Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rigatoni with Homemade Pesto

One of the first things we did when we arrived in Houston was to buy fresh herbs in pots for the back deck:  Rosemary, basil, oregano, flat leaf parsley and thyme. We are fortunate to have Buchanan’s Native Plants in the neighborhood with their great selection of wonderful plants.  All of the herbs are healthy and growing but the basil has really taken off!  Which only means one thing: pesto!

2-3 big branches of overgrown basil
1-2 large cloves of garlic , peeled and coarsely chopped (I only had one but would have put two if it had been available.)
45g or 1.6 ounces of raw pine nuts
100g or 4 ounces of Parmesan
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
500g or about 1 pound rigatoni pasta

Special Equipment
Hand blender

Toast the pine nuts in a dry non-stick skillet.

Pick the leaves off of the basil branches and finely grate the Parmesan. 

Put 100ml or 4 ounces olive oil in the hand blender container. Add the toasted pine nuts, half the basil leaves and half the Parmesan.  Blend for a couple of minutes and then add the balance of the basil and the Parmesan and a few good grinds of fresh black pepper. If the pesto is too thick, add more olive oil, starting with another 2 ounces. Blend until the pesto is smooth and of even consistency.   This will make enough pesto for two or three meals.  It keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It can be frozen and will still be tasty but it is most delicious fresh.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Save some pasta water in a cup before draining in a colander.  After draining, pour the pasta back in the hot pot and add a great dollop of pesto, according to your taste. 

Mix thoroughly and serve.  (If you are not serving immediately, wait to add the pesto until you are ready. Loosen the pasta with some reserved pasta water first and warm through before adding the pesto.)

Serve topped with extra Parmesan.  This can be a complete meal on its own or it also makes a great side dish.   We served ours with a small fillet each of single-hook-caught wild salmon from Whole Foods, simply pan-fried in a non-stick skillet with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a touch of olive oil.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grilled Mushroom Risotto

Younger daughter and I are on our own again so it’s time to get back on the program of trying to eat healthier and more vegetarian.  That was tough when we ate out so much when Simon was here.  So our first evening’s meal was a mushroom risotto we had planned for a couple of weeks back, adapted from a recipe from Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients to serve two hungry people without a side dish – or two not so hungry people with a small bowl of leftovers for breakfast the next day

For the risotto
Approx. ½ liter/1 pint vegetable stock  (Make stock with vegetable stock paste or cubes and warm water or go all out and boil some vegetables. I used the stock paste.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
200g/7oz risotto rice (I used Arborio and I think it turned out creamer than my usual Carnaroli.)
½ glass of dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
42g/1½oz butter
56g/2oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the mushrooms
3 large Portobello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thickly
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the mushrooms: Heat a griddle pan till it is scorching hot and then add a drizzle of olive oil.  Place the mushroom slices in the hot pan with enough space in between so that they actually grill and brown. Turn when golden and brown the other side.  Turn the heat down and sprinkle with sea salt, pepper and the finely chopped garlic.  Drizzle with a little more olive oil and let the garlic cook until it is soft. Do not let it burn or it will be bitter. Remove from the hot pan and set aside to top the risotto.

For the risotto:. You want it to be smooth, creamy and oozy, not thick and stodgy.

Stage 1
In a pan, heat the olive oil and add the rice then turn up the heat.

Stage 2
The rice will begin to lightly fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute it will look slightly translucent. Add the wine and keep stirring — it will smell fantastic. Any harsh alcohol flavors will evaporate and leave the rice with a tasty essence.

Stage 3
Once the wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Keep adding ladlesful of stock, stirring and almost massaging the creamy starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice — is it cooked? Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. Don’t forget to check the seasoning carefully. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.

Stage 4
Remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow to sit for two minutes. This is the most important part of making the perfect risotto, as this is when it becomes outrageously creamy and oozy like it should be. Eat it as soon as possible, while the risotto retains its beautiful texture.

Serve topped  with the grilled mushroom slices and another helping of freshly grated Parmesan.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Duck eggs poached in tomato coulis

In Kuala Lumpur, our satellite service has the Asian Food Channel instead of the Food Network but the concept is the same: Lots of shows with people cooking or traveling around the world and eating and cooking.  Through AFC, I have been introduced to many chefs and cooks who have inspired me to try different methods and different foods. One of these is Kylie Kwong.  

Kylie is an Australian of Chinese descent and she often invites her mother to join her in the kitchen during her shows. She has a restaurant in Sydney  where her dishes are Chinese with an Australian flair, with a great emphasis on fresh, lively ingredients with lots of spark and chili. Last year I watched her make a duck egg omelet on the beach at a family get-together and I wanted to try duck eggs. You know, just to see if they were any different from hens’ eggs.

Saturday at the farmers’ market I had my first chance.  Duck eggs were 50 cents a piece, so I bought six. Pricey, I suppose, if that was going to be the only eggs you bought and used but $3 seems reasonable for a possible new taste sensation.  I am disappointed to report that we couldn’t really tell the difference between the delicious pastured hens’ eggs we had for breakfast yesterday and the duck eggs we had today, but that won’t stop me sharing the recipe for how I served them because it would also work quite well with normal eggs.

Eggs poached in tomato coulis

4 duck or hen eggs
2 well-ripen tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped onion tops
1 Serrano pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
2 tsp soy sauce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

This is going to work best in a non-stick skillet. Sauté the chopped tomatoes, Serrano pepper and two-thirds of the onion tops in a little olive oil. 

This will get really juicy at first. Cook down for about five to 10 minutes until the liquid is reduced by a quarter. Add one teaspoon of the soy sauce. Stir well and then make small holes in the tomato in which to drop the eggs.

Break the eggs carefully and drop them into the tomato coulis. Sprinkle the yolks with a little sea salt and black pepper.  Turn the fire down to medium and put a lid on the saucepan. 

Used to normal eggs, I was surprised by how long it took the duck eggs to poach. I ended up spooning a little of the hot tomato over the whites so cook them faster because I didn’t want the yolk cooked through and it looked like they might be by the time the whites were completely opaque.  I also took the lid off after just a few minutes for the same reason.

Spoon the hot tomato over the whites to help them cook faster.
Right at the end, I drizzled the second teaspoon of soy sauce over the yolks and added a drizzle of good olive oil, also bought at the farmers’ market.

Serve with toasted, buttered whole grain bread cut into soldiers for dipping and sprinkle remaining onion tops to garnish. 


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Zucchini Flowers stuffed with Fresh Goat Cheese

Homemade goat cheese is stuffed into tender zucchini flowers, which are then dipped in a light batter and deep fried until crispy. These Zucchini Flowers stuffed with Fresh Goat Cheese are a beautiful and tasty appetizer.

My first farmers’ market of the summer!  We arrived early at the Urban Harvest Market (for those of you in Houston, it is on Eastside just off of Richmond between Buffalo Speedway and Kirby) and I was overwhelmed by the number of vendors and the quality of the fresh produce. 

The primary objectives were fresh vegetables and pastured meat and chickens, along with some pastured eggs.  I found an abundance of all three.  Until recently, I wasn’t familiar with the term “pastured” so perhaps you aren’t as well. Legally, any chicken called “free range” only has to have access to the great outdoors. Many chicken farms interpret this in the narrowest sense and provide a small opening through which a chicken might somehow find its way outside but only by hurdling thousands of other chickens and traversing one hundred yards of shed floor, littered with the bodies of its fallen comrades. 

Pastured chicken is what we think free range should be. The chickens genuinely live and forage outside, with shelter available from weather and predators. My chicken and eggs came from Olde World Farms in Montgomery, Texas.  I’m not sure exactly where the farm is but Montgomery is less than an hour’s drive away so certainly under my 100-mile parameter set by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.   This morning we enjoyed sausage patties formed from the sausage meat I bought from Olde World Farms and their freshest ever eggs fried over easy, along side my newly baked bread. But I get ahead of myself.

Among my purchases was a bag of zucchini flowers from the Utility Research Garden stall. (They also had mixed bunches of different colored carrots for sale, so I had to buy some. Of course. Who could have watched Jamie Oliver’s At Home and NOT wanted to roast a load of different colored carrots?  Not me.)  It looks like Utility Research Garden is outside the zone but I figure it was still better than the supermarket stuff. 

Well, to show you how these things snowball, once I had zucchini flowers in my Ikea shopping bag, I needed goats’ milk. I managed to buy the last quart from Swede Dairy Farm. The lovely young lady who helped me had a cooler full of two-quart jugs still but they were for pre-orders. Goats’ milk is great for babies who are allergic to cows’ milk so they have a steady list of orders, in fact, she informed me that there is a waiting list. But one quart would do me fine and I was delighted to be there just in time to claim it. The plan was to make goat cheese with which to fill my flowers, in order to dip them in a light batter and deep fry them.

So I made my cheese. Easiest thing ever. 

Simple Soft Goat Cheese

Goats’ milk
Other seasonings optional: minced garlic, black pepper, green onion tops, etc.

Just bring your milk to a boil in a non-aluminum pot. (If a fridge magnet will stick to your pot, you are good to go.) Turn off the fire and add any seasonings you wish to include (I added about a quarter cup of very finely chopped onion tops and a goodly pinch of Maldon flaky sea salt) then add 1/3 cup of vinegar for every two quarts of milk. Having only one quart, I had to do a few quick calculations and ended up figuring out that 1/3 cup is five tablespoons and one teaspoon. So I put eight teaspoons of vinegar. Actually two tablespoons and then a further two teaspoons. Oh, the math comes in handy now and again. Stay in school, children.

After just a minute or two, the milk separated into cheese and whey. I put my cheesecloth into my strainer, over a clean, empty bowl and poured the whole mess into the lined strainer. You should too. The whey collected in the bowl and suddenly, the snowball effect took place once more. 

I couldn’t possibly throw all that lovely warm liquid down the drain, not after paying five dollars for the quart of goats’ milk, so I had to make bread.  So I poured the whey into a measuring pitcher and I created a cheesecloth contraption out of a wooden spoon, some rubberbands and a pitcher, which I popped into the fridge so the cheese would continue to drip and dry.

I used a Jamie Oliver bread recipe and replaced a quarter of the white flour with whole wheat and used my whey instead of the tepid water. I also ended up adding more whey to make up for the brown flour which seems to need more liquid to get the dough to the right consistency.  Following instructions, I let it rise once, punched the dough down, then formed it into baguette shapes to try out my new baguette baking tray ordered from King Arthur’s Baker’s Catalogue. If you have a weakness at all for kitchen equipment that you are trying to control, do NOT go to this website. Fair warning.

And then on to the actual initial recipe as promised in the post title.

Zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh goat cheese

10-12 zucchini flowers
Canola oil for frying

For the stuffing:
4 oz or 113 g soft goat cheese (if you buy plain at the market, add your flavorings when mixing the stuffing)
1 oz or 28g finely, freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 fresh egg, preferably pastured, of course
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the batter:
1 cup or 125g plain flour
3/4 - 1 cup or 180-240ml sparkling water or soda water

Fluff your goat cheese apart with a fork. It should be crumbly. Add the other ingredients and mix until well combined. Taste before adding the salt as the Parmesan can be quite salty and none may be necessary.

Break off the stems and the sepal (those little green leaf-like things that hug the flower) and cut off the stamen if they are still inside. 

Using a teaspoon and your finger, stuff a little of the filling into each flower, squeezing the petals together gently to make sure the stuffing is enclosed at the base.


Mix your flour and sparkling water with a whisk, adding the water a little at a time until the mixture is the consistency of thick cream. You want it to stick to the flower but you also want the excess to be able to drip off.

Heat your oil and drop the first stuffed flower in. It should start to crisp and brown almost immediately. If it doesn’t, let the oil get a little hotter before dropping the rest of the battered stuffed flowers in. You will probably have to do a few at a time to make sure they won’t stick together in the pot.

Turn them as needed to brown both sides.

Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with a little more Maldon salt and perhaps a few minced onion tops before serving.