Friday, 28 August 2015

Who's Bean Stirring Things Up?

Riso Fritto "Sichuan" con Calamaretti "Ananas", Peperone & Cetriolo
Sichuan Fried Rice with Pineapple Squid, Pepper & Cucumber


Ok people, this is another of my Friday night specials! And that means... That as usual, there was almost nothing left in my fridge and so I had to get creative!

Fortunately, I still had a few tricks up my sleeve... Or jars in the cupboard and squid in the freezer to be more precise!

The squid are always terrific of course, but the star of the show was this wonderful Chinese bean paste... Please don't ask me the original name, I can only tell you what the translation of the shelf was and what the nice lady at the store told me... But let me tell you this much... It's a message you will enjoy because it is all about great flavor!

This was set on the shelf with the simple translation, "spicy red bean paste", which although it sounded like a good thing in itself, did not really tell me what it would taste like.

But the assistant kindly explained to me that it is a blend of broad beans, garlic, ginger, Sichuan pepper corns and sesame oil... Which suddenly made it sound a whole lot better! What made it better still was the fact that the beans were fermented and therefore packed a salty, rich, umami punch... And so, sure- supper was already a safe bet!


So, what else did I have in the fridge, ingredient-wise? Not much, as I already said! As you can see, other than my 4 frozen "pineapple squid", I had 1 red pepper, 2 spring onions, 1/2 of a cucumber and a little parsley... And in my cupboard, I had the bean paste, some sesame oil, Thai sweet chili sauce, soy sauce... And thankfully, a good cupful of rice, to turn these other ingredients into a meal!

Not really knowing exactly how to make the best use of the bean paste, I did a couple of quick searches online...

And lo and behold, right up there amongst the most frequent posts, were recipes using it in combination with cucumber! Ha! Once I saw that, of course I threw caution to the wind and just started cooking, suddenly filled with the confidence that everything would work out fine... And do you know what? It did!!!

The first thing to do is to get your rice boiling and to set your steam rack on top of it, so that you can put the squid on top and let them steam whilst the rice cooks! Boil the rice for 10 minutes with the lid on and after that time, remove the squid, set it to one side to cool and replace the lid to the saucepan. Let the rice sit and continue cooking/steaming from the residual heat in the saucepan.

And in the meantime, remove the seeds from the cucumber and the pepper and cut them, along with the spring onions, into small, bite-sized pieces.

Once the squid is cool enough to touch, cut each one into 3-4 bite-sized pieces.


Fry the squid and the pepper first, in just a little sesame oil, at a high heat, so that they begin to brown nicely, then add the spring onion and a good tablespoon of the red bean paste. Stir everything together well and take a peek into that little saucepan of rice... Is it good yet? Cool! Excellent! Let's go!

Now, last of all before adding the rice, as they require the least cooking, add the cucumber slices and season with a dash of soy sauce.


After 2-3 minutes, add your rice and a little more sesame oil and stir-fry together until everything is nicely mixed and coated by the bean paste and all of the good flavors in the pan.


I didn't have any cilantro at home, some a good sprinkle of fresh and finely chopped parsley had to do... that and just 1-2 tablespoons of sweet Thai chili sauce and a light drizzle of hoisin before serving were the last finishing touches... Before I could finally sit down and enjoy!


Very simple, with very simple flavors... But if they are simply good flavors... Then what more do you need to enjoy? Nothing!!!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Twisted Temptress!

Pasta alla Puttanesca
"Whores Pasta" with Tomatoes, Capers, Black Olives, Garlic, Chili & Parsley


First things first this evening-I want you to all know how much I love my mom. But now to the import at part of this message... A word of warning to those of you out there that love YOUR moms too... Don't talk to them on the phone when you are making this dish! Otherwise you might get sidetracked, like I did, and forget o add one of the most important ingredients... Like I did !!!

Anchovies are one of the main ingredients in this dish and I could kick myself for having fetched them out and then STILL having forgotten them... And it would have been better with them for sure... But was still pretty delicious even without! So... Mom! I love you! And everyone else... Don't forget to add your anchovies!


There are many theories as to why exactly this dish is named "pasta in the style of a whore", but chances are that it is because it is so quick and easy to make, that it can easily be put together in-between clients visits...

And maybe also because it is a very 'saucy' tasting dish too! This is flat-out temptation with little time for subtlety! And that's just my style! Hehe!


Yes, yes, I know there could be a caption here, asking "which is the missing ingredient?", so let's begin with that one. You will need anchovies! There- I've said it! Now could we please move on? I am already embarrassed enough as it is!

For 2 portions of pasta, you will need 2-3 anchovies, 1 clove of garlic, 1 shallot, 9-10 cherry tomatoes, 5-6 black olives, 1 tablespoon of capers, 1 tablespoon of tomato purée, plenty of parsley, salt, pepper, chili flakes and olive oil... It's as simple as that! Use your pasta of choice and grate with Parmesan, Grana or in my case with salted ricotta... And you have a meal on your hands (or your plates!), that is so seductive, it would make a whore blush!


Here it is, in all of its juicy, naked, seductive glory... You know you want it!

Whilst your pasta water is coming up to the boil, start frying your finely chopped garlic and shallot (or onion if you prefer) in plenty of olive oil, with a good pinch of chili flakes.


Once the shallot has become translucent and the garlic has slightly begun to brown, add the cherry tomatoes, diced and the olives, also roughly diced and season with pepper... And salt in this case- otherwise, this is when you should add your anchovies!

Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes and then pop in your pasta to boil, before carrying on with the sauce.


Once the tomatoes have softened up and reduced down, add the tomato purée and the capers and stir them into the mix too, for a further 3-4 minutes.

After the pasta has boiled for 5 minutes or so, drain off most of the water, but transfer it to the frying pan with plenty enough to well cover the base, so that it will both deglaze all of the good flavors in there, but also be sufficient to finish the cooking process for a further 2-3 minutes.


After 2-3 minutes of stirring in the pan, the water will have reduced down with the purée and the tomatoes and turned them into a nice, saucy, delicious and rich coating for the pasta. All you need to do now is add a generous pinch of parsley, a last drizzle of olive oil, to give it a good stir or toss through... And to serve it up, piping hot!


And if you can resist the temptation that I am presenting to you here boys and girls,,, then I suppose you are much holier a man than I! I mean... I would just jump into that dish, head-first, with a fork and think of the old country! And enjoy!


To make things complete, a scattering of rich and salty ricotta and a last toss to get all of those flavors combined... And the reckless abandon ensues!


...and it may be a little spicy, it may be a little naughty, but it is also very, very nice indeed! Go on, have a bite... No one needs to know...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Boats & Bites & Greens!

Barchette di Pizza con Cicoria, Ricotta Fresca & Cippolini in Agrodolce
Little Pizza-Dough Boats, filled with Wild Chicory, Fresh Ricotta & Sweet & Sour Spring Onions


Snack-time, party-time, supper time... Any time is a good time to make these wonderful little bites of Southern-Italian scrumptiousness!

These lovely-looking bite-size bread snacks are made in next to no time, using my frying-pan method... And the bitter greens and ricotta-onion topping, make for a great, "grown-up" snack that is a perfect accompaniment for an early evening drink...or two... Or more...


They look great, don't they? They taste great too! And no one would suspect that they are simply made from plain-old store bought pizza dough!

That already means they will be easy to make, but the fact that they will be done in just 15 minutes makes them even better still! Because in those 15 minutes, you can easily boil up your greens and get those spring onions all tangy and tasteful and 15 minutes after that, when everything is nice and cool, you can whip everything quickly together and enjoy!


So, what did I need apart from my roll po pizza dough, to make these 10 tasty treats? Not much and that's for sure! Lets see... 1 bunch of wild chicory, or 2 small ones in this case as it was very young and tender, 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 shot glass of balsamic vinegar, around 2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil. Told you I didn't need much!


It's the bitter greens that make this so special, but if you are not keen on the bitter flavor, or can not get Italian wild chicory where you live, you could make the same thing with regular spinach or Swiss chard.


First things first, turn in your oven to get it hot and start boiling the chicory, cut down into slightly smaller lengths to make it easier to handle, in just a little water, with a nice pinch of salt. Bring it to a rolling boil and then when it begins to wilt-down, press it beneath the waters surface and reduce tit heat to a low simmer. You won't need to check in on this again until those little bread rolls are done!

Unroll your dough, cut it down the middle length-ways and then into small pieces of an equal size... Mine were about 3" wide and 4" long.

Next, roll-over each of the long edges, Sk that you have a nice rim on each side to hold your filling later.


And then simply pinch and slightly twist each end together, nice and tightly, with a little twist, just to be sure!


Give the base of your little pizza dough "boats" a few pricks with a fork, to stop them puffing up and then pop them into your frying pan to "bake" from below for 3-4 minutes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, then brush this all over the surface and sprinkle with coarsely ground sea salt.

After 3-4 minutes, transfer the pan to a hot oven, at the highest setting,for 5-10 minutes, then give them an extra 5 minutes under the broiler to give them a nice deep, golden crust.


Perfect and simple as can be! All they need to do now is to cool off!


To prepare the spring onions, cut them into lengths of around 2" and the cut them into strips length-ways. Put into a saucepan with just enough boiling water to cover them, add a good pinch of salt and boil for 5 minutes.


After 5 minutes, when the water is all but boiled away, add the balsamic vinegar and repeat the process, boiling it down until it is almost all reduced away again, the. Add the honey and turn off the heat. Stir in the honey, using only the residual heat in the saucepan to melt it down and cook it into the onion. Make sure you have the heat turned off so that the honey does not accidentally begin to turn bitter... Sweet and sour is good... But you don't need any more bitterness than that of the greens!


Speaking of which, by now, they can be drained, rinsed under cold water, then wrung-out completely and then finely chopped, ready for serving. Season with a pinch of salt, plenty of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and you are ready to go!


Spoon out the greens first, the add a little ricotta to the top of each one and season with a good grind of black pepper. And all you need to do now is to add a touch of those sweet and sour onions to each one and you are ready to enjoy! You can't get any easier than that!

Now... Where's my drink?

Monday, 24 August 2015

Green Goodness!

Lasagna al Cavolo Romanesco & Pomodoro Secco
Lasagna with Romanesco Cauliflower & Sun-Dried Tomatoes


It's been a cold, rainy, dark and dismal start to the week this Monday, I can tell you! And especially this evening when I got home, freezing cold and soaking from the rain, I felt pretty miserable and in need of some warmth and comfort!

So I invented this little creation, which took a little preparation, but which then rewarded me by taking care of itself for 45 minutes, whilst I lay back in a bath and relaxed! All in all a great idea, I'd say!

Lasagna is always a real treat, but this one was a little different... Of course! It was me that made it after all!

One great thing about this dish, is that all of the preparation takes place in one pan- a frying pan for that matter!

I wanted to put my lovely little romenesco cauliflower to good use this evening and thought of this way, to cook it in a makeshift bechamel sauce and to use that as the filling for my lasagna. So, yes, this was vegetarian, a little lighter, a lot different... but still every bit as delicious and comforting as the classic dish!


The ingredients you are going to need are these, listed here... The quantities will vary depending on the size of your cauliflower I suppose! This was a small one, just the size of a large grapefruit and perfect for one hungry guy- or 2 small portions. But luckily, this is one of those dishes where you only need to know the method and the rest will fall into place... You'll see!

So, I had my 1 little romenesco, 1 spring onion, 3-4 sun-dried tomatoes, 4 sheets of lasagna, a little butter, some Grana or Parmesan cheese, some milk and simply salt, pepper and nutmeg to season.


Although I neither used all of the butter, not went to all of the trouble, to make a "real" bechamel sauce, and although I used a reduced fat milk and made a much lighter version, the result was still creamy and delicious.

But because the romenesco, especially when cooked in a creamy sauce, would have been very mild in its flavor, I added tangy sun-dried tomatoes and plenty of nutmeg to shake things up a little! And the combination of the both worked really, really well!


To prepare the romenesco, I simply washed it, cut apart the separate "florets", sliced them in half and sautéed them with some finely chopped spring onion in a little butter.

The reason I so often used spring onions in my dishes is that being as I am only cooking for one, I simply do not need large amounts of onion a lot of the time and this avoids me having any waste or left overs... So sure, regular onion works fine here too!

Once the onion begins to brown slightly, deglaze the pan with milk, add a good pat of butter, season with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg and bring to the boil. Top up with boiling water until the romenesco is almost covered, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it bubble away for 15- 20 minutes.

In the meantime, turn in the oven to get it nice and hot and have a drink... Why not! You deserve it! (Or at least I did this evening!)


I then took a heaped teaspoon of flour and dissolved it with a little milk, adding it a bit at a time and stirring constantly so as to not create any lumps, then thinned this down with more milk until I had about 1 glassful, which I then added to the frying pan.

I stirred it in well, added a little more nutmeg, salt and pepper as necessary and kept stirring until it thickened to a nice creamy consistency.

Basically, if you have enough sauce to cover the romenesco, you will have enough sauce to cook your lasagna... That is the rule of thumb that I would use.


And then it is simply a matter of layering your pasta sheets with the romenesco and light, makeshift bechamel, to which you need to add the sun-dried tomatoes, grated cheese and pepper as you go...


Give each layer a squeeze down as you go, so that they get nicely moistened... I left them all nice and loose for my photo, to demonstrate the fact that I had 4 layers to mine!

Finish your lasagna off with a final sheet of pasta, plenty of the sauce in top and a generous amount of cheese, then cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake in a hot oven, at 180-190 C, for 45 minutes, then for a further 5 minutes under the broiler to become lovely and golden brown.

Make sure not to put you foil on top too tightly, to avoid it making contact with and sticking to the cheese that you have scattered on top.

Dare to be different and try something new! I do it every day and wouldn't want it any other way either!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

A Brazen Tart!

Torta Salata di Sfoglia in Padella, con Finferli, Feta & Salvia
Puff-Pastry Frying-Pan Tart with Chanterelles, Feta Cheese & Sage


I know people talk about me and my tarts- but that's ok! I know that secretly, they are only jealous! Haha! Now, I know I am being silly, but when it comes to tarts that make people happy, I'm your man! And mine are all sooo easy!

I made this fabulous little tart out of some delicious chanterelles, which I simply combined with a couple of sweet, spring onions and some feta cheese, with a hint of sage and nutmeg to give a full flavor and fine aroma. And yes, it was so wickedly and sinfully tasty that it would have made another tart blush!

And of course, using a little common sense, when it came to making a small tart that was just big enough for two, I used a little common sense and my 2 favorite short-cuts in the kitchen... I used a store-bought puff pastry for the crust and a frying pan to bake it in... Which I am sure you have by now already seen many times before on my blog.


Small but savory and delicious, this was a great way to make the most of those beautiful yellow chanterelles, bringing out all of their flavor to the most. Plus, it was a good way to use up the rest of the feta cheese that I opened up this morning.


First things first... That oven needs to be turned on and to be heated up, hot, hot, hot!

Next, cut the spring onions into bite-size pieces and fry together with the mushrooms and the sage leaves, for around 3-4 minutes until everything is very lightly coated in oil and the onions and mushrooms are about half-cooked.


Whilst the mushrooms cool off, take another frying pan, considerably smaller and cut out a circle of pastry that is large enough to overlap the edges by a couple of inches. Lay this into your pan and then crumble most of your feta cheese inside, sprinkle with a little finely chopped parsley and season with pepper and nutmeg.


And now, all you need to do of course is to add all of your other goodies on top!


Finish with a last, light sprinkle of feta and parsley and prepare to flip that pastry right back over!


Fold the edges of the pastry back over, without fussing or working too accurately- it's ok if this thing looks home-made after all! It can be our little secret that it's not!!

Begin by setting your frying pan onto the stove top, turning on the heat and getting things started for 3-4 minutes, before transferring it to the oven.

Bake in a hot oven at 180 C for 35-40 minutes until it is baked through and looking golden and delicious... Never mind smelling incredible as well!


And I'm sorry... You can criticize me if you must...but I think that a result like this makes any comments you may have about puff-pastry null and void!


But don't take my word for it! Here, grab this slice- it's for you! Take a bite and enjoy!