Monday, June 14, 2010

Falling in love with Celeriac

Today I fell in love! The object of my admiration was not the prettiest specimen but it was love at first taste! I've seen it prepared on cooking shows and read about so when I saw Celeriac at the supermarket today I had to have one. But for someone who has over 100 recipe books I simply couldn't find a single recipe for celeriac soup so I had to resort to the internet.

I found a gorgeous looking picture and used that as my inspiration. I know my SA readers won't find celeriac easily but if by any chance you are at a farmers market and stumble across them buy it immediately! After some reading up I discovered you should by a medium sized one with no soft spots - apparently they get as big as rock melons and those can be a bit woody. It's surprisingly soft - I thought it would be harder to peel and slice. It wasn't quite as soft as, say, an aubergine but nowhere near as hard as butternut. Definitely unique! You also need to peel it and use it quickly or it discolours (or put it into acidulated water - that just means water with some fresh lemon juice squeezed into it).

I used:
1 Medium celeriac - peeled and cubed
1T Olive oil
1T Butter
Maldon salt - pinch

1 Onion finely chopped
Little olive oil for frying
1L Chicken stock
500ml Milk2 Potatoes peeled and cubed
Maldon Salt
White Pepper to taste

Sour Cream
Spring Onions
Croutons or French bread

I roasted the celeriac at about 200C with a little olive oil, a generous sprinkling of Maldon salt and a knob of butter until it was golden brown and soft.

While it was roasting and I was on the phone to my cousin who is expecting her first baby, I sweated the onions until they were soft and golden brown.
Once the celeriac is ready add it to the onions and add the stock, milk, potatoes salt and white pepper. Simmer until the vegetables are really soft. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and then process until smooth in a blender - do small batches so you don't have soup all over your kitchen.
Place in a pot and re-heat - add a little more milk if the soup is too thick and then season to taste.

I served it with buttery croutons, spring onions and a dollop of sour cream finished off with cracked black pepper.
It was so unctuous and delicious with a slightly earthy, woody taste and backnotes of celery. Really heart-warming.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Slice Of Pizza

I have left the dishwasher unpacked, beds unmade and bathrooms in a mess because if I don't do this now I will never get to it. I have a long "TO DO" list again today but I have decided to set it all aside. I am also being a very neglectful (is that a word) mother, having left Paige ensconced in front of the television so I can indulge in PIZZA! I have vowed to turn over a new leaf and be healthy so am busy eating my bowl of oats as I type - how we have to multi task to get everything done.

Who doesn't like pizza? OK, so my dad doesn't like pizza but aside from him I don't think there is anyone else on the planet. I know why my dad doesn't like it, it's because he's never had the real deal, in fact I think he's only ever had that thick bready stuff they call pizza with bad tomato sauce, low cost yellow cheddar cheese and appallingly poor quality toppings. YUK.

I am so lucky to have had the real deal, so much so that I now struggle to do take out pizza which is usually just like what I have described.Good pizza is truly heavenly, it should be made with love and care, with a huge amount of thought going into the quality of the base and then topped with really scrummy, decadent toppings. I had a pizza like that in Italy a few years ago. Simon Padoan makes his pizzas using a 100 year old "biga" or starter dough, local spring water and specially milled, stone ground, local organic flour.
This is his mission statement:

"Our pizzas become a journey through flavours and are served one at a time. Different rising times and consistencies with a single aim: to give you a thrill."

And what a thrill it was! Deliciously, Mouthwateringly good. Honestly a slice of heaven. The base was thin and crispy (not crunchy) with a slight bend. I think a searingly hot pizza oven is the trick here, you just can't get the heat in a domestic oven. The toppings were simple but gutsy. My FAVOURITE was cream filled mozzarella or "Burrata" simply the most decadent cheese in the world (see picture below because if you've never seen it, you have no point of reference and it is nothing like that plasticy stuff you buy at the supermarket) with thin shavings of Parma Ham. Other good ones were, Buffalo Mozzarella with Date Tomatoes - so simple but so satisfying, the tomatoes were plump and sweet and the cheese dreamy. The one I have tried to replicate was another favourite:

Sheeps Milk Pecorino flakes with Ligurian Olives and a Basil emulsion. I mean, what more can a girl ask for?

Burrata - A fresh Italian cheese made with Mozzarella on the outside and cream in the centre which pours out when the cheese is sliced open.

So here is the dough ready to be rolled at my favourite PIZZA restaurant EVER

Simon putting topped pizzas in the oven - these were topped with Sardinian Anchovies

This is what I discovered when trying to get a thin base without a pizza oven:
First of all kids love pizza and it is another brilliant way to get them involved in the kitchen. Give them a small piece of dough a table outside, a rolling pin and some flour and they will be well amused for at least 1/2 an hour. Once you have rolled the dough out and let it do its thing they love to help put the toppings on. It may sound simple but they get such a sense of achievement when it comes out the oven. So onto the recipe. It is a little time consuming to get the dough ready but you need to do it in the morning and then you can forget about it until you need to add the toppings - that is the second trick!

Flour - I use about 100g per person and DO try and buy the Italian "OO" flour, most supermarkets have it these days, otherwise you local Italian Deli and if all else fails use strong white bread flour.
Olive oil - about 1 tablespoon per 100g flour
Fine salt - 5g per 200g flour
Yeast - fresh is preferable - about 5g per 100g flour. If you don't have fresh instant dry will be ok but you won't get such a strong yeasty flavour
Water - this should be warm around 20C

Place the flour, yeast and olive oil in a food mixer with the dough attachment, add the water and mix 3 minutes or so and then add the salt (salt kills yeast if it comes into contact with it in a dry form - that is why you add it once the dough has formed). Mix for about 6 minutes. The dough should be soft and sticky

Turn the dough onto a work surface and press holes into it with your fingers and then fold it over and leave it to rest for 20 mins.Now get some baking trays ready. Divide the dough equally between how much flour you used, i.e. If you used 400g flour make 4 balls. Lightly flour the work surface and roll out each ball as thinly as you can and then place them on baking sheets and put them in the fridge - you can leave them here for up to 8 hours before topping! ( I believe this is the secret to the thin base in my domestic oven). Make a lovely rich, tomatoey sauce using either very ripe fresh tomatoes or tinned Italian tomatoes. I don't add like using onion in my pizza base sauce - just simmer tomatoes until thick and then season.

About an hour before baking preheat the oven to its highest setting.
Smear tomato sauce around each base - kids love to help with this too, add a handful of good quality grated mozzarella and then add your toppings - whatever YOU like and try to be a little exotic, remember Italians don't see pizza as a cheap meal but as a culinary experience. Ham and pineapple is so NOT cool!

Here are a few more ideas for you:
Rosemary scented potato (precook these) & anchovy
Porcini mushroom and garlic - fry these up before adding
Avo, rocket and Parmesan shavings (add these once the base has cooked)
Artichoke, sun dried tomato and olives - always a winner
Chilli prawns with blobs of sour cream

You must eat your pizzas as soon as they come out of the oven!!

I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I have but now it's time to clean up and dream up new recipes