Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Indivie al Forno con Pomodori
Mediterranean Baked Endives with Grilled Tomatoes

This is going to be my last entry before my vacation... so of course it is going to include the last contents of my fridge! Which were tonight, basically 3 endives (hence the title of this posting) a couple of eggs, a handful of cherry tomatoes and little else... But with a little imagination... I STILL managed to put together and almost-vegetarian dish for you all... enjoy!

I started off by halving the endives and removing the leaves in the middle to leave a hollow. I then popped then into boiling water, to which I had given a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I let them boil for 2-3 minutes- no longer. This leaves them still firm but takes away the bitterness. Let them dry whilst you get on with the rest.

The few other ingredients I had were: a spring onion, a small chunk of parmesan, a few chopped bacon bits and a handful of black olives.

The first thing I did was to slice the tomatoes in half, salt, pepper and sugar them and put them into the oven at maximum heat for 20 mins. This gave me time to do the rest of my prep work. Time to get cracking!

This meant beating the eggs, adding the chopped onion, some mint, thyme, nutmeg, parsley, salt and pepper.

After 20 minutes, I fetched out the tomatoes, squashed them down with a fork and gave them a little sprinkle of sugar. Then I arranged the endives in my dish. I carefully poured the egg mix into them and sprinkled the bacon bits and olives on top and a little parmesan cheese. They went back into the oven for 10 minutes until the egg mix had set and for a further 5 under the broiler to get them nice and brown...

And there you go- a very light little addition to a light Summer meal.

Oh I just love making something from nothing!

Still... my next recipe will be written when I have some fresh groceries...and will be a little more substantial, I promise!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Desperately Feeding Susan

Risotto al Limone con Asparagi Verde
Lemon Risotto with Green Asparagus

So I was chatting with my sister-in-law on the phone the other night, who was telling me how much she liked my blog and how nice the recipes and photos were... and all was well in the world. It's nice having fans!

And then she says to me "couldn't you come up for a nice dish for my birthday?". Great. It's a bank holiday over here, the stores are closed... and I have next to nothing in the fridge. Of course I could have simply let it pass, being in another country and all... it is not as if she really expected anything.

But, being fearless in the kitchen and never one to back down from a challenge...
So, Susan- I dedicate this to you!

There's no need for me to start re-inventing the wheel when it comes to risotto I hope. You know the basics: arborio rice, butter, white wine and a good broth. But with a few small changes I made this into something a bit more elegant and cool. I know this is a cheap excuse for a Birthday present: thinking up a recipe- but let me act as if it is more special, ok? It makes me feel better about myself and less cheap...

I wanted to make this into something more Summery and decided that lemon and asparagus would be a lovely combination. I also had nothing else in the fridge. To my vegetarian fans out there- rejoice that I didn't have any pancetta... because that would have been awesome in here!

I started out with finely chopped spring onion, chopped celery and butter and once they were nice and soft I added the rice. I let this get coated in the butter and added a sprinkle of saffron and then de glazed the pan with a splash of white wine. Susan- if you decide to try this- use a nice, chilled, sparkling wine. It's fun the way it all froths up- and then you can finish off the rest whilst you stir the rice. For everybody else- just use a regular white wine, like I did. Once the wine had completely evaporated away, I added some finely chopped rosemary, green asparagus cut into diagonal slices and some crushed garlic. I decided to use a vegetable broth for this, but chicken would also be great. You know the rest- add a ladle full of broth and stir till it's absorbed and so-on until it is done... this is easy stuff.

So let me tell you about the prep-work that goes into making this dish special.

The lemon flavor came purely from the peel. I didn't want this to end up tasting sour and the juice would have done that... so I cut the peel into strips and poured some boiling water on them. I let them sit for 3-4 minutes and then poured off the water, which had turned bright yellow and had most of the acid flavor in it. Then I popped them into a cup with a spoon full of sugar and coated them in boiling water again. This softens them up just enough to have some bite and takes away any left over acidity. All that is left is a fresh lemon flavor. Perfect.

The cherry tomatoes were simply cut in half, sprinkled with salt and pepper and popped under the broiler. After 10 mins or so, fetch them out, squash them down a little with a fork and sprinkle them with a little sugar. Pop them back in for another 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven, until they look toasty and the edges start to singe a little... that's all good flavor!

The asparagus stalks were simply halved and tossed in a pan with a little butter, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Time for some useless information to astound and bore your friends with. Everybody knows that when pasta is done and still has a little bite to it, they call it "al dente", right?
Because it is pleasing to yout teeth (dente) that you still have a little something to bite on and that the pasta has not overcooked. That is something that you DON'T want with your risotto! I see so many dishes that people CALL risotto, that are mounds of firm rice... I have even seen people turn it out of a bowl to serve it! And it just stands there like a rock! Oh PLEASE. That is just wrong and upsetting to any Italian. Risotto is supposed to be creamy and smooth.

So this is the expression I want to teach you: Risotto is good when it is "al onda" as they say in Italy. No- that does not mean it is like a Japanese car. In Italian, the word for wave is onda. So what you want to do is to occasionally push back the rice with your spoon and take a look at the way it moves. When it gently flows around your spoon like a wave... slow and thick and creamy, that is when it is good. It depends on the rice you use (there are many types of arborio), but generally it will take between 20-30 minutes, depending on the amount you make, your rice, your stove, etc.

After about 15 mins cooking time I added the lemon peel. When the rice was close to being perfect, I added another pat of butter and a little salted ricotta cheese... this made it nice and creamy and after another 5 minutes it was ready to serve!

Along with the asparagus and tomatoes and a grinding of chili flakes this made a great Summer meal. It would also be an excellent side dish to chicken or fish.

Sorry I couldn't be there and make this for you today Susan.
But it made for a nice supper for ME!

In any case... Happy Birthday, many happy returns and buon apetito!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Asparagus Straightjacket

Camicie di Forza
Pastry Wrapped Spring Vegetable Parcels

No, this is not a new alternative rock band- but what a great name that would be! Asparagus Straightjacket!
This is just a nifty little idea for a different little party snack with a twist.
A twist of pastry...

These little parcels are made of green asparagus, red bell pepper, chopped bacon and spring onion.

Put the bacon into a dry pan and turn up the heat halfway. Once it starts to give off a little of its fat, add the other ingredients and fry together for 5 minutes. Season with a little sugar, salt and pepper.

Cut your puff pastry in to 2 strips of around 2 x 5 inches and lay them on your oven tray in an "x" form. Spread lightly with mustard. Place an asparagus stalk in the middle with a few strips of bell pepper and onion on each side and sprinkle with bacon bits. Now fold the ends of the pastry "x" over to seal all the ingredients together. Ta-da! Pastry Straightjackets! Bake in a pre heated oven at high heat for 5-10 minutes or until puffy and golden brown.

The finishing touch is a drizzle of honey, which counterpoints the slight bitterness of the asparagus and brings out the best in the peppers and onion.

Of course you could use this method to make any number of other pastries with other fillings.
Maybe a sweet version with pineapple, banana and mango... but now I am giving you too many ideas- some that I haven't even tried out yet myself! And I can't have you beating me to it!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Porky Pig's Apple Pies...

Crostate di Mele con Pancetta
Apple and Bacon Pastries

This is another easy Summer treat, based strangely enough on something I was served up as a Winter appetizer. Basically it was apple rings with a bacon topping, which were roasted in the oven till they became crispy and brown.

The salty bacon and the sweet apple taste wonderful together! So I set out on a mission to make something even more wonderful...

I decided to use Granny Smiths for this- I thought a tangy flavor would be much better suited for a Summer dish. I cored them and cut them into slices of about an inch thick. Then I cut some pre-made puff pastry into squares of a slightly larger size than my apples and popped them into the oven to start baking. In the meantime, I spread the apples thickly with mustard and sprinkled the bacon on top. Very, very easy. When the pastry has been in for around 5 minutes, fetch it out and place your apple slices on top and put them back in for another 5-10 minutes. This gave me time to slice a spring onion finely. I didn't want to put this in too early because it would burn... the last 5 minutes is enough, which is also the time that I added a sprinkle of cumin seeds and a light drizzle of honey... mmmm!

And trust me... there are not many things you can throw together, made from an apple, a spring onion and half a pack of pastry that can compare to this... they are definitely at as good as they look! You can take my word for it!

So what are you waiting for?!?!

Turn on that oven and get cracking- you know you want to try this!

Edible Sunshine

Insalata di Arance & Asparagi con Peperoni
Orange and Asparagus Salad with Bell Pepper

Summer is on the doorstep and we are all looking forward to finally be rid of those long cold nights. Our taste buds are ready for new delights after all of the good comfort food we have been enjoying during the Winter months.
Time to get creative and cool for the hot Summer days ahead!

I know that you know that I am throwing together recipes made of my left-overs... Do you think that I care what you think?
And it's not simply a rule of survival for a guy living on his own- it's also just good common-sense and also the starting point of many a great culinary discovery.
I had red and green bell-peppers and asparagus left over from last night. The thicker ends of the asparagus were so soft and juicy that it would have been a shame to not put them to good use. So I cut them on a slant and popped them into a pan with a little butter and gave them 4-5 minutes at a high heat. I salted and peppered them and put them to one side. Then I sliced up half of both a red and a green bell-pepper and did the same to them. This gives the vegetables a nice sheen and enhances their flavor whilst still leaving them crunchy and firm.

I added a few slices of orange and a couple of cherry tomatoes into the mix. Yes, I used thyme again too... although oregano or marjoram would also have been wonderful. But all I have at the moment is basil, rosemary and thyme, ok? This is about using what you've got!

I added a little olive oil, mixed everything together nicely... and then added the ingredient that made this into a very cool and different salad: Sumac, which is also sometimes known as Mace.

This is a red powder made of the husk that surrounds the nutmeg- it has a tart, astringent, almost vinegary flavor and is used quite a lot Turkey and the orient. You have just got to love this stuff... I mean look at it! If you had seen these things growing on one of the trees in Avatar- you would have said "that looks pretty far fetched!".  Those blue people would also have had the shock of a lifetime if they had bitten into one! Not to worry though- this has nothing to do with the poison of the same name, but it is a great alternative to vinegar to give this salad a nice kick and keep all of the natural flavors of the other ingredients.

So a good sprinkle of sumac and a little more salt and pepper were all I needed to make this unusual and totally refreshing Summer salad. Give it a try and give your taste buds a treat!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Rosso, Bianco & Verde!

Uova a Spezzatino di Pomodoro con Asparagi Verde
Eggs Poached in a tangy Tomato Sauce with Green Asparagus

That's right- Red, White & Green... the colors of the old country...

This is a simple dish, based on an even more simple dish that my mother used to make when I was growing up. Keeping 9 children fed is not an enviable or easy task I would imagine- but one that my mother used to face each and every day. Not just a culinary challenge, or one of hard work... but also of course a huge economical one. Thank God I am never going to have to face THAT challenge!

On a "normal" day, an Italian meal will consist of 2 courses: typically a "primo piatto" of pasta or maybe a rice dish and a "secondo", which will typically be meat or fish. The antipasti are more something for a special occasion- as are desserts.  At the same time, the "meat and three" type meals that you may be more accustomed to are also rare- it's just a cultural thing.

Not being the wealthiest, although pasta was affordable every day, (oh... and obligatory being Italians after all!), we didn't have meat with every meal by any stretch of the imagination. Nope- it would often be something from the garden, which my father loved to keep, or on some occasions a simple dish of eggs poached in some extra tomato sauce from our pasta, that my mom would put aside for later...

My mom used to heat up the sauce in a frying pan and carefully crack the eggs into it one by one and let them poach. In the meantime, she would fry up some black olives in another pan- the flavor of them intensifies wonderfully when you do this. Added to the sauce and the eggs, which are very mild, the combination is really delicious.

For my slightly more sophisticated version, I like to add a few more ingredients... then again- I am not making this for 9 people every day as a part of a 2 or 3-course meal!

I start off by frying some sliced bell peppers, finely chopped garlic and onion in a little olive oil. Once these have begun to soften slightly, I add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes which I soak in a little warm water. The next ingredient is some tomato paste and the water that you soaked the dried tomatoes in. Season with oregano, bay leaf, basil, nutmeg, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Ready to give those good flavors a little turbo charge? Then add some sliced, pitted black olives and capers... this will give you a wonderfully tangy sauce to poach those eggs in... I like to add a good splash of Tabasco or to grind some dried chili flakes in my sauce too... but I suppose that all depends on how butch you are...

And basically- that is all there is to it!

You can poach the eggs right there in the pan, or transfer the sauce to a baking dish and finish them off in the oven. They will be done in 5 or 6 minutes.

Which gives you enough time to prepare the asparagus- and this is best kept ultra-simple. Pop it into a frying pan with a knob of butter and crank up the heat... season with salt, pepper and a tiny pinch pf sugar and keep it moving until it is shiny, glazed and a vibrant green. Add either a half cup of plain water OR orange juice... and by the time you have fetched the eggs out of the oven, it should have evaporated away, leaving the asparagus nicely cooked with still enough "bite" to be a nice contrast to the eggs and tomato sauce...

Serve with some ciabatta bread and a glass of red wine and pat yourself on the back. That's the way I always do this one! Although it is a very simple and inexpensive dish, this is a great example of "cucina povera"... poor peoples food "come good". I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking for me... it doesn't come that much better than this!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Beating My Unbeatable Eggs

Spanish Yorkshire Pudding ?!?!!
Savory Egg & Chorizo Appetizers

You may have seen my recipe for "Sicilian Styled" Coddled Eggs on here a while ago- one that I always considered to be one of my signature dishes. I made a quip to a friend of mine about them being "unbeatable" eggs. Haha. I am really funny sometimes, I know. Well- wouldn't you know it... I just made a dish which turned out maybe a little better. You may say that it is time for me to swallow my words. But then I would say that I just swallowed one delicious meal and that the last laugh is still on me!

The difference with this dish is that I started off with a traditional egg batter. I was thinking of making a typical Spanish omelette, with spring onions and spicy sausage- but wanted to present it in a different way. My idea was to bake the egg mix in the oven rather than fry it in a pan... so the first thing that came to mind was a muffin tray. But being as I was about to prepare a savory dish rather than a sweet one... the SECOND thing that came to mind was Yorkshire Pudding! I adore Yorkshire Pudding- as do most people... but nobody ever eats it unless they are having a Sunday roast.

So I set about making a combination of the traditional English lunch accompaniment and a little Mediterranean sunshine into the mix. And behold... Spanish Yorkshire Pudding!

This is a very simple dish. Beat together eggs, flour and milk as you would to make a traditional batter. I like to mix the flour and milk together first- the best way to avoid getting any lumps. Then add a generous amount of chopped rosemary, mint and thyme. Season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. As usual- I am trying to keep the fat down LOW in all of my dishes- and this is no exception. The Chorizo has more than enough fat to keep these babies from sticking to the tray and to give them a great smokey and spicy flavor. To give the spicy and tangy flavor an extra boost, I added a couple of tablespoons of tomato ketchup... trust me it will be delicious, oh ye of little faith...

As with Yorkshire Pudding, I started these off by having the tray hot and well greased. Rather than heat up oil as you would with Yorkshire Pudding, I put half of the finely chopped Chorizo into the muffin tray and put it into a hot oven. After 5 minutes, they are sizzling and there will be plenty of fat in the tray for you to pour your batter into. This fat is secret to the little "puddings" puffing up the way they do. Pour in the batter to about half-way... they won't puff up as much as Yorkshire Puddings do because of the weight of the added ingredients- but they will almost double in size. This is also something to bear in mind when you start making your batter. I got 8 of these out of 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons of flour!

The batter will start to set almost as soon as you pour it into the tray... but this is a good thing! Now you can add the other ingredients and they won't sink to the bottom of the tray. I added a couple of mushrooms and spring onions which I finely chopped. Sprinkle these on top, along with the other Chorizo pieces and a little bit of Parmesan- not too much. They should be puffed-up and firm within 5 minutes and a further 2-3 minutes with the broiler turned on will have them golden and brown and screaming to be eaten!

These are great hot or cold and you can serve a couple of them on a green salad for a light lunch... an individual serving as a little appetizer... or prepare a whole platter of them as a part of a buffet spread... or of course as a great little breakfast...

Give them a try and see what you think... I am sure you will agree that these eggs really are going to be hard to beat!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Why did the Chicken cross the Road?

Pollo al Limone con Erbe Aromatiche
Lemon Chicken with Mixed Herbs

Probably because it saw me coming at it with a cleaver. Or with a bag of mixed herbs, lemons, mushrooms and potatoes and an exceedingly hungry expression. See, that's the way it was this evening... but the chicken didn't cross the road- it stayed-put in my kitchen and got turned into a nice Mediterranean dinner.

Okay- first things first: no big surprises here... this is another of those dishes made with no added fat or oil. I skinned a chicken thigh and drumstick and removed the bones and sinews. It really isn't that hard. Cut into the joint, snap the two bones apart, cut through the connective tissue and you are ready to go. Make one deep cut along the length of the bone and then cut into the flesh around the joint. Carefully scrape down the bone with your knife and remove the meat in this way. The sinews are a little trickier... but if you grab hold of them tightly and scrape along them with your knife, you should be able to push the meat away from them in a similar manner. It's a bit of work, sure... but if I made the effort, you can too! A skinless chicken-breast may seem like an easier alternative- but the meat IS less flavorful and more likely to end up being less juicy as well.

Get your grill pan nice and hot and pop your chicken in there- don't keep moving it, let it just sit and brown in its own juices. In the meantime slice some potatoes. Flip the chicken over and put it onto the other side of the pan- now put the potatoes on the side of the pan that your chicken was to take up the good juices. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and a little cayenne. Give it 5 minutes, turn it and season the other side. Remove from the pan and replace it with some lemon slices. Make sure to season the potatoes and to flip these too. Once the potatoes and lemon slices are nicely browned, remove them from the pan too. The juices from the lemon will de glaze the pan and the slices will become very caramelized and brown and full of flavor. Use these in an oven dish as a base for your chicken and potatoes. Add a couple of cloves of garlic and a generous amount of rosemary and thyme. At this point you can add a light drizzle of olive oil, a little more salt on the potatoes and a light dusting of nutmeg. Sprinkle everything with a little white wine and pop it into a medium oven, covered with aluminum foil, for 15 minutes. As an afterthought, I threw in a handful of chopped celery to add a little savory note as well.

Whilst the chicken and potatoes are cooking away, thickly slice some mushrooms and pop these onto your grill pan. Not oil! Keep the heat moderate and they will be ok... sprinkle them with salt and pepper and just let them sit for 2-3 minutes. you will notice that they will start to give off a little of their own juices- this is the time to flip them and season the other side. Mushrooms consist of basically 90% water... let them just sit and the will wilt down a little whilst getting a nice toasty color to them. This really will work with no added oil if you are careful and you WILL have a much more intense and delicious flavor as a reward. Or do you want to have sloppy, greasy, rubbery pieces of mush like you usually do? That is NOT why they are called mushrooms. And please... NEVER wash mushrooms! They will soak up water like a sponge and definitely be awful. Either brush them clean, or take a small knife to the undersides, pinch the edge of the mushroom, and peel the outer layer away... like I do. It is VERY easy to do. And again... if I can do it then you can too!

By now your chicken and potatoes will be ready to flip over. Put them back in the oven without the foil, under the broiler, for 5-10 minutes till they are nice and brown. By now, the herbs will be pretty sorry looking from all that baking... remove them and then add a drizzle of honey to the chicken. Not only will this give the chicken a wonderful glaze, but the sweetness will counterpoint the mild acidity of the lemon and wine.

I served mine on a simple bed of romaine lettuce and added fresh rosemary and thyme as a garnish and to add a little freshness. I also added a few threads of shredded chili pepper for a bit of extra "oomph"- these are very decorative and much milder than fresh chili.

The caramelized lemon slices are wonderful to squeeze out and the juices, infused with the herb and garlic flavors and really delicious. Together with the potatoes, mushrooms and salad this makes of a really tasty, light and refreshing summer meal. A glass of pinot grigio should seal the deal nicely for you... buon apetito!

Oh, and I guess you have deserved my favorite "chicken crossing the road" joke from my childhood after reading all this.

So here ya go:

Why did the chicken cross the road twice and roll in the dirt?
Because he was a dirty double-crosser.

Friday, 15 April 2011


Melanzane Arrosto

Roasted Eggplant Chips

Aubergines can be a real challenge... many people have an aversion to their texture, which can be less than wonderful if they are overcooked. Oh, there are many of dishes of creamed eggplant, which are a wholly different animal... but so often, they soak up too much oil and that can be a big turn-off... especially for someone as picky as me. You may have noticed by now, that I try to keep the fat in my dishes to a minimum. You don't want a fat boyfriend... so why would I want to eat fatty food?

This is a wonderful way to prepare eggplants so that you really bring out their distinctive flavor- and it is very quick and very easy to do.

Cut the eggplant into thin slices of about 5-6 mm or roughly 1/4 of an inch. Sprinkle them with a mixture of salt, a little paprika powder and pepper and let them sit on some kitchen towel for 5-10 minutes. After this time, you will notice that they will have given of some liquid- this is what makes the eggplant often taste a little bitter. Lay some more paper towel on top of them and squeeze down gently to soak this up. That´s it for prep work... didn't I tell you this was an easy one?

Line an oven tray with aluminum foil and brush very lightly with olive oil. You can add a few slices of garlic is you want for some added flavor. Turn the broiler in your oven on high... and get ready to watch these things VERY closely!

Obviously it is going to depend on your oven, but after 2-3 minutes, the eggplant slices should be starting to sweat in their own juices... this is the time to flip them over, whilst they are still moist. What we want to do is get them dehydrated and toasty without sticking... that is how we get the natural flavor to become more intense. Flip them over again after 2 minutes and take a peek. Keep your eyes on them as they will frazzle away to nothing if you are not careful! No gabbing with your girlfriend on the phone when you try these! But stay with them, be patient and careful... and you will be rewarded with tasty, golden chips that taste better than any eggplant you have ever tried. I sprinkled a little fresh thyme on mine- another flavor that goes with aubergine perfectly. Of course they are not going to be as crunchy as a potato chip... in fact, they will soften up pretty quickly- so don't be disappointed when that happens.

This isn't about the "crunch"- it's about the FLAVOR. It is if I say so anyway...

There are a number of ways you can serve these. They make a great side-dish to grilled meat or fish or a great antipasti. A wonderful thing to do, it to make a marinade of olive oil, malt vinegar, chopped garlic and oregano and to lightly coat the grilled slices... they will soak up these good flavors and become moist and juicy again and simply delicious- a great addition to say, a mixed cheese platter. Add a few black olives marinated in the same way, a little ham and salami, a nice crusty bread and a bottle of red wine and enjoy a nice lazy Summer evening... and leave the cooking for another day...

I tried them as a salad with fresh cucumber, which I salted, peppered, added a sprinkle of sugar and some freshly ground chili flakes... But I am sure you will think of some cool combination of your own...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Anti-Hero

Alternative Antipasti

One of the nicest things about an Italian meal, is nibbling on those delicious appetizers, munching on some good bread, sipping on wine and getting your taste buds ready for your main course. Antipasti, (literally meaning the things BEFORE the pasta dish), are easy to prepare beforehand, as they are usually dishes that need to marinate anyway. Make these a good 2-3 hours before your guests arrive and the flavors will intensify and improve in the meantime.

Here are a few suggestions for a quick and easy selection that I put together using one frying pan and a few simple and inexpensive ingredients. You can have these 4 tasty snacks prepared in way less than an hour. I kid you not.

Funghi Sfiziosi con Salsiccia Secca

The first thing I did was to heat up my grill pan nice and hot. Then I added a handful of sliced "dried" Italian sausage- or "salsiccia secca". This is a firm sausage, not quite a salami, but with a strong, salty flavor with hints of garlic and fennel, which I love to cook with. Drop it onto your pan and brown it slightly- this will cover the pan with enough fat for you to finish the two other dishes. Slice your mushrooms THICKLY- I mean, halve them and cut each half into 3 slices. Thicker slices mean you will have a firm and juicy bite of good mushroom flavor. Add a little rosemary and a good grinding of lemon pepper. Set them aside and move onto the next dish. That's right- the mushrooms are finished!

My whole "secret" here, is using the flavors in your ingredients to the full. The sausage will give your mushrooms a nice garlic note and they will both taste delicious when they are well browned and have some nice scorch-marks from your grill pan. Just keep doing what I'm doing- be lazy and let the food do the work for you!

Caponata "Bianca"

This is a very simple version of the classic Sicilian Caponata. I did without the tomatoes to have a somewhat firmer texture and a "cleaner" flavor. I chopped the eggplant into small cubes and put them on one side of the pan and kept the celery, also in thin slices, a little separate. I wanted to make sure that the flavors didn't blend together, but that they remained distinct. I wanted this to be a slightly different animal to the classic dish. They should be ready after 6-7 minutes, after which I sprinkled them with finely chopped rosemary, thyme and some crushed garlic. Remove from the heat, add capers and black olives, a little olive oil... and move on to the third dish...

This particular selection of dishes relies on the heat of the grill-pan and the fat from the sausage, to give all of the other ingredients a smokey, strong flavor that enhances the individual flavors of the other vegetables. Sorry vegetarians- you can of course make all of these things without the sausage and just use oil... but they ain't gonna taste as good!

Zucca alla Griglia

These are the easiest, but by no means any less tasty as the others... Zucchini get such a bad rap for being bland and flavorless and it is a real shame. If you season them well, they are nice, juicy and mild additions that can be used in any number of ways. Cut the zucchini into decent slices- not too thin- you don't want them to fall apart... and PRESS them into the hot pan. Make them squeal. Literally. You will here the juices ooze out and sizzle on the pan. Now let them sit and scorch a little- and in the meantime sprinkle them with a hint of turmeric and cayenne and then flip them over and do the same to the other side. 2-3 minutes on each side should be plenty. Add some rosemary and a little salt at the end of the cooking time- this avoids the rosemary burning and the zucchini from softening up too much.

Ok- so you have earned the chance to relax after all of this fast-moving work at the stove top. Turn off the heat and let the pan soak. Have a glass of wine- knock yourself out! Not literally though... we still have one more dish to make... something fresh and light as a contrast to all of this grilled stuff...

Formaggio di Capra al Insalata

This is a simple "salad" made of goats cheese, spring onions, radishes, onions and thyme. Slice your spring onions and celery finely and sprinkle with lemon juice and a pinch of sugar and salt. Crumble the goats cheese up and mix with the radishes and onion, along with some freshly plucked thyme. Pepper to taste and add a little olive oil. The cheese is quite salty and needs no further seasoning- if fact, what I did was to add a drizzle of honey before serving... delicious!

This is a great way to start a sumptuous Summer meal... or you can always tell your guests you are not feeling well, grab yourself a chunk of crusty Italian bread and a nice glass of red wine... put your feet up- and enjoy a lazy evening of simple luxury on your own!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Sweet Sensation

"Drunken" Cherrys with Glazed Apples & Puff-Pastry

Look- I don't know how to make desserts. The thought scares me, ok? And this from a guy who enjoys watching The Exorcist. Not knowing what you are doing when it comes to desserts... means you are going to FAIL miserably. You are. They are too risky by far... you have to stick to recipes and measure and weigh things... That's not me!
But I don't want to end up embarrassing myself... so, of course, I cheat. Plain and simple!
And this is how...

There are some basics that we all have to learn when it comes to being successful in the kitchen. One of them is a secret which will help you to create perfect puff-pastry every time. Buy it pre-made. Seriously. No matter how honorable an endeavor it may be, the amount of work involved in making puff pastry is just... well... not worth it! Life is too short!

One tip though, is to make sure you use the sharpest knife you can find to cut your pastry. Using a blunt knife will squeeze the pastry together and not allow the air to flow out of the edges... meaning it will not "puff" properly. That was the only work involved on my part!

The rest is a simple, but clever idea... I cut the pastry into squares, but instead of baking them on a regular tray, I bake them on a grill pan... this gives the pastry squares a nice riffled pattern and an extra bit of crunch. As usual, I skimp on greasing the pan, knowing that there is more than enough butter in the pastry itself that it won't stick. I bake the squares for 10 minutes at high heat and then flip them over once using some tongs. You need to be careful, as the pastry is still soft... but if I managed it then you can too! Give them another 5-10 minutes until they are nicely browned- this will depend on your oven.

Whilst this is going on, you can prepare the cherries. These came out of a jar- and for this kind of dessert, I would recommend you do the same. Fresh cherries need to be washed and stoned (without being destroyed in the process), they may turn out to be very tart or even sour... and again... life IS too short!

In a small saucepan, heat a pat of butter and add some finely chopped rosemary and a little grated ginger. Then add the cherries and a good shot of Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Once the aromas have combined nicely, you can create a little syrup, by adding some orange juice and honey. If the syrup needs thickening, just do what your mom would have done and stir a little flour and water together. So much for the cherries.

Take your pastry squares out of the oven and let them cool. After about 10 minutes they will be super-crispy and flaky and delicious. I didn't bother with an egg glaze either as I am going to decorate them with powdered sugar later.

Now the apple slices. Melt a little butter in a frying pan and add some ground coriander and pepper... when the butter starts to froth up, add the apple slices and make sure they get nicely covered. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and sugar and grate a little fresh nutmeg onto them.

You can see two serving suggestions in my photos, although I am sure there are many ways to put this combination together. Some fresh rosemary gives a nice visual kick as well as an extra bit of freshness- and a little vanilla custard goes very well with this too. I actually used a creamy vanilla yogurt in the version served up in the martini glass.

Now, what was it I was saying about desserts?

Oh, right...
Desserts are easy!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Goodness! Gracious! Great Balls of Meat!

Scrumptious Summer Meatballs

Everybody loves burgers in the Summertime and meatballs are also a universally loved comfort-food in the colder months. So I wanted to set out to create some simple and inexpensive dishes, making used of some ground pork and come up with something new and "exciting". At the same time, being a single guy, I often face the same dilemma that many of you do: if I go ahead and prepare a meal that's worth making- who is going to eat it all? Basically it always means the same thing. Leftovers. Which doesn't have to be a bad thing. But you can also make it into a GOOD thing... I managed to make 3 different meals out of the same basic ingredients. And this is how you do it...

Mediterranean Sweet 'n' Sour Pork with Glazed Apples & Tarragon

The meatballs were a standard mix of ground meat, egg, breadcrumbs, chopped onion, salt an pepper. My Idea was to make a whole batch of them and keep the meat flavor neutral, so that I could then make use of them in different ways.

One thing I always would encourage you to do, is to fry your meat in a dry pan. I find that most meat, even "lean" chicken, has enough fat of it own once it reaches cooking temperature and that your often do not need to add any extra fat. Once the meatballs were nicely browned, I took them out of my frying pan and added some chopped spring onions, a tablespoon of mustard, one of orange marmalade and a teaspoon of dried mint. I let this render down and de-glazed it with the juice of a whole lime, tossed the meatballs back in and let them take up all the sweet and sour goodness. 

The last ingredient was fresh tarragon- whole leaves which wilt-down slightly with the warmth of the meat once you serve them. I didn't want them to cook as the delicate flavor tends to not hold up to heat so well.

I served them with a lollo-rosso salad and some slices of apple that I gently browned with some cumin seed, again in a dry pan, adding a pat of butter at the end and a splash of cognac.

A sprinkle of fresh thyme and some red peppercorns... and to really confuse things, a drizzle of sesame oil... 
Well, that just knocked the flavors right off the scales... 
But don't take my word for it- try it yourselves!

Mediterranean Glass-Noodle Salad

 I based this on one of my favorite Summer dishes, which is Thai glass-noodle salad. The original Thai dish, uses ground beef, peanuts, cilantro, mint, lemon and lime juice. I created a similar blend using a Mediterranean variation on that theme... and my leftover pork meatballs from the night before! This time around, I sliced the meatballs up and popped them back in, again, a dry pan- to get them warmed up and toasty brown. Whilst this was going on, I poured boiling water over the glass noodles... they just need to sit in there for 5-6 minutes and will basically be ok. So by the time the pork was browned, the noodles were soft and ready to add to the pan- along with some dried mint, tarragon again, almonds, sesame oil and a splash of orange juice. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and served it on a bed of lollo rosso and some orange segments. So this was my meatballs reloaded- another twist= another meal!

Terrific Tartines
Crusty French Bread with Savoury Pork Topping

Sure- so you're thinking "this is getting pretty desperate now!", what with me being on my 3'rd re-hashed meatball "makeover". But tell me something... doesn't that baby in the picture look good?

This is the easiest of my three creations- but no less tasty for that! A "tartine" is basically a fancy, French expression, for a thick slice of crunchy toasted bread with a generous topping. This is a favorite "between meals" kind of substantial snack, which is probably the equivalent of a hot-dog or hamburger in the States.

The topping of MY tartine, was a thick spreading of sweet, coarse-ground mustard, sliced cucumber, the sliced pork  meatballs and some cherry tomatoes. I seasoned this all with oregano, a few chili flakes and a tiny drizzle of olive-oil.

So you see- there is always something you can do with even the most ordinary of leftovers. Just use yer noggin' a little! And have some fun with your food!