Pumpkin Soup with Caramelised Pumpkin Seeds

It’s often the garnishes which make Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes unique. This soup, with it’s unusual crunchy topping of caramelised pumpkin seeds, is no exception.

They can be used to garnish any soup and are a delicious addition to salads, so you might like to double or triple the recipe. They keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ottolenghi cooks the seeds in the oven, but I prefer to use a frying pan where I think you have more control. I have a bad track record of burning nuts and seeds in the oven.

You need about 750g of vegetables which can be all pumpkin, all carrot, or a combination of the two.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
550g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 tsp saffron fronds or a pinch of saffron powder
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tsp grated orange zest
6 Tbs sour cream or crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
60g pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs maple syrup or honey
½ Tbs soft brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Put the pumpkin seeds into a non-stick frying pan with the other ingredients. Stir over moderate heat for a few minutes, or until starting to colour. Cool. If they stick together it doesn’t matter as you can break them apart when serving.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion then cook over high heat for a minute or so, stirring all the time. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, but not very dark. Add the pumpkin, carrot, saffron, stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until pumpkin and carrots are almost tender. Add the orange zest and simmer for five minutes longer. When vegetables are thoroughly cooked, blitz the soup in a food processor or blender, or with a stick blender. Add extra water or stock if it is too thick. Season to taste.

Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the caramelised seeds.

Serves 4

Vegetarian Paella

I was inspired to have a go at making this delicious Vegetarian Paella after lunching with friends at Muse Cafe, located at the East Hotel in Canberra. When you’ve eaten something in a restaurant, but don’t actually have the recipe, you have to use a certain amount of guesswork, but the end result was delicious.

Muse calls this dish Calasparra Paella – calasparra being a variety of rice especially suited to making paella. It’s not sold in any of my local supermarkets, but if you look online you can find a couple of specialty grocers who sell it.

Arborio rice is a good substitute, but you need to use less liquid and stir it less, so it doesn’t go creamy and start to break down. Calasparra needs three times the volume of liquid to rice, whereas Arborio only needs about twice the volume.

As you can see in this photo, I roasted the tomatoes with the other vegetables. They ended up a bit overcooked, which is why I have amended the recipe to add them halfway through the cooking time. I also roasted the beans and asparagus with the other vegetables, which unfortunately meant they lost their vibrant green colour. So again I have amended the recipe to cook the green veggies in water rather than in the oven. Either way works, it’s just about the colour.

1½ cups Arborio rice (or Calasparra)
3 cups vegetable stock (4½ cups if using Calasparra)
2-3 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron threads or powder
Knob of butter (optional)
About 12 cherry tomatoes
About 6-8 asparagus spears
About 12 green beans
1 onion
1 small red capsicum
1 small sweet potato
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
To serve:
2 avocados cut into cubes
Micro herbs or any small fresh leaves (basil, marjoram etc)
4 Lime wedges
Extra Virgin Olive oil

Heat half the olive oil in a heavy-based large saucepan, add the rice and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the stock, letting it be absorbed before adding more. Stir from time to time, but not too often or too vigorously. You may need slightly more or less stock as rice varies. When al dente add the saffron, chilli flakes and salt and pepper to taste. If liked, add a knob of butter, then cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile roast the vegetables. Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut the onion, sweet potato and capsicum into 1-1.5cm squares and place in a bowl with the rest of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well then spread out on a shallow oven tray lined with baking paper. Bake for about half an hour, or until cooked. Halfway through cooking time give them a stir around and add the tomatoes. Meanwhile cut the asparagus and beans into 1.5cm lengths and cook in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes then drain and refresh under cold water.

Mix all the vegetables into rice and arrange on 4 serving plates, using a large stacking ring if you have one. Garnish with avocado, herbs, olive oil and lime wedges.

Serves 4

Note: I made a large main course sized stacking ring by cutting the top and bottom off a large can of tuna with a can opener. Place in the middle a dinner plate. Fill with the paella and press down the top, garnish with avocado and herbs, then lift off carefully and serve.

Variations: use eggplant, zucchini or peas instead of one of the vegetables.

Roasted Beetroot with Avocado

At this time of year we have lots of vegetables in the garden, including tomatoes, zucchini, beetroot and basil. So Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes, with their strong bias towards veggies, are perfect.

We’ve been eating so many of his amazing recipes lately that Matthew says he wouldn’t be surprised to walk into the kitchen and find the man himself.

This week I made his Roasted Beetroot with Yoghurt and Preserved Lemon which I served for lunch with avocado. We sat in the garden under the olive tree sipping a glass of chilled white wine and enjoying this delicious, not to mention healthy, combination.

If you don’t have any preserved lemon, just leave it out or add some grated lemon rind. I used fresh marjoram instead of dill, but you could also use fresh basil or chives.

1 kg beetroot
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small preserved lemon, chopped, seeds discarded
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs chopped fresh dill (or use marjoram, basil or chives)
1 Tbs Tahini
¾ cup Greek style plain yoghurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ripe avocados

Preheat oven to 200°C. Wash and dry beetroots, but leave skin on. Wrap each one in foil then bake for about an hour or until tender. Test with a sharp knife or skewer. When cool enough to handle, peel and slice into a large mixing bowl.

Heat olive oil and cumin seeds for a few minutes in a small frying pan, until seeds start to pop, then tip over the beetroot. Add the onion, preserved lemon, lemon juice, half the herbs and season to taste. Mix well then transfer to a shallow serving dish.

Mix the Tahini into the yoghurt then put blobs all over the top. Peel and dice the avocados and arrange around the edge of the plate. Garnish with the rest of the herbs.

Serves 4

Fig and Ginger Jam

While figs are in season, don’t forget to make some jam. We like ours with the addition of fresh ginger, but if preferred leave it out. You can use green figs or purple figs.

This jam is delicious on crusty bread or toast, or dolloped on plain Greek yoghurt. It also goes well on canapes with a chunk of creamy blue cheese, or as an addition to a cheese board.

1 kg fresh ripe figs
4 Tbs lemon juice
Grated zest of one lemon
2 heaped Tbs grated fresh ginger, or to taste
½ cup water
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 cups sugar

Chop figs into quarters or eighths, discarding the stems. Place in a preserving pan or heavy-bottomed large saucepan. Add the lemon juice and rind, the ginger, water and cinnamon stick. Cook gently for 20 minutes or until figs are tender Add the sugar, boil until setting point has been reached, remove cinnamon then tip into hot sterilized jars. Seal while hot and store in a dark cupboard.

Makes 4 small jars

Baked Figs with Prosciutto and Goat’s Cheese

Fresh figs are in season for a very short time, but now is the time, if you live in Australia.

One of my favourite ways to serve fresh figs is with smoked salmon. It may sound like a strange combination, but give it a try – I think it’s delicious. Another favourite recipe is this one where they are wrapped in Prosciutto, stuffed with goat’s cheese and then baked. The recipe serves two as a light lunch but is easy to multiply.

4 fresh figs
2 slices Prosciutto or Jamon Serrano
40-50g goat’s cheese
1 tsp balsamic glaze or vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Rocket
Chopped walnuts
Simple oil and vinegar dressing
Balsamic glaze

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Remove stalks from figs then cut a cross on the tops. Squeeze gently from the bottom to open them up a bit. Cut each slice of ham in two lengthwise so you have 4 long strips. Wrap one around each fig, secure with a toothpick, then place in a small shallow baking dish. Stuff the cheese into the tops of the figs.

Mix the balsamic, oil and honey and drizzle over. Season with S and P then bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a rocket salad with some walnuts added and a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Garnish the plate with balsamic glaze.

Serves 2

Variations: use a creamy blue cheese instead of goat’s cheese

Pickled Eggs

When I was growing up in England, pickled eggs were a popular snack in local pubs. I remember seeing them on the bar in huge jars. Along with meat pies, Cornish pasties and sausage rolls, they go down well with beer. I can’t remember if I ever tried one back then.

An old family recipe for 3 dozen eggs was sent to me by brother David who lives in Vancouver. Actually it came to me via my sister who lives in the UK. Thirty-six eggs seemed like a lot, so I decided to divide the ingredients by three and pickle 12. Traditional British recipes use malt vinegar and a little treacle so the eggs gradually take on a blackish hue. David says any vinegar will work, so I used balsamic. A bit upmarket for your average British pub – I don’t think anybody had heard of balsamic vinegar when I was growing up.

I buy large 865g jars of Maille Dijon mustard from Costco and found that twelve eggs fit perfectly in one of those jars. Our verdict? They’re a bit of an acquired taste but a good addition to a ploughman’s type lunch.

 

12 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
125ml balsamic vinegar or malt vinegar
¾ tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbs pickling spice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp black treacle
1/3 tsp salt
Extra balsamic vinegar

Place the eggs in a jar with a lid that they fit into snuggly. Place remaining ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 3-5 mins. Pour over the eggs. Add extra vinegar to cover completely. Close the jar and invert to mix well. Keep for about a month before using.

 

Chocolate Ganache with Hazelnut Spice Mix, Crème Fraîche and Orange Oil

I recently made this dessert from one of my favourite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. The flavour combination of chocolate, nutty spice mix, slightly sweetened crème fraîche and orange oil is amazing. But Ottolenghi says to bake the chocolate ganache and although I only baked mine for 8 minutes it was rather dry. And I don’t think you need the eggs or the sugar in the ganache.

So the second time I made my usual chocolate ganache (which unlike YO’s doesn’t contain eggs, uses cream instead of butter and doesn’t contain any sugar) and I didn’t bake it. You could still plate it as above but I served it in little tea light glasses with the crème fraîche, nutty spice mix and a drizzle of orange oil on top, as you can see in the second photo. I doubled the orange oil as there wasn’t enough the first time.

 

Chocolate Ganache:
250g dark chocolate (70-80% cocoa solids)
300ml thick or whipping cream
Creme Fraiche:
300g crème fraîche or sour cream
2½ tsp sifted icing sugar
Hazelnut Spice Mix:
2 tsp coriander seeds
¾ tsp black peppercorns
1 small cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise
8 cardamom pods
¾ tsp caster sugar
2 Tbs hazelnuts
Orange Oil:
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2-3 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Maldon salt flakes

Ganache: heat cream to boiling point in a saucepan. Add chocolate broken into squares, remove from the heat and allow chocolate to melt. Stir till smooth then scrape into a shallow bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Hazelnut Spice Mix: place all ingredients except sugar in a frying pan and stir for 2-3 mins until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind until fairly fine. Mix in the sugar.

Orange Oil: place both ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake.

Just before serving mix icing sugar and crème fraîche or sour cream. Don’t do this ahead of time as the sugar can make the cream go runny.

Check the chocolate ganache and if it’s rock hard remove it from the fridge a couple of hours before serving.

Arrange some hazelnut spice mix on 8 plates. Scoop a heaped tablespoon size portion of the chocolate ganache onto each plate, using a spoon dipped in hot water and re-dipping each time. Garnish with the crème fraîche and orange oil. Finish with a tiny pinch of salt flakes.

Alternative way to serve: pour chocolate ganache into 8-10 small shot glasses or tea light glasses and refrigerate. Serve topped with a dollop of cream, a sprinkle of the hazelnut spice mix and a drizzle of the orange oil. Finish with the salt flakes.

Serves 8

Rick Stein’s Vietnamese Duck Braised in Spiced Orange Juice

We watched Rick Stein make this dish on a TV cooking show recently. He described it as a Vietnamese take on Duck à L’Orange and said it was easy to make and delicious.  Matthew is not a big fan of duck, but I am, so he felt magnanimous in suggesting we make it.

The recipe calls for a 2.5kg duck but I bought a frozen one from Aldi for $14.99 which was 2.2kg. I also bought a bottle of orange juice with pulp from the same place.

The recipe says to cut the duck into six portions, but you can only get 4 decent portions from a whole duck – two breasts and two Marylands (leg and thigh). I used the wings as well, so I did have six portions, but there’s not much meat on them. A better solution, especially if you’re entertaining and want six decent portions, is to buy six duck portions. If you use a whole duck, remove the portions, then use the carcass to make stock for another meal.

I was left with more than a cup of duck fat which I poured through a sieve into a jam jar and put in the fridge. There’s nothing quite like potatoes roasted in duck fat – see last week’s recipe.

1 Duck weighing between 2 and 2.5kg
Or 6 duck portions
1 Tbs crushed garlic
2 Tbs peeled and chopped or thinly sliced ginger
1 litre orange juice
4 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs sugar
5 whole star anise
4 bird’s eye red chillies
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
½ tsp cornflour

Remove the breasts, legs and wings from the duck so you have four decent portions plus the wings. Heat a large heavy-based frying pan over medium to high heat. Cook the duck skin side down for 5 to 6 minutes until skin is crisp, then on the other side for 2-3 minutes, or until all the fat has rendered off. Once cooked, place in a deep saucepan and set aside.

Pour all but 2 tbsp of the duck fat off and keep it (see Note below). Add the garlic and ginger to the frying pan and cook gently till soft, then add to the pan with the duck. Add the orange juice, fish sauce, star anise, chillies, lemongrass and season with black pepper. Simmer gently for 1 hour and 30 mins.

Remove duck and set aside, skim off any excess fat from the sauce then bring to a boil and simmer vigorously until reduced and concentrated in flavour. Mix cornflour with 1 tsp of water, mix into sauce and simmer for a further minute. Recipe can be made ahead to this point.

Put duck portions back into the sauce for a minute or to and heat through. Serve duck with rice and a green vegetable, garnished with the spring onions.

Serves 4 using a whole duck or 6 using portions

Note: After removing the duck portions from the carcass I had quite a few pieces of duck fat or fatty skin. I put them into a frying pan and cooked them gently until most of the fat had been rendered. I added this to the fat obtained when browning the duck portions and poured it through a sieve into a jam jar.

Roast Potatoes with Harissa and Garlic

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of my favourite chefs and this is another of his scrumptious recipes. These spicy potatoes roasted in duck fat with confit garlic have an unbelievable crunch, achieved by adding semolina. The best roast potatoes I’ve ever eaten.

Use Harissa, Sambal Oelek or any chilli paste you have and adjust the amount, according to how spicy you like things. If preferred, use olive oil instead of duck fat.

Don’t be tempted to halve the recipe, they’re too good.

2 large heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
130g duck fat
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2kg roasting potatoes, peeled and cut into 5cm chunks
40g ground semolina
2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and lightly crushed (I used cumin seeds)
1-2 Tbs Harissa (Sambal Oelek or another chilli paste)
2 tsp Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 150°C. Put garlic, duck fat and herbs in a small ovenproof casserole with a lid. Cover and roast for 40 minutes, until garlic is caramelised and soft. Remove from the oven and strain fat into a large heatproof bowl. Put garlic and herbs aside.

Increase oven temperature to 200°C Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add potatoes and parboil for 10 minutes, until half-cooked. Drain into a colander, shaking the potatoes to fluff up the edges, then leave to dry for 10 minutes.

Mix potatoes, semolina, caraway or cumin seeds, harissa and two teaspoons of Maldon salt into the bowl of reserved fat, then spread out on a large oven tray. Roast for 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until golden-brown, then stir in the confit garlic and herbs and roast for 10-15 minutes more, until potatoes are dark golden-brown and crisp. Serve hot, sprinkled with some extra salt.

Serves 6-8

What to Eat in the Heat

The only place to be during a heatwave is inside, with the air conditioning going full blast.

While most people don’t feel as hungry when the weather’s stinking hot, you still have to eat. But who wants to turn on the oven or the hotplates with the temperature soaring over 40°, as it is in Canberra this week?

Here are a few ideas for delicious sustenance which involve minimum effort and no cooking.

Gazpacho is one of the ways they cope with hot weather in Spain. This is a cheat’s version which is made in a jiffy.

Or try this unusual Chilled Almond Soup which also comes from Spain and involves no cooking.

Buy a couple of salmon fillets (boned and skinned) and make Gravlax which “cooks” in the fridge and is absolutely delicious served with sweet mustard sauce, dark brown bread or blinis. I buy my salmon at Costco because you can be 100% sure no bones have been left. Once made you can cut each salmon fillet into 2 or 3 pieces and freeze what you’re not using immediately.

Splurge on some lobster tails and make this divine Lobster, Mango and Avocado salad to enjoy with a glass of Riesling as the sun goes down.

I grew up in England where it never gets as hot as it does in Australia. Summer Pudding is the dessert they make in the height of the UK summer, when the berries are all in season. One of my all time favourites.

And while they’re in season and cheap why not make Mangoes in Ginger Wine. The perfect way to finish dinner on a hot summer’s evening.

If you’re still looking for inspiration for dessert have a look at this article Seven Quick Desserts where you’ll find several ideas, including Blueberry Parfaits which can be put together quickly from ingredients bought at the supermarket. Instead of blueberries, try using raspberries or strawberries.

Time to go back to my book and crank the aircon up another notch.