Friday, 31 May 2013

It's the Little Things That Matter.

Frittata Rustica di Peperone & Funghi
Rustic Frittata with Peppers and Mushroom

Oh yes, the little things. To be honest... that was all I had left in the fridge this evening after my week of quarantine, solitary confinement, or call it what you will when you are shut-off from the world with a cold for a week! And it rained and it rained and it rained again the whole day, which made sure that I stayed in my room and resigned myself to my fate...

But, obviously, as you can all see- things could have been a whole lot worse! Just 15 minutes, 2 eggs, a couple of sweet, mini bell peppers, a handful of mushrooms and the last few flakes of Feta cheese later, this yummy frittata was ready, sizzling hot and delicious and as easy as could be to make. Oh yes, things could have been a whole lot worse indeed!

I started off by sautéing the mushrooms, onions and peppers in advance in a little clarified butter, which of course is much better suited to high temperatures than olive oil for example as  it will not burn and smoke- and I wanted to flash-fry the vegetables briefly, to get them half done, before adding them to the egg. So in they went, with a little crushed garlic, salt, pepper, a little paprika powder and a hint of nutmeg. And after 2-3 minutes, out they came again!

In the meantime, I beat 2 eggs together with some chopped parsley, salt, pepper and again a hint of nutmeg, added a small splash of milk and a small handful of crumbled Feta cheese. The cheese helped bind the mil with the eggs more smoothly and this mixture was what would go to be the base for the frittata...

So, as soon as the vegetables came out, the egg went straight back in. I let it begin to set slightly and then began adding the half- cooked vegetables back on top, trying to get them spread out nicely and evenly. I then added a sprinkle of both crumbled Feta cheese and finely chopped parsley on top and let the egg continue setting for another 2-3 minutes on a moderate heat. Whilst that was happening, I turned on the broiler in the oven and gave the frittata its last grind of fresh pepper, before sending it on its way to finish cooking with a nice blast of heat from above. This was great for melting the cheese of course, but also for browning the peppers and mushrooms and for making sure the egg had set properly. And 2-3 minutes later, guys and gals, I was tucking into a lovely cheesy vegetable treat. Just try it... you'll like it. because... what's not to like?

Thursday, 30 May 2013

It's in the Paper!

Melanzane Ripiene in Cartoccio
Stuffed Eggplant, Baked in a Parcel

You already knew I was going to come up with something else to do with the second half of the eggplant I cooked up last night... but I bet you didn't think I would come up with this? Pretty nifty, eh? A fun, healthy and delicious way to turn a simple eggplant into a meal in itself, using simpler still bread crumbs, herbs, a handful of cherry tomatoes and a little Feta cheese...

I based this on the typical Sicilian method for making stuffed artichoke, by mixing a tasty bread crumb filling together and letting that steam and soak up the flavors of the other ingredients, but rather than do it in a saucepan, I decided to wrap the eggplant in paper and bake it in the oven, keeping all of the flavor and aroma trapped inside- and making it an easy gig with no washing-up! That's just the way I am sometimes...

For the bread crumb filling, I finely chopped parsley, mint, garlic and onion and added a little grated lemon zest and olive oil. I stirred this together well and then crumbled in a little Feta cheese- about 1/3rd the amount cheese as bread crumbs is about the right ratio.

I then took the half eggplant and made cuts into it, about 2/3rds of an inch apart, as you can see in the photos and leaving about 1" intact at the bottom so that it all holds together. I then held the eggplant over my bowl of bread crumb mixture and spooned it in-between each cut... it makes sense to do it directly over the bowl as it can be a little tricky and messy!

Once the eggplant was filled, I added a couple of slices of cherry tomato between each slice and then drizzled it lightly with lemon juice and olive oil. I gave it a last sprinkle of pepper and then placed it onto a double sheet of grease-proof paper. I folded the two ends together neatly in the middle 2-3 times and then scrunched the outsides together a little more tightly as they of course posed more resistance! But they need to stay shut for this to work! So what I did was dampen the paper slightly with water, just using my hands to sprinkle the parcel lightly and to work the water in... this of course would also protect the paper from burning a little too!

I popped it into a pre-heated oven at 350°, on the middle rack, for around 30 minutes and went back to bed with a book. Yes I was nervous, but yes I do still have a cold! lol! But obviously everything was ok- you can see the proof right here!

After half an hour, the eggplant was soft and cooked but looking rather pale of course, so I unfolded the parcel and let it bake for a further 10-15 minutes uncovered. Of course the wonderful aroma that filled the kitchen was divine! But after  the additional baking time, it became a lovely golden color, the outer crumbs became a little crispier and it was much more appetizing of course. Whilst obviously being very light, the bread crumbs did indeed make it more filling and the cheesy, minty flavors went wonderfully of course with the eggplant. Very Sicilian in essence, but a little bit different at the same time! Just like me! 

Well Dressed for the Summer!

Condimento Piccante per Insalate con Ajvar & Yogurt
Spicy Ajvar & Yogurt Salad Dressing

Our Summer is taking it's time getting under way this year, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from making a salad today! Even though I still have a cold, even though the sun is never around for very long- I had lovely, sweet, yellow cocktail tomatoes, crisp arugula and fresh cucumber in the fridge- and that sounded like lunch to me!

Still, the main question when it comes to salads is... what dressing? And I have to say that when it comes to salads, I am more of a purist, opting for a vinaigrette or a simple oil and vinegar affair with a little honey maybe... except today I decided to try something out. Simple but scrumptious and healthy too! 

I made the dressing from 4 tablespoons of plain, low-fat yogurt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of spicy Ajvar, 1 teaspoon of honey and the juice of 1 lime... simple! A little salt and pepper and a good stir and I have to say, that was one tasty dressing! A few flakes of chili made it extra yummy and lifted the cool, fresh flavors of the cucumber and tomato...  and yes folks, it was just delicious!

Try it an see!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Anti-Matter Platter

Antipasto di Melanzane, Olive & Canditi in Agrodolce alla Menta
Sweet & Sour Eggplant Appetizer with Candied Orange Peel, Olives and Mint

A full, traditional meal in Italy will begin with an "anti-pasto" of some kind, an appetizer to enjoy before the primo piatto of pasta arrives- and it is something that we all know and love. Grilled vegetables, seafood salads, if you are familiar with Sicilian food maybe caponata (which I adore!) and which is probably my favorite eggplant dish of all...

But this evening I decided to use half of the HUGE eggplant I had in the fridge and try something a little different. I love the combination of eggplant and mint- that's the Sicilian classic- I also love pickled or sweet & sour eggplant, which we also enjoy in The Old Country... So I decided to try a variation on both themes and came up with the idea of pairing the eggplant with 2 other Sicilian favorite- olives and candied fruit! Crazy? Maybe! I would have thought you had noticed that by now though...

So this was very simple to make. I first peeled the eggplant using a potato peeler, cut it in half and then cut the halves in turn, into nice thick slices. I popped these into a hot frying pan with just a little olive oil and let them sit for 2-3 minutes, without moving them at all. I was brave and I tried to maintain my self control and just let it fry and brown without pushing it around and messing things up! Hard for me to do- as it is for most of us I suppose!

Whilst it was sizzling away, I finely chopped some parsley and mint, a generous pinch of each, cut a shallot into thin slices, finely chopped a clove of garlic and diced up 4-5 black and green olives. But that was already enough multi-tasking for 3 minutes... it was time to get back to the eggplant!

By now the eggplant was gently golden on one side and had soaked up of course that small amount of oil, so I added a little more and flipped it over, now adding the other olives and shallot as well as some salt and pepper to season and stirring occasionally. In the meantime, I put a tablespoon of candied orange peel into a cup and poured enough boiling water over it to cover it. I let this sit for a few minutes to give it time to soften and to infuse the hot water with its sweet and tangy flavor.

Back to the frying pan, where things were beginning to brown nicely, it was time to add a little moisture, so I turned up the heat and in went the candied orange which had now swollen up slightly in size and absorbed most of the water. With a loud hiss, the pan was deglazed and all of the good flavors that had caramelized onto the base came up and became infused into the eggplant. Because the pan was nice and hot, the small amount of water soon evaporated away and the eggplant continued to brown nicely, now with the added sweetness of the orange- which I then counter-pointed with the juice of half a lemon... and another hiss!

At this point I added the mint and parsley, stirred everything carefully together and turned off the heat. I let it sit and cool off, then enjoyed it with some rustic bread and would recommend you enjoy it with a nice glass of wine. Or two. Just don't overdo it if you still have your primo, secondo, contorni and dolce to come! As for me- I was fine, because this was all I had;-)

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Little House on the Stove Top

"Cottage Pie" in Padella
Cottage Pie in a Pan!

Cottage pie is an English traditional favorite- I am sure it is one of the preferred comfort food dishes that would top most peoples wish lists over there... and what's not to like? Basically, it is your traditional meat and three vegetables with potatoes, all rolled into one compact and convenient dish and great for feeding and pleasing a hungry family or a group of friends...

...but not the kind of thing you would normally prepare for one. Normally it would be a little bit too much bother. Normally you would need more ingredients than you can manage on your own- you would end up making a larger pie and having left-overs. And you know I am not going to eat the same meal 2 days in a row now, don't you? The same ingredients used in a different way- yes. But you know I like to have fun in the kitchen... and that is why I made this dish this evening- precisely to use up the remainders of the last 2 meals I have made!

You just knew I was going to pronounce that this was made of left-overs, right? Well let me tell you- this was 1 boiled potato from yesterday and enough ground meat from the other night for me to have made a nice hamburger. Not REALLY enough to make a satisfying meal. So I improvised. 

I popped the meat into my cast iron pan together with 1 small chopped carrot, a small onion and 4-5 sliced brown mushrooms. Oh, and the peas. In they went all at the same time, together with a handful of chopped parsley, stalks and all, a couple of sage leaves, and a few twigs worth of thyme. I added a couple of finely chopped celery leaves, to give a good, savory depth of flavor to the mix and seasoned with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of mild paprika. 

After frying this for 5-6 minutes as a moderate heat, everything was and brown, looking good and smelling delicious. This was the right time to turn the good flavors in the pan into a yummy gravy- so I sprinkled a teaspoon on flour into the pan and stirred it in, then added a tablespoon of tomato paste and worked that in too... very rich and intense now! Yum! Things got better still when I deglazed the frying pan with just a splash of red wine, which I followed up with some hot water from the kettle, stirring it in a little at a time, until it became a nice consistency. Great! All I needed to do now was to turn on the broiler as I usually do... only to discover that it had decided to strike on me this evening... not so great! So you will have to imagine it being nice and golden on top- what I had to settle with was 5 minutes of baking at a high heat to bring it up to temperature... oh well!

Whilst the oven was heating up, I prepared the potato by simple mashing it with a fork and popping it into a saucepan with a little milk and a knob of butter... and whisking. I added a little more milk as necessary and seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Soon it was nice and smooth and ready to spread over the now ready meat and vegetables. I wish I had, had a little more in the way of potato... but c'est la vie I guess! I made the most of what I had- and it was just fine... more than that actually- it was really good!

As I said dear friends- imagine it being crispy on top- haha! A little cheese would have helped to I guess- and I would recommend it when you come around to making it... but you get the gist I hope! And I also hope that you want to try making it too!

Monday, 27 May 2013

One Potato More...

Zuppa di Patate, Rucola & Cipolla Caramellata
Potato & Arugula Soup with Caramelized Onion

I find it hard to believe myself, but yes, I am indeed still ill with a persistent cold and the aches, pains, fever and shivers that go with it- ugh! Incredible that it will be June before we know it! What a way to start the Summer! So what was I to do with all the salad greens I had bought, anticipating sunny weather and warmer temperatures... and better health than this!?!

The basic truth of the matter is that I needed something warm! But no- I had no chicken at home, not even frozen (I was frozen myself!) and I was running low on vegetables too! A dilemma? Maybe. A challenge? Sure? And did I have a solution? Of course! Hunger makes anything possible- thank goodness! And as usual it was something easy and economical that I came up with, as well as being healthy and delicious... 

The main ingredients here were 1 largish potato, 1 onion and 1 good handful of arugula. That is easy enough to memorize, per person, isn't it? Obviously I had a few other ingredients that were necessary to give the broth flavor, but basically, it was as simple as that to make!

I began by chopping up the potato into quarters, adding a 1" slice of finely chopped ginger, 1 stalk of chopped celery, 1 small parsnip, 1 Spring onion and a little chopped garlic and boiling these together in just enough water to cover them for around 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, I added about the same amount of liquid in milk, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg and then when it came back up to the boil, continued simmering for a further 10 minutes. In the meantime, I started work on caramelizing the onion to go on top...

I put the sliced onion into a hot frying pan with just a teaspoon of butter and sautéed it at a relatively high heat until it began to turn translucent. At this point I added salt and pepper and just enough water to cover the base of the pan. I carried on frying it until the water evaporated away- which is why I say frying- because that excess liquid soon gets absorbed by the onion or evaporates away and the frying and browning process continues. I repeated this 2 more times... it was almost like making a risotto! And little by little, the onion began to take on a lovely, caramel color. After about 10 minutes of cooking, I added 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 of balsamic glaze, stirred this in well and then turned off the heat. Now that was one nice batch of delicious onion slices, I'm tellin' ya!

I then transferred the unfinished potato soup from the stove top to my mixer, added that handful of arugula I mentioned and then gave it a whizz- just 30 seconds or so in short blasts... and before I knew it- my almost perfect soup was done! I say almost perfect- because I still needed to add that delicious, golden onion... mmm! I have to tell you dear readers... the combination really WAS delicious! The peppery, nutty flavor of the arugula together with the rich potato and then the sweet and sour onion- well, that's about as good as it gets in my book! And I can imagine you may well like it too!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Peas Please!

Polpettini, Pisellini, Finocchio, Caperi, Couscous & Menta
Little Meatballs, Fresh Peas, Fennel, Capers, Couscous & Mint

I love fresh peas, straight from the pod- always have, right back to my childhood, when I used to love picking them in our garden in England... such a wonderful sweetness! So I couldn't resist when I saw them in the market hall yesterday! I picked them up, as usual, with absolutely no idea what on earth I was going to do with them...

This evening, after a little drama at home with the neighbors door being broken-in by the fire brigade and police storming the house for a false alarm, things got a little late and I got a little freaked! Frankly, I was just happy that there were no unfortunate discoveries next door... and downright starving! So I went into auto-pilot mode and just started improvising... and this was the result!

To make the little meatballs, I added chopped onion, parsley, mint, Parmesan cheese and not too much bread crumbs, with a little salt, pepper and fennel seed and kneaded everything together lightly, just until it all held together nicely.

The peas I popped, shelled and set to one side and the fennel I cut in half and then into relatively fine slices. I also chopped a little onion and garlic, a handful of fresh mint and parsley... and prepared my couscous, ready for action!

The action began when I popped the meatballs into my non-stick pan and started them sizzling away. As soon as they began to give off their juices and fat, I added the remaining ingredients, except for the couscous of course! That would come just a little bit later!

I seasoned with salt and pepper and stirred everything for 3-4 minutes until the meatballs were slightly brown, then added a couple of handfuls of couscous and deglazed the pan with enough boiling water to cover everything. I stirred everything through nicely and let is simmer away for 1-2 minutes, until all of the water had been absorbed, then checked the seasoning and added salt accordingly and gave it one last little bit of water.

I then added a couple of teaspoons of capers, the remaining parsley and mint, a little squeeze of lemon and a light drizzle of olive oil. Perfect! The mint went so wonderfully with the peas and the meat and the capers and fennel added some lovely depth of flavor... so yes indeed, this was a great way to use those lovely, sweet, fresh garden peas to a lovely effect! A lovely Springtime dish! It hasn't started yet our Springtime- but that's another story!!!

Pink Banana Cake!

Tortina di Rabarbaro & Banana
Rhubarb & Banana Breakfast Cake

Oh, I know it is not really pink and that the rhubarb is the only pinkish thing about it- but to look at it, you would never know banana was in my yummy breakfast cake... until you tasted it!
I had prepared the rhubarb last night- it was another "midnight special" as I like to call it, where I put the marinated rhubarb into a hot oven, turn it off, and let it bake in the residual heat overnight... best method ever for rhubarb!

So I really didn't have too much work to do this morning! I just had to decide what to do with my bowl of tender, juicy and delicious rhubarb. A pie seemed like too much work for just one person- and as usual, I was on a quest to avoid fat and sugar. Tadah! Another of my 1 egg wonders- which amazingly turned into a large and satisfying enough little cake to easily serve two. Oh well... or one of ME of course ;-)

So let me quickly recap on the rhubarb. I added a couple of teaspoonfuls of red berry preserves to 5-6 peeled and chopped rhubarb stalks. I then added 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 teaspoon of Stevia, 4-5 tablespoons of water and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. I stirred this together to get everything equally coated, added a little piece of vanilla pod and popped it all into the oven, which I had heated up to maximum temperature for 10-15 minutes beforehand. In it went, for 5 minutes at first to get nice and hot, and then I turned the oven off and went to bed, leaving it to finish baking gently overnight in the remaining heat. In the morning the rhubarb was perfect and the syrup surrounding it just divine! Like I said- my all-time favorite way of preparing rhubarb!

So basically I decided to make and upside-down, upside-down cake today ;-) Meaning that I did put the rhubarb on top rather than the other way around. Funnily enough, as far as I know, it is only upside-down cake that exists... I have never heard of a "right way-up" cake in any case! But I digress!

To make it I cracked 1 egg into a bowl, added 4 tablespoons of yogurt, half of a banana, mashed, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, a teaspoon of baking soda, 2 heaped tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of Stevia, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a tiny squeeze of lemon and of course that tiny pinch of salt! This all went into a bowl together and got whisked together for 5 minutes until it became a lovely, thick batter. I let is sit for 4-5 minutes, whilst I turned the oven on to 300° and lightly greased a small, deep frying pan... basically because I didn't have a cake tin and also because it's just so much fun to give this kind of thing a kick-start on the stovetop! And then I added the other half of the banana, which I cut into a relatively fine dice and stirred in thoroughly.

So in went the batter and after 3-4 minutes, it began to puff up nicely and to form a firm base. At this point I began to spoon the rhubarb on top, drizzling it lightly with the syrup and getting it nicely and evenly distributed. After 3-4 minutes on the stove top, I popped it into the oven for something like 20-25 minutes, until a wooden skewer came out cleanly with just a couple of crumbs. I let it cool for 10-15 minute, but did serve it warm, with a little additional trickle of  syrup to keep the rhubarb moist and juicy... and I have to say that the mild banana in the cake base tasted wonderful together with the tangy rhubarb- yay! You may well convert the most ardent of rhubarb haters with this one folks! It was pretty incredible!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A Mushroom with a View

Risotto di Funghi & Pancetta
Mushroom & Bacon Risotto

Suppertime. Still cold and grey. As usual- the only solution was to be something warm and comforting! And nothing comforts an italian more than a nice, hot bowl of risotto! This time with yummy bacon, Spring onion and more of those little brown mushrooms, teamed with a little of the Feta cheese from the previous recipe and plenty of fresh parsley... a simple but simply satisfying affair!

I hadn't really planned on making a risotto, or I would have probably opted for the more traditional Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese to make it... but there you go! I used what I had at home- ain't that the way that a lot of new dishes get invented? It is in my house! And the Feta served me well in this mild and creamy yet cream-less combination... Read on to find out how I made it...

I started off by sautéing Spring onion together with bacon and chopped garlic, until the onion was translucent and the bacon and garlic beginning to brown. I then added the rice and some finely chopped parsley stalks (you know I never throw them away!), a pat of butter and a little nutmeg and stirred everything through nicely. Whilst they sizzled away, I quickly chopped up 3-4 of the brown mushrooms finely and added those too. But rather than deglaze the saucepan with wine as one normally would, I used some milk! Plain old ordinary milk- low fat milk at that! Because again... that's what I had!

I added just enough milk to cover the rice and stirred everything well, bringing up all the good flavors from the base of the pan. I love the way that milk, onion and bacon taste together- I have used this flavor combination in many a pasta dish and especially in combination with nutmeg when it takes on a kind-of "Bechamel-type" flavor, it is simply delicious!

And then the rest was the usual addition of broth, ladle by ladle, stirring in-between until the rice was done. I used some dried Porcini mushrooms to prepare the broth- the best way to get a nice intensive flavor into any mushroom dish. 

About 20 further minutes of occasional stirring later, the risotto was done- all it needed was a good sprinkle of cheese and a final pat of butter to make it nice and smooth and extra-yummy! I added a couple of mushrooms as a garnish, that I had sautéed in butter with plenty of pepper and a sprinkle of the finely chopped parsley leaves- and all I can say is wow! Creamy, rich, light but still somehow intense, this was a nice change to the usual risotto for me! And I suppose that would make it a pleasant change for all of you too! Give it a go and let me know!

Don't Leaf Me Behind!

Insalata di Bietola Rossa, Cachi & Feta
Baby Red Chard, Persimmon & Feta Cheese Salad

I made it to the market hall without getting soaked today- thankfully! Another sunny day in Frankfurt- Not! I think Summer is set to begin in the fall this year. And yet, it was a nice salad-green that wasn't that caught my eye. These wonderful little chard leaves in their beautiful deep magenta were just too pretty to not take with me... it just had to be done!

And just one stall further along, the cutest, sweetest little persimmons sat calling to me, "take me!". It was just something that was meant to be I guess! I did not think of combining the two at the time- the thought struck me later when I got home. Mild but peppery chard leaves and sweet and juicy persimmon- that was already a good pairing as it was... but something seemed to be missing...

...and that something was quite clearly the rich and salty Feta cheese, which brought everything together and gave it balance and real depth of flavor. But even that alone wasn't enough... it needed something more!

So what I did was to layer the leaves, the crumbled cheese and thin slices of persimmon and to then dress them up with a combination of salt & pepper, dried powdered mint and fresh time which I then sprinkled with lime juice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil and right at the end, a nice drizzle of honey... and NOW it was perfect indeed! I now had everything- sweetness, sourness,  
freshness and a savory richness from the cheese. This tasted as good as it looks my friends! Give it a try and you will see why! I guarantee it!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Pan-Asian Vegetarian Hot Pot

Zuppa di Tofu Marrone, Funghi, Spinaci e Tagliatelle "Udon" ai 5 Spezie Cinese
Brown Tofu, Mushroom & Spinach 5-Spice Udon Noodle Soup

The rest of the world may well be enjoying Springtime, but over here in Germany... we are not! 
Today was cold, wet and grey yet again- no wonder that when it came to deciding on something Asian to cook, I opted for a steaming hot bowl of soup rather than a Spring roll! How else will I ever get over this cold???

I had decided to use up the marinated, savory tofu that I had frozen a couple of months back when I first made it- which was also an experiment and a first for me. Yes- freezing tofu works wonderfully! Which is good for me (and anyone else who is single) to know for the future,,, because one of those blocks of tofu goes a long way when you are eating it on your lonesome!

This was of course very easy to make- just like everything else on my blog is! I started off with about 1" of ginger which I chopped very finely, 1 shallot, 5-6 sliced mushrooms, a little crushed garlic and a Spring onion. I sautéed these in about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil until the onion became translucent and the mushrooms began to brown and then deglazed the saucepan with a some boiling water- enough to cover everything nicely. I then added the tofu, cut into bite-sized strips, 2 teaspoons of 5-spice powder, a hint of cayenne and a tablespoon each of both fish sauce and dark soy. I let this simmer gently for 4-5 minutes and got busy slicing a red, pointy bell pepper finely and by chopping a couple of handfuls of spinach coarsely.

Once it had been boiling away for 10 minutes or so, I added the Udon noodles, peppers and spinach and let the soup continue simmering away for a further 5 minutes. The tofu of course had a nice firm consistency and was flavorful with soy, ginger and tamarind, but obviously you can use regular light tofu if you prefer.

This was a lovely, light soup, with a rich flavor from the 5-spice powder, the soy and fish sauce, as well as from the fresh mushrooms and spinach of course... there was a lot going on here! But a final sprinkle of chili rounded things of nicely and made it all complete- and so delicious! So this may be made using Japanese noodles and Chinese spices... who cares? I am Sicilian and this was a treat- and you might just like it too!

Breaded Bliss

Bruschetta con Pomodori Miste, Ricotta, Basilico e Ajvar
Mixed-Tomato Bruschetta with Ricotta, Basil & Ajvar

Lunch or brunch or whatever you want to call it when someone gets up to late for breakfast and can't wait around until lunch to eat, was this wonderful variation on the theme of the classic bruschetta. Except I didn't have and real bread at home... just these rye-bread rolls. Poor me- haha! They made for a delicious snack, covered in a combination of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, oregano, basil and tangy Ajvar, and a layer of creamy Ricotta- pretty fantastic and made in just a few minutes!

This is my favorite kind of snack- low in hassle, low in fat, high in flavor and as pretty as it was delicious! Or was it the other way around? On another dull, cold and rainy day, these brought a bit of sunshine and a lot of satisfaction to the table! And let's face it- they are pretty simple... but at the same time- what's not to like?

The rolls of course were "scorched" on my grill-pan. The word "bruschetta" is derived from "bruciare" which means to burn... and so they should just a little bit! It's all a part of the deal! I omitted rubbing the crispy, toasted bread with garlic today- but that would also have been awesome, and instead, simply gave it a light spread of fresh low-fat ricotta.

For the tomato topping, I chopped equal amounts of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, seasoned them with salt, pepper and a little dried oregano and added some spicy Ajvar- for these 4 portions it only took 1 tablespoon. There's no need to overdo it! I stirred this together well and then added 4-5 nice, large basil leaves which I cut into thin strips. I stirred this all through and spooned it onto the rolls and sprinkled them generously with coarsely ground black pepper. The finishing touch to make them mega-galactic were a few strips of moist sun-dried tomato to make everything really "zing!" Easy! And very, very tasty! No need for added oil or fat- just the fresh, fruity flavor of the tomatoes and some herbs and spices to bring it to life.Try it and see!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Anyone for Seconds?

Zuppa di Verdure & Pomodoro con Sfogliatelle alla Parmigiana
Chunky Tomato & Vegetable Soup with Parmesan Pastry Rings

My second soup of the week... second day in bed with a cold... but not a meal that was second best in any way, shape or form. Although very simple, this soup was perfect for warming me up this evening and the addition of those pastry rings to dip into its savory goodness made it almost seem like it wasn't so bad having a cold after all. But I did just say "almost"...

The vegetables were the same as yesterday, the pastry was from the day before... so it was second time around for the ingredients in any case. But the result was totally different and that is always my favorite thing about cooking- making something new day in and day out of the same ingredients. That's real life, that's real cooking and that's what it's all about for me!

So once again, the main ingredients for the soup were carrot, onion, celeriac, leek and celery, cut into nice, rustic chunks and briefly sautéed in a little olive oil, with some crushed garlic and thyme to build up a little flavor base. I sprinkled in just a little flour- a teaspoon approximately, gave it a stir, let it sizzle with the vegetables for a minute or so and the deglazed the saucepan with enough boiling water to cover the vegetables.

I then added a couple of tinned plum tomatoes, plenty of chopped parsley and basil, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and a bay leaf and let the soup simmer away gently for the next 15 minutes. And in that time I gut busy making those yummy Parmesan puff-pastry rings...

The rings were a spontaneous idea that I suddenly had whilst I was fetching the vegetables out of the fridge. There was the open packet of puff-pastry before my eyes, with a left-over strip of around 8" in length. It wasn't really enough to use as a pie base, but I did consider using it to cover my soup with and baking it in the oven. And then I thought to myself- "how 1970's!" and also, "Ouch! That bowl is going to be too hot to handle!" and changed my mind. 

To make the rings, I simply cut the pastry into strips of about 1" and then took them two at a time, held them up, pinched two ends together and then twisted them very loosely together. Do not press them together or wind them too tightly as they will need a little room to puff up.
Once the strips were twisted together from end to end, I pinched the 2 ends together and formed them into rings, which I laid out on grease-proof paper and baked for 10-15 minutes until they began to puff up. At that point, I took them out of the oven, sprinkled them with Parmesan and then returned them for a further 5 minutes until the cheese had melted, crisped up and become a lovely golden brown. Simply but yummy!

By now the soup was done- the vegetables were tender and the flavor was lovely and rich. I scooped the vegetables out and set them into my serving bowl, then gave the broth and those canned tomatoes a whizz in my blender, giving everything a nice, smooth consistency. I poured this over the vegetables and seasoned with some coarsely ground black pepper, added some finely chopped parsley and some fresh basil as a garnish and together with the pastry rings- supper was served!

So, almost as if by magic, out of next to nothing a delicious and satisfying meal materialized before my very eyes... and that's a cool trick you may like to try for yourselves! I recommend it!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Souper Man!

Zuppa di Pollo Allo Zenzero con Annelletti
Ginger-Chicken Soup with Annelletti

It's hardly surprising, considering this truly miserable weather... but folks- I have managed to come down with a cold again! This from the man who had not had a cold in maybe 10 years... and now has one for the second time this year! So of course it had to be a chicken soup this evening, after having spent the day in bed shivering!

I decided to keep it simple- the classic vegetables, some chicken on the bone (until it fell off!) and some added ginger to hopefully help keep my cold at bay... as well as adding some great flavor! A snap-decision had me adding a couple of handfuls of Annelletti into the rich broth, little pasta rings that are a Sicilian favorite... and my supper's fate was sealed! Chicken-noodle soup it was to be- and what not to like?

It didn't take much meat to make soup for one person- this was just 1 chicken thigh, which I brought to the boil and let simmer for 4-5 minutes. I removed the scum which floated to the surface and then added my vegetables, in this case carrot, celery, celeriac and peas. I added plenty of chopped parsley, 1 small finely chopped clove of garlic and about 1" of finely chopped ginger- no onion at this point as I wanted to add leeks and Spring onion later and didn't want them to overcook completely. I brought this all to a gentle simmer and let it bubble away for around 45 minutes. 

After that time, the meat was cooked through and fell from the bone with very little effort. I plucked it apart into more manageable chunky and returned the pieces to the broth. At this point I also added the noodles and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. I added a little Chinese 5-Spice powder too- just a teaspoon, as this went wonderfully with the ginger and the hint of star anise gave it a wonderful aroma. 

10 minutes later I added the sliced leeks and Spring onion, stirred everything through and the continued boiling for a further 5 minutes. And that was it! I added some of those lovely, intense, pale leaves from the inside of my celery and a little more parsley before serving- as well as a generous pinch of chili flakes! I needed some warming and this did the trick just nicely... and so deliciously! And being as chicken soup is THE only good thing about having a cold, I was happy that I made it especially good this time! Here's to hoping I feel better tomorrow!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Through The Looking Glass...

Bicchiero di Arancia, Yogurt & Melograno
Orange, Yogurt & Pomegranate

These little desserts are as magical looking as anything Alice would have enjoyed after peeping through her looking glass. And I think that the first thought that would be going through anyones mind after seeing them would be "eat me"- just like that magic potion in the fairy tale...

...but this little dessert, simple as it is, is magical too!. Fresh orange, cool yogurt and refreshing pomegranate are the ingredients, which are excellent together and which I actually did not alter one bit when preparing this. Basically, all I did here was have a sense of taste in combining these flavors and a sense of style whilst serving them up :-)

The only real work here was cutting the segments of orange out from between the membrane enclosing each slice. I topped and tailed the orange first, set it onto my cutting board and cut the outer layer of peel away generously, then went in and cut-out the tender flesh only. This was to become the first layer. Next came a laver of plain yogurt, enriched with a little honey and a pinch of vanilla essence. And last but not least, the wonderful, refreshing pomegranate, to add some color and excitement into the affair!

And that ladies and gentlemen was it! At least for today my friends! Hope you enjoy this, hope you try it out out some time- and hope that you enjoy the flavors!