Monday, 16 December 2013

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar

Crisp, ice-cold triangles of watermelon skewered with the bamboo 'ribs' from an inexpensive Chinese fan, then sprinkled with mint, or with a citrussy finish of granulated white sugar pounded with lemon balm.

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
Watermelon Bites with Lemon Balm. Plate by David Walters.

This is a lovely way to serve watermelon in cheeky little bites if you're expecting guests on a hot day. Watermelon has strong associations with the festive season in South Africa, because midsummer is when this fruit comes into high season. (May I have a little moan about how ruinously expensive watermelons are at the moment? Last week I saw some puny specimens at my local supermarket, each one selling for a whopping R79. Who can afford that these days?)

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
The ribs from a fan make pretty skewers. 
The fan-rib skewers? I came up with this idea a few years back, as a way of serving dragon fruit.  I buy these pretty fans by the dozen in summer because they cost next to nothing and are so useful for doling out to hot & bothered friends and family as the festive season comes swinging in. Fans like these can be bought at any Chinese shop or market.

If you don't have a fan to rip to pieces, simply pile the triangles high on a large platter and sprinkle with leaves or pounded sugar immediately before you serve them.

You will need to cut the peel off the watermelon triangles if your fan has delicate, bendy 'ribs', or they may droop under the weight.

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
Crunchy sugar pounded with lemon balm 
And on that topic: these are good with mint, but sensational with lemon-balm sugar. When I'd finished taking snaps of a batch, and I'd handed them out to family members lurking in the kitchen, my son complained that the taste of the mint leaves was 'ruining' the delicate watermelon flavour (he has the most sensitive palate in the family).

So I cut up another batch, and this time sprinkled the triangles with lemon balm and sugar. You can't buy lemon balm in supermarkets, but it's available at every nursery and garden centre, and it's worth buying a plant, because it will flourish in your garden: it's a vigorous herb requiring very little attention.

I imagine these would also taste heavenly with lemon verbena.

If you like this idea, try my recipe for ice-cold prickly pears with frozen rosemary sugar.

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
  • one half of a large, seedless, chilled watermelon
  • a handful of fresh mint or lemon balm leaves (about a third of a cup/80 ml, loosely packed)
  • one third of a cup (80 ml) granulated white sugar
First get your skewers ready.  Tear away the fabric on the fan and remove any blobs of glue. Snip through the little plastic 'stalk' that holds the fan's ribs together.

Cut the melon into half-moon slices about 5 - 7 mm thick. Now slice these into dainty triangles, as shown in the first picture, above. Cut off the peel if your bamboo ribs are very delicate (see my notes above).

To achieve some uniformity, use the first triangle you cut as a template for the rest.  There will be some wastage, but don't throw the left-over bits away.  Put them into a zip-lock bag or lidded plastic box and sling them into the freezer for use in future smoothies.

Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut a deep slit into the peel side of each triangle and push the thinner end of each bamboo rib deep into the fruit.  Refrigerate.

Just before you serve the watermelon, place the leaves and sugar into a mortar and pound energetically until you have a rough green powder.  Sprinkle this over the triangles and serve immediately.

Makes about 24 bites, depending on the size of your watermelon. 

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Friday, 13 December 2013

New-Potato Salad with Avocado, Wasabi and Seared Tuna

Are you expecting a horde of hungry guests over the festive season?  Here's my light, bright twist on everyone’s favourite salad: tender baby potatoes combined with mayonnaise, creamy avocado and nose-zapping wasabi paste, then topped with a shower of snipped chives and strips of seared tuna.

New-Potato Salad with Avocado, Wasabi and Seared Tuna
New-Potato Salad with Avocado, Wasabi and Seared Tuna. Photograph by
  Michael Le Grange, courtesy of Random House Struik

This crowd-pleasing recipe, from my book Scrumptious, is  a great way of stretching just a little tuna between many mouths, and you can leave it out entirely if you’re not in the mood mood for seafood, or you’re serving vegetarians.

You can make the potato salad well in advance, but add the avocado cubes, and sear the tuna, just before you serve it.

New-Potato Salad with Avocado, Wasabi and Seared Tuna

1.5 kg new potatoes
1 Tbsp (15 ml) salt
4 ripe Hass or Fuerte avocados
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive or sunflower oil
4 fresh tuna steaks, weighing about 500 g
1⁄3 cup (80 ml) finely snipped fresh chives

For the dressing:

½  onion, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
juice of 2 small lemons
1½  tsp (7.5 ml) white sugar
1 cup (250 ml) home-made mayonnaise or Hellman’s original
1 cup (250 ml) thick natural yoghurt
1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed
3–4 tsp (15–20 ml) wasabi paste, or more, to taste
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Cook the potatoes in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water for 10–15 minutes, or
until quite tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, but not splitting or
falling apart. Drain in a colander, then cut each potato in half (leave the smallest
ones whole).

To make the dressing, combine the grated onion, lemon juice and sugar in a large
mixing bowl and set aside for 5 minutes (the lemon juice will take the sting out
of the onions). Whisk in the mayonnaise, yoghurt, garlic, wasabi and Tabasco and
season to taste with salt and pepper.

Peel the avocados, cut them into large cubes and immediately add them to the
dressing. Tip in the warm cooked potatoes and toss very gently to combine.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and, when it’s blazing hot but not smoking, fry
the tuna steaks, in batches, for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until nice and toasty
on the outside but still rosy pink inside. Season with salt, pepper and a spritz of
lemon juice.

Tip the potato salad into a large serving bowl and scatter over the chives. Slice
the tuna and arrange the slices around the edge of the salad. Serve at room

Serves 8.

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Christmas Gammon with a Beetroot & Wasabi Glaze

A sweet blazing-pink beetroot syrup with a sting of wasabi is the glaze I've chosen for my Christmas gammon this year. To bring together the earthy flavours of beetroot and the nose-blast of wasabi, I've added crunchy pink peppercorns and a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds.

Beetroot-Glazed Gammon with Wasabi
Christmas Gammon with a Beetroot & Wasabi Glaze, studded
with pink peppercorns and fresh pomegranate seeds. Plate by
my uncle David Walters, master potter of Franschhoek.

Both the peppercorns and the pomegranate seeds featured in my Christmas 2012 gammon recipe and I'm so smitten by the combination of brittle-textured warmth and bursting sweetness that I've used them again this year. I don't think I'll ever stud a gammon with cloves again because, really, what's the point? Nobody's going to to chew on them (unless you have an elderly relative with severe toothache), and all you need do to achieve a subtle Christmassy clove aroma is to pop a few into the gammon's simmering stock.

This is the fourth gammon glaze recipe I've developed for this blog over the same number of years, and I always feel a bit anxious when November rolls around because I receive more queries and feedback about glazing a gammon than any other topic. This year I pondered for several weeks over a choice of glaze, and eventually inspiration came from a short magazine piece I was asked to contribute to Food & Entertaining magazine.  It's a food love letter to my grandmother Peggy, and in it I mention the wonderful combination of sliced ham and pickled beetroot, which I ate as a child in the Sixties in Peggy's garden.

Beetroot-Glazed Gammon with Wasabi
When you slice the gammon, the shocking-pink beetroot glaze penetrates
 the scoring marks. Serve with dobbles of wasabi and boiled baby potatoes.

A good jab of horseradish really brings the blood-and-earth flavours of beetroot alive, but instead of using the creamed variety, or fresh root (which I couldn't find in the shops), I whisked some Japanese wasabi paste into the glaze once I'd finished reducing it.

To my disappointment, the wasabi lost much of its fire during the glazing process, and faded like a sullen teenager into the background. So I doubled the quantity of wasabi from one teaspoon to two the next time I tested the recipe, which helped a bit, but still the flavour was elusive.

I therefore recommend that you serve this (in thick slices) with generous blobs of good-quality wasabi paste.

I have given detailed instructions below for simmering a gammon in stock, but please use your common sense here. I find that the cooking times given on the packaging for bone-out raw gammon (usually 55 minutes per kilogram) are excessive. This year, I cut 45 minutes off the recommended cooking time, and even then the gammon seemed a little overcooked.

Beetroot-Glazed Gammon with Wasabi
I've had good results with cooking gammon in a roasting bag.
I've tried all sorts of methods of cooking inexpensive Christmas gammons - slow-seething in stock, baking under foil and paper, slow-cooking in a crockpot, overnight cooking in a roasting bag -  and have come to the conclusion that everything depends on the quality of the ham.

For this recipe, I used inexpensive boneless gammons from Checkers for testing purposes, and they were okay, with a good flavour, albeit a bit too salty for my taste.  But there is a certain stringiness about mass-produced hams that cannot be fixed, not matter how carefully you cook them. I suspect that the gammons I bought this year had been frozen for several months, then thawed and placed on the shelf. I can't be certain of this, but there was a tell-tale coarseness and stringiness about the flesh that was most disappointing.

For my family's Christmas feast this year, I am not going to skimp on the gammon. A good quality gammon should be fine-textured and moist, with a deep rosy pink colour and a good layer of snowy white soft fat.

>> To see my gammon glazes of Christmasses past, plus three other recipes using the leftovers of a gammon, please scroll to the end of this page.

Christmas Gammon with a Beetroot & Wasabi Glaze

For the gammon and its stock:

one x 2.8 to 3 kg bone-out raw gammon
1 can (340 ml) ginger ale
1 can (340 ml) lager of your choice
2 bay leaves, dried or fresh
3 cloves
10 peppercorns
1 star anise
a small wedge of lemon, skin on
a sliver of fresh ginger
½ tsp (2.5 ml) coriander seeds
1 onion, cut in half, skin on
1 large carrot, cut in thirds
a few stalks of parsley
water, to cover

For the glaze:

2 medium-sized beetroot
3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, plus an extra half-cup [see recipe]
5 Tbsp (75 ml) white sugar
2 tsp (10 ml) wasabi paste
a squeeze of lemon juice

To garnish:

2 Tbsp (30 ml) pink peppercorns
the seeds of a pomegranate (or dried pomegranate ariels that you've soaked in water for 30 minutes)

Boiling a gammon in stock
Boiling a gammon in stock with some Christmassy
flavours. Top up the pot with water now and then,
 and skim off any foam as it rises. 
Put the gammon into a big deep pot and add all the remaining stock ingredients. The gammon should be covered in liquid to a depth of 2 cm.

Bring the gammon to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer at a very low burble, covered with a tilted lid, until it is cooked through (follow the timing instructions on the packaging, but please note my  comments above).

 Every now and then top up the pot with more water, and skim off any mocha-coloured scum as it rises.

In the meantime, make the glaze. Grate the beetroot, skin and all, on the coarse side of a cheese grater.  Put the gratings into a large microwave-safe dish, add 3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, and cover with clingfilm. Microwave on high for 8-10 minutes, or until the beetroot is tender. Alternatively, simmer the grated beetroot and water over a gentle heat for 15-20 minutes, or until tender.

Cool the beetroot for a few minutes, tip it into a sieve set over a bowl and drain well, pressing down on the pulp with the back of a spoon to extract all the juices.

Discard the pulp (or save it for stirring into a hummous or creamy dip) and pour the liquid into a saucepan. Add 5 Tbsp (75 ml) sugar, plus an additional ½ cup (125 ml) water. Set the pan over a high heat and cook at a fast boil for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is syrupy, and has reduced down to half a cup (yes, go ahead and measure it!).  Whisk in the wasabi paste and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

When the gammon is cooked, remove it from the pot, cover with clingfilm and let it sit for two hours on the countertop. Alternatively - and I recommend this method, as it allows the meat to cool and contract, without drying out - let your gammon cool overnight in its stock. (I always freeze the stock in small plastic boxes for use in future soups and stews.)

To glaze the gammon: set your oven grill, at least 20 minutes ahead of time,  to its highest setting.  Place the meat in a large roasting pan.

Carefully pull away the thick skin from the top of the gammon to expose the fat layer. Discard the skin, or give it to the dogs. If it's a very fatty gammon, use a sharp knife held horizontal to the fat to shave away excess blubber. I like to retain a fairly generous layer of fat - it is Christmas, after all - but you can shave it back to a depth of about 3 mm if you'd like a leaner ham.

Score the fat in a diamond pattern, using the tip of a very sharp knife. I use my index finger to gauge the distance between score marks.

Now pour the beetroot glaze over your gammon. Don't worry if most of it runs off - this will be fixed during the glazing process. Place the pan about 10 cm under the blazing-hot grill.

This is the trickiest part of glazing a gammon. You will need to watch it like a hawk, because the tallest areas will brown - or burn - first. I always set a stool in front of the open oven door, put on a pair of padded gloves and sit there patiently tilting and turning the roasting pan to make sure every part of it is bubbling and caramelised.  Every 3 minutes or so, I use a big spoon to scoop up some of the glaze from the corners of the pan and trickle it over the gammon.

When your gammon is merrily sizzling and the fat layer looks caramelised all over, remove the tray from the oven, place it on the countertop and tuck a folded-up cloth underneath one end to set it at a tilt.  Continue for the next 10 minutes scooping and dribbling the run-off glaze gathering in the pan's corners over the gammon, until it is coated with a thick, shiny burnish.

Scatter the pomegranate seeds and pink peppercorns all over the gammon, while it is till sticky.

Serve warm with dabs of wasabi, boiled baby potatoes and fresh green leaves, or cold with bread, butter and pickles.

Serves 6-8 as a main course with veggies and/or salad. 

My other gammon glazes, plus three recipes using the leftovers of a gammon:

Christmas Gammon with a Pomegranate & Pink Peppercorn Glaze
Christmas Gammon with a Pomegranate and Pink Peppercorn Glaze

Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange & Ginger Glaze
Christmas Gammon with a Sticky Orange & Ginger Glaze

Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy & Coke
Christmas Gammon Glazed with Brandy & Coke

And here's what to do with left-over gammon:
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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices

This recipe has been loafing in my drafts folder for weeks, waiting for me to find a chance to blog it, but I whipped it out yesterday after receiving a call from the producer of Jenny Crwys-Williams' show on Talk Radio 702.  Could I, the producer asked, suggest an iconic dish that might be adopted by South Africans in memory of Nelson Mandela?  And could I talk about this on the radio in 50 minutes' time?

Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices
Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices. Plate by David Walters.

After yet another outburst of weeping (I'm still, like many South Africans, swollen-eyed about the passing of this extraordinary soul) I applied my mind, and this idea popped up.  As I sifted through the pictures I took a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that these little bites contain ingredients that could symbolise many aspects of the life and spirit of one of the greatest leaders of modern times.

To be honest, I felt a bit silly telling Jenny about my idea on air, not least because chattering about a snacky little recipe seemed irrelevant, even inappropriate, at such a sombre time. Then again, there are scenes of jubilation, dancing and singing all over the country as South Africans honour the life of their beloved leader, so why not celebrate his legacy with food?

And, besides, I felt most honoured to be asked to contribute.  I never met Nelson Mandela, but I feel  privileged to have stood as a young woman in front of Cape Town's City Hall on 10 February 1990 to hear his historic speech, delivered hours after his release from prison.

So, I mused, the amasi cheese in this recipe (made from drained, soured milk) represents Madiba's humble beginnings and his happy childhood in rural Qunu, where he became a herd boy at an early age, looking after his father's cattle.

The lemon represents his great zest for life, and the smoked paprika the dust of Africa, from which all humankind arose. The black pepper recalls his struggle on behalf of the black majority in South African, and his warmth and spicy sense of humour.

The chillies represent his verve and fiery revolutionary spirit, while the white pepper recalls the limestone dust from Madiba's years of back-breaking work in a quarry on Robben Island.

Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spices
Sprinkle the spices on a piece of paper and roll
the balls around so they are lightly coated.
Parsley is is a symbol of renewal, rebirth and redemption (especially on the Jewish Passover Seder plate, where it is dipped in salt water, recalling the tears shed during Egyptian enslavement).  This, I thought, was a fitting nod to his close relationships with many Jewish activists of the apartheid era.  The aromatic cumin is a nod to his love of Indian food and his fellow Indian-South African activists.

And the cake glitter? Well, I had to scratch my head about that, but then it came to me: the playful spangles refer to his twinkling sense of humour, his profound love of children, and the global celebrities who attached themselves to him like homesick limpets.

One flavour missing here - oh, so missing - is sweetness, but you could make a dessert version of these pops by sweetening the cheese with honey, then dipping them in crushed pistachios or almonds.

Or perhaps fresh pomegranate seeds, which symbolise prosperity, abundance, fruitfulness and, in ancient Israel, the fertility of the promised land.

Amasi Cheese Pops with Herbs and Spice

For the pops:
  • 250 g amasi cheese (click here for the recipe), or a good, dense cream cheese if you don't have access to amasi
  • the finely grated zest of a small lemon
  • salt and white pepper, to taste

For the coatings: 
  • smoked paprika
  • cake glitter
  • finely chopped fresh parsley
  • crushed pink peppercorns
  • coarsely cracked black pepper
  • finely chopped fresh red chillies
  • cumin

Lightly knead the fresh cheese on a board together with the lemon zest, salt and white pepper. Go easy on the white pepper, as it has a powerful taste.

Cover your chopping board with a sheet of non-stick baking paper or clingfilm.

Pull the cheese into pieces and roll them between your palms to create neat balls.  Lightly roll each ball in the coatings for your choice, push a lolly stick or slim wooden ice-cream stick into each one, then refrigerate until firm.

Serve with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, or a fruity chutney, or pomegranate syrup.

Makes about 12 cheese pops. 

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach, Bacon & Ruby Grapefruit

A warm salad of slow-roasted beetroot with wilted spinach and crisped bacon bits, sprinkled with olive oil and flecks of ruby grapefruit.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon.

Golden beetroot is a hybrid popular these days among chefs and foodsters. I've tasted it a few times in restaurants, and it hasn't blown my skirt up. In each dish I've tried, this vegetable has been curiously tasteless, with none of the bloody metallic depth of ordinary red beetroot. (Then again, these dishes consisted of pretentious stacks, or were arrayed in wafer-thin raw slices and topped off with 'foam' or 'air'. )

However, the organic specimens in the picture above knocked my socks off with their glorious sunset colours and sweet, earthy flavours.

I bought these beauties in a loose bunch from my local Woolworths in Hout Bay. I was very pleased to see them on the supermarket shelf, because I've only ever come across them at farmers' markets. I also bought a bunch of regular beetroot, and hurried home to sling them in the oven.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
Open-roasting red and golden beetroot with a little olive oil and thyme.

Slow-roasting is the way to go with beetroot, I reckon. There is quite a lot of shrinkage, but this method brilliantly concentrates and intensifies their flavour.

I was planning to make a salad with fresh greens, but the rocket, watercress and lettuce loafing around in my fridge's veggie drawer didn't look perky. Instead, I wilted a big bunch of fresh Swiss chard in a pan, squeezed it dry, then arranged it on a plate along with some hot bacon bits (for smokiness and crunch) and a handful of dried cranberries (for sweetness). Then I doused everything with olive olive oil and a few dabs of good balsamic vinegar.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
A bunch of beautiful golden beetroot

Beads of blood-red ruby grapefruit are a final and pleasing finish to this salad. This is a flavour combination that wouldn't normally have occurred to me, but as it happened I'd just cut up a grapefruit on the same board I was using to slice the beetroot. What an astonishing mouth-surprise it was to taste bacon, beetroot and grapefruit together as I picked bits off my chopping board.

You can leave this out if you like, but I think you will be most intrigued by the exciting spark of the grapefruit.

If you can't find golden beetroot, feel confident using ordinary red beetroot in this recipe.

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach, Bacon & Ruby Grapefruit

4 golden beetroot
4 red beetroot
4 Tbsp (60 ml) olive oil, for roasting
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and milled black pepper
2 large bunches of spinach or Swiss Chard
8 rashers streaky bacon
2 Tbsp (60 ml) dried cranberries [optional]
a ruby grapefuit

For the dressing: 

5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) good balsamic vinegar
salt and milled black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 190 ºC.  Trim the beetroot stalks so just 1 cm remains, then cut them in half lengthways. Place cut-side up in a roasting tray lined with baking paper.

Sprinkle with the olive oil and thyme sprigs, then season to taste with salt and pepper.  Roast, uncovered, for about two hours, or until the beetroot looks slightly shrunken and is very soft.

Remove the beetroot from the oven and set on the counter for 10 minutes, or until they are cool enough to handle with bare fingers. Trim off the stalks and any hairy roots. If you like, you can rub off the skins at this point, but I don't bother with that if I'm using young beets. Cut the beetroot into wedges.

Peel the grapefuit, remove two segments, peel off the membranes and pull these into very small pieces.  Set aside.

Twenty minutes before the beetroot finishes roasting, thoroughly rinse the spinach or Swiss chard, trim off any fibrous stalks and put it, still wet, into a large saucepan. Turn on a medium-high heat under the pot and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the leaves are soft and wilted.  Tip the leaves into a colander, let them drain for five minutes, then squeeze them between the palms of your hands to remove any excess moisture. Set aside.

While the spinach is cooling, cut the bacon rashers into a fine dice and fry them over a high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until crisp. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.

Arrange the warm spinach leaves in a circle on a platter and top them with the beetroot wedges.  Sprinkle over the cranberries, grapefruit flecks and hot bacon pieces.

Dribble a little olive oil over the salad, and pour the rest around its edges to form a golden puddle.  Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar over the top.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter. 

Roasted Golden Beetroot with Spinach & Bacon
A good fruity olive oil and a few droplets of balsamic vinegar are
all that's necessary to dress this warm salad.

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Monday, 18 November 2013

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary

Here's the first of my Christmas recipes for 2013: an easy flat-bread made with supermarket dough, cherry tomatoes, olives and caperberries. And for a funky festive finish, a snowstorm of edible glitter.  (Cake glitter is normally associated with cupcakes and other dreadful instances of kitchen juvenility, but even so I keep a stash of it in my baking drawer for strewing over savoury dishes, such as Home-Made Glitzers.)

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
I sketched this on my iPad while I was plotting Christmas recipes.

I hope this festive flatbread will draw gasps from your guests as you carry it triumphantly to the table. The hot bread smells gorgeous with its lashings of fresh garlic and olive oil, and looks so pretty all bedecked with rosemary and glitter. Even the fussiest kids will, I hope, show an interest.  Sure, they may pick out the pimento-stuffed olives and caperberries, but they'll wolf down the hot bread.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
This is so quick and easy to make if you use supermarket dough.

You can ring the changes by adding any ingredients you fancy: pork chipolatas, bacon bits, shaved vegetables, nuggets of feta, and so on.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
Puffed up and crusty, and studded with edible decorations.

If you can't find packets of fresh dough in your supermarket, make your own by using one kilogram of bread flour to one 10-gram sachet of instant dry yeast, plus a teaspoon of salt, another of olive oil, and just enough warm water to bind the mixture into a pliable dough.

 Knead it well, let it rise until doubled in size, punch it down in the usual fashion and continue with the recipe.  Here are good basic instructions for bread dough.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary

1 kg ready-made white or wholewheat bread dough
500 g cherry tomatoes (about 24)
16 pimento-stuffed green olives
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
12 caperberries, well drained [optional]
edible cake glitter

Heat the oven to 200 ºC.

Lightly dampen a large baking tray and cover with a sheet of baking paper.  The water on the baking tray will help the paper to stick.

Dust some flour over the top of the paper, then pull and push the dough into a rough tree-shaped triangle. You will find that the dough creeps back, but if you persist with pulling and stretching, you'll eventually have an acceptable shape.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
Use a pair of sharp scissors to snip the dough.
Using a pair of kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits in the dough to form the 'branches' of the tree.

Don't worry if these aren't perfectly symmetrical - the bread will do its own thing in the oven as it rises and crisps up, and there really is no point in faffing about when you should be relaxing on the lawn with with a gin and tonic.

Press the cherry tomatoes deep into the dough.  Cut the olives in half crossways and push them into the dough between the tomatoes. Strip the leaves off the rosemary sprigs and scatter them between the tomatoes and olives.

Glittery Christmas-Tree Bread with Garlic & Rosemary
A flurry of edible glitter goes over the bread as
it comes out of the oven. 
Now, using your fingertips, make deep dimples all over the bread.

Mix the olive oil and garlic together in a bowl and paint this all over the bread, using a pastry brush or your fingertips.

Generously scatter the bread with flaky salt, grind over plenty of fresh pepper and bake at 200 ºC for about 30 minutes, or until the bread is well risen, golden brown and crisp on top.

Remove the bread from the oven, let it cool for 5 minutes, then arrange the caperberries on top.

Trickle a little more olive oil over the top, and dust lavishly with cake glitter.

Serves 6-8 as a snack. 

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Monday, 11 November 2013

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway may have eaten it

Darrel Bristow Bovey, columnist for South Africa's The Times newspaper, messaged me asking for advice about something called India Relish. I've never met Darrel, but I know him in a virtual way, having befriended him on Facebook when I saw him trading appalling puns with my best friend, novelist & punmeister Claire Robertson.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it.

His enquiry made my whiskers twitch. Had I heard of something called India Relish? Where could this be found in Cape Town? Darrel explained that he was planning to make 'Hemburgers' (hamburgers made to Ernest Hemingway's exacting standards) for 13 friends in a week's time, and that he was stumped by a reference in Hemingway's instructions to his cook Pablo, namely 'one heaping teaspoon, India Relish'.

Darrel was determined to create an authentic Hemburger experience, and he has written a most interesting and evocative column about how he combed Cape Town for the right ingredients. Read it here: For Whom The Burger Tolls.

As a collector of old recipes and a keen maker of chutneys and relishes, I couldn't resist the challenge of hunting down this formula.  One or two modern versions of the recipe popped up online, but I what I wanted was more information about the original India Relish. A search of the Google Books archive produced an advert in a 1939 issue of Life magazine, and an extract from a book detailing the history of the relish and some of its ingredients.  India Relish was first made by Albert Heinz in 1889, I learned, and is still produced by the Heinz corporation.

I could find only a few pictures of the modern version of India Relish, which all looked to me like jars of green slime. So figuring out the texture and consistency of this preserve was a real head-scratcher. Was it a thin, sour, pickly mixture, or a thick and chunky chutney?  I appealed to my American friends on Facebook, but not one of them had heard of (let alone tasted) the product.

The book extract indicated that the original Heinz recipe (a secret formula) was close to that of true Indian relishes, so I abandoned the idea of a watery pickle.  In the end, I made what I thought might taste the most authentic:  a cross between a sweet/sharp chutney and a piccalilli, with subtle spicing and plenty of crunch. I made up a batch, filled two bottles and threw one of them into the lavender bush outside Darrel's house.

Here is his verdict:

Isn't that a lovely response?

The recipe below is probably nothing like the modern Heinz offering. For one thing, it isn't green - I had to add a whisper of turmeric because it looked so pathetically pale in its pot.  I'm pretty sure today's Heinz India Relish is artifically stained, because unripe tomatoes and celery alone will not produce a deep green colour.

For Whom the Burger Tolls: India Relish, as Hemingway might have eaten it
A thick, glossy relish with plenty of crunch..

This is good with bread and cheese, and excellent with thick slices of ham. If you bottle it now, in sterilised jars, you can dish it up with your Christmas gammon.

In order to achieve a piccalilli-like crunch, I added a quarter of the vegetables close to the end of the cooking time.

This has just a small amount of heat, so feel free to add more chilli if you'd like to give it a kick in the pants.

Hemingway's India Relish 

8 large, very green tomatoes
4 sticks celery, well rinsed and trimmed
2 red peppers, seeds removed
2 medium onions, peeled
1 green chilli, deseeded
a small head of cauliflower, trimmed
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive or Canola oil
2 Tbsp (30 ml) black mustard seeds
3 plump cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
1/3 cup (80 ml) flour
1½ cups (375 ml) cider vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white wine vinegar
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered ginger
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) allspice
6 large gherkins, cut into little cubes
the juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Core the green tomatoes, cut them in half and scoop out the pulp using a teaspoon. Set the pulp to one side. Cut the tomatoes, celery and red peppers into a small, neat dice. Thinly slice the onions and cut the chilli into very fine shreds.  Break off the cauliflower florets and cut into small pieces.

Heat the oil and mustard seeds in a pan over a medium-high heat.  When the seeds begin to crackle, turn the heat right down and add the grated garlic and ginger.  Fry over a low heat for a minute, then tip in the flour and stir very well to make a thick paste.

Whisk in one cup of cider vinegar, a little at a time, as if you are making a roux, and beat energetically to break up any floury lumps. When the mixture thickens alarmingly, whisk in the remaining cider vinegar, the white wine vinegar and the sugar.

Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. Now add three-quarters of the vegetables, the powdered ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and allspice.

Turn up the heat so the mixture cooks at an enthusiastic bubble. Keep stirring and scraping, or it might stick to the bottom of the pan.  After about 25 minutes, when the relish has reduced by about half and is looking thick and glossy, add the chopped gherkins, lemon juice, remaining vegetables and reserved  tomato pulp. Season generously with salt and pepper, and cook for another 5-7 minutes.

To check whether the chutney is ready, put a dollop onto a chilled saucer and leave for a minute. Draw your finger across the puddle: if the channel you've made closes very reluctantly, the relish is ready to bottle. If it's still too thin, continue simmering until it passes the channel test.

Spoon the chutney into hot sterilised bottles or jars (see Cook's Notes) and screw on the lids. Let the bottles cool for an hour, then tighten the lids again.

Makes 2 jars.

Cook's Notes: 
  • There are several ways to sterilise jars for bottling pickles and chutneys. I find microwave sterilising the easiest.  Place two or three jars in a circle on the glass turntable, fill each one with 3 Tbsp (45 ml) water, and cook on high for five minutes. Boil the metal lids in a small saucepan for 5 minutes. Then drain the jars and lids, upside down, on kitchen paper or newspaper.  Both the jars and the relish should be very hot during the filling process.
  • When you're making relishes that are acidic, it's important to use a jar that has a plastic-lined lid, or the vinegar in the mixture may react with the metal in the lid.  

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Monday, 14 October 2013

Quick Nourishing Green Soup, Using Left-Over Fresh Herbs

A fresh & grassy soup that's quick to make, intensely nourishing and delicious served with a dobble of cream and sequins of olive oil.

Quick Healthy Green Soup, Using Left-Over Fresh Herbs
Quick Healthy Green Soup, Using Left-Over Fresh Herbs.

My herb-management system is abysmal, I have to admit. Every week I buy many packets of fresh herbs, and pick bunches from my garden as I need them, but about half of this harvest goes to waste because the leaves wilt in the fridge. They're still edible, but not perky enough to use in salads or as garnishes for other dishes. I abhor food wastage, so over the past few weekends I've been making this fresh-herb soup from the leftovers in the fridge.

I have not given you exact quantities of greens in this recipe, because this will depend on how much herbage you have to hand. This is a versatile formula, and it tastes different every time you make it.

Quick Healthy Green Soup, Using Left-Over Fresh Herbs
A few fronds of fresh dill on top of this soup lift it to a new level of yum.

I do think this soup needs a stock to give it a rich flavour base, but I don't expect you to make a stock from scratch, or it wouldn't be a quick 'n easy recipe, would it?  A carton of good veggie or chicken stock, or a Knorr* jellied stock pot, or a few teaspoons of Nomu fonds will do nicely, but please don't use a cube or your soup will taste like salted hay and not a fresh green field.

Quick Nourishing Green Soup, Using Left-Over Fresh Herbs

4 big potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1.25 litres good vegetable or chicken stock (see my comments above)
an onion, peeled and finely sliced
a few parsley sprigs, if you have them
a stalk of celery, roughly chopped
½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt
a big bunch of left-over 'soft' herbs of your choice: parsley, basil, coriander, mint, chives, spring onions, dill, and so on
¾ cup (180 ml) cream
a pinch of nutmeg
the juice of half a lemon
milled black pepper

To serve:
extra-virgin olive oil
cream or natural yoghurt

Quick Healthy Green Soup, Using Left-Over Fresh Herbs
Simmering the veggies in stock.
Put the potato cubes, stock, onion, parsley, celery and salt into a large pot and bring up to the boil. Simmer for 25 minutes, or until the potato is soft.

Remove and discard any thick stalks from the bunch of herbs, roughly chop the leaves and add them the pot.

Cover with a lid and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the herb leaves have wilted.

Immediately blend the mixture to a fairly fine purée, using a stick blender or liquidiser.

If the soup is too thick after you blend it, thin it down with a little water or stock. If it is too thin, add a slurry of cornflour and water, teaspoon by teaspoon, and reheat, stirring, until it's thickened to your liking.

Stir in the cream and nutmeg, then add a spritz of lemon juice - just enough to give the soup a pleasant little zing. Season to taste with salt and milled black pepper.

Quick Healthy Green Soup, Using Left-Over Fresh Herbs
Add cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper,
then freshen up the soup with a
squirt of lemon juice.
Serve hot, with a swirl of olive oil and a dribble of cream or yoghurt.

Serves 4. 

Cook's Notes: 

1. Instead of using raw potatoes, you can use left-over cold potatoes, skins and all.

2. If you don't fancy cornflour to thicken the soup, use arrowroot instead.  I find that a little cornflour adds a lovely silken texture to soups.

3. Here are my top tin tips for making memorable soup: Top Ten Tips

* I am associated in my capacity as a freelance agent with the Knorr brand. 

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Thursday, 3 October 2013

Ricotta and Chive Hotcakes with Smoked Salmon Roses

For the past few weeks I've been standing in for Jenny Morris, the Giggling Gourmet, on Africa Melane's 567 Cape Talk food show. Jenny's away filming in France, and it's been a thrill for me to step into her famous boots. This week I'm going to be talking about brunch recipes, so I thought I'd share a favourite recipe from my book.

Ricotta and Chive Hotcakes with Smoked Salmon Roses
Ricotta and Chive Hotcakes with Smoked Salmon Roses.
Photograph by Michael Le Grange, and plate by David Walters
Image © Random House Struik 2012.

A crisp delicate crust and a hot oozy filling make these little hotcakes a real crowd pleaser. They are good warm but best served piping hot, so if you have a portable gas burner, make them at the table and let your guests help themselves to the toppings.

Ricotta and Chive Hotcakes with Smoked Salmon Roses

500 g fresh ricotta cheese
5 Tbsp (75 ml) finely grated Parmesan
2 extra-large eggs, separated
½ cup (125 ml) milk
½ cup (125 ml) cake flour
½ tsp (2.5 ml) baking powder
½ tsp (2.5 ml) salt
4 tsp (20 ml) finely snipped fresh chives
milled black pepper
sunflower oil

To serve:
400 g finely sliced smoked salmon or trout
lemon wedges
milled black pepper
1 x 250 g tub crème fraîche or sour cream
caviar and capers (optional)

First make the salmon roses. Cut the salmon slices into long strips about 2 cm wide. Twirl each slice into a loose spiral, place on a plate, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate. You’ll need about 24.

Put the ricotta, Parmesan, egg yolks and milk into a large bowl and beat energetically with a wire whisk. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and mix to a batter. Stir in the chives and season with pepper. Using a clean whisk and bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff (but not dry), then gently fold them into the mixture, adding more salt if required. Heat 1 Tbsp (15 ml) oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Drop tablespoons of the batter into the pan and cook for 1 minute, or until the bottom edges turn golden brown. Flip over and cook for another minute, or until the hotcakes are puffed and their edges look set. Watch them like a hawk as they burn quickly. Keep warm.

Arrange the hotcakes on a platter and top each one with a salmon rose. Serve immediately with lemon wedges, black pepper and little bowls of crème fraîche, capers and caviar.

Makes about 24; serves 8 as a snack.

Cook’s Notes

Prepare the salmon roses up to 10 hours in advance and keep covered in the fridge. The batter can be made up to 6 hours in advance, but beat and fold in the egg whites just before you fry the hotcakes.

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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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