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Archive for the ‘salads’ Category

Tomato party

In autumn, pasta, salads, summer on 30 April, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Now, I realise tomato season’s pretty much drawing to a close for most of us in the Southern Hemisphere, but I’ve been hearing reports of some late-season harvests in gardens around here; helped, no doubt, by the Indian summer days we’ve been having this autumn. And I’ve spotted some nice-looking heirloom varieties at the organic store – surely a sign that it’s still seasonally appropriate to be posting this recipe this late?

And if there’s one last thing you make with fresh tomatoes before winter sets in, let it be this: Yotam Ottolenghi’s aptly named Tomato Party from his most excellent cookbook Plenty. Apt, because, really, a party is what this is: as many different kinds of tomato you can get your hands on, cooked to varying degrees, every mouthful is full of different incarnations of the tomato. Juicy roast tomatoes? Check. Savoury-sweet balsamic-glazed tomatoes? Check. Raw, tangy and sweet tomatoes? Yep. And you could keep going, too, adding different varieties of tomato or changing up the cooking method. It’s a fitting farewell for this summer fruit that frankly, I wouldn’t bother buying all winter.

I was lucky enough to be given a paper bag full of beautiful tomatoes* from the very generous Sue of Five Course Garden, who has what is possibly the most productive compact garden of anyone I know. It’s tiny and huge all at once, and is truly a joy to poke your nose around (and I’m not just saying this because both times I’ve been to see Sue I’ve left laden with fresh produce!) – it seems like every nook and cranny has got something edible growing in it.

And these tomatoes – just look at them! They’re the exact opposite of the bland supermarket tomatoes that get especially blander and more average as autumn fades into winter. They were stripey and purple and green and juicy and sweet, with so much more flavour than anything you could buy. And what better way to celebrate them than this tomato-rich couscous salad?

I pretty much followed the recipe straight from the book, adapted to the ingredients I had on hand: I used an assortment of Sue’s tomatoes, supplemented with a handful of orange cherry tomatoes I had lying around the kitchen and some vine tomatoes that were fast-approaching their use-by point. I used whole wheat Palestinian couscous (the stuff I used here) instead of fregola or mograbieh, because it’s what I had, and let’s face it – mograbieh is expensive. (I still got the delightful textural contrast of different-sized couscous, though in a pinch you could just as easily use one type of couscous, I mean, the recipe isn’t called “couscous party”, is it?)

The recipe that follows, though, is going to be more of an imprecise method than Ottolenghi’s instructions, because yesterday something really happened: Kate and Jason came over and we swapped cookbooks, SO, now I have (temporarily) parted ways with Plenty and my other current favourite, Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, and have got my hands on Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and Thomas Keller’s Bouchonboth of which have been on my cookbook wishlist for what feels like forever. Hooray!

So anyway, I don’t have the book to refer to for this recipe, so I’ve cobbled together bits and pieces from memory and also from the ever-helpful internet (especially this earlier version of the recipe, which appeared in the Guardian in 2007 – actually, that might be pretty much the same as the version in Plenty. But I can’t know for sure). It’s more of  a rough method, anyway – cook some tomatoes a few different ways, mix with a couple different kinds of couscous, enjoy.

*Actually, the purpose of my visit was to pick up some tomatillos Sue had set aside for me – after sampling her harvest last year and making the best salsa verde and chilaquiles I’d had in a long time there was no way I was going to be able to refuse her offer. This year’s crop was great too – more on that later, though!

OTTOLENGHI’S TOMATO PARTY
(adapted from Plenty,and from this earlier version of the recipe)

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F. 

Cook 125g couscous according to the instructions on the packet; fluff with a fork and set aside. Do the same with 150g Palestinian couscous, or mograbieh if you’re lucky enough to have some, or some fregola or Israeli couscous. 

Meanwhile, halve or quarter (depending on size – you want them to be bite-sized when they’re cooked) a good bunch of vine tomatoes, around 300g or so. Put on a baking tray lined with baking paper or tinfoil, season with a bit of salt and pepper, some brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, give it a good drizzle of olive oil. Put in the oven for about 30 minutes until they’re shrivelled but still juicy. The balsamic vinegar, sugar and oil should have melded with the tomato juice and be a little bubbly but not too sticky. Remove from the oven and set aside in a bowl, adding all the juices from the pan.

Next, increase the oven temperature to 200C/400F. Halve about 200g cherry tomatoes and place on a clean piece of baking paper or foil on your baking sheet, season them with salt and pepper and olive oil and stick them in the oven for about 12 minutes.

Cut up some more tomatoes – about 100 to 150g – hopefully you’ve got an assortment of colours and sizes but if not, don’t worry too much.

Once you have all your tomatoes, mix the two types of couscous together and add a whole bunch of chopped herbs – I used tarragon, parsley, oregano & basil – and some crushed garlic, all of the tomatoes and all of their juices.*  Season to taste. Eat at once.**

*Other things you could add at this point that would be very delicious: crumbled feta, torn buffalo mozzarella, shelled & chopped pistachios, bits of streaky bacon. Or nothing else at all. This is, after all, all about the tomatoes.

**I can report this also tastes very, very good served at room temperature the next day, when the flavours have had a chance to mingle overnight.

ginger & sesame chicken salad

In salads, summer on 10 January, 2012 at 1:03 am

I’m one of those people who doesn’t do a big weekly shop but rather picks up bits and pieces almost every day. I like it because I’m indecisive; I like to plan what I’m eating based on my mood that day, the weather outside, that sort of thing. Granted, sometimes I’ll get all ambitious and plan out a week’s worth of meals. but I change my mind. All the time. So for the most part I’m the person who can’t go from work to home without stopping along the way to pick up some tomatoes, or meat, or fresh fruit or greens.

But living like this has its downsides: I don’t always eat everything I buy. And then, because I haven’t had the foresight to think about what I’ll do with that other head of baby cos languishing in the fridge, or the other half of the cucumber I didn’t eat the night before, I forget about them. They sink to the bottom of the vegetable crisper in the fridge. And they stay there.

In light of the fact that my flightiness is responsible for some serious wastage of food (not to mention money) I’ve been challenging myself to use up what I’ve got and buy only what I really need. I know, I know, it’s common sense for most people, right?

Back to that poor forgotten head of baby cos. I had actually bought a couple right before going away for Christmas. Rather predictably, I didn’t end up using it before I went away. By the time I rediscovered it (several days into 2012) it looked like it was beyond saving, all wilted and limp on the outside. But I peeled back a few outer layers of leaves, and underneath? Crisp-as-new, vibrant-green baby cos leaves. Magic!

So there was one thing to use up. Among the others? One of about six or seven pieces of ginger I had hanging around (I honestly don’t know why I keep buying them, I mean really, is ginger-hoarding normal? No.), half a cucumber, some scraps of red onion, other assorted greens. Everything was pointing towards salad, perhaps something with gingery Asian flavours. I cheated a little bit and bought a couple of chicken thighs, but aside from that I was pretty proud of the fact that I was using up stuff that would’ve otherwise gone to waste.

For this salad I wanted something light yet substantial, with the sort of fresh, clean flavours you get in Asian food. This was perfect: light and crunchy greens, silky-soft steamed chicken. It’s perfect for a hot summer day but would work just as equally well for a winter lunch, served with a piping hot bowl of miso soup. And you could change up the green bit depending on what you have wilting in your vegetable crisper.

So. Next time you have a languishing head of lettuce in the fridge, take a look inside before throwing the whole thing out – you might be missing the best part. The inside bit, anyway – as the leaves get smaller and smaller until you reach the heart – is the best part, I reckon: all tender-sweet crunch, juicy and fresh and earnest, untainted by its tired exterior. Treat it kindly. Don’t let it go to waste.

GINGER & SESAME CHICKEN SALAD
(makes enough for 2 people as a side dish)

200g(ish) chicken breast or thigh
30g piece of ginger
1 or 2 spring onions
25g kaiware sprouts
25g mizuna
50g baby cos (romaine) leaves, torn into small pieces
50g cucumber, sliced on the diagonal
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thinly 

First, prepare the chicken: trim off any excess fat, then season on both sides with salt. Place on a plate or small bowl inside a steamer. Peel the ginger and cut off the green tops of the spring onions; add these to the chicken like this:

Steam, with the lid on, over a pot of boiling water until the chicken is cooked through (I used some smallish thighs and they cooked in about 20-25 minutes). Let cool, and shred by pulling the meat apart with your fingers (or a couple of forks if you prefer).

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the salad: slice up the cucumber and onion (I like to let the red onion soak in a bit of water so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the salad) and rinse the greens. Slice the bottom bits of the spring onions on the diagonal:

Place all the salad ingredients in a bowl and prepare the dressing.

for the dressing:
1 tbsp grated ginger (this will be approximately what’s left of the piece you peeled earlier)
1 clove crushed garlic
2 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp peanut oil
2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp toasted, coarsely ground sesame seeds*

Mix the ingredients together so that the sugar dissolves completely. Taste and adjust amount of vinegar, sugar or soy sauce if needed.

Set aside a tablespoon or so of the dressing to pour over the chicken.

Once everything’s ready, toss the salad ingredients in the dressing. Top with the shredded chicken and pour the rest of the reserved dressing over the top.

*toast the sesame seeds in a hot, dry frying pan or skillet, then loosely crush in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

quinoa salad with avocado, radish & lemon

In gluten free, salads, sides, spring, vegan, vegetarian on 9 November, 2011 at 11:35 pm

It’s rather predictable, really, but when spring rolls around all I want to eat is salad. There’s something about that raw crunch, the burst of flavour, the pure freshness of it all that’s missing over the long, dark winter stretch of Cooked Food (sure, you can have salad in winter, but is it ever as earnest as all the young leaves of spring?).

And I’d be exaggerating if I said everything I ate over winter was a monotonous succession of homogeneously-textured slop, because I certainly ate well throughout the winter months. But I can hardly remember the details of the stews, the soups, casseroles and curries that got me through. I’m too engrossed in trying all the different flavour and texture combinations within the realm of salads.

And as far as flavour and texture combinations go, this salad, which I’ve adapted only very slightly (and only to reflect the ingredients I had at hand) from Yotam Ottolenghi’s most excellent cookbook Plenty*, is a winner. Nutty, yielding quinoa. Hot, crunchy radishes. Smooth, mild avocado. Sour, juicy bursts in the form of lemon segments. Edamame adds a bit of nubbly texture and, um, more nutty flavour, and the baby mustard greens I used add just a breath of barely-there heat.

I wasn’t sure how it would all work together but I shouldn’t have doubted Ottolenghi. I should really be used to that oh-my-god-so-eye-poppingly-delicious feeling by now, but like every time I try something a little bit new and delicious I did a little personal squeal of delight (quiet enough for the flatmates not to notice… hopefully): all of the FLAVOURS! And all of the TEXTURES! And they all work so well TOGETHER!**

So this is a salad I urge you to try. It’s a little bit substantial, too, thanks to the quinoa, avocado and edamame: plenty of good stuff like proteins and amino acids and monounsaturated fats and whatnot. And it’s got that added bonus of being gluten-free, in case you were wondering. But enough of the health benefits. It’s just good, okay? And it tastes just as good, if not better, when you pack it up and eat it for lunch the next day (though I’d recommend letting it reach room temperature before serving).

Also while we’re on the subject of this salad can I just say I love radishes? Radishes thinly sliced with salt, radishes with butter and salt, radishes with butter and salt and crusty baguette, radishes in salads, radishes cut in wedges, radishes whole, radishes short, radishes long***, I am a girl obsessed. And in this salad the radishes in all their sharp crispness are the perfect foil for the creamy, luxurious avocado, so much so that I don’t know why I haven’t been consciously aware of this opposites-attract combination. And now I’m thinking about radishes, thinly sliced, with salt and avocado in a halved segment of very-fresh baguette.****

*it really hasn’t taken long for this book to become a favourite. Some nights I go to bed with it, waking up at 2am all confused as to why I’m clutching a hard, rectangular object… sad but true.

**cue little shoulder-shrug and cheeky silent excited-smile and resisting the urge to do little handclaps even now, yes, it was that exciting.

***those ones came from the same Wairarapa-dwelling workmate who brought me the bag of Jerusalem artichokes that went into this soup, as well as the freshest eggs I’ve ever tasted. She’s awesome. And the radishes were deliciously hot.

****And now I’m thinking I should end this stream-of-consciousness rant about radishes and get onto posting the recipe. Sorry everyone. I’m very tired and bleary-eyed tonight, and I love radishes. Though maybe not as much as that I-love-cats girl (making the rounds on youtube a wee while ago) loves cats.

QUINOA SALAD WITH AVOCADO, RADISH & LEMON
(from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, with a couple minor changes)

Serves 2-4, depending on whether you’re eating this as a main course or a side dish, how hungry you are, that sort of thing.

Cook 100g quinoa using your favourite method. Ottolenghi recommends bringing it to a boil in a pan with lots of water, then simmering for 9 minutes, draining, rinsing with cold water and letting it dry. It worked for me.

Meanwhile, cook and shell (or defrost, or whatever you need to do) 250g edamame.* Let cool slightly.

Slice a lemon into segments by first cutting off both ends, then carefully removing all the skin and outer pith, then slicing between each membrane so you get pretty, jewel-like segments.** Do this over a bowl to collect the juices and chuck the segments in there as well.

Cut a small-to-medium avocado into thin slices and add to the lemon juice. Toss very gently just to coat it with the lemon juice, then add the quinoa, 100g radishes cut into wedges, the edamame, a handful of baby mustard greens***, a clove of crushed garlic, 1/2 tbsp ground cumin, 2-3 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of chilli flakes. Season with flaky sea salt and cracked black pepper and toss with the gentlest touch you can manage.

Garnish with some more baby mustard greens. Serve into bowls and eat with all the wide-eyed joy of a child discovering all the different flavours and textures at once. (Okay, maybe a little child would turn its nose up at this salad. But you get the picture).

*the original recipe used broad beans. If this is something you have in your garden right now, don’t hold back. USE IT. I just had no broad beans handy, and plenty of edamame in the freezer.

**Since first trying this technique when I made this salad (also roughly based on a Plenty recipe) I’ve become more convinced of its utility, despite the extra time. Not only do the citrus pieces look beautiful, they’re also free of the tough membrane you so often find in lemons.

***I was conveniently needing to thin the pot of mustard greens I’d planted some time prior to making this salad, and was glad, because I had none of the purple radish cress Ottolenghi lists in the recipe. If you have neither baby mustard greens or purple radish cress, don’t let it stop you from making this salad. Bits of peppery rocket would do, or any microgreens or baby greens would work, as would leaving them out altogether.

the greenest of salads

In salads, spring on 30 September, 2011 at 8:16 am

I was going to write a post about the marmalade I made a little while ago. I was hoping to get it up before citrus is totally irrelevant (it’s heading that way!) and all preserving eyes are on strawberry jams and the like.

But. I’ve been gripped by The Asparagus Bug that’s been going around. And a Wednesday spent in warm, sunny Auckland coupled with some glorious Wellington sun yesterday has catapulted me into the world of springtime and sunshine and bare legs* and picnics. And salads. So a rich, almost-bitter bourbon-citrus marmalade is about as far from my mind as snowflakes and hot chocolates.

Yesterday after work I rushed home via Moore Wilson’s, picking up a hefty bunch of asparagus and some spring onions and feta. I had in mind this salad I made once before, at New Year’s, with friends at Pakiri in this scungy bach (which, awkwardly, had no interior doors) we rented late in the New Year’s game.

I couldn’t remember too much about the salad other than the fact that it contained asparagus and edamame and it was Really Green: that glorious shade of grass-green you get in early spring, before everything dries out and gets all scorched and brown. The colour of my lounge walls the first two years of flatting. In-your-face, can’t-ignore-it green.

So, in an attempt at recreating one of the last glorious moments of  2010 I started at asparagus and edamame. It wasn’t too far a stretch to add some peppery rocket and spring onions, some sharp, creamy feta and smooth-sweet mint. I kept the dressing a simple vinaigrette, with parsley and lemon juice and red wine vinegar and some good, grassy olive oil. It all came together beautifully easily, in a matter of minutes, and tasted so fresh and springlike that I ate a second bowl after finishing the first.

In the recipe below I’ve kept quantities loose – the idea is really to make it how you like it, with the green things you have (though I do recommend the brilliant-green combination of asparagus and edamame to start with).

*The last two days have been my first two (and miraculously consecutive) days of not wearing tights this spring. And I’m sitting here now in a sleeveless top. Bring on summer!

THE GREENEST OF SALADS

Take about a cup of shelled edamame (about half a bag if you’re using frozen edamame pods), place in a bowl with some rocket, chopped spring onion and mint. Break off the woody ends of a handful of asparagus stalks and slice them on the diagonal. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water (I only cook them for a minute or so, so they’re still crisp and fresh-tasting), drain and plunge in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Add to the salad with plenty of crumbled feta. 

Dress with a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and finely chopped parsley.

Enjoy: it’s a bowlful of health. If you’re not good at feeling virtuous, offset with whatever unhealthy thing you feel necessary (for me, it was a bottle of Townshend Sutton Hoo I sought out after reading this).

beetroot, orange & fennel salad

In gluten free, salads, sides, winter on 30 July, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I don’t normally post things the day I make them. I usually like to sit on a blog post for a day or two (at least), think about it a bit, maybe make the recipe again. But not this: the dishes are still all over the kitchen, my now-empty plate is sitting next to my laptop as I type, my fingers are still stained a brilliant hue of magenta from peeling cooked beetroot. This is one of those things that’s too good not to share immediately.

A couple weeks ago, I finally got myself a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. It was one of those purchases you plot out months in advance and think longingly of every time you hear it mentioned or see it on a bookshelf somewhere. Anyway, ever since I got it I’d been thinking about making Ottolenghi’s beetroot, orange & black olive salad, mostly because I had all the ingredients on hand and I’ve been trying to become the kind of person who doesn’t let food go to waste.

But it’s been too cold to think about salads, and I’ve been living off over-the-top hearty fare: braised short ribs, Ottolenghi’s winter couscous, creamy rice pudding. Yes, when it’s cold out I almost exclusively cook with a cast-iron pot. So the salad went unmade.

Until today: a burst of sunshine, a bit of cheer injected into the otherwise dull winter cynicism a lot of us have been experiencing lately. So with a bit of optimism I set about making the salad, only to quickly discover I was out of olives (had forgotten they’d gone into some olive & feta muffins I made for Week Two of the Wellington on a Plate Bake Club we’ve been doing at work). I also only had one orange instead of two, and in a fit of excitement hadn’t read the ingredients list carefully enough to remember to pick up an endive at Moore Wilson’s.

The sun was still streaming through the balcony onto my kitchen counter, though, and not to be deterred, I made a few adjustments to Yotam’s original recipe: I halved it, substituted capers for the olives, used fennel instead of red endive, threw in a handful of watercress for good measure.

The result was the most beautiful, fresh-looking thing I’ve eaten probably since I got back from holiday in the Northern Hemisphere summer. It’s exquisite: not just the jewel-toned beetroot juices staining everything in sight, but the flavours too – sweet, salty, earthy, fresh, soft, sharp. Everything’s exactly as it should be.

BEETROOT, ORANGE & FENNEL SALAD
(adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)

Slice off the tops and bottoms of a couple beetroots (I used 1 regular-sized purple one and a handful of baby golden beetroot) and boil in salted water until you can stick a knife in them easily. Let cool.

Meanwhile, cut an orange into wedges. Ottolenghi suggests you do this by first removing all the orange rind and white pith, then using a small, sharp knife to cut the orange into segments by running a knife down the side of the membranes. It means you won’t have any tough membraney bits in your orange pieces, which is nice, but if you’re short on time and don’t mind too much you could just as easily cut the orange into wedges and slice the flesh away from the skin. Either way, do this over a bowl to catch any dripping juices.

Peel the now-cool beetroot and slice into wedges; place in a mixing bowl. Add the oranges and their juice, 1/2 a sliced fennel bulb, 1 tbsp or so of capers, 1 tsp orange blossom water, 1 tbsp each red wine vinegar & olive oil, a handful of watercress, sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Toss very gently with tongs so that everything’s nicely coated but still keeps its colour more or less.

Serves 2 as a side dish.

(For a version of this salad that’s truer to the original: Mairi’s post on Toast)

PS. Part Four of my series of old airline cutlery is this old Ansett New Zealand fork. A relic! (For those of you reading this from outside NZ, Ansett hasn’t existed for a while now. I’ve flown with them once or twice, on my first visit to see my grandparents in New Zealand when I was six. Unfortunately I don’t remember too much about the airline itself, other than being in Auckland airport waiting to board the plane.)
Parts One, Two and Three are herehere & here.

roasted pear, leek & chicken salad

In autumn, salads on 11 April, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Having grown up in a part of the Northern Hemisphere that saw bitter, icy winters with hardly a hint of life for the better part of six months, autumn in Wellington feels almost like a tease. No forests ablaze in mustard* and vermilion, no mountains of raked-up leaves lining the streets. Here we rely on subtler hints that it’s not summer anymore: a little edginess to the wind, the sun just a bit duller, glimpses of gold and red here and there. But our autumn still stirs up that sort of peaceful melancholy that sets in around this time of year, a settling-down feeling, not altogether unpleasant. I’ve been relishing it – listening to the right music (a lot of Angus and Julia Stone, can’t believe I only just discovered them over the weekend), eating lots of apples and pears, wearing tights and woolly jumpers and learning to play the blues on the saxophone.** Melancholy, yes, but also sweetly satisfying.

And autumn’s all about satisfaction. Spring is hopeful and yearning, all green, tender asparagus shoots, and summer’s luscious and burning and exuberant, but autumn:

Autumn is full of the satisfaction of pulling fruit off vines, off trees, vegetables from the ground, the warm lingering contentment of apple crumbles and steaming cups of tea. And this salad, with succulent bits of chicken, tangy goats’ cheese and tender, yielding leeks, is such a pleasure to eat it almost feels wrong. It’s not. It’s plenty good for you, and the warm, roasted pears, meltingly sweet, push this dish over the edge: bliss.

No manmade dessert comes even close to the deliciousness of an unadorned, soft-ripe pear, but roasting them brings out that mellow sweetness when all your pears are firm and you don’t feel like waiting around for them to ripen. It feels a bit like cheating but the result is delicious in its own right.

I had almost forgotten about how good this salad is, having made it a couple of times last autumn out of the then-current issue of Cuisine. I’m so glad I spent a few luxurious hours over the weekend curled up in bed with the cat, thumbing through a stack of cookbooks and magazines. It’s the perfect salad for the weather, for the season, for the mood I was in.

So make this salad, now, maybe a couple of times over the next few weeks, but don’t overdo it (it’s a little bit special). Make it when you’re feeling fulfilled and content and just a wee bit sad, make it when you’re wholly satisfied and things couldn’t be better, make it when the skies are pleasantly grey and little dead leaves are blowing across the pavement. And then don’t make it again for a whole year until that wistful autumn half-smile appears on your face again, and relish in the thrill of rediscovery.

*Speaking of mustard, aside from it being delicious, I am positively lusting over bits of mustard popping up on clothes and accessories this season… am very much feeling the need-a-new-autumn-wardrobe vibe. So far, have been squirreling my money away responsibly instead… but a girl can dream.

**For what it’s worth I mostly sound like a dying goose but my goodness it’s fun. And by “the blues” I mean fiddling around with blues scales and feeling very triumphant about it.

ROASTED PEAR, LEEK & CHICKEN SALAD: (serves 3-4)

(Only very slightly adapted from Cuisine, May 2010)

3 chicken legs**
2 firm pears, cut into wedges
1-2 leeks (depending on size),  sliced on the diagonal
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 to 1 1/2 cups torn ciabatta
baby cos and baby spinach
crumbled goats’ cheese
salt, pepper, olive oil

Preheat oven to 200ºC.

Season chicken with sea salt and cracked black pepper, place in roasting dish with the pears and leeks. Give everything a good drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle the mustard and fennel seeds and chopped garlic over everything; chuck it in the oven for 40-45 minutes until you can’t stand how good your house smells and the chicken is brown and crispy-skinned and the pears and leeks are meltingly soft.  Once it’s done, pull the roasting dish out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes.

While the chicken’s in the oven tear up some ciabatta bits (or any stale bread you have lying around will do), give it a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, pop that in the oven too, but only for about 10 minutes until it crisps up.

In those last minutes of waiting, get the salad ready: place the greens on a big platter or on individual plates. Remove the chicken, pears and leeks from the roasting dish, carve the chicken into big, juicy chunks, place on top of the greens with the pears and leeks.

Pour off the fat from the roasting dish and heat on the stove, then deglaze with red wine vinegar, letting it bubble and mingle with the little bits stuck to the pan. Pour this over the salad, immediately sprinkle the goats’ cheese on top, and dig in while it’s still hot and the leaves are crunchy.

 

*I used legs because I prefer juicy dark meat, but you could just as easily use breasts, a combination, or a whole spatchcocked chicken as in the original recipe. If you do this you may need to increase the quantities a bit, or just have leftover chicken. All good either way.

 

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.