Tuesday, December 22, 2015

still wondering what to cook for Christmas?

Squid Ink Fettuccine with Octopus Ragu and Squash
Minus 3 days to Christmas!  Nothing can be more last minute than these squid ink fettuccine with octopus ragù and diced squash. Last minute intended as thought and made today for lunch.  So if you're still thinking of something to make for Christmas, here's an idea that will solve it all.  It's perfect on Christmas Eve if you follow the meatless tradition and even if you don't.

Stay tuned, more is coming up. Squid Ink Fettuccine with Octopus Ragu and Squash
Squid Ink Fettuccine with Octopus Ragù and Diced Squash
Serves approx 4 people

Squid Ink Dough 
480 g hard durum flour
cold water
16 g squid ink

Add the squid ink to 125 ml of cold water, mix well.  Make a well with the flour and pour the squid ink water in the centre.  Start mixing the flour and water, add more clear cold water as needed.  Knead the dough at least 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Wrap with plastic film and set aside for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, roll out the pasta and allow to air dry.  Dust the sheet of pasta with semolina flour.  Roll up the dough and with a sharp knife slice vertical strips.  Unfold the strips and let the fettuccine dry on a dusted tray.

Octopus Ragù
600-700 g circa, fresh octopus
1 carrot
1 small onion
1 celery stick
300 g circa, butternut squash, diced
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 glass of white wine
1/2 glass of water

Rinse the octopus under cold running water. Remove the eyes, beak and any innards.  Thoroughly rinse and scrub the tentacles with rock salt.  Use a sharp knife to finely chop the octopus.  In a preheated pan add 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, the finely chopped carrot, onion and celery and octopus.  Stir with a wooden spoon so that all flavours absorb with one another.  Add half a glass of water and leave to simmer.  When the water evaporates add half a glass of white wine.  Allow the wine to evaporate. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

In another pan, add the 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and the diced squash.  Allow the diced squash to brown lightly on all sides.

In a big pot of boiling water, add a handful of rock salt and the squid ink fettuccine.  The pasta is ready when it floats to surface and the boil regains. Drain the pasta, add to the pan containing the octopus ragù.  Add the cooked squash and serve.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

wondering what to cook for Christmas?

This stuffed pasta reminds me so much of an ornament that I had to hold myself from not hanging a few on the Christmas tree but I did decide to add them to our Christmas menu, which, in a way or another, settles the urge.

Stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, fresh mint and pecorino cheese, these tasty-good-looking ravioli from Sardinia are called culurgiones. The decorative closure is less intimidating as it may seem, all you need is a good dose of patience to find the right stitch and pinch gesture.  Once you make a few you'll get a hang of it and before you know it, your kitchen will turn into a culurgiones factory!

Hope this finds room on your Christmas table as well.
Culurgiones with Simple Tomato Sauce

Pasta dough
120 gr durum flour
80 gr plain flour
warm water
a pinch of salt

2 big potatoes
50 gr aged pecorino cheese, grated
50 gr fresh pecorino cheese, grated
8 leaves of "fresh" mint
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
pinch of salt
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

tomato puree
1 small onion, finely chopped or sliced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt

Boil the potatoes, peel and pass them through a potato masher.

To make the dough, mix both flours in a bowl and a pinch of salt.  Add the warm water a little at a time until the dough is formed.  Knead until smooth and elastic.  Let it rest for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the filling by adding all ingredients in a bowl, mashed potatoes, fresh mint, both pecorino cheese, a pinch of salt, extra virgin olive oil and the garlic.  First mix with a spoon and then with your hands to get all the ingredients together.  It would be best to make the filling the day before so that the flavor have time to absorb.

Make the sauce.  In a preheated pan add a the extra virgin olive oil and the onion.  When the onion is translucent add the pureed tomato sauce and a pinch of salt to season.  Let it simmer the 20 minutes.
Roll out the pasta dough and use a glass to make round disks (approx. 6 cm diameter).  Fill each disk with the filling and follow the video below for the closure.

Cook in a large pot of salted boiling water for about 3/4 minutes or until the culurgiones float on the surface.  Drain and serve with the fresh tomato sauce and some more pecorino cheese.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

vegetable surprise

veggie wraps
There's nothing mysterious concealed within this parcel.  Pull the string, take a whiff of the steam as it gently unfurls and in an instant every single ingredient will be revealed at the sight, smell and taste of each.  In just the palm of a hand, the beauty of fall and winter seasons are condensed and translated in food.  Food that cooks in a mingling of flavors that are absorbed and released through its own sweet juice.  The final result will make your heart skip for a second and all five senses will sing soundly. To start, get a hold of good ingredients, you’ll be inspired as you handle them.  The rest is just chopping, slicing, and dicing, in a rather rustic but thoughtful way. I’ll never tire to say that good food depends almost entirely on great ingredients especially when there's really no recipe involved. That's all there is to say.   
veggie wraps
Vegetable Wraps
serves for 4 people

1 medium size butternut squash, peeled and diced
4 medium size Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and sliced longwise in quarters
4 big oyster mushrooms, it would be better if you can get a hold of porcini mushrooms
4 fresh spring onions
1 big fennel
12 large size chestnuts, peeled and boiled for 10 minutes
fresh thyme
fresh dill
extra virgin olive oil
parchment paper and baking string

Rinse and peel the vegetables.  Dice the butternut squash, slice the fennel, divide the Jerusalem artichokes in quarters, divide the spring onions in half.  Slice the bigger oyster mushrooms in half and leave the smaller ones whole.  Peel the chestnuts from their outer skin.  To remove their inner skin, boil the chestnuts in water for 10/15 minutes, this will also pre-cook the chestnuts so they can cook equally with the other vegetable.

Place all the vegetables in a big bowl and season to taste with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.  Give it a mix with your hands coating all the vegetables with the seasoning.

Divide the parchment paper in 4 pieces, 60 cm long. Place a sheet of the parchment paper in a small bowl, this will help you wrap the vegetables.  Place the vegetables within the bowl covered with parchment paper, add the fresh thyme, dill and a last drizzle of oil.  Pull the 4 extreme corners of the paper and bring them above the center, gather the middle with your hand to form a tight package, see the top photo.  Tie the package tightly with baking string. Place the four parcels on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 200ºC for 20/25 mins.
 No fuss. Oven baked wrapped veggies. You're wondering what veggies, right? Coming soon. Happy sunday folks :)

Friday, November 13, 2015

I did a video

Fregola con Vongole

Gather some flour, we're making fregola today.

Yes, I did a video to show you how to make it.

Let the flour run through your fingers, feel its rustic texture as small amounts of cold water and saffron are added. Use a coarse, stone ground, durum wheat flour. Movements should be continuous and circular, one hand adds the flour and water, the other, moves it around. Your fingertips press delicately against a large wide ceramic plate, with a smooth and slippery surface. The flour and water will merge and suddenly a resemblance of tiny golden nuggets will form. The fregola is made. The corners of your mouth now raise and that big smile on your face will be the result of a proud accomplishment.

This kind of pasta builds as you add flour and water, a little of each, a little at a time.  The reason why I don't use specific measurements, although I'm sure there must be a recipe that does.  The video shows you a handful of flour, and a few drops of water (or a tablespoon would be more accurate); as the flour absorbs the water, another handful of flour and some more water.  Keep going until you get the amount you want.  Consider one heap handful of fregola per person, again it's very approximate, my handful will never be your handful, but you got the message.

Wait...we're not done yet.

Place the fregola on an oven tray lined with baking paper, cover with a clean cloth and allow it to air-dry for a couple of hours (even less if you can't wait).  Every once in a while, move it around so that it doesn't stick  Now, place the tray in a preheated oven at 150ºC for 20 minutes.  This step will absorb any remaining humidity and most importantly, it will toast the fregola. You'll know it's ready when you move it around with your hands and it makes the sound of dry pasta.  You can store it in a sealed container up to a month.

...we're still not done. Wait.
Fregola con Vongole
Fregola with Clams
Serves 4 people

Fregola pasta
1 kg clams
250 gr tomato puree
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cups saffron broth, made with hot water, saffron and a pinch of salt

Place the clams in a bowl of fresh water, add a tbsp of salt.  Leave the clams in the water for a couple of hours allowing them to discharge any remaining sand.

For the sauce
In a preheated medium size pot, add 5 tablespoons of EVOO and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves. Add the clams to the pot and cover with its lid. Once the calms are open, remove them from the pan, leave the juice they released in the pot. Add the fresh parsley, the tomato puree and season to taste.

Remove most of the shells from the clams and keep just a few with their shell to decorate.

After 20 minutes, put the clams back in the same in the pot of tomato sauce. Add the broth of hot water and saffron. Bring to a boil.  Add the fregola pasta, consider a heap handful for each person. The fregola cooks within 5 minutes.  Add some extra saffron broth if necessary.  The idea is to keep this a little liquid. If desired, add some more fresh parsley.  Serve.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dear Barbara...

che zuppa
Dear Barbara,

The first time I saw your cookbook was that day we went out for lunch together.  Remember?  You handed it over to me with a smile that went from to ear to ear.  Coincidentally, we ordered soup, spoonful after spoonful, I realized that your book, che zuppa, was what I flavored most that moment. Flipping through...burrata cream with peppers and anchovy crumble, spinach and farro broth with veal meatballs, zucchine and seafood soup with pasta grattata, made me want to jump into those pages and taste every single thing.

A few years ago, at a cafe' across the street from where we used to work, I noticed a big ciambellone was put out on the counter that day.  Far from any industrial kind you would expect to find in a common cafe', I knew it was homemade only looking at it. Curious, I ordered a slice to go with my cappuccino, one bite and it was, damn is this good...only years later I found out you made that ciambellone.  Today, while we were having our double cappuccino at another cafe' close to where we now work, in front of me was a beautiful talented woman.  Secure and passionate of what she does yet discrete and humble as she moves forward with success and as the author of a cookbook, that's clean, filled with texture and warmth.

Even if I didn't know this book was yours, I would have recognized it to be so, only by looking at it, just like that damn good ciambellone that day, in that cafe'.

Your friend,
Elvira xxoo
che zuppa
The original recipe calls for diced sweet potatoes,  I varied by using the sweet potatoes to make gnocchi which I then added to the soup.

Zuppa Speziata di Patate Dolci e Cavolo Nero - Spicy Sweet Potato and Kale Soup
adapted from the cookbook Che Zuppa! Pane & Burro

1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 hot pepper
3/4 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
600 g sweet potatoes
1/2 liter vegetable broth  or chicken broth
400 g peeled tomatoes
230 g kale
extra virgin olive oil

In a pot on medium heat add the onion and garlic finely chopped, as well as 2 tbsps of evo oil and a hot pepper. Simmer until the onion is traslucent..  Add the cumin and coriander.

Add the sweet potatoes that have been previously washed, peeled and diced in the pot. Roughly crush the peeled tomatoes in a bowl with a fork, add to the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  On a low flame, cook for 5 minutes, stir occasionally.

Add the broth, as soon as it reaches a boil let it cook 30 minutes.

Rinse the kale and remove the middle hard stalk.  Cut into stripes and add to the soup, continue to cook the soup for a further 5-6 minutes.

Serve with a light drizzle of evo and fresh ground pepper.

*you can top the soup with roughly crumbled feta cheese

*if you prefer to substitute the sweet diced potatoes with sweet potato gnocchi, click here for a basic gnocchi recipe, simply use sweet potatoes and flour.

Friday, October 9, 2015

a perfect combination of ingredients

If there's a combination of ingredients that go well together, it would be riso, patate e cozze (rice, potatoes and mussels). So well, that the ingredients name the recipe, Tiella Riso, Patate e Cozze. Don't be fooled that it's as simple as that. There's a whole lot of talking behind this recipe, each family has their own way, it can trigger serious discussions, if not, family arguments in which, some can go days without speaking to each other.  I'm not kidding!

Every nonna makes it better than the one next door, reason for which the discussion starts and ends who knows where, who knows when. Some, add an extra ingredient depending on the season, like slices of zucchini, but the lady next door would probably say that's wrong.  The aunt may add mussels without their shell, but her cousin in the apartment two floors down, would criticize that because she adds them with the shell.  Nonna Maria uses the mussels with the shell and opens them raw before she adds her rice, whereas nonna Michela prefers to add them previously cooked with the shell. Some soak their rice in water before adding it to the tin, others think it's not necessary. The tiella itself (baking tin) needs to be of the right kind, some rigorously use the aluminum one, others, the clay cooking pots.

Go figure!

I followed mamma Carolina's recipe on youtube.  With the only difference that I steamed the mussels previously, just enough to open them.  This way, I was able to identify the rotten ones that remained closed so I can toss them away. Mamma Carolina opens them all by hand and puts them in raw before baking. I was afraid of that because I wouldn't have noticed any of the rotten-dead ones if not through the procedure I used above.
patate riso e cozze

I thought it was easier to show you how the tiella is made through mamma Carolina's video.  She explains in Italian but shows you step by step, so it's easy to follow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

this time of year and grapes

uva fragola
This time of year, in the Roman hilltops, better known as the Castelli Romani, the Sagra del Vino takes place.  It's a three day wine festival that comes during the last stage of grape harvest, in other words, right now! It's a big thing around here and pretty attractive, I mean how many fountains do you see with wine that flows from the tap?! A chaos of people, who've bent the elbow a little too much, tune roman songs as they walk in herds, one holding the other, more for the need to keep each other from falling then that of comradeship.  Warm biscuits and briosche made with wine must are sold off the streets, have you every tried one?  Gosh are they good!  But all of this, is not for me, except for the biscuits and briosche of course. I prefer what can be found just below Marino, where vineyards overlook Rome. It's quiet and fragrant, it smells all so good.  The only tune may come from my radio while I drive along those curvy streets, the car window is rolled down and bit of that misty air mixed with the scent of wine flow in.  My hair goes frizzy, my skin damp and that scent leaves a taste of fermented grapes on my tongue.  All of this makes me feel good as much as it smells good, it's me, just me and what I like best. 
A couple of years ago I asked my dad if he can help me build a tiny vineyard in the garden and for "tiny" I meant tiny (!!!). Four plants are enough, papa' said, and so, four tiny grapevines were planted in the garden the next day.  Last year, we got our first taste of fine grapes.  This year, the grapes multiplied, even quadruplicated to the point that the tiny vineyard has become fructuous, so fructuous, how much could you possibly eat in a day, a week, a month? I realized I had enough when my son saw me coming in from the garden for the umpteenth time with another basket full of grapes and said, Ma' it's time we move on to apple season.

The remaining grapes were gathered and reduced to a simple grape syrup.  A syrup I've used in so many different ways, on pancakes, in porridge and to accompany roasts, like this pork loin roast here. 
roast and concorde grape sauce
uva fragola
Pork Loin Roast
1 kg lean pork loin
pancetta, about 20 thin slices       
fresh herb mix (sage, rosemary, thyme etc.)
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 glass white wine
cooking string

Ask your butcher to butterfly a piece of pork loin.  If you don’t have an option, it’s not difficult to do it yourself.  Start by laying a boneless piece of pork loin on the cutting board.  With a sharp knife, from one end to the other, cut a horizontal incision one inch deep straight down the middle of the roast.  As you cut, pull back the meat.  Return to where you began the incision and cut a light deeper into the meat as you pull back the meat.  Repeat until the loin is flattened out into a rectangular shape.

Finely chop a mix of fresh herbs, I find that sage, rosemary and thyme work well with pork but you can use the herbs you prefer.  Mix the finely chopped herbs with a tbsp. of butter, a pinch of salt and pepper to form a sort of paste.  Season the entire piece of loin with a little salt and pepper and in the exact middle of the meat place the paste of butter and herbs along a horizontal line from one end to the other.  Roll the piece of loin and wrap with thin slices of pancetta.  String the entire roast so that it keeps its shape while cooking.  

In a hot casserole pot for roast, add 2 tbsp. EVO oil. Place the roast in the pot and sear on all sides until golden brown.  Add un glass of good white wine.  Place the lid on the pot and lower the heat.  Allow the roast to cook for about 45 minutes on the stove or in a preheated oven at 190 ºC.

Grape Syrup
1 kg concord grapes
2 tbsp. honey

Pull the grapes from their branches and wash in abundant fresh water. Drain and place in a pot.  Allow the grapes to boil and then lower the heat and reduce to a simmer.  You will notice after about 10 minutes that the skins and seeds will separate from the pulp.  Use a wooden spoon to mix and press the grapes.  Allow to simmer for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the stove and pass the grapes through a sieve, pressing the grapes constantly against the sieve.  Discard the seeds and skins.  Place the grape juice back on the stove and add the honey.  Allow to boil on high heat for about 5/10 minutes so that the juice thickens and becomes a syrup.  Pour the juice in a container and allow to cool.  It stores up to a month in the fridge.

* The syrup diluted in fresh sparkling water becomes a juice.

*When using the syrup for meats, add a little salt.  When using the syrup for drinks add a little sugar or honey to your taste before adding to sparkling water or liquor.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

not just any bread


I just found out about this recipe in the Green Kitchen Travels cookbook by Green Kitchen Stories and I'm so enthusiastic about it.  At first I thought it was just normal bread with seeds and nuts, the kind with flour, yeast and water, but then, as I read through the recipe, I realized it was what it said to be, a seed and nut bread.  That's it! Seeds and nuts are basically the only ingredients, except for a pinch of salt, some extra virgin olive oil and ..... Psyillum Husk Powder.

When psyillium husk comes in contact with water, it swells and forms a gelatin like mass.  This mass is kneaded in the seed and nut mixture with your hands until it becomes an actual dough in just about 30 seconds. If you let the dough stand for an hour, it will slightly grow and in the oven it grows a tiny bit more.  Not that this bread needs to rise, but it's amazing how it does even without the use of yeast.  If you wish, you can substitute the psyillium powder with 5 eggs, but I didn't like the idea of a bread that would have an eggy taste.  Pysillium is tasteless and doesn't interfere with the rest of the flavors.

Where can you find it?  I found it in the health food store and guess what?  It's often sold as a colon cleanser!!  I know, it doesn't sound very appetizing.  It is, however, very well known in gluten-free baking, so you may also find it in a specialized store or online.

You can enjoy this bread with just about everything, I chose a sweet combination of ricotta, figs and honey.

Seed and Nut Bread - from the cookbook Green Kitchen Travel
The bread is also delicious with added shredded vegetables, like carrots, zucchini, beets, apples or bites of chocolate, raisins, etc.
2 tbsp psyllium husk powder + 1 1/2 cup /350 ml water
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g almonds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g hazelnuts
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g sesame seeds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g sunflower seeds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g flax seeds
1/2 heaping cup / 100 g pumpkin seeds
1-2 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp /50 ml 
cold pressed olive oil or melted cold pressed coconut oil + extra for greasing the pan 
[1 handful raisins or chopped dark chocolate (optional but delicious)]

Preheat the oven 175°C. Mix psyllium husks powder and water in a bowl and set aside for 5 minutes, until thick gel consistency.
Meanwhile measure out all nuts and seeds and place in a bowl, add salt and oil and stir. Add the psyllium gel and knead it in the seed and nut mixture with your hands.
Set aside for 1 hour (This step is optional but the end result will be better).
Place the dough into a greased loaf pan (12 x 4,5 inches / 30 x 10 cm) and bake for 60-70 minutes. 
Remove from the oven and let cool completely before slicing. Store in a kitchen towel in the fridge for up to a week. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

a souvenir from the south

There's no relationship between that lady up there and I, but there is a sort of connection.  That gaze into nothingness and her relaxing posture was the same as mine when I looked up and noticed from the piazza beneath, that someone was resembling my mood.  The mood that beautifully, and perhaps unwillingly, insinuates in you like only the south knows how.  Unable to capture my own state of mind,  I captured hers, to show you, what would otherwise be underestimated if said in words.

The first time I went to Puglia was for a summer vacation with my family a few years ago.  Last year we went again and this year too. We always drive to go down and while our GPS tells us to go one way, we eventually detour the other.  Off the beaten path, the surroundings were immersed in our eyes as we drove through hectares and hectares of century old olive trees neatly arranged on fields of fresh ploughed red earth.  All at once the sight of the sea, and everything that comes with it, appears on the horizon and as we get closer and closer we're left speechless each time, we knew what to expect but there's no getting used to it.

Narrow streets, steep stairs, laundry blown dry by the gentle warm breeze, a lady who arranges fresh mint just off the doorsteps of her home, secret gardens within courtyards, poems written on stairs and views ... infinite views of the sea and its waves splashing against rocks; and the open calm deep blue that lures you to walk on water.  Fumes, scents, aromas of food that roam through windows and run across alleys are torture to our hungry stomachs.  The clock says 8:00 pm and while others are ready for an apertivo, we're ready to sit down to eat in one of those restaurants a friend told us about. Although I would have much more preferred to knock on that lady's door up there and invite myself to dinner ... something tells me she's a good cook.
Every time I come back from Puglia I try to recreate the food I had when I was there,  in a way it extends that southern mood a little longer and helps soften the nostalgia.  I had these melanzane ripiene (stuffed aubergines) in a restaurant in Monopoli. They served authentic home cuisine, no fancy frills, just fresh, genuine food, the big family reunion kind, the kind that makes you lick your fingers and clean the plate with a piece of bread. So instead of buying myself a magnet to stick on the fridge or a tea towel with Puglia's map stamped on it, I brought back moments I impressed in my mind, some I clicked with my camera and a culinary taste of the south I experienced and enjoyed right then and there.  I also brought back the paper napkin I used to scribble down the ingredients I was given by the owner, the same napkin I used to wipe my mouth while I was eating those delicious aubergines.  Consider it a souvenir from the south from me to you.
Passer-by, sin beyond any sin 
Is the sin of blindness of souls to other souls.
And joy beyond any joy is the joy
Of having the good in you seen, and seeing the good
At the miraculous moment!
[Edgar Lee Masters]

Melanzane Ripiene - Stuffed Aubergines

serves 4 

2 long shaped aubergines
4 slices of fresh bread, 1 inch wide.  A day old.
5 steep tbsp grated parmesan
1 egg
3 tbsp capers
lemon juice
1 tsp vinegar
tomato sauce
Extra virgin olive oil (evoo)

Wash and dry the aubergines.  Slice each in half, lengthwise. Scoop the inner flesh with a spoon and reserve on the side. Brush the aubergines with lemon juice so that they don't darken.  In a preheated pan, add 2 tbsp of evoo and fry the aubergine flesh you reserved previously until golden brown, season with a small amount of salt.  Leave it aside to cool down.  Meanwhile, place the slices of bread in a food processor and pulse until breadcrumbs form, add the parsley, capers, parmesan, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Add the egg and mix until it is completely absorbed within the mixture. Now add the aubergine flesh you previously stir fried. Mix thoroughly. Fill the aubergines with the mixture.  

In a previously heated pan, add enough evoo to fry the aubergines.  Place the aubergine open side down and fry until golden brown, flip the aubergine and fry on the the other side.  It takes approx 1 minute on each side.  Do the same with each filled aubergine.  

Place some tomato sauce in a baking pan and place the aubergines in the pan.  The sauce must not cover the aubergines but should be enough to fairly reach the sides.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C for 40 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, serve warm, not hot.  Dust with some extra parmesan cheese.
BQ8A1468-2  Senza titolo

Friday, July 24, 2015

refreshing food

prosciutto e melone
Summer in Rome is dead hot! I can say that the heat is so dense and thick that it can be physically touched by hand. The feeling is like being pulled by Dante into the Inferno with no return, if you know what I mean.  This has brought me to lose my sleep, my energy, my mental stability but, for no reason in the world, did I lose my appetite.  Although the appetite is always strong, I do, however, prefer light refreshing food like a cold sliced melon, wrapped with prosciutto, preferably under a cool breeze, and in lack of such, a full blast air-conditioner will do as well.  

Here’s a different way to put some melon and prosciutto together.  It will make you feel good and full and you don’t need to cook over hot flames, which is an optimal solution for everyone these days.
prosciutto e melone
Melon and Prosciutto Gazpacho
adapted from the Italian magazine Sale & Pepe

3 slices bread, only the crumb
1 small red onion
3 tbsp apple vinegar
1 melon (any variety)
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 cup of plain yogurt
Extra virgin olive oil

Place the bread crumb in a small bowl and let it soak with the apple vinegar.  Put the melon, red onion, cucumber, plain white yogurt in a blender and blend until puréed.  Squeeze the vinegar from the bread crumb, discard the vinegar and add the soaked bread in the blender.  Add salt, pepper and basil to taste and blend again until smooth.  Refrigerate until chilled and serve with fresh melon and prosciutto, some more chopped basil, a drizzle of EVO and a dash of pepper.

Friday, July 10, 2015

don't let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears ... presumably because if he knew he would keep them for himself

Fagottini Croccanti di Parmigiano e Pera
If there's one thing I could never say no to, that's cheese. Even more so, if the cheese I refer to, is Parmigiano Reggiano. Open my fridge and you'll always find a piece and another one tucked away...just in case. 

So, when I was invited to take part in this year's contest, PR Chef 4Cooking, I said YES, and I thought I'd participate the only way I enjoy it most, by enhancing the flavour of a prime quality ingredient using as less as possible.  Which is no more than the message used to promote the contest "excellence is obtained by removing, not adding".  

In Italy they say, don't let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears ... presumably because if he knew he would keep them for himself.  Whether the farmer knows or not, the combination of the two is how I participate in this contest.
Crunchy Bites of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pear - Fagottini Croccanti di Parmigiano e Pera

1) Parmigiano Reggiano, aged at least 12 months, cubed in small pieces
2) Pear, sweet and firm, cubed in small pieces
3) Fillo dough in sheets
4) Honey

semi seeds to garnish (spices are not considered an ingredient for this contest)
vegetable oil for frying

Preheat a frying pan with vegetable oil. In the middle of a fillo sheet, place a parmigiano cube and a pear cube of the same size. Roll and wrap the fill sheet around the cubes to form a parcel.  Seal the ends with your fingers previously damped in water.  Deep fry the parcels until golden brown.  When done, place them on a paper towel to remove any excess of frying oil. Serve warm covered with honey and some extra on the side.  Sprinkle toasted semi seeds on top for an extra crunch.

1) Parmigiano Reggiano, stagionato 12 mesi, tagliato in piccoli cubi
2) Pera, di qualità dolce e soda, tagliata in piccoli cubi
3) Pasta fillo
4) Miele

-Semi di sesamo per guarnire (questo non è un ingrediente visto che è permesso l'uso aggiuntivo
delle spezie)
-Olio di semi per friggere

Preriscaldare una padella per fritture con dell'olio di semi.  Mettere al centro di un foglio di pasta fillo un cubo di parmigiano reggiano ed un cubo di pera della stessa misura. Avvolgere i cubi con la pasta fillo così da formare un piccolo pacchetto regalo.  Sigillare l'estremità della pasta fillo con le dita inumidite con dell'acqua.  Friggere i pacchetti di parmigiano e pera fino a doratura.  Quando sono pronti, ritirarli dall'olio e metterli su di un panno di carta assorbente per rimuovere l'olio in eccesso.  Servire caldi e ricoperti di miele.  Finire cospargendoli con i semi di sesamo.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

come with me

I watch and I wait. I wait and I watch so much that even the most imperceptible change is detected. Suddenly a tiny green leaf makes its way through the earth and sprouts right before my eyes.  Radishes, beets, chard, onions, cabbage, many edible flowers are gathered in one big white pot on top of my kitchen counter.  Each day they get stronger, taller, wider and what was barely a handful of seeds has become a mini vegetable garden.  It's almost a pity to take it away from that spot where I would pay my daily visit with nature and its beauty.  No matter how you see it, la vita è bella, life is beautiful.

In our backyard we have a small space where we grow our vegetables and at the far end, in a corner of that space, is a shake, a wretched wooden shake that barely holds together.  A few years ago while we were preparing the garden for the season my son stopped what he was doing, grabbed a bucket of white paint and brushed these words on its door.

Facta non Verba.

Yes, there's lots of hard work to maintain a vegetable garden, especially if your life is a busy one that doesn't allow too much time for things you love to do most. But, if you have a passion nothing stops you.  There's no, I'll do it tomorrow, I don't have the time.  It's done because you love it.  Actions speak louder than words.  I think this sums up the sentiment well enough.
...and then there's another aspect.  There's a tastier take on food, if not only for the fact, that you've grown your own.

So this is what I've been up to lately.  From garden to table.
radishes, salad, dressings etc
radishes, salad, dressings etc
chardradishes, salad, dressings etc

This first dish, is a Bass fillet with radish cream.  The recipe comes from Chef Cannavacciolo, if you don't know who he is, click on his Facebook page here.  Picture a giant robust man, with huge hands that are the most delicate I've ever seen.  In simple clean moves he puts together a dish that is out of this world.  I saw him making this dish on TV and on that same day, I went out, bought some fresh fish, and made our lunch in just a blink of an eye.  Of course, I had plenty of radishes so I used the best, they come from my garden.

Bass Fillet with Radish Cream

1 bass fish, filleted - divided in 4 pieces.
6 radishes
250 gr Plain white organic yogurt
EVO (extra virgin oil)
maldon salt to garnish

To make the cream, peel the red of the radishes and blend with yogurt until smooth.  Add a couple of tbsp of EVO and salt to taste.  Mix by hand with a spoon.

Place the radish cream in each serving dish.

Pan cook the fillet fish by rubbing some EVO on both sides of the fillet.  Preheat a non stick pan and place the fish skin side down, press the fish fillet with two finger for just 3 seconds, let it cook for 7 more seconds and flip it over delicately so that the skin doesn't remain on the surface of the pan.  Cook for another 10 seconds until the fish is cooked through but remains moist.

Place the fish on the cream radish, garnish with a radish, a drizzle of EVO and some maldon salt.


Salad Dressing

2 small spring onions, sliced finely
1 tbsp apple vinegar
3 tbsp EVO
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt to season

Mix all ingredients and let stand for 15 minutes so flavours amalgamate.  Dress your salad just before serving.



4 tbsp of EVO
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 anchovy fillets

Rinse the anchovies from the salt and remove the fillets from the fishbone. Finely slice the anchovies, place them in a bowl and add the lemon juice.  Help yourself with a fork to dissolve the anchovies with the juice.  Add the oil and let stand for 15 minutes.  Place the dressing-dip in a bowl and serve next to any fresh raw vegetables you have available.

*Your vegetables would be more crunchy if you let them sit in some ice and water for just a few minutes before serving.


Red Chard Bruschetta

Red Chard (or Radish greens)
2 garlic cloves
sliced bread

Rinse clean the chard leaves.  Preheat a pan, add 2 tbsp EVO and 1 whole garlic clove.  Allow the garlic to golden and remove it from the pan.  Add a couple of handfuls of chard leaves to the pan and allow the leaves to cook for about 15 minutes until they are tender.  Add some salt to taste.

Toast some bread slices, preferably on the barbecue so they get a smoked flavour. Lightly rub the bread with the garlic and place the pan fried chard on top.  Scoop up some liquids that are in the pan and drizzle over the bruschetta.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Neapolitan Gateau

Neapolitan Gateau
Believe it or not, the last time I made this cake was at least 20 years ago.

I'll never forget the moment I unlocked the spring form pan and the cake slowly collapsed right before my eyes.  It was a total disaster.  Lory, my accomplice of mishaps, certainly remembers as clearly as I do.  All I have to say is "strawberry cake" and it will trigger a big fat 15 minute laugh, with no refrain to tears and sore cheek muscles. It's one of those stories that remain in the family, even if there's really no story, it's just the whole thing about it that makes it the tale of the strawberry cake.

20 years later.
Neapolitan Gateau
My 2nd attempt.

This time the cake didn't collapse but the taste was different from mom's. She must have adapted the recipe because the one I remember was less sweet and without the chocolate finish on top, the sponge wasn't so soggy either.  There were a couple of things I needed to change to make it more mom's strawberry cake and less Carol Bink's Neapolitan Gateau.

3rd attempt.

Mom's adaptions are not noted on her recipe book. I know I won't stop making this cake until I get it right.


The result is delicious.  I'm still far from figuring out mom's secret touch but I think I'll leave it that way.

Here's the original Carol Bink's Neapolitan Gateau from my mother's recipe book.  My adaption is right below.  You choose which one you prefer.
My Adaption:

For the base, I used 2 cups of regular tea biscuits, 1 heap tablespoon of good quality cocoa powder and 1/2 cup of melted butter.

For the strawberry custard, I omitted the addition of the eggs both yolks and meringue.  I simply made a strawberry puree, added 3 tablespoons of sugar (because I found some very sweet strawberries that didn't need the addition of too much sugar, otherwise you can use the amount from the recipe above), whipped cream and gelatin powder.

I soaked the sponge with milk.  I also tried it with a lemon juice syrup (dissolve and reduce over low heat 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of lemon juice).  I don't mind the liqueur either but if you have kids in the family the other two options are better.

For the rest, I followed the recipe above.

Sponge Cake
6 eggs
200 gr flour
170 gr sugar

Beat the egg whites with sugar for 20 minutes, using an electric mixer.  Add egg yolks and beat well, then add flour.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 40 minutes.

Friday, April 10, 2015

the risottare method for a puttanesca pasta

The trick you need to know to make a Puttanesca pasta taste great is the same trick you need to know to make almost every pasta taste great.  The method is called risottare, which comes from risotto. 
Risottare is not the same thing as mantecare or sautéing.  Risottare, allows the sauce to penetrate the pasta, it literally gets into it.  Flavours amalgamate turning a simple puttanesca pasta into something that goes way beyond any verbal description.  You need to try it, to understand what I mean.  

Cook the pasta as you would a risotto.

The pot of water is boiling.  The puttanesca sauce is almost ready.  Butta la pasta (throw the pasta in the pot).  

Cook the pasta half the time required.  The package will indicate how much time it takes to cook it al dente. 15 minutes?  Set your timer to 7.

Don't drain the pasta but use something, like a pasta fork or a hand colander, so that you can pull it up from its water. Keep the pot with the liquid handy.  The pasta now goes straight into the pan where the puttanesca sauce is waiting to receive it. Turn on the heat and add a couple of ladles of the pasta's liquid in the pan.  Allow the pasta to absorb the liquid by flipping and tossing the pasta. As you would with a risotto.  Repeat the process until the pasta is cooked al dente (your timer is set to 7 minutes, remember?).
Puttanesca Sauce

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 anchovies, drained and finely chopped
2 whole garlic cloves
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
100 grams taggiasche olives (buy them with the pit and remove the pits yourself, they contain more flavor)
a few fruit capers (rinsed and drained)
dried chilli flakes
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)

Add the extra virgine olive oil into a large sauce pan.  Add the garlic cloves and cook for about 3 minutes, remove the garlic from the pan.  Add the anchovies and let them dissolve in the oil with the help of a wooden spoon.  Add the olives and chilli flakes.  Now raise the heat on the stove and add the canned tomatoes.  Don't squish the tomates, leave the tomatoes whole. Turn the tomatoes so they can cook on all sides.  The high heat allows the tomatoes to caramelize but will also make a mess on your stove, it is, however, a necessary step for taste and worth cleaning up afterwards. 

Lower the heat and cook no more than ten minutes stirring every now and again.

Cook your pasta using the risottare method mentioned above.