Saturday, July 4, 2009

Roast pumpkin with spiced tomato sauce

Serves 2

This being such a simple dish of roast vegetables only really makes the grade through timing - catching the pumpkin as its edges start to turn from golden to burnt (never a bad thing) and cooking the tomatoes for the sauce to the point where the majority of the water has evaporated so it doesn't leak and split when served on the plate. Spice level too; try as I might, but chilli strength is an area where you can never rely on the last quantity you worked with. The sauce needs to be rustic and chunky, and have a sweetness from the blackened tomato skins which release a lot of their natural sugars in the process. I'd consider the nuttiness of cous cous or brown rice to go with this, flavoured with mint and lemon wouldn't be a criminal act either.

950g tomatoes
2 cloves garlic olive oil
2 small hot chillies
1kg pumpkin or squash

Preheat the oven to 200 c/gas mark 6. Cut the tomatoes in half and place them cut side up on a baking sheet or roasting tin. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and the finely chopped chilli. Roast for 45-50 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and lightly flecked with black.
Meanwhile, halve and peel the pumpkin. Cut into thick, melon-like slices and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Place on a baking sheet, toss in a little olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast for 40 minutes, turning over after 20 minutes or so. It is done when it is fully tender to the point of a knife and a blackened sticky on the cut edges.

Roughly chop the tomatoes to give you your coarse sauce, and warm through in a pan lightly to evaporate any excess water. Serve with the roasted pumpkin and some rice or cous cous.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fromage frais, yoghurt and plum purée ripple

Serves 4-6

You could go crazy with this combination of what is basically two levels of flavour. They could be layered up in a glass with a separation of some crumbled cookies for example rather than the blend and swirl way I've described below. It could also easily be semi frozen atop a cheesecake base. The jammy like fruit element needn't always be plums either, go seasonal if you can and take what's cheapest and at its best from the market. There's a bonus of plenty of protein and calcium for strong bones and teeth in here too.

4 ripe plums, about 500g
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2-3 tblsp caster sugar, to taste
1 star anise (optional)
300ml low fat natural yoghurt
300ml reduced fat fromage frais
2-3 tblsp icing sugar, or to taste

Halve the plums, remove the stones and roughly chop the flesh. Toss with the cinnamon and 2 tbsp caster sugar. Place a wide frying pan over a high heat, tip in the plums and add the star anise if using.

Sauté for 4-6 min until the plums are soft, moistening with a splash of water if necessary. Taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if the plums are too tart. Discard the star anise.

Transfer the cooked plums to a blender or food processor and whiz until smooth. For a really smooth purée, pass through a fine sieve to remove any pulpy bits. Leave to cool completely.

Spoon the yoghurt and fromage frais into a large bowl and add the icing sugar. Beat lightly to mix, then ripple through all but 2 tbsp of the plum purée. Spoon into individual glasses or plastic tumblers and swirl the remaining plum purée on top. Serve at once

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pea and pesto soup

Serves 2

Soup making is like bread making in a sense - cleansing, pure and theraputic. There is nothing simpler, and no secret in using the fridge's darkest secrets to boil and blend together to produce a warming bowl of something, but making a soup on purpose with intended ingredients is one of the kitchen's best quick fix moments. I do believe that any soup will taste better made in a blender rather than a food processor, and it’s best to use a blender which has a central plug in the lid that you can remove to stop pressure building up. The only fat I've added is a little butter at the end just to smoothen off the soup, you could do a splash of cream too, but it really isn't crucial to this.

750ml water
375g frozen peas
2 spring onions, trimmed but left whole
1 tsp Maldon salt or ½ tsp table salt
½ tsp lime juice
4 tblsp fresh pesto (if not fresh, then from a tub, but not a jar)
75g soft butter

Bring the water to a rolling boil, add the frozen peas, spring onions, salt and lime juice to the pan and let everything bubble together for 7 minutes.

Discard the spring onions and blitz the peas and their liquid with the pesto in a blender.

If you're feeling swanky, force the soup through a fine sieve. Whisk in the butter and serve without delay.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Apricot jam

Makes about 1.5kg

If jam making was to be any more of a perfect act of culinary genius, soft fruits would be grown in the winter time so you could make your preserves with the season's over production while it was cold and raining outside. Sadly not, it is a Summer treat, and we've been the better for it now for many a generation. This particular jam would be just the ticket spooned onto the slightly bitter ice cream I posted yesterday, although a raspberry number with a hint of lime would work just as well. Spread over thick hot toast or stirred into yogurt, this also makes a mighty delicious breakfast.

1kg apricots
Juice of a lemon
1 vanilla pod, split
400ml water
800g preserving sugar
30g of butter

Put a saucer in the fridge to chill. Wash, dry and halve the apricots. Put them in a preserving pan along with the lemon juice, vanilla pod and water, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until soft (you want them quite soft, because they won't soften further once you add the sugar) and the contents of the pan well reduced.

Take the pan off the heat and add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add the butter and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes, without stirring, until the setting point is reached - that's when a dollop of the jam placed on the chilled saucer wrinkles when you push it with your finger.

Skim off any scum with a slotted spoon, then pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bitter orange ice cream

Serves 6

It's a tad warm outside, Wimbledon is on the telly, it's the weekend, and we all love a bit of ice cream don't we? This has to be the easiest (buying a fist of cornettos for all aside) of all ice creams ever, really all you do to make this is zest and juice some fruit, add icing sugar and cream, whisk to a firm consistency and freeze. It requires no stirring or churning and it tastes easily as good as anything you could buy. So if you’ve got friends coming over for dinner, or there's a rain delay in the tennis, you can knock this up in no time without giving yourself anything approaching a hard time.

3 Seville oranges or 1 eating orange and 2 limes
175g icing sugar
large pot (584ml) double cream
wafers, to serve (optional)

If using Seville oranges, grate the zest of 2 of them. Squeeze the juice of all 3 and pour into a bowl with the zest and sugar. If you’re going for the sweet orange and lime option, grate the zest of the orange and one of the limes, juice them and add to the sugar as before. Stir to dissolve the sugar and add the double cream.

Whip everything until it holds soft peaks - a hand held electric whisk does the job here perfectly - and then turn into a shallow air-tight container (of approximately 2 litres) with a lid. Cover and freeze until firm (from 3 to 5 hours).

Remove to soften for 15-20 minutes (or 30-40 in the fridge) before eating.

Serve in a bowl, in cones, with some fruit - really anything you have to hand here.