Sunday, 2 August 2015

Bitter & Toasted

Crostini con Cicoria Saltata con Pancetta & Semi di Finocchio
Wild Chicory, Sautéed with Bacon & Fennel Seeds on Toast

 

Well, normally I may not have spooned my greens onto a slice of toast, or a toasted roll, to enjoy them, I would probably picked at them from a plate and had a little bread to accompany them, you know? As one does , down in The Old Country, come evening time... But I'm a rebel at heart! And so that's what I did this evening!

All silliness aside, it is quite normal and especially in the summer months traditional, to cook up some greens to be enjoyed cold, along with maybe some olives and cheese or salted meats in the evening... With a little bread and a glass of wine, that's what you call supper!


 

Italians love bitter greens... Sicilians and Pugliese do especially... And I of course love them too! How about you?

I think it's a shame sometimes, that people are not more inquisitive, curious and plain eager to try out vegetables they are not familiar with!

Italian wild chicory, "cicoria" or "catalogna" as it is sometimes known, is a rich, bittersweet and complex flavor... A vegetable for grown-ups and a staple of Southern Italy. I think I already mentioned that I love it, no?

 

This evening, I prepared 1 small head of very young and tender chicory, with 1 shallot, a handful of finely diced bacon, a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a little salt, pepper and olive oil. Back to basics, plain and simple but flavorful and delicious and just plain GOOD food!

 
 
By adding a little bacon and shallot, I added of course some great savory depth of flavor as well as a welcome touch of sweetness... And by adding the fennel seed, also, a wonderful taste and aroma, but at the same time, something to ease the digestion and increase the enjoyment- which is important, because it's important to eat them... They are so good for you!

 

Simply slice up the shallot and chop the chicory into bite-sized pieces... No fussing or fancy stuff necessary here... We are making real food and not messing about! It's all about the taste!

 

Begin by sautéing the bacon, shallot and fennel seeds together in a non-stick pan with no added oil, just until the shallot begins to turn translucent and the bacon has rendered most of its own fat.


 

Next, add the greens, still wet from rinsing, season with salt and pepper, stir through once and pop in the lid. Allow to cook and steam away for 5-10 minutes... It all depends on how tender the stalks are... Or are not!  

 

Keep stirring and tossing the greens until all of the water/juices have evaporated away, and basically, until the bacon bits begin to get crispy again.

Once it is done, you can pop the lid back in and set the greens to one side... They can then continue to steam a little in the residual heat and then cool down until you are ready to prepare and eat them later.

Of course you can also eat them hot... But that's not what I did this evening!


 

Once they are properly cool, taste again to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary and add some fresh, raw olive oil before serving... It makes all the difference!


Not your typical sandwich or snack is it? But them I'm not your typical guy, either! And in my book... Different is always something worth trying... Life's too short NOT to!


This and a glass of wine, or a cold beer... Is all you need sometimes. It really is. Italian food is not always about those big meals... In real life, people down south are content with a lot less... And I like that. Because so am I.

Different Little Fruit & Nut Cakes!

Fritelle Dolce di Albicocca & Ricotta, con Rosmarino, Miele & Pistacchi
Apricot & Rosemary & Ricotta Pancakes with Honey & Pistachio

 

It was Sunday morning, and it just had to be pancakes! I woke up with a craving for them and I knew that nothing else would do... And so what was I to do, other than get myself into the kitchen and make some?!?

Of course, it has to be a slight break from the norm when I make ANYTHING, and so this morning, being as I had some lovely ripe apricots just begging for it, and a last few sprigs of rosemary eager to oblige... Who was I to stand in their way?


 

My favorite thing about preparing these little sweet dishes that I make on a Sunday morning is that it is amazing how little work and ingredients... And sinning... It takes to make something that is a real treat... Like this!

Just a little honey and the natural sweetness of the apricot is enough to make thes lovely little pancakes- and with a hint of herb and spice and a sprinkle of pistachio... All I can say is, who needs any more than that?


 

 To make 6 little pancakes for myself, all I needed was: 4 apricots, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta, 2 tablespoons of flor, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, a little rosemary, honey and butter... And around 20 minutes time and a frying pan.

 

Simple, yet special... And then so easy... I just know that you want to try them! And if you don't... Then I don't know what's the matter with you!!! Haha, don't mind me... I just want for you to have a nice breakfast- don't hate me for that!

 

Get ready and pay attention, because there is a lot of complicated work involved in preparing these things... Not!!!

Really... All that I did here was to remove the stones from the 3 apricots and add them, together with the egg, 2 tablespoons each of flour and ricotta, the baking powder and cinnamon, about a tablespoons-worth of freshly plucked rosemary and a tablespoon of honey into the blender, and whizz them together for a couple of minutes.

Done.


 

The good thing is, the batter needs to sit for 5-10 minutes, so you can do your washing up in the meantime... And if you are really into multi- tasking, slice up the other apricot to serve on top in a little while...

 

All you need to do now is to fry your little pancakes up... Don't have too much butter in your pan, don't have too high a temperature and let them gently sizzle until you see faint bubbles rising to the surface.

 

Flip them over carefully, repeat the same procedure with the remaining batter... And try not to drool!

These babies were just one heaped spoonful of batter each... You can make them larger if you prefer... But for me- these were just fine!


 
 
Serve with a generous sprinkle of ground pistachio, some fresh apricot slices and a drizzle of honey... And start your day with the biggest and brightest smile ever!

 

It doesn't take much, it doesn't take long, you'll be glad you did it... And you will do it again! Word!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Griddle Me This!

Fettina di Manzo allo Salmoriglio con Fiori di Zucca & Bulgur Turco
Thinly Sliced Flank Steak with Salmoriglio Dressing & Turkish Bulgur with Zucchini Blossom

 

This is an absolutely classic, Sicilian, "secondo" or even a light meal in the summer... A very thin slice of flank steak, seared on a hot griddle and then richly dressed in tangy "salmoriglio"... A real, refreshing taste of summer!

And what about my side dish, to go with it this evening? And those possibly saddest looking zucchini blossom you have ever seen? Well, let me tell you a little story and explain to you what happened... Scroll on and find out!


 

Ok, before I begin, tell me what you think of this dish? Does it look tasty to you? I sure hope so- because it was!

The reason I ask and the sad story behind this little dish is this: when I bought them this afternoon, the zucchini blossom were possibly the loveliest, lushest and best that I have bought this year in any case. But it was hot here today and I don't own a car, so I ended up carrying them around with me as I went about my business this afternoon, which is what I usually do anyway.... But after 3 hours on the road, in temperatures of over 30C, well my poor, beautiful blossoms just wilted right down to nothing!

So what's a guy to do? Hmmm... Well this guy for sure was not about to throw them away! I figured that had I cooked them, they would have wilted down all the same... so I simply changed my plans of stuffing them and thought up a new dish instead. One thing I will never, ever do is waste good food! And those blossoms, although they were wilted, still had good flavor- and of course those still perfect little zucchini connected to them... And that was good enough for me!


 

Well, here you can see how small those tiny zucchini were, in relation to that lemon... And indeed to the parsley that is lying next to them... But the smaller they are, the better they taste!

So for my dish I had my single slice of very thinly cut flank steak, but I have to say that those 10 little zucchini so and blossom ended up making an ample side-dish for 2 by simply adding 1 cupful of Turkish bulgur to them, which I spiced up with a little sumac. For the salmoriglio, I needed dried oregano, fresh parsley, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, salt, sugar and pepper.

And to eat everything up... I needed no help at all... That just took care of itself really easily!


 

You may have noticed that it is not often that I post meat dishes, which is not because I don't like it, but because I simply do not need it every day... Or even every week! I don't eat it just for the sake of it, I like to do something a little different to it when I prepare it too! Like this!

This dish reminds me of my childhood... And I have to admit, I didn't really appreciate how wonderful it was back then- except for the salmoriglio which I always loved... And which is the star of the show here in any case!


 

I cut the zucchini in half lengthways and removed the stamen from inside the blossoms, I finely chopped the zest of the lemon, although grating would have been an alternative and I finely chopped the parsley.

That took care of all of the really hard work.  


 

To prepare them, I simply heated some olive oil, added them, seasoned with salt, pepper and a little sumac, added a little of the lemon zest and then tossed them for a minute or two until they were nicely coated.

 

I then added the bulgur, which as you can see was that awesome, Turkish stuff with the toasted vermicelli in the mix and tossed that through also.

 

I deglazed the pan with boiling water, adding enough to just cover the bulgur, stirred it through, turned the heat down low and let it simmer away for around 5 minutes... And in the meantime I prepared the salmoriglio and the steak!

 

By the time the steak is finished... Meaning in just 5 minutes... The bulgur and zucchini will be perfect like this!

 

You will need 1 minute or less to stir together your salmoriglio! To the juice of 1 lemon, I added the zest of about 1/3rd of the lemon, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, about the same amount of fresh parsley, 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

 

And that very thinly sliced steak goes onto a very, very hot grill for just 2 minutes from each side! As soon as the meat changes color and is slightly seared, it is good to grind generously with pepper and to flip over onto the other side!


What I then like to do is to serve up the meat, but to spoon the salmoriglio into the pan and deglaze it, then pour it back into a bowl with all of the added flavor of the meat juices... And THEN and only then is it done!

 

So, as unusual a combination as this may be... Let me just tell you how perfect it is! The salmoriglio is super-tangy and refreshing, but the sweet zucchini with that touch of sumac is also pleasantly sweet and sour, which makes for a great contrast to the steak... Oh yes, you might well like it!

 

Have a little taste and tell me what you think...

Friday, 31 July 2015

Bananarama!

Banana Rossa con Sesamo, Zenzero & Miele
Healthy Red Banana with Sesame, Ginger & Honey

 

Remember back in the 70's, when you first tried the deep-fried bananas at your local Chinese restaurant and they seemed so exotic, but we're so totally decadent and delicious? Yeah, I can to! And they were indeed, yummy in the extreme!

But at the same time, we all know that we don't need to be eating that kind of fatty and overly rich food... So we do without, right? Wrong! We use some smarts and make something equally as delicious without any of the guilt or conscience, right? Right!


 

You can do the same thing with any kind of banana of course, I just happened to have this incredibly pretty red banana given to me by my lovely colleague Annette today... Thanks so much! It turned out to be super-delicious!

 

You can't get any more minimal than this! All you will nedd is a banana, any kind, a little sesame, a little ginger, a little honey and a little time! No fat, no batter, just the pure, intense flavor of the banana, with that hint of ginger and a touch of honey and sesame... It's all you need!

 

Just 1 good teaspoon of honey is all it will take to make the most of the bananas natural sweetness and aroma, the sesame adds depth and the ginger adds spice... Less is more! And it means you can have more and more and more of it too!

 

Peel and halve your banana and press each half into sesame seeds to get them nicely coated. Cut a few thin slices of ginger, ready to add to the frying pan and get ready to rumble!

 

Pop the bananas and the ginger into a dry pan, on a medium heat and toast them on each side for 2-3 minutes. After that time, add a little splash of water, flip once more and allow to carry until all the moisture has evaporated away again and the sesame begins to brown again... Just 2-3 minutes.

 

No fat... No problem! I learned a similar method to this from an old Thai colleague... And have to say that the result is pretty phenomenal!

 

There is no need for any more richness, sugar or spice right here- it is what it is... And it is mighty fine!

 

Excuse me for just a second, dear readers... I think I am going to pop into the kitchen and make myself another!

Fusion- No Confusion!

Insalata di Vermicelli di Riso con Olive Cinese, Pomodorini & Salsa Thailandese
Rie Vermicelli Salad with Chinese Olives, Cherry Tomatoes & Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

 

Quick, light, refreshing, easy and totally different are all words that I love to be connected with my food- how about you?

This was a spur of the moment, improvised little dish- and what do expect on a Friday evening? Necessity breeds creativity after all... And I had nothing left in the fridge and was in need of a feed! Thankfully, just 20 minutes later, this was ready and I was happy! Just like you will be too!!


 

Basically, if you can boil water, you can prepare this dish! There is no real cooking involved... Which is one more reason to love it... As well as the great flavor it has of course!

You may or may not be familiar with Chinese, preserved olives... If you are, you will surely love them... If you're not... You better get down to the Asian supermarket real fast and fall in love with them! And whilst you are at it, you might want to pick up another couple of simple ingredients if you don't already have them at home... Read on and find out!



For one good portion of this salad, you will need, surprise-surprise, 1 portion of rice noodles (brown in this case), 5-6 cherry tomatoes, a couple of slices of ginger, about 1 tablespoon of preserved Chinese olives, fresh mint, parsley and basil and a little soy sauce for seasoning, sesame oil for dressing and sweet Thai chili sauce for extra flavor.

Simple stuff that you should always have at home... Trust me!


 

Tossed together, you will have the refreshing Mediterranean flavor of tomato, parsley and basil, combined with the rich flavor of the Chinese olives, which are such a pleasant change to our own and the sweet Thai chili sauce... You'll be surprised at how well they go together!

 

The only cooking you will need to do is to boil a couple of slices of ginger in some water for around 10 minutes, to infuse it with flavor, before adding the vermicelli to soak.

Whilst they soak and "cook", you will have more than enough time to slice up your tomatoes and chop your herbs... That's all the work there is to it!


 

The Chinese olives that you can find in the jar at your Asian supermarket are usually a combination of both the olive itself and the leaves, chopped up, shredded and fermented a little... They are mild, smooth-tasting... A little hard to describe... But I have yet to encounter one person who didn't instantly fall in love with them! Trust me... You will too!

 

After 10 minutes or so, the vermicelli will be good and can be drained off. Whilst they are still hot, add about a tablespoon of the chopped olives, the finely chopped mint and parsley and some sesame oil. Stir through thoroughly and season with a little soy sauce.


Make sure everything is thoroughly mixed, so that all of those great, subtle flavors get combined and soaked-up into the noodles.

 

Serve with the chopped Tomatoes and finely sliced basil, add a good drizzle of Thai sweet chili sauce to taste... And prepare yourself for how good something so simple can taste!

 

You can enjoy healthy meals, sill have fun and not have to feel you are missing out on anything... It's easy when you know how!