Sicilian Pasta with Eggplant, Pine Nuts and Raisins

I’m always on the lookout for tasty new ways to serve pasta.

As we discovered when we spent a week there last year, Sicilian cuisine uses a lot of eggplant, one of my favourite vegetables. In this traditional Sicilian recipe it’s combined with tomatoes, raisins, pine nuts and capers. Two photos this week – one in the pan and one on the plate.

Sicilian Pasta with Eggplant, Pine Nuts and Raisins

3 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ small red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
2 Tbs fresh marjoram or oregano, chopped (or 1 Tbs dried)
1 large eggplant (aubergine) cut into 2cm cubes
2 Tbs raisins
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbs capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
2 Tbs red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
½ cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g pasta (e.g penne, fusilli, rigatoni)
To serve:
2 Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 Tbs fresh chopped mint (or parsley)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat 1 Tbs of the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion, garlic, chilli and marjoram until onion is soft, but not browned. Remove from pan. Add remaining 2 Tbs oil to the pan and cook the eggplant, stirring. When golden add raisins, tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar then return the onion mixture to the pan. Add the capers, vinegar and water, then simmer gently while you cook the pasta. If it gets too dry add a bit more water.

Cook pasta until al dente. Season the eggplant sauce, then mix into the pasta. Serve topped with the pine nuts, mint, grated cheese and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 2-3

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Bryony’s Beetroot Coleslaw

Bryony Hill came to our wedding, so we go back a long way. She lives in England in the county of Sussex where she writes, cooks, grows vegetables and keeps chickens. Bryony has written several books on subjects such as gardening, cooking and dogs and recently published My Gentleman Jim about her late husband Jimmy Hill, the famous and much-loved British football commentator.

Bryony recently posted her recipe for Beetroot Coleslaw on Facebook. I’m a big fan of beetroot, especially when it’s raw, so I made a note to make it as soon as we got back from our recent travels.

It goes very well with grilled or barbecued meats, keeps for a couple of days in the fridge and makes a great filler for sandwiches or wraps.

Of course the beetroot turns everything pink so I did consider renaming it Bryony’s Pink Slaw.

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3-4 beetroots, peeled
1 Lebanese cucumber
3 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 bulb fennel
1 kohlrabi
2-3 carrots, peeled
A handful of radishes
2 stalks celery
¼ cup light mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
¼ cup plain Greek yoghurt
Juice of ½ to 1 lemon, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Coarsely grate, thinly slice or shred all the vegetables and place in a large bowl. I used a large (5mm) grating disc on my Magimix for the beetroots and carrots, then the thin slicing disc for everything else. I thinly sliced the cucumber, then cut the slices in half.

Add mayonnaise, yoghurt, lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Add a bit more mayonnaise or yoghurt if necessary.

If you’re missing any of the vegetables (I didn’t have any kohlrabi) just leave it out or substitute something else such as white or red cabbage.

Serves 4-6

Modern Greek Food at Petros

While travelling in the USA last month we had some fabulous meals. Unfortunately large portions, fries with everything and Tex Mex “liquid cholesterol” are still very much in evidence, but we did our best to avoid these establishments and seek out the healthier options.

On our way home we spent three days at Manhattan Beach, just outside Los Angeles, where there are lots of good restaurants. Petros Restaurant serves an interesting selection of modern Greek dishes and was one of the highlights.

For a light lunch we ordered Fried Calamari, Feta Saganaki (sesame-crusted feta with raisins and honey) and Karpouzi Salad (watermelon, tomatoes, mint, feta, honey and extra virgin olive oil).

I decided to recreate two of these dishes at home. Petros uses Greek olive oil, honey, feta and raisins, but use whatever you have. If you don’t like things too sweet cut back on the honey.

Modern Greek Food at Petros

Feta Saganaki
About 150g feta cheese
1-2 Tbs plain flour
1 egg, beaten
About ½ cup sesame seeds
1 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs honey
1-2 Tbs raisins

Cut feta cheese into two rectangles about 1cm thick. Coat lightly in flour, then dip in beaten egg and coat with sesame seeds. Heat olive oil in a small non-stick frying pan and fry the feta on both sides until golden. Arrange in serving dish. Place the honey and raisins in a small dish and microwave for about 30 seconds, then pour over the feta. If liked squeeze over some fresh lemon  juice.

Serves 2

Karpouzi Salad

Karpouzi Salad
About 800g seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
10 cocktail tomatoes, halved
1 Tbs finely chopped mint
Dressing:

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
pinch of salt

Arrange watermelon and tomatoes in serving dish. Place ingredients for dressing in a jar with a lid and shake well. Drizzle over the salad and sprinkle with mint.

Serves 2

Variation: crumble some feta cheese over the top

Roast Parsnips & Jerusalem Artichokes with Onion Puree & Parsley Oil

Also known as sunchokes or topinambours, Jerusalem artichokes belong to the sunflower family. In early winter, after the flowers have died down, the tubers can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable.

We grow them in our veggie garden at the farm (you need a bit of space or they can take over) and while I like them, I have to agree that our kids’ nickname, fartichokes, is very appropriate. I prefer to use them in recipes where they’re combined with other vegetables, to reduce the windy effect.

Serve this dish with roast meats or as a side dish at a barbecue. If you don’t have any Jerusalem artichokes use more parsnips or substitute potatoes. The onion puree should have been a pale colour, but when the onions were frying I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Still tasted good!

Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Chilli

500g Jerusalem artichokes, cut into 2-3cm chunks
500g parsnips, cut into even-sized chunky sticks
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Onion Purée:
2 large onions, finely chopped
25-50g butter (you decide!)
3 Tbs cream or sour cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parsley oil:
A handful of fresh parsley
A few leaves of spinach or rocket
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Mix vegetables with oil in a bowl and add seasoning. Line a baking tray with baking paper then tip vegetables onto tray and spread into one layer. Bake at 200°C for 30 mins or until tender and browned at the edges.

Meanwhile cook onions in the butter for 10-15 mins or until soft, stirring often. Place in food processor with cream or sour cream and process till smooth, then season to taste.

For the parsley oil, pour boiling water over the parsley and spinach or rocket, then refresh under the cold tap and squeeze out excess water. Place in food processor, then add olive oil with motor running until you have a bright green sauce. Add salt to taste.

Spread onion purée in serving dish. Arrange roast vegetables on top, then drizzle with the parsley oil.

Serves 6

Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Chilli

You either like brussels sprouts or you don’t. I love them and am quite happy to eat them simply boiled or steamed, with a knob of butter. I know quite a few people who hate them.

This Asian-style recipe raises the humble sprout to a whole new level. Who knows, it might even succeed in winning a few new fans.

Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Chilli

500-700g brussels sprouts
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter
1-2 tsp finely chopped fresh or dried chilli
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim sprouts and cut them in half lengthwise. Add to a pan of boiling salted water and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until al dente or almost cooked. Drain and run under the cold tap to keep a good green colour, then drain again.

Heat butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add chilli and garlic and cook, stirring for a minute or so. Add sprouts and continue to stir-fry for 5-8 minutes or until they are starting to brown a bit. Season to taste.

Serves 4-6

Roast Carrots and Beets

I often make mixed roast vegetables, but sometimes it’s nice to combine just two. Carrots and beetroots go together well and look very colourful.

Serve with roast meats or as a warm salad for lunch, by arranging them on some lightly dressed salad leaves, then sprinkling with crumbled feta or goat’s cheese and a few toasted walnuts or pecans.

Roast Carrots and Beets

500-800g carrots, peeled and cut into chunky sticks
500-800g beetroots, peeled and cut into wedges
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
Chopped fresh parsley (or another herb) to garnish

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place vegetables in a bowl and add remaining ingredients except the parsley. Mix well. Line a large shallow baking sheet with baking paper and spread the vegetables out in one layer. Bake for 30-40 mins or until tender and starting to brown on the edges. About halfway through cooking time swap the vegetables on the outside of the tray with ones nearer the centre, in order to achieve more even cooking.

Tip into serving dish and garnish with fresh herbs.

Serves 6-8

Warm Chickpea and Zucchini Salad

As I ate this salad I thought of my brother, who has been a vegan for the past few years. It’s one of the most delicious vegetarian dishes I’ve eaten in a long time.

If you’ve never tried frying canned chickpeas give it a try – it elevates them to a whole new level. Instead of the zucchini you could use broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or snow peas.

The recipe serves two as a light main course or four as a side dish, accompanied by grilled chicken or steak. It would also go well with barbecued lamb. To bulk up the salad to serve more people place a layer of rocket or other salad leaves, lightly dressed with vinaigrette over the base of the serving dish, then pile the salad on top.

Warm Chickpea and Zucchini Salad3 Tbs olive oil
3-4 zucchinis (courgettes) cut into 2cm chunks
1 can chick peas, rinsed, drained and dried with paper towel
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar (see note)
1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls chopped fresh mint
2 handfuls chopped fresh parsley
100g marinated goat’s cheese or feta cheese

Heat about half the oil in a frying pan and cook the zucchini, chick peas and garlic for 5-8 minutes or until softening and browning a bit. Add salt, pepper and the vinegar and continue to cook, stirring for a minute or so. Scrape out into a serving dish. In a mortar and pestle, crush the seeds. Wipe out the pan and add the remaining oil. Add the pepitas and the crushed seeds and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the pepitas are starting to change colour and the pan smells fragrant. Add to the zucchini in the serving dish and mix gently. Top with the herbs and cheese and serve while still warm.

Serves 2 as a light main course

Note: I used caramelised balsamic vinegar which is a bit sweeter

The Best Guacamole

Many years ago I tried a fabulous Guacamole at the house of a Mexican diplomat. It’s so long ago I can’t even remember her name, but she gave me the recipe and I’ve been making it ever since. I guess you’d expect a Mexican to know how to make Guacamole.

I had been making my own version for years, but this authentic recipe taught me a couple of tricks. Firstly, don’t puree the avocados – mash them roughly with a fork so they remain a bit chunky. Secondly, a dash of cumin powder works wonders, although if you don’t like cumin you can always leave it out. Another tip is not to use overripe avocados as the dip will discolour very quickly if you do.

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2 large ripe but not overripe avocados, seeded and peeled
1 very small onion, grated (or ¼ medium onion)
½ clove garlic, crushed
2-3 tsp lime juice
2-3 tsp olive oil
2 Tbs chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded & diced (optional)
To serve:
Corn chips

Mash avocados roughly with a fork, then gently mix in remaining ingredients, except tomato. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Fold in tomato just before serving. Garnish with extra chopped coriander or a few pieces of tomato and serve with corn chips.

Makes 1-2 cups

Note: instead of one large tomato use 3-4 baby ones (I used baby Roma). No need to peel, just remove seeds and dice.

Balsamic Roast Potatoes

A large bowl of roast potatoes is a good addition to a buffet table, even if everything else is cold. We have potatoes in the garden at the moment, so as I like to use what I have available I’ve been cooking a few of these versatile tubers lately.

I came across this recipe on taste.com and it’s a real winner. There’s no need to par-boil the potatoes or even peel them, so the preparation time is less than 10 minutes.

The original recipe calls for kipfler potatoes, but just use whatever you have. If you’re buying the potatoes get ones which say they’re good for baking/roasting.

Balsamic Roast Potatoes

1.5kg potatoes
500g French shallots, peeled, halved if big
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
3-4 rosemary sprigs broken up
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra rosemary to garnish

Preheat oven to 180°C. There’s no need to peel the potatoes unless you prefer to do so. Just scrub them and cut them into even-sized pieces – about 3cm square – and place in a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Mix well then spread out in one layer on a shallow baking tray. Bake for about 50 mins, turning twice, or until crispy, golden and cooked through. Tip into serving bowl and garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

Serves 8

Pomegranate, Parsley and Risoni Salad

This salad comes from a Greek cook book called Taking you Home. I’ve tweaked the quantities a bit – the original recipe has 2 cups of risoni – but apart from that it’s pretty much the same.

Serve with roast lamb or chicken, grilled lamb chops, or as part of a buffet.

Pomegranate, Parsley and Risoni Salad

1 cup Risoni (rice-shaped pasta)
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
¼ cup slivered almonds
About 1 cup pomegranate kernels (see note below)
1 cup chopped parsley
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 400g can lentils, drained and rinsed
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
100g feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook risoni in boiling salted water until al dente. Place pumpkin seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until lightly toasted. Drain risoni and place in a bowl with remaining ingredients, saving some of the feta to put on top.

Serves 6

Note: remove seeds from 1 large pomegranate or buy fresh kernels, which I found in Costco in a three pack. I used one and froze the other two as they freeze well.