Sunday, 31 January 2016

Red, White & Green Dream!

Risoni con Puntarelle, Gorgonzola & Peperoncino 
Risoni with Puntarelle, Gorgonzola & Chili

Puntarelle again this evening- my favorite of of all of the different varieties of Italian chicory! You may not be familiar with them and may not be able to get them where you live, but probably the best alternative, or "similar" thing you could compare them to, would be dandelion greens. 

And although they are usually eaten raw, as a salad, as they do in Rome- I have developed a real love of them cooked and have been having lots of fun- and many a great meal, experimenting with them. 

Like I did this evening, for instance...

I decided to try pairing them with some "sweet", Gorgonzola "dolce"- the slightly less salty version of that favorite of all Italian blue cheeses. This added a creamy richness to compliment the bittersweet greens- and that, combined to the sweetness of onion, the heat of fresh chili and the spice of nutmeg... well- I'm telling' ya! It was a pretty fantastic combination!

This would work wonderfully with any kind of pasta, but this evening I decided to make this dish with 2 cups of risoni- which is what often gets called "orzo" in the USA and elsewhere. I never understood where that came from- as "orzo" is the Italian word for barley- but I digress!

Otherwise, I needed 1 good handful of puntarelle greens and 2 handfuls of the stems for 2 portions of pasta. Along with that, I needed just 1 small onion, about 2" of Gorgonzola, as much chili as you like- or can manage, depending on how hot it is and a little olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds and nutmeg. The Gorgonzola brought plenty of flavor with it, so there was no need for salt- and the chili was that hot- I did't need any pepper either!

And as I said- the combination of these rich-tasting ingredients is what made this dish work... the end result being surprisingly mild, very satisfying... and absolutely perfect for a cold Winter's evening!

The first thing I did was to fry the onion, finely chopped, along with the chili, thinly sliced and the fennel seeds, until the onion become wonderfully sweet and golden brown. I purposely did not add any salt and made sure that the onion fried until it began to caramelize in its own juices. 

I then set this aside and began cooking the pasta.

For 2 cups of pasta, I brought 5 cups of water to the boil, then added it, along with the leaves and stems of the puntarelle which I finely chopped. I reduced the heat to a simmer and let it bubble away for 6-7 minutes, whilst I prepared the stalks or "pods" of the puntarelle.

I cut the pods into quarters- these were not very long/tall puntarelle, but they were quite thick. I fried them in just a tiny bit of olive oil until they began to turn golden brown, then added a splash of water, enough to cover the bottom of the frying pan and continued stirring and cooking until all of the water had evaporated away.

In the meantime, the risen had absorbed almost all of the water it had been boiling in and it was time to add the gorgonzola and half of the chili/onion mix.

Once this was stirred in well and nice and creamy, it needed only 1-2 minutes longer on the stove top before it was ready to serve. The last finishing touch was some freshly grated nutmeg... and once I had done that I immediately fetched myself a nice hot serving dish!

I quickly added the remaining half of the chili and onion mix to the juicy stems- and then plated up my super-delicious and steaming hot supper!

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is one beautiful plate of hearty Winter food for you to enjoy! I recommend you do!

Sunday Morning Sunshine

Fritelle di Ricotta, Mandorla, Mandarino & Miele
Almond, Mandarine Orange & Ricotta Pancakes with Honey

It's Sunday morning, I am feeling "a little under par" and I need something to put a smile on my face. Hmm... now, what could that something be? You guessed it- Pancakes!

At the same time, I am a little disappointed in the fact that I bought a batch of those kinds of mandarin oranges that look great- but are impossible to peel! You know the ones! So, the thought of destroying a couple of those at the same time gave me an opportunity to deal with some anger issues too! wink emoticon

I had thought of making some "crepes Suzette" maybe- or making some crepes and filling them with sweetened ricotta and a little orange syrup to pour over them... but... frankly, I was feeling pretty miserable and that all sounded too much like hard work... and so I made these here instead!

Clever me!

All I needed to make 7 little pancakes, (yes, I did eat one before I took my photos!), was: 1 egg, 2 mandarin oranges, 2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta, 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon of ground almonds, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of honey.

Fluffy from the ricotta, tangy from the orange juice and delicious in all from the cinnamon and honey and simplicity of it all... what's not to love about these? I didn't even need a mixer to make them either as I was too lazy to beat up the egg whites... and they were STILL great! I love it when things work out well all the same- hehe!

I began my mixing together the ricotta, the ground almonds, the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and the zest and juice of 1 mandarin and whisking them into a relatively thick paste.

I then added the egg and 1 tablespoon of honey- not forgetting that little pinch of salt- and whisked it together into a smooth batter.

I let the batter sit for 5-10 minutes, for the baking powder to do it's thing... then grabbed my frying pan, added a pat of butter and got ready to get frying!

I kept my pancakes small- I prefer them that way, and fried them at a medium heat until little bubbles began to form in the batter.

I then carefully flipped them over to fry for 1-2 minutes more from the other side and then they were good to go! You will notice the dark outer edges- that is the orange juice and honey beginning to caramelize... all good stuff!

I then cut that bothersome peel right down from the remaining orange- which would otherwise have rendered it impossible (or at least damned messy!) to eat and cut out the little segments to add to the top of my pancakes... these, followed by that last tablespoon of honey, made them super-fruity and delicious!

I think you might just love them as much as I did!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Hot Stuff!

Radicchio di Castelfranco Ripieno 
Stuffed Radicchio di Castelfranco

Hmmm- salad, in the middle of the bleak midwinter- who would want to eat such a thing? Nope- on a cold and rainy evening like this one- not me either! And yet... I was checking out the produce at the indoor market today, I happened to stumble upon this beautiful, beautiful radicchio del Castelfranco- with its lovely pale yellow and mulberry-spotted leaves... and I immediately had a great idea as to how to turn it into a wonderful Winter dish!

Looking at this, you wouldn't believe it is actually a head of lettuce (of sorts), basically- it is transformed, using the most basic of added ingredients into a satisfying yet light meal and makes a wonderful change! And we LOVE change, right?

To prepare 1 head of radicchio, I needed just 4-5 black olives, 5-6 cherry tomatoes, a little fresh ginger, a little salted ricotta, fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme, about 3 cups of bread crumbs, salt, pepper and some good olive oil.

I have used the same method to prepare escarole in the past, but you can prepare most large, tender, leafy greens this way. You could use lettuce for example, which would be fine, but very mild and sweet tasting- but me, being Sicilian... I like the light bitterness of the radicchio!

The stuffing is basically going to consist of the breadcrumbs, to which we are going to add plenty of finely chopped herbs, about 2" of ginger, finely chopped and a little salt.

Believe it or not- beneath that huge-looking radicchio, is a frying pan... see the handle there in the top right hand corner? This is just to show you that you need a frying pan that is considerably smaller than the radicchio to make this- and you need to use a lid that is smaller still... but we will get to that in just a minute. 

In any case- begin by washing the radicchio out thoroughly and then carefully fanning-out the leaves. Remove the center leaves so that you will have a flatter result in the end.

Next, sprinkle those bread crumbs in-between each of the leaves- just a tablespoon in each one- no need to overdo it. Then add sliced tomato and halved olives, nicely and evenly spaced, here and there, all the way around. Grate generously with salted ricotta, add plenty of black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and then carefully fold the lives shut again, nice and tight. 

Pull the large outer leaves nicely and tightly together and then put a small lid on top to trap everything nicely. You may want to ask someone to help you with doing that... but I managed to do it, even though it is just a little tricky... so you should be able to too!

Add a drizzle of water and a dash of olive oil to the frying pan and turn up the heat so that it begins to steam and wilt the leaves- and let it do so for 5-6 minutes.

After 5-6 minutes, pour off any excess moisture and then turn the pan upside-down, holding the radicchio in the lid. Then, place a plate on top of the radicchio, turn it over again and slide it gently back into the pan like this... looks lovely, doesn't it? You can start seeing the tomatoes and olives and herbs and bread crumbs showing through already!

Add another dash of water, return the lid and let it steam on for a good 5-6 minutes more from the other side. This will give it time to cook through, for the bread crumbs to meld together with the ricotta, for the tomatoes and olives to cook through... and for all of those aromas to mingle!

After 12-15 minutes of cooking in all, the radicchio should be cooked through- tender, but still relatively firm- and ready to be carefully turned back out again onto a baking dish, which I first drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with bread crumbs, to prevent it burning or sticking. 

I then scattered the remaining bread crumbs on top and grated it generously with salted ricotta. I drizzled it lightly with both a little water and olive oil, grated it generously with pepper and then pushed it under the broiler in my oven, on a medium setting, for a further 10 minutes or so to finish and become golden brown.

And I would say that this my dear friends- looks absolutely heavenly! Who ever would have thought? Well... except for me that is? wink emoticon

Let it cool off for 3-4 minutes and then serve, still steaming hot... it is so wonderful the way you can slice it up and serve it like a pie!

If you like steamed cabbage, you will love this... it is such a refreshing change and does without all of that complicated steaming and rolling and tying and whatever... and it is a whole lot more fun!

I want to make it... and EAT IT, all over again! Real soon!

Simply irresistible!

Friday, 29 January 2016

Trippin' Chicken Soup!

Zuppa di Pollo, Pomodoro & Spezie Aromatiche
Chicken Soup with Bell Pepper, Tomatoes & Aromatic Spices

I shall keep this little write-up and this little recipe brief... on account of me not feeling so wonderful today. It is that part of year- and yep, it has happened to me too... I have caught a cold!

And what can be better than a nice bowl of chicken soup at a time like this? Well... maybe a chicken soup like this one here! Just 'cause you are feeling ill, doesn't mean you have to be boring!

And yet- all it took, to totally transform what would have been a classic chicken soup, was a few spices, a red bell pepper and a handful of cherry tomatoes... and I am always all for change! Especially changes that are as simple and delicious as this!

For 2 portions of soup, I needed 1 chicken thigh, 1 red pepper, 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery, 3-4 slices of ginger, some fresh parsley, salt, pepper, cardamom, cloves, allspice, star anise and a little fresh parsley. So simple... and yet SO different!

But so rich, satisfying and deeply comforting! And still- that classic chicken broth flavor is still there and what makes this little beauty soooo good!

Begin by sizzling the chicken- (I decided to remove the skin from mine, but that is entirely up to you), along with the coarsely chopped carrot, onion, celery and the slices of ginger, for 2-3 minutes. In the meantime, I boiled up some water, ready to make the broth.

hilst the chicken and vegetables were browning, I also had time to take care of the spices.

I ground 1 star anise, 5 allspice, 5 cloves and 2 pods of coriander up relatively finely using a mortar and pestle...

...and added them to the chicken before pouring over the hot water to deglaze the saucepan and to create the broth.

I added enough water to cover the ingredients well and added the coarsely chopped bell pepper and the whole cherry tomatoes. I then brought my soup up to the boil once, reduced it then to a low simmer and allowed it to boil for between 45-60 minutes.

After that time, I removed the chicken thigh and set it aside to cool. 

I also added a good handful of parsley to the soup, tasted it to see if it needed any added seasoning and then whizzed it together using an immersion blender. 

Then all I needed to do, was to pout the soup through a sieve in order to strain out the tomato and pepper peels and any chunks of spices.

I then returned the smooth, velvety soup to the stovetop to keep it warm and proceeded to pluck the chicken flesh from the bone... ready to serve!

And once the chicken was added, the soup was almost finished, was smelling delicious and looking a little like this. Which was lovely... but not as lovely as could be!

That's right... what a difference a sprinkling of green makes! Now- that looks like a nice soup- right? And it tastes every bit as much, if not more wonderful as it looks!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Oh, Norma!

Pasta alla Norma, Gratinata al Forno
Oven Baked Pasta alla Norma

When a Sicilian, living in Germany, is feeling the cold, missing the sun and needing some comforting... what does he do? He makes himself a wonderful, heart-warming, tummy-filling and delicious plate of comfort food of course!

And when it is the Sicilian National Dish of "Pasta alla Norma", but in a version that is quick and easy to make and baked until crispy on the outside whilst being juicy and delicious beneath. Well, then you can bet your bottom dollar that it is going to make him end his long day wearing a broad smile smile emoticon

Pasta, eggplant, tomato, salted ricotta cheese- those are the main ingredients and they work beautifully together! No wonder it is so well-loved and made all over Sicily- and indeed the whole of Italy! 

There a of course many variations on that same theme- and this was a quick and light version that I am sure you are going to enjoy!

For 2 decent servings of pasta, I needed 1 medium eggplant, 1 shallot, 6-7 cherry tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, fresh basil and parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil... and salted ricotta for grating of course. And obviously my pasta of choice- in this case, nice, chunky tortiglione.

Considering there was only 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in the whole dish- and the fact that, as oils go, olive oil is one of the healthiest anyway- this wasn't even all that sinful.

Indeed, it was much lighter than the usual (but also delicious!) versions made using fried eggplant. 

This is how I made it.

I began by peeling and cutting the eggplant into pieces that were roughly the same size as the pasta- it makes for a better feeling bite later on. I sprinkled it with salt and let it sit for 10 minutes, then wrung out most of the moisture, before cooking it in a very hot pan, along with the chopped shallot. I will not say "frying", because at that stage there was no oil in the pan. Simply keep the eggplant moving and you will see that the heat makes it moister still, which keeps it from sticking, and it soon begins to turn golden brown all by itself.

Next, add the chopped cherry tomatoes, the tomato paste, a good handful of coarsely chopped basil and season with a little salt, but plenty of pepper. And NOW you may add 1 tablespoon of oil- at this point, the eggplant is not going to soak up the oil like a sponge anymore!

In the meantime, turn on the oven to get it hot and begin boiling your pasta... and around 5 minutes later, the eggplant will look like this- tender, rich and flavorful.

You can feel free to add garlic or chili pepper to yours... but this evening... I didn't wink emoticon

After the pasta has boiled for 5 minutes, add it to the eggplant, along with a good amount of the water it boiled in and continue cooking in the frying pan.

After stirring and cooking and reducing down that water, you will find that along with that small amount of tomato paste and the fresh cherry tomatoes, you will soon have a rich a fruity sauce coating your pasta! It's like magic!

Spoon your pasta into a baking dish, add more pepper and grate generously with salted ricotta. Add a last light drizzle of olive oil on top and bake for 10-15 minutes at 200°C until the ricotta slightly melts and begins to turn golden and crispy.

Add a leaf or two of parsley or basil and serve with no further ado! What a wonderful and simple Sicilian dish! One that you have just got to love!

Just like me!

How can you possibly resist???