Baked Pasta with Aubergine, Eggs and Anchovies

bakedpastapI rarely eat pasta, almost never bake it and definitely never switch on the oven it when it’s 33°C outside! Yet, today something made me cook pasta, patiently simmer a sauce with vegetables, boil eggs and prepare a dish which turned out perfect for such a hot summery day. I didn’t follow any recipe, but simply opened my cupboards and improvised, adding this and that. I’m really proud to say I don’t hesitate to post this recipe because I’d love to share it with all of you (with a special dedication to anchovy lovers). It was extraordinary, and even more summery, served with peperoncini sott’olio I made yesterday after MJ, my blogging friend (MJ’s Kitchen) and fellow chilli addict reminded me of them:

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

TIPS: You can use any vegetables you like or simply have in the fridge, but I finally found aubergine the best suited for this dish.

Obviously, if you don’t like anchovies, skip them or add cut up ham for example.

You can use any easily melting Italian cheese here; smoked scamorza or smoked provola are my favourite (try to find those which are really smoked, i.e. don’t contain “smoke aroma” in the ingredients list).

If you don’t have or don’t want to make peperoncini sott’olio (above), this dish would be delicious with a splash of chilli oil.

Preparation: about 1h30 (but it’s definitely worth it!)

Ingredients (serves four):

750 ml tomato passata or tinned chopped tomatoes or fresh skinned tomatoes simmered until they become a thick sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 big garlic cloves, chopped

1 big aubergine or 1 small courgette+1 small aubergine, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 small sweet pepper (bell pepper or long red pepper), cut into bite-sized pieces

3 hard-boiled eggs

150 g mozzarella, smoked scamorza or smoked provola (or any other melting Italian cheese)

100 g canned anchovies

3 tablespoons capers

salt, pepper, thyme

(grated pecorino or parmezan)

fresh basil

Heat the olive oil.

Fry the garlic for one minute.

Add the sweet pepper and the aubergine (if you use courgette, add it raw to the dish just before baking).

Stir-fry for several minutes.

Add the thyme and 1/2 of the tomato sauce/chopped tomatoes.

Simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes, add salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

In the meantime cook short pasta, taking it out of the water 3 minutes before the time indicated  on the package.

In a baking dish place a layer of pasta, cover with vegetables cooked in tomato sauce.

Add courgettes, if using.

Add the remaining tomato sauce.

Cover with half slices of the eggs, capers, chunks of cheese and grate some pecorino/parmezan on top (if using).

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and slightly golden.

Just before serving sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and torn basil leaves.

Serve with pepperoncini sott’olio, if you have them.

Bacon, Shiso and Pepper Rolls

shiso_baconrollsThis year I succeeded to grow my beloved shiso (perilla) from seeds for the first time. After several years of total failure, in spite of different methods, I was quite pessimistic this spring too, so it was a shock to see dozens of seeds germinate and then the majority growing into beautiful big red and green plants (write to me if you also have problems germinating shiso; I’ll give you – hopefully – successful tips). Now, with a jungle of shiso on my balcony, I could enjoy it every single day, if I wanted, and, strangely, I don’t get tired of its beautiful strong aroma. Apart from the dishes I learnt throughout previous years, I obviously experiment and certainly will do it more throughout the summer.

Since shiso leaves are quite big (and can be as huge as your palm, if you grow them on your own), so they are perfect for wrapping around other ingredients and for being a part of different kinds of cute rolls I’m so fond of. This weekend I found some streaky smoked bacon in my freezer and decided to use it with shiso and sweet peppers. Instead of pan-grilling, as usually, I used my oven broiler and it worked even better, allowing me to eliminate more melted fat. Three ingredients, about ten minutes of grilling and the result was fantastic!

In case you wonder what to do with a big bunch of shiso:

Super Light Spring Rolls with Cucumber, Shiso and Chicken

Super Light Spring Rolls with Cucumber, Shiso and Chicken

or maybe some of these….

Vinegar infused with red shiso

Vinegar infused with red shiso

Japanese raw aubergine salad

Japanese raw aubergine salad

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Pork Rolls and Shiso in Tempura

Chicken and Shiso Dumplings

Chicken and Shiso Dumplings

Chicken and Shiso Balls

Chicken and Shiso Balls

Tomato and Shiso Salad

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Teriyaki Pork Rolls with Shiso and Gochujang

Shiso and Bacon Fried Rice

Shiso and Bacon Fried Rice

Garlic and Shiso Infused Soy Sauce

Garlic and Shiso Infused Soy Sauce

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Cucumber Fried with Perilla (Shiso)

Ume Shiso Chicken Skewers

Ume Shiso Chicken Skewers

TIPS: These rolls taste wonderful with Japanese tangy ponzu sauce, but make sure you don’t buy the cheapest brand because the difference is huge. I can also advise my gochujang and sour cream /yogurt sauce, adding a Korean accent, but frankly these rolls are perfect on their own, if you use smoked meat.

The bacon slices must be really thin (like Parma ham), otherwise the rolls might become soft and soggy.

A tip for chilli pepper lovers: put some fresh chilli among the sweet pepper strips.

Preparation:

Ingredients (makes 10 rolls):

10 big shiso/perilla leaves (red or green)

10 super thin slices of smoked bacon

1 big bell pepper

Cut the bell pepper into thin strips and then cut them in two lengthwise.

Divide into ten equal portions.

Preheat the oven broiler or a grill.

Spread a slice of bacon, place the leaf, then strips of pepper and roll very tightly.

Grill on a grill or under an oven broiler or on a pan until golden brown.

Turn once for one-two minutes.

Place on paper towels to remove excess fat and serve as a snack or as a lunch (with rice for example or bread+salad).

Chilli Lovers’ Preserving Reminder

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

In many countries imported fresh chilli is available all year round, but the most delicious aromatic local ripe chilli – the best for preserves – is sold only for a limited time. In my part of Europe the beginning of August is the best moment to start thinking about preserving this fresh aromatic chilli, find the most interesting farmer market stalls, check the stock of empty jars, lids and, most of all, make a list of the fiery treats that will fill one’s pantry or fridge this year.

I have chosen here my favourite fresh chilli pickles and condiments, successfully tested every year (some short-term preserves are made even dozens of times a year). All of them are easy to prepare and guaranteed as addictive. Some can become long-term preserves, some keep for a limited time in the fridge. I hope my fellow chilli lovers will find at least one of them worth trying and those who cannot stand the heat might substitute chilli with sweet peppers. Write to me if you have any questions or problems.

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Yuzu Koshou 柚子こしょう

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Vinegar-Pickled Chillies

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Salt Brine Pickled CHilli

Chilli Jelly

Chilli Jelly

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Hunan Salt-Pickled Chillies/Erös Pista

Habanero and Oil Paste

Habanero and Oil Paste

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Super Light Spring Rolls with Cucumber, Shiso and Chicken

springrolls_cucshisoA plate of raw spring rolls is one of the most cooling, heatwave-adapted meal I can think of, so I make tons of them every summer. My dexterity doesn’t improve in what comes to the aesthetics, but I’m getting quicker every year and spring rolls have stopped being a special time-consuming and tiring dish. Since I treat them as an ordinary meal, I’ve been experimenting a lot with different fillings based on what I find in the fridge.

In recent years I realised I don’t always need glass noodles inside; I simply add more vegetables instead. Such rolls are quicker to prepare and become really super light! Normally I use fresh herbs to add an aromatic touch  but since I have plenty of shiso/perilla on my balcony, this time I used it both as an aromatic herb and also instead of salad leaves. Its slight pungency is particularly refreshing and goes perfectly with cucumber. In short, one more delicious shiso dish to add to my growing list of recipes!

If you look for spring roll ideas, you might like some of these:

Spring Rolls with Leftover Roast, Carrot and Mint

Spring Rolls with Leftover Roast, Carrot and Mint

Soba Noodles and Cucumber Spring Rolls

Soba Noodles and Cucumber Spring Rolls

Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls

Mizuna, Carrot and Chicken Spring Rolls

Spring Rolls with Asparagus and Chicken

Spring Rolls with Asparagus and Chicken

TIPS: Obviously, you can use any fresh herb you like, but avoid those which might be too strong, hiding all the other flavours (I think of coriander, for example; I’d use salad leaves as a second wrapping layer and some coriander leaves only as an aromatic touch).

When preparing spring rolls I usually broil or bake spicy chicken breasts or legs, but you can use leftover chicken from any dish you have made before (if your chicken isn’t spicy, you may add some hot sauce into the rolls).

You can skip mayonnaise if you don’t like it.

I think this shiso and cucumber version goes particularly well with Japanese ponzu (slightly tangy sauce), but you can serve it also with a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce and chilli oil.

You can use both red or green shiso. Green shiso has a slightly more delicate taste.

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (makes 10 medium spring rolls):

10x medium rice paper sheets (22 cm)

10 big shiso leaves or 20 smaller

1 small chicken breast, baked, steamed, boiled or leftover from any chicken dish…

10 small shiso leaves, chopped or cut into threads

half a long cucumber

1 big avocado, cut in two lengthwise and sliced

(mayonnaise)

Cut the cucumber into rather thin strips (their length should be equal to the rolls’ length you aim at).

Cut the chicken breast in two horizontally and then into thin strips.

Fill a big wide bowl with warm (not hot) water.

Divide the filling ingredients into ten equal portions.

Dip rice paper sheets one by one in the water, immersing them delicately so that you don’t break them.

As soon as the sheet softens (after about ten – twenty seconds), put it onto a big chopping board.

Place first one big or two smaller shiso leaves in the middle, then horizontally horizontally (at the edge which is closest to you) the cucumber, a piece of chicken breast, mayonnaise, the avocado and finally the chopped shiso.

Roll tightly starting from the edge which is closest to you.

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

Serve them immediately as they are or cut in two horizontally with ponzu or with a mixture of soy sauce, chili oil and rice vinegar.

If you wish to serve them later, wrap them individually in cling film or cover them because they dry out very quickly.

Indian Mashed Stir-fried Aubergine (almost Baigan ka Bharta)

mashed_auberginepIndia – Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant is one of the biggest cookery books I own and I’ve ever seen. Its impressive almost 800 small print pages are filled with an impressive number of recipes collected by the author from different regions during twenty years. Contrary to other Indian cookery books I have and appreciate, this one is the only one where I know I will find a recipe for practically every vegetable known in India.

Last week I bought several beautiful aubergines, making first Baba ganouj, then Japanese miso-glazed aubergine… and then I needed spice, so obviously I turned to Pushpesh Pant’s collection. This is how I found baigan ka bharta, a dish I couldn’t compare to anything I have ever had or seen in an Indian restaurant. Its combination of buttery, spicy, slightly tangy and incredibly dynamic flavours make it one of the most fantastic vegetable dishes I have ever made. I call it “almost Baigan ka Bharta” because I have changed the ratio of ingredients (especially ghee), left the aubergines rather chunky (not completely mashed) and seriously simplified the roasting process, so I encourage everyone to check the extraordinary India – Cookbook.

TIPS: Do not replace the ghee (clarified butter) with anything else. The buttery taste plays a huge role in the final taste. At worst, you can combine neutral vegetable oil with normal unsalted butter instead. (Apart from Indian grocery shops and internet, ghee can be found in organic shops, at least in Europe).

The author doesn’t say anything about tomato skin removal and I didn’t do this. The taste was amazing, so if you have good quality aromatic tomatoes, don’t remove the skin.

The aubergines should be mashed, but I preferred to leave them slightly chunky and loved it this way. Both versions can be treated as a side-sidh or as a thick dip/spread too.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 2 as a side dish):

2 medium aubergines

2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)

1 flat teaspoon cumin seeds

1 small onion, chopped

1 big garlic clove (chopped)

about 1 cm grated or finely chopped fresh ginger

1 hot green chilli pepper, sliced or chopped

1/5 flat teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon medium hot chilli powder (I have used Kashmiri chilli powder)

1 medium tomato, diced

salt

chopped coriander leaves

Roast the aubergines over flame, grill or under the oven broiler until the skin is black.

Let them cool down. Remove the flesh and chop it roughly, mashing a bit (or mash it completely if you prefer).

Heat the ghee in a frying pan at medium heat and fry the cumin until it starts popping.

Add the onion and sitr-fry until soft.

Then add the garlic, the chilli and the ginger and stir-fry for about 20 seconds.

Add the aubergine, the chilli powder and the turmeric and stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

At the end add the tomato and let them until they heat up.

Add salt to taste, sprinkle with coriander seeds and serve. (I liked it a lot only slightly warm).