A winter voyage of spicy dishes

BY JAN BILTON
Last updated 05:00 16/07/2010
Dinner
JAN BILTON
Scrumptious seafood: This prawn dish, Gambas con Garbanzos, is popular around the coast of Spain

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Travel broadens the mind – and the stomach if you're not careful. Especially if you're relaxing aboard a cruise liner enjoying a moveable feast.

Last winter we escaped to cruise the Mediterranean on Holland America's Oosterdam. It was a great way to visit places we hadn't seen before or revisit favourite destinations within a limited time frame.

Mediterranean flavours are delightfully moreish and even though we could search out our own discoveries ashore, the ship's chefs always had appropriate regional dishes ready to savour back on board. One of my favourite dishes – Greek Chicken with Artichokes, Capers and Olives – is based on one from the Oosterdam.

A highlight was Istanbul. The spice market, with its exotic aromas, colourful pyramids of spices and its lokum (Turkish delight) stores, is not to be missed. Most of us who enjoy Turkish delight will be familiar with the Edmond's Cookbook recipe that uses gelatine. But genuine lokum combines cornflour, sugar and water and is cooked on very low heat for over an hour. It is a labour of love but if you love the candy then it's very worthwhile. Lokum should be firm-ish on the outside but soft in the centre.

The Sicilian seaport of Catania is fascinating not only architecturally but boasts one of the best fresh produce markets we've visited. The choice of seafood was mouthwatering and I wish we had something similar in this country. Cheese, meat, poultry, fruit, veges and herbs were also in abundance. The colourful atmosphere, and characters made for an unforgettable experience.

Here I enjoyed a true Sicilian cassata – sponge cake, ricotta cheese, candied fruit, chocolate and marzipan. A totally new experience for my taste buds.

GAMBAS CON GARBANZOS

Spanish prawns with chick peas. Versions of this dish are served around the coast of Spain, including Taverna del Bisbe in Barcelona.

2 Tbsp each: pine nuts, dried breadcrumbs

2 small dried red chilli peppers, diced

3 Tbsp olive oil

24 large raw prawns, shelled and deveined

1 medium onion, diced

1 green pepper (capsicum), seeded and chopped

4 each: garlic cloves, tomatoes, peeled and diced

2 x 420g can chick peas, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup fish stock

salt and pepper to taste

Place the pine nuts in a non-stick frying pan and shake over low heat, until golden. Add the breadcrumbs and chilli peppers and heat for about 30 seconds. Remove and crush with a pestle and mortar. Place to one side.

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Heat the oil in the frying pan on medium heat. Saute the prawns for about 20 seconds each side. Place to one side.

Add the onion and green pepper to the pan. Stir well. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, until soft but not brown.

Add the garlic and tomatoes. Cook for about five minutes.

Add the chick peas and fish stock. Cook for five minutes.

Add a tablespoon or two of the ground pine nut mixture and cook for another five minutes. Add the prawns and heat through. Season. Serves 4.

GREEK CHICKEN WITH ARTICHOKES, CAPERS & OLIVES

Based on the recipe from the chefs on Holland America's Oosterdam.

12 skinned and boned chicken thighs

1/4 cup plain flour

freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp each: olive oil, butter

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

400g can diced tomatoes with juice

340g jar marinated artichokes, chopped

3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved

2 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained

1 tsp dried oregano

1 cup chicken stock

Halve the chicken thighs, if preferred. Place the flour in a plastic bag and season. Shake the chicken in the flour to coat.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, non-stick frying pan. Saute the chicken in batches on all sides, until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.

Great served with rice or orzo and garnished with chopped parsley. Serves 6.

LOKUM

Genuine Turkish delight.

4 cups each: water, cornflour

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

2-3 Tbsp rose water depending on strength and personal taste

drop of pink food colouring, optional

70g shelled pistachio nuts, chopped

icing sugar for coating

Lightly oil a 24cm x 30cm pan.

Heat the water but do not boil. Combine the cornflour and sugar and add to the water, stirring over low heat until the sugar dissolves.

Continue to cook over very low heat, until the mixture thickens. Lower the heat even further and cook for about an hour. Stir continuously. Ten minutes before the end of cooking add the lemon juice, rosewater and food colouring if using.

Remove from the heat and stir in the pistachio nuts. Pour into the pan and allow to set in a cool place. However, do not refrigerate.

Cut into 3cm squares. Roll in the icing sugar before serving. Makes about 60 pieces.

CASSATA SICILIANA

400g marzipan

100g dark chocolate, chopped

225g sponge cake

Filling: 500g ricotta cheese

175g icing sugar

125g candied lemon peel

50g chocolate chips

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

2 Tbsp marsala, rum or orange liqueur

Glaze: 1 egg white

1/4 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup mixed dried fruit

Line the base of a 20cm loose-based cake pan with baking paper. Dust with icing sugar.

Roll the marzipan on an icing-sugar dusted board, until about five millimetres thick. Line the base and sides of the pan with the marzipan. Trim the top.

Melt the chopped chocolate, mixing until smooth. Paint over the base and sides of the marzipan.

Cut the sponge cake into strips about 7mm thick. Cover and base with a single layer of the strips. Then line them around the sides.

Combine the ricotta with the icing sugar, candied peel, chocolate chips, vanilla and the marsala, rum or liqueur. Spoon into the centre of the cake. Cover with the remaining sponge strips. Chill for several hours.

When ready to serve, turn upside down onto a serving plate. Whip the egg white and the sugar until thick and shiny. Spread over the cake. Decorate with the dried fruit. Chill until ready to serve. Cut in wedges to serve. Serves 6-8.

Copyright Jan Bilton

- The Marlborough Express

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