Sunday 29 August 2010

Ricotta-and-Parsley-Filled Paccheri Baked with a Tomato, Butter and Sage Sauce

The defining deliciousness of this sunny baked pasta dish comes from a sauce made from just a few ingredients: burstingly ripe cherry tomatoes cooked to a stickiness in hot butter, then lightly mashed with a whisper of garlic, a few shredded fresh sage leaves and a splash of cream.

Ricotta-and-Parsley-Filled Paccheri Baked with a Tomato, Butter and Sage Sauce

The sauce is simplicity itself, but the pasta part of this dish - big tubes stuffed with a mixture of ricotta, parsley, egg and nutmeg - is a bit fiddly to make, and will take you a good half-hour to prepare.

If you're up to spending that much time stuffing a pasta tube, and you think life is long enough to do so, put on some good music and pour yourself a glass of wine.

If you don't have the time to spare, make the sauce - in double the quantity - tip it over a bowl of freshly cooked fettuccine, and top with fresh rocket and grated Parmesan.

I devised this dish because my family are getting a bit sick of the old pasta standbyes, namely spag bol, pasta-and-pesto and fettuccine Alfredo.

Parsley-Filled Paccheri with a Tomato Butter SauceIt's very similar to that classic Italian dish of cannelloni filled with ricotta and spinach, except that I used paccheri - large, hollow pasta tubes - instead of cannelloni, and parsley instead of spinach.

I am a great fan of flat-leaf parsley, and think it deserves to be treated as an actual vegetable, rather than a last-minute garnishing flourish, or as a humdrum stock ingredient.

You might think it odd that the uncooked pasta tubes are placed upright in the dish before they're baked, but I've done so to prevent the filling from squidging out while the dish sits, soaking in a cup of water, for an hour before baking.

If you can't find big pasta tubes, use cannelloni instead. And, as always, please use the best ingredients: really ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh garlic, crisp parsley and good butter.

Ricotta & Parsley Filled Paccheri with a Tomato Butter Sauce

1 bag (500 g) paccheri, or giant pasta tubes

For the stuffing:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
1 medium onion, peeled and very finely chopped
1 cup (250 ml) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 70 g)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
400 g ricotta cheese, crumbled
2 medium eggs
quarter of a whole nutmeg, finely grated
flaky sea salt
milled black pepper
about 4 Tbsp (60 ml) pouring cream
1½ cups (375 ml) hot water

For the sauce:
800 g ripe cherry tomatoes
80 g butter
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
6 sage leaves, finely shredded
4 Tbsp (60 ml) pouring cream
flaky sea salt
milled black pepper

To top:
½ cup (125 ml) grated Parmesan

First make the stuffing. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan, and add the finely chopped onion. Fry, over a medium heat, for three minutes or so, or until the onion has softened, and is beginning to turn golden. Do not allow to brown. Turn down the heat, add the chopped parsley, stir well so that it is coated, and cook very gently for another minute. Remove from the heat and tip the mixture into a bowl. Add the lemon juice, ricotta, eggs and nutmeg, and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Now add just enough cream to turn the mixture into a slack paste that can be easily squeezed through a piping bag.

Generously butter a deep ceramic or glass baking dish big enough to hold all the pasta tubes upright (note: the pictures in this blog were made with a half-quantity of this recipe, so you'll need a dish double the size). Put the filling into a piping bag fitted with a medium nozzle, and squeeze a little filling into each pasta tube.

The best way to do this is to place each tube upright on a chopping board, and to fill it from the top (no need to fill each tube to the brim: three-quarters full is fine). Place the filled tubes upright in the dish, leaning them against each other until the dish is full. If you run out of stuffing before the dish is full, put a few empty pasta tubes between the full ones so that the dish is fairly tightly packed. Pour a cup of hot water into a jug with a pouring nozzle, and trickle the water down the side of the ceramic dish, so that the bottoms of the tubes are standing in water. Set to one side while you make the sauce.

Parsley-Filled Paccheri with a Tomato Butter Sauce
To make the sauce, cut a small slash in each cherry tomato. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, flat pan. When the butter stops foaming, add the tomatoes and cook, over a brisk heat, tossing often, for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to brown and a sticky golden residue forms on the bottom of the pan.

Add the garlic and shredded sage, and use a potato masher to lightly crush the tomatoes and release the juices. Turn down the heat and simmer very gently for another 10 minutes, crushing down on the tomatoes now and again, until you have a thick, chunky sauce. Stir in the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the sauce from the heat and pour it evenly over the top of the pasta tubes, without stirring. Give the dish a gentle shake, cover with clingfilm [saran wrap] and allow to stand for an hour.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 170 ºC. Remove the clingfilm from the dish and sprinkle the grated Parmesan evenly over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through, and the sauce is bubbling vigorously.

Serve with fresh rocket or mixed greens.

Serves 8.
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Wednesday 11 August 2010

Half-Candied Kumquats Dipped in Dark Chocolate

Half-Candied Kumquats Dipped in Dark ChocolateHere's a sweetmeat that will appeal to you if you're smitten, as I am, by the combination of orange and chocolate. Plump little winter kumquats are stewed in a strong sugar syrup, left to dry out for a while, and then half-dipped in bitter dark chocolate. These make a lovely after-dinner nibble, and they go a long way (unlike a bar of chocolate, which in my house is flattened before anyone's had a chance to peel off the wrapper).

I do love the spicy zestiness of kumquats (even though their name is unspeakably rude; read my earlier post about kumquat compote) but they are, I admit, not the most versatile of fruits.

This is an easy recipe, although it takes a little time. I've called them 'half-candied' because they're not truly candied, as traditional crystallised fruits are. In order to crystallise fruit, it needs to be soaked in successively stronger solutions of sugar syrup until the syrup has replaced the fruit's natural moisture, thereby preventing it from spoiling.

Don't discard the zesty syrup once you've drained it off - it's wonderful for making syrup-based ices and exotic cocktails, and delicious poured over vanilla ice cream. Place the syrup in a lidded container and store in the fridge: it will keep for two to three weeks.

Half-Candied Kumquats Dipped in Dark Chocolate

500 g kumquats, washed
2 cups (500 ml) white granulated sugar
a little extra sugar for dredging
a slab of good-quality dark chocolate

Half-Candied Kumquats Dipped in Dark Chocolate
Cut the kumquats in half length ways. Put them in a pan and pour in just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Drain in a colander. Put the kumquats back in the same pan and add one and a half cups (375 ml) of the sugar. Now add just enough fresh water to cover the fruit.

Heat gently, stirring as the sugar dissolves. Simmer for 35 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, cover and allow to sit for three hours.

Now put the pan back on the heat, add the remaining half cup (125 ml) of sugar and heat, stirring now and again, until the new batch of sugar has dissolved into the syrup. Remove from the heat, cover, and leave for another few hours, or overnight.

Place a colander on top of a bowl and pour in the fruit and syrup. Allow the fruit to drain for 30 minutes. Decant the syrup into a bowl and store in the fridge for use in an ice cream or dessert.

Half-Candied Kumquats Dipped in Dark ChocolateArrange the fruit, cut side up, on piece of baking paper set on baking sheet. At this point, you can leave the kumquats in a warm, draughty place to dry out for a day or two, or you can dry them in your oven (this works very well if you have a fan-assisted oven).

Turn the oven to its lowest temperature setting and leave the fruit to dry out overnight. How long you dry the fruit for depends on how chewy you'd like it: mine were perfect after 12 hours in the oven.

Dredge white granulated sugar over the fruit and toss well so that each piece is lightly coated. Melt the chocolate in a metal or glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir well. Using your fingers or some small tongs, half-dip (or fully dip!) each piece of fruit into the chocolate. Set aside in a cool place to dry.

The kumquats will continue to dry out over the next few days. I was hoping to tell you how long these kept, but of course, in my house of chocolate fiends, they didn't.

Makes about 50 pieces.

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Monday 9 August 2010

Low-Carb Roasted Ratatouille Soup with Basil Mayonnaise

I'm excited to share my new recipe with you: I think you're going to love it.  It tastes glorious and sunny, like summer in a bowl, and is easy to make (although like all good food it does take time to make). The only part of this recipe that's remotely tricky is the home-made basil mayonnaise, but you can omit this topping if you don't feel confident about making mayo, and the soup will still taste very good without it. Do give the mayonnaise a try, though: it's not anywhere as difficult to make as TV chefs will have you believe.

Ratatouille Soup with Basil Mayo
Low-Carb Roast Ratatouille Soup with Basil Mayonnaise
I'm a devoted fan of ratatouille. Not the watery, chuck-everything-in-a-saucepan-and-stew-to-a-mush variety, but a beautiful meeting of ripe tomatoes, shiny eggplants, snappy courgettes, onions and red peppers, slowly roasted with olive oil and garlic to a silken, jewel-bright deliciousness (try my oven-roasted ratatouille recipe).

As always, the quality of the raw ingredients determines how good the soup will taste. Ripe, plump, vividly coloured vegetables will produce a soup of unrivalled quality, and it is always better the next day, once the flavours have had a chance to mingle and mature.

This recipe serves 6, but is easily doubled. It's low in carbs, excellent if you're on a #LCHF regime, and very suitable for diabetics.

Roasted Ratatouille Soup with Basil Mayonnaise

5 large, ripe tomatoes
2 plump brinjals [aubergines/eggplants], or four smaller ones
2 large, deep-red peppers [capsicums]
8 courgettes [zucchini]
2 large white onions, peeled
½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
6 fat cloves garlic, unpeeled
5 cups (1.25 l) water, plus more for thinning

For the basil mayonnaise:

2 large free-range egg yolks, at room temperature
200 ml vegetable oil (such as sunflower or canola oil)
100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 ml, loosely packed) fresh basil leaves
1 tsp (5 ml) flaky sea salt
the juice of a large lemon
freshly milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 210 ºC.  Using a sharp knife, top and tail the tomatoes, eggplants, red peppers, courgettes and onions, and cut them into small chunks. Pile all the vegetables into a large roasting pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables, season generously with salt and pepper and, using your hands, toss well to coat.  Tuck the six unpeeled garlic cloves deep into the vegetable bed (but remember where you've hidden them).

Place the  pan, uncovered, in an oven heated to 210 ºC, and roast for 25-35 minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to turn golden brown in patches.

Now cover the pan with foil, turn the heat down to 180 ºC, and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, or until the veggies are soft.  Remove the roasting tray from the oven. Fish the whole garlic cloves out of the pan, and set aside.

Pour the water (1.5 l) into the pan, replace the foil, and bake at the same temperature for another 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and set aside for 15 minutes to cool.

Ratatouille Soup with Basil Mayo
A very thick, pale-yellow mayo
While the vegetables are cooling, make the basil mayonnaise. Put the two egg yolks into a small bowl and add the salt.

Mix the vegetable oil and olive oil in a small jug. Place a damp cloth underneath the bowl so that it doesn't skid around while you're making the mayo.

Using a rotary beater or whisk, beat the egg yolks and salt for a minute. If you don't have such a gadget, use an ordinary wire whisk, and plenty of elbow power. Now, as you whisk the egg yolks with one hand, pick up the jug of oil with the other, and dribble a little splash of oil onto the yolks.  Keep whisking and dribbling, a little splash at a time, with great energy, and within a few minutes you will see the egg mixture begin to thicken rather dramatically.

Keep adding the oil, a dribble at a time, until you have a thick yellow ointment. You may not need to add all the oil: stop adding oil once the mayonnaise has thickened to your liking. (If your mayonnaise doesn't thicken, or it curdles, click here.)  Set the mayonnaise aside.

Roughly chop the basil leaves, and place in a mortar along with the salt. Pound to a rough paste.  (If you don't have a mortar, put the leaves and salt onto a wooden chopping board, and smash them with a rolling pin). Scrape the pounded basil into a little bowl.  Take three of the roast garlic cloves you have set aside and squeeze the soft, baked pulp into the basil mixture. Add the fresh lemon juice and stir well.  Now stir this mixture into the mayonnaise, season to taste with salt and pepper, tip into a clean bowl, and refrigerate.

Tip the contents of the roasting pan into a big bowl, and blitz with a stick blender, or use a food processor or liquidiser to process to a slightly coarse purée.  If the soup mixture seems too thick, or the blades refuse to turn, thin it down with a little boiling water.  Squeeze the pulp of the remaining three cloves of baked garlic into the mixture, season with salt and pepper to taste, and blitz for another minute.

Return the soup to the stove-top and reheat.  Serve your soup piping hot, topped with a dollop of cold basil mayonnaise.

Serves 6. 

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Wednesday 4 August 2010

Ripe Figs with Baked Camembert and Spicy Caramel Walnuts

This is such a versatile, sexy recipe, because it can be served as a starter, a snack or right at the end of a meal as a combination dessert and cheese course. I found these gorgeous purple figs at my local Woolies, and, as I don't like eating figs whole, I melted some lovely ripe Camembert over their middles. But the final result was too evenly voluptuous, so for texture and crunch I added walnuts, which I coated in caramel and then tossed in paprika, cayenne pepper and salt.

You could use any sort of nut here - macadamias and cashews, for example - but I like the slightly bitter taste of walnuts.

If you're serving this as a savoury course, dress the rocket leaves with a little olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice before you arrange them on the platter. If this is a sweet course, omit the salad leaves and the salt and pour a little warmed honey over the figs.

Ripe Figs with Baked Camembert and Spicy Caramel Walnuts

6 ripe figs
a round of ripe, but not oozing, Camembert or brie
16 walnuts
4 Tbsp (60 ml) white sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) fresh paprika
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cayenne pepper or chilli powder (or more, to taste)
flaky sea salt
fresh rocket or salad leaves

Preheat your oven's grill to its hottest setting.

First prepare the walnuts. Put the nuts into a dry frying pan and toast, tossing frequently, for a minute or two, or until just beginning to turn golden on the edges.  Set aside.  Sprinkle the sugar evenly into the saucepan, set it over a medium heat, and watch it like a hawk. The sugar will begin to liquefy and then turn golden in patches. At this point, give the pan a sharp swirl, or stir gently to redistribute the melted bits. (Here are some great tips for making caramel). The moment the sugar is melted and turning a light copper colour, remove the pan from the heat (it will continue to darken after you've removed it).  Toss the walnuts into the hot pan and shake to coat.  Fish them out with a fork, put them on a plate or sheet of greaseproof paper and sprinkle with paprika, cayenne pepper and plenty of salt. Leave to harden.

Put the figs on a baking sheet. Cut a cross in the top of each fig, stopping a little short of its bottom.  Squeeze the base of the figs so that the four 'petals' open up.  Lightly press a little wedge of cheese (how much is up to you) into each fig.  Place under a very hot grill - on a rack in the middle of the oven - and grill until the cheese is just melted. Watch the figs closely as they grill, making sure that they don't burn.  Serve on a bed of dressed greens, sprinkled with the whole, or chopped, caramelised walnuts.

Serves 6. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 1 August 2010

Potted Pork Belly with Mace and Pepper, in the English style

A meltingly tender dish of slow-cooked pork belly, shredded, combined with mace, pepper and salt, packed into a pot and sealed with butter. These could, I suppose, be called pork rillettes, but they're not cooked in seasoned fat, as French rillettes are, and there is something very English about this dish.

Potted Pork Belly
Potted meats have a long history in English cookery: pounding cooked meat with butter and spices, and packing the mixture into porcelain pots, was an easy way to preserve surplus meat for long periods. Elizabeth David wrote a whole booklet on the subject, English Potted Meats and Fish Pastes, which she published privately and sold through her famous kitchen shop in Pimlico. Parts of this booklet (which is as rare as hens' teeth) are reproduced in her book 'An Omelette and A Glass of Wine', and to my fury I seem to have mislaid my copy of it. (Or I lent it to someone: don't get me started on that topic).

In this recipe, pork belly is slow-cooked in a bath of flavoured water until fork-tender. You can slow-roast the belly without water, if you like, but I prefer this method because you end up with a great bonus: a lot of rich, jellied, aromatic stock, which you can use in soups, stews and gravies.

Take the dish out of the fridge an hour or so before you serve it, so the mixture can be easily spread. Clarify the butter if you have the energy (see recipe) but this isn't necessary if you intend serving this within a day or so; the purpose of removing the milk solids from the butter in olden times was to prevent it from becoming rancid.

You can add as much or as little seasoning to this dish as your tastebuds demand: I prefer to keep the spices in the background. It does, however, need a lot more salt than you would think. Lovely with fresh bread or Melba toast, a few crunchy little gherkins and a dab of wine jelly.

Potted Pork Belly
one 1.5 kg pork belly
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, snapped in thirds
a sprig of thyme
a few parsley stalks
an onion, skin on, sliced
10 peppercorns
4 whole cloves
flaky sea salt
milled black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) ground mace (or nutmeg)
cayenne pepper, to taste
2 tsp (10 ml) chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ cup (125 ml) butter

Preheat the oven to 130 ºC. Put the pork belly, skin-side up, in a deep  roasting pan. Pour in just enough water to barely cover the belly: the fat should be poking up out of the water. Add the bay leaves, carrots, thyme, parsley stalks, onion, peppercorns and cloves (but no salt). Cover tightly with a double layer of tin foil. Place the dish in an oven heated to 130ºC, and bake for 5-6 hours, or until the pork meat is so tender you can pull it apart with a fork.

Remove the belly from the pan, pull off the skin and discard it.   Strain the stock through a sieve into a clean jug.  Allow the belly to cool for 15 minutes, then pull the meat into shreds, using two forks or your fingers, and discarding any silvery bits of sinew, but retaining any soft white fat. Now coarsely chop the belly meat: it should look like mashed tuna. (You can pound it to a smooth paste, if you like, but don't put it in a food processor, which will ruin its texture).  Place in a bowl.

Add the salt, pepper, mace, cayenne pepper and chopped thyme, tasting the mixture as you go along until it is seasoned to your liking. Mix well and pack into a shallow terrine dish or individual ramekins. Pour just enough warm stock over the meat to moisten it well - it should not feel wet or saturated. Press down well and allow to cool.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and skim all the white foam off the top. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, and then strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve onto the top of the potted belly. Place a bay leaf or a sprig of thyme on top, and press down well. Refrigerate.

Serves 6 as a starter. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly