Friday, 26 August 2011

Gorgonzola, serrano ham and fig flatbread pizza

It started out as a humble little flatbread with a couple of toppings.  But by the time I got home, the idea for it had turned into something more akin to a pizza - crammed with decadent toppings and a rich, slow roasted sauce on which to sit them.

I chose these ingredients because I love each of them individually, and because when combined they contrast beautifully and taste as vibrant and bright as they look.

The base sauce started out as a simple oven roasted tomato, olive oil and red onion blitz, but I fancied making it extra slinky with the addition of some mascarpone and this became the smooth and buttery orange base for the other toppings - it's an easy and useful sauce to know how to make because it can be used in all kinds of things from soups to pastas to gratins.

The natural inclination here might be to use basil as your herb of choice to finish the pizza off, and it would certainly taste splendid, but I want to hang onto the last vestiges of the summer a bit longer and the fragrant mint works with the figs to do just that - its fresh bright taste lifts the rich flavours of the pizza perfectly.

For 2/3 people

340g spelt flour (made up of half white and half wholemeal)
1 teaspoon yeast granules
1 cup of warm water
1 teaspoon of runny honey
4 ripe figs
150g gorgonzola, cut into strips
700g fresh tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
A handful of fresh mint leaves
A handful of stoned black olives
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt


- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
- Place your tomatoes and red onions into a roasting tin and give a liberal dousing of olive oil and grind of black pepper and little scrunch of salt, mix with your hands and place in the oven for 1hr 15mins - stirring them every fifteen minutes
Now onto the dough, which needs lots of extra flour on your work top to stop it from sticking
- Add 2 scrunches of salt, honey and the yeast to the cup of warm water and leave for 10 minutes
- In a mixing bowl place the flour and onion seeds, make a hole in the centre of the dough (reserving a bit for kneading) and pour the water in, then using your hands mix it all together until you've formed a ball of dough
- Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a couple of minutes, then place it into a floured bowl and cover with cling film for an hour
- When the tomatoes are done take them out and put into a food processor with the mascarpone cheese and blitz until smooth
- Take the dough out of the bowl and turn it out onto a floured surface and roll it out in one single piece, either round or square - depending on the shape and size of the baking sheet you'll be cooking it on
- Lay it onto a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 11 minutes. Remove it from the oven and now you're ready to add the toppings
- Pour as much of the sauce on as you need (I had extra left over) and use the back of a spoon to smooth it out to the edges of the flatbread
- Then drape on the serrano ham, gorgonzola and figs, give the figs a drizzle of olive oil and the dish a grind of black pepper and place back into the oven for 9 minutes
- After 9 minutes remove it from the oven and dot the olives over it along with the mint leaves and some more olive oil
- Cut into wedges and devour - drink of choice to accompany it is optional, though I had gin and it worked very nicely indeed

Monday, 22 August 2011

Crab cups

I so wanted crab rangoons tonight (who doesn't take pleasure in deep fried trashiness from time to time?) but after lots of hard work at the gym recently I'd have felt just too guilty if I'd indulged in those naughty parcels of tastiness.

But there'll be no tears before bedtime for me, because luckily I was surfing Tastespotting and up popped a great idea and dish substitute - I could get my crab in crispy coating fix without some of the fat induced guilt.

Using gyoza wrappers as the casing, they're simply placed into a lightly greased muffin tin then sprayed with a little oil and baked until crisp. Once done you can fill them full of all kinds of things - I chose a fresh and crunchy mix of crab meat, spring onion, minced ginger, lime juice, quark cheese, mint leaves, bean shoots and Japanese pepper.

The best thing about these is how easy they are to do, and I cant stress quite how simple they are - they were made and devoured within just 30 minutes. Plus they look so cute, so would be perfect as canapes at a dinner or drinks party - bake the skins off beforehand and pile them full of lots of different fillings before people come round - easy and impressive.

For 9 crab cups
100g white crab meat
3 tablespoons quark cheese
Juice of half a lime
A small pinch of chopped fresh coriander
Half a teaspoon minced ginger
1 spring onion
A handful of fresh bean sprouts 
9 gyoza skins
Spray cooking oil
Japanese pepper
A scrunch of sea salt

- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees
- Spray your muffin tin and place in the gyoza wrappers into the indentations, then spray the gyoza skins with the oil and sprinkle them with salt. Bake until turning golden - this should take around 10 minutes)
- Combine the remaining ingredients (apart from the Japanese pepper and mint leaves) in a bowl and set aside
- Remove the shells from the oven once done and leave to cool for 5 minutes
- Pile the filling into the shells and top with the mint leaves and Japanese pepper
- Job done

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Vietnamese style noodle salad with crab and candied star anise peanuts

It certainly doesn't feel like the summer's over round my gaff. At 24 degrees it's just delightful in the garden this afternoon. Perfect place for a lunch that allows me to indulge my love of Vietnamese food.

As a hardcore noodle addict I use to worry about the summer and my noodle eating - what would I do when it got too hot to indulge in broth based slinky noodle creations? How would I get my much needed fix? Well, the Vietnamese do it with aplomb, and their bun salad (no baked goods included) allows me to enjoy my much loved noodles nice and chilled and super tasty.

This isn't a strictly authentic version but it is very close, and if you're into all things oriental then you'll hopefully love it all the same.

The candied nuts are really delicious. I'm off chilies still but using the star anise powder (or five spice if you can't find it) really does bring the Asian vibe to them deliciously. The quantities in this recipe will make more than you need for the dish, but they make a great snack to enjoy with a beer so won't go to waste.

For two:
As many medium thickness rice noodles as you'll eat (I use one broad sheet for two here) made up as per the pack instructions and sat waiting in cold water
200g white crab meat
2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and finely grated
A handful of mint leaves
A handful of coriander leaves
3 tablespoons palm sugar - grated
1 large knob of ginger, finely grated or minced
Juice of two limes
150g salted peanuts
Half a teaspoon ground star anise powder (and if you cant get it from your Asian supermarket then use 5 spice instead)
A generous scrunch of sea salt
30mls water
75g white sugar

- Start with the peanuts, place the nuts, sugar and water into a small pan and cook on a lowish heat. The process takes around 15 minutes - basically cook the peanuts keeping stirring them until the sugar water reduces right down and you get a granular sandy texture (as in the pic) this is normal and keep going, stirring all the time, basically they'll get darker and darker and go from being dry and sandy back to being golden and liquid. When you've got a good dark caramel colour over them add your scrunch of salt (I like salt so the double helping from the nuts and this is good, balances well with the sugar) and your star anise or five spice powder, stir through and then pour out of the pan onto a baking sheet - leave there to cool
- In a large bowl place the grated carrot, then the noodles - now combine them with your hands, pulling the noodles up and mixing the carrot through it - this salad really does need to be done by hand, much easier
- Into a bowl place the grated ginger, lime juice and palm sugar and mix with a fork. Now using your hands flake the crab meat into this mix - its also a good idea to do this because if you feel any shell you can get rid of it before eating
- Pour the crab and dressing mix over the noodles, then add the mint, coriander and spring onion and same as before, mix the ingredients together with your hands until its all combined
- Place into bowls ready for eating, top with the candied nuts and top with some extra fresh mint leaves. Devour

Monday, 8 August 2011

Sundried heritage tomato, roasted yellow courgette and taleggio galette

Perks of the job like this are something I'll definitely miss. Not many work places give you access to delicious ingredients you might otherwise find difficult to get hold of.

Before now I've had fantastic crab, fish and wines (not to mention non edible treats such as serving dishes and glam light fittings) but the second I saw the heritage tomatoes make an appearance on the menu I knew I'd have to get myself a kilo.

I love how irregular and multi coloured they are, pretty and unusual and entirely unlike anything you could buy in our supermarkets. But it aint all about good looks, they taste fantastic too.

I was supposed to make this galette over the weekend, but had a bit of an encounter with a bee sting in my mouth, resulting in anaphylaxis and stint on a drip in QMC (it's all high drama with me y'know) so tonight is the first time I've had chance.

The amazing yellow globe courgettes came from my good friend Zoe, she (well, her dad) grew them and kindly passed them on to me. I've kept one to stuff it with tasty things, but the creamy yellow discs of the other two I decided would complement the sun dried tomatoes and salty taleggio cheese beautifully.

A galette seems to have a number of definitions. Sometimes made with a bread-like dough, sometimes with a pastry, the contents can be filling or savoury but the the wonderful thing about it is its rusticity. No pie dish? No problem - simply pile in the fillings and crimp up the edges. Et voila.

In fact, it's so easy you'd be able to whip one up as an impressive dinner party starter no problem. And the filling ideas are endless, expect a crab and pumpkin related combination soon...

For four:
750g heritage tomatoes
100g finely grated pecorino cheese
2 globe courgettes, sliced in rounds around 4mm thick
1 pack of shop bought shortcrust pastry - taken out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you need it
350g taleggio cheese, diced or in slices
A handful fresh marjoram
500mls extra virgin olive oil
Full fat milk for brushing the pastry with
Sea salt and black pepper
A little plain flour for dusting

Start with making the sundried tomatoes

- Cut the tomatoes up into a mixture of quarters lenghth ways and simple slices - it all depends on the haul you end up with as to what would look best - it's some variety you're after
- Preheat the oven to 100 degrees and lay the tomatoes onto a non stick baking sheet and bake for 2 hours
- Remove and place them into a bowl, add a generous scrunch of salt and grind of pepper, and then drizzle them in extra virgin olive oil - enough to cover them. Set aside (they'll keep several days under the oil if you want to make them in advance)

Now onto the galette
- Preheat your oven to 190 degrees, brush a baking sheet with olive oil and lay the sliced courgettes onto it side by side (not overlapping) you may need to do this over a few sheets to fit them all on
- Brush the tops of all the courgettes now and give a grind of black pepper (no salt as the cheese is salty enough)
- Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes or until they've started turning golden at the edges - you don't
- Just before they're ready to take out of the oven, roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured surface until its around 5mm thick - don't worry about the edges being ragged, you'll be folding them in anyway
- Take the courgettes from the oven and move them with a fish slice to a plate, then re oil the base of the baking sheet and drape the pastry onto it
- Lay the taleggio chunks or slices straight onto the pastry (leaving nearly an inch border at the sides), then top with layers of the courgettes until it's completely covered, followed by the heritage tomatoes (I chose a pattern but it really doesn't matter)
- Bring the edges in to form a crust, and then brush the pastry with milk
- Bake for 30 minutes before removing and sprinkling on the grated pecorino, then put it back into the oven for 15 minutes
- Once ready, remove from the oven, drizzle with some of the oil that the tomatoes were covered in and give a sprinkling of the marjoram and a little scrunch of salt
- Eat (chablis went beautifully but another rounded or crisp white would be great also)