Tag: oregano

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini, Aubergine and Parmesan

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

This is one of my most beloved summer scenes: juicy focaccia topped with fragrant herbs on the table next to an aromatic selection of cheese and a chilled bottle of rosé wine waiting to be opened. Sometimes it impresses me how easy it can be to create a little holiday even in my own home. Although I have to admit that warm temperatures and a clear blue evening sky definitely help to put my mind in the right mood, scrumptious food is even more efficient.

I used my reliable focaccia recipe to make the soft Italian bread, it’s so oily that my fingers feel deliciously smooth and sticky after each bite. Last year I fell in love with a topping of dark grapes and rosemary, in 2015 I’m falling for an almost pizza-like creation. I picked a selection of rosemary, thyme and sage right from the front row of my window sill garden, chopped them finely and spread the green crumbles over the puffy, risen yeast dough. Thin slices of zucchini and aubergine came next to form a pretty grid pattern and add their summery fruitiness. To finish it off, I sprinkled my golden focaccia with fresh oregano and parmesan. It’s such a teaser, when I opened the door to take out the baking sheet, the warm smell of yeast, herbs and cheese caressed my nose. At this point, I definitely felt like I was somewhere in the south of Italy.

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

 

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

 Herb Focaccia with Zucchini, Aubergine and Parmesan

For a 25 x 32cm / 10 x 12 1/2″ focaccia you need

plain flour 500g / 17 1/2oz
dry yeast 1 sachet (7g / 1/4 ounce)
salt 1 teaspoon
sugar 1 heaped teaspoon
water, lukewarm, 260ml / 1 cup and 2 tablespoons
olive oil 120ml / 1/2 cup (half for the dough and half for the topping)
fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage), finely chopped, 2 generous tablespoons
small zucchini, very thinly sliced (best with a vegetable/ mandoline slicer), 1
medium sized aubergine, very thinly sliced, 1/2
flaky sea salt, for the topping
parmesan, grated, 3 heaped tablespoons
fresh oregano, the leaves of a small handful of sprigs (about 2 heaped tablespoon)

In  a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and half the olive oil (60ml / 1/4 cup) and mix with the hooks of an electric mixer for a few minutes until smooth and well combined. Continue kneading with your hands for a few minutes until you have an elastic dough ball. Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let the dough rise in a 35°C / 95°F warm oven (top / bottom heat, no fan) for 45-60 minutes.

Take the dough out, punch it down and knead for 1 minute. Spread the dough on an oiled baking sheet with your hands until it measures roughly 25 x 32cm / 10 x 12 1/2″. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise for 20 minutes in a warm place.

Set the oven to 220°C / 430°F (top / bottom heat).

Punch about 6 x 7 holes into the surface of the dough, you can use the round bottom of a wooden spoon or your finger. Pour half of the remaining olive oil (30ml / 1/8 cup) over the dough and into the holes. Use the remaining 30ml / 1/8 cup of oil to thinly coat the sliced vegetables on both sides with your hand. Sprinkle the focaccia with the chopped herbs and lay the oiled vegetables in a cross pattern on top (start with the zucchini and continue with the aubergine). Season with sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and light brown on top. When it’s done, sprinkle with parmesan and oregano and leave in the hot oven for 1 minute.

Enjoy warm or cold at a summery table full of fruits, cheese and wine!

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

 

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

 

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

 

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

 

zucchiniauberginefocaccia10

 

Herb Focaccia with Zucchini and Aubergine

Heirloom Tomatoes with Mozzarella di Bufala, Oregano and Orange Vinaigrette

Caprese Salad

Just one more time, before I let go of one of my most beloved summer salads! I need one more Caprese salad, the last one, before I say goodbye to this easy yet so delicious combination of fresh tomatoes and Mozzarella di Bufala. As much as I look forward to and enjoy the new season with its culinary qualities, I do miss my summery dishes sometimes, especially when I look at our holiday pictures of Malta. The memories of my Mediterranean outdoor cooking pop into my head and pull me into a different mood of food. A mood that demands for Mediterranean flavours, colours and smells, no pumpkins, cabbages and pies.

So as long as I don’t have to to compromise in taste, ripeness and sweetness, I enjoy my colourful small heirloom tomatoes and their late summer coloured prettiness on my plate. I don’t have to worry about any season when it comes to Mozzarella di Bufala, the organic produce that I use is so creamy that it almost reminds of Burrata. I just have to tear it into pieces and it coats the red and yellow fruits in its silky milkyness. The whole composition is perfect, with a quick orange vinaigrette, smooth and fresh, but it needed something different to pay a little tribute to the month we’re in now. No August, no sweet basil, this is over now. This is the beginning of a colder, stormy season, falling leaves and earthy smells. I didn’t want to add more sweetness, I wanted something stronger almost harsh, so I brought in some fresh oregano. The little leaves taste flowery yet a bit bitter, this is late summer in the south to me!

Caprese Salad

 

Caprese Salad

For lunch for 2 you need

small heirloom tomatoes, cut in half, 250g / 9 ounces
Mozzarella di Bufala or Burrata, torn into pieces, 125g / 4.5 ounces
fresh oregano leaves 1-2 tablespoons

For the dressing
olive oil 3 tablespoons
Balsamico vinegar 1 tablespoon
freshly squeezed orange juice 1 tablespoon
salt and pepper

Whisk the ingredients for the dressing and season to taste.

Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella on a big plate and sprinkle with the vinaigrette and oregano, serve immediately.

Caprese Salad

 

Caprese Salad

 

Caprese Salad

meet in your kitchen | Pan roasted Bread with Sam Cremona’s Olive Oil and fresh Oregano

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

A drive through the countryside, over barren hill tops and streets lined with blossoming pink oleander leads us to a tiny village in the north of Malta, Wardija. We stopped in front of a big, green iron gate in the shade of majestic pine trees, their woody smell caught my senses as soon as I left the car! It was around noon, the sun was at its peak and the air was shimmering. The scene was peaceful and silent when Sam Cremona opened the gate and welcomed us with a big smile on his face. He is a man in his sixties, his skin darkened by the Mediterranean sun, and I had been looking forward to this meeting for months!

Sam produces his own olive oil of extraordinary quality and managed to revive an ancient kind of Maltese olive, the Bidni olive. This species has been cultivated on the island for at least 2000 years but it was on the brink of extinction, just 25 trees were left when Sam started his research. He was looking for olive trees to plant on the 1 hectare of land that surrounds his beautiful country house and the story and quality of this olive caught his attention. It’s rich in antioxidants, the concentration is so high that the eggs of the olive fruit fly, one of the biggest pests for olive trees, never hatch in the fruits. The antioxidants also cause the oil’s tasty bitterness and its positive effect on the immune system.

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

When Sam decided to work with the Bidni olive in 2002 he started a program called PRIMOProject for the Revival of the Indigenous Maltese Olive. He uses cuttings from the few old trees left on the island and grafts them onto other trees. 40 producers joined him, hundreds of trees have been successfully planted and a wonderful olive oil has come back to life. Sam had to set up his own small olive press as there was none on the island at that time. This allows him to pick the fruits and press them on the same day, another reason for the oil’s high quality. 

Sam invited me to his kitchen to taste two of his olive oils, one made of the Bidni olive and another that’s a little less bitter in taste. Both were wonderful, fragrant and rich. I could smell citrus fruits, pine trees, tomatoes and thyme, all embodied in these delicious Wardija Olive Oils! I was so impressed that I bought some of his oil straight away, if you would like to do the same or  if you would like some more information about Sam’s oil and project, you can contact him at matty@vol.net.mt.

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

After tasting the oil we enjoyed some with a few slices of Maltese bread, one of the best ways to savor a good olive oil, but I already knew what I would use it for as soon as I got back home. I discovered a very simple, delicious little snack when I was in Sicily. Pan roasted bread, dipped in olive oil and cooked with fresh oregano leaves. When the bread is golden brown and crunchy on the outside, you take it out of the pan and sprinkle a little more oregano, black pepper and coarse sea salt on top. As always, when a recipe is so simple, choose the best quality bread, olive oil and sea salt you can get and pick fresh oregano leaves if possible. It’s divine!

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil and fresh Oregano

For 4 people, you need a small loaf of sourdough bread, thickly sliced, olive oil and coarse sea salt to taste, crushed black peppercorns and a handful of fresh oregano. Brush the slices of bread with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with the herb, leave a few leaves to put on the bread when it’s done. Heat a heavy pan and cook the bread for a few minutes until golden brown on each side, sprinkle it with some salt, pepper and fresh oregano.

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

 

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

 

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

 

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

 

Pan roasted Bread with Olive Oil + fresh Oregano

Gattò di Patate, Potato Cake with Orange and Oregano

Potato Cake with Orange and Oregano

I ate my first gattò di patate a couple years ago in Sicily, a rich potato pie flavoured with Parmesan and herbs. It’s a simple dish, as comforting as a nice bowl of pasta savored on the sofa. I liked it so much that I had to try it in my kitchen when I was back home. Some fill it with minced meat or Mozzarella but mine is a celebration of my favourite Sicilian ingredients, orange and oregano. I first encountered this aromatic combination together with a little olive oil and sea salt, as a refreshing breakfast salad during a holiday on a picturesque farm in Noto. This duo is so good that I’ve used it in quite a few dishes since then, always with satisfying results!

This pie is another example of the French influence on Sicilian cooking, the name for the Italian dish gattò di patate comes from the French gateau (meaning cake). When I shared my Sfincione recipe with you a couple weeks ago I mentioned that there was a big French movement in Sicilian kitchens in the beginning of the 18th century, very often evident by the generous use of eggs and butter. Today’s pie follows this rule as well, eggs, butter, flour, parmesan and spices turn simple mashed potatoes into a savory cake. You can eat it as a primo piatto, thinly sliced as it’s so rich, or as a main on a cosy night.

Potato Cake with Orange and Oregano

Gattò di Patate, Potato Cake with Orange and Oregano

For 4-6 people you need

potatoes, peeled, cooked and drained, warm, 600g / 21 ounces
butter 70g / 2.5 ounces
parmesan, grated, 120g / 4 ounces
organic eggs, 2 big or 3 small
a pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
salt 1 teaspoon
pepper
oregano 1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon or more for topping
zest of 1 small orange for topping

Set the oven to 180°C / 355°F and butter a 20cm / 8″ baking dish or springform pan.

Press the warm potatoes through a ricer and mix with the butter, cheese, eggs and spices. Put in the baking dish, even it out and bake for 45 minutes until the pie is cooked through and the centre is set. Let the pie cool for 5-10 minutes before you turn it around (or take it out of the springform pan). Sprinkle with oregano and orange zest and serve warm.

Potato Cake with Orange and Oregano

 

Potato Cake with Orange and Oregano

The last spaghetti (in 2013)

Spaghetti with Aubergine + Oregano

The last day of the year always gives me a funny feeling, an emotional mixture of memories, feelings – and excitement for what the future will bring.

I need some pasta to relax.

Tonight, we are invited to dinner, we will have cheese fondue. I don’t want to eat too much for lunch before this cheese feast but I have some grilled aubergine left from our Sunday pizza. Golden brown and soft, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano, crushed garlic, salt and pepper – I just cut them in bite sized pieces. I throw some spaghetti in boiling water, when they are done, mix them with the aubergine, a bit of olive oil, some more dried oregano and crushed pepper and sea salt – from Mr. Cini’s salt pans in Gozo. You can sprinkle some Parmesan on top if you like. A simple meal to relax in the last hours of 2013!

Spaghetti with Aubergine + Oregano

 

Spaghetti with Aubergine + Oregano

My Sunday Pizza Tradition

Pizza Aubergine + Pecorin

Another tradition of mine – I always bake pizza on Sundays, always. My friends joke about my unwavering dedication (I barely break this tradition) but to me pizza is the ultimate cosy mood food. Nothing beats an evening on my sofa with a nice big piece of pizza in my hands and a good movie. It’s the perfect preparation for a smooth transition into a new week. So why change it.  The only variation is what’s on top which depends on the season, my appetite and spontaneous inspiration. So far, my Sunday tradition has never seemed boring.

For today, my pizza gets a topping with aubergine slices (grilled with garlic and oregano oil), Pecorino slices and one part with ricotta. A very concentrated tomato sauce with lots of oregano and slices of organic Mozzarella go with it, that’s all it needs. I make the pizza dough with olive oil which makes it richer and very tasty. A very easy recipe, it takes its time to rise but it’s worth it. Nothing beats homemade pizza dough! It makes such a big difference to the taste – and kneading the dough with your own hands is great stress relief!

For years I made my pizza base the same way. First I let it rise in a bowl and then, a second time, on a baking sheet before I put the topping on. This summer I got a great tip from a friend of mine from Switzerland. He told me to put the baking sheet for the pizza on the bottom of the oven while the oven is heating up. As soon as the baking sheet is hot you take it out of the oven and flip it over. You take the well risen pizza dough (which has been rolled out) and place it on the hot baking sheet. The dough will start to rise and bake straight away which makes an amazing crust – like pizza stone. Once the topping is on, bake it in the oven for a few minutes and you will get the crispiest pizza you can imagine!

Pizza Aubergine + Pecorin

Pizza with Aubergine and Pecorino

I start to prepare the dough 2 hours before I bake it to give it enough time to rise.

For 1 big pizza (size of 1 baking sheet) you need

For the dough

plain flour 350g / 12.5 ounces plus more for mixing
dry yeast 1 package for 500g / 1 pound of flour
water, lukewarm,  190ml
olive oil 3 tablespoons
salt 1 teaspoon

Combine the flour with the yeast and salt, add the olive oil and the lukewarm water, slowly, not all at once (you might not need all of it). Mix with your dough hooks for a few minutes. The dough shouldn’t be moist and sticky at all, more on the dry side. Continue kneading and punching with your hands until you have an elastic dough ball, not too hard, not sticky. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it with a tea towel and let it rise in the warm oven (35°C / 95°F) for 40 minutes. This works really well but make sure that your oven is set to top/ bottom heat and not to fan.

When the dough is well risen, roll it out on a very well floured (this is very important!) working surface. It should be a bit smaller than the size of your baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise for another 10-15 minutes

For the tomato sauce

tinned tomatoes 400g / 14 ounces
oregano, dried or fresh, 1 tablespoon plus more for topping
salt (1 teaspoon) and pepper

Mix the ingredients in a small sauce pan, chop the tomatoes and let everything cook down until very concentrated and thick. If you leave the sauce too liquid it will be soaked up by your pizza base.

For the topping

I prepared the grilled aubergine a day before. You can keep it in the fridge for days and use it for other recipes as well, or enjoy it as antipasti.

aubergine, cut in thick slices, 1
garlic, crushed, 1 clove
olive oil to brush the aubergine and to drizzle on top of the pizza
salt and pepper
Pecorino cheese, cut in thin slices, 100g / 3.5 ounces
mozzarella, cut in cubes, 125g / 4.5 ounces
ricotta, 100g / 3.5 ounces
(I sprinkled just 1/4 of the pizza with ricotta)

Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Grill in the oven until golden brown and soft and cut in long strips.

The pizza

Set your oven to 260°C / 500°F. My oven has a special pizza setting but you can use top / bottom heat as well. Put the baking sheet on the bottom of your oven to heat it.

Take the hot baking sheet out of the oven, flip it over and place it carefully on two stable wooden boards or mats as it will be very hot. Place your risen dough carefully but quickly (best done by two people) on the baking sheet, push it gently into place if necessary. Spread the tomato sauce on top and sprinkle with oregano, continue with the aubergine, Pecorino, mozzarella and ricotta. Put the baking sheet back into the oven, on the bottom again, and bake for a few minutes until the pizza is golden brown, bubbling and crisp!

Pizza Aubergine + Pecorin

 

Pizza Aubergine + Pecorino

A Sicilian Salad with Oranges, Oregano and Olive Oil

Oranges, Oregano + Olive Oil

My friends and family live all over the world. On the big festive days of the year, we spend quite a bit of time on Skype to share the special moments. We talk and laugh and – very often – show each other what we cook for our festive meals. Yesterday, my boyfriend’s mother Jenny, presented a beautiful piece of ham that she had just pulled out of her oven. It looked so tempting! She also told me about the orange tree in her garden in Malta which is sagging with oranges and held a huge box of oranges for me to see. I knew what I would have for lunch today: my Sicilian salad with oranges, oregano and very good olive oil!

I know this combination sounds a bit extraordinary. It is another one of my Sicilian discoveries which I had for breakfast at a little farm in Noto two years ago. They used the oregano which grew on their farm and it was the best oregano I ever had in my life. It was unbelievably good! I never thought there could be such big differences in the taste of oregano.

This salad makes a perfect snack after the last Christmas days of culinary richness – refreshing, light and comfortable. All you need to do is to peel two oranges (including the softer inner skin) and cut them in thick slices. Drizzle some good olive oil on top and sprinkle with dried or fresh oregano and a bit of salt.

Oranges, Oregano + Olive Oil