I wish I had a magic realism story to tell you about Meatballs and life in the Sardinian countryside, but actually they are all about just-realism. Polpette, AKA meatballs, are probably one of the most common dishes throughout Italy: a dish that speaks about daily life, time spent in the kitchen with your nonna or mamma, crumbling dry bread with your hands. Also, meatballs are probably one of the first recipes one learns to cook, because it’s fun. I can tell you a story of dirty hands, trying to reproduce a perfect sphere of meat, and the only magic here is that my mother never fried the balls before putting them in the tomato sauce, but they never – well, almost never – broke.
Whatever the season, here’s a classic Italian veggie bake: Aubergine Parmigiana. As usual with typical dishes, this is a homemade tradition and every family has their own method and ingredients to make it. My friend Gianfranco from Puglia always says “You can be as beautiful as ever, but if you don’t know how to make parmigiana, you have no charm!” – this saying, applicable to men and women alike, illustrates how big a staple of the Italian kitchen this recipe is. Continue reading “Aubergine/Eggplants Parmigiana – a Classic Veggie Bake”
Stew is one of the best hearty and warming winter foods, and North-Eastern Chinese (Dongbei) cuisine is full of these. Luan Dun (cooked here with ribs and winter vegetables) literally means messy stew, so as you can imagine, the recipe is far from precise. It also involves ripping as many ingredients apart with your hands as possible (instead of cutting it neatly with your cleaver/kitchen knife), so it’s a great way to relieve stress!
It’s Halloween, and while in most households families get busy carving and emptying pumpkins, we decided to stuff ours! This time, with very typical Italian flavours: we stuffed it with Bolognese sauce, probably the most famous pasta sauce in the world. Since the traditional recipe for Bolognese is very time consuming, we make a big batch so we can save several portions in the freezer. Keep that in mind if you try this recipe, and adjust the quantity of the ingredients according to the amount of meat you will be using. Also, take into consideration that the sauce takes three and a half hours, so we suggest you prepare it the day before you decide to stuff your Halloween pumpkin with it.
I’m a fan of Ikameshi (a Japanese dish from Hokkaido made from whole squids stuffed with glutinous rice), but as it’s part of a regional cuisine, it’s very difficult to find in restaurants here. There are many amazing recipes for Ikameshi, and this version I’m sharing is by no means the most authentic. I wanted to make it without using my rice cooker or pressure cooker, and more importantly, wanted to make the stuffing much heavier on elements other than rice.
There’s a story behind this imitated crab (sai pang xie) recipe, and it starts with the Empress Dowager Cixi craving crabs. Unfortunately, being based in Beijing means a lack of fresh crabs, so the imperial chefs found a clever way to cook eggs to make them taste as good as crab meat. I love this recipe because you can make a huge quantity of the “crab” without breaking the bank – and the bonus is that there’s no need to get fiddly with crab shells!
There are many variations of the recipe, starting with the poor-man’s version with just eggs. Others use white fish and a touch of prawns to achieve a texture closest to crab meat. I’ve used only prawns here, as I prefer that more seafood-y taste. I’ve also used a salted egg, as this adds a little extra punch to the recipe, but you can use normal eggs. If you’re using normal eggs, then make sure you add more salt in the egg white and egg yolk mixes.
When I spent almost two months in Buenos Aires, I have to confess that, if I came across sorrentinos in one of my many meals at Café La Poesia in San Telmo, I didn’t give them too much thought back then. They look like large, round ravioli and often carry similar fillings. Considering that the majority of Argentinians are of Italian origin, the name of this dish could have come from an old recipe of Campanian ravioli, maybe made particularly well by a nonna from Sorrento? However, these round cousins of ravioli actually have their origin in Argentina, and legend says that they used to be served at a restaurant in Mar de la Plata called Sorrento- hence the name. Whilst in Spain I was lucky enough to assist with the preparation of a very original sorrentinos recipe, made with a filling of ricotta, spinach, mushrooms and walnuts. Obviously, I documented it all for you, as well as making sure I tasted them!
As a continuation of our steamed recipes, here comes a really simple Chinese-style steamed fish recipe. The fish we’re using here is sea bass, though other kinds of thin white fish fillets such as sole will also work well.
Steaming fish is a bit different from steaming the veggies from previous recipes, as the timing and heat is important. Fish can easily get dry and overcooked. Make sure that the steamer is boiling before you put the fish in, and when it is in there, boil on high heat then mid heat. Continue reading “Steamed Sea Bass”
When you think of Chinese food, rice usually comes to mind, but actually flour-based recipes are just as common in the north. This dough drop soup is a home-cooked staple from the north of China as it looks more filling than it is, and it’s really easy to make, so became popular in the Sixties, when food was scarce. You don’t have to worry about making the dough drops even or pretty, because the whole point is that they are supposed to look lumpy and uneven – part of the handmade charm. Continue reading “Dough Drop Knot Egg and Tomato Soup – Chinese Gnocchi”
Often called a chicken and mushroom stew, it’s traditionally prepared by the bride’s family on the wedding day, but is very much a popular and everyday dish. The actual preparation only takes 10-15 minutes – then you can just leave it to stew on low heat. The chicken used in the stew is actually closer to a poussin (you can also use corn-fed chicken though), so that’s what I’ve used here. This was one of my favourite stews from childhood, and as it’s a Chinese dish from Dongbei/Manchuria (in the North East), it has quite strong flavours. Continue reading “Dongbei Poussin and Mushroom Stew”