Such a pleasure to see courgette flowers in your garden or at the greengrocers. The young courgette is firm and tasty; the flowers a beautiful yellow. Simply stuff the flowers, fry in a pan or cook in the oven and you have a great side dish or starter. And then you start wondering: ‘Stuff with what? Cheese? Salmon? Mushrooms? Tomatoes? Ricotta? Vegetable Mousse?’ Earlier we described a simple, tasty vegetarian version. This recipe requires a bit more work, but the result is delicious and beautiful. Crab and courgette go together very well; it’s a well balanced combination with surprisingly delicate flavors.
Obviously a nice glass of Côtes de Provence Rosé is an excellent choice. But you could also go for a white wine, for instance a Macon-Villages as produced by Bouchard Père & Fils. In general a subtle wine that goes well with the gentle flavors of both the crab and the courgette.
What You Need
One Courgette (small and firm)
One Garlic Clove
Six Small Courgettes with their flower
What You Do
Wash the courgette, dry and grate coarsely. Warm a small cooking pan, add olive oil and the grated courgette. Fineley grate the garlic and mix with the courgette. Leave for 20 minutes minimum on low heat. When ready, set aside and let cool. Best is to use a leg of a fresh (littoral) crab, but you could also buy a can of most excellent crab. If using fresh crab, heat a pan with water, bay leaf and crushed black pepper corns; cook the crab for 10 minutes, remove from the water, set aside until cooler and then remove the meat from the shell. Be sure to remove all shards of shell. Set aside and let cool. Remove the stamens from the flowers. Remove the end of the small courgette. Use a very sharp knife to slice the courgettes lengthwise in 3, making it look like a fan. Heat water in a pan and poach the small courgettes (not the flowers!) for 60-90 seconds depending on the size. Add some crab meat to the courgette mixture and taste. Keep adding crab until you’ve reached the perfect combination (or the end of the crab). Add some black pepper. Stuff the flowers, close them by slightly twisting the leaves of the flower, sprinkle with olive oil, making sure they are completely coated with oil. Heat your oven to 200° C or 390° F. Using the grill is a good idea. Transfer to the oven and cook for 10 minutes. The flowers should be crisp and perhaps a touch golden. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
Is it an ancient recipe combining wet and cold (melon) with dry and hot (cooked meat, later cured ham)? Is it an invention of famous author Pellegrino Artusi? Is it a typical sixties dish? Or is it the ideal starter for a lazy chef?
Regardless what it is, the success is the result of the quality of the ingredients. You need an excellent melon, preferably a cantaloupe. Ripe and sweet, one that fills the room with honey. And you need the best ever cured ham. Could be from Italy or Spain, as long as it paper thinly sliced with nice layers of marbled fat.
Sweet and salty, moist and dry, soft and with texture, intense aromas and long-lasting flavours. Every aspect you can think of is on your plate. No need to add anything, no ricotta, no salad, no balsamic vinegar, no pesto. It’s about the combination of two very different yet beautiful products.
Enjoy your Prosciutto e Melone with a light, refreshing wine that reflects summer. A glass of prosecco, bubbly, refined and with a touch of sweetness. But if you want to open a bottle of rosé, please do so!
What You Need
A ripe Melon (Cantaloupe)
Dry-Cured Ham (Prosciutto or Serrano)
What You Do
The melon must be cold, the ham should be at room temperature. Slice the melon, probably in eight wedges. Remove the seeds. Use a sharp knife to cut off the rind. Wrap each wedge of melon with a slice of prosciutto, making sure you can still see the melon at the ends.
It’s definitely not a recipe from Pellegrino Artusi. He describes the combination of fresh green peas (also sweet and moist) with Prosciutto.
End of June means end-of-season for asparagus, morels and ramson (wild garlic). But let’s not be sad! It’s also the beginning of Summer; time to dine al fresco and serve vibrant, light flavours. We combine the very last white asparagus with green asparagus, black olives and basil. Feel free to use green asparagus only. The dish will lose some of its bitterness and complexity but it’s still a great combination of flavours and aromas.
Best to enjoy with a full bodied and elegant red wine. Flavour-wise you’re looking for lots of fruit, mild tannins and a touch of wood. We enjoyed our asparagus with a glass of Cantine Due Palme Salento Il Passo Nero 2019. This wine from Puglia (Italy) is made from late harvested negroamaro grapes. Dark berry fruit, medium full tannins and a beautiful deep colour.
What You Need
Equal Amount of White and Green Asparagus
Black Olives (preferably Cailletier or Taggiasca)
What You Do
Peel the white asparagus and cut of the end. Wash the green asparagus and cut of the end. Slice the asparagus in nice chunks (4 centimetres or so). Combine the asparagus with olive oil and a nice amount of black olives. Transfer to the refrigerator. When ready for your al fresco dinner, heat your oven to 190˚- 200˚ Celsius (or 375˚- 390˚ Fahrenheit). Mix after 10 minutes and again after 20 minutes. The asparagus should now be ready (if not, another 10 minutes should do the trick). Add half of the basil leaves.
If you serve the asparagus with lamb chops: leave the chops to marinate in olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Remove thyme. Heat a heavy iron skillet and fry the chops in olive oil (4 minutes depending on the size). When ready keep the chops warm in aluminium foil. Fry the thyme in the remaining oil. In parallel add more basil leaves to the asparagus and mix.
We enjoyed this dish as a starter when in Milan, on a beautiful evening, eating al fresco and enjoying the wonderful combination of the sweetness and bitterness of the asparagus, the slightly caramelised sugars as a result of grilling the asparagus and the salty and sweet cheese. A glass of Pinot Grigio was all we wanted. In Milan we enjoyed grilled green asparagus, but it works equally well with white asparagus. This is typically a dish to prepare when the asparagus season is at its high and outside temperatures feel like summer.
Serve with a glass of Pinot Grigio, a Muscat or Pinot Gris from the Alsace region or a rosé with character. The wine needs to combine with a range of very diverse flavors so it should be a bit complex.
What You Need
3 Asparagus per person
What You Do
Peel the asparagus and cook or steam until slightly tender. Depending on the size we would say 10-15 minutes in the Russel Hobss steamer. Leave and let cool. Take a plate, add some oil to the plate and use it to coat the asparagus with oil. Heat the pan and grill the asparagus for 4*1 minute, making sure you have a lovely brown (not too dark) pattern. Or use a contact grill for 2*2 minutes. Serve on a plate, add some grated Parmesan cheese and pepper. Add a generous drizzle of very excellent olive oil.
Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage: all powerful Mediterranean herbs. Oregano, or Wild Marjoram, is an interesting one. Probably best known as the herbal ingredient of pizza. A dried herb, one to store in a jar, forget about and then use beyond its ‘use-by date’ and be disappointed. Such a pity because fresh oregano is aromatic, slightly bitter, pungent and perhaps chemical, depending on the variety, of course. Great to combine with lamb, a tomato salad, grilled fish and of course chicken. It’s also great to flavour olive oil with oregano. So ask your supermarket or local greengrocer for fresh oregano!
We enjoyed our chicken and oregano with a glass of Rioja Paternina Reserva 2015 produced by Marques de la Concordia. Reserva means that the wine ages for a minimum of 3 years, with at least 1 year in oak barrels. The grapes are tempranillo, mazuelo and garnacha; very typical for Rioja. It’s a powerful, full-bodied red wine with aromas of black cherries and touch of vanilla and various spices. The wine goes very well with the velvety chicken and the very present flavours of the oregano.
Halve the thighs, heat a heavy iron skillet, add olive oil and quickly fry the meat on all sides. Reduce the heat and add two third of the chopped oregano. Keep on low to medium heat for 10 minutes or so. Add some chicken stock, just to deglaze the pan. You will notice that the juices becomes green thanks to the oregano, so please coat the meat with the cooking liquid. Just before serving add the remaining oregano, some freshly ground black pepper and mix. Serve with green beans, cooked in water with fresh garlic, wrapped in pancetta (after having grated some nutmeg over the beans) and then fried for 5 minutes in some olive oil.
We love using wonderful Mediterranean herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, saffron and tarragon. So we couldn’t resist buying a large bunch of sage and cooking this very tasteful, simple and uplifting starter. Sage has been around for many, many years and is an essential ingredient in many countries, both for medicinal and culinary purposes. Its taste is somewhat soapy, with a touch of acidity, a little bitterness, subtle eucalyptus and slightly peppery. Did we mention unique? Preferably use fresh, thin pasta or Japanese udon, lots of butter and your best olive oil when preparing this dish.
We enjoyed our pasta with a glass of Bianco di Custoza 2020, made by Monte del Frà from Italy. It is a well-balanced, dry white wine, with a fruity nose. Its colour is straw yellow, with pale green highlights. In general you’re looking for a light, aromatic dry white wine.
What You Need
Bunch of Sage
What You Do
Melt the butter in a large pan, devein and chop the leaves, add the sage to the butter, stir. The butter should embrace the flavours and aromas of the sage. When the mixture is nearly ready (this will take only a few minutes) cook the pasta. Grate some fresh Parmesan cheese. Keep a glass of the cooking liquid of the pasta, drain the paste, add it to the pan, mix, add some olive oil, mix, add a spoonful or two of the cooking liquid and make sure the pasta is fully coated with sage, butter and oil. Perhaps some black pepper. Garnish with Parmesan Cheese and serve on a warm plate.
What better way to start a nice long dinner than a dish that is light, colourful, surprising and refreshing? A Consommé of Yellow Tomatoes for instance? Or Scallops with Winter Truffle? Or would you prefer a salad made with Bietola da orto tonda di Chioggia? Sounds exotic, but actually it’s a salad made with Chioggia beet: a delicious beet with deep pink and white spirals. It originates from Italy or, to be more precise, from the coastal town of Chioggia, not far from Venice. When cooking the beet its colours fade, creating an even more enticing dish.
Another forgotten vegetable that is worth remembering when you do your Christmas shopping.
The dressing comes with firm acidity, balanced by the sweetness of the beet and the spring onion. Wine pairing is a not straightforward because of this combination. Our suggestion would be a Sauvignon Blanc. We enjoyed a glass of Domaine La Tour Beaumont Haut-Poitou Sauvignon Blanc 2019. It has clear fruity and citrus notes and it is well balanced with a good combination of freshness and roundness.
What You Need
One Chioggia Beet
Excellent Olive Oil
White Wine Vinegar
Spring Onion (or Scallion)
What You Do
The day before wash the beetroot and wrap in aluminium foil. Leave in the oven on 180° Celsius or 355° Fahrenheit for 60+ minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator. The next day peel the beet and use a vegetable slicer (or mandoline) to make ridges. This will not only make the dish look more inviting, it will also enhance the taste given there is more coated surface and more air when chewing it. Make a simply, relatively acidic dressing with olive oil and vinegar. Thinly slice the spring onion; best to use the green part only. Test a small slice of beet with the dressing and adjust when necessary. Perhaps some fresh white pepper? If you’re happy with the combination, toss the slices with the dressing making sure everything is nicely coated. Plate up and sprinkle the sliced spring onion on top of it.
A few days after we published our recipe for Tourte de Blette a friend told us about the great taste of artichoke pie and how popular this dish is in Italy, especially in Liguria. Since we love artichokes, we dived into our cooking library, looking for recipes. Interestingly most recipes refer to canned or marinated artichokes. But wouldn’t it be much better to use fresh, young artichokes? Other ingredients are cheese (Prescinsêua, or a combination of Parmesan or Pecorino and Ricotta, perhaps some Crème fraîche or even Feta), herbs (parsley, thyme or oregano) and eggs. We like the combination of artichoke and thyme (as we did in our salad), but we could imagine oregano to be a good choice as well. We remained close to Tourte de Blette and prepared a rustic, open pie, but feel free to create one with pastry on top.
It’s not straightforward to pair artichokes with wine. According to various researchers this is due to cynarin, a chemical especially found in the leaves of the artichoke. When the wine and the cynarin meet in your mouth, the natural sweetness of the wine is amplified, making it taste too sweet. So you have to pair freshly cooked or steamed artichokes with a bone-dry, crisp, unoaked white wine with clear, present acidity. For instance Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner or Albariño. We enjoyed our Artichoke Pie with a glass of Château Pajzos Tokaj “T” Furmint, a dry, bright, fresh wine with zesty, nutty and mineral flavours made from the Hungarian Furmint grape. A unique wine and perfect in combination with the artichokes. Cynarin and wine are not a match made in heaven but the good news is that cynarin seems to protect your liver and even helps it regenerate.
What You Need
For the Dough
100 gram of Flour
50 gram of Water
10 gram of Olive Oil
1 gram of Salt
For the Mixture
4-6 young Artichokes
30 grams of Rice
20 gram Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
What You Do
Cook the rice and leave to rest. Combine flour, salt, water and olive oil. Make the dough, kneed for a minute or so and store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Clean the artichokes, steam for 30-45 minutes depending on the size and let cool. Chop the shallot. Warm a heavy skillet, add olive oil and gently fry the shallot. Transfer to a plate and let cool. Using a spoon remove the ‘meat’ from the leaves (bracts) of the artichokes. Chop the hearts in four. You may need to remove the centre choke (the hairs). Strip a generous amount of thyme. Whisk two eggs and combine with the artichokes, the shallot, the rice, the thyme and the freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Add some black pepper. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. Coat a 15 cm or 6 inch round baking form with oil (or use a sheet of baking paper). Place the dough in the baking form and add the filling. Transfer to the oven for 40-50 minutes on 180˚-200˚ Celsius or 355˚-390˚ Fahrenheit. Immediately after having removed the pie from the oven, brush the outside with olive oil. This will intensify the colour of the pastry. Let cool and enjoy luke warm.
Such a lovely and simple dessert! Provided of course it’s made the right way. So no milk, no yoghurt, no cream cheese, no whipped cream and most certainly no whipped egg white! Just cream. Cooked Cream. And preferably cream with lots of fat because then you will need less gelatine. Fresh raspberries are preferred, but no worries, the frozen ones are also very tasty and suitable for making a coulis.
What You Need (for 4)
For the Panna Cotta
500 ml fresh Cream
3,5 leaves of Gelatine
1 Vanilla Bean
25 gram Sugar
For the Raspberry Coulis
250 grams of Raspberries
25 grams of Sugar
1 tablespoon of Water
What You Do
The recipe is for 6 panna cotta (actually we should say 6 panne cotte). Slowly bring the cream to the boil. Add the seeds of the vanilla but also add the remainder of the bean. Now keep close to boiling for 15 minutes. Stir when necessary. Remove from the heat and while stirring add the sugar until totally dissolved. Now pass through a sieve to make sure you remove all the bits you don’t want. Follow the instruction of the gelatine and add the leaves. Stir well until homogeneous. Cool the liquid somewhat before filling the forms. We used a silicone mold. Nice and easy! The only thing you need to do is to make the mold a bit moist with water. Let the panna cotta cool and then store in the refrigerator until set. Don’t forget to seal with cling foil, otherwise your panna cotta will absorb aromas from other food in the refrigerator. Heat the raspberries with the sugar and water. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Pass through s sieve (if necessary twice) making sure you apply some pressure but not too much. You don’t want pips in your coulis! Let cool for 30 minutes before transferring to the refrigerator.
We’re true fans of artichokes. Although available throughout the year, we especially love them in Summer. They come with various structures and flavours, an interesting shape and a beautiful flower. Have you noticed that the heart and the leaves have a similar yet different taste? Artichokes also come with a challenge: how to serve them in an elegant way? One way of serving the small ones is as a salad; another way is using them as an ingredient in a pasta dish. Let’s talk briefly about Pancetta: this is cured and dried pork meat, so not smoked. You could replace it with traditional bacon, but be careful not to use something heavy oak smoked.
We enjoyed our pasta with a glass of Italian Corvina from the Verona region. This is a fruity wine, think red fruit (strawberries, cherries), only a hint of acidity, not too much tannins. We bought a bottle from Torre del Falasco. Great buy!
What You Need
4 Small Artichokes
75 gram of Pancetta
1 Garlic Glove
100 gram of Fresh Tagliatelle
What You Do
Steam or cook the small artichokes. Let them cool, peel them and cut of the upper half. Cut the remainder in 6 or 8 chunks. Cut the pancetta in slices. Take a large skillet and warm. Add some olive oil and glaze the pancetta. It’s not the idea to fry the meat, the fat should not melt, only glaze. Now add the thinly chopped garlic and warm until the garlic is slightly soft. This may take a few minutes so an occasional stir is required. Now add the artichokes and the thyme. Stir very gently because the idea is that the artichokes remain intact. Cook the tagliatelle (probably 4 minutes) and drain but keep some of the cooking liquid. Sprinkle a bit of Parmesan cheese over the artichokes, stir, very gently, add one or two spoons of the cooking liquid, add more Parmesan cheese and more liquid. Now add some olive oil and the tagliattele. Check if this looks fine to you. If not add more liquid. Add a generous amount of black pepper. Serve on a warm plate with some extra Parmesan cheese.