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Farinata Genovese

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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.

Penne Pasta with White Beans and Tomatoes

This simple vegetarian dish is so fragrant with basil that it strongly piques the appetite. It makes an excellent primi piatti before a secondo of fried fish. Either red or white wine to accompany is appropriate. We drank a 2007 Jaboulet Côtes du Rhône, and ate the pasta simply with a side dish of watercress.

Ingredients

500g penne or tortiglione pasta

Olive oil

1 400g tin of cannellini or flageolet beans, drained and rinsed

1 large garlic clove, finely minced

500g ripe tomatoes, diced

a handful of pitted Kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise

1 small bunch fresh basil, julienned

salt and pepper

dry white wine

Method

This is a very quick sauce, so start it only a few minutes before your pasta is al dente. Heat a dash of olive oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and beans and, stirring, heat them through, adding a dash of white wine at the last. Add the tomatoes, olives, basil, salt and pepper, and leave the flame on only just long enough for the tomatoes to be lightly heated. Pour the sauce over the pasta, drizzle lightly with extra-virgin olive oil, and top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Serves four.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana

This is the finest, and possibly the simplest recipe for this dish I have found. The hint of cinnamon in the sauce plays off the nuttiness of the Parmesan magnificently, and the whole is grounded, of course, in the eggplant. So fundamental is eggplant as a fruit that it is a kind of base element. ‘Eg’ in the periodic table of fruits and vegetables.

The name ‘eggplant’ derives from the round, white variety of the fruit, and it is certainly more fun to say than ‘aubergine’. Alan Davidson tells us that the word ‘melanzane’ derives from the Latin mala insana – ‘apple of madness’. Perhaps appropriate, as this recipe is madly delicious. And the eggplant is a member of the Nightshade family. Serve it with good, crusty bread and a simple salad. We had a very smooth red from the Marca Trevigiana that gave the whole ensemble a delightful velvety character.

 

Ingredients

Olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 X 400g tins chopped tomatoes (a quality brand, please)

1 cinnamon stick

1 small bunch of basil, julienned

4 medium eggplants/aubergines/apples of madness

3 balls of mozzarella, sliced

Grated Parmesan

 

Method

The apples of madness should be grilled or broiled for this. Slice them lengthwise about a finger-width thick and brush them with oil. Grill them until they are completely tender. Some charring is desirable.

While they are grilling, heat the oven to 180C.

For the sauce, heat about 2T of olive oil in a pan and fry the garlic until it is lightly brown. Add the tomatoes and cinnamon (standing back, as the hot oil and the tomatoes tend to react energetically) and simmer for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the basil.

Remove the cinnamon stick and spoon some of the sauce into your largest ovenproof dish. Layer up the eggplant slices, mozzarella, and sauce as you would a lasagne. Cover completely with sauce, and cover with a generous grating of Parmesan. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

 

Zabaione (Sabayon, Zabaglione)

Garnished with flowers …

This dish is a rarity. I can’t readily think of another dish that is based upon whipped egg yolks, but it’s such a wonderful comfort food, that one wonders why there aren’t more. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to imagine an improvement on this recipe.

Zabaione (or Sabayon in France) is often served alone as a light custard, or with fruit. It is apparently an American practice to serve this in a wine glass with fruit such as berries or peaches, but the pleasure of this combination need not be limited to the New World.

I have raspberries, blackberries and yellow raspberries for this tonight, and I’ll serve them in separate piles atop the custard. The Romanian flag is blue, yellow and red, so I will pretend that I am serving Satou – which would be much like this, but made with sweet Muscatel.

Ingredients:

4 egg yolks

1/4 C sugar

1/4 C Marsala wine

Method:

Place a round-bottomed mixing bowl atop a saucepan with 2-3cm of water in the bottom and place the whole on low heat. Place the egg yolks in the bowl and, as the water heats, beat with a balloon whisk until the yolks are foamy and pale. Gradually add the sugar, and then the wine. Continuously beat the custard until it is thick and foamy. Serve immediately while warm.

If the heat is too high the custard will be grainy.

Rocket and Toasted Brazil Nut Pesto

Pesto made the time-honoured way in a mortar and pestle. Both ‘pesto’ and ‘pestle’ come from the Latin pestare “to pound, to crush.” The best method is all in the name.

We’re having this tonight with tortellini, but it could just as well be brushed onto crostini and served with some fresh chopped tomato. This is a very nutty pesto that gets the best out of a Brazil nut. I decided to experiment with them in pesto after I made a simple salad with toasted Brazil nuts. Usually they’re not my favourite nut – bland and a bit starchy and oily – but sliced in four lengthwise, toasted, cooled and sprinkled on a salad, they have an excellent crunch to them. I toast the nuts in a small skillet, watching them constantly and tossing them until they are just browned. Next time you have a pile of them left over from your mixed nuts at a party, use them up on salad or in this pesto.

This pesto may be made traditionally in a mortar and pestle, or with a blender, but don’t overblend, because bruising the leaves is key to pesto’s flavour and appeal.

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic, chopped

sea salt to taste

3 big fistfuls of rocket (arugula)

1 fistful toasted Brazil nuts

1 fistful grated Parmesan

enough extra-virgin olive oil to lubricate the whole, but not so much that it makes the mixture slack and oily.

Method:

Start by pounding or whizzing the garlic, then add the nuts and a bit of the cheese. Then add the rest of the Parmesan and rocket bit by bit until it’s all smashed up nicely.

Cioppino

The English weather is never extreme, but as a bank of fresh late winter rain rolls in over London, I’m grateful for my warm, cozy kitchen. Cioppino is a dish that trails gratefulness behind it in a long wake – a light in the late winter fog – a dish that holds the profundity of the cold ocean and the promise of bright summer together in embrace. Quintessentially American, this dish is a marriage of Ligurian immigrant cuisine and the early twentieth century bounty of the San Francisco Pacific. It transposes well to any winter kitchen anywhere, though. We had it tonight with a 2009 Cote du Py Morgon, torn chunks of pain de campagne and a simple mesclun salad in a state of near undress coated with walnut oil and and spiked with Maldon salt. Ecstasy.

This recipe serves 6 if restrained, or 3 if given free access to the pot.

Ingredients:

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 medium onions, diced

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried hot pepper flakes (I know, they’re dried spices, but they are only there for the basso profundo)

1 small tin anchovies in oil

1/4 C olive oil

Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1 green bell pepper, finely diced

2 Tbsp tomato paste

2 glasses dry, light red wine

2 400g cans chopped tomatoes (a good brand)

Fill both cans with water and add

500g crab legs

1 kilo mussels

500g firm fish (halibut, tuna, tilapia, whatever)

500g large prawns

1 dozen scallops

1 small bunch parsley, chopped

1 small bunch basil, chopped

Method:

Cook the garlic, onions, anchovies, bay, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes and pepper in the oil in a large pot over moderate heat until the onions are translucent. Stir in the bell pepper and tomato paste and cook for another minute. Add the wine and bring again to a boil. Add tomatoes and water and simmer for half an hour.

Add crab, scallops, prawns, and fish and bring back to the boil. Then add the mussels and/or clams, parsley and basil and cook until shellfish have opened. Ladle gratefully into wide bowls and consume.

(NB: The sauce is so fragrant that this is a good place to hide fish that isn’t fresh. Not shellfish, though. Shellfish should always be unimpeachably fresh. Please play fast and loose with the seafood in this dish and simply use what is at hand. It should always take about 2-3 kilos of seafood, about a third of which is shellfish.)

Orecchiette Pasta with Tomato and Tuna Sauce

This is a delicious and very quick pasta dish that I tried out last night. Its inspiration was a recipe by Marcella Hazan.

It serves 4 and takes only the time needed to heat the water and cook the pasta.

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 400g cans chopped tomatoes (only buy the best)

2 200g cans tuna, partially drained

a knob of butter

500g bag of orecchiette pasta

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)

fresh cracked pepper

Method:

Get the oil hot and sauté the garlic until it just begins to brown. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the pasta is cooked. Turn off the heat.

Mix the tuna and the butter evenly into the tomato sauce and season with the pepper and parsley.

Toss with the pasta and serve. Parmesan cheese does nothing to enhance this dish – serve it with nothing but a tiny sprinkle of parsley.