Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Smoky tomato lasagne and crispy apple tart

Smoked Tomato Lasagne

Pics by Steve Shanahan 
© Redbox Photography

First published Canberra Times 6 May 2015.
As the cold weather kicks in, we witness the slow demise of the tomato plants that are so prolific throughout our short growing season in Canberra. Despite the fact these poor plants dont seem to understand that its time to call it a day and give up, they still try and keep producing.

As an ode to the faithful tomato I wanted to make a dish that provided a fitting send off and settled on the process of smoking the tomatoes in a stovetop smoker. This was to give that extra punch to my lasagne.

The hot sun and scant rain provide perfect conditions as I harvest plump, very ripe tomatoes from my plant. So I go into my peasant, down homey kind of thing that happens when I use my own garden produce to make something extra special and get personal with my tomatoes.

For this dish, it involved making a stovetop smoker by adapting an old stainless stock pot and lid. I laid some foil on the inside base, then a handful of hickory chips, another layer of foil and then placed an old round metal cake cooler over the foil. I placed four large, salted, halved tomatoes cut side up on the cake cooler and then placed the lid on the top and sealed with layers of foil to prevent the smoke from escaping.

I turned the exhaust fan on maximum suck, placed my smoker on a medium heat until I could smell the faintest smell of smoke, then I turned the heat well down and continued cooking for fifteen minutes.  I removed the foil and lid carefully, and lifted the tomatoes out carefully. They were clearly well smoked, a pretty rosy red and dripping with sweet juices. If you prefer a lighter smoke flavour, cook for five to ten minutes only.

The smoked tomatoes provide a powerful, smokey hit and add a complex richness to all the ingredients, including the Italian sausage, but the tomatoes are the obvious superstars here. Although this unusual lasagne could also be made without smoking the tomatoes, it would benefit from using very ripe and punchy tomatoes.

We finished our meal with a gorgeous, rosy apple tart, to celebrate the seasons. Perfect for this time of year. The apple tart should be started a few hours prior to cooking as the almond paste needs to thicken.

Any leftover lasagne or béchamel sauce can be frozen for later use.
Preheat the oven to 175C and lightly grease a 28cm x 20cm lasagne dish or size thereabouts.
Serves 6 to 8

Smoked Tomato Lasagna

3 large, ripe tomatoes, halved
400g tin of tomato puree
2 tsp brown sugar
large pinch of grated nutmeg
pinch salt and pepper
1 cup of béchamel sauce
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
300g mushrooms, sliced
400g ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup basil, chopped
500g raw Italian sausages, sliced into 1.5cm slices
250g fresh lasagne sheets
200g mozzarella cheese, grated

Using a stovetop smoker and following the above instructions, smoke the tomatoes, cut side up and salted. When cooked, remove the tomatoes from smoker, allow to cool, and peel off the skins.

Place the skinned tomatoes into a bowl and puree with a blender. Stir in the tinned tomato puree and mix the béchamel sauce through. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and brown sugar. Set aside.

Warm the oil and butter together in a large frypan over a high heat. Add the sliced mushrooms and fry until the moisture has cooked out of the mushrooms and softened, about ten minutes. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix the ricotta, basil and eggs together, adding salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

To assemble, spread one cup of the smoked tomato sauce mixture into the bottom of the lasagne dish. Place a layer of lasagne sheets over the sauce, cutting to fit. Add another cup of smoked tomato sauce, then half the mushrooms, half the sausage, and dollop with half the ricotta mixture. Repeat the layering, ending with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle the top with grated mozzarella cheese.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for forty-five minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the cheese is golden, about thirty minutes extra.

Allow the lasagne to stand for about fifteen minutes before serving. The lasagne will hold together better, the longer it is allowed to sit so the lasagne sheets can absorb the juices.

Bechamel Sauce

4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp plain flour
2 cups warmed milk
pinch salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and stir for about two minutes. Keep the mixture from browning.

Gradually pour in the warmed milk, whisking constantly. Bring the milk mixture to the boil and then reduce the heat to low, and, still whisking, let simmer for about five minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Crackly Apple Tart. 

Crackly Apple Tart

Almond Paste
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup almond meal
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla paste
5 tbsp double cream

7 sheets of Filo pastry, cut to 23cm width x 33cm length
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar
3 sweet, red apples
3 tsp apricot jam, strained to remove solids so only the gel is remaining.
2 tsp water

Mix the almond meal and sugar together in a bowl.

To make the almond paste, beat the egg, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in half the almond and sugar mixture and then the cream. Finish by whisking in the remaining almond and sugar mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 175C and prepare a rack in the centre of oven. Line a biscuit tray with baking paper or a silicone sheet.

Place a sheet of filo pastry on the tray and brush gently with the melted butter and sprinkle with a teaspoon of sugar. Cover the sheet of filo with another sheet and repeat the process of stacking, buttering and sugaring until all the filo is used up. Carefully spread the almond paste over the top sheet, minding not to tear the sheet, leaving a narrow border without paste around the edge of the filo sheet.

Slice each apple in half and remove the cores. Slice each half into very thin slices and arrange in 3 vertical rows over the almond paste. Press the slices down so they are embedded slightly in the almond paste.

Bake the tart for about half an hour or until the apples are soft when pricked with a sharp knife. If the apples are very pale, you can place under a grill for a few minutes to bring them up in colour.

Transfer the tray to a cooling rack and heat the strained jam and water in a microwave to form a glaze. Gently brush the glaze over the entire tart. Serve sliced or broken up with fingers, warmed or at room temperature with cream or ice cream. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sumac chicken with flatbread

Picture by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times Newspaper 22 April 2015.

You suspect that you‘re on a winner when your dinner guests go unusually quiet, and the only thing that fills the conversational void is the clang of cutlery on plates.  Confirmation comes when your guests finally break their silence to ask for a second helping.

Tender chicken pieces cooked in caramelised onion and spiked with the tartness of sumac make a perfectly messy finger food when partnered with home made flatbread.  Add a salad and bingo, a complete and easy meal.  This dish can also be presented as a pulled chicken flatbread slider.

While the recipe isn’t difficult or particularly complex, all the flavour components work together seamlessly. It’s as simple as that.  

Don’t be intimidated by the quantity of sumac required in the recipe. This spice provides the unique piquancy to the dish, so distinctive in Turkish and Middle Eastern food.  Sumac can be purchased at delis or supermarkets, and sold fresh in quantity at the Nut Shoppe at Fyshwick Markets.

1 ½ cups plain flour, extra for rolling dough
1 tsp salt
1tsp sugar
¾ cup water, warmed
1 ½ tsp dry yeast

1 large chicken, quartered
ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup ground sumac
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large yellow onions, minced finely in a food processor
1 tbsp honey
1 small chilli, chopped finely
½ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup slivered or flaked almonds

Combine and mix the flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside. Combine the water, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, firstly mixing together lightly by hand. Allow the yeast mixture to sit for about ten minutes to develop foam on the surface. After the foam has developed, turn the stand mixer to a low speed, and slowly add the flour and salt, mixing until a dough forms and the mixture pulls together into a mass. This should take about three to four minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and cover the mixer bowl with cling wrap. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size, about one hour.

Wet your hands first before dividing the dough into two balls. Place the balls on a baking tray covered with baking paper. Cover the balls with a damp, clean tea towel and set aside for about forty-five minutes.

In a large bowl, toss the chicken quarters with half of the olive oil, 3 tbsp of the sumac, half each of the allspice and cinnamon and half of the minced onions. Add a good pinch of pepper and salt and set aside to marinate for about half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220C. Heat a large non-stick frypan over medium high heat and add the chicken quarters, cooking until browned on both sides, about six to eight minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to an open ovenproof dish or pan, skin side up. Pour over the chicken stock, and place in the oven for thirty to forty minutes to cook. If the chicken is browning too quickly, place some aluminium foil loosely across the top of the pan. The chicken should be tender and pulling from the bone when done. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the chicken pieces to a plate to keep warm and cover with aluminium foil. Save the pan drippings in a separate small bowl. 

Add the remaining oil to the frypan and place over a medium heat. Add the remaining onions and cook until golden brown, this should take about twenty minutes. Stir in the remaining sumac, allspice and cinnamon, also adding the chopped chilli, honey, salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat slightly and continue to cook for another few minutes, until the mixture is dark and pasty. Transfer the onion paste to a dish.

Wipe the frypan clean with paper towel and melt the butter over medium to high heat. Add the almonds and cook until golden, about three minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to 220C. Working with one dough ball at a time, on a floured benchtop, roll the dough into a thin disk, about twenty-four centimetres across. Perfect circles aren’t required, rustic shapes are the order of the day here. Transfer to an oven tray lined with baking paper. Brush the dough with the reserved pan drippings and spread half the onion paste over the dough, leaving a thin border around the edge. Repeat the process with the second ball of dough. Bake until the bread is puffed and golden, about ten minutes. To serve, cut the flatbread into wedges and place on four plates. Arrange the chicken over the flatbread, sprinkle with the almonds and drizzle with any remaining pan juices.

Serve with a parsley, tomato and onion salad adding a touch of mint and figs if in season. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Food Collective Christmas Feast 2014

Pictures by Steve Shanahan

First Published Canberra Times 3rd December, 2014.

With Christmas closing in and plans for the annual family inundation afoot, the menu of the day requires some forward planning. As my job requires a lot of stove time, my aim is to reduce food preparation input on the day so I can spend it with family and friends. Our Christmas main meal will be a late seafood lunch spiked with fresh, citrus flavours, with just a hint of Tetsuya and Spirit House. And for fun, we will celebrate with some retro flavour combinations of prawns, coconut and pineapple. Just to prove we are the height of absolute sophistication, you won’t see a Golden Circle pineapple ring within cooee.

The dressings in this meal give it a good kick along, highlighting the seafood flavours that are a foil for the piquancy of the pretty pickled salad. The bulk of the preparation is in the dressings and salad, so be prepared to put the effort in the day before so you don’t spend Christmas day stuck in the kitchen. Then on the day, grab another willing set of hands to help you pull it together. The complete menu serves 4 to 6 people. It’s not en exact science, so just increase the quantities of everything to feed greater numbers.

Suppliers assured me that the listed foods would be in plentiful supply over the holidays. The seafood was purchased from FishCo Fish Market at Fyshwick and the Foie Gras from The Essential Ingredient in Kingston. The Yuzu and shredded Nori can be purchased from most Asian grocers and the Seafood Salad can be bought frozen from JJ’s Fysh at Fyshwick Markets. Keep any unused portions of seafood salad, which is essentially seaweed, in the freezer and this can be added to other meals, including soups, salads or with cold meats. 

Hint: To avoid mixing up the dressings, print the name of the dressing on some masking tape and stick it to the lid of the jar or container. This helps when it comes to putting the meal together.

Pretty Pickled Salad

½ cup rice vinegar
¾ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tsp salt
1 cup each of shredded carrot, shredded white radish (Daikon), shredded cucumber, thinly sliced small red onion
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 cup bean sprouts
4 kaffir lime leaves, centre rib removed and finely shredded
½ cup coriander, chopped
½ cup mint leaves, chopped
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Salad Dressing
2 tbsp plum sauce
2 tsp sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp sesame oil

On the day before:
Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and cool.

In a bowl, mix together the carrot, radish, cucumber, onion and ginger. Pour over the cooled syrup, cover with glad wrap and allow to pickle overnight. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. This will send off some fermenting vegetable smells, this is normal.

To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a bowl or jar and shake to combine. This can be left out of the refrigerator until ready to use.

When ready to serve:
Drain the pickled vegetables from the liquid and discard. Allow the vegetables to drain in a colander until there is little liquid remaining. Transfer to a bowl along with the bean sprouts, kaffir lime leaves, coriander and mint. Pour over the dressing and mix to combine, transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Scallops with Strawberries and Yuzu Juice
12 scallops, without roe or shells
1/4 punnet of ripe strawberries, finely chopped
handful of chives cut into 4 cm lengths
handful of tarragon, chopped

5 large strawberries, crushed with a potato masher
2 tbsp yuzu juice, or lemon juice
½ tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

On the day before:
Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small jar and refrigerate until you are ready to dress the scallops.

When ready to serve:
Bring a small saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Plunge the scallops into the boiling water, leave to cook for fifteen seconds, then remove. The flesh should be only just turning white. Slice the scallops in half and lay overlapping on a platter. Drizzle the vinaigrette and scatter the chopped strawberries, tarragon and chives over the arranged scallops. The acid in the lemon will further “cook” the scallops.

Crispy Prawns with Garlic and Pineapple Salsa
700g of large green prawns, peeled and deveined
5 tbsp rice flour
3 cups of vegetable oil for deep frying
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
handful of coriander, chopped
lime wedges

Pineapple Salsa
½ a fresh pineapple, peeled, quartered and core removed
3 fresh chillis, sliced finely
1 tablespoon of dessicated coconut
handful of both fresh mint and coriander, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste

On the day before:
For the pineapple salsa, chop the pineapple finely and combine with the remainder of the salsa ingredients. Leave in refrigerator to marinate until required.

When ready to serve:
Toss the prawns with the rice flour. Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan till very hot. Fry the garlic until browned and remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towel. Fry the prawns in batches until golden and crispy, this should only take a minute or so. Drain on paper towel and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with the coriander and garlic. Serve with the lime wedges.

Roasted Balmain Bugs with Smoky Tea
10 Balmain Bugs, cooked
1 tsp of Lapsang Souchong black tea
1 cup of defrosted seafood salad.
1 leek, julienned
1 cup of vegetable oil
Shredded nori

1 tbsp macadamia oil (or other flavoured nut oil)
½ tsp sherry vinegar

Preheat the oven to 260C.
The day before:
Combine the sherry vinegar and macadamia oil in a small jar and leave to infuse.

For the leeks, heat the oil till very hot and fry the leek in batches until browned and crispy. Remove and drain on paper towel. Keep in an airtight container until ready to use.

When ready to serve:
Chop the heads off the bugs and cut them in half, lengthwise with a chopper or a pair of strong kitchen shears. Remove the heads and discard. Season the bugs with salt and pepper to taste. Grind the tea to a powder in a mortar and pestle and sprinkle on the flesh side of the bugs.

Place the bugs, still in half shells, on an oven tray and place in the oven for about three minutes till just feeling warm on the outside.

To serve, place the seafood salad on a serving platter. Place the bug halves on top and pile up in the centre.

Drizzle with the dressing and arrange the leeks and shredded nori on the top.

Duck Foie Gras with Black Rice and Avocado
4 to 6 duck foie gras, approximately 30g each
1 tbsp mirin
1 cup cooked black or red rice
¼ avocado, finely diced

Avocado Puree
½ avocado, peeled
100ml milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp finely chopped chives

1 tsp honey
50ml soy sauce
1 tsp lemon juice

2 tbsp toasted and crushed sesame seeds
small bunch of chives, cut into 4 cm lengths

On the day before:
To make the avocado puree, blend all the ingredients until pureed in a food processor or blender. Store in a jar in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small jar and shake. Store out of the refrigerator until ready to use.

Toast the sesame seeds in a small frypan until golden. Crush the roasted seeds in a mortar and pestle until fine and crumbly. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
In a small bowl, mix the pre-made rice with the mirin and cover with glad wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

When ready to serve
Place four (or six) spoonfuls of rice separately piled on a large serving platter. Place a spoonful of chopped avocado on top of each spoon of rice. Spoon a little avocado puree over the top of each. Then top with a round of foie gras. Spoon a teaspoon or two of dressing over the foie gras and top with a good sprinkle of crushed sesame seeds and chives.