Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Tagliatelle with Chicken and Plums

This dish might sound as if it just wouldn’t work, but oddly it does – as long as you like plums. I came across a French recipe using chicken and plums and since there were plenty of cheap plums around, I thought I’d try something along the same lines. It might sound a little complicated, but it’s not really and can be prepared largely in advance.

This recipe serves two hungry people, but the size of plums and chicken thighs will vary a lot so you might want to vary the amount of pasta or other ingredients to suit your appetite.

3-4 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
3-4 plums, ripe but preferably still on the firm side
2 medium courgettes, topped and tailed
Zest and juice of 1 small lime
150 g (or thereabouts) tagliatelle – or use whatever pasta you have
Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dried chilli flakes, salt and pepper and maybe a little sugar

Cut the courgettes into thin slices lengthways. Dry these slices out by placing them on silicone sheets on baking trays in an oven heated to 110°C (for a fan oven) for around an hour (the exact time will depend on how thick the slices might be). Don’t worry about some of the slices taking on a bit of colour, but don’t let them brown and crisp up too much.

Once dried (or semi-dried, really), fry the slices in a splash of olive oil until they are golden (or maybe a little brown) all over. This won’t take long so watch them carefully. Set the courgette slices aside.

Roast the chicken thighs. This will take about half an hour at 180°C, but this time will vary according to size. I like to roast them on a bed of thinly sliced onion with a splash of wine or water. This flavours the chicken and you can then drain and freeze the onion ready for another recipe. But I digress ….

Allow the chicken to cool, then skin the thighs and chop the flesh into small chunks. Discard the skin and bones. Chill the chicken and courgettes until you know your wife is on the way home.

Cut the plums into 6 or 8 pieces, discarding the stone, of course. Fry the pieces of plum in a little olive oil with a pinch of chilli flakes and some seasoning for around 5 minutes. The pieces should be soft but not falling apart and should have a touch of colour from the frying. If you think the plums are not as sweet as they could be, then add a pinch or two of sugar towards the end of the frying time.

You could pause briefly again at this point, but assuming that your wife has now walked in the door, start cooking the tagliatelle in the usual way. Add the lime juice and zest to the plums together with a splash of balsamic vinegar and dollop of olive oil. Once combined, add the chicken and let the mixture warm through.

When it’s ready, drain the tagliatelle and toss it together with the chicken and plum mixture. Toss the courgettes into the mixture, adjust the seasoning and serve at once in nicely warmed bowls.

Courgettes prepared in the above way are good with an aperitif, too: just sprinkle with sea salt and maybe some chopped mint and drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar after frying. They can also be used in other pasta dishes with whatever vegetables you have and some pancetta.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Rosemary & Olive Oil Soda Bread

Soda bread is quick and easy to make and, of course, is good to eat. But classic soda bread doesn't really work when served alongside the kinds of dishes I often cook, such as pasta. This recipe doesn’t stick to the classic soda bread ingredients in that it adds both baking powder and olive oil. Flavoured with rosemary, or with other herbs if you wish, this is a light and tasty bread that will accompany a whole range of dishes.

350 g white bread flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
The leaves from 2 or 3 large sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
Black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
250 ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 200°C for a fan oven (a little hotter for a non-fan).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl. Add the rosemary and a few twists of black pepper. Make sure that they are well mixed together. Make a well in the centre.

Pour in the oil, egg and buttermilk. Quickly mix in with a wooden spoon just until the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it briefly. The dough should be smooth and not too sticky. If it’s not smooth knead a little more, though don’t overdo it. If it seems very sticky add a little more flour.

Shape into a 20 cm round and cut this into 8 wedges. Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with silicone or non-stick paper, allowing about 3cm between them. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack as usual.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Collioure and the Parmesan Sablé

Sometimes I do actually get out of the kitchen and I've just come back from the South of France, so let's start there. I’m all for trying and using local ingredients but sometimes this can be pushed a little far. For instance, I once had a salad in Normandy that combined all the local ingredients that the chef thought were significant, namely fish, apples and mustard (there was a mustard producer nearby). It was truly horrible

But you can’t go to Collioure without trying the anchovies. The prospect of small, salty fish wasn’t filling me with excitement but having tried the anchovies of Maison Roque with the traditional red pepper, I have been persuaded that they can be a serious delicacy with a lot of possibilities.
I particularly enjoyed the anchovy salad in the restaurant “Ma Maison” in Sorède which was served with a parmesan sablé. A little difficult to eat elegantly but it worked. The following is my way of creating a savoury sablé, albeit not really a professional looking one - nobody would mistake me for a professional. Unlike most biscuits I’ve had that are flavoured with parmesan, the sablé is not crisp – far from it. Look at these biscuits the wrong way and they’ll fall apart. But that’s what’s so nice about them. Good with an aperitif as well as a salad provided that you don’t mind the risk of crumbs in the carpet.
Parmesan Sablés

This makes around 20 – 25 biscuits of about 5cm diameter.

120 g unsalted butter, softened
A generous pinch of salt
130 g plain flour, sifted
18 g finely grated parmesan
1 egg yolk

Beat the butter until very smooth and creamy. Mix in the parmesan and salt without beating too vigorously and then do the same with the egg yolk. The mixture should be well blended and smooth but don’t overwork it. Fold in the flour.

Once the flour has been incorporated, the dough will seem a little crumbly and that’s the way it should be. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gently work it into a sausage shape, about 20 cm long. Carefully wrap the sausage in cling film and chill in the fridge until the mixture is quite firm. This will probably take a couple of hours or, if it’s easier, leave it overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven 170°C (for a fan oven, a bit hotter for non-fans). Cover a baking tray with a silicone sheet (or non-stick paper). Unwrap the cold dough sausage and cut it into slices of at least 0.5cm but no more than 1cm width. Place on the baking tray, leaving a gap of 2cm – 3cm between each biscuit. Sprinkle with some sea salt flakes and a quick twist or two of black pepper.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes; when ready the biscuits should be only slight browned.

Allow the biscuits to cool for a few minutes on the baking tray then carefully lift them onto a cooling rack (preferably non-stick) and wait until they’re cold before eating.