Archive for ‘Main’

March 20, 2011

Mung beans, and the curry

Mung beans, coconut and spices for a curry

I have to admit it. I am a serial spice buyer. I need to have them all. I cannot read about a spice and not have it. I want spices with the avidity of a collector.

There is a childish pleasure in rummaging through the messy closet that contains them all, in their unappealing plastic bags. At my mum’s home spices dwell in a neat, dedicated part of a drawer. Each of them is stored in a tiny tin or glass jar, collected over the years. Many spices have been there for ages, literally. I know my mum shares my fascination for spices, but quite frankly there is not that much room for spices in an Italian kitchen, so she buys them and they stay there until they grow tasteless. They have to fight for space with dried herbs, which my parents not only like, but also enjoy foraging themselves: one year I counted eight  types of dried oregano, then there are wild juniper berries, myrtus, rosemary, sage, and let us not even start with caraway (which nobody likes, but is real fun to pick up). Now and again my mother will venture in a spiced recipe, with mixed outcomes: I still remember a vegetable strudel with coriander seeds she had read about somewhere. The coriander was whole, and it was the only spice, and it was a lot. I thought I hated coriander for years, and wondered how people could eat it. I did however like curry. I did not even know that curry was not ‘one’ spice. It came in jars, sometimes it was more pungent, others a bit bland, and it had the brightest colour. There was one dish we made with it: a Talismano dish with chicken and prawns cooked in coconut milk (we always used real coconut because you could not find canned coconut milk) and curry, served with ‘Indian rice’, o ‘riso all’indiana’ – which I was convinced referred to native Americans, for some reason, when I was a child.

March 5, 2011

Sprouted chickpea falafel: spring is in the air

Sprouted chickpea falafel

Have you ever tried sprouting beans? I hadn’t until about a month ago. I was intimidated, with all the times I had forgotten beans into their soaking water and they fermented, by the expensive and complicated looking sprouting kits at the organic store, and, last but not least, by the fact that some sprouts are poisonous. I have never understood how sprouting works, other than it is an incredibly complex process, involving structural changes in the biochemistry of a seed, which means that what you eat is going to be different. In most cases, better.

February 24, 2011

Tonno di coniglio

Rabbit 'tonno'

This recipe is likely to push some of you out of their comfort zone. The meat I am presenting you today is rabbit, and you are welcome to go elsewhere if this disturbs you in any way. If it doesn’t, I hope you are inclined to consider this recipe. It is a quintessentially Italian recipe, not because it is very common,  nor because the method is widespread, but because of its combination of simplicity, style and intense flavours: a combination at the heart of what makes Italian cooking stand out from the crowd.

February 16, 2011

Cheese and fish? Yes, fish pie.

FIsh pie
There are barely any recipes of fish on this blog, however I love eating fish. I find it a stunning ingredient, much more interesting and subtle compared to meat, with few contestants in terms of complexity of flavour and texture even  in the vegetable world (a few mushrooms, maybe?). I am not intimidated by fish as an ingredient: I have a handful of family recipes up my sleeve that are tasty and foolproof. I grew up eating fish. Both my parents cook it with skill, but it was usually my father who wore his apron on Saturdays to cook today’s catch from the market. When we visited our grandparents, it was a fish feast.

Nothing like fish brings me to pure, unadulterated gluttony. I might be able – under extreme circumstances – to be fed up of eating chocolate, or pasta, or cheese, or oranges, or heaven forbid! maybe even pizza, but nothing would ever stop me from being the one who polishes off that monumental fried baby squid dish.

January 20, 2011

For future reference

Lasagne with artichokes

One of the most distinctive features of Italian cooking is that you don’t really need recipes. You never measure, apart from the occasional pasta weight. The ingredient list is always flexible, depending on what is available and looking good. This is  usually an advantage, that makes Italian food  so versatile and light, in a way, but it can be sometimes a limitation. Perfection is elusive and hard to repeat, and you often just get it plain wrong. Almost all italian ‘cuochi’ will tell you that the first time they make a dish, it is typically stellar, and when they make it again, it turns out poorly – always when you have guests coming for dinner.

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.

October 12, 2010

A calabrese stew from Syria

Syrian stewNo, I am not referring to the broccoli – I am talking about the Italian region, Calabria. The other day I borrowed a beautiful cookbook on Jewish cooking all around the world. The book (this is the UK edition – I have it in German) is laced with beautiful pictures by Peter Cassidy and contains sad and interesting stories. The numerous recipes come literally from all corners of the world. Actually the sweets looked like you could die for them, but I am trying to lose weight, so no cakes, for a while (sad, sad world, I know). So I leafed and leafed drooling over the sweets and trying to ignore them at the same time, until I found a stew that looked a bit unfortunate, because it had no picture. The recipe background sounded interesting. Originally from Syria, the family moved to the UK. The story behind the recipe is a funny one: a mother in law trying to sneak some aubergines into the food prepared for her daughter’s husband, who did not like them. Apparently if you peel the aubergines and cook the stew long enough, you are not able to tell what is in it anymore.

September 7, 2010

Fusion food, or maybe not

Gulash

Unfortunately, it looks like summery really is over. The weather is so chilly and rainy and grey that I feel like warmth and comfort dishes. This is exactly what I want to tuck into when I am so cold and in need of energy. I have always eaten it, I have always cooked it. It is one of the few meat based food I prepare regularly and I often fall back on it when I have to feed the crowds. It is surprisingly adaptable to different occasions, from the home meal to the formal dinner. Everyone seems to like it.

I had never realized just how widespread this dish is. It is probably one of the staples in central Europe. Funny enough, outside its ‘natural’ area of diffusion, it is not an easy dish to come by.

Goulash is a soup or stew with hungarian origin, or at least, solidly, a Hungarian name. I was vaguely aware it does not classify as ‘standard Italian cooking’, but  it was quite common at my home.  But actually my mother is quite an adventurous cook, who was preparing chinese food in Milan in the eighties way before it was a common thing to do, and is now perfecting her okonomiyaki making skills. Anyway, at that time goulash did not sound adventurous. It is  one of my childhood flavours.

August 11, 2010

Off the Silk Road

Feta, chicken and potato kebab

Thanks to Melissa, I found out the Silk Road Gourmet. The  blog is beautifully written and extremely informative, and a peak into the recipe’s list convinced me I needed to own the cookbook as well.  I found the layout by countries very interesting, because I could quite easily find out that some of the spices and flavours combinations are very distinctive for a country’s tastes, even though many of the ingredients are common. 

June 6, 2010

What to do with chickpeas flour

Chickpeas flour gnocchi

I am in a memory mood in this period, maybe because it is a long time since I last felt at home. Here is another dish inspired by childhood memories. Before I was born, my parents lived for a couple of years in Tuscany. Now, Italian cooking does have some generic national guidelines, but it is mainly regional. This specificity was much stronger thirty years ago: it was not so easy to find the right ingredients outside of the production area, and what is grown is so local that sometimes you will find it in a radius measuring  no more than ten kilometers. This is due to geography:   Italy is full of hills and mountains, and features a variety of climates, since it  has considerable altitude and latitude differences, and  differently exposed coastline; we even boast one humid, foggy  plane. On the other hand, Italy does have a massive, relatively recent  internal mobility, due to the presence of many low employment areas. So a lot of people move, and they bring their recipes with them.

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