Time to pull my socks up and get on with my Cookbook Challenge — only a dozen done, and Maggie has raced ahead with 80-odd! This evening we ate papillottes of feta (or rather French imitation feta, which can no longer be called feta since it doesn’t come from Greece) baked in foil with spices (pepper, cumin, chopped chilli), herbs (oregano and garlic) and branches of cherry tomatoes, with a glug of good olive oil poured over the lot. Very nice — it makes a good vegetarian starter with some green salad and plenty of good bread to mop up the melted cheese and delicious juices. I can imagine cooking these on the barbecue at the height of summer.
… aka mushrooms on toast.
Don’t let it be said that I’m a procrastinator! Here’s my first dish from Delicious Days, my cookbook challenge for this year. Supplies were low and dinner improvised, but I found some mushrooms in the fridge, so while the “real” dinner was cooking I opened a bottle of wine and made Nicky’s mushroom crostini: a 10-minute job.
We didn’t have any chives, which would have made them look prettier even with my poor photographic skills. We didn’t have any Marsala either, but we don’t do things by halves in this household, and Christmas comes but once a year — in went a glug of Warre’s excellent vintage port, bought at the airport last week. Well, it was only a couple of tablespoons. The completed sauce was poured over a few slices of my home-made 5-minute bread, and we enjoyed them with a glass of wine by a cosy log fire.
The mushrooms and sauce were delicious. Nicky says the bread should be fried, which I did, in olive oil, and then drained on kitchen paper, but some of it was a bit greasy. Next time I’ll toast or bake it.
Tatins seem to be everywhere these days; first Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast, then Loulou, then Ivy came up with their own versions. I saw Ivy’s post just as I had got home with a big bag of apples to make one myself. At a stroke, I tried Ivy’s idea of making small individual ones, using some perfectly-sized shallow gratin dishes. A great idea for anyone nervous about flipping the tatin; it’s much easier with small ones! I think I’ll be making these a lot now, although there is something impressive about a single large tarte tatin fresh from the oven, glistening with caramel and just waiting to be shared with friends.
Finally, if you are really, really nervous about making tatins, try this unconventional method from Zen Can Cook — the results look stunning, and that’s exactly the colour you should be aiming for — though personally I would not use puff pastry.
Once upon a time, tarte tatin meant apples, but now it’s come to cover a much broader spectrum, from sweet to savoury. Some of them are a travesty of what tatin is about in my opinion; it should be simple, not tricked-up with loads of extra ingredients, and the essential point is that whatever you use should caramelise to a rich golden brown; if it doesn’t, what’s the point? Things that produce too much juice or go soggy/disintegrate will not work. Whatever you choose, you must be brave and caramelise it to within an inch of its life; it must be deep golden-brown before you put the pastry on, otherwise your finished tart will be pale and disappointing. So that said, here are a few ideas:
- To a classic apple tatin, add some thin slices of quince for a wonderful added aroma, or mix pears and apples. I always add some grated lemon zest and a squeeze of juice to mine.
- Try a pineapple tatin; it works really well, and is a good use for a fresh pineapple that isn’t as flavourful as you had hoped. Peaches and apricots are good summer candidates too.
- On the savoury front, tomato tatin is obvious and excellent; either one large one as a main course with salad, or small individual ones served as starters.
- Shallots make a fabulous tatin: caramelise whole peeled shallots slowly in butter or olive oil with a sprinkling of sugar, and add some balsamic vinegar at the end. For the ultimate taste and texture sensation, make individual ones, turn out, and top each with a slice of pan-fried foie gras. This is sinfully good!
This recipe inaugurates a new tag of “frugal food”, which seems appropriate in these credit-crunch times. Made mainly of ripe tomatoes and stale bread, it costs almost nothing, and can make a light vegetarian main course along with a green vegetable or salad. Carnivores can have it as a substantial side dish with a roast — less meat needed! And of course I wouldn’t be posting it if it wasn’t delicious. The bottom layer of crumbs soaks up the juices, while the top is brown and crunchy.
I habitually whiz stale ends of bread to crumbs in the blender and then store them in the freezer in ziploc bags, as they are useful for so many things. So I used some of those for this, and the last of the season’s tomatoes. It’s really best made with the ripest, reddest tomatoes you can find. If they’re a bit pale, up the garlic and herbs to compensate.
Fig and goat’s cheese soufflé
I got this from a Bonne Maman recipe card. It is a lovely, light starter, and the soufflé base of soaked bread could make a good vehicle for other flavours too. You could ring the changes by using onion marmalade in the bottom, instead of fig jam. Sorry there’s no picture — it sank before I got the camera organised!
Rillettes de thon
Strictly speaking, rillettes are a kind of pâté made of pork cooked in its own fat and then finely shredded (very nice, despite the description!). This version is a kind of tuna pâté, simple to make and delicious on toast. You need to use good-quality tuna, preferably “au naturel” rather than in oil — though you can use the latter if you drain it well. Make it at least an hour before you want to eat it; it will keep for several days in the fridge.
Seared scallops with chilli jelly
The recipe is in the title 🙂 Brush your scallops with olive oil, season well, and sear for 1-2 minutes on each side in a non-stick frying pan or on a plancha. Serve with chilli jelly and a blob of crème fraîche; if you think the plate looks a bit empty, you can garnish with a few salad leaves. Effort versus results score: 10/10!
These come out a brilliant green, with an unusual tangy flavour. The original recipe specified ricotta, but I used fresh, mild goat’s cheese from a nearby farm which I think gave them some extra oomph. Any similar soft cheese would do. If you are not worried about calories they could be served with hollandaise sauce; otherwise, maybe a few salad leaves or sliced avocado and some lemony vinaigrette would be nice. This quantity will make about 6 depending on the size of your tins.
Roasted tomato and parmesan tart
I was given a copy of the BBC’s Olive magazine, coincidentally just at the moment when we picked our last few tomatoes, and had some mascarpone that needed using up. This recipe called to me, a speedy alternative to long-time favourite Tarte à la moutarde (total time an hour, tops). I’m sure you could make smaller individual ones to serve as a starter with a few salad leaves.
Spinach & lemon mousselines with avocado
These make a delicate and elegant starter and are easy to make too.