Thursday, 29 April 2010

Dad's Vinaigrette

Like my mother, my father was a fantastic cook. He was highly innovative and often made up recipes, trying them out on us. Most of the time they worked; occasionally, they didn't. Sadly, despite constant nagging, he never wrote down anything he cooked so the recipes were usually one-off's. One thing he did impart though, was his vinaigrette recipe, which I think is still the best I've ever tasted. It's extremely easy too.

1 heaped teaspoon dijon mustard
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
a pinch of salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients in a jar, screw on the lid and shake vigorously until you have an emulsion.

And there you have it. Vinaigrette.

It will keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge. Don't worry if your vinaigrette separates again, just make sure the lid is securely on and give it another shake.

Spring Salad

My mum made this last weekend and it was perfect for the early spring sunshine – light, but also satisfying. And most importantly, it gives that feeling of wellbeing that a good salad should give. I’ve changed the ingredients a little as I didn’t want to put potatoes in as she did, but it’s still quite delicious.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):
A fistful of green beans, topped and tailed
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1/3 of a cucumber, cut into small cubes
2 courgettes, sliced diagonally and grilled
2 baby gem lettuces, sliced into approx. ½ inch slices
Approx. 15 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 a bag baby leaf salad
2 chicken breasts, grilled and thinly sliced
1 block halloumi, grilled
Vinaigrette to taste (see entry)

First, grill the chicken and courgettes. I used a George Foreman grill which speeds up the process, but if you don’t have one use a stove-top griddle or your oven’s grill. Grill the chicken for 5-7 minutes, until cooked through, and then set aside to cool and then finely slice.

If using a George Foreman, clean it down before putting the courgettes on, and then grill the courgettes for approx 5 mins, until soft and with an attractive chargrill pattern on the top.

Put some water on to boil and when ready, boil the green beans again for 5 minutes. When cooked, run under cold water until the beans are cool to prevent discolouration.

Put the baby leaf and gem lettuce in a large bowl, along with the cooled beans, courgettes, chicken, cherry tomatoes, avocado and courgette, then, making sure the Foreman (or grill) is clean, grill the halloumi (this can also be done in a dry frying pan) until it turns slightly soft. If grilling using a dry frying pan, turn half way through cooking (after about a minute).

Toss the salad, add the halloumi and dress with vinaigrette to taste. I put the vinaigrette on once I’ve served the salad so that any leftover leaves won’t wilt.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Prawns in a Spicy Tomato Sauce with Rice

When my sister was a bit younger, she used to be quite fussy with her food. She didn't like any seafood, nor did she like spicy food so family dinners could be quite limited. Nowadays she's much better and eats pretty much everything (even spicy food!) so enjoys this too, but there was a time when Mum used to make this for me as a spicy treat when my sister was out. I don't know the origins of this one, and when i asked my mother she said she couldn't remember either. However, it's one of my favourite quick and easy recipes and is a good store cupboard meal, should you have frozen prawns and chopped tomatoes to hand. It takes no more than half an hour, and the tangy tomato sauce with a hint of chilli and prawns is absolutely delicious.

Ingredients (serves 2-3):
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp coriander powder
400g chopped tomatoes
1/4 tsp chilli powder
75ml white wine
1 dsp lemon juice
175g king prawns
salt and pepper to taste
100g basmati rice

First, fry the onion until soft in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Then, add the cumin, coriander and garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, chilli powder, white wine, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and simmer slowly to reduce. 

While the sauce is simmering, put the water on for the rice and bring to the boil. Lightly salt the water and once boiling, add the basmati rice and boil for about 11 minutes. As the rice cooks, keep an eye on your tomato sauce to make sure it doesn't reduce too much - you don't want it to boil dry. If it does cook a little too fast, just add a little water to the sauce. 5 minutes before the end, add the king prawns. Drain the rice and allow to stand for a minute or two, then fluff it up.

Put a couple of spoons of rice on each plate, hollowing out the middle to create an 'O' shape. In the middle of the 'O', put a couple of spoons of tomato sauce, and serve.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Taleggio Arancini with Rocket and Walnut Salad

 I had an old school friend coming over for dinner and I fancied trying something new. I wanted something that I could make in advance (if you make the arancini up to covering with breadcrumbs, you can keep them in the fridge until you’re ready) so I could spend most of the evening chatting with her rather than slaving over a hot stove.

I first had arancini many years ago at my aunt's house in Rome. She had bought them from a local deli up the road, and I instantly fell in love. These are slightly different as I recall the original were longer and thinner, had anchovies in them and used mozzarella instead of taleggio, but they make a delicious subsitute.

For the Arancini (makes about 10):

1 litre chicken stock
40g butter
Olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
100g mushrooms, finely chopped
400g risotto rice
150ml white wine
2tsp dried mixed herbs
100g grated parmesan
3 eggs, beaten
150g dried breadcrumbs
200g Taleggio cheese

For the salad:
4tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp sugar
200 french beans
200g rocket
Handful of toasted walnuts

Heat the butter and a little oil in a large frying pan and add the onions and mixed herbs. Fry until translucent, then add the mushrooms and garlic. Fry for a further minute, then add the risotto and fry for a couple of minutes, until the edges of the rice turn translucent. Add the wine and about a quarter of the stock, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick. Gradually add the rest of the stock until it’s all been absorbed, add the parmesan just before the end, and then turn off the heat and set aside for a couple of hours to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C, beat the eggs and place the breadcrumbs on a plate. Using your hands, make tennis-ball sized balls of risotto, building half in your hand, adding the taleggio, covering and moulding to shape. Then dip in the egg and roll in the breadcrumbs. Be careful, as the balls are quite fragile!

Shallow fry the balls in olive oil, three at a time until golden all over. Place on a lined baking tray and cook in the oven for 10 minutes.

While the arancini are in the oven, prepare your vinaigrette, mixing the oil, shallot, white wine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and put the beans on to boil for about 4 minutes. Drain and refresh in icy cold water. Toss with the rocket, pour over the dressing and sprinkle over the walnuts. Place the arancini on top to serve (1-2 per person is masses).

Roasted Garlic Soup

This is not for the faint-hearted! I am told this is actually not as pungent as you might think, but it does contain a lot of garlic – 4 ½ bulbs. It is, however, beautifully creamy and makes a lovely, unusual soup. I wouldn’t recommend eating it just before a first date though.

The recipe came via an old friend of mine, who stumbled across it online. We both absolutely love garlic, and it seemed to us the perfect soup. The first time she made it for me she didn’t have a printer, so had to keep consulting her laptop in her tiny kitchen in Wood Green while I waltzed around her, helping prepare ingredients. It still conjures up fond memories of boozy nights drinking, talking and eating all things garlic.

For the roasted garlic:
26 garlic cloves, unpeeled (approx 2 ½ bulbs)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the rest:
50g butter
2 medium onions, finely sliced
1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme, leaves only
18 garlic cloves, peeled (approx 2 bulbs)
450ml chicken or vegetable stock
200ml single cream
40g parmesan
1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place 26 cloves of garlic on a small baking dish, add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for about 40 minutes until the garlic is golden brown and tender. Allow to cool and then squeeze the garlic between your fingertips to release the cloves. Transfer the cloves to a small bowl and set aside.

Then melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook until the onions are translucent. Then add both the roasted and raw garlic cloves and cook for a further three minutes. Add the chicken stock, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until the garlic is very tender.

Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth. Return to the saucepan, add the cream, parmesan and lemonjuice and warm through. Do not allow the soup to boil as it will curdle. 

Divide the soup between four bowls, garnish with a fresh grate of parmesan and serve with a wedge of lemon.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Pesto Salmon with Parma Ham and Crushed New Potatoes

I had originally planned to make a simpler supper of grilled salmon with hollandaise for my mother and sister when they came round for dinner, but half way home I remembered that the blender had a massive crack down the middle of it and was essentially unuseable. Certainly, it was not a good idea to pour hot butter and vinegar onto cracked glass while a blade whirled around inside.

So, I decided to go for a bit of an experiment. I’d already picked up the salmon fillets, and I remembered thinking that the pesto crust I used for the cod the other week would be nice with salmon so I decided to have a play. The result was excellent – firm, succulent salmon offset with the creaminess of the pesto and the delicate saltiness of the parma ham. I served it on a bed of spinach and mushrooms with crushed new potatoes on the side.

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 skinless and boneless salmon fillets
8 slices Parma ham
80g pesto
25g breadcrumbs
40g grated parmesan
250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
250 baby leaf spinach
1 clove garlic, minced
500g new potatoes
Butter, salt and pepper

First, prepare the salmon. As with the Cod with Pesto Crust dish, mix the pesto, breadcrumbs and parmesan in a small bowl, but be a little more sparing with the application as you want it to cover four fillets of fish rather than two. I pressed about 2 teaspoons by hand onto each fillet. Then, on a clean chopping board, place two slices of parma ham, one very slightly overlapping the bottom of the other. This is where things can get a bit tricky: place the salmon, pesto side down, diagonally across the two slices of parma ham (taking care not to spill too much pesto) and gently but firmly wrap the salmon. Place each fillet on a baking tray lined with foil and cover with another sheet of foil.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and put the new potatoes on to boil. Once the potatoes have come to the boil, place the salmon fillets in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the foil and bake for a further 5 minutes.

While the potatoes are boiling, slice the mushrooms and fry them gently in about a dessertspoon of olive oil. Just before the mushrooms start to leak liquid, add the minced garlic and turn down the heat. 5 minutes before the end, wilt the spinach into the mushrooms and garlic.

Test the potatoes to make sure they’re cooked,  drain and return to the pan. Add about 25g butter and allow it to melt slightly before crushing the potatoes with a fork. You want them to remain mostly whole, but to expose a little of the flesh inside. Season with pepper and shake the pan to distribute the butter evenly.

To serve, place two tablespoons of spinach and mushrooms on a plate, place a baked salmon fillet on top and some potato on the side. I found the dish was particularly good with a light, fruity red wine like Bourgogne or Beaujolais.