Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pork with Peaches, Honey and Red Wine

Previous entries from Pigs in the City now on ...Image via Wikipedia
Once again, this recipe has resulted from a peculiar form of serendipity: I open my fridge an hour before dinner and discover I'm missing a whole lot of things and have to make do with what happens to be in there (ok, I'll confess to a small sin: I'm often too lazy to go shopping!). On that particular day: pork, peaches and potatoes...

The peaches threatened to mature to the point of being quite inedible! So I had no choice but cook them and I used what I had - a few slices of pork cut in the fillet part, but pork scallops would be equally good for this recipe.

It's really very easy to do and the fruit goes superbly well with the pork! 

Ingredients for 4 persons
-  one pound/500 g of pork in slices (or more if you're very carnivorous), trimmed of fat and floured
-  3 or 4 peaches, peeled and in pieces
-  2 tablespoons honey
-  small glass of red wine
-  one teaspoon of Knorr or Maggi's powdered meat broth or one cube of same, or better still "fond de veau" (but as fas as I know that can only be found in France)
-  salt and pepper to taste

Start with the peach sauce. Peel the fruit and cut it in rough pieces. Put everything - the fruit, the meat cube or powder, honey and wine - in a lidded pot (better if teflon-lined) and cook on a slow fire  until soft. It takes about ten minutes. Be sure to cover your pot so it doesn't dry and add freshly ground pepper at the last minute.

Put a little salt over the pork slices then flour them, shaking off the excess. Pan-fry them (I use a teflon pan with a little olive oil) until golden. Set on a serving dish with boiled potatoes (you can also pan-fry them in oil to make them tastier and prettier) and pour the peach sauce over the meat.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Gnocchi alla Greca, Greek-style with Feta Cheese and Tomatoes...mmmm!

A scanned red tomato, along with leaves and fl...Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday for dinner, it was too late to buy anything and I was stuck with potato gnocchi, a big slice of Feta cheese and a bunch of garden tomatoes ripe and red, the best variety, the one that comes straight from one's own garden...

Perhaps "stuck" is not the right word, because putting these ingredients together I stumbled on a marvellous way of accomodating gnocchi! Really, a super simple recipe that is guaranteed to surprise your friends! Ok, in this case I'll admit I'm not modest and I'm quite pleased with the result. Believe me, you should try it too: the tart taste of the feta cheese is nicely smoothed out by the fresh tomatoes and herbs and they both do wonders for the gnocchi that are, after all, a rather bland, non-descript affair...

Ingredients for 4 persons

750 g  (close to 2 pounds) potato gnocchi (if you want to make them yourself, I've attached below a useful recipe but I confess that I simply buy them at the supermarket)
750 g tomatoes, very red, peeled
300 g of Feta cheese or more if you so desire: use it grated very roughly or crumbled
Herbs to taste: oregano (a tablespoon), sage, marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste


Note there's no olive oil, indeed no fat at all in the ingredients. You get all the fat you need from the cheese. Of course, if you insist, you can add a little oil at the moment of mixing the gnochi in the tomato sauce but I don't do it because I feel it detracts from the fresh taste of the tomatoes: after all, oil puts a film between your taste buds and the tomatoes!

Note there's no onion or garlic either. Of course you can put them in (finely chopped) but I don't because, in my opinion, they detract from the tomato taste and are wholly unnecessary. Gnocchi are a delicate food and don't go well with an overwhelming sauce.

Start with a large pot of boiling water in which to drop the tomatoes, fish them out with a spoon and peel them. Don't throw the water away: you can use it to boil the gnocchi (once you've added the necessary salt). Mash the tomatoes up and put in a teflon-lined pot (I use earthenware but then I live in Umbria and such pots are traditional here). Place on a medium flame and reduce the tomatoes, mashing them occasionally with a wooden fork (no metal! It spoils the taste). It should take you about 10 minutes or less. In any case, don't cook your tomatoes too long (15 minutes is a maximum) or they'll become difficult to digest and loose their fresh taste. Your sauce will look lumpy and that's all right (more tasty!) but if you hate lumpiness, you can always put it through the blender (I don't).

Add herbs, salt and pepper to your tomato sauce. Taste it: it may be too acid if your tomatoes are not properly sun-ripe. In that case add a teaspoon of sugar or more, to taste.

Now boil your gnocchi and when they float up, spoon them out into your pot with the tomato sauce. Warm up the whole lot on a low flame and mix. Pour into a warm serving dish and sprinkle generously with crumbled or grated Feta cheese all over the gnochi. DON'T mix it at this point. People as they serve themselves will find the tomato sauce and gnocchi underneath the cheese and it will get naturally mixed in their plate. This is important because mixing in advance destroys the cheese's flavour. Incidentally, that is also the way Sicilians prepare their famous Pasta alla Norma: with dried salted ricotta cheese sprinkled all over the pasta and NOT inside (in spite of what some Internet chefs say).
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pasta with Smoked Salmon: a totally different recipe and success guaranteed !

Fettucine with Smoke Salmon in Cream SauceImage by nadi0 via Flickr
Most pasta recipes with smoke salmon use a cream sauce to which you add the chopped salmon. Results are often hugely disappointing. All too often, the cream sauce clogs up when the pasta cools, and as you finish your plate, you find it all sticky and gummy.

Not too surprising.

Any pasta sauce that is cream-based is guaranteed to cool off very, very fast! Another problem is with the smoked salmon itself: it is very delicate and difficult to manipulate. It doesn't suffer any heating without losing all its colour and flavour - so if you try to keep your cream sauce warm so that it remains nice and liquid, this will have the unwanted effect of turning your salmon from pink to an unappetizing white shade. It will have a flaky texture and a flat taste. In short, a disaster!

Here's a way to accomodate pasta with smoked salmon WITHOUT running into all these problems. It has a nice salmony taste and never becomes sticky when it cools down. It is in fact just as good at room temperature, so that you can easily use this recipe when you are making a buffet for friends and have to cook in advance and leave the dish standing on the table for half-an-hour or more.

Ingredients: quantities given here are for 4 persons.

- Any kind of pasta will do: fettuccine, pappardelle, penne, farfalle...Follow directions on your package and assume you'll need to cook 80 g of pasta per male guest and 50 g per female guest (I mean the dry pasta - for the fresh variety, raise the amount to 120g and 80 g respectively) 
-   One cup1/2 of ripe, red, fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped fine
-   2 tablespoons of butter
-   1 tablespoon olive oil
-   1 tablespoon grated bottarga or if you can't find it, use powdered fish broth (for example Knorr's fish broth is excellent)
-   1/2 cup (or more, to taste) of fresh, roughly chopped rucola
-   a small glass of Vodka
-   smoked salmon: 200g chopped
-   abundant pepper 


The thing to remember - it's crucial - is to set aside your chopped salmon and add it to the pasta only AFTER you've mixed the pasta in the sauce and the dish has had a chance to cool down.

The first thing to do, apart from setting your water boiling as soon as you walk in the kitchen, is to start preparing the pasta sauce. It is super-easy and requires no cooking (except for peeling the tomatoes by dropping them for a minute in boiling water - in fact, I always use the water in which I cook the pasta for peeling my tomatoes, saves on pots to clean!)

You melt the butter and put all the ingredients in a serving dish and let it sit there while the pasta cooks. Neither the rucola nor the tomatoes need any cooking. Indeed, the tomatoes should be chopped as fine as you can make them, and dropped into the sauce together with their juice. In case you're wondering why I suggest adding olive oil since I've started with butter, it is simply because it ensures a creamier texture, as the oil prevents the butter of going hard on you when it cools.

Then, when the pasta is cooked (and you've set aside in a cup some of the cooking water in case you need it), you simply turn it into your sauce. If it looks dry, just add some of the water in which the pasta has cooked, nothing else and certainly not olive oil or butter. There's no need for additional grease, it would only cover up the taste! When it looks well coated and slighlty liquid at the bottom, turn in the chopped salmon and serve. Btw, with this kind of dish there's no need for Parmigiano cheese.

But do have white wine with it and let me know how you like it!

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