Friday, 29 June 2012

Baby Lasagna ai Frutti di Mare e Zucchine (Open Lasagna with Prawns, Squid and Zucchine Ribbons)


Today I made this dish: a combination of delicious "fruits" of the sea and the land, to remind me of home: gorgeous, shiny green courgettes, garlic, calamari and prawns, all went into my fantastic sauce. A good recipe for  a musical rapsodia!

What would my mamma have made of this "open" lasagna idea? I think she would have loved it! If she hadn't... I would have been able to tell, just by the way she played with the food and held her cutlery! True!

I made some lasagna sheets (if you make this dish, you can use shop bought lasagna, fresh or dry) using just plain (all purpose) flour and semolina, with warm water and salt. No eggs in my pasta, as , I rember that my mother only put egg (but not as many as some TV chefs use!) in pasta to be eaten with brodo (Italian consomme`)

I used my mum's recipe: good texture and cholesterol free, to make lasagne, which I cut into smallish 10-12 cm squares.

The sauce smelled absolutely delicious, and I couldn't help feeling a bit homesick for Italy, but then, I told myself: not long till you're there, Anna... not long till you can smell the seaweed, play with the stars at night and falll asleep in the arms of a silver moon, with music all around...  not long till you walk through avenue of palm trees, laden with dates, kissed by a hot Southern wind...

We need to wake up from the dream, now and make my new dish:

Baby Lasagna
ai Frutti di Mare
e Zucchina
(Individual Open
Lasagna with Prawns, Squid
 and Courgette Ribbons)

Serves 2
For the Fresh Lasagna:

125 g (4 oz) semolina
125g (4 oz) plain (all purpose) flour
Large pinch of salt
Some warm water
1 large courgette

For the sauce


Olive oil
(as much as you like)
2 garlic cloves
250g (8 oz) cherry tomatoes
2tbsp passata
200g (8 oz)  peeled prawns
6 whole squid
chopped parsley
black pepper

I made my pasta by hand, by simply placing my dry ingredients onto a bord, making a well in the middle and adding enough warm water to make a soft, but consistent  dough.

I rolled the dough with a rolling pin, but, if you prefer your lasagna  very thin (I don't!) you can use a "Paperina", a pasta machine, to make pasta strips, to be cut into 8 squares big enough to fit in the middle of the plates you are going to use.

Next, using a peeler, cut your washed courgette (zucchina) into ribbons (use all of it and, if you would like to use more than one, you can!) Set aside with your baby lasagna squares, till you are ready to cook your pasta.

I made my sauce in a wok, as I fancied doing that. I placed some olive oil at the base of it and while this was heating, I chopped two lovely cloves of my beautiful garlic from sunny Spain. This was added to the hot oil and followed by my  little cherry tomatoes I had previously washed and halved.

I let the tomatoes cook for a good 5-7 minutes, then added a couple of small tablespoons of passata, as I wanted to make a thickish sauce, suitable for a lasagna dish. I turned down the heat and cooked for a good 15 minutes (sauces need to cook- don't believe those TV chefs who undercook everything! )


Having washed and sliced my squid, I added it to the sauce, followed by my delicious prawns. I will be honest with you: the aroma was driving me crazy: WOW!

When I could see my fish was cooked, I added a generous handful of fresh Italian flat leaved parsley, full of flavour and sunshine. My sauce was ready!

I cooked my lasagna in a pan of boiling water (BTW: I have seen people here in UK do a most horrific thing: THEY COOK THEIR PASTA IN COLD WATER! A good recipe for home made glue, I would say, and very wrong: pasta is cooked in boiling hot water.)

As my pasta was fresh, it cooked within 3 or 4 minutes. At the last minute, I added my courgette ribbons to the pan.
Having drained my pasta and courgette ribbons, I made alternate layers of pasta (lasagna) and sauce, to finish off with plenty of seafood and fantastic parsley. Black pepper is a must, with seafood, so I used plenty of that: its aroma is wonderful!

The dish, unlike traditional lasagna, is not baked, but served immediately: fresh, colourful and just molto, molto delizioso!


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Spaghetti esotici con melanzana, peperoni, salsiccia e origano greco (Spaghetti with a fantastic aubergine, pepper, sausage and Greek oregano sauce)

Today, I made a dish my sister cooked for us a long time ago. I remember the dish, as it had an ingredient which is not usually found in Italian sauces and dishes, but just on bruschetta , some salads and dishes which have the expression "Alla Pizzaiola" in their name. The ingredient is oregano, and, the reason why I made this dish is that the postman brought me some special herbs, all the way from the place where, according to ancient Greek mythology, the Gods live: Mount Olympus!

My blog friend Olympia, sent me a package containing a book about the history of Thessaloniki, her city, and four packets containing organic herbs hand picked from Mount Olympus by her friend, who owns a herbalist shop.

I knew there were herbs in the package, as I could smell the fragrant oregano from the doorstep! Sweet scented oregano, grown, picked and dried in the Greek Sun! How could I escape from my memories of evenings spent laying on warm rocks, by the sea, listening to the sound of bouzuky and people laughing, in the distance?

 How could I not miss my very long French plait, and my purple cheesecloth trousers? How could I not remember jumping into a van with a group of neapolitans and making our way to a desterted beach, on Paros, guided by our favourite waiter who wore a wig, through fields of water melons which  lead to Eden? I still have my beautiful silver and mother of pearl earings to remind me of my sunny days!

While the postman made me sign on a little unfriendly electronic pad, using a plastic wand, I was flying over the white and electric blue roofs of a Greek island, dancing with cats and pulling the pony tail of a priest.

 The postman's head became a carousel of glasses full of ice cold retzina, and his hair a forest of fresh figs. I could smell cinnamon, nut filled croissants and Ouzo, with oregano, green tea and dried mint... 

My goodness me! I got totally carried away...   Anna is " In the Sky With Diamonds!"

Thank you, Olympia!

Here is my recipe, by the way!

Spaghetti esotici con melanzana, peperoni, salsiccia e origano greco
(Spaghetti with a fantastic aubergine, pepper, sausage and Greek oregano sauce)

Serves 2

For the sauce:

5-6 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
1/2 aubergine
2 pork sausages
1 large pepper
1 tin tomatoes
plus a few tbsp passata
6-7 olives (optional)
a few basil leaves
1 small tsp of dried oregano
Pecorino Cheese to serve
200g ( 7 oz) spaghetti


a generous handful heirloom tomatoes
10-12 Greek olives
80g (3 oz) Feta Cheese diced
1 tsp oregano
Fresh basil
Olive oil
Chilli pepper

Another quick and easy recipe! Before you start, dice your pepper (fairly small) and aubergine. Chop your onion, and the discard the skin of the sausages,  as you only need to use the meat in the sausage. Chop the sausage meat fairly small.

I made my sauce in a thick J.O. (Jamie O.) pan, which I love, as it's quite heavy and has a solid base.

I poured a generous amount of Italian olive oil in the pan and heated. This was followed by my chopped onion, which I cooked until lovely and golden. My chopped vegetables followed, with some salt, black pepper and a few fresh basil leaves.

As my vegetables cooked, I could smell the aroma: what a fantastic combination!
I cooked my vegetables until they were beginning to look shiny and kind of translucent. I was now ready to add my fantastic Greek oregano! Just one teaspoon would be enough. As the flavours blended once more, I could smell the Med...  I love that smell!

Anyway, my meat followed ( I bought 97 per cent meat sausages, very nice, but not as good as the fantastic sausages you get in Italy! Sorry!) as I continued to stir. I could see my sauce was going to be quite healthy, as my sausages were extremely meaty and I had not used too much oil! Olive oil is very good for you, as I'm sure you all know!

At this point, I added about four tinned tomatoes and a quarter of a small carton of passata, making sure I crushed the tinned tomatoes to a pulp. You can use a whole tin of tomatoes, crushed, a small carton of passata, or a combination of both, if you like. The choice is yours. Please remember that tinned tomatoes need to be cooked, not just warmed up. They are raw!

OK... so... I cooked my sauce on a medium to low heat for a good 20 minutes, then decided to add a few chopped olives (I didn't add these to my list of ingredients, as they are optional!)

I cooked spaghetti al dente, drained and tossed in the sauce. Needless to say, the aroma was just magnificent!

I served my dish with a sprinkling of Pecorino cheese and a little salad, on the side, 

 made by putting together some gorgeous BIG olives, some Feta cheese, olive oil, pea shoots and, of couse, a small amount of my "Gift from the Gods"... Olympia's oregano!

Σε ευχαριστώ πολύ

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Risotto Nostalgico e Profumo di Mare ( Pea and Asparagus Green Risotto With a Poached Fish Rollatina. Very green and beautiful!)

I grew up in a busy city by the Adriatic sea. On a really hot day, the city smelt of tar, expensive perfumes and seaweed. Though the city was big and busy and very crowded, it was beautiful and cosy: it was home. On Summer nights the bars and caffe` stayed open until the early hours of the morning. The city wore a new dress with every season, but one element, one presence was constant : the sea.

On a Summer's night you could almost hear the waves, crushing against the rocks and, if you were in a romantic mood, you could even hear the crabs. They make a bubbling sound at night. I know, because I heard this sound many times.

In Winter, on really windy, rainy day, the sea would be very angry and rough. The waves crossed the Lungomare and invaded the long, wide road which, like a very beautiful snake, ran  parallel with  the city, and led to nearby seaside town. It was and still is a beautiful road. It's the place where my dad's family originated from. It's very beautiful.     

My father loved the sea. He took me to the seaside for the first time and put me on a little island, where I sat like a little mermaid, screaming. I was afraid of the sea. He taught me how to catch crabs and shrimps and sea cucumbers. If you squeeze them, they spit water. It was funny! I loved my Babbo!

My mother loved the city: she loved traffic, noises, crowded shopping centres, and big buildings. She loved people and talking: she talked a lot! Not a country girl, my mother. She was able to see beauty in buildings and cement. But it was she, who, strange enough, taught me how to look at nature, plants, and especially vegetables. My mother wasn't a meat eater. 

During our visits to Caterina's, her farmer friend, who lived outside the city, beyond a railway line, we would pick baby artichokes, fresh peas still in their pods, baby tomatoes (I can still remember the smell!) and, if I was really, really lucky, Caterina would let me have one or two freshly laid eggs.

During these visits I saw things you never see in a city: a horse, chickens, crickets and worms. I loved it!

I feel very lucky to have these places, in my mind, which I can revisit when I feel sad, or when the sky has been grey for far too long.

It has been a very long, Northern Winter and I needed to re visit those places. With this in mind, I got a few ingredients inspired by the sea and the countryside of my childhood and cooked a nostalgic dish. And here it is:

Risotto Nostalgico e Profumo del Mare
( Pea and Asparagus Green Risotto
with a Poached Fish Rollatina)

Serves 2

( For the risotto)

a small bunch of fresh asparagus
5-6 spring onions (scallions)
1 very small garlic clove
two handfuls of peas
5 tbsp olive oil
Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese
150g Arborio rice
1-2 stock cubes

For the Fish Rollatine:

2 large fish fillets
(can be sea bass or sole
or any white fish)
10 shelled prawns
2 small garlic cloves
small bunch of parsley
a few basil leaves
some Pecorino or
Parmesan, grated
black pepper
Cling film for wrapping the

Making my risotto

Before I started, I washed my asparagus and prepared my spring onions. I cleaned and chopped a small clove of garlic and then proceeded to chop the onions and the stalks (just the tender part) of my asparagus, reserving the tips.

I made some stock (about 1 litre) by using a couple of stock cubes and hot water, and placed in large jug, ready to be added to my risotto. If you have time, you can make your vegetable stock by  using water, some oil, an onion a tomato and some celery.
In a medium saucepan I heated some olive oil until really hot, I then added my spring onions ( I used the whole thing, leaves included, as I wanted my risotto to be green.) After two or three minutes, the asparagus stalks were added with the garlic, very finely chopped.

 I let the vegetables cook and blend together for a couple of minutes, then started adding my rice, one handful at the time. I let the first lot toast, then added some stock. I stirred all the time to make sure the rice didn't dry out too much and didn't stick to the pan. I continued to add more rice and stock, until the rice was used up. I carried on stirring and adding small amounts of stock, as I went along. I never let it dry out. Risotto is very easy to make.

When my rice was almost ready, I put my lovely peas in a small food processor and blitzed  until they became a bright, emerald green "cream". 

I added this to my risotto with a generous grating of cheese. I served garnished  with some asparagus tips which I had quickly poached. 

This risotto can also be served and enjoyed with a generous garnish of uncooked pea shoots.

While I was making my risotto, I also had a fish rollatina poaching in water. I actually made this first, so the two dishes could be served together, as a delicious main course.
I placed my fillets on a clean surface, placed four large prawns in the middle of each with some parsley, basil, some cheese, a tiny bit of chopped garlic, some salt and black pepper and then proceeded to roll the fish, till it looked like a sausage. The fish parcel was then placed in the middle of a biggish piece of cling film, which was then wrapped very tightly round the fish rollatina and then secured ( I tied the ends of mine, together.)

At this point, my fish really looked like a sausage, as it was being poached in hot water.

My little fish parcels were poached in boiling water for about 7-10 minutes, then unwrapped, sliced, and served with some of the rice.

 I also made a small warm salad, with broad beans (fave) which I cooked and then shelled, with some feta cheese and olive oil. I also poured some lovely Italian olive oil over the fish. It looked gorgeous! 

My dish was fresh, delicious and very healthy. I think both my parents would have enjoyed it, as it was made using some of their favourite ingredients. Beautiful!