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Pea and parmesan risotto

24 Apr

Pea and parmesan risotto (photographer: Tasha Seccombe)

Risotto is such a versatile dish. It can be a starter, it can be a main meal, it can be lunch, it can be dinner. It can be hearty and rich with exotic mushrooms, or it can contain be fresh and light with young peas that still burst in your mouth.

This risotto is something inbetween – perfect for the beautiful Fall weather that we are currently experiencing in the Cape Winelands. Fresh flavours from the bright green peas with a hint of mint, and then a lingering richness of aged Parmigiano Reggiano.

This is surely one of my favourites dishes all year round.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 250 g arborio rice
  • 125 ml dry white wine
  • 800 ml – 1 litre warm chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 250 g young peas (I used good quality frozen peas, thawed)
  • 1 T freshly chopped mint
  • about 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 T butter
  • a few sugarsnap peas for decoration (optional)

Method:

  1. In a medium sized pot over medium heat, add butter and olive oil, then fry onions until soft and translucent (about 5-10 minutes), but not brown.
  2. Add rice, then fry for about 3 minutes until they are slightly toasted.
  3. Add wine, then cook until the the liquid has been absorbed. Now start adding the stock, one ladle at a time, and cook on medium to low heat until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more, stirring often. The rice should never cook completely dry. Stir every now and then to make sure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.
  4. When the rice is almost cooked but still has a slight bite, add the last of the stock and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in the peas, mint, cheese and butter. Cover with a lid and leave for 5 minutes. Remove lid, then stir to combine everything. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately (risotto will thicken on standing, and you still want it slightly runny like lava).

 

Ricotta gnudi with pomodoro sauce

22 Mar

Ricotta gnudi with pomodoro sauce (photography by Tasha Seccombe)

My new business partner, Francille van Tiddens, recently sent me a recipe for ricotta gnudi via Bon Appetit’s online magazine. I’ll reveal more about our exciting new venture soon – Francille is an absolute food fanatic and she is constantly trawling the international online food scene for great recipes and interesting reads. “Gnudi”? I asked. It’s like gnocchi, she said, but larger, and made with lots and lots of ricotta cheese. And you pronounce it “nu-dee”.

It sounded like something right up my street. Italian comfort food, made with ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and a touch of flour, smothered in a bright red tomato sauce. I had to try it.

So I made it for my husband on Valentines Day as part of our wedding anniversary dinner. It was simply out of this world! Just a few basic ingredients, yet so striking on a plate and just meltingly delicious. It contains very little flour, so the trick is to shape the large gnudi balls with 2 large spoons. You place all of them on a big floured tray, then boil them like gnocchi in a large pot of salted water for just a few minutes.

This is probably my best food find of the past year. Gnudi. Nu-dee. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Note: Use the best quality ricotta and Parmesan that you can get your hands on.

Ingredients for pomodoro sauce: (Tip: make the sauce first, then the gnudi)

(recipe adapted from www.bonappetit.com)

  • 2 cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt

Method:

  1. Process tomatoes to a smooth pulp.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan on the stove top. Add garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes over low heat – don’t let it become too brown, because it will be bitter.
  3. Add the smooth tomatoes, sugar, and salt, then simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside.

Ingredients for gnudi:

(recipe from www.bonappetit.com)

  • 450-500g ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) finely grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano, or Grana Padano) plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) all-purpose flour plus more

Method:

  1. Mix ricotta, egg, egg yolk, salt, pepper, and parmesan in a large bowl until well combined. Add flour and stir just until combined and mixture forms a ball (mixture will be soft and moist with some bits of ricotta remaining; add a tablespoonful or 2 more if it feels too wet).
  2. Dust a rimmed baking tray generously with flour. Using 2 large dessert spoons, shape heaped tablespoonfuls of dough into football shapes, then place on the floured tray and dust with more flour (you should have about 30).
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
  4. Carefully add the gnudi, then cook for 4-5 minutes until cooked through and tender (gnudi will quickly float to the surface; continue cooking or they will be gummy in the center).
  5. Using a slotted spoon, remove gnudi from water and divide among bowls. Top with pomodoro sauce and more parmesan cheese.

Credits:

This post was especially written for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Food: Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Photography: Tasha Seccombe.

Styling: Nicola Pretorius, Tasha Seccombe and Ilse van der Merwe.

 

Summer linguine with basil & cashew pesto

15 Jan

Fresh linguine with basil & cashew pesto, mixed tomatoes and fior di latte (picture by Tasha Seccombe)

Every time I eat linguine or spaghetti with a basic basil pesto, I feel very Italian – in a “pretend” kind of way. It is the opposite of what we grew up on in South Africa, believing that pasta always needs a chunky, heavy meat sauce.

This simple way of enjoying pasta is synonymous with my motto for the new year, keeping things uncomplicated, yet robust. The most basic meal can turn into something fabulous if you use fresh, great quality ingredients, and do as little to it as possible.

For this recipe, I varied from the well-known classic basil pesto with the use of cashew nuts instead of pine kernels – a slightly more economical choice which means that you don’t have to use the nuts too sparingly and can add some as a final topping for extra texture. Cashews still provide a strong nutty flavour, and is in no way a compromise. I also added some fresh halved cherry tomatoes, which I tossed through the pasta while it was still piping hot. The tomatoes warm up slightly, but retain their fresh crunch and flavour.

As a last addition, I also added shreds of fior di latte – wonderfully mild and milky pieces that work so well in the traditional caprese salad of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.

This dish makes me feel rejuvenated, inspired and longing for travels abroad. Buon appetito!

Ingredients for pesto:

  • 2 punnets basil (about 40 g in total)
  • a pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup of finely grated parmesan cheese (preferably parmigiano reggiano)
  • ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil (best quality)
  • 50 g cashew nuts

Ingredients for pasta:

  • 500 g linguine (plus water and salt for boiling)
  • about 30 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 250 g rosa/cherry tomatoes, halved (or use a punnet of mixed small tomatoes)
  • 120 g fior di latte, torn into  shreds
  • 50 g cashew nuts, roughly chopped

Method:

  1. In a food processor or electric chopper (or manual pestle & mortar), process/pound all ingredients for pesto together to a chunky paste. Set aside and start making pasta immediately, otherwise discolouration might occur.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted boiling water to the boil, then cook pasta for 7 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and immediately add olive oil, then toss to coat. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Add pesto, then toss to coat well.
  4. Now add tomatoes, mozzarella and cashews. Toss again, then serve immediately with some extra olive oil on the table.

Note: If you want to keep the pesto from discolouring, blanch the basil leaves in a large pot of boiling water for no longer than 3 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and immerse in ice water immediately. Continue making pesto as above, then transfer to an airtight container and top with a thin layer of olive oil before storing in the fridge, covered. Will keep for about 3-4 days, perfectly green.

WIN with SPAR Freshline! One lucky reader can win SPAR vouchers to the value of R200 when you answer this easy question: Name one  ingredient/product from the SPAR Freshline range which featured in this recipe. Leave your answer as a comment at the bottom of this post. Winner will be notified on Friday the 18th of January 2012.

Credits:

This post was especially written for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Food: Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Photography: Tasha Seccombe.

Styling: Tasha Seccombe & NicolaPretorius.

Garlic pitas with double-cream tzatziki

28 Nov

Garlic pitas with double-cream tzatziki (photograph by Tasha Seccombe)

When it comes to Summer tapas, simpler is always better. And when you love Greek food as much as I do, you simply have to go with freshly baked garlic pitas dipped in thick, double-cream tzatziki.

I roll the dough out in 2 large pita bases, or make 8 small hand-size pitas. Don’t be shy with the garlic – you have to commit on this one. I have to admit, after doing this shoot (eating on the job is a prerequisite) I was a walking garlic bomb for 2 days straight. It felt great – true Greek style!

For the tzatziki, I based my recipe on the authentic tzatziki that we had in Athens when we traveled there in 2010. It is very thick, almost like a cucumber and mint “salad”, made with well-strained cucumbers and double-thick Greek yoghurt. Add some olive oil and I’m back in a taverna on the cobbled streets of Plaka.

Ingredients for pitas:

  • 2 cups (500 ml) flour
  • 2 t (10 ml) instant yeast
  • 1 t (5 ml) sugar
  • 1/2 t (2,5 ml) salt
  • 3/4 cup (185 ml) lukewarm water
  • 1 T (15 ml) olive oil
  • for topping: 8-10 garlic cloves, crushed, mixed with 1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt & pepper for seasoning

Method for pitas:

  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, sugar and salt together. Add water and olive oil and mix until a sticky dough forms. Knead until the dough becomes soft and pliable. Cover and let it rise in a warm area for about 15-30 minutes until doubled in size.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 240/250 C for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Divide dough in 2 (for large pitas) or 8 (for small pitas). On a well floured surface, roll out one piece at a time into circular shapes, adding a little more flour to make sure the dough doesn’t stick. Transfer to a large baking tin lined with baking paper.
  4. Spread with garlic & olive oil topping, season lightly with salt & pepper, then bake for 5-8 minutes or until golden brown and crisp on the edges. Serve immediately on a wooden board.

Ingredients for tzatziki:

  • 1/2 cucumber, seeds removed and coarsely grated
  • 250 ml double-cream Greek yoghurt
  • 2-3 T chopped fresh mint
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

Method for tzatziki:

  1. Spread grated cucumber on a clean tea towel over a wire rack, sprinkle with salt, and drain for 15-30 minutes. Make sure that most of the water is removed from the cucumber by wringing it lightly in the tea towel if necessary.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix yoghurt, mint, olive oil and garlic. Add drained cucumber and season with pepper.
  3. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Credits:

This post was especially written for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Food & recipe: Ilse van der Merwe.

Photography: Tasha Seccombe.

Styling: Tasha Seccombe & Nicola Pretorius

Glasses and Tablecloth : Poetry

Simple, Greek-inspired food. (photograph by Tasha Seccombe)

My secret dinner

30 Oct

Our beautiful Secret Dinner table, courtesy of The Pretty Blog, The Culinary Equipment Company, Flowers in the Foyer, Poetry and The Cater Club (picture: Ilse van der Merwe)

On Saturday the 27th of October, I had the honor of hosting one of the Secret Dinners as part of the Spier Secret Festival – a food and wine celebration in the heart of the Winelands. I felt quite intimidated at first, when I looked at the list of other hosts (including Abigail Donelli: editor of Taste Magazine and Eat Out Magazine, and Cara Brink: one of SA’s most loved creative food consultants and queen of pop-up food stalls). I knew I wanted to create something really memorable, but I knew I had to stay true to my style.

I decided to cook the food that I love most: inspired by my favourite fine dining experiences, but still celebrating my love of rustic, comforting dishes that is simply packed with flavour. I also wanted to showcase a variety of different techniques and textures, so I decided on a 5 course tomato-themed dinner. Why tomatoes? Tomatoes are one of my favourite ingredients to cook with. They are so versatile: fresh, tinned, preserved, poached, processed, pulped – the possibilities were endless!

After agreeing to play host to a maximum of 8 guests, I decided on the following menu:

  • First Course: Oil bread soldiers with tomato butter
  • Second Course: “24 hour caprese” – olive oil poached tomatoes set in a clear tomato jelly, served with fior di latte and basil puree
  • Third Course: Slow roasted organic tomato soup
  • Fourth Course: Spinach & Ricotta Cannelloni or Beef Cannelloni, both served in a tomato and garlic sauce
  • Fifth Course: Pavlova with tomato fruit salad and tomato jam ice cream

Thank you to Anelia Loubser of www.flugelcreative.co.za who agreed to join the table with her camera in hand, and my husband Schalk who played sommelier for the evening. The amazing team from The Pretty Blog beautified my table (thank you so much Nicola and Carla!), and with the help of some of their best suppliers they created such a stunningly decorated space. Thank you so much to the following contributors who helped make this night such a beautiful success:

Thank you also to the wonderful guests that joined our table for the evening: Lee (HR manager), Lucie (French architect and artist), Joshin (CEO and integrated communications expert), Adelene (part time baker) and Gerda (film school teacher). It was an honour to have been your host!

Our first course of oil bread soldiers with wrapped tomato butter went down well with our second course of slow roasted organic tomato soup. Anelia’s view from her seat at the table (pictures: Anelia Loubser)

Putting some micro herbs on the third course: “24 hour tomato terrine”. A view of the menu. (Pictures: Anelia Loubser)

Olive oil poached tomatoes in a clear tomato jelly, with fior di latte and basil puree. A closer look. (Pictures: Anelia Loubser)

Our fourth course of spinach and ricotta cannelloni or beef cannelloni was served buffet-style. Comfort food at its best! (Pictures: Anelia Loubser)

Dessert: Individual pavlovas with fresh cream and tomato fruit salad, served with tomato jam ice cream. The sweet ending to a delightful night. (Pictures: Anelia Loubser)

 

 

 

Tagliatelle with salmon, vodka and sour cream

19 Jun

Tagliatelle with salmon, sour cream, vodka and herbs (photo by Tasha Seccombe)

Since I bought my pasta machine a few years ago, I make home-made pasta at least once a week. A bit of elbow grease has never been bad for someone who likes to cook as much as I do, so I see it as part of my work-out – a way to justify the massive portion of pasta that I’m about to eat.

My favourite shape of pasta is tagliatelle, and sometimes tagliolini (slightly thinner strips). I like to eat it with rich, creamy sauces like the one below. Sauces like these are really at their best served immediately, because they thicken quite a lot on standing. To time this dish perfectly, make the pasta dough first, roll it out and cut into strips, then make the sauce, then quickly cook the pasta and toss the 2 together.

And the vodka? I once had the most delicious vodka pasta at a proper Italian restaurant in Stellenbosch that has unfortunately been closed for years. I still long for it! The vodka really adds a unique flavour to the dish, giving it a delicious acidity and slightly sour flavour – it goes so well with the sour cream and chives! If you don’t have vodka, substitute with some dry white wine of your choice.

Ingredients for tagliatelle: (serves 4)

  • 400 g all-purpose flour
  • 4 XL eggs
  • 4 litres boiling salted water
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Ingredients for sauce: (serves 4)

  • 15 ml olive oil
  • a small bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 50 ml vodka
  • 250 ml sour cream
  • 1 cup fish stock (or chicken stock or vegetable stock)
  • 1 t tomato paste
  • 400 g canned salmon (or fresh salmon, cooked and flaked)
  • salt and pepper
  • handful of fresh dill and chives, chopped
  • smoked salmon strips for garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add spring onions and garlic, and fry for 2 minutes.
  2. Add vodka, then cook to reduce by  half.
  3. Add sour cream, stock and tomato paste, then stir to combine and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add salmon and simmer on low heat for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Remove from heat, then add dill and chives and stir through. Cover and set aside.
  6. To make pasta: in a food processor, combine flour and eggs untill the mixture resembles couscous grains. Turn out on a wooden board, then press into a ball. Using a pasta machine, roll out sheets of pasta to a thickness of your choice (I prefer them quite thin), cut into tagliatelle strips, then cook in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes, or until al dente. Drain, then drizzle immediately with extra virgin olive oil.
  7. Return the drained tagliatelle to the pot you cooked them in, then pour hot sauce over (re-heat if necessary), stir to coat pasta well, and serve immediately. Garnish with extra herbs and smoked salmon strips.

Tip: If your sour cream is very thick, add more stock to the sauce. If the sour cream is thin, start by adding less stock.

Credits:

This post was especially written for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Food: Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Photography: Tasha Seccombe.

Styling: Nicola Pretorius, Tasha Seccombe & Ilse van der Merwe.

Fig, goats cheese and onion marmalade pizza

12 Mar

Fresh fig, goatscheese and onion marmalade pizza (picture by Tasha Seccombe)

I grew up in a beautiful family-home in Uniepark, Stellenbosch. I was the second of 4 kids, and we had many fruit trees in our garden: peaches, prunes, lychees, grapes, lemons and figs. I absolutely HATED figs back then: the ripe fruit would fall from the trees (there were two fig trees and they each carried hundreds of fruit), attracting those huge yellow and black beatles. I started associating figs with the smell of spoilt fruit and bugs, and didn’t eat them for many years after moving from that house. I cannot believe I had been so silly!

Now, figs are a delicacy to me. They are beautiful to look at, beautiful to photograph, beautiful to eat. They’re expensive, and not always easy to find. These days I would pay good money for one of those trees from my childhood! I would eat them fresh every morning for breakfast, cook them in jams, serve them in salads, and bake them in tarts.

But today, I want fig pizza. I couldn’t decide whether to serve it as a fresh pizza (fresh toppings on a pre-baked base), or as a baked pizza, so I did both. My advice would be this: if you want to serve this as a starter or snack to a number of guests, serve it fresh. You can pre-bake the base, and assemble the pizza before your guests arrive. It is a winner for warm summer night feasts. But, if you want to make it a main meal, be sure to add mozzarella and bake it in a blistering hot oven. The slices of fig almost resemble salami if you take a quick glance! But this meatless, sweet and salty pizza combo is an absolute dream dish – and stunning to look at.

Make the most of summer’s fig harvests and try these two pizza combinations – hot or cold, figs are simply fantastic.

Baked fig, goats cheese and onion marmalade pizza (picture by Tasha Seccombe)

Ingredients for pizza base: (makes 2 large pizzas)

  • 2 cups (500 ml) flour
  • 2 t (10 ml) instant yeast
  • 1 t (5 ml) sugar
  • 1/2 t (2,5 ml) salt
  • 3/4 cup (185 ml) lukewarm water
  • 1 T (15 ml) olive oil

Ingredients for the topping: (for 2 pizzas, one hot and one cold)

  • 6 ripe figs
  • 4-6 T onion marmelade (I used the one from Woolworths)
  • 200 g chevin goats cheese (I used Fairview’s traditional chevin)
  • a bunch of fresh watercress leaves (or rocket)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • balsamic glaze (it’s the concentrated, sweeter version of balsamic vinegar)
  • 120 g grated mozzarella cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method for the pizza base:

  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, sugar and salt together. Add water and olive oil and mix untill a sticky dough forms. Knead untill the dough becomes soft and pliable. Cover and let it rise in a warm area for about 15-30 minutes until doubled in size.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 240 degrees Celsius for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Divide dough in 2. On a well floured surface, roll out one piece at a time into circular shapes, adding a little more flour to make sure the dough doesn’t stick. Transfer to a large baking tin lined with baking paper.

Option 1: fresh fig pizza with the pre-baked base:

  1. Bake the pizza base for about 7-10 minutes or untill lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush with olive oil (if the pizza puffs up in the oven, just flatten it slightly after you remove it from the oven). Let it cool.
  2. Arrange sliced figs, pieces of goats cheese and slivers of onion marmalade on the pizza, then add watercress leaves and drizzle with balsamic glaze. Slice and serve.

Option 2: baked fig pizza with extra mozzarella cheese:

  1. Spread the unbaked pizza base with a thin layer of onion marmalade (instead of traditional tomato sauce), then cover with mozzarella cheese.
  2. Arrange sliced figs and pieces of goats cheese on pizza base, then bake for 10-12 minutes or untill the cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 3 minutes.
  3. Arrange watercress leaves, season with salt and pepper, slice, then serve immediately.

Credits:

This post was written especially for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Romeinse gnocchi met ‘n Gruyere roomsous vir Pasella

29 Feb

Gebakte semolina gnocchi in 'n Gruyere roomsous

Ek het die voorreg gehad om onlangs saam met die Pasella-span van SABC2 ‘n kook-insetsel te skiet oor ongewone kaas. Dit word vanaand om 19h30 uitgesaai.

Ek, Ishay en Fritz

Ek en twee mede-bloggers, Ishay Govender-Ypma van www.foodandthefabulous.com en Fritz Brand van www.realmencancook.com het die kameras aangedurf saam met die gewilde Crystal-Donna as aanbieder. Dit was ‘n onvergeetlike ervaring om te sien hoe dinge agter die skerms gedoen word!

Die kaas wat ek gekies het om mee te kook, is Gruyere – ‘n kaas van Switzerse oorsprong. Gruyere se smaak hang baie af van sy ouderdom, maar wissel vanaf romerig en neutagtig tot baie pikant en sterk. Dis ‘n goeie alternatief tot parmesan of grana padano, en is ‘n uitstekende kaas vir smelt- en kookdoeleindes. In Suid Afrika is daar net een vervaardiger van plaaslike Gruyere: Klein River Boerdery in Stanford. Omdat Gruyere kaas onlangs dieselfde ekslusiewe status as Champagne ontvang het (slegs kaas wat gemaak word in die Switzerse dorpie Gruyere, mag amptelik Gruyere genoem word), word Klein Rivier Boerdery se produk nou “Suid Afrikaanse Gruyere” genoem. Ek het Klein Rivier se verouderde Suid Afrikaanse Gruyere in hierdie resep gebruik.

Fritz in aksie, besig om sy kaaskoek te maak.

Gnocchi is ‘n Italiaanse pastagereg, en kan van verskeie bestanddele gemaak word om ‘n effens ander smaak en tekstuur tot gevolg te hê: aartappels, semolina en ricotta is gewilde keuses. My gnocchi-resep maak gebruik van semolina, wat gestol word en dan met ‘n koekiedrukker in vorms gedruk word voor dit in ‘n roomsous gebak word. Dis ‘n heerlike bygereg vir ‘n lamsboud, of selfs net vir ‘n braai: heerlik dekadent! Ek het dit ook al met bloukaas gemaak, en dit smaak vorentoe!

Hier volg die resep wat al voorheen op thefoodfox.com verskyn het. Geniet dit!

Roman gnocchi:

As mentioned before on this blog, I love gnocchi: light, fluffy, potato dumplings smothered in my favourite gorgonzola sauce. But a few days ago I discovered a new culinary gem: ROMAN gnocchi.

Never heard of it before? Me neither! It featured in one of my favourite cookbooks “The Food of the Mediterranean” by Murdoch Books (it’s a really thick book and I haven’t even scratched the surface of more than 250 fantastic recipes): not made with potatoes at all, but rather with semolina, milk, egg yolks and mature hard cheese, then smothered in a butter and cream sauce, topped with more cheese, and baked untill golden and bubbly. Sounds almost like a potato gratin. But believe me, this is something you have got to try!

The texture is very similar to regular potato gnocchi, except that the shape is different, and I think it is much easier to make. The results are almost infallible.

I must admit that a picture cannot do justice to the taste and smell of this wonderfully rich and fluffy side dish. But once you try it, you’ll be hooked. Use you favourite strong/sharp cheese, I’ve tried it with parmesan, pecorino, grana padano, gruyère and even an extra mature cheddar – all of them work really well!

Ingredients for gnocchi:

45 g butter, melted

1/3 cup (35 g) grated Gruyere cheese (or pecorino/grana padano/parmesan/extra mature cheddar)

3 egg yolks

1 litre milk

pinch of ground nutmeg

200 g (1 and 2/3 cup) semolina flour

salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning

  • Line a 30 x 25 cm baking tin (or Swiss roll tin) with baking paper.
  • Beat together butter, parmesan and egg yolks and season lightly. Set aside.
  • Heat the milk in a large saucepan. Add the nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. When the milk is just boiling, pour in semolina while stirring. Reduce heat and continue to cook while stirring untill mixture pulls away from the side of the pan (takes about 5-10 minutes).
  • Remove from heat, beat in egg yolk mixture untill smooth, then pour into baking tin. Smooth the surface to an even thickness, using a knife dipped in cold water. Set aside to cool.
  • Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a shallow 25 x 18 cm baking dish.
  • Lift the semolina slab out of the tin and peel off the baking paper. Cut semolina into circles, using a 4 cm cookie cutter or small cup dipped in cold water. Arrange the circles, slightly overlapping, in the greased casserole.

Ingredients for sauce and topping:

45 g butter, melted

80 ml (1/3 cup) cream or double cream

1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese (at least)

  • Blend together the butter and cream and pour over the gnocchi. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden. Serve at once.

Tip: The gnocchi can be prepared a day or 2 in advance, wrapped and stored in the fridge in the slab form or in circles. Assembling and baking to be done just before serving. Enjoy!

Garlic pita with caprese salad

31 Jan

Freshly baked garlic pita topped with caprese salad

If there is one country’s food that I love above all else, it has to be Italy. Simple food, using the best ingredients, to be enjoyed without fuss or pretense. One of my ultimate favourite simple Italian dishes is a caprese salad: a combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese (fior di latte) and basil leaves. Add a splash of your best extra virgin olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and I am in food heaven.

When we traveled in Greece during 2010, we discovered the genius Greek way of eating meats and salads inside a rolled up pita bread (souvlaki). It inspired me to try my caprese salad on a garlic pita bread, one that you can fold over and dip into balsamic vinegar before taking a huge bite while the juices of the tomatoes would run down your chin. It is so simple, yet one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had.

Another way to eat it would be to cover the caprese pita with another garlic pita, almost like a pita sandwich, and slice wedges for everyone to share. Whichever way you prefer, this is a winner combination, and one that I will surely be making for my grandkids in years to come.

Tip: Always use fresh, perfectly ripe, organic tomatoes, preferably ones that have not seen the inside of a refrigerator yet. They taste 100 times better than other tomatoes!

Ingredients for garlic pita: (makes 2 large pita’s)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour or white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • topping: 6 large cloves or garlic, finely chopped or crushed, mixed with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • dried oregano for sprinkling

Method for the garlic pita:

  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, sugar and salt together. Add water and olive oil and mix untill a sticky dough forms. Knead untill the dough becomes soft and pliable. Cover and let it rise in a warm area for about 15-30 minutes until doubled in size.
  2. On the middle rack of your oven, insert an untreated terracotta tile (mine is 40 x 40 cm). Pre-heat oven to 240 degrees Celsius for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Divide dough in 2. On a well floured surface, roll out one piece at a time ion circular shapes, adding more flour to make sure the dough doesn’t stick. Transfer to a wooden board that is covered with a sheet of baking paper (this is key, because it will enable you to slide the dough with paper into the oven directly onto the hot tile, which acts as a pizza oven). Cover the rolled out dough with half of the garlic and olive oil mixture, spread out evenly to cover the whole surface, then sprinkle lightly with oregano.
  4. Slide the rolled out dough from the wooden board onto the heated tile in the oven. Bake for about 5-7 minutes or untill golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Ingredients for caprese salad:

  • 1 large ripe organic tomato, sliced
  • 250 g ripe organic cherry tomatoes, sliced (or use any other smaller tomatoes that are in season)
  • 150 g fresh mozzarella (fior di latte), teared into chunky shreds
  • handful of fresh basil leaves
  • salt flakes and freshly ground pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Method:

Arrange the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves on the garlic pita. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with balsamic vinegar to dip in.

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni: a step by step guide

29 Jul

 

I’ve always been a huge fan of Italian food. It is the way that Italians value food, the way they celebrate life with food, the simple way they cook with great ingredients. Colourful, full of flavour, calorific, rich and indulgent. Just the way I like it.

Making cannelloni at home is not difficult, but I would admit it takes a bit of time to prepare and to assemble. So if you have the time to cook something really worth while, give it a shot. You need to make the tomato sauce, make the spinach and ricotta mix, roll out your pasta dough, and then assemble the little rolled pasta pockets before you bake them in the oven. You can also use store-bought dried cannelloni tubes, but they take more time to bake. I always prefer the soft freshly rolled version, but use whatever you feel like!

This is a step by step guide to making your own cannelloni. My recipe is enough for around 20 cannelloni rolls (I bake them in individual pasta dishes, 5 rolls in a dish) or 4 main portions.

Ingredients for tomato sauce:

1 x spicy tomato sauce (or use a store-bought pasta sauce like arrabiata, at least 750 ml)

Ingredients for spinach & ricotta stuffing:

2 tablespoons olive oil

400 g baby spinach or soft spinach leaves (don’t use swiss chard, because you need to remove the hard white inners, and then you’ll lose half of your spinach in weight)

400 g ricotta cheese

pinch of ground nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

half a cup grated parmesan/pecorino cheese

Method for spinach and ricotta stuffing:

In a very large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat, add spinach leaves and fry lightly untill spinach begins to wilt. Turn/toss leaves regularly while frying. Remove from heat when all the leaves just wilted and still green. Do not overcook. Add cooked leaves to a food processor, along with the ricotta, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and grated parmesan. Process to a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside. (You can also just mix this roughly by hand – the texture will be different but it will taste exactly the same!)

Ingredients for pasta dough:

250 g flour

2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk

Method for pasta dough:

Put the flour, eggs and egg yolk in a food processor and mix untill it resembles cooked couscous grains. Turn out onto a surface and knead lightly into a ball. Cover with plastic and rest for at least 30 min. Roll out sheets of pasta in your pasta roller/machine, cut into squares of roughly 10 x 10 cm, and set aside (single layer, otherwise they’ll stick to one another).

Extra ingredients for final assembly:

1-2 cups grated mozzarella

1/2 cup grated parmesan/pecorino

Method for assembly:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. On a big surface, lay out the freshly rolled pasta squares. With a small spoon, fill each pasta square with a horisontal layer of spinach and ricotta stuffing. Roll the square into a tube.
  2. In a shallow ovenproof dish, spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce to just cover the base. Arrange the rolled pasta tubes in the prepared oven dish next to each other.
  3. Cover the rolled pasta tubes with another layer of tomato sauce, just covering it. Do not use too much sauce.
  4. Cover the top of the assembled canneloni with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or untill golden brown. Serve immediately.
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