Monday, 31 March 2014

Chopped-Up & Beaten

Fritelle di Cavolini Cinese & Ricotta Salata
Choi Sam & Salted Ricotta Cheese Fritters

Sometimes, it is not easy being an ingredient in my kitchen. Let's face it- if you are an egg, chances are you are going to get beaten. If you are anything that is remotely Asian, you will probably get chopped-up. And if you cross my path in my kitchen, what with me being a mixed-up Sicilian, born in Britain and living in Germany... if you are not careful, you may end up being combined together to turn into something like this!

One of my favorite things that my mother would make when I was growing up (and of course even today), would be fritters made with greens- cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, cabbage or even cardoons. There is something really nice about vegetables in a simple egg and flour batter, it lets the flavor of the greens come to life and is for us, one of those old-time, home-cooking classics.

I had the last couple of handfuls of choi sam from Saturday and did not want for them to go to waste- they needed using up whilst they were still fresh and delicious- and I decided to prepare them in the traditional Sicilian way that my mother would prepare her greens rather than do another stir-fry for example. So for each handful of greens I used one egg... and from 2 eggs and 2 handfuls of greens I made 4 fritters... I love easy mathematics like that! I can work with those kinds of measures- I like to keep things simple whenever I can ;-)

And as I already mentioned- there was some chopping to be done! I cut the choi sam down into bite-size pieces and then popped them into a frying pad with about an inch of boiling water. I seasoned them lightly with salt and let them bubble away for around 5 minutes, by which time the water had almost completely evaporated and cooked into the greens.

I drained the greens and set them to one side to cool and drain for 5 minutes or so and in the meantime prepared the batter. To make this I cracked the two eggs into a bowl, added 2 tablespoons of flour and nice glug of milk and whisked them together. I recommend you use a whisk with a handle that looks like a chick if you make this dish in the Springtime ;-)

I let the batter "rest" for 10 minutes and in the meantime grated some salted Ricotta cheese to add to the mix. I added a good pinch of the grated Ricotta to the egg batter and set the rest to one side for later.

Before I got busy forming the fritters, I turned on the oven, turned on the broiler and then turned on the heat on my stovetop to get my non-stick pan hot and ready to go- heat is important in making these little beauties!

To make things easier, I made sure the greens were thoroughly drained first and then stirred them into the batter. Once the pan was really nice and hot, I spooned in a little of the batter, just a good tablespoon and waited for it to begin to set- which happens quickly enough if you have the pan nice and hot- and then added a second spoonful of the greens on top.

I then sprinkled them with a little more of the salted ricotta cheese and once that had melted in a little, set the fritter to one side and repeated the procedure until I had all 4 fritters made and then set them back, altogether into the frying pan and then popped it into the oven to finish.

And just 3-4 minutes later, the batter was puffed up and golden brown, giving the greens a comforting coating of mild, eggy goodness to compliment their slightly herb flavor.... a wonderful flavor combination, just like my mamma used to make- so simple and so good!

The salty Ricotta is a great addition in this dish- and why not use a Sicilian cheese with an Asian green? I believe in getting along together in every instance- in and out of the kitchen- haha!

And being as this had already turned out to be a weird and mixed-up affair, I decided you could hardly beat serving it with some of that lovely, sweet Thai chili sauce- great with that mild hint of garlic!

Yes these were very simple, yes they were just a little bit strange- but yes indeed they were truly delicious! Sometimes it's the most simple of dishes that are the best and this one was pretty much a success I would say- especially together with the sauce!

So whether you serve these as a side dish or as a whole vegetarian meal in themselves, do give them a try and see what you think. Do you want to know what I think? I think you are going to like them! Enjoy!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Have a Heart

Panino Infornato con Cuore di Pomodoro Caprese
Pizza-Dough Roll with Tomato Caprese Heart

Springtime is just around the corner- in fact, it was already here today in Germany! After a long day of hiking in the sun, I got home tired and hungry... so tired that I decided to use a little brain-power rather than do too much hard work and came up with this great way to enjoy a traditional "insalata caprese" of Mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. They were easy to make and basically just took care of themselves- which was fine by me! I was just happy to enjoy sitting back for a while with my feet up :-)

I could have made a pizza, I could have made a sandwich, but instead I decided to fill the tomatoes with the mozzarella and basil, that one would normally use to make a "Caprese" and to wrap the whole tomatoes in pizza dough... it seemed like a good idea at the time, although initially I thought the little tomato pizza parcels would be much smaller. And then they suddenly weren't so small anymore!

But that wasn't a bad thing- oh no, no, no!

First things first- turn on the oven to maximum heat- don't be shy, this is a pizza after all!

Whilst the oven is warming, you can halve the tomatoes and using one of those melone-scoopers, remove all of the moist seeds and turn the empty tomatoes upside down briefly to drip-dry a little. Once the tomatoes are dry, add a piece of mozzarella to each one, a good sprinkle of pepper, a little salt and some olive oil... exactly the same as you would to make a Caprese salad.

Cover with more basil leaves and then measure the width that the pizza dough is going to need to be to cover the tomatoes properly- in this case, 4". This may not seem like much, but trust me- these little parcels of goodness are filling and delicious in every way!

Pop the lids back onto the tomatoes and then lay them on one side at the end of the pizza dough and roll them up, folding the excess dough in towards the middle as you go... but dont get stressed out- they just need to be sealed in dough all the way around.

I have a favorite little trick to use when making pizza as you probably already know... give the dough a 5-6 minute head start in a non-stick frying pan before transferring them to the oven. And that is what I did with these little beauties too. After those 5 minutes in the frying pan the bottom of each roll is firm and crisp, which is always useful when it comes to holding in any potential juices without becoming soggy and "ugh!

And they can then wander into the oven for 10-15 minutes to finish baking and become a wonderful golden brown... mmmh!

Do make sure that the rolls cool off a little before attempting to eat them- remember that those tomatoes in there are going to be very, very hot! Once you do slice them though, and cut through the mozzarella, I would recommend seasoning the freshly cut surfaces with more salt and pepper- that tomato will need salt in order to be flavorful- and of course so does the mozzarella.

These are great hot or cold- what you basically have is a nice, Summer, tomato and cheese sandwich but of course are much more fun with everything hidden from view on the inside- a pretty nifty idea I had there even if I do say so myself!

So next time you plan a picnic or party... or even a packed lunch for work- you might want to consider these for an easy, quick and inexpensive change. Whatever you do have fun making them- and even more fun eating them! Buon appetito!

Out of the Frying Pan

Prugne Fresche, con Fiocchi d'Avena, Cocco & Pistacchi Tostate in Padella
Pan-Toasted Plums, Oatmeal, Coconut & Pistachios

Sunday Morning, bright blue skies and sunshine... the first day of Spring after having just lost an hour of sleep (aargh!) and a day to celebrate with a yummy breakfast I would say! Just to emphasize the good and make up for the less-good and start the day off accordingly!

So- out came the frying pan!

But not for pancakes, eggs sunny-side up, bacon or anything else as yummy and sinful as that... no- for some incredibly tasty oatmeal with coconut and pistachio and delicious and juicy fresh plums! Sounds good... looks good... IS good!

The plums were so pretty, it was out of the question to pass them by without taking them, when I was at the market hall yesterday- and the wonderful pistachios, all the way from Bronte in Sicily, a gift from a chef friend of mine, along with some coconut flakes and a little honey, were all it took to make a truly wonderful and refreshing Springtime breakfast.

I could get used to this kind of thing more than just once a week!

To make this, obviously the first step is to wash the plums, halve them and remove the stones. Next, I cut the halves into quarters and then each quarter into quarters again... little spoon-sized pieces. 

The next chore I had was to halve the pistachios, which not only revealed their lovely green insides but also allowed them to crisp up better whilst toasting in the frying pan...

I started off with the oatmeal, which went into the dry pan first and toasted gently for 3-4 minutes and then added the plum pieces, stirring all the time. After 2-3 minutes, when the plum was beginning to soften a bit and the oatmeal to brown slightly, I added half of the coconut. 

As soon as the first half of the coconut was nice and golden brown, I added the second batch and of course the pistachios. I would say that a good size serving would be 4 plumbs, 2 cups of oatmeal and 2 tablespoons each of coconut and split pistachios.

The fun begins when everything is nicely golden brown, but looking a little dry and unmotivated. All the mixture needs is a little moisture- so go ahead and add maybe 1 cupful of water- that's all it takes. Stir everything together quickly and you will find the colors become more vibrant and that the newly added liquid soon evaporates away and that the oatmeal, coconut and pistachio soon become crunchy again! 

I could have added cinnamon, I could have added sugar, I could have added cardamom... but instead I decided to leave the plumbs, coconut and pistachios to their own devices... well- except for the final drizzle of honey over the simple fresh yogurt... I just loved it!

Feel free to add sugar or spice if you like, but give it a try with this stove-top breakfast and enjoy! Because... what's not to love?!?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Flowering Greens, Steaming Dragon

Salsiccia Cinese con Choi Sam & Tagliatelle al Uovo, Piccante
Spicy Chinese Sausage, Choi Sam, & Egg Noodles

When it comes to cooking, I am always going to be the guy who follows his instincts and his own inquisitive nature more than the one that follows any trend out there... that's just the way that I am. If everybody is there making burgers, eating expensive steak or even slurping oysters... you can be sure that I will not be doing that! But you might find me preparing something like this here! :-)

The main reason that I made this is that I was given this beautiful, blossoming, yellow and green choi sam by Mrs. Wong as a gift today at the market hall- which was already wonderful enough- but what then finally clinched it, was that I asked her something I have been wondering about for ages... what does Asian sausage taste like, anyway?

She told me that her husband steams it and that it has a mild and sweet flavor... and that already had me intrigued! 

So I already had the lovely greens- which are basically young and tender collard greens... and the sausages were an absolute must when I happened upon them later at the Asian supermarket- as were their own made (apparently!) noodles. Into my bag they went and on my way home I went- and my journey of discovery had only just begun!

As I had been out a little bit longer than usual, I decided to try out something very quick and very easy. I washed  the hoi sam and spread it out in a bamboo steamer, then sliced up the sausage on a diagonal and laid it on top, together with some slivers of fresh ginger. Of course, I ate a piece of sausage raw- just to have an idea of what flavor lied in store for me...

...and was intrigued to find that it did indeed taste sweet, in the same way that Chinese barbecue pork tastes... you know, that vibrant red colored delicious stuff? Well that is exactly what it tasted of- which may be a little weird for our Western taste-buds, but was fun and interesting and already had me thinking...

I cranked up the heat on my saucepan of water to get the steam going, set the steamer on top and let it steam away for 10 minutes or so until the greens became a nice, even-more vibrant color and the sausage was cooked through. By the time it had cooked, most of the fat in the sausage had melted away and of course been absorbed by the greens, which together with the ginger made for a great flavor combination.

At that point, I removed the steam rack and dropped my single portion bundle of noodles into the boiling water to cook, returned the steamer and lid and let then cook away for 5 minutes... I told you I decided to do something quick and easy!

Once the noodles were done, I drained them off, added a light drizzle of sesame oil, a little light soy and gave them a quick toss before plating them up. 

Next came the greens, which I carefully laid on top and then the sausage slices and ginger- it all went on, it all smelled wonderful but I knew it needed more seasoning in order for it to taste really wonderful as the sweet sausage and strong-flavored greens needed something to bring them together harmoniously. So of course I reached for something nobody else would have... Thai shrimp-flavored chili flakes!

I love the color of these shrimp chili flakes and the rich flavor of the shrimp shells that is ground together with them, which makes them much more interesting to me!

The sausages happened to be made of beef, which would seem a strange thing to be sprinkling something that tastes of shrimp onto... but then again- "surf & turf" works for us- so why shouldn't this work for an Asian meal?

And the answer to that is of course that it does work- and beautifully so! As the dish still needed decent, basic seasoning still, I decided to use hoisin sauce to add the saltiness that was lacking and a lovely richness and depth that made everything simply work wonderfully together- there was no need to do anything more to the flavor- it was just delicious!

The bottom line is that yes, Chinese sausage does have a distinctly sweet flavor compared with what we are used to- so if you are a westerner like me, you may want to add more seasoning to it... I know that I did. I have plenty more of them in the freezer now for future use, but already have a few ideas of cool ways to use them- to make dumpling dishes with for example or to use in Spring rolls... we will see! But the soy sauce will be there at the ready!

The cool thing about this combination for me though, is that it is basically an Asian version of our "pasta con cime di rapa & salsiccia"- pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage in Italy- a classic dish that I somehow managed NOT to make last week. Bearing that in mind, you may try making this yourselves sometime... and you might even find you like it!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Springing a Leek!

Frittata di Patate, Porro & Peperone & Maggiorana Fresca
Potato, Leek & Pepper Frittata with Fresh Marjoram

Do you love leeks as much as I do? Their sweetness and their rich, almost buttery flavor and texture? Well if you do- you will love this simple frittata which makes the most of the leeks great flavor... and if you don't? Good! That means there will be more of it for me and everybody else to enjoy!

Seriously though, leeks are so delicious, I often wonder why I don't cook with them more. They are the big-brothers of the already mild Spring onions, which have a much more delicate and fresh flavor than a regular onion- and these are milder and sweeter still... so what's not to like?

I wanted to make something quick and easy, so as the weather is slowly becoming more and more "Spring-like" and the temperatures are not quite so low anymore, I decided to make a frittata, an Italian omelette filled with fresh Spring flavors rather than the leek and potato soup I had been contemplating... and it was much more fun to eat too!

To make it I needed 5 small red potatoes. 3 eggs, a red pointy pepper and a little fresh marjoram, a little salt, pepper and nutmeg and about 30 minutes time in all. I think that's doable on a Friday evening... in fact, I know it is... because I did it!

The only real "work" involved in making this was the slicing and pre-cooking the leeks, potatoes and the pepper, before layering them up to form the frittata. I did this to make things speedier and to be sure that the potatoes in particular were nice and tender and soft by the time the eggs had set- and also to cut down of the fat in this dish... that's right! They were not fried in oil or butter- remember, this is one of MY recipes and not just your ordinary and average omelette here!

I started with the leek slices, which I popped into my frying pan with just enough water to cover the surface, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and let them bubble along until the water had evaporated away. By that time they had softened up and the color had changed considerably, turning a few grades brighter- and I then carefully removed them using a spoon to keep them intact and set them to one side.

I did the same for the potatoes but as soon as the water had evaporated away the first time, I repeated the procedure... they do take a little longer, but 5 minutes in all is plenty.

Last but not least came the pepper, to which I added a little sugar as well, just to amp-up the sweetness and give them a hint of a caramel glaze... yummy!

Next, before the fun began, I turned on the oven to 350° to warm up and then quickly cracked and whisked together the eggs, seasoning them with salt, pepper and nutmeg, but not mixing them too thoroughly as I like to taste the mixture of white and yolk in a frittata- it gives more depth of flavor and the look prettier too.

So, continuing on as I had begun, after giving my non-stick pan a quick rinse, I poured in just a little of the beaten egg and then began layering out the 3 ingredients, the potatoes first, then the leeks and the peppers on top. I added a little more salt, pepper and nutmeg, poured a little more of the beaten eggs on top and repeated building the layers. 

You will notice there was no cheese used in this and the reason is simply that I wanted to have a clean and different flavor than the usual and also, to keep the fat down and make it a more healthy meal... I mean- just look at it! Do you have any doubt that this would be anything BUT super-delicious?!? Exactly! So why add extra fat to it!?! One thing I did add was a nice sprinkle of cumin seed and a last dusting with nutmeg and pepper- I wanted this to taste terrific after all!

I managed 3 layers in all in my little frying pan, which gave it a nice bit of thickness and made for a very pretty look. I let is bubble away for 5 minutes on the stove top but then popped it into the oven for a further 5 minutes to set and a final 2-3 minutes under the broiler to get it nicely golden and brown.

I then left it in the oven to "rest" for 5 minutes or so before serving up, allowing it give off a little excess steam and settle down and cook all the way through before attempting to slice and serve and enjoy... because enjoyment is what this is all about!

Before serving, I added the finishing touch, which was a generous scattering of fresh marjoram- so terrific with the potatoes of course and great in combination with the sweet peppers and leeks... yes, all in all this was a pretty terrific little meal!

And one that I hope you might enjoy too!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Back to Black

Zucchine Tonde Ripiene con Fagiolina, Uovo, Menta, Ricotta Salata & Riso Nero
Round Zucchini stuffed with Egg, Green Beans, Mint, Salted Ricotta Cheese & Baked with Black Rice

It had been a long time since I last prepared black, or "Forbidden" rice and I decided this morning that I was going make it for supper when I got home from work in the evening... I just didn't know how or what to do with it!

It is no wonder that this lovely purple/black rice as at one point enjoyed only by the nobility in China and forbidden to the poor... but hey! We may not be the richest, but fortunately it is inexpensive enough today for each and everyone to enjoy!

I love the rich, "nutty" flavor of black rice and its chewy consistency- it is so much more satisfying than other types of unrefined or "wild" rice- This is why I decided to keep the other flavors and aromas in this dish mild, so that the rice was almost an equally important flavor in this taste-equation of a dish, rather than just being relegated to its usual position as just being a "side" to the other ingredients as is more often the case.

SO I decided to use zucchini- 3 little round ones, a few string beans, some fresh mint, a little salted ricotta and an egg to make a mild and delicious accompaniment to the yummy and chewy rice- and decided to bake everything in the oven to make it easier!

Obviously, the first step was to hollow out the zucchinis- one of those melon-scoopers comes in very handy, but failing that, you can always use a teaspoon. Keep half of the scooped-out zucchini for the filling and either give the rest to a friendly colleague who has asked you for the seeds the day after ( right, Annette? ;-) ), or nibble on them whilst you prepare the rest of the dish... and let's face it- there isn't that much to be fetched out of 3 little zucchini after all!

The next step is to slice up half of the scooped-out zucchini pieces, to finely chop the string beans and to blanche them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes and then to allow them to drain drain and cool for a further 10 minutes until they are back down to room temperature.

Once the zucchini and beans were cool, I added the egg, finely chopped mint and grated Ricotta Salata, salt, pepper, nutmeg and just a hint of cayenne. I stirred these well together, simply using a spoon and then got a.) a kettle of water boiling and b.) the oven turned on and up to the highest setting, ready to bake these little beauties in just a few minutes time...

If you get the mixture nice and fluffy, it can be more easily filled into the zucchini shells. This is because the air-bubbles will make the "batter" smoother and lighter and will flow into and follow-up any empty pockets inside of the zucchini.

Once the zucchini were filled, I placed them into a baking dish, spread 2 cups of black rice out around them and then poured in enough boiling water, straight from the kettle to cover the rice by an inch or so. I seasoned the rice with salt and whilst I was at it, I sprinkled a little more salt on top of the zucchini, but PLENTY of pepper and a nice drizzle of good olive oil.

I placed the dish, covered with foil, into the oven on a middle shelf at the maximum temperature, set my timer for 40 minutes and got busy tidying the rest of the chaos in the kitchen away :-)

After just 30 minutes I risked a bit of a peep and most of the water around the rice and zucchini had evaporated away. Tthe rice had indeed, doubled in size, which was just perfect! I popped it back into the oven and turned the temperature down a little, then let it boil away for a further 5 minutes and become yummy and golden on top!

As simple as the ingredients are and as different as they might appear, the result is mild and delicious and pleasant in every which way! Egg, mint and beans are so refreshing and tasty together that they are almost guaranteed to please! Combined with the yummy and chewy rice, they are sure-fire hits!

I know they pleased me- and I hope they please you! Enjoy!