Tag: basil

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.

Apricot and Basil Galette

Summer baking is the best baking, you can reduce additional sugar to a minimum and focus on some of nature’s greatest gifts: stone fruit and berries. They are so packed with sweetness and flavor that adding too much sugar would be like insulting their creator. However, sneaking in buttery pastry – no matter if it’s a crunchy crumble, fragile short crust tart, or rustic galette – fortifies the produce’s qualities and has only one effect: you’ll want to extend teatime into dinner and just keep nibbling until the sun sets and the last crumb vanishes.

I went for a galette for this recipe because of its summery, picnic-style look but I sneaked a herb into the topping that gives it a slightly unusual touch. Apricot and basil is a fantastic combo for salads and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t mingle in a fruity tart topping. It’s fresh, it’s earthy, sweet, and sour, it tastes like a hot day in Tuscany.

Taking some time off for such a rewarding endeavor is the best therapy for a weary mind and soul. And I needed that. I lost my rhythm in the kitchen a little over the last year and half. I created new recipes every day, felt excited about the results and was pleased about being productive. All for my new book, for 365. However, my natural flow of shopping, of planning our dinners, of meeting my man in the kitchen after work and pouring us a glass of wine before starting to cook, this wonderful ease has been disrupted. So much so that it’s difficult sometimes to find my way back to my routine, a routine that became the compass of my days over the years. Always pointing towards my next meal, always pointing towards the kitchen. That is my comfort, my safety, and I’m trying to regain orientation.

What I love so much about cooking, about preparing my own food, is the fact that it’s totally in my hands. That I can make myself – and others – so unbelievably happy by only throwing a few ingredients together and indulging in this experience on an emotional, sensory, but also intellectual level. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than creating a meal that reflects the seasons, my mood, and the desires of my taste buds. This galette tastes heavenly, there’s no doubt, it also let’s July’s plump produce shine, but it challenged me to be experimental, to rethink combinations of ingredients that seem a bit farfetched in the beginning. To combine fleshy apricots and fragrant basil – which usually shines atop my summery Caprese salad or Pizza Margherita – meant I had to open up for a new idea. And that’s a good lesson. Always. Even in the most trivial situations. And by doing this, I’m slowly finding my orientation again. Towards the kitchen.

Apricot and Basil Galette

Makes one 23cm / 9″ galette.

For the pastry

180g / 1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour (I used white spelt flour / type 630)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
125g / 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold
2 tablespoons water, cold
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

For the galette

4 large apricots (320g / 11 ounces) , pitted and cut in half,
plus 2 large apricots (160g / 5 1/2 ounces), pitted and cut into small cubes
50g / 1/4 cup light brown sugar, plus 1 teaspoon for the topping
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 heaping tablespoons roughly chopped basil leaves
1 large egg, beaten

For the pastry, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and use a knife to cut it into the flour until there are just small pieces left. Quickly rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until combined. Add the water and vinegar and quickly mix with the paddle attachment until combined. Form the dough into a thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze for about 15-20 minutes, or until firm.

For the galette, in a small saucepan, heat the apricot cubes (not the apricot halves), the sugar, and vanilla seeds over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the apricots are soft and golden. Reduce the heat if the fruit starts to turn brown. Stir in the chopped basil, transfer to a medium bowl, and let the compote cool for a few minutes.

On a work surface, place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to roll out into a 30cm / 12″ disc. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and replace it with a piece of parchment paper. Flip the pastry disc over, transfer to a wooden board, and remove the remaining layer of plastic wrap. Spread the apricot-basil compote on top of the pastry, leaving a 5cm / 2″ rim, and arrange the apricot halves, cut side down, on top of the compote. Fold the edges of the pastry up and over the fruit then gently press to seal the folds. Chill the galette, on the wooden board, in the fridge for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is firm.

Place a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).

Brush the pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Pull the parchment paper with the galette onto the hot baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Let the galette cool for about 10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or cold.

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

I found a new duo that comes close to perfection: chorizo and strawberry. It’s an unexpected match, the fruity sweetness and slightly hot, porky sausage merge beautifully, as if they had just been waiting to meet.

It started as a quick snack while we were cooking, we filled our glasses with our favourite summer wine and looked in the fridge to see what we could nibble on while chopping and stirring the ingredients for our dinner. The red sausage and berries caught my man’s attention and – in these moments he’s a little more brave than me – he sandwiched them and stuffed a rather large portion of it in my mouth. We immediately discussed what we could do with this new find. A salad? I’m not a big fan of meat in my salad. Pasta? I don’t like the combination of pasta and strawberries. I tried it, but it just tastes wrong. An open sandwich seemed like the right answer, a golden Italian bruschetta drizzled with good olive oil, crowned with thick slices of the peppery salami and juicy berries. Some fresh basil, salt, and pepper, and you have the perfect snack for summer on your plate.

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

 

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

Serves 2-4

medium baguette, sliced, 1
olive oil
chorizo (salami, not fresh chorizo sausage) 1/2 ring, about 150g / 5 ounces
ripe strawberries, cut in half, about 18
fresh basil leaves, a small handful
peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
flaky sea salt

To roast the bread, set the oven to broil (grill). If your oven doesn’t have a broil setting, toast the baguette in a hot cast iron pan.

Brush the baguette on both sides with olive oil and, if using your oven, spread them on a baking sheet and roast for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden brown, but not burnt. If you use a pan, in batches, spread the bread in the pan and toast on both sides until golden.

Depending on the size of your bread, pile up 2 slices of chorizo and 2-3 strawberry halves on each bruschetta. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with basil, crushed pepper, and salt. Enjoy!

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

 

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

 

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

 

Chorizo and Strawberry Bruschetta with Basil

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

I’m sure that I can smell it, I can hear it, if not even feel it on my skin. The promise of spring is in the air. The birds sitting on the naked branches of the tree in front of our living room window know more than us and they sing it out loud. Their voices vibrant and full of energy, they herald winter’s nearing end.

With me, it’s the same every year, I get impatient, frustrated. I can’t wait to pull shorts and dresses out of my wardrobe, and sit outside in one of the city’s cafés on a lazy Saturday afternoon, decadently sipping on a glass of chilled white wine. I want to see ripe tomatoes, lush basil, and plump peas on my kitchen table. I already dreamed of a colourful caprese salad waiting for me on a plate – and then I started to think “Wait, it’s February, hold on!”. But how about a little creativity and open mindedness, what about a winter caprese? There’s mozzarella di Bufala in my fridge, sweet blood oranges replace the tomatoes, and boiled beetroot adds an earthy tone that goes unbelievably well with both the fruit and the cheese. I sprinkled it with a sweet date syrup vinaigrette, but maple syrup would be just as good, and a handful of fresh basil leaves (a hint of summer). It was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a while.

Tomorrow’s the start of the crazy season again, carnival’s back! If you’re looking for some traditional sweet treats for yourself and your loved ones, try one of these sticky fried gems:

German Berliner 

Greek Loukoumades

Maltese Zeppoli

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

Mind that the beetroot has to cook for about 45 minutes.

Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter

medium beetroot 1
bay leaf 1
small blood oranges, peeled and sliced, 4
mozzarella di Bufala, drained and torn into 2 or 4 pieces, 125g / 4 1/2 ounces
fresh basil leaves, a small handful
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar (optional)

For the vinaigrette

olive oil 3 tablespoons
balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon
white balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon
date syrup (or maple syrup) 1/2-1 teaspoon
fine sea salt
ground pepper

Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil, add the beetroot and bay leaf and cook for about 45 minutes or until the beetroot is tender (prick with a skewer to check). Rinse with cold water and let it cool; then peel and slice the beetroot.

For the vinaigrette, in a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, both vinegars, and the date syrup. Season with salt pepper and additional date syrup to taste.

Arrange the beetroot and blood orange in a circle on the plates, place the mozzarella in the middle. Drizzle with the vinaigrette (you might not need all the dressing) and sprinkle with basil and crushed pepper. Serve immediately.

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

 

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

 

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

 

Winter Caprese: Blood Orange, Beetroot, and Mozzarella di Bufala

Camping deluxe – Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala & Honey Butter

Post sponsored by Volkswagen.

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

Although I can’t really call myself an experienced camper, I’m fascinated by the idea of setting up a tent in the middle of nowhere and keeping the signs of civilization to a minimum.

I got my introduction to camping through my boyfriend. To avoid unnecessary difficulties, he chose wisely and decided to give it a go when we were in his home country – a place where you’re never really completely cut off. He convinced me to take a boat to Comino, Malta’s tiny sister island, which is just the right size to jump bravely into our first outdoor adventure without having to worry about too many risks. Our ‘captain’ dropped us off at the shore, along with our two bags, a tent, and a cooling box. It was August, it was unbearably hot, and I found myself in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, on a rocky island. There was not a single tree in sight. My boyfriend, however, looked at the situation with far more optimism. He knows Comino like his back pocket, thanks to countless trips as a child. He set up our rather basic looking tent within less than 10 minutes, with a little help from his clueless German girlfriend (I really tried hard not to be a burden). And when we were done, we jumped into the gentle waves in a lonely bay and I felt a bit like Robinson Crusoe. All of a sudden I started to like this camping idea.

To prepare our dinner, I collected some twigs and my man made a fire. We even managed to exchange a few of our tomatoes from the cooling box with the fresh catch of a passing fisherman. Then I got comfortable: I couldn’t help but turn the rocks around me into a little desert island kitchen. Olive oil, salt, and pepper were ready to marinate the fish and vegetables for our DIY BBQ and we sat down with a glass of wine (a gift from the fisherman). This dinner tasted so good that I could have cried. Maybe that’s part of the whole camping experience, you’re very close to nature, you depend on the weather, the sunlight, the sea, and the food that nature (or your cooling box) offers you. It makes you humble and it opens your senses, everything feels more intense. To smell, taste, feel, and see is essential when you live in and around a tent or camper van. The night came early and covered our little island in the deepest darkness. As soon as the sun sank into the sea, I felt more sleepy than usual, but also more peaceful. I brushed my teeth in the calm sea and went to bed.

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

Most of my activities on the Maltese Islands are documented in thousands of pictures, but the idea of camping – at least in my eyes – is about being unplugged and as far away from any technical devices as possible. So there’s no photographic evidence of my first or our following Comino camping adventures. However, when I spoke to my mother about camping recently, she brought many stories and pictures back to mind that I hadn’t thought of in decades. My parents and my sister went to the Camargue, in southern France in the 70s, to a place with the beautiful name Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. They didn’t have a tent but an old Volkswagen van. I always loved the old photographs, of them on the beach and in old villages, on ancient narrow cobblestone streets. The ease of a camper on their faces. One of the nicest camper vans I know belongs to our friends Luke and Jessica in Malta. Their gorgeous four wheeled gem is baby blue, built in 1968, and its restoration took them 10 months, but all the patience, sweat, and love they put into it was worth it.

Stephanie Le from Canada also shared her love for camping with me in our meet in your kitchen feature a few weeks ago. She’s a pro, she even manages to create a Beef Stroganoff when she’s out in the woods. Stephanie made me think about the culinary challenges that you have to face when you limit your life to a few bags and a grill or gas stove. It also makes a huge difference if you’re in a place that still allows you to forage, or where fishermen offer you the best fish you ever tasted in your whole life. I’m talking about a rather romantic kind of camping here, away from the crowds and civilization and its disturbing visual and acoustic side effects.

Let’s say you’ll be out in the wilderness, for 1-2 nights, and you can upgrade your meal with some fruit and dairy products, the cooling box will keep it fresh for a day. When Volkswagen asked me to come up with a recipe – an eat in my kitchen on the road creation – I couldn’t help but think of camping deluxe. A kind of camping that satisfies the longings of a gourmet who ended up off the beaten track. The senses stimulated by the whole outdoor experience, ready to be caressed by a beautiful plate of farfalle with ripe figs, creamy mozzarella di bufala, velvety honey butter, and fragrant basil. The dried pasta and honey are easy to store, the figs and herbs can be kept in a lunch box, and the mozzarella and butter stay fresh in the cooling box. This would be my ideal treat for a night under the clear black sky.

For more delicious recipes and kitchen inspiration, visit Volkswagen’s Pinterest community board Food Blogger for Volkswagen.

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

 

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

Serves 2

farfalle pasta 200g / 7 ounces
butter 3 tablespoons
honey 1 1/2-2 teaspoons
large figs, cut into 8 wedges each, 2
mozzarella di bufala, torn into pieces, 125g / 4 1/2 ounces
fresh basil leaves, a small handful
black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar
flaky sea salt

Cook the farfalle in salted water until al dente.

In the pot used to cook the pasta, heat the butter and honey and whisk until combined. Mix in the farfalle, stir, and divide between 2 plates. Arrange the figs, mozzarella, and basil on top and season with crushed pepper and flaky sea salt to taste.

Enjoy warm or cold.

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

 

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

 

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

 

Farfalle Pasta with Figs, Mozzarella di Bufala and Honey Butter

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

Walking aimlessly through the narrow streets of Malta is one of my favourite activities when we’re on the islands. Give me comfy shoes and a bottle of water and I’m ready to brave the heat. Valletta, with its imposing architecture, will always be my first destination when I need a break of my beach life. I just love strolling along the limestone facades, shining golden in the late afternoon sun. Discovering new vegetable shops, peaking into little baroque chapels, or simply looking at the stunning grand palazzi built in the past centuries is one of the most relaxing things I can think of. To extend my circle of adventures, I take the ferry that connects Valletta and Sliema on one side of the capital or I catch the boat that sails across The Grand Harbour on the other side, towards The Three Cities: Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.

If I need a complete change of scenery, I go to the sister islands Comino or Gozo, and that’s what we did last weekend. We rented a huge farmhouse, which our family of 20 people filled easily with Mediterranean craziness. The village of Ghasri got to hear lots of laughter, accompanied by a water ballon fight, a luscious BBQ, and a late night pizza picnic at the pool. Our extensive snorkeling trips to the breathtaking Wied ilGħasri, Reqqa Point, and Qbajjar were fabulous. I had never been to Reqqa before, but it’s one of the most spectacular spots I’ve seen so far. The water is very, very deep and the dancing sunbeams that cut through the dark blue look like lightsabers – it’s hypnotic. We finished our trip with a visit to the Cini family at the Xwejni Salt Pans where I always buy enough salt for a year of cooking. Their passion for their craft, their love for the salt from the sea, and their dedication to nature never ceases to amaze me.

Every time I’m in Malta, I bake at least one ricotta pie. This year’s creation turned into a savoury quiche, refined with lots of basil and sweet tomatoes – delicious

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

 

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche 

Makes 1 ( 20cm / 8″) quiche, serves 4.

short crust dough 250g / 9 ounces (you can use 1/3 of the pastry from my fruit tart recipe, but leave out the sugar, click here)

ricotta 400g / 14 ounces
organic eggs 3
butter, melted and cooled, 40g / 2 heaping tablespoons
Parmesan, freshly grated, 60g / 2 ounces
chopped fresh basil leaves, 4 heaping tablespoons, plus a few leaves for the topping
lemon zest 1 heaping teaspoon
fine sea salt 1 teaspoon
ground pepper
cherry tomatoes, cut in half, 6

Prepare the dough, form a thick disc, wrap in cling film, and put in the freezer for about 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).

Roll out the dough between cling film and line a 20cm / 8″ pie or quiche form with the pastry. Push the pastry into the pie form and prick with a fork. Bake for about 12 minutes or until golden. Take the pie form out of the oven and turn the heat down to 190°C / 375°F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the ricotta, eggs, butter, Parmesan, basil, lemon zest, salt, and pepper until well combined. Pour the ricotta on top of the pre-baked pastry, even it out, and arrange the tomatoes on top. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until golden and the ricotta is just firm.

Let the quiche cool for a few minutes, sprinkle with fresh basil leaves, and serve warm or cold.

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

 

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

 

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

 

Basil Ricotta and Tomato Quiche

 

basilricottaquiche13

 

basilricottaquiche12

 

basilricottaquiche10

Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Soon I’ll be eating stuffed vegetables in the kitchens of many Maltese mamas and I know that I’ll never want to eat anything else again once I get into the groove. This dish is a cozy classic in Malta’s Mediterranean cuisine and I love it for its simplicity just as much as for its pure taste of summer. Ripe zucchini, bell pepper, and eggplant turn into juicy shells full of flavour to wrap scrumptious fillings of cheese, meat, seafood, or even more vegetables. Brunġiel mimli (Maltese for stuffed eggplant) is the most popular of them all – and the richest, stuffed with Bolognese – but there are endless possibilities to turn this recipe into a lighter summer treat.

In mid July we’ll be off to spend a few weeks with our family in the South and this will have a huge effect on our daily routine and on our cooking and eating habits. There will be far more fruits and vegetables on the table, they will taste much better than in the North, I will complain less about quality (or not at all), and the results that I stir up in the pots and pans in my Maltese mama’s kitchen will give me deep satisfaction. I love to cook in Jenny’s kitchen (on gas), with the best produce you can possibly ask for, fresh from my favourite farmer.

There’s always a pile of round and long zucchinis in the vegetable drawer, which I either slice up and sauté until al dente or scrape out and stuff – often with ricotta, the island’s most popular dairy product. To get into the mood, I came up with a recipe that uses a fragrant composition of dried-tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, and orange zest stirred into feta – instead of ricotta (I’ll eat so much of it while I’m in Malta that I should take it easy for now). It looked and tasted like a summer holiday and it was so easy to prepare that I’ll make it soon again.

Here’s one of my posts from last year, which always makes me want to go straight back to Malta (just in case you’re not in the mood for summer yet)!

fetastuffedzucchini7

 

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Serves 2

sun-dried tomatoes (preserved in salt) 3
pine nuts, toasted until golden, 40g / 1/2 cup
medium zucchinis, cut in half lengthwise, soft pulp scraped out, 2
olive oil
fine sea salt
ground pepper
feta 200g / 7 ounces
fresh basil, chopped, about 15g / a large handful, plus a few leaves for the topping
freshly grated orange zest 1 teaspoon
flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).

In a small saucepan, bring the sun-dried tomatoes and a little water to the boil and cook for about 3 minutes or until soft. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen paper and chop finely.

Chop half the pine nuts with a large knife or in a food processor.

Spread the zucchini in a large baking dish (cut side up), brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium bowl, mash the feta with a fork and add the chopped pine nuts, basil, dried-tomatoes, orange zest, and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix and mash until well combined and season with pepper to taste. Divide the feta mixture between the zucchini halves, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts and a little flaky sea salt. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a little water and bake for about 45 minutes or until the zucchini feels soft when you prick it with a metal skewer. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve.

It makes a great lunch or easy dinner, but you can also serve it at a summer picnic.

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

 

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

 

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

 

fetastuffedzucchini9

 

fetastuffedzucchini10

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Raw Asparagus Salad with Basil and Pink Peppercorns

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Rucola Salad

Whenever I buy a new appliance for my kitchen, a bigger wardrobe for our bedroom, or a more powerful driller for the tool box, I always ask myself how I managed before the new purchase entered our home. I’m totally fine with having to deal with limited space or less satisfying equipment in the house, but give me the comfort of improvement and I’m hooked for life.

This is exactly how I felt when I got my new fridge last December. It’s only the third fridge I have ever owned and although I can’t really complain about its predecessor – it did a decent job for more than 15 years – it drove me crazy at times. Mainly because the space it offered and the food I tried to put inside it did not match at all. I love fresh food, I buy a lot of fruit and vegetables every week at the farmers’ market, and all kinds of cheese, olives, capers, prosciutto … and wine of course. There are only two people to feed but our food needs space. Thinking back, I don’t know how I managed to store all the greens in my old fridge while I was working on my book a year ago, I have no idea. It worked, but now it’s different, now I actually enjoy my fridge. A few days ago I came into my kitchen with lots of bags and baskets full of rhubarb, berries, asparagus and other spring produce and everything fit. I looked at this silver beauty and couldn’t help but say “I love my fridge!”. When Samsung offered me their Chef Collection for my kitchen, I was over the moon and I still feel the same. When you love food and cooking you truly appreciate having the right equipment.

So when I took a look at all the vibrant colours in my fridge, I came up with a salad that looks and tastes as bright and fresh as this season. I cut raw green asparagus very thinly and mixed it with a handful of arugula and canned chickpeas. A few fresh strawberries on top and a light vinaigrette made with orange juice drizzled all over and it was almost done: Some pink peppercorns added subtle spice and their distinct aroma. It was a very satisfying spring creation.

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Rucola Salad

 

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Rucola Salad

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Raw Asparagus Salad with Basil and Pink Peppercorns

Serves 2

For the dressing

olive oil 3 tablespoons
freshly squeezed orange juice 2 tablespoons
white balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon
fine sea salt
ground pepper

For the salad

young green asparagus, trimmed, 4 stalks
arugula leaves, 1 large handful
drained canned chickpeas, 2 handfuls
fresh strawberries, cut into quarters, 6
a few fresh basil leaves
a few pink peppercorns

For the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, orange juice, and vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut off the heads of the asparagus and cut them in half lengthwise. Using a mandoline, a cheese slicer, or a sharp knife, cut the asparagus stalks into long, very thin slices.

In a large bowl, arrange the arugula, asparagus, chickpeas, and strawberries in layers and drizzle with the dressing. Sprinkle with pink peppercorns and basil and serve immediately.

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Rucola Salad

 

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Rucola Salad

 

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Rucola Salad

 

Strawberry, Chickpea, and Rucola Salad

 

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