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Sauces & Dressings

 

I’ve always thought crumbles were meant to be desserts – as they certainly are – but I had to change my mind when I read on Matt’s blog about the existence of savory crumbles, that is the salted version of traditional crumble desserts. Of course, why hadn’t I thought of it myself? You just need to add some salt to the topping instead of sugar and substitute the fruit with vegetables (but also meat or fish) and voilà! Les jeux sont fait! Surely, as I am so fond of crumbles, I couldn’t help trying to make my own version of this savory dish which I filled with a combination of leeks and sunchokes. Sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes, sunroot or topinambur) are a novelty to me: I had heard about them but I had never tasted them. So, when I found them at the market, I bought some still uncertain about what to make of them. Sunchokes are vegetable roots, or tubers, similar to potatoes but with a taste closer to artichokes, though more delicate. They match perfectly with leek and, thanks to their dainty texture, to the crispness of a crumble topping.

This crumble is great if served with a yoghurt sauce made with Greek yoghurt and chive.

Ingredients

For the topping:

1 cup flour

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

100 g (3.5 oz) lightly salted butter, cut into small pieces

2 tbsps grated parmesan

50 g (1.8oz) chive, chopped

1 tuft of parsley, chopped

freshly ground green pepper

salt to taste

For the filling:

400 g (14 oz) sunchokes, peeled and chunked

250 g (8.8 oz) leeks, sliced

1 shallot, sliced

1 garlic clove

2-3 tbsps extravergine olive oil

300 ml vegetable stock

freshly ground green pepper

salt to taste

For the yoghurt sauce:

170 g (6 oz) Greek yoghurt

3 tbsps milk

1 tbsp extravergine olive oil

a handful of chive, chopped

freshly ground green pepper

salt to taste

Preparation time: about 30 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 4

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).

In a large saucepan pour oil and fry the shallot and garlic over a gentle heat for 1-2 minutes till golden. Remove garlic and add leeks and sunchokes. Cook for about 5 minutes, then pour in the vegetable stock and let it simmer covered, stirring now and then, for about 20-25 minutes or until sunchokes are tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the topping. In a bowl combine flour, breadcrumbs and parmesan. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingertips till you have a breadcrumb consistency, then stir in chive and parsley. Salt and pepper to taste.

Place the leaks and sunchokes into a baking dish together with their cooking liquid. Drizzle some oil and cover with the crumble topping. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden.

In the meantime, prepare the yoghurt sauce. In a small bowl combine the Greek yoghurt, chive, salt and pepper. Pour in milk and oil and stir well. Keep refrigerated till it’s served.

Crumble Salato al Porro e Topinambur con Salsa di Yogurt Greco

Ho sempre ritenuto che i crumble fossero dolci – cosa che certamente sono – ma ho dovuto ricredermi quando ho letto sul blog di Matt dell’esistenza dei crumble salati. Ovvio, perché non ci ho pensato io? Basta aggiungere sale anziché lo zucchero all’impasto della copertura e sostituire il ripieno di frutta con verdure (ma anche carne o pesce) e voilà! Les jeux sont fait! Chiaramente essendo io una patita di crumble, non potevo non sperimentare la mia versione salata per il cui ripieno ho adottato una combinazione di porri e topinambur. I topinambur sono una novità per me, nel senso che ne avevo spesso sentito parlare, ma non li avevo mai provati. Perciò, quando li ho visti al supermercato, ne ho comprati un po’, pur essendo indecisa su cosa farne. I topinambur sono radici, o tuberi, esteticamente simili alle patate ma con un sapore delicato più vicino ai carciofi; perfetti con i porri e con la consistenza friabile della copertura del crumble.

Questo crumble è ottimo servito con una salsa fatta con yogurt greco e erba cipollina.

Ingredienti

Per la copertura:

1 tazza di farina

1/2 tazza di pangrattato

100 g di burro leggermente salato, tagliato in piccoli pezzi

2 cucchiai di parmigiano reggiano grattugiato

50 g di erba cipollina tritata

1 ciuffio di prezzemolo tritato

pepe verde macinato al momento

sale q.b.

Per il ripieno:

400 g di topinambur pelati e tagliati a pezzi

250 g di porro tagliato a fette

1 scalogno a fette

1 spicchio d’aglio

2-3 cucchiai di olio extravergine di oliva

300 ml di brodo vegetale

pepe verde macinato al momento

sale q.b.

Per la salsa allo yogurt:

170 g di yogurt greco

3 cucchiai di latte

1 cucchiaio di olio extravergine di oliva

una manciata di erba cipollina tritata

pepe verde macinato al momento

sale q.b.

Tempo di preparazione: circa 30 minuti

Tempo di cottura: 1 ora

Per 4 persone

Preriscaldare il forno a 180°C.

Versare l’olio in una padella e friggere lo scalogno e l’aglio a fuoco basso per 1-2 minuti, finché non risultano dorati. Eliminare l’aglio e aggiungere i porri e i topinambur. Cuocere per circa 5 minuti, quindi versare il brodo vegetale e lasciare cuocere coperto, mescolando di tanto in tanto, per circa 20-25 minuti o fino a quando i topinambur non sono morbidi. Salare e pepare a piacere.

Preparare la copertura del crumble. Mescolare in una ciotola la farina, il pangrattato e il parmigiano. Lavorare con le mani il burro nel composto di farine fino ad ottenere una consistenza simile a briciole, quindi aggiungere l’erba cipollina e il prezzemolo. Salare e pepare a piacere.

Sistemare i porri e i topinambur in una pirofila insieme al loro liquido di cottura. Spruzzare sopra un po’di olio e coprire con la copertura del crumble. Infornare per circa 30 minuti, fino a che la copertura non risulta dorata.  

Nel frattempo preparare la salsa allo yogurt. In una ciotola mescolare lo yogurt greco, l’erba cipollina, il sale e il pepe. Versare l’olio e il latte e mescolare bene. Conservare in frigo fino al momento di servire.


The idea for this cream sprang from my prodigality with avocados. I had bought too many to make Guacamole and I really didn’t know what to make of them. Then I thought that blending avocados with cream would turn out to be a delicious sauce to serve with Ginger Lamb Cutlets, to which I also added a cooking apple for a smoother and more delicate texture.

Besides being a lovely accompanying sauce to meat, this cream can also be served on slices of toasted bread, as my husband genially pointed out. Just drizzle some extra vergine olive oil over the bread, pour the cream and add a little salt to taste on top (be sure to drizzle oil over the bread and not over the cream, because otherwise it will slide off).

Ingredients

1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 avocado
1 shallot, finely chopped
200 ml cream
2 tbsps apple cooking liquid
knob of butter
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10-15 minutes

Cook the apple chunks in some water for about 10 minutes until they soften. In the meantime, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the shallot until it becomes lightly golden.

Peel, stone and cut the avocado into pieces. Drain the apple and set the cooking liquid aside. Blend the apple, avocado and shallot in a food processor until you have a smooth mixture; add two tablespoons of the apple cooking liquid for an even texture.

Melt a little more butter in a frying pan (the same cleaned or another one) and pour the apple-and-avocado mixture. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Crema di Mele e Avocado

L’idea per questa crema è venuta fuori a causa della mia prodigalità con l’avocado. Ne avevo comprato troppo per fare il Guacamole e non sapevo davvero cosa farci: così, mi è venuto in mente che potevo mescolare l’avocado con la panna e farci una crema da servire con le Costolette di Agnello allo Zenzero (a cui ho anche aggiunto una mela per un risultato più vellutato).

Oltre ad essere un’ottima salsa di accompagnamento per la carne, questa crema può essere servita anche su crostini di pane abbrustolito, come mio marito ha intelligentemente suggerito. Basta versare un filo d’olio sul pane, versare la crema e aggiungere un po’ di sale (mi raccomando, versare l’olio sopra il pane e non sulla crema, perché altrimenti scivola via).

Ingredienti

1 mela tipo Golden sbucciata, privata del torsolo e tagliata a pezzi
1 avocado
1 scalogno finemente tritato
200 ml di panna
2 cucchiai dell’acqua di cottura della mela
una noce di burro
sale e pepe q.b.

Tempo di preparazione: 15 minuti
Tempo di cottura: 10-15 minuti

Cuocere la mela in un po’ d’acqua per circa 10 minuti, finché non risulta morbida. Nel frattempo, sciogliere il burro in una padella e farvi imbiondire lo scalogno.

Sbucciare, togliere il nocciolo e tagliare a pezzi l’avocado. Scolare la mela e mettere da parte l’acqua di cottura. Ridurre la mela, l’avocado e lo scalogno a una crema usando il robot da cucina; aggiungere due cucchiai dell’acqua di cottura della mela per un risultato più delicato.

Sciogliere un po’ di burro in una padella (la stessa ripulita oppure un’altra) e versarvi la crema di mela e avocado. Aggiungere la panna mescolando e far sobbollire per 1-2 minuti. Aggiungere sale e pepe a piacere.

The very first time I ate guacamole in Mexico, I was in a restaurant in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, with my husband (at that time, my boyfriend) and his primos (cousins). It was January, though the weather was as warm as May in Italy, and we spent the afternoon sipping delicious piña colada, chatting and relaxing, after a day of shopping in tiendas de artesanías (handicraft shops). Surely, I had eaten guacamole before, because I had attempted to make it sometimes following my Mexican mother-in-law’s instructions – in fact, we never have a Mexican dinner without preparing a bowl brimful of guacamole, for, as I use to say, guacamole is never enough, whether you want to dip in nachos or to serve it inside a tortilla with carnita (minced meat). Mexican cuisine is joyful, colorful and flavorsome, just like Mexican people, and guacamole, with its simplicity and bright contrasts of greens and reds (like in the Mexican national flag), it’s a triumph of pleasure and taste.

There are several opinion as how to make guacamole. Some use chili peppers, some others onion or garlic. The only thing for sure is that its main ingredient is avocado as its name reveals: aguacate (Spanish for avocado) and mole (‘sauce’ in Nahuatl, or Aztecan). Guacamole is usually prepared in the molcajete, the traditional Mexican mortar, by mashing the avocado pulp to obtain a creamy sauce. Next, tomatoes, salt and lemon (plus other ingredients) are stirred in. For my guacamole, I follow my husband’s over-ninety-year-old Mexican abuelita’s (grandmother’s) recipe: only avocados, tomatoes, onion, salt and cilantro leaves, which are abuelita’s great passion. Cilantro is an herb esthetically very similar to parsley (they belong to the same family), though it has a completely different flavor. As it’s so characteristic in its taste, it’s almost irreplaceable and it’s better to omit it than substitute it with something else. Unfortunately, cilantro is rather difficult to find fresh, at least here in Italy: my husband and I solved the problem growing our own plant, which provides enough supply for us. The plant is easy to cultivate, though it’s annual, that is it must be replaced or re-sowed every year. The advantage in growing your own is that you can have from the same plant both leaves and seeds (seeds, called coriander seeds, must be harvested in late summer, when the plant has withered, and can be used to prepare garam masala or other Indian dishes). As the plant is not verdant throughout the year, you can deep freeze the leaves for a annual use.

As for avocados, the best variety for preparing guacamole is Hass, though you can content yourselves with any kind you find. What’s absolutely important is that avocados must be fully ripe, otherwise the pulp can’t be properly blended and the savor would be affected – you know the fruit is ready when the skin turns black and the consistency is rather soft. As in Italy and in other Countries avocados are imported, it’s highly probably that the fruits you find at the supermarket will be underripe: in this case, you can let them ripen at room temperature for some days (if you plan to serve it on a particular date or occasion, remember to buy it a few days before).

Ingredients

2 avocados
150 g ripe tomatoes
1 small white onion, chopped
a handful of cilantro leaves
salt to taste

Halve the avocados, remove the stones, peel them and cut them into chunks. Mash the pieces in a bowl (or in a mortar, if you prefer) with a fork until soft and creamy (avocados must not be totally blended: remember to leave some whole chunks). Wash and chop tomatoes. Stir in tomatoes, onion and cilantro leaves. Salt to taste.

You can add the juice of one lemon to prevent guacamole from browning, but the citric acid affects the taste. Use it only if you prepare guacamole long before you serve it.

Guacamole

La prima volta che ho mangiato guacamole in Messico, ero in un ristorante a Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, con mio marito (allora fidanzato) e i suoi primos (cugini). Era gennaio, anche se faceva caldo come a maggio in Italia, e abbiamo passato il pomeriggio sorseggiando una deliziosa piña colada, conversando e rilassandoci dopo una giornata di shopping nelle tiendas de artesanías (negozi di artigianato). In realtà, avevo già mangiato guacamole perché avevo provato a farlo seguendo le istruzioni di mia suocera messicana – in effetti, non facciamo mai una cena messicana senza preparare una ciotola colma di guacamole perché, come dico io, il guacamole non basta mai, sia che ci si voglia intingere i nachos sia che lo si metta dentro una tortilla con carnita (carne macinata). La cucina messicana è gioiosa, colorata e saporita, proprio come il popolo messicano, e il guacamole, con la sua semplicità e i suoi contrasti di verdi e rossi (come nella bandiera messicana), è un trionfo di allegria e gusto.

Ci sono diverse opinioni su come si fa il guacamole. Alcuni usano i peperoncini, altri cipolla o aglio. La cosa certa è che l’ingrediente base è l’avocado, come rivela il suo nome: aguacate (avocado in spagnolo) e mole (salsa in lingua Nahuatl o azteca). Il guacamole si prepara nel molcajete, il tradizionale mortaio messicano, schiacciando la polpa di avocado fino a ottenere una salsa cremosa. Pomodori, sale e limone (più altri ingredienti) vengono poi aggiunti. Per il mio guacamole, seguo la ricetta della ultranovantenne abuelita (nonna) messicana di mio marito: solo avocado, pomodori, cipolla, sale e foglie di cilantro (coriandolo), che sono la passione della abuelita. Il cilantro è una pianta esteticamente molto simile al prezzemolo (fanno parte della stessa famiglia), anche se il sapore è completamente diverso. Dato che il suo sapore è così caratteristico, è impossibile da sostituire tanto che è meglio ometterlo piuttosto che rimpiazzarlo con qualcos’altro. Sfortunatamente, qui in Italia non è facile trovarlo fresco: io e mio marito abbiamo risolto il problema coltivandolo, visto che una pianta è per noi più che sufficiente. Il coriandolo è una pianta facile da coltivare anche se è un annuale, cioè deve essere ripiantata o riseminata ogni anno. Il vantaggio nel coltivarsi la pianta da soli è che si possono raccogliere sia le foglie che i semi (i semi vanno raccolti in tarda estate, quando la pianta è ormai secca, e si possono usare nella preparazione del garam masala o in altri piatti della cucina indiana). Poiché la pianta non è verde tutto l’anno, si possono congelare le foglie per un uso successivo.

Per quanto riguarda l’avocado, la varietà migliore per il guacamole è la Hass, anche se ci si può accontentare di quello che si trova. L’importante è che l’avocado sia ben maturo, altrimenti la polpa non si può schiacciare bene e il sapore ne risente – il frutto è comunque pronto quando la buccia diventa nera e la consistenza è piuttosto soffice. Visto che in Italia e in altri paesi gli avocado sono importati, è probabile che i frutti che si trovano al supermercato siano piuttosto acerbi: in questo caso, basta lasciarli maturare qualche giorno a temperatura ambiente (se prevedete di servire il guacamole in una certa data, ricordatevi di comprare l’avocado qualche giorno prima).

Ingredienti

2 avocado
150 g di pomodori maturi
1 cipolla bianca piccola
una manciata di foglie di
cilantro (coriandolo)
sale q.b.

Tagliare a metà gli avocado, togliere il nocciolo, sbucciarli e tagliarli a pezzetti. Schiacciarli in una ciotola (o in un mortaio se preferite) con una forchetta finché non diventano soffici e cremosi (gli avocado non devono essere totalmente schiacciati: ricordatevi di lasciare qualche pezzetto intero). Lavare e tagliare i pomodori a piccoli pezzi. Aggiungere alla crema di avocado, mescolando, i pomodori, la cipolla e le foglie di cilantro. Salare.

Si può aggiungere anche il succo di un limone per evitare che l’avocado annerisca, ma l’acido citrico modifica il gusto. Usarlo solo se si prepara il guacamole diverso tempo prima di servirlo.


Roaming about market places in the South of France is a blaze of joyful colors and astounding perfumes. The heady smell of goat cheeses mixes with lavender sachets and Marseille soaps; spice and delicatessen stalls are squeezed between linens and Provençal nappes (the traditional bright-colored tablecloths with flower miniature motifs: olives, lavender, sunflower, and cigales, or cicadas, the symbol of Provence). Herb-flavored olives show off their beautiful colors and shapes in olivewood bowls. And there, among them, various kinds of tapenades are handed by jovial marketers to passing-by shoppers to be tasted with slices of freshly baked baguettes.

Spice marketstall in Port Grimaud, France

There’s nothing I can do: whenever I happen to visit France, I need to taste some tapenade which, incidentally, is perfect to accompany fresh goat cheese and baguette.

Tapenade is basically an olive pâté flavored with anchovies and capers. Typically black olives are used, but green olive tapenades can also be found on market stalls. Olives can be found all year round, though September is the appointed time for harvesting: so why not benefit by the period and have some delicious tapenade?

Making tapenade is actually pretty easy: olives, anchovies and capers are ground together; then olive oil and lemon juice are added to blend the pâté, which is finally made aromatic with herbs such thyme and laurel. Originally, mortar and pound were used to grind ingredients, but a food processor makes the whole preparation much easier and faster.

To get a richer and warmer touch, you can add to the tapenade three tablespoons of Cognac, or some other liquor, as common in some parts of France.

Ingredients:

200 g (7 oz) black olives, stones removed
100 g (3.5 oz) anchovy fillets
1 garlic cloves
50 g (1.7 oz) capers
5 cl (1.7 fl oz) olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 pinch of thyme
1 pinch of ground laurel
freshly ground pepper

Soak the anchovy fillets in cold water for 10 minutes. Grind olives, anchovies, garlic and capers with a mincing knife. Then put these ingredients into a mortar and pound them until they become a soft paste (alternatively you can use a food processor). Then mix in oil and lemon juice. Ultimately add the thyme and laurel, and the freshly ground pepper according to taste.

Sage is said to be hard to take root. That’s why our gardener and friend told us: ‘I’ll plant three specimens because some will surely die.’ Well, they probably will someday, but now, after two years, my sage is not only growing flourishing and luxuriant; it’s become so uncontainable that throughout these two years we’ve had to move several plants elsewhere because they ended up being choked by its exuberance. Good if you consider that the earth in my garden is but landfill and that the space allowed for planting is no more than 1.6 ft wide (though I suspect that the cultivated land that existed before our house was built has something to do with it…). Honestly, we’ve thought about removing the sage and re-plant but one specimen more than once; but it’s such a beautiful plant that it’s impossible to take it away from its place. Besides, when in bloom in spring it’s absolutely charming. Its long stems and lilac flowers are even more gorgeous than lavender. They say one should cut the flowers away to have more leaves, just like you do with basil, but I always wait for the flowers to fade. I love the sage corner in my garden, and the blooming contrast with the red foliage and tiny white flowers of Photinia shrubs and the soft pale pink buds of The Generous Garden rose. And most of all I adore the pungent intoxicating smell sage exhales on summer nights after raining or watering.

Sage pesto

Of course, the problem with having all this sage is ‘ok, what about it now?’ Apart giving bunches to friends and relations, it’s a shame to throw branches and leaves away after pruning. So I remembered a Florentine lady’s recipe I had the chance to taste some years ago in her Chianti B&B (actually, the same place where my husband and I later had our wedding dinner) but of which I’d never had the ingredients: the sage pesto. As the word itself reveals, pesto is a particular Italian sauce made by pounding (pestare in Italian) basil leaves in a mortar together with pine-kernels and ripened cheese. The original recipe comes from Liguria, a region famous for basil growing, and it is used to season pasta, usually trofie or orecchiette.
Sage pesto is a bit different from basil pesto and if you expect something like the latter you could be disappointed. Sage has definitely a much more pungent, almost bitterish touch compared to basil (for basil pesto I mean the traditional Italian recipe, not the original Ligurian recipe with potatoes and string beans), but it’s fresh and very aromatic. The procedure is the same for both basil and sage pesto, apart from the fact that we can use a food processor instead of pestle and mortar (yes, time is a hard master…). In the list of ingredients below you will find both parmigiano reggiano and pecorino as ripened cheeses. If pecorino is hard to find, you can use parmigiano reggiano exclusively. I add pecorino because it gives pesto a doughier and an unquestionably full-bodied touch compared to parmigiano. Moreover, being Tuscan I can’t do without it (pecorino is a Tuscan specialty, though you can find good pecorini in Latium and Sardinia as well) . Pecorino and parmigiano quantities are equal, but you can change them according to your own personal taste. The same can be said for pine-kernels: you can halve their quantity and add the same amount of nuts if you like. Don’t be afraid to experiment: that’s the fun of it!

Sage flowers in bloom

Ingredients

50 g (1.8 oz) sage leaves
40 g (1.3 oz) parmigiano reggiano cheese (parmesan cheese)
40 g (1.3 oz) pecorino cheese (sheep’s milk ripened cheese)
50 g (1.8 oz) pine-kernels
150 ml (5 fl oz) extra vergine olive oil
salt to taste

Carefully wash sage leaves and put them into the food processor. Add pine-kernels, the cheeses, and a little olive oil to soften. Turn the food processor on and mince until you get a creamy mixture. Put salt and more olive oil to make the pesto softer. Pesto can be kept refrigerated for several days as long as you cover it with a thick layer of oil; otherwise it oxidizes and becomes black (though it’s still good to eat).

Sage pesto

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