Wednesday 30 January 2013

Schiacciata with Grapes

From My Italian Heart: Recipes from an Italian kitchen, Guy Grossi, Lantern, 2005.

To make this recipe you need to begin with a pizza dough. The one in this book is a very simple one to make. Into the KitchenAid went 10g of dried yeast. I then added a cup of just warm water, a pinch of salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil. The mixer, fitted with a dough hook, was started on the lowest speed. When the yeast was dissolved it was time to add the flour.

I used a good 00 flour, two cups’ worth. It seemed an easy recipe to remember: one cup of water to two cups of flour. This was now churned for about a quarter of an hour until the dough was well formed. I placed a tea towel over the bowl and left it to rise for an hour.

It rose really well. I took out a 30cm pizza tray, oiled it and pressed the dough in until it covered the base. Black grapes were now pressed into the surface, it was given a sprinkling of salt and olive oil was dribbled over. It now went into a 180ºC oven for 20 minutes when it seemed to be done.

I really enjoyed this. It was like eating a fresh focaccia bread laced with the occasional pop of sweet grape. Had more than one slice.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

It’s now several months since I attended a cooking class in Rome. I had tried out some of the items learned but still had not made gnocchi. Now seemed a good time.

I boiled some potatoes and, when they had cooked, peeled and mashed them. They were then weighed and I added plain flour in a quantity that was ¼ of the potato weight. Some salt and pepper were added and the mixture was beaten until a soft dough formed. I avoided over beating it.

The mixture was taken in small portions, rolled out on a floured surface until it formed a sausage shape. At lessons we were taught to cut it into pieces but I just broke off the pieces and rolled them in my hands to make small balls. I used a fork to rub across and make the distinctive marks of gnocchi. Unfortunately I had forgotten that we had in a cupboard the special board that gnocchi are rubbed along to form the marks. The fork did work well though.

I put the gnocchi aside and got the sauce going. I was not overly keen on the sauce learned in the cooking class so made up my own. I chopped half an onion and sautéed it in a small saucepan until it was soft. I then poured in a can of tomatoes. I did not break then up at this stage but left them as they were and simmered the lot for about an hour. At this stage I added some chopped basil leaves and a few sliced olives. The sauce was now broken up with a fork so that it still had a lumpiness to it. It was tested and a little salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar was added. It was ready.

A large pot of salted water was brought to the boil and the gnocchi added. When they rose to the surface they were given about a minute more and they were ready. They went into serving plates, the sauce was poured on and some grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on the top.

They turned out to be wonderfully light. They were so easy to make that I don’t think I would ever buy the commercial ones again which tend to be a bit on the chewy side.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Frittata Fantasia

From Elisa Celli’s Italian Light Cooking, Elisa Celli, Prentice Hall Press, 1987.

I always enjoy a good frittata and thought I might try this rather simple one from Elisa Celli. However, added to the basic herb frittata were to be two sauces, I guess to make it ‘fantasia’. Before I begin I should add that I didn’t make two sauces; I settled for one.

I first made the Red Pepper and Tomato Sauce. I cut up half a red capsicum and fried it to soften it. I took it from the pan and added a chopped onion, a chopped garlic clove and 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped. I cooked these until they had softened then returned the capsicum to the pan with a small sprinkle of Italian herb seasoning. A little more cooking and it seemed done to me. I added in a tablespoon of chopped parsley. The mixture then went into the blender to make a rough puree. When I tasted it, it needed a little more seasoning to bring it up some. I added salt and black pepper to taste but it still needed something else so I gave it a dash of red wine vinegar and I think it was ready.

In a bowl I beat 4 eggs with a good handful of chopped parsley, a smaller amount of chopped basil leaves, a pinch of Italian herb seasoning, a pinch of cayenne, and ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese. I chopped an onion and added it to a frying pan to sauté in a little butter. When it had softened I poured in the egg mixture. After a minute or two for the base to cook a little I took it off the stove and placed it under the grill. In a minute or two it had puffed up and browned. It was ready.

While it was served with the sauce I didn’t feel that the sauce added to the frittata. Perhaps I needed both sauces, so that it would have a pesto sauce and a tomato sauce. I enjoyed the frittata and it went well with the dish of peas as an accompanying vegetable.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Sauté of Spring Peas in Lemon Butter

From The Urban Cook, Mark Jensen, Murdoch Books, 2011.

I was going to cook a frittata and wanted an accompanying vegetable dish so chose this one.

Into a pot of a small amount of boiling salted water I tossed a few sugar snap peas (topped and tailed), an equal amount of snow peas (also topped and tailed) and about the same amount of frozen peas (defrosted). I gave them two minutes and then drained them in a colander, refreshing them with cold water until their heat had diminished. They were then left to drain.

In a frying pan I heated up a quantity of butter and then put in a crushed garlic clove. As soon as it started to bubble a little I added the peas and tossed them around to warm through. I then squeezed a lemon over the vegetables, sprinkled over some salt and pepper and then poured them into a serving dish.

To the peas I added chopped parsley, a little chopped oregano, some lemon zest and a chopped red chilli. Some dried ricotta was now crumbled over and it was ready to eat.

There was a wonderful freshness about this vegetable dish. The peas were sweet and still had a little crunch to them. The lemon juice added a sharp tang and the chilli pieces occasionally hit the tongue with a little heat.

This is my first success from this book which I must confess I generally avoid because of its look and the difficulty of reading the recipes overprinted across dark backgrounds.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Celeriac and Blue Cheese Soup

From 101 Veggie Dishes, BBC Worldwide, 2003.

This was a particularly easy soup to make. Into a large pot I placed a knob of butter and when it was melted I added a cut up onion, celeriac and potato. There was no need to worry about chopping them small—just rough pieces was fine. They were sautéed for a few minutes and then 500ml stock was added. I used a stock cube and plain water.

After about 15 minutes, when the vegetables were cooked, the mixture was pureed with a stick blender. It was very thick so I added more water. The recipe called for cream to be added to about half the quantity of the stock. For me, I just added about ¼ cup. Already I felt the mixture was thick and creamy enough. The soup was now put aside until serving time.

The soup was now gently reheated, but not to boiling point. A 250g block of blue veined cheese was cut into pieces and most of them added to the soup that was stirred until they had dissolved. When the soup was dished up a few of the remaining pieces of cheese were added to the bowl.

An enjoyable soup. It was rich and creamy with a gentle celery flavour under the tang of the blue vein cheese. The recipe was from a small-sized book that came from Good Food magazine. Each double page spread has a new recipe on one side with a full-page photograph opposite that certainly entices you to try and make the dish. There’s a wide variety in the 200+ pages.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Monday 21 January 2013

Cooked Salad

From Moroccan, Lorenz Books, 1999.

I took out the large frying pan and placed it on the stove with 4 tablespoons of water in it. I then cut up the following salad vegetables and placed them into the pan: 2 tomatoes cut into quarters, 2 onions chopped, a Lebanese cucumber deseeded and cut into slices,  and a green capsicum cut into small pieces. The heat was turned on and once the water had reached boiling point it was turned down to simmer for 3 minutes. A lid was placed on the pan and the heat was turned off.

When the vegetables were cooled the liquid was drained off and the mixture was placed in a serving bowl. A dressing of a tablespoon of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil and one crushed garlic clove was made and poured over the salad. Salt and pepper were sprinkled on and salad was gently tossed.

It was served at room temperature. I did enjoy this salad. There was still quite a lot of crunch from the cucumber and capsicum but the flavours seemed to be a little enhanced by the little bit of cooking and because they had been standing for about an hour the juices had blended. A pleasant salad that is worth repeating. There is some left so my guess is that it may be even better the next day.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔✔

Moroccan Bread

From Moroccan, Lorenz Books, 1999.

I needed bread to go with my soup so set to work to make this Moroccan bread.

In a cup I mixed a little water with some milk to about 1/3 cup with a large pinch of sugar. I warmed this a little and added about a teaspoon of fresh yeast. I left this for 10 minutes.

I took 225g of strong bread flour. The recipe called for a mix of white and wholemeal. I used plain white but added a good handful of wheat bran. This went into a bowl with a teaspoon of salt. The yeast mixture was added to this and stirred in with about 1/2 cup of a warmed milk/water mix.

This made a soft dough which I dropped onto the floured bench. I kneaded this for about 10 minutes when it began to form into a firmer, elastic dough. I floured a baking tray and placed the dough ball onto it, pressing it down a little to flatten it somewhat. This was covered with plastic wrap which I oiled to prevent it sticking and then left it for a good hour and a half until it had risen.

It was sprinkled with sesame seeds and placed into a 200ºC oven for 10 minutes. The oven was then turned down to 150ºC and the bread cooked for another half hour.

This made a loaf sufficient for two to have with a bowl of soup. It was a well flavoured yeasty bread.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Saturday 19 January 2013

Chickpea and Parsley Soup

From Moroccan, Lorenz Books, 1999.

This slim book, 64 pages in all, was a gift a few years back and has always been a favourite though neglected a little lately. However, this night I decided I would cook a Moroccan meal: soup, bread and salad. The weather was hot and I was in the mood for something tasty but reasonably light.

I put about 120g of chickpeas in a bowl and poured boiling water over them. They then went into the microwave for 5 minutes, after which they were left to soak for about an hour. They were then placed in a saucepan and simmered for about another hour at which time they had softened. They were drained and left to cool a little. The skins were now slipped off.

I’m used to taking the skin off broad beans—a rather relaxing task if you’re not in a hurry—but skinning chickpeas was something new. It’s also somewhat pleasing, giving them a little squeeze and popping the inside out of its covering. But there was a lot of chickpeas to do.

Now an onion was chopped and a bunch of parsley. These went into a blender and were processed until quite fine. They went into a saucepan with some oil and were sautéed for a couple of minutes to soften the onion. The chickpeas followed into the pan for one or two more minutes.

Now a litre of water went in and it was all brought to the boil. A vegetarian chicken stock cube was added and the soup was taken back to a simmer and left for about 20 minutes. Salt and pepper were added and a stick blender was used to part puree the soup: I prefer to have some texture.

The juice of half a lemon was added together with a little lemon zest when it was being served.

This was a very tasty soup—and quite moreish. It’s one that I would readily make again, though possibly I might forget about skinning the chickpeas. It is easy enough to do but, for me, not really completely necessary.

Taste: ✔✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Thursday 17 January 2013

Rice Noodles with Ginger and Sweet Chilli Vegetables

From Commonsense Vegetarian, Murdoch Books, 2011.

Still working at mastering Asian flavours, I chose this to make.

An onion was cut into thin slices and cooked with a little finely sliced ginger in a mixture of cooking oil and sesame oil. When they had softened, in went a sliced red capsicum, some halved baby sweet corn, sliced shiitake mushrooms, a handful of snow peas and sliced Chinese broccoli. This was stir-fried until it had softened and become shiny.

I then added thick rice noodles carefully separated in some warm water. My separation wasn’t too well done and much of it was broken up. Nevertheless it was carefully stirred into the vegetables. I also added a handful of Thai basil leaves.

A sauce was then added. This was made with a mixture of sweet chilli sauce, light and dark soy sauce and a tablespoon of lime juice. It was all mixed together and the dish was ready.

I didn’t really enjoy this. It was a good enough vegetable mix and the sauce reasonably tasty but I didn’t feel that it was quite right. The instructions called for a moderately hot pan to cook with. I have been told that perhaps I should have used the top heat to cook it all much quicker to gain a better result.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Wednesday 16 January 2013

No-Rice Nori Sushi

From Vegetarian Supercook, Rose Elliot, Hamlyn, 2006.

I was not too sure about making sushi without rice. It seemed to me that they couldn’t be sushi without the rice but I thought at least I could give it a go.

I grated 200g daikon and squeezed it as dry as I could get it. I then mixed in one teaspoon rice vinegar and a pinch of sugar. It was then seasoned with salt and black pepper.

I laid out a sheet of nori seaweed and spread the daikon over it leaving about a centimetre at the far end. On the closest end I laid out strips of roast red capsicum, cucumber and avocado. I then tried to roll it up and failed as the nori collapsed. I laid out another sheet and placed the clumsy first roll onto this and rolled it up. This was better. I wrapped it in cling film and placed it in the refrigerator until I needed it.

At serving time it was cut into four pieces and served with some wasabi paste, some soya sauce and a little pickled ginger.

I prefer rice sushi.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Watermelon and Bread Salad

From Hungry, Guy Mirabella, Plum, 2011.

With summer in full swing and watermelons in all the shops it seemed time to try another watermelon salad.

Two thick slices of bread had their crusts removed and were torn into bite-sized pieces. They were sprinkled with olive oil and a lot of freshly ground black pepper before being placed in a hot oven for a few minutes until they had turned golden and become crisp. They tasted wonderfully crunchy and peppery at this stage.

Watermelon was now cut into pieces. A layer of it was placed on a platter. It was sprinkled with lime juice and covered with a layer of bread. Another layer of watermelon went on, then more lime juice and then more bread. Onto this lot went some chopped walnuts freshly roasted, some baby salad leaves, a few olives (Kalamata in this case rather than Ligurian as suggested) and a few chopped mint leaves. Pomegranate seeds, as listed in the recipe, were left out.

I like a good watermelon salad but I found this one—even without the pomegranate seeds—was a bit too overloaded with ingredients and, while a pleasant one, was not the best I have eaten. For me, the best part was the peppery bread bits. The watermelon seemed to become a little lost and its sweet flavour didn’t come through as well as it should.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Saturday 12 January 2013

Potato Salad with vinaigrette

From Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, Jane Grigson, Penguin Books, 1988.

I wanted a salad but all I had in the house were potatoes and a few asparagus stalks. So I turned to Jane Grigson.

I put 2 large potatoes into a saucepan with some salted water and cooked them until they were tender but not too soft. They were then peeled while hot and cut into dice. These were placed in 75ml white wine.

I would not cook potatoes for a salad in this way again. When you cook them whole it is difficult to maintain an even cooking throughout and the centre can turn out slightly underdone while the skin side too soft. In future I would use the way I generally do it, and that is to dice the potatoes first them cook them for a few minutes while watching them to see they are just done right. This way they are more evenly cooked and it is easier to manage the final result.

The asparagus was cut into bite-sized pieces and cooked in the potato water.

When the potatoes had cooled somewhat the remaining wine was drained off and a commercial French vinaigrette dressing was added to the potatoes. The asparagus went in together with a little chopped Spanish onion and chopped parsley. It went into the refrigerator until cold.

I must say this potato salad was disappointing. It should have worked, but it didn’t and I’m not sure why. The asparagus was not from Grigson’s recipe but I felt I could use it up. I don’t think this detracted from the overall result. Oddly, the wine flavour did not really come through; I think the vinaigrette disguised it somewhat.

Taste: ✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔✔

Thursday 10 January 2013

Tagine of Lima Beans, Cherry Tomatoes and Black Olives

From Tagines & Couscous, Ghillie Başan, Ryland Peters and Small, 2010.

I always enjoy a good tagine and was in the mood to try another. This one was for butter beans, which I didn’t have, but there were lima beans in the pantry. So I soaked about 150g overnight. The next day they were drained, washed under running cold water and placed in a saucepan to cook for about an hour.

The main tagine then began. Four garlic cloves were peeled and crushed. Two red onions were cut in half and then into slices. A red chilli was sliced finely. These all went into the tagine with some olive oil and a knob of butter. They were cooked gently until softened.

Next into the pan went a teaspoon of coriander seeds given a little pound in the mortar and pestle, a small teaspoon of fresh ginger grated (the recipe called for heaps more than this: 25g, far too much in my reckoning), and a pinch of saffron. The lid went on the tagine and they were cooked for about 5 minutes.

Tomatoes were next. A punnet of cherry tomatoes went straight into the pan with a teaspoon of sugar and a little dried thyme. I was wary of the thyme and only added a little though 1–2 teaspoons was called for. This mixture was cooked until the tomatoes began to crinkle up.

Now the lima beans were added with some olives and the juice of a lemon. Seasonings were sprinkled in and it was all stirred and the lid went on for a few minutes to let it all heat through. Parsley was added when it was served.

I was a little disappointed with this tagine. Usually they are rich in flavours but there was something not quite right with the spice mix. I don’t think the ginger and the thyme went well together. Ginger, thyme and coriander is a blend I think I’ll avoid in future.

Taste: ✔✔✔
Ease of cooking: ✔✔✔