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from my Cookbook

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Panino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace}

Panino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural Cooking

There are noises here.

I heard people say they hate them.
If you walk into the pathways between bushes and trees, the first sound is the almost deafening one of cicadas, orchestrating a simultaneous undertow of a two-note song. There are many birds chirping. Far, in the distance, there is the verse of an animal I cannot tell what it is. And if you listen closely enough, you can hear the waves crashing against the promontory, invisible but present.
Our clothes, rubbing against our bodies. Our breath, getting discreetly heavier as we climb up.
Then, there are the smells. Honeysuckle, mallow, cluster pines, wild mint and lemon balm. And hundreds of bushes of Scotch broom.
Some people say they hate it.
But this is my paradise and, in the midst of apparently nothing, every small detail is enlarged to the size of a mountain.
Beauty exists. Sometimes it exists because it is inevitably there, and sometimes it exists because we decide to see it. Still, choosing beauty is always a personal decision.

Panino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural Cooking

I have been feeling powerless. Sometimes it is nice, just like when you feel powerless in front of the grandness of the ocean, or the size of the Alps. But sometimes it is just the feeling of actually not knowing what to do, and this is how I have been feeling lately when opening all forms of media. I long for sceneries like these in the photos, and I wish for a world that we are probably not ready for yet. I wish for our only feelings of powerlessness to be as great as those in front of beauty. When you feel that you can do nothing – not even think – because there is actually nothing to do.
This, I learned, is meditation. This is clearing your mind of trivial expectations, judgement and fear that those expectations will not be met.
Our world is going through a dark tunnel – socially and politically. While it is nice that everyone has their own opinion on everything, sometimes I feel that, sometimes, sharing one’s own opinion becomes imposing it. It happens often and it happens without us realizing it.
So I prefer to open newspapers, books and magazines and keep Facebook shut, and carefully select my sources of information.
Saghar from Lab Noon has always been especially sensitive about the subject, so she organized this #summerVirtualPotluck4Peace to send a message of togetherness and enlightenment. This is my favorite way to help share awareness on anything: a potluck with friends. You need to talk about things you believe in but there are ways that work best for each of us.
The truth is that I feel powerless in front of what goes on in the world. But I want to join those who will say something about it, and sharing a little bit of light is all I can do now.
So we went out for a real picnic in the San Bartolo, here between Marche and Romagna, and captured the essence of our beautiful, bare powerlessness, which I can now offer to you through these photos, that I hope you will find as pretty as I do.

Panino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural CookingPanino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace} | Hortus Natural Cooking

I never shared a panino/sandwich recipe before because I thought it would be too simple, until I found myself searching the web for interesting pairings. Panini are a huge part of the Italian summertime, and this panino is vegan and so, so tasty. I love adding blossoms and petals to everything lately, as there are so many growing here. If you’re making these panini to take out for a picnic, pack the ingredients separately and assemble on the spot. Prepare a nice basket, blankets and pillows, and go out in the open. Or ‘al fresco’, as Italians would say.
The pickled onions are from Karen Mordechai‘s beautiful new book, Simple Fare.

Panino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula {Midsummer Potluck for Peace}
  • 1 cup good white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 50g sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 large yellow peppers (green or red are also delicious)
  • Pinch salt
  • 4-5 basil leaves, julienned or finely chopped
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • Slices sourdough bread (your favorite!)
  • Pesto (use vegan pesto if vegan)
  • Roasted Peppers
  • Pickled Onions
  • Dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil
  • Arugula and wild arugula blossoms
  • A few pretty mallow petals or other wild flowers
  • ADD ONS: a good chevre or pecorino, or avocado if vegan
  1. Prepare a clean glass jar that can fit all the ingredients.
  2. In a pot, combine the vinegar, salt, sugar and bayleaf and heat, stirring, just until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
  3. Add the onion slices to the jar and pour over the warm pickling liquid. Top with the bay leaf and let cool, then refrigerate for a few hours before using. Keeps in the fridge for several days.
  1. Add the peppers whole to the rack of an oven, preheated to 220 C˚ / 430 F˚. Roast, turing every now and then, until completely cooked through. The peppers will release moisture and they will turn very soft. Roasting could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, so check often.
  2. Once very soft, take them out of the oven and let cool. The skin will come off easily, so peel them, cut them into ½ inch strips and remove the core and seeds.
  3. Add the strips to a shallow dish, and toss with the basil, salt, plenty of olive oil and a good drizzle of balsamic. These peppers will also keep in the fridge for a few days.
  1. If taking the panino out for a picnic, I suggest packing the single ingredients and assembling them on the spot, as all the ingredients are kind of moist. Use good quality or homemade sourdough bread, so the slices will be delicious even if not toasted or if they have been left out for a while, as sourdough bread tends to stay soft for days.
  2. Layer all the ingredients to your heart's content and dig in with friends! Aged goat cheese or pecorino go wonderfully with this combination of ingredients, but a little avocado will do magic if you want to keep things vegan.


And here is the full list of all the participants and all their amazing recipes! I so wish this potluck was real life :)

Saghar Setareh / Lab Noon: Persian Cucumber & “Sekanjebin” Summer Drink

Adventures in Cooking: Strawberry rhubarb pie ice cream sandwiches

An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Spiced Green Beans with Olive Oil and Tomato

Brewing Happiness: Healthy Southern Baked Beans

Cloudy Kitchen: Earl Grey blueberry pie

Cook Til Delicious: Cold Sesame Peanut Noodles

Delicious Not Gorgeous: No Mai Fan

DisplacedHousewife: Strawberry Scone-Cakes With Fresh Orange Blossom Whipped Cream

Donuts, dresses and dirt: Tahini Pavlovas

Floating Kitchen: Blistered Green Beans with Apricots and Chive Blossoms

Ginger & Toasted Sesame: Walnut Bread with Boursin and Prosciutto

Harvest and Honey: Chasing Summer (drink)

Hortus Cuisine: Panino with Roasted Peppers, Pesto & Arugula

On The Plate: Sriracha Scotch Eggs

Ruby Josephine: Halwa d’Tmar (Moroccan Date-Stuffed Cookies)

Tasty Seasons: Grilled Mojito Chicken

Tending the Table: Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nuts, Parsley and Currants

TermiNatetor Kitchen: Strawberry Shortcakes with Gluten-Free Yogurt Biscuits & Mint Whipped Cream

The Little Epicurean: Halo-Halo (Filipino Shave Ice Dessert)

This Mess Is Ours: Simple Tomato & Avocado Salad

Twigg studios: roasted beet leek and feta quiche

Vermilion Roots: Tofu Salad with Spiced Peanut Sauce

Wood and Spoon: Strawberry Almond Skillet Cake


Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}

Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}The countryside is full of surprises, and many of them I disclosed over the past month.
I found new foraging places and new paths, but little did I know I would even find my new studio.
So here are three surprises that gave me happiness from these past days.

A New Studio
A month ago my family decided to finally get rid of a lot of scraps and junk that was laying around the backyard, where my great-grandparents used to keep sheep, pigs and other animals. Today, that area is mostly dedicated to chicken, and to a rampant overgrowth that, in late spring, explodes into bushes of mauve, nettles, mint and poppies.
As I was rummaging about, trying to forage greens and getting stung by nettles and mosquitoes, I noticed a broken wooden door, opening a way into a concrete wall.
I entered and, to my surprise, I found the most wonderful light.
Then I remembered.
When I was a kid, my grandpa used to keep his rabbits there. He was absolutely adamant as not to even go near that room, as rabbit mothers would ignore their bunnies if they felt unknown presences, leaving them to certain death. Therefore I always had images of rabbits being evil animals, and I steered clear of that place.
Now, rusty, broken cages were lying about the place, untouched for years. A beautiful light streamed in from a small window, glowing through the overgrowth outside. It was love at first sight.
I cleared the place out, set up a table, and took these photos. Lately I have been longing for a brighter mood, for something that reflects the sunny countryside around me. I have been longing for photos that I would not call ‘moody’. I was eager to discover a new light. So, for now, I hope you will welcome these new streams of sunlight as happily as I did.

Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}The Mysterious Knight
If you follow this blog, you might have seen several pictures of horses. They have been put in a field around here about two years ago and I never managed to find out who owns them. I thought at some point I would have uncovered the mystery, and just forgot about it.
Yesterday, as I walked by a field, looking for herbs, I found that much to my dismay it had been mowed. It is a huge field, and I think what was growing there were greens to feed cattle. Instead of the usual bunch fo flowers, I found a black cat, much resemblant to my own.
He let me pet him, then let me into the field. In the middle of it, I finally met the Mysterious Knight. He was a nice man, maybe slightly younger than middle age. He said hi nicely, asked what I was doing, and let me photograph him. I love it when you meet people on the street, and they smile at you. Why not, after all? why would you not smile at anyone? If they are even willing to spare a word…it makes me so happy that it is enough to make my day.
Next time I meet him, I will ask him if he is willing to let me horse ride.

Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}The Hidden Bushes
Right after my brief encounter with the Mysterious Knight, I kept walking into the field. I is a huge field and I never crossed it in its entirety. When I got to the top, I was rewarded with several wonderful bushes of both chamomile and wild daisies. Telling the two apart is easy, as the chamomile just smells wonderful while daisies have no smell at all. I hung some chamomile to dry, and I am planning to go look for more before the season ends. I was inspired to create all sorts of chamomile things, starting with these muffins.

This probably all sounds extremely silly. But I get so happy with these trivial things. There is one part of me that never changed since I was a kid, and that finds pleasure in the most trivial things, like foraging flowers or picking fruit straight from the trees. Even with all the problems that adulthood brings along, There are some feelings that give me incredible peace. So, just below the recipe, I want to share some link love with all the things that gave me happiness these past few days (that haven’t been easy at all).

Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}Chamomile Honey Cupcakes {GF, Vegan-izable}Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}

The recipe was inspired by Green Kitchen Stories’ GF Blueberry Cake, and by Valentina Masullo’s Hot Milk Chamomile Cake. I then converted it into muffins because, well, I just felt like photographing muffins.
I wanted to test a Gluten-Free, eggless cake and I am absolutely happy with the result! The crumb is soft and intensely flavored. I decided to use the honey we produce, as I love its flavor with chamomile, but if you wanted to keep this entirely vegan, just swap it for any liquid sweetener you like, and swap the yogurt for coconut cream or coconut yogurt. If you do not want to use flax seeds, use 3 organic eggs instead, for an even fluffier crumb.
If you want to convert this to a cake, a 7″ / 18cm tin should do.

Chamomile Honey Cupcakes {GF, Vegan-izable}
Makes 8 cupcakes
  • 2 cups greek yogurt or creme fraiche (or vegan yogurt / coconut cream)
  • 1 cup honey (or agave/rice syrup)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons chamomile honey
  • ½ a vanilla bean (or one whole for more flavor)
  • 1 cup / 250 ml milk, almond or other plant milk if vegan
  • 5 tbsp / 10g dried chamomile flowers
  • 3 tbsp (20g) flax meal + 8 tbsp water
  • 1 cup / 100g almond flour
  • 1½ cup / 200g rice flour
  • ½ cup / 90g potato starch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup / 50) brown sugar*
  • 3 tsp / baking soda
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • ½ cup / 125ml chamomile-flavored honey (or agave or rice syrup if vegan)
  • ½ cup / 125ml flavorless vegetable oil such as sunflower
  • * the sugar can be skipped entirely for a healthier option.
  1. Make the topping first: combine the honey and flowers in a bowl, and heat it over a bain-marie. The honey will turn very runny and the heat will infuse the flavor of the flowers to the honey. Let steep until cool, then heat again until runny enough to filter it trough a fine mesh strainer. Let cool, then mix a couple tablespoons into the yogurt / creme fraiche / vegan yogurt / coconut cream, whatever you are using. Reserve the rest in a glass jar.
  2. Make the muffins:
  3. First, infuse the milk: add the scraped seeds and pod of the vanilla and the chamomile flowers to the milk, and heat it gently. Be careful not to boil it! once slightly smoking, turn off the heat and let cool.
  4. In the meantime, combine the flax meal with the water, stir well and let sit until slimy and thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir every now and then to accelerate the process.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 F˚ / 180 C˚, and grease and flour muffin tins or prepare some muffin liners.
  6. Combine the almond flour, rice flour, potato starch, salt, baking soda, sugar if using and lemon zest in a bowl.
  7. In another bowl, filter the infused milk. Add the lemon juice, chamomile honey and vegetable oil. slightly heat the liquids over a bain-marie or for a few seconds in the microwave so that the honey dissolves fully. Whisk the wet mixture into the dry mixture little by little to avoid lumps. The batter should not be too runny, but rather sticky and spoonable.
  8. Distribute the batter evenly in the tins and bake for about 20 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick. If batter still sticks to the toothpick, bake for 5 further minutes. It is very important not to overbake them, or they will turn stiff.
  9. once the toothpick comes out clean, remove from the oven and let cool.
  10. Frost with the chamomile yogurt, or chamomile creme fraiche for something a little more decadent. Enjoy with your favorite hot beverage!



This post by Valdirose: ‘It isn’t life if you do not value every silly, little dream’.

Kyra’s Blog: I love the peaceful, bright feel of it and I love the natural ways she talks about motherhood. I especially loved her post about the toys she selects for her daughter: I also think that kids, just like adults, need way less clutter than we think.

Me & Orla: Another clean blog with a bright feeling I have been loving lately. She has some amazing insights for Instagram, but because I am getting nauseated by social media lately I much prefer her Parenting/Personal blog categories. ‘The I Hate Game’ was one of my favorite articles.

I bought Christine Ferber’s ‘Mes Confitures’ book! With the incredible abundance of uses

A few cool cookbooks worth mentioning that I’ll share recipes from: Acquacotta by Emiko Davies / Kale & Caramel by Lily Diamond / It’s a Pleasure by Virpi Mikkonen / Simple Fare by Karen Mordechai

Beth Kirby’s Instagram has been positively glowing lately. She seems so enthusiastic about Paris that I can almost feel her excitement and I love the feeling!

Chamomile Honey Muffins {GF, Vegan-izable}

A Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy

This is a sponsored post. Opinions are still my own.
Per vedere i post e i link in italiano, andate in fondo al post!

A Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural CookingI started developing a strong love for drawing since I was very small. I still remember my frustration when, at 3 years old, I insisted on drawing on air and out of the white sheet only to learn that pencils did not work outside of tangible surfaces.
In middle school, art class was the only beacon of hope I had to cling onto and get to my 15’s with a sane mind. My drawing were much loved, and the little talent I had brought my classmates to forgive my nerd-ness.
Yet, one day, one of my classmates walked up to me and said: ‘y’know, you’re great but it looks like you’re painting with bleach,’ which was his own way to say that I wasn’t really that bold with colors.
His name was Alex and he absolutely did not mean to be nasty. He just said it in such a peaceful, matter-of-factly way that all I could do was stare at my drawing and think ‘damn, he’s right’.
This episode has always stuck with me, but, even as I grew as an artist, I could not help but prefer black-and-white, or washed-out pastels.

It is about to be summer and, with it, the usual explosion of color I always dreaded is fast approaching. I thought, once again, of vivid red poppies, bright yellow Ginestre (which apparently are Scotch Brooms in English), blushing orange apricots and lipstick-red cherries. How I dread capturing their color, which so hardly fits into my faded ukiyo-e world of fleeting pastels. Alex’s words, once again, ring into my ear.

A Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural Cooking


I realize that, all my life, I avoided going too hard on chiaroscuro and colors because I knew that stronger marks are more difficult to erase. In drawing, as in life, I was scared to make mistakes, but not scared enough to avoid the status quo. As I am slowly learning to stop drawing marks I might have a hard time erasing in life, I want to free my photography of some of its dullness, darkness and repetitiveness as well.
Lately I’ve been feeling like my photography has become ‘adult’ in a way that most adults don’t want to become. I do not want my photography to lose that secret voice that tells all kids that everything will be fun and all right. Many times, things are not. But it is the belief that it will be that eventually creates magic.
This notion is valid with art as well.

A Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural CookingA Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural CookingA Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural Cooking

So I got me a new table with a brighter top, put it in a new room that I had the luck to discover recently (it was where my grandpa’s kept his rabbits, and I had never came across it just until a couple weeks ago), and accepted Zaffy and Fuudly‘s challenge #CucinaconZaffy to create a recipe with the brightest of ingredients: (organic) saffron. I foraged yellow flowers and chose orange organic apricots (from Podere Stuard) to go with it. I made elderflower syrup a couple weeks ago, following Beth’s recipe for Honeysuckle Cordial but using elderflower instead, and since it is definitely one of the most delicious things that has ever sat in my fridge, I decided to add it to the recipe. You cannot believe the smell and flavor of the juices of elderflower and roasted apricots combined. I am extremely proud of this summery dessert, and of the bright photos that go with it. These might not be the best photos I’ve taken, that’s for sure, but they’re warming my heart in a way my own photos haven’t done in a long time. So, I am extremely happy with these.

I wanted to make this recipe vegan, but I tried a more traditional one with yogurt first, and honey goes so well with both saffron and elderflower apricots that I couldn’t help but using it (I used Casa del Sole‘s wonderful Acacia honey this time).

A Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural CookingA Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural CookingA Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural CookingA Note on the Recipe
For this recipe, I used raw egg whites from our hens. Therefore, this recipe contains raw eggs, so if you do not feel safe eating it, replace the eggs with cream. Instead of 2 egg whites, use 200 ml (about 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp) whipping cream.
My desserts are never too sweet, so double the amount of honey if you please, but the apricots I used were so sweet and delicious that they hardly needed any sweetener.

How to Make it Vegan
This recipe would work wonderfully with a cashew based ice cream. For anything vegan sweets, I refer to Vanelja‘s websites and books. I have both her books (this and this) and they are S-T-U-N-N-I-N-G. Linda Lomelino has a great recipe as well. Just add the saffron to the cashew base. As for the honey, replace with rice or a maple syrup that does not taste excessively strong.

Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo
Makes 6½ cup pots
  • 2 tablespoons acacia honey
  • 3 tablespoons elderflower cordial/syrup
  • Half a vanilla bean
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 apricots
  • 6-8 saffron strands
  • Half vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup thick full-fat yogurt
  • 2 egg whites
  • ⅛ tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • Roasted nuts, rose petals and saffron strands, to serve
  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Combine the honey, the syrup and the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean, and heat them gently, either over a bain-marie or for a few seconds in the microwave. Stir well. The mixture should be runny. Stir in the lemon juice.
  3. Halve the apricots and remove the stone. Line them cut side down on a baking tray (use a metal tray with no baking paper for best caramelization effect) and pour over the syrup.
  4. Broil until soft and caramelized, which should not take long, about 3-5 minutes. The syrup should be bubbly and it should get thicker. If not broiling, make at 200 C˚ / 390 F˚ for a few minutes. Collect the extra syrup in a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to 3-4 days.
  1. Combine the saffron, honey and scraped seeds from the vanilla bean and, just like before, heat them to make the honey melt and the saffron release its flavor. Stir well and let sit until slightly cooled, at least 10 minutes.
  2. Blend this mixture with the roasted apricots and half the yogurt with a blender or an immersion blender, and let cool. Fold in the other half of the yogurt. Put the mixture in the freezer to cool it quicker. it is important that the ingredients are cold (but do not freeze them!)
  3. NOTE: You can also blend only half the apricots and keep the other half for serving along with the semifreddo.
  4. When ready, whip the egg whites until they start to set, then add the cream of tartar and half the sugar. Continue whipping, adding the rest of the sugar little by little, until glossy and very stiff. Use fresh egg whites, or they won't whip nicely. If not using eggs, whip 200 ml / ¾ cup + 1 tbsp heavy cream with the sugar until stiff.
  5. Very delicately and using downward-upward circling motions, fold in the cooled yogurt-apricot-honey mixture until fully incorporated.
  6. Distribute the mixture into 6 125 ml capacity cups and freeze until thickened and ready to eat.
  7. When ready, serve the semifreddo with the extra syrup from the apricots. Sprinkle on some roasted nuts (I suggest hazelnuts or pistachios), crushed dried rose petals for the pretty factor, and a saffron strand.


Un super grazie a Giovanna, che mi ha fatta saltare nel carro!
Per vedere le altre ricette di Zaffy (ce ne sono di carinissime!) cercate l’hashtag #CucinaconZaffy su Instagram e/o Facebook. 

Alcuni dei miei preferiti:
Fancy Factory – Macaron allo Zafferano
La Petite Xuyen – Bao Sandwich con Pollo Fritto allo Zafferano
A Tavola con Willi – Gyoza di Gamberi e verdure su Crema allo Zafferano
rodo di Coccole – Challah Dolce con Zafferano e Miele

A Saffron & Roasted Elderflower Apricots Semifreddo for #CucinaconZaffy | Hortus Natural Cooking

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