Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Eggs in Heaven

Uova in Purgatorio con Bietole & Olive
Eggs in Purgatory with Swiss Chard & Olives

Must it be expensive, exclusive, complicated or refined to be delicious? You betcha bottom dollar it doesn't! It can be cheap and cheerful, simple, but special all the same... as you can see here!

Basic, everyday ingredients, simple preparation, all in one saucepan... what more could you want for a wonderful weekday supper?

Eggs in purgatory is an old classic of Italian cuisine- a simple dish of eggs, poached in tomato sauce, to be enjoyed with chunk of bread, a spoon... and a smile!

But with a couple of added extras, you will be smiling more as you spoon it up... and then dip your bread in the sauce!

Ok- let me describe my ingredients like this... being as chard plants are pretty varied in size- and I couldn't stand the thought of having people start weighing the ingredients for this kind of dish! You will need a couple of handfuls of chard per person, 2 eggs, 7-8 cherry tomatoes, 1 small onion, 7-8 olives, 1 tablespoon of tomato purée, a little fresh parsley, dried oregano, salt, pepper, nutmeg and olive oil. Which will make a MORE than adequate, full meal for a grown man. Or 2 appetizers. Or lunch... because this tastes divine at any time!

Rich tomato sauce with succulent chard and savory olives... together with that creamy, mild egg... grab your bread and get dipping! 

But before you can do that of course- you need to get cooking! So let me show you how!

Start off by frying the onion, the parsley stalks and the olives in a little olive oil until the onion becomes translucent.

Add the freshly washed and still moist chard, cut into bite-sized pieces, stir through, pop on the lid and allow to steam and wilt and begin cooking for 3-4 minutes.

Next, add the halved cherry tomatoes, the tomato purée, season with salt and pepper and grate generously with nutmeg. Stir-fry together for 3-4 minutes, until everything is nicely coated with the tomato purée.

Now add a good pinch of dried oregano and enough boiling water to cover everything. Bring to the boil, stir through well and then reduced to a gentle simmer. Return the lid and allow to bubble away for a further 10 minutes.

Check to make sure that you have enough liquid at this point, for the eggs to poach properly and top up with a little more water if necessary- and if it looks too thin, of course you can always had more tomato purée.

Crack the eggs gently into the sauce and allow to simmer on gently until the eggs set- this will take a little longer than you may think- in my case, it took between 10-15 minutes... but hey! That's enough time to set the table, cut some bread and pour some wine!

And as soon as that egg is set and the whites are no longer transparent... you are ready to serve and to enjoy!

Add a little salt and pepper to the egg, a sprinkle of parsley for color- grab yourself a spoon and some crunchy bread and enjoy! Another peasant meal that's fit for a king! 
Or for me! smile emoticon And you!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Squash, Spice & Rice!

Zucca "Tandoori" con Pomodoro & Zenzero
Tandoori Butternut Squash with Tomato & Ginger

Is it an authentic Indian dish? No. Do I look like an Indian to you? And does it even matter? Haha! I am not calling this an Indian dish at all- it was my simple supper this evening and I am sharing how I made it here with you. 'Cause that's what I do!

The fact of the matter is that there was the other half of yesterdays little butternut squash left over. And something had to be done about it! Plain and simple as that!

So, what was I to do! Surely not a soup again- which would be the typical thing to make here in Europe. No- I wanted to do something to balance the sweetness of the squash and I thought that tandoori powder would be a great idea. I love the tanginess rather than the heat in its spice- it is so aromatic and pleasant! And with a little ginger to add depth and a few cherry tomatoes for more fruitiness, it was simply a cool combination.

These were my ingredients for one nice bowlful of goodness this evening- approx. 1 coffee mugful of diced butternut squash (this was half of a very small one here), 1 small onion, about 1" of fresh ginger, 6-7 cherry tomatoes, 1 heaped tablespoon of tandoori spice, 1 tablespoon of gram (chickpea) flour, sesame oil, salt, pepper and fresh parsley. This is what I had at home- and this is what I used!

So, yes, it was a simple dish made with simple ingredients- as are all of my meals... but when those simple ingredients are good ones, then the meal will be a good one too... and I hate to repeat myself- but again... it's as simple as that!

The preparation is simple too- begin by frying the finely chopped ginger and stems from the parsley in a little sesame oil to give it some good flavor, then add the onion and squash and fry until the onion becomes translucent.

When the onion and squash begin to brown slightly, deglaze the saucepan with enough boiling water to just about cover the squash and add the halved cherry tomatoes, the tandoori spice, a good pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper. Bring up to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and allow to cook for 10 minutes on a low flame.

In the meantime, you can begin steaming or boiling your rice.

After 10 minutes or so, stir together 1 tablespoon of chickpea flour with a little warm water and add it to the squash and tomatoes, then top up the juices with more boiling water until everything is covered, stir well and allow to continue simmering away for a further 10-15 minutes, until the squash is tender and the sauce has thickened up nicely. 

And in the meantime, again, turn off the rice and allow it to sit covered and become fluffy and ready to serve.

Serve with plenty of freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of parsley- and enjoy! It's not Indian- but chances are, if you are reading this- that neither are you! And chances are that you will enjoy this as much as I did too!

Because... what's not to like about a bowl of good honest food like this???

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Turn On the Light!

Lasagna Leggera con la Zucca, Pomodorini & Ricotta Salata
Healthy Lasagna with Butternut Squash, Cherry Tomatoes & Salted Ricotta

Lasagna- so delicious... but so time-consuming and... fattening! Well- errr, yes- that is why it is usually only made for special occasions in Italy. Made with lovely, rich béchamel sauce, ground meat and tomato sauce... But does it always have to be that way? of course NOT!

The truth of the matter is that those sheets of pasta can be prepared in absolutely any way you want... obviously! Why always only presume to do the same thing with them? When you can do something like this- much quicker, easier, lighter... and yet so delicious that it will make any time you enjoy it into as equally special an occasion as the classic!

No- the motivation behind making this dish was not to "make it meatless" or to make it into a "light version" at all... it was simply to experiment with those sheets of pasta, to use other ingredients and to make a delicious meal. Plain and simple! That this other things all happened was pure coincidence.

Good, eh?

Of course, living alone, it did not take much to prepare this- but the math is simple to scale-up and anyway- again, this is one of those recipes where the method is more important than the quantities. But nevertheless- for 2 portions you will need: 4 sheets of lasagna, 1 small onion, 6-7 cherry tomatoes, fresh rosemary and parsley, about 1 coffee mugful of grated butternut squash (or similar), salt, pepper, tomato purée, milk, nutmeg, salted ricotta for grating and a little olive oil.

Take those simple ingredients, add a little time and effort- and you will be rewarded with a gorgeous lasagna like this which is totally different and yet wonderfully reminiscent of the classic dish... and like I said- it will make suppertime into a special occasion all the same!

Begin by sweating the finely chopped onion with plenty of rosemary until it becomes translucent. Whilst that is happening, grate the butternut squash nice and finely- about 1 mugful will do for 2 portions.

Add the squash and stir-fry it until it has completely changed color, then add enough milk to cover it completely and season with a good pinch of salt and plenty of pepper and nutmeg. Reduce to a simmer and let it cook for 5 minutes- and turn on your oven about now as it won't be long before you are ready to rumble!

Add about 1 tablespoon of tomato purée and plenty of finely chopped parsley and stir them in- add a little more milk if necessary and allow to cook for a further 5 minutes... then you're done!

Build up the lasagna in layers- first sauce, then pasta, then sauce, then a few of the very thinly sliced cherry tomatoes. Add a little pepper...

Cover with foil and bake at 180°C for 40 minutes, then finish off without the foil until golden brown on top.

I am pretty confident that you are going to like it- and who knows what other way i will dream-up to prepare my next lasagna! The only limits you have in the kitchen are those of your imagination!

Forget Me Knots

Sfogliatini di Mirtilli Americani, Pistacchi & Cannella
Little Cranberry, Pistachio & Cinnamon Puff-Pastries

A sweet treat? Ok- sure! And why fuss? Isn't life stressful enough already without you adding to it? oh boy- is it ever! So this Sunday Morning I decided to take it easy- and make it easy!

Take simple, buttery puff-pastry, add a few nice, tasty ingredients, don't fuss, don't fret and just let it happen!

They are not particularly pretty, it's true- but you know- it only takes 2 bites to finish one of these off, hehe! Oh, maybe next time around I will fuss over the optics more- but then again- most probably... I won't! After all- it is the flavor that is the most important thing! And the flavor was great!

The ingredients were as simple as the title itself says... a roll of puff pastry, and enough cinnamon, cranberries and ground pistachios as it takes... you'll see! wink emoticon Just a couple of tablespoons of each- no recipe, no worries!

And you don't need any more fat than is in the pastry, nor sugar than is in the dried cranberries... the cinnamon adds the spice and the pistachios that wonderful, Sicilian brand of nuttiness... how much more could you need than that?

Simply unroll the pastry and sprinkle generously and evenly with all of the ingredients. As you can see, I diced up my cranberries as they would otherwise have been too large- I recommend you do the same, because otherwise, these little pastries will be difficult to roll and the exposed cranberries will burn and become bitter in the oven. 

Oh- and whilst we are on the subject of the oven... turn it on and get it hot and ready in advance!

Cut the pastry into strips of around 2" across the width of the roll and then make a cut down the center of the length of the roll, dividing each strip into two.

And now simply roll-up each of the strips.

Then, pinch and squeeze them together in the middle to seal them shut...

..and fold the exposed ends upwards a little, so that the pastry will puff-open better.

Bake in a hot oven, at 180°C, for 20-25 minutes, until they are puffed-up and golden brown like this- see? I told you it was crazy-easy to do!

But, you know... who really needs much more than this? wink emoticon

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Sicilian Soulfood Supper

Pani Bagnatu ca Cicoria e Patata Rustuta
Bread, Soaked in Chicory & Potato Broth & Baked in the Oven

This is one of those dishes, that if you don't actually try it for yourself, you will never even begin to know how incredibly tasty and good it truly is. 

You have heard the phrase "cucina povera" used many times before, I should imagine- or "poor peoples food", as it translates from the Italian. And that is exactly what this is- peasant food. And by gawd does it make for a good meal on a cold Winter's evening!!!

This is my version of what would basically have been old, hard, stale bread that would be soaked in a vegetable broth, in the old days. Hey- when you have nothing else- you are happy to have anything at all! But then, what you DO have in Southern Italy, no matter how poor you are- is incredible olive oil... and aaaah! THAT is what makes this so special! But of course, I added a little tiny tweak or two of my own to make things a little bit better still...

So- what do we have here? Why- we have the ingredients for 2 great portions of this lovely dish! For 2 portions, you will need just 1 small onion, 1 small potato, 1 small bunch of chicory or dandelion greens (although I guess any leafy green you may prefer would work fine), salt, pepper, fennel seeds and good extra virgin olive oil.

Normally, the simple broth of the greens would be enhanced by adding a little onion for sweetness and potato for body, then the bread would either be added and stirred-in, or laid in the plate and the broth poured on top. 

I decided to give the potato and onion a good fry with some fennel seed to give them more flavor, to make the greens easier to digest and to make for a more complex flavor... and decided top pop the whole thing into the oven, to crisp up the bread on top, whilst leaving it soft and unctuous down below... just little tweaks... but they made all the difference!

So, as I just mentioned- the first step is to finely dice the potato and onion and to fry them in olive oil, with a good pinch of fennel seeds and plenty of pepper until they start to become brown- or as you can see- until the saucepan begins to turn brown at the bottom- haha! 

Seriously- that is all good and you do want that to happen, because that is what will make the broth so delicious!

Deglaze the saucepan with plenty of boiling water and stir until all of that good flavor comes up from the base and you have a lovely, rich, sweet fennel and onion scented stock.

Add a good pinch of salt for seasoning and then add the chicory, which you should chop down into bite-sized pieces. Reduce the heat to a simmer, put on the lid and allow to steam for the following 10 minutes.

10-15 minutes later, the greens will have wilted down and you can add a little more water if necessary... otherwise- it is time to turn on the grill in your oven and get ready to finish off the job!

Spoon the greens into baking tray and spread them out evenly.

Then add the bread- I had these handy little rolls in my case and spoon the potatoes and onions over the top. Finish off with the broth- enough to soak the rolls, sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle generously with olive oil.

Pop into the oven, set to the highest setting, for 10-15 minutes, until the greens are piping hot again and bread has become golden around the edges on top.

Crispy and golden and delicious with the flavor of that good oil! Yum, yum, yum!

Like I said- you need to try it to understand the magic-but it is magical indeed, how much lovely flavor can be created from so few ingredients... So try it out and enjoy!