Monday, 27 August 2012

Wine-Braised Baby Fennel in Crisped Prosciutto

My trusty camera was stolen two weeks ago when thieves broke into our house and helped themselves to our valuables, so I've had to use my Samsung cellphone (which has an astonishingly good camera) to take this photograph. Apologies if it's not an image of the highest order - but it's not bad for a cell phone, is it?

I'm excited about this - it's a splendid dish, ideal for serving on its own as a warm starter, or as an accompaniment to grilled fish or roast chicken, or even as  finger food for a party.

Baby fennel bulbs are in high season in South Africa right now, and I eagerly add them to my basket whenever I see them. Not a great shopping strategy, to be honest, because my family have always been doubtful about fennel: "It tastes like liquorice, Mom", they complain. "Eeeu."

I'm happy to report that they changed their minds when I put this dish on the table yesterday. The bacon addicts that they are, they loved the crisp wrapping of prosciutto, the silken/stringy, delicate taste and texture of the little fennel bulbs, and a dressing as intense as the finest soy sauce.

Rosemary, with its strong resinous taste,  may seem like a strange choice of herb to go with fennel, but it works beautifully as a subtle background note.

This is not worth making unless you can find really small and tender fennel bulbs, and some proper Italian prosciutto.  Although, having said that, I wouldn't mind wrapping these up in some streaky bacon rashers and throwing them on the braai.

I suppose you could sprinkle micro-herbs all over the top of these to make them look cheffy. Or not.

Wine-Braised Baby Fennel in Crisped Prosciutto

12 small fennel bulbs
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
¾ cup (180 ml) dry white wine
4 Tbsp (60 ml) water
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
a small sprig of fresh rosemary
6 wide slices of good Italian proscuitto, or 12 if they are narrow slices
extra olive oil, for frying
a squeeze of lemon juice
milled black pepper

Trim the fennel bulbs, top and bottom, and peel off any tough outer leaves. Put them in a single layer in a large pan and add the olive oil, wine, water, garlic cloves and rosemary. Press a circle of greaseproof baking paper onto the surface of the bulbs and place a tilted lid on top of the pan.  Cook, over a medium heat, at an energetic bubble, for 10-15 minutes, or until the fennel feels very tender when you poke it with the tip of a sharp knife. Take off the baking paper and lid, turn the heat up and cook the bulbs until the liquid in the pan has reduced to about two tablespoons.

Remove the fennel bulbs from the pan using a slotted spoon, and place on a plate. Set the pan containing the liquid aside. Cut the prosciutto slices in half and use these pieces to wrap each each fennel bulb in a 'miniskirt', as shown above.  Heat a little olive oil in a new pan or on a griddle, and when it is very hot, fry the wrapped bulbs for about 2 minutes on each side, or until the ham is crisp and golden, and the fennel bulbs are beginning to 'catch'.  Arrange the the bulbs on a warm platter.

Put the frying pan containing the cooking liquid back onto the heat, warm it through for a minute or two  and then add a generous squeeze of lemon juice, plus a good grinding of black pepper. You shouldn't need to add salt, as the ham is salty enough on its own.  Turn off the heat and drizzle the dressing over the fennel bulbs. Serve immediately, piping hot or just warm.

Serves 4. 

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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Recreating a chargrilled taste at home: Peppered Burgers with Smoky Cheese & Puffy Onion Rings

When I order a burger meal in a restaurant, I expect the Full Monty: rustling chips, brittle golden onion rings, a juicy patty that tastes of fire and smoke, and lots of piquant relishy bits. It’s not easy, admittedly, to replicate the bells-and-whistles steakhouse experience in a domestic kitchen using ready-made burger patties, but there are some sneaky strategies you can use to create what comes close to that essential char-grilled taste on a stove top, and to produce super-crisp chips and onion rings that are at least as good – if not better – than those from your local steakhouse.

Peppered Burgers with Smoky Cheese & Puffy Onion Rings
Here's a recipe I've created for Woolworths South Africa's Blogger Burger Off*. This is a vote-based challenge (and something I'm not very keen on, because the very thought of having to beg for online votes makes my ears bleed).

[Postscript (15 September 2012): I won the burger challenge with this recipe.] 

Instead of begging, may I take this opportunity to introduce you to my burger 'opponent', South African blogger Alida Ryder of Simply Delicious. Alida is a gifted young cook, photographer, mother of twins and food blogger whose first cookbook Simple & Delicious – Recipes from the Heart is about to be published by Penguin books. Here's a short video that sums up Alida's easy, light and bright approach to home cooking. I think she's a TV star in the making! 

But back to the smoky burgers. This will takes some time and effort – as all good food does – so if you’re in a hurry to whip up a quick Friday feast, feel no shame in slapping these burgers together and serving them with oven chips and a squirt of tomato sauce: they’ll still taste great.  Or, thinking ahead, you can start the night before: make the tomato relish, parboil and refrigerate the chips, slice the onions and mix together the dry ingredients for the onion batter, all ready for the big event.  

Everyone has their own favourites when it comes to burger toppings (I’m partial to earthy mushroom sauces, blue cheese, bacon and rocket, although not necessarily all on one burger) I think the time-tested components of a classic burger take an awful lot of beating: very crisp, frilly lettuce, melty, mild cheese, a good toasted bun and of course lashings of good tomato sauce.  

To recreate the smoky taste of a chargrilled burger, I’ve used Woolies’ BBQ marinade and some nutty, smoked provolone, and a scorching-hot ridged griddle pan. If you don’t have a ridged pan, use a big frying pan, but make sure it’s very, very hot.  If your kitchen isn’t wreathed in smoke while you’re cooking the patties, the pan’s not hot enough.   Leave out the cracked peppercorns if you’re feeding small kids. The spices in the relish recreate the classic flavourings of tomato ketchup, but you can leave some of them out if you don’t have them to hand.

 * I was paid by Woolies to develop this recipe.  We were restricted to using pre-prepared Woolworths burger patties and rolls. 

Peppered Burgers with Smoky Cheese, Tomato Relish, Puffy Onion Rings and Fat Chips

For the burgers:
8 (800 g) thick burger patties
1 cup (250 ml) Woolies Smoky BBQ Marinade, or similar
juice of a half a lemon
flaky sea salt
2 Tbsp (30 ml) black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
4 nice crusty ciabatta rolls, or fresh burger rolls
2 baby gem lettuces

For the onion rings:
2 large white onions, peeled
1 cup (250 ml) self-raising flour
3 Tbsp (45 ml) cornflour
1 tsp (5 ml) salt, to taste
1 x 200 ml tin ice-cold soda water
sunflower oil for frying

For the chips:
4 very large potatoes
a squeeze of lemon juice
flaky sea salt

For the tomato relish:
1 x 400 g punnet ripe, sweet cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
1 tsp (5 ml) sugar
a pinch (1.25 ml) each of ground cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and paprika
salt and milled pepper, to taste

If you’re making chips, start them the day before, or at least six hours ahead. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Peel the potatoes, trim them into rectangles and then cut them into neat batons as thick as your thumb. Immediately parboil the batons in the salted water for 6 minutes, or until they are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, but still holding their shape. Drain in a colander for 30 minutes, spread on a tray and place them, uncovered, in the fridge to dry out for six hours or overnight.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a pan until it is very hot, just to the point of smoking. Cut a slit in the side of each tomato. Stand well back, throw in the tomatoes and cook over a high heat, tossing often, for 2 minutes, or until the tomatoes are blistered and beginning to catch in places. Add the vinegar, sugar and spices, turn the heat right down and cook at a brisk bubble for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick, glossy and reduced. Stir the sauce often, and use a potato masher lightly to squash the tomatoes to release their juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like a smooth tomato sauce, blitz the mixture in a liquidizer. Or leave it chunky. Set aside to cool.

When you’re ready to start the burgers, heat up your oven grill, ready for toasting the rolls.
Heat a large ridged griddle pan for 4-5 minutes, or until it is blazing hot. Lightly brush the griddle with sunflower oil. Mix the Smoky BBQ Marinade with the lemon juice. Place the patties, in two batches if necessary, on the hot griddle and cook for 1 ½ minutes. Flip them over and cook for another minute and a half. Generously brush the tops and sides of the patties, using a pastry brush, with the BBQ marinade/lemon juice mixture, then flip them over again and cook for 45-60 seconds (watch them carefully, as the molasses in the marinade burns fast). Coat the uppermost side with marinade, sprinkle generously with cracked black peppercorns, flip over once more and cook for 45-60 seconds (total cooking time is about 5 minutes; each patty is flipped three times).

 In the meantime, cut the ciabatta rolls in half lengthways and toast them lightly under the oven grill until golden brown and heated through (or you can toast them on the wiped-clean griddle pan when you’ve done cooking the patties).

To assemble the burgers, place a few lettuce leaves on the toasted lower half of each ciabatta roll. Place two hot patties, peppered side up, over the lettuce, and top with a few slices of smoked provolone and a dollop of tomato relish. Place the upper half of the roll on top and serve immediately with chips and onion rings.

For the onion rings: Heat a litre of sunflower oil in a deep saucepan to about 170 ºC. If you don’t have a thermometer, put a small chunk of raw potato in the oil before you heat it. When the potato rises to the surface, fizzles vigorously and turns a rich golden colour, the oil is hot enough. To make the onions, cut them into thick slices and separate the rings.  Combine all the ingredients for the batter in a bowl and whisk well.  The batter should be the consistency of thick cream: if it seems too thick, add a little more iced water. Using a pair of tongs, dip the onion rings in the oil and fry for 3 minutes, or until puffed, golden, crisp and cooked right through. Drain on kitchen paper and keep hot in the oven.

For the chips: Turn the heat up under the oil so the temperature reaches about 180 ºC. Cook the chips, in batches, for  3-5 minutes, or until golden brown and crunchy. Drain on a paper towel, season with salt and serve immediately.

Serves 4.
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Tuesday, 21 August 2012

White Gazpacho with Tomato Granita

I've had a busy month following the launch of my cookbook Scrumptious: Food for Family and Friends, and in all my excitement I clean forgot about sharing one of book's recipes on this blog. I know this is a dish designed for the hottest days of the year, but as my jasmine creeper has just burst sweetly into flower, I think it's time to start thinking about summer.  Also, this is one of my favourite recipes in the book: it tastes gorgeously cool and creamy, and is a real show-stopper presented in ice bowls, because the bottom of the soup partially freezes, creating a surprise layer of zingy ice cream.

Photograph by Michael Le Grange, and plate by David WaltersClick on the image
 to see a full-size version. Image © Random House Struik 2012. 
This isn’t an authentic gazpacho because it contains yoghurt, but with its topping of feathery flakes of iced fresh tomato juice, it certainly tastes like one. Even better, I think.

The flavour of this soup improves after a few hours of chilling, but it should be served on the day it is made. The granita can be made a day or two in advance.

Here's how: make the ice bowls in batches, starting up to 3 days ahead. Arrange four 1-cm-thick slices of cherry tomato in the bottom of a plastic or ceramic soup bowl. Balance another, smaller bowl on top (there should be a gap of at least 1 cm between the bowls). Wedge a few more tomato slices into the gap so it’s even all round, and tuck in some fresh coriander sprigs and small red chillies. Fill the gap with cold water and freeze for 4 hours, or until solid. To unmould, dip the bottom bowl into hot water, and run some more hot water into the top bowl. Wrap each bowl in clingfilm and keep in the freezer until needed. To serve, place each bowl on a small plate and tuck a napkin or thick paper serviette under each one to stop it from sliding around. 

White Gazpacho with Tomato Granita

2 extra-large free-range egg yolks
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced
2 thin slices fresh white bread, crusts cut off
2 Tbsp (30 ml) white wine vinegar
5 Tbsp (75 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 English cucumbers, peeled and cubed
6 slim spring onions, white and pale green parts only, sliced
1 small green pepper, chopped
4 large sprigs pale celery leaves, taken from the heart of the bunch
4 Tbsp (60 ml) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cups (500 ml) thick natural yoghurt
2 cups (500 ml) iced water
salt and milled black pepper

For the tomato granita:
400 g ripe cherry tomatoes
1 tsp (5 ml) lemon juice
2 tsp (10 ml) Tabasco sauce
salt and milled black pepper

First make the granita. Place a shallow metal dish (a cake pan is ideal) in the freezer for 1 hour. Purée the cherry tomatoes in a blender and tip the mixture into a sieve set over a bowl. Press down on the puréed tomatoes with the back of a soup ladle to extract all the juice. Discard the pulp, stir in the lemon juice and Tabasco and season with salt and pepper. Pour into the cold dish and freeze for 30-45 minutes, or until the mixture is set at the edges. Using a fork, scrape and scratch the frozen edges to create crystalline flakes. Freeze for another 20-30minutes (set a timer to remind yourself), scrape again, and continue freezing and scraping, working inwards to the middle of the dish, until you have a fluffy pile of coral-pink ice flakes. Keep covered in the freezer until the last minute.

Put the yolks, garlic, bread, vinegar and 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of the oil into a blender and whizz to a paste. Add the remaining olive oil in a steady stream and blend to a thick emulsion. Add the remaining soup ingredients -  in batches, if necessary -  and process until smooth and creamy. Pour the soup into a large non-metallic bowl, cover and chill for at least 3 hours. Ladle the cold soup into chilled bowls, add a few ice cubes and a pyramid of granita, and take immediately to the table. If you’re serving this in homemade ice bowls, there’s no need to add the ice cubes.

Serves 8.

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