Friday, 28 February 2014

Thyme for some Lemon

Merluzzo Involto in Pancetta & Patate Rosse al Timo & Limone
Bacon-Wrapped Cod & New Red Potatoes with Lemon & Thyme

Every now and again, I go out of my way to make a fish dish... I like the sound of that, "fish dish"- kinda fun! And this actually was kinda fun, even for someone who is not the greatest fan, generally speaking. I like cod and sword fish, mahi-mahi and monkfish are also nice... and I love shrimp, octopus or cuttlefish... the rest... not so much- what's a guy to do? 

Of course we all have preferences in food as much as in any other aspect of life... and maybe even more, which is why I at least try to stay open minded and to give things a try, maybe in a slightly different way than what I am used to- and on occasions when I do that- dishes like this one happen and I even surprise myself!  ;-)

The typical herbs to use with fish are parsley and dill, generally speaking, but I was in the mood for something a little more Mediterranean I guess and the thyme was just asking for it- lol! I wanted to use some stronger flavors and tangy lemon and thyme are favorites of mine, which would also work well with the sweet, new potatoes... and with a touch of salty bacon to add a nice contrast and a little extra depth of flavor, I decided I was on to a good thing... and got busy preparing it!

This was an amazingly simple little dish top prepare and only took 20-25 minutes or so- which is another good thing about it, right there. The only prep-work to do on it is to a.) boil the potatoes- which in this small size took only 10-15 minutes at the most and b.) to wrap that little bit of fishie up!

I did that by simply cutting a slice of lemon, laying it on top of the cod, adding some thyme and then wrapping it up with a couple of rashers of lean bacon. I cut another couple of slices of lemon to add to the potatoes later on and sliced a couple of cherry tomatoes in half as a juicy little extra, turned on the broiler in my oven ready for action later, grabbed my frying pan- and let the cooking begin!

I turned up the heat on a non-stick pan and gave it a minute or two before adding the cod and lemon parcel, then waited a minute or so until the bacon began to sizzle. I then carefully flipped it over, pressed it down and added a pat of butter. After just a minute or so, I flipped it back over again and then set it to one side. Thats right- it was just in the pan for 3-4 minutes at the most- basically, to get the bacon lightly colored, to get it to shrink a little so that it would hold together more tightly- and to get some thyme and bacon flavor onto the base of the pan... ready for the potatoes to be added!

They were boiled and soft and tender by now, so I drained them and set them onto my chopping board, gave them a squeeze with the flat-edge of my knife so that they gently popped open and then added them to the pan with a sprinkle of thyme, a few pieces of lemon and another pat of butter. I gave them a quick toss to get them nicely shiny and coated and once they too began to brown, after just a couple of minutes, set them to one side too... because next came the tomatoes!

They of course also went into the pan with a touch more butter- this was just a little pat each time folks- you can see in the images that this was not a fatty dish! You just need enough to add a little moisture and a lot of flavor... not a lot of fat and a butter overload!

After just a minute or so, I flipped the tomatoes over and pushed them to one side, then added the potatoes and the fish again. I fried them separately in order to avoid the tomatoes getting mashed-up and making the pan sticky whilst frying everything together as I wanted everything to stay clean and dry and retain its own flavor... and I wanted to avoid having unnecessary washing-up to do!

In any case, once everything was back in the pan, I added salt, pepper and a tiny drizzle of honey- just a little bit! This would bring out the best of the tomatoes, potatoes and bacon in combination with the tangy lemon and thyme... you are going to love it! I gave them a gentle flip over so that I could do that from either side and popped them under the broiler to come back up to temperature and finish cooking to completion. And to lightly caramelize and turn super-delicious... and it took no more than 3-4 minutes- just enough time for me to grab a plate and get ready for a lovely light supper!

If you love fish- you will like this... if like me, you don't- then this will be a pretty safe bet if you want to go out on a limb :-) haha! And with each time that I do that... I start to like fish just a little bit more- which can only be a good thing, right? Enjoy!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sticking with the Good Stuff

Pane in Padella di Farina di Ceci, Zucchine & Erbe Aromatiche, con Cipolla Caramellata
Herb, Zucchini & Gram Flour Pan-Bread & Caramelized Red Onion

I love gram (chickpea) flour... I love the infinite number of things that can be made from it... I love the way smells deliciously of chickpeas as it cooks and I love the way that whatever you prepare from it always has a nice, glossy sheen to it... but I do kinda hate the way it can tend to be very, very sticky!

Having said that, as with most things, it is simply a matter of practice and of getting a feel for things to be able to do them in a more effortless way. And as I have a couple of colleagues who have attempted dishes with gram flour and failed, tragically, to have good results... I decided to try out a little something and share it with you all, that is totally quick and easy and guaranteed to work- with no trouble or stickiness at all!

Rather than make a flat-bread this evening, I decided to make something a little more voluminous and substantial. As it can tend to be a little dense at times, I decided to keep the "bread" softer and moister than usual by adding grated zucchini and a little baking powder into the mix. Along with plenty of herbs- parsley, tarragon and oregano as you can see, a couple of eggs, about 1/3rd of a chili pepper, plain yogurt and a little cinnamon and nutmeg to round it off nicely. Simple stuff- but good stuff!

The first thing I did was to finely chop the parsley and tarragon, the same with the chili pepper (after removing the seeds!) and grating the zucchini coarsely. I seasoned with salt and in retrospect would advise you to be pretty generous with the salt, as the gram flour seems to need quite a bit- especially as there is the sweet zucchini in the mix here.

I then stirred all of the dry ingredients into 4 tablespoons of gram flour, until they became nicely coated. This reduces the forming of lumps quite considerably, which can only be a good thing! It also helps to get that finely chopped chili pepper nicely integrated and evenly spread within the mix, as it would probably simply sink to the bottom of the bowl otherwise... don't you just hate it when that happens?

Next came the 2 eggs, which were easy to stir into the mix as it was nicely and evenly prepared in advance with the flour, zucchini,herbs and chili pepper. I simply stirred everything together with a wooden spoon- no need for whisks or gadgets here- thank goodness! As convenient as machines can be, they can still take longer to get set-up than the time it takes to simply do things by hand!

Once the eggs were broken and stirred in, I added the yogurt- just a couple of tablespoons and then worked everything together until it became a lush, yellow, shiny and colorful batter... nom-nom-nom!

The last ingredient I added, was a tablespoon of baking powder, just to help keep the mixture nice and fluffy and to keep the finely ground gram flour from becoming, as I already mentioned earlier, too heavy and dense.

I then poured the batter into a small non-stick frying pan and placed it on the stove top, turned on the oven to get it nice and ready and hot for baking and got busy doing the fun stuff. I let the batter set in the frying pan and then put it into the oven to finish baking. I had the temperature set at 300°F and let it bake away for the next 15 minutes or so- and of course in the meantime, I kept busy by caramelizing those wonderful slices of red onion to make them nice and soft and sweet...

I like to pop my sliced onion into a small saucepan, with a little water and a pinch of salt. When the onions begin to soften, after 5 minutes or so, I add a little sugar and a pinch of cinnamon, a little pepper- and a little more water, so that all of these things dissolve nicely and boil down with the onion...

After around 15 minutes in the oven, the bread was ready, firm and fluffy, gold-brown and shiny and delicious! And with a lovely aroma of roasted chickpea and herbs, this was a pretty irresistible affair, I will tell you!

I called this a "bread"- although it is not a bread at all... in fact it is more like a cross between a frittata and pancake to be honest. And to be perfectly honest- it was much more delicious than either of those! But don't take my word for it- just make your own and you will find out!

I didn't need to add anything to this to enjoy it, other than the caramelized onion, which kept everything tasting pleasant and juicy. With the mixed herbs and the hot chili coming through- it was a pretty much perfect combination for you right there!

So I hope you give this a go- even if you have had problems in the past and have  despaired at the stickiness of gram flour. Because this way you will have no problems at all and will have fun along the way... word!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

24 Hour Soup!

Ribollita con i Borlotti
Ribollita (Tuscan Re-Boiled Soup) with Borlotti Beans

It was Nina that gave me the idea to make this, when I bought the Tuscan kale from her on Saturday, at the market hall. I knew of course, that is was "just kale", but by way of making conversation, I asked her what would be the best dish to make with it, or to be more precise, what would be the most typical thing they might do with it in Italy. Rather infuriatingly, she said to me, "actually I have never prepared it myself..." to which I should have answered "aaargh!!", then she redeemed herself by adding, "...but you could always make a nice pot of "ribollita", like they make in Tuscany"... and suddenly I was smiling again :-)

I remembered enjoying eating it on my trip to Tuscany a couple of years ago- so simple but rich and filled with honest and natural flavors- and I knew from its name, "ribollita", that it was a vegetable soup that had been re-boiled- because that is what the word means. And that has probably been the main reason I had never made it for myself so for. .. but on Saturday I decided that the time was right to do just that...

Ribollita is basically just a simple vegetable soup- or stew if you like. The only 3 ingredients that are absolute "must have's" are the kale, some bread that is a day or teo old and some beans... the rest is... whatever is in season and whatever you happen to have in your fridge!

Normally, the beans used would be Cannellini's, but I had these lovely, speckled Borlotti's at home and decided to use those instead. I also added half of an onion, a carrot, a stick of celery, a handful of diced red pepper, 2 small parsnips and about a third of a large yellow zucchini, as well as the remaining half-can of San Marzano tomatoes from my risotto the other night. And more of the lovely, rich and aromatic oregano I got from Mrs. Wong... I do love shopping at the market hall folks! Can't you tell?!?!

So my soup-making adventure began yesterday morning, when I put a handful of beans into a bowl to soak, before heading out to work. By the time I got home, 10 hours later, they were swollen and wrinkled and ready for cooking- alternatively, I could have opened a can of beans, which I think is absolutely a fine thing to do... but the beans were there and so I used them... the end. Well not quite- actually that was just the beginning! 

The beans, along with the kale, the carrot, the celery, the parsnips, the onion and the peppers, were the first ingredients to go into the saucepan. I cut these into a nice, chunky dice and started them boiling with enough water to cover them by an inch or so. I let them simmer that way for around 1 1/2 hrs without adding any salt, so as to let the beans cook better and become softer.

An hour and a half later, I added the tomatoes and seasoned with salt, pepper, a tiny hint of sugar and a hint of cayenne. I brought the soup back up to the boil and then sprinkled the diced zucchini on top and turned off the heat... that was enough cooking for the first round and there was enough heat already in the saucepan to practically cook the zucchini through- but not quite! I wanted to leave something still to cook for this evening after all!

When I got home from work this evening, after spending the whole day and night getting richer and more delicious, I put the soup back onto the stovetop and set about transforming it from a regular "zuppa" into "ribollita". This took only a further half an hour or so, and in the meantime, I toasted the left over bread roll from Sunday to add into the soup... just like in The Old Country :-)

After re-heating the soup for half an hour or so, to my taste, it was ready to serve. Of course it is important that some of the vegetables become a little overcooked- such as the carrot and parsnip, which give a lot of rich flavor, but what I didn't want to do, was to ruin the zucchini by cooking it so long that it totally disintegrated- nope, it was good to add is separately towards the end!

I served it up piping hot and tore off a few crusty chunks of bread to add, along with a light sprinkle of salted ricotta, some coarsely-ground black pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil... delicious! The very last ingredients I added were a scattering of fresh oregano leaves- which tend to turn dark, almost black when exposed to heat... but their rich and aromatic flavor was just perfect to give a hint of freshness and knock this simple "poor peoples" food out of the ball field! It was so terrific! So thank's Nina- you had a great idea after all- and I will tell you all about it when I stop by on Saturday!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Raw Colors

Couscous con Zucchine Giallo & Cavolo Nero
Couscous with Yellow Zucchini & Kale

I never really know whether to consider making a couscous dish as cooking- it is just so simple and doesn't usually even take place on the stove top for most of us... which is probably also one of the reasons that we all like making it so much!

There is hardly anything quicker or easier- or even as versatile as couscous- it loves to take on flavors and to be transformed into any number of dishes. This evening I decided to make a dish using yellow zucchini and raw, Tuscan kale- also known as "cavolo nero" or "black cabbage" in Italian... so you already have 2 main colors right there- not to mention the red peppers and chili flakes and the green of the fresh oregano. You might want to grab your sunglasses whilst I tell you how to make this- as you can see, it's a mighty colorful combination!

As well as the kale and zucchini, I had a few more ingredients to add to my couscous to make it wonderful and delicious... some fresh oregano, some onion and sweet red pepper and some dried apricot and raisins- perfectly contrasting flavors and textures to make this into a real treat! Not sure? Well take a look and see and then decide for yourself...

The only prep-work that needs to be done is to pluck the kale from the stem and tear it into bit-sized pieces and then to finely dice the pepper and onion and to cut the dried apricot into fine slices too... you want everything to be of a similar small size, so that they will all "cook" together in roughly the same time once covered in boiling water... which will be the next step...

And here you can see it- the couscous and all the other ingredients, just-about covered in boiling water. At this point I added salt and pepper and the juice of a lime, so that the flavors would be absorbed by the couscous as it soaks up the juices from all of the fruits and vegetables... very easy stuff!

Allow the couscous to sit for 5 minutes or so until most of the liquid has been absorbed... in the meantime you can be slicing up that yellow zucchini as thinly as possible!

After 5 minutes were up, I started to add more flavors... a tablespoon of tahini and a sprinkle of regular, hot chilli flakes- this will wake you all up a bit!

Next come the zucchini slices and the fresh oregano, together with a good drizzle of olive oil... but see how I have laid the zucchini out? Side-by-side and not on top of each other is the best way to do it, so that they do not simply slide and stick together, but mix in to the couscous nice and evenly... again, just a simple little thing but if you don't do it this way... all of those zucchini slices will slide together and you will not get them nicely integrated and coated with all of the other goodies in there- just you mark my words!

Once the couscous was nicely blended together, I added a generous sprinkle of some of the wonderful, mild, shrimp-flavored chili flakes that you can get at most good Asian (Thai) supermarkets... I love these! They add just a hint of rich, shrimp flavor, which makes all the difference!

If you can't get these, then add a little Thai fish sauce maybe, or failing that anchovies or anchovy paste. The reason I say this, is that I discovered how wonderfully the flavor of anchovy, or any other rich and salty fish goes with zucchini on my trip to Rome last year- and I wanted to try out something similar in this dish... so for me- it was shrimp this evening... and if you can do the same- I surely recommend it!

I let the finished couscous sit and gave it 5-10 minutes for the flavors to mingle together thoroughly... enough time for me to take my pictures this evening to be precise... but after that- I grabbed that spoon and decided I needed to find out for myself how good it was!

And I have to say it was pretty amazing! The sweetness of the dried fruits, the light bitterness of the kale and the mild zucchini went wonderfully with the vibrant flavor of the fresh oregano and lime juice- and the chili just lifted things up just that one notch higher! Again- get those shrimp flakes if you can... you won't regret it! Just have some fun and keep things quick and simple like this and you won't go far wrong in the kitchen ;-)

Monday, 24 February 2014

Wining and Dining

Risotto Aromatico al Vino Rosso & Pomodoro
Aromatic Red Wine & Tomato Risotto

What do I love the most about this meal? I guess I like the fact that it seems a little extravagant for a Monday night supper... but it isn't ;-) Yeah- in fact, I like that a lot! But having said that, this would be a wonderful "primo piatto" for a dinner party whatever day of the week and whatever the occasion- it is elegant, rich, tasty... but absolutely easy and as the English like to say, "cheap as chips!"

Risotti are a little time and labor intensive to be honest- nothing difficult about making them, but usually dishes that require your attention- and a little muscle-power for stirring, for between 30-45 minutes... sigh! Well worth it- but probably not something you would prepare on a weekday night... and yet...

I have often used white wines in the preparation of risotti, but never red, although I know there are many, many recipes out there. At the same time, I have to admit that the images I have seen of red-wine risotto hardly ever look very appetizing and I can't help but think that it must end up tasting more than a little sour from the wine. And I know that there are probably bucket-loads of butter stirred into those dishes, to make them taste more smooth... but that's not for me. Nope- this evening, I decided to try a little something out. A different method for preparing the risotto and combination with sweet and fruity tomatoes to stand up to the wine. And I had no time to spare either, having returned home from work rather late at 8.30 pm... I was hungry and just wanted to cook!

So, to prepare this lovely dish of risotto, I used the following ingredients- a half of an onion, a half of a carrot and a half stick of celery, very finely chopped, to make a "sofritto", 2 handfuls of rice (I used Vialone Nano rice this time), some canned, diced, San Marzano tomatoes and both fresh basil and fresh oregano. Totally basic and inexpensive ingredients! And the other main ingredient was a nice, large glass of red wine- a Sicilian "Corvo" in this case- one of my favorites!

As I said, I prepared this risotto differently to most and the main difference was that I didn't use any stock and stir-in little by little as you normally would... so that already made it much easier to prepare. And I prepared it like this- first of all, the chopped onion, carrot and celery went into the saucepan, with a little olive oil and sautéed and stirred together for 2-3 minutes, before I added the rice- 2 handfuls of it to make one generous serving.

Next, I poured a nice, large glass of wine which was the next ingredient that I needed- and I know that sounds a little excessive- but don't worry...that is just because it is! One glass of wine would be a lot- but about a third of a glass is fine- that should go into the saucepan to deglaze it and the other 2/3rds of the glass can be enjoyed whilst you carry on cooking... a little fun is a nice added ingredient! :-)

I let the wine bubble away for a minute or so and then added the diced, canned tomatoes and enough boiling water to cover everything. I turned the heat down to a gentle simmer and let it bubble away for a while and got busy finely chopping a few herbs- 5-6 nice sized basil leaves and a couple of stems of fresh oregano... two herbs that tomatoes love!

I added the herbs, stirred them in, seasoned with a little salt and pepper and let it simmer away for the next 5-10 minutes with the lid on. After that time, I added a little more water, stirred it in again and let it simmer on for a further 5 minutes. All this time of course, the sofritto was giving of its flavor into the rice and doing the job that a vegetable broth would have... this is much better as all of the ingredients cook together. After around 20 minutes, I added just a little handful of finely grated salted Ricotta and a splash of olive oil, stirred these in well and left the rice to sit, with the lid on and the heat turned off for the final 5 minutes.

After that time, the rice was lovely and thick and smooth and ready to serve! A nice, sprinkle of pepper, a good pinch of grated salted Ricotta and a few leaves of fresh oregano as a garnish... perfetto!

And it wasn't that complicated to make either... which left plenty of time to enjoy the other 2/3rds glass of wine in the meantime! Hic! Hope you give it a go yourself and hope that you like it as much as I did!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Poor Food- Rich Flavor

Maccheroncini Integrale con Cavolo Nero, Patate & Pancetta
Whole Grain Mini Maccaroni with Tuscan Kale, Potato & Bacon

I love the irony of the fact that it is so chic to eat peasant or farmer-styled dishes, I really do. If it wasn't such a trendy thing to do, there is no way that the wealthier eating guests at restaurants would choose to eat such simple fare... whereas the humble farmer, who probably eats this kind of thing day-in and day-out, down in Southern Italy, would STILL rather eat it, even if he could afford lobster and champagne. Because has enough integrity and smarts to know that he is onto a good thing in doing so!

The bitter, dark green, Tuscan kale, known as Cavolo Nero in Italy, is not some new, trendy ingredient to be used this season... it has always been in style there. people down south love their bitter foods- and so do I... they also know how to make them more palatable- in dishes such as this one for example... which I based on the classic dish of "Pizzoccheri"- rough, hand-made buckwheat noodles with potato, bacon and greens... 

The greens were in season and on Nina's market stall yesterday... so they went into the bag... and a few meters further on, at the Italian speciality store, were these tiny little whole grain maccaroni... so cute! And so they had to go into the bad too of course!

I also used some potatoes and onion and a handful of finely chopped bacon... these would all go to season the dish and to bring together all of those good flavors in a nice balance. The sweetness of the onion and the mild, neutral flavor of the potato are the perfect way to counter-balance the kale... and with just one more ingredient before I could start cooking, I was getting very hungry at the thought of it all!

The last, but by no means least important ingredient to make this really delicious was a nice salted ricotta cheese... oh how I love it! And no- I obviously did not need this whole chunk- just a light sprinkle... but its creamy-saltiness is something so sublime that at least for this-here Sicilian guy... it is definitely my preference when it comes to pasta- much more so than Parmesan! But that's just me! 

So let's get cooking!

At this point, I need to also point out that no- I also didn't need all of the ingredients you can see in that photo to make one nice bowl of pasta. I did use the whole of that small head of kale, but I only needed half of the onion and just one of those little potatoes. That should be an easy kind-of measure for you to keep in mind.

Also, when it comes to the amount of pasta- fill your dish up with half the amount of pasta you want to eat... it will almost double in size by the time you are finished cooking it and with the other ingredients, yes, it will be the right amount.

As you know... I am not one for weighing things! Especially this kind of thing- lol! But it works for me!

To prepare the kale, snap the leaves off the main stem and then take the stalks in one hand and the leafy part in the other, and simply run your fingers down that tough middle stalk and the leaves easily peel away. Once you have done one or two leaves you will get the hand of it- and it's fun too!

Rinse the leaves well and snap them into shorter lengths- just use your hands- it looks much nicer than if you cut it with a knife- lol!

Next, put your water on to boil and whilst that is happening, give the potato a scrub and then dice it up quite finely. Cut the onion in half and cut that into a fine dice too and then put the potato and onion, into a frying pan together with the finely diced bacon or pancetta. Turn the heat up nice and high and get them all sizzling away together... yum, yum! 

Pop the pasta into the water, give it a good, heavy pinch of salt and then let it bubble away for the next 4-5 minutes. In the meantime, the onion should be nice and transparent and the bacon and potatoes beginning to brown. At this point add a little pepper but no salt and the kale, which will soon become a lovely shiny green and begin to soften up and wilt quite swiftly.

Grate generously with nutmeg and stir or toss continually, so that the kale softens up and cooks together with the other ingredients. Add a ladle of the pasta water and let it deglaze the pan and let everything wilt down a touch more... by now it will be smelling lovely and rich!

After 5-6 minutes, add the pasta to the frying pan with enough water to keep it nice and moist, so that it can continue cooking in the pan for another 2-3 minutes or so. Keep on stirring and you will see how everything becomes glossy and smooth... then add a little olive oil to take it that little bit further over the edge- just a touch mind you! 

And after just 8-10 minutes of cooking time, depending on your pasta, it will be ready to serve with that nice sprinkle of grated salted ricotta cheese and some coarsely ground black pepper- Delizioso!

The important thing is to not season the potato and onion- let them be sweet in contrast to the bitter greens... the pasta is already seasoned and with the salty bacon and ricotta, the balance will be just right... you'll see! And I hope you will agree that this is a dish that is fit for a king and not just a pauper... those Italians- they know their food and even the poorest eat like royalty... Word!

The Rice is Always Greener

Budino di Tapioca & Riso Verde Vietnamese & Kumquat
Tapioca & Vietnamese Green (Com) Rice Flake Pudding with Kumquats

It was Sunday afternoon and I had been out for a long walk, as usual... but had neither stopped for a coffee or a snack... nor had I had anything sweet for breakfast! How could that have possibly happened to me?!? In a state of shock, I set quickly about improvising both the coffee and the sweet snack the minute I walked through the door... I think I turned on the stove before I even took off my jacket!

I had bought the green, Vietnamese rice flakes known as "Cốm" a while ago, knowing that it is popular as an alternative to bread crumbs or panko for crispy deep-fried dishes and also used for some sweet dishes- and of course I thought that I HAD to try it out too! So today was to be the day- what fun!

Traditionally, these green flakes of rice are made by crushing the young, baby rice corns and drying them on Pandan leaves... although I think that probably there was a little pandan flavoring as well as coloring added to these! I say that not because the color seemed particularly artificial... but because I had bought them for a relatively moderate price at the Asian supermarket- and apparently, "the real McCoy" is quite a rare and expensive commodity, enjoyed on special occasions.

So here are the ingredients I used- 1 part dine-pearled tapioca to 2 parts green rice flakes... and the total amount used filled my baking dish just about half way in their dry state. Just remember that however much you make, it will just about double in size by the time it is finished!

As a tart contrast, I had just a handful of kumquats, which I thought would add a nice, tangy, marmalade-like accent to the rice. Yep- that sounded just fine... apart from some milk and a little sweetness and spice- that was all that I figured I would need...

I filled the ramekin I intended to use twice with milk and added that to my saucepan, with a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla essence... I am not ashamed to admit that I had no fresh at home... life is too short and I was too hungry for something sweet to worry!

As soon as the milk came to the boil, I added the tapioca pearls and stirred them in briskly- then turned the heat down to just a low simmer and let it bubble away for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally so as to keep it from sticking.

Whilst the tapioca simmered, I sliced up the kumquats, removed the seeds and popped the slices into a small frying pan with just enough water to cover the base. I brought this up to boiling point and added a star anise and a pinch of cinnamon and let the water evaporate away. I then deglazed the pan with a splash of Cointreau and again, enough water to cover the base... and to fetch up all of the heady flavors that had cooked-in. 

I added a teaspoon of sugar and let the kumquats simmer on- by now they were beginning to get a little sticky, like a marmalade... all good stuff!

After 5 minutes of simmering, I added the rice flakes to the tapioca and stirred them in... they seemed to dissolve almost immediately, turning the snow-white tapioca into a bright emerald green- what fun! Soon, the mixture became very thick and sticky and so I added a little more milk to get it to be a little smoother and more liquid. After it had boiled for 10 minutes in all, I poured it into my baking dish and allowed it to cool a little- then turned my attention back to the Kumquats.

By now, after around 10 minutes of simmering away of their own, the kumquats were soft and slightly sweetened by the sugar, but still tangy... but that would soon be attended to...

I carefully laid the soft kumquat slices on top of the sticky tapioca and rice pudding and drizzle a little honey over them, before popping them into the oven and under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, so that they would caramelize just a little- one small step- but a giant leap at the same time... because the kumquats become much more yummy after that!

Of course I had to allow it to cool off a little before I could dig-in... but the result was pretty yummy! Milky vanilla with a light taste of pandan from the rice and tangy kumquat with a touch of sugar and honey on top- mmm! Needless to say- this satisfied both my sweet tooth and my curiosity! Next time... I will try the crispy variation! Cooking is such FUN!