Archive for ‘Last Night’s Dinner’

January 2, 2013

Last Night’s Dinner: Brussels Sprouts with Gnocchi, Roasted Shallots and a Blue Cheese Sauce

Brussels Sprouts gnocchi and shallots

Oh Brussels sprouts! Every Christmas it’s the same isn’t it? Everyone has them, everyone hates them.

Well, actually, here at ETP Towers we rather like them. Recently, in fact, we’ve been eating them with pasta. For New Year’s Eve, Ella decided to make this rather rich dish from goodly Cork chef Denis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso fame. The problem was, we were both rather ill and the heady combination of greens, blue cheese, roasted onion and soft, cheesy gnocchi felt too much for us. After doing half the prepping we called time and put the ingredients aside.

Luckily we were feeling better the following day and carried on where we left off. It’s a great recipe and the combination of potatoes, greens and a cheese sauce, while hardly revolutionary, takes on some extra nuances through the choice and ways of cooking the ingredients.

You want the recipe? Well, it’s not ours, it’s Den’s, so you’ll need to look here.

Or you could have a go yourself. A creamy blue cheese sauce? A five-minute job. Roasted shallots? Get the oven on. Cheesy potato gnocchi? If you haven’t tried making gnocchi, look it up, it’s easy. And the sprouts? Just remember not to boil them.

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December 15, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Barley, Basil, Broccoli

Barley, basil, broccoli

Three Bs make this simple dish, which, I know, isn’t done justice by the photo (my camera battery died after just one test shot). Let’s pretend it’s a great shot and move swiftly along.

Using pearl barley to make a risotto is a pleasant change from starchy rice. Usually we make it just the way you would in a normal risotto (for example, see here), but on this occasion we did something a little different, cooking the rice in stock on its own and making a separate sauce for extra flavour. The difference, here, is that the grains almost swim in the sauce rather than being bound together by it. If you like your risottos very loose then you’ll probably like this. This made enough for two.

The first B: Barley

Cook as per packet instructions and use about the same amount of barley as you would risotto rice. We simmered ours in a light vegetable stock for around 25 minutes until the grains soften to just past the point when they’re chewy.

The second B: Broccoli

While the barley is cooking, steam a bunch of purple sprouting or tender stem broccoli for four minutes then saute it for a few minutes in a little olive oil and with a clove of finely chopped garlic.

The third B: Basil

Again, while the barley is cooking roughly chop a bunch of basil and place it in the jug of a blender/liquidizer with two cloves of finely chopped garlic. Add 300ml of single cream and blitz to make a bright green sauce. Gently heat the sauce in a small pan.

When the barley is cooked, drain it and stir some grated parmesan (or other strong hard) cheese through it along with a generous nob of butter. To plate up, either mixing the broccoli through it or placing the greens on top. Pour the sauce around the edges of the bowl. Sprinkle some extra grated cheese on top. Serve immediately, or pause to take a bad photo of it, as we did.

November 7, 2012

Yesterday’s Lunch: Our Fattoush

Fattoush is basically a bread salad from the Levant made from toasted or fried pieces of (stale) pitta bread. Added to it are herbs – flat leaf parsley and mint – and fresh vegetables including tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and even radishes. It’s often seasoned with sumac.

Sometimes peppers, feta cheese, olives, carrot and lettuce are added. Really it’s up to you, but choose good fresh ingredients that are in season.

You’ll notice that ours has some chickpeas in it. You’ll often notice that on ETP. It’s not quite trad in Fattoush recipes, but not really a heresy either.

We lightly fry the pitta. Don’t blacken it. It will also continue to crisp up once you take it from the frying pan to cool, so don’t overdo it. The rest is chopping and assemblage. Don’t cut the vegetables too finely – you’re not making tabbouleh.

That’s it really: a combination of fresh flavours and pleasing textures. A great lunch or light supper. Oh, and yes, we often have feta in ours. This one didn’t.

November 1, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Fig, feta and butter bean salad

We’re a little behind on recipe posts this autumn – I do apologise – which means that the best of this year’s figs might have come and gone. If you can nab some, especially the Turkish ones, go get!

We made this salad by combining some classic fig-related ingredients and adding another one, butter beans. Figs and feta? Of course. Honey roasted figs? Naturally. A little mint with that? Oh go on then. But butter beans? Really?

Well, take out the figs and the butter beans fit this recipe fairly obviously. So, we threw them all together. To begin, quarter the fresh figs, drizzle with a little runny hunny and ‘roast’ in the oven on an oven tray for around 15 minutes on a medium heat until the flesh has warmed and softened and begun to caramelise on the surface with the help of the honey.

In the meantime, add a little olive oil to a wide frying pan, add two tins of drained organic butter beans and cook them gently for a few minutes until their skins begin to turn a golden brown colour. Remove from the heat.

In a large, shallow salad bowl, combine the roasted figs and butter beans. Crumble in a block of feta cheese and a small handful each of chopped fresh mint and flat leaf parsley.

And that’s it. Eat just warm or at room temperature. It’s like a ray of sunshine from the middle east cutting through a British autumn mist.

October 15, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Spaghetti squash with saffron infused stew of chickpeas and courgette, oven dried tomatoes and feta

Real-world followers will know this isn’t last night’s dinner but the dinner of 24 September. We had received a variety of squash in our weekly veg box that I didn’t recognise. Spaghetti squash, I thought, I bet it’s spaghetti squash. I was right.

Spaghetti squash is so called because when it is cooked its flesh comes apart in strands rather than chunks or a straightforwardly mashed texture. Which is all very well, but what to do with it?

First things first, I wanted to have some piquancy in the dish: half some cherry tomatoes, place them on a baking tray and cook them in the oven at a very, very low heat for anywhere between 2-3 hours. In fact don’t cook them so much as warm them, wither them, dry them out. With the moisture gone they are going to provide an incredible hit of tomato flavour. Promise.

Right, onto the main event. Half the squash and scrape out the seeds with a metal spoon. Place the squash, cut side up, in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle over some salt and rub in a teaspoon of ground cumin to the surface of the flesh. Roast in the oven at 190 degrees celsius for 30-40 minutes or until the flesh is soft when you prod it with a fork. At this point remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes so the squash can be handled. Then, with a fork, start lifting the flesh from the skin, pulling it away gently. Those spaghetti like strands should start to appear. Spread the flesh loosely over the bottom of a baking/casserole dish.

While the squash is cooking, sautee an onion in a little olive oil in a deep frying pan. When it has softened, after five minutes or so, add a chopped courgette and a chopped fresh red chilli. Stir and cook for another five minutes. Then add two tins of chickpeas. Stir again.

Take a small pinch of saffron strands and infuse them in 500ml of vegetable stock for five minutes (you’ll need to ensure the stock is hot). Add the saffron stock to the chickpeas, onion and courgette. Sprinkle a level teaspoon of ground cinnamon into the pan and a teaspoon of ground cumin. Stir and simmer for 20 minutes. If the mixture completely dries out, add a splash of water to loosen it.

When done, spoon the chickpea mix over the spaghetti squash in the casserole dish, letting the juices soak into the squash. Dot the oven dried tomatoes into the topping and break some small pieces of feta into the mix too.

Bake in a medium oven for 10-15 minutes.

September 24, 2012

Last night’s dinner: Vegetable tagine

I wish our photograph did this dinner justice. (My excuse: steam rising into the camera and not being sure whether I was focusing on the plate of food or the mortar of fiery chilli sauce.) Oh well.

But in many ways the half-thought-through snap reflects the nature of this day’s eating. I didn’t get to the shop and didn’t know what we were going to eat until late in the day. Dinner, it seemed, was going to be a ramshackle affair.

And so, indecision produced this, a tagine – made, as it happens, in a big old tagine cooking pot, from which of course the recipe gets its name. We do sometimes cook a ‘tagine’ in a normal saucepan but there’s something rather nice about the way a tagine cooks the food inside it – all that steam rolling around in there to produce a dish that softens up to the point of falling apart in no time at all. Something happens with the flavours. I’m not sure how it happens but I like it.

In any case, this was cobbled together so quickly: a rummage around the kitchen cupboard and fridge produced an onion, a piece of marrow and a courgette, some peppers, a carrot, a potato, a couple of tomatoes, a tin of chickpeas… you get the idea: all the stuff we hadn’t quite made use of but nothing that shouted “use me, base your meal around me”. Hence: a stew. A north African stew, perhaps, but a stew nonetheless.

Special ingredients? Well, I also discovered some dried apricots and some toasted almonds. Perfect. And, literally, everything got chopped and put into the bowl of the tagine with a few teaspoons of ground cumin and cinnamon, plus a little vegetable stock. It was then cooked until the vegetables were soft and served with some cous cous and that fiery chilli sauce (a few chillis, a clove of garlic and a little olive oil bashed up in that there mortar).

As summer turns to autumn, a stew like this, using up the end of the season’s veg, is really rather delightful. Not bad for a ramshackle affair.

August 25, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Summer vegetable and goat’s cheese bruschetta

Until recently there hasn’t been much summer round these parts, which means we haven’t done what we usually do with our dinners at this time of year.

But… the sun has started making occasional appearances and thoughts have turned to lighter meals that make the most of delicate summer flavours and fragrances. And bruschetta – we haven’t made bruschetta in, well, ages. Certainly not since we moved from London last year.

Bruschetta. Stuff on toast. Wild mushrooms and thyme; roasted cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and basil; sweet roasted peppers with chilli and parmesan; chargrilled aubergine, ricotta and pesto… all with a good hunk of lightly toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with a good olive oil. Yum.

We had none of the variations above on this occasion. What we had was half a loaf of bread from the Village Deli in Wivenhoe (they do good bread, I try not to look at it as I pass – I’d eat little else), plus a few leftovers from our weekly veg box and recent trips to the supermarket. Which meant we had courgettes, beetroot, broad beans, a green pepper, some grilled globe artichoke hearts, a mild red chilli – and a nice block of crumbly-ish, creamy goat’s cheese (again, from the aforementioned Deli).

The only method with this is to treat each ingredient with respect: so, the peppers and beet are roasted separately, in a little olive oil, and chopped into chunks; the chilli goes with the pepper and is then sliced; courgettes get sliced and cooked on a griddle; broad beans are shelled, blanched for 4 minutes and slipped from their pithy skins; artichokes, already cooked, are ready to go.

When it’s all done, toast the bread, rub it with garlic while it’s still hot, and pile up the veg on top, attractively if possible, interspersed with the broken-up goat’s cheese. And then drizzle with a little olive oil.

Does bruschetta really require a recipe? I don’t know: it’s just toast with stuff on it. Nice stuff though. And nice toast. And a nice, light, summer’s evening meal.

August 1, 2012

Last night’s dinner: a Moroccan chickpea stew

I’ve touched on this story before, but a few years ago Ella and I were in Marseille for my birthday. For lunch we headed to an authentic (read ‘basic’) little Moroccan restaurant near the old port. We’d heard rumours that their chickpea stew was rather excellent and it was prominent on the menu. Ella chose it and wished she hadn’t. Down in the rich depths of spicy sauce was something unpleasant: a large lump of lamb. It wasn’t the most fortuitous of days for Ella: a harbourside gull also gifted her a ‘lucky’ present on her head.

Thankfully, the experience hasn’t scarred her and we’ve not been put off chickpea stews. But then, how could we be? We make variations on them every few months. Indeed, there’s one we tried earlier here. That was my version. This is Ella’s and it bears much closer comparison with the heady, rich, deeply flavoured and rather unctuous bowl served up in Marseille – minus the ropey ruminant. In my book, Ella’s is better than my own version, though some might prefer the lighter one we featured earlier. Try this though, it’s lovely.

So, to the stove:

For a couple of big portions: finely chop one medium onion and fry in a little olive oil on a medium heat in a large stockpot or saucepan. As the onion starts to turn golden, add 2 small or 1 large bell peppers, cut into strips no wider than 1cm.

When the onions and peppers have softened add the dried spices: a dessert spoonful of cinnamon, a teaspoonful of paprika, a little ground chilli, and a dessert spoon of ground cumin. It might sound like a lot of spices, but it’ll take it.

Stir in the spices to coat the veg. As they soak into the softened veg and oil they will create a kind of paste. To this add a good squeeze of tomato puree. Stir again and ‘cook out’ the paste, heating it through in the pan for another five minutes, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn.

Next, add a large handful of small waxy potatoes, halved or quartered so that they’re chestnut sized. Then add two tins of chickpeas. Stir in the potatoes and chickpeas and then add around 750ml of vegetable stock – enough that the liquid comes a couple of centimetres or so above the vegetables. Bring the stew to a boil then simmer for around 30 minutes until it has reduced and thickened a little. The longer you cook it the better it will get, so leave it longer if you like but don’t let it get too thick.

As it’s cooking, add a good dessert spoonful of dried mint. Season with salt and pepper and add some more cinnamon, cumin and mint if you think it needs it. Remember, a richly aromatic, deeply spiced stew is the intention.

And that’s it – except for for the vital topping of chilli sauce: with a large mortar and pestle grind up a clove of garlic, a few fresh red chillis and a dash of cinnamon together with a little olive oil until you create a fiery sauce. Serve this at the table alongside the soup and add as much as you dare.

I could eat this every day and the world would be a little bit of a better place.

July 4, 2012

Last night’s dinner: Enchiladas with sweet potato, beans, greens and feta

Prepping the enchilada for the oven…

The finished article…

We’ve never made enchiladas before but Jeannie Macaroni we’ll make them again. Why? Because these were a feast of flavours and really packed a punch. We love stuffing tortillas with chilli infused fillings, so why oh why have we not done this before?

The basics are that you take corn or wheat tortilla flatbreads, stuff them with some lovely, er, stuff, and then bake them in the oven, topped with a little sauce and cheese. The authentic variables often involve meat but of course you’ll find none of that here. So, what to stuff your tortilla with?

Our filling is a fairly tried and tested mixture: sweet potatoes, cubed and lightly roasted in a little olive oil; borlotti beans (or other medium sized beans), cooked at home or from a can, to add protein; wilted greens (we used curly kale) to contrast the sweetness of the potato; and feta cheese to bring a sharpness that cuts through the other flavours.

When cooked, bring all these together in a bowl – add a little freshly squeezed lime juice too if you like, and some chopped coriander leaf.

Next for the sauce and, really, any chilli–tomato sauce will do. For ours, I finely chopped an onion, sweated it in a little olive oil for a few minutes, added some finely chopped red chilli, a heaped teaspoon of ground cumin, a little paprika and a can of chopped tomatoes. Mix well, add a little water and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the tomatoes have cooked down and the flavours have all combined. Set aside.

Now, back to the tortillas. To prep them for the oven, first warm each tortilla you’re using in a dry frying pan on a medium heat, splashed with a tiny sprinkling of water. Warm them for around 30 seconds a side, making sure they don’t stick.

Take a serving-spoonful of the tortilla filling and place it in the middle of each tortilla. Fold over two opposite sides of the tortilla slightly, then roll up the other ones to make a sealed cylinder – or something approximating one. These need to be transferred to a lightly oiled baking dish – so make sure they’re rolled up tightly enough to be able to transfer them. Be careful!

When your tortillas are sat snug in the baking dish, cover them with your chilli–tomato sauce. Bake for 15 minutes, then take them out of the oven, grate some cheese over the top (cheddar or gouda will be fine) and return to the oven for 5 more minutes until it melts.

Serve hot with some salad. Oh and be careful when lifting them out of the baking dish – they’re liable to fall apart.

June 17, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Asparagus and Parmesan Frittata

Every year, without fail, the local asparagus season surprises me. I know what it tastes like and I know how I like to eat it, so why should it catch me unawares? I think the answer is that I also end up eating asparagus at other times of the year. Sometimes it’s in restaurants that claim they build their recipes around local, seasonal produce. But asparagus in London in November? I think not. Then it appears in stir fries and risottos: thin, woody, tasteless stalks from Peru or Thailand. Pah! Sometimes, like a fool, I even buy it myself.

So, every year, when the really good stuff comes around in May, I’m taken aback all over again at how fresh, juicy and earthily green, local in-season asparagus can be. The problem is that after a few meals of it I can get bored. I know the season will be over soon, but I’m tired and I don’t want another risotto, or another plate of steamed asparagus with new potatoes, or the stalks chargrilled with a grating of parmesan… etc etc. So, each year I come up with something new. Last year it was asparagus egg and chilli tomato. This year, a quick lunch of an asparagus-based fritatta. (Look carefully and you’ll notice that we kept the winning combination of the veg, eggs and cheese and simply reformulated it). So easy it hardly needs a recipe, we made this as a man from the phone company was fixing our broadband. Amounts, and the size of the pan, will depend on how many you want to feed… I’ll leave it up to you.

First, finely slice a red onion and begin to fry it gently in a little olive oil in a frying pan. Cook until it has softened – around 8 minutes. While it’s cooking, roughly chop the asparagus stalks. If they’re thick, halve them lengthways too so that they don’t take too long to cook through. Add them to the pan and cook for a further 8-10 minutes. Beat some eggs and season with a black pepper. Next, grate a handful or so of parmesan and mix it into the eggs. Add to the pan. Stir a little, coating the asparagus and onion – try to distribute the veg evenly through the egg mixture. Leave to cook on a low heat. Turn on your grill to high. When the edges of the frittata begin to crisp and turn gold but the top is still not quite set, take the pan off the heat and hold under the grill to set the top. When it’s gold, you’re done.

Serve hot, warm or cold.