Easy Chicken with Pesto

Jamie Oliver has a lot of recipes where you arrange all the ingredients in a shallow baking tray, stick it in the oven and Bob’s your Uncle. He calls them tray bakes.

This recipe was inspired by that idea and by the fact that I still have quite a bit of pesto which I froze in ice cube trays last summer. I want to use it before summer starts and the fresh basil in the garden is ready to use. Frozen pesto is useful in winter to spread on pizza bases (instead of tomato), to mix into pasta dishes or to garnish soups

This recipe really is easy, quick and delicious. The first photo shows the dish ready to go in the oven and the second one ready to serve.

1 kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup baby tomatoes
½ to 1 cup pitted olives, black or green
About 10 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
½ to ¾ cup pesto (home made or bought)
125g creamy goat’s cheese or feta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Trim chicken thighs and cut them in half. Arrange in one layer in a shallow baking dish tin. Arrange the tomatoes, olives and garlic evenly, tucking them in between the chicken pieces. Put blobs of pesto and small chunks of cheese evenly over the dish, season with salt and pepper, add a few small sprigs of fresh thyme (if available) and drizzle with some olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes, turning chicken over halfway through the cooking time.

Serve with couscous, rice, mashed potatoes or crusty bread, to soak up the juices and a mixed salad.

Serves 4

Variations: use chicken drumsticks or thighs with bones and skin.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup with Pesto

Between the vegetable patch at the farm – where we spend  every second weekend – and the one in Canberra, we produce more than half the fruit and vegetables we eat, with some to give away to family and friends during summer. All organic of course.

There’s no shortage of space at the farm so we grow things like strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, potatoes, onions and garlic as well as pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini. We’re also establishing an orchard, with quince, apples, pears and plums. In town where space is more limited we stick to herbs, radishes, lettuces and rocket.

You can’t grow salad greens in northern Europe in the middle of winter, but here in Canberra a typical winter’s day is often 15 to 20 degrees Celsius warmer than the nighttime sub-zero temperatures. This means that the soil doesn’t freeze solid and allows some vegetables to be grown in sheltered areas of the garden. A piece of glass or plastic helps protect the foliage from the frost

Rather than going out and buying something we tend to eat what we have. At the moment, it being the middle of winter, we have spinach, carrots, rocket and lettuce. Not much in the way of fruit, apart from the lemon tree which is laden and lots of cooking apples I froze during summer.

Carrots from the garden were the inspiration for this soup which showcases the natural sweetness of root vegetables. The coconut milk gives a velvety, creamy texture and the pesto makes a nice contrast in colour and flavours. The pesto in the photo is a bit dark because I froze it during summer. Still tastes good though.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup with Pesto

1 large onion, chopped
25g butter
About 1kg sweet potatoes and carrots (half and half or whatever)
1 can coconut milk or cream
2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes
Water
To serve:
Milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pesto (home-made or bought)

In a large heavy-based saucepan, heat butter and cook onion for 5-10 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add sweet potatoes and carrots, peeled and cut into chunks, the coconut milk or cream, enough water to cover the vegetables and the stock cubes. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft, then cool a bit and blend in a blender until smooth. To serve, reheat with enough milk to make to desired consistency. Season to taste and garnish with some pesto, thinned down a bit with some olive oil if it’s too thick.

Serves 6-8

Baked Eggplant with Hummus, Lentils and Pine Nuts

We eat a vegetarian dinner at least once a week. Our favourite vegetable is eggplant – it’s very filling and leftovers are always good for lunch.

Many eggplant recipes include tomato and cheese, so this one’s a bit different. I used a can of lentils to speed things up. If you prefer to use dry lentils you will need to add more stock and cook it for longer. The lentils will be ready at about the same time as the eggplant comes out of the oven, so everything will be hot and you can serve the dish straight away. If one or the other has got a bit cold, just put the dish in the oven to heat through, before topping with the hummus, herbs and nuts.

If you’re making your own hummus half the recipe (one drained can chickpeas) is more than enough.

For the eggplant:
2 large eggplants
4 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh rosemary sprigs
For the lentils:
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
To serve:
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Hummus (preferably homemade)
Chopped fresh coriander or parsley
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper or foil. Cut eggplants in half horizontally. Lay them on the tray then score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife. Brush all over with the olive oil, going back over so you use it all.  Season and sprinkle with the rosemary. Bake for 25-35 mins or until tender and slightly charred. Discard the rosemary.

While eggplant are baking, heat oil in a large frying pan. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then simmer until thick. Add the balsamic vinegar and check seasoning.

Spread mixture in a shallow baking dish and arrange the eggplant halves on top. If necessary put the dish into the oven to heat through.

Taste the hummus and, if necessary, add a bit more lemon juice and/or crushed garlic to give it a bit more zing and make it less thick. Serve the eggplant drizzled with hummus and sprinkled with the pine nuts and fresh herbs. If liked drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 4

Variations: use a drained can of chickpeas or kidney beans instead of lentils. Add a can of chopped tomatoes when adding the stock.

Reuben Sandwich

Fermented food is really good for maintaining healthy gut bacteria.

I have just made my first batch of sauerkraut and as it’s an integral ingredient in the famous American Reuben Sandwich I decided it was a good way to try it.  The origins of this sandwich are not entirely clear, but according to one version, a man called Reuben Kulakofsky ordered a corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich in a hotel in Omaha USA in 1928. A young chef by the name of Bernard Schimmel came up with the rest. So I guess it should have been called a Schimmel sandwich!

If you don’t have Thousand Island dressing and can’t be bothered to make it, mix two parts mayonnaise with one part tomato ketchup and add a dash of Tabasco or Worcestershire Sauce to give it a bit of bite. The photo shows two sandwich halves stacked one on top of the other.

Corned Beef (or Pastrami), sliced
Swiss cheese, sliced
Light Rye Bread, sliced
Sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained (bought or home-made)
Thousand Island Dressing, bought or home-made (see below)
Butter
To serve:
Dill pickles
Radishes
Potato crisps/chips

Make sandwiches using rye bread spread with Thousand Island Dressing, filled with generous amounts of corned beef or pastrami, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, then topped with a second slice of bread.

Butter the outsides of both slices of bread and cook in a sandwich press until nicely toasted. You can also cook them in a frying pan, with a weight to flatten them down a bit, but a sandwich press is the best solution and a worthwhile investment if you’re a fan of toasted sandwiches.

Cut the sandwiches in half and garnish with dill pickles, radishes and potato crisps.

Thousand Island Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup tomato ketchup
1 slice onion
1 slice red or green capsicum
A few celery leaves or half a stick
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbs parsley
1 hard boiled egg
¼ cup fruit chutney or pickle relish
few drops Tabasco

Place mayonnaise, ketchup and onion in food processor and mix till smooth. Add remaining ingredients and pulse briefly so you end up with a slightly chunky dressing. Keep refrigerated and use within 5 days.

Makes about 2 cups

Maple-Glazed Chicken with Prosciutto

Food writer and restaurant critic Jill Dupleix has been contributing to the Australian food scene for several decades.

This is one of her recipes, slightly adapted. The original version uses a mixture of two tablespoons each of maple syrup, miso and soy sauce to brush onto the chicken before baking. It’s quite a salty mixture and I found I had far too much, so when I made it the second time I used half. I also omitted the garnish of deep fried vermicelli noodles, which I don’t think is necessary. Depending on the size of your prosciutto slices, you will need one or two per serving. You can get away without tying the bundles with kitchen string, but they’re less likely to burst open if you do.

6 large chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
4 spring onions, all the white and most of the green
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
6 or 12 thin slices prosciutto (or rindless streaky bacon)
1 Tbs miso paste
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs maple syrup
To serve:
1 spring onion
Mashed sweet potatoes
A green vegetable such as peas or brussels sprouts

Trim chicken thighs of any excess fatty bits. Place chopped spring onions, garlic and oil in food processor and process until chunky-smooth. Place prosciutto on work surface, slightly overlapping if you’re using two. Place a chicken thigh on top. Spread each one with some of the spring onion mixture, then roll up, placing the join underneath and tie with a piece of kitchen string. Place chicken rolls on a baking tray lined with baking paper. If liked, prepare ahead to this stage and leave in the fridge for up to a few hours.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix miso paste, soy sauce and maple syrup and brush over the rolls. Bake for 25-30 mins or until cooked through. They will take slightly longer if they’ve been in the fridge prior to cooking.

To make the garnish, cut spring onion into 4 cm lengths, then into very thin strips. Place these in a bowl of iced water so they curl. Serve each chicken roll on a nest of mashed sweet potatoes, either whoile or sliced, garnished with the spring onion curls and green peas.

Serves 6

Salted Caramel Pots de Creme

As we were about to fly out of Los Angeles I was browsing through cookbooks in the airport bookshop and came across one published by a restaurant in LA called Gjelina. Some of the recipes made my mouth water, so a visit to this restaurant is definitely on the “to do” list for next time.

Salted Caramel (or Butterscotch) Pots de Crème is one of Gjelina’s signature dishes and everyone says they’re to die for. As with all good recipes, word has got around and there are now several different versions online. Before attempting to make them I read through several variations, as well as numerous comments from readers who had tried them. The variations included different amounts of egg yolks and cream, how long to cook the desserts to ensure they set and whether to serve them with whipped cream or crème fraîche. Our verdict is that they are nice with either, so it’s up to you.

This dessert is sweet and sinful but OMG it’s good.

75g butter
½ cup brown sugar
600ml cream
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 egg yolks
Caramel:
½ cup sugar
6 Tbs water
To serve:
Whipped cream or Crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Maldon salt flakes

Preheat oven to 165°C. Melt butter and brown sugar then let it bubble over moderate heat for 3-4 minutes. Swirl pan occasionally and watch it doesn’t burn. Whisk in the cream slowly with a balloon (hand) whisk. Return to the boil, stirring then add the salt and vanilla. Whisk egg yolks in a mixing bowl then pour in the hot cream mixture, whisking all the time. Strain through a sieve and pour into 6 small ramekins or coffee cups.

Place ramekins in a baking dish or pan and pour boiling water to come halfway up. Cover with foil then bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until set but still slightly wobbly. Cool then refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight, covered.

Caramel: Place sugar and water in a pan and heat until dissolved. Cook over moderate heat, swirling the pan from time to time, until whisky-coloured. Pour a little caramel on top of each dessert, tipping so it covers. The caramel will set hard and you need to serve the desserts soon afterwards. If you do this stage ahead of time and put the desserts back in the fridge the caramel may become chewy. Actually it’s quite nice but much harder to eat chewy toffee than hard caramel in polite company! So I suggest you add the caramel topping close to serving time..

Serve the pots de crème with whipped cream or crème fraîche or sour cream and a few flakes of Maldon salt flakes.

Serves 6

Individual Black Forest Trifles

In 1915 Josef Keller, pastry chef at the Café Ahrend in Bad Godesberg in south-west Germany, invented the Black Forest Cake, using a local liqueur made with sour cherries to produce a distinctive flavour. His winning combination of chocolate and cherries went on to become famous around the world.

Here I’ve used the same ingredients to make a quick and easy dessert, layered in a glass. For an authentic flavour it’s worth investing in a bottle of cherry brandy, but a dash of ordinary brandy or your favourite liqueur will do.

I wanted to decorate each trifle with a fresh cherry, but tried three supermarkets and there wasn’t a fresh cherry to be had, it being mid-winter here.

You can also make this trifle in one large glass dish.

Chocolate cake (bought or homemade)
Cherry jam (I used Hero’s Black Cherry)
Preserved cherries in a can or jar (I used a 680g jar of Aldi’s pitted Morellos)
2 heaped tsp arrowroot
Cherry brandy or brandy (optional)
Chocolate Ganache:
350ml cream
50ml milk
200g dark chocolate (I used Cadbury’s Old Gold 70%)
To decorate:
250ml cream, extra
Fresh cherries
Grated chocolate

Slice cake horizontally and fill with a generous layer of cherry jam, then stick the two halves back together. You will need a third to half a jar of jam. Cut slices or chunks of cake and arrange a piece in 8 glass tumblers. If liked, drizzle each with a tablespoonful or two of cherry brandy or brandy.

Place cherries in a saucepan with most of the juice and heat to boiling point. Mix arrowroot with the rest of the juice until smooth, then add this to the cherries and cook, stirring, until thickened. Spoon cherries over the chocolate cake.

Place cream and milk in a small saucepan. Add chocolate, broken into squares, then heat to boiling point, stirring until chocolate has completely dissolved. Spoon chocolate ganache over the cherries and shake glass to spread evenly. Desserts can be made ahead to this point and kept in the fridge, covered, for several hours or overnight.

Whip extra cream until soft peaks form, then place a large dollop on each trifle. Decorate with a fresh cherry on its stalk (if available) and some grated chocolate.

Serves 8

Variations: Use fresh pitted cherries, stewed with a little sugar, in season. Use milk chocolate instead of dark. Use a different red fruit jam. Arrowroot is available in the cake ingredients section of the supermarket.

Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Orange and Garlic

Learning a language is hard work and keeping it going can be a challenge.  As the saying goes – if you don’t use it you lose it. I started French at school in the UK when I was 11 and have managed to keep it going, helped by 3 years in Geneva in the early 70s and 4 years in Paris in the late 90s, ever since.

In Canberra I belong to a group called Accueil which meets once a month to speak French over lunch. We take it in turns to host and everyone brings a sweet or savoury dish. This inevitably results in a spectacular spread.

Last month Gabrielle brought a delicious sweet potato dish from one of my favourite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi. Since then I’ve made the recipe three times – the first time with sweet potatoes, the second time with carrots from the garden and the third time with a mixture of the two. They were all delicious.

A bottle of Angostura Bitters has been sitting in our drinks cabinet for years. Apart from an occasional dash in a gin and tonic or a splash on top of a pisco sour it rarely sees the light of day. It’s probably been there for a decade, but having made this dish three times I had to buy another bottle. Any good liquor store should stock it.

Ottolenghi serves the sweet potatoes sprinkled with goat’s cheese, but I think it’s perfectly nice without.

1½ cups orange juice (preferably fresh)
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
¼ cup Angostura bitters
2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
4-6 sweet potatoes
2 small red chillies (optional)
3 sprigs sage
10 sprigs thyme
2 heads garlic, unpeeled, cut in two horizontally
100g goat’s cheese (optional)
Fresh herbs to garnish

Place orange juice, brown sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then boil steadily for about 20 minutes or until reduced to one cup. Add Angostura Bitters, oil and salt.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into thick wedges – see photo. Place in a bowl with the chillies, herbs and garlic. Pour in the orange juice mixture and mix well to coat, then spread out over a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper if liked, to make the washing up a bit easier.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, turning the vegetables every 15 minutes or so. The sweet potatoes should be nicely glazed all over when done, so if they are looking a bit dry add a dash more orange juice or water to the pan.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with goat’s cheese if using and garnished with some fresh herbs.

Serves 6

 

Salmon Tartare with Orange and Passionfruit

This starter, adapted from a recipe I found for smoked salmon, is delicious and light. If you’re a fan of sushi you won’t be put off by the idea of eating uncooked salmon. It really doesn’t taste raw, but you could always use smoked salmon or Gravlax instead of the raw fish.

The flavour combination of salmon, orange and passionfruit is a winner.

About 750g fresh salmon or salmon trout
2 cups fresh or bottled orange juice
1 tsp honey
Pulp from 4-5 passionfruit
2-3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh dill
Pink Peppercorns

Remove skin then cut salmon into small bite-sized pieces. Refrigerate while you make the sauce. Sieve the orange juice to remove any pulp. You will need 2 cups after sieving. Place in a saucepan and boil to reduce to about two thirds of a cup. Place in a jam jar with the honey, passionfruit pulp, oil and seasonings and shake well. Adjust the amount of passionfruit pulp and oil to taste.

Mix half the dressing with the salmon then divide among the plates in a pile in the middle. Spoon additional dressing over and around the salmon then garnish with the dill and pink peppercorns. You may not need all the dressing.

Serves 6

Variation: to make a more substantial dish add some diced avocado and serve on a bed of lettuce or rocket leaves.

Note: so-called pink peppercorns are not peppercorns at all. They have a very special, slightly perfumed flavour and can be found in specialty cook shops such as The Essential Ingredient. They go well with any salmon dish.

Pasta with Prawns and Capsicum

This recipe is adapted from one by Matteo Zamboni, who owns a restaurant in Sydney called Zambo. The recipe uses yabbies, a freshwater crustacean found in some parts of Australia. They’re not easy to buy in Canberra, so I used prawns instead. Zamboni uses Casarecce pasta, a shape I had never bought before, so I decided to try it and it was delicious. Use any shaped pasta that takes your fancy.

What makes this recipe special is the stock, made from the heads and tails of the prawns. It uses the same idea as this recipe for Prawn Bisque which I have been making for years. The heads and tails of prawns are packed with flavour, so why throw them away? It’s a little more time-consuming than most pasta dishes, but worth it.

400g Casarecce pasta (or another shape)
500g large green (raw) prawns
1 large red capsicum, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, halved
2 or 3 tomatoes, chopped
Handful of parsley
2 Tbs toasted skinned hazelnuts, roughly chopped (or toasted pine nuts)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 Tbs olive oil
4 Tbs brandy
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel prawns and cut them into two or three pieces. Keep prawn heads and shells. Heat 2 Tbs of the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two then add the tomatoes, prawn shells (not the actual prawns) and the stalks from the parsley. Cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes, then add the brandy and set alight. Finely chop the parsley leaves and keep aside.

Add a little salt and just enough water to cover the prawn shells, then simmer gently for half an hour. While the stock is cooking, press down on the solids from time to time with a potato masher in order to extract as much flavour as possible from the prawn heads. Leave to cool a bit.

Pour stock through a sieve, pushing down on the solids to get all the juices. Cook pasta according to packet directions in boiling salted water. In a frying pan heat the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil and cook the red capsicum, stirring, until softened. Add the prawn meat and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes.

When pasta is cooked, drain it then put it back in the pan with the capsicum and prawns and the prawn stock. Heat, stirring, until the stock has mostly evaporated. Add the chopped parsley and lemon zest and season to taste.

Serve pasta topped with the toasted hazelnuts and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Serves 4