Friday, December 9, 2016

Warm Cannellini Beans with Fresh Rosemary

Simple, healthy and delicious with a silky creamy texture and nutty flavour, cannellini beans are popular in Greek, French and especially Italian cuisine. A nutritional powerhouse, these gourmet beans provide more protein than any other plant-derived food, and are also fat free, high in protein, fibre, and iron. Because they hold their shape better than other white beans, cannellini are a popular favourite in a many Italian dishes‚ from Minestrone and Pasta e Fagioli to this mild and flavourful Warm Cannellini Beans with Rosemary. The perfect side dish with grilled lamb, pork or chicken, this easy recipe can be prepared in less than ten minutes, with olive oil, fresh rosemary and bay leaves adding a savoury complexity to this creamy white bean — buonissima!

Cannellini Beans with Fresh Rosemary 
Serves 2
Recipe adapted from The South Beach Parties & Holidays Cookbook

3 tbsp olive oil

3 bay leaves
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 15 oz can Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Fresh ground black pepper and Maldon salt

Heat the oil, bay leaves and rosemary in a saucepan over medium heat, until the oil begins to bubble, about 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook 2 more minutes. Add the means and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook the beans through, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves, or save as a garnish, and finish with a grind of black pepper and sprinkle of Maldon salt. Delicious served warm with roast lamb or pork.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Penne Rigate with Basil & Walnut Pesto

This foolproof recipe from my dog-eared copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins say this sauce is "more Mastroianni than DeNiro: suave, mellow, even elegant. Walnuts and heavy cream add sophistication to the basil garlic duo — a pesto that is equally at home on pasta, fluffed into hot rice or stirred into homemade mayonnaise as a sauce for cold poached fish or crudités". It's also right at home with spaghettini, linguine or penne frigate, a diagonally cut tubular shaped pasta with a ridged surface, which holds the sauce beautifully and 
makes this pasta a delicious choice for homemade Basil and Walnut Pesto.

Penne Rigate with Basil & Walnut Pesto
Serves 4
Recipe adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

1 pound Penne Rigate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup pesto
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese, optional

Pesto: (makes 2 cups)
2 cups fresh basil leaves thoroughly washed and patted dry
4 good-size garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup best-quality olive oil
1 1/2 cup freshly grated imported Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup freshly grated imported Romano
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the basil, garlic and walnuts in the bowl of food processor and chop. Leave the motor running and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Shut the motor off, add the cheese, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. Process briefly to combine, then scrape out into a bowl and cover with a thin film of olive oil on top, until ready to use; freezes well.

Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the penne and boil until tender but firm. Stir in 2 tablespoons of hot pasta water and heavy cream into 1 cup of the pesto. Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the hot pot. Stir in the pesto and toss well to combine. Serve immediately in warm pasta bowls and garnish with additional pepper or cheese, if desired.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Torta di Pasta al Forno: A Comfort Food Classic

An Italian comfort food classic, Torta di Pasta al Forno is essentially oven baked pasta made in the form of a cake, crowned with mild creamy mozzarella and homemade tomato or meat sauce, lovingly served at family gatherings and special celebrations. The beauty of this dish is that every pasta al forno is unique, with every nonna having their own special recipe. In southern Italy, baked pasta usually feature vegetables like eggplant and peppers, as well as meats cured in the region such as soppressata, prosciutto and sausage, whereas northern Italy is all about heartier ingredients, where meaty ragùs reign supreme. Inspired by a Paccheri Bolognese that we were served in Emilia Romagna by our hostess and friend Countess Maria Teresa Vespignani Boselli, I brought home a bag of dried Paccheri with visions of reproducing her delicious recipe, but that was before I discovered this spectacular Torta di Pasta al Forno recipe by Marisa Molomo. The large tubes of pasta are parboiled, tossed with a little olive oil then arranged standing upright in a springform pan. Topped with thick and meaty homemade Bolognese, the sauce fills each of the plump pacccheri and is then crowned with plenty of grated mozzarella, another layer of Ragù and then finished with a handful of rich and flavourful Parmigiano-Reggiano. Baked for 30-40 minutes until the mozzarella has melted and the torta has formed a gorgeous crust, it is then carefully released from the springform pan, allowed to cool slightly and served with a triumphal entrance and a chorus of culinary kudos.

Homemade Bolognese 

Parboiled Paccheri pasta tubes, drained and tossed with a little olive oil

A spoonful of sauce is ladled into a greased parchment lined springform pan

The parboiled paccheri are arranged upright in the pan

Half of the bolognese is poured over the pasta, ensuring that the sauce fills each of the pacccheri

Grated mozzarella is sprinkled on top with half of the parmesan

The remaining bolognese is then ladled on top of the cheese layer

The remaining parmesan cheese is sprinkled on top, then baked at 375°F for about half an hour until the torta forms a delicious crust and the mozzarella has melted completely

Torta di Pasta al Forno
Serves 4

1 lb pasta paccheri

6 cups warm homemade bolognese sauce
1/2 lb mozzarella, coarsely grated
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, coarsely grated
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sprigs of fresh basil, for garnish

Grate both the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano with a grater with large holes, then set aside in separate bowl and cover with cling film. Boil the paccheri in abundant salted water cooking it half the time specified on the package — the pasta will bake again, so no need to over do it. Drain the pasta, place in a large bowl, and quickly toss with a little olive oil to coat. Stir in 1/2 cup of Parmigiana and set aside.

Butter an 8 or 9-inch diameter springform pan and line the base with parchment paper. Pour in a little bolognese sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the pan, then arrange the paccheri standing upright in the pan, starting from the outer circle of the pan working towards the centre. Don't overcrowd the pan, for the noodles will expand while baking. Pour half of the bolognese sauce over the pasta so that the sauce fills each of the tubes, gently tapping the pan as necessary to ensure the sauce settles nicely inside each of the paccheri. Sprinkle the surface with grated mozzarella and then half of the parmesan cheese. Pour the remaining bolognese sauce over the cheese layer and finish with the remainder of the parmesan.

Place on the lower rack of a preheated 375°F oven, with a baking sheet underneath to catch any drips, and bake for about 25-35 minutes, until the "torta" forms a delicious crust and the mozzarella has melted completely. Turn the heat of the oven down to 325°F and bake for another 15 minutes, if necessary, watching so that the top does not burn. Remove from the oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before serving. Better yet, let the torta set overnight and reheat the next day. This helps prevent the torta from falling apart just after baking.

When ready to serve, run a thin knife along the inside wall of the springform pan to loosen the torta away from the pan walls, then slowly and carefully, remove the springform ring. Run a long knife between the bottom of the torta and the bottom of the pan, and place on a decorative serving plate, removing the parchment if possible. A sprig of fresh basil on the top of each serving makes a nice presentation. Slice, serve, and mangia!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stir Fried Gai Lan with Garlic & Oyster Sauce

Commonly referred to as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, Gai Lan is classified in the family of vegetables that includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale. Prized for its tender stems and large delicate leaves, Gai Lan can be eaten fresh, boiled, steamed or stir-fried, although Stir-Fried Gai Lan with Garlic is the popular classic featured in many Chinese restaurants and Dim Sum carts. Simply stir-fried on high heat with a little garlic, chopped ginger, salt, fish sauce and oyster sauce for just a few minutes, the greens cook very quickly, with a slurry of cornstarch and water added at the end to thicken the sauce. Crunchy and flavourful with a delicate scented fragrant broth, this is a quick and easy dish that can also be spiffed up with fresh prawns, scallops or mixed mushrooms.

Stir Fried Gai Lan with Garlic & Oyster Sauce

Serves 4 

1 bunch of Gai Lan

1 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced
6 thin slices of ginger

1 tbsp fish sauce

3 tbsp oyster sauce

1 pinch salt

1/2 tsp cornflour

Prepare the gai lan by first trimming off the tough ends, then washing and separating the leaves from the stems, and chopping the stems into 2 to 3-inch lengths. Heat up a wok, add some oil and fry the garlic and ginger for about 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add the gai lan stems, 1/4 a cup of water and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until the stems turn a nice dark green colour. Add in the gai lan leaves and stir fry for 20-30 seconds. Then add in a little salt, fish sauce and oyster sauce. Stir-fry everything together, then thicken the sauce with some corn flour mixed with a little water. Serve immediately with a garnish of sesame seeds and hot red peppers for colour.

Monday, December 5, 2016

King Prawns in Coconut Curry Sauce

One of the most successful and respected modern Indian chefs in England, Vivek Singh is known for his innovative and refined approach to Indian cuisine. With three renowned London restaurants to his name - The Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho - chef Singh combines Indian spices and flavours with Western techniques and ingredients to create exquisite dishes such as his Chingri Malai Curry, one of the all-time favourite Bengali dishes, reserved for very special guests, big celebratory dinners and weddings. "The period between Dussehra and Diwali is a period described as Bijoya or victory in the West Bengal state of East India. During Bijoya, people visit family, friends and their entire social circle, taking sweets, exchanging gifts and eating together. Forgetting to visit someone over Bijoya is the Bengali equivalent of dropping someone from your Christmas card list! One of my earliest food memories is eating this delicious prawn curry at a Bijoya dinner." Outstandingly delicious, this is a recipe that's definitely worth keeping and making over and over again. 

Chef Vivek Singh

Marinated with turmeric and salt for 5 minutes, the prawns are cooked briefly for 1-2 minutes 
until just warmed but not cooked through, then set aside 

Puréed red onions and bay leaves are cooked on medium heat until browned, 
about 25-39 minutes until light very light brown

Although not light brown per se, the onions were 'browned' and nicely caramelized

Turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic and water are added to the onions and sautéed for 2-3 minutes

The half cooked prawns, green chilies and a little salt are added and stirred for a minute

Coconut milk is added to the pan and simmered for 2-3 minutes until the prawns are just cooked

King Prawns in Coconut Curry Sauce
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of chef Vivek Singh

1 lb large freshwater prawns, peeled and deveined
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
5 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
2 large red onions, blended to a fine paste
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
2 green chillies, slit lengthways and seeded
1 cup shellfish stock
13 oz can coconut milk
1/2 tsp sugar
4 green cardamom pods, ground
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 tsp Maldon smoked sea salt

Marinate the prawns with half the turmeric and half the salt for 5 minutes. Heat half of the oil in a pan and add the bay leaves and onion paste and sauté over a medium heat for 25-30 minutes until very light brown.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a non-stick frying pan and sear the prawns briefly for 1–2 minutes, turning them to sear on each side, then set aside.

Mix the remaining turmeric, ground cumin and ginger-garlic paste in 5 tablespoons of water, then add to the sautéed onions, reduce the heat and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the remaining salt, green chillies and prawns and stir for 1 minute. Add the stock, then mix in the coconut milk and simmer for 2–3 minutes or just until the prawns are cooked, adding a little more stock if necessary. Correct the seasoning with salt, sugar and sprinkle on the ground cardamom and chopped cilantro. Serve garnished with additional cilantro, lime wedges, fresh cracked white pepper and a pinch of smoked sea salt. Serve immediately.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Indian Beef and Spinach Saagwala Curry

Saag Gosht is a tender and delicious Lamb and Spinach Curry that originates from the northwest region of India. A well-loved dish from the greater Punjab area of India and Pakistan, Punjabi cuisine is known for its diversity, and varies regionally by the agriculture and farming lifestyle that's been prevalent throughout the area for centuries, with many of the ingredients obtained fresh from the fields. 'Saag' typically refers to mustard greens and 'Gosht' tends to mean goat meat, however beef works equally well, although many in India do not eat beef, so this recipe is an adaptation of the classic Saag Gosht recipe. Browned with onions, an aromatic mixture of whole and ground spices, chopped ginger, garlic, tomato and masses of healthy spinach, the beef is slowly simmered for up to 2 hours then combined with cream and finished with a spoonful of ghee. A lovely, earthy dish with a mild and subtle flavour, it's no wonder that this luscious Saagwala Curry is considered one of the great curries of India.

Chopped onions, spices, ginger, garlic and diced tomatoes are sautéed then the spinach is added and the mixture is then puréed until smooth

Browned beef is added to the creamy spinach sauce and simmered for 1-2 hours until the beef is cooked through and mouthwateringly tender

Beef and Spinach Curry

Serves 4

2 1/2 lb beef, trimmed of fat, cut into one to two-inch cubes

1/3 cup vegetable oil 
4 tbsp ghee, divided
4 dried red chilis
3 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
4 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
13 oz can diced tomatoes
6 cups fresh spinach or 2 lb frozen spinach 
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp crushed kasoori methi
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

If using frozen spinach, microwave until defrosted, then drain and squeeze out most of the water and set aside. 
In a heavy-bottomed sauté pan, heat the oil on medium and brown the beef in batches then set aside. In the same pan that was used to brown the meat, add the red chilis, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, and sauté the mixture becomes aromatic. Then add the coriander seeds and cumin seeds and once they start to pop, add the onions. Sauté the onions until they are almost golden brown, about 15 minutes. 

Add the ginger-garlic paste and turmeric, and sauté until the raw smell disappears. Add the tomatoes, then cover and simmer until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes. Carefully mix in the spinach, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth, adding water as necessary to allow for a smooth consistency. Transfer the mixture to large bowl.

Heat the ghee to the pan, and add the blended spinach mixture plus the coriander, cumin, and kasoori methi, then cover and simmer for ten minutes, adjusting the salt as necessary. Add the beef with the vegetable stock and cover and simmer for another 80-90 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the meat is tender,  adding more stock if needed. Stir in the cream and garam masala and serve hot with rice and buttered naan.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kerala Mussel Molee Curry with Coconut Milk

Everyone loves a Molee, the coconut and turmeric curry from Kerala. While most Indian dishes pride themselves on using scores of ingredients and combinations of spices, the simple, mild and delicious molee uses merely eight ingredients plus whichever main ingredient you choose to cook in the sauce. One of the most successful and respected modern Indian chefs in England, Vivek Singh is known for his innovative and refined approach to Indian cuisine, with three renowned London restaurants to his name - The Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho. After twenty years of cooking subtle variations of this dish, chef Singh says there has not been one instance when guests haven’t been wowed by its simplicity. A Molee can be served as a soup or as a main course, using shrimp or just about any kind of seafood, chicken or, as in this recipe, mussels. Plump and sweet, I used premium quality Saltspring Island mussels which are grown in the rich, cool, clean coastal waters of British Columbia to honour this delicately flavoured dish, as a Canadian version of this Kerala classic.

Kerala Mussel Molee Curry with Coconut Milk

Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Vivek Singh

5 lb fresh Salt Spring Island mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

2 tbsp vegetable oil
40 fresh curry leaves
1 large onion sliced
6 green chilies slit open length ways
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
3 cups fish or seafood stock
14 oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp salt

Wash and scrub the mussels. Discard any open ones that do not close when tapped, then set aside the remainder. Heat the oil in a large pan on medium high and add the curry leaves, chillies, onion and ginger and cook, stirring, for 6–8 minutes. When the onion is translucent, add the turmeric and stir for 30 seconds, then add the fish stock, coconut milk and salt. Bring to a simmer and allow to bubble for a couple of minutes. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary, then add the mussels, cover the pan and simmer heavily on medium for 10-12 minutes until all the mussels have opened. If all the mussels haven’t opened, re-cover the pan and simmer another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and discard any unopened mussels. To serve, ladle the mussels and sauce into a large bowl with plenty of fresh bread.