Monday, November 17, 2014

who says pork chops are boring?

A heat wave floats above the cast iron pan placed on the stove a few minutes earlier, this tells me it's ready for the pork chop I've planned for dinner.  The hot pan sears the meat releasing a hissing sound, the fat melts and sizzles, and a cloud of caramelised smoke spreads over the cooking area.  It's a matter of seconds and flavour becomes tangible.  An exceeding amount of saliva builds in my mouth making its way towards the corners, the drooling becomes uncontainable.  An insignificant, boring pork chop puts me on my knees.  I'm almost embarrassed this weakness has overcome me all at once, but I let go to what has conquered all my five senses, in five seconds.
pork chop
I try to prolong the pleasure of this moment so that fumes, scents and desire linger a few more minutes before fork and knife ends it all dramatically.  Some sauce - a green peppercorn cream sauce - multiplies succulence and decadence leaving any thoughts of pork-chop-boredom behind.  The meat is now sitting on a warm plate.  The cast iron pan is still on the stove, heat on.  A half glass of port wine is gently poured in the pan, over the meat's remains and juices.  The liquids thicken and encapsulate all the taste left back and almost gone to waste in the sink. Pickled green peppercorns are added, just a few, maybe a spoonful. They're left to mingle with the port as it simmers. Finally, a scant glass of heavy cream brings consistency and silkiness to the sauce, it wraps the flavours in and around, and brings more of that drooling effect. A pinch of salt will finish finely. Some more port wine is on the table. It's time.
pork chop

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

chicken soup ... my way

IMG_1625As much as I love to cook, I do often desire, that sometimes, someone, would cook for me, especially in those moments when I'm particularly tired to even think, yet too hungry to go without eating.  That's when a egg and a piece of bread fits in perfect for me, but not for the two hungry beasts at home.  Fortunately, my husband and son are not fussy eaters, they do, however, expect to find a decent meal when they get home. Not that bread and eggs isn't a decent meal, if it wasn't for the fact, that after two minutes they'd be hungry all over again.

A few weeks ago I found myself in this exact state of mind and on top of that, also with a flu. A soup is what I needed. It happens to be, that soup, just like bread and eggs, leaves my family with a grumbly stomach. For someone who is absolutely not in the mood to cook, nor wants to even think about it, and wishes that someone else would do the thinking and cooking, is not going to bother to please who wants what.  As egoistically I may say.

It was going to be soup and nothing more than soup and I wasn't going to dedicate much time to it either.
It turned out that a simple lazy soup for the sick and tired moved towards a tastier direction. One ingredient brought to another, inspiration grew, and the soup was from there to become a delicious meal in a bowl. Signals of gratitude were launched through slurping sounds and with the call of second rounds I was certain, at that point, that it wasn't only a satisfying meal but one that keeps spirits high and proud for longer than the two minute timeframe.  


Bring a pot of 1-1/2 litre of water to a boil, add a whole chicken breast, an onion, two tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste, some salt to taste and a tablespoon of fennel seeds.  Slice a couple of carrots in julienne strips and add to the pot 20 minutes after the soup begins to boil.  The carrots should remain firm.  After 30 minutes total, remove the pot from the stove.  Slice the chicken breast in strips, remove the carrots and portion in each bowl.  Use a thin sieve and pour the broth through the sieve directly in each bowl.  The sieve should retain the fennel seeds, onion and any floating bits. Just before serving, add some fresh greens directly in each bowl, this will allow the greens to soften but will also keep them firm and crunchy. You can use chard, like I did, or parsley and mint, or all of them, even a fresh spring onion if you please. Add a few more fennel seeds and a freshly sliced red hot pepper, more or less according to the amount of spiciness desired. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.  Each commensal will then be instructed to use a fork and knife to cut up the vegetables and chicken within the bowl in smaller pieces. I also added some noodles for my husband and son's portions. The noodles were cooked separately and added the last minute.  My portion was kept simple like in the photo.  Either way will be delicious and restoring.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

just one good ingredient

Some things need to be left as they are.  Raw.  Like these ovoli mushrooms.  With just a few more ingredients and the minimum of efforts you’ll enjoy an extremely simple dish that proves how just one good ingredient does it all.
Ovoli are the only mushrooms I love to use raw because I truly find they speak words of deliciousness.  I do realize that not everyone is lucky to come across these charms, I'm not even sure they can be found anywhere else other than Italy.  There are, however, a lot of mushroom varieties around that I don't even know about and that can surely substitute these precious ovoli.

The point is, they need to be fresh, wild, edible, earthy flavoursome mushrooms and immensely delectable the very moment you bite in to them raw.  
Ovoli Mushroom Salad

Clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth.  Slice, not too thin not too thick, add some greens like rucola or baby spinach, anything fresh and tender will do.  Add some parmesan scales, dress with freshly squeezed lemon juice and drizzle some good olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste.

It's Friday, enjoy the weekend <3

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

gnocchi di ortica, cacio e pepe

You would think that nettle is a spring harvest, and it is, but for some reason it's growing in my garden now, in fall. Believe it or not, tomatoes and eggplants are still producing this time of year. It's like having a greenhouse without a greenhouse, in summer that's not summer, yet it's fall but not fall ... you know what I mean? My vegetables are having an identity crisis! And so am I.  I'm sweating, wearing sandals and eating tomatoes in October as if it were July. 

Nettle has been growing wild and fastidiously, it proliferates between my tomato paths and cabbage trails, next to the kale and the eggplants and right in the middle of my misticanza (small mixed salad).  I've tried to eradicate it and it keeps growing, the more I rip, the more it grows, the more it grows, the more I'm stinged and the more I find myself with rashes. Then, while I was on the web searching for something that could alleviate my rash, I learned that nettle juice would have eased the stinging of the rash brought about by contact with the plant's own bristle leaves. Isn't that unbelievable?! Finally, I understood that this arm wrestling thing would bring nowhere. I needed to understand this herb, which I always thought was a weed, and get along with it. 

Lately, more and more people have begun to understand just how limited — in both variety and nutritional value — our "modern" diets have become. This realization has sparked a new and widespread interest in the culinary and therapeutic uses of herbs . . . those plants which — although not well-known today — were, just one short generation ago, honored "guests" on the dinner tables and in the medicine chests of our grandparents' homes.  Mother Nature News

When cooked, nettles lose their sting and have a similar flavour to spinach. They are a good source of vitamin C, iron, and calcium and also provide a surprising amount of protein. They can be eaten raw, although we certainly don’t recommend it, and a World Nettle Eating Championship is held every year at the Bottle Inn, Dorset, England. Young Veggie

Nettles were one of the main ingredients in English beer until the 1800s. Nettle beer, wine, champagne and cordial are all still commercially available. Young Veggie

Stinging nettles provide the only food for many species of butterfly larva. Young Veggie
Nettle is the secret green ingredient for my gnocchi.  Secret ... because you would never guess that I harvested nettle in fall. Of course you don't need to wait for spring to make these gnocchi, in lack of nettle, you can use chard, spinach, kale and whatever sweet green comes to your mind. They'll be just as good.

Young and tender nettle tips is what you're looking for.  Be sure to use gloves and scissors when you are in contact with raw nettle.  The stinging effect will cease only once it's cooked, and you can manage it safely with your bare hands.  Briefly boil the nettle for 1 minute and plung into ice water. Drain and chop roughly.  like to see the greens that stand out, this is why I prefer to chop them roughly.  Otherwise, you can cut the greens really thin and this will give your gnocchi a green uniform color.

To make perfect gnocchi, read this article from Food & Wine.
Once your gnocchi dough is ready, fold in the cooked and chopped nettle.   A handful would be enough in an amout of gnocchi dough for four people. 

The sauce. I find that cacio e pepe is definitely the perfect sauce for these gnocchi, it somehow enhances the flavour of the potatoes and brings out the grassy aromatic scent of the nettle.  My way of making cacio e pepe for any kind of pasta is easy.   

While the gnocchi are in the boiling water, preheat a large pan.  Place some freshly grated cheese, a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, and half a cup of the gnocchi's cooking water in the pan and let it sit on low heat until the gnocchi are ready.  Don't let the gnocchi overcook, drain them as soon as they float on the surface and place them in the pan let the watery cheese mixture absorb in the gnocchi by moving and tossing the gnocchi with the pan and without the use of a spoon, keep rotating the pan, add some freshly ground pepper and more cheese. Keep moving the pan around.  This should take no more than a minute from when you drain the gnocchi and place them in the pan.

Serve hot and dust with more cheese and some more freshly grounded pepper.