I came to the conclusion that the smoothness of this family summer was because both my sister and I were both busy for most part of the day; my sister with the language course and me... Well, I was recipe developing with a pastry chef I met not so long ago. We were working on a set of new Italian inspired dessert to present to a customer.
For a short time my dear friends Sarka and her boyfriend Pavel did so in their lovely house in south London. After my family had left back for Sicily, I deeply felt that I needed a holiday. One of those where you do not do anything else than meeting up with friends, sipping coffees, chit-chatting and fattening your soul and your body (and also those of your friends in my case). I met Sarka during the first FBC and once she moved to the new flat with her boyfriend I visited them again for a few days one year ago. The relaxed and vibrant atmosphere they are able to create around themselves coupled with the lovely sunny kitchen (and garden) made me long for another trip to London. Furthermore, most of my dearest friends on this side of the pond, resides around the big L and so I could couple my lazy recovery kitchen sessions with a full experience of the gastronomy of such a metropolis with special people.
Precious memories are build piece by piece, but they are just aseismic as the Great Pyramid, defying the sands of time waiting to be rediscovered when you think they have been lost forever. Furthermore, this time I had the great luck to have another dear friend from across the pond visiting UK (actually her visit was the event that triggered my decision for doing the trip). Asha was visiting UK with her husband and she would be in London for just a few days, enough for us to share one of those memory-building experience around a table full of rich food and bathed in the unexpected summery London sun. Sarka proposed us to lunch at a Turkish restaurant in London South-Bank area and we all agreed on it. Few minutes of walk from Victoria station we found Tas.
Hosted under the arcades of a bridge, the room had a lofty and rustic but elegant look typical of domed brick-wall spaces. The outside patio was embedded in a rich ensemble of palms, roses and other plants making up a little neighborhood garden. The food was rather nice (especially their self-baked pita bread and baked spicy black olives). The hummus left us a bit scratching our heads with its high content in tahini and no lemon juice in it but the rest of the mezze spread made up for it. Minty fresh tzatziki; fresh tabbouleh; rich roasted pepper, walnut, bulgur salad among others, just wet our appetite for the refreshing main courses. Of the five we shared, the crunchy fried calamari ring served with a spicy rose petals jam just struck my sweet-savory cord of remembrance. As has always happened so far when I have met a dear foodie-friend, the meal was a blast of vibrant energy and complicity; so far so that Asha's husband and cousin who were with us left a bit puzzled about how we seemed to be long time friends having an usual lunch-date.
I totally love this aspect of our community, we share food as we share our lives. We are there in each bite we give to each other through the virtual world, with every tweet or support over life's many obstacles. We are Oceans apart but still you can hear the clinking of glasses when we cheer with each other with some wine or any kind of booze actually. The sharing of experiences, of point of view, of tastes is what made up many of our cultures and local kitchens are just the best way to see and experience first hand these nuances.
The more time I spent in London with my friends, with myself, trying to focus my inner beacon so to get something accomplished in the near future; the more I realized that my Sicilian heritage is what shaped me, the ancient paved road barely visible under everyday distractions.
It just needs a bit of perspective, a higher point of view and somebody to point you out few unmistakably aligned stones down there. Now that I finally recognized it in all its magnificence, I just need to follow it and see where it will bring me. The recipe(s) I propose you today are an example of the power of limited-creativity.
Ingredients (make 5 of each):
- 250g Broccoli florets
- Olive oil
- 100g ricotta
- 0.5g nutmeg
- Salt or Parmesan
- 1 big or 2 medium garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Oregano pickled Red-Onions
- 70ml vinegar
- 30ml water
- 1/2tbsp oregano
- 1/2 red onion, sliced into 3mm/1/8th" slices
- Olive Oil
- 1 pinch chili flakes or to taste
- 1 stick celery, sliced into 3mm/1/8th" slices
- 1.5tsp sugar
- 1tbsp vinegar
- 5 Black Olives pitted
- Rice vermicelli soaked in vegetable broth (optional)
- 1can tuna drained
- 1.5tbsp Ajvar (spicy Turkish paste made up of roasted peppers, eggplant and garlic)
- 0.5tbsp garlic olive-oil (from the garlic confit above)
- 5 Black Olives pitted
- 1tbsp lemon juice
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 1/2tsp fish sauce or to taste
- 1 pinch black pepper
- 15 rice paper sheets
- Cold vegetable broth
To roast the broccoli florets, preheat the oven to 225C/437F. Cut the florets to bite sized pieces, coat with olive oil, sprinkle with some salt and roast them in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until they start to brown. Let them cool down to room temperature before use.
To confit the garlic, julienne it into matchsticks and transfer it in a small pot containing the olive oil. Set the pot over low flame, bring the oil to a slow simmer and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
For the ricotta spread, mix the ricotta with the grated nutmeg; season with a little salt or Parmesan to taste and set aside.
For the tuna-ajvar filling, mix the tuna with the Ajvar, the garlic olive oil until well combined, season to taste.
To pickle the onions, combine the vinegar, water and oregano in a small pot; bring to a simmer and poor over the onions. Let the onions pickle until cooled to room temperature.
Let's do the sweet-sour celery now. In a skillet heat up the olive oil with the chili flakes until sizzling. Add the sliced celery and sweat it for a few minutes. Sprinkle the sugar and the vinegar on them. Stir until the sugar will be dissolved and taste for seasoning. Set aside until cooled down.
Last but not least the salmoriglio sauce. Combine all the ingredient in a little bowl and whisk until well combined. This sauce will separate and will need to be whisked often, you might avoid it by adding a little mustard to the dip.
When ready to serve, quickly dip the rice paper into the cold broth (I used a flat plate big enough to accommodate the rice paper), set it onto a flat surface and place some:
- Nutmeg ricotta, topped by some broccoli florets, few confit garlic matchsticks and a drizzle of their oil;
- Pickled red onions with some oregano, some sour-sweet spicy celery, some rice-vermicelli (if using) and one black olive torn into pieces;
- Tuna-ajvar mix and one black olive torn into pieces;
horizontally very close to the lower border of the rice-paper circle, fold the lower lip of rice paper over the filling followed by the two vertical ones on the side so to have a rectangular piece of rice-paper with the filling at the bottom. Roll the spring-roll into a tight bundle and set aside.
Serve the rolls with the salmoriglio sauce and the remaining garlic oil for dipping.