The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

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!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Coastal flavours - pollock with leeks, potatoes and apples

Monday is a bit like January. Everybody hates it. The weekend is over and works starts again. However, an entire week lies ahead and you can make all your plans for it (I have discovered somebody who even writes up a week meal menu!).

All your good resolutions and propositions waiting for you to be formulated. For this 2011 I have promised myself to:

- stock up a bit more the larder (so that when we want to make ragu' we do have plump tomatoes and do not have to rush to the local Co-op in whatever state we are)

- keep at least one loaf of bread in the freezer for emergencies (like on Sunday evening when the only shop opened at that time would be Tesco and we cannot break our vows on never step in it)

- finish reading the entire recipe so that I know that I have all the ingredients and don't have to rush to Co-op (again!)

- be realistic and grow the vegetables that our little garden can physically sustain forgetting about the rugby pitch-size a' la Nigel Slater. In fact I am proud to say that yesterday we made a concrete plan of what to grow, where and when. Now it is only a matter of going to buy the seeds (only...!).

So Mondays and Januarys can be full of hopes. On a colour scale, both Monday and January are blue. I forgot to list my fifth 2011 resolution: make at least one recipe from one of the trillion cooking magazines which are higgledy piggledy piled up in a corner of the kitchen, and one from a cooking book. In fact this Christmas I got two brand new books - "Ottolenghi, the cook book", and "Gourmet Food for a Fiver" by Jason Atherton.

And that is what I did on Saturday. The fish recipe comes from the Gourmet Food with a few modifications - in fact it is probably more a Threer (i.e. £3!). Which is even better. I give you my version of it.

Pollock with leeks, potatoes, and apples

For 2 people

2 pollock fillets (Sainsbury's basic are perfectly fine)
1 apple (any providing it has a pungent taste)
10 new potatoes or 4-5 medium roasting potatoes
1 leek
2 tbsp white wine
4 tbsp olive oil
1 knob of butter
1 small lemon
2 shallots
1 garlic clove
a handful of parsley

1. Prepare the marinate by mixing the wine, 2 tbsp of oil, the juice of the lemon, chopped parsley, chopped garlic clove, and chopped shallots. Leave it aside for at least 20 minutes

2. Clean, and pat dry the fish fillets and leave them in a cool place (which in our case it's anywhere in the house considering the average temperature). Scrub a couple of tsp of salt on each side of the fillet.

3. Cook the potatoes in salted water.

4. Cut the leek in rings and cook until tender in a knob of butter.

5. Wash the apple and then cut it in four parts and cork it. Without peeling it, slice each quarter reasonably fine. Plunge into water with lemon juice to avoid it darkens up.

6. Heat a tbsp of oil and melt a small knob of butter (together) in a large heavy pan. When it starts fizzling, place the fish fillets and leave them to cook on each side for a couple of minutes.

7. When the fish is almost cooked, drain the potatoes (if they are also cooked!), and remove the leeks from the pan.

8. In a bowl combine the leeks with the potatoes and apples.

9. Arrange each fillet on the serving plate. Cover the fillet with the mix of leeks, potatoes, and apples. Pour some of the marinate over and grate a little bit of black pepper before serving.

As this book from which the recipe took inspiration was a Christmas present received on the Southern English coast, I thought of sharing with you a few snaps I took while the rest of the family was Sale shopping (can you think of anything worse than fighting with a crazy crowd over post-Christmas leftovers? I can't....).

These are all images from the Victory, the famous ship that was used by Nelson during the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 moored at Portsmouth. Sadly I didn't encounter any Jack Sparrows..

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Epiphany Chicken Liver Pate' or Crostini Scuri per la Befana

And even this year these holidays are over - as my grand-mother used to say with a sigh of relief. After New Year's celebrations I am always disappointed that Christmas has come and gone so quickly but then I feel better thinking that there is still Epiphany to celebrate. Or better, that I, and my friends, celebrate.

This is a mystery to me actually. Why don't the English celebrate the 6th of January? What's wrong with that? What in fact puzzles me the most is the fact that they all wait until that very day and then just before Epiphany take all their Christmas decorations down. Why not the 3rd, or the 4th, or even the 2nd if they are that eager to bring their home to normality, pretending it never happened? Strange. But there are a lot of strange things about the English. In a good way, of course.

As always we had our annual celebrations of La Befana. Now, a little bit of history.

Befana is a distorted version of Epifania (a real distortion I must admit!) and the story wants it that on 5th January the Three Kings, Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar, or Wise Men (who if you ask me weren't that wise after all considering that they managed to be late and get lost) asked a pretty old woman (mind old but not pretty), who was sweeping with her broom the entrance hall, where the Baby Gee was lying. The woman indicated to follow the star.

So the Three Kings asked her if she wanted to join them but she refused. Having a change of heart, she tried to follow them but could not find either the Three Kings or Baby Jesus. So in doubt she brought sweets that she distributed on her way to all children she met in case one of them was the real Baby Jee.

Isn't it a sweet story? So for La Befana children, and adults, receive sweets. Mind, only the good ones because the naughty children get coal! I have been a good girl of course, so I received lots of nice chocolate and liquorice.

As our home is a real Auberge Espanol, we decided to combine several traditions. The Spanish tradition of leaving a glass of water and a piece of bread outside of the door for the thirsty and hungry camels, the telling of a story in exchange of coins, and little stockings filled with candies and hidden in the tree.

The other tradition is to have Crostini scuri (dark tartines). It is essentially chicken pate' but with a Mediterranean twist having capers and anchovies. Here is the recipe.

Crostini scuri

300g chicken liver
5 sage leaves
2 tsp washed capers
2-3 anchovy fillets
1/4 onion or shallot

1. Chop finely the onion or shallot and cook it until golden in a pan with a couple of spoons of oil. Then cook the liver until all the pink colouring has gone. Raw liver is not tasty!

2. Once the liver is cooked, remove it from the pan and put it in a mixer together with the other ingredients. Blend well until it forms a smooth paste.

3. If necessary, add more capers or sage. It has to lose that strong liver flavour and acquire a slight sharpness. Season to taste.

4. Use it as a spread on grilled or toasted bread slices (baguette or campagnard).

The festive atmosphere has really gone and a thick layer of fog is enveloping us.

I go now to say good-bye to the tree before we undress it and throw its carcass into the fire to be burnt. How sad. I might go and play a Requiem for the occasion.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Honey and fennel pork casserole alla Toscana

It seems that my abstention from meat has been gradually eroded with a final blow inflicted during the Christmas holidays in Tuscany. For some reason, it seems difficult to have a meal without meat. It comes open or hidden in a way or in another. And perhaps the cold required fats to burn.

During our week at home we had a day trip to Arezzo and Lucignano. Both of them appear in a film. Arezzo is in "La vita e' bella" (aka Life is beautiful - not to be confused with What a wonderful life which I did for some time...slightly different topic...) and "Certified Copy" which I *reviewed* a few blogs back (see the crusted sea bass).

There must be so little happening in Lucignano that the filming of Certified Copy must have uproared the entire village - film posters were everywhere. I was slightly disappointed and conned having realised that there is in fact no fountain in the main square. We searched for at least 10 minutes turning round and round to find the right one. In the end we came to the conclusion that the cunning director must have plonked a fake one in the middle of the square.

The village itself is so small that probably 20 minutes will suffice to see it all. But I imagine that in the Summer it must be quite pleasant to sit at one of the open cafes eating a gelato.

This dish has a very Medieval heart combining both honey and fennel. It would do well with some green vegetables like kale or green beans. Unfortunately we didn't have any of these (our 5 a day stopped at 11am after breakfast...).

Honey and fennel pork casserole (stufato di maiale al miele e finocchio)

For 2 people

200g pork
3-4 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp fennel seeds
half orange
half lemon
2 sprigs of thyme
a splash of white wine
1 garlic cloves
1 spring onion
2 tbsp of olive oil

1. If you use a pork leg (highly recommended as it's got more flavour) bone it (pretty easy job, even for me who have not strength whatsoever) and dice it in smallish cubes. If you insist and go for the easy option, just unwrap your already-diced-pork and dump it in the plate.

2. Make the marinade by mixing all the above ingredients (except of course the pork and the wine/oil). Plunge the diced pork into the marinade and leave it in it for at least 15-20 minutes.

3. In a large pan heat the olive oil and then add another table spoon of honey. Turn well with a metal spoon as otherwise the honey will start forming a gloopy lump. Add all at once the pork together with the marinate and let it cook on vivid flames.

4. When the pork starts caramelising turn the heat down a bit and continue stirring.

5. Just before it is cooked, add a splash of wine and let it evaporate. Continue stirring without letting it burn. If it forms a slightly brownish coat, that's fine, it is actually quite yummy.

You can serve the dish with roasted potatoes (King Edwards so that they remain fluffy inside but become crispy on the outside, cooked in medium chunks in the oven for 30 minutes together with 2-3 tbsp of oil, a few sage leaves and the skins of the same orange you have used the juice of - we don't waste anything here you know?) and some greens of your choice.