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Notes from the kitchen | Ottolenghi’s spinach baked potatoes

28 February 2020

Trust me to unearth those recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi (there are one or two) that require fewer than 15 ingredients and a mere handful of steps.

In London, certainly, Ottolenghi needs no introduction, but for those, elsewhere, who may be unfamiliar, he is an Isreali-born London-based chef, restaurant-owner, and ridiculously prolific recipe writer, with regular columns in The Guardian and The New York Times, and an head-spinning array of cookbooks. To unjustly reduce his influence and fame to a running joke, his dishes often include enormous ingredient lists, many of which are specialty items not typically found in mainstream supermarkets (though now, thanks to his success, ever more so). This satirical piece in The New Yorker is an oblique — so spot-on! — insight into his recipes.

I spotted one of the less complicated ideas in his book Simple (!!), written with Tara Wigley, skipped a step, took a short-cut, and though we ate much later than planned, it was worth it!

Spinach baked potatoes adapted from Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi with Tara Wigley and Esme Howarth

Serves 6 with leftovers

6 large baking potatoes
400g spinach (I used frozen leaf spinach but fresh would be even better)
50g butter
200g sour cream or crème fraîche
180g grated sharp cheese (Gruyère, cheddar, the original recipe suggests Gorgonzola in which case use a bit less…)
2 bunches spring onions (the recipe suggests walnuts for crunch, I preferred a sharper contrast)
Salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

Wash and lightly scrub the potatoes to remove any soil but without breaking the skin. Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper, stab the potatoes a few times with a fork, place on the parchment and into the oven for 1 hour or just over, until the potatoes are soft through when stabbed with a small knife.

Meanwhile, cook the spinach: —If using fresh spinach, wash the leaves thoroughly of any grit, remove the rough stalks, and cut into strips. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 to 3 cm (1 inch) of salted water to boil. Once boiling, add the spinach for just 20 to 30 seconds until wilted and strain in a colander, squeezing out as much water as possible. —If using frozen spinach leaves, place in a medium saucepan with one or two tablespoons of water over low heat until completely thawed and just warmed through — no more.

Wash and finely slice the spring onions.

Once cooked through, take the potatoes out of the oven and slice lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a medium bowl. Carefully set aside the potato skin shells. Roughly mash the potato flesh, mix in the butter, cream, and most of the cheese (keep a bit to sprinkle on top). Add the spinach, season carefully with salt, depending on the saltiness of the cheese, and a generous grind of black pepper. Mix well.

Scoop the mash back into the potato skins, place back onto the baking tray with parchment paper, sprinkle with spring onions and a bit of cheese.

Bake in the oven until browned on top, about 15 minutes.

***

This could be an entire meal, with just a winter salad of endive and radicchio. It can also be a luscious side for simply grilled salmon steaks.

Granola formula

23 January 2020

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This is not so much a New Year’s resolution as an endeavour at winter cleaning the cupboard. Though perhaps it should be? Granola is easy to make — much simpler, for example, than a marmalade marathon — and quite satisfying. Unfortunately, the children consume so much granola, it would be near impossible to keep up a homemade production, but I do make it once in a while, often as a way to use up the ends of packets of nuts and seeds and dried fruit, particularly after the holidays.

Since in this house that is its calling, I’ve been using Chocolate & Zucchini’s granola formula, which is so smart and makes much more sense than a rigid recipe. I’ve adapted and simplified the quantities slightly, so it’s easier to remember. The idea is that granola combines a few families of ingredients — grains, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, oil, sweetener — and within these families the possibilities are endless.

Granola formula, inspired by and adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini

The idea is that granola is made up of a few families of ingredients — grains, nuts and seeds, dried fruit, oil, and sweetener — and within these families the possibilities are endless, so the ingredients listed within each category are for inspiration only.

Ingredients:
300 g mixed rolled grains (also referred to as flakes): oats, spelt, millet, rye, quinoa, amaranth…

200 g mixed roughly chopped nuts and seeds: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds…

3 Tbsps oil: olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed oil, coconut oil… (plus a little for greasing the pan)

6 Tbsps liquid sweetener: honey, maple syrup, date syrup…

1 tsp sea salt

Optional add-ins:
2 handfuls chopped dried fruit: raisins, apricots, dates, figs, cranberries…

A handful each coconut flakes, chia seeds, puffed amaranth…

5 Tbsps ground flaxseeds, soaked in 5 Tbsps water for 15 minutes

1 tsp ground spices: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, Christmas spice mix…

Method:
Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) while preparing the ingredients (the oven doesn’t have to have reached the desired temperature before putting the granola inside).

In a large bowl, combine the grains, nuts and seeds, oil, sweetener, and sea salt with a fork or better still by hand, to ensure the ingredients are well coated and mixed together.

If using, add and mix in any additional ingredients, apart from the dried fruit which goes in at the end of the baking time.

Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet or oven tray. Spread the prepared granola mixture evenly on the tray, and slide into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, stirring regularly every 10 minutes to ensure the granola toasts evenly, until it achieves the desired shade of brown.

About 10 minutes before the end, add the dried fruit. ** The fruit can also be added once the granola is out of the oven, but I like it to be warmed through so it becomes a bit chewy.**

Let the granola cool completely — it will become crisp as it cools — then transfer and store in a lidded glass jar.

Cured salmon

28 December 2019

Marinated salmon was always served on the 26th of December, when my grandparents celebrated their anniversary with an eggnog party for friends and family. The other dish I remember was a warm crab dip (!).

I’m not certain anymore whether this was the recipe my grandmother Babu used; I don’t remember where it came from exactly — possibly a plastic-protected Elle fiche? — but I’ve had it for nearly 30 years. It has passed the test of time and always receives the highest praise. And it always reminds me of those eggnog parties.

Cured salmon
Note: This recipe must be made 48 hours ahead!
It can be scaled up or down, by adjusting the curing ingredients according to the amount of salmon used.

1 kg salmon fillets with the skin
4 Tbsps coarse grey sea salt
4 Tbsps golden caster sugar
2 tsps crushed black pepper
2 Tbsps oil (I use mild olive oil)
2 large bunches of fresh dill

Wipe the salmon with a paper towel.

Mix the salt, sugar, and black pepper in a small bowl.

Rub the oil all over the salmon, on both sides. Rub the spices into the salmon, also on both sides.

Place a sheet of parchment paper big enough to wrap the whole piece of salmon onto a dish with rim (the salmon will release some liquid as it cures). Spread half of the dill in a thick layer onto the paper and place the salmon on top. Cover with the rest of the dill. Wrap the salmon in the parchment paper. Place a plate or dish on the salmon with a heavy weight on top (full bottles of water or wine work well).

Let the weighted salmon cure in the refrigerator for 48 hours. Turn the fillet over once after 24 hours.

When ready to serve, scrape off the dill and as much pepper as possible.

Slice thinly and serve with crème fraîche and/or prepared horseradish.

Nigella Lawson’s almond and olive oil chocolate cake

21 December 2019

Christmas is complicated in this house by December birthdays, which add to the scramble of festivities. So, in another bout of late-night baking after a child’s Christmas concert this week, once again, I baked this cake.

The cake is so quick to make, it has saved me on many occasions — this summer, after a long day at the beach we bought the ingredients on the way home, as supermarkets were closing, and made it in time for a dinner: disguised by the power of powdered sugar as an Avengers creation for a ten-year-old’s birthday.

I discovered it four years ago and mentioned it here briefly, but it deserves a full feature. The recipe is from Nigella Lawson; I make it as is, usually the almond flour version (unless I’ve run out).

Chocolate cake doesn’t necessarily scream Christmas, but it does sing of New Year’s! (And any birthdays in between)

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Chocolate Olive Oil Cake by Nigella Lawson <— link to the original recipe

150ml (mild) olive oil (plus a little extra for greasing)
50g cocoa powder
125ml boiling water
2 tsps vanilla extract
150g ground almonds (or 125g regular flour)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 pinch salt
200g caster sugar
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F). Grease a 23-cm (9 in) baking tin with olive oil and line it with parchment paper.

Sift the cocoa powder into a medium bowl, whisk in the boiling water until it becomes a thickened paste, still smooth and barely runny. Stir in the vanilla extract and set aside to cool.

In another medium bowl, combine the almond flour (or flour), bicarbonate of soda, and salt.

In a larger bowl — or an electric mixer — briskly whisk together the sugar and eggs for a good three minutes until it becomes an aerated, light, and thickened cream.

Stir the cocoa mixture into the eggs/sugar cream until well combined, and finally add the almond/flour mixture.

Scrape the batter (which will be fairly liquid) into the prepared cake tin. Bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until a knife or skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out dry, with a few crumbs attached.

I like to let the cake cool completely before serving it with a spoonful of crème fraîche. As with all chocolate and/or almond cakes, it gets even better after a day or two.

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Chicken legs with red peppers, spring onions, and chickpeas

5 December 2019

To my family’s dismay, I rarely make anything other than thighs and drumsticks when I cook chicken. Everyone clamours for breast, but legs are far superior, in many respects — more tender, tastier, reheat-able, up-scalable.

As I am often the one to cook during the week, I decide (!), and one of my favourite weeknight meals is chicken legs. It’s infinitely adaptable, I rarely prepare it in exactly the same way twice (there are already a couple of recipes on these pages here and here); I make it nearly once a week. In the end, they relent — it tastes really good.

This version comes a bit late, seasonally, but perhaps one can occasionally make an exception. In October, when I bought peppers in excess in an attempt to keep squashes and potatoes at arms’ length for a little while longer, I made this dish quite often. It started loosely from the idea of ‘poulet Basquaise‘ — a regional dish from the Basque region broadly defined as chicken with peppers, tomatoes, and ham, which was well integrated in the French canon when I was growing up. My idea began there but quickly veered off-topic, geographically speaking.

As for the chickpeas, I’ve not yet assimilated the reflex of advance soaking and cooking, so I’m sticking to the tinned variety for now. Like everything, it is just a matter of habit. One day.

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Note: The chickpeas are missing in the picture because I added them the next day

Chicken legs with red peppers, spring onions, and chickpeas
Enough for 6, hopefully with leftovers

6 chicken thighs
6 chicken legs
2 large onions
6 garlic cloves
Mildly flavored oil — I usually use sunflower oil or mild olive oil
2 bunches spring onions
Light soya sauce
Tamari soya sauce
Rice wine vinegar
1x400g tin (can) of chickpeas

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Take the chicken legs out of the refrigerator.

Peel and slice the onions; smash and peel the garlic cloves.

Drizzle the bottom of a roasting dish with oil. Place the sliced onions and garlic evenly in the dish. Slide into the oven for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim at either end and remove one outer layer of the spring onions. Wash under cold water to remove any grit. Slice crosswise into halves or thirds.

Wash the peppers, cut them in half and remove the seeds, then slice each half lengthwise into strips and each strip in half. Drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Take the dish out of the oven and arrange the chicken legs over the onions and garlic, then add the peppers and spring onions. **Place them in the spaces between the pieces of chicken because if the vegetables are placed on top, the chicken skin won’t brown.** Season the whole dish generously and evenly with light soy sauce, tamari, and rice wine vinegar.

Return to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, then add the chickpeas. Continue roasting in the oven for another half hour or so , until the meat is nicely browned and the vegetables cooked through.

I like to serve this with rice. It will taste just as nice, if not better, reheated the next day.


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