Monday, June 22, 2009

All dressed up...

There has got to be something wrong with a world in which people still buy ready-made mayonnaise. Ever since I discovered how stupefyingly easy (and affordable) it is to make your own – far superior to store-bought – my mind has boggled at the idea that anyone actually pays money for the mass-produced variety. All you need to concoct (although that word is misleading as it implies some form of experimentation, of which, I’m sure you’ll find, little is needed) this gorgeously creamy dressing is three everyday ingredients: eggs, vegetable oil, vinegar.
One large egg, two or three tablespoons of white wine vinegar (depending on how tangy you like it), and about 225ml good quality vegetable oil (I prefer sunflower, but canola works as well). Oh, and a hand-held blender. Crack the egg into a container (I have a tall, cup-like one that is almost the same shape as the blender, but that’s not a necessity); add the vinegar and about one third of the oil. Blend together; then, with the blender still, er, blending, add the rest of the oil in a thin stream until the mixture thickens to the consistency of, well, mayonnaise. You may not have to use all the oil, or you may have to use a little extra – that’s all the experimentation required. Add a little more vinegar if you like, and season with sea salt. Store your mayo in a jar in the fridge – it’ll last for about two months (but I guarantee it will be eaten before then).

There's a lot you can do to the basic recipe. Here are some of my favourites:
Add a tablespoon of Dijon mustard (I do this as a rule).
Add finely chopped gherkins, capers and some dill or tarragon (perhaps a few chopped anchovies?), and hey presto: tartar sauce that will have seafood singing hymns (especially calamari).
Stir in a few handfuls chopped dill and parsley, as well as the Dijon mustard and some finely sliced red onion, and use to coat perfectly boiled new potatoes.
Mix with one teaspoon English mustard and apply generously to hamburgers.
I know it’s somewhat obvious, but this ingredient lifts your average chicken- or tuna-mayo sandwich into the realm of haute cuisine.
Combine a few tablespoons mayo with a good squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and Dijon mustard, and you have the makings of a creamy, foliage-friendly salad dressing.

A note on vinegar
As I said, white wine vinegar is perfectly adequate, but making your own flavoured ones is even easier than making mayonnaise, and will give it a real gourmet flavour.
I use two parts white wine vinegar to one part apple cider vinegar (for a little tangy sweetness), and add a handful of any of the following: tarragon; thyme; rosemary and two cloves garlic; parsley, basil, chives, oregano, rosemary, sage and two cloves garlic (for this one I just went into my garden and picked a little of every herb I could find, and the end product was sublime). Just squash the herbs and garlic (if using) into a glass jar or bottle, add the vinegar and leave to infuse for about four days to a week. You’ll appreciate the results when you remove the lid and take a whiff. What’s more, it’ll keep in a dark cupboard for at least six months.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Courgette classic

This is a light, delicate pasta that is ridiculously simple to make. It’s a perfect summer dish, but I make it whenever I don’t feel like cooking – it’s that easy. There are many variations, but this is my personal favourite. If you want to make it more substantial, you can add shredded chicken, fried prosciutto, bacon bits or Parma ham. You could also substitute the feta with Parmesan.

Simple courgette pasta
Serves 4

500g spaghetti
20 medium courgettes, grated
olive oil
1 tbsp chili flakes
4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
Juice and zest of ½ lemons
2 handfuls chopped fresh herbs (any combination of basil, parsley or origano)
200g feta, crumbled, plus extra for sprinkling
4 tsp butter

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. When it’s cooked, add the grated courgettes to the pasta, give it a stir and drain, reserving a little of the cooking water (about 200ml). Add the pasta back to the pot (but do not return it to the stove), add a good glug of olive oil and the cooking water, as well as the chilli flakes, garlic, lemon juice and zest. Give it a good stir, then add the feta and the herbs, season to taste and stir to combine once again.
Divide the pasta between four bowls, place a nob of butter on top of each (trust me), along with an extra sprinking of feta and a squeeze of lemon juice, if desired.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Creamy, salty, crunchy...

... is there a better combination? I came up with this while standing in the centre of the salad isle (blocking trolley traffic), with that vacant, slightly puzzled expression you see so often in grocery stores at 6:30 on weekday evenings. I wanted something tasty, healthy and satisfying. Et violà! I think they'd work best as canapés. (I wasn’t organised enough to take a picture of the mushrooms, so I’ve included a pic of my slippers in sunlight, for no reason in particular, other than I think it’s pretty.)

Roasted mushrooms with anchovy croutons
Makes 10

Anchovy croutons
6 white anchovy fillets
3 tbsp olive oil (or the oil from the tin/bottle)
2 handfuls stale ciabatta, cut into 1cm cubes

Avo topping
1 large avocado
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 handful basil, chopped
Juice of half a lemon

10 large Portobello mushrooms, roasted

For the anchovy croutons: Add the anchovies and the oil to a frying pan over a medium heat and cook until the anchovies melt. Add the bread and stir so each piece is well coated. You can either turn up the heat a little and fry the bread until it’s golden and crispy, or grill in the oven (which I prefer – it seems to produce more crunch).

For the avo topping: mash the avo in a bowl, add the garlic, basil and lemon juice and stir to a lovely mushy consistency. Season to taste.

To serve: Dollop a little of the avo mixture onto each mushroom and top with the glorious golden croutons. Try to have just one, I dare you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cauliflower power

I'm not the biggest cauliflower fan in the world – I've always found it slightly inscrutable. Usually the things you add to cauliflower are things that would make anything taste better, and would probably taste much better with some other type of vegetable. Then I saw Jamie Oliver's recipe for cauliflower risotto (risotto ai cavolfiori – see Jamie's Italy, or click here). It wasn't the cruciferous part that got me excited, it was the anchovy crumbs sprinkled on top. I'd made risotto a few nights previously, so I decided to translate his recipe using fresh homemade pasta – and oh my, the humble cauliflower did not disappoint. (Except – egads! – I forgot to add the parsley. And a dollop of creme fraiche probably would have pushed it into the realm of the godly.)