After a year of not cooking much and not blogging at all due to illness, I’m ready to start again.
We celebrated the return of two of my sisters from overseas and the end of my treatment for cancer with a family dinner. As usual we all brought a part of the meal.
This time I made a dish I’ve been meaning to blog about for ages – the Toulouse Lautrec Gratin of Pumpkin from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book. It is a delicious dish of pumpkin, layered with an onion and tomato sauce and topped with breadcrumbs. It is actually a recipe from Henri Toulouse Lautrec that was part of a collection of recipes published by his friend.
It normally forms part of our family Christmas lunch and I’m not sure why I hardly ever make it at other times, other than that it is a bit lengthy to make. I’ve simplified the original recipe a bit, it calls for the pumpkin to be floured and fried. I’ve changed this to roasting the pumpkin instead. I also cut the pumpkin a little thicker and use more tomato for a slightly wetter dish.
I’ve had great success in the garden this season with a bounty of beautiful, round firm cabbages that I nurtured from seed. Normally they’d be ravaged by various insects, but I planted them earlier this year to get ahead of the aphids and caterpillars, which don’t arrive until the warmer weather.
I find it a wonder that such a beautiful thing can grow from a tiny seed.
I’ve been eating sautéed cabbage, coleslaw and experimenting with making sauerkraut. Now I have turned to cabbage rolls.
Normally cabbage rolls would be a winter dish for me, made using bought cabbages. But with an abundance of home grown late spring cabbages, a spate of strange cold weather and a potluck birthday dinner to cater for, they seemed just destined to be made.
They are stuffed with small french lentils and rice cooked with lots of onions, porcini mushrooms and stock and then baked in a tomato sauce. I like the small french green puy type lentils because they retain their shape when cooked and the filling ends up with good texture rather than just mush.
The rolls were good on the day they were made, and even more flavourful on the next day.
I love cooking from the garden and this dish used both the cabbages and some tomatoes I bottled from last season.
Fry the sliced onions in oil until they soften and begin to brown
Add the raw rice and lentils to the pan, crumble the porcini mushrooms, stir and add enough stock to cover by 1 cm.
Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, cover and cook until the rice and lentils are just tender and the liquid is absorbed. You may need to add more stock or water. Don't overcook, they will cook a bit more in the tomato sauce later.
Stir through the lemon zest and parsley.
Make the tomato sauce
Heat the oil in a pan and briefly fry the garlic
Add the tomatoes, crush and cook until reduced slightly.
Season with salt to taste, and if needed add a small amount of sugar if the tomatoes are a bit too acidic.
Assemble the cabbage rolls
Take the leaves and submerge them in boiling water until they are limp.
Remove them and drain.
Remove the hard stems.
Lay the leaves flat and add filling to the leaf closer to the stem end.
Roll the leaf tightly, folding in the sides as you go and folding over again.
Place the rolls seam side down into a baking dish.
Don't worry if the are a bit messy or the filling is spilling out.
When they are packed together and baked they will stay intact.
Pour the tomato sauce over the rolls, cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 180 dec C.
Check them once or twice during cooking and if they look dry pour in a little stock to keep moist.
I love a good pizza, but making it at home is always a bit of a gamble. Domestic ovens can never be relied upon to give the same crispy base that you get from a scorchingly hot commercial pizza oven. I’ve tried many things in search of pizza perfection, ranging from special perforated pizza trays to pizza stones.
Pizza stones work, but only if you preheat them for AGES until they are incredibly hot. This uses an enormous amount of energy which is fine if you are making a heap of them, but not so good if you are making just one.
I usually have a batch of no-knead dough on the go a couple of times a week and often I steal a bit for a pizza. This morning I’d run out of bread for breakfast and so I grabbed a piece and made a flatbread in a heavy frying pan. Apart from being delicious, guess what? The base was super crispy and of course I immediately thought of pizza.
For lunch I grabbed another bit (that loaf of bread is getting smaller!) and made a pizza.
This time I threw the dough base into a dry frying pan for a few minutes until it was lightly spotted and starting to crisp up on the bottom. I then removed the base and added the toppings, just some simple oven roasted tomatoes, a very light dusting of Cheezly mozzarella and some fresh basil and put it into the oven as normal. Pre-cooking the base like this has the added advantage of making the base rigid and thus easy to wrangle into the oven.