Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nuts and Persimmon Couscous

There are many recipes for couscous dishes in the Mediterranean cuisine. Some are savory, with vegetables, and some are sweet, with nuts, fruits, or raisins. Today, here is my version of a traditional nut couscous dish. It is spicy but also almost sweet. It can be served with grilled meats, vegetables, or as a dish on its own. I like it on its own the most, because it is very pure and this way you can taste better its rich ingredients: the butter and the saffron, and better appreciate the flavor of the nuts in the couscous.

This type of couscous is also made with dried fruits, besides nuts. But instead of dried fruits I decided to use fresh persimmons, which are now in season. Because persimmons can be very sweet at the peak of the season, to contrast their sweetness, I added preserved lemons to the salad. Here it is a very simple yet flavorful dish.

Nuts and Persimmon Couscous

1 cup couscous,
1 cup hot water,
1/4 tsp salt,
1/2 cup blanched almonds,
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios,
4 dried seedless dates chopped (optional, if persimmons are very sweet),
a pinch of saffron threads,
1/4 tsp ground cumin,
1/4 tsp cinnamon,
1/4 tsp ground cloves,
1/4 tsp ground coriander seeds,
a pinch of cayenne pepper,
1 persimmon, peeled,
4 slices of preserved lemons, cut into small cubes,
2 tbsp olive oil,
2 tbsp butter,
fresh mint to garnish.

1. In a small pot bring to boil water with olive oil and salt. Take off the heat, add couscous, mix, cover, and set aside for about 10 minutes.
2. Heat the butter in a medium-sized frying pot. Add saffron and nuts and fry stirring until the nuts are brown.
3. Add dried spices to the nuts and cook for about a minute. Toss in the couscous and heat everything together for two minutes.
4. Cut persimmon into quarters and then in halves, and mix with the couscous.
5. Add preserved lemon cubes and mix everything together. Garnish with chopped mint.

Serve warm or room temperature.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Easy Apple Cake

Apple cakes are one of my favorite fall desserts. Easy and seasonal they are always appreciated. I have recently tried a recipe for a traditional Italian apple cake. The cake was so easy that I managed to make it quickly on a Saturday morning to be ready for a morning coffee.

I used local Golden apples but a more sour type would work better as the base of the cake is quite sweet. Besides the apples the recipe calls for golden raisins and pine nuts. Raisins were a nice addition to the cake but I think that, instead of the pine nuts, I would prefer it with almonds, because they are more crunchy.

Easy Apple Cake

3-4 Golden apples, peeled, cored and sliced into thick slices,
3/4 cup all purpose flour,
1 cup sugar,
2 tbsp pine nuts or slivered almonds,
1/4 cup golden raisins,
6 tbsp unsalted, melted butter,
3 eggs,
1/2 cup milk,
1 lemon,
1 tsp baking powder,
1 tbsp butter for the form,
1 extra tbsp flour to dust the baking form with.

1. Grease a 10-inch baking form with butter and dust with flour.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Soak the raisins in a warm water for about 10 minutes until soft.
4. Break the eggs in a bowl of a standing mixer. Add sugar and beat them until they are mousse like.
5. Pour in milk and cooled butter, then add shaved lemon peel and flour mixed with baking powder. Mix briefly until smooth with a mixer.
6. Add the drained raisins and nuts and mix with a spatula. Transfer the batter to a baking form.
7. Arrange the quarters of apples on top of the cake and bake it for about 45 minutes.

Let it cool down and serve.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Baked Rice with Pumpkin and Feta

This light and colorful rice dish is a perfect recipe for this pumpkin season. It comes from the Mediterranean cuisine. I found it in one of the Italian magazines which I brought from Italy. The dish is quite similar to risotto and calls for the risotto type of rice, preferably Carnaroli or Arborio. It is started as risotto, but because it is then baked in the oven, it does not require constant stirring. It is made with Feta cheese instead of Parmesan and finished with two garnishes—fried sage leaves and pine nuts. Sage adds extra flavor and aroma to the delicate taste of rice, pine nuts bring in some crunchiness to a smooth texture of the dish, so it is worth adding both to obtain that full and rich taste at the end.

Baked Rice with Pumpkin and Feta

1 cup risotto rice (if available Carnaroli),
1 lb peeled and cut into small cubes pumpkin,
1 medium onion, chopped,
1/2 cup white wine,
2 and 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock,
1/2 cup Feta,
1 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional),
2 tbsp roasted pine nuts,
3/4 cup milk,
2 tbsp butter,
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
12–16 sage leaves.

1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pot. Add pumpkin cubes and fry for about 2–3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 325 F.
3. In the same frying pan heat another 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add onion and fry until transparent. Add rice and toast together for 1–2 minutes. Pour in wine, and let simmer until wine evaporates.
4. Add pumpkin and stock to rice, season with salt and bring to boil.
5. Transfer rice to a large baking dish and bake for 20–25 minutes.
6. In a medium bowl crumble Feta and mix with roasted pine nuts and hot pepper flakes if used.

7. In a small pot bring to boil 2 tbsp butter. Add washed and dried sage leaves and fry for 2 minutes.
8. Remove rice from the oven. Pour in milk and gently mix and bake for another 10–15 minutes.
9. Once again remove rice from oven and spread Feta crumbles on top. Bake for 5 minutes until Feta melts.
10. Remove rice from the oven, finish with melted butter and sage leaves and serve.