Friday, 3 July 2015

Dressing Up for the Occasion

Semplice Insalata Mista con Condimento di Ricotta Fresca, Limone & Miele
Simple Mixed Salad with a Ricotta, Lemon & Honey Dressing

 

When it gets to be as HOT as it is right now here in Frankfurt, a salad is just about the only meal that I can consider eating... Never mind preparing in the kitchen! It was just too, too hot to cook this evening!

And so a simple salad it was... A "clear out the fridge" salad, nothing special at all. Except that I decided to try out a new dressing... I had to offer all of you good people at least a little something new after all! 


 

Salads can be as boring or as fun as you make them, as rich or as light and as complicated and simple... It is always a matter of taste!

But one thing is always important and that is the dressing that you decide to use. A simple oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, the ultimate un-fussy, traditional Italian variation... Or a creamy, heavy, rich and more modern affair- the kind that may indeed be very tasty but which will carry more calories in a few tablespoonfuls than a full meal.

I decided to do something in-between, creamy and refreshing and yet healthy and light. And yep... It's doable! And so easily doable too!

 

Obviously, you can use whichever salad ingredients you prefer, but I just happened to have these: 1 small iceberg lettuce, 1/2 of a cucumber, 1 Spring onion, a good handful of little "date" tomatoes, 1/2 of a small bulb of fennel, some fresh marjoram and for the dressing, 1 tablespoon of ricotta, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon of honey, 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

 

All I needed was a little crusty bread to go with it and I was happy as I could be with my refreshing supper this evening... Sometimes it really is the simplest of solutions that is the best of all.

 

You can either whisk your dressing together, use a blender, a fork... Or even shake it in a jar or a bottle... It's all good! You just need to get everything nice emalgamated...

 

...into a rich, golden dressing like this! Dip in a piece of lettuce and tast to check for seasoning... That's the best way to do it. Adjust accordingly and then get ready to enjoy your salad!


Use whichever ingredients you have at home or you happen to prefer, but try to have a nice combination of textures as well as flavors in there... And then let the dressing and some fresh herbs bring everything to life for you!

 

Pour over a generous amount of the dressing, but hang on a second... First we need to add those delicious herbs!

To me, it makes much more sense to sprinkle the herbs onto the salad, so that they get mixed in a little more evenly, after you have added the dressing... I find that herbs tend to clump together or sink to the bottom if you mix them in... So now you know why I do it my way!


 
 
Add plenty of some aromatic herb... I had marjoram, but oregano would also have been excellent. Rosemary, basil or thyme... Which we you prefer, but you need something to offer a bit of contrast and oomph!

So I had the marjoram, also the greens from the fennel, and as a little extra, I added a little finely chopped lemon zest, to make it extra vibrant and refreshing... Mmmmh!


 

Toss, taste, serve and enjoy! The added touch of creaminess from the ricotta makes for a much more satisfying and filling variation and is so nice with the flavor of the lemon from the juice and zest as well as the honey... This is just a perfect taste of summer!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

You CAN Do It!

Crostini con Crema di Fagioli "Gigante", Ricotta, Pomodori Secche & Erbe Miste
Crostini with "Gigante" Bean, Ricotta, Sun-Dried Tomato & Herb Spread

 

Before we even begin, I must apologize for having been absent-minded enough to have somehow lost my usual ingredients phot... I know! I am definitely more upset about it than you are my friends... I hope you can forgive me somehow!

But, maybe this little idea here will make up for it... Because it means you can do without cooking, have to spend not even 5 minutes of your time to prepare it and have a great little snack on these hot, hot evenings!


 
 
Today was a day that was definitely too, too hot for cooking! The only thing I did was to quickly toast those little slices of bread for 2 minutes on either side... But that was IT! I even let technology take care of anything remotely like work this evening and let my blender take care of everything... And I am not ashamed to admit it! Haha!

And why? Well... Because the result was delicious, healthy and perfect to enjoy with an ice cold drink on a hot summers night! That's why!


 

You could serve this as a dip, or make little party snacks like I did, but the bottom line is that if you can pop open a can of beans, you can whizz those delicious and creamy dip in next to no time... No cooking, no hassle, no worries!

Adding a little quarter-slice of cucumber added a juicy, crunch freshness that made these little snacks better still... And that whole tray of snacks you can see in the pictures was made by simply slicing up 2 regular little rolls that were a day old and past their prime. So never be wasteful or throw anything away! Look at what a great treat I managed to make from something so simple!

 

Adding a little quarter-slice of cucumber added a juicy, crunch freshness that made these little snacks better still... And that whole tray of snacks you can see in the pictures was made by simply slicing up 2 regular little rolls that were a day old and past their prime. So never be wasteful or throw anything away! Look at what a great treat I managed to make from something so simple!


 

Into my blender went 1 drained can of "gigante" white beans, those lovely, large, greek beans that seem only to exist in cans... But that's ok as long as we have can-openers, or they have ring-pulls! Haha!

So, 1 can of beans, 1 Spring onion, 4 sun-dried tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta, plenty of fresh herbs... In this case parsley, mint, cilantro and marjoram and a quarter of a lime, peel and all!


 

Whizz everything together for 2-3 minutes until nicely blended and then add salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar if necessary and olive oil to taste.

 

Serve with a last, light drizzle of olive oil, garnish with a few herbs and simply enjoy with some crusty bread or chips, or even vegetables if you are planning on enjoying as a dip... Or...

 

Alternatively, prepare your snacks in advance as little canap├ęs...

 

Irresistible, healthy and light... What could be better than that?

 
 
But better still with that little bit of crunch and freshness from the cucumber! Simple, Summer good time food! Make it, share it and enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

This Summer, I Give You My Heart!

Pomodoro Cuore di Bue Ripieno di Couscous Aromatico
Beefsteak Tomato Stuffed with Aromatic Couscous

 

It has been the hottest day of the year so far today... Long, hot, stressful and exhausting! And those are only the good things about it... Ugh!

So, after getting home tired and hungry and very, very hot, I knew that I wanted something light to eat... And not anything that was going to have me chained to a hot stove... And so I came up with this little idea!

 

I had this lovely beefsteak tomato and was originally considering making a simple salad our of it, as delicious as they are... It would have needed little more than salt, pepper and good olive oil... And yet...

After such a long day of hard work, I thought I deserved something just a little bit more than that! So with a little couscous, herbs and spices... And BACON... It took just 10 minutes of time to transform a simple tomato into something akin to a full meal!


 

So this is all that I needed to turn a simple beefsteak tomato into a one-man meal... 2-3 tablespoons of couscous, 1 spring onion, mixed herbs (in this case parsley, cilantro, marjoram, mint and basil, about I tablespoon of chopped bacon, 1 teaspoon of Ras el Hanout spice, 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil.

 

This is another of those, " 10 minutes of work, 10 minutes of waiting" type dishes that I absolutely love... Especially in the hot, Summer months!

The preparation was quickly taken care of and in the time that enjoyed a refreshing shower and a drink, the couscous had plenty of time to cook, cool and become lovely and aromatic in the meantime.... Which I consider to be a very, very good thing!


 

The first thing to do is to cut the top from the tomato and to hollow out the insides using a melon scoop. Then to finely slice the Spring onion and to chop the herbs and bacon, ready for action!


I fried the chopped bacon together with the onion first of all, until they began to brown and then added the flesh of the tomato, that I had scooped out, after briefly chopping it up nice and fine.

I also added a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout and plenty of fresh pepper, along with a pinch of salt and stirred everything through for 2-3 minutes on a high heat.



I then added 2-3 tablespoons of couscous and I am sorry, you will have to judge for yourselves how many you will need, as it obviously depends on the size of the tomato... So, bearing in mind that the couscous will swell up to about twice its size, add just enough to fill your tomato halfway. Add a good splash of boiling water and stir everything through, then allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes.

 

After 2-3 minutes, pour into a bowl and allow to sit and swell up, then fluff the couscous through with a fork.

Allow the couscous to cool and to absorb every last bit of water, then add all of the herbs, plucked and finely chopped, along with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a good drizzle of olive oil. Mix together well and you are done! Ready, willing and able to be filled into that delicious tomato!


 

Lots of lovely fresh flavors, gentle but flavorful spice and the flesh and juice of the tomato itself make this into a perfect tomato dish for a summer night... With a little something added, but nothing taken away!

 

The beefsteak tomato is indeed something special... Not only does it look wonderful, but it has a rich fruity flavor and a wonderful, firm bite... And it deserves to be treated royally and to be celebrated... And enjoyed!

 

Hey, Summer!?! I ain't afraid your hot temperatures and unbearable humidity! I can still make a killer meal that will knock your socks off, WITHOUT collapsing from the heat! And so can everybody else that has read this, now!


You can make food that is beautiful, easy, healthy, and quick and it only costs you a bit of thought and a good idea. And the more you get down to cooking, the more cooking ideas you will have!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Hot & Cold from The Old Country

Cicoria Stufata, Peperoni, Olive & Pomodori Secche
Braised Italian Chicory, with Peppers, Olives & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

 

Yes, it is hotter than hot all of a sudden in Frankfurt- so why on earth, you are asking yourself, is that guy cooking something in a tajine and not making a salad or throwing something onto the grill!?!

Well, there are two good reasons for it. The main reason, is because this is the kind of meal that most people down in southern Italy prepare at lunchtime, to enjoy cold as an evening meal. The other reason is... It took care of itself whilst I took a nice, long, cooling shower as it cooked! Haha!

Oh- and the third reason, is because I don't have a grill!!!



We love our greens in Sicily and especially the bitter ones, but that can said to be true for all of the south. And they always taste better when they are combined with something milder or sweeter of course... Like onions for sure, and this evening, I thought maybe some sweet peppers would be a good idea... And it was! Except that a few turned out to be quite a bit hotter than I thought they might! Wow! Peppers can often be full of surprises, I can tell you!

Thankfully, I love my food hot and spicy, but oh boy! Still, the combination with the other ingredients worked wonderfully... And by the time I was ready for supper... I was ready for a treat!


 

My ingredients were 1 head of Italian chicory, 2 spring onions, 4 halves of sun-dried tomatoes, 5 sweet/hot peppers, 9-10 black olives, salt, pepper and olive oil.

 

This is the kind of thing that we call "companaggio" in Sicily, the "accompaniment" for your daily, (or evening) bread. Companaggio can be olives, cheese, hams or salamis, vegetables, pickles or other cold, left-overs from lunch... Poor people's food, but good food!

 
Start off by popping the peppers and the spring onion, into a saucepan, or if you have one, a tajine like I did, with a good splash of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and plenty of pepper. Ok... Had I known how hot the peppers we're going to turn out to be, I would have used less ground pepper maybe... But you get the idea!

I decided to use the tagine, because traditionally, way back when, this was the kind of dish that was stewed or braised in a clay pot. The tajine was the closest thing I had to that... End of story! Except for stating the obvious... OF COURSE you can use a regular saucepan!


 

Whilst the peppers and onion sizzle away, wash and halve the chicory leaves, but do not shake all of the water off them, instead, place them dripping wet into the tajine along with the peppers, then add the sun-dried tomatoes cut into slices and the olives cut in half, with the stones removed, and maybe 1 cup of water, and stir everything through. Pop on the lid, reduce the heat to about half-way and allow to simmer and steam and cook for the next 40-45 minutes.

 

Yes, of course you should check every now and then... But generally speaking, the little bit of water in the tajine or saucepan, will turn to steam, which will in turn cause the greens and the peppers for that case, to give off their own juices, which should produce plenty of moisture in all to cook everything down nicely.

Basically, the greens need to both wilt down and to soak up their own juices, which will be packed with flavor from the olives and dried tomatoes, as well as the sweetness and hotness of the peppers. The added sweetness of the onion is what does the trick and makes everything milder... That's a lot of different flavors going on in there! And that is a good thing!


 

With a last drizzle of oil before serving, these are great for an evening snack with some crusty bread, or as a side-dish or part of a party spread. It may only appeal to the adults... But that is fine! You don't do without wine at the table just because your kids aren't going to drink it now, do you?

 

This may be a little prettier in my version than it may have been the olden days where it may have boiled away for a couple of hours... But I think that 45 minutes is plenty of time for those greens to cook in... Plus... I was hungry!!!

 

I am sure you make something similar using endives, or "regular chicory" if you can't get "cicoria " or "catalogna" as it is also sometimes called... But try to get the real thing if you want to know how one of the best-loved greens from the Old Country tastes... It's bitter alright... Must you might just like it all the same!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

One Pan Man

Polpettini, Fagiolina Gialla & Pomodorini Datterini
Little Meatballs with Yellow Beans and "Date" Tomatoes

 

There are a number of reasons to love those one-pot or one-pan recipes... They are easy, they are convenient, they make for less washing up... But there is one main reason that I love them and that is because they guarantee that every bit of flavor stays right there and gets concentrated into a wonderful end-result. Every time.

This dish was a perfect example of all of those things, with simple ingredients, elevated in flavor to becoming super delicious and so much more than the sum of its parts... And then, yeah, there is the fact that you only need to wash that one pan!


 

Simple, tasty little Italian meatballs, fresh beans, fruity tomatoes, a little grated cheese and some fresh herbs... Sounded good to me this evening! Meatballs are a great comfort food and usually something that we have all loved since our childhood. I think that familiarity is what makes them always taste good and always have a hint of nostalgia.

Unless of course somewhere along the line, you became vegan or vegetarian... In which case I have to say sorrrry! I will fix something nice for you good people next time!



To make 10 little meatballs I needed 175g of mixed ground meat (beef and pork), 1 spring onion, 1 egg, 2-3 tablespoons of bread crumbs, 2 handfuls of beans (yellow in the case), 10 date tomatoes, fresh parsley and marjoram, olive oil, salt and pepper and a little Grana cheese.


I love these little, elongated, "date" shaped tomatoes. They are a little firmer than regular, round cherry tomatoes and have a slightly fruitier, tangier flavor.. and they add the juiciness to this dish that makes it complete.

I decided to use them rather than cooking to meatballs in a tomato sauce, to make a more summery dish that would be perfect eaten hot or cold. Theoretically speaking of course... Because I finished off the whole lot whilst it was still warm!


 
 
I began by mixing the meat, the egg, half of the onion, 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, a little finely chopped parsle, salt and pepper in a bowl. Don't worry, I soon realized that this bowl was a bit too small, lol!

 
 
I then added more breadcrumbs as well as some grated Grana cheese, until the meat was of the proper consistency to form into little balls.

 

I kept mine small, just 2 bites to each on and managed to get 10 from that small amount of meat... Pretty good, as if I had made a burger... It would still have been all gone!

 
I fried the meatballs in a non stick pan with no added oil or fat, until they were nice and brown on the outside.

 

I then added the beans, the remaining onion, salt and pepper and fried them together for 2-3 minutes. I then deglazed the pan with enough boiling water to cover the base, put the lid on top and let them steam for 3-4 minutes. I then gave them a little toss and stir and let them continue cooking for 2-3 minutes more.

 

After that time, the beans were half done and the water had evaporated away or been soaked up into the beans and the meatballs respectively... Which can only have been a good thing of course!

 
 
I then added the tomatoes and another touch of water, popped on the lid for a further 4-5 minutes... And that was all!

 

All they needed was a generous sprinkle of parsley and marjoram to give a bit of fresh flavor as well as color... And you can bet that dinner was served in a hurry!

 

Of course an extra sprinkle of Grana can't hurt, can it? Hehe! Go ahead... Enjoy it!