let the glaze set & the cake cool completely before slicing.
  8. TIP: for some extra indulgente, add chocolate chips to the batter.

Riccardo, who is a great friend and colleague (remember his Sourdough Pancakes?) deserves a special mention: he had me jump on a special project – a campaign to reduce general daily sugar intake and eliminate refined sweeteners from our diets. We are working on developing a website and an ebook. I cannot wait to tell you more!

What is your favorite everyday breakfast, and your favorite indulgent one?

Valeria Necchio's Orange Ricotta Spelt Cake | Hortus Natural Cooking

Pear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts), with a Chocolate Variation

Around this time of the year, there is a lot of asking ourselves about what we are grateful for in our life.
I think it is a question worth asking ourselves more often. Possibly everyday. 

I know I have a lot to be thankful for.

If you follow me on social media, you will probably know that I recently handed in my very first cookbook. It was the most exciting, difficult and wonderful thing I have ever done, and it’s not over yet. I feel like I’m in a love story where you have the feeling cannot ever possibly end. 

This book was a great way to challenge the status quo of my recipes. Going out the lines meant getting many of them wrong, sometimes failing brutally, sometimes getting them even better after a try or two. I probably spent more time on the few recipes I tried to change than on the many recipes that I just got from my family.

Pear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural CookingPear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural Cooking

And the thing about family recipes is: they’re safe. And a recipe that has been handed down from mother to daughter for over a century, cannot be anything other than foolproof. I am the first in the line of successors to mess with the recipe and try and bring it out of its status quo.

But, if you want to be the innovator, if you want to get something out of its comfort zone, you always must account the time you will need for failure. This is one thing I always had clear and eventually got pretty good at failing smartly (so to speak).

And what is art without failure, which leads to growth, which leads to change? 

Pear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural CookingPear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural Cooking

And big changes are approaching: as I am writing, noises of drills and hammers are coming from my soon-to-be new apartment, where I will move to in about a month. We are rebuilding the floors, my own kitchen, painted the walls…there is big change coming. That place is not only going to be my home, but my office as well. And that means I will be able to bring my work to a higher level. 

But now that all the house is full of people, dust and dirt, and I only have this tiny nook where I can take photos, I had to play it safe at least for photography this once. 

But, while I played it safe with photographs, I still decided to tweak one of our traditional recipes to make it vegan.

And ‘crostata’ is pretty much as traditional as it gets.

Pear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural CookingPear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural Cooking

‘Crostata’ is the Italian version of a French tart. The difference lies in the texture of the dough: while pate sucrée is not supposed to grow in the oven, the larger amount of baking powder in crostata makes it rise to a sort of pillowy, slightly crumbly cookie that holds a treasure of fruit, jam, and more often than not a pretty lattice topping. The most common fillings are jams of all sorts, but more elaborate / sunday versions include stewed fruit or Nutella (which is a terrible idea: the b***ch hardens like crazy in the oven and creates a horrible texture, imho). 

It is probably the first recipe you will learn if you have an Italian nonna, and one of those things you will always see at parties. 

Pear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural CookingPear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural Cooking

Now that they are in season, I was able to find some incredible, emerald-green fresh bergamots from Puglia and I had to pick one up. The flavors go so well here: the perfumed, almost flowery scent of bergamots tone down the rich sweetness of the cinnamon and pears a bit and absolutely feel like a rifle of fresh air. ‘Crostatine’, ‘small crostatas’, were childhood staple for our merenda, and I loved the idea of baking several one-portion ones.

I was able to skip the eggs and butter that traditionally go in the dough and I am proud to present a delicious version made with…cacao butter! I am madly in love with it. I know it can be a bit of an investment, but a little goes a long way (only 10 grams here) and keeps well. I was so happy to try it and taste how good this was! I have so many more recipes up my sleeve now that I developed this recipe. Christmas is about to get a lot more interesting.

NOTE -IF YOU CANNOT FIND BERGAMOT: make a chocolate version (described in recipe below) or use yuzu. Yes would go so well with this!

Pear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts), with a Chocolate Variation
Makes about 8 crostatine
Cuisine: Italian
For the pastry dough:
  • ⅓ cup / 2.1 oz / 60 g almonds
  • 2.1 oz / 60 g whole dark brown sugar
  • 3.5 oz / 100 g whole wheat flour
  • 1.7 oz / 50 g white organic flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • 0.3 / 10 g cacao butter
  • 1 oz / 30 g neutral vegetable oil, preferably rice oil or sunflower oil
  • 2- 4 tablespoons cold water, depending on the flour
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the pears:
  • 2 medium-large Williams pears, not too ripe
  • 3 tablespoons whole brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of half a bergamot
  • 2 tablespoons bergamot juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Rum or Maraschino (sub more citrus juice if you do not want to use alcohol)
For a chocolate variation:
  • 3.5 to 1.7 oz (30 to 50 g) extra dark chocolate, plus some unprocessed cocoa powder
  1. First, prepare the pears: cut in half, core them, then slice one of them into very fine slices, about ⅛ thick. Cut the other one in small cubes.
  2. Add to a bowl and very gently toss with the sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, zest and liquid, and let it soak for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than one hour. Fish out the slices and set aside in a plate. Add the cubes along with the liquid left in the bowl to a pan, and cook on low heat until the pears are soft, about 15 minutes. Add a splash of water if they caramelize too quickly. When they are cooked, there should be no liquid left in the pan and should give in very easily to pressure. Mash them with a fork.
  3. To make the crust, combine the almonds and sugar in a blender, and grind them as finely as possible. Ideally, you should end up with a fine flour.
  4. In a bowl, mix the flours, sugar and almonds, and baking powder.
  5. In another bowl, melt the cacao butter and vegetable oil over a bain-marie, and add the vanilla extract.
  6. Add the melted fat into the flour mix, and mix it with a fork until you get oat-sized clumps of flours. Add the flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. If you end up adding a little too much water, dust the dough with flour. Form into a ball (the dough should not be sticky) and wrap in clingfilm if not using straight away.
  7. Grease 8 mini tart molds and divide the dough evenly among them. Don't be like me - don't use molds that are not nonstick: silicone or regular nonstick tins will work fine.
  8. Press the dough into the molds into an even layer, making sure to cover the sides as well. Divide the mashed pear among the crostatine in a ¼ inch layer.
  9. to make the rose shape on top, arrange the slices so that they sightly overlap, starting from the outside of the pan. Or, check out this link for an equally effective method:
  10. Pop the crostatine in the fridge for about 30 more minutes for best results.
  11. Preheat the oven to 340 F˚ / 170 C˚. Take the crostatine out of the fridge, dust with a little powdered sugar and extra cinnamon, and stick them in the oven until golden and slightly browned on top, about 35 to 40 minutes. They will be quite soft when you take them out of the oven, so let them cool completely before unmolding them.
  12. Enjoy alone or with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of yogurt.
  1. Skip the bergamot and, before adding the pears, grate a generous amount of dark chocolate into the pastry shells and dust with cocoa powder, then add the pear compote and sliced pears as per recipe.


PS: I am preparing a couple edible Christmas gifts post, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I will be celebrating Thanksgiving with all of the US from afar with lots of broccoli and shallots. I will be forever grateful. To all the people involved in making this dream come true, to my testers, my mom, my Enrico, and all the chances I’ve been given. 

And if you fail, just try again. 

Pear, Cinnamon & Bergamot Vegan Crostatine (mini tarts) | Hortus Natural Cooking