Pasta with Pesto and Avocado

After all the rich food of the festive season you’re probably ready for some simple but satisfying recipes to please the whole family. This pasta dish hits the spot.

500g pasta (shell or penne)
2 ripe avocados, roughly mashed
1 cup pesto (preferably homemade)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To serve:
Grated parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain then mix in the avocados, the pesto and salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with parmesan cheese and a drizzle of oil.

Serve with a simple green salad.

Serves 3-4

Layered Fruit Jelly

This dessert can be made with fresh or frozen fruit, or a mixture of the two and is popular with all ages. Quantities will depend on the size of your mould. Mine holds 1½ litres and I used raspberries, mangoes, blueberries and kiwi fruit.

1-2 cups green fruit, such as seedless grapes or cubed kiwi
1-2 cups purple fruit, such as seedless purple grapes or blueberries
1-2 cups cubed orange fruit, just as mango or peaches
1-2 cups red fruit, such as raspberries, stoned cherries or strawberries
2 packets of jelly mix (I used yellow but you could use red or orange)
1 rounded tsp gelatine powder

Layer the fruit in the jelly mould, starting with a layer of green fruit, then purple and so on until the mould is completely full of fruit. My jelly mould holds 1½ litres or 6 cups. The jelly will fill in the gaps.

Make up both jelly mixes, using slightly less than the packet says and mixing in the powdered gelatine. My jellies each called for 450 mls of water (half boiling and half cold) which makes a total of 900 mls of liquid. I mixed the two packets with a total of 750 ml boiling water and mixed in the gelatine.

Pour jelly carefully into the mould, filling to the top. Refrigerate overnight. To serve, dip the mould briefly in very hold water then invert onto a large serving platter.

Serves 8-10

Green Bean Salad

This is an adaptation of a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi called Four Lime Green Bean Salad.

His original recipe (which you can easily find online) is no doubt delicious, but I didn’t have any kaffir lime leaves or Iranian ground lime. I increased the amount of broad beans and peas to make equal quantities of all three vegetables.

A perfect addition to the New Year buffet or to accompany leftover Christmas Ham and Turkey.

500g fresh green beans
500g packet frozen broad beans (or use fresh, shelled)
500g frozen peas
Dressing:
Zest and juice of 1 lime or ½ lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic
½ cup fresh coriander leaves
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 long green chilli, deseeded
1 tsp salt
Garnish:
Black sesame seeds
2-3 tsp Za’atar spice mix
A few coriander leaves
1 long green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)

Top and tail beans then cook in boiling salted water for 3 mins. Drain, refresh with cold water and drain again. Cook broad beans in boiling water for 2-3 mins then drain and remove the outer shells and discard. Cook peas in boiling water for 2-3 mins then drain. Place both beans and the peas in a large serving dish.

Place all ingredients for the dressing in food processor and process till smooth. Pour over the beans and mix well. Garnish with a sprinkling of black sesame seeds, spice mix, coriander leaves and, if liked, the extra green chilli.

Serves 6

Substitutions: if you don’t have any Za’atar spice mix, experiment with a few of your favourite spices or spice blends

Roasted Pears with Goat’s Cheese, Honey, Rosemary & Pecans

This is a delicious way to serve pears as a savoury side dish or light lunch.

4-6 ripe pears
Goat’s cheese (the soft variety)
Olive oil
Honey or Maple syrup
Chopped pecan nuts
Rosemary sprigs
To serve:
Green salad leaves
Salad dressing
Maldon salt flakes

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Slice pears vertically – don’t peel or core. Arrange on baking sheet, then drizzle with a little olive oil and honey or maple syrup. Sprinkle with a few rosemary sprigs. Bake for 20-30 mins or until golden around the edges.

Serve on a bed of lightly dressed salad leaves. Top the pear slices with the goat’s cheese and nuts.

Serves 4-6

 

 

Labneh with Summer Berries

I made this delicious Ottolenghi dessert when we were in Vancouver for my brother’s wedding in August, when the Canadian berry season was in full swing. Friends who saw the photo on Facebook thought it was a pavlova. In fact the base is strained yoghurt, known as labneh in the Middle East. Much healthier.

For subscribers in the southern hemisphere this could become your go-to dessert for the holiday season. For those living in the north, you’ll have to wait until summer or perhaps try using frozen berries. Ottolenghi doesn’t use the orange juice in this recipe, but I’ve made the recipe twice, once with and once without the juice. Much more orangey with.

1 kg thick Greek-style yoghurt
A good pinch of salt
1-2 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
100ml Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 orange
A few sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
800g to 1 kg fresh berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, stoned cherries)
1-2 Tbs caster sugar

The day before serving make the labneh and the orange oil. Place a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin or similar fabric. I use a man’s handkerchief which I keep especially for this purpose. Scrape yoghurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate overnight. Next day discard the liquid – my dog loves it. Mix icing sugar and vanilla into the yoghurt.

Remove the peel from the orange with a vegetable peeler, then remove the juice and heat it in a saucepan for a few minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the olive oil, the thyme and leave to infuse overnight.

At serving time spread labneh onto a large serving platter. Place about half the berries in a food processor with the caster sugar and pulse a few times to chop roughly. Spoon on top of the labneh. Top with the remaining whole berries, slicing the strawberries if large. Drizzle with some of the orange oil and garnish with the orange zest and some fresh thyme sprigs – the original ones will have gone a bit brown.

Serves 8-10

Variations: use other fruit combinations, such as bananas and passionfruit; kiwi fruit and strawberries

Foie Gras with Rocket, Beetroot & Caramelised Onions

Whenever we’re In France I buy a few tins of Bloc de Foie Gras de Canard. We declare them as we go through Customs and have never any problems getting them into Australia. Saved for special occasions, six cans last us a year or more.

This salad makes a light lunch or a substantial starter and is a good way to make one can of foie gras serve four or even six at a pinch.

1 can (150g) bloc de foie gras de canard
2-3 small beetroot
1 large onion, halved then thinly sliced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
4 handfuls rocket, washed and spun dry
Salad dressing
2 Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
To serve:
Hot buttered toast

Preheat oven to 180°C. Peel beetroot, then thinly slice using a mandolin or slicing attachment on food processor. Mix about 30 slices with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and arrange on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Place in the oven and immediately turn temperature down to 100°C. Cook until they are crisp. This shouldn’t take long as they are so thin, but keep an eye on them.

Heat a Tbs oil in a frying pan and cook the onion for 15 mins over low heat until soft but not brown, stirring often. Add balsamic and continue to cook for a few minutes until caramelised. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the pan. Cut the rest of the beetroot slices into julienne strips. Heat a Tbs oil in the frying pan and stir fry the beetroot for 10 mins or until al dente. Cool.

Mix rocket with a little salad dressing or some oil and vinegar and arrange on four serving plates. Divide the onion between the plates, then the stir-fried beetroot (you may not need it all) and the beetroot crisps.

Divide the foie gras, cut into thin slices, between the plates, top with a few toasted pine nuts, then drizzle a little oil around the edge of each plate. Serve with hot buttered toast.

Serves 4

Variations: instead of beetroot use fresh or dried figs, or marinated/preserved figs; instead of pine nuts use walnuts or pecans.

 

 

Den Bosch Lemon Pudding

Den Bosch is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. We spent a couple of days there recently and one night had tapas for dinner at a wine bar.

The food was very good and the waitress was kind enough to give me the recipe for the dessert. I have a cheesecake recipe which is very similar to this, but the addition of a little vinegar really makes a difference. The method is also slightly different.

1½ cups (375 ml) whipping cream
1 can condensed milk
Grated rind and juice 2 large lemons
2-3 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, to taste
4-5 plain or ginger biscuits
slivers of lemon rind to garnish

Whip cream with electric beaters until thick then continue whipping while you add the condensed milk, lemon rind and juice and vinegar. I used a Kenwood standing mixer, but you can use hand held beaters.

Spoon into 8-10 small glasses. Chill several hours or overnight. Garnish with crushed biscuits and lemon rind.

Serves 8-10

Variation: Fold through the pulp of 3-4 passionfruit before spooning into glasses.

Chicken with Fresh Corn Salsa on Toast

Leftovers on a slice of buttered toast is one of my favourite quick meals. What might not be quite enough for one or two can be stretched (as my mother used to say) by serving it on a slice of toast. Leftover spag bol sauce for example.

This recipe uses a slice of toast to create a light but satisfying mid-week dinner or weekend lunch for two. Use two small chicken breasts, one large one, or buy the small strips called fillets.

 

350g chicken breast or fillets
Marinade:
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp hot English mustard
1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or a pinch of dried
½ tsp salt
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp honey
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch chilli flakes (optional)
Fresh Corn Salsa:
1 ear fresh corn
1 tsp vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbs olive oil
½ clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or a pinch of dried
To serve:
2 tsp olive oil to fry chicken
2 slices buttered toast
Something red (capsicum, tomato, sun dried tomato)
1 avocado, sliced
2 sprigs thyme

If using whole chicken breasts cut them into chunky slices like fillets.

Mix all ingredients for marinade with the chicken in one bowl. Remove kernels from corn cob by slicing downwards with a sharp knife. Mix with remaining salsa ingredients in another bowl.

Heat olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry chicken for 4-5 mins each side or until golden brown and cooked through. Serve chicken on toast, topped with the salsa and avocado. Garnish with something red for a bit of colour and a sprig of thyme. If liked drizzle a little olive oil around the plate.

Serves 2

Eggplant, Nuts & Seeds with Labneh Dressing

 

When I do my weekly shopping I often buy a couple of eggplants with a view to making some kind of vegetarian dish. Inspired by a photo in a recent QANTAS magazine I created this colourful dish which was delicious. There was no recipe, just a photo, so there was a lot of guesswork!

2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise about 1cm thick
olive oil
1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Seeds from 1 pomegranate or ½ cup dried Goji berries
1 Tbs each pine nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pepitas
2 tsp black sesame seeds (optional)
A few green leaves such as rocket, spinach (I used pea shoots from the garden)
Extra Virgin olive oil

To make the Labneh, strain the yoghurt for a few hours or overnight in a sieve lined with muslin or a man’s handkerchief, in the fridge. Discard the liquid.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Arrange eggplant slices on two large shallow baking sheets, lined with baking paper. Brush both sides with olive oil then bake for 20-30 mins or until cooked and golden brown. Arrange in a serving dish in overlapping circles.

Meanwhile heat the nuts and seeds in a dry frying pan over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly toasted. Remove seeds from pomegranate, or if using Goji berries, cover them with boiling water, then drain after 2-3 minutes.

Mix labneh with the lemon juice and season to taste.

Garnish eggplant slices with the pomegranate seeds or Goji berries, the toasted nuts and seeds and the labneh dressing. Add a few green leaves for colour. Drizzle a little Extra Virgin olive oil around the plate.

Serves 4

Roasted Vegetables with Spinach and Haloumi

 

Flying home from Canada I walked through the galley kitchen during the night, on my way to the loo. A flight attendant was eating something from a foil container which looked delicious. Not like aeroplane food at all. She told me it was roasted veggies with quinoa, spinach and halloumi. I made a mental note and here it is.

1 recipe Oven Roasted Vegetables
1 cup quinoa or couscous, prepared according to packet directions
1 packet baby spinach leaves
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Balsamic Glaze
Lemon Juice
1 packet Halloumi cheese

Make the vegetable recipe you can find by clicking on the link and prepare the couscous or quinoa. In a large salad bowl mix the vegetables with the quinoa or couscous and the baby spinach leaves. Add oil and lemon juice to taste.

Slice halloumi cheese about half a centimetre thick. Dry well with paper towels then fry on both sides in a frying pan in a little olive oil until golden brown. Arrange the halloumi on top of the vegetables, then drizzle with the lemon juice and balsamic glaze.

Serves 4

Variations: use the larger Israeli couscous, cooked according to packet directions. Top the salad with cubes of feta cheese instead of halloumi.