This time a new month means also a new year. I am still on holiday mode and probably not ready yet to commit the year past to paper. Quite frequently my thoughts need a noticeable amount of time to crystallize into a concrete expression of words and metaphoric images. It will come the time when my ode to 2012 will be ready for publishing but for the moment it is Secret Recipe Club time (not without a brief account of my holidays so far)!
The past two weeks have been quite unusual for me and my family; spending the holidays far from home but still in a home with a family, a large family not yet formally ours, have made these festivities something to remember.
Few days before Christmas we took our suitcases and traveled south-west of our home town in Sicily, toward the charming little sea town of Sciacca. Here my sister's boyfriend (Nicola) and his family were expecting us.
It wasn't our first time in Sciacca but very little memories are left in my mind of that original visit.
Built over a mountain facing the sea, the town of Sciacca now extends its embrace till the sea shore in a wide fan of old and modern houses and a dedal of steep slopes and staircases.
In our luck, we were hosted in a sea-side house. Only a narrow street separated us from the blue Mediterranean sea and then Africa. I have never lived so close to the sea before and I will surely miss it.
We have been blessed with a sequence of magnificent spring days were the blue sky was barely grazed by light clouds, enough to ensure each day a romantic and humbling sunset. Even the seagulls were enjoying this warm sun perched atop their rocks in dense flocks, awaiting the fishermen's return in the early afternoon.
A wind of Scirocco blew often from South making the sea breath, sometimes even a little heavily.
I have discovered my love for the crushing sea waves during a holiday in Portugal few years ago and since then they have always inspired me quietude and introspection. During this holidays I have made sure to take long walks on the beach, chasing the elusive shells among a multitude of multicolored pebbles of sexy smoothness. Unfortunately, not much of the legendary Sciacca coral is left for the sea to bring ashore, most of it lying half forgotten into jewel boxes scattered across the globe.
Attune with the natural landscape, the city and its inhabitants live a calm life of social engagements. Far are the innerving honking of car horns (despite the many pedestrians roaming freely the streets normally dedicated to vehicles). The town square is wide and welcoming with an embrace of civil and religious buildings on one side and a magnificent view of the the port on the other.
The little streets, often wide enough to barely allow only one car to pass through, are adorned with constructions dating as far back as the XIVth century. Little shops and laboratories of the local maioliche make for a pleasing splash of Mediterranean colors among the tawny color of the local sandstone used for the buildings.
But all this picturesque landscape wouldn't be worth as much if it wasn't for Nicola's extended family. I have forgotten what being among family members meant, it was the first time I met them but their welcoming embrace was as warm and heartfelt as it could be.
We spent both Christmas and New Years together taking part to their traditional celebrations (as well as Nicola's little nephew choir concert for Christmas). Naturally, being all Sicilians, food was never afar from our hands! Pity I couldn't try the delicious bread or pizzas all my family were raving about (under my nose) but I surely shoveled down a ton of the amazing arancine produced in many of the local pizzerie as well. Stuffed with ragu, sausage and cheese, butter and ham or salmon they were among the most delicious things ever to graze my hungry belly. Sorry but somehow my shoveling instinct was too strong and won over the photographing one so the arancine went unrecorded for this time, stay tuned though for some shots of our festivity buffet tables in later posts.
Back to business, this month of the Secret Recipe Club I got assigned Sarah's blog "The Pajama Chef".
As it can be foreseen by her blog name, Sarah is a very laid back girl who enjoys the simple pleasures of everyday's life as long as they come garnished with peanut butter, her hubby Ben, her kittie-cat Sheba Genevieve and the embracing love of Jesus Christ.
On her blog, Sarah shares with us the recipes she uses for her weekly meal plans and hence they are pretty varied both in cultural origin and serving occasion. I went directly to her Recipes directory to choose what to be inspired from and, guess what, it was a meat course: Sarah's Pork, Apple, and Ginger Stir-Fry .
I really liked the idea of having some apples in a stir fry especially when coupled with the ginger. I was still in Sciacca when I cooked this so I was a little bit more limited than usual on my spices pantry so I turned myself to the local products instead. I used some oranges from Nicola's garden as well as almonds from the near Agrigento; I still kept the soy sauce that gives me that oriental touch that each stir fry needs.
At long last, here you are my: Gingery Beef stir-fry with apples, oranges, broccoli and crunchy almond topping.
Gingery Beef stir-fry with apples, oranges, broccoli and crunchy almond topping
Ingredients (serve 5):
- 500g shredded beef
- 3 inches piece of ginger
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 300g broccoli florets, cut in wedges and pan roasted
- 1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and cut in dices
- 2 celery ribs, cut in slices on a bias
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tablespoon butter
- 2 handsfull almonds, crushed in a mortar
- 1 small orange (zest and flesh)
- 3 tablespoons fruity white wine, like Marsala
- Few cherry tomatoes, quartered
- Salt and Pepper
Let's start by marinating the beef. Mince half of the ginger and add it to the shredded beef with the soy sauce and the extra-virgin olive oil and let marinate for about 30 minutes or even a couple of hours.
When the marinating time will be elapsed preheat a large pan over high fire. Tranfer the marianted meat on the very hot pan and saute' the beef until browned on all sides, at this point add to the pan half of the diced apple, half of the sliced celery and the minced garlic. Lower the heat to medium and toss all the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Add a little water to the pan and bring the beef to the cooking degree of your likings.
In the meantime, on a separate skillet, melt the butter and toast the almonds in it. Cut the balance of ginger into thin strips and add them to the toasted almonds alongside with the leftover apple and the grated zest of the orange. Toss and deglaze the pan with the Marsala wine. Lower the heat to medium low and cook covered for a few minutes adding a little water if the condiment will start to burn.
When ready set aside for the serving platter.
Add the pan roasted broccoli florets to the cooked beef and season with salt and pepper as needed. Right before serving, add the quartered cherry tomatoes, the balance of the celery and the sliced flesh of the orange fruit.
Serve the stir-fry steaming hot with the crunchy almond-apple topping scattered over it.