Sunday, August 31, 2008

Melanzane

I've got heaps of melanzane, aubergine or eggplant.. whatever you may call them. HEAPS.

And I'm not afraid to use them.

More later.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Seasonal treats from Taranaki

I do like this sauce. And here, if possible, is a richer version courtesy of Mr. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Many of the recipes from the BBC show are now part of my autumn reppetoire. Maybe it's just a welly wearing man in the garden that does it for me.. as odd as that sounds, but it's so bad that the mere sight of the perfect sized squash makes me salivate for this wonderful no-pot soup.

If you've never seen the show, never tried any of the River Cottage recipes, or never had a browse through the books (both available at most libraries, which are generally free), frankly, Hugh is worth at least that much effort. Even if it's just a peek at the online content, I'd encourage anyone with access to field and farm fresh produce (or a friend who still has a bit of bounty from their walnut tree) to have a look.

Simple and seasonal good eats.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Zuie

'Zuie' or zuille is what my suocera calls her Calabrese honey based biscotti of which there are numerous interpretations. Early recipes for a similar cookie, perhaps more commonly called mostaccioli, were likely a simple batter made with honey (probably fig or citrus), flour, a little olive oil and maybe a bit of liqueur for added flavouring.  Earlier versions may have even been fried instead of baked. More recently, I've seen them in specialty bakeries called Marzallette al miele.

From these beginnings, the recipes have evolved to contain anything from candied peel and nuts to exotic spices and even butter.  The decorative and symbolic mostaccioli are cut into religious or animal shapes and others are sliced into the more familiar form. Typical versions are still predominately sweetened with honey, with the teeniest amount of fat and usually flavoured with cinnamon and/or clove. I like the version that is most like the one I've bought in San Giorgio Morgeto, honey-scented, studded with almonds and twice baked.

Terese's 'Zuie'

2 eggs
2 oz vegetable shortening
1 3/4 c brown sugar
8 oz honey
8 oz almonds
1 tsp baking soda
flour to make a stiff dough

Have about 2 - 2 1/2 cups of flour sifted with the baking soda into a large bowl (you could add a bit of cinnamon or ginger if desired). Make a well in the center. In another bowl, beat 2 eggs with a fork or whisk until blended and slightly foamy.

Carefully melt shortening, honey and sugar in saucepan over low heat. Stir almost constantly so not to burn. When all is melted and there are no sugary bits remaining, set aside to cool. When mixture is still slightly warm, add eggs and then add all (almonds too) to the bowl containing the flour. Stir and fold to incorporate flour. Mixture will come together quickly but more flour may be required. Dough should be stiff but not dry and smooth but not glossy.

I like biscotti that are about the size of the one in the photo and this is achieved by dividing the dough into 3 or 4 sections and forming the logs on parchement lined baking trays (but you can make a dantier biscotti if you wish). I usually bake these one third at a time in my small gas oven at 180C for about 25 minutes. Cookies will be dark and set when done. You can toothpick test the thickest part to ensure there is no gooey batter remaining. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, cut into 1.5- 2cm widths (or to your preference).

When all are baked and sliced, place in the still warm oven (gas off or with only the heat of the pilot) just to dry slightly and firm up. These aren't meant to be toothbreakers, but solid enough to withstand an espresso dunking.

Note: This recipe is also easily doubled. In this post, it has been reduced (to the best of my ability) because the true original makes biscotti for a small army.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pasta fresca

These wee ravioli are a simple taste treat. Dressed only with a diced yellow tomato, a drizzle of good olive oil (the best is an oil with slightly buttery characteristics), a scatter of tender baby basil leaves and the barest sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano, they make a nice light first course.

Everything tastes best when it is still garden warm but if that's not a possibility, start with room temperature tomatoes, premixing them with the oil, basil and seasoning and then the hot ravioli. The cheese is the final touch.


Buon appetito!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Breakfast of champions

Watching the Olympics now and then (waiting patiently for the triathalon..) and this morning it was diving: the Men's 3m springboard event.

I love to watch the Chinese divers, true technicians of their sport, in their quest to achieve medals for their country. The Russian (a 30-something) veteran, having competed in a total of 5 Olympic Games, is a sentimental favourite. The Australian father of two who has come out of retirement (and deferred medical studies) to compete and the young but accomplished (silver medalist in Athens) Canadian from Montréal.. both with an eye on the podium.
So what's for a gold medal hopeful breakfast?

Buttermilk pancakes with quick sticky apples.

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Pancakes (makes 6):

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
2 Tbsp caster sugar
1 1/2 c buttermilk (or sub whole milk with 1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar in the measure)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp melted butter

Blend dry ingredients. Beat eggs in bowl, add buttermilk and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and stir briefly. Swirl in melted butter. Combine mixture until just blended. Don't overmix. It will start to raise slightly in the bowl. Ladle out about 1/2 c mixture onto lightly greased frypan and spread out slightly to make a 12cm-15cm pancake or leave as thick as you like. When uncooked surface is dotted with bubbles and edges look dry but not too brown, flip and resist the urge to flatten. The leavening action of the baking powder is still at work and any squashing at this point will deflate any and all hopes of pancake fluffiness.

This batter can also hold approximately half a cup or so of mashed banana, a few tablespoons of ricotta or the substitution of 1/4 c of the flour for 1/4 c whole grain flour. Other nice additions, depending on your choice of fruit for the sauce, are a bit of zest (orange or lemon) and a pinch of cinnamon. They are also wonderful with a variety of fresh fruit and a dusting of icing sugar.

But for more autumnal/wintery pancakes.. quick sticky apples.

Have ready about 1 apple per person. Peel if desired. Apples can either be cut in half and sliced lengthwise or widthwise into rings. Rings are pretty but I like the thin slices best. You can cut thick slices if you prep and cook the sauce in advance.

Over med high heat, melt ~2 tablespoons of butter in sauté pan and sprinkle in 2-3 tablespoons of brown or demerrera sugar (or any combination of maple sirup, apple cider and brown sugar) over the melting butter. Add sliced apples and turn to coat. This amount of butter and sugar is good for about 2 large-medium or 3 small apples. Apple cider or cloudy apple juice can also be added to to up the apple ante. I like a few tablespoons (a splash or so) along with the sirup to lend a bit more fruity sweetness.

Cook over medium heat until all is bubbly and starting to thicken slightly. Use a spatula to gently help coax all the glorious sticky apple sauce over the pancakes.

When in season, Central peaches (my favourite), nectarines or plums all work really well. Sugar can be adjusted accordingly (if used at all) as these fruits are softer and sweeter than your average apple. I slice 2-3 peaches fairly thinly, half a centimeter or so, add to the butter with only a tablespoon of brown sugar (just enough to boost the level of caramelisation) and finish with a squeeze of half a peach just for a little added juice. Summer in a sauté pan.



Still, for the purist, nothing but maple sirup will do. For me, these used to merely serve as vehicle for the ingestion of as much sirup as is possible by an 8-year old.. Even though that wasn't yesterday and I have less of a sweet tooth nowadays, I remember it well.

I also remember the Olympics in Moscow.. I begged for a trampoline (years before they became standard issue) and cartwheeled around the back section for hours on end after watching the gymnastic events. Golden grass-stained days.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A new dough


Last Christmas, I received a copy of Jamie's Italy. Since hardcover cookbooks don't travel well, it remained on the shelf many miles away until recently.

I've been experimenting with doughs. In particular, ones that are slightly more lenient in the making than others. And I've found another winner. This makes heaps of dough (the recipe says 6 medium to 8 mini pizza bases). I found it just right for two good sized pizzas and the refrigerated the remaining half of the dough for later.



I don't normally use '00' flour for pizza but had just enough on hand (and decided to follow the recipe for once). The semolina also added a nice flavour. It's easily mixed in one large bowl with a wooden spoon and as it comes together can be worked with a dough scraper.



We're big on pizza. Especially baking it outside on a stone but that doesn't lend to the thick crust that defines the Calabrese sheet pizza (that coincides with the day that bread is made). I like the thin crust associated with the high heat of a wood-fired oven (or a stone) and some one else prefers the aforementioned loaf of bread with toppings.


Enter this crust. I stretched it out to have a nice edge crust that satisfied the thick crust aficionados amongst us and the center was thin enough for me with a nice crisp, but not crusty, bottom. The other important bit for me is flexibility in the making of the pizza. The remaining half of the dough was sealed in a plastic bag and placed in the fridge for 4 days.

I let the dough come to room temperature before stretching out on a semolina dusted peel. Happy to report that it rose beautifully at the edges and the middle stayed nice and even. Both fresh and refrigerated doughs had that balance of tender/ chewy interior and crisp exterior texture I was after.



Grazie mille Jamie e buon appetito!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Red rice


A quick action shot of the red rice. A few weeks ago I received a care package from Campeche (México) containing a variety of lovely dried chiles. Some will get ground for seasoning and some will get rehydrated to make flavour pastes.

The latter, an earthy aromatic blend of rehydrated ancho chiles and garlic is what I've just added to some rice and finely diced onion that I sauteed in a butter/oil mixture over a medium high heat until starting to show a little golden hue. I let the chile liquid evaporate/reduce to a near dryness then add a little milk and a few cups of chicken stock with a few teaspoons of dried oregano (and/or thyme would be fine as well) .

In another pan, I roasted a handful of slivered almonds to mix into the finished rice. The flavour and texture of the almonds (crunch!), warmth of the chiles and topped with cooling creamy cubes of avocado makes a great side to roast pork and all the usual suspects.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The old and the new

Today was a rainy, steam on the windows baking day perfect for making a lovely honey and spice scented loaf cake of Ukrainian origin.  To whip the egg whites, I always reach for my copper bowl, a present from my husband while on holiday in the Val d'Aosta.  The proximity of that stunning Italian mountain and castle strewn region to France and Switzerland makes for great availability of kitchen and other homeware items that can be difficult to find otherwise. 

At a mere 4 years old, the bowl looks positively ancient. It's inherent. While some materials are destined to remain youthful (my stainless pasta machine, if properly cared for, will age like Sophia Loren), copper is not so fortunate. In fact, after its first use, it resembled something you might suspect was retrieved from a falling down farmhouse.

A while back (circa 2006), I wrote a draft post about pre-loved cooking implements. Baking to be specific, although old coffee pots, glassware and cutlery (I've got a thing for tiny teaspoons) are not exempt, it's predominately a baking fixation.

I love well seasoned bakeware. I scour consignment and antique shops hoping to find a long forgotten gem that is sadly sitting on a shelf awaiting a new home, a new life, and a return to its former dutiful position of evoking aromatic anticipation and providing sweet and savoury treats to waiting hands.

That said, new (although it must be quality and well built) bakeware also has its place. I'm not of the all too common present belief in disposable consumerism: of buying as cheaply as possible and that when the item is no longer of use, I'll throw it away and aquire a new one. Properly and sturdily made bakeware, stoneware and cast iron, in particular, will last indefinitely, benefiting from the time and care it takes to season it (as it will anyone willing and thoughtful enough to take that time).

This makes a lovely moist loaf (I halved the recipe). It browns significantly and has a lovely flavour enhanced with a good smear of butter. Today, since I was feeling like something smoother in texture and simplier in flavour, I left out the raisins, almonds, almond extract, and the orange zest. I also substituted a little extra cinnamon for the cloves, melted butter for the oil (more like Alford and Duguid's Homebaking recipe of the same name) and also used a small proportion of a deeper flavoured (chestnut) honey. The flavour of the coffee gives the final cake a slightly burnt note (in a good way) and, although coffee might seem a logical partner, this cake goes remarkably well with a cuppa tea.

Let it rain.