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Italian Recipes

28 April 2010

Crab and barramundi ravioli


I promised the follow-up crab and barramundi ravioli and here it is! It was a cheat's version as I used store-bought egg-based wonton wrappers. It worked a treat and is a great shortcut for those of us who are time-starved... And hungry.

The filling was one I used in my last recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms. It's a winner. The kind of filling you just eat straight out of the mixing bowl with a big spoon.

This is going to be a short post. Thank you for all your messages, comments and emails. Up next, a strawberries and cream crepe cake.

Continue reading "Crab and barramundi ravioli" »

28 February 2010

Crab and barramundi-stuffed zucchini blossoms


A few weeks ago as part of my cheffing course I did two days of work experience in a local Italian restaurant famed for it’s house-made pastas and bread and simple, rustic fare.

I was pretty nervous on my first day having no real restaurant experience and conscious of the fact that the kitchen was tiny and I’d more than likely be a hindrance than help.

Despite the size of the kitchen and the erratic environment the head chef was patient, attentive and a brilliant teacher. I walked away from my brief stint excited, inspired and dying to try out some of the dishes at home.

One of my jobs over the two days was to stuff the ravioli. Sounds a little dull perhaps but I reveled in the task. The filling was a mixture of blue swimmer crab, snapper, mascarpone and chives.

The paper-thin ravioli was served simply dressed with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with peppery rocket punctuated by salty shavings of dried mullet roe. Gorgeous.

I recently re-created the dish at home sans roe. And since my pasta machine is still in storage (yes, it’s been almost a year) I cheated and used wonton wrappers. A good substitute if you’re in a rush. It was divine. I’ll be sharing the recipe in my next post.

I made a little too much filling and decided to use it to stuff zucchini blossoms. A good decision. I used barramundi as opposed to snapper as it was half the price but beautiful nonetheless. The zucchini blossoms were coated in a light batter and then fried for about two minutes. It’s a wonderful appetizer but one that needs to be eaten straight away to appreciate the delicate crunch and oozing filling.

For a refresher on how to stuff and fry zucchini blossoms, click here.

Continue reading "Crab and barramundi-stuffed zucchini blossoms" »

27 January 2010

Sicilian Anchovy Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs


I haven’t had the pleasure of exploring Sicily yet however it’s on my ever-expanding list of places to visit.

When I do go, I’ll be eagerly seeking out ‘pasta c'anciova e muddica’ – anchovy pasta with toasted breadcrumbs.

I've recently introduced a new addition to the pasta -- the poached egg. And it's here to stay.

The rustic recipe features in my household at least once a week. Even when I’ve run out of most basic of fridge staples like milk and bread, I know I’ve got jars or tins of plump anchovies, bread crumbs and chili flakes at hand.

I have to admit however that my love for the anchovies is rather recent. For many years, my feelings towards anchovies were dominated by teenage memories of my tongue being assaulted by the vile little fish often found scattered over other people's pizzas.

Now it’s hard to imagine my kitchen without them. Whether used in Sicilian pasta, a Caesar salad or a creamy mayonnaise, good anchovies lend that burst of sweet, salty pungency that’s hard, if not impossible, to substitute.

I read somewhere once that physically, anchovies can be treated much like garlic. They can be finely chopped and stirred into a vinaigrette or compound butter. Pounded into smooth paste to intensify a creamy risotto or sautéed whole with onions and garlic to form the delicious base of a pasta or stew.

Good anchovies should taste of the sea but not be overly fishy. They come salt or oil-packed in jars or tins. After sampling many different brands, I have found the best-tasting anchovies to hail from the coast of Spain. I opt for fillets stored in extra virgin olive oil. They are more intensely flavoured without the piercing saltiness of salt packed anchovies.

Continue reading "Sicilian Anchovy Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs" »

04 May 2009

Smoked Trout Rissoni


Today I'm celebrating 'almost a month of being back in Australia Day'.

I've stocked our temporary mini-kitchen with the basics although I am finding it tough to cook like I used to. I'm feeling rather lost without my pots and pans and my exhaustive selection of herbs and spices.

All these items, minus the herbs and spices due to Australia's stringent customs laws, are neatly packed away in boxes sailing across the Pacific Ocean. They're due to arrive in another two weeks providing they haven't been lost, fallen overboard or mistakenly shipped to Patagonia. Apparently these things happen.

In the meantime, I'm surviving very well on simple meals. I'm living next door to a constant source of inspiration, who recently served me a mouthwatering meal of grilled salmon and spinach rissoni with Greek feta melted through it. Gorgeous.

I made the dish today, this time substituting salmon with smoked trout. I also added some fresh basil, dill and lemon juice. To better achieve the desired effect of warm, stringy, melted cheese, I use cow's milk feta for its extra creamy consistency.

In comparison to Canadian smoked fish, Australian smoking methods seem to produce a milder and more subtle effect.

The simple combination of feta, spinach and smoked trout was so complementary that threw them into my scrambled eggs the next morning. It was one of the best breakfasts I've had in ages.

Continue reading "Smoked Trout Rissoni" »

14 February 2009

Himalayan Truffle Pasta


The truffle, a highly prized subterranean fungi, may be the last thing on people's minds in these troubled economic times. With a one ounce truffle costing up to $165, you can imagine my shock to see a basket of fresh black truffles at South China Seas Trading Company selling for $10 each. This must be some kind of mistake!

I tenderly picked a truffle up and sniffed it. While the tuber did have the smell of damp earth, that distinctly pungent truffle musk was missing. It turned out that the truffles were of the Chinese variety, grown in foothills of the Himalayas.

Himalayan Truffles look like your average truffle on the outside. They are knotty and knobbly, a dirty black-brown color, a little smaller than European truffles -- about the size of a walnut. On the inside, they are jet black, with cream-coloured, marbling.

French and Italian truffles grow symbiotically with trees such as the oak, beech, hazel or chestnut while Himalayan truffles predominantly grow near pine trees or other conifers.


It is said that unscrupulous restaurants sometimes pass of Himalayan truffles by enhancing them with  truffle oil or butter. Don Dickson, owner of South China Seas Trading Co, opined that this masquerading has "resulted in Himalayan truffles being negatively regarded as fakes rather than just being appreciated for what they are".


I tasted a sliver of the truffle and decided that it wouldn't hurt to saute them. If anything, it heightened their delicate flavour.

First, I sauteed some onions in olive oil and butter, I added finely chopped garlic, followed by slivers of truffle which I seasoned with flor de sal and then sauteed them for several minutes. I added a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley and gave the pan several flips. Finally, I threw in the cooked fettucine and tossed it around to coat it. Simple and delicious.

Continue reading "Himalayan Truffle Pasta" »

03 February 2009

Ricotta Ravioli with Dark Chocolate Sauce


A few months ago I wrote about my first experience with chocolate pasta. Since then I've often thought about the endless possibilities of sweet flavour combinations.

After a recent pasta-making class at Quince cooking studio in Vancouver, I promptly raced out and finally bought a pasta machine.

The cooking class was taught by chef Adam Pegg of La Quercia restaurant. Pegg studied in Italy for several years and spent much of his time studying pasta-making techniques in the Emilia-Romagna region. Emilia-Romagna is considered by many in Italy to produce some of the country's finest fresh pasta.

Pegg recalled his good fortune in spending many a day with little old ladies in their homes learning how to perfect their craft. Even as a young man Pegg couldn't keep up with the dexterous workings of those seasoned veterans. 

During class we learned how to make orecchiette (little ears), mini gnocchi, fettucine and ravioli. I've been wanting to make my own ravioli for a while, especially paper-thin sheets, which I think, makes for the best ravioli.

So I bought my new machine this Sunday morning past and set it to work as soon as I got home. Our glass dining table became a mini pasta workshop. The flour was flying. Several happy hours later I was serving ricotta and lemon zest-filled ravioli topped with a dark chocolate sauce, followed by fettucine served with shaved Himalayan truffles (the poor man's truffle, but more on that next week).

The ravioli was sublime. If you don't have a pasta machine and can't be bothered making your own then you could always substitute the pasta with Chinese dumpling wrappers but there's just something about freshly made pasta that cannot be topped.


Continue reading "Ricotta Ravioli with Dark Chocolate Sauce" »

08 August 2008

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms


The delicate flower of young zucchini is something I look forward to each summer. They are a real delicacy in most countries however, they grow in abundance in their native Central America.

When I was in Oaxaca, Mexico, I'd see mountains of the flowers being sold in the local markets. Not so in Vancouver. So when I did finally see the prized blossom I bought as many as I could. I bought both male and female blossoms. Female blossoms grow directly out of the zucchini fruit whereas the male flowers grow directly on the stems of the plant.

Using the word 'stuffed' with 'zucchini blossoms' just seems wrong on all levels however I cannot find a better word and judging by all the other recipes out there, neither can anyone else. I looked up 'stuff' in a thesaurus and some of the synonyms included 'overload', 'force', 'ram' and 'jam'. All wrong. I was hoping to find a word that would better describe the way you have to tenderly fill the blossoms with the ingredients.

I guess sometimes literality trumps sounding pretty and delicate because the blossoms are literally stuffed with a creamy mixture of ricotta, garlic, fresh basil, egg and a little salt. They are then dipped in a light batter of flour and soda water and then deep fried for a few minutes.


While it almost seems a sin to deep fry such a delicate thing the result is worth it because they remain just as delicate to eat. The batter coats the flowers ever so lightly but still has a satisfying crunch when you bite into its warm, creamy centre.

Continue reading "Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms" »

06 August 2008

Smoked Salmon Pizza with Caramelized Onions


There some people who have serious aversions to things that I love such as coriander and onions. These are two ingredients that I can't live without and that feature prominently in my day-to-day meals.

These 'people' to whom I refer to is actually a girlfriend of mine who also happens to be a vegetarian or more a pescatarian. She hates onions. especially when they are raw. She will go to great lengths to pick out the offending vegetable from her food and always avoids anything on the menu that may contain them.

For her birthday I treated her to a summer seafood cooking class. We went together and were eagerly anticipating the night's seafood bounty. You can imagine both of our silent horror when several of the recipes prominently featured ONIONS. I cast a sideways glance at her and she at me. We giggled and then both settled into a heavy silence. I said "um, maybe you can push them to the side" to which she replied sweetly, "oh yes, it'll be fine...I'm sure it'll all be delicious."

We watched nervously as the chef prepared the first dish, a smoked salmon pizza with caramelized onions. He dexterously peeled and sliced 15 large brown onions all the while chatting about the process of caramelizing the ominous mountain of onions. She gulped.

Continue reading "Smoked Salmon Pizza with Caramelized Onions" »

21 July 2008

Treat yourself to roasted garlic & prawn pasta


Sometimes it's nice to eat something special for no special reason. Whether it's when you want to impress or just because, this roasted garlic & prawn pasta is delicious in its simplicity.

The tomato sauce is a mixture of fresh, ripe roma tomatoes, sweet basil, onion, roasted garlic and chili flakes. The prawns are lightly sautéed in butter and white wine and then mixed in with the sauce just before serving.

The pasta is fresh angel hair that I buy from my local Italian grocer.

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06 July 2008

Pillows of Love: Homemade Gnocchi


Gnocchi are surprisingly easy to make...once you've mastered them a few times that is. The texture and taste of homemade gnocchi is far superior to the pre-made stuff, hence the title: 'pillows of love'.

It is important to use floury potatoes like russets when making the gnocchi as the dough needs to be light and airy. I did try using Yukon potatoes once and the gnocchi was more like 'pillows of lead'.

I made the pesto using a very sharp, good quality kitchen knife instead of a mortar and pestle and I much preferred the results. The pesto takes about 15 minutes to chop in which time I'm totally intoxicated by the smell of the young, sweet basil (which has been sprouting enthusiastically from my window box).

What follows are step-by-step photos and instructions to help you make fresh pesto and homemade gnocchi. Bear in mind, that gnocchi is one of those hit and miss affairs rather like souffles. Their success is dependant on a whole range of factors including the type of potatoes used, the consistency of the mashed potato (don't over mash) and the quickness with which you work.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Use russet potatoes
  • Boil them with their skins on
  • Remove the potatoes one by one from the boiled water and peel them straight away
  • Quickly mash them with a fork or put them through a ricer while they are still hot. Don't over mash them.
  • Let them cool for 10 minutes but no longer
  • They should still be fluffy when you mix the egg and flour with them 

Continue reading "Pillows of Love: Homemade Gnocchi" »

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