Freekah, Mint Pesto and Vegie Bowl (Vegan)

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (2 of 5)

I guessed that by this time of the summer, the mint scattered along the side of the house would have flourished, perhaps even enough for a pesto.  The crop started many years ago as a couple of tiny plants, one of regular mint and one of chocolate mint.  The chocolate mint has never served a purpose per se, but I defy any of you to walk past a cute little pot of emerald green leaves that smells ever so slightly of an After Eight mint without wanting it in your garden.

At some point in the history of the garden, both plants escaped the pots, intermingled and took up their sprawling residence in the garden bed along the side of the house.  It’s a little unruly, this part of the yard.  Little chartered territory given a slightly more dangerous edge by the stump of the lemon tree that my dad had to chop down owing to its infestation of ominous looking black citrus bugs with their toxic venom.  Definitely not for barefoot wanderings.

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (4 of 5)

Be-sandaled and armed with a basket and scissors, I made my way around the Tulsi (holy basil) and picked my way among the weeds, past the stumpy citrus.  Squeezing around the water heater, I was met with a lush mint crop large enough to supply a toothpaste factory.  A pesto was surely in order.  I tossed it with freekah (a type of cracked wheat) and with a few fresh vegetables, it made the freshest, most healthful lunch I’ve had in some time.  Sweetcorn is a must I think but as far as other vegetables go, You can pretty much pick your favourites.  I threw in carrot and snowpeas, but cherry tomatoes, blanched asparagus or broccoli, or pan-fried zucchini would work beautifully.

Want more healthy and filling vegetarian salad ideas? Try this lentil salad or quinoa salad.  Or screw the salads and make this fudge 🙂

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (1 of 5)

Freekah, Mint Pesto and Vegetable Bowl

Get:

3/4 cup dry Freekah
1 ear of corn
Olive oil
Other vegetables according to preference
Small handful sunflower seeds.

For the Mint Pesto:
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup loosely packed baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp almond meal
1/2 hot chilli
Small garlic clove (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
A good squeeze of lemon juice
Salt to taste

Make:

Place Freekah on the stove with twice the amount of water and 1 tsp salt.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 mins until cooked.  It should be tender but still a little firm and nutty. Drain, rinse  and set aside.

At the same time, boil the peeled corn in salted water in another pan for about 10 min.  Rub the corn with olive oil and char on an open flame or in the grill.  With a knife, carefully cut the corn off the cob.  Prep the other vegetables.

To make the pesto, blitz all the pesto ingredients (start with 1/2 tsp salt and add more to taste) in a food processor until a rough paste is formed.  Taste and add salt or lemon juice as needed.

Toss the pesto through the freekah.  Divide into 3 or 4 bowls.  Top with corn and whatever vegetables you choose. Finally, sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Freekah Mint Veg Bowl (3 of 5)

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Comfort…..

……is that old pair of jeans that has molded perfectly to every curve of your body.  The ones that used to be a bright azure denim but now, after a hundred washes and many more wears, is a murky blue-grey shade of its former self.  Comfort is slipping these on, feeling them conform to your skin obediently and diligently ignoring that thinning area over the backside that one day is bound to give up the ghost, taking your dignity with it.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (1 of 4)

Comfort is bare feet.  The liberation you feel when you open the front door, kick off the shoes, stretch the toes and feel plush carpet between them.  It is going to the cinemas in your sweatpants and no make-up.  Comfort watches movies on the couch on New Years’ Eve while the world packs picnics, braves the crowds and catches trains home after midnight, blinking under fluorescent lights.

Comfort is a hug with one who you have hugged for so long that both your shapes have long ago imprinted into one another.

And yet comfort may be something else, like talking on a friend’s couch for hours about nothing and everything all at once.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (4 of 4)

Comfort is edible.  It is dhal, hot and salty, gingery and lemony, popping with cumin.  It is a roast potato with plenty of butter, solid to slippery liquid as it hits the steaming flesh.  It is hot chocolate, cold beer or a well-earned glass of wine.

Comfort is cheese and pasta.  Mac ‘n’ cheese.  Waistline defying mouthfuls of perfectly yielding pasta in a melty yellow matrix.  Throwing nutrition and caution to the wind to embrace it, comfort on a plate.

This one is from a cookbook which is the latest offering in the delicious. series by Valli Little, titled Love to Eat (ABC Books, Harper Collins).  The book navigates the home cook through a global journey, with each section holding recipes that are Valli Little’s take on flavours of that part of the world.  Comfort from each of the world’s corners.  For lovers of this series, this latest addition doesn’t disappoint, with practical and mouth-watering recipes that any home cook can tackle.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (5 of 1)

I have my eye on the Kashmiri Prawns from the Indian section and the Chilli Chocolate Puddings of Latin America.  But for now we have this Mac ‘n’ Cheese slice.  I used emmental instead of gruyere, rosemary instead of thyme based on what I could get my hands on at the time.  I unceremoniously dumped in a whole 500g boxful of pasta rather than the recommended 400g and found the recipe still worked well.  I also stopped short of pan frying the slices dusted with flour, mainly due to sheer laziness, but I’m sure this would add an extra layer of decadence.  The pasta I used was one from the Barilla gluten-free range, a shape that is cutely named ‘elbows’.  I wrapped the slices individually, refrigerating some to eat within three or four days, and freezing some.  They thawed very well and made a perfectly convenient lunch to look forward to.

What is your Comfort?

Disclosures: My copy of Love to Eat was sent to me by Harper Collins Australia, and pasta was provided by Barilla, but all opinions are my own.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (3 of 4)

Mac ‘n’ Cheese Slice

From delicious. Love to Eat, Valli Little

Makes 7-9 serves

Get:

400-500 g macaroni or similar shaped pasta
Olive oil, to drizzle
2 cups milk
1 onion, halved
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme or rosemary
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
80g unsalted butter
1/4 cup plain flour
1 1/4 cups strong cheddar, grated
1 1/4 cups gruyere or emmental cheese, grated
1 1/4 cups parmesan, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
Plain flour, to dust (optional)

Make:

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss to combine and set aside.

Combine milk, onion, bay leaves, nutmeg and herbs in a saucepan over medium heat adn bring to a simmer.  Set aside for 30 min to infuse.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Grease and line a large baking dish with greaseproof paper.

Melt 40g butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 mins.  Strain the milk into the pan, discarding the solids. Whisk the mixture until smooth and thickened.  Add the cheeses and stir to melt and combine.  Add the egg and stir to combine.  Season with freshly ground pepper and salt if needed.

Take the pan off the heat and add the pasta, toss to coat.  Transfer the mixture to the lined oven dish and spread evenly.  Bake for 30 mins or until the top is golden. Allow to cool completely then refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Optional:

Cut mac ‘n’ cheese into 7 to 9 slices and dust with flour.  Melt the remaining 40g butter in a frypan and cook each slice as needed for 2-3 mins on each side until golden and crisp.

Mac and Cheese Valli Little (2 of 4)

Tuscany in Transit

The man sat on a platform bench, directly in my line of sight as I peered out of the water-stained window of the train carriage.  His shirt hung completely open and the dazzling rays of the Tuscan sun reflected off the curves of his generous belly.  The equally reflective surface of his bald head was surrounded by a thick ring of dark, unkempt hair that spilled over the tops of his ears.  He held a brown glass bottle in one hand which he rested on his knee.  An unlit cigarette dangled from the fingers of his other hand.  It was lit as if on schedule by a passing man of about the same age who was, bafflingly, wearing a knitted beanie and sweater.  Large sunglasses were perched on the bare-chested man’s nose, heightening the sense that he should be the head of a crime ring in some Hollywood movie.  He held a grotesque fascination for me and before my train pulled away from Pistoia station, I fought the urge to take a picture, reminding myself that I was in his direct line of vision just as he was for me.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 1

The train I was on was headed for Lucca, a walled city about 140 km from Florence.  Almost three hours earlier, I had entered Santa Maria Novella Station after a brisk twenty minute walk along the sun-baked streets of Florence.  I had approached a small biglietteria, a stall selling tickets for the buses that stopped on either side of the city’s main station.  There, I met the very first impolite person I had come across in Florence, an insipid man who reminded me (in appearance but not in attitude) of my high school economics teacher.  He had set his mouth, sliced his hands through the air and in no uncertain terms told me “Lucca? NO!” promptly turning away as if I had just asked for his bank account details.

A more kindly man at another stall had told me that he too did not sell bus tickets to Lucca, but that if it was him, he would take the train.  I needed no more reasons to opt for the train, especially as I hadn’t been looking forward to the queasiness that I often experienced on drives along winding roads.

Through a combination of my suboptimal touristic Italian and my misreading of the train boards (who knew that they would have both departure and arrival information?), I failed to board one train and had to wait an hour for the next one.  It gave me the opportunity to explore Santa Maria Novella station.  The hub of the Florentine rail and bus networks, it’s imposing ceiling was what kept drawing my eyes upwards.  An intricate arrangement of criss-crossed steel beams supporting panes of grey tinted glass looms over scores of purposeful commutors and bewildered tourists. It’s cavernous underside houses a string of shops selling anything from cheap clothing, to mobile phones and gelato.  The shopping was not exactly a must-do in Florence, but an acceptable way to while away half an hour or so, if one happens to misread the train time signs.

All that speed-walking around a city and missing of perfectly good trains makes one hungry and so I picked up a pizzetta (mini pizza) at a nearby pasticceria.  The round of flaky puff pastry was smeared with pizza sauce and topped with good prosciutto, a puddle of mozzarella and sprinkling of herbs.  It was a simple but satisfying snack that proved to be worth the train mishap.  I picked up another for the journey and vowed to replicate the recipe in my own kitchen.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 2

Finally aboard the train, I settled into one of the comfortably cushioned seats and set my bottle of water on the tiny table.  In front of me was a young African woman who was engaged in a very loud and animated phone conversation, seemingly oblivious to the annoyed looks she was receiving from other passengers.  Across from me sat a middle-aged man in army pants, sporting a mohawk and impossibly dark sunglasses.  He left the train at a station midway to Lucca, with a chesty swagger that I couldn’t help but watch.  A young, slim woman, probably a gypsy, walked up and down the aisles using printed flyers to beg for money.  As always, I was mildly surprised that she wore jeans and a sweater rather than the flowing skirts and jangly bangles of storybook gypsies.

So it was that for the eighty minute ride to Lucca, I took in the undulating emerald green Tuscan hills, dotted with old farmhouses and historic towns.  At each station, I admired the bright scarlet poppies that grew like weeds along the tracks and around the stone buildings.  I peeped at the laundry drying out of windows and in balconies, guessing what kinds of people lived there and how many.  I observed the Italians that I saw on the many platforms that we passed.  Some were intriguing like the very proper little old lady dressed all in grey, others distasteful like the bald, abundantly bellied platform sitter at Pistoia.

I was surprised to find the train mostly filled with residents rather than tourists.  For me, the gentle rhythm of a train has always had a lulling effect, and it was a forced time-out in what had so far been an overly active holiday.  I sunk into my seat, chewed on my pizzetta and I people-watched.  The good, the bad and like that bare-chested gentleman, the downright unsavoury.

A recipe is probably more effort than a pizzetta needs.  You see, it’s as simple as an assembling of tasty, quality ingredients followed by some oven time.  When Spiral Foods sent me a few bottles of their Sugo (Italian Pasta Sauce), I started using this to smear onto the puff pastry and it worked a treat.  It truly is a fresh, homely tasting pasta sauce.  If you are vegetarian, swap the prosciutto for a few thin slices of flavourful tomatoes or red onions.

In other news, can you believe this is my 100th blog post?? I must admit I’m a little shocked that one with as limited an attention span as myself (ohhh…..look…..a butterfly!) would have lasted this long.  But here I am.  And here you are, reading each new post and supporting me with your presence, comments and encouragement.

Thank you!  Keep coming back, and enjoy the Pizzetta.

Tuscany in Transit Deepa Pizzetta 3

Prociutto Pizzettas

Makes 8

Get:

4 sheets good quality frozen puff pastry, thawed
Olive oil
Melted butter for brushing
1/2 cup passata
1 tsp (3-5) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus a couple of leaves
Generous pinch salt
8 slices good quality prosciutto
150g buffallo mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 C.

Quarter the pastry sheets.  Lay 8 pieces out onto oven trays and brush with melted butter.  Lay the remaining 8 sheets onto the brushed sheets, lining the corners up with the middle of the sides to form a star.

In a small bowl, mix the passata, basil and salt with a drizzle of olive oil, or use Spiral Foods Sugo straight up.  Taste and add a little more salt if desired, remembering that the prosciutto will be a little salty.  Spread the sauce over the middle of the pastry squares, leaving a 2 cm border clear all the way around each square.

Lay a slice of prosciutto onto each square and top with pinched off pieces of mozzarella, again leaving the border clear.

Scatter torn basil leaves over the top and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is fully cooked and browned.

Tuscany in transit 3

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post, however Sugo product samples were provided by Spiral Foods.

Ricotta, Sweet Potato and Chilly spread + Happy New Year!

Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
-Les Brown

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 4

This year, let’s keep it simple, ok? Ok.
Instead of resolutions, let’s make a decision.  One single, easy decision.

This year we will make a decision to be good to ourselves, to understand when it needs to be about us and not those outside of us. An effort will be required, yes. To keep sight of what is in the best interest of our souls often doesn’t come naturally.

Know that it is an effort worth expending.

Let’s give ourselves only the best, without hesitation.  After all, life will only give us what we feel we deserve, no?

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 3

Twenty fourteen will see us treating ourselves with nothing but kindness, whilst never losing sight of our needs and goals.  It will be the year when we are true to us, when we don’t allow anything, least of all ourselves, to hold us back.

It will be the year we will move forward, shoot for the moon.  Because God knows we deserve it.  And along the way it will finally dawn on us that we do deserve it.

You know what?  Once we understand that, that we have every right to expect the best from the things we pour our hearts into, it will be so much easier to be kinder to ourselves.

And if we do shoot for the moon and land on a star?  Well, no matter……the stars are luminous, and we may just find that they are enough after all.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 5

In the interest of keeping things simple, here is a little spread I put together, on a day when the world was like an oven and spending more than ten minutes in the kitchen seemed the most unkind thing I could do to myself.  I had this for lunch, spread thickly onto crostini and with some finely sliced red cabbage and good anchovies piled atop it.  A few drops of white wine vinegar finished it off nicely.  And on that day? Well, it was enough.

You could really use whatever toppings you wanted, but I would suggest a combination of fresh, crunchy and salty with a drizzle of something acidic.

Happy New Year dear readers.  This blog has brought me so much fulfilment in 2013 and you, all of you, are instrumental in that.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 2

Ricotta, Sweet Potato and Chilly Spread

Get:

1/2 Habanero Chilly or 1 small red chilli
1/2 cup firm ricotta
1/2 cup boiled sweet potato
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small handful fresh coriander
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp salt

For the Crostini:
1 or 2 baguettes, sliced into 1cm slices
Olive oil

Suggested toppings:
Thinly sliced red cabbage, watercress, alfalfa sprouts etc.  Combine with anchovies, feta or olives and drizzle with a little vinegar of your choice.

Make:

If using a habanero chilly, roast it over an open flame or on a BBQ.  Place half of it, or a small red chilli in the bowl of your food processor with all the other spread ingredients.  Blitz until it is a paste consistency. Taste and add a little salt or olive oil if required, then blitz again.

Brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil and grill both sides until toasted to your preference.

Spread the crostini thickly with the ricotta mixture and top with toppings of your choice.

Get out of the kitchen quick and enjoy with something cold in front of the TV.

Ricotta Sweet potato crostini 1

Click the Month: November 2013

So this Click the Month business was actually meant to posted at the end of the month.  A sort of sum up of one or some of the highlights in the 30-odd days gone by. 

CTM Lunch at Julias 5

But, well, despite my best intentions, sometimes life gets in the way.  So it doesn’t happen or it pops up a little late.  You know what? Anyone who knows me knows that ‘late’ is the norm for me, ‘on time’ is early in my world and ‘early’….actually early?  Well, that’s what I’d call a dream.

CTM Lunch at Julias 3

This month I lunched at my friend Julia’s, where a bunch of us gorged on incredible food such as some succulent roast chicken, this salad and this cake.

CTM Sugar1

I followed the dogs around, camera in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, and managed to get all three of them to sit still for a decent click or two.

CTM Chicken

CTM Buster3

CTM Lunch at Julias 6

CTM George

CTM Lunch at Julias 4

CTM Sugar2

CTM Lunch at Julias 12