Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Beautiful Bouquet!

Fiori di Zucca Ripiene di Patate, Camembert & Menta & Salsa Semplice di Pomodorini
Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Potato, Camembert & Mint with a Simple Cherry Tomato Salsa


Zucchini blossoms- I can never resist them! I think it is the contrarian in me that likes them- simply because they are not something that most people out there buy or prepare... they are kind-of like a red rag to a bull when I am at the market!

But then... the question is always- what to stuff them with? There are the traditional fillings, such as anchovy and Mozzarella- mmm! Or I have made them stuffed with couscous, rice or grains before... but this evening, I decided to try something new! Which is hardly something new for me- haha!


The last time I made a dish using zucchini blossoms, I filled them with Camembert cheese and transformed them into a frittata- which ended up being one of the best dishes I have made with them so far. I love the way the flavors harmonize so well together! And so, this evening, I decided to use it again- in a new way!


It didn't take much to transform these beautiful blossoms into equally delicious ones... as you can see. I decided to use a few potatoes, some Camembert cheese, cherry tomatoes, Spring onion, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, nutmeg and good olive oil.

How much of each will depend on how many blossoms you have, how large they are, how large the potatoes are... etc... So I am not going to go there! You know that's not the way I write my recipes anyway- they are more guidelines for you than rules... but just follow the pictures and comments and you will see it is all really easy and will be no problem at all!


 The simple tomato salsa was more of an afterthought to add some fruitiness and contrast- and was equally quick and easy to make! This is a fun dish that is tasty, elegant, quick, inexpensive and easy... need I say more? Shall we just get started? Hehe!


To make the filling, simply boil and mash the potatoes and whilst they are still hot, add some finely chopped Spring onion, mint and parsley, season with salt, pepper and plenty of nutmeg and stir together well. The heat of the potatoes will "cook" the onion sufficiently and the herbs and nutmeg will infuse them with rich flavor right from the beginning.

Be sure to not add any butter, milk or any other kind of liquid! Once the cheese is added- and especially once it melts in the oven, that filling will become very soft and you run the risk of it oozing out.


Stir together thoroughly and taste to make sure you have enough salt- potatoes do need their seasoning!


Once the mash has cooled considerably, add the finely dice Camembert and mix it in well... and there you have it- your filling all ready to go!

Now you can turn on your oven to get it ready!


Snap the stamens out of each blossom and then give them a quick rinse and a shake dry, then proceed to spoon in the potato filling.

Add around 2 teaspoons of filling to each blossom- no more! As I already mentioned- they will soften up at first and excess filling will ooze out otherwise!

Drizzle them slightly with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and bake at 180°C for 10 minutes or so- then carefully turn them over and bake for 10 minutes more.

In the meantime you can make that tomato salsa!

Simply fry the finely chopped cherry tomatoes with the rest of the Spring onions, the mint and parsley, again with a simple seasoning of salt, pepper and nutmeg, in a little olive oil.


After 5 minutes or so, it will have cooked down considerably- time to add a pinch of sugar and then to deglaze the saucepan with a little boiling water.

Add enough water to just cover the tomatoes and reduce to a low simmer... and let the sauce continue reducing until the zucchini blossoms are finished- another 5-10 minutes.


Turn on the broiler for the last 5 minutes of baking and then allow the blossoms to cool a little- for 2 good reasons. 1.) because they will be so incredibly hot that you will get 3rd degree burns if you try to eat them and 2.) because they will become a little firmer and easier to handle. Like I said- 2 good reasons!


They ARE very soft and delicate... but you will see- they ARE also absolutely delicious! And together with the simple yet tangy salsa they are not simply and eye-catcher but also an excellent combination!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Easy Does It!

Bruschette con Crema di Avocado, Ricotta & Crescione & Ciliegini
Bruschetta with Cream of Avocado, Ricotta & Cress & Cherry Tomatoes


Home from work with a pit-stop at the supermarket this evening and couldn't help seeing the sign saying "ripe avocados!" - especially as I was tired, not in the mood to cook (!!) and feeling that some kind of snack would be just fine.

So I just put two and two together and came up with an idea for supper! In fact- 4 slices worth! And I know you can only see 3 in the photos... that is because I couldn't resist munching one down as soon as it was ready!


Ok- to call these "bruschette" is actually cheating a little, as these were pre-toasted and store bought, Italian crisp breads- but you all know how to toast bread- right? Haha!

What I did actually make, was the avocado topping- a kind-of guacamole with ricotta, watercress and thyme added. it was quick, easy and you are going to love it!


1 avocado, 1 pot of cress, 2 tablespoons of ricotta, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh cilantro & thyme... those were the ingredients for the avocado topping. The cherry tomatoes added some fruity freshness, contrast and color... and the result was simply delightful!


All I will say is that if this is not absolutely perfect for every kind of party or snack situation- well, frankly I don't know what is! So much flavor and yet so light and refreshing- and served up this way, just as pretty as a picture as well!

Take a look at this picture- it shows a good deal of the really hard work involved in making this... that's right! There isn't much!

Just slice up the cherry tomatoes, cut the cress down and score the avocado, ready to pop out those little cubes. Very, very easy.


Next scoop 2 tablespoons of ricotta into a bowl, add the juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and a good pinch each of the plucked thyme leaves and the finely chopped cilantro. About 1 tablespoon of each. Stir these thoroughly together before adding the other ingredients.


Add the diced avocado and half of the cress and gently stir everything together.


Once everything is nicely blended, allow to sit for 5-6 minutes and then have a little taste to see if you need to add seasoning, juice or oil... but otherwise- now you are good to go!


As you can see, with these narrow strips of crusty bread, it was nice to add the topping just a teaspoonful at a time with a slice of cherry tomato in between... so just have fun! but do make sure to add some tomato- the contrast in flavor is as important as the contrast in color.


Add a last touch of salt, pepper and olive oil, scatter with a little more cress for added freshness and color- and simply enjoy this simple snack... because it may indeed be simple- but it is also simply good!

Almost makes you wish it wasn't still freezing cold and pouring with rain outside, right? Ah, whatever! These will add a little sunshine to the darkest and dullest of Winter days! Make them anyway- and enjoy!


With snacks as tasty as this- I don't feel bad about being lazy and not cooking! And neither will you!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Question of Crunch

Pasta chi Pipi, Pummururiddi & Muddica
Pasta with Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, Crispy Bread Crumbs & Herbs


We love "a muddica" back in The Old Country- crispy, toasted bread crumbs are the poor mans Parmesan cheese in Sicily and most of the rest of Southern Italy. They add a great crunch and a perfect finish to any pasta dish- whether you have cheese or not!

This evenings supper was a simple dish of spaghetti with sweet yellow pepper and cherry tomatoes, enriched with plenty of fresh herbs- and indeed- made so much better still through the crunch of the "muddica"!

Pasta dishes should always be simple- they should never be too fussy- that's not the Italian way! Just a couple of simple ingredients and little common-sense and improvisation and you can always turn them into something special. And please- no heavy sauces or cream! That's something we don't like to do, for sure!


You can't get much easier than this! I yellow pepper, 6 cherry tomatoes, 1 shallot, 2-3 tablespoons of bread crumbs, fresh basil, parsley and thyme, a little salt, pepper and good olive oil- and you have more than enough ingredients there to prepare 2 great plates of pasta!


I am sure this picture says more than a thousand words about this dish- it is full of light, fresh flavors- vibrant, healthy and good! You will love the way the sweetness of the pepper and tomatoes blends with the herbs- and then those crispy crumbs... just perfect!

I cut the pepper into thin strips, the cherry tomatoes into halves and finely chopped the shallot and the parsley- very easy prep-work as usual.


The first thing I did was to put the crumbs into a dry pan and start heating them up. Once they were on the verge of starting to turn brown, I added a little olive oil and the parsley. I stirred everything quickly together and added a hint of salt and pepper, stirred them through and then continued stirring and toasting them off the heat... they do tend to brown all at once are are easy to burn- so be careful!

I then set them to one side to cool, popped my pasta on to boil and got busy with the other ingredients.


Into the frying pan went the shallot, pepper and tomatoes along with the thyme and a nice glug of olive oil...


...which after 4-5 minutes were nice and brown and looking delicious! I seasoned them with salt and pepper and then got ready to add the pasta.


In went the spaghetti, after just 5 minutes of cooking time, with plenty of the water it had boiled in, to continue simmering away with all of the other ingredients for 3-4 minutes.


After that time, all of the water had been absorbed and had infused the spaghetti with all of the flavors of the other ingredients... it was so easy!

Also, most of the little thyme leaves had fallen from the stems, which I then removed. I plucked off any leaves that were still attached- because that is all good flavor that can go into your plate!


With a nice scattering of toasted bread crumbs, plenty of fresh basil, a good drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground pepper... dinner was ready to be served!


I would say that it would be pretty difficult to beat this in terms of price, spreed, ease and flavor! What's not to love? This has everything a great pasta dish needs! Unless you absolutely need to have that cheese of course- haha! Parmesan, Grana, Pecorino or salted Ricotta would of course be great additions. But me? I kept is simple!


And simply delicious!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Squeeze Me! Please Me!

Schiacciata di Cicoria, Zucca, Pomodoro Secco, Pancetta & Scamorza Affumicata
Schiacciata with Chicory, Squash, Sun-Dried Tomato, Bacon & Smoked Scamorza Cheese

I got home from work feeling miserable this evening... it happens. Tired, a little dizzy and wobbly on my feet and not quite in the mood for a marathon round of cooking. So I decided to just improvise, throw all of my left-over veggies of the past 2 nights into a pan- and let it be whatever it wanted to be...

Thanks to a trusty roll of store-bought pizza dough... what it turned-out to be was mighty delicious! And after tucking into this wonderful result, I hardly need to tell you that I felt a whole lot better!

Armed with the last few leaves of wild chicory, a handful of squash and a little imagination, I put together a simple but truly excellent filling for a simple schiacciata- or "squashed" and folded pizza... It was one of the best I've ever made! Even if I DO say so myself!


Take a look at that onion- it should put things into perspective for you here in my ingredient list... it didn't take much (as usual!) to make this great meal!

The last 7-8 small, inner leaves of the wild chicory, 1 onion, about 1 handful of squash, 1 handful of finely chopped bacon, 4 pieces of sun-dried tomato and about 1/3 of a smoked Scamorza cheese were all it took to transform 1 roll of pizza dough into something fantastic!

Pizza is great and of course you can get it all over Italy- and the rest of the world too. A "calzone" is nice too- but still, it's usually the same-old filling in there that you have on top of the same-old pizza's.

But down in the South, we make any number of different "schiacciate", using whatever we happen to have at home and wrap them in dough when we bake bread. An ages old tradition- and one that I love! Very much indeed!

I mean- who needs a sandwich- when you can have THIS instead?


So here are the ingredients, all ready to go! The onion and the squash cut into thin slices, the chicory into small chunks and the sun-dried tomatoes into thin strips.


Begin by frying the onions together with the bacon until they become translucent... and please- no added fat or oil!

Next add the squash and plenty of black pepper and a little nutmeg... no salt as you have the bacon and will be adding the salty tomatoes later.


Add the chicory, stir it in well, add a tiny splash of water and pop on the lid. Allow to steam, sizzle and wilt down for 3-4 minutes and you are almost there.

Now keep stirring until every last bit of moisture has evaporated and all of the vegetables are cooked through- a further 3-4 minutes should suffice- then set to one side to cool and turn the oven on to full power to heat up.

Once the filling has cooled, spread it out onto half of the pizza dough, leaving the edges free so that they will seal tightly shut.


 Add the sun-dried tomatoes evenly, so that they add plenty of seasoning all over.


Last, but not least- the grated Scamorza... as much or as little as you like. As you know, I don't like to overdo it with the cheese in my dishes!


And all you need to do now is to fold the dough shut and squeeze it down firmly and nice and flat.


Purely on a whim, I made some diagonal cuts into the top layer of dough- you can also simply prick the dough here and there with a fork, but I thought this looked way cooler!

The reason for doing so is to allow steam to escape during baking- so yes, the slits were an excellent way to do so.


Bake at the highest setting for around 15 minutes, then brush with a little olive oil and sprinkle with sea-salt, before returning to the oven for a final 6-7 minutes until the crust becomes a rich golden brown.

This tastes wonderful hot or cold- and yes- that makes these things so wonderful to prepare for parties and celebrations... they're so easy and your guests are bound to love them!


If you don't have wild chicory, an excellent alternative would be Swiss chard and failing that spinach... or... invent your own filling! There really are no rules... except for the rule that you need to squash it down flat before baking!


A taste of the South! And yes- after eating this... everything and everyone feels better!