The Mediterranean Waltz Bulgur Pilaf

The Mediterranean Waltz is an almost prophetic novel written by Buket Uzuner a powerful Turkish writer not only very talented but with the gift of foresight. Why do I use big words like “prophecy” and “foresight”?51Av2aohV6L._SL500_SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

It is because in the mid-nineties, in a period of relative peace and prosperity for Turkey and the global world, Buket Uzuner wrote a novel about a civil war in Turkey where all the terrorist movements (Islamic, Kurdish etc.) joint together to attack Turkey. The novel ends with a general saying that next global war will not be fight only with guns but through the internet… Fitted in the framework of this civil war there is Duna, an Istanbulite high school teacher (and mind that the civil war thing maybe only his own delusion) and his impossible love for Ada. The other main characters of the novel are Turkey and Istanbul.

To honour this novel that I really love, I decided to prepare a classic Turkish food, Bulgur pilav, but instead of using wheat bulgur, I used spelt bulgur. If you can’t find spelt bulgur in your area, traditional bulgur will give similar results.

This recipe, as all traditional foods, is very healthy and provides all the nutrients to make it the perfect one-course meal.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup of spelt bulgur
  • 150 gr. of chopped beef
  • half a cup of cooked green lentils
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 Tbs of olive oil
  • 2 cups of broth or water
  • Turkish red pepper flakes

Directions:

  • Sauté the garlic lightly in the olive oil for a couple of minutes and the add the meat and keep on sautéing for about 15 mins then cover and cook on low heat till the meat releases its moisture and reabsorbs it and becomes tender.
  • Add the diced tomato and when the moisture is reabsorbed add the bulgur and mix it for 5 minutes
  • Add the green lentils, mix and cover with broth or water. Keep on stewing at low heath until all the broth have been reabsorbed.
  • Dress it according to your taste with red pepper flakes.

 Enjoy!

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Cottage Pie (The Jane Austen Challenge)

I haven’t post in my Jane Austen Challenge for a while. Spring is a very busy moment for my family and me. It is mid-term exams period for my students and my kids. Kids have to practice intensively because the regatta season starts, and I have to balance between job, home and shuttle the kids to the practice spot nearly every day. I felt I need some comfort food, and my mind went back to my early teens, when I first went to UK to improve my English. I discovered there the Cottage Pie, a very humble pie, when compared to others but tasty and very easy. You would say that there is no mention of Cottage Pies in Jane Austen’s work, and you would be right, but that very summer, our English teachers gave us “Emma” as one of our summer readings and it was love at first sight both with Jane Austen and UK.

I have travelled extensively in my life and lived in different country, but whenever I go to UK I have the same sensation than I get in Italy: “home”.

The recipe I suggest you, is my own recipe, the one that I developed in the years. The topping is prepared with the same procedure my mom was using to prepare her “potato pure” and enriched with cottage cheese. I hope you will enjoy this small Italian contamination of a traditional English recipe. Let me know.

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Ingredients

  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 1 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 chopped stalk of celery
  • 700 gr beef mince
  • 300 ml homemade beef stock
  • 1 tbs white flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a pinch of thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil

 

For the topping

  • 750gr potatoes, boiled or steamed and peeled
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 150 ml milk
  • 100 gr. of grated cheddar cheese

 

 

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Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 190’ C
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, the celery and carrot and cook over a medium heat until soft (the onion should be translucent).
  3. Add the minced beef and cook very well until is brown.
  4. Dissolve the flour in the warm beef stock and add it to the mince along with bay leaf and thyme.
  5. Cover and let it simmer for 30 minutes, it will be ready when the gravy has a creamy consistency.
  6. Meanwhile, to make the topping, mash the potato in a pan heat the butter over low heat
  7. Add the mashed potato to the butter, mix well and add the milk.
  8. When the milk is absorbed add the cheddar and stir until completely dissolved in the mash. season with salt and pepper.
  9. Spoon the meat into an ovenproof dish (I used single-serve oven proof cups). Top with the mash and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.
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Golden Brown topping that melt in your mouth
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The spoonful of flour in the mince adds texture to the gravy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Salmon Skewers

For those who have seen the film “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” the book will come as a surprise, but those who love late Paul Torday will acknowledge that it is a masterpiece.

The novel is a satire on the absurdity of British foreign policy in the early years of this century and the unwitty means used by the govern press agency to diverge attention from the real problems in the Middle East.  The main character, Fred is a civil servant that is in charge of the mission of facilitate the breeding of salmons in a river in Yemen. All the characters are there, lovely Harriet, her soldier fiancée, Fred’s cold wife, but the story in the film diverges a lot from the one narrated in the novel. I stop here to avoid to became a spoiler.

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The recipe of today is very easy and it is one of my children favoured (which is a miracle if you consider that my daughter doesn’t like fish). Probably because the soya sauce and the fresh grated ginger marinade take away part of the smell of the fish, while sesame seeds add a crispy texture to the recipe.

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Ingredients:

1 kg. Skinless salmon fillet

½  glass of soya sauce

20 gr. grated fresh ginger

a few tablespoon of sesame seeds

 

Directions:

 

  1. Cut the salmon fillet in cubes as regular as possible
  2. Put the cubes in a bowl and then add soya sauce and grated ginger and let it rest for a couple of hours in the lowest part of the refrigerator
  3. Heat the oven at 180’ C.
  4. Take the bowl from the fridge, add the sesame seeds and mix well so that the cubes will be covered with sesame seeds.
  5. Tread salmon onto skewer and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes.
  6. Serve them hot on steamed rice.

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Ossobuco, Artusi and being homesick

“The preparation of this dish should be left to the Milanese, since it is a specialty of Lombardy. I will describe it in the most straightforward manner possible, lest I should be ridiculed.” Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well by Pellegrino Artusi, 1891.

Pellegrino Artusi was a business man with the passion for literature, but his really success arrived with his cookbook wrote when he was in his late sixties. This book became a viral success (as we would say today) and it is the third most read book in Italy, after The Betrothed and Pinocchio.

I have a very old copy of this book, a friend of my mom gave it to me, she had purchased it when she was young.

It has been raining heavy for two days, the wind and the sea are roaring and I feel uneasy. Homesick and uneasy. That’s why I felt the need to dust off my old “Artusi” and cook something that will pamper my soul.

And you, what do you read or cook when you feel homesick?

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Ingredients

(serves 4)

  • 4 pieces osso buco (veal shanks)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Some white flour to dust
  • 50 gr extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 120 gr. dry white wine
  • Homemadechicken broth
  • For the Gremolada:
  • Finely minced flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely minced
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, finely minced
  • For the Risotto alla Milanese
  • 400 gr. risotto rice
  • 1 liter of chicken broth
  • 40 gr extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 100 gr. dry white wine
  • 0,5 gr of saffron
  • salt
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for the risotto, plus more for serving

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Directions

  1. Put the saffron in 50 ml of water and let it rest for at least 5 hours
  2. Heat half olive oil over medium heat and add the onion until is softened and translucent. Pour it in a bowl.
  3. Prepare the ossobuco, do three cuts around the circumference of each shank to help to hold the shape during cooking.
  4. Flour the ossobuco, pour the remain oil in the same pan of the onion (but without the onion) and cook them until browned on both sides (roughly 5 minutes per side).
  5. Cover the ossobuco with the onion and pour the wine (it is better to warm the wine so that the alcohol evaporates as it can give a strange taste to the ossobuco). Let it evaporate.
  6. Pour the broth so that it will close to the edge of the ossobuco cover with the lid and let it simmer at low heat for about 35 minutes
  7. Turn the ossobuco and let them cook for another 35 minutes
  8. Meanwhile, for the Gremolada: in a small bowl, stir together parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. Set aside.
  9. When the ossobuco has adsorbed enough liquid. Turn the heat off, pour the Gremolada, cover with the lid and let it aside while you prepare the Risotto alla milanese
  10. Heat oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat add the onion and cook it until translucent and soft.
  11. Add rice stir it for a few minutes and then add the wine. When the rice has adsorbed all the wine, cover it with broth stirring occasionally. As the liquid evaporate, add some more broth until the rice is nearly cooked.
  12. Add the saffron and let the liquid evaporated until nearly dry
  13. Close the heat, add butter and Parmigiano, stir and cover with the lid, let the risotto rest for a few minutes.
  14. Prepare the plate: spoon some risotto alla Milanese on the plate, carefully transfer the ossobuco paying attention not to ruin the marrow.

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Bolognese Sauce (Eat, Pray, Love)

“Even the gelato in Bologna is better (and I feel somewhat disloyal saying that, but it’s true). The mushrooms here are like big thick sexy tongues, and the prosciutto drapes over pizzas like a fine lace veil draping over a fancy lady’s hat. And of course there is the Bolognese sauce, which laughs disdainfully at any other idea of a ragù.”  It is an excerpt from Elisabeth Gilbert “Eat, pray, love”. Who doesn’t know the book or haven’t seen the lovely film with Julia Roberts? Eating became such an intense, fulfilling experience… That’s the way I feel it… I have learned to prepare the ragù (or spaghetti sauce as my American friend call it –she was surprise visiting us in Italy “do you guys prepare your own spaghetti sauce?”) from my mom and she learned from my nana, it is not a secret recipe but pay attention to make it simmer for long hours… and enjoy!

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INGREDIENTS

100 gr. of non smoked bacon (or better, pancetta)

1 small onion (finely chopped)

1 stalk celery (finely chopped)

1 small carrot (finely chopped)

4  tbs olive oil

½ kg of lean mince meat

1 fresh sausage (better a salsiccia)

1 cup red wine

300 gr. of tomato sauce (the Italian style Passata)

Salt

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DIRECTIONS

  1. Put the olive oil in a medium over low heat.
  2. Add onion, celery, carrot and sauté it for a few minutes until onion is translucent.
  3. Add the bacon and sautee it until the fat became translucent.
  4. Add the sausage and sautee it until cooked.
  5. Add mince meat, and cook until meat loses red, raw color.
  6. Raise heat and add wine (is better if you had it warmed up to let the alcohol evaporate, alcohol can give to the meat an unwanted flower).
  7. Cook the sauce until wine is mostly evaporated.
  8. Add passata and bring heat to a boil.
  9. Once the mixture comes to a boil, return to simmer.
  10. Let sauce simmer (very slowly) covered for a minimum of 3 hours (the longer the better), stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  11. Use it to dress your pasta and do not forget abundant Parmigiano
  12. Remaining sauce may be frozen for up to two months for future use.

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Arrotolato (Meatloaf with spinach filling)

I am sure that in some novel the arrotolato fiorentino must be celebrated as it deserves  but, unfortunately, I never encountered it in my readings.  Still I want to celebrate a great Italian writer, the father of the modern novel: Giovanni Boccaccio. Born in Certaldo, a lovely small town close both to Florence and Siena he wrote the Decameron in the years 1348–53.  The plot is about 10 young people (7 women and 3 men) gathered in a country house to escape from plague-stricken Florence in 1348. Their retreat is lovely but boring so in the course of a fortnight, each member of the party has a turn as king or queen over the others, deciding the activities of the day, the walks, the conversations but more than everything their alternate storytelling. This storytelling occupies 10 days of the fortnight (the rest being set aside for personal adornment or for religious devotions); hence the title of the book itself, Decameron, or “Ten Days’ Work.”

Certaldo is not far from where I was born and grow, it is an happy place, the medieval part of the town, with Boccaccio’s home, is on the top a low hill that dominates a classic Tuscan countryside.

certaldoCourtesy of http://www.toomuchtuscany.com/too-much-certaldo/

Is there any special reason why the arrotolato recall me Certaldo and Boccaccio? The fact is that, back (very very back) to the high school I used to have a friend from Certaldo and it is in her home that I first tasted the arrotolato. My family is not originally from Tuscany, but from Umbria, a region a bit southern and at home my mom and my nana were cooking mostly in the Umbrian fashion. My friend’s mom prepares the arrotolato using the Mortadella, but my son doesn’t like it and I use Prosciutto instead. To be honest the Mortadella gives a unique flavour but what wouldn’t you do for your own son?

So let’s begin, let’s have our kitchens full with the aroma of Tuscany and please, share with me, did you like the Prosciutto or the Mortadella better? Did you use other kind of cured meat available in your area? How was it? It is your turn to share with me now…

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INGREDIENTS:

 Meatloaf
500 kg ground beef
1 egg
3 tsp. Parmesan cheese
Salt

Roll 5 thick slices of Prosciutto or 2 slice of big Mortadella

Filling
1 Kg of fresh spinach or a package of frozen

3 tsp. of butter

Salt

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DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven at 180 C.
    2. In a bowl whisk Parmesan, egg, salt, pepper. Whisk the egg in a large bowl until blended. Whisk in the salt and a generous quantity of black pepper, then whisk in the Parmesan.
    3. Form the meat into meatloaf. Take wax paper and arrange the slices of prosciutto or mortadella in a rectangle shape, then flatten the meat less the 1 cm high.
    4. Sautee fresh or frozen spinach in a pan with the butter. Until well shriveled.
    let cool in a bowl
  2. Spread the filling evenly on flattened meat.
    6. Roll the long ways of rectangle.
    7. Put inside bread pan.
    8. Cook for 40 minutes at 180° C.

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