Category Archives: European (vaguely)

Grilled Razor Clams with Garlic and Parsley

couteauxpI love razor clams for their delicate taste, still recognisable in the presence of strong seasoning, and, most of all, for their texture: soft, but slightly al dente. For years, imagining they were tricky to prepare and/or clean, I was too scared to buy them and ruin the whole big bunch (they are sold in bunches here). Last weekend I finally dared cooking them for the first time and… they turned out to be the best razor clams of my life! I still cannot believe such a simple process yields such outstanding results. You can easily serve them as a starter, as a light main course with a salad or simply have them as a gourmet snack (which begs for a glass of chilled rosé!).

For this first experience with razor clams I didn’t use any particular recipe. I simply chose the most popular French way to serve this shellfish, i.e. grilled with a mixture of parsley, garlic and butter. Some recipes also add some breadcrumbs for an additional crunch, but I chose to skip them this time. There is also a choice between seasoning the clams before the grilling process and after. I preferred to add parsley butter before. As much as I didn’t search a precise recipe, I did look well for best ways to clean the clams. Luckily salt water soaking was cited everywhere as the best way to get rid of sand (the laziest seafood cleaning method I can imagine).

TIPS: You can use only olive oil in the parsley mixture and skip the butter.

Preparation: about 30 minutes + 1 hour soaking

Ingredients (serves two as a main course or four as a starter):

500 – 600 g razor clams

several tablespoons salt

extra virgin olive oil

(freshly ground pepper)

Parsley and garlic butter:

2 tablespoons softened butter

about two handfuls of roughly chopped parsley leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Place the razor clams into a big bowl filled with cold salted water (count at least two tablespoons per litre) and leave them for one hour. This way they will get rid of their sand (hopefully!).

In the meantime prepare the parsley butter, mixing the garlic, the butter, the salt and the parsley leaves in a food processor.

Wash the razor clams in cold water and rinse well.

Place them in an empty pan at medium heat and warm until all of them open up (you can put a lid to accelerate the process, but usually it takes about 3 minutes).

Do this in several batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain on paper towels. (Don’t worry if some of them fall completely out of their shells, you will put them back into their homes afterwards).

Remove the upper shell’s part (it’s not necessary, but this part is completely useless and takes space on a baking tray). Place the open razor clams in a baking dish/tray on their shell’s lower part and brush with garlicky butter.

Heat the oven grill/broiler and grill them until the garlic bits start becoming golden (this should take about ten minutes). Make sure the garlic doesn’t brown too much; it will become bitter.

You can also grill them in a normal grill and spread the garlic butter juste before serving.

Sprinkle them with olive oil while they are still hot and serve them simply with good quality bread or baguette (you can also season them with ground pepper).

 

Baked Damson Plums with Yogurt

baked_plumspSo simple and soooo good! I wish I could say this more often about the dishes I love… I made this improvised sweet treat last weekend after bringing a big bag of my favourite plums and was really surprised to discover how excellent such an easy and quick dessert turned out. The same recipe can be made with any stone fruit, but for me the oval violet damsons are by far the best choice: the tart skin gives them quite a complex taste, especially when combined with very ripe sweet flesh and makes them perfect for baking. Seasoned with cinnamon, baked with a bit of brown sugar and served warm with chilled creamy yogurt, these roasted plums make a fantastic dessert I can sincerely recommend even to those who constantly watch their waistline.

In case you look for different ways to cook damsons or other plums:

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Light Almond Cream with Plums

Light Almond Cream with Plums

Plum, Prune and Chocolate Jam

Plum, Prune and Chocolate Jam

Damson Jam and Chocolate Tart

Damson Jam and Chocolate Tart

Damson Plum Butter (without sugar)

Damson Plum Butter (without sugar)

TIPS: The contrast between chilled yogurt and warm fruits is very important here, so you can cut up the fruits and divide into individual portions well ahead and then put it into the oven when you serve the main course, for example. If you really have to bake this dessert in advance, reheat it just before serving. I tried it and of course the taste is slightly worse, but better than served cold.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m sure you can prepare it also with frozen fruits (I’ll certainly test it with frozen sour cherries because this is the only way I can get them here).

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

12 big damson plums (or the equivalent of any stone fruit you like)

2 heaped teaspoons brown sugar (or more, depending on the plum’s sweetness and on your preferences)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

thick yogurt or sour cream or quark/fromage blanc to serve 

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Remove the stones from the fruits and cut each half into quarters (if you use smaller fruits, such as mirabelles or cherries, simply remove the stones and don’t cut them).

Put the plum pieces into individual baking dishes, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and bake for about 30-40 minutes.

Serve hot or warm with very cold yogurt, quark or sour cream.

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

Anchovy Vinaigrette, or Anchovy Salad Dressing

anchovy_vin_A big part of my summer meals consist of bowlfuls of salad leaves, topped with tomato, sometimes other raw vegetables, and proteins, such as cheese, egg, ham, bacon, canned tuna…. I often change both the toppings and the vinaigrettes, but none of the dressings I have tasted produces the effect comparable to this anchovy vinaigrette: it has this irresistible je-ne-sais-quoi characteristic of umami-packed food.

Canned or salted anchovy is hated by many people, but if mixed and used in correct amounts, it improves flavours in a very discreet way and thus can be enjoyed by all. I am a big fan of anchovies on their own (anchovy pizza is the only one I’ve been ordering for years!), so I’d like to propose also an “anchovy lovers” option. The latter, apart from mixed anchovy, has an additional amount of chopped anchovy added to the sauce  for a double anchovy taste (this is the one you see at the photograph above).

As for the source – or rather inspiration – of my recipe, I once saw an anchovy vinaigrette mentioned on a British tv cooking program, but don’t remember where exactly and didn’t write down the recipe. A couple of weeks ago I simply added anchovies to oil, vinegar and garlic and… it worked!

If you are an anchovy fan, you might also like this Spanish salad:

Egg, Pepper and Anchovy Salad

Egg, Pepper and Anchovy Salad

TIPS: This dressing is perfect for both salad as a full meal or as a side-dish (only leaves and maybe tomatoes). If you want to try the above salad version, I’ve put there a boiled egg, capers, mini tomatoes, dill and ground pepper. The tomatoes are dark because it’s the black Crimean variety.

Obviously you can use here both canned and salt-preserved anchovies. I never see the salted ones, so cannot tell you what difference in taste they make. If you are not a huge fan of anchovies and simply curious about the taste of this vinaigrette, start with half of the anchovy amount I wrote.

You can replace a part of olive oil with the oil from anchovies (if you use anchovies in oil), but don’t skip olive oil.

Preparation: 5 minutes

Ingredients (serves two): 

2 slightly heaped tablespoons of finely chopped drained canned anchovy (+1 more if you want the “anchovy lovers” version)

4 tablespoons olive oil (or a part of olive oil and canned anchovies’ oil)

1 big clove garlic, squashed or grated

6 (or more) tablespoons wine vinegar

Mix everything in a food processor (a baby food processor is very useful here) or mash well the anchovies with a fork, then mix well with the remaining ingredients. (Afterwards, add the chopped tablespoon of anchovies, if making the strong-flavoured version.) Taste and add more oil/vinegar, if needed.

This vinaigrette will keep for at least a week in the fridge, so it’s a good idea to make a bigger amount.

Light Yogurt Mousse with Passion Fruit

yog_mousse_passionSpring has been particularly cold this year and strawberries (I mean the edible ones) are late, so I keep on buying other fruits. A week ago I was thrilled to find exceptionally aromatic and sweet organic passion fruits and then wondered what dessert I could include them in… Finally, I thought the cleaner the flavours, the better. I’m glad I steered away from chocolate and strong tasting ingredients this time because this simple yogurt mousse proved perfect enhancer of the intense flavours of passion fruit. While shopping the following Friday I even didn’t look cravingly at strawberries and headed straight to passion fruits’ corner.

TIPS: I often make several individual portions of my light yogurt mousse-based desserts (see some of them here) and they keep perfectly several days in the fridge. This one is no exception (of course passion fruit should be added just before you eat).

Whatever the form of gelatin, it’s always indicated how much you need in order to set a certain amount of liquid. I don’t want to obtain here a stiff jelly-like texture, but something similar to a mousse, so I always check the advised amount and use only about 3/4 of it.

For the first time I used here only full-fat natural yogurt, but the following time I wanted it richer/creamier, so I reduced the amount of yogurt (see below) and added a bit of cream (mine was half-fat). It was just heavenly and still remained a light dessert.

Instead of normal full fat yogurt you can use here Greek yogurt or very smooth (mixed) fresh cheese/curd cheese/quark/, also called fromage frais/serek homogenizowany)

Ripe passion fruits have wrinkled skin (I learnt it very recently!), but if you buy smooth ones, you can put them at room temperature and wait until they ripen. Afterwards keep them in the fridge.

Preparation: 5 minutes+at least 2 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 4-5): 

500 ml  (about 17 fl oz) unsweetened full-fat yogurt (or see the TIPS above) or, if you want this dessert richer and creamier: 450 ml yogurt+50 ml cream

3/4 of the amount of gelatin necessary to set 500ml/17fl oz of liquid (usually 1 tablespoon gelatin or 6 – 8 sheets, depending on the size/brand, so check well the package and reduce the amount to about 3/4, see the TIPS above)+4 tablespoons warm water (I prefer to use hot water with powdered gelatin)

4 flat tablespoons confectioner’s sugar or sweetener of your choice

4-5 passion fruits (or more, depends on the size; I count 1 big per person or 1 and half of smaller ones)

Dissolve the gelatin in 4 tablespoons warm or hot (not boiling) water. (If using leaves, proceed as indicated on the package). (I’ve recently stumbled upon instant gelatin powder which can be added directly to any creamy mixture or liquid without previous dissolving, so check well the procedure on the package.)

Mix the yogurt (or fresh cheese) and the sweetener/sugar in a food processor.

Add the dissolved gelatin and mix well.

Pour the yogurt mixture into individual bowls or glasses and put into the fridge for at least two hours.

Just before serving, cut the passion fruits in two and scoop out the flesh on top of each mousse.