30 May 2011

Elicopenna with Salmon, Pancetta & Green Peas

When I came up with this recipe, I was, as always, in a frenzy in the kitchen.    I didn't have so much in my fridge to cook so I had to scout for leftovers and frozen ingredients that I always keep for emergencies.  I found some frozen green peas & spinach.  In the fridge, I had one remaining package of pancetta affumicata and an open pack of smoked salmon.   Imagining the flavors, I was thinking that I would be creating something tasty.  I don't think i ever combined salmon with pancetta before.  The only thing they have in common is that they are both smoked.

Off I went experimenting on the stove.  The feelings are always the same.  Excitement to try something new and apprehension if no one eats what I prepared.  I look forward to the smile after the first forkful of food because that is my big trophy.  I got it, and even three of them for this pasta dish!

Elicopenna with Salmon, Pancetta & Green Peas

Serves 4

  • 350 g. elicopenna or any short pasta
  • 200 g. green peas
  • 150 g. smoked salmon, chopped
  • 200 g. spinach, chopped
  • a dash of cognac (optional)
  • 80 g. pancetta affumicata (smoked pancetta)
  • 1 clove garlic, halved
  • extra virgin olive oil

  1. Boil water in a pot for the pasta.  When it boils, add salt & cook the pasta according to the number of minutes suggested in the package.
  2. Since my spinach was frozen, I quickly defrosted it in the microwave.  Chop in an electric chopper or in the food processor.  If you have fresh spinach, drop them directly to the electric chopper or food processor.  Set aside.
  3. Saute' garlic in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil.  When it turns golden, add pancetta affumicata.  Toast.  Add green peas.  Toss with the pancetta.  Add spinach & salmon.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  
  4. Add a dash of cognac.  Cook for another 10 minutes.  If the sauce becomes too dry, add a little bit of hot water taken from the pot you are boiling for the pasta.
  5. Discard garlic.  Adjust taste.  See if you still need to put salt.  Mix cooked pasta with the sauce.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

27 May 2011

Matcha Green Tea, Pistachios & Chocolate Rice

Here I am again with the rice dessert.  I guess by now I can officially say that I love cooking and eating them.  I resort to rice desserts because they are simple to make and require less attention in the measurements of the ingredients.  With my hurried nature, I tend to disobey measurement rules and baking requires precision.  Two small, active kids make you run, literally, at any given time.   I dream of baking those beautiful cakes that almost don't look real.  Sigh.  For now, I have to satisfy myself with quick & easy desserts.  So if you are looking for those picture perfect cakes, try again my blog in a couple of years.  Maybe I will be able to surprise myself in creating my dream cake.

Matcha green tea.  As soon as I saw some pictures & recipes at the internet, I got hooked.  I had been looking for it for months and I finally found it at a large international gourmet shop.  Of course, where else?  I should have started there in the first place.  I was surprised at the price.  I had to pay about 25 Euros for a 100 g. canister of 100% pure Matcha green tea.  There were cheaper options - half Matcha green tea mixed with other kinds of tea.  I bought the pure one and hoped the 25 Euros I spent would be worth it.

Matcha green tea is the protagonist in the Japanese tea ceremonies.  It can be prepared either as a thick drink or thin and it's the healthiest tea that exists.  With the health benefits alone, it gives me satisfaction for paying a lot.

Matcha Green Tea, Pistachios & Chocolate Rice 

Serves 4
  • 1 cup Arborio rice or anything similar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons Matcha green tea powder for the rice
  • 1 teaspoon Matcha green tea powder for the sauce
  • Matcha green tea powder for sprinkling on top
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon sugar for the sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch or flour
  • 100 g. dark chocolate or milk chocolate, melted
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, ground 
  • pistachios for sprinkling on top
  • chocolate flakes for sprinkling on top 
  1. Mix 2 tablespoons green tea & 2 tablespoons sugar with 2 cups of water.  Adjust sweetness according to your preference. 
  2. In a small saucepan,  put the cup of rice with the green tea mixture.  Cook until rice becomes soft and liquid has been absorbed by the rice.  Stir in 2 tablespoons pistachios at the end of the cooking.
  3. In two bowls, divide the rice to 1/3 in one bowl and 2/3 in the other bowl.  Mix the melted chocolate with the 1/3 rice.  Let the rice cool.
  4. With a round mold for shaping food, put a layer of green tea rice.  Flatten.  Put a layer of chocolate rice then green tea rice again.  Sprinkle with pistachios, chocolate flakes & green tea on top.
  5. In a small saucepan, prepare the green tea sauce.  Boil 1/2 cup water.  Add one teaspoon green tea, one teaspoon sugar & the cornstarch.  Adjust sweetness according to your preference.  Stir vigorously until you reach a dense consistency.  Stir continuously to avoid having clumps of cornstarch.  
  6. Serve the sauce with the rice. 

Pasta alla Norma

Any type of food that has an attachment to Sicily perks my interest.  I will always stretch my limit for  Sicilian gastronomy.   Among the regions of Italy, Sicily is one of my favorites.  Not because my husband's roots are from there but because the island is superior in culture, history & gastronomy.  Also noted are the people's friendliness that can melt any icicle & the outstandingly preserved ancient Greek & Moorish monuments scattered in the island.

On my first trip there 12 years ago, my husband and I stopped in an out of the way restaurant because we were looking for an out of the way monument that we couldn't find.  It was a hard touristy life without the navigator.  Looking at the restaurant, I was thinking that we will eat badly because the exterior inspires aversion to possible customers, but it was very late and we were so hungry.  They had the full 5 course menu package for the day but there was no menu to choose from.  You will have to eat what they cooked.  When we arrived at the main course, we were already deeply rooted to our seats with very little space left for dessert.  The food was remarkable! 

 We pushed our limit for the dessert and refused the big basket of fruit for ten people that the waiter was taking to our table.  He was aghast that we decided not to eat any fruit and he admonished us like how parents do to their children.  He's a jolly old fellow so there was no offense taken at all.  He wouldn't accept no for an answer and spent a full five minute speech explaining to us the importance of eating fresh fruit.  Mmmm, it's a good thing I am not his kid.  He left the whole basket to us, convinced that his speech was effective.  He kept a watchful eye on us to see if we were eating.  We struggled with half a fruit each to please him but he was still clucking.  Apparently, our little fruit tribute to Mr. Fruit Waiter did not impress him at all.  We hurriedly paid and left before he gets the bright idea of sending us the basket to finish.  Italians have this thing about eating right and healthy.

Pasta alla Norma's home in Sicily is Catania.  It was born as a homage to the finest work of the composer Vincenzo Bellini called Norma.  The five fundamental ingredients are basil,  ricotta salata stagionata (aged ricotta salata cheese), tomato sauce (See my recipe for simple tomato sauce.), fried aubergines and pasta (Maccheroni specifically but nowadays, penne, spaghetti and some other types of pasta are used.)  In my case, I used elicopenna of Gragnano, a type of pasta very similar to penne.

Pasta alla Norma

Serves 4
  • 350 - 400 g. elicopenna (or penne rigate, spaghetti, maccheroni, etc.)
  • 425 g. tomato sauce
  • 2 medium aubergines, cubed (or round)
  • aged ricotta salata, grated
  • basil leaves
  • a lot of peanut oil (Safflower oil, sunflower oil & canola oil have high smoke points too that are perfect for fying.)

    1. Prepare tomato sauce.  Refer to the simple tomato sauce recipe that I had posted.  Instead of oregano, use basil.  
    2. Boil water for pasta.  When it boils, add salt & cook pasta following the cooking time suggested in the package.
    3. Deep fry aubergines in hot oil.  I prefer cubed aubergines from round slices.  Nowadays, it is already acceptable not to salt aubergines to remove the bitterness because the modern ones are less bitter.  I don't salt my aubergines anymore to save time.  They never come out bitter.
    4. Mix cooked pasta, a lot of basil leaves, tomato sauce, fried aubergines & as much ricotta salata stagionata you want.

    24 May 2011

    Sea Bass with Fennel, Lime & Olives

    Oftentimes, I spend more time looking for the English equivalent of some Italian food terms in the internet than cooking the dish itself.   Everyone has his own opinion and declares it as a fact that it gets frustrating to have more than one word to rely on.  I am almost certain that spigola is sea bass in English. 

    I occupied my time the past days switching our clothes from winter to spring/summer.  It was a relief to touch the fabrics of linen and cotton again while I put away the wool and thick clothes.  Just by the touch of the fabrics exhilarates me.  New colors are popping out in the garden everyday.  All the wonderful spring fruit I had been waiting for are coming out in the fruit stands.  I don't think I need do state that I love spring the most.   After being cooped up indoors throughout winter, it is a relief to enjoy outdoors again. 

    Eating under the olive trees, the first forkful of this fish sends you to summer instantly.   The ingredients are fresh and light.  It's deliciously summery.  I remember seeing an advertisement years ago of a product that I don't remember anymore.  It was in full winter and with this product, everyone was imagining summer.   I thought it was lame.  Aha, I don't think it's the first advertisement with that storyline.  In a nutshell, I bit my words because I also imagined full-blown summer in the beach while I was eating this.

    I didn't need to stay in the kitchen while I was cooking this which is fundamental when the time comes it becomes unbearably hot and you don't want to die of the heat while cooking.  At the peak of summer, I usually abandon my kitchen and say arrivederci until the promise of a temperature drop again.

    I first cooked this with a couple of limes then I used lemons the second time around when I took the photos.  The limes give much better flavor than the lemons.    


    Sea Bass with Fennel, Lime & Olives

    Serves 2
    • 2 sea bass (or any similar fish)
    • 2 fennel bulbs, coarsely chopped
    • handful of green olives, pitted
    • 2 untreated limes, quartered (or lemons but limes give a better flavor)
    • handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
    • salt
    • extra virgin olive oil
    1. Put all the ingredients together in a baking pan.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil & sprinkle with salt.  
    2. Bake in the pre-heated oven at 180°C for 45 minutes (or more, depending on the size of the fish).
    3. When the fish is cooked, clean it by separating the meat from the bones and skin.
    4. Transfer the fish to the plates with the vegetables and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.

    23 May 2011

    Dark Chocolate Pancake & Banana Towers

    Pancakes drizzled with maple syrup take me back to my childhood.  For an afternoon snack, my siblings, our playmates and I would have them, noisily eating in the terrace or high up on the guava tree in our backyard with a big plank of wood secured in between the big branches.  It was a balancing act between a glass, a plate and yourself while eating.  Just the sight of it made my mother nervous that she long abandoned scolding us for having acrobatic tendencies to eat.  

    Philippine Pork Adobo

    As soon as the first beautiful banana leaf came out, I snipped it away.  If only my plants could uproot themselves from the soil, I think they would all run away shrieking as soon as they see me lurking around with a pair of shears.  I feel like the sinister antagonist of a suspense film of humans against plants.

    Why a banana leaf?  Today, I decided to make a Philippine dish called adobo.  It is pork (or chicken or both) cooked in soy sauce, coconut vinegar, peppercorns & garlic. 

    17 May 2011

    Strawberry, Basil & Rose Ice Pops and Smoothies

    Because the basil in the frutti di bosco (mixed berries) salad was spectacular, it was imperative to mix it with the strawberries too.  They even have a better partnership, I have to say.   It was divine. 

    I just bought a big box of strawberries that needed to be consumed fast.  I was going big time with my imaginations of elaborate strawberry desserts but I only accomplished the basic - ice pops and smoothies.  I didn't have enough time to browse around for recipes let alone think so I just thought of my kids' pediatrician's orders.  Since the kids are so addicted to ice pops, it was better if I make them myself knowing that there is 100% fruit in them.   

    At home, I often prepare two versions of anything I cook.  One adult and the other, kiddie version.  With the ice pops, I only mixed the fruit, sugar & water for the kids while I added some basil & rose petals for the adults.  When I tasted our version, I almost yelped with delight.  I think I really did and even laughed triumphantly a bit but had to regain my composure because I suddenly felt like a mad scientist who concocted something sinister.  Picture me with a mess of strawberries, remnants of roses & basil stems all over the kitchen counter with a half full blender and red spills everywhere. 

    This is barely a recipe and it is so simple, but oh my, it is so good.  I did some ice pops and left the rest for some smoothies.  The freezing temp of the ice pops toned down the flavor but the cold drinks were very good.

    I still haven't found any ice pop molds so I just used some disposable espresso cups for molding.  After about an hour of freezing, I stuck the popsicle sticks in the middle of the ice pops.  Another option would be to cut round pieces of wax paper with the same circumference as the espresso cups, put them in the cup like covers & make a slit in the middle to hold the popsicle sticks.

    Strawberry, Basil & Rose Ice Pops and Smoothies

    Makes 3 glasses or about a dozen ice pops (depending on the mold)
    • 450 g. strawberries
    • handful of basil leaves
    • 4 spoons white sugar
    • 2 medium roses, petals only
    • 250 ml. water (adjust the water for the consistency you prefer)
    1. Put everything in the blender and liquefy.  
    2. For ice pops, pour in ice pop molds & freeze.
    3. For smoothies, pour in glasses & refrigerate.  Serve chilled.

      16 May 2011

      Frutti di Bosco with Basil, Roses & Creme de Cassis

      Little trays of raspberries, blueberries, cranberries & blackberries are carefully lined up inside the box of frutti di bosco that I took from the fruit section.  When I was maneuvering my way towards our cart, my five year-old's eyes almost popped out.  Then when I went back with yet another big box of strawberries, I got scared that his eyes were really going to pop out.  I see that I struck a good chord.   He can easily dethrone Cookie Monster with his remarkable appetite of frutti di bosco.  In fact, at barely 2 years old, he was already able to pick his own wild strawberries & blackberries in the mountains.

      Since my son proclaims ownership of 90% of the frutti di bosco, and generously gives us 10% of the remainder,  I just add some white sugar according to his liking.  This time, I bought more than his usual capacity (or so I hoped) so I added  a dash of liqueur.  Creme de Cassis (blackcurrant) went amazingly well with the berries.  The basil was a first for me in mixing with a sweet dish and it surprisingly vivified the flavors. 

      After this frutti di bosco salad, I added another plant to my growing basil population of 5 plants.  They cannot keep up with my daily snipping so they remain dwarfed.  As opposed to my balding basil plants, I have an abundance of roses staring at me around the house that I had to to include them in this berry salad.   It gave a pleasant subtle floral hint. 

      Frutti di Bosco with Basil, Roses & Creme de Cassis

      Serves 4
      • 500 g. frutti di bosco
      • 100 g. strawberries, quartered or halved
      • 2 spoons Creme de cassis
      • 2 - 3 spoons white sugar
      • handful of basil, chopped finely
      • 2 roses, petals only
      Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  Refrigerate for at least half an hour before serving.

        14 May 2011

        Roasted Asparagus, Scamorza & Pancetta Frittata

        Let's take a little stroll to cholesterol lane this time and see how good this frittata is.  We are fast becoming a health conscious society but sometimes we need a break.   I never digress with the healthy dishes I feed my family but sometimes, we all take a vacation from it, close our eyes and enjoy what verboten food has to offer.  

        I don't think it needs so much imagination to understand how tasty this dish is.  The three ingredients speak for themselves.  Oh, and there is also Parmigiano Reggiano.  Need I say more?

        10 May 2011

        Farfalle Primavera ai Fiori del Giardino

        I'll just get a couple of things.  When I say that, I don't believe myself.  I am worse than a kid inside a candy shop when I enter food heaven a.k.a. specialty food shops.  I do try my best to keep myself focused on the essential food that made me take a trip there in the first place but I always lose the battle of self-control.  

        06 May 2011

        Rice Salad with Carrots & Chive Flowers

        It's been a long time since I last dedicated a dish to my one-year old.  Since she weaned herself a long time ago from baby food, I didn't find the necessity to cook special dishes for her.   She drops everything for rice these days.  It's not really something I would gladly give her because she literally drops a lot of them on the floor, on her clothes and on her chair.  It's exasperating to clean up after one of her enjoyable meals but once you see a big smile of satisfaction on her face, you just forget all the backbreaking labor of taking away the rice from everywhere except the ceiling.  After all, we all went through this phase before reaching full dexterity of handling our eating utensils.

        She loves plain boiled rice with loads of parmigiano reggiano & oil.  If we don't convince her that there is enough cheese in her rice, she would insist in spooning an endless amount of parmigiano in her rice bowl.  She won't eat unless we mix the cheese & oil in her rice in front of her.  So the condiments are for her approval.  I chopped a carrot in the electric chopper to attain a very fine consistency that would make it impossible to segregate from the rice.  It went well.

        So this dish is just simply boiled rice mixed with an uncooked finely chopped carrot, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.  It's simple, fast and very healthy.  Since the carrot is raw, all the nutrients are still intact.  The chive flowers can be an option to add to the rice salad because not all toddlers would find it pleasing.  However, on the nutritional level, it has a lot of nutrients too like the carrot so if there's no complaint, keep them there.

        Irrelevant to this recipe, I think I have to mention that I had been having problems in receiving comments.  A couple of friends told me that they left comments but I didn't receive either of the two.  I tried to remedy it and now it seems to be working again.  So if you left a comment, and didn't see it appear, it must have been one of the comments I lost.  I value comments so much because they make me feel that I am not blogging to an empty audience.  If you like something (or don't like something, gosh, I hope not!), give me a shout.  I would love to hear it. 

        Rice Salad with Carrots & Chive Flowers

        Serves 2
        • 1/2 cup rice
        • 1 carrot, chopped very finely
        • 2 chive flowers, florets picked from clusters
        • salt
        • extra virgin olive oil
        • 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
        1. Boil rice in salted water until al dente.  When cooked, turn off fire immediately and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.
        2. Add carrot, parmigiano reggiano, chive florets, salt (if you still need it) & extra virgin olive oil.  
        3. Serve warm or cold.

        Grapes Wrapped with Emmentaler

        Every night, my son likes to be read a story before sleeping.  My husband and I take turns in reading to him.  He reads in Italian while I read in English.  Our son understands both languages perfectly but he stubbornly refuses to speak in English.  He denies to strangers that he's bilingual and sees any Italian speaker who tries to speak with him in English as a conspiracy to take out his hidden language.  Once, I saw him speaking with an Australian couple who were struggling with their best Italian to converse with him while he insouciantly ignored their difficulty in handling the language.  They soon realized that he does understand English but was not admitting it.  When it was apparent that his little secret was uncovered, he moved to a safer ground - an Italian couple.

        Oftentimes, as a joke, I take out my recipe book called Bruschette & Stuzzichini, I Piaceri della Tavola and start inventing stories about the bruschette & crostini.  He lies down all prepared for a treat of a fairytale when I start with "Once upon a time, there was a bruschetta who......".  Obviously I never get to finish one sentence without a sudden shriek of complaint and a playful jostling in bed to grab the proper fairy tale book which I always hide under my cookbook.   That is actually the only time when I get to scan my cookbooks.  And that is how I discovered this wonderful recipe.

        Grapes Wrapped with Emmentaler

        Serves 2
        • 10 pieces of  grapes, washed & dried
        • 125 g. emmentaler cheese, sliced thinly
        • paprika dolce (mild)
        • chestnut honey or any honey
        • 10 chive leaves
        1. Take away grapes from the cluster, leaving a little bit of the stem.
        2. Wrap each grape with emmentaler.  Secure by tying a chive leaf around the cheese.
        3. Sprinkle the top of the grape lightly with paprika then follow with a drop or two of honey.

        Grapes Dipped in Gorgonzola & Pistachios

        I love appetizers that capture the eyes.  In fact, this is the course that I like the most.  There's nothing more enjoyable than creating finger foods, putting together leftover ingredients and just experimenting with flavors. 

        On warm months, we usually stay outdoors in a bar across the road to a big playground enjoying a late afternoon aperitivo (aperitif) with a big spread of finger foods and little bowls of various concoctions.  We take it as an opportunity to teach our son to cross the road responsibly towards the playground and back to us.   More than once, he asked me to prepare a whole cocktail spread at home.  I balked at the idea of creating myriad little plates of food.  It seemed like a herculean task because I also had to think of dinner too and a baby who cannot detach herself from me.  But when our baby started to take interest in zooming along with his brother to the playground too, it was time to pack up the idea of sitting down in an outdoor bar.  The time to recreate it at home had to commence. 

        03 May 2011

        Zuppa d'Orzo (Barley Soup)

        While looking for the English translation of orzo, I was surprised that orzo is actually known outside Italy as a type of pasta that resembles grains of rice that are slightly bigger.  They are called risoni in Italy.  It is a pasta shape that is commonly mixed with baby food because of its size.

        01 May 2011

        Oven Roasted Sausages & Potatoes with Paprika

        This is one of those dishes that doesn't need so much preparation & explanation.   You just dump the tray in the oven and you have an hour to choose on whatever pressing matters to attend to.  Multiple choice:  A. Noisy children somersaulting all over the house that need parental intervention.  B. Find a "pesticide" for the toys that sprout from every inch of the floor.   C. Find another moving object as an alternative for a monkey copycat that tends to grab on to your legs hoping to peak at what's cooking.  D.  None of the above, I'd rather pretend to be a part of the bed and stay immobile for the next hour.   How I wish to choose D but I have to choose all of the above except D. Sigh.