Archive for ‘Sides’

March 20, 2012

The first day of spring

Spring greens in red pepper paste

There is something magical in solstices and equinoxes. They stir ancestral, deep resonances inside me. I always forget equinox days though: they are not obviously bright or gloomy like the peaks of summer and winter. But this year I wanted to celebrate. This Saturday I planted a few handful of seeds in my garden. It’s going to be a struggle with the snails – and they’ll win as I well know, but I’ll try at least.

This quiet, unassuming recipe comes from the second Riverford cookbook; actually it is from a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey, as reported in their introduction.  I expected it to be an everyday recipe, and it is: easy and quick. But it tasted so good I know I’m going to learn the recipe for this paste by heart. The problem with spice pastes is that if they are not in your DNA – and they definitely are not in mine – you have to read a recipe for them. No matter if it takes ten minutes in the end, I find I have to rummage through my overcrowded spice cabinet for a good half an hour, going back and forth to the recipe measuring, toasting, getting it wrong.. It is just not obvious to me what needs to be roasted, what needs to go in last, what needs to be ground, what can be left whole, although I am developing a feel for it. I have no such doubts when cooking a European recipe, even a more involved one. I read it once and I normally don’t even need to look at it again. So during week time, when I’m busier, I rarely venture into spice-hunting mode. Now, this recipe is not spiced, although it is hot, but it tastes as if it is. It is grown up and complex, and makes spring greens, a vegetable I find a bit perplexing (should I think about it like a mild cabbage? Or rather, a cabbage-y chard? Or rather, a sweet kale? ), find their right place in the world. Of course you could use the paste for something else, and I most definitely will.

Spring greens

Spring Greens with Red Pepper

from Everyday & Sunday Recipes from Riverford Farm

Ingredients:

1/2 red pepper

1/2 red onion

1 garlic clove

3-4 drops fish sauce (they call for blachan, but I didn’t have any)

1 red chilli, deseeded

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2-3 heads of spring greens,  chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

squeeze of lemon

salt

Method:

clean and chop onion, pepper, garlic and chilli. Whizz in a food processor with a bit of water to a rough paste. Add a little splash of fish sauce. Heat the oil in  a wide pan. Stir in the paste, and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant – about 5 mins. Add in the spring greens, some salt, stir, cover until wilted. Add a bit more water if needed. Let cook for about ten minutes until the greens are tender. Adjust salt and serve, hot or cold.

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March 16, 2012

A winter in Devon: carrots

Roasted carrots

Do you think it is possible to have a sort of an aftershock after moving? I think I have. It’s been a few months now, but I still feel shattered. I find it difficult to commit, to attach, to plan.  Maybe I’m just getting older: when I was younger, it was all about feeling a citizen of the world, and let us not be bothered by outdated concepts like ‘nationality’. I still think that we are first and foremost human beings. But well, there are differences in our daily lives depending on where we live, especially when we grow older and so much of life is dealing with the little details of the society around us.

September 26, 2011

A bookmarked recipe: creamy wax beans

Serbian wax beans

My bookmarks clearly reveal my food obsessions, much more than what I actually end up cooking or posting about. I have an unthinkable amount of brioches, yeast based cakes and breads recipes of all kinds, from skillet bread to sourdough. I don’t cook my way through them much, though. I try not to eat this kind of food that often, but it is my favourite food in the world, both to eat and to cook: it all started from here with cooking, for me. I have some favourite recipes I prepare maybe once or twice a year, but I’m always dreaming to take a day off and spend it in some 12-hours super complex brioche dough.

Close to these far-fetched dreams of recipes, there is  a number of everyday’s recipes, most of them involving legumes and vegetables, which are going to be tried on a weekday for a twist on the usual favourites. I clean them with reasonable regularity; several have become favourites. Last but not least, in my bookmarks there is a vast array of recipes for studying: details on making custard tofu, a onigiri combination, a Thai salad… It is almost always Far Asian food I am exploring in this period, from Japanese to Chinese to Korean. A proper food obsession of mine.

September 18, 2011

Bread, tomato and olive oil

Bread crumb filled tomatoesI did not have the opportunity to enjoy this summer much. I grew to love summer over the years; it probably helps that I don’t have to endure any more  the tropical heat and humidity in Milan, usually lasting about four months. It is difficult to resist the feeling of ripeness that pervades everything, the abundance of light in the sky  and produce in the markets. But this year I was just too focussed and busy; it did not feel right. I have a sort of  wiring, you see: summer needs to involve at least some holidays and laziness and outdoors. This particular summer was just full of events and fresh starts, worries and planning, and making sure everything goes smoothly. Not enough barbecues, not enough swims, not enough singing sitting around a campfire.

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June 15, 2011

When I miss home – blede e patate

Blede - potatoes and swiss chard

It is easy to be carried away by memories, especially when they are connected to food. So bear with me. I know this recipe is simple, but this little side dish, blede con patate, chard and potatoes,  is a symbol of what I want to carry with me.

I probably tasted it the very first day I moved out. I was going to live on my own, finally, something I’ve always wanted so badly. And now that was happening, me armed with a big, heavy suitcase, on a train heading east. The phone beeped, a message. The guy I’d met at the hostel the other time, he came from Milan like me, the mathematician with funny glasses. Would I meet him for lunch? Well, why not. It sounded good. A great start for making new friends in my new town, actually.

We met on  a rainy night. It was not the first night for me in Trieste. I had already been there a few years before, and I remembered the landscape, the city gleaming over the water from the pier right below the hostel at Miramare. The pier, a great place where to sit and think, where I took all of the hardest decisions in my life. But that was yet to come: that night, it rained, and I was yet so much of a child. I came with a friend to take a test for a job. We were both nervous and depressed by the heavy rain. It was dinner time and we needed food, so we just crossed the piazza from the station and headed to the first bar. I have never returned to that bar for some reason, but it did surprise me. The food was good, fresh, something you don’t expect from the anonymous place right in front of the station. Spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and fresh sardine. Fresh and good as they can be, and this can happen only at sea. We caught the bus to the hostel, the last one. It had stopped raining, and we walked in the scented air, a scent of rain and sea. And then we sat on the main room at the hostel , and it was full of young people like us, and we started chatting. Somehow the topic turned to food and  I launched into one of my monologues that would eventually evolve into this blog – on gubana, a typical pastry filled with dried fruit and made with a brioche like dough (at least the version I was more familiar with from Friuli, but things change wildly here in a few kilometers) and how you should eat it with some slivovitz  (prune spirit) to keep it moist. I noticed the guy with the funny glasses looking at me, his eyes gleaming with interest. I did not know it, but I had already conquered an ally for my culinary obsessions.

March 17, 2011

Thinking of Japan

Sesame and spinach

A constant thought, in these days. I hope Japan will be able to recover soon. And we will be thinking about  its fabulous food, cinema, literature, design, technological innovations again, when we think of Japan.

Hourensou no gomaae (Spinach with sesame sauce)

Presentation from this restaurant, recipe from Just Bento

Ingredients: (serves two)

two big bunch of spinach (about 300 grams)

equipment: a sushi mat

Sauce:

2 tablespoon white sesame seeds

2-3 teaspoon tamari

1/2 tablespoon mirin

2 teaspoon sugar

Method: Remove the roots from the spinach but keep all the stalk, and keep them in bundle form as much as possible. Wash in cold water until no grit is left. Bring a wide pan of water to the boil, drop in the spinach, blanch for about a minute and drain. Cool under cold, running water. Squeeze gently with your hand. Have a sushi mat ready. Arrange the spinach neatly on it, with all the stalks on one side. Fold the tips so that the ends will be more even. Roll the sushi mat, press gently with your fingers to get a squarish log. Press well and leave for a while slightly inclined so that the water can run away. When water is no longer dripping off it, put the roll within its sushi mat in the fridge until needed.

For the sauce: if not toasted, toast your sesame seeds: heat a small heavy pan, add the sesame seeds and gently roll the pan until they start to pop. Take care because at this stage they go from toasted to burned in a second.

Put the toasted sesame seeds in a mortar and crush them with a circular movement. Add sugar and crush a bit more;  add mirin and soy sauce; taste and adjust the flavours to your liking. It should be definitely sweet, definitely salty and very flavorful. To serve, arrange some sauce on a small dish, cut the spinach log using a sharp knife in two – three pieces,  discarding the extremities if they are not neat, and arrange on top of the sauce.

February 20, 2011

How to make carrots interesting

Spicy carrot salat

There is always some vegetable that even the most hard-core vegetable lover dislikes. I count myself as a hard-core vegetable lover: I can rant for hours about the secret pleasures of artichokes or the juicy consistency of asparagus. I eat vegetables because they are good-for-you, sure, but mainly I eat them because I want to eat them. I want to cook with them. Whenever I go to the market, I have to stop myself from buying too much. I am a compulsive vegetable shopper, I admit it, and nothing excites me more than a good-looking (and better tasting!) fruit and veggies stall. My vegetable love has always been one of the distinctive tract of my personality: my sister is the one who eats only meat, I am the one who eats only vegs. We are a team, when it comes to eating.

January 11, 2011

Winter here

Orange fennel salad

To me, winter was fog. When I was a child fog was thicker, especially in town. Fog has a distinctive smell; it dampens sound; it reveals architectural details that otherwise would go unnoticed, hiding the ugliness of the whole; it is beautiful on flat rice fields, where you could be in a lost, far away world, and the farmer’s house could be a witch’s den. I find fog very charming and I miss it sometimes.

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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