Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Swordfish carpaccio with oranges and pistachio nuts

Fast and easy, again. This time it’s swordfish carpaccio with oranges and pistachio nuts. It really takes no time at all and it can be served either as an entrée or as a main course, just adjusting the serving sizes. It’s one of those save-the-day dishes that I often prepare.

Having fresh swordfish from the market is always best, however I sometimes buy the pre-sliced, vacuum-packed stuff they sell at the supermarket, it’s not so bad and it will keep long in your fridge, a quality which turns out to be very useful when you’re having a hectic day and have no time to go to the grocery store. Just one piece of advice if you’re getting the pre-sliced swordfish, I find that the non-smoked kind works better in this dish, it’s closer to the one prepared with fresh ingredients.

Swordfish carpaccio with oranges and pistachio nuts

150 g swordfish carpaccio – thinly sliced swordfish filet
2 oranges
Freshly squeezed juice from 1 orange
Extra virgin olive oil
Pistachio nuts – to taste, coarsely ground

These quantities can be used as an entrée for 4 people – I guess you could use 200 g swordfish carpaccio as a main dish to feed 2 people.

Arrange the slices of swordfish on a tray. Combine orange juice, extra virgin olive oil and salt in a vinaigrette-like sauce and pour over the swordfish. Cut out orange wedges and place them on top of the fish. Cover everything with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least half an hour – if you think you’ll take longer, I suggest putting everything into the fridge.

When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle coarsely ground pistachios on top of everything.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Coffee-flavored ricotta cheese and chocolate “mousse” in an espresso cup - or the 5 minute dessert

I love spending time with my friends and I love having them over for dinner, even if it’s unexpected. I’m not a big fan of ordering out, so when friends show up, I have to think of something to prepare with whatever is left in my fridge and that’s also fast. In these cases, pasta is always a winner. When it comes to dessert, however, things can be a little more challenging. This is what I came up with a couple of nights ago.

Coffee-flavored ricotta cheese and chocolate "mousse" in an espresso cup

200 g ricotta cheese
100 g dark chocolate (I used a 70% cocoa)
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon instant coffee

Please note that quantities are not exact. Chop chocolate into small pieces and melt it over a double boiler or in a microwave. Pass ricotta cheese through a fine sieve for a smooth texture. Dissolve coffee in very little water. Combine ricotta cheese with honey, then add chocolate and coffee. Mix well. Fill a pastry bag with the mixture and leave it in the fridge until ready to serve. Fill some espresso cups with the "mousse" and serve. I guess the colder the mixture, the easier it will be to pipe it out, mine was still too warm.

The espresso cups in the picture are from the 1996 Illy collection.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tarte au vin - Wine tart

Waiter, there’s something in my… is another food blogging event that I really like. The theme for this month is… topless tarts. I thought I’d give it a try both because I really like tarts and because it gives me a perfect excuse to try out a recipe I’ve had for a while.

The recipe is called Tarte au vin – Wine tart. It’s quite simple, but the wine gives it an uncommon twist.

For the crust I used a cocoa and almond pâte brisée with very little cocoa, because I didn’t want it to overpower the wine. I also added some cinnamon to complement the filling. Oh, yes, the filling. The wine I used is a Sicilian wine called Nero d’Avola, I thought it would work well with the almonds and the cocoa, but I guess other types of wine can be experimented. I did not use all of the filling that I made because when I poured it into the pastry shell it looked lie it was enough, however the filling layer turned out to be rather thin, so I think I’ll use the whole thing next time.

Tarte au vin

For the crust:
125 g butter, softened
75 g icing/confectioners’ sugar
25 g ground almonds
1 egg
200 g cake flour
5 g cocoa
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the filling:
200 ml red wine
2 eggs
20 g flour
60 g sugar
100 ml cream, 35% fat
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon

First prepare the crust: In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar sifted with the cinnamon. Add the ground almonds and beat again. Add the egg and beat until combined. Sieve together cocoa and cake flour, add to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and pulse until combined. Do not overwork it. Take the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a flat disk. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour. Take out the dough and roll it out into a circle – I like a thin crust, I find that thicker crusts overpower the filling. Butter a tart pan and place the dough into it. Trim the edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour – I usually make it one day ahead.

Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F. Line the tart with parchment paper, fill with pie weights and prebake for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the filling: Place the eggs in bowl and whisk in the sugar and the flour. Heat the cream and pour over the egg mixture stirring constantly, much like the beginning of crème pâtissière. Add the wine and the cinnamon and combine.

Remove the weights and the paper, pour the filling mixture into the tart shell still in the oven and cook until the filling is firm to the touch. Serve cool.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

GYO - Persimmon Cake

Ever since I started blogging, I realized that there are about a million blog events going on each day. I think that’s just great, I love the idea of people from different places in the world to virtually get together, so I thought I’d give it a try, too.

The one event I’m going to try first is Grow Your Own, a monthly event hosted by Andrea at that celebrates the foods that we grow and the dishes we make with it. I can’t wait to see what people from around the world have in their gardens.

I'll be featuring persimmons as I have a nice tree in my garden

I'll be making a persimmon cake. I'm very fond of this recipe because it's one of my dad's favorites. The cake is dark and not too thick and has a tender, moist texture almost like pudding.

Persimmon Cake

570 g persimmon flesh
80 g sugar
2 medium eggs
50 g butter, melted and cooled
200 g flour, sieved
12 g cream of tartar or baking powder
1 vanilla pod

The cake is really quick and easy, an immersion blender works wonders – I guess a regular blender will do as well.

Preheat oven to 180°C/356°F and grease and flour the bottom and sides of a springform pan.

Place persimmon flesh in a large bowl and blend with your immersion blender until smooth. Add sugar, eggs, butter and the scrapings from a vanilla pod. Blend again until smooth.

Sieve cream of tartar and flour together and mix into persimmon mixture – I suggest using a spatula as the blender can cause the flour to make lumps.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes – remember that the cake will stay moist even after cooling. Dust with icing sugar and serve cool.

Don’t forget to check out Andrea's round up on December 1st!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dairy-free pineapple mousse in a phyllo pastry shell

When I have friends over for dinner and one of them is allergic to some particular food, I always feel uncomfortable. I guess I’m just scared that something I prepare might make them sick. So, anyway, a couple of days ago I had to cook dinner without dairy products as a friend of mine is allergic. It is normally no problem, there are plenty of things that do not require milk or other dairy products. When it comes to dessert, however, it always a little bit of a challenge and I don’t like to make the same dessert twice and I like to try out new things. Luckily, my friend is understanding and when the new things I prepare turn out to be total disasters, he does not complain. This is what I came up with.

Pineapple mousse in a phyllo pastry shell

Phyllo dough, thawed
400 g fresh pineapple flesh
200 g Italian meringue (see below for recipe)
1 vanilla pod
rice oil

Cut the pineapple into small pieces and put them in a pan. Cover with water, a little rum, the scrapings from a vanilla pod and a little honey – I am not writing quantities as they depend on how ripe your pineapple is, I added about 2 tablespoons. Bring to the boil and let everything dry out. Let cool.

In the meantime, prepare the Italian meringue: put 150 g sugar and 40 g water into a small pan and bring to 121°C/250°F. Meanwhile, in the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, start beating 80 g egg whites on a low/medium speed (I normally start beating when the thermometer reads 109°C/228°F). With the mixer running, pour the hot sugar syrup onto the egg whites and beat on a high speed until the mixture has cooled. Do not overbeat. You’ll need 200 g, so you’ll have a little left over.

Prepare the phyllo shells: Grease the inside of 6 muffin tins with some rice oil. Take out 2 phyllo dough leaves for each muffin tin. Work one tin at a time, leaving the rest of the dough covered in plastic wrap as phyllo dough dries out quickly. Brush each layer with rice oil and put them in the muffin tin, shaping the dough in the same form as the tin itself. When all of the tins are ready, bake them at 190°C/374°F until golden brown. Let cool.

Finish the pineapple mousse: Transfer the pineapple mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Pass through a fine sieve for a nicer texture as pineapple tends to be fibrous and thready. Carefully, fold in Italian meringue.

Assemble everything: Spoon mousse inside the cold phyllo pastry shells and serve not immediately, but soon – phyllo pastry does not tolerate humidity well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tortelli di zucca - Pumpkin filled pasta

Hand made pasta, again. Since pumpkin is in season, I thought I’d prepare Tortelli di zucca – Pumpkin filled tortelli, a typical dish from Northern Italy and definitely one of my favorites.

Tortelli di zucca

For the pasta dough:
300 g all purpose flour
3 medium eggs

For the filling:
500 g baked pumpkin
80 g finely ground amaretto cookies
100 g grated Parmigiano Reggiano
nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the pasta: mix eggs and flour and knead until you get a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate.

Prepare the filling: sieve the baked pumpkin to get a nice texture. Mix together with the ground amaretto cookies and the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Add salt and pepper to taste and a little grated nutmeg.

Assemble the tortelli: Roll out the dough, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta roller until the desired thickness. I like it rather thin, so that the pasta doesn’t overpower the filling. Cut out squares from the pasta, put a little filling on top of each square and form the tortelli, making sure that you press well at the edges to prevent the filling from coming out of the pasta dough when cooking.

Cook the tortelli: Fill a large pan with water and bring it to the boil. Add salt. Drop in the tortelli and cook them for a couple minutes max after they’ve resurfaced – use a skimmer to take them out of the boiling water and put them straight in a pan with some butter and some sage leaves. Sauté them and serve immediately.

Note: Some of you might have noticed that the shape of the tortellli is not the classical one – if there is such a thing. That’s because I was preparing another kind with a different filling and the two different shapes helped me tell the two types apart.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dijon mustard pork loin

I am lucky enough to still have my grandmother alive, I’m just sorry I don’t get to see her as often as I would like. Even though she’s almost 90, she’s still full of life and always ready to experience new things. When it comes to food, however, she’s not the most modern of people, so every time she’s over for lunch, I have to prepare something a little more on the traditional side. This is what I prepared today.

Dijon mustard pork loin

Have your butcher prepare a nice piece of pork loin – mine was about 500 g. Put some extra virgin olive oil into a large pan and brown all sides of the pork loin. Remove the meat from the pan and gently rub in a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon sweet paprika; make sure salt and paprika are evenly spread out.
Slice two medium onions – I used the golden kind – and place them into the same pan where you browned the meat together with a couple of sage leaves. When the onions become transparent, put the pork back in, add half a liter warm full fat milk and a couple of tablespoons Dijon mustard. Cover with a lid and allow about 50 minutes to an hour to cook, making sure that the sauce doesn’t dry out – in case that happens, add some more warm milk or a little stock. When the meat is done, remove it from the pan and set aside. Blend the sauce with your handblender or transfer it into your regular blender and purée until you get a smooth sauce – the thickness should be ok, but if it isn’t you can put it back on the stove for just a minute or - if it’s really too liquid – you can add some roux to get to the right consistency.
Slice the meat and serve with sauce.

Note: I’ve always eaten it warm, but granny says it’s good when cold too.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Chocolate cupcakes with banana mousse and rum-sautéed bananas

Yesterday I learnt a good lesson. Never leave you pantry empty, you never know when you might need to prepare something. It so happened that a couple of friends of mine showed up last night and were in the mood for dessert. I took a good look at my empty pantry and this is the only quick thing I could come up with using whatever was left.

Chocolate cupcakes with banana mousse and rum-sautéed bananas

For the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Break 50 g dark chocolate (mine was 70% cocoa solids chocolate) and melt it carefully. Set aside. Cream 50 g butter with 50 g brown sugar, add 3 yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in melted chocolate. Carefully sieve 50 g flour with half a teaspoon baking powder and add to chocolate and butter mixture. Beat 3 egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold into the chocolate batter. Line a 6 cup muffin pan with paper liners. Pour the batter into the muffin cups and bake for about 15 minutes.

For the banana mousse: Purée 70 g banana with 35 g sugar and a teaspoon lemon juice. Soak half a gelatin sheet in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and melt very carefully in a small pan. Add to the banana purée. Beat 50 ml cold cream until soft peaks form and gently fold into the banana mixture. Fill a pastry bag and refrigerate until cupcakes are ready.

For the sautéed bananas: Cut one or two bananas into regular round pieces, sprinkle with brown sugar and a little lemon juice. Put a little butter in a pan, add the banana pieces and sauté them with some rum.

To assemble, pipe the banana mousse onto the cupcakes, arrange the banana pieces on your serving dish next to a cupcake and sprinkle everything with grated chocolate.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mongolia - Part IV

One of the things I was mostly glad about when I was in Mongolia was having a great driver. Driving around in Mongolia can be quite challenging, most – if not all – roads are not paved and there are virtually no road signs. It is not uncommon to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere

Another thing I came to appreciate was our van. At first I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t have a more modern and more comfortable car – we drove some 2500 miles and, trust me, it wasn’t always a smooth ride – however I found out that these vans are very strong and enduring and, above all, they are completely mechanical – meaning that they have no electrical parts. The good thing about this is that when they break down, spare parts can be found easily and they can be repaired just as easily by almost anyone.

There are other good sides about driving around as opposed to flying from one place to another. First you improve your sense of direction, you learn to watch signs that you did not consider before. For example, an electricity line can lead you to the next town

(I just love Mongolians who live in villages and still live inside gers, which we renamed "town gers")

An ovoo can be extremely important – first it gives you an excuse to take a little walk and stretch out a bit – for the record, ovoos are piles of stones that have a religious meaning, you should walk around them three times clockwise and throw three stones on top of them – secondly they are road marks, so most directions you get sound something like "Get to the big ovoo and make a left", and thirdly they can give you a chance to meet some local people

Another good thing about driving around is that you get to see a ridiculous amount of animals:

yaks and cows

a number of birds – apparently Mongolia is birdwatchers’ paradise

camels – I had never seen white camels before

and soooo many beautiful horses – if you’re lucky you can also see some wild ones (we didn’t see any)

Of course, there are times when you feel like you’ll never see any living form ever again, like when we went to a place called Ikh Gazryn Chuluu (which translates to "The place of small stones" or something like that). I remember feeling like I was on another planet and commenting how all those conspiracy theories about man never setting foot on the Moon must have originated there – unfortunately picture cannot really describe that place

If being there could be a little frightening, you can always hope for a little help from above

and find some comfort inside your ger for the night

the inside can be quite cosy

Before you know, it’s time for you to get back home and you’ll miss all that, but if you’re lucky you’ll have something nice during your flight as well – this was taken at airport in Moscow

Monday, November 5, 2007

Post Halloween dieting

Halloween was lots of fun this year. I went to dinner with some friends in a castle not too far from where I live now – sorry, only one pic, I was too busy laughing and being scared at the same time…

We had lovely food, however I ate more than I should have. I must say that I’m eating way too much lately and holiday season is coming up, so I desperately need to cleanse and detoxify my body starting today – yesterday would have been better, but hey don’t diets always start on a Monday? The first thing I thought of was this smoothie-like beverage that my mum used to make for me when I was a little girl, it’s really a non-recipe, but here it goes:

My mum’s smoothie:

1 low-fat sugarfree yogurt
2 cups strawberries
zest of an orange
honey (I used orange flower honey)

The night before you make this smoothie, you need to put the yogurt and the strawberries in the freezer, so that you’ll have a nice texture when you blend everything together – that’s one trick I learnt from my mum.
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend to the desired texture – sometimes I like to leave some chunks of strawberries to chew on, sometimes I blend really, really well and have a nice smooth texture.
I put an orange slice to make the picture look a little less dull, but it has no use, in fact I used the rest to have nice, fresh juice.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Mezzelune di cipolla

This recipe brings back fine memories. There's something about making pasta by hand that gives me a sense of serenity and tranquillity.

The first time I prepared this recipe, it was out of respect and trust for the chef that taught it to me, but I didn't expect anything from it - just read the ingredients for the filling and you'll see what I mean. Unexpectedly, however, these "mezzelune" - a nice word which means "half moons" - have a rather delicate and balanced flavor.

Mezzelune di cipolla e ricotta

For the pasta dough:
500 g all-purpose flour
5 medium eggs

For the filling:
600 g onions
2 tablespoons butter
40 g cooked beetroot
80 g ricotta
30 g grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 egg yolk
30 g breadcrumbs
chives, salt, pepper to taste

Prepare the pasta dough as usual and let it rest for at least half an hour – I usually make mine a few hours in advance and leave it in the fridge well wrapped in cling film.

In the mean time, prepare the filling – it’s best if you make it one day in advance, so that all the flavors blend together.
Slice the onions – sweet ones work better – and put them in a pan with the butter on a very low heat until they become transparent. This may take a while, but it’s important that the onions don’t burn or you’ll end up with a bitter taste. Let cool.
In the bowl of your mixer, work together the beetroot, the breadcrumbs and the Parmigiano Reggiano. When you get a well-blended mixture, add the ricotta, the yolk and some finely cut chives and mix with a fork.
Mix together the onions and the beetroot and ricotta mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.
Roll out the dough, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta roller until the desired thickness. I like it rather thin, so that the pasta doesn’t overpower the filling. Cut out 10 cm/4 in circles and put some filling on top of each one – a disposable pastry bag with no tip comes in very handy in these cases. Fold the circles to get the half moon shape making sure that you press the edges well or the filling will come out when you cook them – you might also wet the edges a little to help you seal the pasta.

Fill a large pan with water and bring it to the boil. Add salt. Drop in the mezzelune and cook them for a couple minutes max after they’ve resurfaced – use a skimmer to take them out of the boiling water and put them straight in a pan with some butter and some sage leaves. Sauté them and serve immediately.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mongolia - Part III

Not much can be told about Mongolian architecture, since most sites have been destroyed. Only a few temples remain.

This one is near Kharkhorin, the old capital. It's called Erdene Zuu and it was the first Buddhist monastry ever to be built in Mongolia:
Two of four turtle statues remain outside the walls. Turtles are thought to be bearers of good luck.

This one is in Tsetserleg in the Arkhangai region on a very rainy day.

Bogd Khan's Winter Palace in Ulaanbatar:

Mile Zero in Sukhbatar Square in Ulaanbatar:

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mongolia - Part II

Nearly half of the Mongolian population lead a nomadic lifestyle and live in gers - felt covered tents - that can be easily moved from one place to another. We too slept in gers. This one is by the Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake:

Typically, the door of the ger faces south:

You can also find a "ger motel" like this one in the Gobi desert:

Mongolian people are quite friendly and very, very hospitable: just knock on a ger door and soon you'll have a place to stay and some food in your stomach.