Monday, September 7, 2020

All-in-one Pita Bread – best supporting actor !

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Pita is as plain and simple as a fact of life or the bald-faced truth... There is just no embellishing it. It is a back-drop for better things; the base melody; the supporting actor. Unfortunately... when the back-drop is flawed, when the base melody is off key, when the supporting actor stinks, it is all too obvious.
I bought pita recently and it wasn’t Oscar-winning material by a long stretch. As well as the handful of ingredients essential to creating this simple bread, it contained a list of extras as long as your arm, all there to extend shelf-life.
If pita isn’t up to scratch, then it drags down the rest of the meal. However, when this pocket bread is good, it is a building block of snack perfection, the perfect party bread, the best supporting actor in a luscious portable lunch.
Warning: once you have tasted homemade pita bread, commercially-produced stuff will never be good enough ever again.

For 8 perfect pita pockets you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 225°C at step 3

350g plain flour
125g finely ground wholemeal flour
7g sachet of fast acting dried yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon fine table salt
280ml tepid water (35 - 38°C)              


1.      Place the first six ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 7 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and silky. To knead, fold the dough in half, then holding it in place with one hand, use the heel of the other hand to stretch the dough away from you, along the floured surface. Again fold it, rotate it about 1/8th of a turn and again press it away from you with the heel of your hand. Repeat, enjoying the yeasty scent and the silky feel of the dough as any woe or stress dissipates through your hands – bread-making is cheap therapy. (If, however, you have no woes, and possess a stand mixer with a dough-hook, 5 minutes in the machine will be sufficient.) Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover with cling film or a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free spot for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
2.      Divide the dough into eight equal pieces, kneading each just long enough to shape it into a smooth ball. Flatten into a disk and leave to rise until again doubled in size and a finger poked into the dough leaves an indent (about an hour). If the dough springs back into shape, leave it to rise for a further half hour then test again.
3.      When you are ready to cook the bread, pre-heat the oven and boil a kettle of water. Place a baking dish on a lower shelf in the oven and carefully add some boiling water. This creates the perfect steamy atmosphere for this bread.
4.      While the oven is heating, roll out the dough disks into rounds about 3mm thick. Put 2 or 3 on a baking sheet and place in the hot oven. After about 3 minutes they will have puffed up impressively. Remove them from the oven before they’ve had a chance to turn golden (You can see I was so busy with my camera, I forgot that instruction myself and a few of them acquired a bit of a tan!) Cool on a wire rack. Cook the remaining breads.


My favourite way to use pita is to toast it then fill it with felafel and all the trimmings.
Yum!
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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

An Accidental Paella – the case for the defence ...

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While poor Jamie Oliver attracted the wrath of a nation, I managed to get away with my version of "Pie-Ella". There are no mountains, there is no sea, there is not even a pinch of tradition, but ¡Dios mío! it tastes great!




The moment I hit “Publish”, the paella police were on their way over ...

The crime...
Taking a traditional celebration of the mountains and the sea, removing the tradition, the mountains and the sea, and turning it into mid-week WOW* supper.
*War on Waste

The plea... guilty, but unrepentant...
Your honour, I swear I had no idea what I was doing when I opened the fridge. I was day-dreaming about a trip I had to Majorca in the distant past. My personal rain cloud accompanied me, and how! The island suffered the worst storms and floods in decades - just for those couple of weeks I was on holiday. However, I remembered a plate of golden paella I ate there, shivering on a sheltered terrace watching a feeble sun battle in vain against storm clouds. It was utter comfort food.
Hi! Remember me!

Mitigating circumstances...
Perhaps that's why I turned away from the straight-and-narrow of my go-to creamy chicken curry for this quick and easy mid-week supper. This week’s budget doesn’t run to prawns and rabbit, but I am pretty sure that paella evolved from humble origins, making the most of available ingredients. Plus, one pan, and about 30 minutes - what's not to love?
One pot, 30 minutes - what's not to love!

The evidence...
Anyway, back to the fridge, which revealed the remains of a cooked chicken – yawn... However, the fridge also held a jar of pimentos del piquillo (sweet roasted red peppers – widely available) which can add sunshine to any dish, as well as a nub of chorizo left over from the Cornish-ish pasties last week and I found myself taking a detour. “I can resist everything - save temptation”, as one of my fellow countrymen put it so beautifully.

The witness for the defence
Your honour, I call my rice-hating beloved who shovelled three helpings into his mouth while sighing rapturously – ok so he’d missed lunch but even so! Perhaps I should offer some to the paella police or would that compound the crime with bribery? 

For 4 servings you will need...
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
50g chorizo, cut into fat slices then halved
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 pimentos del piquillo, roughly chopped
1 green pepper (or sweeter yellow pepper if you prefer), cut into strips
75g fresh or frozen petit pois, or sugar snap peas
400g cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
250g paella rice (from your deli – a great store cupboard standby)
600mls good quality chicken stock, hot
100mls dry white wine
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley 

1                    Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. I used a 30cm (12 inch) pan for this recipe – in a paella you are aiming to get as much rice as possible in contact with the pan. Add the onion and cook until softened without colouring (about 5 minutes). Add the crushed garlic and the chorizo and cook for a further minute. Add the tomatoes, pimientos del piquillo, green pepper, peas, chicken and rice and stir together for about a minute.

2                    Now add the hot stock, dry white wine, thyme and pepper. Stir to mix and turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until all the stock has been absorbed by the rice, the rice is tender and the mixture is no longer soupy (about 20-25 minutes). Removed from the heat and cover with a clean tea-towel for about 5 minutes before sprinkling with the fresh parsley and serving on warm plates. The sign of a good paella – whether WOW* version or the traditional version – is the socarrat – the delicious golden crust of rice at the bottom of the pan – the bit that everyone fights over.

No mountains, no sea, no tradition, but rather tasty!



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