Sunday, 21 June 2009

Recipe: Gratin of spring greens, mushrooms and squash

Bechamel isn't exactly a cutting edge sauce. You're unlikely to find it on the menu at el Bulli, but it should be an invaluable part of every home cook's repertoire. Your lasagne would look pretty sick without for a start. Here, it unifies three dispirate vegetables into a coherent dish that you can use to accompany any roast or grilled meat, or even fish. Serve it with homemade bread for a delicious vegetarean lunch.

The best way to get maximum flavour into your bechamel is to infuse the warmed milk with parsley, thyme, bay and peppercorns for an hour or so, then strain before stirring into a roux base. In the recipe, I've used a short cut by simply adding the herbs and peppercorns to the sauce while it simmers as the flour cooks out. Not quite as good, but it works fine if you're in a bit of a hurry. The teaspoon of mustard powder gives the sauce just that extra little kick of flavour.

Use all the spring greens, including the outer leaves. Just wash them very well and cut out the tough central stalks. The fleshy leaves add body and texture to the gratin.

Gratin of spring greens, mushrooms and squash

serves four as a side dish, two as a main course

350g spring greens, washed, central stalks removed and sliced into 1 inch strips
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 dessertspoons olive oil
3 sprigs of thyme
300g button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
salt and pepper
150g Parmesan cheese

for the sauce

55g butter
40g plain flour
1 teapsoon English mustard powder
568ml full cream milk
150ml double cream
5 parsley stalks
2 springs of thyme
5 black peppercorns

Blanch the spring greens in plenty of boiling salted water until just wilted (about one minute) then drain, refresh under cold water and set aside. Saute the squash one tablespoon of butter and a dessert spoon of oil until lightly coloured then add the thyme sprigs and transfer to a hot oven until cooked through which should take about 15 minutes. in the meantime, saute the mushrooms in the remaining butter and oil until they give off all their liquid and take on some colour.

For the sauce, melt the butter in a pan then stir in the flout until it forms a smooth roux mixture. Add the cold milk a little at a time, stirring to avoid any lumps. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer and add the cream, herbs and peppercorns. Cook gently for 20 minutes to cook out the flour. Add more milk if the sauce is too thick.

In a greased baking dish, combine the all the vegetables and season well with the salt and pepper. Strain over the sauce and mix through well. Grate over the Parmesam cheese and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbling.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Recipe: Mushroom and butternut squash risotto

This is yet another recipe created with "found food" (i.e. stuff leftover from other dishes)from the fridge. To my surprise, the kids loved it so its become a regular standby for the weekly menu planning session, especially if I'm runing out of inspiration.

You've no doubt read a million and one risotto recipes (my personal fav is risotto of radicchio, Taleggio and red wine from Anthony Demetre's wonderful book Today's Special) so I won't bore you by going on about technique, except to say that a chef once told me to cook the rice grains in the butter until the take on a tiny bit of colour and very lightly toast. It not only improves the flavour of the finished dish, but gets the cooking process off to a flying start so the grains will absorb the cooking liquid more quickly and easily. It's a nice little tip that I don't recall seeing written down before so I'm passing it on here now.

Mushroon and butternut squash risotto

serves 4

2 tablespoons of butter
2 dessert spoon of olive oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small cubes
3 sprigs of thyme
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
300g of mixed mushrooms such as ceps, girolle and chestnut
500g arborio rice
150ml white wine
2.5 litres of simmering vegetable stock
125g grated parmesan cheese plus 50g to grate over the finished dish
handful of chives, very finely sliced
salt and pepper

Cook the butternut squash in a tablespoon of butter and dessertspoon of the oil in an oven proof saute pan until coloured. Scatter over the thyme sprigs and transfer to a hot oven (180 degrees C) until tender, about 15 minutes.

Sweat the onion in a tablespoon of the butter and a dessertspoon of the oil until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook for a minute or two then add the garlic. Cook until the mushrooms have given up all of their liquid, then add the rice. Cook until lightly toasted then pour in the wine and cook until completely absorbed/evaporated. Add the simmering stock a ladle at a time, stirring the risotto all the time. When the rice is just cooked through, stir in the squash, cheese and chives and season well with the salt and pepper. Serve immeadiately in warm bowls, and grate over the remaining cheese.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Recipe: Smoked haddock fishcakes, parsley sauce

A simple dish, but one that requires your full attention over serveral stages and different cooking techniques including poaching, boiling, shallowing frying and sauce making so make sure you allow enough time to get it all done. The fishcakes and sauce are ideal for freezing so double the recipe and you'll be more than repaid for your efforts.

I prefer shop bought breadcrumbs for this recipe; they just produce a better tasting and better looking result. Plus they don't absorb as much oil as fresh homemade crumbs would do. I've got a drum of Paxo breadcrumbs in my cupboard, but feel free to use the more fancy panko variety if you like; they do produce a beautifully crunchy result.

Smoked haddock fishcakes, parsley sauce

serves four

for the fishcakes

1 pint full cream milk
600g undyed smoked haddock
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1kg red skin potatoes, peeled and diced
1 drum of Paxo breadcrumbs
2 eggs
200g plain flour
salt and pepper
vegetable oil

for the sauce

55g butter
40g tablespoon plain flour
milk reserved from poaching the haddock
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
25g flat leaf parsley, leaves picked from the stem and finely chopped
salt and pepper

Put the haddock in a large pan and cover with the milk. Add the bay and peppercorns, cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and let the pan sit for 4 minutes. Remove the fish from the milk (which should be strained and reserved for the sauce)then skin, bone and flake the flesh and set aside.

Put the diced potaotes in a large pan, cover in cold water, bring to the boil, add a generous pinch of salt and cook until tender. Drain, return to the heat to dry out the potatoes then mash until smooth. Fold in the fish and season with salt and pepper and allow to cool.

Form the mixture into eight equal sized balls, flatten slightly then pane them by tossing them first in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and stir until amalgamated and slightly coloured. Whisk in the milk bit by bit until you have a smooth sauce. Cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until thickened. Add the mustard, parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Heat about an inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan until hot and fry the fishcakes until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a hot oven to cook through for five minutes.

Serve two fishcakes per person on a bed of wilted spinach with the sauce spooned around the plate.