Sunday, August 7, 2016

Orecchiette with Eggplant and Italian Sausage

Summer in Rome conjures up images of red-checkered tables and chairs spilling onto the sidewalk, of food lovers dining and drinking well into the evening, of lively farmers markets carrying the bounty of Italy's growing season - all alongside imposing ruins of Ancient Rome.

A stroll through the compact yet complete Circus Maximus Farmers Market will take you on a culinary journey through the sights and smells of an Italian summer. Emerald green zucchini, deep purple aubergines and bursting red, candy-sweet tomatoes of all shapes and sizes meet the pungent aroma of cured meats and fresh made stracciatella di bufala. Ristorantes and trattorias around town offer up seasonal specials, showcasing the freshest of local, in-season ingredients.

Interestingly, I have not always had the same appreciation for Italian cuisine. In my early years of travel I have had my fair share of dismal Italian food, falling victim for obvious tourist traps that were more concerned about turning over tables than food. I was confounded, disappointed, my experience once so marred by droopy, soggy, skimpy pizza that I left questioning what Italian food was.

Falling in love with Trastevere, Rome [Summer 2016]

It wasn't until recently as my passion and curiosity for cooking grew that I started understanding and truly appreciating the essence of great italian food: simplicity, highlighted by the freshest, seasonal ingredients.

Over the years I trailed off the beaten path, exploring the nooks and crannies of Rome and beyond, tasting local treats and regional dishes along the way. My discoveries are as ground-breaking as they are elemental. Whether it is tagliatelle amatriciana, a classic pizza margherita, or a simple antipasto of burratina affumicata, the connection is clear: all you need is a few good ingredients to make an amazing dish.

Call me crazy - never had it occurred to me before just how much tomatoes themselves contribute to the actual flavor of a tomato sauce until my last pizza in Rome - it was a transcendental moment. I was positively enlightened. Perhaps possessed. You get the idea.

Below is my take on a simple pasta dish I had as I explored Italy: Orecchiette con Melanzane e Salsiccia. Little bite-sized orecchiette (literally "small ears" in Italian) makes a wonderful vehicle to hold the chunky sauce, although any kind of pasta will do. The tomato sauce can be made in large batches ahead of time and frozen for later use; recipe as follows:

Classic Homemade Tomato Sauce | Sugo al Pomodoro

What you'll need...
200g orecchiette
2 sweet Italian sausage with fennel, casing removed
1 small eggplant, diced into bite-sized cubes
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Classic Homemade Tomato Sauce
Grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for garnish

1. Toss eggplant with one teaspoon of salt and drain for a few minutes on paper towel. Bring a salted pot of water to boil, cook pasta till al dente. Drain, reserving a small amount of pasta water.

2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium low heat, add sausage. Crumble the sausage and cook until beginning to brown. Pat the moisture off the eggplant and add to the sausage. Cook to soften, partially covered, about 6 minutes.

3. Add homemade tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes, stir to combine and cook till heated through. Add some pasta water if necessary.

4. Stir in cooked orecchiette and season to taste with salt and pepper. Plate and top with grated cheese. Buon appetito!

貓耳朵麵  200 克
意式肉腸  2 條 除去腸衣
茄子  1 小個
車厘茄  8 個 切半
初榨橄欖油   1 湯匙
芝士  隨個人喜好

1. 茄子切成小丁,撒上 1 茶匙鹽拌勻出水。
2. 滾水裡加鹽及意粉,煮至彈牙撈起備用。可保留少量意粉水備用。
3. 橄欖油用中慢火燒熱,加入意式肉腸,用鏟剁碎並煎至呈金黃色。
4. 茄子用吸水紙印乾,加入平鍋跟肉腸一起煮至軟身,約 6 分鐘。
5. 加入自家製意式番茄醬和車厘茄拌勻,有需要的話可加少量意粉水。
6. 番茄醬滾後拌入貓耳朵麵,拌勻再作調味關火即成。
7. 上碟後隨意撒上芝士,再配上一杯白酒,好好品嚐!

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Classic Homemade Tomato Sauce

Supermarkets these days stock an aisle full of pasta sauces, and tomato sauces alone - with the myriad of brands and permutations - make up the bulk of these often overpriced commercial products. Tomato sauces are infinitely useful in Italian home cooking, but before you head down to your grocers to grab a jar of that stuff next time, consider making your own!

In Italy most home cooks would swear by using fresh, summer tomatoes for their sauce, but if you live in a place where tomatoes are consistently bland and overpriced like I do, go for a tin of whole plum tomatoes or chopped tomatoes for a money- and time-saving short cut.

Me frolicking in every home cook's wonderland: Borough Market, London

Heirloom tomato galore at Borough Market, London
A great tomato sauce should be able to stand on its own without much adornment and excessive seasoning, as some purists may say. No herbs, no onions, no vinegar, no wine; just sugar, salt, olive oil, and tomatoes. Pure tomatoey goodness. But if you are like me who loves full-on flavor, experiment with different seasonings and create your own flavor profile!  

Homemade tomato sauce is simple and quick, and it freezes well. So make a big batch ahead of time and you will always have some ready when you need some. Here is my own go-to recipe. I sometimes throw in a squirt of  ketchup for a sweeter, more Japanese-style tomato sauce (ready for a Purist onslaught). Try it out and it might just surprise you. I often finish my sauce with some fresh cherry tomatoes for some extra chunkiness.

Create other dishes using this tomato sauce:
Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

Make homemade tomato sauce from fresh whole tomatoes or the canned variety for ease

What you'll need...
1 tin (800 g / 28 oz) chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Fresh or dried herbs to taste (eg. sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano)
2 stems of fresh basil or rosemary
A dash of Worcestershire sauce or red wine vinegar
Sea salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved

Optional additions:
2 teaspoons tomato paste
A squirt of ketchup

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan on medium-low heat, add chopped onions and cook until translucent and tender. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, and any dried herbs and cook for another two minutes until fragrant.

2. Tip in the tomatoes and salt, bring to a slow boil then reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for 20 min, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced.

3. Stir in cherry tomatoes (if using) and add stem of basil or other fresh herbs and submerge in sauce for another 10 minutes. Test the sauce and add sugar to cut the acidity. Season to taste with Worcestershire sauce or vinegar, tomato paste, and some ketchup if desired.

4. When finished, discard stem of basil. Enjoy the sauce as is with your favorite pasta or use it in a variety of dishes!

Note: Use a immersion blender to puree the sauce for a smoother sauce; otherwise, leave it chunky! Keep refrigerated for up to one week, or keep separate batches in freezer for later use.

Flavor and texture is derived from reducing the sauce


番茄  1 罐 (800 克)
初榨橄欖油  1 1/2 湯匙
蒜頭  4 瓣  (切碎)
洋蔥  1 小個  (切碎)
乾辣椒碎  少量
各種香草  隨意  (乾或新鮮)
新鮮羅勒  2  枝
喼汁或紅酒醋  1 茶匙
砂糖  少量 (調節酸度)
車厘  6-8 個  切半

番茄膏  2 茶匙
茄汁  少量

1. 橄欖油用中慢火燒熱,下洋蔥煮至軟身。
2. 加入蒜、乾辣椒碎、及任何乾香草,多煮約兩分鐘。
3. 加入罐裝番茄和鹽並拌勻,待滾後轉慢火煮約 20 分鐘。
4. 加入已切好的小番茄和整枝羅勒,繼續煮約 10 分鐘至完全收水。
5. 試味。如番茄醬偏酸,可加糖調整。
6. 可隨個人喜好加入其他調味料調味(喼汁、番茄膏、茄汁)。
7. 把羅勒拔掉並扔掉即成!可隨意炮製各式各樣的意大利菜式!


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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Water Chestnut and Lemon Soup Dessert

The first time I had this dessert it was in the heat of summer years ago at a traditional Chinese dessert house just off of King's Road, North Point. It was one of those mom and pop shops that you fear would one day succumb to skyrocketing rent and, like much of Hong Kong's precious heritage, become history. Perhaps it was the combination of place, company (my much esteemed elderly uncle whose inner child lets loose at the sight of desserts), and the surprising burst of lemon that made this experience particularly memorable.

Water chestnut soup is about as simple as it can get, but chilled and lifted with fresh lemon juice and lemon slices, it is an electrifying treat that snaps you out of summer's indolence.

Widely believed to help remove excess heat buildup in one's body, water chestnut desserts are especially popular and refreshing in summer. Select fresh and firm water chestnuts, but if skinning the suckers proves too tedious, look for vaccuum sealed peeled water chestnuts in your local grocery or even canned ones for a shortcut.

Enjoy the lemony burst and juicy crunch of water chestnuts!

What you'll need...
250g of skinned water chestnuts
3 cups water
80g rock sugar
1 tbsp water chestnut flour
Lemon juice from half a lemon
Lemon slices
Lemon zest

1. In a blender, blend half of the water chestnuts into a puree. Set aside. Take the remaining half and either pulse in blender or chop into small pieces.

2. In a small bowl, mix water chestnut flour with some water until smooth.

3. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add diced and pureed water chestnut and return to a slow boil. Stir in water chestnut flour solution and rock sugar and turn heat off shortly after sugar dissolves completely.

4. Let soup cool to room temperature, stir in lemon juice, zest, and lemon slices and chill in the refrigerator. Serve chilled and garnish with more lemon slices as desired. Enjoy!

Tips for skinning a water chestnut: Deshelling a water chestnut is easier than it seems. First, cut the top and bottom off. Then, with thumb gently pressed against the blade of a small knife, carefully peel the skin off by running the blade along the side of the water chestnut.

To make a clearer soup, adjust the proportion of pureed versus diced water chestnuts. Reduce the proportion of puree for a clearer soup.

馬蹄  250 克(去皮計)
清水  3 碗(約 715 毫升)
冰糖  80 克
馬蹄粉  1 湯匙
鮮檸檬汁  約半個檸檬

1. 將一半的馬蹄用攪拌機磨成茸,另一半切成小粒。
2. 馬蹄粉用少量清水調勻。
3. 燒滾水,加入馬蹄茸、馬蹄粒煮滾。
4. 加入冰糖和馬蹄粉水拌勻,待冰糖完全溶化後熄火。
5. 馬蹄露晾涼至室溫,拌入檸檬汁、檸檬皮碎及數片檸檬,再放進雪櫃冷藏。
6. 冷凍後即可隨時品嚐,另加檸檬片更添風味!


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