Friday, 14 December 2012

Sweet & Savory Sensation!

Pasta con i Fagioli & Ragú al Forno di Pomodorini & Albicocca
Pasta with Beans, Breadcrumbs & Oven-Baked Tomato & Apricot Ragú

I couldn't really go ahead and show you how to make that fruity and tangy tomato and apricot sauce and then not share the dish I made with it now could I? That just wouldn't be right! So here it is... in all of it's left-over glory! That last handful of green beans, which were the last perishables in my fridge, made this simple pasta dish more colorful and more yummy- it sometimes doesn't take much doing!

This particular variety of nameless pasta was particularly nice to eat- with a nice smooth texture but still with plenty of bite. I love checking out the Italian stalls in our indoor market here- there are lots of obscure pasta shapes on offer and this one caught my eye last time... it may not have a name on the bag- but it has a place in my pantry now!

With the sauce already bubbling away, there wasn't much left to do to pull this dish together. The first thing I did was to prepare a little "pan grattato" with bread crumbs, olive oil, parsley and grated ricotta cheese... which I toasted until lightly golden and seasoned with salt and pepper before setting to one side.

Next, in went the pasta... and 4-5 minutes later, into the same pot, the fine green beans which I had cut diagonally into bite sized chunks. By the time the pasta was ready, at 8-9 minutes, the beans were also just "al-dente", bitesome and pleasantly neutral against the tangy sauce- the perfect addition!

I drained the pasta, drizzled it with olive oil, tossed it in the bread crumbs and served it up with sweet, tangy sauce and a sprinkle of salted ricotta. And if that's not delicious... well... then I don't know what is!

You've Got a Sauce!

Ragú di Pomodorini & Albicocca al Forno
Oven-Baked Cherry Tomato & Apricot Ragú

Of course, being a Saucy Chef, I have plenty of sauce- but I am sure you have noticed that well enough by now! This evening though, I tried a little experiment, which I would like to share with you... as it was so tasty and fun! Oh... and it also helped me to empty my fridge- lol! My favorite thing to do before a vacation as you also know!

My thought was to reduce down the essence of the tomatoes in the oven, but knowing that they would become rather tangy and tart, I decided to mix them with some fruity dried apricot to add some balance and a whole different note to the usual. All I can say is: Genius! I did a good thing- and maybe you will too after reading this!

As you can see, I simply halved the tomatoes, and sprinkled them generously with salt and pepper. I added diced carrot, celery, onion and garlic- entirely as I would have if I had made a sofritto for a classic sauce. I added fresh basil, a splash of olive oil and a little water... and off it went into a hot oven- 350°, for 10 or 15 minutes...

After that time, it was bubbling away nicely and the tomatoes had just begun to soften. I pressed them down a little with a wooden spoon so they would release their juices, then gently pressed the apricot down so that it would also become moist and returned it to the oven...

10-15 minutes later, the same again... only by now the juices and the water and oil had begun to render down and I discovered upon tasting, that it was just ridiculously delicious! Yum! I gave it a final 5 minutes with direct heat from above, so that it would reduce down a little more, added a last drizzle of olive oil and hey-presto... the sauce was ready... and all I needed was some yummy pasta to go with it...

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Take Me, Boil Me, Bake Me!

Castagnaccio con Albicocca e Pinoli
Baked Chestnut Pudding with Dried Apricot and Pine Nuts

Yes, those are the three things that the lovely chestnuts that are now in season and crying out for you to do with them! I love roasted chestnuts, they have a wonderful flavor that makes me think of "the good old days"- even though that is silly as I am not that old! But they just have a fragrance and flavor that for me evokes days gone by and a more down-to-earth and rustic kind of life- and what could be nicer at Christmas time than that?

I used pre-cooked chestnuts to make this dessert- the kind that are steamed and shrink wrapped- and these are what I always buy for cooking with... I only get the real thing if I am going to do the real deal and roast them in their shells! Otherwise... it is just too much trouble getting them cooked and shelled... and this way, you can whip up a dessert like this in next to no time!

To make this, I turned on my oven to pre heat and at the same time began to boil a small teacupful of milk. In the meantime, I chopped up the chestnuts- there was just a little more than a handful and that was all it took to make this generous individual portion. I roughly chopped the chestnut and added it to the milk as soon as it came to the boil, then stirred it in and added cinnamon, honey and a tiny hint of nutmeg to taste. I could have used a blender to turn the chestnut and milk into a smooth paste, but preferred to use a fork and mash it down so that it would have a more rough and ready, rustic texture. I then added a handful of chopped, dried apricot and a handful of pine nuts. And basically that was it!

Off into the hot oven they went- for around 25 minutes at 350°. During that time, the mixture becomes a nice fudge-like consistency and develops a great flavor... it is pretty delicious! More delicious still of course, when you lightly drizzle the little sticky pudding with honey and give it a minute or two to glaze over and become golden brown... mmm!

Great hot or equally good cold, then it is firmer and easier to slice.... not that I was worried about that! I just enjoyed mine piping hot and fresh with my little spoon and a hot mug of coffee! Delicious! Give it a go and see what you think!

Farmers Frugal Feast

Minestrone con Orzo, Olive, Fagiolini, Cavoletti & Pomodori Secche
Minestrone with Barley, Olives, Beans, Sprouts & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I bet most of you can't stand to hear the expression "cucina povera" anymore- especially when is is a pretentious fussy dish being served up for a proud price to wealthy people... which makes no sense at all. But this IS poor peoples cuisine... because it has been made by me! Haha! And you may not even believe how little it took to prepare this rather luscious-looking bowl of goodness- so prepare to be amazed!

What you are looking at here is basically just a half of a carrot, half a stick of celery, half an onion, 4-5 Brussels sprouts, a handful of green beans and 2 handfuls of barley. And a few olives. And a sun-dried tomato. Okay, okay! So there is a little garlic and a few herbs in there too... and some olive oil! But still! Not much at all when you consider that it turned into 2 bowls of soup!

I started off by finely dicing the carrot, celery and onion and sautéing them lightly, together with the barley and a little crushed garlic. I fried everything gently until the onion became transparent and then deglazed the pan with a little boiling water- so as to not interrupt the cooking process. I added just enough water to cover the barley and seasoned with salt and pepper. I let everything simmer away at a gentle heat for 10 minutes and finely sliced the Brussels sprouts in the meantime- as well as finely chopping the green beans. I added these next, along with a little rosemary and thyme and let it continue simmering for 10 minutes. 

Last but not least, I added the finely sliced sun-dried tomatoes and 5-6 Kalamata olives, which I tore into pieces and scattered into the soup, a sprinkle of chili flakes and a drizzle of olive oil... and 5 minutes later, supper was served! Cheap, easy and delicious! But don't take my word for it- find out for yourselves!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Sorbetto di Yogurt con Mirtillo, Scorze di Agrumi, Grani di Pepe Rosso, Granatina & Menta
Yogurt Sorbet with Cranberry, Citrus Zest, Red Pepper Corns, Grenadine & Mint

"But this is madness!" you cry! And you may well be right! And the strangest thing of all is- I was quite sober when I dreamt up this combination! What was originally going to be a simple frozen yogurt, became a crazy, complex and wonderful dessert to be savored and enjoyed... I just wish you could be enjoying it with me! But... being as you can't, I suppose the second-best thing is for me to tell you how I made it so you can try it for yourselves!

Apart from the fact that the ingredients may be a little out of the ordinary, the truth of the matter is that it was basically a simple matter of stirring and waiting around to make this- just like any frozen yogurt or sorbet. Your freezer is going to do all of the hard work for you and freeze everything up- your part of the deal is simply to interrupt occasionally, stir well and make sure that the ice-crystals that form remain small and separate and that it doesn't simply become a solid block. But let me recap those ingredients and how I put them together...

I started with the zest of an orange, a lemon and a lime- mostly because of the colors I will admit. I dropped them into a cup, covered them with boiling water and let them sit for 3-4 minutes, then poured off the water and a lot of bitterness, and repeated the procedure one more time. I then chopped some fresh mint as finely as possible and added this to the yogurt first- so as to not lose all of the mints essential oils- this way they become well absorbed into the yogurt. I sweetened my yogurt with Stevia, but you can use confectioners sugar if you prefer- it needs to be nice and fine so that it dissolves well into the yogurt and does not give it a grainy texture. 

I then added cranberries, the zest, and a few red pepper corns, along with a little grenadine. Once everything was nicely mixed, I popped it into the freezer for half an hour, then took it out and stirred it again. I repeated this, stirring every half hour, for the next 2-3 hours, after which the yogurt had become firm yet creamy in consistency and at this point I filled my sorbet mix into a metal ring- which of course does not have to be by any way, shape or form! You can simply leave it in a regular container and serve it up using an ice cream scoop- or even freeze it as a block and cut off slices as you would a "parfait". The great thing is the mix of the sweetness of the grenadine and the freshness of the mint, then the tanginess of the citrus zest and the heat of the pepper- it's like a circus-act of your tongue! Give it a go and take a walk on the wild side- you might just like the adventure!

Simply the Rest!

Verdure Mediterraneo Arrostite
Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables

Christmas is just around the corner and I will be traveling to see the folks back in the old country- so it is time to empty out the fridge again before I go! But you know, I always kinda like the challenge of straining my brain and coming up with some idea to not let any good food go to waste- if there is one thing I hate it is for that to happen!

So here we go... this evening it was just a very simple affair, but tasty all the same. Just a nice mix of veggies that go well together, roasted with herbs, garlic, olive oil and honey... and as I say- SO delicious! Great as a side dish, but with some crusty bread and a glass of red wine, it was fine as a light evening meal in itself... 

Basically, all I did was to slice both the zucchini and the assorted mini-bell peppers into slices and to drizzle them lightly with olive oil. Well, that was the first step at least. I then added crushed garlic, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper and got everything nicely coated. All I needed to do now was to arrange everything in layers- not absolutely necessary, but a little prettier- so well worth the 5 minutes more time.

I then added just a small splash of water and covered my baking dish with foil- this was so that I would get a little steam accumulating under the foil, to cook the veggies faster and to keep them nice and moist. I popped them into the oven at the highest setting for 10 minutes and then brought them out to add a few Kalamata olives, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of fresh thyme... then back in they went for 5 minutes- and the obligatory additional 2-3 minutes under the broiler. Finito and buon apetito! 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

From Brussels to Beijing

Tagliatelle "Udon", Tacchino allo Sesamo + Cavolini di Bruxelle
Udon Noodles, Sesame-Fried Turkey + Shredded Brussels Sprouts

Do they have Brussels sprouts in China? Maybe. Do they have Japanese Udon noodles? Possibly. Would they combine them and make a dish like this? Probably not! Ha! But you know what? I am neither in Brussels, Beijing nor Japan- and I made this for my supper this evening- so there!

Well, what's a guy to do when he lives on his own and buys a bag of Brussels sprouts already? I had some yesterday evening... I had some this evening... and I still have some left, so I shall be having them again at some point this week! But as I actually love Brussels sprouts- who's complaining? :-)

Bok choi, Chinese leaves... Brussels sprouts or any other kind of mild greens- what's the difference? Non really! All are delicious and all go well with Asian-styled noodle dishes. It is the sweetness they bring that makes them so wonderful, balancing out the spiciness and bringing everything together- especially in this dish. 

I made it by finely chopping the sprouts and boiling them together with the noodles- the soft, thick, Udon noodles only take 4-5 minutes to cook, which is just the right time to blanche the Brussels sprouts and leave them with just a hint of bite and plenty of character.

In the meantime, I fried the very thinly sliced turkey breast with some grated ginger and crushed garlic in a little sesame oil. As soon as it began to brown, I added some thinly sliced red peppers and seasoned with a dash of oyster sauce, lime juice, sweet chili sauce and a little 5-spice powder. 

As soon as the noodles were done, I drained them off, but added a splash of the hot water to my frying pan to deglaze it and to render down to a thin sauce. I then added a squeeze of honey and turned off the heat.

By the time I had dished up the noodles, the honey had become a golden glaze over everything and was just screaming to be sprinkled with sesame seeds... so how could I resist? You're right... I couldn't! What a simple but yummy combination! I'm sure if you try it you will agree!

Monday, 10 December 2012

What a Grate Beet!

Dolce die Barbabietola Rossa con Cocco, Uva Secca & Pistacchio
Beetroot Halwa with Coconut, Raisins & Pistachio

I had heard of, but never tried Halwa, my favorite Indian dessert, usually made from carrots, in a variation made of beetroot... and how could I resist that temptation? It was something I simply HAD to try for myself! A simple dish with a rich and satisfyingly natural flavor, Halwa is good in an authentic and down-to-earth way that I really like. And I hope you will like it too!

The beets were there- a whole pack of them. I had just used 2 to make my supper and had 3 left over to make- what exactly I didn't know with. I was definitely not thinking of dessert at the beginning! But then I remembered the Halwa and from that second on, there was no doubt left in my mind! I needed to get grating and to get busy with another culinary adventure! 

I started off by dry-roasting a little cardamom until it became fragrant and then added the coarsely grated beetroot to the pan. I stirred it constantly for 2-3 minutes, until it began to dry out a little and become really hot- and then added a small splash of rose water, a small sprinkle of sugar and about half as much grated coconut as I had beetroot. 

I continued stirring, until the coconut had mixed thoroughly in with the beetroot and then added enough milk to just cover everything. I added the sugar earlier so that it would caramelize the beetroot a little and bring out its natural sweetness, but now added a little Stevia to make this into a real dessert- you can of course stick with sugar if you wish. And you should sweeten it to taste as well- I am loath to dictate to you, as I found it perfectly delicious with just a teaspoon of Stevia, but as some people have a rather sweet tooth, you will just have to try it and see. I added a good sprinkle of cinnamon and a little nutmeg and continued stirring, stirring, stirring- much as you do when you make a risotto or rice pudding- and similarly, you continue doing so until all of the excess moisture has reduced down.

It took between 15-20 minutes, but after that time I added a handful of raisins and a handful of pistachio splinters, stirred them in well and turned off the heat. I don't like to overcook raisins- I like them to just warm up and absorb some moisture and become juicy again- and 5 minutes of steaming in the heat were plenty for that. Once it had cooled down a little, I added a last little sprinkle of coconut flakes and then served it up with a last few splinters of pistachio and a big smile... because it was really delicious! What an adventure and what a treat! And hopefully one you will discover for yourselves too!

Vegetable Mash-up!

Puré di Patate allo Zenzero con Cavolini di Bruxelle e Barbabietola Rossa
Ginger Mashed Potato with Beets & Sprouts

Amazing but true- I had a meatless Monday today! Just kidding- you know that I often have vegetarian dishes on offer- but I have to admit, I really was tempted to add some bacon to this one ;-) This could easily be a great side dish to go with any festive menu and I simply wanted to try out the combination this evening... and who knew it would be fine as it was as a meal in itself!

I used for convenience' sake, pre-cooked beets, which is definitely the way to go. You can not peel, steam and prepare them better- they come out of the vacuum-sealed pack tasting sweet and mild and are just perfect! There- I have admitted it! I am talking about plain-cooked beets here, not in a can or a jar, not soaking in any nasty liquids- just the simple beets as nature intended... only shrink-wrapped in plastic ;-)

I steamed the potatoes and sprouts together to save time- the potatoes went in first and after 10 minutes I added the sprouts... so after 20 minutes cooking time in all, both were ready. 

I grated a little ginger onto the potatoes, added a little lime juice and then mashed them with a little sesame oil rather than butter... this was intended to be a whole different flavor to the usual buttery, creamy mash we all love. And sure- I love that too... but I love adventure more!

The sprouts went into my frying pan with some chopped shallot and garlic and also a little sesame oil... once the onion had become translucent, I added the beets and seasoned with some of my "Salt of the Earth"- the recipe of which you can find here:

All that was left to do, was to spoon the mashed potato into a baking dish, add the beets and sprouts, a last little sprinkle of salt- and then off into the oven they went for 10 minutes or so, until they came back up to temperature and became toasty and delicious on top. Yum! Amazing what you can do with some plain ol' ordinary vegetables... and pretty and delicious too! Enjoy!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Thrice Upon a Time in Mexico

Tacchino "Pibil"
Turkey Pibil

So this is the third time I have made a version of the legendary "Puerco Pibil" from Robert Rodriguez' "Once Upon a Time in Mexico". The first time I made it- I did it his way... and it was gooood! The second time, I made a small portion just for myself, and thought I would try it out on the stove top rather than in the oven, the way it should be made... and it was also gooood!

This time, I decided to do a stove-top Pibil, but to try making it with turkey- a leaner, more tender meat, in the hope that it would take less time and be almost as delicious. And you know what? It was leaner, took less time and was indeed equally delicious!

There was a scene in the movie, where Johnny Depp asked the question, "Are you a Mexi-can? Or a Mexi-can't? Hilarious! Well- I am obviously not of Mexican decent, but when it comes to Pibil- I am most definitely a Mexi-Can :-)

So, rather than using "Boston Butt", as the original recipe requires, I used a nice dice of turkey breast that I picked up at our indoor market. I marinated it for 3-4 hrs in a mix of Achiote paste, lime juice, tequila, a little olive oil and some finely chopped garlic. Achiote paste is a bright red, clay-like paste, made from finely ground Annato seeds. It has an earthy, rich flavor which is a little difficult to describe and a very distinctive red/orange color. My buddy Robert tends to think that you need to grind the seeds yourself to make this dish- but I have to say- the paste works perfectly fine for me! I used a good heaped teaspoonful for this single serving.

Once the meat had marinated for 3-4 hrs, I popped it into a saucepan with a little olive oil and briefly seared it at a high heat with a little olive oil. Of course it began to stick pretty soon- and that is when I added a whole finely chopped onion and a good splash of Tequila to deglaze the saucepan and pick up all of the good flavors. I then added a sprinkle of cumin, a pinch of chili flakes, salt and pepper topped it up with just enough water to cover the meat. I reduced it to a low simmer and let it bubble away gently for an hour.

After an hour, I added some sliced shallot, and some small, hot peppers. They were not Poblanos, which are used in the real recipe, but even though they were sold to me namelessly with the simple information that they were hot, they were still delicious! In they went for the remaining cooking time- which was around 20 minutes... time to steam the rice and beans!

I served my Pibil on a bed of plain rice, with a side dish of steamed green beans that I tossed briefly in olive oil and sprinkled with a little seasoned salt. In the movie, Johnny Depp used to shoot the cook if the Pibil was really good. He didn't want to share his good fortune or the great meal with anyone else you see. Me- I want to share it with all of you! And also- not to get shot!

Wake Up and Eat the Coffee!

Budino di Caffè con Cachi
Sticky Coffee Pudding with Persimmon

It's the thing most of us think of first when we wake up in the morning... coffee! And because we usually want it as soon as possible with as little effort as possible, instant coffee was invented. Ugh. I have to say that I find instant coffee, just like 99% of all real coffee lovers, pretty awful, but at the same time, I always have it at home as it can come in very handy as an ingredient in the kitchen.

So whilst my real coffee was brewing, I whipped together the ingredients for this little chewy coffee cake, which was similar to those soft-centered chocolate muffins that everyone loves... there was just a tiny bit more of it! But actually, it was more of a baked custard kind of affair... topped with lovely ripe persimmon shavings, this made a change from the same old same old... and that can only be a good thing!

For this individual serving, I took one egg which I separated. I beat the yolk, together with 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 4 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 tablespoon of instant coffee and a teaspoon of Stevia, but you can of course use sugar if you wish. I added a little cinnamon and a splash of milk and then whisked everything until it was light and frothy.  I then added the egg whites, which I had beaten to a firm snow and folded them in gently. Once the batter was nicely, smoothly mixed, I poured it into a baking dish and popped it into the oven for 25 minutes at 300°. And had a nice cup of real coffee.

After I finished my coffee, I peeled the persimmon and then proceeded to take off shavings of the fruit itself using the peeler. The important thing here is to fold those shavings immediately into little rolls and to not simple lay them on a plate and think you can do that later... like I did... because you will find them almost impossible to separate from another if you don't!

In any case, 25 minutes later, the baked pudding/cake was ready to come out of the oven... and wouldn't you know it- just 5-6 minutes after that, I had topped it with persimmon, poured myself another mug of hot coffee and was tucking in to a terrific breakfast! Needless to say I was super awake the whole rest of the day... and probably still will be tonight! Haha! No, fear not dear reader... much rather- enjoy!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Small, but Perfectly Formed

Cestini di Pizza
Little Pizza "Baskets"

There are two ways to look at these little snacks. 
1.) is that they are great, simple little nibbles, that can replace these heavy, over-the-top festive overloads we are inflicting on ourselves during the Christmas build-up. 
And 2.) is that we can make them a part of one of those over-the-top festive overloads.

These are just very simple little pizza snacks... 2 bites and they're gone! So they are great appetizers or party food and basically a safe-bet and a crowd-pleaser in any case for any occasion. And using one little trick, I changed the shape of the typical flat-base pizza, to a hollow little bowl-shape that could be filled with yummy stuff... so easy you are going to love it! 

I started off by using a cookie-cutter, the largest I have, to cut out circles from the pizza dough. The fun part came next, as I took a muffin tray, turned it upside down and lightly rubbed it with a little olive oil... and placed the dough circles onto the tray and smoothed them down a little- then baked them at the highest temperature my oven could handle for 10 minutes. 

In the meantime, I diced half of a red and yellow pepper, as well as a little onion and then sautéed them with a fine dice of bacon, until everything began to get a nice golden tinge... and out it came- ready to turn into these wonderful little snacks- well... almost!

All that needed to be done now, was to halve a few cherry tomatoes, slice a mozzarella cheese and pit a handful of Kalamata olives... I just love them! Such wonderful eating olives! But it was time to take those little pizza shells off the tray, flip them over and fill them! I did that by first setting 2-3 pieces of mozzarella in each shell- not too much, and then by adding a mix of the bacon and bell peppers. I then set half a cherry tomato into the middle of each and a few pieces of the Kalamata olives around the outside. With a sprinkle of seasoned salt- I used my "Salt of the Earth" mix, off they went, back into the oven for 5 minutes at the highest setting and then for 1-2 minutes under the broiler. 

The great thing is that with the tomato still being half-raw, it has a much lighter, fresher flavor than a regular pizza... the rich Kalamata olives and the salty bacon add spice and the peppers have a nice little crunch... almost perfect! A sprinkle of fresh thyme adds a bit of depth to the flavor combination and brings the salty and sweet components together perfectly- and with a subtle and measured amount of Mozzarella cheese, it all becomes something  that although simple is rather special... Try it and see!

Well That's Just Grate!

Piccola Crostata di Mela e Mirtillo Rosso
Individual Apple & Cranberry Pie

They say that size matters. Well- sometimes it does- and sometimes a small size is a very good thing! In this case, the size of this beautiful little pie for example... because had it been just a little larger- I may have felt a pang of guilt for not sharing it. But as it was... I ate the whole thing with no worries at all!

Seriously, this was a fun way to use left-over puff pastry, which was not really enough to make anything "meal-size" but perfectly fine for dessert! So of course, particularly as it was going to be so small, I set out to make this perfectly formed, but quick and easy too- and I promise you that it is! So read on!

Basically, there was only a small surface area of pastry left over- just enough to cut to shape and line the base of an oven-proof dish that was just a little less than saucer-size. But what I did to make it a.) more stable and b.) a lot prettier, was to cut the left-over pastry into thin strips of 1" or so in width, and then to lay them against the outer edge of the dish, building up the layers from the outside in. I had about 4 layers in all- and they all puff-up and fill-out wonderfully in the oven!  All I needed now was a filling and that was really easy!

To fill this little pie, I peeled and apple- a Granny Smith, but you can use whatever you prefer, cut it into quarters, cut away the core and seeds, ate one quarter and the coarsely grated the rest... I love apple! I then sprinkled it with a hint of lemon juice, cinnamon, a tiny hint of salt, Stevia (you can use sugar) and added a handful of dried cranberries. I mixed everything together well, spooned it into the pie and popped the whole thing into a pre-warmed oven at 350° for 15-20 minutes until it was lightly browned, then fetched it out and added a light drizzle of honey before finishing it under the broiler for 2 minutes... See! Told you it was easy! Enjoy!

Friday, 7 December 2012

What's for Zuppa?

Minestrone di Verdure e Gamberetti
Shrimp and Vegetable Soup

Walking home through a snow-blizzard this evening, all I could think about was getting home and getting warm... and the million and one things I day-dreamed about eating whilst I was on my way all had one thing in common... they were all soups!

I love soups- any time, any place, anyhow- even at the height of Summer! But especially in the dark, cold, Winter months, a soup is always the right thing to just make you feel warm and cosy and happy. So get your saucepans out, have your knives and your veggies at the ready... and I will tell you how I fixed this here beauty this evening!

This was an easy soup to make, with simple everyday ingredients. I started out with just a little handful of finely diced bacon, which I got hot and sizzling in my saucepan with no extra fat. I added diced carrot, fennel, celery and finely chopped parsley, along with a little crushed garlic and a slice or two of ginger. And one single small potato... which I will come back to later! I sautéed these together for 3-4 minutes and then added a heaped teaspoon of tomato paste, which I also fried together with the other ingredients for a couple of minutes. 

I then deglazed the saucepan with a splash of white wine, which I stirred in well and topped up the ingredients with boiling water, to keep the cooking process going. At this point I added some diced zucchini and let the soup simmer away for 10 minutes. 

Next I added the shrimp and cherry tomatoes, which I had cut into quarters... and this was now the time to fetch out that single potato! Yes, yes, of course I simply mashed it with a fork and added it back into the soup to thicken it... but it made all the difference! 

Once the soup was ready to serve, I added a little Tabasco, finely chopped basil, a little olive oil and a nice scattering of those lovely, fine fennel greens- yummy! And suddenly the snow and the cold seemed very far away... 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Turning Over a New Leaf

Piccolo Polpettino alla Salvia con Pastinaca Arrosto
Mini Sage-Wrapped Meatloaf with Roasted Parsnip

Well, my favorite leaf this week is plainly sage- as you can see again in this dish. I just love its pungent and fragrant aroma and the way it works so well with so many different ingredients. And being as I happened to buy a rather too-large bunch of it on Saturday... well it seemed an awful shame to let it go to waste, when I would much rather be experimenting with it in a few new recipes!

One of the other great things about sage, is the way that the leaves become nice and crispy when you fry or roast them... and taste even better when they crunch! Yum! So I came up with this idea to turn what would have been a boring quarter-pounder hamburger, into a miniature masterpiece of a meat loaf! I think it will have to be a full-scale one next time- it was soooo delicious!

The meat I used was a mix of beef and pork, and I combined the quarter pound of meat with 1 egg, 3-4 tablespoons of bread crumbs, 2 Spring onions finely chopped, half of a red pepper finely chopped, a handful each of finely chopped mint and parsley, a handful of crumbled Feta cheese and a crushed clove of garlic. I mixed all of these ingredients really well, kneading them with my hands until they became a smooth, compact mass. I then laid out the sage leaves, fanned-out from the center and pressed them gently into the meat pattie- then I flipped it over and dropped it into a small baking dish and pressed it firmly into shape. Then into a hot oven it went for around 20 minutes, whilst I prepared the parsnip...

I cut the parsnip into thin slices and steamed it for 10 minutes until it became translucent and was almost tender- with just a little bite left to it. I then drizzled it with just a little olive oil and sprinkled it with salt, pepper and a hint of sugar. And at that point I fetched the meat loaf out again and gave it a very light drizzle of honey, before returning both to the oven to finish baking for a further 10 minutes. And then of course the obligatory 2-3 minutes of broiler to give that crispiness!

A simple affair- but with good flavors and clever combinations, this simple, luxury-meatball became a super suppertime treat! And as I already mentioned... next time it will be a full-sized loaf! Yum, yum, yum!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Kheer Royal!

Crema di Riso Indiano con Cocco, Pistacchie e Zucchero al Cassis
Indian Coconut Rice Pudding with Cassis Sugar and Pistachio

Home late after a long day and cold as cold can be on a dark December night... too late and tired to fix a meal... but not too tired to fix dessert! I figured a good thing to make would be a rice pudding, as it would satisfy my hunger as well as my sweet tooth... and then I came up with this idea to make it a little more exotic and fun! I hope you like it!

I think we are all familiar with that 1970's blast from the past "Kir Royale", which is a magenta-colored mix of champagne and Cassis, the French black currant liqueur... Well, after reading that the Indian name for rice pudding is "kheer", my strange little mind came up with this little play-on-words and the recipe to match! 

I bought this wonderful, vibrant cassis powder a few months ago- who could resist that color? I love that is is not sweet, but has a rich, black currant flavor- which made it perfect for creating the sugar and cinnamon dusting for this rice pudding. And I know this may not be readily available to everybody out there- but because it was available to me, I felt it my duty to use it and share it with you all ;-)

To make the rice pudding, I started off by dry-roasting a cardamom pod, a stick of cinnamon, a slice of ginger and a piece of vanilla pod along with the rice and coconut for 2-3 minutes, just long enough for the aromas to begin developing. I used about 1 part coconut flakes to 2 parts pudding rice. I then added a half teaspoon of clarified butter and enough milk to cover the rice, brought it up to the boil, gave it a good stir and reduced it to a low simmer so that it could cook gently for the next 10-15 minutes. 

The cardamom, ginger, vanilla and coconut gave the rice a mild but complex flavor and after giving it a good stir, adding a little more milk and bringing it back up to the boil again, it had become a lovely, rich and creamy treat! I fished out the cinnamon stick, cardamom, ginger and vanilla and served up the luscious rice pudding with a generous sprinkle of pistachio splinters and the spectacularly bright-colored cassis sugar, which was simply a lix of 1 tablespoon of fine ground sugar, a half teaspoon of cassis powder and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. All in all a pretty fantastic combination, I am pretty sure you will all agree! Yum-yum!