Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Elinor's Salad of Broad Beans and Asparagus, topped with a Poached Egg and Parmesan Shavings



Okay, my daughter Elinor, age 10, didn't actually want to eat this salad, but, because she grew these broad beans herself, she was enchanted to see her crop mature into edible vegetables. And there is something so rewarding about planting seeds and seeing them transform into fresh, crunchy things you can eat. To the credit of my children, they have, over time, eagerly planted all sorts of things: seeds, seedlings, marbles, socks, toys, fish-fingers, stiff hamsters, rigid budgies and, on one memorable occasion, a bare foot through a glass window. Mostly, the results of these plantings have been pathetic (and painful and expensive, in the case of the foot).  Small children have no patience, and they lose interest so quickly.   Watering a seedling that shows no inclination to turn into a carrot within four hours holds no appeal for a child.  Particularly - and this was my mistake in my earlier mommy-gardening years - if it was sown in a barren, shady patch at the saddest end of the garden.

All that changed three years ago, when I asked a friend - a professional garden landscaper- to do a little revamp of my suburban patch. There were three things she insisted upon: a) that every bed in this 60-year-old garden should be excavated to a depth of 75 cm, and refilled with a dark, rich, fruit-cakey soil mixture b) that an irrigation system be installed and c) that I buy an enormous amount of good compost. If these three things were done, she said, I would reap the rewards for many years to come.

She was quite right (thanks, Tracey!).  My garden jungled, and twelve months later, when a black frost killed the ornamental shrubs in a 50-cm-wide strip running down one garden wall, I pulled them out, recomposted the beds and planted every vegetable and herb and tree that I could lay my hands on. The reward: bountiful crops of lovely fresh greens and veggies. Which just goes to show that you really don't need a lot of space to grow your own food.

Broad Bean and Asparagus Salad Anyway, Elinor has eagerly inspected her mustard greens, rocket, lettuce, carrots and broad beans - all grown from packets - every day for months.  And when the beans were finally harvested and eaten - by me, greedily, and with slurping noises - well, this girl was in heaven: I heard her singing as she picked her crop.

This is not to say that there is any monetary profit whatsoever in growing your own vegetables on a small scale (although it's definitely cheaper to grow your own herbs). The yield is really tiny, and it's far, far cheaper to buy them from your local greengrocer. But, then again, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you've shown your child how to grow something, and how delicious that something tastes like when it is plucked straight out of the earth.  You will also know exactly where that produce came from, and you can even bask in the knowledge that it is really, truly  and terribly organic.  (See my post about the dubious greeniness of growing your own veg).      

This recipe needs and deserves a hot poached egg, with a runny centre.  If you are not confident about poaching an egg in boiling water (and this is extremely tricky, given the humdrum quality of South African eggs), use my cling-film method, which you will find in the recipe below.  

Elinor's Salad of Broad Beans and Asparagus, topped with a Poached Egg and Parmesan Shavings

For the dressing:
a small clove of fresh garlic, peeled
a pinch of salt
4 T (60 ml) olive oil
the juice of a lemon
half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) Dijon mustard

For the salad:
1 cup (250 ml) fresh broad beans [fava beans], taken out of their pods
10 small spears of fresh asparagus, sliced into 3-cm-long pieces
a handful (about half a cup; 125 ml) flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
2 fresh eggs
1 T (25 ml) white vinegar (see notes below about egg-poaching)
a small wedge of Parmesan cheese (Grana Padano or Pecorino will do)
freshly milled black pepper

First make the dressing. Crush the garlic (in a mortar, with the salt, or with a garlic crusher) and, in a little bowl, whisk it together with the other dressing ingredients.

Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil. Tip in all the broad beans, and cook for three minutes.  Remove   from the boiling water, using a slotted spoon, and place in a bowl. If you are dealing with big broad beans, slip off their white skins by making a small slit with a knife and squeezing them gently. If they are tiny, leave them as they are. Now add the asparagus to the water and cook at a rapid boil for 4-5 minutes, or until  just tender. Remove, drain well and add to the bowl containing the beans. Leave the water boiling.

Now poach the eggs: if you're using the traditional method, add a splash of white vinegar to the water, which should be gently boiling.  Break the first egg into a tea cup.  Using a big spoon, stir the water rapidly to create a vortex. Gently tip the egg into the boiling water.  Poach for three to four minutes, or until the egg white is cooked through, but the yolk is still runny. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Do the same with the second egg.

Or, use my cheat's method: press a piece of clingfilm (saran wrap) into a ramekin dish or teacup, or a similarly sized bowl.  Allow the clingfilm generously to overlap the edges of the dish. Using your fingers, rub a little vegetable oil over the surface of the clingfilm (but only over those parts pressed up against the edges of the bowl).  Break the egg - keeping its yolk intact - into the lined dish.  Now gather up the edges, pull them upwards and twist them lightly together to make a small 'purse'. Submerge the 'purse' in the boiling water. You will need to hold this package while it cooks, or, at a pinch, you can drape its edges over the side of the pan. Cook for two and a half to three minutes, or until the egg white is cooked through, but the yolk is hot but still runny.  Lift the purse from the water  and put it on a chopping board. Carefully peel away and flatten the clingfilm. Gently slide a metal spatula under the egg to loosen it, taking care not to break the yolk.  Trim away any ragged edges, using a sharp knife.

Pour the dressing over the warm beans and asparagus and stir in the chopped parsley. Toss well to combine and season with salt and pepper.  Pile the salad onto a plate and top with the hot poached eggs. Using a potato peeler, shave thin slices off the cheese and scatter them over the salad.  Serve immediately.

Serves 2. 


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Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Warm New-Potato Salad with Bacon and Mustard Greens

Warm potatoes release the punchy flavours of
mustard greens.
Are you familiar with mustard greens? My vegetable patch is bursting with the ones my daughter planted six weeks ago, and I am so enjoying their peppery, mustardy bite, and the mild nasal tingle they deliver.

They are too strong to use raw on their own once they grow past the tender little seedling stage, but are delicious chopped and scattered over salads, and in stir-fries.

Combined with warm boiled baby potaoes, salty bacon, chives and a light dressing, they are are such a treat.

Scatter a handful of mustard-green seeds in your
garden at the end of winter, and you'll be
rewarded with a bountiful crop. 
The mustard greens should be added to the salad after you've dressed it, and immediately before serving, so they are just ever so slightly wilted. If you want to make the salad in advance and serve it cold or at room temperature, add the greens at the very last minute.

You can make this salad with rocket, sorrel or even baby spinach leaves, but do try to to grow mustard seeds in your own garden, even if you have only a few pots on a balcony. You'll be amazed at how fast they grown, and how interestingly zippy they taste.

Warm New-Potato Salad with Bacon and Mustard Greens

24 new potatoes, boiled with salt until just tender
10 rashers streaky bacon, diced
a small onion, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
the juice of a lemon
100 ml olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp (45 ml) chopped fresh chives
a small bunch of fresh young mustard greens, rocket, sorrel or spinach
salt and milled black pepper

Drain the hot baby potatoes and keep warm. Heat a frying pan, add a little olive oil and fry the bacon over a brisk heat until crisp and browned. In the meantime, put the chopped onion, crushed garlic, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a big mixing bowl and stir well (this will help remove the sting from the onions). Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Pour the vinegar into the hot pan, swirl and scrape to loosen the bacon residue, and immediately remove from the heat. Whisk in the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cut the baby potatoes in half, skins and all, and add them, together with the cooked bacon and chopped chives, to the bowl containing the onions. Pour over the warm dressing and toss together gently. Finely slice the mustard greens into ribbons (if you're using rocket, leave it whole) and add them to the salad. Toss again. Tip into a clean salad bowl and take it straight to the table.

Serve 6-8 as a side salad


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Monday, 21 September 2009

Spinach and Pea Soup with a Creamy Lemony Mint Topping

This lovely fresh green soup takes minutes to make, using baby spinach and frozen peas, but it does need a good chicken or vegetable stock to add depth. You can use your own home-made stock, or buy a fresh carton from the supermarket.

Spinach and Pea Soup with a Creamy Lemony Mint Topping
Spinach and Pea Soup with a
 Creamy Lemony Mint Topping.
Don't omit the zingy topping: it's the contrast between the cool minty lemony creaminess and the metallic tang of the hot soup that gives this dish its special character.

I really think mint is the most underrated of herbs, and I don't know why it's not used with the same abandon as coriander and parsley.

Take care not to overcook the spinach, or you will end up with a mess of muddy olive green.



Spinach and Pea Soup with Creamy Lemony Mint Topping

For the soup:
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil or butter
a small onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
400 g baby spinach, rinsed (two 'pillow' packs)
3 cups (750 ml) frozen peas
a thumb-long sprig of mint
1.25 litres (5 cups) boiling chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) grated nutmeg
salt and milled black pepper

For the topping:
¾ cup (180 ml) crème fraîche or sour cream
the finely grated zest of half a lemon
4 tsp (20 ml) fresh lemon juice
10 fresh mint leaves, very finely shredded
salt and pepper (white pepper, if have have it)
finely chopped chives

First make the topping. Put the crème fraîche into a small bowl and beat for 30 seconds until soft. Add the lemon zest and juice and the mint, stir well and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate while you make the soup.

Heat the olive oil or butter in a large pot and add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until soft and translucent, but don't allow the garlic to brown. Pile all the wet spinach, the peas and the mint sprig into the pot, toss well to coat and cook over a high heat for two to three minutes, until the spinach is just wilted. Add a generous pinch of salt and pour in the hot stock.

Cover and bring rapidly to the boil. Cook for five or so minutes, or until the peas are just tender and the spinach is still bright green. Remove from the heat. Fish out the mint sprig and discard. Whizz to a fine purée using a liquidizer or stick blender. Skim off any accumulated foam. Stir in the nutmeg and season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Serve piping hot, topped with big blobs of cold crème fraîche and chopped chives.

Serves 6.

Cook's Notes

You can use young Swiss chard in place of spinach, but take care to remove all the fibrous stems.

If you're watching calories, use thick white Greek yoghurt in place of crème fraîche or sour cream.

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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi with a Fresh Tomato and Cream Sauce

This summery Italian dish requires a bit of time, and some attention to detail, but I can promise that you will not regret the effort you have made: it is, to my mind, an almost-perfect recipe: simple, fresh-tasting, refined and - let me not forget - utterly delicious.

Gnocchi verdi con sugo di pomodoro e panna was the first recipe I made, the year I was married, from Italian food guru Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook (MacMillan, 1988). This is still among my favourite cookbooks, and I have used it over and over again. What is very special about Marcella Hazan is her skill as a recipe writer: her instructions are both detailed and exact: comprehensive on one hand, yet on the other pleasingly concise. (Note to self: must try hard to write short recipes.)

I have adapted this recipe to cater for hurried family eating: my gnocchi balls are bigger than the 12-18 mm Hazan advises; I don't add any mortadella, green bacon or pancetta, and I don't always bother to peel the tomatoes for the sauce. When I can't find fresh spinach leaves, I use Swiss chard. Also, as real Parmesan cheese is shockingly expensive in South Africa, I use a local parmesan-like cheese or a good Pecorino.

I have tried this buttery tomato sauce with both good Italian tinned tomatoes and very deep-red, fresh tomatoes, and the fresh tomato version comes out tops every time. This sauce contains a lot of butter, which you can cut back on if you like, but the sauce just won't taste as good.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi with a Fresh Tomato and Cream Sauce

For the tomato sauce:
1 small onion, peeled and very finely chopped
a stick of young celery, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
900 g fresh, ripe, deep-red tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped, or the equivalent weight of tinned Italian tomatoes
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) white sugar
160 g salted butter
salt and freshly milled black pepper
150 ml single cream

For the gnocchi:
700 g fresh spinach leaves or Swiss chard leaves, stripped from their stems
1 T (15 ml) olive oil and a knob of butter
1 small onion or shallot, peeled and very finely chopped
salt
250 g fresh ricotta cheese
140 g white flour
3 egg yolks
150 g freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
1/2 t (2.5 ml) freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

First make the sauce. Put all the ingredients, except the cream, into a saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil, and then reduce the heat. Allow to bubble gently, uncovered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little water. Now blend the mixture to a fine puree using a stick blender, or a liquidizer. At this point, if you haven't peeled your tomatoes, you can strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl. Tip into a bowl, stir in the cream and keep warm.

While the tomatoes are cooking, start making the gnocchi. Rinse the spinach or chard leaves, shake off the excess moisture, and place them in a big saucepan over a medium-to-high heat. Toss the leaves over the heat, stirring constantly, until they are wilted and reduced by about three-quarters in volume. (You can also do this in a microwave oven.) This should take about 5 minutes. Tip the spinach into a colander set over the sink, and set aside to drain, pressing down hard now and then with the back of a soup ladle to squeeze out any excess moisture. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then place on a board and chop finely.

Heat a little olive oil and the knob of butter in a frying pan and add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Fry the onion gently for a few minutes, or until just tender and beginning to turn golden. Allow to cool for five minutes and tip into a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped, cooked spinach, the ricotta cheese, the flour and the egg yolks. Mix together (add a little water if the mixture seems too dry), then stir in the grated Parmesan, nutmeg and pepper. Roll the mixture into small balls, wetting your hands if it sticks. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Drop the balls, four or five at a time, into the boiling water. Wait two to three minutes after the water has come back to the boil (the balls will begin to float), remove with slotted spoon and place in a warmed dish. Repeat until all the gnocchi is cooked. Reheat the sauce and pour it over the gnocchi, shaking gently so that each ball is coated. Serve with more grated Parmesan.

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Salad of Griddled Baby Butternut with Lemon, Garlic, Feta and Mint: plus a Cooksister!

Salad of Griddled Baby Butternut with Lemon,
 Garlic, Feta and Mint
There are two things I want to write about in this post: one is a delicious, garlicky, lemony dish of chargrilled baby-butternut-squash slices, and the other is Jeanne Horak, arguably the Net's best-known South African food blogger. I've been scratching my head for 20 minutes trying to find a way to knit these two topics into a coherent opening paragraph, and I think I have cracked it.

What do this vegetable and Jeanne have in common? Well, they're both young, fresh and unusual, they're both South African, each one has added a particular deliciousness to my day. Jeanne, I apologise for comparing you to a vegetable (a word that doesn't have good connotations when applied to a human), but I know you won't mind at all. In fact, I think, given your love of fine, snappingly fresh ingredients, you'd be quite pleased to be compared to an infant butternut in the prime of its youth.

Jeanne Horak, who lives in London, is a talented cook, food writer and photographer, not to mention a great champion of South African food bloggers. Her blog, Cooksister, has won many awards, and in February 2009 was listed in The Times, UK, as one of the Top Ten Food Blogs for the Home Cook. What's more, she's drawn up a comprehensive directory of South African food blogs.

We met last year, when Jeanne contacted me to say that she and her husband were nipping into South Africa for a few weeks, and it was jolly good to meet her, and the other Johannesburg food bloggers she'd lined up for a Sunday breakfast. Anyway, the reason I mention this is because Jeanne has generously featured my Scrumptious blog on her South African food bloggers' page - click here to read more about me and my food philosophy.

Now, the very tiny baby butternut squashes. I came across these perky little beauties, each the length of a middle finger, at my local veggie shop today, and was intrigued by their lovely pale-cream and green variegated skin. Thinking they'd probably taste similar to baby marrows (courgettes) or pattypan squashes, and would be perfect for a stir-fry, I bought them.

But, after slicing off a piece and tasting it, I was intrigued to note that the flesh was a little denser and sweeter than that of a baby marrow, with a nutty note, and not at all watery or spongy. So I decided to char-grill them and dress them, still warm, with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, feta cheese, fresh mint and parsley. And, oh my goodness, they were faintingly good: cooked in a very hot ridged grill pan, they developed a slight sweetness at the edges, but were still tender-crisp and full of flavour. The dressing contains a lot of crushed fresh garlic, but it is strained before it's poured over the cooked butternut.

If you can't find these, you can use courgettes or pattypan squashes instead, although the final result will be somewhat more watery. This just won't work with mature, yellow-fleshed, hard-skinned butternuts.

Salad of Grilled Baby Butternut with Lemon, Feta and Mint

10 baby (really tiny) butternut squashes
some olive oil for rubbing
the juice of a lemon

For the dressing:
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
the juice of a large lemon (about 3 T; 45 ml)
130 ml fruity olive oil
a pinch of salt
freshly milled black pepper

To top:
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh, finely chopped mint
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh, finely chopped parsley
crumbled feta cheese

salt and freshly milled black pepper

Heat a ridged griddle pan on a hot plate for 7-10 minutes, or until very, very hot. Wipe each little butternut squash to remove any furry bits. Cut the squashes, lengthways (that is, from top to bottom, stalks and all), into four 'leaves'.

Using your fingers, rub each slice, top and bottom, with a little olive oil. Place the slices on the griddle, in batches, and cook until dark-gold lines appear on the underside, and the edges of each slice begin to darken. Add more olive oil, if necessary. Flip the slices over. When they are nicely striped on both sides, remove them from the pan and put aside on a plate.

When all the slices have been browned, pile them back into the griddle pan, turn the heat down to medium-low, wait for a few minutes for the pan to cool slightly, and squeeze over the juice of one lemon, plus a tablespoon of water. Cover the griddle pan with a circle of greaseproof paper, or a saucepan lid of the right size. Leave the slices to steam gently until they are just cooked: that is, tender-crisp, but not raw, and certainly not mushy.

In the meantime, make the dressing. Finely chop the garlic, or smash it to pieces with a mortar and pestle. Add the olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice, and whisk well to combine. Let the mixture sit and infuse for ten minutes while you finish cooking the butternut slices.

Lift the cooked baby butternut slices from the pan, arrange on a big platter and allow to cool for five minutes. Strain the garlicky dressing, through a metal sieve, over warm slices, pressing down on the garlic mush with the back of a spoon. Scatter the chopped mint and parsley over the dish, and toss gently to combine. Crumble the feta cheese over the salad, and set aside, at room temperature, for an hour or two so the flavours can mingle. You can make this up to 8 hours in advance, but don't put it in the fridge.

Serves 6-8, as a side salad. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday, 7 September 2009

Fillet Steak with a Herby Lemon Crust and Béarnaise Sauce

It's not easy pleasing a family with divergent tastes, so I was delighted when my teenage sons, after their first bite of this meal, fell off their chairs in a pretend faint. I adore fillet steak, and béarnaise is probably my favourite sauce in the world, but as the former is ludicrously expensive, and the latter indecently rich and fatty, these are not things we eat every day.

But my husband was home for the weekend, after an absence of a month, and I wanted to make something splendid. This combination of rare, meltingly tender fillet steaks topped with crunchy, herby, lemony crumbs and served with béarnaise sauce - a silken emulsion of butter and egg yolks flavoured with tarragon and reduced vinegar - is quite scrumptious. And perfect for a dinner party.

This sauce often strikes terror into the hearts of cooks and chefs, because it is temperamental and can curdle in the blinking of an eye. But, although time-consuming to make, it is worth the effort, and quite easy to master if you are patient and methodical in making it.

The trick with béarnaise is to take your time over it (this sauce definitely requires at least 15-20 minutes of loving attention), to whisk it diligently, and to make sure that the mixture heats very, very slowly. You can do this by putting a heat diffuser over a hot plate, and placing a heavy-bottomed saucepan on top of that, or you can make the sauce in a double boiler. By far the best method, in my view, is to place a big roasting pan of warm water on top of your hob, with half the pan over the hot plate (or gas fire) and the other half resting on the adjacent, cold plate. Put a glass or metal bowl into the cool end of the roasting pan and gradually move it towards the hotter side. By the time you've beaten in all the butter, the bowl should be in the hottest part of the water. Also, it helps to keep dipping your finger in the sauce as it heats. When the béarnaise is ready, it will feel hot to your finger, but not unbearably hot (which will scramble the eggs). If it feels lukewarm, it's not cooked.

If your béarnaise looks like it's starting to separate, you can save it by quickly beating in some cold water, a tablespoon at a time. If the eggs have curdled, though, it's too late to save, and you will need to start all over again. Traditionally, béarnaise sauce is made with clarified butter, but I find it works just as well with slightly softened unsalted butter.

If you can't find fresh tarragon (and I often can't in Johannesburg), use a good brand of dried tarragon, or, as I did, crumbled frozen tarragon (read my notes here about freezing dill; the same applies to tarragon).

Ideally, a béarnaise sauce should be made just before it is served but this isn't always practical. If you need to put the sauce on hold for a while, place a piece of clingfilm directly on the surface of the sauce (to prevent a skin forming) and leave the bowl resting in hot water. Even better, tip the sauce into a wide-mouthed thermos flask and screw on the lid tightly. First prize, though, goes to the wonderful Wonderbag: a polycotton drawstring bag filled with polystyrene beads that holds food at a constant temperature for hours. My wonderbag held a batch of this sauce for over an hour with absolutely no loss of texture or flavour. Click here to read my post about this brilliant South African innovation.

Fillet Steak with a Herby Lemon Crust and Béarnaise Sauce

1 whole fillet steak, at room temperature, cut into 3-cm thick slices
salt and milled black pepper
oil and butter for frying

For the crust:

3 slices day-old white bread
2 T (30 ml) fresh oregano or thyme, or a combination
2 T (30 ml fresh parsley leaves
1 T (15 ml) fresh sage leaves
1 t (5 ml) fresh rosemary needles
the finely grated zest of a lemon
3 T (45 ml) slightly softened butter
salt and freshly milled black pepper

For the béarnaise sauce:
4 T (60 ml) white-wine vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
1/4 of an onion (or 1 shallot), peeled and finely chopped
a small bayleaf
a sprig of tarragon (dried will do; see notes above)
a sprig of fresh thyme
8 peppercorns, lightly crushed
3 small egg yolks, or two jumbo ones
1 T (15 ml) cold water
180 g unsalted butter, softened
lemon juice to taste
salt and milled black pepper
1 t (5 ml) chopped fresh tarragon
1 t (5 ml) chopped fresh chervil (or parsley)

First make the crust. Put the bread, the herbs and the lemon zest into a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until you have a fairly fine crumb. Add the butter, whizz a few times to combine, and season with salt and pepper.

To make the sauce, put the vinegar, onion, bayleaf, thyme, tarragon and peppercorns into a saucepan. Heat the mixture to a gentle simmer, and cook until the vinegar has reduced by two-thirds (you should have about 4 t - 20 ml - remaining). Remove from the heat, stir well, and set aside to cool completely. Place a roasting pan full of warm water on top of the hob, half off a hot plate and half on (see notes above). Allow to heat slightly, and place a glass bowl in the cooler end of the pan. Put the egg yolks, water, a pinch of salt and 1 T (15 ml) cold water in the bowl. Strain the cooled vinegar into the pan. Beat, using a balloon whisk, for 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened, slowly moving the glass bowl towards hotter side of the roasting dish so that the mixture gradually warms up. Now add the soft butter, a knob at a time, whisking continuously as the sauce thickens and gradually heats. Don't allow the water around the bowl to boil. When all the butter has been incorporated, and the mixture is thick, hot and smooth, remove from the heat and add - if you're serving the sauce immediately - a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste, and the chervil and tarragon. If you're going to keep the sauce warm for a while, add the lemon juice and chopped chervil and parsley just before you serve it. Check seasoning.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan or skillet, add a little oil and, when blazing hot, add the fillet steaks and a knob of butter. Cook, in batches, for two minutes or so, on either side (according to how pink you like your steak), until nicely browned on the outside. In the meantime, heat the grill on your oven.

Remove the steaks from the pan, place on a baking tray and cover each one with a little of the prepared herb crust. Pat down gently so that the crust sticks, but not so hard that it compresses into a carapace. Put the steaks under the grill for a minute or so - not too close - and watch them like a hawk. When the crumb topping is golden and crispy, remove from the oven and set the steaks aside to rest for exactly five minutes.

Serve with the béarnaise sauce, stir-fried spinach and perhaps some creamy scalloped potatoes.

Serves 6-8, depending on the size of your fillet.

Note: You can add any combination of fresh herbs to the topping, but I think sage is just essential. For a change, try adding a little Dijon mustard and fresh chopped garlic.
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Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Bar-One and Coffee Ice Cream Bombe, with built-in sauce topping

Bar-One and Coffee Ice Cream Bombe, with built-in sauce 
As voluptuous as a buttered buttock, this creamy, chocolatey pudding is so easy and versatile: you don't need an ice cream maker to make it, and it doesn't need stirring during the freezing process.

 Be warned, though, it's decadent: the word 'sinful' doesn't come close to describing this dessert. It's shockingly, scandalously rich, and probably not suitable for anyone over the age of 12.

This recipe uses Bar One, a much-loved South African chocolate bar very similar to a Mars Bar. If you can't find such a thing where you live, use good-quality chocolate instead (but the bombe will come out without its rich toffee topping).

It also contains chopped Chuckles, which are similar to Maltesers. You can omit these if you like, or use chocolate chips, or chopped, toasted nuts, or crushed amaretti biscuits.

Because I was making this for my kids, I didn't add any booze, but the angels will sing if you add a slug (about 3 Tbsp; 45 ml) of whiskey or a nutty liqueur to the mixture.

This recipe is a happy kitchen accident: my idea was to make a yolkless mousse from Bar Ones (a hot chocolate sauce made of melted Bar Ones is very popular in South Africa) and then freeze it. I was dismayed to find that the toffeeish components sank to the bottom of the bombe mould, and then cheered up when I tipped it out to find that the sauce I'd planned to make (from a reserved Bar One) had made itself.

Bar-One and Coffee Ice Cream Bombe
4 x Bar Ones (55 g each)
½ cup (125 ml) sweetened condensed milk
3 Tbsp (45 ml) instant coffee granules
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract or essence
2 cups (500 ml) whipping cream
4 egg whites (use fresh, free-range eggs)
a tiny pinch of salt
125 g Chuckles (or Maltesers), lightly crushed (see notes above for alternatives)

Lightly oil a 1-litre metal or glass bowl and line with a large sheet of cling film, pressing down well so that there are no air bubbles. You could also use a glass terrine dish, or even a metal loaf or cake pan. Place in the deep freeze for twenty minutes.

Now melt the Bar Ones: first, chop them into chunks, using a heavy knife. Place in the microwave and cook, on medium, in two to three one-minute bursts, stirring every minute, until they are melted and gloopy. If you don't have a microwave oven, put a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, add the chocolate chunks, and allow to melt slowly, stirring now and then.

Using a wire whisk, or an electric one, beat the condensed milk, instant coffee granules and vanilla extract into the melted chocolate mixture. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. In a separate bowl, whip the cream to a nice soft billow. Set aside. Put the Chuckles (or Maltesers, or toasted nuts) into a polythene bag and, using a rolling pin, bash them lightly to form a rough crumble. Now, in a new, spotlessly clean bowl, and with a clean whisk, beat the egg whites and a tiny pinch of salt to soft, cloudy peaks.

Take a large metal spoon and fold two dollops of the egg white into the chocolate, in order to loosen the mixture. Now gently fold in the remaining egg white. Sprinkle with the crumbled Chuckles. Fold in the whipped cream.

Pour the mixture into the prepared, plastic-lined bowl or pan and place in the freezer. Freeze until firm (about 3 to 4 hours, depending on your freezer). Unmould onto a cold platter and peel off the clingfilm. Allow to soften for ten minutes, then cut into slim slices with a knife that you've dipped in hot water.

Serves 8-10. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly