Peperoncini freschi sott’olio (Fresh Chilli in Olive Oil)

pep_o

If – as I have heard several times – you also think that dried chillies can easily replace fresh ones, you would certainly change your mind after tasting this amazing condiment. Apart from their obvious heat, fresh chillies are naturally sweet, vibrant and fruity. The combination of these qualities combined with garlic and olive oil create here a unique taste and olfactory experience, bringing a sunny touch to any meal or snack. For years I have been enjoying peperoncini sott’olio in my favourite pizzerias and had no idea it would be so easy to make at home (moreover with a luscious result).

Looking for a reliable recipe for something I even didn’t know had a name, I learnt that peperoncini sott’olio (chillies in oil) are a Calabrian specialty (just like “olio santo”, the extremely popular chilli-infused oil) and that every home cook seems to have a different method… There are two major types: chopped fresh chillies or bigger chilli chunks, both preserved in olive oil, sometimes also with garlic (some versions also call for herbs). As the name suggests and as you see at the photograph, chillies dominate the jar and are simply covered with oil, contrary to chilli oil (the only exception is the thick Japanese chilli oil, Taberu Rayu, which has a lot of sediments). I have chosen the chopped pepper version since it was easier and seemed more versatile. Garlic’s presence is not obligatory, but as a big fan, I  would never skip this option. This recipe is a mixture of what I liked most and what I found easiest among all the web sources I visited. If you understand Italian, I found useful tips and remarks for example here and here. I have read some other recipes probably too, but these are the only sources I remember…

I have never tried long-term preserving fresh produce in oil (much trickier and definitely dangerous than for example chilli oil made with dried peppers) and given different methods and ideas of oil preservation I found, for now I decided to content myself with a short-term fridge preserve I intend to finish in maximum ten days. (Given the fact that in the several hours following the preparation I ate half of the jar content only with baguette slices, I don’t think my peperoncini sott’olio will keep that long, anyway…).

TIPS: If you wonder how to use this condiment, as I have mentioned, it’s fantastic on a pizza, but also on a slice of good bread, on pasta, on toast, in a sandwich, on potatoes, grilled meat, fish… and I had it yesterday with a wild mushroom omelette… It was extraordinary!

This is a short-term preserving method, which moreover uses fresh produce and has a very low acidity, so keep it in the fridge.

Vinegar is here not only to add some acidity, always good for preservation, but also to improve the taste. Before adding the vinegar I found this somewhat bland.

Preparation: about 30 – 40 minutes

Ingredients (yields 1 x 200 ml jar (not full)):

10 long fresh red chillies (mine were10-12 cm long and were only slightly hot; I have no idea what the variety is called like; adapt the heat level to your preferences)

1-2 garlic cloves

salt

150 ml olive oil 

1 tablespoon wine vinegar (I have used red wine vinegar)

Wash the chilli peppers.

Discard the stems.

Chop roughly the peeled garlic clove.

Mix both in a food processor (don’t make a pulp though, they should be just very finely chopped) or chop with a knife (wearing gloves!).

Warm an empty frying pan.

Heat the chopped chillies and garlic at very low temperature, constantly stirring, so that they dry a bit and release some of their juices (but don’t dry them too much; they shouldn’t change the colour).

After about 5 minutes pour the oil into the pan.

Fry the chillies at very low temperature for about 20 minutes.

Put aside and when it cools down, add the vinegar and salt to taste.

Put into a jar, close it and keep in the fridge for ten days maximum.

Chillies can be eaten at once, but they improve with time, so try to wait 24 hours before serving.

Korean Rice Rolls (Gimbap/Kimbap 김밥)

kor_makiGiven my growing interest and experience in Korean cooking, the gimbap - making adventure was inevitable. Especially since last year, when I saw beautiful colourful rice rolls in Tokyo’s Korean district. Unfortunately, I was no longer hungry (easy to understand after a BBQ dinner…) and didn’t have time to go back there before my return to Europe. Finally, after long months, I made my first attempt, which was much more satisfactory in terms of taste than in its aesthetic results. I hope you will believe me that clumsy-looking rice rolls can also make a fully enjoyable meal.

For those who have never had much more famous Japanese rice rolls (maki sushi), their basic ingredients are seaweed sheets (nori) and vinegared rice. The filling varies, but it usually includes one or more of such ingredients as fish, seafood, cucumber, pickled radish or avocado. For me the main difference between maki sushi and Korean gimbap/kimbap is the rice seasoning : here vinegar is also added to the rice (at least in my both cookery books), but a tiny amount only and the sesame oil’s presence dominates the final taste. The gimbap filling is usually richer and very colourful. It often contains beef, pickled radish, sliced omelette, cooked spinach and, for example, carrot.The sesame-scented rice is so delicious, you want to finish it on its own while mixing… so beware! (I kept on “tasting” it throughout the whole rolls preparation process.)

If I had to choose between Japanese and Korean rolls, I must say I prefer the vinegared maki sushi ,but mainly because I associate rice rolls with a very light, refreshing meal and vinegared rice gives more easily this impression. Gimbap is heartier and maybe less sophisticated… but there is something more casual, joyful and playful about Korean rolls… so I’m sure I will be making them from time to time. (And the taste of rice mixed with sesame oil was a revelation). Up to you to choose which ones you prefer!

I have combined here two slightly different recipes from The Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song and Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, both fantastic, though completely different cookbooks, the former being rather for beginners and the latter one of the biggest jewels in my kitchen library. Apart from using two sources, I have modified the filling substantially, namely adding raw cucumber and leek and skipping some ingredients (I did leave however the “flagship” beef and omelette), so can only I hope I still have the right to call these rolls “gimbap” in spite of all the changes… As in the case of maki sushi, I have used here a lower rice vs filling ratio than in the original recipe (see the TIPS below).

TIPS: Since I am able to devour lots of rice rolls (maki sushi or gimbap), I reduce the rice amount in order to make them lighter and low-calorie. As you see on the photo above, the filling takes here more space than the rice. If you prefer a standard, not lightened version, increase the rice amount (500 g or about 17,5 oz instead of 300 g or about 10,5 oz).

When you buy seaweed (nori) sheets, pay attention to their transparency and colour. I was told in Japan that darker and less transparent nori means better quality (of course there are more sophisticated criteria to judge the quality once the nori is dark and opaque enough to be considered good quality, but I found the above tip a good way to discard low-quality products).

Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall, the author of Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, advises serving gimbap with vinegared soy sauce (check her book for the recipe) and hot yellow mustard. I have served them with soy sauce mixed with sesame oil and vinegar only. 

Special equipment:

rice cooker (unless you know how to cook the rice in a “normal” pan)

maki rolling mat 

a brush

Preparation: 20 minutes (+ 1 hour for rice rinsing, cooking, seasoning and cooling)

Ingredients (serves 4 as the main course):

5 nori seaweed sheets

300g (about 10,5 oz) short grain (Japanese or Korean) rice (or 500g/about 17,5 oz if you prefer “standard”  rolls)

Rice mixture:

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 flat teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon rice wine (I have used sake)

1 long cucumber, cut into strips

(1 long thin leek)

2 eggs

1 big carrot, cut into strips (in the recipe it’s stir-fried, but I preferred to use it raw)

oil (for the omelette frying)

100 g ground beef ; the recipe calls either for finely chopped beef or for thin beef strips (at Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall’s), so you can chop it or cut into thin strips too

Beef marinade:

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 crushed or grated garlic cloves

(chilli flakes)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

sesame oil

a small bowl of water 

Steam the rice.

In the meantime mix the marinade with the beef and put aside for ten minutes.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, season with salt and fry a flat omelette.
Cut the omelette into thin strips and put them aside.

Put the hot rice into a bowl and add the rice mixture ingredients. Stir well and leave to cool down.

When the rice has cooled down to the room temperature (it can’t be completely cold, otherwise it won’t be sticky enough), put a nori sheet vertically on the rolling mat, shiny side down.

Fry the beef and let it cool down.

With fingers dipped in a bowl of water spread 1/5th of the rice evenly, leaving a 1 cm gap on the top, far edge.

Arrange the filling ingredients on the rice, in a horizontal line, close to the bottom edge.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and with sesame oil.

Roll the gimbap starting from the bottom edge, gently pressing after each turn.

Brush with water the upper edge before doing the last turn (it will help to seal the roll).

Press gently the roll and put it aside.

In order to obtain more or less similarly sized pieces, cut the roll first in two parts, then put them in a row and cut them in two parts, etc.

(It is easier to cut the rolls with a moist knife blade.)

Arrange them on a plate and serve.

 

 

Filipino “Torta” – Inspired Omelette with Ground Meat

fil_omeletteppSeveral years ago, on Wok with Ray, I saw a dish called “torta”. Ground meat in an omelette seemed both an ingenious and appetising idea, so I planned to prepare torta and still wonder why it took me so long… Last weekend, after a previous night’s korokke dinner, I was left with some fried ground beef. When I started to wonder how to use it, I had an instant flash of Ray’s beautiful torta. My Sunday lunch was ready in ten minutes and it was one of the best leftover dishes I have ever had in my life.

First of all, I must warn you I have substantially modified the recipe, for example omitting the potatoes and coriander. Moreover, instead of making smaller portions like Ray’s, I made one bigger omelette which filled the whole surface of my small pan. Then, I added my own touches just before serving: I sprinkled the omelette with a big amount of chives, toasted sesame seeds and, finally, I splashed some of my homemade ketchup and seasoned it with chilli oil. Even though the outcome of my transformed version was excellent, it is not the genuine torta, so check Ray’s blog to see the real recipe and to discover all the fascinating Filipino dishes and fantastic photographs I have been admiring for years on Wok with RayThank you so much, Ray, for this fantastic recipe! (UPDATE: And thank you so much for correcting my error!)

TIPS: Ray used here turkey meat and I used beef. I’m sure any minced meat would be ok.

Preparation: about 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

1 tablespoon oil

2 eggs

ground, fried and seasoned meat (about 100 g when raw)

chives or green onion

chilli oil

toasted sesame seeds

(salt/pepper)

(ketchup, any other tomato-based sauce)

With a fork beat the eggs slightly in a bowl.

Add the cold and fried ground meat.

Season with salt and pepper, if needed (it depends on how well the meat has been seasoned).

Heat the oil in a small frying pan.

Pour the omelette into the pan and fry it on both sides on low heat (it’s very easy to burn).

I always cover the pan with a lid when making an omelette and I advise it here too. This way the upper part will also cook a bit before you turn the omelette.

Finally, when the omelette is set well enough to be turned, turn it and fry on the second side for 30 seconds.

Serve with chives, a sauce of your choice and toasted sesame seeds. (If you like chilli oil, I strongly advise it; it was perfect with this omelette).

Rocket Salad with Chicken and Red Currants

redc_saladppWith their unique sharp flavours, red currants count for me among the biggest stars of the summer. They are perfect in preserves, fantastic in desserts or cakes, but my favourite option is simply eating them raw. As much as I love red currants, I would have never tried adding them fresh to a savoury dish, if it wasn’t for Hugh’s Three Good Things where I discovered this slightly surprising rocket/arugula salad.

As I have already mentioned here, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s book contains recipes calling each for only three main ingredients (plus seasoning). The ideas seem at first simple, but they are actually very creative and inspiring, often with small changes that make all the difference, such as putting red currants into a salad. These tangy berries were so perfect with rocket and chicken, now their presence feels as obvious and justified as, say, adding olives. Not to mention a pleasantly refreshing and original touch they make in this rather ordinary salad. Now I have one more reason to wait for red currants all year long!

I have slightly modified the original recipe, mainly mixing rocket with some other salad leaves. For the original recipe and other fantastic ideas, check Hugh’s Three Good Things.

TIP: White currants could be substituted here, but I’m not sure about black currants….

The amount of red currants depends on their sweetness and your own preferences (even when very ripe, they are always rather tangy).

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

leftover boiled, grilled or roast chicken, cut into slices or bite-sized pieces

rocket (or a mixture of rocket and other salad leaves)

red currants (berries only)

vinaigrette (I prefer here the simplest one: olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper)

Place the salad ingredients into a bowl or on a plate.

Sprinkle with the vinaigrette and serve.

Light Almond Cream with Plums

almondcreampIf your only idea of a perfect sweet treat is a thick slice of a rich, frosted cake, then you might not appreciate this post. If, however, like me, you avoid (or at least you try…) doubling the meal’s calorie intake in its last course or/and if you are thrilled at the idea of guiltless, but luscious refreshing desserts, this almond cream is definitely worth your attention.

Some of you might remember my custardy creams/custards set with agar, a gelling agent made from seaweed. Agar, or agar-agar (“kanten” in Japanese) is usually sold in a form of powder or in long sticks, but I always use the powdered form which seems easier to handle. Agar contains water soluble agents, which help digestion and are considered excellent in slimming diets. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, contrary to most agar users, I am not fond of thick standard jellies, so I simply use less agar. Thus, it barely sets liquids, resulting in something similar to a custard or a cream.

Until now most of my agar experiments featured coconut milk mixed with cow milk as the basic ingredient (see below). This one follows exactly the same method, but I use here almond milk instead and am more than satisfied with the results. I will soon test almond milk with other fruits, but at least I know that together with plums it creates a fantastic cooling dessert or snack. I am planning also to test almond cream since I’m sure it can be substituted with a similar albeit slightly richer result.

If you are not fond of almond milk, you might like some of these:

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

Wobbly Cream with Pear and Lime Zest

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coffee and Coconut Wobbly Cream with Agar

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Matcha and Coconut Wobbly Cream

Wobbly Rhubarb Delight

Wobbly Rhubarb Delight

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Chocolate and Coconut Cream with Agar

Light Coconut Cream with Canned Peaches

Light Coconut Cream with Canned Peaches

TIPS: I find agar even easier to use than gelatin (though it is not a gelatin replacement since it sets liquids in a slightly different way and cannot be used in every recipe). I use powdered pure agar and it is very easy to dissolve in liquids. There are however different agar powders on the market (some contain sugar for example or other additives), so check the ingredients list and look closely at your agar package instructions. On mine 1/2 teaspoon is supposed to set 500 ml/2 cups liquid to a jelly. I use only 1/3 teaspoon and obtain a wobbly, “falling off the spoon”, custardy consistency. If you prefer a well-set jelly, use the amount advised on the package, but make sure you don’t use too much agar (it’s easy to overdose!) because you might end up not only with a standard jelly, but with something practically inedible.

Do not wait until the cream becomes cold before pouring it into the bowls because agar sets at room temperature and, once disturbed, it will not reset properly! On the other hand do not pour the very hot cream because it will “boil” the fruit. Leave the mixture until it is still a bit hot, but not room temperature.

These creams will keep in the fridge for several days, so you can make a whole batch only for yourself!

You can make these creams for example in small jars with lids and take with you to work, on a trip or for a picnic.

Preparation: 15 minutes + 2-3 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 4 – 5):

500 ml/about 2 cups almond milk

4 flat tablespoons sugar (or more if you prefer very sweet desserts or if the plums are very tangy)

1/3 flat teaspoon pore agar agar in powder (if your agar powder contains other ingredients too, check the TIPS above)

about 1/2 kg (about 1 lb) plums cut into bite-sized pieces + some more for decoration

(toasted almond slivers)

Dissolve the sugar and agar-agar in the almond milk.

Bring to boil and, constantly stirring, let it simmer for about a minute.

Put aside.

Prepare four individual bowls or low glasses.

(Do not wait until the cream becomes cold because agar sets at room temperature and once disturbed, it will not reset properly!).

Distribute the plum pieces evenly among the bowls.

Pour the slightly hot (not room temperature yet!) almond milk over the fruit pieces and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Serve very cold decorated with fresh plums and, if you want, toasted almond slivers.