It’s November and I’m writing about roasted peppers. Why, you might ask. Well, it’s been a very pleasant autumn so far in my part of the world, unseasonably sunny and warm, which prolonged the growing season of vegetables that usually don’t pull through that late in the year. Peppers are therefore still present in the farmers’ market. Last but not least, they’re one of my favourite foods. Continue reading “Roasted Peppers”
It was 3rd of July and I invited my girlfriends over for a simple get-together before we part for the rest of the summer. Everyone leaves town for summer holiday at different time, so there’s a chance we won’t be meeting again till early autumn.
We arrived to the coast just the night before. We walked through a tranquil village to the restaurant for dinner. Not many people around, barely a car passed us. It was a short, pleasurable walk. The air was dense with smells of the sea and the sun-drenched soil. The sunset was gorgeous. It felt good to be back at last.
The dinner we had at Restaurant Badi was fantastic: marinated sardines and anchovies, a small heap of the Venetian classic sarde in saor, then two bowls of crisp fresh salad and a whole, on the bone, perfectly grilled sea bream. With it we had some very good Istrian, local, red wine and after the meal we shared a glass of pelinkovac, a delicious bitter brandy made with wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).
I don’t need calendar to tell me autumn’s arrived. As soon as I start craving sauerkraut and beef broth I know that time of year is here again. Talk of archetypes, these two are certainly typical autumn and winter foods in our household. So, I listened to that inner voice when shopping yesterday at farmers’ market and we stopped at the butcher’s for a nice cut of beef. Sauerkraut on hold for now.
As much as we might be sorry for summer being gone, this is a good time of year: it’s a rewarding combination of abundant produce and moderate temperatures. Truth be told, with all the raging heat waves this summer (four? five? I lost count.) I didn’t get to cook much. Too hot is simply too hot.
Come summer I start rooting for barbecue. We both love any kind of barbecued food from delicious meat in Sarajevo to wild-caught fish in Istria where we have our summer retreat.
We’re not known to be early birds so we might come to fishmongers’ too late to be offered a vast selection of daily catch. When there’s no fish (or squid or prawns or scampi) to choose from we turn to butchers’ instead. Continue reading “Summer Barbecue Food”
Now that both my proof-eaters approved I can self-confidently announce I mastered the ketmer in the first go. Big thanks to Honey & Co. for their easy-to-follow recipe and demonstrative instagram tutorial. The only downside of this recipe is it wasn’t published in the printed version of the FT Weekend as its recipes have always been. Hopefully not everything is moving online. Shoot me, I’m an obvious dinosaur, but I still prefer my newspaper on, well, yes, paper. Continue reading “Ketmer by Honey & Co. Recipe”
According to popular notion asparagus has some kind of cleansing effect on the human body, as is the case with many a springtime produce: dandelion, radicchio, artichokes – to name only the most obvious suspects. In terms of taste, the cultivated (garden) asparagus is not on the bitter side as opposed to wild asparagus, which is also thinner, but has a distinguished, typical flavour. And a particular smell too, which is manifested afterwards in the loo.
On everyday occasions, which family lunch or early dinner certainly are, I, not unlike many working women and men, tend to resort to staple dishes that can be whizzed through with no recipe, quickly and without an extra trip to the store. Every home cook has a selection of fail safe dishes up their sleeve that can save the day and feed the exhausted and famished loved ones.
This has got to be the most photogenic salad I’ve prepared myself. It’s just as good as it’s pretty too. The roasted cabbage “steaks” on the other hand turned out delicious despite resembling something very much anaemic and lifeless.
Not a cloud in sight for two consecutive days. Jeez, the skiing was just perfect! The pistes were only occasionally punctuated by a skier or a small group of them that all of a sudden emerged out of nowhere and once they flew past us the white course was left to us alone again. That’s what January feels like these days. Herrlich!
Skiing in January in the Alps can mean a lot of things. It can mean masses of snow, every other day a new consignment of powder. It can mean blue skies and strong wind. Or, grey clouds, heavy with precipitation, that don’t seem to move anywhere. In the olden days, January skiing meant guaranteed snow conditions but not the friendliest weather conditions with the lowest temperatures. That inconveniences could on the other hand be mitigated by lower, so-called off-season prices to lure the most eager skiers out in the open. Nowadays, January generally still means no crowds but at the same time no (natural) snow. Thankfully, the technology of snowmaking is in place everywhere now so we can smoothly indulge in the winter delight of skiing.
When I’m in the mountains I seem to notice the weather more. It’s got to do with exposure I guess. This January is rather on the cold side, which I don’t mind at all, and the weather has been picture perfect throughout. Sunny and cold – the best winter arrangement. As if by order. As far as I’m concerned we could do with more snow though. Down below in the hometown the last snowing brought in more snow than in the mountains. Shame, really.
Another thing typically perceived is the days are getting longer. Today, for example, when we were preparing our late lunch after returning back from skiing the sun was still up and it was past 4 pm (a few weeks ago it had already been dark at that time). Once the sun sets behind the mountains the night gets all black, much darker than in the cities, and dotted with millions of golden stars.
For lunch I planned to use up the celery that was lying around for a week together with a packet of cherry tomatoes. The first recipe I found online was interesting enough to stop searching. At first, I was a bit suspicious about the whole thing. I was afraid I wouldn’t like the taste of it too much since it’s quite particular. I love it raw, it’s essential as a spice for a soup or used finely chopped in a soffrito but as a main character? Well, I was afraid. But it turned out quite silky and delicious. I served it with bulghur but you could use couscous or pasta.
Not a cloud in sight for two consecutive days. Our cheeks are red and our lungs are filled with fresh Zirben scented air. We’re ready to head back to everyday.
Autumn may righteously be the season of harvest and filling up the granaries. It may be a synonym for plenty but just as much it is foreplay to an unfruitfulness of winter. Besides, it’s an overture to the bleak season of cold and also, more and more, a playground on which the Mad Men are planting the seedlings of spending, climaxing in the actual end-of-the-year festive craze. Practically, if you pay attention to detail, the so-called Christmas season starts in September (the glossies start their jewellery editorials back then and home&garden sections of supermarkets start to display rather casually the first shiny decorations for sale). Do you comply?
I don’t. I prefer to stick to the bright colours reminiscent of summer albeit in autumn the sun doesn’t shine often enough and when it does it’s regretfully for a couple of hours only. So, when it does come out you better grab the opportunity and plan something nice outdoors. A simple walk does the trick. It lifts up the spirits like a charm.
Reinventing summer colours when knee-deep in autumn can be easy even if you don’t feel like going out and just want to stay at home (like one of my dearest friends who can’t have enough of staying at home with the crazy work schedule of hers) and watch the sunset from the cosiness of your residence. It’s absolutely fine. Tune in!
First, you can start with a glass of something cold and sparkling.
Start cooking! The peppers are still on offer at the farmers’ market (however, less and less, it’s getting too cold for them at our latitude) and they’re the ultimate summer vegetable (or is it fruit?). Their opulent shades of orange and red are invigorating.
What you see in the photo above is a bed of peppers (when exactly did the word bed get to be involved in food vocabulary?) that was in the next step topped with a few cuts of chicken and roasted in the oven. It’s based on Thomasina Miers’ lovely last summer’s recipe for Marseille-style roast chicken. What made me save that recipe were the peppers because I usually roast my chicken with lemon halves and potatoes but every household needs a diversion now and then from one fail-safe dish to another. I did add the lemon halves to this one too.
Do not let the title of this post mislead you. Actually, I don’t mind autumn at all. Not at all, when it’s this gorgeous.
When we decided to visit Southern Dalmatia a couple of weekends ago we expected it to mean a prolonged summer break. As it turned out, the weather wasn’t quite as fabulous as we’d hoped for. It was a good thing we didn’t need it to be A+ for what we were after: some good fish-based meals, the lovely plavac (a.k.a. zinfandel’s child) and a leisurely rediscovering of the area. A simple break from the norm.
(Almost) Everything was just as we remembered from our last stay some five or so years ago. The scenery is mostly unchanged which is great, the sea is very much blue and the beaches almost deserted. Low season indeed.
Despite its misleading shape and form Peljesac is in fact a peninsula, which means it’s accessible by road. This is a helpful bit of information if one plans a short break as it means no waiting in lines for dull, somewhat expensive and long(ish) ferry rides. Its landscape is also beautifully rough, very much karst and Dalmatian and it’s dotted with cosy little villages and towns. No resorts here.
A definite must-visit on the peninsula are the lovely little coastal towns of Mali Ston and Ston each located on the opposite shores of the peninsula and connected with ancient fortified walls running up and down along the slopes that divide the two towns. For the fit and ready there’s the annual wall marathon where the walls are actually a running field. The experience (not to mention incredible views) must be unforgettable.
Turn left at the crossing were Peljesac meets the mainland and you’re headed in the direction of Bosnia (its coast is only about 20 kilometres long) and further up to the northern part of Croatian coast. Turn right and you’re less than an hour drive to Dubrovnik, the gem town of ancient age and glorious history. So, there’s plenty of day-trip options in all directions.
The views from the road on the way to Dubrovnik reminded me a bit of Amalfi coast. This also is a land where lemons grow (and pomegranates and quinces and the lot). Along the way one can stop by the road and enjoy the views over the sea to the near-by islands like Mljet or Lopud. The traveller should by all means make a stop at Trsteno, a village perched on both sides of the main road. There are several reasons for that. The locals are proud of their 16th century plane trees that are possibly the largest in Europe. What’s not to miss is the arboretum. It’s the only Mediterranean garden of its kind along the Croatian coast, which is quite surprising considering its length.
Its villa (regretfully in a poor shape) and the pavilion have the most fantastic location: amidst the lush greenery and with unbeatable views over the Adriatic. There are many pleasant alcoves in the garden where you can rest and enjoy the peace and quiet or the songbird or the sounds of the wind caught high up in slender palm trees. Or you can meander around its cultivated terraces. There’s also a gorgeous baroque Neptune fountain with its own private aqueduct built to supply it with water.
When we were there there was a stall, well, it was more a folding table, outside the entrance where a grey-haired man was selling homemade delicacies: jams, liqueurs, dried fruit and herbs. During our brief encounter we learned about his strict wife forbidding him to offer the customers tastings but he nevertheless insisted we try the refreshing arancini (so good!), the tenderest dried figs I’ve ever eaten and the various kinds of liqueurs. We left with a bag full of good stuff, the most medicinal being the sage liqueur. Quite exquisite.
Which reminds me: it’s the fig season! Or rather, it is still the fig season. The fantastic smell winding magically around the fig trees and from behind stonewalls in the coastal regions of Mediterranean has compressed into sensual fruit. Grab it while you still can.
I think fondly of those happy moments, lacing our summer trips, when we notice we pass a fig tree only after its head-swirling perfume fills our noses. For me, it represents hot syrupy days under scorching sun, quasi fresh early mornings of bright yellow, smells of macchia and distant sea, stains of red soil on the white rocks, and all the nuances of a clear, never-ending sky.
When you have a bunch of figs, small or not so small, violet or green, that are sadly not as sweet and tasty as you’d want them to be, despair not. Make the best of them by roasting them.
It’s a simple and delicious dessert (or a sweetspoon if you happen to eat it directly out of the roasting dish). This is how I make it:
– Preheat the oven to 200°C
– Cut the figs in half from top to bottom
– Place on a roasting dish cut side up
– Add 1-2 dcl of red wine depending on the size of the dish
– Add some freshly grated ginger
– Add lemon zest strips
– Add ground coriander or cardamom
– Add a little bit of brown sugar or (even better) a drizzle of honey (make sure all of the spices reach the wine as well not only the fruit)
– Squeeze half a lemon over everything
– Roast for 30 minutes.
I like to eat them when they’re still warm but they are very good when cool as well. Summer in the bowl.
Did we make it to Dubrovnik? Certainly, for the umpteenth time. How was it? If you haven’t been go. If you’d seen it before, keep the happy memories and go some place else. I believe there are other beautiful places to discover. This one’s gotten too polished and superficial. It’s cat friendly though.
Not so long ago I was asked what my favourite food was and I surprised myself by replying swiftly it was tomatoes. I never considered food as rating material: I either like it or I don’t. True, there are things I prefer but I don’t think I could make a list of, say, Top Ten Foods without obvious bias towards the current season. The palate is in my case a matter of season: asparagus = spring, cherries = early summer, sauerkraut = winter to just name a few typical examples.
Tomatoes on the other hand I consume throughout the year in various forms and textures. Guilty as charged. They’re beautiful, red and curvy; they certainly look good, don’t they? I like them raw, cooked or roasted, on their own or in combination. They’re versatile and they taste and smell like summer. Arguably, tomatoes have changed a great deal in the past two or three decades due to intensive cultivation and high demand. I believe they mostly taste like nothing and consider myself lucky being of generation that grew up on seasonable only tomatoes. I can clearly recall the taste of my childhood tomatoes and none of them now are quite the same. Still, when carefully and timely selected one can enjoy them nearly as much.
I love tomatoes just sliced and salted with a drizzle of olive oil. As a child I was used to eating tomato salad dressed with pumpkin seed oil, as it is a customary dressing choice in the East where my mother comes from. Now, I choose a good olive oil any time of the day for my tomatoes. I love a simple tomato sauce for pasta dishes. Actually, if I look closely I can’t imagine my life without tomatoes. Ergo, it’s quite stressful to read about this.
I admit to indulge in the first spring variety known by the pretty name of Marinda and soon other kinds, summery, follow.
I like canned tomatoes as well, they serve us well through winter. I use them to dress pasta (peeled San Marzano is best) or to enhance a legume vegetable stew (passata or polpa brighten the dull fagioli immediately). They’re indispensable in autumn Indian curry or when I crave a plain, good old tomato soup. I add a squeeze of lemon and plenty of chilli to it.
Now, what I look forward to as the summer comes to a close is roasting them (cherry tomatoes or any other variety) in the oven. Roasting deepens their flavour, it somehow intensifies their taste and concentrates them. To make them I roughly follow David Lebovitz’s recipe, which is simple and delightful, but after they’re roasted and still very hot from the oven I spoon them carefully into a meticulously clean glass jar to preserve them. I add some additional olive oil on top and close it up immediately. When it cools, I store it in the refrigerator – it keeps well for several weeks. If you do it sporadically as the tomatoes occur even later in the season (sometimes I get my hands on good tomatoes as late as October), the jars prepared this way may last till Christmas. I find this way of preserving tomatoes to be a smart move this time of year when the prices are more reasonable and one is somehow fed up with eating yet another tomato salad albeit 1001st version of it.
They can be added by spoonfuls to bought canned tomatoes or passata to give a dish an extra homey feel or to any other dish calling for tomatoes. Meatballs for instance. They enhance the flavour of any dish. Plus, you can brag about them being homemade.
There’s more to taking a day off than you might imagine when you apply for it at work. Trust me, I speak from experience.
The last time I took a day off to have some peace and quiet at home our bedroom got (nearly) flooded. There we were in the small hours of a Friday morning watching the water pouring in through the ceiling. Don’t ask. The day was spent on waiting for the repairmen and cleaning the mess up. All’s well that ends well, right?
After a couple of weeks, we both took a day off and arranged to visit some friends who were vacationing on Krk, Croatia. The motorbike was fresh out from the service, the weather forecast was fantastic, no worries at all. Off we went. To cut the long story short: the brake problem caused us touring four countries including Slovenia, Austria, Italy and finally Croatia. In a day. Don’t ask. A serious rehearsal before taking the summer holiday.
Maybe this is the universe communicating we’re not meant to take days off. I don’t know.
One version of a simple potato salad – the addition of tiny capers and olives makes all the difference
Cruising around the beautiful landscapes that day made me long for potatoes. The neat fields we were passing were full of flowering potato plants and green beans climbing up the poles next to them. I love potatoes prepared in almost every possible way but my firm favourites are:
mashed potatoes (irresistible when lots of butter and a spoonful or two of sour cream alongside the milk are mashed within)
potatoes braised in a roemertopf together with some carrots and a piece of meat (veal for instance)
French Fries (especially the Californian ones – the slim cuts).
We knew what lay ahead so we actually planned that meal the day before. We had bought the ingredients and before we went to bed I fixed the marinade and he prepared the meat. We had bought the already boned chicken thighs so only the skins had got to be removed. No hard work. The marinade ingredients were mixed together before everything was put into a glass container with a tight lid and stored in the refrigerator.
So, the following afternoon, after the whole day of fixing, tidying, clearing and cleaning, both indoors and outdoors, he made the fire and manned the grill while I prepared the crisp spring green salad to go with the meat. We were lucky to get our hands on Gernika peppers, so they were grilled alongside the meat.
I’m happy to report that in true David Lebovitz spirit we didn’t fuss about the authenticity of the recipe. Genuinely Korean or not, this dish was fantastic. Tasty, spicy, tender. I omitted the sesame seeds for the simple reason I stock none and added a tablespoon of concentrated tomato paste to the marinade. To me, to us, it was the perfect inaugural adventure in Korean food.
Chicken bulgogi, ladies and gentlemen:
And the green accompaniments:
The day was rounded off with an easy and delightful walk by the beach. Everything around us turned pink and seemed to glow in warmth although it was quite chilly.
It’s been a typical winter day, the kind that one tends to forget all about even before it’s over. Half light half grey, not too cold but humid, anticipating the deterioration and turning to rain before the night creeps in. Not complaining at all, it’s pitch-perfect for my favourite pastime: reading.
We did manage to do a couple of rounds on the slopes though and filled our lungs with fresh pine tree smelling air for a pleasant aromatherapy momentum. On our last ascent on the chairlift we already contemplated the bookworms’ evening. We had to take care of more prosaic necessities first. The lunch.
And what a great lunch it was! Simple yet fragrant and full of sun and d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s. It’s as simple as your ABC can be, as is the case with so many Italian dishes but it’s the execution that requires attentiveness.
Boil a lot of water in your pasta pentola. While the pot is warming up, skin the lemon off its zest with a potato peeler and cut it, the zest, into thin hair-like stripes. (Save the lemon in the refrigerator and use it the next morning before breakfast squeezed in a glass of tepid water.) Marvel at the fabulous fragrance for a second or two. (The recipe requires a grater, which I didn’t have at hand but cutting it up is just fine. Especially if someone more diligent and patient is willing to help.) Then chop up a handful of parsley (in the same thin stripes fashion as the zest) and take chilli/peperoncini container out of your pantry. Get the man of the house pour you a glass of some fine preferably Italian red. (Although whatever you might prefer will do. Just keep in mind that cooking your meal is a matter of enjoyment not torture.) Warm up some olive oil in the pan over low heat and add to it a smashed clove of garlic and a smashed chilli/peperocino (If using dried version. Otherwise chop a fresh one up). Low temperature is key. Stir occasionally. By this time the water must be boiling already, add a couple of spoons of salt to it, stir and add spaghetti. Don’t forget to set a timer according to the required cooking time. Half way through add the lemon zest and parsley to the garlic-chilli pan, stir now and then, all still at low temperature. Just a minute before the spaghetti are done, fork them out to the pan with garlic-chilli-zest-parsley mixture, fold it gently, add some cooking liquid, turn the temperature to high for a minute and stir in a knob of butter in the end. Done. Serve with a bowl of fresh leaf salad that was prepared beforehand (and preferably by the same helpful person that chopped the zest and took care of the wine).
It felt as if sunshine had stepped in our dining room for a moment in now already bleak winter afternoon: simple, fulfilling and delicious.
After that it was couch only. With a book of course.
I happen to check some food blogs on more or less regular basis because I quite like to cook but need a bit more than the regular fact-stating recipe. I like the eloquence of a handful of authors/bloggers I like to check up on. One of them, and the more recent addition to my lot, is an English/Roman/Sicilian rose Rachel Roddy (https://racheleats.wordpress.com) that I check on The Guardian occasionally as well. The recipe that brightened our day is by her. Thank you.