Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Hot & Cold from The Old Country

Cicoria Stufata, Peperoni, Olive & Pomodori Secche
Braised Italian Chicory, with Peppers, Olives & Sun-Dried Tomatoes


Yes, it is hotter than hot all of a sudden in Frankfurt- so why on earth, you are asking yourself, is that guy cooking something in a tajine and not making a salad or throwing something onto the grill!?!

Well, there are two good reasons for it. The main reason, is because this is the kind of meal that most people down in southern Italy prepare at lunchtime, to enjoy cold as an evening meal. The other reason is... It took care of itself whilst I took a nice, long, cooling shower as it cooked! Haha!

Oh- and the third reason, is because I don't have a grill!!!

We love our greens in Sicily and especially the bitter ones, but that can said to be true for all of the south. And they always taste better when they are combined with something milder or sweeter of course... Like onions for sure, and this evening, I thought maybe some sweet peppers would be a good idea... And it was! Except that a few turned out to be quite a bit hotter than I thought they might! Wow! Peppers can often be full of surprises, I can tell you!

Thankfully, I love my food hot and spicy, but oh boy! Still, the combination with the other ingredients worked wonderfully... And by the time I was ready for supper... I was ready for a treat!


My ingredients were 1 head of Italian chicory, 2 spring onions, 4 halves of sun-dried tomatoes, 5 sweet/hot peppers, 9-10 black olives, salt, pepper and olive oil.


This is the kind of thing that we call "companaggio" in Sicily, the "accompaniment" for your daily, (or evening) bread. Companaggio can be olives, cheese, hams or salamis, vegetables, pickles or other cold, left-overs from lunch... Poor people's food, but good food!

Start off by popping the peppers and the spring onion, into a saucepan, or if you have one, a tajine like I did, with a good splash of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and plenty of pepper. Ok... Had I known how hot the peppers we're going to turn out to be, I would have used less ground pepper maybe... But you get the idea!

I decided to use the tagine, because traditionally, way back when, this was the kind of dish that was stewed or braised in a clay pot. The tajine was the closest thing I had to that... End of story! Except for stating the obvious... OF COURSE you can use a regular saucepan!


Whilst the peppers and onion sizzle away, wash and halve the chicory leaves, but do not shake all of the water off them, instead, place them dripping wet into the tajine along with the peppers, then add the sun-dried tomatoes cut into slices and the olives cut in half, with the stones removed, and maybe 1 cup of water, and stir everything through. Pop on the lid, reduce the heat to about half-way and allow to simmer and steam and cook for the next 40-45 minutes.


Yes, of course you should check every now and then... But generally speaking, the little bit of water in the tajine or saucepan, will turn to steam, which will in turn cause the greens and the peppers for that case, to give off their own juices, which should produce plenty of moisture in all to cook everything down nicely.

Basically, the greens need to both wilt down and to soak up their own juices, which will be packed with flavor from the olives and dried tomatoes, as well as the sweetness and hotness of the peppers. The added sweetness of the onion is what does the trick and makes everything milder... That's a lot of different flavors going on in there! And that is a good thing!


With a last drizzle of oil before serving, these are great for an evening snack with some crusty bread, or as a side-dish or part of a party spread. It may only appeal to the adults... But that is fine! You don't do without wine at the table just because your kids aren't going to drink it now, do you?


This may be a little prettier in my version than it may have been the olden days where it may have boiled away for a couple of hours... But I think that 45 minutes is plenty of time for those greens to cook in... Plus... I was hungry!!!


I am sure you make something similar using endives, or "regular chicory" if you can't get "cicoria " or "catalogna" as it is also sometimes called... But try to get the real thing if you want to know how one of the best-loved greens from the Old Country tastes... It's bitter alright... Must you might just like it all the same!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

One Pan Man

Polpettini, Fagiolina Gialla & Pomodorini Datterini
Little Meatballs with Yellow Beans and "Date" Tomatoes


There are a number of reasons to love those one-pot or one-pan recipes... They are easy, they are convenient, they make for less washing up... But there is one main reason that I love them and that is because they guarantee that every bit of flavor stays right there and gets concentrated into a wonderful end-result. Every time.

This dish was a perfect example of all of those things, with simple ingredients, elevated in flavor to becoming super delicious and so much more than the sum of its parts... And then, yeah, there is the fact that you only need to wash that one pan!


Simple, tasty little Italian meatballs, fresh beans, fruity tomatoes, a little grated cheese and some fresh herbs... Sounded good to me this evening! Meatballs are a great comfort food and usually something that we have all loved since our childhood. I think that familiarity is what makes them always taste good and always have a hint of nostalgia.

Unless of course somewhere along the line, you became vegan or vegetarian... In which case I have to say sorrrry! I will fix something nice for you good people next time!

To make 10 little meatballs I needed 175g of mixed ground meat (beef and pork), 1 spring onion, 1 egg, 2-3 tablespoons of bread crumbs, 2 handfuls of beans (yellow in the case), 10 date tomatoes, fresh parsley and marjoram, olive oil, salt and pepper and a little Grana cheese.

I love these little, elongated, "date" shaped tomatoes. They are a little firmer than regular, round cherry tomatoes and have a slightly fruitier, tangier flavor.. and they add the juiciness to this dish that makes it complete.

I decided to use them rather than cooking to meatballs in a tomato sauce, to make a more summery dish that would be perfect eaten hot or cold. Theoretically speaking of course... Because I finished off the whole lot whilst it was still warm!

I began by mixing the meat, the egg, half of the onion, 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, a little finely chopped parsle, salt and pepper in a bowl. Don't worry, I soon realized that this bowl was a bit too small, lol!

I then added more breadcrumbs as well as some grated Grana cheese, until the meat was of the proper consistency to form into little balls.


I kept mine small, just 2 bites to each on and managed to get 10 from that small amount of meat... Pretty good, as if I had made a burger... It would still have been all gone!

I fried the meatballs in a non stick pan with no added oil or fat, until they were nice and brown on the outside.


I then added the beans, the remaining onion, salt and pepper and fried them together for 2-3 minutes. I then deglazed the pan with enough boiling water to cover the base, put the lid on top and let them steam for 3-4 minutes. I then gave them a little toss and stir and let them continue cooking for 2-3 minutes more.


After that time, the beans were half done and the water had evaporated away or been soaked up into the beans and the meatballs respectively... Which can only have been a good thing of course!

I then added the tomatoes and another touch of water, popped on the lid for a further 4-5 minutes... And that was all!


All they needed was a generous sprinkle of parsley and marjoram to give a bit of fresh flavor as well as color... And you can bet that dinner was served in a hurry!


Of course an extra sprinkle of Grana can't hurt, can it? Hehe! Go ahead... Enjoy it!

Berry Peachy Indeed!

Pesche, More, Ricotta & Fiocchi d'Avena al Forno
Baked Peaches, Blackberries, Ricotta & Oatmeal


On the first sunny morning in such a long time, I decided I should make something pretty to celebrate. And so I did!

Pretty and delicious enough to have been almost a dessert idea, these baked peaches were healthy and delicious and for sure, a "decadent" treat to be enjoyed without a hint of guilt... Hurray!

That's why I had a double portion as you can see- haha!


Forget all that you think you know about sweet dishes, the butter, the excess sugar, all of the bad stuff and concentrate on the good.

Do you love the flavor of ripe peaches? Cool! Buy some... And don't ruin them!

Do you like the flavor of berries, or do you prefer them to be sweetened-up a lot? If you crave the extra sweetness, open a jar of jam and save yourself the hassle!

Otherwise, follow me and I will show you how easy it is to make something really NICE without any nonsense! And with hardly any work at the same time...


I think you might be a little amazed again at how little I needed to prepare this... But hey! That's what I am almost famous for, haha!

Ok, hang on to your horses... This could get a little complicated! You will need peaches, blackberries, ricotta cheese, a little cinnamon, sugar and honey, a couple of spoonfuls of oatmeal and a sprig of mint if you like, as a garnish.

What you will not need is a recipe or for you in any way to stress yourselves!

At the risk of repeating myself too often, as much as it is a wonderful thing to use spices and seasonings to create wonderfully tasty dishes, if you let the flavors of the ingredients speak for themselves, they will take care of the hard work for you.

It is a matter of combining the flavors, the textures, the sweetness and the sourness... And it is not rocket science! It's a whole lot easier than a lot of people think!


Begin by halving some blackberries and sprinkling lightly with sugar and cinnamon... And no, you plainly do not need a recipe at all, stop worrying!


Next, halve the peaches (I had these lovely flat ones as you can see, but any will do) and add a teaspoon of ricotta to the center of each one. Sprinkle with a little more cinnamon and turn on the oven... If you haven't already done so! And get it hot, hot, hot!


Sprinkle with a little oatmeal and then add a couple of tablespoons of water to the baking dish before popping it into a hot oven, at 200 C, for 20 minutes. Then, take it out and drizzle with a little honey... You will see that even just 1 teaspoon will go a very long way! Then back into the oven it goes for another 10 minutes or so, until the oatmeal begins to get toasty and brown.


The fruit will still be intact, but soft and juicy on the inside, the ricotta will have set lightly on the outside, but still remain creamy within and the oatmeal will be crunchy and delicious... Add those components to the hint of cinnamon and the berry syrup... And I would say yes! You have got everything that you could want right there!


Plain, unspoiled goodness... That's what I like.


Add a touch of mint to make it look even more lovely, but also because if you pluck the leaves apart and eat them along with the rest... You will love it even more! Always eat your garnishes, people!!!


Dig in... And find out!  

All I will say is... What's not to like? Enjoy!!!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Having a Bitter Fun with the Griddle.

Radicchio alla Brace con Condimento di Yogurt, Coriandolo & Zenzero & Scaglie di Grana
Grilled Radicchio with a Yogurt, Cilantro & Ginger Dressing & Shaved Grana


Shall we turn on the grill this evening? Or just have a salad? Or do both? These of course a rhetorical "first world problem" type questions here... Because I don't own a grill anyway!

Living in my little 2-room apartment, all I can do is turn on my griddle pan when I want to have anything that comes close to being grilled... But I am not about to let that stop me enjoying my food!

So, being as I was having difficulty deciding what to grill (kidding), I decided to grill my salad! Hardly a new idea, to grill radicchio and also not something that everyone enjoys, being as bitter as it is... so I decided to top that by creating a cilantro based dressing, which is also something that a lot of people don't like!

But being as I adore both... Yeah! And the result was delicious indeed!

So, to prepare this lovely, simple salad dish this evening I needed 1 large radicchio, a small bunch of cilantro, the juice of half a lemon, 1 tablespoon of honey, a little fresh ginger, salt, pepper, olive oil and some Grana cheese.

There is no end to the variations of salads you can make to brighten up even the rainiest, never mind the sunniest of summer days (it was torrential all day again here in Frankfurt, sigh), or at least there SHOULD BE no end! Have fun! Try new things! Be brave and enjoy your food! If you are privileged enough to have something to eat, then make a little effort with it and celebrate it!

I sprinkled the radicchio lightly with salt and drizzled it with olive oil, then pressed it down firmly onto a very hot griddle, holding it down to make sure it got nice, slightly caramelized scorch-marks, which is what this is all about... 3-4 minutes are more than enough. And that was it- the radicchio was already finished!


The cilantro, yogurt, ginger (finely diced), honey, olive oil, salt and pepper all went into the blender, with the juice of half a lemon... had a frantic little whizz around together for a minute or so... And then that was finished too!


Check the seasoning and add salt, honey, lemon juice or olive oil as necessary- or simply to suit your own taste... And then get slicing some thin shavings of cheese... Because now you have everything and are ready to serve!


If you have a real problem with bitterness, I will allow you to add a light dusting of powdered sugar at this point, which will immediately dissolve and disappear and make the flavor more mellow... But I didn't! I'm Sicilian after all and we love having a little bitterness in our food!


Spoon on a generous amount of dressing and scatter with plenty of Grana cheese... That added blast of rich saltiness makes the whole thing complete... Well almost!


It's really lovely looking isn't it? And it is full of flavor for sure...

... But if it doesn't get that last grinding of fresh pepper, it just isn't complete!

But once it IS complete... It is pretty damned good! So try if if your brave enough... And then hopefully enjoy!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Use It! Don't Lose It!

Riso Fritto Semplice al Uovo con Verdure & Pesto di Gamberetti
Simple Egg-Fried Rice with Shrimp Paste & Vegetables


Again, another long, hard day at the office and again, too stressed, too tired and too hungry to feel the desire to go to any great lengths to fix a complicated supper... And also too little in the way of ingredients in the fridge!

But I did have a little leftover rice, some eggs and a couple of vegetables... So I used what I had, I did what I had to do... And lo and behold! 10-15 minutes later I was enjoying a good, hot meal and relaxing rather than stressing. So, as simple as it was, it was also just perfect.


Yes, it is a simple bowl of fried rice and no, you do not need anything more than that! A few simple vegetables, 4 simple Asian seasonings and the presence of mind to keep things humble and simple and good. We can make something more elaborate some other time... But if we learn to appreciate the ordinary things, we become more aware of how extraordinarily tasty some of them can be!

Here you can see the main ingredients I needed to prepare my bowl of fried rice... My last pak choy, 1 sweet red pepper, a little fresh cilantro, 1 spring onion, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon of Thai shrimp paste... And of course, my little bowlful of leftover rice! And to make this all really delicious, simply pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil and a dash of sweet Thai chili sauce.


I hate to be wasteful in the kitchen and always find a way to make use of anything and everything that I buy... And all I will say is, shame on you if throw away food that is still good or have the attitude that you don't want to eat the same thing twice! Have some respect for your food and make a bit of an effort! Or have you ever see me eat the same thing twice?

It's up to you!


Cut the pak choy into bite.sized chunks, finely dice the red pepper and slice up the spring onion and you are already, ready to go!


Fry the stalks of the pak choy along with the pepper and the white part of the onion, together with the shrimp paste, in a little sesame oil. Season generously with plenty if freshly ground pepper.


After 3-4 minutes, add the rice, the greens and a good splash of soy sauce for seasoning, then continue stir-frying.


After 3-4 minutes, remove from the heat and add plenty of coarsely chopped cilantro, the onion greens and the egg... And get ready to do some stirring!


Stir the egg in off the heat, so that it doesn't set immediately and so that you have the chance to make sure it gets evenly mixed with all of the other ingredients.

Continue stir-frying for a further 2-3 minutes and then serve with a last drizzle of Thai sweet chili sauce and a garnish of more cilantro... And voila! dinner is served!