Archive for April, 2010

mozzarella in carrozza

sometimes people come home from a hateful night at a hateful job and have nothing left inside. this emptiness can only really be alleviated with mozzarella. moreover, mozzarella sandwiched between two slices of the worst, most unutterably bad white bread available in your unutterably bad local supermarket.* nigella taught me this one and though i dont really endorse her late night eating-in-bed philosophy, she certainly knows how to do that sort of food well (this also came from her nigella bites series, which came before nigella feasts, the series in which she went from a little whack to certifiably stupid and therefore is an acceptable adaptation..not that i watch any of these stories regularly. certainly not repeatedly). apparently this is what the chambermaids in florence eat when theyre feeling alienated. and in its strange, unappealing way – its really a very good thing.

ingredients

4 slices of whitebread, crusts removed (no nutritional value here thank you very much)

1 ball of mozzarella (or several little ones)

125ml milk

3tbsp flour

1 egg lightly beaten

salt and pepper

2tbsp olive oil

make sandwiches out of the bread and mozzarella. leave a bit of room around the edge and press the edges together (as lady n quite rightly points out, one of the benefits of plastic bread is its crappiness makes it easy to squash together).

then pour milk into one bowl and the flour into another.

put the egg into a third bowl, and beat with some salt and pepper.

heat a little oil in a fry pan. first put the sandwiches into the milk, then into the flour, and finally into the beaten egg.

stodgy? yes. claggy? yes. cloying? my word. my cup of tea? not so much. why am i posting it? because the idea of it moves me, its origins, my own nostalgia, my imaginings of cities and beauty elsewhere, but mainly because its a toastie – and my most significant critic liked it immensely. so what else matters?

nb. bread pictured has a bit of sourdough to its white and is entirely inappropriate. it was all i had on hand. but if you are going to do things, do them properly and so i recommend white pap…the crappiest pap you can find.

* just a disclaimer for anyone who has trouble with literal and non-literal use of language: mozzarella, wonderful though it is, acts here as a placebo. ultimately, that palpable unhappiness which settles somewhere between your heart and your wasted mind never leaves you.

postscript: to see a charming italian rendition of this bastardisation i direct you here: http://www.italianfoodnet.com/ita/video/mozzarella-in-carrozza. deep, or even shallow frying of bread, glued together with cheese, is not necessarily something i encourage. but he does have a way with words, ones i dont understand but like to hear never the less.

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roast butternut squash & spinach risotto

this blog was, in its most scathing critique to date, recently described as “derivative” and “boring”. the real question is not, i dont think, is this blog truly derivative and boring but rather can the ego of this auteur bear such destructive criticism? shattered though one might be, after having being canned by one of your own supporters (a producer no less) in a review that was neither sought after nor invited, is there a way to get back up on the proverbial horse? some (mostly psychotherapists) would probably argue that in this particular case, with all its horrifying specificity, the answer is no. quit while you are behind. others however, those more perverse in character would say, why yes indeed. in no healthy way, this verbal beating needs to be embraced. and here is what i propose: a derivative and boring post…to show you what derivative and boring really means.

i was walking through my local all-round providore the other day, trying to come up with some ideas for dinner. uninspired by the range i was ready to throw in the towel when i fell upon some organic bio-dynamic and bio-logical muscat grapes. this i had to have. hubby loves muscats..they seem to have a soothing effect on his psoriasis. poor dear, he has such a delicate, flaky constitution. the little one enjoys them too..he enjoys chewing on the gummy things until he has extracted all their flavour and then spits them on the floor. i find it best to hover beneath his highchair, with cupped hands ready to catch the next bit of flying refuse…oh how we laugh. sometimes, when im feeling a little adventurous, i mascerate the muscats in a some dry sherry. hubby drinks around the muscats. and then i toss them through some yakult…baby seems to respond well to the liquor mixed with the lactobacillus gg strain. those evening often end in riotous hijinx and when the two have passed out, i often stop, and looking down at the scene, i thank the lord i have been blessed with such a wonderful family and such a culinary gift.

…think this experiment in derviation and mediocrity went of the rails somewhere. but still, in the timeless de-contextualised words of a boy i know, to the critics and sceptics i say: “you really need to stop talking to me now”. and to those who are cold and hungry i say, try this.

ingredients

half butternut squash peeled and chopped into cubes

4 whole garlic cloves

rosemary

1 white onion finely chopped

1 1/2 cups aborrio rice

3 cups stock (chicken, vegetable…whatever whatever)

50g butter

salt & pepper

couple of tbsp olive oil

couple handfuls of spinach

couple handfuls of parmesan

put the pumpkin, garlic, rosemary (or thyme if its all you got) and a few glugs of olive oil into a large mixing bowl and toss til its all coated. put this in an oven at 180 degrees for about half an hour – until soft but still shape retaining.

meanwhile, in a saucepan over low heat cook the onion in 25g of butter until it is softened (about 5 minutes). then throw in the rice and stir until all the grains are coated and have gone translucent. have your stock gently boiling on the other hob and slowly add stock to the rice, stirring all the time and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next ladelful. do this for about 18 minutes. once the rice is cooked and has absorbed all the liquid, remove it from the heat. put in your spinach at this point and stir until spinach has wilted. put in the other 25g of butter and a good couple handfuls of parmesan. stir once and then place a lid on and let the rice rest for a couple of minutes.

get your pumpkin out of the oven and stir through, careful not to break up the pumpkin too much. serve with some parmesan sprinkled over the top and a handful of pine nuts for greatness.

tosca cake

for reasons too many to mention, i no longer have the opportunity to cook with BBC world service on in the background. nor do i have pleasure (and so often pleasure through pain) of the dulcet tones of LNL, as i calmly cream my butter and sugar. good thing too probably. its not necessarily a healthy pastime for a young girl. what this means however, is there is an intellectual void. sometimes its more like a gaping chasm into which, if im not careful, im liable to plummet. in order to avoid (albeit narrowly) this obstacle, i have started to obsess over the task at hand. an unprecedented attention to detail seems to be the fortuitous product of the survival instinct of my brain. an unlikely predicament for someone with acute attention deficit tendencies such as myself…after all, i didnt get asked to leave starlab because i was concentrating too hard. but i have, as always, by default, found a way to focus intently on the task before me. (with the obvious exception of the bit where, realising i had misplaced the base of my existing cake tin, i had to rush out to the understocked and underwhelming supermarket to purchase a lesser 22 inch cake tin…it works but not as well). what got my undivided attention in this particular instance, on this particular evening, was an almond cake. a very special cake on account of it not being at all cake like. because, i ask you, what child of the 21st century really wants to eat cake? but this is to cake what the friand is to the muffin, what the tartlet is to the tart, and what the cupcake is to all the posers in the world. its delicate, its mostly crisp with a soft base that cakens it but doesnt weigh things down. so i bring you an almond cake entitled tosca’s cake. which was given to a very special lady…from whence it was finally liberated by myself, with the help of a very sleepy spoon.

ingredients

125g softened butter

90g cater sugar

90g self-raising flour

1/2tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

2 eggs separated

2tbsp milk

topping ingredients

125g flaked almonds

90g butter melted

90g sugar

1tbsp plain flour

preheat the oven to 180 degrees. butter and flour a 26cm springform cake tin. cream the butter and sugar together til soft and fluffy. beat in the egg yolks and then add the milk.

sift in the flour, cinnamon and salt and fold this together

whisk the egg whites til stiff peaks

fold whisked egg whites into the mix

pour into the tin. smooth it over. it wont look like a lot but that is a good thing. bake for 20-30 minutes until cake is just firm.

while the cake is in the oven make the glorious topping. mix almonds, butter and sugar in a small saucepan.

stir in flour and cream. stir this over a gentle heat until amalgamated.

when the cake is ready, it should be just firm to the touch. remove from the oven.

immediately bring the topping to the boil. pour this over the cake and spread in an even layer

bake this for 10-15mins – until the top is golden brown.

let cool in tin for 10 minutes until the top is crisp. then remove and serve.

mushroom, hazelnut and thyme salad

this was initially conceived of as a mushroom, hazelnut and thyme salad. but as i wandered through the supermarket i happened, fortuitously upon chestnuts. i have a very long and involved history with the chestnut. for one parisian year, they were my lifeblood. my first point of call in italy was a place known as “the chestnut village”. apparently i had just missed the annual chestnut festival, which invoked images of chestnut strewn streets, chestnut songs and dances, chestnuts falling whimsically (not hazardously) from the sky, chestnuts roasted… all things chestnut – good and great. it was with a profound sadness, and heavy boots that i left the village empty handed. i vowed never to miss an opportunity for chestnuts again. so what choice did i have? sure this salad already had a nut, and a fine nut at that, but could the addition of chestnuts hurt? overwhelm, yes. but hurt, certainly not. and so it was that this salad found its hook. and so it was that this blog became unremittingly beautiful and autumnal.

ingredients

500g mushrooms (whatever you can get. if you are privileged enough to live in the land where the names of mushrooms all end in -ini you will be better off. if you live in the land where “field” and “portabellos” are the best you can do, then let the melancholy pass and accept that that will just have to be good enough)

spinach and rocket

1 shallot finely sliced

1 clove of garlic finely sliced

couple sprigs of thyme

4 tbsp olive oil

1tbsp balsamic vinegar

30g butter

salt and pepper

couple handfuls of hazelnuts toasted and roughly chopped

handful of chestnuts roasted and roughly chopped

first preheat the oven to 180 degrees and toast the hazelnuts. if you are using chestnuts as well the best way i know to roast them is first score the rounded side (so they dont explode…kind of an important step) and put them in a fry pan with a sprinkle of cold water. toss them round every now and then. once they have blackened a bit take them off the stove. peel the skins off. then put the chestnuts into the oven (alongside the hazelnuts if you like that kind of efficient use of space and time) and toast until golden.

then make a dressing using half the shallots, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. mix this to combine and set aside.

in a fry pan put a knob of butter and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. when the butter starts to foam, throw in your mushrooms. then put in the garlic and some thyme leaves. cook until softened…about 5 minutes. season well with salt and pepper and put in another knob of butter and toss to coat the mushrooms – it makes them shiny. (at this point, i put in the pre-roasted chestnuts in to absorb some of the garlicy, buttery, mushroomy juice…unorthodox but spectacular.)

once your mushrooms are done put your green leaves on a plate and get your ingredients together. toss the rocket in some of the dressing and scatter over some more shallots. pour over the mushrooms and tumble the hazelnuts atop. its autumn and its beautiful.

chocolate espresso tarts

this post might have been entitled ‘whatever gets you through the day’…but i thought that a bit obfuscated and nothing about this chocolate tart should be unclear. one day, not unrecently, i happened upon a chocolate tart. i am generally of the belief that chocolate is chocolate and therefore not to be used in any way other than consumed in its purest form. but this tart seemed to defy that truth, as well as fly in the face of so many others (ie. dont eat chocolate before noon and dont buy more than one tart from one place more than once of a day). it had a layer of something resembling ground almond on its base. what it was exactly remained unclear to me. it had some kind of chocolate ganache on top. and it was dusted with a cocoa powder which didnt make me sneeze. (is this how we measure pastry? by its affect on the sinuses?) it looked like this:

it became a mission of sorts. i wanted to recreate it. how hard could it be? turns out, that all depends on the level of perfectionism involved and your own competence. for the ground almond – i guessed it be something like sugar, ground almond and butter, equal parts. and the top was a ganache. it took all the powers of my brain and my ever diminishing taste buds to work it out. 6 tarts later i realised i was as close as i was going to get to an understanding of its properties as well as to a serious heart condition.

ingredients

150g dark chocolate (broken up in bits. obviously the best method is whacking the block against a hard surface. this method gets rid of any unwanted aggression and tension early on which might otherwise spill over into your cooking at a later, more critical stage – ie. when you put them into an oven which has not had its racks organised properly at the outset and you drop your bundle, of which you only ever have a tenuous grasp anyway, as well as the oven tray full of tarts which were made with bile and not love because you didnt take the preemtive step of banging the life out of your chocolate initially)

100g butter diced

1 egg

1 egg yolk

30g caster sugar

2 tsp instant espresso

12 prebaked tart cases

cocoa powder for dusting

…for ground almond filling

100g butter

100g sugar

100g ground alomnds

preheat oven to 170 degrees. break up your chocolate and put into a heat proof bowl with the butter and set aside for a moment. in a separate bowl combine butter, sugar and ground almonds and blend to combine. then set this aside. if you are lacking in common sense, an understanding of your own digestive capacity, and ultimately self-restraint, i suggest you try this before setting it aside. its really something.


melt butter and chocolate over a pot of boiling water. some say you can melt butter and chocolate in a microwave as long as its on defrost and you stop it every couple of minutes to stir gently. rose gray said that you must never touch chocolate as it melts because it goes grainy. nigella endorses the microwave but then shes lost the plot. if you asked tamsin day lewis she’d probably be horrified by the thought…but shes another nutjob who’s always been a little off her tree. i guess the best answer is, if you believe in the sacralisation of chocolate, do it over a pot of water, never stirring, remaining very still, in silent prayer. if you have a tendency toward the profane then put it in the microwave…ive never had any problems (specifically relating to chocolate and a microwave). once melted stir in the espresso until its dissolved.

whisk your egg and sugar until pale and fluffy and doubled in volume. at this point id put in a few drops of vanilla – extract or paste.

pour melted chocolate into the egg and sugar mixture to make a pollock-esque canvas for your photographer.

to assemble…first spread layer of the ground almond mixture into the base of prebaked tart cases. then pour over chocolate mixture. fill them to the top.


put them into the oven for 5 minutes.

let them cool completely and then dust with cocoa powder. (i would suggest that cadbury bournville cocoa powder is entirely unacceptable. it tastes like shit. and so going to find good dutch cocoa is not a task reserved strictly for crazed food fetishists. its for people who eat food. because all of them will know, if they dont already, that to dust cadbury’s cocoa onto an exquisite creation such as this would be a travesty. my irreverence and the my proximity to an under-stocked urban supermarket meant i learnt this hard way.)

plum and almond tart

i was struck by a thought recently, as i reached for yet another almond, is there an excess of nut-related, specifically almond-related, material on this site? i was worried that perhaps the repetition, other than getting boring, might indicate a lack of imagination. but according to nietzsches aphorism, ‘if one has character one also has ones typical experience which recurs again and again’; mine therefore, is the almond. and this tart has nothing to do with the mundane. this tart, in all its simplicity is truly world shattering. and i know because everyone who laid teeth to it has said as much. its the tart that makes love and makes friends. its the best advice you can get, in any situation. it will truly blow your hair back.

ingredients

500g plums (preferably dark skinned but whatever you can get in your ill-seasoned hemisphere)

300g butter

300g sugar

300g ground almonds

3 large organic eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 quantity shortcrust pastry

preheat the oven to 150 degrees. then prepare your plums. cut in half and remove the stones…(they dont go down well…especially if you intend on offloading this tart to an old dithering man – it will cause all kinds of unnecessary hassles)

then in a bowl beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

then add the ground almonds and mix to combine. and finally add the eggs one at a time and beat.


pour the almond filling into the pre-baked tart shell and smooth over. (the mixture this recipe makes is too much for the tart. i realise i should have adjusted the quantities accordingly but a low self estimation makes me wary about doing such things and makes me think the excess was the fault of some mistake i made…but i can tell you with absolute confidence that if it seems like you have too much, dont try fit it all on. you will only end up with an buttery-sugary explosion inside your oven. or, if you are, like myself, wracked with self-doubt and persist in using it all because, after all, “why would the recipe lie”, then at least put a tray at the bottom of the oven onto which mess can safely fall.)

finally, arrange your plums, cut-side up however you wish.

put this into an oven for 45 minutes. (or up to two hours if it all goes plum shaped). remove and cool on a wire rack. there arent many guarantees here. you have to hope and pray it all goes according to the river cafe’s divine plan. but when it does there will be euphoria on the palate, people will flip their beaks…there may even be a few tears of elation. so try it…i urge you.

short crust pastry

not a fun task per se. and consequently, a very boring post. best done in a food processor – should you have one. if not you can use your hands. and by hands i mean fingertips because pastry needs to be kept cold AT ALL TIMES*. i found this shortcrust recipe in the river cafe cookbook and it has never ever failed. the grating of the pastry is, i think, a stroke of technical genius and it makes an otherwise laborious task lighter. it has a similar effect on the pastry.

ingredients

350g plain flour

pinch of salt

125g cold unsalted butter in cubes

100g icing sugar

3 large egg yolks (4 if 3 just doesnt cut it…usually it doesnt)

first pulse the flour and butter until it resembles coarse bread crumbs

then add the icing sugar and the eggs, one at a time and pulse again. the dough should immediately leave the sides of the bowl. put this into a ball, wrap in glad wrap and put in the fridge for an hour.

remove from the fridge and with the largest-hole bit of a cheese grater, grate the pastry into a 28cm loose bottomed (think we’re all heading that way) tart tin.

press with fingertips into the sides and base until even all over. then prick the base with a fork and put back in the fridge to set for another half an hour. then pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

remove the tart from the fridge and line with baking paper. pour on some weights – whatever you have. ive been known to use monies..fifty cent pieces work a treat. rice works just as well. and put into the oven for 10 minutes.

remove from the oven and remove the weights. return to the oven and bake for another ten minutes until golden. set aside to cool completely until ready to fill it with whatever takes your fancy.

* i apologise for that danny katz-esque twitch. i have for a long time now, had a deep seated aversion to the use of capital letters to convey emphasis. if your vocabulary is not strong enough to make a point emphatically then i have always been of the belief that you shouldnt write and to use capital letters in such a way only draws attention to the fact. that rant though probably reveals a moralism and an intellectual snobbery unwelcome on this blog so i will refrain from going on and yet, perversely, make my point all at once

nb. this blog is about to get very pastry heavy. not unlike its author. so this is not filler – this is the calm before the epic tart storm. so stay with me.