Saturday, 29 January 2011

Puy lentils, chestnuts and gorgonzola salad

My time in Italy has now compressed to a collective of memories. Memories of food and friends, markets and restaurants and local and seasonal prodotti tipici.

Thankfully, food allows me to go back to a particular place in time and taste the memory all over, as if I was right there and then. Take this winter salad, for example: I was living in Firenze as part of my internship. Almost everyday would start in a short stroll to the market on the way to work. I’d fill my reusable bag with seasonal goodies in preparation for dinner and upon my return from work, in the early hours of the evening, I’d experiment in the shoebox that was my kitchen.

This is what this salad tastes of and it proved itself a keeper, standing the test of time. I recently made and wrote about on my weekly column and here it is again, worthy, in my eyes, of another post. It has Italy in autumn written all over it, and while you may say fall is long gone, the weather in this part of the world resembles a mild fall, even now, on the threshold of February.

When chestnuts are in season this salad can either serve as a side dish or a light meal in itself. The Gorgonzola melts into the hot lentils and coats the salad in a rich creamy dressing. Combined with the chestnuts and shallots, its nothing short of a celebratory nostalgic get- together in my mouth.

As per usual, the key to a fine result depends on the quality of the raw ingredients, ie. You might want to invest in raw chestnuts that require attentive boiling and peeling and a good Gorgonzola.

Puy lentils, chestnuts and gorgonzola salad

serves 2-4

400 grams chestnuts, with a shiny, tight, dark brown skin

1½ cups puy lentils

1-2 bay leaves

2-3 shallots or 1 red onion, chopped finely

75 gram Gorgonzola (dolce or piccante, as you like), crumbled

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp rosemary needles

With a sharp knife make an X cut in the skin on the flat side of each chestnuts.

Simmer in a pan with boiling water for 15 minutes.

Peel the chestnuts taking care to remove both the outer shell as well as the inner brown membrane. It's much more simple to peel them when they're still hot, so work in small batches, keeping the chestnuts in the hot water.

Place the lentils in a saucepan and cover with water. Add the bay leaves, cover and bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft.

Strain the cooked lentils and place in a bowl.

While the lentils are still warm add the peeled chestnuts, chopped shallots and the Gorgonzola cheese. The hot lentils will cause the cheese to melt into a thick dressing. Stir well.

Season with salt, pepper and olive oil, taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.

Sprinkle the rosemary on top and serve, still warm.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Cauliflower sunchokes and feta cheese pasta topped with a poached egg

I spent the latter part of last week in bed with a throat infection. This was my opportunity to self indulge on comfort food. I brought all the big guns out: cauliflower, oat porridge, rice pudding, chicken soup (sans the chicken), and cheesy pasta all worked their magic and did what they do best: Comfort with a passion. The only one left out in the cold was the sun, shining as brightly as a mild spring May day on what should have been a cold, grey and rainy January, but I guess you cant have it all.

The few days of compulsory rest came following several hectic weeks that came to a peak last Saturday, at a food & design exhibition opening I was asked to showcase some of my work. An architect working through food or a food writer that talks architecture, I walk the walk in both worlds, with one foot in each and either. Walking the line between the two disciplines is the path I chose and so I jumped at the opportunity to discuss food and architecture through my photography . After some thought I showcased a projection of food photographs, as observed from an architectural perspective, with key architectural terms interlaced between the images, as if to ‘shape’ the eyes of the beholders and, in a sense, bring them into my world; a world where food is architecture and architecture is food.

A system, in space, through time.

Edible or Habitable, well, that’s just details…

Cauliflower sunchokes and feta cheese pasta with a poached egg

The ultimate in comfort food, this has it all: a runny egg, soft cauliflower, cheese and pasta.

Serves 2

Olive oil

½ cauliflower, grated to pea size crumbs

5 medium size sunchokes, peeled and thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

150 gram (small shell shaped) pasta

Freshly grated turmeric

Nutmeg, to taste

Mace, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground white pepper

50 gram feta cheese, crumbled

2 fresh free range eggs

  1. Cook the pasta according to the package instruction. Start by bringing a large saucepan with plenty of salted water to a boil.
  2. For poaching the eggs, bring a saucepan with plenty of water to a boil. For instructions on how to poach an egg check out this link.
  3. In the meantime, heat a large frying pan with a glug of olive oil.
  4. When the oil is hot add the sliced sunchokes and fry until golden. Add the grated cauliflower and stir well. Fry the mixture, stirring continuously, making sure the bottom doesn’t burn. Sprinkle the chopped garlic and mix well. Add ¾ cup of water and cover, steaming the vegetables until soft, around 10 minutes. Season with turmeric, nutmeg, mace and freshly ground white pepper. Squeeze a little lemon juice over, just to enhance the flavors slightly then cover to keep warm.
  5. Poach the eggs and set aside.
  6. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and toss in the pan with the sun chokes and cauliflower.
  7. Add the crumbled feta cheese, taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Be careful when adding the salt as the feta cheese is already salted.
  8. Serve in a serving bowl and place the poached egg on top.
  9. I finished off the dish by sprinkling a little Japanese 7 spice (Shichimi tōgarashi) on top, for a little heat. You can substitute with your preferred choice of a burn or omit altogether. Whatever brings you comfort.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Playing with food #4: The Joy of Vegetables

A 'raw food' workshop with the school kids. Turns out making sandwiches and rolls using lettuce, cabbage and seaweed instead of bread and a rich cornucopia of seasonal fruit and vegetables is not only great fun, but also tastes great. There was a lot of "I dont normally eat these but this is the best thing I've ever tasted". I suspect making you own colourful sarnie without being told you HAVE to have it doesnt hurt, either.
The food revolution is happening.
One step at a time.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Fried onion & chickpeas sambusac

Several weeks ago I spent the day in East Jerusalem with Rafram. It wasn’t the Jerusalem I know and am familiar with but an undiscovered one; A Jerusalem that exists side by side the city I know and remember growing up in, the eastern side of Jerusalem is the Palestinian side. It is on this side wild herbs are sold by women kneeling down on the floor, where the sweetest confectionary is sold as a main course, hummus is prepared for breakfast and seasoned with the unique taste of time and tradition. Here the coffee beans are freshly ground mixed with cardamon seeds, okra is sold wild and tomatoes are detected from a far by their scent.

The Palestinian farmers grow their produce using traditional methods and heirloom varieties for lack of better means, meaning that produce is seasonal and still bears the scent and taste of how it never does anymore.

Thanks to Rafram I was introduced to a whole new world of foodstuffs that were unknown to me and still are to those that aren't obsessed with the local foodscape of Israel. Nothing new and innovative, these ingredients are local and seasonal and have been grown, made and produced using the same methods for centuries. I returned home that day on a full stomach after a lunch of fried brains and livers seasoned with the most delicate of seasoning, naturally served with a creamy sheep’s milk Labneh, a crispy salad dressed with tahini and the fluffiest of pita breads. Lunch was followed by a visit to my new favorite food shop somewhere on the east side of the city. Here, buttery potatoes are sold covered in soil, as they were picked and the clementines are still adorned with the stem, as they were picked off the tree. A bit of both, I also added the sheep’s milk clarified butter, unfiltered young olive oil, bitter and pungent from the recent harvest as well as the elusive thick, gooey ‘honey’ syrup made from grapes in Hebron.

Whilst it is always exciting to discover new treasures just when you thought you knew it all, the down side is the realization of how little one really knows. Nothing short of gems, these treasures are little known to the Israeli population and that may not be a bad thing considering previous examples of local dishes and ingredients ‘adopted’ by the Israeli palette, quickly followed by progress and industrialization.

Sold in recycled jars and plastic bottles, these products have changed little over time and have evolved over centuries, in harmony and keeping with the seasons, the land and nature. Perhaps they should remain a secret, now that they are gracing my kitchen.

These could be made using yeast dough or phyllo sheets, either fried or baked.

I chose the fast track and the crispiness of baked phyllo pastry sheets. Having tasted the end product, I suggest you do the same.

Fried onion & chickpeas sambusac


Makes about 15 sambusacs

Phyllo sheets, thawed overnight in the fridge, if using the frozen kind

1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight, drained and cooked in water until tender.

½ cup red lentils, fried in oil until crispy (optional)

Olive oil

1-2 onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ chilli pepper, finely chopped

½ lemon, squeezed

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 egg yolk

2-3 Tbs sesame seeds

Prepare the filling:

Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add a little olive oil.

When the oil is hot add the chopped onions and cook until golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the minced garlic and chopped chilli and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using either a food processor or a mortar and pestle mash the drained cooked chickpeas to a course paste.

In a medium bowl combine the chickpea paste with the cooked onions, garlic and chilli. Add the fried lentils, if using.

Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Prepare the phyllo pastry:

Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo into 15 strips (or as many sambusacs you wish to prepare), about 8x25 cm. stack the strips, cover with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel.

If you let the dough dry out, it will crack and be difficult to work with.

Put the olive oil in a small bowl and clear an area on your counter to work with the phyllo dough.

Keeping remaining phyllo covered and working quickly, place 1 sheet on work surface and lay it flat.

Gently brush with some olive oil.

Filling and folding the sambusac:

This clip demonstrates how to fold the phyllo into a triangle and create a pocket in which to drop the filling.

Alternatively, Fold the corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle.

Continue folding the pastry strip, maintaining a triangle shape.

Place the sambusac, seam side down, on baking sheet.

Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling.

Generously brush the samusacs with egg yolk and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake until golden and crisp all over, about 25 minutes total. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.