Thursday 29 September 2011

Fresh Asparagus, Peas and Parmesan on Hot Toast

A light, bright ‘pesto’ of fresh asparagus, peas and feta, zinged with lemon and mint and topped with fine shavings of Parmesan.  A perfect spring dish, for when spring arrives in earnest.

Fresh Asparagus, Peas and Parmesan on Hot Toast
Cape Town is making a valiant stabs at spring at the moment, but every time I reach for my bathing suit (with modesty frill), the weather turns again and I have to retrieve my sheepskin slippers, muttering as I do so, from the top of the cupboard, where I flung them at the beginning of September.

Still, all sorts of tender spring ingredients are appearing on the shelves of my local supermarket, and I'm eyeing the asparagus with particular interest, waiting for its price to come down so I can buy it by the bucketload.

Don’t be tempted to spread this on doorstops of ciabatta: this is a delicate, summery topping that deserves hot toasted ovals of fresh baguette. This paste, and the toasts, need to be made immediately before they’re served. Don’t skip the iced water step, or you’ll end up with a sludge-green paste.

Fresh Asparagus, Peas and Parmesan on Hot Toast 

30 slim spears fresh asparagus
¾ cup (180 ml) frozen petit pois
a wheel (about 80 g) feta cheese
12 fresh mint leaves
4 T (60 ml) olive oil
4 tsp (20 ml) lemon juice
½ tsp (2.5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
salt and milled black pepper

To serve:
a baguette, cut into 16 thin slices
a small wedge (200 g) Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
extra olive oil

Fill a bowl with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes. Snap off the woody bases of the asparagus and cook in rapidly boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, remove the spears, place on a board and cut off the asparagus tips. Put the tips in the iced water for 2 minutes, drain well and reserve. Slice the remaining stalks into thirds, return to the boiling water and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until tender. Plunge into the iced water. Add the frozen peas to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes.

Heat the oven grill, put the bread slices on a baking tray and toast on both sides until golden brown (I cook them in a sandwich press, and they're brilliantly thin and crisp). Drain the peas and asparagus stalks and place in a blender along with the feta, mint, olive oil and lemon zest and juice. Using the pulse button, process to a slightly chunky paste. Season with salt and pepper.

Pile the warm asparagus mixture onto the toasts. Using a potato peeler, finely shave the Parmesan over the toasts. Top with the reserved asparagus tips and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve immediately.

Serves 8 as a snack or starter.

Fresh Asparagus, Peas and Parmesan on Hot Toast
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Wednesday 21 September 2011

Gin-Cured Salmon Gravadlax, Tartare-Style

Gravadlax (fresh salmon cured in the fridge with dill, salt and sugar) is usually served in delicate petals, but I’ve struggled to create perfect thin slices at home, no matter how energetically I brandish my rapier of a filleting knife. So now I serve it chopped in the style of a salmon tartare.

Gin-Cured Salmon Gravadlax, Tartare-Style
This is extremely easy to make and - if you follow my instructions carefully - is foolproof. The only part about the recipe you might  find tricky is cutting very even, thin strips of cucumber. You will need a mandolin for this, or a lot of patience. If you have neither, serve the tartare in elegant little heaps piled on a circle of fine cucumber rings.

This dish is ideal for casual entertaining because you can start the gravadlax up to 48 hours ahead, then chop it all up and fill the cucumber rings an hour or two before your guests arrive. It's also a great low-carb #LCHF choice, and suitable for diabetics.

I was given this recipe many years ago by  Lorraine Deans, who was co-owner of the Hertford Country Restaurant and Inn, close to where I grew up in Elandsdrift, north of Johannesburg. I went to interview Lorraine for a book I was writing, and she bought out a platter of the most delicious salmon I'd ever tasted. Not that I'd tasted much salmon at that point (you didn't often see fresh salmon in the shops when I was in my twenties), but it make a big impression. I begged her for the recipe, and I've been making it ever since, with a few tweaks of my own.

Instead of the traditional vodka, I use gin, for its lovely juniper note. (Oh, and okay, because there's always a bottle of gin in the house.)

This is best with top-grade imported fresh salmon, but you can also use excellent ThreeStreams lightly smoked trout.

Postscript: Here's a December 2014 wine pairing by Michael Olivier.

Gin-Cured Salmon Gravadlax

two fillets fresh salmon, skin on, weighing a total of 750 g
4 tsp (20 ml) coarse sea salt (Kosher salt)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) black peppercorns
4 tsp (20 ml) white sugar
a large bunch of fresh dill
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
4 Tbsp (60 ml) dry gin
3 Tbsp (45 ml) small capers, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp (45 ml) finely snipped fresh chives
3 Tbsp (45 ml) finely chopped fresh dill
milled black pepper

To serve:
2 long, thin English cucumbers
½ cup (125 ml) crème fraîche
lemon wedges

Ask your fishmonger to pin-bone the salmon fillets and cut away the blood line.  Place a fillet, skin side down, on a large sheet of clingfilm. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the salt, peppercorns and sugar to a coarse powder and sprinkle it all over the salmon fillet. Cover the fillet with 10-12 big sprigs of dill and sprinkle with lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of gin. Place the other salmon fillet flesh-side down on top.

You can also make this using a smaller quantity of
salmon, as I've done in this recipe
Wrap tightly in clingfilm, place in a big shallow dish and put a weight (a brick is ideal, or use tins from the cupboard) on top. Refrigerate for 12 hours, then turn the parcel over, weigh it down again, and cure for a further 12 hours. Unwrap the parcel, remove the dill and wipe off the curing spices. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of gin over the lower fillet, cover with a new layer of dill sprigs, replace the top fillet, wrap in new clingfilm and refrigerate for up to 36 hours, or until needed.

To serve, remove the dill sprigs and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cut the salmon flesh away from the skin, place on a board and chop into small pieces using a sharp knife or mezzaluna. Place in a bowl and stir in the capers, chives and dill. Season with plenty of black pepper (you shouldn’t need to add more salt). Don't add any lemon juice, as this will 'cook' the fish.

Use a mandolin or a very sharp knife, cut the cucumbers, lengthways, into strips each about millimetre thick. Curl each strip into a neat ring and press the ends to secure. (If the cucumber strips refuse to stay in a ring, fix the ends in place with big paper clips. Or remove the bottoms of tuna tins using a tin opener and use those as rings to form the cucumber circles.) Place the cucumber rings on individual plates or a single large platter. Pile the tartare into the cucumber rings and top each one with a flurry of crème fraîche.

Serve with lemon wedges and melba toast.

Serves 8 as a starter or snack.

More of my recipes using salmon:

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Friday 16 September 2011

Quick Artichoke, Feta and Lemon Bread, and another

Quick food and - yes - takeouts have been on the menu at Chez Scrumptious over the last month because I've been furiously busy on other work. My nose has worn to pitiful stump, so hard has it been pressed to the grindstone, so I haven't really been in the mood for making nourishing family meals. It's a good thing breakfast cereals are enriched, or all my children would be weak with scurvy.

Artichoke and Feta BreadI can't give guests takeouts or cereal, however, so recently I've been making flavoured breads that look as if I've spent the whole morning slaving over them.  Both these loaves can be  assembled in under ten minutes, using  bags of dough from the supermarket, and I promise your guests will clap their hands in delight when you bring them hot and fragrant to the table.

Industrial dough doesn't have much to recommend it by way of flavour or texture - it's a multi-purpose dough used for all manner of baked goods - but a few interesting fillings or toppings go a long way towards making up for any cotton-wool texture. The first bread is stuffed with a zingy filling of tinned artichokes, creamy feta, lemon zest and parsley, and the second topped with fennel, garlic, olive oil and vine tomatoes. (And here's third idea: my Puffy 'Focaccia' with Baby Sausages, Herbs, Feta, Garlic and Olive Oil.)

Most supermarkets in South Africa that have in-house bakeries (Spar and 7/11 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.

Artichoke and Feta BreadSupermarket dough rises to an impressive height. Because it's got so much va-va-voom, it's not suitable for making pizzas (unless you like a very thick, doughy crust). But it is ideal for all sorts of flat (or flattish) flavoured breads, and is very forgiving. In other words, you can punch and stretch it fairly energetically without worrying about it collapsing into a sad old biscuit. Do take the time to press it out quite thinly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. There is no need to wait for these breads to rise after flavouring them; the dough will be very puffy already when you take it out of its bag.  Supermarket dough keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Artichoke and Feta Bread
600 g fresh white-bread dough
three-quarters of a tin of artichokes, drained
2 wheels (about 160 g) feta, crumbled
5 T (75 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
the finely grated zest of a small lemon
flaky sea salt
milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 180º C. Place a piece of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet and press the dough out to a rectangle about a centimetre thick, as shown in the picture above.

Artichoke and Feta Bread
Coarsely chop the artichokes, put them in a bowl and add the feta, olive oil, parsley and lemon zest. Season generously with salt and black pepper. Spread the mixture to within three centimetres of the edges of the dough then roll it up, as if you were making a Swiss roll. Stretch the dough slightly as you roll, tucking it firmly to enclose the filling. Turn the bread so the seam is underneath. Use a sharp knife to make diagonal slashes in the top of the loaf.  Mix 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of water with a teaspoon of salt, and lightly brush this mixture all over the bread.

Bake at 180º C for 40-50 minutes, or until done. Brush the bread with more salt water half-way through the cooking time. If you're not sure the bread is cooked, turn it over and rap your knuckles on its underside. If you produce a dry, hollow sound, the bread is ready. Slide onto a bread board and serve hot with some olive oil for dipping.

Makes 1 loaf of bread, or enough for 6 people.

Fennel and Tomato Bread

Tomato and Fennel Bread
600 g fresh white-bread dough
3 big cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
a large sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and coarsley chopped
the finely grated zest of a small lemon
2 bulbs baby fennel, finely sliced
12 ripe cherry tomatoes, on the vine if possible
a few extra small sprigs of rosemary
flaky sea salt, or coarsely ground Kosher salt
milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 180ºC. Lightly grease a large baking tray and dust with a little flour. Press the dough (diagonally across the sheet) into an elongated oval. Take your time about this. You will find that that dough tends to creep back a bit, but persevere with pushing and stretching until the dough is about a centimetre thick all over. Using your bunched fingers, make deep indentations all over the dough.

 In a separate bowl, mix together the crushed garlic, olive oil, chopped rosemary and lemon zest. Pour three-quarters of this mixture over the dough surface and use your fingers to poke and prod it into the indentations. Scatter the sliced fennel and the cherry tomatoes over the bread and press them lightly into the dough. Drizzle the remaining quarter of flavoured olive oil all over the bread and tomatoes, and sprinkle the bread with plenty of salt and milled black pepper. Scatter the extra rosemary sprigs on top. Bake at 180ºC for 35-40 minutes, or until puffy, golden and cooked right through.

Makes 1 focaccia, or enough for 6 people. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly