Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Curry in a Hurry!

Curry di Agnello Trittato & Piselli "Keema Matar"
Keema Matar Curried Lamb & Peas

Curries are wonderful, aren't they? Rich and spicy and delicious, they are a treat at any time... but they are not always easy to make at any time, because usually we are in a hurry and more often than not, a curry is a dish that requires a longer cooking time... but not this one!

I had the last of the ground lamb from yesterday evening left over and wanted to turn it into something delicious, rather than just taking the easy (but delicious) way out and making it into a burger... So I decided to give it a mild, spicy treatment and added some sweet and tender peas to make my version of this favorite and classic Indian curry called Keema Matar! And I think you would probably really enjoy it too....

I started off my curry by frying a good pinch of the ground lamb, about a tablespoonfuls-worth, in a dry, non-stick frying pan, until it began to sizzle and give off it's fat. At this point, I added a finely sliced onion, a little chopped garlic and ginger and a  generous sprinkle of both garam masala and turmeric. This way I got to save on adding any extra fat and was able to heat up the spices to let their flavor develop before the actual cooking of the dish began. 

Once the onion had become transparent, I added the rest of the lamb and stirred it in, chopping it up with  my wooden spoon until it had become thoroughly well mixed with the spiced and seasoned lamb. I added salt, pepper, a little chili, a good squeeze of tomato paste and a handful of finely chopped coriander. For this generous single serving, about a tablespoonful of tomato paste was plenty...

The next thing that I added was the frozen peas- and as soon as they had begun to thaw nicely, I added a good tablespoon of chick-pea flour to the pan and stirred that in well. As soon as it was stirred-in nicely, I added a good splash of water and stirred some more until a nice sauce began to form... the chick-pea flour thickened the sauce up immediately and I simply added more water, a little at a time, until the sauce had a consistency that I liked. 

Having added the chick-pea flour, I was able to add some plain yogurt into the sauce and to make it smoother and creamier, with out the yogurt curdling, which of course it would normally do. So it was just a tablespoonful or two for this single serving that I added- and yes, suddenly the sauce was transformed! I much prefer doing this than to adding cream or coconut milk- it is so much more healthy and every bit as delicious!

The last ingredient was a little finely chopped tomato, which gave a little freshness and juiciness and a tiny squeeze of lemon to give it a little bit of "zing!" on top! I served my curry on a simple bed of basmati rice and topped it with a last tablespoon of yogurt and some freshly, finely chopped coriander... pretty delicious! Try it and you'll see! And let me know what you think!

Monday, 29 April 2013

A Taste of Things to Come

Polpettini di Agnello alla Menta e Peperone, con la Rucola e un Condimento di Yogurt e Limone
Lamb, Pepper & Mint Meatballs on Arugula with Yogurt/Lime Dressing

Ok- so I obviously tasted these this evening, when I made them... but this is the kind of thing I can't wait to be making more of in the months ahead... as soon as the weather decides to change and the Spring and Summ er finally begin to make themselves noticed! 

So because the sun decided not to come out to play today, I whipped up this little Summetime supper in the evening instead. Full of freshness and good, simple flavors, these little meatballs are comfort food at it's most fun and its finest! Oh- and probably at it's easiest too!

For the meatballs, I started out by finely chopping some onion and the red bell pepper. I popped both into a non-stick frying together and let them warm through and "fry" for 1-2 minutes with no added oil- this "pre-cooking" just takes the edge off of the sharp crispness of pepper and onion and makes them more pleasant to eat later on. Once they had softened up a little from frying, I scooped them into a bowl, and added 2-3 tablespoons of bread crumbs- which helped to cool them down immediately, ready to be integrated with the other ingredients. 

Next came the ground lamb- this was just a good handful here- enough to have made a nice sized hamburger... or these yummy little meat balls that you can see here. What would you chosen? I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and added a little crushed garlic, along with plenty of finely chopped parsley and more importantly, mint! A little grated parmesan and a teaspoon of Ajvar and a little kneading together and a wonderful mix for my little meatballs was ready in next to no time! 

I rolled the meatballs into shape, moistening my hands just a little with water to help keep the surface nice and smooth- and then into the hot frying pan they went- with just a hint of water rather than oil- trust me now on this! The water soon bubbled and evaporated away, but the result of doing so was that the meatballs were pre-cooked and that they go hot enough for the ground meat to give off a little of its own fat- thus eliminating the need to add any additional fat at all... and just 3-4 minutes later, they were nicely browned-off all around and ready to serve!

Whilst they were sizzling away, I prepared the simple dressing for my salad, using the juice of half of a lime, 5-6 tablespoons of yogurt, a splash of olive oil, a drizzle of honey, salt, pepper and a good shake in a little jam-jar- my favorite way to mix a dressing!

I served the meatballs up on top of a bed of arugula, with a nice drizzle of the fresh and tangy dressing and a sprinkle of chili flakes for a bit of extra "oomph!" - and what a fun and easy treat supper turned out to be! Hope you try these yourselves sometime!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Mangia! Mangia!

Pasta ca Muddica, Finnuccheddi, Acciughe, Caperi, Uvetta & Pinoli
Pasta with Crispy Bread Crumbs, Fennel Greens, Anchovies, Capers, Raisins and Pine Nuts

Hold on to your taste buds boys and girls... I am going to take you all on a journey... back to the Old Country of Sicily... and to days gone by, when dishes like this were created by the Arabs who once ruled over my little island and left a legacy of wonderful exotic food that my Italian forefathers transformed into wonderful pasta dishes like this!

And then I come along! Born in England, living in Germany and with a very international slant when it comes to cooking, this is my variation on the theme of this favorite and classic Sicilian pasta dish. Let me show you how to make this wonderful meal in just 15 minutes- because that's all it takes! And the incredible mix of flavors takes any hard work out of the whole affair for you... they just work together and will taste fantastic to one and all- even guys who are not that keen on fish... like me!

The anchovies play an important role in this though, as they provide the main seasoning for the pasta's dressing, very much in the way that soy or fish sauce season an Asian meal without having a penetrating flavor of their own in the end result. Or at least they shouldn't do!

The other important stars of this show are the bread crumbs. So let's get the water boiling for the pasta and get busy with those in the meantime. I have described how to make "pangrattato" before, but this time I put pine nuts into the mix from the beginning too, as they also needed browning off. So- pine nuts first, 2 minutes later bread crumbs and a hint of olive oil, 2 minutes after that, parmesan cheese and 2 minutes later still, finely chopped parsley. A little salt, a little pepper and a hint of nutmeg... and the crispy bread crumbs are done!

Next, pop the pasta into the boiling water with plenty of salt and boil for 7-8 minutes. I used extra-thick Ziti this evening, but you can use whichever pasta shape you prefer. Whilst the pasta was boiling, I popped a couple of anchovies into the frying pan, with a little chopped garlic, the capers and a tablespoon or so of tomato paste. I fried these together for 2-3 minutes, after which time the anchovies began to disintegrate and the tomato paste had blended together nicely. I then took a ladle full of the pasta water and added it to the frying pan, deglazing it, bringing up all of the good flavors from the base of the pan and transforming the tomato paste into a rudimentary but rich tasting sauce.

After the pasta had boiled for 7-8 minutes, I drained it and transferred it to the frying pan and let it continue and indeed finish cooking there. I added a good pinch of plucked fennel greens and a little dried chili, then stirred in a nice handful of raisins. I let these all cook together for a further 2-3 minutes and then added a generous sprinkle of bread crumbs... and then the pasta was ready to serve! I added a nice sprinkle of fennel greens and a few fresh and crispy crumbs and pine nuts... and enjoyed a wonderfully rich and complex meal that was as easy to make as it was amazing to enjoy! And I suggest that you all do the same!

Crusty Convertables

Panini Aperti con Rucola, Camembert, Peperone Dolce & Pomodori Ciliegini
Open-Topped Rolls with Arugula, Camembert, Peppers & Cherry Tomatoes

And for a little improvised treat this lunchtime- how about these simple and delicious crusty rye-bread rolls? I kept the calories low by keeping the toppings light, but they were full of flavor and perfect for a lunch on the run!

I don't know about you, but frankly, the look of the typical over-filled sandwich that we are so often presented with, is a lot less than appetizing to me. They usually have more than twice the amount of stuff in there that they need to be delicious- never mind than the amount that we actually should be eating. Especially those sandwiches with loads of slices of cold cuts, then mayonnaise... and usually butter and cheese as well- ugh! No, no, no... as with most things- less is definitely more!  

The main reason I dislike those kinds of sandwiches, apart from the sheer quantity of filling in them, is that the components of flavors and texture is beyond all control! There may be lots of flavors in there, but they are not balanced or complimentary to each other in any reasonable manner that lets you actually distinguish them from one another. That is what I consider to be good food and that is what I tried to do right here...

The first thing I did of course was to toast the bread rolls, which I drizzled very lightly with olive oil before doing so and then lightly rubbed with a clove of garlic once they were done- as one would with a toasted bruschetta. I then added a generous amount of arugula and for each half roll, just 2 thin slices of camembert. I then added a cherry tomato cut in half to each and a few slices from a sweet yellow/orange sweet bell pepper... your eyes have every bit as much right to enjoy as your tongue has after all!

I then added a few drops of olive oil, a very light drizzle of honey and a few splashes of balsamic glaze. A sprinkle of Herbs de Provence, a little salt and pepper and that was it! A wonderful combination of peppery arugula, mild camembert cheese, juicy tomato, crispy pepper and tangy herbs along with the sweet and sour honey and vinegar... well... quite frankly- what more could you possibly want?!?? Me? I couldn't have asked for more! This was absolutely my kind of food! And I can imagine that you will like it too if you give it a try! Bon apetit!

Sunny Baked Pan Cakes!

Fritelle di Polenta e Mela al Forno
Oven Baked Polenta & Apple Pancakes

Another dull Sunday morning... especially during the so-called Springtime, that just seems so wrong! A Sunday without sun? Uh-uh! If there is none in the sky, then I will make my own in the kitchen... and enjoy it at the breakfast table- just see if I don't! 

These little pancakes were made using polenta rather than flour, giving them a firmer bite and a wonderful golden color. Flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, they were great with the finely diced apple topping and a pleasant change to the regular maple-syrup drenched buttermilk pancakes, yummy as they may be! And being baked in the oven, they were also a little lighter and healthier too!

My main reason for making these was the little red apples I bought from the market yesterday. I bought them because when I saw them,I thought "aww, they look sweet!"... and the hell of it is... they really were! In fact, they were almost too sweet to be considered "eating apples"- so I decided I would have to cook something with them! 

To make the pancakes, I separated 2 eggs, whisked the whites nice and firm and set them to one side, and began making the batter with the yolks. So, to 2 yolks, I added 4 tablespoons of polenta, 2 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 tablespoon of vanilla custard powder, a teaspoon of Stevia and a pinch of salt. I whisked this together and let the batter sit for 10 minutes. 

In the meantime, I finely diced the apple. I decided to leave the peel on as I found it to be prettier that way, but of course you can peel yours if you so prefer. In an espresso cup, I mixed together 1 teaspoon of sugar, with about a quarter teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of cinnamon... this was to sprinkle over the chopped apples later on... and yes, the salt in there was a good thing!

After 10 minutes of resting, I added the batter to the egg whites and stirred them together well. I then put 2 spoonfuls of batter into each section of a muffin tray and popped them into the oven for 2 minutes at 400°F, then took them out, sprinkled them with the chopped apples, a little of the cinnamon sugar and salt and popped them back for a further 4-5 minutes until they were puffed-up and ready. And that's all there was to it! Easy, quick, fruity and delicious! With a fun sweet'n'savory touch through the hint of salt as a balance to the sweet apples, these made a great change! I ate mind just as they were, but can well imagine that they would go really well with a little fresh yogurt- I will have to remember to try that next time... unless you try them for me and let me know how they were that is! ;-)

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Pans Filled with Gold

Lenticchie Gialle con Funghi & Pomodori Ciliegini 
Mushrooms with Yellow Lentils & Cherry Tomatoes

This isn't a post about the days of the gold rush, with hard working men toiling with pans in rivers and streams, sifting through them in their search for gold... No, in my case, I put the gold, in the form of these wonderful Mung Dal lentils and juicy mushrooms, into my frying pan myself! The result was a wonderful Vegetarian dish, full of flavor and texture and goodness and a richness all of it's own!

I love Mung Dal- this fine-grained, fast-cooking variety of lentils is so convenient and versatile with it's nutty flavor and short 5-6 minute cooking time. I decided to use it this evening as an alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes, to turn the fried mushrooms I made in my brand-new handmade pan into a fully-fledged meal and what a great combination it turned out to be! With a handful of cherry tomatoes to add a little juicy contrast, this was a quick and easy supper fit for a king!

I started off by boiling the lentils for 3-4 minutes in a small saucepan, using 4 cups of water to the 2 cups of lentils and then letting them sit and finish off cooking in the residual heat with the lid on top. I find this to be the best way to prepare them- the less you stir them the better, as they cook so quickly that you will otherwise end up turning them into a paste through too much stirring.

In the meantime, I heated a little butter up in my pan and whilst that was happening, quickly rinsed off the mushrooms, being careful to not get them excessively damp and waterlogged. I then added them to the frying pan and sautéed them for 2-3 minutes, then added some finely chopped garlic and Spring onion, salt, pepper and a little ground cumin. Once the mushrooms were nicely golden, I added the lentils into the pan along with a good handful of finely chopped parsley- and already this beautiful dish began to come together before my very eyes!

The last ingredient to be added was a handful of cherry tomatoes, which I cut in half, a tiny hint of lemon juice and a final pat of butter- simple! But the thing is, with nice ingredients that compliment each other in flavor, all you need are simple things to make a great meal! I love the nutty flavor and the chewy texture of the lentils in combination with the succulent mushrooms- together with the fresh herb and garlic flavor and the juicy tomatoes this really was second to none! Give it a try and see for yourselves... and above all, enjoy!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Snack Attack

Pizzette in Padella, con Pomodorini, Peperone Dolce, Basilico & Mozzarella
Pan-Grilled Pizza Snacks with Tomato, Peppers, Basil & Mozzarella

It was a long, hard day again today at work and by the time I got home, I was exhausted from it all, soaking wet from the rain, starving and frustrated- not a good combination! I was definitely too tired to go out and loathe to order in... but I needed something to cheer me up... whilst preferably emptying out my fridge to make way for some goodies from the farmers market tomorrow... as always on a Friday evening!

I had a small roll of pizza dough, some mini bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and basil and a last little bit of mozzarella... and together with a little basil and a hint of garlic- I decided that, that was all that I needed to make a yummy snack in just a few minutes- a perfect solution to my predicament- and fun to make as well!

So these were as simple and quick to make as Bruschetta, but a little more fun- as well as being much prettier... and much more suited to the cold evening we had again today... but in any case a real treat that maybe you will try yourselves sometime!

This was probably as quick to make as a sandwich really- all it took was a tiny bit of multi-tasking and a grill frying pan. To make it, I unrolled the pizza dough and cut it into handy little pieces. I popped the slices onto the hot, dry pan- no oil needed, for 1-2 minutes and then as soon as the dough was firm and crisp from below, flipped it over onto the other side for a minute or two. It doesn't need to be baked through as it will get finished in the oven, but as soon as it is lightly brown you can set it to one side and get busy preparing the rest.

Whilst the pizza bases were browning in the frying pan I turned on the broiler so it would be hot and ready to go, and prepared the topping, ready to go in just a few minutes. I finely sliced the sweet, mini peppers, the cherry tomatoes and some Spring onion... and I also peeled one clove of garlic and plucked a handful of basil... ready to go!

Once they were all done, I took the pizza bases and rubbed them with the garlic, as you would a Bruschetta slice, then lay on the basil leaves, then the tomatoes, then I sprinkled the mozzarella on top and finally the thinly sliced yellow and orange peppers. I sprinkled everything lightly with salt, added some coarsely-ground pepper and popped them into the oven to finish crispy up, cooking through and browning off- and obviously all that took was 2-3 minutes of the most.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

All Broken-Up Over Dessert!

Fragole con Yogurt, Menta e Biscotti 
Strawberries, Yogurt & Mint with Cookie Crumble

"If a picture paints a thousand words..." was the way that the lyrics went, remember? Well, there could hardly be a truer statement about this simple little post of mine! There is no real recipe involved here, it is just a combination of tastes, flavors and colors that are just perfect together... perfect I say!

I was simply planning on chopping up these strawberries to stir into some plain yogurt and enjoy as a little after dinner snack... but then started to feel playful and went ahead and made something more pretty and easy and fun instead! Most of the time there is really no need to fuss over desserts and to make elaborate, difficult and dainty affairs- in my opinion, it is way cooler to improvise and enjoy something simple!

This was just made by simply washing, trimming and halving the strawberries and spreading them out on my serving plate, then by drizzling plain yogurt here and there between the gaps. I chose not to sweeten mine, due to the fact that I would soon be adding those crumbled up cookies, but I did add a good amount of cinnamon and a light drizzle of lime! Next came the mint leaves and finally the crumbled butter cookies- and that was it! Easier than can be and simply perfect in the combination! What more do you need to have a great dessert? Enjoy!

Samurai Spaghetti Salad

Insalata di Spaghetti Integrale con Gamberi e Peperone
Buckwheat Noodle Salad with Peppers & Shrimp

Yes, this looks like a plate of spaghetti and that is what I called them in Italian... but in fact, these are Japanese buckwheat noodles- delicious, nutty-tasting and healthy! They are great for fixing quick meals, with their short cooking-time and easy preparation, they are just perfect for those sunny, Summer evenings...

I decided to keep this dish Asian in spirit, using soy, fish and oyster sauce with a little sesame oil and lime juice for the dressing, and came up with a Eurasian cross-over of sorts, combining parsley, basil and tomatoes with sesame oil peppers and ginger. A little unusual and a lot nicer than a mayonnaise coated pasta salad with chopped ham and peas! 

This is another easy one my friends! Do you have 10 minutes to spare by any chance? Oh you do! Great! The cool thing about this salad is that, as long as you are fine with a little multi-tasking and chopping, you can be ready to eat after 10 minutes prep work in all!

I started off by bringing the noodle water to the boil, adding the noodles and also a good handful of frozen shrimp. Once they were in the saucepan and gently simmering away. I quickly chopped up parsley, basil and Spring onion, along with a small, orange-colored bell pepper. After 3 or 4 minutes of cooking time, the noodles were done and ready to be drained. I poured off the excess water and added the other chopped ingredients, along with about 1" worth of grated ginger- this all went in with the still-warm noodles, was tossed together and then quickly before it cooled off completely.

I then added a few finely sliced cherry tomatoes, a squeeze of lime juice, a drizzle of sesame oil and oyster sauce and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. The finishing touch was the sprinkle of chili flakes... and of course I already started tucking-into mine before it could cool off properly! Which tasted great, but I would probably have enjoyed it just as much, nicely cooled in the morning. I guess I will never know! Unless I make this again... and I think that scenario is quite likely to happen! Again and again!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Baked Dragon Egg for Supper!

Frittata con Pomodori Ciliegini, Porro, Pancetta & Dragoncello
Frittata with Cherry Tomato, Leek, Bacon & Tarragon

Oh, obviously this simple little frittata was made using regular eggs, but it was flavored with Dragoncello, which is the Italian name for tarragon ;-) , a herb that I really love. And a lot less dangerous than trying to steal the eggs of a fire-breathing beast! And a much more manageable size I would guess!

2 eggs was all it took to fix my little supper, which became a little more voluminous after I separated them and whisked the egg whites into a fluffy snow before adding the yolks. So this was a nice, light meal- perfect as a quick fix after a long day and almost unbeatable at just 15 minutes cooking time! I know I always gain your attention with those little facts!

To make it, I turned on my oven to maximum heat and turned on the broiler, so that it would be ready to go and then turned my attention to the rest... it's always good to think ahead in the kitchen! 

So I started out with the actual cooking by frying some finely chopped bacon in a dry non-stick pan, together with some sliced leek- just for 4-5 minutes until the bacon was beginning to get crispy and the leeks to get tender. During that time, I whisked the egg whites and added the yolks as mentioned above, I seasoned the eggs with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a hint of cayenne. To the 2 eggs, I added 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and then whisked the yolk and whites together to make one single batter.

I removed the bacon and leeks from the frying pan and added the beaten eggs and then scattered a nice handful of tarragon on top, followed by the bacon and leek and on top of that, 4-5 halved cherry tomatoes. Of course the eggs were so fluffy that the other ingredients sunk down into them somewhat, but that's ok, it doesn't hurt the flavor! After 2-3 minutes in the pan, the base was nicely set, so I gave it a last sprinkle of grated cheese and coarsely ground pepper and popped it into the oven for 2-3 minutes, for the broiler to do its job and cook and brown the omelette to perfection... and of course as soon as it was perfectly baked I was perfectly ready to eat! And dinner was served! 

This was quick, easy and would equally make a great breakfast or light Summer lunch for you to make next time. Do so and enjoy- and whether you are a fair maiden or a brave knight, fear not! You're gonna love it! You'll see!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Going Nuts about Bananas!

Halwa di Banana, Cocco & Pistacchio, senza Zucchero & Grasso
Sugar & Fat-Free Banana, Coconut & Pistachio Halwa

Yes, it can (and does) happen to the best of us... although I will never be quite sure why! There simply are times when you find yourself with a number of rather overly-ripe bananas at home, although you can't ever really explain why. Just how did it come to be that so many of the things made their way into your home without you noticing it in the first place? It's one of those great mysteries- like, "where do all of those missing, single lost socks disappear to?" when you fetch your laundry out of the machine...

But mysterious or not... I found myself with 3 ripe bananas this evening that I was loathe to throw away... and at the same time, they were definitely too sweet and soft for eating as they were. So cooking with them was the only option... and cooking something like this was definitely a very wise decision!

To make this, I simply mashed the bananas with a fork and began frying them in a dry non-stick pan... no need for butter here. The bananas do not stick, but they do soften rather quickly, which is fine- it makes it much easier to add the other ingredients. First of all I added half a teaspoon of cardamom, just a little grated nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. I stirred these in well and then added just a splash of milk- just enough to make the mixture a little smoother and more fluid. 

I then added the coconut flakes- enough to soak up any excess moisture and to make the mixture a little firmer and more compact- and all of the time I kept stirring, stirring and stirring! Next, I added 1 tablespoon of cornmeal or polenta for each banana included and stirred that in well. I then added a tablespoon of ground pistachio and stirred this in too, making sure to fold the banana dough over and over so that it all became nice and brown. 

And basically that was all there was too it! After 25-30 of continuous stirring, the cornmeal was nicely cooked and had done its job of binding any excess moisture in the meantime. I turned the dough out onto my work surface, onto a sheet of Ceran wrap, which I then folded up and over the dough. I then placed a cutting board on top of this firm, moist dough and simply pressed it down and into shape- to the thickness of 1"-2" or so. I removed the cellophane wrap and decorated the finished halwa with a nice sprinkle of extra pistachio and coconut and allowed it to cool for an hour or so, until it was nice and firm to cut into shape. 

After cooking for so long, the banana miraculously looses a lot of its cloyingly sweet flavor and renders down, together with the polenta and the added spices, into a wonderful, mildly sweet treat. I loved the way this turned out- no added butter, sugar, cream or any other kind of naughtiness really works well for me- and maybe it will for you too! I sure hope you give it a try!

No, I Haven't Spelt it Wrong!

Agnello Trittato con Finocchio e Spelta alla Menta
Exotic Ground Lamb & Spelt with Fennel & Mint

I love grains of all sorts, but believe it or not- I had never cooked with Spelt until this evening! Shame on me! And shame on you too if you haven't tried it either... it is SO delicious! I picked up a box whilst shopping on Saturday, "just so", thinking I would give it a try at some point or other, but not having any particular plan in mind...

...until this evening that is! I had a little ground lamb there- not much more than a decent handful really and I was planning on making a burger out of it- just something quick and simple. But the work day had been a pain and I needed to work off a little stress in the kitchen- as well as feeling like I deserved a little more than just a boring burger for supper. And so, before I knew what was going on, I found myself improvising this exciting and exotic little meal right here...

This dish was as usual, a lot easier to make than you may think- and probably a lot quicker too! I started off by boiling 2 cups of spelt in 4 cups of water- just as you would cook rice- boiling for 10 minutes and then turning off the burner and allowing it to rest, swell-up and continue cooking in the residual heat of the saucepan and the stove top for a further 10 minutes. 

In the meantime, I began browning the ground lamb in a non-stick frying pan, along with some fennel slices, fennel seed, chopped onion and garlic and a little grated ginger. I kept the heat relatively high and stirred only occasionally, allowing everything to get nicely browned. Whilst that was happening, I finely chopped plenty of fresh mint and parsley, halved a handful of cherry tomatoes and finely sliced a couple of very small, mild bell peppers. Once the meat, fennel and onions were nicely brown, I added a tablespoon of Ras el Hanout powder and a little cayenne, stirred this in well and then added a handful of raisins. Suddenly everything was smelling wonderfully rich and exotic! I rounded off the seasoning with salt and pepper of course, but then added the cooked spelt and when that had been stirred-in nicely, all of the other ingredients- along with a handful of raisins for a hint of sweetness. This was the fun part- because all of the flavors, colors and ingredients blended into one wonderful mixture! And a pretty amazing one at that!

After 2-3 minutes of gentle stirring, the peppers and tomatoes were just cooked enough to be nice and hot, but still with plenty of bite and all that I needed to do was add a little more finely chopped parsley and a few little tufts of fennel greens and a squeeze of lemon... and dinner was served! So- exotic looking and sounding it may be- but this dish is really easy to make and is different, tasty and fun. So those are 3 reasons already for you there to go ahead an try this... so what are you waiting for?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Inner Beauty

Okra Ripiene di Cocco & Spezie Indiani é Riso
Indian Spiced Coconut-Stuffed Okra & Rice

Okra! It loves spices and it is so versatile... it is such a pity that people tend to think of it as some gross and slimy thing that can only be cooked into stews and casseroles... because it simply isn't! Well- unless that is what YOU turn it into! As for me- well, I turned it into something completely different this evening as you can see!

I had seen a number of recipes for coconut-stuffed okra online, but had never tried it myself until this evening, so I decided to put my own spin on what I had been reading up and make my own. I kept it mild as I am still getting over my o.p and omitted any chili- which I normally would have added and I also steamed and baked mine rather than frying it to keep down the fat- but the result was so tasty that I don't think I was missing out on much!

So, the really hot stuff was missing from this spicy filling- but there was a LOT of flavor going on all the same- I'm tellin' ya! This is how I went about making the coconut-spice paste. I started off by grinding 1 teaspoon of "Panch Puren" spice mix in my mortar and pestle, then adding 1 teaspoon of Garam Masala, 1 teaspoon of turmeric, a half teaspoon of Amchur (mango powder) and the usual salt and pepper. To this I added 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste. Next came 1 clove of garlic, 1 Spring onion and about a 1" slice of ginger, all of which I also chopped as finely as possible. I stirred all of these ingredients together and added the juice of 1 lime and 5-6 finely chopped cherry tomatoes... I told you plenty of flavor went into it! Normally I would have added some chili or cayenne- but as I said... not for the moment- this evening I kept it relatively mild. Now that I had all of the ingredients together, I was able to grind them into a soft, smooth paste using the mortar and pestle- and it was this that I added my coconut flakes to, little by little until it became a firm, moist paste... pretty exciting stuff huh?

Stuffing the okra was actually not as difficult as you may think. All I did was to cut a slit into one side of each okra and gently pry it open. I squeezed it gently together, so that the slit would spread open a little, then spooned a little filling inside with a teaspoon and pressed it inside with my thumb- just gibe it a go- it may seem daunting... but it isn't!

Once the okra were filled, I placed then into a frying pan with the coconut filling facing upwards, added a couple of small pats of clarified butter and turned the heat up pretty high! I fried it for 2-3 minutes, until it began to sizzle, gently moved it around so that it could begin to brown and then deglazed the frying pan with enough boiling water to cover the bottom of the pan. I popped on the lid, let the okra steam for 3-4 minutes and then removed the lid and let the water evaporate away. And then I popped the pan into the oven and under the broiler for the next 4-5 minutes until the filling became nice and golden... and the result was pretty terrific!

I served it up with a plain Basmati rice and really enjoyed it, just as it was. The spicy coconut filling was most and juicy and delicious and there was no need for a sauce at all. And that was supper! Okra with a twist! But don't let me twist your arm to make it... take a look at my pictures and you will be wanting to make it all by yourselves! Am I right- or am I right? ;-)

Sunday, 21 April 2013

One Ring? Oh, I Don't Think So!

Anelletti al Sugo alla Molica
Anelletti with Sauce & Bread Crumbs

This is not Middle Earth and although I am not the tallest of guys- I am no Hobbit and one ring is not enough for me! No, no! I am a Sicilian and we like rings... lots of rings! Pasta rings to be precise, or "Anelletti" as we call them, tiny, slinky loops of yumminess! 

I was planning on making a "Timballo" of these, as is the tradition, baking them in the oven and then turning the whole thing out as a kind of pie at the end... but I will have to save that adventure for another time as it will take a little more pasta to hold together as a single serving like this. So I improvised and made this dish using the same flavors and a lot less time- which made a lot of sense to lil' ol' me this evening! First, let's deal with the basics and the flavors- and next time we can tackle the oven baked version for the whole family!

I started off of course with the sauce here, made using the classic "sofritto" of finely chopped carrot, celery and onion. I popped these into a saucepan with the ground meat and cranked up the heat... no need for any added oil here of course as the meat has plenty of its own. As soon as the meat began to brown, I added some crushed garlic, finely chopped basil, a little dried oregano and a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. I stirred the paste in well and added a little grated nutmeg, salt and pepper, a bay leaf and a couple of handfuls of frozen peas. Once the peas were well mixed in, I added some boiling water (so as to not slow down the cooking process)- and right before my eyes a sauce began to take shape right out of nowhere! I added water little by little, until the sauce had a nice consistency and let it simmer for 10 minutes before turning on my water to boil for the pasta...

By the time the water had come to the boiled, the sauce had already reduced down nicely, so I reduced it to a low simmer and started the anelletti boiling- I used 3 handfuls to make this serving here. After 10 minutes of boiling in salted water in the usual manner, the pasta was almost good (it does take a little longer than you might imagine), so I drained it and then transferred it to the pan with the sauce, to continue cooking for a further 5 minutes. In that time of course, cooling in the sauce, it really soaks up all of the flavors wonderfully- yummy!

In the meantime, I toasted up a few bread crumbs with a little olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper to add an extra crunch upon serving. Once the pasta was nice and tender and had soaked up all of the excess water, I added just a little mozzarella and stirred that in before serving. With the crispy bread crumbs and just a few shavings of Parmesan... well guys and gals, what can I say? it was truly terrific! And I am sure you will enjoy it if you give it a try- so go ahead and do so!

The Bearable Lightness of Being Hungry

Insalata di Pomodori Ciliegini, Indivia & Basilico
Cherry Tomato, Endive & Basil Salad

Sometimes you feel hungry, ravenous, starving even... but let's admit it- chances are, if you are reading this blog, as with me, who is writing it... well- we get plenty to eat. We do. And we often overdo it- and almost definitely all fret about our weight and our figures! Go figure!

So this afternoon, as I had enjoyed a nice, filling breakfast and knew I would be having pasta for supper, I decided to keep things ultra-light and fixed myself this really refreshing salad of tomato and endive. With a little honey to counterpoint the light bitterness of the endive and the classic combination of tomato and basil, I couldn't go far wrong! For an added bit of "coolness" I used black salt and red pepper corns- but sure- I was just showing off there! 

Basically, all I needed to do here was to chop the endive up finely and sprinkle it with a little sugar and salt- this brings out the flavor nicely and balances it somewhat. Of course you need much less sugar than you do salt and the only way to know how much is through trial and error, but you can take a teaspoon of salt and a half of sugar, mix them together and then use that as your mix and you will be fine.

Next, you will need a nice little handful of basil, which I chopped into a fine "chiffonade" today- I think this is what works best, as if you try chopping it from all directions, you ruin the basils texture and lose all of the yummy essential oils into your cutting board! So keep it simple- layer up the endive with halved cherry tomatoes, sprinkle generously with the shredded basil and you are almost there! I added a little drizzle of honey to mine, as well as a squeeze of lemon juice and a nice drizzle of olive oil. I seasoned, as I already mentioned, with black salt and pink pepper corns. I only used the black salt as I had received it as a gift and would say that any course salt will work nicely... but I do like the mild flavor of the red peppercorns! Try to do that if you can- but sure- regular pepper will be just fine otherwise.

And there you have a super-light and delicious Summer salad. That sunny weather can‘t be all that far around the corner now- so let's look forward to all those lighter meals! And start with this one today!