Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Butterfly Trap!

Farfalle alla Grappa con Agretti, Pomodoro & Scorze d'Arancia
Farfalle with Grappa, Saltwort, Tomato and Orange Zest

That's right my friends- this is one yummy bowl of pasta and is perfect to lure and catch your friends, families and loved ones at the dining table- they're going to love it! And I am pretty sure that you are too!

So, just to dumbfound you all a little, I am using a different name for the same old greens that I used on Sunday tonight. Sure- name stays the same for us English speakers, but saltwort is also known as "Agretti" in Italy... who knew? 

This dish is very easy to prepare- 15 minutes at the most... sounds like a deal already, don't you think? Start off by boiling the farfalle in unsalted water for 5 minutes- remember, we are going to be adding the saltwort, which has a natural saltiness to it and should be perfectly adequate for seasoning this dish.

In the meantime, trim off the root ends of the greens and rinse thoroughly. Next, finely chop a little garlic and Spring onion and set this to one side so that we have it close at hand when we come to put everything together in a few short minutes!

Once the pasta has boiled for 5 minutes, add the saltwort and continue to simmer for 2 more, then drain but  make sure to retain a little of the water and set to one side.

In a frying pan, sautée the crushed garlic and Spring onion in a little olive oil and when it begins to brown, deglaze with a generous shot of grappa and 1 tablespoon of orange zest. Now add the drained pasta and saltwort, grate generously with nutmeg and add a good splash of milk and continue stirring gently until the liquid gets absorbed and the pasta becomes smooth and delicious.

Serve with a few chunks of skinned tomato to add a little freshness, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of cracked black pepper... and buon apetito!

Portobello Bello!

Fungo Portabello al Forno
Oven-Baked Portabello Rarebit

Oh, those big, beautiful Portobello mushrooms! Compare them to your regular common or garden mushrooms and it is like King Kong meets Fay Wray. The blonde may have been cute- but it was the big guy we were all rooting for, right?

So I decided to make a quick, easy snack tonight- I knew it wouldn't quite make a full meal- but it almost did! Yes these things are yummy and satisfying and always a whole lot of fun- I combined this one with a yummy topping and a base of pitta which I covered with tomato and Ajvar... and it was pretty delicious, I must say!

Okay- I said this thing was oven-baked, but I did cheat a little and there was a little pre-cooking on the stove... but I am sure you will excuse me that little descriptive faux pas. I started out by frying a little finely chopped bacon in a dry pan. Once it was very lightly browned I removed it and fried the mushroom for 2-3 minutes on each side, just to give it a little head start. But that was all of the cheating... promise!

For the topping I made a mix of 1 egg, I finely chopped Spring onion, 1 tablespoon of grated salted ricotta cheese, the bacon bits, some finely chopped bacon and enough breadcrumbs to make it into a soft paste- these also went to give the topping a nice crispy texture.

So, now to put our snack together! Stir a little Ajvar together with a tablespoon of canned pizza tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and spread the pitta bread with it. Now set the mushroom on top and spoon on the topping. Sprinkle with a little chopped salted ricotta, drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake at a moderate heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the bread and the topping begin to brown. Serve with some finely chopped chives and freshly ground pepper and enjoy your big little snack!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Anyone for Seconds?

Fettina alla Salmoriglio al Limone, con Peperoni Glassate
Thinly Sliced Flank Steak with Lemon Salmoriglio Sauce and Glazed Peppers

Let's presume we are preparing an Italian meal for our friends. We will have some simple antipasti- olives, prosciutti or salumi say and then a small pasta or risotto dish. You can manage that, right?  But what about a secondo? Something that will be a real treat, but not something that is going to be overkill and simply too much food. We may actually even still be contemplating dessert...

So here is a nice, simple and quick idea for you- we are talking 10 minutes here! Cheap, fast absolutely mouthwatering- this traditional Sicilian preparation for a paper-thin flank steak will be a great highlight that costs you no stress or hard work. Oh... so now you want to know how to make it, huh? Yeah... I thought you might!

The only preparation you are going to need to do is a bit of chopping- but that really is all! I used red pointed peppers which I cut into fine rings/slices, but you can use any kind that you prefer. I also finely chopped a little garlic and finely sliced some lemon zest. But that's about it boys and girls! From now on it is going to be plain sailing...

I fried the peppers in a very small amount of olive oil at a moderate heat, stirring constantly and seasoning with salt, pepper and a good pinch of sugar. After 4-5 minutes, the peppers should be nicely softened up, but still have a good bit of bite to them and the sugar will be combining nicely with the juices from the peppers to become a nice glaze... just the pure and natural flavor of the peppers themselves- but what more do you need? Mmmmm... delicious!

Next, take another frying pan and get it nice and hot. You are going to need a few ingredients and you are going to need to move fast- so make sure you have them close at hand- as the meat is cut so thinly that just a minute or two too long in the pan will ruin it and turn it into edible shoe leather. So, you will need the finely chopped garlic, some Herbs de Provence, sea salt, pepper, the juice of a lemon, a little honey and the lemon zest and and a little fresh oregano to finish it all off. This is going to take you all of 2 minutes- so get your nerves ready!

Add a splash of olive oil into the pan and as soon as it begins to shimmer and is really hot, add the meat. Sprinkle immediately with salt, pepper, the herbs and the garlic and then flip it over and do the same, adding a handful of capers at the same time. You need to have the heat up really high so that the meat browns quickly, but you don't want it to cook too much as it is so thin that it will dry out before you know it. Squeeze immediately with the lemon juice- and plenty of it, add a tablespoon of honey and stir it around a little to get all of the good flavor up from the pan. And serve it up immediately!

Traditionally it would be served "as is", but I thought that the topping of sweet peppers, the savory capers, the zingy oregano and the "bitter" lemon zest would take this simple preparation up to the next level... And I was right! You should give it a try some time!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Bowl Me Over!

Piatto Rustico d' Orzo, Puntarelle, Salsiccia Piccante e Olive
A Rustic Bowl of Barley, Puntarelle, Spicy Sausage and Olives

I decided to do do another dish with barley this evening- you really can't beat it in the Winter months! It may be a little old-fashioned but it is wonderfully versatile at the same timed. You can make a lot of dishes with barley... including dishes like this!

This is basically one of those dishes where you can improvise and adapt according to what you have available at any given time. Today, I happened to have the leaves of the Puntarella left over and had decided that I wanted to use them up in one way or another- and this was how I went about it...

I started off with a fine dice of carrot, celery and onion, which I sautéed with a little crushed garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the celery and onion were translucent, I added the barley and some finely chopped parsley, including the stalks and deglazed the pan with a little Sambuca. I then poured in enough boiling water to cover the barley, seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little cayenne and reduced the heat to a simmer. After 3-4 minutes, the barley had begun to absorb the water and at this point I added a cupful of milk and the puntarelle. On went the lid, down went the temperature and whilst the barley cooked for the next 5 minutes, I took the time to slice up some spicy Italian dried sausage, but you could also use bacon or salami.

After 5 minutes, the liquid had also been absorbed by the barley, which was now almost double in volume and almost done. I topped-up the barley with a little more boiling water and added the sausage slices and a handful of finely chopped chives. A final 3-4 minutes should be enough and then you can add the final finishing touches before serving, which were a few fresh, stoned olives and a dash of good olive oil. And then I added a last sprinkle of chili flakes and settled down to supper! Earthy, honest and tasty food- with no added stock or additional flavors... which is just the way that it should be. Clean, fresh and delicious and the perfect Winter dish! Buon apetito!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Oh Brother!

Involtino di Manzo con Barba di Frate su Puré di Patate
Beef Roll with Olive Pesto and Sage Filling, with Saltwort and Mashed Potato

There is no happier moment, when I am out at the market hall shopping for produce, than when I discover something weird and wonderful and new. I am talking about that ring of fresh greens you can see, orbiting my meat and potatoes, like something from another world...

No it is not a whole bunch of chives, or a string of seaweed, it is Saltwort, also known as "Barba di Frate", which means "Monks Beard" when translated directly from the Italian. And both names are accurate in a way- one simply refers to the vegetables "hair-like" appearance and the other, to the naturally salty flavor. Read on and I will tell you more about it!

I happened upon this wonderful stuff yesterday and was quite perplexed by its seaweed/algae-like appearance, so I asked what it was and was told "Barba di Frate". Like I should know what it is! I did an internet search and found it is not all that obscure and that it is in season right now- one of the earliest Spring greens. It has a naturally salty flavor and the best comparison I can come up with, is to say that it is like a robust spinach, but a little more pungent and "nutty". It is mainly cultivated in Spain and Sicily for the mediterranean market, but also grows in Afrika... who knew?

In any case- let me begin with the beef roll, which was very simply spread with an olive tapanade and covered with sage leaves, then rolled together and wrapped in ceran wrap nice and tightly. I popped this, together with the saltwort, into my steamer and gave them both 5 minutes- after which time the greens were already tender and a bright, vivid green. I tossed them in a little olive oil, added a few slices of garlic and a light dusting of nutmeg to lightly perfume it and kept it warm until serving.

After the beef had rested for 2-3 minutes, I unwrapped it and fried it at a very high heat in some clarified butter, with some very finely chopped garlic and orange zest, coarsely ground pepper and some sea salt. As soon as it was browned off from all sides it was ready to serve! I deglazed the frying pan with a little white wine to pick up the juices and good flavor from browning the meat and added this later upon serving. With a simple sage leaf as a garnish, this made for a very simple yet elegant meal... and my first of many dishes using those old "Brother's" beards!

Pasticini con i Cumquat
Breakfast Pastries with Cumquat

Another little Sunday-morning creation here- not much of a "recipe" as such... but then, none of my sweet dishes ever are! It was the cumquats again that led me into temptation at the market hall yesterday... I just had to have them! I had planned on using them in a salad, but as I made my yummy puntarelle and mandarin orange salad with mint yesterday- I had the chance to do something else with them today- and this was it!

I heated up the oven, ready to bake the pastry- and then had an idea as to how I could prepare the cumquats to make them yummy and soft and better-suited to this light preparation... and this is what I did!

I washed and sliced the cumquats, removing any pips, and then sprinkled them with some home-made vanilla sugar- which is nothing more than a little granulated sugar which I put into a jar with a empty vanilla pod. I am sure you are all familiar with this and it is a great way to get some delicious flavor into your sweet dishes.

I sprinkled the cumquat slices with sugar and wrapped them in a little parcel of aluminum foil, making sure it was tightly sealed and popped them into the very hot oven for 4-5 minutes. After this time, they had become softer, had lost their bitterness through the heat, taken on the sweetness of the sugar and oozed their yummy juice into it to create a wonderful, rich syrup. But be careful- it will be HOT!

Simply cut out the pastry and arrange the cumquats decoratively on top. Drizzle with any residual juice and bake in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown!

And have a wonderful and sunny day!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Hey Gumbo- Gumbo Italiano!

Gombo con Gamberi & Salsiccia Piccante su Bavette alla Safarana
Gumbo with Shrimp and Spicy Sausage on Saffron Noodles

Here's a little flavor explosion for you! I decided to take the tangy and spicy stew known as gumbo, which originated in the Deep South of the USA, born of French Cajun cuisine and African influences, back to Europe and give it new twist of my own...

My version is lighter, quicker and easier to make- well that's already 3 good reasons to like it right there- but there is more to come! Check out how I made it right here and I hope you enjoy the ride down South...

Most of the classic ingredients of a gumbo went into this- okra, spicy sausage (not Andouille), celery, garlic, oregano, shrimp-and even some sassafrass leaf powder from my trip to New Orleans- although in this version you really can do without. But basically- the important ingredients were there so that it did taste by all means like a proper gumbo. There are many recipes for gumbo- basically a gumbo is a stew, that combines shrimps with meat and simmers for a long time, along with okra and plenty of spice. Mine took around 15 minutes in all. Sounds good? Good!

The pasta was boiled together with a pinch of saffron and a few strips of lemon peel- otherwise it was just boiled as usual- but what a beautiful color! And the mildly perfumed aroma is a wonderful addition to the full picture...

For the gumbo itself I fried the spicy Italian sausage together with the shells from the shrimp, garlic and a little grated ginger. After 3-4 minutes, I removed the shrimp shells and added a little chopped carrot and celery and resumed stir frying... so in principle I had the classic ingredients for a "sofritto" as a base for the rest of the meal. I added oregano, basil, salt, pepper, cayenne and some of my sassafrass powder- although you could also just add a sprinkle of flour. At this point you can also add the okra, which is cut into small pieces.

Deglaze the frying pan with a shot of Sambuca and a little white wine and then some chunky-chopped, canned tomato- just a few spoonfuls. Keep stirring and let the sauce thicken down- the okra will also help to thicken the sauce.

And that is it! A perfect topping for a nice plate of pasta- don't you agree? Garnish with fresh oregano leaves  and a tiny trickle of lime juice and enjoy! Buon apetito!

That's the Point!

Insalata di Puntarelle, Mandarine e Menta
Puntarelle, Mandarin Orange and Mint Salad

How about a different kind of salad to the usual? If you like endives and radicchio, you may just well love these things- "puntarelle" they are called, but also sometimes known as "roman salad greens". The plant itself has long outer leaves, similar in appearance to dandelion greens, but on the inside is a cluster of these tender 'pods', which are mildly bitter, but succulent and tasty... if you like that kind of thing! And being Sicilian... of course I do!

To make the salad, snap the individual pods apart and if the bitterness doesn't agree with you, soak them in a warm water for 15-20 minutes, with a little salt and plenty of sugar- then chill again briefly before preparing.  

It is not an absolute must by any means, but if you filet the mandarin orange segments as I did, you can squeeze out the juice as I did to make your dressing. Otherwise, you can simply split the segments apart and use another orange to squeeze. The dressing consisted of mandarin juice, olive oil, honey, a small amount of white balsamico, a little grated ginger and the seasoning came from some of my herb-infused salt- this time with lavender, sechuan pepper, mint and lime.

I put the salad together out of the puntarelle, some of the more tender leaves (these are a little bitter!), the sweet orange, some fresh peppermint leaves... and then added the dressing and some red cracked pepper corns! I think this is an incredible way to start a meal- it will bring your taste- buds to life and work up your appetite for more yummy stuff... but the rest is up to you!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Fishermans Friend

Filetto di Merluzzo con Lenticchie Miste, Sedano e Peperoni
Fillet of Cod with Mixed Lentils, Celery and Pepper

Having had a lifetime-aversion to fish in general, I have to admit that I have grown to like cod more and more. Yes, you connoisseurs will tell me that there are many, many finer and better fish in the sea... but for this evening, this fillet of cod suited me fine, thank you very much!

Yes, I do prefer monkfish when my pennies will stretch that far- but as far as I am concerned, with fish as with meat, it is not simply a matter of buying the most exclusive and expensive quality or cut- it is about how you prepare it. And I would maintain any day that you will get a better result and better meal from a more inexpensive product if you have a little fantasy, skill, and fun in preparing your food, than if you simply have a dollar in your pocket and no real idea about cooking...

So let's begin at the beginning.... with the lentils and mung beans, which I soaked this morning, thus reducing the cooking time to between 10-15 minutes. I added some finely chopped carrot, onion and celery to give extra flavor and seasoned with salt, pepper, bay leaf and a little cumin powder. You never can tell for sure how long they will take exactly, but the secret is to bring them to the boil, cook at a low simmer for 7-8 minutes, drain off most of the water and then turn off the heat and let them sit with the lid on until you are ready to serve. The residual heat and steam will do the job for you, without you overcooking them and turning them into a paste or a soup.

The celery I steamed for 5 minutes, then drained and then sautéed in a little butter and deglazed with a splash of Sambuca... simple, delicate and intense at the same time!

The red pepper was also steamed- but I laid it on top of fresh peppermint leaves and then drizzled with honey and a little Tabasco. Yum!

And the star of ,the show, the cod, was fried at a high heat for around 2 minutes in a little clarified butter, with a slice of ginger, a little garlic, a hint of vanilla and a sprig or two of thyme. As soon as it began to brown nicely, I turned it over and removed it from the heat. Once again- the pan has enough heat still to finish the cooking process whilst you prepare your dishes- in 2-3 minutes it will be perfect, juicy and delicious!

I layered mine as you can see, with lentils first, then the celery, then pepper and the cod on top, with a light drizzle of olive oil, a hint of herb-infused salt and a light sprinkle of cress, to add a little fresh, peppery flavor.  

I have to concede that with dishes like this one- I could maybe consider becoming more friendly with the fishermen after all- or at least what they bring to our kitchens! Enjoy!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Something to get Eggcited about!

Zucchine Rotonde al Forno, con Uova, Pancetta, Mozzarella e Menta
Oven-Baked Egg & Round Zucchini with Peppers, Mint & Bacon

You all know by now that I see the situation of having but a handful of ingredients in the fridge as a fun opportunity and a challenge rather than a problem- there is always something cool that can be concocted! As long as you have some herbs, spices and a few basics at hand that is- and are not afraid to use them!

Tonight I was feeling fearless again- I had one of those little round zucchini's left over and wanted to do something fun with it- but not to stuff it again, as I already did that on Sunday. I had a small piece of Mozzarella, some fresh herbs, some red pointed pepper and eggs a-plenty. And the result of it all was this right here!

The first step was to start frying a little finely chopped bacon in a non-stick pan. This would be the only fat that would go into this dish- you are familiar by now with how I like to "prime" my pan with the natural fats in the ingredients I am using anyway. So- first brown the bacon, then remove it and fry the zucchini lightly from each side for 2-3 minutes, just so they are half done.

At this point turn on your oven, to a high heat, and get that oven-dish hot and ready- it won't take long to get the rest ready!

Finely chop a handful of both parsley and fresh mint, crack 2 eggs into a bowl and beat, together with a splash of milk, some salt and pepper and grated nutmeg.  Finely chop a spring onion and a half of a red pointed pepper, take that hot baking dish out of the oven- and let's get busy putting our little meal together!

Carefully position the zucchini slices and then pour in the frothy beaten egg mix, which will immediately start to sizzle. Now sprinkle with the finely chopped Spring onion and pepper, the chopped bacon and a little Mozzarella cheese. Season with a final sprinkle of salt, pepper and nutmeg and pop into a hot oven for 15-20 minutes, until the egg has set, then turn on the broiler for 1-2 minutes to get everything golden brown. Feeling hungry? You will be when you open your oven door and smell it... and the flavor is better still! Enjoy!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Best Before Midnight

Risoni con Funghi, Zucca e Salvia
Risoni Noodles with Mushroom, Pumpkin and Sage

This is another one of those dishes that was improvised on the spur of the moment, using the off-cuts from yesterdays mushrooms and half of a Hokkaido pumpkin that needed some attention in my fridge- before it began to develop a life of its own! Yes- that can happen to the best of us! I had bought the little grapefruit-sized Hokkaido the other week and somehow not got around to using it- but was not really worried as they usually last for ages. Except for the one that I picked out at the market!

So along with bacon, sage, and a couple of other bits and bobs, I put together this delicious combination and made the best use of my little pumpkin before it turned into something else entirely...

I started off by browning a small handful of finely diced bacon and a handful of sage leaves in a dry non-stick pan. Once finished, I removed them and browned off some thinly sliced Hokkaido pumpkin in the fat that was left over in the pan. Once that was done, removed it and added some finely diced pumpkin, celery and garlic and fried that until the celery began to turn translucent, then added a couple of handfuls of risoni and deglazed the pan with 2 cups of boiling water.

I seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg and stirred continuously, as one would a risotto.
Next, I added the sliced mushrooms and a splash of mushroom ketchup, to heighten the flavor just a little. Keep adding boiling water, a little at a time as required and stir gently until the risoni has a chewy but silky consistency...

Serve immediately, with a topping of pumpkin slices and toasted sage leaves, some freshly cracked black pepper and a light dusting of salted Ricotta cheese... and enjoy! Buon apetito!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

These Boots are Made for Eating

"Beef Wellington" Reinterpretato
Beef Wellington Reloaded

There is no point in getting into the discussion over whether Beef Wellington was named after the famous Duke, his shiny boots, or the city of Wellington, as no one can say for sure- the only thing that we do know is that the name is synonymous for meat of fish dishes that are wrapped in puff pastry. In the classic version, meat or fish is first coated in a paté of some kind, then in a layer of finely chopped mushrooms and then, finally, in pastry. My only problem with that, is that often, the pastry remains soggy on the inside- so I decided to cook my mushrooms separately and do without the paté... only I came up with a trick to give the meat a little added flavor... I don't want to make something more boring than the original after all!

I have been reading Harold McGees "On Food and Cooking" lately and soaking up information on the cooking of meat. On the subject of steaming, he said that being as steam is much hotter than boiling water, although it may seem a gentle method of cooking, when it comes to meat, it may dry out the meat from the outside by the time the interior is cooked. I found that to be an intriguing thought and developed a little idea out of it that I tried out in this little experiment...

Being as I was going to need a reduction of red wine in order to make my sauce, I decided to flavor the wine strongly and to set my steam-rack into the saucepan and pre-cook my little hunk of filet, to infuse it with a little flavor, but also to firm it up a little and to cut down the cooking time in the oven. I used port wine, regular Chianti, a splash of cognac, star anise, marjoram, rosemary and ginger. So into the steamer it went for 5 minutes. After this time I removed it, wrapped it in foil and allowed it to cool and rest.

Whilst it was steaming, I prepared a very fine dice or parsnip, which I fried in a drop of clarified butter and seasoned with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a little nutmeg. I set these to one side as the topping for my mashed potato and began boiling the potatoes in milk whilst I turned my attention back to the now cooled beef.

I spread the beef with some Dijon mustard, then wrapped it in 2 layers of pastry and baked it at a relatively high temperature in a pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Whilst it was baking prepared the mashed potatoes, which I seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg and finished with a pat of butter. The mushrooms were simply sautéed at a moderate heat with salt, pepper and a little crushed garlic with a very small amount of clarified butter.

Once the pastry is puffed up nicely, turn on the broiler for a minute to give it a nice golden color and then turn the oven off to allow the meat to rest. Prepare your dish by serving the mashed potato with a topping of parsnip, then add the mushrooms and the Wellington and season both with a nice steak pepper mix. A pat of butter is an option I suppose... but not for me! I also do not like to drench my food in gravy- so I definitely spared you that in the photos! I made the gravy by adding grated shallot to the wine / herb mix and reducing it down over the entire cooking time. I added a little chilled butter at the end to give it a nice glaze and to make it more unctuous- again, a reason to do without extra butter on the meat... after all, it is coated in puff-pastry!

So there you have a slightly different interpretation of an old classic. And a rather fine one at that I might add!

Monday, 20 February 2012

A Bowl of Con-Fusion

Pasta Asiatica "Udon" con Peperoni e Okra in Brodo di Manzo e Funghi
Udon Noodles with Peppers and Okra in Beef & Mushroom Broth

Oh, I do the craziest things sometimes in the kitchen- and the craziest thing about the crazy things that I do, is that they often taste pretty darned good! Like this evenings supper. Now, I know that all of the ingredients I used are also commonly used in Japanese cuisine, but I am also pretty sure they are not used in this way... because I just made it up as I went along. Still, the flavor was amazing, the method was simple and the preparation was really minimal. And I am pretty confident you will excuse my lack of authenticity in the light of all that!

I used very thinly sliced braising steak and mushrooms to make a light stock- along with a few slices of ginger, some garlic paste and some fresh herbs, that was the base for building up this wonderfully warming dish. Keep on reading and I will give you all the details...

So, let's start at the beginning. I sliced the beef as thinly as possible and brought it to the boil in about 3 cupfuls of water per person. I counted 5-6 small, bite-sized slices per person too, which is plenty in combination with the vegetables. After 10 minutes or so, I removed the congealed "scum" (I hate that word!), from the surface of the broth with a slotted spoon and added some finely chopped parsley and mint. I reduced the heat to a low simmer and let it bubble away for a further 20 minutes or so. At this point, apart from the garlic and ginger, I did not add any extra flavors.

20 minutes later, I added some finely sliced red pointed peppers and the okra, which I simply cut in half. After 4-5 minutes, I added the noodles, some finely chopped Spring onion, a little more fresh mint and let it simmer for a further 5-6 minutes... after which my dish was ready to serve!

In the meantime, I prepared a little flavoring to pour onto the noodles before eating. This was a mixture of Mirin, soy sauce and sushi vinegar. I don't know how valid an addition to the Japanese cuisine this is- but the sweet, sour and salty flavors brought the light broth to life for me! I found it to be delicious! Serve with a little fresh parsley or cilantro if you prefer, a light drizzle of sesame oil and a few pinches of tangy Sansho pepper on the beef if you dare! I did!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Inside Job

Zucchina Rotonda "Sorpresa" - con Ripieno di Couscous e Sugo di Pomodoro
Round Zucchini "Surprise" with Couscous Filling and Tomato Sugo

I felt like having a little fun this evening and creating something a little cool and different. I love the little round zucchini's- they have a much better and more intense flavor that the regular ones and I always find them to be so cool-looking when I see them on the market.
Still- the sad truth is, that once they have been sliced or diced, they either end up looking like regular zucchini on your plate, or somehow kind-of awkward...

So I thought up this here method of cooking and presenting them, that just might make you smile, but that hopefully will make you enjoy these little flavor bombs a little more!

The idea is so simple it is practically embarrassing- I simply hollowed the Zucchini out from below, rather than cutting off the top as one normally would. So you have no idea that it is hollowed out and stuffed when you first see it.

To hollow out the zucchini, you will need one of those gadgets that are used for scooping 
out melon- like a miniature ice-cream scoop.  Make one central scoop into the bottom of the zucchini and then continue removing scoops from there. Take your time and do it carefully and you will get a nice result... it is easier than you may think.

For the couscous, I added a few threads of saffron and a little grated ginger to it and then poured boiling chicken broth onto it- just enough to cover it. I then left it to absorb the hot liquid and to fluff up slightly. I added salt, pepper and a little nutmeg, stirred it well and filled it into the hollowed out zucchini. I seasoned the inside of the zucchini with a little salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Being as I had removed most of the interior of the zucchini, it only required 7-8 minutes of steaming for it to cook... but that gave me more than enough time to whip together a nice fruity tomato sugo.

I used diced, canned tomatoes, which have much more flavor than fresh, as well as being a lot easier! I began by frying some finely chopped onion and garlic in olive oil and then deglazing with the chopped tomatoes and a little white wine. I cranked up the heat to reduce the sauce down a little and seasoned it with a little cayenne, parsley, oregano, basil and a tiny hint of cinnamon. I allowed it to simmer until I was ready to serve the zucchini, which was tender and good to go after 7-8 minutes. If you overcook it- you will find that it will collapse in on itself!

Set the zucchini on the plate first and then spoon the sauce carefully around the outside- this is a little fiddly but definitely looks nicer done this way.

Of course you guests will not know that they have anything more than a simple zucchini on their plates until they cut into them- which is cool enough... but the combination of tomato, zucchini and couscous goes SO well together! And served up like this... well- what's not to like!?

Sicilian Sunrise

Soufflé in Pasta Sfoglia "alla Siciliana"
Sicilian Puff-Pastry Breakfast Soufflé

Wake up you sleepyheads! It's time for breakfast! Cursed with the fate of being an incurable early-riser, I decided to take advantage of the fact today, set up my lights and camera and make a breakfast worth shooting for you... and I hope you like it! I know that I did!

This is in fact, simply a slightly different version of my "Sicilian Coddled Eggs" recipe, which I posted many, many moons ago, shortly after I started this blog. You can see it here: But this morning, I decided to give it a cool twist and bake it in the oven, in a framework of wonderfully fluffy puff-pastry... and what a treat it turned out to be!

So- the main difference here, is that as you can see, I have lined the edges of my dish with puff pastry. I cut 2" strips of store-bought pastry and folded them, concertina-style, then placed them around the edge of the dish. The only tip here, is to use a very sharp knife to cut the pastry with- it IS important! If you use a blunt knife, of course it will "cut" the pastry, but it will actually just squeeze the edges shut, rather than cut through them smoothly- which will result in the air not being able to escape from the many layers of folded pastry during baking and the pastry will not rise properly.

For the soufflé, I separated 2 eggs and beat the whites up until the were nice and fluffy. I then mixed all of the other ingredients into the yolk, before stirring the egg whites and yolks back together. Into 2 egg yolks I added a good splash of milk, some finely chopped parsley and plenty of finely chopped mint. I then added grated salted ricotta cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper, whisked them up at the highest setting, and when they were done, stirred the egg whites back in, so that I had a nice fluffy soufflé mass ready to pour into my oven dish.

I did not line the base of the dish with pastry, as I wanted the heat to be transferred directly from the dish to the eggs. I also did not want the pastry to become moist from the egg and not cook thoroughly- nothing worse than soggy pastry! Turn the heat up to the highest setting in the oven to preheat and prepare to put your soufflé together!

Pour the egg mix into the dish and then sprinkle with finely chopped bacon, sun-dried tomatoes cut into thin strips and a little mozzarella, also cut into strips, so it can be more evenly distributed all over the surface of the soufflé without making everything sink down to the bottom. Pour a little water into your oven tray first, so that it begins to steam- this will help the soufflé rise. Of course, you will need to do all of this preparation as quickly as possible as the air-bubbles from beating the eggs will also diminish otherwise. In goes your dish at a high temperature, on the middle rack of the oven, in your tray in which you have 1" or so of steaming water, for around 15 minutes- it does really depend on your oven though. Keep your eyes on it- but don't be tempted to open the door on it! One the pastry is nice and puffy, give it a final blast under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to give it a nice golden finish... and get ready to enjoy an amazing breakfast! Buon apetito!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Porn Cocktail

Avocado con Gamberi Piccante + Salsa "Cocktail" allo Gin
Avocado with Spicy Shrimp and Gin-infused Cocktail Sauce

Oh, so you think time-travel is something from the realms of science-fiction, do you? Well- what do you think of, when you read the words "prawn cocktail"? That's right- you are instantly transported to the 1970's and 80's and scenes of stuffy dinner parties- am I right?
Sorry to have sent that shiver down your spine- because I know you are also thinking of that ketchup and mayonnaise dressing you used to love and ashamed to admit it now!

But fear not and join me on a journey back- but indeed "back to the future", as I show you how you can revamp and reinvent that classic appetizer in a way that really IS appetizing- and so much more delicious, fun and healthy! Read on!

The sauce for this dish was made using yogurt, Ajvar, lime juice, a shot of gin, a pinch of cayenne, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Can you imagine anything more simple- or more delicious in combination with avocado and shrimp? No... me either! Stir the ingredients together to taste- I mixed 5 tablespoons of yogurt to 1 of Ajvar, added lime juice and the other ingredients by-and-by until I liked the flavor... It all depends on how hot, spicy and tangy you like it- so I will leave it up to you! prepare a little in advance and chill until ready to serve.

The shrimp were fried in a little sesame oil, with crushed garlic, some grated dried lemon, cayenne pepper and right at the very end, a little honey. Dried lemons are a wonderful ingredient used in Persian cuisine- their flavor is more complex and sweet than fresh lemons which are merely sour- they have a tangy sweetness which is mildly exotic and totally delicious. A little tip for you- don't add the honey too early or it will burn and become bitter! Give the shrimp a splash of gin when they are finished and you will love what it does for the flavor!

Split the avocado, drizzle with a little lime juice to prevent it from going off-color and fill with the tangy cocktail sauce. I served up the shrimp on little cocktail sticks to make them easier to dip and enjoy and sprinkled everything with a generous amount of smoked paprika flakes- you already know that I love those things! Spicy but not nearly as hot as chili or cayenne and with a lovely smokey aroma- the perfect finishing touch to a wonderful opener!