August 26, 2009

Pistachio Zucchini & Cardamom Cake

In creating this recipe I wanted to develop a tasty, sweet zucchini (courgette) cake that wasn't a chocolate and zucchini combination. Now don't get me wrong, I really enjoy chocolate zucchini cake, it was made by my mother on many lovely occasions; the most memorable being my 5th birthday when all my friends dove into the tasty birthday cake having no idea zucchini was the main ingredient. When I revealed the secret at school they were not very impressed (imagine lots of 'ewww' and 'ick' expressions)- but I couldn't forget just how much they had enjoyed the chocolate cake just several days before.

This time, however, called for a new take on the concept of sweet + zucchini. In the spirit of eating more locally and trying (so far unsuccessfully) to reduce the amount of dark chocolate I eat- especially in the hot summer months when there's an endless supply of fresh fruit- I thought it best to try and make a zucchini cake without using cocoa to mask the zucchini I used cardamom and pistachio instead!

Once again, this recipe helps to use the absolute glut of zucchini gradually taking over fellow gardeners' kitchens (you can never have too many zucchini recipes at this time of year). This is one of those desserts that you may find yourself making multiple times in a it can be slightly dangerous; not to mention that the temptation of calling it a 'healthy' cake can't possibly help in this regard. Luckily, the inclusion of almonds and pistachios makes this cake slightly more expensive to produce than some, so you may be less inclined to bake at the aforementioned frequency....maybe?

Saying that, the gentle refreshing spice of the cardamom, the all-encompassing aroma of pistachio nuts and the dense moistness created by the grated zucchini, makes this an ideal cake to help celebrate the end of a long day and nicely close the gap between meals, or to simply have on hand when friends and family come by for coffee or tea. I hope you enjoy it as much we have.

Pistachio Zucchini & Cardamom Cake

Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F and butter a metal bundt pan, or a springform pan that has a bundt-style insert.

For the flours: (yes, this nearly uses the full gamut of gluten-free flours in your pantry)

30g corn starch
50g potato starch
2 tsp baking powder
50g white rice flour
15g bean flour
15g tapioca starch
20g brown rice flour
1/2 tsp guar gum

Combine the following dried ingredients in a separate bowl and mix them together:

100g ground almonds
60g ground pistachios (unsalted or salted but washed well so the salt comes off)
75g organic cane sugar
75g icing sugar
4-5 cardamom pods*

* Open-up the pods and take out the seeds, then grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle.

Grate 400g of zucchini.

In a food processor or with a hand mixer blend:
3 eggs
150g softened (room temperature) unsalted butter
2 tsp Amaretto liqueur

Add the grated zucchini but do not mix as the zucchini will be ground enough with the next steps. Whisk 1 tbsp water with the seeds from one vanilla pod then add to the food processor. Add the almond mixture and gently incorporate. Follow this by adding the flour mixture and pulse or beat until the batter has just come together. Pour the batter into the buttered bundt pan and bake for 35-40 mins or until a skewer or knife comes out clean.

For decoration I recommend a simple lemon or Amaretto glaze followed by a sprinkling of ground pistachio nuts.

August 18, 2009

Zucchini & Fennel Cornbread

This recipe was created during an impromptu cooking session at a close friend's house in London. She was helping me to prepare some substantial party fare to feed our friends who were coming to celebrate Midsummer's Eve. That night we had an amazing time- our local park even had it's own stone circle and a near 360° view of London. To make the feasting even more complete a sweet woman at the stone circle gathering was passing around slices of leftover plum tarts from her nearby gourmet deli. What a treat; it was wonderfully generous of her and the tarts were incredible!

This gluten-free bread is admittedly pretty addictive- however it is best eaten warm or grilled with melted cheese on top- a personal favourite. I make it a couple of times each year right around the peak harvest for both fennel and zucchini- although clearly this was not the case the first time I made it- bless those English polytunnels!

Strangely enough, a friend came over today and asked for some zucchini recipe tips, and even though I had just made this bread, I completely forgot to mention it. So hopefully this recipe will find its way to her recipe book, to help tackle the fruits of her ever-abundant zucchini plant.

Required: one ring mould insert for a spring-form pan, or a similar metal ring-shaped tin.

Preheat the oven to 200°C for 45 mins and oil the pan

1 fennel bulb- thinly sliced
1 small onion- diced
2 cloves of garlic- diced
Take 325 grams of zucchini and chop in half. Grate one half and add to the above.
Sauté all of the above together with one tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt on low heat, being careful not to brown the mixture, until the onion is nearly transparent. Set aside to cool.

Peel and chop the other half of the zucchini into roughly 2 cm wide x 1/4 inch thick pieces and save for adding to the main batter (these will soften up nicely when baked and will provide bursts of juiciness).

For the Gluten-free flour mixture:
1 cup cornmeal- you can mix this half and half with polenta, or you can use 100% polenta if that’s what you have on hand
1 cup oat flour (oats ground to flour consistency or store-bought oat flour)
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp guar gum

For the batter:
6-8 leaves of fresh basil
2 eggs plus two egg whites
3 tbsp oil
1 cup semi-skimmed milk (2%)
1/2 cup plain yogourt
a few turns of a black pepper mill

Beat the eggs then add the oil, milk and yogourt whisking between each addition.
Roughly chop the basil and add. Add the flour mixture in two halves mixing with a wooden spoon. Then add the chopped zucchini and fold in the sautéed mixture.

Pour the batter into the oiled baking tin and bake for 45 minutes.
* If you would like a more flavourful 'crust', then sprinkle large crystals of sea salt all over the top either before baking or after 15 mins in the oven. After baking turn the bread out of the pan and let cool for a further 15 minutes- the bread is so moist that it retains a lot of heat and needs this cooling time. Enjoy warm with butter.

Optional add-ins: I recommend adding 1 cup of grated aged cheddar cheese, or another strongly flavoured cheese, like asiago, to the batter for a richer flavour.

August 12, 2009

From the Garden Salad

Imagine...from garden to plate in 10 minutes. The tomatoes still warm from the afternoon sun, and the sweet, nectar-like juices still running from the freshly cut fennel reminding you of a glass of French Pastis.

Who needs protein or excess carbs on a scorching hot day when you've been sitting down at the computer for hours. A light salad will certainly hit the spot, especially when packed with as much flavour as this one.

The recipe is simple. Take a mixture of tomatoes from the garden- in this case a large White Beauty and several Gardeners' Delight cherry tomatoes. If you're growing organically you don't even need to wash them.

Chop the fronds off the fennel bulb, halve and slice into 1/4 inch pieces. Take one purple or green pepper and remove the seeds from the top leaving the pepper whole, then slice into rounds, and distribute around the plate. Add all vegetables to the plate and take 4-5 medium basil leaves, tear them by hand releasing their natural oils, and scatter on top.

Make a quick dressing- I made a chipotle chile-based dressing with a bit of pre-prepared chipotle sauce mixed with some freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and a small pinch of salt.

Pour over the salad and enjoy outside in the warm summer sun.

This way you'll experience summer to its fullest, both inside, and out.

August 4, 2009

Cherry Ricotta Tart (with chocolate chunks!)

Isn't food always better with a few chunks of chocolate thrown in?

Inspired by Ben & Jerry's cherry and chocolate ice cream, and by the hundreds of plump, dark red cherries on the trees outside, with finger tips plotting together, I planned for my favourite tart so far this summer.

If you are also one who enjoys the almond-y taste of cherries then you'll be pleased to know that this wonderful taste comes from the cherry pits. For this reason I recommend including the pits in any cherry endeavour- whether it be jam, whole cherry preserves, and even guest-friendly tarts. Just be sure to tell whomever you're serving that they will indeed come across some pits!

I've used ricotta in tarts before, but the ricotta I used in the UK was smooth. Since moving back to Canada, where the store-bought ricotta is oddly closer in its grainy texture to the authentic ricotta sold in Sicily, I've wanted to make a ricotta-based tart and thought that its light sweetness would go really well in this recipe. Thinking that the tart might be a little too grainy I was anxious about the results, but it worked wonderfully. The tart filling was nicely smooth, the cherries juicy, and the chocolate soft but firm like chocolate truffles.

For the tart crust please see the previous post (Sweet Gluten-free Tart Crust)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F.

For the filling:

2 egg yolks
115g or 1/2 cup caster sugar
500g ricotta cheese
80-90g of dark chocolate (70%) chopped into 1cm x 1cm chunks
2 tbsp Armagnac/brandy
Big red cherries- keep whole for more flavour, or pit if you don't want the almond-y taste. Use as many cherries as required to cover the bottom of the tart dish.

For the Cherry Glaze:

Add 1/2 cup of cherry (preserve) juice and 1/2 cup sugar and cook in a small pan on low to medium heat for at least 30 minutes until it thickens slightly, then dissolve 2 tsp of cornstarch with a very small amount of water and add to the glaze while it is still cooking; stirring the entire time until the glaze thickens.

Combine egg yolks and sugar together loosely, then fold in the ricotta cheese. Add the brandy and mix thoroughly then fold in the chocolate chunks. Distribute the cherries evenly over the tart crust, then pour the ricotta mixture evenly over the top.

Bake the tart for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180°C/350°F and bake for almost 35 minutes but check the tart's progress after 30 minutes. Remove from the oven when the filling turns a light golden brown.

This tart is best served at room temperature.

Happy eating.

Sweet Gluten-Free Tart Crust

For the sweet-crust gluten-free pastry:

1 egg
75g unsalted butter at room temperature
75g icing sugar

In a food processor combine the cubed butter, icing sugar and egg. In a bowl stir the flours together with the xanthan gum and add to the butter mixture.
75g tapioca starch
50g potato starch
125g white rice flour
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

Pulse until the pastry forms a ball. Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap - chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This can be made ahead of time and left in the fridge until required.

Place the disc of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll out. The dough may be resistant to stretching but keep rolling until you reach a thickness of roughly an 1/8th of an inch. Drape the dough over a 20-22cm loose-bottomed cake or tart tin. You may have to patch the dough a little around the sides and top edges but it will look great in the end. You can even leave the top edge looking uneven which adds to the character -making it look a little more rustic. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Fill the tart crust and bake for 15 minutes, and then turn down the heat to 180°C/350°F and bake for at least 30 minutes.

For Tarts with liquid/Custard fillings:

Prick the base with a fork and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes THEN preheat the oven to 190°C while you add the filling to the tart.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and prepare to weight the pastry for baking. Cut enough parchment paper so that it will cover the base of the pastry and so that it can be filled with baking beans (I use rice grains which is often a cheaper option than buying baking beans). Try to evenly distribute the weight so that it reaches the outer edges of the pastry base to prevent rising.

Bake the pastry for 10 minutes and remove paper and baking beans/rice. If the fork marks reveal the tin base then brush the pastry with a beaten egg to help seal it. If given the egg-wash treatment then return the pastry to the oven for a further 10 minutes.

Add the filling and return to the oven.