Millefoglie di Melanzane

We recently spent a week in Sicily where we hired a car and drove from Palermo to Patti, Taormina, Syracuse and back to Palermo. We spent a couple of days in each of these cities, soaking up the history and visiting some amazing churches and ancient monuments in the area. I won’t go into details of where to stay and what to do – there’s plenty of information on Trip Advisor and we found most of our accommodation on Airbnb.

Lots of windy roads and a few crazy drivers made the driving something of a challenge. The weather was considerably hotter than we had expected for mid-September, so we avoided sight-seeing in the middle of the day. Nonetheless we had a great time and would definitely recommend a trip to this part of Italy.

On the whole, the food in Sicily is good, especially if you’re a fan of pizzas and pasta. Finding good places to eat other dishes was more of a challenge. Everything we ordered which involved eggplants (aubergines) was delicious – stuffed eggplant, capponata (an Italian version of ratatouille with eggplant as the main ingredient) and eggplant fritters to name a few.

Our favourite city was Syracuse, especially the old city located on the island of Ortigia. Our favourite restaurant in Syracuse was Notre Dame where we ate outside enjoying the balmy evening weather. This bistro is run by an enthusiastic young couple and serves an interesting menu including this delectable Millefoglie di Melanzane – a layered Eggplant Terrine. It was so good we went back twice and on the second occasion the chef gave me the recipe.

Millefoglie di Melanzane

Canola or a mild-flavoured olive oil
2 large eggplants or 3 smaller ones
400g red capsicum (peppers)
2 eggs
2 sheets gelatine, soaked in water or 3 tsp powdered gelatine
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut capsicum into quarters and remove stalks and seeds. Cook in boiling, salted water for 15-20 mins or until soft. While still hot place them in a food processor with the eggs, gelatine, salt and pepper and process until smooth.

Meanwhile slice eggplants thinly lengthwise, discarding the first cut which is just skin. Heat some oil in a large frying pan and fry the eggplant slices, about 3 at a time, until golden brown and cooked on both sides. Add more oil as required. Drain on paper towels.

Choose a silicone loaf pan which doesn’t need to be lined, or line a metal one with non-stick baking paper. Starting and ending with a layer of eggplant slices, layer the eggplant and red capsicum puree in the loaf pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Using a serrated knife, cut terrine into 4-6 thick slices and serve with some lightly dressed rocket leaves.

Serves 4-6

Salade Lyonnaise à la Madeleine

When we lived in Pretoria in the late 1980s we found a fabulous French restaurant called La Madeleine. There was no written menu so Belgian chef-owner Daniel Leusch would come to each table and explain what was available that day. His Lyonnaise Salad was introduced in the following way.

“And today, for starters, we ‘ave a leetle salade, wif a warm poshed egg, garneeshed wif some leetle crispy lardons, some freshly made croutons and ‘ollandaise sauce. Or, we ‘ave…..”

And so he would go on until he had described everything and we were left, drooling, to make decisions.

It’s twenty-five years since we left Pretoria but La Madeleine is still going strong, with Daniel and his wife Karine’s daughter Anne in charge of the kitchen. Since then my version of Daniel’s Salade Lyonnaise has become one of my favourite lunches. But you do have to be in the kitchen at the last minute, so I usually only make it for two, maximum four people. If you don’t have time to make Hollandaise Sauce substitute mayonnaise, preferably home-made. For hungry people serve two eggs instead of one.

As it’s one of the signature dishes of the French city of Lyon I ordered this salad in three different bistros while we were staying there a couple of years ago. What a disappointment! Soggy bacon or croutons, over-cooked eggs and indifferent salad greens meant that none of them lived up to their reputation. Take me back to Pretoria any time!

Salade Lyonnaise à la Madeleine4-6 cups mixed small salad leaves
2 slices bread (preferably something rustic like sourdough)
Olive oil
100g smoked bacon in one piece (called speck in Australia)
2 eggs
Salad dressing:
1 cup mild vegetable oil (e.g. Canola)
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs honey (optional, or use less)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
Quick Hollandaise Sauce:
50g butter
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs cream
1 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For Hollandaise sauce place butter in a small bowl and microwave for 30 secs. With a small hand whisk, beat in yolks, then cream and lemon juice. Microwave for 45 secs, stopping to beat every 10-15 secs. This is important to avoid scrambling the eggs! Season then cover and keep warm by standing the bowl in a larger bowl containing hot water.

Brush both sides of bread with olive oil, cut into croutons then either bake in a hot oven on a tray lined with baking paper for 5-10 mins or fry in a non-stick frying pan until golden and crunchy.

Meanwhile poach eggs until done – whites firm, yolks still soft. While they are cooking, prepare the lardons – cut bacon into thick slices, then into little chunks. Fry in a non-stick frying pan with a tiny bit of oil and drain on paper towels.

Place all ingredients for the salad dressing in a screw top jar and shake vigorously. Mix salad greens with some dressing (see note below) and divide between 2 plates. Place a poached egg in the centre and spoon some Hollandaise sauce over. Sprinkle the croutons and lardons around the egg.

Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch

Note: Any unused French dressing will keep for up to a month in the fridge so I often make double or triple the recipe. Don’t crush the garlic, just cut it in half, so the flavour isn’t overpowering. The French wouldn’t put honey in their dressing (I love it especially as I keep my own bees!) so if you want to be authentic leave it out.

Carrot Pancakes

These vegetarian pancakes make a tasty, light and healthy meal for two. Serve with sour cream or thick Greek yoghurt and ring the changes by using other vegetables instead of carrot, such as finely chopped cauliflower, broccoli, red capsicum or corn – either fresh, tinned or frozen.

Carrot Pancakes2 eggs
1 large or two smaller carrots, grated
½ cup chopped spring onion, leek or onion
1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup besan (chickpea) flour
½ cup plain yoghurt
1-2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbs oil to fry
To serve:
Sour cream or thick Greek yoghurt
Fresh parsley or coriander
A spicy Indian chutney

Beat eggs then mix in remaining ingredients except oil. Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the pancakes over moderate heat, 2 or 3 at a time, using 3-4 Tbs of mixture for each one. Cook for 3-4 minutes each side over a low to moderate heat so the pancakes are thoroughly cooked in the middle. If the heat is too high they will brown too quickly on the outside and taste doughy in the middle.

Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Serve garnished with yoghurt or sour cream and fresh herbs and a dish of chutney on the side.

Makes 6 pancakes 

Note: besan flour gives a special flavour and texture, but if unavailable use plain flour. If you like things spicy, use a small red chilli, finely diced, instead of a green one.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon & Sour Cream

Over the years I’ve tried lots of recipes for potato cakes, latkes and rostis. Some used whole eggs and plain flour, while others used none of the above. None of them have ever quite hit the mark.

This recipe, based on one from Yotam Ottolenghi, uses egg whites and cornflour and from now on I won’t use any other. He uses a combination of grated potatoes and parsnip, but I used all potatoes and they were delicious. Ottolenghi says to use Desiree potatoes. I used Kipflers from the garden, because that’s what I had, and they worked well.

Serve one potato cake as a starter, or two as a light lunch or supper, perhaps accompanied by a cucumber salad. The potato cakes are best served immediately, but you can make them ahead and reheat them briefly in a hot oven.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon & Sour Cream500-600g peeled potatoes, coarsely grated
2 egg whites
1 rounded Tbs cornflour
1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs snipped chives
40g butter
4 Tbs vegetable oil
To serve:
Smoked Salmon
Sour Cream
Chives

Tip grated potatoes onto a clean tea towel, draw in the sides and squeeze to remove as much moisture as possible. Place potatoes in a bowl with the egg whites, cornflour, salt, pepper and chives and mix well.

Heat half the butter and half the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan. Make three or four potato cakes using about 3 Tbs of mixture for each and about half the mixture. Cook for 2-4 mins each side over medium heat, or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven. Add remaining butter and oil to the pan and make three or four more potato cakes.

Serve potato cakes (one or two per person) topped with smoked salmon, sour cream and a couple of chives.

Makes 6-8 potato cakes

Spanish Tomato and Jamon Salad

This colourful salad is perfect for late summer entertaining, when tomatoes are at their best and you may have some in the garden.

Spanish Tomato and Jamon Salad250g baby tomatoes (preferably some red, some yellow)
4 slices Spanish Jamon or Prosciutto
About 16 black olives, stoned if preferred
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Basil and flat leaf parsley to garnish
Dressing:
1 Tbs sherry or red wine vinegar
2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Halve tomatoes and arrange on one shallow serving dish or 2 individual plates.

Cut jamon slices into about 4 pieces and arrange in between the tomatoes. Scatter with the olives and onion. Shake dressing ingredients in a jar and drizzle over. Garnish with the torn basil and parsley leaves and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 2 as a starter or 4 as a side dish

Variation: add some cubes of Spanish manchego cheese. Or feta or goat’s cheese.

Smoked Salmon with Mango & Avocado

My Swiss friend Esther served this simple but delicious starter for a ladies lunch she hosted. You can use smoked salmon or smoked trout and the recipe is easy to halve for two people. Served with a rocket salad and some crusty bread it’s enough for a light lunch.

Smoked Salmon with Mango & Avocado2 ripe but firm avocados in 1cm dice
1 spring onion (white part and a bit of the green), finely chopped
2 tsp fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
2 ripe but firm mangoes in 1cm dice
1 small red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 slices smoked salmon or trout
To serve:
Lemon or lime wedges
Fresh chives
Extra Virgin olive oil

Arrange four stacking rings on serving plates. Mix avocado with spring onion, coriander and lime or lemon juice. Season to taste then divide among the stacking rings and press down firmly with a spoon. Mix mango with chilli, place on top of the avocado and press down. Top each serving with a slice of smoked salmon or trout. Remove stacking ring then garnish plates with a lemon or lime wedge, a couple of pieces of fresh chive and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4

Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa

One of my foodie friends Karen sent me the link to this recipe for Seductive Little Shrimp Cakes. It comes from a book called Tacolicious by Sara Deseran and was recently reposted by Ruth Reichl. American-style, it calls for shrimp, which you can’t buy in Australia, so I used prawns and made a couple of other small adjustments.

Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa750g cooked prawns (about 375g peeled)
1 egg
Juice of half a lime
1 stick celery
3 spring onions
Handful of parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp celery salt or garlic salt
3 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs juice from a jar of jalapeño chillies
1 cup Panko crumbs + extra (see note below)
Oil for shallow frying
Corn Salsa:
3 cobs corn
2 large tomatoes
1 Lebanese cucumber
½ red onion
1 jalapeño chilli from a jar
Juice half a lime
1 tsp salt

Place peeled prawns in food processor and pulse briefly to chop but still leave some chunky bits. Scrape into a large bowl and mix in the egg and lime juice. Place celery and spring onions – cut into 3cm lengths – in food processor Add parsley and pulse to chop finely. Scrape into the bowl with prawns. Mix in celery or garlic salt, mayonnaise, jalapeño juice and Panko crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place some extra Panko crumbs on a plate. Take about a heaped tablespoon of mixture and form into a small cake with your hands. Roll in the crumbs and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. You should end up with 12-14 little cakes. Refrigerate for an hour or several hours. If only an hour, no need to cover, but if longer cover with plastic wrap.

Cut the kernels from the corn and place in a bowl. Quarter tomatoes, remove seeds and dice. Add to the bowl with the diced cucumber, red onion and chilli. Add lime juice and salt and leave to macerate. Taste before serving to see if it needs more salt.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a frying pan and cook the prawn cakes for about 3 minutes each side. Serve with the salsa.

Serves 4

Note: Panko crumbs are Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Very light and crunchy, they’re a good addition to your pantry. Sold in most supermarkets – ask if you can’t find them – or substitute ordinary dry breadcrumbs.

Steak Tartare with Pommes Gaufrettes

On the menu of a restaurant in Geneva where we once ate Steak Tartare was translated as Raw Meat. Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?

SBS Television’s French Food Safari with Maeve O’Meara and chef Guillaume Brahimi recently featured his Steak Tartare served with Pommes Gaufrettes. Now when it comes to kitchen gadgets I have to confess that I’m pretty well stocked, but I didn’t have the special mandoline cutter you need to make these lacey potato chips. So of course I simply had to get one. The Børner Wave Waffle Cutter from Germany cost just $20 including postage when I ordered it online. I couldn’t wait for it to arrive.

Matthew is very fond of Steak Tartare and I don’t mind it once in a while, so I decided to try my new gadget last weekend. Guillaume’s Tartare recipe includes tomato ketchup, but I prefer to use olive oil and lemon juice as I think ketchup can be a bit overpowering. The photo makes it looks a bit like an uncooked burger. But when all’s said and done, that’s what it is – raw meat!

Pommes Gaufrettes:
2 medium potatoes, peeled
Vegetable oil to fry (see note)photo
Tartare:
320g good quality lean beef, trimmed (see note)
2 tsp capers, chopped
2 Tbs finely diced cornichons or gherkins
2 shallots or spring onions, finely diced
2 Tbs snipped chives
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Tabasco sauce or a little wasabi paste
1 tsp cognac or brandy
1 egg yolk
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon juice, to taste
To serve:
A lightly dressed green salad (I used rocket)

Slice potatoes with a waffle cutter or an ordinary mandoline and place in cold water to remove starch. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil and fry potatoes in batches, until crisp and golden, then drain on paper towels. The oil needs to be very hot so they cook quickly. Test with one first.

Very finely dice the beef by hand. Mix all ingredients for Tartare. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Form into quenelle shapes with two spoons, or use a stacking ring or biscuit cutter to form into a neat round shape on 4 serving plates.

Garnish with Pommes Gaufrettes and a small green salad.

Serves 4

Notes:

  • Meat should be very fresh but it doesn’t have to be fillet. So long as it’s lean and very finely diced with a very sharp knife you can use topside or round steak.
  • You don’t need a deep fat fryer to cook the potatoes. I used about 2cm of oil in a medium sized frying pan and cooked them in two batches.
  • If preferred serve the Tartare with garlicky bread croutons made from a French loaf.

 

Beef Carpaccio with Walnut Pesto

This recipe was inspired by a carpaccio I ate recently at The European, a restaurant which opened in the Canberra suburb of Kingston in November last year. Unfortunately the establishment didn’t survive and recently closed its doors.

The carpaccio shown in the photo is probably larger than you would need as a starter. We had it for lunch.

Beef Carpaccio with Walnut Pesto

300-400 fillet of beef, trimmed (see note below)
Walnut pesto:
1 cup walnuts
1 small clove garlic, crushed
Pinch salt
About 1/3 cup olive oil
Topping:
About 4 Tbs diced black or green olive flesh
About 4 Tbs coarsely chopped walnuts
Some microherbs or small coriander leaves
About 4 Tbs coarsely grated Parmesan
To serve:
Truffle oil or extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice
8 quick Grissini (see below) or purchased Grissini

Make Grissini (see below). Trim meat and put in the freezer (see note below). Make pesto: place walnuts and garlic in food processor and process. With motor running add enough olive oil to make a thick paste, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. This can be made ahead and keeps for at least a week.

Thinly slice beef (this is easier to do if the meat is semi-frozen) and arrange down the middle of four serving plates, in overlapping circles. Smear some walnut pesto down each side. You will probably have some beef and some pesto left over.

Sprinkle with the olives, walnuts, herbs or coriander and the Parmesan. Drizzle with truffle or olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Arrange two Grissini on top of each serving and serve with a salt and pepper mill.

Serves 4-6

Note: I bought a one kilo vacuum pack of beef fillet from Aldi, cut off about 500g from the wide end for the carpaccio and trimmed off the small amount of visible fat and tendon. I then rolled the meat tightly in plastic wrap to achieve a neat cylinder about 4cm in diameter. I put it in the freezer for a couple of hours, so it was semi-frozen and easy to slice thinly. I cut the rest of the beef into strips and froze it to make a Stroganoff.

Quick Grissini

Grissini are usually made with bread dough. This is a quick version.

2 sheets bought puff pastry, thawed
4 Tbs finely grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lay pastry sheets on a work surface. Sprinkle with parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Press the cheese and seasonings into the meat with the heel of your hand. Cut pastry into thin strips about 1 cm wide then twist into spirals. Bake in a hot oven on biscuit trays lined with paper for about 15 mins or until golden brown and crisp. Turn them over halfway through the cooking.

Makes about 20

Smoked Trout Salad with Asian Dressing

One whole smoked trout is enough to make a light meal for two people. Whole hot-smoked trout are sold in supermarkets in Australia in vacuum packs. The use by date usually allows you to keep them for a week or two in the fridge before they need to be eaten. Handy for those occasions when you peer into the fridge thinking “What can I make for dinner with what I’ve got?”

Carefully remove the flesh in large chunks, discarding the skin and bones. I definitely have to wear my reading glasses to do this! Mix with freshly cooked pasta, adding a splash of cream and a few capers or chopped dill. Some halved baby tomatoes or rocket leaves are an optional addition.

Or make this Asian salad which is perfect for a hot summer’s day.

Smoked Trout Salad with Asian Dressing

Dressing:
3 spring onions or small shallots
1 clove garlic
½ small red chilli, seeded and chopped
2 Tbs roasted peanuts
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs tamarind paste (sold in jars)
3 Tbs water
3 Tbs palm sugar, chopped, or substitute brown sugar
Salad:
1 smoked trout, flesh removed, bones and skin discarded
2-3 cups small salad leaves
1 Tbs finely chopped lime (skin and flesh)
2 Tbs roasted peanuts, chopped
½ cup coriander leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

Dressing: Place onions, garlic, chilli and peanuts in food processor and process until you have a paste, stopping to scrape down the sides halfway. Place paste in a saucepan with remaining dressing ingredients. Simmer for 3-4 minutes then leave to cool. It should be thick and a bit sticky.

Meanwhile arrange salad leaves on two plates. Top with the trout pieces, the lime, peanuts and coriander leaves. Drizzle with some of the sauce, then drizzle a little olive oil around the edge of the plate. Any leftover dressing is delicious served with cold roast meats.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter

Note: some supermarkets sell smoked trout fillets without skin or bones.

Variation: to serve as finger food, separate the leaves of 2 heads of chicory (witloof or witlof) and top each with a piece of smoked trout, the remaining toppings and some of the dressing.