Wednesday 25 September 2013

Low-Carb Tomato, Mozzarella & Chorizo Salad with Caperberries and Basil

It's food heresy to tinker with the three perfect elements of a Caprese salad, but I felt I had to, because the tomatoes I bought yesterday weren't very alluring. Although they fell short of being mealy on the inside, they were neither sweet nor acidic, but somewhere in between, with a top note of tasteless. So I dollied up the dish with some paper-fine chorizo slices, a handful of caperberries, salt, pepper and basil oil, left it to stand for an hour so the salt could draw out the juices, and then fell on it like starving wolf.

Tomato, Mozzarella & Chorizo Salad with Caperberries
Tomato, Mozzarella & Chorizo Salad with Caperberries.
Plate by David Walters.
I'm going to make this again because I love the smoky taste of the chorizo with tomatoes, basil and cheese, and because it's so easy to fling together.

Use ordinary capers if you don't have caperberries and, if you can afford it, an authentic milky-soft mozzarella, not the bog standard supermaket variety. If you can't find pre-sliced chorizo leaves like the ones in the pictures, buy a whole sausage and asked the staff at the supermarket deli counter to cut it very thinly on their magic slicing machine.

Tomato, Mozzarella & Chorizo Salad with Caperberries
Leaving the salad to sit for an hour allows the flavours to mingle
I am going to make a vast platter of this as a starter next time I have friends over for a feast. I haven't thrown a long, lazy weekend lunch since... well, I can't remember when last I cooked for a crowd. It's been such a cold and wet winter here in Cape Town, and I haven't felt in the mood. It's not that I mind spending a lot of time in the kitchen preparing a feast - it's the clearing up and the staggering price of food and booze that puts me off.

How often do you have lunch parties? How much do they cost you? Tell me in a comment!

Tomato, Mozzarella & Chorizo Salad with Caperberries

4 large, ripe tomatoes
12 large, thin slices chorizo sausage
12 slices mozzarella
16 caperberries, or 4 Tbps (60 ml) capers
a small bunch of young basil
flaky salt
6 Tbsp (90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
half a lemon
milled black pepper

Arrange the tomato, chorizo and mozzarella slices on a platter in overlapping circles, and strew the caperberries and half the basil over the top (use the smaller leaves).

Put the remaining basil leaves  into a mortar and add a pinch of flaky sea salt. Pound the leaves to a paste, then stir in 3 Tbsp (45 ml) of the olive oil.

Place little dabs of the basil oil all over the salad.  Sprinkle with the remaining olive oil, and spritz the salad with lemon juice, to taste.  Season with more salt and plenty of black pepper, and set aside, covered, on the counter top for an hour.

Serve with bread.

Serves 4 as a starter; 2 as a salad.

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Thursday 19 September 2013

Simply Amazing Magic Custard Tart

Amazing and magic are two words I don't use lightly when it comes to recipes, but I must make an exception here (and also break my rule of featuring only original recipes on this blog). This trembling, luscious custard tart, with its delicate cakey topping, makes itself in the oven, and it's one of the most interesting recipes I've come across in years.

Simply Amazing Magic Custard Tart
Simply Amazing Magic Custard Tart, with a soft cake topping, a rich custard base
 and my addition of burned-sugar stripes. You will notice that the custard in the
 slice on the right looks firmer than the custard in the two slices on the left.
The right-hand slice was cut from the very edge of the dish, and the other two from
 its middle. So the next time I made this dish, I placed it in a bain-marie, which helped
 to even out the texture. Plate by David Walters

Simply Amazing Magic Custard Tart
I made this more elegant version of Magic Custard Tart - plated here in a puddle
of Jersey cream -  in a bigger (and circular) flan dish. I think I prefer the squares
 in the picture above, however, as the custard base is thicker and softer.

Simply Amazing Magic Custard Tart
You can't really see it clearly in this picture,
 but the custard separates into two distinct layers.
 In this version,  I sifted the flour twice, which
created a thicker & lighter cake topping. 
I noticed this recipe appearing in various forms on Pinterest a few weeks ago, but couldn't help feeling doubtful about it. How can an alarmingly thin batter of eggs, flour, melted butter, vanilla and milk transform itself into a creamy custard tart of perfection? What kind of wicked kitchen alchemy is this? Well, I don't know the exact science behind this, although I have tried - in the process of testing and re-testing it - to figure out how it works.

I'm going to give you the recipe right away, but if you're interested in my testing notes, my tweaks, the origins of this recipe, and some important watch points, please scroll down to the bottom of this post to read my Cook's Notes.

I've given these ingredients in both grams and cups/ml, but I suggest that - for perfect results - you weigh the ingredients using a digital scale.

If you don't have a scale, use cups & tablespoons marked in  millilitres, and be sure to measure exactly, levelling off the tops with a knife, and not pressing down on the ingredients.

Simply Amazing Magic Custard Tart 

125 g (125 ml) butter
2 cups (500 ml) full-cream milk
4 large, fresh, free-range eggs, at room temperature
150 g (about 155 ml) caster sugar 
115 g (about 225 ml) cake flour, sifted
a drop or two of lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract or essence
the finely grated zest of half a lemon (about 1 tsp/5ml)

To top:
icing sugar, for decorating
fresh strawberries or raspberries

Heat the oven to 160 ºC, fan off.  Grease a deep ceramic or glass baking dish measuring 20 x 20 cm, or coat its inside generously with baking spray.

Cut the butter into cubes, place them in a pot or microwave-safe bowl, and add the milk. Warm the mixture on the stove or in the microwave, until all the cubes of butter have just melted. Stir well, then set to one side.

Separate the eggs into two large bowls. Squeeze two drops of fresh lemon juice into the bowl containing the egg whites. Using a hand-held electric beater (see Cook's Notes, below) whisk the whites until just firm. They should form soft, snowy peaks that hold their shape, but they mustn't be at all stiff or dry.  Set the bowl to one side.

Add the sugar to the egg yolks and, using the same beater (no need to rinse it), whisk at a medium speed for about two minutes, or until the mixture is pale, thick and creamy. Add the sifted flour and the luke-warm butter/milk mixture, bit by bit, and alternately, beating all the time at a medium speed.  Make sure the butter/milk mixture is just warm, or it may curdle the eggs.

When you've added all the flour and butter/milk mixture, beat at a low speed for another 30 seconds, or until slightly foamy. Stir in the vanilla essence and grated lemon zest.

Now comes the only tricky part of the recipe: incorporating the beaten egg white. It's virtually impossible to fold in the egg white, as you would do with a thicker cake mixture, because the batter is so thin.  So here's how to do it: scoop a quarter of your beaten egg white into the mixture and, using a wire whisk, briskly beat it in to lighten the batter. Now tip in the remaining egg white and use your whisk gently - very gently - to incorporate it into the batter, using the tip of the whisk in a light spinning motion.  When the mixture seems reasonably well combined - don't worry about any small egg-white lumps and bumps on the top - pour it into the greased dish.

Use the tip of the whisk to break up any lumps of egg white on top, then place the dish in a deep baking tray. Fill the baking tray with hot water so that it comes to two-thirds of the way the sides of the dish and place in the oven.

Bake the tart at 160 ºC for 45-60 minutes, or until it is a rich brown on top, and still slightly - but not alarmingly - wobbly in the centre. The centre of the mixture should give a reluctant shudder when you jiggle the dish.  Keep a careful eye on it, as the topping turns very brown in an instant.

Immediately remove the dish from the bain marie and allow to cool. You can serve this warm with custard or whipped cream, but it's best chilled overnight in the fridge.

To serve and decorate: generously sift icing sugar all over the top of the cake. Cut into squares, and serve cold, topped with fresh fruit.  For instructions on how to mark the top of the tart with a hot skewer, see below.

Serves 6

Simply Amazing Magic Custard Tart
A marking of burned sugar adds a satisfying caramel crunch to
the tart. See Point 9, below. 

Cook's Notes 

  1. I tested this recipe four times, adjusting the ingredients slightly with every try - less sugar, more flour, and so on. I also tried making it with Stork baking margarine - my late mother-in-law Audrey always insisted that this produces the lightest cakes - but this version wasn't as light and delicious as the buttery ones.
  2. In these notes I've included some important tips that will help you to perfect this dish. Having said that, it may - curiously - not be important for you to heed this advice. Every time I made this, the result was slightly different, but not once did the recipe fail. It's pure kitchen magic. See Point 4, below. 
  3. The significant changes I made to the recipe were to add lemon zest; to bake it in a bain-marie to prevent the outer edges of the custard browning; to add a few stabilising drops of lemon juice to the whites; and to warm the milk and butter together. (The recipes I used as sources warmed/melted the milk and butter separately, which required an extra bowl. I figured that warming them together would ensure that both ingredients are at exactly the same temperature when they go into the egg yolks.)  I also added a decorative topping of burned-sugar stripes (see Point 9, below), which add a lovely delicate caramel crunch.
  4. Because the batter is so thin, it's difficult thoroughly to incorporate the beaten egg whites without losing some volume. A light touch is important here but, even so, the recipe is quite forgiving - if you watch the video mentioned in Point 10, below, you'll notice that the batter is handled quite roughly, with no ill effects. 
  5. Carefully measure out all the ingredients (I place them on small squares of baking paper) before you start with the recipe. This will allow you to put the cake together very quickly, so it doesn't lose any volume. Place it straight into the oven once you've added the beaten egg whites.
  6. Be sure to double-sift the flour -  I did this in my final test and the cake layer was noticeably thicker and lighter (see the third photograph, above). 
  7. You can use a normal wire whisk to make this dish, and plenty of elbow power, but a hand-held electric whisk is best. I tried making this, the first time round, in my Kenwood Chef, but it was too powerful, and the egg whites were too stiff to mix easily into the batter. 
  8. There are some interesting chocolate versions of this recipe here, here and here, but I haven't tried them.  
  9. To make caramel stripes on the tops of the squares, heat a flattish metal skewer in a high flame.When it is very hot, press it lightly into the icing sugar layer to form caramelised stripes. You'll need to keep re-heating the skewer, as it cools down fairly quickly.  Do this shortly before serving the squares, or the caramel may turn sticky. It's easiest to do this once you've cut up the tart, but quicker to mark the entire slab in one go. I did this by easing the whole tart - which was very cold - from its glass baking dish. First, run a sharp, thin-bladed knife around the edges to loosen them. Then stand the dish up on its side so it's vertical, and wait until the vacuum below the custard layer releases. Let the whole slab of tart fall into your palm, then gently slide it onto a board. 
  10. I can't pinpoint the original source of this recipe. Most of the more recent recipes on food blogs and Pinterest give as their source this recipe & video by Spanish food blogger Mabel Mendez. After some digging, I discovered that this dish is of Romanian origin, and that there are dozens of online versions of it written in that language.  It's called 'Prajitura Desteapta' (roughly translated by Google as 'Smart Cake'.)  Here's an example of a recipe written in Romanianwith some useful step-by-step pics.    

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Tuesday 10 September 2013

Spaghettini with a Double-Creamy Onion, Lemon and ‘Caviar’ Sauce

Very special occasions deserve special food, and this simple yet disgracefully indulgent pasta dish perfectly fits the bill.

Spaghettini with a Double-Creamy Onion, Lemon and ‘Caviar’ Sauce
Spaghettini with a Double-Creamy Onion, Lemon and ‘Caviar’ Sauce.
Photograph by Michael Le Grange, and bowl by David Walters.
Image © Random House Struik 2012.

This is a recipe from my cookbook, and I'd forgotten all about it. Isn't it odd how one so easily forgets recipes? I was reminded of this dish by someone on Twitter, who wanted to ask me a question about the ingredients.

This is really easy to make, but, as I said in my book, "the important thing here is to achieve a silken, unctuous sauce, so be sure to use a top-quality full-fat cream cheese: the low-fat variety, or creamed cottage cheese, will not do. Good black lumpfish roe is expensive, but it goes a long way, and adds an essential, delicate ocean taste to this sauce." I can recommend Lancewood cream cheese, which is quite expensive, but it has a lovely texture.

Wine-Braised Baby Leeks in Crisp Prosciutto
I snapped this picture when I was writing and testing the recipe for my
book.  Bowl by David Walters. I think food photographer
Michael Le Grange's picture wins, don't you?

Spaghettini with a Double-Creamy Onion, Lemon and ‘Caviar’ Sauce

2 x 250 g tubs full-fat cream cheese
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter
2 medium onions, peeled and very finely and neatly diced
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
5 Tbsp (75 ml) dry white wine
juice of 1 large lemon
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely grated lemon zest
1½ cups (375 ml) fresh cream
1½ packets (750 g) spaghettini, or similar thin pasta
1 x 100 g tub of good-quality black lumpfish roe

Place the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat energetically with a metal whisk until smooth and creamy. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large, shallow pan, add the onions and garlic and cover them with a circle of baking paper, or the wrapper from a block of butter. Cook over a very low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and very soft.

Remove the paper, turn up the heat slightly and add the wine and lemon juice. Bubble briskly for 3–4 minutes, or until the liquid in the pan has reduced to a tablespoon or so of slightly sticky glaze.

Turn the heat down again, add the cream cheese and whisk until smooth. Add the lemon zest and cream and bubble gently for a further 2–3 minutes, stirring all the time. If the sauce seems a little too thick to coat the spaghettini (this will depend on the type of cream cheese you’ve used) thin it with a few tablespoons of warm water; it should be about the consistency of pouring cream. Cover the pan and set aside.

When you’re ready to serve, cook the pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water for 9–10 minutes, or until al dente. Put eight pasta bowls in a low oven to warm. While the pasta’s cooking, gently reheat the sauce till very hot, but don’t let it boil. Drain the pasta for 30 seconds in a colander, then tip it, still slightly damp, into the hot sauce. Remove from the heat, add 2-3 Tbsp (or more, to taste) of  the caviar and gently toss together so every strand of pasta is coated. Swirl the spaghettini into the warmed bowls and top each one with a little extra caviar change in yellow, above Serve with a plain salad of mixed dark green leaves dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Serves 8.

Cook’s Notes

The sauce, hot pasta and lumpfish roe must be tossed together immediately before serving, but you can make the sauce – up to the point where you thin it with water – well in advance. Keep it in a lidded container in the fridge, then reheat it and continue with the recipe.

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Monday 9 September 2013

Kumquat, Ginger & Chilli 'Jam'

An easy and unusual preserve made with winter kumquats, fresh ginger and dried red chillies. It has only a slight kick to it, but you can add more heat if you want a nose-blaster of a jam.

Kumquat, Ginger & Chilli 'Jam'
Kumquat, Ginger & Chilli 'Jam'

Kumquats are one of my favourite winter fruits: I love their powerful citrussiness, and the way their skins turn to a translucent deep amber when you poach them in syrup. Try my Kumquat Compote (with a few musings on the origins of this rude-sounding word) and, if you have a sweet tooth, my half-candied kumquats dipped in bitter chocolate.

Kumquat, Ginger & Chilli 'Jam'
This recipe was inspired by these beautiful kumquats. I added chilli and ginger
because both ingredients happened to be sitting on my windowsill when
I took this photograph.

This 'jam' goes a long way because it is so intense. It's lovely with sharp Cheddar or a melting brie, and sensational with any creamy mild blue cheese.  Try it with smoked ham, or dabbed over chunky country terrines or silky-smooth chicken liver pâté.

Also, it keeps well in the fridge: I've had this jar for about a month now, and its taste has definitely improved on standing.  If you'd like to preserve this - it would go down a treat on a Christmas table, with hot glazed gammon - be sure to sterilise the jars, and to fill them to the brim with very hot jam before sealing them.

Kumquat, Ginger & Chilli 'Jam'

700 g kumquats
1½ cups (375 ml) water
105 ml white wine vinegar
1½ cups (375 ml) light brown sugar
3 dried red chillies, de-seeded and finely shredded
a thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, sliced in three pieces
1 tsp (5 ml) whole black peppercorns
a pinch of salt

Kumquat, Ginger & Chilli 'Jam'
The jam is ready when the syrup has thickened
and darkened slightly.
Rinse the kumquats but don't cut them up. Put the water, vinegar, sugar, chillies, ginger, peppercorns and salt into a heavy-based pan and bring gently up to the boil, stirring now and then to dissolve the sugar.

Cook at a brisk bubble for 5 minutes. Now tip in the  kumquats, turn down the heat, and simmer gently for 30 minutes or so, or until the fruit is very soft and glassy, and the liquid has reduced to a thickish syrup.

Watch the pan carefully, as there isn't much liquid, and it can turn to caramel in an instant.

If you're going to keep this in the fridge for immediate use, let the jam cool for a few minutes, then ladle it into clean jars.  If you want to keep this in the cupboard for future use, sterilise your jars and plastic-lined lids (here's how) and fill them to the brim with piping-hot jam.  Press down gently with the back of a spoon to eliminate any air bubbles, screw on the lids and tighten. Let the jars cool for 30 minutes, and then tighten the lids again.

Makes two average-sized jars.

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Thursday 5 September 2013

Low-Carb Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta

Vegetables cooked to a tender mush are frowned upon these days, and I have to agree with the general sentiment that bright, fresh and tender-crisp is the way to go. I very seldom cook any plant to the point of disintegration but, then again, there are a handful of vegetables that are sublime when subjected to long, slow seething, among them aubergines, fennel, leeks, onions, waterblommetjies and tomatoes. And - as you will see in this this recipe - courgettes!

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels
Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels.

Courgettes are meek veggies packing very little punch in the flavour department, but I love them in all forms - shaved raw into salads, grated and tangled into fritters and quiches, pencilled into stir-fries, and pan-fried in thick coins, all ready for a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon and salt.

They're also gorgeous when carefully cooked to a state of silken collapse: just think of the best ratatouilles of your life!  In this recipe, I've added cherry tomatoes, which are blistered in a very hot pan before they go into the oven.

This is good piping hot, with wheels of peppered feta, and it's also delicious cold as a snack or starter: see my Cook's Notes at the end of this blog post for further tips.

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels
A simple but intense baked tomato sauce. Try this with halloumi cheese
instead of feta!

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta 

3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
1 kg cherry tomatoes
a large sprig of thyme
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated
5 Tbsp (75 ml) dry white wine
1 kg courgettes [baby marrows/zucchini]
salt and milled black pepper
3 'wheels' or squares (about 220 g in total) of feta cheese, patted dry on kitchen paper
baby mint or basil leaves, or fronds of fresh dill (see Cook's Notes)
extra olive oil, for sprinkling

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels
The tomatoes are first blistered in a
frying pan, then roasted with the
Heat the oven to 180 ºC. Place a large roasting tray over a fierce heat on your hob and add the olive oil. When the oil is very hot - but not yet smoking -  add the cherry tomatoes and cook them, tossing the pan energetically, for a few minutes, or until their skins begin to blister and peel. Add the thyme, garlic and wine, stir well, and cook for another minute or two. Remove the tray and set aside.

Rinse the courgettes to get rid of any grit, top and tail them and cut them into 5-cm lengths. Add them to the roasting pan and mix everything together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the pan tightly with tin foil and bake at 180 ºC for 30 minutes. Now remove the foil, give the veggies a good stir and turn the heat down to 160 ºC, fan on (or to 170 ºC if your oven has no fan).

Cook uncovered for another 65-75 minutes, or until the tomato sauce has reduced and slightly thickened (see Cook's Notes, below). Add the feta to the tray, turn the heat up to 220 ºC, fan on, and blast for another 5-10 minutes, or until the feta is soft and bubbling. Drizzle with a little fruity olive oil, scatter over the mint or basil leaves, and serve immediately, with hunks of bread.

Serves 6 as a side dish; 4 as a main course. 

Cook's Notes
  • The tomatoes need to cook down slowly to a deep, intense sauce. If the sauce seems watery, leave the veggies to bake for a little longer.
  • This dish needs a topping of young herb leaves, but I advise that you choose just one type of herb, because clean, simple flavours are important here. Mint and basil are good, and it's also lovely with small snippings of fresh dill.  
  • You can bake the dish well ahead of time and keep it, covered, on your counter top. Add the feta wheels when you reheat the tray in a very hot oven. 
  • This is a great served cold as a topping for bruschetta: dollop it onto toasted ciabatta slices and add cheese: nuggets of goat's milk cream cheese, or Parmesan shavings, or milky slices of excellent mozzarella.    

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Monday 2 September 2013

Drained Maas Cheese Roll with Lemon, Pepper & Smoked Paprika

I've had a lovely response to my recipe for drained maas [amasi] cheese - thank you for the emails and messages!  I'm so excited by this method for making gorgeous soft white cheese at home that I've made three more batches this week, experimenting with a variety of flavours. Here is my current favourite: a 'salami' of cheese with lemon zest and white pepper, rolled in cracked black pepper & smoked paprika.

Drained Maas Cheese Roll with Lemon, Pepper & Smoked Paprika, on Salticrax
Drained Maas Cheese flavoured with lemon and pepper.
 Plate by Master Potter of Franschhoek David Walters.

This cheese is so inexpensive to make at home - the two-litre bottle of full-cream maas it takes to make two of these will set you back around R20. A huge saving, considering that a single, smaller (100g) 'salami' of this sort costs between R19 and R23 at upmarket stores.

I am smitten by white pepper, so tend to use it with abandon, but as it has a strong, rather 'dusty' flavour, I suggest you add it to the cheese in pinches, tasting as you go.

Drained Maas Cheese Roll with Lemon, Pepper & Smoked Paprika, on Salticrax
This home-made cheese is also good with sweet chilli jam (see Cook's Notes).

Another wonderful flavouring for this cheese is horseradish (see my Cook's Notes at the end of this blog post).

Drained Maas Cheese Roll with Lemon, Pepper & Smoked Paprika

a drained maas cheese, made from 1 litre of full-cream maas
the finely grated zest of half a lemon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) white pepper
salt, to taste
freshly milled black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) good smoked paprika

To serve: 
fresh radishes, or crunchy accompaniments of your choice
Salticrax or similar salted crackers, to serve

Tip the cheese into a bowl. Add the lemon zest, pepper and salt, to taste, and knead well with your fingertips. It's quite a sticky cheese, so you might want to use a sturdy spoon instead.

Drained Maas Cheese Roll with Lemon, Pepper & Smoked Paprika, on Salticrax
Roll the cheese into a tight salami shape.
Form the cheese into a ball and then roll it into a neat salami shape between the palms of your hands. Place a piece of clingfilm or baking paper on the counter and grind over it plenty of black pepper. Gently roll the cheese back and forth so it is coated all over. Now dip the two ends in the pepper. Repeat the process using the smoked paprika.

Place the cheese on one end of a new length of clingfilm and roll it up, as if you are making a Christmas cracker.  Grasp the two ends of the 'cracker' and continue roll the cheese away from you to form a neat, tight cylinder. Twist the two ends together (see picture above), and refrigerate for 4-5 hours, or until firm.

Unroll the cheese, slice it into discs (see Cook's Notes) and serve with crackers and radishes.

Makes one cheese; serves 4 as a snack, with accompaniments.  

Cook's Notes

Drained Maas Cheese Roll with Lemon, Pepper & Smoked Paprika, on Salticrax
Smoked Venison with Horseradish & White-Pepper Cream Cheese, served two ways
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