Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Pasta's Always Greener

Casarecce con Cime di Rapa, Peperone Rosso & Ricotta Salata
Casarecce with Broccoli Rabe, Red Pepper & Salted Ricotta

Casarecce are one of my favorite pasta shapes. They are great carriers for any sauced pasta dishes, or even this simple but delicious broccoli rabe preparation... somehow all of that yumminess in the pan just clings to them in the most wonderful way!

Along with the sweetness of the pepper and shallot, the broccoli rabe has that great, deep, rich, bittersweet flavor that is unmistakable in Italian cuisine and that we down South especially love... and even more so when it is covered in amazingly rich salted ricotta! Oh my goodness! What's not to love?!?


Don't you just love the wonderfully rich green color that the pasta takes on by the time if is fully cooked? It transforms the whole dish completely and gives it the tricolors of the Italian flag- how fitting! And how cool!

As is typical for me, this dish called for very little of very few, very simple ingredients.

1 small and tender bunch of croccolia rabe, or cime di rapa as it is known in Italy, 1 small, sweet red pepper, 1 shallot, some salted Ricotta cheese for grating, salt, pepper and a little olive oil. That is the beauty of Italian cooking- you need so little to make something so special!

Broccoli rabe may not be for everyone, as it is much stronger tasting and more bitter than regular broccoli... but that is what makes it so special!

On the other hand- if you do not like bitter flavors- then use the same method and substitute the rabe with regular broccoli. As with everything in the world of food- it is all a question of taste!


Preparation couldn't be easier- pop your saucepan onto the stove top with plenty of salted water for the pasta and whilst it comes up to the boil, rinse the broccoli rabe and the pepper and cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and the pepper into small strips. Don't worry for a second about the size of the broccoli leaves... they are not too big.... you'll see in just 5 minutes or so! Cut the shallot into thin slices, pop a dash of olive oil into your frying pan... and you are ready to get this show on the road!


Pop the pasta and the broccoli rabe into the same saucepan and boil for 5 minutes... and in the meantime, get busy with the peppers and the shallot...


Fry the peppers and shallot together in olive oil until they both become soft and the shallot becomes translucent and starts to caramelize and gently turn brown.


After 5 minutes of cooking time, add the pasta and greens to the frying pan with plenty of the water they have been boiling in- enough to well cover the base of the frying pan.

Finish cooking and stirring together for the next 3-4 minutes. You will find that after a minute or two, the leaves of the broccoli rabe, which of course are the tenderest part, will disintegrate and turn into a smooth paste together with the remaining pasta-water... and this in turn will be soaked-up by those lovely casarecce... and this is what turns them so wonderfully green!

Add a last drizzle of olive oil before serving, grind with fresh pepper and grate with salted Ricotta for a dish full of the taste of the South!

This is pasta for grown-ups- but that hint of bitterness is what it's all about! pair it with a nice red wine and you have a great, authentic dinner- as quick and easy as can be!


Yes, yes and thrice yes to this! And do you know what? I will even say yes one more time... I like this that much!


If your pasta dishes are much more complicated than this... you need to re-think them! And if they are filled with butter and cream and stocks and other such things to give them flavor- they are probably not Italian!

Now... excuse me whilst I eat a little more... or better still- make some of your own and join me!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Golden Delicious Pizza!

Pizza con Radicchio, Salami Piccante, Rosmarino, Mozzarella & Miele
Pizza with Radicchio, Spicy Salami, Rosemary, Mozzarella & Honey


What shall I say about my supper this evening?

Well- apart from the fact that it was amazingly tasty and finished in just 30 minutes, that it was totally inexpensive, costing less than a delivery pizza- and that I really think you should give it a try... oh, there isn't all that much left to say. Haha!

No, but seriously... this was my usual combination of a few simple ingredients, with good complimentary flavors, baked on a store-bought pizza base and to hell with it! It makes for a more than satisfying and enjoyable dinner for one- or two- just add a glass of wine and relax. You can stress yourself with a complicated dinner some other day. That's what I said to myself, anyway. 

Just not this Monday evening!

"Bitter" radicchio, red-hot, spicy salami, mild Mozzarella, sweet onion and savory rosemary... all finished off with a drizzle of honey to make sure that everything comes together perfectly.

Well, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes again! That will do nicely!


With just one radicchio, 1 ball of Mozzarella, 1 onion, maybe 3" worth of spicy salami, a good sprinkle of dried rosemary and a light drizzle of honey, I managed to turn 1 roll of pre-made pizza dough into 2 small pan pizzas... one 1 large one if you so prefer. I just felt a little less greedy this way- lol!


This pushed every one of my taste buttons and surpassed even my own expectations! I knew the combination would work in my mind before I started making it of course... but the finished result was just... excellent! This is a quick, cheap and easy treat I shall be making again- and definitely one I want to share with friends!

Pizza need not always be about tomato sauce and cheese!


Here we are- ready to go as soon as we have sliced up our onion and salami as thinly as we can and chopped the stalk away from the radicchio, so that we can separate the leaves. Time to turn on the oven to pre-heat it for the pizza and to pop a frying pan onto the stove top to prepare our topping!


Everything goes into the frying pan at a high heat and gets tossed for 1-2 minutes, until the salami starts to sizzle and everything gets lightly coated in the fat that it gives off- and of course soaks up the flavor!

Next, add a splash of water- just a little and put on the lid. Turn off the heat and let it sizzle away for a minute or so- then remove the lid, and allow to cool.


That quick blast of steam will make sure that everything is pre-cooked just enough and that all of the ingredients are infused with the flavor of the salami. Perfect. Now... unwrap that pizza base and get ready to have some fun!


First of all, lay out a few bits of Mozzarella and then begin to lay out the radicchio and salami nice and evenly. Sprinkle the rest of the Mozzarella on top and then lay the onions on top- that way, they will have a better chance of crisping up and turning golden brown. Sprinkle generously with dried rosemary and then bake in a hot oven, at the highest setting, for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Once the pizza has a nice color and is beginning to get crispy around the edges, take it out briefly, and then add a LIGHT drizzle of honey- especially over the radicchio of course- but basically, all of the pizza will benefit from it!

Then back inside it goes, under the broiler for one or two minutes until it begins to froth-up, bubble and turn brown... and then out it comes- and dinner is served!

I think this picture says it all... I think a good title for it could be "golden delicious" ;-) Don't you?

And yes- I did eat all of it by myself! Because I for one am not one of those people who have to have those same-old-same-old tomato sauce topped and overly cheesy pizzas... this is much more to my liking!


Like I said- pour yourself a glass of red, kick off your shoes and relax... and more importantly- enjoy! Buon appetito!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Taste of Spring To Come.

Calamaro, Barba di Frate alla Menta & Limone su Bulgur Turco al Baharat
Cuttlefish with Lemon & Mint Monksbeard on Turkish Bulgur with Baharat


Exotic and complicated-sounding, but quick and easy to make- this evenings supper was the perfect, colorful ending to an otherwise drab first day of Spring.

With Mediterranean and Arabic influences, this is a light and tasty meal that is easy enough to make in a hurry on a weeknight, but also delicious enough to serve to guests.


One small saucepan, one folding steam rack and one frying pan... those were the utensils I needed to prepare all of these lovely ingredients. Read on and you will see how I cut a corner or two and saved quite a bit of time and effort- which made preparing this lovely meal into even more of a joy!


Obviously, I only prepared one portion, for me, myself, yours truly- but that makes it easy to scale things up if you are preparing for more people.

So, I needed 1 cuttlefish, 1 good cupful of Turkish bulgur (the kind with those fine, toasted, vermicelli noodles mixed-in), a good handful of monksbeard, 1 large Spring onion, a little fresh mint and parsley, 4-5 cherry tomatoes, 1 lime, salt, pepper and olive oil. And baharat of course! What a wonderful spice mix!


The result is tasty but very mildly spicy... and with the monksbeard being prepared with mint and lemon, the way my Sicilian market vendor Nina taught me to make it, it was refreshing and light and delicious! I may go as far as to say that this is the only way that I really enjoy monksbeard- haha! But hey! I am a clean-shaved guy... most of the time!  


I started off by putting my cupful of bulgur into a small saucepan, added half of the onion, a tablespoonful of baharat, seasoned with salt and pepper and covered it with 3 cupfuls of boiling water.


I then set my steam-rack into the saucepan, laid the cuttlefish on top, turned on the heat, put the lid on tightly and let them cook together for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, I removed the cuttlefish, put the lid back onto the saucepan and let the bulgur sit and finish cooking in the residual heat from the until I was ready to serve it. By that time it would have almost tripled in volume and be perfectly light and fluffy.


Using either a sharp knife, or some kitchen scissors, make cuts along each edge of the cuttlefish- these will let it get crisper and at the same time more tender when you fry it- and then into a very hot pan it goes, with a little olive oil. Press the cuttlefish firmly down so that it crisps up nicely and season with salt, pepper and lime juice.


Set the cuttlefish to one side and then pop the remaining half of the Spring onion, the monksbeard and a good pinch of chopped mint into the pan to take its place. Sautée for a minute or two and then add a splash of water and plenty more lime juice.

Stir together, push to one side, return the cuttlefish to the frying pan and put on a lid to keep them warm whilst you quickly finish the bulgur... and soon you will be ready to eat!


Before serving, add the cherry tomatoes and the parsley to the bulgur, along with a squeeze of lemon and dash of olive oil- and then you are finally ready to go!

A little extra chopped mint and a couple of slices of lime to squeeze are the perfect finishing touches- to make it look as great as it tastes- and taste as great as it looks!


The only thing that was lacking... was a little sunshine! But we will all have that soon enough! It's just nice to know what we can cook when it happens!


On the other hand... with a plate of food like this... who needs the sun?!?!

All a Load of Rhubarb!

Piccole Tortine di Fiocchi d'Avena, Rabarbaro & Mirtilli Americani
Oatmeal Cupcakes with Rhubarb & Cranberries


It was Sunday morning, it was breakfast time, we had been robbed of an hours sleep in order to make way for Spring/Summertime... and... it was cold, rainy and dark outside! Aaargh!

There was absolutely no other choice than to make something bright and cheery to fake a little sunshine! After all- I had already started planning it the night before...

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb! People go on about it- they either love it or hate it- but with it's amazingly striking pink stalks, when walking through the market hall- it is pretty hard to ignore it!

The thing that troubles most of the people who do like the flavor- is how to prepare it, so that it doesn't disintegrate into a stringy, pulpy mess... and this is the way I do it- If you care to scroll on...


To make these 8 little breakfast cakes, which were basically just baked oatmeal, I needed just 4-5 stalks of rhubarb (and I had plenty of compote left over!) 1 cupful of flour, 1 cupful of oatmeal, 1 egg, 1 handful of dried cranberries, 1 cupful of water, the juice of half a lime, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, a little vanilla (I used the pod but essence is fine), 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 tablespoons of honey (or to taste).

The results are chewy little oatmeal cakes with that tang of rhubarb and cranberry and the aroma of cinnamon and vanilla... nothing really exciting- but plenty exciting enough to start the day healthily and with a smile!


This is the way I like to prepare rhubarb- and I always do it the night before.

Turn on the oven to the highest setting to get nice and hot before you start on the rhubarb. Begin by carefully peeling away the tough, sinewy, but very fine skin from the rhubarb. It almost breaks my heart to do so- but it is pretty indigestible and so it has to go!

Usually people over-compensate with adding strawberries or raspberries to rhubarb dishes for the sole reason of keeping them pink- but I found these few cranberries were sufficient and they were in there to add sweetness and flavor, primarily, anyway.

Put the peeled rhubarb, cut into sections of around 1.5" into a baking dish of some sort and add the cranberries, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of honey, the vanilla and just enough water to cover the base, then stir it through and pop it into the hot oven for 30 minutes.

After that, turn off the oven and go to bed. The end.

The residual heat will finish baking the rhubarb, but being as it has not been touched or stirred, each piece remains intact- simple really!


Come morning, you will be rewarded with a lovely, super-tender compote of rhubarb and berries- with an incredible tasting syrup... word!


So now you can turn on your oven again, to 180°C to get warm for baking- and begin stirring your batter together.

Into one bowl goes 1 cup each of flour and oatmeal, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a tiny pinch of salt.

Into a smaller bowl goes 1 egg yolk, the juice of half a lime, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of honey- stir these together until they are well mixed.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir together well- add enough water, little by little, until the mixture has a thick but smooth consistency- about 1 cupful.

And finally, fold in the egg white, which you will have hopefully have beaten until fluffy and light. Oops- forgot to mention that earlier! Haha!

Fold the egg white in until the mixture is perfectly smooth and go grab that cup-cake tray and some papers!


In retrospect, I could have filled mine a little fuller than half way- I guess I was being too over optimistic and expecting them to rise more- silly me! I almost forgot that I have no idea how to bake!

I added 3 pieces of rhubarb and just a few cranberries on top of the batter, again, to make sure the rhubarb remains intact, but also insure that it doesn't all just sink to the bottom.

Then, into the oven they went, on the middle shelf, for 25-30 minutes at 180°C. And in the meantime... tidy up!

Well- that and spooning up the remaining rhubarb compote... mmm!

And after 30 minutes in the oven... as well as the house smelling wonderful- here they are! Simple, healthy little cakes of oatmeal, with added rhubarb and cranberry... good enough for me- I think maybe good enough for you too?

If you think you would like them sweeter- feel free to add more honey or even sugar- but I prefer mine this way- just enough sweet and sour fruitiness to make the oatmeal come to life... and enough to help me come alive this morning too!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Bakin' Your Salad with Bacon!

Spiedini di Puntarelle in Pancetta & Miele con Patate al Limone & Menta
Skewered Bacon & Honey Puntarelle with Lemon & Mint Roast Potatoes


Apparently, Springtime begins tomorrow, which is why I bought these lovely puntarelle, in order to make a nice salad. And then made these with them instead! You can't beat a nice, Vegetarian dish, finished with a little crispy bacon! I'm telling you!

This was similar to the classic dish of white chicory wrapped in ham with steamed and buttered potatoes... only much, much better! Even if I do say so myself!


I know that bacon is a little bit naughty, when we start talking calories... but it is sooo nice, when we start talking flavor! And as the puntarelle, or any other kind of chicory for that matter has next to no calories... I figured... why on Earth not?!?


Basically, quantities of ingredients are not important here- it is just the combination and the method that you need to know.

Puntarelle come in very different sizes, and the individual "pods", that I wrapped in bacon here, vary vastly from one plant to the next. They need to be of a large enough size to make it worthwhile wrapping them- around 3" in length I would say. And you will need just a half of a rasher of lean and thinly sliced bacon for each

You could alternatively use regular chicory or "endives" and cut them into quarters to make this.

Other than that, you will need potatoes of course, lemon and mint. And for seasoning and finishing off, you will need salt, pepper, nutmeg and good olive oil.


Although it is very simple, it is totally delicious and light- perfect for a Springtime supper! I just wish the weather would realize that it is time to start getting its act together!!!


I began by washing the puntarelle and cutting away the separate pods, then selecting the largest ones for this dish... and nibbling on the others whilst I prepared the rest...

I peeled and cut the potatoes into quarters and popped them into a saucepan and then turned on the oven to get it nice and hot and ready in advance.


I added half of a lemon cut into 6ths, 3-4 leaves of mint, plenty of salt and enough boiling water to cover them and then let the potatoes boil for 20 minutes on a gentle rolling simmer.


In the meantime, I chopped some zests up to use as a garnish and flavoring later, then squeezed juice over the puntarelle before wrapping them in bacon.

I simply wrapped the rasher around each one and where it overlapped, allowed about 1" more and cut it with kitchen scissors... easiest way to do it! And yes it is delicious- but there is no need to use any more than you need... What do I always say? Less is more!

The idea with the skewer, was actually a spur of the moment decision! The only reason that it is REALLY there, is to keep the bacon in place and to prevent it from unrolling as it shrinks whilst cooking. So rather than use individual toothpicks, which would have been the other alternative-a skewer it was!


I seasoned the rolls with plenty of coarsely ground pepper, placed the skewers into a baking dish and added a little water. I then covered the dish and let the puntarelle sit and cook and steam for 15 minutes at 200°C.


After 20 minutes of boiling, the potatoes were perfectly tender and packed with flavor from the lemon and the mint. Being a spend-thrift, I use the foil that I had used to cover the puntarelle and laid the potatoes and lemon out on it, added a good drizzle of olive oil, more pepper, a little freshly grated nutmeg and a last sprinkle of pepper... and into the oven they went at 180°C for 20-25 minutes or so, until they became golden and delicious.


Once they had cooked through, I took the puntarelle out of the oven and added a light drizzle of honey and a grind of pepper to each, before returning them, so that the honey could caramelize and the bacon would become super- crispy... and delicious!


And when they were finished, the puntarelle looked a little bit like this!


I added a little finely chopped mint to the potatoes and the finely chopped lemon zest to the greens... and dinner was served!


Despite that little bit of oh-so-important and oh-so delicious bacon, this was a light meal, full of flavor and refreshing and simple. You couldn't really ask for more!


What a treat- and more than good enough to eat!