rolled aubergine with rocket

This recipe is inspired by one of my favourite “culinary” programmes, Come Dine With Me. Though perhaps not the most serious cooking series around, with just the right amount of awkward dining scenarios complemented by consistent mockery from Dave Lamb, it can never fail to entertain. The particular dish that inspired these aubergine rolls, as I remember, was the starter before the dreaded main course that ended up in the bin as a result of rash action on part of the angered host, who subsequently retreated to his room to have a little calm down. But aside from the events following, the starter was well received by the guests and I therefore decided to make my own. The rolls of aubergine are kept deliciously moist by the melting mozzarella cheese, and the saltiness coming from the ham tops off the dish. As a starter, the little rolls of aubergine are a perfect way to begin a meal! But I wanted to make something substantial, that could be enjoyed for longer.

The addition of a sauce makes this dish recognisably more plentiful. The rolls of aubergine are nestled in a thick tomato sauce, allowing the flavours of basil, and thyme, to be soaked up and infused once in the oven. Tender green beans are included in the sauce for much the same reason – another dimension of taste is provided, and another ingredient moreover contributes to the wholesomeness of the dish. A different texture is provided by the lightly oiled torn ciabatta bread, adding a satisfying crunch with each mouthful. Added to the dish very near to the end of the cooking process, it is baked immersed in the sauce – the top of the bread is crisp, the bottom is soft, having been soaked in delicious tomato. Serving this dish on a bed of fresh rocket pairs the salad’s peppery flavour brilliantly with the aubergine. For a summer dish, this is perfectly light, but for winter this dish could easily be served with boiled potatoes, or steamed rice, to lend it the feel of proper comfort food.

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine, stalk removed and sliced into 1cm thick slices vertically
  • ½ ball of mozzarella cheese, roughly torn
  • Parma ham, around a slice per two pieces of aubergine
  • Green beans, trimmed
  • Batch of homemade tomato sauce, or passata
  • Small ciabatta roll, roughly torn
  • Rocket
  • Olive oil

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Place a colander in a clean, empty sink, and add the aubergine slices. Salt the aubergine, and rest there for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the tomato sauce: bring some water to the boil in a small pan, and blanche the green beans until nearly tender.
  3. Rinse the aubergine slices after the stated time, and pat dry with paper towels. In a frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil, and fry the aubergine slices until golden brown. Remove from the heat.
  4. Into an oven proof dish, pour the passata or homemade tomato sauce. Drain the green beans, and stir them into the passata. Season.
  5. Place the slices of aubergines flat on a clean surface. Lay parma ham over each of the slices, topping with mozzarella cheese. Repeat the process until the aubergine runs out. Then, roll the aubergines up into small sausage shapes; laying the point where the two sides of aubergine meet face-down in the dish. This will stop them unravelling during cooking! It is important to ensure that the rolled aubergine is nestled in the sauce as much as possible – this will keep them moist and enhance the flavour of the dish.
  6. In a clean bowl, lightly oil the torn ciabatta. Sprinkle the ciabatta over the aubergines, and place in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the ciabatta is golden and the aubergines are soft.
  7. Remove from the oven, and serve the aubergine with a peppery rocket salad!
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strawberry soufflé

Playing about with some leftover strawberries, my boyfriend’s mum and I put this together a few evenings ago. We found several recipes online, but finally opted for this, deciding this was the recipe which would most likely yield the purest strawberry flavour.  Other recipes included additions such as chocolate, and although we considered them, we felt they would perhaps overpower the natural sweetness of the strawberries and create a sickly dessert, as well as detracting from the primacy of the fruit; aside from vanilla, the strawberry takes the front seat in this soufflé.

Although the recipe served four, we edited the quantities to serve six people. Having made the soufflé mixture, the volume was much greater than expected! The ingredient list below notes the quantities used for 6 people, though from our experience I would suggest that it’d actually make around 8-10 soufflés. Not that having extra mixture was a problem! The soufflés rose incredibly well, making each one a fluffy ramekin of strawberry perfection.

This recipe worked incredibly well – the only fault was having more mixture than originally intended (and as afore noted, that’s more of a benefit than a harm!), which perhaps came as a result of changing the quantities. Considering that I had always thought of soufflés as a difficult pudding to master, the end result was more than pleasing! The instructions are simple and the ingredients are not ‘exotic’ – it is a pudding that is both accessible and manageable, and as a consequence produces a desirable dessert. These strawberry soufflés are without a doubt a fantastic summer pudding – their lightness and sweetness best profiling the qualities of the season.

Ingredients

  • 750g fresh strawberries, stalks removed and sliced
  • 180g caster sugar, plus some extra to dust the insides of the ramekins
  • The seeds of a vanilla pod
  • 3 tablespoons of cornflour, dissolved in 6 tablespoons of cold water
  • Soft butter, to grease the insides of the ramekins
  • 6 egg whites

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Blend the strawberries and 100g of the sugar in a food processor until it forms a puree. Scrape in in the seeds from the vanilla pod and stir to combine.
  2. Bring the strawberry and vanilla mixture to the boil over a medium heat in a saucepan, whisking continuously to ensure a smooth mixture.
  3. Mix the cornflour with the cold water in a glass or small bowl until smooth, and add to the saucepan with the strawberries. Whisk until the mixture begins to thicken, and then remove from the heat.
  4. Leave to cool, and then place in the fridge to chill.
  5. Whisk the egg whites in a clean grease-free bowl, gradually adding the remaining 80g of caster sugar. It is important to ensure that the sugar is not added in too larger amounts, as this will knock the air out of the egg whites and they will not rise!
  6. Continue to whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the strawberry puree into the egg whites and stir gently to combine.
  7. Grease six ramekins, and dust lightly with some caster sugar. Divide the soufflé mixture amongst the ramekins, filling to the top before levelling with a knife.
  8. Bake in the oven for 9-11 minutes until they have risen well above the rim of the ramekin. Serve immediately and enjoy!

(from Great British Menu)

black bean chili with chocolate and lime

Yesterday it poured with rain, and today it is brilliantly sunny. The weather really influences the food I desire – when it is cold and miserable outside, I want something in the evening to make me feel like being cooped up inside isn’t so bad after all. So yesterday, this Black Bean Chili was a fine example of the type of warming hearty dish you’d long for when you’re in need of comfort, because it’s just not that nice outside.

I’ve wanted to try to make a Black Bean Chili for ages. Although it’s not particularly any different to a normal chili con carne in terms of flavour, I wanted to see the textural differences between beans and the usual mince component. After the success (and personal enjoyment) of the spaghetti bolognese using lentils and beans last term, I thought this would be similarly tasty! The black beans are soft to bite, which means as a comfort meal, it has an element of indulgence, as essentially it doesn’t require much strength to chew! Moreover, the beans soak up the flavours of the spices – the chili powder and the smoky paprika make an excellent combination, that is flavoursome throughout the dish in comparison to a usual chili, where the flavours only usually reside in the sauce.

The thing that sets this aside from a meat chili con carne for me, however, is the addition of cocoa powder and the topping with lime juice. Hearing about both of these accompaniments to chili con carne, I couldn’t wait to try them out. Whilst I was initially sceptical about using chocolate in a spicy dish, I was brought round to the idea by seeing the popularity of items such as chili chocolate – if chili/chocolate is a combination that can be enjoyed where chocolate is the main staple, chili/chocolate must surely work where there is a hint of chocolate amongst a wealth of warming spice. In actual
fact, the use of cocoa powder gives a depth and a richness that I haven’t really tasted elsewhere! It doesn’t taste at all sweet, but the sauce takes on a new consistency, appearing more like velvet; something I am sure must come from the chocolate. The lime squeezed on the chili before serving gives a refreshing zesty tang to the beginning of the dish. As it is not stirred throughout, its citrus tones are not lost in the dish; it stays as an accompaniment that is authentic, as limes are used frequently in Mexican dishes, such as guacamole. Together, they give an excellent spin on the usual chili con carne that I was previously unaware of, but from now on, will be using with regularity. So for those, like me, experiencing strange day-on-day-off weather, combat the rainy blues with a helping of this comforting chili.

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Button mushrooms, halved
  • Half an orange pepper, chopped
  • Half a yellow pepper, chopped
  • 400g tin of black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • Small tin of kidney beans
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 4 tsps chili powder
  • 2 tsps smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Juice of a lime to taste, squeezed before serving

Method

  1. Place a saucepan over a medium heat, and add a drizzle of oil. Fry the chopped onion until it begins to soften, and then add the crushed garlic cloves. When the garlic becomes fragrant in the pan, add the peppers and mushrooms and fry until the peppers begin to soften.
  2. Sprinkle in the chili powder and the paprika, and stir to coat all the ingredients in the spices. Allow to fry for a few moments further, before adding the drained and rinsed beans and the tomatoes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, and the tin of kidney beans. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder, and stir well.
  4. Place a lid on the saucepan, and heat through for thirty minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced.
  5. Accompany with rice, and a fresh salad for garnish. Before serving, squeeze the lime juice over the dish, to add zesty freshness! If desired, top with grated cheese.