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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Italian Stuffed Courgettes

As promised, here's another Summer recipe featuring courgettes! The credit for this one goes entirely to my mum, as it is a dish she always makes around this time of the year that I have replicated faithfully (how could I have done otherwise?). The courgettes are cut in half and emptied; their flesh cooked with a touch of garlic and tomato purée, then mixed to sausage meat and Parmesan cheese to constitute the stuffing. They are baked in the oven until golden and are delicious eaten either warm or at room temperature, which makes them a great addition to the menu of pic-nics and (large Italian) family gatherings.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Moroccan Chickpea & Roasted Carrot Salad

Here I present you with another lunch-box salad, this time of Moroccan inspiration. The key to this salad is the use of spices and chopped herbs, which turn a few simple ingredients - chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots and cous cous - into something that will make you say "wow!" after the first forkful. Try it, you won't be disappointed!

Courgette & Parmesan Soup

When cooking, my natural preference and inclination is always to use seasonal ingredients. A vegetable that's plentiful in the Summer is no doubt the courgette, which for this reason is lately making a regular appearance in my posts. This time, whizzed up to a creamy yet light soup flavoured with tasty Parmesan cheese. I used home-made chicken stock, which does make it all the more tasty; however, if you don't have time to make your own, do feel free to use a good organic chicken stock cube (or a vegetable one if you are vegetarian).

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Mexican Chicken Salad

I have a love affair with authentic Mexican food. It's such a colourful, fresh, vibrant cuisine, miles away from the heavy, starchy Tex-Mex dishes that have been passed off as Mexican fare to us Europeans. Sadly for me, I have never had the pleasure to visit Mexico (yet!), but I had some pretty amazing authentic Mexican meals in California and haven't looked back since. I am happy to say that thanks to pioneers such as Thomasina Miers, this cuisine is becoming slowly but steadily more and more popular in the UK. I am yet to find a Mexican restaurant here in Brussels, so while I wait for one to open up, I have come up with the recipe for this zingy chicken salad that packs a punch!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Pesto, Roasted Tomato & Mushroom Pasta Salad

This is an example of how to employ the freshly made pesto of my previous post. This summery pasta salad is best served at room temperature; a quality that makes it great lunch box filler, bursting with flavour and goodness. You'll make all your colleagues with their fridge cold, packaged ham and cheese sandwiches green with envy :-)


Pesto is an Italian pasta sauce that comes from the lovely Liguria region, which is lapped by the gentle waves of the Mar Ligure (Ligurian Sea). It literally translates as "pounded", which is an apt description of what happens to the few ingredients it is made of: they are all pounded to an intoxicatingly beautiful smelling paste. Traditionally, pesto is paired with trenette, a kind of flat, narrow pasta shape; however, I find that its simple but intense flavour makes it a wonderfully versatile ingredient that can be drizzled on bruschetta, pizza, a roasted tomato salad, grilled seafood, roast chicken, baked fish, boiled new potatoes and so on. You can make it using a food processor, however the contact of the metal blades with the basil will cause the latter to lose its vibrant green colour in favour of a less attractive greyish one. If you can, use a pestle and mortar: it's much more fun and also a healthy way of releasing any suppressed stress or anger :-)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Chili con Carne

Chili con carne is one of those dishes like chicken tikka masala and "spag bol", which have their roots in foreign cuisines but have been adopted with such affection by the UK population to the point of becoming a traditional British dish. The first documented recipe of chili con carne (the name translates as "chilli pepper with meat") dates back to the early 1500 in South America;  according to Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Hernan Cortez's captains, it was prepared by the Aztecs and apparently included tomatoes, chilli peppers, salt...and human meat from the Conquistadores! The versions I have tasted so far are much less gruesome, but all include minced beef as the base ingredients. I prefer to use stewing steak, cut in bite size chunks and cooked until it melts in the mouth.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Salted Caramel & Chocolate Mini Tarts

This has to be one of my favourite desserts ever. Light, crisp shorcrust pastry encasing a smooth chocolate ganache, which upon the first bite reveals a melting centre of salted caramel. What's not to like? True, they require a little effort to make, and I can assure you they will be gone pretty quickly, but that's the case with all the beautiful things in life :-)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Fresh Tagliatelle with Prawns & Courgette

Fresh pasta requires a sauce that does it justice. A few selected ingredients that marry well together and go to envelope the silky strands of tagliatelle that you have rolled out with such care a few hours before. I do love the combination of prawns and courgette and use it regularly in my recipes (see king prawns in a prosecco and cream sauce): here, I have grated the courgette to give a creamy texture to the sauce and create a nice contrast with the juicy chunks of prawns. The pink/green/pale yellow colour scheme is a visual feast, too.

Monday, 16 July 2012

How to Make Fresh Pasta

I have recently conquered the skill of making fresh pasta. I have said conquered, and not acquired, for a specific reason: just like it happened before with shortcrust pastry, I had previously attempted to  make ravioli at home following a recipe from one of my cookbooks. To say that the results were disappointing, is to pay myself a compliment. The filling was good, but the pasta was too thick and rubbery, and I just could not figure out what had gone wrong in the process. This is not acceptable, I thought. I am Italian, for goodness' sake, pasta making is in my genes! However, given that I moved to the UK to go to Uni and lived abroad ever since, I never had the opportunity to learn this skill from the source, i.e. my grannies. Therefore, I decided to take the bull by the horn and signed up for a pasta-making class, taught nonetheless by the brilliant Valentina Harris (the course took place at the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath, and it was an amazing birthday gift from my boyfriend's parents and grandparents). Thanks to Valentina, I have learnt that pasta is a temperamental lady that will come to you if you follow a few simple steps with the utmost care, but will unceremoniously stand you up if you rush through the process and do not treat her with the respect she deserves. This said, please know that after a couple of attempts you will find that making pasta is surprisingly easy and oh so rewarding! The possibilities for shapes and flavour combinations are endless, and it is such a great dinner party trick to have up one's sleeve. One of my earliest memories is that of my grannies in the kitchen; one of them making ravioli, the other tagliatelle, to feed our immediate family of 25 :-). I am proud to be perpetuating this tradition - even though there's only two of us, for now!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Walnut & Banana Bread

Although for some reason it is known as "bread" (maybe for its loaf-like shape?), this is actually a cake. While it would certainly not disappoint served with a cup of tea or coffee in the afternoon, I also find it is particularly suitable to have at breakfast, as a substitute to the usual croissant, as the nuts and bananas make it filling and a real energy-booster. This is also a smart way to use up any overripe bananas that may have been left in your fruit bowl for a day too many, and have developed those unattractive, little dark spots. In fact, the riper your bananas, the moister and more delicious your cake will turn out to be!

Korean barbecued pork

This is another dish inspired by that little gem that is our local Korean restaurant in London, called Cah-Chi, from which I got the idea for the sesame beef stir-fry, one of my earliest blog posts. Now that we live in Brussels, popping down to our Korean on a Friday evening is not as easy as it used to be - unless we decide to finally invest in that private jet. Therefore, as they say: if Mahomet will not go to the mountain, then the mountain must go to Mahomet. In this case, the mountain being the mouth-watering barbecued pork, which owes its distinctive taste to the spicy marinade it is left in for 24 hours prior to being cooked. I could not track down any gochujang so I have tried to recreate the marinade without it, and I am happy to say I was pleasantly surprised with the results!