Monday 20 February 2012

Braised chicory with Roquefort

Having spent the last 10 days in France it's struck me again what a mystery it is that you can't order more vegetable-based dishes in French restaurants. It's not that they don't have the produce. Down in the Languedoc they have gorgeous leeks right now and great bagfuls of chicory which is something you rarely find in the UK - or not at a reasonable price. Yet the only greenery most restaurants seem to offer - and have done for the past umpteen years - is salade de chèvre chaud (grilled goats' cheese salad).

Anyway I took advantage of some very good prices (about €2.50 a kilo) to buy 5 heads of chicory to make a side dish to go with yesterday's roast chicken. This is roughly the recipe.

Braised chicory with Roquefort
Serves 4-6
5-6 heads of chicory
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
20g butter
About 125ml chicken or vegetable stock
50g Roquefort or other blue cheese. Or almost any leftover cheese for that matter - Comté would be good.

Cut the heads of chicory in half lengthwise and remove any damaged outer leaves. Fill a large shallow pan with water, bring to the boil and add the lemon juice to stop the chicory discolouring. Add the chicory, reduce to a simmer and cook for 4-5 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon.

Discard the water from the pan, add the oil and then the butter. Once melted lay the halved chicory heads in the pan and fry until well browned, turning them carefully halfway through so as not to break them up. Lay them cut side upwards in a shallow baking dish, pour over the stock and crumble over the cheese. Cook alongside whatever roast you're cooking for another 10-15 minutes until the cheese is lightly browned and the stock pretty well evaporated.

I also made a dish of leeks vinaigrette for which I posted a recipe on the blog a couple of years ago. Good to be reminded how good it is though and leeks are very tasty at the moment.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Dukka (or Dukkah)

If you're someone who never manages to use up the nuts or spices you buy for a recipe dukka (aka dukkah) could be your salvation. Basically it's a ground up mixture of roasted nuts, spices and dried herbs in which to dunk bread or raw vegetables. It appears to originate from Egypt though has become very fashionable in Australia. And it's dead tasty.

To keep down the cost if you're making it from scratch buy one of those packs of mixed chopped nuts. I'm not mad about their flavour normally but if you roast them and mix them with spices they taste fine - just nicely nutty. And - hopefully it doesn't need saying by now - buy your spices from a ethnic grocer rather than from the supermarket. You'll pay a fraction of the price.

Makes about 250g mix - enough to feed a group of six to eight though obviously check no-one has a nut allergy.

100g chopped mixed nuts
75g sesame seeds
25g coriander seeds
10-12g cumin seeds
1 level tsp dried oregano
1 level tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4

Spread the nuts and seeds on separate baking trays or tins and roast them in the oven until lightly coloured and fragrant - about 7-8 minutes for the nuts, 4-5 minutes for the coriander and seeds and 3-4 minutes for the sesame seeds. (It might sound a faff roasting them separately but you don't want to overcook them. You could toast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan if you like. The main thing is to watch them like a hawk).

Set the nuts and spices aside to cool. Put the nuts and peppercorns into a food processor or spice grinder, pulse a few times then add the coriander, cumin and sesame seeds and oregano and salt and pulse again. Don't overdo it - you want a rough textured mixture that looks like coarse breadcrumbs (see below). If you haven't got a food processor you could use a pestle and mortar to grind everything up but that's obviously harder work.

Serve with good olive oil, chunks of bread or warm pitta bread and raw veg like carrots and radishes. It's also great as a sprinkle over roast vegetables or you can use it as a coating for soft goats' cheeses - or a topping for roast fish. You could add a few chilli flakes if you want to spice it up but this version is better for kids (provided, just to stress it again, they're not allergic to nuts).

You can keep any leftover dukka for a week or two in an airtight tin or plastic box though you might want to refresh it in the oven for 2-3 minutes before you serve it.

By the way the beetroot dip in the rather messy pic above (suddenly remembered I should snap it half way through eating it) is made from a couple of vac-packed beets - a recipe I adapted from Stephen Markwick's A Well-Run Kitchen. You simply chop them up and whizz them with 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, about a teaspoon of ground roast cumin, a pinch of hot pimenton or cayenne pepper and 3 tbsp olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.