Salmon En Croute healthy-style

IMG_1964Ah January, the detox/resolution/lose weight/exercise month. Not exactly the most thrilling start to the year, but I guess there has to be some repercussions for eating our bodyweight in stuffing and Quality Street in December. Anyway, so here is my healthier version of Salmon En Croute, a lovely dish to serve for a dinner party, in that it looks quite snazzy but is very easy to prepare (and can be done in advance). Replacing puff pastry with filo is the main healthy switch here, as well as using oil instead of butter and adding an Iron-rich spinach stuffing.

Ingredients

x4 salmon fillets, skinned

350g frozen spinach, roughly

3tbsp creme fraiche

1tsp fresh dill

zest of 1 lemon

x1 packet filo pastry

flat-leaf parsley

5 capers

olive oil

1 egg, beaten

a handful of poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees

1. Place the spinach in a saucepan on a low heat to defrost. Once defrosted, very thoroughly drain and squeeze all the water out of the spinach.

2. In a bowl mix the spinach with the creme fraiche, lemon zest, a couple of capers and fresh dill. Mix and season.

3. Next, take one sheet of filo pastry and lay it on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Gently brush this sheet with a small amount of olive oil, before laying another sheet on top.

*As you do this keep the other filo sheets under a tea towel to stop them drying out and cracking*

4. Place 2 salmon fillets, tightly side by side, on this rectangle of pastry. Top this with the spinach mixture, before laying the final 2 salmon fillets on top.

5. Finish making the parcel, by tightly folding one side of the filo over the salmon- brush this with olive oil so that the next fold sticks- and continue to fold. Do the same with the ends, then carefully turn over the parcel, so that the seams are on the bottom. Brush the top of the parcel with olive oil. Take another sheet of filo and cut into strips, before scrunching these up and sticking on top of the parcel to decorate, almost like flowers. Hopefully the images explain this process more clearly!

* If you’re preparing in advance- refrigerate at this stage until you’re ready to cook it*

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6. Glaze with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

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7. Cook in the hot oven for around 25 minutes, so that the pastry is crisp and golden.

Serve with chunks of lemon, and garnished with the chopped parsley and the remaining capers. Nice with steamed green beans and new potatoes.

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Spelt Risotto with Wild Mushrooms, Butternut Squash, Chestnuts and Thyme

 

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There is something rather opulent and indulgent about this dish- despite it being incredibly easy and cheap to make- particularly if you get your ‘shrooms from a market. Unlike regular risotto the stock needn’t be added gradually- but simply thrown in and left to its own devices- shortly followed by the other ingredients. Told you it was easy.

Spelt is the most ancient of grains, going back yonder to the Bronze age and beyond. On a satisfying note- spelt is also a healthier alternative to regular rice and stuffed full of nutrients.

Its wonderfully nutty taste means it takes on bold flavours well- like the pungent garlic and aromatic thyme- and is balanced perfectly with the sweetness of butternut squash and chestnuts. Roasting the squash enhances this natural sweetness and draws out a caramel-like flavour to it. If you want to get really fancy, a teaspoon of truffle honey drizzled over the squash for the last 2 minutes in the oven adds a final, delicious flourish.

Serves 2

Ingredients

½ butternut squash

½ onion

½ small leek

1 clove of garlic

100g wild mushrooms (chestnut, shitake, field mushrooms etc)

a small bunch of thyme

150g spelt

1 pt chicken or vegetable stock

50g cooked chestnuts (these can be bought vacuum-packed from most supermarkets), or use home-roasted chestnuts for a smokey taste

30g parmesan

olive oil

80g butter

truffle honey (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees

  1. Peel the butternut squash, then cut into small cubes. Scatter into a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil, then roast in the oven until golden and soft. This should take around 30 minutes.

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  1. Meanwhile, finely dice the onion, leek, garlic and slice the mushrooms.
  2. In a deep-sided frying pan, melt half the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Turn up the heat slightly, and before the butter begins to sizzle add the mushrooms and sauté for around 4 minutes- until they’re soft and golden on the edges. Set aside on a plate and cover with foil.

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  1. Add another drizzle of olive oil to the pan, and on a low heat soften the onion and leek. After around 5 minutes add the garlic, continue to soften.
  2. Wash the spelt a couple of times, shake dry in a sieve, and add to the pan. Stir.
  3. Add the stock, stir and cover. Cook for around 20 minutes until the spelt is tender with a slight bite.
  4. By this stage the squash should be nicely roasted- add this to the pan, along with the mushrooms and roughly chopped chestnuts- reserve a small amount of the chestnuts and mushrooms to garnish.
  5. Add the fresh thyme leaves and stir.

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  1. Finally, stir in the remaining butter, and gradually add the parmesan to your taste- and checking it’s not made the risotto too salty. Taste and season carefully.
  2. Serves garnished with a scattering of the wild mushrooms, chestnuts and a dusting of parmesan.

Goes wonderfully with a pile of iron-rich cavolo nero, gently steamed.

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Wholemeal Scones: Cheese and Sundried Tomato

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Just when we were all relaxing and thinking our steamy summer was here to stay…it started raining. Bored of salads, which don’t quite taste the same with an overcast sky, savoury scones are an all-in-one lunch, requiring little to accompany them except maybe a fresh, green salad.

Wholemeal flour not only makes them healthier, but gives a nutty taste that complements the savoury cheese, whilst the rich sundried tomatoes adds a warmth that tastes less British afternoon tea, more Mediterranean summers… Add whatever you fancy- lightly caramelised onions, black olives or chives.

Is there anything nicer than a scone that’s still warm from the oven spread with melting butter? No, I think not.

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Serves 3

Ingredients

200g wholemeal flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

50g butter, diced into cubes

150ml milk

100g cheese (half parmesan and half cheddar) grated

5 sundried tomatoes, patted dry of oil & chopped

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a roomy bowl. Add the butter. 
  2. Now the key to making a seriously good scone is keeping everything as cold as possible- put everything in the bowl in the fridge if possible for 20 minutes or so before making, and run your hands and wrists under cold water. Secondly, don’t over-work it or over-handle the dough at any stage!
  3. Rub the butter into the flour using your finger tips- work quickly- until it resembles breadcrumbs. Keep your palms facing upwards as the rub it together- this encourages cold air into the bowl.
  4. Add your other dry ingredients- the cheese and tomatoes or whatever else you’d like.
  5. Next, pour in the milk slowly, and mix the mixture with open fingers gently around the bowl until it starts to come together. Continue, gently forcing it into a dough.
  6. Tip onto a lightly floured surface and knead a couple of times until it’s a smooth. Don’t roll the pastry out- just pat it gently with your hand until it’s about an inch thick.
  7. Take your cutter, dunk into the flour, and cut out your scone, before gently placing on a lined baking tray.
  8. Gently brush with a beaten egg, and put in the oven for around 10 minutes until risen and golden.

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Summer lunch: Tumbled Halloumi Salad

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Halloumi, when grilled until it’s slighty browned, is the perfect summer cheese- it’s the smell of hot Mediterranean summers, oil popping in the pan … plus it’s lighter and less rich than goat’s cheese or feta.

This isn’t a recipe as such as it is so simple and best made with whatever salad components are hanging about in your fridge; more a suggestion that a big bowl of salad, tumbled together with oily, salty halloumi slices and topped with a zingy, fresh green dressing- is a great summer lunch sitting in the sun.

The salsa I made is a confusion of salsa verde and olive tapenade- with the piquant capers and fresh herbs balancing out the cheese, and sweet sun-dried tomatoes taking out the sharpness.

If, like us at home, salad leaves are the only thing our veg patch will produce (much like potatoes in the winter- which multiply like rabbits whilst we try and coax anything else into existence)- then this is the perfect salad to throw together an assortment of leaves.

the salad patch

the salad patch

Ingredients

  • Salad leaves- rocket, cos etc.
  • Courgette, thinly shaved
  • Red peppers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Spring onions
  • Olive oil
  • Halloumi– sliced, coated lightly in oil and pan-fried for a minute either side until golden
  • Salsa verde-tapenade: a handful of black olives, 4 capers, 2 sundried tomatoes, ½ lemon juice, a handful of parsley and coriander, ½ red chilli. Blitzed with olive oil.

Simply pile all your salad ingredients into a bowl, toss lightly with olive oil and a dash of balsamic. blitz all the tapenade ingredients together, adding the green herbs at the last minute. Loosen with a little olive oil and season with pepper.

Heat the pan until hot, then quickly fry the halloumi. Top the salad with the cheese, and pile the salsa on top. Only fry the halloumi at the last minute, as once it cools it can go quite rubbery.IMG_1681

 

 

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Spring Chicken

lemon roast chicken

lemon-roast chicken on a bed of fennel

with

pan-fried spring vegetables

and

roasted new potatoes

The weather may still be determinedly wintry, but spring is on its way. Or so I tell myself as it once again starts snowing outside, in March… got to love England. I think the best way to banish the winter is to start spring-cleaning our meals, out with the casseroles and in with the lighter fare.

Sunday isn’t a Sunday without a roast though, but it doesn’t have to be stodgy or rich. I used lemon and the tang of roasted fennel to make a zesty, fresh roast chicken. The new potatoes are still satisfyingly crispy, but much lighter and healthier than normal roasties. Lots of green fresh vegetables, and a light lemony gravy finish it off.

Serves 4-5                      Oven at 180 degrees

1 medium size chicken

1 fennel bulb

1 stick of celery

5 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 lemon

sprigs of thyme

white wine

3 leeks

2 courgettes

new potatoes

a glass of white wine

olive oil

butter

s & p

  • For the lemony roast chicken: Chop the green roots off the top of the fennel, leaving the white bulb remaining.
  • Finely slice the fennel, along with the celery.
  • Crush the garlic by placing the cloves under your flat knife blade, and giving it a sharp bash with your fist.
  • Half the lemon. Slice off three rounds from one half.
  • Place the fennel, celery and 3 garlic cloves into a roasting pan. Drizzle over some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and pour in a glass of water.
  • Place the chicken on top of the fennel. Rub the skin with the lemon half, and squeeze over the juice. Place this lemon half into the cavity with the rest of the garlic.
  • Season the chicken well with salt and pepper, layer the lemon slices over the top and dot the skin with blobs of butter. Sprinkle with thyme leaves.
  • Place in the oven for 1 hr and ½, or until the juices run clear when the flesh is pierced with a knife.
  • For the roast potatoes: Meanwhile, boil the new potatoes until a knife goes easily through.
  • Drain and steam-dry. Half each potato.
  • Add to a roasting tin and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Season with salt.
  • Half way through the chicken cooking time, put the potatoes in the oven.
  • Check the chicken, if cooked, allow to rest. It should be rested for half the amount of cooking time.
  • Spring vegetables: Whilst the chicken is resting, slice the courgettes and leeks and pan-fry gently in a large saucepan until soft.
  • To make the gravy: add a large glass of white wine into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer vigorously until it has reduced by half.
  • Pour all the juices from the roasting tin and rested chicken into the saucepan, using a sieve to catch the roasted fennel and celery.
  • Simmer the gravy and reduce slightly to thicken. Season to taste.

Serve the chicken on the bed of roasted fennel, with the crisp new potatoes, fresh spring vegetables and lemon gravy drizzled over.

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Easy Seafood: Spaghetti Vongole – Gratinee Oysters – Garlicky Grilled Seafood

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I recently spent a lovely weekend in La Rochelle in France with some friends, one Italian and one Frenchman.  A Saturday morning spent in the bustling fish market ended in a perfect afternoon feasting on fresh shell-fish (click here to see photos and read more about the market).

The Italian cooked this spaghetti for our Sunday lunch, just how he makes it with his family at home. It’s my idea of perfect food, and like most seafood, it’s so simple to make and only requires fresh yet minimal ingredients to produce something delicious.

Spaghetti Vongole – Spaghetti with Clams

Ingredients:

1 kg clams

good quality olive oil

4 garlic cloves

2 small chillies

a large handful of parsley

a large handful of spaghetti

a couple of glasses white wine

2 large tomatoes 

lemons

  • Wash your clams and check they’re all shut. Discard any open ones that still don’t close when gently tapped on the table. Get a pan of salted water on the boil.
  • Put a large pan on a medium heat, add some finely sliced garlic, chopped red chilli, finely chopped parsley stalks, and cook gently.
  • Add the pasta to the boiling water. Add the clams to the saucepan.
  • Turn up the heat slightly, and add a generous slosh of white wine, about two big glasses. Put a lid on the pan. Occasionally give it a shake to get the wine into the opening clams.
  • Check the pasta- you want it al dente- then drain.
  • Pour the pasta into the pan of clams, stir to coat everything in the garlicky-winey sauce. Stir in the roughly chopped parsley and chopped tomatoes.
  • Serve with a large squeeze of lemon, another drizzle of olive oil and black pepper.

Oysters Gratinee

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I’m not a massive fan of fresh oysters, yet oysters gratinee , like these made to my lovely Frenchman’s recipe, taste delicious.

Quite simply:

  • Finely chop some red pepper into the oysters.
  • Add a blob of something such as olive tapenade, rouille or salsa.
  • Sprinkle over some grated cheese and grill for about 10 minutes.

Simple Grilled Seafood

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In my humble opinion beautiful fresh seafood shouldn’t be messed with too much. For the prawns, squid and scallops, we simply marinated them with some olive oil, finely chopped garlic and parsley before chargrilling them on the barbeque.

None of it takes long to cook at all:

  • The squid about 40 seconds (click here for how to prepare fresh squid).
  • The prawns roughly 3-5 minutes until hot all the way through.
  • The scallops– which we took out their shells and threaded onto skewers-barely a minute each side.

Finish off with a big squeeze of fresh lemon and enjoy eating messily with your fingers.

Chargrilled Mackerel

Once gutted, fill the carcass with finely sliced garlic, chopped flat-leaf parsley, and a thick spoonful of Dijon mustard. Drizzle the skin with olive oil and rub it all over. Season.

Place on a hot barbeque and cook for roughly 10 minutes each side. The skin will become chargrilled and crispy, and the flesh juicy.

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La Rochelle Fish Market, France

       

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