Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sicilian Summertime

Polpette di Patate Siciliani
Sicilian Potato Fritters with Mint & Parmesan

Let's just pretend it is Summer, ok? Actually... I take that back; let's all pretend it is Summer if we are reading this in Europe. And as for those American people and anyone else that actually has days filled with sunshine and warm temperatures at the moment- you can just read on as if this were the most normal thing in the world and bear with us... 

So, let's pretend it is Summer, it is hot and you are preparing a meal. Chances are you will be preparing some kind of meat or fish on the grill- or making a nice salad. Chances are also that you will be preparing a couple of different things- and that you will need a couple of side dishes to go with them. That always seems to be the dilemma in Summer- what to serve with your grilled goodies. Something easy to prepare in advance and that will taste as good cold as it does warm. And ideally, something that will go well with any number of different meats or fish... but does anything like that even exist? Sure it does! You are looking at a plateful of them right here!

It was my sisters fault- she was the one who posted on Facebook what a wonderful aroma was coming from the kitchen, as my mother was making "polpette di patate"- an absolute favorite of mine since my childhood and something that always reminds me of my mother and of home. Sigh. Wouldn't be so bad... but they are miles away in Sicily, in the sun and I am here in Frankfurt in the cold and the rain! So I had no choice other than to make some myself! They are so eary to make that I should do it more often- and I think all of you should too! 

I started off by boiling 2 good sized potatoes- I mean each one a good handful in size. I peeled and coarsely chopped them and boiled them for 15-20 minutes until tender. Whilst they were boiling, I finely chopped 1 Spring onion, a good handful of mint and about half as much parsley. I also grated about 1 cupful of parmesan and prepared 1 cupful of bread crumbs and an egg... these were all of the additional ingredients I would need. And as soon as the potatoes were boiled- I was ready for action!

I drained the potatoes and mashed them, then added the onion and herbs whilst the potato was still hot and seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg, stirring everything together thoroughly with a fork- no need to fuss here! This initial heat helps to "cook" the onion and herbs in advance and ensure that the fritters are nicely cooked, through and through, without you having to absolutely soak them in oil later. You could also fry the onion in advance- but again, that is one of the reasons I love to work with Spring onions- they are so mild and cook so quickly that there is never any problem with a strong, harsh onion flavor.

I added just a handful of bread crumbs and stirred them in- that helped cool the potatoes off a little, which also allowed me to add the egg without it curdling because of the heat. I stirred it in quickly with a fork- moving fast can't hurt- and of course this made the mixture much softer... so then I added more bread-crumbs, little by little, until the mixture became almost firm enough to shape. The consistency should be something like that of a bread dough. 

The last, most important step of course, was to add the grated parmesan cheese- this helped absorb moisture and make the mix firmer once again... but now I had everything together and was ready to start forming and frying my little fritters!

I kept a bowl of water close by in which I could moisten my fingers- very important when forming the fritters as they tend to be rather sticky! I fried mine in olive oil- the secret being to move the fritters immediately when you drop them into the pan, so that they do not have a chance to stick, but begin to crust over. If they don't stick to the pan within the first 5-10 seconds- they won't stick at all. And if they don't stick and you keep the heat moderate, you can fry them with considerably less oil- which is a good thing! They can easily stay in there on the same side for the first 4-5 minutes before flipping them over- another reason for this is the parmesan cheese, which also has it's own fat and which will form a crispy, non-stick crust on the outside, which becomes a wonderful golden brown. 

Another 4-5 minutes on the second side and they were done- there really is nothing more to it than that- and as I already mentioned- the best thing about these is that they taste wonderful both hot and cold... even straight from the fridge (bear this in mind, should you wake in the middle of the night with hunger pangs and sleepwalk to the fridge! lol! )

I hope you enjoy this little taste of "The Old Country" as much as I do- in fact I know you will! Everybody does! I just hope we get a little more sunshine soon so I can make them more often!

Going Ginger-Nuts!

Pane in Padella allo Zenzero, Banane e Cocco
Ginger, Banana & Coconut Frying-Pan Bread

Sonday morning... the only time of the week that I feel particularly sweet-toothed... but then again, you all know that by now! And you all know how I like to make something yummy, pretty healthy, pretty simple and pretty filling if I can. And I usually can- which means that you all can too!

I like to make delicious food, but I like to try to keep the portions sensible, the ingredients relatively healthy and the preparation simple. Usually if I make something sweet for myself, using just 1 egg as my starting point seems to be a good measure for me. With just 1 egg and 1 banana- and of course a few other simple ingredients like flour and coconut, etc., I made this lovely little bread which would almost have been enough to share. And life is all about sharing, right? So, if you decide to make this for you and your loved one... make two! ;-) Sadly... it is a WHOLE lot tastier than it looks! Maybe next time I will make 2 just for myself- muahahahaha!

OK- all kidding and silliness aside, this is how I made this lovely little breakfast "bread". I started off by finely dicing some candied ginger- the kind you can easily pick up at any Asian supermarket. In all, I used 2-3 large "thumb sized" slices- you can see the amount in the photo above, but obviously, it is all a matter of your own personal preference. In any case- I diced half and cut the rest into a fine julienne to sprinkle on top later... 

So, the ginger went into a bowl, as did 1 ripe banana, which I coarsely chopped- no need to fuss as the food mixer will take care of that for you. Next came 3 tablespoons of plain flour, 3 tablespoons of grated coconut, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of Stevia (or a tablespoon of sugar), 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 egg. Next came the most complicated part of the whole preparation... I plugged-in my food mixer and whizzed it all together for 1-2 minutes until I had a lovely smooth batter. Oh, come on... you knew it was as easy as that! I don't want to stress you all out so early in the morning... or myself either for that matter!

The next step was to turn on the oven to 350° and get it hot and ready, whilst I heated up a small, deep frying pan and melted a pat of clarified butter in it. Once the butter was nice and hot, I poured in the batter and let it set and cook for 2-3 minutes, until I could see bubbles beginning to form in it. At that point, I took it off the stove top and transferred it to the oven, on a middle shelf, for 10-15 minutes to bake.

After 10-15 minutes, the top had begun to crust over and dry out nicely, and that was the right time to add a nice, light drizzle of honey... this is a case where less is more in my opinion. I would recommend you be especially careful not to let too much honey drizzle out to the edge of the pan as it will burn and become bitter if it gets too hot. So I tried to be tidy and drizzle just on the middle of the bread and then popped it back into the oven for a further 10 minutes or so to finish it off...

Once the "bread" had become a lovely golden brown, I took it out of the oven and sprinkled it lightly with the remaining, very finely sliced candied ginger. Do take into consideration that the ginger is very sweet in itself whilst flavoring the batter- which is why I didn't overdo it in the first place. And what can I say? It sounds simple, it looks very simple... and I actually thought it would also taste pretty basic and was happy with that thought. And then- bam! I tried it and was pretty-much knocked-out by how wonderful and rich the combination of flavors was! 

The banana kept it moist, the coconut gave it texture and the ginger and cinnamon just lifted it right up! I was a little worried at first about finding the right thing to enjoy with the bread- but you know what my friends? It tasted totally delicious just the way it was! To have added anything or have taken anything away would have been a crime. it was just perfect... for my taste. As for you- you will have to try it yourself to find out! So get chopping!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Popeye in Pink

Capesante Scottate su Couscous & Spinaci Amaranto
Pan-Seared Scallops on Amaranth Couscous

I absolutely love amaranth-spinach- just the look of those beautiful red and green leaves is enough to get me all excited and wanting to cook! Sadly, it is not the kind of green that we see on offer all that often and it isn't something that is easy to find... unless you visit the Frankfurt Kleinmarkthalle and stop by Mrs. Wong's that is!

I saw it today and it had to be- so with a small carrier-bags worth of the multi-colored leaves already secured, I picked up a few other items and made my way slowly back through town. And crazily enough stopped at the fishmonger's on the way home and picked up these delicious scallops- where I am anything but a fish fan! Ah, but these are not fish, and seared and spiced they are rather nice! So I picked them up too and hurried home to my kitchen! it was time to have some fun! Plus... I was hungry!

This is what the leaves look like when they are raw- and the thing about the flavor of them, is that they are slightly stronger-tasting and have a bit more of a nutty taste to them... pretty delicious!

I of course removed the leaves from the stalks, so that it would cook nicely and evenly- otherwise the leaves would have shriveled away to nothing by the time they were done... but I did nibble on one of the stalks before discarding the rest. And then did not discard the rest! Incredibly, the stalks have a wonderful, mild, fresh flavor, similar to the taste of fresh green peas! Who knew? Well, no- not I! So, whatever you do- don't just throw them away without at least trying them! 

I prepared the amaranth spinach by washing and letting it drip dry, whilst in the meantime heating up a pat of clarified butter and quickly frying just a little finely grated garlic and ginger. The spinach went in with a hiss and I immediately tossed it around, adding a sprinkle of salt and pepper and then once it has all coated and beginning to wilt down, I grated it generously with nutmeg and tossed it over and over. After 4-5 minutes at the most, the spinach was done, filled with flavor and so I turned off the heat and got busy with the scallops. 

For the scallops, I also got a pat of clarified butter sizzling, (it is so much better for frying with as it will not smoke, burn or get bitter at high temperatures) and added the scallops with a slice of ginger and a piece of garlic again- this time in a larger size so that I could perfume the food but then remove them so they would neither burn nor look unsightly in the dish.

I fried the scallops at a very high heat for 1-2 minutes from each side, then sprinkled them with crushed peppers, sea salt and a very light dusting of Ras el Hanout powder... VERY lightly! I then upped the heat and gave them a further 1-2 minutes to scorch from each side, then took them off the stove, so that residual heat would cook them through and through without drying them out. I added a squeeze of fresh lime juice and tiny drop os sesame oil- less is more- but that little bit makes a big difference!

Whilst the scallops were finishing, I added a couple of cupfuls of plain, cooked couscous to the amaranth spinach and returned it to the heat, just to bring things back to temperature and to adjust the seasoning. I added a sprinkle of finely sliced lemon zest for a final blast of flavor and as a lovely garnish- and an ass-kicking dinner was served!

Looks pretty as a picture, doesn't it? Glad you think so! Want to try it some time? Glad you agree with that idea too! Enjoy!

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Spice Chicks

Peperone Miste & Ceci alla Garam Masala
Garam Masala-Spiced Mixed Peppers & Chick Peas

Chick peas are wonderfully versatile, lending themselves to 1001 variations of cuisines from all over the world, but always down-to-earth, satisfying and delicious. That's why I love them! Whether they are turned into falafel in Israel and the Orient, pasta soups or wonderful "panelle" in Italy and Sicily, or any number of other great dishes, they are an economical and healthy food that people should be enjoying more... that's what I say!

Another thing I love about chick-peas... is that you can buy them in a can!!! Oh, I DO soak them on occasion- but seriously, the canned variety is pretty wonderful and convenient, with a great consistency and already cooked to perfection. So for a quick and rather amazingly delicious meal this evening... all I needed to do was to pop open a can and I was ready for action!

And action it was, because the wonderful flavor of Garam Masala, cumin, chili, lime juice, ginger, garlic, and cilantro transported these simple vegetables into a whole new dimension of yumminess! Not quite a curry, but totally healthy, rich and delicious, this 15 minute dish really delivers!

I started off by sautéing the peppers in a little clarified butter- just a half teaspoon or so was plenty. I sliced up a half of each a yellow, red and green bell pepper for 3-4 minutes, before adding 1 grated clove of garlic and about 1" of grated ginger- I did this in order to get them to cook really quickly and to blend in and form a flavor base for the dish. The next thing I added was 2 coarsely chopped Spring onions, and the chick peas, along with a little of the juice from the can.

Once the chick peas and the liquid had been added, the pan was of course instantly deglazed and already the flavors were beginning to intensify... but now came the spice! 1 tablespoon of garam masala and 1 teaspoon of cumin went in, along with salt, pepper and a hint of cinnamon. I stirred this in well and added the juice of half a lime and about 1 teaspoon of honey... mmm! Now things were beginning to get really tasty and aromatic!

And just 5 minutes after the chick peas were added... the whole thing was ready to be served up and enjoyed! I added fresh yogurt and finely chopped parsley and cilantro as a garnish... and didn't stir it up in order to present you with some pretty photos... but that was the way I ate it! Stirred together, the yogurt and the spicy coating of the vegetables turned into the most wonderful, creamy, spicy dressing- and together with a last sprinkle of chili flakes, a truly delicious dish was born!

You could serve this up with some Indian flat bread or rice of course, but I was happy with it as it was... I think you may be too! I sure hope so in any case! Give it a go, in order to know!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Baked Green Tomatoes

Torta Salata di Pomodori Verdi, Ricotta & Pancetta
Green Tomato, Ricotta & Bacon Tart

Despite the fact that it is cold, windy and rainy here in Frankfurt, that we had hailstorms, thunder and lightning, where we should have been having peace, tranquility and hazy Summer sunshine... elsewhere the sun IS shining and there IS some Summer produce growing... thank goodness!

I picked up these small, firm but sweet Sicilian tomatoes at the market hall on Saturday (grazie Nina!) and finally got around to cooking with them this evening. I was surprised at their sweetness to be honest and had been planning to fry them in a Parmesan batter had they been more tart- but no! These little beauties called for another treatment...  

I decided to make a simple tart with them, using a "royale" made with fresh ricotta cheese and egg as a base, with plenty of bacon and onion to add depth of flavor and as with any tomato dish in the world, plenty of fresh basil to go with it.

I started off by sautéing finely diced bacon together with finely chopped Spring onion and a little crushed garlic- just for 3-4 minutes, until it was half done, then setting it to one side to cool, whilst I briefly sautéed the tomatoes, which I had cut into relatively thick slices, also for just a minute or two from each side- just to "get them going" before I began putting this little beauty together- so out they came to cool off... whilst my oven heated up!

I cut my puff-pastry base to size and added an extra strip to the outer edges, to hold the royale and to give the flat tart a better form... I really do need to get a tin sooner or later! Haha! In any case, the royal cosidted simply of one heaped tablespoon of ricotta and 1 egg, whisked together with a tablespoon of Parmesan and seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg. I poured the mixture onto the base of the tart and spread it out gently with the back of a spoon, then added first of all the tomato slices and then the bacon and onion. I seasoned it one last time and then popped the tart into the oven for around 20 minutes at 300°F, then fetched it out, sprinkled it lightly with Parmesan and then popped it back in for a final 4-5 minutes at the highest setting and a final 1-2 minutes under the broiler- yum, yum, yum!

The beautiful big leaves of basil made for a pretty garnish- but I did actually pluck them apart and scattered them on top before slicing and serving... tomatoes love basil! And so do I! And strangely enough, somehow I am pretty sure that you will too! Enjoy!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Have a Heart!

Pomodoro "Cuor di Bue" Ripieno 
Stuffed Coeur de Boeuf Tomato

The wonderful "beefsteak" tomato, a favorite the world over in the hot Summer months- in places that are actually having a Summer that is! Known as the "coeur de boeuf" or heart of beef in France- and similarly so the world over, this big, beautiful beast of a tomato is a meal in itself and about as good as it gets!

Normally, the plan would have been to have prepared a nice salad, a caprese, or a panzanella... something wonderful, refreshing and seasonal... but with this cloudy, cold weather, I had to re-think and come up with a solution for a warm meal... brrrr! I was almost tempted to make a soup for a minute or two!!!

So a salad was out of the question... but to have chopped up that big, beautiful tomato and to have cooked it down beyond recognition, would also have been a crime... and so I had to think of something else- and to do so pretty fast! Because I was feeling pretty hungry! Obviously, what I decided to do was to stuff the tomato, but the way I went about it was like this...

First of all, I cut the tomato in half and scooped out the seeds so that I was left with the juicy, thick flesh. This tomato was a good size- a nice, large handful, but not one of the gigantic ones- so for the filling, I needed 1 handful of finely chopped bacon, 1 egg, 1 handful of bread crumbs, 1 Spring onion, 1 handful of grated parmesan, 4-5 black olives, a splash of milk, a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley. Simple stuff, easy to remember and all that you need for a yummy little supper!

I started off by frying the finely diced bacon together with the finely chopped onion and the black olives, for 2-3 minutes, until the bacon was done, the onion was translucent and the olives had become richer and more aromatic. I set them to one side in a bowl and popped the tomatoes into the frying pan for 2-3 minutes to start cooking, whilst I continued with the filling.

The next thing I added to the bacon and onion was the bread crumbs and the good thing about adding them and stirring them in was that they helped cool the warm ingredients down nicely- which meant I could add the egg with no danger of it curdling. So indeed, in went the egg, the sliced olives, a splash of milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and the mint and parsley, finely chopped. I added half of the parmesan cheese, stirred it in well and then spooned the mixture into the tomatoes, which were at this point half-cooked, at least the undersides were. 
I sprinkled the remaining parmesan on top with a light drizzle of olive oil, added a last grind of fresh pepper and popped them into the oven for 10-15 minutes at 30°F to bake, then a further 1-2 minutes under the broiler to turn golden brown... simple but delicious!

Once baked, the filling became firm but moist and the flavors were just perfect together... I mean- what's not to like when there are bacon and eggs in there?!?
So that was it- an impressive looking, fun and filling supper! One I hope you will try and enjoy too! I recommend it!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Let's Talk Pork :-)

Filetto di Maiale con Ripieno di Albicocca & Salvia
Pork Tenderloin with Sage & Apricot Filling

I don't eat it that often, but I do enjoy pork. Many people tend to avoid it, as they find it to be to dry and bland tasting... but that might just have something to do with the fact that they overcook and under-season it! So this evening, I decided to try something a little different, to coax a little more flavor into this little Summer supper!

Pork goes wonderfully well with both fruity components such as apple, pear or indeed apricot in this case, and savory ingredients like sage- but the combination of both such elements brings out the best of its own subtle flavor. Overcooking at too high a temperature, can cause pork to dry out- so I attempted a cooking method that would first gently cook the meat and add juice and flavor to it and then brown it off afterwards... which is maybe a "back-to-front" way of doing things, but a way that worked just fine for me! And it just may well work for you too! Take a look and see...

In order to make this, I started off with relatively thick slices of pork tenderloin, around 1.5", into which I cut a nice, deep slit with a small, sharp knife, forming a little pocket of sorts. I sprinkled a little salt and pepper into the cut, then laid 2-3 nice sage leaves inside as well as an apricot, which was halved and had the stone removed. I laid the tenderloin slices onto a sheet of Ceran-wrap, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and wrapped then tightly, squeezing out any air and making sure they were well sealed. 

Onto my steam rack the slices went, on went the heat, and there they sat in my saucepan to steam nicely for 10 minutes, after which time the pork had changed from a fresh pink to a much paler, almost white color... but do not panic! The pork was now cooked and had taken on the rich flavor of the sage and the sweetness of the apricot, which had also softened a little and become milder and juicier. And things were already smelling good! So the only task remaining was to make sure that it tasted good and also looked a little prettier... 

So out of the cling-film they came and onto my frying pan, where I let them brown-off gently from below at a high heat for just a minute or so, whilst turning on the broiler at its highest setting in the oven. Just a minute or two to go until things are ready... and pretty exciting at that!

The next ingredients were a light trickle of honey, which gave everything a nice rich glaze and a final pinch of sea salt- then into the oven they went for a final minute to let that caramelize and give everything a rich, golden glow and a wonderful, full flavor! I enjoyed mine with a simple green salad on the side and was perfectly happy with that... but I did have a slice of bread at hand to soak up some of the yummy juices! Because no, prepared this way the pork was not dry at all- and though the flavors and seasonings were so basic, it was very, very delicious! Need I say more? :-) Ok then- I won't! Except that I hope that you try it and I hope you enjoy!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Leafy Wrappinghood

Trittato di Manzo alle 5 Spezie Asiatiche in Lattuga
5-Spice Minced Beef & Lettuce Rolls

So there I was, making my little supper with the radio playing and one of my old favorites, "The Wordy Rappinghood" by the Tom Tom Club came on... what memories! So, bopping around the kitchen, I whipped up this easy little meal- a do-it-yourself version of an Asian lettuce wrap that can be made in next to no time and that is bound to please! So I went from my "rappinghood" to "wrapping food"- and was almost finished cooking by the time the song had finished! Ok, that is cheating a little, because they were playing the 12" version that lasts almost 10 minutes... but still! 

As silly as the song is- it is still good fun! And as simple as this food is- it is still a great meal! I used lean ground beef to make it, adding only a few drops of sesame oil right at the end for seasoning. So this was filling, but relatively light... for those of you on the no-carb bandwagon- this one is for you. For those who couldn't care less about any diet fads, but just like to enjoy sensible, tasty, feel-good food (like me), this is for all of you too!

To prepare the beef for these 3 lettuce shells, I needed 1 Spring onion, or scallion, a 1" piece of ginger, finely grated, 1 stick of celery, 1 small red and 1 small yellow mini bell pepper and about 1 handful of cilantro. I finely chopped all of these ingredients, added them to the ground beef and fried them in a dry non-stick pan for 4-5 minutes. I added a good teaspoon of 5-spice powder, a splash of soy sauce, a squeeze of lime juice and carried on stirring and frying until the meat was pretty well-done. By that time the vegetables had a nice sheen, were cooked, but still had plenty of bite to them. And all of the hard work was done! All I needed to do was to add a drop or two of sesame oil, stir things through and allow the meat to cool off a little.

Nest step was simply to spoon up the tasty beef and vegetable filling into the lettuce- a firm, crispy romaine in this case. The seasoning so far had been rather subtle except for the 5-spice powder... but 2 further ingredients were yet to come, that would bring balance, depth of flavor and quite a bit of heat along with them!

First of all, a nice light squeeze of rich "hoisin sauce and then secondly, a little squeeze of HOT chili sauce... ouch! Suddenly I was feeling taste-buds that I didn't
even know I possessed come to life... and smiling because this supper was so simple and so good! And so I hope you give it a try and make it for yourselves- this is my kinda finger-food! 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Lord of the Rings

Anelletti con Carciofini, Piselli & Pomodorini Secche
Anelletti with Baby Artichokes, Sun-Dried Cherry Tomatoes & Peas

Little rings of pasta, peas fresh from the pod, baby artichokes, sun-dried cherry tomatoes, mint, parsley and Parmesan cheese... now, I don't know about you... but that sounds like a dish fit for a king to me! Fortunately, there were no kings around this evening, so I got to enjoy this all by myself! And what a wonderful treat it was!

At the market yesterday, the artichokes and peas were brought together by fate, into crates stacked next to each other. And who was I to tear them apart? That would have been like adopting one twin... no, no, no! Some things just belong together! And being an honorable person, I took them both home with me and brought them together in this one yummy dish- which I just know you are going to love!

I have told you how to prepare these lovely, little baby artichokes before... but ok, you're twisting my arm, so I will tell you again! First of all, pluck away the toughest of the outer leaves and peel the stalk a little to reveal the tender, green inside. Next, cut away the top third of the artichoke, removing all of the tough ends of the leaves. Now cut the artichoke in half and take a look how much "choke" there is in the middle. If you look at the pictures, you will see that there is a small triangle missing from the inside of each artichoke- that is where the choke was. As you can see, there is not much missing from these artichokes at all... if they are young and tender, they sometimes have non at all. To remove the choke from these, one cut with a paring knife into the artichoke was enough and it lifted out very easily. 

The great thing about these small artichokes is that the are cooked very quickly, in just 10 minutes or so... the bad thing about the anelletti is that as small as they are, they do take rather a long time to cook for such a small pasta, at 10 minutes or so... Hey! Wait a minute! That means... OMG yes! They can be cooked in the same saucepan at the same time!

So into a saucepan they went for 10 minutes, pasta, artichokes and peas, with plenty of salt- all nice and tidy and convenient- and in the meantime, I was able to get busy preparing the aromatics to make everything taste truly wonderful!

I finely chopped 1 clove of garlic and finely sliced 1 Spring onion which I first split down the middle lengthways. You will have noticed that I like to use Spring onions (scallions), a lot- I prefer their milder, sweeter flavor, the fact that they cook much faster and also that they are much lighter and easier to digest. Next, I took 5-6 sun-dried tomatoes and sliced them up finely. I had lovely sun-dried cherry tomatoes, but of course the regular ones are perfectly fine too. And then my favorite herb to go with artichoke... mint, as well as a some nice, fresh parsley. I took a small handful of each and cut it up extremely finely, into a "chiffonade", ready to go... which was a good thing as the pasta, artichokes and peas were now ready!

I took the artichokes out of the saucepan and sautéed them briefly in a little olive oil along with the onion and garlic. After 3-4 minutes, I added the herbs and sun-dried tomato, poured in the pasta, along with quite a bit of the residual water and turned up the heat. I stirred all of the herbs in well and tossed things around until the water had almost evaporated away. I then added a small splash of white wine, an extra light drizzle of olive oil and turned off the heat.

Before serving, I added a very light sprinkle of nutmeg and stirred it in, then dished it up and added a generous pinch of coarsely ground black pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan. And yes... it was very, very nice! It sure looks it- don't you think?

Cracking Good Snacks!

"Cracker" di Tortilla con Insalata-Trittata alle Crespini
Tortilla Crackers with Barberry Chop-Salad

It was hot, I was bothered and I felt like a snack. But it was 4pm- dangerously close to suppertime and I had something yummy planned... but still- I HAD TO eat! So, salad seemed like a safe thing to go for... and then I remembered those last couple of tortillas I had in the fridge...

Not wanting to make a wrap sandwich yet again, I decided to cut the tortilla into squares and bake them, turning them into crackers which I could serve my salad on as light and colorful little snacks. Kinda fun I thought- and a great way to test these before my next dinner party- where they would make an excellent appetizer!

For the chop-salad, I used a nice, firm romaine lettuce, some yellow pepper, cucumber cut into julienne and plenty of basil. I cut the cucumber in half first and removed the seeds before slicing it- they would have made the salad to watery and that in turn would have turned the crackers soggy.  

Once everything was chopped and mixed together, all I needed was a nice dressing to give it plenty of flavor. I made this out of 2 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 tablespoon of mustard, 1 tablespoon of honey, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. I stirred this together briskly, turning it into a nice, smooth emulsion and then added it to the salad, dressing it nicely and stirring it in well. Simply but yummy!

To make it a little more fun, I added a sprinkle of barberries to each cracker... the dressing was more creamy and mild than I usually would have made, with just a little balsamic vinegar, so the tangy barberries gave it a little kick in the right direction as well as adding some great color and a light, chewy consistency- ah! Now this was something I liked much, much more! Each little cracker let itself easily be folded in half for better eating and yes, they were lovely, refreshing snacks. 

I have to say that the salad and dressing did of course seep into the crackers and soften them after 15-20 minutes, so you wouldn't want to actually top the crackers too far in advance if you had guest, but if you did so just as you began to serve drinks- trust me- they wouldn't be around long enough for you to need to worry too much about that!

Figgy in the Middle

Fritelle di Fichi, Yogurt & Mandorle
Fig, Yogurt & Almond Pancakes

Time for my Sunday morning breakfast treat again! Or, "How many ways can I think up to make a really indulgent breakfast, based on 1 egg and get away with it?" As repetitive as the method may be, as is always the case with pancakes... the multitude of ways to vary the results is what makes them so much fun! 

Thankfully, being Sicilian, I do not feel the need to have to do the bacon and maple syrup thing every time... which I do really love- don't get me wrong! But there are just so many more colors in my culinary rainbow... I would find it a shame to wear those dark glasses all the time! So take of your shades and check this color... this time around it was figs on my agenda!

2 beautiful figs, picked up at the Frankfurt, Kleinmarkthalle, after a long and strenuous voyage all the way from Puglia in the south of Italy. The figs that is- not me! I just brought them back to my little kitchen so that they could end their existence in a fitting manner and be given the send of they deserved... whilst providing myself with the breakfast i decided that I deserved!

1 fig went into the pancakes, one half went on top of the pancakes... and the other half was my little treat whilst working- plus... I needed to know how good they were of course! On a serious note, it IS important to taste your figs before you go about creating any dish with them- they can vary so much in the amount of sweetness they have. Sometimes you may need to add sweetness, other times, as was the case today, Mother Nature decided to show us what she could do- and gave me these wonderful, incredibly sweet beauties! They needed nothing added at all!

These were ultra-easy to make. I cracked 1 egg into a bowl, added 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 3 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a little grated lemon peel and a pinch of salt and whisked it all together to form my batter. I let it mix for 2-3 minutes and let it rest for a further 5-10 minutes. As I already mentioned, the figs I had were SO sweet, that I, for my taste, added no extra sugar at this point... a little honey goes on top too, so I didn't want to overdo it... but otherwise- of course you can feel free to sweeten yours at this point! In the meantime, whilst the batter was resting, I diced one of the figs and added that directly into the batter and cut myself 4 slices to use decoratively on top of the pancakes. 

I prepared some slivered almonds for sprinkling on top, turned on the broiler in my oven, put my frying pan on the stove top with a tiny pat of clarified butter (which I prefer to use for frying, as it does not brown and burn so easily)- and got ready for action!

Each pancake was made from 2 tablespoons of batter. As soon as the base of the batter began to set, I laid the fig slice on top and sprinkled it with slivered almonds. I added a light drizzle of honey and then popped the pancake into the oven and under the broiler to finish off for 2-3 minutes until lightly brown on top... simple! The result was as delicious as it looks... what can I say? Give it a go and then you will know!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Well, That's All Fine & Dandy!

Insalata di Tarassaco, Albicocca, Cetriolo & Basilico & Condimento alla Fragola
Dandelion, Apricot, Cucumber & Basil Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette

Some foods are acquired tastes, things that you either love or hate- and dandelion, like all things bitter, falls into that category. Obviously I LOVE bitter foods- just like any real Sicilian does- it's in our genes! Especially as I know they are good for you in any number of ways... but basically, I like to take my taste buds on a thrill-ride every now and again!

The dandelion greens were actually very pricey today, but I had already picked up a couple and popped then into a bag... I am sure the lady at the market hall could actually hear my gulp when she told me! But I didn't want to sound like a cheapskate in front of so many other customers, so I paid up and moved on, deciding then and there that I needed to do something funky and unusual with it to make the expense worthwhile...

Finally, now that the Summer has begun, (although it is scheduled to peter-out again for a week starting tomorrow), we have more of the seasonal fruits starting to appear. Obviously we are at the height of the strawberry season here, but we have apricots, peaches and figs coming in from Spain and Italy... and it is about time too!

So this was the plan- bitter dandelion, paired with apricot for sweetness, cucumber for freshness and basil for an aromatic depth of flavor... this was pretty intense stuff already! But you can't try to be subtle when it comes to dandelion- that is a mighty bitter tang that it brings with it! You need boxing gloves to do battle with that kind of flavor!

So, my culinary boxing gloves were made in the form of my dressing today, which I prepared quickly and easily like this. I put 4 strawberries, the juice of half of a lime, 1 tablespoon of mustard, 1 tablespoon of honey, 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of plain yogurt into my mixer and gave it a whizz. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, whizzed it one more time, tasted it, patted myself on the back for making something so delicious and then poured it through a sieve to filter out the little bits from the strawberries, just for the sake of appearances... and my salad was almost ready to get "all dressed-up!"

I say almost ready, as I decided to add a sprinkle of marjoram to lift the flavor a little higher still- I am loving that dried marjoram in salads of late! And I hope that you will too- especially in this one! Oh, and if you try this and don't like it... just don't be too bitter too long! Enjoy!