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Herby feta pasta rotolo

Rotolo di pasta - pasta roll, in m case cut into small pieces and baked with tangy tomato sauce. Hearty casseroles make you think of chilly autumn evenings, but the filling of ewe feta with freshly chopped cilantro and mint definitely tastes like summer.

I used Scotch bonnet pepper to make the sauce. It's fairly hot - according to Scoville scale, which compares the capsaicin concentration in chili peppers, it's on a par with habanero. Those who can sense more than just a fire in their moth claim that its taste is very deep and distinctive. This time I didn't want a very pungent and overpowering sauce, so instead of chopping the pepper, I added the whole thing to the simmering sauce. It resulted in nice, slightly smoky flavour. Give it a try!

Recipe: Herby feta pasta rotolo

Serves: 2 rather hungry people
  • 5 fresh lasagne sheets
  • one tbsp. of olive oil
  • ground parmesan, to taste
  • Filling:

  • 400 g of ewe feta
  • one tbsp. of crème fraîche
  • 2 tbsp. of chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. of chopped mint

  • Combine all the ingredients of the filling. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
    Place the filling on lasagne sheets, roll and cut into small pieces.
    You might need to slightly cook lasagne sheets first, depending on how soft they are.

    Tomato sauce

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • one small onion, diced
  • Scotch bonnet pepper, whole
  • 5 large tomatoes - scalded, peeled and diced
  • one tsp. of sugar
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • one tbsp. of olive oil

  • In a saucepan heat the olive oil, add onion and garlic and cook until soft and golden.
    Add tomatoes and whole Scotch bonnet pepper, season with sugar, salt.
    Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens.

    Spread the sauce on the bottom of an oiled baking dish. Top with pasta rolls.
    Bake at 180C for about 35-40 minutes.
    Before serving, top with grated parmesan.


    Grilled salade nicoise

    You probably have all heard about salade niçoise, right? And most of you have tried it at least once. So have I. But while I can easily evoke a mouthwatering image of a colourful salad, naming its ingredients comes up as quite a challenge. And this time it’s not me to cause the problem, it’s the salad. Finding the ultimate recipe seems impossible. Ok, so I didn’t verify this, but I’m willing to make a bet that ordering salade niçoise in each bistro on the French coast, you will end up eating a different meal every time.

    The first version of the salad was limited to tomatoes, anchovies and a few drops of olive oil. We will find tomatoes in most of the contemporary variations of the salad - either cherry tomatoes, or thick slices of the larger ones. Anchovies either go together with tuna or substitute it. Personally, I cannot imagine a Niçoise salad without tuna, which is also the reason why I have avoided this particular salad for years. My aversion to canned tuna comes from the time when I was starting my culinary adventures at the age of 10. In one of the food magazines I found a recipe for tomatoes stuffed with tuna salad. Needless to say, this fancy presentation seemed like the essence of elegance and good taste (I was a huge fan of mini skewers at that time too), so I tortured my whole family with this dish on every occasion. I haven’t had the courage to ever try stuffed tomatoes again.

    Luckily I have discovered that you can substitute canned tuna with slices of delicious, pink tuna steaks. Most recipes include haricot verts (or other beans), olives (black, Niçoise) and hard boiled eggs. Other add potatoes, artichokes, broad beans, slices of cucumber or radish, bell peppers, crunchy lettuce, capers, red onion or scallions. When it comes to dressing, different variations of vinaigrette are the most popular (with garlic, with red wine vinegar, with herbs), followed by olive oil mixed with fresh herbs, like parsley or basil.

    The good new is that you can make whatever you want and still call it salade niçoise. I didn’t care for eggs, went with fresh tuna, grilled everything that was grillable and opted for traditional vinaigrette. You can do something similar. Or something completely different.

    Recipe: Grilled salade niçoise

    Serves: 2
  • 2 tuna fillets (about 150 g each)
  • a few baby potatoes
  • a handful of green beans
  • a few cherry tomatoes
  • a handful of olives
  • 1/2 of red onion, cut in half
  • Vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp. of olive oil
  • one tbp. of white wine vinegar
  • one tbsp. of lemon juice
  • one tsp. of runny honey
  • one tsp. of coarse mustard
  • a pinch of salt

  • Whisk all the ingredients together.

    Parboil the potatoes so that they're mostly cooked, but not perfectly soft (about 15 minutes). Let them cool and slice in halves.
    Blanch green beans (about 5 minutes).

    Grill potato halves, beans, onion quarters and tomatoes. The time depends on your grill, ingredients and individual preferences. Potatoes should be tender and golden, beans should remain crunchy, onion should be browned and tomato skins should start wrinkling. Place grilled vegetables on a plate, together with olives.
    Grill tuna fillets for about 30 seconds each side (or longer, if you prefer the tuna well done).
    Slice the tuna and place on the salad. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with lemon juice. Top the salad with vinaigrette.
    Serve with bread and white wine.


    Chicken tacos

    As a fanatical aficionado of cilantro, I cannot ignore its important role in Mexican cuisine. I love Mexican food - perhaps not as ardently as I love cilantro, but, let's face it: there are few things in the world that deserve this highest level of admiration. I would lie if I said I remember the moment when I first tried cilantro. I do remember, however, that right after the first bite I knew we were going to be good friends. You can either love or hate cilantro - some people loathe it, claiming that it tastes like soap. Personally, I don't care for eating soap, but eating cilantro is one of my favourite activities.

    Cilantro works perfectly with tacos. Any tacos: soft-shell tacos, hard-shell tacos, puffy tacos. With beef, with fish, with chicken. Add some grated cheese, a spoonful of guacamole, tomato salsa and sour cream, a few drops of lime juice and a generous portion of fresh cilantro.

    I'm not giving you any measurements - it all depends on what you like the most and how many tacos you plan on eating. Just make sure to have at least a bunch of fresh cilantro.

    Recipe: Chicken tacos

  • hard taco shells
  • shredded chicken (recipe below)
  • sour cream
  • guacamole (recipe here)
  • tomato salsa (recipe below)
  • pickled jalapeños
  • lime juice
  • fresh cilantro (!)

  • Heat up taco shells and fill them with your favourites (lots of cilantro!).
    Eat tacos and drink a beer with some lime juice.

    Shredded chicken

    Serves: 2
  • 300 g of skinless chicken breast

  • 1/2 tsp. of chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. of sweet paprika powder
  • 1/2 tsp. of ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 1/4 tsp. of cayenne pepper
  • juice of one lime

  • Combine the spices with lime juice.
    Rub chicken breast with the paste.
    Place in a baking dish and roast at 180C for about 30 minutes.
    When the meat is tender, use two forks to shred the chicken.

    Tomato salsa

    Serves: 2
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp. of chopped chili pepper
  • one tbsp. of chopped cilantro
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • a pinch of salt

  • Combine all the ingredients.
    Set aside for 20-30 minutes.


    steamed salmon with pak choi

    It's quite a challenge to imagine a healthier lunch or supper than steamed salmon paired with crunchy pak choi. Just writing the name of the dish down makes me feel so much healthier.

    You can use any kind of steamer, but I really like the bamboo one.

    How to use a bamboo steamer?

    Line the bottom of one tray with pak choi, cabbage or lettuce leaves - to prevent the salmon from sticking to the basket (you can also use parchment paper).

    Place pak choi (or other vegetables you might want to cook) in a separate tray and place it on top of the first one. If you like your pak choi more crunchy, you can remove it from the steam first - this can be done easier if pak choi is in the top tray. Cover top layer with a lid.

    Place the steamer in a pot or a wok with simmering water. Make sure that the bottom tray stays above the water line, so that the food will not be submerged - it's suppose to be steamed, not cooked. You might need to add some water if the pot starts to go dry.

    You can enrich the flavour of the food by adding some broth, lemon juice, herbs or green tea leaves to the water. I added some dry white wine and a few drops of soy sauce.

    Recipe: Steamed salmon with pak choi

    Serves: 2
  • 300 g of salmon fillets
  • 2 pak choi, cut in halves

  • 3 tbsp. of soy sauce
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • one garlic clove, sliced
  • 1/2 of red chili pepper, chopped
  • one tbsp. of chopped sprink onion + one tsp. for topping
  • a few sliced of lime

  • Combine all the ingredients of the sauce.
    Spread sauce over the salmon, top with spring onion and lime slices.
    Steam the salmon and pak choi. Salmon will need about 8-10 minutes, pak choi - 5-8 minutes.
    Serve with remaining sauce.


    Roasted artichokes with lemon and feta dip

    Artichokes might be funny-looking, but they're delicious and you shouldn't feel intimidated in their presence. If you've never tried to make them at home, it's time to give them a chance. The first bite of artichoke heart will make up for any moments of fear and uncertainty.

    How to prepare an artichoke?

    Cut the stalks off the artichoke. Pull off the tough leaves. Cut off the thorned tips of the remaining leaves. Cut the artichoke in half. Spoon out the inner leaves and the fuzzy choke. To prevent artichokes from discoloration, keep the ready ones in a bowl with cold water and lemon juice.

    How to cook an artichoke?

    The easiest way is to cook artichokes in slightly salted water with lemon (it should take about 40 minutes). The healthiest way is to steam them. You can also fry, grill, roast and stuff artichokes.

    How to eat an artichoke?

    Use your hands to pull off petals, one at a time. Dip the broken end in olive oil or dip and scrape the soft, meaty part off with your teeth. When all petals are gone, it's time for the best part - delicate, delicious artichoke heart.

    Recipe: Roasted artichokes with lemon and feta dip

    Serves: 2
  • 2 artichokes
  • 3 tbsp. of olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • a pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Start with preparing a bowl with water and lemon juice.
    You will keep the prepped artichokes in the this water until you’re ready to proceed. It prevents them from turning brown.
    Cut an artichoke in half. Carefully spoon out the inner leaves and the fuzzy choke.
    Place the prepared half in the water bowl. Repeat the process with remaining artichokes.

    Combine olive oil with lemon juice and zest and salt.
    Sprinkle each artichoke with the mixture.
    Roast at 180C for about 40 minutes.
    Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

    Serve with crunchy baguette and lemon and feta dip.

    Lemon and feta dip

  • 200 g of feta cheese
  • 3-4 tbsp. of lemon juice
  • one tsp. of olive oil
  • one tsp. of za'atar

  • Blend feta with lemon juice until fluffly.
    Before serving, top with oil and za'atar.

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