Thursday, 30 April 2009

Licia's Sushi Salad

I got this idea from the italian style rice salad and "chirashi" type sushi. It is somewhat "safer" (requires less technique) than the classic rolls which takes some practice to make them into a "state of art" and otherwise it can easily get pretty messy. It is a bit unconventional too as I prefer using apple vinegars as opposed to the traditional rice vinegar, it gives a milder, lighter taste. It's a fresh idea for summer evenings with guests :-)

270g rice for sushi (the sticky type, medium grain)
30ml (or as needed) apple vinegar*
20g (2tbsp) sugar*
(start with this amount, taste as you mix the rice and adjust the flavour as you prefer)

200g tuna in brine, smoked salmon sliced into strips, crab flakes, or prawns, or any of combinations.
3 eggs
1 large carrots, shredded
1 avocado
2 teaspoons of white sesame seeds
3 eggs
several sheets of yakinori (toasted seaweeds), julienned with scissors thinly.

-prepare the rice. Rinse the rice under running cold water, changing the water about 5 times, until the water runs clear.

-boil the rice in about twice the volume of water, covered. Let it boil on a high heat for a couple of minutes, then turn down the heat to the lowest and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Cut the heat, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes with the cover intact.

-Transfer the rice into a large bowl, sprinkle over the apple vinegar, sugar and salt while mixing vigorously.
-Cool the rice completely. Ideally the rice needs to be cooled quickly, to help the procedure, use a stainless bowl which absorbs the heat well, then immerse the bowl in an iced water. Fan the surface stirring often.

-Prepare the eggs. Making a very thin egg sheets to be shredded thinly takes a bit of practice, I employ a crepe like method, using a heated griddle and pour the beaten egg on, about the amount of 1 egg each, then quickly spread the egg with the T-bar for crepes. If you manage to spread it thin enough there will be no need to flip it, as soon as the surface dries up scoop it up carefully with a spatula. Then shred them as thinly as possible. Set it aside.

-Dry roast the sesame seeds on a stainless steel frying pan, taking care not to burn them.
-Toss the rice with the fish/seafood, carrots, diced avocado, and sesame seeds. Season with mayonnaise as desired. (I use a big hearty spoonful.)

-sprinkle the shredded egg and yakinori and serve. (or serve the eggs and yakinori on a separate bowl, and let the diners help themselves as they like)

Monday, 27 April 2009

Bucatini all'Amatriciana

Bucatini all'Amatriciana (Lazio)

This is another classic pasta recipe from Rome. It is also very easy and simple to whip up, a perfect tasty and quick dinner for any occasion. There are two schools among the traditional recipes, with onion or without onion, so this is up to you, but as a firm believer that sautèed onions make everything taste better, I always add them!! Also carefully controll the spiciness with the amount of red peppers. If you are very sensitive to spicy food, you may want to opt for a generous sprinkling of coarsely grated black pepper.

Bucatini al Amatriciana
80g-120g of spaghetti a person, depending on their appetite.
about 30-50g of smoked bacon or pancetta per person, chopped
1 shallot or 1/2 small onion per person, finely chopped
1/2 garlic clove per person, minced or finely chopped
red pepper flakes, or ground cayenne pepper (as much or little as preferred), or coarsely ground black pepper
tomato base
-option 1: chopped ripe tomatoes
-option 2: diced tomatoes from tin
-option 3: passata, or pureed tomato
(option 3 for a thicker, uniform effect)
salt to taste
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, grana padano or pecorino romano

Sautè the bacon/pancetta with shallot/onion and garlic in evoo until golden.
Add the pepper, salt and tomato to your liking, let it cook further.
If using fresh tomatoes or diced tomatoes, cook a little longer to let the excess liquid evaporate,
with passata just to heat it up.
Toss with piping hot bucatini (or spaghetti) cooked al dente.
Serve hot with generous amount of grated pecorino romano, parmigiano reggiano or grana padano.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Totally unique treat from the middle east, Kodafa is a special cake made with couscous, fresh cheese, pistacchi oozing with honey. A lovely idea when you are in the mood for something different, a new taste experience!! Visually it looks great, too!! :-D


200g (7oz) Couscous
2 eggs
120g (4,5 oz) butter, melted
Pinch of salt

180g (6oz+) FRESH mozzarella, chopped
250g (8,5oz) ricotta
40g (1,5 oz) honey
1 tsp Cinnamon
A few drops of vanilla essence

For the syrup
180ml (6oz+) honey
100ml water
1 small package or 1 pinch of ground saffran
1tsp orange flower water (alternative, rose water)

30-40g (1,5oz circa) roughly crushed pistacchi for garnish

prepare the couscous following the direction. (for quick cooking ones, immerse in about 300ml of boiling water, cover and let it stand for at least 5 minutes, for this cake, a bit more)
Flake the cous cous well to get rid of big lumps.
In a good sized bowl, beat together the eggs and the melted butter, then mix in the couscous, blend together well.
In anoter large bowl, beat together the chopped mozzarella, ricotta, 40g of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, until the mixture become smooth and thickly creamy.
In a buttered cake pan (about 27cm/10-11inch) lay down the half of the couscous mixture evenly. Then cover with the cheese mixture, then top with the rest of the couscous, spreading it out evenly.
Bake it in a preheated oven at 190°C/375°F for 20minutes. Let it cool.
In a small saucepan, mix the honey, saffran and water, let it boil for 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and mix in the orange flower water.
Let the syrup cool slightly, then pour evenly over the cake. Garnish the top with pistacchi.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Ocean Perch fillet Orange Blossom

We invented this when we wanted to try a new flavour apart from the usual tartar sauce, and we had a lot of extra oranges on hand. Choreographically it looks great, and its rich yet fresh, mild and fruity flavour can be a great way to convert someone who usually don't care for fish!!

4 hearty Ocean Perch fillets (150-200g each), or of any firm white fleshed fish fillets, like flounder, sole, catfish etc.
50g flour or more as needed
100g butter
3 oranges
60-70ml of milk
fistful of chopped flat leaved parsley (optional)

peel the orange part of the orange, as thinly as possible (less white pulp the better)
in a mixer/food processor grind the orange peal finely to make fresh orange zest.
squeeze out the juices. (take care to remove the seeds)
On a large plate coat the fillet with flour evnely.
Melt the butter in a large skillet.
Fry the fillets in the heated butter, until the surface is golden and crunchy, salt to taste .
Carefully scoop the fillt out with a slotted spatula, drain the excess grease, and keep warm.
Add the squeezed orange juice,the zest and milk into the same skillet.
Lower the heat and continue to cook to attain a thicker consistency.
Arrange the orange sauce over the fillets, sprinkle the parsley over and serve hot.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Shakey's MoJo potatoes

As a kid I adored Shakeys, and even more so for their famous MoJo potatoes than the pizzas. Sadly Shakeys seem to have completely disappeared from anywhere near I have been living for the last 2 decades or so, I have been craving for them for so many years... finally I found a recipe to recreate them quite accurately, courtesy of my dear friend jkath from discusscooking !!! Yummers!!

Shakey's Mojo Potatoes

6 large, solid mealy potatoes
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of paprika
2 teaspoons thyme
Salt and pepper
About 1/2 cup milk
Frying oil

Bake potatoes at 200°C for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool.

Cut each potato into not too thin slices.

Heat oil to 180°C.

Stir together the flour, cayenne, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Dip each potato slice into the milk and then dredge thoroughly in the seasoned flour mixture. Deep fry wedges without overcrowding for about 1 1/2 minutes until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Risotto con Shiitake Mushrooms

Mushrooms are always one of my favourite additions to make risotto. Porcini and finferli are particularly the perpetual winners, however recently we had a lot of dried shiitake on hand, while shiitake is not a traditional risotto mushrooms considering their marked unique fragrance I thought why not an experiment with risotto!? Surely enough, it came out extremely yummy!!

For 2 people
-1 cup of carnaroli rice (if you can't find it arborio is fine, but carnaroli is the ideal type for making risotto)
-One big onion, finely chopped
-6-10 dried shiitake mushrooms (depending on the size)
-60g (or more if needed) butter
-1 bayleaf
-100ml white wine*
-500-700ml of hot vegetable broth
-freshly ground parmigiano
-(optional) handful of chopped flat leave parsley

Soak the shiitake mushrooms in just enough water for one hour.
Take the mushrooms out, squeeze the liquid out (which to be saved) and roughly chop them.
In a large skillet sautè the onion with butter over middle heat. Add the rice and continue to cook, stirring thoroughly, until rice becomes semi-transparent.
Add the bayleaf, chopped mushrooms and wine, raise the heat level and bring to boil*.
When the wine is almost absorbed, add the liquid from soaking the mushrooms.

As the liquid gets absorbed as well, start adding the broth one ladleful at a time, adding another ladleful when the previous batch of broth is well absorbed (but the rice should still remain wet), stirring constantly.
Keep the broth hot by keeping it in a saucepan on a low heat, or microwaving from time to time.
Repeat the procesure until the rice are cooked "al dente" (firm, not crunchy not mushy)... it should take about somewhere between 20-25minutes more or less.
Chopped flat leaved parsley can be added towards the end of cooking the rice.
Serve hot with plenty of parmigiano to sprinkle upon.

*alternatively, you can use more water to soak the shiitake (+ you can load on extra mushrooms as well) to substitute the wine with the liquid conserved from soaking.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Pastiera Napoletana

Pastiera Napoletana (Campania)

This is a real traditional treat to celebrate Easter in Italy, however it is great for any special occasion :-) The key ingredient, cooked wheat grain is somewhat particular, in Italy ready-made (already cooked) wheat that comes in a jar is readily available in supermarkets, which will simplify the procedure. You may want to check out any grocery shops which deal with the imported Italian food items if possible. If such wheat grain can not be found, you may want to try with cooked barley or rice. (the result will be different but should be equally delicious, sort of a rice pudding pie...

The above picture is the last one we made the other day, we decided to make a monster one which measures up to 55cm (almost 2 ft)... :-D We doubled the ingredients but somehow we didn't have enough the crust dough, so the typical criss-cross pattern on the surface had to be sacrificed!! Nontheless it made many people quite happy!! :-D

200g flour
150g lard or butter, or half/half
120g sugar
3 egg yolks
fresh orange zest from 1 orange

1 cup whole-wheat grain
3 eggs, separated
1200ml milk
80g candied orange and lemon peel
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a few drops of vanilla essence
fresh lemon zest from 1 lemon
pinch of salt
500g ricotta (preferably di pecora/of sheep milk)
240g sugar
1 tbs. orange-flower water
30g butter

Prepare the filling: soak the grain for 2-3 days, changing the water every day.

Knead the flour, butter, sugar and eggs and orange zest together until smooth.
Make a ball of the dough and let it rest for half an hour or so.

Drain the wheat and boil with fresh water for 30 mins. Drain and put back in the pot with milk, cinnamon, vanilla, a pinch of salt, and 1 tbs. of sugar. Bring to a boil, lower and cook over low heat until the milk is absorbed.

Beat the egg-whites until solid.
Beat ricotta, sugar and beat until creamy in a bowl. Add the yolks, the whole-wheat grain, diced candied fruits, lemon zest, and the orange-flower water. Fold in the beaten egg whites.

Grease a 30cm baking pan and dust with sugar. Line with 3/4 of the pastry. Roll out the remaining dough and cut into strips. Arrange the strips over the filling in a criss-cross pattern. Brush the strips of dough with egg yolk. Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and bake the cake for 1-1,5 hour, until the filling has set and the crust is golden brown.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Oven baked pasta alla ricotta & mushrooms

This was another improvisation that came out a winner on my recent experiment. I came up with this idea when we had a lot of ricotta on hand. The key is the naturally lumpy ricotta needs to be whipped well with the milk to the smooth, cream like texture, and not to cook the pasta all the way as it will finish cooking itself inside the oven. As a mushroom lover, I think I will increase the amount of the mushrooms the next time though, IMO one can never put too much mushrooms in a dish ;-P

500g dry short pasta (I used fusilli)
700g ricotta
milk - as needed
50g(+ or -) grated parmiggiano/grana padano
500g mushrooms (button mushrooms are fine, but I would like to try with oyster mushrooms next time!)
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tsp dried oregano
olive oil, as needed
more grated parmiggiano(grana padano) and bread crumbs for topping

Finely slice the mushrooms and onion. Sautè them well in enough olive oil with smashed garlic.
Beat the ricotta in a bowl, adding some milk little by little gradually, to make a smooth, creamy (not too runny) mixture.
Meanwhile cook the pasta, remove from the pot and drain about 2 minutes before the suggested cooking time. (should be still quite chewy to the teeth)
Mix in the large bowl the sautèed mushrooms/onion, ricotta mixture and pasta until the pasta is evenly coated with the condiments.
Pour the mixture in a baking dish, top the surface with the mixture of bread crumbs and parmiggiano.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes at 175°C, or until the topping is golden brown.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon

Frankly not sure of the authenticity about its origin, but this dish does have a nice Frenchy touch, magically turning a tough sinewy cut of beef into a melt in your mouth delicacy. It does take a lot of wine to attain a right flavour and nice depth, no need to use an expensive wine but make sure to use the kind of wine also pleasant to drink (a golden rule for using a wine for cooking...)!! The rest will nicely accompany the dinner at the table!

Roughly 700g/1lb & half of beef, sliced in small pieces.
2 medium size onion, roughly sliced
1 large or 2 smaller garlic cloves, chopped or crushed
1 small stalk of celery, finely chopped (or you can chop up some leaves and mix them into the liquid during the boiling process)
2 med. or 1 big carrot, sliced
500ml(1/2 pint +) of red wine, or preferably burgundy wine
1 bayleaf
thyme, majoram, black pepper
100ml/3,5 oz tomato puree, or more as needed
200g mushrooms, roughly chopped
150g smoked bacon or pancetta, diced
2 bunches of green onion, chopped
handful of fresh flat leaved parsley, chopped.

In an ample pot/skillet sautè the onion, garlic and celery until the onion is golden brown.
Sautè the beef separately, with just enough oil, coat the surface with about 1 table spoon of flour. Cook until the surface is browned.
Unite the cooked beef into the onion mixture.
Pour the wine, add the carrot, the herbs and pepper, bring to boil then cover, turn down the heat and let it simmer for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. During this process, add tomato puree as needed.
Sautè mushrooms, bacon and green onions together in a separate skillet.
At the end of the two hours of cooking add this mushroom mixture to the main pot. Let it cook for another half an hour.
Garnish with the parsley.

Great served with a fresh baguette and a garden salad to complete the meal!