Posts tagged ‘Grains’

January 25, 2012

A new love: freekeh

Freekeh salad

Meet my latest food crush. Crunchy and juicy, with a challenging but yielding texture interesting enough to make you want for more, but not actually get tired of it. A subtle whiff of smoke, the smell of a thousand and one nights, and its bronzed hue betray its Middle East origin, while a tiny hint of grass makes you dream of the wild outdoors. Like all love relationships, it wouldn’t work long-term, if it were not good for you.

Meet Freekeh, Green wheat. Think unripe grain, smoked to dryness. Better than it sounds. Easier than it sounds, too. I have never much liked simple whole wheat, but this is another story. This is up there with farro. This is marriage material.

December 16, 2011

Buckwheat obsession: pizzoccheri

Pizzoccheri

Do you ever get periods when you are obsessed with some ingredient or flavour? Whenever I imagine to cook something right now, I think it would taste better if it contained some buckwheat. I am not sure what triggered it. It is a grain I’ve always found rich and complex and I’ve always been fond of.  In the mountains around Milan, where I grew up, it is a common fare. It is a hardy, resistant crop able to grow in poor soils, and it actually likes the cool and rainy summers in the mountains. It does not need as much sun as ordinary wheat, a grain with which buckwheat bears no connection whatsoever, other than  the name.

August 19, 2011

Pantry cleaning: Seeded granola

Seeded Granola

I am cleaning my pantry.

Here are some embarrassing items I have found – embarrassing because I’m not going to use them before I leave:

1) A can of sweetened adzuki beans, bought with some vague Japanese dessert plan, and who left me wondering why exactly can’t I make it from real adzuki in case I wanted to. I still don’t have an answer to that, and anyway the chances of me trying my hand at doing adzuki paste filled mochi are getting thinner by the hour.

2) A small sachet of powdered ‘latte macchiato’, a promotional gift from a pharmacy. There are a lot of pharmacies in Germany and they try to buy you out by giving you little presents – these particular powders were awful, and I’m not sure of why I kept them – or maybe they were not that awful, it is just that I’m not into powdered drinks. I preferred the pharmacy where they gave you little paper blocks.

3) A bag of kamut, the oldest item to date, bought a few days after I moved to Germany in a moment of enthusiasm for all the organic supermarkets: I did not like it, I found it bland when compared to spelt or barley, and it takes ages to cook.

4) Three packets of powdered sugar. When I think I have finished something, I keep on buying it until I have a huge supply. Three packets of breadcrumbs, same logic.

5) A bar of agar agar, bought before I found where they sell the powder here, and mother to more than one culinary disaster – I’d like to know what was in the head of the supermarket’s buyer when he decided to stock solid agar agar as opposed to powder.

6) Some Vietnamese rice paper, and with ‘some’ I mean something like two hundred leaves: considering that four are plenty for a meal, and that I make little rice paper rolls – very cute! – maybe every two months, I wonder how long this stock could last me.

But there is plenty of interesting stuff as well: Italian Venere rice, pitch black, still vacuum packed; my mother’s candied tomatoes and some Calabrese sun-dried tomatoes in oil, both extremely useful for I’m-too-tired-from-packing-to-cook type of dinners.  

July 19, 2011

Cherries!

Cherries tart

There is an idiom in Italian: ‘Una ciliegia tira l’altra’, a cherry leads you to the next one. Indeed, I cannot stop. Cherries are among my favourite treats. The season in Italy is painfully short, probably over by now, but for my good luck it tends to be longer here up North. We have been having sweet and dark Spanish, Turkish and Italian cherries for months, but the true highlight is now, when the local ones are ready and ripe, and oh so tasty.

I probably inherited the passion for cherries from my dad, although to be fair, it is quite common a passion. It is one of the best moments in life to wander through the Italian countryside, possibly on a bike, and come across a cherry tree, in a sunny morning of May, the air hot but still bearable. It is a joy me and my dad have shared more than once. Every time, we don’t care whether the cherries are of the sweet or the tart variety (both are quite common, there are often trees that have been abandoned, or so my dad used to say to me, which is probably not completely true, but anyway, we are not doing more damage than birds). We eat cherries until we are literally sick, both of us.

July 6, 2011

How to get perfect couscous

Plain couscous

I confess it: I’m not cooking much lately. I do have excuses: I’ve been in Calabria, and you see, summer in Calabria is a world where cooking is not required. First of all, you can’t cook with the water supply coming and going without notice. And then, anyway, you won’t cook with fruit and vegetables that good. You just don’t bother. You can very well survive on bread and tomatoes and ricotta and watermelon. When you really feel like a cooked meal, you go to a pizzeria – after all, expats have a right to eat as much pizza as they want when they go back to Italy. It is a recognized human right. Another food staple is granita: when you come back from the sea,   you stop at a little place under a vine, you order a ‘granita con la brioscia’ – you can choose between a handful of very good flavours, but honestly more (black mulberry) is the way to go. Whipped cream is optional, although it does decrease the amount of granita you are going to get. La brioscia, a brioche, is not optional.You have a moral obligation to have granita every day – the season is so short, it has just started and it is going to be gone by the middle of September. After that, there may be still  40 degrees and you may still be going to the sea, but this little bar will only serve normal patisserie and excellent coffee, waiting for another short season of shine. It is always deserted outside the season, I wonder how they survive.

I’m back to Germany now so I guess I should start cooking again. And I always start again from the basics.

Of my go-to ingredients that never make it to the blog, couscous is a probably the biggest suspect. I use it quite often, ready in a handful of minutes for a quick lunch salad, or to bulk up a meal, and here I find good, cheap bags of all varieties of couscous at the ethnic shops (I almost choked when I saw how much more it costs at the local supermarket, once..). A no brainer, really. But it is not something I personally would consider for a high-end meal. Precooked couscous has always a bit of a soggy consistency.  When friends make it for me from scratch, or I go to a North African restaurant, the real version is one of the things I enjoy the most. It has a great texture and the flavour of good durum wheat is hard to beat for the pasta addict Italian that I am at heart. By comparison, I’m always a bit underwhelmed by the precooked variety. I think a person that really enjoys cous cous probably sees my lunch salads the way I’ll look at people cooking soft wheat pasta. I understand it has some conforting and convenient charms, but please, do not compare it with the real thing.

June 6, 2011

The secret to weight loss

Peach ginger muffin

I am quite happy with the way I eat (and cook). It served me well over the years not to gain any weight, and to have plenty of energy to carry on with my activities.  Of course there are (more than) occasional treats, but overall I’d say my diet is quite balanced. I am not thin, never have been,  but I still have the same size – actually, nearly the same weight – of ten years ago. It could not be any other way, because first, I hate feeling out of shape, and second, I can’t diet. Like in, follow a set diet to lose weight. The ‘d’ word itself gives me sweaty palms and an anxiety that can increase my hunger to epical amounts. I never eat as much and as badly as when I’m trying to follow a ‘diet’.

This is a personal problem however. My partner on the other hand has much more discipline, and a worse metabolism.

A couple of months ago I decided I needed a special treat and ordered myself a pile of cookbooks. Some of them were definitely health oriented (the excellent ‘Just bento cookbook‘, and Heidi’s first book). But for the first time, I had also ordered a book devoted to baking only. As I leafed through it, I admired the gorgeous, homely, intimate photography, and I could not wait to try the many enticing flavour combinations, the rich fruit compotes, the soft pillows of pancakes.. And my partner, drooling, was spying over my shoulder.

‘This book is going to be dangerous.’ I joked.

‘ Fair enough -  he answered – you’ll have it back when I have lost five kilos’

And snatched the book away.

May 15, 2011

Need a spring clean? Risi e bisi

Risi e bisi

Sometimes I need comfort, but not too many calories.  I need to pair a boost of spring energy with a warm hug. I need to have something exciting enough to fulfill my taste buds, without challenging them with exotic flavours. There is  one food to match the bill. Risotto. Namely, risotto ai piselli.

In Italy piselli are heralds of spring – early spring. Here up North they are more of a herald of Summer, but never mind: the important thing is that I know that every year I can count on my fix of fresh peas. Shelling the plump pods, getting my nails green, already feels like healing from whatever is aching. I love the way the pods crack open and fill the air with their sweet smell. I love running my hand in the fresh bounty of peas. I like them so much that when they are really tiny I’d eat them raw, until I feel a bit queasy.

Today I bought fresh peas for the first time this year. My partner had already made me promise – weeks ago! – that I’d hold my usual culinary experiments and cook the very first peas in form of a ‘humble’ risotto. One of his favourite dishes, and I have to admit, now that I think about it, also one of mine. I never feel like cooking risotto: I used to eat so much of it growing up, that I have developed a thick crust of indifference to it. I will not accept any risotto less than outstanding, and it would rarely excite me. But when I actually cook it, well, it feels like meeting a friend after a long time, and finding out that the years did not change you in the end, and you still are really fond of each other. A very good feeling.

May 2, 2011

From Germany to Afghanistan: a few recipes

Afghan turkey and cauliflower stew

If I were to invite you out for dinner where I live, I would bring you to my favourite local restaurant, an Afghani restaurant.  Before eating there, I had no clue about Afghan food. Then one night – I think it was summer – for some reason our scheduled plan failed, we needed food, we did not feel like the same ol’kebab, and we decided to try this one, a bit randomly. I remembered driving past it while house hunting: the apartment we saw that night was the creepiest one ever, for the record, but it was worth going there just for noticing this place. ‘Kabul Restaurant’.

March 28, 2011

I am Italian, I make pasta

Spelt pasta rolls

And after taking a stroll around the world, foodwise (I saw this lovely old movie a few nights ago), here I am, back home: back to Italy, with pasta.

Like most Italian people who cook, I often make my own. Fresh pasta is a completely different product from ‘regular’ dried durum wheat pasta, the one sold in every supermarket; and it is infinitely better  than store-bought fresh pasta, unless of course you have a good pastificio artigianale down the road. For these reasons, if you have never eaten it, you really should give this (or any other recipe) a try. Once you learn the basics, it is easy to make: I have tested this on a few friends, who asked me to teach them how to make pasta: they could not believe the sumptuous dish of pappardelle al ragù we produced after a mere couple of hours work.

(It can take less than that, with some experience; it will take more than that, if you make ragù without a pressure cooker).

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.

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