Food Miles: Amalfi Coast

I was super excited to be visiting Italy again this summer after a gluttonous weekend in Milan in February.  This time we packed our bags for the Amalfi Coast where the food, people and scenery are completely different from that of Northern Italy. We had already been to Sorrento a whole 7 years ago – eugh getting old – and eaten our weight in Neopolitan pizza, downed with shots of limoncello. This time we stayed in the smaller town of Positano, a little further down the coast.

Soon after arriving we went in search of a lemon granita to cool us down. Amalfi lemons grow all over the coastline and up to the size of footballs. As well as making their way into granita and limoncello there’s also a tasty local dish of grilled mozzarella with lemon leaves where the gooey cheese is perfumed with the lemon from the leaves. Absolutely delicious. After our granita (we liked the stall at the top of the pedestrianised part of town), it was time for a light lunch at La Pergola – a little restaurant on the seafront. We had a great insalata caprese and some arancini filled with a Milanese risotto and served with a rich tomato sauce. Not a bad start to a week away!

The best restaurants are slightly out of town in the hillside village of Montepertuso. Don’t let the out-of-town location put you off though because the restaurants will come and collect you in a minibus and drop you back… for free! You do have to endure the slightly hair-raising ride up the winding mountain roads, swerving Vespas, but it’s worth it for the food at the top. By far the best place we went to was La Tagliata. There’s no menu, just a set price of 35 Euros for an absolute feast. Everything is home grown and so the menu is adapted to what’s in season and to what Mamma and Nonna feel like cooking! After we were seated we were served a welcome bruschetta topped with home grown tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Such a simple dish but with Italian grown tomatoes and basil and local extra virgin olive oil, it’s raised to new delicious heights. Next came an antipasti platter filled with more goodies from the garden – a dish of fagioli beans, chickpeas and peas covered in herbs and oil along with some melanzane parmigiana, a dish of spinach, potatoes and rapa and a plate of homemade ricotta and mozzarella with parma ham. And then comes the obligatory pasta course! We were treated to an assortment of “Nonna’s special pasta”, porcini fusilli, ricotta ravioli and gnocchi. All delicious though naturally very filling and we hadn’t even got to our main course. Eeeek!

The name La Tagliata means ‘cut of meat’ so it’s no surprise that the main course is a full-on meat feast which would probably feed 4, not 2 people! Accompanied by crispy fries and a lovely dressed salad the meat platter overflowed with grilled pork, rabbit, steak, chicken and spicy sausage. It’s a serious case of the meat sweats by the time you’ve finished. The dessert was squeezed in just before we burst – another selection of homemade goodies – an almond cake, profiteer rolls and “Mamma’s cake”. With just enough space for a complimentary limoncello shot, we waddled out and bundled back onto the now very heavy minibus back down to Positano.

Melanzane Parmigiana
Serves 2

Sorry that this is fast becoming an aubergine blog but I can’t help being crazy-obsessed with them. But so are the Italians, so I’m in good company. The Amalfi coast is home to melanzane parmigiana, a layered dish of fried aubergines, passata and cheese which is baked until gooey. Tasty hot or cold, I can’t get enough of it.

Ingredients
– 4 aubergines
– Salt
– 2 tbsps good olive oil or extra virgin olive oil
– 1 clove of garlic, crushed
– 1 anchovy fillet, chopped
– 3 cans peeled plum tomatoes
– Handful of fresh basil
– 12-16 tbsps olive oil
– 150g Parmesan, finely grated
– 1 ball of Mozzarella, chopped thinly
– Small handful of soft breadcrumbs

Method
1. Trim the aubergines and slice them lengthways into 1cm slices.

2. Sprinkle the slices of aubergine fairly generously with table salt on both sides. Place into a colander and leave for 1 hour. This should take the bitterness out of the aubergines and will help them not to absorb too much olive oil when fried later on. After an hour, rinse the aubergines well so they won’t taste salty and pat dry with kitchen towel. Cover and leave to one side.

3. Now it’s time to make the tomato sauce for the Parmigiana. Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on a medium to high heat. When warm, add in the chopped garlic. Fry for a minute or so which will allow the garlic to give off an aroma but won’t be enough to burn it (which tastes gross). Add in the chopped anchovy along with the tomatoes. Break the tomatoes up best you can with a wooden spoon. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook like this for 30 minutes. A few minutes before the end of the cooking time, season with pepper (the anchovy will make the sauce salty enough) and tear in most of the basil leaves.

4. While the sauce is cooking, you can start frying the aubergine slices. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan on a medium-high heat. Fry the aubergine slices in batches until soft and golden on both sides. Although salted, the slices will soak up a lot of the oil so you’ll need to add a splash when the pan gets dry and another couple of tablespoons at the start of each batch you are frying. When cooked, set aside on some kitchen towel to drain.

5. Now comes the big build! First, preheat your oven to 190°/Gas Mark 5/375°F. Take an ovenproof dish and place a couple of big spoonfuls of sauce at the bottom. Give a generous scatter of Parmesan on top followed by a layer of aubergines. Keep repeating until the sauce, aubergines and cheese are finished. Arrange the Mozzarella slices on the top of the dish with some remaining basil leaves. Finally scatter over the breadcrumbs and then bake for 30 minutes.

6. If you can, leave it to rest for 15 minutes before serving. I managed to wait for just 5.

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Pasta alla Norma

I’ve probably mentioned more than once that I have a fiendish love of aubergines. I like them best when they are olive oil sodden but smoked aubergines in a baba ganoush dip are equally as good.

Sicily is one of the best aubergine destinations on the planet. After spending 2 weeks there in 2007 and doing lots of sightseeing, the most memorable parts of my trip were mounds of caponata as well as this Sicilian aubergine dish – Pasta alla Norma. It’s quick to make and easy to please and here’s the recipe.

Pasta alla Norma
Serves 2

Ingredients
– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
– 2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped
– 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
– Small pinch of chilli flakes
– 1 aubergine
– Dried pasta (tube shaped pasta is good, I used De Cecco’s Tortiglioni). I used about 250g for 2 people but I am known to good too much pasta!
– Small handful of basil, chopped plus a few extra leaves for serving
– 2 tablespoons of ricotta
– 50g Parmesan, grated

Method
1. Fry the onion in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a medium-high heat. When soft, add the 2 cloves of crushed garlic followed by the anchovies and tin of tomatoes. Season well with salt, pepper and a small pinch of chilli flakes. Cook the sauce for at least 30 minutes on a low heat, or for up to an hour if you have the time. If at any time the sauce runs dry, don’t worry, just add a little water to the mix.

2. Halve the aubergine lengthways and then cut into vertical strips. Then slice the strips into 4 or 5 pieces width ways so you end up with little rectangles of aubergine. Fry in a pan on a medium-high heat containing the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Fry until golden and if the pan gets dry, drizzle over a little more oil. Drain and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta according to the pack instructions in salty water until al dente. Drain and add to the tomato sauce. Add the aubergine and the basil and stir well. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the hob and allow everything to cook together for a few minutes.

4. Traditionally Pasta alla Norma is topped with ricotta salata which is ricotta that has been salted and dried. It is harder in texture to standard ricotta and can therefore be grated. However, you’ll be hard-pushed to find some without visiting a specialist shop. Instead, I spoon the pasta into bowls and add dots of standard ricotta around the dish. Top with grated Parmesan and decorate with a few basil leaves. Eat immediately!

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The Luther Burger

Luther Burger

Never too much, never too much, never too much.

Well, in all honesty, 1 of these kind of was for me! And I blame my good friend Rich. You see Rich is doing something new every day in 2012 for charity and then blogging the results. Some of my favourites over the past 6 ½ months have got to be:

– Chased a duck
– Got chased my geese
– Crossed a ford (and lost his socks)
– Took a bath in a suit
– Ran around his garden, naked, in a snow storm (his wife told me he then caught man flu)

He’s also tried and cooked many new foods and dishes, a couple of which I’ve helped with:

– Made a Herman the German Friendship Cake
– Tried a stinging nettle curry
– Took on the cinnamon challenge (and failed!)
– Made a Celebrations toastie
– Cooked American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup
– Ate a curry cooked in a pineapple

You can read more about his exploits on his blog and make a donation here. You can also suggest something new and crazy for him to do!

A colleague of Rich’s suggested The Luther Burger as something new. The Luther Burger originates from Georgia, USA. It’s so called after Luther Vandross. The interweb doesn’t really confirm why, but it’s thought that he had one. Coming in at a massive 800-1,500 calories a Luther Burger is your standard burger, served in a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Oh Yes. Traditionally, the doughnut is opened and grilled on the inside, then eaten with the glazed side touching the meat, but we preferred ours the other way around.

When Rich suggested this to me, I was up for it. In my mind, it worked. After all, bacon and maple syrup work wonderfully together. Same goes for caramelised onions and barbequed meat. And the Luther Burger does work! It’s very tasty. But I just couldn’t eat a whole one again!

The Luther Burger 
Serves 1 (or 2 if sharing – recommended!)

Ingredients
-1 good quality beef burger
– A slice of burger cheese
– 1 rasher of smoky bacon
– 1 original glazed Krispy Kreme

Method
1. Simply barbeque your burger and stack the cheese and bacon on top.

2. Open the Krispy Kreme and lightly toast the inside on the barbeque.

3. Serve the burger inside the doughnut with the glazed side on top or on the meat, as you prefer. Find someone to share it with you!

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Shooter’s Sandwich

When I was younger (about 12) I was a bit obsessed with the cooking programme ‘Two Fat Ladies’. For anyone not familiar with the show it was, well, two 60+ women who were fat and cooked recipes. As if that wasn’t enough they travelled around on a Triumph bike – one of them driving and the other in a sidecar! They cooked a lot of traditional and forgotten recipes, many containing lard, and cooked with hands adorned with rings. They sang and drank wine while they cooked and went out for a cigarette break when they had something in the oven!

Anyway, they made quite an impression on me and one of their recipes has stuck in my mind for over 15 years and I finally decided to have a go at making it my own way.

A Shooter’s Sandwich is an Edwardian invention designed for taking along for eating on a hunt. Nowadays it makes a fantastic picnic dish. It’s basically a hollowed out loaf stuffed with fried steak and mushrooms, which is weighed down and left for 6 hours. The flavours amalgamate and the weighing down allows you to cut it into slices. Here’s my recipe.

Oh and if you want to see Two Fat Ladies in all their glory making this dish, check it out on YouTube here.

Shooter’s Sandwich
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
– Knob of butter
– 2 onions, finely diced
– 2 tbsps fresh thyme, leaves picked
– Salt and freshly ground pepper
– 650g rump steak (this is about 4 small-medium sized steaks)
– 1 large round white loaf of bread
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 4 Portabello mushrooms, stalks removed
– Piccalilli (to serve)

Method
1. Start by frying your onions in a knob of butter on a medium to high heat. Once the onions have softened a little, turn down the heat, season well and add the thyme. Continue cooking for 5 minutes or so until the onions are buttery and soft. Remove from the heat and put to one side.

2. Heat a griddle pan until smoking hot (you don’t need oil in it). Season the steaks with pepper and cook on both sides. It’s best to cook the steak medium for the sandwich and the cooking time will vary according to the thickness of your steaks and the effectiveness of your hob. Mine took about 5 minutes on each side.

3. While the steaks are cooking, slice off the top of your round loaf. Carefully remove the inside of the loaf. You can keep the innards to use as breadcrumbs another time. Remove as much as you can, being careful not to tear through and then press the remains of the inside down.

4. Your steaks should now be done, remove them from the pan and allow them to rest. Keep the griddle pan on the heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the mushrooms on both sides until very soft and nicely coloured. You may need to add more oil to the pan if the mushrooms soak up the one tablespoon you added. Season them well.

5. Now comes the fun bit of packing! Snuggle 2 of the steaks into the bottom of the loaf. Cover with half of the onion mixture, making sure to spread it over the steaks. Then squeeze in 2 of the mushrooms. Press the three layers down a little.

6. Now wedge in your other 2 steaks and again smoother the onion mixture over the top. Cram in your remaining 2 mushrooms and the loaf is full to the brim! Remember to pour in any juices from the steak where you left it to rest on a plate. Then you can get your lid and pop that on top. Optionally, you could add some mustard to the inside of your lid if you like.

7. Carefully wrap your loaf in greaseproof paper and secure with string. Cover again with 2 layers of tin foil. Now find some heavy stuff to weigh the loaf down with and leave it on your kitchen worktop for at least 6 hours. Go do some exercise so you don’t feel so guilty about devouring this later!

8. When you are ready for the sandwich just unwrap and slice it. Serve it with some piccalilli and salad or other picnic food. I can’t wait to whip this out at a picnic and see the surprise on people’s faces when I slice into this bread and they see what’s inside!

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How to… do Petits Fours

I love petits fours for two reasons. One, they are rather posh! And two, sometimes three courses just aren’t enough and a chocolatey soupçon with coffee (which I also love!) is very welcome.

You don’t need to be a French pastry chef to make petits fours, nor do you need to rush out to Harrods to buy too-pretty-to-eat bite-sized desserts. Here is how I made them at home – inspired by Margots restaurant in Padstow where I like to gorge on their sticky toffee pudding prior to getting onto their petits fours.

First and foremost, it’s good to have something chocolatey in your petits fours mix. Margots serves homemade chocolate fudge with theirs so that’s what I went for too. You have two options when making fudge. You can make it properly using liquid glucose syrup or you can go for a bit of a cheat version (like I did) and use condensed milk. It takes 10 minutes to make this way and just needs to set overnight in the fridge. Simples.

I used this Kirstie Allsop recipe, though Nigella has a similar recipe with pistachio nuts. It stores well in the freezer and can be eaten as a melt-in-your-mouth sweet for months afterwards. You can also chop it into ice cream or pop into cellophane bags and give as Christmas gifts. The possibilities are endless!

Anyway, back to the petits fours…. you can make vanilla or traditional fudge if you prefer. Or you could make your own chocolate truffles or salted caramel bites even. Mmm!

To compliment the rich chocolate, it’s nice to serve something fruity. I used dark chocolate for my fudge, which goes well with forest fruits, so a handful of fresh and a few glacé cherries is what I opted for. Chocolate also goes well with strawberries, raspberries and figs.

Caramelised walnuts also work well with the chocolate and were the next component to my lil’ platter. Again, they are easy to make, caramelised hazelnuts would make a nice alternative.

Finally, I put Palmiers biscuits onto my platter. I’m slightly obsessed with these little things. If you’re patient enough to make puff pastry you can make them yourself really easily too. Palmiers go very well with all of the other petits fours ingredients as well as coffee. Equally you could serve amaretti or biscotti, which would be yummy with truffles instead of fudge.

Then it’s just a case of making sure that you and your guests save yourself some room to eat them!

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Frittata

It’s finally summer in London but as usual it’s too hot. Muggy is an understatement! We can never win, if it’s not muggy it’s raining and often when it is muggy, it does rain and then London becomes one big steam room. Meh.

Anyway, this does actually bring me nicely onto frittata – an Italian omelette that manages to be filling but not heavy and so perfect for eating in the heat with a crispy dressed salad.

The possibilities for frittata fillings are endless and they’re a great go-to when you have vegetables that need to be used up.

Red pepper, Tomato, Spinach and Goats Cheese Frittata 
Serves 2 as a main meal or up to 6 for a lunch/picnic/snack

Ingredients
– 2 tbsps olive oil
– 2 red peppers thinly sliced
– 10-12 cooked new potatoes
– Handful of cherry tomatoes
– 6 eggs
– Handful of spinach
– 8 basil leaves
– 150g tub of mild soft goats cheese
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper
– Rocket dressed in extra virgin olive oil to serve

Method
1. Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan (I had to resort to my wok as my frying pan is very shallow!). Add the sliced red pepper and fry on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it starts to colour nicely.

2. While the peppers are cooking, slice the new potatoes and halve the cherry tomatoes. When the pepper has coloured, add the potatoes and cherry tomatoes to the pan.

3. Crack the 6 eggs into a bowl and whisk really well. Season well before chopping the spinach finely and adding to the eggs. Give it a final good whisk and then add the egg mixture to the pan.

4. Flex the pan around to distribute the egg and spinach evenly. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 10 minutes. Put your grill on.

5. While the frittata is cooking on the hob, scatter your basil leaves onto the top, spoon out goats cheese and dollop that on top as well. Give it another season.

6. After 10 minutes, transfer your pan to the grill in order for the frittata to cook on top. Leave under the grill for 10 minutes. Take out and skewer through the center to check that it’s not overly gooey in the middle. Slice and serve!

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Coronation Chicken

My Mum rang me back in April to tell me that the Queen was going to travel down the Thames on a ‘giant tortilla’ for the Jubilee. What an image. Mum often gets words wrong for example fajitas are always referred to as fage-jitas no matter how much you correct her. So it was no surprise when I turned to Google and found that it was a flotilla that the Queen would be coming down the Thames on.

It was a no brainer to make a large batch of Coronation Chicken for the Jubilee using the awesome recipe that friend of the family Carol had passed to me. This is simply one of the best tasting things you could ever eat. Just make sure you use full-fat mayo. It’s just one of those times where it needs to be done and this really is worth putting a pound on for!!

Coronation Chicken
Serves 6

Ingredients
– 1 large roast chicken, carved
– 1 onion
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tbsp curry powder
– ¼ pint chicken or vegetable stock
– 1 tsp tomato puree
– Juice of ½ lemon
– 1 dessertspoon of mango chutney
– 3 tbsps single cream
– ½ pint of mayonnaise
– Large handful of sultanas
– 2 red apples
– 3-4 celery sticks
– Watercress or rice for serving

Method
1. Roast the chicken as you would normally and let it rest before carving.

2. While the chicken is resting chop and fry the onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until soft. Mix in the tablespoon of curry powder and fry it off.

3. Now add the ¼ pint of stock with the tomato puree, juice of ½ lemon and a dessertspoon of mango chutney. Let it simmer for 5 minutes and then liquidise or strain the mixture. Then let it cool.

4. Now add the cream and the mayonnaise and mix well before adding the meat and stirring well to combine.

5. Chop the apples and the celery and mix in along with the sultanas. Garnish the coronation chicken with watercress and/or rice and eat it before I do!

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