Spicy bacon and tomato pasta

Traveling and Toronto

After two years of working in a full time job and living in an – in my opinion very nice – apartment, I felt the time had come to quit all of it and go traveling again. So, having canceled all the contracts and stored some boxes in a storage space in Barcelona, it is just me and my backpack here in Canada. It is the most amazing feeling to have this sense of freedom, to be able to go where you want to go, be inspired by new places, and meet new people every day. Of course, there are also things to get used to again; on the one hand you´re constantly surrounded by people in the hostels, but on the other hand solo travel has its lonely and stressful moments as well. And, there is no private kitchen to cook your meals. One day you might be in a hostel with awesome equipment and free herbs and spices, and the next day you can find yourself in a place with just one pan and a stove that doesn´t quite heat up. So not surprisingly, I always see a lot of people falling back to one-minute noodles and soup from a can. And there´s nothing wrong with that, once in a while. But since it is important to me to eat fresh and, more or less, healthy food, I did decide to start adding some hostel-proof recipes here. Because after all, going out for dinner every evening can be quite expensive, especially in a country like Canada (and let´s not even start about the price of a glass of wine).

So regarding my trip, after I left Barcelona I first flew to London and staid there for the night. Just in a hotel at the airport. With meat-pie, chips, and peas for dinner. Accompanied by a very popular – and in my opinion very stupid – reality show. After this evening of high-class culture I continued to Toronto the next morning. And honestly, after the flight it was nice to be in the hostel, quite a cozy place with a decent kitchen and a supermarket nearby. All I wanted at that moment was a big plate of pasta and a good sleep after. The first part worked out well. But when I was just in bed, I was woken up by the fire alarm. The dorm was on the 9th floor, and my roommates and I were wondering for a moment what was going on. Then we went down all the stairs and saw four large firefighter cars outside, and several firefighters with full equipment and big axes going into the hostel. Welcome to Canada! Fortunately, nothing was really wrong. I still don´t know why the alarm went off, but after half an hour of standing outside in the snow in my flipflops we could go back up again.


The days that followed I had plenty of time to discover the city. Toronto is actually nicer than I expected it to be. It is in a way very American, with a large business district and a lot of high-rise. Even though this makes for an impressive skyline when you go to Toronto Island, that is just in front of the city on lake Ontario, it is not my preferred style for a city. But then there are the areas like Chinatown and Korea town, where you can find amazing food. And Queen street west, where the houses are smaller and older and have some quirky boutiques and cafes. And of course the St Lawrence market, the pride of food-lovers from the city. It is a large market building with a combination of fresh food and restaurants, where I did have some good lunches. And like this I found some more nice areas in the city, and started to like Toronto.

Spicy bacon and tomato pasta

img_0845
This is one of the dishes I make very often in hostels. The first reason is simple, I love pasta and this is a warming and hearty dish. Also, you don´t need many ingredients or tools. And finally, you can also make this when there is no olive oil, or other cooking oil, available and you don´t feel like buying oil for just one evening.

Ingredients (for two)

  • 6 thick rashes of bacon
  • A small onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A small dried chilli
  • 6 large tomatoes
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of oregano (if available, or otherwise other herbs)
  • Salt
  • 200 to 300 grams of spaghetti

First of all, chop the bacon and the onion in small pieces. Mince the garlic, and also chop to tomatoes. Regarding the tomatoes, you can leave the skin on but it´s good to make sure the pieces are small so that you won´t notice this in the sauce.

Place a frying pan over medium fire and add the bacon. Let this heat up until the fat comes out of the bacon and it starts frying. Add the onion as well as a pinch of salt. If there is a lot of fat in the bacon, scoop the surplus of fat out of the pan. When the onion is soft and the bacon starts turning golden brown, add the garlic and crumble the dried chilli in. Fry this until you start to smell the garlic. Then add the tomatoes and oregano to the pan. If you happen to have some wine, you can add a bit as well. Leave the sauce on a low fire, and if possible cover the pan while the sauce is simmering away.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. When it boils, cook the spaghetti until it´s al dente. Taste the sauce that has been simmering all this time. Try if you need some extra salt, this really depends on the bacon that you used. When the spaghetti is ready, drain it and mix it through the sauce.

Enjoy, and hopefully you´ll have a good glass of wine and some nice people to talk to.

Sweet potato pancakes

Autumn comfort

It´s this time of year again that the clock has been turned back an hour, that it is dark when I am going home from work and that it starts being cold in my apartment without heating. But these are also the days that it is still surprisingly warm in the sun, that the trees look beautiful with their coloured leaves, and that lovely comfort foods like pumpkin, mushrooms, chestnuts, and sweet potatoes are fully available again. On the markets the stalls with mushrooms that come straight from the forest show off the diversity of nature. And in the streets of Barcelona little wooden stands pop up where people sell both roasted chestnuts and roasted sweet potatoes that you can smell from a distance.

The sweet potato is in Catalunya not just sold on the streets. It is also a traditional part of the meal on All Saints´ Day. This festival is called “la Castanyada” here, after the chestnuts. On this day families typically eat roasted sweet potatoes and chestnuts, in combination with sweet wine. Whereas the chestnuts have been available in Europe since ancient times, this is not the case for sweet potatoes. The first Europeans to try sweet potatoes were most likely the members of Christopher Columbus´ journey in 1492. Because like the “normal” potatoes, sweet potatoes are native to the Americas. There they have been cultivated for centuries, since long before Christ. Sweet potatoes are supposedly even one of the oldest vegetables known to human beings, based on the evidence from pottery. The discoverers took the sweet potatoes, just like other crops as potatoes and corn, back to Europe. The sweet potato was first introduced in Spain, and from there in Italy and the rest of Europe. Nowadays there are still a lot of them being grown in the south of Spain, which is a suitable place since the crops cannot tolerate frost. Surprisingly, regardless of their name, the sweet potato is actually not closely related to the normal potato. It is a root vegetable that is considered to be very healthy, being rich in fibers and other nutrients. And that is of course always a good thing!

For me, the first time I prepared sweet potatoes was in the USA. Since we decided to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I did some research on the side dishes that usually go with the stuffed turkey. And sweet potatoes turned out to be one of the quintessential side dishes on “Turkey Day”. Although I really liked them then, I forgot about the sweet potato until I moved to Brussels, where they were sold a lot in my supermarket. So this is where I really came to enjoy them and started cooking a lot with them. Brussels is also the place where I created this recipe, since I was looking for ways of using the sweet potato other than just fried or mashed.

Those sweet potato pancakes are a great side dish. You can combine them for example with a range of mushrooms for a vegetarian lunch or dinner. Or use them as a side dish with any type of meat.


Sweet potato pancakes (for 6 pancakes)

  • Sweet potatoes – 500 grams
  • 1 red onion
  • Pine nuts – a handful (optional)
  • Flour – 4 tablespoons
  • Baking powder – 2 teaspoons
  • 1 egg
  • Thyme – a bunch of fresh leaves or 2 heaped teaspoons of dried thyme
  • Honey – 2 tablespoons
  • Butter
  • Salt and black pepper

Start by finely chopping the red onion. Place a small pot with a good knob of butter over a low fire. Add the onion and the thyme and season with salt and black pepper. Fry the onion for around 10 minutes, until transparent and soft. Add the honey and put the fire as low as possible, so that the mixture is just bubbling. Leave the onion to caramelize for another 10 minutes approximately. Then taste for seasoning. Just be careful not to burn your mouth, since caramelized sugars become very hot.

At the same time, peel the sweet potatoes and chop in rough pieces. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Boil the potatoes for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, until soft.
When you are using the pine nuts, fry them in a dry frying pan until they are golden brown. Be careful here, since it goes quite fast and it´s easy to burn them.

Once the potatoes are boiled and a bit cooled down, mash them with a fork or, even better, a proper mashing device. Stir the caramelized onions and the pine nuts through the potato mash. Then taste to see if you need any additional salt, pepper, or honey. When the flavour is to your liking, add the egg and the baking powder to the mixture and stir well using a fork. After this, start adding the flour by the spoonful. The mixture should become a sticky batter that is easy to shape using two spoons.

Heat a frying pan, or pancake pan if you happen to have one, on a medium fire. Add a small knob of butter. Now use two spoons to add the batter to the pan and form disks in the size of American pancakes. Fry the pancakes for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown on both sides. If you feel the sides of the pancakes, they shouldn´t feel sticky anymore. Repeat this until you have used all the batter.
Enjoy!

Stuffed poblano peppers with walnut sauce and pomegranate

Of second hand books and a vibrant culture

Not long ago I walked into a second hand bookstore, one of my favourite bookstores in Barcelona. I like how there is such a random mixture of books to be found in second hand bookstores. Now this particular time, my eye fell on a Mexican roman about love and food, apparently a bestseller from the 80s.

So I took it home and started reading. It quickly brought me back to the time I was in Mexico, quite some years ago already. I went with my parents and we traveled around the peninsula Yucatán. At that point in time, none of us spoke Spanish and for me it was the first time I was in a country with such a different culture, with jungle, with roadblocks where military stopped your car, etc. Of course we visited the ancient cities of the Mayas. There are the famous ones like Palenque and Chichén Itzá. Those were massive cities, and the pyramids are proudly standing so that it becomes easy to imagine the wealth and power those cities must have had. At the same time there are smaller historical cities, hidden in the jungle with the walls of the buildings still overgrown by plants. In those places there are almost no tourists, which makes it a completely different experience.

Magnificent and fascinating as the ancient culture is, the modern culture of the country is just as exciting. We visited beautiful and colourful cities, but also places where people lived in little huts made from timber with corrugated roofs (some with a television or radio). Places that seemed rich and places where children stopped your car on the road to try sell some fruits. But, even though I realize life is clearly not perfect there, everywhere we were the culture seemed lively and full of colours. And the food made a great impression on me. Eating in Mexican restaurants in Europe can be disappointing; even though some places are good, sometimes it seems like ready made mixtures are used and some tortillas taste like cardboard. But the food in Mexico was the opposite: fresh, diverse, and exciting. For breakfast we often had a range of tropical fruits and dishes like huevos rancheros, basically a dish of eggs in tomato sauce served with tortillas. And we tried plenty of other dishes, from meat dishes inland to fresh seafood in a place at the beach, where the cook came to show us the fish they caught that morning. Almost everything was served with delicious corn tortillas and refried beans. All in all, a proper discovery for me and miles away from the boxes with “Mexican” food you buy in the supermarket.


In this Mexican book I bought food also plays a very important role. The story is divided in months, and each chapter starts with a list of ingredients of a dish that features in that month. The recipes are loosely described during the story, leaving room for interpretation. So I decided to take the dish that sounded best to me and that had a positive influence within the story as well. Some research showed that this is a popular dish in Mexico, traditionally made in the city Puebla to celebrate independence day. Clearly, I have never tried the original dish so I don´t know how it compares, but this recipe is inspired by the interpretation of the dish as described in the book.

Stuffed poblano peppers with walnut sauce and pomegranate

img_9128
Ingredients (for 2 people, 8 pieces)

  • 8 poblano peppers or those pointed capsicums / bell peppers
  • 1 pomegranate
  • Small bunch of coriander
  • Beef mince – 300 grams
  • 1 apple
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 lemon
  • Raisins – a handful
  • 1 red chilli
  • Garlic – 2 cloves
  • Cumin – 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Oregano – 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Ground cloves – 1 teaspoon
  • Cinnamon – 1 teaspoon
  • Walnuts – 70 grams
  • Queso fresco, can be cottage cheese – 100 grams
  • Cream – 100 ml
  • Milk – approximately 50 ml
  • Olive oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and black pepper

First of all, the poblano peppers or capsicums have to be roasted so that the skin can be removed. Preheat your oven to 220°C. Place the peppers on an oven tray that is coated with olive oil or baking paper. Roast the peppers for as long as it takes to have their skins blistered and blackened. Turn them around once in while. When the skin is properly black and shows large blisters, take the peppers out and place them in a bowl covered with plastic. Let them cool down until you can handle them and peel off the skin.

For the sauce, start by toasting the walnuts. Set a few aside for decoration and blend the rest until they are a fine crumb. Add the cinnamon, the queso fresco and the cream to the blender as well and process until you have a smooth mixture. Then add milk, until the mixture is liquid but still sticks to a spoon. Season with salt and black pepper to taste and set aside.

With the sauce done and the peppers roasting, it is time to make the stuffing. Finely chop the onion, the garlic, and the chilli. Zest the lemon. Put the raisins in a bit of water to soak. Slice the tomatoes in half and use a coarse grater to grate the inside of the tomato, so that you only have the skin left, which you can discard. In a frying pan, heat some olive oil and add the onion and a pinch of sugar. Fry the onion on a low fire until it´s translucent. Add the chilli, garlic, cumin, cloves, and oregano. When this mixture becomes fragrant, add the meat and a good pinch of salt. Continue frying over a medium fire until the meat is browned. Drain the raisins. As a next step, add those raisins, the grated tomato, and lemon zest. Leave the mixture on a low fire for around 15 minutes. Check the seasoning and add some lemon juice to taste.

For the last touches, chop the apple very finely. Take the seeds out of the pomegranate and make sure all the pieces of membrane are taken out. Chop the coriander.

Mix the finely chopped apple through the meat mixture. Take the peeled peppers and slice them open lengthwise on one side. Take the seeds out. Carefully fill the peppers with the meat mixture. When all peppers are filled, place them on a serving plate. Serve with the sauce, the pomegranate, the walnuts you kept, and the coriander: the colours of the Mexican flag.

Noodle soup with pork meatballs

Singapore´s hot and exciting streets

After a year of living in Australia it was time to go back to Europe. However, being on a tight budget and not feeling completely ready to return just yet I decided to make a stop-over in Singapore for a week. Crazy enough, this would save me money. But more importantly, it would be a great opportunity to visit some university friends and to finally get a first taste of Asia. I had the feeling it would be a perfect introduction to this varied continent where I had never been before. And to say I wasn´t disappointed is a large understatement.

Arriving late in the evening, sweaty from the flight and the hot and sticky weather, I already got excited to what would come next by the first glance at a temple decorated with massive statues of tigers in the street of my hostel. Over the next days I set out to discover as much of this city-state as possible. Diversity certainly is the first thing that comes to my mind when summarizing this place. First of all in the difference between modern and traditional. There are clean modern buildings with interesting architecture. When those are lit up in the evening it looks like a modern fairy tale. But there are also the areas that seem a bit more messy, that are full of life, colours, temples, and tradition. Then there is diversity in the different areas of the city. Going from Chinatown to Little India one seems to visit separate worlds. Not only the buildings look different, but also the people, the things that are sold in the stores, the atmosphere, and of course the food.


Probably not surprisingly, the food was one of my favourite things in Singapore. Everywhere in the city there are hawker markets, places with little stalls that sell cooked food. In the middle there are tables where young and old sit around enjoying the noodles, the chicken, the indian curries, the shaved ice, and everything else. On some of those markets I didn´t see other western people, which amazed me in a city that is so frequently visited by tourists. I started appreciating Asian food during the year in Australia, but visiting Singapore made me really enthusiastic about all those different flavours with which I am not that familiar. Clearly I tried many dishes while being there, and fortunately I also had my friends who could show me some of the highlights. They told me that some food stalls are famous for a specific dish, so that people from all over town come to eat it there. Hence the long queues for some places…


The recipe here is inspired by the food I had in a hawker center close to the botanical gardens. Clearly, I am not a specialist in the Asian or Singaporean cuisine, even though I have recently been trying to learn more about it. But it´s a tasty dish that does bring me back to the hot and exciting streets of Singapore.

Noodle soup with pork meatballs

IMG_8375

If you want to, you can prepare the broth in the morning or a day before you want to eat the dish.

Ingredients (for 2)

For the broth

  • Pork bones – around 500 grams
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 leek
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Ginger – a large piece
  • 3 sticks of lemongrass
  • 3 star anise
  • Cardamom – 1 teaspoon
  • Cloves – 1 teaspoon
  • Fish sauce – 4 tablespoons
  • Vegetable oil – like sunflower oil or peanut oil

For the noodles and other bits and pieces

  • Flour – 200 grams, plus a bit extra for rolling out the dough
  • 3 eggs
  • Pork mince – 300 grams
  • Bok Choy (or spinach) – 250 grams
  • Shimeji mushrooms – or another type of mushrooms, 150 grams
  • 3 spring onions
  • Soy sauce
  • Sesame oil
  • Hot chilli sauce
  • Corn flour (optional)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper

To start with the broth, heat up a grill pan and coat it with a little bit of vegetable oil. Meanwhile, clean the carrots and the leek. Slice those vegetables lengthwise in halves and chop in pieces of around 2 centimeters long. Peel the garlic cloves. You don´t need to peel the ginger, but also slice it lengthwise and chop in 2 centimeter pieces. Cut the lemongrass to the same length and bash it with the back of your knife so that the fragrance comes out.

Once the grill pan is hot, add the pork bones, carrots, leek, garlic, and ginger. Grill this on the hot pan for around 20 minutes, or until all ingredients are charred on all sides. Take a large pot, add a splash of oil and place over medium heat. Add the lemongrass, the star anise, cardamom, and cloves. Fry this for around 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Next, add the pork bones and the other ingredients you have charred. Deglaze the pan with the fish sauce and add enough water to cover all ingredients, around 1 liter. Bring this to a boil and turn the heat down. Leave it to simmer for 45 minutes till an hour while stirring now and then.

After this time, check the flavour of your broth and pour it through a fine sieve. There will usually be some grease floating on top, so make sure to remove this. When you prepare the broth in advance, it will be really easy to remove the fat once the broth has been in the fridge: it will have settled on top so you can easily scoop it out.

Now it is time for making the noodle dough, which is quite similar to Italian pasta, but uses water in addition to eggs. Place the flour on your working surface and create a well in the middle. Add some salt, a splash of vegetable oil, and one egg. Start mixing this. When the egg has been mixed into the flour, begin adding water while continuing to knead the dough. You will need about 75 ml of water. Continue adding water and kneading until you have a soft, elastic dough that doesn´t stick anymore. Wrap this in some plastic foil and place in the fridge to rest.

For the pork meatballs, mix the minced pork meat with 2 table spoons of soy sauce, 2 table spoons of sesame oil and a bit of pepper. Optionally, you can add a tablespoon of cornflour to make the mixture stick together better and, if the mixture is too dry, a splash of water. Mix the ingredients well and form small balls out of the mixture.

Wash the bok choy and cut the leaves lengthwise in half. Clean the mushrooms as well. When you use shimeji mushrooms you can leave them whole, if you have bigger ones you might want to halve them. Finely chop the spring onion and set aside.

Next, take the noodle dough out of the fridge. Divide it into three pieces and roll out thinly. Then fold the longest side of the dough and cut it across from how you folded it into small strips. Unfold the dough so that you are left with long noodles, like tagliatelle.

Finally it is time for the last, most fun part: cooking everything and bringing it all together. Heat up the broth again. Once it simmers, add the meatballs, the mushrooms, and the noodles. Boil the noodles for around 4 minutes. Take them out and divide over two bowls. Then add the bok choy to the broth. Let this simmer for around 3 minutes until they are not raw anymore but still crunchy. Take the mushrooms and the bok choy out of the broth and add to your bowls as well. Now, carefully break and egg into a cup and tip into the broth. Stir around it to create a little whirlpool, so that the white folds around the yolk. Do the same with the other egg. Poach them for around 3 minutes, until still runny. Take the eggs and the meatballs out of the broth and carefully place them in your bowls. Now, taste the broth to see if any adjustment to the flavour is needed. When you are satisfied, strain the broth and carefully divide over the bowls. Serve with the spring onions and hot chilli sauce. Enjoy!

This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Sophie at Cooking Trips.our-growing-edge-badge.jpg

Lemon ravioli with spicy prawns

Camping cooking

It is summer again! Here in Barcelona it is the season of street parties, beach, and general happiness. Even though I still have to work the normal rhythm, when I come out of work and can go for some drinks in the sun it feels like holidays.

But the real holidays for me are the ones I grew up with. We used to pack the tent, hop in the car, and drive off. This could be to any country, we didn´t make any bookings but just went to places we were interested in and found a campsite. After a few nights we moved on to the next place. It´s a real feeling of freedom. For the cooking this meant we had a simple gas burner and some pots and pans. Nothing fancy, but those are still the basic tools for any great meal. So making delicious food was never an issue. We didn´t have any electricity, so of course also no fridge. That is in a way an advantage as well, as it forces you to buy fresh ingredients. And that makes for a good opportunity to go and visit local markets, which is one of my favourite things to do when I am in a different country. On the markets you can find out what produce are typical from the country and what the locals buy. There are different smells, colours, and types of food in each place. From beautiful vegetables and cherries on a small market in Aix-en-Provence, France, to fish stands where they showcase the massive swords of the delicious swordfish they sell in Catania, Italy. And of course everything in between.


One of my favourite things on the markets in the south of Europe used to be, and still is, the fish: so much more choice than on the market in the village in the Netherlands where we used to live. It looks impressive and sometimes almost surreal, all those different sea creatures. I personally really love the prawns. The whole ones that you have to peel yourself. On the campsite, but also at home, it is a great combination to eat those prawns simply fried with garlic and chilli, paired with a lemon pasta. Lemon spaghetti is a pasta dish with a cold sauce based on lemon juice and zest, cream and parmesan cheese. The lemon pasta is great for cooking on a campsite, both because of its simplicity and its summery feel. In the end, there are not many flavours that scream “summer” more than lemon does.

IMG_6890

For this recipe I have taken this concept of the prawns and lemon spaghetti as a basis, but slightly changed the flavours and textures. Of course, I will also continue cooking the simpler version of the pasta especially on the campsite or on busy days, since it is amazing as well.

IMG_8267

Lemon ravioli with spicy prawns

Ingredients (dinner for two)

  • 200 grams of flour – plus a bit extra for dusting
  • 3 eggs
  • Around half a kilo of prawns – raw and unpeeled, if you like you can get some more
  • Ricotta – 200 grams, without the excess liquid
  • 3 lemons – washed carefully
  • Garlic – 3 cloves
  • Basil – large bunch
  • Hot sauce, like tabasco
  • Olive oil – around 40 ml plus some extra
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Sugar
  • Butter – just a good knob

The first step is to make the pasta dough, so that this can rest for a while. Make a little mountain of the flour on a clean working surface and create a well in the middle. Add a pinch of salt, a dash of olive oil, and two eggs. Mix this with your hands and kneed until you have an elastic dough that does not stick to your hands anymore. In case it is too wet, add a bit of extra flour. If it seems to dry, just add some olive oil. After a few times of practicing making pasta will become really easy and quick. Wrap the dough in some glad wrap and leave it in the fridge to rest.

Now it is time to do the step that is probably most time consuming: peeling the prawns. Take the heads and the shell around their body off and put the heads aside. Leave the tip of the tail on. Also remove the veins, by making a small incision in the back of the prawns and pulling them out. When all the prawns are peeled and deveined, heat the 40 ml of olive oil in a small pot on a medium fire. Add the prawn heads to the oil, and fry them until they are pink. Turn down the fire to low and leave for around 5 minutes. Then you can turn the fire off and leave the oil to infuse with the prawn flavours.

The next thing to do is making the ravioli filling. Mince one of the garlic cloves, a small one, until it is really fine. Grate the zest of two of the lemons, and juice both of them as well. Finely chop half of your basil. Mix the chopped basil, the garlic, and the lemon zest with the ricotta. Add lemon juice to your liking, around the amount of juice of one lemon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place this mixture in the fridge until needed. Keep the rest of the lemon juice for the sauce.

After you have finished the filling, finely chop the other two cloves of garlic which you will need for the prawns. Take the remaining lemon and chop the top and bottom off. Slice lengthwise in four. Then cut out the membrane in the middle, at the same time removing the seeds. Chop all quarters in thin triangles, of around 5 mm thick.

Now a very important step, because it is time to make the ravioli. While you are doing this, place a large pot of salted water on the fire to bring it to a boil. Beat the third egg and place on your working surface. Take the pasta dough out of the fridge and divide in three or four pieces. Roll the pasta out until you have very thin sheets, either using a pasta machine or by hand. The sheets need to be thin enough that when you lay them on a surface and blow along the sides, the pasta comes up and moves in waves. Cut squares out of the pasta that are a little bit bigger than the size you want your raviolis to be. Place a teaspoon of the lemon and ricotta filling on half of the squares. Brush the sides of each of the squares with filling with the beaten egg and place another square of pasta on top. Carefully close the ravioli with the sides of your thumbs, working away from the filling to press out all the air. Cut the sides with a ravioli cutter. If you do not have one, just cut the excess pasta off and use a fork to make a nice pattern on the sides.

By now, your water should have come to a boil. Place the triangles of lemon you cut before in the water, and blanch them for 3 minutes. Then take them out and dry them well with kitchen paper. You can turn the fire under the water down to a low heat. Meanwhile, strain the olive oil which you have been infusing with the prawn heads and set aside. Heat up a frying pan on medium heat and add a knob of butter. Add the dried lemon triangles and a pinch of salt and sugar each. Fry them on a low heat on both sides until they are brown, for around five minutes. Take them out of a the pan and wipe the pan with some kitchen paper.

Now it is time for some multitasking. Place another frying pan with some olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped garlic. When the garlic starts to fry, add the prawns. Once the prawns turn pink on one side, turn them around and add a pinch of salt and hot sauce to taste. The amount of hot sauce depends on how spicy you like it. Fry the prawns until pink on both sides, around 4 minutes. In the frying pan in which you fried the lemon, add another knob of butter and the prawn oil. Heat this until the butter has melted and starts to colour. Then add a good splash of water from the pot in which you boiled the lemon triangles. Let this boil, while stirring, for around 3 minutes until the oil and water emulsify into a sauce. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. Lower the fire under the sauce so that it cools down a bit. Meanwhile, bring the water in the pot up to a boil again and add the ravioli. Boil them for 4 minutes or until al dente. When the ravioli are cooked, add them to the pan with sauce and coat them in the sauce.

Finally, it is dinner time! Serve the ravioli with the spicy prawns (spoon the hot sauce and garlic from the pan over the prawns), the fried lemon wedges, and some extra basil.

Steak with tapenade and courgette

Rosemary from an artist

After more than a year of living in Spain it was time to visit the northern neighbour again: La douce France. So I left for a trip to the Provence, the area in the southeast of France. Conveniently enough it is only a train ride away (or almost 10 hours by bus when the trains are on strike).

The Provence is famous for quite some reasons: from the Marseille soap via lavender and herbs de Provence to bouillabaisse and Pastis. Bouillabaisse being a fish stew and Pastis an anise-flavoured drink that is perfect as aperitif, they both come from Marseille. So of course, while in Marseille we had to try those local specialties to get better acknowledged with the area. We tried both close to the old harbour, where the beautiful French architecture now mixes with modern yachts and tourists.

But there is more to discover in the area than great food and drinks. The nature is beautiful; rolling hills covered with vineyards, cherry trees, lavender fields and pretty villages. It certainly is understandable that so many painters came to live here. We rented a car for a day to see more of the area than just the cities. The lavender fields weren´t flowering yet, but instead the landscape was covered with red poppies. Taking the small roads we discovered some of the villages. I love those places where it seems like the time has stopped, where there are almost no tourists and there is just one restaurant where people are relaxedly enjoying their lunch with a glass of regional wine.

IMG_8208

Another day we went up to a hill close to Aix-en-Provence. From there you could see one of the mountains that Cézanne has painted many times. Although nowadays there are houses around the place where he used to paint, it is quiet and you can still just enjoy the feeling of the warm sun and hear the sound of the crickets and the birds, imagining the artist is still there painting the view. We had a small picnic with slices of pizza with anchovy that you can buy everywhere at the bakeries, as common and as delicious as the croissants. Since there was a lot of rosemary growing at that place, we picked some for dinner. Afterwards we passed by the market, full of bright and beautiful vegetables, cheese, honey, and other produce.

This recipe here is a simple recipe, trying to put those memories together on a plate. A tapenade with the rosemary from Cézanne´s place and the anchovy from the pizza. The courgette and black olives from the market. Overall a simple dish, like we cooked in the small apartment on two hotplates. And it goes well with rosé, the wine we drunk every sunny afternoon on a typical French square in Aix-en-Provence.

Steak with tapenade and courgette

IMG_8254
Ingredients (dinner for two)

  • 2 steaks – size according to your liking
  • 2 small courgettes or 1 big one, use a yellow one if you can find it
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 6 large cloves of garlic
  • Black olives – around 20, of a good quality
  • Capers – a small tablespoon
  • Anchovy fillets – around 4
  • Lemon
  • Oregano – around 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Rosemary – a good bunch
  • Thyme – around 2 heaped teaspoons
  • Dried red chilli
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Salt
  • Baguette

Turn the oven up to 150°C. Slice the tomatoes in half and take out the seeds. Finely chop half of the rosemary. Place the tomato halves on some aluminium foil on a baking tray. Sprinkle with the chopped rosemary, the oregano, thyme and some salt. Drizzle some olive oil over the top. Place two of the cloves of garlic, unpeeled, on the tray as well. Place in the middle of the oven and let the tomatoes roast for around an hour. Switch the oven off and let the tomatoes cool down in the oven.
Meanwhile, marinate the steaks. Take the needles of the rest of the rosemary. Peel 3 of the cloves of garlic and quickly crush with the flat side of your knife. Mix half of the rosemary needles with some crushed dried red chillis. The amount of chilli depends. I use around four chillis, but it depends on how spicy your chillies are and how hot you like your food. Add a good dash of olive oil. Dry the steaks and place them in this marinate, leave them at room temperature.

Now you probably have some time to drink a glass of wine before the tomatoes are roasted. Once this is done, take the stones out of your olives. Rinse the capers and take the skin off the roasted tomatoes. You will just have the part of the tomato flesh that is just under the skin left, infused with the herbs and olive oil. Add the olives, capers, tomatoes and anchovy to a blender. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its skin and add as well, together with a few drops of lemon juice. Blend this all until the olives are roughly chopped. Then taste and season with salt, olive oil, and lemon juice to taste.

Next, finely slice the courgettes and chop the last clove of garlic. Add a few drops of olive oil to a frying pan and place over medium fire. When the pan is warm, add a little bit of salt. Then place the slices of courgette in one layer in the pan. Fry them around 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Set the fried courgette aside. Repeat this until you have fried all the slices. When you turn the last batch around, add the garlic and the rosemary you have left over. Leave in the pan until the courgette is golden brown, and the garlic and rosemary crisp. Drizzle some olive oil over the fried slices of courgette.

Finally, fry your steaks. You can do this in the same pan that should still be hot, no need to add extra olive oil since the steaks have marinated in the olive oil already. The time they need varies according to the thickness of the meat and how you like the cooking done. As a reference, a steak of 2 centimeters thick needs around 2 minutes on each side for medium rare. Add the garlic and the rosemary from the marinate as well and don´t forget to season with a good pinch of salt. After cooking, leave the steaks to rest for at least 5 minutes. Leave the garlic and rosemary in the pan so the garlic becomes soft and the rosemary crispy.

Serve the steaks with the courgette, the tapenade, and the bread. Don´t forget a glass of wine with it, and enjoy!

IMG_8256

Seabream with spring vegetables and ginger

Of stereotypes and flowers

When I am traveling and I tell people I am from Holland, I usually get the same response. It tends to be something in the line of: “Oh, so you´re from Amsterdam. Do you smoke a lot of marihuana?” I have to admit it is an understandable reaction in a way, but it always makes me happy when I find someone who knows a bit more about the country. Or when someone at least also starts talking about other famous aspects of Holland like wooden shoes, windmills, and cheese. But the marihuana aside, recently I saw many photos on social media from friends who visited Holland for another famous plant: the tulip.

Although those flowers are not originally Dutch, they were probably brought over from Turkey, they have been cultivated in Holland since the 16th century. The tulip bulbs eventually got an important place in the country´s economy. Their importance was such that they even let to the first proper economic bubble in history, named tulip mania: The flowers became extremely popular during the Dutch Golden Age as a luxury product. Because of their popularity the contracts for tulip bulbs were traded on the stock markets against exorbitant prices. In the year 1637 those prices collapsed, leading to the first market crash ever.

Even though the flowers are now not of such importance anymore, they are still a large export product and a lovely tourist attraction as well. In spring Holland is full of fields that are covered in flowers of all colours. Whereas most tourists visit the tulip fields close to Amsterdam, with my family I used to go to the fields close to my parents´ place. As far as you can see there are tulip fields in many bright colours and with different shapes of flowers. You can just drive around there through the fields and stop wherever you want to take pictures or go for a short hike between the flowers. Even when you have seen it many times, it is still an amazing sight. It does really look like a painter came by to brighten up the surroundings.


Looking at my pictures of the tulip fields inspired me to use some of the vegetables I see in the store every day to resemble the brightness and diversity of those fields. So I tried to bring the colours and live of the flowers to the plate, like on a beautiful spring day in Holland.

White fish with spring vegetables and fried ginger

This dish has two types of purées, a parsnip and a beetroot one. The contrast of the white and the red of the purées reminds me of the different colours of the tulips. The peas and turnips are in season in spring and add some crunch and the feeling of spring time.

IMG_8167

Ingredients (for two as a main course)

  • 2 white fish – I used seabream, they should be whole but gutted and scaled
  • 4 small beetroots
  • 4 parsnips
  • 2 turnips
  • Fresh peas – around 450 grams with their pods, or 200 grams shelled
  • Fresh coriander – a small bunch
  • 2 lemons
  • Garlic – 3 cloves
  • Ginger – a piece of around 3 centimeters long
  • Cumin – 1 heaped teaspoon
  • 1 green chilli
  • Double cream – just a dash
  • Olive oil
  • Sunflower oil or another neutral oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Wrap the beetroots each separately in aluminium foil. Also wrap the parsnips in aluminium foil, together with two unpeeled cloves of garlic. Place them all in the oven and leave the packages in for around 50 minutes. Check now and then whether the vegetables have become soft and roasted through.

Now it is time to prepare all the other ingredients. First of all, shell the peas. Slice the third clove of garlic very thinly. Take the seeds out of the chilli and cut it as well. Finely chop half of the coriander. Peel both turnips and slice them in thin strips. Do the same with half of the ginger. Grate the other half of the ginger on a fine grater.

Bring a small pot with salted water to a boil and blanch the peas for around 5 minutes, until they start to become tender.

In a small pan, roast the cumin for a few minutes until it is fragrant and set it aside. Add some olive oil to the same pan and add the sliced garlic, chilli, and grated ginger. When this mixture starts to smell nicely, add the peas. Fry for a few minutes until the peas are tender but still have some bite. Add salt to taste. Let this cool down and mix in the pieces of turnip and the chopped coriander. Dress with some olive oil and lemon juice.

The next step is to prepare the fish. Pat them really dry with a piece of kitchen paper, both from the outside and from the inside. Season with salt and pepper, also both the inside and the outside. Rub a bit of olive oil all over the fish. Cut some slices of lemon and stuff the inside of both fish with the lemon and the left over coriander.

By now the vegetables in the oven should be roasted. Start by making the parsnip puree. The beetroot will colour everything red, so it is better to do this after. Peel the parsnips and the garlic and blend them together into a smooth purée. Transfer the purée into a fine sieve and use a spoon to push the mixture through the sieve. This will remove all lumps and provide you with a very smooth and soft texture. Add a little bit of cream to the parsnips and season with salt and pepper to taste. The oven should still be warm from roasting the vegetables, so place the purée in the oven to keep it warm. Clean your blender and add the peeled beetroots and the cumin. Blend this mixture as well and push it through the sieve again. Similar to the parsnip purée, add salt, pepper, and cream to taste. Keep the beetroot purée warm in the oven as well.

Finally, it is time to roast the fish and deep fry the ginger. Place a grill pan without any oil over high heat. Simultaneously, add a layer of the sunflower oil of around 2 centimeters deep to a small pot and heat this up as well. When the grill pan is screaming hot, carefully add the fish to the pan. Leave the fish on there for around 4 minutes, the exact time depends on the type and the size of the fish, without touching it. Then, try to carefully turn it around. If the skin still sticks to the pan, leave it for a bit longer. Once the skin does not stick to the pan anymore, turn the fish around. Give it another 4 minutes on the other side. Meanwhile, when the oil in the pot is hot, add the strips of ginger you have cut before. Fry the ginger until it starts to turn golden brown, around 5 minutes. Carefully take it out of the oil and place on paper towel to drain. Sprinkle some salt over the ginger.

When both the fish and the ginger are done, it is time to serve. Add both purées and the peas to the plate. You can serve the fish whole, but also just serve the fillets. If you want to serve the fillets, carefully take the skin off the fish. Using two spoons, you can easily slide the fillets of the bone. Lastly, add the fried ginger to the plate and serve with some wedges of lemon.

Artichoke and Eggplant Tortellini with Almonds

Train ride to the South

As spring is in the air and the extra hours of daylight certainly give me more energy, I decided it was time for a long weekend off. My parents were staying in the south of Spain for a month, so I would go to visit them there. As there were no good flights available I took the train from Barcelona down the coast to Cartagena. It is quite a long train ride, around 8 hours. But not only the destination is worth the long ride, the journey itself is beautiful as well. A large part of the rails has been built alongside the sea. So on the one side of the train there is glistening blue water. On the other side there are hills, mountains, and fertile land with all types of agriculture. Especially the parts with orange and almond trees were beautiful.

After this long trip, it was great to arrive at the apartment my parents were renting. A nice place with a view both on the sea and on the hills with “pueblos blancos”, the typical villages where all houses are white. On one of the days I spent there we went to the market in Vera. The market stretched out all through the village. Although most of the market stalls sold clothes, shoes, and other non-food items, there were a few with food as well. Besides the delicious roast chicken we bought for lunch, there were some people selling local vegetables. Passing by, my eye fell immediately on all the artichokes. There were massive piles of those beautiful green, flower like vegetables (they are actually the flower buds before the flowers bloom). They look amazing at this time of year. Because even though they can be harvested all through the year, the spring and mid-autumn are their peak seasons. When I was younger I only knew the artichokes you can buy in the jars or cans. I had seen the fresh ones in Italy, but did not know what to do with them. In the end, they look barely edible and a world away from the canned artichoke hearts that I have always liked. But since I live here in Spain I cook them often. As they are very popular you can find beautiful artichokes everywhere.


Looking at those piles of artichokes I decided my next dish had to feature them. Freshly cooked they are an amazing spring time vegetable. They don´t only have a beautiful and subtle flavour themselves, but also seem to transform the flavour of other food you eat after in a good way, making it a bit sweeter. I decided to pair the artichokes with almonds, reminding me of this long and lovely train ride, and one of my other favourite vegetables, the eggplant. Together they make a light, springtime tortellini dish with the fresh but earthy and a bit smoky flavour that somehow reminds me of the south.

Tortellini with two fillings and almond crumble

This dish has two types of tortellini, one filled with artichoke and the other with eggplant, therefore it is a surprise which flavour you will get. The almond crumble gives it some crunch.

 

IMG_8071

Ingredients (for two)

  • 200 grams of flour, plus a bit extra for rolling out the pasta
  • 3 eggs
  • Almonds – the unsalted version, around 75 grams
  • Parmesan cheese – around 70 grams
  • Ricotta – around 4 tablespoons
  • 4 artichokes
  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 lemons
  • Garlic – two cloves
  • Sprig of rosemary, plus a bit extra as garnish
  • Bay leaves
  • Dried chilli
  • 25 grams of butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Start off by making the pasta dough. Place the flour on your working surface and make a well in the middle. Break two eggs in this well and add a tablespoon of olive oil and a good pinch of salt. Mix this together and knead until you have a flexible dough that doesn´t stick to your hands anymore. Add some more flour if it is too sticky or a bit of additional oil if it is too dry. Wrap the dough in some plastic wrap and place into the fridge to rest.

When the dough is in the fridge, pierce the skin of the eggplant all around with a fork. Wrap the eggplant tightly in a few layers of aluminium foil. If you have a gas stove, turn a small burner on to medium heat and place the eggplant straight over the fire. Turn it around once in a while, using tongs, to have it cooking evenly. Leave it on the fire until it is completely soft. This takes around 30 minutes for a medium sized eggplant, and a bit longer if it is a big one. If you don´t have a gas stove, you can put the eggplant in the oven at 200˚C for the same time.

Meanwhile, prep the artichokes. Peel off the outer leaves until you see the leaves on the inside that are light green and soft. Using a sharp knife, cut off the upper hard part of the leaves and peel the stem and the part just above it. You are now left with light green, tender artichoke hearts. Slice the artichokes in half and take out the hairy parts in the middle. While you are peeling and slicing the artichokes, sprinkle some juice of one of the lemons over them to prevent them from turning brown. It doesn´t really affect the flavour when it changes colour, but it doesn´t look very nice. Finally, chop the artichoke halves in quarters. Place the artichokes in a small pot with the peeled cloves of garlic, a few bay leaves, one or two small dried chillis, and a good pinch of salt. Fill the pot with cold water until the artichokes are just under. Bring it to a boil and boil for around 10 minutes, or until the artichokes are soft.

For the artichoke filling, drain the artichokes well and pat them dry. Trow the bay leaves away and put the artichokes, the garlic cloves and the chilli in a blender. Take the leaves off the rosemary and zest the other lemon. Add both the rosemary and the lemon zest to the blender as well. Blend the artichokes until they have a smooth consistency. Add around 3 tablespoons of ricotta and mix this through. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and lemon juice. The mixture should be really smooth and soft and have a subtle but zingy flavour. Set the mixture aside.

For the eggplant filling carefully open the aluminium foil and take out the eggplant. Slice it open in the length. Scoop out the flesh and discard the skin. Whip the flesh of the eggplant with a fork until the strings of flesh fall apart. Grate the Parmesan cheese. Add around 40 grams of the Parmesan cheese to the eggplant. Also add the left over tablespoon of ricotta, a bit of a good olive oil, and salt and black pepper. Mix this well. It should be quite smooth and with a clear smoky eggplant flavour.

Now it is time to prepare the almond crumble. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Put the almonds in a blender and blend until they resemble the consistency of bread crumbs. Don´t take it too far, as it shouldn´t become almond flour. It is alright when the crumbs aren´t all exactly the same size and there are still some larger parts, this only gives it more texture. Mix the almonds with the rest of the Parmesan cheese, around 30 grams. Add some black pepper. Melt the butter in a small pan and keep it on the heat until it starts to colour golden brown. Then take it off immediately, so that it doesn´t burn. Add a pinch of salt to the butter and mix it through the almond mixture. Place a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray and spread the almond mixture out in a thin layer. Roast the almonds in the oven for around 10 minutes. Mix it once with a spoon during the roasting time. The almond mixture should look golden brown. It will be quite soft when it is still warm, but once it cools down it becomes nice and crunchy.

Finally, assemble the tortellini. Roll the pasta dough out into very thin sheets. When you lay the sheets of dough down and blow along the sides, they should move. Cut circles out of the dough of around 5 centimeters in diameter, or a bit larger. Break the last egg in a little bowl and mix it. To make the tortellini, place a teaspoon of one of the fillings on the middle of a circle of pasta. Be careful not to use too much filling. Moisten the outside of the circle with some egg. Then fold the circle into a half moon shaped pocket. Take the two corners and press them together. Place on a wooden board dusted with flour. Repeat this until your pasta dough and the two fillings are finished.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Boil the tortellini for around 3 minutes. Do this in batches so that there are not too many in the water, otherwise they might stick. Divide the almond crumb over two plates and place the tortellini on top. Make sure that both plates get some of each type of tortellini. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the pasta and sprinkle with some really finely chopped rosemary. Enjoy!

IMG_8081

Halušky with pumpkin and sheep cheese

Slovak discoveries

On a sunny autumn day, at half past four, I ran out of my house to the metro. And from the metro station at the same speed to the train. I´m not usually in a rush, but having to catch a plane is one of the occasions where a bit of hurrying might help.

The flight that day was to Vienna. From there I took the bus to Bratislava for my first ever trip to Slovakia, to visit a good friend and to explore a little bit of this beautiful country. It was an interesting experience to be in a country again where I really could not understand a word of the local language. The language is so different that I was not even sure which toilet to enter in the restaurants, as the letters on the door were not much of a help to me in this case. So it was great to have a friend who could guide me. She took me to a wine festival in Bratislava. To be honest, before I did not even realize the Slovaks make wine. But it turned out to be really good. We tried very young wine, burčiak, which is the same as the German Federweisser, and some other red and white varieties. A very positive surprise!

IMG_6985

As only drinking wine clearly is not a good idea, we also tried some local food. The restaurant we went to for a Sunday lunch seemed traditional: white and blue checkered tablecloths, dark wooden furniture and paintings of shepherds and the likes on the walls. After a delicious soup served in bread we had a tasting of three traditional dishes. The dish I really liked was Bryndzové Halušky, potato dumplings with bryndza, a Slovak sheep cheese, and bacon. After this lunch it was definitely time for a nap! The food is delicious, but portions are certainly not small and it is quite heavy with the potatoes, bacon, and cheese.

IMG_7014
IMG_7012

After the weekend I took the train to Nitra, a smaller city in Slovakia. As I wanted to try some more local food on my last evening in the country I went into a small restaurant. The waiter did not speak English, and the menu was of course only in Slovak. At least I remembered the Slovak word for a beer. And the beer was a great combination with the tasty meal I ordered by randomly pointing at the menu: another version of the halušky, the potato dumplings. This time without bacon, but with sausage and pork meat. Delicious, but if possible even heavier than the version I tried before.

These meals certainly inspired me to have a go at making those dumplings myself. I tried to keep the warmth and comfort feeling of the food, but make it a bit less heavy by using pumpkin instead of more meat.

Halušky with pumpkin and sheep cheese

Ingredients (for 2 as a main course)

  • 3 medium sized potatoes
  • 150 grams of flour
  • 1 small pumpkin
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  • Bryndza, or otherwise another soft sheep cheese like feta – around 100 grams
  • Bacon – 5 slices
  • Anise seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • Sage – small bunch
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 ˚C. Cut the pumpkin in half and take out the seeds. You don´t need the seeds now, but it would be a shame to throw them away! You can clean and roast them as a snack or use them for another dish. Rub the cut sides of the pumpkin with olive oil. Then place them on some aluminium foil on an oven tray, with the cut sides down. Place the tray in the oven and roast the pumpkin for around 45 minutes, until soft.

In the mean time, prepare the dough for the halušky. Peel the potatoes and grate them on the fine side of a grater. Drain the excess water that comes from the potatoes. Add a good pinch of salt, and start adding the flour in spoonfuls. Stir well every time you add more flour, and repeat until you have a thick and sticky dough. Set the dough aside.

If you like spicy, keep the seeds in the chilli, otherwise you can remove them. Finely chop the chilli and the garlic. Also finely slice half of the sage leaves and chop the bacon in small pieces. Add a little bit of olive oil to a small frying pan and fry the bacon over a low fire until the fat comes out and the bacon is golden brown. Place the bacon on some kitchen paper and set aside.

By now, the pumpkin halves should be roasted and soft. Take them out of the oven and, when they are cooled down a bit, scoop the flesh out of the skin. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for the dumplings.

Heat some olive oil in a smaller pot and add the garlic and chilli. When the garlic starts to become fragrant, add the anise seeds. Let them fry for a minute, and then add the flesh of the pumpkin. Use a fork to mash the pumpkin flesh. Stir well and add the sliced sage leaves. Poor around 150 milliliter of water in the pot and stir well. Add half of the fried bacon to the sauce and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Leave the sauce on a low fire to develop its flavours and become thick and creamy.

In a small frying pan, heat up a shallow layer of oil. When the oil is hot, fry the remaining sage leaves for around 2 minutes, until they are crispy. Set them aside on some kitchen paper.

Finally, when the water boils, it is time to make the halušky. It is smart to try one dumpling first, if it would fall apart you know that you have to add more flour to the dough. Put some of the dough in a thin layer on a cutting board. Dip a large knife in the boiling water and use this knife to quickly slice off small parts of the dough and drop them straight into the boiling water. If you would happen to have a spaetlze maker, you can use that as well. Give a quick stir, so that the dumplings don´t stick to the bottom of the pan. When the dumplings float to the top and have changed to a more yellowish colour, they are ready. Take them out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and drain them in a collander. Continue with the next batch in the same way, until all dough has been used.

When all the dumplings are ready, mix them with the sauce and divide them over two plates. Crumb the sheep cheese in between your fingers, and sprinkle over the top. Then serve with the rest of the bacon and the crispy sage leaves.

IMG_7877
IMG_7885

Pomegranate Chicken

Pomegranate chicken

Pomegranates

One of the best places to look for inspiration when you don´t know what to cook is definitely the fruit and vegetable section of the market. So many colours, shapes, and textures. You never have to get bored, because each time of the year has its own products. And as a nice bonus, buying seasonal produce usually saves you some money as well.

At the moment, the fruit stores are filled with pomegranates. Beautifully shaped fruits, full of little seeds that pop in your mouth with a great sweet and sour kick when you bite in them. The fruit originates from the middle east, from the area around modern-day Iran. Nowadays it is also grown throughout South Asia and the Mediterranean, among other locations. Here in Spain there is even a city that has the pomegranate in its coat of arms. This city is Granada, which was actually renamed after the fruit during the Moorish period.

And the name Granada is not the only Moorish influence that you can still find there. Although I have only visited Granada once, several years ago, I clearly remember the Alhambra, its best known attraction. The Alhambra is a large palace that was built during the middle ages. It comprises several buildings and beautiful gardens. The inside is very impressive, with colourful painted tiles, and walls and ceilings that are completely covered with Arabic inscriptions. The letters form wonderfully detailed and elegant decorations. It really looks like a dream palace and seems to be very far away from Europe. A truly amazing place.

Alhambra
Pomegranates

As the pomegranates in the shops reminded me in this way of the Arabic influence, I decided to combine the fruit with some more middle eastern ingredients. The result? Below recipe.

Pomegranate chicken with couscous, roasted beetroots, and spicy yoghurt sauce

Ingredients (for 2 as dinner)

  • 4 small chicken thighs – without the bone but with skin
  • 1 pomegranate
  • Garlic – 2 cloves
  • Cinnamon – 3 teaspoons
  • Ground cloves – 1 teaspoon
  • Couscous – around 120 grams
  • Lemon
  • Mint – small bunch
  • 3 fresh, small beetroots
  • 150 grams of yoghurt
  • 1 red chilli
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Wrap each beetroot loosely in aluminium foil. Place on a baking tray and roast for around 50 minutes. If they are quite big, leave them in for a bit longer. After this time the skin should be loose and easy to take off. When they are ready, you can peel them while they are still warm and slice them up. Just dress with some salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil. They don´t need much more, as roasting gives them a really deep and almost sweet flavour.

In the mean time, cut the pomegranate in half and take out the seeds. Transfer them into a bowl with the juice. Make sure to remove all the white pieces of membrane that are in between the seeds.

Finely chop the garlic, or pound in a mortar and pestle, and mix with the ground cloves and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Then mix in around 4 tablespoons of good olive oil, until you have a loose mixture. Add the pomegranate juice out of your bowl. Take the chicken thighs and loosen the skin on one side so that you have a small pocket in between the skin and the meat. Stuff some pomegranate seeds in those pockets. Then rub the chicken all over with the mixture of spices and oil you have just made, also rub some under the skin. Leave to marinate.

Next, prepare the yoghurt sauce. Deseed the chilli and chop half of it very finely. The amount of chilli really depends on your own love for spiciness. Mix the chilli through the yoghurt. Also mix in the remaining teaspoon of cinnamon and a small pinch of salt. Decorate with some thinly sliced rings of chilli.

Measure your couscous in a cup and transfer it into a bowl. Chop up the mint. Mix the mint and a pinch of salt through the couscous. Place half a lemon in the middle of the bowl. Then add boiling water. Measure this in the same cup in which you measured your couscous and make sure you add 1.5 times as much boiling water as couscous. Cover the bowl and let the couscous steam and soak up the water for around 10 minutes, or until it is soft and has soaked up all the water. After this time, squeeze in the juice of the lemon that was in the bowl and mix through the couscous. Add the remaining pomegranate seeds, just reserve a few for decoration.

While the couscous is soaking, heat up a grill pan. When it is hot, place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. You don´t need to add any oil. Turn the fire to medium heat, and grill the chicken on the skin side for around 10 minutes, or until the skin is golden and crispy. Then turn the chicken around and cook for another 7 minutes, or until cooked through.

Finally, slice up the grilled chicken. Serve with the couscous and the roasted beetroots, and the yoghurt sauce on the side. Decorate with the left over pomegranate seeds and some mint leaves. Enjoy!

IMG_7745
IMG_7723
IMG_4888