Tag Archives: parmesan

O’Gourmet Truffled Macaroni and Cheese

6 Dec

I love macaroni and cheese, the beautiful pasta, coated with a creamy blanket of cheesy indulgence. The crispy top, making way for a melting interior. Whats not to love? Well, some varieties of mac and cheese are plainly unappetising, made from over processed, pasturised ingredients that have all the life and soul taken out of them (once youve seen that orange glow, you will never forget it!). I wanted to make a different kind of macaroni and cheese – a sensuous, indulgent meal, ripe with scent, taste, texture and balance. This macaroni and cheese is slightly wicked, a tad naughty, and very memorable. It can be served at a celebration – birthday, New Years, holidays of every kind – or just because you want to say I love you. Honestly, they will get the message!

A dish like this needs to be in part based on thought and consideration, and in part on pure inspiration. So I wandered the O’Gourmet Food Hall to see what might present itself. First under consideration was the pasta. I decided on La Collina Toscana pasta, made in Italy, and rather than macaroni, a conchiglie shape – like a small conch or sea shell. Gorgeous, naturally dried, hand crafted pasta, with a shape that has the same benefits of macaroni (the curved tubular shape catches and holds sauce well), and yet has a more elegant look to it. But of course, I dont want to be proscriptive, so use whichever pasta strikes your fancy!

I feel that macaroni and cheese can sometimes be a tad overwhelmingly rich, and I noted some gorgeously fresh organic baby spinach, so I decided to include a surprise nestled in the depths of the pasta – bright clean spinach, sauteed with white onion, and candied, caramelised garlic. I wanted to make the garlic a little differently from the original Ottolenghi recipe I used, and so decided that instead of water, I would use wine! But then, I saw Fre wines – alcohol-removed wine. Yes, honestly!

I read the taste tests, and while there is definitely something missing (the alcohol!), there is a unanimous agreement that the taste is still there… somewhat! I thought that it might be very interesting to try cooking with this non-alcoholic wine. Would you get the same taste, roundness of flavour, haunting notes of fruit and honey and sunshine, as with regular wine? I decided I would use the Fre premium white wine in the sauce, and the Fre premium red wine in creating the caramelised garlic (in place of water in the original recipe). I found that there was certainly a hint of winey flavour to the sauce and garlic, but that depth of flavour, the resonance of the wine, the layers of scent and taste, were not as fully realised. I think the next time I make this pasta, I will use regular wine, but when I am cooking for those who have issues with alcohol in their food, I would most certainly go back to the Fre. And again, if you prefer cooking with wine, please, go ahead and give in to the urge 😉

And finally, truffles. I felt that truffles added to the cheese sauce would elevate this dish into a celebratory, special meal. I looked around, and decided to layer the different truffle tastes – starting with the amazingly hedonistic truffle oil from Vom Fass, which I used to permeate everything from the spinach to the garlic to the cheese sauce. I seasoned everything with truffle sea salt, and finally, I found Himalayan truffles (tuber indicum), an inexpensive (relatively) jar of black truffles from the Himalayas. I loved these truffles. They were easy to work with, and imbued the pasta with their own truffled scent – not quite as all inclusive as European truffles, which seem to have the reach and depth of durian, but with their own nutty, dark, rich flavour.

And when I spoke to M. Sebastien in the cheese room, he suggested that I use a Brillat-Savarin (a triple cream, soft, brie-like cheese) which had been layered, and thus completely permeated, with truffles. I used organic white cheddar and a beautiful aged crumbly parmesan as well, but I promise you, when I sliced open that Brillat-Savarin, and saw the thick soft melting consistency, and smelled that unique combination of cheese and truffle… well, I wanted to rub it all over me! Incredibly luxurious and such a beautiful addition to the pasta.

This dish looks like a lot of work, and it certainly will take a couple of hours of cooking. But a lot can be done ahead of time – the garlic can be candied and caramelised in about half an hour or so, and can be stored in the fridge for about 2 weeks. The spinach can be sauteed and kept, covered, in the fridge for 3 days. Even the cheese sauce can be made the day before (though I would whisk in the egg at the last minute), and combined with the pasta just before baking. I served the dish with a simple salad of bitter arugula (rocket) and ribboned organic carrots, with a dressing of balsamic, truffle oil and soy sauce. It was a bright counterpoint to the luxury of the main course.

This truffled macaroni and cheese is worth the work and the care, the loving sourcing of beautiful ingredients. The result is a gift to the people you love, and to yourself.

Serves 6 – 8 people

Candied Caramelised Garlic (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

  • 2 cups Fre premium red wine (or a good red wine)
  • 1 1/2 cups garlic cloves (about 2 heads – 30 cloves or so)
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp best quality balsamic vinegar (I used a 25 year old balsamic from Vom Fass – it was astonishing!)
  • 1 tsp herbes de Provence or mixed Italian/French herbs
  • 1/2 tsp truffle salt (if you have it – otherwise a good sea salt is fine)

Combine the red wine and garlic cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium low heat, and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Drain the red wine from the garlic cloves, reserving the red wine for later. Clean the saucepan well and dry it, and place the garlic cloves and the truffle oil into the saucepan together.

Saute the garlic in the oil for about 5 minutes or so, on medium high heat, or until the garlic has softened, released its intrinsic garlic scent, and become lightly browned.

Measure out about 1 1/2 cups of the red wine, and combine with the sugar, balsamic, herbs and salt. Pour over the garlic in the saucepan. Be careful, because it will splatter a bit.

Simmer on medium high heat for about 15 – 20 minutes, or until the liquid has almost completely reduced, and the garlic is dark red, sticky, candied and caramelised. Take off the heat, and pour over the remaining 1 tsp of truffle oil.

This candied garlic will keep in the fridge, covered for at least 2 weeks, but you will probably eat it before then! It can be an astonishing addition to salads, soups, risottos, pastas, sandwiches – just about anything you can imagine!

Sauteed Spinach

  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped white onion (1 small onion or 1/2 large)
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 cups organic baby spinach, washed and roughly chopped

In a medium sized pan, over medium heat, combine the 2 tbsp of truffle oil and the white onion. Saute for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the onion goes glossy, soft and shiny. You dont want it to burn, but you do want it to reach that moment just before it caramelises!

Season with truffle salt and pepper, and add the baby spinach. Raise the heat a little, and saute quickly. The spinach will turn bright green, and will release some of its liquid. This is perfect. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasonings, and pour over the final teaspoon of truffle oil.

You can reserve this spinach for up to 3 days, covered in the fridge. It also makes a sublime side dish!

Truffled Three Cheese Sauce

  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Truffles – as much as you want or can afford! I used a 100 g jar of Himalayan truffles plus 2 tbsp of truffle oil plus 1/2 tsp of truffle salt
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp truffle oil
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 + 1 cup Fre premium white wine (or regular white wine – or even sparkling wine!)
  • 1/2 tsp (or less – to your taste) English mustard powder or Dijon mustard
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) grated white organic cheddar
  • 200 g (about 7 oz) truffled Brillat Savarin
  • 1/2 cup grated best quality parmesan
  • Truffle salt and pepper to taste

In a medium large saucepan, combine the cream and milk. Grate over the truffles (I used a Microplane zester to shave the truffles very small and fine), and add the truffle oil and truffle salt, if using. Over low heat, warm the cream/milk/truffle mixture until it is just steaming – about 75C or 165F. Stir often. Once the mixture reaches the steaming stage, remove from heat, and let steep for at least an hour. This infusion step is important! It makes sure that the taste of the truffles is all over that sauce.

In a medium large saucepan, melt the butter and truffle oil over medium low heat. Once the butter has melted completely, add the flour, and stir well. This roux will form the basis of your sauce, so make sure that you take your time and cook it well. You want it the colour of light teak – keep your nerve. Dont burn it, but dont let it stay too pale either. I would cook for at least 5 minutes, up to 10, depending on the heat source.

Once the roux has cooked to your liking, lower the heat a bit, and add 1 cup of the white wine, whisking constantly. The mixture will immediately seize up and become very thick. Whisk in all of the steeped milk/cream/truffle mixture, and continue to whisk well. Taste. Add the remaining 1 cup of white wine, tasting every 1/4th cup or so. You dont need to add it all if the mixture becomes too heavily winey.

Sprinkle over the mustard powder or the Dijon mustard, and whisk well to combine.

Bring the heat up to medium low, and sprinkle over the cheddar. Continue whisking the sauce as you incorporate the cheddar into the mix. Taste and adjust seasonings again.

Slice the bottom rind off the Brillat Savarin, and using a teaspoon, scoop it out of its rind. Add to the sauce, and whisk well to combine.

Sprinkle over the parmesan, and whisk well, until the cheese is melted and well mixed.

Remove the sauce from the heat and allow to cool to tepid bathwater heat. Whisk in the egg yolks to enrich the sauce, and adjust for seasoning.

The cheese sauce can be made up to a day of time, before adding the egg yolks. Keep tightly covered in the fridge, and bring to room temperature before whisking in the egg yolks and assembling the main dish.

This sauce would be wonderful served as is, not baked, with angel hair pasta or linguine!

Truffled Macaroni and Cheese – Assembly

You can serve this in individual small ceramic baking pots, bake it in loaf tins (it will fill three tins), or a large enameled baking dish. Your choice – I think it depends on how and who you are going to serve! Individual pots are a very elegant presentation, but loaf tins or a large baking dish bring a casual luxury to the meal.

  • 500 g macaroni, elbow, conchiglie, or other tubular pasta
  • Truffled Three Cheese Sauce
  • Caramelised Garlic
  • Sauteed Spinach
  • Handful of Italian parsley, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • A few teaspoons of truffle oil to finish

Preheat the oven to 160C (325F), and have your baking pans ready.

Prepare macaroni or other tubular pasta according to the packet directions, in a large saucepan or pot, over high heat, in heavily salted boiling water, but taste a few minutes shy of the time indicated on the packaging. I cooked conchiglie pasta, and the packet said 15 minutes. I cooked it for 11 minutes, to just before al dente.

Drain the pasta, and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour over about three quarters of the cheese sauce and stir well to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Place about half of the pasta in your baking pots/tin/dish. Press down to ensure that the pasta is snug. Ladle about half of the remaining sauce over the pasta. Using your hands, squeeze out the liquid from the reserved spinach, and place it in an even layer over the pasta, leaving about 1/2 inch rim free around the edge of the dish. Stud the spinach with the caramelised garlic – as much or as little as you wish, though i went easy on it. I wanted a spark of intense flavour, but I did not want to overwhelm the delicacy of the pasta. Add the rest of the pasta to the dish, and ladle over the remaining sauce.

In a small bowl, mix together the Italian parsley, breadcrumbs and parmesan, and sprinkle evenly over the pasta.

Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pasta is bubbling and hot, and a crisp, golden crust has formed.

Just before serving, sprinkle lightly with the truffle oil to really bring out the scent.

Enjoy the love.

Spinach Croquettes with Tomato Garlic Mushroom Sauce

18 Sep

With Tomato Garlic Mushroom SauceThe Tiny Queen Z (M’s baby) was having a tough day today. She is teething AND has a cold! Poor thing! But it also meant that my sister was completely exhausted, having been up every hour on the hour with the baby last night, and having to be with her all day today. I wanted to make dinner that would really feel like an indulgence, but be easy to eat, quick and extremely tasty. First I thought of a simple tomato and garlic pasta, but pasta can sometimes be too heavy. We have huge amounts of spinach in the fridge (and its so good for energy and strength) – so I thought spinach croquettes!

These arent the “traditional” croquette, made with mashed potato and rolled in breadcrumbs. To be honest, thats quite an involved recipe, and I wanted to get dinner on the table in under an hour. This actually took about 30 minutes all told, and it was really good. Simple, bold flavours, hot and comforting, the indulgence of fried foods, and yet the healthiness of spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes – simply cooked, without too much fuss.

This is easily convertible to a vegan dish. In the croquettes, substitute almond meal or ground almonds for the parmesan (they give the same wonderfully nutty hit) and a few tablespoons of soy milk to bring it all together instead of the eggs. In the sauce, you could either leave the vegetables clean, or you could substitute wine or soy or coconut milk for the sour cream. Any which way, this is a wonderful meal — it makes people feel comforted and happy. We needed that today!

Serves 4 people. Makes approximately 10 croquettes / patties.

Spinach Croquettes

  • 2 tbsp olive oil (plus a drizzle of truffle oil or roasted sesame oil if you have it for depth of flavour – but not neccessary) plus more for the frying
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar or red wine or vegetable stock
  • 4 – 6 cups raw baby spinach, rinsed, and then chopped fine
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I used Panko crumbs, but you can really use anything – whole wheat would be lovely, as would sour dough)
  • 2 eggs (vegan substitution: 2 – 4 tbsp soy milk or coconut milk)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan (vegan substitution: ground almonds)

In a medium saucepan, over medium high heat, saute the onion until it is soft and glossy, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and dried basil, and mix to combine. Add the balsamic or wine to the onions, and mix well. This will just soften the onions a little bit more, and add even more flavour to the dish.

Add the baby spinach in 2 batches, stirring until the spinach is just wilted, a few minutes. There will be some liquid in the bottom of the pan – this is great! You want it 🙂

Once all the spinach has been added, and lightly cooked, transfer the entire contents of the pan to a heatproof bowl.

Tip in the breadcrumbs and eggs and stir very gently just to combine. The mixture should come together easily. If not, add water, a tablespoon at a time. You want the mixture to bind together, but lightly – you dont want it mushy and wet.

Add the parmesan or ground almonds and mix lightly.

Put in the fridge to firm up while you make the sauce.

Once you are ready to eat (about 10 – 15 minutes before hand), preheat your oven to 100C (200F), and place a pan in the oven. Sprinkle a medium to large non stick frying pan with a touch of olive oil and place on medium heat. Make palm sized patties of the spinach mixture, and saute for about 4 – 5 minutes on the first side. You should be able to get 3 – 4 croquettes in a frying pan.

Flip the croquettes and saute for about 3 – 4 minutes on the second side. As you make the croquettes in batches, transfer the cooked croquettes to the pan in the oven to keep warm. Otherwise, place on serving platter, and cover with a dishtowel or paper napkin.

Tomato Garlic Mushroom Sauce

This is wonderful with the spinach croquettes. It is wonderfully tomato-ey, sweet and slightly gooey. The mushrooms give it depth of flavour too … I use this sauce on everything – on toasted bread for bruschetta, with pasta, as a filling for a decadent omelette. Its a great sauce to have on hand and it gets put together in a matter of minutes.

  • 1 1/2  tbsp olive oil
  • 5 – 7 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 cup mushrooms (I used portabello), peeled and sliced thinly
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 – 2 cups baby tomatoes (I used a mix of baby heirloom tomatoes which were amazing!), chopped
  • 2 tbsp sour cream or soy milk (optional)
  • Pinch of sugar (optional)

In a small frying pan, over medium low heat, saute the sliced garlic cloves in the olive oil. Let the garlic saute for about 5 minutes or so. You want it to get soft and slightly sticky, and lose its bitterness. This extended cooking time really allows the garlic flavours to bloom and soften. Its critical. Be patient. Everything else goes quite quickly.

Bring up the heat, and add the mushrooms in two batches. You want to encourage the mushrooms to lose their liquid, and just start to brown a little on the edges. They will go slightly caramel and sticky in the pan. They wont do this if you put too many in at the same time, which is why you are doing this in two batches. This should be the work of minutes, and watch carefully – you dont want the mushrooms to burn, but rather to brown.

Once the mushrooms have browned, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the baby tomatoes all at once. They will immediately start to melt in the high heat, and their liquid will bubble and start forming a lovely sauce. Mix everything together well and taste. Add sour cream or soy milk if you want a creamier sauce, and add a tiny pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are not very sweet, to bring out their tomato essence.

Serve the sauce over the spinach croquettes. YUMMY.

Macaroni + Cheese

9 Sep

and cheese!I was watching BSA make lunch for his son to take to school the other day – it was mac + cheese from a box. That haunted me for days – the bright orange glow of the cheese powder. It really disturbed me 😉 So tonight, when I was considering what to make for dinner, I decided to do a home made macaroni + cheese, and see how long it took to do. To be honest, this is a quick, easy meal. Absolutely delicious and probably 10 – 15 minutes worth of work in total. And the taste is so much better that really, there is no comparison.

You can make it vegan by substituting margarine for butter, Daiya rice cheese for the cheddar and parmesan, and soy milk (my favourite these days is Silk) for the milk. It turns out really well, especially if you pay attention to the seasonings, and taste taste taste. I baked the whole thing in a loaf pan because it was easy and I had just used the pan when I made the zucchini bread the day before. You can use any pan, the wider and shallower, the more burnt cheese topping you get! 😉

Macaroni and cheese can be a bit overwhelming just as is. So I like to mix it up a bit. In this version, I added a handful of sundried tomatoes. In another, you could add truffle oil and dried portobello mushrooms. In yet another, a handful of frozen spinach. It doesnt have to be a lot of work to cut through all that cheesy cheese-ness, but it can be a bit of a relief. Though it must be said, there is something about a purely mac and cheese dish that is deeply soothing. That bland perfection does wonders for a tired soul.

This dish will serve 4 – 6 depending on greed

  • 3 – 4 cups dried pasta – penne, macaroni, etc
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp salt (plus 1 tsp for boiling pasta)
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups milk, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes (or dried portobello mushrooms and a dash of truffle oil or 1/2 cup spinach or broccoli … as you wish) – optional
  • 1 – 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (to taste) – note that you can also add other cheeses as per your desire – crumbled feta, blue, jack, etc.
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, divided
  • 1/4 breadcrumbs

Take the milk out of the fridge, measure out 2 cups, and set aside. Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a dash of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Read the instructions on the pasta packet, and add the pasta. You will cook it until it is about 2 minutes before al dente, so if it says to cook for 9 minutes, keep the pasta in for only 7 minutes!

In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted and bubbling, add the flour, and cook this roux, stirring all the time, until it is browned. You want it a nice tan – not quite coffee coloured, but may be toffee coloured! This will add a huge depth of flavour. Add salt and pepper. Once the roux is browned to your liking, add the room temperature milk in increments of 1/4 – 1/3 of a cup. You want to add the milk slowly to enable the sauce to slowly thicken… if you add it all at once, you will have blobs of browned flour floating in the milk! This is the main reason why you want the milk at room temperature, so that incorporating it into the roux is much easier.

Once the first 1/2 cup of milk has been incorporated, add the basil, oregano, paprika and sun dried tomatoes (if using). Continue to add the milk, stirring all the while. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Take the hot seasoned sauce off the fire, and add the cheddar cheese, tasting and adjusting after about 1 cup. You may need up to 2 cups.

Drain the pasta, and set aside.

Add 1/4 cup of the parmesan, and mix well. Taste and adjust any seasonings. Add the pasta to the sauce, and mix to combine completely.

Mix the remaining parmesan with the breadcrumbs.

Put the macaroni and cheese into a baking dish, sprinkle with the breadcrumb parmesan mixture.

Bake for about half an hour, broiling for the last few minutes if you like a super crispy top.

Never go back to box mac + cheese again!

Potato Gratin with Artichoke, Mushroom + Spinach

2 Sep

With VegetablesToday was full on all the time. It never let up and it never stopped. M came home at 6, after a crazy work day, and the beautiful baby Z was done. M went up to put her to bed, and I knew that she would be downstairs within an hour, ready to eat something before falling into bed herself. I wanted to cook something that would be simple, warm and most of all, give us all some comfort. I came up with this potato gratin, using baby fingerling potatoes, with artichoke hearts, mushroom and spinach. It was good and simple, easy going down, and felt like a big hug.

Just note that if you want, you can use coconut milk or almond milk, though Im not too positive that they will be great substitutions for a vegan diet. I read in a book the O sisters gave me for my birthday about whizzing up raw cashews and using their milky goodness in place of cream, but to be honest, tonight was one of those nights where I just couldnt think of vegan … we needed the proteins from the milk and cheese, and I needed to be able to pull it all together in under an hour.

I put no spices, garlic, onions or flavourings into this dish. I wanted the vegetables to speak for themselves, and I wanted it to be a calming, tasty but not aggressive dish, because sometimes, during very tiring days, we just want softness and stillness.

I succeeded, and the best compliment was my sister, hugging me, and telling me how happy she was to come back, from such a hard day, and have a home cooked meal waiting for her. This is what cooking is about – loving and supporting and comforting your family and friends, in a way that is fleeting but whose sayang is always remembered.

This will serve 4 as a main course. Leftovers are really good the next day, chopped up, pan fried and served with an egg for breakfast!

  • 1 – 1 1/2 lbs baby potatoes (I used baby fingerlings), chopped
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp truffle oil
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms (I used 1 large portobello), peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh baby spinach, sliced fine
  • 1 cup milk (I used low fat)
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts (or asparagus or peas – something green is good)
  • 1/4 cup + 1/4 cup grated parmesan (or other cheese to your liking)

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Slice the potatoes into a large pot, cover with water, add salt, and bring to the boil. Keep simmering until the potatoes break when crushed by the times of a fork – about 25 – 30 minutes.

While the potatoes are simmering, heat the oils in a frying pan, and saute the mushroom until it starts to colour a bit and burn around the edges. Add the spinach all at once, and allow it to wilt. Once the spinach has softened, add the milk, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let this mixture simmer for a few minutes, or until the milk has just thickened a bit. Add the artichoke hearts and mix well, and then add 1/4 cup parmesan. Set aside.

Once the potatoes are done, drain them, and then tumble them into a small baking pan. Pour in the sauce and mix well. Taste for seasoning and adjust.Sprinkle the remaining parmesan over.

Bake in oven for at least 10 – 15 minutes. You will see the liquid becoming absorbed by the potatoes. Switch your oven to broil, and allow the gratin to brown for a few minutes before serving.

Enjoy the love and hug of this complete comfort meal.

Roast Butternut Salad

26 Aug

I am exhausted tonight so this will be a short post! So it goes in a house with baby and multiple generations! I loved this salad. Perfect as a side dish – or if you want, add a few shavings of parmesan, or some salty feta, or a couple dollops of creamy sweet ricotta – or if you are vegan, a few chickpeas – for the protein, and you have lunch! Best served cold, the butternut is oven roasted ahead of time and refrigerated. So when it comes time to serving, its really a matter of putting it all together and devouring.

I love the golden orange happiness of butternut, and I adore how easy it is to cook. Its forgiving, and its natural sweetness automatically caramelises in a hot oven, so you dont really need to add anything in the way of herbs or spices – the vegetable flavours itself beautifully. This is a meal I crave over and over again. I love juxtaposition in my food – the spicy, slightly bitter bite of arugula, and the sweet creamy richness of the butternut are wonderful partners. They compliment and play off each other and make me very happy.

Serves 8 – 10 as a side  or 4 with left overs for lunch or dinner

  • 1 medium / large butternut, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 – 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 – 3 cups (I used about 1 packet) arugula / rocket or other bitter green salad leaf
  • 1/4 cup olive oil + 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Toppings: sprouts, cheese (parmesan, feta or ricotta are my favourites, but go wild – try it with blue cheese if you want!), toasted walnuts or pine nuts, avocado

The night before (or morning before) you intend to serve the salad, prepare the butternut.

Preheat your oven to 190 C.

Peel, seed and roughly chop 1 medium to large butternut. Put in a bowl, and pour over 2 tbsp olive oil. Using your hands, mix well, ensuring that all the butternut is coated.

Arrange the butternut on a jelly roll pan or other large shallow baking pan, in a single layer. Salt and pepper well. Arrange the garlic cloves amongst the butternut.

Roast for about 45 minutes, or until you see the butternut beginning to caramelise. I usually try and flip the butternut over half way through the cooking time as well, so that both sides get a bit of browning.

Take out of the oven and let cool to room temperature. Return to bowl, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, take the butternut out of the fridge.

Fish the garlic cloves out of the butternut mixture. They should be very soft. Pop them into a small bowl or cup and mash the garlic with a fork. Whisk in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Find a lovely large flat serving platter or plate. Strew the baby arugula over the plate in one beautiful bright green layer.

Tumble the butternut over, and pour about half the dressing over. Reserve the rest to serve on the side if you wish.

Sprinkle one or two toppings of your choice over all, and serve.

Perfect for a hot summer’s day!

Frittata!

18 Aug

Ahhhhh… here I am in my “other” home, with my beloved M + Z + B + the AuPairNation of Essia + Julia. And of course, the King, Raai. Its wonderful to be back, and I am blissfully babied out. It was a 24 hour journey to get here, so I let myself off one day of blogging. But today, I cooked and so I thought it would be a good idea to start to blog again … I find that if I let anything go for more than a day, it becomes a habit NOT to do it!

I love cooking in my sister’s kitchen. Its large, airy, comfortable. Everything is so well organised, and its totally open plan. I love her knives, her pots and pans, and particularly, I love the contents of her fridge! There is always something interesting in there that will challenge me to create something delicious. Today, I was cooking for 6 people for lunch, so I decided on a frittata. Its a really simple open omelette, with the fillings added before the eggs. Its fluffy, and is finished in the oven, so that the cheese melts and browns a bit. Delicious – and it can contract and expand to take on whatever is in the fridge! Plus, its wonderfully easy to feed a hoard of people.

Along with the frittata, I made an apple berry crumble, and for dinner a very simple vegetarian curry with brown rice. The remains of the frittata were delicious sliced with dinner. Meals at my sisters are like this… I cook, and we always find ways to incorporate the previous meal into the current one. Simple food, cooked with organic and local ingredients. So much joy … And she has a huge basil plant, her own tomatoes, and a fig tree that is positively laden with swollen purple fruit. I think I am going to have fun here!

I am giving you the approximate ingredients for my frittata today. Use what you have in the fridge – and be experimental. But make sure you use your own judgement about what you mix together into the frittata. I wouldnt add blue cheese, but feta makes a wonderfully salty counterpoint to just about anything. Onions, peas and carrots go well with lots of things, but olives are quite a specific taste and might not meld well with parmesan, for example. Think about what youre putting together into the frittata, and then give yourself permission to experiment! Also be logical. I used 3 different kinds of cheeses because my sister had that in the fridge – but if you only have one cheese, then use that and dont go out and buy extra!

This is a wonderful dish to serve for lunch or breakfast, and its as tasty cold as it is hot, so its fantastic to serve at a picnic or in hot weather 🙂

This will serve six

  • 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • salt and pepper
  • splash of balsamic vinegar
  • splash of port wine
  • 1/4 cup water (about)
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • 2 small carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts, sliced
  • 1 cup mixed baby tomatoes (roma and plum), sliced
  • 4 vegetarian sausages, crumbled
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup parmesan, grated
  • 1/4 cup feta, grated
  • 4 tbsp hummus (optional, but it added lots of protein and it was delicious!)
  • 1/4 cup cheddar, grated

In a large, oven proof frying pan, heat the olive oil, over medium heat, and fry the onions and garlic until glossy and soft. Season with herbs and salt and pepper. Add a splash of vinegar and wine, and let the onions colour and burn just a little bit. Pour a bit of water into the pan, and scrape up the juices and burnt bits if any.

Add the vegetables, and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. You dont want it too salty as the cheeses will add salt too. Crumble in the sausages and stir well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, parmesan and feta. When the vegetables and vegetarian sausage have been combined to your liking, arrange them evenly over the bottom of the frying pan. Lower the heat, and pour over the egg mixture. Using a wooden spoon, move the egg mixture around gently in the pan to encourage it to cook about half way through. DONT mix it though – you just want to kind of poke holes in the bottom that will be filled by uncooked eggs!

Spoon the hummus over, if using. Switch the oven broiler on, and sprinkle over the cheddar.

Slide the frittata in the oven for maximum 5 minutes. It will cook through, puff up a little, and the cheese on top will melt and brown a bit.

Serve immediately with fresh brown bread. Or wait a while, till its cooled, refrigerate and serve it sliced, for a summer meal that it light, and delicious.

Butternut and Spinach Tart with a Parmesan or Pecorino Crust

24 Jul

goldorange perfectionI am really in a tarty mood these days. Not sure why. Must be something to do with the moon 😉 I must admit that tarts and pies have always fascinated me. I love the idea of a pastry enveloping delightful fillings – and I have always believed that the pastry should be as good as the interior, if not better. I made a raspberry curd tart the other day, and now I am trying my hand at a savoury one. I love butternut and spinach together – their colours, green and orangegold are so complementary, and, more importantly, they taste so good together. Roasted butternut and lightly sauteed spinach are a knockout taste combination. But what would happen, I wondered, if you made them both very smooth and creamy, a touch of herbs and garlic, and combined them together, side by side. May be some shards of very salty, briney, goats cheese. That would stand up to the spinach and butternut. And a crust that had a hint of pecorino in it, so it too was a taste explosion.

So I set out to make this tart of my dreams … and I must admit it is a process. I made it over one evening, and an afternoon. This is a tart for a family gathering or celebration, a picnic or a birthday. I have to say that the actual cooking processes are easy, and really not focus consuming at all – you just need to be around as things get roasted and sauteed, and you need to let the crust rest, and then prebake it. Its a doddle if you break it down into smaller components (much like life) and then tackle each individual piece slowly and with great enjoyment. I roasted my butternut and prepared my tart dough the night before while watching tv. The actual work time was about 15 – 20 minutes, and the rest was allowing the ingredients to do their magic.

What I adore about this particular tart is that it is layer up on layer of perfection. When you serve it, it looks like a spinach tart, which in and of itself, is pretty damn delicious. Underneath the bronzed deep green spinach, is the goldenorange perfection of butternut, and nuggets of melted goats cheese. What an astounding mixture, what a brilliant taste sensation, what delightful surprises hidden within that beautiful crust.

Tarts are wonderful things because they can feed many people, in great style. They accommodate fillings pretty much at your whim and desire, and can be savoury or sweet at your discretion. A slice of tart will almost never go unaccepted – and when youre in the mood for just a bite, a sliver of tart can hit the spot perfectly. Plus they are so beautifully dramatic to present. Such a wide expanse of pretty colours and melting goodness. And you can serve them warm from the oven (but never hot), or cold from the fridge the next day (if there’s any left!).

If you decide to make this tart, do think about timing. If you make it all in one afternoon, roast the butternut first, make the dough and put it in the freezer while the butternut is in the oven, then cool the butternut, then make the spinach, etc. You will need to give each element time to rest, cool and intensify their flavours and textures, so be aware of what you make and when.

And just a note, I used pecorino in this recipe, but you could just as easily use parmesan. I love pecorino because its a more tangy version of parmesan, and its made with ewe’s milk so it goes easily with the goat’s cheese.

Pecorino Pastry

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup pecorino, grated
  • 1/2 cup / 110 g / 8 tbsp butter, frozen and grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp oregano or sage or rosemary

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and parmesan. Grate the frozen butter over, sifting it into the flour with the tips of your fingers. I pause and do this twice as I grate.

Beat the egg, dijon, oregano (or other herb) and salt together, and pour over the flour-parmesan-butter mixture. Bring the dough together with the tips of your fingers and let it rest in the fridge for about half an hour or up to two days.

When you are ready to use the pastry, roll out on a floured board. Drape over your rolling pin, and centre it in your tart pan. Prick with your fork, line with aluminum foil, fill with beans, and bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Take out the foil and beans, prick again with the fork, and bake for about 5 – 10 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool a bit before filling with butternut and spinach.

Roasted butternut (and a garlic head!)

  • 3 – 4 cups butternut (about 700 g), roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp or less olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 3 tbsp light sour cream
  • 2 eggs + 3 yolks, beaten well together

Preheat your oven to about 220C. Prepare a baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Skin and chop the butternut, and arrange it in one layer on the baking tin. Using your hands, lightly coat the butternut with some olive oil. When I say lightly coat, I really mean lightly – you dont want the butternut swimming in oil because it will most definitely steam in the oil rather than roast and slightly char. You want that caramelised burnt butternut flavour, and a tiny bit of olive oil will really help with that. Too much will be a hindrance.

Using a sharp knife, cut about 1/4th inch off the top of a head of garlic, skins intact.

Place the garlic on the baking tin, and pour olive oil into the cloves.

Salt and pepper everything liberally.

Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the butternut is soft, and slightly burnt around the edges.

At this point, you can refrigerate the butternut, covered, for up to two days. Take the cloves of garlic out of their skins, cut away any very burnt bits (they can be bitter), and store in the fridge too, covered with olive oil. If you are serving the tart that day, go on to the next step.

Using an immersion blender, combine the butternut and 3 tbsp of sour cream.

Beat 3 eggs and 2 egg yolks together until light and frothy. Use 2/3rd of this in the butternut mixture, and reserve the rest for the spinach. Fold the eggs lightly into the butternut.

Set aside.

Spinach

  • 120 g of baby spinach, washed
  • 3 cloves of roasted garlic
  • 3 tbsp roasted garlic olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash a packet of baby spinach well in salted water. Let it sit for a minute in the water while you heat 3 tbsp of olive oil that has been sitting with the roasted garlic cloves, along with three of the cloves, in a large frying pan over high heat. You can mash the cloves into the olive oil.

With your hands, lift the baby spinach out of the water, allowing some water to cling to the leaves. Fry in the very hot oil until it is bright green and soft, about 3 – 5 minutes only. You dont want to over cook the spinach, but you do want it to be wilted completely. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Transfer the hot spinach to a mixing bowl. Add 3 tbsp sour cream, and using your immersion blender, make sure the spinach has been completely pureed.

Fold in 1/3rd of the egg mixture from the butternut into the spinach and set aside.

Assembly

  • Baked tart crust
  • Butternut mixture
  • Goats cheese – about 3 – 5 tbsp, roughly chopped
  • Spinach mixture

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Pour the butternut mixture into the tart crust. Sprinkle the goats cheese all over the butternut, and then pour the spinach mixture over all, using a spatula to smooth the top completely.

Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes.

tart heavenLet rest for 10 minutes or so before cutting into wedges and serving.

Perfection can be hard work, but it is so bloody satisfying when it comes off!

Pesto

1 Jul

Glowing green. Scented with basil, pine nuts, pecorino and garlic. Goopy, gooey goodness. I am nuts about pesto. Its so easy to make – about 5 minutes cooking time to toast the nuts, and the rest a few pulses in your food processor. You can eat this so many ways: straight from the bowl (as per usual!); stirred through pasta or even rice; as an amazing addition to a sandwich or salad dressing; and, as I will be using it, as the base of a terrific lasagne.

Pesto can be made with so many things – any green vegetable – or go further – let your imagination take flight – use butternut, sun ripened tomatoes, mushrooms even. Try it with almonds, macadamias, walnuts, and change the cheese – blue, parmesan, etc. Its so flexible, and so delicious.

Note that I use some rocket in this recipe (about 1 to 3 in terms of the basil) because basil in Malaysia is very strongly flavoured. If your basil is the gentler variety, feel free to omit the rocket entirely.

For about 2 cups you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups pine nuts
  • 2 cups (150 g) well packed, washed basil
  • 3/4 cup rocket
  • 5 large cloves of garlic, chopped into chunks
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup grated pecorino or parmesan
  • Up to 1 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

First off, toast the pine nuts. In a non stick pan, over medium heat, layer the pine nuts. Make sure you keep stirring with a spatula. These go from golden toasty to burnt in a split second, so be careful.

Put your basil into food processor and add about 1/4 cup olive oil. Pulse a couple times so its completely chopped. Add the rocket, and pulse again.

Add the pine nuts, and pulse well, adding a little more olive oil if you feel it is needed.

Add the garlic and salt, and pulse again. Add the pecorino or parmesan, and mix with spatula. Turn out into a bowl, and add a little more olive oil until its the consistency that you prefer.

I would certainly make this at least 1 day in advance to allow the flavours to meld. Save covered with a slick of olive oil, covered, in the fridge.

Green Pasta for MZ+BSA

27 Jun

While visiting M a few months ago, I was able to cook in her wonderful kitchen (using knives that a friend of BSA had hand made!) and enjoy all the bounty and amazing-ness that was Whole Foods! I could so live in that place!

One of my favourite concoctions was this green pasta. BSA seemed to like it enough that he went for thirds (or was that fourths?). Either way, it is made with the freshest and greenest veg you can find. Feel free to adjust, though these go well together. The mushroom adds a warm muskiness that holds everything else together.  This dish bursts with energy and vibrancy, and its so delicious. Simple, and not creamy either, which is satisfying without being overwhelming.

You could serve this with all sorts: couscous, rice, even a toasted brioche, but angel hair pasta, to me, has the delicacy that this dish needs.

Feeds 4 hungry people

  • Approximately 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5-7 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 250 g mushrooms
  • 2 cups baby spinach, thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 2 cups artichoke hearts
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup white wine (or alternatively, veg stock and lemon juice, if you dont want alcohol)
  • 1 cup broccolini (or other type broccoli) roughly chopped
  • Few leaves fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup or so parmesan and more to serve
  • Angel hair pasta

Start with about half the olive oil, or enough to thickly coat the bottom of a large non stick pan. You should have a green gold puddle. Add more olive oil as needed while cooking. Turn heat on low.

As oil heats, throw in all the thinly sliced garlic. It will infuse the oil, and add depth to the flavour of the finished pasta. Watch as garlic gets soft but dont allow it to brown.

Meanwhile peel and slice the mushrooms, and add to pan, putting heat up to medium low. Stir well and encourage the juices of the mushrooms to let go.

Prepare spinach by taking leaves, rolling them into little cigar shapes, and cutting into ribbons. Add to pan and saute to wilt.

Roughly chop artichoke hearts, and add to the pan. Stir all ingredients together, to introduce them to one another and immediately add wine (or veg stock/lemon juice). Allow to braise for a few minutes, and check for flavour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Note: I usually add white pepper to this dish so as not to whack all the delicate flavours over the head with ground black pepper.

Roughly chop broccolini, and add it to the steaming pan. Turn off heat after a few minutes. Use a light hand with this recipe and work quickly. You want your ingredients to cook, but you dont want them to boil and leach all their flavour and freshness. Remember that the heat will continue cooking the vegetables for quite a while after you take the pan off the fire.

Tear a few leaves of fresh basil in half, or crush them between your fingers to release their amazing scent and oils. Add to the pan and mix all together.

Cook angel hair pasta, reserving 1/2 mug of cooking liquid. Drain pasta. Mix vegetables and pasta together by adding pasta to the vegetables rather than vice versa. Use tongs and mix well. Add a little of the pasta cooking liquid if you think its too dry. You might want to add some lemon juice or another splash of wine. Grate parmesan lightly over and mix well.

You could use many different vegetables for this beautifully delicate dish. Asparagus comes to mind, as do peas, rocket, french beans.

Asparagus Pesto

23 Jun

Astonishing, divine, food of the Goddesses. Bright green and tasting like spring. You can eat this right out of the bowl (my sister, M’s preferred consumption method), or spoon it over toast rounds for bruschetta, in a sandwich, or over pasta or couscous. Its so extremely good, it needs no accessories. This is one of my favourite meals because who knew that asparagus could be made into pesto – and who knew that this taste combination existed and was soooooooo goood?!

You will need (for about 3 – 4 cups):

  • 1 1/2 pounds (about 600 – 700 gms) asparagus
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • 5 – 7 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup (or more) extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt

First prepare your asparagus. Ensure that the tough woody bits have been snapped off – the asparagus will do the work for you if you just hold it and snap it near the bottom end. It will naturally break where the tough bit is – discard this. Chop the asparagus very roughly – 2 – 3 sections per asparagus. In a large pot of boiling, lightly salted water, blanch the asparagus till bright green. They need to be cooked, but not soft. Probably about 5 minutes or less. Just before you drain the asparagus, put a coffee mug in the boiling water, and remove a mugful, and keep aside. Drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a shallow frying pan, toast the pine nuts (no oil or anything added) until golden and slightly browned. Use a spatula and keep stirring the nuts. Keep a watch – these go from light golden to toasted to burnt in a blink of an eye and you cant really save them when they burn. Set aside to cool.

Put all the asparagus and garlic into your food processor, and pulsing gently, start the machine. Add about half the olive oil in a steady stream. Add all the pine nuts, and pulse again, adding the rest of the olive oil. Add the parmesan and lemon and pulse again. If at any point the mixture gets too thick, add a little of the water you kept from the asparagus. Taste and adjust seasoning. You might need more oil or salt, or even parmesan.

I usually keep aside a few asparagus tips and serve this combined with angel hair pasta, with the tips for prettiness. Its delicious. And very good for you!!!