Thursday, 30 April 2015

Simply Sensational Spaghetti!

Spaghetti con Zucchine, Peperone, Ricotta Salata, Olive & Timo
Spaghetti with Zucchini, Sweet Red Pepper, Salted Ricotta, Olives & Thyme

You can't go wrong with a nice, simple plate of spaghetti, right? Pasta is always good- it is always quick, it is always easy and it is (hopefully!) always delicious!

But does it always have to be a tomato, meat or cream sauce that goes with it? Absolutely not!

With just a few simple ingredients, I made this wonderful dish in just the time it took for the spaghetti to boil- and who can complain at a meal prepared in just 10 minutes? Not I and that's for sure!


There are a lot of great flavors going on here in this little plate! Mild and juicy zucchini, sweet red pepper, rich and savory olives, salty ricotta and aromatic thyme- all of these great flavors rounded off with a little salt, pepper, nutmeg and olive oil... typically Italian and totally delicious!


1 small round zucchini, 1 even smaller sweet red pointed pepper, 1 Spring onion, 9-10 black olives, some fresh thyme and then salt, pepper, nutmeg and salted ricotta... these were enough ingredients to prepare 2 portions of pasta... or to prepare 1 portion in my case and to dress it rather lavishly! But... you only live once!


Let me just point out the main reason that a lot of ingredients keep re-appearing in my recipes and posts- such as Spring onion, these small red peppers or even in this case, the round zucchini...

These are not particularly BETTER ingredients say, than regular onions, bell peppers or long zucchini- but their smaller size is simply more economic and sensible when cooking for one! It is that simple! So- absolutely, use your own judgement and feel free to use other, similar ingredients when you prepare these dishes! oh, absolutely! I do not aim to give people concrete recipes in any way- simply some inspiration and a few hints and tips to maybe encourage them to do their own thing! Because doing your own thing is what this is about!


So- whilst your water comes to the boil for the spaghetti- cut the zucchini into wedges and then the wedges into slices, remove the seeds from the pepper and cut that down the middle and then into slices too, slice up the Spring onion, halve the olives... and you're ready to go!


Whilst the spaghetti boils, start to fry all of the ingredients together in a little olive oil- add a little of the thyme from the beginning, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and fry until the zucchini begins to turn golden...


... it should only take around 5 minutes and should then look a little like this!


When the pasta has boiled for 5-6 minutes, pour off most of the water and then add to the frying pan with a little more fresh thyme and continue stirring and complete cooking along with the other ingredients for a further 2-3 minutes. Once all of the water has evaporated/cooked away, you are ready to add a last drizzle of olive oil and to serve it up!

Grate lightly with salted ricotta, add a last touch of freshly ground pepper... and simply enjoy!


No need to fuss or complicate things- with good flavors and ingredients on your side, you can't go far wrong! That is the beauty of Italian cooking!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Sun Shining

Torta Salata- Sole di Primavera
Springtime Sunshine Tart- Puff-Pastry Wheel with Green Asparagus, Carrot, Feta Cheese & Thyme


There is something about preparing dishes that are incredibly simple to make yet amazingly impressive-looking... that just makes them SO MUCH FUN!

For example, this beautiful ring of simple goodness took around 20 minutes to prepare and a further 40 or so to bake in the oven, whilst I sipped on a drink and enjoyed a nice rest from the exertion- lol! That's my idea of cooking! Haha!

So gorgeous and yet so laugh-out-loud easy to make- this is one dish you need to make in some form or other very soon... just look at the pics and I'm sure you will agree!


This was a rather small-sized tart- just 10" or so- and as you can see, the ingredients were relatively few: just a handful of asparagus, 2 small carrots, 1 Spring onion and a half block of feta cheese, along with the puff pastry of course and a little salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme and olive oil. I added a few cherry tomatoes into the equation, just to serve on the side as a sweet and fruity contrast- and flavored with some fresh and tender thyme, salt, pepper, sugar, olive oil and thyme, they were the perfect, light accompaniment.


And does that look good- or does that look good? Ok, I will agree- you are right! It really does!


Preparation is simple- trim the tough ends from the asparagus and then cut them in half lengthways- and do the same with the Spring onion. As for the carrots, peel them and then continue taking off shavings with the peeler, then stack the slices up and cut them into thin strips... done!


Put the shredded vegetables into a frying pan, sprinkle with salt and add just enough boiling water to cover the base. Pop on the lid, turn up the heat and cook for 2 minutes until the water has evaporated away and the vegetables are just softened by the steam, but still have their "bite". And do remember not to stir!! You will never get those things untangled if you do!

Add a drizzle of olive oil and set to one side to cool.


Next, unless of course you have bought a circle of puff-pastry, using a plate as a stencil, cut to size and then cut as shown in the photo. Simply cut a cross into the center of the circle making 2 cuts at 90° and then make 2 diagonal cuts, each time keeping the same distance from the outer edge. The cuts should leave plenty of room around the outside- which will of course form the base of our tart.


Next, crumble the feta cheese up and spread it all around the outer surface evenly. 


And then of course, add the vegetables, just a little at a time so that you can get them nicely and evenly spread. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add a very light drizzle of olive oil and you're done.


And now the fun begins- start folding the pastry back from the inside-out... see how easy it is to make something that looks so pretty?


I hope you had the sense to turn on the oven despite the fact that I have just forgotten to remind you- duh! because now in it goes, at 180°C, for 40-45 minutes on the middle shelf, until the pastry is cooked through, puffed up and golden brown!


Like I said- it looks so pretty with such little effort- you have just GOT TO love it!


I served mine up with a simple side of cherry tomatoes, sprinkled with salt, pepper, sugar and thyme and drizzled lightly with olive oil... simple- pretty and tasty of course at the same time!


So neither puff pastry- nor such humble vegetables, need be either boring, or bland if you use your imagination a little and make the most of them... and it is all such fun that it really makes it so worthwhile!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

I Propose a Toast!

Crostini con Cimetti di Rapa, Ricotta Salata & Pomodori Secche
Crostini with Tender Broccoli Rabe, Salted Ricotta & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

It was snack-time again this suppertime- just some little toasted rolls with a little this and that- but maybe not what most people would put on a roll... unless they are from Southern Italy, that is!

This was a great, light combination of tender and bitter-sweet broccoli rabe with salty and tangy ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes- and absolutely delicious it was too!


Perfect snacks to enjoy by yourself or as a part of a party spread maybe- and like I said- different and therefore (in my book anyway)- fun!


2 little rye rolls, 2 tender stalks of broccoli rabe, a Spring onion for added sweetness. 2-3 sun-dried tomatoes, salted ricotta, salt, pepper and good olive oil... is all that I needed to be happy and full this evening!

Really simple- but that is the way we eat down in the South- and trust me- this has all of the flavors that remind me of home- bitter, sweet, salty, earthy and delicious!

To prepare the broccoli rabe, I placed it into a frying pan along with the onion, which I cut into strips, then salted it lightly and covered with boiling water. Once it was cooking at a rolling boil, I reduced the heat to a simmer, put on the lid and let it cook down for 15 minutes until it was tender. I then poured off the remaining water and drizzled it with olive oil, tossed it, put the lid back on and let it rest whilst I toasted the rolls.


By that time, the broccoli rabe was tender and sweetened by the onions and nicely coated in aromatic olive oil- ready to be popped onto the rolls first...


...and then to be dressed up in a fancy shower of grated salted ricotta and the sun-dried tomatoes, which I cut into thin shreds. A drop or two more olive oil, a last sprinkle of pepper... and I was ready to go!


It sounds simple, it IS simple- but the combination is so good- and that is all you need to make good food!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Full-Steam, Grilled Salad!

Insalata di Romana, Radicchio, Carciofini, Patate & Piselli alla Piastra
Grilled Romaine, Radicchio, Baby Artichoke, Potato & Pea Salad

Salads... refreshing, healthy (or at least they should be!!!) and easy- although often predictable and frankly... well... a little boring!

But not when I make them! This salad was steamed and grilled! Ha! When was the last time you prepared a salad that way, huh?


Filled with color and rich with the flavors of the slightly bitter radicchio, the mild and creamy potatoes, the sweet and tender peas, the crunchy romaine and the exotic artichoke hearts, infused with mint and oregano and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and honey... this is about as seriously good as a salad can get!


The ingredients I needed to make this lovely salad platter were: 1 small head of romaine, 1 small radicchio, 2 Spring onions, 4 small potatoes, 5 small baby artichokes, a couple of handfuls of fresh peas, some fresh mint, dried oregano, 1 lemon and some good olive oil and honey. Salt, pepper- over and out!


It's easy- it's fun- and it's a great little combination of classic Italian flavors. Artichokes, peas and mint go so well together and especially so with potatoes... letting them be kissed by the grill adds a hint more flavor- and the same goes for both the radicchio and romaine- it is simply a good thing all-round!


I trimmed the artichokes of their outer leaves, cut away the tough ends and then halved them before adding them to the potatoes which I peeled and cut into 4 and peas which I left in their pods... this was a spur of the moment decision... but little did I know at the time, it would turn out to be the best possible way to cook peas EVER!

I added plenty of mint leaves to add aroma, a good sprinkle of salt for seasoning- and steamed everything in my bamboo steamer for 15 minutes. After that time, I added the spring onions and plenty of finely chopped lemon zest and put the lid back on for 5 minutes... in which time I got my grill pan nice and hot.

Whilst that was happening, I quickly stirred together a simple dressing of 1 tablespoon of honey, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of the lemon, a good pinch of salt, a little pepper and a good pinch of dried oregano.


Then, when the pan was nice and piping hot, I drizzled the salad hearts lightly with olive oil and then pressed them briefly but firmly down onto the hot, iron and gave them some nice scorch marks... just for 1-2 minutes! You don't want to cook them- just let the cut surface caramelize slightly.

Next came the potatoes and artichokes, also lightly drizzled with olive oil... and whilst they were browning, I popped the cooked peas out of the pods and set them to one side... they were SO sweet and juicy that way!

Once the potatoes and artichokes had browned nicely, I briefly added the Spring onions and then turned off the heat to let everything cool down slightly- and got busy setting my salad out on a platter to serve!

Last of all, of course, came the dressing, which I spooned over everything, a little extra dried oregano and salt sprinkled on top... and that was it! Perfection! Ready to be served!


Such a rich and wonderful salad! Even if I DO say so myself... and of course... I do!


So- do salads have to be boring? I would say not! They can be exciting and colorful... and fun!

If you already like radicchio- you will really love it in combination with these other ingredients... and if you don't- this may be the dish to change your mind! Try it and see!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Pass th Parcel

Asparagi Verdi in Cartoccio con Vermicelli di Riso, Menta, Zenzero, Limone & Peperoncino
Green Asparagus Parcels with Rice Noodles, Lemon, Mint, Ginger & Chili

Yes indeed- asparagus is in season and everyone is going crazy for it- as always!

And they are also all preparing it the same way that they always do!

Which is fine the first time you eat it, or the second- but let's face it, as short as the season is- if you keep having asparagus in Hollandaise or other butter sauces- you are going to get bored! Plus... you are also pretty likely to get fat!

There are so many other ways you can enjoy asparagus and it is so versatile that you can also easily make up your own... like I did this evening!

I MUCH prefer green asparagus to white- which my German colleagues will not appreciate me saying- but I prefer its richer flavor and also the fact that it is so much easier to prepare as it does not require peeling- oh and whilst we are at it... because it even tastes wonderful raw!


So let me share with you my little recipe- which this evening consisted of 1 bundle of rice noodles, 1 red chili pepper (mild), 1 Spring onion, 1 lemon, a little fresh ginger, a little fresh mint- and of course, a nice handful of tender green asparagus!

I seasoned my dish with hoisin sauce and sesame oil- and the ingredients brought all of the wonderful flavor, all by themselves...


And trust me- the burst of aroma and of course flavor, when you open up that parcel to enjoy, is SO incredible!

The great thing about this parcel idea as well, is that you can prepare this beforehand if you are making it for a dinner party say, and then bake a whole batch of individual servings all in one go...

And of course. also, serve them all up in one go- piping hot, aromatic and delicious... and FUN!


Start off by preparing the rice noodles- which is easy! Simply cover with boiling water and allow to sit and soften for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to loosen them up.

In the meantime, finely chop those aromatics- the chili, the ginger, the onion, the zest of half of the lemon and a good couple of pinches of mint. Add as much or little chili and ginger as you personally prefer or feel comfortable with... I like mine nice and spicy!

And turn on the oven!


After 5 minutes, pour off the hot water from the rice noodles and cover them with cold water... and they are then finished and ready to go!

Next, briefly sautée the asparagus with the finely chopped ginger and chili, with a good splash of sesame oil- 3-4 minutes should be enough.


Start with the noodles and add half of the onion, mint and zest to them, along with a drizzle of sesame oil, the juice of half of the lemon and hoisin sauce for seasoning. Carefully stir together and you are good to go!


The noodles go onto your parchment paper first- they will serve as a bed for the asparagus and thus also soak up all of the good flavors as it bakes in the oven.


The asparagus then goes on top, covered with the remaining onion, mint and zest, again, hoisin sauce and the rest of the lemon juice... make sure to add it all!


Fold the paper together, lengthways and then twist each end nicely and tightly shut- then bake at 180°C for 10-15 minutes...


... after which time the parcels are piping hot, full of flavor and aroma- and ready to serve!

And there you have it- all of the flavors, trapped together and nothing at all lost in any way- you can't get much tastier than this! Or easier, either!

It may be a little tricky to slide the contents of your parcel "elegantly" onto your serving dish... but you know- when the flavors are so rich and fresh and plain good- that really is not going to matter all that much!


 Simply grab your chop-sticks, or a knife and fork... and ENJOY!