Monday, 20 October 2014

2 Awesome Autumn Salads

Insalata di Puntarelle & Melograno con Insalata di Fagiolini "Mung" Rossi
Puntarelle & Pomegranate Salad with Lukewarm Red Mung Bean Salad


Salad, at this time of year? Well- yes! Especially if it is a salad of Puntarelle, which are just coming into season right now!

One of my favorite greens, crunchy and deliciously, slightly bitter Puntarelle are an absolute must any time they are available on the market here- because it really isn't often! I made then in the traditional Roman manner, but added pomegranate, also in-season, to give a new twist, a blast of color and a load of added flavor!

And as it is getting to be rather chilly now- a warm salad of red mung beans on the side... Experimental and fun- and pretty delicious too!

I recently read a story online about the pro's and con's of soaking beans overnight, which I found to be rather intriguing... as the results of many tests they reported on confirmed that there was no great amount of time-saving at the end of the day- maybe 15-20 minutes... and no improvement in flavor to be had by taking a whole night to prepare the beans in. So I didn't. I boiled them straight from the bag- and they were just fine!


For my supper tonight I needed 1 small head of Puntarelle, 1 cupful of red mung beans, 1 carrot, 1/2 stalk of celery, 1 shallot, 1 lemon, a sprig or two of thyme, a squeeze of anchovy paste from the tube, some fresh parsley and a half of a pomegranate... and around 1 hour of cooking time.


I prepared the Puntarelle salad dressing in the traditional way using anchovies (I used a paste this evening), lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of sugar and plenty of pepper... the perfect dressing for these mildly bitter greens... it's just one of those things that works perfectly! It doesn't taste fishy at all- the anchovies just bring the perfect seasoning into play which makes this recipe rock! Trust me!


For the beans, I needed a fine dice of celery, shallot and carrot...


I fried the vegetables together in just a little olive oil, with a sprig of thyme, until the onion became translucent. I then added the beans, salt, a bay leaf and enough water to cover them. I brought them to the boil, reduced the heat to a simmer and let them gently bubble away whilst I prepared the Puntarelle.


But after an hour of gently simmering away, this is what they looked like- ready to have a little finely shredded lemon zest and more olive oil added and be dressed up ready for serving... but we will get to that in just a moment!


... because first, we need to snap those little bulbs of Puntarelle apart and then slice them up as finely as we can! Same goes for the lemon zest... a little bit of a chore I know- but so worth it!

The dressing was the zest of 1 whole lemon, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a half teaspoon of sugar and a heaped teaspoon of salty anchovy paste and plenty of coarsely ground mixed pepper... simply stirred together... terrific!

Simply mix the pomegranate seeds in with the finely sliced puntarelle, add 2/3rds of the dressing and mix thoroughly. Set to one side for the flavors to combine and intensify and go set the table whilst those beans finish boiling... then add the other third of the dressing to them, a good pinch of finely chopped parsley... and get ready to serve and to enjoy!


Colorful, flavorful, healthy and delicious!


I love to try out something new... don't you?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Autumn Glory

Filetto di Maiale, Polenta, Cicoria & Pastinaca
Pork Loin, Polenta, Chicory and Parsnip


Such a special, yet simple supper this evening! 2 little slices of lean pork loin, basically, 1 cup of polenta, 1 parsnip, 1 shallot and basically, the leaves that I would otherwise have discarded from the Puntarelle that I will be enjoying tomorrow evening... amazing what a little feast they turned into!

Drat! Now I have already told you what the ingredients were- haha! Along with a little nutmeg and milk for the polenta and thyme, white wine and good olive oil for the rest, these simple ingredients made for a perfect, quick Autumn meal... Word!


I kept this dish butter-less and do you know what? It was still terrific! I relied instead on just a little good olive oil, added at the end, to infuse the ingredients with a rich, Mediterranean flavor. Which was frankly better as well as being lighter than the usual butter and cheese excesses that polenta often is.Try tasting your ingredients rather than overpowering them with other flavors that you "love", like butter and cheese. It's just a suggestion! Because you know, in my humble little opinion... as tasty as all of those typical dishes may be- they are, as well as being pretty unhealthy... also pretty one-sided and boring! There! I've said it!


Here you go... the ingredients. feast your eyes... I already slipped-up and typed them up for you once- haha! But basically... they are so simple they need no further explanation.


The only sauce you will need for this will be the juices from the pan, enriched with white wine and honey- the flavors of the meat juices, onion, thyme and parsnip make for a lovely dressing... which I forgot to add when I took my photos this evening- aargh! But I did re-heat my meat in them before enjoying it- hehe! And yes- they are very, very good!


It is a little matter of multi-tasking, this meal- so here's how to begin. Start off by scrubbing, slicing and boiling the parsnip in a little more than 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. In another saucepan, start boiling the chicory, which you need to wash thoroughly and then cut down into 2-3" pieces.

After 5 minutes, remove the parsnip from the water, set it to one side and then add 1 cupful of polenta to the water, which is be now nicely infused with parsnip flavor. Stir it in well and then add salt, pepper, nutmeg and enough milk to bring it to the right, creamy consistency, then turn down the heat and let it simmer very gently for the duration of the cooking time, stirring occasionally.

As for the chicory- it will be absolutely tender and perfect after 10 minutes. Once you have drained it, add salt, pepper and olive oil and set it to one side, nice and warm, and give it time to soften up a little more, soak up the olive oil flavor and become even more delicious.


Whilst that is happening, quickly brown the pork slices in a little hot olive oil, then add plenty of pepper and thyme, the shallot and the parsnip and a dash more olive oil.

Fry at a high heat for 2 minutes from each side, keep the parsnip and shallot slices moving and then deglaze the frying pan with a good splash of white wine. Once the initial bubbling and steaming and boiling has subsided, add a little honey, stir through gently, and after just a couple of minutes more... you will be ready to serve!


Nice, pure, simple and delicious flavors and ingredients- that's what my kind of cooking is all about! I hope you all really enjoy!

And there you have it- a complete and deliciously balanced meal in less than 30 minutes!


Anyone for seconds?

Open Top Getaway!

Crostata di Sfogliia ai Cachi & Mirtilli Americani
Lattice-Topped, Persimmon & Cranberry Puff-Pastry Tart

Sometimes, Mother Nature gives you a helping hand, by producing lovely, fresh, sweet and delicious fruits for you, like these perfect, sugar-sweet persimmons for example...

But sometimes, it is a funky little kitchen gadget, like my nifty pastry-cutter here that will make things possible...

The you have the wonder of pre-made, perfect puff pastry of course...

And when you have it so easy, with that kind of help at your hands... why on earth would you look for ways to make things any more difficult?

You wouldn't! You would make a pastry like this in next-to-no-time!


I am not normally one for gadgets- but this one is just FUN! What's not to love about being able to cut a pastry fishing net out with one slight of hand and to cast it over something sweet and yummy, ready for baking? Nothing! Nothing, I say! Love, love, love all the way!


2 ripe persimmons, 1 roll of puff-pastry, 1 handful of cranberries, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1-2 teaspoons of powdered sugar for dusting... and no need for anything more. No fuss, no extra fat or sugar- just simple and delicious food!


There is plenty of butter in that puff-pastry... it is what makes it so deliciously fluffy and light and golden yellow when it is baked- which is why I say that there is no need to add any more. Let the pastry be pastry, the fruit be fruit and you are on my page of the food bible... and trust me- it makes for a good read and is based mostly on facts and common-sense!


Step one- peel, slice and relatively finely dice the persimmons.


Pop the diced persimmons into a saucepan along with a handful of chopped cranberries- I cut each of mine into 4 to have the kind of size that I wanted... if the pieces are too large they will be too overpowering in their flavor and this way they blend perfectly. Add the cinnamon and literally just a teaspoon of water and keep stirring for 2-3 minutes, before turning off the heat and setting them to one side... that is all you need to do!


Next, cut the pastry into 2 pieces- one smaller than the other, basically a 1/3rd - 2/rd cut. The reason being of course, that you will cut the lattice slits into the smaller one and then stretch it out to the same size as the larger of the two.


A little like this!


Next, spread out the filling nice and evenly, leaving a good couple of inches all around the outside edges.


Carefully lift the latticed-lid on top, press down the edges and then fold them upwards to create a thicker edge that can puff-up and outwards whilst it bakes. To hold it together securely, simply pinch the corners together... and then pop your terrific tart into a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 15-20 minutes until fluffy, crispy and golden brown.

And of course... add a nice sprinkle of powdered sugar- why not?!! You haven't done anything else naughty yet, except for using that pastry...


...that lovely, delicious pastry! Oh my does that look good!?! Time to enjoy all y'all!


Friday, 17 October 2014

The Mac & Cheese that Takes the Mustard!

Maccheroncini al Forno con Gorgonzola, Miele, Senape & Timo
Gorgonzola, Honey, Mustard & Thyme Baked Macaroni & Cheese


Macaroni and cheese... admittedly, not one of my favorites... although I suppose the rest of the know universe adores it!

Alas, generally speaking, it is way to fatty, rich and heavy for my liking- but being the kinda guy who never says never, I decided to try out something new and a little different... and you all know me well enough by now to know that "new" and "a little different" is EXACTLY the kind of dish that I like best!


Gorgonzola is great stuff, but it does have a rather strong and penetrating flavor- which of course is part of what makes it great, but can also make it difficult to balance with other ingredients. It is also rather fatty and heavy to digest... and so with that in mind, I tried to bring a little balance into the equation.

By adding honey, I was able to mellow the flavor of the Gorgonzola, much as a slice of pear or a grape does when you are eating it as a part of your cheese platter. The mustard helps to cut through the fatty and heavy nature of the cheese- as well of course as going wonderfully with the honey. And thyme? Well- that's pretty much a no-brainer as it goes with all of those ingredients! Add nutmeg and you have really rich and perfect flavors, all combined into one gently and pleasing result. Epic!


So, in order to transform 2 handfuls of small maccaroni into this great supper, I added a couple of Spring onions, 1 teaspoon of mustard, 1 teaspoon of honey, 2-3 slices of Gorgonzola and some fresh parsley and thyme. A little milk went in there too, as did a drop of olive oil and some freshly grated nutmeg... but we will get to those things in just a second. And I would hope that those are things you already all have at home anyway!


The result is great- still unctuous and juicy under the golden top layer, without being too heavy... and with that great herb flavor of the thyme and with the honey and mustard going on, just much more flavorful than the usual! You might just like it!

I started off by gently browning the finely sliced Spring onion with 3-4 sprigs of plucked thyme leaves whilst the maccaroni boiled.


I added just enough milk to cover the base of the pan and brought it gently to a simmer whilst I drained off the macaroni, ready to be added.


In went the noodles, the mustard, the honey, plenty of salt, pepper and nutmeg and the Gorgonzola, cut into relatively small chunks- as i said- it didn't take much more than a couple of slices- and I recommend you hold back too- otherwise it may end up being a little overpowering in flavor.


Stir in the cheese and milk until they melt together and become one.


Once the mixture is nice and smooth, add a good pinch of finely chopped parsley and stir it in before transferring it to a baking dish, ready for the oven.


Add more pepper and nutmeg and a few blobs more of cheese and bake at 180°C for 15-20 minutes until deliciously golden brown.


Lovely and crispy and golden on top... and steamy and juicy and rich and creamy down below! Oh yes, it may be very different, but trust me, it still very much so has that comfort-food feeling and flavor to it!


But don't take my word for it... get into the kitchen and make it and take a bite of it instead!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Stacks of Flavor!

Zucchino Tondo Ripieno al Cartoccio con Peperone, Mozzarella e Mollica
Foil-Baked Stuffed Round Zucchini with Red Pepper, Mozzarella & Bread Crumb Filling


Oh yes, we all love those stuffed pepper and zucchini recipes- me included! But there is more than one way to do it and it needn't be the same old thing every time you prepare them... this evening for example- I had a little time on my hands and decided to have a little fun and try a little something out... and as you can see- it turned out mighty fine as well!


Using simple bread crumbs to bulk-out and stuff the zucchini, as with so many Sicilian and Italian dishes, this was a down-to-earth and sensible supper, inexpensive, tasty and fun at the same time... that's right- my kinda meal!


I used one grapefruit-sized round zucchini, 2 small red peppers, 1 ball of mozzarella, 1 cup of bread crumbs, 2 Spring onions and a good bit of parsley... not much when you look at it that way, right? But the finished result? A more than ample serving for a good and filling meal!


Good, tasty food that is pretty to look at and healthy to enjoy- that is what home-cooking should be about- especially on a week-day night!

Start off by slicing your zucchini nice and thinly and dicing the onion and pepper nice and finely... this makes it quicker and easier for them to cook and ensures that you get a nice, evenly- baked result.


Turn on your oven to get it nice and hot and ready, and start off your little cooking escapade by gently frying the peppers and onion for 2-3 minutes, until the onion begins to turn translucent.


Then add the bread crumbs and fry for 3-4 minutes more, until they coat all of the onion and pepper pieces nicely and begin to slowly brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the finely chopped parsley, salt, pepper and plenty of nutmeg, so that they become rich and flavorful.


Set to one side to cool and in the meantime, finely dice the mozzarella... by the time you are finished with that- you should be able to get started with putting your little work of art together!


Simply stack the slices back together, starting from the base upwards, adding a good teaspoon of filling and a little mozzarella on each layer. Add a little extra pepper and keep pressing the layers down firmly as you stack them up.


I told you this was fun!


When you are finished, wrap the zucchini up as tightly as you can and give it a good press down... just to get it nicely and securely back into shape.


Open the foil back up, give the zucchini a nice drizzle of olive oil and a last sprinkle of salt, then wrap it up again and pop it into your hot oven, at 180°C for 30-40 minutes.


After that time, it will be nicely cooked and tender- but a little pale looking... time for it to go back into the oven for another 10 minutes or so until it becomes nice and brown...


... a little something like this!

Now- be careful and move swiftly whilst the melted cheese that has seeped out is still soft and does not stick to the foil and lift it onto your serving dish. I did this by using 2 wooden spatulas, sliding them underneath from each end and meeting in the middle... tricky- but doable!


And very, very eatable! As long as you can hold back long enough for it to cool a little so as to not burn your lips!


Layers of lusciousness! ... Need I say more?  ;-)