Posts Tagged ‘basil’

An Italian feast – the carb light version

On Wednesday it was Halloween. Last year on Halloween, I got some sweets in and waited for the kids to come trick-or-treating.

They didn’t come.

I ate the sweets.

Apparently the thing you’re supposed to do is put something Halloweeny in the window or somewhere visible, to show you’re in on the fun. So this year, I got a few little pumpkins, put them in the window and planned to bake some goodies, flapjacks or something.

Well, then I got cooking for dinner as I had a friend coming over and didn’t get time to bake goodies for the kids, so good job no-one knocked! (I think I might be feeling a bit offended though. Why didn’t they want my sweeties?)

So I was back in the kitchen with my favourite cookbook, Polpo, by Russell Norman. My friend and I are both ex-Dukaners so try to not to go too mad on carbs. I definitely don’t avoid them, you can’t really, when eating like an Italian, but I just try not to have loads of them.

The antipasti was the carb-heavy part but I kept it out of the mains. Here’s the antipasti plate.

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Top centre are my signature grissini sticks, wrapped in prosciutto and pickled chicory. To the left are music paper crackers. To the right is one of my favourite things in life ever, truffle butter, and just behind that, black truffle oil. In the white dish to the left is homemade basil pesto, in which I used pecorino and black truffle oil. Right at the front, the little pink squares are ham hock terrine and to the left are cherry tomatoes with a little shred of mozzarella and some torn basil on the top, then sprinkled with truffle salt. In the middle are little crostinis with ricotta, mint and broad bean on half of them and goat’s cheese, roasted walnut and grape drizzled with white truffle oil and thyme on the other.

For the mains, they unfortunately don’t photograph well so I will just have to tell you about them. I made a parmigiana with aubergines and courgettes, in which I used fresh basil and oregano where I usually use dried as the flavour is more concentrated. After having used just fresh this time, I think I will go back to using dried as the lovely oregano smells you usually get with a parmigiana definitely weren’t as strong. I also made a duck, black olive and tomato ragu which was far tastier than I expected. You spend about two and a half hours just slowly cooking the tomato sauce so the flavours are really strong and lovely. I also steamed some kale, spinach and fresh basil together as a side dish.

The dessert was vanilla panna cotta with blackberry coulis on top.

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I also made something called a chocolate salami for having with the espressos I decided were a good idea at 9.30pm.

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It is chocolate with egg yolks whipped into it, with crushed up sponge fingers, chopped dried fruit and loads of nuts. You just fridge set it until it is hard enough to cut in slices and have as little biscuits.

We then proceeded to have a super long chat about my visit to Mr Red Wine’s house. I must just add that I washed quite thoroughly, thirteen times, in between visiting Mr Red Wine and preparing this food!

An Italian feast – the vegetarian version

I must apologise in advance as I forgot to take photos of the antipasti before we dug in and devoured it all… Oops!

After my last post about food, which was posted to Facebook, a friend I haven’t seen in a while read it and jokingly asked to come to dinner in a “You-can-invite-me-to-dinner-anytime,” kind of way. Spotting an opportunity to prepare another feast, I responded with a genuine invitation. Another friend was invited and the date was fixed. I had a day off so scheduled my day around preparing the food.

We decided to go vegetarian as one of the party doesn’t eat meat and I couldn’t be bothered to do two sets of food.

And so the fun began.

I started by making the tiramisu slightly wrong by whisking the sugar with the egg whites instead of the yolks. I just kind of put it all together and fridged it and hoped it would taste fine. Then I made little things called Esse biscuits, which are quite specific to Venice, although why a biscuit shaped like an S should be Venetian is beyond me.

Then I ploughed on through the grissini, the music paper, the pesto, the gnocchi, the soup, the lentil dish and some salads. It was 3.30pm, two and a half hours before my guests would arrive. So I did what any reasonable person would do at that point. I had a nap.

I woke up about 5pm and dived back into the kitchen, spearing mozzarella and basil, toasting (burning) bread and taking the truffle butter out of the fridge.

After a little help with directions, my friends arrived, one of them taking charge of toasting new bread as I couldn’t seem to stop burning things.

So the antipasti was grissini, music paper, truffle butter, pesto, bruscette with ricotta, broad bean and mint, more bruscette with roasted grape and thyme, roasted walnuts, and goat’s cheese. O, and a white bean houmous-type thing, which was unexpectedly delicious. I just used some tinned cannellini beans and heated them gently in a pan with a bit of water, an onion, some bay leaves and a bit of olive oil. Then I removed a few beans, whizzed what was left and left it on a low heat to thicken. I put it in a bowl once finished and put the beans I had removed back on top with a little lemon and white truffle oil.

As mentioned earlier, I only afterward remembered to get a photograph of the antipasti. Here it is.

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Yep. That’s all that was left to photograph by the time I remembered…..

Next up was the mains.

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A panzanella, which was well received. In case you are unfamiliar with a panzanella, it’s a bread and tomato salad, basically. It’s one of those things that I’ve had a few times and it’s been pretty average. A nice homemade panzanella, though, is well worth the effort.

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Here we have; bottom left, a chickpea, fennel and leek soup; above that, the white bean houmous; front right, gnocchi in a cavolo nero sauce; top middle, a zucchini, basil and rocket salad.

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There was also this vegetable lentil dish dressed with basil oil and mozzarella.

Once we’d eaten all that, we were stuffed and couldn’t even think about dessert. No, honestly! I can’t fit a single thing in! I’m so full. I need a while to let it all go down. What’s that? You’re getting the dessert out? Just to look at? Ok. O… Well, maybe I’ll just have a little try….

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Baked figs on the left and tiramisu in the glasses on the right. We obviously scoffed them. I admitted my sugar-in-the-egg-whites mistake but it was generally agreed that we couldn’t tell.¬†

Next we had coffee and the Esse biscuits.

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A discussion about the film version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches then took up the remainder of the evening and I went to bed dreaming of being turned into a mouse….

Another Italian feast

Yesterday, two of my favourite friends came over. One had just handed in two peices of work, which signalled the end of her dissertation. The other is half Italian. I therefore went crazy on the organising front and decided to make a feast of epic proportions, much like the last time someone came for dinner.

This time though, I was equipped with truffle oil…! The night before, I had prepared the delicate carta di musica – music paper – and made the pesto. Where last time I went for a rocket and walnut pesto, this time I was without food processor (it broke when I used it to whizz almonds for cantuccini) so I made the simpler traditional basil and pine nut pesto as it’s easier to bash together in a pestle and mortar. I lightly toasted the pine nuts first and it gave them a really creamy texture.

Then the morning of the big feast, I made walnut brittle, which I then bashed into breadcrumb-size peices and added to a delicate mixture of whipped cream, whipped egg white and whipped yolk and sugar. I froze the whole thing to make semifreddo, which means half-cold in Italian. It basically comes out like an ice cream but is different, somehow.

I also whisked a few eggs with sugar, 00 flour, crushed nuts and I forget what else, to make cantuccini. I fridged the whole thing first, to let it chill and set a little, to make the baking process easier later.

Then I went bread crazy for a bit, making my pizza dough and leaving it to rise and then tackling the grissini. I had just bought them at the shop last time and felt a bit like I’d let myself down. So this time, I made them from scratch. I melted a bit of butter in a pan then added milk. In a bowl, I put 00 flour, dried yeast, salt and a handful of parmesan. I added the butter and milk to this, kneaded it for a while, then left it in a warm place to rise. Although I was supposed to be using strong white flour, I couldn’t find any in my cupboard. So I used 00 flour and wholemeal flour mixed together and hoped it would be fine.

It was fine! Surprisingly. And I even thought it looked a bit more interesting than if I’d used totally white flour. Check them out.

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I love the uneven nature of the sticks, how some are a bit short and stubby and others are quite long and thin and smooth all around. They also got a great reaction from my guests, one of whom said it was their favourite thing out of everything we ate.

After making these, I rolled my pizza dough into twelve balls (used one to make myself a pizza for lunch, just to test it, you understand), put them on a tray covered in a damp towel and fridged until needed.

Finally, after a whole day of prep, I was ready for guests. And here it is in all its glory. The antipasti…

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Prosciutto, figs and mint.

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From the back, you can see truffle butter, pesto (in the glass), grilled aubergines with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil (at the front) carta di musica (to the left) and in the centre, the homemade grissini wrapped in salami milano and pickled chicory. The little purple thing off to the right contains truffle oil and balsamic vinegar.

There was much dipping of grissini into truffle butter and eyes lighting up. The pesto was a firm favourite with my half Italian friend, who kept an eagle eye on it whenever anyone else took a slightly-too-large scoop on their breadstick.

We also had tomato, mozzarella, basil sticks as well but herein lies the problem with mozzarella. The better quality you use, the higher water content it has. Which means that it gets all over you when you’re touching it and all over whatever you’re trying to do with it. So my basil leaves and tomato wedges were covered in mozzarella water, making them unpretty for photographs. But they were there, honest.

Next up was the mains, for which I went traditional Italian…

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With a courgette, rocket and basil salad with a lemony-parmesany dressing…

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My half-Italian friend polished most of this off single-handedly.

For the pizzas, I just rolled them fairly small and topped them with whatever I felt like. Chicken, fennel, white asparagus, romano peppers, truffle oil, proscuitto, courgette, mushrooms, red onion, mozzarella, chilli flakes. And so we ate. And we ate. And we ate some more. The mains and the antipasti were all lingering around in front of us and we just kept nibbling. A mouthful of pizza. A bit of grissini dipped in truffle oil. A tomato, mozzarella stack. It just went on. And on. And on.

We waited maybe five minutes before I discreetly cleared the plates and got bowls out for everyone. Loud declarations of “O, I can’t eat dessert yet, no way!” were made.

“Don’t worry,” I said, calming their fears. “I’m just putting the bowls out. And the semifreddo needs to be out of the freezer to soften up for a bit.”

But, of course, I set up all the stuff on the table and our stomachs forgot about how full they were and we got started.

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Ok, from left to right. Slow-baked figs, then cantuccini. In front of the cantuccini is a little dish of walnut brittle, a jar of honey, then to the right is the walnut semifreddo. The order of things for the semifreddo is as follows – scoop some semifreddo out and put it in your bowl, drizzle with honey, top with walnut brittle. Add into the equation a few figs and try using the light¬† crumbly cantuccini to transport the last few bits of ice cream to your mouth and suddenly, you’re not full anymore. You’re back in the game. You’re ready for action! More semifreddo! More figs! More honey!

We sat, shell shocked and taken aback, viewing our destruction before leaving the scene of the crime to go and watch a program about plane crashes (don’t ask, I wasn’t in charge of the dinker).

And now I have leftovers for at least the next week. Well, I say ‘the next week’…. They’ll last me a day or two….

The big 200 and an Italian feast

So it’s my 200th post! Very exciting. I haven’t been swimming in a little while as I’ve had a cold so I’m going to try, from next week, to swim 200 lengths in honour of it. Not all at once. I’ll try a bit each day. I need to do 30 each day, right? Wish me luck!

I’ve got lots of birthdays and excitement this week so am going to give it til Monday to start the challenge. Thanks for staying with me or joining me along the way. It has been lots and lots of fun. To celebrate this milestone and to embrace my recent trip to Italy and in honour of seeing a friend for the first time in ages, I prepared an Italian feast!

I got a beautiful cookbook the other day. The most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever seen.

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It’s full of Venetian recipes and the antipasti section is amazing. In an effort to impress, I insisted on making one of everything!

I finished work at 3pm and had timetabled in when to start everything so that I’d be ready by 7pm. I suddenly realised, at 3.35pm, that I didn’t have almonds for the cantuccini biscuits. I set my white wine and white wine vinegar and juniper berries to boil (for the pickled chicory) then I quickly grabbed my purse and ran down to the shop. I got the almonds and ran back to the house…. When I said ‘I quickly grabbed my purse’, that’s exactly what happened. I grabbed my purse AND NOTHING ELSE! I was locked out. There was no-one else with keys who would be back before 6pm. We had taken the spare key from the next door neighbour because it didn’t work anymore, it was always getting stuck. We kept meaning to get another cut, but didn’t. O no! The next door neighbour walked by and I explained my predicament. We went in her garden to see if I could climb over her fence into my garden and try and figure a way to get in. It’s not really a climb-over-able fence so I was stuck outside, pan boiling inside, on a tight schedule for preparing dinner, with no way into the house.

We eventually got in but another neighbour played a very risky game of almost falling through a roof to do so and it all took about an hour. I was VERY behind schedule.

When I was back in the kitchen, I pickled my chicory, made my duck stock, grilled my aubergines and dressed my rocket. I was back on track. As I was whizzing the almonds in my food processor for the cantuccini, it popped and stopped working! This was NOT on my schedule! It wouldn’t have been a very big deal had I not needed to whizz the duck breast fillets for my duck and porcini mushroom meatballs. My only option was my handheld whizzer thing. You know the type that you stick in a pot of soup to whizz all the lumps out?

So there I was, with a handheld whizzer thing, trying to whizz duck breasts. I got it done in the end but it wasn’t easy and bits of mashed up raw duck kept flying about and sticking to my face and arms.

I threw together an apparently Italian drink, minus the alcohol – elderflower cordial with mint, lemon and ice, then topped up with ginger beer.

I was nervous about attempting the Carta di Musica (music paper) as it needed to be rolled really really thin. It’s basically a paper thin cracker made with semolina. It went surprisingly well. I had some rocket and walnut pesto I had made that morning and after grilling some aubergines with parmesan, mozzarella and basil then rolling them up, I was almost ready to go. I just wrapped the end of a few grissini sticks in salami and pickled chicory and stuck them in a glass, put some dressed rocket into the braesola and rolled it up and put some truffle butter in a dish and we sat down and dug in. (Yes, you heard me right, truffle butter! I finally got some! And it was totally worth it.)

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At this point, I noticed that the caster sugar was on the side, unopened and realised that in my panic over the food processor breaking while I was making cantuccini, I had forgotten to put the sugar in! What I had was a savory almond dough! I whipped the biscuits out of the oven and binned them then mixed some sugar into my remaining dough. It didn’t really mix in very well though. I just wrapped the dough in clingfilm, fridged it and hoped for the best.

Next was the main course. We had a parmigiana, a roast tomato risotto, a duck and porcini meatball in a duck stock and tomato sauce, and scallops and pancetta on a bed of minty pea stuff.

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The parmigiana looks quite large and intimidating, I didn’t realise that when I cut it!

After eating everything and having a bit of chitchat and sneaking another meatball or two, it was time to address the cantuccini disaster. I cut my dough into six pieces and put it in the oven. It did not go well. Because there wasn’t enough dry stuff in the mixture, it didn’t bake hard enough. It also wasn’t sweet enough. I made us espressos in a percolator, which were really strong, and we dipped our biscuits in.

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I felt a bit feeble, with my savory, slightly soft almond thingys. So I implemented a back up plan. There was ice cream in the freezer! Mascapone, cherry and pistachio. Score! The dinner was rescued and we tucked in.

All in all, a success, I think.

Happy 200th post to me! What a fabulous way to celebrate.