Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bananas, chocolate et al

Whereas everyone seems to be making apple pies and pear tarts, I am making frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles, desiccated coconut and ground pistachio.

I don’t care for the seriousness of autumn, I want to hold on to the playfulness of summer. It is still rather warm out so these were a brilliant idea to cool us off somehow in the most sweet and colorful of ways.

I considered making an ice cream, but, to be honest, I have had my share of ice creams this summer and I have somewhat retired my ice cream bowl. As we speak, it is not sitting in my freezer, but comfortably in its box.

I’m also kind of in a state of watching what type of sweets I make, meaning that I prefer them on the less-sugar side (even though as we speak, I’m dreaming of a cupcake recipe I want to make that’s full of sugar) so I decided to make something that I can call healthy-ish, or something like it.

These chocolate-covered bananas are so fun and easy to make, effortless really, and a joy to eat. Crispy, crackly chocolate, firm, cold, sweet banana; perfection!

For those of you who are not keen on autumn and share my need to keep summer close, make these and enjoy them under a glorious sun.

Frozen chocolate-dipped bananas with desiccated coconut, pistachios or sprinkles

I used extra-virgin coconut oil to thin out the melted chocolate in order to have a thin coating rather than a brick-like one and it gave the bananas a faint flavor of coconut that was beautiful. If you’d rather not have that flavor, use odorless and flavorless vegetable oil to mix with the chocolate.

Use bananas that are firm yet ripe. If they have a few brown spots like mine, that’s okay. You want them to be flavorful but not soft, otherwise they will break when you insert the stick.

Yield: 16 banana sticks

8 large, ripe yet firm bananas
200 g good quality dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
1½ Tbsp extra virgin coconut oil (or sunflower oil)
Desiccated coconut
Coarsely ground unsalted pistachios

Special equipment: popsicle sticks, large tray suitable for the freezer, baking paper

Peel the bananas and cut them in half crosswise. Insert a popsicle stick slowly and carefully half way into the banana, being careful not to puncture through the fruit.
Place the banana halves onto a baking paper-lined tray suitable for the freezer and place them in your freezer for 20 minutes. Don’t cover them because we don’t want any moisture to form on top of them.

Place the chopped chocolate and coconut oil (or sunflower oil) in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (bain marie) and melt, stirring often (or you can use the microwave). The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water. Stir gently with a rubber spatula and once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan and empty into a jug or a tall container to make dipping the bananas easy.
Let it cool until it is warm but not hot.

Note: this chocolate mixture will not be the same as this chocolate shell as it contains less coconut oil so it doesn’t get hard in a few seconds. Instead, it takes a few minutes to set which gives you ample time to cover in sprinkles, coconut etc.

Remove the bananas from the freezer and one by one, dip them into the chocolate. You can either dip the whole banana into the chocolate or dip half of it. I prefer them half-dipped. Let the excess chocolate drip off for a few seconds and then either roll them in sprinkles/coconut/pistachios or sprinkle on top. If you roll them, they will be more covered than if you simply sprinkle them.
Place the bananas on a new piece of baking paper (and onto a tray) and return them to the freezer, uncovered. They need about 2 hours to be frozen.
Serve them either straight from the freezer, or if they’ve been in the freezer for more than 2 hours, transfer them to the fridge for half an hour or to your kitchen counter for 15 minutes to soften a bit.

If you plan to keep the bananas in the freezer for more than a day, cover each one well in plastic wrap or put them in a freezer bag or in an airtight container. You can keep them like that for 1 week.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tomato galette with spelt pastry

This summer has been eventful to say the least. Many things happened, some of them happy and thrilling, some of them sad, most of them unexpected.

That’s how it is right? Life. With all its ups and downs, the mysterious ways in which things turn out well or bad sometimes. It’s the eternal struggle of keeping a balance between what’s important and what is trivial without getting overwhelmed with what’s going on around you or inside your head.

My head is full of ideas lately about different things I would like to do in the future and some of those things involve food. And talking about food,—this is why you came here for isn’t it?—let’s talk about this galette.

But first, let’s talk tomatoes. I don’t know what happened this year but the tomatoes have been incredible. Their flavor is fantastic, they’re so juicy and aromatic, I can’t stop eating them. Who cares if it’s September, and autumn is here, and blah blah blah. As long as I have tomatoes, it is still summer as far as I’m concerned. Besides, it’s been so hot these past few days in the Netherlands, it really is still summer.

This tomato galette is simply amazing. Not only because tomatoes are involved, not only because a dreamy sun-dried tomato paste is involved, but also because a spelt pastry is involved.

This pastry is a revelation. It’s so crumbly, tender and ever-so-slightly crispy in all the right ways on the edges, and the flavor is slightly nutty, earthy and buttery yet very light.

The filling is scrumptious as well. On the base of the galette, I added a paste made with dried cherry tomatoes from Santorini with a hint of fresh chilli and garlic that had a sweet and at the same time acidic flavor, I then sprinkled with some Greek dried oregano and laid thinly sliced fresh tomatoes on top. They were juicy, but not so that they made the pastry soggy, and deeply satisfying along with the woody flavor of fresh thyme that I added on top.

I paired the galette with burrata which if you don’t know yet, please go to your cheese shop or delicatessen and ask for it. Burrata (which means buttery in Italian) is a fresh Italian cheese made from an outer layer of mozzarella that is filled with cream and mozzarella curds that ooze out when you tear it open. It is one of the most spectacular cheeses I have ever eaten particularly because of its super rich, creamy and chewy texture, and its milky, slightly sour and sweet, buttery flavor that is, however, not at all overwhelming.

No matter which cheese you choose to pair it with, please make this galette. You won’t regret it.

Tomato galette with spelt pastry

A galette is a free-form tart that you don’t need to fuss too much over. You just fold the rolled-out pastry over the filling and you bake.

If you can’t find burrata, serve the galette with fresh buffalo mozzarella, a rich creamy ricotta, Greek manouri, or soft Greek feta.

To make the paste, I used sun-dried cherry tomatoes from Santorini that are not kept in olive oil. If you can only find sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, then omit the olive oil in the paste recipe, or add enough to achieve the desired texture of the paste.
You will have more than enough paste for the galette. Use the remaining paste to toss it with pasta and some parmesan, or smear it on top of some fatty pork chops and roast them in the oven.

Yield: 6 pieces


for the pastry dough
250 g white spelt flour (not wholemeal)
140 g unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
Pinch of salt
1 large egg yolk
1-2 Tbsp cold water

for the sun-dried tomato paste
15 sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil / if you use tomatoes in oil see notes above)
2 garlic cloves
1 fresh red chilli, sliced
½ tsp demerara or other raw cane sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp olive oil

for the filling
2 fresh tomatoes, cut into 2mm slices
¼ tsp dried oregano
2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
Olive oil for drizzling

1 egg, beaten with a fork, for glazing the dough

Burrata, to serve

Special equipment: large food processor, plastic wrap, rolling pin, baking paper, rimmed baking sheet, small food processor, pastry brush


for the pastry dough
• with a food processor
In a large food processor, add the flour, cold cubed butter and salt and process for a few seconds until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Then add the egg yolk and 1-2 Tbsp cold water and process in order to bring together the mixture into a dough that holds together in large chunks. Don’t over mix. Add 1 Tbsp of water to start, and see from there whether it needs more. You don’t want the dough to be wet.

• by hand
In a large bowl, add the flour, cold cubed butter and salt and, using two knives, a pastry cutter or your fingertips, cut it into the flour, until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Then add the egg yolk and 1-2 Tbsp cold water and mix with your hands, working quickly, until the dough holds together in large chunks. Add 1 Tbsp of water to start, and see from there whether it needs more. You don’t want the dough to be wet.

Empty the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, form a disk, cover it and place it in the refrigerator to chill, for 1½ hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap and discard the plastic wrap and place dough between two large sheets of baking paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into an approximately 30cm round, with a 5mm thickness. The dough should be somewhat pliable yet it will be a little stiff. If it tends to break apart when you roll it out, let it warm a bit before you try again. Place the rolled out dough, along with the baking papers, onto a rimmed baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

for the sun-dried tomato paste
In the meantime, prepare the sun-dried tomato paste.
In a small food processor, add all the ingredients for the paste and whizz until you have a slightly chunky paste. It shouldn’t be smooth. Again, allow me to mention that if you are using sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, you will probably not need to add extra olive oil.

Preheat your oven to 180°C / 360F.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator, remove the top baking paper and smear evenly enough paste to cover the center of the round piece of dough, leaving a space around the edges of the pastry, about 5cm. See photo for reference. Sprinkle with the dried oregano, arrange the fresh tomato slices on top, making sure to cover the tomato paste, add a couple sprigs of thyme and drizzle a little olive oil over the tomato slices.
Fold the edges of the dough up and over the filling, making sure to seal any cracks. You can use the baking paper to pull and fold the dough over the filing.
Using a pastry brush, glaze the dough with the beaten egg.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for about 35 minutes until the pastry takes on a golden-brown color.
Take the galette out of the oven, leave to cool for 10 minutes and drizzle the filling with a little olive oil.

Serve with burrata sprinkled with some black pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

You can keep the galette for a day or two, covered, at room temperature but it is best eaten the same day.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Greek fried zucchini with yoghurt sauce

There’s nothing more classic in Greek cuisine than battered and fried eggplant and zucchini slices. When you go out to a taverna in Greece, these nibbles are amongst the first you order.

When you have a meat- or fish-based Sunday lunch at home, you whip these up as a meze to accompany the grand attraction. They are the go-to side dish for every Greek who respects themselves.

When they are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, they are the best. Paired with tzatziki or a simple yoghurt sauce, they are divine.

In order to change things up because admittedly I am so bored of eating them with a plain batter, I added some sesame seeds and fresh mint to it. It made a big difference as they enhanced the flavor of the zucchini, adding freshness and extra crunchiness. The dip of Greek strained yoghurt was flavored with ground coriander that was faintly spicy and provided acidity to the fried zucchini.

S and I loved it. Especially S who couldn’t keep his hands off of it long enough for me take a photograph.

Greek fried zucchini with fresh mint and sesame seeds and a yoghurt dip with ground coriander

I used small, light-colored zucchini that taste far better than the large, deep-green ones and are less watery but any old zucchini will do.
I used a mandoline to slice them but a sharp knife will do the job as well.

Yield: enough for 4-6 people as appetizer


for the zucchini
3 courgettes (600-650 g), cut into 0.5-0.7 cm slices on the diagonal
80 g all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
160 ml cold sparkling water
3 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
Sunflower oil, for frying

for the yoghurt dip
7 Tbsp Greek 2% strained yoghurt
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ tsp ground coriander
1½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper (2-3 turns of the pepper mill)
¼ tsp salt

Special equipment: mandoline (optional)

In a medium-sized, high-sided, heavy-bottomed pan, add the sunflower oil. Be careful not to use a pan that’s too small, because the oil will rise and bubble and triple in size when you add the zucchini. You don't want the oil spilling out of the pan.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat. You can check if the oil is ready for frying by dropping in it a 2.5 cm cube of white bread and if it browns in 60 seconds, it is ready. If it browns in less time then your oil is too hot!

In the meantime, prepare the batter. It’s crucial that you prepare the batter at this point and not earlier, because this way it will retain the bubbles from the sparkling water and the zucchini fries will be more airy and crispy.

In a large bowl, add the flour and salt and mix with a whisk. Add the sparkling water, pouring it little by little and whisking continuously until it comes together into a somewhat thin batter. Add the sesame seeds and chopped mint and stir.

Once the oil is hot enough (it should be very hot so the zucchini doesn’t become soggy but crispy), dip the zucchini slices in the batter briefly and fry. Do not overcrowd the pan because they will not be uniformly fried. Fry them for 2-3 minutes, until they take on a golden color and crisp up.

While the zucchini is frying, prepare the yoghurt dip. Add all the ingredients for the dip in a medium-sized bowl and mix well with a spoon.

Remove the zucchini slices from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to drain excess oil. Then transfer them onto a platter and sprinkle with a little salt.

Serve immediately with the yoghurt dip.