Saturday, 9 March 2013

Week 6- Velvet Pants

Mad Apples?

This week's blog celebrates the aubergine or eggplant- for no reason other than the fact that I like them, and they are no longer an expensive and exotic ingredient (most supermarkets have them in their 'everyday' or 'value' ranges.)

The aubergine has gone by many names over time- the quaint 'Velvet Pants' is the one that tickled me most- but in England for a while they were also known as 'mad apples' ( a corruption of the Italian melanzane which was heard as melo insane or mad apple.)

They were also believed to be highly poisonous, as a member of the nightshade family.

Thankfully, we've overcome our fear of this scrummy food.

My first two courses this week are made from aubergine puree- known as caviar d'aubergines in Southern France or baba ganoush throughout the Middle East.

The three course menu is : aubergine tarte salee (savoury tart), then vegetable lasagne with a base of aubergine and mushroom, and I'm giving you a choice of non-aubergine desserts to complement the first two courses.

For the puree- wash then pierce two aubergines (or 1 per person served) with a sharp knife several times. Place them in a baking dish with 3-4 cloves of garlic (still in their skins) and a glug of olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes or so in a hot oven until the aubergines are soft and wrinkly (it happens to us all!) Watch that the garlic doesn't burn.

Tired and emotional aubergines

Allow to cool and then peel off the skins, squeeze the garlic out of its skin, and mash the flesh of both with the juice of a squeezed lime or lemon. You can now add your choice of seasonings- salt and pepper or paprika, cumin, tahini if you have it, tomato puree, honey - it's up to you.
Aubergine Tart
This puree is lovely as a starter with flatbreads- but I am using it mixed with some pine nuts and sultanas, warmed through in a cooked pastry case. (If you don't have tartlet baking dishes, you can just cut discs of pastry, bake blind and place the filling on top to warm through. You can add cubes of chicken or fried halloumi to the mixture as well (as in the illustration.)

This will use up about half the mixture.

Next- with the rest- the lasagne.

Another name for aubergine in Turkey is 'poor man's meat'- which is why it makes such a good base for vegetarian dishes like lasagne, cannelloni etc

You won't miss the meat.

For this dish, you will need- the aubergine puree, 150g mushrooms, 1 large bag spinach, 1 tin chopped tomatoes, 1 onion, some red wine vinegar, 1 tub ricotta cheese, 150g grated hard cheese (eg cheddar with a little parmesan or emmental).
First, make a tomato ragu by frying the finely chopped onion in a little oil, adding the chopped tomatoes and a capful of red wine vinegar and allowing to boil gently until slightly reduced and a  little thicker.
Then finely duxelle your mushrooms either in a food processor or with a sharp knife, mix into the aubergine puree and cook through. If the mixture is too thick and sticky, loosen it with a little stock or water.
Spoon a layer of this mixture into the bottom of your lasagne dish, layer on the lasagne sheets, then add a layer of tomato ragu and another layer of pasta.
In one of the pans used (doesn't matter which), quickly wilt the washed spinach for about a minute and then layer it on. Then more lasagne sheets, of course.
Your final layer should be the ricotta, spread thinly and sprinkled with cheese.
Bake at about 190 degrees until golden on top.

Vegetable lasagne

For dessert, I'm giving you a choice of Pear and Almond Tart, or Chocolate and Coffee Cups with mini Madeleines.
(I made a lot of desserts this weekend because it was Mother's Day- and my Mum has a bit of a sweet tooth these days.)

First of all, make a simple sponge mix from 125g of butter creamed together with 125g of caster sugar, add two small beaten eggs and 125g of flour. Beat until smooth and creamy.

Take 6 teaspoons of the mix and spoon onto a greased baking sheet (or you could pipe them into little swirls.) I found some adorable little mini madeleine silicone moulds when last in France and used these. Bake these at 160 degrees for about 10-15 mins (or less if your oven is fierce) until golden. (Watch them carefully.)

With the leftover cake mix: take a cooked pastry tart shell, lay 8 pear halves in a wheel shape on the base, add a capful of almond essence to your cake mix and pour the mix around the pears.

Bake in a moderate oven - 180 degrees- until golden on top.

Pear and Almond Tart
Next- for the chocolate and coffee cups.

Make a small espresso cup of strong black coffee.
Break 125g of dark chocolate into a bowl and pour over the hot coffee. Stir until melted ( 20 seconds in the microwave helps.) 
Stir in a capful of rum, brandy or liqueur of your choice - or orange juice.
Separate two large eggs and beat the yolks into the chocolate mixture.
Whisk the egg whites until at the very soft peak stage and then fold them carefully into the chocolate mixture.
Spoon into espresso cups, chill and garnish with sprinkled cocoa powder and the mini madeleines.

Chocolate and coffee cup

These are very rich, but you could add a top layer of cream and cocoa powder to resemble a mini cappucino if you're not counting calories.

Cafe gourmand
Or you could construct a cafe gourmand: a plate of tiny little tastes of all your desserts with a cup of coffee- like a little 3D painting of deliciousness.

Bon appetit!

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