Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rigatoni with white wine-braised artichokes and peas

Last Tuesday was my name day and we had way too many watermelon and cantaloupe daiquiris, splurged on good sushi and ate one of the best chocolate ice creams I’ve ever had as well as some chocolate ganache tartlets for good measure.

The rest of the week was a bit of a blur. I cleaned the house top to bottom in the middle of yet another mini heatwave (don’t you hate cleaning in the summer?), because we have house guests coming in a few days and they are not used to our mess. Yes, we are messy. I so admire and envy those tidy people who keep their house instagram-ready at all times.

I went shopping, stocking up on things for our guests, for the house, pour moi, and I slept like a log. This heat is making me feel tired all the time and I want to go to sleep from the moment I wake up.

I cooked, just barely, and only because S started complaining about all the raw salads and sandwiches we’ve been having lately. Well, can’t blame him, but you know, in the daily match of heat versus kitchen, heat wins. Truth be told, I was craving something more substantial too, and I also missed sitting down to a proper dinner.

I found some good artichokes at the market and the idea of this pasta dish was born. It was a little summer miracle, even though I had a bit of a hard time with the fresh artichokes that took twenty minutes to clean, but they were so beautiful I couldn’t resist them.

I had capers from Santorini in my fridge, peas in my freezer, a packet of rigatoni in my cupboard and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The dish was absolutely delicious, fresh, and light, with sweet flavor from the peas, meaty, slightly bitter taste from the artichokes, with saltiness from the plump capers and vibrancy from the wine. Overall, a harmonious, lovely, summery pasta dish.

Rigatoni with white wine-braised artichokes and peas, with capers and lemon

Naturally, fresh peas will be even better than frozen as they’ll be sweeter.
If you’d rather not spend your time peeling and cleaning fresh artichokes, use frozen artichoke hearts bearing in mind that they will need more cooking. However, fresh artichokes have a superior flavor. Just sayin’.

Yield: 4 servings

4 fresh globe artichokes, about 300 g each
1 lemon (to use for cleaning the artichoke)

3 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
120 g frozen peas
Grated zest of 1 lemon
250 ml dry white wine (I used Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc)
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
Freshly ground black pepper

A handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
Parmesan, grated
Olive oil, for finishing
Juice of ½ lemon

400 g rigatoni pasta

Special equipment: grater, colander


Peel and clean the artichokes
Fill a large bowl with water halfway and add the juice of 1 lemon. Keep the lemon cups.
Take each artichoke and peel off the leaves, starting from the bottom. Remove all the leaves, including the soft purple ones in the middle. Then remove the hairy choke scooping it out with a spoon. Using a lemon cup, rub well the artichoke center. This will protect it and it will not turn black. With a knife, cut around the artichoke heart in order to remove the hard base if each leaf you have removed and cut off the stem. Rub the artichoke again all around with the lemon cup and place it in the bowl of water and lemon juice.
Continue cleaning the rest in the same way.

In a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pan, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat and add the shallots. Sauté, stirring often until they begin to color, then add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, being careful not to burn it.
Take each cleaned artichoke, cut it into strips (4-5 strips each) and add it to the pan along with the frozen peas, a little salt and pepper, and the lemon zest and sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add the wine, allow it to come to the boil so the alcohol evaporates and turn heat down to low. Put on the lid and simmer, stirring every so often, until the artichokes have softened bur remain al dente. You don’t want them to become mushy. They’ll take about 25 minutes. Five minutes before the artichokes are done, add the capers and stir well.

In the meantime, while the artichokes and peas are cooking, prepare the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the rigatoni. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking. Reserve about 60 ml (1/4 cup) of the pasta water and drain the rigatoni in a colander (but don't shake the pasta), discarding the rest of the water.

When the artichokes are ready, add the drained rigatoni to the pan. Add the lemon juice, half of the parsley, a little pepper and a good grating of parmesan and toss well to mix. If it’s dry, add some of the pasta water to the pan and toss again.

Serve immediately in individual plates. Sprinkle with the rest of the parsley and grate parmesan on top. Drizzle with a little olive oil to finish (and a little extra lemon juice if you wish).

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cooking in a heat wave i.e. staying sane in the kitchen

These past few days, I feel like I’m melting from the heat. It’s 37°C in The Hague! This is the Netherlands, temperatures like these aren’t suppose to happen here. I can’t believe it, and frankly I can barely stand it.

If you too are battling some type of heat wave where you are, and can’t possibly be in the kitchen for more than half an hour or so, let me remind you, or introduce you if you're new here to some of the easiest summer recipes I’ve posted over the past four and a half years on this little blog of mine that are delicious, foolproof and sometimes overlooked in favor of the shiny new ones I post each week.

Fish, meat, pasta, vegetables, salads, lunch, dinner, dessert, refreshing drinks, for you, for your friends, for your family. If you’re looking for quick, easy and delicious summer cooking inspiration, here it is:

I’ll be back soon, well, as soon as this heat permits, with a new recipe. Till then, stay cool!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cherries (and apricots): the dessert

The hardest thing when dealing with cherries is the pitting part. I admire how the French add them to their clafoutis with their pits still in, adding a sense of danger to the innocent act of savoring a pie.

I prefer to err on the side of caution and pit them first. Being accident-prone, it is guaranteed that I will bite hard into one of them and break a tooth. Besides, pitting cherries gives me the opportunity to get lost in my own thoughts for a while, perhaps daydream about the flavor of what’s about to be cooked. That makes the repetitive act a touch more bearable.

I also love how the British and Americans use not only their cherries but all their summer stone fruits; adding them to the bottom of a pie dish, mixing them with sugar and lemon, topping them with some sort of pastry, either flaky, crumbly or otherwise, in order to create their signature pies, crumbles, cobblers and crisps. All types of baked fruit desserts that were unknown to me for the largest part of my life.

Now, I find myself smitten by them and by the fact that even though they are uncomplicated and quick to make, they produce the most flavorful of results. Like this crisp, or crumble, I really cannot understand what the difference is between the two, so let’s call it a crumble. A sweet cherry and apricot almond crumble that while it was baking in my oven the other day, I was filled with anticipation to taste it as my home was overtaken by tantalizing aromas.

When I took it out of the oven, the bubbling red juices from the fruits at the bottom had made their way to the top, piercing through the crunchy topping, creating an irresistible sight.

It may not look as pretty on the plate as a nice triangular piece of glossy, chocolate ganache tart, a fresh-berry tart with crème pâtissière or a puff pastry fruit tart, but as with many desserts containing cooked down, juicy fruits, it is messy, beautiful and oh so delicious.

The cherry juices fill the bottom of the dish and marry with those from the honeyed apricots producing a sweet and sharp symphony of flavors that along with the incredible fruity smell, the plump texture of the cherries and the tender, fleshy apricots, the crunchy, buttery topping with the deep flavor of dark sugar and the hint of gingery spice in the background, as well as the nutty flavor from the almonds, it’s enough to make you want to eat all of it on the spot. It’s a simple yet genius dessert.

Cherry and apricot almond crumble
Slightly adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Even though this dessert requires that you turn your oven on, it is really worth it even if it’s really hot where you are right now. Besides, it doesn’t take more that 15 minutes to prepare. Well, without counting the cherry pitting, but then again you can be brave and add them as they are. Just make sure you inform those who are going to eat it.

The apricots I used were a little on the sour side. If yours are sweeter, you can add less sugar to the filling or a little more lemon juice.

I served the crumble with crème fraîche as I prefer the tanginess that balances the sweetness of the dessert, but you can also serve it with vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream.

Yield: 6-8 servings


for the almond crumble
80 g all-purpose flour
80 g caster sugar
80 g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
80 g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
80 g blanched almonds, coarsely chopped

for the filling
450 g fresh sweet cherries, pitted
450 g fresh apricots, pitted and quartered
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
70 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or the scraped seeds of a vanilla bean)

Special equipment: cherry pitter, round baking dish 22 cm in diameter and at least 5 cm deep, rimmed baking sheet


make the almond crumble
In a medium-sized bowl, add the flour, caster and light brown sugar, ginger, salt and whisk briefly to combine. Add the cold cubes of butter and with your fingertips, rub it in until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the chopped almonds and cut them into the mixture using a knife. Don’t work the mixture too much.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes, so the topping chills.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 190°C.

make the filling
In a large bowl, add the pitted cherries, the pitted and quartered apricots, lemon juice and grated zest, sugar, and vanilla bean paste (or scraped vanilla seeds). Mix well with a spatula until well combined and empty into your baking dish.

Take the topping out of the fridge and scatter it evenly over the fruit, pressing some together between your fingers to create small chunks that will become even more crispy once baked.

Place the baking dish on a thin, rimmed baking sheet to catch any fruit juices that might bubble over and place it on the low-medium rack of the preheated oven. Bake the crumble for 40-45 minutes until the fruits are bubbling and the topping is crunchy and golden brown.

Serve warm with crème fraîche, vanilla ice cream or unsweetened whipped cream.

This type of baked fruit dessert is usually eaten warm but I rather enjoy it cold as well, even straight from the fridge.

You can keep it in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, for a couple of days.