Sunday, 29 August 2010

Mushroom Risotto

It probably comes as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that mushrooms are one of my favourite vegetables (sorry, edible fungi). I am also quite partial to risotto, which is probably less obvious. So what better than to combine the two and create a delicious mushroom risotto?

I made this as a starter for dinner one evening - I don't normally do starters as they are too much faff - and I think it was worth the effort. The photograph doesn't really do it justice, but risotto is unfortunately not terribly photogenic. I was feeling decadent and went the whole hog with this one, using butter, parmesan and crème fraîche, but there is no need to show quite such flagrant disregard for healthy eating - the butter can be subsituted for olive oil, and the parmesan and crème fraîche left out altogether if you wish. It can also be made vegetarian by subsituting chicken stock for vegetable.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main):
100g Carnaroli (or Arborio) rice
250g chestnut mushrooms
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
500ml chicken (or vegetable) stock
125ml white wine
2 dsp crème fraîche
30g grated parmesan (or to taste)
25g unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

It helps to get all the ingredients prepared before starting to cook with this dish, so weigh out your rice, finely chop the shallots, thinly slice the mushrooms and peel the garlic ready to crush. If you like, you could also grate the parmesan too.

Put half the butter in a large heavy bottomed frying pan and melt. Add the shallots and cook until soft, then crush in the garlic and cook for a further minute. Turn up the heat and quickly cook the mushrooms to seal in the juices, then add the carnaroli rice and the rest of the butter. Cook for a minute - this helps the carnaroli cook faster - turn down the heat then add about 2/3 of the chicken stock and stir. Keep an eye on it so it doesn't stick, but try not to stir too frequently. Add the wine, season with a little salt (don't use too much, as parmesan is quite salty. You might want to leave it out altogether at this stage) and pepper and let it simmer down again.

It is worth noting that the cooking time for risotto rice can vary wildly between the different varieties. Before you add the remainder of the stock, it is worth tasting it to see how close to done it is. If it is slightly nutty but essentially soft, it is done. Add the crème fraîche and parmesan and away you go. If it is harder, add the remainder of the stock bit by bit, still stirring occasionally, then while the risotto is still slightly soupy (but not too wet - it's not meant to be a soup) stir in the parmesan and crème fraîche. Cook for a couple more minutes then serve.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Smoked Salmon Couscous

Another swift text message to my mother while I was in France: "what was in that amazing couscous dish with smoked salmon that you made me two years ago?". Her reply? "Smoked salmon, tomato, spring onion, avocado". I've added red peppers and cucumber to this, and mograbiah (Israeli couscous) on top of the regular variety for a little extra bite.

Mograbiah is very easy to find in France, as it is simply called "perles" and is found among the pasta in most supermarkets. It is gradually becoming easier to find in the UK, thanks to the likes of Ottolenghi, but if you live near a good Turkish or Middle Eastern supermarket, you should find it there. I have also seen it in Waitrose from time to time.

The list of ingredients is deceptively long as it is very simple to put together. It's a lovely salad too. The salmon and avocado go beautifully together, and the cucumber, tomato and peppers add a definite freshness. Perfect for hot summer's days.

200g couscous
100g mograbiah
400g smoked salmon
200g cherry tomatoes
1 ripe avocado
4 spring onions
1 red pepper
1/2 a fresh cucumber (or 1 Turkish cucumber)
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp turmeric

To begin, put a pan of salted water with the teaspoon of turmeric added on to boil for the Israeli couscous. Once at boiling point, add the mograbiah and cook according to the pack instructions (it varies significantly from pack to pack). Mine said to cook for 8, so I cooked it for 7 so it was slightly al dente.

While the mograbiah is cooking, put the couscous in a large bowl (it swells up a lot, and you will be adding lots of extra ingredients!) and sprinkle on the salt, pepper and mixed herbs. Drizzle with olive oil, then pour boiling water over so it just covers the couscous. Cover the bowl with a large plate or tin foil and leave for 5 minutes so the water is absorbed.

Drain the mograbiah and then set aside. While you are waiting for the couscous to expand, chop the cherry tomatoes in half, slice the spring onions, dice the red pepper into 1cm dice, chop the cucumber and avocado, then slice the smoked salmon into ribbons.

Remove the foil from the couscous and fluff up with a fork. Stir in the mograbiah, and then add the smoked salmon and vegetables. Mix well so all the ingredients are well distributed. At this stage, it is worth checking for seasoning. I sometimes drizzle a little more olive oil if it seems too dry, and add a little extra salt and pepper if it tastes slightly bland.

I served this as part of a selection of salads, but it is also delicious on its own and makes a wonderful, easy to transport picnic or work lunch.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Grilled Chicken with a Creamy Mushroom and White Wine Sauce

One of the things I really love about France (one of many things - I am turning into a complete and utter Francophile) is their supermarkets. This was confirmed when restocking in Sainsburys upon my return and seeing the so-called "flavouripe" tomatoes, which were such an insipid, weak shade of orange that I was appalled. No beautiful, full-flavoured Coeur du Boeuf tomatoes to be found. Not even anything that looked remotely tasty, besides a packet of hideously overpriced jubilee vine tomatoes. 

But I digress. I was going to blog about mushrooms. Even in supermarkets, the taste is far superior to the ones we get back home, and these were no exception. A quick text message to my mother reminded me how to make a good creamy sauce (she trained as a Cordon Bleu chef, so is the fountain of all knowledge for these sorts of things) and I was away.

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 skinless chicken breasts
6 large white mushrooms
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
75ml white wine
200ml single cream
salt and white pepper
olive oil (for frying)

Thinly slice the shallots, garlic and mushrooms, then gently fry the shallots in about a dessertspoon of olive oil, until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute before turning up the heat to fry the mushrooms - you want to seal in the moisture, so a high heat is needed. Throw in the mushrooms and fry for a couple of minutes, until cooked but there are no juices running out. Pour in 75ml of white wine and simmer down to approximately half. Season with a pinch of salt and white pepper (it flavours, but doesn't show!). Turn off the heat for the time being.

Lightly oil the griddle pan and place it on the hob over a high heat. Place the chicken on the griddle and cook for 5 minutes per side, turning once. This gives the chicken lovely charred stripes on top. Cover in foil and set aside for 5 minutes to rest. 

While the chicken is resting, turn the heat for the sauce back on and bring it up to bubbling point. Then add 200ml single cream and stir it into the mushroom sauce. Keep on a low heat (but do not let it boil) until you're ready to serve. Once the chicken has rested, cut it into 2cm diagonal slices and transfer to a plate and pour a little sauce over it. I served this with sautéed courgettes cut into wedges, basmati rice and a delicious glass of chilled Gaillac Rosé. Enjoy!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Griddled Courgettes and Aubergines

Sometimes the simplest things are by far and away the best. While in France, I pretty much looted E Leclerc (why are French supermarkets so much better than UK ones?) and, having missed market day in the village, came away with allsorts of gorgeous vegetables including some courgettes and aubergines. This takes no more than 5 minutes to prepare and about the same amount of time to cook, so is perfect for all the lazybones out there. I served it alongside a selection of salads.

2 courgettes
1 aubergine
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the courgettes and aubergine into 5mm slices (the thinner the better, but not so thin that they're like paper). Place the griddle on the hob and turn the heat up. Allow it to get really hot, then place as many courgettes and aubergines as you can comfortably fit onto the griddle. 

Flip over after a couple of minutes (there should be lovely scorched ridges on the cooked side) and then repeat until all the courgettes and aubergines are cooked. Season with salt and pepper then drizzle with olive oil or the vinaigrette I previously blogged for a more full-flavoured dish.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Mozarella and Ricotta stuffed Cannelloni

When this blog was first dreamed up, it was originally going to be a joint project with my old work colleague and good friend, Tara (who has her own wonderful blog - For Your Random Knowledge). We ended up doing our own thing as she already had two blogs on the go, but last night she came over and cooked me dinner, which made for a semi-collaborative post. I didn't actually do any cooking - I just stood with my back to the sink with a wine glass in my hand and talked while she prepared a delicious meal - but I did take the photographs.

Ingredients (serves 4):
8 cannelloni tubes
250g ricotta
250g grated mozzarella
100g grated parmesan
1 egg
Juice of half a lemon
about 350g tomato sauce
10g basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

First, make the tomato sauce (recipe here) and spread half of it over the bottom of an oven-proof dish.. Then par-boil the cannelloni tubes for 5 minutes and then drizzle with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking together and allow to cool. Turn the oven to 190°C and while it is coming to temperature, mix all the ricotta, the parmesan and about half the mozarella together with the egg, lemon juice, half the basil leaves, shredded, and a little salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. 

Stuff each cannellini tube full of the ricotta and mozzarella mix and then place in the oven-proof dish on top of the tomato sauce. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the cannelloni and finally scatter the remaining mozzarella over the assembled dish.

Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes and serve with a nice, green salad - Tara brought over pea shoots, which we then dressed with vinaigrette (recipe here) and washed this down with a delicious Rioja.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Brie and Portobello Mushroom Burgers

I can't take much credit for this one I'm afraid. It was one of my mother's creations, and beyond me crushing the garlic and providing most of the ingredients, I must confess to doing very little. We made these under the grill but they can also be done on a barbeque. They make an excellent vegetarian alternative to beef burgers. They're so good that I would be surprised if even a seasoned carnivore would be able to turn them down.

Ingredients (makes 4 burgers):
4 large Portobello mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
Approx 160g Brie
4 burger buns
Approx 20 cornichons (cocktail gherkins)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Turn the grill on to a high heat, then while it is heating up, chop the stem of the mushroom down to the same height as the rest of the mushroom (or remove entirely - it's your choice). Crush a garlic clove onto each mushroom and spread evenly across the gills. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place under the grill for 7-8 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked.

While the mushrooms are grilling, slice the brie into 5mm strips, long enough to cover the length of the mushroom. I found that three and a half slices per mushroom was enough to cover the surface. Then slice the cornichons and set aside.

Place the burger buns under the grill and then cover the top of the mushroom with slices of brie. Grill until the burger buns are just golden and the brie has melted. Transfer the mushroom to the burger bun, scatter with a handful of cornichon slices per burger, place the top of the bun on the mushroom and gobble it up while hot. It's quite a rich, indulgent treat, so serve with a crisp green salad.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Stuffed Chicken Thighs with Parma Ham

It was my sister who first discovered skinless and boneless chicken thighs. They're a brilliant find - excellent for stuffing, and when baked, they are so much more tender and flavoursome than the breast. They are also really cheap! They are available in both Sainsburys and Waitrose, but if you can't find them, either ask your butcher to skin and bone them or do it yourself.

Ingredients (serves 6, or 4 hungry people):
12 skinless and boneless chicken thighs
12 slices parma ham
1 courgette
2 cloves garlic
100g chestnut mushrooms
2 tsp crème fraîche
20g fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

First, preheat the oven to 180°C. Then, using a mandolin, finely slice the mushrooms, courgette and garlic into a mixing bowl. If you don't have a mandolin, just slice the vegetables as thinly as you can. Then, add two teaspoons of crème fraîche, shred the basil leaves into the bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix together all the ingredients and make sure the crème fraîche is evenly distributed.

Open out the chicken thighs and spoon a couple of teaspoons of the vegetable mix into each one, then roll them back up and wrap with a slice of parma ham and transfer to a baking tray. Do this until you have used up all the parma ham and chicken thighs.

Cover the tray with foil and then bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Leave to rest for 5 minutes after removing from the oven, then serve. I teamed this with fresh french and runner beans and roasted new potatoes.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Fresh Tomato and Basil Soup

This was the result of an accident. Three months ago, I bought a basil plant from the supermarket. I used what I needed, but then somehow managed to keep it alive. I’m not particularly green-fingered, you see. I was so proud of it. It went from strength to strength and doubled in size. It even flowered! I put it out on the windowsill regularly so it could soak up the sunshine. I brought it in at night so it wouldn’t catch a chill.

Then last weekend, I opened the window in the living room and left it perched on the windowsill, which is very narrow. I even walked over to it and contemplated moving it somewhere safer in the event of a large gust of wind. But I didn’t, and a gust of wind blew it off the windowsill and about half the plant was broken off in its fall.

So I scolded myself, swept up the spilt soil and put the remaining plant back in its pot, away from the windowsill. And used the other half* for this recipe.

1kg  ripe tomatoes
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
20g fresh basil
800ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon tomato purée
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Lightly score a cross into the bottom of the tomatoes, then place in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them. Leave for a minute and then drain and peel. The skin should slip off easily. Then chop the tomatoes and set aside.

Finely chop an onion and sweat it in a large pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil, until the onions are soft. Crush the garlic and add to the onions. Fry for a further minute and then add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, pepper and then shred in about half the basil leaves. Stir, then pour over the stock and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes.

In batches, transfer the soup to the blender and blend until smooth. Then push the soup through a sieve to remove any pips. Transfer the soup back to the pan, then, reserving a couple of leaves for decoration, shred the rest of the basil leave into the soup and stir.

Transfer the soup into bowls and decorate with the remaining basil leaves. Serve with olive ciabatta. Delicious!

* I didn’t use the basil immediately and noticed that roots had regrown from two of the stems, so I replanted them!