French Ratatouille

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Ratatouille, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s a fancy French name for cooked provincial vegetables, consisting of eggplant, peppers, garlic and tomatoes. It’s one of my favourite dishes, yet I can forget to cook it for months at a time. How can this be?

What I love about this ratatouille recipe is everything is popped into one tray. You will need lots of extra virgin olive oil. But that’s not a bad thing. I recently heard Ottolenghi talking about how much virgin oil he uses when cooking eggplant. He advised, use lots, then use more. So don’t be shy.

The ratatouille vegetables are covered with foil and roasted in the oven. The flavours have no other choice than to blend together. This method also ensures the eggplant is soft, just the way properly cooked eggplant should be. The peppers and onions take on a sweetness from the tomatoes and finishing the dish with vinegar and brown sugar sharpens all those flavours. 

 

 

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By all means, you can replace the tinned tomatoes with fresh ones. If doing this, four would probably be enough. I had tinned on hand this particular day and as long as they are whole tinned, you can then squeeze the tomatoes in your hands and squash them to the desired consistency (this is actually quite fun).

There are times where I desire soft goats cheese. I like to crumble chunks of it into the warm ratatouille. It adds a creaminess that is irresistible with the tomatoes. You might consider giving this a try.

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The obvious first choice of serving ratatouille is with pasta. You can’t go wrong here. Toss 2/3 of the ratatouille through your al dente pasta, spoon into bowls then top with the remaining ratatouille, crumble over extra goats cheese, black pepper and fresh herbs.

Ratatouille makes an excellent side-dish that you might serve with fish, lamb or chicken. Or it can be eaten spread on toasted baguette as a light lunch.

When given a chance to lessen the dishes, I take it. I revel in it. One tray food, yes please!

 

One tray ratatouille 

Ingredients 

1 small eggplant

2 red onions, diced

1 red or green pepper (capsicum), diced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

5 whole tomatoes from a tin (with a little of the juice) or 3 fresh tomatoes chopped

lots of extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Black pepper

1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or basil)

1 -2 tbsp sherry or balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

50-80g soft goats cheese

 

Pre heat oven to 200C.

Peel the eggplant and cut into 1cm dice, place in a large baking tray. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic. Squeeze the whole tomatoes, in the palm of your hand, onto the vegetables (or if using fresh ones, chop them into a rough dice). Drizzle with lots of extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper, sprinkle with rosemary and oregano and toss gently to combine.

Cover with foil and roast for about 45 minutes, or till eggplant is soft.

Remove from oven, add the vinegar and sugar, toss gently till sugar dissolves. Allow to cool slightly then sprinkle with goats cheese and fresh oregano (if desired).

Chocolate, Avocado and Macadamia Nut Brownie

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When I first started out as an apprentice chef (all those years ago) I would of never considered combing avocado and chocolate. No Way! I would of screwed my nose up and shouted “don’t be ridiculous”. But these days, I’m excited by the idea.

Last year I experimented with chocolate and beetroot and found this combination to be earthy and tasty, and right. I feel much the same about combing avocado with chocolate; there’s an earthiness, and richness, and a depth to the taste; it’s perfect baked into a brownie. It’s fun.

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A pinch of sea salt can do marvellous things when used with chocolate. I added some to the avocado, which was then folded through the melted chocolate and this gives the chocolate that salted kick. It takes the edge away from the sugar and balances the chocolate in a most alluring way.

Macadamia nuts are native to Australia and I find myself using them in everything. I love them in this brownie. You might consider hazelnuts or walnuts, but macadamias have a creamy nuttiness that work so humbly beside the avocado.

Generally speaking, I like my brownie pretty fudge like, you know, almost under cooked. The brownie I’ve photographed needed five minutes less – damn phone ringing – 18-minutes would be perfect for fudge-like brownie, 22-25 minutes for those who like it cooked through.

 

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Because I’m mad about bitter chocolate, when the brownie came out of the oven, I grated some Venezuelan 100% cocoa chocolate on top. I also dusted it with cocoa, this was probably an over kill.

My five year old can longer tell me she doesn’t like avocado because, ha, she ate it in this brownie and never knew the difference! I will forever use this an an example that she REALLY DOES like avocado.

Chocolate, Avocado and Macadamia Nut Brownie – makes 15 pieces

Ingredients 

200g 70% cocoa chocolate

125g butter

2 eggs

150g ( 2/3 cup) caster sugar

150g (1 cup) plain flour

1 large avocado

1/4 cup milk

pinch sea salt

80g (1/2 cup) macadamia nuts

To serve – optional

Dutch cocoa for dusting

 

Pre heat oven to 170C. Line a 30cm by 20cm tray with baking paper.

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium bowl with the butter. Place the bowl over a shallow pot of simmering water and allow the chocolate to melt. Remove from the heat, stir till smooth and well combined. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes till light and fluffy.

Place the avocado flesh, milk and sea salt in a food processor and blitz till smooth (if you don’t have a food processor you could mash the avocado with a fork, add the milk after it’s mashed and try to get it as smooth as possible).

Add the pureed avocado to the warm melted chocolate and stir to combine. Add the chocolate and avocado to the eggs and sugar and fold gently. Sift the flour onto the chocolate mix, add the chopped macadamias and fold till just combined. Pour into the lined tray, and evenly smooth out the batter, Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes – if you like it soft and gooey, or 22-25 minutes – if you like it a little firmer.

Cool in the tin for 5 minutes. It’s optional at this point to grate some extra chocolate on top (whilst it’s still warm). Remove brownie from tin and cool on a wire rack. Cut into desired pieces, and dust with cocoa, or sprinkle with sea salt, if you wish. Store in an air tight container for 3 days.

Broccoli Stem and Spiced Lentil Pasties

 

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I read  this article in the good food section of the newspaper last week three weeks ago about food wastage, along with this smart list of  seven things to do with broccoli stems. It inspired me, to inspire you, with a recipe that uses up the often wasted part of the vibrant green vegetable – broccoli.

There’s always a surplus of broccoli in my house and it’s true that often the stalks aren’t used to their full potential. I leave a large part of the stem on, but there is still a portion of stem that ends up in the compost. I know my sister’s husband is guilty of wasting the stems. I’ve spotted him numerous times chopping the broccoli so short, right down to the bushy floret, that there’s no stem left at all! It seems mad to waste this part of the broccoli. Let’s embrace this nose to tail eating, not just with our meat, but with our vegetables too.

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Often, I have those days where i refuse to go shopping for MORE food. These are the times I must create a meal with the ingredients that I already have. When writing this recipe I looked in my cupboard for inspiration. I had a can of lentils – perfect. In the fridge there was a quarter cabbage sitting there waiting to be used (left over from an Asian slaw we’d had a few days earlier). There was an abundance of broccoli stem. In the freezer there were a few sheets of frozen puff pastry. I always have spices on hand and onions are an ever-present vegetable. So there you have it, a simple meal made purely from ingredients I already had at home. And a recipe that features, and even glorifies, broccoli stem.

 

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This simple recipe can be prepared in a short time. I choose to fold the puff pastry into rectangle parcels, but feel free to make triangles, or even one large pie (if that takes your fancy). Friends of mine pack them in their kids lunch box as a welcome change to sandwiches, (you might adjust the chilli if planning to feed them to kids). Once cooked and cooled, they can be frozen and heated at a later date for a quick lunch, preferably in the oven, not microwave.

I like to eat mine with yoghurt and a dash of mango chutney.

 

Brocoli stem and spiced lentil pasties 

Ingredients

1 brown onion, sliced

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp garam masala

small pinch of dried chilli flakes

2 cups thickly sliced broccoli stem

1 cup shredded purple (or white) cabbage

400g can brown lentils, drained and rinsed

Sea salt

Cracked black pepper

2 sheets puff pastry

1 egg, for brushing

1 tbsp nigella seeds

Grape seed or other vegetable oil

 

 

Pre heat oven to 220C. Line a large tray with baking paper.

 

Heat 1 tbsp grape seed oil (or other vegetable oil) in a large fry pan. Cook the onion gently for 2 minutes, add the shredded cabbage and cook and further 3 minutes. Add the spices and stir till fragrant. Drain and rinse the lentils and add to the onions and cabbage, stir well, season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and place in a large bowl.

 

Steam the broccoli stems for 1-2 minutes. Cool slightly, then slice into 1cm thick strips, add to the onions and lentils, stir to combine, then set aside to cool.

 

Lay the puff pastry sheets out on a clean bench. Cut each sheet into 4 squares. Whisk the egg in a small bowl, brush the outer edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Divide the broccoli stem mix between the 8 pieces of pastry. Fold the opposite corners of the pastry in towards each other, followed by the other two corners. Seal the edges together by gently pressing the pastry (there’s no prizes here for neatness).

 

Place the pasties on the lined baking tray, brush with remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with nigella seeds (or any other seed you might have on hand). Bake in the oven for 30 -35 minutes or till golden brown. Cool slightly before eating. Serve with yoghurt or mango chutney.  Remaining pasties will keep for two days in the fridge, warm in the oven before serving.