Thursday, 28 March 2013

Courgette Pesto (with Gorgonzola Ravioli)

I feel I have to come clean about one thing before I start - the ravioli in the picture are not homemade. We do make our own pasta but it's definitely a weekend activity and as this was a mid-week meal, I'm afraid the ravioli came from a deli.

Having cleared that up, I can announce with great joy that this is a random recipe.The Random Recipes challenge is the brainchild of Dom from Belleau Kitchen. Its aim (in his words), is 'to encourage us to use our recipe books more whilst also being more adventurous with our cooking... to shake up the 'everyday' chef and bring out a few little ideas we may have never tried before...'. It's a great concept and I'm delighted that I got organised enough to actually enter this month, albeit rather late.

The theme for March is Cuttings and Clippings. Like most of us, I have a couple of files bulging with recipes ripped out of magazines, hand written scraps of paper and photocopies of photocopies, origin unknown. My cookery books also occasionally yield up forgotten treasures from within, the scrawled sheets fluttering to the floor as I flick through their pages. Not wishing to flout the rules of the challenge, I closed my eyes and took my chance. My random selection was this 'Pesto di Zucchine', a clipping from an Italian food magazine called 'Sale e Pepe'. Although I probably cut it out about four years ago, I had never actually made it so the Random Recipe challenge ethos certainly worked this time.

My favourite pesto still has to be the classic genovese recipe, that magical mix of basil, pine nuts and pecorino, tossed simply with some al dente linguine. This pesto had a very delicate flavour which I don't think would work on its own with normal pasta but when paired with filled pasta like tortellini or these ravioli, it compliments the taste without overpowering.

This post is making its way over to Dom at Belleau Kitchen for Random Recipes and I'm hoping I'm still in time for Pasta Please, from Jac at Tinned Tomatoes, hosted this month by Jen over at Blue Kitchen Bakes.

Random Recipes #26 - March       

RECIPE, from Sale & Pepe magazine, Dec 2008

300g courgettes
50g fresh basil leaves
30g pine nuts
a clove garlic
50g fresh parmesan, grated
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Slice the courgettes and fry gently in a tablespoon of olive oil. After a few minutes, add the crushed clove of garlic and continue cooking for about 15 mins until the courgettes are soft and golden.

Put the courgette mixture in a blender or food processor together with the basil, pine nuts and enough olive oil to make a thick paste, probably about 5 or 6 tablespoons.  Blend until smooth and stir through the grated parmesan at the end.

Cook whatever pasta you're using until al dente and toss everything together gently.  Serve with a few basil leaves scattered over and a shaving or two of parmesan.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Chocolate Chip and Pecan Oat Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word 'cookie' is simply the American word for what we in the UK call a biscuit. Yet to my mind, there is a distinct difference between a biscuit and a cookie, the former being flat and crisp, the latter softer and thicker. Nomenclature aside, I love these sweet, baked creations when they are slightly crunchy on the outside, moist and chewy within, which is exactly what these biscuit/cookies are.

The story of the original Chocolate Chip Cookies is well-known in the US and came about, as so many famous culinary creations often do (Tarte Tatin, Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce to name but two), by mistake. In the 1930s, baker Ruth Wakefield had gained local notoriety for the desserts she served at her hotel, the Toll House Inn. One day she was trying to make a favourite chocolate cookie recipe but found that she had run out of baking chocolate. She did however have a bar of Nestle dark (bittersweet) chocolate, which she cut into bits and incorporated into the dough. Wakefield expected the chocolate to melt while baking, but to her surprise the morsels kept their shape and added a new chocolate taste and texture to the cookies. As the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe became popular, sales of Nestle's dark chocolate bar increased. Andrew Nestle and Ruth Wakefield thus struck a deal. Nestle would print the Toll House Cookie recipe on its packaging and Ruth Wakefield would have a lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate.

My cookies here aren't the classic Nestle Toll House recipe, delicious though that is (you can find it here). I wanted slightly more texture so I've included oats in the recipe which give added chew while still retaining the crunchy exterior. I'm entering these cookies into this month's We Should Cocoa challenge started by Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog and Chele from Chocolate Teapot. This month the challenge, chosen and hosted by Lucy of The KitchenMaid, is Fame - a lovely original theme and I really look forward to seeing what other people have come up with.


130g unsalted butter, softened
85g soft brown sugar
90g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
140g plain flour
85g porridge oats
half a teaspoon baking powder
half a teaspoon salt
120g milk or dark chocolate, roughly chopped
80g pecans, roughly chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment

Cream the butter and sugar (with an electric mixer ideally but you can do it by hand if you prefer) until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until thoroughly combined. 

Measure the flour, baking powder, salt and oats into a bowl and mix. Then add gradually to the butter, eggs and sugar. Beat to combine, then fold in the chopped nuts and chocolate.

Place a large sheet of cling film on your work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Then using the cling film to help you, roll it into a log-shape and put it in the fridge for about 30 mins to firm up. 

Slice the log into thickish slices (about 1.5cm) and place the biscuits onto the prepared trays.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until just turning pale gold. Leave for a few minutes on the trays before removing to a wire rack to cool fully. 

Chocolate Chip and Pecan Oat Cookies

Monday, 18 March 2013

Courgette-topped Sea Bass

Courgette-topped sea bass

I sometimes get quite panicky about what I would say in one of those 'What's your favourite...?' kind of interviews. I mean, take films; easy, I think, my favourite film is The Philadelphia Story (Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant). But then what about Mediterraneo? And Bullitt? To Kill a Mockingbird? Cinema Paradiso? I could go on.

I don't fare much better, in fact much worse, with books - how on earth can you narrow that one down? One Hundred Years of Solitude, Small Island, Il Gattopardo, Pride and Prejudice, Mapp and Lucia...the list really is endless...oh, and I've missed out Dickens and childhood favourites (Anne of Green Gables and Little Women of course). I think I could manage better if the interviewer asked me very specific questions: What was the best book you read in the first six months of 2012? Who is your favourite author of contemporary fiction? Which is your favourite town in Italy? (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand; Anne Tyler; Siena).

When the imaginary interview then moves onto the topic of food, well, all hell breaks loose. I would have absolutely no chance of answering a question such as 'What is your favourite dish?' I can't even pick a general food type, where do I start? Cheese, bread, cakes, chocolate...and what about the meaty delights of a perfectly roast chicken or a just seared sirloin? GL maintains that his all-time favourite dish is spaghetti with clams and fresh tomatoes but I see how his face lights up in front of a large hunk of roast meat, committed carnivore that he is.

I'll keep working on my answer to the favourite dish question. Maybe if I draw up a list of my top fifty dishes, I can then just jab one with a pin when the question is asked. One thing is certain - fish would feature heavily. I'll start the list with this courgette-topped sea bass. Prepared in minutes, it's flavoured with lemon zest, garlic and parsley under its crust of courgette and it's wonderful. One of my favourite dishes actually - did I happen to mention that?

This post is making its way over to one of my favourite challenges, Herbs on Saturday, created by Karen from the wonderful Lavender and Lovage and hosted this month by London Busy Body.

Herbs on Saturday

I'm also sending it to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge which encourages everyone to cook from scratch, Made with Love Mondays.



4 sea bass fillets
1 courgette
zest of one lemon
1 clove garlic
handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C .

Start by thinly slicing the garlic clove and courgette. You can do this by hand or, my preference, with a mandolin. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle over the parsley and lemon zest and lay a few of the garlic slices on each fillet. Top the fillets with the courgette slices and drizzle again with olive oil.

Place the fillets on a lightly greased baking tray and put in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish fillets. The courgette slices should be just turning golden brown and the fish still moist underneath. 

Sea bass fillets with a courgette crust

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

'Mpille - Puglian Olive and Chilli Bread

Olive and Chilli bread

The return of these Siberian conditions has made me dream longingly of warm breezes, turquoise waters, the feeling of sun on bare skin so I find myself turning again to the quintessentially Mediterranean cuisine of Puglia. I've written before (here if you're interested) about the fantastic vegetables that form the basis of Puglian gastronomy and these take centre stage once more in this recipe.

'Mpille' can only be found in the Salento area of Puglia which is as far south as you can go down the heel of Italy's boot and not even in all places there. Originally from the small village of Sannicola where GL's mum grew up, you can also find them in Lecce, the beautiful Baroque provincial capital but there they go under the name of 'Pizzi' and don't include courgettes. If you are lucky enough to find a good bakery that makes their own, try and arrive when the mpille are just coming out of the oven - the smell of the baking bread mixed with the lightly cooked vegetables is simply mouthwatering and it's virtually impossible not to eat them straightaway, warm, crunchy on the outside, soft inside and bursting with Mediterranean flavours.

I have to describe them as bread rolls, the dough being mixed with lightly sauteed olives, onions, tomatoes, courgettes and chilli but this is woefully inadequate. You really just have to try them. Hopefully they'll bring a little Mediterranean warmth to brighten up these chilly days.

As you can see from the logo, the March One Ingredient challenge is Chilli so my post is on its way over to this month's host Laura  from How to Cook Good Food co-hosted with Nazima at Franglais Kitchen. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's ideas for this challenge.

I'm also sending it to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge which encourages everyone to cook from scratch, Made with Love Mondays.



For the dough
450g strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading
7g (1 sachet) easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon salt
approximately 200-300 ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Vegetable mixture
about 10 cherry tomatoes
1 large onion
1 courgette
olive oil
a handful of black pitted olives
1-2 teaspoons of chilli flakes, depending on taste

Preheat oven to 240°C or as hot as it will go.

Start by preparing the vegetables. Wash, dry and finely chop the tomatoes, onion and courgette and cook them gently in a tablespoon or so of olive oil for about 15-20 mins until nicely softened. Add the olives, roughly chopped and as much chilli as you want. Season to taste. Remember that you'll need more salt and chilli than you expect because it's all going to be distributed throughout the bread dough. Leave to cool.

Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and pour in about 200 ml of the water, half the cooked vegetable mixture and the olive oil, mixing with your hands. You can add more water if you need to but the vegetables do add a lot of liquid and actually the mpille puff up more with a slightly drier dough. Start kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, the fold it back and turn slightly. Keep doing this for about 10 minutes, it should feel smooth and springy when it's ready.

Form the dough into a ball and rub a little olive oil over the surface, so that it is lightly greased. Put it into a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for about 3 hours. After that time, knock back the dough and knead in the rest of the vegetable mixture. Leave to rise again for another hour. 

Divide the dough into about 12 pieces and form into balls - the dough will probably be quite sticky so dust each ball with flour before shaping roughly - remember these are meant to be rustic so no need for perfect spheres! Place on 2 baking trays lined with parchment, leaving enough space between them. 

Put into the hot oven and cook for about 35-40 mins. Leave them to cool slightly on a wire rack before devouring.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

American Blueberry and Lemon Buttermilk Muffins

Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins

I have to admit that this recipe is a slightly odd choice for me, firstly because I've never been particularly keen on muffins and secondly, because I've never been particularly keen on blueberries. It's not that I actively dislike either of them, it's just that I've never found any muffins (either shop-bought or homemade) that have made me swoon with pleasure and delight and as for blueberries - well, they just don't taste like fruit should.

Then, as I was searching internet for a way of using up some buttermilk that was fast approaching its use-by date, I came across this recipe. Talk about serendipitous. The original recipe is by Ina Garten who I came to rather late but have rapidly become a fan. On any given episode of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa, there's plenty to drool over: delicate salads of vibrant herbs and fresh tomatoes, oozing chocolate cakes baking in the oven, a well-shaken martini with plenty of Vermouth. Then there's her house and garden - faded clapperboard with rooms straight out of a magazine shoot and a garden, or rather gardens that wouldn't be out of place in a stately home. An episode isn't really complete without a visit from one of Ina's gay male friends - there's Miguel the architect and home stylist, Michael the florist, and TR, who although can't really contribute to the napkin folding and flower arranging, certainly adds to the drool-factor of the programme with his stunning, chiselled face, silver-streaked hair and twinkly blue eyes. His charm certainly has an effect on Ina who becomes positively giddy in his presence, despite the fact that he's gay and that she's probably old enough to be his mother. She simpers and giggles like a schoolgirl, taking every opportunity to touch and hug him. But who can blame her? Not me that's for sure. I love the pure escapism of the whole thing - the endless parties, not just dinner but breakfast parties, beach parties, picnic parties, Ina's generous and flamboyant use of break-the-bank ingredients such as lobster and truffle butter, her elegant table settings and of course her fabulous recipes.

Her recipe for blueberry muffins completely converted me to both muffins and blueberries. These are light, fluffy, moist and sweet with a nice crunch on the outside. The blueberries are transformed by the cooking, bursting with juice and  flavour. Don't think that the lemon zest is an optional either - it gives the blueberries the added tartness they need and makes the muffins fragrant and zesty. Everyone I've made them for has said that they're the best muffins they've ever tried. After making them the first time, I continued to bake them every Sunday for a month and have had to stop myself from buying any more buttermilk, thus eliminating the temptation to whip up a batch at weekends.

I have slightly tweaked and adapted Ina's original recipe but you can find it here. My changes have resulted in a recipe that makes eleven muffins - I know it's odd but it just means you'll have one empty place in your muffin tin.


225g plain flour
160g granulated sugar
2 and a quarter teaspoons baking powder
half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
half a teaspoon of salt
284ml (1 carton) buttermilk
55g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
grated zest of one lemon
1 egg, beaten
about 130g fresh blueberries 

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb of soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix together. I add the blueberries at this point too because I found that if I added them last of all, they didn't mix in as well. Adding them at this stage means that they are evenly dispersed throughout the muffins.

In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, melted butter, lemon zest, and egg. Make a hole in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in. Mix with a fork just until blended, being careful not to over mix. With a standard ice-cream scoop or a large spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cases, filling them almost full.

Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Blueberry and Lemon Muffins

Friday, 1 March 2013

Sticky, whisky-scented Bara Brith for St. David's Day

Bara Brith

Do the little things, the small things you've seen me doing

This simple, rather contemporary statement, was surprisingly uttered over 1500 years ago by St. David in his last sermon to his monks and I thought it a fitting way to start St. David's Day.

Not an awful lot is known about St. David so here are a few facts about the man himself and the celebration in his honour:
  • He was at the heart of the Welsh church in the 6th century and founded a large monastery in West Wales
  • He was one of the early saints who helped to spread Christianity among the pagan Celtic tribes of Western Britain
  • The most famous story about St. David tells how he was preaching to a huge crowd and the ground is said to have risen up, so that he was standing on a hill and everyone had a better chance of hearing him.
  • He was baptised by the wonderfully named Saint Elvis (I kid you not).
  • The national emblems of Wales are daffodils and leeks and these are worn on 1st March by most people in Wales. 
  • On March 1st, numerous celebrations take place, including parades, food festivals, concerts and street parties.

Welsh Bara BrithNow, although it's tradition to eat Cawl, a Welsh stew, made up of lamb and leeks on St David’s Day, I didn't have time to make it, so today's recipe is my family's Bara Brith, a very traditional Welsh loaf cake and tea-time classic. The name literally means "Speckled Bread" and is baked and sold commercially in most parts of Wales, but virtually every Welsh region, town or family seems to have their own special variation.

There are two basic versions - as a yeast bread with dried fruits or it can be made in the style of a fruit cake with self-raising flour and packed with candied peel, raisins and currants which have been soaked in tea overnight. This is the sort I prefer - it's ridiculously easy, it gets better with time (within reason of course) and it tastes wonderful. I still don't really understand how a cake that doesn't contain any butter or indeed fat of any kind, can taste so good but it does, trust me. Of course, the butter usually comes into it at the end when it is spread on the thinly sliced bara brith. My only variation to the family recipe is to add a little whisky to the liquid used for steeping the fruit.

One last thing: although David was known as ‘Dewi Ddyfrwr’ (David the Water Drinker) because he drank nothing else, I don't really think that many Welsh people follow his teachings in this particular aspect. I will certainly be marking the occasion with something a little stronger...

Iechyd da.


1 cup soft brown sugar
1 generous cup dried mixed fruit
200 ml black tea
50 ml whisky
300 g self raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 tablespoon treacle or syrup
 pinch of salt
 1 egg

In a large bowl soak the fruit and sugar in the strained tea and whisky and leave overnight.

Next day preheat the oven to 170ºC

Mix the remaining ingredients into the fruit mixture and beat well

Pour the mixture into a loaf tin that has been well greased or lined with buttered paper

Place the tin in the oven and bake for about one and a half hours.

Leave in the tin to cool before turning out.

If you can (I can't), keep the bara brith in an airtight tin for a few days before eating as the flavour and texture really improves.

Welsh Speckled Bread