Friday, 26 October 2012

Berry Creamy and Delicious!

Crema di Riso alla Sambuca con Frutti di Bosco
Sambuca Jasmin-Rice Pudding with Mixed Berries

Oh, how boring! A children's dessert and such an old-fashioned one at that! Yes I can hear you thinking that to yourselves, of ye of little faith! But you don't really think I just made any-old rice pudding now, do you? And you know I have no children! So in went the alcohol- and a good time was had by all- haha! Well... by me that is, as I obviously polished this delicious little treat off on my own!

Star anis and Sambuca gave this rice pudding a nice adult twist, vanilla and cinnamon kept it traditional and mixed berries kept it fresh and tangy... all in all a good thing I would say! Easy to make and ready to enjoy in just 20 minutes- and this is how to do it!

Bring 3 cups of milk for each cup of rice you are going to cook to the boil and add a stick of cinnamon, a star anis and a piece of vanilla pod to make it delicious and aromatic from the start. I used a mix of half short grain risotto rice and half jasmin rice to make this... I wanted the creaminess of the carnaroli but also the perfume of the jasmin. I stirred in the rice, added a pinch of salt and sweetened mine with Stevia as usual... sugar, honey or maple syrup are also good options though! 

I reduced the heat to a low simmer and let it sit for 5-6 minutes to begin cooking normally, after that time, I gave it a good stir with a wooden spoon, nice a vigorously, to get the surface of the grains of rice rubbing nicely together and giving off plenty of starch that would make the rice thicken. 

I gave it another couple of minutes and stirred again, and repeated this over and over, until the rice was thick, swollen, creamy and full of flavor from the cinnamon and anis, which I then removed. After 15 minutes total cooking time, I gave it one last stir, turned off the heat and let it sit with the lid on for a further 5 minutes- and in the meantime, prepared a little simple compote by cooking down a couple of handfuls of the red berries, with a little Stevia, water and sambuca, then draining it through a fine sieve and adding a little instant gelatin to thicken it slightly. 

I served this on top of the steaming rice pudding, with a few fresh berries and a sprig of fresh mint and the star anis as a garnish... easy as pie, pretty as a picture- and tasty as can be! Hope you give it a go when the kids are away! Enjoy!

Half-Sleeves... Full-Flavor!

Mezzemaniche con Spinaci & Pomodoro al Forno
Baked Mezzemaniche with Spinach and Tomato

I have been told that today is "World Pasta Day"... what a silly idea! And who on earth comes up with these ridiculous and pointless celebration days anyway? Especially with something like pasta! I mean... everybody knows that pasta is something that can be celebrated on any day of the year anyway!

So I made a pasta dish after all... and one featuring my little favorites, the "mezzamaniche", or "half-sleeves", lol! You have GOT TO adore that name! And you will just love eating them too, these chunky, half-sized jumbo-macaroni! Especially when they have been oven-baked!

To make them, I brought a saucepan of water to the boil for my pasta, BUT, before I started the pasta off, I briefly dropped my spinach into it, so that it would get blanched and  quickly soften up, ready to be wrung-out and finally chopped... which was exactly what I did whilst the pasta boiled!

I chopped the spinach up as finely as possible and then briefly sautéed it in olive oil with some garlic, finely chopped onion and a little finely diced bacon. I added a little sun-dried tomato, which I cut into fine strips and then seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg. 

After the pasta had cooked for 5-6 minutes, I drained it but retained about a cupful of the water and added that to the spinach in the frying pan. I stirred it and let it finish cooking for a further 2-3 minutes, then added a good splash of milk and a good pinch of grated parmesan. I stirred it through and transferred it to a baking dish, adding an extra layer of grated parmesan, a sprinkle of finely chopped bacon and a few slices of cherry tomato... Delicious!

Of into a hot oven it went, for 20 minutes, till the pasta was cooked through, the  cheese had melted and browned into a yummy crust- and I could resist temptation no more! And simple though this dish is, I am sure you will feel just the same way about it!

Thursday, 25 October 2012


Strice di Focaccia con Melanzane, Ceci, Cipolla Rossa & Miele
Flatbread Strips with Eggplant, Chick Peas, Red Onion & Honey

No, don't worry- this isn't anything to do with that silly old movie! But it IS so tasty and fun that it might well just make your heart skip a beat for a second with its breath-taking yumminess! And yes, it is made of some last bits and pieces that needed to be cleared out of my fridge, before my old kitchen gets cleared out of my apartment!

So the recipes may be a little less complicated the next 2-3 days... but from Monday, next week, "Old Faithful" shall be no more-and hopefully, come Friday, I should be able to get back to my old tricks in a new setting!

After a stressful day, working late and finishing as tired as can be, supper this evening was more of a casual snack than a sit-down meal... but no less delicious for that matter! Eggplant, chickpeas, red onion and thyme with a drizzle of honey... what's not to like?

I started off by sautéing the eggplant slices in a little olive oil, with a little finely sliced garlic and salt and pepper to season. after 2-3 minutes of frying from each side, I added a little water to the frying pan, which soon evaporated away, but which produced enough steam to help get the eggplant cooked quickly, rather than it cooking for too long and ending up being too soft and falling apart.

Once the eggplant slices were down, I set them to one side to cool, and turned my attention to the red onion, which I sliced and sautéed in olive oil, with a pinch or two of sugar. I kept stirring and watching that the caramel didn't start to get too dark, which would have made the onion bitter.

After 2-3 minutes, I added some thinly sliced Spring onion and again, a little water. 2 minutes later, the water was gone, the onions were soft and they come come down from the stove! Next stop- chick peas!

The chick-peas were left over from the other night and were cooked- so all that we needed to do here was to warm them through and for the base, I used a pre-made pizza dough, which I cut into narrow slices of around 4"-5". I seasoned the chick peas with a little salt, pepper and thyme- and without wasting any more time, set about putting these yummy ingredients on top of my bread slices, ready for the oven, which I turned-on to its highest setting to get hot, hot, hot and ready for action!

I set out the eggplant first, as it had the largest surface area... even though these were tiny! Next, the chick peas, which I pressed down firmly into the dough, so that they would not simply fall off later and last but not least, the onion, all soft and juicy and delicious!

I baked the slices for around 15 minutes at the ovens highest setting, then added a light drizzle of honey and returned for a final 2 minutes under the broiler, until they were lovely and golden brown! Some fresh thyme leaves and last, tiny sprinkle of salt and the only last thing to do was to say to myself "buon apetito" and to enjoy! And I hope that you do too!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Suppertime Sky-Rocket!

Gnocchi di Patate e Rucola con Cipolle Rosse Caramellate
Potato & Rocket Dumplings with Caramelized Red Onion

Some simple dishes are great- they will take some ordinary, everyday ingredient, elevate it and raise it up, above and beyond... And then some other simple dishes, like this one, will take those same ingredients and knock them right off the map! This dish was intergalactic!

These were basically tender and fluffy gnocchi, formed using 2 spoons to scoop them from a soft dough and drop them directly into gently boiling water. The rich and earthy flavor of the rocket (or arugula- depending on which country you live in!), gave a deep and delicious flavor and the caramelized onions and salted ricotta added the contrast to make this into something a little more unusual and a lot more special!

I started off by boiling and mashing 3 medium-sized potatoes- I simply crushed them down with a fork, added a little more of the water they had been boiling in and fluffed them up whilst they were still hot. At this point, I added 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon of semolina and swiftly stirred them in too, seasoning with a little salt, pepper and grated nutmeg as I went.

Next, I took a handful of rocket, chopped it as finely as I could and added it to the still warm mashed potato, which immediately became a light, bright green and of course, cooled down considerably at the same time. Which was excellent, as it allowed me to add an egg and beat it into the mix without having to worry that it may curdle. The fact is, the dough will turn out best if you mix it whilst the potatoes are hot- the result will be much fluffier and lighter this way.

I added a handful of grated salted ricotta into the mix and another tablespoon of flour or two, always stirring, until the dough was soft but firm, with the consistency of a firm but creamy oatmeal. This was the time to get a saucepan of water boiling for the dumplings and also to start a little butter sizzling in a separate frying pan to caramelize half a finely sliced red onion... because in just 5-6 minutes time, dinner would be served! Yes- it all happens rather quickly from now on!

To form the gnocchi, I scooped up a tablespoonful of the fluffy potato dough, dipped a teaspoon into the boiling water, scooped the dough off of the tablespoon and dropped it gently in. Make sure the water is just at a gentle, rolling boil and that it is not bubbling away like crazy!

This takes a little practice, but really isn't that difficult after you have made 2-3 of them. As with all dumplings, they are ready as soon as they float to the surface of the gently simmering water. As soon as the float, scoop them out and drop them into a bowl of cold water to interrupt the cooking process- this will make sure they stay firm and do not stick together and fall apart.

Time for a little juggling now! Add a pinch of sugar to the lightly browned onion to give it that lovely, golden caramel-flavor and at the same time, heat a little butter with some crushed garlic in another pan, ready to toss the gnocchi or dumplings and let them also get gently browned and delicious. Once they become brown and start to stick to the pan slightly, deglaze with a splash of white wine, add a last little pat of butter, flip them through one last time and you are ready to go!

Serve with a few tender leaves of rocket, a little freshly-grated salted ricotta, a hint of grated nutmeg and a sprinkle of toasted chili flakes... and dig in! You are going to love these! I guarantee it!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Turkish Delight

Pollo Piccante con Zafferano Turco & Ceci
Spicy Chicken with Turkish Saffron & Chick Peas

Yes, of course I know that Turkish saffron is not true saffron- it is the actually just safflower blossom and does not have the aroma of the real thing. But there it was, in my cupboard, where it has been for many a month, and simply needed to go as I was busy clearing everything out for my new kitchen to be installed. So it seemed to be the right occasion to give it a go and see how it tasted after all- and so... I did just that!

Obviously, you can dismiss anything at all by comparing it to something that is infinitely better. And yes, Parmigiano Reggiano may be a better cheese than Grana Padano theoretically speaking... but you know what? I love my Grana! And the Turkish saffron worked out just fine in this dish... so there you go! This was a quick, easy and satisfying meal- inexpensive to make and pretty delicious- and this is how I made it...

I started off by making 3 deep cuts into the chicken breast and sliding inside a leaf of basil and a little grated orange zest and ginger. I fried them in a little olive oil, with some finely chopped garlic, some finely sliced Spring onion and sliced carrot. I seasoned them with salt, coarsely ground pepper, a pinch of cinnamon, some finely chopped rosemary and a sprinkle of chili flakes.

Once the chicken began to brown and there were plenty of good juices accumulating in the pan, I added a generous sprinkle of the Turkish saffron- this means a good tablespoon! But fear not- this stuff is VERY inexpensive in comparison to real saffron and much milder in flavor.

Once the chicken began began to brown, I deglazed the pan with a splash of Cointreau and added the chick peas, including some of the liquid from the can. That's right- I said "from the can"! You can obviously soak dried chick peas overnight if you prefer... but I would simply say, "why?". Nuff said!

I turned the heat down to a gentle simmer, put the lid on the pan and let the chick peas come up to temperature, the juices and liquid render down, the chicken become juicy and tender and the juices to infuse everything with delicious flavor! Wow- I even managed to do all of that in one sentence! lol!

After about 10 minutes with the lid on, everything was ready and just perfect! The chicken cooked through but not dry, the chick peas tender but not overdone and the flavor and color just terrific! The sweetness of the carrot helped balance the spice and chili nicely and the chick peas made for a nice accompaniment to the chicken- making this a perfect one-pot supper!

Try it- you'll like it! And you never know... you might just love it!

Monday, 22 October 2012

If You Go Down to the Woods Today...

Couscous con Lenticchie Rosse & Funghi Porcini
Couscous with Red Lentils & Porcini Mushrooms

... you may well stumble upon some beautiful porcini mushrooms like these! I didn't go down to the woods though- only as far as the indoor market! But porcini are in season over here in Europe and what can be a bigger treat than to enjoy them fresh?!!

Porcini's are probably the most flavorful and aromatic of all mushrooms, incredibly intense when dried, but wonderful and rich when they are fresh. I decided to try a slightly different approach this evening and combined them with couscous and lentils- perfect eaten hot and steaming on a cold, Autumn evening and a great alternative to the usual pasta or rice dishes.. as well as being much faster to make! 

This was very easy to make and the only ingredients I needed other than the couscous, the red lentils and of course the porcini's, were the basics of any Italian sauce or soup- a "sofritto" of celery, onion, carrot and a little garlic... and not very much of those either! But it's amazing how much flavor came together as if by magic! Some combinations simply WORK!

I began by chopping the ingredients of the sofritto as finely as possible and sautéing them in a little olive oil, along with one of the mushrooms which I also chopped- this would be the basis of the broth I would use to make the couscous later. I made sure to give everything plenty of heat, but kept stirring it, getting everything nicely and evenly browned. Whilst it was sizzling away, I quickly chopped some parsley and plucked a little thyme and added these to the mix. I seasoned with salt, pepper and a little hint of chili and deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine. I let this reduce down until it was nearly completely evaporated and then added enough boiling water to cover all of the finely chopped ingredients and to pick up any flavors from the bottom of the pan.

I carefully poured the finished sofritto into a small saucepan, added more water and brought it back up to the boil. I added the lentils to the hot broth and gave them a stir- there should be twice as much broth as lentils. I reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and turned my attention back to the frying pan, which was back on the heat and waiting for those yummy porcini's!

Into the dry pan went the mushrooms, along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I stirred and tossed them around for a minute or so, in order for them to heat up and to begin to give off their juice and moisture. After a couple of minutes, they had begun to soften slightly and at this point I added a little olive oil and a hint of crushed garlic and then quickly chopped a little more parsley. I added some to the mushrooms, but also a little to the lentils, which were good to go after just 5 minutes! There was still about twice the height of broth as there was lentils and into this broth went the couscous, which I stirred in thoroughly and then set aside to fluff up whilst I finished the mushrooms.

By now the mushrooms were beginning to brown nicely and had picked up the garlic and parsley flavor and were smelling pretty terrific! I added the tiniest squeeze of lemon and a tinier pinch of sugar, tossed them once and set them aside whilst I dished-up the couscous, which was by now fluffy and perfect. In the meantime, that tiniest of pinches of sugar and the lemon had given a hint of freshness and a light caramel nuance to the earthy mushrooms... delicious! With a final sprinkle of parsley, they went perfectly with the lightly nutty flavor of the lentils and the mushroom broth infused couscous... and made for a wonderfully inexpensive and totally satisfying supper! I loved it and I sure hope you will too!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Reduce to the Max

Festonati con Sugo di Stratto, Marsala & Straccetti di Manzo
Festonati with Sicilian Tomato Paste & Marsala Sauce and Strips of Beef

Back in the old days, before canned tomatoes or bottled sauces, people had to make do with what they had and would bottle and store their own sauce. They would also sun-dry the tomatoes for use in the winter months... poor peoples food that became very much something rather chi-chi just a few years ago.

But another thing they would do in Sicily, would be to grind down the sun dried tomatoes into a paste, called "stratto", which was used when things got really tough, to season and flavor food, or as a base for a tomato sauce. I still had a little left, that I had brought back from Sicily last time and decided tonight to do something a little crazy with it... and it ended up looking like this... and tasting divine!

The pasta I used was a shape called "festonati" and these tubes are perfect, with their little ridges, for dishes with plenty of sauce... they seem to take up the sauce and hold it inside and make for a pretty amazing dish!

I started the pasta boiling and then got busy with my "sauce" of sorts. I started a little sofritto going- finely chopped onion, celery and carrot, added a little crushed garlic and sautéed them in a little olive oil until the onion became translucent, at which point I added the finely cut strips of beef. I had the last piece of the thinly sliced minute-steaks from my last dish and that was just perfect for this. I turned the heat up high and then added a tablespoon of the coarse tomato past and stirred it in until it was evenly spread around the pan. I deglazed the pan with a good splash of Marsala and seasoned the "sauce" with salt, pepper and a little Tabasco... strange but true! I added finely chopped parsley and basil and by now, the pasta had been boiling for 6-7 minutes and was almost done.

I drained the pasta, but not to thoroughly and transferred it to the frying pan and stirred it into the beef and tomato paste, the moisture from the cook-water bringing out all of the flavors of the sofritto, the beef, the herbs and the Marsala... it smelled amazing! I let it finish simmering for a further 2-3 minutes, by which time the pasta was infused with flavor and needed nothing more than a sprinkle of grated salted ricotta to be absolutely perfect! What a treat! A new twist on old traditional flavors- and one I think you are going to love!

Creamy, Dreamy, Healthy and Easy!

Ricotta Frullata con Yogurt, con Gusto di Cioccolato & Vaniglia + Mandarini
Whipped Ricotta & Yogurt in Chocolate & Vanilla with Mandarin Orange

For some strange reason, a lot of people tend to think that healthy food can't be delicious, that is always has to be enhanced by sugar and butter or cream to taste rich and wonderful... sigh! It makes me a little sad that people don't try to practice a little "less is more" when it comes to food and to rely on the flavors of the ingredients themselves a little more...

Ricotta can make a wonderful cream for any number of desserts, once whipped it becomes creamy and delicious and you can get ricotta with a lot less fat than cream say, or heavens forbid, Mascarpone! Not that Mascarpone isn't delicious- but I found this blend of ricotta and low-fat yogurt to be more than delicious enough for my taste this afternoon- and it allowed me a little guilt-free enjoyment- so what's not to love?

I whipped up a 50-50 mix of ricotta and yogurt and sweetened mine with Stevia, but you can of course use sugar if you prefer. A lot of people have a problem with Stevia as it sweetens, but doesn't have the flavor of sugar- which is kind-of silly, because it clearly ISN'T sugar! It has almost no flavor of its own, which is great as it allows the foods natural flavor to be enhanced and not changed... takes some getting used to- but I like it! For one serving I used 1 teaspoon of Stevia, but I am guessing you would need 2 teaspoons of sugar- just add it little by little until you have the right sweetness for your taste.

Next step was to split the cream into 2 lots- I added a little vanilla essence to one and a whole tablespoon of bitter cocoa powder... don't worry, there is plenty of sweetness in there... you'll be fine!

I enjoyed mine all on my own, so it was not a problem for me to add a splash of Cointreau into mine... a step of course that you would miss out if you were preparing this for children! I whisked up first the white, vanilla flavored cream again once last time first, then took my mixer to the chocolate one... oh and yes, I did stick my finger in to taste it! Hey! I can do what I want in my own kitchen making my own treat!

I layered it up, first the chocolate and then the vanilla, and chilled it in the fridge for at least an hour- the freezer would have been better- but at the moment my kitchen is being dismantled and I don't have one! Gadzooks!

The fruity addition to this, was a few segments of freshly peeled mandarin orange- now THAT was a challenge! Peeling it? No problem. Separating the individual segments? Also no problem. Removing the thin membrane from each segment? Problem! It is rather fiddly to say the least! I found the best way was to make a cut along the inside edge using a paring knife and then to slide this underneath the surface to lift the membrane away, and then to be very, very careful! Of course the orange segments taste 1000 time better this way so it is definitely worth it! And the wonderful combination of the chocolate, vanilla, creamy yogurt, ricotta and fruit are an ample and just reward! Enjoy!

Bake Way for Breakfast!

Sformata di Patate, Rucola, Pancetta, Pomodoro e Uova
Potato, Arugula, Bacon, Tomato & Egg Breakfast Bake

Sunday morning- and what do we have in the fridge that we can re-cycle into breakfast? No, no- fear not, I am not going to do another oatmeal and banana creation this time! I was in the mood for something savory myself. I DID have some mashed potatoes... but how useful can they be to you at breakfast time?

Well, they can be very useful- if you have a little bacon, a couple of eggs, some arugula and a cherry tomato or two handy... because you can use them to make a yummy soufflé-typed dish like this as an alternative to your regular omelette! Same ingredients- just much more fun! Let me tell you how to make it- it is really easy!

I started off by steaming the arugula, (this was just a good handful for this individual serving), for 4-5 minutes. I found it less messy and more convenient than sautéing it and in the meantime, I cracked 2 eggs into the mashed potatoes (also just one good serving- 2 scoops or so). By that time, the arugula was wilted down and soft and as soon as it cooled down, I chopped it up finely and added it to the egg and potatoes.

I added a chopped spring onion that I had fried briefly with a handful of finely chopped bacon- this all went in, along with a tablespoon of baking powder, and I whisked it all together until it was a nice, even mix. I then added a couple of tablespoons of bread crumbs, just to give it a little more body and stability, as they would absorb any excess moisture during baking.

I seasoned it with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg and then poured it out into my baking dish. I added a sprinkle of finely chopped tomato right at the end, so that it would stay on top and have a chance to cook better... and into the oven it went! I baked it for 25 minutes at 250°F and then took it out and added a little- just a little honey! This was to counter-point the faint bitterness of the arugula... and I did it just by instinct- but my instinct paid off! This was a nice and satisfying but light breakfast- a perfect way to start the day! You may want to try it yourselves sometime!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Tart Attack!

Crostata di Pera e Coriandolo con Melograno, Pistacchio e Ricotta
Pear & Coriander Tart with Pomegranate, Pistachio  & Ricotta

You know that you would attack this beauty too- go on, admit it! So simple, but so pretty and made of great, seasonal fruits with a topping of whipped Ricotta cheese and sprinkled with pistachio- it is a delicious as it is beautiful!

And the craziest thing of all is that it only took 30 minutes to make... well, lets say an hour, allowing for time for it to cool down enough to be able to add the ricotta. But on the other hand- if I hadn't have wanted to take photos of it, I would have enjoyed it straight from the oven!

The only real prep-work involved here is turning on the oven to pre-heat it and sautéing the pear slices to partially cook them in advance. I tossed them in about a teaspoon of butter, no more, with a sprinkle of ground coriander, a little sugar, a pinch of salt and a tiny squeeze of lemon. After about 5 minutes, I deglazed the pan with a splash of pear liquor and added a drop of water... and after a further 5 minutes, the pear slices were translucent and perfectly cooked with still a little bit of bite- and ready for action!

I cut a circle of puff pastry and laid out the pear slices. I made sure to leave a gap in between each piece of pear and then when the pastry was covered, laid the next slices on top, being careful to also leave spaces in-between. The reason for this was that I wanted hot air to circulate between the pear pieces and to bake the pastry, rather then it becoming soggy from having too much surface area covered.

I baked it for around 15 minutes at 250°F until the pastry was puffed-up and golden brown... it was as easy as that! I took it out of the oven and let it cool off- but in the meantime I whipped up my ricotta ready for serving.

For the ricotta, I added a hint of lime juice, some Stevia (you can use sugar too of course) and a little milk, then whisked it for a good 3 minutes at the highest speed. This ensures that the Ricotta become smooth and creamy and light. Once the tart was cool, I added a generous sprinkle of pomegranate seeds, a big blob of Ricotta  and a sprinkle of pistachio splinters... very, very easy and totally delicious! And very much to be recommended!

Oh, Crumbs!

Gnocchetti Sardi con Carne di Manzo Tritata, Finocchio e Mollica
Gnocchetti Sardi with Beef, Fennel and Breadcrumbs

Being Sicilian, of course I love to sprinkle "a muddica" as we call it back home, or "la molica" as it is called in Italy, over my pasta. And I am sure you do (or will) too! We are talking about breadcrumbs here... crispy, toasted and flavored with a little garlic, some olive oil, parsley, a hint of grated Grana cheese, this "poor-mans Parmesan" is the perfect addition to many a pasta dish! Including this one!

Back in the old days, where money and food were scarce and much more simple, back in Sicily, some wonderful person came up with the idea of toasting and flavoring bread crumbs to sprinkle on their pasta, in the place of expensive and unaffordable Parmesan cheese. Indeed, they used to grate the hard rinds of the cheese and add them to give bread crumbs that unmistakable flavor. Luckily for us this invention was made! Because even though most all of us can afford Parmesan in this day and age (or something similar), the taste and texture of these crispy bread crumbs is simply delicious!

The crumbs need to be prepared first of course- so this is how I made mine- which I decided to make a little bit more super-delicious than usual this time! For about 1 cup of bread crumbs, heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil, with half a clove of garlic and a wedge of onion to flavor it. Add the bread crumbs and stir. Don't worry that the oil seems to all have been soaked up by one clump of crumbs- just keep stirring and you will find that they soon crumble apart and blend evenly. Add some chopped parsley, a hint of orange zest, salt, pepper and about a teaspoon of finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese. Keep stirring... it seems as though nothing is happening at first- but be careful! As soon as the right temperature has been reached the crumbs will brown very quickly... and that is when you need to set them to one side and get on with the pasta!

I put the pasta on to boil- these Sardinian-styled pasta shape takes around 8-9 minutes surprisingly enough! But that's plenty of time to get the rest done!

I had a left-over piece of thinly sliced steak from last night and cut this first into thin strips, which I then cut cross-ways into a fine dice. I began to fry the beef with a finely chopped clove of garlic, some finely chopped spring onion and a couple of inches of finely chopped celery- just a little! I seasoned with salt, pepper and a little chili, and once the beef was brown, deglazed the pan with a little splash of Sambuca and turned off the heat.

In another little pan, I got a half cup of water boiling and added my little wedges of fennel. I wanted to give it a kick-start and to get it softened quickly before caramelizing it as the topping for my pasta. I added salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar and let the water boil away. As soon as there was no water left, I added a little olive oil and soon enough, the fennel was soft and tender, with a lovely golden brown caramel glaze.

After 8 minutes of cooking time, I drained most of the water from the pasta, but left just about a cupful in there and added it to the beef. Soon enough, a tasty broth formed from all of the good flavors in the pan and I continued to stir and cook the gnocchi. Once they had absorbed the residual water, I added a handful of fresh, diced tomato, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of coarsely-ground black pepper.

I served the pasta up, with a generous sprinkle of bread crumbs and with the caramelized fennel on top... and needless to say it was really delicious! But don't take my word for it... try it yourself now that you know how!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Steaming Ahead!

Involtino di Manzo con Peperone & Senape in Agrodolce su Puré di Patate
Sweet & Sour Beef, Pepper and Mustard Roast on Mashed Potato

And so the countdown begins on my final week with my old trusty kitchen- sigh! The place is a mess, what with me moving things out little by little... but one by one all those bits and pieces will have to disappear! Still, a fellow has to eat- especially with all of this chaos on top of a full working day- and even more so if he is to put together something good enough to share with you good people!

So time was of the essence of course this evening - but then again that's usual when I cook! Time for trickery again on my part! In this case, before I baked this juicy roll of beef here, I wrapped it in Ceran wrap and steamed it for 15 minutes... which got the meat tender and juicy and which at the same time produced a delicious gravy all by itself! Which is a very good thing if you ask me!

I started off by getting my potatoes boiling, ready to be mashed later, but as soon as they were bubbling away, I continued with a very thin slice of beef flank steak- the kind that is meant to go on your grill for a minute each side ;-) That would be great at a warmer time of year, but this evening, I spread mine with some dijon mustard, sprinkled it with fresh thyme, laid out a few basil leaves on it and seasoned with salt and pepper.

In the meantime, I sautéed some thinly sliced bell pepper, with a little garlic, salt, pepper and sugar, in just a little olive oil, until it became slightly translucent and soft. I laid the pepper slices out on the beef slice and then rolled it up tightly. As I already mentioned earlier though, rather than tie it with kitchen garn or using a skewer, I wrapped mine very tightly in Ceran wrap, twisting the ends tightly like a party-cracker. I then wrapped it into a double-layer of aluminum foil and steamed it for 15 minutes, turning the little parcel over at half time to make sure that it cooked evenly.

By now, the potatoes were boiled and ready to be mashed, with a little milk, nutmeg and a little crushed garlic... but no butter as I had a little secret ingredient I wanted to use. The onions you can see in the photos, were pickled in white balsamic vinegar and preserved in a jar in sweetened olive oil- this made it quicker and easier for me this evening, but unless you have something similar, what you will need to do is to sautée some onions in a little olive oil and flavor them with balsamic vinegar and a little sugar yourselves... don't worry- they will be fine!

After 15 minutes of steaming, I carefully opened my little parcel and snipped the end off the Ceran wrap, being careful to do so over a small bowl to catch all of the juices... it smelled so good! I set the rolled up beef onto a bed of mashed potato and added a few of the pickled onions along with some of their oil from the jar, which I gently stirred into the potatoes... yummy!

I added a little balsamic vinegar to the meat juices and reduced them down briefly in a frying pan, then poured it over the meat and popped everything into the oven for 10 more minutes at 250°F. After 10 minutes, the potatoes were bubbling away, so I fetched it out of the oven and added a generous sprinkle of fresh thyme, which infused its flavor into the mash wonderfully! I added a light drizzle of honey over the beef  and put it back in the oven to "rest" for 1-2 minutes, turning on the broiler briefly right at the end, to give the honey a hint of caramel-flavor as it turned rich and brown... and I have to say, the result was pretty amazing! This is one dish you are guaranteed to love- just let me know when you decide to make it so I can get there on time!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Pumpkin Python!

Torta di Zucca e Semolina
Pumpkin & Semolina Pie

Oh, of course it is another silly name for a post, but I couldn't resist after rolling those strips of pastry around and around like a snake to form the top of my little pie! I feel a little sneaky as well as far as how I made it- but that doesn't make me a snake in the grass! Just happy to cut corners- and eager to enjoy 3 of my favorite things all at the same time...

I love semolina pudding, love pumpkin and love, love, love puff pastry! I especially love the convenience nowadays of being able to buy excellent puff pastry ready made and ready to go- it is so versatile! This little treat here was put together in just 15 minutes, baked for just 15 minutes and was cool enough to eat just 15 minutes later!

So- let's get started! Or let me tell you where I started in any case! The first thing I did was to sautée the finely grated Hokkaido pumpkin in just a hint of butter- about 2 handfuls of pumpkin was all it took for this saucer-sized pie. I let it cook for 1-2 minutes and then deglazed the saucepan with a splash of Cointreau. Once that had soaked into the pumpkin, I added cinnamon, vanilla essence, a hint of nutmeg, a hint of grated orange zest and a little milk- just enough to fetch up and blend together all of the flavors in the saucepan.

I added a little more milk and 3 tablespoons of semolina powder. I stirred this in well and added more milk, little by little, constantly stirring, until everything was nicely blended together and creamy. Of course I sweetened my pumpkin using Stevia- but also, of course you can use sugar to sweeten yours- it is all a matter of taste! I reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and carried on stirring. After 10 minutes of cooking, I turned off the heat and allowed it to sit for 5 minutes more... in which time cooled off a little and thickened up quite a bit!

I laid out the pastry so that it overlapped my baking dish and spooned the pumpkin/semolina mix into the centre evenly. I then folded the excess pastry over on itself and pleated it all the way around, so that it held the pumpkin filling nicely in place. I cut the remaining pastry into thin strips, which I began to lay in a circle from the outside in- always slightly overlapping so that the top of the pie was sealed. Then off the the oven I went!

I baked it at 300°F for 15 minutes, after which time the pastry had puffed-up nicely and it had become a lovely golden brown... and smelt just fantastic! With no cream, excess fat or
even sugar in my case, this made for a yummy and satisfying dessert! The buttery pastry was decadent enough for me to make this simple idea into a delicious treat- and the spicy and unctuous pumpkin filling with vanilla, cinnamon and orange made it simply divine. Give it a go... you'll see!

Really Nice Rice!

Risotto alla Zucca, con Radicchio e Ricotta Salata
Pumpkin & Radicchio Risotto with Salted Ricotta Cheese

So, I finally got down to the last chunk of Hokkaido pumpkin tonight- amazing that I managed to get 4 meals out of that little thing- it was just the size of a grapefruit after all! With pumpkin, it all depends on how you cut or slice it... or grate it for that matter! Which is what I did- and it makes a little pumpkin go a long, long way!

To make this single serving of risotto, I needed just 1 handful of coarsely-grated pumpkin. It gave loads of flavor, balanced the mild bitterness of the radicchio nicely and gave the dish a lovely golden color- all good stuff I'd say! Great Fall food, easy, inexpensive, comforting and delicious... so what are you waiting for? Let's get cooking!

I started off my risotto by preparing a light vegetable broth. To do this, I sautéed a fine dice of onion, celery and carrot, with clove of crushed garlic, about 1" worth of grated ginger and a bay leaf, in a little olive oil. As soon as the onion turned translucent, I deglazed the saucepan with a splash of white wine, put on the lid and let it cook for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid was evaporated. I then added 3 cups of boiling water, reduced the heat to a simmer and let it continue cooking for the rest of the cooking time.

In the meantime, I finely chopped and onion and sautéed it in a little olive oil until it began to turn translucent, then added the rice. Once the rice was coated, I began to add the broth  1 ladle at a time, stirring it in and being careful to not let the rice stick to the bottom of the pan! I kept adding the broth, stirring it in, adding some more, for 10 minutes or so and then added the grated pumpkin. I stirred it in, seasoned with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little orange juice and kept on stirring steadily away!

10 minutes later, the broth was all used up and the rice was becoming nice and creamy. I added a little milk- no need for cream if you ask me, and stirred this in well. A little more nutmeg at this point, as well as a handful of finely grated Grana Padano, a last drizzle of oil, a last good stir and then the radicchio- which really does not take that long at all! In fact, it will become discolored and dark if you let it cook for too long.

The finishing touch was a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley for a little freshness and color and a touch of salted ricotta cheese... perfect! Quick, light and delicious as always- at least that was my intention! Hope you find it to your taste if you give it a go!