Friday, 31 January 2014

Big, Beautiful Baked Beans

Fagioli "Grande di Spagna" & Verdure Miste Gratinate
White Beans & Mixed Vegetable Gratin

Something healthy, something hearty, something yummy, inexpensive, quick and easy... and no, I am not talking about 6 different meals, I am only talking about this one, right here! But as it happens, if did consist of 6 main, but very simple and everyday ingredients- and if you stick around for just a minute or two I will let you know how I transformed them into a terrific supper this evening ;-)

The beans were those lovely, huge, white, Spanish or Greek ones, from a can, with no guilt and no work... when it comes to beans and chickpeas- if you live alone... is it REALLY work soaking that single handful you are going to eat overnight? I mean, soaking something that is dried is not going to make it any more fresh than those coming out of the can. If you are using fresh beans- fine. If not, I leave the choice up to you. Me? I crack open a can ;-)

The other ingredients this evening were a nice, little, juicy kohlrabi, which smiled at me from the shelf at the supermarket on my way home from work, a stick of celery, half a carrot, an onion and a few cherry tomatoes. Apart from that, some fresh thyme, a little grated pecorino and a handful of bread crumbs for a little extra crunch. That doesn't sound much... and in fact, it isn't all that much- but at the same time is was more than enough to fill me up and to do so in a most wonderful way- like only yummy comfort food can.

I started by chopping the carrot, celery and onion nice and small and by cutting the kohlrabi into sticks. Nice, little bite-size pieces that went nicely with the size of the large, oversized beans. And I started the whole thing off by a.) turning on the oven to get it nice and warm and b.) popping the carrot, celery, kohlrabi and onion into a frying pan. I added just enough boiling water to cover the base, seasoned with salt and popped on the lid, and let them steam for 4-5 minutes.

After 5 minutes or so, the water had almost completely evaporated away, and at this point I added 3-4 sprigs of thyme, plucked from the stem, pepper, nutmeg and olive oil and 5-6 cherry tomatoes which I cut in half.

I stirred everything through, let the vegetables sizzle away for a while and in the meantime, grated a nice handful of Pecorino and mixed it together with a handful of bread crumbs, to sprinkle on top of the mixed vegetables. This is simple stuff but also good fun and you can always vary the ingredients according to your own preference or what is in season where you happen to live.

Making sure to not over-cook the ingredients, after 10 minutes or so, I transfered them, piping hot, to a baking dish. I sprinkled everything with a light coat of crumb and cheese, seasoned once again with salt and pepper and a light drizzle of olive oil- especially on the bread crumbs, so that they would have a chance to become nice a crunchy and brown...

Into the oven it went, at around 300°F, for around 15-20 minutes, or until the crumbs and the cheese were nicely toasted and brown. I told you this was easy stuff! But as you can see, the fact that it was simple to make, didn't mean that it wasn't wonderful to eat! It was all of that and so much more!

Sweet, juicy and rich vegetables along with mild and satisfying beans, with a kick from the fresh thyme and the crunch of the cheese and crumbs- now I would say that, THAT was a lot of good stuff going on all in that one, simple meal!

If you are easy to please, this makes for a great little meal in itself, but if you at some time need a nice side dish to go with a Winter meat, poultry or fish dish- you have everything you need, all wrapped up in 1 baking dish! Give it and try and see for yourselves! And enjoy!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Have You Tried the Dried?

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini Secchi
Risotto with Dried Porcini Mushrooms

You know those science fiction movies, set after the world has all-but been destroyed and ravaged by nuclear war, where people end up killing (and occasionally eating) each other for food and where things are really desperate and not a lot of fun? You know- the ones with no pretty special effects and no happy end? Well I for one am not worried about that scenario ever happening. Not because I think it is impossible, but mainly because this has been the second evening that I really SHOULD have gone out and got some groceries and yet I managed to survive on things I still had in my kitchen cupboards. So I reckon I should be able to get by for a while without leaving the house or killing anyone. For a while at least...

What saved my life this evening were the deliciously rich and wonderful dried Porcini mushrooms, which had been sitting in my cupboard for probably a year now... waiting patiently for me to remember that I bought them for a reason! But don't get me wrong here, whilst you read my petty attempts at being humorous and assume that the reason may be that they are something you should keep them at home is for emergencies- the real and most important reason to have them is because they are truly delicious! Maybe even more so than in their fresh form...

And in true "act of survival" manner, the ingredients for this dish were so few and so simple, that you hopefully will agree with me when I claim that when it comes to cooking good food- less really IS more most of the time. Take a look below and you will see a half stick of celery, half of a carrot, an onion, a no larger than 2" piece of Pecorino and a handful of dried Porcini. These few ingredients, in addition to 2 handfuls of rice, made for an absolutely satisfying and delicious couple of bowls of true comfort food this evening. 

This was a speeded-up and improvised version of a risotto, relying on the Porcini

mushrooms and a simple sofritto for the main flavor, but also on a "secret potion" which I will reveal to you in just a few seconds... it was hidden right at the back of one of the kitchen cupboards you see...

But in the meantime, let's get started by pouring enough hot water over the mushrooms to cover them. Normally the thing to do would be to let them soak for at least half an hour and then boil them up in order to make a stock from them to cook the risotto in. In order to speed things up, I simply waited 4-5 minutes, until they were soft enough to cut into smaller pieces and decided they could give off their flavor directly into the risotto instead... sometimes I get a little impatient... usually when I am hungry!

So whilst the mushrooms soaked, I finely chopped the carrot, celery, onion and parsley and started to fry them gently in a little olive oil- just until the onions became translucent... you know the way it goes! It's always the same, I know!

I then added the rice- 2 handfuls for 2 nice little portions- or one "hey- this is my only meal of the day!"sized portion ;-) , the latter being what I described mine as this evening. The rice was regular arborio, and as soon as it was stirred-in, coated with oil and just beginning to fry, I deglazed the saucepan and added the chopped mushrooms and the juices they had soaked in.

Of course, as I already mentioned, this is not the classic method, but let me tell you now after having enjoyed the results immensely... it works just fine! In fact- much better than just fine! And that is partly in thanks to the next ingredient that I used to help out in my hour of need- this wonderful and potent potion that I brought back from my last visit to England last year :-) Wonderful stuff it is too!

Although it is called "ketchup", this is an old-fashioned seasoning, rich, dark and more similar to soy or Worcestershire sauce than the thick, red and tangy stuff that you pour over your burgers and fries. This is made from fermented mushrooms and adds depth and richness to any mushroom dish or gravy... I bought it simply out of curiosity and because of the label to be honest! But I am so glad I did!

So, as opposed to the usual adding of a rich broth to the rice to cook the risotto, I simply added boiling water, a little at a time and stirred and stirred and stirred, as one would... and the flavors developed as the carrot, onion and celery cooked along with the dried mushrooms. Trust me- there was a lot of flavor in there- and with the help of a few splashes of the wonderful Watkins ketchup, by the time the risotto was cooked it perfectly rich and dreamy!

The cooking time was around 35-40 minutes and it did need to be stirred occasionally- but it is nothing as stressful as people make out, just a little stir now and then is all it takes, each time you top it up with water. The only important thing when making risotto- whether it is a classic risotto using a rich broth that you have cooked in advance, or this method, where the flavors are developing in the saucepan, is that the liquid you add needs to also be boiling, so that it doesn't cool the risotto down and prolong the cooking time. 

I checked the seasoning and added a little salt and plenty of pepper as required- bearing in mind that the grated Pecorino that I would be adding towards the end is also rich and salty, and that the Porcini and the mushroom ketchup are also very intense in their flavor... so go gently and add your seasoning a little at a time until you get it right. You do have around half an hour to work on it before you need to "worry"...

After 30 minutes or so, have a critical taste and if the rice is almost done, if it is nicely "manticato", meaning cooked to the point that the broth is becoming nicely creamy, then you can add your cheese... Parmesan is the most commonly used for risotti, but as I already mentioned, mine was Pecorino this evening. Stir it in well until it melts completely, add a last splash of liquid and then let it sit and gently simmer until that liquid becomes absorbed and the broth becomes thick and creamy. 

Push the rice back in the saucepan using  your spoon- and if it flows back towards you in gently, it is what the Italians call "al onda" and ready to be enjoyed. "Onda" is the Italian word for wave... it has nothing to do with Japanese cars! But it is a fun expression to impress your friends with- they will all be familiar with "al dente" in reference to pasta, but you may be able to show-off with this one ;-)

A last sprinkle of fresh pepper, a little extra grated cheese and a touch of parsley for a fresh touch- and there you have it! Totally rich, totally delicious- totally easy... and put together, as if by magic, using next to nothing! And as you know by now my friends... that is absolutely MY KIND OF FOOD! And I hope it will be yours too!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Living on the Egg

Uova al Forno in Puré di Patate con Olive, Timo & Pecorino
Eggs Baked in Olive, Thyme & Pecorino Mashed Potato

It was a weird evening and a very frustrating one at that. Supposedly, someone was going to come around and check the meters in the whole house between 7.30 and 8pm. Great. Right at suppertime. Still, I thought, it beats having them come in the middle of the day and having to take time off work. Otherwise, I would probably have ventured out to the supermarket and got some fresh supplies as I was running pretty low on... well, quite a few things, but no, being responsible, I hurried home instead, so that the poor guys could come and get their job done and also get home. 

At least, that was the way the thoughts went through my head... that's just the kind of guy I am I guess. 

And then nobody turned up!

Fortunately, I already started getting worried by 8pm and thought to myself I may as well just get started on supper anyway. Otherwise I might have starved and you all wouldn't have had any pretty pictures to look at. Needless to say- I managed to improvise something. Don'tcha just love it? ;-)

Here are the ingredients. Basically, they consisted of all that was left at home- haha! Just kidding... but only just! I have little, pretty potatoes in the picture below,  but I cooked up 2 large ones to make my mash. Otherwise, all I needed was a sprig or two of thyme, a little parsley, an onion, a bit of garlic (which would be optional I'd say), just a handful of grated Pecorino cheese and a few olives. Seasoning was simply salt, pepper and nutmeg... ll really simple things. But just look what I turned them into!

Whilst the potatoes boiled for the mash, I turned on the oven to 400° and turned on the stove top ready to fry the onion, which I had cut into a fine dice. I fried it in olive oil and added just a little garlic, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar, and let it gently sweat and become a gentle, brown color. 

I then added a good pinch of both parsley and thyme, plenty of freshly ground pepper, stirred everything together at a high heat and then deglazed the pan with a good splash of milk. Immediately the milk turned from white to a caramel brown as the good flavor of the onion, garlic and herbs came up from base of the pan- yummy! 

In the meantime, the potatoes were ready to be mashed, and of course I then added the onion/herb and milk mixture to them, along with a light drizzle of olive oil. I added this rather than butter, so as to give the potatoes a distinctly Mediterranean flavor and added a handful of grated Pecorino too, to give it a nice, salty richness... and oh boy, did it ever smell good!

At that point, I debated adding the chopped olives into the mix, but being as the mashed potatoes had already taken on a slightly green color due to the herbs. I personally found this to be very appetizing, but still, I was wary of adding the black olives as I was afraid they might make the potatoes turn a slightly "off-ish" color. So I opted to just sprinkle them on top instead... although I am sure if you stirred them in they would also be fine, if you think that sounds easier...

I spooned the still hot mashed potatoes into a baking dish and then popped them into the oven for 10 minutes or so, in order to let them form a slight crust, get nice and hot and become a little "firmer", before making 3 little wells to crack my eggs into...

I would say that it is a good idea to have the baking dish and the potatoes piping hot before adding the eggs, as this will help them to cook more quickly from below and not simply be exposed to heat from above in the oven. The reason being, that this direct heat from the oven WILL indeed make the yolks a little tough on the very topmost layer, and if you put them into the oven set in cold potatoes, by the time they become hot enough for the egg to set, it will probably completely turn to rubber! So trust me on this- have that dish and those potatoes hot, hot, hot before adding the eggs!

Once you have cracked the eggs into the potatoes and they begin to cook, add a last light sprinkle of cheese and a hint of nutmeg and freshly ground pepper, then pop the whole thing back into the oven at around 250° for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs set. Simple. And delicious!

Serve with a little extra parsley and thyme for a hint of freshness- end get ready to be surprised at how satisfying this tastes! The olives and thyme make all the difference and they are complimented wonderfully by the silky, rich egg yolk... you are going to love it! And so will anyone else who is lucky enough to enjoy these with you!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Fishing for Condiments

Zuppa di Merluzzo alla Mediterranea
Mediterranean Cod Fish Soup

What madness is this?!? Because clearly I must have been made to have come up with the idea of making a fish soup! Me of all people! Yes, you all know that I love soups, but you also know that I am not the greatest fan of fish... it does happen occasionally- but I would say that it happens on rare occasion rather then being a frequent ingredient on my menu...

... but it was cold, I was hungry, and there was this last piece of frozen cod in the freezer, smiling at me when I opened the door and reminding me that it couldn't stay there forever. So I took pity on it and fetched it out- and upon seeing how small it was, then began to feel sorry for myself too. I couldn't help thinking that as tiny as it was, this was not going to make much of a meal, was it? Or was it?...

So I began to hatch a plan to make a rich and flavorful broth to poach the fish in, with some nice vegetables and some deliciously intense salami to up the stakes a little. And a shot of Sambuca- why not? It is not as if I am a drinker, by any stretch of the imagination... and it was cold outside! Look- don't judge me- ok? The alcohol cooks away anyway. Which was why I decided to sip on a little glassful while I cooked... I will never become a drinker if I don't get some practice in after all! :-)

Whilst I sip my second glass of Sambuca (ahem), let me point out the ingredients I used to make my delicious little soup- don't worry- it won't take long as they were preciously few! And I would urge you to bear this in mind should you make this soup- because in my humble opinion, in this case and any case when it comes to cooking, it is all about balance. I know it may get a little boring for you to hear me repeat this time and time again... but it really IS the most important thing to remember.

To make this outrageously tasty soup, you are going to need, per person, 1 small fillet of cod, cut into bite-sized pieces, one small onion, 1 small bell pepper (or about a third of a regular sized one), a half stalk of celery and some of the leaves, a quarter of a small fennel bulb, a nice sprig of thyme and just a few, 5-6 slices of a rich salami, cut into quarters and depending on their size, just 3-4 sliced cherry tomatoes.

This was a really easy dish to prepare. I began by heating up the salami in a saucepan until it began to sizzle and sweat-off its fat, then added the carrots, the celery, the fennel and the onion. I stir-fried these ingredients up until the point that the onion and celery began to slowly turn translucent and a tad brown at the edges, the added half of the thyme and seasoned with salt and pepper. 

I then added a tablespoon of tomato paste, stirred this in quickly and then after a minute or so, added a nice splash of Sambuca- about a shot glass full. I just as quickly stirred this in, so as to stir up all of the good flavors from the base of the saucepan and then added boiling water, the few celery leaves that I had, plucked into little pieces, a bay leaf, about a half teaspoon of smoked paprika powder and of course salt and pepper. 

I reduced the heat to a gentle simmer and let it bubble away for the next 15 minutes or so. And though you may not imagine it, in that time, the flavor of the broth becomes lovely and rich through the celery, fennel, carrot and onion and that salty and rich salami. The Sambuca emphasizes the anise-flavor of the fennel and makes the broth much richer and more complex... in the best possible way. 

All that remained to be done now was for the fish and the sliced cherry tomatoes to be added, as they were the most delicate ingredients. Basically, it just took 5 minutes of gentle simmering or so to cook the cod until it was just beginning to flake apart and the tomatoes were just beginning to soften and give off their juices- perfect! Time to go grab myself a bowl and dish it up!

I added a good sprinkle of fennel greens and plucked thyme leaves to freshen up the flavor a little, and gave it a good grind of fresh pepper before digging-in and enjoying this wonderfully rich and hearty soup! There were all of the flavors of the Mediterranean, right there in one dish- and they tasted so good!

I hope that, without wanting to sound for a second as if I am preaching, that you can see that you really don't need much in the way of ingredients to make a totally tasty and delicious meal. I am sure the photos here speak for themselves when it comes to conveying flavor- you can simply SEE how tasty this was... I just wish you could smell it and taste it too!

But I suppose that would mean that you will all have to go ahead and make it for yourselves... what a brilliant idea! I hope you all try it and enjoy!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Just a Little Yummy

Melanzane Thailandese con Basilico & Tagliatelle "Tom Yum"
Thai Eggplant with Basil & Tom Yum Noodles

When it comes to eggplants, which as you know I absolutely love, there are always two options for me when I go to the market hall. I can either think of "The Old Country" and visit Nina, who always has the best, Sicilian, "regular", plump purple or black ones... or if I feel like something exotic, the longer, almost snake-like purple variety... Or alternatively, I can go and visit Mrs. Wong and choose these delectable little Thai beauties instead, which is plainly what I opted to do this weekend... and I am so glad that I did! 

Though smaller and generally speaking a little firmer than the large ones, the main difference is that they are also a little more intense in their flavor, as they contain as many seeds as a large eggplant. These are what make eggplants sometimes a little bitter and the reason that we sprinkle them with salt before cooking, as the salt draws the bitterness out. That was just a part of the deal with the dish I tried this evening though- and a quick, easy and delicious dish it turned out to be too! Take a look and see!

As you can see, the ingredients were rather basic... 3 little Thai eggplants, 1 bundle of egg noodles, 1 shallot (although 2 are in the picture!), a half stick of celery, a little ginger, a little chili and some fresh basil. Oh! And of course some deliciously rich and wonderful Tom Yum paste! 

We all love Tom Yum Gai soup, with plenty of chicken and rich coconut milk, but I like to use this aromatic citrus/shrimp/garlic/chili paste to flavor other dishes too. Like this one. Obviously. Because the tangy, refreshing flavor made the noodles into a perfect addition to the simple basil-infused eggplant. The celery added a little crunch, the shallot a little sweetness and the ginger and chili just a touch of heat. And I don't know about you folks... but that sounded like a pretty terrific combination to me!

I started off by making 3 cuts into the eggplants as you can see in the image below. I then squeezed them a little, so that the slits opened up and sprinkles a little salt inside- tricky but doable. As they are so small, and they of course immediately squeeze shut again, the salt does its work really quickly. After just 10 minutes, I managed with a little pressure, to squeeze quite a bit of a bit of bitterness out of them. Don't overdo it when you squeeze them, as you don't want to risk them splitting open and that will ruin the next step, which is to slide a basil leaf into each of the slits. Sounds tricky- but again... is totally doable! 

The next step was to pop them into a steamer for 10-15 minutes, during which time of course I was able to prepare the other ingredients. I cut the celery into slices, on the diagonal and sliced the chili finely, discarding the seeds so as to not let the dish get too spicy... but of course that is a matter of personal preference. 

After 15 minutes of steaming, the eggplants were cooked through and were ready to be transformed. Of course they were already full of flavor from the basil, but it was time to have a little fun and put this dish together now!

Into the frying pan went a drizzle of sesame oil and the celery, ginger and chilies, which I fried for 2-3 minutes before adding the eggplant. In the meantime I brought some water up to the boil for the noodles- just enough so that they were covered by about an inch. I added a tablespoonful of Tom Yum paste, the juice of half a lime, a good splash of fish sauce and a pinch of sugar.... then turned my attention back to the frying pan!

By now the eggplants had begun to wilt a little more, shine a little more... and smell much more fragrant of basil... delicious! I added a splash of water, just enough to cover the base of the frying pan, a little light soy sauce, a little honey and then popped on the lid and turned off the heat.

By the time noodles were done, they had soaked up most of the water, but were still a little "soupy" with all of that good Tom Yum flavor- and these went straight into a bowl ready for serving. I spooned in all of the small ingredients from the frying pan and gently mixed them into the noodles and then laid the eggplants on top... added a few last drops of sesame oil and a sprinkle of parsley for some freshness and color (and because I had no fresh coriander!)- and dinner was served!

The best thing about this was how much fun it was to eat! The eggplants have those handy little stems, which allow you to pick them and nibble away at them... and just take a look in that picture how juicy and delicious they looked inside... mmm! And they were! And the basil flavor was so clean and rich- perfect to bring out the best in the eggplant and also mild enough to be a perfect balance for the slightly hot and tangy noodles. 

Good food, no fuss and just a great idea I'd say. Need I say more?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A Dream in a Tagine

Carciofi & Riso al Ras el Hanout, Cotto in Tagine
Artichokes & Rice from the Tagine with Ras el Hanout

It is not as if I have ALWAYS wanted a tagine... but I did always find them- "kinda cool", I must admit. And last week, in the sales- there this thing was at a price that was, for this poor Sicilian guy, "an offer I couldn't refuse"- lol! And so, thinking of all kinds of great dishes I can make in it for guests, in future- into a bag it went and back home with me it came!

You may be asking yourselves just what I would be planning on making? Well, after many years of Arabic rule in Sicily, we have many great traditions of various couscous dishes- not least the famous "Couscous alla Trapanese"- wonderful, ancient and exotic... and many more dishes besides.

So, although I knew that I would not really be doing the thing justice by cooking a single portion in it, where it is much better suited to making a fill meal for a family of 4 at least, I decided I needed to "season" it and at least try the thing out this evening- just to get a feel for cooking in this very different kind of pot.

I decided to make a dish using the lovely fresh, young artichokes I picked up at the market hall yesterday, as one thing is for sure- a tagine is not meant to be used for any quick dishes- it is better suited to slow cooking at moderate temperatures than high heat. Which is why you need to "season" it, by soaking it in water for at least 2 hours and then baking it in the oven at around the same amount of time at around 200°F. This will help prevent it from cracking too easily- but that can still happen if you add cold water to your dishes whilst they are bubbling away, or cook at too high a heat in the first place. 

So, as you can see, I had a small bunch of young artichokes, a couple of shallots, a mild chili pepper, mint, parsley and rice... those were the basic ingredients. The prep-work involved was the classic trimming of the artichokes- top third off, outer leaves plucked, then cut into quarters and the "choke! at the heart removed... but fortunately for me, these were so young and tender that there was hardly any there.

I am also very fortunate to have a really wonderful Ras el Hanout spice mixture, which has plenty of rose petals, which make so much difference! The name Ras el Hanout, translates to "the best blend", more or less and each merchant in Morocco will have his own version- some consisting of up to 30 spices! If you look into my mortar and pestle photo, you will see cumin, coriander, cloves, mace, chili, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, pepper, fennel seeds, star anis, anisette and more! Oh- and yes... rose petals, as I said... lovely!

But back to the tagine and to the method I tried out this evening. As I was a little worried about putting the tagine directly onto a hot stove, and mine is such, that I have to turn it up to the maximum heat before it will even turn on and can only THEN turn it down, I first poured a little boiling water into the tagine from my kettle- to gently warm the clay. Once the stove was on, I reduced the heat to medium and put the tagine back on top and added the artichokes and just enough water to cover them.

I let the temperature get to the point that the water was just gently simmering and then put on the lid and let the artichokes steam for 15 minutes or so.

In the meantime, I sliced the shallots, ground up the spices, plucked the mint and parsley from the stalks and sliced up a little of the mild chili- so nice that it had hardly any seeds and would make for pleasant eating- I had already seen there were quite a few dried chilies in the spice mix! I also cut a few slices of lemon to add, as I find that is also a nice addition to any artichoke dish.

After 15 minutes the artichokes are just about half done and look pretty sorry for themselves- but not to worry! The water will be filled with flavor (sadly, for most palates a little bitter- but we will tend to that later ;-) ) and that is a good thing though, as we will use that broth to steam our rice in... and everything else of course! And now we can start having fun adding all of those other yummies!

I first added the lemon slices, then sprinkled in a cup and a half of rice, the shallots, the mint and parsley and the chillies... and of course the spices! I ground up just a good teaspoon to make this amount- which would have been good for 2 portions... but I was hungry! I gave everything a light stir and added another little bit of warm water, just enough to cover everything. I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, waited for the temperature to come back up to a gentle simmer and replaced the lid. And let it cook with the lid on for a further 40 minutes... 

After 40 minutes were over and I could hardly stand it, I lifted the lid and there was a bowl full of fluffy, delicious rice and tender artichokes... and the most wonderful aroma! So spices and pleasant- you really have to try this out as there is now way I can describe it... other than saying it was like something out of a dream... no kidding! But it was right here in my kitchen!

Obviously, after steaming away for so long, it did look a little "dull", but that was quickly changed with just a sprinkle of freshly, finely chopped parsley and mint and the final, finishing touches that I added, which were a nice drizzle of both sesame oil and also a little honey. The honey balances the bitterness of the artichokes and the sourness of the lemon wonderfully, whilst still allowing those flavors to come through... and for me at least- that is the secret of good food. The balance. It's all about the balance. You could pour away the broth from the artichokes and boil the rice in water and have no bitterness- but then you would not be eating my dish. Likewise with the lemon. But look- just be brave and do the right thing! You are reading my blog for a reason after all! 

And this I would propose is the reason. This kind of wonderful, simple but still complex and delicious meal. You know you want to try it! This is neither a traditional Moroccan dish, nor is it based on anything other than my instincts and my preferences in the kitchen. It was an experiment and of course, all you have to go by are my words... but I am being as honest as I can and descriptive as I dare!

There is spice, there is bitterness and sweetness... there are delicate rose petals and lovely rich artichokes and the fresh herbs. And there is nothing else. It is just good, simple, honest food cooked in its own broth and essence- and that is what I wanted the tagine for. To keep all of the flavors trapped in the food. 

And of course you can do the same thing with your saucepan- absolutely- that is what I do every day... but this was my little Sunday night adventure and my little dream come true!

And here is one more shot just before I say good bye- just in case I haven't managed to convince you yet... but I hope I have managed! And I hope you enjoy it!

A little bit less & a whole lot More!

Piccola Torta di Farina di Carrube, Banana Matura, Fichi Secche & Mandorla
Carob Flour, Ripe Banana, Fig & Almond, Unsweetened Breakfast Cake

Sunday morning, Breakfast time and that age-old dilemma of what to do with the over-ripe banana. There is always one of them come Sunday- isn't there? Maybe sometimes more- but always at least one of the darned things!

And yes, by now you know that my Sunday morning breakfast concoction is going to be as quick and easy and no-fuss as... well... almost every other meal I ever make! But I promise you that with this one, you can cut out the work, cut out the fat- even cut out the sugar and still have a real treat that is delicious and healthy to boot!

Now that I finally have managed to get the Carob flour that was proving to be so difficult to find here in Germany, I decided this morning to try to incorporate it into a little breakfast dish, rather than simply add it to my drinks. 

I had carob flour recommended to me by my doctor in Sicily as I have been having some tummy troubles of late and he suggested I try it as a natural remedy. If I tell you that the refined version of carob flour- the type that is bleached and ridded of its flavor and aroma, can be used as a binding agent in the same way that you can use cornstarch to thicken soups... I am sure you will know what I am talking about ;-)

But as we are talking about all things yummy here right now, you will be pleased to know that in its unrefined form, it has this lovely, rich, golden brown color and the aroma of a yummy caramel. It is also naturally sweet and is used by many people (mostly in the USA and Australia) as a substitute for cocoa. 

Ok- that was just a little description in case you are not familiar with it- so, sorry if you already are- let's get started! To make this little cake, all I needed was: 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of regular flour, 1 tablespoon of carob flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of baking soda, a pinch of salt, 1 ripe banana cut in slices, 2-3 dried figs cut into slices, 2 tablespoons of plain low-fat yogurt and a handful of slivered almonds.

I made the cake batter by stirring the the dry ingredients together and then adding  the 2 tablespoons of yogurt. As soon as the flour and yogurt had become the lovely, dark, cocoa-like paste that it does (and immediately started to smell yummy!), I added the egg and gave it a quick whisk... no need to fuss- you can even simply use a fork for this small amount! 

I then added the banana, the figs and three quarters of the almonds and stirred them in... until I had a rich and creamy, fudge or toffee-like blend, as you can see in the photo above. And yes- I did like the spoon!

I poured the mixture into a lightly buttered dish, sprinkled the last few slices of almond on top and popped it into a pre-heated oven, on the middle shelf, at around 280°F for 20-25 minutes. After 20 minutes or so, I took a peek, and saw little bursts of liquid coming up around the outside edges here and there and a few coming through cracks in the surface... this is yummy juice escaping from the banana as it cooks and a good sign that the cake is ready by the time that much heat has built up in the middle of the cake... That is what I am guessing- haha! I wasn't about to start sticking a toothpick or a piece of spaghetti or anything like that into a little fake cake! No, not I- you all know I can't bake anyway! 

Well, as luck has it, as you can see... this little beauty did actually turn out JUST RIGHT- even if I do say so myself... and I do! The great thing about it, if you are like me and you like sweet things that are not TOO sweet- this is just wonderfully balanced and all the the sweetness is natural. All of the flavors are natural. No added cinnamon, vanilla... nothing- jut the great, pure, rich taste of the carob, the fig, the banana and the almonds... and who could possibly want for more?

The consistency was firm but chewy- like a soft brownie I would say, but not icky and oozy... just look at that last photo. You are going to know whether you like it or not from that shot. That is all I am saying. But I am guessing you will ;-) And I know I am going to make this again! 

New favorite, yummy, healthy, good for me, done-deal- The End.