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Cover: Mamma Mia!

Meal for 2 people

12Jul 12

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala

 

 

Once a year or so, I like to visit a vineyard and do a wine tour or tasting. It is always interesting the differences that each company uses in their wine production. There are a lot of decisions made throughout the process that changes the body and flavour of a wine, making each one really distinct. I wouldn’t say that I am a connoisseur, by any means. However, the more tastings you go to, the more you learn and can appreciate the difference between wines.

Many vineyards have gift shops to buy the wines you liked or other paraphernalia. I once saw a ceramic that tickled my fancy, and now it hangs in my kitchen. The slogan goes, “I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.” In my household, this is most certainly true! This chicken marsala recipe is just one example of when I enjoy a glass of wine while cooking, and use just a bit in the process as well.

I use red wine here, but if you prefer white, try this chestnut spaghetti with chicken livers.

 

Chicken Marsala
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
A great way to cook with wine
Ingredients
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 150g flour
  • 2 tablespoons seasoning of choice
  • 8 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 200g mushrooms
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 200ml marsala wine
  • 150g spaghetti
  • 1 pinch of parsley to garnish
Instructions
  1. Take your chicken breasts and wrap them in clingfilm. Pound them flat.
  2. In a shallow bowl, mix the flour and your seasoning of choice.
  3. Remove the clingfilm and dip the chicken into the flour until heavily coated on both sides.
  4. Heat up 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a frying pan and brown the chicken for 3 minutes on each side.
  5. Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate, covering with aluminum foil.
  6. Heat up the remaining oil and sauté the onions and mushrooms for approximately 5 minutes.
  7. Add the marsala wine and let it reduce a bit.
  8. Next add in the chicken stock and start to stir. Wait a few minutes until you notice the sauce begin to thicken, and sprinkle in some salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Add the chicken breasts once again to the mixture.
  10. Cover the frying pan, and let it all simmer together for approximately 10 minutes.
  11. Whilst you have the chicken going, prepare the spaghetti according to the packet instructions.
  12. After the allotted time, remove the cover on the frying pan and check to see if the chicken is cooked throughout.
  13. If so, drain the spaghetti and divide it equally onto two plates.
  14. Scoop the chicken on top of the pasta, making sure to get lots of the sauce as well.
  15. Garnish with parsley and serve.

 

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05Jul 12

Mozzarella and Tomato Calzone

Mozzarella and Tomato CalzoneA calzone is a folded pizza. I’ve had some that are literally a pizza folded over, and others that are like an English ‘pasty’, folded over and joined along the edge to for a self-contained pie. Calzones have often been used as a way of clearing up tasty leftovers, with tomato and mozzarella added to bind the whole lot together.

With today’s recipe, I’m keeping it ultra-simple, and sticking to just those two essentials: tomato and mozzarella, and a little shredded basil: red white and green, the colours of Italy!

You can obviously make as many as you need, and they actually taste fantastic cold, as well as hot, so you can make a few and store them in the fridge for those times when you just need to grab and go.

Eat with a peppery rocket and watercress salad and some nice cold beers. This stuff makes good couch eating; as it cools off, you can dispense with the cutlery and pick the pizza up and munch away, while you chill in front of the TV. It’s not all sophisticated living!

Ingredients:

  • Approx 250g of pizza dough, divided into two (Check out this gluten-free option for pizza crust.)
  • Flour, for dusting
  • 150-200g chopped tinned tomatoes (or half a jar of store-bought pizza sauce)
  • 250g mozzarella, sliced or chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn up or shredded
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

1 – If using tinned tomatoes, simmer for 15 minutes in a pan to reduce and thicken. If using pizza sauce, skip this part. Divide the pizza dough into two balls, and on a lightly floured surface, roll out two discs of between 20-30 cm in diameter.

2 – Divide the tomato sauce between the two pizza bases, leaving a 2.5 cm edge around the base. Add the garlic and mozzarella to one half of each pizza-base, before sprinkling over the basil leaves. Season with salt and pepper.

3 – Brush water around the edge of the base, fold over and seal, pressing your thumbs into the dough. Place on some baking foil, in a baking tray, prick in a couple of places with a fork, and cook at 200ºC for between 10-20 minutes. Basically keep an eye on them and remove them when the dough turns a beautiful pale gold.

Makes: 2 calzone pizzas
Total Time – Approx 45 minutes (preparation, 25 hours; cooking time, 20 minutes)

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29Jun 12

Salsiccias with Polenta and Spicy Tomato Salsa

Salsiccias with Polenta and Spicy Tomato SalsaIn Italy there’s a plethora of sausage varieties; but here in our neck of the woods, the easiest salsiccias to get hold of are simply known as… ‘Italian Sausages’. You can generally take your pick between ‘hot’ and ‘sweet’, the hot variety containing hot red pepper flakes in the mix of spices. The other magical ingredients which bump up the distinctive flavours of Italian sausages are fennel and anise. You may discern one, or a mixture of both.

It goes without saying that I’m talking Italian salsa di pomodoro here (tomato sauce), and not the Mexican salsa we often associate with the word. And as a twist from my usual tack of making everything up from scratch, I’m suggesting for once that you buy a really good quality ready-made tomato and chilli sauce. And the reason for this tangent? Well, sometimes you have all the time in the world to do it all yourself; and sometimes well, you just don’t.

So this recipe is here to offer you a delicious Italian inspired meal that’s simple to put together and is still going to dance a salsa on your taste buds. If you want to stick to making your own sauce, which as you know, I always prefer when time allows- find my basic tomato sauce recipe and spice it up with a little chilli.  For another quick to make,  Italian-inspired meal, take a peek at this mushroom lasagne with mozzarella and tomatoes.

Salsiccias with polenta and spicy tomato salsa
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
Italian sausages piled onto polenta, swimming in a sauce that will dance a salsa on your taste buds
Ingredients
  • 4 -6 Italian sausages
  • 10ml chilli oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 1 tbsp Marsala
  • 1 large jar of top notch tomato and chilli sauce
  • 100ml water
  • Chicken stock, sufficient to cook the polenta
  • 175g instant polenta
  • A little olive oil
  • A sprinkling of fresh oregano to garnish
Instructions
  1. Fry the sausages in the chilli oil over a medium to high heat in a frying pan. Seal and colour them for around 5 minutes then add the Marsala and the garlic, and leave to bubble for a couple of minutes more.
  2. Add the tomato and chilli sauce and the 100ml water and simmer the sausages in the spicy juice for around 15 minutes or until cooked throughout.
  3. Meanwhile prepare the polenta in hot chicken stock rather than water; it will give it a wonderful flavour. Follow the preparation instructions on the packet. Remember, we’re talking easy for this meal.
  4. Swirl the olive oil over the polenta when it is cooked, stirring it in with a fork.
  5. Serve the sausages over the polenta and cover with the spicy sauce and a sprinkling of fresh oregano.

 

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25Jun 12

Pigeon Risotto

Pigeon risottoOne species that’s learned to live alongside us pretty well is the pigeon. In our towns and cities, they’re hardly an endangered species! They’ve often been seen as pests, and they certainly can be something of a nuisance. But, seriously, if you can get hold of pigeon, then why not try this delicious risotto recipe? (For a veggie risotto, try this asparagus risotto recipe.)

Ingredients:

For the risotto:

  • 600ml stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 small/medium onion (or half a large onion)
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • 200g Arborio rice
  • 1 medium glass of dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 60g grated Parmesan cheese

For the pigeon ragout:

  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 Pigeon (prepared by your butcher)
  • Half a medium sized onion, chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 small stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced very thinly
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 glass of red or white wine, according to preference
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

1 – Since it’ll take significantly longer than the rice, start with the bird. In a casserole or similar type dish, combine two-thirds of the olive oil with the wine and some salt and pepper. Place the pigeon into the liquid, and put in an oven preheated to 180°C. Cook for 25 minutes, then remove, place the meat in a bowl to cool and reserve the cooking liquid.

2 – With the remainder of the olive oil in the casserole dish, fry the herbs gently over a low-medium heat for a few minutes before adding the garlic. Gently sauté the garlic for a couple more minutes before adding the pigeon. After a few minutes, pour in the wine mixture and gently simmer for up to an hour to reduce the liquid and cook the bird.

3 – Once the pigeon’s simmering, make a start on the risotto: heat the stock in a pan. Melt about one third of the butter in another deep pan over a low heat. Add the olive oil and then gently sauté the onion, before adding the garlic. In 5-10 minutes the onion and garlic will be ready; add the rice and fry gently for a couple of minutes.

4 – Pour in the white wine. When the wine has cooked off, start adding stock, a ladle-full (or two) at a time, stirring all the while. Risotto rice should be a little like al dente pasta: soft, but with some bite. When the rice is cooked, add the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese.

5 – Hopefully, if you’ve timed it right, your pigeon and risotto are now both ready. Risotto rice needs to sit for a few minutes before serving: once it’s rested a little, mix in the pigeon ragout, and serve in warmed bowls.

Pigeon is sufficiently robust; it can be paired with lighter red wines, rosés, or more obviously, dry whites like pinot grigio. But I like the peppery Gruner Veltliner grape, associated more with Austria than Italy, I know, but very versatile with food!

Serves: 2
Total Time – 1 hour 30 minutes (preparation, 15 minutes; cooking time, up to 1 hour and 15 minutes)

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21Jun 12

Clam Linguine

Clam LinguineThis is another of those dishes that have simple, humble origins, but can now often cost top dollar in fancy restaurants.

Some form of rustic herb-bread, ideally something chunky with rosemary or sun-dried tomatoes in it makes a good accompaniment. Try this rosemary focaccia bread.

Have some extra-virgin olive oil handy as well, preferably in a jug or decanter with a spout; sprinkling some extra-virgin olive over the pasta and clams really binds the flavours together.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  •  Several cloves of garlic (according to taste), peeled and very thinly sliced
  •  1/2 lemon
  •  1 dried red chilli, finely chopped
  •  1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  •  200g linguine pasta
  •  500g clams* (buy these alive from your fishmonger)
  •  Salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil.

* Fresh clams need preparing: wash them in cold running water, throwing away any with broken shells, or if they’ve died (if they don’t close up when you tap them). Remove their ‘beards’ and thoroughly clean the shells. Soak in a bowl of cold water for half an hour before washing them under the tap again. Refrigerate in a covered bowl, but ideally use them straight away. When they go into the pan, they should all be closed, any that aren’t, discard.

Method:

1 – In a large deep frying pan, heat the oil at a low setting before adding the garlic and chilli. They need to thoroughly infuse the oil, which will take 5-10 minutes. Be sure the heat is very low as you don’t want to burn them, or they’ll taste bitter. If need be, remove from the heat and set aside covered, where the heat from the oil will do the job.

2 – While the oil’s infusing, get your pasta going in another pan. Timing is important with this deceptively simple dish. Don’t start step three too soon!

3 – Once your pasta’s half or two-thirds of the way to being cooked perfectly ‘al dente’, put your clams into the frying pan with the garlic and chilli-infused oil, increase the heat and cook them, stirring occasionally, until they open. This should only be a matter of minutes; you don’t want them (or your pasta) overdone, so don’t rush into this step too early or leave it too late!

4 – Drain the pasta water, reserving a ladle-full (two or three tablespoonfuls), and then mix everything together in the large frying pan. Squeeze some juice from the lemon over it all, season with a little salt and pepper, serve and enjoy!

Serves: 2

Total time: 45 minutes (20 minutes preparation; 25 minutes cooking)

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21Jun 12

Italian Classics – Spaghetti Bolognese

spaghetti bolognese
You know I’m a linguine lover, but there are some days when only a classic Bolognese will do, and that means classic spaghetti. I use fine spaghetti rather than the usual thicker stuff – but go for whatever shape strikes your fancy.  So here it is, my classic spaghetti Bolognese.

There’s something really satisfying about twirling the strands of spaghetti in your fork, isn’t there? And I still like those odd moments when you have to suck in a strand that’s left dangling from your mouth. It takes me back to being a boy and lapping up my mum’s spaghetti Bolognese. This might not be the ideal thing to serve up on a first date – though it could be an ice-breaker if you’ve both got a good sense of humour! If you fancy a bolognese with a difference, take a peek at my favourite bolognese recipe, lamb and linguine bolognese.

Italian Classics – Spaghetti Bolognese
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
You know I’m a linguine lover, but there are some days when only a classic Bolognese will do, and that means classic spaghetti.
Ingredients
  • 250g lean minced beef
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium sized carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick of celery, finely sliced
  • 75g Portobello mushrooms, use chestnut mushrooms if you can’t find them, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced or minced
  • 80ml red wine – we like to drink a glass while we cook together too, and chat in the kitchen
  • ½ tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 200g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • ½ -1 tsp sugar
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • A generous pinch of dried oregano or mixed Italian herbs
  • Fresh Parmesan, grated, to serve
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
  • Fresh oregano or fresh basil to garnish
  • 150g dried fine spaghetti
Instructions
  1. Dry fry the mince in a pan along with the onion, garlic, carrots and celery, for around 7-10 minutes, until the beef browns.
  2. Toss the mushrooms into the pan and continue to fry for a few minutes.
  3. Shake over the flour, mixing it in well.
  4. Splash in the wine, and add the tomato purée, tinned tomatoes and 150ml cold water.
  5. Give it all a good old stir before crumbling in the stock cube, sprinkling on the sugar and shaking over the dried herbs.
  6. Twist over with black pepper, I like to use a fair bit myself in this recipe for a good old peppery edge.
  7. Stir everything together and bring the sauce up to a gentle boil. Turn down the heat and simmer on low for around 30-40 minutes. You don’t need to cover it, but do give it a stir every now and then.
  8. Boil a large pan of water, add a pinch of salt and a swirl of olive oil and add the spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti for the time recommended on the packet – usually around 10 minutes. Drain to serve.
  9. For the last 10 minutes of the cooking time, turn the heat of the Bolognese sauce up a little to reduce the liquid, and it will thicken up nicely.
  10. Season again and serve the sauce piled on top of the spaghetti. Top off with the grated Parmesan and the fresh herb garnish, and tuck in!

 

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19Jun 12

Baked Dolcelatte and Broccoli Gnocchi

Baked Dolcelatte and Broccoli GnocchiThese days the gnocchi you can find in the big stores tends to be potato-based. In a future post I might try my hand at making it at home (it’s not something I’ve tried yet!). The combination of iron-rich broccoli, a healthy vegetable if ever there was one, contrasting with the indulgence of dolcelatte, baked to rich, creamy perfection, makes this a winner every time. (Also try this broccoli feta rice recipe.)

This is a great food for the autumn and winter: piping hot, rich and comforting. Cosy up on the couch with your ‘significant other’, and watch a good film. Last time we had this, we watched ‘The Big Sleep’, with Bogie and Bacall, a classic!

Ingredients:

  • 250g gnocchi
  •  150g broccoli (half a large ‘head’ of broccoli, or most of a smaller one)
  •  100g dolcelatte (or other soft blue-veined cheese, e.g. gorgonzola)
  •  100ml single cream
  •  50g grated Parmesan
  •  Salt and pepper

Method:

1 – Heat your oven to 200ºC. Meanwhile bring a large pan of very lightly salted water to the boil (salt reduces the boiling temperature). Cook the broccoli for about three minutes*, till it becomes tender (Since it’s going to be baked as well, don’t overcook it. And watery mushy broccoli isn’t very appetizing!).

2 – Cook the gnocchi in the water you used for the broccoli, as instructed by the packet.

3 – Combine the dolcelatte, cream and half the grated Parmesan, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper, and pour into a casserole (or other ovenproof) dish. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top.

4 – Bake for between 10-20 minutes, until the top is golden, and the sauce bubbles.

* If you want to save a few minutes and feel a bit clever at the same time, you can steam the broccoli over the boiling water. This should take about four minutes. After the broccoli has steamed for two minutes, lift off the steamer, pop the gnocchi into the water, and replace. The gnocchi should cook in two minutes (you know it’s ready when it floats), and meanwhile the broccoli will have cooked atop it.

 Serves: 2

 Total time: 40 minutes (10 minutes preparation; 30 minutes cooking)

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17Jun 12

Basil and Ricotta Pasta

Basil and Ricotta PastaSometimes you’ve just got no time. For times like that, there’s ‘pasta prestissimo’. Prestissimo is actually a term used in music to indicate ‘play as fast as possible’. With that in mind, here is a no-nonsense, time-saving pasta recipe for basil and ricott pasta – perfect for the modern Italian chef in a hurry. (For another fast Italian recipe, try this pasta with egg yolks and walnuts.)

Make sure you have some quick-cooking pasta handy! The recipe basically takes as long as the pasta requires. I used spaghetti, but you can help it cook faster by breaking it in half before tossing it into the boiling water.

Ingredients:

  • 200g of quick-cooking pasta, penne or fusilli are ideal for this recipe
  • A bottle of olive oil (don’t worry, we’re not using all of it!)
  • 50g sun-dried tomatoes
  • A handful of basil leaves
  • 150g ricotta cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

1 – Boil a half-full kettle and pour the water into a pan that’s on high with an inch or so of water already in the bottom, a pinch of salt in it, and the lid on. (i.e. get that water boiling as quickly as humanly possible!) Once boiling, toss in your pasta.

2 – While the pasta cooks, roughly tear up the basil by hand and crumble your ricotta into nice lumpy chunks. Chop the tomatoes as well.

3 – When your pasta’s cooked, drain it, reserving a small cup or glass full of the cooking liquid. Serve the pasta into two slightly-warmed bowls, and sprinkle over the basil, tomatoes and ricotta. With your thumb over the opening of the olive oil bottle, splash the pasta mix generously with olive oil, along with one or two spoonfuls of the reserved pasta water. Don’t use too much, as you still want a sensuously unctuous plate of pasta, even without going to the trouble of making a sauce. Mix it all together.

4. Season with salt and pepper and tuck in!

If you’ve got a jar or bottle of pitted black olives in brine handy, and can find the time to chop a few up and sprinkle them over, they make a tasty and simple addition!

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14Jun 12

Roast Courgette Ruote

Roast Courgette RuoteThis dish matches wheel-shaped pasta (ruote simply means wheel) with round slices of roast courgette, and pesto if you’ve got any in the fridge.

Despite its earthy simplicity, this dish is somehow light and refreshing, and makes an ideal pairing with cold beer, a good dry white wine, or even prosecco. Eaten outdoors on a balmy night, with a cool refreshing beverage – by water is idyllic – this is a simple, subtly-flavoured food that leaves you quite satisfied.

For more courgette goodness, try these courgette and tomato pizzettas.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large courgette, cut into thin (2-3mm) slices
  • 200g of ruote pasta, or any other fun alternative such as fiori or croxetti
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 a medium-sized onion, fairly coarsely chopped (small stamp-sized pieces)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of pesto (optional)

Method:

1 – Heat your grill to 200ºC, and place the chopped courgette on a baking/roasting tray, on a sheet of foil if need be, but certainly with a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil sprinkled over them. Get them under the heat, as close as safely and reasonably possible, without setting them alight! Keep an attentive eye on them, and turn over when necessary. Lay the courgette slices out so they overlap slightly, as this will mean some of the soft flesh roasts whilst other parts stay tender.

2 – Whilst the courgettes are roasting, get the pasta cooking. The time this recipe takes depends on two things: how long your courgettes take to roast, and how long your pasta needs. Assuming your courgettes char quickly and you time your pasta right, you should be able to get this done in 30 minutes.

3 – With your courgettes roasting and the pasta cooking, in a heavy-based frying pan, heat two tablespoons of oil, fry the onion till golden, adding the garlic after a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat when the onions are well caramelised and the garlic has started to turn golden, and set aside.

4 – Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Mix in the onion and garlic and, if the courgettes aren’t ready yet, keep warm. But hopefully your courgettes are now nicely roasted. Mix them into the pasta, onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and serve. You might like to have a little bowl of pesto handy, and plop a dollop on top of your pasta.

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01Jun 12

Goats’ cheese pizza

Goat Cheese PizzaNow that you’ve got a stock of pizza dough at the ready, here’s one of my personal favourite toppings. I’m absolutely crazy about cheese, and goats’ cheese is one of my most loved varieties. In this recipe the sugary sweetness of caramelized onions complements the richly soft, tart tang of goats’ cheese perfectly.

Goats’ cheese goes well with any type of vegetable. Don’t believe me? After trying my goat cheese pizza, try this goats’ cheese and courgette cannelloni.

Basil can either be added, finely chopped, to the tomato sauce mix or, roughly torn, after cooking (or a bit of both!).

Ingredients:

  • 2 portions of pizza dough
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 100g red bell pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, very finely sliced
  • 50ml tomato purée
  • 100ml passata (sieved tomato sauce)
  • 50g goats’ cheese, crumbled
  • 100g mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

1 – Firstly roll out two balls of pizza dough to the desired size and thickness, roughly quarter of an inch thick and about 10-12 inches in diameter is about what we go for.

2 – Turn the oven on to about 180ºC. Heat the oil over a low-medium heat in a heavy-based pan and add the onion and red pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until golden, adding the garlic a minute or two from the end of the time you allow for the onions and peppers. You want the onion to soften up and turn golden without overcooking the garlic. When ready, remove from the pan and set aside.

3 – Turn up the heat and combine the passata and tomato purée in the frying pan. Over a high-medium heat, allow the tomato paste to combine and reduce, soaking up some of the vegetable flavours as it does so. After 3-4 minutes, the mixture will have thickened and reduced by about a third. Remove the pan and set aside.

4 – Place the rolled pizza bases on sheets of baking paper or foil, and place on baking trays. Spoon the tomato sauce over the bases, spreading evenly to within about half an inch of the edge. Add the onion, red pepper and garlic mix evenly over the tomato sauce before sprinkling the mozzarella and crumbled goats’ cheese over everything. Season with salt and pepper, and if you like add a very small sprinkle of olive oil.

5 – Bake for 10 minutes, then serve immediately.

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About Gianluca Dievole

My Badge: Assistant

About

Buon' giorno! Welcome to my Italian food blog. I am Italian, and proud of it! Italy has so much going for it: with one foot quite literally in the beautiful Mediterranean, my country’s climate and location give us an amazing cornucopia of ingredients, which is why our culture is steeped in a hearty romantic culinary tradition. My wife and I love our food, so all my recipes are designed for two. If you're cooking for an average sized modern family - perhaps not the traditional extended Italian family - just double the quantities.