Frying Kalabasa flowers like they’re in Tuscany

For the longest time, I had seen Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Mario Batali, and them likes fry up zucchini flowers like it was nothing. It was nice and orange but I never could imagine how it tasted. I hardly ate flowers. I see a rose petal on my soup from a wedding — I take it off.

That said, it took a trip to Italy two years ago to find out that there’s something nice and lovely about this zucchini flower dish. I fell in love with the balance of the herbs, the nice gooey cheesy ricotta, and the crunch of the flowers. As soon as I got home, I was wondering how can I do it… can I even do it?

Since then, I’ve been trying to chance upon some zucchini flowers but never really managed to find anything close to it until last week when my uncle cooked pinakbet with some squash (kalabasa) flowers. It looked like the zucchini flowers but I wasn’t quite sure it would work. So I gave it a shot today and the experiment was a success. I think I’m ready to be a chef!

Fried Kalabasa flowers ala Tuscano

I took after this recipe and modified it a little to my tastes. Rather than using ricotta cheese, I mixed parmesan and quickmelt cheese. Herb choices were slim in the market but they had lovely leeks which I just minced and put it in the cheese concoction. The flowers were also smaller so I had to use lesser batter.

We had no egg this morning but I figured that if I just make a tempura-consistency for my batter, it might just work. Mix cold water with the flour, season with some salt and pepper, and voila!

This dish turned out to be a really nice, even better and crispier treat compared to what I had in Tuscany. Blame it on the tempura batter or something but in the end, it was a sublime gooey snack. It wasn’t as laborious as I had imagine either. Needless to say, my first shot at localizing something I had abroad with supplementary local ingredients worked wonders.

Not exactly a ‘Clammy’ Afternoon

When I was a kid, I used to hate our local clam, halaan, WITH A PASSION. I can never understand its taste. It’s slightly tart, gingery, salty, sometimes grainy (especially if it wasn’t cleaned well) and gummy. My folks always prepared it the same way, boiling it in hot water with some ginger. UGH! It was such a dreadful fare that I often excused myself from the table and went back to bed. No bland clams please, kthx.

It wasn’t until, again, one of my aunts who worked in Italy came home and showed me how to enjoy these clams with pasta. Known to them as Pasta con Vongole, this sweet yet briny dish completely changed my opinion of halaan/vongole forever.

Last weekend’s trip to the market brought me back to my aunt’s pasta. A little inspired by the freshness of clams, I thought I’d give it a shot in cooking one of my favorite pasta dishes. This is a very simple and easy dish, stripping the flavors to its barest essentials.

What I love about Pasta con Vongole is it’s a dish that doesn’t overcook the seafood nor do the other flavors compete with the taste of the clams. In fact, if your seafood is fresh, this is one of the best dishes to taste the freshness of the clams. If you can get your clams fresh, then this is the perfect dish for it!

One of the simplest and tastiest pasta dishes I’ve come across

Pesto experiments!

My experiments with pesto started when an aunt from Italy came home and started to make her pesto. The first thing she asked my mom was to buy some fresh basil, which 15 years ago was completely unheard of in our islands apart from its dried counterpart. So she decided to create a different kind of pesto, pounding a large bunch of Italian parsley (kinchay) along with some garlic. There were no pine nuts easily available nor did we have Parmesan cheese back then. With piping hot pasta, she tossed her green mashed concoction and called it pesto. It was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.

For years, I really didn’t give myself a shot in making a batch of pesto like my aunt did. But a really expensive bottle of pesto compelled me to find a cheaper and probably better alternative to the ones bought from the groceries.

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Pasta ala bulungan

Pasta ala bulungan.

Seriously. My mom went on a marketing spree in Bulungan last Sunday. One of her hauls was this big bucket worth of mussels, locally known as tahong, for 20 bucks (roughly $0.50). It must be around 3 kilos worth of mussels. She also got a bunch of shellfish innards sold for Php50 a kilo. The interesting thing with these innards is that once she looked closer, she realized that the innards contained scallops in it. And scallops for 50 bucks is definitely a bargain in my side of the country. The moment she got home, she showed me her seafood stash and I can’t think of anything else but adding it into a pasta.

My aunt from Italy taught me this recipe. It might be close to a simple marinara sauce but lighter and sweeter in flavor. Whenever we have seafood, even if it’s just mussels, I always try to cook it in this way. You can’t go wrong with this recipe as long as you have fresh ingredients. You can’t get that sweet briny taste if you don’t have fresh seafood. More than that, you’ll also get a tummy ache if your seafood’s not fresh. In this recipe, I only have mussels and scallops. You can be more experimental with your ingredients by adding other shellfish like clams, halaaan, and maybe some shrimps.
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