Saturday, 20 September 2014

Two Drunken Pigs!

Scaloppina di Maiale con Salvia & Burro su Polenta ai Funghi Porcini
Sage & Butter Pork Loin on Porcini Mushroom Polenta


Oh, yes- you may indeed believe your eyes... I made another meat dish again! It is strange, but so many people think that just because I do not eat meat every day, that I do not like it- or that I am maybe a vegetarian!

Quite on the contrary, I enjoy meat very much! It is just that... there are so many things that you can cook using vegetables too- haha!

But this evening, pork was on the menu- with, rather passingly... "porcini" mushrooms and yummy polenta! Italian comfort food... with a twist!

You might imagine this kind of dish takes a long time to prepare, but actually, it took only 30-40 minutes in all... which was a really good thing this evening, as by the time I got home from the market hall and a little shopping in town... thanks to the Frankfurt weather, a torrential downpour... and the fact that I do not have a car and was carrying my goodies home on foot- I got soaked! I was freezing cold! And yes- once again... I needed a little comforting!


Just a handful of porcini mushrooms per portion, along with 1 cupful of polenta, 1 slice of pork, a couple of Spring onions and some parsley, sage, garlic and thyme- that was all it took to give this guy a whole lot of enjoyment, a good feed and indeed, a little comfort on this cold evening.

There were a couple of other little ingredients- maybe a little unusual... but I will get to those later...


Ok, I will tell you a couple of the other ingredients that I added to this dish, to make it more delicious... and they were both alcoholic in nature- so... sorry kiddies! This ain't for you!

I used both cognac and a Sicilian sweet wine called "Zibibbo" for the pork... don't you just love that name? Should you not be able to get zibibbo, a shot of port will have a similar effect, or a Marsala... but along with the cognac, the sage and the butter... and one last ingredient that I will mention later- you will have magical juices to accompany your pork and make sure it is filled with flavor!


Give the porcini a good rinse, let them dry off thoroughly- and be critical when you dice them up- look out for worm-holes and any little critters that may be enjoying them before you get a chance to eat them... remember- these things have come from the countryside!

Slice up the onions and a little garlic nice and finely to add plenty of aroma... and go grab yourself a saucepan to prepare that polenta!


Fry the mushrooms with around 2/3rds of the Spring onions and the garlic, with a good pat of butter, salt, pepper, and a little of the fresh thyme.


Once the mushrooms are brown, deglaze the saucepan with just a splash of cognac, then add enough water to cover the mushrooms. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer before continuing with the polenta...


...add the polenta along with plenty of freshly grated nutmeg and a little more pepper.


Stir it in well, so that it absorbs all of the water in the pan and gets nicely and evenly coated... this is not a bad thing! This will in fact ensure that you do not end up with lumps in your polenta- so it is actually a very good thing!

Next, add a good splash of milk and keep stirring the mushrooms and polenta until it dissolves again.

Top up with more boiling water until you have the desired consistency, reduce to a low simmer and allow to bubble away gently for a further 20 minutes or so until it is creamy, smooth and delicious. The mushrooms, garlic, onion, herbs and spice, will all cook gently into the polenta, making it rich and tasty... without you needing to do very much more at all!


After around 10-15 minutes, you can begin to prepare your slice of pork. In a good pat of melted and bubbling butter, place the pork, a little finely chopped garlic, 4-5 small sage leaves (or equivalent), a little thyme and some salt and pepper.

Fry until brown from both sides, then add the onions until they too begin to brown, then deglaze the pan with a splash of cognac and a little of the Zibbibo. Give the pork 3-4 minutes of frying time to each side before deglazing the pan and then allow it to gently simmer for a further 3-4 whilst you add the mystery ingredient that will bind the juices in the pan into a makeshift sauce... would you believe it? Hoisin sauce!

Yes, this blends wonderfully with the sweet onion and garlic juices and goes very harmoniously with the pork... with a finishing touch of a hint of honey to compliment the sage... you are now ready to serve!


With a light sprinkle of parsley and thyme, a little fresh pepper is the finishing touch before you sit down to a good, hearty meal! One that I promise you will enjoy immensely!

Spoon those rich juices and sweet onion on top and enjoy... who needs a more intricate gravy when this brings out all of the best of each flavor on the plate! And so easy of course, too!


Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Grate Risotto!

Risotto in Padella alla Zucca "Hokkaido", Pancetta, Zenzero, Pomodori Secche, Salvia & Timo
Frying Pan Risotto with Hokkaido Pumpkin, Bacon, Ginger, Sun-Dried Tomato, Sage & Thyme


I prepared a little something special with my first first little pumpkin of the season this evening- a yummy, easy, one-pan meal that was packed with flavor and so easy to make!

I like to make my risotti this way, with the flavor of the broth developing from the ingredients as they boil and cook into the rice, rather than adding a finished stock as one usually would. Both versions are great- this is just a good alternative when you don't have a ready broth at hand... read on!


Also, because the pumpkin cooks down to a smooth paste, it already adds a smooth consistency to the risotto, without you having to rely on butter to do that for you. In fact, I made this dish using only the fat from the little handful of bacon and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.


As you can see, when you compare the size of my little Hokkaido pumpkin to the other ingredients, you will notice it was no larger than a grapefruit... but that's more than enough for a really generous single serving! Otherwise, the ingredients per person would be, 2 cups of grated pumpkin, 1 cup of Arborio rice, 1 shallot, 3-4 sun-dried tomatoes, a little ginger, a handful of finely chopped bacon, 1/4 stalk of celery, a little Parmesan and some fresh sage and thyme.


This is a little bit of a change to the regular risotti or pumpkin dishes, filled with great seasonal flavors from the ginger, sage, thyme and nutmeg and the savory sun-dried tomatoes... it is mildly spicy and oh so delicious!


After saving a couple of thin slices of pumpkin for a garnish, I grated the rest finely, happy to not have to peel it- one of my favorite details about the Hokkaido variety- so convenient! I finely chopped the shallot, celery and ginger, cut the sun-dried tomatoes into thin strips, boiled myself a kettle of water to be ready to begin and popped my frying pan onto the stove top, ready for action!


I put the bacon into the frying pan first and as soon as it began to sizzle, added all of the other ingredients at the same time and let them begin to sweat together in the bacon fat. I added the aromatics- 3-4 sprigs of thyme and 4-5 small sage leaves, right from the beginning, so that they would flavor the broth as it developed.


After stirring for 3-4 minutes, the pumpkin began to soften up and give of its juices and at that point, I seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg and deglazed the pan with a splash of white wine. This was merely an option- you can also simply begin to add boiling water if you want to prepare the dish without alcohol.


I then went on adding boiling water and stirring it in as I went along, in the usual way that risotto is made- although being as there was so much pumpkin in this mix, it wasn't necessary to stir quite as much as with a regular risotto... which made it a little more easy to prepare.


After around 30 minutes, the risotto was smooth and tender and it was time to add a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a little olive oil, before giving it a final stir, letting it rest for 1-2 minutes... and then serving it up nice and hot and delicious!


With a couple of thin slices of pumpkin, fried golden brown and delicious and a sprig of thyme as a garnish, all it needed was a last sprinkle of cheese and a grind of pepper... and I was finally ready to eat!

Every bit as tasty and good as it looks- and you can take my word for it!


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

More Peas, Please!

Farfalle con Piselli, Pancetta, Porro & Parmigiano
Farfalle with Peas, Bacon, Leek and Parmesan


"Easy-Peasy", was the way we would describe something that was totally simple to do, back when I was but a wee lad- and that's exactly how I would describe this tasty little pasta dish too!

Using simple fresh peas, a little bacon, chopped leek and Parmesan cheese, you can have this dish put together in less than 20 minutes and full, satisfied, happy and pretty proud of yourself just 10 minutes after that, if you are a fast eater! And chances are, that after your first bit... you will be just that!


Building on a well loved flavor combination of bacon, onion (or leek in this case) and peas, this is a simple dish that is bound to please... it has memories of childhood in it, days when things were much less complicated and much more pleasing... and all of the comfort that brings with it!


For one, good portion I needed about 1 1/3rd of a leek, 1 handful of finely chopped bacon, 2 handfuls of peas, a little parsley, a little Parmesan cheese and simply salt, pepper and nutmeg for seasoning- so this is something that most of us are always able to make, even as an "emergency meal", when we THINK we have nothing at home! I used fresh peas this evening, as I was lucky enough to have them... but frozen would work perfectly well in this too.

The method I used to cook this pasta dish is very similar to that for making "pasta caccio e pepe", the traditional Roman dish which relies solely on grated Pecorino and pepper for its seasoning... this is a little richer maybe, but also very low in fat and very high in flavor! I think you're going to like it!


Actually- just take a look at this and tell me... what's not to like, already?!? This is just about all you need for a great plate of pasta- and a little bit more!


I began by shelling the peas, rinsing out the leek after cutting it down the middle in order to be able to make sure all of the soil inside got washed out and then cutting it into very fine slices.


Whilst the pasta was boiling, I fried the leeks and peas together with the bacon, relying only on the bacon's own fat to get everything sweated down and slightly brown- keep the heat moderate and the ingredients stirring and they will produce enough juice of their own to cook in.

After the pasta has boiled for 5-6 minutes, add it to the frying pan enough with enough of the water to let it gently swim in, then season with plenty of pepper and nutmeg before stirring and allowing to simmer on for a further 2-3 minutes.


Next, add a good pinch of finely chopped parsley and about 1/3rd of the cheese- stir it in well and keep on cooking for a minute or so, then add more cheese, toss carefully and retain a last little bit of cheese for the garnish... because as soon as the last of the water in the pan has been absorbed- you will be ready to serve!


 Here it is- juicy, cheesy, flavorful and delicious! Now- where's my plate?!?!


A last sprinkle of cheese, a last grind of pepper... and buon appetito everybody! I sure hope you all enjoy!


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Wrapped in Flavor!

Polpette al Vapore al Finnocchio & Salvia con "Chutney" Piccante di Prugne, Zenzero & Timo
Steamed Fennel & Sage Ground Meat Rolls with Spicy Plum, Ginger & Thyme Chutney


I got a little adventurous in the kitchen this evening- but at the same time, there was so little work involved... it was quite amazing how quickly I put this little treat together!

These would make a great party dish or appetizer- absolutely packed with tangy, rich flavor- delicious, healthy and refreshingly different!


Sage gave the ground meat rolls a wonderfully Autumnal flavor and using plums to make this tangy and fruity chutney was the perfect compliment- maybe exotic sounding at first, but basically a simple, seasonal dish.

I managed to make 4 meatballs and enough chutney to serve with them (it was just an experiment after all!), from 300g of mixed ground beef and pork, some breadcrumbs, 2 Spring onions, 9-10 fresh plums and some parsley, sage, lemon, chili and thyme... a small investment for such a great reward!


I decided to steam the meat rolls, basically to keep all of the flavors trapped-in and intense- as well as of course to cut out any unnecessary fat... you know me! There was absolutely no fat added to this dish- it relied solely on the fat that was already in the ground meat. That's just the way I like it! Grilled would have been perfect too... yut you know what our weather has been like over here in Frankfurt this year... ugh!


As always- there was a little chopping to do before I could get started on the cooking. The plums and Spring onion relatively fine... the chili and ginger as fine as possible!


For the chutney, I put the plums, half of the onion, the finely chopped chili and ginger and 3-4 sprigs of thyme into a small saucepan with a little salt and pepper. I turned up the heat ans started them cooking together, stirring all the time, until the plums began to give off their juices. I continued cooking on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for the next 20-25 minutes, which was plenty of time to get busy with preparing the ground meat.

After around 15 minutes of cooking, I added the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of cinnamon. I stirred these in well and let it continue gently simmering and rendering down.


In the meantime, I mixed the ground meat together with 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, the remaining Spring onion, the finely chopped parsley, a good teaspoon of fennel seeds, salt and pepper and kneaded it together thoroughly.


Once it was nicely mixed together, I divided the meat up into 4 portions and began bringing them into shape.


I rolled them out into little "sausages", if you will, as I thought they would cook quicker and finished each roll off by adding 2 aromatic sage leaves to each.


I then laid them out on a sheet of cling film around 2" apart and began to roll them up tightly.


I twisted the 2 rolls together out of 1 sheet of cling film- this made them easier to handle.


I put the tightly-wrapped rolls into a water bath and let them boil and steam away, with the lid on, for the next 20 minutes, turning them over once halfway through.

By that time, they were steamed through and juicy with all of the trapped meat, sage and fennel flavor... mmmh! 

Before serving, I slid them out of their cling-film wrapper, straight back into the drained saucepan, and let them sizzle a little in their own juices. This allowed them to brown slightly and to pick up a little more surface aroma.


And all that I can say is that along with the tangy, sweet, sour and spicy plum chutney... they made a great combination!


I love how flavorful these are without having any added fat... and with the equally healthy chutney, they made these into a real treat with no guilt-factor! You see folks- it IS doable!