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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Brutti ma buoni Italian hazelnut biscuits + white bean dip recipes for the "bring a plate" dilemma

Char-grilled octopus by John from heneedsfood

Bring a plate. Those three little words that are guaranteed to make my hands go clammy and my heart start to race. Because we all want to bring something faaaaaa-bulous to a gathering with friends, don't we? Something that's tasty, can be made in advance and will transport well. A dish that won't cost you half your pay packet or chain you to the kitchen for 42 hours straight.

That's why I was pretty darn pleased when I finally settled on two dishes I could bring along to John's casual get-together last weekend. Cooking for friends is fine, but cooking for fellow food bloggers can be pretty intimidating. And that was before it was decided we should follow a theme. "Let's make it Mediterranean/Adriatic!" and soon my inbox is flooding with excited nominations of exotic dishes that will be made while I rock to and fro nervously in a corner.

I kid, of course. I just rocked to and fro in my chair.

But you know what? We all know that no friend is going to judge you on your food. I ended up bring white bean dip with crostini (super easy!) and brutti ma buoni, Italian hazelnut biscuits that live up to their "ugly but good" translation. Recipes for both are at the end of this post, but read on to see what everyone else brought along!

Smoked nuts by John from heneedsfood
John's home smoked nuts with salt and nigella seeds

We arrived to nibbles of mixed nuts smoked in John's newest toy, the Anuka smoker. The effect is phenomenal, giving the nuts an intense smokiness that reminds us of eating bacon cheetos. In a good way.

John setting up grapes on the Anuka smoker
John setting up grapes on the Anuka smoker

John picked up his smoker on eBay but we pump him with so many questions, it feels like a product demo. Basically it's an electric hot smoker that uses granulated wood chips set over an element burner. The temperature is fixed at 190C and a timer allows you to pre-set smoking durations from 10 to 60 minutes.

Lifting the smoker lid after fifteen minutes
Lifting the smoker lid after fifteen minutes

We crowd around like little kids watching John set up the smoker for grapes. After fifteen minutes, there's an audible "ding" just like a microwave, indicating that the smoking is complete. We all want one by now, although they come at a pretty price. It's $289 although it looks like you can pick them up on eBay for $185.

The grapes are for our cheese plate, and they're left to cool while we start lunch.

My white bean dip with crostini
My white bean dip with crostini

We kick off with my white bean dip with homemade crostini. I made these on Friday and they kept perfectly until Sunday. Garlicky with a zing of lemon and a background hint of rosemary, this was blitzed in the food processor in about three minutes. The crostini was made from a sourdough baguette.

John's paštetu od cvaraka or pork scratching pate on Iggy's bread
John's paštetu od cvaraka or pork scratching pate on Iggy's bread

John had said he was worried that people would freak out about pate made from pork fat, but we couldn't get enough of this Croatian specialty. The pork fat is mixed with boiled eggs, pickles and sour cream, creating a chunky pork paste that is perfect on a crusty baguette.

Amanda's timballo di crespelle or crepe pie
Amanda's timballo di crespelle or crepe pie

Amanda brought along a timballo de crespelle, a specialty from Abruzzo, where her family are originally from in Italy.

Timballo di crespelle slice
Timballo di crespelle slice 

It's an impressive layered construction of crepes and alternating fillings of mince, mushrooms and mozzarella. It's kinda like a fancy vegetarian lasagne, without the bechamel sauce.

Phuoc cutting up her spanakopita cheese and spinach pie
Phuoc cutting up her spanakopita cheese and spinach pie

We move to Greece with Phuoc's spanakopita. The filo pastry is so flaky you can hear it shattering as the knife cuts through. There's an alluring smell of butter in the air too.

Cheese and spinach filling inside the spanakopita
Cheese and spinach filling inside the spanakopita

The spanakopita has a hearty filling of cheese and spinach. The pastry shards are the best bit.

John's twice-cooked octopus, slow-roasted for four hours and then char-grilled
John's twice-cooked octopus, slow-roasted for four hours and then char-grilled

John had lavished plenty of tender loving care with the octopus, first boiling it, then roasting it at a low temperature for four hours the day before. To finish it off, the octopus is grilled on the mini Weber just before serving. It's incredibly tender, flecked with a smoky char from the barbecue, and served with dollops of homemade beetroot mayonnaise in hot pink.

Sara's Greek meatballs in tomato sauce
Sara's Greek meatballs in tomato sauce

Sara's Greek meatballs are amazing too, super soft and tender in a chunky tomato sauce. The secret, I'm told, is the use of sliced bread soaked in red wine added to the beef mince. We devour them with gusto, soaking up the sauce with thick slices of fresh sourdough bread.

Amanda's cicerchiata ora, a traditional Italian dessert eaten during the February carnival
Amanda's cicerchiata ora, a traditional Italian dessert eaten during the February carnival

Amanda's brought dessert too, a cicerchiata ora which is a traditional Italian dessert she remembers her Mum making for her at Christmas. Usually this is eaten during the February carnival, but I can see why this would be ideal at Christmas with its wreath-like appearance and festive dusting of sprinkles.

Cicerchiata comes from the word cicerchie which are grass peas similar to chickpeas. Amanda tells us the dough is similar to pasta, sweetened with sugar and then rolled into balls and deep-fried until golden. The balls are then coated with warmed honey and shaped into a wreath.

I couldn't stop eating this. The balls are chewy in the middle, like a hybrid of a donut and a biscuit. The honey coating tastes like a gentle toffee, and the slivered almonds give an addictive crunch. What's even more impressive is that Amanda made this the weekend before and froze it. It's a common trick her mother does, she tells us, because "Italians have all kinds of tricks for mass catering." It's brilliant because it works. None of us can tell that this was frozen and then defrosted. Nonnas do know a thing or two!

My brutti ma buoni, or "ugly but good" Italian hazelnut biscuits
My brutti ma buoni, or "ugly but good" Italian hazelnut biscuits

I also brought along brutti ma buoni, an Italian hazelnut biscuit that translates as "ugly but good". Essentially it's a hazelnut macaroon, a mixture of hazelnuts and egg white baked into a meringue that's crisp on the edge with a chewy middle.

Anna's cheese board with John's smoked grapes
Anna's cheese board with John's smoked grapes

Anna couldn't cook as she was tied up all weekend but she easily made amends with her impressive cheese board collection. We feast on potted blue Stilton, a gooey brie and a peppered cheddar, savoured with all kinds of variations that include oat cakes, quince paste and raw honeycomb.

John's smoked grapes
John's smoked grapes

And then there were the smoked grapes! John confesses he doesn't know what prompted him to smoke grapes but I reckon there'll be all kinds of crazy smoking inventiveness at his place over the next month or so.

The white grapes, in particular, have taken on an intense smokiness. Anna says it reminds her of Islay whisky and its distinct peatiness. I have to agree. It's strange but alluring. Eating a smoked grape with the brie is next level deliciousness. 

A fab afternoon with friends with good food and wine. Thanks for hosting us, John! Scroll on for the recipes. 

Quince paste
Quince paste

Raw honeycomb for the potted blue stilton
Raw honeycomb for the potted blue stilton

White bean dip with crostini recipe

Recipe: White bean dip with crostini
Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats

400g tin of cannellini beans
1/2 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to season

1 baguette
Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Pulse beans, garlic, rosemary and lemon in a food processor until smooth.  
  2. While the motor is still running, slowly add the extra virgin olive oil through the food processor feed tube. If your food processor doesn't have (or you're using a stab mixer) add the evoo in small amounts and blend thoroughly between each addition. 
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer to a covered air-tight container and store in the fridge for up to three days.
To make the crostini
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (160C if fan-forced).
  2. Slice the baguette into 5mm thick rounds.
  3. Place baguette rounds onto a lined baking tray and brush each side with extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Bake until a pale golden brown, and then turn the slices over to bake the other side. Total baking time should be about ten minutes. 
  5. Allow to cool on the tray and then transfer to a covered air-tight container. They should keep in a cool dark place for about a week. 

Brutti ma buoni "ugly but good" Italian hazelnut biscuits recipe

Recipe: Brutti ma buoni "ugly but good" Italian hazelnut biscuits
Adapted from a recipe by Dan Lepard

300g hazelnuts
150g almonds
300g sugar
6 medium egg whites
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cocoa

  1. Roast the hazelnuts at 180C for about ten minutes and then rub them in a tea towel to remove their skins. Allow to cool.
  2. When ready to start baking, preheat the oven to 160C (140C if fan forced). 
  3. Place the almonds, sugar and half the hazelnuts into a food processor and pulse until you have a coarse crumb. Random large pieces of nuts are fine. 
  4. Add the egg whites, vanilla extract and cocoa and pulse again until evenly mixed.
  5. Transfer the contents of the food processor into a heavy saucepan. Cook over a high heat, stirring constantly, until the meringue thickens. It should be stiff enough so the mixture no longer collapses when stirred or moved. 
  6. Chop the remaining hazelnuts in half and add to the saucepan mixture.  Stir until well incorporated.
  7. Place tablespoons of mixture onto a lined baking tray. The mixture will be very sticky so use two spoons to help transfer the mixture. 
  8. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the bottoms of the meringue feel dry and firm.
  9. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 
  10. These biscuits should be eaten cold and are best consumed within three days. They will keep for up to a week in a covered air-tight container but may dry out slowly.

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
18 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/23/2014 12:43:00 am


  • At 10/23/2014 6:23 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Awesome spread! Smoked grapes with brie sounds very intriguing! I wanna try making that white bean dip of yours and dip fried Lebanese bread in it!

  • At 10/23/2014 9:18 am, Anonymous Bianca@forfoodssake said…

    I had a friend whose Nonna would make very similar hazelnut biscuits....it was hard to stop at one :)

  • At 10/23/2014 9:50 am, Anonymous Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    Good food, good company, life is good!

    Those bruti man buoni were so damn moreish. Thanks for sharing the recipe, I'm going to make these because #glutenfree :p

  • At 10/23/2014 10:31 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    Did we really eat all of that? Hmm, yes, I guess we did. You made me laugh when you described yourself rocking back and forth. A fab spread of food, indeed, and you contributions were divine.

  • At 10/23/2014 10:33 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    mmm that cheese plate looks so pretty! and I really want to try these ugly but good biscuits - sometimes it's the ugly dishes that taste the best!

  • At 10/23/2014 12:57 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    What a beautiful lunch. I think I would have clammy hands wondering what to bring to a lunch of that calibre; everyone brought such beautiful and sensational food. I make a white bean dip and love how I can make it very quickly xx

  • At 10/23/2014 4:08 pm, Blogger Milktea Eats said…

    what an amazing spread of food! the spanitkopita looks great!

  • At 10/23/2014 9:40 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    Argh, I'm fine cooking for family and friends, but I'm terrified of cooking for food bloggers! I'm almost too scared to go to the Xmas picnic, haha.

  • At 10/24/2014 12:20 am, Blogger Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said…

    Yum! Those hazelnut biscuits sound so delicious, I really need to try it :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  • At 10/24/2014 12:40 am, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    Oh wow, what a feast, we ate like kings! Glad you shared the recipes, will be making both of these. You have converted me to a white bean dip lover!

  • At 10/24/2014 1:05 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Delicious food, delicious recipes and beautiful simplicity! (Hugest apologies) for the double comment, me thinks my other one dissapeared! Love the spread! Worthy of many ooh's & aah's!

  • At 10/24/2014 2:32 am, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    What a food fest you had! Love the twice-cooked octopus, the quince paste, the crepe pie! Everything looked delicious!

    Gourmet Getaways

  • At 10/24/2014 10:17 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    MMM this feast looks delicious. Smoked grapes and cheese sounds fantastic.

  • At 10/24/2014 12:15 pm, Blogger Cassie | Journey From Within said…

    oh my, everything looks so good! Looks like you all had a good meal :D who says you need to eat out and have a fantastic meal? XD

  • At 10/24/2014 2:46 pm, Blogger Sherrie @ Crystal Noir said…

    What an idea to smoke grapes! And all that cheese on that board yuuuuum

  • At 10/26/2014 2:53 am, Anonymous Padaek said…

    Great looking get together! Well organised folks, and everything looks incredibly delicious!! I desperately want an Anuka Smoker now. Smoked grapes - who would have thought! Yum! Excellent recipes too. Thanks! :)

  • At 10/26/2014 7:01 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    oooooo interesting! i didn't even know you could smoked grapes... interest colour too

  • At 10/28/2014 9:30 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    What an awesome luncheon. I hope us Perth bloggers get it together to start holding events like this although I'm sure my food wont even be close to looking as fancy as this!


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