Vegitalian challenge: Broccoli Cannelloni

Cannelloni, which means “large reeds”, look a lot like penne, but bigger. And - not to make this sound dirty - if it’s big and has a big hole - it can be stuffed. Which is exactly the way cannelloni are (is?) prepared: pasta stuffed with some yummy filling. Now I guess there’s plenty of ways to stuff cannelloni, but Scuola di Cucina suggests a filling of broccoli and cheese. Tasty combination, that much I know from soup and quiche recipes. And it’s vegetarian, so what else could I possibly dream of?
Well, for starters, it would be nice if Dutch cheese stalls would be familiar with Italian cheese. No, obviously they know their Parmesan and Pecorino, but when I asked for Caciotta… “Ca-ci-ot-ta? Never heard of it.” The guy clearly thought I either made or mixed it up. In the end, I settled for pecorino (which was also in the recipe) and some cheese I still had in the fridge that wasn’t in the recipe, but looked slightly similar to the mentioned Ca-ci-ot-ta.

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Once I got the groceries everything else proved pretty straightforward. I must admit I was a bit worried, because I wanted to make the whole thing from scratch. Not just the filling, but also the pasta and the bechamel sause. All at pretty much the same time. Luckily it all went quite well. The cannelloni turned out a bit heavy, probably because I don’t own a pasta machine and just can’t get the dough quite thin enough. Other than that - yumm. Definitely something I’m going to do more often. And of course this is great to experiment with the filling. Spinach, pine nuts, bell peppers…. Mmmouthwatering!

Vegitalian Challenge - Zucchini baskets and soup

Zucchini baskets were on next week’s schedule and once again I decided to start early. The recipe was easy enough: make baskets out of grated parmesan and filled with slices of zucchini, carrots and celery. While a great side dish it’s not nearly enough diner, so I decided to utilize the rest of the zucchini (if there’s one thing I learn from this book is that my guts are more trustworthy than the amounts in the recipe and three zucchini’s definitely seemed like an overkill for four tiny parmesan baskets) and make a zucchini soup. Or, as the book calls it, a zucchini cream. There’s no actual cream in it, but the soup did turn out deliciously creamy. I’m guessing it’s because of the olive oil blended in. I might use some more spice or stock instead of water and salt the next time, just for a bit more flavour, but other than that it’s a great diner soup, rich and delicious. 
So what of the parmesan zucchini baskets, the ones this week was all about? Well, those are definitely a treat. The taste is very balanced, especially for such a simple dish. I’m also thinking of experimenting next time: maybe some pine nuts on top, or using some apple slices with the vegetables?

Vegitalian Challenge - Asparagus Clafoutis

Last weekend we went camping. Now we’re not usually the types to camp, preferring the comfort of… a bed, for example, but this is the one weekend a year we make an exception, celebrating midsummer with a pagan group. Surprisingly, usually these midsummer weekends don’t have much summer about them. This year was no exception. Showers, showers and more showers, the worst one hitting us when we just set up the barbecue and totally soaking us.
Well, there’s not a lot a good glass of mead won’t fix, but like said - it’s not exactly my idea of summer. So I’ll just pretend it’s spring (not that showers should be typical for spring, of course, but well… we áre in the Netherlands) and use that as an excuse to cook with asparagus. The recipe for the clafoutis was pretty simple, though I couldn’t find the required “caprino fresco”, which is a very young variety of goat cheese, so I used cottage cheese instead. It was al right, but I think I’ll try feta next time. Still, it turned out a very nice dish, perfect for a lunch (if you have time, that is, because it took my oven 40 minutes to get the clafoutis right, as opposed to the adviced 10-12mm).

Saturday Mark and I finally got the chance to visit the Olympus Playground. Almost close to home, too: this playground is in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. 

Above: we listen attentively as Brendan de Clercq shows his work and explains studio lighting. Special note: the second picture was shot at ISO 25600 (don’t ask me why, but yes, that is ISO over 9000! Over 25000, even!) and I’m amazed how usable it still is.
Second row: experimenting with the camera, blending a beautiful model with some modern art. 
Third row: stuff to read while waiting.
Fourth row: it’s called a playground for a reason. Mark, climbing some piece of art. 
Last one: lightpainting!

Next week I’ll be out camping (and won’t attempt new recipes with the tools at hand), so this post is a bit ahead of schedule… 

There’s some advantages to living in South Europe (Italy, for example). Such as vegetables growing all year round. Actually, I’m not sure if they do, but it’s the only way I can account for a soup recipe with vegetables that are only available in summer (chard, yes, there it is again!) and those only available in winter (kale and Savoy cabbage). Now how am I supposed to work with that? If you’re wondering what recipe would combine these ingredients: it’s Ribollita, a Tuscany soup packed with all kinds of vegetables.

Wikipedia says Ribollita means “reboiled”, because the soup was traditionally a peasants’ dish, made by reheating left-overs from the previous day. Those left-overs could be different kinds of soup (and I’m sure other dishes as well). That means there’s plenty of room to experiment with the ingredients. That was quite comfy, because while I had no means of finding Savoy cabbage in te middle of June, it was easily replaced with white cabbage. And oh, my beautiful chard kind of died in the course of this week (the irony…), but apparently the soup works just as well with rapini. 

There’s really not that much to say about this soup, other than that while it’s delicious it’s also quite a dish in itself and - in my opinion - is more suitable for late fall or even winter. Yes, the cabbage and cale should have probably tipped me off. Other than that, making the soup is really easy, most of the time was spent on translating Italian, and the result is tasty and provides you with lots of energy. Definitely something I would recommend if you have vegetable left-overs you want to put to good use. 
Next week I’ll be out camping (and won’t attempt new recipes with the tools at hand), so this post is a bit ahead of schedule… 
There’s some advantages to living in South Europe (Italy, for example). Such as vegetables growing all year round. Actually, I’m not sure if they do, but it’s the only way I can account for a soup recipe with vegetables that are only available in summer (chard, yes, there it is again!) and those only available in winter (kale and Savoy cabbage). Now how am I supposed to work with that? If you’re wondering what recipe would combine these ingredients: it’s Ribollita, a Tuscany soup packed with all kinds of vegetables.
Wikipedia says Ribollita means “reboiled”, because the soup was traditionally a peasants’ dish, made by reheating left-overs from the previous day. Those left-overs could be different kinds of soup (and I’m sure other dishes as well). That means there’s plenty of room to experiment with the ingredients. That was quite comfy, because while I had no means of finding Savoy cabbage in te middle of June, it was easily replaced with white cabbage. And oh, my beautiful chard kind of died in the course of this week (the irony…), but apparently the soup works just as well with rapini. 
There’s really not that much to say about this soup, other than that while it’s delicious it’s also quite a dish in itself and - in my opinion - is more suitable for late fall or even winter. Yes, the cabbage and cale should have probably tipped me off. Other than that, making the soup is really easy, most of the time was spent on translating Italian, and the result is tasty and provides you with lots of energy. Definitely something I would recommend if you have vegetable left-overs you want to put to good use. 

Fresh pasta orecchiette with rapini

It looked pretty easy on paper. It often does. An easy pasta, without eggs even, combined with just several other ingredients made for the ultimate sunny-summer-feeling-pictures - perfect for the last week of spring. The result on the picture below is all mine and… I think it looks pretty good!
Well.. it wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. Apparently I messed up somewhere in the process. Or more than once.
First of all the fresh pasta: semola flour combined with ‘00’ flour. I got my flour in a tiny Italian shop, where the sales lady firmly adviced me to stick to just semola, which I did. Nor sure if that’s why the dough was so… soft. The recipe was pretty vague, too: combine the two sorts of flour, add lukewarm water until you have tough dough, then add olive oil for elasticity. Okay, but somehow my dough skipped the “tough” part and went from flaky, straight to… soft. Hmm, maybe I added too much water? Let’s add some more flour! And whoa… it’s flaky again. Back to water then… Noooo, why is it soft?. Okay, never mind, let me just add the olive oil and move on…
Second thing that went wrong: the pasta was too big. Gnocchi-size big. That’s big. Thick, too. Surprisingly it still cooked okay so it tasted like thick pasta, not like a shoe (can I unlock an achievement for that)?
And I’m still not sure if I had to let the pasta dry for some time. Book says no, computer says yes. I went for no, but that’s more due to hunger and laziness (deadly combo) than anything else.
Last but not least (literally): I also have this slight suspicion I might have made too much. Because pasta for two should comfortably fit into a large pan, right? Well, it didn’t. The book didn’t specify the number of servings, too. Mental note for next time: turns out we don’t eat as much as I think we do. 
Surprisingly, despite this first battle with fresh pasta, the result was alright. Rapini, garlic, capers (which I used to replace the recipe-prescribed anchovy) and parmesan cheese could make worse things good and this wasn’t actually bad, it was just well… simply too big pasta. Still… I might have to encorporate more fresh pasta recipes in the challenge. While I deem the result acceptable (for a first time try) the Italian maffia might just come after me for ruining their dishes like that. Gonna try to fully stick to the recipe next time, see how that works out.   
My grandma, an amazing woman and my great example. Smart. Dedicated. Creative. True to herself. She died this day 15 years ago. 

Credits to I think my mom for the photo.

My grandma, an amazing woman and my great example. Smart. Dedicated. Creative. True to herself. She died this day 15 years ago.

Credits to I think my mom for the photo.

Vegitalian challenge - week 0: the Erbazzone

In Russia, we have this saying “a dumb head won’t give the feet any rest”, meaning roughly: if you don’t think before you act, you’ll spend more energy on what you do. I’m a living example of this saying. Usually I think about stuff and do other stuff in the mean time and while it really saves time, sometimes it costs time as well. Like this weekend. But let’s start at the beginning…
I wanted to start early on my Vegitalian challenge, so this weekend I baked an “Erbazzone”. The erbazzone, an Italian specialty from the region Emilia-Romagna (which is, by the way, the region that Bologna, my all-time Italian favorite city so far, is part of), is a lot like a pie, filled with spinach, chard and ricotta. According to wikipedia the traditional erbazzone mostly consisted out of chard, while ricotta is a recent addition to the whole. It’s a pretty easy dish to make, too. The dough only consists of olive oil, flour, a bit of milk and lard (though I used butter) and the filling offers plenty of possibilities to experiment. Which I did, because…
The Dutch word for chard is “snijbiet” (pronounce “snaibeet”) (and mind you, I had no idea the English word is “chard”, I only found the Italian bietole) (bietole is a word which is incredibly similar to the Dutch “biet”-beet, while snijbiet literally translates to cut beet, but let’s leave the language out of this) (I should really stop with all the brackets now). I had heard about snijbiet before, so I went to our local market and asked the marketmen if they had some. They didn’t. “Sorry lady, it’s not really a popular ingredient”. Okay, but there had to be some replacement, right? So I asked for the beet leaves they usually throw away, got quite a lot of those and decided it should be a decent replacement. 
The erbazzone turned out pretty good, no thanks to the chard. The thin crust is crispy, not soft or fluffy, the filling is tasty and a large piece is a decent dinner in itself. 
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Now earlier today, while cooking, I went to check my square foot garden to get some parsley for the recipe. I saw some pretty big leaves in one of the squares. “That must be the Swiss Chard I planted”, I thought. “It’s probably almost time to harvest them. I should really check the internet to see what Swiss Chard is.” Because yes, I am one of those people who seeds without actually knowing what they seed. It looked tasty on the package and that was reason enough to seed the stuff. And five minutes after Mark and I finished eating the Erbazzone I checked the internet, only to discover that the vegetable needed was the vegetable in our garden all along. An additional problem: now I have to find another recipe with chard. Suggestions, anyone?