Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Ribollita (again)

A perfect way to round off the year and counteract the Christmas excesses with a warming, hearty soup. This was made a few weeks back, and the kale was a gift from my friend Tara as she had signed up for Abel and Cole veg boxes and had an excess of it. I made this to use up some leftover vegetables in the fridge, but had a surprise visit from my mother and aunt the next day, so served this as a starter while my mum provided the main course. However, it is more than substantial enough to have on its own.

The parmesan rind is not essential, though it adds plenty of flavour. If you don't have one to hand, just sprinkle grated parmesan over when you dish up. I always keep my the rinds of my exhausted parmesan wedges in the fridge for adding flavour to dishes like this.

Ingredients (serves 6-8):
1 carrot
1 onion
1 stick celery
1 courgette
250g puy lentils
200g new potatoes 
100g chestnut mushrooms
100g mograbiah (Israeli couscous)
250g kale
1 parmesan rind (or grated fresh parmesan)
800g chopped tomatoes
450ml chicken or vegetable stock

Finely chop the onion and carrot and slice the celery, and in a large heavy bottomed saucepan, gently fry over a low heat until translucent. Thinly slice the courgette, then peel and dice the potatoes, then add to the pan and fry for a further 10 minutes. Thinly slice and add the mushrooms, fry for a couple of minutes then add the lentils, parmesan rind, chopped tomatoes and chicken stock and boil for about 30 minutes.

Add the mograbiah to the soup then chop the kale into 1cm ribbons. After 10 minutes, add the kale and cook for a further 5 minutes. Ladle into soup bowls, making sure to leave the parmesan rind in the pan and serve with freshly baked ciabatta. Yum!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Tarte Aux Poireaux

This is in many ways the sister recipe to the Tarte aux Oignons et Lardons I made back in September. This was made as a large tart and cut into slices as finger food for a cocktail party a few weeks back, and was declared "excellent" by everyone who tried it. Though I suspect this was more down to their inebriation than any cooking talent of my own!

Ingredients (makes 12 6cm squares):
250g shortcrust pastry
2 leeks
4 eggs
40g grated parmesan
3 dessertspoons crème fraîche
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then line a 32cm shallow baking tray with greaseproof paper. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface so that it fits the container, then line the baking tray on top of the paper. Prick the pastry all over with a form and add another sheet of greaseproof paper, then fill with ceramic baking beans. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, until cooked.

While the pastry is baking, slice the leeks into 5mm slices and gently fry until soft and golden, then set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, crème fraîche, parmesan and nutmeg, then season with a little salt and pepper. 

When the pastry is cooked, remove the top sheet of greaseproof paper and ceramic beans, then distribute the leeks evenly on top of the pastry. Gently pour over the egg and crème fraîche mix so that it fully covers the leeks and the pastry case is filled, then bake in the oven for a further 15-20 minutes.

When cool, transfer to a flat wooden board (a large chopping board will do) and slice into three lengthways and quarters widthways so you have perfect hand-sized portions. You can either serve it warm or at room temperature - your choice!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Mushroom Blinis

The cost of buying blinis is silly, especially considering how easy they are to make and how much nicer they are than the shop-bought variety. It has to be said, they are a little bit more time-consuming, but they don't require much skill at all as they are basically just Russian yeast pancakes. The traditional topping is smoked salmon and crème fraîche; however, I've decided to make a vegetarian version to cater for all the non-fish eaters over the festive season.

 Ingredients (makes 20 blinis):
For the blinis
40g buckwheat flour
125g strong white plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
5g dried yeast
150ml crème fraîche
175ml skimmed milk
2 eggs

For the topping
250g chestnut mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp crème fraîche
5g chives
salt and pepper

Sift together the buckwheat flour, plain flour and salt into a large bowl, then sprinkle in the yeast. Put the crème fraîche and milk in a saucepan and heat it until it is just lukewarm - if it is too warm it will kill the yeast. Then whisk the egg yolks into the milk and crème fraîche and pour the liquid into the flour mixture.

Beat everything together until you have a thick batter, then cover the bowl with a clean tea cloth and leave it in a warm place for about 1 hour – I put mine in front of a warm radiator as I don't have an airing cupboard. After an hour the batter will be spongy and bubbly. Next, whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks and fold into the batter. Recover with the cloth and leave as before for another hour.  

The batter should still be bubbly and faintly warm. Now, to make the blinis. Heat a frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil and wait until it gets really hot. Then spoon just over half a dessertspoon of batter per blini into the pan and fry for about 20-30 seconds on each side, so they are cooked and golden but not burned. I did about 3-4 blinis per each time in the pan. You will need to add a little more oil after each batch or the blinis will stick.

To make the topping, finely dice the mushrooms, then quickly fry to seal in the juices. When half-way cooked, crush in the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper then stir in the crème fraîche. Dollop a teaspoon of mushroom on each blini and top with a sprinkling of chopped chives. Serve immediately with a glass of prosecco.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Salmon with Puy Lentils and Parmentier Potatoes

The whole of my mother's family was in London the other week - unusal as my aunt lives in Rome and my uncle in Somerset - and my uncle made a delicious fish dish. He made it with cod, but I decided to recreate it using salmon as I thought the flavours would work similarly well together. They did, and it got the other half's seal of approval. Excellent!

Ingredients (serves 4):
350g new potatoes
1 carrot
1 medium onion
1 stick celery
250g puy lentils
100ml chicken stock
100ml white wine
7g chives
4 boneless salmon fillets, skin on

Begin by making the parmentier potatoes: preheat oven to 200°C, then peel and dice the potatoes into 1.5cm cubes. Melt 25g of butter in a pan and gently fry for  5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the potatoes from browning or sticking to the pan. Then transfer the potatoes to a baking tray, add a little more butter and a little salt and pepper, then roast for up to half an hour, shaking halfway to prevent them from sticking.
While the potatoes are roasting, finely chop the onion and carrot and fry gently in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Slice the celery and add to the frying pan. Cook for a further couple of minutes then add the lentils. I use pre-cooked Merchant Gourmet puy lentils to save a little time. Cook the lentils for a minute or so, then add the chicken stock and white wine. Simmer down until the liquid is almost gone. 

When the sauce is nearly cooked, fire up the grill or griddle, then grill the salmon until pink cooked through but not dry - about 5 minutes.

To serve, divide the parmentier potatoes between the four plates, then place the salmon on top. Finish by spooning over a tablespoon or so of the lentil sauce and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Not An Egg McMuffin

I try to avoid junk food most of the time, though I have a couple of guilty pleasures. This is the perfect cure for the Christmas party season and will fix many a hangover. This is inspired by a recipe that first appeared in the Guardian's student cookbook, and on one particularly hangover-addled morning the boy and I decided it was the only thing that could possibly fix us.

I think this well and truly eclipses the McDonalds version. The only concession to the original is processed cheese slices, which I rather like. However, if you want to be a good food purist about it, I suppose a nice mature cheddar will work just as well. I like mine with peri peri sauce, though if you want a gentler version, use ketchup instead.

Ingredients (makes 2):
2 english muffins
2 large eggs
2 rashers smoked bacon
2 sausages
4 slices processed cheese
dijon mustard
ketchup or peri peri sauce

As this is basically an assembly job, I suggest turning the oven on to about 100°C to keep things warm as  you go.

Begin by grilling the sausages - they will need 15-20 mins to cook through. While the sausages are grilling, fry the bacon until lightly browned but not quite crisp, then put in the oven. Next, slice the muffins in half and toast them. Again, put these in the oven to keep warm. Put a pan on filled with about 4cm water, add a lidful of white wine vinegar to the mix and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat so it reaches a gentle simmer.

At this point, put the sausages in the oven. Making poached eggs without a mould isn't hard at all. The most important thing, which I cannot stress enough, is making sure that the eggs are really fresh as it is this moreso than any swirling of water or other bits of trickery that will make the eggs keep their shape. I swirl the water a little, then add the eggs one after the other and simmer for 2-3 minutes. 

While the eggs are simmering, put the muffins on plates. Spread a little mustard on the inside top of each one, then slice the sausages into thirds lengthways and place on the bottom muffin slice. Put a slice of cheese on top, then add the bacon and some ketchup or peri peri sauce. Next, using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs from the water one by one and place on top of the bacon. Add the second slice of cheese and then place the muffin lid on top. Voila! Tasty, hangover-fixing junk food. And with a delicious runny yolk to boot.