Gnocchi with Tomatoes and Chilli Tuna

This gnocchi dish is so simple, yet so rewarding. For those in a hurry, it’s easy to put together with pre-fabricated pasta and sauce, but if you have time to make this from scratch, you’ll easily achieve melt-in-your-mouth pasta and a rich, full-bodied sauce. I used Ginny Grant’s gnocchi recipe, replacing the Agria potatoes with dutch cream, and steamed the potatoes in quarters to save time. The brand of tuna I prefer is Sirena’s tuna in chilli oil, but you can use whichever brand suits. Gnocchi

Serves 6

Ingredients

Tomato sauce

1 tablespoon ricebran oil

3 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

1 onion, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 x 400g diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup red wine

 

Gnocchi

1kg potatoes

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 egg yolk

150g flour

 

6 x 95g or 4.5 x 125g tins chilli tuna

A few handfuls of baby spinach

Parmesan cheese to serve

Cracked pepper to taste

 

Method

Tomato sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and saute until the onion is golden and translucent.
  2. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and wine. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and leave to cool for a few minutes.
  4. Transfer sauce to a food processor and process until smooth.
  5. Transfer the processed sauce back to the saucepan.

Gnocchi*

  1. Wash, peel, and quarter the potatoes.
  2. Steam the potatoes for 15 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Mash the potatoes until smooth.
  4. Mix the salt and egg yolk into the potatoes.
  5. Mix the flour through the potatoes.
  6. Turn the dough out on to a clean floured surface. Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth. Divide the dough into quarters.
  7. Bring 1.7L of water to boil in a large saucepan.
  8. While the water is boiling, roll each dough quarter into a long sausage (about 30cm long and 1.5-2cm wide). Cut the length of dough into 2cm bites.
  9. Once the saucepan of water has come to a boil, cook the gnocchi in batches: Add one layer of gnocchi to the water at a time, ensuring there is space between each piece. When the gnocchi have floated to the top, scoop out with a slotted spoon.

To serve

Reheat the tomato sauce if necessary. Gently stir through the gnocchi, followed by the spinach and tuna. Transfer to bowls and serve with parmesan and pepper.

Enjoy!

*A couple of pointers on making gnocchi that I’ve picked up along the way: Make sure the potatoes aren’t too laden with moisture or too processed. So to cook them, either microwave, bake, or steam them – don’t boil them. And to mash them, stick to a hand potato masher – don’t use a food processor.

 

Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty’: Mushroom and Herb Polenta

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My sisters bought me Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty for my birthday this year and I finally cooked from it last week. Plenty is a compilation of the most delightful recipes, which happen to not include meat. In the book’s introduction, Ottolenghi makes the point that he is not vegetarian, but the drive behind his vegetarian interest is the increased availability of old and new vegetables, and the ethical growing and sourcing of them.

This has given birth to an array of unique and delightful recipes which appeal to both carnivorous and herbivorous palates, without seeming to lack in “meat”. The deep and interesting flavour and texture combinations are also highly influenced by his European upbringing in the Middle East. A mingling of cultures that has clearly brought forth amazing results.

Well, it was finally time to try cooking from this cook book. And last week provided the perfect occasion. I’d invited a friend over for lunch, but only remembered days prior, that my friend’s father was a Parisian chef. No pressure! I had to find a dish to impress. And it had to be vegetarian. And I knew I would be short on time that day. As it turned out, Ottolenghi’s Plenty had a recipe that ticked all these boxes: Mushroom and Herb Polenta. It took about 40 minutes all up to make – and my friend loved it! Plenty, definitely a home-entertaining winner.

Recipe: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/dec/16/foodanddrink.recipes1

Camembert and Broccolini Frittatas

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So I went to my first Victorian farm party on the weekend. A barbecue was on the menu, however I’d been trying – very, very hard to remain vegetarian for Lent. But I was determined not to announce this at the party – I didn’t want to appear precious! Nevertheless, I wanted to bring a substitute that was more interesting and substantial than a salad, something that I would enjoy. So the decision was made: camembert and broccolini frittatas. Here’s the recipe …

Camembert and Broccolini Frittatas

Small bunch broccolini, chopped into bite size chunks

6 eggs

300mL cream

2 spring onions, chopped

1T tarragon, chopped

1t rosemary, chopped

handful of grated parmesan

salt and pepper

100g camembert, sliced into 12 pieces

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C fan bake.
  2. Grease a 12-hole muffin tin.
  3. Steam or microwave the broccolini until al dente.
  4. Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Then whisk in the cream.
  5. Stir in the spring onions, tarragon, rosemary, and parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin.
  7. Top each frittata with a slice of camembert.
  8. Bake about 18 minutes, or until set.

When ready, remove from the oven, cool slightly, and turn out to serve. New tip for tricky removal of frittatas from non-stick bakeware: Use a silicon spatula to scoop your cooked treats out. This will help preserve your bakeware, and your baked treats!

 

Shittake Risotto

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In anticipation of a busy week ahead, I decided to make a set of pull-out freezer meals. I’d also accumulated ingredients from weeks of past dinner makings. These ingredients looked rather risotto-ish …

Tired of my usual veg option (mushroom), I zhuzhed up the dish with shittake mushrooms. And the help of some young asparagus.

Not a bad effort for ‘making it up as you go along’. And as it turns out, shittake risotto tastes better the day after it’s made!

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Shittake Risotto

1T rice bran oil

half an onion

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2c arborio rice

1c white wine

6c vegetable stock

2c shittake mushrooms, sliced

1 bunch asparagus, sliced into 1-2cm pieces

100g light cheese, grated

zest of half a lemon

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large frypan.
  2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent.
  3. Add rice. Stir to coat the grains with oil.
  4. Next add the white wine and stir until the liquid has reduced.
  5. Then add a cup of the stock and stir over medium heat until the liquid in the pan has reduced. Repeat this step with the remaining stock until the rice is half cooked.
  6. Next add the mushrooms and stir to distribute them through the rice mixture. Then continue to add the remaining stock until the the rice is almost tender enough to eat.
  7. Next, add the asparagus and cook briefly. The asparagus should still be bright green and firm to the bite when you serve the risotto. If the rice is still uncooked and the liquid has reduced, add more stock and keep cooking the rice until it’s done.
  8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir through cheese and lemon rind.

Coconut, Pumpkin, and Carrot Soup

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I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to cook with coconut oil. I love coconut and it seems to be the superfood ‘flavour of the month’. Proselytising many (women at least), it’s being hailed as a mega-electrolyte source, an age-defying elixir, and of course, an aid to weight loss.

Back to coconut oil … I had some carrots in the fridge and so decided to make pumpkin carrot soup. Hence the (coconut oil) opportunity. I would sauté the vegetables in coconut oil and then also add coconut milk, to produce a rich coconut flavour. I would also add ginger and, at the end, chilli flakes and lime. Sounding Thai? I hoped so!

To get the vegetables to liquids ratio right, I sought guidance from Jamie’s Pumpkin and Ginger soup recipe.

Here’s what my recipe ended up looking like:

Coconut, Pumpkin, and Carrot Soup

1T coconut oil

1kg pumpkin

250g carrots

large thumb of grated ginger

1L vegetable stock

200mL coconut milk

chilli flakes to taste

salt and pepper

half a lime

Method

  1. Cut pumpkin and carrots into chunks.
  2. Heat coconut oil in a large pot and sauté pumpkin and carrots.
  3. Add ginger, vegetable stock, coconut milk, and chilli flakes.
  4. Bring mixture to the boil and then simmer for 40 minutes until vegetables are tender enough to mash or process.
  5. Mash or process soup mixture, to develop a texture to your liking (smooth or chunky).
  6. Season with salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lime before serving.

Quick Low-fat Mushroom Lasagne with White Wine and Lemon Ricotta

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Coming up with ways to use left-over wine is one of my favourite dilemmas. “Left-over” wine? Yes.

Regardless of how it’s neglected, I’ll always take the opportunity to enrich a meal with it. In this case, it was white wine and I decided to make a low-fat mushroom lasagne with it.

When making ‘skinny’ meals, I work extra hard to ensure they’re full of flavour. Why make healthy-eating torture? The wine would add depth and flavour to the mushrooms; and the low-calorie ‘creamy’ partner would be a low-fat ricotta. For lift and complexity, I also added lemon zest to the ricotta.

As usual, I researched the net for mushroom ricotta lasagne recipes, before deciding on how I would shape my own recipe. I based my initial structure on the BBC’s GoodFood Quick Mushroom & Lasagne recipe:

My key changes to the recipe were:

  • Adding white wine to the mushrooms
  • Adding lemon rind to the ricotta
  • Sautéeing the onions and mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter, for a hint of traditional comfort

Quick Low-fat Mushroom Lasagne with White Wine and Lemon Ricotta

1 T butter

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 small onion, diced

250g white button mushrooms, sliced

250mL white wine

pepper to taste

100g baby spinach

500g light ricotta cheese

grated rind of one lemon

6 fresh lasagne sheets

50g grated parmesan

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200˚C /180˚C fan bake.
  2. Prepare a 19cm x 28cm baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. Melt butter in a large frying pan and sauté garlic and onion until onion is soft.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook until soft.
  5. Add white wine and cook until liquid has reduced to a small sauce. Season with cracked pepper.
  6. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.
  7. In a medium-sized bowl, combine ricotta and lemon rind.
  8. Line the baking dish with two sheets of lasagne, followed by the mushroom mixture. Add another layer of lasagne, then the ricotta. Sprinkle half of the parmesan over the ricotta. Finish with a final layer of lasagne, followed by the remaining parmesan.
  9. Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden and the lasagne is cooked through.

Spresso Love: Coffee Hazelnut Meringue Cakes

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For a change, I took the scenic route to last weekend’s party. Through the bush, like Little Red Riding Hood.

Given the journey ahead, my dinner contribution needed to be roadworthy. I took this opportunity to create hazelnut meringue /pavlova cakes: cake bases with crispy cloud toppings.

Despite the brilliance of this concept, I’ve only seen meringue /pavlova cakes at a couple of cafes – and they’ve been of a macaroon texture, rather than a cake texture. What’s more, the recipes I’ve seen have only been for large chocolate hazelnut cakes.

Hence, “the plan” for my own hazelnut meringue cakes:

  • A cake base mixture split into 12 muffin tins, using the hazelnut cake recipe from pastrystudio.blogspot.
  • A pavolva /meringue topping, based on the chocolate meringue recipe from taste.com.au.

For the cake bases, I omitted the orange zest and substituted the milk for a latte. And for the toppings I omitted the chocolate. (Although chocolate and hazelnut is a favourite Italian pairing, I left out the chocolate to reveal the subtle flavour of the hazelnuts).

Of importance to note, is the optimum baking time of fifteen minutes (approx), when using silicon heart-shaped moulds. A helpful point to remember: the meringue toppings obscure the cake bases, so it’s difficult to check the cakes for ‘done-ness’ with the usual touch or prick test!

Barely a few moments out of the oven and into the mouths of my tasting panel, feedback emerged: “Amazing texture” … “You could sell these in a café”.

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Phew. A safe journey completed. With no wolves in sight.

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Four Legs Good: Animal Farm Jelly, Jell-O, Jiggler shapes

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It’s a beautiful thing when people have faith in your abilities, visions beyond your wildest dreams.

Recently, I was asked if I could make “coloured” jelly for a party. I was hoping the host was thinking of the standard two-toned jelly in a bowl our family made at Christmas every year. I sent her an image of this “standard jelly” to contain expectations. Sure enough, she responded with images of delicate miniature, free-standing jellies. Even heart shaped ones.

Despite my forehead pulsating with anxiety, part of me was really excited about the opportunity. I was on it, focused, and determined to solve this jelly riddle.

I began searching for jelly recipes made with moulds and quickly realised the best source of recipes would be jelly-crystal makers’ websites. Thus I became well-acquainted with Kraft’s ‘jiggler’ recipes. There, I discovered recipes for a range of occasions, including eggs for Easter, trees for Christmas, and even “spooky” jigglers for Halloween.

After looking at a few different recipes, I decided I would concentrate the jelly mixture (by four times the usual amount of jelly crystals), to get the jellies to hold their shape. However, the heart moulds I had held about a quarter-cup of jelly – a quarter of a cup too much concentrated jelly mix for the average guest. The alternative was to use an ice tray with smaller heart moulds – however, I would risk the jellies losing their shape after removing them from their moulds (melting the jellies by running hot water over the moulds would be required to loosen them from the moulds).

This led me to settle on the cookie cutter method. I chose ‘bite-sized’ animal-shaped cookie cutters from Let’s Cook. These were 2cm deep, so I used a 4cm deep roasting pan to set the jelly.

In keeping with the host’s theme colours, I chose strawberry flavoured crystals, and next time I’ll experiment with vodka. I’ve included the recipe below, so you can make your own replica jelly Animal Farm. Four legs good, two legs bad.

Animal Farm jellies

4 packets of jelly crystals

2 cups boiling water

extra boiling water

cooking spray

Method

  1. Empty the packets of jelly into a jug.
  2. Add boiling water and whisk the mixture until all jelly crystals are dissolved. This is important, for consistency and to cut clean shapes out of the mixture when it is set.
  3. Pour mixture into a baking tray lined with baking paper and leave to cool to room temperature.
  4. Refrigerate jelly overnight.
  5. Prepare your serving plate with cooking spray.
  6. Place cookie cutters in a bowl of hot water before you use them, so they won’t stick to the jelly.
  7. Use the cookie cutters to cut shapes out of the jelly.

Tips for cutting clean, sharp shapes:

  • Push the cookie cutters straight down.
  • Push the cookie cutters down until they hit the bottom of the tray.
  • Hold the cookie cutters down for several seconds before removing them from the pan.
  • Use a butter knife to extract the shapes from the pan.

Healthy Date Loaf – designed for human consumption

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Eating healthily is important to me, but taste is a non-negotiable. Who wants to cook, let alone eat food that resembles cattle fodder or tastes like cardboard?

So in my pursuit of flavour, and health, I learnt that loaf recipes which include dates are generally low in fat. Dates and their sticky goodness, contribute flavour, sugar, and moisture without adding copious amounts of sugar or fat. This led me to an Apple and Date loaf recipe on foodinaminute.co.nz. And from there, I developed my own variety of ‘date loaf’.

To make this Apple and Date loaf even ‘healthier’, I made the following changes to the recipe:

  • I halved the butter – one tablespoon is enough to add flavour. Sometimes I use oil instead.
  • To begin with, I left the sugar out, as the dates contribute enough sugar of their own. These days, I sometimes add golden syrup for depth of flavour and colour.
  • To me, eating healthily also means maximising the nutritional the value of my meals, so I always use a blend of wholemeal and plain flour, which adds fibre as well.
  • My variation uses more boiling water as I prefer a softer, lighter loaf.

In addition, I get bored easily, so I change the flavour each time I make this loaf. This depends on what I’m in the mood for. I’ll include some of my variations at the end.*

‘Healthy’ Date Loaf 

1 cup chopped dried dates

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp all spice

Boiling water (have at least 2 cups on hand)

1 T melted butter or oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/8 cup golden syrup (optional)

1 cup plain flour

1 cup wholemeal flour

2 tsp baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
  2. In a two-cup capacity jug, place the chopped dates, spices, and baking soda. Then fill the jug with the boiling water, to the top, covering the dates. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a bowl, combine the butter, egg, and golden syrup (if using).
  4. Combine the flours and baking powder.
  5. Gradually add the date and egg mixtures to the flour mixture. The resulting mixture should be pourable, but not liquid. If you find the mixture is a bit stiff, add a bit more boiled water.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a greased loaf tin and bake for approximately 45 minutes. After about 40 minutes, test whether the loaf is baked. If the loaf bounces back when touched and an inserted skewer comes out (almost) clean, it’s done. You want the loaf to still be moist when you take it out of the oven. Cooked sticky date mix on the skewer is ideal. Raw batter goop on the skewer means you may need to exercise more patience!
  7. Once the loaf is cooked, remove it from the oven and leave it to sit in the tin for a few minutes. Then transfer it to a cooling rack. Slice when completely cold.

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or reheated with low-fat custard, for added protein.

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*Variations:

  • Banana-Date Loaf: Add a ripe, mashed banana to the date mix.
  • Pear-Date Loaf: Add a chopped, ripe pear to the date mix.
  • Berry Loaf: Substitute the dates and boiling water for a cup of berries, in juice.
  • Ginger-Date Loaf: Add a tablespoon of ginger to the spice mix and include the golden syrup.
  • Extra-spicy Date Loaf: Add other spices to the mix, such as cloves or a few crushed cardamom pods.
  • Coconut-Date Loaf: Stir through some coconut (approx half a cup) at the end.

Broccolini Mushroom Stir-Fry: Clean and Simple

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They say cats eat grass when they’re ill. Some believe cats eat grass to relieve sore throats. And I’ve also heard it’s a natural laxative … As for me, grass probably isn’t going to do it, but I know green’s what I’ve yearned for while feeling under the weather.

So, broccolini has been it. This broccoli-kai-lan hybrid has been around for a while, but it’s only recently that I’ve really come to love it. Light cooking produces a bright spring green colour and it has an easy-to-eat appeal, particularly when you’re feeling like baby-bites of food – it’s so tender that you can eat the entire stalk. It’s also high in vitamin C, A, and B6; calcium, iron, manganese, and potassium.

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When fresh, broccolini needs little attention. On this occasion, I stir-fried it with a few crushed garlic cloves; then added some tinned straw mushrooms, as well as some pre-marinated honey-soy tofu for protein. Keeping things clean and simple, I paired the stir-fry with rice (sushi rice, my favourite) and finished it off with a sprinkling of cashews.

Voilà. Clean, simple, healthy food for humans.