Monday, 8 February 2016

Sicilian Blossoms in Winter

Carciofi Ripieni di Couscous, alla Siciliana
Sicilian Styled Artichokes Stuffed with Couscous

There is something so wonderful about artichokes- their unique and almost intoxicating aroma and they are one of a few favorites of mine that really evoke a sense of pride in my Sicilian heritage.

This evening, I decided to create a filling for these 2 lovely examples, using some of the most typical flavors. But rather than using the typical breadcrumb filling that we would commonly use nowadays- I decided to use couscous, to pay tribute to the Arabic influences in Sicilian cooking that I love so much.

What more wonderful way to begin a Sicilian, or Italian meal? And what more delicious way to enjoy these wonderful, edible blossoms? You know I am not one for dipping my artichokes in any stuff and nonsense- I much prefer to stuff and steam mine... And especially so when they get crisped-up under the broiler at the end!

My ingredients to prepare 2 medium sized artichokes were: about 1 teacupful of couscous, 2 lemons, approximately 1 tablespoon each of pine nuts, raisins and ground (or finely chopped) sun-dried tomatoes, plenty of mint and parsley, salt, pepper and some good olive oil.

Pine nuts and raisins are a very Arabic addition to many traditional Sicilian meals- and the "capuliato", which is a ground paste of sorts, made from sun-dried tomatoes, is about as purely Sicilian as Sicilian can be! Add mint and lemon into the equation- and they you have them- ALL of the most wonderful flavors of the island, packed into its most glorious of blossoms... Simply divine!

Step one in the preparation is to trim away the tough stalks, then to halve the artichokes and to remove the "choke" from the center- you can do this quite easily using a teaspoon. Once you have done so, squeeze lemon juice over the cut surfaces to prevent them from oxidizing too much.

Next, prepare the filling by simply adding all of the ingredients together- couscous, ground sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, raisins, chopped herbs, lemon zests and plenty of pepper.

Spread open the leaves of the artichoke and spoon-in a little of the filling as evenly as you can manage. As you can see, I did not spoon too much inside- remember the couscous will swell to at least twice its size by the time it is cooked, 

I then placed them onto a steam rack, popped them into a saucepan with boiling water, squeezed plenty of lemon juice on top, put on the lid and said "good-bye" to them for the next 45 minutes, whilst they steamed away.

After 45 minutes they were tender, delicious, moist and aromatic with all of those great flavors inside!

I then drizzled them generously with olive oil and popped them under the broiler, at the highest setting, for 5-10 minutes until they become crispy on top and wonderfully golden.

Just like this! 

I served them with a few slices of lemon for an extra squeeze of juice before enjoying... and then enjoy them I certainly did! And I hope that you do too!

I think they look sooooo beautiful! How about you?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Wild Thing!

Casarecce con Cime di Rapa, Salami di Cinghiale, Pomodorini & Ricotta Salata
Casarecce with Broccoli Rabe, Wild Boar Salami, Cherry Tomatoes & Salted Ricotta

Making a delicious plateful of pasta is totally simple. You simply add good things to your pasta! No tomfoolery, no rocket-science, no complicated preparations and definitely no need to resort to any store-bought solutions!

Case in point- this beautiful plate of pasta here... I mean- how can you go far wrong with ingredients as delectable as these?

Obviously, the stars here are the wild boar salami and the broccoli rabe- but there have to be special prizes for the best supporting actors- the tomatoes, herbs and of course the salted ricotta... because the result was deserving of a food Oscar- I'm tellin' ya!

And you know- it really didn't take much to make this dish at all. 1 small bunch of broccoli rabe- no more than 1 handful of stalks. 1 small onion, 5-6 cherry tomatoes, 2 handfuls of pasta, about 3" of wild boar salami, 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon of oregano, salt, pepper and salted ricotta for grating.

This will take you maybe 15 minutes to prepare- and definitely less than that to enjoy! And you will be making this over and over again after you have tried it one- I bet you, you will!

Begin by starting your pasta boiling and in the meantime, fry the finely chopped onion, salami and fennel seeds together in a dry non-stick pan... the salami has enough fat of it's own, so you have no need for extra oil.

After 1-2 minutes, add the stalks of the broccoli rabe, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Fry the stalks for 2-3 minutes before adding the halved cherry tomatoes, along with the oregano and some freshly ground pepper.

After the tomatoes have fried for 1-2 minutes, add the pasta, along with plenty of the water it has boiled in and the leaves of the broccoli rabe- and continue cooking everything together on the stove top.

Once the water in the pan has been absorbed, the pasta should be perfect and filled with flavor from the salami, the greens, the herbs and the tomatoes... just the way it should be! 

And for a final finishing touch... a shower of freshly grated salted ricotta and some freshly ground pepper.

And this my friends- is about as delicious and honest as a plate of pasta prepared in Wintertime can get! Enjoy!

Carnival Cookies!

Chiacchiere al Forno, alla Francesco
Francesco's Baked "Chiacchiere" or "Carnival Cookies"

I love "chiacchiere"- these super simple but oh-so-nice little cookies that are made traditionally during the week of carnival all over Italy... the only thing is- they are usually deep-fried.

And what is the big problem with deep-frying? Well, obviously, the calories involved in the end result... but that's not really a problem for me with things that I only eat once a year... it is just that for a single serving like this, just one plateful- quite frankly- I am loathe to start boiling up loads of oil to make them.

And so... I decided to bake them!

The thing with chiacchiere is that they should be thin and lighter-than-air and crispy- then have that coating of powdered sugar that makes your tongue tingle! And the typical flavors of citrus zest and sweet marsala have to be there of course... so they are basically pretty easy to make! let me show you how I made mine smile emoticon

For 1 plateful of chiacchiere (I do live alone!) I needed 125g of flour, 10g of sugar, 10g of butter, 1 egg, the zest of 1 lemon & 1 mandarine, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 shot glass of marsala. That was all and was enough for a little test... the only other thing I needed was just over 1 hour in all to prepare and bake them- and some powdered sugar to dust them with when they were finished.

There is a lot more zest and marsala in my version and less butter proportionally- so, lower fat and higher flavor! Sounded like a good idea to me- and thankfully, the result proved me right!

Ok- I messed up the photo, because I bumped against the side of my bowl... but still! Either in a bowl, or on your work surface, create a well in the flour and add the sugar, baking powder and zest. oh- and as always- even though I forgot to mention it earlier- a little pinch of salt.

Next, crack the egg into a bowl and whisk it together with the marsala- no need to fuss- just use a fork and you will be fine.

Now, add the egg mixture and the room-temperature butter and begin to pinch the flour together into a dough, then knead into shape for 3-4 minutes.

Once you have your dough together and have gathered up all the flour in the bowl- you are done... and even though you may think that YOU need a rest- it is the dough that needs to rest for a while now!

No rest for the wicked! Wrap the dough in cling film and pop it into the fridge for 30 minutes. In the meantime, turn on the oven to get it ready and hot... and do your washing up!

Once the dough has rested, dust off your work surface and roll it out nice and thinly- mine was almost as thin as a credit card! (proud!)

Using a crinkle-edged cutter, cut the dough into strips of about 2" wide and make a little cut just in the middle- like so.

Now, take one end of the dough, thread it through the slit in the middle and lay it out flat on the other side... like so!

Continue until you have used up all of your dough and don't worry! They are not meant to all be identical!

Bake at 180-190°C for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden brown, crispy... and soooo aromatic!

And once they are cool enough- at least 10 minutes later, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy! It's as simple as that! Now... have you got the coffee ready?

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Marvelous Mushrooms!

Funghi Portobello con Cipolla, Pancetta, Pomodorini, Erbe Aromatiche & Crescione
Portobello Mushrooms with Bacon & Onions, Cherry Tomatoes, Herbs & Cress

Today, I had the intention of buying myself a load of mushrooms, but at the end of it all, I finally ended up buying only 2. Oh yes, but they did happen to be big, beautiful, Portobello mushrooms as you can see! 

I hadn't had these for AGES- and so it was plain that I absolutely had to take them with me! But what to do with them, what to do?

As big as a burger bun and as thick and succulent as a steak- these have to be one of the most satisfying kinds of mushrooms out there! Very delicious and packed with flavor- and so I decided that a simple preparation would be the best- something to emphasize the mushrooms own flavor and enhance it rather than overpower it... and so I did this!

Along with my 2 lovely mushrooms, I needed just 1 small onion, a handful of finely chopped bacon, 4-5 cherry tomatoes, 1 little "tub" of fresh watercress, a little rosemary and thyme, salt, pepper and a little olive oil.

The result was pretty incredible! Sweet onion, salty bacon, rich herbs and sweet tomatoes... on a bed of peppery watercress- and I mean... who could possibly want more than that for supper!?!

The first thing I did was to prepare the bacon and onion. I sliced the onion rather thinly and fried it with the bacon, finely chopped rosemary and some plucked thyme, in no added fat, other than the bacons own.

I fried the bacon and onion until they were both beginning to turn golden brown and then deglazed the pan with a splash of water and continued cooking until it had evaporated away... and I repeated this procedure another 2-3 times, until the onion became soft and sweet and tender. And of course- that water allows the flavors of the rosemary and thyme to infuse into the onion much better than if it were to simply fry in oil.

And yet, even though there was no oil added, after 9-10 minutes, the onion was beautifully golden, slightly caramelized and wouldn't you know it? The bacon had become crispy again!

And then all I needed to do as to fry the Portobello's in a little olive oil, with a good sprinkle of pepper and salt and a little thyme.

I then flipped the mushrooms over and added some relatively thinly sliced cherry tomatoes around the outside edge and heaped on some of those lovely, golden onions in the center. 

And then I added a light drizzle of olive oil and popped them into the oven, under the grill, for around 4-5 minutes.

Served on a little "nest" of watercress and sprinkled with a little fresh thyme, this was a beautiful and satisfying evening meal! Made to be enjoyed! And so I did!

Good gracious- how can you not simple LOVE this!?!?

Friday, 5 February 2016

Small, but Perfectly Filled!

Crespelle Ripiene di Ricotta, Gorgonzola, Erbe Aromatiche & Pomodorini
Little Omelettes with Ricotta, Gorgonzola, Tomato & Herb Filling

You can't beat eggs, every now and again- haha! Get it? Of course you can, you always can and when you do, you can always improvise something good. 

Like these little pancakes, filled with ricotta cheese, gorgonzola and herbs... use up those leftover in the fridge and make something great at the same time!

A couple of eggs, my last chunk of gorgonzola, a little fresh ricotta, a bunch of herbs... it doesn't take much to make a simple supper special and delicious!

Ok- 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of ricotta, about at 3"chunk of gorgonzola, 5-6 cherry tomatoes, 1 small onion, salt, pepper, nutmeg, olive oil, a dash of milk and plenty of parsley, rosemary and thyme. That's all it takes to make 3 awesome little omelette rolls!

And if this doesn't brighten up a dark, Winters evening, like a bright ray of sunshine- then I don't know what will!

Begin by frying the finely chopped onion, together with the finely chopped rosemary and thyme in just a little olive oil until it becomes golden brown.

Dice up the gorgonzola, add it into a bowl with the ricotta and the finely chopped herbs, then stir in the flavored onions and give them a thorough mixing, using a wooden spoon.

Stir until everything comes together nicely... like this!

The "omelettes" were made by simply whisking together 2 eggs with a splash of milk and seasoning them with a tiny pinch of salt, plenty of cracked black pepper and a good dusting of nutmeg.

Whisk together and then pour out into lightly greased pan and fry into 3 little pancakes.

Now all you need to do is to spread half of each little omelette with the gorgonzola and ricotta cream, top with a few slices of cherry tomato and then roll them shut.

Spread a last little bit of the cheese on top of each roll, add 3 extra thin slices of tomato and pop under the grill for5-6 minutes, until the omelettes begin to go crispy and brown around the edge... mmm!

Just keep things simple- and make things good!