Insalata Caprese

Tomatoes

In 2013 the German culinary press characterised Dutch tomatoes as ‘wasserbomben’, let’s say ‘water balloons’. And they were right. Even more so, many tomatoes were, and still are, tasteless and watery. And since the Netherlands are in the top 3 of tomato exporting countries, you run the risk of buying a red balloon. Which is of course not what you want to do. So if you plan to make one of the simplest and tastiest starters ever, you have to find the best tomatoes ever. Or grow your own of course.

Mozzarella

Meaning Buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of the Italian buffalo. Since 1993 it’s a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) and protected under EU law. It’s a young, moist, tasty cheese with a lovely soft, elastic but not chewy texture and it comes with a skin as a result of the shaping and pickling. The taste is more robust than mozzarella made from cow milk and it’s ideal for a salad. The cow version is best used for cooking. The smoked version should be ignored.

Basil

Someone should write ‘The Case of the Dying Basil’. A whodunit in which a clever detective will reveal why the basil plant you buy from the green grocer or supermarket will very likely die within 3 days, regardless what you do. And since they always die on us, we buy ‘fresh’ leaves.
The most used variety of basil is sweet or Genovese basil. Others are Thai basil (slightly spicy with a hint of anise) and red (or purple) basil (similar to sweet basil but more powerful). Alain Passard’s book Collages et Recettes includes a recipe for purple carrots with purple basil and cinnamon. Wonderful colours and a delicate taste.

Insalata Caprese

This salad stands or falls on the quality of the ingredients. And it requires the talent to keep things simple, so you have to stick to the 5 (five!) ingredients, meaning tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil and pepper. The salad does not come with balsamic vinegar, lettuce, pineapple nuts, salt, honey, croutons, oregano, mustard or a vinaigrette. Five ingredients. That’s it.
You wonder why? Because this way the Insalata Caprese is at its best. Tasty, sweet, rich, moist, fresh and a reflection of Italy and of summer. Adding an ingredient will worsen the concept of the salad and reduce its taste.

Wine Pairing

We suggest an excellent rosé, one with flavour and depth. For instance Monte del Frà Bardolino Chiaretto 2018. You’re looking for a wine with delicate scents of berries accompanied by light and refreshing hints of green apples and subtle spicy tones. On the palate the wine should reveal juicy sensations of red berries along with an appealing and refreshing acidity.

What You Need

  • Two Excellent Ripe Tomatoes
  • One Ball (125 gram) of Excellent Buffalo Mozzarella
  • Fresh Basil
  • Excellent Olive Oil
  • Fresh ground Black Pepper

What You Do

Slice the tomatoes, slice the mozzarella and create the ‘tricolore’. Add fresh black pepper and drizzle generously with olive oil.

Insalata Caprese © cadwu
Insalata Caprese © cadwu

Monkfish with Tomato Olive Sauce

Not the kind of fish you want to meet when swimming in the sea, but definitely one you want to meet when shopping at the fishmonger. Make sure you bring some money because monkfish tends to be expensive. Great meat, delicate yet distinctive taste and not difficult to prepare as long as you’re not in a hurry.
The sauce has to be made a day in advance. It needs time to cook and time to integrate.
You will need to remove the skin of the monkfish. There seem to be several layers of skin and one is (when cooked) really rubbery and inedible. So take you knife, start at the tail end and move forwards, thus removing the membrane. You will find useful videos on the Internet. Unfortunately these videos suggest removing the main bone of the fish, which is a mistake for three reasons. You lose taste and meat plus you lose a natural indicator of the cuisson of the fish.
Pitted black olives. Sounds simple but isn’t simple at all. Buy quality, for instance Niçoise or Kalamate and stay away from cheap and canned. Dry-cured black olives (the wrinkly ones like Nyon) can be overpowering.
Monkfish is an essential ingredient of Zarzuela because of its texture and taste. In this recipe we combine the obvious: monkfish and tomato. We add a bouquet garni consisting of rosemary, thyme and bay leaf. The black olives give the required twist to the sauce and the dish as a whole.

We suggest a glass of Chardonnay to accompany the monkfish, provided the wine is not too woody; a light touch of oak will be best. Soave could also be a good combination.

Here is what you need

  • one Shallot
  • one Garlic Glove
  • Olive Oil
  • two Tomatoes
  • Pitted Black Olives
  • Bay Leaf
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Monkfish (200 gram per person, bone included)
  • Black Pepper

Start by making the sauce. Gently fry the chopped shallot in a splash of olive oil. After a few minutes add the chopped garlic. Now add the chopped tomatoes and the pitted black olives (depending on their taste we suggest between 10 and 15). Add the bouquet garni and allow to cook on low heat for a number of hours. Make sure to check on a regular basis. When ready, remove the bouquet garni and transfer to a blender. Pass the mixture through a sieve. The sauce should be as smooth as possible. Transfer to the refrigerator and use the next day.
Use a heavy iron skillet to fry the monkfish in olive oil. When nicely coloured, reduce the heat and start adding the sauce. Since the sauce is cold, you need to do it spoon by spoon. Coat the fish with warm sauce, again, and again. Use your knife to try separating the meat from the bone. When this is possible without applying too much pressure, the fish is nearly perfect. Remove the bone, turn the fish on the side that was connected to the bone and cook for one or two minutes. Taste the sauce; maybe you want to add some fresh black pepper.
Serve on a warm plate with some crusted bread.

Last Week’s Special – 36

Squid with Tomatoes and Red Wine

Don’t you love crispy Calamari with a glass of Pinot Grigio? A summer evening is ideal, but they are equally nice on a cold, winter’s evening. Such a wonderful combination, fried squid and crispy white wine. That is, if your Calamari is made of squid.

Go to your local supermarket and look for frozen Calamari. Interesting. All perfectly shaped, all perfectly the same size. Now go to your local fishmonger and buy (frozen) squid. How to cut perfect, similar sized rings from squid? Simple, you can’t.

Another interesting question: what happened to the tentacles?

If you prepare your own Calamari from fresh squid you will have rings (made from the mantle) in various sizes and shapes plus you will have tentacles and fins.
If you buy factory-produced ready to fry or eat Calamari you could be eating the real thing, but you could also be eating a fried mixture of left over squid, octopus, fish, flower and E-numbers. And to reduce your appetite for Calamari even more: factories treat the squid with sodium bicarbonate (and probably other chemicals) to make the meat softer. Bon Appétit!

Time to start cooking

The stew is a combination of squid, tomatoes, red wine and bay leaf, supported by shallot and garlic. The red wine in combination with the natural colour of the squid will help create a dark velvet red colour. This will take some time, but that’s fine, in the mean time the meat of the squid will become nice, tasty and soft. Bay leaf is essential. Feel free to add more. We finish the dish with parsley, just to give it an extra sharpness.

We enjoyed our stew as a starter with a glass of Inycon Estate, made of Viognier and Chardonnay. Inycon Estate is an international brand of Cantine Settesoli, a Sicilian wine producer. They produce a nice range of affordable wines, such as Nero D’Avola, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz. The combination of Viognier and Chardonnay works really well. The wine is both fruity, fresh and full-bodied.
When you eat the stew as a main, you could go for a light, cool, red wine. Not too complex because the stew is rather powerful.

Preparing squid

Buy a kilo of squid. In most cases the squid will be frozen, but that’s fine. The process of cleaning squid is simple and a bit messy. Not smelly by the way.

  1. Start by removing the head from the body. When you do this gently, you will also remove most of the internal organs of the squid.
  2. You may want to secure the ink for later use.
  3. Just below the eyes, cut off the tentacles using a knife or scissors. Remove the beak (located at the base of the tentacles). Discard internal organs and beak. Transfer the tentacles to a bowl.
  4. With your fingers remove the cartilage (this is the part that looks like it is made of plastic).
  5. Remove the skin of the mantle and fins. Best is to start in the middle and then gently pull the skin towards the top and bottom. Discard the skin.
  6. Remove the fins and transfer to the bowl with tentacles.
  7. Turn the mantle inside out by pushing the top into the mantle. This allows you to remove all internal organs and the membrane.
  8. Turn the mantle outside in by pushing the top into the mantle. Cut the mantle into rings and transfer to the bowl.
  9. Wash the rings, fins and tentacles with cold water.

Here is what you need

  • 1 kilo Squid (to be cleaned)
  • Olive Oil
  • Shallot
  • 2 Garlic Gloves
  • Red Chilli
  • 500 grams of Excellent Red Tomatoes (peeled, seeded and cut in chunks)
  • Red Wine
  • Two Fresh Bay Leaves
  • Black Pepper
  • Parsley

Use a heavy, iron skillet for this stew. Cut the shallot in small bits and glaze gently in olive oil. Once the shallot is glazed add the garlic and the chilli. After a few minutes add the squid (rings, tentacles and fins). Let the liquid reduce for a few minutes, and then add the tomatoes, a glass of red wine and the bay leaf. Allow to slowly simmer for 4 hours. If necessary add a splash of water. Stir every 15 minutes. Just before serving add black pepper (be generous) and some parsley.
Serve with crusty bread (as a starter) or with red rice.

A Classic for you – 1

Ratatouille

Think summer vegetables, think Ratatouille! Which is also a comedy released in 2007 about a rat called Remy with a passion for cooking. If you want to see how he prepares ratatouille then simply enter Remy cooks ratatouille as search term in YouTube (or buy the DVD if you’re old fashioned like us).
Ratatouille brings back memories of summer, of the South of France, of the Mediterranean. Or for some, of their youth. It combines very well with a simple sausage, with lamb, with grilled chicken.
However you prepare your ratatouille, be sure to use courgette or zucchini, aubergine or eggplant, tomato and bell peppers. Also make sure you prepare it a day ahead. The taste becomes much more integrated after a day (or two) in the refrigerator.
Our recipe is very much the recipe of a dear friend. She taught us how to make ratatouille in her summer kitchen, overlooking the pool and the garden with herbs and vegetables. Indeed, fond memories.
To our surprise she added cilantro (you would expect thyme or basil) and many years later we are still grateful for this twist. The cilantro enhances the feeling of summer and it supports the various vegetables in a beautiful way.

We enjoyed our ratatouille with a glass of simple, red wine with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy. A wine that brings summer to your glass.

Here is what you need:

  • Aubergine
  • Courgette
  • Red Bell Pepper
  • Chili Pepper
  • Tomatoes
  • Cilantro
  • Garlic (optional)
  • Olive oil

If you combine 1 of each, with the exception of 3 tomatoes, this will serve 4 people.
Start by cutting the aubergine in small but not too small chunks. Drizzle with salt and mix. Let the mixture rest for a few hours, allowing for the aubergine to loose water and become firm. Best way to do this is by putting the aubergine in a sieve and let it rest above a bowl.
The tomatoes require some attention as well. You could peel them, but that’s optional. What is not optional is to separate the tomato meat and juices from the pits. First step is to remove the internal hard bits and the pits and put these aside. You now have the outer part of the tomato, which you can slice. Cut the remainder of the tomatoes roughly, add to a sieve and by using the back of a spoon make sure you capture the juices. Be surprised about the volume of tomato juice and the small amount of tomato bits that remain in your sieve.
Peel the courgette, slice in the way you sliced the aubergine and fry over medium heat in olive oil. In the mean time cut the bell pepper into long slices and add these to the pan. Continue frying. Add the finely chopped chilli pepper (not the seeds of course). Add the firm aubergine after having removed the remaining salt with water. After a few moments add the tomato chunks, fry a bit more, add the tomato juice (and the optional garlic) and leave on a medium heat for 30 minutes. Try not to stir too much; otherwise you risk creating mashed vegetables. Cool, set aside and store in the refrigerator.
The next day gently warm the ratatouille, add some chopped cilantro, mix and add more cilantro just before serving.

 

 

Last Week’s Special – 23

Mussels with a Spicy Tomato Sauce or Piri Piri and Picpoul de Pinet

Moules marinière, Mosselen met Look, Mussels in Beer, Mussels with Piri Piri and Mussels with Anise, served with crusted bread or with French fries: mussels are great to combine.

But before we start, please read the Mussel Basics.

Mussels with a Spicy Tomato Sauce or Piri Piri is a nice, hot surprise, provided the mussels are really tasty. If they are not, then the spicy sauce will overwhelm the mussels and there will not be a balance in the dish. Mussels with a Spicy Tomato Sauce or Piri Piri is an excellent lunch and a great starter of a more spicy dinner.

In this case we make a spicy tomato sauce. If you go for Piri Piri, then please make your own. The industry-made Piri Piri is never as tasteful.

We enjoyed our mussels with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet AOP les Flamants. Let’s explain the name: the grape is called Picpoul Blanc. And the vinyards belong to a village called Pinet; close to the Etang de Thau in the south of France between Narbonne and Montpellier. The terroir (think calcareous soil, clay, quartz) is influenced by the sea, which is reflected in the mineral taste of the wine. The story is that Picpoul could be read as pique poul which translates into something like ‘stings the lip’; a nice reflection of the high acidity of the grapes. This acidity guarantees a refreshing white wine, which is exceptional given the warm climate. The wine is bright yellow with a very subtle touch of green. It’s aromatic, floral and fruity. The taste has notes of citrus and hopefully some bitterness, which will make it into a really interesting wine. To be combined with oysters, mussels, fruit de mer, skate and fish in general.
Here is what you need:

  • 1 kilo of Mussels (we prefer small ones)
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • 1 Shallot
  • 1 Garlic Glove
  • Bouquet Garni (Parsley, Chives, Thyme)
  • White Whine

And for the sauce:

  • 3 Ripe Tomatoes
  • 1 Shallot
  • Olive Oil
  • 3 Garlic Gloves
  • 1 Red Chilli

Start by making the sauce. Remove the pits from the tomatoes and cut the meat in small chunks. Peel the onion and garlic gloves and glaze these in olive oil. Ten minutes on low heat will do the job. Add the tomatoes and the tomato juice (simply put the pits and the left overs from the tomato in a sieve and use a spoon to squeeze out all the lovely juices and flavours).
Cook for an hour, transfer to the blender and make a very smooth sauce. Transfer back to the pan and reduce until it’s thick.

Warm a fairly big pan and gently glaze the sliced onion in oil and butter. Then add the chopped garlic. Add a glass of white wine and the bouquet garni and cook on low heat for 10 minutes, allowing the tastes to integrate.
Turn up the heat to maximum and when really hot add the mussels and close the pan with the lid. Listen and observe: you will be able to hear when content of the pan is becoming hot again. You will see steam, more steam. Check the status of the mussels. Close the lid, listen and observe. Remove half of the juices from the mussels, then pour the sauce over the mussels and give the pan a good shake before serving, making sure the sauce covers the mussels. We prefer our mussels with spicy tomato sauce or Piri Piri with crusted bread.

 

Last Week’s Special – 12

Consommé of Yellow Tomatoes

 

A bit of magic in your kitchen! This soup requires ‘clarification’ in order to become a true consommé. Clarification is a simple and very effective way of making a liquid clear, regardless if it’s cold (wine) of warm. The goal of clarification is to remove all insoluble matter before serving (or bottling in case of wine). The ‘matter’ is in most cases too small to be removed using a filter. Hence clarification. In this case we use a mixture of tomatoes, basil and egg white, the so-called clarifique.
We use yellow tomatoes to create a bit of a surprise. When you use red tomatoes your guests will immediately guess it’s a consommé of tomatoes. Using yellow tomatoes will definitely surprise them. Plus we think the yellow ones are a bit more gently, fresher, more refined.
You could also use all of the tomatoes for the soup and add ravioli to the consommé: turning it into Ravioli in Brodo.
A quick comment before you start on this week’s special: it’s a bit of work and it requires a bit of patience as well. It’s not your ordinary soup!

Here is what you need:

  • 6 yellow tomatoes
  • 2 Shallots
  • 1 Glove of Fresh garlic
  • 1/2 Red pepper
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Bay Leaf
  • Black Pepper
  • Water
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 2 Egg whites
  • Garlic
  • Basil

Peel all 6 tomatoes by leaving them for 10-15 seconds in gently boiling water. Cool and peel, one by one. Keep the skin. Set 2 tomatoes aside. Chop the 4 tomatoes in smaller bits. Add butter and olive oil to the pan and gently glace the chopped shallot for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and the finely chopped red pepper and leave for 1 minute. Now add the tomatoes and the peel and fry for a minute or so. Then add thyme, rosemary, parsley, bay leaf and water. Bring to a boil and leave to simmer for 45 minutes. Taste and if so required add a touch of black pepper. If you do so, leave for an extra 5 minutes. Adding pepper later on is not a good idea because you want a completely clear soup. Pass through a sieve and cool to room temperature.
Remove seeds and the internal white from the two tomatoes, keeping the outside of the tomatoes only. Set the outside apart. Using a bowl create a mixture of tomato left overs, cooked garlic, lots of basil and the two egg whites. Mix with a spoon and then blender a few seconds. This is the clarifique.
Transfer the soup to a pan and add the clarifique. Stir with a spoon, making sure the mixture is homogenous. Start heating the mixture gently, until just below boiling. Some people will argue it’s should be 80º Celsius, exactly, which we think is not the case. You don’t want it to boil because that will destroy the funny looking cake on top of the mixture. Leave it for 30 minutes. No lid required.
Now use a slotted spoon to remove most of the cake. You can simply throw it away. Pour the liquid into a sieve lined with wet cheesecloth (or a clean cotton kitchen towel if you cannot find a cheesecloth, as long it’s odour free it will work; if not odour free soak in water for 24 hours). And Lo and Behold: you have a clear soup, a true consommé! Just taste it and be surprised! Herbs, even basil and of course tomato.
Cut the remains of the 2 tomatoes in small chunks and put them in a warm soup plate and transfer to the table. Pour the consommé around the tomato and enjoy!