Monday, November 10, 2008

Using and Improving

This next recipe is cross between a quiche, tart and pizza, in that it has all the makings, or at least part of, and hope you like the name I have chosen for this dish as it combines all. This is a way to use up tomatoes that are going a bit squidgy, and also some basil that has just about come to the end of its life on the windowsill. Ideally, make your own semi-dried by slicing tomatoes and part-drying them off in the oven - this saves buying the more expensive ones in jars. The base is puff pastry, but at a pinch a proper (dough) pizza base could be used instead, just punch the inner part down once the dough has rinsen, leaving a risen rim around the edge to contain the fillings. The mascarpone cheese could just as easily be ricotta, or sieved cottage cheese, or your own home-made yogurt cheese. If you have no parmesan, then grate down bits of cheddar or other firm cheese that have been left to go rock hard in the fridge. Worth making more pesto, as the surplus can be stored in an airtight container - , keeping the surface covered with oil - and will keep for up to a month in the fridge. See no reason why it couldn't also be frozen.
Tomato Quizzart: serves 4
3 oz (75g) semi-dried tomatoes, chopped
3 tblsp olive oil
1 small clove garlic, peeled and chopped
small handful basil leaves
1 x 500g pack puff pastry
1 x 250g (9 0z) tub mascarpone cheese
2 oz (50g) grated parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks
8 large tomatoes, sliced
First make a pesto by putting the semi-dried tomatoes, oil, garlic, basil and pine nuts into a food processor, and blitz to a puree.
For individual servings, cut the pastry in half and roll out each into oblongs 6" x 12" (approx 15 x 30cm) the idea being that two 6" (15cm) circles can be cut from each, making four in total. Note: if you wish to avoid having scraps leftover, cut squares instead of circles, or make one large base to be cut up and shared after cooking. With the latter suggestion, you may not need all the pastry and have some left over to make cheese straws or something else.
Score a line 3/4" (2cm) in from the edge of each pastry. Mix the pesto with both cheeses and the egg yolks. Spread this mixture over the pastry, keeping it within the scored lines, then lay the slice of tomatoes on top. Bake at 190, 375F, gas 5 for 35 - 40 mins or until the pastry is crispy and the tomatoes softened and lightly charred.

quick tips to add more flavour:
Toasting seeds and nuts releases far more flavour and also add more colour to a dish. Just about any nut or seed can be toasted by either spreading out on a baking sheet to brown under a medium grill, or dry-fry in a non-stick frying pan. Either way, keep an eye on them and move them around so they toast evenly.

Add flavour to home-made breadcrumbs by blitzing with lemon zest and a herb (sage, thyme or parsley). Or make another batch with lime zest and desiccated coconut. To other crumbs add a touch of paprika pepper or a mild curry powder. Bag up, freeze, then they are ready to use when coating fish or chicken, or even to use when making a stuffing.

Make a small amount of meat go further by cooking it with pulses. Lentils (especially the green ones) when cooked with smoked streaky bacon, are a marriage made in heaven. The cooked white beans, such as haricot, butterbeans, cannellini and borlotti eat well with chicken, served with a spicy tomato sauce.

Whether added to stews or a fish dish such as a paella, smoked paprika pepper adds extra flavour, and also a good substitute for salt - try sprinkling it over potatoes before roasting, likewise with chicken.

Am including this next recipe because it would make a good addition to the Christmas Hamper, and most of the ingredients we will probably have in store. As this chutney needs at least one month after making for the flavours to develop it could be made any time now. If giving as a gift, write on the date of making and a 'use-by' six months later. Once opened it will keep for a month in the fridge.
Christmas Chutney: makes about 3 lb
4 lb (900g) cooking apples, peeled, cored, chopped
4 oz (100g) sultanas
2 oz (50g) crystallised ginger
3 cloves garlic, roughly sliced
2 fl oz (50ml) water
quarter tsp each mixed spice, cayenne, salt, ground coriander
half pint (300ml) malt vinegar
13 oz (375g) light muscovado sugar
Put the apples, sultanas, ginger and garlic into a food processor and, using the pulse button, bring it down to a rough mince but still on the chunky side. Put into a pan with the water, cover and boil rapidly for ten minutes, then stir in the spices, salt and half the vinegar. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered - stirring occasionally - for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir the remaining vinegar and sugar together until the sugar has melted. Then after the chutney has cooked for the above time, add the vinegar syrup to the pan, turn the heat to as low as possible and simmer, still uncovered, for a good 2 hours more. Keep up the occasional stirring, and once the chutney has reached the required consistency (see below*), leave to cool then pot up into sterilised jars, up to the brim, and seal with vinegar proof lids.**
Note: * When a wooden spoon is drawn across the base of the pan containing the chutney, it should leave a clear path with no trace of liquid oozing across. In other words, all the liquid has been both absorbed by the fruits and other ingredients, and also lost by way of steam.
** For gifts, if possible jars that have new rubber seals and fasten by way of a spring-clip. If using jam jars, use ones with plastic coated lids (vinegar corrodes metal). Save all jars with their lids that have held pickles of any kind for their lids can safely be used again - sterilise all jars and boil all lids before using.

Came across this method of making and storing crispy fried onion - cooked in the microwave. These are great served as a garnish to rice, with salad leaves, sprinkled over soups and dips, and probably have a countless other uses too.
Crispy Onions:
Thinly slice 1 large onion and place in a medium, non-metallic bowl. Top with 1 oz (25g) ghee (or the clear part of melted butter), cover with cling-film and pierce this twice. Microwave on full power in a 900W oven (lower power will take longer) for 15 - 16 minutes, shaking the bowl occasionally after the first 10 minutes, until the onions are golden and crisp. Take care they don't burn!!
Drain on kitchen paper, then store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. They may even freeze - to find that out, test for yourself. If it works, let us know.

Final recipe today is a variation on the shortbread that has a seasonal flavour. Do use unsalted butter when baking, it is generally the same price as the salted, and if a recipe calls for salt then salted butter could be used instead. Unsalted butter will freeze for longer than the recommended time for salted.
Yule-tide Shortbread: makes 12
3 oz (74g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 oz (75g) plain flour
1 tsp ground ginger
2 oz (25g) icing sugar
2 oz (25g) cornflour
vanilla extract
Cream the butter until light and fluffy. Mix together the flour, ginger, icing sugar and cornflour, and sift this over the butter. Add a drop of vanilla extract and beat everything together.
Turn out onto a sheet of cling film an form into a roll about 2" (5cm) dia. Wrap and chill for 2 hours until firm enough to cut evenly. Slice into 12 rings, and place - well apart as they will spread - on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 10 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving.