Posts tagged ‘Healthy’

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).

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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.

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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.

March 8, 2011

Otto Marzo

Rhubarb Clafoutis

Today it is International Women’s Day. I have always found it very depressing that we need to be remembered and protected and honored on a special occasion. But it is a fact that many women  do not have the respect and recognition they deserve as human beings, and we need all the attention we can get, also from ourselves, to start with.

I have not seen my grandmother in a long while, and since then, she has been very ill. The two things are not strictly related, of course, but I cannot help thinking how much my life is different from my mother and grandmother’s life.

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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.

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February 6, 2011

Little pots: it all started with apples

Caramelized Apple Pot

My favourite snack is an apple. As a student I used to always bring an apple or two in my bag, and I never stopped to. I think it must have started when I was very young, probably right after primary school. My public primary school was indeed quite a progressive and unusual one.  Children had the option to stay at school also in the afternoon (in Italy they spend only mornings at school). There was a canteen providing food for everyone, fresh, locally prepared, healthy food, with a pool of voluntary moms that were allowed to supervise after a careful training on health and safety procedures.  My stay-at-home mum was one of them and  she was impressed by the quality. I have to admit that as a youngster I was not very inclined to appreciate that, and while I do remember some food with pleasure, my main memory is that of hating the salad because it had so much vinegar in it. At mid mornings and mid afternoons snacks were provided during the long breaks. You were not allowed to bring any food from outside and as far as I remember the rule was enforced. So we all snacked on fruit and milk. Fruit was oranges or apples, usually. And it all started there, I think. If you think about it, this is a great trick to teach children to eat healthily. We were all hungry and so learned to snack on fruit without having to have it cut and cleaned for you by mummy first. We did not need to care that much about advertisement featuring sugary, unhealthy food and drink, since the ‘cool’ factor associated with it could not be boasted at school with your mates, and thus lost most of its appeal.

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January 13, 2011

Pasta tricolore

Pasta with ricotta, rocket and tomatoes

I am definitely cooking more Italian food here in Italy. Weird enough, because if you asked me, I would have told you that of course I always cook Italian food. Well, I guess I must be inspired by the ingredients, or to be fair, by the lack of non Italian ingredients.

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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.

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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.

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