Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Smoked Salmon and Spinach Tartlets

This was originally a guest blog and was developed especially for the excellent Siren Magazine

After trying and failing and trying and failing at making my own pastry the way it should be, I finally gave in and bought a pack of ready made frozen pastry from the supermarket. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t just do this in the first place – it’s cheap, you still get all the fun of rolling it out and that home made look. Naturally, it is also the perfect consistency. Not too short, not too dough-y. Perfect!

Having cracked the pastry problem, the world of tartlets was suddenly my oyster so I set about making what, to me, was the perfect Saturday lunch. Smoked salmon, spinach, and a creamy but not-too-rich sauce. These are delicious hot or cold so make a nice additional treat to take on picnics or in packed lunches.

Ingredients (makes 4 tartlets):
125g frozen shortcrust pastry
2 eggs
2 tbsp crème fraîche
30g comté (or emmental)
¼ tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt and pepper
100g spinach
1 garlic clove
50g smoked salmon
4 baby plum tomatoes
2 spring onions

4x 10cm fluted tins

Begin by rolling out the pastry on a lightly floured surface (to prevent it from sticking) so there is enough to line the pastry tins - it should be around 1.5-2mm thick. Turn the oven on to 190°C, then once you have lined the tins, remove excess pastry from the edges and then prick the pastry with a fork.

Place a large square of baking paper (enough to fully cover the inside of the case) over the pastry and fill the cases with ceramic beans (though rice, lentils or dried beans will serve equally well). Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

While the cases are baking, in a blender whisk together the eggs, crème fraîche, comté, nutmeg, salt and pepper and then set aside. Next, wilt the spinach in a pan with a hint of olive oil and the garlic clove crushed in for flavour. Once the spinach has wilted, transfer to a sieve to drain off any excess liquid. You might need to press the spinach firmly with a spoon – if the spinach is too wet, it will make the bottom of your pastry cases soggy.

Slice the smoked salmon into ribbons, finely slice the spring onion and quarter the baby plum tomatoes. The pastry cases should be done by this point, so remove from the oven (but leave the oven on – you’ll be using it again very soon) and allow to cool for 10 minutes before you embark on the next step.

Once the pastry is cool, remove the ceramic beans and baking paper and divide the spinach between the four cases so that it lines the bottom of the case. Then, add the smoked salmon and sprinkle the spring onions on top. Arrange four quarters of tomato on top of each tartlet then finally, spoon the egg mixture into the tartlets until it just reaches the top.

Place the tartlets back in the oven for a further 15-20 minutes, until the egg is set and the surface of the tartlets lightly golden. Let cool for 5 minutes then serve with a fresh green salad. Bon appetit!

Sunday, 26 September 2010


Ribollita simply means "reboiled" in Italian, and true to form, this soup tastes even better on its second heating. As the days grow gradually cooler, I had a craving for a hearty soup and this hit the spot perfectly. Visiting my aunt in Tuscany, I have had many variations on this and the one constant is the simple ingredients and hearty, wholesome nature of the soup. 

If you wish to make this dish vegan, simply omit the parmesan and make sure you use vegetable rather than chicken stock. With soup this delicious, who needs meat anyway?

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
75g pearl barley
1 onion
2 carrots
1 courgette
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp mixed herbs
½ tsp chilli flakes
400g chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
900ml chicken or vegetable stock,
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper
400g borlotti beans
250g spinach leaves
8 slices ciabatta bread
1 tbsp parmesan cheese plus extra to sprinkle on at end


Put the barley in a pan with about an inch of cold water in it and bring to the boil, then drain, rinse and repeat. Once cooked, set the barley aside in a colander or sieve until ready to use.

Chop the onions and slice the carrots and fry in olive oil over a low heat for five minutes. While these are frying, dice the courgette and add to the pan. Fry for 5 minutes then add the garlic, mixed herbs and chilli flakes and fry for a further minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, and stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain then mash half the beans with a fork and add to the pan along with the barley then gently bring the soup to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add the remaining beans and shredded spinach to the pan. Simmer for a further 30 minutes.

When nearly ready to serve, stir 1 tbsp of grated parmesan into the soup, toast the bread until golden and place 2 pieces in each soup bowl then drizzle with a little olive oil.

To serve, spoon the soup over the ciabatta into the bowls and top with a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Tarte aux Oignons et Lardons

In the village of Cordes-sur-Ciel in France, there is a wonderful patisserie at the bottom of the hill called Maison Moulin. Their speciality is sweet pastries and gateaux, but they also do a few delcious savoury treats, my favourite of which is their tarte aux oignons avec lardons (though they also do a divine tarte aux poirons).

As I am in London, just popping down to the bottom of the hill is impossible, and I will have to wait until my next trip out there for the real thing. However, I decided to take a stab at recreating them for myself. These are slightly more rustic than the Moulin version, but my other half (who is also familar with the delights of Moulin) has tasted these and proclaimed them "a good match for the real thing". 

I have made two versions - one large, round version, and individual little tartlets. They are both equally good, so I'll leave it up to you which version you go for! Serve with a fresh green salad and a cool glass of white wine.

 Ingredients (serves 4):
3 Eggs
3 tablespoons crème fraîche
1 tbsp grated parmesan
2 large onions
1 tsp mixed herbs
200 grams of smoked bacon lardons
250g shortcrust pastry
salt and pepper

Chop the onions then gently fry them with the mixed herbs until slightly caramelised and golden in a large frying pan with a tablespoon of oil. Transfer them to a sieve to drain out any excess liquid, then in the same pan, fry the bacon until cooked and tender. Add the bacon to the onions in the sieve to drain out any excess liquid from them too, then mix the bacon and onions together.

Mix the eggs, crème fraîche, parmesan and a pinch of salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl or jug, then roll out the pastry to about 2mm thick and line either four 10cm fluted tins or one 24cm fluted pastry tin. Prick the pastry with a fork then line the pastry with greaseproof paper. Add baking beans to weigh down the pastry, then bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200°C.

Once the pastry has baked, remove the baking beans and greaseproof paper, let sit for a couple of minutes then spoon in the bacon and onion mixture. Finally, pour the egg and crème fraîche sauce over the onions and bacon so it is just covered and bake in the oven at180°C for 25-30 minutes. Delicious hot or cold!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Baba Ganoush

This has to be one of my all-time favourite dips. I like hummous, but the moment I see Baba Ganoush any desire to eat the hummous goes out the window. It is absolutely delicious - filled with warm, earthy flavours from both the chargrilled aubergine and paprika. I like it served with nothing more than fresh rustic bread; be it ciabatta, Lebanese flatbreads or a really good sourdough.

2 medium aubergines
1 tbsp tahini paste
70ml boiling water
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil and a drizzle at the end
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
salt and pepper

If you have a gas hob, place the aubergines over an open flame and grill until charred, turning occasionally. This lends a wonderful smokey flavour to the aubergines. If you don't have a gas hob, you can also place the aubergines under a hot grill (pierce them first so they don't explode!) though this doesn't lend quite such a smokey flavour. 

Set the aubergines aside to cool, then slice in half and scoop out the flesh. Take care to avoid the charred skin. Roughly chop the aubergine then set aside to drain for about half an hour. 

In the meantime, prepare the rest of the dip: pour the boiling water into a bowl with a tablespoon of tahini paste and mix until the two ingredients form a paste. Crush in the garlic cloves and add the lemon juice, paprika and pomegranate molasses. 

Once the aubergine has drained, stir it into the tahini paste mix, finely chop the coriander and add that too, season with salt and pepper then taste. You might find it needs a little more lemon, salt or even pomegranate molasses. The Baba Ganoush should taste smokey, but not too dense.

Serve in a bowl and garnish with a drizzle of oil, a sprinkle of paprika and a sprig of coriander.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Paella Marinera

I first had a proper paella two years ago when on a minibreak to Barcelona with my other half. We ate at Puda Can Manel in Barceloneta and had to wait 2 hours to be seated. The place was clearly very popular with the locals, but it was worth the wait. Sat outside on a sunny but still slightly chilly Sunday in late January, we tucked in to a delicious Paella Marinera.

Two years later, my other half and I were discussing what to do with the remaining fish in the fridge in France. It turned into salmon with red pepper and olive salsa, but the idea of making paella was firmly in my head, and with my uncle and aunt coming over for dinner, it seemed like the perfect excuse to make it. The photograph is, unfortunately, missing the ramiro peppers which I only remembered to add once it was too late. However, it is worth remembering them as they add a wonderful splash of colour!

Ingredients (serves 6):
350g monkfish
300g cod
3 new zealand squid tubes
24 mussels
18 whole prawns
350g paella rice
1 litre chicken stock
1 spanish onion
2 garlic cloves
175g marinated artichoke hearts
100g fresh peas
2 ramiro peppers
2 ripe tomatoes
pinch of saffron strands
1 tsp paprika
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

The making of paella is very similar to that of risotto. Use the biggest heavy bottomed pan you have - ideally about 15"/40cm. I don't have such a big pan so made do with my wok, to surprisingly good results.

It helps to have all ingredients prepared in advance so you can add ingredients to the paella as you go with minimal extra hassle. I began by chargrilling, skinning and deseeding the peppers, then chopping them into 1.5cm strips. Then I plunged the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute and skinned and roughly chopped them. I also roughly chopped the artichoke hearts.

From here it was onto the fish. You can use any firm white fish, but I chose to use a combination of cod and monkfish. Make sure the fish is both skinned and boned, then cut into 2cm dice and set aside. Then cut the squid tubes into 1.5cm rings.

Clean the mussels: debeard them with a pair of scissors, discard any open ones that don't close when tapped and leave them in cool - not cold - water with a handful of flour to clean themselves for about half an hour or so.

Now, onto assembling the paella itself. Finely chop the onion and gently fry in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Once soft, add the tomato, crush in the two cloves of garlic and stir in the paella rice. Cook for 2-3 minutes, add the saffron strands then cover with stock. When you have used about half the stock, add the peas, artichokes and ramiro pepper strips.

Stir the monkfish, squid and cod into the rice, add another quarter of stock and simmer gently for 10 minutes. At this stage, add the paprika and season with salt and pepper to taste. Finally, stir in the prawns so they are covered and push the mussels opening end down into the paella. Add the very last of the stock and simmer for a further five minutes, until the mussels are open.

Turn off the heat, stir all the ingredients together one last time, cover with a clean dishcloth and leave to stand for 10 minutes then serve. I paired this with a delicious bottle of white Rioja, which went with it beautifully!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Courgette Fritters with Coriander Lime Yogurt

This is a bit of a continuation of the Ottolenghi fangirl blogging. In the first cookbook, there was a recipe for cauliflower fritters, which were extremely good. Good enough to even convert some seasoned cauliflower haters (not me - I've always liked it, which I think is testament to my mother's cauliflower cheese!).

In the vegetarian book, Plenty, there is a recipe for leek fritters, which I must admit I am less enamoured with. The original will always be the best in my eyes. However, I decided to have a play and see if i could achieve a similar effect using courgettes. To my delight they worked, and worked well. The Ottolenghi book recommends stuffing them into pittas, which is delicious. However, I prefer to serve them on their own as a starter, with a helping of tangy lime coriander yogurt. It may look a bit heavy on ingredients, but it is surprisingly quick to make.

For the fritters
2 courgettes
20g fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 shallots
2 spring onions
2 garlic cloves
125g plain flour
5 free range eggs
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

For the yogurt sauce
200ml fat free yogurt
20g coriander
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove

To make the yogurt sauce,  pour 200ml yogurt into a mixing bowl. Finely chop the coriander and add to the mixing bowl along with the juice and zest of a lime. pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil and then crush in one clove of garlic. mix together thoroughly so the olive oil emulsifies with the yogurt, and transfer to the fridge until ready to use.

To make the fritters, use a mandolin to finely slice the courgettes, then roughly chop them afterwards. Don't make the pieces too small, as they will need to help bind the fritters. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, then finely chop the shallots and flat leaf parsley. Add to the courgettes and crush in the garlic. Finely slice a spring onion and add that in too. Add the cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper then mix all the ingredients together. 

Break the eggs into the mixing bowl and add the flour and then stir until you have a batter and all the ingredients are evenly distributed. 

Pour a little oil (about a dessertspoon) into the bottom of a frying pan and heat until the oil begins to smoke a little. Add three separate dollops of batter to the pan (about 6cm in diameter and 1.5cm high) and cook each side for a couple of minutes, until golden and the fritters hold their shape. Transfer to an oven tray lined with foil. Repeat until you have used up all the batter - I found i made 16 fritters. You will need to add a drop more oil each time as it burns off rapidly as each set of fritters cooks.

Turn the oven on to about 150°C and bake for 20 minutes. If you want to eliminate the baking stage you can deep-fry the fritters, but I prefer to adopt a slightly healthier and less greasy method. 

Serve warm, 2-3 fritters per person, and spoon the yogurt sauce on top.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Grilled Salmon with Red Pepper and Green Olive Salsa

The second of two very Ottolenghi-inspired dishes, and the last of my culinary adventures in France, this essentially came about due to the need to use up what I'd bought before heading back to London. Fortunately, the remaining ingredients were all very Mediterranean and worked perfectly together.

The salsa for the salmon is based on an Ottolenghi recipe from the first cookbook. The original called for hazelnuts, which i subsituted for big, peppery green olives. I also threw in a handful of sliced baby pomodorino tomatoes to balance the sharpness of flavours a little.

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 skinless and boneless salmon fillets
2 red peppers
6 tbsp olive oil
12 large green peppery olives
12 baby Pomodorino tomatoes
1 garlic clove
juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar (if needed)
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the salsa, first chargrill the peppers over an open flame. I used a gas hob. If you don't have a gas hob, place them under the grill, turning until the entire pepper is blackened. Place in a plastic bag to sweat and leave to cool. 

Meanwhile, pit and finely slice the olives and then gently fry over a low heat in the olive oil to soften them further. After about five minutes, crush the garlic into the oil, fry for a further minute then add the cider vinegar and lemon juice and zest. Simmer slowly.

While the olives are simmering, peel the peppers (I find it easiest to do this under running water as the charred skin just runs away) then deseed and cut into 5mm dice. Mix with the ingredients then quarter lengthways the baby pomodorino tomatoes. Add these to the pan, season with a little salt and pepper and taste. As the green olives can be quite tart, you may feel you need to add a teaspoon of sugar to temper the flavour slightly. 

Place a griddle pan on the hob at the highest possible heat and then sear the salmon for about three minutes on each side. It should be cooked through, but slightly rare in the middle still. I served this with a woven mat of griddled aubergines and courgettes (alternate same length strips of aubergine and courgette and weave to make a mat. repeat twice, placing the second layer directly on top of the first) on which the salmon was placed. Drizzle with a couple of spoonfuls of salsa and a side of oven baked crushed new potatoes.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Courgette, Avocado and Halloumi Salad

This is more than a gentle nod to one of my most favourite Ottolenghi salads. The original is without avocado and uses sundried instead of sunblush tomatoes. It also recommends manouri rather than halloumi. If you're not familiar with the original, I cannot recommend (either of) his books enough. And if you are? This is a slightly creamier take on it. I find the avocado goes beautifully with the courgettes, and I slightly prefer the softer, less chewy flavour of the sunblush tomatoes.

For the dressing
80g fresh basil
1 garlic clove
juice and zest of half a lemon
80ml olive oil
salt and pepper

For the salad
1 courgette
1 ripe avocado
250g sunblush tomatoes
25g wild rocket
250g halloumi

Blitz all the dressing ingredients together in a blender, then set aside. You may find you need to crush your garlic first - my blender struggled a little to chop it. Then, cut the courgettes into approximately 6cm chunks and slice lengthways into 5mm ribbons.Using either a griddle pan or a George Foreman, grill the courgette until they have charred marks on both sides. 

Put the rocket into a large salad bowl and then add the courgettes on top. If like me, you have cheated and used bought sunblush tomatoes, transfer the tomatoes across the the bowl and pour the flavoured oil into your dressing and give it a final blitz.

Slice the avocado and add to the salad bowl, then finally grill the halloumi, place it in the salad bowl and dress with the basil vinaigrette. Make sure you have a crusty baguette on hand to mop up all the delicious juices at the end!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Baked Lemon Sole with Tomato Sauce

I have been meaning to blog this for a while but I've struggled to get a decent photograph of it. It is one of my sister's most-requested things that I can make for her (alongside the world's most garlic-y pasta). The time-consuming part is the sauce as it is cooked really slowly. The fish itself only takes 10 minutes in the oven. 

I recently learned how to skin fish too, which has made all the difference to the end result as no longer do you have to unravel the fish as you eat it to remove the skin. Skinning fish is surprisingly easy, so long as you have a decent sharp knife and a steady hand.

Ingredients (serves 4):
8 lemon sole fillets
300g red and yellow baby Pomodorino tomatoes (just use red if you can't find the yellow ones)
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
200ml white wine
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
8 sprigs rosemary
25g unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Although the sauce takes the longest with this recipe, I tend to start with the fish so it's done and out the way. To skin the fish, place it skin-side down on the cutting board. With the knife held at a slight angle (I use quite a big, heavy one as it gives the most control), hold the tail end tight and begin approximately one quarter of an inch from the end. Using a gentle sawing motion, cut the flesh from the skin.

Fold the fish so that the top and tail ends are underneath, then place two folded fillets together on a sheet of foil at least 25cm by 30cm. Place a small shaving of butter on top of each fillet, season with a grind of pepper, pour a tablespoon of white wine over each pair of fillets then place a sprig of rosemary on top of each. Fold up the foil so the fish parcels are sealed in. Repeat for the remaining six fillets then set aside until ready to bake.

To make the sauce, finely chop a shallot, quarter each of the tomatoes lengthways and peel two cloves of garlic for crushing. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and slowly cook the shallots until soft. Then add all the tomatoes and lemon juice then crush in the garlic. Turn the heat down as low as it will go and cook the tomatoes until they begin to lose their shape. 

Try to stir the sauce as little as possible. Pour in the remainder of the wine (you should have approximately a wine glass-ful left) and gently stir the tomatoes to make sure nothing is sticking, then simmer the liquid right down to a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If still a little sharp, add in half a teaspoon of granulated sugar.

While the sauce is reducing, put the oven on at 180°C and once up to temperature, bake the fish for 10-15 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the foil, arrange on plates and spoon a couple of dessertspoons of the tomato sauce over each plate. I served this with fresh french beans and partially sautéed new potatoes.