Jerusalem artichoke soup with leek and shallot

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Due to the snowy spring we are getting here in Europe, I am posting this soup I made in January, before Maria and I started our blog. It might be uneasy to find Jerusalem artichokes after March/April, but if you can get them, have a go! This is simply gorgeous stuff. It takes a bit of time, but it will reward you. Fully.

These tubers were already used by natives in north America and arrived in Europe from Brasil in the 1600s, via Portuguese importers. They then spread across western Europe quite quickly. Their name possibly comes from the misunderstanding of ‘girasole‘, sunflower in Italian, which resembles the word Jerusalem, as said by Italian immigrants in north America.

On the outside, Jerusalem artichokes look like ginger roots, but when you open them, they glow with a unique nacreous shine. Also their taste holds charming secrets, starting from a starch-less, soft potatoey crunch moving to a bitter-sweet nutty finish. I have tried them sautéed or roasted as a side dish, but this time I wanted something comforting, warm, and focused on their peculiar flavour. And in these days, I could really use them again to chase this cold away…

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‘[…retire therefore,] November, depart from this April!’

Jerusalem artichoke soup (serves 4)

500 g Jerusalem artichokes
1 shallot
1 leek
1/2 l vegetable broth
2 tbsp olive oil
a few rose petals

Start washing the tubers and scrub the bulgy edges with a potato peeler. Put them with one tbsp of oil in hot oven at 180°C/160ºC fan/gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When baked, take out and leave to cool at room temperature.

Meanwhile, finely chop the shallot and the leek, and pan fry them in a pot with one tbsp of oil at low heat. Let them slowly turn golden. When the Jerusalem artichokes have cooled down, peel them one by one–the skin will easily come off at this point. Dice them and add to the vegetable base in the frying pan, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, according to how big you have chopped them.

Remove from fire and blend together with warm vegetable stock. Don’t overdo the blending or you will lose the texture of the Jerusalem artichokes. Before serving, warm the soup again in the pot for a few minutes, drizzle with fresh olive oil, and decorate with the rose petals. This will warm you up.

by Max

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Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons

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These macarons came as an inspiration from watching far too many videos on Instagram. Working with chocolate can be rewarding but also pretty damming. Chocolate is very temperamental and needs to be very liquid when doing the straight lines. I had a real problem to transfer it from a bowl into my piping bag. But I found the easiest way was to put the piping bag into a high glass and wrap the end of the bag around the edges. This way I could use both hands, one to hold the bowl and another to scrape chocolate with spatula.

I like to sandwich my macarons with light filling if possible. The shell itself is fairly sweet so I usually try to find a way to avoid adding more sugar into the filling. Double cream is very easy to get in any of the shops and I think it works very well. But feel free to use whipping cream if you prefer.

Although I had to work this weekend, somehow I managed to find enough time and to pop to my favourite bookshop on Saturday. Waterstones at Piccadilly has an excellent selection of books and I was salivating over a number of patisserie books they had. No matter how many books I buy, I could still spend most of my monthly wages just on cookery books and random utensils for the kitchen. Unfortunately for my credit card, I even took pictures of books that will need to be purchased soon, very soon. I believe this matter is urgent….

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Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons (makes 18)

For the macaron shells
95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
pink food colouring (preferably gel)

For the filling
200 ml double cream
2 tbsp raspberry jam

For the decoration
35 g dark chocolate

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. Add a small bit of food colouring to the meringue. Mix thoroughly and add more colouring if needed. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubbles to come out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky when you touch with your finger. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake. Once baked, allow to cool down, then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven.

For the filling, whisk double cream until it is about to thicken. Then add raspberry jam and transfer to the piping bag. Pipe a small amount of the filling on one of the shells and sandwich together.

Melt chocolate in the microwave for 20-30 seconds until all melted. Transfer to the piping bag with a very fine round nozzle. You can practice your first lines with chocolate on the board. Place macarons all together on the board and pipe chocolate by making quick movements from tip to bottom of the tray. Chocolate needs to be fairly liquid so that the lines will be as straight as possible. Allow to set for about 20 minutes and then place the macarons into the fridge.

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Macarons need to ‘mature’ for at least 24 hours. Or in other words they taste better on the third day.

by Maria

Naughty pork fillet medallions in ginger and white wine sauce

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This is a quick and naughty version of a Parmesan dish called ‘La Rosa di Parma’, which is usually made with beef fillet, staffed with prosciutto crudo, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and cooked in a red wine sauce. To make my properly naughty version, I wrapped pork fillet in unsmoked streaky bacon and sage, I cooked it in white wine and ginger sauce, and served with pan-fried pak choi, fresh fennel, and maple syrup crispy bacon. I did say it is naughty, but in no way this dish will ever leave you disappointed or hungry at all. The dish comes from a mix of traditional Italian food, with some Anglicised flavours, and Asian ingredients. It would be difficult to put a pin on it; better to use a fork instead.

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This naughty pork fillet/tenderloin is pretty easy to prepare and takes reasonably little time. The hardest part was to find the cooking string, which I had to mooch off the butcher’s desk at my local supermarket. The ingredients are easily obtainable, at least here in London, almost any time of the year.

The original dish, La Rosa di Parma, is one of the town’s symbols, usually appearing on important occasion tables–that’s why it is made with expensive ingredients like the beef fillet, prosciutto crudo, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Lambrusco red wine, and Marsala wine. It truly encapsulates the city’s imperial heritage of Marie Louise in some of its endemic flavours, except the Marsala, of course. I opted for a more cost-contained version, still retaining some of the typical Parmesan ingredients.

I had to cheat using unsmoked bacon, because there was no pancetta, but their preparation remains similar enough to give you almost the same taste. I chose to prepare the pork with white wine and ginger, instead of red and Marsala wines, because this meat calls for a milder dressing than the beef fillet. Fennel and pak choi followed the same rationale to avoid overpowering the dish or covering the delicate intensity of this pork cut. The final taste is a soft, sweet pork main, glazed by a thin, spicy wine sauce, accompanied by a fresh green bite, candied up by the bacon crisps.

Naughty pork fillet medallions (serves 3)

1 pork fillet (whole)
12 unsmoked streaky bacon rashers
a few sage leaves
cooking string
2 tbsp olive oil
15 g butter
2 glasses of white wine
30 g fresh ginger
1 tbsp maple syrup

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Start with sealing the whole fillet on a hot pan with 1 tbsp of oil and the butter, at medium heat for about 5 minutes. Take it off the pan when it is golden all around and starting to get brown. Slice the fillet into medallions of the same thickness, about 3-4 cm–unless you need to serve some more cooked than others: in that case, slice accordingly.

Wrap each medallion with one rasher of unsmoked bacon (or one pancetta rasher, if you can find it), four or five sage leaves, and tighten all together with the cooking string. Once all medallions are prepared, put them back into the hot pan with your second tbsp of olive oil, at medium heat.

After a few minutes, when one side of the medallions is turning brown, raise to high heat, flip them cooked-side-up, and wash with the first glass of wine till reduced. Then lower again to medium heat and cook for another few minutes. When also the second side is cooked, repeat the reduction process with the second glass of wine. Add the ginger now, which you have pealed and sliced, with a couple of shallot rings that you will not serve.

In the meantime, you can start preparing the remaining bacon rashers in another frying pan. You will add the maple syrup only at the end, after you added salt and they are cooked on both sides. The syrup will caramelise the bacon and get it crunchy like a crisp. Slice the washed fennel, and start preparing the pak choi, washing it and separating the leaves.

Once the pork is cooked on both sides, the bacon wrap should also be pink ready. Take the medallions off the pan, leave the remaining sauce to char the pak choi in a couple of minutes at high heat. Serve hot. Eat. And feel guiltily satisfied. Naughty…

 

by Max

 

Vegetarian impromptu: avocado amuse-bouche and warm potato peperonata

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A sunny Sunday in London is a gift, particularly for an Italian guy. And sun makes you want to eat simple, colourful food. The kitchen was pretty much empty, so this happened. The avocado helped keeping the stomach busy while I was preparing the potato peperonata for main course.

First, I cut in half an avocado and dressed with salt, oil, and three drops of balsamic vinegar. I like to eat it off its skin with a spoon–apologies to Pixar’s Wall-e fans, no robot was harmed in feeding this human…

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This simplest amuse-bouche gave me time and energy to see what else could be done with the few ingredients left in the kitchen. I found a few new potatoes and three red peppers, a couple of almond flakes (leftovers from the courgette pesto risotto), and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in my fridge. Enough to prepare a lighter version of peperonata.

Originally, this Sicilian dish was a simple sauté mix of peppers cooked with onions and tomato sauce, something you would have had with bread pretty much, and nothing else. It is a dish that then started to be used on the side of meat and even as a pasta sauce, but its humble origins confirm it was meant to be eaten alone, till you were stuffed. This version is stripped of the heavier base and finds potatoes as a good substitute for the bread. I cooked it in the oven in a little more than half hour.

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Potato peperonata (serves 2)

500 g new potatoes
3 red peppers
20 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
a few almond flakes
2 tbsp oil

Start washing, drying, and cutting the peppers. Lay the pepper slices on an over tray lined with foil, add some salt on the peppers, and leave in hot oven on grill (240°C/gas 9) for about 6-7 minutes. They will lose some water and get a little firmer.

Meanwhile, wash, dry, and cut potatoes. Lay them cut-face up and add a pinch of salt. Take the peppers out of the oven, add the potatoes, and mix all together with the oil.

Place the tray in hot oven at 220°C/gas 7 for about 30 minutes. You can give the vegetables a quick toss during their cooking, but keep the oven closed and hot all the time.

Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and flaked almonds. Eat it hot, warm, or even cold. And remember to enjoy the sun!

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by Max

Sweet Treats: Chocolate & Pomegranate tart

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Chocolate is easy to combine with most fruits and I particularly love the combination of the rich red pomegranate and the dark chocolate. This tart is fairly rich, so be warned, you might want to eat it in one go. I was also taken by shortcrust pastry and how easy it is to make. Adding various colours and also flavour to the pastry makes it more personal. My hands are always cold so I don’t have to ever worry about melting the butter. You can use this basic recipe for sweet and also for savoury tarts. Feel free to replace it with one bought in a shop (you will need about 350 g).

When making the filling, remember that chocolate tends to fall down to the base. So ensure you mix it very well bringing the chocolate from the bottom of the bowl.

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Sweet Treats: Chocolate and Pomegranate Tart (serves 8-10)

For the shortcrust pastry
200 g plain flour
100 g cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 tbsp of cold water
red or pink food colouring

For the chocolate filling
100 g dark chocolate and 100  of white chocolate
6 tbsp melted butter
2 eggs and 3 egg yolks
4 tbsp caster sugar

1 pomegranate and cocoa powder to for dusting

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To make shortcrust pastry, toss and coat cubes of butter with flour, then with your fingertips rub the butter into the flour until it forms breadcrumbs. Shake the bowl every now and then to allow larger cubes come to the surface. Add water and food colouring, keep mixing with a rounded knife which will prevent transferring heat from your hands to the dough. Finally, gather the dough with you hands and kneed on lightly floured surface until you have a smooth ball. Roll out the dough on a flat surface to a slightly larger size than the tart tin (around 5 cm extra). Carefully place pastry on the rolling pin and transfer to the tin. Press lightly into the corners ensure not air bubbles are left on the base of the tin. Chill for 20-30 minutes.

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Heat the oven for 200°C (or 180°C fan/gas 6). Prick the base of the tart with a fork to create holes. Place baking parchment on the pastry and fill with baking beans to weight it down. Bake for 15 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and put back into the oven for another 5 minutes. Once the pastry is done, trim the edges so they are nice and smooth. Use a sharp knife to prevent breaking big chunks of pastry.

To prepare the filling, lower the oven to 180°C (or 160°C fan/gas 4). Melt both dark and white chocolate in a bowl over slightly simmering water. Then stir the melted butter. Whisk the eggs and sugar together with electric whisk until pale and thick. This would take about 10 minutes. Be patient: if the eggs are not whisked enough, then the mixture will not rise in the oven. Fold in the melted and cooled chocolate with a large spoon. Mix very carefully so you will not knock out the air. Transfer into the tart tin and put into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the surface of the tart is puffed and set. The tart will still have a bit of a wobble. Take out of the oven and allow to cool down. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

Once ready to be served sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and cocoa powder.

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by Maria

Courgette pesto risotto with almond flakes and pine kernels

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Risotto is a vital part of my food. It says heritage and cooking experience to me. The options are always many, the last one was a fresh discovery. This risotto is cooked in courgette pesto and its flavour makes it a light, green-tasting new tint for me. The courgettes are prepared raw with cheese and some nuts, and then cooked with the rice. It takes little time to prepare and it is worth it.

Italian food has honoured courgette for centuries, literally. Arriving in Europe with the ingredients from the ‘New World’, courgettes were at the beginning confused for the European pumpkin, which was already widely diffused. Already in the seventeenth century, Italian courgettes from Modena were renowned for their versatility in the kitchen and for apothecaries uses.

Courgettes are the kind of vegetables that you go and get from the garden at home, and that is why they are prepared in so many ways, from vernacular roots to a posh finish, across Italy’s many local traditions. This version is geographical catch, because risotto is typically cooked in Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto, pesto comes from Liguria, and green courgettes are equally diffused north and south of the Boot.

Courgette pesto risotto (serves 4)

400 g rice Carnaroli–ideally, otherwise Arborio
1 l vegetable broth
1 glass of white wine
1 shallot
200 g courgette
20 g basil
1 clove of garlic
20 g pine kernels
10 g almond flakes
50 g goat cheese
oil

Start with washing the courgettes, cut extremities off, and shave each one at a time through a grater. Add a pinch of salt and let them drain some liquid.

Wash the basil leaves and blend with pine kernels, almonds, the cleaned garlic clove, and a tablespoon of oil–keep a few nuts for the serving decoration. Add the courgettes and another bit of oil. Your pesto has to look and feel soft and even.

Warm the oil in the pan, add chopped shallot till golden, and then raise the fire to toast the rice. After the first few minutes, the rice starts to lightly toast and smell very ‘cerealy’: add now the wine and let it reduce. Lower the fire and let cook for about 18 minutes adding the broth from time to time. Add your courgette pesto at the end with the very last bit of broth. Instead of creaming with butter, add the goat cheese and mix.

Serve with a sprinkle of the remaining pine kernels and almond flakes.

by Max

Sweet Treats: Lemon Macarons

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Macarons have become my weekend treat. I enjoy making them and find it ever so satisfying to come up with new flavours and colour combinations. There really isn’t too much to it. Just ground almonds, sugar, eggs and of course food colouring.

I have been obsessed with perfecting my chocolate macarons. It takes a little bit of time to get the mixture right and also learn to use a right oven temperature. But this time I was tempted to make a colourful and fresh citrusy tasting ones. Lemon curd is a great filling as it contains butter, therefore it is really easy to pipe. Plus you will most probably have some leftover lemon curd that could be used for next time. If you don’t fancy making it, then shop bought one will be just fine.

My friend watched me the other day when I was banging the baking tray to get rid of the air from the macaron shells. She thought I was upset and that it didn’t work. However, she did laugh after I explained that it is super important to knock the air out so that the shells are not hollow. She probably think I am insane but then again she is too polite to say anything.

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Sweet Treats: Lemon Curd Macarons

For macaron shells
95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
green food colouring (preferably gel)

For lemon curd
65 ml fresh lemon juice
65 g caster sugar
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
65 g unsalted cold butter, cut into small chunks
pinch of salt

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. This allows the macarons to develop their characteristic shine. Add a tiny bit of food colouring to the meringue. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubbles to come out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky when you touch with your finger. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake. Once baked, allow to cool down, and then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven. However, remember that the tray will be hot and will continue to cook the shells even after you take it out of the oven.

For the lemon curd, whisk eggs with sugar, then add lemon juice and place over the bain marie. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens and continue to cook for further 5 minutes. The curd is ready when it coats the back of the spoon and you should be able to draw a path through it. Remove the curd from the heat and quickly whisk in the cold butter until it is completely dissolved and glossy. Transfer the curd into a clean bowl and allow to cool. Place the cling-film over the top of the curd to prevent the skin formation.

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Pipe lemon curd onto one macaron shell and then sandwich together. Macarons will keep for 4-5 days in the fridge.

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by Maria

Pink linguine

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This is a light version of the classic pasta dish salmon linguine. I play with the contrast between the salmon’s sweetness and the acidity of three types of pepper, while the dish rejoices in its beautiful pink glow.

Salmon linguine are a classic of the Italian cuisine. You can possibly find them anywhere and usually come in a rich, creamy sauce, often gallantly edged by bits of fresh dill. Today, I wanted to stay a bit lighter and to focus my tease on the salmon flavour. So, instead of cooking the fish in onions and cover it with cream, I prepared it in a lighter shallots base, and decided to exalt its taste with different types of spices, chives, and rose petals.

The colour of the salmon’s flesh mutates during cooking, from a deep, almost blood orange red, to a softer, pastel cipria pink. And this optical transformation calls for a taste pairing, specifically in the choice of spices. The first two I have used are Sichuan ‘pepper’ (which is not really a pepper) and pink peppercorn berries; the third spice I have only used as dressing is ground Egyptian black pepper. The citrusy smell of Sichuan ‘pepper’ gives a phenomenal tangy, lemony punch in the final dish flavour, so it is better to use it parsimoniously. The pink peppercorns are a perfect match for the Sichuan, which opens the buds in your mouth for a proper hot kick delivered by the pink berries. Their acidity and hotness encourage the soothing flavour of the salmon flesh, which I have cooked with a few pine kernels and some finely chopped fresh chives. The grand finale is given by the rose petals, which are not there just to look pretty: they literally wrap all edges and excesses of sweet and sourness up in a delicate perfumed finish.

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Pink Linguine (serves 2)

200 g linguine
220 g fresh salmon fillets (wild Alaskan Sockeye used here)
1 tbsp oil
1 shallot
1 glass of white wine
1 tbsp Sichuan pepper
1 tbsp pink peppercorns
pine kernels (ad lib)
a few chives
ground Egyptian black pepper
1 tbsp of rose petals

The salmon sauce can be prepared while your linguine are cooking in salted boiling water, usually about 11 minutes. Start chopping the shallots, while the oil is warming up in the pan. Gently golden the shallots; in the meantime, dice the salmon up, once you have filleted it off the skin, and add it to the shallot base.

Control the fire: higher to warm up the oil, lower to golden the shallots, high again as soon as you add the salmon, because here you need to quickly simmer the fish with white wine till it is reduced. And then lower it again, so that the salmon retains its moisture. Add now pine kernels, Sichuan pepper and pink peppercorns, and let the salmon transform into those nice light pink flesh flakes. Add the chopped chives at the last second.

You can cheat here, and add 1 tbsp of spreadable cheese, to make your sauce creamier. But if you control the heat and the wine reduction, you will not need it.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it but keep a little bit–half a cup–of the cooking water: add this to the sauce pan, add the pasta, and mix evenly. Before serving, dust with black pepper, add the rose petals, and two longer chives.

by Max