Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Move Over, Norma!

Pasta "Madama Butterfly"
"Madame Butterfly" Pasta


Just having a little fun with you all here with this post... which is basically a simple version of Sicily's "national dish" of "Pasta alla Norma".

Only, I figured, if this dish was named after an opera, I could name mine after a different opera being as I was using different ingredients... if I wanted to!

So, I went from Bellini's Norma, to Puccini's Madame Butterfly- on account of my eggplants and chili pepper coming from Asia- and have to say that they made this into the best plate of farfalle I have eaten in a looong time! Talk about having butterflies in your tummy!


How can something so simple be something so good? Well... because it uses good, basic, fresh ingredients and lets them shine by not adding too many other flavors to overpower or alter them. As always- it is about balance and moderation! Less fuss- more flavor! Word!

To transform one generous portion of pasta into something sublimely, exquisitely Sicilian and delicious, I used 3 Thai eggplants (1 small, "regular" European eggplant would be the equivalent), 1 hot red chili pepper, 1 Spring onion, just 4-5 cherry tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of tomato purée, a good handful of basil, salt, pepper, olive oil... and of course- salted Ricotta cheese for grating!


The classic ingredients would be garlic, eggplant, tomato, basil and salted Ricotta- so this is pretty close to the real thing! Garlic would be excellent- but again, I somehow managed to not have any at home! Never mind- trust me... there are enough people in Sicily who are not fans of garlic- right, Sis? Just practicing for when I come over so, I can make this for you! Hehe!

So- time to get chopping! The eggplant should be cut into larg-ish sized, mite-sized chunks... because remember- it WILl soften up quite a lot during cooking! The tomatoes I simply halved, the onion I sliced... but that chili? Yes- it IS wise to chop it finely and to get that heat a flavor spread throughout the dish uniformly... and also... make sure to wash your hands after working with it! And do not touch your eyes!


Begin by frying the eggplant in olive oil and try to set the pieces out so that they lie with one of the flat edges on the surface of the pan. Let them sizzle for 1-2 minutes without stirring and then flip them onto the other flat surface and do the same... have a little patience!


Because once you DO flip them over... you will find that they have turned into this wonderful, golden brown!


Next, pop your pasta into the saucepan to boil and add the chili, onion and tomato to the eggplant. Stir-fry everything together and season with a little salt and pepper- then after 5 minutes of the pasta boiling and the eggplant sizzling gently away... you will be ready to go!


In goes the pasta, along with enough of the water it has been boiling in to almost cover it and a tablespoon of tomato puree.


Continue cooking and gently stirring for 3-4 minutes and you will find that as if by magic... this work of culinary art will appear right before your very eyes!

Every last bit of flavor that was in that frying pan is STILL right there in the frying pan... it is all trapped in that wonderful pasta! And it is all yours to enjoy!


Grate generously, but at the same time, do not exaggerate with the salted Ricotta, as it is indeed, rather salty- but at the same time, it is my very favorite grating cheese of all to use on pasta dishes! Don't hate me! I'm Sicilian!


Need I say more, when I can just let you look at these pictures and drool?


You know, when people wrack their brains about vegetarian dishes and what to make? Well... I really don't know why! Back in the Old Country, we would know exactly what to do! And often it would be something like this!


Chances are... if you like these pictures, you are going to love these flavors! Give it a try... and you will see... you are going to really enjoy it! It's one plate of pasta you cannot refuse! 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Curry in a Hurry!

Piccoli Melanzane al Curry con Sugo al Yogurt & Farina di Ceci
Curried Baby Eggplants in a Yogurt & Gram Flour Sauce


I suppose this dish was a kind of "curry in a hurry" this evening... I got home late and just improvised it, quick as you like and easy as can be! It was ready in just 30-40 minutes in all- but my favorite thing about it was the sauce which was lighter than light and tasty as can be!

Well- it WOULD have been perfect if I hadn't been distracted by a phone call and absentmindedly forgot to add the fresh chili when I got back to the stove... but oh well! Nobody's perfect- and a mild curry is nice all the same!


Whilst coconut milk, butter or cream are all delicious bases for curry sauces, there are always lighter ingredients and alternative versions that can be just as delicious.

One of my favorite things about gram flour, apart from the great flavor, is the fact that when added to your food, it prevents yogurt or milk curdling when added- and that was the trick I used in order to bulk-up my curry sauce with low-fat yogurt... such a cool thing to do!

So apart from the steamed rice that I served my curry up with, the ingredients for 2 portions were: 4 Thai eggplants of around 5" length (or equivalent), 1 onion, 4-5 cherry tomatoes, about 2" of fresh ginger, the fresh chili that I forgot (!!!), 4-5 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 tablespoon of garam masala, 1 tablespoon of gram (chickpea) flour, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, a pat of clarified butter for frying, a few curry leaves and some fresh cilantro to garnish.


Even without the chili, this was still a deliciously flavorful and aromatic dish- but as some like it hot- and I usually do... try not to get distracted and to remember to add some extra heat to yours!


I cut the eggplants into bite-sized slices, chopped the onion coarsely, cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and chopped the ginger into a very fine dice.


I began by frying the eggplant and ginger in a good pat of clarified butter- about 1 teaspoon, until they began to brown slightly.


I then added the gram flour and stirred it in so that all of the eggplant slices got nicely coated.


After the gram flour had begun to toast a little in the saucepan, I added the garam masala and turmeric and stirred them in nicely too. The heat helps to toast the spices slightly and bring out their flavor immensely!


I then added the tomatoes and onion, the curry leaves, salt and pepper and gave everything a good stir.


All I needed to do now was to top everything up with just enough boiling water to cover it, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it bubble away for the next 20-25 minutes- which left me plenty of time to steam some Basmati rice to serve on the side in the meantime.

Right at the end, I added the yogurt and stirred it in well, adjusted the seasoning accordingly, as it will need a little more salt... but then, lo and behold! Everything was finished and delicious and ready to serve!

And of course- plenty of fresh cilantro makes it not only look much prettier, but also adds a lovely fresh finish to make this into a perfect mix! Well almost... if only I had thought to add the chili pepper in time!!!


And when curry sauce can be as rich and creamy as this- without actually BEING rich or containing cream- well! That is even more reason to be guilt free and to indulge! Yum-yum-yum!

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Power of Sour

Pollo al Aceto con Peperone, Olive & Capperi
Vinegar Chicken with Peppers, Olives & Capers

Although I bought so many Asian ingredients on Saturday, I was in the mood for something Mediterranean this evening- a little taste of the Old Country!

And this may not be the way that mamma used to make- but the basic flavor giving ingredients are still there- oregano and vinegar, very Sicilian and totally terrific for braising meat in- in this case lovely, tender chicken breast filets.

A really simple, one-pot dinner, perfect to prepare after a long day at work... basically all you need to do is to put all of the ingredients into a pot and leave them to do their own thing for an hour whilst you have a little rest and put your feet up. Yes- it's one of those recipes! And I am glad that I made it after this moody Monday! Because you can bet your bottom dollar that my mood was a lot better after eating it!

I had 2 small chicken breasts, which I in turn halved for faster cooking, 2 small, red pointed peppers (bell peppers are fine too- and the color makes no difference!), 1 onion, 1/2 of a carrot and celery stalk respectively, 4-5 black olives, a tablespoon of capers, a little fresh parsley, a teaspoon each of dried rosemary and oregano (as I didn't have any fresh), salt, pepper, a good olive oil and a white wine vinegar.

The result was succulent and delicious- and of course the meat simply fell apart at the touch! Chicken thighs would have been much better- meat on the bone always is... but this is what I had and this is what I used! Just like in real life! Haha! But it turned out wonderful too, so no worries!


Apart from the celery and carrot, which I cut into small slices, I kept the onion and peppers more rustic and simply cut them into quarters, as I find they look better that way. But let's face it- after an hour of cooking, they are going to be as tender as can be- so if you prefer to cut yours smaller... go ahead!


I began by popping the chicken breasts into my saucepan first, with a splash of olive oil and giving it a little fry, basically just until it became white and was just on the verge of browning.

I then added the vegetables, seasoned with salt and pepper and added the herbs- a teaspoon of oregano and rosemary each. After giving everything a good little stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, it was time to add the vinegar and get the real cooking started!


In went a half cup each of water and vinegar, the olives and capers, a little parsley and on went the lid, so that it could gently simmer away on a low heat for the next 45-60 minutes until everything was cooked-through, tender and delicious.


Of course, much of the fresh and vibrant color was diminished after an hour... but that wonderful aroma! Oh my! So delicious! and as we all know... a little "make-up" before serving is always necessary! So not to worry!


A last light drizzle of olive oil and a quick stir-through, gives a nice sheen and a fresh, fruity finishing touch as far as the flavor goes- and a sprig of parsley or two suddenly brings that slightly tired looking appearance after 1 hour of cooking back to life!

It's really simple, it's really rustic... and it's really delicious! 3 good reasons to give this a try, I'd say!


As you can see, those tender little capers have literally dissolved-away during cooking... but not without leaving a lot of flavor behind, which together with the olives and herbs and the sweetness of the carrot and peppers, makes a wonderful combination that has a real taste of the Mediterranean to it!


 Simple good food to simply enjoy!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

No Con-Fusion!

Riso Rosso con Funghi "Shimeji", Pancetta, Zenzero & Kimchi
Red "Cargo" Rice with Shimeji Mushrooms, Bacon, Ginger & Kimchi


There's no need for confusion- this is clearly fusion!
All I can say is that if you are looking for an authentic Asian recipe on my little blog- you are in the wrong place! The fact that I am Sicilian might hint at that...

But at the same time, if you are looking for a yummy idea for a tasty meal using a few Asian ingredients... and bacon- you are in the right place!


I couldn't resist the cute little shimeji mushrooms when I saw them at the Asian supermarket yesterday- which is why you are seeing these pictures of them, all cooked-up and ready to be eaten today!

And I have to tell you that this was a pretty good combination, along with a few simple spices and served on a bed of chewy, red "cargo" rice... an excellent and light, yet filling supper!

And please don't ask me why this lovely red rice is known as cargo rice... as obviously every other kind of rice that is shipped or flown over here from Asia has been "cargo" at some point! All I know is that it has a great nutty flavor... and I like it!


So- for my single serving, I needed 1 1/2 cups of red rice, 1 little tray of shimeji mushrooms, 2 rashers of bacon, 2 tablespoons of kimchi, 1 shallot, about 3" of fresh ginger, some fresh cilantro, dark soy sauce and red chili flakes to season... that was all!


The result was a great balancing act between the salty bacon, the sweet shallot, the tangy kimchi, hot chili flakes and ginger and mild mushrooms... pretty close to being perfect! And brought closer still by the chewy rice which had been boiled with chopped ginger and the finishing touch of the refreshing cilantro... I could eat it all over again!

I chopped the ginger into a very fine dice, cut the shallot into fine slices, the bacon into 2" sections and simply cut the mushrooms from their base.

I started the rice cooking in 3 ups of water, with a teaspoon of finely chopped ginger and a couple of tablespoons of dark soy sauce. And in the 25 minutes it took to boil, (yes, it does take a little longer than normal white rice), I had everything else ready to serve with it. And I prepared them like this...


I started off with the bacon, about 1 teaspoon of chopped ginger and the finely sliced shallot. Once the bacon had begun to sizzle and the shallot had become translucent, I added the mushrooms and a good pinch of chili flakes. I used my favorite, shrimp-flavored chili flakes- but of course any will do!


As soon as the mushrooms started to soften and become slightly brown, I added the kimchi and gave everything a good-old stir-fry!

And yes, that's right- no oil and no further seasonings were required- there was already going on right there in the pan!

All that was needed at that point was for the mushrooms and other yumminess to be served up on a bed of the red rice, with a few leaves of cilantro... and to enjoy!


And what is more important than having a great, tasty and well balanced meal? Nothing! And this was authentically that in every way!

Having Your Cake and Eating it Too!

Torta Semplice di Cocco & Cacao con Lampone, Yogurt & Lime
Simple Cake made with Coconut, Cocoa, Raspberries, Yogurt & Lime

Yet another, Sunday morning "all for lil' ol' me" cake... and where's the problem with that? None! Especially when they are so easy to make- not requiring any kind of mixer or machine at all- yep! I like that!

I set out today to simply try to make the most basic cake-mix I could, so that if I ever want to make a cake in future- meaning MY kind of cake that is not too sweet, not too fatty and juicy and delicious- I would have a simple formula I could stick to.

And I will keep trying to get the mix better of course- but I must say that this was pretty-near perfect!

Of course it is very, very important to have a recipe when baking- and to stick to it! Which is the reason that I am a pretty lousy baker!

That's why I wanted to have a "rule of thumb" recipe, rather than a Pythagoras Theorum- haha! But... I also wanted to make it up myself- that is also the kind of guy that I am!

So- my "rule of thumb" mix was in this case- 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of coconut flakes (which could also be ground nuts or almonds in future recipes), 1 egg, 1 tablespoons of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice and zest of half a lime, 2 tablespoons of honey and a handful or raspberries. Not enough oil, butter, margarine or sugar? Or those other ingredients you think you can't do without in cakes? You won't know if you don't try it... but for me- this was perfect!


And yes- whatever your doubts... it did taste as good as it looks and it was juicy and delicious! What have you got to lose in trying? With that ingredient list... not much!


I am not one to tend to show off... but come on- this IS pretty adorable looking, isn't it? Huh? Huh?


And preparing it couldn't be easier- simply pop all of the dry ingredients into a bowl and stir them through...


Same goes for the wet ingredients... in a separate bowl of course!


...and then simply bring them together, stir them thoroughly with a spoon- that's all you need to do... and you are ready to go!


But not before adding plenty of raspberries- in this sized cake I added 10 or so into the mix.


Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish that has been dusted with coconut flakes, sprinkle a few more over the top- just a light coat and pop into a hot oven, at 180°C for 25-30 minutes...


...until it looks deliciously golden brown likes this and the proverbial piece of spaghetti, or toothpick comes out dry!

Allow your little cake to cool for 5 minutes before removing it from the baking form... if you can resist it for that long!

And once you cut into it and see how fluffy and juicy and delicious it has turned out, you will be ashamed of any doubts you had about your little cake and the self-indulgence that it going to result in... because yes- you are going to have your cake and eat it! Every last bit!


 Fluffy and juicy enough for you? ;-)

Yes, I am proud of this little beauty- and my photos!


And yest- those sprinkles on top are lime zest- just to make it go "ping!" and taste more exciting and fruitier still!

Nom. Nom. Nom.


Oh Em Gee.


The End... and it had all started so innocently!