Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fettuccine with Cheese and Black Pepper (Cacio e Pepe)

This recipe is just another proof of the culinary genius of the Italians. Simple and wonderful. I decided to share this recipe today as I think this is the kind of comfort dish that tastes particularly good on a cold winter day. Besides, it is the recipe that my son asked me to write down, so he could cook it one day, when he goes to college.

I never heard about this pasta until my last visit to Rome. My friend and host explained to me that it was in fact a very Roman dish and gave me the recipe. After I came back I made this pasta at home for my kids and instantly it became their most favorite pasta dish. Another simple and tasty dish that makes everyone happy.

There are basically two ingredients in this pasta black pepper and cheese. And again they should be of the best quality. Pepper should be full of flavor and fresh, Tellicherry would be most desirable, and cheese should be Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano, preferably imported. If you have these ingredients, a delicious dinner is ready in no time.

Fettuccine with Cheese and Black Pepper

3 tbsp coarsely, freshly ground black pepper, preferably Tellicherry,
2 tbsp olive oil,
2 tbsp unsalted butter,
1 lb fettuccine pasta,
1 cup freshly ground Pecorino Romano, plus some to finish,
1/2 cup tbsp freshly ground Parmigiano Reggiano to finish

Preparation: 1. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water until still firm but cooked.
2. Grind the pepper and cheese.


3. While pasta is cooking, heat butter and olive in a large frying pan. When bubbles appear add ground black pepper and fry while stirring continually for about 2 minutes until the flavor of the pepper is released.

4. Drain the fettuccine, saving about a cup of drained water.
5. Add pasta to the pan with pepper and toss it so it is covered with pepper. Add about 4 tbsps of the saved hot water.
6. Pour in both cheese and mix with pasta. If pasta is still too dry add extra water and mix. Serve immediately and finish with freshly ground Parmigiano Reggiano.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Banana Pudding

Sometimes we buy too many bananas and don't know what to do with them before they turn brown and no one will touch them. So this dish is another, next to banana bread, recipe for using extra bananas. It is even simpler than banana bread and can make a nice Sunday brunch dish, something like a dessert but not too sweet. There is no sugar added and the whole sweetness comes from bananas and raisins. Also, there is only a tablespoon of flour. If you want to make this dish more fancy, after bananas are fried you can add two tablespoons of rum to spice up their taste.

Banana Pudding

Ingredients: 4-5 medium bananas, yellow but not too soft, peeled and cut into cubes,
4 eggs,
1 tbsp all purpose flour,
1 12-oz can of unsweetened condensed milk,
1/3 cup raisins,
1 tsp vanilla essence,
1/2 tsp salt,
2 tbsp unsalted butter,
2 tbsp rum, optional,
2 tbsp brown sugar,
a dash of icing sugar to finish.

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Butter a 10-inch oven proof dish with one tbsp of butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.
3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with flour until smooth. Add evaporated milk, vanilla essence and salt, and beat all together again.
4. Melt a tbsp of butter in a large frying pan. Add banana cubes and raisins and fry for about 2 minutes turning them gently. If you use rum add at the end of frying.

5. Spread the fried banana cubes on the bottom of the baking dish. Pour over the egg and milk mixture. Put the pudding in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.
6. Dust with icing sugar, cut, and serve warm.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Portuguese Coriander Soup

Soups, as comfort food, always come to my mind when it is very cold. So I used these couple of freezing days we had as an excuse to try a recipe for a soup that I read about some time ago, and that have been intriguing me ever since. Even more as coriander bunches that I had in my refrigerator were about to fade away. Finally, this coriander soup reminds me of a very popular and unique sorrel soup which we have in Polish cuisine, so I was curious to compare them.

The soup turned out very surprising in a good way. Very light but flavored and fresh, slightly sour, and extremely green. And yes, because of that slight sourness, it tasted similar to the sorrel soup, while roasted bread and melting cheese brought the French onion soup taste. But, at the end, despite those similarities, it was just another and very original cilantro soup.

As often in a very simple recipe a quality of ingredients is very important for the final taste. For this recipe, the most important thing is to have a good base - a good quality chicken stock. Best would be home made, but a good quality free range organic broth from a box can be used too. Also, a sour bread which I used to make the croutons enriched the soup with the extra tart taste.

Cilantro Soup
(Serves four)

3 bunches of fresh coriander, 5 garlic cloves, 4 cups of chicken stock, 5 slices of a day-old, sourdough country bread, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 4 tbsp shredded Fontina cheese, or mild Cheddar, salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cut bread into half-inch cubes. Heat 3 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and fry the bread turning frequently, until dark gold all over. Set aside.
2. Wash well and chop coriander (preferably leaves only) and place in a food processor.
3. In a small pot, bring a cup of water to boiling, add garlic cloves and let them simmer for about 3 minutes until they soften. Drain and add to the chopped coriander. Add one cup of water, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Bring chicken stock to boil. Take out one cup and add to food processor with coriander. Whirl several times until a green purée forms.
5. Add coriander purée to the hot stock. Bring to boil and simmer for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it infuse for another 3 minutes.

6. Divide croutons between four bowls. Cover with each with a tbsp of cheese and pour over the soup.

7. Serve it hot.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chickpea Flour Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

In one of the Italian culinary magazines I found a chickpea (garbanzo) flour gnocchi recipe which seemed very easy and quick to make. It called only for two kinds of flour and there was no special preparation ahead. I could not wait to make them. I invited my Italian friend over to help me translate the recipe and to try the result. As it turned out it was her first time ever to make gnocchi. We had a lot of fun making them. I used a special mandolin, which I brought from Italy, and she used a fork to form them. Both methods were equally productive and in no time our delicious lunch was ready.

My friend wrote down the recipe to make it at home for her kids. She often asks me for the recipes of the dishes I make but for the first time in my life I introduced a true Italian to an Italian dish. All the ingredients used in the recipe are easily available in food stores and chickpea flour can be found in a diet section of food market or any Indian food store.

Chickpea Flour Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce
(Serves four)

1 cup chickpea flour,
1 cup all purpose bleached flour,
1 cup (150ml) water,
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese,
2 tbsp pine nuts,
15 fresh basil leaves,
2 garlic cloves,
1 can (14 oz) of crushed tomatoes,
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar,
salt and pepper.

1. Using a small food processor purée 10 basil leaves, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.
2. Mix both flours with 1/2 tsp of salt.
3. In a medium pot bring to boil 150 ml water. Pour in both flours and using a wooden spoon beat it until a smooth paste forms. Turn off the heat.
4. When the dough cools down a little bit, add basil paste, and working with hands knead a smooth dough.

5. On a working surface dusted with flour, roll out the dough into thin (about 1/2 inch-thick) snakes. Cut each into inch-long pieces. Using a mandolin, or squeezing each gently with a fork form gnocchi. Leave them to rest for 30 minutes.

6. In the meantime, heat the oil in a frying pot, add two pieces of garlic and fry it until gold. Discard the garlic from the oil and add crushed tomatoes, the remaining basil leaves, salt and pepper. Simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes.
7. Boil a large pot of water with salt. Dump in gnocchi and cook until they appear on the surface. Let them boil for about 5 minutes. Drain.
8. Transfer the gnocchi to serving plates and finish with tomato sauce.