Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Caponata Siciliana

Caponata Siciliana (Sicilia)

Caponata is one of the most famous and delicious vegetarian treat coming out of Sicily. It is a perfect antipasto, tapa, light meal with a freshly baked crusty bread, or accompaniment for the main dishes when you have guests on a hot summer evening, as it can be prepared in advance, it tastes better after being rested for some hours and can be enjoyed at room temperature. Alternatively, you can use grilled bell peppers in place of aubergine, (or both!) equally tasty!

3 large but slender aubergines, cut into cubes
olive oil
1-1,5 onion, roughly chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
about 20 green olives, deseeded and chopped
2 tbsp white wine vinegar or apple vinegar
2 tbsp. sultanas, soaked in water for about half an hour
3 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp sugar
2 tablespoons pine nuts
salt (optional)
good quality extra virgine olive oil

Soak the aubergine chunks in a cold, salted water for at least 30 minutes, then drain, rinse well and pat dry.
In a large skillet fry the aubergine in a sufficient amount of olive oil. Gently shaking the pan now and then cook for about 4-5 minutes until the aubergines are nicely coloured. (Try not to overcrowd the skillet. If the skillet is not big enough, cook in two or more batches.) Set the aubergine aside on an absorbent paper.

Sautè the onion in just enough olive oil until onion becomes tender. Add the prepared capers, olive, oregano, pine nuts, sultanas, sautè for another couple of minutes.
Add the tomatoes and let it simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.
Dry roast the pine nuts in a stainless steel or cast iron skillet, or in the oven until lightly coloured (take care not to burn them!)
Add the pine nuts, aubergine chunks, parsley, vinegar and sugar, toss well and continue to cook until the vinegar is evaporated.

If needed add a little more salt/sugar to your preferred taste.
Ideally let the completed dish rest for a few hours to let the flavour bind together.

Drizzle good extre virgine olive oil and serve warm or room temperature.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Lasagne di Pane Carasau

Lasagne di Pane Carasau (Sardinia)

Pane Carasau is a Sardinia's answer to the Mexican tortilla, just as versatile and typical. It is a large, round paper thin crunchy sheets of bread, also called "Carta da musica", or music sheets. It is great munching on as it is, or some condiments, however it is also famous for making an alternative lasagne.. Some people use ragù, or bolognese type meat based sauce, but I personally prefer this without meat, as it goes perfectly well with the light texture of pane carasau!

5-8 sheets of Pane carasau (depending on the size), or as needed
300-400g of fresh mozzarella
coarsely ground fresh bread crumbs*
grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano, ideally pecorino sardo

2 onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 small stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
2 bay leaves
Tomatoes, for a quick recipe you can use about 800ml-1lt of mixture of crushed tomatoes from a tin + passata/tomato puree, but using ripe, fresh tomatoes in season (chopped) greatly improves the flavour. I usually take the happy medium and use about 5-6 fresh tomatoes then add 1 tin (400ml circa) of crushed tomatoes. (Note) Fresh tomatoes does also take longer to cook until they thicken.
Salt, black pepper
Handful of fresh basil leaves (or dash of dried, flaked oregano+basil)
olive oil.

*for bread crumbs, the best option is crushing some slightly stale dried bread in a food processor, however the commercial bread crumbs can used also.

Prepare the sauce by sautèing the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in just enough amount of olive oil. When they are completely softened, add the tomatoes and bay leaves, season with salt. (also add the oregano-basil at this point if dried herbs are used.)
Cook the sauce until it attains a consistent, thickened texture, about an hour. Add chopped fresh basil leaves and black pepper towards the end of cooking.

Chop or slice the mozzarella into small pieces.

Grease the bottom of a baking dish (about 20x30cm), then pour some of the sauce just to thinly cover the bottom.
Take pane carasau, sheet by sheet, dip quickly (but thoroughly) in a lukewarm water and lay evenly to cover the surface of the baking dish, breaking the bread as needed to fit into the dish. (of course some overlapping is expected!)
Cover the surface of the bread again with the sauce, not too heavily.
Arrange the pieces of the mozzarella on top, not completely covering but evenly dotted throughout the surface.
Repeat the procedure with pane carasau-sauce-mozzarella twice over. finishing with the mozzarella.
On the fourth layer, after the pane carasau and the sauce, sprinkle generously with the bread crumbs, then the parmigiano/grana padano/pecorino.
Cover the surface with the foil and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes at 180°C, then take off the foil and continue cooking in the oven, cranking up the oven to 200°C. Cook another 10-15 minutes or until the surface is golden brown.

Serve hot!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Bacon & Prune antipasto

This is an incredibly simple yet tasty tapa/hors d'oeuvres, a perfect combination of sweet and savoury. The procedure will be even simpler if you can find a package of already deseeded prunes!!

16-20 (or more if desired) large dried prunes
8-10 thinly sliced strips of smoked bacon
tooth picks, the same number as the prunes

Deseed the prunes.
Cut each bacon strips in half.
wrap each prunes with a halved strip of bacon, secure it with a toothpick.
Repeat the procedure for every prune.
Fry the prune/bacon in a thin layer of evoo in a large skillet, until the bacon is golden and crisp.
Serve hot.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

This is my own improved version of the blast from KFC Chicken Pot Pie :-) My partner Cristiano was rather dubious at the look of it, but quickly changed his mind once tasted it :-D The fresh, quality ingredients do make a lot of difference!! The given amount will feed 3 or 2 hearty appetites, have 2 or 3 portion sized (about 12-16cm diametre) baking dishes ready, or you can use disposable aluminum trays to bake in as well!!

300g boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 large carrot, diced
1 large onion, chopped
200g fresh mushrooms, diced
100-150g frozen green peas
salt & pepper

500ml bechamele sauce*
puff pastry dough, enough to cover the dishes/trays.

Steam cook the diced carrot in microwave for about 3 minutes (full power), or until cooked al dente, set aside
Steam cook the green peas in microwave for about 6 minutes (full power), or until cooked al dente, set aside
Sautè the onion and mushrooms in butter, until golden.
Add a pinch of salt, nutmeg and pepper to taste.
Add the chicken strips and continue to cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
Mix in the peas and carrots, and the bechamele*, toss thoroughly until they are evenly heated and blended.
Bring the mixture to the room temperature.
Pour the mixture into the portion sized baking dishes, cover the surface with the puff pastry sheet cut to fit to the shape of the dishes.
Press the edges with a fork to secure, then poke several holes on the surface, and cut a criss crossed slit in the centre.
Bake the pot pie in the oven at 200°C (400°F) for about 10-15 minutes, or the pastry turns puffed up and golden.

*Bechamele sauce
500ml whole milk
1 tablespoon of flour
30g butter
pinch of salt

Vigorously beat the milk at the room temperature and the flour until they are blended. Heat the mixture in a double boiler with the butter and a pinch of salt, continue to cook until it attains a right consistency. Alternatively you can use a ready made bechamele easily found in supermarkets.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Baccalà Portuguese

Baccalà, fillets of cod preserved in salt is widely consumed in Italy, but even more popular in Portugal. My partner had this dish when he visited Lisbon earlier this year and wanted to recreate it back home and here we are. We added the smoked provolone on top on a whim (which was not on the original version), and came out extremely nicely!!

Baccalà Portuguese

baccalà 600-700g
1tbs butter
Extra Virgine Olive Oil
1 Onion, finely chopped
1kg potatoes
about 1/3 cup of chopped fresh flat leaved parsley, or as needed
*300g of smoked provolone, thinly sliced (Optional)
coarsely ground black pepper

1. Soak the baccalà in lightly running water and leave it for 1-2 day.
(alternatively soak in a generous amount of still water, changing the water several times)
2. Pat dry and clean the baccalà, removing the bones and skins, then cut in cubes (slightely bigger than bite sizes)
3. Bring to boil a pot of water and boil the baccalà for about 10 minutes. Drain well.
4. Sautè the onion in butter, until they are completely softened and lightly golden.
5. Peel and slice the potatoes about 5mm thickness, sautè lightly in sufficient amount of olive oil until the surface turns lightly golden. Dry the slices on an absorbent paper.
6. Generously butter a good sized casserole dish, dust the surface with breadcrumbs.
7. Put down a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the casserole, then sprinkle the pepper and parsley, then lay half of the baccalà pieces evenly over the potatoes, then spread half of the sautèed onion over. Repeat the procedure, finishing with the onions, then more parsley, peppers and breadcrumbs on the surface.
8. Cook the dish in the oven at 325°C for about half an hour, or until the surface is well coloured. To add the provolone, take out the dish after about 20minutes and lay the cheeses over, put it back in the oven and bake until the cheese is golden.
Great served with homemade hollandaise sauce. (see the recipe below)

Hollandaise sauce
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 dried bay leaf
2 eggs, yolks only
125g butter, softened
lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the vinegar in a small pan with a bay leaf. Reduce the vinegar over a high heat until there is only 1 tbsp left. Remove the bay leaf.
2. Blend the egg yolks in a food processor with the condensed vinegar.
3. Add the butter into the food processor.
5. If the sauce is too thick, add a little hot water.
6. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice.