Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Pleasant Peasant Food!

Polenta, Cicoria, Fave, Scalogne & Paprika Affumicata
Polenta, Chicory, Fava Beans, Shallot & Smoked Paprika


Combine some steamy, coarse-ground, nutmeg-infused polenta, sweet shallot and fava beans with some bitter, wild chicory and then season them with intense, smoked paprika... and what have you got?

You have got one helluva tasty supper- that's what! Healthy, wholesome, satisfying and delicious and perfect for the most miserable night of the week so far... Ugh! Bring on that comfort, is what I say!


It's cheap and simple "peasant food" to be honest- no pretense, but lots of flavor... and no other "fancy-pants" food in the world would have made me feel better this evening- this was just the right thing for me!


This is another dish that is so simple, that it does not require accurate measurements in any way, or even have a real recipe as such- it is just a matter of combining the right ingredients- and here you can see them all in one pretty picture. The only thing you can't see is the vegetable broth I used to boil the polenta in, the milk that I added towards the end and the nutmeg that I grated into it... but the question of how much of each ingredient you will need? Well- that all depends on how hungry you are- haha!

My rule of thumb would be about 1 teacupful of polenta, 1 shallot, 1 handful of beans and 5-6 leaves of chicory for each serving.


The polenta I used, was the "Bramata" variety- really rough-cut, coarse and chunky, with lots of great texture and flavor... which takes a little bit longer to cook- but makes for a tasty, nice change and goes wonderfully with such a rustic meal.


So, yes, this will take about an hour to cook- but yes it is worth it! Fava, or broad beans, go so well with bitter chicory- ask any of my friends from Puglia!

That's why I made this- to be a variation on the well loved, puréed bean and chicory dish that is so well loved there and to give it a slightly different attitude... Well, what else did you expect, coming from me?


Being a lazy so-and-so, I decided to try to make this meal without needing to use loads of pots and pans, so I started off by squeezing the chicory into a small pan with just a little salted water, popping on the lid and let it steam away for 10 minutes, whilst I prepared the beans. See the gap in the middle? That's where I am going to cook the beans as soon as I am ready- why put yet another pan on the heat just for those few beans?

Shell the beans, remove the white skin on them and slice up the shallot. And whilst the chicory boils for a little while longer- boil up 2-3 cupfuls of vegetable stock, ready to add the polenta to.


After around 10-15 minutes of boiling the chicory, add the beans and let them boil for 5 minutes, before draining them and letting them cool for a while.


Add the polenta to the boiling broth, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it bubble away for 40-45 minutes. If you are using a finer ground, "regular" polenta, 20 minutes or so should do.


Whilst the polenta simmers, fry the shallot in a little olive oil until it becomes soft, brown and translucent- then set it to one side.


Next, add the fava beans and give them a quick stir-fry too, until they become nicely glazed and begin to brown slightly.


And last, but not least of course the chicory! Again- don't be afraid to give it a good blast of heat and let it become slightly brown too!

Set it to one side and pop on a lid to keep it warm.


By now, the polenta will be almost done and the time will have arrived to add a splash of milk and plenty of nutmeg- this will give it an almost Bechamel-like flavor, without adding any unnecessary fat. And yes- you can go ahead and use a low-fat milk- it's all good!

Once you have worked-in the milk, add the beans and the shallot and let them simmer together for a final 5 minutes until all of the flavors are nicely infused and you are ready to serve!


Serve the chicory on top of the polenta and finish everything with a good pinch or two of smoked paprika and a few last drops of raw olive oil.... delicious!


And on a cold Winter's night, let me tell you that this is indeed a tiding of comfort and joy... an edible and delicious one, too! 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

"Mexican" Eggs for a Chili Evening

Huevos Pibil
Eggs Poached in an Achiote-Pepper Sauce


I wouldn't claim for a second that this is a Mexican recipe... it can't be! Because I don't know how to cook Mexican food... and apart from that- I just made it up this evening!

And yet, it is simple, delicious, and packed with the great flavor of Achiote, which I decided to try out in combination with eggs this evening... and I am so glad that I did!


This is basically "eggs in purgatory"- although I made them rather spicy, with plenty of chili flakes... so that if I had made them a little more spicy, I could almost have called them "eggs in hell"- haha!


It didn't take much, to make a great meal! 2 eggs, 1 red pepper, 1 onion, 3-4 cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of achiote powder, 1 tablespoon of oregano, chili flakes to taste, a little fresh parsley and a little fresh thyme.


So rich and tasty- but immediately made milder as soon as the egg yolk mingles with the sauce! There are not many egg dishes that can compare to this- it is pretty egg-citing stuff!


Have some crusty bread or as I did some tortillas at the ready to soak up all of that saucy goodness!


All you need to do is to chop up your vegetables- I decided to leave mine a little chunkier for a little more texture.


Start off with the onion, achiote, oregano and chili and fry until it becomes translucent.

See what a wonderful color it becomes? I absolutely love this stuff!


Add the peppers and tomato, salt and pepper and give them a good sizzle for the next 3-4 minutes.


Cover well with boiling water, add thyme and allow to simmer gently for the next 15-20 minutes.


As you can see, after 20 minutes, a lot of the the water has evaporated away and it has rendered the tomato, pepper and achiote down into a nice sauce. If yours is still too liquid- fear not- simply add a little tomato paste... although, fortunately for me, mine wasn't- hehe! I wanted to avoid having too much of a tomato flavor, as I wanted my dish to taste different to regular "eggs in purgatory"... and speaking of eggs, the next step was to gently drop the eggs into the sauce.

Crack the eggs into a small cup or bowl and drop them in gently, close to the surface of the sauce, so that they do not spread out too much. Allow them to simmer in the sauce for 6-7 minutes, depending on how firm you prefer the yolk. Basically, I left mine in until all of the egg whites were completely opaque... nobody wants to eat runny egg-whites!


I put the lid on my saucepan to trap in the heat and make sure they cooked nicely from above, through the trapped steam... this makes them cook more quickly but will make the yolks "cloud over" a little... So I guess how you choose to cook yours will depend on how much of an aesthete you are and in how much of a hurry you are to eat!


But the bottom line is... that by the time you DO sit down to eat... you will be a very happy person! Because you will be enjoying THIS!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Simply Fruitiful!

Ricotta, Arancia Sanguine, Mirtilli, Miele, Menta & Pistacchio
Ricotta, Blood Orange, Blueberry, Honey, Mint & Pistachio


Sick and tired of how dark and dull the days have been of late, I decided to cheer myself up and bring a bit of Sicilian sunshine into my life this evening!

You will pleased to hear that you can make this dessert, which is mind-blowingly beautiful and delicious, with absolutely no cooking required- all you need is a sharp knife, a whisk, and 10-15 minutes time! Are you ready, folks?


There is no recipe required here- just a little construction work, before you get in there with a fork and de-construct it! Haha!


2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta cheese, 1 tablespoon of honey, 4-5 segments of blood orange and a few blueberries are all you will need for each portion of this yummy dessert- add a couple of leaves of fresh mint and a sprinkle of ground pistachio... and you are but 15 minutes away from one of the most delicious desserts you have ever had.


The only work you will have is to take a couple of strips of orange zest and to chop them finely, to sprinkle over the finished dessert and to peel the rest, cutting away all of the white when you do so. Using a sharp knife, cut out the segments of orange and set them to one side.


Add 1 teaspoon of honey to the ricotta and whisk it up into a smooth cream for 2-3 minutes- and even if you are not the greatest fan of fresh ricotta because it has a rather "grainy" texture, (like me)- you will find that it becomes smooth and creamy and delicious! And just sweet enough whilst not being overpowering... perfect!


Set the ricotta onto your dish and swirl it with a spoon or fork into an rough spiral shape- no need to try to be accurate! Now add the orange segments, also in a spiral pattern. Add a few berries here and there, sprinkle with a little of the finely chopped orange zest and scatter with a little pistachio- easy!

Add a few leaves of mint and drizzle with the remaining tad of honey- and your masterpiece is complete!


Obviously, it looks amazing- but honestly... it is the combination of flavors- fresh, juicy, tangy, sweet, creamy and that hint of nuttiness from the pistachio- it really does taste better than it looks!

And isn't that great?!?


Something that looks this good, is so easy to make and so unpretentious in its ingredients... well- to me, it is absolutely what great food is all about!


So beautiful, I can hardly believe I made it myself!

And best of all- you will be thinking the same thing, when you make it, too!

Magic Mushrooms!

Risotto di Funghi Porcini Secche
Risotto with Dried Porcini Mushrooms


An absolute delight at any time, and especially so on a Winter's evening, risotto is good, traditional, Italian comfort food at it's simplest and finest!

With just a handful of ingredients and an hours time or so, a wonderful bowl of steaming, creamy, delicious rice can be yours and can chase away those Winter blues... who cares if there's sleet, snow and rain outside, when you have this inside?


Dried porcini mushrooms are magical things! They are one of those things that taste better dried than they do fresh- their flavor is richer, deeper, more intense... like I said- they're magical!


2 cups of Arborio rice, 1 cupful of dried porcini, 1 shallot, a little rosemary, a little parsley, a little Parmesan cheese, a little white wine and a pat or two of butter... and you are just a few steps away for 2 servings of a wonderful risotto!


 Don't worry... it tastes better than it looks- muahahahaha! 


Of course, you will need a good broth to make your risotto, so pop the mushrooms, the parsley stalks and half of the rosemary into a saucepan and add 6-7 cups of water. You will need around 3 times the amount of water as you have rice as a rule of thumb. Bring the water to the boil, reduce to a low simmer and let it bubble away for 15 minutes for the broth to begin to develop... and in the meantime, get started on the rice!


Finely chop the shallot and pop it into your saucepan with a couple of pats of butter and a little finely chopped rosemary... let the shallot cook until it becomes translucent and the butter begins to turn frothy.


Now add the rice and stir it in until it becomes nicely coated all over.


Deglaze the saucepan with a splash of white wine... and get ready to start transforming that rice into... risotto!

Pour the broth through a coffee filter, in order to keep it clear of any grains of sand that may have been on the mushrooms, then pop it back onto the stove top on a low simmer, along with the mushrooms, but discard the parsley and rosemary as they have done their duty.

Now, begin adding the broth, 1 ladle at a time to the rice and stirring it in as necessary... you know how it's done!


Being as the mushrooms have been cooking in the broth and in the risotto as well, you need not worry about them being cooked long enough or the broth being tasty enough- you will see how it soon becomes a beautiful rich, deep brown after they boil for just 5-10 minutes.

After around 25-30 minutes or so, depending on the variety of rice you use, you will be nearly done- time to add a last pat of butter, a good pinch of grated Parmesan and to stir everything together... so lovely and creamy it will be too!


Add half of the chopped parsley, stir it in and then turn off the heat and let the rice sit, with the lid on, for 5 minutes before serving.


Sprinkle with a little Parmesan, parsley and pepper, serve with a broad smile... and enjoy!


And if that isn't delicious, ladies and gentlemen... then I don't know what is!


Soothes your body and soul and makes the Winter so much easier to enjoy! A good bowl of risotto is one of the best Winter foods there is!