Pasta alla Norma and the travel itch

 

The love to travel!!! I wonder sometimes if I was conceived while my parents were travelling.

To scratch a bit the travel itch (or to intensify it….I still can’t decide what the effect was) I started looking at pictures I took during some of my trips and a particular one brought back tasty memories – the trip to Sicily.

Sicily is one of those places where you don’t necessarily travel to visit historic places or to see natural beauties, but you go to stuff your face, you get your taste buds totally nuts.

I think I can place it next to my favourite foodies trips like Thailand, Greece in general and Crete in particular, Spain, France, Mexico or the rest of Italy. And this is not because Sicily doesn’t have to offer great natural wonders, just to mention here Mount Etna and you know that this island is simply gorgeous. The greek, roman, arab , french and spanish influences  make this island particularly interesting in terms of food, architecture or people.

One of my first encounters with food in Sicily was Pasta alla Norma.

This is one of the classic sicilian dishes, bringing together the amazing flavours of eggplants, tomatoes, basil and garlic.

The story of this dish says that it was compared by Nino Martoglio, an Italian writer and poet, which was impressed with the deep flavours of the dish, with the splendor of Bellini’s opera Norma. Bellini was sicilian himself, born in Catania, no wonder he could create such perfect sounds after eating such this kind of food.  Perhaps would I turn into a soprano if I would live in a place with such amazing flavours. Difficult to belive it as I have one of the worst voice I have heard, but its worth trying or at least dreaming :-)

The recipe is very easy and fast, getting you dinner in no time, the only down side is that you will be hooked on it for a while.

pasta alla Norma

serves 4

400 – 500 grams of casarecce or rigatoni

2 eggplants

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of chopped garlic

chilli pepper flakes

salt, pepper

1 can tomato paste or 8 chopped medium tomatoes

6-8 leaves of basil

ricotta salata

optional : chopped pistachio

Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the package.
Cut the eggplants into slices, salt them and let them rest for half an hour, to make sure they won’t turn bitter during cooking. Dry the eggplants with a paper towel and then cut the eggplant into small cubes.
In a pan heat olive oil, add the chopped garlic and the chilli flakes and saute for half a minute. Add the cubed eggplants and saute until golden. Add the tomato sauce, salt, pepper to taste. One of the tricks I am using to make sure the sauce is not turning sourish is to add half a teaspoon of sugar and few drops of balsamic vinegar. Cook for about 10 minutes, Midway add chopped basil to the sauce.

Once the pasta is al dente, drain and toss over the tomato sauce. Give a quick stir and pour in a serving plate. Finish by grating some ricotta salad and chopped pistachios on top of it.
P.S. Big, big THANK YOU to Caroline of Patterned Plate for the Liebster blog award, more about it in a future post.

Happy 2012 !

Happy 2012!

It is a bit late to wish everybody a happy 2012, but better do it later than never. I thought this year I will be more active on the blogging side, however until now I failed miserably at it. I abandoned my blog for quite a while, but now I am back …and I am back with a new type of recipe. 

No, my new years resolution is not to drink more alcohol :-). But I discovered this cocktail a while ago and I thought it would be good to share it. First time I tried the virgin version, but I must admit, the spiked one has its advantages.

It is based on the idea of a mojito, but there are few extra ingredients in it, that make it a bit more special:

rum

limesraspberries & mintand lychee

lychee mojito

Ingredients

5-6 fresh mint leaves

6-7 lychees (canned or fresh)

1 tablespoon sugar

the juice of one lime or half lime (depending of your taste)

30-50 ml rum

150 ml club soda or lychee syrup (if you use the canned fruits)

2-3 raspberries

ice

Place the mint leaves in a cocktail shaker and muddle them together with the lychees and sugar. Add the lime juice, rum and ice. Top up with club soda/lychee syrup. Shake well and strain it in chilled glasses decorated with sugar. Garnish with raspberries, lychees and mint leaves.

Alternatively, you can omit the alcohol, makes a great drinks for kids.

Tweak a bit the taste by puree-ing some raspberries in.

Merry Christmas & Macarons !!!

Merry Christmas!!

Finally that time of the year came again. Despite being busy, rushing around to do so many things like this is the end of the world and not only the end of the year, I like Christmas time so much. It is the time to be together with the family, to enjoy a bit of peace and quietness and eat a lot of food. Well, that last part is great, I can get to cook whatever, without looking like I am insane. And for this special time, I wanted to try something a bit more challenging and different – THE MACARONS.

A while ago, I mentioned the fabulous macarons that I tried in Paris and since then  I’ve been gathering some courage to try reproduce them at home. Meanwhile, I read gazillion recipes, learned all kind of secrets about the perfect way of making the fearful macarons. The macarons are supposed to be very, very finicky little beasts :-) .  I read that you can get disastrous results if you breathe around them, if the day is too humid, if the chicken was stress or tired when it made those eggs that you are going to use, if the almonds did not get enough sun, if your kitchen is not following the feng shui concepts and so on.

Well, they are not as difficult to make as the rumor has it. I made them once, I danced and sung in my kitchen like a fool for an hour, guess my neighbours still think I am insane. Hallelujah, I made it!!

I thought it was just a coincidence, a little mistake, beginners luck. Well, second time they worked again, third time I though…oh well, these things are not that difficult to tame. I am not sure this is a good thing or a bad thing, cause since I then I can’t stop making them, just to make sure various flavours work together  :).

And here is the recipe that I followed each time and worked like a charm…each time.

macarons

yields 12  macarons

60 g almond meal

100 g powdered sugar

50 g egg whites

15 g granulated sugar

food coloring gel

Start by lining the baking trays with baking paper. Make sure the paper is properly attached to baking tray so it doesn’t move around when you start piping the macarons. Meanwhile prepare a piping bag with a round tip or simply a plastic sandwich bag by cutting off one of the corners.

To prepare the macaron batter: weigh the almond meal and the powdered sugar. I usually place them in the food processor and blend them for a bit, to make sure they are very fine. Stiff the almond/sugar mixture in a dry bowl.

Weigh the egg whites in a dry mixing bowl (glass or copper work fine for me) . Beat the eggs on low-speed until form soft peaks. Sprinkle the granulated sugar and beat until the meringue forms stiff peaks and the sugar is dissolved.

Add the food colouring (if using any) and mix. Fold 1/4 of the egg white into the almond/sugar mixture until well combined. Add 1/2 of the remaining egg white and fold in gently. Add the remaining egg whites and fold again gently until the batter has a lava-like consistency (well, it means it is not very runny but rather viscous).  First time I tried making the macarons I started counting the strokes – the rule says you should not fold for more than 50 times. I think I had to stop counting around 40, when the batter gained a consistency that seemed right to me. No clue if that was the right time, however the macarons turned out fine :-).

Pour the batter into the piping bag and pipe circles of batter on the baking paper, leaving a bit of space in between them, to make sure they won’t stick to each other during drying and baking.

Let them dry out for 30 minutes – 1 hour.

Bake at 140 C for about 20-30 minutes or until the shells are dry and baked.

pistachio -white chocolate ganache

150 ml whipping cream

70 gr white chocolate

70 gr pistachio finely grounded

Boil the heavy cream and add the grounded pistachios and let them infuse for 30 minutes or so. Re-heat the mixture and add it over the chopped chocolate. When the chocolate melted, mix to make sure the mixture is homogenous. Let cool down. Whisk the mixture until it reaches a solid consistency.

Happy macaroning :-) !!