Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pumpkin bread with walnuts and sage

This rich bread made with pumpkin and walnuts is more like a cake. It is very easy to make, ask me for the recipe, if interested.

Why I bake my own bread

started making bread about two years ago. It had been in the pipeline for a while, within my general trend of opting out of processed food, but the tipping point came in May 2014. As we drove down a stretch of the Adriatic between Istria and Montenegro, I noticed that in Croatia it is apparently legally required to display bread ingredients in a visible, readable fashion. Going through long lines of unpronounceable chemical compounds has tripped off the final alarm in my brain. Back in London, I discovered that supermarkets guard such information for their dear lives: from Iceland to Waitrose, none shows what exactly they put in their bread. It took me an arduous, drawn-out email exchange with M&S to get them to reveal what they put in their baguette.

As I started digging around, I found out that the Chorleywood bread process, invented in the UK in 1961 and then spread all over the world, puts speed, bottomline and efficiency ahead of compatibility with how humans digest their food. It turns out that the bastards only let the dough to proof for a few minutes, barely allowing the yeast to break down things that the human stomach is not well equipped to process, such as gluten and various sugars. The latter-day pandemic of  the celiac disease, when people get adverse symptoms from eating bread and pastry, might well be credited to that wondrous innovation introducing the values of capitalist production into your digestive system. 

That's how I got converted into hand-made bread. My two specialties are largely inspired by the wonderful custard-running Gino d'Acampo. Every now and then I diversify and try other recipes, but my two mainstays, week in, week out, still are pagnotta con finocchietto, farmhouse loaf encrusted with fennel seeds, and pagnotta ligure con patate, Ligurian rustic loaf with potatoes and rosemary. I do modify and jazz up the recipes, with quite splendiferous outcomes, so please feel free to contact me, should you fancy a recipe. All pictures here are of my home creations.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Stir-fried limpets: lapas fritas

Lapas (limpets) seem to be a common treat in the Atlantic islands. I first came across them in Madeira, and then all over the Canaries. They are the kind of shellfish that you would see stuck in droves to large rocks submerged in the sea and the bottoms of boats. Like oysters, they probably used to be the poor man's food, but these days they are served in restaurants at quite a price. I tried to recreate the local way of cooking them in our holiday apartment in Fuerteventura.
  1. Rinse 500 g of limpets in a lot of cold water.
  2. Stir-fry half a head of garlic crushed and a bunch of parsley chopped in 3 tbsp of olive oil.
  3. Put the limpets in the pan as you would see them on rocks and fry on medium fire for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Serve with local bread, lemon and white wine.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

World's best Malvasia: El Grifo@Lanzarote

I've never been a big fan of Malvasia, even after drinking my way through the entire stretch of the Adriatic where this grape variety is the white wine: Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Greece. At best it is a resiny drinkable vino, at worst vinegary plonk to chase down copious amounts of food with. It took a wine sampling 90 km off Africa's coast to get me completely converted. At Lanzarote's Bodega El Grifo, Malvasia is grown in jet black volcanic soil, each vine individually submerged in a dug-out crater surrounded by a wall of volcanic rock to protect it from the wind. This ridiculously laborious approach yields tremendous, perfectly balanced whites, with just the right notes of volcanic sulphur. 

The rest of the wines too are simply los nectaros de los dioses (we did not really warm up to the reds though.) Their Malvasia Dulce is out of this world, with exciting floral notes and the perfect level of sweetness, reminiscent of the best Clarette de Die. Their whiskey-coloured Caribi (sherry) and amber-yellow Moscatel too are superbly crafted and highly enjoyable. Each time we left El Grifo laughing with happiness.

The wine tasting is organised very nicely, just the way we like it. Don't believe their website that says you need to book, just go there. For ten euros you get to choose any six wines to be accompanied by some crackers and local goat cheese, smoked and unsmoked. You can enjoy them unhurriedly either inside the tasting rooms or in a patio strewn with volcanic gravel.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Stewed octopus recipe: χταπόδι στιφάδο, jazzed up a tad

Greek recipes are nearly always straightforward, relying on the quality of ingredients to achieve the desired oomph. Even the notoriously difficult to get the knack of avgolemono requires skill rather than any convoluted kitchen gymnastics - and, of course, locally grown organic produce that in Greece is known simply as food. That's, perhaps, why it's so hard to achieve that gobsmacking level of meals so common in Greece when cooking Greek elsewhere.

So I decided to commit a sacrilege and spritz up the good ole octopus stifado with just a couple of very modest innovations. It has proven a major success when I made it for dinner in our vacation house in Lanzarote.

So here are the cooking instructions:

1. Warm up a very generous glug of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the spices you are planning to use to infuse the oil with their essential oils. This time I used adobo canario, to pay homage to the host land.

2. Sautee one and a half heads of garlic until golden brown, then add three finely sliced red onions. Sautee until golden brown.

3. Add one gutted, cleaned and chopped up octopus (about 1 kg weight) as well as one and half heads of garlic broken down in cloves but unpeeled. Turn down the heat and stew until tender. Takes about an hour.

4. Add 700-800 g of chopped tomatoes, salt and ground pepper to taste. Stew 10-15 more minutes.

5. Serve with papas arrugadas - potatoes boiled in skin with lots of salt (or even better n sea water) until they get all wrinkly.