31 July 2011

Calaramata with Fresh Tuna, Fennel & Tomatoes

We had something very similar in a Sicilian restaurant the other night.   Only the pasta used was pappardele.  As soon as I tried it, I was itching to recreate it at home.   As luck would have it, I chanced upon a promotion of fresh tuna at the supermarket.  With the taste still fresh in my memory, I hurried home to prepare the tuna pasta sauce.  I didn't have any pappardelle at home so my closest candidate was calamarata.  Originally from the Campana region of Italy (where Naples is), it is reminiscent of calamari rings and for that it got its name.   It goes well with tomato-based seafood sauce.  

I liked the version I did.   It's very similar to the one that we had at the restaurant but not exactly the same.   I can imagine the chef who cooked it at the restaurant saying, "Tsk!  Tsk!  Nice try, but you didn't get it, did you?"  What I think is that I put more fresh tuna than the restaurant & less tomato sauce when they did the contrary.  The fennel seeds were unmistakably there.   I tried to dissect the taste in my mouth and inconspicuously gave a visual analysis to understand the ingredients.  Now that just sounds exactly what someone would do with a scientific experiment.  The only thing missing is taking out a miscroscope.  

Whatever the result was, whether it's similar or totally different from what I originally tasted, the important thing is that my whole family loved their meal.  That is what cooking is all about anyway.   So I won't scratch this one out because I didn't reach my goal.   I'm adding it instead to the list of recipes because it is worth keeping and redoing.


Calaramata with Fresh Tuna, Fennel & Tomatoes

Serves 4
  • 400 grams calamarata (or other kinds of short pasta)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped finely
  • 400 grams fresh tuna, diced
  • Salt 
  • Pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar & pestle
  • 400 grams cannned tomatoes
  • Bunch of parsley, finely chopped
  1. Boil some water in a pot for the pasta.  When it boils, add the salt.  Cook according to the number of minutes suggested in the package.
  2. Meantime, over medium heat, sautè the onions in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil.    
  3. Add the tuna. Cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt & pepper.  
  4. Add the crushed fennel seeds. Take away half of the tuna. Set aside.   Crush the remaining tuna in the saucepan with a fork.   
  5. Add the tomato sauce. Cook for half an hour. If the sauce is drying up, ladle some water from the pot you are boiling for the pasta.  
  6. Put back the other half of tuna. Adjust the salt & pepper.   Cook for another 5 minutes.  
  7. Mix the cooked pasta with the sauce.  Add the parsley.   Cook together for a couple of minutes.  
  8. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.

29 July 2011

Chicken Corn Chowder

Suddenly it's cold..... in the middle of summer, when it's supposed to hit the highest in the thermometer.   It feels strange taking out the sweaters.   Just when I am starting to enjoy this cool summer weather, the heat is forecasted to return and reign again at the beginning of August.  Bahh! 

26 July 2011

Bruschetta with Tomatoes & Basil (Bruschetta al Pomodoro)

Grilling in summer is best accompanied with the basic bruschetta al pomodoro.   Having this to start the meal can be dangerously good that you tend to eat too much and end up not having much space anymore for the rest of the courses.  

Caramelized Rum Bananas with Amaretti Vanilla Yogurt

Summer calls for cold desserts.  There is always gelato to refresh us but sometimes, a simple dessert like this can end our meals well.  This dessert didn't take me more than 15 minutes to prepare.  The bananas didn't need too much cooking so it can be done even during the hottest days.  It's very refreshing when you eat it after it cools in the fridge.

When I was preparing this, I was regretting why I was making it in the first place.  I forgot that my husband evades amaretti & bananas as much as he can, whereas I am not a "hurray, it's yogurt person" because of its proximity to milk.   To top it all, the kids don't like their fruit cooked.  This is one dessert wasted.  Just the same, I continued.

After putting the last kid to bed, my husband and I sat down in the kitchen while we enwrapped ourselves with the silence after a very long day.  Sometimes, this is the best time of the day after spending a whole day with hyperactive kids.  And in silence comes the only chance to taste what we are eating.  Eating with two kids can be major chaotic.  One wants this, the other one wants that, then the shrieking starts and the other one takes on the cue.  Sometimes even our dog joins in the whining.  Whew!  Just writing it down sends me back to stressful meal land.  We are the restaurant-mates you would not want to sit close to.  Well, unless your idea of a romantic dinner is served with a background music of all the sounds that children are capable of emitting.  With all this mess, we adults, just shove our food in our mouths without even tasting what we are eating.  "Huh, what?  Didn't we have chicken for dinner?  No it was fish.  Even if you feed me watermelons for dinner, I wouldn't notice it anyhow." 

As I took out these bananas from the fridge, I already forewarned my husbands about the ingredients.  He was willing to try it.  Heck, I was going to try it too, yogurt or not.  We both finished our bowls up to the point of almost licking them clean.  They were delicious.  The blending of all the ingredients went very well that they came out as one surprisingly pleasant eating experience.  And yes, we did taste everything this time.

Caramelized Rum Bananas with Amaretti Vanilla Yogurt

Serves 2
  • 2 bananas (one for each person), round slices
  • 8 small amaretti biscuits, crushed
  • 2 small amaretti biscuits for decorating
  • 150 ml. vanilla yogurt or plain
  • vanilla essence (optional)
  • dash of rum
  • 2 spoons brown sugar
  1. Put the sliced bananas in a non-stick saucepan.  Toast both sides for about 5 minutes.  
  2. Add sugar.  When sugar melts, add the rum.  Cook for about 3 minutes or until the alcohol evaporates.   Set aside & let cool.
  3. Wrap the amaretti biscuits in a kitchen paper towel.  Use a kitchen mallet or anything heavy to pound on the biscuits.  Make sure the paper towel doesn't tear.  
  4. Transfer crushed biscuits to a bowl.  Set aside some for sprinkling on top.  Mix in vanilla yogurt.  If you only have plain yogurt and would like to flavor it, just add a few drops of vanilla essence and mix or just use the plain one.
  5. Transfer yogurt mixture to individual bowls.  Add the bananas.  Sprinkle crushed amaretti on top and put one whole biscuit in the middle.  
  6. Refrigerate.  Serve cold.

25 July 2011

Marinated Fresh Anchovies (Alici Marinate)

When fresh anchovies are marinated this way, I can eat my way throughout the bowl in no time.  If you are into raw fish cooked with the acidity of vinegar or lemon..... then get your own bowl because we might fight over this.  

When my mom came to visit us, my husband's mother asked her what food she would like to be prepared, she said alici marinate without skipping a beat.  The day after, my mother-in-law delivered a bowl that was reasonably big.  My mom & I finished the whole bowl together in an embarrassing speed.  I asked shyly for another batch and again, the following day, we were given a much bigger container.   We wiped the container clean immediately until our lips became swollen from too much acidity.   I was too embarrassed to ask for a third batch on the third day.  I mean, no one can possibly eat all those anchovies that fast.... except me & mom!  So I asked how to prepare it instead.  That way, no one would know how much anchovies we were eating in the afternoons. 

It's very easy to prepare.   The fresh anchovies are even available already cleaned & opened in all fish shops so there was no need to do the big work.  You just have to mix & wait.  What I like about this recipe is that you don't taste the unpleasant fishy taste.  I found out that she throws away the vinegar that cooked the fish.   That is fundamental because you want to taste the freshness of the fish with the acidity of the vinegar & lemon, without the fish residue dominating your taste buds.

Marinated Fresh Anchovies (Alici Marinate)

Serves 4

  • 400 g. fresh anchovies, cleaned, scaled & opened
  • 1 lemon
  • white wine vinegar
  • salt & pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  1. Layer anchovies in a bowl with a flat bottom.  Marinate them in vinegar, salt & pepper mixture, making sure that the fish are completely submerged in the marinade.  Leave for a couple of hours or until the fish changes from transparent to whitish.
  2. Drain the fish.  Discard the marinade.
  3. In a new flat-bottomed bowl or a large serving plate, layer the fish.  Squeeze some lemon juice on every layer, sprinkle with salt, pepper, parsley & garlic (optional).
  4. Pour extra virgin olive oil on the fish, making sure that they are completely covered.  Refrigerate before serving
  5.  This dish is good only until the following day so don't keep it too long. 

22 July 2011

Thai Chicken with Basil

I always buy chicken fillet when I have no idea what to cook.  It's the easiest meat to blend flavors with, cooks fast and most importantly, it doesn't have so much fat.   I also keep a pack or two in the freezer for emergency meals, targeting those days when I don't have anything to cook and we're too lazy to go out & buy something.  I just toss the chicken in the griddle for grilling, chop some tomatoes or oranges & fresh herbs from the garden for a bowl of salad & voila!  We have a meal on the table.

This time, I was craving for something different.  As I surfed the net, I found the perfect recipe in the food blog Sweet & Saucy which led me to the original, the Thai Chicken with Basil of Food & Wine.   I quick check shows me that I have all the ingredients except for the chilies.  I have instead, an open bottle of grilled bell pepper that I had to finish.  So I substituted them with the chili peppers.   All my basil plants are exploding with leaves so that gives me one more reason to explore this dish. 

I stopped keeping Asian fish sauce at home after I discovered its Italian equivalent which is the colatura di alici di Cetara which are bought in small 100 ml. bottles.  The bottles of Asian fish sauce I get here are too big that I tend to throw them still half full, having stayed way too long opened.  When I found the colatura di alici, my problem was solved.  

The overpowering scent of basil mixed with sauteed chicken was absolutely wonderful.  I have never used so much basil in any of the dishes I prepared and I was reluctant to put so much.  But there was nothing to be worried about because the basil & chicken complemented each other so well.  Accompanied with plain white rice, I give a thumbs up to this delicious recipe!

Thai Chicken with Basil

Serves 4
  • 500 g. chicken fillet, cut to strips
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (I used the Italian colatura di alici di Cetara which is the same as fish sauce.)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2  cups basil leaves
  • 1/2 onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, halved
  • 1/4 cup grilled bell pepper, drained (I used store-bought bottled ones.) or 1 fresh bell pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt (optional)
  1. Combine chicken, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar & water in a bowl.
  2. In a non-stick pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil.  Add the onion & cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the garlic, cooking until they color.  Add the sliced grilled pepper.  Toss for a couple of minutes.
  3. Add the chicken, leaving the marinade in the bowl.  Cook & toss until cooked through.  
  4. Add the marinade, cooking about a minute more.  Season with salt if still needed.
  5. Remove from heat & add 1 cup of basil.
  6. Add 1/2 cup of basil on top before serving. 

Granita al Limone

Have you ever been asked what you have for breakfast when you meet people who think you are an interesting new specimen coming from a country other than theirs? Italians are taken aback when I answer fried rice with something salty like dried fish or cured meat. From an exclusively sweet-breakfast country, this is more than surprising. But after 12 years in this country, I gave up all the thoughts of salty breakfast.  I have Italianized my breakfast too, aside from my other habits. Yes, I am now a sweet-breakfast-eater like all the rest.

Aubergine Rolls with Ricotta & Speck

The strong smell of tomatoes mixed with aubergines, basil & ricotta was wafting throughout the house.  "The house smells incredibly good," my husband greeted me as he entered the house.  I knew he would say that because the combination of ingredients of the aubergine rolls is his favorite.   This was his dinner, while the kids and I would be having fish with aubergine salad.  Like me, both kids have a particular liking of aged cheese.  Fresh cheese never attracted me but I am giving myself a chance to try out this dish.  Maybe I can eat a roll or two as my hundredth approach to my initiation to eating ricotta.

20 July 2011

Tapioca & Mangoes with Almond Milk

I was meaning to mix my pot of tapioca with coconut milk but I realized that I bought the wrong can.  I had instead, a can of coconut pulp in water in my hands.   No, that won't work.  And it's even too late to go out now.  I hate it when this happens.  You are already halfway through when you realize that there's an ingredient missing that is utterly impossible to procure.   Not only does it impede the finalization stage but you are also stuck with a half-done dish in the kitchen. 

Mustard & Honey Salmon with Fennel

Everyday, meat.   I am getting fed up and my body is shouting "fish"!  I went on a quick trip to the supermarket to get some codfish or perch fillet to make a simple dinner of pan baked fish, something that doesn't require much effort and time.   Of course, I got diverted when I saw the beautiful Norwegian salmon fillets.  The price was good too.   I quickly ditched the pan baked fish idea and got lost in my thoughts thinking of how I will cook the salmon.   Think, think, think.

While in the car, I recalled watching somewhere where the salmon fillet was prepared with mustard.  I had no time to check the internet for interesting recipes so I just went by instinct.  I had to beat my 1-year old from her hunger pangs.  That kid can become as noisy as a siren & as demanding as a policeman when she feels a little movement in her tummy.  She climbs her booster chair, buckles herself up, bangs her fork on her plate and shouts "mamma" & "gnam-gnam" (food, in her own baby language) alternately that cooking becomes a struggle to hold on to my sanity.  

After rubbing & seasoning the salmon with mustard, honey & chives, I chopped the fennel bulbs that were threatening to wilt if I didn't make use of them soon.  Dinner shoved in the oven, I beat my 1-year old from her hunger clamor.  She's nowhere to be found in the kitchen yet.  Twenty minutes later, dinner was on the table.  

Dinner, I have to say, was delicious.  Both my kids abandoned the emergency pasta I served them (just in case there are complaints about dinner) and practically ate more than we did.  

UPDATE (26 Nov. 2012):  The Traveling Vineyard has suggested wine pairings of Bailando 2010 Bonarda, Fomtina Valley, Argentina and Giovina 2010 Giovina Montepulciano d'Abruzzo for this recipe.  Please click on this link to go to the page.  

Mustard & Honey Salmon with Fennel

Serves 4
  • 1 kilo salmon fillet with skin on
  • 3 - 4 fennel bulbs, sliced
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • salt & pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • chives

  1. Rub the salmon on both sides with Dijon mustard.  Season with salt & pepper.  Drizzle with honey & extra virgin olive oil.  Let it sit for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Distribute the sliced fennel around the salmon and season with salt, pepper & extra virgin olive oil.  
  3. Roast in an pre-heated oven at 200 degrees Celcius for about 20 minutes.
  4. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.

UPDATE (26 Nov. 2012):  The Traveling Vineyard has suggested wine pairings of Bailando 2010 Bonarda, Fomtina Valley, Argentina and Giovina 2010 Giovina Montepulciano d'Abruzzo for this recipe.  Please click on this link to go to the page.  

15 July 2011

Involtini di Pesce Spada (Swordfish Rolls)

This is the one.  No, this is not the real one because the fish is different.  Let me start again before I get lost in my thoughts.  The only dish that makes my world stop is "sarde a beccafico", a Sicilian dish of sweet & sour sardine rolls filled with breadcrumbs, raisins & pine nuts and wrapped with bay leaves. It's explosive with tastes which is typical of the Sicilian cuisine.  Now what does it have to do with the swordfish rolls?  The recipe is exactly the same except that I used swordfish instead of the sardines.

14 July 2011

Polpettine al Sugo (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)

Today, I veered towards a more familiar recipe for lunch.  Polpettine al sugo or meatballs in tomato sauce is a classic Italian main dish.  There are various ways to prepare it, like everything else anyway.  The one I am using comes from my mother-in-law who got it from her mom and probably got it from her mom too and the chain goes on.  So this recipe has been floating around the family's dinner table for decades.  Now that it's on my dinner table, it's a relief to see that both kids love it enough to have repeats for the next meal too.  That seals my hope that they will keep this recipe for the continuation of the chain.

13 July 2011

Gemelli with Asparagus & Speck

After a long vacation, one job that makes me drag my feet heavily around the house is going back to normality.   That means sending the washing machine to endless cycles, ironing mountains of clothes, putting the things back in their original places, changing the sheets on all the beds and filling up the cupboards & refrigerator with food again.   So, after three days here I am in front of the TV, passively watching this sort of fish cartoons with my one-year old while I am reacquainting myself with the couch and writing this.