Italian Munching

When in Rome

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Last weekend my boyfriend and I took a long weekend to Rome, and (I’m ashamed to say) it was my first taste of authentic, Italian food. We landed in darkness, so it was a little hard to appreciate the beauty that surrounded us, but for me it wasn’t the sights and the pebbled streets that was weighing on my mind; it was, of course, food, wine, and more food. Luca, our fabulous air b’n’b host welcomed us to his modest apartment with a local bottle of rouge, so after a swift change, several gulps of wine, we set out on our hunt for pasta, pizza, ciabatta, forcaccia….anything remotely Italian.

We found this quaint little restaurant tucked away from Campo de’ Fiori square and got seated straight away, called Ditirambo. Buzzing with locals, Englishmen, American folk and Spanish neighbours, we instantly knew we’d found a little gem. I chose a spinach and pumpkin ravioli to start, followed by Tuna Steak and seasonal vegetables for my main; lanky legs (my other half) chose a spicy, prawn and lime spaghetti to start, followed by suckling pig on a bed of sautéed potatoes. Yep, you heard right. That’s what we ate. And we ate it good. It was by far the best food I have eaten in a long, long time.

My ravioli was out of this world, spinach, ricotta cheese and the sweetness of pumpkin worked so well together, it all just melted away in your mouth. However, lanky legs stole the crown for best starter, with his spicy, fresh lime and prawn spaghetti. So, I had inadvertently set myself the challenge to recreate this dish when back home in South London. It sounds simple…but sometimes the simplest dishes are the hardest to master.

All you need is: Fresh Spaghetti (or Tagliatelli) Fresh King Prawns // Fresh Squid Rings // One Large Scotch Bonnet Chilli, Finely Chopped // 2 Cloves of Garlic // 1cm Chunk of Ginger // 1 Large Bulbed Spring Onion // 2 Fresh Limes // Course Ground Black Pepper // Coriander // Basil // Salt & Pepper & Oil // Parmesan Grated

Start by washing your prawns and squid and set aside outside of the fridge so you cook them from room temperature. Pop the kettle on for the pasta and place your paste in a deep pan ready for cooking. Take your garlic and ginger and pop into a food blender. Take the bulb of the spring onion and pop that in too (do NOT discard the green stem of the spring onion). Pinch of salt, and then blend it all together. If you don’t have a food blender then just make sure you chop everything up tiny. Heat 2tbsp of Olive Oil in your large, medium deep frying pan. When hot add your garlic, ginger and onion puree and turn the heat down so not to burn. This is your base flavour. Grate the zest of one lime into the puree and you’ll start to smell that delicious lime.

Now add the boiling water to your pasta and simmer for 2-3 minutes (or follow instructions on the packet). Into your sizzling puree add the prawns and squid and flash-fry for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down and add the chilli, a pinch of sea salt and stir until it is all coated. Now the pasta should be ready, drain it well an add to your prawn and squid mixture. Stir for 2-3 minutes to make sure everything is coated. Coarsely chop your coriander and chuck into the mixture, followed by a generous grounding of black pepper and the juice of your used lime. Another quick stir with the heat turned up and then take off the heat ready to plate. Spoon the mixture into your bowl and instantly grate your cheese on top so it begins to melt. I’d give it some more pepper, grate a small amount of lime zest, tear some basil leaves, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil, and you are ready to serve. This can be a lunch, a starter or a main. It’s so quick, so simple but tastes absolutely amazing,

It has to be a medium dry white wine with this dish, I’d always choose a Sancere but if times are hard, any Sauvignon Blanc will do.

Where to buy?

Sainsbury’s always have a great fish mongers so I would always head there before checking the shelves for your prawns and squid. However their frozen un-cooked prawns will work perfectly for this dish. If you’re lucky enough to have an Asian Grocers nearby, grab all your veg and herbs there, otherwise value supermarkets such as Lidl and Aldi have an amazing array of fresh produce to select.

Lobster Tuesdays

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It’s not often you spot a lobster in the supermarket for a fiver. We did and guess what, we had it on a bloody Tuesday, didn’t we….

Seriously though, this last minute dinner turned out surprisingly well, and went down a treat whilst we watched a bit of Game of Thrones. We picked up this beauty from Wing Yip – Purley Way’s Chinese Supermarket which I’ve known and loved since I was a youngster. Already cooked, all we had to do was defrost and we were good to go.

4 cups of rice (make this dish and then freeze some for a rainy day – easier to make more than less) // 1 cup of green split peas // 2 shallots finely chopped // 1 white onion roughly chopped // 2 cloves of garlic, crushed // 1/2 cup of vermouth (dry martini) // 1 pint of chicken or fish stock // splash of white wine // 1/2 cup of peas or edamame beans // generous portion of chestnut mushrooms, sliced // 1/2 cup of frozen prawns // 1 tbsp tomato puree // 1 tsp hot sauce (or as much as you like) // 1 tbsp honey or palm sugar // lobster

In a large frying pan, add some oil – any kind, and then slowly soften your shallots, onion and garlic. Once they start to go a little translucent, add in the dry rice and stir. Now you want to really gently cook the rice and coat the grains in the oniony-oil mixture. After a few minutes add a dash of Vermouth and stir. Then gradually add the stock & rest of the Vermouth really slowly (over the course of about half an hour) until the rice begins to soak it up and turn gooey. Add in the split peas and simmer for 10 minutes with a lid on.

Add the other vegetables (peas and mushrooms) with the splash of white wine and stir again. The rice will keep absorbing the liquid so keep an eye on it. If it dries up just add cold water. Pop in your prawns, puree and hot sauce. Now get your boyfriend, fit neighbour or house mate to de-shell the lobster. You’ll be surprised how soft the shell is, so be careful.

Once you’ve got as much juicy lobster flesh, rip it into bite-sized chunks and add to the risotto. Add the honey or palm sugar and mix thoroughly.

Now simply pour a glass of white wine and enjoy!

Where to Buy

Now I got my lobster for a fiver at my local cash n carry Wing Yip, but all supermarkets will sell them.  The fish mongers will be your best bet, as they can provide tips on how to de-shell etc. Try out Morrisons and Sainsburys

Rice-less Risotto

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When I was young we used to spend our family holidays in the mountains across Spain and Portugal, so my love for Spanish cuisine grew from an early age. Memories of eating piping hot Paella’s by the pool, as my Dad strolled around with no top on – his hairy, 50 year old belly desperately trying to fight gravity – brings a huge smile to my face!

So it’s been natural for me to experiment with different recipes to make my own, personal Paella/Risotto, bringing together an infusion of flavours that I love. Problem is, I’m ever so slightly wheat intolerant, so a moment of rice on my lips, a week of bloating, and pain will follow, and certainly a lifetime on the hips.

The great thing about Risotto’s and Paella dishes, is the rice is used as a sponge – it soaks up all the wonderful flavours you add – and there are so many different pulses, wheat’s, beans etc. that will work just as well – so do not panic.

I use a cocktail of red lentils, giant cous-cous, barley and split peas to build the base of my Rice-less Risotto. You can use anything that simmers and soaks up when you add boiling water! But instead, apply the same cooking instructions as a Risotto. You also need:

Large white onion // 2 garlic cloves // 2 spring onions // Vermouth // 1 litre fish & vegetable stock // salt & pepper // fish sauce // chillies (as many as you wish, I used 2-3) // garden peas // green pepper // spinach // large flat leaf basil // cod // salmon and prawns // Hard cheese & coriander to finish.

Now, if you’re going to be naughty, then cook this dish with a generous dab of butter. It really does make this dish indulgent. However, if you want to stick to being healthy, the best oil you can cook with is coconut oil. Yes, it does have a distinctive flavour, so feel free to use vegetable oil or sunflower, but I love the subtle undertones of coconut, and it brings a lovely warmth to the dish.

Heat your chosen ‘fat’ and very gently simmer a large white onion, 2 green/spring onions and 2 generous cloves of garlic. Take your time here to sweat the ingredients – you want them soft, silky and almost translucent – NOT brown! I now add a desert spoon of Vermouth – yes you heard right – get those Vermouth/Martiny bottles out of the basement and blow off the dust! It is by far the key ingredient in any Risotto – so when you last turned your nose up at your mum for having 3 bottles stashed in her liquor cupboards, you might want to think again! Let your onions and garlic soak up the Vermouth and then add your lentils, peas, barley and other wheat’s. Keep the heat very low, to prevent any burning.

After about five minutes, add another splash of Vermouth, followed by approximately 200 fl.oz. of vegetable & fish stock. You’re going to be adding your stock very gradually over the course of about twenty, so keep this in mind and judge according to how quickly your mixture absorbs the liquid. Add all stock until gone. Finely chop 1-2 chillies add to the dish and simmer for ten minutes adding seasoning to taste. Slice your red pepper and add to the dish along with your peas. Rip up your basil leaves and add with the spinach – let the ingredients soften and wilt. Finally add all your fish and place on the lid, keeping a very low heat for the last 15 minutes so everything soaks up the flavours. Get your bowls ready to serve – plate up and sprinkle with grated cheese and coriander! I add an extra chilli too!

 Where to buy?

I often buy my pulses and grains from the local polish delicatessens, but Lidl and Aldi offer a great variety and for really cheap. Giant Cous Cous however is slightly harder to find, and I buy mine from Ocado as it’s the cheapest at £1.89: Ocado Giant Cous Cous


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