Saturday, February 27, 2010

Grilled Fig, Haloumi & Pomegranate Salad


Over Christmas I was lucky enough to add a few great new cookbooks to my collection.  One, "Ottolenghi, The Cookbook", was a Christmas present to myself picked up on a trip to Auckland from Cook the Books. The other two, Donna Hay's latest book "Seasons" and "Falling Cloudberries" by Tessa Kiros were acquired with some book vouchers I got for Christmas from my very generous and adoring Dad.

These are some wonderful books, and over the next few weeks I plan to share with you some of the things I've been making from these books.  Today, I want to take you inside the Donna Hay book.

This book is the best of her quarterly, seasonal magazines that I am sure many of you love - everything is presented with her inimitable style and flair.  I love her ability to transform just a few simple ingredients (so many of her recipes seem to have just half a dozen ingredients), without complicating them in any way, into something wonderful.  The book features such gems as: Spring - "paper-bag snapper with preserved lemon" and "milk chocolate and coffee layer cake";  Summer - "yellow cherry tomato tarte tatin" and "white peach and fig granita";  Autumn - "pumpkin, spinach and goat's cheese pie" and "sticky orange and vanilla upside-down cake";  and Winter - "olive-crusted veal with feta mash" and "pear and espresso panna cotta.  This book really makes me look forward to the changing seasons.  There is plenty in this book for both vegetarians and meat eaters alike, and for anyone who likes simple, fantastic tasting food without the fuss.

Today's recipe - grilled fig, haloumi and pomegranate salad - is from the summer section of the book.  It is the very first page I opened the book at when I found it in the book store, and I was immediately hooked. As you might expect, this salad took just a few minutes to put together, but it seemed like something utterly special and luxurious.  This has much to do, no doubt, with the fact that here in New Zealand fresh figs are actually a bit of a luxury and are available for such a short time.  This would certainly be a fabulous dish to serve up to someone you want to impress or spoil for a special occasion or, as I did, have something really special when you have to dine alone.

In the original recipe, Donna suggests frying the haloumi in some olive oil;  however, I chose to grill it and was happy with the results.  Since I had the grill out, I thought that grilling the figs might be nice, although the original recipe didn't call for doing anything to them other than cutting them in half.  I did hedge my bets though - as I wasn't sure whether I would prefer grilled or plain figs I only grilled half of them.  As it turned out, I loved the way that grilling them seemed to really intensify the sweetness and juiciness of the figs, so next time I would grill them all.

Grilled Fig, Haloumi & Pomegranate Salad Recipe
Click here for printable copy
Adapted from "Seasons" by Donna Hay
Serves 2

1/2 cup mint leaves
large handful rocket (arugula) leaves
4 green figs, halved
200g haloumi, sliced thinly
1/2 pomegranate, seeds and juice removed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat a ridged grill pan until hot.  Cook the haloumi on both sides until nice char marks are starting to appear, and the cheese is just starting to soften.  Cook the figs, cut-side down, until lightly charred and juices are beginning to run.  Remove from the grill.

Allow to cool slightly, then cut or tear the haloumi into smaller pieces.  Cut the fig halves in half again (so now your figs are in quarters).

Remove the seeds from the  pomegranate (I like the "spanking" method - incredibly satisfying), and retain any juice that comes out with them.

Arrange the figs, haloumi, mint and rocket leaves in a bowl or platter.  Sprinkle the pomegrante seeds over the top and drizzle over the juice.

Lightly combine the red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, and drizzle over the salad.  Toss gently to combine.

I'm also submitting this post to Cookbook Sundays, hosted by the lovely Brenda at Brenda's Canadian Kitchen.  She's worth a visit any day of the week, but why not head over there right now and see who else has dusted off their cookbooks - you'll almost certainly find some great recipes, and maybe you'll discover a new book you'd like to add to your collection.

cookbook sundays

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tomato Bruschetta Recipe - Cooking Italy

There are few things that I like better than curling up on the sofa with a good book, and when it comes to time out to do just that my preferred reading material would usually be a good cookbook rather than a gripping novel. As you might imagine then, I have quite a good collection of cookbooks; although, I still have an equally extensive "wishlist" of culinary tomes that I would like to add to the shelves.

Now you've heard me mention before my love for Italian food, and as you might expect I draw constantly on a number of Italian cookbooks for my inspiration. In that vein, one cook and author who inspires me, and whose books have been on my wishlist for quite some time, is Marcella Hazan. Imagine my excitement then, when on a recent visit to Spinach Tiger (one of the food blogs I visit regularly), I stumbled across the Cooking Italy group - a group of like-minded food lovers and bloggers who are learning to cook regional Italian food together by cooking their way through Marcella's book The Essentials of Classic Italian Cookery.

Each month Angela (aka Spinach Tiger, and the group founder and co-ordinator) posts a selection of dishes from the book, which the group will then cook, discuss and post their results. Of course, because most of the group are in the northern hemisphere, I will at times be seasonally out of step with everyone else. (Right now, for example, while I'm up to my armpits in peaches and tomatoes, most of the group are up to their knees in snow!!) Which means that sometimes I'll simply choose something from the list that they made 6 months ago - get the picture.

And so I come to my first dish, and coincidentally the very first dish the group prepared as well - Tomato Bruschetta (pronounced brusketta by the way). Seasonally, of course, this is the perfect time for this dish. But it also strikes me as very fitting that this should be the first dish that I make, as it absolutely epitomises for me what Italian food is all about - that the best food arises from cooking with exceptional, seasonal, locally produced ingredients, simply prepared - food which highlights the quality of the ingredients rather than showcasing the talents of the chef.  In that vein, this is a relatively simple dish to put together, but there is no place to hide here - you need to use the very best ingredients that you can get your hands on. Here in the New Zealand summer (such as it is) all of the ingredients required are at their best right now, and I got everything I needed at the Christchurch Farmers Market on Saturday - everything locally grown or produced, with the exception of the garlic which had travelled a few hours down the road from Marlborough.

This would be a good appetiser, but I enjoyed it for a light lunch so much that I have had it nearly every day since (nice change from the hummus and pumpkin seed crackers that I usually have).

So about those ingredients - choose a good, crusty sourdough or artisinal loaf - something that is going to retain good body, texture and chew once it has been grilled - this is not the time for the Tip Top white sliced! Tomatoes should be perfectly ripe, preferably organic, - don't even think about making this with those pale, insipid, tasteless hot house tomatoes in the winter. Roma tomatoes are recommended for this, because they have more flesh and less seeds than other varieties, but the ones I had were just fine. Garlic - fresh only - no garlic paste out of the jar! Basil - obviously fresh, not dried - although I would suggest that if you don't have fresh basil to hand, a bit of pesto "dobbed" on top or some rocket (arugula) would be great alternatives. Lastly - olive oil - the very best extra virgin olive oil that your budget will allow.

Tomato Bruschetta Recipe
adapted from Marcella Hazan's "The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"
Click here for printable copy of recipe

These are the quantities I used for a lunch for one, and you can just use that as a per person guide if you are serving several people

1 garlic clove
2 thick slices good, crusty bread
1 large fresh, ripe tomato (or 2 if they're small)
3-4 basil leaves , torn into small pieces
extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground

Cut tomatoes in half, remove seeds and cut into small dice.

Grill or toast the bread until crisp and golden. (Although this was not suggested in the recipe, I drizzled the bread with a little olive oil first and was pleased with the result.)

Cut the garlic clove in half, and then rub the cut side over the toasted bread. You will be surprised at how much flavour this imparts without having to mix minced or chopped garlic into the tomatoes.

Top the now garlic-infused toast with the diced tomatoes, torn basil leaves, and drizzle with olive oil.

Season with the salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Summer on a plate - enjoy!!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Making the most of summer's bounty

Well it's that time of year when my love affair with asparagus has given way to summer fruit. Really nothing says summer to me more than an abundance of apricots, peaches, nectarines, raspberries and strawberries, and this year (perhaps because the summer weather has actually been pretty crappy!) the fruit seems to be especially good. Interesting parallel - worst summer I can remember for about 15 years, best summer fruit I can remember for about as long.

So, needless to say, I have of course been indulging in plenty of unadulterated fresh fruit - big bowls of it every morning, but I've also been cooking with them and trying to set some aside to enjoy a bit of summer in the middle of winter.

I've made lots of sorbet ...

... raspberry, white fleshed nectarine, and apricot. My apricot sorbet is made using this recipe from Stone Soup. For my nectarine sorbet I used David Lebovitz's recipe - David is after all close to Godliness, in my opinion, in matters of frozen desserts! That's my nectarine sorbet in the top right corner of the picture above, which as you can see is quite a lot paler than that in the picture on the recipe link. I suspect that is because the nectarines I had were white fleshed ones, and that yellow fleshed ones would deliver a deeper pink sorbet, though I still think my pale pink version is very pretty. My raspberry sorbet is made using the following recipe adapted from the "River Cafe Italian Kitchen" cookbook. This has really intense flavour, and the colour is just drop-dead gorgeous.

Raspberry Sorbet Recipe
Makes about 1.5 litres
vegan, gluten free

800g fresh raspberries
1 whole Meyer lemon, preferrably organic, plus
juice of 1/2 lemon
350g caster sugar

Wash the lemon thoroughly, and if you are not using an organic lemon give it a good scrub to remove any wax that might be on the skin. Then cut the lemon (skin and all) into smallish pieces, discarding any pips, and put into a food processor. Put the caster sugar into the processor with the lemon, and blitz until you have a thick puree with little bits of lemon peel still visible. Add the raspberries and blitz again until everything is combined. Add the lemon juice, and taste. At this point you may add a little more sugar if the raspberries are too tart, or you may want to add a little more lemon juice - the lemon flavour should be noticeable but not overpowering.

Chill the puree for several hours (I like to leave it in the fridge overnight). Then pour the puree into an ice-cream maker and churn according to your machine's directions.

First note: You may want to strain the puree before churning to remove the pips. Personally I don't - I think it is inherent in the nature of raspberries to have pips, and I like the slightly more rustic nature and texture of an unstrained sorbet.

Second note: If you don't have an ice-cream maker - go and get one today before summer is over. I promise you won't regret it. Contrary to what you may think, this does not have to cost you a lot of money. Whilst it is true that I covet a "serious ice-cream machine", with a built-in refrigeration unit, that might set me back $1,000-$2,000, Mr Snowy here does the job just fine and he only cost about $40. I think normal retail for this is about $80, but I picked this up in one of those 50% off electrical goods sales that Briscoes have just about every second weekend. Or there are literally dozens of similar machines available on TradeMe at almost any time.

Of course the sorbet you make now is not going to keep all winter - after a while it starts to go all icy and the texture changes. But I'm very excited to have come across this recipe for Roasted Apricot Sorbet on Couldn't Be Parve. I haven't actually made this recipe yet (though I did pass the link on to a friend who has made it and declared it to be "absolutely divine"), but I have roasted several batches of apricots (6kg in all) and put them in the freezer to make into sorbet during the winter. Let me tell you that when I had a wee taste of the first batch I almost went weak at the knees - they taste soooooo good!! I know that these are going to make the most heavenly sorbet, but they would be divine as they are on good vanilla ice-cream, or dolloped on top of crumpets instead of jam, or used to fill a tart ... or just eat them straight out of the pan when no-one's watching.

I have plans to also roast some nectarines and some peaches this week, as I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to treat them exactly the same way. Will keep you posted on progress.

I made this jam, exactly according to the recipe and I will definitely make this again. There is absolutely nothing that I would change about this - it is probably the best apricot jam I think I've tasted for years. It is not too sweet and the set is just perfect - I think it's the lemon juice that helps on both these fronts. I ended up with about a dozen jars, and don't you just love my special labels I produced ....

I'm so excited I have been labelling everything in my pantry!! These are relatively inexpensive, and available in any quantity - even very small quantities (just half a dozen, or even just 1 or 2) if you want them. If you're interested in some labels of your own for your pantry ingredients or preserves send me your query via the "Contact Me" box on the sidebar of this blog. I know that's a little bit Martha, but then for someone who is obsessive about folding (my folding of fitted sheets is legendary), this should come as no surprise.

I hope this has inspired you to do something with all that beautiful summer fruit that's out there right now. Please leave me a comment and let me know what you've been doing with summer's bounty.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chocolate Panettone French Toast Sandwiches

Today is, believe it or not (and really how could you not), World Nutella Day! Three years ago Michelle at Bleeding Espresso and Sara at Ms. Adventures in Italy decided to give the celebration of Nutella its own special holiday, and World Nutella Day was born. To a Nutella lover, it seems incredibly fitting to me have a special day on which to totally indulge in this pleasure.

So, of course, a celebration brunch was called for! As I just happened to have a panettone (a gorgeous Italian fruit cake, which is frequently served at Xmas - refer Source Guide) sitting in the pantry, some Nutella french toast sandwiches seemed like a good idea.

First of all you need to make a nice eggy bath for your sandwiches, using free-range eggs, grated orange zest, orange juice, milk, and a dash of maple syrup or honey.

Next cut the panettone into thick slices, and spread half of the slices thickly (this is not the time for a "thin smear") with Nutella. Sandwich together and then give your sandwiches a nice soak in the egg mixture while you melt a bit of butter in a pan.

Once the pan is hot, add the sandwiches and brown on both sides. Serve immediately with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, and finish off with a sprinkling of crushed "Ferrero Rocher" chocolates on top.

Chocolate Panettone French Toast Sandwiches Recipe

6 thick slices of panettone, or other stale bread
2 free-range eggs
grated rind & juice of half an orange
1/4 cup milk
1-1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
lashings of Nutella
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
2 or 3 Ferrero Rocher chocolates, crushed

Put eggs, orange juice and zest, maple syrup and milk in a wide, shallow dish, and whisk lightly to combine. Set aside.

Spread Nutella on three of the panettone/bread slices. Spread as thickly as you can without breaking the bread. Place the other three bread slices on top to make sandwiches.

Drop butter into a frying pan, and set over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, put sandwiches into the egg bath, coating both sides separately. Once the pan is hot and the butter is melted, add the sandwiches to the pan, and cook until browned on both sides.

Remove to a serving plate. Place a dollop of mascarpone cheese on top and sprinkle with the crushed chocolates.


Do you have a favourite way to enjoy Nutella? - I'd love to hear about it.