Monday, February 23, 2009

Kale gratin

If you have a vegetable box, you probably receive quite a lot kale during the winter months. Last week, it was a vivid purple. But, no matter how attractive in appearance, kale can have a harsh, chewy consistency. Preparing it as a gratin can soften it, and make it palatable even to those who are wary of brassicas. Serves 4.

Bagful of kale
About 50g butter
3dstsp flour
About 350ml milk
100g grated Cheddar, Gruyere, or some such
Scraping of nutmeg
Salt, pepper
2dstsp grated Parmesan

Warm a gratin dish in a gas mark 5/190C oven.

Strip the kale from the stalks, and wash it. Pour water a couple of cms deep into a saucepan, bring it to the boil, shove in the kale, and cook it, covered, for about five minutes, or until wilted. Drain, and squeeze out as much water as you can.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour, and cook very gently for a minute or so. (Use more butter if this roux is too thick.) Turn up the heat slightly, and pour in the milk a few splashes at a time, incorporating each addition before pouring in more. Stop when you have a thick but pourable sauce, and let it bubble, while you stir, for a minute or so. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Stir in the Cheddar or Gruyere. Mix the sauce and the kale. (I found that there was a lot of kale in my bag, so I made the mixture a little more liquid by adding some cream from the fridge.)

Tip into the gratin dish, sprinkle over the Parmesan, and bake for 20 minutes. If you'd like a browner top, finish it under the grill.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pot-roasted chicken

Pot-roasting enables you to cook a joint when you have a hob but not an oven. But because people like the technique, they pot-roast in the oven anyway - as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall does in this Guardian recipe.

If you follow his advice to the letter, you will need a very large pot. I cooked a 2kg chicken at the weekend, and I found that my largest, oval Le Creuset casserole was only just large enough. The lid was not a snug fit.

The second point worth noting before following this recipe is that a large Le Creuset such as mine takes a long time to warm through. After an hour at gas mark 4/180C, the cooking process is still at an early stage. So the timing Fearnley-Whittingstall gives may not be adequate.

The third point is that 10 minutes at the end may not be long enough to brown the skin - although some browning will have taken place inside the pot. In this recipe, from the River Cottage website, the technique is different: you uncover the dish 30 minutes before the end. Again, I think that his suggested overall cooking time may be inadequate.

I browned my chicken in a little oil and butter first, before throwing in bay, rosemary, onion, and whole garlic cloves.

The fourth point is that, once cooking really is underway, the steamy atmosphere of the pot will cook the chicken more efficiently than would the unmediated heat of the oven. It means that the chicken breast is at greater risk of drying out than it is when roasted conventionally.

It seems to me that if you want to cook your chicken in a pot, you might as well joint it first, add the breast portions just 25 minutes or so before the end, and call it a stew.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Parsnip soup

Is it always necessary to cut the central, woody parts from large parsnips? Yesterday, making a soup, I did not bother, and did not find any woody quality, or woody fragments, in the cooked product. Indeed, the soup had an extraordinarily sweet flavour, reminiscent of marmalade. Serves 2.

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
Knob of butter
Sunflower oil
2 large parsnips, peeled and cut into small pieces (it's quite hard work)
Stock, or water and half a stock cube
1/3tsp cayenne pepper

Cook the onion, garlic and cumin, gently, in the butter, with a little oil to prevent the mixture from sticking. Allow the onion five to 10 minutes to soften.

Throw in the parsnips, and pour in the stock (about 500ml, probably - you could heat it first, to save time) to come to the top of the vegetables. Add the cayenne, and salt to taste.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the parsnips are soft. Pass through a mouli, or put in a blender, or use (as I did) a stick blender.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Cabbage gratin

I have seen many recipes for vegetable gratins, but not one that includes cabbage. Why that should be, I don't know: cabbage works just as well in this context as chard, say, or spinach, particularly with a strong cheese such as Cheddar.

This recipe involves my new favourite method of cooking cabbage. For two.

1 onion, chopped
Butter and a little sunflower oil, for frying the onion
Half a cabbage, such as Savoy, chopped and washed
About 35g butter
2dstsp flour
About 350ml milk
100g Cheddar, grated
Grating of nutmeg
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp Parmesan, grated

Heat the oven to gas mark 8/230C. Warm a gratin dish. (I put mine into the grill section above the oven.)

Cook the onion, over a gentle heat, in enough butter to prevent its catching (the addition of a little oil is helpful). Give it five to 10 minutes to soften and start to turn golden. Throw in the wet cabbage, and cook, on a slightly higher heat and stirring regularly, until the leaves have wilted and softened - another five to 10 minutes. (The green colour deepens.)

Meanwhile, melt a large knob of butter in a small saucepan, and add the flour. (Use more butter if this roux is too thick.) Cook the roux, very gently, for about a minute - this process helps to soften the floury flavour. Turn up the heat to medium, and add the milk, a few splashes at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Stop when you have a fairly thick sauce (which liquid from the vegetables will thin). Bubble it for a minute or so, and add the Cheddar, nutmeg, and mustard, with a little salt. (Remember that the cheese is salty.)

Stir the sauce into the cabbage and onions, and tip the mixture into the warm gratin dish; sprinkle the surface with Parmesan, and put the dish into the hot oven for five minutes. (You're just giving it a blast of heat. There's no need to cook it for any longer.) Brown the surface under the grill, if you like.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Don't blanch the lasagne

From a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, I found a way to ensure that non pre-cook lasagne was properly cooked (as I wrote here). Before that, I had always blanched the pasta sheets before assembling the pasta.

However, last Saturday in the Guardian Ottolenghi gave a recipe for mushroom lasagne, and told us to pour boiling water on to the sheets, leave them for two minutes, and dry them on a tea towel.

This is a very bad idea. The sheets will stick together, and you will have trouble prising them apart.

Use the dry sheets, breaking them up as necessary to fit them in the dish. As I wrote in the earlier entry: cover the dish, after you have assembled the lasagne, with foil, and cook for 30 minutes at gas mark 4/180C, and then for another 30 minutes at gas mark 2/150C. Test the lasagne with a knife. If the pasta is soft, you could scatter parmesan on top and brown the dish under a grill.