Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sardine Paté and Summer Days

I'm on vacation and I'm in that mood.  That type of feeling you get when you are on a swing over a pond on a hot summer day... the sun warms your skin and the gentle breeze runs through your hair, while that constant rhythm simulates a flying move.  Wings spread open just before the jump in the air and then the water below. The sudden feel of cold water rushes adrenaline through the body.  A contrast of shocking cold and summer heat that relieves stress and brings relaxing pleasure. A feeling of freedom. A summer feel. A summer mood.
The morning rise is earlier than expected just to fit everything in and not as annoying as on usual work days. Things are done easily, calmly, slowly, passionately without the ticking sound of a clock.  

Even in the kitchen, food assembles easily on its own.  It's too hot to cook and all your body calls for is fresh.  Fresh, as in cool and refreshing and fresh, as seasonal fresh food. Like going to your fish merchant and finding these beautiful sardines that are still bouncing in the bucket.  Sardines are one of my favorites, there's nothing spectacular about them but they're cheap, healthy and tasty. You either love them or hate them.  Here's a recipe that will convert skeptics to love them.  The sly move is to serve this as an appetizer without letting anyone know what it is until they taste it. You need to get them at that hungry state. The reaction is always the same:  sardines?!! really?!  :)
sardines paté
Sardine Paté

350 gr fresh sardines
150 gr stracchino cheese (or any other semi-soft cheese)
1 small fresh onion
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
basil or mint leaves for garnish

First clean and fillet the sardines.  Click here to see how to fillet sardines.
Once the sardines are ready, place them single layered on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for about 5/8 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them cool down.  Flake them with your hands or use a fork, add the stracchino cheese, roughly sliced onion, chives, salt and olive oil.  If you like, you can also add some chili pepper.  Garnish with basil or mint leaves.  Serve with toasted bread slices or as I do, with chapati bread cut in triangles.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Homemade Pectin & Strawberry Jam

Lately, I've been spending my weekends at my sister's place in Nettuno, a seaside area not too far from Rome.  From the very moment I get there and walk through the door I detach from reality, in a good way.  Especially when I see my nearly 3 year old nephew hiding under the table, covering his face with his hand, leaving just that tiny space in between his fingers to see what's happening.  That's the hint for me to play the roll, pretending not to see him while he uses all his effort to be the invisible man.  As I search throughout the house he silently crawls up behind my back and jumps on me giving me the chubbiest of hugs and the juiciest of kisses.  That's his welcoming and my weak surrender. 
While the bundle of sweetness (my nephew) moves on to welcome my son and husband, I move towards the balcony that opens towards the sea.  The stretch of blue and the summer feel keeps me glued to the scenery.  A scenery that captures and removes any flying thought and drains my brain, inducing to a neutral state of mind that allows to breathe colors and touch moods like as of normal practice.  The sight of the breaking dawn and the evening dusk are worth the waking and the waiting. 

The sunday morning follows steps of routine. The first mandatory stop is at the piazza where we grab our newspaper and head straight to the caffe' where we sit at our favorite table and order cornetto and cappuccino.  We take our time to enjoy and plan the rest of the day which never changes... it's always the beach, the beach and the beach, a swim and back to the beach, lunch and back to the beach, a snack and back to the beach and then... out to dinner.  Some napping, some reading, lots of eating.  Lazy and relaxing is what we want and what we get.
On our way back from breakfast the other week, we stopped to buy some fruit at the Piazza del Mercato in Nettuno, where we discovered a fruit and vegetable stand owned by two young sisters,  "Da Lella" .  They sell the most sweetest "untreated" strawberries I have ever tasted in my EN-TI-RE life.  The next day I went back and ordered 5 kilos to make some jam.  If I could have avoided the sugar I would have, but jams require sugar, a consistent amount of sugar.  I remember how my grandmother used to dose equal portions of sugar and fruit, 1 kilo of fruit, 1 kilo of sugar...lots of boiling, endless boiling and jams that would last for years.  I don't need to make jams that last for years, I'd rather have less jam with less sugar and more fruit.  These strawberries needed justice and the sugar was just going to overwhelm all of its natural sweetness. So, I reduced the quantity of sugar to the minimum and added a homemade pectin which thickened the jam quickly; hence less boiling time.  As a result, I have 10 small jars of strawberry jam of a remarkable fruity taste that will be used for tarts, cookies, on bread for breakfast and tons of who knows what else.

I named this jam "The Sweetest Thing" after my nephew who is the sweetest OF things.
Homemade Pectin
7-8 large sliced green apples, like Granny Smith or Crabapples (even better) with peels and cores.  
4 cups water
2 tbsp lemon juice

Wash the apples and chop them in pieces, don't peel.  Put them in a pot with 4 cups of water, 2 tbsp of lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Let it boil until it reduces, about 30- 45 minutes.  Strain through a cheesecloth and boil the juice for another 20 minutes.  Pour in sanitized jars, seal them, and process in a water bath.

ratio 1 kilo:300 gr sugar 

Wash, dry and hull the strawberries.  Place them whole in a high edged pot, cook the strawberries for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, add the sugar and lemon juice, continue to stir.    Add 1 cup of homemade pectin.  Boil for 1 hour and test if the jam is ready by placing a small amount of jam on a plate, draw a line through the middle of the jam to make a channel.  If the channel remains in place, the jam is ready, if the jam oozes back inwards to rejoin the broken halves more cooking time is needed.  When the jam is ready pour in sanitized jars, seal, and process in a water bath.

Note: you may need to add more pectin, it depends on how thick you want your jam.  Start with a cup and slowly work your way by increasing the amount in small doses until you reach the consistency of your preference.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pizza Pie ...con Amore

cherry tomatoes
You know what I love about tomatoes? That each different quality has a different taste and a different texture.  You can eat tomatoes everyday but feel that you are eating something different each time. Take these cherry tomatoes for instance, they are tiny, juicy and not too sweet, slightly sour and perfect raw in a salad or next to some bufala mozzarella. Typically every tomato is sweet and sour but the balance in sweetness and sourness varies in each and that is exactly what makes them so delicious and versatile. 
cherry tomatoes
These same cherry tomatoes cooked whole in an oven at a low temperature, with some salt and olive oil will work their way to build a dense jam-like pulp intensifying the sweetness and reducing the sourness.  Now...imagine them scattered on a thick pizza dough with a generous amount of salt, some good olive oil and fresh basil.  Those little tomatoes become candies and that sweetness on pizza is just mouthwatering.  I hope the photo speaks for itself because I can't find any other words that define such deliciousness.

I prepared this, on a late Sunday afternoon, in 2 hours (including the dough rise and cooking time), after a day at the beach...tired...starving and craving for something that would satisfy my (our) appetite. That sort of craving you don't exactly know what you want but you know it needs to be good? ...and that's how the cherry tomato pizza-pie was born at my house.  


There is no real recipe here, all you need is pizza dough ( I used a basic bread dough recipecherry tomatoes, salt, extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil.  Place the dough in a greased round tin, press the tomatoes and basil in the dough and let it rise for 1 hour, drizzle with olive oil, salt and bake in a preheated oven at 200°C for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. The amount of dough may vary depending on the tin, use enough to result 2 cm high and 4 cm when rised.  Add lots of cherry tomatoes as possible, that's where all the flavor comes from.  Once the pizza is baked, drizzle more oil and sprinkle more salt.