Monday, 31 October 2011

Surely You Zest!

Risotto con i Cardi, Pomodorini & Scorza di Arancia
Risotto with Cardoons, Cherry Tomatoes & Orange Zest

Here we go with my second cardoon recipe- but fear not- I have one more to come either tomorrow or the day after! They ARE very delicious- but they also tend to be rather large and a lot to get through if you are cooking for one! To make this risotto, I used about a handful of the leftover boiled cardoons from last night- which made this into a very quick, simple and delicious dinner tonight!

Finely chop a small onion and a clove of garlic and sautée them in a little butter. Add the rice and stir so that it all gets nicely coated in the butter. Turn up the heat and de- glaze the saucepan with a good splash of white wine... mmm!

Keep stirring until the wine has completely evaporated and then add a good cupful of milk to the rice. Season with salt and pepper and a little freshly grated nutmeg.  Keep stirring and topping up the liquid as required, using a light chicken broth now, a ladle at a time as is the usual way with risotto...

When the rice is nearly done, add the chopped cherry tomatoes and a good tablespoonful of grated orange zest... and keep stirring! We are almost there now- all we need to do is add a drizzle of olive oil and a handful of grated Parmesan and to stir it all together, so that it becomes thick, creamy and delicious... mmm!

Serve immediately with freshly grated Parmesan, a little orange zest, some ground chili and a couple of basil leaves- and enjoy the mild Artichoke flavor of the cardoons in a whole new way- buon apetito!

Summery Winter Salad

Insalata di Finocchio, Arancia & Melograno con Olive & Sale alla Lavanda
Fennel and Orange Salad, with Pomegranate and Olives and Lavender Salt

It's sometimes strange the way that we perceive certain foods in relation to the seasons, depending on where we live. Oranges for example are a Winter fruit for us in Europe, with the best coming at around Christmas time. Fennel and pomegranate are other favorites in Sicily in the Winter months- and yet a salad made using them together seems to just scream Summer! And I for one find that pretty cool!

The only work involved in making this, is the filleting of the orange and the slicing of the fennel- and I am sure you can manage that! Its the combination of those 3 ingredients, along with olives, olive oil and a coarse sea salt that make this into a winner.

Cut out the individual segments and squeeze the juice of that soggy leftover orange- we can use that to flavor the fennel with. Slice the fennel as thinly as possible and arrange it on a bed of your preferred salad greens and a little basil. Sprinkle with salt, sugar, drizzle with orange juice and add the pomegranate seeds and olive slices. 

Dress with a tangy Extra Virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper- in my case, I opted to use some of my lavender infused salt. You can make something similar, by grinding 2/3 salt to 1/3 sugar and adding some dried lavender and telicherry pepper corns with a mortar and pestle. Add some of that fine and delicate Fennel green and you are ready to enjoy!

There is something wonderful about oranges in combination with olives or olive oil! And I hope you give it a go and enjoy it too!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Stalking the Sicilian Way...

Frittata di Cardi con Pomodori Secchi e Parmigiano
Cardoon Frittata with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Parmesan Cheese

I couldn't believe my luck yesterday, when my favorite merchant there, a lovely Sicilian lady, handed me over a wonderful specimen of a "Cardoon"- or Cardi as they are called in Italy. This beauty was maybe a foot and a half long and weighed about a pound and a half!

Cardi, are relatives of the artichoke, only they do not produce that wonderful flower, they just grow as long, thick stalks, with thorny edges- pretty imposing looking they are! Now... these devils are quite a bit of work to prepare! First things first- you need to strip off those thorny edges- sometimes they are very fine and almost invisible... but they are there and they will stick in your fingers if you are not careful! Soon as the thorns are gone, you can start stripping away the tough sinewy outer layer. What you need to do is similar to the prep work for celery or rhubarb... only there are a lot more sinews here!

Once the cardi are all cleaned up, chop them into 2-3" strips and halve these down the middle so they are narrower and will cook quicker. Because they DO take quite a while to cook- anything between 45 minutes and an hour in lightly salted water.

Once the cardi are tender, drain them and allow them to cool off. In the meantime, beat 3 eggs and season them with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Traditionally you would dip the cardi in a simple egg and flour batter and fry them- but of course I wanted to try something more fun. Pour half of the egg mixture into the pan and fry them until they set. Remove from the heat and arrange the cardi decoratively on top. Now pour the remaining egg into the spaces between the cardi so that everything gets held together. Before this egg sets, sprinkle some thin strips of sun dried tomato, a little finely chopped mint and a handful of finely chopped parsley. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, salt, pepper, a little cayenne and finish off under the broiler. The combination of the artichoke flavored cardi and egg is actually amazingly good! Give it a go- you may just turn your back on artichokes from now on- as these are, despite the prep-work, a whole lot nicer! And fear not- I have more cardoon recipes yet to come!

Going Underground

Minestra di Patate e Topinambur
Chunky Potato and Topinambur (Jerusalem Artichoke) Soup

Time for another quick, easy and yummy soup! This was my second time with that strange little root, the Jerusalem Artichoke, or Topinambur as it is known... and it gets better each time! This is a great and simple dish. To make it, I used 3 Topinambur roots of about the size of an egg and medium sized potato. The other ingredients were: half a carrot, 1 potato, a little celery and a little parsley.

I peeled and sliced the Topinambur and peeled and quartered potato. I then finely chopped 1/2 of a medium onion, 1/2 a stick of celery and grated 1/2 of a small carrot. I sautéed these in a small pan and then added a small handful of freshly chopped parsley, including the stalks, 1/2 clove of garlic and the potato and Topinambur. I added enough milk until all ingredients  were covered and let this come up to the boil. I seasoned with nutmeg, salt, pepper and a little cayenne and then added boiling water and let it continue to simmer for 8-9 minutes.

After 8-9 minutes, I removed the potato, mashed it and returned it to the saucepan. Now the soup was miraculously creamy and thick! I added a little orange zest and a small pat of butter, gave it a further 2-3 minutes and then served it up with a nice crunchy Parmesan chip and a sprinkle of chili flakes- delicious!

Shooting Star

Pasticcino di Pera, Melograna & Pistacchi
Pear, Pomegranate and Pistacchio Tarte

The whole world knows that I can't bake... and what of it? I can't be expected to be able to do everything! And even if I can't bake... I still manage to come up with simple and delicious ideas like this one!

So basically I had 2 thoughts in my head. I wanted to make a light, flaky, crispy pastry and I wanted to have a fruity and seasonal filling. I got a couple of wonderful local pears on the market yesterday and an absolutely gigantic pomegranate. So that much was clear... now how to put the thing together...

I first thought of making a traditional pie, with a lid, but then came up with the idea of simply placing 2 squares of pastry (yes of course it is the refrigerated pre-made stuff!), on top of each other to form the star shape. Then I sliced the pear very thinly and laid it decoratively on top. I gave it a dusting of regular granulated sugar and cinnamon and popped it into the pre-heated oven at around 150°C for 7-10 minutes- in which time it puffed up and became golden brown, the pear softened, the sugar melted and the natural juices came to the surface and caramelized a little... yum!

Once it had cooled off, I sprinkled it with Pomegranate seeds and dusted it with powdered sugar. The chopped pistachio was not just a treat for the eye, but for the tongue as well! The crunchy, nutty flavor and texture went so well with the fruitiness of the pear and pomegranate... and all in all it was a terrific combination! And SO easy!

Samurai Salad

Insalata Mista con Pecorino Fresco, Pomodorini, Miele & Pepe "Sansho"
Mesclun Salad with Saignac Cheese, Cherry Tomatoes, Honey and Sansho Pepper

Okay- I admit- this is not a real recipe, it was more of an excuse me to use the Sansho pepper I bought last night. I went to the wonderful Kulinart trade fair in Frankfurt- conveniently located at the end of my street in an old refurbished train station- trés cool! Amongst the many interesting things- people, foods, ingredients.... the most incredible was the last thing that I discovered before leaving... the magical, mystical Sansho pepper!

This Japanese spice is not even an actual pepper, it is in actual fact a berry. And the incredibly aromatic part of it is the husk of the dried berry- the seed inside is very bitter... and is actually removed by hand! So amazing! Hence the relatively hefty price- but I just had to have it.

So how does this stuff taste? I would describe it like this. Imagine your tongue has stopped working. You can't taste anything. So you go and visit a mad Japanese professor and tell you of your woes. He straps you into a chair, puts clamps on your jaw to keep your mouth open and administers electric shocks to your tongue until all of your taste buds start working again. And then, whilst they are working, he sprays lemon into your mouth to heighten the sensation. That's kind of what it tastes like! Lemony, zingy, intense, aromatic and otherwise indescribable... it really is something you have to try for yourself! Oh and it is quite possibly not to everyone's- but for me it was a revelation!

The charming merchant explained to us that there are 2 harvests of the Sansho berries- one in Spring and the other in the Fall. The Spring crop is very mild and the Autumn one, very intense... no special prizes for guessing which one I bought! It is best used on fatty foods- pork belly- that kind of thing- or fatty fish like salmon or eel. At the trade fair, they had cubes of cheese that you could dip into the Sansho to test it. So when I got home, I decided I was not going to wait till the next time I have pork belly or eel on my menu- but to improvise and do SOMETHING, just so that I could try it straight away...

The salad then, was an excuse for me to use a relatively high fat goat cheese, together with honey and cherry tomatoes for some sweetness and a quenching juiciness to counterpoint the incredibly zingy Sansho... the leaves were also more of an accompaniment to make the experience milder. And do you know... the combination was wonderful! As a dressing, I used a tiny pinch of my Salt of the Earth and a drizzle of sesame oil. The Sansho did the rest- and how! This salad was like a Ninja- sneaking up on you and catching you unawares... and I loved it! I hope you will love it too!

Friday, 28 October 2011

October Sunshine

Risoni con Lenticchie, Gamberi, Pomodoro, Sedano & Olive
Risoni with lentils, Shrimp, Tomato, Celery and Olives

Ok it was cold... but it was a wonderfully sunny day today. And of course, I was trapped in the office and unable to get out and enjoy it. So, is it any wonder that by the time I got home this evening at 7.30, I was in the mood for something yummy and Mediterranean and Summery to make up for it? Nah... it really isn't, is it?

So it was my usual drill- maximum taste, minimum time! I decided to do a one-pan meal and to keep things simple. I started out by sautéeing finely chopped bacon, along with some finely diced carrots and celery- as usual, with no extra fat added. I then added 3-4 very finely chopped stalks of parsley... the leaves I saved for later, but the stalks have a lot of good flavor too! After 2-3 minutes, I added the risoni and kept stirring- seasoning with salt, pepper and some chopped garlic. I de glazed the pan with a good shot of Sambuca and followed it up with some boiling water- just a small amount, enough to give everything a nice, creamy  consistency. I added a little ground fennel seed and some powdered ginger, cayenne pepper and a little splash of orange juice. And then I kept stirring- just as you would a risotto.

After about 8 minutes cooking time, I added more finely chopped parsley, the olives and some cherry tomatoes that I cut into quarters. I kept stirring until the liquid had reduced down and quickly added the shrimps, a teaspoon of tomato paste and a little more orange juice. And then I zoomed off to fetch myself a plate- because dinner was ready!

So next time it is a little bit late in the evening and you really feel like something yummy to eat- do not fear! In around 15 minutes you could easily whip-up a tasty little meal like this... and now you know how!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Pull The Other One!

Tacchino Triturato con 5-Spezie Asiatiche, Carote allo Zenzero & Limone, Purè all'Aglio Orsino
Pulled 5-Spice-Smoked Turkey with Ginger and Lime Carrots and Ramp Mashed Potatoes 

Oh, the single life and the joys of dealing with leftovers! I had another smoked turkey breast steak left over which had to be used up this evening and was pondering what I could do with it all the way home from the office. I had a great plan all lined up by the time I got home- but as so often is the case, the minute I walked into the kitchen I began to do something completely different!

I grew to really like the "pulled meat" dishes in the States, the way the meat becomes so tender that it just falls apart... it is pretty delicious! And that is all fine if you have a couple of hours to spare... but if you haven't (like me), stick around and I will tell you how I did it!

The turkey breast was already precooked, which of course gave me a big advantage- but let's face it- we often have leftover meat from previous meals- and this is a cool way to make use of it. I tore the meat into smaller pieces and re-fried it in a dry pan, with a generous sprinkle of 5- spice powder and some finely cut spring onion. I gently fried and tossed the meat so that all sides became golden and brown. I then added a handful of finely-chopped fresh marjoram, some chopped garlic, a cup of orange juice, a splash of soy sauce and reduced the heat to a simmer. And whilst the meat got even more tender, I started working on the mashed potato and carrots...

The mashed potatoes were the easiest part of the meal- they were just regular mash to which I added some ramp pesto that I made in the Springtime- which incredibly was still good! As soon as the potatoes were boiled, I drained them and returned them to the pan and to the stove, with a tablespoon or so of the ramp pesto and a handful of fresh, finely chopped parsley. I added a cupful of milk, a little salt and pepper and a nice grating of nutmeg- and then mashed everything down to a nice purée. The ramps give the potato a nice mild flavor of garlic and onion, which goes really well with the milk and nutmeg and which also goes well with the spicy meat!

The carrots were finely chopped into a julienne and then sautéed with a little finely grated ginger- I added the juice of a lime, salt and pepper and reduced the heat to a gently simmer whilst turning my attention back to the meat.

I put the now hot and tender meat into a Ziploc bag and gave it a good bashing with a rolling pin, then fetched it out of the bag, and using 2 forks, pulled the meat apart into juicy fine shreds... and a whole different dish was born! Time to dish it up and to enjoy! It really was that easy to make and finished in around 30 minutes... pretty good going, eh?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Strip Tease

Linguine con Salami Piccante e Fagiole Verde
Linguini with Spicy Salami and Green Beans

Despite the title of this blog entry, tonight's dish was not a slow and sultry affair- it was more of a "get down to it" kinda deal! At the same time, there was quite a bit of cutting things into strips going on! The salami, the beans and of course the linguini themselves are
all strips of scrumptiousness... so let me tell you how I made this ultra-simple dish, whilst the pictures tease you to give it a try yourself...

This is a 10 minute meal- and you like that, right? What's not to like? Sometimes it's the quick and easy dishes that are the best anyway. For this dish, I used about 100g of linguini, a small, breakfast-sausage sized salami, a spring onion, some fresh herbs and a handful of beans. So it is a very inexpensive meal too.

Put the pasta on to boil and slice the salami and the beans into strips lengthways- it just looks a little more unusual. The spring onion and a clove of garlic on the other hand, did not have to follow this rule! The onion went in, in rings and the garlic I chopped and mashed to a paste. Whilst the pasta is boiling, crank up the heat on your frying pan, and when it is hot, add the salami and beans together. The salami has enough fat to make sure everything fries nicely. After 4-5 minutes, add the onion and garlic. If you add it too soon, it tends burn- and we want to avoid that!

After the pasta has boiled for 5-6 minutes, drain it- but not to thoroughly- and transfer it to the frying pan. Now add a good handful of fresh parsley and chives. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add a good splash of milk. Continue cooking and stirring and watch as the milk reduces down and combines with the starch given off from the pasta and thickens into a nice, creamy, bechamel-type dressing. Mmmm....

Serve with some finely ground chili and a few shavings of Parmesan- delicious!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

If You're Thinkin' 'Bout Bein' My Dinner- It Don't Matter if You're Black or White

Tacchino Affumicato, Scorzonera e Fagiolini
Smoked Turkey, Black Salsify and Green Beans

Do you know what "Black Salsify" is? I would say that all Germans do- it is a well known and
loved vegetable over here and very commonplace. But for me, the sight of those 20" long, narrow, black roots, has never caused more than a raised eyebrow from me. It has just never registered on my culinary radar. Until last Saturday. Finally, curiosity took charge and before I knew it, I had asked for a couple to be bagged at the farmers market- and this evening was a premier for me! The traditional way to prepare them over here, is in a cream sauce- and you know that is not likely to happen in my kitchen! So I set about doing it my way- a little lighter- but hopefully also a lot yummier!

I have always been told that black salsify tastes a little like white asparagus- so I cut a tiny slice off and tasted it to see what I thought. It had a light and pleasant flavor- very mild and good as a side dish in any case. I decided to boil the little 2" sticks in milk and added a hint of cinnamon, vanilla and garlic, to gently perfume it. As you can see from my photo's, although the skin is black, the root itself is snow white. I let it boil for 10 minutes or so. I then drained it and transferred it to a frying pan, grated it with orange zest, added finely chopped parsley, a little ground nutmeg, salt and pepper sautéed it gently until it was nice and lightly golden brown in a little clarified butter.

I also picked up a couple of nice, juicy, smoked-turkey breast steaks from a local poultry stand on Saturday. I hadn't had smoked meat in a long while and am not really a huge fan- but I thought it would be nice to revisit that flavor and see if we couldn't become friends after all! I fried it at a moderate heat with very little clarified butter, a sprinkle of paprika, salt and pepper, until it became a lovely, rich, red and juicy color. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and fresh marjoram. As if it wasn't delicious enough, I gave it a very light honey glaze right at the end before serving and a light sprinkle of my "Salt of the Earth"... perfect!

The beans were simply, 2" strips of runner beans, which I steamed, buttered and served as a plain and neutral side... the perfect accompaniment to an already delicious duette! And don't they say that "All Good Things Come in Threes"?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Bacon Sandwich Soup!

Zuppa di Pane con Pancetta Croccante
Bread Soup with Crispy Bacon 

I hope the name of this posting irritated you- of course, that was my intention! But at the same time, why ever not call a soup that's most important ingredients are bacon and bread, a bacon sandwich soup? This is one of my favorite things this time of year and a frequent request from friends. It's healthy, quick, cheap and extremely yummy on a cold evening. Wanna know how to make it? Well, just keep on reading...

The best kind of bread to use for this is a very heavy, dark, malty, whole grain bread. Of course that is no problem here in Germany, but it really is not going to work as well with anything else. It is definitely NOT going to work with any of those soft loaves- please do not try that- I dread to think what that might turn out like!

This is a good way to make use of stale bread too- I am sure where this kind of recipe originated from in days of yore. The inspiration for making this came from a documentary I saw many years ago, which spoke of monks making a soup out of old bread that they boiled up with the malt they were brewing to make their medicinal beer and whiskey. I liked the sound of that!

Ok- let's get cracking here! First things first- fry the finely chopped bacon bits, about a handful for 2 people, in your saucepan until they are golden brown and crispy- you won't need any oil as the bacon has plenty of fat of its own. Whilst it sizzles away, finely chop a small carrot and a half stick of celery. Remove half of the bacon to use as a garnish and add the carrots and celery into the saucepan. Give them a good stir and put on the lid so that they start to steam and give off some of their own juices. Finely chop a half a clove of garlic and add this, together with a tablespoon of tomato paste. It's getting a bit dark and sticky now, isn't it? Don't worry- add a nice shot of cognac to the saucepan to de glaze it, or if you are cooking for children, just add a half a cup of water. The cognac is good though!!!

Stir everything well and get all of that good flavor up from the bottom of the saucepan. We are going to use a nice handful of parsley in this soup- so what I want you to do now is to take the stalks and chop them up very finely. Add those now as they will take a little more cooking than the leave- but they have a whole lot more flavor!

Now finely dice 2 slices of bread and add them to the saucepan- and stir like crazy! Add another cupful of boiling water and keep stirring- the bread should start to lose its shape and become a thick paste. Add more water and keep repeating the procedure until you have a smooth paste. Think of it as the way you would make a risotto. Season with salt, pepper, a little hot paprika powder and a hint of nutmeg. I also add a good splash of milk to mine- it gives it a slightly creamy and milder taste which is nice. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Whilst the soup is gently simmering, finely chop a spring onion and the parsley leaves. Add these to your soup and give it a further 3-4 minutes. Check to see if it needs any more seasoning- it should have more than enough going on with those ingredients for just 2 bowls of soup though... and I am sure you will find it is really delicious!
Serve with a few finely chopped chives and the crispy bacon bits and get warm and cozy no matter what the weather outside! Talk about comfort food! On the other hand... don't just talk about it- get into the kitchen and make some!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Berry Good Pearing

Avocado Fritti in Padella su di Couscous con Erbe Miste e Berbero
Pan- Fried Avocado on Mixed-Herb and Barberry Couscous 

It may seem to you all that all I ever do is cook from leftovers- but the truth of the matter is that I live alone and that yes, there are always odds and ends left over when I prepare a meal. I used a half of an avocado last night to fix the delicious beef carpaccio- and tonight- the other half got turned into something equally delicious. So it is not expensive cooking for one, nor is it difficult. When you open your fridge- open your eyes and open your minds... there is always something you can dream up in there!

Slightly un-ripened avocado is a wonderful when fried in the pan- the heat will cause it to soften up inside and the outside will brown and develop a wonderful flavor. Just treat it in the same way as you would a potato. The important thing with avocado is that it does need seasoning well, otherwise it can end up tasting bland. So I cut my avocado into cubes and started it frying with very little olive oil, some crushed garlic, salt and pepper at a relatively high heat. I added chopped parsley and sprinkled it with lemon zest, grated it with a little nutmeg and added a shake of cayenne pepper. Now comes the juice of a half of a lemon and a drizzle of honey. And if THAT doesn't tickle your taste buds- then probably nothing ever will!

For the couscous, I finely chopped some spring onion, parsley, mint and celery and stirred it into the couscous, then added boiling water and stirred it in well. Whilst it was still warm, I added the barberries and the spices- I used some Ras el Hanout, chili, salt and pepper and a few drops of sesame oil. The finishing touch was a good squeeze of lemon juice- and a wonderful little vegetarian meal was born! I have to admit that a couple of slices of bacon wouldn't have gone amiss on top of it all... but I digress!

All Choked Up

Carciofini Fritti con Limone e Prezzemolo
Pan-Fried Baby Artichokes with Lemon and Parsley 

I love artichokes- and especially these little darlings that I picked up at the market hall yesterday. For someone that is a little unsure of preparing the full-sized artichokes, these are a great way to get started and to practice getting a good flavor- without worrying about too much prep work and removing that troublesome "choke".

I am not going to try to tell you that they are any less "troublesome" to eat than the large ones- you do still have a plateful of the tough ends of the leaves to get rid of.... But you can pick these individual slices up and bite off the whole of the tender end which is nice. And the nice toasted flavor that they get on each side from roasting in the pan does makes them much more delicious!

Pluck away the outermost leaves and peel away the outer layer of the stems. Do not cut the whole stem off or you will regret it! It is probable the most delicious part of the artichoke of all in this young and tender version. Next, the text books- and everybody else out there, tells you to cover the cut surface of the artichokes with lemon juice or to submerge them into a bath of water and lemon- to prevent them from oxidizing and turning dark and ugly... which they will do. Ok people- this is ME talking here... why do people feel the need to do that? At a restaurant, when professional cooks may need to prepare large quantities of the things... ok. But at home? What are you waiting for? Get those things cut and get them into your frying pan!

So first things first- get your pan hot and add a little olive oil. Cut the artichokes in half and then cut the halves into 3-4 slices, depending on their size. Get the artichokes into that hot pan, get them coated in oil and flip them over. That should solve your problems with the oxidation. Fry on each side for 2-3 minutes until they begin to brown. Season with salt and pepper and then add maybe a cupful of hot water. Sounds strange- but fear not! At this point you can also add some finely chopped garlic. If you had added it earlier, it would have ended up burning and tasting bitter. This way it will infuse the artichokes with flavor. 

Continue cooking until the water has evaporated. Now take a lemon and scrape off the zest to use for garnishing later. Cut the rest into slices and add these to the pan. Squeeze them down a little so that they release their juice and make sure to get the artichokes well coated in it. When they begin to go brown, add water again and repeat the procedure of cooking the water off.

By now the artichokes should be nice and tender. Add a final last touch of olive oil, some finely chopped parsley and sprinkle with lemon zest- and you are ready to serve! Wonderful!

A Soup of the Asian Persuasion

Brodo Asiatico con Straccetti di Manzo e Fagioli
Asian Beef and Bean Soup 

Believe it or not, the basis of this elegant and spicy little soup, was three little slices of carpaccio that I did not end up using last night. They would hardly have made a second meal in themselves and I was loathe to throw them away. So lunch today was a very light, very spicy and very tasty Asian-styled broth... and this is how I made it...

I started out by making a flavor base for the broth- similar in taste I suppose to a Tom Yum Soup. The ingredients I used were garlic, ginger, galangal, lemon grass, red chili and shallot. I mashed these down and ground them up with my mortar and pestle- it just seemed like a lot more fun than using a pre-made paste- although I do also have that at home and have no problem with it. But today I made my paste fresh.

This went into a saucepan with a little sesame oil and a couple of Kefir lime leaves, which I snapped in half first to allow more flavor to be released from them. I fried the paste for a minute or so and then poured boiling water onto it and reduced the heat to a simmer. Basically- that was my broth. It still needed seasoning with salt and pepper, so that went in next, as did the beans, which I cut into thin, diagonal strips. 5 more minutes of simmering and I was ready to assemble my soup! But in order to do that I brought the broth back up to a rolling boil first...

I cut the carpaccio into strips and placed them into my soup bowl, with a few leaves of parsley, (I would have used cilantro if I had had any at home!) and then carefully poured the boiling hot broth over the meat. I made sure to add some of the beans, gave it a good squeeze of lemon juice and added a lemon slice as a garnish- and there it was! An incredible soup in 15 minutes, a deliciously light lunch and a good feeling for having made good use of a leftover of good meat. Which made the whole thing into a good idea!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A Perfect Pearing...

Carpaccio di Manzo con Avocado, Pinoli, Parmigiano e condito con Limone Verde
Carpaccio of Beef with Avocado, Pine Nuts, Parmesan and Lime Dressing 

This is a simple variation on the theme of the classic carpaccio of beef, combined with mild and buttery avocado and a fine dusting of my seasoned salts and ground chili flakes. There really isn't that much more to say to this one now, is there?

Being as I was only going to be preparing one portion, I had my butcher slice the meat for me- there would have been no way to manage it myself. Even half-freezing it like so many
people do is not the best solution. The best way to do the carpaccio, is to take your thin slices of meat and to smooth them out flatter still, using the back of your knife.   Do not pound the meat flat, as it only ruins the delicate structure of the meat.

I chose an avocado that was not fully ripe, as I wanted to cut it into the finest slices I could manage. I then sprinkled them very lightly with salt and squeezed the juice of a lime onto them, which "tenderized" the avocado by the time it was ready to be served. To form the rose, simply wrap the slices of avocado around one of your fingers- it's as simple as that! 

To assemble the dish, lay out a bottom layer of meat and then put the avocado slices on top to form a circle. Then add a smaller layer on top and set the avocado rose in the middle.  Decorate with some toasted pine nuts, a few shavings of Parmesan and freshly chopped chives for that hint of mild onion flavor. I seasoned it with my own made seasoned salt (see my blog entry called "Salt of the Earth") and a little ground chili, another good squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil...  so simple and so delicious!

Cheese on Toast Reloaded

Pane e Pere Tostato al Forno con Formaggio di Capra & Miele
Toasted Wholemeal Bread and Pears, with Goat Cheese and Honey

I would hazard a guess that cheese on toast is probably one of the most popular snacks to make at home- definitely so in England I would say. Here is a little variation on that theme- a little more extravagant, but just as simple- and a whole lot tastier and more fun!

They had some wonderful "Abate" pears at the market today- and of course I didn't resist. And neither did I resist when I walked past the cheese counter and saw the Saignac goat cheese. I didn't have any idea what I was going to do with them- probably have them after a meal some time. Well- that was what I thought until I got home from my walk into town and to the market and back, cold and famished and in need of something good... and so I came up with this idea!

I cored and sliced the pear, cut the bread into relatively thin slices, plucked a few leaves of fresh marjoram and chopped myself up a spring onion and layered these along with the Saignac cheese is an oven-proof dish. I squashed everything down a little and covered the dish with foil. Into the oven it went, for 10-15 minutes with the foil on, so that the trapped heat and juices from the pears steam and make the bread moist and sweet. I then took the foil off and gave it another 2-3 minutes under the broiler, to crisp-up the bread and toast the cheese nicely. I didn't add too much cheese for 2 reasons- 1.) it has a very strong flavor and would have been to overwhelming otherwise, and 2.)- I didn't want to cover the whole surface of the bread as it otherwise would not have crisped up so nicely.

A light drizzle of honey and a good sprinkle of chili/pepper and some fresh spring onion and marjoram are the last finishing touches- and I didn't hang around long and enjoyed mine HOT from the oven- I recommend you do too!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Warming Thoughts

Zuppa di Cavolini di Bruxelles e Romanesco con Salamino Piccante
Brussels Sprout and Romanesco Soup with Spicy Salami

I hate to throw away food, I think it is a shame and I know there is no reason for it. With so many people starving in the world, I think it is wrong to take for granted what we have and to be wasteful with perfectly good food on whim. I just don't get it when people don't want to eat the same thing two days in a row... just do something different with it! If it tastes boring to you- it is because you are doing something boring with it! End of speech

I had maybe a quarter of a Romanesco cauliflower left over, and the hearts of the Brussels sprouts that I plucked the leaves from 2 nights ago. To me, that says vegetable soup. Along with a few slices of spicy salami for a bit of extra "oomph!" and seasoning, a nice combination on a cold evening...

First of all, I chopped a clove of garlic, a couple of spring onions and a half stick of celery finely and sautéed them in a little clarified butter with a pinch of sugar. Whilst that was going on, I chopped the Romanesco into small pieces and the sprouts into slices. These get added to the onion, garlic and celery, along with some cumin, caraway and just a few fennel seeds, salt, pepper and some finely chopped parsley. Stir them together and let them steam with the lid on in their own juices for a few minutes. 

After 2-3 minutes, add some boiling water (so as to not interrupt the cooking process and cool everything down again) and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes. Check the seasoning after this time to see if you need to add salt or spice. Now add a good cupful of milk and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg, more finely chopped fresh parsley for some fresh flavor and color and a handful of thinly sliced, spicy salami. Continue simmering until you see little pearls of fat on the surface, from the salami... that is the sign that it has given off its smokey and spicy flavor into the broth and done its service... and it will be juicy and nicely cooked by now too.

Serve with a dusting of white pepper and a sprinkle of caraway seeds- a simple, warming and honest supper for a cold evening. What more could you want?