Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chicken cutlets with balsamic bell pepper sauce

First things first, I apologize for the poor quality of this photo. See, the thing is, I took it with my phone because I couldn't find my camera for the life of me and the food was getting cold, so I had to use the phone. Then, of course, as soon as I was done eating my camera reappeared, but it was too late. The food was all gone.

Saturday morning my friends and I went grocery shopping in Italy. With 100 Euros I bought groceries (and wie, of course) to last me at least 10 days, so I was really excited to get back in the kitchen. After being so lazy for the whole month I kinda missed cooking and enjoying my meals at home. Now I don't have an excuse anymore: my fridge and my pantry are busting with all kinds of food. So beware, readers, I'm going to start posting like crazy again!

Also, the weather is not as hot as it was last week, when it was pretty much unbearable. It's still sunny and beautiful out, but it cools off enough at night that I actually feel like standing in front of the stove. Which brings me to this chicken dish I made for the first time the other night. I had the most beautiful and plump red bell pepper I'd seen in a while, but I didn't want to use it in the usual way, i.e. grilled or baked in the oven with potatoes. So I made a sort of sauce out of it, that I served with sauteed chicken cutlets. While it cooked it smelled divine and once it was ready it was a big hit with everyone. It's definitely one of those dishes that tastes better than it looks!


Serves 4

8 chicken cutlets
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 red bell peppers
1 small onion
2 tablespoons capers

Season cutlets with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet sautee chopped onion and bell pepper in olive oil for about 10 minutes. Place vegetables in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Set aside and keep warm..

In the same skillet cook chicken, two minutes per side, then add balsamic vinegar and let it reduce for 30 seconds. Add bell pepper sauce, capers and cook for a minute or two.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mock vegetarian lasagne

Every once in a while I have a stroke of genius. I know I'm not being very modest here, but if you had tried this mock lasagna the other night, you would have called it a stroke of genius too, I promise. The heat has been relentless lately. We have had high temperatures in the low and mid 90s and lows barely dipping below 70. For Lake Lugano that's very hot

Of course everyone started bitching.
Gotta love people. In July they were practically crying over the fact that it was rainy and not warm enough. Several of them were parading around crying that summer was already over. Already? It practically started in April, for crying out loud. And now that it's hot out, they are moaning and crying again. Go figure.

My only problem is that we don't have an a/c system in the office yet because the company just moved, so working, especially in the afternoon, is challenging. When I get home I usually sit in front of the a/c for a few minutes to cool off and come back to life. Then I can think about cooking, usually while I drink an ice cold beer. 

The other night I invited a couple of friends over and, over some chilled prosecco, I came up with this mock lasagna recipe, using what I had on hand. I call it mock because instead of using lasagna noodles, I used pane carasau, the Sardinian flatbread I had used in this other yummy recipe. 


Pane carasau (Sardinian music bread)
1 large eggplant,sliced
3 cups tomato sauce with basil
2 tubs light cream cheese
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Greated parmesan cheese

Lightly grease a baking dish with olive oil.

Place eggplant slices on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper and cook for ten minutes at 350°F.

Soak bread in warm waterfor a few seconds. Place a layer of bread on the bottom of baking dish. Cover with a layer of eggplant, a layer of tomato sauce and a layer of cheese. Repear until you tun out of ingredients. Sprinkle top layer with parmesan cheese, then bake in a 350°F oven for 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Berry pie

A super easy pie, for those of you who, like me, are not much into dessert. But sometimes you just have to serve it because, let's say, you have planned dinner for 6, but you end up with 10 guests.

No biggie. The more the merrier and all that crap.

But if you don't want everyone to leave your house hungry, you have to come up with something. Recently, when a few extra friends stopped by for dinner, I had to rethink my menu a little because the pasta I wanted to serve was not enough for everyone. So I made a savory pie for an appetizer and made this berry pie for dessert. Lots of pies, I know, but they had a buy-one-get-one-free offer on refirgerated pie crust at the store, what else could I have done?

Basically this is a non-recipe. I bought some fresh berries, but frozen will do the trick. I washed them and sprinkled them with brown sugar and lemon.  Then I unrolled the pie crust, poured the berry mixture in it, folded the edges and put the pie in a 350°F oven until it looked done. I sprinkled it with powder sugar... and voilĂ ! Dessert is done.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stuffed zucchini, Ligurian style

Monday I started working as a journalist at and I absoultely love the job. I didn't realize how much I missed working until I started working and writing again. I missed it a lot. I missed it so much that it dawned on me that until Monday I wasn't feeling like my real self. I'm not exaggerating, I swear.
The only downfall of working again is that I have less time to cook, but I guess it's more of a question of getting organized. I mean, I used to cook after work all the time back when I worked at the Naples Daily News, so I don't see why I can't do it here.
First I should probably go grocery shopping since my fridge and pantry look like they have been raided by a hoard of hungry mineworkers. Then I should skip my daily aperitivo at the Bar Lido, where I inevitably end up pigging out so much I'm then too stuffed to even think about dinner. The problem is, I kinda feel the end of summer upon me. It's crazy, I know, because after all there's still three whole weeks in August and the weather in September is definitely summer-like around here. Still, I've experienced this weird anxiety lately, so I'm spending time outdoors whenever I can. 
So forgive me if I haven't been around posting on my blog and visiting yours.
Anhow, although I have cooked sporadically, I have indeed cooked something. I made these stuffed zucchini a few days ago, after looking up th recipe online. My grandma used to make these, but of course she never wrote down the instructions, so I had to ask for help to my dear friend Google. That's how I found out that the recipe hails from Liguria, a skinny and small region overlooking the Tirreno sea. I have no idea how my grandma had come across it, since she wasn't from there, but who cares? The zucchini tasted exactly like hers, so I was satisfied. 
1 anchovy fillet
3 tabelspoons of capers
2 onions, minced
A bunch fresh basil
Fresh oregano
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1 large can of tuna
2 eggs
4 zucchini

Boil zucchini in boiling hot, salted water for about 8 minutes. Let them cool off, then slice in half and carve pulp out with a teaspoon. Reserve pulp.
Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet, add the anchovy and let it melt. Add onion and zucchini pulp and sautee for a few minutes. In the mean time place tuna, herbs and capers in a food processor and pulse a few times. Place zucchini mixture and tuna mixture in a large bowl, add eggs, cheese, a couple of tablespoons of breadcrumb and mix well.

Spoon mixture into hollowed zucchini halves. Place them in an oven safe dish, previously oiled with EVOO. Cook at 350F for about 30 minutes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

"Skinny" eggplant Parmesan

First things first. I have an announcement: I HAVE FINALLY FOUND A JOB!!! And not any job. A kick-ass journalism job here in Switzerland. I couldn't be happier. After 18 months of forced "vacation" I'm back in business.

Back in May a friend asked me if I had seen the ad in the paper looking for journalists. I hadn't. So I bought the paper. Went home. Sent my resume along with a presentation email to a guy. And then of course got pissed because he didn't write me back the next day. I'm crazy like that. Anyways, he didn't write back for 5 weeks. Then, when I had practically forgotten about it, he sent me an e-mail asking me to go for an interview on June 30th. The interview went well. Then they asked me and the other candidates to write an article to see our abilities. And then they didn't say anything until last week, when they wrote me to inform me that they had picked ME!

I won't lie: I started dancing around the kitchen like a complete lunatic. But hey, finding a job in journalism these days it's not easy. It definitely called for a celebration. So I decided to make eggplant Parmesan, because ever since I've been to Greece I'm madly in love with eggplants. Only, I made a light version of it because deep fried eggplants are great, but they make your ass become the size of Brazil. And since it's still bathing suit season I decided to bake them in the oven instead. Also, I didn't have any mozzarella in the fridge, so I used ricotta. They turned out great, so great I wish I had made more!


3 eggplants, sliced
16 ounces ricotta
2 pounds tomatoes
1/2 onion, sliced
Fresh basil
1 cup grated Parmesan
Extra virgin olive oil

To make tomato sauce: wash tomatoes, cut them into cubes and place them in a dutch oven with the sliced onion, 5 basil leaves and a little olive oil. Cook for about 20 minutes, then process them with an immersion blender, season with salt and cook for another 30 minutes on low heat.

Drizzle sliced eggplants with salt and olive oil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes at 350F.

Lightly grease a baking dish with oil and distribute eggplants on the bottom. Follow with a layer of ricotta, sprinkle with Parmesan, then add a layer of tomato sauce. Repeat layers until you run out of ingredients. Bake for 30 minutes at 350F.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fregola with clams

First things first, I'm sure you are all wondering..."what the heck is fregola?" Very simply put, it's a special kind of pasta hailing from Sardinia, made by mixing water and semolina in a large terracotta bowl and then by kneading the grains between the palm of your hands with a circular movement until tiny irregular balls are formed. 

Now, did I do all that? Absolutely not. I bought it a the grocery store for 2 Euros for a pound. Rumor has it they also sell it in specialty stores around the U.S., although I'm not sure how much it would cost over there. Regardless, I highly recommend it. Its rough and porous quality is ideal for absorbing the scents and flavors of the ingredients you cook it in because, unlike regular pasta, you don't cook it in water. You cook it in whatever sauce you are going to serve it with. 

Since it was my first time making fregola I went with the most traditional Sardinian recipe I could find: fregola with clams. Definitely worth a try.


Serves 4

2 pounds littleneck clams, soaked in water and salt to remove sand
5 garlic cloves
A glass of dry white wine
32 ounces vegetable broth
Olive oil
1/2 pound fregola
1/2 pound chopped canned tomatoes 
Salt and crushed red pepper
Fresh basil

Rinse clams and soak in water and salt for about an hour to remove sand. Rinse again. 
In a large casserole pour a few tablespoons of olive oil, add two garlic cloves and saute for a few minutes. Add clams and wine and cook over medium high heat until clams open. Remove from heat. Throw away any clams that haven't opened and separate most clams from shells, discarding shells (leave a few for decoration if you wish). Reserve cooking liquid.

In the same casserole heat up olive oil, add remaining garlic and crushed red pepper and saute two minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, cook for a couple of minutes, then add broth, reserved cooking liquid and the fregola. While fregola cooks keep an eye on it, should it absorb all broth add a little water. Cook for about ten minutes. At the very end, add clams. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh basil on top. 

Wordless Wednesday: Fira, Santorini

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Greek interlude

I'm in love with Greek food. This might come as a surprise for those who know me well, for I am famous for NOT liking Greek food at all. See, the thing is, I had always had Greek food in Greek restaurants abroad. That is until last week, when I took a last-minute trip to the island of Santorini. Of course I was excited to go on vacation and the picture of the cliffs and the Med looked amazing on Expedia, but I had very low expectations about food. I'm not particularly fond of feta and I can't eat cucumbers. I figured I would spend the week eating tomatoes.

Well, I was wrong. First of all, the feta they serve in Greece is completely different from the stuff you buy elsewhere. It has a nice, almost sharp flavor to it. Second, I shouldn't have worried about cucumbers. I didn't see half of one while I was there. But the tomatoes? Oh yes. They were everywhere. And they were delicious.
Spinach pie @ Mathios Hotel Village, Akrotiri
 Also very delicious was the spinach pie they served practically everywhere. As you know, I love savory pies, and this spinach and feta combination is really delightful. Especially since I've found out that feta, in Greece, tastes like cheese, not like cardboard. My favorite rendition of the dish was the one they served — lucky me! — at the hotel restaurant, a little affair pinched in between two gorgeous swimming pools. I promise I'll post some pictured of the trip... for now I'm going with the food, since I liked it almost more than the vacation itself ;)

Fried calamari @ Taverna Maria, Akrotiri
 Of course fish was plentiful too. And of course they served everywhere. But I don't know how you roll when you're on vacation... I usually find one or two places I fall in love with and then I become kind of a regular there, since I keep going back for more. Taverna Maria is one of those places. It's tiny, family-run and they barely speak any language that is not Greek, but boy, can Maria cook! She cooks. Her husband sets the tables. Her son and her daughter in law serve the food. Her other son... well, he just sits there really. And tries to pick up German girls with a very approximative English. Greatly entertaining, I tell you. Anyway... the calamari (and many other things) there were excellent. I kind of miss not being able to walk to Maria's at night.

Stuffed tomato and stuffed pepper @ The Boat House. Kamari Beach
Of course I didn't just eat the whole time. I mean, I also went to the beach and read books and occasionally I even ventured into the water. Then I was so exhausted I had to find a new restaurant and try some more Greek food. I'm glad I've discovered stuffed tomatoes and peppers pretty early in the vacation so that I could order them over and over again. They are stuffed with rice and cheese, so they are a great vegetarian option.

Mixed grilled fish @ Cave of Stolidas, Akrotiri
As I said already, fish was particularly good, especially at Cave of Stolidas, a small waterfront taverna owned by a man who can definitely cook some serious fish. The best part of it? Probably the fact that you can order whatever fish and shellfish you like and he just arranges it for you, grilled to perfection, on a big platter. Another perk: it cost 15 Euros per person. You just can't beat that, considering you are three feet away from the sea.

Fried Eggplants @ Taverna Perissa
And of course one cannot go to Greece without sampling some good eggplants. It's not my favorite vegetable, mind you, but I loved the way they deep fry them in a skillet and serve them with just a little salt to bring out the flavor of the eggplant. I found them pretty much on every menu at every restaurant, but — as it often happens with this traditional dishes — no rendition was alike. One thing they had in common: they were all delicious.

Gyros @ Taverna Perissa
Another Greek favorite is gyro — shaved meat on warm pita bred served with raw red onions and a yogurt and cucumber sauce. The meat is cooked slowly, so it's tender and juicy, and the onions and sauce compliment it perfectly. The only drawback is that you can't kiss anyone for a while after eating it. But, hey, it's worth it! I ordered mine with chicken once and with a pork and beef combination the next. Hard to tell which one was my favorite.

Tomato fritters @ Skala
One of Santorini's specialties is tomato fritters. They intrigued me from the get go when I saw them on a menu described as "a must-try". Then I saw them being served in the table next to mine and I knew I had to try them. Well, I wasn't disappointed. Crunchy on the outside, gooey with a mixture of tomatoes, feta and peppers on the inside, they are sold as an appetizer, but since all restaurants give you four of these giant fritters, they can easily be ordered as a main dish for only 4 Euros.

Stuffed squid @ Taverna Perissa
And speaking about delicious and gooey stuffing, stuffed squid was probably THE revelation of my vacation in Santorini. Besides the size of the thing, they some how stuff it with fresh chopped tomatoes, feta and olives and then grill it. Simple, yet a work of art. One of those things that makes me miss the island almost as much as its quaint towns and black volcanic beaches.


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