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! 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A Taste of Something New!

Tagliatelle con Melanzane, Pomodorini, Olive & Dragoncello
Tagliatelle with Eggplant, Cherry Tomatoes, Olives & Tarragon

 

You all know that I bought that bunch of tarragon on Saturday... And by Jimminy, I intend to get my money's worth out of it! Hehe!

The thing is, I love the aniseed-like flavor of tarragon and find it a little sad that we don't integrate it into more dishes and combine it with other ingredients... And so this evening, I tried out a new combination and used it in a pasta dish... Because being inquisitive and hungry at the same time calls for drastic action!



Eggplant, tomatoes and olives... Together with salted ricotta... A sure thing. With tarragon added? Hmmm... I was not so sure! But I was willing to give it a try! And after having done so... I have to say... That yes, it WAS a sure thing all along! Aromatic, tasty and ready in just 15 minutes! That's my kinda pasta dish!

 

And what do it take to make 2 lovely portions of pasta? Well... Obviously, pasta! Tagliatelle in this case... But otherwise, it took only 3 baby eggplants (or one small, regular eggplant), 1 small onion, 4-5 cherry tomatoes, a handful of black olives, a handful of fresh tarragon, salt, pepper, olive oil... And a little salted ricotta to grate it with at the end.

 


So few ingredients and yet such a rich and beautiful plate of ultra-delicious pasta! That's the beauty of Italian food... Less fuss-more flavor! And again... These pictures speak more than a thousand words! Keep looking, keep wanting... And then get cooking!


 

Cut the eggplants into bite-sized pieces, the cherry tomatoes into quarters, the olives in half and the onion into thin slices. Then get your water boiling for your pasta and start getting your frying pan hot for the rest!

 

Fry the eggplant and onion with a little olive oil until it starts to turn golden brown... 3-4 minutes. Then pop the pasta into the boiling water and let it cook for 5 minutes whilst you add the tomatoes and olives to the frying pan.


Add the olives, tomatoes and plenty of tarragon, season with salt and pepper and keep sizzling away until the pasta has boiled for 5 minutes... And then bring all of the ingredients together!

 

Add the pasta and plenty of the water it was boiling in and let it finish cooking in the frying pan, where it will deglaze the pan, pick up all of the good flavors that have been developing there... And soak them all up!


3-4 minutes later, when all of the water has been absorbed, along with all of the flavor... You will be rewarded with this amazing dish of flavorful pasta, ready to be grated with a little salted ricotta, to have a last grind of pepper added, a drizzle of oil and a few leaves of fresh tarragon to make it as pretty as it is tasty!

 

Stir it together a little, roll it up on your fork... Take a bite and feel like your in heaven! It's a simple as that!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Arabian Nights!

Carciofo Arabico, Ripieno di Couscous & Cotto nella Tagine
Arabian Stuffed Artichoke, with Couscous, Barberries & Ras el Hanout, from the Tajine

 

Supper time came around and I suddenly remembered that I had that lovely, big artichoke in the fridge, that had been waiting patiently since I brought it back home with me from the market hall on Saturday... And I hate for my food to be lonely, so I decided to introduce it to some other friends of mine... Couscous and barberries...

It was a crazy idea... But with plenty of herbs and spices to help them along... They soon became the best of friends! They became a great dish for me to enjoy... And to share with you, right here and right now!


 

You can impress someone with a beautiful bouquet of flowers on a date... Or you can just offer them ONE, big beautiful flower... And I am pretty sure which one would be swooned over more!

Roses are red and violets are blue- but when you're feeling hungry, only an artichoke will do!


 
 
One large artichoke, 4-5 tablespoons of couscous, 1 small onion, 2 tablespoons of barberries, 1 tablespoon of Ras el Hanout powder, 1 lemon, plenty of mint and parsley, salt, pepper and olive oil are what you are going to need to make this magical dish. As well as about an hours of your time... And ideally, a tajine to cook it in!

 

Of course you can make this in a regular saucepan, but I have a tajine and I am not afraid to use it! lol! Especially when it comes to steaming food, it is one of my favorite utensils... And it just seemed so fitting to use it to make this dish, with the oriental spice, couscous and barberries!

This is based on Italian stuffed artichokes of course, which are usually stuffed with bread crumbs... only I decided to see how it work using couscous as a stuffing instead... And as you can see in this picture... The result was pretty good!


 


Top, tail, trim and prepare the artichoke in the usual manner, removing the outer, lower leaves and trimming the others down with some kitchen scissors.

Loosen the leaves and open the artichoke up to reveal the inner, leaves, which although softer, do also have spiny ends, which I also snipped away with kitchen scissors. And then of course, there is plenty of "choke" in there that needs removing and I did that with a melon scooper. Once that was done, I rinsed it under the tap, rubbed it with lemon and set it to one side to prepare the filling.

Please forgive me for having somehow misplaced the photo of the preparation of the filling, but basically it consisted of the zest of half a lemon, finely chopped, along with the onion, mint and parsley, also finely chopped. These were added to the couscous, seasoned with salt and pepper and stirred together. Very, very easy indeed!


 

Loosen the leaves a little and simply spoon in the filling, from the outside- in. Once the artichoke is filled, squeeze with the juice of the lemon and drizzle generously with olive oil.

Pop the stuffed artichoke into your tajine or saucepan, add a few slices of lemon and add boiling water until it is half submerged. Bring to a gently rolling boil and then pop on the lid... And do not disturb for the next 45 minutes! Better still, if you can stand to wait, for an hour.


 

See how the water has all evaporated and how the couscous has more than doubled in size? That's the beauty of the tagine... It keeps all of that heat, steam and of course the aroma, trapped tightly inside- which means that you better be ready for that great aroma when you take off the lid!


Yes, I know that you know that I love artichokes... But my mission is to get everyone eating them too! Do you think this picture could help me to win people over with?!?!

 

After an hour of steaming, the leaves will be juicy and tender and coated with a lovely coating of spicy couscous! Yes, you may need finger bowl and yes, you will need another dish to discard the remains of the eaten leaves... But it is so much fun to eat and the aromatic couscous is so satisfying, those really are just minor details!

 
Rich with tangy, mildly spicy and fluffy couscous, this is an artichoke dish that will really satisfy in every way!

 

This is my idea of how cool finger food should look! And also of how it should taste as well! 

Small Wonderful

Albicocche alla Brace con Crema di Ricotta, Yogurt & Menta
Grilled Apricots with Ricotta, Yogurt & Mint Cream


I don't know about you, or your eating habits... I only know about mine and those of my family and friends... And usually, dessert is something of an exception, something for a special occasion. Usually, we have already eaten plenty of good stuff and simply can not manage anymore-lol!

But seriously, often, the thought of another dish, especially if it is going to be a rich and sugary one, is not always what people want. So, instead of forcing something onto my guests that might actually spoil their enjoyment of a good meal than enhance it, something small, like this is a perfect "sweet" ending to go with a nice espresso... Fresh and light and full of sunshine!



You can easily prepare the apricots in advance and whip these up in no time if you manage to convince those guests that don't want a full dessert... Or alternatively make the whole thing whilst they watch! This is a "simple as 1-2-3" kinda thing... And if you keep on scrolling, you will find out what those 1-2-3 things are!

 

To make these, you are going to need apricots, almonds, a little ricotta and yogurt, some fresh mint and a little honey to sweeten it with. For 10 apricots, I needed just s tablespoons each of ricotta and yogurt and there was plenty left to do a few more... It never ceases to amaze me just how little you need sometimes, to make the most wonderful things!


I thought it would be a nice addition, to place a toasted almond into the middle of each apricot in the place of the missing stone... Looks lovely, tastes great in combination and adds a yummy crunch to the whole affair.


Step one of course is to halve those apricots and remove the stones... This is also the time to take note of how juicy and firm they really are, so that you can grill them accordingly.


I placed mine onto a very hot griddle and slid them immediately to and fro in the direction of the ridges in the pan, so that they would slide along and sear and not simply stick. Do not grill them for too long... Apricots are delicate little things! Just 1-2 minutes at the most, until they have some slight scorch marks. Set to one side to cool and then toast the almonds whilst they do so. This will give them a chance to let the juices and sweetness that develop come to the surface... That is what the grilling does! It's a great way to bring out the natural sweetness and add a slightly caramelized flavor to the apricots... So simple yet so delicious!



Now it's time to whisk up that cream... Simply chop plenty of mint as finely as you can, whisk it into the ricotta and yogurt until smooth and add honey to taste. And yes, having a whisk that looks like a little tweety bird helps.


It is best to chill the cream and the apricots before serving... But probably you won't be able to wait...mat least that was the way it was for me today!  

 

And then of course it is simply a case of spooning a little of the minty cream onto the middle of each apricot and garnishing with a toasted almond... An occasional small sprig of mint here and there will brighten everything up and make it look pretty... But those 3 simple ingredients will taste excellent all by themselves! And one last thing... Yes, absolutely DO eat those leaves of mint! But for sure!


Guaranteed to put a smile on your face! So simple that... What's not to like? Go ahead and enjoy!