Rick Stein is one of my absolute favourite TV chefs. He seems to me such a good personality, with his never ending passion for food that it’s almost infectious. He also is great story teller, with a good sense of humour. I loved his ‘Long weekends’ episodes and after watching it, I discovered Bologna. My sister lives just an hour away from Bologna, but every time visiting her, I never considered to visit this place, thinking of it more like a ‘bus or a train stop’ on the way to Tuscany or further a field. And only after watching an episode on Bologna by Rick Stein we decided to pay a visit, and so glad we that we did.
Then again, inspired by his other trip, we went to Sicily and fell in love with the country and its FOOD.
By coincidence, a friend of mine gave me his book (‘Long weekends’) for my birthday, I was thrilled. Not only does it take me back to those wonderful locations from the series and my own travels, it’s also packed with amazing food ideas, tips and techniques.
One of my highlights from this book is this recipe below. It takes only a few ingredients and no time to prepare at all, mainly waiting for it to be cooked.
CHICKEN WITH PRUNES, SAFFRON & PAPRIKA
(from Rick Stein’s ‘Long weekends’ book)
8 skinless chicken thighs
1 litre water
pinch of saffron
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 red onions, finely sliced
1.5 tablespoon sweet paprika
20 pitted prunes
1 teaspoon salt
blask pepper to taste
- Place the chicken thighs in a saucepan with the water and the saffron. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and allow to poach for 10-15 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
- In a large heavy bottomed pan heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and gently sweat the onion util very soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the paprika, cook for 2 minutes, then add the chicken thighs, about 700ml of the cooking liquid and the prunes. Season with the salt and pepper and simmer for about 20 minutes, until heated through.
- If at the end of the cooking it remains very watery, remove the chicken, prunes and onion with the slotted spoon and keep it warm while you reduce down the sauce until desired consistency.
- Serve it with some rice dish of your choice. I also love it with plain buttery buckwheat.
I’ve recently made this risotto for a dinner with the girls and it turned out to be a very successful dish. Considering that the ingredients are slightly unusual for a risotto, they work so well together. Rich and smooth without an overpowering beetroot flavour, and a pretty dish to serve.
BEETROOT RISOTTO WITH PRAWNS AND HORSERADISH
(Adapted from ‘Dinner at mine’ by Annie Nochols)
About 800g small raw beetroots
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 large tomato or 2 small ones, chopped
1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock
400g risotto rice
200ml dry white wine
250g cooked peeled prawns
fresh dill to garnish
3-4 teaspoons creamed horseradish
250ml soured cream to serve (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 190C. Clean the beetroots, leaving the skin on, trim any stringy roots. Wrap up each beetroot in foil and bake for about an hour or until tender. When cooked, remove the beets from the oven, let it cool before peeling away the skin. Grate the beetroots and set aside.
- For the risotto, heat the butter and the olive oil together in a large heavy-bottomed pan, add the chopped onion, celery, carrots and cook them on a moderate heat until golden colour and well softened.
- Then add the chopped tomatoes and continue to cook for another few minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the stock in another pan and bring to just below boiling point; keep on the heat.
- Add the rice to the vegetable and cook for about 3 minutes or until the grains are slightly translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Now add the grated beetroots.
- Then add a ladleful of the hot stock, stir in well and reduce the heat. Keep adding the stock, one ladleful a time, stirring and making sure that each ladleful has been absorbed before adding the next. You don’t need to stir the risotto all the time, but just make sure that it’s not sticking. Continue to cook until the rice is ready and very slightly al dente.
- Once risotto is cooked, remove the pan from the heat, check for seasoning, cover and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
- For the garnish, mix soured cream with the horseradish, chop the dill. (If you prefer, you can add horseradish straight to the risotto and omit soured cream.)
- To serve, spoon the risotto into bowls and top with the prawns, chopped dill and horseradish cream.
Lots of people I recently talked to, even some experienced travellers, never heard of town called Gubbio, one of the great Medieval stone towns in Italy. I don’t know why it gets overlooked by all sorts of tourists guides?
If you like history, Medieval architecture, Gothic palaces and churches, cobblestone streets, markets and good food, plus all in a beautiful natural setting, but far from the mainstream tourist flows, you don’t need to look any further. Go to Gubbio!
Lake Como is a timeless classic. For hundreds of years it’s been a popular destination with the rich and famous but there are plenty of things to do at Lake Como for the humble tourist. I found that it doesn’t matter how lavish looking are the hotels and restaurants around, the natural beauty of the Lakes and surroundings are taking advantage and overshadow everything else. So much beauty in one place!
Lots of people can be put off by thinking it’s the exclusive place of holidaying oligarchs and film stars (George Clooney has a place there). I also thought initially that it’ll be too much for our budget. But if you opt like we did for self-catering, it can be very affordable, because all the best things there, like breathtaking scenery, fresh air, swimming in the lakes, wonderful walks around are FREE!
We stayed in Bellagio – perhaps the most well known town on Lake Como, but the house we rented situated just outside of city centre, perched on very VERY steep hilltop. And although the walk to the town and back required physical effort at least twice a day (well, we have to burn off all these Apperitivi and gelato some how!), we were rewarded with peaceful surroundings and the most stunning views.
As the title suggest, these are not your usual loaded with Cheddar cheese straws, these are a much lighter version, made with the Cottage Curd Cheese /Twarog
You can snack on them, serve instead of bread with soups and dips, or even with tea and coffee, if you don’t have a sweet tooth. They are very addictive though.
Also there is no limit to toppings. Traditionally, they are sprinkled with caraway or poppy seeds, but you can sprinkle with whatever takes your fancy: paprika, linseeds, sesame seeds, curry powder, chopped nuts or as a sweet option with sugar and cinnamon.
COTTAGE CHEESE STRAWS
250g twarog cheese (available at Tesco or other Polish supermarkets)
250g butter, at room temperature
350g plain flour
2 eggs (1 — for a dough, 1 for the topping)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Options for topping:
- Beat the cheese with butter until smooth.
- Add the egg and sugar, beat again. Add the flour, salt and baking powder. Knead lightly until the dough comes together and is quite soft.
- On floured surface roll out to a of 7-8 mm thick and cut into sticks with a width and a length of about a finger.
- Place the cut out strips on a baking sheet, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with caraway seeds, sesame seeds or anything else of your choice.
- Bake in a preheated to 180C oven about 13-15 minters or until the straws are tender and golden brown.
Meatballs – one of those dishes which unites the nations, everybody cooks them, everybody loves them. But apparently, according to history, Romans knew better. When you ask an Italian about meatballs, you can get into all sorts of discussions about what goes in to a meatball. But one thing is (almost always) certain: they tell you that their mother, their grandmother or their aunt made the best polpette. Other then that, it can be debated how the meatballs should be served or eaten: on its own, with or without the sauce, or even with some pasta.
Today’s recipe is from wonderful Polpo book.
There is a bit of love required to make the tomato sauce but the polpette are a breeze and the combination of fennel and pork tastes great, just a little bit unusual. You can reduce the amount of chilli flakes or fennel seeds to suit your taste. The original recipe asks for 20g of fennel seeds (in comparison, standard supermarket’s jag is 34g), I wasn’t brave to put more than half of it, I added 10g only and it was plenty to my liking.
PORK AND FENNEL POLPETTE
For the sauce:
100ml extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
small pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 small handful of oregano, finely chopped
pinch of caster sugar
For the Polpette:
1.5 kg minced pork
3 medium free-range eggs
large pinch of dried chilli flakes
10g fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground in a pestle and mortar
salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- To make a sauce, heat half the oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion, garlic, salt, pepper and chilli on a medium heat for about 15 minutes. When transparent, add the fresh tomatoes and the rest of the oil and cook on a low-medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer. Leave to bubble on the lowest heat for about 1 hour. Turn off the heat and add the heat and add the oregano. Taste and see if it needs any sugar. When you’re pleased with the taste, blend together with a hand blender or in a food blender. Sometimes I like to leave my sauce chunky.
- To make meatballs, preheat the oven to 220C. Put the pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, chilli flakes, ground fennel seeds, salt and pepper into a large mixing bown and massage thoroughly. Roll into approx 45g balls, place them on a greased baking tray and roast in the oven for 10 minutes, turning once until they are starting to brown.
- Poach meatballs in the tomato sauce for 10 minutes.
- Serve on its own with some nice crusty bread or focaccia, or if you dare even with pasta.
I was given a bag of organic Jerusalem artichokes grown in a local allotment. Although it’s still a mystery why they are called artichokes, as they are more likely to come from potato family; and why they are ‘Jerusalem’, if they are originated from North America and has nothing to do with Holy Land.
However, I know that one of the best options to appreciate the delicate, sweet and slightly nutty flavour of this wonderful vegetable is soup.
JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE SOUP
(Adapted from BBC Food)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5-7 (depends on the size) artichokes, peeled, chopped
100ml white wine
300-400ml chicken or vegetable stock
50ml double cream
salt and pepper to taste
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter (do not allow to burn). Add the onion, cook gently until it has softened.
- Add the garlic, cook for another two minutes.
- Then add the artichokes, white wine and stock, continue to cook for 15 minutes or until the artichoke has softened. Pour the mixture in to the blender, add cream and blend mixture until smooth.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.