Monday, 26 September 2011

Recipe XXVI - Steamed Brussels Sprouts in a Parmesan and Pepper Sauce

Certain vegetables just look miserable sitting there on the plate, staring at you for love, wanting some much-needed attention. Brussels sprouts are the most vilified vegetable in the entire history of cooking, seemingly only brought out once a year at Christmas by the British then boiled to a horrible sludgy mess and dumped on the plate because that's what you do at Christmas. I beg to differ. Certain vegetables ARE dull, yes, but they have ample taste and texture if you just give them some love.

One bagful of Brussels sprouts
200g Parmesan cheese
1 pot of crème fraîche

Peel the sprouts and put them in the steaming part of a saucepan. Don't put the cross in the bottom - it doesn't do anything to the sprouts' self esteem. Steam for about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut up or grate some Parmesan (or Cheddar, or Manchego or such like) and put it in a small saucepan with some ground pepper and the crème fraîche. Heat slowly, making sure all the cheese melts.

Pour over the sprouts on the plate.

I had mine with some sautéed chicken breasts, but the star of the show is the sprout.

I'll have a few more appearances by these wonderful vegetables nearer to Christmas.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Recipe XXV - Thick Pumpkin and Garlic Soup and Pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)

Ingredients for the soup:
1 pumpkin
2 onions
1 courgette
1 litre vegetable stock
8 or more cloves of garlic, whole
10 cloves of cardemom, seeded
A spoonful of coriander powder
10 peppercorns
2 slices of 1.5cm-wide slices of bacon, e.g. pancetta

Instructions for the soup:
Peel the outer layer of the pumpkin off and remove the seeds (don't throw them away - see below!). A potato peeler sometimes does the trick, but an ordinary knife is just as good. Put the cloves of garlic in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the pumpkin, the onion and the courgette into small pieces.

Crush some peppercorns with a pestle and mortar. Fry the onion and the courgette until they have sweated, adding some of the pepper and all the coriander powder, and then add the pumpkin. After about ten minutes, add some hot vegetable stock and boil with the lid on on a medium temperature.

Remove the garlic from the oven, crush it and add it to the pot with the cardemom, stirring it in really well. Fry some pieces of pancetta in olive oil with the rest of the crushed peppercorns.

Once the pumpkin has softened, take all the contents of the pot and put them in the blender to turn into a pulpy soup. Once removed, serve immediately. Sprinkle the top with the pancetta for extra flavour, or mix it into the soup, like I did.

Instructions for the pepitas:
Remove the seeds from the pumpkin - never throw them away, they are too tasty! You can wash them, take off all the flesh and stringy parts of the pumpkin and put them on an oiled baking tray, spread salt over the top, then turn them over so they are covered in the oil and salt. Put them in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, and eat either immediately or store them in an airtight container.

A pitted pumpkin

After roasting

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Recipe XXIV - Hachis Parmentier (or Shepherd's Pie, to me and you!)

The French - you have to love them for their sheer persistence that everything that came out of a kitchen was theirs - named this dish after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the father of the potato. He was in fact an 18th century nutritionist with a large share in the potato market, so it was in his interests to promote the potato, seen up until that point in France as only good for the pigs. However, this dish is extraordinarily international. In Portugal, it's "Empadão", in Spanish South America it is called "pastel de papa", in the Arab Mediterranean it's called "Siniyet Batata" or simply " a plate of potatoes", and even in Russia, it has the name "Картофельная запеканка", or "kartofelnaya zapyekanka", meaning "potato pie". But all the time a restaurant calls it "hachis Parmentier", they can sell it for three times the price!
I like this dish because it reminds me of my dear mother, whose cooking I didn't appreciate nearly enough.

500g pure beef mince
300g-400g potatoes
1 onion
(1 leek, or a courgette, if you like)
1 red pepper
3 carrots
1 can of peeled tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
Some red wine
(Some dried rosemary, oregano, sage or the like)
Some fresh rosemary, oregano, sage or the like
A pestle & mortar with pepper
Some milk
Some butter
Some grated cheese
Some breadcrumbs
Some olive oil

Put the minced beef into a medium-sized bowl. Add salt and some of your ground pepper, plus some of the dried or fresh herbs. Cut up the vegetables and put them in the frying pan, adding the rest of the ground pepper. After a couple of minutes once they have sweated a bit, add the minced beef. Once the beef is no longer red, add the garlic and the rest of the herbs. A few minutes later, because you don't want to burn the herbs, pour in the tomatoes and stir it in, adding as much or as little red wine as you like. I put in a lot, because it reduces, and adds a great deal to the flavour. Turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Now turn on your oven to 180°C.

While the meat is cooking nicely, peel, cut and wash your potatoes. Then put them in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil. If you cut them small enough, they take only 10 to 15 minutes to go soft. I let them get really soft so they are much more malleable, especially considering what you'll do next. Put in your milk, your butter and your grated cheese. The pan should still be red hot, but heat up the milk on the bottom, take off the heat and mash it all together.

Take a deep baking dish, pour in the meat, then spoon the mashed potato on top of it.

Don't forget to add breadcrumbs to the top. Put it into the oven until the meat is bubbling around the edges!

Serve alone or with peas, broccoli or sprouts. Oh yes, and a good bottle of dry red!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Recipe XXIII - Pork Pepper Steaks with Honey & Mustard Sauce

Sorry for not posting this weekend - I have just returned from Prague. But whilst I was there, I came across this extremely simple recipe by chance in a super restaurant called "Chapadlo", or in English "The Tentacle", in a suburb called Nusle. I sometimes just get on a tram to anywhere I haven't been in Prague, and get off when I see something interesting. I'm glad I got off there, right next to tram stop "Horky", as I'd recommend the place to anyone.

Ingredients (feeds two):
2-4 Pork steaks, depending on the size
Some salt
Whole peppercorns and a pestle & mortar

Instructions for the pork steaks:
Take a pestle & mortar and crush the pepper. Sprinkle salt on the pork on both sides. Then, take a large, flat-ish frying pan and heat up the oil to a high temperature. Fry the pork and towards the end of the cooking process, pour your pepper on the surface of the pork.

For the sauce:
Half a yoghurt pot of crème fraîche
3 spoonfuls of Dijon mustard with medium whole seeds
3 spoonfuls of semi-sweet honey
Take a small saucepan, spoon in the crème fraîche, the mustard and the honey and mix together well. Simply heat but do not boil and pour on the plate wherever you like!

I had mine at home tonight with steamed broccoli and boiled potatoes, but in Prague, I had it with chips and whole princess beans with onions.