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Fennel Scented Cauliflower with Griddled Sea Bream

15 Apr

No sooner did we get here than it’s time to head back to England. I’ll be sad to leave our beloved mountains again but work beckons and excitingly we’ll also be renovating a property for my parents close by.  We’ll all be round the corner from each other like one big Italian/Spanish family! My dad will even have space to store his beloved Vespa and to continue the family tradition of making their wine for the year with grapes imported from Italy. We have a celebration ahead with both my mum and Big Man reaching special birthdays within days of each other. Friends from Spain will be flying over to England to join us, so I’ll be able to share that with you.

Don't worry - we'll all be travelling in more comfort than this!

Don’t worry – we’ll all be travelling in more comfort than this!

The packing up of the car starts today and we head off on Thursday morning to drive through Spain, right up the middle past Madrid then over the border at Irun and – all going well – resting for the night in Bordeaux. The next day we continue up through France and cross from Calais to Dover by ferry and then a couple of hours later we’ll be in Bexhill. Just over 2200km – loaded with paella burners and pans for pals, cheeses, wines, sausages and of course Luna and Alfi. We definitely don’t travel light!

We'll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!

We’ll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!

But today I have just a little time to look back on the last month in Spain and share another simple recipe which, for me, is full of one of the flavours of Andalucia- anis.

I’m one of those funny folk who love fennel and dill but can’t stand drinks like anis, pernod or raki. Use it in cooking though and it’s a whole other matter.

Anis is a popular drink here (sweet or dry) and is served with or without ice, or if you add a little slosh of it to coffee in the morning, it becomes a “Carajillo de Anis”. Most popular with all the old boys in the local bars to start their day! We always have a bottle of it at home but it’s one of those bottles that lurks around for ages getting a bit dusty.

After resuming my mountain walks with the pups I have found plenty of wild fennel to pick – here it’s mostly the feathery fronds that are enjoyed, but you can also use the young stems in the same way you would use fennel. This recipe uses whatever veggies you have to hand, it’s all about the delicate aniseed flavours. We enjoyed ours with a whole bream stuffed with wild fennel which we cooked on the cast iron griddle and drizzled with a few drops of anis once it was cooked.

Sea Bream with Cauliflower (4)

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a side dish)

  • Half a cooked cauliflower chopped into small pieces
  • A leek, cleaned and cut into thin slices
  • A mix of red and green pepper, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half an onion finely chopped
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fennel and fronds
  • A tablespoon of anis flavoured liqueur
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a deep frying pan or wok and add the onions and peppers.  Fry gently until they are very soft (this will take about 20 mins) then add the leeks, garlic, fennel and cauliflower. Continue to cook until the leeks have softened, season and add the liqueur. Cook for a further minute and serve.

This would also be delicious served as a vegetarian main course on it’s own or stirred through rice or pasta.

Potato Topped Pizza and a Walk Up the Mountain

12 Apr

If, like me, you don’t fear the carbs (although realy I should), this is a tasty and economical pizza to feed a crowd. And then you take the crowd out for a walk to burn off the carbs!

Potato & Spring Onion Pizza (1)

Ingredients

  • One Quanity of Pizza Dough
  • About 2 cups of chopped tomatoes or your favourite pasta sauce
  • 1 large potato, boiled in its skin then peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 ball of mozzarella, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • Half a cup of grated cheese (I used a mix of parmesan and emmental)
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tin anchovies in olive oil (optional) omit for a vegetarian version

Turn the oven onto the highest setting while you prepare the pizza.  Put the tin or tray you will be using into the oven to heat up

Roll out your dough to fit the tin and place it on some greaseproof or baking paper. Cover with the tomato sauce. Mix the potato, cheeses, spring onion and garlic together in a bowl and spread this mixture over the pizza. Lay the anchovies over the top and pour over any oil from the tin.

Slide the pizza onto the hot tray (with or without the baking paper) and bake for about 12-15 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and the pizza is crispy.

Hope you enjoy the walk, click on the photos to see them in more detail.

Know Your Onions – Onions Braised in Wine and Balsamic Vinegar

9 Apr

What a funny expression that is. I struggled to find a decent explanation for it, although we use the expression to mean “knowing a lot about a subject”. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to know more!

Over on the beautiful prairies of the Midwest of America, our very dear friend Celia goes along each year to a big swapping fiesta. She usually comes home with some exotic and adorable creature like a white peacock or beautiful Boo the dog. Here, swapping is rife but generally restricted to gluts of fruit and vegetables and also poultry and eggs. As we’re not around so much right now, we can’t offer much but our dear friends and neighbours are busy keeping us supplied with delicious goodies.

Yesterday Big Man said he was popping out to see a man about some onions, as you do, and this is what he came home with.

Cebollas (3)

A lot of onions. And we’re due to be heading back to England in about a week, so there’s no way we can pack them into the car…we’d be asphyxiated by onion fumes. Time to get creative with onion recipes. Well, there’s Up the Mountain Onion Soup, of course. And maybe a caramelised onion tart. How about something different? Memories of my godmother, who came from the north of Italy, near Venice, and her method of cooking tiny onions in balsamic vinegar inspired me. I’m not sure if it’s exactly her recipe, but the taste was very similar and definitely worth buying onions to make specially.

Ingredients

  • Onions
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • White or red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few stems of a hardy herb like oregano (or you could use thyme or rosemary)

Chop the tops and bottoms off the onions so that they will sit flat in a deep frying pan or saucepan. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle over the balsamic vinegar (I used about 2 tablespoons for approximately a dozen onions), the same quantity of olive oil and pour over a glass of wine. I used Vino del Terreno (this translates as Wine of the Earth or Terrain) which is a wine many of our neighbours produce, a little rough and slightly sweet but oh so good with salty food. Scatter over the herbs and cover tightly with a lid or foil.

Cebollas (7)

Bring the pot to boiling point and then reduce to the lowest heat possible and cook gently, turning the onions once or twice, for about an hour. Just before serving, remove the lid and turn up the heat to reduce the delicious cooking liquid slightly. We ate these onions hot as a side dish but they would be delicious served at room temperature as a tapas or starter.

And just in case you don’t like wine but do like dogs (clearly not braised in wine and balsamic vinegar) here is a completely gratuitous shot of my pups Luna and Alfi hoping I don’t notice they are hogging the sofa.

No Dogs On The Sofa Please

No Dogs On The Sofa Please

 

And when she got there, the cupboard was bare … Almost Panzanella

18 Mar

You know what it’s like when you get back from a holiday and there’s nothing in the fridge apart from a sad carrot and a stinky piece of cheese you thought might just last until you got back? Yes? I thought so! Well, imagine how little there was at home for us after an absence of almost 5 months. A deeply sad situation. Thank god for the local bar/restaurant where we were welcomed with open arms on our first night and sent home with bread, tomatoes and onions to see us through the next morning.

After my favourite Spanish breakfast I got to thinking about how inventive we can all be when we have very little to play around with. Every country has a dish for leftover bread and the Italian bread and tomato salad called Panzanella came to mind.

Sunshine is a glorious extra!

Sunshine is a glorious extra!

We have litres and litres of our very own beautiful olive oil which was milled just a few weeks ago and our lemon tree is loaded with lemons. I added a tin of tuna from the larder (not very authentic but what the heck) and a handful of parsley from the garden. Honestly, I should leave the fridge bare more often so that I can remember to enjoy dishes like this.

Ingredients (you choose the quantities)

  • Stale bread cut into small cubes
  • Roughly chopped tomato and onion
  • Chopped parsley (basil is more authentic though)
  • A finely chopped clove of garlic
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Lashings of olive oil and plenty of lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • Add some chopped cucumber if your fridge is being kind to you
  • Optional – a tin of tuna (omit to keep it vegetarian)

Put all the ingredients (except the seasoning and dressing) in a bowl and mix with your hands. Dress lavishly with oil, add lemon or vinegar to taste and season. Mix again with your hands, squishing the tomato a little so that the juices run out. Leave it for at least 10 minutes so that it can absorb all those wonderful flavours and enjoy!

Stir Fried Kale with Bacon – A Speedy Side Dish or Pasta Topping

4 Feb

Don’t you just love winter greens? So green and vibrant – maybe their colour reminds us of the spring that is on its way, whilst doing us so much good packed full of iron and vitamins.

Kale (3)

Kale is a current favourite, although it can sometimes be a little tough. Not a problem if you like your vegetables really crisp, but easily dealt with by blanching for a few minutes first.

Ingredients to serve 2

  • About a dozen leaves of kale, washed, tough stalks removed and then finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 4 rashers of finely chopped smoked streaky bacon (or use mushrooms for a vegetarian dish)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil for frying

Blanch the chopped leaves for about 3 minutes if they are large and drain. Heat a little oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry the bacon until crispy then add the kale and garlic. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, season and enjoy as a side dish or mixed with pasta (add a little raw olive oil and a few drops of the pasta cooking water).

Bounce around the kitchen as you will be packed full of vitality!

If you’re lucky enough to have access to Baby Kale, check out this beautiful recipe for a Sunshine Salad from our blogging pal Smidge. Or how about Frugal’s Kale with Pasta – delicious!

Caramelised Red Onion Tart with Jamón and Stilton

30 Jan

WordPress tells me that the top search on my blog, pretty much constantly, is for Olive Oil Pastry. Those of you who regularly follow my blog will know that until recently I was a self-confessed pastry cheat, using ready made pastry most of the time. In the summer though, I experimented with the pastry made using olive oil instead of butter and in the autumn, with delicious English butter available, I tried out the deliciously naughty Rough Puff Pastry.

The olive oil pastry is a healthier option for more frequent use and as there are so many searches for this recipe, I thought I should make an effort to show some of the ways I use it in the kitchen. This is a delicious tart which serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.

DSC_0011

Ingredients

  • 1 batch of olive oil pastry
  • 6 red onions
  • 2 small sprigs of thyme
  • Olive oil for shallow frying
  • 3 slices of jamón, prosciutto or bacon (omit if you want a vegetarian tart) cut into small pieces
  • About 3 tablespoons of crumbled stilton or some of your favourite cheese

No need for blind baking with this pastry, it goes crispy underneath, even when baked with the filling.

Half and finely slice your onions and fry slowly in about 3 tablespoons of olive until soft and slightly caramelised. This will probably take at least 20 minutes.  Season with a little pepper but you will probably not need salt if you are using the jamón and stilton which are both salty.

DSC_0015

Roll out the chilled pastry to fit your tart tin, prick the bottom and fill with the cooked onion mixture. Sprinkle over the jamón and cheese and bake at 200 (regular oven) or 180 degrees (fan assisted) for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is browned.

Leave to cool slightly – this is delicious served at room temperature with a salad.

Crab, Lemon, Chili and Ricotta Ravioli and Mushroom and Tomato Ravioli

24 Jan

That’s a whole lot of ravioli, but as Chgo John will confirm, if you’re going to make ravioli, you may as well make plenty!

Ravioli (7)

A previous ravioli making session confirmed that they’re much easier and more fun to make if you work with friends. A recent Sunday lunch with girlfriends was a hands on affair – cooking first, eating later, but all accompanied with laughter, wine and chatting.

Ravioli (1)

We made half a kilo of pasta (500g of flour with 5 eggs, salt and a splash of olive oil) and two fillings. Weights are approximate, but will make filling for about 25 ravioli per filling and you may find you have enough pasta left over for making a little batch of tagliatelle.

Lemon & Chilli Filling

  • About 200g fresh ricotta
  • Approx 200g cooked crab meat (white and dark)
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • 1 small red chilli, deseeded (or not!) and very finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients together, taste and adjust seasoning and use to fill your ravioli. We served these with melted butter melted butter mixed with a little crème fraiche, lemon zest and fresh rosemary with parmesan.

Ravioli (11)

Mushroom Filling with Tomato Sauce

  • 1 dozen medium sized mushrooms and stalks very finely chopped and fired gently with 2 cloves of crushed garlic and 1 teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary until softened
  • About 125g mascarpone cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon of smoked pimentón
  • ½ ball of mozzarella, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About 2 cups of thick homemade tomato sauce
  • Fresh parmesan

Mix together the mushrooms, pimentón, mascarpone and mozzarella to form a paté type paste, season and adjust if necessary. Use to fill your ravioli and serve with tomato sauce and freshly grated or thinly sliced parmesan.

Tarallucci – Savoury Fennel Biscuits and a little break for Chica and Big Man

6 Nov

I seem to be cooking to an Italian theme right now – no particular reason. Well, I did buy a new (second hand) cookery book, Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo. If you ever get a change to watch the series they made to go with the book, do give it a go – it features some good food from all around Italy and the pair of them behave like a funny old couple who have been married for years! The following recipe comes from the book.

Taralucci (5)

Here’s a bread type recipe which I made recently as they reminded me of nibbles my parents often serve at their home with olives and salted almonds with pre lunch or dinner drinks. The first batch I made came out a little chewy, more like crispy bagels. I cooked the second batch for longer and they were as I remembered – crispy, hard and deliciously aniseedy in flavour.

Ingredients (makes 40-50 but can easily be halved)

  • 200g semolina four
  • 200g plain flour plus extra for dusting (use all plain flour if you don’t have semolina flour)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 x 7g sachet of fast blend yeast (or 1 sachet of dried yeast dissolved in 150ml lukewarm water)
  • 150ml water (no need to use if you have used it to dissolve your yeast)
  • 100ml of extra virgin olive oil

Add the fennel seeds, salt and pepper to the flours and mix then add the liquids. Knead well for about 5 mins and then leave to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Knead again for another 5 mins and then pat the dough into a flat, rectangular shape. Cut strips about 2cms wide off and cut each strip into 10cm lengths. Wrap each strip around a finger, flattening it slightly and pressing the ends firmly together.

Preheat the oven to 180 degress C or gas Mark 4 and bring a large pot of slightly salted water to the boil.

Drop the dough circles into the water in batches, let then rise to the surface and let them cook for about 3 minutes.

Taralucci (1)

Life them out with a slotted spoon and leave them to drain (I did this on greaseproof paper as I found they stuck to kitchen paper).

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes until lightly browned and crispy (the original recipe calls for initial cooking for 15 mins at the higher temperature then 10 minutes at a medium temperature). Leave to cool and enjoy with a glass of something lovely.

Tomorrow we’re packing our little cases and heading over to the beautiful island of Jersey. I say beautiful because I hear it is – it will be out first visit. And we’re not worried that rain and gloomy weather are forecast as we’re going to celebrate our anniversary which also (most fortunately) coincides with a food and drink festival. Well, we might do a little sightseeing but hopefully we’ll be back a few kilos heavier and full of exciting ideas for new dishes. See you next week!

Deep Fried Courgettes – Zucchini Fritti

14 Oct

Well, the title says it all, so if you don’t deep fry or don’t eat fried food, then this one is not for you…

(You could try Natalies beautiful Baked Courgettes instead and check out her fantastic blog which is packed full of amazing vegetarian recipes.)

But you can still enjoy this photo of some super fresh vegetables bought round for us from our lovely neighbours who picked our tomatoes while we were away. From the field to our plates in less than a couple of hours…how wonderful is that?!

Veggies (4)

When we are Down by the Sea, a local Italian restaurant does a side dish of deep fried courgettes. I used to order them and gorge on a portion myself, safe in the knowledge that Big Man was not a big fan of this gorgeous vegetable. Of course, the day finally came when he decided to give them a go and unfortunately for me, I now have to share. Must remember to stop saying “go on, try them, I think you’ll love them”. Sometimes you get what you asked for.

Zucchini Fritti (7)

Ingredients

  • One courgette cut into thick batons
  • A little milk
  • A few tablespoons of flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper
  • Oil for deep frying

Dip the courgette pieces first in the milk, then the seasoned flour and deep fry in very hot oil for a few minutes until lightly browned. Drain, sprinkle with coarse salt and serve. Alioli or garlic mayonnaise is great with them.

Zucchini Fritti (3)

Make double if you run the risk of having to share.

Aubergine and Vegetable Sauce – for people who don’t like aubergine

29 Sep

We’re on a countdown to our next mammoth England trip. If all goes well this week, we’ll leave on Friday in the early hours and get there on Saturday night. This time we won’t pretend to ourselves that we’re going to be there for three weeks and end up staying for nearly ten months! Oh no…this time we are going to do even more of the renovation work ourselves and will take it slowly. We’re planning on three or four months, so we’ll be enjoying the Rye Bay Scallop Season, Bonfires and Fireworks and Christmas too…along with plenty of hard work.

Preparation for the trip, apart from sorting out our house and garden here for the winter, means buying plenty of Spanish goodies to enjoy and share, booking the vet to sort out the paperwork for the pups and digging out our winter and work clothes. Last year we left with mixed emotions, this year it has not been a great summer for us in Spain due to family illness and loss…it’s going to be good for us to have a change of scene and the distraction of hard work.

Aubergine Sauce (4)

One of the things we’re also doing is eating as much of our lovely garden produce as possible and eating what we have put buy in the fridge and freezer without buying too much food before we go. Big Man planted aubergines for me, an act of true love which ranks almost as highly as his first ever gift to me of a cauliflower. The man knows how to “woo” me. He’s not crazy about aubergines but will eat them as he knows I adore them. I finally figured out that the skin and the texture of aubergines are what put some people off. Personally, for an aubergine lover, I feel it’s probably a great part of the attraction. Time to figure out how to get round that issue so everyone is happy. Bring on the aubergine and vegetable sauce…

Aubergine Sauce (3)

For a portion to serve four people

  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 large aubergine
  • 1 large green or red pepper (sliced)
  • 2-3 cups of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée (concentrate)
  • 1 small glass of red wine
  • A level teaspoon of sweet or smoked pimentón (paprika)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of sugar (optional)
  • Olive oil for frying

This is pretty much a traditional tomato sauce, apart from the way you deal with the aubergine. Start by cutting the top off the aubergine and slice it lengthways into quarters. Placing the white flesh against a grater, keep grating until you get to the skin and then stop. Repeat with the remaining quarters. You could also do this in a food processor, but you’d need to peel the aubergine first, and it’ so quick to do it’s hardly worth bothering. Discard the purple skin or feed it to some friendly local chickens.

Slowly braise the garlic in a little oil until soft, then add the aubergine and peppers and cook slowly (covered) until the vegetables are softened (about 10 minutes). Now add the tomato, the concentrate, the wine and the pimentón and season lightly. Bring to a bubble and then reduce the heat and cook very slowly (covered) for about an hour. Stir every so often and you may need to add a splash of water if it’s getting too thick. The aubergine melts into the sauce and gives it a slightly meaty texture.

I think you'll find I look great from any angle...

I think you’ll find I look great from any angle…

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (I didn’t need to add sugar as I used mature tomatoes from the veggie garden, but sometimes you need just a little pinch). Cook for a few minutes uncovered and enjoy with pasta, pizza, over meat or fish or as a bruschetta topping. If you don’t tell an aubergine hater what’s in there, they probably wouldn’t even know as the seeds look like tomato seeds when cooked and the taste is a wonderful mixture of slow cooked vegetables.

Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather...

Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather…

And because tomato sauce is not desperately exciting to look at, I’ve also given you a few gratuitous Alfi and Luna photos…

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