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Monthly Archives: February 2019

Ottolenghi’s Lentils with Roast Eggplant, Cherry Tomatoes and Yoghurt

I’ve recently acquired the new Ottolenghi book Simple. It’s a lovely book, written in such an interesting and useful way. The recipes, while not necessarily with a limited number of ingredients, are all quite ”simple” to prepare. The recipes are full of Ottolenghi’s trade mark Middle Eastern flavours.

I’ve tried some of the savoury recipes and of course I’m keen to get into the sweet stuff soon!

Here’s a relatively quick, and definitely easy to prepare savoury veggie dish, that works well as a salad or side as well as a lighter main.

Ottolenghi goes into detail about how to cook the eggplants. While his method uses the oven at a high temperature, he also describes how you can cook the eggplants directly over a gas flame on the stove top, which he rightly points out is very messy!

I cooked the eggplants on the bars of a very hot barbecue, lid down, for extra heat. This was very successful, and they cooked in about 15 minutes. Whatever method you go for, the idea is to blister the skin of the eggplants so the you can peel it off to get to the softened flesh.

Ingredients

4 eggplants, about 1.1kg, pricked a few times with a knife
300g cherry tomatoes
160g Puy lentils or 350g ready-cooked lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to serve
1½ tbsp lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons oregano leaves – I used thyme which I prefer as a herb
salt and black pepper
100g Greek yogurt

Method

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C or as high as your oven will go.

Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour, turning them over halfway through, until the flesh is completely soft and slightly smoky. Or use the barbecue method that I mentioned above. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough handle, scoop the flesh out into a colander. Set aside, in the sink or over a bowl, for 30 minutes, for any liquid to drain away. The skin can be discarded.

Place the cherry tomatoes on the same baking sheet and roast for 12 minutes, until slightly blackened, split, and soft. Remove from the oven and set aside. You can also cook the tomatoes on the barbecue too, but put them on a baking sheet.

Meanwhile, if starting with uncooked lentils, fill a medium saucepan with plenty of water and place over high heat. Once boiling, add the lentils, decrease the heat to medium, and cook for 20 minutes, until soft but still retaining a bite. Drain, then set aside to dry out slightly. If starting with ready-cooked lentils, just tip them into a large bowl and add the eggplant flesh, tomatoes, oil, lemon juice, garlic, 2 tablespoons of oregano or thyme, ¾ teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of pepper. Mix well, then spoon into a large shallow dish. Top with the yogurt, swirling it through slightly so there are obvious streaks. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon of oregano or thyme over the top, drizzle with a little oil, and serve.

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Walnut Cake with Caramelised Figs

Figs are plentiful in the height of summer here in Sydney. I love cooking with seasonal fruit, particularly at this time of year when there are a multitude of summer fruits available. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, pineapples and mangoes, peaches and nectarines, my absolute favourite passionfruit, and of course delicious figs.

This recipe for walnut cake is based on my almond cake recipe that I usually make with stone fruit. I have a couple of versions on this blog. This time, I used walnuts, as I was looking for a robust flavour to go with some caramelised figs. In the almond cake recipe, I use bought ground almonds, whereas in this recipe I take whole walnuts and whizz them in the food processor to make ground walnuts with some little nutty bits still remaining. This gives the cake a nice texture.

The cake is drizzled with a coffee caramel syrup, and figs which have been poached in this syrup are placed on top. I also put some fresh figs on top which worked well too. But I think the caramelised figs are nicer!

Ingredients

150g butter
100g caster sugar
50g brown sugar
3 free range eggs
I teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1 teaspoon almond essence
150g walnuts
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Coffee Caramel
3 tablespoons caster sugar
75mls good coffee liqueur- I used Mr Black from Botanica Distillery in NSW, a cold brew coffee liquor. Any liqueur is fine!
A few splashes of water up to 50mls to thin syrup to pouring consistency
3 figs, cut in half for poaching, or 2 or 3 fresh figs.

Method

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C, 160 degrees C fan forced. Grease a 20cm springform tin and line the base with baking paper.

Put the walnuts into a food processor and pulse, stopping every so often to make sure you don’t over process. You want some chunky bits as well as some fine ground walnuts. Set aside, but don’t bother washing the processor!

Combine butter and sugar in a food processor, with vanilla extract or paste and almond essence. Add the eggs one at a time and pulse well.
Fold in ground walnuts, plain flour, baking powder and salt.

Put the mixture into the springform and bake for about 45 minutes  or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake.

While the cake is baking, make the caramel.

For the coffee caramel, put the caster sugar in a small frying pan or saucepan and dissolve the sugar gently over a low heat. Don’t stir the sugar or it will crystallise! Once the sugar is dissolved, cook until it turns light brown, sort of tea coloured. Take it off the heat and add the coffee liqueur carefully, as the caramel is hot. You can add some water if the syrup is too thick. If the caramel has already turned to toffee, don’t worry. Just gently heat the caramel with the liqueur over low heat and the toffee will dissolve.

Put 6 of the fig halves into the coffee syrup and poach for a couple of minutes over a low heat until the figs are slightly softened.

Once the cake is out of the oven, and while it is still hot, pierce the top a few times with a skewer and pour a few teaspoonfuls of the syrup over the cake.

Serve the cake with the poached figs on top, with a little more syrup drizzled over the figs, and Greek yoghurt or whipped cream or creme fraiche. Or decorate the cake with the plain figs, or a combination of poached and fresh, and a little of the syrup and yoghurt or cream. Either way it’s delicious!

Zucchini and Halloumi Fritters

Fritters for breakfast lunch or dinner, these simple to make little gems are the mainstay of any meal. There are so many variations and lots of recipes out there. One of the most famous versions is Bill Granger’s iconic Sweet Corn Fritters. They’re on the menu at Granger and Co in London and at the original Bills in my home town Sydney. They are pretty good, wherever you eat them.

I have also blogged in the past Gordon Ramsay’s Halloumi, Zucchini amd Herb Cakes, see here for the post. These fritters are good, too.

But these bright green numbers are so easy to make and really tasty, and are currently high on my list of go-to recipes for lunch or dinner.

They are based on a recipe from Hugh Hamilton Wines, in McLaren Vale in South Australia, although I haven’t been able to find the original recipe when researching for this post. 

What I love about these fritters is that they keep their green colour on the outside and inside. And when you cut them open, the halloumi is still a little bit oozy! Lovely.

Ingredients

2 large zucchini
1 red onion
150g halloumi
Zest of a lemon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup plain flour
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C fan-forced. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Coarsely grate the zucchini and red onion using the large holes of a box grater.
Squeeze the grated zucchini and onion to remove excess liquid. The best way to to do this is using your hands, squeezing a handful at a time. Transfer the grated vegetables to a bowl. Now grate the halloumi in the same way.
Add the lemon, thyme leaves and halloumi to the bowl and mix. Stir in the flour and egg, and season with sea salt and black pepper.
Roll heaped tablespoons of the mixture into rough balls and place onto the baking tray. The mixture is quite wet, but don’t worry, as they will keep their shape as they bake. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until golden and firm. The edges may be a little dark – this just adds to the rustic effect!
Serve with sour cream or Greek yoghurt, and chilli jam or sweet chilli sauce, and a big green salad on the side. Delish!

Pavlova with Blackberries, Raspberries and Toasted Macadamias

You can never have too much pavlova in my opinion. It’s a truly luscious dessert, that’s as perfect on a hot summer’s day as in mid winter. Serve it with tropical fruits, berries or lemon curd in summer, or warming poached quince or chocolate and hazelnuts in winter.

I have had a pavlova week! Last weekend in Sydney there were summer lunches and barbecues planned to mark Australia Day. You might notice I don’t use the word celebrate, as there is a rising tide of discussion about whether we should mark this day on the 26 January or indeed mark it at all. But I leave that discussion for another post.

Notwithstanding, many pavlovas would have been dutifully made and consumed last week! I didn’t actually make a pavlova, but I did get very involved in the efforts of my friends to produce this famous dessert for their Australia Day lunch.

One friend, a novice cook, sort my advice about pavlova making via text over several days! I found it quite stressful, trying to give the right advice without watching the work in progress. I sent a link to my own pavlova recipes in this blog as well as a helpful YouTube video I found. I was so relieved to hear that the pavlova was a big success – the photos looked great!

Over the weekend I stayed with my friends in beautiful Palm Beach, the Architect and the Delegator, mentioned before in this blog.

The Architect was making his famous pavlova, and I was lucky enough to watch him in action. The recipe comes from that wonderful cook Maggie Beer, but the Architect has now made the pavlova his own, putting his own inimitable stamp on it.

I’ve blogged the original pav before, see here, but I’m doing it again as I have picked up a few tricks and tips watching the Architect in action.

In this version, we made blackberries the star, as they are so plentiful and delicious in high summer. We added raspberries as in the original recipe too, for colour. I laughingly say “we”, as I was giving a little advice, but it was the Architect’s creation!

So here is the recipe. I can only say that that it’s so worth making – it’s absolutely delicious!

Ingredients

6 free-range egg whites

Pinch of salt

2 cups (475 g) caster sugar

1 tbl cornflour

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/2 cup macadamias

500 mls thickened cream

250 g creme fraiche

250 g blackberries

250 g raspberries

Method

Preheat oven to 140 degrees C fan forced. My experience with pavlovas is that you need this low temperature. Some recipes suggest higher, but I really think low is best. You can always cook a little longer if you’re worried the pav is not done.

Draw 3 x 22 cm circles on baking paper and place the paper on 3 oven trays.

Beat the egg whites and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Don’t over beat at this stage as you can actually beat the air out and the whites will flop!

Ideally a stand mixer is best, but the Architect used hand electric beaters. If you use these you will need an assistant to spoon in the sugar for the next stage. . Luckily I was there to assist!

Gradually add the sugar, a tablespoon full at a time, beating well after each addition until the sugar is dissolved. When all the sugar has been added, best for another minute to make sure all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is not grainy. To test, squash a little piece of meringue between thumb and forefinger and it should should feel smooth.

Fold in the cornflour and vinegar. Now spread the meringue evenly onto the circles. This is where the Architect used his incredible skills, judging exactly how much meringue to spoon onto each circle. You want the discs to be flattish, as you will be layering them, but a few rustic peaks are definitely ok!

Bake the meringue discs for about 40 minutes. They should look dry and crisp on the outside. Turn the oven off and leave the discs to cool on the trays in the oven.

Lightly toast the macadamias in a frying pan over a medium heat until they are golden to light brown.

Whip the cream in a large bowl and then stir in the crème fraiche.

To assemble, place 1 meringue disc on a large serving plate, spread with 1/3 cream mixture and top with 1/3 of the blackberries and raspberries. Place the second meringue disc on top, then another 1/3 cream mixture and 1/3 berries. Top with the remaining meringue disc and decorate, as artfully as you like, with the remaining cream mixture, blackberries and raspberries, and the toasted macadamias.

PS The left over pavlova, while looking a little messy, is so worth fighting friends and family for!

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