Posts tagged ‘Spring’

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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May 19, 2011

As a starter a cappuccino, please

Asparagus cappuccino with cinnamon air

Would you start your dinner with a cappuccino? If you are Italian, of course you won’t even finish your dinner with a cappuccino, let alone have it as an amuse-bouche.

However, this is what I did tonight. And I can’t advise you strongly enough to do the same, asap.

It all started with a restaurant.

I have already told you about my favourite restaurant here. When I lived in Wales my favourite restaurant was exactly the opposite type: posh food, made only with local, seasonal  ingredients, run by local people, in a stunning location. The restaurant was renown to be among the ‘fine dining’ ones in the area, thus we waited quite a while before trying it: posh places ended up all too often in the same ol’ barely edible food and a double price tag.

When we did go there eventually, we were truly sorry for not having eaten there before. We were truly sorry for having previously wasted our money in other restaurants, posh or not. The dining room had just a few tables and was set in a stone cottage, immersed in an ”area of outstanding natural beauty”, in front of the ocean. Part of the charms was due to the cozy, homely atmosphere given by the huge stone fireplace in that tiny, dark room. We knew the food was different the moment we were served home-made bread of two types, both really good: finding good bread in Wales was harder than finding the Holy Grail. The menu was seasonal, local, well thought after, and cooked with skill . You see, eating out in Wales was an adrenaline sport: we tried a new place not much with the expectation of getting good food, but more with the hope of avoiding food poisoning. On the other hand, I have cooked some of my most amazing meals there: local produce was nothing short of stunning.

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.

June 1, 2010

Gelatine 2.0

Strawberry and wine jelly

The traditional everyday desserts at my grandparent’s home were two. In winter, it was pears, or apples, with some dried prunes, cooked with a little wine, sugar and spices; in summer, it was fresh fruit marinated in wine: strawberries in spring, peaches in summer, various berries when we picked them up in the mountains. My father still retains a passion for these desserts. My mother hates them. I have a kind of mixed feeling for them.

April 29, 2010

Lazy Sunday

MR Cheesecake with StrawberriesLooks like summer is coming very quickly. Before the trees have had time to grow out all the leaves, actually. The landscape is still a bit bare here and there: the woods are starting to dress up with  a huge variety of green shades. There are many types of trees, which you don’t notice in winter, but are bound to in Spring or Fall. On Sunday we took advantage of the weather and had a barbecue in our garden with a few friends. We grilled German bratwurst and krakauer from the market, Pakistani chicken kebabs (courtesy of this book), Moroccan beef kebabs (courtesy of this other book), mushrooms skewers, and zucchini. We also had a considerable amount of cold  pils. It was our first barbecue here, and we really enjoyed sitting out in the sun, even though in the end all of us – most people grown up in warmer climates than Germany – were quite dizzy from the excess of heat. You are just not used to it any more after four solid months of snow. So for the dessert we moved back to our flat. Time to blink my eyes, and the cheesecake I had prepared was gone.

April 11, 2010

Springtime

Pasta with wild garlic and vegetablesAt this time of the year, if you happen to be in Wales, you can walk in the woods near the Ocean without smelling the sea at all. Coastline in Wales is stunning. I had no idea before going there. It has not much to envy to the beautiful Irish coastline, but is much less known outside the UK. I used to live at the doorstep of an assortment of cliffs, sand beaches, pebbles beaches, peninsulas, tidal caves. From home in half an hour I could choose between five or six different beaches, all facing different directions so I was guaranteed to always get a lot of wind (I never managed to actually avoid it :) ). I was spoilt by the choice of  walks, some in the open, others in the woods. The woods are particularly luscious and magnificent: the mild climate allows for an almost tropical quality of nature, always green, with many imported species who have successfully adapted, including little bamboo bushes. The open parts on the other hand are wild moors covered by heather and thorny bushes, where lazy sheep graze the grass and the wind always blows.

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