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Hey Pesto – Brilliant and Vibrantly Simple Salad

Introduction:

This is a stunning yet simple salad that can lighten up any barbecue and guarantee to wow your guests; it’s even better if you’ve been assigned to ‘bring a salad’ and you rock up with this. The beauty is in its simplicity, if quality ingredients are used. I have made this a few times and the platter it has been served on has almost been licked clean every time.

The design of the salad began with a star ingredient, in this case pesto. Every pesto I make is slightly different, based on how I’m feeling: toasted or natural pine nuts for more or less nuttiness; varying levels of Parmesan (Reggiano) or Pecorino (if I want a lighter flavour), 1 or 2 cloves of garlic depending on whether I want a big garlicky bite or something more subtle; and more olive oil for a wetter finish or less for something more paste-like. Regardless, fresh, vibrantly green and highly floral basil is essential. If I can’t find that I don’t make pesto. Where times permit I manually grind the ingredients in a mortar and pestle. For other times I use a food processor, with great results.

Pesto has a slight acidity from the Parmesan/ Pecorino so in creating this salad I wanted to introduce more. Roll out the red carpet and royally welcome some ripe, umami rich tomatoes and a piquant raspberry vinegar. The bite and acidity is then beautifully contrasted with cucumber and a soft milky buffalo cheese or a sheep’s milk based bocconcini. And finally, the star pesto is drizzled on top.

 

Serves: A few as an accompaniment   |   Preparation: 10-20* minutes   | Cooking time: n/a

*Dependent on how you make the pesto.

 

I am not going to provide exact measurements here as there are none. Play around with the quantities of the following ingredients until you’ve hit your flavour nirvana.

 

Ingredients:

Ripe, sweet and tasty tomatoes | Ripe tomatoes are essential and must be at room temperature.
Raspberry vinegar | Or a good aged red vinegar.
Lebanese cucumber |
Extra virgin olive oil | Light and fruit works well.
Seasoning – sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper |
Drained bocconcini or buffalo milk cheese |

A portion of homemade pesto Pesto recipe here. This one contains Pecorino, but Parmesan (Reggiano) should be used for a pesto with a little more bite, as I do with this salad.

 

Method:

Remove the core of the tomatoes (the hard bit at the top of the tomato) and then slice in to 1 cm slices, cutting across the tomato to reveal the tomato’s natural pattern. Lay out on a platter/ plate and drizzle over a little raspberry vinegar (or similar). Slice the Lebanese cucumber and lay over the tomato. Drizzle with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Roughly slice the cheese and spread over the cucumber. Finally drizzle over a good quantity of pesto – enough so it becomes very friendly with the ingredients below, but not too much that a nuptial ceremony occurs.

Enjoy.

 

Notes:

Any left-over pesto can be whacked in to some hot pasta (penne is good) with pan-fried bite-sized chicken breast pieces, semi-dried tomatoes and some little young spinach leaves.

Côte d’Ivoire – Diombre

Football:

I can’t start talking about the Côte d’Ivoire without mentioning the two players that are expected to take this nation to the second round of the World Cup and beyond: Yaya Toure and the ageing but still incredibly influential Didier Drogba. Yaya was the driving force behind Manchester City’s English Premier League title, which they won last month. If you ever watch him play you will see a powerful and skillful player that makes passing a ball look effortless. I very rarely see a pass go astray, which I am sad to say looks like a dying art these days. As for Didier Drogba; Chelsea fans still bask in the days when he was a formidable predator with his quick and effective style and potent scoring touch. He may be getting on in football years but he is still a major influence.

The Côte d’Ivoire has qualified for the last two World Cups but has yet to make it out of the group stage. It has started this campaign really well by coming from behind to beat Japan 2-1. Struggling to get a grip in the game and losing 1-0, Drogba came on as a substitute and the team seemed to be given a huge lift. Within 5 minutes it was 2-1 up. Its next game will be a tough one against Columbia, which I reckon will be an end to end game with an onion bag full of goals.

 

Dish:

I have learnt so much about African food in the last couple of weeks, from the fermented rice cakes from Nigeria to the ponkie (pumpkin) stew from Ghana. The hard part has been selecting which dish to cook for each country. The Côte d’Ivoire is no exception with dishes such as futu (meat, dried fish and okra stew), atieke (cassava with meat and vegetable sauce) and the one I have cooked for the World Cup, Diombre.

Diombre is a meat and tomato stew which has the key ingredient of crushed okra. The crushed okra when rehydrated in the tomato sauce gives the stew a mildly mucilaginous texture, the kind that fresh okra is known for. It’s important to use a good cut of meat as the stew is cooked fairly quickly, and a cheaper cut of meat will be tough.

Diombre is usually served with fufu, a savoury pudding-like carbohydrate which is commonly eaten throughout Africa. It’s pretty much made from yam or cassava flour, and water. I couldn’t find the right flour in time for this post, so I served it with steamed rice, which works really well.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 10 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

500g Rump steak | Trimmed of fat cut in to 1 cm cubes.
1 tsp. Sea salt |
2 sprigs Thyme |
3 tbsp. Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil.
1 Brown onion | Diced.
1 tbsp. Tomato purée |
3 medium Ripe tomatoes | Diced.
1 tsp. Chilli powder |
50g Butter | Cubed.
1 sprig Thyme | Leaves only.
20g Dried okra | Crushed in a mortar. Can be bought or *See below for how to make it.
Seasoning Sea salt |

 

How to:

Add about a litre of water to a medium saucepan. Add the rump steak, teaspoon of salt and two thyme sprigs and bring the water to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the meat discarding the thyme and water. In a deep frying pan or heavy casserole dish heat the grapeseed oil over a medium heat and add the meat. Fry until browned and then add the onion and fry for a further two minutes, stirring to prevent the onion from burning. Add the tomato purée, stir, and then add the diced tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes and then add the butter, chilli powder, thyme leaves, dried okra and seasoning. Cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes over a low heat.

Serve with fufu, cassava or boiled rice.

* To make your own dried okra: Take 300g of fresh okra, top and tail each piece. Slice each okra ‘finger’ into long strips and blanch in boiling water for a minute. Drain and then lay out on two baking sheets lined with baking paper. Put in a 70°C (160°F) oven for 12 hours. Put the dried okra in a mortar and pestle and grind to a powder. This will yield about 20g of okra powder.

 

Algeria – Shakhshūkha

Football:

The World Cup is hotting up now and with only a few hours to Algeria’s first game it seems appropriate to be writing about it now. 1982 was its debut in the World Cup, you know the one I keep harping on about was my first one; but it was a great World Cup. Algeria made a sensational impact in the first game by beating West Germany 2-1; but the group ended with real controversy and outrage by many. Both West Germany and Austria knew that if the Germans won by 1 or 2 goals then both teams would go through, ousting Algeria. If West Germany won by more than two goals, it and Algeria would go through. West Germany scored early on and then both teams just kicked the ball around with no intention of attacking. The result remained and Algeria was on its way home. This display of unsportsman-like behaviour was condemned by the world of football, including West German and Austrian fans. After this it was decided that all final games in each group be played simultaneously.

Algeria is up against the much fancied Belgium first off and will be tested to the max. Algeria does have quite an all-action tenacious style and could well prove stiff opposition. The central cog in the team is midfielder Saphir Sliti Taïder who will be looking to release the three attack minded players Sofiane Feghouli, El Arbi Hillel Soudani and Islam Slimani. It would be great if Algeria could make the second round for the first time in their history, and put a little of 1982 to rest.

 

The Dish: 

When I think of North African cuisine I think of the aromatic fragrances of caraway, cumin, coriander and saffron intermingled with cinnamon, parsley, chilli and nutmeg. The cuisine of Algeria epitomises the culinary magic of this part of the world; characterised by its European and Arabic influence. It is believed that salads, soups and some desserts were from the European influence whereas the foods barrāniyya, couscous, and skewered meat and vegetables were inherited from the Arabs, Berbers, and Turks.

Shakhshūkha is a classic Algerian dish said to have derived from the Turkish dish şakşuka, and is my chosen dish for Algeria. It has cumin, coriander, thyme, parsley and a hint of hot cayenne in a tomato and red and yellow pepper (capsicum) sauce. The highlight though is the baked eggs within; cooked until just set giving the shakhshūkha a gorgeous and unctuous finish. I have completed the dish with a sprinkling of fresh coriander and feta, which is strictly not Algerian, but does complement it wonderfully.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1½ tsp. Cumin seeds |
150ml Olive oil |
2 Onions | Peeled and sliced.
2 Red peppers (capsicum) | Cored, deseeded and sliced in to thin strips.
2 Yellow peppers (capsicum) | Cored, deseeded and sliced in to thin strips.
4 tsp. Dark muscovado sugar |
2 Fresh bay leaves |
6 Sprigs Thyme | Leaves only.
Handful Flat leaf parsley | Well washed and chopped.
Bunch Coriander | Well washed and chopped.
800g Ripe tomatoes | Diced.
Pinch Saffron strands |
¼ tsp. Hot Cayenne pepper |
Seasoning Sea salt and black pepper |
As required Hot water |
8 Free range eggs |
120g Fetta cheese |

 

How To:

Heat a large heavy based pan on a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast for a few seconds until fragrant and slightly browned. Add the olive oil and onions and sauté for about 2-3 minutes to achieve a little browning. Add the red peppers, yellow peppers, muscovado sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and ¾ of the coriander. Turn the heat to high and cook the peppers and onions until they attain a nice colour – about 3 minutes or so.

Add the tomatoes, saffron strands, Cayenne pepper and seasoning and bring to the boil whilst stirring. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-22 minutes. If at any point the sauce looks dry add a little hot water to moisten. The consistency should be similar to a pasta sauce.

Create 8 evenly spread gaps in the sauce and break an egg in to each. Cover the pan and over low heat gently cook until the eggs have just set. This can take anywhere between 8 and 12 minutes.

When the eggs are cooked crumble over the feta cheese and sprinkle on the remaining coriander. Serve in the middle of a table in the pan with crusty white bread.

Note: The sauce can be prepared in advance.

 

Garlicky Tomato and Fennel Gratin

Introduction:

Did you know that the term gratin originally referred to the crust that adhered to the cooking receptacle and was scraped off? Its derivation is from the French word gratté which means scraped or scratched.

Now a gratin is more commonly referred to when describing the  golden crust that forms on the surface of a dish when it is browned in the oven or put under a grill. A gratin is also associated with toppings of cheese, breadcrumbs or egg and breadcrumbs. As a method it’s a great way to protect the food underneath the crust from overcooking or drying out, whilst creating an intense flavour, and sometimes crunchy texture, on top.

This gratin is a French classic (although it wouldn’t look out of place in Italy) using the combination of ripened tomatoes, the wonderfully aniseed-like fennel and of course being of Gallic origin, garlic. It is topped off with a crunchy and cheesy topping which wowed my other half and two ankle biters.

 

Serves: 4 as a side or 2 as a main.   |   Preparation:  20 minutes   |   Cooking: 35 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the filling:    
1kg Fennel bulbs | Note that the total yield of fennel will be less once the core, stems and outer layer have been removed.
1 Large Red onion | Thinly sliced.
½kg Ripened tomatoes | Use nice ripe tomatoes such as a Roma or a  beefsteak tomato. No need to use heirloom or anything similarly luxuriant.
2 cloves Garlic | Crushed.
4 tbsp.  Olive oil |

For the topping:    
60g Coarse bread crumbs | I make my own. For this recipe I used multigrain bread blitzed in a food processor until the breadcrumbs were coarse. White bread can be used.
70g Grana Padano cheese | This cheese is not as strong as Reggiano Parmesan, but still adds a strong bitey edge to the topping. Ensure that it is made in Italy if you want great flavour.
1 small lemon Lemon zest | Grated.
1 clove Garlic | Crushed.

 

 

How To:

Preheat your oven to 200 deg. C (400 deg. F). Put the kettle on to boil. Take a 21 cm square gratin dish and grease it with butter or olive oil.

To prepare the fennel remove the stems, fronds and any tired looking outer layers. Remove any tough core at the bottom of the fennel bulb. Cut the fennel length ways and then thinly slice.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a low to medium heat. Add the onion and soften for about 4 or 5 minutes. It’s important not to brown the onion as browning will impart a deep caramelised flavour that doesn’t work with this dish. Now add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the fennel and cook this until it has softened and has taken on a golden hue. This should take about 7 to 10 minutes.

The kettle should have boiled by now. Take the tomatoes and carefully score the bases with a cross. I do this with a small sharp paring knife. Put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour over the hot water from the kettle. Leave for about 25 seconds and then remove the tomatoes carefully and plunge them into a bowl of cold water (with ice). If the tomatoes were ripe the skins will be gagging to be removed. Peel the tomatoes, roughly chop them and add them to the fennel and onion. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft. Season and taste; as French chefs will tell you “taste, taste, taste!”

For the topping add the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, lemon zest and crushed garlic to a bowl. Mix with that fine tool they call the hand.

Line the gratin dish with the cooked vegetables and evenly sprinkle the gratin topping over them. Put the gratin in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the topping looks golden brown (easier to see with white breadcrumbs) and has a crispy texture. Serve immediately. Bon appétit!

 

Notes:

–        I served this with a pan fried pork loin chops (these have the characteristic T-bone shape).

Tomato Water

Introduction:

This is seriously going to dazzle your taste buds. That little world-wide member of the nightshade supporters club, the multi-talented tomato makes an appearance as what most would see as a little understated and almost invisible. What we are going to do is blitz him (or her) to a pulp with a little herb and some salt and then leave him alone for a few hours in a cold place to deliver some seriously delicious juice. We’re going turn that bright red ripened fruit into a clear water-like liquid.

This will be the most rounded and balanced tomato flavour you will have had the chance to get those umami taste buds of yours around. Why?

Firstly, this ripe, sweet and tart fruit is considered by most to be a vegetable because of its savoury taste. Tomatoes have uniquely high levels of glutamic acid and sulphur compounds. These savoury chemicals are usually found in meat rather than fruit, and are the reason that tomatoes pair so well with meat dishes and add fantastic depth and complexity to sauces.

Secondly, a tomato, by anatomy, consists of a cuticle (the skin), the fruit wall, a semi-liquid jelly covering the seeds and the pith (the central part). The amino acids (such as glutamic acid) and sugars are mainly in the wall of the tomato. The acidity concentration is highest in the liquid jelly. The aroma compounds in a tomato are mainly in the cuticle and wall. When one removes the jelly, seeds, pith and cuticle of the tomato to cook, what’s remaining is a high concentration of sugar and savouriness. This unbalances the flavour of the tomato leading to a sweeter result that sacrifices the acidity (malic and citric acid) and aroma. The latest research from Reading University in England has indicated that there are also high levels of glutamic acid in the seeds, so by discarding those we are also losing some of the savouriness.

When tomatoes are cooked down to a sauce they gain some flavour notes, such as violet and lavender. This is as result of a breakdown of the carotenoid pigment (the pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour). However, cooking also removes some of those ‘green’ fresh notes – you know the smell you get from tomato leaf.

This here tomato water then keeps the integrity of that tomato intact – What we are doing is slowly extracting the savouriness (the glutamic acid), the sweetness and the acidity, and keeping that wonderful freshness. And slowly is the key. Give it a go; I promise that if you’re in to tomatoes then you’ll be amazed.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation:  10 minutes  |   Cooking: Resting – 6 hours

 

Ingredients:

1.2 kg Ripened Tomatoes | Ripened Roma or truss tomatoes are great. Cut in to quarters.
5g Basil leaves | Freshly picked.
1 tbsp. Sea salt | I’m a Maldon fan.
½ sprig Thyme leaves | A few fresh leaves from about half a sprig.

 

 

How To:

Add the tomatoes, basil, sea salt and thyme leaves to a food processor and blitz until the tomatoes are very finely chopped.

Line a fine meshed sieve with a double layer of muslin or cheese cloth. Put the sieve over a large bowl, ensuring it will fit in your fridge! Put the finely chopped tomato mixture into the sieve and leave to rest in the fridge for about 6 hours. Do not be tempted to apply any pressure to the tomato mixture to speed up the process; you will end up with a cloudy liquid.

After 6 hours you will have some umami popping decadent tomato water.

Notes:

  • I use this tomato water in my gazpacho cappuccino shooter (which will be up on Duck and Roses soon). However, it’s ideal served as a consommé with small pieces of seafood or greens such as peas or baby fava beans (a Michel Roux idea).
  • This consommé can be warmed, but to no greater than 70 deg C (158 deg F) or else it will go cloudy.
  • Tomatoes and the fridge? Although this recipe requires standing in the fridge, keep tomatoes at room temperature when storing. They originate from warm climates (although I have never understood their hardiness in an Englishman’s greenhouse) and thus do not like to be stored in the cold. Green tomatoes will lose their freshness if stored in the fridge. Ripe tomatoes are not as sensitive but do lose flavour due to the slowing down of flavour enzyme activity. Some of this flavour can be restored in cold-stored ripened tomatoes if they are brought back up to room temperature.

 

 

…Dinner for 8 – Insanely Great

The title says it all. What an absolutely insanely great success the dinner party was on Saturday night. There were many factors that contributed to this. The company of course (for anyone that went and is reading this 🙂 ) was fervent and lively with an appreciation for food, life and of course liquid refreshment. There was an eclectic mix of music ranging from some golden oldies to up-to-the-minute dance and pop tunes. The mix of pinot grigio, shiraz, champagne, beer and stickies (dessert wines) meant that this was more of a sit down, stand up, dance around, sit down kind of dinner party. But of course for the two chefs of the night it was a wonderful mix of team work and skill to deliver the seven courses on time and wonderfully presented, whilst also being able to sit down and enjoy them. I have to say that towards the end trying to present became a little precarious as the jumping grape and carbonated hops were taking effect, but nonetheless all was great.

To backtrack a little, the success of the dinner party was down to careful planning and a couple of days of mis-en-place. The first elements were the stocks; in this case lamb stock and chicken stock. These were made first, as a lamb stock for example takes about 5-6 hours to prepare. Then you have things like preparing sauces, the base for the dessert, sorbet, and other components that can sit in a fridge or freezer for a day or so. The real fun bits were some of the creative elements. For example, I played around with the idea of a tomato based shooter which I can tell you morphed from gazpacho jelly spheres suspended in a thickened tomato water through to a gazpacho sorbet with tomato foam. I really love playing around with things like this, and was extremely happy with the final version.

 

Tomato Cappucino Shooter

Tomato Cappucino Shooter

 

Irene (the co-chef) played around with elements of the starter which she had invented; a magnificent and stunning looking pepper (capsicum) lasagne. Also, there was sugar work going on, ganache being made, lamb being marinated, vegetables prepared, chestnuts being peeled (which I have to say is the most painful and laborious of all the preparation), mousse being set, racks and racks of dishes being washed and much toing and froing across the street from one kitchen to another.

 

Mushroom Soup and Truffle Oil

Mushroom Soup and Truffle Oil

 

As a team we worked incredibly well, and because everything was planned there was no stress or pressure whatsoever; even through service everything just seemed to run a like a finely tuned Swiss watch.

So here is the final menu from the night:

Bite Sized Aperitifs

Slow cooked salt marinated pork

Porcini mushroom soup with marscapone, truffle oil and croutons served in espresso cups

(to drink: Sieur d’Arques Grande Cuvée 1531 de Aimery)

Soba noodles with sesame oil and salmon roe served on spoons

(To drink: Asahi beer)

 

Entrée

3 colour pepper (capsicum) lasagne with candied smoked pancetta crisp, yellow pepper puree and parsley oil.

(To drink: Tar & Roses Pinot Grigio)

 

Refresher

Chilled tomato cappuccino: gazpacho sorbet with Smirnoff topped with tomato water foam and smoky paprika, served in a shot glass.

 

Main

Lamb shanks marinated venison style with redcurrant sauce and Jerusalem artichoke puree, braised chestnuts with double smoked Kaiserfleisch lardons, braised baby onions, peas and broad beans, and pea mousse.

(To drink: Tar and Roses Heathcote Shiraz)

 

Dessert

Chocolate ganache delice and praline crunch with raspberry coulis, raspberry vinegar marinated raspberries, black pepper sugar decorations and a caramel and crackle surprise.

(To drink: in a true un-sommelier type fashion I don’t have the name other than ‘dessert wine’ – however, at this point I think we were all not too fussed what the name was)

I will start to post recipes on the blog over the next couple of weeks. I hope it can provide you with inspiration and ideas. Ps. Sunday was a rather slow day.