Asparagus with Smoked Salmon, Poached Egg and Quick Hollandaise

Asparagus goes very well with smoked fish and with eggs. This recipe uses both and ties all the ingredients together with a delicious herby hollandaise sauce, which takes no time at all to make.

It’s best to be cautious on timing the first time you make the sauce. Microwave ovens vary and it may only need 10 or 12 seconds on High in yours.

10-12 spears asparagus
4 slices smoked salmon
2 large eggs
Quick Hollandaise Sauce:
2 egg yolks
3-4 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
60g butter, melted
1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
To garnish:
Pink peppercorns (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Trim and wash asparagus and place in a frying pan. Add cold water to cover, then turn on the heat, bring to the boil and cook for 3 minutes or until al dente. Drain on paper towels then arrange on two heated serving plates. Meanwhile poach the eggs and make the sauce.

Arrange a poached egg and two slices of smoked salmon on each serving of asparagus. Garnish with the sauce, a few pink peppercorns, if using and a drizzle of olive oil.

Quick Hollandaise Sauce: place egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a heatproof bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to combine. Whisk in the hot melted butter, then zap in the microwave for 14-15 seconds on High (no more or the egg yolks will scramble). Whisk vigorously to combine, add the tarragon and serve.

Serves 2

Three-Cheese Semolina Gnocchi with Gremolata

My friend Meg served this delicious starter over a year ago and at my request sent me the recipe. It’s taken me ages to get around to making it, as I always have a long list of recipes I want to try.

It originally appeared on Donna Hay’s website, but it’s not there any more. The original version serves 10-12 so I halved it to serve six as a starter. The recipe uses an Italian cheese called Taleggio in the gnocchi mix, but you could also use something stronger such as Gruyere or Cheddar.

750 ml milk
1 cup semolina
3 egg yolks
100g grated Taleggio cheese (or substitute Gruyere or strong cheddar)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh marjoram
½ cup grated mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan
Gremolata:
1 Tbs finely chopped parsley
2 tsp finely chopped fresh marjoram
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon rind (removed with veg peeler then shredded finely)
1 small clove garlic crushed

Place milk in a non-stick saucepan and bring to the boil. Gradually mix in the semolina, using a wooden spatula. Cook for 2-3 mins or until thickened then remove from the heat. Mix in the egg yolks, the cheese and season to taste. Scrape into a lightly greased square or rectangular dish. Mine is 20 cm square. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until firm.

Meanwhile make the gremolata by mixing all ingredients together in a bowl or a jar with a lid.

When ready to serve, turn on the grill. Cut the gnocchi into six evenly sized rectangles and place on an oven tray lined with baking paper, leaving some space between each one. Sprinkle with the marjoram, the mozzarella and the parmesan. Grill for 2-3 mins or until cheese is golden and melted. Arrange on 6 serving plates and top with the gremolata. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the gnocchi.

Serves 6 as a starter

Variations: instead of taleggio you could use goat’s cheese. Instead of fresh marjoram you could use oregano or thyme

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto

It’s asparagus season again and our dedicated patch is producing a couple of kilos or more a week. It’s like nothing you ever see in the shops. So chunky and flavoursome. We eat most of it steamed, with melted butter, sometimes with fresh herbs mixed through. Or cold with home made mayonnaise.

I’m always on the look out for new ways to serve this wonderful vegetable, such as this delicious risotto.

50g butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
250ml white wine
2 litres chicken or vegetable stock
A large bunch of asparagus (20-24 stems)
1 cup Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
To garnish:
6 thin slices prosciutto
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Place half the butter and oil in a heavy-based pan over low heat. Add the onion and cook very gently for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until cooked but not coloured. Meanwhile trim off the tough ends from the asparagus. Choose 12 nice stems and trim them a bit shorter. Blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water then refresh in cold water and dry on paper towels.

Cut the rest of the asparagus into bite sized pieces. When the onion is cooked add the wine, rice and chopped asparagus and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Gradually add the stock, a cup or so at a time, adding more as it’s absorbed into the rice. When the rice is al dente (you may not need all the stock) add half the grated parmesan and the remaining butter and turn off the heat. The risotto should be slightly wet. Season to taste then cover and stand for 5 minutes.

Serve on six individual serving plates and top with remaining parmesan. Garnish each plate with two of the blanched asparagus spears, a slice of prosciutto and, if liked, a drizzle of oil.

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main

Pumpkin and Leek Frittata

Frittata is a quiche without the pastry. Delicious straight out of the oven and leftovers make a tasty lunch the following day.

1 kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
2-3 leeks depending on size, white part only, sliced
6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbs fresh chopped thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 eggs
1½ cups cream
½ cup grated parmesan
1 cup ricotta or cream cheese (optional)
Chopped parsley to garnish

Preheat oven to 220°C. Place pumpkin, leeks, garlic, thyme, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Spread out on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 25-30 mins or until cooked and starting to brown. Meanwhile whisk eggs, cream and parmesan in a bowl and season.

Tip vegetable mixture into a non-stick frying pan with an oven-proof handle. Choose one measuring about 28cm in diameter. Pour the egg and cream mixture evenly over the vegetables, then if using put blobs of ricotta or cream cheese all over.

Bake for 25 minutes or until puffed and golden. Garnish with parsley.

Serves 4-6

Chargrilled Zucchini with Avocado Hummus

I recently spent a few days in hospital. As I ate the unimaginative, tasteless hospital food I watched the SBS food channel and made notes. This is one of the delicious recipes I wrote down which we had for lunch today. Why can’t hospitals do better?

6 zucchini (about 1kg) halved lengthwise
1 clove garlic, crushed
Finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
3 Tbs dukkah
Lemon wedges, chopped parsley and olive oil, to serve
Avocado Hummus:
2 ripe avocados
½ cup tahini
1 clove garlic, crushed
Finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Hummus, place all ingredients in food processor and process until smooth and creamy, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Heat a large chargrill until hot and cook the zucchini halves, without oil, for 3 minutes each side, or until charred and cooked through.

While zucchini is cooking mix garlic, lemon zest and juice, oil and seasoning in a large bowl. Add the cooked zucchini halves and toss gently. Pile onto a serving platter and scatter with the parsley. Finish with dollops of avocado hummus, a sprinkling of dukkah, a drizzle of olive oil and the lemon wedges. If liked make half the recipe which serves 2.

Serves 4

Crushed Carrots with Pistachio Pesto

I adapted this recipe from one by Noor Murad. She uses fresh coriander as the green herb in the pesto. I used mint and am confident that basil would work equally well. You could even use a mixture of fresh herbs. This recipe raises the humble old carrot to amazing heights. Serve as a side dish or as part of a buffet.

Carrots:
1 to 1½ kg carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
½ cup water
2 Tbs olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp chilli flakes
2 Tbs maple syrup
Pesto:
1 cup tightly packed coriander, mint or basil leaves
¾ cup pistachio nuts, lightly toasted
1 clove garlic
About ½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish:
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
¾ cup Greek yoghurt

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place carrots and remaining ingredients in a shallow roasting pan. Mix then roast for 30 mins, or until no liquid remains and carrots are glazed, turning once or twice during cooking time. Tip onto a shallow serving plate and crush the carrots roughly with a  fork.

While carrots are cooking make the garnishes by mixing about half the lemon or lime juice with the red onion and the other half with the yoghurt. Also make the pesto by placing all ingredients except the oil in a food processor. Process until chunky, adding the oil gradually through the feed tube with the motor running and stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Season to taste.

Drizzle the pesto over the carrots, then put blobs of the yoghurt all over and finally the drained onions.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Variations: use pine nuts instead of pistachios, a little Harissa paste instead of chilli flakes, parsnips or sweet potatoes instead of carrots

Roasted Peas with Brown Butter & Garlic

Yotam Ottolenghi has taught me that all vegetables taste better roasted rather than boiled in water, the way our mother’s and grandmothers cooked them. Maybe not yours, but certainly mine. They knew how to roast potatoes, parsnips and pumpkin, but anything green went into boiling water. Roasting Brussels sprouts, asparagus and cauliflower takes them to a whole new level.

This recipe didn’t come from Mr Ottolenghi but from Pinterest, where you can find quite a few versions. I’m not going to give exact quantities. I used less butter than the recipes called for, so I’ll leave it up to you. Don’t be put off by the amount of garlic because the roasting makes it soft and sweet.

I served the peas with salmon topped with a mixture of finely chopped ginger and Thai sweet chilli sauce, baked in the oven on a tray lined with baking paper for for 8-10 minutes at 200°C.

Frozen Peas
Butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peeled cloves of garlic (about a dozen?)

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place the peas in a sieve and run hot water from the tap over them, drain and put in a bowl. Heat a large knob of butter in a saucepan until it turns golden brown. How much butter is up to you and depends on how many peas you are doing.

Add the butter, garlic cloves and seasoning to the peas. Line a baking tray with baking paper and tip the peas onto it, spreading them out into one layer. Bake for 10-20 minutes, turning once or twice. Time will depend on the size of the peas.

Variations: add some finely diced bacon or frozen corn kernels.

Brussels Sprouts with Black Garlic & Pasta

Black garlic is sweet and pungent. Ottolenghi calls it “licorice meets balsamic meets essence of garlic.” I have heard it called  Poor Man’s Truffles.

Like all vegetables, Brussels sprouts, which our mothers and grandmothers loved to boil to death, are completely transformed by roasting in a hot oven. This is a delicious recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi which I have adapted with the addition of pasta and a couple of tweaks to turn it from a vegetable side dish into a vegetarian main course for four. By the way, I used Orecchiette pasta shapes which look a bit like mushrooms in the photo!

A friend lent us a black garlic-making machine. It looks a bit like a rice cooker and you just put the garlic heads in for 270 hours on a very low heat. We had to banish it to the garage because it was stinking the house out, but now we have plenty of black garlic. You should be able to find black garlic at your local farmer’s market.

500g brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthways
3 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp cumin seeds
12 black garlic cloves
2 Tbs fresh thyme leaves or 1 Tbs dried
30g butter
2 Tbs pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs Tahini
250g pasta of your choice, cooked al dente
Sesame seeds, toasted, to garnish

Preheat oven to 200°C and put the water on to boil for the pasta.

Place sprouts in a bowl with 1 Tbs of the oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well then spread out in one layer on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake for 10-15 mins until golden brown but still crunchy.

Meanwhile lightly crush the cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar, then place in food processor with the black garlic, thyme and the remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil. Blitz to form a paste.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. In a large wok or frying pan heat the butter until it turns a nutty brown. Add the black garlic paste, sprouts, pumpkin seeds, lemon juice and tahini. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 mins, then add the cooked pasta and a little of the cooking liquid. Check seasoning.

Serve in 4 individual bowls sprinkled with the sesame seeds.

Serves 4

Eggplant in Red Lentil and Coconut Sauce

This delicious recipe is adapted from one by Yotam Ottolenghi. He used an Indian soft cheese called paneer as the filling. I used halloumi but you could use feta or ricotta.

I first discovered red lentils when watching a Nigella Lawson TV show, in which she said they are great because they only take about 20 minutes to cook. Be careful as overcooking results in mushy lentils.

3 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise ½ to 1 cm thick
About 100 ml vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped (or 6 shallots)
2 Tbs finely chopped ginger
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp curry powder
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
Strips of peel from 1 lime removed with veg peeler
200g red lentils
400ml can coconut milk
800ml water
100g spinach leaves
220g feta, halloumi or ricotta cheese
To garnish:
Juice from 1 lime
Fresh chopped coriander

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line two large oven trays with baking paper. Arrange the eggplant slices on the trays, brush both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 mins or until cooked and golden brown. Cool.

Put 2 Tbs oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions over medium heat, for 2-3 mins, stirring. Add ginger, chilli, spices, tomato paste, sugar, strips of lime peel and lentils and continue to cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add coconut milk, water and a teaspoon of salt. Turn down heat and simmer 20 mins, stirring from time to time, or until lentils are al dente and sauce is thick. Pour into an oiled baking dish large enough to take the eggplant rolls in one layer and put aside.

Arrange spinach leaves all over the eggplant slices in one layer, then a piece of feta or halloumi. Roll up from the thinner end so the cheese is enclosed. Arrange the packages seam-side down in the lentil sauce and press them in a bit. You should end up with 16 to 20 rolls in one layer. Bake 20 mins or until golden brown on top. Drizzle with the lime juice and garnish with the fresh coriander.

Serves 6

Substitutions: use lemon instead of lime

Roast Cauliflower with Cashew Hummus and Harissa Sauce

This recipe was inspired by a recent Master Chef programme. The contestant, Courtney Roulston, used cauliflower steaks or thick slices and the method was quite long. I’ve adapted it to use cauliflower florets and taken a few short cuts with the method. Despite these adjustments it’s still a somewhat long-winded recipe, compared with the ones I usually put on this blog. But it’s worth it and most of the elements can be made ahead of time.

Courtney called the sauce Cashew Tarator, but it’s really just Hummus made with cashew nuts and a slice of bread, instead of chickpeas. She used raw cashews. I only had salted ones, but the salt washes off when you soak them.

The chickpeas were rolled in flour, deep fried until crunchy and used a garnish. Mine didn’t go crunchy, so when I made the recipe a second time I roasted them with the cauliflower.

To speed things up you could use bought Hummus instead of the Cashew Hummus, a bought sun dried tomato dip instead of the Harissa sauce (add some chilli sauce to perk it up a bit) and Dukkah instead of the Spiced Seeds.

Any leftover cashew hummus and harissa sauce make a delicious dip, either separately or together. Just dollop them into a bowl and swirl them together a bit. Serve with corn chips, pita bread or veggie sticks.

Cauliflower:
1 large cauliflower, cut into 3cm florets
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp cumin powder
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1-2 tsp salt
2 Tbs lemon juice
Cashew Hummus:
1 cup cashew nuts
1 slice sourdough bread, crusts removed
1 heaped Tbs Tahini
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp maple syrup
1 clove garlic
½ tsp cumin powder
1/3 cup cold water
Salt to taste
Harissa Sauce: 
1 large red capsicum
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes
3 long red chillies, seeded and chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds (I substituted fennel)
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp vinegar
Salt to taste
Spiced seeds:
2 tsp pistachios
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sunflower kernels
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sumac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish:
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Cauliflower: Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a shallow baking sheet with baking paper. Place cauliflower in a bowl with remaining ingredients except lemon juice. Mix well then spread out on the tray in a single layer. Roast for 20-30 mins, turning halfway through, or until cauliflower is cooked and slightly browned. Remove from the oven, arrange on 4 serving plates (or one large one) and drizzle with the lemon juice.

Hummus: cover cashew nuts with warm water in a small bowl and bread with cold water in another bowl. Leave the bread for about 10 mins, then squeeze out water. Leave the nuts for 20-30 mins then drain. Place nuts and bread in food processor with remaining ingredients and mix till smooth. Add a touch more water if it’s too stiff. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Harissa Sauce: Roast the capsicum over a gas flame or BBQ until blackened, then place in a plastic bag and leave until cool when it should be easy to peel, remove seeds and chop. Cover tomato with boiling water, drain after a minute, run under cold water and peel. Place cumin and caraway or fennel seeds in a frying pan and stir over medium heat for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add oil, capsicum, tomato and chillies. Cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cook for a couple of minutes, then cool a bit before pureeing in food processor. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Spiced Seeds: place pistachios and seeds in a small frying pan over moderate heat and toast, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the sesame seeds start to colour. Place in a mortar and pestle, add sumac, salt and pepper and grind a bit, leaving the pistachios quite chunky. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for a week or two.

Place a dollop of Cashew Hummus on top of each serving of cauliflower, dollop some of the Harissa Sauce around, sprinkle with Spiced Seeds and pomegranate kernels, if using. Drizzle with a little Extra Virgin olive oil.

Serves 4 as a light meal or 6-8 as a starter