Monthly Archives: November 2011

In praise of the humble metal

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I love my iron pan! Yes – sounds strange, does it not? I also love my Le Creuset casseroles and my non-stick pans, but my simple iron cast pan does things that none of those other utensils can.

Iron is one of the oldest metals known to man, and has been used for centuries as a cooking utensil. In India it has traditionally been used to cook green, iron-rich vegetables like okra, spinach and black chickpeas (kale chane). It is not a common practice any more, and alas, none of the aunties who do it could tell me why they do it. Obviously we have lost some folk wisdom on the path to progress and non-stick land. Some couple of Google pages later, I understood  that cooking in an iron pan significantly increases the iron content of the food. Even better, most of this iron is bio-available which means it is more easily absorbed by our body. What a blessing! Especially for women.

As a cooking utensil, iron can be heated to extremely high temperatures without becoming toxic (unlike non-stick pans that emit a strange chemical smell when put on high heat) and that makes it extremely good for deep frying and grilling. Foods that are seared on an iron pan develop a wonderful crackly, deep brown crust – perfect for grilled fish, vegetables and French toast.

An iron pan needs a little bit of care and maintenance, but once you get through the early stages of `seasoning’, it is a dream to work with (google it, or ask me for details if you are interested).

So here is a recipe (an SS original) which would not be possible (for me) without my iron pan.

Zucchini Ferrumanta (ok – I just made that up…Ferrum of course being the scientific name for iron). Takes about 5 mins to prepare and 15 mins to cook.

* Zucchini – as many as you like, topped and tailed and cut into half-cylinders. Salt and drain zucchinis for 30 mins if you suspect they might be bitter. Rinse and pat dry before use

* Olive oil – about 2-3 tsps

* Garlic – 3-4 cloves, minced or crushed (I just use my handy dandy garlic crusher)

* Salt

* Lemon juice (optional) – a few squeezes

– Heat the iron pan oh high heat until smoking

– Place the zucchinis face down, in a single layer. Do multiple batches if needed. Do not be tempted to pile them up and get them all done in one shot – we need to sear the surface and get it nicely brown. Piling them will make them steam, not grill (which is also fine, but that is another dish, not this recipe)

Smokin'!

– Turn them over and grill the backs (for less time than the fronts). Click on the pics for a close up view

Waiting around...

– Once all the zucchinis are done, lower the heat, put them back in the pan, add minced garlic, salt and a dash of water (to prevent the garlic from burning). Stir, cover and cook on low heat for 5 mins (not much need to stir now)

– Let the zucchinis `rest’ in the covered pan for at least 10 mins until they are tender. I usually leave them in there for a couple of hours and lightly microwave before serving (saves the family the `torture’ of a smoky kitchen…delicious though the smells may be!)

– Serve with a dash of lemon juice if you like it that way – or without, if that’s your preference. The addition of Vitamin C by the way (from the lemon) makes it easier for the body to absorb iron.

All done!

Works well as a side dish, a warm salad or even with pasta (add a dash of extra virgin olive oil). Bon appetitito!

…and this is what happened to the leftovers last night. Fresh pappardelle with  pesto, zucchini, rucola and peperoncino. BTW the name of the pasta derives from the Italian verb `pappare’ – to gobble up…t’was fitting.

 

 

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Fit for a princess

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I used to live in Flanders (the top half of Belgium), and figured that the Flemish have a lovely lovely name for green beans – Prinsessenbonen. I mean, how romantic and dainty can ordinary green beans get? Shock to the system – green beans and other beans such as kidney beans, navy beans and black beans are all known scientifically as Phaseolus vulgaris. Ouch! Vulgaris? What a let down.

Oh well, I prefer to go with and build up on the `princess’ bit; so here is a firm family favourite – a salad / side dish recipe that is just so Barbie / fairy princess, whatever. Like the  Flemish and scientific nomenclature of the ingredient, the dish is a study in contrasts. Wispy pink onions add a girlish charm to humble green beans, but the crunch packs a mighty punch.

FIT FOR A PRINCESS’ BEANS

– Green beans (string beans, French beans)– 250 gms (wash, top and tail, and cut into halves/thirds. Boil/steam/ microwave for about 3 mins. Beans should be just 3/4th cooked)
– Red onions – 1 large (peel and thinly slice)
– Olive oil – 1 tsp
– Extra virgin olive oil – 1 tbsp
– Lemon – 1 medium
– Sea salt if available or just regular salt will do
– Sugar – 1 tsp

· In a non stick pan, heat olive oil to medium heat.
· Add onions, and fry for 2-3 mins, until soft.
· Add lemon juice – the onions will turn pink. If you are cooking many hours before serving, stop at this stage, and do the rest (including steaming the beans) before serving, or else the beans will lose their fresh green colour.
· Immediately add beans and cook for another 2-3 mins. Remove from heat, add extra virgin olive oil, salt and sugar.
· Serve warm or at room temperature, as a salad or a side dish.

Be prepared for your diners to fight over the onions!

Autumn Sonata

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I’ll start by paying homage to my favourite season and all the interesting foods and colors it brings. What I absolutely love about Italy is how foods change by the season  – not just what is available but also what restaurants serve up as their daily specials. It’s such a wonderful way of life – healthy, delicious, and a gentle reminder of our connection with the earth and the bounties it serves up.

Last year I `discovered’ a wonderful fruit called `caci’. Research led me to figure out it’s called Persimmon in English. We don’t have it back home in India except as a very expensive `exotic’ fruit that no one ever seems to eat because of it’s strange taste. It’s called Japani Aam (Japanese Mango) which leads to further alienation and a really unfair comparison with the King of Fruits, the Mango (Indian mangoes rock!)

In autumn caci is abundant, inexpensive and absolutely bursting with flavor! When it’s ripe it has the texture of a water ballon,  ready to burst at the slightest pressure. Inside, it’s gelatinous, fibrous, and very sweet with an almost unctuous mouthfeel. It’s a great source of Vitamins A, B and C, and also antioxidants and dietary fibre.

Normally it’s served at the table quartered, and to be eaten with a knife and fork, but I recently discovered Crema di Caci  (cream of caci) – a delicious dessert at a lovely eatery called Mangiari di  Strada http://www.mangiaridistrada.com/  (thank you E and friends!). For a person like me who is not really keen on desserts it was manna from heaven – ridiculously simple to make and zero guilt to eat. What could be better?

So, here it is – my healthy, delicious, beautiful dessert….Autumn Sonata!

In 3 easy steps:

1. Halve the caci and scoop out the flesh into a small jug / pan, discarding the white fibrous bits just below the stem. The caci MUST be ripe, otherwise it has an astringent taste.

2. Whip up the flesh with a fork until it is all broken up and the mix is smooth. If there are some bits that are really fibrous and clumpy and it bothers you when serving as a dessert, discard them (or just eat them!).

3. Pour into goblets or glasses and chill for a few hours (tastes great even without chilling, I just prefer it cold). I sometimes add red berries/rasberries just before serving.

Enjoy the golden-orange hues of the season…by the spoonful.

Welcome!

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Welcome to  my blog – Of Cabbages and Kings. This space is devoted to my adventures in the lands of food, travel and LIFE! It’s called what it is in tribute  to that wild and wonderful story of Alice in Wonderland …quote…

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”