Meet In Your Kitchen | Moritz, Switzerland & the Grill Royal Family

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

“Food is probably the most important thing for me besides breathing. But I guess sex is also pretty important.” – Moritz Estermann

When you grow up in the Swiss Prealps and you find your peace with the fact that you live in a tiny village only surrounded by nature, then Switzerland is the best place to live in. However, if at one point you want to know what there is on the other side of the mountains, you have a problem. Then you have to leave.

Moritz Estermann liked his life, tightly woven into a safe net of family, friends, and Swiss food. During the week he would play in the neighbors’ fields and barns, the weekends would be all about walks in the mountains together with his parents and brother. And when he could tell his father the names of 20 flowers he would get French Fries in one of the mountain huts. Moritz doesn’t want to make it sound like Sound of Music – but it does.

But one day, the Swiss fairy tale ended and Moritz left the mountains behind to move to Berlin. And as he arrived, walking down Strasse der Pariser Kommune lined with its very vertical, very unadorned socialist buildings, he felt home and ready for a new chapter.

“We started at Pauly Bar, moved on to the Grill (Royal) then we went to King Size Bar at 1 at night and left at 6 in the morning, staggering. But I had to be back in the office at 9:30, often working on bookkeeping. It was an absolutely amazing time, I learnt everything this business is about, but you shouldn’t do this. You get bogged down. It’s too much. Your own life falls by the wayside. Completely.Moritz Estermann

Grill Royal, Kin Dee, Bar Freundschaft, Dottir – Moritz Estermann’s name appears behind many raisins in Berlin’s gastronomic cake but the man himself stayed a mystery for me for a long time. I had been wanting to meet him for years and it had to happen during a long and tipsy night out at Bar Freundschaft. Introduced by Susan Choi, and soon rebuked by Moritz as I told the sommelier “I’m sure you don’t have pastis,” the first sentence Moritz ever said to me was: “Don’t be so negative!.” I felt like a little girl, but he was right, and I got my drink in the end.

So how does a Swiss boy end up in the ‘Grill Royal family’ at quite a young age? He’s not only supervising some of the ‘family’s’ places, but he’s also Stephan Landwehr’s and Boris Radczun’s – the founding fathers – copartner in a few endeavors. How does he start new projects and each and every single one is a success? The answer is very Swiss: Moritz says he understands restaurants and he understands Berlin.

But there’s more behind this humble Swiss mind. Moritz has a great connection to his instinct and he completely trusts this instinct. I’ve seen this talent in the characters of all the people I’m talking to for the Meet in My Kitchen podcast. They can all hear their inner voice and learnt to always listen to it. Moritz instinctively goes to the right places, connects with the right people, feels the inspiration, and then picks up the right projects. It’s not luck, his success rate is too good for that. It’s a very clear focus on what makes sense and then hard work and discipline to get there.

What I love about people in the gastronomic world is that despite this discipline, they never miss the party. What I love about Moritz on top of this is that he wants to create places that make his customers happy but he also wants to create places where his employees are just as happy to work at. He is part of a new movement of restaurateurs who break with the old system. Yes, he wants to and he has to create profitable places, but that doesn’t mean you have to exploit the ones who work for you. It’s a new feeling of responsibility, and also awareness, that no matter what your job is, you can always make a difference within your everyday operating range.

“I’m not sure if I really trust the universe or if I am, and was, simply naive, but I was never scared of the world outside. I believe it’s a great privilege, growing up in an environment where fear doesn’t exist, simply not being forced to confront it and learning to live with it.”Moritz Estermann

Moritz pays a lot of attention to the people around him. And he pays the same attention when it comes to his food and cooking at home. He shared his current favorite recipe with me, Pappa al Pomodoro. This frugal Italian dish is made with just a few ingredients and that’s the reason why each of them should be of exceptional quality. It reminded me a lot of Panzanella – a Tuscan bread salad – yet the stale bread is soaked in tomato sauce and not in vinaigrette and water. Officially it’s a thick soup, eaten warm or cold. Roughly chopped sun-kissed heirloom tomatoes, fantastic sourdough bread with a dark crust, the finest olive oil, and a very simple yet very tasty tomato sauce make you forget about frugality and simply indulge in a very fruity, surprisingly light, summery lunch that takes you right to the soft hilltops of Tuscany.

The podcast episode with Moritz Estermann is in German. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Moritz on:

Spotify / Apple / Deezer / Google / Amazon / Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Pappa al Pomodoro

by Moritz Estermann

Serves 2

For the tomato sauce

  • 350ml / 1 1/2 cups tomato passata
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Fine sea salt
  • Black pepper, freshly ground 

For the Pappa al Pomodoro

  • Around 1/3 of a 750g / 1 2/3 pound loaf of stale white sourdough bread (with crust, the weight of the stale bread is roughly 225g / 1/2 pound)*
  • Olive oil (the best you can afford)
  • Around 450g / 1 pound ripe tomatoes (organic, heirloom, ideally various types)*
  • 1 large handful fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste (optionally)

* The ratio of fresh tomatoes to bread should be roughly 2:1

Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F (preferably convection setting).

For the tomato sauce, add the passata, garlic, and a dash of olive oil to a medium saucepan, season to taste with salt and pepper then bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes. The sauce should be light red and runny, not thick, and taste fruity; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces, spread on a large baking sheet, and drizzle with a little olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven until crispy but not dark. Transfer the warm bread to a large bowl and add the tomato sauce. The bread should be well covered in sauce and soak it all up but it shouldn’t swim in the sauce; let it sit for at least 5 minutes, the bread should have soft parts and parts that are still a little firm.

Cut the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Add the fresh tomatoes and basil to the bowl with the soaked bread, season to taste with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon then gently and briefly mix with your hands; it should be chunky, not mushy.

Enjoy immediately!

Meet In Your Kitchen | Mr. Susan’s Kimchi Michelada

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

“Food really helped carve out my identity, it made me realize who I am, but it was also entrée into other cultures.”– Susan Choi

What happens when you grow up in Germany, move to LA to a Mexican neighborhood at the age of six together with your Korean parents then replace California with NYC and finally end up in Berlin with a Dutch husband? You love schnitzel, traditional German food and traditions like Sunday afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake); your mother’s Korean cooking becomes a safe home inside yourself, a culinary bond to your roots; you develop a weak spot for Mexican ice cream, and adapt to the culinary playfulness that Americans master to perfection so easily.

This is the culinary map of Susan Choi, the owner of Berlin’s acclaimed Mr. Susan bar. Why Mr. Susan? – Susan says “Why not!” Susan embraces, no she celebrates all the colors and shapes, the flavors and textures, the stories and people that this map keeps bringing into her life. She dove deep into each of these cultures, they became a part of who she is today. She welcomes them with respect, curiosity, and infinite excitement and she finds in them endless inspiration to feed her mantra: Life’s a feast!

“My parents worked so hard for us. It is the classic kind of immigrant story where your parents work like a bajillion jobs, bajillion hours to make sure that you have everything that you could want in the world. Every single opportunity I have is because of my parents.“ – Susan Choi

Susan is one of the most positive and energetic people I know – I can’t really imagine her having a bad day. The obstacles in her life were tough, from brutal racism to having to learn to assimilate to a new culture over and over again yet she never let go of staying true to herself. She always knew, even at a very young age, that she either learns to stand her ground or lose the battle and drown. The headwind made her stronger, she’s a tough woman but she managed to keep her soft side. And this combination makes her so lovable, so irresistible, and charming, and also – especially when she stands, smiling, at the counter of her bar sipping an iced coffee – it makes her the cutest. I could just squeeze her.

Her New York life was quite glamorous. Working as a consultant, being a regular in the city’s spectacular restaurants, she developed an even deeper fascination for food in general but also for the people who create it. She learned about the magic of a place, thriving from the dishes, the guests, the location, the interior, and first and foremost, she learned that you lose everything without keeping quality on a constant high level. When you visit Mr. Susan bar today, you can see that she soaked up every detail during her journey. Susan truly understands what makes or breaks a bar, or a restaurant.

Germany’s culinary traditions left a deep mark in her memory. The food, the rituals, the smells, and taste, she finds home in them and they paved her move to Berlin. During one of her first nights in the city, she sat on a swing over the Spree river sipping an Aperol Spritz on a warm summer’s eve and she knew, this is my home. Catering pop-ups and events quickly opened the door to another new city. Berlin welcomed this vivid woman with open arms, thankful for the excitement she brought to the Berliners’ palates. 

Be it her food or her drinks, there’s always something unique and thrilling in Susan’s compositions. Visually and in taste. Maybe because she learned to go through life with open eyes, she never misses a detail. The first drink I had at her bar was served with a paper straw with pink flamingos on it. The straw – and the flamingos – were upside down. It bugged her so much that she had to flip it. Together with her husband Robbert – the two are one of the most complementary couples I’ve ever met – she created a bar that excites, that is fun, and invites you to have a chat at the bar just like you were at home in your kitchen throwing a house party with only fabulous drinks and people (of course).

The recipe Susan shared with me for the Meet in My Kitchen podcast is her playful version of a Korean inspired Mexican drink: Kimchi Michelada! She makes a popsicle of tomato juice refined with kimchi juice and lime juice, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce then she puts the bright red frozen juices into a glass and pours ice-cold beer over it. Despite the fact that I’m German, I’m not the most passionate about beer, but this drink got me hooked. There’s nothing better to have in your glass on a hot summer’s night! If you don’t have popsicle molds, you can use ice cube molds, that’s totally fine. Susan shows how to make the drink in a tutorial in the Highlights of the podcast’s Instagram Stories, click here and go to the Highlight #5 Mr. Susan.

The podcast episode with Susan Choi is in English. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Susan on:

Spotify / Apple / Deezer / Google / Amazon / Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Kimchi Michelada

by Susan Choi / Mr. Susan

No popsicle molds? No problem, try using ice trays for ice cubes!

Makes 6-8 popsicles

For the Kimchi Michelada Popsicles

  • 0.5 Liter / 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon of unsalted organic tomato juice
  • 250 ml / 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 100 ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon kimchi juice*, or to taste, you can buy the kimchi directly from Susan (click here) or at any Asian shop and many organic shops
  • 100 ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 8-10 dashes of Worcestershire sauce (Susan uses L&P)

* Kimchi is a live product, it will continue to ferment over time thus have different flavor profiles so adjust to taste! You’ll need to buy roughly 500g / 17 1/2 ounces of kimchi and then drain it for the right amount of kimchi juice. You only use the liquid for the popsicles, you can use the drained kimchi for other recipes or snacks. The more fermented the kimchi, the juicier it’ll be.

For serving

  • About 2-4 tablespoons lime juice, to brush the outside of the glasses
  • Tajin (chili-lime sea salt), to sprinkle the outside of the glasses
  • Your favorite beer. We suggest a crisp lager. It can also be enjoyed with alcohol free beer!

For the popsicles, mix the ingredients together and pour into your favorite popsicle molds (or ice trays for ice cubes). Freeze for minimum 12 hours. 

For serving, brush some lime juice on the outside of a tall glass (just a wide strip) and sprinkle with chili salt. Place a popsicle in the glass and pour in your favorite beer. Or pour the beer into the glass and lay the popsicle on top of the glass (looks prettier and more dramatic).

Meet In Your Kitchen | Domberger Brot-Werk’s Secret to German Bread

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

“Food is kind of everything. It’s a source of conflicts, of love. It connects, it’s sharing, it differentiates. It’s absolutely underrated in Germany.” – Florian Domberger

The first time I visited Florian Domberger’s bakery, Domberger Brot-Werk, in Berlin’s Moabit neighborhood I tried (almost) everything I saw on the wooden shelves: pretzels, croissants, fragrant loaves of crusty German rye and spice bread and traditional buns, such as Vinschgerl, Schrippen, Seelen, and Schusterjungs. All made with sourdough, all made with love. I was hooked. So I sat outside on a bench in front of the bakery in the golden late morning sunlight, all that baked deliciousness spread out in front of me, and every bite reminded me of how bread used to taste in my childhood.

Florian and his team master more than just savory traditional German baking, their sweets are also a generous gift to your palate and hips. His Butterkuchen (a yeasted sheet cake topped with lots of butter and sugar) and his Zimtschnecken (cinnamon rolls) are both the best I ever had in my life. So what is the secret behind this bakery? Florian says it’s just “flour, water, salt, time – and love!”, and I agree, he and his bakers truly understand the core of what their craft is about.

The craft of a baker demands a lot of fascination – and love – for the ingredients, for the flour, the process, the desire to approach perfection and improve each move every day. A baker needs the humble understanding of the importance of time, working and watching your dough slowly and attentively, you can’t rush sourdough bread. And that’s the tricky point where commercial bakeries lost the craft and with this loss they turned the taste of good bread into a faded memory. Commercial yeast and ready-made bread mixes replaced the elaborate simplicity of “flour, water, salt, and time” and paved the way for an industrialization that is conflicting when it comes to food that achieves its taste and quality from a slow process. An undertaking that could only fail and threaten the tradition and variety that once Germany became famous for.

Twenty years ago, driving through my home country, I could stop at almost any bakery in any town, village, and city. Those were still individual bakeries who had their family name written outside on the shop’s sign and inseparably connected to their name was the responsibility, and the pride, to only deliver quality to their customers. And that’s where Florian decided to go back to. He put his name on the sign. After a successful international career in shipping and logistics, after leaving his family’s business and telling his father he’s not going to follow in his footsteps, he learned the craft of the baker with the goal to open his own bakery. Five years ago, his wife, Vanessa, and their two daughters followed their husband and father to Berlin and together they built up one of Berlin’s most acclaimed bakeries.

One of Florian’s most popular breads – and the recipe that he shared with me (see below) – is his Beutebrot. A white sourdough bread made with wheat and a little spelt flour, with a firm crust and an open almost moist crumb (the double-picture at the bottom of this post showing the loaf cut in half is the bread that I baked in my kitchen, which worked out perfectly). If you happen to have an active sourdough starter in your kitchen you can enjoy Florian’s Beutebrot in less than 24 hours and feel the sweet satisfaction of a real bread baker.

The podcast episode with Florian Domberger is in German. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Florian on:

Spotify / Apple / Deezer / Google / Amazon / Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Beutebrot / Wheat and Spelt Sourdough Bread

by Florian Domberger / Brot-Werk

You will need a cast iron cocotte (Dutch oven) with a lid to bake the bread and a very sharp razor blade (bread lame / scoring knife) to score the loaves before baking – and of course, you will need an active sourdough starter.

Makes 2 loaves of sourdough bread 

  • 900g / 7 cups unbleached wheat flour (type 550)
  • 100g / ¾ cup whole spelt flour
  • 750ml / 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water 
  • 100g / 3 ½ ounces active sourdough starter *
  • 25g / 5 teaspoons fine sea salt

* Your sourdough starter is active when you refresh it and it doubles its volume within roughly 4-5 hours. For this recipe, use the refreshed sourdough starter as soon as it has risen to its peak, before deflating. To test the activity of your starter, you can add a spoonful of it to a glass of water: it should float, it should not sink, then it’s ready to be added to the dough. On my Instagram you see how I grew a sourdough starter from scratch, it’s in the Highlight Story ‘Sourdough’, click here.

This is my bread baking schedule: On Day 1, I refresh my sourdough starter in the late morning/ around noon, I start mixing the dough at around 5 pm then, after folding and shaping the dough, I leave it in the fridge overnight and remove it from the fridge the next day at around 8:30am. On Day 2 at around 10am, I preheat the oven and bake one loaf after the other in a round cast iron cocotte (Dutch oven) with a lid. At the bakery, Florian shapes the loaves on Day 2, however I find that my schedule works easier for a home baker.

Day 1

In a medium bowl, combine the wheat flour and the spelt flour. In a large bowl, whisk together the water and sourdough starter. Add the flour mixture and, using your hands, mix for about 3 minutes until well combined; it will be a little sticky. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rest at room temperature for about 40 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt on top of the dough and, using your fingers, push and rub the salt into the dough. Fold the dough on top of itself a few times then cover with a kitchen towel and let it rest at room temperature (about 21°C / 70°F in my kitchen) for 30 minutes.

Now the bulk fermentation starts, which will take about 3-4 hours: Every 30 minutes, wet your hands with a little water and , grabbing underneath the dough on one side, lift the dough and fold it on top of itself then turn the bowl by 90° and repeat folding the dough the same way on top of itself; turn the bowl by 90° and repeat folding the dough two more times so that the dough has been folded on top of itself from all 4 sides. Cover the bowl, let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes then repeat folding the dough the same way (each time from all 4 sides) every 30 minutes. After 3-4 hours the dough will feel softer and smoother, more cohesive and less stretchy, and it will have risen by roughly 30%. This process will fasten when the room temperature is higher and take longer when the room is colder.

After the bulk fermentation, gently pour or scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a work surface, dust the dough’s top with a little flour then flip the dough and gently cut the dough into 2 pieces. Take one piece of dough, fold it onto itself so that the top and the bottom surface is dusted with flour. Using a bench knife or your hands, gently pull and turn the dough, giving it a round shape and building surface tension (you can find tutorials about shaping sourdough loaves online). The top should be round, smooth, and very taut. Shape the second piece of dough the same way then let both pieces rest for about 10 minutes.

Line 2 bread baskets or bowls (about 20cm / 8″ diameter) with kitchen towels and dust the towels with flour. For the final shaping, dust one piece of dough with a little flour and, using a bench knife, flip the dough. Gently stretch and pull the side of the dough that’s lying closest to you a little up and fold it over the middle of the dough. Pull the right side of the dough up and fold it to the left generously over the middle of the dough then pull the left side up and fold it to the right generously over the middle of the dough. Now pull the side furthest away from you up and fold the dough onto itself towards you then lay your hands, shaped like a dome, on top of the dough and pull and rotate the dough, while the seams stay at the bottom, towards you. This builds surface tension and creates a taut, round top. Using a bench knife, lift the dough then transfer and flip it into the prepared basket; the seam should be at the top and the round surface at the bottom. Repeat the same way with the second piece of dough. Wrap both baskets with the loaves in large freezer or rubbish bags and transfer to the refrigerator. Leave the dough to rise in the fridge overnight (for about 11-12 hours).

Day 2

After 11-12 hours, remove both baskets from the fridge, leaving them in the bags at room temperature. After 2 hours, place a cocotte (Dutch oven) closed with its lid on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to the highest setting (at least 250°C / 475°F) for about 30 minutes. The cocotte should be very hot. Remove one basket from the bag. Line a large wooden board with parchment paper, place it on top of the basket, and flip the basket so that the loaf lies on the parchment paper. Quickly score the top of the loaf with the razor blade (you can find tutorials about scoring sourdough loaves and different scoring patterns online) then immediately, and very carefully (!), remove the hot cocotte from the oven, placing it onto a trivet. Be cautious and mind that the cocotte is very hot and can cause severe injuries! Immediately remove the lid from the cocotte then transfer the loaf (on the parchment paper) to the hot cocotte and quickly but carefully place the loaf (on the parchment paper) in the cocotte. Close with the lid, place the cocotte on the rack in the oven then reduce the heat to 230°C / 450°F and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and bake open for another 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack. Let the bread cool for at least 20-30 minutes before you cut it.

To bake the second loaf, raise the oven temperature to the highest setting again (at least 250°C / 475°F), place the cocotte closed with its lid in the oven, and heat for 10-15 minutes. Then repeat the steps described above but mind to reduce the heat to 230°C / 450°F when you transfer the scored second loaf into the oven (a step I often forget).

The bread tastes best in the first 3 days. It also freezes well, you just defrost the frozen loaf, sprinkle the defrosted (or partly defrosted) loaf generously with water then bake it at 200°C / 400°F for about 10-20 minutes.

Meet In Your Kitchen | Maria’s Cannelloni al Ragù

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

“I think it’s amazing that we need to eat to survive but the way to survive is to do something that is amazing to do, that you can enjoy, that you have the privilege, the luxury, three, four times a day to do something out of necessity that you can enjoy as one of the I would say best things there is in life.” – Maria Gerace

The first time I met Maria Gerace she came to a Saturday lunch at my apartment, we started at noon and parted at 4 in the morning. Mussels, crêpes, late night pasta, and many bottles of vino – that was the perfect start of a friendship that would always circle around food, wine, and long conversations. When I go to Maria’s kitchen she makes cannelloni for me – not a couple but 20 (you can find the recipe below, Maria uses crespelle/ crêpes for the cannelloni instead of cannelloni pasta). In her kitchen, she’s my Italian mamma who always takes care that my plate (and glass) is never empty!

Maria grew up in a small town in Calabria, close to the sea, right at the tip of Italy’s boot and far away from the life she was longing for. She was raised by her grandmother who planted the seed in the young girl’s soul that a good life is always connected to good food and to people to share it with.

At a young age Maria was already used to patiently peeling pounds of fava beans in the evening in front of the TV; to making passata in the garage once a year with the entire family, each member having at strict role in the procedure – a hierarchy that only slowly alters with age. Food was never just prepared for oneself, but always shared with the whole family. The famous Sunday tomato sauce enriched with polpettine, a weekly ritual, which smell and taste is so deeply woven into her memory, was a frugal feast in her granny’s kitchen that no family member dared to miss. The young ones brought their boyfriends and girlfriends, the aunts and uncles sharing laughs and stories, a constant flow of people pulled to the kitchen of a woman who held everything and everybody together like a magnet.

Once a year the family would gather and go on a ‘pilgrimage’ to slaughter a pig at a small village close by. The blood would be collected immediately to make sanguinaccio, cooked with cocoa, sugar, and spices it was turned into a rich chocolate sauce that the kids loved. Even for the young ones it was normal that every part of an animal was used, that the whole family would always be involved in every food endeavor, and that there were recurring culinary rituals that marked the flow of the year and made it special. Traditions that everyone was longing for.

Although her curiosity and hunger for life made her leave the south of Italy to study industrial design in Milan, to travel and experience the world and widen her view, to then settle in Berlin with her husband Jan and work as an eyewear designer, Maria’s voice always mellows when she talks about her granny, about Italian food, and the sea.

The podcast episode with Maria Gerace is in English. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Maria on:

Spotify / Apple / DeezerGoogle / Amazon / Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Cannelloni al Ragù

by Maria Gerace

There are many steps involved in the preparation of this dish, so it makes sense to cook it in larger quantities. Cannelloni freeze very well. Follow this recipe and freeze them (in the baking dish) before (!) baking the crespelle in the oven. After defrosting them you can bake them following this recipe again. You can also prepare the ragù and the tomato sauce a day ahead. The crêpes and béchamel sauce (in case you don’t use store bought sauce) should be made the day you finish the preparation and then either bake or freeze the cannelloni.

Makes about 20 crespelle / Serves 7-10 

For the ragù (you can prepare the ragù a day ahead)

  • 100 ml / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 500g / 17 2/3 ounces ground beef (or mixed beef/ pork)
  • 1kg / 2 1/4 pounds canned whole peeled tomatoes, crushed (or canned crushed tomatoes)
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

For the crêpes 

  • 600ml / 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g / 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • Fine sea salt
  • Unsalted butter, to cook the crêpes

For the tomato sauce (you can prepare the tomato sauce a day ahead)

  • Extra-virgin olive oil to taste
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 500g / 17 1/2 ounces tomato passata
  • Fine sea salt

To finish the cannelloni

  • 1 liter / 4 1/4 cups thick béchamel sauce*
  • Parmesan, freshly grated
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • 500g / 17 2/3 ounces Provola cheese, cut into cubes

* Here is my recipe for béchamel sauce from my book ‘365

  • 1 liter / 4 1/4 cups whole milk 
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • Nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • Fine sea salt
  • Finely ground pepper
  • 45g / 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 45g / 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

For the ragù, simmer the white wine in a medium saucepan for 5 minutes to boil off the alcohol and reduce acidity. In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes. Add the ground beef and a little olive oil and cook over high heat, stirring to break up the meat, for a few minutes or until the meat is browned. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, using a spatula to scrape any bits and pieces off the bottom, then add the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and gently simmer over medium-low heat for 1-2 hours; the ragù should be thick. Place a large colander in a deep sheet pan then pour the ragù into the colander to drain any excess liquid; for the filling, the ragù needs to be very thick and not runny. Set the sauce collected in the sheet pan aside. Let the ragù cool completely.

For the crêpes, whisk together the milk, olive oil, and eggs then add the flour and a pinch of nutmeg and salt and whisk, using a stand mixer or a whisk, until smooth and well combined. Let the batter sit for about 30 minutes.

For the tomato sauce, heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for a few minutes then add the passata, season with a pinch of salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the garlic then let the sauce cool for at least 15 minutes.

For the béchamel sauce, combine the milk, bay leaf, 1/4 teaspoon of ground or freshly grated nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of pepper in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately take the pan off the heat, remove and discard the bay leaf, and set aside. To make the roux for the béchamel, melt the butter in a separate medium saucepan over medium-high heat and as soon as it’s sizzling hot, whisk in the flour. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into the roux and whisk until smooth. Simmer on low, whisking occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper and set aside.

To cook the crêpes, spread out 4-6 kitchen towels on a work surface. In a 20 cm / 8“-non-stick pan or cast iron skillet heat 1/2 teaspoon of butter over medium-high heat. Pour in a ladle of the batter, tilting and turning the pan so that the batter spreads evenly and very thinly. Cook the crêpe, flipping once, for about 30-60 seconds per side or until golden. Spread the crêpe on the prepared kitchen towels and continue cooking about 19 more crêpes with the remaining batter, adding a little butter to the pan and adjusting the heat as necessary.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.

To finish the cannelloni, spread a little tomato sauce on the bottom of 2 large baking dishes, drizzle with a little béchamel sauce, and sprinkle with a little Parmesan. Season each crêpe with a little nutmeg and sprinkle with a little Parmesan. Place a generous spoonful of the ragù in the middle of each crêpe and top with Provola and a spoonful of béchamel sauce. Gently roll each crêpe into a tight wrap and arrange them tightly, side by side, in the prepared baking dishes. Cover the crêpes with the remaining tomato sauce, the sauce collected from the ragù, and the béchamel sauce, sprinkle with a little Parmesan, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until it’s bubbling and the top is golden brown. Let the crespelle sit for a few minutes before serving.

Meet In Your Kitchen | Nobelhart & Schmutzig

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

“Nature is much larger than our actual doings as humans because she can create so much more variety and so much more depth in taste.” – Billy Wagner / Nobelhart & Schmutzig

Nobelhart & Schmutzig seduces the hungry mind with a vibrant cosmos that is hard to resist. The restaurant is not just about food, there is a rebellious, a critical attitude behind it that likes to challenge the comfortable eater. Restaurateur and sommelier Billy Wagner and chef Micha Schäfer create dishes with verve, heart, and precision. They skillfully caress their guests’ tastebuds yet a visit at their Berlin restaurant goes beyond an exciting flavor experience. Billy and Micha dare to question and shake up established structures, to reshape and experiment with all the facets that a visit to a restaurant is about.

When you ring the restaurant’s door bell, when you’re seated at the c-shaped counter – the ‘kitchen table’ framing the open kitchen -, when Micha and his team cook and serve their refined compositions right in front of you, and when Billy, the conductor, takes care that you’ll never forget this evening, then you’re part of an almost orchestral experience that includes all your senses and excludes the outer world for a little while. There’s the excitement of the unexpected but there’s also the comfort of an ambience that allows you to be fully yourself. Isn’t that what a visit to a restaurant should be about?

Rewarded with a Michelin Star only nine months after the opening and with 16 points by Guide Gault Millau 2021, ranked at No. 57 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (Update October 2021: now they are No. 45), Nobelhart & Schmutzig quickly found its fame in the Berlin and in the international restaurant scene. As good as the praise may feel, the ‘old couple’ Billy and Micha – that’s how it feels when you meet them – entered the culinary scene with more profound intentions.

Billy comes from a family of restaurateurs; named Sommelier of the Year several times, gaining experience at the German 2-Star Michelin restaurant Zur Traube amongst others, he achieved a deep understanding of what a satisfying visit to a restaurant should truly be about. Dropping out of the 2-Star Michelin restaurant Villa Merton in Frankfurt at the innocent age of 27 and taking over the responsibility for the culinary creations in Billy’s endeavor right from the start in 2015, Micha also had a very clear vision of the food that inspires him as a chef.

Both men envisioned a menu that pulls the single ingredient right into the spotlight, and with that also the farmers, the butchers, and bakers that are responsible for each ingredient. Focussing, reducing, leaving out the unnecessary, that’s where they found their mantra and the clever and tasty answer to a changing way of eating and indulging. It’s about pure taste, thriving and prospering from seasonal, regional, and responsibly handled resources. And above all, it’s about having a good time and forgetting about obsolete conventions. Nobelhart & Schmutzig is the seductive synergy of two men, two opposite poles, one calm the other impulsive, which Billy modestly describes with the words: “Micha takes care that our guests enjoy the food and I take care that the guests are there.” Below you can find the recipe for Micha Schäfer’s Mashed Potatoes, Onions, Unripe Apples and Savory that he cooked for me at the restaurant.

The Nobelhart & Schmutzig podcast episode is in German. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Billy and Micha on:

Spotify / Apple / DeezerGoogle / Amazon / Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Mashed Potatoes, Onions, Unripe Apples and Savory

by Micha Schäfer / Nobelhart & Schmutzig

“Our recipes strongly depend on the quality of the ingredients – this counts for each ingredient and that makes the difference. The more regional the ingredients that you buy yourself to prepare this recipe the bigger the possible differences to the ingredients that we held in our hands when we created this recipe and that’s great, that’s really good! This offers the possibility to experience cooking in a new way and to learn to always base a dish on the produce, that’s your starting point, just as we do at Nobelhart & Schmutzig. So be brave and adapt this recipe to your own local conditions!“ – Micha Schäfer

Serves 2

For the onions

  • 150g / 5 1/4 ounces onions
  • 80g / 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • Fine sea salt

For the mashed potatoes

  • 300g / 10 1/2 ounces waxy potatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked butter (you can buy smoked butter online, in the Nobelhart & Schmutzig shop, or replace it with regular butter but then, unfortunately, you’ll miss out on the smokey touch)
  • 60g / 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 90ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of the water used to cook the potatoes
  • About 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Fine sea salt

For the apples

  • 1 large or 2 small firm sour baking apples or unripe apples
  • unsalted butter, to cook the apples
  • 1 medium sprig savory

For the onions, peel the onions and dice them very finely. Heat the butter in a small pot over medium heat, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring once in a while, over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes or until very soft and pale-golden; they shouldn’t be brown.

For the mashed potatoes, peel the potatoes then cut them into halves or quarters and boil them in salted water for about 20-25 minutes or until soft; mind to keep the water used to cook the potatoes when they are done and set it aside. In a medium pot, mash the potatoes until very fine; you can also use a very fine sieve. Add the smoked butter and the butter and, using a wooden spoon or a whisk, beat / whisk until combined. Gradually add 75ml / 1/3 cup of the potato cooking water, whisking constantly, adding more of the liquid until the mashed potatoes reach the desired creamy texture. Season to taste with vinegar and salt, cover with a lid, and set aside.

Core the apples (don’t peel them) then cut small apples into quarters and large apples into 8 wedges. Heat a teaspoon of butter in a small, heavy pan over high heat (the pan should be very hot). Quickly sear the apple wedges in the hot pan on both sides until golden brown; they should stay firm.

Arrange a spoonful of the onions and a spoonful of the mashed potatoes on 2 plates then arrange the apples on top of the onions. Sprinkle with savory and serve immediately.

Guten Appetit!

Meet In Your Kitchen | Berlin’s Best Bagel Baker

This post is part of my new Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

For months, a friend who knows how much I love to talk, question, and discuss has been bugging me to start a podcast. So thanks to my friend Anne‘s persistence, here’s my new baby: the Meet in My Kitchen podcast!

For this new series, I invite people to my tiny Berlin kitchen whose journey in life I find inspiring, to find out how they got to where they are in life, to learn about the struggles they had to overcome, how the highs and lows shaped them – and what food has to do with it. My guests are chefs and home cooks, farmers, bakers, and artists, they are all curious adventurers who share a deep zest for food and life. I also visit each guest in her or his kitchen, or restaurant, or bakery, where they share a recipe with me, which you can find in my blog’s Meet in Your Kitchen series.

You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links), there will be English and German episodes.

“Food is making other people love me, it’s very manipulative. That’s how I use food!” – Laurel Kratochvila / Fine Bagels

Many years ago, I discovered a small book shop in my Berlin neighborhood, specializing in English literature. It was a quiet, dark space with wooden floors and vintage furniture, and a little counter filled with the loveliest loaf cakes. I came back almost every week, mainly for the sweets, and soon found out that the shop was run by an American/ Czech couple: Laurel from Boston, responsible for baking, and her husband Roman Kratochvila from Prague, taking care of the books.

They left my neighborhood too soon, creating a void that could never be filled, but they re-opened a much brighter and bigger spot just as charming. This became the famous Shakespeare and Sons / Fine Bagels on Berlin’s lively Warschauer Strasse, praised and loved for Jewish baking classics – and good books. Laurel’s bagels, babka/ challah knots, and rugelach are known across town and get me to hop on my bicycle regularly to enjoy her sweet and savory treats.

I’m intrigued by Laurel’s passion and dedication, and her irresistible smile that wipes away all sorrows. She started as a home baker and then deepened her knowledge and education in French bakeries, but she still has this relaxed aura of ‘a friend who’s just baking in her kitchen.’ Laurel treats her dough like a baby, she knows it well, watches and works it precisely, until it unfolds its true beauty.

For this podcast episode, Laurel shared her recipe for Brick Lane bagels with me (named after London’s famous Brick Lane Beigel bakery). She calls it a mix of a New York and a Montreal bagel. Quick to prepare, a little chewy, and perfect for a luscious sandwich filled with salt beef, mustard, and gherkins, you can now satisfy your bagel cravings in your own kitchen any time.

The podcast episode with Laurel Kratochvila is in English. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about my podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Laurel on:

Spotify / Apple / Deezer/ Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Laurel’s Brick Lane Bagels

Makes 12 bagels

  • 1 kg / 7 2/3 cups bread flour or all purpose flour (type 550 in Germany, T55 in France)
  • 50 g / 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 envelope (7 g / 1/4 ounce) fast-acting yeast or 18 g / 2/3 ounce fresh yeast 
  • 10 g / 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 420 ml  / 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 large egg
  • 15 ml / 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • sugar for boiling the bagels
  • sesame and / or poppy seeds for the topping

For the sandwich

  • salt beef, very thinly sliced
  • mustard
  • gherkins, sliced

Preheat the oven to 230°C / 450°F (or the highest temperature setting of your oven). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt then, in a medium bowl, whisk together the water, egg, and vegetable oil, and add to the flour mixture. Mix into a shaggy mass by hand or with a wooden spoon. Then knead by hand for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Avoid adding more flour as you knead it. Form the dough into a ball and set into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let rise for 30 minutes in a warm environment. Meanwhile, set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.

Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll them into tight balls, cover with plastic wrap. After ten minutes, press a hole through the middle of each ball of dough with your thumb or elbow (see pictures below). Stretch out the bagel a bit and place on a lightly floured work surface.

Add a couple spoonfuls of sugar to the boiling water. In batches (2-3 bagels at a time), boil the bagels for 30 seconds to 1 minute, flipping them once. Don’t overdo it! Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove the bagels from the water and transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Top with seeds of your choice. Bake the bagels for about 10 minutes or until golden.

To make the sandwich, cut a bagel in half, stuff it generously with thinly sliced salt beef, drizzle with mustard, top it off with a few slices of gherkins, and close the bagel with its top.

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Seed and White Chocolate Babka

Sundays are for sugar rushes

I’ll be honest, my oven has been off most of the time in the past few months. There was a humble apple pie, a few quiche variations and the obligatory cookies in December to fill the jars – and to fill my apartment with that buttery smell – but apart from that I’ve been a lazy baker. Yet to compensate for the lean supply of baked goods from my own kitchen – and still satisfy my voracious sweet desires – I dove into a new old passion: regular visits to my trusted Berlin bakers.

My favorite bakeries in the city offer all I would need to never ever have to turn on my oven again (not to say that would ever happen!). Flaky pastries for the mornings, experimental cookie creations from Cookies & Co for my espresso break, and for the afternoons, there’s a café/ bakery I’ve visited for almost 16 years, SowohlAlsAuch Kaffeehaus. They have a decadent hazelnut mascarpone torte, which often crowns my Sunday coffee table. And then there’s Café Boulangerie, with their chocolate covered Bundt cake it is a favorite place to go to when I meet my girls for walks in the neighborhood.

Almost any time I’m up for a longer trip across the city just to nibble on Laurel’s bagels, Challah knots and rugelach from Fine Bagels, or have my traditional Pfannkuchen (filled doughnuts without a hole, called Berliner where I come from) at New Years and carnival from KaDeWe.

And for sudden cravings, around the corner from my home is a small bakery particularly talented at yeast baked goods like Puddingbrezel (vanilla custard pretzel), tender brioche buns, sticky poppy seed twists and a relatively new discovery: a glorious pumpkin seed twist. I had never before thought of using squash seeds for sweet baking. For pesto, or crunchy salad toppings, yes, but it never occurred to me that it would make sense to mix it, for example, with white chocolate chunks and use that for a babka filling. So I just did that, loved it and here’s (finally!) a new recipe on the blog.

It’s a wintery variation of my blueberry lemon cheese babka and my poppy seed babka and it fits particularly well to gloomy Sundays in February, when the heart needs some sweetness to fill the gap until spring. And anyway, Sundays are for sugar rushes – doesn’t matter if homemade or from your favorite neighborhood bakery.

Pumpkin Seed and White Chocolate Babka

Mind that the babka has to rise twice, the first time overnight (for about 8 hours) in the fridge.

Makes 1 loaf cake.

For the dough

  • 275g / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 50g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fast-acting yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 60ml / 1/4 cup whole milk, lukewarm
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 75g / 1/3 cup butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
  • sunflower oil, to grease the bowl

For the filling

  • 240ml / 1 cup whole milk
  • 50g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 150g / 5 ounces pumpkin seeds, finely ground in a food processor
  • 110g / 4 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped

For the glaze

  • 45ml / 3 tablespoons water
  • 50g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Day 1 – in the evening:

For the dough, in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and egg yolk and add together with the butter to the flour mixture. Mix with the hook for about 8 minutes then continue kneading and punching the dough with your hands for a few minutes until you have a soft and silky ball of dough. Transfer the dough to a clean, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge overnight, or for about 8-10 hours (don’t be alarmed, the dough will only rise a little).

Day 2 – in the morning:

Take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit in the bowl at room temperature for about 1-2 hours (this time I even let it sit for 4 hours and the babka rose beautifully).

For the filling, in a medium saucepan, bring the milk, sugar, cinnamon and ground pumpkin seeds to a boil and cook, whisking constantly, over medium-high heat (bubbling) for 5 minutes or until the mixture is spreadable. Let the filling cool completely (I put the pot in the snow on the balcony, whisking occasionally).

Butter an 23 x 10cm / 9 x 4″ loaf pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

Punch the dough down, take it out of the bowl and knead for 30 seconds. Roll the dough with a rolling pin into a 40 x 28cm / 16 x 11″ rectangle. Spread the pumpkin seed filling on top, leaving a 2cm / 3/4″ border then sprinkle with the white chocolate. Starting from one long side, roll the dough up into a log (8th picture, below). Use your fingers to squeeze the overlapping dough then flip the roll over so that the seam is at the bottom. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll in half lengthwise (3rd picture, top). The cut sides facing up, place both pieces next to each other then quickly lift one half over the other, repeating to form a twist (4th picture, top). Using the blade of a large knife, gently lift the babka and transfer quickly to the prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place (I kept the bowl on the heater) for about 60-90 minutes or until puffy.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F (conventional setting).

For the glaze, in a small saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook for 2 minutes or until syrupy then take the pan off the heat and set aside.

Bake the babka for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and spongy, covering the top of the babka with tin foil after 30 minutes if it gets dark. After 35 minutes, check with a skewer, it should come out almost clean. Take the babka out of the oven and immediately brush the top with the syrup. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes then remove from the pan. Enjoy the babka warm or cold.

Parmigiana di Melanzane

Think of lasagna, replace the pasta sheets with slices of fried eggplant and you have a Parmigiana di Melanzane. It took me many years to finally eat this very frugal, very simple and very delicious Italian home cooking gem and it took me even longer to finally give it a go in my own kitchen.

I have to thank the tiny Sicilian island that I mentioned earlier in May, when I wrote about Stuffed Sardines. This little rock in the Mediterranean rewards me with the best parmigiana for lunch, at a little cafe at the piazza where I sip chilled Chinotto and let my fork sink into silky layers of soft eggplant, creamy cheese and fruity tomato sauce. The island reminds me over and over again how precious good produce is, what a gift tasty vegetables are and how little I have to add as a cook when I allow the vegetables to show their humble inherent qualities.

After writing two cookbooks and sharing hundreds of recipes over the past seven years, I was worried that tiredness might keep me tethered to my minimalist cooking trip but it turns out that the opposite is true. I’m not tired of experimenting, but maybe more than ever I truly and fully appreciate when a tomato, a zucchini or a bell pepper are at their peak and simply taste good. When they taste so good that I don’t even want to cook them, my tastebuds have an epiphany. It’s not the complex layering in a dish, or the newly discovered combination of flavours that have rarely been combined before, but it is the purest taste of good produce melting in my mouth that makes me the happiest muncher in the world.

On this tiny Sicilian island that I love so much I pick my fruit and vegetables straight from the fields surrounding the house where we live. My early morning walks, to pick what I need for the day before the hot summer sun hits fruit, flowers and leaves, before the plants daily struggle for light, shade and water begins, have taught me more about food in the past few years than any cookbook or food show. Plants follow simple rules, they obey a rhythm. To work – as a cook – with that rhythm and not against it, creates utmost pleasure.

This year, northern Sicily and its surrounding islands didn’t have enough rain. Lentils didn’t grow, instead their plants dried out on the fields, lemons stayed tiny, the fruits barely having any juice, but on the other side pomodori, tomatoes, grew so abundantly that our friends who have their own fields couldn’t keep up collecting and using them. So they gathered one day to make passata, blanched, pureed and strained tomatoes turned into the purest sauce, and bottled their ‘red gold’ for the colder months to come. If nature gives them tomatoes abundantly, they turn them into a tomato feast. Maybe next year it will be lentils, who knows, but it will definitely reflect in their cooking.

So my friend Pietro gave me a bottle of his deep red passata and although I would have loved to just drink it, I decided to let the sun-kissed concentrated tomato juices shine in a dish that I enjoy so much when I’m in Sicily: I decided to cook my first Parmigiana di Melanzane. This dish is so simple yet there are a million recipes, tricks and variations and every Italian will say that their mamma definitely makes the best. And every one of them is right because there isn’t just one recipe that is the best but there is one rule that almost every Italian follows with verve and passion: the ingredients need to be of excellent quality.

You won’t need many ingredients for a parmigiana but make sure to use nice, plump eggplants, good fior di latte or mozzarella and Parmesan and most importantly: invest in the best passata you can possibly find. It’s also fine to make a tomato sauce from scratch, using tinned or fresh tomatoes and your favoured seasoning, but for this dish, a simple sauce made of Italian passata, garlic, a dash of olive oil, basil, salt and pepper hits the spot. You don’t want a sauce that’s too dominant as it’s only going to play with humble fried eggplants and mainly mild cheese. It’s not a sauce I would use for pasta, it’s subtle and also more liquid than my usual red sauce, but it bathes the eggplant in the perfect summer-ripe fruitiness. This simple sauce with its deep taste of Mediterranean tomatoes is what makes or breaks your parmigiana.

My recipe is for 4 to 5 people, we enjoyed it over two days, hot, warm and cold, but I wished I had doubled the recipe!

Parmigiana di Melanzane

Serves 4 to 5

  • 1.2 kg / 2 2/3 pounds eggplants, cut lengthwise into 5mm / 0.2″ thick slices
  • Fine or flaky sea salt
  • 3 fior di latte or mozzarella (each 125g / 4.5 ounces)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • About 750ml / 3 1/4 cups Italian passata di pomodoro (if your passata isn’t very tasty, use about 1l / 4 1/4 cups passata, bring it to a boil and reduce until you have the desired amount. Alternatively: Make the same amount of sauce with tinned or fresh tomatoes)
  • 1 large handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 60g / 2 ounces Parmesan (preferably aged), finely grated

Spread the eggplant slices on cooling racks, generously sprinkle with salt, gently rubbing the eggplants with the salt, then flip and sprinkle the other side with salt. Let the eggplants sit for about 1 hour then rinse with cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Place the fior di latte (or mozzarella) in a colander, let sit for 1 hour then cut into small cubes.

In a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden. Add the passata and bring to a boil. Stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper (mind that the Parmesan will also add saltiness to the final dish!); immediately remove the sauce from the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F and grease a roughly 20x30cm / 8×12″ baking dish with a little olive oil.

In a large heavy pan, over high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to come up the side of the pan about 1.25cm / 0.5″. When the oil is sizzling hot, fry the eggplant slices in batches, arranging them side by side and turning them once, for about 30-60 seconds or until golden but not dark (see picture below). Spread and drain the fried eggplant on kitchen paper and continue frying the remaining eggplant slices.

Arrange a layer of eggplant slices in the prepared baking dish, spreading them side by side, then season with a little (!) salt and pepper, sprinkle with some of the fior di latte and Parmesan and drizzle with some of the sauce. Repeat to make more layers (about 4 layers total), finishing the last layer with cheese and sauce. Bake for about 40 minutes or until bubbly then turn off the oven, tilt or open the oven door and let the parmigiana sit in the oven for 10 minutes or even for 1 hour or longer to let it soak the juices (I let mine sit in the oven for 2 hours, temperature and texture were just right when we ate it). Enjoy the parmigiana warm but not hot straight out of the oven; we even had some cold for breakfast.