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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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Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

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Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

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I feel immense joy when I see canapés floating along the horizon of a wine-soaked room. Salty, crunchy, flavour-filled bites to pop into your mouth and stave off hunger. But in reality, the canapés path is far more obstacle- laden. Here are a few of the typical scenarios that I have endured, or have watched others enduring:

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  • The hidden two- biter: where you hesitate over whether to put the whole thing in your mouth, decide to go for it and then have to find a way to swivel the thing around inside your cheeks until it becomes vaguely chewable, all while trying to hold down a conversation
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  • The crumbler – this one disintegrates before it even reaches your mouth. This doesn’t necessarily result in interrupted conversation, but ends up being problematic when you shake hands with someone and end up leaving a stick, flaky deposit in their palm
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  • The burner – you were warned about the heat but went for it anyway. If you were alone you would probably spit it out, but in the interests of politeness and retaining friends, you endure a scorched oesophagus 
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  • The stringer – this is reserved for molten- cheese filled croquetas.  Delicious, yes, but they leave the unsuspecting devourer s with frills around their lips reminiscent of Futurama’s Zoiburg.
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The following will help you steer clear of the above pitfalls: small, savoury and succulent, these are the perfect canapés.  Indeed, they are suitable for consumption at any time. They are crisp on the outside and soft and light inside, flecked with molted feta and cheddar, and with a hint of the more exotic nigella seeds. This recipe makes 18 but I would urge you to double it as they are so addictive.  They are also ridiculously easy and quick to conjure up.

NB. these can be made gluten-free by simply substituting spelt flour with gluten-free)

Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones (makes 18)

 

Ingredients

100g sour cream

2 tbsp milk

80g mature cheddar cheese, grated

80g feta, roughly diced into 0.5cm cubes

50g unsalted butter, cold and roughly diced into ¾ cm cubes

200g white spelt flour (can substitute with plain flour or gluten-free)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp nigella seeds

[optional: ½ tsp cayenne pepper]

1 egg, beaten, to glaze

1 large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper

 

Method

1)    Preheat oven to 200°C. In a large bowl by hand, or in a food mixer fitted with a paddle, briefly mix together the sour cream, milk, cheddar, feta and butter. Pour in the flour, baking powder, salt and nigella seeds (and cayenne if using), and mix until just combined into a dough. You may need to knead the dough by hand very slightly for it to come together.

2)    Place dough onto a floured surface, pat into a square and roll it out to roughly 2.5cm thickness. Slice the dough into nine squares, like a noughts and crosses board, and then slice the squares diagonally to form 18 triangles.

3)    Arrange the triangles on the baking tray, leaving at least 3cm between them. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on the outside. They are best devoured immediately or on the day of baking. 

Adapted from Honey & Co's "Food From the Middle East" recipe for Bouikos

 

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Crunchy Spicy Tangy Thai Salad

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Crunchy Spicy Tangy Thai Salad

At the centre of a party you have the brash, garishly dressed harpy in a spandex and lurex flesh-popping, bum-skirting bodycon dress. She’s swishing her long, over-straightened blonde hair in the hope that people, like magpies, will be drawn in by its glinting sheen. But she’s telling the story you’ve heard a hundred times.

The punchlines are obvious and overdone. It’s an opaque boast to show off her intellect and attractiveness. She’s hyperbolising, and the decibels are mounting, in order to suck more people in.

You draw near, but after a few superficial bites, you hit the bone. What appeared to be a sumptuous, resplendent, sticky chicken wing feast was just a scraggly bit of overhyped flesh, and you’re left with a sickly sweet taste, desperate for something more refreshing and with more interest.

That’s when you leave the centre of the room and go over to the quiet person in the corner: modestly dressed, elegant but not overstated, and initially slightly shy. But once you start talking, there’s no stopping - tantalising wit, layers of texture and depth, sweet enough but with refreshing zestiness that intrigues and keeps you going back for more. Guard this salad closely because when others' attention rapidly wanes they’ll be coming over here too. Food envy is not something to be treated lightly, so here’s the recipe:

 

 

Recipe

Ingredients (serves 4)

3 tbsp (60g) smooth peanut butter (unsalted preferably)

4 1/2 tsp (45g) honey

4 1/2 tsp sesame oil

4 1/2 tsp soy sauce 

3 tbsp lime juice

15g finely grated fresh ginger 

1 medium sized garlic clove, crushed

(optional) 1 small Thai red chilli, very finely chopped

 

230g red cabbage (approx 1 quarter of a cabbage)

1 red pepper

130g cucumber

3 spring onions

100g beansprouts

60g roasted and salted peanuts, crushed + 10g extra for serving

25g coriander, roughly chopped + 5g extra for serving

 

Method

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients until smooth and emulsified.
  2. Finely slice the cabbage horizontally (so the average piece is about 4cm long). Remove the stalk and deseed the red pepper, then slice finely horizontally.
  3. Slice the cucumber in half lengthways and, with a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds. Then slice finely lengthways and then in half horizontally to create matchsticks.  Finely chop the spring onions.  Then in a large bowl mix together the cabbage, pepper, cucumber, spring onions, crushed peanuts & roughly chopped coriander.
  4. Pour the dressing over, and mix through. Scatter with extra crushed peanuts and then the chopped coriander, and serve.  If you are making in advance, prepare the salad ingredients and dressing separately, and pour the dressing on just before serving.

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad  

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladSuperfood

Line breaks: super|food

Pronunciation: /ˈsuːpəfuːd/

Culina definition: ‘superfoods’ – a marketing ploy term assigned to natural ingredients which have been neglected on shop shelves for a while and could do with a PR boost.  They have nutritional benefits similar to many other natural ingredients and have the potential to reduce the risk of disease if you consume at least your body weight in said superfood in under an hour.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, quinoa and walnuts have all ridden the calculated PR wave to health fame in the last few years, and indeed that is possibly why they have drifted on to my kitchen shelves.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Ignoring their “superfood” status, they are particularly delicious when combined.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladThis salad sits at the other end of the spectrum from the straggly, limp green leaf type.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladIt is crunchy, sweet, umami, nutty, juicy, and looks resplendent studded with glistening pomegranate jewels.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladCauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladIt’s also ridiculously quick to whizz up and can be prepared up to a day in advance (sans dressing, and refrigerated).

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

Recipe

Ingredients

100g quinoa

220g cauliflower

180g pomegranate seeds (1 pomegranate approx.)

200g feta, crumbled

100g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

50g fresh coriander, finely chopped

 

Dressing

10g garlic, crushed

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp tahini

8 tbsp natural yogurt

6 tbsp lemon juice

 

Method

  1. In a medium sized pan boil 1 litre of water over a high heat. Pour in the quinoa and allow it to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the grains are translucent but still slightly al dente.  Drain the quinoa in a sieve and set it aside to cool.
  2. Chop the cauliflower roughly, and blitz in a blender, pulsing until it resembles coarse couscous. If you don’t have a blender, you can grate the cauliflower by hand to achieve a similar effect.
  3. In a large serving bowl, mix together the quinoa, cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, feta, walnuts and coriander.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients to combine. Pour as much as desired of the dressing over the salad just before serving and mix it through.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad

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Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad

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I wandered into my favourite greengrocer yesterday in search of inspiration, and came out laden with half the store.  Amongst the wooden crates I found the most beautifully vibrant baby carrots and blushing, freckled pomegranate orb.

Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

Although lentils and carrots are usually associated with comfort and winter, I used fresh orange and pomegranate jewels to lift them to a lighter, more summery dish.

The carrots are poached in orange juice and maple syrup until juicy and softened and the liquid has reduced to a golden caramel.  They are then roasted until sticky, slightly charred and a little withered, but dense with succulence and depth of flavour. The caramel is turned into a citrusy dressing to drench the lentils, with the sweetness balanced with the salty kick of feta.

Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

Ingredients

200g puy lentils

2 tsp vegetable bouillon stock

1 litre boiling water

400g baby carrots

Juice of 3 oranges (15 tbsp)

5 tbsp maple syrup

¼ tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

¼ tsp salt

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

2 oranges supremed (i.e. segmented with skin and membrane removed)

100g feta

140g pomegranate seeds (half a pomegranate)

20g fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Place lentils, stock and boiling water in a pan over a high heat and allow to simmer with a lid on for 30-35 minutes until fully cooked. They should be soft and no longer chalky, but definitely not mushy.  Drain them, and set aside in a bowl to cool.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the carrots: pour the orange juice into a large frying pan over a medium high heat, add the maple syrup and salt, and stir to combine. Carefully arrange the carrots in the pan and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the carrots have softened and the liquid has reduced by about two thirds and become viscous and syrupy.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Preheat the grill to 230˚C. Remove the carrots from the frying pan (while preserving the syrup), arrange them on a baking tray and grill for 5 minutes (checking after 3 minutes) or until they are slightly charred.
  4. Into the pan with the remaining syrup, pour in the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, crushed garlic cloves and salt to make the dressing. Stir the mixture over a low heat until fully combined. Pour the warmed dressing over the bowl of lentils.
  5. To serve, carefully spoon the lentils and any non-absorbed dressing on to a platter, and scatter with pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta. Arrange the orange segments and roasted carrots over the top, and sprinkle with the chopped coriander.
Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Last week I panic baked.  My usually dependable supply of Dr Karg’s seeded spelt and emmental and pumpkin seed crisp breads had run dry. Only a few sad seeds in the corner of the packet remained, which I ate mournfully, before desperation led me to pulling open drawers in search of the emergency packet I had hidden from myself.

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

My hunt was rewarded with absolutely no trophies.  I must have found them some time before.

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

Necessity mothered invention: I combined some of my favourite ingredients to make my own version of the crisp breads, and they turned out rather well, perhaps even better than the originals. My family had clearly also been struck by panic, as two batches were devoured in ten minutes…

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

These crisp breads are ridiculously quick to make, healthy (when you don’t eat the whole batch in one sitting – an almost impossible feat), and delicious.  They’re also versatile – the seeds can be eliminated and/or exchanged for other varieties as desired, and they can be served with hummus, red pepper pesto (see my recipe), guacamole etc.  They can also be made dairy-free by eliminating the cheese.

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

Ingredients

115g white spelt flour

100g wholemeal spelt flour

¾ tsp salt

30g sesame seeds

15g poppy seeds

30g pumpkin seeds

50g cheddar, grated

50g parmesan grated, + 5g for sprinkling

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

125ml water

1 tbsp olive oil

1 baking tray, overturned, greased with oil and dusted with flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220˚C. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients together. Pour in water and oil and stir until mixture clumps together into quite a dry dough.  You may need to knead it slightly with your hands.
  2. Place dough on overturned baking tray and roll it out until it reaches the edges of the tray. It should be about 3mm thick.
  3. Sprinkle with the extra parmesan, prick the dough liberally with a fork, and score it into your preferred geometric shapes. I like 4cm x 10cm rectangles.
  4. Place in oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden, and firm to touch. Leave to cool – they will become crisper as they cool.
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe I often spend summers in Italy.  In the evenings, when the vine- ripening summer sun begins to soften and the incessant squeak and rattle of the plough eventually dies, I usually clamber up the nearby hill, meandering across the crest.   On one of my walks, I headed towards the nearby palazzo, along the path bordered by Cyprus spears.

 

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Lizards basking in the heat still held by the pale ochre walls scuttled away at my footsteps, and a green shutter creaked in the mild breeze.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

The knobbed tree in front stood with its arms filled with waxy green dewdrop-like figs, nodding gently like a recently metamorphosed Ovidian nymph.   I reached to tug at a branch, and a cluster melted softly off it.  The pink juices dripping down my fingers, I gathered two handfuls and made my companion fill his pockets with the good intention of bringing some back for others to try.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

As so often happens, the thoughtful food gift didn’t reach its destination (I ate it), but I went back the next day, and the next.  I was converted from someone with a slight aversion to figs to an obsessive.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

This salad combines the earthy lusciousness of figs with caramel to add depth and sticky sweetness to the dish.  This contrasts with the fresh tanginess of oranges – blood oranges are currently in season so are fantastic to use – and the saltiness of the feta and peppery rocket leaves.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

The dressing is fresh, sweet, salty and savoury, tying all the elements together.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

 

Ingredients  Serves 2 (or 4, as a side)

8 figs, halved

50g caster sugar

juice of 1 orange

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp lemon juice

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (substitute with balsamic vinegar, if necessary)

¼ tsp salt

2 oranges, peeled and sliced into 1/2 cm discs

100g rocket

100g feta, sliced into ½ cm cubes

 

Method

  1. Place a shallow frying pan over a medium/high heat, pour in sugar and allow to melt, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning.
  2. Place halved figs face down in the molten sugar and cook in the caramel for 2 minutes. Turn them over to cook for a further 1 minute.  Remove from pan and place on serving plate.
  3. For the dressing, pour the orange juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pomegranate molasses into the caramelised sugar pan and stir until the caramelised sugar has dissolved into the liquid. Remove from stove and stir in lemon juice.
  4. Scatter rocket, orange slices and feta on the serving plate with the figs and drizzle with the dressing.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Inspired by Ottolenghi

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe

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Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe

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Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts In MasterChef Australia (I’m not a fan of the British version) risotto is known as the “death dish”.  The judges groan whenever a contestant confesses that he/she will be serving it.  And quite rightly so, as the results are invariably sludgy, glutinous, crunchy, solid, watery, bland, or resembling something a woman in Ancient Rome might have used as a face pack.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

 

It is often also the go-to dish for restaurants under pressure to include a vegetarian dish in their repertoire, and this is often disappointing, too, for two reasons:

1.) All too often it becomes a stodgy double cream and rice porridge. In a traditional risotto recipe there is no cream – the creaminess is achieved through breaking down the starch by stirring the grains with a good quality stock.  And no, this isn’t difficult at all.  Don’t believe the hype surrounding the pitfalls; it is really a very simple dish to perfect.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

2.) In some unwritten chef rulebook there exists the heinous concept that risotto can only be married to butternut squash or mushrooms. It’s not that I dislike either of these, but that I’m just crying out for some more original combination.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

Risotto doesn’t have to be made with rice either.  I use spelt (or farro) instead for numerous reasons: it has a lower GI, has a nuttier flavour, and has a more interesting texture.  It’s also a hundred times easier to cook well. Obviously, it isn’t strictly ‘risotto’, but the idea is similar.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter (15g)

2 medium onions, finely chopped

25g (about 8 cloves) garlic, crushed

2 tbsp sundried tomato paste

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp thyme (fresh or dried)

½ tsp chilli flakes

Grated zest of ½ lemon

¾ tsp smoked paprika

500g passata

250g pearled spelt (or farro)

750ml boiling water

3 tsp vegetable stock

80g toasted pine nuts

1 tsp lemon juice

100g feta

Handful of coriander, to serve

(Serves 4)

 

Method

  1. In a large pot, melt together the butter and oil. Add in the finely chopped onions and garlic, and cook over medium/high heat until the onions are soft and translucent.
  2. Stir in the sundried tomato paste, sugar, balsamic vinegar, thyme, chilli flakes, lemon zest, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt. Cook ingredients together for a couple of minutes.
  3. In a bowl, dissolve the stock in the boiling water, then pour roughly 250ml of this, together with the passata and spelt into the pot, and stir together on a medium heat.
  4. Stir every now then to prevent the spelt from sticking, and add the rest of the water, a ladleful at a time, at roughly 10 minute intervals.
  5. After 40-50 minutes, remove from the heat, stir in toasted pine nuts and lemon juice and season according to taste. The spelt grains should be soft all the way through with no chalkiness, and with some texture remaining.  Most of the water should have been absorbed or evaporated so the consistency is thicker than that of a soup, without being solid, and not thin enough to pour.
  6. To serve, crumble the feta over the top and scatter with coriander.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

 

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

I’ve unfortunately inherited a trait from my maternal grandfather’s family.  If a type of food appealed particularly to her palate, my great aunt would go all out.  A slender and statuesque woman, she was known to devour eight-egg omelettes.  This was followed by an extended fast.  My grandfather had a particular penchant for icing: no cake was safe.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts 

My grandmother would often return home to find the once painstakingly iced cake denuded, perfectly, as if the precision of the stripping technique would make up for the action.  An entire crate of guavas went his way in one sitting, and his cupboard of chocolates had to be locked by him against himself.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Signs of this inherited characteristic were evident in me early on: for example, when I was seven, the target was a log of Chèvre which my mother had carelessly left unwrapped.  I gorged though the rind, through the crumbly outer ring, right to its buttery heart until the waxy wrapping lay completely bare.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

The Erysichthon gene (see below) is a curse, and one not to be made light of.  It strikes, making foods seem so ambrosial to the cursed that consuming them becomes his or her sole focus.

 

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

But with the pleasure comes pain, because with the claws of the curse firmly embedded, one is forced to keep eating until what was once a source of unparalleled edible pleasure becomes one’s nemesis.  The scent, sometimes the very thought, of the offending food makes bile rise in my throat.  The only cure is time.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

It has taken me fourteen years and one particularly outstanding meal to normalise my relationship with goat’s cheese.  I went to Rabbit (review to ensue shortly) which won me over with a beetroot crisp, topped with whipped goat’s cheese, honey comb and marjoram.  My knee-jerk reaction was to buy the recipe book of The Shed, Rabbit’s sister restaurant (on Amazon Prime - it was urgent).

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

With freshly unearthed enthusiasm for goat’s cheese, I pored over the book and found inspiration for this recipe.  It works wonderfully as a starter or cheese course.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

The pan frying makes the Chèvre golden and crisp on the outside, and gloriously molten on the inside.  The balsamic vinegar and maple syrup caramelise together to form a sweet and sharp treacle which cuts through the saltiness and creaminess of the Chèvre, while the toasted hazelnuts add warmth and texture, and the thyme just leaves you coming back for more…and more…and more…

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts        

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

Ovid’s tale of King Erysichthon portrays him hubristically killing a nymph of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. His punishment was insatiable hunger which resulted in exhausting the wealth of his kingdom, selling his own daughter in exchange for food, and eventually devouring himself.  Maybe there’s a lesson here for me. Click here for the whole tale, one of the best in the Metamorphoses (line 741-887).

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts   

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts                  

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Ingredients

300g log of Chevre goat’s cheese

2/3 tbsp Rapeseed oil (or enough to coat the bottom of a medium-sized non-stick frying pan)

100g hazelnuts (blanched if possible)

180ml balsamic vinegar

120ml maple syrup

60g unsalted butter

½ tsp salt

3 sprigs fresh thyme + 3 to sprinkle + 6 to serve

Serves 6 as a starter or cheese course

Method

  1. Preheat an oven to 200˚C. Gently crush the hazelnuts into halves either in a pestle and mortar or place in a bag and whack with a rolling pin.
  2. Place crushed hazelnuts on a baking tray and allow them to toast in the oven for 5 minutes or until golden.
  3. Set a small pan over a high heat and pour in balsamic, maple syrup, butter, salt, the leaves of the 3 sprigs of thyme and the toasted hazelnuts. Once it begins to boil reduce heat to a low temperature and allow to simmer while you cook the goat’s cheese.
  4. Place a medium sized non-stick frying pan over a high heat and pour in the rapeseed oil and allow it to heat for half a minute. Cut off the rind covered ends of the goat’s cheese and slice the log into 12 discs. Place these carefully into the pan and fry on medium-high heat for 2 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden.  Remove from heat and place two slices on each plate to serve.
  5. After 5 minutes simmering, the sauce ingredients should now have emulsified and turned more viscose (it will thicken further as it begins to cool). If it hasn’t reached this stage, turn up the heat and stir until glossy.  Beware of over boiling it as it will turn to a jam like texture.  You can retrieve it from this stage by thinning it with a few drops of balsamic.
  6. Drizzle the warm sauce over the hot goat’s cheese. Sprinkle with the leaves of the other 3 sprigs of thyme and then place one whole sprig over each portion to decorate.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

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Beware Gluten-free + Recipe for Moroccan Style Chickpea Salad

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Beware Gluten-free + Recipe for Moroccan Style Chickpea Salad

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Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad

Yesterday, with cupboards almost bare, I resorted to the very strange assortment of ingredients remaining & concocted this salad.  It's low GI, wholesome, healthy, super quick to make, involves minimal cooking and is addictively flavoursome.

Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad

Ingredients

250g halloumi cheese cut into 1 cm cubes

1 tbsp. olive oil

400g chickpeas, drained

1 red onion, finely sliced

50g drained, sundried tomatoes, cut into narrow strips

150g cherry tomatoes, halved

40g fresh coriander, including stalks, finely chopped, plus a few sprigs extra for garnish

½ green chilli, finely sliced (optional)

Dressing

3 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. harissa

3 tsp. sundried tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Fry the cubes of halloumi in the olive oil until they are golden brown.
  2. Combine all the salad ingredients apart from the dressing, the chilli (if using), and the extra coriander for garnish.
  3. Mix the dressing ingredients until well combined.
  4. Shortly before serving the salad, mix the salad with the dressing, and sprinkle with the coriander and chilli.

(Serves 4 as an accompaniment)

BEWARE GLUTEN-FREE!

1 in 100 people in UK is coeliac .  1 in 20 people in UK is diabetic (http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Documents/Reports/Diabetes-in-the-UK-2012.pdf).

According to the Telegraph, 1 in 5 people is buying gluten-free products, but only 5% of these are buying the products due to coeliac disease.  The most common reasons for a non-coeliac buying the gluten-free products are listed as: “digestive health”, “nutritional value” and “to help me lose weight”.  These consumers are misguided. Everyone who can is cynically taking advantage by jumping aboard the gluten-free bandwagon: the British gluten-free market is worth £238 million annually (Food Standards Agency) and grew by more than 15 per cent last year. In the US, it is worth around $2.6 billion, a growth of 36 per cent since 2006, with predictions that it may double in size in the next two years.

It’s great that the gluten-free options are increasing for those who have coeliac disease, but the products that are tailored specifically to exclude gluten (bread, biscuits, pastas etc.) and targeted at non-coeliac sufferers are actually detrimental to one’s health.

Gluten-free does not mean that a product is ‘virtuous’ or in any way superior to its glutenous counterpart.

Unless you are coeliac, your body needs the vitamin B, iron and folates that are in gluten-containing grains such as barley, spelt and kamut. That is not to say that these should be had in excess, but they should not be entirely avoided.

Gluten-free products which have been made to substitute for the real bread, pasta, biscuits etc. may be worse for you than what they purport to replace: in order to imitate the gluten contained in their counterparts, the products have to be messed around with a lot more, often resulting in a significantly higher level of fat than their “normal” equivalents. For example, the gluten in bread allows it to maintain its shape and softness; to achieve the gluten-free equivalent, manufacturers often use additives like xanthan gum and hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose or corn starch. In addition, extra sugar and fat are often also added to make products more flavoursome.

It is not just the shops that are propagating the gluten-free message, taking advantage of people’s ignorance, but food bloggers and recipe websites are doing it too. The internet is saturated with gluten-free recipes, and more and more cooks are incorporating gluten-free recipes into their books.  Clearly, not a bad thing for coeliac sufferers.  There is, however, no transparency.  The breads that are made in imitation of the glutenous equivalent use a combination of flours.  For example, the Doves Farm’s gluten-free brown flour, with muted-tone, paper bag packaging promoting a wholesome brand image – consists of potato, rice, tapioca buckwheat, carob, sugar beet fibre, and xanthan gum.  Doesn’t sound too bad, you might think.  In fact, these combined ingredients create a product much higher on the Glycaemic Index (GI) than white flour.  The GI is not a fad diet but a measure of the rise in a person's blood sugar level following consumption of a carbohydrate.  The NHS recommends diabetics to have a low GI diet as low GI foods break down more slowly and are less likely to cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels in contrast with high GI foods.  A low GI lifestyle is not solely beneficial for diabetics but for everyone.    Carbohydrates with high GI cause glucose and insulin levels to surge.  The body releases the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. If sugar is not quickly used for energy, insulin removes it from the blood, and it is then converted into triglycerides in the liver. These triglycerides can then be stored as body fat.  Standard white bread has a high GI of 71 on average.  Gluten-free white bread has a higher GI of 79.  Clearly, GI isn’t always a measure of other benefits that are derived from a product, but the fact that shops, companies, bakeries and bloggers are promoting gluten-free products as a virtuous substitute is deeply misleading – they are, in fact, pushing a product that spikes the levels of glucose in a consumer’s blood, causing fat gain, aiding the onset of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

So the question is why is “low GI” not trending? Why is #glutenfree posted on almost 3,000,000 photos on Instagram, and #lowGI only 18,000? Gluten-free products are not necessarily beneficial for your health. Surely there should be greater focus on the GI factor as well as greater transparency in relation to gluten-free products.

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Red Pepper Pesto & The Ultimate Sandwich: Mediterranean style

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Red Pepper Pesto & The Ultimate Sandwich: Mediterranean style

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focaccia2 (2) It started in exam term in my first year when everyone’s eyes were bloodshot and their eyelids quivering with panic and fear. The cool, white-lit aisles of M&S became a solace – I didn’t even need to buy anything. Drawn inexorably to my oasis, my first trip one day led me to a jar of red pepper pesto. I plunged a spoon into the glistening depths as soon as I made it back to my room, and in the grip of revision lunacy, it made sense to finish the jar - straight, without any interfering bread or cracker-like vehicle, and as fast as possible. It was savoury and creamy, but when the jar was empty and I stopped to analyse what I had just consumed, it was clear to me that the pesto was way too oily. I began to experiment with my own version, and I concluded that adding oil is entirely unnecessary. I think my version tastes fresh, summery, and light, with a hint of smokiness from the char grilled peppers. You can, of course, grill your own, but there are ready-made grilled peppers in jars that are remarkably good. It is incredibly easy to make: just one step, especially if you’re not going to the trouble of grilling your own peppers. It’s also versatile, and can be swirled into soups, couscous, quinoa, salads and pasta, and can be used as a mezze dip.

red pepper pesto The Mediterranean focaccia sandwich is the perfect platform for the red pepper pesto – it expands and rounds out the flavours of the filling ingredients, adding depth to the sandwich.

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Of course, freshly baked, homemade bread is a superior breed to most shop-bought equivalents, and really isn’t difficult to make. It’s not even time-consuming as it gets on with its own activities while you get on with yours. A little bit of punching down (of the dough) now and then is really not that onerous, and the smell of baking bread is well-documented.

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You can fill it with whatever Mediterranean, or indeed other, ingredients you wish.

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I loaded mine with roasted tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and torn basil, and of course the red pepper pesto. This is not just a sandwich…this is a meal.

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Red pepper pesto

Ingredients

10g garlic (4 cloves) peeled and crushed 40g pine nuts 40g basil (leaves & stalks) 40g parmesan, grated 3 roasted red peppers from a jar (200g) 2 tbsp sun dried tomato paste 1 tsp lemon juice ¼ tsp salt

Method

In a blender, whizz all the pesto ingredients together until combined but there is still some texture.

 

Focaccia (Adapted from Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook)

Ingredients

Dough:

500g strong white bread flour 330ml room temperature water 50ml extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp salt 1 tsp caster sugar 10g fresh yeast or 5g dried active yeast 45g clear honey Extra oil and flour for greasing and dusting tin

Topping:

150ml olive oil 8 garlic cloves, crushed 3 sprigs fresh rosemary ½ tsp salt

1 tin 5cm x 24cm x 34cm, lined with baking parchment

Method

1. If using fresh yeast, cream it together with caster sugar in a bowl. It should turn creamy. If using dry yeast, add it in with rest of ingredients. 2. Sift flour into bowl of stand mixer fixed with dough hook attachment. Add rest of ingredients including the yeast. 3. Knead on slow speed for approximately 8 minutes, until dough is smooth, soft and springy. 4. Swirl the dough in an oiled bowl until coated. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place. 5. In the meantime, make the topping by mixing the oil with the salt and garlic, and allow it to steep. 6. After 45 minutes of rising, knock the dough down and cover it again with cling film. 7. Leave for another 45 minutes. Knock down, and leave for another 45 minutes. Knock down again. 8. Leave it to rise for a further 45 minutes, then stretch the dough to fit the tin and make dimples in the dough with your forefinger. Paint the dough with the garlic-infused oil, and sprinkle with rosemary needles. 9. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Leave the dough to rise for 20 minutes. 10. Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until golden and the bread is soft and springy. Remove the bread from the tin to check that the base of the bread is crisp and golden. If it isn’t, bake for a further five minutes or so. 11. Once the bread is baked, paint it again with the remainder of the garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle with salt. 12. Place on wire rack to cool, or serve immediately.

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