Archive for the ‘Mains’ Category

The eggs I love – Spanish tortilla with potatoes, ricotta and sausage

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Until my early twenties I was a dedicated egg-phobe. Then I was suddenly converted, and though I still won’t touch an underdone egg, I love ingredient-loaded omelets. When I discovered Spanish tortilla (not to be confused with the flour and corn tortillas of Central America), I fell in love from the first bite. This is the universal crowd-pleaser and my brunch or weekend dinner staple.

Thicker than the Italian frittata and usually containing my other favorites – potatoes – this Spanish omelet has as striking a flavor as its looks. It’s easier to make too, as you don’t have to fight to flip it over, but simply bake it in the oven. It can stoically take on whatever you throw at it, and no fridge push-around need be wasted again. The classic one with potatoes is great, but I’ve done it with zucchini, parsnip, feta cheese, Parmesan, bacon, various types of dried and fresh herbs, and combinations of the above. It’s a successes every time, and the only person who refuses to eat it is my daughter – the new egg-phobe in the family.

I finally have a cast-iron paella pan, perfect for tortillas too, which I put to heavy use. The recipe is enough for four as a weekday supper, or for eight as part of a weekend brunch with friends. If there are leftovers, they are very good the next day and make a great lunchbox item. I often wrap them in whole-wheat tortillas with Tabasco’s Chipotle sauce and fresh cilantro (coriander). I love to answer the what’s-for-lunch question – tortilla in tortilla.

For a vegetarian version skip the sausage.

Spanish tortilla with potatoes, sausage, ricotta and fresh herbs

serves 4

  • 6 – 8 large eggs – free range or organic
  • ½ cup fresh ricotta (or thick sour cream)
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled, cubed or sliced into thin rounds
  • ½ pound good quality sausage (I use Polish sausage with thyme and garlic and no preservatives added) – cubed the same size as the potatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup mixed chopped dill, mint and parsley (or cilantro)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper, Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C) – with racks positioned in the middle. In a heavy-bottomed oven-proofed frying pan (cast iron is best), melt the butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Saute the potatoes until slightly brown and tender – about 10 minutes. In the meantime beat eggs in a bowl to break the egg yolks. Add the ricotta and beat well – though some cheese lumps are OK. Season with salt and black pepper to taste, add the herbs and green onions and mix.

When the potatoes are ready, take them out of the pan with slotted spoon and stir into the egg-cheese mixture. Add sausage to the pan and fry for 5 minutes, until sightly brown. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Pour over the egg-cheese-and-potatoes mixture, stir well, and let cook on medium low for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and transfer the pan to the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes or until the top of the tortilla is set and slightly brown.

Serve warm with the pan (makes a great impression) with rustic bread and simple green salad. My son loves it with a few drops of Tabasco Chipotle sauce. I have it with extra Bulgarian cheese, feta style.

Goes great with a light, bubbly Portuguese Vinho Verde or Italian Prosseco for a more elegant experience.

Going East – Won ton with minced pork and fresh herbs

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

These little bundles stuffed with meat, vegetables or shrimp are my favorite Asian food. I can have them steamed, fried, boiled, in soup, with dips, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. A restaurant devoted only to those parcels of joy would be my ultimate dining heaven. Toss in Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, Chinese dim sum and Japanese gyoza and I will move to live there, wherever it might be.

Won ton

For years I was deprived of Asian dumplings and had to do with Polish pierogi (not that I don’t like them) and the occasional tired won ton or pot sticker in some mediocre eatery in Warsaw. I would have loved to make them myself, but the ingredients were hard to get, and it looked a bit too complicated. Well, not any more. The Asian stores in Chicago are amazing and once I found them my won ton obsession blossomed once more. With frozen pastry for all kinds of wraps and rolls, exotic herbs, vegetables and fresh shrimp cheaper than a pound of nuts, I was indeed in dumpling heaven. And it all was in my own kitchen.

The best won ton wrappers I have found so far are Dynasty brand – 3.5X3.5 inch (8X8 cm) in about 12 oz (340 g) packs. As for spring rolls – I use  Spring Home brand Tyj spring roll pastry – also frozen 5.5X5.5 inch (14X14 cm), 50 sheets. Those come with very helpful picture instructions on how to proceed. As for the filling – the sky is the limit. The best meat is fresh minced pork that is well marbled (lean is no good – it will be too dry once cooked). Napa cabbage, been sprouts, cilantro (coriander), Asian mint and basil can add a brighter flavor.

My kids love rolling spring rolls and fight over the limited counter space. I’m always amazed by the quantities they can eat in one sitting, and all that without complaining about the weird greens. Won tons are also on their favorite list, though they yet have to master the wrapping technique. It took me almost an hour the first time I made them, but now I’m pretty good, though not yet as good as an Asian chef. As with any other dumplings, once you get to it it’s better to make at least a double batch and freeze the extras, as you’ll probably have your fill of stuffing, folding and shaping for some time.

Won ton with minced pork

makes about 48 dumplings

  • 1 lb (500 g) minced pork
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ½ cup shredded Napa cabbage
  • ½ cup been sprouts, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh mint, cilantro or Asian basil, chopped, loosely packed
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • ¼ tsp sesame oil
  • 1 pack 12 oz (340 g) 3.5X3.5 inch (8X8 cm) won ton wrappers – about 50, defrosted for about an hour
  • cup with water and a brush

In a bowl combine all the ingredients and mix well. On a clean surface place one wrapper. Spoon 1 teaspoonful of the mixture in the middle. Brush all the edges with water. Fold in half to form a triangle. Starting from the filling, squeeze the air out gently by brushing with your fingers towards the edges, then press to seal the won ton.

Now wrap one end around your finger, brush with a little water and press the other end to seal:

There, your won ton is ready. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper to prevent the dumplings form sticking to each other. Repeat with the rest.

The first few will be hard, but once you get it, it’ll be easier. Don’t overlap the won tons on the sheet and be careful to dry your hands and work surface – the wrappers get sticky when wet and they are hard to take back apart. You can make this few hours before cooking. Cover with foil and let stand at room temperature. Count the amount you will need and freeze the rest on a metal sheet, then transfer to freezer bags or containers. When needed take them out and lay on flat surface for at least an hour. Use in aromatic clear Thai soup or fry and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

We love them the pot sticker way:

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat with ½ cup (125 ml) water and 2 tbsp vegetable oil for each 16 dumplings. Cover and cook for 6-8 min. They should be cooked through and have brown crispy bottoms. This is the side you should be serving them on. The taste explosion when you bite one is tremendous. They are great dipped in Chinese black vinegar or soy sauce, but I like to complicate things. My favorite is Vietnamese soy sauce recipe given by Trieu Thi Choi and Marcel Isaak in their Authentic Recipes from Vietnam.

Vietnamese soy sauce:

makes ½ cup

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp sugar (palm sugar preferable, but any will do)
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 small red chili, deseeded and minced (or ½ tsp chili garlic sauce)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Combine everything in a bowl and mix well.

Tomato sauce for pizza and more

Monday, February 9th, 2009

This is a recipe that can be used in so many ways it’s always good to make more than you need and freeze the excess. Homemade is always better than store-bought in my universe, and I keep a container or two of this tomato sauce in the freezer at all times. It’s great on pizza, and is a real time-saver when you get an urge to whip up spaghetti with meatballs or fresh Italian sausage for a quick dinner. It also helps transform boring chicken breasts into much better-looking and tasting chicken parmigiana.


  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh basil (or flat leaf parsley), torn or chopped
  • leaves from 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 big can – 1 pound 12 oz (about 800 g) – of the best tomatoes you can find or an equivalent amount of ripe fresh tomatoes
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Place a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium low heat. Add the olive oil, garlic and onion. Saute until onion is translucent, add the tomatoes, basil and thyme. If the tomatoes are whole – smash them with the back of a spoon or fork. Season with salt and pepper, add the vinegar and some sugar if too sour. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until it begins to concentrate. Strain the sauce through a sieve, pushing with a wooden spoon or using a whisk. Put the strained sauce back into the pan and simmer for few more minutes until it is thick enough to spread on a pizza, or add a bit of water if it’s for pasta. Freeze any leftovers.

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