Friday, 30 October 2015

The Sicilian Handwich

The Sicilian Handwich


I won't call this silliness, but I will say that this is a bit of fun for a Halloween evening... A nice severed hand of a Sicilian Mafia boss for supper! Now what do you think of that?

Of course this is just a sandwich, but it is packed with great flavors from The Old Country and is a lot of fun to make and to serve up to your friends! It's a Halloween snack that you canna refuse!


Come on, you've gotta hand it to me- this is kinda fun! And fun and originality are pretty handy ingredients when it comes to cooking- it's not just about truffles and caviar you know!

But all kidding aside, these are good, sensible ingredients put together in a pretty classic combination, giving you great Sicilian flavors and a smile to go with them... Which is my favorite thing to do!


To make 2 nice, man-sized sandwiches, you will need 1 roll of store-bought pizza dough, 1 small eggplant, 1 spring onion, 2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta, a good handful of cherry tomatoes, some hot and spicy salami, plenty of fresh mint and parsley, some dried oregano and rosemary, salt, pepper and olive oil.


There are all of the flavors that I love and that remind me of home in here and they all go so well together! Hot and spicy, tangy and fruity, creamy and refreshing... It's all here and in the combination... Its definitely all good!


Ok, first things first... Those hands! And they are actually really simple to cut out. Simply divide your dough into 4 equal pieces. Next, trim away a small, rectangular bit from the outside of each end and discard these... This gives you your "wrists".

Now, cut away a rectangle from the center, so that you have a piece missing from each of the 4 quarters... This hole in the middle gives you your "thumbs".

Now, cut three slits into each of the "hands", to give you the "fingers" and lengthen the cut where the thumbs begin. If you want, you can try to round off the ends of the fingers, but this really is not necessary... You will be just fine without it!


The best way to transfer the finished hands to your baking tray, is to cut each one out separately and to lay them into place, upside-down and then to remove the paper... The dough is much to soft for it to be possible to lift otherwise!


Brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and dried rosemary and bake in a pre-heated oven, at the highest setting, for around 20 minutes until deep golden and crispy!


Whilst the bread is baking, dry-roast the eggplant slices until golden, sprinkling them lightly with salt and keeping a watchful eye on them the whole time... It will only take 6-7 minutes... Which will also give them a little time to cool down and moisten up again.


For the minty ricotta cream, simply chop up a good handful of mint and parsley, finely chop the spring onion, add a pinch salt, a grind of pepper, a splash of olive oil and stir everything together until you have a nicely blended paste, ready to spread!


By now those hands will be golden and brown and crispy and well deserving of a good round of applause!


Flip the bread upside down, so that the herbs and the salt are on the outside and spread generously with the blended ricotta cream.


Next, add the salami and golden and delicious eggplant slices... And you are halfway to making a sicilian sandwich!


Next come the cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper and a good sprinkle of dried oregano... Delicious!

And last but not least... On goes the lid!


I think this deserves a second round of applause!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

From Jerusalem to Bombay!

Zuppa di Topinambur al Curry
Curried Jerusalem Artichoke Soup


Some days you just want a nice bowl of soup, (or two!) and nothing else. Just something warming and comforting and simple. It's that time of the year!

And after a tough day, it was just what the doctor ordered this evening... Simple food, cooked in one pot, with no hard work involved and a whole lot of flavor at the same time... Yes indeed! Sometimes it is absolutely the only thing that will do!


I had bought the lovely Jerusalem artichokes with the intention of making a soup, but with no real idea of exactly what KIND of soup I was going to make out of them... And so I decided, as is so often the case... To do something DIFFERENT to the norm and take a culinary road less travelled.

A road that took me to India... Or at least to my Indian spices!


Actually, the ingredients were very simple and basic. For 2 nice bowls of soup, I needed 5 good sized Jerusalem artichokes, 1 small carrot, 1/2 a stalk of celery, 1 spring onion, about 2" of fresh ginger, parsley, curry powder, and gram (chickpea) flour and 1 cup of milk. Salt, pepper, a pat of ghee (clarified butter) and a spur of the moment spoonful of yogurt... And a little help from my immersion blender. Oh, and just 30 minutes of cooking time.


Jerusalem artichokes have a wonderful flavor, very similar to "real" artichokes, but although they look similar to potatoes when peeled, they have muss less starch and so do not mash up as nicely and smoothly when they are puréed. Which is where the chickpea flour comes in... Because as well as adding a nice, nutty flavor and a traditional Indian component to the soup, it also binds it nicely and makes the mixture smoother and richer. Oh... And one more advantage of adding it- it prevents yogurt or milk from curdling when added into soups or sauces... Which means you can do without cream or coconut milk and create a much lower fat version this way!


Start off by simply peeling and dicing your vegetables and the ginger and sautéing them for a couple of minutes in a little clarified butter. I also like to add the stalks of the parsley, as they add plenty of good depth of flavor.


After 2-3 minutes, add a tablespoon each of gram flour and curry powder. Mine was a Madras blend which was rather hot, so add your curry powder accordingly to suit your own taste.

Continue stirring and frying together for a further 2-3 minutes, until the chickpea flour begins to toast and you start to worry that things may start sticking to your saucepan! In the meantime, boil yourself some water, ready to add nice and hot, so as not to stop the cooking process when you add it.


Add just enough water to deglaze the pan at first and season with salt and pepper.


Now, top up with more boiling water until everything is well covered and reduce to a low simmer. Put on the lid and let it cook away for a further 20 minutes or so, then add the parsley leaves.


Give your soup a preliminary whizz with an immersion mixer, or pop it into your blender and then add a good splash of milk, just before finishing off and serving. Give it a final mix through and you are ready to go!


I added a spoonful of yogurt to mine on the spur of the moment... A very good idea I must say! With a few finely sliced spring onion greens on top and an extra little sprinkle of curry powder for a hint of color and extra "oomph"- and the typical sprig of parsley to make it look pretty... My soup looked sophisticated and sexy... And good enough to eat!


All natural, all fresh and all in one pot... that's my kinda food!


And with the addition of a little milk and yogurt, the heat and spice are nicely mellowed, making it a real joy to eat, as the rich, artichoke flavor of those lovely little roots comes through without being overpowered... Just the way it should be!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Emeralds & Rubies & Pearls

Orzo Perlato con Zucchine Tonde & Ciliegini
Pearl Barely with Round Zucchini & Cherry Tomatoes


It's hardly probable that you will find me preparing any dishes from expensive or exclusive ingredients... That's just not my style! Which I think is fine... There are a gazillion other people out there making beautiful and awe-inspiringly creative and phenomenal dishes. Me? I just want to make myself some supper!!!

The fact of the matter is, I prefer the simple things, I prefer the simple preparations thereof and I like to think that appreciating the more modest ingredients is a more honest and reasonable approach to eating. Let's leave those exclusive and wonderful things for special occasions, or to share with friends, what say?


In my honest and humble opinion- and not simply because this is a dish that I prepared... I think that this looks wonderfully appetizing! And yet, it cost less than a carry-out burger to make and was enough for 2 people.

And this is absolutely my motivation! To make something truly enjoyable from nothing... To make people's mouths water at the sight of something they would normally not even consider eating. Yes, and it is also a great deal of satisfaction that it brings... As well as some tasty supper of course- first and foremost!


And you can't get much more modest than this! 2 small, round zucchini, 2 cups of pearl barely, 1 spring onion, 9-10 cherry tomatoes, some fresh parsley, a little vegetable stock, salt, pepper and a little olive oil... Very, very simple as I said!


I had considered stuffing these littl beauties, as one so often does... But they were indeed small and so I re-thought my plans and came up with an even easier preparation that worked wonderfully! And best of all... It was all done in one little pot!


I began by halving and then scooping out the centers of the zucchini, chopping the interiors into a fine dice and sautéing them together with the finely sliced spring onion in a good splash of olive oil.


After 2-3 minutes, I then added the barley and also stirred it in, so as to get it nicely coated in oil, similarly tomth way you would coat the rice to make a risotto.


I then added the cherry tomatoes, which I simply cut into quarters and added enough vegetable stock to cover everything up completely. I brought it up to the boil, then reduced it to a low simmer to bubble away for the next 10 minutes, with the lid on.


After that time, I added a good pinch of chopped parsley.


I then set the zucchini, cut into quarters, decoratively on top and added a little water... Because then I left everything simmering away for a further 15 minutes with the lid on.


All it needed before serving, was a generous grind of black pepper and a last drizzle of olive oil... And then I was ready to serve and to enjoy with no further ado!


Good, mild, country flavors... No fussing, no frills, just honest to goodness and down to earth food!


And what more could you possibly need than that?


I love the chewy texture of the barley and combination of the fruity tomato and mild zucchini... It is absolutely everything that you need and more!


But talking of more... Let's have another spoonful, being as it looks so good tastes even better!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Red, White & Green Dream

Casarecce con Cime di Rapa, Salsiccia Piccante, Pomodori Secchi & Pangrattato
Caserecce with Broccoli Rabe, Spicy Salami, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Crispy Bread Crumbs


"Eat your greens!" They say... "Just try and stop me!" I say...

Especially if the greens in question are broccoli rabe and if you combine them with some nice, hot and spicy salami... And crispy bread crumbs... And savory sun-dried tomatoes!

In fact... Don't try and stop me, pull up a chair, grab yourself a fork and join me! I think you may well like this!


It doesn't take much in the way of ingredients to make something as lavish and delicious as this... As usual, you may well be surprised when you check out the list as you click through my photos... Although you really shouldn't be by now!


Yup, for 2 servings, all I needed was 1 small head of broccoli rabe, 1 spring onion, about 3" of thinly sliced hot and spicy salami, 2 sun-dried tomatoes & 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs. Oh, and obviously a little salt, pepper and olive oil... And pasta!


So much going on here, flavor and texture wise and yet so quick and easy to put together... And although it is my own quick and easy version of an old, traditional dish, it is packed with flavor and an absolute treat in every way!


Begin by rinsing the greens out well and by snapping off the tender, little florets. Then continue cutting the leaves including the tender stalks into bite-sized pieces. Start these boiling in plenty of water with a good pinch of salt and then turn your attention to the salami and onion, which need to be sliced nice and thinly and the sun dried tomatoes which need to cut into thin strips.


After the greens have boiled for 10 minutes or so, add the pasta and continue cooking together with the greens for around 8-9 minutes, until the pasta is al dente.


Whilst the pasta boils, stir fry the salami slices, the sun dried tomatoes, the spring onion and the florets of broccoli rabe, in nothing more than the salamis own fat. Fry for 2-3 minutes and set to one side as soon as the salami starts to crisp up a little.


Now toast 1-2 tablespoons of bread crumbs in the remaining fat from the salami and add a dash more olive oil if necessary. Set these to one side too as so as they golden... And get ready to serve!


Once the pasta is cooked, drain well, add a little olive oil, toss carefully and serve up on a platter just so.


Next, add a good sprinkle of those crispy, toasted, bread crumbs... And try to resist stealing a bite before it's finished if you dare!


Of course, as soon as you have added the salami, dried tomatoes and greens... All hopes of being able to resist are lost and you may as well grab a fork and dig in!


Give the pasta a toss and get all of those deliciously crispy bread crumbs spread all over... and at the same time blend all of the other great ingredients together too!


As flavorful as it looks, as quick as can be and so easy that even I could make it!