maandag 27 mei 2013

Fish ‘n chips, Italian style

Nasello con patate

Ever since seminary, Friday is about fish. Why do Catholics eat fish on Fridays? Because it is the day Jesus died on the cross. Traditionally, this means we fast and abstain from luxurious food such as meat. Given the price of fish these days, that principle kinda got lost along the way…

But still, eating fish is healthy and it reminds me of Friday being special. So what to make? I recently bought some frozen heiko, a New-Zealandish type of hake. The Silver Spoon suggests baking slices of potato it in the oven with potatoes (p. 738). Fish ‘n chips, why not?

The flavor of this dish strongly depends on the thyme and rosemary, and I always use more than the recipe suggests. As long as you follow the general principle, you’ll be good: take thinly sliced potatoes and arrange them on the bottom of a greased ovenproof dish. Put the fish on top and season with thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Add another layer of potato slices, drizzle with olive oil and bake the whole thing for 30 minutes at 200C/400F. Buon appetito!

zaterdag 17 november 2012

Plain red sauce?

Ragù alla Bolognese

When I grew up, eating pasta wasn’t that common in the Netherlands. We had the occasional spaghetti Bolognese every now and then, and that was it. The Bolognese sauce came from a package: it contained a mysterious red powder that only needed water to become sauce. As a child, I was amazed by this miracle. But, of course, then I was a child and reasoned like a child. Growing up, I made a firm resolution a few years back to get rid of the packages. No more artificial flavors! And both my body and cooking are the better for it.

I’ve made pasta with red sauce since my decision against package. But that was just plain red sauce. It looked like what we got from the package but it tasted loads better. Still, there is one thing… I haven’t had pasta Bolognese since! Last summer, I brought back pasta from Italia, Tuscan pici. And the Tuscans always offer pici with ragù. Exactly: ragù the official name for Bolognese! That was the invitation I needed to work on a time-consuming but basic Italian dish. If a cheap restaurant in Buonconvento can do it, than so can I.

Making ragù (p. 61 of The Silver Spoon) turned out to be fun… chopping up onions, carrot, celery and slowly cooking them. With every new step, new flavors ascend from the pot on the stove. Be sure to pay attention when you add the garlic! And after vegetables, water and wine you basically just wait for an hour and a half. And then of course, the proof of the sauce is in the eating. First I tried the sauce: so much deeper and richer than you’d expect from plain red sauce as people name-call it! The freshness of the celery gives it a twist quite unexpected for someone whose last Bolognese sauce came from a package. The full-bodied flavor of the sauce lingers on the palate. For a second, I wondered if the sauce needs pasta at all. But since I brought the pici all the way from Tuscany to the rectory, here we go! I started out with one bundle of the pasta, since it cooks for 22 minutes and I know it has quite a volume after that time. After tossing the sauce and pasta together, I couldn’t resist the temptation to sprinkle some grated Parmesan on top of it all. The pasta was just about done, with one or two pieces still being a bit chalky. But all in all: it was bliss, especially because the sun shone in my face as I was eating. How could I not be happy and feel as if I was in Italy.

When measuring, don't forget how much larger the pici gets once it's cooked!

Two last notes: if you get your hand on pici, use it. It is a thick pasta that can be challenging to wrap around your fork. But remember that a knife was never meant to cut pasta. You will hurt the feelings of generations of Italian cooks, grandmothers and priests. Now you wouldn’t want to do that, would you? Second: don’t worry about making too much sauce, it holds well in the freezer. Oh, and last but not least: always have grated Parmesan at hand when eating pasta!

donderdag 1 november 2012

Sunday treat

Gnocchi di patate con gli scampi

To me, Sunday afternoon often means work. Baptism, youth ministry, house visit… you name it. But every now and then I get to live a Sunday afternoon as I feel it should be lived: relaxing, enjoying the gifts of our Creator. Gifts you can eat, I mean. Because it’s about relaxing as well, Sunday food should taste magnificent but should not take too long to make. So boeuf bourguignon is out of the question. Gnocchi with langoustines or prawn however, is an excellent dish!

The recipe in The Silver Spoon (p. 306) invites you to make the gnocchi yourself. Why bother if you have excellent De Cecco pasta sitting in your pantry? Omitting that step saves me about an hour and a half. Then it’s just down to the sauce. Here’s what I’d use for four:
*4 tbsp olive oil
*400 g langoustines or prawns (I used prawns, any idea what langoustines cost these days?)
*4 tbsp dry white wine
*50 ml double cream
*200 g tomoatoes, peeled and diced
*salt and pepper

My first problem with this recipe was that it calls for the cook to chop those delicious prawns. Now why would I want to do that? If they are too large, you can cut them when they are on your plate but you can leave them intact when cooking the sauce. Heat the olive oil, add the prawns and a handful of chopped parsley and stir-fry it for a minute or two. Add the wine and let it evaporate, than add the tomatoes and cream. Let that bubble for some 7 minutes. At that point I still find the sauce too runny, so you can choose to add a teaspoon of flour to let it thicken a bit.

Assuming you’ve prepared the gnocchi in the meantime (just read what it says on the package, it’s super easy), put the gnocchi on your dish and spoon the sauce over it. You’ve used only four tablespoons of wine, so there should be plenty left to have a glass of wine on the side! Buon appetito!

donderdag 4 oktober 2012

Weirdest dessert ever

Quick Swedish apple dessert

When I read this in my newspaper, I thought the editor was kidding. Spiced cake in a dessert?! And toasted?! I’ve had weird food but this seemed to beat them all. But since it incorporates caramelized apple I decided to give it a try any way.

For each happy diner you’ll need:
*one apple, I prefer the sweet ones
*10 g of sugar, mixed with 2/3 tsp of powdered cinnamon
*10 g butter
*1 slice of spiced cake (ontbijtkoek)
*1 scoop of vanilla ice cream

Peel and core the apple, slice in four parts. Melt the butter in the pan over high heat, add the apples and then sprinkle the sugar mixture over the apples. The fun part is rolling around the apples in the butter so they get a nice glaze. Caramelize them in about ten minutes. Meanwhile, toast the spiced cake. Put a scoop of ice cream on the toast, and then add the apples. Here’s the trick: use the left-over butter and sugar to poor over the ice-cream, cake and apples. Delicious! It’s the weirdest dessert I ever had but for sure one of the tastiest I ever made.

Variation tip: adding maple syrup at any stage of the process wouldn't kill it... 

vrijdag 21 september 2012


If Junior MasterChefs can do it…

One of the TV-stations here is broadcasting the 2011 edition of Junior MasterChef. These kids continue to amaze me. They seem to have a natural feeling for good food and also a talent for cutting up onions really fast! Recently, I saw the show where they had to make Pavlova. Looked quite appealing! Now if these 12-year-olds, brilliant but still kids, can do it… then I should be able to make a Pavlova right?

To make sure I would have all the time I needed, I tried out this recipe one quiet Sunday afternoon. I decided to go for Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova. The main reason for this being that the recipe calls for chocolate, which I feel is essential for any Sunday dessert. Since I’m using halve the quantities of the original recipe, I’m reducing the cooking time to forty-five minutes.

Making the basic mixture is surprisingly easy if you own a decent kitchen machine, like the KitchenAid that both Trish and I often use. Set it to speed 8, and when the egg whites are stiffening add the caster sugar one spoon at a time. And be sure not to drop the spoon in your mixer… A simple handmixer will also do the trick, but it's not as much fun as the raw power of the stand mixer. Either way, you should end up with a fluffy mixture, kinda like a melted marshmallow but cold. It's done when you can hold the bowl upside-down above your head. Better get it right the first time! Then shove it in the oven and wait, wait, wait. After 15 minutes, I’m starting to get a bit worried about caramelization, the pavlova is already cracking and I do smell some unidentified sweetness. The oven I have is one of the worst possible and it might just not cool down to 150c quick enough. But the golden rule of making pavlova is to never ever open the oven while baking it. So more waiting, waiting, waiting.

Then, at the 45 minute mark… switching off the oven. I’ve decided to let the pavlova cool for at least an hour. The lump in the oven looks crisp enough but I wouldn’t dare opening that oven door prematurely. One hour later, the moment of truth is there. Felt the top of the oven to make sure it’s cooled off completely and it is. Opening the door, I see a beautiful meringue sitting in the middle. It’s crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. But did I get it right? To be honest… I’ve never made pavlova so I haven’t got a clue! I feel that it’s not gained enough volume but I don’t why and what to do about it.

Put the proof of the pavlova is in the eating. Add the cream, sprinkle with chocolate and generously toss with raspberries. The pavlova has difficulty supporting the weight of the cream and fruit, so next time I will have to find a way to get a more firm example. Maybe I should have a bigger pile of the mixture, rather than smearing it out. That would probably give it more volume, although at the same time increasing the risk of an imploding pavlova. But for a first time, I’m content! Just one or two more practice bakes and I’ll steal the show at our family dinner this Christmas!

dinsdag 18 september 2012

Eggplant and I

Uova al piatto con melanzane

We have a complicated relationship, eggplant and I. Since I was a very picky kid, my mom never dared to serve it to me. The rubbery texture of the eggplant does not at all seem appealing to me. Cut an eggplant and you’re not sure what that smell is and whether or not you should like it. But in seminary I had my first go at ratatouille, which I found surprisingly delicious. A fellow seminarian complained to me, saying that eggplant was “one of the most disgusting things on God’s green earth.” I argued to the contrary but I could see where he was coming from.

Occasionaly, eggplant still disgusts me. I recently tried pan-cooked eggplant (melanzane della nonna) and after the first bite I felt an urge I don’t usually feel with food I’ve prepared myself. But now, I’ve figured out how I like my eggplants: I want them fried long enough to kill the texture and smothered in something else so they don’t taste too much like eggplant. Ratatouille is an excellent example, the tomatoes give the whole thing a generic healthy flavour and you don’t really notice there’s eggplant in it.

One other recipe that helps me appreciate eggplant is “eggs with aubergines” (p. 431 of The Silver Spoon). And it’s super easy to make too! What’s there not to like then? Take one small eggplant p.p. and two eggs for one or two, then one egg extra for every other happy eater. Step one is to slice the eggplant in thin but still firm slices, salt the slices and leave them to sit in a colander for thirty minutes. The salting extracts water from the plant and along with it some of the bitterness. Pre-heat the oven to 180c/350f. Dip the slices of eggplant in flour and fry them in hot olive oil. Be sure to bake them really hot so they get brown and a bit crisp. Drain on kitchen paper, season with pepper and salt. Then dot some tomato puree or passata on top of the slices. Arrange them in a greased ovenproof dish, break the eggs on top and bake for some 25 minutes. The whites will have set and the eggplant now pleasantly tastes like omelette with tomatoes!

Quick trick

Prosciutto and pineapple

Know how everyone always gets excited about melon and prosciutto? It's one of the better kept secrets of Italian cuisine that prosciutto also is a good match with pineapple! This appetizer is about the quality of the ham, the sweet fruit is just there to complement it. Trust me, I've tried and it's gooooood.