Sunday, October 15, 2017

Beautiful Fruit Plates and Fruit Salads

Fresh pineapple, kiwi, banana, raspberries, mango, mandarin, blueberries and strawberries

Nothing better than a colourful fruit plate for breakfast, dessert, or snack! 



Berry fruit salad: strawberries, blueberries and raspberries

Tropical fruit salas: pineapple, banana, mango and kiwi
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How to grow and make your own gari (pickled ginger for sushi)


To make gari, the lovely pink pickled ginger for sushi, you need to have very fresh ginger roots, which are not to easy to find. So I grew my own! Bough ginger roots sometimes have a little green bud, or develop one if you leave them outside the fridge, and in this case you can just break a piece off (the one with the bud, of course) and plant it! I did just this, not knowing what to expect, and I was rewarded with a big leafy ginger plant! When I 'harvested' the roots they were fresh and fragrant, perfect for making gari. 

For the recipe I looked up one of my favourite books, The Book of Sushi, published by Kodansha International. Sadly Kodansha doesn't publish anymore in English, which is a real pity as they made some outstanding books on Japanese culture, including several cooking books, so this book may not be easy to find now.


I washed my ginger roots (I could not break much of it, as I made the mistake of planting it in a pot with a lemon tree and the root was too deep down to remove completely), but I had enough.


The skin is easy to remove with a spoon or finger nails. Remove the buds, you just need the root, hopefully with a hint of pink in it. Then slice the root as finely as you can manage.  


Then I added a few generous pinches of salt (I used some unrefined salt, but the book is not specific on which salt - or how much, to use) and left it stand for one day. I put a weight on top too, to make sure that the ginger got well pickled by the salt, but this was not requested by the original recipe.
The day after I rinsed the ginger under fresh water.


Then the book says: ....place in a marinade made of 1 cup of rice vinegar, 7 tablespoons water and 2½ taspoons sugar. Allow the ginger to marinate one week.

Well, first of all I noticed that I run out of rice vinegar, but I had some sushi vinegar, which already contains sugar and salt. Secondly, and this is my personal taste, I rather use less sugar (and salt) so I did a mixture of half sushi vinegar and half water. Thirdly, I brought the mixture to the boil, threw the ginger slices in, boiled them from a few seconds and turned the element off. I did this simply because I felt safer pickling it this way, and the result was great! I stored the gari in a glass jar in the fridge for one week before using it, now it is about two months old, almost finished, but still very good.


The original colour is a very light pink, which I like very much as it feels natural to me. The second pink, very vibrant, I made by soaking my own made gari for just a few minutes in the brine of shibazuke, which is a Japanese pickled mix of cucumber and eggplant and red shiso. It is the red shiso that gives out the pink/magenta colour, so anything picked with this leaf will work (and pickles also have plenty of brine left over, which I never throw away but use to colour rice.

Waste not waste not, this is my motto!

Natural gari (top) and gari coloured with red shiso (bottom)

I have to say that I was very happy with the results for taste, texture and ... colours!





Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Oyster mushrooms with lemon soy



When asked what is my favourite vegetable sometimes I reply that it is a fresh porcino mushroom (boletus edulis), and I say this knowing very well that mushrooms do not classify as vegetables... they are fungi, neither fruit nor vegetable. But no one in New Zealand ever asks me what is my favourite fungi (they do in my village in Italy, for sure), only what is my favourite vegetable, and mushrooms are usually defined as a side vegetable (even eaten at breakfast! This thing still puzzles me).  

The fact is that to me mushrooms rarely take the place of a side vegetable, but they tend to be the main player: pasta with mushrooms, risotto with mushrooms, polenta with mushrooms, mushroom fritters, mushroom burgers, mushroom dumplings, stuffed mushrooms...

 For a vegetarian they substitute meat, and in the old days in my mountains in Italy they used to be called carne di bosco 'meat of the woods'.

We never bought mushrooms when I was a child, they grew all around us and we just foraged. We also dried them for winter, or preserved them in olive oil (more rarely, mushrooms may have been abundant, but olive oil was expensive). 

Here in NZ only very occasionally I find field mushrooms, more rarely porcini (it happened in Christchurch once long time ago and I was the only one who ate them, everybody else watching me to see if I was going to die a painful death from poisoning). 

As far as commercial varieties go, I use plenty of dried mushrooms (both porcini and different Asian mushrooms) and the usual button and portabello mushrooms that you find at the supermarket. Fortunately in recent years the interest in more 'exotic' types of mushrooms has increased and now you can find some types of fresh Asian mushrooms too, especially in Asian stores. So I was delighted when Meadows Mushrooms presented the members of the Guild of Food Writers a pack of lovely oyster mushrooms. I love oyster mushrooms and hope to find them in my local supermarket soon!




The only thing I did with these beauties was to put them in the skillet with vegetable margarine and sauté them on both sides. To make mushrooms easy to digest you need to cook them in a way that they 'loose' water, this is important with foraged mushrooms, if there is a toxic one in you mix making it 'loose water' made it edible (or lowered the risks of tommy ache). Button mushrooms and other varieties can be eaten raw, but personally I prefer them cooked. Of course if a mushrooms is deadly this cooking tip is useless, no matter how much you cook it, but this is not a problem we are facing with commercial varieties!

So, but back to cooking edible mushrooms: let them loose water, yes, but remember that generally mushrooms should not be cooked for too long or they will lose flavour too. So as soon as these oyster mushrooms looked ready to me (a few minutes) I added a drizzle of Japanese soy sauce and some lemon juice. Add more margarine too if you like, for a bit more fat, juice and taste. Serve piping hot on a bowl of plain short grain rice, drizzling the juices on top. 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Asparagus and onion weed soup




Soon it will be spring, time for asparagus and onion weeds with some nice juicy bulbs, this is a recipe from last year with I will repeat as I am cleaning the veggie garden, always finding some little potatoes and cavolo nero. Everything goes into a soup, with the addition of asparagus, and vegetable stock. I blended everything (but left our a few whole steamed asparagus tips to add later) and used some onion weed and pansy flowers for decoration.



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, August 4, 2017

Soft tofu and avocado sashimi served on homemade disposable bamboo dishers made with bamboo leaf sheath



There is no much to this dish really, just soft tofu with grated ginger and avocado (add wasabi and say sauce) plus some pickles, mostly bought except for the cucumber (recipe here).

The exciting thing for me here are the bamboo platters! I have some bamboo in the garden and it is shedding leaf sheaths. I love those fancy bamboo disposable dishes that you can buy in home stores, so I though of making my own. To clean the sheaths I just placed them in the dishwasher! Some rolled up a bit, but after a couple of days they were flat again! The dishwasher took away the dirt but some black stains remained, which makes me wonder how ecologically they treat the commercial plates, since they are so pale and spotless! But now I can make my own and doesn't matter if they are a little stained, they are natural and lovely to look at!

Photo and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Italian chestnut fritters


… chestnut fritters! And you only need three ingredients: Italian chestnut flour (which is naturally sweet so you don't need to add sugar), sultana (optional, but traditional!) and oil for frying! These are full of protein, gluten free, and perfect for breakfast, or snack, hot or cold. I love them after a gym workout and the kids like to put them in their lunch boxes. They are very filling, plus they last a few days, if you don't eat them all at once!

Mix the chestnut flour with enough water to make a batter (same consistency as hot cakes), add the sultana.


 Drop full spoons of batter in the hot oil and fry on both sides until nice and brown.


Drain excess oil with kitchen paper


Enjoy! 

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Vitamin smoothie


So yummy: Kiwi, baby spinach leaves and frozen mixed berries, plus some coconut water.



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Kiwi smoothie


Time for vitamin C! This smoothie is just kiwi, banana and coconut water, a real meal in a glass!


Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vegan Monte Bianco


This is my home recipe for a Vegan Monte Bianco so easy, (plus no cooking required) and one of my favourite desserts. Chestnuts are in my DNA, as they were the staple food of my ancestors, and mine to when I was little (we still have a chestnut wood in Italy). They are naturally sweet, low in fat and high in protein, but they are so difficult to find in NZ (please write to me if you have some!!). The original recipe calls for cream, but it seems that coconut cream goes really well with chestnuts too! Here are the ingredients:


1x 400ml can coconut cream, refrigerated for at least one day
1 drop vanilla
1 tbsp sugar
1 x439g Clement Faugier chestnut puree
1x 250g Clement Faugier Sweet chestnut spread
Dark chocolate to grate (I used dark vegan Mexican chocolate)

You can add a few drops of rum or Frangelico if you like.

Scoop the coconut cream out of the tin (leave the water at the bottom) and beat until soft and foamy. Add sugar and vanilla. Set aside. Beat the two chestnut purees together (I added the coconut water to make them softer). Add some grated chocolate (about 2-3 tbsp, or to taste) and if you like a little alcohol. Spoon the chestnut mixture over a plate and shape like a peak. Then cover with the coconut cream.


Grate some more chocolate on top and refrigerate until serving. 
Well, your Vegan and non-vegan friends  alike will be surely impressed: this is sooooo good, full of proteins, and gluten free too!




Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Friday, March 17, 2017

Carciofi alla romana


These type of artichokes are called mammole,  the 'petals' are rounded and not as spiky like for carciofi. But they are excellent cooked alla romana. Cut the outer petals off until you get to the tender heart, leave a bit of the stalks, but peel them, and then immediately put them in water and lemon (so that they don't become black) to wash them. Finely chop plenty of Italian parsley with garlic and a pinch of salt, and use this to fill the centre of each artichoke. Place the artichokes in a pot, drizzle some olive oil in the centre of each artichoke and add a little water at the bottom of the pan (about 2 fingers). Cover with a lid and simmer on low for a long time (1-2 hours) adding water from time to time. Sorry I didn't take a photo of the final product, but you can find one here.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Avocado and celery cocktails with home-made vegan mayo and edible flowers



This is a delicious raw and vegan dish, serves 4 as a starter or side salad, and 2 as a main

Ingredients

2 avocados
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 crunchy legs of celery
2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise
cherry tomatoes and edible flowers to decorate

Cut the avocados and remove stones, drizzle with lemon juice. Clean the celery legs and remove the strings (I use a carrot peeler for this). Cut into small bite sizes and mix with the vegan mayonnaise (click here for the recipe). Fill the avocados with the celery and decorate with cherry tomatoes and edible flowers.
Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kale, spinach, banana, mango, and coconut water smoothie



Nothing beats a green green green smoothie! Kale, spinach, banana, frozen mango, and coconut water as a base. Yum!
Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, February 20, 2017

Using and freezing vegetables from the garden, plus grissini recipe


I love summer and the smell of my veggie garden! It is a bit like a jungle now and we are towards the end of the season so there are more weeds than veggies, but what a joy! One of the best things for me is to make minestrone soup with whatever I can pick on the day, even when it is hot (and then you can have it warm). And I am saving some for winter in some old ice cream containers. So funny, my boy opened the freezer the other day and was excited seeing boxes and boxes of ice cream, I felt a bit mean telling him what they actually contained...


Then I like to put veggies on focaccia and pizza, yellow and green zucchini slices look good and taste even better!


Ok, this is nothing to do with veggies, but it is so cool to make grissini, I just use some basic bread dough (500g high grade flour, 2 tbsp gluten flour, 300ml water, pinch of salt, brewer yeast and pinch of sugar), add a bit of olive oil and stretch out long grissini which I roll in polenta flour before baking.



Happy cooking and baking!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sushi with flowers


Here is an idea, just for variety, instead of rolling all the norimaki with seaweed leave some without and then stick on some flower petals (find more Vegan recipes with flowers here). I used impatiens here, not many people know that you can eat them, they taste a little like rocket salad.

And if rolling the sushi in petals is too hard you can always put the flowers on the top. Below vegan norimaki with fresh borage flowers and salted sakura (cherry blossoms). 




And here a couple of pics of the lovely black sand of Te Henga (Bethells beach)



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Noodle salad with banana blossom and tofu, and Happy New Year!



I love to eat flowers, and if you have a banana plant in the garden you can eat the blossoms!  First you need to remove the pink/mauve petals (and small banana florets under each petal) from the blossom until you get to the pale centre. Keep the petals though, they are good as food containers or decorations. You can find the step by step photos on how to peel and cut a banana blossom here, where there is also a delicious banana flower (blossom) recipe. Then cut the centre and mix immediately with lemon juice. Put into a bowl and add more lemon juice and a couple of tbsp of Japanese soy sauce. Put another bowl on top (inside the first one to press down the content) and fill the second bowl with something heavy (a rock, for example). Keep the cut blossom pressed in this marinade overnight, in the fridge. This is necessary or the banana blossom will taste too astringent.

The day after, cook the noodles and drain. Rinse under cold water, and place into a bowl. Cut the tofu into squares and fry in a mixture of sesame oil and vegetable oil until golden, then add a tbsp of lemon juice and 2 tbsp of Japanese soy sauce, sizzle quickly and toss with the noodles. Squeeze the banana blossom from excess liquid and add to the noodles. Mix well and serve at room temperature, decorated with some Thai mint or coriander. This noodle salad was delicious and I will make it again, in fact so far this has been my favourite recipe with banana blossoms.

Happy Chinese New Year to all!



Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©