Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Caponata

I was sad to hear recently of the passing of Antonio Carluccio. Many years ago I used to visit his Neal Street deli whenever I could and met the man himself there a few times. His respect and enthusiasm for quality ingredients and simple but intensely flavoured dishes were a significant influence on me. For instance, I didn't realise just how good Parmesan cheese could be until he scooped a piece from a wheel and handed it to me and I might never have tried to make risotto if he hadn't told me to stop worrying and just get on with it. He was a great ambassador for Italian food and I for one will always be grateful to him.
Antonio Carluccio's Italian Cooking
Although I use quite a few Italian recipes I haven't posted many here. The fact is that when I started this blog it seemed to me that the world really didn't need me to add to the mountain of recipes for Italian food. There were just so many blogs already specialising in Italian dishes and so many Italian restaurants down here in Surrey that if you threw grissini out of any window they would probably land in someone's arrabiata sauce. But it seems like a good time now to get around to recording just a few of the (inauthentic) Italian recipes that I use.

I think caponata is simply one of the most adaptable, versatile and useful dishes that I know (Italian or otherwise). It's made in advance and is easy to put together, although it does take a while. It's perfect for serving at room temperature as a relaxed starter, for taking on picnics, for feeding large gatherings or even heating up as a main course with pasta, rice or baked potato. (I know that heating caponata as a sauce might be frowned on by some but let's not worry about them.) More often than not I simply serve this with some good bread. My version is not very different from many other recipes for caponata that you might come across but it's what works for me. (It's not Antonio Carluccio's recipe by the way, but you can find his here if you'd like to try it).
Caponata
This will make at least 4 generous portions but the dish scales up very nicely for a larger or very hungry group. Don't worry too much about being exact with amounts; the dish will adapt very well to individual tastes and to what you have in the cupboard and veg rack. You definitely need a decent olive oil but it doesn't have to be a really expensive one.

3 medium aubergines, cut into 2 - 3 cm chunks (you don't need to be too precise)
1 large (or 2 medium) courgette, cut into roughly 2 - 3 cm chunks as above
60 ml (or thereabouts) olive oil
2 shallots (or 1 onion), peeled and thinly sliced
Small pinch of chilli flakes
A generous pinch of dried oregano or about 1 tsp of fresh, roughly chopped oregano
1 can peeled plum tomatoes (400 g)
2 tbsp capers (I use brined capers, rinsed and well-drained)
50 g pitted green olives, roughly chopped
60 g mix of sultanas and raisins
1½ tbsp caster sugar
150 ml red wine vinegar
1 small (or ½ large) jar roasted peppers, drained  and roughly chopped (or grill and peel your own if you can spare the time)

To serve (these are optional but very desirable extras and you can omit if you’re really pressed for time):
2 small handfuls of pine nuts
A few leaves of basil

If you've got some fresh and firm aubergines then you don't really need to salt them but many of the aubergines I buy in supermarkets seem to produce a lot of water and so I do bother with the salting palaver. Coat the aubergine pieces lightly in salt and allow them to drain for an hour or so in a colander. Clean off the salt and pat the aubergine chunks dry. There's no advantage to salting the courgette unless it's more like a marrow than a courgette.

Brush both the aubergine and courgette chunks with some of the olive oil, place on separate lined baking sheets and roast in the oven at 180ºC until they're soft and have taken on a little colour at the edges. Chances are that the courgette will take a little longer than the aubergine, but 20 - 30 minutes should usually be enough.

Put the remainder of the olive oil (around 2 - 3 tbsp but don't worry if you don't have enough left, just add a bit more if you're in doubt) in a large pan and fry the shallots gently until soft (don't rush this). Pour in the tinned tomatoes and their juice and stir around to start breaking them up. Add the capers, olives, sultanas and raisins, sugar, vinegar, oregano and chilli flakes. Bring to simmering point, then add the roasted vegetables. Add a few turns of pepper and the roasted peppers, turn the heat down, cover and simmer gently for around 90 minutes. Stir every now and then and make sure that the mixture doesn't dry out. (Add a little water or passata if it seems too dry).

Allow to cool and store in the fridge. It should keep for a few days but it will also freeze well at this stage. In my opinion (and I'm not alone), this is definitely best served at room temperature so remember to take it out of the fridge for an hour or so before serving.

If you have the time before serving, toast the pine nuts lightly in a dry frying pan (watch carefully because they burn very easily), allow to cool and either stir them into the caponata or sprinkle on the top. Immediately before serving chop or tear some basil leaves and stir them in as well.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Ossau-Iraty, Smoked Duck and Peppers

A lot of the recipes on this blog are pretty easy, but they really don't get much easier than this. Not too long ago I was wandering around a local supermarket in my usual bemused manner and I stumbled across some particularly fine produce: Lamuyo peppers from Spain, smoked duck breast from Scotland and, one of my favourite cheeses, Ossau-Iraty from the southwest of France. Then from some particularly murky corner of my mind I remembered that these were just the kind of ingredients that Guy Martin put together on one of his TV programmes.

Thanks to Google I've realised that the name Guy Martin often seems to refer to a bloke that rides motorbikes mystifyingly fast. I definitely don't mean him. I mean the chef of Le Grand Véfour in Paris. (Please be careful if you're tempted to peruse the prices at Le Grand Véfour - you may need to have someone nearby to administer strong drink to aid your recovery). Mr Martin intended this combination of ingredients to celebrate the wonderful flavours of the south west of France. I'd be the first to agree that the flavours of that beautiful region are well worth celebrating but Spanish peppers and Scottish smoked duck breast are worth getting excited about as well. Just to complete the European mixture, I served them on a fine English muffin. There was a period not long ago when the English muffin had become a sad, industrial product, but there are some excellent artisan versions around these days.
Ossau-Iraty Smoked Duck and Peppers
I put this together from memory and so it's not faithful to Mr Martin's recipe, but it's in the right spirit. The only real cooking required is a simple bit of preparation of the peppers but, despite the simplicity, it's a lovely combination. Well, of course it is – Guy Martin knows his flavours.

This will serve 2 as a light lunch or can be the star of a larger salad. Really easy and really delicious.

2 large red peppers (I used Spanish lamuyo)
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 English muffins
4 – 8 slices smoked duck breast
4 – 8 shavings (not too thin) Ossau-Iraty (shave these at the last minute)
A few small basil leaves (optional)

Cut out the core of the peppers, deseed and slice them into quarters. Grill until nicely blackened. Place the peppers in a bowl, cover and, once cooled, peel off and discard the skin. Chop the pepper flesh quite finely and place in a saucepan (make sure you include all the pepper juices) with the olive oil and honey. Season and let this mixture cook very gently over a low heat, stirring frequently until the peppers are almost, but not quite, falling apart. Chill until needed. You can make this the day before you want to serve it; in fact, I think it tastes a little better if you do.

The rest of the “recipe” is pretty much a simple assembly job. Split the muffins and toast them lightly. Place a layer of the peppers on each of the muffin halves and cover with one or two slices of duck breast. Finally top with one or two freshly shaved slivers of Ossau-Iraty and decorate with a couple of small basil leaves if you fancy.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Les Patiences Fraxinoises And Boodle Goes To Provence

If you follow any of Julie Andrieu's TV programmes then you'll know that she's fond of wandering around digging up authentic, local recipes. (My wife is firmly of the opinion that I'd follow Julie Andrieu anywhere she wanted to lead me. She may well be right.) Ms Andrieu visited La Garde-Freinet in Provence a few years ago and was given a recipe for the authentic patience fraxinoise. Until I saw the programme I thought they were little almond biscuits but it turns out that I knew nothing.

In fact, these biscuits are somewhat similar to a langue de chat, although there are a few major differences: they don't include any butter, they're flavoured with orange flower water and they're round and not shaped like a cat's tongue. I did depart a little from the original recipe by adding some maple syrup.
Patiences Fraxinoises
Strictly speaking these should be baked in a very hot oven – something wood-fired would be ideal – but they work perfectly well in a domestic oven on a high setting. I've cut the recipe down to the minimum practical amount but it still produced around 40 biscuits of roughly 4 cm diameter. They're  lovely with a glass of sweet wine or a small coffee and do a fine job when served with ice cream.  Or you could use them with a creamy dessert and funnily enough you'll find one of those below.

150 g caster sugar
1 egg
50 ml water
2 tsp orange flower water
2 tsp maple syrup
170 g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 230°C. Cover a few oven trays with baking paper or silicon sheets.

Whisk the caster sugar and egg together thoroughly until very pale. Whisk in the water, orange flower water and maple syrup.  Add about a quarter of the flour and beat in. Repeat three times with the rest of the flour.

You need to place small circles of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets and the neatest way of doing this is probably to pipe it on. The mixture is relatively thin and will spread so aim for circles of about 3 cm diameter and you should end up with finished biscuits of around 4 cm. If you don't fancy piping, you can simply spoon small amounts onto the baking sheets – the shape may not be perfectly round, but what's a few odd shapes between friends?

Bake the biscuits for around 5 minutes. When they're ready the biscuits should have some colour around the edges but remain pale and interesting in the centres. Carefully transfer to a rack to cool. (Make sure you eat one or two as soon as they're cool – I think they're at their very best then).  Store in an airtight tin.

And now for the "creamy" dessert……

Boodle’s Orange Yoghurt

Boodle's Orange Fool is a traditional dessert invented and served at the seriously exclusive club in London. This definitely isn't it. This is a low fat alternative that just uses some of the same flavours. The real thing is a genuine fool with more than a hint of trifle and depends upon the thickening action of citrus on cream and that's not going to happen with yoghurt.  This combination of flavours is probably not strictly historically correct either, but it makes a refreshing mix that works very well with the patiences fraxinoises.
Boodle in Provence
Juice and finely-grated zest of 1 orange
Juice and finely-grated zest of 1 lemon
15 g caster sugar
300 g 0% fat Greek yoghurt

Mix the zest and juices with the sugar and stir to dissolve. Beat into the yoghurt and chill thoroughly. The mixture will thicken a little as it chills but please don't expect the texture and thickness of a fool. Either layer the yoghurt and patiences fraxinoises in a small bowl or glass or simply serve the biscuits alongside.

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I've been asked (several times as it happens by the same person) why I don't share posts on blog link ups any longer and apart from the fact that I'm really lazy I suppose the main reason is that they emphasise the social media malarkey these days and I don't do any of that. But these are a treat and they're petite so I'll link this to Treat Petite. I told you I wasn't a complete curmudgeon.  



Sunday, 24 September 2017

Galipettes

I'm in a retro mood. Shirley Conran famously wrote in the mid-seventies that ‘Life is too short to stuff a mushroom’. I suppose if she were thinking along the same lines now she would suggest that life is too short to spiralise a courgette. Despite the Conran statement, the stuffed mushroom was a staple of the seventies and early eighties and I remember it very fondly.

What's that got to do with galipettes? Well, if you order ‘galipettes’ from a French menu, then expect stuffed mushrooms to arrive on your plate. The word ‘galipette’ actually means ‘somersault’ and either refers to the fact that the mushroom is turned upside down to be eaten or that the mushrooms are so large that they start to fall over of their own accord. I've been given both explanations and I've no idea what's correct, so take your pick.

British mushrooms of the 1970s were usually stuffed with garlic butter and breadcrumbs but in France galipettes can also be stuffed with goat’s cheese or snail butter and sometimes with a combination of rillettes, cheese and butter, especially if you happen to be near the Loire. I probably don't need to add that they can be very rich. I prefer to make a simpler Loire version and now that pork rillettes are widely available in this country, why not revive the 1970s? Despite the Conran admonition, this is a very simple and quick dish to put together and makes a fine, retro starter or lunch dish if combined with some decent, crusty bread and a few salad leaves. Smaller mushrooms will work very well as savoury bites with an aperitif but they are a bit messy, so be prepared to hose down your guests after eating.
Galipette
It's difficult to be precise about amounts for this recipe because so much depends on the size of your mushrooms, but allow around 50 g of pork rillettes to fill one large portobello mushroom (unless you want a LOT of filling) and scale up as appropriate. This really isn't a recipe that demands too much precision.

Make sure the mushrooms are clean, remove the stalks with a small knife or by snapping them off if the mushroom is cooperative in that way. Mix the rillettes with a little fresh thyme if you fancy and spread the rillettes gently and evenly into the cup of the mushroom. Grate over a little lemon zest, add a grind or two of pepper and top with some panko breadcrumbs. (I can’t recall ever coming across a crust of panko breadcrumbs on mushrooms in France, but I love the panko crunch).

Put the mushrooms on a baking tray in the oven at 180ºC for around 20 minutes for large mushrooms or until they're tender and oozing.

Of course, you could be much more industrious and make your own rillettes if you can't find any in the shops. There's a very fine recipe by the always excellent Simon Hopkinson here if you want to try. I don't think that's life's too short to make rillettes but I do think that unfortunately it's very often too busy these days.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Slow Cooked Courgettes - A Dip & A Mash

Five years ago I wittered on about slow cooked courgettes and, as if once wasn't enough, I'm afraid I'm now going to witter on about a few variations on that theme.  After all, there are a lot of courgettes around at the moment that need to be cooked somehow and these recipes even allow me to use up the overgrown courgettes that I've neglected so badly in the garden.

To be honest, though, the main reason to revive this way of cooking courgettes is that nobody believed me the first time. I know we're forever being told not to overcook vegetables but if you cook courgettes for as long as I say then Jamie Oliver won’t break down your door and take you away for questioning. Really, that hardly ever happens.

So here's how to produce tasty, healthy dips and a different sort of mash with that courgette mountain.
Courgettes Separator 2

First cook your courgettes SLOWLY

This is the initial step for the recipes below but, if you want to keep things simple, just add a few herbs or other flavourings, cook uncovered a little longer to reduce the liquid content and you'll have a fine vegetable side dish in its own right.

This is all you need to do. Clean, top and tail the courgettes, then slice quite thinly. Put them into a large saucepan with a little salt and pepper and a splash of water. Place on a low heat, cover and cook slowly, stirring regularly until the courgettes have completely softened and collapsed, which could take anywhere between 45 and 70 minutes.

You can cook as many courgettes as you like in this way but, as a guide, start with a prepared weight of around 1 kilo for the dip and 500 g for the mash if you’re feeding 4.

To make the dipCourgette Dip

Cook 1 kilo of courgettes as above, then add the finely grated zest of a lemon to the collapsed courgettes together with a squeeze of the juice. The courgettes will almost certainly have produced a lot of liquid, so increase the heat and continue cooking and stirring without covering the pan until the mixture has thickened to your liking. Take off the heat.

Stir in a generous amount of chopped fresh herbs. I usually add mint but other herbs work well too. Basil, dill (thanks for the suggestion Ozlem) and lemon balm are good alternatives and a scattering of chives with the other herbs will be no bad thing. Taste and stir in extra seasoning if it needs some. Add more lemon juice if the flavours need a lift and a drop or two of honey if it tastes too sharp. Cool and store in the fridge until needed.

Shortly before serving take the dip out of the fridge and allow it to come close to room temperature. Sprinkle with a little paprika just before serving and, if you're OK with adding a little fat, drizzle over some olive oil or, even better, lemon-infused olive oil. On the other hand, if you’re trying to stay very low fat then you could try a tiny drizzle of an infused vinegar instead - pomegranate or lemongrass would work well.

To make the mash


Courgette and Potato Mash

Alongside the 500 g of courgettes, you'll need:

700 g potatoes (one that’s good for mashing), peeled and cut into chunks
2 tsp capers, rinsed, drained and finely chopped
Small handful mint leaves
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp Dijon mustard
A generous squeeze of lemon juice
A pinch of sugar

You can use other herbs and flavourings in this side dish too but a minty mash is just perfect with lamb or lamb sausages. It's not at all bad with chicken either. You don't have to be too precise about the amounts, it's just down to what you fancy.

Cook the courgettes as above until they've collapsed. Stir in the chopped capers, take the lid off the saucepan and increase the heat. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture has thickened to a purée. Don’t worry about little pieces of courgettes in the purée, they’ll look good in the mash.

Put the mint leaves, olive oil, mustard, lemon juice and sugar in a blender and whizz until very smooth.

Steam or boil the potatoes until soft, then mash them. Stir the courgette purée into the mash and add the mint oil mixture a little at a time until you get a pleasing flavour (you may not want to use it all). Adjust the seasoning, reheat gently and serve.

Courgettes Separator 2

I must stop burbling on now because my wife has just returned from a trip into the garden.
Courgettes 5

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Welsh Honey and Dried Rosemary Lamb

This flavouring paste (or rub, if you prefer) is based on an old, perhaps even ancient, Welsh method for flavouring lamb. I used it a lot back in the 1980s and I was reminded of it when I visited Anglesey a few years ago. The sight of fine Anglesey honey for sale made me crave the intense flavour of this dish once again.

When I was young and easily-led, I used to listen to TV cooks telling me not to use dried herbs because fresh herbs are always better. I remember one of those cooks saying that if we needed proof, then we should try making mint sauce with dried mint and see how horrible it is. Years later I came across cooks choosing dried rather than fresh mint to flavour some very fine dishes and realised that dried herbs are different but by no means always inferior. You just need to use them in the right dish.

To be fair to those ancient TV cooks, though, there are certain dried herbs such as basil or parsley that really don't seem to work at all. And so what, you may ask, would be the point of drying rosemary when you can pick fresh leaves all year round? Well, this dish is the point of dried rosemary for me. Of course, you can use fresh rosemary in this recipe and very nice it is too, but it really isn't quite as good or as intense in my opinion. If you happen to have a little spare rosemary, then try drying some. It's easy to do, just hang some lengthy shoots of rosemary up somewhere airy and dry for a while. (Sorry that the picture below is rubbish - it was dark and I was hungry.)
Lamb Rasted With Honey 2
Of course, you can use any runny honey for this dish if you can't get to Anglesey, although, if you do get the chance, then it's a place that's well worth a visit. Or if you ever happen to be passing by the Welsh Food Centre in Bodnant, then don't pass by. Go in. You're very unlikely to regret it and they're almost certain to have plenty of local honey and lovely Welsh lamb for sale.
Beaumaris
I used this paste on lamb shoulder on this occasion but it's just as good on leg or whatever cut you prefer. This should give you enough for a half shoulder or a piece of lamb for at least 2 people. Scale up as needed and, if in doubt, be generous with the amount of paste.

1½ - 2 tbsp dried rosemary
½ tsp sea salt flakes (from Anglesey ideally)
½ tsp black peppercorns
½  tsp ground ginger
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, peeled
½ tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 tbsp runny honey plus an extra 1 tbsp for drizzling
Half shoulder of lamb

Pound the rosemary, salt and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar until reduced near enough to a powder. Add the ground ginger and pound in the garlic. Stir in the oil, lemon juice and the honey. You should have a thickish paste. Rub this over the lamb and leave in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

Place the lamb in a roasting tin, drizzle over the additional tablespoon of honey and roast until done to your liking. It's a good idea to line the roasting tin with some foil - roasted honey can be very difficult to wash off. I prefer to roast the lamb at quite a low temperature, so for a half shoulder that’s about 80 minutes at 150ºC, but use whatever time you prefer or would be suitable for the cut of lamb you've chosen.

Allow the lamb to rest before serving. I think it's best kept simple with something like green veg and boiled potatoes but I've got nothing against gravy if you'd prefer to make some.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Visitandines

When I first came across visitandines I imagined that the name came from the fact that they were the perfect little cakes to take on a visit. That just proves how dumb I can be. In fact the cakes were first produced by nuns of the Ordre de la Visitation which was founded in the 17th century in Annecy. I have to admit that my knowledge of nuns is sketchy to say the least.

The cakes are very similar to financiers but have probably been round a fair bit longer. The key difference is that one is made by pious, peaceful nuns and the other is made for bankers who'd rather have their cake and eat it.

Some visitandine recipes call for browned butter (beurre noisette) and that will give the cakes a very fine flavour, although I think it makes the cakes taste a little too similar to some traditional madeleines. You may prefer them that way, though, so don't let me stop you.
Visitandines
Visitandines are commonly baked in barquette moulds but small, round muffin tins will work very well and may even be more traditional. This will make around 12 cakes, depending on the size of the tins. They keep well in an airtight container.

125 g plain flour, sifted
225 g golden caster sugar
100 g ground almonds
Very finely grated zest of 1 lemon
125 g very soft unsalted butter
200 g egg whites (or around 5 large egg whites)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Mix together the flour, sugar, ground almonds and lemon zest in a bowl. Stir in the very soft (and I do mean very soft) butter thoroughly. Don't beat the mixture so much that the almonds become oily, though.

Whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the egg whites into the mixture until it comes together and is reasonably smooth. Fold in the rest of the egg whites.

Spoon into the tins and bake for about 15 minutes or until a knife blade come out clean and the cakes have taken on a little colour.
Visitandines
Funnily enough visitandines are very good for taking on a visit (or a picnic or country walk) and piety is entirely optional.