Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Spaghetti with Gorgonzola, Caramelized Garlic & Lemon

I discovered this little gourmet deli near my house in Rome -- ok, all delis are essentially gourmet in Italy, but this is like extra gourmet with truffled anchovies and gold speckled mozzarella and stuff.  The owner was...enthusiastic.  Ten minutes in that tiny store and he'd used the word "fantastic" and its synonyms 50 times.  The tuna's superb, the parmesan's extraordinary, the salami's marvelous.  Everything in the store is just fab.  Just fantastic.   What an obnoxious little man.  But anyway, I felt awkward not buying anything at the end (I'm just the perfect customer) and so out of all the fantastic products, I decided to try some champagne gorgonzola.
It was pretty good. But I don't even know why I opted for that because gorgonzola's not even one of my favorite cheeses.  I was under pressure.  It was good and I really enjoyed it with bread this morning, but then I decided to make a pasta out of it. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Traditional Arancine

I did a proper research on how to make these bad boys.  After countless cook books, blogs, online recipes, videos and my father's stories, I decided to give them a go and I succeeded.  Yes, pat on the back, Maria, pat on the back.  I just should've been more generous with the filling as it can be seen from the photographs..
 Not that I don't usually do such copious amount of research before I make something for Happy Belly *cough*.  Anyway.  These little golden crispy rice balls are amazing. They're Sicilian and in Palermo they're female (arancin-a) while in Catania they're male (arancin-o).  I thought I'd make them female as a dedication to my former Palermian colleagues in Berlin (Cate & Fede).  I remember they invited me for an arancina party and Fede had enough to feed a village.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Orange Cantucci

 Pastries, desserts, cookies and other baked goods can often go wrong.  Sometimes there are variables beyond our control or simply not considered by us - the temperature of the room, the conditions of the oven, the egg size etc.  My mother's never been good at the sweets department, but for her, the reason was obvious, she always f*cking halved the amount of sugar.  My Chinese mother didn't grow up in the kitchen watching her mother bake.  In her time, Chinese sweets were bought, no one made desserts at home.  And Chinese people aren't too into sweets in the first place - they're just sort of left with a hole at the end of a big meal.  Nothing to really...finish up the palate....

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Olive Oil Crumbly Biscuits

"You need better-looking cookie cutters" My mom said as I pulled the tray out of the oven.  Here in our house in Italy I only have a set of poker suit cookie cutters.  I thought they were cute, but my mother likes classic cookie shapes.  She also likes classic flavor combinations and classic recipes, and laments every time I do something slightly different.  "I hope they teach you this at culinary school, what foods shouldn't go with what. You do all these crazy things and you'll make your guests sick one day in your restaurant"  She said, after I explained the concept of surf and turf to her.  And I did the usual eye-rolling, forehead-banging-rhythmically-on-the-table routine as she droned on about what her Chinese medicine books say.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Salt-Baked Fish

This may seem barbaric to you, but when I was small I loved eating fish eyeballs. My Chinese grandmother would encourage me to eat it, and little me would just pick out the eyes with my chopsticks and suck on that gelatinous blob with great satisfaction and spit out the white iris or whatever it was. I also ate chicken feet – gnawed on those things like chicken wings. Again, because of the Chinese grandmother. Now I cringe at the thought of eating either. This dish brings back these memories for in China you would always serve the fish whole. In the West if you order a salt-baked fish for instance, the waiter would show you the fish whole. then take it to the side, fillet it and serve it to you. That’s the standard procedure. However, the other evening I went to a dreadful restaurant in Rome, which I will not name because I’m nice, and the waiter just left me with the big platter of salt baked fish. He came, showed it to me, I looked at the waiter, giving him my sign of approval – “Yes it’s beautiful, you may fillet it for me” my eyes said. Yet he just put it in front of me and left. I was puzzled and embarrassed, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it. So I was there with my fish knife and my fork and I gently tapped the crust and nothing happened. Then I tapped with some force and coarse sea salt went everywhere. Obviously I’m inept, Sir, especially with this stupid fish knife, my eyes said, as the waiter shot a judgmental glance at me. Then he asked if I’d like him to fillet it and I said yes please and he did. At the end it was a good piece of fish, it’s hard to mess up salt-baked fish. However, the restaurant overall was just meh.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Octopus with Gazpacho, Mozzarella & Green Beans

My father says that my grandfather used to catch his own octopuses (/octopi?) and would bite down on them and beat the life out of them with a hammer before cooking them.  This was supposed to tenderize the meat.  Now I got my octopus from the market, I kind of gently tapped it a few times with a meat tenderizer..and it was okay.  Admittedly it could have been more tender.....next time but I felt awkward exerting that much force and anger onto a poor octopus. 
Do you know how octopuses mate?  The male octopus inserts one arm into the female's head. Sometimes the arm just detaches, so the male essentially gives the female his arm until she is ready to fertilize the legs.   I saw this on QI heehee.

Anyway, back to the consumption of octopuses ---  so how do you cook an octopus.  The guides here and here are quite helpful.  Most recipes call for you to poach it in some sort of homemade stock with aromatics but I just poached it in water. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

How to: Potato Gnocchi

The variety of gnocchi in the world is as large as my childhood coin collection.  Yes, I was that kid.  I collected coins and soft drink cans/bottles.  The latter grew quite big as well before my mother told me to get rid of them as they filled up too many of my shelves.  I also collected model cars, but they were expensive as I only got them from proper Ferrari stores and such so that wasn't enough to call it a collection.  Anyway, I digress, back to gnocchi.  There are those made with potatoes, flour and egg; potatoes, semolina and egg; semolina and flour; potatoes and flour; those made with a choux base; those that include spinach or squid ink; those made with ricotta etc etc. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


For some people it's chocolate, for some it's peanut butter. These savory Italian biscuits are one of my many weaknesses.  I eat one, I eat two and the next thing I know it's all gone.  They're delicious.
 There's this Italian deli back where I went to school and they would sometimes have a bowl of taralli out as samples.  And I'd always pop in, pretend to be interested in the overpriced goods, and then take two taralli and leave.  Shameless, I know.  It's not that I was cheap and I didn't want to buy a whole bag of it, it's that I knew if I bought a whole bag I'd eat the whole bag before I get back home.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

How to: Candied Ginger

Today was a day of successes and failures.  Successes: candied ginger and tomato sauce.  Failures: burnt ginger gooseberry jam and eating too much mediocre tiramisu.  The latter two left me kind of sad.  However, rather than dwelling on the failures in life, we should celebrate the successes, and we need to celebrate these candied ginger pieces.
 They're so easy to make.  My mom had bought a pack of candied ginger and I got annoyed - I hate buying things that can be made at home.  That's also why I get annoyed when my mother buys jam! And that's why I tried making jam today but okay I've burnt jam a couple of times already.  I just forget about it until I smell the burnt sugar.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Courgettes, Herbs & Cheese

There's a lot to love about summer - sunshine, warmth, sandals and shorts, but most of all, the produce.  All the best stuff comes in the summer and right now in the UK you've got'em berries, cherries, lettuce and cucumbers.  In Italy it's currently the season for squash blossoms.
My sister loves her squash blossoms.  They're gorgeous, aren't they?  They're very delicate as well - I may have overstuffed them so the filling was overpowering.  Just one tbsp of the filling should suffice.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Italian White Wine Cookies

I was at the Eataly in Rome today, which is essentially a Disneyland of Italian food, and they had a huge section for really good, top-quality cookies.  I don't know if you, my dear loyal reader, have noticed, but with this post included, I have 70 recipes under the tag Cookies and Sweets.  That is why I never buy cookies.  No matter how tempting and delicious they look in those packages or at the counter of bakeries, I always think I can make it myself.  It's not so much an ego thing as a cheap thing really.  Why spend £4 for a package of cookies when it just consists of cheap staple ingredients like flour and sugar?  Make it yourself. 

So I moved out of my flat a few days ago, and as I had packed away all my kitchen stuff, I couldn't cook, so I went to the supermarket and properly explored the ready-made microwave food section.  Yes, as a university student it took me 4 years to actually stop by that aisle.  I always think I can make it myself and ok, maybe not always with cookies, but with ready made stuff, I know I can make it better myself.  Well, I thought so at least -- my mind was blown.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for good packaging (hats off to the Tesco Finest packaging designers), but my goodness, I see why people don't cook anymore.  The curries, noodles, lasagne, stir-fries, roasts, they all looked delicious.  And the variety!  The expensive ranges of course.  The cheap value ranges looked doubtful, as expected.
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