Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Scallop pie

When we went to Tasmania a couple of years ago, I discovered the delights of scallop pie, and since then have made it on several occasions, in different variations. It's a delicious and unusual dish which does equally well for lunch or dinner, is simple to make and not expensive either, despite the often high price of scallops, as you only need about 150-200 g of scallops to make a decent-sized pie that will easily do for four people. Fresh of course is best but as I can testify to, frozen scallops also work well, as the sauce that they are poached and cooked in really brings out their flavour.
I always lightly poach the scallops first, in a liquid made up of a/a little melted butter; a little white wine; herbs; salt and pepper, and maybe a little fish stock if I happen to have some around, or else a little water. The scallops should not be poached for more than 3-4 mins, 5 if frozen, then left to cool while you prepare the pastry. I always make the same kind of pastry: a basic short-crust pastry, but instead of adding water to the flour/butter mixture, I add yogurt or sour cream. This makes for a beautiful, soft, moist but not sticky pastry which doesn't dry out at all and tastes really good even the day after it's been cooked(if there is ever any leftover pie, that is!) But though the sauce always uses the poaching liquid as a starter, along with a roux(a little flour and butter), the flavour of it varies every time I make it, depending on what I feel like doing, and what herbs are to hand. For instance, I've made sauces strongly French in influence, with cream, white wine and tarragon; others with a more Middle Eastern touch, with a hint of cumin, mint and cardamon; and the other day I made one with an Asian-flavoured inspiration, featuring Vietnamese mint, lemongrass, lime and kankung(also known as entsai or Chinese water spinach) for a special Sunday lunch with friends. Here's how it was made:
Poach the scallops in a liquid made of a dab of melted butter, some white wine, some chopped lemongrass, and the juice of one lime. Add salt and pepper. Liquid should be enough to well cover the scallops. When the scallops are poached(no more than 5 mins), take off stove and leave to cool while you prepare the pastry: rubbing butter through plain flour then adding enough plain creamy yogurt(not fat-free)and/or sour cream so that you end up with a good ball of dough--add extra flour if too sticky, or extra yogurt/cream if too dry. Set aside to rest while you prepare the sauce: Make a roux with some flour and butter, then slowly add the poaching liquid, stirring as you go so that it thickens well. Add chopped Vietnamese mint, a little extra lime juice if you have some, season to taste. Separately, cook the kankung(a few seconds only needed) with a little onion.
Roll out the pastry: you will need both a bottom and top to the pie(more needed for the bottom as it needs to be thicker). Lay out the bottom of the pie in a glass buttered pie dish. In a bowl, combine the scallops, the cooked kankung, and the sauce, and mix well till all combined. Now lay the scallop mixture on the pastry, and cover with the top half of pastry, making a small round hole in the centre to let steam out. Cook the pie in a 180 C/350 F oven for about 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown.
As it was for lunch, I served it with various salads--but as a main course for dinner it's also excellent paired with cooked vegetables.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Simple scallop salad

Scallops--coquilles St Jacques in French--are often overlooked by home cooks, but that's a pity, because they are not only delicious, they are very versatile and can be used in all sorts of dishes, from the very simple--scallop brochettes and scallop salad--to the rather more complex, such as scallop pie(a dish traditional to Tasmania, where we enjoyed several fine examples  when we went there a few years ago.)
The trick is that scallops should not be overcooked, or they risk losing their fine, delicate flavour and buttery texture. Fresh scallops need only a minute or so to poach or grill; frozen ones maybe a half-minute more.
Here's a simple yet deliciously intriguing dish I made the other day: scallop salad, based on combining a recipe from my battered old Larousse Gastronomique with ideas of my own(and lots of lovely salad ingredients fresh from the garden).
For each person, you'll need at least two scallops of reasonable size. You use both the white and the coral. You need some court-bouillon to poach the scallops--I was lucky enough to have ready-made court- bouillon cubes from France in my pantry, but you can make your own with a little fish stock plus a little lemon, or failing even that, some water, salt, pepper, herbs(tarragon is best), and a little lemon, boiled up to make a nice tasty liquid. Put a little white wine in with the court-bouillon, bring to a simmer, drop in the scallops, cook, covered. When cooked,  take out of the liquid, let cool. (Keep the court-bouillon separately)Slice thinly. Prepare a bit of sauce for the scallops: make a roux with a little butter and flavour, add the court-bouillon, stir till thick, season to taste, add herbs and a little lemon. Let cool too.
When you're ready to assemble the salad, use whatever ingredients best suit you as the 'backing salad'--I used soft lettuce, a little chopped sorrel, tomatoes, and some avocado I had in the pantry(chopped into small pieces). Then put the scallop in the middle of the plate, top with a little sauce, arrange the rest of the salad around it--sprinkle the vegetable ingredients with a nice tangy vinaigrette--and hey presto, an intriguing and simple entree!
Enlarged, it could also make a great lunch dish.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Deliciously simple: Iced passionfruit parfait

I just love desserts that are both simple to make and luscious to eat, and iced desserts would have to be among my favourites of these. And this lovely little number is high up on the best-seller list for me! Combining the custardy richness of egg yolks and the smooth lusciousness of cream with the airy lightness of egg whites and the tangy sweetness of passionfruit, this is a dessert that's super easy, never fails and always provokes 'oohs and aahs'! Any drawbacks? Only that you have to plan it ahead of time--if you want the dessert to set, you should make it in the morning, for the evening. Or at night, for lunch the following day!
Ingredients (enough for 6 people):
3 eggs.
200 ml pure (whipping)cream.
125 gms castor sugar
4 medium size passionfruit or 3 large ones.
Separate the eggs into yolks and whites. Beat the egg yolks, add half the sugar, beat till frothy. Separately, beat the cream, add the other half of the sugar, beat till thick. Cut the passionfruit in half, scoop out all the pulp and juice, mix in the cream till well combined. Beat the egg whites separately until standing in stiff peaks. Now fold the cream into the egg yolk mixture, and then fold in the egg whites after that. Mix till well combined. Transfer mixture to a freezer container, freeze several hours(at least 8). Serve as is or, if you want to dress it up, topped with more whipped cream and maybe meringues on the side!
Iced parfaits can be made in lots of delicious flavours, but this one's my favourite!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ratatouille frangourou style

What's not to love about ratatouille, with its colour and vibrancy, its robust flavours and its ease and rapidity of preparing and cooking? Here at our place we eat a lot of it at a time when the garden is full of ratatouille ingredients, but we never get sick of it, because there's so many ways you can vary it, just by putting in different herbs, or wine, or chilli(not traditional in Provence of course, but this is frangourou style!) Cooked in a wok or a frying pan, it's prepared, cooked and on the table in less than half an hour--and that includes picking the ingredients in the garden! We often team it with grilled meat--lamb or chicken particularly good with it--fresh bread to mop up the lovely juices, and a nice tangy, garlicky green salad.
Here are the basic ingredients(can be varied at will):
Onions, chopped (one is enough unless you're making a lot for several people. Red or brown onions fine.)
Garlic--at least three cloves, crushed
Tomatoes (small Romas preferably)
Zucchini and/or squash
Capsicum(red, yellow, green, your choice)
Eggplant(aubergines)--best  sliced and grilled first then set aside. Our eggplants don't need salting first as they are so fresh, but shop-bought ones need to be 'sweated' first by sprinkling slices with salt before grilling, then wiped to removed the bitter 'sweat' that comes off them.
Herbs: Basil, oregano, thyme, in any combination
Wine--white. I also use Tokay occasionally as its slight sweet taste enhances the tanginess somehow!
Chop the onions, fry in olive oil. Add one of the garlic cloves, stir. Add the zucchini/squash and the capsicum, then half the herbs, and a small splash wine, enough to give it a nice glaze. Stir, cook for two-three minutes. Add the tomatoes(cut in half), stir vigorously. add the rest of the garlic, stir.Add salt, pepper to taste. Chilli if you want to. In last minute or so, add the pre-grilled eggplant, then half the rest of herbs, then put into serving dish, sprinkle with remaining herbs, and serve!