Monday, 31 August 2015

Yes You Can!

Bietola, Ceci & Pomodorini
Swiss Chard, Chickpeas & Cherry Tomatoes

One pan, no fuss, and two servings of great food- healthy, satisfying and economical, as well as being plain delicious. Now, come on... There has got to be at least one thing in that list that you like the sound of, if not all of them!

To me, these are ALL great reasons to make this kind of meal, as well as the fact that they simply remind me of our down to earth dishes down South. To me, this kind of dish tastes of home... Only... I make it my way!
Normally, this kind of dish would be boiling away for at least twice as long as mine was and more often than not, the chickpeas would have been soaked overnight and the meal would have been planned ahead. Thankfully, for people like me, we can now easily get chickpeas in cans that are wonderful and ready to go... So that we can indulge in our spontaneous, spur of the moment yearnings for comfort food whenever we need them!

To make this simple but tasty dish I needed just 1 small head of Swiss chard ( there were basically only 3 thick storms here), 1 onion, 10 cherry tomatoes or so, fennel seeds, dried oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper to season and of course some good olive oil... And around 45 minutes of cooking time.

It was a little too warm today, or I could have made this into a lovely soup by adding more liquid and the. Simply mashing a part of the chickpeas to thicken it up... But that's the good thing about these down to earth old fashioned dishes, you can always vary and alter them to suit your taste... And indeed you should!

I began by frying the stalks of the chard together with the onion, in plenty of olive oil. And with a pinch of salt and pepper. Garlic would also have been nice in this dish and this would have been the right time to add it... But I left it out this evening... You never know when somebody may try to steal a kiss! Haha!

After 4-5 minutes, I added the chickpeas along with the liquid from the can and added a good pinch of fennel seeds, dried oregano and a decent dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. On went the lid and down went the heat to a gentle simmer... And there it sat for the next 10 minutes or so whilst I chopped up the chard greens and halved the cherry tomatoes.

And then in they went, with a little sprinkle of salt, a quick stir and on went the lid again, along with a little goodbye as I went to pour myself a drink. Parting is such sweet sorrow... But it's not that bad when you know you will see each other again in around 20 minutes, lol!

By that time, everything is well cooked through and tender and delicious... And bursting with all of ththe good flavors that have cooked- in ... I much prefer this method to the traditional way in which the greens are boiled separately and then fried together with the other ingredients- just think of all the goodness you are pouring down the sink if you do that!

Serve with freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and enjoy the richness of this "poor people's food" and then you'll understand why we all love it so much. Word.

Buon Appetito!
My final word is that I have to say that I hate the categorization that happens with food nowadays. Back home, we didn't have vegetarian meals, vegan meals, or any kind of special named dishes, it was just called dinner and was all simply food, sometimes with meat or fish, sometimes without. I think back then there was a greater appreciation of food and cooking and the fact that we had something nourishing to eat and that is a mindset that has stayed with me to this day. And I like it.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Sexy, Exciting Dates

Sfogliatini Speziati con Datteri Fresche, Pistacchi, Pinoli & Pera
Spiced Puff-Pastries with Fresh Dates, Pistachio, Pine Nuts & Pear


Small, spicy and seductive... No, not words used to describe myself, but words I am using to describe these little pastries- hehe! Let's face it... I have to keep coming up with these things to catch people attention... They only want me for my food!

Having said that, I am guessing that if you made some of these lovely little pastries for your own beautiful selves, they would immediately make everyone love you- word!


I based the folding technique for making these lovely little pastries on the traditional Turkish method used to make their little apple pies known as "elmali kurabiye"... Which are already wonderful... But you know me... I had to go ahead and go crazy and do something different!

As I had the extreme good fortune of having found fresh dates at the market yesterday, of course they HAD to go in there... But because they were so sweet and delicious, they also completely eliminated any need for any extra sugar in the filling! So, as naughty as these little devils were, the only actual added sugar to them was only a teaspoon in all for the whole lot! Which can only be a good thing!


As few as these ingredients look, the amazing fact is that I used not even half of what you can see here... And would have had enough filling to have made twice as many as my roll of pastry would allow! Which means, that to make 15 of these little pastries I needed: 1 roll of puff pastry, 1 pear, 5-6 fresh dates, 1 tablespoon of ground pistachio, 1 tablespoon of chopped pine nuts, 2 cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of coriander seeds and 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Yes, they're small at just 2 bites a piece, but yes, they are filled with rich, exotic flavor and sweet without being overpowering, as many oriental pastries can tend to be... Which made them just right for me! And I am hoping for you too!


Rinse the dates, cut them in half, remove the stones and cut them into thin slices.


Grate the pear coarsely, and add the date slices. Whether you peel the pear or not is. A matter of preference, but I decided to not peel mine. Grind the coriander and cardamom with a mortar and pastel and add them, along with the cinnamon. Stir everything together and allow it to sit and draw juice from the pear for around 15 minutes and in the meantime you can turn on your oven and unroll your pastry.


After 15 minutes, add the pistachio and the pine nuts and stir them in so that everything is well blended and so that all of the excess juices get absorbed.


Simply cut the pastry into even-sized squares.


Make parallel cuts on each of 2 sides that almost meet, but not quite, in one corner of each pastry square, as seen in the photo.

Then add about 1 teaspoon of the filling to each square.


Fold the pastry gently shut, first from one side...


 ...and then of course, the other.


Now, fold the bottom end of the pastry upwards to seal and press down firmly with a fork to seal the pastry securely before baking.

Pop into a hot oven, at 180C and bake for 25-30 minutes until they are puffed-up but still rather pale.

That would be the time to add that little sprinkle of sugar... Better to wait and add it at the end than to risk it burning!


Bake for a further 5-10 minutes until they are lovely and golden brown... Unfortunately, they will smell so wonderful at this point that you might burn your fingers if you are too impatient... Like I was! Hehe!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Easy Caprese!

Insalata di Couscous & Pomodoro alla Caprese
Couscous & Tomato Caprese Salad


Keeping it simple, keeping it fresh, keeping is quick, easy, healthy, light and delicious... That was what this little idea was all about!

The regular tomato and mozzarella would have been fine this evening... Had I thought to buy some bread to go with it! But alas, I am getting on in years and forgetfulness, ironically, is one of the things that constantly reminds me of the fact!

It was suddenly much hotter than had been forecast today- it caught me unawares and I'm telling you... By the time I got home from the city, the last thing that I wanted to do was to cook! I know... it's a rare occurrence... But it even happens to me!

The only thing I needed to do here was to boil some water and my electric kettle took care of that in less than 2 minutes, which meant that I didn't even have to turn on the stove... Perfect!

This was enough salad to have made 3 side-servings, but with this kind of dish, obviously you don't need to have a strict recipe with weights and quantities and what-not... You simply need the method and the rest takes care of itself... However...

For this evenings salad I used 5 tomatoes, 1 ball of mozzarella, about 1 teacupful of couscous, a good, generous handful of fresh basil and salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil of course to season. Very, very, simple.

The thing is that these are well known and well loved flavors... So there is me need to mess around at all... Let it be what it is and simply enjoy the familiarity of it... And relax!


This was the only bit of tomfoolery that was involved with my salad... I cut away the tops of the tomatoes in a star shape before emptying them out, but a clean, straight cut will obviously be just fine!


I prepared the couscous by simply chopping plenty of basil and adding it along with salt and pepper, then covering it in boiling water.


I stirred it through and let it sit for a minute, after which time the water was absorbed, then repeated with another splash of water to cover it again. But after all of that torture, I let it sit and rest and get itself together for the next 15 minutes or so.


Once the couscous has cooled completely, fluff it up with a fork and then add the remaining tomatoes, seeded and diced. Season with salt, pepper, vinegar (I used malt, but red wine or balsamic are also fine) and of course olive oil.

Yes, I know, there is no vinegar involved in a classic Caprese salad... But this is the couscous we are seasoning here, capisce?


Fill a little couscous into the hollowed-out tomatoes before adding your mozzarella and basil, then season with salt, pepper and olive oil before serving... Nothing could be easier! Or more refreshing and delicious!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Who's Bean Stirring Things Up?

Riso Fritto "Sichuan" con Calamaretti "Ananas", Peperone & Cetriolo
Sichuan Fried Rice with Pineapple Squid, Pepper & Cucumber


Ok people, this is another of my Friday night specials! And that means... That as usual, there was almost nothing left in my fridge and so I had to get creative!

Fortunately, I still had a few tricks up my sleeve... Or jars in the cupboard and squid in the freezer to be more precise!

The squid are always terrific of course, but the star of the show was this wonderful Chinese bean paste... Please don't ask me the original name, I can only tell you what the translation of the shelf was and what the nice lady at the store told me... But let me tell you this much... It's a message you will enjoy because it is all about great flavor!

This was set on the shelf with the simple translation, "spicy red bean paste", which although it sounded like a good thing in itself, did not really tell me what it would taste like.

But the assistant kindly explained to me that it is a blend of broad beans, garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper corns and sesame oil... Which suddenly made it sound a whole lot better! What made it better still was the fact that the beans were fermented and therefore packed a salty, rich, umami punch... And so, sure- supper was already a safe bet!


So, what else did I have in the fridge, ingredient-wise? Not much, as I already said! As you can see, other than my 4 frozen "pineapple squid", I had 1 red pepper, 2 spring onions, 1/2 of a cucumber and a little parsley... And in my cupboard, I had the bean paste, some sesame oil, Thai sweet chili sauce, soy sauce... And thankfully, a good cupful of rice, to turn these other ingredients into a meal!

Not really knowing exactly how to make the best use of the bean paste, I did a couple of quick searches online...

And lo and behold, right up there amongst the most frequent posts, were recipes using it in combination with cucumber! Ha! Once I saw that, of course I threw caution to the wind and just started cooking, suddenly filled with the confidence that everything would work out fine... And do you know what? It did!!!

The first thing to do is to get your rice boiling and to set your steam rack on top of it, so that you can put the squid on top and let them steam whilst the rice cooks! Boil the rice for 10 minutes with the lid on and after that time, remove the squid, set it to one side to cool and replace the lid to the saucepan. Let the rice sit and continue cooking/steaming from the residual heat in the saucepan.

And in the meantime, remove the seeds from the cucumber and the pepper and cut them, along with the spring onions, into small, bite-sized pieces.

Once the squid is cool enough to touch, cut each one into 3-4 bite-sized pieces.


Fry the squid and the pepper first, in just a little sesame oil, at a high heat, so that they begin to brown nicely, then add the spring onion and a good tablespoon of the red bean paste. Stir everything together well and take a peek into that little saucepan of rice... Is it good yet? Cool! Excellent! Let's go!

Now, last of all before adding the rice, as they require the least cooking, add the cucumber slices and season with a dash of soy sauce.


After 2-3 minutes, add your rice and a little more sesame oil and stir-fry together until everything is nicely mixed and coated by the bean paste and all of the good flavors in the pan.


I didn't have any cilantro at home, some a good sprinkle of fresh and finely chopped parsley had to do... that and just 1-2 tablespoons of sweet Thai chili sauce and a light drizzle of hoisin before serving were the last finishing touches... Before I could finally sit down and enjoy!


Very simple, with very simple flavors... But if they are simply good flavors... Then what more do you need to enjoy? Nothing!!!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Twisted Temptress!

Pasta alla Puttanesca
"Whores Pasta" with Tomatoes, Capers, Black Olives, Garlic, Chili & Parsley


First things first this evening-I want you to all know how much I love my mom. But now to the import at part of this message... A word of warning to those of you out there that love YOUR moms too... Don't talk to them on the phone when you are making this dish! Otherwise you might get sidetracked, like I did, and forget o add one of the most important ingredients... Like I did !!!

Anchovies are one of the main ingredients in this dish and I could kick myself for having fetched them out and then STILL having forgotten them... And it would have been better with them for sure... But was still pretty delicious even without! So... Mom! I love you! And everyone else... Don't forget to add your anchovies!


There are many theories as to why exactly this dish is named "pasta in the style of a whore", but chances are that it is because it is so quick and easy to make, that it can easily be put together in-between clients visits...

And maybe also because it is a very 'saucy' tasting dish too! This is flat-out temptation with little time for subtlety! And that's just my style! Hehe!


Yes, yes, I know there could be a caption here, asking "which is the missing ingredient?", so let's begin with that one. You will need anchovies! There- I've said it! Now could we please move on? I am already embarrassed enough as it is!

For 2 portions of pasta, you will need 2-3 anchovies, 1 clove of garlic, 1 shallot, 9-10 cherry tomatoes, 5-6 black olives, 1 tablespoon of capers, 1 tablespoon of tomato purée, plenty of parsley, salt, pepper, chili flakes and olive oil... It's as simple as that! Use your pasta of choice and grate with Parmesan, Grana or in my case with salted ricotta... And you have a meal on your hands (or your plates!), that is so seductive, it would make a whore blush!


Here it is, in all of its juicy, naked, seductive glory... You know you want it!

Whilst your pasta water is coming up to the boil, start frying your finely chopped garlic and shallot (or onion if you prefer) in plenty of olive oil, with a good pinch of chili flakes.


Once the shallot has become translucent and the garlic has slightly begun to brown, add the cherry tomatoes, diced and the olives, also roughly diced and season with pepper... And salt in this case- otherwise, this is when you should add your anchovies!

Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes and then pop in your pasta to boil, before carrying on with the sauce.


Once the tomatoes have softened up and reduced down, add the tomato purée and the capers and stir them into the mix too, for a further 3-4 minutes.

After the pasta has boiled for 5 minutes or so, drain off most of the water, but transfer it to the frying pan with plenty enough to well cover the base, so that it will both deglaze all of the good flavors in there, but also be sufficient to finish the cooking process for a further 2-3 minutes.


After 2-3 minutes of stirring in the pan, the water will have reduced down with the purée and the tomatoes and turned them into a nice, saucy, delicious and rich coating for the pasta. All you need to do now is add a generous pinch of parsley, a last drizzle of olive oil, to give it a good stir or toss through... And to serve it up, piping hot!


And if you can resist the temptation that I am presenting to you here boys and girls,,, then I suppose you are much holier a man than I! I mean... I would just jump into that dish, head-first, with a fork and think of the old country! And enjoy!


To make things complete, a scattering of rich and salty ricotta and a last toss to get all of those flavors combined... And the reckless abandon ensues!


...and it may be a little spicy, it may be a little naughty, but it is also very, very nice indeed! Go on, have a bite... No one needs to know...