Sunday, 31 May 2015

Fresh As Can Be!

Insalata di Crescione Selvatico, Cetriolo & Pomodoro con Feta, Timo & Miele
Wild Watercress, Cucumber & Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese, Honey & Thyme

I have said this before... And I shall now say it again, all you need to make a great salad is great ingredients! It is not about rich dressings that overpower the flavor of the salad itself, that are over-seasoned and that dominate the whole composition... It is about the combination and balance of the flavors your salad ingredients have.

Take this wonderful salad for example... Made from the most peppery-tasting, beautiful "wild" cress, sweet tomatoes, fresh and crispy cucumber, salty feta cheese and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and honey... That's a lot of different flavors for your taste buds to be dealing with already! And they will be very happy to do so- let me tell you!


Next dinner party you throw, set out a platter like this and spread a few smiles. It's full of familiar flavors, but if you can get this lovely, flowering, large-leafed wild cress, the amazingly peppery flavor will be a revelation! So refreshing and so good!


I have already described the way the flavors of each ingredient compliment each other... And a great companion for feta cheese of course is thyme... Better still, a combination of honey and thyme!

And obviously... You are not going to need any exact quantities or measurements here!!! Just do as I do and all will be fine!


Isn't that just a thing of beauty? Why fuss, why ruin what nature already gives us? Just bring the good things together... And simply enjoy them as they are!


Basically, all I did was thorough wash the cress and let it drip-dry... Don't spin it or squeeze it or squash it... This is fiery tasting but it is delicate stuff!

Whilst it is drying, slice your tomatoes and cucumber and lay them out decoratively. Add the cress in the middle and then scatter the tomatoes and cucumbers with thyme and then the whole thing with sea salt.


 After a couple of minutes, the salt will start to draw out the juices of the tomatoes and cucumbers... Can't you just taste them already from looking at this photo?

Add a nice drizzle of olive oil and then go grab that feta cheese!

Scatter generously with crumbled feta cheese, which will of course soak up some of those juices, then more freshly plucked thyme and then drizzle with honey and olive oil. Add a queeze of lemon juice... And that's it! You are all dressed-up and ready to serve!


Are you drooling yet? Haha! Then wipe your lips, grab your shopping basket and go get yourself some cress! Get this good stuff... And make this great salad! And enjoy it all for yourself!


On the other hand... Don't be as selfish as I was... Go on! Share it! It will taste better still if you do!


Toast for Breakfast!

Fiocchi d'Avena Tostate in Padella con Noci, Mandorle, Mirtilli Americane, Zenzero Candito, Fichi Secce & Cannella
Pan-Toasted Oatmeal & Coconut with Walnuts, Almonds, Cranberries, Candied Ginger, Dried Figs & Cinnamon


I decided this morning that it had been too long since I made some simple but delicious, pan-toasted oatmeal for breakfast... And that I needed to do something about that right away!

Simple and healthy and when made with some tasty added extra, sooo good! And so much more fun, flavorful and healthy than those sugar encrusted granola so and the likes- as well as being fun to make!


Obviously, the great thing about this kind of recipe... Is that there IS no recipe! It is simply a method you need to know and to use and the ingredients are completely up to you!

Rather than drench the ingredients in sugar, what I like to do is to let the heat of the pan and the toasted surface of each ingredient heighten it's own, individual, natural flavor... It makes so much more sense to me and tastes so much better!

And paradoxically, adding a touch of water and therefore steam, helps to infuse the oatmeal with the perfumed flavors and fragrances of the ginger and cinnamon... Making this not only healthy but also thoroughly delicious!

These were my ingredients, but of course you can add, subtract, alter or improvise your own blend... I would say that for me, the oatmeal and coconut were the most important main ingredients and the ginger and cinnamon of course added the spice, but the rest is interchangeable.

For 2 serving I had 1 mug full of oatmeal, 2-3 tablespoons of coconut flakes, 3 dried figs, 2 slices of candied ginger and a handful each of walnuts, almonds and cranberries.

I ate mine with some plain yogurt and added a little honey, but plain milk would of course be fine too... Whatever loads your boat (or your oatmeal! ) haha!

You couldn't want for a much tastier, natural and healthy breakfast! And it still doesn't have to be all freaky-deaky and hippified or trendy either. Forget all of that stuff and just chill out and do your own thing!


You will need to cut the figs open, at least in half like I did, to let the warmth in and let them reconstitute themselves a little, later on. also, the ginger needs to be finely chopped so that it gets evenly mixed-in... And you may want to cut the cranberries in half too if they are particularly large... Otherwise... Just grab your frying pan and get ready to have fun!


Begin by toasting the oatmeal in a dry pan for 3-4 minutes and then sprinkle with cinnamon. Stir it through, add the coconut flakes... And a splash of water! Crazy! How can you still toast anything now, you cry!

Well, that tiny bit of water will release the flavor from the cinnamon, which will immediately be absorbed by the oat flakes and coconut... And in no more than a minutes time, you will have a dry pan again and the toasting will continue... But with the cinnamon flavor trapped inside!


The other good thing that the blast of water and steam does, is that it causes the oatmeal and coconut to clump together a little, making them chewer and nicer to eat.

Once they begin to get slightly brown again, add the almonds and walnuts and keep stirring all the time. As soon as you notice the nuts and almonds just starting to brown, remove them from the heat... your work is almost done!

Now, whilst everything is really hot, add the figs and cranberries and keep stirring... You will find that the figs will soon begin to turn a little shiny, the cranberries too... That's the warmth bringing out the moisture that is still in them and the steam forming in the pan... And it is enough to make them softer and more flavorful again.

By the time it has cooled off and is ready to be enjoyed with your milk or yogurt, your oatmeal will be packed with wonderful flavor!


With just a trickle of honey, I found mine to be plenty sweet enough... The figs and cranberries have plenty of their own sweetness after all! And with the ginger and cinnamon... Just perfect! So... Is it going to be cornflakes? Coco-pops... Or this?  


Saturday, 30 May 2015

Big Supper in Little Pancake!

Fritella Salata con Spinaci Asiatiche & Germogli di Soia
Chinese-Chive Pancake with Vietnamese Water Spinach, Bean Sprouts, Ginger, Shrimp Paste & Chili


As simple as this dish is... As simple as it looks and sounds... It truly was one of the best Asian-influenced meals I have ever made... Or eaten, for that matter!

Just a simple pancake with a spinach filling... But not just any old pancake and not just any old spinach! Read on and find out, how easy it is to making something that is so tasty it will be a case of love at first bite!

Thankfully, when I discovered this wonderful "water spinach" at Mrs Wongs stand at the market hall today, her assistant immediately began to explain to me how he likes to prepare it the most- a Vietnamese method involving shrimp paste, which I fortunately already had at home and bean sprouts, which I took home with me.

It also called for garlic, which I replaced by wonderful Chinese chives, which I also "discovered" for the first time today. I was told that their flavor lies between regular chives and ramps... And thought they sounded perfect for the little plan that was beginning to form at the back of my head...

And yes... I can tell you in retrospect that they turned out to be perfect indeed!


So, for my nice, big pancake, I needed 1 bunch of water spinach (which you should be able to find at your local Asian market), 1 shallot, 1 egg, 1 chili pepper, 2 handfuls of bean sprouts, 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste, a little fresh ginger and a little pepper, Thai fish sauce, sesame oil and hoisin sauce for seasoning. And a sprinkle of sesame seeds... Just because...


They are simple ingredients, but it is the combination of all of their great flavors together that is so delicious and satisfying. It caught me by surprise how incredibly tasty this turned out to be... I am pretty sure it will be the same for all of you!

I cut the chili into slices... How much and whether you leave or remove the seeds depends on how hot and spicy it is and of course on your own preference! The shallot in slices and the ginger and Chinese chives finely chopped... These were all of the "fiddly bits" and the rest was equally easy as well!


The pancake was easier still... To make it, I simply added 2 tablespoons of flour to the egg and a good tablespoon of the finely chopped Chinese chives.


I stirred these together until they became a smooth paste, then added a little fish sauce as seasoning and a little water to thin down the mixture to the right consistency for a pancake batter.


I added plenty of freshly ground black pepper and set it aside to rest for a few minutes before frying.


And then I started preparing the spinach, which I washed thoroughly and allowed to drip-dry a little whilst I began frying the other ingredients together in a little sesame oil.


Once the shallot had turned translucent, I added the spinach on top and put on the lid for it to steam for 3-4 minutes.


After 2-3 minutes the spinach will have wilted down considerably and you can stir- fry it nicely, tossing it constantly to get it well and evenly cooked. Give it another 3-4 minutes and add the shrimp paste and a little more sesame oil- and you are almost there!


Last but not least of course, are the bean sprouts, which only need 1-2 minutes of cooking time at the most... You don't want to overdo them and lose that nice crunch!


Spoon the spinach and bean sprout mixture on top of your pancake, fold it shut, add a drizzle of hoisin for seasoning and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds for that finishing touch... And prepare your taste buds for a treat and yourselves for a pleasant surprise!

And... Enjoy!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Raiding the Pan-try!

Pizza Rustica in Padella con Melanzane, Ajvar, Ricotta, Olive, Capperi & Timo
Rustic, Frying-Pan Pizza with Eggplant, Ajvar, Ricotta, Olives, Capers & Thyme

Another, "empty the fridge and fill your tummy" meal this evening... And a lazy one at that, using another roll of pizza dough from the supermarket ! Do you have any problems with that? Nope- me either!

If you do... Then off you go to make your own dough... Come and tell us all how much better it was in a couple of hours time when you are done... Me? I was finished in just 30-40 minutes at the most from start to finish.

Because, quite frankly, to start kneading dough, waiting for it to rise, kneading it again, cleaning up... and all the time that it takes to do so, is not something that I consider worth the hassle to make one person one pizza for a quick meal.

Nope... That's something to do for family and friends- this is the perfect solution for one or two people- to simply make a quick, tasty meal and chill-out whilst doing so.


I didn't have a tomato sauce either... Not a tomato in sight actually! But lots of incredibly rich and wonderful flavors that harmonize wonderfully together- all made from what are simple staples for the most of us.

Like I already said... I just raided my fridge and used what I had!

But if you haven't got these ingredients at home already, let me just say that you SHOULD have! Go out and get them and make this all the same! You'll love it!


So what did I have in my fridge this Friday evening? Let me see... The last of the mini eggplants I bought on Saturday that had to go- just a handful as you can see, the equivalent of one small regular eggplant. Then I had one very small onion, just 7-8 black olives, a couple of teaspoons of capers, a couple of tablespoons of both ajvar and fresh ricotta and some fresh thyme. A little salt, plenty of pepper and a hint of olive oil... And of course my circle of pizza dough... And I was on my way to having a wonderful supper... It didn't take much as you can see!

And yes, you know very well by now that I love to use the pan on the stovetop to get my pizza started baking from below and exposed to some really strong heat and high temperature... It's the best thing to do at home to get a similar result to extreme heat of a stone pizza oven. And it works every time, guaranteed, like a dream!


This first step may surprise you a little and sure, you could fry your ingredients... But what I do was to put my sliced onion and eggplants into a frying pan, with a sprinkle of salt and fresh thyme, turn the heat up high and then add a splash of water- just enough to cover the base of the pan. I then put on the lid and let them steam for a minute, then removed the lid, stirred them through and let the water evaporate away. Only then did I add a little olive oil. This way, the eggplant began to cook before it began to fry, turning it a little softer, making the pores of the eggplant swell up with that touch of water and preventing the oil from soaking in too much. The water evaporates away and cooks the eggplant and the oil makes the surface slightly brown. It's just the way I like to do it as I don't like my food too greasy and definitely would not like a greasy pizza!

After 3-4 minutes the onion will be translucent and the eggplant soft and just beginning to cook... And of course both will be infused with the flavor of the thyme... Mmmh!

Set to one side to cool, turn the oven on to full power to get hot, rinse your pan and get ready to put together your pizza!


Cut your dough roughly to size and lay it into the pan, folding over the edges a little to make them a little thick and irregular. It may not be hand made, but it can be assembled by hand and look that way!

Add a couple of spoonfuls of ajvar, spread them over the surface with the back of a spoon and scatter with thyme.


Next, add the ricotta, sprinkle with a little salt and spread around evenly, but not too thoroughly... It is nice to still have the two distinct flavors a little separate on there... It is the combination of everything together in the end that makes it special.


Now you can add the eggplants first, then scatter the onion on top, and finally the olives and capers. Add plenty of pepper and then pop on top of the stove to start baking the pizza from below for 4-5 minutes, before finishing in the oven at the highest setting you have for 10-15 minutes until finished and crispy and golden brown.


Add a generous sprinkle of fresh thyme before serving, for a blast of color and of course a great, intense flavor... And enjoy!


These are great Mediterranean flavors that go so nicely together... What's not to love? And as I always say... Pizza definitely does NOT always need to be a tomato and icky cheesy affair! Hehe! You know I am not a fan of the over-the-top cheese toppings... Don't hate me!  

Why spend time hating anything when you should be tucking into this wonderful snack here and falling in love with it? I promise you... You will! But I did first! Haha!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Simply So Simple!

Frittata di Asparagi, Ricotta, Dragoncello & Timo al Forno
Oven-Baked Frittata with Asparagus, Ricotta, Tarragon & Thyme


Even the simplest of dishes can be made into something a little special if you give it a bit of thought. Case in point... This super-simple frittata, could have just been made in a frying pan, and would indeed have been delicious and pretty as well... But... Prepared this way, even a simple frittata can become something worthy of serving to friends and feeling proud of.

The best thing about it, is that it is definitely not fussy or pretentious, it is not over the top or silly... It is just good simple food served up nicely. And that's something that you have just got to love!


The asparagus were there and needed to be used up and actually, the same thing went for the tarragon and the eggs as well! Fortunately, they are ingredients that go really well together! So I decided to not fuss and change things too much and to let them be the stars in their own little show!

So, for 2 nice portions of frittata, I needed 2 eggs, a handful of green asparagus, small onion, 2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta, 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, some fresh tarragon and thyme and simply salt, pepper and olive oil. Nothing more... But also nothing less! These simple ingredients just work so well together!


If you keep what you are preparing simple- both in their ingredients and in their execution... Then you are going to have the surest, safest and best results! Sometimes I like to take risks in the kitchen... But other times... I know that I don't need to!


To make this lovely dish, I first turned on the oven to get it ready and hot and in the meantime, quickly tossed the asparagus, which I had trimmed to fit my baking dish (and also of course to remove the woody ends) into the frying pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I fried it for just 2-3 minutes at the most, to get it nicely glossy and coated with oil and just beginning to cook. I then set it to one side to cool and added the finely chopped onion to the pan and gave that a little stir too, for 1-2 minutes, just to take the "raw" taste away and to make it begin to turn translucent. I then set that to one side too and began to mix together the batter.


Into a bowl went all of the other ingredients... The eggs and the ricotta, the herbs finely chopped and plucked, the onion half cooked and the salt and pepper to add a little seasons... That's all it took... And a good stir to mix it all up together.

I brushed my baking dish lightly with olive oil, poured in the batter, spread it out evenly and then sprinkled it generously with pepper.


Then it was a simple matter of laying the asparagus neatly on top and baking in a hot oven, at 180C, for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and ready to go!


Totally simple but absolutely as pretty as a picture! You know you want to make this!


The flavor would definitely be great both hot and cold, but the asparagus does tend to start looking a little wrinkled after a while... So serve it fast and serve it hot and enjoy it at its best!


I served mine with a simple garnish of a cherry tomato, which I cut almost all the way through, into quarters and a little sprig of tarragon. Even there, less fuss led to a prettier result... And one that you will want to make over and over again!