Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Torta di Pasta al Forno: A Comfort Food Classic

An Italian comfort food classic, Torta di Pasta al Forno is essentially oven baked pasta made in the form of a cake, crowned with mild creamy mozzarella and homemade tomato or meat sauce, lovingly served at family gatherings and special celebrations. The beauty of this dish is that every pasta al forno is unique, with every nonna having their own special recipe. In southern Italy, baked pasta usually feature vegetables like eggplant and peppers, as well as meats cured in the region such as soppressata, prosciutto and sausage, whereas northern Italy is all about heartier ingredients, where meaty ragùs reign supreme. Inspired by a Paccheri Bolognese that we were served in Emilia Romagna by our hostess and friend Countess Maria Teresa Vespignani Boselli, I brought home a bag of dried Paccheri with visions of reproducing her delicious recipe, but that was before I discovered this spectacular Torta di Pasta al Forno recipe by Marisa Molomo. The large tubes of pasta are parboiled, tossed with a little olive oil then arranged standing upright in a springform pan. Topped with thick and meaty homemade Bolognese, the sauce fills each of the plump pacccheri and is then crowned with plenty of grated mozzarella, another layer of Ragù and then finished with a handful of rich and flavourful Parmigiano-Reggiano. Baked for 30-40 minutes until the mozzarella has melted and the torta has formed a gorgeous crust, it is then carefully released from the springform pan, allowed to cool slightly and served with a triumphal entrance and a chorus of culinary kudos.

Homemade Bolognese 

Parboiled Paccheri pasta tubes, drained and tossed with a little olive oil

A spoonful of sauce is ladled into a greased parchment lined springform pan

The parboiled paccheri are arranged upright in the pan

Half of the bolognese is poured over the pasta, ensuring that the sauce fills each of the pacccheri

Grated mozzarella is sprinkled on top with half of the parmesan

The remaining bolognese is then ladled on top of the cheese layer

The remaining parmesan cheese is sprinkled on top, then baked at 375°F for about half an hour until the torta forms a delicious crust and the mozzarella has melted completely

Torta di Pasta al Forno
Serves 4

1 lb pasta paccheri

6 cups warm homemade bolognese sauce
1/2 lb mozzarella, coarsely grated
2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, coarsely grated
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sprigs of fresh basil, for garnish

Grate both the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano with a grater with large holes, then set aside in separate bowl and cover with cling film. Boil the paccheri in abundant salted water cooking it half the time specified on the package — the pasta will bake again, so no need to over do it. Drain the pasta, place in a large bowl, and quickly toss with a little olive oil to coat. Stir in 1/2 cup of Parmigiana and set aside.

Butter an 8 or 9-inch diameter springform pan and line the base with parchment paper. Pour in a little bolognese sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the pan, then arrange the paccheri standing upright in the pan, starting from the outer circle of the pan working towards the centre. Don't overcrowd the pan, for the noodles will expand while baking. Pour half of the bolognese sauce over the pasta so that the sauce fills each of the tubes, gently tapping the pan as necessary to ensure the sauce settles nicely inside each of the paccheri. Sprinkle the surface with grated mozzarella and then half of the parmesan cheese. Pour the remaining bolognese sauce over the cheese layer and finish with the remainder of the parmesan.

Place on the lower rack of a preheated 375°F oven, with a baking sheet underneath to catch any drips, and bake for about 25-35 minutes, until the "torta" forms a delicious crust and the mozzarella has melted completely. Turn the heat of the oven down to 325°F and bake for another 15 minutes, if necessary, watching so that the top does not burn. Remove from the oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before serving. Better yet, let the torta set overnight and reheat the next day. This helps prevent the torta from falling apart just after baking.

When ready to serve, run a thin knife along the inside wall of the springform pan to loosen the torta away from the pan walls, then slowly and carefully, remove the springform ring. Run a long knife between the bottom of the torta and the bottom of the pan, and place on a decorative serving plate, removing the parchment if possible. A sprig of fresh basil on the top of each serving makes a nice presentation. Slice, serve, and mangia!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Stir Fried Gai Lan with Garlic & Oyster Sauce

Commonly referred to as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, Gai Lan is classified in the family of vegetables that includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kale. Prized for its tender stems and large delicate leaves, Gai Lan can be eaten fresh, boiled, steamed or stir-fried, although Stir-Fried Gai Lan with Garlic is the popular classic featured in many Chinese restaurants and Dim Sum carts. Simply stir-fried on high heat with a little garlic, chopped ginger, salt, fish sauce and oyster sauce for just a few minutes, the greens cook very quickly, with a slurry of cornstarch and water added at the end to thicken the sauce. Crunchy and flavourful with a delicate scented fragrant broth, this is a quick and easy dish that can also be spiffed up with fresh prawns, scallops or mixed mushrooms.

Stir Fried Gai Lan with Garlic & Oyster Sauce

Serves 4 

1 bunch of Gai Lan

1 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced
6 thin slices of ginger

1 tbsp fish sauce

3 tbsp oyster sauce

1 pinch salt

1/2 tsp cornflour

Prepare the gai lan by first trimming off the tough ends, then washing and separating the leaves from the stems, and chopping the stems into 2 to 3-inch lengths. Heat up a wok, add some oil and fry the garlic and ginger for about 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add the gai lan stems, 1/4 a cup of water and stir fry for 2-3 minutes until the stems turn a nice dark green colour. Add in the gai lan leaves and stir fry for 20-30 seconds. Then add in a little salt, fish sauce and oyster sauce. Stir-fry everything together, then thicken the sauce with some corn flour mixed with a little water. Serve immediately with a garnish of sesame seeds and hot red peppers for colour.

Monday, December 5, 2016

King Prawns in Coconut Curry Sauce

One of the most successful and respected modern Indian chefs in England, Vivek Singh is known for his innovative and refined approach to Indian cuisine. With three renowned London restaurants to his name - The Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho - chef Singh combines Indian spices and flavours with Western techniques and ingredients to create exquisite dishes such as his Chingri Malai Curry, one of the all-time favourite Bengali dishes, reserved for very special guests, big celebratory dinners and weddings. "The period between Dussehra and Diwali is a period described as Bijoya or victory in the West Bengal state of East India. During Bijoya, people visit family, friends and their entire social circle, taking sweets, exchanging gifts and eating together. Forgetting to visit someone over Bijoya is the Bengali equivalent of dropping someone from your Christmas card list! One of my earliest food memories is eating this delicious prawn curry at a Bijoya dinner." Outstandingly delicious, this is a recipe that's definitely worth keeping and making over and over again. 

Chef Vivek Singh

Marinated with turmeric and salt for 5 minutes, the prawns are cooked briefly for 1-2 minutes 
until just warmed but not cooked through, then set aside 

Puréed red onions and bay leaves are cooked on medium heat until browned, 
about 25-39 minutes until light very light brown

Although not light brown per se, the onions were 'browned' and nicely caramelized

Turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic and water are added to the onions and sautéed for 2-3 minutes

The half cooked prawns, green chilies and a little salt are added and stirred for a minute

Coconut milk is added to the pan and simmered for 2-3 minutes until the prawns are just cooked

King Prawns in Coconut Curry Sauce
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of chef Vivek Singh

1 lb large freshwater prawns, peeled and deveined
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
5 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
2 large red onions, blended to a fine paste
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
2 green chillies, slit lengthways and seeded
1 cup shellfish stock
13 oz can coconut milk
1/2 tsp sugar
4 green cardamom pods, ground
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 tsp Maldon smoked sea salt

Marinate the prawns with half the turmeric and half the salt for 5 minutes. Heat half of the oil in a pan and add the bay leaves and onion paste and sauté over a medium heat for 25-30 minutes until very light brown.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a non-stick frying pan and sear the prawns briefly for 1–2 minutes, turning them to sear on each side, then set aside.

Mix the remaining turmeric, ground cumin and ginger-garlic paste in 5 tablespoons of water, then add to the sautéed onions, reduce the heat and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the remaining salt, green chillies and prawns and stir for 1 minute. Add the stock, then mix in the coconut milk and simmer for 2–3 minutes or just until the prawns are cooked, adding a little more stock if necessary. Correct the seasoning with salt, sugar and sprinkle on the ground cardamom and chopped cilantro. Serve garnished with additional cilantro, lime wedges, fresh cracked white pepper and a pinch of smoked sea salt. Serve immediately.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Indian Beef and Spinach Saagwala Curry

Saag Gosht is a tender and delicious Lamb and Spinach Curry that originates from the northwest region of India. A well-loved dish from the greater Punjab area of India and Pakistan, Punjabi cuisine is known for its diversity, and varies regionally by the agriculture and farming lifestyle that's been prevalent throughout the area for centuries, with many of the ingredients obtained fresh from the fields. 'Saag' typically refers to mustard greens and 'Gosht' tends to mean goat meat, however beef works equally well, although many in India do not eat beef, so this recipe is an adaptation of the classic Saag Gosht recipe. Browned with onions, an aromatic mixture of whole and ground spices, chopped ginger, garlic, tomato and masses of healthy spinach, the beef is slowly simmered for up to 2 hours then combined with cream and finished with a spoonful of ghee. A lovely, earthy dish with a mild and subtle flavour, it's no wonder that this luscious Saagwala Curry is considered one of the great curries of India.

Chopped onions, spices, ginger, garlic and diced tomatoes are sautéed then the spinach is added and the mixture is then puréed until smooth

Browned beef is added to the creamy spinach sauce and simmered for 1-2 hours until the beef is cooked through and mouthwateringly tender

Beef and Spinach Curry

Serves 4

2 1/2 lb beef, trimmed of fat, cut into one to two-inch cubes

1/3 cup vegetable oil 
4 tbsp ghee, divided
4 dried red chilis
3 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
4 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp turmeric
13 oz can diced tomatoes
6 cups fresh spinach or 2 lb frozen spinach 
3 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp crushed kasoori methi
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1 cup cream
salt and pepper to taste

If using frozen spinach, microwave until defrosted, then drain and squeeze out most of the water and set aside. 
In a heavy-bottomed sauté pan, heat the oil on medium and brown the beef in batches then set aside. In the same pan that was used to brown the meat, add the red chilis, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, and sauté the mixture becomes aromatic. Then add the coriander seeds and cumin seeds and once they start to pop, add the onions. Sauté the onions until they are almost golden brown, about 15 minutes. 

Add the ginger-garlic paste and turmeric, and sauté until the raw smell disappears. Add the tomatoes, then cover and simmer until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes. Carefully mix in the spinach, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth, adding water as necessary to allow for a smooth consistency. Transfer the mixture to large bowl.

Heat the ghee to the pan, and add the blended spinach mixture plus the coriander, cumin, and kasoori methi, then cover and simmer for ten minutes, adjusting the salt as necessary. Add the beef with the vegetable stock and cover and simmer for another 80-90 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the meat is tender,  adding more stock if needed. Stir in the cream and garam masala and serve hot with rice and buttered naan.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kerala Mussel Molee Curry with Coconut Milk

Everyone loves a Molee, the coconut and turmeric curry from Kerala. While most Indian dishes pride themselves on using scores of ingredients and combinations of spices, the simple, mild and delicious molee uses merely eight ingredients plus whichever main ingredient you choose to cook in the sauce. One of the most successful and respected modern Indian chefs in England, Vivek Singh is known for his innovative and refined approach to Indian cuisine, with three renowned London restaurants to his name - The Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho. After twenty years of cooking subtle variations of this dish, chef Singh says there has not been one instance when guests haven’t been wowed by its simplicity. A Molee can be served as a soup or as a main course, using shrimp or just about any kind of seafood, chicken or, as in this recipe, mussels. Plump and sweet, I used premium quality Saltspring Island mussels which are grown in the rich, cool, clean coastal waters of British Columbia to honour this delicately flavoured dish, as a Canadian version of this Kerala classic.

Kerala Mussel Molee Curry with Coconut Milk

Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Vivek Singh

5 lb fresh Salt Spring Island mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

2 tbsp vegetable oil
40 fresh curry leaves
1 large onion sliced
6 green chilies slit open length ways
1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
3 cups fish or seafood stock
14 oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp salt

Wash and scrub the mussels. Discard any open ones that do not close when tapped, then set aside the remainder. Heat the oil in a large pan on medium high and add the curry leaves, chillies, onion and ginger and cook, stirring, for 6–8 minutes. When the onion is translucent, add the turmeric and stir for 30 seconds, then add the fish stock, coconut milk and salt. Bring to a simmer and allow to bubble for a couple of minutes. Adjust the seasoning, if necessary, then add the mussels, cover the pan and simmer heavily on medium for 10-12 minutes until all the mussels have opened. If all the mussels haven’t opened, re-cover the pan and simmer another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and discard any unopened mussels. To serve, ladle the mussels and sauce into a large bowl with plenty of fresh bread.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thai Stir Fried Rice Noodles with Chicken & Gai Lan

Pad See Ew, also known as Stir Fried Soy Sauce Noodles, is a Chinese-influenced noodle dish, and one of the most popular street foods in Thailand. The soft and chewy rice noodles are traditionally pan fried with chicken, beef or pork, Chinese broccoli — known as Gai Lan — scrambled egg and dark soy sauce. Inspired by a mouthwatering recipe from renowned Australian chef David Thompson, widely recognised as an authority on Thai food and culture, his celebrated cookbook 'Thai Food' is a comprehensive account of this ancient and exotic cuisine and features all of the classic, well-loved recipes as well as hundreds of lesser known but equally authentic and delicious Thai dishes that have been handed down from generation to generation, such as the sensational Pad See Ew. Quick, easy and delicious, the dish takes less than 5 minutes to cook, and captures the essence of one of Thailand's ultimate comfort foods.

Gai Pad See Ew - Stir Fried Soy Sauce Noodles with Chicken
Serves 2

2 tbsp dark soy sauce or 'ketjap manis', an Indonesian sweet soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp soy sauce 
2 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp palm or brown sugar
2 tbsp water

Stir Fry:

6 oz wide flat Thai rice stick noodles
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic cloves, minced
12 oz skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
1 large egg
4 cups Chinese broccoli, also known as Gai Lan 
Pinch of fresh ground white pepper 
Handful of bean sprouts
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Soak the rice noodles in cold water for 1-2 hours, then drain. Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Rinse the gai lan and trim 1-inch from the end of each stalk and discard. Separate the leaves from the stems and reserve both. Chop the leaves into 1-inch pieces, then slice the stems vertically into thin 1-inch long strips. Mince the garlic straight into a wok or large pot with the oil and place on high heat. When the oil is hot and the garlic begins to colour, add the chicken and continue to fry until the chicken is almost cooked. Add the noodles and gai lan stalks and once they are cooked, about 4 minutes, crack in the egg and stir fry to scramble. Add the sauce and leaves, folding gently to combine, and stir continuously until everything is well combined. The sauce should coat the noodles evenly and become lightly caramelized. The dish should be served immediately sprinkled with fresh ground white pepper and garnished with bean sprouts and fresh cilantro.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yellow Split Pea, Tuscan Kale & Sweet Potato Curry

Enriched with black Tuscan kale and nutritious sweet potatoes, this fragrant Yellow Split Pea Curry is a terrific mid week meal. Made in just over 30 minutes, one chopped onion is sautéed with ginger and garlic then seasoned with an exotic mixture of classic Indian spices including quality curry powder, garam masala, cumin, turmeric and hot red chili powder moistened with a little water to create a thick paste. Cooked until rich and aromatic, the vegetable broth, yellow split peas and black Tuscan kale are added to the pot and cooked until the split peas are tender, about 20 minutes. The sweet potatoes, yogurt and lime juice are then combined into the curry and cooked an further 10-15 minutes. Garnished with fresh cilantro and a dollop of thick Greek yogurt, this simple and healthy Yellow Split Pea, Tuscan Kale & Sweet Potato Curry is delicious served with Basmati rice and oven warmed naan brushed with ghee and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Split Pea, Black Tuscan Kale & Sweet Potato Curry
Serves 4

1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tbsp curry powder, such as Bolst's
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red chili powder
5 cups vegetable stock
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed and picked through
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 bunches black Tuscan kale, stems removed, washed and finely sliced
1 tsp black salt or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly chopped cilantro to taste

Add the oil to a shallow saucepan, and sauté the onion over medium until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and continue to sauté for another minute, then add the ginger, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, cumin and chili powder and stir well to combine. Add a tablespoon or two of water to moisten the spices into a thick paste and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the broth, split peas, kale and stir well. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover with the lid offset slightly and simmer for about 20 minutes. When the split peas are more tender and the liquid has reduced a bit, stir in the sweet potatoes, yogurt and lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are just cooked through and remove from the heat. Garnish with cilantro, a dollop of yogurt and serve with Basmati rice and warm naan.