The Pear Tart to Mandorle!

Sultry September has arrived with a slight coolness about her & although the mornings are a little chilly now, the sunrises are just as spectacular.  Getting up early means I see some amazing sunrises & Autumn never fails to deliver.  An array of moody clouds smooched across the sky this morning, kissing the rooftops as it gave way to the sunshine before we’d finished breakfast.  The garden looks prettily overgrown at the moment, all luscious long grass, wispy branches & a scattering of jewel-coloured blackberries on the hedgerows, contrasting with their dark green background.  They are happily growing at a rapid rate, replacing the ones that have already been plucked & packed in a pie with sweet sliced apples & cinnamon sugar.

Pastry plays a huge part of Autumnal food, mostly I think due to the fabulous produce that’s been growing all year & let’s face it, we all like a good fruit pie!  Although a slightly stodgy pie is very welcome at this time of year, sometimes we like something a little lighter but just as indulgent.  On one of my recent shopping trips to our local shops, there were shelves stacked with punnets of pears.  They looked so beautiful & fresh, with pale juniper green skins & a smattering of gold around the bottom.  Obviously, I had to buy some & starting thinking of how to do them some justice in a lighter pie, recipe calculating in my head as usual.  By the time I got to the checkout a few minutes later, I’d packed my basket with a selection of ingredients & headed home excitedly to start my next creation.

The filling would have included single cream, however there was a slight incident.  Upon opening the fridge, the cream pot leapt from the top shelf, unceremoniously smacking into the floor & spectacularly showering me & everything in it’s path.  Cue a huge clean up operation & a slight delay in my creation.  When things like this happen, I tend to have a look around to see what I can replace it with, rather than hit the shops again & I had some lovely over-ripe bananas that were the perfect replacement!   My Pear & Almond Tart (Crostata di Pere e Mandorle) is a simple but pretty dessert, easy to make & the addition of the dark chocolate makes it deliciously decadent.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the Filling:
4 ripe Pears, peeled & cored
125g Ground Almonds
50g Plain Flour
3 large Eggs
100g Sugar
1 ripe Banana, peeled (if you’re weighing it, about 90g with skin on)
1-2 tablespoons Semi-Skimmed Milk
100g Dark Chocolate (the stuff you eat, not cooking chocolate!)
Quarter teaspoon Vanilla Extract

For the Pastry:
175g Self-Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out & your tin)
60g Salted Butter (plus extra for preparing your tin)
60g Sugar
1 large Egg
2 teaspoons Cold Water
A little Orange or Lemon Zest (a couple of teaspoons should do)
Ceramic Baking Beans* & greaseproof paper for baking blind
Icing Sugar (approx 25g), for dusting

[*If you don’t have any baking beans, just use dried pasta like fusilli instead – when cooled, pop in a jar for future baking]

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 170*C & prepare your tin.

Smudge a little butter around the inside of a 10 inch loose-bottomed pie or flan tin, making sure you get it into all the edges.  Tip in a little flour & shake it all around to cover the butter, tapping the tin onto the worktop where you will be rolling out your pastry.  If you don’t have a loose-bottomed tin, when you’ve done the above stage, criss-cross long strips of greaseproof paper in the tin (make sure they go well over the edge of your tin so you can use them to lift your tart out after baking).  Set the tin aside.

Now to make the pastry!  Tip the flour & sugar into a mixing bowl, giving it a thorough stir.

Add the butter pieces to the bowl & using your fingertips, rub in the butter until everything resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Add the lemon or orange zest, mixing thoroughly.

Beat the egg in a cup & then add to the butter & flour rubble in the bowl.  Stir it well with a knife until it starts to come together into a ball, adding just a dribble of the cold water at a time until it forms a lovely soft dough.

Turn your dough ball onto a lightly floured worktop & give it a quick knead to smooth it out.  Add a little more flour to your work surface as you need it, but don’t over do it (otherwise your pastry will taste like cardboard).

Roll out your pastry to a couple of inches larger than the pie tin.  Using your rolling pin, flop the pastry over onto it & carefully drape it over your pie tin, so it reaches all the inside edges.

Push your pastry gently into all the edges of the tin, either using your fingertips or the end of a rolling pin (it’s smooth, so won’t tear your pastry).

Leave a little lip of pastry on the edge of the tin & trim off the excess – keep this for the decorations.

Take a piece of greaseproof paper, a couple of inches bigger than your tin & screw it up.  Unravel it & shape it to the inside of your pastry tin, making sure it covers the edges of your pastry to protect them.  Tip in the baking beans & bake in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until the edges are just starting to turn golden.

Remove your tin from the oven & put on a cooling rack.  Leave the greaseproof paper & baking beans in place for at least 5 minutes (they will be hotter than the sun), then lift them out on the greaseproof paper & put in a heatproof bowl or similar to cool.

Now to make the filling!  Take the pears & halve them.  Use a teaspoon to scoop out the core.  Slice each half into fine, frond-like fingers.  Place one half in the pastry case, rounded side up & gently press to fan them out.  Add the next pear half & repeat, making sure each is nicely spaced apart.

Scatter the chocolate pieces all over the pears evenly.

Mash the soft banana in a bowl with a tablespoon of the milk, until you get a yoghurty thick liquid.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs & sugar together until it resembles a light cream coloured foam.

Add the banana & milk mixture, giving everything a good stir until fully incorporated.

Stir the ground almonds & flour together in a separate bowl, then fold into the wet ingredients until blended thoroughly.

Pour all over the chocolate covered pears evenly – don’t overfill the tin, as this doesn’t rise so it will just ooze out everywhere.

Bake in the lower part of the oven for about 35 minutes, until golden on top & slightly firm to the touch.  Poke a spaghetti stem in the middle & if it comes out clean, it’s cooked.  If not, pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.

Remove & put on a cooling rack to rest.  Once cool, trim off the pastry edge until level with the pie tin.  Set aside while you make the decorations.

Line a baking tin with greaseproof paper (this will make it easier to remove all the tiny pastry pieces later & it also means no washing up).

Dust your work top with flour & roll out the leftover pastry.  Using whatever cutters you have, cut out pretty shapes.  No cutters?  No problem!  Got a jar of herbs?  Take the top off & give it a wipe to remove any herbs (put the jar where you won’t knock it over).  Use the top to cut out small circles of pastry, then cut them in half & shape the flat edge slightly by pressing it gently out in the middle with your finger, so it looks like a leaf.

For flowers, you need to get a bit more creative – roll pastry into a few tiny balls, about 5mm.  Place one in the middle with five around the outside, then press with fingers to join together & form a flower.

Place your pastry leaves & flowers onto the paper lined tin & dust very lightly with a little bit of the icing sugar – put a bit of the sugar on the end of a teaspoon & tap into a tea strainer to get a fine dust.  This gives them a crispness & makes them nicer to handle when placing them on your tart.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 8-10 minutes until golden.

Lift the paper up & place on a cooling rack until completely cool.

Transfer your pie onto a serving plate, ready to adorn with your pastry foliage.

Dip a clean finger in cold water & dab a little on the back of each leaf & flower, placing them at intervals around the edge of the tart.  This is your masterpiece, so place them in any fashion you like.

Once you’re happy with your decorating skills, simply dust lightly with the rest of the icing sugar.  Use the tea strainer method I mentioned before.  It should be lightly dredged, not drenched!

Serve!  Lightly luscious & very lovely, simply cut into delicate slices & eat as it comes, or add a spoonful of slightly softened vanilla ice-cream.   I can’t tell you whether or not it freezes, as it only lasted until the next morning & the remaining slices were duly gifted to some very hard-working workmen (sharing the pastry!).  This pretty pear-filled pastry will look beautiful on an afternoon tea table or as a sumptuous treat after Sunday lunch.   So next time you fancy a fruity dessert, try my Pear Tart to Mandorle!  Stay hungry! 😉  Aimee x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Champignon The Wonder Pie!

Gazing into the garden while sipping my first coffee of the day, there is an Autumnal air about it.  The early sunshine is just peaking over the rooftops, causing the dew laden lawn to shimmer in the sunlight & perfectly summing up the Summer.

August has been very much “all or nothing”, either a raging hot heatwave or shivering shade, deluge or drought, & nothing inbetween.  The poor plants don’t seem to know which way to turn & our multi-tasking willow tree has been happily soaking up the excess water, whilst providing welcome cool shade to the local wildlife.  There are baby olives on our little olive tree trying to ripen, green tomatoes just starting to blush red & a bounty of blackberries waiting patiently to be plucked.  The garden seems to be clinging on by it’s very leaf-tips to the last days of Summer, as Autumn has quietly arrived & begun to unpack her colourful attire across the landscape.

Before Autumn settles in, there are some comforting meals we can indulge in to soften the seasonal switch.  Fresh produce is all around us, just waiting to be turned into tasty transitional treats.  Some of my best ideas come from mooching around the markets, shopping when everyone else is sat in traffic (or still in bed), & picking up some fabulous bargains.  The early bird always catches her worm & although thankfully not very worm-like, earthy foods have caught my eye recently – the beautiful but humble mushroom.

Soft, light & flavoursome, mushrooms are one of the most versatile ingredients in cooking.  They go with pretty much everything, adding both subtle & substantial flavour to dishes, & the variety is truly amazing!  From the tiny to the tawny, closed cup or open, the frilly or the flat, these fabulous funghi are just waiting to be turned into delicious dishes!

As I wanted them to be the main attraction, I created my Champignon the Wonder Pie – a delicate mushroom & vegetable stew, tucked in under a crisp comforting blanket of buttery puff pastry.   This is one of those lazy afternoon recipes to make, rather relaxing & a little therapeutic even.  Although simple to make, there is going to be some prep involved – I hear you groaning, but I promise it’s all easy stuff, no mysterious ingredients & worth every minute when you taste the results. 

Firstly, you’re going to need vegetable stock – use either a stock cube or fresh, whatever works best for you & the time you have available.  I make my own & freeze it, as it uses up all the veg trimmings & you know what’s in it (too much salt & mushrooms = watery mess & a soggy pie).  My easy vegetable stock recipe means no standing around watching pans either.  You’ll need a couple of carrots, an onion, two celery sticks & a handful of fresh herbs (half a dozen Sage leaves, some sprigs of Thyme & a couple of Rosemary stems work well), along with any mushroom stems, parsnip, bean or pea trimmings – wash everything well to remove grit & dirt, then chuck them all in a roasting tin with 2-3 pints of cold water, a splash of olive oil & a few good grinds of black pepper & sea salt.  Cover it with foil to seal in all the juices & bake at 200*C for just over an hour, then strain & that’s it.  Use it fresh, stick it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it.  Save the veggies to whizz up into soups or sauces & pour any leftovers into jars for the fridge or ice cube trays to freeze.

If you prefer, you can swap the vegetable stock for chicken stock (as long as your guests are not vegetarian) – both work well & it tastes just as lovely either way.  A little bit of tasty trivia for you here: vegetable stock is actually a broth, as stock refers to a liquid that has bones cooked in it.

Next, although I have used two types of pastry (shortcrust for the base & puff for the lid), you could use shortcrust all over or just use shop-bought puff lids if time is limited – please make sure it’s proper all-butter puff to do your pie proud.  If you do fancy having a go at making your own, here’s the link to my puff pastry recipe: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/puff-up-the-volume/   You will only need half the amount, so reduce the measurements accordingly.  It’s easy to make & just needs an hour to rest in the fridge before rolling, so you could make this while the stock is in the oven.

Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the filling:
250g Mushrooms approx (I’ve used closed cup & flat but use what you like here)
1 stick of Celery
1 medium Carrot
1 medium Red Onion
2 tablespoons of Sweetcorn
100ml Vegetable Stock approx
25g Salted Butter
25g Plain Flour
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the base Pastry:
6oz Plain Flour, plus extra for rolling out & prepping your tin
2oz Salted Butter, plus extra for your tin
1 large Egg
A little cold water, about a tablespoon

4oz Puff Pastry (see link above to make fresh or buy all-butter puff pastry)
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan or Medium Cheddar
1 Egg & 2 tablespoons of Milk, whisked together to make egg wash

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare a pie tin.  I’ve used an 8″ square cake tin because it was handy.  Smudge a little butter around the inside of the tin & then sprinkle with flour.  Tip out the flour (save for rolling out) & set the tin aside.

Time to prepare your vegetables!  Give them all a good wash in cold water & remove the onion outer skin.  Top & tail all of them, chop finely & set aside.

Prepare the mushrooms next.  Give them a good wipe with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or grit (if they’re small, use a pastry brush).  Take out about half a dozen & set to one side whole.  Chop the rest up finely & set aside too.

Heat a large frying pan or skillet.  Add the butter & oil, mixing well until melted together.

Add the carrot, onion & celery, stirring well to coat in the oil butter mixture, then fry on a medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Give them a nudge around the pan from time to time, so they don’t catch & burn.  You want them to soften slightly, but not go squishy.

Add the mushrooms & give everything a good stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Sprinkle in the plain flour around the pan & stir fry everything together until the flour has disappeared.  This is going to make a roux in the pan, as it will absorb the butter & oil in the mixture, thickening everything up nicely.

Add the stock gradually & stir well into the mixture, making a smooth sauce.  When everything is combined, turn off the pan.

Slice up the whole mushrooms you saved into bite-sized bits & stir them into the stew.

Make the base pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour.  Add the egg & stir into the flour mixture using a metal spoon or knife.  As it starts to come together, add a trickle of the cold water to form a soft dough.

Turn it out onto a floured surface, sprinkle a little flour on top & roll out until slightly larger than the size of your tin all around.

Flop the pastry over your rolling pin & carefully lift into the tin, draping it inside as you do so.  Press gently into all the edges & leave a little hanging over the tin (to attach the puff pastry lid to later).  Try using the end of the rolling pin for this, as it’s smooth & won’t tear your pastry.

Roll out the puff pastry to just over the size of your pie tin & set aside.

Tip the mushroom pie filling into the pastry lined tin & spread out well.  Dip your finger in a cup of cold water & run it around the edge of the pastry.

Put the puff pastry lid on top & press the edges down to seal the pastry base to the lid.  Prick all over with a fork or a sharp knife.

Brush with a little egg wash all over.  If you want to make little pastry decorations with the leftover bit of puff, do that now & lay them on top, then brush them too (not too many though).  Sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan.

Bake in the oven for about 25 -30 minutes, until thoroughly golden & the layers are starting to show at the edges.  The sides of the pastry will come away from the tin slightly when it’s ready.

Put the pie tin on a cooling rack for a few moments to relax before serving.  That’s it!  Just get everyone around the table & dig in!   Meaty but meatless, this mushroom-packed pastry goes well with either a generous scoop of cheesy mashed potatoes & steamed crisp vegetables, or a zesty green salad scattered with a few spots of aged Balsamic vinegar & toasted pine nuts.  Slice it up cold for a luscious leftover lunch or freeze in slices for indulgent lazy suppers after a long day at work.

However you serve it, this crispy champignon-crammed pie is the perfect comfort food for chilly almost-Autumn evenings.  Stay hungry! 😉 Aimee x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Rose Has It’s Apple

Looking out of the window this morning, the brilliant blue almost cloudless sky with stunning sunshine, it’s hard to believe the last couple of weeks’ worth of weather that have wreaked havoc in the garden.  Our willow tree spent the beginning of the month with her spindly branches sideways slanted in the wind, the delicate pretty pink clematis petals have all been scattered across the lawn (which I was going to mow, until it got really windy).  Although it’s standard for this time of year here, it always unnerves me a little as I see the plants we nurture all year round getting a blustery battering from the winds & rain.  At the weekend, we did a bit of tidying up, trimming of the willow & eucalyptus trees, even discovering lost treasures (the chiminea was actually a wedding gift, found buried under a pile of leaves & plant pots – we’ve been married 13 years!).  The last of the peppers, beans & tomatoes have been harvested from their vines, with the tomatoes currently sat on the windowsill, getting a top-up tan from the Autumn sunshine.

When my parents visited recently, they brought with them a lovely gift of freshly picked apples from their neighbour (thank you, Lisa!), which I added to the wonderful wonky apples I got from our local Aldi & filled a large bowl on the table (although why they’re called wonky is beyond me – they’re beautiful, just all different shapes & sizes).  The scent of apples, especially when just plucked from the tree, is simply beautiful & their fresh fragrance fills the room.  The russet reds & pale green shiny dappled skins, with that tart crispness just beneath, are always a welcome addition to Autumnal desserts & salads.  Many Sundays gone, I would make a tasty sticky Tarte Tatin as a fruity delight to be devoured after dinner.  Flaky, buttery puff pastry would crown the curved apple quarters, all bathed in a thick, gorgeously gooey caramel syrup (usually with a bit of spillage in the oven, because I always made too much).

It’s these kind of traditional desserts that inspire me to make dainty, more petite portions to nibble on or adorn a cake.  As you probably know, I love making sugar roses & what better way to show off slender slices of apple than to turn them into floral treats.  This is a really simple recipe & I prefer to use my homemade buttery flaky puff pastry as it crisps up perfectly – if you are buying it though, please make sure it’s the all-butter proper stuff to do your dessert some justice.  The recipe for butter puff pastry is here if you want to make it & although it’s simple to make, it does need an hour to rest & allow all the layers to appear (it’s well worth it though & tastes lovely!):   http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/puff-up-the-volume/

Now even if you’re knife skills are good, cutting wafer thin apple slices is not as easy as anticipated, so any odd shaped slices can always be piled into in a pie with some blackberries or under a crispy topped crumble (freeze it for a lazy dessert another day, even in individual portions so you can have a treat anytime).  My Mum suggested using a vegetable peeler & it works brilliantly for this.  Alternatively, you can always use a food processor.  Ready to get rosy?  Hands washed & aprons on, here we go!

What you need:

8oz All Butter Puff Pastry (recipe link above for homemade)
4 small Apples, washed well & dried (any apples you like will do)
2-3oz Light Muscovado Sugar
1 large Egg, beaten with a tiny pinch of Sea Salt (for glazing before baking)
2 tablespoons Milk (for glazing after baking)
Ground Cinnamon (for dusting)
Icing Sugar (for dusting)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C & prepare your baking tray or muffin tin.  Rub butter all over the inside of a muffin tin & that’s it, you’re done.  If you’re using a baking tray, line with greaseproof paper, pressing it down well, remove & turn it over, press it down again, ensuring no bubbles are visible.  Run cold water onto the butter lined tin, shaking off the excess.

Prepare your apples.  Leave the peel on, especially if they are crimson red or a peachy pink colour, as their colour will intensify as they cook.  Cut them into quarters & remove the cores (chuck these in the composter or feed them to the birds).

Slice your apples thinly using a vegetable peeler or you could put them through the food processor if you like, whatever’s easiest for you.  They need to be flexible, so the thinner the better.  Set aside & if you want to stop them going brown, squeeze a few drips of fresh lemon juice over them (don’t go mad, otherwise they will make your ears flap).

Roll out your pastry thinly (not see-through though) & cut into strips twice the width of your apple slices.

Score lightly down the centre, as you’re going to fold them & want them to do this easily.

Overlap the slices of apple along the pastry, flat side towards the score in the middle & the curved side of the apple slices should be slightly popping over the top.

Sprinkle a little of the sugar along the flat edge of the apple slices, then fold the pastry over & press gently down.

Roll up carefully & place in the prepared tin.  Repeat with the rest until you have a bunch of apple roses.

Glaze with beaten egg around the tops & bake in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes, depending on how large you have made them (the ones I baked in my muffin tins were huge, so they needed a bit longer).

Once cooked, they will be all golden on top & the sugar will have turned into a slightly darker caramel colour.

Gently slide out onto a wire cooling rack using a pallet knife & glaze with the cold milk, then dust with a pinch of the cinnamon while they’re still warm.  Using a tea strainer, lightly shake some icing sugar over the tops & serve!

To be honest, I made lots of different sizes when I baked these, mostly to use up all the odd bits of pastry that were leftover (after all the effort of making puff pastry, I really can’t bear to throw any away).  These go great with a scoop of my Mascarpone & Greek Yoghurt ice-cream (see my Fig-Get Me Knots recipe for details), or you could just pour over a little cream.  Don’t think these are just for eating as a sweet either – try with a little piece of Brie, Camembert or soft blue Gorgonzola Dolce (I have a fondness for this creamy blue cheese, spread on warm crisp toast with a few splodges of cranberry sauce – don’t knock it til you try it!).

So while they’re at their finest, go grab some colourful Autumnal apples & bake a bunch of beautiful blooms!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pollo Put The Cacciatore On, Let’s All Have Tea!

After a truly magnificent Summer, the sweltering heatwave has subsided into a beautifully balmy Autumn, bringing with it an array of amber & ruby rouge coloured leaves in the garden.  Sultry Autumnal evenings require soothing, slow-cooked, substantial suppers full of rich colour too.  Working long hours or shifts, whatever your line of work or study, can have a knock-on effect when it comes to preparing a hearty, satisfying evening meal.  As  the nights start to draw in, we begin to crave richer & robust fayre to comfort us in the cooler evenings ahead.

Preparing meals in advance is a definite must for the cooler seasons, so with a little planning you can have a tantrum-free tea-time without a fuss & feel good about feeding a wholesome, homemade meal to your family.  Not everyone has the luxury of a couple of spare hours in the day to prepare food & sometimes it can all seem a bit too much, so ready meals become a regular option.  It’s easy to come home, flop into an armchair & dial up a delivery dinner, but it’s not a good idea every night.  When I worked in an office, I would prepare food at every opportunity I had – the night before, in the morning, the weekends, even during my lunchbreak on occasion!  It just needs a little organising & teamwork – I have help from my fabulous assistants (aka Husband & Son).  Whole chickens are boned & filleted, before being turned into simple suppers & frozen in readiness for rewarding after-work dinners.  Vegetables are sliced & chopped (my little food processor is an absolute treasure for this!), then popped into pans of water or stored in the fridge for when you just need a handful of veg.  Pots of stock can defrost on a cooling rack, waiting to be whipped up into a rich, rib-sticking risotto, topped with a couple of roasted, crispy chicken legs.  One of the best things about a risotto is there’s always enough left to make arancini for lunch the next day too, which means you’ve already covered meals for two days & there’s no waste!

Pollo alla Cacciatore is one of our favourite Autumnal dinners & it’s really easy to cook too.  The name cacciatore means “hunter” (so does chasseur in French too), & this dish is cooked or prepared in the hunter’s style.  Apparently, it was usual for the hunters to cook the meat, whether it was chicken, rabbit, boar or whatever they had, adding some slices of speck (a type of cured pork) or pancetta to the pan, along with a few foraged mushrooms & herbs.  Some would add wine (depending on the region, it would be red or white), some would add tomatoes & maybe a few carrots, then everything would simmer slowly in a steamy cooking pot.  Obviously, there are a few different recipes out there, as everyone has their own version & it’s down to personal choice.

My recipe is one I’ve been cooking for over 30 years (in my kitchen, I might add, not the woods!) & is always warmly welcomed on chilly evenings.  All it takes is a few minutes to prepare & an hour to slowly stew in the oven, so all the meat falls off the bone & the flavours infuse into the sumptuous sauce.  You can buy ready prepared chicken portions if you prefer & use whichever cut you enjoy.  Chicken legs & thighs are perfect for this recipe as they are much more flavoursome, especially when they’re cooked on the bone.  These portions of meat tend to be overlooked & so often wasted, yet they are a much cheaper, just as tasty alternative to chicken breast.  If you do use chicken breast, you will need to reduce the cooking time as they cook quicker & the meat can go stringy (don’t worry, I’ll remind you later on in the recipe).

Two things I will recommend are: (1) get yourself some good tongs for cooking the chicken (trying to manoeuvre slippery chicken portions in a hot pan with a spatula is a bit tricky!).  (2) If you do add wine, only use the stuff you would drink – don’t use cheap plonk, it will make your dish taste cheap (there’s no wine in my recipe, however you can add a small glass of red wine with the tomatoes if you wish).  Those dinky two-glass mini bottles are brilliant for these types of recipes.

My recipe feeds four hungry people, but you can halve it if it’s just two of you dining (I regularly do this if I’ve got a couple of spare chicken legs).  Ready to prep your pollo?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

4 Chicken Legs or 6-8 Thighs (skin on & bone in) or 4 Chicken Breasts (skin on, halved)
4-6 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon (freeze the rest in 4 rasher batches, so you always have some when you need it)
2 tins Italian Plum Tomatoes, crushed by hand in a bowl (get your hands in, you’ll wash!)
Half a tube of Tomato Puree
6-8 cloves fresh Garlic, chopped finely or crushed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (at least 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons Dried Oregano
Half a dozen fresh Basil leaves, chopped roughly (or 2 teaspoons Dried Basil)
1 or 2 teaspoons Sugar (this is to soften the acidity in the tomatoes)
1 large Red Onion, topped, tailed & chopped chunky
1 each large Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & chopped chunky
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & quartered, or left whole if small
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180*C & get yourself a large, lidded casserole dish big enough to take your chicken & the sauce (there is always more sauce than you think & you don’t want it overflowing!).  Sometimes I use two dishes & then leave one untouched for freezing.

Prepare the onion & vegetables, chop the garlic & set aside.

Prepare your chicken (if you’re doing it yourself, please have a look at my blog here: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/).  Trim off any excess skin on the underside of the legs (use kitchen scissors to save yourself any stress of chasing a raw chicken around a chopping board).

Do NOT wash the chicken – the heat will kill any bacteria, plus it’s going in a hot pan & believe me, cold water & hot oil do not mix!  Do wash your hands well though.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan, then fry the chicken portions skin side down for about a minute.  Add the bacon & fry this alongside the chicken.

Turn over the chicken portions once they begin to brown & fry the underside for another minute – for chicken breasts, ensure all the sides are sealed & there are no pink bits.  If you’re pan isn’t hot enough or your chicken portions are big, it might take a couple of minutes each side.  You just want to seal the meat here, not cook it through.

Once browned, transfer the chicken & bacon to a large casserole dish.  Using scissors, snip the bacon into pieces & scatter over the chicken, then put the lid on.

Strain off any excess fat, leaving just a little of the cooking oil & juices in the pan (add a little drizzle of oil if you think you need it).

Add the chopped onion, vegetables, mushrooms & garlic to the pan, stir frying for a couple of minutes to soften slightly.

Add the tomatoes, their juice & the puree.  Give everything a good stir & then add the herbs, mixing well.  Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Season to taste with the sugar, salt & black pepper (the sugar simply softens the acidic taste of the tomatoes, so you only need a little).

Remove the lid from your casserole dish & pour the sauce all over the chicken portions.

Put the lid back on & cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes for chicken breast, or 45 minutes to an hour for legs or thighs (I usually leave it in for an hour).

To test if it’s cooked, pierce the thickest part of the meat with a metal skewer or sharp knife.  If the juices run clear & the meat is white inside, it’s cooked.

Put the lid back on & leave the dish on a wire rack or trivet for about 25 minutes or so.  Once rested, the meat will literally fall off the bone & be easy to pull apart if you want to remove the bones (please remove them if serving to young children).

Usually, while it’s resting, I’ll pop some dinky jacket potatoes on metal skewers in the oven.  By the time they’re done, the chicken will have rested sufficiently & you can dish up!

Serve hearty, heaping spoonfuls of this rich, ruby red chicken casserole into large pasta bowls or deep plates.  Add a few of the mini-jacket potatoes on the side, crushed up with puddles of butter & dusted with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan.  This goes very well with freshly baked, warm focaccia – just dunk chunks in the sauce to mop up all that goodness.

This recipe is brilliant for freezing, just spoon leftovers into individual pots or bags & freeze (lay an open freezer bag in a bowl, then fill & seal – it won’t move around & spill sauce all over if you do it this way).  Defrost & warm through when you fancy something warming (great for those evenings when you know you’re going to need a speedy supper!).  Any leftover sauce is really versatile too!  Simply freeze in single portion pots & use as much or as little as you need.  It’s lovely ladled onto well-buttered jacket potatoes, poured over a pile of papparadelle, or even just heated up & eaten as a chunky soup with fresh crusty bread!  I’ve even made a lasagne with it, layering between thin sheets of pasta & creamy cheese sauce.

When the evenings start to get chilly & you’ve had a long day, don’t reach for the ready meals – put the Pollo alla Cacciatore on & you’ll all have tea ready in no time!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

Fig-get Me Knot Tartlets

Now that the Summer has slowly slipped into Autumn, the sunrises are arriving a little bit later & the mornings are just a little bit fresher.  One of my favourite things about Autumn is the amazing array of vegetables & fruits in season, all ready to create rich warming suppers & decadent desserts.  On my way back from the train station on Friday, I decided to pop into my local shops to pick up a chicken for dinner & somehow got side-tracked by the most delightful fresh figs.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can’t just pop in anywhere for one thing & will always leave with a jam-packed shopping bag, crammed full of inspirational ingredients that take my fancy.

This is where my little flaky fig tartlets began.  A shelf full of soft, jewel-coloured deep purple beauties just sat there, seeming to whisper “pick me!” & as thoughts of crisp puff pastry parcels with slender slices of sweet, jammy baked figs took over, I swiftly put two trays in my basket.  Obviously, once home, I decided that I would need some rather special ice-cream to top them off.  An hour later, I returned to buy Greek yoghurt (more about that later) & ended up chatting to the lovely Assistant about what I was going to make (I love sharing food tips & have been known to scribble random recipes on scraps of paper for people, as some of you will know!).

Usually, I would make a rich buttery shortcrust pastry for a fruit tart of any description, as I find it a bit more substantial.  However, something as delicate as fresh figs requires a lighter, crisp casing to contrast against the jammy fruit centre.  Now you all know that I like making my own flaky puff pastry & it does take more time to make, but once you’ve tasted this you’ll understand why all the effort is worth it!  If you do prefer to buy ready-made puff pastry, please make sure it’s got proper butter in it.  As I’ve shared my puff pastry recipe before, I’ve copied it here for you (to save you having to wander off & find it in my blog).  Ready to begin?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

For the pastry:
8oz Self Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
6oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge & cut into 4 equal pieces (I used salted, as it omits the need for additional salt)
100ml Cold Water

For the filling:
4 fresh Figs, washed & stalks trimmed, each fig cut into 8 wedges
Half a jar of Apricot Jam or Preserve (you can use whatever flavour you prefer)
1 teaspoon of Runny Honey

1 large Egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (this makes it smoother to brush onto your pastry)

What to do:

Firstly, you need cool hands so wash them under the cold tap, rinsing your wrists well – trust me, pastry likes cool conditions & this works.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & add one of the butter pieces.  Rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Using a round-ended knife, stir together & slowly add enough water, just a little at a time, to bring it all together – take your time, as you don’t want a sticky gooey mess.  Once you have achieved a thick, dough-like consistency, that should be enough.

Turn out your pastry onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rectangle.  Roll away from you into a long piece, about a centimetre thick.  Try to keep the edges as straight as you can, but don’t worry too much or you’ll drive yourself loopy!  Using a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour as you go, especially when folding the layers (otherwise it may affect the recipe & you want flaky pastry, not floury).

Take one of the three pieces of butter & cut into small chunks of about 1cm (you can just pull it apart, but the heat from your hands might melt it).

Dot the butter all over the top two thirds of the pastry.

Fold the bottom plain piece over the next third of pastry, then fold the top piece over that.  Brush off the excess flour & press the open edges together to seal the layers of butter & air in.

Dust the worktop with a little more flour.  Turn the pastry one turn to the right & roll out again, just as you did above.

Repeat the above steps a couple more times, using up the last two pieces of butter.  Then turn the pastry to the right, roll it out again & fold into thirds, brushing off the excess flour as you go.

Lay your pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper, fold the top of the paper over your pastry & put it on a plate in the fridge for an hour (you might need to leave it longer during hot weather, so probably add another ten minutes if you’re not sure – I’ve left it a couple of hours before & it didn’t do any harm).  If you’re like me & like to get organised, this would be a good time to make the ice-cream (my recipe is a bit further down).

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & then prepare your tin by brushing with melted butter all around the inside, then run under the cold tap to add a film on top, shaking off the excess.  Your pastry should just lift off after cooking.

Once your pastry is rested & chilled, it’s time to get rolling!  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the pastry (not too thinly).

Cut into squares, about 4 inches long on each side.  At each corner, make a cut towards the centre, stopping about half an inch from the middle (so everything is still attached).

Mix the honey with the jam & give it a good stir.  In the centre of a pastry square, put half a teaspoon of the jam mixture & top with a couple of fig wedges, skin side down.

Take the pastry edges of one of the four sides of the pastry & pinch together.  Do this to the other three sides & then pinch them all together in the centre above the figs, twisting them to make a little knot on top.  Repeat until you have used all the figs & pastry up.

Place them all on your prepared baking tray & brush with a little beaten egg.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until golden & risen.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool if you want to serve them later, or you can serve them warm if you prefer.

Now onto the adornment of such a dainty delight!  This ice-cream actually came about from a rather lovely July Sunday afternoon & a random tub of Mascarpone in the fridge.  It goes with pretty much everything & it’s light, yet creamy flavour tastes incredibly decadent.  This is not the traditional way to make ice-cream, because (a) I don’t like custard & (b) I’m not making custard.  You don’t need a special machine, there won’t be any churning or standing on one leg with your left eye shut type of nonsense either.  If you prefer not to use Greek yoghurt, simply replace it with double cream & give it a light whip up beforehand to give it a bit of body.  Ready to get started?  Here we go!

What you need:

2 tubs of Mascarpone Cheese
500ml tub of Greek Yoghurt (the proper stuff, not diet)
Juice & zest of a Lemon (if you have large lemons, just use half)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 tablespoons Runny Honey

What to do:

Wash your lemon in warm, soapy water to remove any dirt or wax from the skin.

Zest the lemon using a fine grater or zesting tool (I use my fine cheese grater).  Leave to one side for now.

Juice your lemon into a jug or large cup.  This is so that if you have any pips or pith, they will go straight into the jug & you can strain it into another cup before adding it to your ice cream (nobody wants a sour lemon pip in their ice-cream!).  Set to one side with the zest.

Tip the Mascarpone & Greek yoghurt into a large mixing bowl.  Add the vanilla extract, one tablespoon of the lemon juice & a good pinch of the zest (you want a subtle hint of lemon here, not a “smack you round the chops” kind of taste that makes your ears flap).

Using an electric whisk, mix for about a minute or so, until everything is blended together into a creamy fluffy mixture.

Get a teaspoon & have a little taste.  If you think it needs a bit more honey or a bit more zest, add a tiny bit more – don’t go mad with them, because once it’s in you can’t extract it!  Give it another quick whisk & taste again (with a clean spoon please!).

Once you’re happy with it, spoon the mixture into a couple of plastic tubs, only filling about halfway up & put the lids on.

Place in the freezer for an hour, then remove & using a fork, give everything a thorough stir to remove any ice crystals that may have formed.

Smooth it back down into a nice swirly pattern, sprinkle a little more zest on top & put the lid on.  Replace in the freezer for another hour at least, or until you are ready for dessert.

Serve a generous scoop onto your crisp puff pastry fig tartlets (or spooned in a quenelle shape if you want to impress your dinner guests).

This light, fluffy ice-cream can also be layered onto crisp wafer cones, or any dessert that requires a simple adornment of light, lemony cool creaminess (& not a custard in sight!).  It’s also nice with a drizzle of Limoncello over the top, but that’s definitely one for those nights curled up on the sofa!

Next time you see fresh, fragrant figs in the shops, remember this recipe for my fig-get me knots!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

Beetroot To Yourself

This time of year gives us some stunning pink sunsets & amazing natural colours to brighten up our meals on those frosty days.  The fruits are dark, rich & intense; the vegetables are vivid, flavoursome & versatile.  It’s Nature’s way of getting those essential nutrients into us via such attractive packaging (most of which you can eat too!).  Working or not, lunches can often be random sandwiches with questionable fillings, or pasties filled with even more questionable meat.  Sometimes we need to set aside half an hour to whip up something a bit more substantial than a shop-bought sandwich from the local garage on your way to work (I’m not judging, we’ve all done it).

There are some things I really don’t like – rude people, empty jars put back in the fridge & beetroot.  Growing up, my parents ate beetroot & so did most of my friends, but I really couldn’t abide the taste.  My Mum would slice it so prettily, lay it on a delicate plate surrounded by salads & dishes full of delectable delicacies, trying to entice me to taste some (it didn’t work).  One so-called friend actually put it in a health drink to get me to try it (it didn’t end well).  Then a couple of years ago, someone gave me a savoury tart recipe to try with beetroot in it, so I decided to give it another go.  If I didn’t like it, my Husband would eat it (he likes beetroot).   Plus, beetroot has all those important vitamins, minerals & heavy metals that are good for you (I don’t mean Metallica or Iron Maiden, I’m talking folic acid, iron & copper).

This savoury tart is crammed full of luscious cheese & finely chopped beetroot adorns the filling with beautiful deep amethyst & magenta colours.  Everyone knows how much I love cheese, so I began my experiment with a positive attitude.  I adapted the recipe, mainly because my experience with grating anything by hand usually ends up with me grating my knuckles or a fingernail.  The original recipe had grated beetroot & just one cheese, so I’ve added a few more to give it a more rounded flavour & it’s good to use up various bits of leftover cheese (apparently leftover cheese is a thing in some homes!).

What you need:

For the Filling:
2 medium-sized Beetroot, drained & chopped finely
100g Feta Cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon Cream Cheese or Ricotta
1oz grated Parmesan
1oz grated Grana Padana
2oz grated Cheddar (mild or medium)
3 large Eggs
Splash of semi-skimmed Milk
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Fresh Thyme (just a couple of sprigs is sufficient)

For the Pastry:
6oz Self-Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
2oz Salted Butter (room temperature, cut into chunks)
1 large Egg

[You will also need a bit of extra butter & flour for preparing your tin]

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180*C.  Prepare your baking tin – I prefer to use a 12″ loose-bottomed flan tin.  Butter the inside of the tin, making sure you get into any corners or edges (especially if it’s fluted around the edge), then sprinkle flour all over & tap out the excess.  This recipe is really easy & quick to make, so you could always double the mixture up & make a large one in a Swiss Roll tin, or make smaller single portions in individual tins or silicone tartlet trays.

Make the pastry: tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the butter & crack in the egg.  Get your hands in & mix it all together to form a firm dough.  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the dough to about 5mm thickness & make sure it is larger than the tin you are using (a couple of inches extra all around should be enough).

Using your rolling pin, carefully transfer the pastry to your prepared tin & lay it over the top.  Gently pat it into the tin, being careful not to put your fingers through it.  Push it into all the corners or fluted edges & then prick it all over with a fork (this stops it from puffing up all over the place).  Don’t worry about cutting off the excess pastry too much – you can do this once it’s baked & this will leave you with a nice smooth finish to your pastry case edges.  Usually, I just make a nice decorative edge of pastry instead, so it’s down to personal choice here.

Grab a sheet of greaseproof paper & screw it up, then unravel it & lay it over your pastry in the tin.  In a previous blog, I’ve mentioned about baking blind, so if this is something you will do often then I suggest you get some ceramic baking beads.  If not, use a couple of handfuls of dried pasta such as fusilli or penne.  Tip them onto the greaseproof paper, then bake in the centre of the oven for about 10 minutes.

While that’s baking, prepare your filling.  In a mixing bowl, add the three eggs & a splash of milk, then give them a quick whisk to break up the yolks.  Add  the grated Parmesan & Grana Padana, half of the Cheddar & Feta, plus the Cream Cheese.  Give everything a light whisking using a fork to make sure everything is combined, then add a sprinkling of the black pepper.

Remove the pastry case from the oven & carefully lift out the greaseproof paper & baking beads.  Leave them to one side to cool down before putting them away.  If you used pasta, you can reuse this a couple of times so keep it for another time.

Sprinkle an even layer of the finely chopped beetroot pieces in the bottom of the pastry case & save a handful to one side.  Pour the egg & cheese mixture into the pastry case, covering the beetroot.  Gently dot the remaining beetroot pieces around the cheese filling, along with the grated Cheddar & crumbled Feta that you kept back.  Strip some leaves from the Thyme sprigs (hold it upside down & run your fingers along the stem to release them all) & add a few to the top.

Return the tart to the oven for about 15-20 minutes, until firm & golden on top.  Test it by touching the top – if it feels firm, it’s done.  Leave the tart in it’s tin on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes.  If you left the pastry edges on, carefully cut the excess pastry off from around the edges with a sharp knife.

If you have used a loose-bottomed tin, simply turn a small bowl upside-down & place the tart in it’s tin on top.  The base will stay on the mug, the edge will drop off around the bowl below.  Transfer the tart to a serving plate or chopping board, either leaving it on the base to serve or sliding a palette knife underneath to separate the two.

This beautiful beetroot tart is perfect for packed lunches & keeps for a couple of days wrapped up in the fridge or you can always freeze some.  Serve in slices, either on it’s own or with a gorgeous green salad & well-buttered jacket potato.  Even though I don’t like beetroot, I actually adore this & it adds a semi-sweetness to the soft, creamy cheese filling.  Obviously, my Husband loves it too, so I make two & there’s plenty to go around.

Have a go at making your own bejewelled beetroot tart for your packed or unpacked lunches & have a sandwich sabbatical!  Stay hungry! 😉  A x

PS: For those who want to know, the kitchen is almost finished & although we don’t have a working hob just yet, we will do shortly (hopefully – keep those fingers crossed please!). A x