Monday, 25 July 2011

Nectarine, rocket and raisins salad

I am in a hurry.

These days our house is buzzing with activity: I walk from one room to the other, packing stuff for our one-month holiday in Quebec, struggling to avoid over loading our baggage and miserably failing to do so.

Little time to spend in the kitchen, though there are many supplies which should be used up in a couple of days, before our departure.

Salad, I tought, would make a good solution.
You just have to fill a bowl or a plate with any vegetable or fruit you can find in your fridge, and be creative!

I was curious to taste a new combination of flavours, and see how the sweetness of summer nectarines matched with the bitter hint of rocket leaves.
I had to be quick, though, since my daughter M. stole away nectarines slices as soon as I arranged them on the wooden board you see in the above pictures.

'May I have some'? - she asked after a while.

I smiled at her, happy to share this simple and intimate moment.
Just a moment, I say, but really precious amid the fuss and confusion preceeding the departure.

Ingredients (serves 2):
nectarines: 2 small - not too ripe
raisins: 1 handful
rocket: 6/8 leaves or more according to taste

for the dressing:
extra virgin olive oil: 2 tablespoons
lemon juice: 1and 1/2 teaspoon
salt: 1 pinch

for garnish:
rocket leaves

Soak the raisins in some water for 10 minutes to soften them up, then rinse them and pat dry. Reserve.

Slice the nectarines and arrange them on two small plates. Wash and drain the rocket leaves, then absorb water in excess with blotting paper. Break the rocket leaves into bits and scatter over the nactarines, finally add the raisins.

Mix dressing ingredients together and drizzle over the salad.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Globe aubergines stuffed with wholemeal rice and vegan sun-dried tomato pesto


Sun dried tomatoes are amongst my favourite ingredients. They are in my 'top ten list' of 'can't-do-without' summer goodies. They end up in a wide range of gluttonies/treats here at home, but lately I've been quite obsessed with pesto. It's exciting to try out different versions, textures and flavours, just adding or changing an ingredient or varying its quantity!

As you may have probably noticed the italian word 'pesto' is now associated with anything that is made by pounding, and modern pesto recipes include the most exotic and strangest ingredients you can find at your local market or grow in your home garden.

I stick to basics though, and I usually try a combination of the following elements: 

fine herbs (basil/thyme/parsley) + 
nuts (pine nuts/almonds/hazelnuts/peanuts)+
garlic (what else?)+
an extra special ingredient, like parmesan or, as in this case, sun dried tomatoes.

Extra virgin olive oil is an essential element too, of course, but I admit I take it for granted....

Back to this recipe...I prepared this sun dried tomatoes pesto to season a wholemeal rice salad. Then, I simply decided to use the salad leftovers to stuff some nice globe aubergines I had ready at hand.
Temperatures have dropped lately, and heavy rains have been falling for days this week, so I had no hesitation in switching on the oven and baking all sort of goodies I craved for (including plum and almond clafoutis, roasted vegetables lasagne, zucchini and feta cheese tart).

If you can't find globe aubergines consider you can stuff any kind of vegetables you like (cooking times will vary accordingly) with whatever grain you have in the fridge (although you can of course make some if you don't have any).


Ingredients (serves 6):

globe aubergines: 8 small

wholemeal rice: 180 gr/  4/5 cup
tomatoes: 2 small - chopped
garlic: 1 clove
extra virgin olive oil: 2 tablespoons
vegetable stock: 1 small glass
some extra olive oil for the baking sheet

sun dried tomatoes pesto ingredients:
olive oil packed sun dried tomatoes: 4 tomatoes - chopped
almonds: 40 gr/ 1/4 cup - toasted
garlic: 1 small clove
thyme: 3/4 teaspoon of fresh leaves - washed and drained
extra virgin olive oil: 2 teaspoons
salt:  1 pinch or more according to taste
appple vinegar: 1 teaspoon

Wash the rice carefully. In a large saucepan bring some water to boil, add salt and wolemeal rice and let it simmer for approximately 30/40 minutes. Drain the rice with cold water and reserve.

Meanwhile wash the aubergines and slice off top stem-side. Carefully scoop out the interior flesh,
leaving at least 1cm-thick border around the edges. Be careful not to tear or pinch the sides or bottom.
Place the eggplant halves in a baking dish covered with baking sheet drizzled with olive oil.
Chop the aubergines flesh finely and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until soft and brown (not burnt!). Remove garlic, add the reserved aubergines flesh and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add tometoes and cook for other 5 minutes. Reserve.

Peel th garlic and remove central core. Blend garlic, almonds and thyme in a food processor, and process until they are finely chopped; then add the sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, apple vinegar and salt (and pepper if you like so). Blend until all the ingredients are mixed together and you get a very thick pesto sauce. Slowly add water to thin down your pesto.

Preheat the oven to 180° C degrees.

In a large bowl mix together rice with the reserved cooked vegetables (aubergine flesh and tomatoes) and season with the sun-dried tomato pesto.

Lightly salt the aubergines shells, fill them with the stuffing and drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil. Add some of the vegetable stock and loosely cover the baking dish with foil, bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and add the remaining stock, bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the outer skin of aubergines is tender. 

Friday, 8 July 2011

Home made 'pesto alla genovese'

Basil. Its smell triggers summer memories.
Dark blue sea, tiny and pebbly beaches, 'caruggi' (the very narrow streets of Liguria towns), dry walls covered with bougainvillea flowers, lemon trees and... family meals.

As a kid, I was lucky enough to spend almost every summer in Riviera Ligure, my father's homeland. Visiting relatives and having dinner with them was part of the holiday program as much as swimming, sunbathing and bead necklace making. We used to have focaccia or farinata, and pasta with home made pesto sauce (as you probably may know, pesto originated in Liguria - Genoa, to be precise - and consists of basil leaves crushed with garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese)

We love to honour this kind of family traditions so, as soon as we arrived for our two weeks holiday, my cousin C. invited us to dinner and offered to make some home made pesto sauce.
Since my daughter M. got ill on the very first days of our stay, we had to rearrange our plans as well as our family menu.

I still craved for my home made pesto, though, so I had my mother walk into the kitchen with a bunch of basil leaves and teach me how to make pesto.
I had made several attempts in the past, but none of the outcomes met the high quality standards I was used to.

I needed advice.

And even though my mother is not very 'orthodox' in the method (she doesn't use a marble mortar and pestle as it should be, but a more trivial food processor) she is pretty good at it.
Anyway you'll probably find as many pesto recipes as people living in Liguria and Genoa, plus the ex-pat people who moved from there, namely to North America and Argentina, since the early decades of XXth century.

The following is our own family pesto recipe. And we are quite happy to share it with you, please leave a comment, I'd love love to hear about your family traditions...or variations of pesto recipes!


basil leaves: 45 gr (a small bunch - stem and leaves- approximately, see first picture above)
garlic: 1 tiny clove
pine nuts: 40 gr
parmesan cheese: 50 gr – freshly grated
extra virgin olive oil: 2 tablespoons
salt: 2 piches or more, according to taste

n.b: the amount above will provide 2 small jars (70 gr each) of pesto sauce. Use one jar for a 4-serving 'pasta al pesto'.

Pluck the basil leaves off from their sprigs and wash them carefully (if you grow your own basil remember you should pluck only the heads off the plant, best before the blooming time)

Peel the garlic and remove central core.
In the small bowl of a food mixer mince and mix together pine nuts and garlic.
Add three tablespoons of parmesan, a handful of basil leaves and one tablespoon of oil in the food processor bowl. I suggest to add a few of the ingredients at a time, and pulse a few times, so that the ingredients will collapse and free up more space for the next ones. Repeat this operation several times until you use up all the ingredients.You should get a smooth and moist pesto sauce. 
Pour the pesto sauce into two small glass jars and cover with some olive oil, a few pine nuts and a basil leaf. Cover with film. Store in the fridge (it will last up to one week) or freeze for later use.

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