Category Archives: Cheese

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.

Filo (or Yufka) Rolls with Beetroot and Feta

beet_filoyufkaBeetroot is one of these widely available vegetables I – strangely – almost never buy. I do not hate it, but it never provokes a craving I often experience while seeing beautiful tomatoes, aubergines or recently even fennel. When I recently saw the fabulously elegant Roasted Beets with Aromatised Feta Mousse at Katerina’s Culinary Flavors, I found the combination of the two ingredients highly promising and kept on thinking about it. Whenever I think about Katerina, filo pastry instantly comes to my mind and this is how I had this idea. If you hate beetroot, obviously these rolls are not for you, but for me, who has nothing against it, they were the best thing I’ve ever had with this humble vegetable. Thank you so much, dear Katerina, for this wonderful idea and constant inspiration!

Here are some other filo/phyllo pastry ideas you might like (especially if you hate beetroot):

Filo Rolls with Black Pudding

Filo Rolls with Black Pudding

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Feta and Leek

Filo Rolls with Feta and Leek

Filo Triangles with Curried Beef

Filo Triangles with Indian-Style Beef

Spanakopita (Greek Feta and Spinach Pie)

Spanakopita (Greek Feta and Spinach Pie)

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

Filo Rolls with Bok Choy Leaves and Feta

Filo Rolls with Bok Choy Leaves and Feta

Filo Rolls with Roasted Green Chilli Pepper and Feta

Filo Rolls with Roasted Green Chilli Pepper and Feta

TIPS:  While adjusting the taste I found the beetroots’ sweetness too overwhelming and decided to add first lots of garlic, then chilli powder and finally some tamarind pulp. For my tastebuds this last magical touch that has made the filling perfect, but you might not like beetroot with strong flavours, so add all those gradually, according to your preferences.

You might wonder what cracked wheat or semolina are doing here. This is a magical trick I learnt from Katerina too: if added in small amounts, cracked wheat will not change the taste or texture, but it will absorb the humidity from the filling (the rolls will not leak).

I have recently had problems to buy filo pastry (my two favourite supermarkets stopped selling it), so I made an experiment with yufka, often described as “filo of the Balkans/Turkey” (my package even had the word “filo” printed). Well, even though I find this new pastry good, it is definitely NOT filo. Yufka (at least the one I bought) is at least 3 or four times thicker than filo pastry and doesn’t have such a light crumbly effect when baked (I find it also doesn’t brown quickly, hence the light colour at the photograph above). In short, it works as an emergency replacement, but is definitely different.

Tamarind (apart from its raw form) is usually sold either in hard blocks or in ready-to-use pulp (usually in jars). I strongly encourage everyone to buy the blocks, which keep for years in the fridge and which yield a much more lively, tangy pulp than the jarred one (moreover, they don’t have strange additives). It’s very easy to prepare pulp from the block: tear a 2×2 cm square and put into a mug. Add about 100 ml boiling water and after 5 minutes start stirring until the block starts dissolving. Leave for about 15 minutes and than strain through a sieve, pushing the pulp out with a spoon. Such a freshly squeezed pulp will keep in the fridge for several days.

Preparation: about 2 hours (or 1 hour if the beetroot is already cooked)

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):

8-10 filo sheets or 2 1/2 yufka sheets

2 big beetroots

180-200 g feta

4 big garlic cloves

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp (if you make it on your own, or 3-4 tablespoons if you use the jarred pulp) or lime juice

salt, pepper, chilli powder

3 flat tablespoons cracked wheat or semolina

melted butter or oil

(fresh coriander leaves or dill)

Cook or bake the beetroots until very soft.

Put the cold beetroots and the garlic in a food processor and mix to a pulp.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Place the beetroot pulp in a bowl and add the cumin, the turmeric, the tamarind pulp and crumbled feta.

Season with chilli, salt, pepper and ground black pepper. Taste and adjust the flavours and add cracked wheat at the end. Give the pulp a good last stir.

If you use yufka, cut the sheets into four pieces each. Divide the filling into as many equal parts as the yufka pieces you have obtained.  Then, proceed as if you had filo sheets (which you don’t need to cut).

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge closest to you, a portion of the filling.

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

Brush the rolls just before baking with some oil or melted butter.

Bake until light golden. Serve hot or slightly warm.

You can sprinkle with coriander or dill before serving.

Greek Yogurt (or Quark) Spread with Caramelised Red Onion

onionspreadpI discovered this wonderful spread in an overpriced, but otherwise average restaurant I’d certainly try to forget if it hadn’t been for quark with caramelised red onion, the highlight of their welcome snacks (and of the whole evening really). Visually unappealing, it proved surprisingly complex in taste and absolutely delicious. It has quickly become my staple light snack and favourite winter breakfast. I prepare a batch and, as soon as it’s finished, I prepare a new one. It’s been going on like this for several weeks and I don’t get tired of all these fantastic flavours.

TIPS: The restaurant I’ve mentioned used quark (aka fresh cheese or fromage frais), which is not available everywhere. Greek yogurt has a similar consistency and is also perfect here (I’ve tested both and even made it with normal natural yogurt and all these three options work perfectly). (Though if you have choice, do try it with quark first). You can also try it with thick sour cream; it will no longer be light, but the slight tanginess will be there.

US cream cheese is not an option here:  it doesn’t have the tanginess and freshness yogurts or quark have, so I don’t advise it; moreover the spread would no longer be healthy or light….

The condiments’ amount given below should be treated as a vague proposition. Taste the onion (when cooled) and adjust according to your taste.

If you skip soy sauce, the onions will retain their purple colour. (Soy sauce is my recent improvement idea).

SERVING IDEAS: My absolute number one is a canapé with thin Finnish wholemeal crisp bread, but it goes as spread/dip on any bread, chips, nachos, etc.. You can serve it as a side dish with grilled chicken or as heat taming sauce with Mexican or even Indian dishes. I’m sure it tastes fantastic with baked potatoes.

Preparation: about 30 minutes + at least 2 hours in the fridge.

Ingredients:

200 ml (about 6 oz) Greek yogurt or Quark (see the TIPS above)

1 big red onion (which has a size of a medium white onion)

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons vinegar (the best would be balsamic; if you use a stronger one, put only 1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

ground black pepper

(salt, if needed)

Cut the peeled onion in half and slice more or less finely.

Heat the oil in a pan and constantly stirring, fry the onion at medium heat until it loses about half of its volume.

Add the vinegar, the soy sauce and the sugar and continue stir-frying.

After about 5 minutes, put aside, let it chill and taste. Adjust the flavours, adding more salt, sugar or vinegar and fry for a minute to heat once more. (Don’t taste the onion when it’s warm because the taste changes a lot). At the end add ground pepper and give the onions the last stir.

Combine with the yogurt or quark, add more freshly ground black pepper,  and refrigerate for at least two hours. It improves greatly overnight.

 

Filo Rolls with Roasted Green Chilli Pepper and Feta

filorollschilliThanks to my dear blogging friend MJ and one of her numerous extremely tempting posts praising green chilli (or rather “chile” as they say in New Mexico), I finally embarked on the roasting adventure too. The process is quick, easy (even without a proper grill) and the ways of using roasted peppers seem countless. After the utterly delicious Chile Spread (see the recipe at MJ’s Kitchen), I decided to create something on my own and experiment with filo pastry rolls. Greek cuisine is not famous for its fiery dishes, nonetheless boldly flavoured feta cheese proved excellent company for roasted chilli! The mixture of the two ingredients is so satisfying, dried oregano was the only seasoning to make this chilli lovers’ treat perfect.

With their three-ingredient filling this filo pastry rolls are ridiculously easy to prepare, but most of you have probably never roasted chilli peppers, so I’ll share some of my impressions of the first batches. As I have mentioned above, roasting chilli is really quite effortless, even if one doesn’t have a grill, the oven broiler being a sufficient tool. As for the peeling, it is much quicker than expected and since, as MJ confirms, roasted chilli freezes very well, it’s a good idea to work with big batches and save some of the summer flavours for cold winter months.

The only problem (if you don’t live in New Mexico or other fiery food-loving regions) might be to find a medium hot chilli variety (even as a big fiery food fan I wouldn’t advise bird’s-eye-chillie or similar super hot varieties here). The only medium hot chilli I can buy here is aci sivri, a highly aromatic Turkish long green variety and it roasts and peels perfectly, so I guess any medium hot chilli will do.

For the detailed instructions and very useful chilli roasting tips, check MJ’s fascinating blog. I bet you will be tempted to try, just like me, lots of her inspiring recipes, most often influenced by New Mexican culinary heritage.

Some of you might have noticed I am a big filo/phyllo pastry fan and try to experiment with it as often as I can. Here are some ideas, in case you wonder what to do with the rest of the package:

Filo Rolls with Black Pudding

Filo Rolls with Black Pudding

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Feta and Leek

Filo Rolls with Feta and Leek

Filo Triangles with indian-Style Beef

Filo Triangles with Indian-Style Beef

Spanakopita (Greek Feta and Spinach Pie)

Spanakopita (Greek Feta and Spinach Pie)

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (makes 6 filo rolls):

6 sheets of filo/phyllo pastry

2 cups (about 500 ml) roughly chopped roasted, peeled chilli peppers

150 g feta cheese

1 tablespoon cracked wheat; this is the TIP I learnt from Katerina (Culinary Flavors), the specialist of Greek cuisine; this tiny amount of cracked wheat absorbs the excessive humidity, but doesn’t change the taste or texture; you can use for example semolina instead

1 tablespoon dried oregano

(1 tablespoon oil)

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Crumble the feta cheese in a bowl.

Add the chopped chilli and the oregano.

Mix delicately the filling, divide into six equal parts and fill the rolls (one sheet per roll; see the instructions here).

Place the rolls on a baking tray/sheet or a baking dish.

Brush with oil (this is not obligatory) and bake until slightly golden.

 

Greek Yogurt and Summer Vegetable Mezé/Spread

greek_mezepBrowsing through Katerina’s inspiring Culinary Flavors and looking for meat meal ideas, I saw these gorgeous souvlaki. I thought they would be my next meal, but then I noticed the yogurt mezé Katerina posted along the souvlaki recipe and… ended up making only this cooling side-dish (the skewers are still bookmarked though!). I like practically every yogurt spread/sauce I know, but this one has really surprised me with its complexity and its addictive side: once you start eating it, you will find it very hard to stop. If you plan it as a side-dish, prepare a double batch because you might easily end up with an empty bowl before you even serve the meal.

Contrary to the more famous – but equally delicious – tzatziki, this chunky mezé is not quick or effortless, but the final result is well worth it. Baked or grilled aubergine and pepper, olive-oil stir-fried tomato, thick yogurt and vinegar create together interesting flavours I didn’t really expect. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and I think it can be used in a very versatile way. In fact, it makes an excellent bread/cracker spread! I love it on thin crisp bread, both for breakfast and as an all-day snack (instead of the usual fresh goat cheese). It’s a perfect summer dish not only because it’s extremely cooling, but also because the vegetables it includes are now at their best. Thank you so much, Katerina, for making me discover one more delicious Greek treat!

Instead of Greek yogurt I have used smooth fresh cheese (aka quark). I have also slightly changed the amounts of ingredients, so make sure you check the original recipe at Culinary Flavors, an extremely creative blog full of inspiring Greek and international dishes.

TIP: The vegetables should be baked here, but if you prefer grilling them delicately, I’m sure the result will be equally good. Just make sure they are not scorched or the mezé will become bitter.

If you don’t have Greek yogurt, you can use smooth fresh cheese (quark) or any natural yogurt.

Preparation: about 1 hour + several hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves two as a sauce/side dish with grilled meat):

1 small Western aubergine (or a medium Asian aubergine)

1 medium sweet pepper or bell pepper (I have used here light yellow long pepper and Katerina advised green pepper)

1 small tomato

1 teaspoon olive oil+some to brush vegetables before baking

250 ml (about 1 cup) Greek yogurt or smooth fresh cheese/quark or any natural yogurt

1 tablespoon vinegar (I’ve used Sherry vinegar)

1 big garlic clove, crushed

salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Cut up the aubergine and the pepper into cubes (mine were roughly 1x1cm squares).

Sprinkles with salt and brush with olive oil.

Bake for about 15 minutes or more (until soft).

In the meantime remove the tomato seeds (you can also skin it if you don’t like skin, but putting it into boiling water for 30 seconds and then into a bowl with cold water).

Cut up the tomato into similarly-sized pieces.

Heat some oil in a pan and stir-fry the tomato for one minute until it softens a bit.

Put aside on a strainer to get rid of juices.

Let the baked vegetables cool down.

Combine the yogurt or quark with crushed garlic, add the cooled vegetables, season with vinegar, salt and pepper.

Refrigerate for a couple of hours.