Thursday, 29 July 2010

Roasted chicken with pancetta, artichokes and red wine

These days it's gotten colder and gloomier. Having gotten spoiled by the sun this summer, and enjoying light food due to the heat, I've missed a few all-time favourites. Hence, now the last few days that it's been getting cooler I found the opportunity to turn on the oven, and make this great one-tray dish.

Chicken is the most ever-present staple food in Greece, and the meat of choice for most Greeks. I still get surprised when people come to visit, and anywhere we go, no matter the cuisine, they will order the chicken out of everything else. Sweet and sour in Chinese restaurants, Tikka Masala in Indian, teriyaki in Japanese, whichever way sounds more Greek in Italian places and don't get me started about Lebanese, Turkish, Arabic restaurants and the like, which serve food almost identical to Greek anyway...

I don't have any gripes with chicken. It can be great if cooked properly, and I eat it gladly, but when I have the choice, I'll usually go for some more "exotic" meat. This is due to the fact that usually in Greece chicken is overcooked, overdry, and too chewy, and that heritage follows me closely, to the point that in most unfortunate occasions I've managed to ruin meals myself by being uncertain about its pinkness and overcooking it.

But this is amazing. Probably my favourite chicken recipe right now. It can be made with breasts or thighs (if you want extra-guaranteed meaty moistness) and because of the addition of the oil and wine, it doesn't dry up, and tastes wonderfully rich. The potatoes are also impregnated in the bacon and artichoke juices, and along with the wine they become this amazingly tender pieces of heaven!

Try it, seriously... Just drooling thinking about it. Maybe it's not that bad after all to have some "cold" days...

Roasted chicken with pancetta, artichokes and red wine
Source: Adapted from Waitrose Magazine (March/April 2008)

Serves 4

  • 500g baby new potatoes
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 4 tbsp paprika
  • 280g jar chargrilled artichokes (I love the ASDA Extra Special ones)
  • 140g pack pancetta cubes
  • 75ml red wine (I usually use my leftover wine, but a fruity red works great)
  • Pinch of sea salt 
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the potatoes in a pan filled with water, cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes, to part-cook them. Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts or thighs with salt and pepper and sprinkle the paprika on them, rubbing it in on all sides. Drain the artichokes into a bowl, reserving half the oil.

Put the pancetta in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat and fry until it starts to turn golden. Drain the potatoes and add to the pan, with a tablespoon of the artichoke oil, and continue cooking until they start to colour. Add the artichokes and give them a quick stir. Transfer to a roasting tray and arrange the chicken  over the top of the potatoes. Pour over the red wine and the remaining artichoke oil and season generously.

Put in the oven and roast for 30 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked, there is no pink meat and the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the tray and keep warm. Return the potatoes to the oven and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden. Return the chicken to the tray, turn off the oven and leave to warm up for a few minutes. Share the potatoes between 4 plates, place the chicken on top and drizzle with the pan juices.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

I scream, you scream, we all scream for... gelato!

Ever since I bought my ice cream machine, I've spread my obsession with it all around, making friends and colleagues drool along the way with my descriptions. So the time had come to invite some of them over to my place, to have a cooking and ice cream-making day. As my partner was away getting in touch with his 3-year-old self in Disneyland, I decided to make this a day for the girls, and after some drinks in the pub on Friday I polled everyone and the popular choices were mushroom risotto, a salad (for which I chose and enforced my favourite Roasted butternut squash salad – needless to say no one complained!) and strawberry ice cream.

Although I love strawberry sorbet, I usually won't choose strawberry ice cream if there's anything else on offer, and therefore I had never made any before, so I thought it was a great opportunity to try a recipe by ice cream icon David Lebovitz. My Italian friend did the shopping and brought some wonderfully ripe strawberries along, maybe a bit too old to eat but 100% perfect for ice cream. While frantically making all the food I almost forgot to put half the ingredients in the ice cream machine, but at the end it was all a success, and the gelato had a very fresh and light flavour, since by using just milk it didn't carry the usual heaviness of cream.

We took the food and ice cream to the garden and had a great day discussing food and what we each like to cook from our countries now that we live in Britain (with the group comprising of one Italian, one Brazilian, one Japanese and one Greek, some interesting combinations came up!), and even more, how much it annoys us that the simple ingredients you can find everywhere in each of our home countries need a special trip and a much deeper pocket when you're in the UK (real Italian savoiardi, Japanese sticky rice, Brazilian fresh fruit and Greek pita breads – not these concoctions they sell in the supermarkets here, but REAL Greek pita breads), if they are to be found at all (I haven't found the real Greek pitas in London yet, if anyone knows any place that sells them please please tell me!).

A day later, I find myself with some leftover mascarpone, and a challenge. I don't feel like tiramisú, but what about tiramisú ice cream? Here we go. A bit of internet scouting, and a few minutes later I'm getting somewhere with an experimental recipe, since I had never thought I could make ice cream out of mascarpone. I love tiramisú ice cream, and this one, although heavier than the gelato that I usually prefer, was absolutely yummilicious. Only thing is, I added quite bit of Baileys, so this is actually a Baileys-tiramisú ice cream. If you love Baileys, you will love this, if not, use a bit less... By the way, I barely managed to take some pictures before I devoured it all (I only made a small dose to try it, I'm not that big a piggy!)

The strawberry ice cream was a lot more, so I had some more today, and I discovered that drizzling it with melted dark chocolate (which solidifies after it hits the ice cream!) makes it even yummier... Drool...and let's hope the good weather continues!

Strawberry gelato
Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes about 900ml

  • 500g ripe strawberries
  • 100g golden granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 370ml full fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp kirsch

Clean the strawberries, shake them around in a bowl with the sugar and honey and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Pour the whole contents of the bowl in a blender and liquidise. Pass through a thin sieve, squishing out all the flesh with a spoon and scraping around until only the seeds are left. A lot of recipes skip this step and put the strawberries whole, but I think it's really worth going the extra mile, as seedless gelatos are so much smoother and melt-in-the-mouth than the ones containing seeds.

In a big bowl mix together the milk, lemon juice and kirsch, adding the strawberry purée. Pour into your ice cream machine, or if you don't have one put in a freezable container (preferably metal) and freeze for 1 hour, then take out, squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.

Tiramisú ice cream
Source: Adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures

Makes about 900ml

  • 450g mascarpone
  • 125ml double cream
  • 125ml full fat milk
  • 130g sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 60ml Kahlua
  • 45ml Baileys

For the chocolate ripple

  • 100g sugar
  • 80ml water
  • ½ cup strongly brewed espresso
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl blend together the mascarpone, milk, cream, sugar, salt, Kahlua and Baileys. Chill the mixture in the fridge while you make the chocolate ripple.

In a saucepan mix together all the ingredients for the ripple over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens and covers the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, cool, and then chill in the fridge.

Pour the ice cream mix into your ice cream machine, and when it's done, drizzle the chocolate ripple between layers of ice cream when you're transferring it into its freezable container. If you don't have an ice cream machine put the ice cream mix in a freezable container (preferably metal) and drizzle the chocolate ripple also in layers, freeze for 1 hour, then take out, squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A not-so-English summer and a butternut squash salad

Whomever is complaining this year about there being no summer, please shut up NOW (and don't jinx it for the rest of us!). If you add the "summer" days we've had from 2004 to now, the average is 7. Seriously. Spread out over 3 months. So, right now it's bit after mid-summer (in my biological calendar, which defines summer as 1 June - 31 August) and we've already had more than 7 days of sun, warmth, and - dare I even say it? - "mini heatwave".

Being a dedicated meatterian during the winter, I find that once the summer comes I become mostly a strict icecreamterian with some fish and seafood mixed in (not in the ice-cream, in my food regime). I'm not a big fan of salads as I find them mostly boring, but I love to discover weird combinations, and mix and match things to my taste, most of the times including a favourite ingredient that becomes the key, like parmesan, or - in this case - butternut squash.

Although on a very hot day the last thing I want to do is turn the oven on, when I think of this warm salad I drool, and I make up for the extra heat in the kitchen by disappearing quickly out of it as soon as the squash is done and the salad is plated, enjoying it in the cool garden or living room.

I had found this recipe in an old Tesco Magazine and had cut it out, but I didn't like some things in it (like the red onion and the lack of dressing) so I adapted it a bit more to my taste. This has become my all-time favourite salad, and that's saying a lot, coming from me. Try this with a chilled glass of fresh lemonade on a hot day, it's absolutely dreamy...

Roasted butternut squash salad
Source: Adapted from Tesco Magazine

Serves 2

  • ½ butternut squash
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • A pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 bag rocket
  • A handful of pumpkin seeds
  • A handful of dried cranberries
  • 60g goats' cheese (I prefer Soignon)

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Cut the butternut squash in small cubes and toss in a tray with 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tbsp of maple syrup, the chilli powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Roast for 35 minutes or until browned and caramelised.

In a small bowl mix the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil with the 2 tbsp of maple syrup and set aside. Place the rocket leaves on a plate, add the squash hot from the oven, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds and cranberries on top, add the goats' cheese in small pieces and drizzle with the dressing. Serve before the squash has the chance to cool down, this will make the goats' cheese slightly melt, which gives the whole salad a wonderful texture.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Summertime and strawberry pleasures

Ever since I moved to Britain and discovered the amazing quality of English strawberries, I have been praising them to everyone around the world. Sure, strawberries are a big favourite everywhere, but you've really got to taste the ones in Britain, when in season, to experience the difference. They are somehow perfect; fragrant, small, shiny little things, that fill your mouth with juicy sweetness. I love them, and every winter I can't wait for the summer to come for one more reason, so that I can have my most beloved fruit. I refuse to have them out of season, and always aim to find new varieties to try every year. My trick is to always smell them, and choose the smallest ones, those are the ones that I always find the most tasty. If they don't smell amazing, chances are they won't be, and these massive beasts that look more like golf balls than strawberries always make me suspicious that something else is going on under their skin...

After an unusually cold winter (the worst in 30 years) this summer arrived surprisingly early, and English strawberries benefited from the extra sunshine and joined us earlier than usual so I've been enjoying them for quite a while now. One of my favourite quick desserts is to clean some, throw them in a bowl with some good vanilla ice cream and smash some shop-bought mini meringues on top, drizzling chocolate syrup over everything (including, frequently, my fingers and the whole kitchen counter).

It's rare that strawberries will stay long in our fridge, but in cases when we've been away and I haven't managed to devour them all, and they've become and bit slushy and don't look to die for, it's always a good opportunity to make one of my favourite sorbets, adding a Greek sweet dessert wine that I had brought back a few years ago from the island of Santorini, which gives it a great little flavour twist.

This week I happened to come across some strawberries that were a bit "unhappy", but since they were only 60p I grabbed the opportunity to adopt them for a sorbet, along with some fresher ones for a few strawberry tarts, which are also yummy and not too difficult to make. You can make one big tart, but I prefer individual ones as we're only two people in the house, and I can make as many as I want this way. With my consumption of strawberries, I'm always two kilos heavier at the end of every summer (not from the strawberries themselves, but from what I make with them!), so I try to cut down by making a few portions, and this recipe works equally well for one big tart or with the ingredients divided into two.

As I'm writing this, it's one of the hottest days I can remember, and the smell of jasmine is coming in through the window from our tiny 2x2 garden. Despite its tininess it contains a gigantic magnolia tree, half a plum tree (the rest belongs to the next door neighbours), a massive jasmine bushy mess, a rose tree and some bamboo. So I'm starting to consider what kind of dessert I can make with jasmine flowers, I've thought of a few combinations but if you've got any tested ideas send them along. It's so huge, and there's so many flowers it's a pity to let them go to waste. And then, the wait starts for the first plums and the wonderful things I can make with them...

Strawberry tarts
Source: dulcis in fundo

Makes two individual tarts (9cm in diameter)

For the pastry

  • 125g plain flour
  • 75g cold butter, cut into small chunks
  • ½ tbsp sugar
  • 1 small egg, beaten (if your eggs are too big just use the yolk only)

For the filling

  • 5 strawberries
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 1 cups full fat milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ tbsp corn flour
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt

For the pastry, mix the flour with the butter and sugar in a food processor until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix again until everything is incorporated. Shape into a ball, and flatten between two sheets of cling film, rolling it a few centimetres bigger than the size of your tart cases (it makes enough for two 9cm tart cases, and I had some leftovers, which I froze for another time). Unstick one piece of cling film from the dough and lower into the tart cases, pressing carefully and filling in the gaps. Roll the rolling pin on top of the tart cases to "cut" the surplus dough, pierce everywhere with a fork and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the tart cases with baking paper and fill with baking beans (or rice or normal beans). Bake for 15 minutes, then take off the paper and beans and return to the oven until browned.

While the tart cases are cooling, prepare the cream filling by blending the sugar, eggs and corn flour with a handheld mixer. Warm up the milk with the salt in a small pan until it bubbles lightly, stirring every now and then with a wooden spoon, and slowly pour a few spoonfulls of milk into the egg and sugar mix, blending constantly with the mixer. Pour the mixture back into the milk pan, and carefully and quickly stir over a low hear, until it thickens (but careful, you don't want scrambled eggs! Of course in the not-so-rare case that this happens, pour everything into a blender, and then pass through a sieve and back into the milk pan).

After a couple of minutes, pass through a sieve to ensure that no chunks have formed, add the butter and vanilla extract, stir until everything is incorporated and leave to cool. Cover with cling film, pushing it down to stick on the surface of the cream, as you don't want a "skin" to form while it's cooling, and put in the fridge until it has cooled down (about 30-40 minutes). When both the tart cases and cream are totally cooled, fill the cases, adding thinly sliced strawberries on top, in a fan shape.

Strawberry and Vin Santo sorbet
Source: dulcis in fundo

Makes about 800ml

  • 190g sugar
  • 200g water
  • 200g ripe strawberries
  • 3 big chunks of lemon peel (equal to the peel of 1/3 of a lemon)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • A big glug of Vin Santo (according to taste, I put 3 tbsp in mine)

Put the water, sugar, cinnamon, star anise and lemon peel in a saucepan and warm up until the sugar has melted. Boil for 1 minute and set aside to cool. After it's cooled a bit add the lemon juice, move it to a suitable container (I use a plastic measuring jug) and put it in the freezer, so it can cool quickly.

Clean the strawberries and wash thoroughly. Put in a blender and liquidise. Pass through a thin sieve, squishing out all the flesh with a spoon and scraping around until only the seeds are left. A lot of recipes skip this step and put the strawberries whole, but I think it's really worth going the extra mile, as the seedless sorbets are so much smoother and melt-in-the-mouth than the ones containing seeds.

Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise and lemon peel from the sugar syrup and add the strawberry pulp. Put in the freezer again until cool. Pour into your ice cream machine, or if you don't have one put in a freezable container (preferably metal) and freeze for 1 hour, then take out, scrape/squash with a fork and refreeze, repeating the process every half an hour or so.
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