Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Matryoshka doll potatoes

Photo and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©

My thin cut roast potatoes looked like Matryoshka dolls, so I decided to "dress them up". 
What do you think?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tofu Scaloppine with wine and parsley, and thin roast potatoes

Tofu Scaloppine with wine and parsley, and thin roast potatoes

I used 4 dried blocks of Japanese tofu: first I let it rest in 500 ml of warm vegetable broth to rehydrate, then I cut each piece into two thinner slices (scaloppine must be thin) and pressed them well to get the extra stock our (keep it, you will need it later!) and flatten them a bit more. I passed the slices in flour, and then placed them in a pot with plenty of sizzling melted vegetable margarine. A quick sauté on both sides, and then I added a good glass of white wine. Once the wine was absorbed and the scaloppine had been turned around a few times I scraped the bottom of the pan (you may need to remove the scaloppine to do this, I didn't) and added the leftover vegetable broth. I simmered everything until I had a thick sauce, then I added salt and pepper to taste, and plenty of (bought) chopped parsley.

To accompany the scaloppine I made some thinly cut roast potatoes, (simply brushed with olive oil and salt only and roasted until crisp) and it was such a nice, vegetarian, main!! 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Persimmons: the Italian way and the Japanese way

I have fond memories of eating cachi (Italian for persimmons) as a child in Italy. Ahhhh delicious sweet cachi, from October to December, always so soft that they were bought in trays from the fruit vendors, and then Mum would put them in a bowl, give us a spoon, and let us enjoy the runny soft flesh. Then at 19 I went to live in the UK, and for 6 years I had no persimmons, with one exception. To be honest I could not believe how little fruit they had in the UK (back then), every house I went in seemed to have only three types of fruit: oranges, green apples and bananas. Berries and stone fruit were luxuries and mostly used canned, or to top desserts. There was exotic fruit but mainly in fruit baskets given as presents (with the exception of the previously mentioned bananas, and the occasional pineapple). Persimmons were probably considered exotic too, although things may be different now. During those six year the only time I saw them was when a friend, married to a Japanese lady and with a catering business (so he knew where to get unusual fruit) offered me some. I didn't even know the English name, but I discovered that the Italian name cachi sounds like the Japanese name Kaki. And then I was surprised to see that the kaki where hard, not soft, and cut into slices and peeled.
Definitely a different variety, I thought: hard cachi were impossible to eat in Italy, as they tasted really unripe. I did eat my slices, and they were nice, but then I left the remaining kaki that my friend gave me to ripen fully until soft enough to be eaten with a spoon :-). They were smaller and tasted a bit different from the Italian ones, but they were still good, and a real treat (although my English boyfriend was disgusted by my way of eating them). 

After London I went to live in Tokyo for three and a half years, and I had plenty of kaki there! I learned to eat them the Japanese way too, and yes, I do enjoy them, and occasionally I still eat them cut into slices (especially if I eat them on the low table in my Japanese room, something nice to do in Autumn and Winter). In Italy my aunt has two persimmon trees, one for soft and one for the smaller, Japanese type that can be eaten hard. But I still prefer the soft ones, (and so does my daughter).

A funny story now:
In Tokyo I lived in front of a tiny greengrocer shop. When kaki were in season I checked from my window the colour, to assess the ripeness. I learned that yes, some Japanese did eat them with a spoon also, but mostly they just like them sliced and peeled, so the over-riped and soft didn't really sell. As soon as the kaki looked soft enough I went out and started my bargaining with the old greengrocer.
"They are a bit soft, aren't' they?"
"Yes, but they are still very good! You can eat them with a spoon!"
"What about 100 yen for the lot?"
The bargaining was purely ceremonial. Of course he worked out pretty quickly that I like them soft, (I didn't buy any other fruit or vegetable that looked old or over ripe, even when he tried to sell it to me) so much that the days I failed to notice soft kaki he would call out to me:
"Hey, honorable foreigner, I have some soft kaki for you!"
"Mmmh, so you have..."
 "What about 100 yen for the lot?"
"Ok!" :-)

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Doris Plum Fruit Smoothies made with dried plum powder

This is too easy and yum!!! And how often do you get plums in your smoothie?

500 ml apple juice, 2 bananas, 1 tbsp Fresh As Plum powder
Blend well. Serves 3-4 vitamin loving kids!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

5 Vegan school lunch boxes, mostly raw, eat your colours and 5+ a Day

Carrot and cucumber sticks, grapes, blueberries and Cape gooseberries, Olive focaccia (homemade)

When I was living in Japan I learned to present lunch boxes including a spectrum of at least 5 colours.
I try to do this with the kids' lunch boxes now, and these days the 5 + a Day is also promoting 'colours', which is a good way to make food more interesting. Of course here in NZ lunch boxes are stuffed down the school bag and tossed around, so I could never make them like real Japanese super pretty bentos, (I also wouldn't have the time in the morning or late at night!).

My problem has been trying to have 5 different colours all year round, especially for the blue! Fresh blueberries are easy, but when out of season I have to use frozen, good for smoothies and cereals and desserts, but not school lunches.

Avocado sushi, cherry tomato, banana, kiwi gold, feijoa, mandarin, grapes,  gluten free lunch box

If I don't have blueberries I try to put a few red/black grapes, is a pity that they are all imported, but so are the bananas. For the rest I always try to be seasonable and use fruit and veggies that grow in NZ, the tomato here was from my garden. Sushi only happens if there is some left over after dinner the night before: I could never get up at 5am to make it fresh!

Baguette with green salad and hummus with Dukka, banana, mandarins, kiwi gold, dried prunes

When I don't use grapes I try to add something close to purple/blue, like dried plums. Hummus is also another favourite filling, if they could my kids would have a hummus rolls every day, and they don't seem to be fussed if it smells of garlic.

Baguette with rocket salad, hummus and broad beans, orange, grapes and Cape gooseberries

Hummus again, this was just over a week ago, believe it of not I had broad beans in the garden, not enough for a meal, but enough for a couple of rolls. The Cape gooseberries too are from my garden.

Dolmas (rice wrapped in vine leaves), carrot sticks, cucumber and cherry tomatoes, banana, grapes and mandarin, gluten free lunch box

In Winter the lunch boxes are a bit repetitive: mandarins, banana, carrot sticks and grapes seem to dominate, and I occasionally buy cherry tomatoes even if they are grown in hothouses (but so are most cucumbers, I guess). The dolmas came from a can, a very occasional purchase, but it does add variety and, yes, the kids love those too!

But strawberries and blueberries and plums and colorful capsicums are coming in and the next lunch boxes will be easier to make!!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stuffed white cabbage leaves with lentils

This is a first. I like stuffed cabbage leaves but I always use this dark green curly cabbages (like Savoy) to make them, and I never used the round and firm white cabbages that are used to make coleslaw. But I happened to have a big white cabbage and the outer leaves were sort of green... I managed to remove 7 leaves before the cabbage become to compact to pull apart. Then I washed them and boiled them in salted water (which I later used to make vegetable broth for an Asian noodle soup - never waste!). I also boiled a few more cabbage leaves that got broken while I was trying to pull them away: they were going to be used in the filling.

For the filling I used some cooked cabbage leaves, a couple of slices of vegetarian bacon, chopped parsley, breadcrumbs, smoked salt, chili flakes, coriander seeds and smoked garlic. I mushed everything with my hands and divided the filling between the 7 leaves, and then I rolled them up.

I prepared a soffritto with a shallot, half a carrot, a celery stick, and some chopped parsley, all sautéed with a little olive oil. 

I added the cabbage leaves and let them sauté on one side only for a few minutes.

Then I added one cup of tomato passata (Italian tomato sauce) and one cup of vegetable broth. I covered the pot with a lid and let the cabbage rolls simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes I added the content of a can of Italian brown lentils (their water included) and simmered everything for another 30 minutes.

Well, I just managed to taste one, the other six were two each for the kids and the babysitter (I was teaching that night), to be eaten with bruschetta (actually, just a baguette cut into slices and the brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and baked until golden and crispy, the kids just love it!!). The result? I was pleasantly surprised: I am not a fan of white cabbage, but in this way it tasted great! Pity that I could not get more leaves out of it, maybe I need to boil the whole cabbage and then try to pull off the leaves... next time I will try. Or maybe I will just go back to use my usual Savoy cabbages! :-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Leek and edamame Vegan risotto

Chop one large leek and wash it, then sauté with olive oil until soft. Add one cup of shelled edamame (I used the frozen ones) and sauté until the edamame are starting to cook. Add 400 g arborio rice and stir, when the rice is hot and starting to toast add a glass of white wine at room temperature (not chilled). Stir and after the wine has been absorbed add about 1 l of vegetable stock, one ladle at the time, stirring often until cooked. 

Serves 4

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pineapple Agar Agar Jellies

We all know of the enzymes of certain raw fruit (pineapple, papaya, kiwi etc) that won't make jelly, or agar agar, set. And also that cooking the fruit first will stop the problem. Or using canned fruit! 
But the only canned fruit I use is mango pulp (to make mango agar agar pudding, in fact) and I was just wondering... wondering... if the Fresh As pineapple powder, having been freeze dried, would still have those enzymes... so I tried. 

I used 500ml of water, boiled it and added 1 tsp of sugar, 1 tbsp of Fresh As pineapple powder and 1 level tsp of agar agar. I simmered everything for one minute and then poured it into 4 individual jelly moulds. I used these colorful ones, when the agar is set just remove the lid at the bottom and the jellies should pop down. Should. We actually shook them a bit! The pineapple puddings were fresh and fragrant, not too sweet (the sugar ratio was perfect) and I liked the flavor, although my husband and the kids told me that I could have put in a bit more pineapple powder for more zing! I will try a different Fresh As powder soon for more puddings!!

This is my Vegan entry for this month's Sweet New Zealand, hosted by The Kitchen Maid

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

eggplant and chickpea tajine with cous cous

No fuss eggplant and chickpea tajine

Slice 2 eggplants and sweat them with salt for 1 hour. Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive in the tajine pan, and sizzle 2 cloves of garlic (cut into two lengthwise), a few coriander seeds, a few cumin seeds, chili flakes and rock salt. When the spices start to jump around the pan add a roughly chopped onion and when the onion is translucent (not brown) add the eggplant sliced (rinsed). Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring, and then add the content of a can of chickpeas (with their liquid) and a handful of coriander leaves (or parsley, if you don't have/like coriander). 

Now cover with the Tajine top and simmer on the lowest setting for a hour or so. At the end the eggplant will be a mush, and the chickpeas incredibly tasty. Add some smoked paprika if you like it hotter. Serve on couscous dressed with extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Asparagus, mange tout and peas with champagne

Sauté one finely chopped shallot with a tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Add the stalks, chopped, of a dozen asparagus, stir for a couple of minutes and then add a glass of leftover bubbly and an organic veggie cube (I only use Rapunzel). Let the wine evaporate then add two cups of frozen peas. Add more bubbly if liquid is needed. When the peas are cooked add the asparagus tips and some mange tout or sugar snap peas. Stir quickly to lightly blanch the asparagus tip and sugar snap peas (you still want them very green and crispy). A feast of different textures and greens, and a perfect side veg.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Nigella Potatoes, slow cooked in a tajine

The original recipe is here, and I have to say that I make it often because it is one of my favourite potato creations. A curious fact: when I published this recipe the first time I pointed out that it didn't have anything to do with Nigella Lawson, I that I called it nigella potatoes because of the nigella seeds. But funny enough after a few days I started receiving the Nigella Lawson newsletter in my inbox. I never signed up for it, so some web robot must have picked up my blog reference and details, and signed me in! Nigella must have a great PR team!
Anyway, back to the potatoes: the recipe is the same but I cooked the potatoes differently because my husband presented me with a big tajine :-).
Nigella Potatoes slow cooked in a tajine
500 g potatoes (Agria or similar ‘floury’ potatoes)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp nigella seeds
Half tsp ground coriander
Half tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
 fresh coriander (or parsley) leaves

Peel the potatoes and cut into 4-5 cm cubes. Heat the oil in the tajine, then and add the garlic cloves and nigella seeds. 

When the seeds start to crackle add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, and a little salt. 

Add the cubed potatoes and coat well with the spices. Stir constantly, and when the potatoes start to become too dry add a cup of water.

Cover and simmer on lowest setting, stirring from time to time and adding water every time the mixture gets too dry. When all the potatoes are cooked, remove from the heat. It took me about one hour to cook the potatoes this way, in a normal saucepan they usually get quite mushy, but in the tajine they kept their shape beautifully!

Finely chop some washed fresh coriander or parsley (or a mixture of both) leaves, and add to the potatoes. Stir and serve. It was dark when I took the last photo, so the light wasn't good, but the potatoes were delicious!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, October 5, 2012

Pumpkin and coconut soup with coriander and Vietnamese mint

The original recipe is here, but this time I didn't roast the pumpkin because... I had time to cut it! (I don't like cutting pumpkin...). Also I had some celery so I put that in too, plus one carrot and one onion.
I added water and organic veggie stock (Rapunzel), and when the veggies were soft I blended them with an immersion blender. 

 At this point I usually add the coconut milk/cream, but I didn't have any, so I used this coconut powder my husband brought me from a trip to Hainan in China (the place is famous for coconut!). he was told to place the content of a sachet in a cup and add hot water to make a hot coconut drink. We did, and it is ok, basically it is just coconut... but I am not really used to drink hot coconut milk, so I added 4 sachets to the soup instead (we still have plenty more). I simmer everything for a bit longer and then added coriander and Vietnamese mint to flavour.

I love this soup!!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vegan Nashi Tart

I love nashi pears, pity that the season is short... mostly I eat them raw, cut into thin slices, but since I had quite a few I wanted to make a quick tart. This is too easy! I just used one sheet of ready rolled vegan puff pastry, then I peeled and cut 2 big nashi pears and placed the slices on top. I finished everything with a dusting of icing sugar and placed the tart in the oven until the edges of the tart were puffy and golden. As a final touch I sprayed the tart with some grappa spray. Nashi are good for cooking and baking because they keep their shape and don't become brown! This I will make again, it was even better than an apple tart, which is saying a lot (for me!).

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mandarin Chocolates

This is too easy! I just used some Fresh As  mandarin segments (they are freeze dried) and dipped them in melted dark chocolate (I used Whittaker's 72% Dark Ghana). That's all.

I am entering this super easy and almost "not even a recipe" in Sweet New Zealand, the blogging monthly events for Kiwis. 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vegan "Cape-pops", and a vegan pear and chocolate pie

Almost cake-pops because they look like cake-pops, but they are not made from cake! In fact these are Cape Gooseberries (therefore I am calling them Cape-pops :-)), dipped in dark chocolate. I left some plain, while I rolled the others in shredded coconut, ground pistachio nuts, and plum powder (my new discovery, I talked about it already in here). I let them set first at room temperature and then, because it was a warm day, in the fridge. These are gluten free too!

But more to come...

I had melted far too much chocolate for the Cape gooseberries, so I made a pie which, I must say, came out better than I had anticipated. But sometimes new discoveries are born out of chance, or leftovers!

I had a few sheets of filo pastry left, I placed them into a 23 cm pie dish lined with baking paper, leaving the corners to spill out. I peeled and cut four pears and placed the slices over the pastry, then drizzled the lot with Frangelico liqueur. I added the melted dark chocolate and closed the four corners of pastry over the filling. I wetted the top pastry with water and I added the rest of the coconut/pistachio stuff on top too (why waste it!). I baked the pie until the pastry was golden, and then I sprinkled a little icing sugar on top (this was the only sugar needed). I pie was perfect! Bittersweet and with an amazing texture, the chocolate had 'melted' into the pear slices... I will need to work on this and make it again, on purpose, and with more filo pastry, but I wanted to share it with you now because to me this was the perfect Vegan pie!!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©