Monday, April 30, 2012

Ottolenghi's Green Pancakes with Lime Butter

Green Pancakes with Lime Butter is a deliciously eccentric recipe by the acclaimed British restauranteur and celebrated author, Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi. In his fabulous cookbook 'Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi', the author offers a wonderfully versatile collection of mouthwatering dishes that elevate vegetables from their humble side-dish status to superstar prominence, with everything from root vegetables and mushrooms to legumes and grains. Highlights include leek fritters, lentils with broiled eggplant, quinoa and grilled sourdough salad, and a stunningly gorgeous salad he calls tomato party that combines multicolored tomatoes, couscous, and several herbs. Greens, both cooked and raw, receive lots of attention in dishes such as his Chard and Saffron Omelet and wonderful Green Pancakes with Lime Butter, which sounds a little like something from Dr Seuss! 

Lime butter flavoured with cilantro, garlic and chiles

Colourful, delicious, and easy to prepare, these Green Pancakes are wonderfully adaptable: lovely served as a brunch dish with grilled halloumi or smoked fish, or for dinner with a simple roast chicken or salmon filet — and the compound butter flavoured with lime, cilantro, garlic, and chile is the perfect accompaniment. Vibrant and full of bright Mediterranean flavours, this delicious recipe from Plenty, is the perfect way to bring a little culinary sunshine into these rainy days as we ease our way into Spring. 

Green Pancakes with Lime Butter
Serves 3-4
Recipe courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi

Lime butter:
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Grated zest of 1 lime
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 tsp chile flakes

Savoury pancakes:

1/2 lb (about 8 cups) spinach, washed
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 egg
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
2/3 cup milk
6 medium green onions, finely sliced
2 fresh green chiles, thinly sliced
1 egg white
Olive oil for frying

To make the lime butter, place the butter in a medium bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon until it turns soft and creamy. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Tip onto a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a sausage shape, twisting the ends of the wrap to seal the flavoured butter. Chill until firm.

To make the pancakes, start by wilting the spinach in a pan with a splash of water, then drain in a sieve. When cool, squeeze the spinach to remove as much moisture as possible. Roughly chop and put aside.

Put the flour, baking powder, whole egg, melted butter, salt, cumin and milk in a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the green onions, chiles and spinach and mix with a fork. Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and gently fold it into the batter.

Pour a small amount of olive oil into a heavy frying pan and place on medium-high heat. For each pancake, ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan and press down gently. This should make smallish pancakes, about 3 inches in diameter and 3/8 inch thick. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until they become a golden-green colour, then transfer to paper towels to keep warm. Continue making pancakes, adding oil to the pan as needed, until the batter is used up.

To serve, layer three warm pancakes per person and place a slice of flavored butter on top to melt.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ricotta, Pistachio & Basil Gnudi with Truffle Sauce

Malfatti or Gnudi is a traditional Tuscan dish. It’s essentially ravioli without dough called “gnudi” which in Tuscany means “naked” or also “malfatti” meaning “not well made". This dish gets its name from the fact that it is really the filling of the ravioli without the pasta. A delicious combination of ricotta, spinach, basil and ground pistachios come together into a light and airy dumpling which is poached then quickly sautéed on a little butter until they're crispy and golden brown. Topped with a drizzle of Truffle infused cream sauce, this dish is fabulous as both a starter or entrée to an Italian-themed evening.

Ricotta, Pistachio & Basil Gnudi with Truffle Cream Sauce
Serves 4-6

For the gnudi:
1 cup/250 g ricotta, well drained
7 tbsp/100 g flour
3 tbsp/50 g parmiggiano-reggiano, grated
2 eggs
2 tbsp pistachios, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp cooked spinach, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste.

For the sauce:
A knob of butter
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 tbsp dry white wine
3.5 oz/100 ml chicken or vegetable broth
7 oz/200 ml single cream
Truffle oil or shaved truffles to taste

To prepare the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan, then sauté the scallions and the garlic over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes. Add the wine and broth and simmer until the liquid almost disappears. 

In a small saucepan, cook the cream over a moderate heat until it's reduced by half. Add to the sautéed scallions, and flavour with some truffle oil, salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

To prepare the malfatti, mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and combine until well blended. Season with the salt and pepper to taste. 

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Using two small spoons, form the ricotta mixture into little egg-shaped balls and toss into the boiling salted water. As soon as they float to the surface, the gnudi will be cooked. Drain with a slotted spoon and toss them in a saucepan with 125 g of butter and sauté until they’re crisp and golden brown. 

To serve, arrange the gnudi on warmed dishes and garnish with a generous drizzle of sauce and a few drops of white truffle oil, and sliced fresh truffles if you have them.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pan Roasted Snapper & Butternut Squash Purée

Healthy and delicious, this easy Pan Roasted Red Snapper & Butternut Squash Purée is low-fat, low-carb, and can be prepared in less than an hour. One of my favourite fish, red snapper has a delicate flavour and firm texture, perfect for sautéeing over high heat — to crisp the skin — and finishing off in the oven until it's moist and flakey. Nestled on a puddle of saffron coloured buttery squash purée and garnished with a drizzle of homemade pesto or sautéed spring vegetables, makes this dish an attractively simple entrée for even the most discerning of dinner guests. Best yet — both the squash and pesto can be made well ahead of time, so you have more time to spend time enjoying a glass of wine with friends, and less time in the kitchen.

Pan Roasted Snapper & Butternut Squash Purée
Serves 4

4 red snapper filets, skin on
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
parsley sprigs and lemon or lime slices for garnish

Butternut Squash Purée:
1 medium butternut squash
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp maple syrup

Basil Pesto: (optional)
1 bunch fresh basil, washed and pat dry
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup walnuts or pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Pour the nuts into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the garlic and basil leaves and process until blended. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor as necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

Peel the squash, cut in half lengthwise, and remove seeds. Cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes and steam until tender. Place steamed squash and all other ingredients in a food processor or blender, and blend until smooth and creamy. Pour the purée into a saucepan, cover and keep warm.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Using a small sharp knife, lightly score the skin of the snapper diagonally with three light incisions, to prevent curling. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat a non-stick stainless sauté pan over high heat and add the oil and butter. Once the butter has melted and the oil starts to ripple, lay the filets in the pan skin-side down, and cook for 2 minutes or until the skin starts to color. Using a spatula, delicately turn the filets over and cook another minute. Season with a sprinkle of Maldon salt. Place the pan in the oven and roast about 5-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets.

To serve, place a spoonful of squash purée in the middle of each warmed dinner bowl or plate. Top with the snapper filets, skin side up, and garnish with a drizzle of Basil Pest around the dish. Top with a sprig of parsley and a wedge of fresh lemon or lime. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chocolate Walnut Biscotti

These light and crunchy biscotti are wonderful and chocolatey but not too sweet. A splash of espresso adds a fantastic depth and roundness to their rich flavour, and dipped lengthwise into dark melted chocolate, takes these Chocolate Walnut Biscotti to a whole other level. These toothsome treats are the inspiration of pastry-chef Karen DeMasco, one of New York City’s most celebrated and talented pastry chefs. Formerly of Craft, and author of The Craft of Baking, DeMasco is currently pastry-chef at the celebrated Locanda Verde in New York, where she weaves her magic every night.

Pastry-Chef Karen DeMasco

Karen DeMasco's 'The Craft of Baking'

Chocolate Walnut Biscotti
Makes about 3 dozen
Recipe courtesy of Karen DeMasco of Locanda Verde NYC

1 cup walnut pieces, roughly chopped
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 granulated sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher slat
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Coffee extract:
1/4 cup hot water
2 oz instant espresso powder

For the coffee extract, slowly stir the hot water directly into the espresso powder, stirring well, then set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet parchment paper, and spread the walnuts in a single layer. Toast them, stirring occasionally, until they're lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool the sheet on a wire rack, keeping the oven on.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, baking soda, and salt. Beat on low speed until the ingredients are well combined, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, 2 teaspoons of the coffee extract, and vanilla. Add the mixture to the flour mixture and beat on low speed to combine. Add the cooled nuts and the chocolate chips, and beat just to combine.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and divide it in half. Shape each portion into a 16"x2" log, and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet, spacing them about 3 inches apart.

Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the logs are firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Transfer the logs still on the parchment paper, to a wire rack and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the oven temp to 250°F. Transfer the warm logs to a cutting board, and using a serrated knife, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1/3-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Bake until the biscotti are dry and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the sheet of biscotti cool completely on the rack. The biscotti can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ricotta & Spinach Gnocchi with Mint

A traditional Florentine pasta, ricotta gnocchi are the lighter cousin to northern Italy's potato gnocchi. Although they can be made with almost any ingredients that can be formed into a dough, gnocchi with ricotta is much more forgiving than the potato version — the dough holds together better, and the result is likely to be more pillowy than chewy. Unlike their potato cousin, which can carry anything from a light tomato based sauce to a rich meaty stew, this easy and delicious recipe for Ricotta & Spinach Gnocchi is perfect with a delicate cream sauce made with grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano and fresh mint. 

Gnocchi can be rolled using the tines of a fork or a ridged Gnocchi Board

You can make Ricotta & Spinach Gnocchi in as little time as it takes you to boil the water to cook them in, however the secret to making any gnocchi is to dry the ingredients out as much as possible before using. Also, the amount of flour needed depends on the moisture content of the ingredients, it's often a good idea to start with using three quarters of the amount of flour the recipe calls for initially, and add the remainder gradually — the less flour you use, the lighter the gnocchi will be. K
neading the gnocchi only as long as it takes for the ingredients to hold together into a soft, workable dough. A light hand yields light, delicate gnocchi!

Ricotta & Spinach Gnocchi with Mint

Serves 4-6

For the gnocchi:
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and thoroughly drained
2 1/2 cups fresh ricotta, drained
1/2 cup finely grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp lemon rind, finely grated using a microplane grater
1 tbsp chopped spearmint leaves
1 cup plain all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup semolina flour

For the sauce:
1 cup single cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
Maldon salt and finely cracked black pepper

Place the ricotta in a strainer to drain over a bowl and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before using. Chop the spinach coarsely, and purée in a blender or food processor until it's very smooth. Transfer the spinach and the drained ricotta to a large bowl with the grated Parmeggiano, eggs, lemon rind, and mint, mixing well to combine. Begin adding the flour a little at a time until a soft dough is obtained and is not sticking to your hands. 
Knead only as long as it takes for the ingredients to hold together into a soft, workable dough. It may be easier to form the gnocchi if the dough is covered and refrigerated for at least 15-30 minutes, as it will firm up the dough and makes it easier to work with. 

When you're ready, turn the dough out onto a clean surface sprinkled with some semolina flour and roll the dough into long skinny ropes, about 10-inches long and 1/2-inch in diameter. Then cut into 3/4-inch lengths. Using the tines of a fork, or a ridged gnocchi board, press the gnocchi in a rolling motion, to give it ridges, and so the sauce cling to the gnocchi. You may need to dip the fork in flour so that the dough doesn't stick. Place the gnocchi on a cookie sheet in a single layer as you finish shaping them. Repeat until all the dough is used up.

Working in batches, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of simmering salted water until the gnocchi float to the surface, about 2-3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm until all of the gnocchi are cooked. 
It's a good idea if you're brand new to gnocchi making to test your gnocchi before you prepare the whole batch. Drop a couple of gnocchi into boiling water and remove as soon as they come to the surface. If they fall apart, knead in a little more flour. If they hold up well, continue cutting the rest of your gnocchi.

Pour the cream in a large frying pan over high heat and cook for 1–2 minutes or until it's warmed through. Add the gnocchi, 1/2 cup of Parmeggiano, mint, salt and pepper and toss to coat. Serve immediately in warmed bowls and garnish with a sprig of mint with a bowl of freshly grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano for guests to serve themselves.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bruschetta: Tomato Basil & Red Pepper-Goat Cheese

With the warmer weather hopefully just around the corner, it's time to start dusting off your favourite summer recipes. A delicious and easy appetizer, there's no other recipe that shouts summer than this classic Tomato & Basil Bruschetta. 'Bruschetta' is from the Italian "bruscare," which means "to roast over coals," and refers to the bread rather than the toppings, of which there are many delicious variations. Traditional bruschetta always starts the same way: thick slices of baguette toasted to a golden brown, rubbed with cloves of raw garlic then brushed with good quality olive oil — and you're set. 

In addition to the classic Tomato & Basil Bruschetta, I also made a Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Thyme, as small antipasti with a simple and delicious Italian aperitivo — Arance Sanguigne e Prosecco, freshly squeezed blood oranges and Italian Prosecco. Served in many restaurants in italy before the start of a meal, these two light and fresh Bruschetti and an bubbly fruit cocktail are the perfect way to launch yourself into summer. 

Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Crumble Fresh Thyme


Serves 8 as a appetizers

1 Loaf crusty French or Italian baguette

3 cloves garlic
, peeled and cut in half length-wise
1/4 cup good olive oil

Tomato Topping:

3 cups ripe plum tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Maldon salt & fresh ground back pepper

2 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup fresh, chopped basil

1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Topping:
10 oz Woolwich Dairy fine herb goat cheese
1/2 cup marinated red bell peppers, julienned
1 tbsp fresh thyme

Mix together the tomato topping ingredients, cover and and set aside.
 Cut the bread into diagonal slices about 3/8-inch thick, place on a baking sheet and set in the oven at 475°F. Bake until just golden, about 5-8 minutes — watch carefully to make sure they don't get too brown. Remove the bruschetta from the oven, and using the fresh cloves of raw garlic, rub one side of each of the toasts. Next brush a little olive oil on each toast. 

Top half of the toasts with the tomato mixture and garnish generously with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Top the other half of the toasts with a good slather of goat cheese, a small mound of marinated red peppers and garnish with crumbled fresh thyme. Serve together as a delicious savoury appetizer.

Fresh Squeezed Blood Orange Juice and Prosecco 

Arance Sanguigne e Prosecco
Blood Orange Juice and Prosecco 
Serves 4-6

5 blood oranges
1 bottle Prosecco, or Crémant de Bourgogne, chilled

Freshly squeeze the juice from 5 blood oranges, then pour through a strainer to get rid of any pulp. Discard the solids and pour the remaining juice in a small jug and chill until required. To serve, pour the chilled Prosecco into champagne flutes, about half way or three-quarters up the glass and top with blood orange juice. Garnish with a slice of orange or twist of peel. 

COOK'S NOTE: Prosecco can be mixed with other fruit juices, such as pink grapefruit or pomegranate, in a ratio of 1 part juice to 2 parts Prosecco. The key is to ensure that all of the ingredients are cold.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Anchovy Caper & Parsley Butter

We were served this delicious savoury Anchovy Caper & Parsley Butter at Ristorante Lillo Tatini in the small hilltown of Panicale, when we were in Umbria earlier this month. The whole meal was unforgettable, but the fabulous full-flavoured butter that was served with warm homemade scones and herb breads, was memorable. Inspired by the chef's culinary concoction, I was compelled to make my own version. Easy and delicious, this savoury butter is wonderful with warm Cheddar and Dill Scones but would also be excellent served melted over grilled steak or lamb.

Anchovy Caper & Parsley Butter
Makes 1/4 cup

8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 anchovies, finely minced
1 tsp capers, finely minced
1/2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, finely minced
Maldon salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Place the butter, minced anchovies, capers and parsley in a small bowl and mix thoroughly to combine. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Spoon the Anchovy Caper Butter into small butter bowls and chill until required. Delicious served with Cheddar Dill Scones or other savoury breads.

Alternatively, spread the butter onto a piece of cling film and form into a small log. Seal with the ends of the cling film and refrigerate until required. Unroll the butter and slice into thick coins and use as a garnish for grilled lamb or steak.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Savoury Cheddar Cheese & Dill Scones

These savoury Cheddar Cheese and Dill Scones are a flavourful twist on the traditional currant scones typically served with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Delicious on their own, or served with soup or salad, they can be on the table in half an hour, start to finish. The great thing is that any combination of ingredients, from your favourite cheeses, herbs or savoury selections can be used for your own custom biscuits: Asiago, Feta, Parmesan, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, bacon, chives, rosemary, curry, cayenne or even buttermilk instead of cream — the possibilities are endless.

Cheddar Dill Scones

Makes 20 scones

2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 oz cold butter, diced
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1/4 pound extra-sharp yellow Cheddar, small-diced
1/2 cup minced fresh dill
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp milk, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine 2 cups of flour, the baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Mix the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Combine until just blended. Toss together the Cheddar, dill, and 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the dough. Mix until they are almost incorporated.

Place the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 minute, until the Cheddar and dill are well distributed. Roll the dough 3/4-inch thick, and using a round cookie cutter, or rim of a glass 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide, cut the scones into rounds. Then brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 15-18 minutes, until the outside is golden brown and the inside is fully baked.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

In the world of rich and creamy decadent desserts, cheesecakes must rank near the top of the confectionary scale for sheer caloric weight. Almost every culture in the world has their own regional style of cheesecake, with most consisting of a topping made of soft, fresh cheese, and usually on a crust or base made from biscuits, pastry or sponge cake. Although they can be baked or unbaked, most modern North American cheesecakes use cream cheese; in Italy's Torta Dolce al Formaggio they use ricotta or mascarpone; and with Germany's Käsekuchen, quark is used.

Nigella's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

This outrageously delicious layered Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake, adapted from a recipe by Nigela Lawson, is "not for the faint-hearted", and she's quite right. "Think Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in cheesecake form!" A luscious combination of cream cheese, sour cream, brown sugar, peanut butter, eggs and egg yolks add a sublime richness and ultra smooth consistency to this dessert, which is poured on top of a crunchy base of crushed buttered biscuits and finely chopped peanuts, and finally crowned with creamy milk chocolate topping and shattered peanut brittle. Although Nigella may feel a bit apologetic for the "overindulgent vulgarity" of this cheesecake, you'll forget all about the calories as soon as you've taken your first bite. "Unashamed indulgence, wallowingly so," is what this recipe is all about.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake
Serves 10
Modified from a recipe by Nigella Lawson

3 1/2 oz dark chocolate
3 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup digestive biscuits, crushed
3 tbsp peanuts, finely chopped

17 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup smooth peanut butter

250 ml sour cream
1/2 cup/100g milk chocolate
1/2 cup peanut brittle (recipe below)

For the base, melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat in a medium sized saucepan, stirring frequently until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and add the crushed biscuits and nuts, mixing thoroughly. Transfer to an greased 9-inch springform pan and press down gently to form a thick crust. Place in the freezer to set while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, mix together all the ingredients in a standing mixer bowl, whisking at high speed until smooth and creamy.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove the base from the freezer and pour the filling over top. Bake for an hour. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack.

For the topping, melt the chocolate and sour cream together in a small saucepan over medium heat, then pour it gently over the cheesecake. Return to the oven for five minutes. Meanwhile, break up the peanut brittle into small pieces, using a meat tenderizer or hammer. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, scatter the broken brittle over top and bake for a final five minutes.

Once out of the oven, place the cheesecake on a wire rack and let cool completely in its tin. When it's completely cooled down, cover with cling film and put in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to serve, take it out of the fridge ahead of time, just to take the chill off. This will make it easier to spring the cheesecake from the tin. Don’t let it get too warm though, as it'll become a bit gooey and be hard to slice.

Peanut Brittle
Makes about 2 dozen one-inch chunks
Recipe courtesy of Karen DeMasco, pastry chef at Locanda Verde NYC

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
4 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp baking soda
12 oz dry-roasted whole salted peanuts
4 tsp salt

Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Add the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water to a large saucepan, and stir together with a wooden spoon until all the sugar is moist. Cook over high heat until the mixture turns to a deep golden brown. Immediately remove from the heat, and carefully whisk in the baking soda followed by the salt. Take care, as the caramel may rise in the pan and bubble.

Fold in the peanuts, then quickly pour the mixture onto the baking sheet, and spread it out using the back of the spoon before it starts to harden. It may not cover the whole pan.

Let the brittle cool completely, about 30 minutes. Break it into bite-size pieces or large shards, as you prefer. The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one month.

COOK'S NOTE: You can also use other nuts to make brittle: cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, or even a custom combination of mixed nuts. Brittle also makes a great gift wrapped in cellophane and bound with a pretty ribbon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ottolenghi's Lemon and Goat Cheese Ravioli

Pink peppercorns, tarragon, turmeric, goat cheese, and lemon zest. Not a combination you see everyday, but that's the beauty of Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty. Each recipe combines unexpected ingredients and techniques to create wonderfully inspired and delicious recipes, like this Lemon and Goat Cheese Ravioli, one of his more vibrant dishes. The fresh pasta dough is infused with both turmeric and lemon zest, which creates a bright and beautiful yellow colour — Ottolenghi calls the ravioli "little sunshines on the plate." 

The turmeric and lemon infused pasta dough filed with an aromatic goat cheese filling

Once rolled out, the dough is passed through a pasta machine until it reaches one of the thinnest settings. It's then cut into 3-inch circles, brushed with egg white, stuffed with soft goat cheese mixed with chilli flakes, Maldon sea salt and ground black pepper, and topped with a second circle of pasta. After a brief boil, the pasta is garnished with a tasty combination of mild red peppercorns, tangy lemon zest, sweet licoricey tarragon, and a drizzle of flavoured oil. 

An incredibly creative personality, Yotam Ottolenghi approaches all of his dishes from both a culinary and artistic perspective, like this bright and beautiful Lemon and Goat Cheese Ravioli, designed for flavour and visual appeal, as the dish "comes together like a beautiful picture". It's always a joy recreating one of Ottolenghi's dishes: It's like going on an exotic journey somewhere you've never been before, and discovering a wonderful new friend when you arrive safely at the other end.

Lemon & Goat Cheese Ravioli
Serves six as a starter

For the pasta:
3 tbsp olive oil
3 medium eggs
330g '00' flour, plus more for rolling
½ tsp turmeric
3 lemons, finely zested with a microplane grater

For the filling:
300g creamy, mild goat's cheese
½ tsp Maldon sea salt
1 pinch chilli flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg white, beaten

To serve:
2 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed using a mortar and pestle
1 tsp roughly chopped fresh tarragon
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Lemon juice
Grapeseed or olive oil oil

Mix the oil and eggs. Put the flour, turmeric and zest in a food processor, and add the oil and egg mixture, and blend to a crumbly dough — it may require extra flour or oil. Once the dough has come together and is smooth (you may need to work it a little by hand, too), divide it into four thick, rectangular blocks. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes up to two days.

In a medium bowl, mix all of the filling ingredients together except the egg white, which should be whisked in a small bowl and set aside.

Dust a work surface with flour. Take a piece of dough and flatten with a rolling pin. Set a pasta machine to its widest setting and pass through. Repeat, narrowing the setting a notch each time, until you reach one of the lowest settings — #6 or #7.

Use a pastry cutter, or rim of a glass, to stamp out pasta circles roughly 3-inches in diameter. Brush each with egg white and place a heaped teaspoon of filling in its centre. Place another disc on top and, squeeze out any air as you bring the edges of the discs together. You should end up with a pillow-shaped centre surrounded by a 3/8-inch edge. Tighten the edges until you can't see a seam. Repeat with the rest of the dough, place the ravioli on a tray sprinkled with semolina, and leave to dry for 15 minutes, or cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for a day or two.

To serve, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta in small batches for 5-6 minutes, until al dente. Drain and divide the ravioli between four plates. Sprinkle with crushed pink peppercorns, tarragon and lemon zest. Drizzle with grapeseed oil, some Maldon salt and a squirt of lemon juice.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream & Thyme

Chestnut trees have long been present on the Italian landscape, and in Umbria, chestnut trees have thrived for centuries, defying steep, mountainous slopes and flourishing among the rolling green pastures and forested hills of the 'Green Heart' of Italy. High in complex carbohydrates and low in fat, with a starchy-sweet flavour and chewy yet soft texture, chestnuts have provided comfort and sustenance throughout the ages. A staple of the Mediterranean diet for centuries, chestnuts were coveted for their nutrition and flavour by peasants and nobility alike. Wonderfully versatile, they can be dried, ground into flour, as well as eaten fresh, either raw or roasted. 

Luscious, smooth and silky, this creamy Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream by Fabio Trabocchi is best served in small cups as an hors d'oeuvre or as a primi piatti. If you don't want to use raw chestnuts and peel them yourself, you can always buy peeled and cooked chestnuts at Williams Sonoma. 

Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream
Serves 10 as first course
Recipe by Fabio Trabocchi

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 oz thinly sliced pancetta
1/2 cup medium shallots, sliced
1/2 cup celery root, diced peeled
1/2 lb white mushrooms, sliced
1 14-oz jar roasted chestnuts, coarsely chopped (available at Williams-Sonoma)
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Cognac
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sage sprig
1 thyme sprig, plus 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, for garnish
3/4 cup half-and-half cream
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp grappa

In a large saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the shallots and celery root and cook until the celery root is just tender, about 10 minutes. 

Transfer the vegetables to a bowl, leaving the pancetta and fat in the saucepan.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to the saucepan along with the mushrooms and all but 2 tablespoons of the chestnuts. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are slightly softened, 6 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the chicken stock and the celery root mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add the Cognac and cook until evaporated, 2 minutes.

Add the bay leaf, sage and thyme sprigs to the saucepan along with the remaining chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the pancetta, bay leaf, sage and thyme.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until creamy and smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan. Stir in the half-and-half, season with salt and white pepper and keep warm.

In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat in the grappa and season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into small bowls. Dollop the grappa cream on top, garnish with the thyme leaves and the reserved 2 tablespoons of chestnuts and serve.

COOK'S NOTE: The soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before serving, adding a few tablespoons of water to thin it as needed. Photo © John Kernick: Food & Wine 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sformato di Cavolfiore: Italian Cauliflower Flan

A sformato is an Italian version of a soufflé. T
his recipe for Sformato di Cavolfiore, or Cauliflower Flan, is a play on cauliflower and cheese. Rich with butter, eggs and cheese, one individual sformato is nearly a complete meal in itself, especially when it's drizzled with a spoonful of decadent fonduta sauce, a warm melt of thick cream and heavenly Gorgonzola. While this recipe uses cauliflower, one could just as easily have used the same volume of cooked spinach, broccoli or wild mushrooms — the possibilities are endless. 

Since sformati are at their best when they're hot, and don't take well to being reheated, the batter can always be set aside and covered in the refrigerator, until the rest of the meal is close to being ready. The sauce takes only a few minutes to make. This is a lush little dish and makes an elegant starter for any special meal.

Cauliflower Sformato
Serves 6

For the sformato:
12 oz cauliflower
1 cup whole milk, plus 1/4 cup or as needed
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp, plus 1 1/2 tsp flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnishing
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 bunch chives
edible flowers, for garnish (optional)

For the cheese sauce (fonduta):
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz Gorgonzola

Trim the cauliflower into small pieces, discarding the leaves and core. Add to a pot of boiling water and cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a blender. Add 1/4 cup milk, or more if needed, to make a very thick and smooth purée. Force the mixture through a sieve into a large bowl, and set aside.
Warm 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan and season with salt to taste. Cover and remove from the heat. In another small pot over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and whisk in the flour until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the hot milk and whisk constantly to make a thick béchamel, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then fold the béchamel into the cauliflower purée. Add the eggs, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, a pinch of nutmeg and salt to taste. 
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the inside of six small ramekins, or muffin molds, with butter, filling almost to the top. Transfer to a large baking dish and add enough boiling water so that it reaches two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the centers are firm yet still jiggle a wee bit. Remove the ramekins from the water, set on a wire rack and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, prepare the cheese sauce by combining the heavy cream and Gorgonzola in a small saucepan, and stir until melted and smooth. Cover and keep warm.

In a small saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the sliced shiitake mushrooms and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, run the blade of a small paring knife around the edges of the ramekins and invert each sformato onto a small plate. Spoon the warm cheese sauce over each sformato, and sprinkle the top with a little black pepper, a small mound of mushrooms and garnish with a fan of chives.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cucina of Le Marche: Lasagna Vincisgrassi

While lasagna is a traditional dish from Romagna, Vincisgrassi is one of the signature dishes from Le Marche in central Italy, and is also the Italian name of the Austrian general, Prince Windischgratz, who was commander of the Austrian Forces stationed in the Marches in 1799. The dish was allegedly created for the prince by a local chef. A classic Italian recipe for pasta baked with parma ham, mushrooms, tomato and cream, the recipe remains one of the most traditional and delicious Italian pasta dishes handed down from the picturesque hilltown of Macerata in Le Marche.

Chef Fabio Trabocchi's cookbook, Cucina of Le Marche: 
A Chef's Treasury of Recipes from Italy's Last Culinary Frontier

I discovered this delicious recipe for Vincisgrassi in Chef Fabio Trabocchi's cookbook, Cucina of Le Marche: A Chef's Treasury of Recipes from Italy's Last Culinary Frontier, one of my latest cookbook acquisitions. A native son of Le Marche, Fabio grew up in the small town of Santo Stefano. Equidistant from Rome and Florence, Le Marche is on the Adriatic coast, bordered to the north by Emilia-Romagna, to the west by Tuscany and Umbria, and to the south by Lazio and Abruzzo.

The region of Le Marche

The region's unique geography accounts for the rich variety of Le Marche's food traditions, assimilating recipes, ingredients, and techniques over the ages, from visiting mariners from Greece and North Africa. In his first cookbook, Trabocchi showcases his signature style of Marchegian cooking by combining traditional elements of Italian cuisine with a contemporary European sensibility that draws on the many flavours he's experienced throughout his extensive travels and techniques honed at restaurants around the world.

Chef Fabio Trabocchi

Trabocchi launched his newest restaurant Fiola last year, a modern trattoria located in the heart of the Penn Quarter neighbourhood of Washington DC., serving traditional Italian dishes with a progressive twist, for which Trabocchi is known. One of the signature dishes on Fiola's menu is his Vincisgrassi, a wonderfully rich and intense baked pasta with an elegant rusticity. His recipe for Lasagna Vincisgrassi is a delicious showcase of earthy flavours — porcini, prosciutto, truffles and parmigiano — capturing the essence of traditional Le Marche cuisine by one of it's native sons.

Lasagna Vincisgrassi
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Fabio Trabocchi

8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 slice prosciutto di parma, 1/4- inch thick, about 6 ounces, diced
3 cups finely diced onions
1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 pounds boneless veal shoulder, trimmed, in 1/4-inch dice
3 cups dry Marsala
2 cups veal stock
6 cups chicken stock
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 sprig thyme, tied together
Salt and black pepper
1 oz dried porcini
4 cups heavy cream
1 large egg
1 pound cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
5 sheets fresh pasta for lasagna, each about 9 by 12 inches
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Shaved truffles for garnish

Place 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto and sauté until starting to brown. Lower heat to medium-low and add onions, celery and carrots. Cook until soft but not brown. Stir in tomato paste and cook 2 minutes.

Heat 4 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add veal and sauté over medium-high heat until meat starts to brown. Transfer veal to the saucepan, draining it well.

Discard fat in sauté pan. Return pan to medium-high heat, add Marsala and boil, loosening the residue in the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until reduced to 2 cups. Pour into saucepan. Add veal stock, 2 cups of chicken stock, cloves and herbs. Partly cover and simmer 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper then set aside.

Place porcini in warm water to cover and soak. Meanwhile, make the bèchamel sauce by combining the cream and remaining 4 cups chicken stock in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook about 1 hour, until thickened and reduced to 2 cups. Pour into a blender and process on low, then higher speed. Add egg and process briefly. Taste and season with salt and pepper, strain into a bowl and set aside to cool.

Squeeze porcini dry and chop. Add remaining olive oil to a skillet, add all mushrooms and sauté until cremini have started browning. Fold into the veal mixture — the ragù — and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have a large bowl of salted ice water ready. Line a large baking sheet with kitchen towels. Add pasta sheets to boiling water one at a time, cook each 2 minutes then place in ice water. Drain pasta sheets and spread on towels to dry.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush a 9-by-13-inch lasagna pan with remaining butter. Lay a sheet of pasta in pan. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Spread about 1/4 of the ragù over cheese. Spread on 1/2 cup cream sauce. Continue layering until covered with last sheet of pasta. Spread with remaining cream sauce, then remaining cheese.

Bake 25 minutes, until bubbling. Increase heat to 400°F and bake about 5 minutes more to brown the top. Remove from the oven and let stand 20 minutes before cutting into squares and serving. Garnish with shaved black truffle if you're feeling decadent.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Umbrian Chickpea Soup: Minestra di Ceci

The traditional cuisine of Umbria is rustic and simple, making the most of very few but quality ingredients. Minestra di Ceci is typical of the 'cucina povera' style of cooking we enjoyed one lunchtime at Fontanella di Porta Sole in Perugia, where the humble chickpea is enormously popular, especially for soups. A staple in the Mediterranean basin for hundreds of years, though common throughout Italy, chickpeas are primarily grown in the south because they require high temperatures during the summer months. Once harvested, they're hung up to dry, and the seeds are then gathered and set aside.

Apart from a few readily available ingredients — a little onion, celery, garlic and carrots used to develop the flavour base — the chickpeas are the primary ingredient. Some of the ceci are puréed in the soup which creates a rich, thick and satisfying soup, with most of the whole cooked beans added back into the soup, which creates its unique texture and character. To serve this soup, all it really needs is some cracked black pepper and a drizzle of Rosemary Olive Oil and a little grated pecorino. Minestra di Ceci freezes well, and actually improves in flavour over time, for a taste of Perugia all year long.

Minestra di Ceci
Serves 6-8

2 cups dried chickpeas
2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced 4 cups beef broth
Maldon sea salt
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Pecorino cheese, optional

Rosemary oil:
7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 small sprigs fresh rosemary

Soak chickpeas in cold water and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Soak overnight, then drain the next morning. Place the beans in a pot of fresh water, covered by at least 2-inches, then simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until they're tender but not mushy. Drain and let sit in a colander while you prepare the soup base.

Combine 7 tablespoons of olive oil and rosemary in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring just to a simmer to infuse the olive oil. Remove from heat, discard the rosemary and set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and then add the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove about 1 1/2 cups of the chickpeas and set aside until later. Return the rest of the chickpeas to the pot with the vegetables and cover with the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and slowly simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes or so to develop and meld the flavours. Season with salt and pepper.

Purée the soup with a light touch, until you reach a desired consistency, adding additional broth as needed. Fontanella di Porta Sole didn't purée the soup at all!

Return the soup to the heat and stir in the remaining chickpeas that had been set aside earlier.

Serve the soup in warmed bowls with a drizzle of some of the remaining rosemary oil and sprinkle of parsley, black pepper and some grated pecorino if you wish.