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Archive for the ‘late summer’ Category

Nectarine & blackberry cobbler

In desserts, late summer, summer, vegetarian on 16 March, 2013 at 12:55 pm

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(I first wrote this recipe for Urban Harvest – if you live in Wellington I recommend you check them out!)

Summer’s fast drawing to a close, but I wanted to share this recipe with you anyway in the off-chance you have the opportunity to get to the last of this season’s stonefruit. What a summer for stonefruit it’s been, too – I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like I’ve been eating my way through a mountain of perfectly ripe, incredibly juicy, sweet, dreamlike fruit. Peaches, nectarines, plums, yellow, purple and white, I’ve eaten them all. And with hardly any duds, either – you know how you sometimes get those peaches or nectarines that you bite into and immediately throw out because they’re just mushy, or mealy, or kind of dry and not-sweet? Yeah, hardly any of those. It’s been a really good summer.

It’s been a really good summer in other ways, too – lots of hot sunny days, more sea swimming (in frigid Cook Strait, no less!) than I’ve done in all 8 previous Wellington summers combined, learning to surf*, lots of general lazing about. I can’t even remember the last time it rained.** And I know, it’s officially autumn now, but the sun’s still shining and I’m still going for swims after work; I’m trapped in this glorious time-bubble thinking it’s still late January.

So it’s surprising to go to the supermarket and see that the berries have mostly disappeared, stonefruit is dwindling (or, at least, going up in price – a sign of diminishing supply), new season apples and pears have taken over the fruit section. So: before it’s too late, before I have to wait a whole 10 months to post this recipe again, here is this cobbler recipe I put together for the good folks at Urban Harvest.

Cobbler is great because it’s easy, it’s pretty (just look at those bright-coloured juices bubbling their way through the gaps in the scone-like topping), and it’s just different enough from the usual (in New Zealand) fruit crumble that it feels kind of special. And if you wait too long to make this and you’ve missed the stonefruit season, fear not: you can make this with pretty much any fruit, just as you would a crumble.

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NECTARINE & BLACKBERRY COBBLER
For the filling:
8 nectarines (approximately 800g whole)
250g blackberries
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
For the topping:
150g flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
75g butter, cut into small chunks
2/3 cup unsweetened yoghurt
demerara sugar, for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 190C.
First prepare the filling: peel the nectarines (to peel easily, blanch in boiling water for about 45 seconds then plunge in cold water before peeling) and slice into wedges. Combine nectarine wedges with blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and set aside.
For the topping, sift together all dry ingredients, then rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers, until you reach a crumbly, sand-like consistency. Mix in the yoghurt until you get a soft dough.
Put the fruit into an ovenproof baking dish. Tear off bite-sized chunks of dough and place on top of the filling. Sprinkle demerara sugar over the top.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling up at the sides. Serve with ice cream, cream or yoghurt.
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*really poorly, but still!
**and, yes, now we’re in the middle of a pretty rough drought, and I know I shouldn’t be boasting about so much consecutive sun, but it’s so rare for Wellington that it still feels novel and exciting to me. Not so great for farms and vegetable gardens though.
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spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and tarragon

In autumn, Italian, late summer, pasta, summer on 11 March, 2013 at 10:38 pm

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I’ve taken to drinking a lot of coffee on the weekends.

This leads, predictably, to the two o’clock jitters and empty stomach panic: I want to eat anything! everything! right this instant! I start flipping through cookbooks in a haze of craving and indecision, passing over recipes that take fifteen or twenty minutes or more, because I want something now, fifteen minutes is too long, I don’t have this or that ingredient, this looks like too much work and oh I might faint I’m too hungry now. (Fifteen or twenty minutes passes in this manner.)

The lifesaver comes in the form of Nigel Slater’s really handy book Real Fast Food and a recipe in it called “tomatoes fried in butter and sugar” or something like that, which immediately appeals to me for two reasons: 1) I have all the ingredients, having just bought a punnet of cherry tomatoes at the vege market, and 2) it’s called “tomatoes fried in butter and sugar”. Oh, also it takes just two minutes to make, according to the recipe. Excellent.

The problem is, I’ve got the empty-stomach caffeine shakes and I feel like I need to eat with these tomatoes some kind of substantial carb to settle me down, and I’ve got no bread (I’m kicking myself for not buying a loaf earlier, but what can you do). I do, however, have spaghetti and with that realisation I put down the book and get to work.

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Nigel’s recipe is really simple – to paraphrase: fry some tomatoes in butter and sprinkle a bit of sugar over at the end – but I feel like adding a little tarragon and parsley from the garden because I can. I add a little anchovy paste too, mostly because I’m excited about the lovely old-fashioned tube it comes in, but also to add a bit of extra oomph, because I can. I add the spaghetti to the skillet with the semi-saucy tomatoes and eat most of it out of the pan before changing my mind and transferring the rest to a plate (I really have no idea why. It tasted great either way).

My cherry tomatoes were mostly really big so I cut them in half, but if you can leave at least some of yours whole I recommend you do it: the whole ones sort of burst as you pierce them with your fork and spill their juices all over the mouthful of spaghetti you’re about to take. It’s glorious. The sugar gives it this sort of gentle sweetness reminiscent of slow-roasted tomatoes, and the softly sweet tarragon brings this out even more. And if you cook your pasta just a little past al dente then it almost becomes like a grown-ups’ version of tinned spaghetti. This is something I totally can get behind.

The best part about this meal? It was ready in the time it took to boil the jug and cook some pasta, and that’s really great when you’re shaky and hungry and must-eat-something-now. It’s super easy but I’ve posted some instructions below, for those who’d like a bit of guidance.

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SPAGHETTI WITH CHERRY TOMATOES & TARRAGON

Bring a pot of water to the boil (make sure you use plenty of salt) and chuck some spaghetti in there. In a skillet or heavy-bottomed frying pan, melt two or three tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add some chopped tarragon (I used about a teaspoon worth but you could easily use a bit more) and about half a teaspoon (or more) anchovy paste*, fry for a few seconds, then add 250g cherry tomatoes. Cook for a couple minutes or until the spaghetti’s done. Reserve some of the pasta cooking water in case you need it to loosen up the sauce; drain pasta, add to the pan with the tomatoes, toss to coat. Add a bit of parsley before serving.

Serves 1 but can easily be doubled or tripled as needed. 

*You can easily omit the anchovy paste and make this dish vegetarian, if you’re so inclined.

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spiced peach pie

In baking, desserts, eating in, fruit, late summer, summer on 21 March, 2012 at 11:08 am

As a person who lives in an upstairs flat where the only outdoor space is a balcony just big enough for a couple pots of herbs (and maybe a tomato plant or two), I often find myself getting uncontrollably envious of people who have fruit trees in their gardens. 

It’s a heartbreaking feeling. Like the kid who really wants a puppy but whose brother is allergic: it just ain’t gonna happen. And while feeling this way might be a little irrational – there’s nothing really stopping me from moving to a place with, you know, maybe a lemon tree or feijoas or even nectarines or figs (I can dream!) – there is just no way, in the foreseeable future, that I’ll be able to stroll outside and pick a bagful of plums, or apples or whatever.*

A couple weeks ago, I visited my friend Harriet’s flat in Auckland, and though I didn’t get a chance to stroll around her garden – a combination of terrible weather and an incredibly full stomach after stuffing my face at Barilla Dumpling on Dominion Rd meant that all I wanted to do was stay inside and sit very, very still – I did get a chance to stroll into her kitchen and get smacked in the face by the sweet, heady aroma of vanilla and peach coming from a big pan of vanilla-flecked stewed peaches on the stove. Not just any peaches, mind you: peaches from the peach tree. In the garden. Just outside the window.

 

I couldn’t turn down the chance to sample some, despite the protestations of my full-to-bursting stomach (too many dumplings!). Jealousy sometimes makes you do funny things… or perhaps it was just a fear of missing out: how many of my friends have peach trees in their gardens, after all? In any case, I’m glad I gave in: they were meltingly tender, with that soft, mellow, vanilla-y sweetness that was faintly reminiscent (though a hundred times better) than the canned peach memories of my childhood.

 

And when I returned to Wellington, I couldn’t get those peaches off my mind. What also came to mind was the addition of some spices – Harriet and her flatmate had been talking about adding cloves to the mix, though they didn’t in the end – and in the end, I dreamed up this somewhat-rustic pie, with a sugar-studded golden crust and filled with sweet, cardamom- and clove-spiced stewed peaches.

It’s a little bit more complex than standing over the kitchen sink eating a summer peach (juices dripping down your chin, arm, elbow, of course), a bit more grounded and earthier than, say, this or this. This is a peach pie for autumn.

So, before the peach window closes for the season I’d recommend you go and pick up some of the last of the early-autumn harvest and make this pie. And if you’re getting your peaches off a tree in your garden, please, don’t tell me about it. I’ll be too jealous!

 —

*Though thanks to my happy little herb garden I have lots and lots of sage, and mint, and thyme, and I have a couple pots of vegetables here and there which means I never have to buy spring onions, for instance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty pleased about that.

 

SPICED PEACH PIE

First, prepare the pastry*:

280g flour
2 Tbsp sugar
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
225g butter, very cold and cut into little pieces
4 – 8 Tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingers until the mixture is a grainy, pebbly consistency.

Sprinkle the cold water over the mixture, a couple tablespoons at a time, until the dough comes together but is not too sticky (you probably won’t need to use all 8 tablespoons). If you’ve added too much water, just add more flour. Divide the dough in half, roll into balls and cover with plastic wrap.

Chill for about 30 minutes to 1 hour in the fridge.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling:

Cut up 8 peaches and put in a biggish pan with about 3/4 cup sugar (more or less to taste), a few cloves and cardamom pods (if you’re fussy about removing these you could to tie them up in a muslin cloth or something so you can take them out before filling the pie) and about a teaspoon of vanilla paste (a vanilla pod would also work well here, or even real vanilla extract, but if you only have the artificial stuff please leave it out – it’ll still be fine, I promise). Add a little bit of water – 1/2 cup or so should do – and bring to a simmer. Cook over a gentle heat until the fruit is soft and tender and your kitchen smells amazing.

Preheat the oven to 350C.

Roll out the two balls of pastry on a floured surface so that they’re big enough to fit into a pie dish. Line the pie dish with one of the pastry rounds and prick some holes in it with a fork. Bake for 10-15 minutes or so until it’s set a little and turns a pale golden colour.

Fill the pie with the stewed peaches (I added a couple teaspoons of cornflour/cornstarch to hold the fruit mixture together, as it was quite juicy) and top with the other rolled-out bit of pastry. Cut some holes in the top so the steam can escape. If you like, you can glaze the top with a bit of beaten egg and sprinkle some demerara sugar on top.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until the top is nice and golden brown. Let cool before serving.

*this is the same recipe I’ve used for the pear & feijoa crostata I made last year, and pretty much my go-to pie crust recipe – it’s adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book via this Serious Eats post.

Red bell pepper bisque

In autumn, late summer, soup on 20 March, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I’m conscious that I’ve been eating a lot of sugar lately (just look at the last few blog posts for proof). Call it disaster-triggered comfort eating or whatever, but over recent weeks I’ve been victim to one too many cake-batter-induced tummyaches and sugar-overload sore throats. Dessert for dinner just doesn’t have the same appeal when you do it several nights in a row.*

Things came to a head last week when I made this amazing semolina-cashew slice and Could Not Stop Eating it. I swore I’d lay off the sugar the next day and was doing so well at work, passing up cookies at morning tea, having a salad for lunch, not reaching for that bar of emergency chocolate hanging out in my desk drawer. I was full of this triumphant sense of accomplishment until I got home and… oh hello leftover semolina slice!**

So I’ve been trying to balance out the sugar with reasonably healthy things. Like soup. I know I’ve been whining about the end of summer for the last few blog posts*** but I’m actually harbouring this secret excitement for cooler weather and autumn (I won’t dare say I’m excited for winter, but close enough) and SOUP.

If there’s ever a soup that can be both spicy and soothing at the same time, it’s this one. It adeptly bridges the gap between summer and cooler weather: the flavours are bright and bursting with height-of-summer-ripeness, but at the same time it’s earthy and robust and the cayenne pepper adds enough heat to warm you from the inside on a cold rainy day. (This soup is also really good served cold at lunchtime, ideally on a sunny deck or balcony, maybe garnished with some chopped parsley.)

The recipe is from this book my mum got me called Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. It’s full of consistently accessible (and good!) recipes and informative sidebars full of tips and tricks but no photos, which is somewhat unusual for cookbooks these days but, you know, all good. It’s been one of my favourite cookbooks over the years and this is one of the first recipes I ever made from it.

Though the page is dotted with bright orange splatter-marks I hardly need to look at the recipe anymore, it’s so simple: red capsicums cooked with the holy trinity of carrot, onion, celery, plus a bit of cayenne pepper for heat and a bit of cream for… creaminess. You don’t really need to think much while making this, which makes it the perfect recipe for getting back into the soup groove.

*Dessert for dinner is still awesome though.

**I am going to start over this week, er, well, after the waffle breakfast we’re having at work tomorrow!

***although summer is clearly still not over, seeing as I’m typing this sitting on my balcony, no sleeves, bare feet.

RED BELL PEPPER BISQUE (serves 3-4):
recipe from Linda Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks

You will need:
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
cayenne pepper
4 red capsicums, seeded, deribbed & roughly chopped
1 litre chicken stock (ideally homemade, but anything goes)
1/4 cup cream
sea salt, freshly ground pepper
crème fraîche

Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a decent-sized pot over medium-high heat, add the onion, carrot and celery and saute for several minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Add 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and the capsicum, give it a good couple of stirs and let the capsicum cook for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock (you may not use the whole litre, the idea is you want enough stock to cover all the vegetables in the pot). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer about 30 minutes.

At this stage the capsicum and carrots should be nice and soft and cooked. Take the pan off the heat and blend until smooth (a stick blender works perfectly here but do as you please), then strain through a medium-mesh sieve.* Smush the pulpy bits with a spatula or ladle to squeeze the last bits of liquid out.**

Add 1/4 cup cream and salt and pepper to taste. If you want it spicier go ahead and add a little bit more cayenne pepper but beware that this stuff increases exponentially in heat (this book is full of these fun facts!). Garnish with a big spoonful of crème fraîche***, drizzle with olive oil, crack some black pepper over the top, eat!

If you have any left over the next day, it is just as good (if not better, depending on the weather) straight out of the fridge.

 

*If you’re feeling lazy you can skip this step but the silky-smooth texture of the strained soup is totally worth it.

**For what it’s worth, I found this step oddly reminiscent of making pâté…

***OK, so it’s just a garnish, but the crème fraîche definitely takes this to another level. Especially if you strained the soup. The combination of the silky-spiciness and the silky-cool-creaminess is so ridiculously dreamy.

baked vanilla custard with peaches

In desserts, gluten free, late summer, puddings on 15 March, 2011 at 1:49 am

I keep coming back to write this blog post I started on Friday afternoon, then finding myself immobilised in front of the computer screen by the incomprehensibly-scaled disaster unfolding in Japan.

Although I’m fortunate not to know anyone living in the worst-affected areas in northern Japan, this past weekend was another one of jitters, of waiting to hear news of friends and family (luckily I haven’t had any bad news), of watching NHK* and flicking through news sites until my eyes were so sore they were about to pop out of my head. Sleeping poorly. Checking Twitter constantly on my phone (so rude! sorry everyone) for updates.**

I keep thinking of the destruction in Christchurch, and how I can’t even comprehend that, let alone what has happened to the Tohoku region. I keep remembering a family holiday in Iwate Prefecture, in particular a side trip we took to Miyako***, a sleepy little coastal town west of Morioka. The 2-hour winding train ride on this clackety 2-car train that took us through steep hills, high above a winding gorge that widened into a majestic, flat river flowing to sea. The hills blanketed in green, and then, later, the stunning limestone cliffs and rock formations rising out of the clear blue.

It’s funny because I can’t remember much about the town itself, and now it’s too late to go back and remember what it was. And other place-names that keep coming up in the news carry with them faint hues of sitting on trains with my brothers, and I can’t remember much else. I find myself mourning the irretrievability of faded memories. Insignificant, selfish really, in the face of everything else.

The good things have come in waves this weekend, too. First in the form of confirmation from friends and family in Japan (mostly in the Kanto/Tokyo region), that they were safe, even if they did have to walk several hours to reach their homes. Then in the form of a very delicious brunch**** I had at Monterey in Newtown. Later, in a couple hours spent following a pod of orcas around the Miramar Peninsula, one of the most joyous experiences of my life. And throughout the weekend, in this bowl of blackboy peaches (the name! but hey) that ripened one by one.

The first time I heard of these peaches was actually not until last year, when I stayed at a little backpacker’s hostel in Picton on the way to a couple days out in the Marlborough Sounds. Part of the appeal of this place was its gorgeous old-house feel, the other part the freshly baked bread and assorted homemade jams that were set out for breakfast each morning. I ended up buying a jar of blackboy peach jam to take home, enthralled by the somewhat-un-PC name and because, well, I was so excited to discover this as-yet-unheard of (by me) variety of fruit. I had no clue what they actually looked like, though, until Vanille blogged about them the other week, and I was dying to find some.

Then, on Wednesday, success. Spotted a couple of boxes at Moore Wilson’s (there were some at New World as well). Picked up a bagful. And on Thursday, this custard.

I wanted to keep things relatively simple to keep the spotlight (rightly) on the peach. What sprung to mind were the to-die-for cherry custard tarts my friend Rob made for a picnic earlier this summer: a sturdy pastry crust, a vanilla-bean-flecked custard filling, macerated cherries on top. But then I ate a big lunch and was a bit too full for pastry (or maybe just not in the mood), and I started thinking about this baked vanilla custard I’d had at Logan Brown some time ago. And then I saw the perfect recipe in one of my old Cuisine magazines.

The peaches need no explanation; they’re exquisite in themselves. Adding a bit of sugar and leaving them to macerate gives them a bit more sweetness and juice if yours are still pretty tart, as mine were at that stage, and the peachy syrup that forms is wonderful spooned over the custard.

This is one of those custards that makes you want to gasp with joy when you put a spoonful in your mouth, except you’d probably choke. It has the most beautiful wobbly texture, at once delicate and luxurious. When baked custard, whether it’s unadorned or served as crème brulee or flan, reaches that just-set stage (and no more) it’s one of my favourite things in the world.

Now that I think of it, this love of custard probably stems from that trip to Japan, when we spent hours on northward trains and we’d go to convenience stores beforehand to stock up with onigiri and other snacks for lunch, and the thing I ate probably more than anything else on that trip? Prepackaged purin (Japanese crème caramel). Highly processed? Probably. But so good, with that wobbly-creamy texture I adore. And because I was a kid and had the metabolism of a horse, I devoured them, train ride after train ride. There. My memories aren’t lost, after all. Though there’s so much else that is, I’m hopeful that Japan can recover some slices of normal life in the coming days.

*Japan’s public broadcast station, which people have been streaming live through various Ustream channels.

**Maki of the fantastic blog Just Hungry (Japanese food and recipes) has been tirelessly translating and tweeting Japanese news broadcasts for days now. Her Twitter username is @makiwi.

***I’m not posting the video of the tsunami hitting Miyako, but it’s out there, and as heart-crushing as the rest of it all.

****and a to-die-for peach iced tea!

BAKED VANILLA CUSTARD WITH PEACHES (serves 6):
(just barely adapted from Cuisine 127, July 2008. Recipe here)

You will need:
2-3 peaches
caster sugar
vanilla bean
600ml cream
6 egg yolks

Thinly slice 2-3 peaches and set aside in a bowl. If your peaches are still quite firm and tart, you may want to macerate them by spooning over a couple tablespoons of sugar and giving it a stir before letting the bowl sit while you prepare the custard.

Meanwhile, split and scrape out seeds of 1 vanilla bean (alternatively you could use a teaspoon or 2 of vanilla paste but there’s something special about this dessert that deserves a vanilla bean, if you have one). Add the scraped-out bean and the seeds to a smallish saucepan with 600ml cream*, bring this to the boil, remove from heat and let it sit for about 20 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the vanilla to infuse the cream with the most vanilla-y vanilla-ness (oh boy, it’s late, I’m tired), preheat the oven to 160C and separate 6 eggs. Keep only the yolks** and whisk them gently with 2 tablespoons caster sugar. Slowly pour in the vanilla-infused cream while continuing to whisk gently. Pour into a jug through a sieve to catch any eggy bits that may have curdled/cooked (and the vanilla bean if you haven’t already plucked it out). Try not to drink too much of this mixture directly as you’ll need it if you plan on serving the finished product. Then pour into 6 individual 125-ml ramekins.***

Place the ramekins in a baking dish lined with a tea towel and fill halfway up the sides of the ramekins with boiling water. Carefully (do not spill boiling water on yourself!) transfer to oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes; you’ll want them slightly jiggly. Remove the dish from the oven and then the ramekins from the dish; cool a little and top with peach slices. Add some of the syrup/juices from the bottom of the peach bowl if you like. It’s extra good!

*I used a combination of 450ml cream and made up the rest with milk because I failed to check how much cream I had before starting to make this. It still tasted fine.

**Don’t throw out the whites – you can use them for meringues, or angel food cake, or macarons, to fold into waffle batter, etc. They will keep in the freezer.

***As you can see, I used a variety of receptacles because most of my ramekins are greater in volume than 125ml.

passionfruit, lemon + saffron sorbet

In desserts, gluten free, late summer on 8 March, 2011 at 7:31 pm

On Saturday afternoon it was still rather warm and muggy so I mixed up a sorbet. Things got a little busy and I didn’t get a chance to try it till Sunday afternoon. By which time, it was painfully, bitterly cold.* After being lashed by icy southerlies and sideways rain at the Newtown Festival, I had no desire whatsoever to eat this, craving instead a blanket, a book and a hot cup of tea. But, refusing to accept that summer was over, and out of sheer determination to eat what I’d created (or stubbornness or perhaps stupidity), I kept on my hat and scarf and four layers of wool and scooped out a cupful of ice. It was good, there’s no denying that, but by the time I reached the bottom of the cup I had a mad case of the shivers, and crept into bed (still cocooned in four layers of wool), slept for a good couple hours, and woke up to a sniffly nose and dull headache. Great…

And now I’m writing this in bed, propped up by a million pillows and making pathetic whimpering noises and generally wallowing in self-pity (it’s not just men who get the man flu!): I have all this spare time but no desire to cook, no appetite even (!!) and the slightest bit of activity leaves me exhausted. No fun! Plus the “w” key on my keyboard has decided it’s no longer going to work, which makes things rather annoying (though I’m getting faster at CTRL+V-ing a “w” after my original plan of avoiding all words containing “w” failed). But enough moaning.

I won’t go so far as to say this sorbet made me sick. I mean, that’s not fair at all, because it’s delicious and refreshing and perfect for a hot sunny day (or if you haven’t spent most of the day in a spitting southerly) and I’m sure I would have gotten sick anyway. This cold has been threatening to flatten me for the greater part of a month. But maybe, just maybe, it was the final straw, and while writing this post I’ve been eyeing these photos up warily.

It feels a bit strange to be posting a recipe for sorbet after that wintry blast we had over the weekend, but the sun’s back now and (fingers crossed, please, PLEASE) here to stay hopefully at least for the next few days or however long it takes for me to recover and eat the rest. Plus there’s not much sunnier and cheerful than this combination of yellow, yellow, and more yellow.*

I’d wanted to use up the passionfruit I’d bought in a fit of excitement that were going wrinkly a bit too fast for me to eat (though generally wrinkliness is a sign of goodness). And then I remembered the saffron that the lovely Mel of treehousekitchen had given me, a souvenir from her travels in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.** And, well, after two yellow ingredients came to mind I spotted a lemon and couldn’t not include it.

PASSIONFRUIT, LEMON + SAFFRON SORBET:
(method + quantities loosely adapted from Cuisine, Issue 126)

First you will need to prepare some simple syrup. Heat equal quantities of sugar and water (I made a bit more than necessary and used 200g sugar and 200ml water, which made roughly 300ml of syrup) just until the boiling point, and remove from heat – the sugar should dissolve nicely into the water.

Take 75ml simple syrup and, while it’s still hot, add a decent pinch of saffron threads. Let steep for about 20 minutes until the syrup is golden in colour. Optionally, stick your nose down by the cup containing the syrup and inhale the heady, earthy saffron aroma… that stuff’s more precious than gold.

Then mix together 250g passionfruit pulp (about 12-14 passionfruit depending on size), the juice of 1 lemon and gradually add 75ml of the saffron-infused syrup, tasting as you go for sweetness/acidity – you may not need the full amount.  Pour into a resealable container (preferably wide and shallow) and chuck it in the freezer. Every 20-30 minutes, give it a good stir/mash with a fork to break up the crystals.* Keep doing this until it’s sufficiently frozen and of a good consistency, and serve.**

*I didn’t do this as often as I should have so the consistency, as you can see, turned out more like a granita than a sorbet, but who’s counting?

**If you’re more onto it than me you could serve these with some tuiles or shortbreads or something awesome like that.

*Hello winter! Not ready to see you yet!

**Lately for some reason I’ve been describing the foods I eat by colour rather than name. No idea where this came from, but for example, the other night I was eating scrambled eggs, avocado and hot sauce on toast (my favourite lazy snack/meal) and had sprinkled some sweetcorn on top, and when asked later what I had for dinner my reply was “yellow, yellow, green and red on brown”. Miraculously this wasn’t met with confusion and the answer was “oh… eggs, avocado, toast, …tomato or hot sauce, and what’s the other yellow?”. Weird. I know.

**I am determined to get to all of these places and will probably make it happen in the next year or so even if I absolutely can’t afford it, out of sheer stubbornness. It’s going to be my downfall…

grilled peaches with lemongrass & ginger syrup

In desserts, gluten free, late summer, syrups and cordials on 5 March, 2011 at 12:48 am

Feels like summer came and went in the blink of an eye. A weird, wet, muggy blink of an eye. I was going to say it still feels like summer (it’s plenty warm enough), but there’s no denying the gradual arrival of crisp mornings and cool nights, new season apples and pears slowly creeping their way onto supermarket shelves.

And in this last gasp of (technically not-) summer it feels like a race to do everything you won’t be able to do for another year. Like wearing shorts, even if you have to wear a jumper on top. Going for that last, end-of-summer swim before the water gets too cold (though in Wellington it’s pretty much too cold even in summer!). Shooting hoops at Waitangi Park. Drinking Pimm’s in the afternoon sun, taking walks after dinner, eating as many berries as possible and gorging yourself on stonefruit. Each day is tinged with this subtle sense of urgency: get in while you can.

And while yes, it’s true, the juicy and succulent fruits of summer are slowly making way for the crisp and autumnal, there’s still plenty of peaches left to devour. For the next couple weeks, at least.

I think peaches (and, I suppose, nectarines) are by far my favourite fruit, though of course this thinking is clouded by the fact that I get really excited about whatever fruit’s in season and I’m sure this will change as soon as I take my first bite of a sweet, meltingly ripe pear, or a crisp apple (I’ve resisted thus far in a sort of denial that summer’s over).

But I think that claim of favourite fruit has a little more basis than just the ohmygod-it’s-in-season-and-there’s-nothing-more-delicious mania I’m sometimes prone to. One of my favourite childhood memories is of a trip to Michigan in late August when I was maybe seven or eight, and I don’t remember much except the showers at the place we stayed smelled like rust, the beach was full of flies and – and – we visited peach orchards, eating perfect peach after perfect peach and taking more home in brown paper bags (to help them ripen). Our kitchen for the week or so afterwards had the faint, alluring aroma of ripening peaches.

I always have such good intentions when I buy peaches, planning to make this or that recipe, but usually I can only get so far as rinsing them off before I find myself eating them, standing over the kitchen sink, juices running down my chin, hand, dripping off my elbow. Messy, but there’s really nothing that tastes more magnificent.

Maybe the reason I never make it past the sink is because I sometimes find when peaches are cooked they lose some of that shockingly juicy-sweet quality I can’t get enough of.

Recently, though,  I’ve made an exception for grilled peaches. Somehow they manage to keep that juicy, sweet, meltingly soft quality, with the added bonus of getting all caramelised and intensely good. I served them with the lemongrass & ginger syrup I’ve been making, which I highly recommend – it adds a bit of freshness and tang to cut through the sticky sweetness.

This is probably too obvious to even be a recipe (seems to be a theme in some of my recent posts, but I guess that’s what you want when it’s summer and you’d rather be outside than in the kitchen) but I wanted to post it before summer slips out of reach until the end of the year. I encourage you to try it with the lemongrass & ginger syrup if you can.

GRILLED PEACHES WITH LEMONGRASS + GINGER SYRUP (serves 2):

Halve 2 peaches*; remove the stones.** Place on a hot BBQ, grill pan or place under the grill in the oven**, cut side facing the heat source. Grill for 5-10 minutes (depending on your grilling implement) until the surface is caramelised and the peach halves are tender and warmed all the way through. Top with vanilla ice cream and a liberal pour of lemongrass + ginger syrup (recipe here).**** If you garnish it with a mint sprig it’ll be extra pretty (and it goes well with the other flavours). Watch as the ice cream melts into the grooves of the hot peach and drips down the sides and forms molten pools of amazing with the syrup. Or just eat.

*For this I used both white-fleshed peaches and Golden Taturas. Both were delicious. Use any peaches you like. Nectarines will also do.

**If your peaches are super ripe, you shouldn’t need to do this, but if they’re a bit firm or you’re keen for more caramelisation (OK, who isn’t) you could sprinkle the cut side with a bit of demerara sugar before grilling. I didn’t do this, and found it sweet and caramelly enough.

***I used a panini grill flipped upside down and kept open, because at that stage I couldn’t be bothered going downstairs to turn on the BBQ or look for the grill pan… lazy, or innovative? Your call…

****I suppose you could also make some other sort of glaze, or use another syrup, or even scoop a fresh passionfruit over the top. Which reminds me, passionfruit…!


tomato, basil & ricotta salad (and pasta)

In late summer, pasta, salads on 2 March, 2011 at 12:08 am

(warning: skip this bit if you’re totally sick of earthquake stuff or if you’re otherwise not into musings on life and death and other topics that probably have no place in a food blog)

On Tuesday last week I was headed to a potluck dinner and had planned to make something awesome with tomatoes inspired by the latest Cuisine magazine. Instead I found myself, a half hour before I was due for dinner, standing outside Moore Wilson’s in a crowd of people staring open-mouthed at the television screen. Up till that point I had somehow weathered the day, watching the events unfold, making contact with loved ones till I was sure all family members in Christchurch were accounted for, but standing there among a group of strangers all sharing the same horror and disbelief changed something and suddenly the bag of tomatoes I was carrying turned to lead, my face crumpled into some unrecognisable shape and I knew I had to get home before someone saw me cry so I grabbed my bike and pedalled out into the drizzle, failing to even pretend that my cheeks were wet from the rain.

Now a week has passed. Though I can’t even begin to fathom what Cantabrians must be going through, for the rest of us it’s been a week of emotional extremes, from relief at learning that loved ones were safe, to heart-stopping panic at remembering a friend or acquaintance had just ventured South, to sheer despair and sadness at hearing the stories of those who weren’t so lucky, at seeing the images of a beloved city reduced to rubble. There’s been hope, too, in images like these and in seeing the massive collective effort New Zealanders (and plenty of people overseas) have put in to band together and support Christchurch.**** I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s awesome.

The other thing that seems to have sprung out of the earthquake, at least in Wellington, is this hypervigilance I (and plenty of others I’ve talked to) can’t seem to shake. The good thing about this is I’ve got my emergency kit sorted, but still. Every time I go outside I find myself eyeing up building facades and power lines, glass windows, with this sort of half-wary mistrust. At work my mind keeps wandering back to how quickly I could get under my desk if the earth started shaking, and if my desk would really do me any good. Part of this comes from living on a major fault line, the other from reading stories of narrow escapes and those who weren’t so lucky; it seems like in every story three seconds could have made the difference between life and death.

And that got me thinking about whether the whole freaking-out-about-The-Big-One thing is futile. I mean ultimately, if you break it down, life or existence or whatever comes down to this: the goal is to live, until you die. Maybe also reproduce, if you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint. I guess it’s taken a big event like this to make me think about the fact that death happens, can happen, at any time. It feels cruel, but in the end, there is no cruel, no kind, if you’re looking at the bare elements of life. Everyone lives, everyone dies. Some lives are shorter than others; they’re all lives nonetheless.

But being human we can’t just break life down to biological standards. We love and laugh, and weep and mourn, and losses cut deep and we can’t ignore the emotions that so inextricably link us to the events we experience, the people we interact with. So the best thing that I’ve been able to come up with in the last few jumbled days is a resolution to exist, to enjoy, to cherish others.

On the day in question the potluck I was headed to was for a dear friend’s birthday, something I wouldn’t miss for all the earthquakes in the world, and not just because when tragedy strikes you’ve got to surround yourself with your favourite people.  But I still had a bag full of tomatoes and not much time or inclination to cook. I had even less inclination to turn up to a potluck empty-handed. Which is how I got to making this salad.

When you’re feeling raw and cut up you may not want to eat something raw and cut up (my first instinct is to reach for a bowl of mac and cheese) but there’s something cathartic about chopping vegetables, and it was sure as hell easier to put together this simple salad than to think about cooking something at that stage.

And luckily it’s that time of year when tomatoes are at their fattest and juiciest and you don’t need much more than a few simple accompaniments to put together something delicious. This salad is roughly based on the classic Italian insalata caprese but with fresh ricotta instead of buffalo mozzarella (mainly because that’s what I had in the fridge). I’ve provided quantities to serve 2-3 as a side dish but feel free to adjust as necessary. If you want to make the pasta (recipe further below) the next day, maybe double the recipe so you have enough.

TOMATO, BASIL & RICOTTA SALAD (serves 2-3):

Chop 3 ripe tomatoes (more or less depending on size/type of tomato) into chunks; put in a bowl along with any juicy bits that may have seeped out onto the cutting board. Add a generous handful of fresh basil leaves* and pieces of firm, fresh ricotta**, pour a glug of olive oil into the bowl and season generously with good-quality sea salt and cracked black pepper. A drizzle of white balsamic wouldn’t go amiss, though at this time of year the tomatoes can easily hold their own with just some salt, pepper and olive oil.  Toss, taste, adjust seasoning as necessary, garnish with a few more basil leaves, serve.

This salad could easily accommodate chunks of avocado, or cucumber, or plenty of other summery bits and pieces – but for now I’ve kept it simple.

*torn if they’re quite big, but don’t chop them as they bruise easily.

**for this you’ll want to use ricotta that’s quite firm and sliceable. I used Zany Zeus but if you can only find the creamy variety in pottles you could also make your own (super easy and cheap) or else just make it a caprese salad and go for fresh mozzarella. The key is bits of fresh white cheese.

If you have leftovers and you’re looking for something a bit more substantial (as I was on Wednesday when awful reality started to sink in and that old deep-seated mac-and-cheese craving hit) this salad works well tossed with hot pasta. Slightly less bad for you (not that it matters) and there’s still not much out there more comforting than a bowl full of noodles:

VERMICELLI WITH TOMATO, BASIL & RICOTTA (serves 2):

Take the salad above* and toss with 250g** cooked vermicelli, or whatever pasta’s handy. I like it with vermicelli because the thin strands get coated with the tomato juices and flecked with ricotta and seem to carry the delicate fresh tomato and basil flavours quite well, but spaghetti or bucatini would work fine, too. Sprinkle with a couple of freshly torn basil leaves (especially if you’re making this the day after making the salad – the previous day’s basil will be dark green and wilted), crack some pepper over the top, eat while hot.

*this is best made with next-day leftovers because the salt will have drawn out the juices from the tomatoes and penetrated the ricotta chunks, thus giving you extra liquid to toss the pasta in, but if you’ve just made the salad and it seems a bit dry you could always add a bit of the pasta cooking water or a bit more olive oil.

**more or less, depending on appetite/preference.

****PS. it was probably more for my own good than anything else, but I’ve been doing a bit of baking for the “bring and buy” fundraising stall at the gorgeous little garden store Grow From Here at the top of Cuba St. It’s going on all week and a gold coin donation will get you baking, clothes, old vinyl, handmade candles, etc. On Saturday morning I hung out with Laura of Hungry and Frozen and her counterpart Tim and Kaye, who runs the place and had set up a space for the stall, and it was a lovely, laid-back morning gathering coins and being surprised by the generosity of everyone who stopped by. Laura’s got a pretty good rundown of the day on her blog, go check it out (I couldn’t have said it better, really).

A new (fig) leaf, and the first of late summer’s fruit

In late summer, salads on 7 February, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Hi.

I’m Millie from Gusty Gourmet, a blog I co-write about (mostly) eating out in my adopted hometown, Wellington, New Zealand.

I started this blog because I realised I like cooking and eating at home just as much as I like eating out. Maybe even more. And also maybe because I’m turning 25 this year and it’s probably a good idea to start being a bit more financially responsible (I’m not talking major penny-pinching here, but getting out of my overdraft might be a good start).  And I’ve probably been annoying lots of my friends on Facebook by uploading photos and blurbs of recently-cooked meals. And I’d been pondering the idea for a while and then, yesterday, the lovely Kate of Lovelorn Unicorn offhandedly suggested it on Twitter. So I took it as a sign, and here I am.

Yeah, so everyone has a cooking blog these days. It’s OK. Here is mine!

On Saturday I carried a single fig home from Moore Wilson’s. And by ‘carried’ I mean gingerly, between thumb and forefinger, or cupped in the palm of my hand, while all the other groceries jostled about in a bag, but apparently not gently enough to avoid marring the delicate skin of the oozing-ripe fruit. That’s OK. Scars are stories, after all.

I’d been eyeing the figs up ever since they started popping up at Moore Wilson’s, next to the berries, a little nudge to the shoulder that, hey, late summer, it’s here. And on Saturday, I finally caved (at nearly $30/kg right now they’re not something to be taken lightly, at least on my budget) and picked the closest-to-burstingly-ripe fruit I could find.

It was an interesting day. While Wellington heaved with costumed locals and visitors in various stages of public drunkenness and revelry I trudged home in the muggy mist and, home alone, sliced up the most flawless fig (aside from a newly-inflicted scrape, but you know, that’s character).

I’m one of those people who gets way too excited about the first produce of each season. Perhaps annoyingly so: recently a (probably now rather bewildered) friend emailed me with a simple question about what fruits are coming into season now and I replied with a breathlessly rambling discourse filled with cliche phrases like “in full swing” and “at their peak” and “picking up speed” and I’m pretty sure I used the word “exciting” one too many times and not enough full stops. Kind of like that last sentence, but about three times as long and with about a third of the content.

Anyway, I never know quite what to do with the first fruit (or vegetable) I buy after months, sometimes almost a year, of not tasting whatever it is. Do I eat it plain, savour it for what it is, save the adulteration for later on when there’s plenty around and the price has come down? Or do I dig up the stockpiled recipes I’ve been waiting all year to make?

And this fig – it’s been at least a year since I’ve had one. Maybe even longer; I was overseas most of this time last year. So there was a lot of trepidation over what to do with this: the first fig of 2011.

In the end, it was dinnertime, I was hungry, I had some goat cheese in the fridge and some pine nuts waiting to be used. So I snuck a couple cheeky slices of fig while I assembled this salad.

Innovative and different? Perhaps not. But it was simple, and the perfect showcase for the first fig of the season.

FIG, GOAT CHEESE & PINE NUT SALAD (for 1):

Cut up the juiciest, ripest fig you can bring home without destroying in your shopping bag (ideally you’ll have more foresight than me, and bring one home to ripen). Tear up some goat cheese (I used bûche de chèvre), combine this with some salad greens – peppery rocket would be ideal, but I just used mesclun mix – and a scant handful of toasted pine nuts*. Drizzle with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar** and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper. Eat. If you get all the components in one forkful you may melt with delight.

*If I had time or inclination to do more dishes I’d toast these in a little skillet but this time I just popped them in the microwave until they started to smell fragrant and, well, nutty. I’d say it took me about 30 seconds in my microwave, but yours may be different.

**If, like me, you don’t have that beautifully syrupy aged stuff on hand, fret not. It’s not exactly the same, but I found that reducing the regular stuff in a little frying pan (there goes that dish I’d saved by toasting the nuts in the microwave) until it was nice and thick worked just fine for these purposes.