Wednesday, 29 October 2014


I love travelling and I often use food as reminders of the good times I had at certain destinations. For example, when I make coconut ice cream, I immediately think of the fun times I had in Barcelona. It's been years since I was last in Barcelona but I will always remember that hot day after touring the Picasso Museum, then going to an ice cream parlour nearby and treating myself to some amazing coconut ice cream. So good!

But as often I cook food from places I've never been, but very much inspired with, and wishing one day I'll be able to visit them. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through a travel magazine and came across an article about bar scenes in the Netherlands. Though I have actually been to the Netherlands, at the time I was really young and not age appropriate to check out the bar scene. 

In the Netherlands, one of the most popular bar snacks to accompany a glass (or a round) of beer(s) or wine is bitterballen. So, in the spirit of recreating that bar experience at home, that's what I make for dinner tonight.

If you don't know, bitterballen are deep-fried breadcrumb-covered meatballs with creamy ragout fillings. It's crunchy on the outside and soft, meaty gooey in the inside. Bitterballen are traditionally made with beef but use whatever you want, chicken, turkey, veal or even mushrooms if you want to make it vegetarian friendly. This time I opted for minced pork.

These little mouthfuls are so easy to make and if you're making a big batch for larger group, you can make make them in advance and fry for a couple of minutes before serving. Now, this is what you have to do: heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and fry 200 gr of minced pork with half very finely chopped onion, until the mince is brown all over and the onion is soft. Season with salt and black pepper.

Ok, whenever I am cooking with pork, I have this irresistible impulse to add fennel seeds... Perhaps it's the Italian in me. And this time, however untraditional, is no exception. So, if you wish you can add that too. 

Put the fried pork and onion (and fennel) in a bowl and it's time to add more seasoning. First on the list, nutmeg which adds a warm, sweet spicy flavour but use it sparingly. A little bit goes a long way. Then add finely chopped fresh parsley; and the zest and juice of half a lemon. Give everything a stir, taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Set aside.

Melt 25 gr of butter in a saucepan and add a heaped tablespoon of plain flour. Stir the flour around and cook for 2-3 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Gradually stir in milk, just enough to form a thick sauce. This sauce is going to be the glue to bind the pork.

Add the sauce to the meat mixture and mix until well combined. Set aside to cool. I find it is easier to shape the meatballs when the mixture is fridge cold.

One cool, using a measuring spoon, divide and shape the mixture into small balls. About a tablespoon for each ball is perfect. I got 16 meatballs from this mixture. 

Beat one egg in a bowl and some breadcrumbs, I use panko for the extra crunch onto a plate. 

Heat some vegetable oil in a pan. You'll know the oil is hot enough when a breadcrumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into it. 

Dip the balls into the egg and then coat in the panko. Fry the balls for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the balls on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Fry in batches and don't crowd the pan.

Serve with pickled onions and mustard. English is my preference but whatever you have on hand. Also because this boy loves him some bread, few slices of delicious dark pumpernickel bread. An of course, red wine. 

Have a great one my friends... :)

My question of the day, what is your favourite snack to have with a drink?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Orzo Salad with Roasted Pumpkin and Rocket Pesto

The autumn season brings favourites like root vegetables, dark green vegetables and delicious fruits to make crumbles with such as apples and pears. But let's be honest, pumpkins really hog the limelight in this season, especially in October. Though saying that, technically it is not autumn here on the island, but I am celebrating in spirit :)

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an Oktoberfest party and although I had a great time sampling the delicious beers (had my first pumpkin ale and I loved it), I was so excited that they served food too (much needed I think especially when drinking a fair amount). One of the highlights was a pasta salad with roasted pumpkins which was just so good that it inspired me to make it at home... And this is what I came up with.

The pasta I use here is called orzo. It is a bit like rice shaped pasta, although orzo actually means barley in Italian. Because of the little size, they don't take long to cook and actually the rest of the components for the salad is also very quick to make.

I cut the pumpkin into little cubes for quick roasting and also to kinda match the orzo. The pumpkin is seasoned with dried thyme, salt, black pepper and olive oil. 

Dressing the salad is rocket/arugula pesto which I just adore. The peppery-ness from the rocket leaves with the salty and nutty Parmesan cheese, and also the sharpness of lemon work beautifully with the sweetness from the pumpkin. Making the pesto itself is hardly any work... Everything is done in a food processor. Easy-peasy!

For a little crunch and texture, I sprinkled some sunflower seeds. This is a very easy and comforting autumnal salad and I hope you'll give this a go. 

Last but not least, I want to say thank you to everyone for the birthday messages, emails and tweets. They're very much appreciated. I was working on the actual birthday but I did have a nice time with friends afterwards. I made a new friend not a long time ago (who is also new to the island) and coincidentally we share the same birthday, so we went out for dinner with few more friends and the evening ended at a salsa bar where I discovered that perhaps a robot could salsa dance better that I did. 

The following day I hosted a small dinner with more friends and I served this orzo pasta salad among other things, and my friends loved it. I made a bigger amount than the recipe below and if you're fortunate enough to have leftovers, I suggest you have this for breakfast with fried egg and a good dollop of Nigella's spicy and addictive jumbo chilli sauce which help absorb last night's excesses.

Have a great one my friends!

Orzo Salad with Roasted Pumpkin and Rocket Pesto

500 gr orzo pasta
350 gr pumpkin, cut into little cubes
2 tsp dried thyme
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sunflower seeds
Fresh rocket leaves

For the pesto:
100 gr fresh rocket leaves
50 gr pine nuts
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
100 gr freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a sheet pan, spread the diced pumpkin on a single layer and sprinkle with dried thyme, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Give them a toss and bake in a preheated 180 C oven for 15 minutes or until they're fully cooked but still holding their shape.

In the meantime, cook the orzo in a big pot of salted boiling water according to the packet's instruction. Once cooked, drain and give the orzo a quick rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and also to get rid some of the extra starch which may cause the orzo to become sticky.  Transfer to a large bowl. 

To make the pesto sauce, in a food processor, add all the ingredients except for the EVOO. Blitz to mix for a few seconds and with the machine running, gradually stream the olive oil to the desired consistency. Season the pesto with salt and black pepper.

Toss the cooked orzo pasta with the pesto until each grain is well-coated. Taste to check if you need to add a bit more lemon juice, or perhaps a little more grated Parmesan or salt and pepper.  

Add the roasted pumpkin, sprinkle the sunflower seeds and mix again. If you're making this in advance, I would suggest adding the fresh rocket leaves just before serving to keep them fresh.