Sunday, 27 February 2011

Plaice and Asparagus Parcels

Along with cut daffodils, seeing bunches of fresh asparagus in the shops is a sure sign that spring is on the way. Needless to say, I bought both. I've yet to figure out a dish that would work for the daffodils (though admittedly, I haven't tried) so they reside in a vase to brighten up my mornings. The asparagus, however, barely lasted 12 hours before being made into the recipe below. 

This is actually surprisingly quick to make - I think it took me about 35 minutes from beginning to end - and the results are hopefully good enough to impress a date or serve up as a treat for a loved one.

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 fillets of plaice
350g asparagus
1/2 tsp black olive tapenade
15g butter
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
150ml white wine
1 dsp capers
white pepper

First, skin the plaice fillets and split into two lengthways - you should be left with four skinless long, thin fillets. Next, fill a pan with about an inch of water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. While you're waiting for the water to boil, snap the tough ends off the asparagus and cut in half so you have twice as many, shorter spears. Once the water comes to the boil, blanch for two minutes and then refresh under ice cold water. This stops them cooking in their tracks and helps keep the lovely bright green colour.

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then divide the asparagus into four piles, making sure you have a roughly even number of spears and stems. Next, wrap each pile of asparagus in a plaice fillet, making sure the side that the skin was on faces inwards. Tear off two squares of about 30cm tin foil and transfer two wrapped parcels to each sheet of foil, making sure they are close together. 

Add 1/4 of a teaspoon of tapenade to each fillet, and a place a thumbnail-sized knob of butter in each foil. Add a dessertspoon of lemon juice and 25ml of white wine to each foil, and then wrap them up, taking care not to damage the individual parcels. Lay each foil parcel on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes.

While the fish is baking, finely slice two shallots and gently fry them over a low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute, then add the remaining white wine, lemon juice and a pinch of white pepper. Reduce until you have a thick jus, then stir in the capers.

When the fish fillets are cooked, remove from the oven, carefully open the foil and then, using a fish slice, transfer the fish parcels to a warm plate. Add any liquid from the parcels to your caper and shallot jus, then spoon it over the fish. Serve with a green salad or fresh green vegetables.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Risotto with Broad Beans and Lardons

I'm not one to complain about an excess of broad beans, but I had some still sitting in the fridge left over from earlier in the week. Rather than let them spoil, I decided to put them to good use. When it comes to risotto, I'm usually a big fan of a lovely, creamy mushroom risotto and as a result rarely make anything else.

Here though, I wanted something which would make the most of the broad beans, and also be relatively healthy, which this is. This makes 6 servings and each serving has less than 350 calories in it. The trick is frying the onions in the fat from the lardons, which not only adds to the flavour, but means you don't have to add any additional fat to the recipe.

Ingredients (serves 6):
1 onion
250g smoked bacon lardons
3 cloves garlic
300g broad beans
250g risotto rice
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence
1 litre chicken stock
50g parmesan

Finely slice the onion, then in a large frying pan, fry the lardons until they start to run fat. Add the onions and fry until golden, then crush in the garlic and add the risotto rice. Fry for a minute, until the rice becomes slightly translucent, then add about a third of the chicken stock, the herbes de Provence and stir thoroughly. Cook over a low heat. Season with pepper if you like at this point.

When most of the stock has been absorbed, add a little more and stir again. When you have about 200ml left to add to the risotto, add both the liquid and the broad beans, stir well and simmer until you have a thick, slightly soupy risotto. Taste the rice at this point - it should be soft, but slightly al-dente. If it's still quite hard, add a little more water and simmer it down for a further 5 minutes or son. Once cooked, stir in 50g of grated parmesan, then dish up onto plates. I added a few shavings of parmesan on top to garnish.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Cuscinetti with Chicken, Leek and Broad Beans

Another quick and easy weeknight supper, which is both healthy and delicious to boot. This was again borne out of a session spent rummaging in the fridge for inspiration. Broad beans are one of my favourite vegetables, and happily there were some left over from my Valentine's day treat, so I decided to pair them with slow-cooked leeks and grilled chicken for a delicious meal. 

The pasta, which I couldn't resist buying, came from a gorgeous farm shop in Kent. You'll be hard-pushed to find it in mainstream supermarkets though, so I suggest using Orecchiette or Penne if you can't get hold of it.

Ingredients (serves 6):
500g cuscinetti pasta
2 chicken breasts
3 leeks
4 garlic cloves
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
100g broad beans
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
100ml crème fraîche
50g parmesan

Grill the chicken until cooked through, then set aside to rest. Meanwhile, slice the leeks and slowly fry them in a little olive oil. Thinly slice the garlic and add to the leeks when they are nearly cooked, and fry for a further minute. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the cumin and coriander, then boil the broad beans for 3-4 minutes, drain and add to the pan with the leeks and garlic. Next, add the lemon juice and zest.

Put a pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook for the directed time. Slice the chicken and add to the vegetables with about 100ml of pasta water and bubble down while the pasta cooks. Grate 50g of parmesan and add to the vegetables, reserving a little to sprinkle on top at the end, and stir in the crème fraîche. Drain the pasta, stir in the creamy vegetable sauce and serve immediately.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Balsamic Chicken with Mediterranean Vegetables

This is another continuation on the healthy theme, though at least it is solid food again! I bought some chicken fillets a few days ago and have been so busy with work that I hadn't had time to do anything with them until now. 

I got home at 8pm after a long day at work, and as the boy had cooked me a delicious Valentine's meal the night before, I felt I should make a little effort. This is exceedingly quick to make, and can be on the table in 30 minutes. Not bad for a quick mid-week supper!

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 chicken fillets
1 courgette
1 red pepper
1 tomato
5 cloves garlic
100g baby leaf spinach
1 dsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 dsp olive oil

Slice the chicken in half horizontally, so you're left with two thin pieces of breast from each fillet. Transfer to a bowl and marinade in the balsamic and olive oil for 15 minutes.

While the chicken is marinading, deseed and slice the red pepper into strip, dice the tomato, and peel a garlic clove ready for crushing, then over a low heat slowly fry the peppers and tomato in a little oil until very soft. After about 5 minutes, add the crushed garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses and a splash of water (which will reduce to nothing as the peppers cook). 

Next, diagonally slice the courgette into 5mm ribbons and fry in a fresh pan in about a teaspoon of oil. Thinly slice the remaining 4 cloves of garlic. After 5 minutes, when the courgettes are just starting to soften, add the garlic and fry for a further 5 minutes or until the courgettes are golden.

Using a griddle on a high heat, fry the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Meanwhile, wilt the spinach, discarding any excess liquid. 

Arrange the spinach on two plates, then divide up the courgettes, placing on top of the spinach. Place a couple of chicken fillets on the courgettes and spinach, and then garnish with the red peppers. Finally, drizzle a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the chicken. I served this with rice, but it would be equally good with sautéed potatoes.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Roasted Courgette and Garlic Soup

A continuation on the healthy eating, rather soup-y trend - here is yet another soup! The basic recipe comes from a healthy eating cookbook of my mother's (one of the few recipes that actually appealed to me) and is really rather delicious. The roasted courgettes and garlic have a delicate sweetness, and it is also deceptively low in calories - 103 per serving for those watching what they eat.

For those being a little less strict about their diets, it is delicious served with a cold glass of white wine and a few slices of fresh ciabatta.

Ingredients (serves 6):
4 courgettes
1 red onion
6 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
1.2 litres vegetable stock
125g petit pois
60ml crème fraîche
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then thickly slice the courgettes into chunks and place in a roasting tray. Add the garlic cloves (keep the skin on) then peel and cut a red onion into wedges and add it to the tray. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. When the oven is up to temperature, roast for about 35 minutes, until the courgettes are golden and tender.

While the vegetables are roasting, in a large heavy-bottomed pan bring the stock to the boil then add the petit pois (try to use fresh or frozen and not tinned as the flavour is so much better) and boil for a couple more minutes. Add the courgettes and onions, and peel and add the roasted garlic cloves, then blend until smooth.

Stir in the crème fraîche (use half-fat if you want to keep the calories down) and then gently reheat the soup, taking care not to let it boil. Serve with warm ciabatta or other fresh bread and a glass of wine. Enjoy!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chargrilled Peppers

I know it's not quite the season for antipasta, but these are as good roughly chopped and served with a bowl of linguine and garlic as they are added to a salad or served alongside cured meats. And, if you've got a gas hob or a grill, then really you've no excuse to be buying these as they're so much nicer home made. I kept this batch really simple and seasoned them with little more than olive oil, lemon juice and a little salt and pepper. However, fresh oregano or even some sliced garlic added to the marinade is also delicious so feel free to experiment.

This makes enough to fill two 350g jars, and they will easily keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks so don't feel you need to use them all at once. They're great to have in stock for quick suppers and unexpected entertaining!

2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

I used a gas hob to make these, but if you don't have one, don't worry - a grill will work almost as well. Taking care not to burn yourself, char the peppers all over until the skin is blackened and sooty. Place in a clean plastic bag to let them sweat for 10 minutes then carefully peel off the burned skin. Try not to do this under running water as you'll wash delicious flavours down the sink. 

Once peeled, deseed and slice the peppers on a plate before transferring to a mixing bowl. Make sure you pour any juice on the plate into the bowl too! Finally, add a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. As I said earlier, adding a little shredded fresh oregano at this point adds a lovely flavour to the peppers, so you might want to do that. 

Toss all the ingredients together until well-mixed, then transfer into jars and keep in the fridge. If eating them cold, bring to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

As fas as I'm concerned, this is the most velvety soup you will ever eat. In the past I've likened it to eating cashmere, should such a thing be possible and without ending up with a mouth full of wool. It is also deceptively simple and easy to make, is cheap, healthy and requires very few ingredients.

I made this as a quick and easy dinner when having an old friend come over as I wanted minimal cooking and maximum time to gossip and catch up. And it is super quick - You can have the soup ready and in bowls within 30 minutes. A genuine 30 minute recipe! It works out at about 150 calories per portion. 

You can make it vegan and even healthier by omitting the butter and using soy single cream in place of the crème fraîche.

(serves 6):
1kg butternut squash (unpeeled, raw weight)
1 litre vegetable stock
300ml crème fraîche
1/4 tsp nutmeg
25g butter
salt and pepper


Peel and deseed the butternut squash, cut into chunks and then boil for 15-20 minutes in the vegetable stock, until soft. In batches, purée the squash and stock in a blender until really smooth, then transfer back to the pan.

Stir in the crème fraîche, butter and nutmeg, and season with a little salt and pepper. When ready to eat, gently warm through on a low heat, stirring contantly. Do not allow the soup to boil as this will cause the crème fraîche to curdle. I drizzled a little sour cream on top to decorate, but this is obviously optional! Serve with crusty fresh bread and devour immediately.