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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Passata di zucca e funghi porcini - Cream of pumpkin and porcini mushrooms




Hi friends, forgive me for being away for so long. I will admit I was tempted several times to post a hurried recipe with bad photos taken on endless rainy days and not much of a story just to let you know I hadn't disappeared into thin air, but then I decided against it, because this is one of the few places in my life were I shouldn't feel like I have to clock in, right?



In between all the pre-holiday craziness and work and just life, I was lucky enough to hop over to NY for a long week end (without kids or husband - a first - but more on that some other time), which required a certain amount of planning ahead and some catching up after, but was totally worth it.



And so now I am finally back to give you the perfect autumn recipe right before winter comes knocking on the door. A recipe that my daughter, who strongly dislikes pumpkin (I know, what is that about???), specifically requested - so that is how good it is. I suggest that even you pumpkin haters out there (if there are any besides my offspring) try it.

If you love the umami of dried mushrooms and love warming soups, check out this recipe too.




Ingredients
1kg pumpkin
20gr dried porcini mushrooms
1l water or vegetable stock
1 onion or 2 scallions
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp butter (optional for a vegan recipe)
salt
pepper
grated Parmesan cheese (same as above)
pumpkin seed oil and thyme for garnish

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl in hot water for at least half an hour before using. Peel and coarsely chop the onion or scallions (or both!).
In a heavy-based pot heat olive oil and butter and sautée the onions. While they are softening, clean and de-seed the pumpkin and cut into cubes. Add into the pot, cook for a few minutes and add the water/stock, the mushrooms and the liquid they soaked in. Cook until the pumkin is tender. Adjust for salt and pepper.
Purée the vegetables until creamy.
Serve with lots of grated Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper. I also drizzled over a little pumpkin seed oil and garnished with some thyme.




Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sea bass two ways: quenelle in fish fumet and roulade with seafood and shrimp bisque reduction



In my previous post I promised you two recipes we prepared during the the course at the cooking school Salotto del Gusto with Chef Maurizio Dall'Omo.
 
As impressive and fancy as they look, they were both quite simple and really let the main ingredient to shine through. They are perfect to serve at a dinner party: I promise your guests will think you slaved away in the kitchen all day.
 
 

It is hard to give you exact quantities as there were so many of us, but I would calculate one average sized Mediterranean sea bass per diner, if you are making both courses.

Sea bass quenelle in fish fumet

As a starter we made a sea bass quenelle in a fish fumet. The fumet was exceptional, so simple and essential, yet full of flavor... the true essence of the sea in a spoonful. The quenelle was extremely delicate in texture and taste and perfectly accentuated by the thyme.

Monday, October 27, 2014

About fish, freezers and more. Did you know...?



A few weeks ago a close friend drove a couple of hundred kms to attend a cooking course we had booked as a birthday present for each other for our 2013 birthdays, so a little over a year later. Considering we live far apart and three out of four of us have young children, we didn't do too bad!

The course was all about cooking fish and we really enjoyed it: not only was the chef sociable, interesting and experienced, there was also a good vibe during the lesson and I had a great time with my girls.

I personally am not scared to cook fish, I actually find it pretty straightforward, they key being to not
overcook it in my opinion. Also, I am not in the least squeamish when it comes things like innards and eyes. Truth be told, I am much more scared of getting egg whites to reach the perfect consistency.

We made two simple, yet very tasty recipes that I will tell you more about in my next post. What I really liked about the course, however, was the preamble.

If there are two things that do slightly intimidate me about cooking fish, knowing  how to buy a fresh, sustainable and healthy specimen is the first, closely followed by cleaning and filleting it. I usually cook fish whole.


The right way
 
Of course, I know that if I go to the renown fish monger downtown and pay four times more than average for wild Alaskan salmon for a special occasion, his fish will be fresh and top quality. But what about feeding my kids on a daily basis without spending more than I would at my favorite sushi place and still bringing a healthy, sustainable meal to the table?
 
Both my fears were addressed during the course: I learned how to fillet a seas bass, but given it looked like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre had taken place at my work station, I think I have to practice a lot more before trying to teach you how to do it. And, the chef gave us a lot of interesting and useful tips that I want to pass on to you. 


The wrong way: Texas Chainsaw Massacre style

He started from the more obvious things, like how to tell if the fish you are buying is fresh. As he spoke,  I realized that things that were a given to me, weren't for others and viceversa. I also learned some things that seem obvious once you know them, but that can be a real eye-opener when discovering them.

There is so much more to learn in the kitchen than just plain technique, and this learning process never ends. So I hope you too will find something useful in this post too. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

We can all make a difference

Foto source: Nexive
 
Maybe not all of you know this, but yesterday was the 2014 World Food Day.
 
As explained on the FAO website, the World Food Day is celebrated each year on the 16 October because that is when the Organization was founded back in 1945. The objectives of this day, among other things, are to raise  public awareness of the problem of world hunger and strengthen solidarity in the struggle to fight hunger and poverty.

I was asked a couple of days ago if I was interested in writing about a local charitable initiative to help spread the word and happily accepted. Any kind of contribution, no matter how small, can help raise awareness and as a food blogger I also feel a certain responsibility towards all things concering food and waste.

I did not receive any compensation for this post, but I strongly believe in these initiatives and try to apply my beliefs to my everyday approach to cooking. I try to cook seasonal, local, sustainable meals.
 
As a mom with a growing family, I also try to cook on a budget, although I do invest more on ingredients like eggs, meat and fish (and by doing this I simultaneously try to sustain local farmers and producers). I counterbalance the cost by cooking a lot with seasonal vegetables and fruitlegumes and grains
 


 
The recipes I post usually do not require expensive or extravagant ingredients but when I do buy more "exotic" ones, they are usually staples I find myself using over and over again (spices, fish sauce, miso paste, sesame oil etc.). I try to avoid waste and use leftovers whenever possible.

When I got the email about Nexive's collaboration with Siticibo, the programme launched by Banco Alimentare,  I was excited.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pumpkin, Swiss chard and ricotta gnudi (a low carb alternative to ravioli or gnocchi)


After an extrememly warm and sunny September, fall has arrived in all its glory. I can tell by the orange and yellow leaves and the chestnuts covering the sidewalks of the city, I can tell by the variety of apples, mushrooms and pumpkins at the store. I can tell by the plentiful rain, my runny nose and my desire to eat something a little more substantial and comforting for dinner.
 
Enter gnudi.
 
If you are wondering what gnudi are, think of the love child between a raviolo* and a canederlo (or knoedel in German).
 
To be honest, they aren't really closely related to canederli, because gnudi don't actually contain any bread or bread crumbs. They are however reminiscent of them in looks and they share their versatility: you can make them choosing from a wide range of ingredients and you can serve them in broth or with a variety of sauces.
 
But when it comes to the actual preparation, they are much more akin to ravioli, so perhaps the best way to describe them is telling you to picture a naughty raviolo in its birthday suit.
 
 
 
Gnudo is indeed Tuscan dialect for nudo, which means naked in Italian. So gnudi are none other than dumplings or delicate gnocchi (out go the potatoes, in comes the ricotta) made using the same ingredients you would employ for stuffing ravioli, with just a small addition of flour to hold together the fragile ricotta pillows while they are cooking. I used regular flour, but you could probably substitute it with gluten free or no-carb options if you needed/wanted to (rice flour, chickpea flour etc.).
 
Basically, gnudi are a shortcut and they have the added bonus of being low carb. Sure,  butter and Parmesan cheese make a hefty apperance in the recipe, but the true bulk of gnudi is ricotta (which is not a cheese per se) and vegetables. So what it comes down to is that when you are making gnudi you are actually making a quick and pretty healthy vegetarian meal.
 

 

Spinach and ricotta are traditional ingredients for gnudi, but pretty much any leafy green will do and many other vegetables come to mind, from zucchini to eggplant and mushrooms. What is really key is squeezing as much excess water out of the vegetables as you can.
 
You can also swap cheeses: pecorino would work well and so would feta in my opinion.
 
And then there is the sauce: melted butter and Parmesan cheese are a classic, but psssst, if it hadn't been a week night meal (we usually try to keep those reasonably healthy and light), I probably would have fried up some pancetta and served the salty, crunchy morsels scattered over the gnudi. Bacon and pumpkin? Yum.
 
A cream and/or cheese-based sauce would work really well too, if you aren't counting calories. Blue cheese or a raw milk mountain cheese would be perfect to add some character to the ricotta base. And if you are going down the zucchini and eggplant road, a nice tomato sauce would be perfect.
 
 
 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Variations on a theme: quince compote, jam, jelly and syrup

 

Quince is one of those almost-forgotten fruits that you usually do not come across at a supermarket. You may be lucky enough to find some at a farmer's market, but usually you either get them from a tree in your own back yard or from friends, who are usually happy to part with some of their bounty.
 

 
 
I fall into the second category. When we were in Piedmont a couple of week ends ago, we left with a large carton of produce that included four quinces. I had never cooked with them before and didn't even know whether they were ripe or not. I did some reading and learned that they are ripe when they turn a nice yellow hue and smell sweet and floral. Don't expect them to turn softer, however, because they stay rock hard even when they mature. Another handy piece of information I collected is that if you are using them to make preserves, they don't need to be fully ripe.
 

 
 
Something elso you probably already know about this fruit is that it cannot be consumed raw. Once it is cooked, however, it can be used in many ways: to accompany savory dishes (pork roast, game, blue cheese anybody?) or in desserts. They work well in pies and tarts, but you can also lightly poach them with vanilla or spices or cook them longer into a compote or jam like I did.


 
 
A fun fact: did you know that the word marmalade originally comes from the Portuguese word for quince - marmelo - as quince marmalade, very popular in Medieval England, was usually imported from Mediterranean countries and only actually started being made there much later, towards the Sixteenth century.

Anyway, after checking on my quinces daily for about ten days, I decided to make something with them. They may not have been fully ripe because they did smell floral, but only faintly. I wasn't too concerned really, since I was going to make a jam out of them.
 
 
 
I washed the fuzz on the skin off and started chopping and cleaning, which was probably the most strenuous part of the whole process. They are hard little suckers (mine were also all inhabited by a few wiggly creatures: let me just say the cleaning did not only involve the core and seeds).
After the lengthy operation there were still over two pounds of flesh from the four specimens, a little more than the amount indicated in Family Spice's recipe, which I followed as a guideline, although I decided to use less sugar than suggested because I don't like things that are overly sweet. I may even consider using less next time.

 
 
I then took the recipe a step further and made different variations on the theme by straining a little here, processing a little there and even adding some water. The last logical step would have been to make membrillo, the Spanish quince paste/cheese, by further straining the blended jam through a fine mesh sieve and then cooking and baking it until no moisture was left. But I was frankly a little tired  satisfied with what I had and decided to call it a day.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fette Sau BBQ - Williamsburg, Brooklyn





Our very recent trip to the US was filled with great food (some of which you may have seen on Instagram and Facebook), beautiful places and people we love.

There were long beaches, big waves, lakes, farmland and the great urban marvel that is New York. We grilled aged steaks in our backyard, had sweet and buttery corn on the cob, NY bagels and pie. We picked berries that never made it to dessert and ate our favorite Thai food twice. We drank pink, ice cold wine and some really good beer. We had our share of delicious burgers and lots of sushi.