Italian Mince Pies with Panna Cotta & Berry Compote

When I’m looking for inspiration I browse through old cook books. I have quite a few, including some by Robert Carrier.

Born in the USA in 1923, Carrier’s success came in England, where he worked for most of his life as a chef, restaurateur and food writer. The Jamie Oliver of the 70s and 80s, Carrier tried to persuade the British public there was more to life than meat and three veg. He retired to France where he died in 2006.

Carrier said he acquired the recipe for Mezzorgiorno (which I have shortened to “Italian”) Mince Pies served with Panna Cotta and Berry Compote from The Don Camillo restaurant in Provence. It may seem like a complicated recipe, but most of the work is done by the food processor and you can spread it over three days. Make the pastry and filling for the pies on day one. Next day make the panna cottas, the compote and the pies. Refrigerate them covered, but uncooked. On the third day brush with egg and bake an hour or so before serving.

The pastry is not easy to roll out and you may find yourself using quite a bit of flour to stop it from sticking, especially on a hot day. Unfortunately too much flour makes pastry tough, so if you’re having difficulty try rolling it out between two sheets of baking paper. You could always substitute home-made or bought shortcrust or puff pastry.

Mr Carrier said to cut the pastry into 8cm squares, but I found this made the pies too big – 6 to 7cm is a better size. The original filling included brown sugar in addition to the honey, but the mixture is sweet enough with all that dried fruit and chocolate, so I left it out.

Panna cotta – which means cooked cream – is delicious served with just the compote. And the pies are nice served on their own as a change to traditional mince pies at Christmas. But all put together they make an unusual dessert.

Italian Mince Pies

Italian Mince Pies with Panna Cotta & Berry CompotePastry:
½ cup caster sugar
150g unsalted butter at room temp
1 Tbs cinnamon
grated rind (zest) 1 lemon
3 eggs
2¾ cups (350g) plain flour
125g good quality dark chocolate
150g dates, pitted
250g dried figs, stems removed (or substitute raisins)
3 Tbs honey
3 Tbs Marsala or port
100g pine nuts, toasted
Grated rind (zest) 1 lemon or orange
½ cup dried sour cherries (I substituted cranberries)
1 egg, beaten
Icing sugar for dusting

Pastry: Place sugar, butter, cinnamon and lemon rind in food processor and process until creamed. Add eggs and when mixed add flour. Process until dough comes together in a ball. Tip out, form into a flat disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or up to 3 days. Can be frozen for several weeks.

Filling: Break chocolate into squares, then pulse in food processor until coarsely chopped. Tip into a bowl. Place dates, figs, honey and Marsala or port in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add to the bowl with remaining ingredients except egg and icing sugar and mix well. Store in a covered container in the fridge. Keeps several weeks.

Assembly: Preheat oven to 170°C. Roll pastry thinly on floured surface and cut into 6 or 7cm squares. You should have enough to make 35-40, but it’s best to make only as many as you can eat on the same day.  Also it’s easier to work with about a quarter of the dough at a time. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling on one side of each square, brush 2 sides with egg and fold over to form a triangle enclosing the filling, pinching well to seal.

Place pies in the cups of lightly oiled muffin trays, which is what gives them their interesting curved shape. If you don’t have muffin trays use flat baking trays.  Brush with egg and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Don’t overcook or they will be dry. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm.

Pies are best eaten the day they are made, still warm from the oven, so it’s best to make just the right amount and store leftover pastry and filling for another time. While leftover cooked pies can be reheated next day, they are not as nice as on day one.

Vanilla Pana Cottas

4 Tbs water
3 tsp powdered gelatine
750ml cream
250ml milk
4-5 Tbs caster sugar, to taste
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla essence

Place water in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatine on top then zap in microwave to dissolve. Heat cream, milk, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan to boiling point, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add gelatine, mix well, cool a bit then divide among 10 half cup moulds. Refrigerate, covered, overnight. To serve, tip briefly in hot water, run a thin knife around the edge and tip out. Serve with Berry Compote and one or two Italian Mince Pies.

Serves 10

Berry Compote

750g – 1 kg fresh or frozen berries (one or more of the following: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, stoned cherries)
1 Tbs lemon juice
¼ cup cherry brandy, Kirsch or other liqueur (optional)
¼ cup sugar, or to taste

Slice or halve strawberries. Place all ingredients in a bowl and allow to macerate for several hours or overnight, stirring from time to time.

Serves 10

Berry Meringue Ice Cream Slice

Not everyone likes Christmas pudding, so I like to serve two desserts on Christmas day, so people can choose. This Bill Granger recipe for an easy ice cream slice full of berries and chunks of meringue appeared in the December issue of Delicious. We have raspberries in the garden at the moment, so it was perfect.

Some people, who shall remain nameless, had both the Christmas pudding and the ice cream slice. They blamed this indulgence on me saying it was too hard to choose.

Berry and Meringue Ice Cream Slice

350g berries (I used raspberries)
600ml thickened cream or whipping cream
2 Tbs icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
50g bought meringues broken into chunks
To serve:
Runny honey and extra berries (I used a mix of raspberries and halved strawberries)

Grease a 1.5L loaf pan and line with plastic wrap or use a silicone pan which doesn’t need to be lined. Drop some berries into the loaf pan – these will be the top of the slice. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla to soft peaks then fold in berries and meringue. Pour into pan, shake to remove any air bubbles, and smooth top. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 3 hours or overnight.

Remove from freezer 20 minutes before serving. Tip out and garnish with extra berries, drizzle with honey and cut into slices to serve.

Serves 8-10

Note: frozen raspberries are fine for the ice cream, but if you can get them fresh ones are best for the garnish. Mango and passionfruit could be used instead of berries.

Veal Terrine with Cherry Sauce

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will know that I get a lot out of a subscription to Delicious magazine which was given to me as a gift. I am usually inspired to make several dishes each month and have yet to be disappointed.

This recipe for veal terrine is quick and easy to make. Cherries are in season and we had some sitting in a dish in the kitchen as I read this recipe. Their fate was thus sealed. I didn’t have any pistachios so substituted macadamia nuts. Pistachios being green would have looked more attractive, but the crunch of the macadamias was great. It’s one of the nicest terrines I have ever eaten and the sauce really makes it. As you can see from the photo, I didn’t quite get the chicken layer in the middle!

Enough pancetta, streaky bacon or proscuitto to line terrine
1 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp thyme leaves
750g pork and veal mince (you could substitute chicken, pork or turkey mince)
1 egg
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup pistachio kernels
1 cup pitted cherries
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 chicken breast cut into slices

Cherry Sauce:
1 cup pitted cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
finely grated zest and juice 1 orange
⅓ cup sugar
1 cinnamon quill
¼ cup Marsala, port or other fortified wine

Preheat oven to 170°C. Line a 1.5L terrine or silicone loaf pan with pancetta or bacon, leaving enough overhang to fold over the top. The original recipe calls for 20 slices of pancetta. I used about 8 slices streaky bacon and didn’t bother with the overhang.

Heat oil in frying pan and cook onion, garlic and thyme for 3-4 mins, stirring, over medium-low heat until soft. Place mince, egg, pistachios and cherries in a bowl. Add onion, season well and mix thoroughly.

Press half the mixture into terrine and arrange chicken slices down the centre. Pack with remaining mixture and fold excess pancetta or bacon over the top. Cover with foil and place in a deep roasting pan. Add boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the terrine. Bake for our hour, cool to room temperature. Place terrine on a tray, cut a piece of cardboard to fit top, weigh down with cans and chill overnight.

Place all ingredients for sauce in a pan and simmer for 15 minutes or until thickened. Cool. Turn out terrine. Slice and serve with the cherry sauce.

Serves 8

Variation: when cherries are out of season use canned ones or leave them out, increase the veal mince to 850g and use 2 cups of dried cranberries in the sauce.

Pineapple Chutney

This chutney is adapted from a recipe in this month’s Delicious magazine. It’s very quick to make and great to have around at Christmas or to give to friends as a gift. The original recipe didn’t have any chilli, so just leave it out if you’re not into spicy food.

1 x 825g can pineapple in natural juice or light syrup (or 2 smaller cans)
4 Tbs Hoisin sauce
3 Tbs honey
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 star anise
2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 Tbs crushed chilli (buy it in a jar or process some fresh ones)

In some countries you can buy crushed pineapple, but if yours is in slices or rings, place in food processor and chop finely.  Place in a large heavy-bottomed pan with remaining ingredients. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly, or until thickened and looking a bit sticky around the edges. Discard star anise. Place a few small jam jars without their lids in microwave and “cook” for a minute or two. This will heat and sterilize them. Fill with chutney and seal while hot. Serve with cold ham, pork, turkey, duck or chicken.  Will keep for several months. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes about 4 cups

Note: if you prefer the chutney to be yellow in colour use white soy sauce, sugar instead of  honey and omit the hoisin sauce.