Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Bread of the Week: Salt and Pepper Bread Sticks.

This recipe comes from 'Gino's Veg Italia!' by Gino D'Acampo. Page 58.

At home we tend to have a very organised Sunday afternoon. After a relaxing morning, we receive our food delivery for the week which I am in charge of. I love doing it for then I know what is missing or has been swapped or is simply below standards (I have seen mouldy mushrooms, Spinach which was as wet as dead and more). It allows me to know what is going on in my cupboard and fridges and to sort out small glitches. Having worked in the food industry for 6 years to finance my university fees gave me a FIFO (First In First Out) organisation down to a habit. From planning meals to cutting the cost to getting the best products during the right seasons, passing by emergency plan to find or replace any missing ingredient are just skills I acquired then which are so useful now in my household.

Home Made Chilli Jam

But after all the tedious tidying, after putting everything in the right places, I just love to sit down for a treat, proper brunch or a snack. Sometimes it is unusual, sometimes it could be bog standard potatoes skins filled with cheddar, cream and chive.  This time, I fancied very much finishing Gino's week with his Salt and Pepper Bread Sticks to dip in chutneys and chilli jam. 

Pic from Ethical Bread.

I love making bread. I find it so rewarding. But also the diversity of breads around, from culture to culture, generation to generation, worldwide is mesmerising. As I write this, going back into my cooking diaries, it is January 2016 and the start of a new year. I have only started making bread in the past two years, not many: the amount could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Yet each time I did, there was a contentment which is hard to describe. From the kneading to tucking into a slice of bread you made, passing by taking your bread out of the oven, you get a peaceful sense of pleasure and achievement in its simplest terms. 

So in this first post of 2016, I made a resolution which will fill me all year round with plenty of satisfaction. No, it is not running miles and losing the dear old beer belly panting and sweating. No, it doesn't involve climbing Mount Everest to work my bingo wings, it just involves to make at least one or two breads a week. By the way, the proof will be in the kneading, and I bet on the bingos to be muscled up by the end of the year. I will let you know about the hard and fleshy result even if it is flabby enough to make me fly away in shame. 

Gino's Bread Sticks were such a treat that it convinced me back in October that I should do more 'bready' things. I expected them to turn out a bit like cheese twists. Yet they were more consistently delicious: the perfect dipping bread.  The book's pic looks scrumptious enough to give those breadsticks a good go.  I must say I enjoyed very much making that recipe. 

Yeast and Salt on opposite sides.

It is easy to follow. First you make the dough with the strong white flour (400 g) in a large bowl, 7 g fast action dried yeast on one side and 2 tsps of salt in the other. In a well in the middle you pour 3 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil. Then you pour 250 ml of warm water. Gino's tip to use the handle of the wooden spoon to mix the dough is an excellent one. I was amazed by the result. 

The Kneading.

Then you pour another 100 ml of warm water, gradually while you keep stirring. I would say that this first stage is the easiest of them all. The second is more demanding for it involves a little bit of elbow grease: it's a good kneading of the dough for 8 minutes. I must confess that I kept an eager eye on the clock. We don't want to over-knead the dough nor do too much exercise: smile, I don't think there was any risk for this to happen here anyhow...

The Puffed up ball of Dough.
After the energetic kneading comes the resting of the dough and of my arms for a good hour. You put your dough ball in an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with cling film. I left my bowl on my kitchen counter to keep it at room temperature like Gino D'Acampo advised.  Then the magic of  the yeast powder does its job silently, slowly but surely: from your nice ball of dough, you get a super ball of dough. It is a bit like Cinderella's fairy tale: one minute, she wears rags and the next a ball gown, one minute you have a pumpkin, the next a magnificent carriage. So the wonder of yeast doubled my dough in size.

We do buy dry fast yeast for convenience. It is usually a little
Sourdough Yeast Starter.
packet of 7 g of magical wonder powder. However as it is the month of resolutions as I write this article, I must say that I have been petting with the idea of having my own live yeast at home and to cultivate it religiously.  It ties in perfectly with my resolution to bake much more during the coming year too. It would also be a very educational project which carries with it many bread dreams in perspective.  

Now for the third step, it is all about preparing for the baking of the dough. The oven is preheated at gas mark 7 (220 C).  I needed two large baking trays, which I prepared according to Gino's instruction: lined with baking parchment.  The dough ball was turned onto a surface dusted with flour and semolina. It is important to handle the dough gently at this stage for you do want to keep air within it. 

Something went pear-shape... 

I stretched the dough into a rectangle and cut it into twenty strips. It sounded easy enough yet I found that part the hardest. The reason is you do not know how large and how flatten your dough needs to be at that stage. The following task was to roll the strips into 20 cm long sausages... My strips were already 20 cm long and when I rolled them up well they grew even longer sometimes so much so that I folded them and started again. 

Breadsticks Formation...

It is fair to say that I must have cocked up that dividing and rolling part somewhere, yet my not heaven batch went onto the lined baking trays. You do need two of those. I brushed the breadsticks with the egg white mix ( 1 egg white + 1 tbsp of water). Then comes the seasoning with the sea salt and the crushed black pepper. Simple yet wonderful to the taste-buds.

The Dips
It took about 15 minutes to bake. Then I let them cool on a grid for five to ten minutes. During that time , I prepared dipping bowls. One was the traditional yet effective olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar simply seasoned, great bread dipper. In another bowl,  I put dollops of my Chilli Jam which goes so well with bread and cheese. Then spooned two of my home made chutney a spiced apple one, which works really well with cheese too. The other is a red peppers, tomatoes and chilli chutney. For that type of bread the last chutney was a marriage made in heaven. 

Home made Chutney.

The breadsticks had a Ciabatta like texture. They were Fantastico to take one of the trademark words of Gino D'Acampo. I will definitely do those little babies again. They are awesome as a snack or as part of a party food buffet.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Saturday. 10/10/2015. 'Courgette & Roasted Pepper Risotto.'

This recipe comes from 'Gino's Veg Italia!' by Gino D'Acampo. Page 164.

The  Risotto.

Risotto is already one of our classics at home. I have been doing Risottos since a while being so fond of them and their versatility. You can make them as seasonal as you want or as complicated or as simple as you like. Like Pizza or Pasta, Risotto is a good base which you make sing with ingredients of choice which compliment one another. 

Now a creamy bowl of Risotto may not look the most restaurant'esque' and 'cheffy' yet it is one that can be nonetheless so tasty and comforting. It is home food at its best. The book picture of the dish is nonetheless inviting. 

The Prep.

Our orange mini sweet peppers.
For the ingredients, it features a 300g jar of roasted peppers. Now, I had a glut of peppers this year from my garden, the first year I grew sweet peppers of many shapes, the long and pointy Romanesco and the sweet mini ones. Unfortunately the variety Californian sweet bell peppers didn't do well at all. Although abundant, left all summer outside, the peppers turned red, orange and yellow inside only around the end of October so too late for that recipe unfortunately.  However it gave me the very idea of how to preserve my harvest of peppers to enjoy them for a longer period. 

Our red Peppers. Romanesco and sweet mini.

Home made jar of dried red peppers.

If doing my own roasted peppers jar was fun, it had a bit of a big mishap. Among the harvested peppers, we had one of the last chilli peppers which had not been picked out nor recognised to my crying eyes dilemma. I was in tears for the mistake. However I can only recommend that way of preserving a glut of peppers for those little jars of roasted peppers are handy to jazz up Pasta, Pizza and in this recipe Risotto. The other benefit, from a gardening point of view, is picking up the seeds of successful plants at that stage, in order to grow more next year. The Romanesco plants were a delight of strength and the sweet mini peppers were so bountiful, that they have to be resurrected somehow.

Peppers ready to oven roast.

To do the Risotto, you start by putting 50g of butter in a large wok like pan but with a heavy base along with 4 tbsps of olive oil. Then comes the onions, 2 red onions, to be softened however I did not put the parsley (4tbsps) at that time, because for me it was far too early to do so like in the recipe. Then I put the Arborio rice, but less than 400g, I usually measure it with my hand: Three handfuls are enough for two people and give leftovers. I let the rice to be coated by the butter in the pan before putting 80g of Cubetti di Pancetta. 

Risotto building up.

After the Pancetta another small addition to the recipe is a tbsp of white wine vinegar. I always use a spoon or a couple of spoons of vinegar in my Risottos to be absorb by the grain of rice. It gives it a sweet welcoming sharpness to begin with before I build up the flavour with ladle after ladle of stock.  The choice of vinegar needs to be bespoke or suiting the other ingredients in the Risotto.  Depending on which alcohol you use for the Risotto or/and which stock are usually good cues: white wine vinegar/white wine,  sherry vinegar/sherry etc.
Phantom River Wine.

Once the vinegar is absorbed, I poured the 150ml of dry white wine (Phantom River, Sauvignon Blanc) and let it simmer until it is reduced right down. Afterwards come the vegetable stock, not all of the 1,3 litre of it, just two ladle spoonfuls of it to start of. 

Home made Vegetable Stock.

Then the essence of the operation is pretty much, adding the ingredients little by little, building the flavours doing so, and make them simmer and absorb the stock little by little just as well. You start with a couple of cubed courgettes, after 12 minutes you add the roasted peppers. 

With Risottos, it is important to keep the focus on the pan and whatever it needs, either stirring, adding more stock or more ingredients. I love keeping an eye on them with a nice glass of wine, watching them build up slowly, with the TV in the background. 
Sweet mini peppers and Cayenne chillies.

At this moment in time, to my sheer pleasure, 'Masterchef' is back on with the professionals this time around. I can't help but loving Monica Galetti's facial expressions.  If I was disappointed with the BBC dropping Michel Roux Jr out of that programme or him leaving them for their staunch attitude because of him endorsing a product or an advert ( the all matter, I don't remember well so I could be wrong, therefore don't quote me on it, but it seemed to be a lot of non sense for nothing.) I must admit that taking Marcus Wareing as his replacement worked. Beside I have a book of him somewhere in my culinary crowded bookshelves which I want to try out for a week in the near future. 
Provolone Piccante.

Now, there is an ingredient we could not find which was the Provolone Piccante Cheese, Gino D'Acampo made it sound very nice and we were disappointed not to find the 80 g we needed for the recipe. If you do not know about that particular cheese, I recommend this page to learn all about it:

We went for a Gruyére in place of the Provolone this time around, but we are determined to try that Italian cheese in the future.

Le Gruyére.


Once the rice is just about cooked then I did add the 4 Tbsps of Parsley and gave a good stir. Parsley is full of goodness which you do not want to lose by overcooking it. When it is ready I inserted the last of the butter 50g to give that extra creaminess and the cheese.

The Creamy Result. 

The recipe was easy to follow. Like any good Risottos give it plenty of time, attention and patience and the result will be a bowl of comforting loveliness.  This one was absolutely Fantastico.  It did have the high five from both of us and finished the trial week of Gino D'Acampo's recipes beautifully.  

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Friday. 09/10//2015. 'Calzone with Ricotta, Pecorino, Mozzarella, Tomato and Pesto.'

This recipe comes from 'Gino's Veg Italia!' by Gino D'Acampo. Page 148.

First I must confess that I always wanted to learn how to make a Calzone. If I am good at making Pizza, a Calzone is not something that I had ever attempted. I will use my traditional excuse here, it was by lack of time and tiredness. As it is not the case anymore but also that my partner happened to be a fan of them, I just had to try my hand on that little gem of a recipe for it. The book picture was very attractive too, temptingly so. 

The Prep.

Second I have a home of big cheese lovers which means that the enumeration of so many cheeses in the title did not scare us away to have cheesy nightmares. On the contrary, the recipe of Gino D'Acampo had all the cheese appeal to hook us both.  250g of Ricotta, 50g of grated Pecorino, were duly put on the kitchen counter. As for the Mozzarella, as the recipe makes two Calzones, we did not use just one ball but we went for two... We do love it cheesy is our big excuse there for diverting by one ball of Buffalo Mozzarella.

The Pesto and Parmesan Topping.

In this recipe the first thing you have to do is the filling made of Ricotta and Pecorino Cheese. 
Then comes the turns of the topping which consists of Pesto 2 tbsp, olive oil 2 tbsp and 2 tbsp of  grated Parmesan cheese. All of those ingredients are constant residents in my home for we never have enough of them. 

Calzone dough prep.

Only then come the dough preparation, and if it felt topsy turvy to me, as the result was awesome I can not express one complaint. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just try, discover and learn plenty of new things in the meantime.  Sometimes you can not say you are right or wrong in doing this that way or not to anybody, just experience for yourself what others did from their own experiences. The beauty is that there is usually not one way, there are many and so great to explore and try at home. Until one day you find the perfect one which works for you, maybe with your own tweak and twist on it. 

Yeast and Salt on each side of the  Olive Oil Well 

Cover the Dough.
For the dough you will need 200g of strong white flour, 7g fast action yeast on one side of the flour in a bowl and 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt on the other side. But also 1 tbsp of fresh Rosemary, chopped which gives a fragrant taste to the dough. It makes it extra special, bellissima. Then you make the little well in the centre, put 2 tbsp of olive oil inside it before inserting 140 ml of warm water gradually with the handle of a spoon. It is another Topsy Turvy of Gino, to use the handle to stir rather than the big fat spoon bit, but trust me when I say it worked. 

Once the dough is kneaded for a good five minutes, you put your ball in an oiled bowl and brush it with oil. Then it is a matter of letting it rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

The Proofed Dough Ball.

Once the dough is ready: It is rock and roll time. Divide the ball into two and roll them out into discs on a floured surface. Now this is not the easiest part in the recipe, I would say it is may be the trickiest to get those round even and make sure they have the right consistency throughout. about 1 cm thick to 2 recommended Gino.

Chorizo and Shallots.
After that comes the assembling. Ready at hand you will have the Ricotta and Pecorino cheese mixture. But I added a few extras and one ingredients was changed for lack of it. For the adds, it was a chopped and softened banana shallots and 80g of Chorizo cubes. I didn't want to get just a four out of five after all that efforts from my partner just because he has to have meat in a dish... So I went for a five and included meat in that one with the Chorizo. I must say it was a very welcome addition. 

Bumble Bee Tomatoes.

Cherry Tomatoes halved. 

For the change we had 10 red cherry tomatoes, halved, instead of the yellow ones that could not be found. A few weeks earlier, I would have used my 'Bumble Bee' tomatoes in that recipe, for a complete winner. And for that I would say that this recipe is seasonal and to plan it with tomato harvest will be best.
Half and Half. 

So on one half of the 25 cm disc, I put the cheese filling then my shallots and Chorizo, the tomatoes, and finish off with the blob of mozzarella torn apart to spread it evenly on top. Then it is a matter of closing the Calzone by pinching the edges together and crimping them. 

Adding the Pesto Topping.

The last stage is that after 7 minutes, halfway through cooking, you then brush the pesto topping on and sprinkle some Parmesan. This topping detail gives a nice finish to the Calzone so much so that it is worth watching the clock to not forget about it. (gas mark 7/220 C.)

The Result.

The all process I would say is not complicated, and the result was fantastic. We both loved it very much indeed and the dish got a high five from the two of us. I will make it again in the Summer, many times every Summer. This recipe is a big winner in my home.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Thursday. 08.10.2015. 'Aubergine Parmigiana.'

This recipe comes from 'Gino's Veg Italia!' by Gino D'Acampo. Page 187.

This dish is a big favourite of mine which I love ordering at the restaurant however I never made it at home. So I was very happy to have this recipe and try it for myself but also to share my love of it to my partner. As the picture in the book didn't look that fantastico, I relied completely on my efforts and that recipe to shine through taste alone. But to be honest a cheesy bake is not about looks but pure comfort. 

Sliced Aubergine.

Now, one of the key element of the dish is a vegetable which is I must admit one of the least liked in this household: the Aubergine. It hardly ever makes it to the shopping trolley or any online orders. However I do love Aubergine  in parmigiana so I went on a small incentive to grow more liking to that veg in our home. I tried to grow some this year to that effect but if I did get a plant, I did not get any veg from it. But we will keep trying until we get a nice aubergine, so next year, we will plant them again.

The Prep.

So the ingredients for this recipe are 3 Sliced Aubergines, olive oil a fair amount, I used more than the 4 tbsp indicated just by oiling every slice of aubergine before grilling them, 70g of Parmesan, 2 ball of mozzarella, (1 more from the recipe for extra cheezyness), 20 g of breadcrumbs. 

Plum Tomatoes.

I changed the tomato sauce a little though for I had six nice plum tomatoes to use up. So with them went 2 garlic cloves, 2 tins of chopped tomatoes, 15 basil leaves and salt and black pepper seasoning. The taste this sauce delivered to the dish compared to how easy it was to make and let it simmer for 20 minutes was amazing. 

Olive Oil Brushing of the slices.
The entire process is very well explained by Gino in his recipe. You start by doing the tomato sauce and while it is simmering you can start brushing with olive oil the aubergine slices.

The Griddling.
Then comes the griddling of the slices of Aubergines on a cast-iron chargrill pan. For me this part was the most technically demanding, but with a hob fully organised it makes the task easier. The trick here is to have the griddle pan very hot. Also the time spent oiling the slices of Aubergine makes all the difference at this stage so it is definitely not worth skipping.

A little Hob Organisation.

Griddled Aubergine Slices.

After that stage when all your slices of Aubergines got those beautiful griddled marks on, it is the time to build up the dish, layer after layer. Gino's recipe gives all the guidance for it very clearly which is fantastico.  I used 2 rather than 1 mozzarella ball (like in the recipe) just because we are fond of them. 

Breadcrumbs with a difference.

For the breadcrumbs, the one I used are shop bought, from Sainsbury's and flavoured: lemon and black pepper. I always have a pot of those in the cupboard for we enjoy their taste. However proper breadcrumbs are easy to do and it is my plan to make batches of those ready to be used when needed, and yes, I will flavour them with lemon zest and cracked black pepper. 

Building up the layers pic 1.

Building up the layers, pic 2.

Once the lovely layers of tomato sauce, Parmesan, Aubergine, and seasoning are repeated about three times, you finish off the dish with the rest of the tomato sauce  and the Mozzarella broken heavenly/evenly all over and 'Et voilà'. 

After 40 minutes in the oven at gas mark 4/180 C and 20 mins resting inside it, we had the Aubergine Parmigiana. 

Aubergine Parmigiana à la Gino D'Acampo: the Result.

For the first time I made it, I absolutely adored it. I admit that the entire process can appear demanding but face with the result in the end it is all worth it and I will keep that recipe of Gino D'Acampo as a standard one for Aubergine Parmigiana in my home. The only complaint my alter ego had was that the dish was completely vegetarian so he would have loved maybe just  a layer of prosciutto to give it a five. So it was a four for him on this aspect alone. However like me who is not a great fan of Aubergine, he found that this recipe did make him appreciate that veg much more. 

For me, it was, of course, a high five. We will do this recipe again and maybe with the prosciutto like suggested.