Archive for the ‘spring food’ Category

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Christmas material: a festive salad

December 9, 2013

photo 2[2](Take two! Sorry about the disappearance of first draft – I blame WordPress!)

A few weeks ago, when we had some pals round for dinner, I made a salad. I had planned an attempt at replication of one of the most perfect dishes I have ever eaten – a beautiful little salad I ordered as an entree in a Rome restaurant back in October (I could go on, and on, and on about that holiday but I won’t for fear of bursting into bitter tears of post-holiday-self-envy).

It was such a simple thing: a scattering of semi-roasted cherry tomatoes, a handful of tiny, sweet Ligurian olives, and a large, perfectly fresh zucchini flower – uncooked – filled with the most delicious ricotta I have ever tasted. It was one of those dishes that depends absolutely on the quality of each element, yet was so utterly simple, who wouldn’t want to try making it?

photo 5Well, things didn’t exactly to go plan for my dinner. For some reason the day came and rapidly went in a shambles of chaos and disorganization. I can’t recall what  put me in such a flap that day, but it was one of those afternoons of delays, interruptions, annoying shopping glitches – I couldn’t get enough zucchini flowers for the number of people, and the flowers were nowhere near the fresh, springy, silky quality of the one I ate in that dish. And nor could I find any really good ricotta in time. And I decided to add some asparagus to make up for lack of flowers, and my Ligurian olives were boring old kalamatas. By dinnertime, I had reverted to my usual cookery approach: 1. Get all the stuff. 2. Chuck it in a bowl. 3. Stick it on the table.

photo 3The one thing I did get right was the roasting of the tomatoes – little cherry lollybombs of sharp, salty sweetness with a concentrated delicious flavour. Easy to cook, but also easy to overdo at the last minute.

Still, despite being a completely different animal from the elegant entree of my memory, the salad was really quite nice. And one of the friends present liked it so much she told me later she’d decided to make it for her family’s Christmas lunch.

Well. I happened to run into her last week, and she told me she’d given it a trial run at home from her memory of the one we had, as you do. Her bloke and daughter ate the test dish, gave her a dubious glance and said, “Well, it’s not Christmas material.”

Not Christmas Material.

Them’s fightin words, pal.

When I repeated this outrage to Señor and said I’d be making it again and this time writing down what I did, he said: “Is that going to be the headline? Not Christmas Material My Arse?”

So here, in the spirit of reputation reclamation and hopefully the restitution of a Perfectly Good Salad to Miz G’s Christmas table, is a recipe.

The key thing, I reckon, is to use as high quality everything as you can, and  to make sure to roast the tomatoes very slowly. You can do the whole thing ahead of time and then just eat it at room temperature – or eat it warm just after cooking.

Ingredients

  • assorted cherry tomatoes
  • sea salt
  • spray olive oil
  • 2 or more bunches asparagus spears, cut into thirds or halves
  • best black olives you can find – the little sweet plump Ligurian ones are perfect
  • fresh zucchini flowers with tiny zucchini attached
  • best quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing
  • Best quality soft goat’s cheese or Persian feta

Method

photo 1[2]1. Halve the cherry tomatoes and arrange on baking paper, sprinkle with salt and spray with olive oil. Roast slowly for a couple of hours – I did these at 125 degrees C in a fan-assisted oven for two hours, then turned off the fan and turned down the oven to 100 degrees for another half hour.

2. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for maximum one minute, the refresh in cold water.

3. Halve the zucchini and flowers lengthwise. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick pan and then fry the zucchini on the flat side for a minute over moderate heat. Splash a little water into the pan, add the asparagus and cover for a minute, cooking till both zucchini & asparagus are tender.

photo 3[2]4. In a wide shallow bowl or platter, toss the vegetables, tomatoes and olives gently in a dressing of three parts oil to one part vinegar.

5. When it’s all mixed, dollop a few blobs of feta or goat’s cheese over the platter.

Who knows, with its red and green baubley goodness, this one might even make the grade as Christmas material for our table this year.

So what are your plans for Christmas cooking, hmm?

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Lazy Sunday: weekend cooking

November 28, 2011

Sunday is my favourite day for cooking, especially as the weather warms up. It helps that the Addison Road grower’s and farmer’s market happens on Sundays, and is within walking distance from our house. My favourite Sunday morning involves a couple of lazy coffees and checking out the recipes in the weekend papers for any inspiration, then tootling off up the road with my big ol green Rolser (we have had this old workhorse for over a decade, and it’s done service as an off-road camping equipment buggy and firewood collecting vehicle, among other things – it’s completely indestructible!) to fill up with market goodies. 

I especially like Sunday cooking if I’ve been away as I have been a bit lately – last week at the fab Varuna, The Writer’s House where I got to hang out with some excellent writers and artists (like this and this and this) and make a start on my new novel (ugh). Then tomorrow I’m off again, this time to Melbourne (would love any of you to pop in to this event and say hi if you’re free?) and then away again elsewhere on the weekend.

What with all the coming and going, a good solid Sunday’s worth of messing about in the kitchen not only means a fridge full of lunch goodies for the week, but more importantly it just makes me feel right. It’s the best way I know to get that home-and-grounded feeling that makes me feel I’m in my right skin again.

Yesterday’s market haul included a couple of kilos of organic tomatoes, some hot smoked salmon, a few eggplants, a little bag of dutch cream spuds, a bunch of beetroot, some zukes, a couple of gorgeous-looking red capsicums I couldn’t resist, a dozen eggs, couple of bunches of kale, onions, six mixed lettuce seedlings and some olive oil soap. At other times I might stock up on nuts and dried fruit, maybe throw in some good bread and a bit of cheese or yoghurt. I like Marrickville market because it’s relatively pretension-free, though it is growing a bit crowded for easy strolling these days …

Anyhoo – once home I bunged on the boil the chickpeas and white beans that I’d had soaking since Saturday, and thought about what to do with everythign. First stop was to chuck the eggplants on the barbecue for some good smoky baba ghanoush, swiftly followed in the food processor by the chickpeas for some hommous (I never made good hommous until I struck gold with the lovely Fouad’s foolproof recipe here, which I use every time).

Then I bunged the beetroots and capsicum in the oven for roasting. The roasted, peeled capsicum I tore into strips and tossed in with a salad of chickpeas, garlic, herbs, lemon & oil, and the beetroot I made into the salad below.

With the kale, I made half a fantastic dish – it was pretty good, but as I failed to include a couple of crucial ingredients I don’t want to post it here until I get it right! Ever have those moments where you’re halfway through a dish and thinking, ‘This would be great if there was just a little crunch … oh, that’s right. In the recipe there is a little crunch…’ So stay tuned for that one, which I’m going to try again tonight I think – with all the ingredients this time!

All this stuff made for a lovely impromptu Sunday night dinner with our friend miss J, my sister and her bloke whose birthday it was last week. Miss J made an incredible beetroot and chocolate cake – fudgy, velvety and gorgeous – in honour of the birthday boy, and I roasted a nice organic chook and served all these veg things on the side.

The hit of the evening was the beetroot, both in the cake and in this walnut, beetroot and feta salad. I have till recently been a bit confused about walnuts – for some reason they, alone among all the nuts, invariably give me a small, unpleasant and instantaneous pain in the upper stomach as soon as I eat them. Don’t really understand this and am loath to investigate too much in case I am banned from eating delicious things – so my preferred tactic has always been to grin and bear it.

Recently, though, someone on Twitter – I can’t remember who, so if it was you, remind me! – suggested caramelising walnuts in balsamic vinegar. This not only makes some deadset delicious crunchy bombs of divinity, but weirdly seems to have eradicated the gutbusting pain on ingestion. Everyone’s a winner!

Roast beetroot, balsamic walnuts & marinated feta

  • 3 beetroots, roasted in foil for about an hour or until tender
  • handful walnuts (on advice from Saint Maggie Beer I keep all nuts in the freezer now to prevent rancidity & pantry moth)
  • olive oil
  • about 2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
  • sea salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or two marinated feta (I usually have a jar of this stuff in the fridge but it would be a piece o’piss to make yr own – must investigate!)
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
  2. When beetroots are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut into quarters or biggish chunks.
  3. Lightly toast the walnuts in the oven until just crisp but not coloured. As mine came straight from the freezer they took about 10 minutes but be careful not to burn them – burnt nuts are hideous and inedible. If your walnuts are whole, break them up a little with a wooden spoon.
  4. In a small frying pan over a medium heat, toss the walnuts in a little olive oil and the vinegar, cooking till the liquid has evaporated. Set nuts aside to cool for a few minutes.
  5. Toss the beetroot with the warm nuts, and season well with salt.

So there you have it. But I want to use walnuts more in cooking – I do love their superb crunch and slight bitterness – so if you have any walnut favourites let me at em. And what about your weekend cooking – get up to anything interesting? Do share …….

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Quinoa Salad: Son of Citrus Couscous

October 30, 2009

quinoaQuinoa salad with bits and pieces …

Those of you who’ve enjoyed the citrus couscous recipe I posted a while ago might be keen to try a new salad that I am totally loving at the moment. It’s a very slight bastardisation of a fabulous quinoa salad from Ottolenghi, the Israeli & Palestinian chef duo from London whose book and newspaper column combined are the most interesting source of vegetarian food I’ve ever found.

The original recipe, for Quinoa and Camargue red rice is here, and our adapted version below. My friend Caro first made this for me, using those craisins (dried cranberries) that are easily available in the supermarket, and I liked the slight sourness and the lovely ruby red colour so much I have done it with both craisins and the barberries I got ages ago on the Empress’s and my Persian excursion.

Unlike craisins, however, I’ve found quinoa itself rather difficult to get hold of. I’m told it often resides in health food / organic shops, and I found mine at the Norton St Grocer, but I hope it becomes more freely available because it is my new favourite grain in the world.

It’s pronounced ‘kin-wah’  and as far as I can tell you use it like couscous, but it’s much easier to manage as it doesn’t stick together as couscous can, and it has a delightfully bouncy texture and nutty flavour.

I’ve learned that quinoa is an ancient ‘grain’ (but not really, as it’s not a grass but is more closely related to spinach – we eat the seeds) originating in the Andes, and best of all, it’s gluten-free so people with Coeliac disease and so on can enjoy with impunity. Excellent!

Anyhoo. Enough lessons. On with the deliciousness.

  • 200g quinoa
  • 50g wild rice
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, plus a little extra for frying
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • handful of barberries / dried cranberries / currants or a mixture of any dried fruit you like
  • 30g pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
  • handful rocket / baby spinach leaves
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Bring to the boil two saucepans filled with salted water, and simmer the quinoa and rice separately: the first for 13 minutes, the second for up to 40, depending on how nutty and firm you like the texture.
  2. Drain both and spread out flat to cool more quickly.
  3. While the grains are cooking, fry the onion in a little olive oil until golden brown. Allow to cool.
  4. Soak the dried fruit in orange juice and zest in a bowl with all other ingredients except nuts and spinach/rocket.
  5. In an oven preheated to 170 degrees C, dry-roast the pistachios for up to six minutes or just until the colour changes. Check halfway through, because they can burn in an instant and the flavour is vile if they are even slightly overdone and you’ll have to chuck them out.
  6. Mix the cooked grains with all other ingredients and season generously, adding a little swizzle of oil if it’s too dry. Serve at room temperature.

 

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Podcast news: broad beans

September 24, 2009

broadbeanspodSaw my first fresh broad beans of the season the other day and couldn’t resist slinging a clutch into the shopping bag. Plan to have them with a little pasta for lunch today, perhaps.

I am only just learning how to eat these shiny little gemstones, but I love them. Karen Martini has an excellent recipe for linguine with tomato, prawns, peas and basil in Where the Heart Is, and I have used broad beans in addition to or in place of the peas (the secret is slightly mashing  everything, so the flavours meld rather than having the effect of separate ingredients rolling off the pasta the way lots of prawn/pasta things do).

And my buddy the Lunging Latino  introduced me to the deliciousness of very young broad beans fresh from the pod, simply dipped in very good olive oil and salt and eaten as a pre-dinner snack. (Correct, LL? Do pop in and clarify with any tips …)

But on the whole, I go in for the double-peeling. Time-consuming, but totally worth it. Just remember to buy an armful of pods, as the yield is pretty tiny. Pod the beans, blanch them in boiling salted water for a few minutes, drain and refresh in cold water, and then slip off the tough greyish skins to reveal these glossy, bright green sweeties.

broadbeansdoublepeeledAn old Steve Manfredi article here sings the praises of this buttery favourite – and he doesn’t even blanch them, but double peels when uncooked. Sounds tricky to me but I may give it a shot. He has a simple but lovely-looking recipe too for BBs with orecchiette, butter & Parmesan. Can’t go wrong.

Any other broad bean fans out there? What do you do with them? Do tell…