Archive for ‘Parmesan’

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.

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April 11, 2012

Today’s lunch: Broad bean, radish and parmesan salad

It hasn’t known whether it was winter, spring or summer today. Today’s delivery of a veg box, however, proclaimed that the sun must shine and brought us broad beans, a luscious lettuce and bright pink radishes among its many treats.

I fully admit that when we receive radishes in a veg box they often wilt for a week in the fridge and get thrown. I don’t know why, because a radish is a lovely little thing that can add a peppery bit of zip, crunch and warmth to many a plate of food. Rather than let them go to waste this week, I decided to use them straight away in a simple salad.

First, de-pod the broad beans and simmer them in a small pan for four minutes. Once drained, let them cool for a couple of minutes before slipping the bright green beans from their tougher outer skins and set aside.

Next, top and tail the radishes with a sharp knife and half them lengthways before giving them a quick rinse. Next, melt a little butter in a large frying pan and add the radishes, turning them once in a while until they just start to brown at the edges. Add the broad beans and cook for one more minute.

While the radishes are cooking, roughly chop some sturdy salad leaves (gem or rocket, for example, will both do fine) and dress them with a little olive oil and lemon vinaigrette. Place the leaves in the bottom of shallow bowls then add the radishes and beans. Top with shavings of a good parmesan or pecorino.

It almost feels like summer.

February 18, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Smoked garlic and cheese potato cakes with chilli greens

You might not guess it from the recipe title, but this was one of those meals inspired by using up some old veg and bits and pieces in the fridge. It can also be seen as mash and greens – with bells on.

For the potato cakes, steam some floury potatoes until tender (about 3 medium-sized potatoes per person), mash them and leave them to cool. While they’re cooling, saute some finely sliced shallots (1 per person) and some finely chopped smoked garlic (2 cloves per person) in a little olive oil for around 5 minutes, until soft but not browned. When the mash is cool, transfer it to a large mixing bowl and mix in the shallots and garlic. Add 1 finely chopped spring onion, per person, to the mash.

The mash now needs to be worked up into an almost doughy consistency and be flavoured with cheese. Break 1 egg per person into the mash and stir in. The mash will become slightly gooey. Now, grate 50g per person of parmesan into the mash and mix well. Next, a little at a time, sprinkle some plain flour into the bowl and mix in. Do this until the flour is absorbed and distributed evenly. It will dry the mix out a little. The idea is to create a consistency that can be easily formed into a cake or pattie – without being a slop, and without crumbling at all.

With your hands, shape the mash into patties/cakes about 3 inches across and an inch deep. Then fry them in a little olive oil in a wide frying pan on a medium heat, turning after around 5 minutes, until they become golden on both sides.

We served the cakes with some greens – blanching some sprouting broccoli and cavolo nero for 4 minutes in boiling water, then frying it in olive oil with a sprinkle of fresh red chilli and a chopped, deseeded tomato. A tangy, yoghurt-based sauce, or tomato salsa would also add a little something.

December 30, 2011

2011 leftovers: Chilli and parmesan polenta recipe

Before we made this, a couple of months ago, I think I had eaten polenta about twice in my life. Each time it was bland and distinctly, well, horrible. I never wanted to go near t again. I’d see it on a menu and think “Ha, well they’re trying to be clever, but it won’t work,” or see it cooked on TV and think “They’re gonna taste it and say it’s nice, but they’ll be lying”.

Polenta. Italian peasant food. But I kept on seeing it and some of my favourite cooks feature a polenta recipe every time they release a new recipe book. So what was my problem?

Well, blandness and texture were the big things and, fortunately, they could be sorted. I wanted a polenta that was rich with flavour and didn’t feel like gritty mush in the mouth. Actually, it’s easy to achieve and, typing this up, I’d like some more of it now.

We cooked 250 grams of ‘coarse maize’ polenta in around a litre of simmering vegetable stock until it was soft, stirring regularly. I think that took about 20 minutes (to remove the granularity) but I could be wrong – so keep checking. We then stirred in some chopped birds eye chillis and a handful of grated parmesan/pecorino cheese, gave it a good mix and spread into an oiled shallow baked tray. After about 20 minutes, the polenta is cool and set firm. We could then cut it into triangles and grill/griddle it. This would work well on a barbecue, though it’s too chilly to be thinking about that at the moment.

We served our polenta wedges with greens and peppers – thinking of it as the carb on the plate in place of potato, pasta or rice. And it was really tasty. Honest. Consider me converted.

August 8, 2011

Recipe: Brown rice, courgettes and mint

On first glance I thought this recipe, here, for brown rice, courgettes and mint had two things going against it.

First, as you might have realised, I don’t always trust Nigel Slater’s cooking. Amongst other things, I often feel he misses a trick and rejects obvious ways to pep up his food in favour of his own nostalgia-filled peccadilloes.

Second, I firmly believe anything you might want to call ‘risotto’ should be made with a proper risotto rice.

So, this recipe fails twice before we’re even off. But… it looks rather nice. Nutty, summery, rustic, with a hint of old-skool veggie health food that suddenly looks almost vogueish. I think we’ll try it.

July 9, 2011

Recipe: Yotam Ottolenghi’s summer minestrone with basil cream recipe

…and while we’re on the subject of summery soups infused with basil, here’s a light little number from Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian today.

June 15, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Broccoli and cheddar soup

1 June 2011

Whenever I eat broccoli, I really enjoy it. And yet I so rarely feel the urge to cook it. In a stir-fry it can be nutty and sweet, it adds depth to a cheese quiche and here, as a soup, it’s a big bowl of savouriness.

We often make this soup in winter, combining the broccoli with a soup base of potato, onion and, perhaps, leek. You can use Stilton too, instead of cheddar. It works, as here, in a slightly lighter, more summery version.

So, slice up one medium white onion and gently fry it in a little olive oil in a large pan or stockpot. Dice a handful of new potatoes and add them to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes. Finely chop a clove of garlic and add to the pan too. Then finely chop 6-8 spring onions and add them as well. Next, take one whole head of brocolli and break it up into small florets. Add to the pan and top up with a light vegetable stock. Season with a little salt and pepper and half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Bring to the boil and simmer until the brocolli is soft. Leave to cool and then blend with a hand blender. Return to the heat and add around 100g of cheddar cheese, grated. Or, if you like, use a mix of cheddar and parmesan. We like the cheese to add a creaminess to the big bowl of green but not become overpowering. A cheese soup this is not! Serve with a dollop of cream or creme fraiche. Depending on the size of the brocolli and how thick you like the soup, this will feed 2-3 hungry people easily, or around 4 regular servings.

June 2, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Asparagus, Egg and Chilli Tomato

Tuesday 17 May

English asparagus at this time of the year is the best proof possible that eating vegetables in season makes sublime sense. Steam it and serve with some Jersey Royal new potatoes and a little butter – perfect. Then there’s the Jamie Oliver inspired chargrilled asparagus and parmesan salads that became popular a few years ago. We also like asparagus with a poached egg on top. But what else to do with this handsome stem?

This easy supper brought two dishes together – the complementary pairings of asparagus and egg, and egg in a setting of a spicy, tangy, chilli-infused tomato sauce or jam.

The chilli tomato here was literally a large handful of halved cherry tomatoes, softened ever so slightly in a little olive oil with the addition of some chilli flakes. The tomato ‘sauce’ is poured over a halved soft-boiled egg, which sits atop some spears of griddled asparagus, which sits atop some roughly chopped watercress (spinach or gem lettuce would be fine). And yep, we sprinkled some parmesan shavings on top at the end. Easy.