salmon and leek parcels

This recipe comes partly as a celebration of the return of the oven after our last one failed to muster any warmth, and partly as the result of a conversation about the ‘best way to cook salmon’. After eating a particularly unappetising microwaveable macaroni cheese a few days ago in lieu of using the oven, I decided the moment that the new one was installed I would use it wholly. Nothing shows how wonderful an oven is like pastry – golden, puffed up pastry with a delicious, bubbling filling waiting underneath. These salmon and leek parcels are just that, their buttery pastry keeping moist salmon entwined with soft leek ribbons under wraps. As a development of the traditional salmon baked in foil, these little parcels are just as simple to cook as their predecessor, but result in a more exciting variation on the humble original.

I decided to experiment, making two variations of the parcel, to ensure all avenues of development had been visited! The first parcel focussed on the taste of the fish – lightly seasoned, with some butter to act as a sauce and give moisture to the parcel. The second was without butter, sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley, a herb often used as a complement to fish. Both were cooked for 20 minutes in a hot oven, and then were tasted to decide which recipe was the best improvement on foil baking. The salmon of the second parcel was drier than the first – whilst puff-pastry has an already notable fat content, sometimes comprising ‘all-butter’, it was not sufficient to keep the salmon moist in the oven. Using a small knob of butter created the delicious liquid that accompanies fish when foil-baked, without causing the pastry to go soggy. Plus, the light seasoning of the first parcel meant that the flavour of the fish was not overpowered by other ingredients, as it arguably was in the second – the flat leaf parsley gave a richness that wasn’t necessary with the pastry, and didn’t pair well with the leeks. Salt and pepper brought out the natural flavours of both ingredients, rather than attempting to create another dimension of taste that wasn’t required! The recipe listed below is for the first parcel – the simplicity of the ingredients mean the flavour of the salmon is at the forefront, with a buttery sauce lending moistness to the fish and leeks. Served with some peas, or a light salad, the parcels are not more complex to produce than using foil, and show a new aspect of a much-loved dish!

Ingredients

  • 1 salmon fillet, skinned and sliced into thin strips
  • ½ large leek, sliced diagonally into 1cm thick chunks
  • 1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry, sliced evenly into quarters
  • A knob of butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to drizzle

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Boil the kettle, and use the boiling water to blanche the sliced leeks for 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Drain the leeks, and set aside for later.
  2. On a clean surface, lay out two of the squares of puff pastry. In a bowl, place the salmon strips, and add the leek. Stir gently to combine.
  3. Divide the leek and salmon mixture evenly between the two squares of puff pastry. Season, and top each with a generous knob of butter.
  4. Gather the corners of the pastry square, and pull towards the middle until a ‘bun’ shape is created. Scrunch up and down the joins to prevent it falling apart in the oven!
  5. Place onto a non-stick baking sheet, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden. Remove, and serve immediately to prevent them going soggy!
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best for a picnic pt.1

Although there was light rain causing my last picnic to take place indoors, the flavours and variety of food were not affected by the lack of a gingham blanket! Dining ‘al fresco’ has a certain excitement to it, which often means that avid picnickers never deviate from the usual assortment found in their hamper – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But actually, whilst most of us wouldn’t turn our noses up at the opportunity to nibble a few soggy tomato sandwiches in a field, there exists a huge array of picnic inspiration to tap into – simple to make recipes, which are easily transported and kept, so that the sociable atmosphere can be prolonged by effortlessness grazing throughout the afternoon! Rifling through countless picnic suggestions, I decided to shortlist these 4, as not only being easy to produce, but as recipes that are different from the archetypal squashed sandwiches and limp lettuce; your next picnic now promises to be a change from the ordinary.

SAUSAGE ROLLS

Turning to Jamie Oliver, these sausage rolls are a far tastier and ‘homelier’ option over a shop bought sausage roll. Although they take a little initial preparation, with practice the production will become perfect, learning the knack for grounding down fennel seeds and acquiring speed for slicing the sausages. The sausages are infused with fennel, and coated with a light layer of parmesan cheese, before being wrapped in light puff pastry. The use of the fennel really sets these sausage rolls apart – the slight liquorice taste gives each bite a freshness, and a flavour that cannot be found in your average shop bought comparison. Moreover, the sesame seeded pastry lends an extra crunch, introducing a new texture alongside the soft cheese and sausage.

The benefit of home baking these is the opportunity to select your sausages – the variety of sausages available in most supermarkets means that you can infuse different flavours with each batch. For example, a chili-infused sausage would work well with a small sprinkling of cumin instead of fennel; using an apple-infused sausage would pair excellently with a few sprigs of sage. As a result, you are able to create an array of different pairings, suitable for any occasion!

Ingredients

  • Plain flour, for dusting
  • 375g of puff pastry
  • 1 egg
  • 12 chipolata sausages
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, ground
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Sesame seeds

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 220 degrees. Begin by preparing a baking tray: drizzle it lightly with olive oil, and use your hands to spread the oil across the tray, to give an even coating. Sprinkle some flour on the tray, and shake it from side to side, allowing the flour to stick to the oil. Tip away any loose flour, once the tray has a full coating.
  2. Dust a clean surface with plain flour and unroll puff pastry. Slice the pastry in half lengthways. Beat the egg in a bowl, and paint each pastry half with a pastry brush.
  3. Taking 6 sausages, lay them lengthways on a slight diagonal on one half of the pastry. Do the same for the remaining 6 sausages and the other half of pastry. Ensure that the sausages are laid out slightly to one edge of the pastry, as you will later fold the pastry in half to form the ‘roll’.
  4. Crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, and sprinkle evenly over the sausages. If using, finely grate a layer of parmesan cheese over the fennel seeds.
  5. Take the side of the pastry furthest away from the sausages, and fold it over to create a ‘roll’, where the sausages are near central.
  6. Use a fork to crimp the edges of the pastry, so two long sausage rolls are created. Paint these with the remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
  7. Roughly cut each long sausage roll into 8 to 10 smaller rolls. Lay these on the baking tray, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown with fully risen pastry.

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CREAMY POTATO AND RADISH SALAD

Adapted from a Sainsburys’ recipe, this dressing for potato salad combines the creaminess of mayonnaise and the tanginess of horseradish to create a blend of flavours that are incredibly moreish. The quantities here are key – once the base ratio of 2:1 mayonnaise and horseradish has been achieved, tasting is crucial to ensure the addition of lemon juice and chives are harmonious, and not overpowering either way. The radish slices match the horseradish for taste, ensuring the salad has a tangy dimension to it, preventing it from being too creamy and rich. So, have a teaspoon for tasting at the ready!

Ingredients

  • 500g new potatoes
  • 2 tbsp. of mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. of horseradish sauce
  • Juice of a lemon, to taste
  • Handful of chives, finely sliced
  • 10 radishes, finely sliced

Method

  1. In a medium sized pan, bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add the new potatoes, and boil for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are tender and soft.
  2. Whilst the potatoes are cooking, prepare the creamy dressing: firstly, whisk together the mayonnaise and horseradish sauce, until fully combined.
  3. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon to taste – if too sour, add more horseradish sauce to taste.
  4. Snip in the chives, and stir to combine. Wash the radishes, and cut into thin slices.
  5. Once the potatoes are tender, drain them and slice into halves. Allow cooling, and adding the radish slices – drizzling in oil, and seasoning.
  6. Pour half the creamy dressing onto the potatoes, and serve the rest in a bowl. Cover, and place in the hamper. Enjoy! 

sweet potato, green bean and mozzarella pie

I had big visions of today, Bank Holiday Monday, being beautifully sunny; lots of people around, and a big spread of food on the table greeted with light hearted conversation, followed by a long summer evening. But, as it is exam term (no people) and I live in Coventry (no sun, basically ever.), my illusion was shattered as I spent the afternoon in the library translating Latin. However, I am determined not to give up. This pie is destined for a checkered table cloth, amongst other mini-nibbles, in honour of a special occasion! It cries out to be eaten after a gathering outdoors, the type undoubtedly shown in an idyllic M&S advert.

I chose to make the pie this size because I believed it made it perfect for a starter, or as part of a larger spread – its fantastic flavour is given to you in a burst, enticing you to try other foods and enjoy the rest of the meal. The use of the sweet potato and green beans together gave the dish brilliant colour – as the pastry is gradually eaten, the contrasting hues are revealed, giving the dish an air of impression.

However, despite the use of mozzarella for binding the ingredients together in some way, I was concerned about a lack of sauce. Whilst this pie is not intended to be a wintry staple such as a Shepherds’ pie, which requires a good meaty sauce, the potential dryness of the dish led me to looking into ways to modify the recipe to give it moisture. I decided to add onions and garlic, fried in a little olive oil. Not only did they together bring extra flavour, the small amount of olive oil served sufficiently to coat the ingredients and prevent dryness. This, combined with the melted mozzarella, bound the roasted sweet potato and tender green beans together beneath the pastry, strengthening the overall textures of the dish.

Finally, even though this is a great vegetarian dish, if you did want to add meat, I think chicken would compliment this well. It works well in dishes without sauces, and would go well with the mozzarella and green beans. This pie is light, and so shouldn’t be brought down by heavy accompaniments – a green salad, would go perfectly.

Ingredients

  • Medium sweet potato, peeled and diced – roughly one sweet potato per two people
  • Green beans, trimmed and halved
  • Red onion, diced – quarter per person
  • ½ ball of mozzarella per person, torn into small pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • Chili flakes, to taste
  • Green salad, to serve
  • Butter
  • Flour
  • Cold water 

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place the diced sweet potato in an oven-proof dish with a small knob of butter. Sprinkle with the chili flakes to taste, and then roast for 20 minutes until tender.
  2. Whilst the sweet potato is roasting, boil the beans in water until tender. To make the pastry, gently rub together in a bowl the butter and flour with the tips of your fingers. Ensure this is done lightly and continue to do so, until a mixture resembling fine breadcrumbs is achieved.  Add small amounts of cold water at a time, and stir with a fork until a ball of pastry is formed – I find the best way to add water without it drowning the mixture is to use the drips from the cold tap that occur directly after it has been turned off! Cover the pastry, and place in the fridge until later.
  3. Once the beans are cooked, drain, and return the now empty pan to the hob. Add a small drizzle of olive oil, and fry the onion and garlic until softened and slightly browned. Remove from the hob, and place the beans back in the pan alongside the onion and garlic mixture.
  4. Now that the sweet potato is tender, remove from the oven, and stir in the beans, onion and garlic. Sprinkle in the torn pieces of mozzarella, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Remove the pastry from the fridge – roll out on a floured side until thin, and then drape on top of the pie dish. Pinch round the edges of the dish (being careful if it is still hot!), until the pastry is securely in place.
  6. Place the pie in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes further, or until the pastry is golden brown.
  7. Serve with a green side salad, and enjoy the party!