Saturday, 31 January 2015

Rooting Around for Supper

Vellutata di Sedano Rapa, Zenzero, Timo, Rosmarino & Yogurt
Cream of Celariac Soup, with Ginger, Thyme Rosemary & Yogurt

Still feeling "under the weather", I thought it should be another soup for supper this evening. I have plenty of chicken broth now (planning ahead!) - and I am not afraid to use it!

So- being unafraid... I decided to try making a soup that was just a little bit different- and it ended up being THIS.

Celeriac has a very strong, earthy flavor, that may not be for everyone- but it is a great vegetable to use for soups and indeed, deserving of having a soup all of it's own! With just a couple of other ingredients, I had this super-hearty and satisfying soup ready in just 30 minutes- sounds good? IS good!


Celeriac roots CAN be rather large- as was this one! So, being as there is now way of me knowing how large yours might be, when you come around to buy it- and because I think it's rather over-the-top to start weighing ingredients for a soup (!!)- I will say, if you want to make 2 bowls of soup? You will need one bowlful of chopped celeriac. Simple, fool-proof method. I should know- that's what I did! Haha!

Otherwise, all I added was a little rosemary and thyme, 3-4 slices of ginger, 1 shallot, some chicken broth, 5-6 tablespoons of yogurt... and a very important ingredient- about 1 tablespoon of chickpea flour.


Why is the chickpea flour important? The reason is, that it will not only help to "bind" the soup, but also, as I have learned from Indian cuisine- it somehow prevents yogurt from curdling when added to hot food- which is excellent! That way, you can replace cream or other fatty alternatives, with a low-fat yogurt, to add the same creamy mildness and save on a lot of calories- all good stuff! And aren't you glad I shared?

So, coarsely chop the ingredients and pluck a few leaves of rosemary to be ready to start on your soup-no need to fuss or try to be accurate- it is all going to be puréed later anyway!


Begin by sizzling the shallot, ginger, celeriac and rosemary together with just a little olive oil. 2-3 minutes will be enough t get some flavor developing.


Then add the chickpea flour and stir it together so that everything gets nicely coated.


Once the flour begins to develop the aroma of cooked chickpeas and to slightly brown, you are ready to start turning these vegetables into a soup!

Begin by adding just a little water at first- to deglaze the base of the saucepan and to dissolve the flour. As the flour was spread evenly over the surface of all of those chopped-up ingredients, it will dissolve evenly and not form any lumps.


Now add the chicken broth and plenty of pepper- check for salt and add if necessary- and allow to simmer for 20 minutes until the celeriac is cooked through.


Looks harmless enough doesn't it- almost seems a shame to get in there with an immersion blender and chop those chunks to smithereens! Haha! If you are too faint-hearted for that- or own a blender (which I don't), that would be the other alternative.

Once it has been blended together for a minute or two, you will have a lovely, smooth, velvety cream soup... without the cream!

Serve with a last spoonful of yogurt, a dusting of pepper and a sprinkle of fresh thyme... and simply enjoy!


And as you can see- that yogurt really doesn't curdle! And it goes wonderfully to make that strong celeriac and ginger flavor milder and much nicer!

Stacks of Snacks!

Stuzzichini con Cicoria, Ricotta, Pomodori Secche & Olive
Stuzzichini "Little Snacks" with Chicory, Ricotta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Olives


Snack time! Yes, it's nice to have little things to nibble on every now and then- to accompany a drink, or as an appetizer... and these little bite-sized kinds of snacks are known as "stuzzichini" in Italy- and take many shapes and forms.

In Sicily, more often than not, they will be little folded pizza kinds of affairs, or schiacciate- filled with a variety of ingredients. These here were a variation on that theme- as as is usually the case- filled with whichever left-overs I happened to have in the fridge.


The main "star" of the ingredients I used here, was wild chicory, which, being rather bitter, may not be everybody's "cup of tea". A perfect alternative would be Swiss chard- a second best would be spinach... but I went Sicilian/Southern Italian "old-school" and used those bitter greens... I love them!


So- as you can see, I had just a little left over chicory from a couple of days ago- and why let it go to waste? Just about a teacupful in all- you don't need much to fill up 1 packet of store-bought pizza dough as I did. I added 1 shallot, 5 sun-dried tomatoes (well, they are always in halves- but you know what I mean!), 7-8 black olives, a couple of tablespoons of Ricotta cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little olive oil... and awaaaay I went!


If you wanted to leave these rolls full-length, rather than cutting them into little bite-sized pieces as I did, all you would need to change in the preparation would be to chop up the greens before adding them. But we will get to that part in a minute...


As you can see, these little rolls are packed with flavor, but without being overloaded with anything fatty or lots of cheese- they make a nice, "adult" snack- perfect with wines or liquors.


If your greens are not left-overs as mine were, you will need to boil them first, let them cool down and wring them thoroughly dry before you get started.

Otherwise, simply chop up the shallot, the olives and the sun-dried tomatoes nice and finely.


Brown the shallot and the tomatoes in just a hint of olive oil, until they are just half done... the rest of the cooking will happen in the oven anyway. Speaking of which- this would be a good time to turn it on and to turn it up to the highest setting!


In the meantime, cut the pizza dough into 4 equal sized pieces, spread them with ricotta, as you can see in the photo (Don't overdo it! It will only seep out and make everything soggy if you do and in no way better!) and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.


Now add the greens and the other ingredients equally.


That's plenty of flavor right there- don#t over-fill them as you a.) want them to seal well and b.) need to have a nice balance between the neutral Ricotta and the other stronger and more flavorful ingredients.


Simply fold them shut, squeeze them tightly closed and then roll them over.

Brush the rolls lightly with olive oil, sprinkle them with sea salt and then using a very sharp knife, score the surface to allow them to let out steam from the greens and the ricotta- so that they don't become soggy inside. Then pop them into that scorching hot oven for 20-25 minutes until they are crusty and brown. Easy!


They look a little rough- but I am sure that we are all more than ready for them! I think they look delicious!

 Simple, but tasty- and perfect to enjoy hot or cold!


As I said- you can use other greens... or even replace the greens completely with onions- that is a great version too! Fried until soft and golden and then still combined with the tomatoes and olives... so may ways to make them- and every one of them delicious! And easy! So... enjoy!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Pleasant Peasant Food!

Polenta, Cicoria, Fave, Scalogne & Paprika Affumicata
Polenta, Chicory, Fava Beans, Shallot & Smoked Paprika


Combine some steamy, coarse-ground, nutmeg-infused polenta, sweet shallot and fava beans with some bitter, wild chicory and then season them with intense, smoked paprika... and what have you got?

You have got one helluva tasty supper- that's what! Healthy, wholesome, satisfying and delicious and perfect for the most miserable night of the week so far... Ugh! Bring on that comfort, is what I say!


It's cheap and simple "peasant food" to be honest- no pretense, but lots of flavor... and no other "fancy-pants" food in the world would have made me feel better this evening- this was just the right thing for me!


This is another dish that is so simple, that it does not require accurate measurements in any way, or even have a real recipe as such- it is just a matter of combining the right ingredients- and here you can see them all in one pretty picture. The only thing you can't see is the vegetable broth I used to boil the polenta in, the milk that I added towards the end and the nutmeg that I grated into it... but the question of how much of each ingredient you will need? Well- that all depends on how hungry you are- haha!

My rule of thumb would be about 1 teacupful of polenta, 1 shallot, 1 handful of beans and 5-6 leaves of chicory for each serving.


The polenta I used, was the "Bramata" variety- really rough-cut, coarse and chunky, with lots of great texture and flavor... which takes a little bit longer to cook- but makes for a tasty, nice change and goes wonderfully with such a rustic meal.


So, yes, this will take about an hour to cook- but yes it is worth it! Fava, or broad beans, go so well with bitter chicory- ask any of my friends from Puglia!

That's why I made this- to be a variation on the well loved, puréed bean and chicory dish that is so well loved there and to give it a slightly different attitude... Well, what else did you expect, coming from me?


Being a lazy so-and-so, I decided to try to make this meal without needing to use loads of pots and pans, so I started off by squeezing the chicory into a small pan with just a little salted water, popping on the lid and let it steam away for 10 minutes, whilst I prepared the beans. See the gap in the middle? That's where I am going to cook the beans as soon as I am ready- why put yet another pan on the heat just for those few beans?

Shell the beans, remove the white skin on them and slice up the shallot. And whilst the chicory boils for a little while longer- boil up 2-3 cupfuls of vegetable stock, ready to add the polenta to.


After around 10-15 minutes of boiling the chicory, add the beans and let them boil for 5 minutes, before draining them and letting them cool for a while.


Add the polenta to the boiling broth, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it bubble away for 40-45 minutes. If you are using a finer ground, "regular" polenta, 20 minutes or so should do.


Whilst the polenta simmers, fry the shallot in a little olive oil until it becomes soft, brown and translucent- then set it to one side.


Next, add the fava beans and give them a quick stir-fry too, until they become nicely glazed and begin to brown slightly.


And last, but not least of course the chicory! Again- don't be afraid to give it a good blast of heat and let it become slightly brown too!

Set it to one side and pop on a lid to keep it warm.


By now, the polenta will be almost done and the time will have arrived to add a splash of milk and plenty of nutmeg- this will give it an almost Bechamel-like flavor, without adding any unnecessary fat. And yes- you can go ahead and use a low-fat milk- it's all good!

Once you have worked-in the milk, add the beans and the shallot and let them simmer together for a final 5 minutes until all of the flavors are nicely infused and you are ready to serve!


Serve the chicory on top of the polenta and finish everything with a good pinch or two of smoked paprika and a few last drops of raw olive oil.... delicious!


And on a cold Winter's night, let me tell you that this is indeed a tiding of comfort and joy... an edible and delicious one, too! 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

"Mexican" Eggs for a Chili Evening

Huevos Pibil
Eggs Poached in an Achiote-Pepper Sauce


I wouldn't claim for a second that this is a Mexican recipe... it can't be! Because I don't know how to cook Mexican food... and apart from that- I just made it up this evening!

And yet, it is simple, delicious, and packed with the great flavor of Achiote, which I decided to try out in combination with eggs this evening... and I am so glad that I did!


This is basically "eggs in purgatory"- although I made them rather spicy, with plenty of chili flakes... so that if I had made them a little more spicy, I could almost have called them "eggs in hell"- haha!


It didn't take much, to make a great meal! 2 eggs, 1 red pepper, 1 onion, 3-4 cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of achiote powder, 1 tablespoon of oregano, chili flakes to taste, a little fresh parsley and a little fresh thyme.


So rich and tasty- but immediately made milder as soon as the egg yolk mingles with the sauce! There are not many egg dishes that can compare to this- it is pretty egg-citing stuff!


Have some crusty bread or as I did some tortillas at the ready to soak up all of that saucy goodness!


All you need to do is to chop up your vegetables- I decided to leave mine a little chunkier for a little more texture.


Start off with the onion, achiote, oregano and chili and fry until it becomes translucent.

See what a wonderful color it becomes? I absolutely love this stuff!


Add the peppers and tomato, salt and pepper and give them a good sizzle for the next 3-4 minutes.


Cover well with boiling water, add thyme and allow to simmer gently for the next 15-20 minutes.


As you can see, after 20 minutes, a lot of the the water has evaporated away and it has rendered the tomato, pepper and achiote down into a nice sauce. If yours is still too liquid- fear not- simply add a little tomato paste... although, fortunately for me, mine wasn't- hehe! I wanted to avoid having too much of a tomato flavor, as I wanted my dish to taste different to regular "eggs in purgatory"... and speaking of eggs, the next step was to gently drop the eggs into the sauce.

Crack the eggs into a small cup or bowl and drop them in gently, close to the surface of the sauce, so that they do not spread out too much. Allow them to simmer in the sauce for 6-7 minutes, depending on how firm you prefer the yolk. Basically, I left mine in until all of the egg whites were completely opaque... nobody wants to eat runny egg-whites!


I put the lid on my saucepan to trap in the heat and make sure they cooked nicely from above, through the trapped steam... this makes them cook more quickly but will make the yolks "cloud over" a little... So I guess how you choose to cook yours will depend on how much of an aesthete you are and in how much of a hurry you are to eat!


But the bottom line is... that by the time you DO sit down to eat... you will be a very happy person! Because you will be enjoying THIS!