Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Boned shoulder of lamb roasted on white beans & thyme

This is a French country recipe that is a doddle to prepare.

It uses shoulder which I think is the sweetest cut of lamb and is usually less expensive than the leg. I use boned and rolled shoulder, which has most of the fat removed however you can use an unboned joint but I suggest you trim as much fat as you can. The cooking time will be about the same.

Most unboned shoulders weigh about 1.2 to 1.6kgs (2.5 to 3.5lbs) which is plenty for 4 people with perhaps leftovers for salads or sandwiches. A larger shoulder should feed 6; just increase the cooking time by about 15 minutes. Adding more beans will make this dish go further.

With the beans I do not think you need potatoes or any other starchy vegetable. Just some good greens - keep it simple with broccoli or cabbage.

The beans used in France are haricot blanc which go under various names in various places - basically it is the bean used in baked beans. You can use canned beans if you wish, or are in a hurry, but if you have the time cook white beans - either fresh or dried. Fresh, shelled beans, if you are lucky enough to get them, should be rinsed and put in cold water or stock, brought to the boil and simmered for about 30 minutes, until they are tender. Try not to over cook them as this causes them to crumble. Dried ones are cooked as per directions on the packet. Be aware it is likely they will need to be soaked overnight. I reckon one and a half cups of dried beans is plenty as they increase a little in size when soaking.

Shoulder of lamb on white beans & thyme

One boned, and rolled shoulder of lamb 1.2 n- 1.6 kgs (2.5-3.5lbs)
Two cups of cooked beans ( about 400-500 grams)
1 tbspn of olive oil
1 medium onion- sliced and chopped
1 clove of garlic
1 tspn of dried thyme or 2-3 tspns of fresh thyme
200 mils of chicken stock

About an hour and a half before serving:

Heat oven to 180C, 375F, gas mark 5

Warm your stock.

Peel & chop the onion into a small dice.

Peel and slice the garlic while the oil heats in a large frying pan over a medium heat.

When the oil is hot add the onion & garlic and push them around the pan with a wooden spoon. As they soften add the thyme.

Stir the beans into the pan.

Place this mixture into a shallow casserole dish and pour the warm stock over it.

Pop the lamb on the top of the beans. The whole thing goes into the oven and stays there for about an hour. This should give you nicely pinkish lamb.

Check after about 40 minutes to make sure the stock has not all been cooked off. If so add a small amount, a cup or so, of boiling stock or water.

When the lamb is cooked remove from the oven, cover with a clean tea towel or foil and leave to stand for 10 minutes before cutting into slices. Be sure to remove any string that maybe holding the lamb together before you starting slicing it up, it makes it much easier.

I put a serving of beans onto the plate and position a slice of lamb on top.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Parmigiano melenzani (aubergine & parmesan)

Although Parmigiano melenzani translates as parmesan aubergine (egg plant) the other ingredients, mozzarella and tomato sauce, are layered with the aubergine and as dominant as the parmesan which is used to top the whole thing off.

I was introduced to this friendly Italian dish many years ago while staying with friends in Milan. It was Dante's signature dish, one he learned at his mother's side in the Northern Italian countryside. Although it transfers well to urban tables this dish has never lost its rustic charm.

I generally serve it as a lunch, or light supper, with a salad and I think it also makes a substantial accompaniment with plain chicken.

Parmigiano Melenzani

for 4

2 medium aubergine, sliced crosswise (1- 1.5cms, 1 inch)
4 tbspns of olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce
375g mozzarella
3 to 4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

Prepare in advance:

Of course it is better to make your own tomato sauce using my quick tomato sauce recipe. If you use 8 tomatoes it will yield 2 cups. There is no need to increase any of the other ingredients.

When using aubergines one used to have to slice, salt and drain them for about an hour or so before using them. However, now (don't even think about genetic engineering) we can usually get away with using then straight away. Although, knowing that, I do tend to to slice and salt them if I have time.

The way to do that is slice, toss them in a generous shake of salt and put them in a colander. Put a plate, or something that will fit into the colander on top of the aubergines and press down. Put something on top of the plate to act as a weight. I usually use anything to hand - cans from the larder work well. When you are going to use them, rinse off the salt and dry well with a tea towel or paper towel.

You can also cook your aubergines in advance:

Heat your grill (broiler)

Brush one side of the aubergine slices with a thin coat of olive oil and place on flat oven tray. (I usually cover the tray with foil, as it means cleaning the tray is very easy). Place the tray under the grill until the aubergine softens and goes golden. Turn the slices over and brush the other side with olive oil. Repeat the cooking process. It will probably be necessary to cook the aubergine slices in batches. It is not necessary to keep the cooked aubergines warm.

Once you have your tomato sauce and aubergines cooked:

Heat the oven to 180C 375F

Slice the mozzarella into thin rings.

Take an oven proof dish and brush it with a small amount of the olive oil.

Place aubergines in a single layer of the dish, cover lightly with tomato sauce. Top this with a layer of mozzarella. Repeat the process - aubergine, tomato sauce, mozzarella. Two layers should be enough to use up all your supplies. Finish the dish off by sprinkling the parmesan over the top layer of mozzarella.

Place on a middle rack in the pre heated oven and cook for about 45 minutes by which time the parmesan should have formed a golden crust over the deliciously bubbling tomatoes and aubergines.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Watercress Soup

I am not a great fan of soups so don't make that many of them. however the other day, in a very wintery French market place, I was totally seduced by the bright green display of glossy watercress so went ahead and made some soup. It was very delicious and I am looking forward to making it again so maybe I will see the winter out with soup !

The bunches of cress I bought were quite large- about 2 handfuls each. I prefer my soup to be quite thick, definitely not in favour of watery, thin concoctions so this yields quite a thick soup.
If this is not to your liking just add a bit more water and/or milk.

You will need some sort of blender.

Preparation and cooking time is about 45 minutes but you must allow time for the soup to cool a bit before you blend it. Especially if you are not using a handheld blender and have to pour the soup from the saucepan into a blender.

Watercress Soup ( for 4)

2 large bunches of water cress- cleaned and very thick stalks removed, chop roughly.
1 medium onion - peeled and chopped
1 medium potato - peeled and chopped into small dice

1-2 tbspns of butter
850 mls of chicken or vegetable stock
350 mls of milk

Salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan add the onion and potato and stir about. Cook until they soften- about 10 minutes.
Add the cress to this and stir until it has wilted and soften a bit- a few minutes.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cover the saucepan.
Cook for about 30 minutes. Timing is not really too important but I think cooking for too long reduces the flavour.

Now it is time to blend. Let the soup cool a bit before you start. Especially if you are not using a handheld blender and need to transfer the soup from the saucepan into a blender. Once it is blended return the soup to the saucepan and add the milk. Give it a good stir and check the seasoning and if necessary add salt and pepper if you wish.

If you are preparing in advance stop now.

15 minutes before serving:

Heat the soup over a moderate heat, stirring periodically and bring it to the boil. Once it comes to the boil remove it from the heat and serve into bowls.

Garnish, if you like, with a dollop of cream fraiche, cream or yoghurt and a small bit of greenery.