Sunday, December 21, 2014

Roasted Onions with Walnuts and Pancetta--Italian Style

For me, being Polish, traditionally, the Christmas Eve supper is the most important meal during the whole Christmas season. This is the day when I make and eat all my favorite Polish dishes: cabbage with dry porcini mushrooms, cooked yellow peas, clear beet soup, herrings, and pierogi with cabbage, just to name a few. But because of my kids, who are still very picky and eat only certain dishes from a long list of traditional Polish Christmas food, this feast lasts only one day.

Then, for the rest of Christmas Holidays, I prepare dishes that come from other culinary traditions, less meaty than Polish but equally delicious, and that everyone at home likes. And that to me is the way to celebrate holidays, the big part of which is to enjoy good, special food, good wine, indulging desserts, and share these special moments with family and friends.

So when my Italian friend mentioned that pearl onions cooked in vinegar are often served with roasted meat for Christmas dinners, I decided to prepare an onion dish that I found in one of many Italian cook books. It is very rich and therefore perfect for this time of the year. These roasted onions can be served just by themselves as a dish, or just as a starter, or be one of many dishes at a holiday table.

Inspired by pearl onion cooked in vinegar sauce I finished this dish with a drizzle of balsamic di Modena glaze which gave it a nice presentation and extra flavor.

Roasted Onions with Walnuts and Pancetta
(Serves four)

4 large onions (but not the sweet ones),
5 tbsp olive oil,
1/2 cup lean diced pancetta,
1 cup chopped walnuts,
1 cup chicken stock,
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves,
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar of Modena glaze,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Rub whole, unpeeled onions with 3 tbsp olive oil and bake them 40 minutes.Cool.

3.Peel the onions. Cut off their tops and bottoms and cut them in halves horizontally. Remove the insides leaving about 2-3 outer layers. Chop finely the insides of onions, which will be used for the filling.
4. Place the onion halves in a oven-proof dish oiled with 1 tbsp of olive oil.
5. Heat last two tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan. Add pancetta and fry until brown. Stir in walnuts and chopped onion insides. Cook everything together for about 3 minutes.

6. Pour in 1/2 cup of chicken stock, add thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
7. Fill the onion halves with pancetta stuffing. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of stock to the bottom of the baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly brown.
Serve warm with white Italian loaf bread or baguette.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cooked Spinach Salad--Meditearanian Style

This salad, coming from a Moroccan cuisine, is not a typical spinach salad because spinach used in it is not fresh but cooked. It is also better to use large spinach leaves for it, which have more texture and a richer taste rather than baby spinach leaves, which are often is used in salads because they are more tender and delicate in taste.

The only challenge involved in preparing this salad is that it calls for many green ingredients and spices. They combine into a wonderfully rich taste. For me, preserved lemons and saffron are the ingredients that contribute most to defining this salad's flavor and saffron also adds a characteristic yellowish color to it. I did not have a preserved lemon when I first prepared this salad and I felt that something was missing. When I made it for the second time I added it and it made a big difference, making the salad more tart and more exotic.

In winter, this salad can be served in room temperature, but in summer it should be served straight from the fridge, as cold as possible.

Cooked Spinach Salad

2 lb spinach leaves(regular, not baby leaves),
4 tbsp olive oil,
1 bunch flt leave parsley, chopped,
1 bunch cilantro,
2 garlic cloves,
2 medium tomatoes (heirloom as best as they are not so juicy) blanched, peeled and chopped,
a pinch of saffron,
1 tsp ground cumin,
1 tsp paprika,
1 preserved lemon (skin only) cut into very small cubes,
1/3 cup red olives,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Blanch spinach in a large pot of boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes. Drain well, squeeze out the extra water, let it cool and chop it.

2. In a large frying pan heat the oil. Add to the pan parsley, cilantro, saffron, cumin, paprika, garlic and preserved lemon. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, until a green sauce forms.
3. Add to the green sauce chopped tomatoes and let it simmer again for another 5 minutes.

4. Add chopped spinach and cook briefly on a high heat, stirring constantly.
5. Finally fold in olives and turn off the heat. Cool the spinach completely.
6. Garnish with cilantro leaves and cherry tomatoes cut in halves.