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olive oil

Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

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Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Here is a recipe for a focaccia that is not a futon i.e. mean, hard and thin. It’s the emperor of mattresses: the dimples are deep, the texture is soft yet springy, and there is no scratchy dryness that a futon focaccia may have but, rather, a balmy olive oil-enriched crumb.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Having had a few scarring experiences with the brittle, mouth-desiccating, hard mats that parade as focacce (even in their Italian heartlands), this recipe is not only sublime but a protest against my negative experiences.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

And while I’m singing its virtues, I have to stress that it’s ridiculously easy to make. Bread-making has such a bad press in terms of time, effort and skill required, but it is all a conspiracy to get you to buy the overpriced, chemical–laden, factory produced supermarket types. All you need to do is hang around a bit and the yeast does all the work for you. Total contact time with focaccia is only about 15minutes - the rest of the time is just a matter of rising or baking (or eating).

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

I make this with spelt which lowers the GI and adds a little nuttiness. You can play around with the toppings: rosemary is traditional, but you can add caramelised onion, parmesan, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sage…whatever you wish.

I like to make a lot in one go and freeze the loaves sliced, so you can dip into them when you please. But if you want to make fewer, just halve or third the ingredients.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Recipe  - makes 3 loaves (or mattresses)

Ingredients

14g dried active yeast (2 sachets) or 25g fresh yeast

2 tbsp sugar

675ml lukewarm water

4 tbsp olive oil, for the dough + 3 tbsp for topping

1kg white spelt flour (or plain, if not available)

2 ½ tsp normal salt

1 tbsp coarse sea salt

4 sprigs of rosemary

 

3 x 25cm square cake/bread tins (or tins with the equivalent area), greased with olive oil

 

Method

1)    If using fresh yeast, cream it together in a large bowl with the sugar until it turns to liquid. Then, stir in the water and oil. If using dried active yeast, mix it with the sugar and water, and let it sit in a warm place for five minutes to activate. Then, stir in the oil.

2)    Into the wet ingredients, stir in the flour and salt –it should form a sticky, craggy mass. If you have a stand mixer, fit it with the dough hook and knead the dough for five minutes. If you are making the bread by hand, pour the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and springy, so that it bounces back when pressed.  I like to use the dough hook for most of the kneading, take it out when it's almost done and finish by hand. 

3)    Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and allow to rise for about 1 to 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.

4)    Punch down the dough (so. much. fun.) and divide it into three. Stretch each piece of dough in its tin so that it is even in depth and reaches the sides (you may need to do a bit of pummeling to do this). Then, sprinkle over the rosemary and olive oil and dimple the dough with your fingers, pressing almost to the bottom of the tin. Allow to rise for a further 45 minutes to an hour until almost doubled in size. 

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C.  Then, sprinkle the breads with coarse sea salt, and place in the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until deep golden in colour and crunchy on top. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool. Best eaten on day of baking (which is usually inevitable as testament to their deliciousness). Or place in an air-tight box and freeze for up to 3 months.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

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Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Crostata

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Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Crostata

This is my favourite meal and has been since I was three – the precocious (and pretentious, no doubt) answer to my friends’ parents’ question as to my favourite food. Apart from the fact that there really isn’t anything fancy about it, it’s crazily simple to make. Despite being pastry-based and with a molten bed of mozzarella, it is very light, and perfect for a gathering.

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Do your ears hang low? Well, attached or unattached, furry or fuzzy, chunky or petite, this recipe is an ode to the earlobe.

Specifically, it is a celebration of stretched earlobes, whether those of an 85-year-old glamazon who refuses to compromise on opulence in pursuit of practicality or pain avoidance, and has transformed the once-small piercing pin pricks into gaping chasms by the weight of her bejewelled, solid gold hoops. Or the nonchalant indie who has plugged and gouged and strained their lobes to form human wind tunnels.

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Like stretched lobes, these sesame studded bagels are not your standard chewy round.

They are a rare sight in the UK, only occasionally vaguely mimicked by the odd fougasse dangling in the windows of French bakeries. Though related to those that are more common sighted, Jerusalem bagels are elegantly elongated, less chewy, more fluffy, yet with a crusty exterior (I’m on the topic of bread now, not lobes).  And the Jerusalem bagel is in no way a lesser version – being a rarer breed and a much more fun shape to nibble (yes, still on bagels), I actually prefer them. They are also easier to bake: the absence of the boiling stage means less room for error, and no witch-hunting of wet doughy rounds, bobbing up and down and falling apart in vats of boiling water.

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 If you are intimidated by bread-baking, do not be.

These are extremely simple, and though the process from flour to end-product takes a while, they are very undemanding in terms of action – the sesame seed dipping is, in fact, rather satisfying from a pre-school art class perspective.  Feel free to halve the mixture if you want fewer bagels, though they are so delicious and addictive it’s probably not worth it.... Also, do have a play around with ingredients: you could try poppy, flax, sunflower, or nigella seeds, as well as sprinkling the bagels with cheddar cheese or parmesan if you aren’t vegan.

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Makes 20

Ingredients

750ml warmed, unsweetened almond milk (can substitute with oat, or another neutral-flavoured, unsweetened plant-based milk)

21g active dry instant yeast (3 sachets)

60g caster sugar

500g strong white flour (+ extra flour for dusting surfaces)

500g white spelt flour

4 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp olive oil

 

100g white sesame seeds

15g black sesame seeds

4 tbsp boiling water

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey if you’re not vegan)

 

3 baking trays lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, or in a large stand-alone bowl, stir together warmed milk, yeast and sugar. Pour in all the flour (apart from that to be used for dusting the surface), salt and baking powder and stir to combine into dough.  

2)    If using a mixer, knead the dough for about five minutes on a low speed with a dough hook. If making by hand, pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand until soft, smooth and springy. It may be slightly sticky, but try to avoid adding too much flour as this will make the bagels dry and tough. Even if I use the dough hook, I take the dough out to knead by hand for the last minute. 

3)    Coat the inside of a bowl with the olive oil, place the dough inside and cover with cling film or a tea towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

4)    When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it on to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. You can approximate this by quartering the dough and dividing each quarter into five pieces. Or you can weigh it: each piece should be about 85g. Then gently roll each into a ball. To make the Jerusalem bagel shape, take each ball of dough and press your thumb through the centre to create a hole. Whilst keeping the dough even in diameter, gently stretch the hole into an oval so the bagel is about 11 cm long. Place each back on the floured surface and allow to rest and rise for 15 minutes.

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C. Make the topping by mixing the water, pomegranate molasses and agave/honey in a bowl. Then pour the mixture into a small tray or large flat-based bowl. On another tray, mix together the black and white sesame seeds (or whichever other seeds you are using). Taking each bagel lobe, dip it first (on one side only) into the water molasses mix, then into the sesame, so that one side is coated in sesame seeds. Then place it on the tray lined with baking parchment. If the bagel stretches a bit, that is fine. Repeat with the rest of the bagels, spacing them at least 3 or 4cm apart, and allow them to rest again for a further 10 minutes. 

6)    Place them in the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes until they are deep golden and crusty on the outside. Once baked, transfer the bagels to a baking rack to cool. They are best eaten on the day of baking (and it will be a miracle if they last beyond a day). However, if you want to save them for another time, you can freeze them as soon as they have cooled for up to three months in an airtight container.

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.

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But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise. 

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It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).

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This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.

Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.

NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.

 

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Ingredients (serves 4)

50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)

1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced

3 cloves garlic

4 sticks celery, roughly chopped

30g sugar

Large sprig fresh thyme

100ml white wine

1 litre vegetable stock.  (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)

500g frozen peas

20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks

100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

Method

1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil

2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time

3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third

4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes

5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately

6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm. 

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza Pizza is in his DNA.  Five generations of golden, thin, crispiness. One recipe.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The pizza oven is raging, rapidly devouring its feed of dry wood and spitting out sweet nutty smoke.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

 

He comes every summer in his Ape brimming with plump mushrooms of dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A light sprinkle of flour on a wooden board, and he gets to work.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

With wrist flicks and little rotations the round becomes a disc, airborne momentarily to ensure evenness.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A careful spiral of passata with the back of a spoon,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

a shower of mozzarella,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

and a scattering of whatever’s in the garden: fiori di zucchini, melanzane, pepperoncini…

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The flurry of flour continues into the night.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The dinner table is a moderation-free zone.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He only stops when even the strictest of eaters has lost count of the number of pizzas (not slices) he/she has consumed, and physical incapacity is the only limitation.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He doesn’t even really stop there: a couple more are sent to the table per domani.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A pizza “hangover” ensues along with the inevitable promises of “never again” “not for another year”.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

But as soon as I hit London soil again I want to relieve that pizza-lover’s fantasy and so I make these.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

They’re crisp, thin, verdant, and fresh.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I don’t believe in barren crusts or meanness so the ingredients are abundant and go right up to and beyond the edge of the base.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I use spelt instead of plain flour (as usual) to reduce the GI level and add a nuttier more complex flavour to the dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The added bonus of this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick.  Kneading is kept to a minimum (5 minutes) and the rising time is the shortest you’ll ever find for pizza dough – ½ hour.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The balsamic-maple reduction is optional but I include it to add extra caramelised sweetness, extra tang and a touch of drama.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

Ingredients – makes 4 pizzas

Base

250ml warm water

3 tsp dried yeast (fast active yeast)

500g white spelt flour

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

 

Topping

750g asparagus

30g garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/4 tsp salt

Grated zest of ½ lemon

A few grinds of Pepper

400g mozzarella (4 balls), chopped finely into cubes

100g parmesan, grated

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Small bunch of chives, finely chopped

2 red chillies (optional), finely sliced

 

2 large baking trays or 4 medium baking trays, greased and dusted with flour

 

Maple Balsamic Reduction (optional)

120ml balsamic vinegar

2 tsp maple syrup

 

Method

  1. Heat oven to 120˚C for 5 minutes then switch it off.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer (or large bowl if making by hand) pour in warm water and sprinkle yeast over it. Allow to stand for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate.
  3. Stir in flour, salt and oil. Knead by hand for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or in a machine fitted with a dough hook for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and when you press your thumb into it, it bounces back up.
  4. Divide dough into two and place each half in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and place in warmed oven.  Allow to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled, then remove from oven and preheat it to its highest temperature, usually 250˚C.
  5. While the dough is rising, use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus: place the asparagus flat on a surface, and holding it at the woody end, shave it from above the woody end to the top of the spear. I sometimes use the ends to make a stock for asparagus risotto.
  6. Place the ribbons in a bowl and mix with garlic, oil, salt, lemon zest and pepper.
  7. Once risen, divide each half into two and roll out each quarter into a 0.5cm thick disc. Place on tray and scatter each disc with mozzarella, parmesan, and shaved asparagus.  Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.
  8. Once baked, scatter with spring onions, chives, and chillies, if using. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, if desired, and serve immediately.

 

Maple Balsamic reduction

  1. Boil balsamic and maple syrup together over a high heat for about 5 minutes until it thickens slightly to consistency more like that of pure maple syrup. Allow to cool for 1 minute, and drizzle over pizzas.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

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