Sunday 23 September 2012

Sausage, Pumpkin, Potato and Halloumi Tray-Bake

A garlicky tray-bake in jewel colours that doesn't take long to put together and tastes gorgeous, especially if you finish it off - wickedly - with halloumi cheese and a handful of fresh basil leaves.

I often make all-in-one tray-bakes for family dinners - usually with chicken and veggies - because they're easy, and involve so little washing up. This is a good recipe for feeding a stampede of teens, because it stretches 12 sausages into a filling meal for six people (oh, okay, four, if you have very voracious teens).

The pork sausages add a lovely meaty flavour to the dish, but it's a good idea to drain the excess fat away half-way through baking, or you'll end up with veggies up to their waists in a golden puddle.

You can use either pumpkin or butternut here; I prefer pumpkin cubes (ready-cut ones, of course) because they have a denser texture. The halloumi at the end is an indulgence: use feta if you'd like something a little lighter, or leave the cheese out.

A handful of fresh herbs added at the end of cooking freshens up the whole dish.  I like basil because it adds a faint but intriguing aniseed note, but you could use rocket or flat-leaf parsley, or even some peppery watercress.

It isn't strictly necessary to parboil the potatoes before you start, but I recommend it, because it prevents the potatoes from turning leathery as they roast, and they will also be crisper.

To cut down on time and dishes, I parboil them in the roasting tin before adding the other ingredients and slinging the dish in the oven.

Sausage, Pumpkin, Potato and Halloumi Tray-Bake

6 medium-large potatoes
boiling water
1 tsp (5 ml) salt, for parboiling
½ cup (125 ml) good olive oil
juice of a small lemon
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
12 pork sausages
500 g romanita tomatoes, or similar large cherry tomatoes
500 g pumpkin or butternut cubes 
a small bunch of fresh thyme (rosemary is also lovely)
salt and milled black pepper
250 g halloumi cheese, or feta cheese
a handful of fresh basil leaves

Heat the oven to 190 ºC. If you have an oven fan, heat it to 180 ºC.  Boil the kettle. Cut the potatoes in half lengthways, and then slice them into thick chunks. Place in a large, deep roasting tray and cover them to three-quarters of their depth with boiling water. Turn on a fierce heat under the pan, add the salt and cover loosely with a large sheet of tin foil. Set the timer for exactly 7 minutes. In the meantime, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, and set aside. Twist each sausage half-way along its length to make two smaller ones, and cut through the new link with a pair of scissors. Cut the tomatoes in half crossways.

After seven minutes, drain the water off potatoes - don't worry if they're still a little wet -  and put the pan back on the hob. Turn down the heat and cook for a minute or so, tossing the pan energetically, until all the water has evaporated and the potatoes are a little roughened at the edges. They'll begin to squeak when they're nice and dry.  (Watch the pan like a hawk as the spuds will burn fast through the thin bottom of the pan.)

Take the pan off the heat and pour the olive oil mixture over the hot potatoes. Add the tomatoes, pumpkin and thyme sprigs. Season generously with salt and black pepper and toss everything together so each piece is coated with dressing.  Tuck the sausages into the veggies (try to place them over the tomatoes, so they don't prevent the spuds from browning). Bake at 190 ºC for 40-50 minutes, or until the sausages are nicely browned and the potatoes and pumpkins beginning to turn golden. Turn the sausages over, using a pair of tongs, then tilt the pan over a bowl and drain off all but a few tablespoons of the fat.  If the veggies look a little dry, paint a little of the drained fat over them using a pastry brush.

Return the pan to the oven, turn down the heat to 170 ºC (180 ºC if your oven has no fan) and roast for another 20-25 minutes, or until the pumpkin is very tender. Cut the halloumi cheese into cubes and scatter them over the vegetables. Turn on the oven grill and cook for a further 4-5 minutes, or until the cheese is soft and beginning to turn golden on the corners.  Scatter the basil leaves over the pan and serve immediately.  A spritz of lemon juice just before serving gives this dish a lovely lift.

Serves 6. 
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Tuesday 4 September 2012

Cape Gooseberry Meringue Pie, from my new cookbook

Although I'm not a fan of sweet things, this is a dish I just cannot resist. I adore Cape Gooseberries because they remind me of my childhood. Friends on a farm nearby had an enormous gooseberry bush right next to their front door, and I have lovely memories of sitting on sun-warmed slasto steps, peeling away the crisp papery casings and biting down on hot, sweet berries that exploded in a shower of seeds on my tongue.

Photograph by Michael Le Grange; plate by David Walters. Image © Random House Struik 2012
This pie, my twist on a much-loved family pud, is wonderfully tart and crammed with intense gooseberry flavour. It's an unusual recipe because a gelatine filling is briefly heated in the oven while the meringue is browning.  But if you measure everything exactly and let the pie chill until the filling is completely set, you can’t go wrong.

Cape Gooseberry Meringue Pie

4 cups (about 650 g) dehusked Cape gooseberries
½ cup (125 ml) caster sugar
½ cup (125 ml) water
2½ tsp (12.5 ml) cornflour
juice of ½ lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) powdered gelatine

For the biscuit crust:
1 x 200 g packet Tennis biscuits, or similar crumbly coconut biscuits
(90 ml/90 g) very soft butter

For the topping:
4 extra-large free-range egg whites
a pinch of salt
1 cup (250 ml) caster sugar

First make the crust. Break up the biscuits and process them to fine crumbs in a food processor. Place in a bowl with the soft butter and stir well to combine. Lightly press the mixture onto the base of a non-stick 24-cm springform cake pan lined with buttered baking paper (or use your favourite pie dish). Chill while you make the filling.

Put the gooseberries, caster sugar and water into a pan, turn on the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 6–8 minutes, or until the berries are just beginning to collapse. Mix the cornflour and lemon juice until smooth, add this to the gooseberries and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Now sprinkle the gelatine evenly all over the hot liquid and stir until it has completely dissolved. Cool for 15 minutes, then pour the mixture over the prepared crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour. 

Heat the oven to 190 °C. Beat the egg whites with the salt until very firm, but not dry. Add 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the caster sugar and beat again until firm. Add the remaining caster sugar gradually, beating all the time until you have a very stiff, glossy meringue. Pile the meringue over the gooseberry filling and, using the back of the spoon, coax it towards the edges of the tin, making sure there is a tight seal. Bake for 5–7 minutes, or until the meringue is a light coffee colour. Cool for 20 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until the gooseberry filling has set. Serve cold.

Makes one 24-cm pie; serves 8.

Cook’s Notes
Take your time beating the meringue to a shiny, billowing cloud; this should take you at least 4–5 minutes. Don’t be tempted to run a knife round the edges of the meringue until you are about to release the pie from the cake pan for serving, as it will shrink back from the edges.
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