29 March 2011

Quinoa With Zucchini, Pancetta & Tomatoes

I am unfamiliar with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) but had been seeing it quite a lot lately in the internet that I had to venture on my own too to find out about this seemingly healthy pseudocereal that's high in protein.  It is not available in the regular supermarkets so I found it in a gourmet shop with food from across the globe in the next town. My quinoa box traveled all the way from Bolivia. 

Pea & Veal Risotto

After a hectic weekend of children's parties & picnics, a hiatus from cooking would have been a treat.  I was just thinking of preparing a simple pasta of parmigiano reggiano (Italian parmesan cheese) & extra virgin olive oil that both my kids love, but my one-year old slept before lunch.  When she dozes off at that time, I usually savour the tranquil in the kitchen and enjoy whipping up something without being rushed by hungry kids.  I was deliberating whether to stick to my original plan and relax while she's sleeping or devote the only quiet time of the day tiring myself out in the kitchen.  I was delirious.  I chose the latter.   It's because I opened the refrigerator.  When I do that, I get stuck.  I quickly scanned what contents are in dire need to be eliminated.  Nothing.  In the freezer, my eyes landed on a piece of recently frozen emergency veal fillet that I had been saving for my one-year old in case I cook something she cannot eat.  Then I saw a package of frozen peas.   The prospect of getting that rest is shelved.

I put together a risotto of veal & green peas minus the white wine & butter that usually go with the risotti.  I was intending to cook an Asian dish by cooking the veal & green peas together with some soy sauce then boil the rice separately.   At the last minute, the wind changed its course and I did a risotto instead.  I didn't find anything similar in any Italian site so that impelled me more to experiment.  I thought it was unusual because peas and meat are normally cooked together.   Apparently, not in risotti.

I was more than happy with the result.  The parmigiano reggiano (Italian parmesan cheese) gave it a rounder taste.  The final verdict though will be given by my two little critics.  I waited for any dissents, shoving of the dishes away or any little squeaking that can signify a lament.  Silence.  Then "gnam-gnam" followed by "buona"!  Whew!  I got you kids! 

Pea & Veal Risotto

Serves 2
  • 40 g. veal, ground
  • 1/2 cup frozen green peas
  • 1/8 onion, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 2 spoons parmigiano reggiano (Italian parmesan cheese), grated
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups hot vegetable broth
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  1. Saute' onions in a small pot.   Add veal & green peas.  Cook until meat changes color, about 8 - 10 minutes. 
  2. Add rice.  Toast for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add broth little by little.  Keep on moving risotto on low fire.  Keep on adding the broth until you reach the desired consistency.   Season with salt if needed.
  4. When risotto is cooked, turn off fire, add parmigiano reggiano & drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

    27 March 2011

    Linguine al Nero di Seppia (Cuttlefish Black Ink)

    Linguine al nero di seppia, the pasta that takes out the ugly part of everyone.  While eating this, we couldn't decide who was the ugliest.  With our mouths & teeth completely blackened, it was horrifying for our one-year old to be on the same table with us.  She couldn't decide whether to cry or laugh along with our poor attempts to make fun of each other.  The poor kid was petrified that her whole family turned into black-mouthed sinister looking characters.

    26 March 2011

    The Porchetta of Ariccia

    When you think of Ariccia, you think of porchetta and viceversa.   In fact, that's exactly what crossed my mind when I thought of visiting the town.  Porchetta is the iconic traditional pork specialty of central Italy, especially the towns of Ariccia of the region of Lazio and Norcia of the Umbrian region.  It's a savoury roasted whole pork, deboned, and stuffed with an abundance of salt, aromatic herbs, garlic & pepper.  It can be eaten as a main dish or served in a panino or sandwich.  All over central Italy, you can find white food vans selling porchetta.  

    I love porchetta when there are cracklings, some fat around the meat & a shameless amount of cholesterol in it.  I can't help it because try as I might, I can't eat the lean part.  It tastes too dry.  I eat it like a main dish, slightly warm & sometimes drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  Or I eat it in a panino.  Either way, it is divine.  

    Ariccia is a nice, quiet town that's just about 30 kilometers from Rome.  It is located in the Alban Hills and is among the towns of Castelli Romani.  It had a strong significance to the Ancient Roman history particularly because of its ties with the goddess Diana.  The earliest findings prove that the city had existed in 8th to 9th century B.C. 


    25 March 2011

    MyCityCuisine - A Wiki Project

    I was recently contacted by Mycitycuisine to help look for contributors for their project.  It speaks about the traditional foods from different cities and countries all over the globe.  It's a fundamental source of gastronomical information that every traveler needs. 

    My connotation of traveling is exploring the sights & local kitchen of my destination.  Getting information about the sights is fast & easy but acquiring basic knowledge about what culinary treats a place has to offer entails too much time searching for food suggestions at myriad sites, wondering if they are even reliable.  Mycitycuisine solves all these with one click.

    So if you have something to contribute about a local gastronomy, wherever that might be, join in and make this project grow.  Find out how and share your knowledge.

    "MyCityCuisine is a wiki project. Its goal is to help travelers discover the local food from around the world. Food has always been an integral part of the local culture so, naturally, tasting local food is often high on most traveler's to-do lists. However, until now, there was no single comprehensive source providing this particular information for cities around the world.
    "What should I order?", an inevitable question faced by all travelers sitting in a restaurant, in a foreign country. MyCityCuisine is a project to create a free, reliable and up-to-date guide to the most original and tasty local foods from different countries of the world. This is an open project, so we encourage everyone to contribute to it."

    24 March 2011

    Mezze Maniche Giganti With Spinach, Raisins, Almonds & Sundried Tomatoes

    When I mix too many ingredients together, it can mean that I am running out of creative juices.  My main objective in this recipe is to deplete the new big bag of spinach that has sprouted in my refrigerator.  My husband has been taking home colossal packages of greens lately.  And with those packages, he bequeaths to me the problem of cooking them all up within a couple of days.  It's not easy when you have two kids who have an aversion to eating leftovers.  Even if they loved the food I served in one meal, they will instantly give a duad of whines & complaints when they see a repeat.

    23 March 2011

    Prosecco & Creme de Cassis Poached Pears With Lavender

    After using the lavender flowers with the strawberry risotto, I was totally stimulated in using them again for another dish.   I wanted something sweet this time.  My eyes landed on my kids' remaining pears in the kitchen fruit bowl.  They are their fruit of the moment & the only kind they recognize apart from the occasional strawberries that we buy.   Conscience-smitten but continuing on because of curiousity, I checked around the internet if my idea was plausible.  There are some recipes already floating around and I found one that caught my interest in La Buena Vida.  The pears are poached in prosecco instead of the usual water.  Gathering my ingredients, I happened upon a bottle of Creme de Cassis, a remnant of my last forage of something special while in France.  It is a dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants.  Mainly used for the French cocktail kir, it seemed to be a good candidate to replace the juice the recipe was asking for.   I did some modificatons to the recipe that I found fitting as to how I want the pears cooked. 

    It is ambrosial, worthy of all positive adjectives.   It's reminiscent of the preserved peaches that was cooked in white wine that we bought once from a small local producer of a town we visited.  Only these pears have a more intense taste that the Creme de Cassis induced.  My kids tried it and left me with just bits to relish.  They practically polished off the whole plate!   I did another batch that night with enough pears for the whole family to enjoy.  This is really worthy of your time & effort.  If you cannot find the Creme de Cassis, substitute it with blackcurrant or raspberry syrup. 

    Strawberry & Lavender Risotto

    Immediately after trying the wild strawberry & basil risotto, I had the urge to do this classic strawberry risotto.  I added a twist of lavender flowers seeing that my plants are full of novel flowering buds.   Cooking the two main ingredients together created an intoxicatingly wonderful scent of spring in the kitchen.  It made me yearn for the warmth much more than ever.

    Its delicacy made it very different from its offshoot wild strawberry & basil risotto.  Both were good, but having two similar dishes, we couldn't help choosing one from the other.  My husband prefers the wild strawberry for its intensity while I favour this abated version.  Perhaps it is the blending with the lavender that attracts me to this risotto.  My 5-year old refused both dishes because I think his taste buds were completely confused about the saltiness of the dish instead of the expected sweetness of the strawberries.   Without any surprise, my 1-year old ate both with her usual enthusiasm in eating.

    Strawberry & Lavender Risotto

    Serves 4
    • 250 g. Arborio rice
    • 200 g. strawberries, chopped
    • handful of lavender flowers, chopped
    • 1/4 onion, finely chopped
    • 1 liter vegetable broth
    • knob of butter
    • 1 glass white wine
    • salt
    • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
    • extra virgin olive oil
    1. Prepare the vegetable broth with 1 liter of water in a pot for later use.
    2. Saute' onions in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil on medium heat.  When it starts to change color after about a couple of minutes, add the rice.  Keep moving them to avoid burning.  
    3. When the rice is toasted enough, about 3 minutes, add the wine.  Keep on moving the rice while letting the alcohol evaporate.  
    4. On low heat, add about 1/4 of the hot vegetable broth.  Continue ladling the rest of the hot vegetable broth to the risotto until you attain the right consistency.  Stir constantly. 
    5. In the middle of cooking the rice, add the strawberries & lavender.  Adjust the taste with salt.  If it is a bit acidic, adjust the taste with sugar. 
    6. When the risotto is cooked, turn of fire and add a knob of butter. 

    Wild Strawbery & Basil Risotto After a Trip to Nemi

    The weather is warmer, the sun is always shining and no one has been sniffling for a week now.  Our  winter hibernation is coming to an end.  The prospect of seeing the town of Nemi pulled us out of our torpidness.  It is about 40 kilometers away from Rome and overlooks Lake Nemi, a volcanic crater lake.

    22 March 2011

    Strozzapreti With Prawns & Asparagus

    I like my pasta cooked al dente and strozzapreti is a kind that never fails to maintain the firmness I look for.  For that reason, I can be quite strict in following the number of minutes in cooking any kind of pasta.  One of my indispensable companions in cooking pasta is the timer.  To be truthful, I find it irksome to keep on checking the pasta every minute to check if they're already cooked or not because I burn either my fingers or my tongue. 

    Coming to Italy, I had to reprogram my pasta cooking procedures completely from the initial to the final phase.  Apparently, there is a different world behind these seemingly simple food.   As a general rule, pasta dishes should be served immediately, as soon as they are taken out from the pan, except for the cold pastas that are served in summer.  

    On the very first dinner that my husband and I hosted when we moved in to our new house, I was turbulent.  I didn't know how to time the innumerable courses, five in all, most especially the pasta which has to be freshly cooked when served.  I learned to start boiling the water about 20 minutes before you expect the guests to arrive.  While you are having the appetizer, the water should already be boiling and the pasta cooking if it takes around 10 minutes to cook.   You should cook the sauce much ahead like the rest of the courses if you don't want to smell like dinner when you eat with your guests.  You almost always drizzle your pasta with extra virgin olive oil before serving.  Even my kids remind me to put fresh oil in their pasta before they eat.  Yes, even one-year old kids can pick up the habit fast.

    There are some things that unsettle Italians when they see tourists eat their pasta.   If you want your Italian dinner mates to relax while eating with you, just remember these two basic rules:  Do not eat your pasta with bread.   From where I came from, pasta is served with bread, like in most parts of the world I guess.   In my first experience of an authentic dinner in a restaurant, I was incredulous why the waiter took away the bread basket after we had the appetizer and put a new one after I finished the pasta and about to start the next course.  Ironically, it's the only course when you don't eat the bread.  Second rule is, do not cut your pasta please.  There are exceptions though.  You can cut the big filled-up pastas like lasagnas, raviolis & cannellonis.  While out with my husband and some friends once, there was a tourist who was cutting his spaghetti to bits before eating it.  Our friends couldn't help gaping at the clueless diner and I can almost sense them twitching every time the knife was touching the spaghetti.   No one will twitch though if the recipient of the spaghetti cutting operation is 5 years-old and below. 

    The combination of prawns, asparagus and tomatoes is divine.  Whenever I have prawns & asparagus at the same time, they always end up together in this pasta dish. 

    Strozzapreti With Shrimps & Asparagus

    Serves 2
    • 200 g. strozzapreti (100 g. per person for an abundant plate each)
    • 100 g. cherry tomatoes, quartered
    • 250 g. asparagus
    • 6 big prawns
    • 2 cloves garlic, halved
    • cognac
    • 1 cup water
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • salt & pepper
    1. Start by boiling the water for the pasta.
    2. Prepare the asparagus.  Cut them in half.  Discard the lower half.  Cut the remaining upper half again in the middle.  Set the tips aside.  Chop the remaining half in an electric chopper or mince manually.  Set aside.  
    3. Prepare the prawns.  Take them out of their shells.  Save the heads and set aside.  Devein.  Quarter them.  Set aside.  
    4. Start cooking the sauce.   In a saucepan, saute' the garlic in extra virgin olive oil for a couple of minutes.  Add the heads of the prawns and press them lightly with the ladle to make the juices come out.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  
    5. Add the asparagus tips, minced asparagus and tomatoes.  Cook for about 2 minutes then add water.  Simmer until the water is reduced by half.  
    6. Add a dash of cognac with a high flame until the alcohol evaporates.  Put back to medium flame.  Season with salt & pepper.  
    7.  Discard the garlic & prawn heads.
    8. When the sauce starts to thicken, mix in the cooked strozzapreti and toss them together for about a minute.  Turn off fire.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

    19 March 2011

    Broccoli Rabe & Salsiccia Lasagna

    Broccoli rabe is called cime di rapa or broccoletti in Italian. It is most represented by the Puglian region of Italy and best known with their local pasta dish orecchiette con le cime di rapa.  I have a longstanding dislike of bitter vegetables but this one threw me off.  It is actually not that bitter, just a very slight trace that sometimes leaves you in wonder if the acridity was actually there.

    17 March 2011

    Green, White & Red Salad

    17 March 2011 marks the 150th year of Italy as a united country.  In commemoration to this, my husband, my son & I each have our designated assignments.  My husband prepped our son about the country and its unification as requested by his teacher.  My son made an Italian flag.  While I prepared the most classic of all Italian dishes - the tomatoes, greens (rucola, lettuce or basil) & mozzarella salad.  The three colors of Italy.  Green, white & red. 

    Preparing this plate is very easy.  Put together the mozzarella, tomatoes & basil, rucola or any other kind of salad.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil & sprinkle with salt.  I have a penchant for daterini tomatoes for their intese sweetness & flavour so I suggest using them if you find them.  They cost more than the other types of tomatoes but they are worth every single cent that you added.  Another kind that's good is the vesuvian.  They are grown in the area of Mount Vesuvius in Naples and have a high concentration of minerals from the volcanic soil.  And of course the pachino cherry tomatoes from Sicily, valued for their sweetness & intense flavour too.

    Vesuvian tomatoes with mozzarella  basil.

    Daterini tomatoes with lettuce & mozzarella.

    16 March 2011

    Farro With Pancetta & Salsiccia

    I thought that integrating cereals to my kids' diet would be a difficult task but I was proven wrong.  My kids eat them with relish and my picky 5-year old even excitedly runs to his place in the table when he sees that I cooked cereals.  I cook farro (emmer wheat) almost like how I cook barley with very slight differences but for now I will discuss farro. 

    Oven-Roasted Sea Bass With Oranges, Tomatoes & Olives

    When I cook fish, my hands move faster than my brain.  I automatically grab a handful of cherry tomatoes, a pack of olives, a bottle of capers, a bunch of parsley, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil & white wine.  These ingredients have permanency in my kitchen.  They go very well together so the aspect of thinking is not a requisite. 

    14 March 2011

    Sauteed Veal Strips With Rucola & Parmesan

    This recipe is the annex of the veal rolls with Marsala, pistachios & rucola.  The meat I used here are the strips that were taken away from the rolls to make them perfectly straight.  There are a lot of possibilities but this came to mind quickly because the ingredients are on hand.

    The strips of meat that remained from the veal rolls yielded an abundant plate for one person.  This is a literal quick dump & saute' dish.  The ingredients cook very fast.  As always, best if eaten immediately. 

    Sauteed Veal Strips With Rucola & Parmesan

    • Veal strips (leftovers from the veal rolls prior to this recipe) 
    • 1/3 cup parmesan, grated
    • handful of rucola, chopped coarsely
    • salt & pepper
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 breadcrumbs

    Saute' meat in a pan with extra virgin olive oil.  When they turn brown, add the breadcrumbs then the rucola.  As the breadcrumbs toast, they absorb the oil thus making the dish dry.  If it starts to dry up, push the meat mixture to one side of the pan & pour some new oil on the other side.  Wait for it to warm up before joining it with the meat.  Add the parmesan as the last.  Cook for another 5 minutes. 

    Veal Rolls With Marsala, Pistachios & Rucola

    While waiting for my turn to order at the butcher's, I scanned the prepared meat on display.  I spotted a batch of beautifully assembled skewered meat with very green veggies, cheese & breadcrumbs.  Upon closer look, I saw that the veggies were rucola.  The spiraled rucola & veal inspired me to make some veal rolls of my own.  I added some unplanned veal to my list and asked the butcher to slice them as thinly as possible.  Doing my mental checklist, I have fresh rucola at home & pistachios to replace the bland breadcrumbs.

    I messed up the first batch of rolls that I did because I cooked them too long in the oven that they burned to crisps and the cheese leaked all over the baking dish.  A veritable disaster!   It's because I was trying to do a million things all at the same time!  It's a good thing I cooked something else for the kids or everyone would have been banging their forks on the table demanding for food.  

    Not to be discouraged easily, I did another batch of rolls the following day, this time cooked on the stove.   I compensated the mistakes I did.  With hindsight, we do things better afterwards.  

    Having just bought a new food chopper, I tried it out with the pistachios cautiously.  I destroyed my old one because I chopped some macadamia nuts and destroyed the blade in the process.  I had been using the coffee bean grinder after that but the consistency was too powdery.   

    This recipe is easy.  The only time & effort consuming part is the tying of the rolls.  If you don't have the patience to do it, just secure them with food sticks.  I tied them to attain an even cooking all around the meat.  

    If eaten immediately, these meat rolls are delectable.  If you need to reheat them, put them back in the pan with some oil, pour some Marsala wine, let evaporate & serve warm. 

    Veal Rolls With Marsala, Pistachios & Rucola

    Serves 2
    • 8 thin veal slices of about 15 cm. long, tenderized with a meat tenderizer mallet
    • pistachios, crushed
    • a handful of rucola, chopped coarsely
    • 8 thin Gruyere slices or any similar individual sandwich cheese slices you can buy
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • salt & pepper
    • 1/4 cup Marsala wine 

    Slice away sides of tenderized veal to attain regular rectangular shapes.  Set aside the strips of meat taken away for another dish.

     Lay a slice of veal on a plate.  Cover with ground pistachios then a slice of cheese.  Make sure the cheese is a little smaller than the meat.  If it goes out of the meat, slice it away.  Sprinkle with chopped rucola.  Roll & secure with a food string or a stick.   Do the same process with the other ingredients.

    Roll again on ground pistachios.   Saute' rolls in saucepan with some extra virgin olive oil.  Brown all over on medium flame.  Season with salt & pepper.  Pour Marsala wine & let the alcohol evaporate on high flame.  Put it down once again when the sauce becomes to thicken & diminish.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil & serve.

    13 March 2011

    Fun Kiddle Meals 5

    I recently discovered two blogs of moms who prep up their kids' meals just like I do, namely Cute Food For Kids and Crafty Moods.  Unanimously, we try to win our kids' appetites by arming ourselves with cookie cutters, edible knick knacks & a lot of creativity.  

    Octopus-shaped boiled wurstels (hotdogs).  Inspired by the octopodes of Cute Food For Kids & Crafty Moods.
    In my last foraging in the baking supplies of a big supermarket, I was able to find some colored gels for writing on food, food coloring & other kiddie food decors.   For the initiation of my most recent acquisitions, I used the colored gels on my son's plate of salmon & thin bread.  Nothing special, just some doodles, but I was excited like a kid when I finally concluded his plate with some color for the first time and called him to the kitchen table.  

    Boiled flower wurtsels (hotdogs).
    He looked at his plate sceptically and asked what the colored things were.  After explaining to him what they were, he said he doesn't want his food touching them.  I looked at him in disbelief!  All kids love these sweet colored gels!  I think the point was that the colors looked so artificial.  I remember a couple of kids of our friends some years back.  They were not touching the little cakes that were a tad too pink.  They told the parents that they were not eating them because they were too pink.  

    Swedish thin bread & smoked salmon.
    One thing I noticed about Italian children is that they are not attracted to the usual colorful food that are aimed at them.  The effect, on the other hand, is the opposite.  In all the children's parties I have attended, I never encountered any colorful food. They are all in their natural colors.  So I guess I should toss the idea of food colors. 
    Robot - spinach roll with ricotta & pistachios and spinach parmesan balls with pear & almonds.

    12 March 2011

    Layered Potatoes With Speck & Bechamel Sauce

    I concocted this recipe about a decade ago in the Swiss Alps.  After having an unforgettable potato gratin in a restaurant, I had to recreate it for lunch in our rented chalet the following day.  I wasn't able to replicate the precise taste but I think I was able to come up with something delightfully good.

    Everytime I serve this to the parties at home, this dish gets depleted fast.  Serve warm when the cheeses are still oozing out.  Just thinking about it makes me want to do this dish again!