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Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta

My husband and I like to go to a little Italian restaurant around the corner from where we live (well, more like in the next suburb to be exact). The other day we were heartbroken to find out that the restaurant would be moving. We said that we needed to go there as often as we could so as to enjoy their food until the big move. One of the specials on the menu were these zucchini flowers stuffed with a prawn and scallop mousse. Of course we ordered the dish! How was it? It was fantastic. Crisp batter and a beautifully light mousse.

Do you remember how my Mom, aka the blog monster, thinks she is part owner of this blog? Well now there’s my husband as well, who I like to think of as the aspiring blogger. The other day he came home with a packet of zucchini flowers and said he would stuff them like the dish we ate a few nights earlier. He said he planned to make a vegetarian version with ricotta and some fresh herbs from our garden.

So he prepared the zucchini flowers all by himself, the only advice I offered was for him to stuff them using a piping bag instead of a spoon. But I pretty much left him alone in the kitchen. A few minutes later I heard a click from the kitchen… then another click… click … click…

Curious, I went to have a look, to see my husband taking photos of the zucchini flowers with his iphone! I knew then and there I created another blog monster! But hey, if he keeps churning out dishes like this one, it will definitely be worth it!

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta, Herbs and Pine Nuts

Serves 4
These zucchini flowers are a nice vegetarian dish. The ricotta mousse was delicious with the chopped herbs and the pine nuts added some nice texture to the dish.

  • 8 zucchini flowers
  • 250 grams ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 25 grams pine nuts, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed fresh herbs – basil, parsley, and mint
  • salt to taste
  • 160 ml ice cold water
  • 100 grams tempura flour
  • oil for shallow frying
  1. First remove the yellow stamens inside the zucchini flower by pinching it off.
  2. Make the ricotta mixture by combining the ricotta, egg, pine nuts, fresh herbs and salt to taste. Place in a piping bag.
  3. Pipe the ricotta mixture into each zucchini flower, making sure not to overfill the flowers. Twist the edge of the flowers to seal.
  4. Make the batter by combining ice cold water and the tempura flour. Mix lightly, around 5 to 6 times, making sure not to over mix the batter, it should stay lumpy.
  5. Heat the oil and dip the zucchini flowers into the batter and then carefully lower into the oil. Shallow fry the flowers for around a minute in each side until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve with lemon wedges and sprinkle with salt prior to serving.
Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta, Herbs and Pine Nuts

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Ricotta, Herbs and Pine Nuts

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Pumpkin and Ricotta Lasagna

Pumpkin and Ricotta Lasagna

I had a friend who was visiting for a few days and I found out that she had stopped eating meat since the last time I saw her.  On a whim, I told her that I too would give up meat.   If you read my blog, you’ll notice that I’ve always loved cooking/eating meat and there are a considerable number of recipes penned here.  So while the decision to do this was initially born out of curiosity to see if I could last a few days, I knew lasting more than a week wasn’t going to be easy.  I don’t know how long this will last – a few more weeks?  Months perhaps?  Forever?  I’m not really sure but for the meantime, I’m starting to enjoy the challenge of making tasty and meatless dinners.

This is one of those meatless dishes that I could happily eat everyday.  Think layers of creamy pumpkin puree and ricotta in between sheets of homemade pasta – believe me – it’s enough to convert any carnivore.

A little note about the recipe – it’s very simple to put together – unless you’re like me where you want to complicate things and make your own pasta (it’s worth it though) – but if you’re pressed for time, use store bought lasagna sheets.  Also, the pumpkin puree is delicious as a side dish too.

“I’m vegetarian!” I told proudly told a  work colleague during drinks one day.

“Since when?”  he asked.

“Wait a second,” another friend interrupted.  “Didn’t you just put that pate in your mouth?”  She asked.

“Ahh… actually I still eat chicken… and sesafood.” I clarified.

Vegetarian… almost.

Pumpkin and Ricotta Lasagna

Pumpkin and Ricotta Lasagna

Pumpkin and Ricotta Lasagna with Sage, Hazelnuts and Burnt Butter Sauce

Serves 4

  • 1 kilo Pumpkin
  • 150 grams unsalted butter plus 50 grams butter
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 400 grams ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 recipe pasta (see here)
  • 100 grams parmesan cheese
  • 10 sage leaves
  • 20 grams toasted hazelnuts
  1. To make the pumpkin puree, peel the pumpkin and diced into 2 inch cubes. Heat the 150 grams of butter in a pan and add the pumpkin once the butter is melted. Add the vanilla bean and scraped seeds and cook the pumpkin until soft enough that you can cut it with a spoon, around 20 minutes. Stir the pumpkin once in a while to make sure that the pumpkin doesn’t catch to the bottom of the pan. Once the pumpkin is soft enough, blend or process the pumpkin until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Mix the ricotta, egg and nutmeg together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside
  3. Grease a baking pan with some olive oil and lay sheets of cooked pasta to cover the bottom of the pan. Layer a third of the pumpkin puree and top with more of the lasagna sheets.
  4. Top with a third of the ricotta mixture and the cover again with more lasagna sheets.
  5. Now add half of the remaining pumpkin puree and cover with the lasagna sheets. Add half of the remaining ricotta and again, more lasagna sheets. Finally, spread the remaining pumpkin puree and on top of this add the rest of the ricotta. Top with parmesan cheese.
  6. Bake the lasagna in a pre-heated oven at 180c (fan forced) for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown.
  7. Heat the remaining butter along in a small sauce pan until it goes nutty brown. Add the sage leaves and to crisp them up. Top with the toasted hazelnuts.
Pumpkin and Ricotta Lasagna

Pumpkin and Ricotta Lasagna

On another note, the Council of Italian Restaurants Association (CIRA) has just posted their latest class schedule for June/July/August.  If you are interested in attending any of their classes, email cira@cira.com.au or follow @italcira on twitter for more details.

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Onion Spanakopita (Braised Onion Pie)

Onion Spanakopita (Braised Onion Pie)

“Why can’t you help out more with the housework?”  I screamed at my husband early on Saturday.

I must have shocked him at six in the morning but I was tired and grumpy and the dogs were whimpering for a walk and I wanted him, for once, to take care of it.

“Where is this coming from?” he asked.  “I’m always walking the dogs, cooking and washing and YOU need to do your share!”  I told him.

Now, I know that arguing with your husband at six a.m. isn’t the best of ideas and no arguments get resolved so early in the morning, but I wouldn’t back down.  So back and forth we went about who was going to walk the dogs and why I thought he wasn’t “sharing the burden” (yes, those were my words) and how he thought I was crazy for bringing this up so early in the morning and after twenty minutes we never really got to any resolution.

Instead of dwelling on our fight, I decided to take my mind off things and bake this beautiful Braised Onion Pie which I saw from the cookbook of Gary Mehigan and George Colombaris called “Your Place or Mine”  The recipe is George’s take on his Mum’s Spanakopita, a Greek pie made with spinach and feta.  Instead of the spinach, George makes onions the star of this dish.  The dish is made with caramelized onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, ricotta and a beautiful crumbly Greek feta.

Onion Spanakopita

Onion Spanakopita

A word of caution, there is a lot of onions to go through with this dish.  I normally refrigerate my onions prior to slicing them which, at least for me, helps to prevent my crying while I slice them.  But on that morning, there were lots of tears.

It was worth it though.  I started cooking at 10:00 am and at 10:30 my husband took the dogs for a walk.  At 11:30 he came back and watered the plants…. at 12 noon he took the trash out.

Something was going on.  Could it be the smell of the sweet caramelized onions making him sorry?  Was he trying to make amends so he could have some lunch?

As we sat down for lunch I asked him why he was being so nice.

“I knew you were upset, I saw you crying and wanted to make it up to you.” he said.

Crying? Should I admit that it was the onions?

Or maybe wait for him to read this post… :)

Onion Spanakopita (Braised Onion Pie)

Onion Spanakopita (Braised Onion Pie)

Onion Spanakopita (Braised Onion Pie)

From Your Place or Mine? Gary Mehigan & George Calombaris

  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 10 sprigs thyme
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 400 grams firm ricotta cheese
  • 400 grams feta, crumbled
  • 18 sheets filo pastry
  • 200 ml butter
  • sea salt flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil over high heat in a heavy based sauce pan. Add the onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, picked thyme sprigs and bay leaves and cook out for around 5 minutes over high heat. Turn the heat down to low and cook the mixture gently until the onions are caramelized, this will take around 45 minutes. Make sure to stir frequently to prevent the onions from catching the bottom of the pan and burning.
  2. Allow the onion mixture to cool and remove the bay leaves. Mix in the ricotta and crumbled feta.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 170c fan-forced.
  4. Cut the sheets of filo to fit a baking tray (I used a baking tray measuring 30cm by 24 cm) and lay the sheets on top of some greaseproof or baking paper and then cover with a damp cloth to prevent drying and cracking. Take one sheet of filo and butter the bottom of the tray. Spread a layer of the filo and brush some butter to cover and then layer another sheet of filo and brush some more butter to cover. Repeat this with six more sheets, brushing some butter each time.
  5. Place half of the onion mixture on the filo sheets and spread evenly. Next, cover with three more buttered sheets of filo and then the remaining onion mixture. Finally, place another seven sheets of buttered filo (make sure you butter the last sheet).
  6. Bake the pie in a pre-heated oven for 45 minutes and serve warm. If you are making the pie in advance, you can reheat the pie in a 180c oven for 15 minutes.

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Roast Vegetable Frittata

Roast Vegetable Cake

What a year 2010 was!  As I reflect on the year that’s just past, I can’t help but feel grateful (despite many, many stressful moments) to be where I am at this point in my life.  My top five unforgettable moments this year:

1. Hong Kong in February  for a girls only weekend.  It was the first time in ages that we had an exclusive “girls”-cursion which included my Mom, sisters and aunt.  Lots of eating, shopping and bonding.  I could tell you more about what we did but what happened in Hong Kong, stays in Hong Kong…

2. Watching the birth of my nephew James – Last July I was with my sister and her husband when my nephew James was born after more than 13 hours in labour.  In exchange? I was given the honour of cutting his umbilical cord (well, more like my brother-in-law was too queasy to do it) and being named his godmother.

3. Teaching my first macaron class – In August I taught my first macaron class at The Essential Ingredient.  I was so worried about making sure my class ran smoothly that I actually took leave off work two days before the first class to practice, practice, and practice some more!

4. Moving homes is one of the most stressful things I did this year.  Especially when the move required two trips using a ten ton truck, a month of packing, twelve hours of moving,  and three days completely devoted to unpacking (we’re still unpacking bits and pieces until today).   There were times when I wondered to myself “is it worth it?”… looking around now, I can say it was definitely worth it.  But let me tell you, I never want to move homes again!

5. Changing Jobs –  I had reached a plateau with my previous job but I was also hesitant to make the change to do something new. With the encouragement of friends and family, I finally decided it was time to move on after four years.  I am extremely excited to be working with a committed and successful team when I get back to work in the new year.

So what’s instore for 2011?

I wouldn’t even want to take a guess because had someone told me this time last year that I would do any of the following: go to Hong Kong for a bonding session, be present for my nephew’s birth, teach a macaron class, move home or change job – I would have told them that they were crazy…. and to think I did all of that in the last year alone!

So whatever happens in 2011, I say bring it on.  If 2010 is any indication – it’s going to be an exciting year!

Roast Vegetable Frittata

Roast Vegetable Cake

(more…)

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Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

I hated eating my veggies as a child.  I remember having dinner every night with the family and how my parents would insist that no one could  leave the table until all our vegetables were finished.  I knew of course this vendetta was solely targeted at me as my sibling never had the same aversion.   More than once I was forced to sit by myself, long after everyone else had left the dinner table, to finish my food.  Once, I was so desperate  that I decided the only way I could finish the spinach on my plate was to shred it into tiny tiny pieces and swallow it with big gulps of water.  I tell you, I had tears down my face as I gulped down at least three glasses of water just to finish my meal.

Sometime after that I discovered a way to outsmart my parents and this involved me pretending to swallow my vegetables but secretly spit it out in a serviette.  It seemed to work for a few months until I was found out and then had to resort back to the “swallow the veggies” technique again.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

Looking back, I’m sure I had this notion that all vegetables tasted horrid and bitter and there was no way I would ever, EVER grow fond of them.   Now I realize that it’s all about how vegetables are cooked and served.  Give me boiled spinach today and I’ll resort to a number of ways to dispose of it as in my youth.  But serve me spinach enveloped in a cloud of ricotta and parmesan, served with a browned butter and balsamic sauce and I guarantee you a clean plate!

Gnudi (Nu-dee) are dumplings, very similar to gnocchi but usually made with ricotta cheese.  Other sources think of it as a ravioli or tortellini without the pasta dough around it, hence the name gnudi (naked).

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

The inspiration for making this dish came one day from a twitter conversation where I asked what I should make for dinner.  One suggestion led to another and then I remembered a recipe I saw for Gnudi for the Australian Gourmet Traveller website.  I have changed the recipe slightly (1) I used  baby spinach rather than the three bunches of english spinach called for – I found it easier to use the ready washed packets of baby spinach leaves you can easily get in the grocery (2) I used two eggs instead of an egg and two egg yolks – because I would have had no use for the two egg whites and (3) I added some balsamic vinegar to the sauce which cut down nicely on the richness of the ricotta and butter.

Overall, this is a fantastic dish and I can see myself making this many times going forward… and it’s a dish that I’m pretty sure even vegetable-hating kids would enjoy!

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

Serves 6, Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

  • 400 grams ricotta, drained overnight in a fine sieve over a bowl
  • 250 grams baby spinach (I used the spinach salad leaves)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 35 grams flour, plus more for dusting
  • 80 grams cold butter
  • 16 sage leaves
  • 30 ml good quality balsamic vinegar
  1. Blanch the spinach in salted boiling water for around 5 to 10 seconds and then refresh in a bowl of iced water. Drain the spinach leaves and squeeze as much liquid as you can from the leaves.  When I drained the spinach leaves the weight came out to 125 grams.
  2. Finely chop the spinach and set aside.
  3. In a bowl combine the ricotta, spinach, eggs, parmesan, nutmet, flour, salt and pepper then roll into walnut sized balls. Refrigerate the gnudi balls for around 20 to 40 minutes until well chilled.
  4. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer over medium heat. Roll the gnudi balls in flour and shake off excess. Drop the gnudi into the salted water and cook until the gnudi start to float to the surface. This will take around 2 to 4 minutes and then carefully remove the gnudi using a slotted spoon. Drain on absorbent paper and keep warm.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a frying pan until foaming and browned. Add the sage leaves and cook until crisp, around 1 minute. Be careful not to burn the butter. Finally remove the butter off the heat and add the balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately with more parmesan cheese.

 

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

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