Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Homemade Gnocchi with Summer Squash and Sage

 This was my first ever attempt at making gnocchi. I mean, they are little potato dumplings, how hard can they possibly be? So, with a newfound confidence instilled by a recent and very successful first attempt at making pasta, I set to work and quickly found my answer - they are easy as pie! As with pasta making, it is not so much complex as just a little drawn out in process. Luckily, these don't take quite as long so you can have them ready to go within the hour.

The inspiration behind this was the beautiful summer squash I'd received in my Abel & Cole box (clearly doing its job on the inspiration front!) and, at a slight loss for anything better to do with it, I decided to roast it and serve it with gnocchi. I could have turned it into a risotto, but that felt too much like a cop out! I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, so little more than sage and parmesan seemed like the perfect solution.

The squash itself is really easy to prepare - being summer squash, it is thin-skinned so you can easily peel it using a potato peeler so once you've done that all you need to do is split it in two and remove the seeds.

Ingredients (serves 6):
For the gnocchi:
600g new potatoes
150g pasta flour plus extra for dusting

Everything else:
1 summer squash
20g sage
50g parmesan
10g butter
salt and pepper

To make the gnocchi, boil the new potatoes whole with their skin on for 20 minutes or so - until cooked but still firm. If the potato is too soft you'll have soggy gnocchi! Let the potatoes cool enough so you can handle them, then peel off the skin. Then, using a potato ricer or mouli, crush the potatoes into a large mixing bowl and add the flour. Knead like bread for 15 minutes or so until you have something with a similar consistency to Play Doh. 
Now, working with a quarter of the dough at a time, roll it out on a floury surface using your hands until you have a long snake about 1.5cm in diameter. Cut it into 2cm pieces and then press the sides of each piece with the tines of a fork. This creates texture on the gnocchi and gives any sauce used something to stick to. Transfer each piece to a flour-coated plate and when you're done, cover with a tea towel. The gnocchi will keep for an hour or so before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 180°C , then peel and deseed the squash. Cut into 3cm square chunks then place in a roasting dish and coat with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper then roast in the oven for around 30 minutes, until soft. 

When the squash is about 10 minutes off being ready, bring some lightly salted water to the boil for the gnocchi and remove the sage leaves from their stems. Fry the sage with the butter until crisp, then set aside until ready. Grate the parmesan, then in batches, transfer the gnocchi to the boiling water. Cook for 2-3 minutes until they float to the surface. Carefully drain, then transfer back to the pan with the squash and the sage. Mix the ingredients together gently - the gnocchi are quite fragile - and transfer to plates, sprinkling a little parmesan on each Plate. Enjoy!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Cod with Tahini, Broad Beans and Lentils

I made this recently while on holiday in France, but my lovely camera is sickly and was unable to cope with the comparatively low evening light levels despite an f1.8 lens so I didn't blog it at the time. Thanks to my lovely Abel & Cole veg box, I had broad beans and the most flavoursome red pepper I've eaten in a while at my disposal, so I decided to make it again. Thankfully, it photographed a little better this time - fiendishly bright halogen bulbs do have their uses.

This has a slightly Moorish feel to it - tahini goes really well with white fish, and I felt like some earthy flavours to go alongside the delicious flakiness of the cod, hence the broad beans and lentils. When cooking with cod, I always make sure I buy sustainably sourced, though really, this should apply to pretty much all fish these days. If you're feeling lazy, like I was, use a tin of Merchant Gourmet puy lentils. It makes the cooking process that bit easier.

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 cod fillets (about 350-400g)
1/2 a red onion
1/2 a red pepper
150g broad beans
70g spinach
200g puy lentils
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
10g parsley
1/2 a lemon 
2 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 dsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
50-100ml hot water

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then peel and finely chop the onion, deseed and cut the red pepper into diamonds and pod the broad beans if stilll in pods. Fry the onion and the red pepper in a little olive oil with the cumin and coriander powder, add the drained puy lentils and broad beans and turn down the heat as low as it will go. Cover for 10 minutes then stir in the spinach, add half the lemon juice and cover again.

To prepare the cod, cut each fillet in half widthways, then place two fillet halves on a square sheet of tin foil. Thinly slice three slices of lemon and arrange over the cod. Drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then wrap the cod fillets into little foil parcels. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes. While the cod is cooking, roughly chop the parsley and stir 3/4 of it into the lentils. 

At this point, you want to make up the tahini sauce. In a mixing bowl, put two tablespoons of tahini paste, a dessertspoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Crush in the garlic and stir until emulsified. Finally, add 50-100ml of boiling water to thin to the same consistency as gloss paint and mix thoroughly.

When the cod is cooked, remove from the oven and open the parcels. Divide the lentils between two plates, then place two pieces of cod on top. Pour over the juices from the foil parcels, then spoon over the tahini sauce. Finally, garnish with the remaining chopped parsley.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Inspiration: Abel & Cole

Slightly (very) late to the party I know, but I finally signed up for an Abel and Cole veg box. I had recently been over at a friend's and she has been getting one for a while. I've always been slightly envious of it, so, coupled with an inspiration drought on the blog front, I figured it was well and truly time. She recommended I get the gourmet box as you occasionally get some of the more interesting vegetables.

Following some eager peering out the window before I left for work, I got on my bike, accepting that I was going to have to wait until evening. There were several showers throughout the day, so I fretted a little about what I was going to come home to. I needn't have worried - tucked out of the sight of opportunistic strangers and sheltered under a bush in my front garden was a little string-wrapped cardboard package waiting for me when I got home.

First impressions were great - it was mostly dry, and it was definitely not in the hands of anyone else. I quickly opened it to see what was inside (which admittedly, I already knew as they tell you on the website) and feasted my eyes first and foremost on the glut of broad beans in front of me. I love broad beans more than anything. In all honesty though, I was impressed as it was a nice, seasonal and eminently useable selection. There is nothing I won't use, and I'm looking forward to thinking what to do with the beautiful squash.

So let's hope this is the inspiration I need, to keep blogging and keep trying out and making new and interesting recipes.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Beetroot and Tahini Salad

When I was little, I hated beetroot. I was afraid of its vivid purpleness and I couldn't even begin to imagine what it tasted like. All I knew is that it was horrible and purple and a bit shiny. And most of all, it looked really wrong. 

This may or may not have been compounded by my mother's distrust and dislike of pickled beetroot. I've never eaten pickled beetroot so I can't comment on it, but the smell is pretty vile.

So how did I come to change my mind? This dish, which is one of my mother's. She convinced me to try a little, persuading me that the combined flavours of beetroot and tahini were quite delicious. And she was of course, right. As usual.

Ingredients (Serves 4):
3 beetroots, stems removed
2 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
50ml boiling water
20g rocket

Trim off any remaining beetroot stalks and boil in lightly salted water for 20-25 minutes, until soft. Drain and set aside to cool. Once cool, peel the beetroot using a sharp knife. I also donned a pair of latex gloves as I didn't want to stain my hands a fetching shade of purple. Slice into 1cm slices and transfer to a plate or serving dish. 

Next, prepare the tahini - spoon two tablespoons of the paste into a bowl, crush in the garlic and add the lemon juice and olive oil. Beat with a spoon or fork until emulsified, then add the boiling water and beat again until thoroughly mixed. 

Drizzle the beetroot with a little olive oil, scatter the rocket leaves on top and then spoon the tahini sauce on top. Serve as part of a selection of salads. Perfect for hot summer days!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Books: The Flavour Thesaurus

Like many cooks both professional and amateur, I love cookbooks. I love reading from them and poring over the writing and photography in their pages as much as I enjoy cooking from them too. Actually, I think I enjoy reading them more than I enjoy cooking from them to be 100% honest. With that in mind, I thought I'd do a series of posts on my favourite cookbooks and to begin, I'm going to start with something that isn't a cookbook as such.

Niki Segnit's "The Flavour Thesaurus" is a new favourite. It's not a cookbook so much as a compendium of combinations that work, both conventional and unconventional. And it's not exhaustive either, which is why I like it so much. What I like best, though, is Niki's writing style. She's funny - she likens the flavour of cloves to sucking on a rusty nail, and that coffee and cherry pie is a combination best shared with Twin Peaks' Agent Cooper (and I'd be inclined to agree) - but she's also incredibly knowledgable and the combination of those two traits makes for a brilliant and fascinating read.

The book covers how we come to have certain flavours (coffee and chocolate, for example, are totally different in their consumed to their raw forms) and what it is about each combination that makes it work. It's not a recipe book in its own right, but there are recipes. These recipes are short and succinct. A mere sketchy outline of what to use and do, expecting that the sort of person reading the book should have a degree of culinary knowledge. And indeed, this isn't the book for you if you need someone to tell you how to peel a potato.

For me, it's a new favourite, and one that's as at home on the bedside table as it is sitting well-thumbed on the kitchen work surface.

To celebrate one year of recording blog stats and a steady climb in visitors over that year, I've decided to host my first giveaway. 

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of The Flavour Thesaurus, just post a comment below. I'll pick the winner at random on Sunday 17th July.

(disclaimer: I am not being paid to advertise this book, nor have I been provided with a complimentary copy for review or giveaway purposes)

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Leftover Pasta

On Sunday I made roast chicken with a delicious pork stuffing. I had my uncle and aunt over, and along with my mother so there was just about enough leftover chicken to make a risotto. However, there was masses of stuffing, still succulent from roasting in the chicken so I decided to make stuffing balls and try it with something completely different.

The end result made an excellent Monday night supper - quick and easy and can be on the table within 30 minutes. My sort of meal, basically. If you're vegetarian, just leave out the stuffing balls - I think the pasta with chilli, spinach and rocket is absolutely delicious in its own right.

Ingredients (serves 2):
200g pasta (I used Fiorelli)
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
20g spinach
20g rocket
1 red chilli
1 dsp lemon juice
150g stuffing (enough for 8 balls)
Plain flour
olive oil
50g parmesan, grated

Put the water for the pasta on to boil. While you're waiting for it to boil, make the stuffing balls. Take a teaspoon of stuffing and mould it into a ball with your hands. Dust with flour and set aside. Repeat until all the stuffing mix is gone. I found I made 8 balls. Next, peel and thinly slice the onion and garlic and slice the chilli, taking care to discard any seeds. Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onions until soft. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a further couple of minutes. Turn off the heat, add half the spinach and rocket and cover with a lid.

The water for the pasta should now be boiling, so add the pasta and set a timer as per the cooking instructions on the bag. When you've got about 10 minutes left, heat up some oil in a frying pan and add the stuffing balls. fry gently, turning occasionally until the stuffing balls are golden.

Just before you drain the pasta, add two dessert spoons of the pasta water, the lemon juice and the remaining spinach and rocket to the wilted spinach and rocket. Drain the pasta and transfer to the pan with the vegetables in it and mix well. Stir in half the parmesan and serve onto plates. Put four doughballs on each plate on top of the pasta and sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Roasted Butternut Hummous

I first had this at Nopi when I took my other half for his birthday back in March. I enjoyed it so much that I made a mental note of what I thought the ingredients were and vowed that I would try to make it myself. 

I must admit, it's taken me until now to do so, and I can no longer remember the original well enough to honestly tell you how it compares. What I can say however is that it's an interesting combination, and one that you wouldn't necessarily expect to work.

But it does. It really does. Teamed with some wonderful fresh sourdough bread, for me it's a starter or picnic dip that I could happily consume, bite by bite without anything else. Except maybe a nice glass of white wine.

The recipe contains a whole butternut, so there's plenty to go round. It'll easily feed 8-10 as part of a selection of mezzes. 

1 small butternut squash
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil (plus some for roasting & drizzling)
150ml boiling water
2 cloves garlic
10g coriander
10g flat leaf parsley
1/4 tsp nigella seeds
1/4 tsp sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then peel and chop the butternut into chunks. Place on a baking tray and lightly coat with olive oil and then sprinkle the cumin and coriander powder over. Give it a good shake to make sure the spices are evenly distributed, then roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes - until the butternut is soft.

Mash the butternut using a fork or potato masher, then make the tahini sauce: put the tahini paste in a medium sized bowl, then add 150ml boiling water, the olive oil and the lemon juice. Beat the mixture with a fork until you have a smooth paste about the thickness of gloss paint. Next, stir in the pomegranate molasses and crush in the garlic. 

Add the butternut mash to the tahini paste and stir until both ingredients are combined. Roughly chop the parsley and coriander, fold into the dip and then if you want it to look extra good, transfer it all to a clean serving bowl. Toast the nigella and sesame seeds in a dry, hot frying pan for a couple of minutes until the sesame seeds turn golden then sprinkle over the dip.

Spoon onto sourdough bread or pitta, place it in your mouth and savour the flavour. Make sure no one else gets a look-in.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Street market: St Antonin-Noble-Val

Something a little different this week. I had a rather dramatic couple of days trying to get there (my iPhone alarm failed to go off, I subsequently missed my flight and had to pay lots to get on another one) but I was in France last weekend for my sister's birthday. So instead of a recipe post I thought I'd share with you some photos of the outdoor market in St Antonin, which is one of the best in the area.

St Antonin itself is a beautiful little town in the Midi Pyrenees in the South of France and was the location for the Cate Blanchett film, Charlotte Gray. Every Sunday it is transformed from a sleepy Medieval village in the Tarn to a bustling market hub where growers and producers come from miles around to sell their wares. It is predominantly a food market, however there is every chance you could also come away with some new shoes or a gorgeous necklace. 

The quality of the produce is wonderful. Artisan honeys and foie gras (surely better than the mass-produced supermarket ones) and the freshest vegetables you can imagine. I will always have a little place in my heart for French market Coeur du Boeuf tomatoes - possibly the nicest ones I've ever eaten.

For those of you more actively inclined, the village is also the departure point for canoeing trips down the Aveyron. These are brilliant fun - the rapids are exhilerating, yet gentle enough not to be scary. Take a picnic - and a change of clothing for when you reach the other end. You won't reach your destination still dry!