Sunday, March 27, 2011

Turkish Delight-a-rama!

I love eating with my hands and sharing food, and there is no better dish suited to both of these things than the fabulous flavoursome Turkish Pide. I would never have considered making it at home - assuming that it would be difficult to get right - however once I looked at the ingredients and did a little research, I discovered that it was in fact pretty straight forward. Sure, it involves dough and yeast and time for the said dough to rise, but apart from that it was easy peasy.

You could use any fillings that take your fancy - I decided on a classic spinach and feta and a hot and spicy chorizo and chilli/tomato version. Both were really delicious. These pide would be great party food - make up the dough beforehand and let people create their own toppings. Crank up the oven, show people how to assemble the pide and away you go!

As you all know, I do not profess to be a baker of any kind - it usually looks a bit too precise and fiddly to me. I'm more of a touch it, taste it,create it as you go kind of cook. I did however really enjoy the process of making the pide - there was something so tactile and satisfying about rolling up my sleeves and kneading the dough, feeling it change in texture from a firmish lump to a soft, stretchy one. All very rustic and wholesome - I felt like I was in some Turkish mountainside farmhouse with a wood fire burning and sheep grazing outside. So, I urge you all to go forth and get in touch with your inner Turkish baker and give these pide a go. They are delightful.

Spicy Chorizo and Spinach and Feta

You will need:

For the pastry: 1 cup milk, 60g butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons caster sugar, 7g (1 sachet) dried yeast, 4 1/2 cups plain flour, 1 egg yolk, 2 teaspoons salt.

My fillings: 1 Chorizo, 1 cup mozzerella cheese, 1 cup nepolitana sauce, 1 cup cooked spinach, 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, salt and pepper, 1 lemon and 1 teaspoon parsley to serve (optional)

Method: Place the milk and butter in a saucepan and warm over a low heat for a couple of minutes until the butter has melted. Do not over heat the milk. Set aside.

Combine sugar and half a cup of lukewarm water in a small bowl. Scatter over the dried yeast. Set aside for about 8 minutes until the mixture looks a bit foamy on top.

Combine the yeast mixture and the milk in a large bowl. Add the flour and 2 teaspoons of salt and mix well to form a dough. Clean hands are best for this.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. This will take between 7 and 10 minutes. Roll the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for about an hour. The dough should double in size.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Once the dough has risen, divide it into 4 pieces. Roll into an oval shape. Top with your desired fillings (or mine), leaving a 2-3 cm border around the edges of the pide. Fold over and "pleat" the edges to partially enclose the filling.

Whisk together the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water and brush the edges of the dough with this mixture.

Place on baking trays lined with baking paper and cook for about 20 minutes, until golden. If you are using two shelves of the oven, it is a good idea to swap the trays over halfway through the cooking, so that the pide are cooked evenly.

Remove from the oven, slice and serve right away. I like a squeeze of lemon and parsley over mine.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Heston takes me back - Italian Mama's and burying your mistakes....

Last night I had the absolute joy of sitting in the sumptuous surroundings of The State Theatre, listening to my culinary idol Heston Blumenthal talking about the multi sensory experience of food and in particular, how it relates to memory and nostalgia. As I listened to the childhood recollection of his own formative food experiences, I could not help but reflect on my own. Heston spoke about the importance of employing all of the senses when it comes to the food we eat and how each of us has our own “library” of food experiences that shape our tastes. Certain colours, shapes, textures and aromas act as powerful neurological triggers to our brain, calling to mind particular moments or experiences in our lives, for good or ill. At one point in the evening, we were treated to a wonderful experiement, in which the whole audience was transported into the interior of a childhood sweet shop.

Sitting in the dark, with all manner of sounds and smells - created by spaying atomisers of specially created “sweet shop” aroma into the air- my mouth watered and I felt the excitement rise in the pit of my stomach. I was a kid again with 20c to spend and all manner of sweet treats to choose from. The atomisers were amazing – managing to evoke the dry scent of clean wooden candy shop floors, striped peppermints and glossy chocolates, sherbet, musk, lollipops and jubes like pieces of stained glass, chewy caramels and crinkly wrappers and small paper bags. It was so happy making.

Heston discovers his inner child

We all have “trigger” foods that have the power to take us back to our childhoods, or to pivotal moments that shaped who we are and our tastes as adults. Since my evening with Heston I started to think about what made up important parts of my own culinary history. What were the things that evoke the strongest response in me, so long after they were experienced.

Probably one of my earliest food memories are of being very small and being in the kitchen of the restaurant of family friends, the Bertollini’s. They ran a home style, family Italian restaurant and they would regularly babysit me. The kitchen was always a hive of activity, and I remember the sweet aroma of home made passata (tomato sauce) simmering on the stove, the rich nutty smell of roasting garlic and Nonna, always with an apron on, that was dusted with a thin veil of flour from making pasta. I have never forgotten the incredible, lip smacking, herbaceous aroma as the lid was removed from a wild rabbit casserole, flavoured strongly with garlic and lots and lots of rosemary. Every time I smell rosemary, I still think of this. The Bertollini’s made everything from scratch, which was what made their food so beautiful. Especially the pasta.

This was created on a massive table and laid out to dry before serving. It was at this table that I think I learned my first culinary skill – rolling gnocchi. Too small to reach the table, I was given my very own milk crate to stand on and Nonna set to work, patiently showing me how to roll the gnocchi off the fork with just the right amount of pressure and the flourish of a thumb. I have never forgotten Nonna’s lesson and to this day, every time I make gnocchi I become that child on the milk crate again, surrounded by the heat of the kitchen and Nonna’s warm presence. To me, gnocchi will always equal comfort.

Gnocchi = Comfort

Another strong childhood food memory is of experimenting in the kitchen when my mother was at work. Whilst most of my experiments seemed to be quite successful, there were the inevitable disasters, as I learned my way around ingredients and the mysteries of the stove. One such disaster comes to mind whenever I smell honeycomb. Making honeycomb was always so much fun as a kid - adding the cream of tartar to the molten caramelised sugar mixture (kids and copious potentially scalding, lava like liquids – what could possibly go wrong?) watching the mixture fizz and expand, making that wonderful golden bubbly honeycomb. On one particular occasion however, I remember being distracted (I was probably thwacking my sister George with an egg slice at the time) and my honeycomb started to burn. Burning sugar must be one of the worst kitchen smells in the world. I quickly moved the pot to the sink and turned on the cold tap – rendering the honeycomb in the pot into a rock solid lump. Knowing that my mother was due home from her nursing shift at the hospital any minute, I manically hacked away at the pot, attempting to dislodge the burnt honeycomb. It didn’t even make a dent in it. Time was running out – what to do?!

 Well, to solve the problem, I did what any sensible kid would do. I dug a hole in the back yard with a shovel and buried the pan in the back yard near the woodheap. Yes, somewhere in the southern suburbs of Perth lie the cremated remains of my honeycomb circa 1981 – and my mother’s good saucepan. Pretty sure that after I was done, I made myself scarce and holed up in my bedroom listening to Duran Duran - and for the sound of my mother’s car in the drive - hoping that the pot would not be missed when mum got home from work. When mum later turned the pot cupboard upside down looking for the missing piece (“Where is that bloody pot?”) I just shrugged my shoulders and tried not to act guilty. Until today, I have never actually revealed my shameful secret to my mother - so Mum, I know it’s been 30 years coming – but, sorry about the pan *winces*

To this day, the smell of honeycomb makes me think about the afternoon I buried my kitchen mistake!


Friday, March 11, 2011

A Salmon Tale....

I love salmon. The lovely pinkish flesh, the delicious buttery taste and that luxurious texture. One of the best bits of the salmon is the tail - often overlooked in favour of the chunkier parts of the fish, it has a delicate marbling of fat through it that makes it moist and super tasty. It rarely has any bones (occasionaly if you buy a super large sized piece you may find one or two, but this isn't common) and it is easy to cook. Salmon tail is also a great way to enjoy this beautiful fish if you are on a budget - salmon steaks can be quite pricey, but with the tail you are not getting bones and it is not as chunky as the rest of the fish. Win!

Apart from tasting amazing, salmon is also incredibly good for you, crammed with Omega 3 oils, high amounts of protein and chock full of vitimin D. Great for your skin, your hair and the rest of you!

Regular Gourmet Goddess readers will remember the fish cooking technique I learned in Paris last year - placing the fish on a bed of herbs or aromatics, to cook the fish gently and infuse it with heaps of flavour. Well, today's recipe uses that same technique, this time with fennel as the star flavour. I know many people are hesitant to use fennel - but it really works beautifully in this dish, imparting a delicate herbaceous character to the salmon that is just gorgeous.

The salmon before it went into the oven -
nestled cosily on a bed of fennel,onions,red onion,parsley and garlic.

I decided to team the salmon with a salad of watercress and pink grapefruit. The peppery nature of the watercress and the sweet tang of the grapefruit is a lovely contrast to the rich, buttery taste of the salmon. I added a very simple poppyseed vinigarette for the dressing.

With the salmon itself, I made a very simple, throw together with one hand behind your back, caper butter. You could easily add garlic or other herbs to this if you wanted to, but it was a weeknight, I was hungry and it was "cooking night" on SBS, so I wanted something fast and easy so I could get my weekly dose of Adriano Zumbo and Anthony Bourdain!

This whole dish took about half an hour to create, so it makes a great midweek meal or stress free dinner party dish. And here it is, in it's pinky, salmon-ish glory.....

And after....succulent salmon and infused with all those great flavours,
served with caper butter, a watercress and pink grapefruit salad and poppyseed dressing.

You will need:
For the salmon - 1 salmon tail, 1 tablespoon chopped continental parsley, 2 cloves sliced garlic, half a red onion cut into thin slices, the green part of 1 fennel bulb cut into slices, salt and pepper, a splash of olive oil.

For the sauce - 1 heaped tablespoon salted butter, 2 teaspoons roughly chopped capers, salt and pepper.

For the salad - 1 bulb fennel sliced finely (white part only - you will use the green part for the roasting of the fish), 1 pink grapfruit cut into segments with the white pith removed, half a red onion sliced finely, a couple of handfulls of watercress (trim the larger tough stalks off so that you are mostly left with the delicate leaves)

For the salad dressing - 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil, 2 teaspoons poppyseeds, 1 teaspoon sugar, pinch of salt, pinch of cayenne pepper, a little black pepper to taste.

First, preheat the oven to 220C. Then, line a baking tray with baking paper.
Combine the parsley, garlic, onion and green part of the fennel and place it on the baking tray in a thick layer the size of the salmon tail.

Check that the salmon does not have any bones by feeling the surface of the flesh - it is unlikely that you will come across any in the tail, but if your fishmonger has given you a large peice, you may occasionally find one or two. Use tweezers to remove any that you find.

Rub the salmon all over with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay the fish on top of the fennel mixture. Set aside.

Now make the salad dressing - simply whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until it starts to emulsify (you will know this is happening when it has thickened slightly) Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Set aside.

Place the salmon in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the salmon. Watch how it is going so that you do not overcook it - the flesh should yield slightly when you press on it.

While the salmon is cooking, toss together your salad ingredients and arrange on your serving plate, without the dressing.

Now make the caper butter - just combine all of the ingredients in a warm pan until the butter is melted. Set aside.

When the salmon is cooked, take it out of the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Lift the salmon off the bed of fennel and place on your serving dish. Spoon the caper butter over the salmon.

Dress the salad and serve with the fish. Delicious.

Serves 2 for a main course or 4 for an entree.