Sunday 29 March 2009

Daring Bakers: Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna

"A lasagne is a whole meal in itself" Mr A&N commented while helping with this month's challenge. "The only problem with it is that it takes about three meal's worth of time to make."

In between a fussy Baby A&N and tired A&N parents, the lasagne took a while to make and gave us our latest night dinner in months - 9pm, our now-normal bedtime. The grandest element of this lasagne, as hosted by the triumverate of Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder, and Enza of Io Da Grande, was the spinach lasagne sheets. Made from scratch and involving a whole load of finely chopped spinach, the pasta turns you into the Incredible Hulk during the 10 minutes of kneading, as the green of the spinach seeps in to both the flour and egg mixture, and on to your hands.

The requirement was to roll the pasta out by hand, and frankly this was the most time consuming part, both to perform the task as well as to understand the instructions and get the hang of what you ought to be doing. I was covered in flour and pasta dough for what felt like several hours, and Mr A&N had to step in and make the meat sauce to prevent a midnight dining time rather than a 9pm one. The meat sauce was our own bog standard variety (onions, garlic, bit of celery and carrot, beef, tinned tomato and tomato pasta, and a dash of balsamic vinegar and worcestershire sauce for a bit of extra flavor) because, as Mr A&N likes to remind me, he's not one to follow the rules (except that he is, but I indulge him sometimes). It was a joint effort to assemble and bake it, and by the time it was in the oven we both felt we deserved that 40 minute slouch back on the sofa.

But all's well that ends in lasagne, and the finished product is a definite I'll-have-a-second-helping-even-if-it-means-a-later-bedtime wonder. Fresh pasta makes a huge difference to both texture and taste, giving a softer and richer final product. Not one you can make every weekend (unless the kids are behaving themselves and you're feeling particularly spry/hyped up on caffeine), but certainly worth the effort once it's done.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Monday 16 March 2009

A Winter Hash Brown/Latke/Rosti

Mother Nature in winter can be a harsh mistress, not least because of the abbreviated vegetable selection that she doth giveth. And giveth. The strawberry or the fresh pea season begins and ends before you have time to harvest them, but your root vegetables - I'm looking at you, turnips, swedes/rutabagas, parsnips, carrots and celeriac - mock you week after week, making you feel you're imagining the days growing lighter and the weather warmer since the winter vegetables show no sign of halting their assault.

It's a
bout February time that we start growing tired of mash in all its forms (parsnip and potato, celeriac and potato, carrot and get the idea) and another batch of roast vegetables or a giant stew stops being able to satisfy. Looking through the blog world to find inspiration for what to do with a spare khol rabi and celeriac, I found this recipe for a rosti using both ingredients. Mr A&N was beyond skeptical, not being a big fan of the khol rabi to begin with, but his opinion was transformed with the first bite. They were nutty and comforting, and just a little bit naughty because of the pan frying. Perfect winter food.

Since then, we've been coming up with lots of variations on that theme, all using our unloved winter vegetables left over at the end of the week. We've found that potato versions (where potato is the primary vegetable) crisp up the best, and that a combination of oat and cornmeal, put through the blender until it is smooth, brings that slightly nutty flavor to the pancakes that we both found so comforting. A recipe with about as many variations as it has name, in fact. So call it a rosti, call it a latke, make do with thinking of it as a hash brown, it's a great method of bring a bit of life back to the winter vegetables.
Winter Hash Brown/Latke/Rosti
makes around 10-12 fritters

Basic proportions:

  • about 1 lb of grated vegetables (potato, celeriac, parsnip, swede/rutabaga, khol rabi)
  • 1 large egg for binding it all together
  • 1/2 C / 60g flour (you can get interesting with your flour, and add in some oats, cornmeal, etc to a blender and whizz it until it's flour consistency and add it to/have it take the place of the normal wheat flour)
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil for frying

  1. Grate your vegetables, either using a blender or the large grating section on your grater
  2. If using potato, be sure to drain it of excess water by squeezing the grated potato out. Since the potato may go brown in the mean time, you can add a squirt of lemon juice to the gratings to prevent this (if the browness offends you).
  3. Mix in the egg and flour, and a bit of salt and pepper, stirring it all well.
  4. Heat some olive oil in a pan - if you want to be a bit naughty, add enough so you'll be shallow frying the pancakes. Otherwise, add just enough so the pancakes don't stick.
  5. Shape the mixture into patties between your hands. Try to get them as flat as you can (though they can be flattened further in the pan).
  6. Add the to the pan, not shifting them until they're cooked half way through (5 minutes or so, depending on how large or thick they are).
  7. Turn over, adding a touch more oil to the pan if needed.
  8. Serve warm, with dinner if you're in need to starch, or with breakfast if you're in need of a treat. Mixture can be kept in the fridge for 24 hours if you want to make some more for another meal.

Saturday 7 March 2009

A Rather Adult Apple Crumble

One sign of the A&N life returning to a more familiar rhythm is that we had some friends around for food. Not only was it a treat for us, but a treat for Mark and Cath as well, as their baby boy was born 6 weeks after Baby A&N so life has been an adjustment for them too. There were a lot of firsts for all of us that day - first time we met baby Arthur, first menu we had to plan and cook around a baby's eat/sleep/play schedule, first time Arthur decided it was ok to smile at strangers. With all this newness, I felt justified in making a familiar dessert but with a slightly different - and adult - twist.

Introducing the apple crumble. The apple crumble is an improvement on the apple pie in one important way: it's easier to make. And while the apple pie crust is it's own delight of buttery goodness, the crumble topping, with the naughty addition of sugar, makes you feel as if you're eating your apple filling with warm cookies on top. Hardly a bad thing.

I used to make apple crumble much more often when we had two apple trees in the garden; the good tree (with the tasty apples) never gave much and it was a fight to wrestle away the one or two apples a season from the squrriels. The cooking apple tree belched out imperfect, rotten apple after rotten apple, but even with only 50% of those apples salvageable our friends (and ourselves) were kept in crumble until the winter. Though my crumble making abilities aren't as well honed as my brownie abilities (in which I can whip up a batch in less then 10 minutes, even at 11pm and *ahem* slightly worse for wear), I am mostly on auto-pilot when crumble time comes.

So to shake thinks up, I've introduced almonds, both in the form of the nut and of the liquor. The apples were gently sauteed in butter and ameretto before being baked, and whole almonds were whizzed up in the blender with the crumble topping, with a few more almond slivers thrown on top for good luck. You have to like almonds, then, to like this variation, but it was a rich and indulgent change on the norm, turning the cookie crumble topping into a nutty, adult treat. Enjoy with a bit of ice cream, and the knowledge that your kids will probably need a few years to come around to wanting second helpings. Again, hardly a bad thing.

Apple and Almond Crumble
I made mine in a 12x10 sized deep dish, but generally put it in a dish that gives you enough apples to have a good apple layer, and enough crumble to cover them all slightly generously

For the filling:

  • 8 or so medium sized cooking (Bramley) apples (around 7 cups in volume)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 C / 100g sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp / 40g butter
  • 1/4 C / 60ml amaretto liquor

For the crumble topping
  • 1C / 120g flour
  • 2 Tbs / 30g almonds
  • 3 Tbs / 30g jumbo oats
  • 1/2 C / 100g sugar
  • 1/2 C plus 1 Tbs / 125g butter, softened
  • Optional: a handful of almond slivers
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 175 C / 375 F.
  2. Peel and core the apples, and slice them into thick, half-moon shaped chunks.
  3. Toss the apples together with the flour, half cup of sugar and cinnamon and set aside for a good hour.
  4. Once the apples have produced some juices, heat a frying pan (big enough to hold all the apples) on medium heat. Melt the butter and add in the amaretto liquor, and cook for a minute or so until the alcohol begins to burn off and reduce.
  5. Add in the apples and the juices, and stir for a couple of minutes - remove from heat before the apples have softened and set aside.
  6. In a blender, whizz together the flour, almonds, sugar, oats, and butter until it resembles coarse meal.
  7. Empty the apples into a deep baking dish and spread out evenly.
  8. Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top so that all the apples are covered, and press down gently but firmly. Sprinkle a handful of almond slivers on the top if so desired.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until the crumble feels firm to the touch and is golden brown.