Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Aubergine with Tomato and Garden Herbs

We have been enjoying many a long evening in the garden both north and south.
This dish sings to me of summer, it is healthy, meat-free and inexpensive.

Baked Aubergine with Tomato and Garden Herbs

Choose aubergines which are firm and heavy.  For most imported European varieties, you do not need to 'degorge' the flesh - this is the process of salting the flesh to remove the bitter juices.  I do this, not to remove the bitter taste, but to reduce the amount of oil which the flesh absorbs when cooking.  The fruit is capable of taking in large quantities of cooking fats and sauces which can make for a very rich dish, although this in my mind is not always a good thing. 
So to degorge it, I slice the aubergine, place in a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt, cover with a plate and weight it down.  Leaving the fruit for about an hour on a draining board.  You will see the light coloured liquid drain out in time.  Rinse the fruit under cold water to remove the salt and pat it dry with some kitchen towel.

You will need:

1.5kg of aubergines ( I used 3)
10 ripe tomatoes
1 tin chopped tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1 large knob butter
3+ Tblsps sunflower oil
400ml creme fraiche
1 large bunch of fresh garden herbs - sage, chives, parsley, tarragon, lemon balm, thyme, oregano
100g finely grated parmesan

Firstly slice the aubergines into 1cm rounds, salt well and leave in a colander on the draining board for no less than 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the tomato sauce by roughly chopping the tomatoes, finely slicing the garlic and adding both to the melted butter in a saucepan.  Pour in the tin of tomatoes and their juice and add a splash of red wine.  Bring to the the boil, reduce to nothing more than a bubble and leave for a few hours to reduce.

When the aubergines have 'degorged', rinse under water to remove the salt and give them a good squeeze.
In a shallow frying pan over a medium heat, add 3 Tblsps of sunflower oil.  Lay out some kitchen paper or a clean tea towel beside where you are working.  In batches cook the aubergine on both sides until it is golden brown, remove and set aside to drain.  Repeat until all the aubergine have been browned.

Take your tomato sauce which has by this stage reduced nicely and work by layering the aubergine into a shallow oven proof dish, noting that you may want to serve this at the table so don't use your old chipped one, although if you only have an old chipped one, it will all add to the charm and the taste will well make up for it.
Add a layer of aubergine, a layer of tomato and a sprinkling of parmesan.  Repeat until all the aubergine has been used up.  If you have any tomato sauce left over, it will be great on pasta with some torn basil.

Now add the creme fraiche into a separate saucepan and boil it for 7-10 minutes or so.  Finely chop the fresh herbs, add to the sauce along with the remaining parmesan and season with freshly ground black pepper and some sea salt.
Pour over the tomato and aubergine mixture, sprinkle on some more cheese if you have it.

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 35 minutes until golden brown on top and bubbling.

Serve with a fresh salad from the garden or allotment and some crusty bread.

You can also replace the aubergine with courgette, see below.

We are off to Berlin in the morning for three weeks where I will have no phone and no Internet.  This I look forward to along with ...
the silence of our bright apartment,
the long cycles in the dry forest trying to spot wild boar (apparently not so hard any more)
my youngest sons delight at all the different trains in every s-bahn and u-bahn station,
many dips in the magical lakes
the wonderful Karl-August Platz market
all our friends in Charlottenburg
definitely the pizza bianca at Cafe am Neuem See
recycling absolutely everything
Weiss wurst and beer in KaDeWe
oh and these Berliner delicacies.....which I found at Dun Laoghaire market a few Sundays ago being sold by a German girl! - they are called Krapfen and they are especially good.

The list can go on and on until I get back.  But I will be back I promise with hopefully with some new experiences and I have no doubt an urge to move there permanently. 
I have to come back though to do the Lurig run on 13th August apparently so I will have to carefully monitor my Krapfen intake.
Guten Abend.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Good Tempered Chocolate Cake

Its been quiet here for too long now.  In some strange twist of fate both I and my computer have managed to contract some kind of strange virus which has knocked me flat for this past week....I have spent a long time wondering if it is possible to contract a human virus from a computer (I  think highly possible!), but anyway I am back now at my old haunt with what seems to be a lightening quick computer at my disposal.

School is out, the children are climbing the walls and bookcases and need organised activity for the entirety of the day, everyday.  As a result I am worn out and have been seeking solace in this divinely rich and delicious chocolate cake. Not another chocolate cake I hear you groan, but out of all the chocolate cake recipes I have tried, this is by far the best.  It is very versatile and I am certain it will amaze anyone who happened to be lucky enough to pop in for coffee and would most definitely suffice as an elegant end to any dinner party, birthday celebration or simply just for the hell of it. 
I came across the recipe in Tamasin Day-Lewis's aptly named book 'Good Tempered Food'.  She attributes the recipe to Sally Edwards of the River Cafe in Taunton, Somerset.  Without flour, the body of the cake is made using ground almonds which give it a moist, rich texture and ensures that it keeps for about a week.  The recipe calls for a shot of strong coffee which might be a little off-putting for some, but my children suffered no extreme side effects (just do not indulge right before bedtime!).

I have made this chocolate cake at least four times since I posted here last, my only complaint being that my oven is reading a little hotter than it should and despite my adjustments, the top still comes out slightly darker than I would like.  I have yet to try it in the non-fan oven, so that might be a good excuse to remake it just one more time. 
Anyway, each time a dangerous and sinister-looking crack appears in the top.  To make it look prettier, I placed a paper doily on top and shook over some icing sugar.  The result being this great dichotomy between the pretty doily pattern and the violent, dark cavern that appears almost out of nowhere.


To make the cake, you will need:
  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 185g good quality dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa content)
  • 50ml freshly brewed strong coffee
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 185g unrefined caster sugar
  • 185g ground almonds/or almonds, blanched, roasted and coarsely ground

  • Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.
  • Grease the sides and base of a 25cm springform tin and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper.
  • Melt the butter, chocolate and coffee in a bowl placed overa  pan of barely simmering water.
  • Place the egg yolks and sugar into an electic mixer and mix for 8-10 mins until light and fluffy.
  • While continuning to mix, add the melted butter, chocolate and coffee.
  • Stop the machine and using a metal spoon, fold in the ground almonds.
  • In a separate glass or metal bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and peaky.
  • Spoon one large spoon of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and fold in to lighten it before folding in the rest.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake tin and place in the oven.
  • Cook for 15 minutes at 190 degrees and then turn down the oven to 170 and cook for a further 35 minutes.  A skewer will come out clean when cooked.
Take out of the oven and let it cool completely in the tin.  Remove from the tin and remove the paper from the base.
Shake with icing sugar and serve in delicate slices with creme fraiche or whipped cream and some raspberries if you have them.

I have not made another chocolate cake since and I dont think I will experiment again for a very long time - this is superb!