Friday, 27 September 2013

A Polentiful Supper!

Polenta al Forno con Verdure Miste, Pancetta, Pomodorini & Mozzarella
Baked Mixed-Vegetable Polenta with Bacon, Tomato & Mozzarella

So, I have finally managed to make it through the week and I am indeed leaving for Rome tomorrow... oh my! And who would have thought, that with my stubbornness to insist on not buying any more groceries and on emptying my fridge before leaving... that I would come up with a truly delicious and comforting meal like this on my last night?!? Not I!!!

I had 2 small carrots, 2 parsnips, 2 potatoes, 2 Spring onions, a generous handful of chopped bacon and a few assorted herbs left over. And obviously the cherry tomatoes, Oh, and a solitary ball of Mozzarella I had somehow overseen using. And a stick of celery ;-) "Add these together with a little polenta and you can make some kind of a meal" I thought... and yes I was right, but I never thought it would be this good!

I started off by dicing all of the vegetables except the potatoes and browning them, together with the bacon in a frying pan. Obviously there was no need for added oil or fat as the bacon brought plenty with it. And in the meantime, I pricked and steamed the 2 potatoes- jabbing them with a fork will let them cook more quickly :-)

As soon as the bacon and vegetables began to brown, I seasoned them with salt, pepper, a little paprika, a pinch of cayenne and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg. I then added enough milk to the pan to cover everything and stirred-up all of the good, rich flavors. As soon as the bottom of the pan was clean and nothing was sticking, I added enough boiling water to cover everything by about an inch and then stirred-in 3 tablespoons of polenta. I checked the seasoning, reduced the heat to a low simmer, and stirring only occasionally, turned my attention to the cherry tomatoes...

The cherry tomatoes needed to be lightly glazed and partially cooked before adding them and so I briefly sautéed them in a little olive oil, with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and sugar. I rolled them back and forth in the hot pan for 3-4 minutes and set them to one side- that was all that it took and at that point I was ready to start assembling the polenta.

By now the potatoes were done, so I quickly mashed them and added them to the polenta, along with half of the mozzarella, which I cut into a rough dice. I then stirred and stirred and stirred, until the mozzarella melted and began to stretch into what looked like a spiders web in the mix... sticky but fun! The cool thing was though, that it didn't stick to the pan and was indeed pretty easy to handle. 

I then added a good handful of chopped parsley, chives and basil, a little more milk, a drizzle of olive oil and then checked the seasoning for salt, pepper and nutmeg... it was just delicious! Of course the bacon and vegetables had added a lot of flavor of their own! 

So, I turned on my oven to get it nice and warm and ready, then lined a baking dish with paper, which I lightly rubbed with a little olive oil. I then poured the mixture into the dish and smoothed it out evenly. Next thing, was to tear-up the remaining mozzarella and press it into the polenta here and there, at nice, regular spaces all around. I then poked little spaces here and there with a teaspoon that I could carefully drop the tomatoes into, then sprinkled a little more pepper and nutmeg on top and kissed my little creation goodbye for 30 minutes at 300°F. I still had my suitcase to pack!

Half an hour later, the polenta was looking pretty spectacular, but an additional 2-3 minutes under the broiler made it look better still! Oh and the smell was terrific too! It was just to HOT! It was almost painful having to wait for it to cool down enough to serve!

I enjoyed mine hot and soft, but I am sure this would be a great treat served up a day later and firm enough to slice. Either way, it is a good, simple, honest Autumn meal and I hope you try it out for yourselves!

I shall catch up with you all in 6 days time! Arrivederci!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Smoke Signals

Couscous con Peperone, Menta, Tahini & Paprika Affumicata
Mint & Pepper Couscous with Tahini & Smoked Paprika

Now, if I could send smoke signals regarding this little meal, they would simply say "come and get it!"- because the smoked pimento paprika I used, along with my favorite Ras el Hanout, just transformed this otherwise simple bowl of couscous into something really delicious!

Things are getting slightly critical now... just one more night (tomorrow), before I leave on vacation- and I want to empty out my fridge as usual before I go- haha! On top of that, I got home rather late and was not really in the mood for a lot of stress or anything too complicated. And there they were, a handful of mini bell peppers in red, orange and yellow.. waiting to meet their doom! But also waiting to be my salvation in this supper!

This was a simple dish to make and I went abut it like this. I cut the peppers in half, removed the seeds and cut them into thin slices. These went into my frying pan with a little sesame oil and about 12 of finely chopped ginger. I sautéed them for 3-4 minutes until they began to brown and then added a tablespoon of Ras el Hanout, a little crushed garlic, a pinch of cayenne and of course salt and pepper. I stirred these in and continued frying for a minute or so, then deglazed the pan with enough water to cover everything.

I let the water boil away for a minute or so, so that all of the flavors from the bottom of the pan began to mingle into the pepper, then sprinkled the pan with couscous, until it was mostly covered. 

Next I added a good handful of finely chopped mint and chives and a teaspoon of the delicious smoked paprika powder, which immediately turned the couscous a lovely deep, yet mild orange color. I adjusted the seasoning, added the juice of 1 lemon, a tablespoon of sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of tahini and stirred everything together again thoroughly. I added a little splash more boiling water, just to keep it moist, a handful of raisins, a handful of basil leaves which I tore into slightly smaller pieces, then put on the lid and allowed it to continue fluffing up in the residual heat.

5 minutes later, it was ready to serve and full of strong, rich flavor- and pretty terrific! Not the most complicated or refined of dishes, but perfect for after work on a weekday night... and even more so for emptying out the fridge in a sensible way! And more than anything, full of a mild but rich and smokey flavor which is pretty out of this world! And one that I hope you will enjoy too!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Sliced & Spiced

Crema di Frumento con Mele Speziate & Bacche di Goji
Cream of Wheat with Spiced Apple & Goji Berries

Sometimes it is the simplest of dishes that give us the most pleasure- good, familiar and comforting flavors that evoke days gone by... Even everyday things invite us to recall fond memories sometimes... and ah- that is what good food is all about!

Something as simple as cream of wheat, boiled up with a little vanilla, is already delicious in itself- and combined with some warm, sweet and spicy apple and goji berries, we have all of the flavors of those good old-time Winter desserts- but with a nice, new twist!

I got home late and was cold and tired... but feeling the need for something warm, soothing... and yes... something sweet! It can also happen to me my friends- you're perfectly right!

I was initially going to make a simple bowl of cream of wheat with cinnamon, which would have also been delicious, but decided to make a fruity topping to go with it and to make it more fun and interesting. The first thing I did was to bring some milk up to the boil and to add the wheat, sprinkling lightly and stirring swiftly until it became a nice thick but soft and smooth consistency. I could say that it should be mixed in a ratio of 2 parts milk to one part powdered wheat, but I think rule of thumb and judging by yourself is the best way to go about it. Pour yourself about as much milk into the saucepan as you want to eat your cream of wheat and then keep stirring until you have what you need!

Once it had come up to the boil, I added a little vanilla pod and reduced the heat to a low simmer. I keep the pods after scraping out the soft pulp inside and store them in a jar of sugar- this flavors the sugar on the one hand, but the pods are fine to use to infuse into other dishes such as this one. Waste not, want not and all that!

Whilst the cream of wheat was gently bubbling away, I got a little water boiling in my frying pan- just enough to cover the base. I then quickly peeled and sliced 2 small apples and added them along with the spices, which were 1 clove, 1 section of a star anise, a half teaspoon of coriander seeds and 1 cardamom pod, which I ground up with the mortar and pestle. I stirred these in and let the apples bubble away until the water had been completely absorbed and had cooked away. I then deglazed the pan with a splash of calvados and added the goji berries, a pat of butter and a little honey. I turned off the heat, gave the apple slices a last toss to make sure all of the berries and all of the flavors were nicely mixed and was then ready to roll!

Obviously, it goes without saying that you can prepare this without alcohol if either you are making this for children or simply prefer to leave it out- and I would go as far as to say, just use water. But only a little! The water is simply there to transfer heat to the apple so that it cooks- the idea is to bring out the apples own flavor and not to add too much of anything else- there are already the complimentary spices in there to do that... keeping it simple is the key!

I spooned the apple slices and berries over the cream of wheat and then popped it into the oven to bring it up to temperature. I know from past experience that the berries tend to be very delicate and to blacken and burn easily, so I had to stop myself from risking the broiler- haha! But letting the apple cook into the wheat and allowing the flavors to mingle is a good thing! Again- simple and scrumptious- and down-to-earth and inexpensive to boot! So what's not to love? :-) Enjoy!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Oh, Grate!

Frittata di Zucca & Pomodoro al Forno
Oven-Baked Pumpkin & Tomato Frittata

Indeed, that was what I did to make this simple but delicious frittata this evening... I grated! And what I grated, was the last of the Hokkaido pumpkin I had left over from the weekend... neither wanting to waste, nor to want this evening, I decided to turn it into a quick supper- and who knew it would taste so good?!!?

My whole motivation behind grating the pumpkin was of course to get it took cook really quickly... as if pumpkin ever takes that long to cook- haha! Ok- the time involved was only part of the deal, the other thing I wanted to do was to cook the pumpkin in such a way that it did not completely disintegrate and become a paste as it usually does in most recipes. And I am glad that I did, because this was a really delicious and different result that you are also bound to love... I hope! ;-)

I started off by coarsely grating the pumpkin and dry-frying it in a pan, without oil, until the color changed from the original vibrant orange color to a slightly paler shade, basically until it was half done. I had about 2 cupfuls of pumpkin in all. At this point, whilst it was hot a slightly moist, I added a little finely grated ginger and garlic (just use the other side of the grater), finely chopped chives, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. I stirred all of these ingredients together well and then allowed them to cool off whilst I cut 2 tomatoes into a fine dice. The residual heat was enough to partially "cook" the finely grated and finely chopped ingredients. Of course I removed the seeds from the tomatoes before I diced them- important so that things don't become too moist... And then I turned on the oven and began preparing to put my little frittata together.

I beat 3 eggs and seasoned them with salt and pepper- these would go into the frying pan first of course. In the meantime, the pumpkin had cooled down enough for me to add some finely chopped parsley and some grated cheese, as well as the diced tomato. As everything was cool now, it was easy to get a nice mix of all the ingredients without them clumping and sticking together. And now I was ready for action!

I wanted to keep things relatively healthy, so I simply rubbed a little butter onto my cast-iron pan and then popped it onto the stove top. Once it was nice and hot, I poured in the 3 beaten eggs and sprinkled them quickly with a little grated cheese and then the pumpkin-tomato-cheese mix. The cheese I used by the way was Scamorza- but you can use any cheese you might prefer. 

Moving swiftly, I then sprinkled the pumpkin mixture evenly on top, pressing it down slightly with a wooden spoon and seasoned it with salt, pepper and a little more freshly grated nutmeg. One last light sprinkle of cheese and into the oven it went, at 350°F for 5-6 minutes and then a further 2-3 under the broiler until it became golden brown... and very delicious!

I added plenty of basil as a garnish, so that there was at least one to go with each slice- basil is just one of the best things ever to combine with tomatoes! the result was, that this was a very juicy and delicious frittata, where none of the ingredients were cooked to death and each retained their distinct taste and character- so nice rather than everything becoming just one whole new flavor in itself as is sometimes the case. 

So, you see- pumpkin doesn't always have to end up as either pie or soup... there are so many more possibilities out there! And I hope that you enjoy this one as much as I did! Buon Appetito!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Aww, Shucks! It Was Nothing!

Tagliatelle "Udon" con Funghi & Salsa di Ostriche & Peperoncino
Udon Noodles, Mushrooms, Chili & Oyster Sauce

That's right- it WAS nothing... in the work department that is! And there was no "shucking" involved... as there were no oysters involved! Only rich and aromatic oyster sauce- straight from the bottle, straight from the Asian supermarket- and straight to the point in making this into such a tasty dish!

With just a few cremini mushrooms, a little crushed ginger, garlic, Spring onion, oyster sauce and a Phllipino chili sauce, I managed to transform a single-serving pack of "fresh" Udon noodles, into an amazing and satisfying meal! And the whole thing was finished in little more than 10 minutes! Let me tell you how I made it...

The first thing I did, was to cut the mushrooms into nice, thick slices and to pop them into a dry frying pan with a little salt and pepper. No oil or butter... trust me on this! With the heat nice and high, I left them to their own devices, whilst I finely chopped about 1" of ginger and then pounded it down a little with my mortar and pestle, along with a clove of garlic. 

After 2-3 minutes, incredibly, there was the sound of sizzling coming from the frying pan- and this was because the mushrooms had given off their juices and were beginning to "bubble" away... which was a good thing! I flipped them over and let them continue to cook away and become a little brown around the edges.

Once the mushrooms had begun to gain a little color, I added the ground ginger and garlic and a splash of sesame oil... now things could really begin to get flavorful! After 2-3 minutes, I added the contents of 1 packet of Udon noodles- practically packed in single portion, these are great to have at home- lovely and thick and soft and delicious!

I added a splash of water to the pan and popped on the lid for it to steam for a few minutes and for the good flavors from the bottom of the pan to infuse into both the noodles and the mushrooms. I then added 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce and the same of a hot, Philippino "banana" chili sauce- which was smooth and sweet tasting as well as hot... pretty delicious stuff in itself! This was also the time to add the finely sliced Spring onion, which of course would be cooked in next to no time!

I tossed the noodles in the hot, juicy sauces and added some finely chopped cilantro and just a last hint of sesame oil and sesame seeds before serving. The finishing touch was a sprinkle of ground chili pepper and dinner was ready! Oh- and so was I! And the cool thing about it is- that in just 10 minutes or so, so could you be too!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Just Bake it!

Riso al Forno con Zenzero & Zucca "Hokkaido" con Pepe "Szechuan"
Ginger & Hokkaido Pumpkin Baked Rice with Szechuan Pepper

Rice is one of those staples you just cant do without. But there is also almost nothing you can't do with it! You can keep it plain as a side dish, spice it up and fry it Asian style, make risottos and paellas and pilafs... so many cool and wonderful things! And you can also turn it into something yummy and comforting, like this!

This IS actually, basically a pilaf-rice kinda dish, but it is not particularly based on any recipe, and although I used ginger and Szechuan pepper in it, it is not Chinese by any stretch of the imagination. Nope, it is just a simple idea of mine and it was perfectly delicious and light this cold Autumn evening- the lovely Hokkaido pumpkin was a great, seasonal flavor to use! And rather fun used this way too!

I started off by rinsing two cups of rice off and then adding them to my baking dish... may I advertise the fact that I absolutely adore these little oven-proof bowls from Ikea at this point? Basically, I made this dish only because I wanted to use my new bowl! Haha- all kidding aside now, you can use any kind of bowl, ramekin or even a tin to make this. 

To the rice I added about 1" of finely chopped ginger, 1 small onion, 1 finely chopped clove of garlic, and about 2 cupfuls of finely diced Hokkaido pumpkin- which I like the best of all because you don't need to peel it- as you all know by now. I seasoned with salt and pepper, added a little sesame oil and then covered the lot with boiling water and popped it into the oven, at 350°F for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, I cut a few more thin slices of pumpkin and sautéed them briefly in a little sesame oil, with a very light sprinkle cinnamon and nutmeg, some salt and pepper and a generous sprinkle of ground of Szechuan pepper.

After 5 minutes in the oven, the rice had soaked up all of the water and begun to cook nicely. I fetched it back out of the oven, poured in more water, added a good handful of finely chopped chives. I then laid the half-cooked pumpkin slices decoratively on top, sprinkled them with a little lime juice and sesame oil, covered the rice with some aluminum foil and popped it back into the oven for a further 10 minutes. After that time, the pumpkin had a lovely toasted touch but was steamy and soft inside- just like the rice! Terrific!

I added a generous sprinkle of chives for some extra color and a fresh nuance to the flavor and enjoyed it just as it was, straight from the dish... but maybe 4-5 minutes later, as it was hot, hot, hot! It was not overpowering in flavor, but the ginger and pumpkin retained their character wonderfully and harmoniously and it was just a yummy, Autumn meal! And what more could you want? Sometimes less is just more!

After 10 minutes in the oven, covered in foil, the rice had puffed-up and absorbed all of the water completely and the pumpkin slices were also wonderfully tender. I popped it back into the oven without foil for a further 2-3 minutes under the broiler and when I next saw it, the sesame oil had bubbled-up and become frothy and light and delicious, and the rise itself had of course risen to twice its volume... terrific!

Roll-Over, Bake-Oven!

Panini Dolce, con Cocco, Pistacchio e Fichi Fresche
Breakfast Buns with Coconut, Pistachio & Fresh Figs

Sunday Morning- time for breakfast again! And time for me to get inventive again, as you all know that I am neither a great cook of things sweet, I am not a baker by any means and I do like to treat myself to something nice on a Sunday, as I don't usually have a sit-down breakfast any other day of the week...

So it was time to improvise again! I only have the next 5 days to work (and cook!), before I leave on vacation and these are always the days that I get busy using up any bits and pieces I have in the fridge. And yes, I sometimes come up with cool ideas like this one! 

I was in the mood for something a little sweet, not savory this morning... but I never like my sweets to be TOO sweet- so I came up with this idea to make great use of a nice fresh fig I had picked up at the market hall and add just the minimum of further sweetening in the form of a little honey- the fig was pretty out of this world!

I made these out of 1 roll of store-bought pizza base. I simply cut it into 4 strips and then transformed them into these incredible rolls- what a great use for that stuff! I have made those yummy, stuffed, twisty Sicilian breads before and these was not all that different- just a little smaller and a little less twisted- haha!

To make them, I simply sprinkled each rectangle of pizza dough with grated coconut and grated pistacchio, then laid 3 slices of fig on top, length-ways, so as to keep them in a narrow line, down the middle of each strip of dough. I sprinkled a little cinnamon onto the figs and then folded the dough over the top of them from left and right, sealing everything in. And then I rolled up the tube of dough, with the overlapping seam on the inside, to keep everything smooth from the outside and tightly sealed... perfect!

Onto a dry, non-stick pan they went, on the stove top, for 3-4 minutes, in order to give the base a head start at baking, and in the meantime I turned the oven on to 350°F.  After the base of the rolls had baked firm and released itself from the pan when given a little shake, I popped them into the oven for 4-5 minutes to bake. 

After that time, I fetched them out and made 2 cuts into the top of each roll, in an "X". I then drizzled each roll with honey and popped them back into the oven for a further 3-4 minutes until they were golden and puffy and brown... and smelling delicious!

Whilst they were still hot and steaming and sticky with honey, I gave them a generous extra sprinkle of pistachio- and got the coffee ready! What a yummy treat for breakfast! And so easy to make! What's more... I am pretty sure you are going to love 'em! Enjoy!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

What Came First- the Hen or the Omelette?

Omelette con Funghi Selvatici Ricci, Pancetta e Formaggio
Lambsquarter Mushroom, Bacon & Cheese Omelette

So what am I going-on about in the title of this post? Alas, I did not think to take a picture of the wrinkly, ruffled, fluffy yellow mushroom, the "lambsquarter" in question, to make you familiar with it... Oh well! You will have to make do with the finished result instead!

These mushrooms are also known as "Fette Henne" in Germany, which translates to "fat hen" in English. The reason being, that especially the larger ones DO actually look like little hens, with a puffy, ruffled appearance. They vary in size and  can be as big as a football in some instances, or smaller, like the one I used this evening, which was just the size of a grapefruit- or a little larger- haha! In any case it was way more than a handful in size!

To make it, of course the first challenge is to clean this fluffy little fellow! The thing to do is- don't freak-out! Simply spray it with cold water under the sink to loosen up any soil and then let it briefly soak for a minute or two, swirling the water around to get it as clean as possible. Don't worry about it getting waterlogged or soggy- just leave it out on the countertop to dry out and it will soon dry-out again before you are done with preparing the other ingredients!

These consisted of a good handful of finely diced bacon, a handful of finely chopped chives, a handful of grated cheese, 2 eggs, a splash of milk, salt, pepper, a hint of cayenne and a little nutmeg. 

First things first though- the bacon went into the pan and started sizzling and I turned my attention back to the mushroom! I cut off the stem, which of course was perfectly edible and the densest part of the mushroom, cut it into slices and added these to the pan first. 

In the meantime, I cut the rest of the lambsquarter into wedges and added these to the frying pan, seasoned with salt, pepper, a little nutmeg and fried everything for 3-4 minutes, then turned off the heat and  got the omelette started!

The omelette itself was made of 2 eggs, a splash of milk, a handful of cheese, salt and pepper- very simple. I took a small non-stick pan, turned up the heat, poured in the beaten eggs, chives and cheese and then laid out sections of the mushroom on top. As soon as the mushroom were on top, I sprinkled on the bacon bits and a last bit of cheese- which was in this case an Emmentaler. 

Into a hot oven it went, at 350°F for 10 minutes, until it was golden brown and then onto a dish and into my tummy! Because by now I was really hungry- and this little beauty was more than delicious! I would compare the flavor to that of chanterelles, but this is a lot more uncommon to find... so boy am I glad that my friends at the market hall went foraging for me! If you ever come across one on sale then grab one for yourself and give it a go!


Insalata di Mini-Cetrioli & Pomodoro
Mini -Cucumber & Tomato Salad

Size does matter- in so many aspects of life (please, no rude remarks!) and when it comes to food and ingredients, there are many of them to be found in smaller sizes than the regular ones... for example, cherry tomatoes, mini eggplants, mini peppers... and I though I had seen it all until I saw these at the market hall today... mini cucumbers! 

Bright green, with streaky markings, if you had told me they were lizards (or even dragons) eggs, I might well have believed you! But once I asked, was told what they are and then tasted one- I knew I had to take them with me and give them a go!

In all fairness, they are a lot prettier than they are tasty, because they do have a slightly bitter edge to the flavor... but taking that into consideration, I set about making them work really well in a simple but eye-catching salad. 

To make it, I halved the cucumbers and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and sugar, drizzled them slightly with lemon juice and let them sit from 15-30 minutes. In the meantime, I sliced up the tomatoes laid them out on my serving dish and sprinkled them too with salt, pepper and olive oil. 

I then took a small handful of dill, which I finely chopped and added it to 3 tablespoons of yogurt, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the juice of half a lime, a tablespoon of honey, salt and pepper. That was my dressing for the cucumbers already seen to!

All I needed to do now was to serve them up and dress them up! The cucumbers went into the middle of the dish, then on went the yogurt dressing, spooned carefully and evenly- just enough to give them a nice coating. A few final tips from the dill leaves as a garnish, a last sprinkle of coarse black pepper... and ta-da! Supper was started! Now... on to the main course... :-)

Friday, 20 September 2013

Sure To Please, Quick- Chick Peas!

Zuppa Veloce di Ceci & Pomodoro, con Coriandolo e Basilico- Piccante
Quick, Spicy Tomato & Chickpea Soup with Coriander & Basil

Call them garbanzo's, call them chick-peas... just make sure you always have a couple of cans of them in your pantry for the Winter months- because nothing is surer to please than a bowl full of these! I love the way that you can flavor chick-peas in so many ways- they are very, very versatile! And who would have known, when my dear old mother only ever made 1-2 variations of pasta soups with them... I shall have to show her there is so much more that can be done with them the next time I fly to the Old Country ;-)

This evening, I was home late from the office and a few errands, and it was chilly outside- so I got home cold and hungry! As I had a few chores to tend to, I decided I should make something that didn't need constant attention, that would take care of itself in a half hour of simmering away... and behold the fruits of my invention!

To make this little flavor sensation, I ground a half teaspoon of coriander seeds with my mortar and pestle and started the roasting in a dry saucepan. Once they began to smell more aromatic and became slightly toasted, I added the chick-peas, straight from the can, initially without the broth. I added a chopped Spring onion, 2 diced tomatoes, a little chopped garlic, a little chopped ginger, a tablespoon of Garam Masala, salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne. 

With the heat nice and high, I cooked everything together, making sure that the spices and flavors combined and coated everything nicely. I then added enough boiling water to cover everything by an inch or so, reduced the heat to a simmer and let the soup do it's own thing for another 15-20 minutes. It is ready when the tomato is almost completely cooked away and has become a nice, red broth- you can't get much easier than that!

Just before serving, I adjusted the seasoning as it needed a little more salt, added a tiny squeeze of lemon juice, a handful of finely chopped chives and 9-10 leaves of basil. Once these had wilted down, the soup was ready! All of the wonderful essential oils of the basil and chives added a fresh richness to the soup which would have been lost had they been allowed to cook for to long... this way, they made the already rich and spicy soup even more delicious!

A splash of vinegar or more lemon would have also been a nice variation- or a combination of that and some honey to make it sweet and sour... as I said- these things are so versatile! So have at em' and enjoy!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Overflowing with Goodness!

Torta Salata di Finocchio, Pomodoro & Olive al Soufflé
Fennel, Tomato & Olive Quiche Soufflé

Don't hate me for calling this pretty little pastry a "quiche soufflé" people- I had to try doing something to distract you all from the fact that this is a dish that went wrong! Fortunately, it turned out to be ok... more than simply edible even- in fact, it was pretty delicious to tell you the truth!

This was supposed to be one of my typical, very fluffy, puff-pastry pies... with a light, cheesy topping, then golden-brown fennel on top. The thing is... the filling ended up being a little bit too much, it fluffed and bubbled up over the edges of the pastry and created all kinds of havoc with it! It seemed my supper was doomed! But of course, the important thing in the kitchen is to keep calm and improvise if things go awry... and then you come up with suppers like this!

So yes, there is a puff-pastry base in there somewhere- haha! Sadly, with the egg "royale" pouring over the edges, what happened was of course that the air that usually escapes from puff-pastry, between the many folded layers of dough and butter, which is the thing that makes it puff-up in the first place... couldn't. Sigh. So it didn't get so crisp around the edges as it might have... Still- like I said- the end result was so good I might just make it again- or recommend you try it too!

I started off by slicing the fennel into relatively thin wedges, laying it on the steam rack in a little saucepan and steaming it for 5 minutes. I popped a tomato in there too, with a little cross-cut into one end, so that the skin would pop and be easy to peel as soon as the fennel was cooked.

Whilst the fennel steamed, I turned on the oven to get nice and hot, and busied myself with making a simple "royale" to make the main part of the filling for my little quiche. Just 1 egg, 1 good handful of grated Edam cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg and a good handful of finely chopped chives... briefly beaten with a fork- no fuss- no problem.

By now, the fennel was beginning to turn transparent- which was perfect, and the tomato was good to go too! So under a cold tap they went to cool off completely- and whilst the fennel dripped-dry, I cut the tomato in half, discarded the seeds and cut it into thin slices. 

I cut the pastry to fit my little frying pan and added a few strips of extra pastry along the outside edge, to give a little extra height- which usually keeps the filling tidily inside too... USUALLY! Haha! It didn't look like it was going to be too much either when I added it- so be warned! As I said- this was just 1 egg and it spilt over the edge completely once it began to bake! 

In any case- first came the egg and cheese mix, then the fennel, then in-between, the tomato slices and 4-5 halved olives for a bit of richness and depth of flavor. I seasoned with salt, pepper and a little more nutmeg, sprinkled it lightly with cheese and put the frying pan on the stove top to get the pastry going, for 3-4 minutes... you know my method by now! 

Once the base was firm and secure, the egg had begun to bubble away and the edges of the pastry were beginning to rise, I popped it into a hot oven, 350°F, for 10-15 minutes. As soon as I saw that the egg was bubbling-up and pouring over the edges, I took the pan out of the oven and tilted this way and that, to get the excess egg distributed evenly around the outside edge... Whatever! I added a little more cheese and popped it back inside for a final 2-3 minutes under the broiler. 

End of story! Except that as soon as I saw it in it's finished form, crispy and golden brown all the same, I just added a garnish of fresh fennel greens and decided I had been upset for no reason when things went "wrong". This was so wrong, I think it could hardly have been more right! And I hope you agree with me too!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Getting Warmer

Risoni in Agrodolce con Peperone, Pomodoro & Origano
Sweet & Sour Risoni Pasta with Tomato, Peppers and Oregano

As the weather gets colder and colder- the dishes have to start making us warmer again in the evenings... and I know that the Autumn hasn't even really begun, never mind the Winter... and I know that much colder days lie ahead... but wow, did it ever feel cold walking home this evening!!! So supper needed to be a warming and satisfying affair- that much was clear. And being as I couldn't make up my mind whether I was in the mood for something Italian or Asian this evening... I decided to make something that was a little bit of both... kind-of!

I say "kind-of", because it is not only the Chinese that have a tradition of making sweet and sour food, there are many traditional Italian dishes that have a tangy combination of either vinegar or citrus juice and sugar or honey... and I love that contrast and juxtaposition of flavors! This was a really simple dish with very few ingredients... all cooked together in one pan and finished in just 20 minutes- excellent on a night like this! because who wants to wait or work too long before settling down to supper and who wants to be stressed-out having to organize lots of ingredients for a meal... well, not me and that's for sure!

I started off by briefly sautéing a classic "sofritto" of finely diced onion, celery and carrot in a little olive oil. After 2-3 minutes, I added the risoni- I would say a couple of handfuls per portion and then after stirring everything together, added a good, heaped tablespoon of tomato paste and enough boiling water to cover the pasta. I seasoned with salt and pepper and reduced the heat to a low simmer and let it boil away....

Whilst the pasta was doing its own thing, I took 2 tiny yellow bell peppers and diced them finely, finely sliced a Spring onion for later and blanched a peeled a tomato, from which I then removed the seeds and cut the rest into fine stripes.

The next thing I did was to add the finely chopped peppers and a teaspoon of delicious, smoked paprika powder. I stirred this in well and topped up the frying pan with more boiling water... it is pretty amazing how much liquid those little noodles can and will soak up! Basically, I was cooking them in a similar way to risotto, gradually adding the liquid little by little, until the pasta is rich, smooth and perfectly cooked!

After around 15 minutes cooking time, I added the tomato and Spring onion slices,  re-adjusted the seasoning and added both a couple of tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar and honey. And wow! Suddenly those flavors and the general aroma started to sky-rocket!

The last ingredients were plenty of tiny, fresh, plucked oregano leaves and a good sprinkle of pepper. I didn't add any olive oil as I thought it was rather unnecessary, nor did I add any grated cheese- I will leave those options up to you! Both would work- but this evening I decided to be more of a minimalist. Also- I didn't want to wait around any longer!

And if you are feeling hungry right now and feel tempted to try this out... I recommend you don't wait around to do so! Go eat! You're gonna enjoy it!