Tag Archives: vegetarian

Roast veggies

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I have to admit I do find it hard sometimes to come up with good veggie dishes. Not out of any lack of love for them; I enjoy shopping at the market stall and often buy more than I need. Typical example: I bought four lovely pomegranates around three weeks ago, just because I didn’t have them in ages. Also they bring such lovely childhood memories of my grandpa that I couldn’t help myself. After five days staring at me from the bowl, the beauties were begging me to eat them. Instead I painstakingly pulled all the seeds out and placed them in a container in the fridge. Did I eat them? No. I had to throw them all away. I won’t tell you the reason why. Shame on me and what a waste! End of confession.

I love roasting things though…food I mean. Roasting a chicken is easy; doing the same with vegetables is even easier and the cooking time is much shorter. The first few times I did this I made the mistake of cutting the veggies into smallish chunks. The result was a big veggie mush. Not nice.

What I do now is this. I cut them into larger pieces, season them with pepper and just a little bit of salt (not too much because I don’t want them to lose too much of their water), dried thyme or any herb of your choice really and plenty of olive oil (not extra virgin though), pop them in the oven for around 30 mins at 180ºC. I like a mix of mushrooms, red or white onions or both, potatoes, aubergines and courgettes. But really it can be done with anything you like. You can serve them with any meat or fish, or even alone with some rice or bread. I make sure to add some chilli then for extra heat. So easy!

Enjoy!

Rob x

Giorgio Locatelli’s “Made in Sicily”

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I’ve just had a day and a half, but I still want to share this with you. Two evenings ago I was watching some telly, absent mindedly browsing through the guide as one usually does after a busy day. I totally forgot that The Great British Food Revival was on, but luckily the tv was on at the right time. First up was the adorable Giorgio Locatelli, (I think he is but opinions may vary!) championing sardines. He convinced me but that’s another matter…

That reminded me that I haven’t said anything yet about Made In Sicily, which I unfortunately don’t own, but I have managed to borrow it from the library. (His other book Made in Italy has disappeared into thin air!) I loved the book instantly, notwithstanding the fact that I was feeling particularly homesick at that moment. I’m not Sicilian of course but perhaps the affinity I felt, and still feel to it, is because Malta and Sicily are neighbours…with similar histories, though I’m not the expert on that. Apart from the size (Malta is much smaller), the temperament of the people, the produce, food and the land are similar…it’s uncanny really. I have never been there, but after watching the three episodes of Sicily Unpacked (presented by Locatelli himself and Andrew Graham-Dixon) and quite a fair amount of RAI’s wonderful productions of Il Commissario Montalbano, I was forever charmed.

Like all good cookbooks, Made in Sicily, Fourth Estate, 2011 (and Made in Italy, Fourth Estate, 2008) is both a memoir and a recipe book. As always, I went to the Dolci chapter first! It was charming but strange (magnificently so) to find pignolata, cannoli, sfinci di San Giuseppe, all kinds of sorbetto, cassata, and torrone/nougat also known as the very very familiar Arabic ‘qubhayt‘. We Maltese make prinjolata, (not exactly the same thing but the word is almost the same), kannoli, sfineċ, etc. I know, right?! You’ve got to love it!

I did not try any sweets yet, and time is running out – I have got to return the book very soon. I liked the sound of Casarecce con broccoli, acciughe e broccoli…(oh jeezzz, e pinoli I) meant though (anchovies…mmm) so for one quick lunch that’s what I tried my hand at. I found some other recipes for this on the web and found out that Italians like to make this al forno. But for Locatelli’s recipe you only need the hob, which saves time, and tastes great all the same. For the pasta, I used penne, which is allowed! I changed some stuff around out of necessity (a.k.a. an understocked pantry) – shocked? Well, so am I; that rarely happens in this house! But there you go, it happens sometimes. I also took some shortcuts, taking out some of the steps because I didn’t have time to faff about. However I must tell you that the mixture was a tad dry; had I followed the method to the letter the recipe would have turned out much much better.* You have to work fast here but don’t let this deter you in any way, unless you really hate anchovies!

So I used 45g toasted breadcrumbs, a tin of anchovies in olive oil (drained because you only need the anchovies), pepper, broccoli (I had approx. 400g), 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves, half a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes, 30g lightly toasted pine nuts, 20g sultanas, penne as required per person, and around 60g grated pecorino. (I used all the mixture for the sauce for 2 servings.)

In a large stock pot boil all the water you need for the pasta, but before cooking this, wash and chop the broccoli into florettes and cook them in this water until tender. When ready pull them out of the cooking water and let them drain. Now cook the pasta according to packet instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, in a large pan heat the olive oil, add the garlic and anchovies, and stir them until the anchovies disintegrate. This will not take long so be careful not to burn them. (As I almost did!) Add the toasted breadcrumbs. (*The step that I missed is the following: Set the garlic mixture aside, then in a separate pan add these: 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped, and it is in here that you add the broccoli. That is what you mix the pasta with. The anchovy mixture is added separately, later before serving, scattered over the pasta with the cheese.)

Add the chilli, broccoli, heat them through then add the pine nuts and sultanas.

When the pasta is cooked, tip it in the pan with the broccoli mixture and mix it well. Serve and divide the grated pecorino on each serving. Phew! Happy Weekend!

Rob x

Penne with Summer Vegetables.

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Perhaps it is too early to talk about summer, especially because I’m writing this on a chilly day. Early days indeed. It will soon be here. That’s what I keep telling myself. To me, summer is about long walks, blue sky, fresh good food and minimal time in the kitchen. That’s why I think of pasta as fast food – not necessarily the unhealthy kind either. Though it could easily be also! I must confess though that these days I prefer whole wheat pasta. I love white pasta too and wish I could eat it more often. I have discovered the half whole wheat half white type during these past few months and I like to keep this in stock in my pantry for a quick supper solution. Pasta recipes are so versatile that you can use whatever you like. This recipe serves up to 4 people, depending on how hungry you all are. The sauce is a bit spicy so adjust the chilli according to taste. I know that some people cannot eat chilli due to allergies, so substitute it with pepper instead. For this simple recipe you need:

  • 500g penne rigate
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 2 red onions, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
  • 2 courgettes, diced
  • 1 green or red pepper, diced
  •  400g polpa di pomodoro (or chopped fresh tomatoes)
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (concentrate)
  • pepper, to taste
  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
  2. In a shallow pan, but big enough to hold the pasta for later, pour in the olive oil, and throw in a small piece of onion. When it starts to sizzle add the onions and garlic. After a few minutes add the courgettes and diced pepper. Toss the vegetables together and listen to the sound of the pan. Yummy.
  3. Then add the polpa di pomodoro, chilli flakes, paprika, brown sugar and tomato paste. If you have fresh tomatoes please use those instead. I rarely find good tomatoes where I live, even in summer, which is such a pity!
  4. Leave the sauce to simmer and taste it for seasoning. Add pepper if necessary. When the pasta is cooked to your liking, toss it well in the sauce. I find that penne rigate are one of the better kinds to use here. The sauce will adhere better to the pasta. But again – this is only a guide!

Grab a plate, help yourself and eat this preferably outside underneath the Sun. Enjoy!

Rob x

Post-Christmas Parsnip Soup

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First things first: Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a good start to the year and also hope that the rest will be better still. Though it can be really depressing. All those parties and with great food during the holidays, then…boom…everything’s gone (except the Christmas spirit of course) and everyone’s back to normal. I bet you heard or even thought the dreadful D word (yes..diet) a million times already, and it’s not three days after New Year’s Day yet.

This is a tricky one I know but we really need some heart-warming food, especially in this cold weather. And let’s face it, dieting doesn’t mean eating for two weeks and starving for the rest of the year. Well, it could be an interpretation of this to some people, but I don’t think it’s the healthiest one. (Oh, and please please please, don’t be mean to others by making them not eat too!) To be honest, after the holidays I don’t crave heavy foods, not even the sweet stuff. Also, lately I’ve had some veggies in the fridge which needed to be either used or thrown away, and you know how much I hate throwing food away if it still can be cooked. I had quite a lot of parsnips and some carrots which were waiting to be made into a nice thick gooey soup.

Mentioning carrots, a friend of mine recently asked me if this season’s pick were sweeter than usual. It’s like eating a whole packet of sweets she said, which made me think back. J made a big batch of carrot soup about a week ago in which I couldn’t help adding loads of fresh pepper. So for now I am definitely off carrots, in large quantities that is! But somehow I love parsnips. Although sweet, they have a hint of spiciness. I’ve read that parsnips are only grown in colder climates, ergo there’s no way I will find them back home, so I intend to make the most of them here. They are good for you anyway…

The following is a recipe for a parsnip soup with a twist. It’s also got some mustard in it which gives it that wintery kick and some paprika for smokiness and is food for the soul. Well that’s how I think of it. This soup is very forgiving so as long as you taste it along the way to adjust the seasoning, it will taste great. Unfortunately I have no alternatives for parsnips, but you’re invited to my place anytime for lunch. Ooops…I have to keep my word now, don’t I?! For this Parsnip, Paprika and Mustard Soup you’ll need:

  • 25g butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 450g parsnips, chunkily diced or cubed
  • 1 leek, roughly chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, quartered
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1.5 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons wholegrain or Dijon mustard, heaped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • pepper, to taste
  1. In a medium sized pot heat the oil and butter, then add the parsnips, leeks and potatoes. Stir until the vegetables are coated well, keep an eye on it for around 5 minutes and add the paprika. Stir again.
  2. Add the stock, let it boil, then leave to simmer for around 20 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Blend the whole lot either with a hand blender, or pour it into a free-standing one to mush it up.
  3. Now is the time to add the mustard, sugar and pepper and taste it to get the seasoning right. You’ve got it.

Invite 4-6 people for lunch and serve immediately with some fresh crusty bread on the side.

Rob x

Falafel with Tahini Yoghurt Dressing

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Last year I had a couple of hours to spare on an unusually busy day and headed for the local library. The automatic pilot in my brain directed me, as usual, to the food section where I saw a little book trying to grab my attention. I looked at the cover: Spice It….it said. As usual, I filled the pages with post-its for everything that I wanted to try…and still want to try (because to be fair I haven’t cooked that many things from it). So one evening, when I had no idea what to cook for the next day, J suggested one particular recipe that caught his eye. It was one of those times when we cooked together, and what a treat that was! I was sous-chef and kitchen cleaner simultaneously but everything worked.

The only thing that you may find tricky to get hold of is the tahini paste. These days you don’t need to go to speciality shops for it; your local supermarket will probably have it. Unfortunately I don’t think you can replicate the taste by using peanut butter as a substitute for tahini, but you could try that out if you’re up for an experiment.

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Now before you read the ingredient list I tell you this: don’t be frightened because of the frying bit. You won’t eat these that often and they’re a doddle to make. There’ll be some washing up but nothing you cannot handle. May the force be with you! (I just had to put something sci-fi in there. Sorry but the temptation was too strong.) This serves 4 and is ideal as party food, snack food or part of a meze.

For the falafel you need:

  • 250g dried chickpeas
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • some vegetable oil for frying

For the tahini yoghurt dressing you need:

  • 100ml yogurt
  • 100g tahini paste
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Leave them to soak overnight.
  2. Drain the chickpeas, put them into a food processor and grind them coarsely. Add the onion, garlic, parsley, coriander (both fresh and dried), cumin and baking powder and blitz until smooth to give you a bright green mixture.
  3. For the tahini dressing, put the yoghurt, tahini paste, crushed garlic clove, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and whisk. Season to taste.
  4. Now comes the fun part: using slightly wet hands shape the chickpea mixture into around 20 oval shapes. Feel the fear (as Nigella would say) and heat about 3cm of vegetable oil in a deep pan. To make sure the oil is hot enough slowly drop a small cube of bread in the pan. If it starts to get brown immediately then you can start frying the falafel. Fry the falafel in batches until golden brown on all sides. Drain them on a paper towel and try to keep them warm while you book the next batch.
  5. Place them on a serving dish and drizzle the dressing on top.

Serve with some side salad if you wish. You will miss these little guys when you’ll eat them all.

Rob x