I really like kale. Pity that I only discovered it a few months back. I’m really not a vegetarian at heart but veggies are good for you, or so they say, so I make an effort. Especially when it comes to salad options. Too much of a good thing is…well…not good. You know what I mean. I grew tired of the same old salad leaves that I bought a bunch of kale on a whim without knowing what to do with it. When I opened the fridge I had the answer. I chopped up some garlic, one shallot, a few grams of cured chorizo, a red pepper, a yellow one and tossed them in a pan with some olive oil. I washed the kale, added it to the pan, heated it up with the rest of the ingredients, placed everything in a large salad bowl, seasoned it with pepper and added some toasted almond flakes. It makes one good side dish, and it’s so quick that you can make it while you chat to your friends in the kitchen.
The school year has started and with it the gloomy weather. I don’t mind it really – better than the scorching heat. I’m no meteorologist (even though I’m known among friends to be quite the tornado buff), but seems to me that the colder weather is on the way, and this means one thing: baking party! I woke up hellishly early this morning and managed to do quite a few things, including baking some breakfast muffins and devoured one (yes…just one) while pottering about in the kitchen. Lately I’ve been into cupcake mode again so after I write this I’m off to chocolate cupcake heaven. I will not keep any recipes for myself, don’t worry.
In the meantime though I humbly wanted to offer a few tips to busy bees who have no time to cook. If rice and/or pasta is your thing then don’t fret and see if you like either one or both of the following. One is a classic puttanesca sauce. You need anchovies for this so I would give it a miss if they’re not your cup of tea. The other is something quick which you can throw together with some rice. (And no, I won’t go into how-the-pasta-got-its-name topic. It’s a classic story for a classic pasta dish. Some would even say it’s vintage.)
For Pasta alla Puttanesca you need the following ingredients, and will give you 3 to 4 servings.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 30g anchovy fillets, drained from their oil and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or peeled very finely
- ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
- 500g spaghetti (or fettucine, I prefer the latter)
- 400g polpa di pomodoro
- 200g olives
- 2 teaspoons capers
- pepper, to taste
- about ¼ or so of pasta water
- Prepare the pasta water and let it heat up well to almost boiling point, or better still have some boiling water from the kettle to hand. You can cook the pasta while you are preparing the sauce.
- In a wide pan pour the olive oil on medium heat, and add the anchovies. Cook for around 2 minutes or until the anchovies have almost disappeared into the oil. Add the garlic and chilli and stir.
- Pour the tomatoes, tip the olives and capers and stir until the sauce has slightly thickened. Add pepper to taste. You don’t need salt here – you get plenty of that with the anchovies and capers, so go slow on that if you still think that you really need some!
- Reserve a quarter cup full of pasta water before you drain the spaghetti. Before serving, add the water to the sauce to thicken it slightly. Add the sauce to the pasta, toss and enjoy.
The second thing I find most convenient is a plain passata to which you might add some fresh basil and Cumberland or Chorizo Sausages. I don’t add any chilli here because the chorizo is already spicy. I make it a point to add a teaspoon or so of dark brown sugar to the sauce and a touch of Worcestershire (how you pronounce this is up to you – they are still undecided here anyway!) Toss this with rice and you have a heart-warming something after a day’s work. So uncomplicated, you don’t even need a recipe…and please…spare me the jokes!
These days some of my friends are making it very easy for me to decide what recipes to write about. Yesterday a friend told me that she was making some cupcakes and thought of me, which was very very nice of her, me thinks. Today I had a little chat with another friend of mine about the joys of pasta, and how it can be classified as comfort food. As a typical Maltese I enjoy a nice plate of pasta once in a while, not only because it is one of the easiest things to prepare, but because there’s nothing better than pasta with a sauce made from simple ingredients. The Italians serve pasta as a primo, which is as it should be. But unfortunately in general we (as in non-Italians and not as in Maltese please) have made the portions bigger and bigger.
Cooking with chorizo is one of my favourite things to do. It wasn’t common in recipe books at all but lately it’s becoming more and more popular. It’s cured and smoked, and it can be eaten as is, but it gives a great depth of flavour when incorporated into your cooking. It is very strong and salty so go easy with it, but be brave and try it. For those who are new to it (just like me a couple of months ago) here’s something you should consider – a recipe which I tried recently from James Tanner Takes 5. (You know how much I like this book so I won’t bore you again!) It’s quick and uncomplicated. Simple enough, but you will want a second helping. James’ recipe calls for penne, and I can see why. I used tagliatelle instead and if he were here he would probably tell you to use whatever you like. However if you like to eat bite-sized chunks of meat and pasta at one go, then it’s penne all the way!
A little note about the ingredients before you start. If like me you don’t have sherry vinegar in your pantry, try using some white wine vinegar instead, and please don’t panic when you see that this recipe needs whipping cream. You don’t need it…really. James suggests using half-fat crème fraiche instead and it works fine. Tried and tested. Don’t let it heat up too much though because it tends to curdle. James cooks with shallots, most probably because they will give you a delicate flavour which is needed against the chorizo. I must confess that I didn’t have those so I used one common onion. I could have tried using spring onions instead. Also you can adjust the pasta quantity depending on how many people you’re having over for lunch. The quantities below are James’. Serves 4.
- 350g dried penne
- 250g chorizo, cut into diagonal thin slices
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 shallots
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 125ml whipping cream or half-fat crème fraiche
- Cook the penne according to the packet instructions.
- In the meantime, slice the chorizo, and heat the olive oil in a pan. Tip in the shallots or onion and soften over medium heat for around 2 minutes. Add the chorizo and crank up the heat until it starts to release some of it’s oil.
- Add the sherry vinegar and leave to cook for around another minute or so over high heat and stir to deglaze your pan. Pour in the cream or crème fraiche, but don’t boil it if you’re using the latter. Just let it heat up and remove at once from the heat. Season with some fresh ground pepper.
- Drain the pasta and add the sauce on top into warm individual bowls.
Enjoy with a glass of chilled white vino and eat it in the garden!
Since I moved to the UK almost four years ago, from a large kitchen to a very small one, I learnt to make do with the basics. I wasn’t sure if I would get used to being cramped in a small space. I got some equipment with me but I left most behind, especially my very much missed Kitchen Aid. However, I now beat almost everything with a normal whisk or with an electric hand whisk, which (when working well) is a life-saver. (I must admit though that recently, I beat some zabaglione by hand. Then I swore I would never do that again!)
One thing which I didn’t have at all is a bread maker. I’m just an amateur cook so you chefs out there please forgive me for owning one, even while you cringe. But now, we can enjoy freshly baked bread everyday. That is what J enjoys most. Long-life super fluffy sliced bread isn’t an option. I have to say though that most supermarkets now have their own bakeries in store that offer good-quality bread and that’s great, but I still prefer making our own. I wouldn’t recommend using it to bake cakes. However it’s perfect for fruit loaves.
Thanks to our bread maker I’ve been making pizza on average once a week, especially on Saturday evenings. I love the feel and elasticity of pizza dough and it’s so easy to roll out. It beats shortcrust pastry, not in taste obviously, but I don’t have to worry about it falling apart on me. Fact is that pizza dough is easy to make with or without the machine. *With* means less mess; all you need is a little flour for rolling it out onto your working surface. The ingredients remain the same for whichever method you prefer.
A note before you start: there is the need for salt in this recipe. Omitting it here is not an option. For two square pizza trays you’ll need:
- ½ teaspoon dried active yeast (I use Allinson)
- 300g strong white bread flour
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 170ml water
The above is the order in which the ingredients go in the machine. By hand try the following:
- Prepare two trays sprinkled well with semolina. This will help you to slide the pizza easily onto your serving plate later.
- Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7, but consider more if you’re using a non-convection oven.
- Combine the yeast with the water (warm this up, not too much), olive oil and salt in a large bowl and stir until the yeast and salt are dissolved. After a couple of minutes add half of the flour and mix well. Add the rest of the flour and mix well with your hands.
- Put the dough on a clean floured surface and work it well. This dough can take it! Then leave it to rise in an oiled bowl or tray, covered with a damp towel. Once it’s doubled in size take it out of the bowl on to a surface once more and divide it into two. Roll each piece of dough and place on the two trays. (You could use pizza stones instead of the trays. These will work better in a very hot oven.)
- Top your pizzas with anything you like. I am partial to mozzarella or goat’s cheese, some mushrooms, slices of chorizo and onions, oregano and some more olive oil. I generally slice some tomatoes as a base when they’re nice and fresh instead of tinned passata or polpa. This is obviously a guide. Do whatever you want!
If you want to make focaccia, then all you need to do is to spread all the dough onto a well-oiled baking tray and leave it to rise a little (leave out Step 3). Puncture the dough with some fresh rosemary when you can find it. If not prong it with a fork, spread some more olive oil and top it with some onions and again with anything that you like. There’s your Saturday evening dinner sorted. Enjoy!
Now that’s a great combo. That’s why I’ve chosen it for the name of this blog. And if you try this combination, you’ll know – it’ll be a bit of an a-ha moment. You see, to be honest this blog post was a long time coming and I know I will be relieved once it’s published. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you might already know that recently I bought a cook book which I didn’t like that much at first. I thought it was a total waste of money really. Having baked some recipes from it as the weeks passed by, I must now say that although I still have some lurking doubts, I am warming up to it slowly. First of all I must thank this book for this blog’s name. I have cooked with chorizo before and it has become a staple in my pantry. Lorraine Pascale made me want to try it with thyme. It turned out to be a perfect marriage.
The following recipe is my take on her Chorizo and Thyme Fougasse (click here for the actual recipe). I am grateful to Ms. Pascale for this and for some other recipes in her book which I will try very soon. I made this bread after a long walk in the beautiful Surrey countryside and loved it. So here it goes.
A very important note for this recipe: I used my bread machine to make the dough instead of a mixer with a hook. This was less messy and it worked really well for me. I will also include the traditional method later on.
For the bread machine dough method will need:
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons yeast dissolved into 250ml warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin if possible)
Have 50g of finely chopped ready-to-eat chorizo and 2 tablespoons of dried thyme at the ready, to add after the dough cycle is ready, and some milk for brushing the dough.
- If you have a bread machine then choose the pizza dough option which will take approximately 45 minutes. Remove the dough from the container.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
- Work the chorizo and thyme in the dough. When these are well combined leave the dough to rise in a warm place, preferably covered with some oiled clingfilm or a warm damp clean cloth for around 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Brush the dough with the milk.
- For the crust to remain nice and golden place two handfuls of ice cubes at the bottom of the oven (you can also either spray the oven with some cold water before closing or fill a small roasting dish with water in place of the ice cubes).
- Place the dough on a lightly oiled roasting tray in the oven. Bake for around 40 minutes but keep an eye on it and check its colour every once in a while. I know this is fiddly, but it’s worth it. I’m already smelling the freshly baked bread in your kitchen!
And now for the other method, all you need to do is to replace Step 1 with the following:
- Mix the dough ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.
- Knead for 15-20 minutes. I know you have to work at it and use some muscle power but this will develop the dough’s elasticity. So please, please have patience.
- Put the dough back in a bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
- Continue from Step 2.