Tag Archives: spinach

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.

Comfort Food

5 Dec

Angel Kitten has taken a 1 month vow of vegetarianism. I am so proud of her, I just cant even begin to tell you. She was so moved by information she found on the PETA website, that she took a pledge to be a vegetarian for a month. I think thats amazing, and I truly believe she will feel wonderful after that month is over – so much so, that may be it will inspire her to eat vegetarian once a week or so. We have had several discussions about the choice to live a vegetarian life. I dont really try and “convert” people, but I do strongly believe that living a life of love and gentleness often includes making a choice not to eat animals.

However, I also believe strongly that if one chooses a carnivorous life, then thats OK too — especially if the choices about what meats one eats are made with care and forethought. For example, choosing to eat at the Golden Arches or the like, where the meat and chicken have lived largely painful lives, and been processed in a way that is wholesale, rather than respectful, is very different from choosing to occasionally eat meat that is free range and fed organic, non steriod, non hormone food. I would posit that the latter is much more delicious, even if much more expensive. I think if one wants to or has to eat a carnivorous diet, the logical, kind and respectful choice is to eat meat that has been treated with kindness and respect. May be not as often as highly processed meats and chickens, unless one is rich beyond the need to consider such things, but with much more satisfaction and enjoyment.

Anyway, thats me off my hobbyhorse 😉 As part of my support of AngelKitten’s choice, I really wanted to make her food that will encourage her to see how satisfying eating a vegetarian diet is. This meal is one of her all time favourites, and we often order it in restaurants together, as a conglomeration of side dishes which we share. It could be completely vegan if you mashed the potatoes with olive oil instead of butter and cream… but I leave that choice to you 😉 For us, we used organic cream and butter and were very happy with that choice.

For dinner last night, we had sauteed spinach and french beans with garlic, roasted broccoli with soy and balsamic (which Ezril said tasted meaty and immensely satisfying), and mashed potatoes with roasted garlic. It was sublime. So simple, so easy, so delicious. It was ultimate comfort food for us, and got me to thinking about what comfort food really is. Its not fancy, overly thought through, complex food. Rather, its simple, well cooked, well sourced ingredients that are cooked so their essential deliciousness shines through. We used organic spinach, french beans and broccoli – and organic milk and cream in the potatoes. If you wanted more protein in this meal, you could add some toasted almonds to the vegetables, but I dont think its necessary. I think that if you eat a balance of food through a week or so, high in protein sometimes, high in greens others, youre fine. Balance is as much about listening to what your body wants and needs at a given time as following strictures and formulas.

And by the way, these are not so much recipes, as memories of what we ate that night, in celebration of AngelKitten’s pledge. We love the juxtaposition of the clean bright freshness of the spinach and beans, the roasted dark stickiness of the broccoli, and the pure decadence of the potatoes. Its all about balance isnt it? 🙂 So here are the three recipes we put together for our comfort dinner. I am glad to say that AngelKitten took the leftovers home, and hopefully, they will nurture her and feed her for a few days more to come 🙂

Serves 4 – 6 people (with leftovers of the potatoes, most definitely)

with Garlic!

Sauteed Spinach and French Beans

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter (or additional olive oil for vegan)
  • 3 + 3 minced garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 – 2 cups washed, topped and tailed and chopped French beans
  • 2 – 3 cups washed and roughly chopped spinach

In a large saucepan or frying pan, over medium low heat, combine the olive oil and butter, and gently heat until the butter melts. Add 3 minced garlic cloves, and cook, stirring gently, until the garlic releases its unique scent, and goes glossy and soft. Add a bit of salt and pepper to the garlic, and toss in your prepared French beans.

Stir the beans until completely coated with garlic and oil, and continue cooking until the beans change colour – they will go bright green. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Throw in the spinach. Its OK if a little water still clings to the leaves, but you dont want the spinach to be soaking wet. I usually squeeze it to dry it, then chop it and add it to the pan.

Stir until the spinach wilts and turns bright green, which should finish cooking the beans perfectly. Add the remaining 3 cloves of minced garlic, stir and taste for salt and pepper.

Place in a large serving bowl, and set aside. Can be served hot or at room temperature. Its even delicious, in large spoonfuls, straight from the fridge.

Mmmmmmm

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs or herbes de Provence
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cloves from 3 heads of garlic (about 30 – 35 cloves)
  • 8 – 10 large potatoes (I usually use a mix)
  • 1 stick of butter (or 4 – 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/2 cup cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Place olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper to taste and garlic cloves in a bowl. Toss to combine.

Place the garlic on the baking sheet in a single layer, and pour over any remaining liquid.

Roast the garlic in the oven until it is soft, burnt, glossy and slightly caramelised, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from the oven, and set aside.

Peel and chop the potatoes roughly. Place in a large saucepan or pot, and just cover with water. Over medium high heat, bring the water to a boil, and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Depending on your potatoes, and how small the chop is, this will take between 20 – 40 minutes.

Drain the potatoes, and place back in the pot. Slice butter over the potatoes, and pour over cream. Using a hand masher, ricer, or immersion blender (as I do), mash the potatoes. Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust.

Add all the garlic, and mash into the potatoes. Use a spoon or spatula to combine thoroughly, and taste and adjust for seasonings.

This can be prepared a few hours ahead, and reheated over a very low flame. It can keep warm, covered for an hour or two.

Sticky Green Goodness

Roasted Broccoli

  • 3 – 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 – 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 tbsp roasted sesame oil (or olive oil if you dont have it)
  • Pepper (and salt if you wish to taste, but the soy should make it salty enough)
  • 1 head of broccoli, broken down into small florets, with the larger stalk peeled and chopped into batons – about 3 – 4 cups total

Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.

Combine the soy, balsamic, oil, and pepper in a large bowl. Toss in the prepared broccoli, and using your hands, toss well to combine. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings if you wish.

Place the broccoli in an even layer on the baking sheet and reserve any additional liquid for later. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. Remove, and flip each piece of broccoli over, dipping the broccoli in the remaining liquid. Pour over any additional liquid and continue roasting in the oven for another 5 – 10 minutes or until the broccoli is sticky, browny-green and delicious.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Savoury Polenta Tart Tatin

3 Nov

Tart TatinOne of the things I love about reading great recipes is that they inspire me to create unique dishes of my own. For a long time now, I have been fascinated by tart tatin, the great French creation where you pour caramel into the bottom of a cake tin, layer over caramelised apples, and then top it all off with puff pastry. The pastry bakes at the top, becoming crispy and light, and the apples caramelise even further. When the tart is done, you flip it out of the cake pan, et voila! A perfectly crisp bottom, and sensuously caramelised apple.

I have always wanted to make a tart tatin that was savoury… but part of the trick is that sweet caramel sauce that you pour in first. How to make something savoury with that? And then… I read Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for a caramelised garlic tart – with goats cheese and puff pastry. I read the actual recipe for the caramelised garlic and realised that there is a sweet savoury caramelised sauce that coats those gorgeous garlic pieces. And then… I read a recipe for polenta with sauteed mushrooms. I do love mushrooms, and polenta is another obsession of mine. I fell asleep last night daydreaming of a perfect dish… and this morning, when I woke up, I knew what I needed to make a savoury polenta tart tatin.

I cant tell you how happy this makes me. Its like I have figured out some remarkable puzzle. It may have been made before (after all, in cooking, relatively little is new), but I have never read a recipe like this. I loved it from the moment it popped into my head, and I was determined to make it!

It took me more than 3 hours to make this today. Its a hell of a recipe, but … you could definitely do it in stages. Almost everything (even the polenta) can be made in advance and refrigerated until needed (though I would make the spinach mixture on the day). If you spend a day or two caramelising garlic, sauteeing some mushrooms and burnishing them with old thick balsamic, preparing some polenta, thickened with parmesan and butter … well, then this recipe would probably take you about 40 minutes from assembly to final stages of cooking.

And I am here to tell you… Its damn worth it! It is so good. Outrageously good. Celebration, birthday, vegetarian Thanksgiving, dinner party good. Its gorgeous and dramatic, and the layers of flavour are unbelievable. Fluffy yet creamy and cheesy polenta, with a crisp crust, is topped with creamy spinach, which in turn is topped with balsamic mushrooms and caramelised garlic. Its a beautiful tart, and very dramatic. If you want to add a bit of flair, you could probably decorate it with a few sliced cherry tomatoes stuffed strategically into place, but it really does not need it. This tart is a tour de force of flavours and textures … It is sublime, if I say so myself.

Feeds 6 – 8

Caramelised Garlic (from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

  • 3 medium heads of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 220 ml (about 1 1/4 cup) water
  • 3/4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped thyme (I did not have any fresh thyme, so I used about 1/2 tsp dried herbes de Provence)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Break the heads of garlic up, and peel the cloves. I realised I had many different sizes of garlic cloves, so I chopped the larger pieces in half to make them all approximately the same size.

Place the garlic cloves in a small saucepan and cover with water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to the boil. Lower heat so the water is simmering, and blanch the garlic for 3 minutes. Drain well.

Wipe out the saucepan (make sure you do this well – oil and water sputter badly), and place the olive oil in the saucepan. Over high heat, saute the garlic for 2 – 3 minutes. You want the garlic just to begin to brown around the edges.

Add the balsamic and the water (be careful, it will spit and spew at you as the water hits the hot oil), and bring to the boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Then add the sugar, rosemary, thyme and salt, and mix well. Simmer on medium heat for a further 10 – 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated, and you have a thick  dark caramel sauce and deep dark soft garlic.

Take off heat and set aside. If you are only cooking the tart in the next day or so, transfer to a bowl or container, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before assembly.

Balsamic Mushrooms

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp truffle oil (if you have it – if not, use olive oil or any other flavouring oil that you like)
  • About 8 medium to small portobello mushrooms (about 250 g – 1/2 lb) peeled and sliced thickly
  • About 3 – 4 Swiss brown mushrooms, peeled and sliced thickly
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp butter

In a large non stick frying pan, heat the olive oil and truffle oil over medium high heat. Add all the portobello mushrooms, and stir well to combine, and to ensure that most of the mushrooms have been slicked with a little oil. Leave the mushrooms in the pan, not stirring, and allow them to brown and caramelise on their own. The heat and the olive oil will do the trick – you just have to NOT stir! Once you start smelling a wonderful mushroomy smell (about 3 – 5 minutes – possibly longer if your heat isnt that high), flip the mushrooms over. You should see that the bottom side is well browned.

Add the Swiss browns, mix again, and allow to saute, undisturbed for another few minutes. Salt and pepper well, stir, and then add the balsamic all at once. It will immediately begin to bubble and coat the mushrooms completely. Slice the butter directly over the mushrooms, and allow it to melt into the mixture. The butter will flavour the mushrooms as well as adding a bit of needed oil to the balsamic coating.

Taste, adjust seasonings, and once you are happy with the mushrooms (they should be slightly burnt, sticky, gooey, balsamic-y and intensely mushroom flavoured), tip out into a bowl and set aside. Transfer to a bowl or container if you are making the tart in a day or two, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before assembly.

Creamed spinach

  • 2 cups baby spinach, tightly packed
  • 2 heaping tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Lots of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (or more, depending on your cheesiness) grated cheddar – I used an organic white cheddar which was phenomenal here

Wash the baby spinach very well, and then roughly chop it. Add the spinach to a large non stick pan over medium heat. You still want a bit of the water to be clinging to the leaves – this will help it cook. Saute the spinach briefly – a minute or two will do it – until it turns dark green. Remove the spinach from the heat, and place it in a sieve to drain the liquid from it. Allow to cool a little.

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, cream and egg. Add the spinach (squeeze it with your hands before adding to the mix to make sure youve gotten rid of as much moisture as possible). Using an immersion blender (or you could transfer the lot to a blender or food processor), cream the spinach until it has completely integrated into the cream cheese mixture. Add salt and pepper, and mix well.

Add the grated cheddar, and mix well. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Set aside until ready to assemble the tart.

Cheesy Polenta

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (low-fat will do, but its better with whole milk)
  • 1 cup polenta (cornmeal grits)
  • 1/2 cup mixed water and milk if you are making as below (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Loads of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 tbsp butter

Polenta is usually made in a saucepan, but I actually like the quickness and control I get from making it in a large, non stick, frying pan. You need a good spatula or wide flat wooden spoon.

Place a large non stick frying pan over medium heat and pour in the water and milk. Bring just to the boil, and once it boils, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Pour in the polenta in a steady stream, mixing constantly as you do so. This will ensure that the polenta is smooth and creamy and without lumps.

Keep stirring, the polenta should begin to thicken almost immediately. I usually use an almost scooping motion – circular, and right at the end, I scoop some polenta, and flip it over itself. Almost like folding egg whites gently into cake batter. Keep stirring and scooping for about 5 – 10 minutes. If the polenta gets too thick, add the water and milk mixture in gentle dribs and drabs.

Taste the polenta – it should be uniformly creamy. Any grittiness, and you need to continue cooking.

Once the polenta has reached a creamy consistency of thick oatmeal, and there is no grittiness, add the salt and tons of black pepper. Stir well and combine. Add the parmesan and butter, and combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Set the polenta aside (in the pan if you like) until it comes to room temperature. The polenta will firm up quite a bit but this is fine. Refrigerate if you are not making the tart immediately, but bring to room temperature when you assemble.

Polenta Tart Tatin – Assembly

  • Caramelised Garlic
  • Balsamic Mushrooms
  • Creamed Spinach
  • Cheesy Polenta
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • Butter for the cake pan

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F), and prepare a 9 – 10 inch round cake tin. Butter the cake tin, and place a circle of grease proof wax paper in the bottom. Butter this as well.

Pour the syrup from the caramelised garlic, and cover the entire bottom of the cake tin with the sauce. Tilt to make sure you coat the wax paper completely. Arrange about half (or all if youre greedy – I like to keep some back for other uses!) of the garlic on the syrup, and arrange the balsamic mushrooms over the garlic. With the garlic and mushrooms, you will cover the entire bottom of the pan. Dont mix them up though, they should remain quite insular.

Pour over the creamed spinach, and use a spatula or knife to ensure that the spinach completely covers the garlic and mushrooms.

Bake the tart in the oven for about ten minutes, or until the spinach has firmed up and puffed a little – it will bronze a bit. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for about ten minutes or so.

Prepare the polenta. Sccop up a handful of polenta, and flatten it between your hands. It should be less than 1/2 inch thick. You will have a polenta patty – place this gently onto the baked spinach in the tin. Keep doing this until the spinach is completely covered. You can patch up the polenta if there are small holes or bits youve missed.

Grate the parmesan over the polenta, and bake again in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the parmesan has burnished and become a gorgeous burnt mass on top of the polenta.

YumRemove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes, in the pan, on a cake rack.

Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to make sure that nothing is sticking to the sides. Place a serving plate over the cake pan, and using oven gloves (as the pan may still be hot), flip the tart over in one smooth move. Remove the cake pan, and the wax paper, and adjust any bits of garlic or mushroom that may have fallen off.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or even cold the next day. Any which way, its mind-blowing-ly deeeeeee-licious!

Enjoy!

Spinach and Cheddar Tart

16 Oct

TartI made a spinach pie for Essia when she left us to go to Germany, and have been mulling over the workings of that pie since then. I thought may be it could have been done purely spinach (the one I did had caramelised onions on the bottom for pleasure), but I wanted it to be substantial and warming. Spinach and cheddar cheese go extremely well together, and so when it came to dinner, I decided to make a spinach cheese pie – with the cheese everywhere I could get it!

Cheese in the crust, cheese mixed with the spinach… totally delectable. This pie/tart is best made in a small spring form tart pan – I used an 8 inch pan, and it was perfect and served 4 quite well. The tart is quite rich. Its lovely served with a chopped tomato and onion salad just for the juxtaposition. Its also really really good the next day, cold, for breakfast!

The crust was soooo good. I think its because I became shameless, and decided to make it with more cheese than flour. Flour only acts as a delicate connective marker to the crispy burnt cheese in this crust. I cant tell you how much I love burnt cheese, but this crust came close to nirvana for me.

I love spinach, and I love the deep green spinach taste of this tart. You almost cannot taste the cheese except as a support to the spinach, and in the way it makes the texture of the filling firm. I tried quite hard, but I couldnt come up with a good vegan version, Im afraid. This relies too heavily on cheese as one of its main structural ingredients! Speaking of which, you could probably also use feta in place of grated cheddar…

Enjoy a thin slice of this tart, and immerse yourself in the happiness of pure spinach joy.

For the crust

  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 – 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp / 1/2 stick butter, cold
  • 1 – 2 tbsp cold milk

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

In a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of grated cheese with 1/2 cup flour. You may need more cheese or more flour as you knead the dough, so have some standing by.

Sprinkle over paprika and salt, and grate in the cold butter. Using your hands – just the tips of your fingers – mix in the butter with the flour cheese mixture. You should have an oatmealy mixture. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp milk, and combine until the dough comes together.

Now its up to you – sometimes I add more cheese, sometimes I add more flour – sometimes I add a bit more of both. You want a supple dough that tastes extremely cheesy, and yet has enough strength to be rolled and pressed and kneaded.

Once you are happy with your dough, roll it into a circle, and flatten with the palm of your hand. Centre in an 8-inch spring form tart pan, and using your fingers, press the dough out into the pan. You should have more than enough to cover the bottom and sides of the tart pan.

Refrigerate for 10 – 15 minutes, and then using the tines of a fork, poke multiple holes in the crust before baking for 15 minutes.

Spinach and Cheddar filling

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped frozen spinach or 4 – 6 cups chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • Approximately 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

You want the taste of spinach to come out loud and clear here, so there is no distraction – no garlic, no herbs, nothing but a touch of dusky paprika to bring out the green of the spinach.

In a medium non stick frying pan, lightly saute the spinach in the olive oil until it is bright green, and has released most of its liquid.

Tip the spinach into a sieve, set over a bowl, and drain, pressing down, for at least 3 – 5 minutes. You want the spinach to be quite dry.

Put the dried spinach into a bowl with the paprika, salt and pepper generously, the sour cream, and eggs. Using an immersion blender, puree the spinach well. Once the spinach is a glowing smooth green mass, fold in the cheddar cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings, and add more cheese if you want (though it shouldnt overwhelm the spinach).

Pour the spinach mixture into the prebaked cheddar crust, and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the filling is firm.

Serve warm or cold.

Kind-of-Ratatouille-a-la-Karo

14 Oct

with Spinach Couscous!Tonight’s dinner may not be much to look at but it sure was delicious! And it was an intersection of different food thoughts that have been running through my head in the last few weeks. Inspired by so many things – my friend Karo’s post about the grated courgettes (zucchini), the Medjool dates at Per Se, and Karo’s link to Ottolenghi’s website.

Dinner needed to be fast and yet different tonight. Suddenly, autumn is upon us. I think we had our last 80 degree day a few days back, and now the crisp chill of cold is in the air around us. So dinner needed to be a response to that – warm and hearty, yet with echoes of sunshiney places. I didnt really think I wanted to do a ratatouille (though that often speaks of sunshine and warmth), mainly because I didnt have enough tomatoes. And I wanted to do the zucchini grated, and see what happened.

I started cooking with the thought that I was going to grate everything – but it didnt work out that way. Im pretty glad about that because I think I would have had a dark brown looking sludge by the end of it! Some stuff was grated, some stayed basically intact. You could serve this kind-of-ratatouille with french bread, rice, pasta – or as I did, with spinach couscous for a lush hint of colour and raw spinach flavour.

This is an example of my favourite free-form cooking – starting with a few ideas, and some beautiful ingredients, and seeing what happens. The end result was pretty damn tasty, completely vegan, rich and complex. The spice choices leant a hint of sunshine to the dark cold night, and we all went to bed happy and satisfied. All is right with the world 🙂

Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp plus more as needed olive oil
  • 1 small onion grated (mostly liquid)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or more as is your preference), grated
  • 1 small eggplant (aubergine) – diced
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Pinch (or more) cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, peeled and minced
  • 1 zucchini (courgette) grated
  • 1 Medjool date, pitted and chopped very small
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds
  • 1/2 orange sweet pepper
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped tomatoes (I used baby heirloom)
  • 1/2 cup or so water
  • 1/2 cup cashew nuts (toasted)
  • Spinach couscous

First off, toast your cashew nuts if they are raw. Use a non stick frying pan, dont add any oil, and toast over a medium fire until lightly browned. Pour off into a small bowl and set aside.

Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil to the frying pan. You might need to add more oil as you go through the various ingredients, but try to be miserly with the oil – you dont want an overly greasy end dish. Instead, use more or less heat (and eventually water) to control the cooking process.

Grate a small onion directly into the pan. The onion I grated ended up being quite watery – this is fine. If you have lovely little grated shards of onion, this is good too. Saute for a few minutes until the onion is glossy and soft. Grate in the garlic and stir to combine. Lower the heat and let the onion and garlic get acquainted.

While the onion and garlic are bubbling together gently, dice the eggplant into small cubes, keeping the skin intact. Bring the heat up a little (and add a touch of olive oil if you think it needs it), and add all the eggplant, mixing well.

Season the eggplant and onion mixture with the paprika, oregano, pepper, cinnamon and salt and pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Cook for about 5 minutes on high-ish heat. You want to burn the eggplant a little bit, and allow the onions to melt into the mix. When you start smelling that wonderful eggplant roasted burnt scent (its unmistakable) add the next part.

Add the mushrooms and mix extremely well. The mushrooms will let go of their liquid – encourage this by mixing thoroughly.

Lower the heat to medium, and let everything simmer together while you grate the zucchini. Squeeze most of the liquid out of the grated zucchini, and add to the pan. Sautee together, and mix very well. The zucchini will act as a paste and start to incorporate everything together. Taste and adjust for seasoning. add the minced date, and mix together. Allow everything to saute on medium heat for a few minutes.

Add carrots, sweet pepper and tomatoes to the pan, bring the heat to high, and stir to combine. As soon as everything starts to pop and sizzle, add the water, and allow the mixture to bubble. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Add the cashews, and taste everything to make sure its a singular whole. Serve over spinach couscous or a grain of your choice!

 

Malaysian Dinner

5 Oct

Last night, after a long journey back home from NYC, I was confronted by a quiet empty kitchen. M had gone upstairs to put Z to bed, J had gone to have her shower, and I realised that we would all be hungry in about half an hour. I wanted to make a REALLY fast, but really delicious meal that would be warm, and full of the flavours of home.

We didnt have much in the fridge, but we did have some tempeh, a half bag of frozen spinach, some milk (for vegans, you can replace with a bit of coconut milk), some salsa with chopped tomatoes and garlic, an onion and jasmine rice. Chili and soy sauces provided heat and flavour, along with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. This was such a good meal, and took only a few minutes to put together.

Serves four hungry people on a cold rainy day, with the remembrance of sunshine and heat.

Prepare some jasmine rice.

While the rice is cooking, chop an onion, and saute, with a bit of olive oil and a bit of toasted sesame oil, in a medium sized non stick pan until translucent. Sprinkle over some soy sauce and some chili sauce until the onion is very dark and sticky looking. Slice up the tempeh, bring the heat up high, and quick fry the tempeh, ensuring it is covered in the onion sticky mix. You should fry the tempeh in an even layer, and then flip it over. Add more soy or chili sauce if you want it stickier, saltier or hotter. Once the tempeh has been cooked on both sides (it will get a bit brownish and will start to burn on the edges), stir fry it a bit, and transfer to a bowl. Set aside to serve. This should take you about ten minutes total.

Clean out the frying pan, and put half a bag of frozen spinach (or 2 – 3 cups fresh, chopped) and a few tablespoons of salsa into the pan. Put the heat on to low, and let the mixture melt and come to room temperature. Add the milk or coconut milk (I used about half a cup), and about a teaspoon of soy sauce. Let the mixture come to a boil, and let it bubble down a bit. Taste for saltiness and adjust. If you have it, sprinkle over a half a teaspoon or more of garam masala for a soft hint of spice.

Serve the spinach and tempeh with rice for a simple, easy Malaysian meal.

PS – We were so hungry, and it smelled so good, I forgot to take a picture! But trust me, its easy, delicious, and it looks beautiful, with the deep creamy green of the spinach, the sticky golden chili tempeh and the pure white rice.

Spinach Frittata

30 Sep

FrittataToday was a long day … loads of running about, and I woke up late, so it was like playing catch up! Had lunch with my oldest friend who was here on a visit from the west coast. Some people you can just pick up the threads where you left off, as if you had seen each other yesterday rather than decades ago. When it came time for dinner, I realised I had about half an hour before we sat down to eat. And the cupboard wasnt exactly full to bursting!

So a frittata it was, with spinach, a few cherry tomatoes thrown in for colour, and seasoned with Asian spices – soy, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, some salty dried seaweed. Served on dark brown toast, it was delicious, easy, quick and warm. And for dessert? Ahh well, that was a wonderful crepe made by Jules – bursting with strawberry jam and covered in snow white icing sugar. A glass of milk is traditional with it, and who am I to buck tradition? All in all, a wonderful meal, made even better by eating with family and loved ones, in a safe warm space, while it is cold and rainy outside.

This frittata will serve 4 people. It can easily be doubled to to accommodate more, or halved for just a few. Just remember to add eggs equal to the number of people you are serving, plus one.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil + 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp soy plus more to taste
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds plus more to taste
  • 2 – 3 tbsp roasted seaweed, crumbled, plus more to taste
  • 2 – 3 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 – 3 tbsp milk or cream
  • 1/2 tsp wasabi or dijon mustard
  • Buttered toast to serve

In a medium non stick frying pan, over medium high heat, saute the onions in the olive oil and sesame oil. Let the onions get soft and glossy, and then season with 1 tbsp soy sauce and the sesame seeds and roasted seaweed.

Add all the spinach, and stir well to combine. You want the spinach to just wilt. Taste for seasonings, and adjust. I love roasted seaweed, so I usually add some more here, and if its not salty enough, you can drizzle over a bit more soy – though remember, you will be adding 1 tsp of soy to the eggs.

Add the cherry tomatoes to the pan, and mix well. Lower heat.

In a small bowl. whisk together the eggs, milk, 1 tsp soy sauce and wasabi. Pour over the spinach mixture, and let cook, disturbing the mixture only to poke little holes in it to allow the uncooked egg to get to the bottom of the pan. The entire cooking process may take anywhere up to 5 minutes. You will have a crusty bottom, and a creamy centre. Keep the heat low, and if the top is not cooking to your liking, cover to let it steam for only a few seconds. You can also finish this in the broiler oven, but only if your pan is oven proof!

Serve with hot buttered toast on the side for a quick, delectable dinner 😉

And if you happen to know any Austrians, try and have this sublime crepe with strawberries and powdered sugar for dessert!

With Strawberry Jam!

Spinach Artichoke Dip

26 Sep

Artichoke DipI am on my way to my friend M’s house tonight – see her new baby and new house, and just hang out with one of my best friends for a while. So I thought I would post now, rather than later tomorrow trying to catch up 🙂 This Spinach Artichoke Dip was part of the birthday party yesterday. Its delicious. So good – piping hot and bubbling right out of the oven, at room temperature during the course of the party, and cold from the fridge the next day as part of a post party makeshift lunch.

And easy?! This is all about your sense of taste – so eyeball it, taste, adjust, and repeat. I use organic garlic powder here rather than garlic salt (which I find too salty, and too chemical tasting) or minced fresh garlic, which I find too sharp. Garlic powder adds a round sweetness to the dish which I love. As for the spinach and artichoke? Frozen and canned, albeit organic. You dont need the fresh here – in fact, the frozen and canned are better because they are sturdier. Just get the best quality you can.

This dish reminds me of the time I worked as a waitress in college over one Thanksgiving. A very wealthy woman was having a party, and needed help. Memorable because I made a huge amount of money but thats besides the point – amongst all the amazing things she served, she made one thing that stood out in my memory. In a large ramekin, she mixed mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese and a heaping amount of parmesan. She then baked this concoction in the oven quite high and served the bubbling unctuous slightly burnt cheesy result as a dip. I was amazed at such alchemy. This dish is a little more healthy (it basically has the addition of vegetables!) but the principle is the same – the mixture is so much more than the individual ingredients – and their transformative space is the heat of the oven.

Plus, people will tell you not only how good it is (“Its like you get at the restaurant!”) but also how complex the flavours. Its difficult to tell them that it takes about 5 minutes to put together 😉

For a medium baking dish, you will need:

  • 16-ounce packet frozen chopped spinach
  • 14-ounce can artichokes
  • 8-ounce packet cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (or so) roughly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup (or so) roughly grated romano cheese
  • Couple heaping tablespoons sour cream
  • Couple heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Garlic powder
  • Dried basil

Preheat the oven to 130C (350F)

Drain the frozen chopped spinach, and squeeze tightly with you your hands to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Put into a large mixing bowl.

Drain the artichokes, and roughly chop. Add to the bowl.

Cut the cream cheese up roughly straight into the bowl.

Add 1/2 cup each of parmesan and romano, and a few heaping tablespoons each of sour cream and mayonnaise. Using a fork, stir to combine. Make sure that everything is fully incorporated.

Sprinkle over garlic powder and basil and combine again.

Taste. This is the most important part of the recipe. You might want to add more cheese, more garlic powder, more sour cream – its up to you, and is what will make your recipe taste individual. Basically, just make sure the mixture is the texture of a stiffish cookie dough. Keep adjusting until it tastes exactly as you want it.

Transfer the mixture to a baking pan, and sprinkle a bit of additional cheese over the top if you like.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and the cheese has browned nicely.

Serve immediately, or at room temperature.

Wonderful the next day as a spread, on toast, or reheated.

Butternut Couscous

23 Sep

With Walnuts + Goats Cheese + Red Wine SauceToday we started getting in gear for Queen Z’s 1st Birthday Party. Did most of the shopping and I prepared the butter cookies for baking tomorrow morning. So tonight, we wanted a good and simple meal that would nourish us and keep us going! I decided to cook the butternut that has been sitting on the table looking at me friendly like for the last couple of days. My friend, Floating Lemons, posted a recipe on my Facebook page that inspired me.

I decided to make roasted butternut and combine it with toasted spiced walnuts and some gorgeous blue goat’s cheese I found at the market. I wanted to serve it with spinach couscous, which I have made before. As the recipe was coming together, I decided that the butternut and couscous together would be a bit dry – so I made a red wine orange sauce on the fly! I combined the butternut with the walnuts and cheese, placed them on the green flecked couscous, and drizzled the wine sauce over. It was delicious! And a great example of how a recipe can expand as you make it.

This may seem a little complex, but to be honest, I made the whole thing in one small saucepan (with a tight fitting lid!), and a roasting dish. We all have too much on our plates for me to start cooking with a thousand pots, so the recipe will reflect the step by step process I went through. It feels and sounds quite complicated, but if you read the recipe a few times, you will see that its really easy peasy!

I started the butternut roasting and then got on with the rest – toasted the walnuts, chopped the cheese (which you can omit easily if you are vegan), made the sauce and the couscous. By the time the butternut was ready, the other ingredients were just waiting to be combined!

This meal will serve 4 hungry greedy people or 6 refined ones. You can easily cut it in half as well, or double it if needed. Enjoy!

Roasted Butternut

  • 1 medium butternut, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 9 – 12 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

In a large bowl, using your hands, combine the butternut, garlic and olive oil. The oil should lightly coat the butternut, not overwhelm it. Salt and pepper lightly and mix again with your hands to combine.

Line a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the butternut and garlic in a single layer on the pan, and roast for at least 30 minutes (it can go up to about 45) or until the butternut are soft, and slightly caramelised around the edges.

Once the butternut has roasted to your preference, take out of the oven and set aside to cool a little.

Toasted Walnuts

  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 tsp (or more) paprika
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • A few drops (literally) of olive oil

Chop the walnuts into small chunks, and put them into a non stick saucepan.

Place saucepan over medium heat, and start to toast the walnuts. You need to watch quite carefully so they dont burn, and stir often with a wooden spoon. If you are worried, lower the heat a bit. The oils in the walnuts will release and you will smell the wonderful, unmatchable scent of toasted nuts. Gorgeous.

Once the walnuts have just started to toast, sprinkle the paprika, red pepper and salt over the walnuts and stir to combine. Wait for the spicy scent to hit you and then drop a few drops of olive oil over all, and stir. The olive oil will help the spices adhere to the walnuts.

Toast for about a minute or so more – and taste to see if its to your liking. If so, take off the heat, and set the walnuts aside. I put them in a teacup!

Red Wine Orange Sauce

  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • 1/4 cup orange juice – fresh squeezed is best but if you only have orange juice from a carton thats fine too – it will be a bit sweet, and you might have to adjust accordingly.
  • 1 tbsp butter (or Earth Balance margarine if you are vegan)
  • Salt to taste (I only used a tiny pinch)
  • 2 tbsp sour cream (or heavy cream – or if youre vegan, use coconut cream or soy creamer/milk – oat milk would be good here too) – optional

This is not tons of sauce, its just a lick to give moisture and flavour.

Clean out the saucepan, and combine the red wine and orange juice together. Over high heat, bring the mixture to the boil, and boil quite rapidly until reduced by at least a third, and up to half.

Whisk in the butter or margarine, and add salt to taste. You should have quite a thick winey sauce – almost a glaze – with a strong orange flavour. Orange goes beautifully with butternut, so this will only brighten its amazing taste.

Whisk in the sour cream, if using, until the sauce is smooth. Taste and adjust salt. You could add some pepper as well, though I chose not to.

Pour into a teacup or mug (or small bowl, if youre fancy!) and set aside.

Spinach Couscous

  • 10 oz (about 280 g) box of couscous
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp butter or olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup raw baby spinach, minced

Clean out your saucepan again, and  heat water, butter or olive oil and salt until the water comes to a full boil. Stir in the couscous, and take the saucepan off the heat. Cover with lid, and allow to sit for five minutes.

Mince the spinach very fine.

Remove the lid from the saucepan, and using a fork, fluff the couscous. Add the spinach all at once and mix thoroughly to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Assembly

  • Roasted Butternut and Garlic
  • Toasted Walnuts
  • 1/2 cup blue goat’s cheese or chevre (optional)
  • Red Wine Orange Sauce
  • Spinach Couscous

The roasted butternut should have cooled a bit to room temperature.

In the roasting tin, combine the butternut, walnuts and cheese (if youre using). Mix well. Drizzle about half of your red wine sauce over and toss gently to combine.

Arrange the spinach couscous on a serving platter or in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, and place the butternut mixture into the well. Drizzle the rest of the red wine sauce over, and serve. Enjoy with loved ones.

PS – the leftovers are divine for lunch the next day, tossed together as a salad – or you could bring the whole thing on a picnic as a salad – its good cold too!

Vegetable Soup with Matzoh Balls

19 Sep

With Matzoh Balls!My sister and I caught the Baby Queen Z’s cold, so we are all a tad miserable. Even though its a gorgeous day outside, colds and flus almost demand a good, homemade vegetable soup. When we were little, it used to be a chicken soup with matzoh balls, so I decided to make them and add them to the vegetable soup. Matzoh balls are a supremely comforting Jewish tradition – matzoh cracker meal, combined with salt, egg and a bit of soup stock to make dumplings. Eating them feels like being enveloped in a pure cashmere blanket. And when youre ill, they are very nourishing.

I went vegetarian with the matzoh balls, though I did find good vegan recipes here and here. To be honest, I just wasnt up to trying the vegan version … not feeling focused or well enough to pay attention to multiple ingredients. But the soup is vegan – and I made it creamy and thick by whizzing it up with my immersion blender. Literally less than a minute and all those amazing veggies were pureed in a silken mass. I made the matzoh balls and boiled them in the soup pot (with the soup safely stored in a heatproof bowl) and then when they were done, introduced them to the soup.

Good, healthy, nourishing and full of vegetable love. Sure to make us all better in a jiffy!

Vegetable Soup

This makes 1 big potful. Adjust the vegetables to what you have in the fridge, but note that I almost always use onion or leek or both, carrot, and a can of plum tomatoes. Everything else comes and goes, but those are the constants 😉

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 3 small carrots, topped and tailed, and roughly chopped (leave the skin on)
  • 1 zucchini, roughly chopped (skin on)
  • 1 can plum tomatoes in their juice
  • 1 cup potatoes, chopped (skin on)
  • 1/2 head of rapini or broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onion and leek until they go soft and slightly melty, and a little browned along the edges. This is quite important as they form the basis of the soup, so you want to cook them long enough to caramelise a bit. This can take up to ten minutes depending on heat source.

Add the carrots, stir to combine, and let them soften, about three to four minutes.

Add the zucchini, stir to combine and let it soften, about two to three minutes.

Open a can of plum tomatoes in their juice, and pour over the soup base. I usually use one hand to hold and pour the tomatoes, and the other hand to catch the tomatoes as they fall into the soup and lightly crush them.

Fill the can with water twice, and add to the soup pot. Stir everything to combine.

Taste and lightly salt and pepper.

Add the potatoes, rapini and spinach, and lower the heat to a soft simmer. Allow the soup to simmer for about 20 minutes, checking every ten minutes or so to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. If there isnt, top it up.

Adjust salt and pepper.

You can eat the soup just as it is – broth and wonderful chunks of vegetables. But when I am ill, I like a smooth soup, so I take it off the heat, and use my immersion blender to make a really thick silky soup. The choice is up to you.

Matzoh balls

To be honest, you could use just about any cracker in this soup – saltines or oyster or water biscuits would all do. But if you have matzoh, use it – there is something very particular about this delicious taste that owes itself to the matzoh meal. Also, if you use salted crackers, adjust salt accordingly.

This will make for quite a salty unboiled mixture. Dont worry. A lot of the salt will boil out in the pot.

  • 1 cup matzoh meal
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp soup stock

To make the matzoh meal, take a matzoh cracker or two, break it up into smallish pieces, and place in a sturdy ziploc plastic bag. Using a wine bottle, rolling pin or other hard, heavy implement, smash the matzoh cracker until it is dust! Very therapeutic 😉

In a small bowl, combine the matzoh meal and the salt. In a separate small cup or bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and soup stock until combined well. Pour the egg mixture over the matzoh meal, and stir lightly to combine. It will be quite sticky and soft.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To boil the matzoh balls, transfer the soup into a large heatproof bowl. Its okay if a bit of soup remains – this will enrich the boiling liquid for the matzoh balls.

Fill the pot with water, and bring to the boil.

Take the matzoh mixture out of the fridge, and using your hands, make small balls (about 1 inch in diametre) and drop them in the boiling water. Remember that matzoh balls expand to more than twice their size, so dont make huge balls!

Boil for 20 – 30 minutes, or until cooked through. You will know when they are completely cooked when you cut through one and it is light and fluffy all the way through, having absorbed enough water to cook the insides.

Transfer the cooked matzoh balls to the soup, drain and rinse the pot, and transfer soup and matzoh balls back. Reheat gently. Eat and feel better!