Winter season would be much less charming without a bowl of your favourite heart-warming soup. How many arguments could one have against soup anyway? With only a few ingredients, it’s one of the most humble dishes around, yet a simple touch of herbs and spices can upgrade your recipe from simply satisfying to surprisingly savorous.

As a child I never liked Belgian endive because of its bitter taste. The tangy taste of uncooked Belgian endive is still not my favorite, but I really learned to appreciate the more mellow taste of the cooked, grilled or roasted version.

Belgian endive soup: 4 pieces of Belgian endive, 1 leek, 1 liter of stock (I used a mixture of chicken and veggie stock), 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of grated parmezan or pecorino cheese, nutmeg, salt, pepper.

Boil the endives in about 1 liter of water. Make sure to keep the boiling water aside for adding to your soup later on. When boiled, leave endives to drain and chop into large chunks.

Melt some butter or heat some olive oil and add the chopped leek along with the chunks of endive and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and the boiling water from the endives and bring to boil again.

Mix the soup.

Beat the eggs, season with salt and pepper and add the grated cheese. Then add to the mixed soup and whisk well.  Season with nutmeg and more salt and pepper if needed. Add some more grated cheese for serving.

One of the reasons why Italian cooking is so popular, at least in my kitchen, is because most recipes require only a few main ingredients. For some occasions I do love to broaden my horizon and try out complicated recipes that will keep me hostage in the supermarket – sometimes it just takes ages to find ingredients of which you’ve never heard of before, not to mention the hours you spend with those ingredients later on in your kitchen.

But most of the time I prefer to keep it simple. Risotti are one of my favorite Friday night dishes. Shopping the ingredients will not take you any longer than your average blitz visit to the supermarket. Which is great because after a week of work you do not want to run a marathon with that shopping cart. Preparing the food will take some time, true, but you don’t have to worry about washing dishes late at night and getting up early the next day.

The original recipe for this risotto is from The Silver Spoon (risotto al barolo con funghi). Instead of the dried mushrooms suggested in the book, I used a variety of fresh mushrooms since they are easy to find this time around. I also added 1 more tomato and a bit less of the Barolo wine, simply because I only had one bottle and I wanted to make sure there would be enough left to drink along with the risotto.

Mushroom Barolo Risotto (4 servings): 400g risotto rice, 600g variety of mushrooms (pick any kind you like), 15cl Barolo, 1 garlic clove (finely chopped), 1 onion (finely chopped), rosemary, sage, basil, 5 tomatoes, 1,5l vegetable stock, flat-leaf parsley, Parmezan cheese, butter and olive oil.

Melt a good chunk of butter and olive oil in a pan and fry the onion, garlic, rosemary, sage and basil. Make sure to keep heat low and stir occasionally.

Remove seeds from the tomatoes, chop and add to the onions. Leave to simmer at medium heat for about 20 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and leave for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the risotto rice and stir until the grains are all coated in oil and butter. Increase the heat on your pan to medium-high and add the wine. Cook until it has evaporated.

Start adding the vegetable stock, about 100ml at a time. Each time, stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, then add a new portion of stock. This whole process will take about 20 minutes. You don’t necessarily have to add stock until the last drop. I had some stock left when I decided that the rice was smooth and creamy enough. Adding more stock might have overcooked the risotto. So it’s up to you and your personal taste.

Before serving, cut some flat-leaf parsley and stir in the rice. Serve with the cheese. And don’t forget to drink the rest of that Barolo wine as you are enjoying your risotto!

Sometimes it’s difficult to make choices. Especially when your choice involves two good options. Forget about endless wondering and doubting and simply mix the best of both. The recipe for this “Arrabiciana” is most likely breaking too many rules in the art of Italian cooking to ever make it into any cookbook, but that doesn’t make it any less tasty.

Spiciness of chili peppers (All’Arrabiata) and saltiness of bacon (All’Amatriciana) combine pretty nicely. But the real secret to this dish is cheese. Leftovers of several varieties, by preference. Parmezan, cream cheese, goat cheese, chester … this recipe is the perfect clean-up for your fridge.

Sauce “All’Arrabiciana”: 200g smoked bacon, 1 small can of tomato concentrate, 40g butter, 30g flower, 300ml milk, chili peppers (fresh or dried), any kind of cheese leftover.

Fry the bacon in some butter.

Melt the remaining portion of butter (about 30g) and use the flower to make a roux. Add milk gradually while stirring until you get a liquid structure. Make it a bit more liquid than you would like the sauce to be, because it will get thicker again when adding the cheese later on.

Add the tomato concentrate. If you are a big fan of tomatoes (as I am) you can add another small can of tomato concentrate, or alternatively add some tomato salsa or ketchup. Be careful with the latter though, as ketchup can easily make your sauce too sweet.

Add pieces of cheese one by one and keep stirring until all is melted. Season with chili peppers to your liking and some Mediterranean herb mix if you wish. Normally salt won’t be necessary, the bacon will add enough saltiness to the dish.

Add the bacon and leave to simmer a few more minutes. Add more milk (alternatively water) if the cheese has made the texture of the sauce too thick.

Serve with any kind of pasta.

Bon appétit!

A dozen of freshly baked cupcakes, sugar in every color of the rainbow and good company make up the perfect recipe for a relaxing day off from work. With a glorious word of thank you to my friend Rochelle for passing on her cupcake-skills to me. As of today, I can finally say I am no longer a cupcake-virgin.

cupcakes ( 24 pieces): 250g butter, 250g self-raising flower, 250g sugar, 4 eggs, juice of 1/2 lemon, zest of 1 lemon.

Before you start, make sure the butter and the eggs are at room temperature, and pre-heat your oven to 175°C.

Whisk the butter and gradually stir in the sugar. Then gradually add the eggs while keeping up the stirring.

Sift the flower and gradually add. And don’t forget the stirring. Also add lemon juice and zest.

Fill cupcake baking cups for 3/4. Place in 175°C oven for 20-25 minutes. You’ll know they are done when you stick in a tooth-pick and it comes out clean.

Let out your inner child and start decorating.

With the last days of summer – and oh was I happy with that wonderful late summer weather – it was the perfect timing to enjoy some more goodness of lemon. Having brewed my own limoncello for the very first time, I am turning slightly nuts on finding new ways how to process it in any possible recipe. Lemon sorbet turned out to be one of the obvious solutions. I could have this sorbet at any moment of the day, yes, even breakfast. Here’s the recipe to a fresh start of the day!

Lemon sorbet: fresh mint leaves, 1 cup of fresh lemon juice, 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of limoncello, 125g of mascarpone, lemon zest to decorate.

Bring the water and limoncello to boil and dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, add fresh mint leaves and leave to cool. Sift to remove the mint leaves.

Stir in the mascarpone and put in an ice cream maker for about 20 minutes. After this time, your sorbet will still be very liquid, at least mine was, I guess the alcohol level of the limoncello took away some of the freezing power of my ice cream maker. Although it could also very well be the quality of the machine, since I bought it for as a promotion in a supermarket.

Put in a closed box and place in the freezer overnight.

Decorate with some lemon zest before serving.

Last week I celebrated my birthday. Which happens to take place on 9/11, so for the last 10 years it has been a day of people telling me what a sad day it is to have my birthday. Of course, seeing the images again and again on tv, especially the many eye-witness reports, makes me silent and wonder how the people in those planes and buildings must have worried about what kind of nightmare they ended up in. It makes you realize every normal life day should be a day for celebration. And so we did.

Since my fellow party people had not yet tried my limoncello brewage, I decided that a limoncello sorbet was indispensable in my menu for the evening. Lemon became my inspiration for the entire menu and so every course ended up with a touch of sourness. I had planned for a lobster salad as starter, but as I had slightly underestimated the body size of my frozen lobster, ‘starter’ was at the last minute degraded to ‘appetizer’ and the salad became a burger. The entire table seemed to love it though, so again I guess this proves that sometimes little kitchen accidents end up being the best inspiration.

Lobster burgers (4 persons): 1 deep-frozen lobster of approx. 350g  (of course you can use fresh lobster, if you, unlike me so far, have the guts to cook it alive), 8 slices of white toast bread, watercress, 1 avocado, 1 lemon, slices of cucumber, olive oil, tartare sauce and freshly milled pepper for finishing.

Thaw the frozen lobster. The best way to do this is in the fridge (takes about 12 hours) or at room temperature (4-5 hours). Whatever you do, do not boil it because this will make the lobster meat leathery. Remove lobster meat from claws, body and legs (if these contain any meat). Marinate the lobster meat with olive oil, some of the freshly milled pepper and juice of lemon and leave in the fridge for a few hours. The head, body shell and emptied claws are perfect for making lobster butter. Just melt some cooking butter with the remainings of the lobster and some carrots, leek, 3 spoons of concentrated tomato and garlic. Leave to simmer for 1 hour, sift and leave in the fridge for stiffening. 

Cut circles from the white bread and toast crunchy. If you made lobster butter, smudge some on the inside of the toasts. Create a burger with a layer of toast, watercress, avocado slices and again toast. Add slices of cucumber, the rest of the freshly milled pepper and some tartare sauce for finishing.