Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 5: kale lasagne

Remember those pre-lockdown trips to the supermarket where shelves were bare? A lot of people complained that it wasn't really possible to 'shop normally' because 'normal' things weren't available. 
In fact I couldn't find any frozen spinach from Talley, but never mind, all the kale was there, sitting alone among the empty spaces previously occupied by frozen peas and mix veggies. I wonder why, I always thought that frozen kale was one of the best frozen veggie out there after mine got all eaten up by bugs! So, lucky for me :-). I use kale in the same way as I would use spinach, and silverbeet too (fortunately still alive in the garden, but either too young or too leaf deprived (by me this time, not by the bugs) to use now. Of course lasagne with kale taste different from lasagne with spinach (or silverbeet) but I love them (btw, to me lasagne is a plural noun, lasagna is just one sheet a pasta).  At the same time I could use the Barilla lasagne I scored when all the other pasta was not available! I usually make fresh lasagne, but I have to say that these ones are super easy to use and quick, and give good results. I wouldn't use any other brand in fact.

Start by cooking the kale. Place the kale in a bowl and let it defrost at room temperature (one pack is 500g, I use it all). Chop a couple of shallots (if you don't have shallots substitute with an onion), and sauté in olive oil, add a little salt and then the defrosted kale and stir well. Cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding more water when needed. Towards the end of cooking add more salt to taste. Let the Kale cool down completely. I cooked mine the day before so I stored it in the fridge overnight. 

Then make a white sauce. Easy version: mix two tbsp of plain flour with a little full cream milk taken from 1 litre to make a paste with no lumps, add most of the milk and 60 g of butter. Bring to the boil stirring constantly, when it is creamy add the rest of the milk and stir well. Add salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. If you like the more traditional version melt the butter, mix in the flour and then add the milk. Procede as above. 

To layer: place a small amount of white sauce at the bottom of a lasagne dish, cover with sheets of pasta, breaking up some to fit your dish perfectly. Add some kale, a little more white sauce and some grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Add more pasta and continue to layer as above, making sure that you have as many layer of pasta as possible: good lasagne have many layers, so keep the kale/white sauce layers very very thin!! Make sure that you keep enough white sauce for the last layer which is just pasta completely covered with white sauce and grated Parmigiano.

Bake at 180℃ for 45 minutes, or until you get a nice crust. Cover with tin foil or a lid and let it sit for 20 minutes (in the warm oven if you like) before serving. Or if serving later on in the day keep covered and then reheat in the oven for 20 minutes.

Easy to cut and I love a bit of crunch on the crust and the creamy white sauce just underneath!  

I also used kale to make Palak Paneer, just in case you don't like Lasagne :-)

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 4: lentil salads, i.e. making the most of 'poor' ingredients

Dried lentils are another 'staple' in my pantry, and I also noticed that while aisles of cans of beans were getting low at the supermarket, packets of dried lentils were still available. Good, because they are cheap and they go a long way, plus they are full of protein and very versatile: you can make soups, stews, curries, lasagne, side dishes or basically add them anywhere to 'increase' the size of your dishes and fill your belly. Because the weather is still nice I'll propose some salads, throwing in some fresh greens, edible flowers and a bit of NZ foraging too :-). All of these salads will serve heaps of people and last a few days in the fridge, in fact they taste better on the second day, giving the lentils time to absorb flavour from the dressing. So I usually make heaps and then before serving I take out what I need and I add the fresh greens and the flowers on the spot.

Lentils with flowers and leaves

500 g brown lentils
1 leaf bay
water and salt for boiling
extra virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar
salt to taste
mixed salad leaves
sliced radishes
tomatoes (cherry or cubed)
fresh herbs (like basil, parsley)
edible flowers

Soak the lentil overnight, then rinse well, add plenty of water, a bay leaf and a pinch of salt. Cook until 'al dente', or as soft as you like (but not mushy). Drain and briefly rinse under cold water. Place in a mixing bowl with the radishes and tomatoes, add extra virgin olive oil, white balsamic vinegar (to taste, but make sure that the ratio oil to vinegar is 2 to1), and some salt to taste. Line a serving plate or large shallow bowl with mixed salad leaves (leave a few small ones for the top), spoon the lentils on top, then sprinkle with the remaining salad leaves, herbs and petals (I used verbena, dianthus, and cornflowers).

Same recipe again but with broad beans and different flowers

 This time I added more tomatoes and also broad beans (just the frozen broad beans, to prepare them just cover them with boiling water and then remove the hard skin and they are ready to eat!) . Mix the lentils, broad beans and tomato with the dressing ingredients and place on a bed of mixes salad leaves. To decorate I used calendula, borage and dianthus petals.

With kahikatea berries

Here is another version with a bit of foraging from the New Zealand Bush! The kahikatea berries are ripening, it takes a long time to collect them but they are a welcome addition to a salad. You will need to remove the black blue seed and wash the berries delicately though. 

500 g brown lentils
1 leaf bay
water and salt for boiling
extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
frozen broad beans
kahikatea berries
calendula petals

Soak the lentil overnight, then rinse well, add plenty of water, a bay leaf and a pinch of salt. Cook until 'al dente', or as soft as you like (but not mushy). Drain and briefly rinse under cold water. Place in a mixing bowl, add extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and the broad beans (just use the frozen broad beans, cover them with boiling water and then remove the hard skin so that they are ready to eat and bright green). Mix well and then top with the kahikatea berries and calendula petals.

Last one for the day

And here yet another salad (same basic recipe again, use either lemon juice or white balsamic vinegar) and more flowers: nasturtium, borage, verbena, poppy, marigold, dianthus, and cornflowers.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, March 30, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 3: Banana blossom salad with tofu, coconut and other yummy things

I couldn't help noticing how many Auckland home gardens have a banana plant flowering at this time of the year, and I always wonder how many people actually eat their bananas, or their blossom.
Well, the bananas are delicious once they are ripe, and the blossoms.... truly special! I already have a couple of recipes here, (Noodles with banana flowers and a step by step banana blossom and potato salad), and yesterday I finally picked this year blossom and decided on an aromatic salad with fresh coconut flesh and tofu.

Cut the blossom and discard all the pink leaves and little flowers (they can be eaten too if you like, but the blossom is my favourite part).

Prepare a bowl with cold water and plenty of lemon juice, then cut the blossom into very thin strips and place in the lemon water as soon as you cut each slice. The centre of the blossom is made up of more little flowers like the ones above, just more tender, they will cut into small pieces as you slice the blossom. The lemon water will prevent the banana blossom to turn brown, but also will take away that sticky tangy taste. Leave in the lemon water for at least 30 minutes.

Keep the pink petals for decorations, or for 'plates' for your salad.

After 30 minutes (or more) drain the banana blossom and rinse well under cold running water, shake the water off and place into a bowl. Add a finely chopped shallot, and some finely cut capsicum or chili. I had three small black capsicums from my garden, a little hot but not too much, so I used those. Add soy sauce and lime juice (about two to one) and a tsp of coconut sugar (or other sugar).

Stir well, this is the marinade. I added a few leaves of Vietnamese mint and then fitted another bowl over the marinade, with a weight.

Like this. This way the vegetables get pressed and 'cook' in the marinade. Stir from time to time to make sure that all the veggies are well pressed. Leave for at least 3 hours.

In the meantime I prepared the 'sweet' ingredients to add to the salad, using what I had: a couple of grated carrots, a few boiled green beans and a fresh coconut. For the coconut, make a hole and drain the water, then break the coconut with a machete and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. Rinse well.

Before serving I added the carrots, beans and coconut to the marinated vegetables and stirred well. The contrast of textures and flavours made this salad very special, perfect to accompany soft tofu, but also good to dress hot noodles (so you don't waste all that yummy marinade).
Well, I hope this was interesting for you to read, of course you don't need coconut of tofu or anything fancy, carrots and/or cucumber can suffice, and if you don't have shallots use onions... the only things that are really essential in my opinion are lemon and/or lime juice and soy sauce, for the rest just improvise and you will be able to say that you ate a banana blossom too!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 27, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 2: Mont Blanc with chestnut cream and chickpeas

The lockdown for me is a chance to clean up the pantry, instead of concentrating in stocking up with too much food. I always have a full pantry anyway, one of the advantages of leaving a bit out of town perhaps, but also many bags a quarter full that beg to be finished, or cans of food kept in the emergency kit which need rotating anyway. I found a can of sweet chestnut spread which I bought ages ago, I usually combine it with fresh chestnuts or canned chestnuts (not sweet) but I had none. I have plenty of chickpea cans though, and chickpeas are good for making desserts too! Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco, is one of my favourite desserts, Mum used to make it a lot when I was a child because we have a chestnut wood in Italy, and the nuts were our staple all winter long. 

Drain the chickpeas and keep the water aside. This can be used to make vegan meringues (recipe here), or vegan fresh pasta (recipe here), or many other recipes. Then rinse the chickpeas under running water and mush them with the nutri-bullet (not as fine like hummus, leave a little 'texture'. Combine with the chestnut spread and some grated dark chocolate (to taste). The chestnut spread is soo sweet that you won't need to add any sugar.

Mix well, then whip 300 ml of cream and add half to the mixture, one spoon at the time.
Vegans can use coconut cream, like in this recipe here!

Fold the cream in slowly, trying to keep the mixture light.

Like this.

Now spoon the mixture over a plate and shape like a mountain.

Cover with the remaining cream,

Top with more grated dark chocolate,

And decorate, if you like. I used my last blueberries and the first Cape Gooseberries from the garden, and some candied Poppies (recipe here).

Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. Delicious, lots of proteins, gluten free and no cooking required, and no guessing that there are chickpeas there!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Covid-19 lockdown recipe 1 - homemade Vegan meat

We are preparing to go to lock-down due to the spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand, this is a sad and difficult situation, and supermarket shelves often are bare of some essentials. So I will try to do a few posts with tips about cooking with ingredients that may actually be available (or am I the only one buying them?), are affordable, and go a looooong way. For example, the other day there was no flour or yeast to be found, except for some specialty flours, like corn or coconut or gluten .... one of my essentials, which I always have at home. Actually, I had these packets pictured above in the pantry already, and it seems that the packaging has recently changed, you can see it here

I usually add a little gluten flour to my pizza, focaccia and bread dough, but there is another use for this wonderful product: you can make your own vegan meat at home!!!

Easy to make, low cost and versatile, with a 500g pack (about $7.00, the new packs are 300g, listed at $4.79 in Countdown) you get about 1kg or more of finished product' and can eat for days and days and days. I like to make 'fillets' and strips, suitable for different uses. Put the gluten flour in a bowl and add seasoning (a little salt, or herbs, or what you like, even a little olive oil if you like it 'fatter'. Then add the same amount of water and mix with one hand until you get an elastic dough. Squeeze out any excess water (usually just a little if none) and set aside for 10 minutes. Cut into very thin slices with a serrated knife.

Or use scissor for thinner strips.

Place one slice at the time in a large pot of simmering vegetable broth (use plenty of broth for 500g of gluten flour, as it makes many slices and they will grow while simmering). Cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

When the 'meat' is ready pick up piece by piece and place on a couple of clean cotton tea towels to dry for 10-20 minutes. Now it is ready to use for you favourite recipes (use the remaining stock to make soup, it is perfect for ramen!!!). If you are not using it straight away place in a sealed glass or plastic container and store in the fridge for up to two weeks (or freeze for longer periods). 

When you need a few slices just take out and sauté with a little oil in a skillet. One of my favourite uses is to brown the slices on both sides and then add some lemon juice and soy sauce and put them in a panino, or on top of rice or ramen noodles. For a smoky flavour substitute soy sauce and lemon for liquid smoke, for a mediterranean flavour, sauté in olive oil flavoured with garlic cloves, rosemary and/or sage, then sprinkle with salt (and lemon juice, if you like). Pizzaiola style: olive oil and garlic, then add some tomato paste, a little water to mix, salt and dried oregano. Add to stews and curries, cut into strips for a stir-fry (perhaps with some sesame oil, or chili), use to top bowls of noodles... this Vegan meat, also known as seitan, is super versatile, and also very filling (remember, pure gluten after all, you only need a few slices at time, just like for meat). Enjoy!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Vignola - Italy

The town of Vignola, in the province of Modena, is mostly famous for its cherries, and if you visit in spring all the hills are full of cherry blossom, and with cherries in June. When I was 16 I also picked cherries for a couple of weeks in one of the valleys near Vignola, hard work but what delicious fruits!

Anyway, this time I was there in winter, not a cherry in site so I had to console myself with the town's most famous cake: Torta Barozzi, a bittersweet soft chocolate cake, created in 1907 and named after Vignola's famous architect Jacopo Barozzi.

After breakfast in the famous Pasticceria Gollini it is time to visit Vignola Castle

Such amazing frescos....

... and a ghost???

The city is cute and tranquil, no tourists around, but there are some excellent restaurants, so much as many people from nearby cities and towns come here just to eat. Below just a few suggestions (but you better book first, especially for Trattoria Bolognese!)

Photos by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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