Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Italian Eggs over Spinach and Polenta

Yield: 4 servings


  • 1 (16-ounce) tube of polenta, cut into 12 slices (or soft polenta, made by combining 1 cup polenta with 2 cups boiling water, stir occasionally until water is absorbed & polenta is fluffy)
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups fat-free tomato-basil pasta sauce
  • 1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Asiago cheese


Preheat broiler.

Arrange polenta slices on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Coat tops of polenta with cooking spray. Broil 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

While polenta heats, bring sauce to a simmer in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in spinach; cover and cook for 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Stir to combine.

Make 4 indentations in top of spinach mixture using the back of a wooden spoon. Break 1 egg into each indentation.

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until eggs are desired degree of doneness. Sprinkle with cheese.

Place 3 polenta slices on each of 4 plates; top each serving with one-fourth of spinach mixture and 1 egg.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Grilled Courgettes with chickpeas, goat's cheese, and mint

As the weather gets warmer (finally!), I start getting in the mood for salads. Well, actually, I'm one of those people who's almost always in the mood for a salad. I know, call me crazy. But what I can't stand more than anything else is a salad without, how do I say, purpose.

We've all had them or at least seen them on restaurant menus. The afterthought put in by the chef to cater to the vegetarians, those on a diet, or those just looking for a guilt-free way to get their veggie quotient up. We could probably recite the ingredients by heart: romaine or iceberg lettuce, tomatoes (perhaps chopped), sliced cucumber, maybe if we're feeling daring a crumbling of feta or a sprinkling of black olives, toss with oil and vinegar, and there you have it. Ruffage on a plate.

This is not a salad.

This is an excuse to pay too much for no effort whatsoever.

So when it comes to making salads at home, purpose is the name of the game. I'm all for a salad main course, but if and only if the salad has some attitude.

Thankfully, this salad has attitude in spades. A little bit of Italian flavor, a little hint of the Middle East, and we've got something that might just restore your faith in the veggie section of your grocery.

Serves 4
Time: about 15 minutes

3 courgettes/zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 tbsp olive oil

50g crumbled goat's cheese

2 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and diced

400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tbsp chopped fresh mint

grated zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 tsp chile flakes (or more, honestly, don't you want more spice?)


Preheat a griddle or frying pan, brush the courgette slices with some of the oil and cook for 1-2 min on each side.

Season and arrange on a platter.

Scatter the courgettes with the goat's cheese, tomatoes, and chickpeas, and drizzle the remaining olive oil.

Sprinkle over the mint, lemon zest, and chile flakes, then drizzle with the lemon juice and season to taste.

Serve immediately

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chocolate, Ginger, & Pistachio Biscotti

A recipe originally found in April's edition of Delicious magazine, but amended to include one of my favorite pairings of all time: ginger. I mean, really, when does chocolate, ginger, and nuts go wrong? I submit, never.

Anyway, these came out for me much more like crispy cookies than actual biscotti, but nonetheless delicious. They also seemed to make, rather than the advertised 25, about 10.

I'm not sure how small they wanted me to divide the dough up, but my biscotti seem about average size and only produced less than half of what they claimed. Ah well. Delicious regardless.

Makes about 25 biscotti (LIES! About 10 really)
Time: 20 min. to make, 30 min to bake


120g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
75g caster sugar
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
25g chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg
1 tbsp olive oil
40g green pistachios
40g diced crystallized ginger
50g bitter chocolate chips (i.e. 70% cocoa solids) or chopped dark chocolate


Preheat oven to 160 degrees C. Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and rub in butter with your fingertips.
In a small bowl, beat the egg with the olive oil and stir into the mixture. Add the pistachios and chocolate chips or chopped chocolate, then knead together until everything is evenly distributed.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface. Roll the piece into a log about 3cm wide and 35cm long (or whatever will fit on your baking sheet).
Bake for 20 minutes until risen and firm but not hard.
Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 150 degrees C.
Slice the logs on the diagonal into biscuits, about 5mm thick, using a sharp serrated knife.
Lay out on baking trays and cook for a further 8-10 minutes until crisp.
Set aside to cool.

Can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.

Banoffee Pie/Banana & Butterscotch Flan

Oh, the wonders.
Oh, the glory.
Oh, the absolute English overindulgence that is banoffee pie. Is it the bananas? Is it the toffee? Whatever makes this dessert the heaven it is, this is one of the most decadent things the little island has produced as a dessert staple over the years. And while it may take about 5 years off your life, every once in awhile, it's totally worth it.

It seems everyone and their British granny have their own version of this, mine comes from a good friend (appropriately English) who served this as dessert for this year's Easter dinner.

Stomach already full of pork and bread deliciousness, I thought I would be able to resist the dessert temptation. Alas, I could not and now I'm glad my eyes were bigger than my stomach. It was worth every stomach-busting bite.


Biscuit Base
8oz digestive Biscuits
3oz Butter

6oz Soft Brown Sugar
6oz Butter
13oz condensed milk
3 Bananas

1/4 pt double cream
Walnut halves/Grated chocolate


Prepare the biscuit base by melting the butter and adding crushed digestive biscuits. Line a 25cm 9” flan dish.

Place the sugar, butter and condensed milk in a large bowl.

Place the bowl in a microwave and cook on full power for 5 mins.

Stir well and cook for a further 5mins or until golden.

Beat this mixture until it is smooth an uniform.  Caution: the mixture will be very hot!

Slice bananas and arrange on the biscuit base, pour the butterscotch sauce on top.

Allow to cool for 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip the double cream until just past trails, spoon onto the top of the cooled flan.

Decorate with walnuts or grated chocolate.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Olive and Sea Salt Fougasse

When I was in Paris a few weeks back I discovered the glories of this bread, fougasse, a kind of doughy salty miracle that is sold practically in every bakery. It usually comes with olives and cheese, often baked into the bread. This recipe in particular comes from the master French chef himself, Raymond Blanc, from his series Kitchen Secrets on the BBC.
I don't necessarily recommend watching the show for recipe tips. It'll just make you angry that you:

a) don't have a professional kitchen, complete with a helpful manservant named Adam (or as Raymond calls him Ad-am)

b) don't have 15+ hours to make fabulous starchy concoctions with which to impress your friends and loved ones.

Never fear. The recipe isn't nearly as hard as Raymond makes it look. And it does not require a professional oven. Nor fresh yeast. Nor any other kind of crazy kitchen tool he recommends.

No, no. This recipe is a good standard for doughy delicious bread. It does take time (the starter needs at least a good 12 hours before you approach the rest of the recipe), but it's worth it. And one recipe produces 4 loaves of glory. So you can eat one yourself and still feel generous in providing a bready banquet to your adoring public.

Makes 4 loaves


For the dough starter
5g fresh yeast (or 2.5 grams of instant)
135ml/4¾fl oz cold water
100g/3½oz strong white bread flour, preferably organic
100g/3½oz rye flour
For the dough
680ml/1 pint 4½fl oz tap water
940g/2lb 1¼oz traditional white bread flour, preferably organic, plus extra for dusting
130g/4½oz dark rye flour
15g/½oz fine sea salt
22g/¾oz fresh yeast (11g instant)

For the fougasse topping
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
¼ tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp finely chopped black olives
30g/1oz semi-roasted tomatoes, roughly chopped
2-3 grindings black pepper


1. For the dough starter, whisk the yeast into the water until dissolved.

2. Mix the white and dark rye flours in a separate bowl until well combined.

3. Pour the yeast mixture over the flours, whisking well to form a thick paste. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set aside to ferment for at least 6 hours and up to 18 hours at room temperature. You can use dried yeast but you will only need half the quantity. Yeast is dormant at 4C, active between 20-40C and destroyed at 45-50 C. Using a dough starter in bread making gives a greater complexity of flavour; as the yeast activates and feeds on the natural sugars present in the flour, over time it produces a distinctively tangy or sour taste.

4. For the dough, line 2 large baking trays with greaseproof paper.

5. Add the water to the fermented dough starter and mix well to combine.

6. Place the white and rye flours into a food processor, set with the dough hook. Add the salt to one side of the bowl of the food processor, then add the yeast to the other side, being careful not to let the salt and yeast touch at this stage. as the salt will attack the yeast and damage its ability to ferment.

7. Add the starter dough mixture to the food processor and mix on a low speed for 5 minutes. The slow mixing process will give the flour the opportunity to fully absorb the water. (This can be done by hand if you don't have a food processor with a dough hook attachment.)

8. Scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl of the food processor and from the dough hook, then continue to mix on a medium speed for a further 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. The faster speed will warm the gluten in the flour making the dough elastic and creating the right environment for the fermentation to happen.

9. Scrape the dough into a neat ball and cover the bowl with cling film. Set aside to prove at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.

10. When the dough has proved, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface using a scraper if necessary. Cut the dough into four equal pieces.

11. The dough can be shaped in any way you choose. For a fougasse-style loaf, line four baking trays with baking parchment.

12. Roll each piece of dough into a triangle shape and place one onto each baking tray. Make a cut all the way down the centre of each dough triangle, without completely cutting through the dough. Make 3 deep slashes on either side of the central cut, cutting all the way down to the baking tray, then pull the dough apart slightly to create holes.

13. Brush the fougasses all over with olive oil, then scatter the remaining fougasse topping ingredients evenly over the dough. Set aside to prove for 30-40 minutes.

14. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250C/475F/Gas 9 or to its maximum setting (this is critical as the temperature will decrease significantly when you open the door) and place a baking tray in the middle of the oven and a roasting tin on the bottom. (skip the roasting tray if you don't want to create a harder crust on your bread: I didn't and they came out beautiful)

15. Slide the loaves onto the preheated baking tray in the middle of the oven, using the greaseproof paper to transfer them and pour 50ml/2fl oz of water into the roasting tin on the bottom. This will generate steam within the oven creating a good crust on the bread.

16. Bake the fougasse in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden-brown and cooked through. (The loaves are cooked through when they make a hollow sound when tapped on the undersides.) Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

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