The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A Danish scent of cinnamon

First of all: a belated Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope you had a good time eating, drinking, and dozing off. We cooked non-stop for almost a week and everything is now gone! 

The cooking marathon though was only one of the reasons why I disappeared just before Christmas. We also went Copenhagen and soaked up its festive atmosphere and met up with my friend Mette of Italian Notes who cooked a wonderful Danish Christmas meal just for us! But more about this at my next post. 

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A Scottish Christmas carol

Dear readers,

I am still alive. I  had not been kidnapped by aliens or lost the use of my hands. Simply far too busy and with so many things to prioritize. Tut, tut, writing = top priority. I know, I know but the reality is that these wonderful little posts don't pay the rent or buy Christmas presents - unless you, devoted readers, wish to make a donation....;-D

But I am now back ready to face Christmas and the Italian invasion, as well as presents, turkey, crackers, puddings....and so on and so forth...

If English food is neglected, Scottish food is practically unheard, with the exception of salmon, haggis, and whiskey, which is a real shame as Scots culinary traditions are lost in the midst of antiquity. I admit it, it is all rather heavy but would you not go for a juicy and fatty piece of meat rather than a Mediterranean tomato grilled with herbs that might well refresh you and help your tan but won't warm up your freezing bones?

This cake, "Clootie Dumpling",  is a variation on the most known English Christmas pudding - or who knows, perhaps it went from North to South rather than the other way round...after all weren't English invading its northern cousins?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Warming up in Montpellier

My first impression of Montpellier, at least based on what locals kept repeating to me, was that "there are no traditional dishes here" . And so for some time I gave up looking for one to report to you. But then I decided to go a bit beyond the city and explore the villages around it. After all it is a big place and traditions do get lost - it would be  a bit like asking what the typical dish in Paris is!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Skink in Cullen

One of the things that fascinate me the most are the names of dishes. They don't simply describe what you are eating but tell you how they are cooked, where they come from, who was behind their original recipe. Most Scottish dishes have ancient origins - despite many of you  probably think there are no culinary traditions there! 

And a lot of the names derived from Gaelic give something magical and distant. 

Autumn has made its appearance and a blanket of multi-coloured leaves have carpeted the road just outside the cottage. However, to my surprise, the weather has been really good. And so a day at the beach could not be missed. The sun is still warm enough to sit on a bench and doze off wrapped up by a pleasant touch. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The oriental origins of Churros

It might be the Autumnal chill that is now in the air, the dew of every morning, the days that are gradually shortening up but every night I feel the need to melt under my tongue a nice and chunky piece of dark chocolate. Or even better! to lick the spoon of that silky dark coat that only hot chocolate can create.

But rather than having a simple cup of cocoa, and limiting the calories, what could be better than a crunchy, lightly greasy and sugary churro generously dipped in chocolate?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The war of the custards

It is certain that food is the number one (or maybe number two) cause for deadly wars and bitter disputes. I am not talking about the obvious fights over resources or price peaks, but about the ownership of recipes.

Who owns mousaka, Greece or Turkey? Or hummus, Lebanon or Israel? Or canard a' l'orange, Italy or France (actually I know the answer to this one...)? Book and books will tell you one or the other story. Depending on the preference.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The many saveurs of Camargue

I had never believed that Camargue was really such an enchanting and magic place. White horses, pink flamingos, wild sea coasts and remote lagoons. It all sounded too much as coming out of a Duran, Duran song. But last time I was down there I had to bite my tongue. Camargue, the land of olives.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

An octopus in a pie

Since my office has moved to the south of France many have asked me when I am going to move; some are even convinced that I have moved already. I suspect there is a self interest in that. A free trip.

And I must admit it, it would not be insanity to think that. Sea, mountains, rollings hills with grape vines and shimmering olive trees, stunning medieval villages, Spain and Italy at a stone throw, good weather all year round and excellent food and wine.

Why staying in England?!?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Skye - the infinite

If you were afraid of suffering the heat in Italy during the Summer, you can be sure this won't happen in Scotland. Never. I left the laundry to dry outside on a sunny day and three hours later it was still wet. Scary.

But of one thing you can be sure. The breathtaking views. The complete quietness, almost stillness, that embraces you; and the simplicity of every day activity.

Monday, 29 August 2011

A Panzanella in Chianti

Every time that I go back home (my other home, in Tuscany) I find myself astonished by the beauty of my birth region. Everything is drawn together in such a harmonious way that one cannot doubt the presence of a divine painter brushing colour with care and skills.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Unexpected Livorno

It is really true: never judge at first glance. This applies to people, food and places. And this is what happened to us in Livorno. I suppose that wandering in the rain without a map and dragging our luggage did not help...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Liguria - Food Heaven

Except for its pesto, many people may not know that Liguria is a real gourmet place. At every corner you find a bakery with the most inviting delicacies, both sweet and savoury. And patisseries that crop up almost at every street with alluring cakes and pastries...ah! I really don't know how locals keep fit. Or perhaps I do... the hills!

Monday, 8 August 2011

The true pesto "alla Genovese"

It is really true that secrets can only be discovered with the locals.

I have always loved pesto but often found it difficult to forget (= *digest*). It was all that raw chopped garlic that you could not even to dodge (having become invisible in the mix) that only "les Gaulois" or Vampires could enjoy.

It took me a trip to Genoa to find the answer.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Banana fritters in Cotonou

I know, I know, I am terribly behind. It started so well, almost a post a week and then...where did it all go wrong? Probably I just have to confess it: I am officially a *lazy bum*. That's it.

But it is also true that I had promised myself to keep this blog going if by now I had reached 100 followers...ahahaha...funny! I just hit 30...although my stats tell me that secretly there are more readers than it seems. This makes me feel better.

So, where were we? Or rather, where have I been?

I thought it would have been unfair to ignore my brief visit to Benin.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sweet Sicily - Cassatelle alla Ricotta

I am sorry for having kept some of you waiting for the third and last episode of the Sicilian saga. A proper meal can only end on sweet notes.

I believe this is the *two-hundred and forty-fourth* Sicilian dish that uses ricotta. Frankly I wonder what Sicilians would do if they were denied capers, almonds, anchovies and ricotta...

Monday, 30 May 2011

Fish markets in Palermo and Stuffed squids

I have always thought that markets are a fantastic source of inspiration and the perfect subject for infinite shots. They truly fascinate me revealing the true spirit of a town. I would put a market before a museum with no hesitation. Especially when samples are on offer...

Palermo is famous for its markets.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Arancine & Panelle in Palermo or Sicilian street food

And we are back from our wonderful week in Sicily! I am avoiding sunny on purpose as the weather seemed to play tricks on us on our last two days there.

Look, I won't bore you with millions of photos (and I have taken literally millions) or try to make you feel green because we went on holiday while all of you were working hard....but I think you should really consider going to that island continuously kicked by the toe of the Italian boot. And because I hope you find this blog to make sense, useful or interesting, I intend to make this the first of a series of Sicilian posts.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Salvia fritta - fried sage leaves

Very few know how exciting fresh sage can be. It is undoubtedly unique chopped and mixed with mashed onions and breadcrumb to flavour the dull turkey or scattered among roasted potatoes with sprigs of rosemary for a truly Mediterranean spirit.

In Siena we fry it. Can you eat raw sage?!? Yes you can, no worries. Sage is not toxic. In fact I remember the many times my mother extolled the many virtues of salvia officinalis...
Sage, or salvia (from *salvare, to save) acts as an anti-inflammatory, relieves soar throat or tooth ache, calm stress and even improves memory. I bet you won't throw away your salvia now..

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Carciofi alla Romana - artichokes in Rome

I always come back energized every time I have been in Rome. It might be the chaos, the nonsensicalness of the traffic, the cloud of smells and colours, the power of hidden flavours. What astonishes me every time I pay a visit to my favourite European city is the conscious awareness of being Italian.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

A cake for Japan

I believe that one of the most rewarding things to do is to cook for friends. And for a good cause. Last Sunday both of them were in this green tea cake I baked for afternoon tea to raise funding for Japan. It was such a little effort that I do not feel I can be complimented. I wish I could do more.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Granola in the sun

Okay, I admit it.

Despite having trumpeted that I never suffer any jet-leg, this time it has it me. I was just going to stagger pretending that I hadn't traveled through 8 hour zones. And it has been a week already since we got back from sunny California.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Waiter, there's a crab on my plate!

I should have known that putting off the boring bits of work wouldn't have helped. So now that "my holiday in the sun" is over, and I am back at my little table, I am bored as hell. And waking up in the morning is still so hard. If I could, I would simply stay in bed or anywhere where I am not expected to pretend to work.

I am still half-dreaming the shades of blue of the sea, water and sky of California. I am glad we went in March as despite being sunny it was never too hot; a simple jumper or a shawl was enough to keep away the evening chill. T-shirt and shorts were fantastically pleasant without looking ridiculously under-dressed.  

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Californian Farmers' Markets

So where have I disappeared like this, without any warning or notice? No I didn't get kidnapped by the aliens or lost my job for too much blogging. Simple explanation: I was on holiday (or vacation as my Californian friends would say).

I admit though. I owe you profuse apologies. I am sorry. But I was so excited about packing and planning my holiday that I forgot to post an "out-of-office" message. But the excitement was well rewarded. We spent 10 days in sunny California (with a quick detour to the Grand Canyon). The place is truly beautiful and Californians know how to enjoy life. Great food everywhere and fantastic weather.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Morocco in black & white - orange & star anise steak

I have finally managed to buy a card for a friend who has just had a baby girl. Mind you, *just* means last November. So it took me only three months to get round to remember. Of course the addressed envelope is still lingering on the top of the piano. I am confident it will be sent within next month.

I thought the English language is funny sometimes. "A new baby" says the card. Can you have old babies? Or *second hand* perhaps?

Morocco. A few words on it. I am sure that all of you, well travelled as you are, have been there. I keep meaning to make a return but dread it in case I get disappointed. I have heard the northern coast is just marvel. Chefchaouen or the blue city is a real gem.

Marrakech probably is the hub, and trap, of all tourists. It has undoubtedly its charms, and I wouldn't give it a miss. I would suggest though to adventure yourself a bit far afield and step out of the Medina (the old city). You will be amazed by the contrast. It is also a good way to know real prices so that you can haggle more effectively back in the souks. Having a husband who gets impatient very quickly is also a good bargaining method!

Oh sorry, I was about to forget to share with you this great recipe. The quantities are for two people but of course just do the maths and you can serve it for as many people as you want.

Beef with orange and star anise

For 2 people

2 beef (or duck or even pork) fillets
juice and rind of half orange
2-3 star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chilly flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp runny honey
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1. Crush the fennel seeds and flakes and mix them with the cumin powder and salt. Rub the meat with this mix. Cover the meat with oil and honey previously combined. Add the orange rind and then cover the meat with cling film and set aside for at least 45 minutes (even a few hours!).

2. In a pan heat another tbsp of oil. When it is getting warm, add the anise and squeeze the orange and let it sizzle for a minute or two. Add more juice to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate.

3. When the oil is hot, place the meat and cook it for a few minutes (depending how rare you want it, I am a werewolf and love my steak dripping in blood). Make sure the marinate gets distributed on top and cooks together with the meat.

You can serve it with almost anything. Green lentils cooked with cumin and bay leaves, cabbage cooked with cinnamon and pine nuts, couscous with saffron and cumin....etc, etc....

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A semi-pastiera in Cambridge

I was thinking just the other day that I don't seem to have obsessions. Any kind. I am still thinking hard. And somehow that makes me feel I'm a freak. Surely I should have one, shouldn't I?

I don't think that having to sleep on the right hand side of the bed counts. Nor needing to write with a black ink pen, or not breaking the spine of the book while I (or anyone else who has borrowed my books. No, in fact that is not possible either as I hate lending books to anyone exactly for the fear of witnessing that type of violence on them) reading it.

None of this seriously counts. These are simply choices, *preferences*. A bit like never eating the crust of the sandwiches or sipping tea to the last drop. I am talking about real obsessions. I'll give it more thought. In the meantime I go and have another slice of that heavenly cake my students made last night.

Oh but I suppose you want the recipe of it... all right, all right...

Ricotta tart

300g flour
70g sugar
120g butter
2 eggs
300g ricotta
90g sugar
50g butter
70g chocolate chips
70g candied fruit
70g raisin (optional)

1. Pre-heat the oven at C190.

2. Make the pastry. Melt the butter on a low heat - don't let it bubble (or even worse burn!). Set it aside to cool slightly.

3. Mix the sugar with the flour and make a well. Pour the melted butter in it, one egg, and mix quickly using first a wooden spoon and then simply the palm of your hand. Don't overwork it or it will become really dry and crumbly (which is what happened at first....panic!). Make a ball and wrap it with cling film. Set aside to set in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

4. Make the filling (the best part). Mix the ricotta with the sugar, one egg, fruit and chocolate, and 50g of butter (also melted). Mix well and set in the fridge for 30 minutes. If you add the raisin, soak it in warm water (or marsala or any sweet wine) for at least 10 minutes and then squeeze and pat dry.

5. Once the pasta and the filling have been resting in the fridge, roll the pastry on a floured surface. Grease with butter a flan dish (20cm diameter) and then arrange the pastry on the bottom and sides of the dish making sure it is not too thick. You can also use some baking paper so that the cake once it is cooked can come off the tin.

6. Pour the filling in the pastry case levelling the surface. Make some strips with any remaining pastry and arrange them in a lattice form.

7. Cook the cake for 30-40 minutes. The ricotta must become firm and if you insert a tooth pick this has to be reasonably dry.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Culurgiones or Sardinian ravioli

Why are we all so concerned with having (or claiming to have) a career? It seems so sad to judge somebody by his or her profession... "Hi I'm Jane, I'm a shop assistant at TopShop"; "Hi I'm Jessica, I'm a waitress at All Bar One"; "Hi, I'm Sarah, I work as a PA in Human Resources". And what's wrong with that?

Nothing. I would say. But I must admit it, I too fall into that trap. Could I claim for example that I teach cooking and take photographs for living? Food writer and free-lance photographer for example sounds better already, doesn't? Which sounds also much posher to than saying "cooking blog" - that makes me feel so Desperate Wife....

I am deeply troubled. But while I resolve this personal philosophical dilemma, I leave the recipe of these little cute ravioli that come all the way from Sardinia. They are called Culurgiones which mean "Little bundles" although from the sound of it they don't promise anything good...almost offensive in fact! Culurgiones a chi?

They are unusually stuffed with potatoes, an ingredient which astonished all my students. And to make them tastier, they also have a touch of garlic and mint. Somebody adds onions too but I find that as a pointless addition, simply to make you stinck. They are nice as delicate as they are.


Makes 80

4 eggs
400g "00" flour
a pinch of salt
1kg potatoes
4 garlic cloves
6-8 mint leaves
200g fontina
100g parmesan
1 egg

1. Make the pasta.
Create a well with the flour. In it crack the eggs one by one and then using the ridges of a fork break the eggs and whisk them making horizontal movements which slowly pick up more and more flour all around them. Slowly you will start creating a thick mix which you will have to knead with the palm of your hand rather than with the fork. The pasta has to be elastic and smooth. Wrap the pasta ball in cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

2. Make the filling.
Peel and cook the potatoes until very tender in hot and salty water. Once they are cooked, mash them and leave them aside to cool slightly.

3. Grate the cheeses. Chop very finely the garlic cloves and mint leaves. Add them to the potatoes and mix well.

4. Crack the egg into the mash and mix well. Season if necessary.

5. Roll the pasta. Cut a quarter off the ball and make a patty shape. Pass the narrowest part of the patty through the widest slot of the pasta machine. Repeat reducing the thickness of the slot gradually so that the pasta elongate and becomes thinner.
Tip: If the pasta sheet gets a hole, simply fold it and roll it through the machine again. No big deal! Don't worry!

6. Make a series of long strips of pasta. Using a tea spoon, place the filling in a ball shape on the pasta sheet leaving 2 cm between them. Once you have finished the entire strip, fold one side of the pasta and seal well.

7. With a knife or ravioli wheel, cut the pasta along its length. Then press with your finger between the filling balls and cut with the knife or wheel.

8. Seal with a fork each edge. Move the ravioli onto a floured surface so that they dry a little bit before they get cooked.

9. Cook them in boiling water (salted of course) for a couple of minutes (don't overcrowd the pan but don't even put 2 at the time or the day after you will still be there fishing your ravioli... yawn...). Place the drained ravioli in a bowl.

10. Melt some butter (200g probably is ok) and pour it over the ravioli once all drained. Grate some more cheese and serve warm.

As an amateur photographer, I leave you with a few snaps from Cagliari, at the very souther tip of the island. Lovely place!

Monday, 17 January 2011

The many sauces for Oysters

One of my readers has asked me to share the secrets of what I did with the discounted oysters I bought last Friday. Well, first of all I am indeed posting about it now but I ate them last weekend - doubt they would have still been all right by now and a long trail of cats would have probably queued in front of our door.

I must confess: I don't like oysters. I force myself so that one day I'll get to like them. I'm sure that when this happens, they will be delicious. The secret for now is to drip carefully their water and cover them with as much dressing as possible. Without looking at the jelly body moving in front of my eyes.

Apparently one should only eat oysters during the months which contain an r in their name - so absolutely to be avoided between May and August. Now it is ok then.

Two nice ideas to dress them (in case they're cold):

with ginger and shallots

1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp white wine
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tbsp thinly sliced spring onion
1 tsp sesame oil
a few drops of Tabasco

1. Put they soy sauce, wine, tabasco, and sugar in a small saucepan and mix well. Simmer over low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

2. Then add the ginger and spring onion. Simmer for 1 minute and then stir in the sesame oil.

3. Spoon about 1 or 2 tsp of the sauce over each oyster. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you have and serve.

with lemon herb dressing

1 tbsp chopped dill
1 galic clove, crushed
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tsp chopped chives
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil

1. Put the garlic, parsley, dill, chives, coriander, juice and oil in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix together well.

2. Drizzle a little of the dressing over each oyster and serve with cubes of white or brown bread.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Scallop Ceviche

I still have to find the best way of organising a meal. I thought that planning out the menu beforehand and write down the ingredients so that I would simply need to pop in the supermarket and buy all the necessary stuff would be efficient.

But then I get there and either (a) half of the ingredients have been ravaged and only the price tag on the shelf has been spared or (b) one of the key ingredients turns out to be a lot more expensive than I was expecting and, stingy as I am, I chicken out and linger with panic in front of the staring duck breast (this seems to have been the infamous ingredient during the last occasions).

So perhaps what I should do is just to casually wonder around the isles and pick something I fancy or is *discounted* (probably the most important factor) and then come back home and flick through any of the recipe books we have and make up a dish - the likelihood of having all the ingredients mentioned in the recipe though is very slim. So imagination must prevail.

Last night the idea was to have Peruvian dinner. Creamy quinoa with venison (the closest to alpaca I thought) was on the menu. But, to my disappointment, there was no quinoa, at least which was not already pre-cooked. After probably 25 minutes I managed to leave triumphantly with oysters (reduced to half price of course). And scallops.

Those who are squeamish about semi-raw fish or seafood won't even look at the recipe. However, this is one of the nicest ways of making scallops. A reader friend will probably be overjoyed even at the thought of ceviche.

Ceviche is THE speciality of Peru. For some time it was called the new Sushi. Everyone in South America will claim to have it too - don't let yourself be fooled. Peruvians are the best at making it. Of course the starting material must be fresh. You can use practically any type of fish or seafood; prawns, squids, sea brim, red snapper, salmon long as the flesh is firm enough.


For 4 people

12 scallops or 250g fish
2 limes (juice)
1 lemon (juice)
1/2 red onion
1 or 2 chillies
2-3 handfuls of fresh coriander
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1. Cut the scallops or fish in fine slices. Arrange them on a plate.

2. Mix the juices together with the chopped onion and finely chopped chillies. Soak the fish in this marinate for at least 2 hours.

3. Remove the scallops or fish from the marinate and transfer it to an other plate. Pour some of the liquid, season and scatter the coriander and serve almost immediately afterwards.

You can serve it with slices of fresh avocado, or palta as it is called in Peru, and crunchy tortillas.

I think the best place to have ceviche in Lima is at El Senor Limon which is in San Isidro, one of the posh areas of the city. Many people skip Lima and head directly south to Machu Pichu. I wouldn't necessarily advise to linger there for many days but I must recognise that there are some charming corners. Miradores for example is a lovely neighbourhood and if you like antiques that is the place for you.

For some reasons, there is always a heavy layer of clouds above Lima and the humidity is phenomenal - I know, I am not selling it well now...but if you go in March you will manage to see blue sky and have the perfect temperature. So do try and don't miss ceviche!