Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Penne con Pinoli e Melanzane

The beauty of Italian cooking is its simplicity – the way it can bring a few quality ingredients together and make an unforgettable meal. I do realise I’m not the first (or the most eloquent) person to make this observation, but I think this dish is a perfect example. Aubergine pasta – sounds boring, doesn’t it? Let me tell you, it is poetry.

The dish is a bit like caponata added to pasta. The original recipe is from Antonio Carluccio’s Complete Italian Food (though and it certainly had nothing to do with his bankruptcy). Some people really don’t like aubergine, but it’s one of my favourite veggies – when fried or baked until it’s soft, velvety and gooey, I really have to be alone with it.
It can be bitter, of course, but salting the slices, allowing them to drain for 20 minutes or so and then rinsing will take care of this. Carluccio suggests you soak the aubergine cubes in salted water for an hour, and I thought this a less fussy way to reduce bitterness.
I couldn’t restrain myself from adding anchovies, though the original recipe did not include them, and I thought the addition worked well. Naturally, I quadrupled the amount of garlic dear old Antonio recommended! (As with butter, I find it impossible – and quite unnecessary – not to be heavy handed with garlic.) This simple but sublime recipe is for all the aubergine fans out there. So, without further ado…

Penne with Pine Nuts and Aubergine
Serves 4

400g aubergine, cut into small cubes
90ml extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
3 tbsp tomato paste
8 anchovy fillets
25g pine nuts
2 heaped tbsp capers
1 small chili, finely chopped
20 black olives, stoned
400g penne
60g Pecorino (or Parmesan), freshly grated

Leave the aubergine cubes in lightly salted water for 1 hour, then drain, squeeze out the water and pat dry on paper towels. Fry them in the oil with the garlic until brown. Add the tomato paste, anchovies, pine nutes, capers, chilli and olives, and fry gently for 10 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture is too dry.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain and mix well with the sauce. Serve with the Pecorino.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Smoked trout salad with dill dressing

My colleagues have a pet name for me: the food Nazi. I choose to believe it’s a term of affection born of a deep respect for my superior culinary acumen – and not because I am, perhaps, the fussiest, most derisive eater this side of the equator. (I hear there are soy- and wheat-intolerant vegan monks in Peru who are less pedantic about their food.)
Okay, I’m not that bad. But, well, I like what I like – I’m sure you know what I mean. I really can’t help wrinkling my nose when one of my coworkers opens a white polystyrene package containing something that, to me, can only be likened to roadkill in a bun. Sometimes I just have to leave the room. Is this rude? Is it self-important? (I confess: I really don’t care.)

This is a most agreeable salad – it's not terribly original, but I’d be delighted if one of my colleagues brought it in for lunch. I based it on Jamie Oliver’s Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Crème Fraiche. I didn’t have any horseradish, though, and I wanted something more appropriate to a balmy summer evening, so I added petit pois (I don’t know why we don’t see them more in salad recipes – they are so sweet and gorgeously green) and loads of salad leaves. I think julienned asparagus would be a nice addition, too. We had a few slices of hot-buttered crusty bread on the side.

Smoked trout salad
Serves two as a main course

350g baby potatoes
120g petit pois
2 tbsp capers, drained
30g dill, chopped
Juice of one lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
3 heaped tbsp mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
200g salad leaves
200g smoked trout ribbons, sliced

Add the baby potatoes to boiling water and cook for 10 minutes, or until almost done. Add the petit pois and cook for an extra 1 to 2 minutes (you want the peas al dente). Drain and run under cold water to cool. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine the capers, dill, lemon juice, olive oil  and mayonnaise, and season to taste. Mix in the potatoes and peas.
In a large salad bowl, toss the salad leaves with the poatato mixture, ensuring everything is well coated. Arrange the salmon ribbons on top and serve.

By the way, if you have a little extra time, read this great piece I found on the Guardian website this morning: 'Delia Smith: Why we still love her'.