Aubergine polpette recipe

I’ve no desire to be vegetarian but we do try to eat less meat, especially red meat. I cook meat free dishes several times a week and I am always on the look out for delicious vegetarian dishes. I saw this recipe on an episode of Catherine’s Italian kitchen on the good food channel some time ago. In this show Catherine Fulvio (an Irish cook) travels around Sicily learning about the food culture and cooking traditional dishes. I really enjoyed the episodes that I watched and after cooking this recipe I’m inspired to try some more of her recipes. Some might think that a mixture of breadcrumbs, cheese and aubergine is no substitute for meatballs but I don’t think that’s the idea. These polpetti are delicious in their own right, I loved the flavour combination of the cheese, aubergine and the herbs together. The aubergine was cooked to perfection and these little polpette were a wonderful soft texture.  I know I’ll make real meatballs again but I also know I’ll be making these again too (and possibly more often).  For the tomato sauce I  used some of this sauce that I told you about the other day but  you can also find Catherine’s recipe here.

Aubergine polpette served with spaghetti and tomato sauce
Serves 2

For the aubergine polpette
1 large aubergine
2 cloves of garlic
100g bread crumbs
50g parmesan or pecorino
1 egg yolk
1tsp chopped mint
1tsp dried oregano
Pinch of grated nutmeg

  • preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Cut the aubergines in half, drizzle over some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place on a baking tray (cut side up) and roast for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.
  • Scoop out the flesh of the aubergines, place in a sieve and press gently to squeeze out the excess liquid.
  • In a mixing bowl, mash the garlic and aubergine together (I blitzed mine together in a food processor). Return the aubergine/garlic mixture to the bowl (if you used a food processor) then stir in the breadcrumbs, cheese, egg yolk, mint, oregano and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Take a little of the mixture and roll into a small ball. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the patty until golden. Taste to make sure you have the seasoning correct. If not, add more salt and pepper to the remaining aubergine mixture.
  • Shape the aubergine mixture into golf ball-sized ‘meatballs’ and fry in batches until golden, turning from time to time and taking care not to crowd the pan. Place on kitchen paper to drain.
  • Pour off any excess oil from the frying pan, lower the heat and add tomato sauce (enough for 2). When it is hot, add the polpette and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling salted water. Drain well and serve with the polpette and tomato sauce.

I’m submitting this blog post to Presto pasta nights, this month hosted by Tandy of Lavender & Lime. I can’t believe I’ve not entered before that amount of pasta I cook and blog.


Our Tuscan wedding feast

I’ve shown you the photos of our wedding in Tuscany already so today I’m going to show you the photos of our wedding feast. My sister-in-law was kind enough to be my food photographer for the evening. These photos are of the plates we were each served but along with them would be a big bowl of seconds for the table to share. There was so much food we had plenty left over for lunch the next day (when it tasted just as delicious). The wedding cake may not be what we are used to seeing in the UK/US but it tasted amazing which in my book is what counts. The sponge was so light and moist  (not like any cake I have eaten before) and there was a custard/cream layer with chocolate chips in it (and some type of alcohol). The cook for the night had bought the cake so wasn’t able to tell me much about it so I can’t tell you much more either but trust me it was good!

To start with we had Bresaola with rocket salad and Parmesan cheese, prosciutto with melon, Capri salad with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, Melanzane alla parmigiana – Aubergines baked with Parmesan cheese (not shown) and bruschetta with tomatoes. Next we had the primi courses which were lasagna and florentine-style crêpes with ricotta and spinach.

This was followed by two secondi courses. The first was a delicious salmon en croute style dish with a mixed salad.

This was followed with Tuscan style style roast loin of pork with roast potatoes.

The final course was a tradition style wedding cake and a tray of mini pastries.


Christmas baking – Panforte

This is my entry for Most wanted Yule – Blog bake off. The challenge quiet simply is to bake and blog a recipe that epitomises christmas. Panforte may not be the most obvious recipe to fit the requirements but at this time of year the food blogs are full of recipes for christmas puddings, cakes and mince pies so I decided to find a recipe a little bit different. I nearly made another gingerbread house but unfortunately I just didn’t have the time this year. So back to the drawing board I went (or rather my ever growing cookbook and food magazine collection).

Inspiration finally struck whilst visiting Manchester Christmas markets. Its become a bit of a tradition of our to take a day off mid week in December and visit the markets. We finish our christmas shopping in the shops, wander round the markets, eat lunch at one of the many food stalls and drink mulled wine and warming fruit punches. Stalls come from all over Europe including Germany, France and Italy. There is always a stall selling traditional Italian biscuits and this reminded me that I had seen a recipe for Panforte in Sainsburys magazine in early November.

Panforte is a traditional spiced festive treat from Siena (it seemed fitting to bake panforte this christmas since we will be getting married not far from there next summer). It may not be the first sweet treat you think of when you think of christmas but all the key elements are there – dried fruit and nuts, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

It also keeps well (Important at this busy time of year so you can bake it ahead of time) and is relatively straight forward to bake. The end result is a deliciously, festive, chewy sweet treat. Perfect to serve with coffee over the festive period or perhaps to give as gifts.

serves 16

75g blanched almonds
75g blanched hazelnuts
50g unsalted shelled pistachios
225g mixed dried apricots, figs, pitted Medjool dates and candied peel, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp each groung ginger, ground cloves, ground nutmeg and freshly ground black pepper
75g plain flour, sifted
1tbsp cocoa
200g clear honey
200g caster sugar
icing sugar to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 180C, fan 160C, gas 4. Oil and line an 18cm square non-stick loose bottomed tin. Scatter the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5-7 minutes until golden. Lower the oven temperature to 150C, fan 130 C, gas 2. Cool the nuts, then chop with the pistachios and tip into a large bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit and mix well. In another small bowl, mix the spices, flour, cocoa and a pinch of salt. Add to the dried fruit and nuts and mix thoroughly.
  • In a medium pan, stir the honey and sugar over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring slowly to the boil, then bubble for two minutes.
  • Remove from the heat, pour into the fruit and nut mixture and quickly mix with a large wooden spoon. Spoon into the tin and level the surface. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, then leave to cool in the tin. Once cold remove from the tin. Cut into squares with a sharp knife and dust with icing sugae to serve.

Taste the difference Almond panettone

A few weeks back I was contacted on behalf of Sainsburys to see if I would be interested in trying any of their Taste the difference christmas products. Since I have always been pleased with the taste the difference items  I have purchased (I use their taste the difference chocolate for baking all the time), I decided to take them up on the offer. A few days later I accepted delivery of a large parcel from Sainsburys. They had very generously sent me a 1kg panettone. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to find some willing family members to help me put the cake to the taste test.

Panettone has been on my list of things to bake for christmas for a couple of years now but I never seem to quiet get round to it. I’ve read bad reviews in the past of shop bought stale/dry cakes. This was not the case with the Sainsburys cake which is baked in Italy to a family recipe perfected over the last 40 years. It was rich, moist and buttery (much like brioche) and studded with jewel like pieces of candied peel. It was nicely packaged in a deep purple and gold designed box, complete with ribbon (no picture of the packaging as mine was a little bashed in the post) and as such would make a great christmas present. We all throughly enjoyed this panettone (some even went back for seconds). I have about a quater of the panettone left so does anyone have any good recipe ideas for using it up?

Thank you to Sainsburys for sending me this panettone to review.

Quick cook polenta with mushroom ragu

A few weeks back I was contacted by Merchant Gourmet to see if I was interested in entering a competition by coming up with a recipe using their quick cook polenta. The whole recipe (including preparation time) had to be less than 20 minutes. Polenta is a traditional Italian ground maize (corse cornmeal) which usually takes 45 minutes of constant stirring. For this reason I have never cooked polenta. Merchant gourmet quick cook polenta, cooks in only 1 minute so is much more accessible for a week night supper. I have to admit I have never eaten polenta before so I can not comment on how quick cook compares to traditional polenta.

I decided to cook a simple version of a traditional northern Italian dish – Polenta with mushroom ragu. This was indeed on the table within 20 minutes and is a simple vegetarian meal with lots of flavour. I could also see it working well as a side dish with say a steak or lamb chops if you wanted a more substantial/meaty dish.

Quick cook polenta with mushroom ragu
Serves 2

Olive oil
120g Merchant gourmet quick cook polenta
530ml vegetable stock
1 shallot, finelly diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
250g Chestnut mushrooms (or your favorite type of mushroom), sliced
knob of butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan

      • Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and fry over a low heat until softned (around 5 minutes). Add the garlic and thyme, stir to combine and fry for a further 1-2 minutes.
      • Mean while bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a medium saucepan.
      • Once the onions have softened add the mushrooms to the frying pan and turn up the heat to medium. Fry for a further 5 minutes stirring frequently. Once the mushrooms are cooked they will have darkened and shrunk in size. At this point add around 50mls of the vegetable stock and reduce the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper.
      • Add the polenta to the stock in a thin, steady stream,  stirring with a wooden spoon or whisk. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
      • Add the butter and parmesan and stir through to combine.
      • Serve the polenta in bowls, making a well in the centre with a wood spoon. Spoon the mushroom ragu into the well. Serve immediately.

        Aubergine Parmigiana recipe

        This is a delicious, Northern Italian dish of baked aubergines with tomatoes, mozzarella and parmesan. We enjoy it simply served with some crusty bread (or perhaps garlic bread or foccacia) or homemade rosemary and garlic potato wedges. I have seen it suggested as a side dish for roast lamb before which I imagine would work well. It is essential to griddle the aubergines first so that by the time the final dish is served the aubergine literally melts in the mouth.

        Aubergine Parmigiana
        Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side dish

        2 aubergines, sliced into 1cm thick disks
        Olive oil
        1 small white onion, finely diced
        1 clove garlic, finely diced
        1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
        1/2 tsp dried oregano
        Salt and pepper
        1x125g ball of mozzarella
        handful of grated parmesan

        • Pre heat the oven to 200C (180 C fan assisted).
        • In a pan, sweat the onion over a medium heat for 5 minutes (or until soft), stirring frequently. Add the garlic and dried oregano and fry for 2 more minutes.
        • Add the tinned tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes.
        • Heat a griddle pan over a high heat. Once hot add a layer of aubergines (brushed with olive oil) and grill on both sides until softened and lightly charred. Remove and set to one side. Repeat until all the aubergine are done.
        • Arrange a layer of aubergines in the bottom of an oven proof dish, pour over a layer of the tomato sauce, scatter with the grated parmesan and some torn up pieces of mozzarella. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. The size of my dish means I usually have two layers of aubergines, finishing with the tomato and cheese layer at the top.
        • Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden.

        Authentic spaghetti carbonara

        Until a few years ago I used to love the rich, creamy carbonara sauces most Italian restaurants serve. Ok so it’s not the healthiest dish on the menu but it was a very occasional treat. Then suddenly I started to find the dish too rich for my tastes and stopped ordering it when in Italian restaurants. Maybe my tastes had changed or maybe I had had one too many rubbish carbonara’s. Then as I started to get more and more in to cooking I discovered that true Italian carbonara’s don’t include cream at all! At this point I started to consider the idea of making a carbonara myself.

        I discovered Italian Foodies sometime last year and have been following the blog since then (and also working my way through the posts/recipes from before I discovered it). It has to be up there as one of my favorite blogs. It is full of mouth watering pictures and deliciously simple recipes (mostly Italian – my favorite kind). You might have noticed that I have a list in my side bar called ‘recipes I want to try’. I have been using this list to keep track of some of the recipes other blogs post that I want to try myself. Italian foodies authentic carbonara has been sat there for quiet sometime waiting for me to find the time to try it.

        At the weekend we visited The Hollies farm shop in Cheshire. They were hosting a Great British food feast, with lots of local suppliers showcasing their produce and lots of food to sample. There was also a delicious hog roast and a showcase of 1000’s of pumpkins (the advertising said 4000 but I didn’t count them!).

        One of the products that caught our eye was their bacon. So armed with a packet of local bacon I decided to try my hand at a real authentic (cream free!) carbonara. I wasn’t disappointed. The carbonara was simple to make and turned out fantastic, I didn’t miss the cream and it really allowed the quality and taste of the bacon to shine. I wanted to share this recipe with you all and also book mark it here so I can make it again in the future. For the recipe and step by step photos see here.

        Last days of summer….

        Last Saturday, on a gloriously sunny day, myself, my boyfriend, his sister and her boyfriend spent a day on a canal boat. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, the weather really made it. We had great fun learning to drive the canal boat and enjoying the weather as we slowly cruised through the Cheshire countryside.

        The day before I prepared a range of goodies to enjoy throughout the day. I made a bottle of lemonade, baked a Bakewell tart, some mini pizza wheels and prepared a couscous salad. There was also a banana bread loaf and half a dozen or so blueberry muffins in the freezer so they were packed too.

        The pesto couscous salad is something I came up with last summer and has been a regular summer lunch since then. Its really simple to prepare but very tasty to eat. Perfect for picnics, lunch boxes for work or just to enjoy as a quick weekend lunch. The quantities are quiet vague as it depends which flavours you prefer and can be adjusted accordingly. Sometimes I add a handful of pine nuts &/or some fresh basil leaves at the end. The recipe is at the end.

        I also decided to try out an idea I remember seeing a magazine sometime back. The basic idea was to make a pizza, roll it up and then cut into slices and bake in the oven. The result is perfect picnic finger food. Delicious hot or cold.

        Pesto couscous salad
        serves 2

        100g couscous
        Chicken or vegetable stock, hot
        1-2tsp pesto
        handful of feta cheese, cubed
        5-6 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
        handful of olives, halved

        • Pour the hot stock over the couscous until the couscous is just covered, cover the bowl and leave for 5 minutes or until the couscous has soaked up all the moisture. Fluff up the couscous with a folk.
        • Add the pesto and stir through well.
        • Add the other ingredients and mix well.
        • Serve while still warm or once cooled.

        Mini pizza wheels
        Makes approximately 20

        For the dough
        500g strong white bread flour
        5g fast action yeast
        10g salt
        300ml warm water
        1 tbsp olive oil
        For the topping
        4 tbsp passata or pizza sauce
        1 ball of mozzarella
        Topping of your choice
        1 tsp dried oregano

        • Mix together all the ingredients for the dough. Knead either by hand or with a mixer for 10 min until smooth and silky. Shape into a round and leave to rise in a covered bowl for 1-2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
        • Knock the dough back. Knead again very briefly. Divide the dough in two. Use a rolling pin to roll each piece out on a lightly floured work surface into a rectangle which is about 1cm thick.
        • Spoon on 2tbsp pizza sauce onto each rectangle. Add the toppings of your choice (I did one with a couple of slices of torn up parma ham and one with olives and sun dried tomatoes), grate or tear the mozzarella over the two pizzas and finally sprinkle over the dried oregano.
        • Have the pizza so the longest edge is in front of you and then carefully roll it up like a Swiss roll.
        • Cut the roll into 2 cm thick slices and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Leave a good few cm around each one as the dough will rise slightly.
        • Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 200C.

        Cook book review – Easy tasty Italian – Laura Santtini

        Another great Italian cook book! I know I have only just reviewed Antonio Carluccio’s simple cooking but what can I say I love cook books and I love Italian food. However this cook book is completely different to Antonio Carluccio’s so there is room on my bookshelf and in my kitchen for both! This book is completely different to any cook book (Italian or otherwise) I have browsed through before. Its very unique in style and a little bit quirky too. This book claims that after reading this book your cooking will never be the same again! Quite a big statement perhaps but I suspect it maybe true. I’ve read my fair share of Italian cook books but I can definitely say I have learnt a thing or two already from this book (which has only been in my possession a couple of days). It’s much more than a collection of recipes, this book aims to teach you how to create flavour bombs that make even simple food sensational.

        The secret – umami. This is the fifth taste, discovered by the Japanese in 1908 but only recently accepted by Western scientists. Umami means deliciousness and refers to intensely savoury tastes. Laura has christened umami in the Italian kitchen ‘u-mamma!’. Classic umami flavours in the Italian larder include tomatoes, Parmesan, white truffles and balsamic vinegar to name just a few. Reading this chapter on umami helped me understand why dishes as simple as Antonio Carluccio’s cart driver spaghetti can taste so delicious (porcini mushrooms are another Italian umami flavour) and why the soffritto base (onions, carrot and celery) are such a key component of Italian cooking.

        As well as the umami larder, there are details of the typical Italian larder (a comprehensive list of typical ingredients like beans and pulses, pastas, cheeses and seasonings) and of the alchemic larder. This alchemic larder suggests adding edible metals, dried flowers, nuts and seeds and many other ingredients designed to add magic to dishes.

        The next chapter has basic recipes and procedures to prepare flavour bombs, “using ingredients as a writer uses words and an artist uses paints”. These include flavoured mayonnaise’s, pestos, flavoured butters and pastes as well as marinades. There are serving suggestions for each flavour enhancer. For example she suggests adding chilli, chocolate, wine paste to rich stews, marinading red meat in red u-mamma! marinade, serving sweet and sour carrots with honey & thyme as a side dish or stirring a spoonful of basic basil pesto in to minestrone soup.

        The second section of the book contains the main recipes which are divided in to 4 sections Air ‘I am raw’, Water ‘I was cooked’, Fire ‘I was burned’ and Earth ‘I am tasty’. Each chapter describes different techniques used in Italian cooking and has a selection of recipes with suggestions for variations and which taste bombs can be added.

        Air uses only raw ingredients. So this chapter covers antipasti, carpaccio, ceviche & tartare and dips. Recipes include wild mushroom trifolata, crab salad with pomegranate and mint, tuna and orange carpaccio and aubergine and lavender dip.

        Water covers the techniques of boiling, absorption and reduction (risottos), poaching and bagno-maria (gentle cooking in water that is merely hot). There are recipes for sweet potato soup which can be enhanced in several ways including the addition of the flavour bomb of tomato, pepper, orange and cinnamon paste. Pasta is of course included with notes on cooking pasta, making pasta sauces and recipes for the top 10 classic pasta sauces of all time. Risotto is also included, teaching the basic method and lots of tasty ways to transform the basic recipe. Other recipes include sea bass santini and umamma! meatloaf.
        Fire covers grilling, frying and hob stews with a step by step guide to good grilling, suggestions for rubs and seasoning and recipes including a delicious looking lamb chops with u-mamma! grapes and no-fuss roasted sea bream.

        Earth is all about creating delicious food through slow cooking including tender and moist looking rib of beef al barolo and leg-over lamb. There are also recipes for the top 10 Italian vegetable dishes and 12 quick and easy desserts.

        This book is bursting with delicious looking and sounding recipes but more than I believe that Laura Santtini is right when she says it can transform your life in the kitchen. I already feel inspired to not only try some of the recipes in the book but also to try out the pastes and butters etc in dishes I already cook to give them the u-mamma! deliciousness they deserve.

        Its not out in the shops until the 2nd October but I would recommend to anyone who enjoys cooking Italian food even if you thought you had all the Italian cookbooks you needed.

        Thank you to Quadrille publishing for sending me this great book to review and tell you all about.

        Further information:
        Easy tasty Italian – Laura Santtini
        Published by Quadrille publishing 2nd October 2009
        Hardback, full colour photography, 192 pages
        ISBN 978 184400 755 4