Saturday, April 30, 2016

Easy puff pastry tart with mascarpone cream and strawberries

Greek Orthodox Easter (Πάσχα / Pascha) is this Sunday and as it’s accustomed, lamb and goat will be consumed along with various other meat-centered dishes, while tsoureki (the traditional Greek Easter sweet bread) and paschalina koulourakia (Greek Easter cookies) will accompany the much needed post-feast coffee.

Proper dessert, however, doesn’t hold a great place in the celebratory Greek Easter feast. We all certainly need it after all that meat-binging but who has enough space in their tummies to eat it? Well, I do, but I prefer something light, like a tart, an airy mousse or ice cream.

So what could be better than this puff pastry tart with vanilla bean flavored mascarpone and the season’s first strawberries that requires minimal effort to make; I'm sure all those in charge of cooking for the Easter feast will appreciate this dessert.

The buttery puff pastry is flaky and crispy and it is covered with a creamy, vanilla-speckled mascarpone, while the vibrant and juicy fresh strawberries decorate the top and transform this simple and light dessert into a thing of beauty.

Καλή Ανάσταστη και Καλό Πάσχα (Happy Easter) to all my fellow Greeks!! Hope you have the best time with your loved ones.

P.S.1 Some months ago, I created an account on Snapchat. I’m not particularly active there but every now and then, I post something that goes on in my kitchen, a recipe, or my strolls around The Hague. If you have an account there, you can find me by my username: mylilexpatkitch

P.S. 2 More Greek Easter recipes here.

Easy puff pastry tart with mascarpone cream and strawberries

This time, I used ready-made puff pastry, but this tart will be elevated to higher levels of scrumptiousness if you decide to make your own homemade puff pastry (like I did with this tart). Compare the pictures of the two puffs and you will be convinced in an instant.

A final dusting of icing sugar completes the picture, but if you’re feeling more decadent, replace the icing sugar with a generous drizzling of melted dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids), like I did with this tart. Also, you could add chopped pistachios or almonds over the top.

As with all fruit-based desserts, the quality and flavor of the fruit plays a major role in the outcome. Use fresh, juicy, tasty and sweet strawberries.

Yield: 1 tart / 6 servings

1 sheet ready-made (or 350 g homemade puff pastry) (trimmed to a 30x20cm rectangle), thawed if frozen
1 small egg, beaten well with a fork

for the mascarpone cream
250 g mascarpone
55 g icing sugar
100 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or the seeds of a fresh vanilla bean)

350 g fresh strawberries (around 12)
Icing sugar, for dusting the tart

Special equipment: rolling pin (to roll out homemade puff pastry, if using), baking paper, baking sheet, sieve, pastry brush, stand or hand-held electric mixer, small offset spatula (optional)

Preheat you oven to 190ºC.

Place the sheet of puff pastry on top of a baking sheet lined with baking paper. (If you’re using homemade puff pastry, dust a clean work surface and the top of the dough with a little flour and using a rolling pin, roll it out into an approximately 20 x 30 cm rectangle with a thickness of 3 mm).
Lightly score with a knife a 2 cm border around the edges of the pastry and prick the dough inside that border all over with a fork. This will prevent it from rising too much in the oven.
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top of the pastry with some of the beaten egg and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and puffed up.
Take the baking sheet out of the oven, transfer carefully the pastry onto a wire rack by lifting up the baking paper, and leave to cool completely.

for the mascarpone cream
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), sieve the icing sugar and add the mascarpone, the cream and the vanilla bean paste (or the seeds of the vanilla bean). Beat with the whisk attachment (or a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture is smooth. Be careful not to overwhip or the mixture will split.

Note: You can place the mascarpone cream in the fridge for a few hours before using it but it will firm up. I actually did refrigerate mine before spreading it on the pastry and that’s why you see that the mixture looks a bit stiff rather than fluffy. So, if you want yours super fluffy, spread it onto the pastry immediately after beating it and right before serving it.

Rinse the strawberries under cold, running water and dry them well on paper towels or a kitchen towel. Cut them in half lengthwise. No need to hull them.

Once the puff pastry has cooled, cover it evenly with the vanilla flavored mascarpone cream using a small offset spatula (or a regular spatula) and being careful not to cover the border. Arrange the strawberries on top in one layer and sprinkle generously with icing sugar.

Serve your tart immediately, cut into pieces.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Crème fraîche linguine with white wine and shallots

Some images of food speak to our primal instincts. The image of bread is invariably one of them. A crusty, plump loaf is always tempting even when you're full. For meat eaters, a juicy steak can never be resisted. A dish of glistening, rich pasta is yet another one; it can evoke so many feelings and desires that it’s impossible not to crave it or want to have it right at the moment you see it.

This explains why so many people liked the photo of my panful of pasta that I posted a couple of weeks ago on instagram. So many people got excited by that image and were asking for the recipe even though I had not written one thing in the caption about the ingredients it contained. It wasn’t hard of course to figure out approximately what went in it, but isn’t it remarkable how people can react to an image of pasta?

So, I made the dish again and I’m posting the recipe so that each and every one of you out there who felt the need to jump into your screens when you saw my photo, can now go make it yourselves and enjoy it.

It is a linguine pasta with white wine and crème fraîche, some sautéed shallots in olive oil, lots and lots of Pecorino cheese, black pepper and a wisp of parsley to freshen things up.

It is light, tangy and sweet at the same time, with acidity from the wine and creaminess from the crème fraîche that when it mingles with the pasta water (which is key to this dish) it creates a creamy, silky sauce.

Tag me in your photos on instagram if you make this. Would love to see your versions of the dish.

By the way, Greek Orthodox Easter is just a week away and I have already started baking paschalina koulourakia (Greek Easter cookies) and tsoureki (Greek Easter sweet bread). If you want to make them too, you can follow my recipes:
Greek koulourakia (Greek Easter cookies)
Tsoureki Politiko (Greek Easter sweet bread)

Crème fraîche linguine with white wine and shallots

Add as much pasta water as needed to achieve a silky, creamy sauce. The crème fraîche alone is not enough; it needs to be kissed by the starchy water and emulsify to create a smooth sauce that will coat each and every strand of linguine in a delicate way.

Yield: enough for 2 very hungry people (or 3 people who, unlike us, eat reasonable amounts of pasta)

300 g dried linguine pasta
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 shallots (about 120 g net weight), thinly sliced
¼ cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
140 g crème fraîche, full-fat
Freshly ground black pepper
A small handful fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
Grated pecorino (or parmesan)

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the linguine. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking.

While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. You will need to add pasta water to it so keep that in mind.

In a wide sauté pan (one that will fit the pasta as well), add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the shallots and sauté until they soften, but don’t let them brown. Add the wine and using a wooden spoon, scrape any shallot bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan (this is called deglazing the pan) and cook the wine until it has almost evaporated. Add the crème fraîche, a little salt and black pepper and stir. Turn heat down to low and add some of the water that the pasta is boiling in, stirring with the wooden spoon, in order to loosen the sauce and to make it very smooth and creamy.

By now the linguine should be cooked. Using tongs, add the pasta to the sauté pan. You don’t need to strain the pasta because the pasta water is valuable and will help you adjust the consistency of the sauce, so it’s best if you add the past straight from the pot. Add a handful of grated pecorino and mix everything together with the tongs, gently, to coat the pasta with the sauce and emulsify the cheese into it. Add more pasta water, enough to achieve a creamy sauce. It should not be cloggy or clump together, but have a silky smooth consistency. Taste and add salt if needed. The cheese is already salty so most probably you won’t need salt but you never know.

Serve immediately in individual plates (or straight from the pan) topped with a good grinding of black pepper, some fresh parsley and more grated pecorino.

Secret: Sometimes I have leftovers of this. What I do is keep some of the pasta water and when I reheat the pasta in the pan, I add the water to make the sauce creamy again. That’s of course on the same day. I don’t keep pasta water for the next day even though I know some people do.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Greek dakos, my way

A non-recipe recipe. Of Greek dakos.

Traditionally made with large barley rusks and grated beefsteak tomatoes. I had little barley rusks (dakakia/paksimathia) that I made a few days ago and some small plum tomatoes at hand, the sweetest there is, cut in half so their juices run out onto the hearty rusks; feta, —Greek of course, don’t let me hear anything about feta from another country. Would you ever buy Brazilian Roquefort?— crumbled, to get my hands dirty, to feel the food I am about to eat between my fingers; lots and lots of Greek extra virgin olive oil; a good three-four pinches of Greek dried wild oregano; a drizzle of red-wine vinegar for acidity and a touch of sea salt (I only use sea salt in my cooking), just a touch, as proper feta is salty.

That’s all there is to it. The glorious dakos, in a slightly different variation.

Eaten under the sun, on a warm spring day.

Greek dakos, my way

I know some of you will ask for my barley rusk recipe. I won’t share it now, but it’s based on my Greek barley bread recipe.

Yield: enough for one person

4-5 small barley rusks, cut in half
8-9 small plum tomatoes (similar in size to cherry tomatoes), cut in half
100 g feta
4 Tbsp (or more) Greek extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp red-wine vinegar
Greek dried oregano, 3-4 pinches
Sea salt, just a pinch

In a deep plate, add the barley rusks and the tomatoes and seasn with a little salt. Mix well. Crumble the feta on top, the vinegar and drizzle with the olive oil. Add more if you wish. Add the oregano and enjoy.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Moroccan chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine with almond couscous

What to do with preserved lemons, homemade or otherwise? Make a Moroccan chicken tagine, of course.

Perhaps the most predictable dish one can make with preserved lemons but honestly, it’s so tasty and satisfying, who wouldn’t want to enjoy it? When I made my own quick preserved lemons a few weeks ago, I couldn’t wait to try them in this dish.

Juicy, melt in the mouth chicken, briny, plump olives and zingy preserved lemons providing acidity and a heady aroma, sweetness from the honey and warm spiciness from the fresh ginger, the coriander and the cinnamon.

I accompanied it with couscous topped with almonds that I sautéed in butter and the pairing was absolutely gorgeous. The nutty sweetness of the butter and the crisp texture of the almonds complemented the chicken in a perfect way.


Moroccan chicken, olive and preserved lemon tagine with almond couscous

I used a traditional Moroccan tagine/tajine earthenware pot to make this dish; if you don’t have one, you can use a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed baking pan.

I used my homemade quick preserved lemons but I have made this dish many times in the past using the traditional preserved lemons. It works great with both. The only difference is that the quick preserved lemons are a bit more sour and acidic than the traditional whole preserved lemons. Both, however, provide that aromatic, fresh lemon flavor that you want.

I prefer using bone-in chicken thighs because cooking any kind of meat on the bone adds more flavor to a dish, but you can certainly use boneless.

Yield: 4 servings


for the chicken tagine
for the marinade
8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs
1 onion (about 150 g), grated or processed in a small food processor
3 garlic cloves, mashed
25 g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
A large handful (about 20 g) of flat-leaf parsley (stalks and leaves)
A pinch of saffron strands
1 Tbsp runny honey (I used Greek wild thyme honey)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp ground coriander
Juice of 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
2 Tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt (I always use sea salt in my cooking)

2 Tbsp olive oil
40 g quick-preserved lemon rind (or the rind of 2 traditional preserved lemons), cut into thin strips
20 Kalamata olives with pits (about 100 g)
½ tsp Greek dried oregano, plus extra for sprinkling on top

for the almond couscous
25 g unsalted butter
3 Tbsp blanched, split almonds
2 cups couscous
2 cups water
1 tsp salt

Special equipment: small food processor, plastic wrap, Moroccan tagine/tajine pot (or Dutch oven or other large heavy-bottomed baking pan), sieve


for the chicken tagine
Make the marinade by adding in a small bowl the onion, garlic, ginger, parsley, saffron, honey, cinnamon, coriander, lemon juice, 2 Tbsp olive oil, pepper and salt and mixing well.

In a baking dish, add the chicken thighs in one layer and pour over the marinade. Massage the chicken so the marinade coats them evenly and cover the dish with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Take the chicken out of the fridge and leave to come to room temperature, for about 45 minutes.

Add 2 Tbsp olive oil in the tagine (or large, heave-bottomed baking pan) and place over a medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the chicken thighs to the pan (without the marinade juices) and brown them on all sides. Then, pour over the marinade that’s left in the dish and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the chicken thighs. Bring to the boil and turn heat down to low. Cover the tagine (or baking pan) with the lid and simmer the chicken for about 45 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time.
Add the preserved lemon, the olives and ½ tsp dried oregano to the tagine, cover and simmer for further 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is very tender.
Have a taste and add salt and pepper if needed and sprinkle with a little extra dried oregano.

Serve with the almond couscous.

for the couscous
In the meantime, prepare the couscous.

Heat the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Once it melts and starts to foam, add the almonds and stir continuously with a wooden spatula until they take on a golden color, being careful not to burn them because they will turn bitter.
Strain the almonds in a sieve and keep the butter in a bowl.

Add the couscous in a medium-sized bowl and pour the butter from the almonds over it.
In a small saucepan, add the water and place over high heat. When it comes to the boil, pour it over the couscous, add the salt, stir with a spoon and tightly cover the bowl immediately with a piece of plastic wrap. Leave it like that for about 10 minutes or until it has soaked the water. Then uncover it, taste it, and if it seems a bit hard, cover and leave it for a few more minutes.
When ready, remove and discard the plastic wrap and fluff the couscous with a fork. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed.
Serve with the almonds scattered on top of the couscous.