I soliti ignoti, M. Monicelli (1958) “Pasta e ceci alla romana”

“Big Deal on Madonna Street is a 1958 Italian comedy film by Mario Monicelli. Its original title translates as “the usual unknown persons”, a journalistic and bureaucratic euphemism for “unidentified criminals”. The film is a comedy about a group of small-time thieves and ne’er-do-wells who bungle an attempt to burglarize a state-run pawn shop called Monte di Pietà in Rome passing from a neighboring flat”

I believe it offers a great ironic and fresh insight of the life of the sub-proletarians in Rome at that time and also of the human condition within the burdens and impositions of society (as all the Italian movies used to do in the old good days). It is considered one of the masterpiece of the Italian cinema and its beauty, irony and relevance are timeless.


The film tells the story of this group of sub proletarians used to prison and small thefts organising the bigger robbery of their life. When at the end the plan crumbles and they realize they can’t succeed they give up on dreams and leave the apartment after eating the pasta with chickpeas they find in the kitchen.

“Pasta e ceci” is a very traditional dish in Italy and every region, sometime every town, has got his own version. It connected to the restriction imposed by the Catholic church not to eat meat during the Lent and during the so called “giorni di magro”, skinny days. So please, non Italian audience,  understand that they don’t just “steal food” or eat any “pasta and beans”.

Here the extract of the movie: I soliti ignoti, Mario Monicelli (1958) – Scena della pasta e ceci (I will soon upload one version with subtitles)

I will give you the proper traditional version of the recipe as they prepare it in Rome and also a very quick version towards my “a walk on the cheap side” blog section.

This is meant to be a humble dish so feel free to adapt it to modern time. You will anyway end up with a earthy creamy dish, super nutritious and amazingly cheap. You can have most of the ingredients sitting in your kitchen for long time and they can be sourced very easily.


Serving 4 people, or 2 very hungry ones… anyway if you go for the long preparation just cook double quantity of chickpeas and you can keep them on the side for the day after. We don’t cook every day, do we?

250g of dried chickpeas

2 table spoon of bicarbonate of soda

3 sprigs of rosemary

2 whole garlic cloves, plus 3 sliced ones

200g of canned chopped tomatoes or passata

2 tea spoon of salt

4 table spoon of vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling (I always use extra virgin olive oil)

4 anchovy fillets

280g of pasta, it can be any kind as long as it is short, even broken spaghetti. Traditionally people would use the leftovers of different pasta sorts so that’s the chance to get rid of the nearly empty bags and boxes of pasta you may have accumulate.

4 table spoon of grated pecorino romano and freshly ground black pepper to serve.

Traditional method (long!)

1.In a large bowl soak the chickpeas for 24 hours circa in cold water where you have dissolved the bicarbonate of soda.

2. Drain the chickpeas and wash them quickly then put them in a large pot with 1.5l of cold water, the whole garlic cloves and 2 sprigs of rosemary (use a sachet if you can) and bring to boil. Let cook 1.5-2 hours, adding the tomatoes and the salt just in the last half hour. Add water if the chickpeas become to dry. Once ready switch off and leave it on the side with all the cooking water.

3.Take 2-3 ladles of chickpeas and smash it in a bowl. In a frying pan put the oil, the chopped garlic and the anchovies. Cook at very low fire until the anchovies are melted. Add the smashed chickpeas and fry them slightly and finally add them in the pot with the rest of the chickpeas and the cooking water, stirr well.

4.That’s it, the base for your pasta e ceci is done. Now you can bring back to boil, adding some more water if needed and you can cook the pasta in your chickpeas “soup”.

Having a more runny or dry result its really up to your taste, add more water or cook longer to make it more dense. Personally I like it quite dense, with the chickpeas cream coating the pasta. Good rule is to add water little by little to control the results better.

5.Serve in soup bowls with a sprinkle of grated pecorino romano (found mine at Sainsbury’s! Not the best one but it does the job), black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Quick method

Use canned ready cooked chickpeas (drain them well and wash them), cooked them in half litre water for less time or anyway until till they start to smash (remember you can add more water when you want if needed).

Follow the rest of the procedure (points 3, 4 and 5). Don’t be intimidated by recipes: use any oil you have, different herbs, onion instead of garlic, forget about anchovies, don’t put tomatoes, use cheddar cheese… make all the variations you want because chickpeas are amazing food and you may not get the traditional “pasta e ceci alla romana” but still a fantastic meal.

Enjoy and please contact me at ilaria.cnnv@gmail.com if you need any advice!

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Mariuccia’s pasta

I love remember people through the food they like to prepare and eat and I love to experience and reproduce memories cooking the same recipes out of the original contest.

This is a quick and delicious pasta recipe brought back from Italy. It’s one of the usual suspects of Mariuccia that helped her feeding and making happy 3 generations. It is blessed by the golden colour and the amazing taste of the saffron, the tasty pancetta and the smiles of all the people that have been enjoying it.

Here it comes, pasta with saffron and pancetta, from Mariuccia’s place to London, prepared by Roberto.

Ingredients, feed 2-3

2 table spoons of extra virgin olive

1 shallot, finely chopped

125g of pancetta tesa cut in cubes or stricky bacon cut in sticks

Pancetta is made from pork side, the same cut used to make bacon. However, it’s not smoked, and there’s no sugar involved. Just garlic, salt and spices, in particular a liberal dose of freshly ground pepper. It’s almost always used as an ingredient in other dishes, sometimes providing flavor, and other times taking a commanding role, for example pasta alla carbonara.

275ml single cream

0.15g saffron in powder

300g of pasta, penne type (here we had tu use fusilli!)

2 table spoons of salt

1 tea spoon freshly ground black pepper

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Heath the oil in a saucepan and stir in the shallot and the pancetta and cook on medium heath for circa 5 minutes until the pancetta is crispy.

turn the heath down to very slow and stir in all the cream and the saffron and mix well. Cook for a couple of minutes and take off the stove.

Meanwhile bring to boil 3l circa of water in a pot, add the salt and then cook the pasta in the salted water following the instructions on the package. Drain well and toss the pasta in the skillet with sauce and black pepper. Serve immediately!

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Avocado and asparagus roast

That is a super healthy and tasty dish I prepared to treat myself during a relaxing night in.



Ingredients for one person

1 avocado

4 asparagus

150g circa of small plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

bread crumbs

garlic clove, finely chopped

1 table spoon of dried oregano

the juice of one lime

salt, pepper and dried chillies

2 dollops of Greek yoghurt


Cut the tomatoes and tossed them with half spoon of oil.

Cut the avocado in half and peel it.

Boiled the asparagus for just 2 minutes, drain them and set aside.

Mix breadcrumbs, garlic and oregano.

In an oven tray fit avocado, tomato salad and the asparagus. Drizzle avocado and asparagus with some oil, cover tomato salad with the breadcrumbs mixture and put in the hot oven for about 10-12 minutes or until the breadcrumbs start to golden.


Take the tray out of the oven and plate the dish: first a bed of tomato gratin then add asparagus and finally place on top the avocado. Fill the avocado with some Greek yoghurt and finally sprinkle with black pepper and chillies. Ready to eat! Serve it with rye bread or corn cakes for a super healthy meal.


Pasta cacio e pepe, cheese and black pepper pasta

That’s my choice for the first meal of the year 2015: PASTA CACIO E PEPE (pasta with cheese and black pepper). It’s a classic Roman recipe prepared with pecorino romano cheese but this is my version. A while ago I was a girl visiting Rome and willing to cook a traditional local recipe and after having looked up for some tips that’s the recipe I came up with and that I have been following since then. It’s a super quick and easy recipe, delicious and hearty.

I will write the recipe for 500g of pasta… whatever you reckon is enough for 2 or 4 it’s up to you and your stomachs!


5 liters water

3 table spoons of salt

5 spoons of extra virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves finely chopped

2 large table spoons of freshly ground black pepper

250g grated PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE: it’s a hard and salty cheese , ideal for grating like the parmesan, made out of sheep’s milk. I just brought back some from Italy but I normally find it in small blocks at Sainsbury’s.

500g of long shaped pasta (I used “spaghetti alla chitarra” that I bought in Italy but normal spaghetti would do)


Fill up a large pot with 5 liters water and bring to boil then add the salt.

In between put in a cold pan the oil, the garlic and the black pepper and heat up on a very slow fire: the garlic has to cooked and become slightly transparent and soft but doesn’t have to fry or toast. Let cool down.

In a bowl mix the grated cheese with some of the cooking water for the pasta. Add a ladle per time and mix well to obtain a kind of creamy mixture (2 ladles of water should be enough).

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook “al dente” following the instructions on the pasta package. Keep on the side a half cup of the cooking water.

Toss the drained pasta in the pan with the oil, garlic and black pepper and mix well, off the stove. Keeping the pan off the stove add the cheese mixture and mix very well using 2 forks and breaking the eventual clots of cheese until you obtain a creamy texture (add some of the cooking water you left behind if the result is too dry). You need to act quickly while the pasta is hot!

The pasta is ready and has to be served immediately.




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Kale orecchiette

The traditional Italian recipe is “orecchiette alle cime di rapa” and the main ingredients is/are RAPINI (!!!) This veg is not at all easy to find and I guess it is more associates with Mediterranean cooking… but the recipe is amazing and I wanted to be able to prepare it often and cheaply so I found out that with kale it works just as good!



Ingredients (serve 3-4 people)

6 table spoons of extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

8 anchovies fillet

4 liters of water

2 table spoons of salt

400g of orecchiette pasta (or penne pasta if you don’t find orecchiette)

200g of kale roughly chopped

freshly ground black pepper and dry ground chillies for topping


Place oil, garlic and anchovies in a large saucepan (able to contain all the cooked pasta) and put on a very very slow heath, the lowest you can. Ingredients have to warm up together and ideally oil doesn’t really have to bubble. In this way anchovies will melt down and garlic will become soft and transparent. Stir with a wooden spoon and let cook for about 10 min.

In a large pot bring the water and salt to boil and cook the pasta following the instructions on the package. Circa 7 minutes before the pasta is ready add the kale to the pot, stir well and drain all together when pasta is cooked (save a half cup of the cooking water). Toss pasta and kale in the saucepan where the anchovies and garlic sauce is. Add some of the cooking water if the result is too dry.

Serve immediately in hot plates and top with freshly ground black pepper and some chillies.

It’s damn good.



Ale and leek risotto

1200upload-10Amazing British produces in the most magical Italian dish.
I am amazed by the way my Italian cooking and eating habits are mixing with English ones. I love risotto and it is so versatile that has been the perfect ground for my culinary “melting pot”.

Today I am trying with Whitstable Bay Organic Ale, memory of a recent week-end spent in Canterbury with friends, and leeks… totally and obviously British!

I will try to put in words the method my grand mother taught me when I was a little girl… probably the time when all my passion for cooking started!


serve 2

1.5 liter of water

4 table spoon of granulated vegetable stock (you can do your own obviously, I will publish also my best veggie stock recipe, but using ready stock really speed up everything)

4 tablespoon of oil

300g of sliced leeks (circa half centimetre thickness)

half pint of Ale beer, choose a citrusy one

300g of small grain rice: I used vialone nano that I brought back from my last visit to Italy but in England you can easily find arborio rice in the supermarkets now.(Sainsbury’s or Tesco)

30g of grated mature cheddar

30g of butter

freshly ground black pepper, salt


1.In a big pot bring the water to boil and add the granulated stock. The stock has to be hot all the way to the end, so keep it bubbling on the stove on low eat.

2.Heat the oil in a deep frying pan, add the leeks and cook them on low heat for 5 minutes until soften.

3.Now the most important part of it all! Add the rice and let it fry slightly on medium heat until the rice grains become translucent, circa couple of minutes. Constantly stir not to burn or toast too much the rice.

4.Turn the heat up, add the half pint of beer and continue to stir. That’s the best part, when the beer is sizzling in the hot pan and the smell of it is filling the kitchen!

5.When the beer is quite absorbed add a ladle of stock and bubble over low-medium heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid is just about been absorbed. Add another ladle of stock and keep cooking this way until the rice is cooked, circa 20 minutes. Don’t forget to stir and do not add to much stock at once! The result has to be creamy. I always prefer to add a ladle less than one more to avoid overcooking the rice.

A note on seasoning: if your stock is salted enough you won’t need to add salt during the cooking. I don’t anyway add it till the last ladle of stock, when I can try the rice and have a clear idea how salty the dish is.

A note on the cooking: I like the risotto al dente, very creamy and a bit runny, in Italy we call it all’onda, but you can cook your rice to a driest point and decide to add less stock. The final result should be anyway a bit creamy and the grains should preserve the original shape and should be separated, not sticking together in lumps.

6.Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and the cheddar and let rest for 2-3 mins before serving.  Dish the risotto and serve it with a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and pair it with the same beer you used for cooking.

The risotto should be eaten immediately because it loses very quickly its texture, so if you are having guests it is not at all the dish to prepare in advance. I do actually like to prepare it for my guests, while they are around the kitchen and we are all having a nice glass of wine!



Forget about sugar: creamy apple cake

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This is a wonderful recipe that doesn’t need sugar nor sweetener, the apples are doing all the sweet job! And it is easy, the way I like to keep my baking.


700g of roughly grated sweet apples(I use a large hole grater but I guess it could also be done with a food processor)

250ml of Greek yogurt

2 eggs, beaten

1 tea spoon of vanilla extract

150g of white flour

3 table spoon of cinnamon powder

1 generous table spoon of baking powder

1 round 20cm diameter cake tin with removable bottom, a teaspoon of butter and 2 table spoon of flour for coating the tin


1. Preheat the oven at 180°C . Prepare the tin spreading it with the butter and then sprinkling the flour all over.

1. In a bowl mix grated apples, yogurt, beaten eggs and vanilla.

2. Add the flour, the cinnamon and the baking powder and mix gently with a spoon. The mixture will be very soft and wet.

3. Once the mixture is ready you need to put it in the tin and put it into the oven immediately. Use a spoon to flatten the cake surface before cooking.

4. Cook for 45 minutes and then let the cake in the oven turned off for 30 min. The cake will be very creamy inside. Once cooled down keep it in the fridge.

Perfect served with a dollop of Greek yogurt and fresh berries or nuts.

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No sugar peanut butter coockies

Do we need another cookie picture on the web? The answer is known. I do apologise for being here contributing to the cookies madness. In my defence, these ones are made following a classic recipe that I did try to prepare without sugar. I need to have sugar free biscuits in my collection! So here I am cooking biscuits and trying to take cute pictures.

My first attempt is with Stevia but I will try also with no sweetener. They are so easy and quick to do I want to get the recipe to perfection!


50g butter, softened

40g Stevia based sweetener (I used Truvia by Silver Spoon, found at my local supermarket)

one medium egg, biten

1 table spoon of vanilla essence

200 g chunky peanut butter (Must be sugar free! Nowadays you find organic sugar free and palm oil free quite easily, found mine at Sainsbury’s)

100g white flour

1 table spoon bicarbonate of soda

1 oven tray, parchment to cover it

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1.Preheat the oven to 160°C

2.In a bowl mix with a spoon butter and stevia until fluffy.

3.Add the beaten egg, the vanilla and the peanut butter and mix again until smooth.

4.On a different bowl mix the dry ingredients (flour and bicarbonate of soda) and when ready add it to the other mixture and stir until the flour is completely absorbed. The batter is quite thick, you should be able to work it with your hands at the end.

5.Out of the batter create circa 12-13 balls (1 generous tablespoon full for each biscuit). Place them on an oven tray lined with parchment at circa 10 cm from each other. Press then down gently with a fork to a thickness of 1.5-2 cm (the edges of the biscuits will slightly and pleasantly crush) and put the tray in the oven for 8 minutes. They cook very quickly, when you take them out they will still give you the impression to be really soft but they will harden while cooling down.

6.Let the biscuits cool down for 10 minutes and they are ready to eat.

I will try soon with no sweetener at all, let you know! Here below is my first time result, quite impressive I must say.

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Cod stew with polenta

The Italian polenta is nothing but cornmeal boiled to a smooth and creamy texture to be served with saucy dishes (you can use it instead of rice or cous cous lets say) or it can be cooked to a driest point and let rest to be finally served sliced or sliced and fried. It can also be used to make amazing tray bakes with cheese, veggies, meat.

Polenta is the base for a lot of iconic hearty and comfort meals in North Italy and my grandmother used to do it often during Winter time. I remember her pouring the creamy polenta over a traditional round wooden tray with one steady and precise movement that created a perfect round polenta hill… I can’t do the same unfortunately. And obviously she wouldn’t use any pre-cooked stuff but stir the cornmeal in a pot for over one hour.

Here I prepare it with a cod stew, a classic recipe from my homeland, South Piedmont. The original recipe is made with preserved cod: my town is not on the sea side but just in the inland and preserved fish like anchovies and salted or smoked fish are traditional ingredients.


Ingredients (serve 2)

For the cod stew

300gr of fresh cod fillet, cut in 2-3 pieces

1 cup of flour

6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (3 for the cod and 3 for the sauce)

4 anchovies fillets

2 medium size white onions, sliced

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

15 pitted kalamata olives

salt and pepper

For the polenta

100gr of cornmeal

400ml of water

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

2 knobs of butter

half teaspoon of salt


Wash the fillet of cod and tap it dry with kitchen paper. Flour the fish once then set aside for few minutes and then flour it a second time. Heat the oil in a frying pan and then cook the fish both sides until is golden and crispy. Set aside.

In the same pan put the oil and the anchovies and melt them on a very low heath then add the onions and fry on medium heath until softened and golden. Stir in the chopped tomato and a glass of water and let cook for half hour with a lid, stirring from time to time and adding water if the sauce becomes too dry. Towards the end stir in the olives, couple of pinches of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Put the fish on an oven tray 3-4 cm deep, cover with the sauce and cook in the oven at 180 Celsius for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile you can prepare the polenta. I found a precooked one at Sainsbury’s that is not bad at all. You can follow the instructions of the one you find otherwise a good general rule is to use 4 times the water of the weight of the cornmeal you want to cook and add one spoon of oil, a knob of butter, half teaspoon salt every 200ml of water circa and bring to boil. Add the cornmeal to the boiling water slowly while stirring with a whisk and cook stirring with a wooden spoon till the polenta is creamy.

When ready serve immediately, dishing a big spoon of polenta and topping with a spoon of the stew. Enjoy!

Leftovers of polenta, while still a bit runny, can be put in a bowl and then refrigerated. The day after you can cut polenta slices, fry or grill them and serve with melted cheese or whatever topping you like. And it is gluten-free mates!


Rob and the black&green patties

Rob in the kitchen: an inspired cook, not easy to please and with radical taste, straight animalist and wobbling vegetarian. Perfectionist while not on the booze, great with knives.

He just developed the following recipe and it’s a little revolution because he let in his pantry some ingredients he never used or considered before: ghee butter, garam masala, besan and avocado. I mean… he wouldn’t have gone near an avocado until yesterday.

Below the recipe of black and green patties, served with guacamole and kale in a brown baguette.

Enjoy! (I did very much)



Ingredients for the patties (make 8 patties, serve 4)

3 table spoons of ghee butter

1 medium white onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

500g cooked green lentils, drained

500g cooked black beans, drained

100g besan

1 table spoon garam masala

100g mature cheddar cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste




Preheat the oven at 180 C. In a frying pan melt 2 spoons of ghee and lightly fry onions and garlic in it until softened. Add beans and lentils and, while frying, roughly mash them with the help of a wooden spoon or a masher. Set aside to cool in a bowl.

In the same pan add the remaining ghee and when hot stir in besan and garam masala, again lightly frying for a couple of minutes. Incorporate the mixture to the beans and lentil mash and season with salt and pepper.

Let cool down, devide the mixture in 8 equal parts that you will arrange on  a oven tray lined with baking paper. You can shape the patties with your hands or with the help of a spoon. Don’t worry if the mixture is quite soft and wet, the cooking will give the patties the right crispiness and body.

Put in the oven and let cook for 45 minutes.



Ingredients for the guacamole (serve 4 patties)

2 avocados

juice of half lime

salt and pepper to taste

4 black olives, sliced

1 tomato, chopped

1 green chillie, sliced

1 table spoon olive oil


In a small bowl smash the peeled avocado with a fork. Add lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Stir in all the rest of the ingredients and keep chilled and covered until serving.


Ingredients for kale (serve 4 patties)

250g kale, roughly chopped

1 table spoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves sliced

salt and pepper to taste


Fry kale with olive oil and sliced garlic until softened.

You can have the patties with the side of guacamole and kale or for a burger effect and a ultimate healthy meal you can use the preparations to stuff a nice multigrain and rye baguette.

Patties can be served right from the oven with the hot kale and the cold guacamole or they are great also at room temperature.

Use olive oil instead of ghee and avoid cheese for a vegan version and no bread for a gluten free one… what else do you want?






Sugar and flour free oats biscuits

Banana based baking with no sugar and no flour… couldn’t resist to try something. Read a few recipes on Pinterest and here my version. Didn’t want any sweetener at all.

Oats and banana biscuitsIngredients

Prepare 15 biscuits circa

3 large very ripe bananas

2 cups of rolled oats

1 tablespoon of cinnamon

1 handful of walnuts in pieces

1 handful of blueberries

Baking tray and parchment to line it


Pre-heath the oven at 180°C.

Put the oats in a bowl and then add the bananas roughly cut in big chunks and with the help of a fork (or with your hands) smash everything together and mix well. The result will be fairly runny and sticky. Add cinnamon and walnuts and mix again.

With 2 table spoon prepare rough quenelles with the compound and place them on the baking tray previously lined with parchment. The biscuits won’t enlarge during the cooking time so you can arrange them just couple of centimeters one from each other.

I did try some of them with blueberries, just add them before cooking on top of the formed biscuits pressing gently.

Put in the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes.

The result is not bad at all, for sure these biscuits are really healthy and filling and they make a perfect morning or afternoon snack. They stay soft inside and definitely remind of some energy raw bar. Never baked something easier in my life.

Oats and banana biscuits

Oats and banana biscuits

Warm salmon and avocado salad

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I have always loved avocado, well before the words superfood and clean eating first appeared in the media. Since I am in London I use a lot of it because is so available and cheap as well. Best avocados? The Aldi ones, always perfectly ripe and more than affordable.

The following is an original recipe of mine inspired by a dish I used to eat at “Sottosopra”, a restaurant and wine bar in my hometown Tortona. Over there Andrea is doing a great job as chef and after years “Sottosopra” is still one of the place that comes up in my mind when I feel like having a nice dinner or a proper Italian style aperitivo. Unfortunately I am not around my hometown very often! If you can just go there and let me know!

So Andrea’s recipe features burrata and fresh tuna but here to calm my longing and use more available and cheap ingredients I am doing a version with avocado, fresh salmon and pink Himalayan salt.

Ingredients for 2 people

2 ripe avocados cut in small cubes (1cm)

2 table spoons of mayonnaise

the juice of one lime

freshly ground black pepper

2 mozzarella balls (circa 200g), flaked (don’t get mad browsing Italian groceries for “the Mozzarella”… Sainsbury’s or Aldi ones are perfect. In any case beware: if it doesn’t flake it is not mozzarella!)

8 small plum tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, cut in halves

1 table spoon of coarse pink Himalayan salt (I actually bought mine at Tiger for £1.00)

250g of salmon fillet cut in cubes (2cm)

freshly ground black pepper


With a fork smash one table spoon of avocado cubes in a small bowl and mix in mayo, half of the lime juice, black pepper until smooth.

In a separate bowl toss the avocado cubes with mozzarella flakes and remaining lime juice, dress with the lime mayonnaise you have just prepared and set aside.

In a non stick pan quickly fry the tomatoes until the skin start to wrinkle, circa one minute. Set aside.

Clean the pan and put it over high heat then spread the Himalayan salt in it.

When the pan is very hot toss in the salmon cubes, let cook for 1-2 minutes then turn them and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Take the pan off the stove. You want the surfaces to be crispy and the middle very pink.

Now it’s time to compose the dish!

Divide the avocado and mozzarella salad in 2 plates, add the tomatoes and finally arrange the salmon cubes on top. It’s heavenly creamy and tasty!