Monday, January 31, 2011

Risotto with Zucchini and Tofu

Still plenty of zucchini in the garden...I have been cooking them in 100 ways, so here is a risotto!


1 block of tofu, frozen and then defrosted
1 shallot
2 yellow zucchini
2 green zucchini
2 tbs olive oil
400 g arborio rice
1 glass wine (optional)
1.5 l vegetable stock

If you freeze the tofu, and then defrost it, it becomes porous and absorbs flavours like a sponge! Also it doesn't brake into pieces while you are cooking it, even in risotto, when you have to stir often!

Cut the tofu into small cubes. Chop the shallot and slice the zucchini. In a capable saucepan sauté the shallot and tofu with the olive oil. After a couple of minutes add the rice and, when hot, the wine. Stir and add the zucchini, and then, ladle by ladle, the vegetable stock.

Cook as for any risotto, slowly and stirring often, adding liquid only as needed. Serve immediately.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Plum Jam

Plum jam is one of my favourite, and as I live near some beautiful orchards in Oratia, west of Auckland, I like to make the most of the plentiful supply.

Plum Jam


For each Kg of plums I used 600 g of sugar, (because I like my plum jam a little tart) and one teaspoon of pectin.

Wash the freshly picked fruit and place in a large saucepan with a little water. Bring the fruit to a gentle boil. When the fruit is simmering add the sugar and stir well. After 5 minutes add the pectin. Simmer the jam for about 5 more minutes and then pass through a sieve, discarding the stones.

Place the hot jam in sterilised jars, dried in the oven. At this point you can add to each jar a cinnamon stick (for dark plums) or a long pepper (for yellow plums); or you can wet the inside of the jar with a little grappa or brandy (an old Italian method). Either seal the jars with cellophane covers (available in all supermarkets) and secure with an elastic band, or use capsule lids (I use Quattro Stagioni brand).

If using capsule lids, seal the jars well, place in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the jars. Let the jars cool down in the pot overnight and when they are cold make sure that the capsule has popped by pressing gently on the lid. Properly sterilised jars will keep for over a year.

I also made plum paste, I just used the jam that was left in the bottom of the pot and cooked it a bit longer. Then I pour it into a square container and let it set hard.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Watermelon and Blueberry Salad

Summer is colours!
I like to eat fruit as it is, but sometimes it is nice to do something different, just to bring out the flavours and intensify the colours: This is easy, cut the watermelon into pieces, add the blueberries, and then just a little icing sugar and a few drops of lemon juice.
Stir and serve.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, January 16, 2011

purple-green bean salad with balsamic red onion

from my garden

I have yellow and purple beans in my garden. The purple beans are beautiful, but unfortunately they loose their colour while cooking. I tried to add salt and a pinch of baking soda to the water...nothing, the purple colour just washes away....but they do become an incredible brilliant green!!!

To remember that they were purple, I decided to serve them with a red onion, (from my garden), and this is my recipe:

Cut the red onion into thin slices, put into a bowl with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon ofAceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (ABTM). Let the onion marinate for at least two hours.

Wash and top and tail the purple beans, boil them in plenty of water with a pinch of salt and a pinch of baking soda. I like to leave them a little crunchy, but you can cook them to your taste. Drain the beans and rinse them under cold water, then dress them with a little extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Place them in a glass and top them with some balsamic onions.


Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Strawberry and Banana Fruit Shake

From my garden...

I have quite a few strawberries in the garden, but often they are not enough to make a dessert, and often they are not exactly 'pretty' enough for decorating desserts! So this summer I have been making lots of shakes, adding bananas and the wonderful natural apple juice which I buy from my local orchard, the Dragisovich, in Oratia, West Auckland.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tomato Gari

A friend from a culinary forum told me that there is a new rage in Japan and it is tomato gari: a slice of tomato topped with some gari (thin slices of Japanese pickled ginger - the ones you eat with sushi) and salt. Well, I had to try it! I wasn't sure how it is supposed to look like, so the composition is my 'invention', and I used some Maldon salt (in flakes). And then I tasted it.

A M A Z I N G ! ! !

A real hit to the taste buds...but...I wanted a, still surprising...and then a third...and I was tired.

Yes, I will make it again, for some posh Japanese dinner maybe, I will serve ONE single slice per person, maybe between courses, or as a starter to wake up the taste buds. But no more. With one I think that people will remain wanting more...and they will remember it in their 'culinary memory bank' like something unique. More than that, and I feel it may be too much.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yellow and Green Zucchini Antipasto

I have two zucchini plants, one yellow and one green. It is incredible how many flowers and zucchini two plants can provide, certainly more than enough for a family of 4! The green zucchini plant is huge and very prolific, the yellow one less so (don't know why...), but still, I get enough. In the garden I also have herbs and lemons, and a friends who grows garlic gave me some; for this dish I only had to buy salt and olive oil!

Zucchini Antipasto

Cut the zucchini in long strips and fry on both sides with extra virgin olive oil. Finely chop some Italian parsley, mint, and Genovese basil with two cloves of garlic and a generous pinch of salt.
Place this 'pesto' on the zucchini (keep a little aside for decoration) and add the juice from half a lemon. Stir and let the zucchini marinate for two hours. Arrange on a platter and add the remaining 'pesto'. Serve.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Simmered Tofu Balls with Celery

A few years ago in Kyoto I had an amazing vegetarian meal in a Shojinryori restaurant (it belongs to a Buddhist Temple, you can find my full review here), and among the delicious dishes served there I had some fried tofu balls, simmered in a light vegetable stock with celery. At home I have been trying to reproduce that amazing taste with what I had available. The tofu is Chinese-style, New Zealand-made, maybe the stock is a bit 'Italian' in flavour, and the celery is from my garden. But every time I am happy with the results.

Now I make this a lot, especially for my kids. I buy the tofu balls in the Chinese shop in Henderson. They are already fried and puffy, and they are very versatile. For this recipe I just simmer them for 10 minutes with celery stalks and vegetable stock, then I lift them up from the stock (which I use as a base for soups or other things) with a slotted spoon, and I serve them, warm. They are so simple to make and yet they taste quite elaborate. I often serve them as part of a Japanese meal (as the protein dish) accompanied by a bowl of rice, a bowl of light soup, and some seasonal vegetables.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Smoked paprika tofu and eggplants with saffron rice

This main is incredibly easy to make and yet it taste so good that everyone will think that you have spent hours making it!

Cut the tofu into cubes and fry it with olive oil and garlic until golden. Set aside. Cut the eggplants (I used the thin Asian type) into halves and sweat with salt for 30 minutes or so. Rinse. Heat the oil again in the pan, add more garlic, and sauté the eggplants for a few minutes, then cover with a lid and and cook them in their own steam. When they are nearly done add the tofu, 1 tsp of smoked paprika and smoked slat (I used Maldon). Add a glass of white wine and stir. Cover and turn the heat off.

Wash the rice and cook by absorption, when it is ready add the saffron and stir. No need to make a risotto here, or to add salt: the rice will taste of saffron and nothing else, and will go well with the salty, spicy and smoky flavour of the tofu and eggplants.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, January 3, 2011

Yellow Beans

In the garden I saw my first yellow beans!!!

I picked them immediately, the more you pick them and the more they seem to grow, and the plants still have so many flowers on!

Initially I thought of cooking them with a tomato sauce, but then I changed my mind: they are so fresh, and the first, so I just sautéed a shallot with olive oil, added the beans (washed and top and tailed, of course) and sautéed them gently for a little. Then I added a pinch of salt, put the lid on, lowered the heat, and let them cook in their own steam for about 10 minutes (checking and stirring from time to time). I didn't need to add any water, probably because they were so fresh, and they tasted perfect!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Year of the Rabbit, Sushi Rabbits

Happy New Year

I would like to wish each and everyone of you a Happy New Year. Buon Anno!

To make the sushi rice you can follow the recipe here. I have a Sushi rabbit stamp from Japan, but you can also use a cookie cutter, if you have one (maybe among your Easter's stuff?).

I have to say that the sushi rabbits looked really nice and stylish even plain! I would have them plain for a more 'formal' dinner :-). But today we have little faces: I used borage flowers, cucumber, chives, takuan, (Japanese pickled daikon), Ume (Japanese pickled plum), and black sesame seeds.

And then it was my daughter's turn, and she also used some tiny basil leaves. We had so much fun making these, and I hope that you like the idea!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©