Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas comes but once a year...

...which is just as well, given the amount of food on offer at my sister's.
         We started mid-morning with bubbly and a three-course brunch - jewel-bright fruit salad and yoghurt, little bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese, croissants with bacon, baked mushrooms and tomatoes.  That lasted us very well until the main event at about 4 pm...

...glazed ham and deboned stuffed turkey, roast veges, and beans picked from the garden. My sister is the only person I know who owns a ham stand, though in this photo it's almost invisible and the ham seems to be poised in mid-air.

After a decent interval, while my great-nephew retired from the excitement of his first Christmas, we moved on to the double dessert - my niece's pavlova and/or hazelnut ice-cream gateau, followed by the pudding that flew up from Wellington with me. My sister made the brandy sauce, my niece contributed the brandy butter, and my nephew flamed it with great panache.

You can just see the flickering blue flames in the photo (the lens was a bit steamed up by this time). It turned out perfectly, and I think it was (she said modestly) one of the best puddings I've ever made - not sweet but rich, moist, fruity and tangy from the extra peel and the bits of dried apricot I added this year. We finished it off for Boxing Day tea, along with leftover ham and turkey, new potatoes, fresh garden salad, and the remains of the pav. All very traditional, and totally delicious.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My best mince pies

I love Christmas mince pies - only in my case they're tarts, because I don't put a top on them. My friend Ali usually gives me a jar of her magnificent mincemeat, and in the past I've used bought pastry, so they took no time to make. But for obvious reasons my usual pattern has been upset in both 2010 and 2011, so no tarts were made, meaning I ended up with a stash of vintage mincemeat. It kept perfectly, as it's designed to do, so this year I offered to bring it up and make tarts for Christmas at my sister's. I also offered to make the pastry, using the Cordon Bleu recipe I wrote about earlier (go to "pastry" in the labels). So today that's what I did.
       The actual mixing was easy, though I hadn't actually made this sweet short pastry before. I wanted to do it all in one day, so there wasn't time to chill it overnight, though it did have a couple of hours in the fridge. That was probably why it was soft and very prone to break up when I rolled it out. But I was making very small tarts, and it was no trouble to mend any little cracks with scraps of pastry. (Not very Cordon Bleu,  I know, but it worked.) I didn't blind bake the cases, I just put the mincemeat in and baked each tray of 12 for 9 minutes at 200C (not fan bake). They taste much better well baked like this than pale and anaemic.
        I can't show you them because I can't work out how to get the photo from my iPad into this post! But if you go to the Facebook page you can see them over there. We ate the less pretty ones to see if they were okay, of course, and they were lovely, crisp and rich, just as they should be.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fooling around in the sun

For the second day running, Wellington managed to reach 20C. I had the good luck to be going out for lunch with friends who have a lovely blue tiled table on a covered courtyard, the perfect place to eat outside - especially under Lesley's baskets of cascading blue flowers.

Beneath them, we ate ittle stacks of garlicky tomato and eggplant...

... then terakihi fillets rolled around a fragrant filling of cashew nuts, chili, lime and coriander, with green salad from her sister and  brother-in-law's garden, and crisp brown foccacia...

...and palest pink fool, made from Lesley's own gooseberries (Harvey's favourite early summer treat) and rhubarb.

Fruit fools are thoroughly English desserts, and apparently gooseberry fool is the earliest kind known, dating  back to the fifteenth century. The introduction to Elizabeth David's first recipe for it (in Summer Cooking, 1955) takes you straight back to wartime privations: "Although this is a traditional English dessert it is not often well made, and owing to the lack of cream for so many years a good many people have never made it." Her later recipe in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine (1984) is a better one (I've turned the measurements to metric here).

Gooseberry fool
1kg green gooseberries
250g sugar
300ml cream 
Wash the gooseberries. There is no need to top and tail them [though Harvey always did]. Put them in the top half of a double saucepan with the sugar and steam them, or bake them in a covered glass dish in a low oven, until they are quite soft. 
Sieve them, having first strained off surplus liquid which would make the fool watery. [I think this is the point at which you should taste for sweetness and add more sugar if the puree is too acid. Harvey preferred his quite tart, I like mine a little sweeter.] 
When the puree is quite cold, add the cream. [Elizabeth David didn't whip it, but our cream is not the same as English double cream, and Lesley, like me, prefers to whip it softly before folding it into the puree.] Serve very cold.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Green broad bean bounty

Before my neighbour with the brilliant garden went away last week, she brought me some broad beans and invited me to help myself to more. I was over there first thing next day.

I used to think I didn't like broad beans, but that was because I'd only ever had them when they were older and tougher and still enveloped in their wrinkly grey outer skins. Then Lesley showed me how to ease out the little bright green inner beans, and I was hooked. But they're hard to buy young enough to be really good - much better to be able to get them fresh from the plants, before they get too enormous. The way we humans eat them is of course terribly wasteful, because only the very youngest, tenderest beans can be eaten still in their pods. I did manage to do a few this way, boiling them briefly, but most of the pods were steamed in a colander for a few minutes, then opened, and the beans extracted. I ended up with a huge pile of pods and a small bowl of beans.

I shucked the largest beans from their slightly wrinkled skins, but I couldn't bear the waste of all that green goodness. So I kept the outer skins and pureed them later with lemon juice, oil and salt to make a flavourful dip, and left the rest of them intact.

I was having two friends over for a Good Dinner that night, and I wanted to do as little as possible to my beans. So I made a simple first course - skinny asparagus wrapped in very thin slices of Serrano ham, and a little pile of beans with torn basil and grated pecorino cheese, plus a wedge of lemon and drizzle of excellent olive oil (from Moon over Martinborough, one of the best goodies we were given at the food bloggers' conference - I'd been hoarding it for the right occasion) with some good bread to mop it all up. The beans, like the asparagus, were warm, so the thin flakes of cheese melted into them, and then they melted into us.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dinner with Nigel Slater

Toast, UK food writer Nigel Slater’s autobiography, is one of the finest food memoirs ever. My gardening friend Ali loves his books, his gardens and his food.  He's the complete opposite of shouty show-off Gordon Ramsay.
       A while ago she discovered that the BBC had turned Toast into a film. When it screened in Britain last year, it was watched by over 6 million people. Needless to say, it wasn’t picked up by free-to-air TV here. So when she found it on DVD in her local library, she came up with a brilliant plan: Ali, Lesley and I would put together a dinner using Nigel Slater’s recipes, and then we would watch Toast. So on Friday night, that’s what we did.
       First, Lesley served a superbly flavoured entrée with thin slices of aubergine, grilled and dressed with red wine vinegar, olive oil and mint, and served with feta cheese and olives (not a great photo, sorry), along with Ali’s homemade foccacia (she used a special organic flour this time, so it was wonderfully crisp, golden and chewy).

For the main course (recipes below), I made Nigel’s thyme and garlic sticky chicken wings, as well as bulghur wheat cooked with bacon, onions, garlic and mushrooms. Lesley contributed beautiful baked tomatoes.

Ali’s dessert came in two parts. First we had moist, gingery ginger cake (it has stem ginger in it) and her home-grown rhubarb roasted in orange juice and honey, with creamy Zany Zeus yoghurt. 

Then came the, er, climax: Walnut Whips.  Ali had tracked them down in a store selling English goodies. Toast is piled high with confectionery, but Walnut Whips reign supreme - they get two whole chapters named after them. The culmination comes in the scene where Nigel's father discovers the sea of Walnut Whip wrappers. Sadly this was left out of the BBC version, so you'll have to read the book to understand why they're so significant - a bit like the English equivalent of Proust's madeleines...

Thyme and garlic chicken wings
Nigel Slater in the Guardian – “Sweet and sticky, and as good cold as hot.”

Serves 3-4, depending on the size of your wings. You need to marinade the chicken at least four hours ahead of cooking it.

thyme about 12 bushy stems
garlic 2 cloves
thick honey 4 tbsp
dried chillies a couple of good pinches
lemon 1 large
chicken wings 1 kg (this mixture was enough to coat 10 full wings – it would do more of the small “chicken nibbles” size)
lemon 1, to serve

Pull the leaves and flowers from the thyme branches, measure 2 lightly heaped tablespoons, and put into the bowl of a food processor. (If you are making your marinade by hand, then put the thyme into a mortar.) Retain extra leaves and discard the stems.
Peel the garlic and drop the cloves into the thyme together with a generous grinding of black pepper, the honey and the pinches of chillies. Grate the zest of the lemon into the mixture, then squeeze in all of the juice. Blitz for a few seconds till the ingredients become a sloppy paste (by hand, pound with the pestle).
Transfer the paste to a nonstick roasting tin and add the chicken wings and reserved thyme, turning them over in the marinade so they are thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or even overnight. Turn from time to time, so the wings stay in contact with the marinade.
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Season the wings with salt, then roast them for 40 minutes, or until they are deep, golden brown and the marinade has turned dark golden brown. If there is a lot of liquid in the tin then cook for a further few minutes until dark and sticky. Cut the lemon in thick segments and squeeze over the chicken wings as you eat.

Bulghur wheat and bacon
“I sometimes spoon a little seasoned yoghurt – salt, pepper, paprika – over this at the table, stirring it into the grains. But mostly, I leave the pilaf as it is, enjoying the warm, homely grains and juicy nuggets of mushroom.”

smoked streaky bacon 200g
onions 2, medium
olive oil
garlic 2 cloves
small mushrooms 250g
bulghur wheat, medium fine 250g 

(I found this was an awful lot of wheat – unless you want to pad it out for a hungry horde. For a side dish I think it would be better with half as much, 125-130g, and half the boiling water, 200ml)
boiling water from the kettle 400ml
sprigs of parsley 3 or 4
dill 6 sprigs
butter 60g (with less wheat, 30g is enough)

Cut the bacon rashers into short thick pieces. Peel the onions and slice them thinly. Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large, shallow pan over a low heat, add the sliced bacon and stir occasionally till the fat has turned pale gold. Peel and finely chop the garlic.
Add the onions and garlic to the pan and leave till soft, golden and translucent, stirring from time to time. Quarter the mushrooms and add them to the softening onions. Leave them to cook for 5 minutes or so with the occasional stir.

 Add the bulgur with a pinch of salt (easy to forget this bit!). Pour in the boiling water, cover tightly, switch off the heat, and leave for 15 minutes. Roughly chop the parsley leaves and the dill. Lift the lid from the pan, stir in the butter, herbs and a little salt and pepper. Stir till the grains are glossy with butter, and serve.

The ginger cake recipe is from the Observer, here. If you don't already own at least one Nigel Slater food book - they do tend to be large and pricey - you can find a good selection of his Guardian columns and recipes online here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Making it up

Reading my new Italian cookbook again (see previous post), I was struck with how useful these kinds of cookbooks are - the ones where you're given a range of methods, and then shown how to ring the changes so that you can create a huge variety of dishes from the same concept.
      As well as my new Italian, I have Richard Ehrlich's The Lazy Cook: Simple, Sophisticated Food and How to Make It, running through pan-grilling, flash-roasting, gratins, and more. I treasure it, partly because Harvey bought it, but mainly because it's so user-friendly.
      The other day I downloaded my first e-cookbook, Fast, Fresh and Green, by Susie Middleton. In a nutshell, it gives nine interesting ways to prepare vegetables - quick-roasting, quick-braising, hands-on sauteing, walk-away sauteing, two-stepping, no-cooking, stir-frying and grilling - with lots of appealing examples. I expect it will boost my vege consumption very nicely.
       So tonight I took a leaf out of all these books and concocted my own risotto. Earlier I had sorted out the vege bin and cooked up a broth made mainly of rather tired leeks and spring onions, a proper onion and woody bits of asparagus, with a few green peas thrown in. When I blitzed it, it became a delicious thin green stock. There were a few fresh sticks of asparagus left too, but they were too good to go into the common pot. I cooked them separately and kept them warm to have as part of my dinner. But if you had plenty of asparagus, you could make the stock entirely of that, plus an onion - then it becomes asparagus risotto instead.

Green risotto
I melted some butter, softened a chopped onion in it, and added half a cup of arborio rice, turning it well in the butter to coat the grains.
I added the end of a bottle of white wine - about 3/4 of a cup - and turned up the heat to make it bubble.
I stirred the rice slowly to absorb the liquid, and as it disappeared, I added the hot green vege stock a ladleful at a time.
It took about five ladlefuls to reach the right consistency - definitely cooked through, but not soft. (I don't think "al dente" gets it quite right for rice - it shouldn't take much pressure to bite a grain in half, and it definitely shouldn't be in the least gritty.)
To finish it and bump up the protein, I stirred in an egg and a few more little pieces of butter, turned off the gas, and left the pot on the warm hob while I fried some cut-up bacon rashers and grated some pecorino cheese.

So my dinner was an Italian variation on Dr Seuss's green eggs and ham - a nice little pile of creamy pale green risotto, with crispy bacon scattered around, flakes of pecorino on top and asparagus on the side. It took very little time, and as my son likes to say, it was "delishwahse".
       But - and this is a recurring problem for me, though usually with meat dishes - it didn't LOOK wonderful, and I knew it wouldn't make a good photo. So you'll just have to imagine eating it instead!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to be embarrassed

I've been visiting friends and gardens in Taranaki. This is one of the many enviable potager gardens I saw - it's in Maureen and Mervyn Saywell's Fringe Festival garden in Inglewood. They've managed to fit an extraordinary variety of different "rooms" into a medium-sized town section.

Yesterday morning I worked as a volunteer at the giant DCM Bookfair in Wellington's TSB Arena. This always used to be one of the red letter days on our calendar. I started volunteering last year, partly because DCM (Downtown Community Ministry) does such a great job, and partly because if I was helping, I'd have to spend less time hunting for books I really didn't need.
      But I did need to get some to take to my son in China, and of course I couldn't resist a few for myself as well - especially on food and cooking, always one of the most popular sections. And that led to one of my most embarrassing moments ever.

I'd been very restrained and confined myself to just two books. One was this quirky, enticing Italian number by Laura Santtini. I'll probably ignore the gold and silver flakes she likes to sprinkle on various dishes, but her "flavour bombs" sound sensational - variations on 10 basic preparations,
from pestos and salsas to wet rubs and pastes. Chili chocolate wine paste, anyone?
This book looked brand new, and had a little white sticker on it telling me it was double the usual price. Apart from the really valuable, special items, every book for adults is $2 unless it has a sticker on it. This one was $4 - a bargain!

It was my other food book that got me into trouble: Elizabeth David's Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. I'd pounced on it, because I knew that after Harvey had read David's biography, he'd spent hours trawling second-hand shops for this title, without success. It was a slim Penguin, and I put it happily aside with the seven other paperbacks I'd collected.
        At the end of my shift, I went to pay for everything. I was in a bit of a hurry by then, so I helpfully told the person dealing with me that I had exactly $20 worth - one at $4, and another eight at $2 each. She took them out of the bag, and then she looked at me. "This one", she said, holding up the David, "is $10." And she pointed to the sticker on the spine.

I was completely flustered. In my excitement at finding the book, I'd failed to notice the special price. (Once I got it home, I realised why - unlike the other stickered books I'd seen, it had no little white bits showing on the cover, and my hand must have covered the spine when I was looking at it.)  I did my stumbling best to assure her that I just hadn't seen it, but I don't think she believed me. "Do you still want it?" she said. I paused for a minute, but of course I did want it and it was all for a very good cause, so I paid the extra $8 and scuttled away, mortified.
          Fortunately we had a little food bloggers' get-together this afternoon, so I was able to show them the book, tell them the whole story, and then console myself with the delicious goodies they brought for afternoon tea, to go with my  taramasalata on crackers and cucumber sandwiches (as made at the Ritz)*: fingers of chocolate caramel crunch, and strawberry custard tarts with pistachio crumble on top. After all that, I felt much better.

*Ritz Hotel cucumber sandwiches: Peel the cucumber and slice it into very thin rounds, using a vege peeler. Sprinkle with vinegar and salt, leave for half an hour, drain and pat dry of any remaining juice, then layer the slices in thin brown buttered bread.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Christmas pudding time - soon

This is the third new post I've put up this weekend - but there won't be one this coming week, as I have visitors. Yesterday I set out to collect the ingredients for the Christmas pudding, meaning to mix it that afternoon and cook it today, but - no luck. These days the Shreddo suet doesn't appear on the supermarket shelves until a little before Christmas, and I was too early - they told me it would be arriving next week, and I won't have time to make it until the week after. (I guess I could go to the butcher, buy a lump of suet, and grate and flour it myself - but I won't.) They had no whole nutmegs, either. But I remembered that readers had asked for a Christmas Pudding Advisory when the time to make it came round again - so here it is. Here's the post with the recipe.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

For more on my food memoir - see the Listener

Thanks, Lucy, for your Meetup message to Wellington food bloggers about me being in the Listener. The lead feature is about e-book publishing and it starts with a look at my food memoir, which Awa Press is bringing out as its first original e-book next March.

The cute photo they used of me aged four was hand-coloured by my mother - she would have been thrilled to see it in a magazine.

A fine rump

When it came to steak, my father would eat nothng but rump. I didn't know any other kind existed until well after I got married.
           Musing over the meat counter last week, and feeling in need of something really red, I came across a neat little cylinder of rump, secured with butcher's netting, and thought it would be interesting to find out how to cook it. I started by chopping a hunk off one end and fan-grilling it for my dinner. It was good, not as tender as fillet of course, but with more flavour - and much cheaper. There was enough left from that piece to have it sliced the next night.
            Thinking the rest would do nicely for a baby roast to serve my neighbour, I went to the web to find out how to cook it. It always works best to look at New Zealand recipes first, especially for meat. This time I found a great site, My Butcher - they sell meat online and also post some good-looking recipes. The main thing about this recipe was that it was for a fairly small piece of meat. Mine was only about half the stated size, but I thought it would still work well - and it did.
             In the process I found out something interesting about butcher's netting. I always thought you were meant to take it off before you cooked the meat, but in this recipe you quite clearly leave it on. So I did what I was told, and it worked fine.

Herbed rump roast
  • Rump roast, approx. 1 - 1.5 kg 
  • Small bunch fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup light olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200°C. Put a few whole rosemary sprigs to the side and coarsely chop the remaining rosemary. Place the chopped rosemary, oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Massage this mixture over the beef. Thread the reserved whole sprigs of rosemary between butcher’s netting and the beef.

 Heat a fry pan over high temperature and place the rump in the pan to sear all sides to a golden brown.
Once it's browned nicely, place the beef on a rack in a roasting dish and place in the oven.

Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes for medium or until your preferred level of doneness is reached.
My roast was only about 750g, but that was fine - I just used a little bit less of everything to go on it, except for the garlic, and of course cooked it for less time, about 40 minutes on fan forced at 190C, to get it just on the rare side of medium.

Remove from the roasting dish, place on a plate and cover lightly with foil to rest for 10-15 minutes.  (I leave it for longer than this, up to 30 minutes. I reduced red wine in the roasting pan, scraping up the meat juices - only a little, because of the searing - and bits on the bottom to make a rich brown sauce - it sounds wrong to call it gravy, because that conjures up the much thicker kind my mother used to make.)

Before carving, remove the rosemary sprigs and netting from the roast. Using a sharp knife, slice across the grain.
Once the netting comes off the meat doesn't stay in a very neat roll when it's cut, so it was easier (and tasted better) to cut thicker slices than I would use for fillet. We had this with roast potatoes and kumara, and sliced leeks cooked with butter and lemon juice. We don't have roasts very often these days, so it was a treat for both of us. But I didn't even try to take a dinner plate photo - I didn't want it all to get cold, and by then I was too hungry. Harvey would definitely have approved. We both ate our fill, but there was enough left over for another dinner and a lunch for me - so that little roast provided more than five servings.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The remains of the day

A sudden rush of work (unpaid, but absorbing) has sliced into my shopping, cooking and eating time this week. I've been reduced to coming downstairs from the computer at least an hour later than usual, peering hopefully into the fridge and pantry, and seeing what I can concoct from the remains of the day, the day before, and several days before that.  The best thing I ate this week was made entirely from what Harvey and I used to call nourishing scraps - we once read an ironic account of a grande dame kindly going round the cottages on her estate with "a basket of nourishing scraps". It was a really good Caesar salad.
          For what was meant to be our last Christmas together, Harvey had bought me a book called What Caesar Did For My Salad, by Albert Jack. Of course I didn't get to unwrap it or read it until after he'd died. It's a lively account of how various foods and food terms came about. Of Caesar Salad, Jack writes:
              "The name, of course, conjures up a grumpy, toga-clad emperor tucking into a spot of lunch before perhaps throwing a  Christian or two to the lions, in the name of entertainment, to keep the people of Rome happy." (I once heard the classics professor at Victoria University explaining that keeping the people of Rome happy "was a vital  task for emperors, because for the first time in history, the empire was producing enough food to keep everyone in Rome fed - but it couldn't produce enough work to keep them occupied. So "bread and circuses" was a recipe for avoiding revolution.)
               In fact, Caesar salad "is less than a hundred years old and comes from the most unlikely of places, Mexico." It's named after Caesar Cardini, who came to America during Prohibition. He and his brother moved just across the border to Tijuana and set up a restaurant serving "strong alcohol and tasty Italian food". So many people came for the 4th of July that he ran out of food, and threw together a salad from "whatever he happened to have left in the kitchen". It wasn't so very far from what the Roman's actually ate. Our word "salad" comes from "salata  herba", salted herbs - "which shows that both Julius Caesar and Caesar Cardini had a similar taste in strongly flavoured dressings."
               After the Cardinis moved back to Hollywood, the salad became a favourite of the stars. And I'm happy to admit that I don't even try to make my own Caesar salad dressing - I use the one made by that stunningly handsome Holllywood star, Paul Newman, who managed to stay married to Joanne Woodward for a lifetime, and was always a strong supporter of liberal causes. Recently I read Harry Belafonte's autobiography, My Song (as an ebook, natch), and he says Newman was one of the most generous supporters of the civil rights movement. And all the profits from his excellent dressings go to charity. What's not to like?

My Caesar salad
The last leaves of Cos lettuce from the winter-planted box in the garden
The end of a cucumber, peeled and chunked (not trad, but I had it, so why not?)
The last of a smoked chicken breast, sliced not too thinly (I don't usually have chicken in my Caesar, but it was there, and it was good)
A few scraps of bacon from the one remaining rasher, fried and cut into pieces
The last four anchovies from an open tin in the fridge
Croutons made from a nicely dry stale wodge of white loaf, cut into neat cubes and fried in olive oil till golden brown and crunchy
An egg

Tear up the leaves and spread over a good-sized, shallow-sided dish.
Scatter over the chicken, cucumber, bacon, anchovy, and chicken.
Dress by tossing gently with Paul Newman's Caesar Salad dressing - not too much, it's strong.
Poach the egg (I do this in the microwave - break the egg into a large cup with a tablespoon of water in it, pierce the yolk with a knife (or else it will explode), cook for 30 seconds on medium high, leave for a bit (usually while I butter the toast), cook for another 20 or 30 seconds on medium high (depending on your microwave), and carefully remove the egg from the water. I have the perfect method - sliding it gently onto a round, pierced soup skimmer to drain).
Scatter the croutons over the salad. (Some people like to put them in earlier so they get some dressing on them, but I like to keep them crunchy.)
Place the poached egg on top. Add ground black pepper, break the yolk, stir it around a bit, and eat.
Fit for an empress.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy birthdays

Among the people I've been friends with since I first came to Wellington, thirty-five years ago, are two couples, and one partner in each has a birthday in September, close to Harvey's. For years we've all got together for a joint celebration. This year it was last Sunday, and it took the form of a long Italian lunch, minus the pasta (we can never quite fit in that extra course). My role was to provide the antipasti. Some of it, of course, simply involved nicely arranging the excellent Napoletana salami I bought at Gamboni's, with some slices of cucumber for greenery. The next easiest thing was some bright little Pepperdew peppers, stuffed with well-seasoned cream cheese. But this time, in honour of the day, I also made two proper antipasti. Both came from Antonio Carluccio's An Invitation to Italian Cooking (1991). I chose them for taste, colour and variety - and being easy to make on a Sunday morning.
            The yellow and red roast pepper salad is, says Carluccio, an example of the way in which the flavour of peppers "can change completely according to whether they are fried or roasted: the removal of the skin alters the taste totally...This is without a doubt one of my favourite recipes." Mine, too, though I've adapted it a little - Carluccio doesn't mention the indispensable plastic bag, for example. It's best to make this at least an hour in advance, preferably longer - "it improves with standing and is excellent eaten the next day".  The second thing I made was stuffed eggs with tuna - "a favourite recipe of my mother's".

Insalata di pepperoni arrostiti
Serves 6

2 red and 2 yellow peppers (choose ones with a good even, matching shape, suitable for cutting into long strips lengthwise)
3 Tbsp good olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly chopped parsley (I needed all mine for the eggs, so I left this out)
2 (fat) cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (though I crushed mine, to keep the strength down a bit)

Roast the peppers either by using a fork to turn them over a gas flame until the skin blisters and turns black, or by cutting them in half, removing all the seeds and white pith, and placing them skin side up under a hot grill. When they are done, put them into a plastic bag, close it and leave until cool. Then remove and peel off the skin - it should come off quite easily. If you have left the peppers whole, halve and remove the seeds and pith. Cut lengthwise into narrow strips and place in a dish with the garlic. Dress with oil, parsley and salt.  

Uova ripiene di tonno
Serves 6

6 fresh eggs (I used the big ones that come in boxes of 10)
150g plain canned tuna in oil (I put in a few anchovies too)
1-2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
2-3 Tbsp capers
2 Tbsp mayonnaise (either a good bought one or better, home-made, here)
freshly ground black pepper

Boil the eggs for about 15 minutes, then leave them to cool. Drain the tuna and chop it finely with the parsley and capers (but leave 12 capers whole for decoration). Mix with the mayonnaise. Shell the eggs and slice them lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks, leaving the whites as containers for the filling. Mash the yolks and mix them with the tuna mayonnaise, adding the ground black pepper. Stir well to make a thick paste. Shape into neat ovals and place back into the whites. Put a whole caper on top of each one.

So here's my antipasti platter. There were only five of us, but we ate most of it, with foccacia bread. And we drank a toast to Harvey in Ripasso. He would have enjoyed it all so much.

Then came chicken cacciatore with a salad which came mainly from the host's garden...

.. and finally a fantastic orange and chocolate cake.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A new take on tart

I didn't waste any time putting my pastry lessons into practice, because soon after, five Wellington food bloggers came to my place for a pot luck Sunday lunch.  Heather brought me this fragrant basket of herbs and lemons from her garden and her own grapefruit marmalade.

The day before, I girded my loins and set about making my own short pastry BY HAND, using Dean Brettschneider's recipe from his terrific new book, Pie (Penguin Books). I took the precaution of buying a commercial packet too, just in case it didn't work - but it did, so well I was incredibly pleased with myself. (One thing did go wrong, but I'll come to that.) And though it took time, it was not difficult.

Basic short pastry 
(pâte brisée)
(My comments are in italics.)

160g standard plan flour
120g butter
good pinch of salt
50ml cold water

Put an ice cube into 50ml of water in a small Pyrex jug, let it melt, then pour out the excess.
The butter should be chilled but not hard. Cut it up into little dice.
Place flour, butter and salt in a large mixing bowl. Using your fingertips, gently rub these ingredients together until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. Do not overmix, otherwise the butter will begin to melt from the heat of your fingers.

Add water and mix until a dough is formed.
(This is a bit unclear - I needed to add enough water so that the crumbs stuck lightly together, put it on the bench then gather it up lightly into a ball of dough.)
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for (at least) 30 minutes or overnight.
Gently rework pasty before using, taking care to ensure it remains cold and firm.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry into a sheet about 3mm thick, or as stated in your recipe.

When I rolled it out, the pastry was surprisingly resilient - it didn't crumble or tear easily as I thought short pastry would - so I was a bit worried. I had the oven on ready, so I baked a bit of trimming first as a trail, and was hugely reassured when it came out beautifully light and crisp.

I went ahead and blind baked an oblong tart case using a Swiss roll tin (see previous post for blind baking) and put it carefully away in an airtight box to be filled and baked again in the morning.
Everything worked, EXCEPT that my carefully pressed in sides, sticking up just a little as Sebastien showed us, shrank down. I worked out that I shouldn't have used the fan in the oven - straight "bake" would have been better. Fortunately I put in a shallow filling, so it didn't matter.

For the filling, I adapted the Harriet Harcourt recipe I've already written about here. She doesn't say to blind bake the case first, but I think it works well to do that if there's time. On top of the grainy mustard, instead of potatoes and brie, I spread bits of the roasted garlic I'd made the day before when I baked the case. (You trim the top off a head of garlic, drizzle a bit of olive oil over it, wrap it in foil and leave it in a 200C  oven for 45 minutes, then squeeze out the soft garlic inside - very satisfying.) Then I crumbled over bits of goat's cheese...

....and topped it all with the thyme and the  mixture of eggs and creme fraiche in the original recipe.

With a green salad and French bread, it went down very well. Then we moved on to Lucy's cheeses. with honey and hazelnuts ...

 ...and the four French desserts (sorry, I snapped only three of them - there were also chocolate eclairs!). Of course, we had to sample them all, but there were no complaints about this (as if). I laughed more than I have for ages, it was merveilleuse. Merci!