Thursday, July 2, 2015

come with me

I watch and I wait. I wait and I watch so much that even the most imperceptible change is detected. Suddenly a tiny green leaf makes its way through the earth and sprouts right before my eyes.  Radishes, beets, chard, onions, cabbage, many edible flowers are gathered in one big white pot on top of my kitchen counter.  Each day they get stronger, taller, wider and what was barely a handful of seeds has become a mini vegetable garden.  It's almost a pity to take it away from that spot where I would pay my daily visit with nature and its beauty.  No matter how you see it, la vita è bella, life is beautiful.

In our backyard we have a small space where we grow our vegetables and at the far end, in a corner of that space, is a shake, a wretched wooden shake that barely holds together.  A few years ago while we were preparing the garden for the season my son stopped what he was doing, grabbed a bucket of white paint and brushed these words on its door.

Facta non Verba.

Yes, there's lots of hard work to maintain a vegetable garden, especially if your life is a busy one that doesn't allow too much time for things you love to do most. But, if you have a passion nothing stops you.  There's no, I'll do it tomorrow, I don't have the time.  It's done because you love it.  Actions speak louder than words.  I think this sums up the sentiment well enough.
...and then there's another aspect.  There's a tastier take on food, if not only for the fact, that you've grown your own.

So this is what I've been up to lately.  From garden to table.
radishes, salad, dressings etc
radishes, salad, dressings etc
chardradishes, salad, dressings etc

This first dish, is a Bass fillet with radish cream.  The recipe comes from Chef Cannavacciolo, if you don't know who he is, click on his Facebook page here.  Picture a giant robust man, with huge hands that are the most delicate I've ever seen.  In simple clean moves he puts together a dish that is out of this world.  I saw him making this dish on TV and on that same day, I went out, bought some fresh fish, and made our lunch in just a blink of an eye.  Of course, I had plenty of radishes so I used the best, they come from my garden.

Bass Fillet with Radish Cream

1 bass fish, filleted - divided in 4 pieces.
6 radishes
250 gr Plain white organic yogurt
EVO (extra virgin oil)
maldon salt to garnish

To make the cream, peel the red of the radishes and blend with yogurt until smooth.  Add a couple of tbsp of EVO and salt to taste.  Mix by hand with a spoon.

Place the radish cream in each serving dish.

Pan cook the fillet fish by rubbing some EVO on both sides of the fillet.  Preheat a non stick pan and place the fish skin side down, press the fish fillet with two finger for just 3 seconds, let it cook for 7 more seconds and flip it over delicately so that the skin doesn't remain on the surface of the pan.  Cook for another 10 seconds until the fish is cooked through but remains moist.

Place the fish on the cream radish, garnish with a radish, a drizzle of EVO and some maldon salt.


Salad Dressing

2 small spring onions, sliced finely
1 tbsp apple vinegar
3 tbsp EVO
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt to season

Mix all ingredients and let stand for 15 minutes so flavours amalgamate.  Dress your salad just before serving.



4 tbsp of EVO
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 anchovy fillets

Rinse the anchovies from the salt and remove the fillets from the fishbone. Finely slice the anchovies, place them in a bowl and add the lemon juice.  Help yourself with a fork to dissolve the anchovies with the juice.  Add the oil and let stand for 15 minutes.  Place the dressing-dip in a bowl and serve next to any fresh raw vegetables you have available.

*Your vegetables would be more crunchy if you let them sit in some ice and water for just a few minutes before serving.


Red Chard Bruschetta

Red Chard (or Radish greens)
2 garlic cloves
sliced bread

Rinse clean the chard leaves.  Preheat a pan, add 2 tbsp EVO and 1 whole garlic clove.  Allow the garlic to golden and remove it from the pan.  Add a couple of handfuls of chard leaves to the pan and allow the leaves to cook for about 15 minutes until they are tender.  Add some salt to taste.

Toast some bread slices, preferably on the barbecue so they get a smoked flavour. Lightly rub the bread with the garlic and place the pan fried chard on top.  Scoop up some liquids that are in the pan and drizzle over the bruschetta.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Neapolitan Gateau

Neapolitan Gateau
Believe it or not, the last time I made this cake was at least 20 years ago.

I'll never forget the moment I unlocked the spring form pan and the cake slowly collapsed right before my eyes.  It was a total disaster.  Lory, my accomplice of mishaps, certainly remembers as clearly as I do.  All I have to say is "strawberry cake" and it will trigger a big fat 15 minute laugh, with no refrain to tears and sore cheek muscles. It's one of those stories that remain in the family, even if there's really no story, it's just the whole thing about it that makes it the tale of the strawberry cake.

20 years later.
Neapolitan Gateau
My 2nd attempt.

This time the cake didn't collapse but the taste was different from mom's. She must have adapted the recipe because the one I remember was less sweet and without the chocolate finish on top, the sponge wasn't so soggy either.  There were a couple of things I needed to change to make it more mom's strawberry cake and less Carol Bink's Neapolitan Gateau.

3rd attempt.

Mom's adaptions are not noted on her recipe book. I know I won't stop making this cake until I get it right.


The result is delicious.  I'm still far from figuring out mom's secret touch but I think I'll leave it that way.

Here's the original Carol Bink's Neapolitan Gateau from my mother's recipe book.  My adaption is right below.  You choose which one you prefer.
My Adaption:

For the base, I used 2 cups of regular tea biscuits, 1 heap tablespoon of good quality cocoa powder and 1/2 cup of melted butter.

For the strawberry custard, I omitted the addition of the eggs both yolks and meringue.  I simply made a strawberry puree, added 3 tablespoons of sugar (because I found some very sweet strawberries that didn't need the addition of too much sugar, otherwise you can use the amount from the recipe above), whipped cream and gelatin powder.

I soaked the sponge with milk.  I also tried it with a lemon juice syrup (dissolve and reduce over low heat 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of lemon juice).  I don't mind the liqueur either but if you have kids in the family the other two options are better.

For the rest, I followed the recipe above.

Sponge Cake
6 eggs
200 gr flour
170 gr sugar

Beat the egg whites with sugar for 20 minutes, using an electric mixer.  Add egg yolks and beat well, then add flour.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 40 minutes.

Friday, April 10, 2015

the risottare method for a puttanesca pasta

The trick you need to know to make a Puttanesca pasta taste great is the same trick you need to know to make almost every pasta taste great.  The method is called risottare, which comes from risotto. 
Risottare is not the same thing as mantecare or sautéing.  Risottare, allows the sauce to penetrate the pasta, it literally gets into it.  Flavours amalgamate turning a simple puttanesca pasta into something that goes way beyond any verbal description.  You need to try it, to understand what I mean.  

Cook the pasta as you would a risotto.

The pot of water is boiling.  The puttanesca sauce is almost ready.  Butta la pasta (throw the pasta in the pot).  

Cook the pasta half the time required.  The package will indicate how much time it takes to cook it al dente. 15 minutes?  Set your timer to 7.

Don't drain the pasta but use something, like a pasta fork or a hand colander, so that you can pull it up from its water. Keep the pot with the liquid handy.  The pasta now goes straight into the pan where the puttanesca sauce is waiting to receive it. Turn on the heat and add a couple of ladles of the pasta's liquid in the pan.  Allow the pasta to absorb the liquid by flipping and tossing the pasta. As you would with a risotto.  Repeat the process until the pasta is cooked al dente (your timer is set to 7 minutes, remember?).
Puttanesca Sauce

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 anchovies, drained and finely chopped
2 whole garlic cloves
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
100 grams taggiasche olives (buy them with the pit and remove the pits yourself, they contain more flavor)
a few fruit capers (rinsed and drained)
dried chilli flakes
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)

Add the extra virgine olive oil into a large sauce pan.  Add the garlic cloves and cook for about 3 minutes, remove the garlic from the pan.  Add the anchovies and let them dissolve in the oil with the help of a wooden spoon.  Add the olives and chilli flakes.  Now raise the heat on the stove and add the canned tomatoes.  Don't squish the tomates, leave the tomatoes whole. Turn the tomatoes so they can cook on all sides.  The high heat allows the tomatoes to caramelize but will also make a mess on your stove, it is, however, a necessary step for taste and worth cleaning up afterwards. 

Lower the heat and cook no more than ten minutes stirring every now and again.

Cook your pasta using the risottare method mentioned above.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

light buttery dinner rolls

dinner rolls
I can’t help myself from making these dinner rolls over and over again.  Don’t make their name fool you because they aren’t just for dinner, actually I love them more for breakfast and I think they make an excellent bun for hamburgers and sandwiches.

This is absolutely THE best basic soft bread dough I’ve tried so far.

The recipe comes from Sarabeth Levine’s book, Sarabeth’s Bakery, From My Hands to Yours.  I’ve adapted the recipe with just one simple addition, a sprinkle of maldon salt on top of each bun, just when you are about to place them in the oven.  I like to have that light salty touch.  Like other recipes I’ve tried from this book, the result is perfect if you follow the instructions exactly word by word, no less, no more. Although, I did reduce the yeast which calls for 28 gr of compressed yeast (or 3 ½ tsp active dry yeast), I used 7 gr of fresh compressed yeast instead.  The reason for this is because I prefer to allow the dough to rise slowly overnight in the fridge so that I can pull them out in the morning to bake straight away.  Even if it takes longer to rise I noticed that using less yeast results, in taste, less yeasty.

The author introduces the recipe with a small note: “Present these light and buttery rolls in a linen-lined basket at your next dinner party and your guests are bound to sing your praises”. 

I have a feeling that I will present these light and buttery rolls for Easter breakfast.  Served warm in a linen-lined basket on a table set with bowls of jams and butter, chocolate, eggs and salami, pizza Pasquale, Colomba, milk, coffee and tea.  For some reason I already hear those sings of praises.

dinner rolls
Dinner Rolls
Adapted from Sarabeth’s Bakery, From My Hands to Yours

28 gr compressed yeast ( I used 7 gr)
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 cup of whole milk
1 large egg, plus 1 large yolk
3 ¾ cup all-purpose flour, as needed
1 tsp fine sea salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, well softened
*Maldon salt to finish (my adaption)

Crumble the yeast finely into a bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer.  Add the milk and sugar, whisk to dissolve the yeast.  Add the egg and yolk.  Attach the paddle to the mixer and at a low speed add 2 cups of flour and the salt.  One tbsp. at a time add the butter and allow the butter to become absorbed before adding another. Add another cup of the flour to make a soft dough that cleans the sides of the bowl.

Generously butter a large bowl.  Turn the dough on a lightly floured work surface.  Shape the dough into a ball and place the ball in buttered bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic film and let stand in a warm place until double. 

Divide the dough in 9 equal portions (the book says 18 portions).  Shape each portion into a ball.  Cup one hand over the dough and move your hand in a tight circular motion, letting your palm gently touch the top of the dough.  Arrange the balls in a pan lined with parchment paper, leaving some space between the balls.

Allow the balls to rise until double and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown at 180ºC.  Optional, add some maldon salt just before you slip them in the oven.