Thursday, June 05, 2008

Smart Thrift

This may be just stuffed pancakes to you and me, but given the Italian name don't you think it will impress guests just that little bit more? And for no further cost.
Frittatine: serves 6
4 eggs
2 tblsp water
salt and pepper
handful chives, finely chopped
tblsp chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 oz (50g) finely grated hard cheese of your choice
25og tub ricotta cheese
fresh basil leaves
2 oz (50g) finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Beat the eggs with the water and season to taste. Stir in the herbs and the grated hard cheese.
Heat an omelette pan (9"/23cm) and pour in a little oil. When hot pour in quarter of the mixture (about a ladleful) and tilt the pan so the egg covers the base. Cook until just firm. Flip over to cook the other side (or you could leave it over a lower heat until the top is quite dry). Slide onto a warm plate and keep warm while the remaining egg is used up. Aim for at least three omelettes, adding more oil to the pan each time.
Mix together the ricotta with the Parmesan, season with pepper and add some torn basil leaves. Spread this over each omelette then roll each up, fairly loosely, like a Swiss roll. Cut each into thick slices at least an inch deep. Stand, cut side up on a plate and cover with cling film. These can be kept chilled for up to five hours before serving.
variations: add chopped sun-dried tomatoes to the ricotta filling. Or use cream cheese and smoked salmon trimmings.

Another summery dish is made with canned salmon. For party presentation it could be made in a loaf tin, or served in individual small ramekin dishes for the personal touch. Again not expensive, but looks and tastes very good. If you prefer this with a little more 'bite' add a tsp or so of horseradish sauce. As the salmon is bland, you could be fairly generous with the pepper, but whatever you choose to add, begin with a little, taste then add more if you wish.
Salmon Pate: serves 6 or more
approx 8 oz (225g) can salmon, drained
8 oz (225g) cream cheese
one third cucumber, de-seeded and finely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
Mash the ingredients together and pile into a cling-film lined small loaf tin (or directly into individual ramekin dishes - lined only if you wish to remove the pate from the dishes). Press down, cover and chill for at least an hour. Serve garnished with sliced cucumber and with Melba toast or cheese biscuits.

This next is a great family dish as certainly children like the pick 'n mix presentation and this would be a very good dish for a children's party. Made with those packs of cheap noodles mentioned recently, a small amount of carrot and cucumber (the presentation of these making it look a lot more than it is), and the chicken coated in crushed crisps because - when you think of it - these contain enough oil to save greasing the pan. Feel free to use ordinary breadcrumbs (or cornflakes) if you prefer. Good chicken breasts come with a finger of fillet at the back of each, cut these off and freeze until you have a goodly number. These are perfect for this dish. Recipes for hoisin and hoisin type sauces have been given recently, as have barbecue sauces some time back.
Never being able to manage chopsticks very well, I now use the 'child-friendly' ones that are joined at the top.
Help Yourself Asian Style: serves 4
8 chicken fillets
1 egg, beaten
1 small pack plain potato crisps, crushed
200g pack Chinese noodles
1 tblsp olive oil
2 - 3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
1 large carrot
half cucumber
few string beans, cut in half OR...
...few sugar snap or mange tout peas
hoisin or barbecue sauce
If the chicken fillets are chunky they can be cut in half lengthwise, alternatively bash slightly thinner and cut in half across (this is just to make them look more). Dip into the egg and then into the crisps (if not enough crisps add some dried or stale breadcrumbs). Place on a baking sheet (grease this if using breadcrumbs only), and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15 - 20 minutes or until cooked through.
While these are baking, cook the noodles as per instructions on the packet - adding the flavour sachet if you wish. Drain, toss with the oil and add the spring onions. Set to one side.
Using a potato or vegetable peeler, shave the carrot and cucumber into thin ribbons. Put the chosen sauce in a bowl ready for dipping. Blanch the beans and peas in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Drain.
To serve, put the bowl of dipping sauce on a large plate and surround this with piles of noodles, cucumber, carrot, peas and the cooked chicken. Let everyone help themselves using chopsticks for forks.

This next recipe is an up-market version of 'chilled soup'. A wonderful dish to make when you grow your own tomatoes (these can be frozen so it could be made now if you have some of last year's crop in the freezer). I would even go as far as to say it could be made with a can of good quality plum tomatoes, as these do have an excellent flavour.
When making anything to be eaten frozen (ice-cream, granita, sorbet) always over-season or over-flavour as freezing makes the food taste much blander. As I edit this a thought came to mind, so am adding this extra thought: why not make a Bloody Mary Granita (use vodka instead of the vinegar and a dash of Worcestershire sauce - omitting the basil)?
Pomodoro Granita: a starter for 10
a good 2 lb (1kg) ripe tomatoes
1 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
freshly ground black pepper
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
10 basil leaves (no stems). roughly torn
Chop the tomatoes and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Cover and chill overnight to allow the flavours to develop. Next day put into a blender or food processor and blitz (may need doing in small batches), then sieve, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Place in a shallow freezer proof container and freeze until frozen round the edges but softer in the centre. Fork sides to middle, then return to freezer for one hour and repeat the forking thorough and freezing until it is the texture of snow and fully frozen. Cover and leave in the freezer until ready for serving in individual glasses.
Tip:.A time-saving way is to freeze the sieved mixture in ice-cube trays. When needed for serving, put the solid frozen cubes in a food processor and give them a quick blitz and serve immediately. This will be a bit softer, but still eats well. Alternatively, put the blitzed mix back into the freezer for an hour, fork up and serve.

A sorbet is made the same way as granita, except these are churned rather than being forked up. But as much depends upon the ingredients, forking a little bit more often might work just as well. So for anyone who has dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids) in the cupboard, this could make a rather special dessert.
Deeply Delicious Chocolate Sorbet: serves 8 (F)
9 oz (250g) sugar
1 pint (600ml) water
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 tblsp cocoa powder
pouring cream
Put the sugar and water into a pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until syrupy.
Put the chocolate and cocoa into a bowl and add a little of the hot syrup. Stir to begin melting the chocolate and add a little more syrup, keeping stirring until all the chocolate has melted, all the syrup added and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to get cold.
Churn the mixture in an ice-cream machine for half an hour until frozen OR treat in the same way as granita, freezing in a shallow container and forking up every hour or so to break up into ice crystals, the more forking, the finer the crystals.
Serve in individual glasses with pouring cream served separately. Also good with a little strawberry or raspberry puree poured over and one or two fresh fruits on top as a garnish.
variations: add a little instant coffee (to taste) to the water to give a Mocha flavour. Or add orange zest and use orange juice to dissolve the sugar to give - an orange flavour. Mint also goes well with chocolate so add a few drops of peppermint essence to the water and garnish with a sprig of mint. For a more adult taste stir in a teaspoon of Tia Maria to the cooling Mocha sorbet; an orange liqueur to the orange flavour. Creme do Menthe to the mint. Always remember - alcohol itself does not freeze, so a liqueur will tend to make ice-cream softer, and granita/sorbets will melt much more quickly when any has been added. A good tip (if you have freezer space) is to dish up in advance then keep in the freezer ready to serve straight to table.

Even serving a simple and inexpensive dish - such as my home-made soft-scoop ice-cream - can be lifted to higher levels with the right sort of garnish. When you feel like having a play, take a swivel potato or vegetable peeler and drag this across a bar of room-temperature dark chocolate to make chocolate curls (easier to make on a warm day - or give the chocolate bar a couple of seconds blast in the microwave to soften slightly). These rolls keep perfectly when layered between kitchen paper (just to prevent them breaking) and stored in a container in a cool place. For an even more impressive effect, melt some dark and white chocolate. Spoon the dark chocolate over parchment paper and add blobs of white chocolate, dragging the white chocolate through the dark to give a ripple effect. Smooth thinly, then when just set, cut into triangles (or whatever shapes you want) and leave to set firmly. It is easy to remove chocolate from paper if you drag the paper to the edge of the table, then fold the end down to point to the floor, as you pull this down the chocolate keeps moving forward freeing itself from the paper as it reaches past the table edge. Just make sure you catch it before it falls off. This removal tip also works well when chocolate has been drizzling into a mesh pattern (anything pattern with holes makes the chocolate go much further).