Shrimp pesto pasta with roasted fennel

Hi guys, how are you?

 

So … I haven’t written anything in a while. I could make up excuses (I’ve had stomachflu, been on holiday…) all true, but the real truth is that I wasn’t really inspired and motivated for a new post. Yes, I cooked, some things turned out pretty alright, but blog-worthy, I wasn’t sure.

But that is all over now! Guess what did the trick? An inspiring, sunny, happy and tasty weekend in Turin, Piedmont, Italy! If you ever get into a cooking-rut so to speak, just jump into a car or plane and head down to Italy. Okay, jumping on a plane is not always the most realistic option, but a elaborate dinner at an extremely good Italian restaurant might help a little as well.

I just returned from a great weekend which I spend with my dad, walking through the city, exploring coffee bars, icecream shops, beautfiul buildings, arcades and interesting musea. Did you know that, outside of Cairo, Turin has the largest Egyptian museum in the world? I did not. Did you know the shroud of Turin supposedly holds the image of Christ? I did not. (I’m not saying it is really Christ, but still an interesting relic). Did you know the complete city centre of Turin is covered with beautiful, old arcades? I really did not. What a decadent way to shade shoppers from the sun. Did you know the Piedmont kitchen is absolutely to die for? I do know now!IMG_0049
We feasted on the most fantastic things, from espresso machiatto’s (like a Spanish cortado), to perfect pistachio ice-cream, fresh lemon granita-like ice cream, parmaham foccacias, fresh pastries and enormously tasty fresh fruits. And I haven’t even got to dinner yet! And the wines;). From a classic spaghetti bolognese or pesto-covered gnocchi, to a more modern salmon tartar with caramelized white onions and not at all rubbery but soft squid on a mousse made of cannelloni beans and fresh rosemary. And yes, the list goes on.

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After getting home I already made a gnocchi and pesto dish, filled with scrumptious sun dried tomatoes I bought in Turin on an enormous food market. Also made a classic lasagne bolognese, radicchio and witlof salad and today I am thinking something with shrimp! Ow and I also fabricated an oven full of foccacia, made from spelt flour, because, well, that was what I had in my pantry!IMG_1430

 

 

Some of the lessons my last trip thought me:

Don’t be afraid to use freshly ground salt and pepper, be copious with the olive oil. Never dress a green salad in the kitchen but put some olive oil and (balsamic) vinegar on the table.Do not smother the pasta with sauce, here utter a little restraint and coat your pasta with sauce or pesto. Never accept anything then the best quality of produce. Whether it’s a coffee to go, a glass of wine on the plaza or a copious dinner. Never settle! If you are on a budget, do not disappear. beautiful produce is found on marketplace, directly at a farm or you can for example ask an excellent bottle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar as a birthday present. And last but not least: Adding cheese is always, yes always, a good idea.

Let’s start cooking!

Spaghetti with pesto, shrimp and roasted fennel

Ingredients for 2:

  • about 125-150 grams of uncooked spaghetti
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 4 or 5 sundried tomatoes
  • half a chili pepper
  • 2 gloves of garlic
  • olive oil, extra virgin
  • handful of shrimp
  • handful of fresh basil
  • small handful of pinenuts.
  • small cube of Parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground salt and pepper
  • optional: fresh thyme

Put a large pot of water on the stove, bring the water to the boil, add salt and cook the spaghetti as instructed on the package.

Slice your fennel, toss in an oven dish with pepper, salt, olive oil and some fresh thyme if you have some. this takes about 12 minutes to roast in an oven on 200 degrees Celcius.

Then take out your foodprocessor and add 1 clove of garlic, the basil, the parmesan cheese, 1 clove of garlic, the pinenuts and a generous amount of oil, about half a cup. I am not giving specific measurements, because I never measure this out. Just use your intuition and quality ingredients. I blitz it all for a minute or so, taste, and sometimes add some pepper/salt or more olive oil, because it needs to have the consistency of a nice pesto sauce, so it cannot be too dry.

Heat a frying pan on the stove with olive oil. Chop up 1 garlic clove and some chili pepper (use however much you want, I prefer medium heat so I just added half a chili). Toss the chili and  DSC_0907
garlic in a pan and add your shrimp. Then add some chopped sundried tomatoes. After a few minutes, when the shrimps seem cooked, add the spaghetti and pesto. Give it a stir and make sure everything is properly heated.

DSC_0894Take your fennel out of the oven. Taste your dish to see if there is anything missing, like salt or pepper or maybe a squeeze of some fresh lemon juice. Serve the pasta with the roasted fennel, and you’re done allready!

 

 

 

 

DSC_0898For the Love of Parmesan:

Parmesan really is a wonderful invention. Parmigiano Reggiano is a traditional Italian cheese, made from Cow’s milk and is usually an unpasteurized,hard, yellow-orange cheese. If you do not use it very often – unthinkable – you can freeze it can grate it straight from the freezer!

Pork belly baby!

A good diet is a varied diet. There are so many things you can eat as long is you don’t eat some of it too regularly and not too much of some of it. With pork I am always doubting how it fit’s into a healthy diet. Yes, there is lean pork, but I tend to go for the bacon-variety of pork. As does the next dish. This recipe I have for you most definitely does not fall into the lean pork category… But I’ve only made it once, and that was during the holidays. So we indulged ourselves and I have hardly eaten any fatty pork since. Starting to think of it, it’s about high time to get me some…

So I have been wanting to post this recipe since Christmas, no kidding! I just didn’t get around to it. Prepare for this showstopper: Oven roasted pork belly. And let me tell you, it was worth the wait. We had never made anything like this before so we took kind of a risk, my mother and I did, picking this for our Christmas dinner. After seeing it being cooked on Australian Masterchef several times I just had to try this myself. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. We bought a kilo of pork and it took us 2 to 2,5 hours to prepare. There is not much cooking involved, just some preparation and then lot’s of oven time.

Let’s cut to the chase: It worked out fabulously! Of course, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have posted it on this blog… Or at least would not have featured it like this. We were happy, family was happy, and we were all extremely stuffed ;-). And no pork belly leftovers. I am thinking I am not waiting for Christmas 2015 to try this again. Remember a healthy diet is a varied diet no…

The ingredients are straightforward:

  • Nice piece of pork belly from you local butcher
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • A few sprigs of fresh thymeIMG_1259
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • Some cloves of garlic

Put on a kettle and bring some water to the boil. Put your pork belly on a rack over the sink. Once the water boils, pour it over the pork. Why yo ask ? By scalding the pork skin, you’ll help the skin crisp up into crunchy crackling.

Then start working on cutting the fatty top. I made a simple pattern as you can see. My mum actually ran upstairs for a sharp stanley knife because our kitchen knife could hardly cut through the fat. So get out your sharpest knife and carefully cut incisions on the top. Only cut the fat, that is the white part, do not cut into the rest of the pork.

Now we give it a good rub with a mixture of freshly ground salt, pepper and fresh herbs. I used rosemary and thyme straight from the garden. Remove the herbs from their stalks, chop these up roughly,  and use your hands to rub the mixture onto the pork.

Place the pork on a roasting tray and into an oven of 150 degrees Celsius. Underneath the pork place an oventray filled with water, bay leaves and the garlic gloves. No need to peel or cut the cloves.

There is really nothing to do here now but to open that bottle of wine and start on your pre-dinner cheese platter or something of the sort. We had it in the oven for two hours (1 kilo of pork) so if your piece isIMG_1294 slightly bigger or smaller it probably needs a bit longer or shorter! We checked if it was nicely done, then gave it another 15 to 20 minutes under the grill, to create a nice crust.

Do not leave it under the grill too , as things burn too easily under the grill and that would be such a shame!

Take it out, have a taste to check if it’s soft, tender and tasty and, then, well, it’s done!

IMG_1295Serve with side dishes of your choice. We went for an Italian dinner, so my mum had made fresh gnochi, and my additions were panzanella (an Italian bread salad), Caprese salad (Mozzarella cheese baby!) and a fresh orange and fennel salad. And that was our Christmas main meal for you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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* Yes there’s a CD in the first photo, that’s what my mother used to cut the gnochi!

 

Berenjenas Fritas – Spanish Fried Eggplant

Hi guys!

It’s raining buckets outside, you really do not want to go grocery shopping right now, but you want to eat something GOOD. If you have even half a leftover eggplant you can relax! No cycling in the rain for you. (Yes us Dutch, we cycle everywhere, all true) Within minutes you can whip up this Spanish tapas-style dish.

This is actually my mum’s favorite Spanish dish and I tried making it before. That did not work out so well. Amongst other things we tried a beer batter for the eggplant. But you actually do not need to go through all this trouble.

We were once standing or hanging on a Grenada counter in a small bar. We ordered a plate of these berenjenas fritas and we saw a women walking around with an eggplant in her hand, talking to the bartender, meanwhile working the eggplant. Minutes later we had an enormous pile of fried eggplant in front of us. How did she do it this fast and so delicious? My boyfriend and I recently tested this simple version and we thought it came closest.

Time to get started:

  • 1 eggplant
  • flour
  • water
  • sunflower oil
  • salt, pepper
  • syrup or ‘stroop’ as we call it. (In Spanish: ‘miel’, a sort of honey).

IMG_1004Cut up the eggplant in the shape of fries. Whip up some batter with water and flower. I did not measure this but it needs to be the consistency of pancakes. A bit runny, not too thick. I mixed in some fresh pepper. I took one piece of aubergine to test this batter. Take out a small, high saucepan and put it on the stove. Fill it about halfway with sunflower oil and heat it. Once you thing it is hot enough you can trow in a tiny piece of eggplant and see if it sizzles. Another way is to add a tiny tiny drop of water which needs to create sizzle as well.

Once the oil was hot I added my test piece. It took longer then I thought, but maybe I was just anxious for the outcome. Once the eggplant had browned properly we took it out and… loved it :-)!

This was just too good to be true, the best recipe turned out to be the most basic one, with a batter of water and flour.IMG_1005

For the next batch I just poured a little batter of the eggplantpieces, covering it slightly. Do not simply pour over all the batter you have made, see the photo below. I believe coating is the right word here. I cooked the eggplant in batches and we just devoured every single one.

In Spain they pour over a sweet syrup, called ‘miel’. The literal translation of miel is actually honey, but what they pour over the berenjenas fritas is more of a syrup. Maybe you’ll think it strange but the sweetness just adds another layer of delicious flavour.

I’dd say go for it!

 

 

 

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Salmon and Fennel Lasagna

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So life has been keeping me busy! First you are still enjoying a IjustgotbackfromSpainhowgreatwasthat-feeling, then you’re home working full days and really not having the time to write on your food blog. I did cook ofcourse, and there were some highs as well. Top of the list was my Indonesian night, from Rendang to nasi goreng to sajoer beans and sambal eggs. I have never been to Indonesia but I felt it was a pretty good effort. The table looked pretty good too. I remember thinking ‘maybe I should take a photo and put this on my blog’. By then I was already halfway through my plate. And just kept on eating:).

Working every day can be a pretty tiring thing to do as well, so my meals this last few weeks became smarter and I cooked in bigger portions. I have an insanely larger freezer now (I didn’t have one before), so I am making good use of it. I am in love with onepot dishes right now that can be frozen. Perfect!

Easy, fast dinners can still be delicious and a bit culinary as well! I am also thinking of ways to eat more (healthy) fish. And my boyfriend absolutely loves salmon. Now I haven’t cooked a lot of salmon before. This all led me to this lasagna. Funny thing is my boyfriend didn’t even get to eat it! I ended up cooking it for my mum, and the leftovers which went into the freezer I ate myself, hehe.

Because taking your time grocery shopping isn’t always on my favorite to do list I opted for a big shopping spree on Sunday so we’re good to go for the week. That’s why I worked with frozen salmon and frozen spinach. If you do have time to hit the market, go for it! Nothing beats fresh produce.

Ingredients

  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 fresh chilipepper, or some dried chillie flakes
  • Spinach, either fresh or from the freezer.
  • pepper, salt
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh fennel seeds
  • 1 big glass of vegetable broth/stock
  • Fresh or frozen salmon
  • 1 fennel
  • optional: green lasagna sheets

Instructions:

1. Cut up the celery, carrot and onion. Take the spinach out of the freezer.

2. Heat up some olive oil in a crockpot or pan. Add cellery, carrot and onion. Give it a stir.

IMG_1080 3. Finely dice the chili and add to the pan. You can be as generous as like with the chili. For me, half a chili was just fine.IMG_1083

4. Finely chop the garlic or squeeze it and add to the pan. Keep stirring, we do not want the garlic to burn.

5. Add the spinach. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper, a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of fennel seeds. If you have a mortar you can roughly grind them before adding them to the pan. This will release more flavour.

6. Pour your broth over the veggies and put a lid on the pan. If I would have had white wine in the house, I would have definitely added a glass of that as well. The extra benefit being that that bottle needed drinking after that.

7. Thinly slice your fennel and cut up your salmon. If the salmon is still a little frozen, that’s ok.

8. Start building your lasagna! Start with a layer of fennel, then some salmon pieces. Pour over some of your veggiemix. Then repeat the layers again. I had some green lasagna sheets left so I used them as well for an extra layer, but those are optional. You can just use the fennel instead of the lasagna sheets.  Now you have your lasagna! You could just pop it in the oven, or sprinkle over some cheese. Or… you can make your own bechamelsauce like I did! This takes a little more effort but is not overly complicated. It is the perfect finish for any lasagna.

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My mum taught me how to make this bechamel, now let me share her instructions with you:

Bechamelsauce

Ingredients:

  • 50 grams of flour
  • 50 grams of butter
  • 400 – 500 ml of milk
  • fresh pepper
  • fresh dill (or parsley), chopped
  • grated cheese of your choice.

The most important thing is you use equal amounts of butter and flour and keep stirring continuously. You need a warm pan but not keep it on a low heat. Melt the butter in a small pan, then slowly stir in the flour. The butter must absorb all the flour until you have some sort of paste. Then slowly add the milk. How warmer the milk, the better it will go. It varies how much milk you need, but you need enough to make a sauce from the flour/butter mixture. Keep stirring, keep adding milk, until it has the consistency of a sauce. Stir in pepper and fresh herbs. I used a handful of fresh dill, which suits the salmon well. Then I mixed in some cheese, a small handful. Keep stirring while the cheese melts. The sauce might thicken because you added the cheese. You can always add a little bit more milk.

I don’t know if it sounds challenging, but why not give it a go. I tried it this week with blue cheese. Yes, that’s what I am talking about! Cover your food with a creamy blue cheese sauce, what is not to like?!

Whatever you do, enjoy cooking and eating this lasagna, and If you have any feedback, I would love to hear it!

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Spanish style

So we just got back from Spain. I can’t wait to go back there again. Seriously, I want to live there! If anyone knows of a job opening there… I am game!

I thought I might add a recipe to my blog while we were in Andalucia, but I was really to busy, with, well, enjoying all that Spain has to offer. I am talking food and wine ofcourse, but also sun, loads of sun, nature, history, flamenco music and dance and brushing up on my Spanish and talking to the local people. Upon arriving back home the temperature was a lot less agreeable and it was pouring with rain… I really don’t know whether to post some sort of hearthy stew or other warming dish, or write about sunny Spain and it’super tasty foods and tapas… Well it is going to Spain, what else?!

All the foods we had there… loads of meat, what else. I am talking ham, chorizo and lomo. Delicious pork. Not a lot of chicken and beef to go around, they do love their pork. If the pork here would be as tasty as in Andalucia, I would eat it all the time, now I rarely eat pork. Then there is the manchego cheese, queso fresco, queso de cabra… Then we move to the warm dishes such as fried eggplant – OMG never had eggplant that good. Of course it is fried and covered in syrup, but it is so finger licking good, worth every calorie! I plan to recreate this dish soon! We also have the abundance of homemade croquettas, which I fear will be a bit harder to make, but I will attempt those too! Let’s not forget about the soups: warm garlic soup, cold gazpacho and salmorejo, silky smooth gazpacho made with white bread. Seeing we had days as hot as 30 degrees celcius, that cold soup tasted amazing! I really wanted to make salmarejo today, but it is pouring with rain. No cold soups. What then…. Maybe we will just have it easy tonight and feast on all the delicious things we brought with us: some heartwarming red wine, delicious sausage, cheese. The only think I will make are roasted red peppers, or pimientos in Spainish. This is easy and quick, and a perfect accompaniment for every tapas board. I also love it on a manchego sandwich or on a green salad. With some nice olive oil, sherry vinegar and a good glass of red wine perhaps?

OK I must run to the gym as soon as possible, looking back on our stay it looks like all we did was eat… But we walked a lot to, discovered Seville, Cadiz, Jerez de la Fronterra, Arcos the la Fronterra, Ronda, Grananada… All beautiful villages, cities and nature. Some of these places I had actually visited before, but I never tire of strolling through Seville, driving around and for miles and miles, just seeing olive trees and cork oaks. Strolling through the Alhambra palace again it took my breath away, just like it did the first time, just like it would do on another visit.

So please, get going. To Spain. Bring me some jamon while you’re at it.

Spanish roasted red peppers 

The red peppers in Spain are enormously huge. I never knew peppers could grow so big, and be so sweet as well! They are just perfect, but I think our own red peppers will do nicely too.

Ingredients:

– 2 large red peppers

– salt, pepper

– good quality olive oil

– vinegar of your choice

Heat your oven to about 250 degrees Celcius, or as hot as it can get. Put your peppers on a tray and into the oven. You don’t have to do anything with them, just turn them every five minutes. Check after 20 minutes if they are blackened en the skin is starting to come of. If so, take them out. I have noticed that in some ovens this will go a bit faster or slower, maybe also depending on the peppers. Give it more time if needed, do not worry if it blackens. There are other ways to roast peppers, but I prefer this one, just too simple!

Leave them to cool slightly so that you can touch them, then start pulling of the skin. This should be fairly easy. If the skin does not come off, they need more time in the oven. When you remove the skin, you automatically remove the black bits. Remove the seeds as well.

Cut up the peppers in long small strips. Put them in a bowl and grind over fresh salt and pepper. Use a good drizzle of olive oil and vingear. I like mine quite sour because of the sweetness allready in the peppers, but add vinegar and oil to your own flavor. Also, there will be juice coming from the peppers. No need to throw this away, just mix it in.

There you have it allready, something typically Spanish, but also something fast, delicious and not super unhealthy ;-). Disfruta! (Enjoy:-)!)

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