Recipe: ‘Croccante di Noccioli e Pistacchi’ (Tuscan Hazelnut & Pistachio Crunch)

Deliciously crunchy, glossy and utterly more-ish, the recipe for this classic Tuscan treat came from Antonio Carluccio and is usually served around Christmas and on festive occasions. With the first snows of the season recently, I was feeling decidedly festive so I made a batch.

It’s really simple to make and the only unusual ingredient is the edible wafer paper (rice paper). You can buy rice paper on Amazon and it can be used as a base for various cookies and sweets such as Panforte di Siena –  another delightful Italian treat.

‘Croccante di Nocciole e Pistacchi’ ~ Tuscan Hazelnut & Pistachio Crunch

CROCCANTE di NOCCIOLE e PISTACCHI

(Makes about 2.25lbs / 1kilo)

Ingredients:

2-3 sheets of edible wafer/rice paper

14 oz (400g)  of golden sugar (superfine/caster)

3½ oz (100g) of runny honey

The finely grated zest of 1 orange

9oz (250g) of shelled hazelnuts

9oz (250g) of shelled pistachio nuts (not salted!)

1 lemon cut in half

Action:

Line a cookie sheet with foil and place 2 or three sheets of rice paper on it, next to one another.

In a heavy pan (preferably cast iron) gently heat the honey and sugar together until all the sugar has melted, then bring it to a boil and cook until the sugar becomes a light golden brown. Take it off the heat.

Add the orange zest and stir it for a minute with a wooden spoon then add the hazelnuts and pistachios, and stir until all the nuts are coated with syrup.

Pour this mixture onto the rice paper and use the lemon halves as spatulas to spread the mixture out to about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick. (The lemon will not stick, unlike a wooden or plastic spatula and it gives a lovely citrus-y tang to the finished toffee).

Allow it to cool completely before breaking it into pieces. It keeps well in an airtight container for about a week, not that you’ll be able to resist it for that long.

 

Posted in Cookies & Edible Gifts, Gluten Free Desserts | Leave a comment

Now That It’s Soup Weather…

Chilly days and frosty nights promote a longing for hearty soups – one of the nicest things about autumn.

Whether it’s soup of a chunky main-course variety or something simple that you might enjoy for lunch with a toasted cheese sandwich on the side, most soups freeze brilliantly. Provided you have a big enough pot to start with, there aren’t many things quite as satisfying as filling the freezer with containers of soup – perfect for those times you stagger home, cold, tired, hungry and not in the mood for chopping or grilling.

Below are links to a few of my favorite soup recipes from over the years – some classic, some unusual but all very, very good.

Smoked Fish Chowder with Sweetcorn & Leeks

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Classic French Onion Soup

Tuscan Kale, White Bean & Spicy Sausage Soup

Mushroom & Barley Soup

Chicken Soup with Lemongrass, Basil & Coconut

Cauliflower & Stilton Soup with Chili Croutons

Pasta & Chickpea Soup with Prosciutto & Parmesan Rinds

 

Posted in Soups | 2 Comments

Recipe – Mattar Panner (Braised Indian Cheese with Peas, Tomatoes, Ginger, Garlic & Spices)

This is one of the nicest mattar paneer dishes I’ve come across and although it requires stove-top attention for about 45 minutes, it’s simple to make.

I’ve adapted this recipe by Naved Nasir (Executive Chef at Dishoom “…a hip Bombay-style cafe” in Shoredich, London) – I say adapted because living three and a half hours away from my nearest city, paneer isn’t easy to come by so I used halloumi, that firm and rather rubbery Greek cheese that comes vacuum packed and is excellent for grilling as it hold’s it’s shape.

It worked brilliantly but I highly recommend leaving out the salt entirely if you make it with halloumi as it contains plenty of it’s own, enough to season the finished dish. Just check the saltiness at the end, adding more if you need it. Like most Indian dishes, this tastes fabulous the next day.

*Note, if you can’t find it locally you can try making your own paneer but after this, I say why bother?

Serve mattar paneer over rice or with warm naan bread.

Mattar Paneer (Indian Cheese with Peas, Tomatoes, Onion, Ginger, Garlic & Spices)

Mattar Paneer

MATTAR PANEER

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

0.75 oz (20g) of fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

10 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use avocado oil for its hi-temp cooking qualities)

2 large red onions, peeled and finely chopped

1 teaspoon of chili powder (I use Urfa biber because I love it so much)

3 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 heaped tablespoons of tomato paste

1 teaspoon of garam masala (I make my own but you don’t need to as it’s widely available these days)

1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin

8 oz (226g) of paneer or halloumi cheese, patted dry and cut into 1 inch (2cm) chunks

2 tablespoons of single cream (I used crème fraîche as I prefer it)

4 oz (120g) of frozen peas

1 teaspoon of clear honey

A small handful of cilantro / coriander leaf to garnish

Action:

In a processor, pulse the ginger and garlic until you have a paste. Heat the oil in a wide saute pan and cook the chopped red onion over a medium heat until softened and golden, then add the ginger-garlic paste, chili powder and – only if using paneer, a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of the tomato paste and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes, then add 4 fl oz (120ml) of water and bring it to a simmer for a few more minutes.

Add the garam masala, cumin and remaining tablespoon of tomato paste and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the paneer or halloumi and 1 tablespoon of cream and simmer for another 4 minutes.

Add the peas  – and a little more water if you think it needs it – bring it to a simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes more, then add the remaining cream and a teaspoon of honey. Stir well to combine, simmer for two more minutes and it’s done.

Scatter with chopped cilantro / coriander and serve in warmed bowls over basmati rice or with naan bread.

 

Posted in Indian Cuisine, Vegetables / Vegetarian | 3 Comments

Recipe – Baked Almond & Tofu Pudding with Berries

Silken tofu is extremely versatile when used in desserts, sauces and dressings, quite unlike its firm or extra-firm cousin which is best treated as a meat substitute; skewered, smoked, casseroled or baked in savory dishes. Apart from the protein factor, the greatest attribute of tofu is that it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook with it, having virtually none of its own.

Taking advantage of the smooth almost jelly-like texture of silken tofu, this dessert is incredibly easy to make and the batter can be prepared 12 hours ahead; just cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to stick it in the oven.

The result is a light yet rich-tasting fruity, almond-y pudding that’s best served warm. The batter doesn’t need to be distributed too evenly as the fruit will rise into the golden topping.

You’ll need a food processor and to serve, a dusting of powdered sugar and perhaps some vanilla ice cream or crème fraiche – but neither are essential as this pud is great on its own.

The best fruits to use here are blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, either alone or in combination.

Baked Almond & Tofu Pudding with Berries

BAKED ALMOND & TOFU PUDDING WITH BERRIES

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup (80 ml measure) of sliced almonds, lightly toasted in a dry skillet until golden

½ cup (120 ml measure) of vanilla sugar, or regular fine white sugar and ¼ tspn of pure vanilla extract, added in the final batter stage

2 level tablespoons of cake flour or regular plain all-purpose flour

A pinch of sea salt

Then…

1 large egg

1/3 cup (80 ml) of silken tofu, drained

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter at room temp

¼ teaspoon of natural almond extract

3 cups of berries (if using frozen, arrange them in the buttered baking dish to defrost, as you’ll want to capture the juices)

Powdered/icing sugar for dusting

Action:

Preheat the oven to 400F / 200C

Process the first 4 ingredients until finely ground, then add the remaining ingredients – pulse until well blended (the batter will keep in the fridge for 12 hrs)

Arrange the berries in a lightly buttered or oiled 2-pint shallow baking dish and spoon the topping over the fruit.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes until golden on top and the fruit is bubbling. Cool for ten minutes then dust with powdered sugar to serve.

Posted in Desserts | Leave a comment

Recipe – Pork Braised in Coconut Milk with Ginger, Chili, Fish Sauce & Kale

Despite taking about 90 minutes to cook on the stove-top involving an occasional stir, this is a really simple dish that rewards you with succulent chunks of pork bathed in a rich, spicy, ginger-y coconut sauce, spiked with  nam-pla (Thai fish sauce).

Adapted from a Uyen Luu recipe, this is authentic Vietnamese cooking at it’s best and the addition of Tuscan kale should please the health nuts.

The original recipe calls for pork belly but my local Whole Foods told me that they only carry tenderloin, no doubt because belly pork is deemed too fatty, too unhealthy. Given that they sell a ton of bacon, they need to become less boring and more adventurous. Pork belly is an inexpensive cut that’s succulent, full of flavor and the skin produces the world’s best crackling.

So, I went elsewhere and purchased country style ribs, which were the closest thing I could find to pork belly once I’d trimmed the meat off the bone. Either cut works here.

Serve it over steamed rice or your favorite noodle.

Pork braised in coconut milk with ginger, fish sauce & kale

Pork Braised in Coconut Milk with Ginger, Chili, Fish Sauce & Kale

PORK BRAISED IN COCONUT MILK WITH NAM PLA, CHILI, GINGER AND KALE

(Serves 6 with rice)

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons of coconut or avocado oil

2 large shallots, peeled and sliced into thickish rings

1 oz (30g) of fresh root ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks

2 lbs (1 kilo) of pork belly, skin removed, or country style pork ribs, bone removed – cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) chunks

1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon of chili flakes, depending on the amount of heat you prefer

One 14 oz (400ml) can of coconut milk

3 tablespoons of nam pla (Thai fish sauce)

7 oz (200 grams) of Tuscan kale, ‘cavolo nero’, tough stalks discarded and torn int small pieces

Action:

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan with a lid and cook the ginger and shallots over a medium heat until softened. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to a plate, then brown the chunks of pork in batches. Put all the pork, ginger and shallot back into the pan along with the chili flakes.  Mix well and continue to cook, stirring from time to time for about 10 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and simmer gently, uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the fish sauce, stir well, put the lid on and simmer for another 30 minutes stirring occasionally, then finally  add the kale. Keep covered and continue to cook over a low heat until the kale is nicely wilted, about 5-8 minutes.

Serve over rice or noodles.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Asian Cuisine, Fish, Meat | 2 Comments

Recipe – Pasta with a Shrimp Sauce

My love affair with Italian cuisine began long ago in the late 1950’s when our father, who was quite the gastronome unbeknownst to me back then, took us one Saturday morning to an Italian delicatessen that had just opened in our local market town.

I’ll never forget the wonderful smell and mind boggling sight of vast hams and air-dried salamis suspended from the ceiling; sawdust on the floor, huge wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese carelessly stacked like the leaning tower of Pisa and shelves filled with jars of fascinating little things that looked quite other-worldly to my 7-year old mind.

Most of Britain was unfamiliar with Italian food back then and spaghetti continued to be viewed with suspicion for a number year after that. I remember a school chum running out of our kitchen crying “I’ll never eat those worms!” I had no problem eating them, in fact I could eat pasta every day of the year without the same sauce twice, which is almost true in that I’d like to but life tends to get in the way.

Pasta is also a great way to feed a crowd with just a few really good ingredients and a favorite book of mine that’s now well-thumbed and spotted with sauce, is Pasta Italian Style by Patricia Lousada. Sticking to mainly classic Italian dishes, it’s a fail-safe kitchen companion that’s as comfortable as an old pair of slippers.

I’ve slightly adapted this recipe which is lovely and fragrant with a touch of warmth. The good news is that you can make the sauce ahead and freeze it.

If you have shell-on shrimp, you can make a simple shrimp butter using the shells (you didn’t throw those away, did you?)

Pasta with a Shrimp Sauce

Pasta Shells with a Shrimp Sauce

PASTA WITH A SHRIMP SAUCE

(serves 4)

Ingredients:

1lb (450g) of raw shrimp (if they’re in the shell, use the shells to make a shrimp butter – see below)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter

2 shallots, finely minced

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon of chopped parsley

3 tablespoons of cognac

8 fl oz (240ml) of dry white wine

2 medium sized tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

6 fl oz (180ml) of heavy cream

A pinch of cayenne pepper

Sea salt

1lb (450g) of small pasta shapes

A tablespoon of shrimp butter* or regular butter to finish

Action:

Heat the oil and butter in a wide saute pan with a lid. Cook the carrot and shallots over a low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the shrimp, garlic, parsley, a pinch of cayenne and sea salt to taste. Cook, stirring for about 3 minutes then add the cognac and bring the heat up to evaporate it quickly. Add the wine, tomato paste and chopped tomato and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool slightly.

Transfer the shrimp mixture to a food processor and blend to a puree. You can freeze the sauce at this point, otherwise transfer it back to the saute pan, and add the cream. Adjust the seasoning and heat it through gently to thicken the sauce while you cook the pasta.

Drain the cooked pasta quickly and put it back in the pan with about a tablespoon of butter or shrimp butter – toss it around to coat well before pouring the warmed shrimp sauce over.

Serve the pasta in a large warmed bowl with a scattering of chopped parsley.

Parmesan isn’t served with this – it would compete with the delicate seaside flavors.

*To make a simple shrimp butter (if you have raw shrimp shells), put them in a heavy pan with about 1oz (28g) of unsalted butter and a grind of sea salt. Heat gently until the butter is melted and the shells have turned pink then strain in a fine mesh sieve over a small bowl, pushing on the shells to get as much butter as possible.

 

Posted in Fish, Pasta | Leave a comment

Recipe – Cinnamon Spiked Chicken Pilaf with Olives, Lemon & Almonds

I love one-dish meals that involve little effort but taste as though you slaved away for hours.

Apart from the chicken marinating time, this aromatic pilaf will be on the table in under 30 minutes, provided you have all the ingredients lined up first – something I recommend doing anyway.

If you have any leftovers, heat them through gently with a drizzle of cream stirred in – it keeps everything nice and moist.

The chicken can be marinated for 1-24 hours but bring it to room temp before grilling. I prefer boneless, skinless thigh meat over chicken breast as it’s more succulent and has more flavor but you can use either.

The olives I recommend using are the pitted Castelvetrano variety from Sicily due to their rich, buttery quality.

Chicken Pilaf with Green Olives, Lemon & Almonds

Cinnamon Spiked Chicken Pilaf with Lemon, Olives & Almonds

CHICKEN PILAF WITH CINNAMON, LEMON, OLIVES & ALMONDS

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

14 oz (400g) of boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 heaped tablespoons of plain yogurt (not fat-free)

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, separated

The finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice

1 oz (30g) of unsalted butter

2 shallots, minced

7 oz (200g) of basmati rice

1 teaspoon of salt

12 fl oz (350ml) of organic chicken stock

4 oz (115g) of pitted green olives, rinsed and drained

A small handful of fresh cilantro (coriander), chopped

1 oz (30g) of flaked almonds, lightly toasted

Action:

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Add the chicken thighs and give them a good stir to coat well. Set aside for 30 minutes at room temp, or refrigerate covered for up to 24 hrs but bring them back to room temp before cooking.

To cook the chicken, grill/broil for 5 minutes each side until golden brown in patches and cooked through. Set aside covered with foil while you cook the rice.

Preheat the oven to 350F /180C.  (it should already be hot enough from the grill).

In a wide ovenproof skillet or heavy casserole with a lid, heat the butter until foaming and saute the minced shallot until soft and translucent, then add the rice and give it a good stir to coat each grain, followed by the salt, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and the remaining half teaspoon of cinnamon. Add the stock, bring it to a boil then put the lid on and stick it in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the rice from the oven and stir in the olives and chopped cilantro. Set aside, covered while you chop the chicken into smallish chunks, then fold them through the rice.

Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon on the side and a green vegetable, or not.

 

 

Posted in Made in Under 30 mins, Poultry | Leave a comment