Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Ring Around Suppertime...

Anelletti Siciliani con Carciofini, Piselli, Menta & Limone
Sicilian Anelletti Noodles with Baby Artichokes, Peas, Mint & Lemon


I hadn't made "anelletti" in a while, those slinky, little Sicilian pasta rings that we love back in the old country- although they seem mainly to be used to make the "timballo" type of pasta bakes- which I find to be quite a shame!

So I set about making a lighter, easier and different kind of dish with them, combining artichoke, mint and peas- a match made in food heaven! And a treat in every way!


The Summer may seem to be over for us here in Frankfurt, Germany, but I was still not ready to be making a pasta bake just yet- which would be the normal thing to make with anelletti- and fear not! I will be making that for sure, come Autumn or Winter! This evening though, I had artichokes and fresh peas there- and of course had to make something to be worthy of their deliciousness... and this is what I chose to do!


3 baby artichokes, 2 handfuls of peas, 2 handfuls of pasta, a half of a red onion, the juice and zest of half a small lemon, fresh mint and fresh parsley and a lovely, rich and satisfying bowl of pasta was born!


If we had the weather that we should be having for late August over here, I may have been tempted to allow this to cool, to be enjoyed as a pasta salad, which would also work wonderfully with this blend of flavors... but with things being what they are, I decided to eat and enjoy it, hot and steaming and straight from the frying pan. In my own self-defense... it was a little bit hard to resist!  


Slice the and chop the zest into really fine slivers, chop the red onion into a really fine dice, pop the peas out of their pods and clean and cut the baby artichokes into eighths. Nothing complicated here!


Start off by frying the artichoke slices in just a touch of olive oil until they are golden brown and pop a saucepan of water on to the stove top to begin to boil, ready to prepare our 2 cups of pasta with.


Whilst the pasta is boiling in plenty of salted water, add the peas to the artichoke slices, along with enough water to cover them and allow both to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally as necessary- basically until all of the water has evaporated away.


Once the water has evaporated away, add the finely chopped red onion and a splash of olive oil and continue by stir-frying the mixed vegetables until they become golden and brown. In the meantime, remove the anelletti from the stove top, pour off most of the water and set them to one side for a moment whilst you get the other ingredients together...


Keep frying until everything is sizzling and looking as wonderful as this!


Next, add the pasta, the juice of half a lemon, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg and stir together well.


Allow the pasta and the other ingredients to cook together for 5 minutes or so, then add the finely chopped mint and parsley and a little finely chopped lemon zest.


Toss everything together, add a last little touch of olive oil, sprinkle with the last few slivers of lemon zest- and you are now ready to sit down and enjoy this wonderful plate of pasta... at last!


And doesn't that just look good enough to eat?


Pasta perfection!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Make Room for the King of Mushrooms!

Frittata di Miglio & Cardoncelli
Frittata with Millet & King Oyster Mushrooms


A strange little grain, millet- I have to admit it is a little bland compared to many other grains and is probably eaten more by budgerigars than by humans- possibly for that very reason! But, the bottom line is that I did buy some out of curiosity a while ago and as I found it to be a little disappointing the first time around, I was determined to make something tastier with it this time!

And behold! A new invention, a second chance and a redemption, all in one frying pan! Not bad for a couple of handfuls of budgie-food, eh?


Of course this dish would have been nothing without the glorious king oyster mushrooms that went into it- so "meaty" and satisfying, with great flavor and a wonderful firm consistency- these truly are kings in the kingdom of mushrooms- right up there at the very top of the crop!


To make this lovely, large frittata, I needed 3 king oyster mushrooms, 2 cups of millet, 2 shallots, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of fresh ricotta cheese, parsley and thyme.


In combination with the herbs, shallots and nutmeg, the millet became transformed into something much more flavorful- a great addition to the egg, to bulk-out this frittata and make it into a more substantial base for those lovely mushrooms- a simple but excellent idea, I'd say!


The first step is to rinse the millet a couple of times, until the water that you pour-off runs clear and then to let it soak for 30 minutes or so.

Next step is to boil it with a little salt, for 15 minutes at a low simmer until it is cooked-through and fluffy. Whilst it is still piping-hot, add one of the shallots, finely chopped, along with plenty of freshly ground pepper and freshly grated nutmeg, mix together thoroughly and set aside to cool. The residual heat of the millet will almost cook the shallot all by itself, but in the meantime, the shallot will infuse the millet with its savory flavor- good team work!

 Cut the mushrooms into quarters, lengthways and the other shallot into thin slices.


Fry the shallots in just a pat of butter, season with salt, pepper and a little thyme and allow to get nice and brown around the edges- just for 3-4 minutes, so that they are still only half done.


In the meantime, the millet will be cool enough for you to be able to add the smoothly-whipped ricotta plenty of finely chopped parsley, a little thyme and a little more salt and pepper.


Stir everything together well, turn on your oven to 200°C to get warm, grab your frying pan and prepare to have some fun with this!


Pour the egg-millet-ricotta mix into a lightly buttered frying pan and spread it out evenly and smoothly...


... then arrange the mushrooms on top, sprinkle with the finely sliced shallot and season again with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg. Allow to fry on the stove top for 4-5 minutes until the edges begin to brown slightly and then pop into the oven to continue cooking for a further 10-15 minutes at 180°C.


Allow the frittata to cool a little before serving, in order for it to become a little firmer and easier to slice... and to eat! If you can resist temptation that is!


Sprinkle generously with finely chopped parsley before serving... and then simply enjoy! This sure ain't no bird-feed no more!


And I am sure this would be substantial enough for you that even the meat-eaters amongst you out there would still be more than satisfied with this as a meal- I know that I was, for sure!


Golden-brown, toasty, but juicy and delicious- this is about as good as mushrooms get!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Greens 'n' Beans!

Fave & Cicoria
Fava Beans & Chicory


When I hear the term "cucina povera", it makes me kind-of groan, because this so-called "poor peoples food", is more often than not, (in my humble opinion at least), so much superior to many of the pretentious, elitist and trendy foods being consumed by "foodies" the world over. It simply IS.

"Foodies" is another term that makes me... well- shudder actually! I hate that people have to put a name or a tag on everything- can't people just be... people?

I also cringe a little bit when I hear this kind of dish being labelled "vegetarian"- good heavens! We don't label dishes as vegetarian in Italy- that makes it almost an assumption that a meal has to include meat or fish... and it doesn't! So many dishes in Italy and especially in Southern Italy are simply wonderfully cooked vegetables. It would be tedious and redundant to have to call them vegetarian as well- It is just good food! It is irrelevant what it costs to make, whether meat is a part of the deal, or who is eating it!

This is a simple plate of dried fava beans that have been soaked for 12 hours, cooked and mashed and enriched and some fresh, light, bitter chicory greens- the kind we love in Southern Italy. Together with a couple of slices of crispy, toasted bread, they make for a wonderful dish- a classic meal enjoyed in Puglia on a daily basis and available at every single restaurant in the region... whether by the rich or by the poor!

And now that I have calmed down a little... I will tell you how to make it!


This is another dish that I learned to love on my recent trip to Lecce in Puglia, South Italy. It really is on every menu at every restaurant and it really is made day-in and day-out by people throughout the region.

This is my version, a little chunkier and more rustic-looking than many, but of course that is simply a matter pf preference and I prefer to have a chunky mash of fava beans than the ultra-smooth versions that I sometimes have seen. But the only thing that is really important is the combination of flavors and textures in this dish- and these are always going to be a delight!


The ingredients are almost frighteningly basic and few... I love it! Fresh chicory greens- the Italian kind, similar to dandelion greens, a little onion, the dried beans, a little rosemary and onion... garlic- which I did not have at home (!!!) and some toasted bread on the side. The quantities are not of any real importance here- this is purely about the method... which is also as simple as can be!


I hope my friends in the Salento will approve of how I made my version of their dish- I based it on a couple of different methods that I had people share with me, my own intuition and a little personal preference... which is the way i think EVERYBODY should cook! Learn the method and then make it your own!


This does take a little time to prepare, as the fava beans take both a long time to soak- at least 12 hours... and then a relatively long time to cook- between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. If they are in season, you can use fresh fava beans... if you can get them in cans- I would have no quarrel with that! As for me- I had to sit it out and wait for 2 hours... but after that time, simmering away in salted water, with a bay leaf for flavor but more importantly, to make them lighter to digest, they were soft to the touch and easy to mash down into a soft purée- perfect!


The chicory needs to be cut down into more manageable lengths of around 3-4" and boiled in salted water for around 15 minutes, until it is a brilliant green color and soft and tender. Drain it, add a little fresh pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and you are almost ready to go.


You need some kind of rustic bread, very thinly sliced and toasted, to give that special crunch that makes this dish such a delight to eat. As I try to reduce the amount of bread I eat, I don't always keep a loaf at home- to make it easier to resist temptation!!!. So I bought a rustic roll, which I allowed to dry-out overnight in order let it become firmer and easier to slice very thinly and cut that into little slices- which of course also looked better. Just make sure to use a nice brown bread- white bread would be way to bland.


I toasted the bread slices with just the tiniest amount of olive oil until it was crispy and golden brown.


Back to the beans now, which needed to be finished off and infused with good flavor- which I added in the form of a finely chopped onion, which I "sweated-down" in a little olive oil with a hint of rosemary, until it became transparent and sweet and juicy.


I added the onions to the beans, which had been drained-off and seasoned them with freshly ground pepper and a little nutmeg.


And as everything was already soft and tender, it took no time at all to mash the beans and onion together into a smooth past. And as I had mentioned earlier- a little garlic would not have been a bad thing either!


You can also use a kitchen machine of some kind, should you not like any chunky in the fava purée- but I love mine chunky! I served it up with more freshly ground pepper and a last drizzle of olive oil, that paper-thin toasted bread and a smile. Because I knew just how good this tasted!

Beautiful Italian food... That is all!


Peaches & Spices & Herbs- Oh My!

Torta di Sfoglia, Pesca, Mandorla, Rosmarino & Cannella
Puff-Pastry Tart with Peach, Almond, Rosemary & Cinnamon

Well, we all know that when life gives you bitter lemons, you are supposed to add sugar and make sweet lemonade out of them... but when life gives you super-sweet peaches- what are you supposed to do with them?

Of course it is much less of a challenge, as you can simply enjoy them as they are... you can make a cobbler or a compote with them, or any number of other sweet dishes- or you can also just do something very, very simple like this with them and make them into something much more simple but equally special instead!


You can go to a lot of trouble and fuss and fret over desserts... but you can also just take it easy and let some natural fruity flavor, a little herb and a little spice do all of the hard work for you... some nice tasting ingredients just take care of themselves... if you lead the way for them a little that is!


The tart that I made was only of about the size of a dinner plate- just 10-11", so I actually only ended up needing 2 peaches and a good handful of almonds to make this little rustic treat. This was a good way to use a left-over piece of pastry and was so quick to make that it made a nice treat for breakfast... and another with afternoon tea- haha!


This took me about 5 minutes to slice the peaches, toss with the almonds and rosemary, arrange on the pastry and then a further 20 minutes until it was baked to completion... so, with just the barest minimum of added sugar and so little effort- why on earth would I have not made this? You're right! I couldn't think of a reason not to do it either!


Yes, as with almost all my dishes. totally simple- but totally delicious! I will leave the complicated stuff to... more complicated people!

Simply slice the peaches up nice and thinly- the thinner the better and toss them together with the almonds and the finely chopped rosemary Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste and just a teaspoon or so of sugar and in the time it takes you to fetch your puff-pastry out of the fridge and cut it to size, the peach slices will have begun to give off some of their own juice... perfect!


How much you fuss with laying out the peach slices is up to you- just leave a good 3" or so space around the outside, so that you can fold this over...


...and end up with something looking like this. Do this directly in a non-stick frying pan if you want to follow my example and use my trick for a sure-fire good, firm and crispy base- which is to pop the frying pan onto the stove top for 3-4 minutes to get the pan hot, and get the base hot and beginning to "bake" before the tart even goes into the oven. This will ensure that no juices will seem through and make the pastry soggy.

Of course you can simply bake it in the oven in the normal way- this way is just more fun and guarantees a good result!

I baked mine for between 10-15 minutes on a high shelf at 200°C...


 ...just a little extra sugar at the last minute- a half teaspoon will do... as I said, just a tiny hint to enhance the natural sweetness of the peaches as they were already very sweet! if your peaches are not so sweet, add a little more sugar when you mix them together with the almonds and allow them to sit for a while longer, so that they become more juicy and syrupy... mind you! be careful that they do not get too moist, or you WILL end up making the pastry soggy!


 And around 15 minutes later, you will have something that looks a whole lot like this!


 I would say that this would do nicely with a hot cup of coffee- how about you?


 Juicy fruit, spicy cinnamon and rosemary and flaky, puffy pastry- what's not to like?