As the weather has been so amazingly hot recently (30 degrees..in England!) I find all I really want to eat is salad. What I love about salads is that you can put virtually any random ingredients together, and it usually works. Salads are usually considered to be a healthy option, regardless of what they contain. The rationale seems to be that if you put something in the vague vicinity of a lettuce leaf, it automatically becomes healthy. Eating things as a ‘salad’ seems to purge them of any sin.
In this very hearty, and therefore not exactly healthy, salad I went for vaguely Moroccan flavours: cumin spiced chicken, garlicky aubergines and a dressing of yoghurt mixed with harissa, which is a Moroccan chilli paste.
Incidentally, as the subtitle for this blog is ‘food and photography’, I feel like it’s high time I mentioned photography in a post. So here goes. This was my first attempt at shooting a recipe outside, in order to convey the sunny, salad-appropriate weather. Initially I thought it would be a doddle, as there is so much light around. However, the light is harder to control, as its not just coming from one direction. This results in everything seeming to cast a shadow. Some careful bouncing of the light with a reflector seemed to do the trick.
So far on the blog, I have strictly alternated between sweet and savoury recipes. I’ve mostly done this for the sake of my waistline – to stop me getting too carried away with puddings. But I got so excited when I made zabaglione for the first time that it simply couldn’t wait.
I’ve always been aware of the existence of this famous Italian dessert, but never eaten it or made it before. I had to ask an Italian who comes into the café where I work how it is pronounced. It took him a while to decipher what I meant by ‘Zabag…Zabagglionee- you know….that frothy thing with eggs..’. ‘Zabalyioney’, is correct, if you’re wondering. Said in an Italian accent with lots of gesturing. Almost as much fun to say as it is to eat.
Zabaglione only has three ingredients: egg yolks, sugar, and alcohol. But this is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There is a magical moment during the whisking when the mixture increases in volume, morphing into this amazing foamy, meringue-like substance. It is traditionally made with Marsala wine, but I used amaretto liqueur, as I love the stuff. I also added some crushed amaretti biscuits to give a bit of textural contrast to all the voluptuous creaminess.
My latest thrilling food discovery is passionfruit curd. I bought a jar and it was gone in about two days, as I was consuming it at every opportunity. I then bought another jar and made this cheesecake. I wanted to put this amazing stuff to a more fitting use – rather than it just being eaten, sometimes without the need for a utensil of any kind, straight from the jar.
There seem to be all sorts of curds out there these days. I bought a particularly memorable blackcurrant one in the Lake District – again eaten straight out of the jar for breakfast, whilst shivering in a tent in September. Theoretically, any fruit can be made into a curd by mixing the juice with eggs, butter and sugar, although some seem to work better then others. I think passionfruit curd might just be able to rival lemon curd as the frontrunner.
This recipe came to me when I was eating my passionfruit curd with yoghurt for breakfast one day (and a good day it was). The creaminess of the yoghurt went so well with the tartness of the passionfruit that I decided to combine the same idea in a cheesecake.
You can’t really go wrong with a cheesecake – it’s (usually) such a crowd-pleaser. There’s something satisfying about having a big gooey slice of pud, rather than something that’s been individually portioned out beforehand. While your cutting it the question of ‘how big’ is invariably raised- to which the answer is usually ‘not too big’, followed by ‘ooh…a bit bigger than that’.
When browsing on one of the many food blogs I follow, I came across a suggestion that the only way to really smooth hummus is to peel the chickpeas. That’s right PEEL the chickpeas. Your first reaction, as mine was, might well be that life’s too short. I even considered just putting in the recipe that you should peel the chickpeas, but chucking them in whole myself. But then, I guess that would be cheating.
So peel them I did (I’ve included a picture of my beautifully peeled chickpeas as proof of my efforts). You can actually get quite into the rhythm of squeezing the chickpeas and popping them out of their skins – although don’t do it when you’re in a rush, or you’ll probably just give up and bung them in whole.
This is not only the first time I’ve peeled chickpeas when making hummus, it’s also the first time I’ve measured all the ingredients – usually I just blend random amounts until it looks about right. I’ve made a few amendments to the basic hummus recipe of chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste) and olive oil, to make the result slightly more interesting. I’ve added roasted garlic and honey for sweetness, and wine wine vinegar for a bit of a kick.
I knocked up a batch of olive oil crackers to serve with the hummus. They are sprinkled with Nigella seeds – which, by the way, are also called kalonji black onion seeds. They are nothing whatsoever to do with Nigella Lawson, although she likes to pretend they are.
Panna Cotta is one of those things that I’ve eaten many a time, but never tried to make. It always seems a bit intimidating, given the need to get the set absolutely right, so it holds together but still wobbles just the right amount. I’ve heard it should wobble like a silicone breast implant. Given my limited experience of silicone breast implants, I was aiming for a set that was, rather more childishly, like jelly.
Panna Cotta means ‘cooked cream’ in Italian, and is pretty easy to make. I chose to flavour the cream with elderflower. And before this conjures up a bucolic image of steeping fresh elderflowers to make homemade syrup, I’ll admit that I used bought elderflower cordial. The cordial sunk to the bottom, forming a layer on the top of the panna cotta when it was turned out – a happy accident. I served the panna cottas with some caramelised hazelnuts and strawberries, partly to give a bit of textural variation and partly to make the dish look more classy than a breast implant.