bag octopus

Octopus Salad with Dill Salsa Verde

bag octopus

You know you are what most people would term a ‘foodie’ when you tend to keep some octopus in the house for an emergency. (That’s a dinner based emergency by the way. Anything else would just be weird.)

This is mainly because my local branch of the 99p Stores tends to sell tinned octopus cheaply and I stash it in the cupboard to go with pasta when I don’t much want to cook. However, this time my emergency octopus was the fancy Iberian stuff from Brindisa. Bought with a voucher, this packet of massive tentacles steamed in its own juices has been sitting in my fridge for ages. It’s been waiting for one of those moments where I want to pretend I’m Nigel Slater and make a meal more interesting that most people’s dinner parties but with stuff I happen to have to hand.

That moment came when I invited a friend round for dinner and was more interested in sitting on my patio gossiping about men and drinking dry Riesling than cooking per se. I had the octopus, I had some new potatoes and I had a thumping great bunch of dill. I also watched a lot of Ready Steady Cook in its day…

Octopus Salad with Dill Salsa Verde (serves 4)

  • 500g octopus
  • 500g new potatoes
  • 1/2 large bunch of fresh dill
  • 1/2 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 75g green olives
  • 30g capers
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 hard boiled egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

If you don’t have a bag of octopus around the house, you could use tinned or frozen baby ones from the Chinese supermarket you’ve simmered with lemon and bay leaves for about an hour and then cooled. I do this quite often in the slow cooker (see page 80 of Slow Cooked) and then freeze them for later use. Unlike squid, there isn’t much shrinkage or waste on an octopus so they are surprisingly good value.

If you do have a bag of octopus in the house, it’s literally boil in the bag as it’s packed in its own juices. Either simmer in a pot of water for 15 minutes or pop it in the microwave for 3 minutes and then allow to cool again for 3 minutes.

I also almost always steam my potatoes in the microwave these days. I cut them in quarters, put in a microwave proof bowl with a lid on and give them about 5 minutes per 250g. So give this amount 10 minutes and then allow to sit for a minute to absorb steam. Or boil them as normal and drain well.

Make the salsa verde by combing the dill and parsley in a hand blender with the oil, vinegar and egg yolk (this is optional. I had a spare hard boiled egg and know it helps emulsify the sauce. Double the mustard if you don’t have one.) Add the anchovies, olives, capers and mustard. Pulse to a thick but pourable consistency. Season and add any more mustard or anchovies or capers to taste. You could even chuck in a bit of garlic or fresh mint if you had some.

Slice your octopus into chunks and toss with the warm potatoes and stir the salsa verde through it all. Add some chopped fresh dill and parsley to look pretty, pour another glass of wine (Lidl’s dry Riesling is my current obsession) and tuck in. A simple barely cook dinner with almost no washing up which tastes of summer and luxury. What’s not to like?

octopus salad

 

choux

Spelt Choux Pastry

chouxI love choux pastry. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a Paris-Brest, a profiterole or an éclair, I adore it. Not even having grown up with tales of my mum’s summer job at Bird’s Eye on the frozen éclair line and still being traumatised at the sight of one decades later could convince me otherwise.

But oddly enough I’d never made choux pastry, thinking it was incredibly difficult and demanding to do. But when I decided to throw a party the other week, I immediately decided to do difficult and demanding because God forbid you’d make entertaining easy in my mind. I’m surprised I didn’t decide to go full croquembouche just to be sure I gave myself real stress.

My only choux dilemma was if you could make it with spelt flour to be wheat free for a fellow Fodmapper. Spoiler alert: it works just fine. This is because spelt still contains gluten so gets a nice texture and structure. You just need slightly more liquid than with wheat flour or it gets almost impossible to beat even with an electric whisk.

I found making the choux incredibly easy and kept thinking something was bound to go wrong because it just seemed *too* simple (why yes, I do collect anxiety disorders like cookbooks since you ask.) Nothing malfunctioned, but I discovered I hate hate hate piping choux pastry so gave up and just dolloped it on the baking tray instead before I turned the air blue and my hand white with squeezing the piping bag.

I filled the choux with creme patisserie which also worked marvellously and then whipped up a few coffee mini pavlovas with the remaining egg whites to be economical. This would have worked better if I hadn’t forgotten about a tray of them and found them cooled in the oven a week later. But honestly, with a bit of mise-en-place and good music on the radio, this was a great way to cater for a party of people with food intolerances with minimum trickiness.

Spelt Choux Pastry (makes approx 40 large profiteroles)

  • 120g butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 350ml water or half and half water and milk
  • 300g spelt flour, sifted well
  • 6 eggs

I do have one piece of sad news from the world of choux. When researching recipes, I discovered it is the first time Dan Lepard has ever let me down. There was no indication how much pastry the recipe made and it took me a moment or two to stop reeling and start doing some maths to adapt this internet based recipe into one that worked and served enough people.

Start by heating the butter, salt and water together until the butter is melted and reaches boiling point. Lower the heat and add the sifted spelt flour. I sifted mine twice as spelt has a tendency to clumping and one does not want clumpy choux. Stir it all well until combined until the mix pulls away from the sides of the pan. Mine did it almost instantly.

Take it off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Beat each whole egg in one at a time until well combined. This is best with an electric mixer. My fifth egg caused my slightly dry choux to pull up the beater like a tornado so I had to hand mix the last one in. It should be glossy and just the stiff side of sloppy.

I then tried to pipe my slightly too stiff choux out of a slightly too small nozzle and ended up with tiny pointed topped buns and a general sense of rage. I switched to using a warmed spoon to dollop out blobs onto trays lined with baking paper before baking the buns at 200℃ for 20 minutes. I then reduced the heat to 170℃ for another 20 minutes to allow the choux to dry out slightly.

Once lifted out of the oven, I used rubber gloves to lift them off the trays and poked a hole in the base of each one to let the steam out as they cooled to stop them going soft. Then they then cooled on a rack while I made creme pat.

This is another one of those things people talk about in terms of being tricky and it might well be and I only had beginners’ luck, but I used my other baking bible in Rachel Allen’s fabulous Bake and it was easier to make than falling off a log. It will need to come back to room temperature to be easier to pipe though if you make it in advance. I used cornflour to keep it wheat and gluten free.

Creme Patisserie (will fill all those choux buns)

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g sugar
  • 25g cornflour
  • 350ml milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Begin by beating the sugar and egg yolks together in a large bowl until as light and fluffy as possible. I used the electric whisk. I also never use caster sugar because I’m not organised enough to buy it and granulated works fine for me. Stir in the cornflour.

Warm the milk in a saucepan until it just starts to boil and then gently pour the milk over the egg and sugar mix, beating continuously so it doesn’t scramble. I used the electric mixer again as it seemed to require less hand eye co-ordination.

Pour it all back into the saucepan and bring to the boil, continuing to whisk constantly. Mine foamed as it came to the boil and then flattened down as it thickened as it came to the boil and it made it easier to see what it was doing. I cooked it for a minute or two and then removed it from the heat and beat the vanilla into it.

I poured it into a bowl and allowed to cool slightly before covering well and chilling overnight. It set firmly in the fridge and I left it it out for about an hour before piping into the choux. I had intended to mix the creme pat with some apricot jam for an Austrian vibe but I totally forgot. The choux buns went down well despite this. I suspect I’ll be doing the whole thing again very soon anyway.

 

 

frikadellen

Fodmap Friendly Frikadellen

 

frikadellenThis was going to be my year of meatballs and then life got in the way and I haven’t made any at all, let alone hosted soirees filled with them, but when I decided to throw a Eurovision party, I knew they would be on my menu.

I was catering for one non pork eater, a wheat free Fodmapper and a roomful of people with appetites like gannets (the best kind of people I find) so I wanted something substantial. I looked for Austrian inspired recipes, got sidetracked into wurst jokes and decided to go German with frikadellen instead.

These are a slightly flattened meatball which makes them easier to cook and quicker to roll than small ones so when making loads they cut that corner quite well. My dilemma was what to lighten them with. Pork mince was out and so were breadcrumbs. I went for everyone’s favourite anti-carb and used grated courgette instead and it worked very well alongside the small amount of apple I used and the fresh rosemary that gave the sweetness and flavour onion and garlic usually offers. I know some Fodmappers can’t do apple but the amounts are small enough that most people could.

I then rolled and flattened the frikadellen and chilled them well before pan frying them for about 3 minutes each side in advance to give a nice crust. I then put them on oven trays close together and baked them in the oven for 20 minutes at 180℃ when I wanted to serve them. This allowed me to serve hot food with a minimum of fuss and washing up.

A plate of these each with a mountain of dill and gherkin infused potato salad fortified us beautifully for all night Eurovision fun. I’m sure it was them and not the export strength gin that saw my friend and I still celebrating the Irish referendum at 5am by listening to Jedward’s Lipstick

Fodmap Friendly Frikadellen (serves 4-6)

  • 750g beef mince or 250g pork and 500g beef
  • 1 medium sized apple such as a Bramley or Braeburn
  • 2 medium or 1 large courgette
  • 3 stalks fresh rosemary
  • 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper

These are lovely and easy to make but need chilling time so don’t rush them.

Put the chilled mince into a large bowl and break it up really well with your hands. This is surprisingly hard work. Peel and grate the apple into it.

Grate the courgette and then chop it roughly too. You want something slightly shorter than grated but not actual pulp so don’t use one of those electric choppers. Add the courgette along with the well chopped fresh parsley. I have finally got a spice grinder and was able to turn my rosemary into a fine powder. It’s the best thing I’ve bought in an age and where electricity trumps doing stuff by hand.

Whichever way you chop your rosemary, add it in too and season it all generously. You want a little bite from the pepper. I used a little bit of white pepper too as I really like its flavour. (I was always under the impression it was ‘common’ when I was a kid, but I bought mine in Waitrose for the slow cooker…)

Mix all the flavourings into the meat well and add the egg half at a time and then keep mixing well with your hands. It should be quite a stiff paste. Then pinch up a good hefty handful and roll roughly into a ball and then flatten it so it looks like a mini burger or slider. Put on a plate or lined baking tray and chill for at least 30 minutes. I gave mine an hour to be sure.

Then fry on a medium high heat for about 5 minutes each side, turning every 2-3 minutes to allow them to brown but not burn. You’ll need to do them in batches in the pan to give you room to flip so if you scale up, it’s easier to finish them in the oven as above. Rest them for 10 minutes to make them juicier and easier to eat. I’m going to try them in the slow cooker next time too!

Any potato salad will go well or a nice crunchy slaw of finely mandolined  red cabbage, carrot and radish or daikon. But be careful if you mandolin. I had to give my leftover meatballs to a friend who spent Friday night in A&E thanks to one. Her finger was too bandaged to cook but she said the frikadellen made an outstanding meatball sandwich that almost made up for it all!

*PS, no photos of the cooked ones. They got devoured too fast for that and the kitchen was too chaotic for pre table photos.

 

 

pastiera whole

Pastiera or Easter Ricotta Tart

pastiera whole I really admire those organised food bloggers who manage to post seasonal recipes before the event. I’m not quite sure what their secret is, but when it comes to Christmas or Easter or Halloween, I need to find out because I’m posting a recipe for the classic Easter dish of pastiera a week late instead.

The good news though is that it’s only a traditional Easter dish if you hail from Naples so technically there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make it in the next few weeks if you like the sound of it. Pastiera is made from pastry filled with cooked wheatberries, eggs and ricotta flavoured with cinnamon, candied peel and orange blossom water and it tastes deliciously of springtime sunshine and light evenings. It’s also much easier to make than I originally expected.

I had difficulty getting wheatberries or grano cotto so I used pearl barley instead. Several recipes suggested using cooked rice as well and I think it would be a wonderful way to use up leftover rice pudding. You do need to make the pastiera a day in advance to allow the flavours to combine but as I am not a proper Neapolitan nonna I didn’t take the traditional three days to create mine. Make it on a Saturday night before tucking in for Sunday lunch for something a bit different. I won’t tell if you don’t.

Pastiera (adapted from this Food 52 recipe here)

  • 250g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 150g cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 30ml ice cold water
  • 100g pearl barley (uncooked weight)
  • 250ml milk
  • 50ml cream
  • 100g candied peel
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 350ml ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • generous pinch of sea salt
  • icing sugar to serve

Begin by making the ricotta filling for the pastiera. Wisdom has it that freshly cracked eggs make it rise so you need to rest them overnight. I wasn’t that organised, but I did find that chilling the mixture for at least an hour made it easier to handle so don’t skip that stage.

Beat the ricotta, whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and orange blossom water together well with a fork. It will be alarmingly liquid at this stage and you’ll panic that you’ve done something wrong. You haven’t. Chill it in the fridge and it thickens nicely.

Next make  your pastry. I always always use Dan Lepard’s recipe for it and despite not being especially pastry confident, it works best for me. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it disappears well. Beat the egg yolks into the water and add to the flour, mixing it in well. Combine to make a surprisingly soft and wet dough and then wrap it and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the barley for the filling by covering it with cold water and bringing to the boil. Skim any froth off the top and cook for about 20 minutes. Reserve the cooking water to make your own version of barley water, but drain the barley well before returning it to the pan.

This time add the milk and the candied peel and simmer it gently until the barley thickens into a porridgey texture and the fruit swells slightly. This took about 5 minutes for me. Take it off the heat and add the cream and lemon zest and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.

Flour your work surface well and then roll out your pastry to fit a 9 or 10 inch springform cake tin. Don’t cut the overhang yet and allow the pastry to chill for 20 minutes more in the fridge.

Combine the barley with the ricotta mix and stir it all together well. It will, frankly, look unappetising in colour in texture. Ignore the nagging voice that tells you this was a bad idea. It wasn’t. Carry on making it and  preheat the oven to 200℃.

Pour the barley ricotta mix into the chilled pastry shell and trim the overhang on the pastry neatly. Lay strips of pastry across the top of the pastiera to make a lattice effect, sticking them on with the leftover egg whites if needs be. Mine sank a bit as I think I cut them too wide and therefore too heavy. But it was nearly midnight at this stage and I didn’t care.

Bake the pastiera for 60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the pastry is biscuity beige. You need to turn it half way through to make sure the colouration is even on both sides if you are bothered by such things. Take it out and cool completely in the tin.

Chill until needed and then remove from the tin. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve in slices. The filling is surprisingly light in texture but is is quite rich so do what we did and start with small slices and work up to seconds. The pastiera will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. I loved the flavour of the cinnamon and orange blossom water together as both were subtle but effective. It made a lovely change from chocolate or marzipan Easter treats!

pastiera slice

gur cake

Hot Chocolate Gur Cake

gur cakeI was walking home one day last week when a friend called me and said without much preamble ‘you know about donkey’s gudge, don’t you?’ Pausing slightly to see if the noise of the A23 had made me mishear, I hedged my bets and said ‘refresh my memory…’

My friend said impatiently ‘you know, the Irish cake made of cake’ and I remembered that what his Cork based family knew as ‘donkey’s gudge’ was what other Irish people know as gur cake after the Dublin expression for wide boys or ‘gurriers’. It uses leftover stale fruit cake soaked in liquid and put between pastry to give baked goods a new lease of life. I immediately thought of Caitriona’s recipe here and didn’t think to ask why Cork and Waterford folk call it donkey’s gudge*.

I passed the recipe onto my friend who wanted to make the cake for his mum and didn’t think much more of it until on Easter Sunday I realised I was never going to be able to eat all the hot cross buns I’d made. I had some pastry from making pastiera for Easter and realised it would be a shame not to make gur cake.

I decided to give mine a further inauthentic twist by soaking my hot cross buns in chocolate milk and a splash of cream to enhance the dark chocolate of the buns I made. I simply melted a bar of chocolate into the milk so this would be an excellent way to use up any Easter eggs you’ve tired of simply eating out the wrapper absent mindedly.

Hot Chocolate Gur Cake (adapted from Wholesome Ireland)

  • 500g stale cake or hot cross buns
  • 250ml milk
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 50ml cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 250g shortcrust pastry
  • 25g caster sugar

This is incredibly easy to make, especially since I used the shop bought pastry I had in the house. I have a knack of making pastry shrink and I need to spend a weekend making it when there’s no pressure and getting it right. Easter Sunday is not that time.

Start by crumbling up your cake or hot cross buns into a large bowl. Heat the milk in a pan on the stove, breaking your chocolate into it and stirring gently until it melts into a lovely hot chocolate. Pour it over the crumbs and add the cream and cinnamon and vanilla extract. Leave to absorb the liquid for about 20 minutes (which is co-incidentally how long it took me to do my washing up to have space to roll out pastry.)

Lightly flour your work surface and roll the pastry out to about 2-3mm thin. Cut it in half and carefully place one piece into a lined brownie tray. Mine was 23cm square and about 8cm deep. Prick the pastry well with a fork. Put the soaked crumb mixture on top of the pastry, flattening it down well and making sure it is right into the corners. Cover with the remaining pastry and again prick well with a fork. Sprinkle with the caster sugar.

I chilled my cake for 20 minutes in the fridge to prevent the pastry shrinking when it cooked, but if you’ve worked quickly with the pastry you could just put it straight into a 160℃ oven for 90 minutes or until the pastry is cooked but not golden.

Allow the cake to cool completely on a rack before cutting into squares. I ate mine the next morning for breakfast when I was tired and hungover after a late night over Easter dinner and it was just the ticket. Richer and smoother thanks to the chocolate than the fruit squares my aunt Kathleen used to make or the Christmas pudding version I’ve done before, I really enjoyed this cake. I still have no idea how it got christened donkey’s gudge so if anyone can elaborate, please do!

*I believe people in the rest of Ireland call it Chester Cake but I couldn’t find any link to the city of the same name.

gur top down