Tag Archives: basil

Coniglio All’Ischitana e Frittelle di Zucchini

Braised Rabbit and Zucchini Fritters

There are some films which momentarily transport you to another time or place as the story unfolds and then there are those which when finished have a more lasting effect and allow your mind to wonder and wish you had lived in that time or place. For me, one film that produces the latter effect is ‘The Talented Mr.Ripley’. Aside from the playboy lifestyle and amoral / sinister behaviour and eventual murder the viewer is immersed in an idyllic lifestyle spanning various parts of Italy. One of those places is the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, now a heaving tourist destination, back then it was as traditional and untouched as Islands come.

On Ischia, rabbit is the major source of protein as the steep hills make farming larger animals near impossible. The Italians have a vast variety of preparations for rabbit and this was the first I tried. In Valencia where I lived for the past year, rabbit was the main meat in the traditional Valencian Paella, it was therefore cheap and very available which is much more than can be said for England. Rabbits there were lean and flavoursome, so I was shocked at the large size of the rabbit I picked up from my butchers here but left wanting by the reduced gaminess of the meat.

This braise is quick and for me it is more of a summer dish so to accompany I made some light and creamy Zuchinni fritters by adding a few tablespoons of ricotta to the mix. It was the first time I had made them and I was so happy with the result. They would go great on their own or as a side to other things.

I am in Northern India for the next 3 weeks so this will be the last post for a while.

Coniglio All’Ischitana

Recipe adapted from the fantastic book ‘Al Dente’ by William Black. Serves 4

1 rabbit of around 1.5kg

olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

150ml red wine

500g plum tomatoes, chopped or tinned

a couple of thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs

small handful of fresh basil

salt and pepper

Ask the butcher to cut the rabbit into large chunks, or do it at home yourself. Wash and pat dry before browning in batches in hot, smoking olive oil in a large casserole or flameproof terracotta pot. Add the garlic and chilli and replace all the browned rabbit.

Add the wine and bring to a boil to reduce slightly over a high heat before adding the tomatoes. Reduce the head to medium and add the thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Add the basil 5-10 minutes before serving to leave a fresh, fragrant flavour.

The dish can then be served as it is, or for a thicker sauce (like I have done), remove the rabbit chunks and reduce the remaining sauce to the desired consistency. Passing through a chinois once or twice for an even more refined texture. Serve with zucchini fritters, the red wine used in cooking and bruschetta.

Frittelle di Zucchini

Makes 5-6 large fritters

2 medium zucchini

coarse salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

70g all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons ricotta

Olive or another oil of your choice, for shallow frying

Grate the zucchini or shred in a food processor into ribbons. Then mix through a teaspoon of course salt and place in a colander or sieve over a bowl with a weight on top to squeeze out the liquid (add extra pressure yourself to help squeeze out even more). Alternatively, place in a cheesecloth, tie and squeeze. Removing as much liquid as possible is vital to the mixture holding.

Then combine the rest of the ingredients with the zucchini in a bowl adding a little more salt if desired. When well mixed, leave in the fridge until ready to fry.

To fry, I used a cast iron skillet and poured a thin layer of oil in the bottom. Heat the oil over a medium heat and add a large spoonful (a serving spoon) of the mix to the pan, then flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. Leave for around two minutes before turning over with a spatula to fry for another couple of minutes or until lightly browned.

Sardines & Anchovies

Some time since my last post as I found myself put straight to work last week and catching up with all the people I had left here in England. Serious respect for anyone blogging that manages to work all day then come back ready to cook and put together a post. The problem here is that by the time I’m home and cleaned up from a day at the building site, there is barely any light (just rain – anyone in the UK at the moment will feel my pain) and I don’t have the equipment to shoot at night, so I will try and set aside dedicated cooking and shooting days but until I start university again I feel my post count will decrease.

To bring some Spanish sunshine back into my life, I opened up the box of treats I brought back from ‘Rafa the anchovy man’ of whom I spoke in my last post. Just the sight of them made me happy and the smells reminded me of starting my day at his market stall with a glass of young wine and one of his creations. I quickly got used to strong flavours first thing. The quality of this cured fish means that preparation should be limited, i.e served very simply. For me the best way is on bread with some good tomatoes to cut through their richness. He had also packed some of his own sun-dried tomatoes which he assured me would be better than any other I had tasted, and I had no reason to doubt him.

We, in England have some amazing produce unfortunately little of it seems to filter down to the masses, instead being sold in expensive markets or snapped up by the catering industry. But one thing we do have is an endless demand for Italian products and thus a copious amount of deli’s, cafe’s and bakeries in the capital. I am fortunate to live around the corner from what must be one of the best. The Bottega del Pane supplies the infamous River Cafe and other restaurants with their baked goods and I challenge anyone to leave empty handed after seeing what’s on offer. So I bought some of their famous sourdough and some amazing tomatoes (English grown!) to make some ‘Tostas’, the Spanish crostini.

I served the anchovy and tomato on slightly thicker cuts of bread because I wanted some of the juices to be soaked up without making it soggy throughout. I am positive this quality fish cannot be bought in a supermarket, so you’ll have to splash out somewhere but remember a little go a long way.  The sardines should be on thinner slices as the flavours are more delicate and topping drier. The dried tomatoes were wonderful and very different to ones I had tried and slated before, and with the basil made for the perfect trio. These probably aren’t for standing up and eating at parties as these things have become fashionable for but would go perfectly at the start of a meal. Or if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with more that 8 days of sun a year then bask in its glory with some cold wine and make everyone in the UK jealous.

Anchovy and Tomato Tostas

sliced sourdough bread or similar

extra virgin olive oil

tomatoes, chopped finely

good quality fresh anchovy fillets in oil

Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. For 4 tostas I used 2 tomatoes.

Preheat the grill/broiler to a high heat and toast the sliced bread until golden around the edges. Drizzle with a little oil.

Spoon the tomatoes onto the bread using a slotted spoon. Lift an anchovy fillet from the oil, let just a little of the oil drip off then lay on the tomatoes.

Sardine & Sun-Dried Tomato Tostas

sliced sourdough bread or similar

 sardine fillets in oil

sun-dried tomatoes

basil

Prepare the bread as above. Cut the sardines up into 1cm slices; the tomatoes into slightly smaller pieces and roughly chop the basil.

Mix well in a bowl with one tablespoon of oil from the sardines and one from the tomatoes. Spoon onto bread. Serve.

 

Black Figs with Serrano, Purple Basil and Balsamic

In the mighty world of hams in Spain, nothing surpasses the acorn eating, wild Iberico pigs that provide the cured meat world with ‘Jamon Iberico de Bellota’, to be served and consumed only in paper-thin, translucent slices. Despite it’s fame, as a student I can’t quite justify a price tag of around €90 per 100g of the stuff. However, I happily downgrade to Serrano whose silken texture; meaty yet fruity and floral flavour isn’t as rich as Iberico ham but whose uses are much more versatile without causing offence to any onlooking Spaniards. I’ve definitely eaten my fair share of these melt-in-the-mouth hams this year and fully intend on taking as much of a leg as possible to England.

To quote the godfather of Food Science, Harold Mcgee: “Hams are to fresh pork what long-aged cheeses are to fresh milk – a distillation, an expression of the transforming powers of salt, enzymes, and time”

Serrano (or parma etc) with figs is a tried and tested combination; flavours and textures readily complementing each other without any work required. It was something I ate regularly on arriving in September in time for fig season and have missed them ever since they disappeared from the market in October.  So I was very happy upon the appearance of these black figs, also known as giant figs which precede the smaller  varieties that arrive in August. Their fleshy interior isn’t red like many varieties but they have a wonderful flavour, not so syrupy but just sweet enough with some woody notes.

My ‘go-to’ man for herbs in the market introduced me to this purple basil which I believe is the Red Rubin variety. I had never seen such vividly coloured basil before. It has a lovely floral aroma, not quite as pungent as standard green basil, and has a bit of a citrus taste alongside the sweet basil flavour. I intend to make a ridiculously deep purple pesto with my next purchase.

The balsamic I used was of the ‘glaze’ kind, the overused, controversial plastic bottle stuff that any Italian would turn their nose up to. A raspberry balsamic glaze at that. But then I don’t think it is any worse than using a shop bought balsamic anyway. In Italy vinegars from Modena of quality are sold labelled with the age of the content, are syrupy in consistency (getting thicker the older they are) and extremely complex in flavour as they must be a minimum of 12 years old. Around 35 kilos of grapes are converted over time by acetification, fermentation, maturation, evaporation and other processes to produce 250ml of balsamic vinegar. So that ‘traditional balsmic of modena’ you get in your posh deli for £10 is most probably wine vinegar coloured with caramel and sweetened with sugar, with some young balsamic and cooked down grape must if you’re lucky. Unnecessary rant over.

Black Figs with Serrano, Purple Basil and Balsamic

Makes a great easy starter of antipasti

in-season figs

Serrano ham in paper-thin slices

purple basil or similar variety if unavailable

balsamic vinegar

Trim top hard stalk off the fig and cut a cross down to the midpoint of the fig. Press at the base of the fig at 4 points towards the centre so the top slits you made open up.

Wrap each fig with slice of ham and plate. Dress the fig and plate with the basil and vinegar. Serve

Spaghetti al Limone

A few weeks ago I returned from my first ever skiing holiday, I had loved every part of it from the beautiful scenery to the wonderful sense of freedom derived from throwing oneself down a mountain. But after my 8 days there I seriously needed some sunshine and fresh food.

I strolled through the Mercado Central the next morning amongst what seemed the freshest, most colourful produce I’d ever seen and was drawn by a huge mound of lemons. The yellow page of The River Cafe Cook Book sprung to mind and I knew what I’d be having for lunch.

A dish that fills the air with unctuous parmigiana, fresh citrus and basil, ticking all the boxes for a fresh summer dish

Spaghetti al Limone

Adapted from the fantastic River Cafe Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers

Serves 4

400g spaghetti

Juice of 3 lemons, zest of 1-2

150ml ml olive oil

130g Parmigiano

Sea salt and black pepper

Small bunch fresh basil chopped

Drop the pasta in boiling salted water (around a 1:5 ratio of pasta:water), stirring once submerged, leave to cook.

In an empty screw-top jar add the juice of the lemons and the olive oil, shake vigorously until well combined and emulsified.

Pour this mix into a new saucepan and stir in the grated parmesan (reserving a small amount to garnish) until thick, creamy consistency. Season well.

When al dente, pick spaghetti straight from water using pasta tongs, hold 3 seconds for some water to drain off then add to the saucepan containing lemon oil.

Once spaghetti added, place this saucepan on a low-med heat, stir well so pasta well coated whilst adding zest and basil. Serve.