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.

Pistachio panna cotta with red berries gelee

Whenever I crave something sweet, delicate and light, the first this that comes in mind is panna cotta.

This little cooked wonder is so light and easy to make …and so forgetful with the muffin top.

Luckily, you can make it such, that it will not show forever on your hips or belly or any other body parts where good food tends to localize. To make it even lighter, just replace the full fat cream with some light version, instead of sugar use some stevia or any other sweetner.

So, to summarize it, it is a great summer sweet. Well, its italian roots already recommends it as a great dessert.

It consists of simple, basic ingredients – cream, milk, gelatine, sugar and vanilla. Most importantly, making it doesn’t require too much technique nor work.

panna cotta with pistachio and red berries gelee

red berries gelee

300 grams red berries (strawberries, raspberries, red currants)

6 tablespoons water

5 tablespoons sugar

2 gelatine sheets

vanilla

Pre-soak the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes. In a pot bring the red berries, water, sugar and vanilla to a boil. Remove the pot from the fire and mix in the gelatine. Set the mixture cool down and then pour it gently in the serving bowls or glasses making sure there are not too many air bubbles into the gelee. Place the bowls into the fridge to set, for about an hour.

pistachio panna cotta

500 ml whipping cream

100 ml milk

100 grams finely ground pistachio nuts

4 tablespoons sugar

8 grams gelatine (about 6 sheets of gelatine)

vanilla

Pre-soak the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes. In a pan,bring the whipping cream, the milk, sugar and vanilla to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, add the pistachio and the softened gelatine and stir well, making sure that the mixture is homogenous. Let them infuse  for 10-20 minutes. Before pouring the panna cotta into the serving bowl, you can strain the mixture, to insure a smoother consistency. Pour the mixture into the serving bowls on top of the set fruit gelee and place into the fridge to set for about an hour.

 Serve the panna cotta with fresh fruits (red currants, passion fruit, strawberries, etc. ).

The healing power of cooking and dancing

On Sunday evening, we went to a beautiful dancing show – Iberia Magica (http://www.ibericadedanza.com/gallery.htm). I loved the fluidity of moves of the dancers , the grace and the beauty that transcends the scene, you can almost feel their happiness while dancing . I am one of those people who wanna dance whenever they hear music, I would dance instead of walking if that wouldn’t look slightly weird :).  I wish I had chosen an artistic career, to be able to do something I love as my job. Ok, I like my job, it doesn’t suck that much… but I think that having a more artistic job will let you express yourself, relax while working. Somehow cooking is similar. Whenever I cook, no matter how angry, pissed or upset I am, I forget about everything and get transported into the aromas, travel along with the flavours and the colours of my food. And this dish has so many elements, all combined in a beautiful dance of tastes and delicate flavours.

 Pasta

84 gr flour

one egg yolk

one egg

salt

half spoon olive oil

Combine the flour, salt, egg and egg yolk, olive oil in a large bowl until well combine and you get a rough dough. Keep kneading the dough until it becomes smooth for about 5 minutes. Add flour is the dough becomes too sticky.  Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest. After 2 hours or so take the dough out of the fridge and place it on a floured surface. Roll out the dough until it becomes thin and you should be able to see your hand through the pasta sheet.

Mushroom filling

400 gr good quality (preferably wild)  mushrooms

200 ml cooking cream

1-2 garlic cloves

1 smallish red onion

salt, pepper, truffle infused olive oil

parmesan

Start by frying the onion in a bit of olive oil, when it get translucent add the garlic, fry it for one minute and then add the finely diced  mushrooms. Cook quickly and add the cooking cream, season with salt, pepper, a bit of truffle oil or just truffles. When the mixture starts to come together add the parmesan.

To assemble, cut the thin pasta in circles or whatever other shapes you want, put a tablespoon of the mushroom mixture onto the pasta sheet.  Egg wash the sheet of pasta and then place a similar one on top of it. Close the ravioli by slowly pressing the dough around the filling and removing the air.

Serve it with some balsamic vinegar reduction, pine nuts, peas, grated parmesan and few leaves of deep-fried basil . For the balsamic vinegar reduction heat about two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, one of honey and one of chicken or mushroom stock in a small pan. The mixture is done when it is  thick and bubbly .