Parmigiana di Melanzane

Think of lasagna, replace the pasta sheets with slices of fried eggplant and you have a Parmigiana di Melanzane. It took me many years to finally eat this very frugal, very simple and very delicious Italian home cooking gem and it took me even longer to finally give it a go in my own kitchen.

I have to thank the tiny Sicilian island that I mentioned earlier in May, when I wrote about Stuffed Sardines. This little rock in the Mediterranean rewards me with the best parmigiana for lunch, at a little cafe at the piazza where I sip chilled Chinotto and let my fork sink into silky layers of soft eggplant, creamy cheese and fruity tomato sauce. The island reminds me over and over again how precious good produce is, what a gift tasty vegetables are and how little I have to add as a cook when I allow the vegetables to show their humble inherent qualities.

After writing two cookbooks and sharing hundreds of recipes over the past seven years, I was worried that tiredness might keep me tethered to my minimalist cooking trip but it turns out that the opposite is true. I’m not tired of experimenting, but maybe more than ever I truly and fully appreciate when a tomato, a zucchini or a bell pepper are at their peak and simply taste good. When they taste so good that I don’t even want to cook them, my tastebuds have an epiphany. It’s not the complex layering in a dish, or the newly discovered combination of flavours that have rarely been combined before, but it is the purest taste of good produce melting in my mouth that makes me the happiest muncher in the world.

On this tiny Sicilian island that I love so much I pick my fruit and vegetables straight from the fields surrounding the house where we live. My early morning walks, to pick what I need for the day before the hot summer sun hits fruit, flowers and leaves, before the plants daily struggle for light, shade and water begins, have taught me more about food in the past few years than any cookbook or food show. Plants follow simple rules, they obey a rhythm. To work – as a cook – with that rhythm and not against it, creates utmost pleasure.

This year, northern Sicily and its surrounding islands didn’t have enough rain. Lentils didn’t grow, instead their plants dried out on the fields, lemons stayed tiny, the fruits barely having any juice, but on the other side pomodori, tomatoes, grew so abundantly that our friends who have their own fields couldn’t keep up collecting and using them. So they gathered one day to make passata, blanched, pureed and strained tomatoes turned into the purest sauce, and bottled their ‘red gold’ for the colder months to come. If nature gives them tomatoes abundantly, they turn them into a tomato feast. Maybe next year it will be lentils, who knows, but it will definitely reflect in their cooking.

So my friend Pietro gave me a bottle of his deep red passata and although I would have loved to just drink it, I decided to let the sun-kissed concentrated tomato juices shine in a dish that I enjoy so much when I’m in Sicily: I decided to cook my first Parmigiana di Melanzane. This dish is so simple yet there are a million recipes, tricks and variations and every Italian will say that their mamma definitely makes the best. And every one of them is right because there isn’t just one recipe that is the best but there is one rule that almost every Italian follows with verve and passion: the ingredients need to be of excellent quality.

You won’t need many ingredients for a parmigiana but make sure to use nice, plump eggplants, good fior di latte or mozzarella and Parmesan and most importantly: invest in the best passata you can possibly find. It’s also fine to make a tomato sauce from scratch, using tinned or fresh tomatoes and your favoured seasoning, but for this dish, a simple sauce made of Italian passata, garlic, a dash of olive oil, basil, salt and pepper hits the spot. You don’t want a sauce that’s too dominant as it’s only going to play with humble fried eggplants and mainly mild cheese. It’s not a sauce I would use for pasta, it’s subtle and also more liquid than my usual red sauce, but it bathes the eggplant in the perfect summer-ripe fruitiness. This simple sauce with its deep taste of Mediterranean tomatoes is what makes or breaks your parmigiana.

My recipe is for 4 to 5 people, we enjoyed it over two days, hot, warm and cold, but I wished I had doubled the recipe!

Parmigiana di Melanzane

Serves 4 to 5

  • 1.2 kg / 2 2/3 pounds eggplants, cut lengthwise into 5mm / 0.2″ thick slices
  • Fine or flaky sea salt
  • 3 fior di latte or mozzarella (each 125g / 4.5 ounces)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • About 750ml / 3 1/4 cups Italian passata di pomodoro (if your passata isn’t very tasty, use about 1l / 4 1/4 cups passata, bring it to a boil and reduce until you have the desired amount. Alternatively: Make the same amount of sauce with tinned or fresh tomatoes)
  • 1 large handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 60g / 2 ounces Parmesan (preferably aged), finely grated

Spread the eggplant slices on cooling racks, generously sprinkle with salt, gently rubbing the eggplants with the salt, then flip and sprinkle the other side with salt. Let the eggplants sit for about 1 hour then rinse with cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Place the fior di latte (or mozzarella) in a colander, let sit for 1 hour then cut into small cubes.

In a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden. Add the passata and bring to a boil. Stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper (mind that the Parmesan will also add saltiness to the final dish!); immediately remove the sauce from the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F and grease a roughly 20x30cm / 8×12″ baking dish with a little olive oil.

In a large heavy pan, over high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to come up the side of the pan about 1.25cm / 0.5″. When the oil is sizzling hot, fry the eggplant slices in batches, arranging them side by side and turning them once, for about 30-60 seconds or until golden but not dark (see picture below). Spread and drain the fried eggplant on kitchen paper and continue frying the remaining eggplant slices.

Arrange a layer of eggplant slices in the prepared baking dish, spreading them side by side, then season with a little (!) salt and pepper, sprinkle with some of the fior di latte and Parmesan and drizzle with some of the sauce. Repeat to make more layers (about 4 layers total), finishing the last layer with cheese and sauce. Bake for about 40 minutes or until bubbly then turn off the oven, tilt or open the oven door and let the parmigiana sit in the oven for 10 minutes or even for 1 hour or longer to let it soak the juices (I let mine sit in the oven for 2 hours, temperature and texture were just right when we ate it). Enjoy the parmigiana warm but not hot straight out of the oven; we even had some cold for breakfast.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

My man craved chocolate and I wanted cherries. Sometimes it’s so easy to come up with a new recipe. I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe from my 365 book – recipe no. 189 crowned by a marbled raspberry whipped cream – and topped it off with Turkish sweet cherries and German sour cherries. The cake is made with melted bittersweet chocolate, which I much prefer over cakes made with cocoa powder and water. I find the taste more complex when using proper chocolate. The egg whites are beaten stiff, which gives the cake enough oomph to rise. However, I wasn’t sure if the cherries would be too heavy and drag it down so I added a little baking powder. I decreased the amount of sugar to balance the fruit’s natural sweetness and was more than pleased with the result. It’s a very comforting cake, hassle-free and easy to love.

As I watched the humming mixer slowly swirl the melted chocolate into the batter, I noticed a pattern. Every time July rolls around, I develop a new cherry-chocolate recipe. It’s not really a surprise, the fruit’s sweet juices and the depth of bittersweet chocolate is a genius combination. Yet seeing it become – unintentionally – a blog tradition struck me. There’s a Cherry Chocolate Meringue Pie in the archives, recipes for Black Forest Pancakes, Cherry Chocolate Marble Bundt Cake and a Cherry Chocolate Tart. All posted in July and August. And every year I ask myself “is this combination summery enough? Is this what you really want to nibble on on a hot afternoon?.” The answer is a resounding yes! and the reason is just as simple: our mind tells us exactly what we need. When we crave a certain ingredient or combination and when we notice this craving, it’s usually the best thing you can possibly put into your mouth. A chocolate and cherry cake answers the pleading cravings of every chocolate and summer fruit lover and is just as perfect for breakfast and brunch as for afternoon tea or dessert after dinner.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

  • 140g / 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 150g / 2/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 4 large eggs, separated 
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 150g / 3/4 cup  granulated sugar
  • 130g / 1 cup all-purpose flour (or white spelt flour type 630)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 140g / 5 ounces pitted sweet cherries (weight without pits!)
  • 60g / 2 ounces pitted sour cherries (weight without pits!)

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (preferably convection setting). Butter an 20 cm / 8-inch springform pan.

For the cake, melt the chocolate, butter, cinnamon, and cardamom in a small saucepan over low heat, whisking until smooth; let cool for a few minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and salt for a few minutes or until stiff, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.

In the same bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks and sugar for 2 minutes or until thick and creamy. Add the chocolate mixture and mix for 1 minute or until well combined. Combine the flour and baking powder, add to the butter-chocolate mixture, and mix until well combined then fold the egg whites into the batter (it will be a bit sticky and takes some time, be patient). Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and arrange the cherries on top, pushing them just a little into the batter (see picture below). Bake for about 45 minutes (slightly longer if using a conventional oven) or until golden brown and spongy. If you insert a skewer in the center of the cake, it should come out almost clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes then take it out of the pan.

Rhubarb and Cucumber Caprese

After months of calming my mind and palate with familiar comfort dishes – creating a soothing counterpart to the uncertainties in the world – I suddenly feel a growing appetite for kitchen experiments again. Pizza, spaghetti Bolognese, German stews and roasts, and yes, baking sourdough bread, gave me comfort and safety while the world turned upside down and pulled me off my feet. But I recently started to feel curious and hungry again, searching and finding a refreshing caprese salad with pickled rhubarb, orange blossom water, cucumber, mozzarella di bufala and mint.

As I leaved through Marc Diacono’s fabulous new book, Sour, which was nominated for a James Beard Award this year, I immediately stopped on page 147 as I spotted a vibrant pink Rhubarb and Radish Salad. Marc uses raw rhubarb that he cuts very thinly and marinates in rose water. That made me think. I always cook, bake or roast rhubarb and wasn’t quite sure if I’d fall in love with its distinct taste and texture when raw. The British cookbook author adds blue cheese and dill and this, in combination with the rose water, wraps it up snugly. It’s sour, it’s bold and somehow harmonic, or in Marc’s words: “The rose water sets everything off and encourages the radish and rhubarb to sit a little closer together while retaining their independence.”

So I asked myself, would that also work with orange blossom water? And what about quickly pickling the rhubarb first and adding crisp cucumber and a hint of fresh mint? I find blue cheese too strong for cucumber but a creamy mozzarella di bufala or Burrata would work. All of a sudden I had a very unusual caprese salad in front of me that had all the crispness, sourness and excitement that I was hoping for. To be fair, one can only truly appreciate this unorthodox caprese variation if one loves sour and is up for having some fun with an Italian classic. I have a Winter Caprese with Blood Orange, Beet and Mozzarella di Bufala in my 365 book and when I came up with that recipe I understood that a) a good mozzarella di bufala and especially Burrata can deal with strong flavors and b) playing with a traditional recipe is a good way to keep tradition alive.

Rhubarb and Cucumber Caprese

Serves 2

  • 1 slim rhubarb stalk (around 60g / 2 ounces), trimmed and thinly sliced with a mandoline slicer or sharp knife
  • 60ml / 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 60ml / 1/4 cup orange blossom water (or freshly squeezed orange juice)
  • flaky sea salt
  • 1 small / Persian cucumber (with skin, rinsed), thinly sliced with a mandoline slicer or sharp knife
  • 125g / 4.5 ounces mozzarella di bufala or Burrata
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • crushed or coarsely ground black peppercorns
  • 4-6 fresh (young) mint leaves, very finely sliced

Transfer the rhubarb to a medium, heat-resistant bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt to a boil. Stir in the orange blossom water, keep it on the heat just until it starts boiling then pour over the rhubarb and let sit for about 1 hour. You will use the rhubarb and the pickling liquid for the caprese salad.

Quicker but less satisfying: In a small bowl, mix the rhubarb with 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of orange blossom water, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt and let sit for 10 minutes. The texture will be tougher and not as crisp compared to the properly pickled rhubarb described above.

Spread the cucumber and 1/3 of the pickled rhubarb on a large plate, adding more rhubarb once you tasted it, and arrange the mozzarella in the middle. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons of the pickling liquid and 2 tablespoons of orange juice then drizzle over the salad. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and mint (mind that the mint is very powerful!). Taste and add more of the pickling liquid if you prefer more of a sour note. Enjoy the salad immediately.

Sicily and Stuffed Sardines

Two years ago we visited a tiny Sicilian island. It was so small that we either walked, rode our bikes or swam to get around. But most of the time we did nothing, just laid on the rocks at the beach or in the garden, staring into the sky, amazed by how beautiful the world is. We only used a car when we arrived to get to the little farm where we stayed, a sturdy stone building tucked in between fig trees, hibiscus and oleander; and to go back to the harbor at the end of our trip, speechless and sad to leave our piece of heaven on earth. The island is so secluded and so special to us that I had to promise my man that I would never write about it or tell anyone where it is.

In the past couple months I’ve been thinking a lot about our tiny island in the Mediterranean, dreaming of a place that feels safe and makes me happy. I’m not allowed to write about its location, however I can write about the food we indulged in day after day. Our house was part of an organic farm and we could pick all the fruit and veg we wanted to eat. The juiciest tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, soft figs, zucchini, eggplant … As soon as I fell out of bed I’d walk – still in my pyjamas – through the field to pick zucchini flowers and fry them for breakfast. We enjoyed the farm’s olive oil and wine basically from tap and although there wasn’t really the need to, we also made use of the island’s fantastic restaurants and bars abundantly. We ate out every day and said to ourselves if we only had to eat Sicilian food for the rest of our life we’d live a happy life.

Dinners were spectacular: the freshest grilled fish and sun showered vegetables, raw prawn carpaccio, lobster, pasta, risotto and nana’s almond cake and bay leaf schnaps for dessert. Unforgettable, there’s no doubt. But our little luncheons at the piazza, at a rustic bar where mamma herself cooked all morning and laid out her delicious work on the counter by noon, this was the food that melted my heart. Casseroles, lasagna, tarts, focaccia and stuffed vegetables, fish and saltimbocca, framed by hearty salads made with legumes. We went there almost every day, pretending to go just for an espresso before snorkeling but always ordering more plates than we could fit on our round bistro table. It was strategically placed in the shade of a large tree, close enough to mamma’s kitchen to order more food (and wine) but still in the middle of the airy piazza to follow the village’s late morning life. A scene of true beauty.

So here, at this unimposing cozy bar, I enjoyed my first Sicilian stuffed sardines. The fish filets were wrapped around a filling made of breadcrumbs, orange zest, crumbled bay leaves, pine nuts, raisins, capers, fresh oregano and thyme. The whole bold and colorful culinary orchestra that Sicily’s cuisine is famous for in one single bite. Don’t ask why but it took me two years to recreate this recipe in my own kitchen. Last Saturday I was in the mood for a Sicilian lunch, so I drove to the fishmonger. Our wine was crisp and fruity and the recipe worked out perfectly – I only should have bought more fish. It was a little feast for two. We had five stuffed sardines, just enough for a lunch nibble, for a main I’d go for ten sardines for two people (recipe below). Anyway, get your loved one(s) into the kitchen, cool your favorite white wine, start the oven, pull out the dusty Adriano Celentano records and pretend you’re in Sicily!

Meike xxx

Sicilian Stuffed Sardines

Serves 2 as a main or 3-4 as a starter

You can enjoy stuffed sardines warm from the oven or at room temperature

  • 10 whole sardines, gutted and cleaned (about 800g / 1 3/4 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • Olive oil
  • 85g / 3 ounces breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano or marjoram leaves
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 6 small (or 3 large) bay leaves, finely crumbled (or ground with a mortar and pestle)
  • 2 teaspoons capers, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Ground pepper
  • 20 wooden tooth picks

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F. Grease a medium baking dish with olive oil.

Cut off and discard the heads of the sardines. To butterfly the sardines, spread and lay them cut-side (belly-side) down on a cutting board and, using your hand, push the back down gently (see 2nd picture from the top, right). Flip the sardines, gently pull out the backbone and cut the bone at the tail but don’t remove the tail; discard the backbone. Spread the sardines skin-side down on the cutting board.

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in hot water for about 5 minutes then drain.

In a medium, heavy pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium-high heat and roast the breadcrumbs, stirring, for about 2 minutes or until golden and crispy. Push the breadcrumbs to the sides, add the pine nuts and roast, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer the breadcrumbs and pine nuts to a medium bowl and add the raisins, pecorino, garlic, thyme, oregano, orange zest, orange juice, bay leaves, capers, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the salt and season to taste with pepper. Mix well with your hands, rubbing the mixture between your fingers.

Season the sardines with a little salt and pepper. Divide the filling among the sardines, pushing the filling down gently with the back side of a tablespoon. Gently roll up the sardines towards the tail and fix the roll with 2 tooth picks (see pictures below). Arrange the sardines, side by side and tail up, in the prepared baking dish, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining filling in case any is left, then season with a little salt and pepper and bake for 20 minutes. Let the sardines cool for a few minutes and enjoy warm or wait a little longer and serve at room temperature. Enjoy with good bread (drizzled with good olive oil), a simple green salad and a glass of white wine.

What shall we do? What shall we cook? What shall we buy?

In the last few days, as things became more and more worrying due to the worldwide pandemic situation, I thought a lot about my granny, my Oma Lisa. I thought about her life during war times and poverty, and I thought about her way of cooking that was fundamentally shaped during those times. The ingredients cheap and accessible, recipes made to feed and nourish a large family of six children without too much fuss. Lisa had to keep things running, cooking wasn’t a question of lifestyle, it was a necessity. But still, she managed to turn it into something so joyful and special that she instilled this feeling into all of her six children who then passed it on to her grandchildren – and I’m one of them.

It was a very rational way of cooking. Potatoes were a staple, they store well, are healthy, and versatile. Whenever I visited her she used them abundantly, for latkes (Reibekuchen), or with a dollop of quark with chives, or she mashed and served them with sauce, or fried with bacon and onions. In her times, vegetables were used according to the seasons, cabbage and legumes during the winter months, cucumber salad as soon as spring opened its wings. She was a food loving mother and grandmother who naturally followed the calendar in her kitchen, and we, her hungry children and grandchildren, followed her to the kitchen in awe and excitement.

Last week I was stuck in Malta, all flights to Germany were cancelled and we were put into mandatory quarantine as my man arrived on the island the day as this decree was declared. There weren’t many other countries that still kept their borders open to flights in and out of Germany. I left via Budapest, scared for hours that my connection flight to Berlin would get cancelled and that I’d be stuck in Hungary for weeks. It worked out, yet that day was a changing point. It was the day I understood that the world had changed.

The biggest difference between my granny’s and my own kitchen is the large pantry she had in the cellar of her house. Cool and dark, it was home to endless shelves filled with jars of pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables, of jams and baked treats. Lisa lived on a farm before she moved to that house. Nature taught her well when she was a young woman. Humbly, wisely, and gratefully, all her life she used what nature gave her to eat. Nothing went to waste, everything had to be used. Lisa had a plump cherry tree in her garden. An old swing dangling from a thick branch was my happy place where I’d sit and dream while she was cooking. The harvest from that tree was always abundant and she made use of every single fruit. And she gave to others what she didn’t need for her family, or she swapped.

This memory came back as I found myself in my Berlin kitchen after Malta. I immediately started to think of my shopping and cooking plan for the weeks and months to come. And I reconnected with friends and family to see what they need. Staying calm and sensible, I tried at least. So what do I need to stock up on? I don’t have a large pantry. What dishes am I going to cook or what dishes should I cook? What should I buy and how much? I tried to channel my inner Oma Lisa and assimilate her skill to humbly adapt to whatever life puts in front of you. The women of her generation just got things done when they needed to be done, so why shouldn’t we do the same now? Although times have changed – our way of cooking has changed since her days – my decisions should be just as responsible and deliberate as hers. And beyond my personal worries in this situation, now more than ever is not the time to only think about myself but also about the people around me. In our little community we are staying in close touch and letting each other know if anyone needs something. We share and swap food and stories, like Lisa with her cherries. We talk about our fears, we laugh and cry together (on the phone), but we know that we’re not alone in this and that feels really good.

The list below reflects the way I cook, what I store in my pantry shelves, fridge, and freezer, it’s personal (that’s why you won’t find quinoa on this list). I hope it gives some help and inspiration but you should adapt it to your preferences. You can find many recipes that I will be using myself in both my cookbooks (365 and Eat In My Kitchen) and in the blog’s archive and I’m sure that the internet, all the great cookbooks that are out there, and especially the culinary chats with family and friends offer enough inspiration to cook and bake for years. At the end of this post are two recipes from 365 that indulge in the joy of pasta (recipe no. 59 and no. 102 from the book): one is based on pantry staples – Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomato and Pistachio Pesto – and the other is a seasonal celebration of ramp pesto and green asparagus crowned by a creamy burrata.

But let’s start with our SHOPPING:

I generally go shopping once a week. Especially now, I’m trying to minimize contact with others. In the first days after my shopping, I use the fresh vegetables, meat, and fish that don’t last long. Wilting greens and leftover bones are used for cooking broth, which I freeze in small portions. Pantry staples help out when the vegetable drawer is empty.

My cooking will gravitate around carbs in the weeks and months to come, adding fresh ingredients as they will be available. Roots, legumes (dried and canned, also for protein), and grains/ pasta will be my daily playing field.

-Essentials-

Pantry and window sill staples:

Olive oil, dark and white Balsamic vinegar, tahini, mustard

Sea salt (mine is from the Cinis in Gozo)

Spices (black peppercorns, bay leaves, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, nutmeg, juniper and allspice berries, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, dried oregano and marjoram)

Nuts (pistachios, cashews, and pine seeds for snacks and pesto) and dried fruits (dates, prunes, and apricots are a great addition to minced meat)

All-purpose flour (I use white spelt flour/ Type 630), sugar, fast-acting yeast, baking powder, baking soda, oats (for baking and breakfast: cooked with water, tahini, a pinch of salt, and whatever fruit is at hand), plus fine durum wheat pasta flour and chickpea flour for special cooking projects

Additional note for baking with yeast (March 28th): I started a little kitchen experiment, I decided to grow my own sourdough starter. It’s impossible to get yeast in Berlin at the moment, so why not use and cultivate the wild yeast that’s naturally in the air and flour? Yesterday was Day 1 and you can follow the daily progress in my Instagram Highlight Stories called ‘Sourdough’. I will update and share new stories every day. Click here! And here’s the link to the process of baking my first Tartine Basic Country Bread (recipe from Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book): Click here!

Green and black olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, preserved artichoke hearts, anchovies, canned sardines (for sandwiches and pizza) and canned tuna (for mixed salads with hardboiled eggs)

Onions and garlic

Fresh herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, mint)

Citrus fruit (lemon and orange for zest and juice)

Roots/ winter squash:

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnip, and squash (Hokkaido and butternut squash are still available and store well)

You can roast roots/ squash in the oven or boil and mash with olive oil (or milk and butter) and add fresh herbs, spices, lemon zest, chopped olives. I boil a bunch of beets every week to add to salads or simply dice roughly and enjoy with olive oil and sea salt. Roots and squash make a minestrone a little richer (squash is often used in the Maltese minestra, roughly mashed for a thicker texture).

Legumes:

Dried and canned beans (butter beans, cannellini, cranberry/ borlotti, and kidney beans) and chickpeas; dried lentils that don’t require soaking (French green Puy lentils, yellow, red, and black beluga lentils)

Dried legumes can be cooked in unsalted water with fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary (dried beans/ chickpeas need to first soak overnight) then add a splash of olive oil; or add them to soups/ stews; leftover green and beluga lentils can be turned into patties (drained then adding flour, egg, and seasoning)

Canned legumes can be used uncooked for salads and hummus, added to minestrone or other soups/ stews, or cooked briefly in a splash of olive and refined with spices. Then you can either serve them directly or mash with olive oil, something I became particularly fond of in the last couple months.

Fresh green beans, fava beans, and peas can be blanched in salted water and served immediately or frozen (I always have a large bag of frozen peas and fava beans in my freezer).

Grains and dried pasta:

Spaghetti, short pasta, lasagna sheets, polenta, whole grains (buckwheat, spelt, farro, couscous, bulgur), and rice

For pasta there are no limits, yet a bowl of simple spaghetti just with butter, Parmesan, and black pepper (Cacio e Pepe) can be heaven on earth. Leftover pasta can be used for Froga tat-Tarja (Maltese pasta omelette). Short pasta (rice size) can be cooked like a risotto (see Maltese Kusksu with Poached Eggs and Goat Cheese).

When I cook polenta, I like to cook more than I need and serve it soft and smooth on the first day as a side for vegetables or braised meat. Then on the second day, you can spread it in a baking dish (finger thick) and bake for a few minutes then cut into squares and serve with sage butter; or turn it into polenta lasagna: layer the baked polenta slices with Bolognese sauce (or any other red sauce) and Parmesan and bake in the oven.

Buckwheat, farro, and spelt may sound a bit uninspiring but taste surprisingly good when they are boiled in salted water and then served with a knob of butter and some salt stirred in (added fresh herbs or spices won’t harm it either)

Cheese (that stores well): 

Parmesan, pecorino, feta (plus mozzarella, raclette and blue cheese if available and needed)

-Fresh produce and products-

Fresh vegetables and fruit:

I buy fresh produce once a week according to what I need and what’s available and use it raw or cooked for salads, raw as a snack with pesto or sautéed in olive oil, to mix with legumes and pasta/grains, or for soups. I always cook more soup from the start and freeze any leftovers. Wilting vegetables are used for broth then frozen for soups and risotto. Red and white/ green cabbage stays fresh in the fridge for weeks and shredded they are a crunchy addition to salads.

Eggs, yoghurt, milk, butter:

I buy them fresh once a week according to what I need. I barely use butter, olive oil is my go to fat (it also stores much easier), however you can also freeze butter, which is helpful for spontaneous baking.

Meat and fish:

We usually eat meat or fish once a week. It will be one of the first things for us to skip if necessary, especially fresh fish.

If the meat is braised (beef or lamb shanks/ oxtail/ rough cuts for braising), I cook more from the start and freeze the leftovers, which are great for pasta and potatoes. Any leftover bones are turned into broth. I’m a huge fan of minced beef, be it meatloaf or small patties/ burgers, which taste great both cold and warm (there’s a leek and mountain cheese meatloaf in Eat In My Kitchen and a meatloaf with spices and dates in 365). One of my favorite minced meat dishes since my childhood days is Labskaus (also in 365), a stew made of potatoes, beets, minced beef, and pickled gherkins. It’s a traditional dish that sailors used to eat on their travels during the times of the great ships (they made it with corned beef). In Northern Germany, some even add pickled herring. It sounds strange but I love it and it freezes well.

Coarse sausages (such as salsiccia) also freeze well (uncooked) and when you peel and cut them into small portions you can shape them into little polpette and turn them into the quickest meatballs.

Tomato sauce (canned tomatoes) with bacon and fennel seed is an easy substitute for classic Bolognese sauce (for spaghetti and lasagna, you can also add fresh fennel).

COOKING AND BAKING

Cooking is like building a house, it’s assembling blocks and you choose which blocks you want to use to make it your own. There are many ways to build this house, yet at the moment keep in mind that it’s important to strengthen your body and boost your immune system. We often underestimate the very simple, frugal dishes and now’s the time to rediscover them. A couple months ago I found a cauliflower recipe in Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy. I’m generally not too fond of cauliflower but I love Anna’s honest Italian cooking so I gave it a go: She sautées onions and garlic, adds tomato pasta and broth (which makes a fantastic sauce) and cooks the cauliflower for around 20 minutes. At the end she adds parsley, I added basil. This recipe also works with broccoli, potatoes, and green beans, capers or anchovies would also fit.

Try to establish special traditions that keep feeding your curiosity in the kitchen, sparking excitement and inspiration, even in tougher times. Every Sunday, we bake pizza from scratch – the reason I always have flour and yeast in stock. The toppings vary, the pleasure is real. You can also introduce a special sandwich day for your family and declare a sandwich challenge/ competition (check out the blog’s Sandwich Wednesday). Is there a cooking or baking technique you’ve been wanting to learn for years, like sourdough? Now go for it! Apart from sweet baking you can also opt for savory treats like quiche, which is just as rewarding and the vegetable filling easily adapts to the seasons (fennel, green beans, peas, squash, tomato, leek). And if you feel close to a breakdown, just bake cookies. Nothing is more satisfying than filling the cookie jars to the rim with your own creations.

-Regular kitchen projects-

Homemade pesto and hummus:

Pesto is a thing of genius, and so is hummus. Both last for days, freeze well, and turn all kinds of raw and roasted vegetables, cooked grains, poultry, fish, and sandwiches into a burst of flavor. I like to stretch the terms ‘pesto’ and ‘hummus’ in my kitchen and use it for every vegetable, legume, and herb that my food processor can turn into something dollop-able.

Inspiration for pesto: basil, ramps (the season just started), arugula, parsley-black olive, dried tomato-pistachio, tapenade (French black olive dip), cilantro-pistachio, blanched peas or fava beans, mixed leftover herbs, walnut-parsley

Inspiration for hummus: chickpeas, beet-chickpeas, white or fava beans, lentils (I’ve also seen carrot hummus but never tried it myself)

Preserved lemons:

If you can find small lemons, now’s the time for this rewarding kitchen project. I use them for sandwiches, pizza, sautéed vegetables, and pasta. For the recipe click here, it’s also in Eat In My Kitchen).

Yeast dough:

Making pizza and focaccia (click here), or your own pretzel buns (click here/ also Eat In My Kitchen), is better than any therapy and can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner for a couple days.

General links to recipes on the blog

You can also use the Search function at the top of the blog’s Recipe page for inspiration (click here): search for any ingredient and it will show the related posts and recipes that I wrote about in the last few years.

General pasta and grain recipes (click here)
General salad recipes (click here)
General vegetable recipes (click here)
General soup recipes (click here)
General meat recipes (click here)
General fish and seafood recipes (click here)
General cake and dessert recipes (click here)
General sandwich recipes (click here)
Quiche, pizza, and focaccia recipes (click here)

Restaurants all over the world are struggling to survive at the moment. A lot of them offer take-out, which allows them to keep operating. Please support them if you can.

Cooking and baking goes beyond necessity, it nourishes our body but the effect it has on our mind and soul is just as essential. It calms us down and puts things in perspective when life feels utterly overwhelming.

Writing these words is a very strange experience. I find myself in a world that I wouldn’t have imagined just a few weeks ago. A world I don’t really know how to deal with, not yet. When I’m absorbed in cooking or writing these days, not thinking about the current situation, it feels like visiting my old life, but I feel physically shocked when reality comes back to mind without warning. It feels like waking up from a dream. The only thing that helps is knowing that we’re all in this together. We are not alone. Despite my fear, there’s a beautiful, strong feeling of togetherness, unconditional help, and solidarity. I guess that’s the same feeling that helped my Oma Lisa to get through.

Stay safe, stay home as much as possible, stay away from others but stay positive and hungry for life.

Sending a big virtual hug,

Meike xxx

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Burrata and Ramp Pesto (from 365)

Serves 2

For the pesto*
2 ounces (60 g) ramp or ramson leaves
1 ounce (30 g) Parmesan, finely grated
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1/4 tsp fine sea salt

For the pasta
1 pound (450 g) trimmed green asparagus 
6 ounces (170 g) dried spaghetti
Olive oil
7 ounces (200 g) burrata (or mozzarella di bufala), torn in half
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground pepper

For the pesto, purée the ramp leaves, Parmesan, olive oil, and salt in a food processor or blender until smooth. 

For the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the asparagus for about 3 minutes or until al dente. Using a slotted ladle or spoon, transfer the asparagus to a colander, reserving the cooking water in the pot, then drain and quickly rinse with cold water. Cut each stalk into quarters lengthwise.

Put the pot used to cook the asparagus back on the heat, adding more water if necessary, and bring to a boil. Cook the spaghetti, according to the package instructions, until al dente. Drain the spaghetti and return it to the pot. Add a splash of olive oil and toss to coat. Divide the spaghetti and asparagus among the plates. Add the burrata and drizzle with the pesto. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

* You can double the recipe and use the leftover pesto for sandwiches, potatoes, and salads.  

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Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomato and Pistachio Pesto (from 365)

Serves 2

For the pesto*
2 ounces (60 g) sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in salt
2 ounces (60 g) salted pistachios, plus 1 to 2 tbsp chopped pistachios for the topping
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed

For the pasta
7 ounces (200 g) dried spaghetti
Olive oil
Coarsely ground pepper

For the pesto, bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook the sun-dried tomatoes for 3 to 4 minutes or until soft. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted ladle or spoon and transfer to a plate; reserve the cooking water. Drain and rinse the sun-dried tomatoes under cold water, dry with paper towels, and transfer to a food processor or blender. Add 4 tablespoons of the cooking water, 2 ounces (60 g) of pistachios, the olive oil, and garlic and purée until smooth. If the pesto is too dry, add a little more of the cooking water.

For the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti, according to the package instructions, until al dente. Drain the spaghetti, divide among plates, and drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with the pesto, chopped pistachios, and a little pepper and serve warm.

* You can use leftover pesto as a spread on bread.

Enjoy!

Clean-Out-The-Fridge Soups

Food52 asked me about my approach to soups. Not just any soups, but big-flavor, clean-out-the-fridge soups to cure the winter blues. I love them now, but that wasn’t always the case. We’re like friends that had to learn to love each other. So I shared our bumpy love story, my basic soup formula, and three soup recipes from my new book, 365, on food52.com. Converted and convinced that a soup can be one of the best things to find on your dining table after a long day of work, I also decided to share my article on these pages here (you can find one of the recipes from 365 – for recipe no. 13: Kale and Borlotti Bean Soup with Poached Eggs – below):

We have a new habit, we often have soup for lunch, which is actually our breakfast as we only have green tea with lemon in the morning. My man started this new tradition a few weeks ago and I happily join in when I’m not in the mood for porridge or sandwiches. My relationship with liquid foods wasn’t always so harmonic. Soups and stews are very popular in Germany, thick lentil, pea, or potato soup enriched with smoked sausage (Knackwurst or Knacker) is a German winter classic. As a child, I ate it, but I wasn’t particularly fond of it. There was something missing, or maybe I just wasn’t ready yet. Then the eighties came, the Nouvelle Cuisine reached home kitchens and all of a sudden soups where always puréed and as bright as candy: yellow squash, purple beet, squeaking green pea pod. Shallow bowls filled with colorful compositions, smooth and shiny, conquered the menus but unfortunately not my palate. Despite their vibrancy, they didn’t excite me. This is essential to me, and my taste buds – I want, I need food to excite me. So I took a break of many, many years until I found the kind of soup that I like.

Fast-forward to today and it has become a constant in my weekly culinary routine. My basic soup formula is very simple:
1. Canned legumes and dried lentils that don’t need to soak overnight. I always have a vast collection of cans filled with butter beans, cannellini, borlotti (cranberry) and kidney beans on my pantry shelves, and bags of black beluga lentils, dark green French Puy lentils, and yellow and red lentils. Legumes make a soup rich and wholesome, they add heartiness and a nutty touch. It’s what turns a light soup into a proper meal.
2. Cleaning out the vegetable drawer. This drawer is a treasure box that needs to be emptied once in a while. Leafy vegetables, kale, chard, and spinach that start to wilt, sturdy roots like potatoes, parsnip, and beets that lie forgotten, the whole range of winter and summer squash, fresh beans, peas, and tomatoes. Every season has its produce that’s just waiting to crown a soup.
3. Using homemade or quality store-bought broth. My mother taught me to always cook my own broth, with leftover vegetables, chicken, duck, and beef bones, with fresh herbs and whole spices like allspice, peppercorns, and juniper berries. And a bay leaf, always a bay leaf. I then freeze it in 4-cup portions to have my tasty broth right at hand whenever I need it. I never use instant broth as I find it adds an artificial flavor. Broth is the base of a soup, it adds its taste to all the other ingredients and therefore deserves utmost attention.

Soups can easily follow the seasons and the cook’s mood. I want to throw them together spontaneously, quickly, without too much planning or overthinking. A quick look in the pantry and fridge and my mind starts playing. A soup is a simple, a frugal dish, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting. Playing with flavors is a boundless game, playing with textures is at least as rewarding. And varying toppings allows the cook to serve a soup repeatedly without anyone noticing. Crunchy bacon cubes or dukkah, a dollop of velvety mascarpone or ricotta, a fried or poached egg, or a crumbled hardboiled egg, fried herbs like sage or rosemary, or roasted fruit like grapes, apple, pear, or apricot.

In my new book, 365: A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking, I share a recipe for each day of the year, following the seasons and also the rhythm of the week, from Monday to Sunday, from quick and simple weekday dishes to luscious – and more time-consuming – roasts, stews, and cakes on the weekend. Soups are a constant treat in this rhythm, especially during the colder part of the year. There’s a cozy kale and borlotti bean soup for example, cooked in a flavorful duck broth (recipe from 365 below and on food52.com) – a clear vegetable broth works just as well – and it’s the perfect cure for winter blues. It’s crowned with a poached egg and when you cut through the yolk and let it run into the broth, it adds a creaminess that’s even better than cream; as an added bonus: it only takes twenty minutes for dinner to be ready.

A golden squash, parsnip, and sweet potato soup – basically the tasty finds of a fridge clean out – could be kept chunky but with a nod to the good old Nouvelle Cuisine, I purée it and also go for a more extravagant topping that makes this recipe fit for a Christmas table. Red grapes roasted with woody rosemary until soft and shriveled, and a dollop of whipped orange mascarpone turn this dish into a festive stunner (recipe from 365 on food52.com). However, crunchy bacon bites would make it even heartier and also quite appealing.

One of my favorite soups is the minestrone because there are no rules and limitations. Every vegetable, every combination that the cook finds fitting, works. My partner’s Maltese grandmother uses squash, carrots, potatoes, and kohlrabi, she mashes it a bit, and sprinkles it with a little Parmesan. It’s her famous minestra, loved by our whole Mediterranean family. You’ll always find a large pot of it simmering on her cooker. My minestrone, or rather one of them, is green. I use green beans, peas (which I always have in my freezer), and zucchini, but that’s not set in stone, and add tiny meatballs refined with lime and arugula. It gives it a fresh citrusy note, similar to lemongrass. This is the speediest of all weekday soups. Once the meatballs are mixed and shaped, the entire soup and meat only need to cook for about 5 minutes (recipe from 365 on food52.com).

So what changed my mind, what made me fall in love with soups after so many years of skepticism? First, the taste, I had to find combinations that excite me, but then there’s something else. Sitting in front of a bowl of steaming soup is one of the coziest things I can think of. It makes me feel good while I eat it and this feeling stays. A soup is a friend of my mind and my body.

Kale and Borlotti Bean Soup with Poached Eggs

from ‘365 – A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking’ (Prestel, 2019)

Serves 4

For the soup
Olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
2 large cloves garlic, cut in half
7 ounces (200 g) trimmed kale leaves, cut into strips
5¼ cups (1.25 liters) homemade or quality store-bought duck, chicken, or vegetable broth, hot
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 medium sprig fresh rosemary
1 large bay leaf
Fine sea salt
Finely ground pepper
1¼ cups (250 g) drained and rinsed canned borlotti (cranberry) or pinto beans

For the topping
4 to 8 large eggs
Coarsely ground pepper

For the soup, in a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic, stirring, for a few minutes or until golden and soft. Add the kale, stir, and cook for 1 minute then add the hot broth, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and finely ground pepper, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the kale is tender. Remove and discard the herbs then add the borlotti beans and cook for 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and finely ground pepper and keep warm.

For the topping, bring a small saucepan of salted water to a low simmer. Crack 1 egg into a small bowl. Hold a large spoon just over the surface of the water and gently pour the egg onto the spoon. Lower the spoon into the water and hold until the egg white starts to turn white then use a tablespoon to gently scoop the egg off the large spoon. Poach the egg for 3 minutes. Using a slotted ladle or spoon, transfer the egg to a plate. Poach the remaining eggs the same way, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a low simmer. It’s best to poach 1 egg at a time, but you can cook 2 at once.

Divide the soup among bowls, place 1 to 2 eggs in the middle of each bowl, and sprinkle with a little coarsely ground pepper. Cut the tops of the eggs with a sharp knife and serve immediately.

London, Helen Goh & 365’s Roasted Squash Salad

The clouds hung low over London – as usual – yet as soon as our plane plopped through the thick layer of foggy mist, millions of sparkling lights danced underneath us and made me giggle like a child. There’s a picturesque, an almost innocent cuteness about this city that reminds me of a fairy tale. Colorful doors in sturdy brick houses, smoking chimneys and neatly cut boxwoods. If I had painted my dream city as a child, it would have been London.

So I was back, just for a few days, with a new cookbook in my bag and the unsettled excitement of a nervous author. London was the third stop on my 365 book tour and I asked a very special woman if she’d join me to talk about my new book on the big day, a woman whose work I have admired for years and whose creations I enjoy every time I’m in town: Helen Goh, co-author of Sweet, also responsible for some of the best sweet creations piled up at the Ottolenghi temples’ temptingly luscious displays. When Helen said “Yes,” I felt like a groupie who got handed a backstage pass. The first thing she said when we met before the guests arrived was “lets have a glass of wine and sit down.” She saw that I was nervous. I looked into her eyes and immediately felt calm. And contrary to my usual habit of not having a single drop before a talk, I had a glass of Meridiana Wine Estate‘s dark red Melqart. It neither harmed nor increased my chattiness but it reminded me of the fact that all this is fun. To meet people all over the world and talk about food is one of the greatest gifts that my cookbooks – and this blog – have given me. (You can watch some snippets from our conversation here on my Instagram Stories.)

We had a fantastic evening, chatting, discussing, and laughing, enjoying more of Meridiana‘s wines and food from the book; bruschetta, quiche, and brownies, and the Roasted Squash, Shallot, and Radicchio Salad with Stilton – recipe no. 289 in 365 – a beautifully vibrant recipe that I share with you below. This salad is a spectacular, and easy to prepare starter during the festive season, but also a wonderfully light lunch or dinner when December’s feasting becomes a little too excessive.

When I wrote about my Berlin book launch, I mentioned that this tour is only possible because I have amazing friends at my side. People who I’ve been working with for years and who’ve been solid rocks in their support for my adventures. The night I arrived in London, I jumped into a taxi that took me straight to my favorite hotel in town. We celebrated the launch of 365 at the magical Corinthia London, and to come back to the fairy tale, I was also lucky to sleep there and this definitely made me feel like a princess. Laying in the coziest cloudy bed, framed by more puffy pillows than one really needs (but it feels so good), and room service delivering the best fish and chips at midnight. I don’t think life could possibly get any better than this. But then breakfast comes, and the spa, and then lunch, and dinner – and the fairy tale continues. It’s a grown up princess dream come true. Thank you.

Roasted Squash, Shallot, and Radicchio Salad with Stilton
from ‘365 – A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking’ (Prestel, 2019)

Serves 2 to 4

For the salad
¾ pound (340 g) seeded squash, preferably peeled butternut or Hokkaido with skin, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) wedges
8 shallots, unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise
1/3 cup (75 ml) olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Finely ground pepper
5 ounces (140 g) radicchio, soft leaves only, torn into pieces
1 large, firm pear, cored and cut into thin wedges
2 ounces (60 g) Stilton, crumbled
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

For the dressing
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
Fine sea salt
Finely ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

For the salad, spread the squash on one side of a large baking dish and the shal­lots on the other side. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss to combine, keeping the squash and shallots separate. Season generously with flaky sea salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes. Flip the squash and shallots over and continue roasting for 10 to 15 or until golden and tender. Transfer the squash to a plate. Let the shal­lots cool for a few minutes then peel and add to the squash.

For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, both vinegars, and the honey and season to taste with fine sea salt and pepper.

Divide the radicchio, pear, squash, and shallots among plates, arranging them in overlapping layers. Sprinkle with the Stilton and thyme, drizzle with the dressing, and serve immediately.

Grilled Raclette with Rosemary Kumquats, Coriander Apple & Star Anise Pear

The light dimmed, tall candles casting flickering shadows on the ceiling, the room filled with the dry heat from the crackling fireplace and the smell of burnt wood and cheese lying in the air like a heavy cloud. When it’s time for Raclette at my mother’s house in the countryside, it’s a celebration of everything that I connect with coziness. Surrounded by family and friends, everybody gathers around the sizzling Raclette grill to watch the magic happen: aromatic cheese melting and dripping, golden bubbles bursting and splashing as they touch the glowing grill, and the rind turning into smokey charred bites.

When you eat Raclette at a snow covered hut in the mountains, you would most likely enjoy it the classic way, with boiled potatoes, raw spring onions, pickled vegetables like gherkins (cornichons) and pearl onions, and lots of crushed or coarsely ground black peppercorns. The cheese needs added acidity, which can come from the pickles but it can also come from fruit.

So here’s the fruity way to enjoy the fragrant melted cheese on a crusty baguette: I skip the pickles and go for Raclette with rosemary kumquats, coriander apple, and star anise pear. Kumquats cooked with honey and fresh rosemary turn the tiny citrus fruits into soft and caramelized bites. Pear wedges seared in star anise butter taste like Christmas and apple wedges softened in coriander butter are sweet, aromatic, and slightly sour. That’s the colorful trio to complete my rustic Raclette table but you could also add roasted grapes or plums, or juicy persimmons. Whatever fruit you would normally eat with cheese will fit; it can only become better with a little heat, either in the pan on the hob or under the grill. The heat softens the fruit’s texture and makes the flavor even more concentrated. I would keep the side dish simple, you can serve the grilled Raclette with a quick green salad.

My mother always uses a very old Swiss made grill that’s rather large. It can hold half a wheel of Raclette, melting the surface where the cheese is cut in half, and then you scrape the melted layer right off the wheel onto your plate. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s heavy, you need a lot of people to eat up half a wheel of cheese, and you can only feed the hungry crowd in batches – around two people every time you scrape the top layer off, then the half-wheel needs to go under the grill again. This is not necessarily a bad thing seeing as we’re talking about a meal that’s rather rich and filling. A break once in a while doesn’t harm the hungry cheese lover, but if I want to throw a cozy Raclette party just for my man and myself (and maybe a couple friends), I go for my more practical tabletop grill with single Raclette dishes instead. Then I opt for sliced cheese and grab Le Rustique‘s Raclette l’Originale. It’s aromatic yet not overpowering and melts like butter. When I use sliced cheese I remove the rind, and if you’re after that smokey burnt touch you can just leave the Raclette on a little longer until the charred bubbles burst under the grill.

Thanks to Le Rustique for sponsoring this post and reminding me of the coziest celebration of cheese: watching – and eating – bubbling and crackling Raclette.

Grilled Raclette with Rosemary Kumquats, Coriander Apple and Star Anise Pear

You’ll need a Raclette grill for this recipe.

Serves 3 to 4

For the fruit
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles (whole needles, not chopped)
12 fresh organic kumquats (or canned kumquats, drained), cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Unsalted butter, to cook the pear and apple
3 star anise
1 large, firm pear, cored and cut into thin wedges
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 large baking apple, cored and cut into thin wedges

For serving
About 500-600g (18-21 ounces) sliced Raclette cheese (for a tabletop grill with single Raclette dishes), rind removed
1-2 crunchy baguettes, sliced
Crushed or coarsely ground black peppercorns

Optional
2 large handfuls mixed small leaf lettuce (young spinach and chard, mâche or corn lettuce)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Fine sea salt
Finely ground pepper

For the kumquats, in a small, heavy pan, heat the honey over high heat until bubbling. Add the rosemary, kumquats, and orange juice and cook, turning once, for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and soft – mind that the kumquats don’t burn. Set the pan aside and keep warm.

For the pear, in a medium, heavy pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and the star anise over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the pear wedges and sauté, turning once, for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and tender. Set the pan aside and keep warm.

For the apple, in a medium, heavy pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and the coriander seeds over medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the apple wedges and sauté, turning once, for about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and tender. Set the pan aside and keep warm.

Melt the cheese, one slice at a time, under the Raclette grill until bubbly then scrape onto a slice of baguette, top with kumquats, apple wedges, or pear wedges and season with crushed black pepper.

You can serve the grilled Raclette with a simple green salad on the side: Divide the mixed lettuce leaves among the plates, drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Enjoy!