Tuesday 18 June 2013

Waterblommetjie and Pepper-Feta Quiche

I didn't grow up in the Cape, so I'm not a big buyer of waterblommetjies, and nor am I a keen eater of waterblommetjie bredie. This traditional mutton stew, a treasured winter dish here in the Cape and a great classic of South African cuisine, has as one of its chief ingredients Aponogeton distachyos, a pretty aquatic plant also known as Cape Pond Weed and Water Hawthorn (see pictures below).

I'm not mad about them in stews because they tend to collapse into a muddy green heap when cooked for any length of time, but they are lovely stir-fried, with an intriguing crunchy texture and a taste that has been described as reminiscent of young green beans and asparagus.  (If you'd like to try a traditional waterblommetjie bredie, you cannot go wrong with my friend Michael Olivier's authentic recipe.)

There isn't much you can do to prevent waterblommetjies from losing their vibrant green colour after you've heated them - even plunging them into iced water, which I have tried, has little effect.

But please don't be put off trying them, because I think you will like them a lot.

With the pack of very fresh buds I bought at Woolies this week, I made a simple quiche, adding plenty of peppery, creamy feta, which I thought would contrast well with the slight astringency of the waterblommetjies.

The sweetly scented flower of Aponogeton distachyos.
Photo by J.F. Gaffard, via Wikimedia Commons 
Usually I test recipes a few times in order to improve the dish, but I don't think this recipe needs any tweaking.  It's substantial, yet light in texture, and the waterblommetjies add a most interesting and pleasant crunch.  Some little sautéed cubes of smoky bacon might add an extra layer of luxury, should you wish to go the whole hog.

I have given quite detailed instructions for making an easy, light and crumbly shortcrust pastry, because a good pastry can make the difference between an okay quiche and one that knocks your socks off.  If you're a dab hand at pastry, skip these paragraphs.

Here are some of my top tips for making shortcrust pastry.

If you're not in South Africa, try this recipe with fresh asparagus or broccoli.

And if you can't find peppered feta cheese, add plenty of extra freshly ground pepper to the quiche filling.

This quantity of pastry and filling is suitable for a 20 x 30 cm rectangular non-stick metal quiche pan.

As you probably don't have one of these beauties (I bought three at my local Chinese supermarket for a paltry R35 each) I asked the maths boffins in my house to figure out the equivalent sizes in other shapes:  this is enough for a shallow 25 x 25 cm square dish, or a shallow circular quiche pan with a 28-cm diameter.

Waterblommetjie and Pepper-Feta Quiche

For the pastry shell:
300 g white flour, sifted
180 g cold butter, cut into cubes
½ tsp (1.25 ml) salt
1 egg yolk from an extra-large free range egg
a few tablespoons of ice-cold water (see recipe)

For the filling:
300 g fresh waterblommetjies
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
the juice of half a lemon
150 g peppered feta cheese, roughly crumbled
1 cup (250 ml, fairly loosely packed) grated Cheddar
4 extra-large free-range eggs
½ cup (125 ml) milk
½ cup (125 ml) cream
1 tsp (5 ml) Hot English Mustard Powder or prepared Dijon mustard
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 190 °C, fan on,  and put a large metal baking sheet in it to heat.

First make the pastry.  If you have a food processor with a metal blade, place the sifted flour, butter and salt into the processor jug and whizz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the egg yolk, then trickle ice-cold water - a teaspoon or two at a time - into the chute of the jug, pressing the pulse button in short bursts until the mixture just comes together in a ball.

Once it's formed a ball, press the pulse button again once or twice so that the ball makes five or six turns around the processor jug, but no more.

If you don't have a food processor, put the sifted flour into a large bowl and add the salt and butter cubes. Using your fingertips, lightly rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and iced water, as described above, and very lightly knead the mixture for a minute or two until it holds together. Tip the ball of dough on to a sheet of clingfilm, wrap it up and place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to rest.

Roll the dough out on a floured board (or between sheets of clingfilm, which makes the whole process so easy) to a thickness of 3 mm.  It should be about 5 cm larger than your quiche dish, all the way round.

Use the pastry to line a quiche dish (again, tips here).  Let the pastry drape generously over the edges of dish - you'll trim it off later once you've baked it blind.  Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork, cover it with a sheet of kitchen paper and weigh that down with dried beans or baking beans. Slide the dish onto the heated baking sheet and bake at 190 °C for 10 minutes.

Remove the paper and beans, and put the dish back into the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the base feels dry to the fingertips and is a light golden colour all over.  Remove the pastry shell from the oven, on its baking sheet, and turn the heat down to 180 °C.

In the meantime, prepare the filling. Roughly slice the waterblommetjies, leaving any smaller buds whole.  Heat the olive oil in a wok and stir-fry them over a high flame for 3-5 minutes, or until they are bright green and just tender-crisp. This is a critical stage of this recipe, because the buds must be cooked, yet still retain a slight crunch.  Splash in the lemon juice and cook for another 30 seconds, or until the juice has evaporated.  Season with a pinch of salt and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Arrange the cooked waterblommetjies all over the pastry base, and scatter over the crumbled feta and grated Cheddar. Firmly run a rolling pin over the edges of the quiche pan, to remove any overhanging pastry.

Put the eggs, milk, cream and mustard in a bowl and, using a balloon whisk, beat together for a minute or two, until well combined and slightly aerated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture into the prepared pastry shell and bake at 180 °C for 30-40 minutes, or until the filling is puffed and golden.  If the pastry edges look as if they're browning too quickly, cover them lightly with strips of tin foil.

Serve warm (I don't know why this is, but to me all quiches seem best warm, while they're still wobbling gently) with rocket or watercress leaves dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Makes 1 x 28 cm quiche; serves 6. 

Knock the overhanging edges off the quiche by
running a rolling pin all over the edges of the pan.

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Friday 14 June 2013

Dave's Roast Pork Belly, a favourite dish of the dashing dog detective Napoleon Bones

Napoleon Bones (published by
 Random House Struik).
Napoleon Bones is a noble police dog, a crime fighter, a gourmand, and the star of a recent novel by my mother, South African writer Jenny Hobbs.

One of Napoleon's favourite dishes is a succulent belly of roast pork topped with extra-crackly crackling of great crackliness.

I know for a fact that the recipe my mum had in mind when she wrote her book is the one perfected by my uncle, master potter David Walters. 

It's also one of the recipes featured in my cookbook.  Is this book a family affair? Damned right it is! But then food is all about familie, isn't it? (There's a note about this word at the bottom of the page.)

Here's a paragraph from the book mentioning roast pork belly:

We were patrolling in Woodstock on the dog watch, eight to midnight. Spike was off-duty. A sudden gorgeous waft of aromas had my tongue lolling. Roast potatoes and parsnips. Fennel. Halved heads of garlic browning in the juices dripping from a racked pork belly with the crackling just starting to crisp.

Doesn't that sound toothsome?

I've referred a number of times to Dave's beautiful hand-thrown dinnerware on this blog, because I often photograph my food on plates, platters and bowls he's lent or given me.  But I haven't spoken much about my mum, apart from mentioning that I learned to cook at her elbow.

Because her new novel has much to do with food and eating (or wolfing down, arf arf,  in the case of Napoleon Bones), I thought I'd tell you more about it, and about her.

Jenny Hobbs, novelist, and director of
the Franschhoek Literary Festival.
I read my mother's novels with joy and appreciation, but there's often a level of trepidation because I know that at a certain point something from my childhood will leap off the page and seize me by the heartstrings.

This might be a character I recognise, or a favourite expression, or a line from a poem, or a whiff of something strange and beautiful and half-forgotten.

 In the case of her latest novel, I enjoyed juddering belly-laughs reading the droll observations of the dog Napoleon Bones.

Napoleon, a keen-nosed connoisseur and relentless chaser of frisky bitches is, you see, something of a composite of all the dogs I've ever known. Jenny has dedicated the book to all the stinky mutts of my childhood, including my beloved Mugsy, a bulldog of distinction.

Also, the text is scattered with family jokes and sly verbal references that cannot be appreciated unless you were actually there (the Strategic Fart is one example).

And then there's the language. A little-known fact about my mum is that she wrote, as Blossom Broadbeam, a popular column for Darling magazine in the early Seventies.

Her column became famous as a rich source of 'Seffrican', and many of the slang words she observed and used for the first time in print have been preserved in several dictionaries of South African English. I'm proud to tell you that some of these words were harvested from the mouths of her four daughters. (Okay, they're expressions not used much these days, but there was a time around 1975 when it was extremely cool to say 'tit', 'China', 'boney' and so on.)

She's put her keen ear for South African slang to good use in the new book, and I found myself performing the famous coffee-nose-spurt reaction several times as I raced through its chapters.

David Walters Pork Belly
Really crackly crackling, all brown and blistered. 
But back to the food.  My uncle Dave and his family live right next door to my mum in Franschhoek, so there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the houses, and much merrymaking and feasting when my extended family swarms into Franschhoek.

Whenever an extra-special feast is called for, Dave makes his Famous Pork Belly, usually preceded by his equally famous Smoked Franschhoek Trout with Hot Sesame Oil.

I can heartily recommend both recipes to you.

Dave's Pork Belly

1 large pork belly, bone in (about 2 kg, or enough for 8; see Cook’s Notes)
¾ cup (180 ml) olive oil
10 bay leaves, dried or fresh
8 cloves garlic, peeled
milled black pepper
1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt

Score the skin of the belly, not too deeply, into a narrow diamond pattern using a very sharp knife or the blade of a sturdy craft knife. If you’re not confident about this, ask your butcher to do it. A few hours before you cook the belly, put the olive oil, bay leaves and garlic into a food processor and whizz to a fairly coarse paste (don’t add any salt). Brush the mixture all over the scored skin, pressing it well into the cuts. Grind over plenty of black pepper. Cover with clingfilm and let it stand for 2–3 hours.

Heat the oven to 170 °C. Place the belly, skin side up, directly onto the middle rack of the oven, and put a roasting pan underneath it to collect the fat. Roast for 3 hours with the oven fan off, and without letting the temperature go above 170 °C (or the skin will crackle prematurely).

After 3 hours the belly will be soft, juicy and well cooked. Fifteen minutes before you want to eat, take the joint out of the oven and use kitchen paper to wipe any oily puddles and bay-leaf paste off the top of the skin. Sprinkle the skin liberally with flaky sea salt.

Turn the top grill of the oven to its highest setting and wait until it is glowing red. Adjust the rack on which you cooked the pork so the skin is about 15 cm below the grill. Within a minute or two the skin will begin to spit and sputter as it forms crackling: watch it like a hawk to make sure it is not burning.

If it shows any signs of catching, turn the grill down a little, or move the rack down a notch, but don’t remove the pork from the oven. When the crackling is a deep golden-brown and crunchy all over (this will take 8–10 minutes), take the belly out of the oven, put it on a carving board and take it to the table. Serve with apple sauce, a light potato salad and green salad.

Serves 8.

Recipe courtesy of Random House Struik

Cook’s Notes

Order, well in advance, a large slab of top-quality pork belly from your butcher; supermarket pork bellies are of indifferent quality and always too small. If you’re throwing caution to the winds, put some parboiled potatoes in the dish underneath the belly an hour or so before you serve it, where they will roast to golden and fatty perfection


'Familie' is an Afrikaans word that means, literally, 'family'. But it also has several other untranslatable layers of meaning, among them clan, tribe, loyalty, friendship, closeness, familiarity, and so on. Someone who is familie need not be a blood relative - this could be an old friend, or a neighbour, or someone who has been kind and generous to you over many years. A mensch, in other words.

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Wednesday 12 June 2013

Slow-roasted Stuffed Leg of Lamb with a Basil Walnut Sauce: my first MasterChef/Woolworths recipe

Parsley, rosemary, anchovies and garlic perfume this slow-roasted ‘ball’ of lamb from the inside, with toasted almonds adding some interesting crunch. The sauce is a gentle pesto flavoured with walnuts, whose slight bitterness contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the lamb. I've blanched the basil and walnuts and roasted the garlic to create a soft, voluptuous paste, but you can skip these steps if you’re in a hurry (see my Cook’s Notes, below).

Roast Deboned Leg of Lamb En Ballon with a Herby Garlic Stuffing
A voluptuous pesto of blanched basil and walnuts turns this lamb dish into a feast.  
This is the first in a series of four recipes I've developed for Woolworths, one of the headline sponsors of the much-anticipated second series of MasterChef South Africa. You'll find this recipe here, on the new Woolworths Masterchef Hub.

I'm excited to have been asked, for the second time, to blog for Wooliesand so look forward to sharing three more recipes with you as the series progresses.

Roast Deboned Leg of Lamb En Ballon with a Herby Garlic Stuffing
I've been provided with a list of 'mystery box' ingredients for each dish (based, I believe, on general themes for various episodes). I haven't seen any of the MasterChef episodes, nor do I know anything about the show. The ingredients I had to work with are listed at the bottom of this page.

But on to the recipe. I was intrigued to see two different types of nuts (walnuts and almonds) in the ingredients list. The combination of lamb and nuts evokes slow-cooked, fruity North African tagines and Persian recipes featuring perfumed Middle Eastern spices. But the remaining ingredients on the list were largely Mediterranean in character, so I settled on a big deboned leg of lamb stuffed with gorgeous aromatics, roasted in a ball shape (to prevent the stuffing falling out)  and served with a mild, creamy, nutty pesto featuring blanched basil and walnuts.

You might, if you're not a fan of them, be tempted to leave the anchovies out of this stuffing, but please be bold and leave them in, because they add a wonderful savour to the lamb, and leave not a trace of fishy flavour behind.

This is a slow roast in which the lamb gradually collapses to form very soft and tender slices. If you'd like your lamb pink in the middle, you can increase the temperature and roughly halve the cooking time (see Cook's Notes).

Disclosure: Woolworths have paid me to develop and write about these recipes, and they've also given me an allowance for buying the ingredients.

Finally, this year, it’s not just bloggers getting the chance to get creative in the kitchen along with MasterChef and Woolies. Create a recipe with the same ingredients used each week by the Woolworths Masterchef Competition bloggers and you could win one of fourteen R1000 Woolies gift cards, or the (very!) grand prize of a R10 000 gift card. Head over to the Woolworths Masterchef Hub for more info and T&Cs.

Stuffed Leg of Lamb with a Basil Walnut Sauce

1 x 1.8 kg deboned leg of lamb
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper
1 x 12-cm sprig of fresh  rosemary
4 anchovy fillets, drained of oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil
300 ml dry white wine
30 g (250 ml, or a cup, loosely packed) curly parsley
100g slivered almonds
extra olive oil, for frying

For the sauce:
1 small bulb garlic
16 walnuts
90 g (750 ml or 3 cups, loosely packed) basil leaves
3 Tbsp (45 ml) verjuice
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
salt and milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 150 ºC. Open up the deboned leg of lamb and place it skin-side down on a board. Make a few shallow slashes in the thicker parts of the meat so the whole piece lies fairly flat. Season with plenty of milled black pepper.

Strip the rosemary leaves off their twig, roughly chop them and place them in the jug attachment of a stick blender. Add the anchovy fillets, garlic cloves, 30ml (2 Tbsp) of the olive oil and 30ml (2Tbsp) of the wine. Whizz to a paste. If you don’t have a jug blender, pound everything to a paste using a mortar and pestle.

Add the parsley and press the pulse button a few times so the leaves are coarsely chopped, but nowhere near a purée.  Set aside.

Toast the slivered almonds by tossing them in a dry frying pan over a medium-low heat until golden. Tip the garlic/parsley paste into the hot pan and fry, stirring, for 1 minute, or just long enough to take the sting out of the garlic.

Roast Deboned Leg of Lamb En Ballon with a Herby Garlic Stuffing
Spread the warm herb, anchovy, garlic and almond mixture
over the top of the lamb and press it into the slashes.
Spread this warm mixture over the lamb, pressing it into the slashes. Gather the lamb into a ball shape (you may need another pair of hands) and truss it into a neat sphere with long piece of kitchen string, crossing it over top and bottom and turning the ball with every truss, as you do would if you were wrapping a parcel. The string trussing the lamb should look like the spokes of a wheel (see picture, below left). Pull the string fairly tight as you go, and fasten it with a bow under the lamb. Season the lamb with salt and pepper.

Roast Deboned Leg of Lamb En Ballon with a Herby Garlic Stuffing
Firmly tie kitchen string around the lamb to form it into a neat ball
shape, criss-crossing it top and bottom as if you are tying up a
 parcel. Tie a bow underneath the ball of lamb.  
Heat the remaining 45ml olive oil in a large pan and brown the lamb over a very high heat on all sides to create a rich golden crust.  Tilt the pan to pour away any excess fat, then stand back and pour in the remaining wine, stirring briskly to deglaze.

Place the lamb and all its liquid into a roasting pan and roast, uncovered, for 3 hours at 150 ºC, or until the lamb is very tender. Remove from the oven and rest, lightly covered with foil, for 30 minutes.

NB: One hour before the end of the roasting time, wrap the bulb of garlic in tin foil and place it on an oven rack below the lamb.

Now make the sauce. Boil the kettle. Put the walnuts in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes. Set aside. Put the basil leaves in a big colander over the sink and pour half a kettle of boiling water over them. Immediately plunge them into the iced water.

Remove the roasted garlic bulb from the oven and squeeze the soft pulp into the jug attachment of a stick blender. Drain the basil leaves and walnuts and pat dry on kitchen paper. Add these to the jug along with the verjuice and olive oil. Whizz to a thick, fairly coarse paste. If the blades are reluctant to turn, add a few more drops of verjuice and olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the string from the lamb and carve it into thick slices. Arrange these on a platter and strain over the warm pan juices.  Serve hot with the basil sauce, a big bowl of boiled baby potatoes and a platter of rocket dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt.  Or perhaps some minted baby peas.

Cook's Notes
  • It isn’t strictly necessary to blanch the walnuts and basil, but this step helps to create a good texture.
  • Verjuice has a lovely delicate taste, but if you can't find it, you can use a little lemon juice in the sauce instead. It's worth buying a bottle of Verjuice because it keeps for many months in the fridge, and is useful for deglazing pans, and adding to salad dressings. 
  • If you can't find a nice-sized deboned leg of lamb at your local Woolies, ask the butcher behind the counter to debone a leg for you.  You're not inconveniencing him - in fact, he'll probably be very pleased to do this for you and to offer you some advice.
  • Trussing the lamb into a neat ball shape helps to prevent the stuffing from falling out. If you’re not confident about trussing it yourself, ask your Woolies butcher for a piece of butcher's netting when you buy the lamb. Form the lamb into a neat ball, slip over the netting and knot it firmly top and bottom.
  • Don’t add any salt to the stuffing, as the anchovies are already quite salty.
  • If you prefer pink, slightly springy lamb, increase the oven temperature to 180 ºC  and roughly halve the cooking time. I can't give you an exact time, because this depends on the weight of your lamb and the efficiency of your oven.  I suggest you test the 'doneness' of the lamb by stabbing a sharp knife deep into its underside, and peeking inside to see how pink it is.  Your piece of lamb will lose some juice this way, but that is a lesser evil than taking an over-cooked roast to the table.  Alternatively, ask your Woolies butcher to weigh the piece and recommend a cooking time.
Serves 6. 

Here is the list of ingredients I was given to work with (I was also allowed to add salt, pepper and oil to my 'mystery box'):

Extra virgin olive oil
Maldon salt
Verjuice or white wine
Black pepper

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Wednesday 5 June 2013

Chicken with Bacon, Leeks and Cider, & how I met Gordon Ramsay, and found him polite

Chicken with Cider Bacon and Mushrooms
A luxurious dish with a silken sauce.
This is the one of the recipes I demonstrated at the Good Food and Wine Show last week.  I was pleased to receive an invitation to cook at the show, but gnawed my nails to the quick when I learned, rather late in the day, that 24 people from the audience would be cooking along with me in the Woolworths Real Food Theatre.  The dishes I'd chosen to demonstrate were too fiddly for a cook-along, so I abandoned them and instead selected three favourite recipes I knew could easily be done and dusted in 45 minutes.

As the main attraction, I settled on this easy crowd-pleaser, a recipe I developed for my cookbook Scrumptious: Food For Family and Friends

Before give you the recipe, I must tell you how star-struck I felt to meet Gordon Ramsay at the show, after watching his hugely entertaining demo, to which I was invited (by his sponsor, Checkers) as part of a media contingent.

I mention this because I complained bitterly on this blog three years ago when the 'VIP' ticket my husband bought me as a birthday present turned out to be a proper turkey.  It wasn't a good experience, and left such a sour taste that for several years I couldn't face going back.

So when I finally met the man, after a short wait in an over-excited book-signing queue, I was determined to get in my ten cents' worth. While he signed my copy of his new book Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery Course, I told him I was a food blogger, and his famous furrowed brow creased like an accordion. But I followed that up smartly by telling him I'd recently had my first cookbook published, and was thunderstruck when he leaned forward across the counter to grasp my hand in both of his, warmly congratulating me, as if I had recently won a Nobel Prize. Seizing the opportunity, I slapped a dog-eared copy of his autobiography Humble Pie on the counter and asked him if he'd be so kind as to write a message to my sons across the cover.  "Neither of my teenage sons was interested in cooking until they read this," I told him. "But now they are very interested. Can you please write something rude on the cover for them?"

He looked pleased, and asked, "What do you want me to write?"

"You f..king donkeys!" I replied, knowing my sons would be genuinely thrilled to be called such a thing (a famous line from certain Ramsay reality shows).

Paprika Pork Fillet with Greek Yoghurt, in praise of yoghurt & how to cook with it without curdling it
"I can't write that!" he said, clearly appalled by my suggestion. "Not for teenagers, I can't!"

"Oh, go on," I urged him.  "They will love it!"

With a bashful look - I can't think of any other word to describe his expression -  he scrawled a message across the book cover, but he censored his beloved F-word with an ellipsis.

This impressed me.

Anyway, moving on to my recipe. I love this luxurious coq-au-vin-style dish and make it quite often for friends when I'm looking for a comforting recipe with a complex flavour, but don't have time to fiddle around with a lot of chopping or stock-boiling or slow cooking. You can made this dish in half the time by chucking everything together in a pan and hoping for the best, but I've designed the recipe so that it creates its own deep-flavoured stock and sauce as it cooks, drawing wonderful earthy flavours from the bacon, mushrooms, leeks and chicken.

Any dry cider will do for this recipe, but you will get a superior result from a carefully brewed craft cider. I've used, on various occasions, two excellent South African ciders -  Everson's and Terre Madre - and was interested to note the subtle differences in the final result.

There is not a speck of flour in this recipe, yet the sauce reduces quite quickly to just the right state of silken thickness. You can't achieve this in a small, crowded pot, however, because there isn't enough surface area for the sauce to reduce in a hurry.  Make it in a large, shallow pan, such as an electric frying pan, or a paella pan if you have one.

If you can find fresh tarragon, use it by all means, but I find that good quality dried tarragon is just as pungent.  You can find good-quality freeze-dried tarragon at Woolies and in better supermarkets.

If you don't use alcohol in your cooking, use a not-too-sweet apple juice (such as Appletiser) instead of cider.

Recipe from Scrumptious: Food for Family and Friends (Random House Struik)

Chicken with Bacon, Leeks and Cider

two free-range chickens, or chicken pieces of your choice
3 large leeks
3 Tbsp (45 ml) butter
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
250 g back bacon
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
500 g tiny button mushrooms
3 cups (750 ml) dry cider
2½ tsp dried tarragon
a 10-cm  sprig of fresh thyme
1½ (375 ml) cups cream
salt and pepper
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped curly parsley

Remove any visible fat from the chickens and cut them into 16 portions (or ask your butcher to do this for you). Cut a lengthways slice halfway through the leeks and rinse, fanning out the leaves, under cold water. Finely slice the leeks (you’ll use the white and pale green parts only). Heat the butter and olive oil in a very large, shallow pan, add the leeks and bacon and fry over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, without allowing the leeks to brown. Add the garlic and fry gently for another minute. Remove the leeks, bacon and garlic using a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Be sure to remove every trace of leek and garlic, as these will blacken during the next step and make the sauce bitter.

Brown the chicken pieces on both sides, over a high heat, and in batches, for 3-4 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and golden (add a little more butter or oil to the pan if necessary). Set aside on a plate. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, add the mushrooms and fry over a high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden. Pour in the cider and bubble briskly for 3 minutes, stirring and scraping to dislodge the sediment on the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken (skin side up), leeks and bacon to the pan and add the tarragon, thyme sprig and a big pinch of salt. Reduce heat and bubble, uncovered for 25-35 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked right through. Turn the chicken pieces over three or four times while they cook. Remove the thyme sprig, stir in the cream, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook gently for a few more minutes, or until the sauce has slightly reduced and thickened.

Scatter with parsley and serve hot with mashed or crushed potatoes and a green salad or vegetables.

Serves 6-7. 
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Saturday 1 June 2013

Paprika Pork Fillet with Greek Yoghurt, plus top tips for cooking with natural yoghurt

Paprika Pork Fillet with Greek Yoghurt, in praise of yoghurt & how to cook with it without curdling it When you spend a lot of time cooking and thinking about food and writing new recipes, you can't help but develop ridiculous fascinations for particular ingredients.  You scatter these ingredients all over your blog, hoping your readers will find the flavours as compelling as you do, and then all of a sudden your tastes swerve in another direction and you move onto something new.

Over the years I've been writing this blog, I've fixated on a number of ingredients, among them nasturtium leaves, white pepper, paprika, fennel, capers, quinces, fresh horseradishdried mint, pork neck and prickly pears. This year, it's Greek yoghurt: not necessarily eaten thick and cold with fruit or honey or nuts, but as a brilliant substitute for cream or coconut milk in piping-hot savoury dishes and curries, and as a cool and calming note in chilled mayonnaisey ones.

Before I give you this recipe, may I warm to the topic of Greek yoghurt? I don't like fruit-flavoured commercial yoghurts, but for many years I've been an ardent fan of tangy Greek yoghurt so thick you can stand a spoon up in it. Mixing glorious natural yoghurt with fresh garlic, herbs and lemon juice to make a low-carb, low-fat smothering sauce has become a habit whenever I go on any sort of diet (about twice a month, and to no avail, I'm afraid).

Postscript, 15 March 2014: Here is my foolproof recipe for home-made Greek-Style Yoghurt.

My particular interest over the last few months has been in cooking with yoghurt, and specifically using it as a substitute for sinful dairy cream (and butter, and fatty coconut cream) in soups, stews, sauces, curries and casseroles.

Full dairy cream wins many glittering prizes when it comes to taste and mouth-feel because - along with its cousin, glorious salty butter - it adds superb silkiness, savour and luxury to so many of the world's best-loved classic sauces. Restaurant chefs all over the world make use of scandalous amounts of cream and butter to make sauces taste heavenly, and who can blame them for that?  A white-wine reduction designed to be draped over fish would be rubbish without a splash of cream to round it off,  and what would a trembling emulsion such as Hollandaise or Béarnaise be without butter?

Paprika Pork Fillet with Greek Yoghurt, in praise of yoghurt & how to cook with it without curdling itI haven't much cared, over the years, about using dobbles of cream and cubes of butter in family dishes because I vehemently reject the notion that there are 'bad' and 'good' foods ('Everything in moderation', as Granny used to say).  I always keep a carton or two of cream in the fridge, for dribbling into sauces, scrambled eggs and soups, and when I brown chicken or fish or red meat in olive oil I will always pop in a knob or two of cold salty butter for basting purposes.

But recently I've given thought to cutting extraneous dairy fats out of our family meals, and so my interest has turned again to Greek yoghurt as a 'creamifying' and enriching agent.

Anyone who has tipped a carton of Greek yoghurt into a seething pan filled with lovely ingredients and seen it curdle in an instant to nasty white lumps may give a sympathetic nod at this point.  But please don't give up hope.

After some experimentation, I've figured out how to use yoghurt to enrich hot dishes. If you follow these steps, you'll find you can very effectively enrich soups and stews with Greek yoghurt in place of cream.

In my experience, there are two things that yoghurt hates: 1. Acidity and 2. Fierce heat.  Or a fatal combination of both.

I've found that it is possible to add fairly large quantities of Greek yoghurt to dishes containing much acidity - in the form of fresh or tinned tomatoes, for example, or freshly squeezed lemon juice - without ending up with a curdled mess you wouldn't feed the cat.

Here are my three golden rules:

1. Add the yoghurt in small quantities, at the last minute, dollop by slow dollop, and never in one big go.

2.  Never add yoghurt to a dish that's energetically boiling, or bubbling briskly. Turn the heat down to the lowest it can go, or turn the heat off.

3. Mix the yoghurt with a small amount of cornflour - just a teaspoon, or less, depending on the dish  - to stabilise it, before you add it to the hot pan.  This isn't strictly necessary, but it is a great help.

But on to the recipe, which is a good example of how you can use yoghurt to add lovely softness to dishes traditionally enriched with cream.  This is a quick and easy dish that takes some short cuts (not browning the onions, for example), and it's a good choice for a family meal. Pork fillet isn't expensive compared to chicken or beef fillets, and it's exceptionally lean if you trim off every bit of fat.  Although this dish is quite acidic because it contains fresh tomatoes, it accepts the yoghurt gracefully, and is - I reckon - the better for it.

A top-quality paprika makes all the difference to this dish. I'm not saying you can't make it with ordinary supermarket paprika, but what a difference a beautiful Spanish paprika makes.

One or two tablespoons of cream will help to round off the flavours (sorry, I just can't resist it). See my Cook's Notes at the end of the recipe.

Paprika Pork Fillet with Greek Yoghurt

1 kg pork fillet (about three fillets - or tenderloins - of 300 g each)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) cake flour
salt and milled black pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
500 g ripe cherry or Rosa tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly sliced
1 tsp (5 ml) white granulated sugar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tomato paste
a large (10 cm) sprig of fresh thyme
¾ cup (180 ml) dry white wine
¼ cup (60 ml) water
the finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) mild Spanish paprika, or more, to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) good quality smoked paprika [optional]
1 cup (250 ml) thick natural Greek yoghurt
a handful (125 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley

Trim the pork fillets of any fat or sinew. Cut into slices 3 cm thick. Put the flour into a big mixing bowl and season it generously with salt and milled black pepper.

Heat a large frying pan and add the oil and butter. While the fat is heating, put the fillet slices into the bowl of seasoned flour and toss them around so they're well coated.  Pat and shake the slices energetically to remove the excess flour - they should be just lightly dusted.  When the fat is very hot, brown the slices on both sides (in two or three batches, and without overcrowding the pan) until they have a nice golden crust, but are still somewhat raw on the inside.  Set each batch aside on a plate while you finish frying the rest.

In the meantime place the onions, tomatoes, garlic and sugar into a food processor, or similar liquidising device, along with any remaining flour left over in the bowl in which you dredged the meat slices. Whizz the mixture to a fairly fine coral-pink purée, but don't over-process it, because it will become foamy.

Once you've browned the final batch of pork slices, tilt the pan over the sink to drain away any excess fat, turn down the flame and add the tomato paste. Cook the tomato paste over a gentle heat for a minute, then pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping energetically to release any golden sediment clinging to its base. Add the water and the puréed onion/tomato/garlic mixture, along with the thyme sprig. Turn up the heat again and cook at a lively bubble for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture has slightly reduced and thickened, and has darkened in colour.  It's ready when you drag a spoon across the mixture and your spoon leaves a narrow channel that closes reluctantly.

Paprika Pork Fillet with Greek Yoghurt, in praise of yoghurt & how to cook with it without curdling it
Add the yoghurt patiently, a dollop at a time, stirring carefully between each addition.
 Don't boil the sauce, or the yoghurt might curdle. 
Put the browned pork slices back into the pan and add the lemon zest, paprika and smoked paprika. Turn down the heat and gently simmer the pork slices in their sauce for 4-5 minutes (turning them over once or twice during that time), or until they're cooked right through.

Stir in the lemon juice, to taste, and bubble the sauce for another minute. Now turn the heat down to the very lowest it can go and add the yoghurt, tablespoon by tablespoon, stirring well between each addition. When all the yoghurt has been incorporated, remove the thyme sprig and taste the sauce. Add more salt and pepper if you think it's necessary, plus an extra spritz of lemon juice to add some pleasant acidity. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve immediately, with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans, or a pile of fresh rocket, beetroot and watercress.

Serves 4-6 as a main course.

Cook's Notes
  • Two or three tablespoons of fresh creamed stirred in at the end will beautifully finish off the flavours.
  • I've found that ultra-low-fat yoghurts are more unstable in the pan than full-fat yoghurts.
  • You can use tinned tomatoes in this dish, if you are in a hurry, but please bear in mind that tinned tomatoes are often extremely acidic, and that they may cause your sauce to curdle once you've added the yoghurt. A pinch of bicarbonate of soda added along with the tinned tomatoes may prevent this.
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