Friday, 30 November 2012

Oriental Garden

Verdure Miste Marocchine sulle Couscous
Moroccan Vegetables on Couscous

Nature not only provides us with a wonderful array of fragrances and flavors of course, but also
of colors and textures. I often get asked about my dishes and how I manage to make things look so colorful... I guess I just don't cook my ingredients to death! Carrots are orange, zucchini are green, peppers and tomatoes are red, yellow... you name it! Everything you need to make a beautiful and tasty meal grows right there in your garden- and ain't that just wonderful?!?

Take this evenings supper... everyday ingredients again, spiced up with Ras al Hanout and ginger, sweetened with raisins and honey and combined with light and minty couscous- so easy, so exotic and so quick to make! So let's go get us some vegetables and let's get cooking!

The vegetables I used were the last couple of slices of eggplant from last night, red, yellow and green peppers, carrot, zucchini and onion. I started off by cutting the eggplant into bit-sized flat slices and browning them in a dry and very hot non-stick pan... it works a lot better than you may think! Once they were brown I was ready to flip them over, I sprinkled them with Ras al Hanout Rouge powder, which soon stuck to the moist top surface of the slices. Then I flipped them over and only then added a light drizzle of olive oil- just to finish the slices off. 

Once they were nice and brown, I set the slices to one side and added the other vegetables to the pan, along with some chopped ginger and garlic. I added a little olive oil and sautéed them for 5-6 minutes, along with a squeeze of lemon,a little more Ras al Hanout and a little green Tabasco sauce.

Whilst the vegetables were cooking, I prepared the couscous, by chopping a couple of handfuls of parsley and mint very finely and adding the herbs to a couple of cups of couscous. I seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil and then added enough boiling water to cover everything. I stirred this together with a little salt, pepper and olive oil and let it sit and fluff-up whilst I finished off the vegetables...

Once the vegetables were done, I added a handful of raisins and a little boiling water, then a squeeze of honey whilst everything was bubbling away, to give it a hint of sweetness and a lovely sheen... mmm! 

I served the vegetables on a bed of the moist and delicious couscous, with a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts and a last, light sprinkle of Ras al Hanout... what a treat! I hope you give this a try some time- the other great thing about it is that it is a great way to use up left over odds and ends like I did this evening... but ssshhh! Don't tell everyone!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Truly Eggceptional!

Melanzane al Forno con Pomodorini, Erbe Miste & Mollica 
Oven-Baked Eggplant with Cherry Tomatoes & Herb Breadcrumbs

So... three days later, it was time to finally do something with the lovely, large, luscious purple eggplant that my colleague Peggy surprised me with this Monday morning. How could she have known I had already bought my own eggplant over the weekend?!! But how could I possibly eat that much eggplant all on my own anyway? Well the truth of the matter is... prepared in this way... it is pretty easy to eat a lot!

To be honest, this preparation was based on the artichoke recipe from Sunday evening, as the combination of sun-dried tomato and mint also goes wonderfully with eggplant... and the crispy bread crumbs add the crunch that bring this dish to like, but also that balance it out and make it more satisfying... in every way!

The first thing I did, was to cut the eggplant into relatively thin slices and to sprinkle it with salt on each side. I then let it sit for 15-20 minutes, for the salt to work its magic and draw the bitterness out of the eggplant, and in the meantime I prepared the herb bread crumbs and cranked-up the oven so that it would be nice and hot and ready to get baking!

For the bread crumbs, I finely chopped parsley, mint, rosemary and thyme, added a crushed clove of garlic, salt, pepper and a little lemon zest, as well as some freshly grated nutmeg. I stirred these together into the crumbs and added a little olive oil and a bit of grated salted ricotta cheese. I also added a couple of dun dried tomatoes, cut into a fine dice. That's a lot of flavors... and the best thing about it is that they are all wonderful on their own and even more exceptional together!

After 15 minutes or so, the eggplant had given off quite a bit of the bitter fluids it holds and I carefully squeezed out the rest, then gave the eggplant a quick rinse to get rid of the excess salt. Of course now the eggplant slices were rather damp- which was fine, as their next stop was to be for 5 minutes in the hot oven. And whilst they were pre-cooking, I had the chance to quickly grate a little parmesan cheese, slice the cherry tomatoes and pluck plenty of basil, ready to get busy and put things all together!

5 minutes later and the eggplant was pretty steamy and rather soft- which was just perfect, as it cut the cooking time considerably- except for the fact that it needed to cool-off a little before I could get going!

And basically it is a very simple procedure- the eggplant gets coated in the same way, layer for layer, until the baking dish is full. You start off with a sprinkle of bread crumbs- just so that the first layer doesn't stick to the dish, then the first slice of egg plant. Sprinkle this with the herb-infused crumbs, then lay out 2-3 leaves of basil on top and 5-6 slices of cherry tomato. 

Repeat the layer-building until, the dish is full, then drizzle everything very lightly with olive oil, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes or so at 350°F. After 30 minutes, upon removing the foil, you will be greeted by a blast of wonderfully fragrant herb perfume- the mint and garlic most prominent, and by eggplant slices that are now soft and delicious. 

But that is not enough! Next, it is time to add a drizzle of honey over everything- not too much, but just enough to balance the salty sun-dried tomatoes and the rich herb flavor. And of course, back into the oven it goes! This time, without the foil, so that the bread crumbs that are on the top surface can dry out and crisp up and turn gorgeously golden brown, along with the salted ricotta.

The best way to enjoy eating this, if you ask me, is to carefully fold over each slice and to roll it up before cutting into it- that's what I did! The result being that you have a soft, creamy eggplant to bite into, with a crispy herb, tomato and basil filling- and a wonderful combination it is too! This was so delicious, I think it could even convert those strange people out there who "are not sure whether they like egg plant or not"- made in this way, they is simply no question... you have gotta love it! And I am sure that you will!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Taste of the Rainbow

Tagliatelle "Udon" alla Rucola, con Cavolo Rosso, Zenzero e Mela
Udon Noodles with Arugula, & Red Cabbage, Apple & Ginger

You may be thinking that you might need to wear your sunglasses to eat this dish, but all joking aside, it is not a wild and crazy a concoction as may seem at first glance. It is made of everyday ingredients and has familiar flavors you will know and enjoy... but the colors ARE pretty impressive, aren't they?

Another vegetarian meal here, speedy and spectacular, full of vitamins, flavor and goodness and made in next to no time... as usual!  Using familiar flavors and ingredients, I set about making a meatless meal that would be interesting, unusual and fun... it really isn't as difficult as you may think! But I will share the method behind this madness with you to make it lighter still. I am actually a nice guy after all ;-)

The colorful topping you can see here is made or red cabbage, onion, garlic and apple. I grated the onion and the garlic and sautéed them briefly in a little sesame oil. I then added the diced red cabbage and 2-3 slices of ginger, which I chopped finely. I tossed everything together, added a splash of orange juice, a star anis, a teaspoon of 5-spice powder and stir-fried it for 4-5 minutes, whilst I brought a little water to the boil for the noodles. 

Once the Udon noodles had been added to water, I added some finely chopped apple to the cabbage, along with a tablespoon of sweet chili sauce and a little oyster sauce for seasoning... no salt in this dish! Next came a little orange zest and a squeeze of honey, a final stir, and the last 4-5 minutes at a low heat.

The noodles were good after 5 minutes and as soon as I had drained them, I returned them to the saucepan, added a drizzle of sesame oil, a little light soy sauce and a good handful of arugula. I mixed everything together well until the arugula wilted-down, softened up and took on a lovely deep green color and a sheen from the oil.

I I served the fruity and spicy cabbage on top of the noodles, with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds a last drop os sesame oil... mmm! Pretty breath-taking and totally delicious! So wear you sunglasses if you must- but be sure to give this a go! You won't regret it!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Pear-fect Pastries!

Piccole Pasticini di Pera, Uva Secca e Cannella
Pear, Raisin & Cinnamon Eccles Cakes

The most wonderful thing about Eccles cakes is that they are simple to make as they look! Small, perfect, little pastries, easy and quick and easily improvised out of any number of possible fillings other than the traditional blueberries, these were my little treat this evening! And who knew that the left-over puff pastry from yesterday evening could be turned into something as yummy as this?!?

I had a square of pastry which was roughly 12" x 12"... which is not much. It wasn't really enough to make another pie, but was at the same time a large enough piece that I thought it would be a shame to let go to waste... Never! I decided to cut it into quarters and make 4 little snacks instead... with a filling of pear, raisins and cinnamon- how could I go wrong? Well... I couldn't! As you can well see!

These little cakes were ultra-easy to make. I turned on the oven to have it nice and hot in 10 minutes time- that's all it took in prep time. Because all I needed to do was to peel and dice the pear, lace it with cinnamon, a little lemon, a splash of brandy (optional) and a pinch of nutmeg... then add a handful of raisins and stir everything together. That's it... filling prepared! It's a simple as that! No added sugar, butter or anything other than the fruit itself- trust me- these will be way sweet enough and you will love them!

I put about a tablespoon of filling into the middle of each square of pastry and then folded the edges together and sealed everything into a parcel, which I then flipped over and patted into shape, so that all 4 of the little Eccles cakes looks the same. I made a cross-shaped cut into the top of each cake, to let out the steam which would build up in the oven, where they were to spend the next 15 minutes at 350°F. 

15 minutes later- you guessed it... out they came to get a light drizzle of honey, before going back under the broiler for a final 2-3 minutes to become a luscious golden brown... mmm! And yes of course they are very simple- but you will be amazed at how sweet they are without being cloying, at how flavorful they are without having any artificial flavorings added... and at how you can eat  2-3 of these in next to no time, without even noticing! Or feeling guilty! So go ahead... and enjoy!

Green Velvet

Vellutata di Patate e Bietola
Velvety Potato and Swiss-Chard Soup

Time for a hot bowl of soup, something to warm me up from my cold walk home after a long day at work on a weekday night... you know the feeling. Just something simple that you don't have to stand there and stir... something that will take care of itself. Something like this!

With just a couple of potatoes and a few leaves of chard, I made this delicious, purely vegetarian soup in just 30 minutes. I really had to resist the temptation to use a dice of bacon in there, but I wanted to challenge myself I guess... of if truth be told- to simply prove a point that often food has a lot more flavor than people think and does not always need the easy way out of using bacon or stock cubes to taste good. This was old-school poor peoples food, like we eat in The Old Country. And totally delicious too!

I started off by dicing half a carrot, half an onion, half a stick of celery and a clove of garlic and sautéing them in a little olive oil. Whilst they were sizzling away, I chopped up the chard and peeled the potatoes- I used 1 bowl full of chard and 2 small potatoes to make one good hearty serving. Remember that plate full of raw chard will cook down to less than a third of its size by the time it is done! I added the potatoes and chard to the pan, stirred them in with the other ingredients, topped everything up with boiling water and reduced the heat to a simmer. I seasoned with salt, pepper, a bay leaf and a little marjoram- I only had dried at home but that worked just fine. I let the soup simmer away for 20 minutes with not a care in the world... 
...and returned 20 minutes later to find the chard soft and tender, as were the carrots, celery and onion- and of course the potatoes, which I popped into my blender with a pat of butter, a little milk, some nutmeg, parsley and a tiny squeeze of lemon. I whizzed everything together until I had a smooth, very soft mash and added this to the chard. Once everything came back up to the boil it was ready! 

I enjoyed a good sprinkle of chili flakes on mine, as well as a few extra drops of a good olive oil... it tastes so much better "raw" at the end as when it simply cooks-in to a soup if you ask me. And I thoroughly enjoyed it! A simple good flavor, a simple cheap recipe and a good and healthy meal to boot! And the best thing is- being all of those things... it still gave me time and freedom to indulge in a little dessert! And you can read about that in my next post!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Tarte-al Recall

Torta Salata Vegetale alla Provenzale
Provencale Vegetable & Feta Cheese Tart

My first visit to the Provence and the beautiful South of France was a truly wonderful experience! The only other visit to France I had made to that point, was one of those typically touristic Paris trips, with "haricots vert" avec this and "haricots vert" avec that in faux-fancy tourist menus. As an old friend of mine used to say, "non e non e non!"

In the Provence, I experienced a whole different style of cuisine, down to earth, rustic, unpretentious and delicious! None of those fancy butter and white wine sauces, the fussy, oh-so-artistic presentations and the ludicrously luxurious ingredients- but just good, plain, home cooking. In a French kind of way of course... 

I remember eating a tarte, not a quiche, bound together by a cheesy egg batter (which would also have been delicious), but a simple mix of freshly cooked vegetables in a pie crust. And thinking "wow!" The flavors were so fresh and distinctive and the ingredients all had a little bit of bite and texture left to them. And they just tasted of... well... exactly what they were! I loved it! I loved the way that all of the individual flavors did not merge into one new flavor, which as I already mentioned in the case of a classic quiche CAN also be delicious- but that the experience of eating it was like a tasting menu all around the garden- accentuated of course by the typical herbs of the region. It was more than just tasty it was really fun to eat!

Anyway, I decided to use egg plant as the main ingredient in my tarte this evening... mainly because my colleague Peggy brought me a HUGE eggplant this morning... after I had already bought one of my own this weekend! Oh well, I thought, I will save the larger one for a Sicilian dish I have in mind for later in the week, and use the other, smaller one along with some peppers and zucchini and make myself a tarte of my own and I made it like this:

Step one was to turn on the oven, to get it nice and hot to bake that puff-pastry crust. And no, I didn't make the pastry myself!

What I did do, was to dice the egg plant, some red, yellow and green peppers, a little zucchini and a small shallot and to slice a half stick of celery too. I started off by browning the egg plant in a dry non-stick pan. Sounds weird, but works! The egg plant begins to brown nicely all by itself- and after 2-3 minutes of this, I began to add the other ingredients- the celery, peppers and shallot went in next, along with some finely chopped garlic and a splash of olive oil. After 2-3 minutes in the oil, when they were beginning to brown, I deglazed the pan with a little white wine and a splash of water. I seasoned with salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a good pinch of Herbs de Provence. Once everything had been sautéed for 9-10 minutes and was beginning to soften nicely, I turned off the heat and turned my attention to the pastry!

I lined my pie dish with greaseproof paper, so that I could lift the whole thing out later and slice it more easily, then laid in the base first, a little larger than needed, so that it overlapped and formed the outer edges of the pie casing. I then cut strips of pastry and placed them around the outside edge,working from the bottom-up and adding one strip after another until the outside was double thickness all the way to the top. I then spooned in the vegetable mix and pressed it down firmly. Next step was to dice some Feta cheese and halve a few cherry tomatoes and press these into the top layer of the tarte. I seasoned with a hint more salt and pepper and popped it into the oven for 15 minutes at 350°F.

After 15 minutes, I fetched the tarte out, gave it a sprinkle of fresh thyme and a drizzle of honey and popped it back into the oven, under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to give it a glaze and a yummy sweet touch to accent the Feta cheese and the eggplant... very simple indeed!

This was wonderful piping-hot and was small and so delicious that I finished it off in one go... but you know-I am sure it would have tasted equally good served cold in the morning. Alas, I will never know for sure... unless I make another one of these some time. And you know what? Somehow I think I will...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

A Sicilian Flower

Carciofo Ripieno al Vapore con Molica Condita alle Erbe & Pomodori Secche
Steamed Artichoke with Herb-Breadcrumbs & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

They may be large, firm and kind of aggressive-looking, but to all extents and purposes, artichokes are indeed nothing more than huge flowers. And they may not be very fragrant, but they are SO delicious, let me tell you!

This preparation dates back to the days of the great depression, when Italian and Sicilian housewives would fill the spaces between the leaves of the artichokes with bread-crumbs, to make it into a more substantial meal- because as we all know, we end up throwing more of the artichoke away than we actually eat... so let's make the part that we DO eat as wonderful and delicious as possible!

First of all, lets prepare those bread crumbs for our filling. I used finely chopped onion, garlic, parsley, mint and sun dried tomatoes. I then grated in some lemon zest, salted ricotta cheese and nutmeg. Yum!  Mix everything together well, but whilst you are doing that,  get your water boiling in your saucepan- all we need to do now is to stuff that artichoke and we can get cooking!

There is a little prep work involved with the artichoke, but it is really simply. Cut off the stalk and a little of the base, so that you have a flat surface to rest the artichoke on. Now, trim the ends from the leaves- the tips are inedible anyway, but by cutting them off, you allow steam into the leaves which makes them cook better and faster. Spread the leaves out a little and then start filling the spaces in between with the breadcrumb mix- make sure to stuff the artichoke generously and to press it closed again to keep everything in. I added a few sprigs of rosemary and some shredded lemon peel just to add a nice, fresh aroma and the sun-dried tomatoes the last of all... wow! Amazing- but you should now be ready to steam this baby... it is going to take a while though... so be prepared!

I set the artichoke on top of a steam rack in a saucepan that was just barely large enough and kept it steaming under a closed lid for 45 minutes. After that time, the leaves were soft and easy to pull out, the bread crumb filling had become soft, juicy and full of flavor from all of those good ingredients- and the whole thing just looked and smelled wonderful!

A last drizzle of olive oil and all I can say is buon apetito... grab yourself a bottle of Corvo, light yourself some candles... and let a wonderful evening meal begin! 

Tiny Treats

Budino di Riso al Forno con i Goji & Fette di Pera
Oven-Baked Rice Pudding with Goji Berries & Pear

Mid-afternoon on a Sunday and being the sensible sort, no cake, cookies or other sweeties in the house... and I feel like a treat... hell, I deserve a treat! All I want is a nice mug of coffee and some little reward for having made it through another week in one piece... is that too much to ask?!?

Of course the answer is no- as you can plainly see. And it may only be a tiny little portion, but this yummy rice-pudding was made in just half an hour or so and did the trick, passed the test with flying colors- and put a little smile back on my face! Contrary to popular belief- it doesn't take much to do so!

In fact, all that it took in this case was a cupful of rice and 2 cups of milk! I started the milk boiling with a little cinnamon, vanilla and Stevia for sweetness, then added the rice and reduced the heat to a low simmer for the next 10 minutes. In that time, I did the rest of the prep work- and turned the oven on, ready to finish things off once everything was put together.

So- the next thing I did was to peel and cut the pear into quarters. I found a good way to do this was to eat half of the pear whilst slicing the other- haha! In other words, a half of a pear goes a long way in the recipe. I put the pear slices with a little cinnamon, into a shallow pan, with a little water and let them simmer and soften for 5 minutes... and whilst that was going on, I added a handful of Goji berries to the rice and stirred them in. By now the rice had absorbed the milk and was creamy and thick and delicious- so the next step was to pout it into my little ramekin ready to be finished off in the oven!

I laid a few pear slices decoratively on top of the rice and popped it into the oven at the highest setting for 5 minutes. By then it was bubbling away like crazy, so I took it out and turned on the broiler, added a light drizzle of honey to the pear slices and popped it back inside to brown for 2-3 minutes... finished!

And yes- it WAS so yummy that I burned my lips by hurrying up to eat it too much! So be warned- because you will like it every bit as much as I did!

Punky-Monkey Cakes!

Piccoli Torte di Banana e Zucca, con Yogurt e Marmellata di Mirtillo Rosso
Little Banana/Pumpkin Breakfast Cakes with Yogurt & Cranberry Jam

Yes, I know they look like little yellow, edible pug-dogs, but these yummy pumpkin and banana cakes will brighten up your breakfast table and put many smiles on many faces... so don't knock 'em too hard!

As usual- it's one of those, "oh, that banana over there is looking mighty ripe and I also happen to have a slice or two of pumpkin" recipes... in other words- just improvised on the spur of the moment... but that doesn't make the result any less tasty! Basically, I transformed the pancakes I was planning on making into soft, little cup-cakes, which I enjoyed hot, hot, hot from the oven!

So this is how I made them. I started off by dicing the the pumpkin into large chunks and then boiling it in milk with a little vanilla, cinnamon, Stevia to sweeten it (you can use sugar if you wish), a pinch of salt and a little nutmeg. The amount I used was literally just one good handful- not much at all. I used just enough milk to cover the pumpkin and after 6-7 minutes, it was already soft enough to work with... so that's what I did!

I added 3/4 of a banana (I had already nibbled away 1/4 of it whilst the pumpkin was doing its thing!), and mashed it in roughly with a fork- the main reason for this was that the room temperature banana cooled off the hot pumpkin a little- which was handy, as I would soon be adding egg to the mix and did not want it to curdle!

Next, using my mixer, I whizzed together the pumpkin and banana, which soon became a lovely smooth cream, soaking the remaining milk... and by the way... it already smelled wonderful! I added 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of custard powder, 1 egg yolk and a little grated orange zest... then gave that a nice thorough mixing too. I let the batter sit and "do its thing" for 5 minutes and in the meantime, whisked the egg white until it was fluffy and firm. I then carefully folded it into the batter and was then ready to fill my little cake cases! 2-3 Tablespoons of batter for each portion amounted to 8 little cakes in this case, using 1 egg, that chunk of banana and the last slice of pumpkin- and you can't complain at that now, can you?

Into a pre-heated oven they went at 350°F for 20-25 minutes... so easy!

I enjoyed mine on a little plain yogurt with a half-teaspoon of cranberry jam on each one... a light, not too sweet, but oh-so tasty breakfast! So you see- monkeying around can sometimes be fun! And even tasty!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Whole Point of Supper!

Insalata di Cavolo Rosso, Puntarelle & Arancia
Puntarelle Tips, Orange Segment & Red Slaw Salad

Not of every supper- but of this one for sure! You have already seen my recipe using the stalks of the puntarelle, but the real stars of the show, and the reason that I bought this lovely plant in the first place, were the little pods or tips that you can see here, which are found in the center. I am not sure where the name "puntarelle" originates from, but the word "punto", means point or tip in this context- and must be referring to these little juicy, white segments.

Popular as a simple salad, with mildly bitter flavor reminiscent of the stalks of endives, these are enjoyed in Rome and the surrounding regions in Italy. But if you can manage to get them- I am sure they will be enjoyed wherever you might be in the world too!

I decided to combine the puntarelle with orange- always a favorite in the Winter months and balancing out the bitter flavor with refreshing juiciness as well as some great color. Oh, and of course it doesn't taste bad either! Especially in combination with olive oil, orange becomes something really special in a salad and is something you really just have to love!

To add a little extra flavor- oh sure- AND color, I decided to make a juicy, colorful slaw of sorts, using red cabbage. To make it, I sliced the cabbage as finely as possible and sprinkled it with salt, sugar, pepper, lime juice and olive oil. I mashed it down with my hands, squeezing it and making it softer and letting it give off its juices, then let it sit for 5-10 minutes. After that time, I drained off the "cabbagey" tasting juices and instead added a little fresh orange juice, olive oil and honey... much better!

I laid out the orange segments and the puntarelle on top of the cabbage and drizzled everything lightly with a little more honey and olive oil. The finishing touch was some red pepper corns, which are mildm but add a delightful little crunch and heat to accent the smooth, juicy and fresh flavors in the salad. The result is colorful, pretty and every bit as flavorful as it looks... what's not to love?!? Simply Enjoy!

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen..."

Steli di Puntarelle al Vapore con Pomodori Secchi & Uovo in Camicia
Steamed Puntarelle Stalks with Sun-Dried Tomato & Poached Egg

"...pass me your plates!"- or how exactly did Mark Anthony's old speech go? Oh, right, he wanted you to lend him your ears- well that's fair enough. As long as you keep hold of your knives and forks to enjoy this Roman-influenced meal, which I bring to you by way of Sicily! 

Puntarelle are these luscious greens here, a relative of dandelion greens in appearance, with beautiful white "pods" that grow in clusters at their centre. The white parts are mildly bitter, with a similar flavor to endives, which can make many a wonderful- an example of which is coming straight up in my next posting, but the stalks and the greens are more bitter, but still delicious in their own way! Which is what appeals to this Sicilian guy here! Bitter is good and bitter is good for you! 

Of course, there are ways of reducing the bitterness of greens like this- an example that usually works well, (so I've been told), is to cut the ends off and keep the greens submerged in ice water for a half hour or so. I will take their word for it that it works... that seems like too much time, too much trouble and more importantly... just plain silly. There is no reason to buy, cook and eat something that tastes bitter, then to go to great lengths to remove the bitterness! If you don't like bitter greens... buy spinach! Knock yourself out! But if you DO like them. then read on... and join the club!

I cut off the ends of the puntarelle stalks, washed them well and then steamed them for a good 10 minutes- and of course already the cooking reduces the bitterness too to an extent anyway.  So after 10 minutes, they are almost cooked and tender- but not quite! But fear not- I had more work to do to finish them off and make then delicious- but first of all, I started a small saucepan full of water boiling to poach my egg! Because the rest takes next to no time!

I drained the puntarelle and then transferred them to a frying pan, where I added some finely chopped garlic, a splash of olive oil and the sun-dried tomatoes which I had cut into fine strips. I kept gently stirring them through and getting them equally coated in oil and seasoning, and whilst that was going on, I poached myself an egg on the other burner... easy.  

After 4-5 minutes in the garlic and olive oil, the puntarelle had a lovely sheen, the tomatoes were soft, juicy and delicious and all that needed to be added was that perfectly poached egg... mmm! I sprinkled the egg with coarse pepper and a little sea salt, grabbed myself a slice of bread, a glass of red wine and enjoyed the mild but bitter flavor... and the chances are that you will enjoy it too!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Golden Delicious

Risoni, Fagioli e Pomodori al Forno
Oven-Baked Risoni Pasta with Tomatoes and Beans

Friday evening, cold and weary and in need of comfort food FAST- sounds familiar?  So I whipped-up this yummy dish of goodness quicker than can be and chased away the blues before they even had a chance to set-in! Oh sure, it IS the weekend and I will be over the moon about it in the morning... but right now, tired as I am from a busy week, I am just mellow and content in the afterglow of this warming, golden-topped treat, which was just the right thing to combat the cold!

I love Risoni pasta- it is so versatile and has a wonderful silky-smooth feeling on your tongue when you eat it- yummy! I decided to use up the last few string beans that I had in the fridge and a few cherry tomatoes- a few herbs and a little Parmesan- and hey, presto- dinner was served!

So- starting at the beginning (as one does), I turned on the oven to get it ready... I was in the mood for moving and shaking this evening!

Next, I got some water boiling and added about 2 handfuls of Risoni, reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and got busy chopping some celery, onion and carrot to make a little soffritto. It only took a half of a carrot, a half of a stalk of celery and a half of a small onion, along with a little garlic, all very finely chopped, to get a great flavor base for my dish together in no time!

As soon as the onion had become translucent and the garlic had begun to brown, I added a little tomato paste and a few herbs to the mix... freshly chopped parsley, dried oregano and thyme, some freshly grated nutmeg and a little chili... and everything began to smell a whole lot better!

After 5-6 minutes cooking time, the pasta was half done, so I poured off most of the water, so that it was just covered and added the beans, which I had cut into thin strips on the diagonal and the contents of my frying pan. I let the pasta continue to simmer and to take in all of the good flavors, whilst the beans also par-boiled along with them.

2-3 minutes later, everything was nicely blended and rendered down to a smooth, creamy consistency. Now it was time to add some sliced cherry tomatoes and a little olive oil and to pour it into my baking dish. I sprinkled it with Parmesan and added a generous sprinkle of coarsley ground black pepper- then popped it into the oven for 10 minutes at 350°F to bring it up to temperature, finish cooking the tomatoes and beans... and get the Parmesan yummy and melted. I say that, but I personally prefer my cheese to be crispy rather than stretchy and gooey- so my preference was for a further 2-3 minutes under the broiler- but whatever you prefer is fine with me... as long as you enjoy! And I am sure you will! Buon apetito!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Simply Fruitiful!

Yogurt Greco al Limone con Cachi Fresche e Goji Secche 
Lime Greek Yogurt with Persimmon & Goji Berries

Sometimes it is a real challenge to present food in a way that makes it look appetizing and appealing... but often times, nature does all the hard work for us! Case in point: what could possibly be a better way of presenting a fruit as ripe and beautiful as the persimmon in these photos? Quite simply... there is none! It is a wonderful sight to behold- and a delicious flavor to enjoy!

I had had this persimmon at home for almost a full week, it was now so ripe and mature, that I could hardly believe the amount of juice and the wonderful texture when I cut it in half, compared to the one I ate this Sunday. Sundays fruit was firmer, less juicy but still sweet a delicious... but the same fruit 4 days later was succulent and totally amazing! There was also no real way to improve the flavor, so I decided to keep things simple and to only add a few things that would enhance it, without adding or taking away too much... I trust you will approve of what I did!

After tasting one slice of this persimmon and delighting in the smooth and sweet but not too sweet flavor, I decided that a little touch of tartness would be good, as would something creamy- and what could be easier than whipping up a little already delicious Greek yogurt? I added a hint of Stevia and a squeeze of lime to the yogurt, to make it a little "fresher" tasting- sugar or honey would also be great. Once it was whipped nicely, I spooned it out onto my serving dish and then laid the persimmon slices decoratively on top. I added the Goji berries, to give a little chewy texture and a little extra "sourness", to balance the creamy and sweet elements... but I really did leave things at that! The combination was just excellent as it was!

Once again, proof that food needs not necessarily be expensive, complicated or too clever to be truly wonderful! Sometimes less is more- and this time less was SO MUCH more! Enjoy!

Making the Roast of It!

Verdure Miste al Forno con Miele & Zenzero
Honey & Ginger Roasted Mixed Vegetables

Of course, most of you might consider this a side dish- but no, this was indeed my supper this cold and dismal evening in foggy Frankfurt. Briefly steamed with shredded ginger, then roasted with a little sesame oil, seasoned with herb and spice-infused salt and finally glazed with honey, this mix of vegetables was delicious and fine all on its own.

I like pre-cooking vegetables by way of steam- it is very fast, brings out the natural flavors, guarantees that they stay nice and juicy and it is so clean and easy as well... what's not to love?
Steaming the vegetables with ginger gave them a great flavor, as well as helping to make the ginger soft and moist enough that it didn't just dry out and burn in the oven- it made a perfect addition to the pumpkin and parsnips- seasonal and simply good!

The vegetables I decided to use were red & yellow peppers, pumpkin, green beans, parsnips and shallots- but of course you can use any seasonal vegetables you prefer. I steamed them for  5 minutes and then drizzled them lightly with sesame oil. I ground together a little sea salt, with pepper, chili, a little salt, rosemary, thyme, lime zest and a little oregano, then used this seasoned salt to flavor the vegetables. I popped them into the oven at 350°F for 10-15 minutes, then took them out, drizzled them with honey, sprinkled them with sesame seeds and popped them back in for a further 3-4 minutes under the broiler, until they were golden brown and ready to go! So cool! So easy! And so delicious!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Action Focaccia!

Focaccia con la Zucca, Ricotta, Pancetta e Pesto di Coriandolo e Zenzero
Focaccia with Pumkpin, Ricotta, Bacon & Coriander +Ginger Pesto

"Pumpkin Pizza!" I hear you say... "....clearly the man's insane! No- wait a minute.. there's bacon on there..." Indeed! All that and more good stuff! Including the remainder of the huge bunch of cilantro that I picked up on Saturday... we all know how that stuff doesn't hold up so well... and neither do I without a good supper!

So I came up with the idea of making a pesto of coriander, ginger, a blend of sesame and olive oil and some tangy lime juice and zest... yes! So incredibly edible and delicious- and just the right flavors to go with pumpkin... and bacon... and more, oh my!

I guess this is a pizza of sorts, as it was assembled on a pizza base... but apart from the small amount of Parmesan cheese used- this is far from anything any sane Italian would serve you! But hey- I am Sicilian, was born in England and live in Germany- get over it and grab that pumpkin!

I cut the pumpkin- a Hokkaido of course, into thin slices, popped it onto the steam rack in my little saucepan and gave it a 5 minute steam bath, until it was a deep orange color and slightly translucent. I then turned the oven up to its highest setting and after 10 minutes, pre-baked my pizza base for 5 minutes to get it firm enough to flip... which gave me plenty of time in the meantime to prepare the rest of the toppings.

For the ricotta and cheese base, I added a little grated parmesan to some fresh, soft ricotta, with a little olive oil and a hint of crushed garlic. I stirred it together until everything was soft and creamy, added a little pepper and called it a day... easy!

For the pesto, I took the cilantro and chopped it as finely as I could, grated a small piece of ginger, some lime zest and a little garlic, and put this all into my little mortar and added a little olive oil, sesame oil, lime juice, salt, pepper and sugar... and ground, ground, ground it into a smooth, pulpy, delicious paste. No cheese or pine nuts here as with a traditional pesto Genovese, this had a decidedly Asian touch to it, which was great in combination with the pumpkin.

So- assembly time! I spread the base with the ricotta/cheese mix and laid out the pumpkin slices on top. I seasoned them with sea salt and coarsely ground pepper and then laid out a few slices of cherry tomato on top and a sprinkle of finely chopped bacon and pine nuts. A little extra cheese on top and that baby was ready for baking! Again, at the hottest setting for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown, crispy and delicious... and it was all of those things! Especially with the tangy pesto on top! Go on- be brave! Give it a go and you will love it every bit as much as I did... You know you can trust me by now! ;-)