Archive for December, 2010

December 31, 2010

Searching for comfort

Hand made maccheroni

Hand made maccheroni

When I am in balance mood, you’d better not come anywhere near. I am always unsatisfied and destructive, even when things are not that bad, when I think about it. I guess it happens when you have too high expectations.

I normally make balances at my birthday, which is why it is always a very bad day for me. This year I could not walk and a balance would have been too much strain for me and for my family. One of the sides of my personality I am grateful for, is that I manage to set aside very negative moods, almost automatically, until I can face them. My automatic switch turned on and decided to cancel my yearly balance at my birthday, but has decided to switch off again now, and I fell into balance mode. Veeery bad.

December 26, 2010

English Trifle, Sicilian Way


Trifle

And finally, trifle time. I was intrigued by Ivonne’s choice for the next theme of Sugar High Friday.  In Italy we have a pudding called ‘zuppa inglese’, literally English soup, and I was quite curious to find out what the English name for it was, if there was any. It turned out the closest dessert is trifle.

Zuppa inglese is a dessert prepared in most restaurants and in many homes, in the Northern region called Emilia Romagna, and neighbours. A concoction of lady fingers or sponge cake, soaked in the typical bright red sweet liquor called alchermes; a thick layer of custard, heavy with egg yolks and cream, often in two versions alternating – chocolate and cream. The visual impact is definitely tacky, with its red, yellow and black striped effect; it has its rustic charms but it is as heavy as a stone, particularly after a proper meal from Emilia – from salumi, among the best in Italy (think culatello and prosciutto di parma, but don’t forget mortadella, just to name a few), to meat-filled tortellini or lasagne, to finish off with some meat dish like roasted pork or boiled poultry.

I have eaten my share of zuppe inglesi, and wanted to go the opposite way with this challenge. I decided I wanted to turn to the most English version I could find. And in order to do that, I turned to the most English of my sources – Jane Grigson, ‘English food’. I did think of Nigella first – you know I have a weakness for her fantastic accent – and there are indeed many nice ideas of hers in form of a trifle. Nigella, being the sensible woman that she is, is of course a fan of this good-looking, easy and versatile dessert you can effortlessly assemble with store-bought ingredients. But I was charmed by the original recipe. Ms Grigson laments that trifle is often tacky  with its glaced cherries decorations, and rarely ‘a pudding worth eating’. Her recipe would bring the joy back to eating it. Macaroons, soaked in fortified wine and brandy, a layer of totally unflavored custard, a layer of raspberry jam, and on top, the ‘Everlasting Syllabub’ by Elizabeth David. I was bound to try it. The recipe is so old fashioned, so imprecise, and it totally works. Just the kind of recipe I love.

December 23, 2010

Celebrations

 

Kiwi

Locally grown kiwi, in season now

I am so deeply into cooking that I don’t even have the time to think about blogging, and I am sure I am not the only one. I am a lucky girl: I feel well enough to cook up my usual storm and I can’t wait.

This year everything will be different from my usual celebrations. We are spending some time far away from Germany and its snow. We are in Reggio Calabria, the tip of the Italian boot, and we are going to spend some time there. Temperatures are up to  15-20 degrees but when the sun is shining, it feels warmer. Healing. I felt as if I spent the last two months (since Palermo) in total darkness. And the smell of the sea is everywhere, the wind and the occasional rain smell of it, and they are warm.

December 17, 2010

Go. Bake. Now.

whole wheat cookies

I know it is baking season. You already have a year-long list of ‘to do’. But these cookies have very serious arguments to jump a few places ahead and just be the next thing you bake.

Since when Molly published them, I was keen to give them a try. When reviews about ‘Good to the grain’ started to appear everywhere, I was seriously curious. And when I discovered that this book even surpassed my darling ‘Plenty’ in this competition, well, that means the book must be just too good to ignore, I guess. I still don’t own the book – shame! I kind of wait for Santa to bring it to me (wink wink). But after these cookies I am sure I need to have it.

December 12, 2010

Special effects

Celeriac soup with puffed rice

The other day, I was reading about  yet another fantastic dessert on David’s blog, and I was wondering if he ever published something with less than a million calories. Turns out he did: he had an intriguing recipe for celeriac soup. The idea grew in the backroom of my mind, and thanks to the fact that my fridge was almost empty, I ended up with a ‘let’s empty the fridge totally’ soup, which happened to be very good. It has a very complex flavour; if you don’t like slightly sour food I’d leave the apple out  (I just love the acidic touch though).

I finished it off with yet another special effect: a trick I stole from Pietro Leemann, puffed rice. It is very simple and effective, and works wonders with any cream-textured soup.

Celeriac and apple soup with puffed rice

Ingredients (makes about three portions)

2 leeks, trimmed

4 small floury potatoes

quarter of a celeriac root

1 apple, slightly sour (eg russet, possibly a cooking apple)

1  2cm x 2cm piece of smoked bacon or pancetta

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper (white, possibly)

a small handful of red camargue rice (also wild rice or black rice would work), uncooked (about 30gr)

1/2 tablespoon  vegetable oil

olive oil

smoked Maldon sea salt (optional)

Method:

Prepare the vegetables. Peel celeriac and potatoes and cut into 2×2 cm chunks. Trim leeks, cut in half lengthwise, clean under running water making sure you get rid of all the dirt between the leaves, and chop into 1 cm thick slices. Cube the pancetta. Heat a bit of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, add the pancetta cubes and let them release some of their fat, then add leeks and celeriac and brown slightly on a high heat. Add in the potatoes and apples cubes, a bay leaf, some salt and pepper. Stir well and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then cook for about 20 minutes on low heat, until all the vegetables are tender, but don’t overcook. You can also cook this is a pressure cooker for five minutes, which is what I did. Remove the bay leaf. Puree the soft vegetables and pancetta using a hand blender. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, and thin with a little water if it is too thick for your liking. Can be made ahead and reheated.

When you are nearly ready to serve, heat a heavy bottomed non stick pan over high heat. Add a splash of vegetable oil, the one you’d use for frying (I used groundnut). When it is very hot, but before it starts smoking, drop in a couple of rice grains. They should pop slightly open, like pop corn (they stay smaller though, they split more than popping). If they do, add the rest of the rice in the pot, cover and give it a good shake. Over the next five minutes the rice will pop and toast.  Shake the pan now and again and if you have the feeling that they are not popping, put it back on the fire. Be careful not to burn them though.

When most of the rice has popped, place the hot soup in bowls, dress with a generous tablespoon of popped rice,  drizzle with a bit of olive oil and scatter with smoked salt. If you are using good quality salt like eg Maldon, the flakes will stay whole over the oil, making a very nice effect, like cristals.

December 10, 2010

Panini and Burgers

pane e panelle

Pane e panelle

When you see a queue in front of a food shop, it is usually a good sign. It is even better, if you can sneak a peek into what other people are coming out with  from that shop – brown paper bags in which they bite with gusto. You know you can’t miss it, when the rest of the town is pretty much deserted.

December 4, 2010

Just a few ingredients

Mashed squash with tomatoes

I am slowly going back to the kitchen. Which is all I want to do, really, with the ice and snow and dark out there.

My body has gone in hibernation mode, like nature out there. Since I cannot move, it has kindly switched off hunger, so that eating less is much easier. I never managed to diet successfully: actually, just the word ‘diet’ gives me sweaty palms. I am not thin and I think you might have a sneaky suspicion that I kind of like eating at this point, but  I have always managed to keep my weight more or less stable. Now I know I have some internal regulator to thank for. Certainly not my iron will to resist temptations…

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