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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Love Italy - A Handful of Quick & Easy Italian Recipes for Home Entertaining (From Appetisers to Dessert)

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta."         - Federico Fellini

It seems that last week, the universe had set me up for a date with Italy! Somehow, everything I did, cooked, ate or read was Italian... even the few events I went to, where all to do with Italy. A mere coincidence, I tell you! But a very pleasant one. However, it is no coincidence that Italian cuisine is the most famous and best loved cuisine on earth. I mean who doesn't like Pizza, Pasta, Frittata, Pesto, Mozzarella, Tiramisu, Torta di Crema, Balsamico, Amaretti, limoncello, grappa ...? Just articulating the names in Italian Fashion puts you straight in the mood for La Dolce Vita
I will not focus on describing the Italian flavours, or eating experience, which I know you are fully aware of. Instead, in this post I want to share with you some of Italy's best products that happen to be available here in Dubai. I also want to share with you a tad more than a handful of convenience recipes using some of the products; as well as links to relative previous posts with Italian recipes. All in the hopes that no matter how busy your schedules are, these will help you have a delicious home cooked meal at the end of the day. These recipes are also great for entertaining - while very fast, easy and convenient, non of them compromises on flavour.

We all know that good ingredients are the decisive difference between rich good flavours and bland mediocre ones, which ultimately affect the whole eating experience. But mediocre and bland flavours shall no longer be on your menu, as now you can buy award winning, Artisanal and even FRESH Italian produce without even stepping out of your home!! Yes you can! Chef Juri and his lovely business partner Meeta, have brought to Dubai some fabulous and exclusive Italian products, from pastas, to pasta flours, sauces to oils and vinegars, not forgetting the fresh Italian cheeses such as Ricotta, Burrata, Mozarella, Giuncata, smoked Scamorza... and all that you desire. Not only are they supplying the market with all these delicious delights, but they also arrange for your desired products to be ordered from Italy on weekly basis; and to top it all, they deliver to your doorstep!!! What more can we really ask for? 

Chef Juri and his lovely business partner Meeta
I had met these lovely people early this year at Galleries Lafayette, where they sell some of their products. They introduced me to a variety of their offerings, which they have first started selling exclusively at Harrods in London, and have just recently brought over to the Dubai market. Their products include brands such as "Love Italy", "Casanova", the award winning "Filotea" pasta... You can say that the duo are a dynasty of Italian products. 
That day at Lafayette, I told Chef Juri that I would like us to cook together in order to try out the products, and for me to see what makes them special. A couple of weeks ago, he called me and informed me that they have just received a shipment of some fresh cheeses that he wants me to sample. So I invited him, and Meeta over for a cook-together in my kitchen and they came bearing delightful flavours. We had a fabulous cook-together and on the menu were several types of Pasta, and sauces. We have sampled their ready made sauces, vinegars, olive oils, and fresh cheeses all of which were tantalizing to my taste buds, and some of which I found to be extremely unique like the fresh "Burrta Tartufo", which is Burrata cheese made with black truffles  and the "Burrata Salmone" which is the same cheese but incorporating Salmon.

A variety of Olive Oils, Vinegars, Sabas, Sauces and flavourings to appeal to every taste bud 

While cooking, and eating till we could not eat no more, we were talking about the beginnings. Meeta tells me that she is very passionate about cooking and baking. She says that she is also just as passionate about good produce and artisanal products that are made by passionate people using old and traditional methods. We all know how I feel about that, so it was all music to my ears. She continues explaining that being very much into cooking, she always experimented in the kitchen until she came up with her own take on various recipes such as pesto, tapenade, salse verde, which ultimately became the recipes used for her 'Love Italy' Salses. Meeta emphasises that she follows very strict procedures in the production of each item. She also stresses that only authentic Italian products are used in the production, because she wants to ensure that her customers get a taste of 'Real Italian Flavours'. 

Due to some frustrations with some personal health issues, Meeta was always on the look out for healthy, wholesome foods, and therefore offers healthy products, a lot of which are Gluten-free. She makes sure that no additives, preserves, food colours or essences are used in the products. Consequently, in addition to being healthy, her products are the freshest they can possibly be, and of excellent quality, tasting exactly like their home-made counterparts.

Colourful Elbow Pasta

I thought the name of the brand 'Love Italy' was beautiful, and asked her what inspired it. She said: "I love Italy. I put a lot of love and passion into the products. By naming my brand 'Love Italy' I am asking people to love Italian flavours, products... to simply Love Italy." She says that through her brand and offered products, she wants to allow home-cooks of all levels to have home cooked meals the same quality as those when dining out. She even went the length of making these products so readily available that they deliver them to your doorstep. She understands time constraints and busy schedules and therefore doesn't want you to miss out on good food.

If you place an order for readily available items they will deliver the next day. For orders of fresh products that have to be flown in from Italy they are delivered every Thursday. Am so loving the options here :)

Chef Juri showing me a variety of fresh cheeses just arriving straight from Italy
Cooking, talking and sampling the products, I thought why not give you a variety of options inspired by the food we cooked and ate. So I have put together some very simple and convenient recipes for you to carry out at home. I also thought to give you course options as well, as you can pick and choose the courses to make up a whole menu when entertaining. Otherwise, choose from the different options to prepare your end-of-the-day meal. 

Recipe 1 - Appetiser Cheese Platters
Burrata with Tomatoes & Black Olives

Burrata cheese platter
This is a delicious appetiser to serve at the beginning of a dinner party for your guests to have in prep for the rest of the meal. It really is very simple, easy and super fast to prepare, yet will please any palate.
Serve along side very thin slices of toasted baguette. 
You can even place small plates of pesto, spicy sun dried tomato tapenade, and aged balsamic vinegar for your guests to add yet more flavour to each bite.

You Need
1 large plain Burrata
Baby Rocket leaves 
black olives, pitted and halved
Tomato, sliced
Olive oil

Place the rocket leaves in a disc at the bottom of your plate. Top with the Burrata cheese and scatter tomato slices and halved black olives around the cheese. Sprinkle all with a little olive oil. Serve with thin slices of toasted bread and dips as suggested above.

Recipe 2 - Appetiser Cheese Platters
Baby Burrata with Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto & Walnut Bread

Baby Burrata Cheese Platter
This is another version of the Burrata Cheese platter. However this one highlights the flavour of the milder flavour of the Baby Burrata and pesto. 
Serve along side very thin slices of toasted walnut Bread. 

You Need
3-4 Baby Burrata
Fresh Basil leaves 
Red & Yellow Cherry tomatoes, Halved
Basil Pesto
Olive oil
Walnut Bread

Gather the Baby Burrata and insert a skewer to secure in place. Insert the halved cherry tomatoes alternating the colours as in the picture on the right. Slice the rest of the cherry tomatoes and scatter on the plate, topping with fresh basil leaves. Spoon the basil pesto around the cheese and serve alongside thin slices of toasted walnut bread.

Recipe 3 - Appetiser Cheese Platters
Smoked Mozzarella & Plain Fresh Mozzarella

Smoked & Plain fresh Mozzarella Platter

This smoked Mozzarella is made using authentic traditional methods, which do not include addition of any chemicals. It is an all natural smoking process using herbs and specific types of wood. 
Smoked Mozzarella is a delicious flavour that your guests will enjoy. Add some fresh plain mozzarella to the plate for those who do not fancy the smoky flavours.
Serve along side very thin slices of toasted baguette. 

You Need
4 smoked Baby Mozzarella 
1 large plain fresh Mozzarella, quartered
Baby Rocket leaves 
Fresh Basil Leaves
Tomato quarters
Olive oil

Place the rocket leaves in a disc at the bottom of your plate. Top alternating, the quartered plain mozzarella and quartered tomoates. Top with some fresh basil leaves.
Place the smoked baby mozzarella on the corners of your plate, and drizzle some olive oil on the plate. Serve with thin slices of toasted bread and dips as suggested above.

Recipe 4
Open Faced Mini Sandwiches or Canapes
Burrata Tartufo with Black Olive Tapenade
Frehs Burrata Tartufo
Use this recipe to make open faced sandwiches (any size), or using a small cookie cutter, cut pieces of bread to bite size, drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven till golden. Use the same cookie cutter to cut the cheese. Continue as in the recipe below for succulent Black Truffle Burrata Canapes.

You Need
Fresh Burrata Tartufo (Truffle Burrata)
Black Olive Tapenade
Baby Rocket leaves
Truffle-Flavoured Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
French Baguette 

Cut the Bread into slices, drizzle with Olive Oil and toast in preheated oven, until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, Slice the Burrata cheese to the desired size (depending the size of the sandwich or canape) and set aside. 

Top each slice of bread with black olive Tapenade, top the tapenade with some rocket leaves, then the slice of truffle Burrata. Drizzle olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with Truffle flavoured Balsamic Vinegar.

Recipe 5
Open Faced Mini Sandwiches or Canapes
Burrata Salmone ai Salse Verde

You would think this is an unlikely flavour, but when you try it, you will find it to be very uniquely pleasant. The Burrata Salmone is a delicious cheese, and will make for a unique Sandwich.
Use this recipe to make open faced sandwiches (any size), or using a small cookie cutter, cut pieces of bread to bite size, drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven till golden. Use the same cookie cutter to cut the cheese. Continue as in the recipe below for succulent Salmon Burrata Canapes.

You Need
Fresh Burrata Salmone (Burrata incorporated with Salmon)
Salsa Verde ( rocca salsa)
Parsley Leaves for garnish
Smoked Salmon slices
Olive Oil
French Baguette 

Cut the Bread into slices, drizzle with Olive Oil and toast in preheated oven, until golden brown. Remove from the oven. Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, Slice the Burrata cheese to the desired size (depending the size of the sandwich or canape) and set aside. 

Top each slice of bread with the Salsa Verde, top the salsa the slice of Burrata Salmone. Cut the smoked salmon slice in half, shape into a small rolled flower and place on top of the cheese. Drizzle olive oil, and top with a parsley leaf. 

Recipe 6 - Entree Pasta
Fettuccine ai Funghi Porcini
(Fettuccine with Porcini Mushrooms)
Left: Award winning Filotea Pasta - Right: Fettuccine ai Funghi Porcini
Using the Filotea Pasta makes all the difference to this dish. Its texture allows it to adhere and absorb the sauce in a way to make every bite a well rounded coating of flavours. The Porcini Mushrooms add earthiness and a depth to the dish that is unmatched with any other mushroom. We have used dehydrated Porcini mushrooms, which we re-hydrated and used that water in the making of the sauce. The Original recipe calls for the use of white wine, however for a non-alcoholic sauce, substitute the wine with the same amount of the Porcini re-hydration water.

You Need
1 packet Fettucine Pasta
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
2 tbsp Olive Oil
a handful of dehydrated Porcini Mushrooms (quantity depends how strong you like the flavour)
1/4 cup white wine (or same amount of re-hydration water)
1/4 cup Porcini re-hydration water
1 cup double cream (if you want thin sauce you can add more, if your sauce turns out too thick, you can also add more)
A spring of fresh rosemary, finely chopped or 1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
Salt & Black pepper to taste
1 bunch, parsley roughly chopped 

Re-hydrate the dried Porcini by placing it in a bowl and adding enough water to cover. Set aside, until the mushrooms are re-hydrated. Once re-hydrated, remove from water, reserving the liquid for the sauce, and roughly chop the mushrooms. In the mean time, cook Pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain and set aside (do not rinse the cooked pasta).

Funghi Porcini Sauce

Make Porcini Sauce,
Heat the Olive oil in a saucepan, add the chopped garlic and stir fry for 1 minute, add the rosemary and continue to stir fry until the garlic is golden. Add the chopped porcini and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine (if using) and the mushroom water, and bring to a boil. season with Salt & Black pepper.
Add the cream and mix well, taste and adjust seasoning, bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and add chopped parsley, and simmer for 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the cooked pasta and porcini sauce. To serve transfer the portions to the serving platter, by rolling each portion over two chopsticks and carrying them over to serving platter. Sprinkle the top with chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Recipe 7 - Entree Pasta
Trofie ai Pesto
(Trofie Pasta in Pesto Sauce)

Trofie ai Pesto
This dish celebrates the flavours of Durum Wheat from which the pasta is made and pesto. This is a healthy pasta that is also super delicious. 
You can sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on top for added flavour.
Love Italy Salsas & Pesto
Good Quality with home-made flavours
All natural with no additives or preserves
You Need
1 packet Trofie Pasta
1 jar or recipe Basil Pesto  
2 large potatoes, cubed and boiled in salted water till soft (do not over boil)
150g green beans, steamed
Olive oil
Black pepper and grated Parmesan to taste
Fresh Basil Leaves for garnish

Boil the potatoes, steam the green beans and set aside. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain and set aside (do not rinse the cooked pasta).

In a saucepan, heat the Basil Pesto. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to coat. Transfer to serving platter and sprinkle with olive oil, Black pepper and Parmesan cheese. Place a few fresh basil leaves in the centre and serve warm.

Recipe 8 - Dessert Pasta
Penne al Cioccolato ai Crema di Noci 
(Chocolate Penne with Walnut Cream Sauce)

Penne al Cioccolato ai Crema di Noci
The original version of this is savoury, which you can serve alongside duck and other meats. The Original recipe is made by simply using garlic, walnuts, olive oil and salt & black pepper. 
This dessert version is inspired by the original savoury recipe. Feel free to use any flavourings that you feel go well with the flavours of chocolate and walnuts.
Chef Juri

You Need
1 packet Penne al Cioccolato (Chocolate Pasta)
60g raw walnuts, finely grated
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup cream
2 tbsp Brown sugar
2-3 tbsp water
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup icing sugar sifted 
1 tsp vanilla essence
cinnamon powder for garnish

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain and set aside (do not rinse the cooked pasta).

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the grated walnut, orange zest, water, sugar nutmeg and cinnamon and stir fry for 2 minutes, or until it resembles a sort of coarse cream. Add the 1 cup cream, and stir bringing to a boil.

Once boiled, remove from heat, add the cooked pasta and toss to coat. Place in small serving plates and refrigerate.

To serve, make whipped cream,
Chill the bowl and the wire whisk of a stand mixer till very cold. Once ready, place the cream, icing sugar and vanilla essence in the chilled bowl and beat with the chilled wire whisk on high speed until thickened.
Place the whipped cream in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe the cream to top the pasta the same way you would on top of a cupcake. Sprinkle ever so gently with powdered cinnamon and serve immediately.

A selection of Aged Vinegars and sauces that will add a whole new dimension to your cooking

We are all guilty of being overly busy at times, but that does not necessarily mean that we should skip on home entertaining and socialising with our friends over some good bites. With the right products - especially those that are all natural and without any additives or preservatives - we can serve up a whole menu of mouthwatering food with really good flavours. There is no shame in that, in fact it is plausible to actually put the effort despite the mad schedules. Then there are days when we feel like cooking everything from scratch which is also nice. 
When I asked, most of you told me that you would like to learn how to put store-bought products to best use, and I hope that this post gives you some ideas, and inspires you to come up with more concepts utilising those items you bought. Just remember bad quality products, will remain bad quality no matter what you do with them. While the ones with good quality will always enable you to serve good food. I really like the quality of the products Meeta and Juri are offering, through 'Love Italy' and the array of many other products that will allow you to taste the real flavours of Italy. I therefore do recommend that you look for their products and get in touch with them to order fresh Italian cheeses or even to find out more about their offerings. 

Disclaimer Note
This is not a paid advertisement, and I do not get any compensations for reviewing any product here on my blog. 

On my Blog, I do sometimes write reviews, and recommend specific products like in the case of 'The sisters Olive Oil' for example. But these are products I have found -on my own - to be outstanding, and believe you must know about them as they can tremendously change your cooking results. Therefore I have written these reviews and recommendations on my own behalf and did not earn any income for doing so
As I have promised you, my blog is dedicated to helping you understand food and take your cookery skills to the next level, part of that is knowing good products and produce, equipment, and staying up to date with market offerings, which is why I do these recommendations for you.
In the case of a paid advertisement/review appearing on my blog, you will be informed :)

Aged Casanova Vinegar with Gold Leaves

One final thing before you go, Last Wednesday I was invited by Tavola for the launch of Alessi's summer collection. Alessi is a beautiful Italian Brand, of which I am a huge fan and an avid collector. I find their concepts to be very stylish yet practical allowing you to entertain in style. I love their cake stands, serving platters, trays, and their whimsical shakers and wine openers... I really liked the new entertaining kit and new knives concept. The knives are actually marked to indicate usage, which I found to be super cute. 
In spirit with loving Italian products, you must go and check Tavola's new collections.

Thank you for coming back and reading this post, drop by again soon for more kitchen fun...

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