Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Marcella Hazan's Ragu Bolognese - A Vegetarian Version

After admitting my lack of knowledge of the great food writers of our time last Friday, I decided to get my act together and actually do something about my ignorance.
And so I found myself this Saturday, both cooking Marcella Hazan's Ragu Bolognese and reading her book The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking on my phone, whilst stirring the aforementioned Ragú Bolognese and doing some homework for my Russian class.
And Marcella Hazan already feels like part of the family, her way of teaching sounding a bit like an Italian version of my own grandmother, who loves to cook for us and is kind of old-fashioned about her way of cooking. You see, my grandmother never really go into that whole pasta thing, and to this day I don't think she ever cooked pasta for me. Maybe egg-noodles, but not the eggless, dried Italian kind of pasta. And to this day, she is famous in our family for her crispy skillet-fried potatoes.
I was reminded, too, of my grandmother, when the smells of the Ragú Bolognese started to fill the kitchen, with that scent of wine and mushrooms and butter it smelled as if I stepped into my grandmothers kitchen, leaving me with the desire to one distant day in the future be that grandmother, too.
Do you know that feeling? I can't really picture myself having kids and all, but I have such clear images of myself as a grandmother. I guess I am kind of weird.
Well, so I found myself stirring Marcellas meat sauce, without the meat. I don't know what she would think of that, of that new vegetarian thing. I know my own grandmother is baffled as to what to cook for me, and probably does not understand one bit. But other than substituting the meat for lentils, and adding some mushrooms to compensate for flavour loss, I actually followed Marcellas recipe almost to the letter. I just committed one sin, using red wine instead of white because I had to open bottles of the red and did not want to go out and buy white wine, which I really don't like that much to drink. But other than that, this is as original as a vegetarian version of a meat sauce can get.
I don't know who the original sauce tasted, having learnt about Marcella Hazan only after becoming a vegetarian, but my vegetarian version turned out fantastic. This is something I'd love to serve guests, seeing as it is more difficult to find a vegetarian recipe that is worthy of being served to guests.

Lentil Ragú Bolognese
adapted from this version on Leite's Culinaria

Note: Marcella Hazan's recipe in the book the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking asks for only one cup each of the milk and wine, and thus requiring less cooking time. I went with the version linked to above since I bought the cookbook only after starting the sauce. I suspect you could cut the liquid ingredients back without compromising flavour all that much. And while I served my ragú with spaghetti, apparantly that is not authentic. If you want to be true to Marcella's recommendation, go with homemade fresh tagliatelle instead of the spaghetti.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/3 cups chopped celery
1 1/3 cups chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped dried porcini mushrooms
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
2 cups whole milk 
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
2 cups red wine
3 cups canned imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, with their juice
200g brown lentils, uncooked 
As much spaghetti as you wish, cooked and drained  
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat the oil and 6 tablespoons butter in a heavy 5-quart over medium heat until the butter melts and stops foaming. Drop in the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it has become translucent, about 5 minutes. 
Throw in the celery, carrot and mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well with the fat.
Turn the heat to low. Pour in the milk and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has cooked away completely, about 1 hour. Stir in the nutmeg.
Pour in the wine and let it simmer, stirring frequently, until it has evaporated, about 1 hour.
Add the crushed tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat everything well. When the tomato puree begins to bubble, turn down the heat so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.
Cook, uncovered, for at least an hour stirring from time to time. If the sauce is getting to dry, add 1/2 cups of water as necessary. 
In the meantime, cook the lentils in plenty of water until soften but not until done. You just want to make them soft enough to give them a quick chop before adding them to the sauce. 
In the last 30 minutes of cooking the sauce, add the coarsely chopped up lentils (I just gave them a quick chop on a cutting board, the food processor seems to skin them rather than cut them into pieces) Cook the sauce until the lentils are soft. At the same time, bring a pot of water to a boil and your pasta according to package instructions, until they are al dente.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the hot pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Roasted Delicata Squash with Chinese Flavours

I think this is the appropriate moment to thank Katie and Luisa for introducing me to Fuchsia Dunlop. I love to think of myself as someone who is into reading food writing but honestly, I don't really know all the great food writers everyone else seems to know. Expect for M. F. K. Fisher, whom I just adore, I have not read any of the classics and I also don't know the more recent writers.
So I have never ever heard of Fuchsia Dunlop before reading Katie's post a while ago (which made me turn to amazon and order her most recent book Every Grain of Rice)
Dunlop really is a wonderful writer, and as Luisa pointed out in her post about one of Dunlops recipes, she can make stinky fermented tofu and slippery sea urchins sound so intriguing you want to run out to buy everything you need to make these dishes.
And ever since receiving the book, I can't seem to stop myself from trying her recipes or just infusing just about anything with Chinese flavours. And that eventhough I haven't done much Chinese cooking so far, but her book shows such a different kind of Chinese cuisine than what I am used to from Chinese restaurants here.

Today I made her mapo dofou recipe, which you can find at the guardian and this delicata squash to go with it. I have actually never bought Delicata squash before, but now that I tried it, I don't think I'll ever turn back. I love its delicate sweetness and the fact that you don't have to peel it. Yay. Just cut it into slices, remove the seeds, brush a little olive oil on the slices and throw them in the oven.

Once roasted, I just topped it of with a sprinkle of Szechuan pepper a drizzle of Chinkiang vinegar and chili oil and some finely sliced scallions. And then I ate almost all of the squash myself, leaving only a few slices to Michael who got home from university later.

Roasted Delicata Squash with Chinese Flavours

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Slice a delicata squash into rounds and remove the seeds. Brush the sices with a mixture of 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp sesame oil. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the squash is browned in places and tender. Remove from the oven and sprinkle 1/2 tsp roasted, ground szechuan pepper on top, then drizzle on 1 tbsp of Chinkiang vinegar and 2 tsp szechuanese chili oil. Finely slice the green part of a scallion and scatter over the squah.

For the chili oil, you can buy chinese chili oil, but it is hotter than szechuanese chili oil (so you might want to use less) or follow Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Home! + a giveaway

Last saturday Michael and I went on a short hiking tour in a part of Switzerland called Entlebuch. And I have to say that I love being back home - never before have I appreciated the beauty of this country of ours more than right now. Those mountains and villages and lush green fields, and those lakes (though there are no lakes in the Entlebuch). And the cold rivers and windy brooks.

It feels good to be back home.

 And to celebrate the fact that I am back home in Switzerland, I would like to give away a copy of the Lucerne Market Cookbook. It is not a cookbook I actually use myself because it is very meat (and fish) centric, but I thought it might be interesting for one of you, if you want to get to know Swiss cuisine and just generally would like to have a look at the Farmer's Market in Lucerne, my hometown. The cookbook does not include many classic Swiss dishes, but it highlights the produce that is available at the market and the recipes that come recommended by farmers, cheese mongers or fish sellers and market visitors, too. The Black Tea Roast and Rocket Salad Sandwich for example is a recipe a Japanese market visitor gave to two market stall holders, adn the recipe for Pumpkin Lasagne comes from a market visitor from close to Lucerne. But more than the recipes I love how the book showcases the twice weekly market that takes place on both sides of the Reuss, the local river, inbetween all the tourist attractions. It is a beautiful setting and if you ever visit Switzerland I'd love to show you around. But since I can't just invite anyone, I'd love to offer at least one of you a kind of virtual visit to the market through the book.

So if you'd like me to send this book to you, leave a comment and tell me what you love about your home. I'll draw a winner next Sunday and send the book off as soon as I get your adress.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Eggplant, Tomato and Zucchini Gratin with Parsley Breadcrumbs

I have tried writing about coming home for the last four weeks, unsuccessful as you can see. But we are back, and I am cooking again. It is good to be back after such a long hiatus. I might write about the rest of our trip on a later date and maybe about coming home, but right now I don't find the words and prefer to enjoy the moment instead of looking back.

I was so happy not to have missed all of summer's vegetable bounty. When we returned, tomatoes were just getting really juicy and sweet and lovely sprinkled with a little salt and the olive oil we brought back from Italy back in spring. And since we've been back in our apartment, we've had a bowl full of San Marzano tomatoes on our kitchen table. Ready to be eaten. Ready to be cooked down into a simple, garlicky tomato sauce. We made a lasagne with fresh tomatoes (which actually turned out dry, sorry mum) and today I made this gratin I found in Vegetable Literacy, a cookbook I bought just before leaving for Bolivia and haven't actually used it much since then (for obvious reasons).
Like Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, Vegetable Literacy is divided into chapters according to vegetable family, which is very helpful when you find yourself with an abundace of summer squash, green beans or run out of inspiration in the middle of winter on how to use carrots or cabbage. And considering the fact that the gratin I made today turned out wonderfully, I think I am going to cook from this cookbook quite a few times in the future.

The recipe for the gratin can be divided into two parts, first you make a rataouille of sorts, cooking the eggplant and tomatoes into a thick stew while lightly steaming the zucchini slices that Deborah Madison makes you place on top of the sauce, keeping them from falling apart.
Then you scatter breadcrumbs over the ratatouille and after 25 minutes in the oven soft pieces of eggplant and tomato and zucchini with a herby crunchy topping emerge.

Eggplant, Tomato and Zucchini Gratin with Parsley Breadcrumbs
Adapted from a recipe in Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison
Note: Deborah Madison has you top the ratatouille with slices of mozzarella, which in my opinion, does not much for the dish itsself, so next time I would omit the mozzarella and maybe stir in some parmesan with the breadcrumbs or keep this as is.

for the ratatouille
1 eggplant, quartered lengthwise and cut into slices
2 onions, cut into thin wedges
3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp dried rosemary
4 San Marzano tomatoes (or 5-6 of regular round tomatoes), cut into dice sized pieces
2 smallish zucchinis, cut into slices the same width as the eggplant
salt and pepper
2 tbsp tomato paste

for the topping
1 clove of garlic
a bunch of parsley
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 tbsp olive oil

Before preparing the other vegetables, slice the eggplant and lightly salt the slices. After prepping everything else, dab the excess moisture off of the slices.
Preheat the oven to 375°F/200°C.
In a skillet with a lid, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Sauté the onion until translucent and fragrant, then add the dried herbs and garlic and let cook for another minute or so. Then stir in the eggplant and tomatoes and sauté a minute or two before turning down the heat. Place the zucchini slices on top of the eggplant and tomato stew, cover the skillet and let cook, on low heat, for 20 minutes or so.
While the ratatouille cooks, prepare the topping. Putthe garlic and parsley into the bowl of a small food processor and give it a whiz until cut into smallish pieces, then add the breadcrumbs and pulse until the breadcrumbs are mostly green. Stir in the olive oil and set aside.
With two spoons remove the stew from the skillet into a baking dish and mix in the tomato paste with the liquid that remains in the skillet. Add this liquid to the ratatouille. Top everything off with the green breadcrumbs and bake for 25 minutes.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


We've been gone for almost a month now, and between landing in Santa Cruz on the first day, and leaving Bolivia for Peru a few days ago, we've seen quite a bit of Bolivia. I started writing down our itinerary, telling you something about every place we visited, but with only a sentence or two for each I felt I'd sell the country short, making this sound like a report and not the small adventure it is. All the impressions, the smells and sounds of Bolivia are hard to capture in writing, and cannot be simply written down in one short afternoon. So below, there are some of our pictures that we used in our German travel blog, the one we write together to keep our families informed. They are in chronological order, and end on the salt flats in Uyuni, one of the most spectacular things we've seen so far.

There are a few things worth noting about Bolivia, some we did expect, others we didn't. 
I'll go with the food first, this is a food blog, after all. If you ever visit Bolivia, do not expect to eat well. Especially if you are vegetarian. We had some decent food, some tacos once that were pretty good, but Bolivia is just not the place to go if you visit a country for its gastronomy. Down below is a meal we had at a market, the rice and french fries would normally be accompanied with fried chicken, but like at this market, we never actually had troubles finding anything to eat. It's just that you might end up eating Pizza three days in a row, or you'll have to order an other greasy omelett. 
On the other hand, we are quite happy about the fruit situation. Since parts of Bolivia are tropical, you can get fresh fruit juices at the markets, with fruit that you can't get where we live. In Sucre, we'd go to the market every morning, getting a huge glass full of fresh orange and maracuya juice for about a dollar.

And then we were kind of surprised by that fact that it is currently winter in Bolivia. I did my reading back home, about the weather and the season and the temperatures we'd encounter on our trip. What I did not factor in that unlike in Switzerland you can't just go inside a house and be nice and warm and cozy after spending the day outside. Until now, central heating has not made its way over the pond and even electrical heaters are rare. So for the last maybe two weeks, we were freezing. Especially on the tour through the salt flats and the beautiful beautiful landscape we drove through before reaching the salt flats. We have been back down a bit for about a week now, and while it is still winter here, it really feels good to not be sleeping in all the clothes you own. 

Experiencing the altiplano is so strange. It really is just soo flat, and it looks a bit like you are at sea level, being surrounded by mountains, but then you realize that you already are over 4000 m over sea and that back home you can get to this altitude that easily. There'd be lots of climbing involved.

I feel like I am complaining about Bolivia, when I just don't find the words to summarize the last 4 weeks into coherent sentences. It has been great traveling this country, and it has been strange saying good bye already last Sunday morning. We are in Cusco now, leaving tomorrow to hopefully reach Machu Picchu on Saturday. There are strikes and maybe road blockages planned for tomorrow, so please wish us luck.