27 July 2011

Frittata with courgettes, olives and sun-dried tomatoes

Frittata is an Italian omelette which, for my taste, is the endlessly flexible quick-fix what-needs-using-up-in-the fridge meal. The only thing you really need to have is plenty of eggs. The following recipe is one that you can vary. I like it because it is reminiscent of summer tastes - which is not to say you can’t do it at any other time of year.In our garden, courgettes are of course always plentiful in summer. 
I got to know about frittata when going through one of my cooking bibles (more of which at a later stage), The Silver Spoon, Italy’s best-selling cookery book of the last 50 years.

What you need

All the amounts can be handled very flexibly. The ingredients can be varies almost endlessly.
  • 5 eggs (or more), which should be really fresh. If you are worried about hygiene, wash the outside of the eggs before you break them.
  • salt and pepper
  • 15 to 20 olives, de-stoned and cut in half
  • 10 slices of sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 medium-sized courgette, cut into 4 mm thick slices
  • chopped and pre-sautéed spring onions 
  • 2 cloves of garlic mashed (or more ...)
  • 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs (optional)
  • Fresh herbs (for example parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, lovage)
  • olive oil for frying
  • 3 tablespoons of parmesan or percorino romano, grated

What you do

Still a bit too runny on the top
  1. Break the egs into a bowl and whisk till yolk and eggwhite are blended.
  2. Add salt and pepper and the other ingredients (except the oil and the grated cheese) one by one and keep stirring to create an even mix.
  3. Heat olive oil in a wide frying pan (I use an iron pan that isn’t coated but has through long use developed a great patina, which acts as well as a coating)
  4. Pour in the mixture and make sure the solid bits are evenly spaced.
  5. Cook slowly until the egg on the top is just about to solidify.
  6. Liberally sprinkle with grated cheese.
  7. Tilt the pan a little to let the frittata slip and quickly fold it over. You will find that that the underside is quite crispy whereas the top, now the inside, is still rather soft.
  8. Turn to ensure that any bits that are too soft can get firmer and that the outside is equally browned on both sides.
  9. Serve as quickly as possible because the centre should still be barely cooked.

One of my daughters has a deep-seated aversion to what she calls “slobbery” bits of egg. For those with a similar dislike, you can always keep the frittata warm in the oven for a few minutes. 
The colours on my amateur camera suggest that this one is burnt. It's not...

Some may have noticed that the sequence of herbs above is reminiscent of a song, Scarborough fair. As a matter of fact, parsley, sage, rosmary and thyme were meant to keep the devil away because what looks like two lovers making life difficult for each other is actually based on an old traditional song motive in which a human (the girl in the Scarborough fair) has to match everything the devil (the boy) throws at her linguistically. Singing about the devil was believed to have the potential of summoning him, hence the incantation of the apotropaic herbs.
This useless piece of information can be woven into an otherwise uneventful after-dinner conversation.

Chocolate Sorbet with a Kick

Oh, summer and ice-cream...

What you need: 
  • 200 g chocolate with a high cocoa content (I use one with orange peel and one with chili)

  •  100 g powdered sugar
  • 400 ml water
  • 1 tblspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 dash of kirsch, williams (pear schnapps), brandy or rum
  • a hint of very finely ground chili for a bit of an extra kick

What you do:
  1. Melt the broken up chocolate slowly by heating it up in 350 ml of water over a small flame.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the cocoa for an extra strong cocoa flavour.
  4. Stir until the mixture is even and then turn up the heat to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly.
  5. After about 10 minutes, the mixture will now be quite syrupy, add another 50 ml of water, still maintaining the heat.
  6. If you want to use it, add the brandy or the schnapps at this stage too. If you want the flavour but not the alcohol, keep up the heat for another couple of minutes, if not, turn it down now and leave the syrup to cool. (in cold water if you're in a hurry)
  7. Put the cold syrup in the fridge or even in the freezer to pre-cool. After about 90 minutes it should be cold enough that it begins to get viscuous.
  8. Pour it into an icecream maker and let it churn until you have a slightly soft ice-creamy mixture. 
  9. Put it in the a container and freeze. (If you haven't got an ice-cream maker, you need to whisk the mixture several times in about 2 hour intervals to keep the sorbet smooth and to break up ice crystals, which would form otherwise.)

This will be a richly flavoured chocolaty ice-cream, sorry a sorbet, as there is no dairy product (milk or cream) and no eggs in it. 
The alcohol is optional and will prevent the sorbet from getting too rock hard. In any case, it is a good idea to take it out the freezer about 15 minutes before serving to make it more "malleable".
My wife Caroline makes a superb fruit salad with all kinds of seasonal fruit, greengages, peaches, apples, blue- and other berries from our garden, etc. which goes very well with this sorbet, to put it mildly.
Picture taken by our friend and welcome guest Heiri Guanter!

26 July 2011

Seasonal is Special

I thought I would start with a few delicious dishes that are decidedly seasonal. What I love about truly seasonal food is its window of availability. That's when they are naturally ready to be eaten and that's when they are tastiest.

Oven Ratatouille

Not exacly quick, this may take 30 minutes in the oven, depending on how soft or how crunchy you want the veggies, it is nevertheless a quick and easy recipe that can be prepared in advance and briefly warmed up before serving.
What you need:

  • 500g of tomates or cherry tomatoes, the riper the better
  • 1 or 2 medium-sized courgettes/zucchini
  • 1 small aubergine (if you don't like them you can leave them out)
  • 1 yellow pepper (sweet)
  • 1 green pepper (sweet) to add colour
  • 1 chili pepper (more if you like it spicy, minus the seeds if you don't)
  • finely chopped herbs (my choice would be rosemary, flatleaved parsley, lovage in moderate doses, oregano and thyme) to taste.
  • 2 medium sizes spring onions (with green) 
  • 4 or more cloves of garlic
  • olive oil to grease an ovenproof dish generously and to sauté the onions and garlic
  • a dash of Marsala or sherry
  • salt and pepper

What you do:

  1. Pour some olive oil into an ovenproof dish and make sure it is coated all round.
  2. Cut the vegetables into pieces, tomatoes into cubes, aubergines and courgettes into slices and quarters, peppers into 1 cubes.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste
  4. Chop the spring onions with as much green as is usable and the garlic and fry in olive oil without letting it colour.
  5. Add a good slug of Marsala or sherry (ca. 50 ml) and reduce the liquid briefly. 
  6. Pour the onions and the juices over the the vegetables and put in the oven preheated to about 175°. 
  7. Add the herbs (or leave this till about ten minutes before you take  the ratatouille out of the oven.
  8. Roast the vegetables to a softness you like, anything between 20 and 40 minutes.
  9. If the mixture looks dry, add a bit more Marsala
  10. For a crisp top put under the grill for a couple of minutes.
Serve this either piping hot with fresh bread or as a vegetable sidedish with a meat (I don't really ever do this but am told it works well) or as tepid sort of salady dish on a hot summer evening.

This shows "one I prepared earlier"; it's not that dishes go from square to round in our oven...

25 July 2011

"Sun-dried tomato" Paste

Here's a quick fix for a sandwich or a crostini topping. This may not be so terribly seasonal as the ingredients can be got anytime in the year, but I usually measure how good a summer was by the number of jars of this stuff we go through.

 What you need:
As I have pointed out elsewhere, I don't normally measure or weigh. Any variation of the list below means either a more garlicky, a more tomatoey or a spicier flavour.
  • 300g sun-dried tomatoes in oil with the oil largely drained (especially if it is not extra vergine olive oil)
  • 1 cayenne or chili pepper, de-pipped if you don't want it too spicy
  • 5 to 7 cloves of garlic
What you do:
  1. Precut the tomatoes and add a little olive oil if they are too dry.
  2. Finely chop the pepper(s).
  3. Peel the garlic (obvious really) and, depending on the efficacy of your blender, cut nor mash
  4. Process the ingredients to a consistency of a paste or a fine tartar
Store in a jar in the fridge; this keeps for several weeks, unless, as is usually the case, it is eaten before that...

    20 July 2011

    Cherry Stir'n'Cook

    OK, just a brief story to start with: my Grandfather, having lived through two World Wars with rationing and also otherwise always having had to make do, lived frugally, ate with moderation, and usually declined seconds, saying he had better stop as he was "still feeling well". However, with this dish I remember him once taking so many helpings that my little sister, always a bit of a slow eater, seeing her potential share disappearing fast, asked, "Grandad, are you still feeling well?", to which he replied“No but I don't care.”

    Cherry Stir’n’Cook is basically a kind of pancake with plain flour and lots of cherries in it.

    What you need:
    • 4 eggs
    • 350 ml milk
    • 200 g (spelt) flour (a bit less if using wheat because spelt absorbs liquid differently)
    • 1 pinch of salt
    • 2 (about) tablespoons of vanilla sugar (see below how to make your own)
    • 500g (at least) washed and de-stalked cherries (leave the stones)
    • butter for frying
    What you do:

    1.  Mix the ingredients (except for the cherries and, obviously, the butter) to get a thick but still liquid batter.
    2. Add the cherries. If a bit of juice leaks out of the holes where the stalks were, all the better.
    3. Ideally leave for about 20 to 30 minutes to give the flour time to blend with the other ingredients.
    4. Preheat the oven to about 150°C.
    5. Pour enough batter with cherries into a well-buttered frying pan and cook on one side until the top of the pancake is no longer runny. You can press the cherries down a bit with a spatula while this is going on to release some of the juice into the batter.
    6. Then flip over and really press down the spatula to release more juice.
    7. While the other side cooks, break up the pancake and stir the pieces and the cherries to mix both well.

    8. Pour into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with a bit of sugar and transfer to the hot oven.
    9. Proceed the same way until all the batter and the cherries are used up.

    Serve hot or warm but remember, hot cherries remain hot for a long time.

      Oh and if you wash the cherry stones they can be sown into a small cushion, which, in winter when warmed on a stove or oven retains the temperature like, but doesn’t get as unpleasantly cold as a hot water bottle.

      Vanilla sugar: fill a jar with sugar and two twisted vanilla pods, shake and leave for at least a couple of months; refill as you use it up, shaking occasionally. It beasts the industrially flavoured rubbish by miles in taste and price!)