Monday, 8 December 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

Cavolini di Bruxelles & Topinambour Arrostiti al Tahini, Miele & Sumac
Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Jerusalem Artichokes with Tahini, Honey & Sumac


A little experiment, a little improvisation and a new favorite side-dish for the Winter months and especially the festive season... Sometimes you just have to try things out and be open for something new!

My little adventure this evening involved Jerusalem artichokes, or "sunchokes", or topinambour... depending on where you live! The name may change- but the wonderful flavor does not! Well- not unless I get my hands on it!


I decided to pair them with Brussels sprouts- an absolute favorite of mine- and to spice them up differently and turn them into something different and new!

These are not the usual spices you would use- but the resulting flavor is not exotic- simply delicious... and that makes these perfect to serve with any traditional Winter meal to add a hint of something new without rocking the boat too much- haha!


There is no need for any big descriptions here- I had roughly equal amounts of both sprouts and 'chokes, I had the sumac, honey and tahini- and I have some common sense- and that is all that you are going to need too!


It's just a matter of good combination, of flavors that go well together- as always! Sweet honey and tangy sumac, along with the rich tahini and of course a little salt, pepper and olive oil... already just reading that you can get an inkling of how excellent this is going to taste...


The only prep-work that needs to be done is for the 'chokes to be scrubbed clean or peeled (I prefer leaving the skins on for their color- and also 'cause they're a good source of fibre), and the sprouts to be halved, after removing the ugly, outer leaves and trimming the stalks.

Then, into boiling water they go! The chokes first, as they need a little longer to cook, then 5-6 minutes later, the sprouts can simply be added on top. In the meantime, turn on the oven to get it nice and hot and ready to go!


So, after the chokes have cooked for 10 minutes or so and the sprouts for 5, turn off the heat, pour off the water and let them sit in the saucepan with the lid on for a further 5 minutes.

After that time, pour them out onto a baking dish, add a generous drizzle of tahini, a little olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper and sumac and stir them through gently, to get everything well coated.

Pop them into the oven at 200°C and bake for 15 minutes before giving them a turn over- then a further 15 minutes from the other side.


After 30 minutes in a hot oven, they should be crisped-up and golden... and wonderfully aromatic and enticing! The perfect time to add a drizzle of honey and make them even more so! Not too much- just enough to add a hint of sweetness and a light glaze.


 A final 5 minutes under the broiler (keep your eyes on them so that the honey doesn't burn!)- and you're done! And don't they look good?!?


And the good news is... that if you are one of those people who can not resist adding that splash of balsamic vinegar... oh yes, that would be wonderful with this!


It may not change your life- but it might change your supper! And... that's a start at least! Haha- give it a try, open your mind... and enjoy!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

A Hole in One!

Osso Buco, Marsala, Capperi & Verdure Miste
Osso Buco, Marsala, Capers & Mixed Vegetables


It's nice to make something that is a little bit indulgent, even if it was a little bit time-consuming and seemed decadent just for lil' ol' me... but there you go! I did it all the same!

Obviously, if you have a larger pot and you have family and friends- you can enjoy this too- and indeed, you are more likely to make this kind of thing as it is a lot more economical to use that stove-time to feed more people- but hey! We singletons deserve to enjoy this kind of dish occasionally too!


It may take time, but it takes very little work, what with everything going into the same pot... or tagine in my case! This is good, simple, old fashioned food that pleases- all of those wonderful flavors and aromas take care of that!

Here are the ingredients for my one-pot feast: 1 slice of veal shank (because that's what it is folks!), 1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery, 1 onion, 9-10 cherry tomatoes, 2 potatoes, fresh rosemary and thyme, a bay leaf, some capers and a good splash of Marsala- or two!


I decided to use Marsala and only the broth created from the vegetables and the meat itself to make this dish, rather than making the usual Barolo and tomato sauce version. I also added capers- the large caper-berries in my version, although the small ones would also be excellent... and these small changes made it into a much more Sicilian affair for me. Which obviously suits me much better anyway!


I began by flouring, and briefly frying the shank in a little olive oil, with plenty of ground pepper. One thing that is worth doing, is making 4-5 cuts through the tough sinew surrounding the shank, as this will otherwise contract as the meat cooks and squeeze it out of shape.


I then added plenty of herbs and flipped the shank over and deglazed the pot with a good splash of Marsala, which I let bubble away until it had practically disappeared- this gets a good base going to make a tasty sauce... you'll see!


And then, in went all of the other ingredients, coarsely chopped, except for the potatoes which I left whole. I added the bay leaf, more salt and pepper and enough water to fill the pot just to the height of the meat.

The good thing is- then it takes care of itself! I reduced the heat to a low simmer and let it sit and bubble away for 1 1/2 hours, checking every half hour of so to add just a little more water as necessary and turning the meat over each time.

By the time the meat is tender and falling off the bone, of course the tomatoes will have cooked away to nothing, but will have combined with the onion, the Marsala, the water and the herbs to create a lovely, light but rich sauce.


For sure this is old-fashioned- but then, so am I when it comes to food and great flavor never goes out of fashion! I much prefer this to dots and squiggles of sauce on my plate- and how!


Oh- and the Barolo that didn't go into the making of this dish? Might be a great accompaniment to it! And once you have had your dessert... a second tipple of Marsala will be a fitting finale! And keeping things "old-school".

Getting Fresh in Winter!

Insalata di Radicchio Tardivo, Mandarine & Menta al Origano
Curly Radicchio, Mandarine & Mint Salad with Oregano


It's Winter- it's cold and I do not, quite frankly, often have a craving for salads... it's the soups that have their firm grip on me in the Winter I'm afraid!

But when i do make a salad, I like to make something I wouldn't normally eat in the Summer- and of course, I like to use whatever was fresh at the market... like this lovely Tardivo radicchio and the first of the mandarin oranges that have arrived here from Sicily this year...


I also do not like to make too much of a fuss about salads- I like to just pick ingredients and flavors that go well together, compliment each other and do all the hard work for me!


For 2 good portions of salad, I needed just 1 radicchio, 2 mandarin oranges, some fresh mint, a good olive oil and some dried oregano. And very little fuss!


There is nothing that needs to be prepared here, other than chopping the stalk off of the radicchio, plucking the leaves of mint, peeling the oranges and separating the segments... the rest is just assembly and seasoning! Great!


No need for complicated vinaigrettes or dressings- everything happens right there on your serving platter. First of all arrange your ingredients decoratively- all except for half of one of the oranges, which you will squeeze out over the salad, getting everything nice and moist. Next, season with salt and pepper and follow this by a nice drizzle of olive oil. Finish it all off by adding a generous sprinkle of dried oregano... and you're done!


It is simply the combination of sweet and juicy, slightly bitter, fresh and minty and tangy from the oregano... that just make this bundle of flavors come to life! You don't need any other fanciness or fussing of any kind at all!


Oh- and the fact that it is as beautiful to look at, as it is delicious to eat, is also not such a bad thing! Haha! Go make yourself some and find out... and enjoy!


I'm Going to Bake You a Star!

Stella di Natale di Sfoglia
Puff-Pastry Christmas Star


Sunshine, starlight, this pretty pastry can represent whatever suits you best on a Winter's day- or night... and will brighten it up no end, either way!

I just made this up as I went along this morning, having seen similar pastries and after having indeed, many moons ago actually made one. So with the basic principle of layering and folding-over the pastry in mind... I went a little crazy, stayed a little lazy- took the easy way out and made this! Pretty fantastic, isn't it?


Not being able to bake never kept me from having fun in the kitchen- or from coming up with nice, different and fun things "of my own"- as with all things in life I suppose- you just do the best with what you've got!


Again, I needed surprisingly little to make this great pastry... and even had a little left-over to enjoy as a snack whilst the "star" of the show was cooling down!

I needed 1 roll of puff pastry, 1-2 tablespoons of jam, 1-2 tablespoons of coconut spread, 1 heaped tablespoon of coconut flake, 1 tablespoon of ground pistachios and the zest of a lemon. That's all!


Being as the jam and the coconut spread are so sweet, it is great having the coconut flakes and the pistachio in the mix to add a little neutrality in there to balance things out- and better still to have the tangy lemon zest to make it really perfect!


To make the star, you will need 2 equal-sized squares of pastry- which will leave you with 2 equal sized left-overs to make yourselves a little treat with... at least that was my method!

The most important thing at all to remember, if you want to make these- or any dishes with puff-pastry, is to work quickly whilst the pastry is still nice and cold- and to have a VERY sharp knife to cut it with!

Simply spread each piece of pastry with the different toppings. One flavor is simply the jam- raspberry in this case, but you can use whichever you may have or prefer- and the other with the coconut spread, which is a kind-of coconut version of Nutella.

To the coconut flavored one come the coconut flakes and the pistachios on top... and then you are ready to assemble!


Simply place the jam-coated pastry on top of the coconut pistachio and without pressing them together, continue by making criss-cross star-shaped cuts into the square of pastry, stopping a good inch or so from the outer edge. You will also notice that I left the outer edge free of jam or topping- this will allow it to still puff up during baking.


Now, simply slip your knife underneath the 2 layers of pastry and fold back each triangular section as in the photo.


Continue all the way around and the star is ready!

And as for those leftovers... I just cut the pastry in half and made 2 little rolls out of it- also nice!


Bake in a pre-heated oven at 175-180°C for 25-30 minutes until golden brown... it's as simple to make as that!


 A lovely, pretty and simple little explosion of flavor- what more could you ask for?

 Well, ok... except for a second serving that is! Haha!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Rough Stuff, Spinach & Salami!

Polenta Bramata al Forno con Spinaci, Parmigiano & Salami di Cinghiale
Baked Corse Grained Polenta with Spinach, Parmesan & Wild Boar Salami


Time for something a little different and totally delicious- for me at least, this was the perfect thing on a cold Winter's evening!

Lovely fresh spinach under a layer of toasted polenta, topped with Parmesan cheese- and the star of the show, some fantastic, rich, wild boar salami... oh...yeah!


What a savory treat, with lots of good things going for it! Sure, there's that salami in there- but you would probably put a lot more than that on a sandwich or pizza! Otherwise, this is wholesome and sensible stuff- and all the better for it!


For 2 nice portions, I needed one nice, big bunch of spinach- enough to fill your frying pan whilst it is raw- as you know- it will wilt-down to less than a third of that size when cooked. Otherwise, I had 2 cups of coarse-ground polenta, 1 onion, a little fresh thyme, a little Parmesan cheese and a little of that delicious salami.


So, if you happen to have an hours time to spend- half of it preparing and the other half waiting- you can make this for yourself or your loved ones... And find out how good something so simple can be!


Step one is to get the polenta going- you will need roughly three times the amount of liquid as polenta.
I added 3-4 sprigs of thyme, brought it to the boil and then reduced the heat to a gentle simmer. One good addition would be garlic- but I made mine without. The best way to give it a nice garlic flavor without it getting overpowering is to add a clove, whole, and then remove it at the end, so that your food is gently perfumed and not totally overpowered.


In the meantime, I coarsely chopped the onion and fried it in just a little olive oil until it began to turn golden and lightly caramelized in its own sugars.

I then washed the spinach thoroughly and chopped it rather coarsely- and added it straight to the same frying pan.

After 3-4 minutes, it wilted down and became a lovely, deep, emerald green and was halfway good to eat- to make it really good it needed some great flavor and a little more time... no problem!

The flavor came in the shape of salt, pepper and nutmeg, which I added generously- and the time would be spent in the oven!

So I turned the oven on and turned the heat up to get it ready to do just that!


In the meantime, the polenta was also cooked through and I seasoned it also with pepper and nutmeg- and just a little salt, on account of the Parmesan cheese and salami that was yet to come.


So, despite the out-of-focus shot, as you can see, I began putting my meal together by filling the spinach and onion into my baking dish first.

Next came a nice layer of that lovely polenta, which I seasoned on top one last time with plenty of fresh pepper, a hint more nutmeg and a scattering of Parmesan cheese.


The finishing touch was the salami- in this case, as I said, an incredible wild boar salami- lucky me! But... any salami you may prefer will be just fine! Slice it nice and thin so that it crisps-up in the oven- less is more! Trust me!

I baked mine for 25-30 minutes at 180°C, after which time the juices from the spinach and onion had begun to bubble-up around the outer edges of the polenta, the salami and cheese had made for a crispy topping... and all of the flavors had mingled together in the most wonderful way!

I baked mine for 25-30 minutes at 180°C, after which time the juices from the spinach and onion had begun to bubble-up around the outer edges of the polenta, the salami and cheese had made for a crispy topping... and all of the flavors had mingled together in the most wonderful way!

There you have it- all in one, big scoop! Lots of great, Italian country flavors and a whole lot of comfort this cold Winter! I think this may well be a dish that you all enjoy!


Colorful, simple... but delicious!


So much goodness!