Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Fresh from the Pan!

Risoni in Padella con Pomodorini, Zucchine, Limone & Menta
Pan-Cooked Risoni with Cherry Tomatoes, Zucchini, Lemon & Mint

Another simple dish, again with simple ingredients, and with a simple cooking method to match- this bowl of lovely, silky, risoni noodles made for a great supper this evening- but the great thing about it, is that you could easily serve this cold as a salad too!

I know that people in America call this rice-shaped pasta "orzo" for some reason that I do not understand- but the fact that I do not understand it is also the reason I refuse to call this by that name! Where on earth did it come from? The word "orzo" is the Italian name for barley... which this clearly does not resemble! It resembles very large rice- hence the name "risoni"! End of rant- and on with the cooking show!

This is not one of the pasta varieties that I grew up with- probably due to the fact that it is possibly more Greek or Turkish than it is Italian or Sicilian... but even though I have only begun cooking with it in the past couple of years, I have swiftly grown to love it for a number of reasons!

The main reasons are the silky feel it has on your tongue as you eat it, the slightly chewy consistency and the infinite number of ways that you can prepare and flavor it... there! Those should already be enough reasons for anyone to love this stuff!

For one nice big bowl of supper, I needed just 1 cup of risoni, 1 zucchini (or in my case, 2 small ones), 1 Spring onion, a handful of fresh mint, a little lemon zest and around 10 cherry tomatoes or so. I told you this was another simple meal! But it's going to turn out to be simply delicious- so keep on reading...


Although the ingredients are simple and few, this will make you filling, health and satisfying meal that is packed with great Summer flavor. But you can see that for yourselves just looking at this picture, right?

The prep work here is easy... first of all boil yourself a kettle of water and whilst that is happening, slice your zucchini to about the thickness of one of your house-keys... not too thin! Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters, chop the Spring onion, but also not all-too-finely, and either grate, use a zester or finely chop about a heaped teaspoonful of lemon zest... and now you are ready to get going!

Pop your risoni into your frying pan, add enough boiling water from the kettle to cover them, add salt, pepper and 3/4 of the lemon zest and let them simmer away, stirring occasionally, until the water has been absorbed.


Next, add the zucchini slices, the onion and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg... cover again with water and continue simmering and stirring until it too has been absorbed... this is, I suppose, similar to the way that a risotto is prepared.

Once the water has been absorbed, the risoni will have grown quite a bit in size, the zucchini will have begun to soften a little... and the time is right to add the chopped tomatoes and 3/4 of the finely chopped mint. Cover one last time with water and repeat the procedure of simmering and stirring... don't worry- it's all for a good cause! 'Cause it's going to be your supper!

After a further 4-5 minutes or so, everything will have come together, with all of the flavors cooked into the risoni, the lemon, the mint, the zucchini, tomato and nutmeg... that all you need is some nice, raw olive oil to give it all a nice sheen and some added fruity contrast, a last grind of pepper, the last sprinkle of lemon zest and mint... and a healthy appetite to enjoy the great little feast you have just put together!

I like to try exotic foods, I hate to eat the same boring foods over and over... but I always appreciate the simple dishes best of all!


Low in fat and high in flavor- unpretentious but yummy and fun! And so fresh with that lemon and mint that it is perfect for a hot and humid summer night- or cold for a light lunch! Keep things down to earth and simple... and enjoy some natural good flavors!


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Turn Up the Heat!

Curry Vegetale "Penang" con Melanzane, Patate, Peperone & Latte di Cocco
Penang Vegetable Curry with Eggplant, Peppers, Potatoes & Coconut Milk

Wow- what a storm this evening! This is as crazy a Summer as we have ever had- up again, down again temperatures and lots of rain... like this evening! Although it isn't really cold, after getting soaked in the deluge on my way home from work, I was shivering by the time I got in and was in two minds as to whether I wanted to grill that eggplant I had in the fridge after all... and all of a sudden, I decided I should make something spicy and comforting instead... and this is what I came up with!

Penang curry has always been one of my favorites, with its lemon-grass, kaffir lime, ginger, chili, cumin, garlic, cloves, peanuts and galangal- it tastes really fresh and fruity and is one of the most delicious coconut-milk sauce bases you can buy! (Or make for yourselves if you happen to be that way inclined!)


 I love the pork panang curry most of all I suppose, but this evening I decided to try making a vegetarian version and made it using 1 medium-sized eggplant, 2 small, sweet red peppers, 2 small potatoes, 1 small carrot, 1/2 stalk of celery, 1 Spring onion, 1 small can coconut milk, 1 heaped tablespoon Penang curry paste, 1/2 of a fresh, hot chili, basil and cilantro.

The resulting dish is spicy and aromatic, exotic looking and tasting... but as it happens, just about as simple as simple can be to make!

I peeled and sliced the eggplant into thick strips, cut the peppers, potatoes, celery and carrots into bite-sized chunks and cut the onion into chunky little slices.

I started off by adding half of the coconut milk to my frying pan and bringing it to the boil. After a minute or two of bubbling away, you will notice the milk "split" into a white and a clear liquid- this is because the fat content of the milk liquifies and begins to boil at a different rate- and this is the time to add the curry paste and stir it in. Once it is totally blended into the coconut milk, add all of the vegetables as well as the stalks of the cilantro that we will be using later- they give great flavor to the sauce!

It may not seem like enough liquid in the frying pan at first, but keep stirring gently and soon everything will become nicely coated. Season with a good splash of fish sauce and keep stirring until the eggplant begins to soften a little.

After around 5 minutes of cooking, the vegetables will look something like this. Season them well with freshly ground black pepper and then add enough boiling water to the pan to cover the base. Reduce the heat to a simmer, pop on the lid and let it slowly bubble away for around 10 minutes, stirring only occasionally.

After 10 minutes of cooking all of the water will have been absorbed and the vegetables will be half-cooked. At this point, add the rest of the coconut milk, a little more water and a good sprinkle of finely chopped cilantro. Stir-in well and return to the heat for a further 10 minutes... just until those potatoes are nicely cooked.

Serve with some fresh cilantro and basil (Thai basil is better- but this is all I had at home tonight!)- and if you can take it- some thiny sliced fresh chili to take the heat-level a little notch higher...

The great thing is that although the curry paste and the chili are hot and spicy, all of the other ingredients are mild and they combine wonderfully to make a really good blend of flavors!

There is something wonderful about the flavor of potato cooked in coconut milk- and although these were just 2 little ones, they were satisfying enough that I didn't even need rice to go with this- so using just one of those mini-cans of coconut milk, this dish was also quite a bit "lighter" than most... yay!

Now, I would say that, THAT, is a plate of food that looks good enough to eat! Right now!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Reds, Whites and Greens

Cicoria & Patate con Pomodori Secche & Olive
Chicory & Potatoes with Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Olives


The great thing about southern Italian or Sicilian food, is how simple it is, how down-to-earth and of-the-earth it is. Good vegetable dishes, no fussy sauces or complicated preparations,low in fat, hitch in vitamins and packed with flavor... Do you need any more reasons to love this kind of food?

I prepared this simple dish, using lovely chicory greens, in the same way that we prepare Swiss chard back home in Sicily... One of my favorites! Taking just 20 minutes or so to prepare, this is a great weekday-night dish that is easy and quick to make, even after a busy day. Like today... And nothing is better after a hard day than a nice meal, right?


It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that people go to, to "invent" Vegetarian dishes... There really is no need to stress over it! Just take good, fresh produce, think about combining flavors to compliment and harmonize with each other and leave all of that complicated stuff out!


My dinner this evening consisted of 1 medium-sized head of fresh chicory, 3 medium-sized potatoes, 1 Spring onion, 4 pieces of sun-dried-tomatoes and 5 black olives... as usual, much less than you would think you need to make a good meal, but when it's cooked together, you soon see that it is more than enough... There is no need to over-indulge to really enjoy!


The only thing you really need to do to make this dish work is to get your timing right- you can do it! But I will give you a few hints and tips to help you along... It's super easy! So grab hold of your saucepans and let's get started! 

I peeled and rinsed the potatoes, cut them into quarters lengthways, and started them boiling whilst I rinsed-off the chicory, which I then cut into lengths of around 4"... Just a nice manageable size for cooking... And eating!

After the potatoes had boiled for 10 minutes, I added the chicory and a good pinch of salt, but not as much as you would normally add to season your potatoes and greens on account of the sun-dried tomatoes and olives, which are yet to be added and are rather salty themselves.

Whilst the potatoes and greens were boiling, I chopped the onion, olives and sun-dried tomatoes into nice, chunky little pieces- these, along with some yummy nutmeg, are the flavor that make the chicory and potatoes really come to life!

Once the potatoes are soft enough to just get a fork into them, but not completely cooked, drain the water and let them sit and cool off for a little whilst you grab your frying pan and get ready to pull all of these yummy ingredients together.


Fry the onion, sun-dried-tomatoes and lives in a nice splash of olive oil for 2-3 minutes, until the onion begins to brown slightly. 

Then, add the potatoes and chicory and season with freshly ground pepper and a nice dusting of nutmeg. stir-fry gently for 4-5 minutes, until the potatoes become slightly brown and everything blends together- including all the the flavors of these delicious ingredients! 

And if that is not a beautiful vegetarian meal, well then I don't know what is! These is everything I need and more in right there in that plate of food! It is healthy, it is easy, it is quick and it is satisfying and filling... Pretty close to being perfect I'd say! 

 Fancy a bite? Yeah... I do too! 

Mild potato, tangy tomato and olives and lightly bitter chicory... You have all the good flavor components working for you there, without any other fussing- and I don't know about you... But I like that!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Of Flowers & Funghi

Pilaf di Riso & Carciofini con Finferli
Baby Artichoke Pilau Rice with Chanterelles

What was going to be a simple supper turned out to be quite the feast this evening! With just 2 simple ingredients, I put together this elegant and delicious meal in just 45 minutes- not bad going for something so special, eh?

Chanterelles are in season, or so it seems here in Germany... in any case, the price was right and I picked myself a couple of handfuls out at the market yesterday. The sweet little baby artichokes were sitting right there next to them... so what was I to do? I grabbed myself 3 of those as well and headed home- happy and ready to cook!


I guess this shot will show you best of all how lovely and tender the baby artichokes were- just wonderful!

People always seem afraid to try their hands at the small ones- in fact, a couple of guys at the market yesterday asked me what to do with them and how to prepare them... and I suggested something like this to them too.


So- what did I need to make this lovely meal? Well, apart from 3 baby artichokes and 2 handfuls of chanterelle mushrooms, there was 1 cup of basmati rice, 1 small onion, 1/2 stick of celery, 1 Spring onion and a nice handful of fresh parsley.

It is a very modest meal actually, but as I keep on discovering... sometimes it is those simple things, prepared in the simplest manner that taste so much more impressive than you may ever have thought. And if they end up looking as lovely as this... well then- this is definitely the way to go!


Preparation is quite simple- but lets start with the trickiest part first- the artichokes.

First, pluck off the outer leaves- they are much too tough to eat anyway and then cut away the top half of the artichoke too... for the same reason! It may seem wasteful, but there is no point leaving that tough part attached and then throwing it away later!

Next, peel the stem if there is any attached, down to the bright green tender core- and rub all cut surfaces with lemon to stop them becoming discolored.

Now, cut the artichokes into quarters and cut out the "choke" in the middle, with 2 cuts- again, its better to cut away a little bit more rather than keep the part that you can not eat anyway.

The carrot, celery and the stalks of the parsley I chopped down as finely as possible and the onion I cut into thin slices.

I started off by stirring the carrot, onion, parsley stalk and celery mix, together with the rice, in just a little olive oil for 2-3 minutes and then added the artichoke pieces into my saucepan and seasoned them with salt and plenty of coarsely ground black pepper.


I then added enough boiling water to cover everything, brought it to the boil, reduced the temperature to a gentle simmer, put on the lid and let it bubble away for 10 minutes.


After 10 minutes, the water had been absorbed by the rice and it was half-way to being cooked. I sprinkled it generously with parsley, drizzled it lightly with olive oil, topped up the water a little and popped it back onto the heat for a further 5 minutes.


In the meantime, I got started on the chanterelles... no, that is not strictly true- as I actually started off with them before I began cooking, as they are always very dirty and always need a good wash!

How to wash them? No messing around- they go straight into the sink or a bowl filled with water and they get a good rub! People worry about them getting too wet before cooking- but if they survive torrential rain whilst they are in the forset, growing, they will be ok after 5 minutes in your sink! Wash them off twice until the water runs clear and then set them out to dry! That's why you do this well in advance... so you needn't worry about putting them into your frying pan soggy!

Indeed-I popped them into a dry frying pan and seasoned them with salt and pepper and kept them moving until the the salt began to draw their own moisture out of them and they began to slightly brown.


At that point, I added a little olive oil, the other half of the Spring onion and a little nutmeg- and tossed them together until the onion began to soften.


In the meantime, the rice had finished cooking in its own residual heat and the artichokes had become soft and tender, whilst giving their flavor, together with the onion,carrot and celery... and everything was ready to serve!


I added plenty more parsley and a squeeze of onion to both rice and mushrooms- just a little, to "raise" the flavor just a touch- but it makes all the difference!


So, as always, a light, healthy meal with a lot of great flavor and with not too much work! That's my idea of good cooking- that's the way I like to do it!