Saturday, 31 May 2014

Mediterranean tart (eggplant, cherry tomatoes and ricotta)

Mediterranean tart (eggplant, cherry tomatoes and ricotta)

Fast post today, just to share the recipe of a very nice savory tart that inspired me as soon as I saw it on the cover of the Food magazine's May issue.
Since I had invited some friends for a dinner at home, I decided to try it for the occasion. I think that a quiche is a perfect start for an informal meal with friends and has many advantages too: it can be prepared in advance, and served hot, lightly warm or at room temperature, especially during summertime; it is very beautiful and, even more important, delicious.
And if there is any leftover, you have the lunch ready for the day after: all you need is a green or mixed salad and a slice of bread (and - why not? - a glass of beer).
Since I liked the combination of ingredients suggested in the recipe I did not make any modification, except for reducing a bit the quantity of halloumi cheese to put on top; but both the pastry and the filling are suitable for a big range of variations and future experimentation.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Italian inspiration: Orecchiette with eggplant and roast tomatoes

Orecchiette with eggplant and roast tomatoes

Making a recipe read on a cookbook, magazine, website or blog is somehow reassuring. If the recipe has been issued somewhere (and in the connected world we live in, it is very likely to find the same recipe pictured and published more than once) it means it has a long story: somebody conceived it, made it, tasted, maybe improved it and made it taste to others, who probably gave suggestions on how to refine it. At this point the road goes down: the creator makes the dish again, takes a picture (hopefully beautiful), write down the recipe with some comment or history behind it and releases it. Something with all this work behind is for sure reliable and probably worth trying, unless it is too distant from our taste or believes (related to food, I mean).
But making a recipe of this kind requires some preparation: at least one needs the list of the ingredients before going shopping. Considering how I do food shopping, especially for fresh stuff - basically I am inspired by the freshness, quality and, why not, appearance of what I found in the shop, be it a fruit and vegetable market, a butcher shop, a fish market or even the supermarket - it is not easy for me to replicate a tested and trusted recipe. I mean, I like to try recipes found in book, magazines or the web, but for me it is easier to do it if I have all ingredients already available at home. In most cases, when I prepare a new dish this is improvised on the basis of what I have in the fridge and in the pantry. But the inspiration for choosing the ingredients and deciding how to cook them comes from a mix of sources: memories of something tasted in the past, family recipes, a glimpse to some pictures, recipes rapidly read somewhere and, of course, the mood of the moment.
The recipe I share today has a story like this: one day at the end of the summer of a couple of years ago I had some eggplants in the fridge and wanted to make some pasta with them. I initially thought to "pasta alla Norma", a famous Sicilian dish, typical of the city of Catania (where the composer Vincenzo Bellini, author of the opera Norma, was born) and made with deep-fried eggplant, tomato sauce, grated ricotta salata and basil. But I wanted to make something lighter, then excluded to fry eggplant, and did not have time to make the tomato sauce. Then I thought to a dish tasted in Puglia, made with tomatoes (not remember if sauted cherry tomatoes or tomato sauce) and ricotta forte (a very typical cheese of this beautiful region). But I had on hand ricotta salata! What I did was to pan-fry the eggplant and cherry tomatoes in two separate pans, cook orecchiette in boiling water, and finally mix all in the same pan to combine all the flavors, add some fresh basil and grated ricotta salata and the recipe was born. We liked it very much and I made this several times before making an improvement: instead of roasting tomatoes in a pan, I started to bake them in the oven with herbs and garlic; much better! The oven roasting enhances the flavors of cherry tomatoes and, at the same time, preserves them from getting mushy. At this point the recipe had been finalized and this is how I make it now. Unfortunately here in Dubai I haven't found  the ricotta salata yet, then I use scamorza, but the dish is delicious as well.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Chocolate chip cookies façon Christophe Michalack

Chocolate chip cookies Christophe Michalack

Chocolate chip cookies. For sure one the most renowned cookie all over the world. And like for other famous recipes their origin is a mix of history and legend (see for example the stories about "Tarte Tatin", chocolate ganache, in Italy Panettone or even pizza). The certain fact is that they are good, very good. In my personal opinion (and I am neither a pastry-chef nor a food professional, just a food lover), chocolate chips cookies are the most valuable American contribution the world of pastry-making. And they are so famous and so beloved that anywhere you search (on the web, in cook-books, in magazines, specialized in food or not) you find for sure somebody who wants to share the recipe for "the original chocolate chip cookies" or, even more frequently, "the best chocolate chip cookies ever"; and some have even different versions of the "best chocolate chips cookies ever", each one described as an improvement of the previous one.
In addition to this there are many theories regarding the characteristics of these iconic cookies: how large and/or thick they should be, what is the right ratio between chewiness and crunchiness, should they be made with butter or vegetable shortening, should the chocolate be dark or milk, in chips or chopped, and so on.  
In my opinion (am I having too many opinions today?) it is difficult, better impossible, to label a recipe "the best" one, because many factors influence the judgement, first of all personal tastes and, why not, specific mood. Yes, I think that one day one person may like something and, after a while, for many reasons, the same person can like something different and maybe dislike what he or she liked before.
But anyway, among the hundreds recipes for chocolate chips cookies that it is possible to find, or create, I have recently tested one signed by the famous French patissier Christophe Michalack.
Typically chocolate chips cookies recipes contain more sugar than flour, something that I can hardly accept (for my taste I mean and, also and maybe more important, for my glycemia level) and this is way the recipes I try are somehow non-orthodox; this recipe makes no exception to the weird rule. But I have to say that the final result is worth trying, because these cookies are really very good: not too sweet as I like, soft in the middle and crunchy on the outside, and they go well with the traditional glass of milk (this is how my kid has them), with tea (like I do), with coffee or even on their own.    
One note: since the recipe creator is French he uses cassonade, which is a kind of sugar very common in France but not so easy to find outside: a good substitution is brown sugar; I used the light brown sugar (if you are interested in the topic, here is an interesting article by David Lebovitz about French sugars and their substitutes).

Monday, 26 May 2014

Oven-roasted salmon with a mustard and herbs crust

Oven- roasted salmon with a mustard and herbs crust

As I have already said in a previous post, I think that cooking fish and making a tasty and healthy dinner may be very easy - of course if we do not aspire to replicate or even create a dish that can be found in starred restaurants. The following recipe is a valuable proof of this statement.
The recipe is my interpretation of one by the British TV cook and cook-books writer Lorraine Pascale: the combination of Dijon mustard and brown sugar originally inspired me, mainly because probably I would have never chosen these two ingredients, together with breadcrumbs, lime zest, fresh herbs and more, for topping a piece of salmon fillet before baking it in the oven. But the mix worked so well that, after some trials made according to the original recipe, I wanted to add my own touch, making these changes:

  • I substituted dry breadcrumbs for panko breadcrumbs, which is a variety of airy, flaky breadcrumb used in Japanese cuisine for coating fried foods; the lighter texture of these variety of breadcrumbs allows to use a smaller quantity in the recipe
  • instead of parsley- that in my opinion is an herb with a too neutral flavor - i used fresh thyme leaves which add a peculiar, yet delicate, taste to the dish
I am so happy with the final result that I recommend to try both my and Lorraine's versions before making your own preference: moreover fish is healthy and we should eat it more frequently; salmon in particular is rich in nutrients that are very helpful to our well-being, from high quality proteins, to omega-3 fatty acids, to vitamin D and more. And salmon is very easy to find, even in supermarkets.
Considering how easy and fast this recipe is, and considering also that the combination of flavor is all but ordinary, this dish is perfect for a weekday family meal as well as for a dinner with guests.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Cocoa cookies with cranberries and chocolate chips

Cocoa cookies with cranberries and chocolate chips

I love cookies. And I love any cookies containing chocolate, or at least cocoa. I don't know how many chocolate cookies recipes I have collected: some of them are written by hand on a notebook; some others have been selected on the web, gathered into a huge file and printed on paper so that I can easily consult them and take note of my changes and my comments; others are cut out recipes from magazines, stored into a binder; finally others are only listed on a page of my recipes notebook, with name and source because I haven't had time to copy them. And this collection increases as soon as I chance upon something inspiring.
And I also have a personal scale for rating them.
These cocoa cookies are part of the notebook list, even if the original recipe was (as usual) a bit different from the one I made. The result here is surprising, in particular with regard to the texture which I would define "sandy", due to the combination of flours, mostly gluten free. The cookies are in fact made with rice flour, corn starch and a small quantity of spelt flour, which can be replaced by a gluten-free flour in case of intolerance. My child in particular really appreciated them!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Apple - spelt flour cake

Apple - spelt flour cake

I confess I have never been a big fan of apple cakes or tartes. Probably because those I tried or I was offered always turned out to be far from my tastes: now too sweet, then too buttery, now with too much cinnamon (which I'm actually not really fond of), then so humid to be difficult  to swallow. And this is why when it comes to choose which cake to prepare, apple cakes are usually at the bottom of the list.
But this time I felt like making an apple cake to eat at breakfast, since I and my child love to eat something sweet in the morning and I like that this treats are healthy. I had a look at the note book on which I write down inspiring recipes and, among the very few apple cake recipes I have taken note of, I found one containing spelt flour in the batter. Since I love the texture and taste of  spelt flour and in particular the whole-grain one, I wanted to give a chance to apple cake. I made some changes to the original recipe (I hadn't even taken note of the source so I cannot mention it) and came out with this recipe which I - and also some guests who tried it - did really like and think it's worth sharing.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Aperitivo time: Cheese savory cookies

Cheese savory cookies

A typical Italian tradition is that of aperitivo, which literally is an alcoholic beverage served before a meal to stimulate the appetite; the word comes from the Latin verb aperire which means to open and in fact it is intended to open the stomach to the upcoming meal but also, in formal and structured occasions, to open the meal literally as it is the very first course served. But more commonly it is a sort of pre-dinner ritual of having a drink before going home from work or to a restaurant or somewhere else for dinner. Since the drinks typically served as aperitivo are alcoholic (even if also non-alcoholic drinks or cocktail are now included in all aperitifs menus), and are drunk when stomach is empty, some nibbles and snacks which can be eaten with fingers usually accompany them, like chips, olives, cheese bites, crackers.
In more recent times Italian bars started to serve such a wide variety of finger foods and nibbles that the aperitivo has become a substitute for the dinner and, at the same time, an opportunity to socialize and spend time with friends. But that's a long story and I will probably will write about it with more details in the future.
Today I want to share one recipe that I consider perfect when offering an aperitivo at home. When we have guests for dinner, before sitting at table, I like to have some conversation and to open their stomachs with a glass of wine (preferably sparkling, white or rosé). And with the wine I like to serve something small and easy to eat,stimulating appetite (and possibly not spoiling it). These cookies are perfect for this scope.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Oven roasted red snapper

Oven roasted red snapper

Today I want to share one of the simplest, and in my opinion most delicious, way of preparing fish, especially whole fish. This recipe is the proof that cooking fish, and making it good, is not difficult as many people think. Probably fish scares people because the cleaning and preparation process is not easy and, at least for me, not at all a bed of roses; but fishmongers are always available and ready to do the hard job for us.
Of course, raw materials and the fish in particular have the most important role in this recipe. I think that this is a universal rule in the kitchen, but it is even more true when the recipe tends more to bring out the taste of each single ingredient than to combine and transform them to create a new blend of flavors.
But anyway, when it comes to fish it must absolutely be fresh (it's better a frozen fish than a some days old fresh one), this is the basic. Then I have some ideas regarding the origin of the fish I buy:
  1. I prefer wild fish to farmed one (the only exception I personally make is for salmon because, if not living in or close to Scotland or Canada, it may be difficult to find the wild)
  2. the fish must have not traveled a lot. This is a rule I follow for all ingredients I use, especially the fresh ones like fruits, vegetable and fish; I think this is important on one side because the closest food comes from the freshest and tastier it is, on the other hand because buying local is a form of respect for the environment (less fuel, less pollution) and contributes to local economy. And, other things being equal (quality level in particular), local food usually costs less.
  3. if possible, I prefer to buy a whole fish instead of fillets
Going back to the recipe, when living in Italy, I used to cook this way fishes like sea-bass, sea-bream, turbot, or even whole monk-fish. Since I prefer local fish, as I just said, in Dubai I started trying new (for me) species and, so far, one of my favorite is red snapper. And made this way it is really delicious. 
Pair it with a good dry whine and the dinner will be perfect.    

Friday, 16 May 2014

Spelt no-knead "twisted" bread

Spelt no-knead "twisted" bread

Some preliminary remarks, listed in a not relevant order.
1) We always have bread on the table, when having lunch or dinner.
This is a peculiar Italian habit and, at least with regard to bread, my small family does not differ from the average Italian family and therefore needs bread at any meal.
2) We want good bread.
And good means that it is not chewy like gum, or so dense and humid and heavy like fresh cement, or even flacky, but that it smells of flour and yeast, has a golden crust and an airy texture, and above all is pleasant in the mouth. It doesn't go without saying that shop brought bread is really good.
3) I do not posses a stand mixer (even if it is in my wish list and hopefully will arrive soon)
And I have skinny and weak arms, but I am not disposed to reinforce them now in order to make heavy dough.
4) I am developing a passion for baking, both savory and sweet things.
It is easy now to understand that I am very much interested in testing all types of bread which do not require to be kneaded. For sure kneaded dough produces a bread with a different texture and flavor (as soon as I get the machine I will try), but this recipes, that I found in a nice Italian blog and slightly adapted, produces a soft and tasty breads. And the final bread is also nice to see for the twisted shape of the loaf.
Since it requires a short rising time and no kneading, I make it as a last time bread, when I don't have any dough rising in the fridge (I will write about another easy and good no-knead bread which instead necessitates a long rising time).  The only handling requested to strengthen the dough is a sort of twisting that also gives to the loaf its peculiar shape. This operation is not easy, in particular the first time you make it, since the dough is very wet; but no worry, the bread will be tasty even if the final shape is not perfect and beautiful. If you try you will make it again and at any time your twisting ability will improve.

Chocolate and muscovado sugar thumbprints

Chocolate and muscovado sugar thumbprints cookies
This is the recipe I had originally chosen to kick-off the blog, before changing my mind and deciding to start with a cake, a zero birthday cake. Why these chocolate cookies? I don't know exactly, the choice had come out by itself, but if I try to give an explanation I would say that it is because I always have a jar of home-made chocolate cookies to grasp when craving for something sweet and chocolatey or to offer to guests coming for a cup of coffee; and these are so cute that look good also in a non-professional picture like mine.
Anyway, going straight to the recipe, this is a very easy one. In general, I like thumbprints cookies very much, on one side because I find funny to press the finger into the dough to make the little hole (kids will love the activity too), on the other because the final result looks really pretty. Chocolate lovers will like this version.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Soft Strawberry Cake

Soft strawberry cake
I had chosen another recipe for the launch of the blog. It was representative of something that I really like to eat and offer and that I make very often in different versions (I will publish the recipe very soon, and later others of the same kind).
But it took me a while to finally put my blog live and, in the meantime, I baked a delicious yet easy to prepare cake that made me change idea regarding the first recipe to publish.
We had friends at home for few days, visiting us and Dubai. When we have guest I always like to offer a breakfast with fresh fruit, juices, coffee (espresso) and home-made sweets, including one or more types of cookies and a cake or tarte. Before their arrival I had made a crostata alla marmellata (jam tarte) - I have to post that too - and we finished it all, so I wanted to prepare something else for the following morning. I had a pack of strawberries on the fridge and I didn't know how to serve them. I searched among my saved recipes and I was attracted by a Martha Stewart recipe for a strawberry cake. It was easy, fast, without a big amount of butter (there is milk instead, which I think makes the cake  so soft); and, most important of all, I had all requested ingredients available. It really inspired me and I made it, with minimal changes (less sugar and butter, as usual when I try a new dessert recipe); and I did well.
Indeed, I had a frustrating yet funny glitch on the way that made me fear I should have thrown everything in the garbage: while the cake was baking in the oven, electricity suddenly stopped. No light nor equipment worked anymore. Oh! Oh! I had completely forgotten of some works in the building announced days before. And they should have last one hour! I thought the cake was definitively lost. Since I had put it in the oven more then 30 minutes before, I left it inside even if I did not have much hope to save it. After less than 15 minutes electricity suddenly came back. Wow! In this short time probably the temperature had not decreased too much; so I baked the cake for 10 more minutes until the surface was golden and a skewer inserted in the middle came out clean (as I usually do for this kind of cakes). I had good chances the cake was good.
The final proof came the morning after. We sliced the cake, tasted and ... " it is delicious" - everybody said. My child, who is 22 months and - confused between Italian and English - doesn't speak yet except for few words, said "mmmmmmmm". I was lucky this time.
As a sign of fate I have chosen this unexpectedly good cake as the "zero birthday cake" for my blog.
And for sure I will make it again, and I will also try to use different berries or fruits: I think that blueberries and raspberries can work well but also wedged peaches or prunes. I'll be back with updates; in any case I recommend to try it.

A new foodblog is born...

And finally, I have a blog too! And today this blog officially starts.
I had been thinking for a while about having my own blog for collecting and sharing recipes and other food experiences, but I was always hesitating, not finding enough good reasons for doing it. The "sign" arrived some weeks ago when a sudden crash of my PC made inexorably unreadable a huge file on which I was collecting my best recipes (all in English). It was a big damage for me, first because I had made a big effort in putting everything in the same language (which by the way is not my mother tongue). Then because I usually don't cook a recipe exactly as I read it - in books, magazines, blogs, websites, etc - but always make my own changes, sometimes light and more often relevant, or even create my own recipes; since I am not a chef who studies in advance combinations of ingredients, flavors and textures, it is probable that I forget how the mix came out from my head and my hands, so it is better to record what I did, especially if the result deserves to be filed. Finally because that was a recipes repository that I had started to put together after my arrival in Dubai, last November, and so represented a little kitchen diary accompanying a new chapter of my life in a new city (and country).
Actually that episode was only the trigger that accelerated the creation process of this blog.
In fact, behind the idea of this virtual kitchen diary there is also the attractiveness - and some apprehension at the same time - of being able to reach people that I could never meet in the physical world and share with them my interest in food (and wine too), my experiences and ability around the kitchen and, also, a little part of my family life.
I am not a professional chef, but I have always been passionate about food, especially quality, and possibly healthy, food; I have been collecting for decades books, magazine, personal notes as well as direct experiences around food and wine - which include hundreds of lunches and dinners in restaurants all around the world (with a special concentration in northern Italy, where I lived before moving to Dubai), visits to wineries, farms, olive oil producers, gourmet trips, and continuous search for the best ingredients and products.
But the most important thing  is that I love to prepare food for my family, and I want that this food is of course good, but also made with fresh, natural, quality and, as much as possible, local ingredients.
This is why every day I experiment different recipes and/or combinations of ingredients and flavors, and I love to discover new products and ingredients as well as mix up different food cultures. And I think that at present I am in the right location for doing this in the best way. I hope that visitors of the blog will find some interesting inspirations.
More about me can be found in the "About me" section.