Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roasted Panzanella with Lemon and Caper Dressing - almost too good to be true!

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This week has been almost too good to be true. According to my email, I am the beneficiary of several generous inheritances – mostly from people I’ve never heard of in Nigeria and South America.
Some random investor in China is prepared to lend me buckets of cash with no collateral required. Meanwhile, though I cannot for the life of me remember buying a ticket, it appears I have also won the Italian state lottery this week, so I won’t need to take Mr Wong up on his generous offer.
I am feeling quite overwhelmed by these riches that are – apparently – coming my way. Don't worry, I’m not going to lose the run of myself. Until the cash actually arrives, I will continue to live a simple life.
With that in mind, I have stoked up a hunger for simple, peasant food. Panzanella springs to mind. It is a thrifty Italian salad mainly of tomato, and yesterday’s bread. I’ve added roasted vegetables for punchier flavour and a more substantial dish. The dressing is inspired by my caper-hating sister-in-law, Rosie, who recently made the most incredibly delicious caper-laced, lemony tapenade.
To serve 4 as a main, or 6 – 8 as a side you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 180

For the roasted vegetables
1 red onion, peeled, leaving the root intact
1 large red pepper, cut into large pieces
200g courgettes, cut into 2cm cubes
400g fresh tomatoes (a variety of different types if possible) cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

1                    First cut the red onion into 8 wedges, making sure each wedge gets a share of the root (this helps keep the onion pieces whole during cooking).
2                    Mix gently with the rest of the ingredients until coated in olive oil. Transfer to a shallow baking tray, spreading the vegetables out as much as possible so that they roast evenly. Roast in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until they start to blacken at the edges. Leave to cool in the baking tray. While the vegetables are cooking, make the croutons

For the croutons
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon Herbes de Provence (or dried basil)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
125g white country bread, ciabatta or baguette, cut into bite-sized cubes 

3                    Mix the first four ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cubes of bread and turning them in the garlicky oil until it has been absorbed and the cubes are coated evenly.
4                    Transfer to a shallow baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Turn the croutons over and replace in the oven for a further 2 minutes. (Set a timer as they go from golden to charcoal in no time). Leave to cool on the baking tray. 
Simple ingredients, magical food...
For the lemon and caper dressing
4 tablespoons sunflower oil (or other light flavourless oil)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (if you don’t have fresh juice, use white wine vinegar instead)
1 heaped teaspoon capers, rinsed to remove any vinegar or salt, then very finely chopped
½ clove garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
5                    Place all the dressing ingredients in my Super Salad Shaker (a.k.a. a jam jar with a lid), seal tightly and shake until combined. Couldn’t be simpler.
Seal tightly to avoid dressing the kitchen and self in delicious lemony dressing...

To assemble the salad...
While the vegetables and croutons are cooling you will need...
200g fresh tomatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
150g cucumber, skin on, cut into bite-sized chunks
12 fat black olives, stones removed
Fresh basil 

6                    Place the tomatoes, cucumber and olives in a large serving bowl or platter.
7                    When the roasted vegetables and croutons have cooled, add them to the serving dish along with approximately 12 basil leaves and spoon most of the dressing over, turning the contents of the dish gently to coat them evenly with the dressing. Cover and leave in a cool place (but not the fridge unless you want woolly-textured tomatoes) for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to meld (alchemy at work!) or up to 12 hours. 

I feel a picnic coming on...
Taste-tester verdict:
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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Apple Fudge Dumplings with Cider Cinnamon Syrup – sinful !

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I wonder if Eve had this dessert in mind when she was caught scrumping apples from the garden of paradise. What was her sin exactly: Nicking the apples? Fencing the stolen fruit? Getting caught before she had a chance to turn her illicit bounty into apple fudge dumplings?

I’ve asked around and it appears most of my friends would have been booted out of paradise too, having partaken of orchard-raiding in their youth. The lure of this crime wasn’t so much the prize of stolen fruit as the thrill of the dare. Don’t judge – there was nothing decent on the telly and the internet hadn’t been invented.

Anyway, now that apple harvest time is upon us, it would be a sin not to make this simple treat. Have some good vanilla ice cream standing by for a match made in heaven.

For 4 apple dumplings you will need…
… to preheat the oven to 180
˚C before you start to assemble the dumplings

Apple Fudge Dumplings
1 x 425g packet all butter puff pastry sheets (2 sheets)
4 apples (about the size of a tennis ball)
100g soft fudge, roughly chopped
75g walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
a little milk to seal and glaze
4 whole cloves
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1.                  If necessary, thaw the pastry sheets according to the instructions on the packet.
2.                  With a sharp knife, cut a strip about 2cm wide from each pastry sheet and set aside before cutting each pastry sheet in two.
3.                  Remove the core from each apple using a corer or a sharp knife.
4.                  Combine the chopped fudge with the chopped walnuts or pecans and pack the centre of each apple with the mixture.
5.                  Now, place a stuffed apple in the centre of a pastry portion. Lightly brush the edges with milk and bring opposite corners together to enclose the apple. Pinch the seams to seal the pastry well or the fudge will escape as it melts. Repeat with the remaining apples.
6.                  Cut 8 oval-shapes from the pastry trimmings you made at step 3 to make 'leaves'. Brush the back of the leaves with a little milk and place two leaves on each apple. Secure with a whole clove 'stem'.
7.                  Using a sharp knife, poke two slits in the top of each apple to allow steam to escape and prevent the pastries from bursting open. Brush with a little milk and sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until golden and scenting your kitchen with autumnal aromas.
8.                  Leave to cool for about 5 minutes or so before serving with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or custard and a drizzle of the cinnamon cider syrup.

While the apple fudge dumplings are cooking make the syrup…

Cider Cinnamon Syrup
250 mls cider (or apple juice)
1 stick cinnamon, broken in half
4 tablespoons runny honey
25g butter

1.                  Place the cider and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil the simmer until reduced by half. Add the honey and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes. Then add the butter, stirring until incorporated, and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes.
2.                  Strain to remove the cinnamon. Leave to cool. Pour over the apple fudge dumplings just before serving.

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