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Feta and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

Feat and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

My latest discovery of a barley recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s stunning Jerusalem cookbook was a life changing event in my kitchen. I finally like barley!

For years my mother has been trying to convince me of the little grain’s qualities – unsuccessfully. I’m not a huge fan of orzotto or risotto, I can enjoy both of them for lunch but I wouldn’t call them a great source of inspiration. But then, as I thumbed through the pages of Jerusalem, page number 81 caught my attention: Parsley & Barley Salad. The title doesn’t mention the ingredient that changed everything for me, feta. The two London chefs marinate the cheese in spiced oil before they finish off their composition with barley, lots and lots of parsley, and spring onions. They also add cashews but I skipped them, I’m not too fond of nuts in my cooking.

So what happens is that, when I really like a recipe, my mind starts spinning looking for variations. First I added much more barley than mentioned in the recipe to turn it into a richer meal befitting these cold winter evenings. Then I stirred in raw, thinly sliced fennel, blood orange juice, mint, and honey-caramelized kumquats (an inspiration from last year’s celeriac salad). Ottolenghi and Tamimi use za’tar for their spice oil, which I replaced with ground cardamom and fennel seeds. Crushed coriander seeds and allspice berries are taken from their recipe and add a warming touch to it.

You’ll end up with quite a vibrant dish that can be eaten cold, as a salad, or slightly warm, as a main or side dish. Although the spiced oil, salty cheese, and sour kumquats are quite prominent, the nutty barley and crunchy fennel aren’t shy here either. What’s great about it, is that you can play with it, add and change spices, fruits, and vegetables according to your mood and the season. Just stick to barley and marinated feta, that’s the secret.

Feat and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

Feta and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

Serves 3-4

pearl barley 100g / 1/2 cup
olive oil 5 tablespoons, plus a splash
coriander seeds, ground in a mortar, 3/4 teaspoon
allspice berries, ground in a mortar, 1/2 teaspoon
fennel seeds, ground in a mortar, 1/2 teaspoon
ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon
ground cardamom 1/4 teaspoon
feta, cut into cubes, 150g / 5 ounces
medium fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced, 1
freshly squeezed blood orange juice 4 tablespoons
fine sea salt
ground pepper
fresh mint leaves, a small handful

For the caramelized kumquats

honey 2 tablespoons
kumquats, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed, 12
(or 12 orange fillets, peeled)
freshly squeezed orange juice 4 tablespoons

Cook the barley in salted water until al dente, drain in a colander, and rinse briefly with water.

In a medium bowl, whisk the olive oil, coriander, allspice, fennel seeds, cumin, and cardamom. Add the feta and mix gently until the cheese is coated with oil and spices, set aside.

For the caramelized kumquats, in a small, heavy pan, heat the honey over high heat until liquid and bubbling. Add the kumquats and orange juice and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom, turn and cook for another 1 1/2 – 2 minutes or until soft and caramelized; mind that they don’t become too dark.

Transfer the barley, sliced fennel, orange juice, and feta with the spiced oil to a large bowl and stir gently. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stir in a little more olive oil if it’s too dry. Sprinkle with mint and arrange the kumquats on top. Enjoy warm or cold.

Feat and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

 

Feat and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

 

Feat and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

 

Feat and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

 

Feat and Fennel Barley with Caramelized Kumquats

Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Soon I’ll be eating stuffed vegetables in the kitchens of many Maltese mamas and I know that I’ll never want to eat anything else again once I get into the groove. This dish is a cozy classic in Malta’s Mediterranean cuisine and I love it for its simplicity just as much as for its pure taste of summer. Ripe zucchini, bell pepper, and eggplant turn into juicy shells full of flavour to wrap scrumptious fillings of cheese, meat, seafood, or even more vegetables. Brunġiel mimli (Maltese for stuffed eggplant) is the most popular of them all – and the richest, stuffed with Bolognese – but there are endless possibilities to turn this recipe into a lighter summer treat.

In mid July we’ll be off to spend a few weeks with our family in the South and this will have a huge effect on our daily routine and on our cooking and eating habits. There will be far more fruits and vegetables on the table, they will taste much better than in the North, I will complain less about quality (or not at all), and the results that I stir up in the pots and pans in my Maltese mama’s kitchen will give me deep satisfaction. I love to cook in Jenny’s kitchen (on gas), with the best produce you can possibly ask for, fresh from my favourite farmer.

There’s always a pile of round and long zucchinis in the vegetable drawer, which I either slice up and sauté until al dente or scrape out and stuff – often with ricotta, the island’s most popular dairy product. To get into the mood, I came up with a recipe that uses a fragrant composition of dried-tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, and orange zest stirred into feta – instead of ricotta (I’ll eat so much of it while I’m in Malta that I should take it easy for now). It looked and tasted like a summer holiday and it was so easy to prepare that I’ll make it soon again.

Here’s one of my posts from last year, which always makes me want to go straight back to Malta (just in case you’re not in the mood for summer yet)!

fetastuffedzucchini7

 

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Mediterranean Stuffed Zucchini with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

Serves 2

sun-dried tomatoes (preserved in salt) 3
pine nuts, toasted until golden, 40g / 1/2 cup
medium zucchinis, cut in half lengthwise, soft pulp scraped out, 2
olive oil
fine sea salt
ground pepper
feta 200g / 7 ounces
fresh basil, chopped, about 15g / a large handful, plus a few leaves for the topping
freshly grated orange zest 1 teaspoon
flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (conventional setting).

In a small saucepan, bring the sun-dried tomatoes and a little water to the boil and cook for about 3 minutes or until soft. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen paper and chop finely.

Chop half the pine nuts with a large knife or in a food processor.

Spread the zucchini in a large baking dish (cut side up), brush with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium bowl, mash the feta with a fork and add the chopped pine nuts, basil, dried-tomatoes, orange zest, and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix and mash until well combined and season with pepper to taste. Divide the feta mixture between the zucchini halves, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts and a little flaky sea salt. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a little water and bake for about 45 minutes or until the zucchini feels soft when you prick it with a metal skewer. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve.

It makes a great lunch or easy dinner, but you can also serve it at a summer picnic.

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

 

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

 

Zucchini stuffed with Feta, Basil, and Pine Nuts

 

fetastuffedzucchini9

 

fetastuffedzucchini10

Mediterranean Roast Vegetables with Tomatoes, Feta and Basil

Zucchini, Aubergine and Bell Pepper with Feta and Basil

The secret behind this scrumptious Mediterranean pan lies in the separate cooking of the vegetables. First, I sautéed sliced zucchini until golden but with bite, and then I cooked a large handful of aubergine and bell pepper chopped into tiny cubes. The small size let them release a little more of their juices in the hot pan, within minutes they turn into a chunky stew. Mixed with the zucchini, it just needed a bit of salt and pepper and it was done.

You could easily leave it at that but I was after a colourful pan full of fresh flavours. In summer, I like the combination of cooked and raw vegetables, so my pan got a crunchy topping with cherry tomatoes, milky feta chunks and fresh basil leaves. All the wonderful aromas of a Mediterranean garden on a plate! There are a million variations of this dish, you could top it with lemon ricotta (instead of the feta cheese) and make a moussaka, mix in some spaghetti for a richer meal or cook all the ingredients in the oven, like my vegetable casserole. So many options, so many warm months and ripe and tasty vegetables ahead of us. Kitchen life is just great at this time of year!

Zucchini, Aubergine and Bell Pepper with Feta and Basil

Mediterranean Roast Vegetables with Tomatoes, Feta and Basil

For a lunch for 2 you need

zucchini, sliced thinly, about 200g / 7oz
olive oil
salt and pepper
garlic, crushed, 2 cloves
aubergine, cut into tiny cubes, about 200g / 7oz
medium sized bell pepper (colour of your choice), cut into tiny cubes, 1
cherry tomatoes, cut in half, 8
feta cheese, broken into chunks, about 100g / 3 1/2oz
fresh basil leaves 10

Heat a slash of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the zucchini on medium-high heat until golden brown with a little bite. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a plate and set a side.

Put the pan back on the heat, pour in a splash of olive oil, stir in the garlic and let it turn golden (not brown!) for about 1 minute. Add the aubergine and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper and sauté until golden and soft. Take the pan off the heat, mix in the zucchini and tomatoes and season to taste. Stir in the feta and basil and serve immediately, or as a warm salad, with fresh ciabatta bread.

Zucchini, Aubergine and Bell Pepper with Feta and Basil

 

Zucchini, Aubergine and Bell Pepper with Feta and Basil

 

Zucchini, Aubergine and Bell Pepper with Feta and Basil

 

mediterraneanvegfeta9

Mediterranean Feta and Vegetable Casserole

Mediterranean Feta and Vegetable Casserole

It was a cold, grey evening when my aunt Ursula invited us to dinner a few years ago. We meet quite often to enjoy good food and wine together but that day we felt tired from work and weren’t in the mood for a heavy meal. When we arrived at her apartment we saw that she hadn’t set up the table in the dining room as she normally does but created a comfy dining scene in her living room. The low table was packed with loaves of bread with herbs and dried tomatoes, a few dips and a bottle of red wine was just waiting for us. Our mood was lifted straight away, this was exactly what we needed, a relaxed evening on the sofa! When Ursula came out of the kitchen with a steaming dish in her hands, filling the air with the smell of roast vegetables and herbs she had our attention and we felt awake again!

The meal she served became one of my most beloved dishes, Mediterranean vegetables on top of a thick slice of feta roasted in the oven for only half an hour. By the end of it you have a plate full of juicy, partly crunchy vegetables that you can spoon onto a thick slice of bread together with the aromatic cheese and herbs, it’s delicious! The mix of zucchini, red and yellow bell pepper, aubergine, red onions, garlic and lots of thyme and rosemary became my favourite, personal variation on this recipe. Just throw together a composition that suits your taste and put this on a slice of a French country bread, ciabatta or focaccia and I’m sure you’ll be as happy as I am whenever I cook this meal!

I love to make this when friends come over, I just put one or two big casseroles on our long table, a few loaves of bread, some wine – this is the perfect food and atmosphere to let the laughing and chatting begin! Or to celebrate that Germany won the World Cup!

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

Mediterranean Vegetable and Feta Casserole

For 4 people you need

feta cheese, 2 slices, around 2cm / 3/4″ thick, 400g / 14 ounces
medium sized aubergine, cut into 1cm / 1/2″ cubes, 1
medium sized zucchini, cut in half and sliced, 1
yellow bell pepper, cut into cubes, 1
red bell pepper, cut into cubes, 1
medium sized tomatoes, cut into cubes, 3
medium sized red onions, cut into 8 pieces, 2
garlic, 8 cloves in their skin
olive oil 60ml / 2 ounces
thyme, a small bunch
rosemary, 6 sprigs
salt and pepper

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F (I use the Rotitherm roasting setting).

Put the feta cheese next to each other in a baking dish, cover with the vegetables, garlic and herbs and season with salt and pepper. Pour the olive oil on top and mix until everything is coated in oil (add a little bit more if it’s not enough). Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft, they shouldn’t burn. Check the aubergine first as it needs the longest to cook. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with rustic white bread.

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

 

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

 

Feta Casserole with Zucchini, Bell Pepper + Aubergine

Feta and Tomato stuffed Bell Pepper with Mint

Feta stuffed Bell Pepper with Parsley + Mint

The smell of fresh mint is still in my nose! I spent last weekend at my mother’s house in the countryside, more precisely in her garden and kitchen and the smell of herbs and flowers was always around us. She is one of those lucky people who has a green thumb and lots of space to prove it. The strong sun and heavy rain of the past days turned her garden into a blossoming green world with various shades of red, pink, violet and yellow. Whenever I passed her flower and vegetable beds a cloud of roses, thyme, lavender and mint followed me. This was aroma heaven and the the strong mint was a very persistent companion! My mother’s vegetable garden made me jealous, artichokes, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, peas and many more, she can honestly compete with my market stands at home! Her herbs grow like weeds, some of them have had their roots in this ground for almost twenty years.

The path from her garden to the kitchen isn’t long and we brought lots of these goods inside the house in the past days. We cooked big artichokes with three different kinds of dips, a delicious, light pasta recipe with tomatoes and bell pepper and fish soup. On the sweet side, we had strawberry tarts, ice cream in espresso and I also got to love a great summery aperitif with Limoncello, white wine, lemon rind and mint, needless to say that it was all wonderful and I will write more about it in the coming days.

Back to the fresh mint, here is a recipe so quick to prepare, it looks beautiful and combines a few ingredients which I love for my cooking in summer, bell pepper stuffed with feta, tomatoes, parsley and mint. After twenty minutes in the oven it’s done, having four or ten people to feed doesn’t make much of a difference, this is a real crowd pleaser!

Feta stuffed Bell Pepper with Parsley + Mint

 

Feta stuffed Bell Pepper with Parsley + Mint

 Feta and Tomato stuffed Bell Pepper with Mint

For 4 people you need

red bell pepper 4
feta cheese, 250g / 9 ounces
medium sized tomatoes, chopped, 3
parsley, chopped, 3 heaped tablespoons
mint, chopped, 8-10 big leaves
salt and pepper

Set the oven to 200°C / 390°F

Cut the top off the bell pepper and set aside. Mix the feta, tomatoes and herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste. Fill the bell pepper with the cheese mixture, close the fruit with the lid and put in a baking dish. Bake for 17 minutes, the bell pepper should be al dente.

Feta stuffed Bell Pepper with Parsley + Mint

 

Feta stuffed Bell Pepper with Parsley + Mint

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