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.

Sole meuniere

The weekend usually brings along the farmers market in my city. Every Saturday the city center is filled with stands with fresh produce from around the Utrecht area. Beside the mushroom stand, one of my favourite buys is fresh fish. Few weeks ago I bought some beautiful Dover sole and since then I am totally hooked.  Every Sunday for the past few weeks I am preparing sole meuniere for dinner. I think this is one of the easiest and the best dishes ever. Served along with some sautéed veggies, some french fries and some garlic sauce this makes one of the most delicious meals out there.  According to Wikipedia meuniere refers to both a sauce and a method of preparation, primarily for fish. The word itself means “miller’s wife”. Thus to cook something à la meunière was to cook it by first dredging it in flour. A meunière sauce is a simple preparation — brown butter, chopped parsley, and lemon — and the name refers to its unelaborate rustic nature.

sole Meuniere

1 cup flour

6 fresh sole fillets

butter

salt

pepper

lemon juice

freshly chopped parsley

In a large skillet heat about 2 tablespoons of butter until it starts browning slightly (clarifies), this will give it a nutty flavour. Mix flour, salt and pepper and dredge the fish fillets through the mixture. Place 2 sole fillets in the hot skillet and lower slightly the heat. Cook the fillets for about 2-3 minutes and carefully turn on the other side with a spatula.  Add fresh lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper (if needed).

Repeat the same procedure for the remaining fillets and serve immediately. 

Cauliflower soup – getting ready for the cold days

At the market, last weekend, I was looking for some veggies to make some soup. In the summer, I like the soups where you can still detect the original ingredients, the types of soups that we have in South-Eastern Europe, however autumn time is a different story. Then, I really love a hearty, creamy, rich soup. 

And this time the cauliflower draw my attention…together with some celeriac since was laying all alone next to the cauliflower. Since both are very earthy, thought they will marry perfectly in a soup. To bring in some extra flavour, I just added some watercress and crispy bacon on top.

cauliflower and celeriac soup with crispy bacon and watercress

2 tablespoons olive oil

one large onion or 2 shallots

3 garlic cloves

thyme, salt, pepper, nutmeg

3 cups vegetable broth

1 head of cauliflower

1/2 celeriac root

watercress

few slices of bacon

 

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until softened. Add chopped garlic and the thyme, cook until the garlic softens, add the cauliflower florets and the cubed celeriac. Sautee them and the add the broth, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover the pot and bring to
a boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer, keep covered, and let cook until the cauliflower and the celeriac are tender. 

Puree with an immersion blender. Serve warm topped with crispy bacon, watercress or shredded cheese.