Saturday, 30 November 2013

Getting Arty with the Chokes Part Two

Sformato di Carciofi al Forno
Baby Artichokes Baked in Egg & Bread Crumbs

Yes people, this is the second of my baby artichoke dishes and what would be for me my little "main course" this evening. Equally simple and obviously much quicker to prepare as the artichokes were already boiled previously whilst preparing the soup- and also just as yummy and delicious too!

Again- this is as simple and down-to-earth a dish as you could possibly imagine. And again, a handful of stale bread or bread crumbs is all it takes to transform these simple little artichoke hearts into a real oven-baked and satisfying treat! Let me tell you how...

I coarsely chopped half of a small onion and popped it into a mixer with one half of an artichoke heart and chopped them to a pulp, to which I added 1-2 tablespoons of bread crumbs and 1 egg. I added about 1 teaspoon of grated parmesan cheese and just a little finely chopped parsley. I seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg and poured the mixture into a small baking dish.

I then took the remaining artichoke hearts which had dripped-dry in the meantime and drizzled them ever-so-lightly with olive oil. I laid them out in the egg and crumb mixture and seasoned them again with just a little salt, pepper and nutmeg before popping the dish into a hot oven, at 350°F for 10-15 minutes until the egg had set.

After 10-15 minutes, I took the dish out of the oven and let if cool for 3-4 minutes. This allowed for any excess moisture in the artichokes to seep out and come to the surface... which it will. Sigh. Which is why I waited those extra few minutes before popping it back into the oven and under the broiler to finish off, as it would give that extra moisture a chance to evaporate.

If I had been feeling a little bit fitter, I might have added a little more cheese, but basically, the hint of mint, the egg and the bread crumbs are such a nice combination, just accented by the hint of parmesan we added, that I personally found this mix just right.

This was my little, individual makeshift supper this evening, but you might want to try this in a larger baking tray and cut it into portions to serve up as a side dish or appetizer. Again- it is a very simple dish with very few flavors, but nicely combined ones that compliment each other. And why rock that comfy little boat if they are all getting along so nicely with each other? ;-) Hahaha! 

Hope you agree if you give this a try- for me it was a perfect little dish. Because sometimes you really must agree that less is more- so much so that you will be wanting more as well! Enjoy!

Getting Arty with the Chokes Part One

Zuppa di Carciofi, Mollica, Zenzero, Menta & Limone
Artichoke, Ginger, Mint, Lemon & Bread Crumb Soup

Yes, dear readers, I am back and must say I have missed you! I have missed having something nice to eat too if truth be told! And alas, my niggly tummy-troubles persist, but after almost 2 weeks of plain boiled rice, pasta and potatoes, I decided today that I need to at least TRY to eat more normally...

So I went out to the market hall again as I usually do- and already felt better once I got there- I sure have missed that place too! I picked up a selection of seasonal vegetables... amongst which were a lovely little, long-stemmed bunch of baby artichokes- irresistible! And as we know in Sicily, that the broth of boiled artichokes is nice and soothing for a poorly tummy, I decided they may well be a good idea for supper... but who knew that I would manage to make 2 lovely dishes from just 4 little artichokes! And this is the first of them right here... a super- simple soup! Perfect on a cold, Winter evening!

To make this soup, I trimmed the top half of the artichokes off and cut off the long stalks. I noticed the the stalks on these beauties were particularly young, juicy and tender and so I peeled them, generously cutting away the outer, fibrous skin, then cut them into small bite-sized pieces and added them straight into a small saucepan of boiling water. They are a little tougher than the artichokes themselves, so the extra 10 minutes or so that it would take to clean the chokes was time well spent for the stalks to simmer away in! I had just enough water in the saucepan to cover the artichokes comfortably.

I plucked off the tough, outer leaves and then peeled down towards the stem end, cutting right down to the juicy flesh of the artichoke... the less tough-stuff you leave on, the more pleasant they will be to eat of course! So today I cut the leaves right down to the juiciest part too. Next, I split them in half and generously cut away the "choke" from the center and immediately placed the cut artichokes, cut-side-down into a bowl containing the juice of 1 lemon, to keep them from oxidizing and turning brown.

Once all of the artichokes were cleaned up, I added them (8 halves in all), together with 3-4 slices of ginger, 1 clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon of dried mint and the half of the juice into the boiling water containing the artichoke stems. I seasoned with salt and pepper and let them simmer away for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the artichoke hearts were soft and tender, and so I removed them and set them to one side. I also removed the ginger slices as they had done their work and began slowly, to sprinkle bread crumbs into the broth, constantly stirring, until it began to thicken. I added a little salt and pepper to the broth
as necessary, then just a hint of nutmeg and let it simmer on for a further 10 minutes.

By this time the bread crumbs had dissolved right down into the broth and thickened it up nicely. And sure, this is a rustic dish, based on the kinds of dishes people would have made after the depression, using slices of stale bread... but the bottom line is- it sure is tasty and filling and that is a good thing even nowadays!

If the soup isn't thick enough for your liking, obviously, you need to add more bread crumbs- and vice-versa, if it is too thick, more water. I added one half of an artichoke heart, cut up into small pieces and a light drizzle of olive oil- all it needed now was a grind of fresh pepper and it was ready to serve!

I had to do without the extra pepper this evening on account of my tummy- but go ahead- or even add a little dried chili or Tabasco- both would go nicely with this! But whichever way you choose to eat it- enjoy! This is good, simple, honest food- and what's not to like about that?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Take a Walk on the Mild Side

Zucchine Tonde & Riso Leggero al Forno
Mild, Baked Round Zucchini & Rice Pilau

Still struggling a little with a troublesome tummy, I was once again faced with the challenge of preparing something reduced in fat, spice and seasoning. Sigh. The first of those three things is not ever a problem for me. The others- a little more so!

Being as things are going to have to stay this way for a while until I get better, I decided to bite the bullet- but also that I at least wanted to bite into SOMETHING after 3 days on the run of only having soup. Rice seemed like a good idea- nice and plain and simple... and I had bought that nice, round zucchini at the weekend which I definitely didn't want to let go to waste. Both nice, mild ingredients and both about to be transformed into a decent supper at the best of times! Who said I can't still enjoy, even if I have to be a little careful?

Eating with reduced fat and spice of course is a fact of life for many people, whether for health related issues or simply out of personal preference- it isn't everyone that likes to have such spicy dishes. So if for whatever reason, you fit into either of those categories, this dish will be perfect for you. If not- I will leave it up to your own discretion to add a little spice or seasoning as you see fit. Ah, what the heck- I will give you a few hints and tips as we go along! Hehe!

The first thing you need to do is to cut up the zucchini into slices and lay it out decoratively and then to add the rice. For this nice, more than generous single serving, I only needed the one zucchini and 1 cup of rice... which makes for a good diet meal at any time!

Being as I need to be careful at the moment, I just added enough other ingredients to add some basic flavor to the rice- meaning just a half of a carrot, half of a Spring onion and a little finely chopped parsley- which is actually plenty as you can see. Otherwise, I may have added a little garlic, ginger or chili, definitely a little mint and maybe a little thyme would have been nice... but no- today, I decided to behave and be good!

Next of course, I needed to add enough liquid to cook the rice and zucchini, so I added 3 cups of vegetable broth- 2 for the rice and 1 more in order to cook the veggies. I added just a couple of cherry tomatoes to add a little mild flavor and juice to the mix and alas, had to do without any added pepper or spice, but I would recommend a hint of nutmeg, cayenne and maybe some of my favorite smoked paprika would be good. Next time... maybe next time... sigh!

All I needed to do now was to cover the dish with foil to keep the steam in and to pop it into a hot oven for 30-40 minutes at 350°F- you want the broth to boil and to turn to steam  and that's what is going to get the job done here- so get that oven hot!

Already, after 15 minutes or so, even with so little seasoning, there was a lovely perfume coming from the oven which tempted me to take a peek- but no, I resisted temptation, did not let all of that good steam escape and remained patient until 30 minutes later the dish was ready... but it was also hot, hot, hot!

So I let it sit as it was for a further 10 minutes to cool off a little, in which time of course the rice had become lovely and fluffy and the zucchini tender and soft and delicious! And as you can see- just as pretty as a picture! I think this looks much nicer than a regular rice-filled zucchini- for sure you can impress and delight your friends with it! So give it a go... you know you want to!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Souper Noodles!

Zuppa di Tagliatelle di Riso al'Italiana con Polpettini con Semi di Finocchio
Italian Rice Noodle Soup with Fennel Seed Meatballs

Of course we are all accustomed to seeing rice noodles in our supermarkets, or at our local Asian supermarkets... and we all have had them at every single Asian restaurant we have ever been to... but I always found it intriguing trying to imagine just how Italians go about using them? 

Over the past few years, I have noticed more and more of them on the shelves at the supermarkets back home in Sicily, when I visit my parents. Of course, the reason they are there is because there are so many people who have problems with flour and gluten in their diets- just like everywhere else in the world. But the thing is- there are just not that many Asian restaurants in Italy- and Asian food is not something that many people prepare at home. It just isn't. I doubt that many Japanese or Thai mammas prepare lasagna or pizza that often either! ;-)

Obviously, rice noodles are not well suited to traditional Italian tomato sauces or suchlike and even less so to any cream based or buttered dishes or sauces. I have heard of people using them to make salads with. Well... maybe. I just can't get excited about the idea of an Italian styled salad, with the dressings they have over there, using rice noodles. I just can't. Don't hate me for it!

BUT. Here I am, with my poorly tummy, having only eaten a banana all day and taken a lot of fluids and knowing I need to eat something! I have to be careful with spices, fat, anything that is too "heavy" at the moment- so soups seem to be a good idea. 

Alas, the kinds of greens I love are rather tabu at the moment, as are beans or chickpeas, so a full-on "minestrone" would be pushing it a little. Still, a handful of peas I figured I could handle! And a light "minestra" had to be ok, surely? So with that thought in mind, I went into automatic mode and got busy preparing this simple but delicious bowl of goodness.

On any other occasion I would of course have added more spice and certain other, otherwise "essential" items. So bear with me on this. For the broth, I used very finely sliced celery- about half a stalk and a half of a carrot, cut into little match-sticks. I did without onion- but I think you should use it- unless you happen to be ill as well! I got these boiling in plenty of water- well, enough for 2 bowls of soup- and got busy shaping the little meatballs.

I also did without onion there- and usually I would have used more spice and probably a little parmesan cheese... but for this evening I made do with just parsley, fennel seed and a hint of salt and pepper... sigh! The hell of it is... they still tasted great- lol! I kneaded these few ingredients into the ground meat, which was just a quarter pound of mixed pork and beef at most. I might have used egg and bread crumbs normally, but for today, I just wanted to get some of the meat flavor into the broth and so I kneaded the meat a little more firmly than I normally would, which made it bind and hold together just fine. I added them to the carrots and celery, along with a handful of frozen peas, a few of the tender celery leaves, a good pinch of chopped parsley and a bay leaf- and let them simmer away for 15-20 minutes.

Whilst the soup was simmering, I soaked the rice noodles in warm water for 10 minutes, according to the instructions on the bag... I suppose this is in order to rinse some of the starch out of them- in any case, I did try to skip this step in the past and the noodles did stick together more. So yeah... it's a good idea!

I added the noodles and a few sliced-up cherry tomatoes, stirred them in until the noodles were soft and then let them simmer for 5-10 minutes. So yes, this was a very mild broth- still delicious, but obviously something you could elaborate on. But on the other hand- every now and again something this simple has a certain allure to it. In any case, the combination of flavors was lovely together and one that I hope you will enjoy as much as I did. Buon appetito!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Just What The Doctor Ordered!

Ditalini Rigate al Brodo di Pollo
Chicken Soup with "Ditalini" Pasta

It was long overdue, but I finally dragged myself to the doctor's today as the tummy-bug or whatever it is that has been bothering me for a while now just isn't going to go away until it has made me a lot more miserable first- or so it seems to think! So it came as no surprise that my doctor said I should make sure to get plenty of fluids and eat a little milder for the next few days. Sigh. That doesn't make me happy- but it also doesn't pose a problem- not really ;-)

So, feeling a little miserable this evening and determined to do as I was told (at least for the first day ;-) ), I decided to make that most comforting of all comfort foods when you are feeling under the weather- a chicken soup. Nothing exciting there, but plenty of good and soothing flavors to just make things seem a little bit better. Or a lot, depending on how good it turns out!

Ok- no big surprises in store, but here is the method I used to make myself 2 bowls of this delicious Winter soup. I started off with the chicken, which was 1 whole leg in this case and which would be my recommendation and first choice every time if you are not preparing more and using the whole bird. You want to have good meat on the bone for a good broth- using breast meat just won't do it.

Into a saucepan it went, with enough cold water to cover it and a good pinch of salt. I turned on the heat and brought it up to the boil and then reduced the heat to a simmer whilst I prepared the vegetables. Letting the chicken boil for a few minutes on it's own is also a good idea, because it gives you a chance to remove any impurities that rise to the surface, much easier than when you have lots of bits and pieces floating around.

So as the broth bubbled, I sliced up 1 medium-sized carrot and a half of a stick of celery. These went into the cleaned-up broth and I turned up the heat accordingly, to keep the broth gently simmering. I also added about 1" of finely sliced ginger, 1 star anise, 2 sage leaves, 2 bay leaves and 2-3 sprigs of thyme. I didn't overdo it, but of course a little pepper needed to go in there- and I really had to hold myself back but I DIDN'T add either cayenne or some of that yummy, smoked paprika powder... mmm! Although I might well recommend that you do it if you so feel inclined!

I regulated the heat so that it was just gently simmering and let it do just that for an hour or so until the meat was really tender and falling straight off the bone. At that point, I carefully lifted it out and  set it onto a dish where I could remove the skin and carefully remove the meat from the bone. At this point I also removed the stems of the thyme, the bay and sage leaves and the star anise- leaving me with a nice broth and lovely tender vegetables. 

I then added 2 handfuls of ditalini pasta- but you can use any other you may prefer, or even rice. I stirred this in and then added the chicken pieces- which I had plucked into small pieces. I adjusted the seasoning, as of course the added pasta would require a little more salt, brought the broth up to the boil, then reduced it back to a simmer and let it boil away for 10 minutes.

And that was it. I turned off the heat and let it sit for maybe 5 minutes more, just to let it rest a bit, let the starch in the pasta slightly thicken the broth and also- to give me time to quickly set the table- haha! But on a serious note, the pasta does need to be a little softer in a soup dish than in a sauce dish- you don't want it to be "al-dente" here, it should be soft and silky and comforting... just a few minutes difference- not overcooked. Which only leaves dishing it up and thoroughly enjoying to this experience! You can't substitute this kind of flavor with anything out of a can... so get busy and make some and get ready to feel the comfort!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Food Encounters of the Fresh Kind

Insalata di Puntarelle, Arancia & Cipolla Rossa con Pepe "Szechuan"
Puntarelle, Orange & Red Onion Salad with Szechuan Pepper

I guess you all know it by now, but I love my Puntarelle, those little alien-like Roman chicory "pods" that are just so cool-looking, as well as being delicious! As I have already mentioned, if you can't get these where you are, you can make the same thing using radicchio or a regular chicory or endive green as the flavor is basically the same. The difference here is that the little individual bulbs of the puntarelle are so firm and juicy-  which makes them a real treat!

I decided to do something a little different to the traditional Roman preparation with olive oil, anchovy paste and lemon juice and to make a nice Winter salad with a bit of a twist- in this case by adding Szechuan pepper rather than the regular black pepper, or the red pepper corns I used last time. I like Szechuan, as it is not really an actual pepper, it is more of a berry and yes it does have a slight fruitiness to its flavor- which made it a perfect addition to this salad!

There was a little preparation involved- but nothing dramatic! I started by zesting the orange before I cut away the peel and cut out the separate fillets- a but tricky and not absolutely necessary... but definitely more elegant and nicer... go on- you can do it!

I then squeezed out the juice from the remaining left-over orange and kept this to make the dressing. The next step though was to finely slice- and I mean really finely, a little red onion- just a half of a small one is plenty for 2 portions of salad. 
Raw onion is actually nice, but of course it neither makes your breath small particularly good, nor is it nice when you wake up the morning after... ugh. If you cut the onion very thinly though and drop it into the orange juice with a pinch of sugar, it will reduce the astringent essential oils in it and make it much more pleasant to eat, whilst adding seasoning to the dressing.

Next of course, the punterelle themselves needed to be cut and finely sliced. I pulled away the larger, outer leaves from the plant, and then snapped the individual little pods off, then cut away the thick, "stem end" of each pod before slicing lengthways. You will look at these things and wonder which is the best way to go about slicing them as they have such a weird shape- but let me tell you- there is no trick! Just cut it in half and slice away in the direction that the things grow and you will be fine- lol!

I put the sliced puntarelle into the bowl that the onions and orange juice were in and added a good splash of olive oil, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and a little white wine vinegar. I stirred everything nicely together and let it sit and marinate for a while, whilst I ground up the Szechuan pepper...

The Szechuan pepper was a nice finishing touch, as the dressing was lacking that certain "hot" or "spicy" component. I ground up just a half teaspoon, with a mortar and pestle, making sure to get it nice and fine and being especially careful that there were none of the stems of the pepper corns remaining when I was finished... they are tricky little devils and not fun to eat!

All I needed to do now was to dish up the salad, add the orange slices, evenly spread and sprinkle the onion and the juices, which will of course sink to the bottom of the bowl, on top. Then came the Szechuan pepper of course and then all that I needed to do was to grab a fork and enjoy! And I have to say that I really did! And I will go on to say that you most certainly will too!

What a Curry On!

Zuppa di Topinambur al Curry
Curried Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

What madness is this, taking a Jerusalem artichoke on a trip to India?!? Oh, but you know me folks- a risk-taker at the best of times! Well- at least in the kitchen- haha! It had been a while since I last prepared then, but when I saw the large, wonderfully magenta-skinned "sun-chokes" at the market hall yesterday, I just had to take a couple with me. 

I really like these things and still, they are not one of the vegetables that I cook very often... nor anyone else that I know for that matter! The great thing about them is that they DO have a taste that is very reminiscent of artichokes, whilst being much easier to cook- and eat for that matter!

But as easy as they may be to cook and eat, these gnarly, twisty roots are real devils to peel! OMG! My advice to you is- don't go for size when you buy them- go for shape! Pick something that is easy to peel for the sake of your own sanity! I am half-kidding here, of course, as they are tricky to peel and though you definitely can try to pick less gnarly examples to take home with you, you do want them to have a certain size... otherwise, frankly- there won't be that much left by the time you have peeled them!

All kidding aside, it is probably best to cut them into manageable pieces first, that you can navigate a vegetable peeler, or small knife, around. 

For this portion of soup, I used 2 large sun chokes. Once they were peeled, I cut them into a rough, large dice and popped them onto a steam rack, together with a small onion and a clove of garlic and let them steam for 20 minutes. And in the meantime, I got a nice broth boiling in another saucepan...

For the broth, I boiled a couple of slices of both celery root and ginger, together with half of a carrot cut into large slices. This simmered away for the duration of the time that the choked steamed away. So, for the moment, I had a basic seasoning going on but no spices in my soup... and it was time to change that!

I decided to take the easy route and use a curry powder that I picked up yesterday- of course you can mix your own blend of curry, but really there is no need for that. Also- unless you are Indian- you will probably be as clueless as I am when it comes to mixing your spices! All I will say is... buy a NICE curry, with a nice blend of flavors and not simply one of those bland supermarket powders, which are basically just turmeric for the most part. The blend that I used was called "Bot Cary" and had turmeric, dried chili, star anise, fennel seed, cumin seed, cloves, cinnamon, green cardamom, bay leaf, coriander seed, dried garlic, black cardamom, annato, pepper, szechuan pepper and nutmeg in it! Now try topping that! 

Once the chokes, onion and garlic were steamed and soft, I squeezed them through a ricer and set them to one side. I then heated up a good teaspoon of curry powder in a dry saucepan with a teaspoon of chickpea flour. Once it began to smell nice and aromatic, I began to stir in the broth, little by little until I had a nice paste. I then added the choke paste and stirred everything together. I added 3-4 tablespoons of yogurt and stirred this in too, to give everything a slightly "creamier" flavor- without having to add any actual cream- and that little bit of chickpea flour I added, was my favorite miracle ingredient that keeps yogurt from curdling during cooking... I love that about it!

I added more liquid, the celery/ginger/carrot broth, as necessary until it was a nice, creamy consistency, but not too dense and let it simmer away for a while longer, whilst I quickly caramelized a little red onion to add along with a scattering of chives, for a sweet and savory garnish- perfect! That sugary-sweet onion flavor was great in combination with the hot curry and the distinctive artichoke- and yes, it took things into a whole new direction! But a good one at that! But the only way you will ever know how it is... is to try it and see!

A Bowl of Bread

Pane di Composta di Mele, Fiocchi d'Avena & Marmellata di Mirtillo Rosso
Applesauce Oatmeal Bread with Cranberry Jam

What a dilemma- should I make a nice, hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast- or do I want some sweet, hot, toast with yummy, fruity jam? I know I want the sweet solution but I feel I should be doing what's right and having the "healthy"" option... oh woe is me!

But, just hang on a minute... maybe I don't HAVE to choose! 

As you all know, my Sundays are my "once a week day", when I will actually indulge in a "proper" breakfast. Breakfast during my working week is... well... it's a banana and a mug of coffee. Which sadly, with my metabolism is about all I need- sigh. But on Sundays- well what the heck! I like to have a little treat and to "indulge" a little as much as the next guy! 

As you can see in the previous picture, I decided to add the jam INTO the bread, half-way through baking, suddenly and impulsively, as an afterthought... Who knew it would end up being such a cool idea?

But let's start at the beginning- this was a nice easy one to make and to your total delight, I actually used a measuring cup to make this- haha. SO, I started off with 2 cups of applesauce, which I bought yesterday on the spur of the moment at the market hall... I had no idea what I was going to do with it at the time- now I know what I am going to do with it again in the future!

So, 2 cups of applesauce, then 3 cups of course-ground oatmeal, 2 cups of flour, a half-teaspoon each of baking powder and baking soda, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of salt... and that's it! Oh come on... you knew it was going to be easy, otherwise I would never have managed it... but you're right... it is pretty-darned easy!

You can of course add sugar or butter if you so wish and to make this moister and sweeter and treat it like a cake, but I clearly wanted a not-to-sweet treat that was definitely supposed to stay in the bread department- and this was just slightly sweet at the end of the day- perfect to enjoy as it was but also, obviously, you could add honey, butter, more jam... even Nutella once it's done... ooooh! There's an idea...

I simply stirred the ingredients well together with a wooden spoon, lightly greased my baking dish, sprinkled the insides with oatmeal flakes to help keep the loaf from sticking and also to give a little crunch, and popped it into a hot oven, at 350° for around 5 minutes, so that it could begin to get firm.

I then took it out, and prodded little holes into it here and there using the back of a teaspoon, then dropped a little blob of jam into each.  Back into the oven it went for between 20-30 minutes, until it was nice and crispy and brown...  that really was all there was to it!

This is a quick and easy one as you can see- give it a go and see how it works for you- what have you got to love except a bowl of oatmeal? ;-) Oh, go on- I know you're gonna love it!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Pieces of Eight!

Polpo & Finocchio alla Griglia con Crema di Ceci al Annato
Grilled Octopus and Fennel on a Cream of Chickpea & Annato

Octopus- eek! I guess I am doing a few "love 'em or leave 'em" dishes lately, but this is one that I definitely loved! Crispy-fried on a grill-pan, flavored with ginger, lemon and thyme, and served on a bed of creamy, annato flavored chickpea purée- this was delicious and different and so good for so many reasons!

The main reason I liked this was that it was made relatively quickly in just half an hour, was easy and stress-free to prepare and as I said- it is just so different! The annato makes the chickpea cream delicious and Mexican inspired- a warm a mild accompaniment for the crispy octopus. I like the dish also because is uses very, very little fat- and you do not miss it for a second. And I also love it- just because it tastes so fantastic and looks so wonderful! Enough said?

Of course not, as I know you want to know how to prepare this- so here goes! 

First things first- the octopus needs to be steamed or boiled, so I chose to steam mine, which I think is the best method, for 20 minutes. This was a small octopus as you can see, so that was plenty of time for it to get nice and tender.

In the meantime, I prepared the chickpea cream, which is something that can hardly be called cooking it was so simple- lol! I boiled up some water in a kettle and whilst it was heating up, spooned 2 tablespoons of chickpea flour and 1 teaspoon of annato or achiote powder into a bowl and dissolved them into about 1 cupful of water, which I added little by little and stirred, quite simply with a fork. As soon as it was all nicely dissolved, into a saucepan it went, onto the heat, and once again, I added water- this time boiling hot, little by little, until it was absorbed by the chickpea flour and thickened up to a creamy consistency.

I seasoned the cream with salt, pepper, a little powdered ginger, a little powdered garlic, a squeeze of lime juice and hint of cayenne. It soon thickened up dramatically, in a similar way that polenta does, and so I had to balance adding a little more water until it was a thick but creamy and light consistency... and then I let it simmer at a very low heat, whilst I got ready to prepare the fennel.

By now, I was half-way through the steaming of the octopus- 15 minutes had gone by, and for the following 5 minutes of steaming, I popped a few nice slices of fennel into the saucepan, onto the steam rack, right next to the octopus. This would give it a chance to partially cook before it was time to get it sizzling on the grill pan- which was the very next thing on my agenda!

I made sure that both the octopus and the fennel were quite dry and then popped them onto a very hot grill pan with a drizzle of olive oil. I seasoned with salt, pepper, a little lime juice and just a hint of paprika powder, added a twig of thyme and a few slices of garlic to the pan and let it sizzle, snap, crackle and pop for 4-5 minutes, flipping it over and pressing it down as required to get everything nicely and evenly fried and delicious.

I served up the octopus on chickpea purée with a grind of fresh black pepper and plenty of fresh thyme- the other had become a little dark during frying... plus the flavor of the 
fresh, green thyme was so much more vibrant and delicious.

As easy as it looks complicated, a down-to-earth as it looks crazy- this is one I hope you will try and love! It's one I will be making again for sure!

Friday, 15 November 2013

I Did it My Way!

Gnocchi di Zucca & Patate "a modo mio"
Pumpkin & Potato Gnocchi "my way"

Gnocchi- so delicious when good- so heavy and chewy and bad when not! They are probably as much of a "love 'em or hate 'em" food as liver or octopus and possibly for a similar reason- people that don't like them do dislike the stodgy and filling consistency of the aforementioned "bad" gnocchi. Which means probably all store-bought ones and half of the ones you may get served in a restaurant. 

Nope, gnocchi are delicious little dumplings that you need to be making for yourselves! And despite what you may have heard, they are not hard to make, cost next to nothing and you can whip them up, quick a a flash! There are quite a number of methods to prepare them, so let me share with you the way I made these, out of pumpkin and potato and a little bit of love...

To make the dough for one portion of gnocchi, I diced-up one decent sized potato and 
and about the same amount in weight of pumpkin. I popped the diced vegetables onto a steam rack and into a saucepan and steamed them for 15-20 minutes until the potato was cooked- of course the pumpkin will be much softer- but that is fine ;-)

As soon as I had drained off the water, I pressed the pumpkin and potato through a ricer and straight back into the saucepan. Whilst they were still hot and steaming, I added first 2 tablespoons of flour and and stirred everything together lightly with a fork, which kept the mixture from becoming too "dense" and heavy. 

I added more flour, little-by-little and kept stirring, until it became "dry" enough to form a ball of dough and for it to come un-stuck from the edges of the saucepan. As soon as the mixture began to come together nicely, I took it out of the saucepan and continued working on my board, which I dusted with flour and then separated the dough into smaller pieces that I could roll-out nicely to about the thickness of my thumb. I then cut the dough into little pieces, ready to form into gnocchi... it was that easy!

As you can see, I used this cool little riffled board that I picked up in Sicily last year, but if you don't have one and want to make nice patterned gnocchi like these- that's no problem- you can roll them along the tines of a fork and get a similar effect. The way I rolled them was to take each piece of dough and to press it down onto the board (or fork!) and then roll it off- this gives you that nice, typical "folded-over" look. Also easy!

I let them dry for just a short while- just as long as it took for the water to boil and then dropped them in, carefully, but also rather swiftly, so that they would all be cooked and finished at the same time. I added a decent pinch of salt and kept my eyes on them... because when made fresh, you will find that they will be done and floating at the surface in next to no time.

As soon as they did come floating to the top, I carefully fished them out of the hot water and placed them into some cold water to prevent them from cooking to too long, becoming soaked with moisture and very heavy with it!

So now the gnocchi were made, I had to make up my mind how I was going to serve them and decided to keep things simple and quick. I halved 5 cherry tomatoes, finely chopped 1 Spring onion and briefly sautéed them until the tomatoes began to brown slightly, then added the gnocchi... Drama!

I carefully tossed and stirred the gnocchi around until they became lightly brown, then added a nice handful of grated Pecorino and gently stirred that in too. Of course the cheese soon melted and gave everything a nice glaze and all I needed to do now was to plate up, add a few leaves of basil, a nice final grind of black pepper and sprinkle of grated Pecorino and was good to go!

And the gnocchi were too! Make sure to give them a try and you will see just how quickly  they get eaten up and how broadly everyone smiles... but you most of all!