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Fiadone (Corsican Cheesecake)

Fiadone with fresh cherries doused in eau de vie.

A small, inset picture in an article in Waitrose’s magazine – but unaccompanied with instructions – inspired me to look for this recipe. The texture is grainier than a cheesecake made with cream cheese, but it is also more juicy and succulent. Lemon zest gives it fragrance and lift. This is a very quick and simple recipe. In Corsica it is made with Brocciu cheese, a fresh sheep cheese, but Ricotta can be substituted. If anyone tries it with soft sheep or goat cheese, please let me know how it turns out (unless I beat you to it). Also the lemon zest may be replaced with orange zest or orange flower water.

To make a lighter Fiadone, it is possible to separate the whites from the yolks of the eggs and beat them until stiff separately before adding them back into the mix.

 

Ingredients:

500g fresh Brocciu cheese (or Ricotta)

5 eggs

200g sugar

zest of half an unwaxed lemon

one shot of eau de vie (I used kirschwasser)

a knob of butter (‘une noix de beurre’)

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180C

In a bowl, whip the eggs with the sugar and lemon zest until foamy, then add the cheese bit by bit, continue to whip briskly as you go. When the cheese is thoroughly worked into the mixture, beat in a shot of eau de vie.

Pour the batter into a buttered pie dish or springform pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Despite the eggs, this cake will rise only very slightly and collapse again after being removed from the oven. Serve cool.

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New Potatoes with Raclette

Haiku for Corva Korax

Melt Raclette on top

of hot halved new potatoes

and serve with white wine

Roasted Beets with Skordalia

Skordalia, coyly posing with some of its raw ingredients

Skordalia, draped like velvet over richly roasted beets

This is quite simply one of my very favourite foods. Starchy, oily, garlicky skordalia crowning sweetly concentrated roasted beets. Skordalia, to be absolutely traditional, should be a quite white paste made with potatoes or bread with the crusts removed. Mine is non-traditional. I like to leave the crusts on the bread I use. The stale bread for skordalia is also commonly soaked in water to soften it up beforehand, but I like to soak mine in dry white wine.

To roast the beets, wrap them in foil individually, or place them in a covered crock, and put them in a medium-hot oven for an hour or so. Once cool, their skins should schlup right off. Slice and serve.

 

Ingredients:

Stale bread

Dry white wine

Extra-virgin olive oil

Garlic

Salt

 

Method:

The proportions are pretty rough, but for a large batch you might use 10 oz. bread to 1 cup olive oil and 6-8 cloves of garlic. Soften up the bread beforehand by sprinkling it with wine. You don’t want puddles, just moistness. Chop the garlic and toss it in the blender, followed by the bread and the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Add more olive oil or wine if it appears too thick. Pour and/or scrape it into a bowl. That’s it!

Farinata Genovese

Image

Having just enjoyed this simple and savory snack in the streets of Portovenere, I wanted to enjoy this at home. It’s easier than pizza, but seems to hit the same spot quite effectively. We had this today with asparagus soup.

Ingredients:

1 C chickpea flour

1 1/2 C cold water

3/4 tsp sea salt

1/2 an onion or a whole large shallot

Rosemary

Black Pepper

Olive Oil

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220C

Place chickpea flour and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the water, whisking as you go to avoid lumps. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, cover, and let sit for a few hours. Consider one hour the minimum, but it does seem to get better with a bit more rest. I’d recommend 3 hours and up to 12 or so.

Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a cast iron skillet on a medium flame. When the oil is hot add the onion and cook until it just begins to colour. Pour in the batter and sprinkle the top with rosemary and black pepper.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until it is firm and is pulling away from the sides of the pan. Turn the broiler on towards the end so that it will become nicely golden brown. Remove to a cutting board and slice. Serve it straight away – it is best fresh.

Prawn and Ricotta Conchiglione

Prawn and ricotta conchiglione baked in a lemon béchamel sauce. To make a lemon béchamel, slowly whisk the juice and zest of a lemon into the sauce. It’s tricky, as the lemon will easily curdle the sauce if poured too quickly.

This is a filling for conchiglione – large shells – that is very simple but very tasty. Often when I’m cooking I’m just riffing, and it never ends up on my blog. This, though, is worth registering because it was so satisfying.

Ingredients:

500g ricotta

500g prawns, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small bunch basil, chopped

a dash each of white pepper and nutmeg

olive oil

Method:

Saute the garlic in olive oil until lightly brown. Add the prawns, white pepper, and nutmeg and cook only just until done. Set aside and allow to cool.

Mix the ricotta with the chopped basil, then add the prawns. Stuff or pipe the mixture into cooked conchiglione and bake, covered, and at 190C with marinara, bechamel or pesto. It should only take about 15 minutes to heat through.

We had it tonight with the rough walnut and parsley pesto listed below, and the squidginess of the prawns and the crunch of the nuts was a superb combination.

A Rough Toasted Walnut and Parsley Pesto

Walnut and parsley pesto on bread with roasted cherry tomatoes.

Walnut and parsley pesto on bread with roasted cherry tomatoes.

Sometimes it’s important to trust the instincts. I was in the process of making pesto and stopped short of grinding it into a paste. I wanted something slightly more toothsome, and this did the trick. This is a pesto that may be made in a food processor, because it is only very roughly chopped. The final product should be ground down to the consistency of bulgur wheat or couscous and no more fine. It looks a lot like tabouli when it’s finished – so I suppose it belongs somewhere in between a paste and a salad. The nuts will still have some crunch and the parsley squeaks between the teeth. It’s delicious just on bread, or heavenly on a chunky pasta like penne.

Ingredients:

100g toasted walnuts (or Brazil nuts for extra crunch)

a large bunch of flat leaf parsley

2 cloves garlic

100g Pecorino Romano (Parmesan is fine too)

just enough extra virgin olive oil to moisten

sea salt to taste

Method:

Toast the nuts in a dry pan on the stovetop until lightly coloured. Allow to cool.

Grind the nuts with the garlic in a food processor, just long enough to mix them, then add the cheese and then the parsley in succession. Add just enough olive oil to keep the whole thing lubricated. And add a bit of wine to keep you lubricated as well.

I’ll tag this as an Italian recipe, but it’s really from London, my kitchen in particular. How much more local can you get?

Zuppa di Cozze Come la Fanno a Bosa – Sardinian Mussels Soup

View of Bosa, Sardinia along the River Temo from Serravalle's Castle (Malaspina), by Raffaele Sergi, Wikimedia Commons, accessed 19 December 2011

Knowing where a dish comes from is important. When one meets a new friend, the first questions are always “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?”. For our categorizing species, to be able to ascribe a location and a function to a person or a thing is the first step to understanding and appreciating. Bosa is a town on the northwestern coast of Sardinia, the streets of which I’ve explored through the wonders of the Internet, though I’ve never been there. Should I eventually arrive in Bosa in the flesh, I’ll certainly be looking for this wonderful soup, but for now it is at least a place which lives in my imagination, and its flavours live on my tongue.

This is a recipe which, after adaptation from Marcella Hazan, has appeared on Epicurious. I was suspicious of the recipe, its timings, and the order of its execution, so I offer it here with my own adaptations. Finely grated sheep’s milk cheese is the key to the immense savouriness of the broth. It may be possible to substitute Parmigiano Reggiano for the Fiore Sardo or Pecorino Romano, but the result would be inferior. Apparently some Sardinian cooks will use couscous instead of breadcrumbs. I have not yet tried this, but I think it would yield a quite different texture.

This recipe will serve two with salad (we had it last night with sautéed Cavolo Nero), bread, and all the trimmings, or four as a primi piatti.

Ingredients:

1 kilo live mussels

1/3 cup olive oil

1 heaping T chopped garlic (or more!)

1 small bunch chopped parsley

1/2 tsp dried chilies

2 T fine, dry, unflavoured breadcrumbs (mine is always homemade from totally dry stale bread. It sits in a jar waiting to be used.)

1/3 C finely grated Fiore Sardo or Pecorino Romano (or another hard sheep’s milk cheese)

1 glass dry white wine

1 400g can good quality canned plum tomatoes (Hazan recommends San Marzano tomatoes.)

Grilled crusty bread, a slice per serving

Method:

Clean and debeard the mussels. Here is a video that shows you how: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2Od7_XYye0

Heat the olive oil over a moderate flame in a 6 litre saucepan, and add the garlic. Stir occasionally until it becomes golden. Add the parsley, chilies, and breadcrumbs, and then shortly thereafter the wine.

When the wine is bubbling, add the mussels and stir them into the broth. When the mussels have started to open, add the grated cheese and then the tomatoes. Continue to cook until all the mussels have opened.

Either place a slice or two of grilled or toasted bread at the bottom of each bowl, or simply serve a pile of fresh bread along with the soup. It will be required for mopping the plate.

Zucchini Bread

Fresh, hot, and naughty

Now, if you’re sensitive and a bit conservative about things, then please stop reading right now – because this recipe is quite simply naughty and inappropriate.

So let’s you and me just wait a moment while the prudes leave the room.

… OK?

First of all there’s the simple matter of the zucchini. The British, with their characteristic reserve (no sex please, we’re British), refer to the zucchini as a courgette, as though a soft consonant and a diminutive ‘ette’ suffix will gloss over the fact that the zucchini – with its racy z and two c’s plumped up like bums or breasts – is quite simply the most carnal of vegetables. Linger at the greengrocer’s  and exchange meaningful glances with passersby near the zucchini and you’ll see what I mean. They’re, how shall we say, longer than they are wide in a most useful way.* So please don’t call it a courgette. Give yourself up to the pleasure of the zucchini.

It’s not just the less-than-innocent zucchini that makes this recipe inappropriate, though. Zucchini bread, that staple of the Methodist bake sale, is generally a polite, restrained and penitential enough baked good to express proper Protestant virtue. It simply doesn’t taste voluptuous enough or provide enough moisture to lead you down that broad, easy road to hell. Well this one does. This is a zucchini bread that wants to be cake. And it wants you to eat it.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 C plain flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp mace (or nutmeg if you have no mace)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 C sugar

1 C vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 T pure vanilla extract (yes, that’s a tablespoon)

2 tsp lemon zest (and there’s that racy z again)

2 C coarsely grated zucchini (about one well-endowed zucchini)

1 C walnuts, crumbled and toasted

Method:

Preheat oven to 170C/325F. Butter and flour two 8x4x2 1/2 metal loaf pans.

Whisk flour, cinnamon, allspice, mace, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend and set aside. Whisk sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and lemon peel in a large bowl to blend. Whisk in the flour mixture. Mix in the zucchini and walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake breads until tester inserted into centre comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn breads out onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

This stores fairly well, though generally it doesn’t last long. I usually freeze one loaf and eat the other. It might be tempting to add dried fruit such as raisins or apricots, but they will just sink to the bottom.

*12 August 2012: Just as if to prove a point, my neighbour Lucy, who is a transsexual prostitute, dropped in today. When she saw the pile of zucchini I’d brought in from the farmer’s market, she pointed and said, “You know what those are good for, don’t you?” I doubt Lucy has ever actually eaten a zucchini.

Apple Clafoutis

How to describe a clafoutis? It is somewhere between a custard, a tart, and a flan, being composed of an eggy batter that is poured into a hot dish. The centre takes on the character of a baked custard, while the top and base acquire a slight crispiness. This is not a traditional clafoutis, which is a Limousin tart made with black cherries or other stone fruits, but an American evolution via the pages of Saveur magazine which I have doctored up slightly, as the original is a bit too sweet and heavy for my tastes – both my sweet tooth and my taste for cream are waning with age.

This dessert is marvelously simple, but the result is so elegant and delicious that it could crown the most princely and elaborate of meals. This should be popped in the oven just as you’re serving dinner so that it has a chance to cool just slightly before serving. The aroma of apples, custard and cinnamon will keep appetites soldiering on until the last. This should be made in an earthenware pie plate, or you can do as I do and make it in an iron skillet. Mine was my grandmother’s and its surface is like silk from well nigh on a hundred years of seasoning.

 

Ingredients:

For the batter:

3 eggs

1 C milk (or cream if you wish)

6 T unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2/3 plain flour

1/2 C sugar

1/2 tsp salt

 

For the apples:

4 T unsalted butter

4 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced

a splash of Calvados (or brandy)

ground cinnamon

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200C

Prepare the batter: Put milk, eggs, melted butter, vanilla, flour, sugar, and salt into a blender. Whiz it around until smooth and set aside. Grease a large, deep pie plate with butter, then set in the oven to heat.

Prepare the apples: Saute apples in butter over medium heat. Add brandy and cook until apples are slightly soft but not disintegrating – about 5 mins.

Then prepare the clafoutis: Remove the pie plate from the oven and pour half of the batter into the hot dish. Arrange the apples over the batter, then pour in the remaining batter. Sprinkle a bit of sugar and a generous amount of cinnamon over the top and bake until the clafoutis is set, about 25-30 mins.

The last time I made this I drizzled it with homemade quince honey – a bit like a thick quince syrup. Apple syrup or even Maple syrup could also be used.

Pancakes, Griddle Cakes, Flapjacks

Pancakes all began in about the same way on two sides of the Atlantic: thin cakes cooked on a hot stone or griddle that make a pleasing and amusing ‘flap’ sound when turned. How the name ‘flapjack’ came, in the UK, to be applied to the sticky, oaty golden syrup bar cookie that must be pressed messily into a pan to bake is anybody’s guess. It certainly doesn’t live up to the onomatopoeia. There’s really nothing more unflappable than English flapjacks. It is really only the combination of carbohydrates and lots and lots of sugar that may be meaningfully compared between the two. Well, perhaps also that they’re both tasty. This recipe is for the classic American pancake, which should be slathered with salted butter, doused with Maple syrup, and served with crisp, smoky bacon for the flavour counterpoint it provides.

When cooking these pancakes the batter should be poured from the tip of a spoon onto a hot, seasoned griddle – about a 1/4 C of batter will do. If no griddle is available, a skillet (but not non-stick) will do, very lightly greased with butter. The butter in the batter itself is enough to lubricate the cakes in the pan. To test if the griddle is hot enough, a drop of water should dance in the pan. If it spreads and boils, the pan is too cool. When bubbles begin to form on the surface of the pancake, take a peek underneath. If the cake is coppery in tone, then it’s time to flip (flap) it. It will take half the time to cook the other side, and it never cooks as evenly as the first side.

 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 C plain flour

1 tsp salt

3 T sugar

2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

3 T melted unsalted butter

1 C milk

 

Method:

Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs and add them with the milk and the melted butter. Stir the batter only until the ingredients are just barely incorporated. Don’t worry about lumps. Test the griddle and bake.

 

NB: I have recently seen small plastic jugs for sale with dry mix for pancakes in a pitiful layer at the bottom. The wet ingredients are added and the whole is shaken. Please bear in mind that the dry ingredients for pancakes are flour, baking powder, salt and sugar (that’s IT!), and that shipping vast quantities of packaged air across the globe – and then paying the price for it – is quite simply idiotic.