Monday 28 December 2009

Two Low-Carb Festive dips: Red Pepper & Cumin Dip, and Avocado, Crème Fraîche & Coriander Dip

 Chermoula-style Red Pepper & Cumin Dip, and
Avocado, Crème Fraîche & Coriander Dip
Two lovely low-carb festive dips: one cool, pale and creamy; the other a zippy rust-red zing of garlic, cumin and red pepper. Served together, they make a good contrasting pair, with finely chopped fresh coriander singing out as a common ingredient.

Something else these dips have in common: both recipes are the work of my two younger sisters, who magicked them, independently, from their kitchens during a week of feasting. (For the first time in three years my entire family - my mum, my three sisters, my three brothers-in-law, and many cousins - is assembled in Hout Bay, Cape Town, and we have spent the last few days happily shuttling between houses, shuffling cousins between beds, and filling ourselves with festive cheer).

I liked these dips so much that I disgraced myself by licking out the bowls. Then I went home and made them myself, but they were demolished by my teens before my tongue got within slurping distance.

Every flavour my tastebuds crave - the zing of lemon, the sting of garlic, the sweet smokiness of the roasted peppers, the stealthy warmth of cumin - is contained in these recipes, and I can't help being intrigued that all three of my sisters adore the same flavours. Is this genetic, I wonder? It can't be that we were raised in the same household: in the 60s and 70s, when we were kids, coriander, raw garlic and cumin and other newfangleds were neither available nor on the family menu.

The first recipe, which is reminiscent of a Moroccan chermoula mixture, uses Peppadews, which are small, mild-tasting bottled peppers. If you can't get these, use bottled red chillies, or any similar heat-producing agent, such as Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper, in quantities to suit your personal heat-meter. Please use very fresh powdered cumin and paprika (both spices start to taste dusty as they age) and remove all the stalks from the herbs before you chop them.

My sister served this in dollops over a bowl of creamy cold crème fraîche. (She says this paste is lovely with fresh fillets of fish: smear the paste on the skinless side of the fish and bake in a moderate oven until the fish is done and the topping just bubbling.)

The second dip is similar to a guacamole but fresher, lighter, zingier and made utterly delicious by a lot of crunchy fresh coriander.  It came about, says my (other) sister, because she had only one usable avocado to mix with a lot of crème fraîche and coriander. (I don't know what is going on with South Africa's usually bountiful avocado crop right now, but I can tell you that they cost a staggering R12 each right now, and that they are downright puny.)

Red Pepper, Cumin and Garlic Dip

6 ripe red peppers [capsicums or bell peppers]
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
3 bottled Peppadews, drained and sliced (or a bottled chilli pepper, or Tabasco sauce, to taste)
2½ tsp (12.5 ml) powdered cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) paprika
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
the juice of a lemon
the finely grated zest of half a lemon
½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander leaves [cilantro]
½ cup (125 ml) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C. Place the peppers, whole, on a baking sheet covered with a piece of tin foil. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until they have collapsed and blistered. Turn off the heat and let them cool completely in the oven.

Bake the peppers until they're blistered and soft.
Remove the tray from the oven, slip the skins off the peppers, and remove the stalks and any seeds. Place the flesh in the bowl of a food processor or liquidiser.

Add the garlic, Peppadews, cumin, paprika, olive oil and lemon juice, and whizz to a paste. If the mixture is too thick to turn the blades, add a little water or lemon juice.

Now add the lemon zest and finely chopped coriander and parsley, and press the pulse button once or twice so that the mixture is just combined (the herbs should retain a crunch). Season with salt and pepper and decant into a pretty bowl.

Serves 6-8, as a snack 

Avocado, Crème Fraîche & Coriander Dip

1 large avocado
250 g (1 tub) crème fraîche
the juice of 1 small lemon
2/3 cup (125 ml) very finely chopped fresh coriander leaves [cilantro]
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Halve the avocado, remove the pip and scoop out the flesh. Place in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and add the crème fraîche and lemon juice.  Whizz to a smooth paste. Tip in the coriander leaves and pulse once or twice, or until the herbs are finely minced.  Season with salt and pepper and decant into a bowl.

Serve these dips with a bowl of olives, iced celery sticks, cucumber discs and feta cheese, if you're low-carbing, or with hot pita bread or toasted baguettes if you're not.

Serves 6-8, as a snack 

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 24 December 2009

Mango and Macadamia Turkey Stuffing with Sage and Sausage Meat

My husband likes a bit of stuffing (groan...but how could I not use that old chestnut?) and is very partial to one containing dried apricots, just like his mum used to make.  This year, though, I thought I'd go for something with more of a local flavour.

Mangos have just come into season here in South Africa, and my goodness they are good this year: big, juicy globes with perfect, perfumed flesh.  I've used dried mangos in this stuffing, and have chosen local macadamias for the nut component, because they are surely the crunchiest of all nuts. A little pork-sausage meat adds body to the stuffing, with sage and lemon rind adding a final burst of flavour.

I can't offer you a photograph of the finished turkey, because it hasn't gone into the oven.

I love the day before Christmas (many South Africans have a feast on Christmas Eve, rather than on the 25th, when it's usually just too hot to sit down to an enormous lunch with all the trimmings).

We' re expecting 26 relatives and friends for a big feast tonight, including my sister and her family who have come from Sydney. (No, this turkey won't feed 26 - my sister's also bringing turkeys, and my mum bought a ham so big I had to put a seatbelt on it to drive it home.)   My other sister's making a Black Forest trifle, and the other (I have lots of sisters!) a cold cucumber soup for starters.  In a few minutes a gang of over-excited cousins is arriving to decorate the Christmas table, and I am marching around in my apron shouting instructions:  'Peel the potatoes! (My husband). 'Carry chairs outside!'  (My teens). 'Go and have a rest!' (My daughter).  I am a teeny bit grumpy, but that's all part of the fun, isn't it?

This quantity is enough to stuff a 3.5 kg turkey.

Mango and Macadamia Turkey Stuffing with Sage and Sausage Meat

a little sunflower oil
1 large onion, peeled and very finely chopped
4 pork sausages (Eskort sausages are unbeatable)
2 cloves garlic,  very finely chopped
3/4 cup macadamia nuts
1/3 cup chopped, dried mango slices
10 slices day-old white or brown bread, torn
6 large sage leaves
1 large (thumb-length) sprig of thyme, leaves stripped
the finely grated zest of a small lemon
1 extra-large egg, or two small ones, lightly beaten
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan and add the onion.  Cook over a medium heat until just softened. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the sausages and add to the pan. Turn up the heat and cook briskly, using a fork to crumble the sausage meat.  When the meat begins to brown, add the garlic and cook for another two minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place the macadamia nuts and mango in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse until roughly chopped.   Remove and set aside.  Add the bread, sage, thyme and lemon zest to the food processor bowl and process until fine.  Tip into a large bowl, add the egg and season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped mango and nuts. Using your fingers, combine the mixture well.  It should have a loose open texture and just hold together when you squeeze a little into a ball.

Now test the seasoning: heat some sunflower oil in the same pan in which you cooked the onions, and add a little piece of stuffing. Fry on both sides until lightly browned. Taste the mixture and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Stuff the mixture into the cavity and the neck area of your turkey, tie up the legs and cook the turkey according the the instructions on the packet.

Enough to stuff a 3.5 kg turkey. 
Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke
'Brandy and Coke is something of a national institution among a certain stratum (and age group!) of the South African population,' comments my friend and fellow food blogger Jeanne Horak-Druiff.  "I would rather die of dehydration than order a brandy and Coke in a bar, but my father has had a brandy and Coke before dinner every Saturday night since I can remember."

She's right: this potent combination is practically compulsory if you own a) a pair of bollocks and b) a set of braai tongs.

Suiping of brandy and Coke reaches a peak just before rugby matches and during the December hols: you can be certain that, as we speak, South Africans are lounging around pools, braais, campsites and back yards knocking back Klippies (Klipdrift brandy) and Coke by the barrelful.

So what better combination, I thought, with which to glaze a Christmas gammon?

Coca-Cola makes an excellent glazing liquid because it cooks to a dark sticky glaze, and is so sweet and spicily zingy (do you know that the top-secret Coke formula is believed to contain vanilla, cinnamon and citrus?).

The gammon is boiled in a liquid that contains ginger ale, beer, the usual Christmassy spices and some whole star anise, which gives the meat a delicate aniseed flavour (entirely optional).

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy and Coke

For the gammon:
One 2.5 kg uncooked gammon, bone out, skin on
330 ml (1 can) ginger ale
330 ml (1 can) beer
2 whole star anise
3 bay leaves
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 thumb-length quill of cinnamon
a blade of mace (or a grating of nutmeg)
15 ml (1 Tbsp) white peppercorns (black will do)
enough water to cover

For the glaze:
330 ml (1 can)  Coca-Cola
20 ml (4 tsp) Dijon mustard
5 ml (1 tsp) hot English mustard powder
100 ml brown sugar
15 ml (1 Tbsp) lemon juice
30 ml (2 Tbsp) brandy (Klipdrift, if you want to be authentic)
whole cloves

Put all the ingredients for the gammon in a large saucepan and add just enough water to cover the gammon. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a lively simmer. Cook for 20 minutes per 500 g (for a 2.5 kg piece, 1 hour and 40 minutes), topping up with liquid now and then if necessary. Turn off the heat and leave the gammon in the liquid to cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 200 ºC. Pour the Coca-Cola into a saucepan, turn on the heat and allow to bubble briskly until the liquid is reduced by half. Whisk in the mustard, mustard powder and the sugar, turn up the heat and boil rapidly for two minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and brandy.

Fish the gammon out of the cooking liquid, pat dry and place in a roasting pan. Carefully peel away the rind (using a knife to ease it off, if necessary) and discard. Use the tip of a sharp knife, or a craft knife, score deep diagonal lines across the fat, first one way, and then the other, to form a diamond pattern. Press a clove into the middle of each diamond.

Pour the glaze over the gammon and place in the hot oven. Baste every five minutes, scooping the glaze off the bottom of the pan and trickling it over the the top of the gammon (it will thicken and reduce as time goes on). Roast until the glaze is dark and sticky. Remove from the oven, trickle any glaze left on the bottom of the pan over the gammon and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Or cool completely and enjoy it cold.

Serves 10 as a buffet dish.

PS The two photos above were taken on my new veranda, and in my lovely new kitchen in Hout Bay. I'm sorry there's been such a long silence, but now that I'm unpacked and settled in I look forward to diving into the kitchen and cooking up a storm. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Monday 23 November 2009

Off to Cape Town, and a whole new food adventure

A view of the bay, from Chapman's Peak Drive
Oh Scrumptious friends, one and all, please forgive me for not having posted new recipes recently. Our entire family - kids, dogs, furniture, plants - is moving to Hout Bay, Cape Town, in a week's time, and I have had neither the time nor inclination to cook.

My batterie de cuisine (apart from a few spoons, cups, plates, and an electric frying pan) has been boxed and taped shut, and I'm spending most of my days teetering on a ladder turfing out the contents of my shelves and cupboards.

Packing up a house is spine-crunching work (I'm not the spring chicken I used to be) but at the same time it's wonderfully cathartic, and I feel fizzily invigorated after dumping a third of my books, and many boxes of junk (or what my local, fund-starved library eagerly calls 'brick-a-brack'.)

Beautiful Hout Bay harbour. 
I cannot tell you how dizzily delighted I am at the thought of moving back to Cape Town, where I lived with my husband for nine years BK (Before Kids).  I feel so lucky to be going back to a city I love, and one that is surely among the most astonishingly beautiful places on Earth.

What's more, I have two sisters who live in Hout Bay (they inconsiderately moved there some years back, the shameless trollops, leaving me with no babysitting support, no chance to really get to know my nieces and nephews, and no opportunity for regular family jollifications).

My lovely mum, who also joined this reverse Great Trek, lives an hour away from Cape Town, in Franschhoek, right next door to my dear uncle, aunt and cousins. And then, oh, delight, there are many old friends, some of them recently settled in Cape Town, others I got to know during the Eighties, and all of whom I have sorely missed.  And then, of course, there are my virtual friends, the food bloggers of Cape Town, who have so enthusiastically supported this blog.

But there's another reason I can't wait to get to Cape Town: the restaurants, the markets, and the beautiful fresh produce that flows into the city from farms and smallholdings on its outskirts, and further afield.

And, please excuse me while I faint at the thought: fresh fish whenever I want (and can afford!) it. Our new house is ten minutes away from Hout Bay harbour which, despite attracting gazillions of tourists in summer, is as delightful and authentic a fishing harbour as you are likely to find anywhere in the world: it remains a working harbour, with many of its fishing boats worked or owned by fisher-people who've lived in Hout Bay for generations.

I'm not very experienced at cooking seafood (good, fresh fish is just so expensive in Johannesburg) and I really look forward to sharing my cooking adventures with you.  There'll be a silence on this blog for two weeks or so, while I drag our travelling circus southwards, and when January comes, I'll be diving into my tiny (but perfectly formed) new kitchen to try out some new recipes.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 12 November 2009

Val's Apple and Apricot Selby Tart, with an Easy Biscuit Base and Topping

I have a passion for passed-down-through-generations family recipes, and this lovely, easy sweet tart epitomises everything that's good about an ancestral recipe: it's quick and simple to make, it uses ingredients you're likely to have in your cupboard, and it tastes exactly like home.

My mom made this many times during my childhood, and we always knew it as 'Selby Tart'. I don't know where that name came from, but I can tell you that the recipe originally came from a close friend of our family, the late, dear Val Horak. (She was one of those honorary 'aunties' most people have: that is, you think she's a blood relative until you discover, to your astonishment and disappointment, that she's not related to you at all.)

This is a versatile, biscuit-style base and topping that you can make very quickly. There is no need to bake the base of the tart 'blind' to crisp up its base (look, this is a family pud, with not a hint of cheffiness); simply press it thinly into the base and up the sides of a tart or quiche pan, add the filling, grate over the remaining pastry and sling into the oven. And, of course, serve with billows of whipped cream, or cold vanilla ice cream.

I filled my latest Selby Tart with gently stewed fresh, peeled apples and depipped apricots, but, if you're in a hurry, you use any fruit you like as a filling: drained, tinned apples, peaches, guavas or apricots; spicy Christmas mincemeat from a jar, or just a thick layer of lovely strawberry jam.

Val's Apple and Apricot Selby Tart, with an Easy Biscuit Base and Topping

For the dough: 
230 g butter, softened
1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar or white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 t (5 ml) vanilla extract
400 g white cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
a pinch of salt
the finely grated zest of a small lemon

For the filling (or use a quick filling; see above):
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
375 ml water
a slice of lemon, peel and all
an inch-long stick of cinnamon
5 large apples
10 fresh apricots

To top:
3 T (45 ml) granulated white sugar
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground fresh cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. First make the dough: put the softened butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and, using a wooden spoon, beat well, for about a minute, or until the mixture is well blended. Gradually add the beaten eggs and the vanilla essence dollop by dollop, whisking well after each addition. Don't worry if the mixture looks as if it's going to curdle: all will come right when you add the dry ingredients. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the butter mixture, add the lemon zest and then, using a wooden spoon, gently mix to form a soft biscuit dough. When the dough forms a ball under your spoon, knead it lightly with your fingertips for 30 seconds, and slice the ball in half. Wrap one half of the dough in cling-film and place in the deep freezer, for about 20 minutes, to firm up. Wrap the other half in cling-film and place in the fridge.

Now make the filling (or use an instant filling, as suggested above). Put the water and the sugar into a saucepan, place over a moderate heat, and bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Add the lemon slice and cinnamon stick, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes to create a clear syrup. Peel and core the apples, chop them into chunks and drop them in the simmering syrup. Halve the apricots, remove the pips, and add them to the syrup. Allow to simmer, on a low heat, for 10-15 minutes, or until the apples are just tender. (Poke the tip of sharp knife through the thickest apple chunk: if there is no resistance, the fruit is ready.) Put a colander over a big bowl, and tip the fruit into the colander, allowing the syrup to drain into the bowl beneath. Set aside to cool slightly.

Take the refrigerated half of the dough out of the fridge and press it, using your fingertips, into to the base, and up the sides, of a shallow tart case or quiche pan, spreading it quite thinly (it should be 3-4 mm thick). Trim the edges of the dough using a sharp knife.

Pile the cooled, drained apples and apricots (or the filling of your choice) into the dough case. Remove the other half-ball of dough from the freezer, and coarsely grate it (using a cheese grater) all over the fruit topping. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and bake, at 180° C, for 25 minutes, or until golden-brown.

Makes 1 tart, which serves 8-10 as a dessert Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 8 November 2009

Zaheera's Easy Sweetcorn, Coriander and Chilli Crustless Egg Tart

I am smitten by this most unusual crustless egg tart. Although cheekily spiked with fresh coriander, green peppers and a little green chilli, it is a surprisingly delicate dish, with a lovely trembling texture and a crunchy topping of poppy seeds.  This is, to me, a perfect family recipe: easy to make, economical and just so moreish that I suggest you double the quantities.

Zaheera's Easy Sweetcorn, Coriander and Chilli Crustless Egg Tart
I first tasted this, cold and cut into squares (and it is just as good cold as it is warm) at a school-mommy tea party, and I begged Zaheera, who made the dish, for the recipe.

She sent me her hand-written recipe a few days later, which I promptly lost. While packing my house this weekend (we're moving to Cape Town in three weeks' time), I found her recipe tucked into my diary, and fell on it with joy.

This is the first recipe I've ever come across that contains coarsely grated green (bell) peppers.  It's never occurred to me to grate a green pepper, but what a good idea.

You can omit the minced green chilli if you don't like hot food, but do consider leaving it in: this dish has the mildest bite, which is beautifully balanced out by the sweetness of creamed sweetcorn.

Thanks, Zaheera!

Zaheera's Easy Sweetcorn, Coriander and Chilli Crustless Egg Tart

1 x 410 g tin creamed sweetcorn
1 fresh green chilli, deseeded and finely minced or chopped
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
½ cup (125 ml) coarsely grated green pepper [bell pepper]
60 g (60 ml/4 Tbsp) cold butter, grated on the coarse side of a cheese grater
3 extra-large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (125 ml) cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
¾ cup (180 ml) grated Cheddar
½ tsp (5 ml) salt, or more, to taste
freshly ground black pepper

1 Tbsp (15 ml) poppy seeds (or toasted sesame seeds)

Preheat the oven to 180 °C.

Butter a 20-cm round or square ceramic dish, or a non-stick metal quiche dish.

Put all the ingredients, except the poppy seeds, into large bowl, and mix well. Pour the mixture into the buttered pan and sprinkle the poppy seeds on top.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until slightly puffed and golden-brown on top.  Serve warm or - if you're making this as a snack - allow to cool and cut into small squares.

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as a snack.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 30 October 2009

Salad of Green Beans with Lemon, Garlic, Toasted Hazelnuts and Peppered Cream Cheese

That's a long-winded title for a plain little dish, but this salad is so quick to make, and so tasty, that I think it deserves a grand  headline.

Lemon, beans and hazelnuts may sound like an unusual combination of ingredients but the whole thing is bought together by the addition of a little soy sauce to the garlicky dressing. I am mad about the combination of soy sauce and lemon juice.

I've used a peppered, crumbly Jersey milk cream cheese from Fairview (available at Woolies in South Africa), but you could use any peppered feta or goat's milk cheese in this recipe.

Salad of Green Beans with Lemon, Garlic, Toasted Hazelnuts and Pepper Cream Cheese

450 g young green beans, topped and tailed
3 Tbsp (45 ml) hazelnuts
1 fat glove garlic, peeled
the juice of a lemon
a pinch of mustard powder
1 tsp (5 ml) soy sauce
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
peppered cream cheese or feta

Cook the green beans in plenty of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, or until just tender-crisp. Or microwave them on high for 3-4 minutes in a covered glass dish to which you have added a splash of water.  Plunge immediately into a bowl of iced water to set the colour.  Drain in a colander. Toast the hazelnuts in a hot dry frying pan for minute or so, watching like a hawk that they don't burn.  Chop roughly and set aside.

Crush the garlic and whisk in the lemon juice, mustard powder, soy sauce and olive oil.  Pour the dressing over the beans, toss well and season to taste. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.  Just before serving, crumble the cheese into the salad and sprinkle with hazelnuts. Serve immediately, at room temperature.

Delicious with pan-fried salmon.

Serves 6 as a side salad.  Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday 24 October 2009

Moroccan-style Tomato and Preserved-Lemon Salad with a Tomato & Paprika 'Broth'

Made with red onion, preserved lemons, capers, radishes and green olives, this Moroccan-style salad is not for shrinking palates. But I love these boisterous flavours, and would be happy to eat a bucketful. The picture below, taken in fading light, doesn't do justice to the brilliant colours of this salad.

If you're not sure your family will go for this, treat it like a rough-cut salsa and serve each person just a dollop to pep up grilled chicken, spicy fish or steak. Cubes of mild creamy feta cheese (look, Greece is not that far from Morocco) might entice kids and teens to try it. If you're presenting it on its own as a starter or snack, provide plenty of hot pita bread to soak up the juices.

Perfectly red, ripe tomatoes and fresh paprika and cumin are essential if the dressing is to taste like the knees of the bees (and there should be lots of dressing; it should be like - without wanting to sound poncy - a cold broth). The pips and pulp are scooped out, but they are squished through a sieve to make the dressing (British chef Heston Blumenthal recently proved that the wobbly inside bits of tomatoes are packed with the elusive fifth flavour, umami; see my notes about this here.) If you don't have preserved lemons to hand, leave them out.

Tomato, Onion and Preserved-Lemon Salad with Tomato & Paprika Dressing

6 ripe, very red, but not mushy tomatoes
1 red onion, peeled
half a preserved lemon (or more, to taste)
6 radishes
12 green olives
a small bunch each of fresh coriander, mint and flat-leaf parsley
3 T (45 ml) capers

For the dressing:
2 red, ripe tomatoes
about 4 T (60 ml) olive oil
the juice of half a lemon
one and a half tsp (7.5ml) fresh paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground cumin

First make the salad. Cut a cross on the stalk end of each tomato and cover with boiling water. Leave for a minute or two, and then, as soon as you see their skins begin to furl and loosen, scoop them out of the hot water and slip off their skins. Set a sieve over a separate bowl.

Cut the tomatoes in half, scoop out the pulp and pips with a teaspoon, and place the pulp in the sieve to drain. Cut each tomato half in half again, or into thirds, if you are using big tomatoes. Halve the onion lengthways, place the halves cut-side down onto a board, and slice finely into crescent-moon shapes. Rinse the preserved lemons under running water to remove any excess salt. Using a sharp knife, held parallel to the chopping board, slice away any pulp and white pith. Cut into fine slivers. Slice the radish into thin discs. Depip the olives and cut them in half.

Finely chop the coriander, mint and parsley. Put the tomatoes, onion, lemon slivers, radish, olives and chopped herbs in a salad bowl, add the capers and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the dressing, quarter the two tomatoes, place in a liquidizer or food processer and whizz to a chunky pulp. Pour the pulp into the sieve containing the reserved tomato pulp and pips. Using the back of a soup ladle, press down on the mixture to extract the juice. Discard the pulp. To the tomato juice, add all the remaining dressing ingredients. (You may need to add more olive oil, depending on the size of the tomatoes you've used.) Whisk well and pour over the salad. Toss well, cover, and set aside for 30 minutes for the flavours to mingle.

Serves 6.

This recipe was inspired by a salad from Moroccan: A Culinary Journey of Discovery by Ghillie Basan. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 23 October 2009

Teen fodder: War-time Meat Pies with Mashed-Potato Pastry

War-time Meat Pies with Mashed-Potato Pastry. These ivy-patterned
plates from the 1930s or 40s belonged to my grandmother Cecilie Walters
I'm always on the look-out for rib-sticking dishes to feed the army of young people who use my house as a base-camp, and I was intrigued by this war-time recipe for a pie made of potato pastry filled with minced beef.

'Do Try These Inviting Patties!' says the recipe, and I did, adding several extra ingredients.

The recipe comes from a 1941 issue of Woman's Weekly, which I picked up in my local charity shop, along with a pile of quite wonderful knitting patterns from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
This pie is sort of a cross between a pasty and a cottage pie. The pastry holds its shape very well, is easy to handle and cooks to a lovely golden brown.

I expected the pastry to be somewhat stodgy,  but it wasn't - although it's not what I would call feather-light.

'Do Try These Inviting Patties!'
You can make these up to a day in advance and store them in the fridge until you're ready to bake them. I made individual pies using small flan tins, but you could quite easily use ceramic ramekins, deep muffin pans or a single large pie dish.

Best served hot, with plenty of tomato sauce.

The savoury mince filling below is a lot sexier than that given in the original recipe (see pic below). You can use any savoury pie filling you like, as long as it's not too sloppy. Next time I make these, I'll try them with  strips of beef in a peppery gravy; they would also be good with a filling of asparagus in a cheesy white sauce (recipe here).

War-Time Meat Pies with Potato Pastry

For the filling:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
1.5 kg lean minced beef (ground beef)
350 ml wine, white or red
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) good dried oregano, or a few fresh rosemary needles, finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

For the pastry:
450 g floury potatoes (about 6 large potatoes), peeled and quartered
125 g butter, melted
about 2 cups (500 ml) white flour, sifted (see recipe)
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
1 tsp (5 ml) hot English mustard powder
1 tsp (5 ml) salt, or more to taste
white pepper
1 cup (250 ml) grated cheddar [optional]
a beaten egg

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion and grated carrot until just softened. Turn up the heat to its maximum and crumble in the minced beef, in batches, stirring well as it browns.  Drain away any excess fat (a good way to do this is to tip the whole lot into a large sieve set over a bowl). Add the wine and the garlic and cook briskly until most of the wine has evaporated.  Now stir in all the remaining filling  ingredients. Turn down the heat and simmer gently for an hour, or until the mixture is slightly thickened. If it looks a little dry, add some water or chicken stock.

To make the pastry, boil the potatoes in plenty of salted water until quite tender.  Drain.  Pour in the melted butter and mash until smooth.   Sift the flour, mustard powder, baking powder, salt and pepper into a separate bowl.

Now add the flour, in increments, to the mashed potato, stirring well to form a pliable soft dough. You may not need all of it - this will depend on the size and flouriness of the potatoes you used. Add the cheese, if you are using it.  Flour a pastry board well and lightly roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 7 mm.

Cut out circles the same size as your muffin tins or flan case (use a cookie cutter, or cut around the base of an upturned bowl). Gently press the pastry onto the base and sides of the tins. Brush the rims with a little beaten egg and fill the cases with the mince.

Gather up all the pastry, roll it out again, and cut out enough lids to cover all the pies. Drape the lids over the pies and, using your fingers, gently seal the edges.  Brush all over with beaten egg. Cut a small slit in the top of each pie.  Place in a hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.

Makes 8 individual pies; serves 8.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday 16 October 2009

Easy Chicken, Feta and Bacon Roll-Ups in a Tomato & Rosemary Sauce

Stuffed with feta, garlic and sage, rolled in bacon, crisped in a hot pan and then finished off in a buttery tomato sauce, these chicken-breast rolls make a delicious family meal. Okay, they do involve a little fiddling, but I reckon it's worth the effort. This is a low-carb recipe suitable for diabetics, or for anyone on a #LCHF regime. 

Chicken breasts, being so lean and light, feature on our family menu at least twice a week, but  I have to say that a single deboned chicken breast is not nearly enough to satisfy the appetite of a teen who has grown so tall I have to stand on a ladder to lecture him.

What he really needs is several thick ropes of fillet steak - heck, a whole cow - every week, but as these are beyond our family budget, I'm always looking for ways to stretch the common-or-garden (and shockingly expensive) breast of a chicken.

You can use ordinary tinned tomatoes for this sauce, but good, deep-red plummy Italian ones will make the difference. I buy tinned tomatoes in bulk (along with superb olive oil, vinegar, olives, pasta and polenta) from the excellent Italian supermarket Super Sconto, in Norwood, Johannesburg.

Leave the cream out if you are watching your weight.  No, on second thoughts, leave the cream in.  The combination of cream and tomatoes is  sublime.

Easy Chicken, Feta and Bacon Roll-Ups in a Tomato & Rosemary Sauce

6 deboned, skinned chicken breasts
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, plus extra for frying
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 'wheels' (about 200 g) feta cheese
12 slices streaky bacon
salt and milled black pepper
18 fresh sage leaves
chopped parsley, to garnish

For the tomato sauce:
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter
1 large onion, peeled and very finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2  x 210 g tins good Italian canned tomatoes, chopped, plus their liquid
1 x  8 cm sprig fresh rosemary
½ cup (125 ml) dry white wine
salt and milled black pepper
½ cup (125 ml) cream
a little water, to thin

First make the tomato sauce. Melt the butter over a medium flame, add the onion and cook gently for 4-5 minutes, or until it's soft and just beginning to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute, without allowing it to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, rosemary and wine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer gently for 30-45 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Fish out the sprig of rosemary, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream, a tablespoon or two at a time to prevent the sauce from curdling.  If the mixture seems too thick and gloopy, thin it with a little water. At this point, you can liquidise the mixture using a food processor or stick blender, but I prefer it slightly chunky. Set aside.

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the chicken. Place a breast between two large sheets of clingfilm [saran wrap]. Using a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle), gently bash it so it flattens out to about 5 mm thick.  Don't smack it too hard, or it will break apart into strings: a gentle, persistent pounding, starting from the middle and working outwards, is the way to go. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

In a little bowl, mix together the olive oil and crushed garlic.  Cut the feta cheese into batons that are about as thick as your ring finger, and three-quarters its length.  Toss the feta pieces in the olive oil and garlic mixture. Place two strips of streaky bacon on a chopping board, about 1 cm apart. Lay a flattened chicken breast crossways on top of the bacon strips.  Place a baton of oil-and-garlic coated feta on the breast, add two sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper.  Starting from the side closest to you, pick up the edge of the breast and the bacon strips and roll into a neat, tight bundle. Tie two lengths of kitchen string crossways around each bundle, tuck a large sage leave under the strings, and trim away the excess string. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

Heat a big pan over a medium-high heat and add a splash of olive oil.  When the oil is very hot - but not smoking - add the chicken rolls and brown them - about a minute and a half a side - until the bacon is crisp.  Drain any excess fat from the pan. Now pour the reserved tomato sauce over the chicken rolls, turn down the heat, cover the pan with a tilted lid and simmer very gently for 7-10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked right through but still very tender.  If you're not certain it's cooked, make a sneaky cut on the underside of the thickest breast: if there is no trace of pink, it's done.

Serve hot, topped with chopped parsley and a swirl of olive oil.  Lovely with crunchy potato wedges and a green salad.

Serves 6.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Ugly 50s food made yummy: Non-Slip Two-Tone Half-Devilled Stuffed Eggs

My two-tone devilled eggs, looking
just a little lurid.
If you're 40 or over, you may remember stuffed eggs - those ubiquitous canapés of the fifties and sixties - with joy.

Or your stomach may tremble at the childhood memory of rubbery egg-white halves packed with lumpy yellow paste, made doubly vile by the addition of pimento-stuffed olives and hairy whorls of anchovy.

It is certainly off-putting looking at photographs of stuffed and devilled eggs in mid-century cookbooks.There is scarcely a recipe book of that era in my collection that doesn't feature them in all their lurid egginess; in fact, I would go so far as to say that the stuffed egg - along with the tuft of curly parsley - was the number-one subject choice among food photographers at the time.

Ugly Fifties stuffed eggs
Fifties Food.
I reckon that stuffed eggs - in all their curried, caviared, capered, devilled, parsleyed and anchovy-draped forms - were on the wane as a party food by the early seventies, and that by the 1980s they had faded away with barely an eggy squeak to mark their departure.

Still, I think a proper stuffed egg is a most superior and delicious snack, and I am frustrated that this gentle comfort food has fallen so far out of fashion in the last 30 years or so. I'm not alone in feeling sentimental. My late mother-in-law used to get a bit misty-eyed when she described her mother's devilled eggs, with their delicate criss-crossing of anchovies, while my own mum hooted with laughter when I told her I was writing about stuffed eggs: 'At teen parties in the Fifties, younger brothers used nick a few stuffed eggs off the buffet table and push them up car exhaust-pipes,' she told me. 'When the cars started, there'd be a muffled rumbling and the eggs would shoot out of the exhausts. Everyone fell around laughing.'

 There are a few drawbacks to the classic stuffed egg, though: one, there's always too much egg white. Two, they are slippery underneath, so they skate around the platter and spring out of your fingers as you grab them.

If made carelessly, the filling will be lumpy and - oh, horror - there will be a greeny-black ring around the yolk hole. And there's always too much for a mouthful (not necessarily bad; half the fun of eating a stuffed egg is having a bulging cheek on one side and, on the other, creamed egg yolk toothpasting onto your shirt front)

I have tried to fix some of these problems in the following recipe. Look, I know these eggs look twee. Such fussinessness involving piping bags and dainty bits of non-slip toast is not my usual style. But do give this recipe a try next time you have a party.

This is a ridiculously long post for such a simple delicacy but, if you like stuffed eggs,  I hope you will indulge me and read it to the end.

There are two important points: one, please sieve the egg yolks so there is not a trace of a lump. Two, use a little good, real mayonnaise, not nasty salad cream: the egg should taste of egg, not vinegar. You can, of course, add any other flavouring you like to the yolk - mashed sardines, for example, are retrolicious. If you want the full fifties experience, steer clear of any newfangled 'garnishings' (chillis, sundried tomatoes and coriander spring to mind) and stick to anchovies, caviar, capers, green olives and parsley. Please don't mix the yolks with tomato ketchup. Or avocado, unless you're planning to serve them to kids (with obligatory ham).

If you can't be bothered to make two-toned eggs, divide the plain mixture and the devilled one between the boiled egg whites.

Oh, one more thing: an essential ingredient is white pepper. This spice has also fallen out of favour over the past decades, as cookery writers have doggedly insisted on only freshly milled black pepper. But fresh white pepper has a distinctive and lovely flavour all of its own and, besides, it doesn't freckle your lovely yolks with black dots.

Non-Slip Two-Tone Half-Devilled Stuffed Eggs

six large eggs
2 Tbsp (30 ml) softened salted butter
a dash of  home-made (or Hellman's) mayonnaise, or a little olive oil
salt and white pepper
½ tsp (2.5 ml) hot English mustard powder
1½ (7.5 ml) fresh, mild red curry powder of your choice
a pinch of turmeric
a pinch of paprika
6 slices of white bread
vegetable oil for frying

To garnish:
cayenne pepper

First boil the eggs. It doesn't matter how you do this (every cook has their own theory about how to make and peel a perfect hard-boiled egg; if you don't, please refer to the excellent instructions of St. Delia).  What does matter is that the white is firm, and that the yolks are just cooked through, with not a sign of glassiness.  Drain off the boiling water and run cold tap water over the eggs until they are cool to the touch.  Set them aside for an hour to cool completely.

Peel the eggs. Cut the tip (about 5 mm) off each end of the egg so that you have a barrel shape, and then slice the barrel in half, crossways. Using a teaspoon, carefully remove the egg yolks.  (Don't worry if the egg yolks weren't perfectly centred on the white as they cooked: all this will be hidden under artful piping).

Push the egg yolks through a metal sieve, or a potato ricer if you have one, into a bowl. Using a fork, whip in the softened butter and just enough mayonnaise to make a smooth, thick paste that will just hold its shape.  Add the mustard powder and season to taste with salt and white pepper.

Divide the mixture in half, and to one half add the curry powder, turmeric and paprika. Taste the mixture. If it seems too pale or mild for you, add a dot of tomato paste, a glug of Tabasco, some cayenne pepper, or any spice you like.

Fit a piping bag with a large star nozzle. Hold the bag loosely, halfway up, in one hand and fold the top of it down and over your fist.  Spoon the plain egg mixture into the bag, placing it only on one vertical half of the bag (as if you were packing pencils into the left side of a cardboard tube).  Now spoon the devilled mixture into the gap, so that you you have two vertical 'pipes' of different-coloured mixture.  Pull up the sides of the piping bag, twist the top of the bag, and set aside while you make the toast.

Using a cookie cutter or wine glass, cut out 12 small circles - or stars - out of the bread. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry until golden and crispy on both sides.  Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.

Arrange the toast on a platter.  Put the prepared egg slices, broad side up, on the toast bits. Carefully pipe a big, billowing mound of filling onto each egg half.

Add any toppings you like - I've used mustard flowers and parsley in the photograph -  and serve immediately.

Serves 6, as a snack. 

Cook's Notes

- don't use very fresh eggs, as you won't be able to peel them neatly.  Your eggs should be four to five days old.  Eggs should be stored in a cool place, and not in the fridge (unless the weather is exceedingly hot).

- these eggs will keep at room temperature for two or three hours after they've been filled, provided that they're covered to prevent any crustiness setting in.  Put them in a deep dish and seal it with cling film.

- don't put them in the fridge after filling them. A cold stuffed egg is shuddery.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 11 October 2009

Beetroot Hummous with Wilted Greens, Feta and Lemon

Blood, iron, rubies and cold water running over pebbles come to mind as I fall like a deprived vampire on this earthy feast. Sorry to come over all po-hetical, but the mysterious deliciousness of brilliant-cerise beetroot hummous piled on dark, lemony greens sends my brain-buds into rhapsodies.

Beetroot Hummous with Wilted Greens, Feta and Lemon
And do you like this gorgeous red-glass plate? (Er, it might actually be yours, because I can't remember ever having bought it, and found it in my cupboards during a turf-out. If it is yours, may I keep it?) The red of this dish was so intense that my cheapie camera couldn't cope with it, which is why this picture looks rather redly surreal.

I developed this recipe by combining two dishes I  have so enjoyed this year: Mike Karamanof's fresh beetroot greens with olive oil dressing, and the lovely beetroot, cumin and garlic dip my sister Sophie made me last time I was in Cape Town.

I've added chickpeas and tahina to the beetroot to make a more substantial dip, and feta cheese to the greens for a lovely, creamy and salty contrast.  Any sort of dark, leafy green will do for this recipe: I used a combination of Swiss chard and beetroot greens, but it would also be good with baby spinach leaves, pak choy, or similar.

If you don't feel like eating wilted greens, make up a batch of beetroot hummous, anoint with a good slick of olive oil and cover with cling film. It will last up to four days in the fridge, and is just heavenly spread on toast, piled on a baked potato or spooned directly from the dish into your mouth, for breakfast.

I  haven't given exact quantities here: taste the dish as you go along. This dish is best served warm.

Beetroot Hummous with Wilted Greens, Feta and Lemon

For the hummous:
6 medium-sized beetroot bulbs, untrimmed
6 fat cloves fresh garlic, unpeeled
salt and milled black pepper
a little olive oil for baking
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tahina (sesame-seed paste)
a can of chickpeas, drained of their liquid
1 and 1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) freshly ground cumin
the juice of a lemon
about 125 ml (half a cup) olive oil

For the greens:
a large bunch of young Swiss chard, baby spinach, beetroot greens or similar
the juice of a lemon
olive oil
salt and milled black pepper
feta cheese

First make the hummous. Preheat the oven to 180° C. Lightly scrub the beetroot bulbs to remove any grit, but don't trim or peel them. Put them, and five cloves of unpeeled garlic, on a large sheet of tin foil. Add a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper, and drizzle over a little olive oil. Fold up the edges of the foil and seal tightly to make a loose parcel. Place the parcel in the hot oven and bake for an hour or two (the time will depend on the age of your beetroot) or until the beetroot is quite soft when pierced with a sharp knife.

Trim off the tails and stalks of the beetroot. Cut into cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade (if you're making  the hummous on its own, reserve half a beetroot, and a few chickpeas, for garnishing).  Squeeze the softened garlic cloves out of their papery casings and add to the food processor bowl along with the tahina, chickpeas, cumin, lemon juice and half  (about 60 ml) of the olive oil. Blitz the mixture, at high speed, to a purée, adding just enough extra olive oil to create a smooth, thick paste.   Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  If the hummous needs a little more zing, add another squeeze of lemon juice. Decant into a bowl. (If you're serving this as a dip on its own, top with the finely diced reserved beetroot, a few whole chickpeas, a dusting of cumin and/or cayenne pepper and olive oil.) Cover with clingfilm and set aside.

Now prepare the greens. Heat a big saucepan, wok or frying pan. Trim away any very thick stalks (but leave all the slender remaining stalks on). Rinse the leaves well under cold running water, give them a good shake, and put them, with water still clinging to their leaves, in the hot pan. Cook for seven to ten minutes, tossing frequently, or until the stalks are tender ( but have a little crunch remaining) and most of the liquid has evaporated. Don't worry if the greens begin to lose their fresh green colour as the stalks cook: this is vegetable dish, not a salad!  Remove from the heat, drain off any remaining liquid and dress with lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss well.

Swirl the the greens onto a warmed platter and crumble over the feta cheese.  Pile the warm beetroot hummous on top.

Lovely with fresh bread for mopping up the juices.

Serves 6 as a starter or 8 as a side salad.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 4 October 2009

Puffy 'Focaccia' with Baby Sausages, Herbs, Feta, Garlic and Olive Oil

Puffy focaccia with baby sausagesI have put the word 'puffy' in the name of this recipe not only because it's a most lovely word, but also because this quick bread billows up beautifully in the oven, creating a salty golden crust enclosing little snappy sausages, fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil: perfect for a gang of hungry teens.

I like this recipe because frankly (ha ha), I adore pork sausages in every form. Also, it reminds me of those wonderful childhood comfort foods: Toad-in-the Hole (pork sausages baked in a Yorkshire-pudding batter), and Pigs in Blankets (see Jamie Oliver demonstrate this recipe here).

If you don't eat meat, or pork, omit the sausages and add a few imaginative ingredients: cubes of hard cheese, finely snipped anchovies, caramelised onions, oil-soaked sundried tomatoes, and so on.

For this to be a quick meal, you will need to buy a ball of fresh white bread dough from your local supermarket or bakery. Most supermarkets in South Africa that have in-house bakeries (Spar and Pick 'n Pay spring to mind) will sell you ready-to-bake dough, for a pittance, but you do need to ask at the counter for it. You can also buy dough from any commercial bakery. The dough for the dish photographed here cost me just R6 (that's less than a dollar).

Of course, if you have the energy, you can make the dough yourself: here's a recipe for a basic white bread dough.

Quick meal: Puffy 'Focaccia' with Sausages, Herbs, Garlic and Olive Oil

A ball (about 600 grams) of prepared white bread dough
12 pork cocktail sausages (chipolatas) or any similar cocktail sausage
2 t (10 ml) cooking oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
half a cup (125 ml ) good olive oil
5 sprigs of fresh rosemary, stripped from their stems and finely chopped, plus a few extra sprigs
5 sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped
5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from their stalks
2 'wheels' of feta cheese (about 200 grams)
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 200°C.   Heat a frying pan over a brisk heat, add the cooking oil and the sausages, and cook for six to ten minutes, turning the sausages frequently, so that they are nicely browned on all sides (but still a little pink in the middle).   While the sausages are browning, prepare the dough:  using your fingers, rub a light film of oil all over a shallow baking tray or cookie sheet. Place the ball of dough on the sheet and gently press and stretch it out so that it covers the entire base of the cooking sheet.  You will find that that dough tends to creep back a bit, but persevere with pushing and stretching until the base of the baking tray  is evenly covered.

Using your bunched fingers, make deep indentations all over the dough. In a separate bowl, mix together the crushed garlic, olive oil and chopped herbs.  Pour this mixture over the dough surface and use your fingers to poke and prod it into the indentations. Crumble the feta cheese into chunks and press into the dough surface.  Remove the sausages from the pan, drain off any fat, and press them deep into the surface of the dough, randomly, or in strict lines, as you please.  Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flaky sea salt and a showering of black pepper. Press in the remaining sprigs of rosemary.

Place in the hot oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until puffy, golden and cooked right through. Halfway through the baking time, open the oven door and press the sausages deep into the dough. Loosen the bottom of the bread with a metal spatula, slide onto a bread board and serve piping hot.

Serves 8, as a snack Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

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.  >>  Click here to go straight to the recipe.

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.

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. 

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

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

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

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.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

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
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