Escalivada or Catalan roasted vegetables

Eating Escalivada reminds me of long holiday lunches while staying with my friend who has a flat by the beach in Llançà in Catalonia. It is so simple to make, yet the combination of roasted vegetables is just right, making a delicious starter, light lunch or a side dish that seems to go with everything.

Yesterday we had it with a dish of warm lentils, rocket salad and an oozingly ripe goat’s cheese. The only thing it demands is a bit of advance planning, as the vegetables need to cook quite slowly in the oven. This quantity serves 4 as a starter or part of a main course. It keeps well in the fridge, so it’s worth doing more than you need,  providing an instant hit of sunshine for supper later in the week.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 medium onion
1 aubergine
olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5 – though if you were cooking something else at 180ºC/Gas mark 4 that would be fine too; they would just take a bit longer to cook. Wash the peppers and aubergine. Cut out the stems of the peppers and pull out the fibrous inside and seeds. Slice off the top of the aubergine, and pierce it a few times with a knife (to avoid explosions in the oven). Cut the onion into two (or four if it is fat) – no need to peel it.

Put all the vegetables into an oven dish and rub them with olive oil (except for the onion skin). Sprinkle with a little salt and cover tightly with foil. If you prefer you can wrap the vegetables individually in foil, but this strikes me as more trouble than is necessary. Roast for an hour, then check how they are doing – you need to roast them until they are really soft and starting to collapse. They will probably need another 30 minutes, and I took the foil off for the last 15 minutes to speed things up.

When the vegetables are all really soft take them out of the oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Then peel the skin off the peppers and aubergine – it should just pull away really easily. Extract any remaining seeds or fibres from the peppers – the only remotely fiddly part of the recipe. Slice the vegetables into long pieces about 2-3 cm wide and arrange on a platter. Pull the pieces of onion out of their skin, cutting them away from the root, and slicing them in half lengthways if they are too large to fit on a fork. Add them to the platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Escalivada is a great accompaniment to fish or lamb or chicken, or you can simply eat it with some good bread and a glass of wine. And pretend you are by the sea in Catalonia…

Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad

img_2207At the farmer’s market in Marylebone last weekend I bought a beautiful big cauliflower, and then had to go on a search for good things to do with it. This Ottolenghi recipe from Jerusalem roasts the cauliflower, giving it a really nutty taste which is accentuated by the toasted hazelnuts, with celery and parsley bringing freshness and crunch. I only used half the cauliflower, as it was so big, (this is what I did with the rest of it) and have adjusted the quantities in the original recipes a little.

Eating cauliflower as a salad always reminds me of the first time I was served warm cauliflower dressed with a mustardy vinaigrette (do try it*) at the house of a friend whose mother was of French and Russian extraction;  both she and her food seemed terribly glamorous. I first had clafoutis there too.

This salad is good as a starter, as a main with, say, other grilled vegetables or chick pea salad or as the accompaniment to, for example, grilled mackerel. This quantity feeds 3 or 4 depending on how you’re serving it.

1 small or half a large head of cauliflower, broken into florets or thickly sliced (approx 450g)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 stick of celery
20g hazelnuts
small bunch flat-leaf parsley
40g pomegranate seeds (approx ½ a small pomegranate)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 dstsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp maple syrup
salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 C/200 C Fan. I tend to slice the cauliflower, after having cut the florets away from the main stem, which gives pieces with an attractive tree-shape, and avoids the difficulty of trying to get neat florets of the same size.

img_2210Mix the cauliflower with 2 tbsp of the oil in a large roasting tin, spread it out and add salt and pepper. Roast for 25-35 minutes until the cauliflower is tender, with some brown crispy bits. Tip into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool. Meanwhile trim the ends of the celery stick and slice it on the diagonal into pieces about 0.5 cm thick. Wash the parsley and pick off the leaves.

Turn the oven down to 170 C/150 C Fan. Spread the hazelnuts on a small baking tray and roast until the skins are dark brown and cracking, which took 12 minutes in my oven, but can take another 5 minutes. I usually give the pan a shake at half time, and you do need to watch them carefully so they don’t burn (really the only remotely tricky bit of this recipe). When the nuts have cooled enough to handle, tip them into a tea towel and rub off the skins, then roughly chop them.

img_2211Add the nuts, celery, parsley, pomegranate seeds, 1 tbsp of oil and the other dressing ingredients to the dish of cauliflower and turn carefully to mix. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.

 

 

  • If you want to try cauliflower in vinaigrette, just trim away the leaves and any extra stem, steam the whole head until just tender and then pour over a vinaigrette made with dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and olive oil. Much more delicious than it sounds, and it looks striking when served too.

Smoked mackerel pâté

Smoked mackerel pateHere’s a quick, easy snack or starter for you. Smoked mackerel pâté is a classy take on a humble ingredient and is absolutely delicious with seeded crisp bread or, even better, hot toast. Pumpernickel bread also goes well. It is the perfect way to use up the end of a packet of smoked mackerel.

I always used to make it with cream cheese and curly parsley, but in looking for a recipe found options with ricotta or fromage frais, which make a lighter pâté, and complement the flavour of the mackerel perfectly. If you’re using horseradish you’ll need the grated hot horseradish that you can get in a jar (or fresh, of course), rather than horseradish cream, which won’t give you that kick of flavour.

150g smoked mackerel fillets
100g fromage frais or ricotta
3 tbsps double or sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tsp horseradish (optional)
a good squeeze of lemon juice
black pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Lemon wedges, watercress or capers to garnish (optional)

Carefully skin the mackerel fillets and check for any stray bones. Break up into a bowl and mash with a fork. Beat in the fromage frais or ricotta, then the cream and horseradish. Season to taste with lemon juice and black pepper – I think it needs quite a lot of both – and stir in the parsley. Serve with lemon wedges, and watercress or capers are nice as a garnish too.

Avocado, spinach and bacon salad

I have been running to catch up with myself since a most enjoyable holiday in the States last month, so have been rather neglecting the blog. A lot of good eating has been going on, though, including several classic American brunches, one ending with this very indulgent affogato Affogato in Philadelphiaand chocolate cake.  Back home it has been a question of throwing together familiar meals on the trot, with not much time to try new recipes or photograph what I’ve been cooking.

As the weather has shifted gear, salads are back on the menu, and this is a classic – a quick, easy meal in a bowl, combining creamy avocado and the salty tang of bacon. If you can, use thinly sliced bacon for this recipe, so you can get it nice and crisp, to contrast with the soft leaves. Purists would omit the red pepper and the rocket or watercress, but I like the cheerful colour of the red pepper and the peppery kick of flavour that the other leaves bring. A small head of chicory – red for preference – is also a good addition instead of or as well as the rocket or watercress – just slice it across into three or four pieces and separate the leaves.  These qualities are for 2, served with good bread. Add a dish of warm lentils dressed with olive oil and lemon if you want to make it into a more substantial meal.

Avocado, spinach and bacon salad
4-6 thin rashers of bacon
200g spinach
handful of rocket or watercress
½ red pepper
1 avocado
30g pine nuts

Dressing
½ tsp dijon mustard
salt & pepper
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and cook the bacon over a medium heat for about 6-10 mins (depending on the thickness of your rashers) until it is nice and crisp. I used six rashers of bacon, as they were very small and thin. Meanwhile, wash the spinach and rocket or watercress and dry in a salad spinner (or shake in a tea-towel). Slice the red pepper thinly and chop into 2cm pieces. Cut the avocado into chunks. Toast the pine nuts in a small frying pan over medium heat – this should only take 2 or 3 minutes, but do watch them like a hawk, shaking and turning them so that they don’t burn.

When the bacon is ready, take it out of the pan and drain on a piece of kitchen towel. Put the drained salad leaves into a large bowl, and add the avocado and most of the red pepper. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad and mix together. Finally, crumble the bacon and sprinkle it over the salad, with, the remaining red pepper and the pine nuts. I usually finish it with a tiny drizzle of oil and another grind of black pepper.

Fennel and blood orange salad

Fennel and blood orange saladI love the dramatic colour of blood oranges (or blush oranges, as they seem to have been renamed in Waitrose – why?), and this salad shows them off to perfection. It is very simple, but looks great, can be prepared an hour or so ahead and is such a good combination of flavours, especially at this time of year when one is desperate for fresh flavours and crisp textures after all the cold-weather comfort food we have been eating.

This salad is the ideal starter before a substantial main course, but I think it would also work as a side with something like duck breast, or a lentil salad. Good vinegar is essential – the sweet-sharpness of sherry vinegar is a great foil to that of the oranges. Serves 4

2 heads fennel
3 large or 4 small blood oranges
salt and pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Trim the fronds from the fennel, chop them finely and put on one side. Trim off the stalks and base of  the fennel bulbs, sit them upright and cut downwards into very thin slices. Arrange onto the four serving plates – I found I didn’t need all of the fennel to make four servings – drizzle over the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Fennel and blood orange saladUsing a serrated knife cut away the peel from the blood oranges. I cut off the top and bottom first, then work in strips cutting down and round the orange, keeping the knife as close to the pith as possible – a serrated knife really makes this much easier. You want to get rid of all traces of pith without losing too much flesh or juice. Then slice the oranges across into 0.5 cm slices and arrange five or six slices on top of each plate of fennel, removing any pips or pith from the centre as you go. Drizzle ½ tsp of sherry vinegar over each serving of oranges and sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds. A final grind of black pepper and you’re ready to serve, ideally with some good sourdough bread. If you wanted extra greenery, some rocket might make a good addition.

Onion tart

imageThis is a classic Elizabeth David recipe. I can clearly remember learning to cook it with a friend while I was a student cooking in a shared hall of residence kitchen, in a block rather glamorously located opposite Selfridges (it was bulldozed a few years ago). For many years I cooked it so regularly that it became a sort of signature dish. It is ideal either as a starter for a formal meal or as a vegetarian lunch with salad (and perhaps some new potatoes).

I haven’t cooked it for a while, but this weekend it provided the perfect start to a rather traditional dinner party menu. As some of our guests had warned that they might be a little late – and given that it has been so cold – a casserole seemed the obvious answer for the main course, especially when Irene discovered this amazing Rowley Leigh recipe for Daube de Boeuf. Cooked for 12 hours at a very low temperature the meat was incredibly tender, all the work was done the night before and it could be reheated once everyone had arrived. An onion tart seemed suitably special and French and would provide a golden, creamy contrast before the dark Daube. I served it in modest portions with a small serving of baby leaves with a mustard dressing, or ‘avec sa salade’, as they say on French menus.

As I hadn’t made it recently, I went back to the original recipe and was glad I did – I adapted my normal pastry recipe following her instructions for pâte brisé, and refrained from my normal thrifty habit of including some whole eggs in the filling, rather than just the egg yolks as specified by Elizabeth David, both to good effect. I found a very good use for the egg whites, which I shall post shortly – and here’s another one in the meantime.

These quantities fill my 26cm tart tin and serve 6 as a main course or 8-10 as a starter. You do need to start the pastry at least 3 hours before you want to eat. If you’re entertaining, you can do most of the preparation early in the day and assemble the tart 45 minutes before dinner, as I did.

Pastry:
150g plain flour
80g butter
1 egg
pinch of salt

PastryPastry

I started with my normal quantities for buttery shortcrust, added a whole egg and mixed everything in the food processor until the dough was just coming together (you may need to add a little cold water – I didn’t). I then briefly kneaded the dough into a ball before following Elizabeth David’s instructions for pâte brisé:  gradually stretch out the dough with the heel of your hand, bit by bit, to form a ragged sheet. Gather the dough up – my plastic dough scraper made this very easy – and repeat the process. Form the pastry into a ball, wrap it in cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This produced the best behaved and neatest pastry I have made for some time, so I will definitely be using this method again. Elizabeth David says that chilling the pastry for at least 2 hours stops it shrinking in the oven, and it works!

Filling:
3 large, mild onions (about 650g)
50g butter
a little oil
salt, pepper and nutmeg
3 egg yolks
150g crème fraîche

Slicing onions for onion tartPeel the onions, cut them in half and slice them thinly. Heat the butter with a dribble of oil in a wide frying pan with a lid. Do not be tempted to skimp on the butter – this is not a recipe to eat everyday, and butter is essential to the taste and silky texture of the dish. Add the onions and cook them gently with a lid on for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure they are not catching. By the end they should be beautifully soft and golden yellow. Take off the heat and season well with salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. In a bowl, beat the three egg yolks well and mix in the crème fraîche. Stir into the onions and leave aside until you are ready to bake the tart.

Tart tin lined with pastryOnion Tart before bakingRoll out the pastry to line the tin quite thinly. As I wanted to enjoy pre-dinner drinks with our guests, I rolled out the pastry at tea-time and put the lined tin back in the fridge ready to be filled and put in the oven as the door-bell rang.

Put a baking tray big enough to take the tart tin in the oven and heat it to 200ºC/Gas 6. Add the filling to the pastry case, put in the oven on the hot baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes until risen and golden. Elizabeth David says to serve it very hot, but I actually prefer it warm. Either way, a green salad is the perfect accompaniment.

Celeriac purée with spiced cauliflower

Celeriac purée with spiced cauliflower & lamb chopI was lucky enough to be given a copy of Ottolenghi and Scully’s cookbook Nopi a couple of weeks ago. It is lavishly produced, with a beautifully-designed, textured cover and gilt-edged pages. At first glance I wondered whether the recipes would be for aspiring restaurant chefs only.

However, even though many of the recipes are complex, they are built up from several components that can be prepared in advance. So I decided to plunge in this weekend, by trying this recipe. The original is topped with a fried quail’s egg to serve as a starter, but I thought that the celeriac and cauliflower would go well with lamb – and then discovered that the left-overs could be used in several other ways too.

Do prepare the vegetables in advance – the cauliflower is most easily done in a food processor with the coarsest grating plate. Ras el hanout is a North African spice blend that generally includes ginger, cardamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper and cinnamon. You can buy it ready-mixed, but this time we mixed our own. These are half quantities, for 3-4, just double them if you are cooking for company.

Celeriac purée
2 tbsps olive oil
80g onion, diced (½ large onion)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
300g celeriac, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
250ml vegetable soup
1 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ ground coriander

Spiced cauliflower
1 tbsp olive oil
80g onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp ras el hanout
350g cauliflower, trimmed and coarsely grated
1 tbsp finely diced preserved lemon skin
45g almonds, skin on, toasted and roughly chopped

To finish:
25g parsley, chopped
¼ sweet smoked paprika

Frying onions and celeriacHeat the olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and fry for 5-6 minutes, stirring often, until they are soft and beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook for another minute, then add the celeriac. Fry for 8-10 minutes, stirring often, until the celeriac is golden-brown.

Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the celeriac is tender. Remove from the heat, take out the bay leaf and blitz to a smooth purée in a blender or food processor. Mix in the tahini and spices and season with salt and pepper. Set aside – keep in the fridge, closely covered with cling film, if you are making this ahead.

Spiced cauliflower For the spiced cauliflower, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes until it is soft. Add the ras el hanout and cook for another minute. Add 100ml of water and stir through for a minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the cauliflower, preserved lemon skin, almonds and some of the chopped parsley.

To serve, spread the celeriac purée on the plate, drizzle with a little olive oil and then top with the spiced cauliflower. Finish with the remainder of the chopped parsley and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

It was delicious with lamb chops, cooked pink on the griddle, and some steamed kale on the side. Browning the celeriac deepens the flavour, and the velvety-smooth purée is set off by the texture and spice of the cauliflower. The recipe suggests serving them at room temperature, which I did first time, but I think it actually tastes better served warm.

Celeriac purée and spiced cauliflower with fried eggThe left-overs worked well in various different meals: I tried some with a fried egg – hen rather than quail – as in the original recipe; ate the spiced cauliflower on its own with avocado and salad for lunch and the celeriac purée made a more-ish dip. Next time I make this I will be cooking enough to have plenty of left-overs to eat in different combinations!