The unique, tantilizing, heady and sunny flavors of Italy and Morocco have been rocking my world since a long time now. Already, when I still lived at home, I ate quite a few classic Italian dishes such as "Lasagne", "Pasta Alla Bolognese", "Ravioli Ai Funghi", "Ravioli Alla Ricotta E Spinaci", "Ravioli Alla Carne" (we bought the Ravioli from a caterer whom you can find selling his homemade goodies at the Geneva markets) and "Pizza". My parents being quite open food-wise, I was also blessed have the possibility to taste certain Moroccan specialities such as "Tajine" and "Couscous". Yet, although I am not new to those sunny Mediterranean cuisines, I still have a lot to discover as both are very multifaceted, offer an enormous variety of recipes and their repertoire is practically bottomless.
The food of both countries has always attracted me as it is authentic, convivial, rich in traditions, extremely palatable, wonderfully refined in it's apparent simplicity, rich in herbs and spices, so colorful, very seasonal and really healthy (lots of vegetables, olive oil as well as good protein and not many fatty sauces). With not much it is possible to create fantastic dishes with colossal visual appeal and intense gusto...
As summer is appraoching fastly and we are lucky to be able to find all kinds of amazing spring vegetables and fruits (strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, fennel, mushrooms, fresh garlic, etc...) on the stalls of our local farmers' markets, I am once again dreaming of making fabulous Italian and Moroccan dishes that remind me of the warmth of the hot days and the relaxed atmosphere surrounding that season.
Well, last Saturday, while watching Jamie Oliver's "Jamie Does Venice" and "Jamie Does Marakkech" series (from the "Jamie Does..." TV show), I started craving the fares of Italy and Morocco. The young, cheeky, bubbly, playful and energetic British chef's enthousiasm for the incomparable food of those regions of the globe caught me and his boundless love for laidback meals gave me countless ideas. Cooks who know how to communicate emotions as well as joyfulness through their cookbooks or television programs and whose passion for all things edible is contagious always stimulate my creativity and cooking mojo. They have the art of inspiring me and making my brain spin.
My fertile imagination ran wild and within a few seconds, my blank piece of paper got filled with all sorts of disorganized scribblings and an embryo of recipe took shape. Since the temperatures are rising and picnics are trendy again, I absolutely wanted to put together a salad that imperatively had to contain Swiss as well as seasonal veggies (you know my nature-friendly philosophy) and ingredients I particularly enjoy at the moment.
So, I decided to use chickpeas and lightly pan-fried fennel as a base for my salad. Then, I found that it would be interesting if I incorporated a lemony, "Ras El Hanout" and safron infused tomato sauce to wet the whole (I know whjat you are going to say about out of season produces, yet I am partially to blame here! I could not restrain from buying Geneva tomatoes from the supermarket. Not too seasonal maybe, but at least they are grown regionally), and I added a little chopped basil for an additional Italian twist. Then, once the salad had been plated, I shaved some pungent Parmigiano Reggiano and drizzled quality Jordan virgin olive oil over the top of my creation.
I would definitely lie if I told you that I was not proud of this "chef-d'oeuvre". My complexly fragrant "Italo-Mauresque Chickpea And Fennel Salad" was extremely delectable. Even my boyfriend who is not the biggest fan of legumes gobbled it and asked for seconds. The aromas of Italy and Morocco (some ingredients employed are common to both lands) blended together harmoniously to constitute a well-balanced, exquisite, summery and fulfilling dish. Never was a wedding between two different nations more perfect and sublime!
My description might have enlightened you on the nature of this gorgeous salad, but I'm sure that some of you are wondering what "Ras El Hanout" is. Rest assured, dear friends. As usual, you will not leave this blog without learning something new (I hope) from Professor Foodfreak...
"Ras El Hanout", is the king of spices in North Africa. Not surprisingly, its Arabic name translates to "head/top of the shop" and refers to a mixture of the best spices that a seller has to offer. This blend is composed of numerous different spices. Depending on the variety, certain mixes can hold up to hundred spices. Some of them are bright yellow like madras curry, certain are vibrant red and others are murky brown. Each cook, person, company and spice dealer has their own recipe of which they are proud and a combination that they carefully keep secret. Not only are all mixes unique, but they also vary from region to region, country to country and household to household.
In most "Ras El Hanout" you recognize spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ground chilli peppers, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, peppercorn and turmeric, but with some more elaborate versions you'll have problems knowing what they are made of for they also include rare spices such as ash berries, chufa, grains of paradise, orris root, monk's pepper, cubeb and dried rosebuds. Usually all ingredients are toasted before they are ground up together.
In Morocco it is commonly referred to as the "lazy cook's spice". The reason for this nickname is that no matter what you add it to, it will always give that extra oomph or umami flavor to your dishes and will drastically uplift the taste of your food. Generously sprinkled into balmy tajines, incorporated into broths and couscous, added to liquid for poaching fruits, rubbed into meat or stirred into rice, it'll be impossible for you not to fall under the charm of that intoxicating and addictive seasoning. Maghrebans even believe it is an aphrodisiac, so you have been warned!
~ Italo-Mauresque Chickpea & Fennel Salad ~
Recipe by Rosa Mayland @Rosa's Yummy Yums, May 2011.
Ingredients for the "Spicy Tomato Sauce":
6 Tbs Olive oil
1 Medium Onion, chopped
4 Cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 Tsp Ras el hanout
1 Pinch (0.125g) Ground safron
2 Medium Tomatoes, chopped coarsely
8 Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
The zest of half a lemon
3 Tbs Fish sauce
2 Tbs Dark balsamic vinegar
1 Tsp Red Tabasco
Sea salt, to taste
Ingredients for the "Salad":
1 Medium fennel, cut into thin slices
2 Tbs Olive oil
260g Cooked chickpeas
1 Handful Basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Shaven parmesan cheese, to taste
A few basil leaves, to decorate
Olive oil, to drizzle over the salad
Method for the "Spicy Tomato Sauce":
1. Place a sauté pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add the olive oil (6 Tbs) and the chopped onion. Stir-fry 1 minute, then add the sliced garlic and continue stir-frying for another minute.
2. Add the ras el hanout, safron and stir once, then immediately add the tomatoes, zest, fish sauce, balsamic vinegar, Tabasco and salt.
3. Let cook over low heat, about 12 minutes (stir regularly and crush the tomatoes), until it resembles a thickish and homogenous sauce. Remove from the heat and let cool (it has to reach room temperature).
Method for the "Salad":
4. Place a sauté pan over medium heat. When it is hot, add the olive oil (2 Tbs) and the sliced fennel. Stir-fry for 6-8 minutes (the fennel should be cooked, but still snappy). Remove from the heat and let cool at room temperature.
5. In a medium salad bowl, mix together the chickpeas, fennel and basil.
6. Add the tomato sauce. Pepper and salt to taste. Mix well.
7. Serve on 4 individual plates. Top with shaved Parmesan, basil leaves and drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil (to taste).
You can replace the chickpeas by any other legume of your choice (Borlotti beans, fava beans, white beans, etc...).
Serve that salad at room temperature, so that all the flavors are fully developped.
Serve some with pan-fried fish and sourdough bread.
Accompany with dry white wine (Pinot Grigio) or with a spicy rosé from Provence (Bandol)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Salade Italo-Mauresque Aux Pois Chiches Et Fenouil ~
Recette par Rosa Mayland @Rosa's Yummy Yums, mai 2011.
Pour 2 personnes.
Ingrédients pour la "Sauce Epicée A La Tomate":
6 CS d'Huile d'olive
1 Oignon moyen, haché
4 Gousses d'ail frais, coupées en fines tranches
1 1/2 CC de Ras el hanout
1 Pincée (0.125g) de Safran en poudre
2 Tomates moyennes, hachées grossièrement
8 Tomates cerises, coupées en deux
Le zeste d'un demi citron
3 CS de Sauce de poisson
2 CS de Vinaigre balsamique foncé
1 CC de Tabasco rouge
Sel de mer, à volonté
Ingrédients pour la "Salade":
1 Fenouil moyen, coupé en fines tranches
2 CS d'Huile d'olive
260g de Pois chiches cuits
1 Poignée de Feuilles de basilic, grossièrement haché
Sel de mer, à volonté
Poivre noir fraîchement moulu, à volonté
Parmesan, en copeaux (à volonté)
Quelques feuilles de basilic, pour décorer
Huile d'olive, pour verser en petite quantité sur la salade
Méthode pour la "Sauce Epicée A La Tomate":
1. Faire chauffer une poêle à feu moyen pendant environ 3 minutes. Ajouter l'huile d'olive (6 CS) et l'oignon haché. Faire revenir pendant 1 minute, puis ajouter l'ail et continuer de faire suer.
2. Ajouter le ras el hanout, le safran et mélanger rapidement, puis immédiatement ajouter les tomates, le zeste, la sauce de poisson, le vinaigre balsamique, le Tabasco et le sel.
3. Cuire à température basse pendant environ 12 minutes, jusqu'à obtention d'une sauce assez épaisse et homogène. Retirer du feu et laisser refroidir (il faut que la sauce soit à température ambiante).
Méthode pour la "Salade":
4. Faire chauffer une poêle à feu moyen. Une fois qu'elle est chaude, ajouter l'huile d'olive (2 CS) et le fenouil. Faire revenir en remuant constamment pendant environ 6-8 minutes (le fenouil doit être cuit mais pas encore croquant). Retirer du feu et faire refroidir à température ambiante.
5. Dans un bol moyen, mélanger ensemble les pois chiches, le fenouil et le basilic haché.
6. Ajouter la sauce tomate. Poivrer et saler. Bien mélanger.
7. Disposer dans les assiettes, ajouter le parmesan et les feuilles de basilique dessus, puis verser un filet d'huile d'olive (à volonté).
Vous pouvez remplacer les pois chiches avec les légumineuses de votre choix (bolotti, fèves, haricots blancs, etc...).
Servir cette salade à température ambiante. De cette manière, les saveurs auront pû se développer.
Idées de présentation:
Servir avec du poisson grillé et accompagner avec du pain au levain ainsi qu'un vin blanc sec (Pinot Grigio) ou un rosé de Provence épicé (Bandol).