Monday, 17 September 2012

Dinner on the Double!

Gemelli con i Gamberi, Zucchine, Pepe, Pomodorini e Basilico
Gemelli with Shrimp, Zucchini, Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

I needed to get my dinner made quickly this evening as I needed to pack for my vacation! I needed to empty my fridge, I needed to satisfy my hunger and I did all of that and so much more with this delicious dish!

Gemelli noodles, which translates as "twins", based on their twisted double-tube form, are one of my favorites- especially for saucy dishes like this one. Their shape makes them perfect for taking in a lot of sauce and so much fun to eat- I really love them- especially when they are prepared this way!

I started the pasta boiling and started the sauce at the same time... that's right- this whole dish only takes about 10 minutes to make!

While the water came up to the boil, I chopped a little carrot, celery and onion and sautéed it for a few minutes with a small amount of chopped bacon. After 2-3 minutes I added a little finely chopped garlic. By that time, the water was boiling, so I dropped in the pasta, gave it a stir and then reduced the heat to a low simmer and let it carry on boiling whilst I got back to the sauce...

Next, I quickly diced a small zucchini, cut a small pointy red pepper in to strips, finely chopped a handful of parsley and added these to the frying pan. I seasoned with salt, pepper, a little dry oregano and then added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste. I stirred everything together well, added the shrimp and turned up the heat whilst I browned them off a little.

I deglazed the pan with a shot of Sambuca and then added a little water to loosen up all the good flavors from the base of the pan- and in next to no time I had a lovely, rich, thick and flavorful sauce going on! All I needed to do now was to add a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and let these simmer for 1-2 minutes...

Once the pasta was ready, I drained off most of the water and added it to the sauce in the pan. I stirred the pasta in well and let it simmer for 1-2 minutes and soak up the sauce. I added a shot of tabasco, a little pinch of sugar and a tiny squeeze of lemon- and hey-presto! Dinner was served!

Along with a few young, fresh basil leaves and a last drizzle of olive oil, that was all I needed for a wonderful dinner! You may want to add cheese- I personally don't like the combination of cheese and seafood- but that is purely a matter of taste. Where as this dish in itself is a sure thing! And I am sure you are going to love it!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Avocado 4-Ever!

4 Variatione di Crema di Avocado
4 Variations on Avocado Yogurt Cream

Ok, my little sweet-toothed friends- how about something really fantastic and totally guilt-free to finish of a wonderful meal on a high note? How about FOUR things in fact, each as delicious as the other, each tasting totally different and all 4 made from one single avocado?
And with no next to no sugar. Or added fat. Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn't it?
The cool thing is, it IS true- it is!

Now, I could make out that this little experiment was more experimental than it actually was, but the challenge this evening was not the flavors, but rather whether I could manage to make this rather lavish dessert out of one avocado per person. The fact that you are looking at the pictures is the proof that I did :-)

I have made desserts out of avocado with many flavors in the past- chocolate, orange, mint and berry have all featured here on the blog at some point or other- avocado is so versatile!
My idea was to add a little yogurt to the avocado, to make it go a little further, make it smoother and make it a little lighter, as although it is somewhat bland left untouched, it is still rather "rich" in itself.

So the first thing I did was that I cut the avocado in half, removed the stone, scooped out the 2 halves with a spoon and sprinkled them with lemon juice to prevent them going off-color. I then carefully took off 4 slices and laid them out already, to be decorative bases for the 4 flavored creams I was about to make.

There is no reason to make this any more complicated than it is- and it isn't! Complicated that is. It is really, really simple.

I mashed the avocado up with a fork and added a little lemon juice. just to keep the color nice and bright. I then sweetened it with Stevia- trial and error is order of the day here, until it was pleasantly sweet. You will be amazed at how good it already tastes as it is!

I added tablespoons of plain yogurt and whisked it in at the highest setting, then separated the smooth avocado cream into 4... and then the fun began!

Flavor number one- cassis. And I used the cassis powder again that I used  the other day- just a half teaspoon or so will do. Unfortunately, it becomes a little brown in color... but a little scoop of plain avocado cream and a few sprinkles of powder on top soon set that straight!

Number two- coconut. Easy. Just stir in coconut flakes until you have the desired consistency. Nothing more and nothing less- it just tastes great- end of story! Except for a little decorative sprinkle of flakes when serving!

Number 3- mint. To make this, I added just a few drops of mint syrup to the cream, whisked it in well and then served it up. A few tiny drops poured over the cream give it an unreal green color and that extra "zing!" of freshness- yum!

And last but not least- cocoa and coffee... and the name says it all there too of course! 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder makes for a very rich chocolatey cream- totally delicious and every bit as special as a chocolate mousse. A few sprinkles of instant coffee add a little hint of bitterness and depth to the flavor- and you will find that they dissolve and blend in and give the chocolate cream a lovely deep glaze.

Now- the enjoyment factor is pretty high here! The decadence is there! But there is no real sin involved... ain't that wonderful? And don't you just want to try it right now? ;-)

Simply Fruitiful!

Insalata Mista con Prugne e Finocchio
Mixed Salad with Plum and Fennel

A quick salad for lunch, a last mad dash through my fridge before my vacation and a quick improvised combination that did the trick- and did the trick most wonderfully! And trick is probably a very good word to use to describe this salad- because the result was a little something like magic!

I had a mix of young spinach, baby red chard leaves and arugula and the last piece of fennel. Yes, yes, I know I already made a salad with fennel yesterday, but today I wanted to try something different- and colorful and crazy as it may seem, this was just a wonderfully 
simple and refreshing Summer salad- one that I am sure you will enjoy!

The whole thing was only brought to life of course after the dressing was added- and in this case, I applied it right there on the plate, after the ingredients had been arranged attractively. I first sprinkled it with salt and pepper of course, but then added some herbs de provence to bring out all of the good flavor in the plums. Then cam a few drops of balsamic vinegar, a light drizzle of honey and then a sprinkle of olive oil. Just nice, natural, unpretentious flavors, but harmonious and just right for this refreshing salad. Enjoy it whilst those plums are in season!

Don't Call Me Sugar-Plum!

Crostata di Pasta Sfoglia con Prugne, Mandorle e Cannella 
Plum, Almond and Cinnamon Tart

It's Sunday, I have 1 roll of puff pastry in the fridge, plums are in season and I bought a pound of them yesterday from a local vendor... and, well, the result is really not very surprising, is it? I just couldn't help myself!

When it comes to fruit tarts and cakes, I definitely like to keep them simple, so that the fruits own, characteristic flavor comes through and does not get overpowered by rich creams, extravagant fillings or whatever. I made this because I was excited about having fresh plums and I wanted to taste fresh plums!

The great thing about plums is the tart and fruity flavor they have when you cook them- only it can tend to get a little too sour and what happens then? Right. People cover them with powdered sugar or cream or something else... and although it may still taste delicious, I find it quite a shame.

Still on my quest to see if I can make tasty desserts, with little or no sugar and using only honey or Stevia, I set about trying to make something fruity, not overpoweringly sweet and just plain delicious. You will have to take my word for it till you try it yourself... but it is possible- and how!

I will tell you how I did it anyway- I started off by boiling a cup of water, adding 2 teaspoons of Stevia, a shot of Cointreau (skip that if you are making this for children), a couple of leaves of mint, a little snip of vanilla and a teaspoon of cinnamon. That's already a lot of flavor in one little cup of water! Bring it to the boil, keep it simmering for 1-2 minutes and then set it to one side to cool- this will be your marinade to flavor the plums and will compliment them perfectly and bring out their best without totally overpowering them.

To remove the stones from the plums, those little devils that love to insist to NOT loosen themselves and then result in you squishing the plums to a pulp, I thought of a simple trick:-) Simply cut the plum into quarters whilst it is still in one piece, then remove each quarter one by one, rather than trying to twist two halves apart. I am not guaranteeing anything- but it worked for me this morning! Give it a go and try your luck!

Drop the plum quarters into that little bit of marinade and stir them well so that each piece gets coated- it isn't much, but it should be just enough liquid to coat them. You don't want to have them too wet anyway, otherwise your pastry will end up being soggy.

Ok- next step! Cut your pastry to whichever size you want to make your pie and then cut extra strips of pasty of the same length to make the borders. Lay the border pieces down, overlapping in each quarter, as high as you want- I added three layers to mine. There is no need to press them together, they will stick whilst baking and will indeed puff up better if you don't squash them down.

Sprinkle the inside of the pastry base with slivers of almond and lay the plum slices decoratively on top- the almonds will give a nice crunchy/chewy texture as well as helping to prevent the juices seeping into the pastry and making it too soggy.

Bake in a hot oven at 300°F for around 20 minutes with a further 2-3 minutes under the broiler to get the pastry nice and golden brown. Depending on your oven, you my find that you need to revolve the tart a couple of times to get it to brown evenly... like I did. Just stay with it and you will manage to make as delicious a little treat as I did- and you are sure to enjoy it as much as I did too!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Simple Seaside Spices

Gamberi allo Zenzero con Sedano e Fagioli, su Coucous
Ginger Shrimp with Celery & Beans on Couscous

I love shrimp in almost any combination, they are just so full of flavor and have a great texture! Some ingredients go really well with shrimp though... ginger for example, or celery... and what a coincidence- I used both those ingredients in this dish!

Together with ginger and chili flakes and combined with some fresh beans and fluffy couscous, I rustled up this delicious dish of spicy shrimp in next to no time this evening- and it tasted every bit as good as it looks!

I started off by preparing the couscous which was very easy. I added finely chopped parsley and celery leaves, lemon zest, finely chopped onion, chives and a little olive oil to the couscous, stirred it together well, added boiling water until everything was well covered, seasoned with salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice and simply set it to one side. That's what I love about couscous- no work, no "cooking" as such- it just simply takes care of itself!

Next, I chopped up some celery, de-stringed the beans and started them frying in a little olive oil. I added finely chopped ginger, garlic and onion after a couple of minutes- if I had added them from the start they would have become too brown as finely chopped as they were. After another couple of minutes, I added the shrimp and turned up the heat to the highest setting.

I sautéed everything together for 1-2 minutes, until the shrimp had become a lovely bright pink, then deglazed the frying pan with a splash of vodka, the juice of half a lemon and a splash of water and then the tiniest touch of honey- just to give everything a very light glaze.

I served the shrimp, celery and beans up on the couscous, with a scattering of parsley and celery leaves and gave them a generous sprinkle of chili flakes and a last little squeeze of lemon. By making sure that everything was only briefly fried, the beans retained their color and bite, the shrimp remained juicy and delicious and all of the individual flavors  were clearly defined but lovely in combination together. Which is just the way it should be! And I hope you try it out some time and agree!

Currant Affairs

Insalata di Cetriolo e Finocchio con Dragoncello, Crescione "Shiso" e Condimento alla Cassis
Cucumber & Fennel Salad with Tarragon, Shiso Cress & Cassis Vinaigrette

Today was the day that I made the absolute best use ever (so far) of the "cassis powder" that I bought a couple of months ago! Made from dried red currants, it has a tart, fruity flavor with no sweetness, making it more than suited to savory dishes... and obviously a color to die for!

But please don't! Not just yet! It would be such a pity to miss me explaining how I made this simple but beautiful little salad... because good food tastes even better when you share it!

Plainly, I simply sliced the fennel and cucumber as thinly as possible and arranged them decoratively on my serving dish... there isn't much to explain there at all really. A little tarragon and shiso cress and already you have plenty of strong flavors right there as easy as that! And the truth of the matter is that the dressing was just as easy to make!

I stirred a half teaspoon of cassis powder together with the juice of a lemon and a pinch of salt. I whisked it up with some olive oil, honey, salt and white pepper until it was frothy, fruity, tangy and delicious! The tart yet sweet dressing goes wonderfully with the anise flavors of the fennel and tarragon, and together with the refreshing cucumber and peppery shiso, makes for a wonderful combination!

If you prefer a slightly less crunchy texture, you can also sprinkle the cucumber and fennel with salt before preparing the salad, as this will draw out excess moisture and soften the fennel and cucumber somewhat. But either way, it looks pretty - and tastes it too!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Heaven Can't Wait!

Uova in Purgatorio
Eggs Poached in a Savory Tomato Sauce

This evening's supper is a classic all over Italy and was certainly a classic at our home when I was growing up. Having 9 children to feed, that means 11 plates of food every meal time, my mother used to perform magic day to day to keep us all fed! Now she is old she knows how hard she worked at is and how lovingly, though bless her, she can't always remember all the the wonderful things she used to make... but I certainly can!

We always did live by modest means, obviously and we certainly did not have meat on our menu every day... how blessed we were in retrospect to have grown up benefitting from a healthy and diverse diet- even though we may not have appreciated it at the time! Needless to say, I would happily skip a meat dish in favor of this wonderful, light and savory goodness! My version is a little different to my moms- but all of the important ingredients are in there and I would never have been able to come up with this without her!

Basically, all that you need to make this dish is a flavorful tomato sauce to poach the eggs in. You can obviously use left-over pasta sauce, or use a store-bought, finished sauce and "jazz it up a little"... or make something like this one that I made:-)

I started off with the classic "sofritto" of carrot, celery and onion. And you don't need much! For 2 eggs I used half a carrot, half a stick of celery and a quarter of an onion. You can either chop them up very finely, or if you really want to get things done quickly, grate them and sautée them in a little olive oil with a little finely chopped (or grated!) garlic. After 2-3 minutes, add 3-4 tablespoons of tomato paste and stir this in too. Don't worry about it mixing smoothly- it may stick together in a clump, but the important thing is that it needs to get a little direct "dry" heat before adding some liquid to it, as it tends to taste fuller and milder that way.

So- next, add boiling water to the paste, little by little, until your sauce begins to develop. At this point, add some chopped parsley and basil, a pinch of oregano, salt, pepper, a little nutmeg and a pinch of chili flakes. Now, add the olives and cherry tomatoes, stir well and allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes. Whilst that is happening, turn your oven on at the highest setting and warm your oven dish, so that it will be hot when you add the sauce and tomatoes and will not cool off the sauce and stop the cooking process. 

Finally you are ready to put everything together! Spoon the hot, spicy sauce into your baking dish and then carefully crack the eggs directly into the hot sauce. They will start to set straight away and you can season them with a light sprinkle of salt and pepper, along with a little sprinkle of parmesan cheese, before popping them into the oven at around 350°F for 5-6 minutes or until the eggs set.

Serve with a sprinkle of a mix of finely chopped mint and parsley and a little ciabatta bread for dipping and enjoying... and then dip and enjoy! It tastes really delicious!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Technicolor Thai

Tagliatelle Vegetariane "Tom Yum"
Vegetarian Tom Yum Noodles

Yes, yes I know- this is a very colorful bowl of noodles! But it was not just created, just to give you all something to talk about... to be brutally honest, it was created because I got home very late, very tired, very hungry... and eager to empty out my fridge! 

I had these few left-over vegetables... 2 bok choi, a chunk of purple cauliflower and a red pointy pepper and it would have just been a shame to have let them go to waste! So I improvised this simple dish, which was quickly and easily made, stilled my hunger, tidied my fridge and ended the day feeling rather satisfied and pleased with myself!

This is going to be a short one folks- sometimes even I am just too tired and want to take the easy way out! To make this, I started off by sautéing a little chopped onion, crushed garlic and grated ginger in a saucepan with a little sesame oil and then adding 2 tablespoons of "tom yum" paste and stirring that in too. Once the paste had mixed in well with the other ingredients, I added a splash of Thai fish sauce and a little soy. Next came the vegetables- the bock choi cut into slices, the peppers in strips and the cauliflower separated into little "florettes".

After sautéing everything for 2-3 minutes, I added more boiling water, until the vegetables were well covered and a portion of udon noodles. I love that udon noodles come already wrapped into little bundles, which constitute single servings... it makes the whole thing a lot easier! I stirred in the noodles, which soften quickly and are completely done within 5-6 minutes and reduced the heat to a simmer.

After simmering for 5-6 minutes, the noodles were nicely cooked and the broth was lightly thickened and full of the tangy tom yum flavor along with the nice, fresh vegetables- and just simply delicious, hot, spicy and plain good all by itself!

What better way to end my day- and how tasty and satisfying! Try it for yourself and enjoy how good simplicity can taste! I did for sure!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tower of Pizza

Fette di Pizza con la Zucca, Pancetta, Pomodorini e Rosmarino
Pizza Slices with Pumpkin, Bacon, Tomato & Rosemary

So much fun these little slices of crispy, crunchy, moist and yummy, baked-in-the-pan pizzas here! And as always, quick, easy and delicious- which is just the way food needs to be after a long day at work!

As usual, I wanted to try out something different for my topping and sure enough, there was the last quarter of my little Hokkaido pumpkin left over from the other night. That, together with crispy bacon, red and yellow cocktail tomatoes, fresh rosemary and basil and dried Italian herbs... well, how could I go wrong? Or you either? ;-)

To make these, I cut my dough into rectangles of roughly 4x6" and "baked" them on on my grill pan, on the stove top, on the highest setting, for 2-3 minutes from either side, until they were lightly scorched from the grill marking, but still slightly raw and soft in the middle. That is the perfect point to fetch them out of the pan and do the next slices... they will finish baking properly in the oven soon enough!

Once the bases are done, add the bacon to the hot pan and allow it to brown also for 2-3 minutes on each side, but not get too dark- the bacon also will finish baking in the oven of course and you don't want it to burn!

Now that the pan has a nice coat of fat from the bacon, add the pumpkin slices. I used a potato peeler to slice mine thinly and found it was the easiest and best way to shave thin slices off. I fried them for 1-2 minutes, just long enough for the pumpkin to cook and become soft.

So now I had all of the cooked ingredients ready and could get on with assembling my little pizza slices. First of all I sprinkled the pizza bases with a little crumbled mozzarella, as this would melt very easily and make all of the other toppings stick and stay in place. I then added the slices of cherry tomato, bacon, pumpkin, a few basil leaves and a sprinkle of dried oregano, along with the occasional fresh leaf of basil. I made sure to place a tomato or a slice of pumpkin on top of the basil to prevent it from burning. Last but not least I added a little grated Grana cheese and popped them into the oven for 5 minutes at the highest setting.

One final minute under the broiler will give the dough a lovely, crisp golden finish and all that you need to do now is to add plenty of fresh rosemary (if we had added it earlier it would have burned and become brittle and bitter)- but this way it is aromatic and delicious and much, much prettier!

And if you ask me these make a wonderful evening snack! Although I would recommend you don't ask me, but rather simply go ahead and try them for yourself! You're going to love 'em!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Stew-pendous Supper!

Spezzatino di Maiale e Verdure Miste
Pork & Vegetable Stew

Please don't ask me what my favorite A-ha song is this evening- because you already know what the answer is going to be... "Summer Moved On" of course. Sigh. Pretty sad- but this evening was cold, dark and rainy... People- it is still too early for this! We hardly even had a Summer here in Germany!

On the other hand, the weather also provided the perfect excuse to make this yummy, high-speed but delicious stew for supper! So as a little taste of things to come in the next few months, here is a light but satisfying and filling bowl of comfort food to make everything feel alright! And to warm those little cockles of your hearts!

Obviously, what you are about to read is how I went about preparing one hearty portion, but it will be very easy to simply multipls the ingredients by the number of people you are cooking for!

I started off by chopping a carrot, a stick of celery and a quarter or a regular sized onion and briefly sautéeing them in a little olive oil with some crushed garlic and a little tomato paste. As soon as the onion became translucent, I added a handful of pearl barley, stirred it in well and then added enough boiling water to cover everything. I reduced the heat to a low simmer, added a bay leaf, some salt and pepper and let it boil gently for 5 minutes.

During the next 5 minutes, I fried the pork in a little olive oil with another quarter of a finely chopped onion and a little garlic at a high heat, stirring occasionally, but letting the pork and onion brown nicely. In the meantime, I finely chopped a handful of parsley and trimmed and chopped a handful of string beans.

After 5 minutes of the vegetables simmering and the meat frying, I added the meat and onions to the vegetables, along with all of the juices and the yummy onion. I added the beans and the chopped parsley, turned the heat back up until it was boiling gently again and let it simmer for another 10 minutes, adding more hot water if necessary. There should be no need for other flavorings or seasoning with the celery, carrot, parsley and onion in there.

Whilst the stew simmered, I cut some cocktail tomatoes in 3's and added these for the final 5-6 minutes, so that they remained intact, but so that they had time to add their flavor to the broth and to make it light and delicious. I served it up with a sprinkle of ground chili, a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprig of parsley to garnish- and there you have it! A simple stew, full of flavor yet healthy and light, to ease us gently into the cooler months ahead with a smile on out faces :-) Hope you all enjoy it!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Oh Boy- Bok Choi!

Filetto di Maiale con Salsa di Ostriche, Miele e Pepe con Bok Choi
Oyster Sauce, Honey and Pepper Pork with Bok Choi

Yes and locally grown in Frankfurt too! That's right! And how lucky am I? One of my favorite stands at our indoor market grows a small but wonderful selection of produce- Asian greens and eggplants right here on my own doorstep!

This Saturday, these beautiful, green baby bok-choi's caught my eye, and were practically given to me by the lovely owner- it is so nice getting to know and be friendly with the vendors! So my thanks to you for this lovely meal!

This was a surprisingly simple dish to put together- one saucepan, one steam-rack, one frying pan and one helluva tasty meal! To make it, I started off by boiling the rice, as usual- with 2 parts water to 1 part rice. I let it bubble away for 5 minutes, then set the steam rack down on top of it and added the bok choi, which I seasoned with a light soy sauce and drizzled with a little sesame oil. I set the lid on top and continued boiling the rice for a further 5 minutes. After 10 minutes cooking time, I turned off the heat, stirred the rice, popped the bok choi back on top, closed the lid and let it finish steaming all by itself in the residual heat from the pan- and keeping the greens warm and moist at the same time!

And in the meantime, I got on with the pork- which in this case was 2 small slices of tenderloin. I sautéed it in a little peanut oil, with a few slices of garlic, a little crushed ginger and some diced red pepper. I seasoned it with a little light soy and a teaspoon of Sambal- you can use any kind of chili paste or sauce- or failing that, even powder. I then added a couple of tablespoons of oyster sauce and a sprinkle, about half a teaspoon, of 5-spice powder. I stirred this quickly and added a finely chopped Spring onion, a splash of water to deglaze the pan, and a tablespoon or two of honey. There was no need for cornstarch or anything like that to thicken the sauce- everything reduced nicely together. It is better to add the water little by little rather than to thin it down too much, but a cupful is soon reduced and boiled away and brings up all of the flavors from the bottom of the saucepan and adds the moisture you need to make everything nice and juicy.

By the time the pork is tender and spicy and glazed (around 5-6 minutes), the rice should be good and ready to go and the bok choi lovely and sweet and tender! All you need is maybe a little additional soy sauce for the rice- and a healthy appetite! because I know you are going to want to eat this all up! I hope you do! And I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Beauty and the Feast

Carpaccio di Pera con Dragoncello e Pepe Rossi
Carpaccio of Pear with Red pepper Corns & Tarragon

I have to admit, I am not a fan of that school of cuisine that sets microscopic scraps of food artistically on a plate- it just isn't something that I can take seriously as cooking. It may make a beautiful photo or be more akin to a work of art than anything else, but I just feel more affinity to food that you would serve on a plate to your friends. Honest, sensible stuff that might actually "fill you up" at some point!

I love reading about cooks like Heston Blumenthal, who I think is s a genius and Ferran Adria, amongst others... but I may never actually be in a position to eat at their restaurants. Somehow I think I would just be happier hanging out and talking with them anyway- lol!

So what I hear you cry, is that, that you have created there? Well- ok- for a start, each of you would get served up a whole pear, as you can see here- so at least it would constitute a decent serving! And yes, I was being pretentious and fooling around at the time- and I did have my tongue set firmly in my cheek when I made this... but Oh My! Was my tongue ever in for a surprise when I actually came to eat it! What a revelation!

I started off by cutting the pear into quarters and cutting away the core. I then cut each quarter into very fine slices, cross-ways. One of the segments I kept together and the rest I covered in lemon juice to prevent them going brown. I set out the one quarter that was still intact in its shape, fanning the slices out just slightly and let this be the "center piece" on my dish. I drizzled it lightly with lemon juice too.

I then spread the remaining pear slices out around it decoratively, making sure they were nice and moist with lemon juice and then laid a few leaves of tarragon on top decoratively. At this point I had no idea just how wonderful this was all going to taste! I was just being silly and making it look pretty- it's true!

Next came a light drizzle of honey- just to counterpoint the sour lemon. Once there was a light glaze of honey on the pear I began to think,  "hmmm- nice and sticky! I wonder what I could stick on there?"- and hey-presto! The next thing I knew, I had opened a jar of red pepper corns and begun to spread them out and decorate my little creation. Again- at this point, I was kind-of smirking on the inside- thinking of how I would have some pretty pictures from this- but not thinking it was anything worth eating in real terms...

So the pictures were done and I was pleased with how pretty they looked- and I thought, oh well- may as well eat it now! And for want of a better expression, OMG! What a glorious combination! Yes, yes, in my own defense I of course do have a good sense of intuition when I combine foods and flavors... but even I wasn't expecting to have won the jackpot with this one!

The mild pear, tangy lemon, anise-flavored tarragon, zingy pepper corns and sweet honey all combined so harmoniously it was quite fantastic! This is one of those things that is hard to describe and that is best simply tried out for yourself. And thankfully, this is much more inexpensive, easy and do-able that my Michelin-star adorned heroes! And maybe you will try it too! I like to think that Ferran and Heston would approve. next time they come to dinner at my place, I might just try it out on them and see...

Pasta e Basta!

Penne, Fagioli, Pomodori Secche & Ricotta Salata
Penne with String Beans, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Salted Ricotta

How about something simple for suppertime? Simple, delicious, quick, inexpensive, healthy and made in one saucepan? Exactly! Done deal- here you are folks- I just saved you a lot of time, a lot of work and a hunk of money! Feel free to thank me now or at a later date if you are already rushing to your kitchens to make this!

This dish is improvised and abbreviated, but still captures all of the flavors you might go to a lot more trouble to create otherwise. But basically it was a little common sense, a little laziness and a touch or recklessness that let me think I could do it. And wouldn't you know?- The result was pretty amazing!

Here we go- a 15 minute meal for you- including the time it takes to bring your water to the boil!

Whilst the water is boiling, top and tail the beans and yes, pull the strings if there are any! Fortunately, the beans we get nowerdays are much more tender and have had those stringy edges cultivated out according to an expert friend of mine. Well- I believe him! Because I didn't have to pluck one single string!

As soon as the water began to boil, I added the pasta, which was in this case whole meal penne, the beans and of course a good pinch of salt. I added a teaspoon of cumin seeds and a bay leaf to the water and turned my attention to the sun-dried tomatoes and the ricotta whilst the pasta and beans boiled...

I cut the tomatoes into fine strips, chopped a little onion and grated some ricotta ready for later. I also crushed and chopped as finely as possible a clove of garlic. After about 5 minutes of cooking time, I added the tomatoes, onion and garlic to the pasta, so that they would also cook a little for the last 2-3 minutes until everything was ready.

In the meantime, I finely chopped a little parsley, ready to so add as soon as the pasta was drained- which was the next thing that I did! Whilst it was still piping hot, I added a little olive oil, the parsley and half of the ricotta. I grated it with a little nutmeg and stirred it all together well, then dished it up with no further ado! A last little drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper and the last of the ricotta and supper was ready! And it was just perfect!