Gourmet vegetarian night

March 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Having been rather rushed off my feet with work, jetting off to the Caribbean and various birthdays, I decided to host a meal at mine to get an excuse to finally take some photos. I recently acquired a delightful book by Denis Cotter called for the love of food which has some of the most beautiful recipes in it that I’ve ever set eyes on. I decided to surrender to Denis’ clearly superior culinary talent and create some of his excellent dishes for my gourmet vegetarian night.

The menu for the evening consisted of a modification of Denis’ fingerling and watercress potato salad, the watercress, lemon and pine nut risotto with a red pepper broth, and finally my version of a Venetian carrot cake, with orange.

Potato salad: usually a side dish accompanying the main course, this is one of the best known salads up there with Caesar salad and Greek salad. In it’s most basic form, you just have boiled potatoes with a variety of dressings ranging from vinegar to mayonnaise and herbs. Our potato salad included a nice balance of peppery flavours from watercress and rocket, as well as a little sweetness from spring onions and baby spinach. Finished off with walnuts and a light lemon dressing, this can be served as an accompaniment or as party food depending on what you’d like to serve it with.

For this particular adaptation I used:

  • 1kg new potatoes, washed and unpeeled
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 125g watercress, rocket and spinach prepared salad, coarsely chopped (you can get this from most supermarkets)
  • 50g walnut halves, coarsely chopped
  • a good glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from ½ a lemon and zest if you feel like it

Start of by putting a kettle of water on to boil, you’ll need a large pan to boil the potatoes in. After you’ve washed and scrubbed your potatoes, cut any larger new potatoes into half some that they’re all around 2 inches in size. Once the water comes to a boil, salt it and add a little olive oil for flavour, then chuck in your potatoes to boil for 13-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up your spring onions and put them into a fairly large serving bowl. Roughly chop up your salad leaves and add them in too. You’ll then want to chop up your walnuts into rough pieces, but not too big – put these in with the spring onions and salad leaves and mix well.

Once your potatoes are done, drain them and rinse under a cool tap to make them cool enough to handle. You then want to cut them up into slices just over 1cm thick, adding them to the salad bowl as you go. Season this well with fine sea salt and pepper.

You add a good glug of extra virgin olive oil at this point and if using, the zest of ½ a lemon. Squeeze over the juice of said lemon half and mix everything gently. Taste and season again if you need to.

Risotto seems to have generated quite a bit of confusion amongst people, as well as a reputation for being a fairly finicky dish to create. It’s actually really simple to make a lovely risotto with clean and fresh flavours if you don’t think about it too much. The most basic risottos are made with butter, risotto rice, stock  and usually wine (although I’ve omitted the wine as we had some non-drinkers coming along). Sometimes this is added to with one or a few ingredients, some hard cheese and perhaps more butter, but that’s up to you really – risotto recipes aren’t hard and fast in their written form so feel free to play around with what you put into them.

Denis’ risotto recipe feeds four, and combines wondefully zesty and refreshing flavours in the risotto with a lovely intense red pepper broth. Whilst he recommends straining the broth to get rid of the vegetables, I like to keep them in, not only to add to the texture of the risotto, but also to keep all those lovely flavours and vitamins retained in the vegetables.

For the broth you’ll need:

  • 2 roasted red peppers
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, thickly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 6-8 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
  • 2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small bunch of fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  • 300ml vegetable stock

If you don’t have ready-roasted peppers at hand (I used some delicious antipasto ones out of a jar), just roast the red peppers over a flame, in the oven or under a grill until the skin in blackened. Put the blackened peppers into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave for 20 minutes to allow the skins to loosen. Then peel away the skin, stalk and seeds, chopping the flesh coarsely to use in the next step.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a high heat, adding the onions and frying them for about 3-4 minutes. Add in the garlic, roasted peppers, halved cherry tomatoes, chillies and torn basil leaves, letting everything infuse and cook for about 10-12 minutes stirring often. Then add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and see if you need to season with salt and pepper.

If you want a smooth broth, push the cooked vegetables through a sieve and save the liquid, transferring it to a smaller pan to simmer and reduce. Keep this warm until the risotto is done.

Then we start making the risotto. You’ll need:

  • a large knob of butter
  • either 3 garlic cloves, sliced, or 2tsp ready-pureed garlic
  • 275g Arborio risotto rice
  • 900ml vegetable stock
  • 125ml dry white wine (optional)
  • 100g watercress, rocket and baby spinach prepared salad
  • 60g pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 60g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a wide, heavy-based pan over a medium heat and fry the rice and garlic for 7-8 minutes, stirring often. At this stage you can add the wine and simmer until it has been absorbed, or go straight to adding a ladleful of hot stock and stir until absorb. Keep repeating for about 20 minutes until the rice is just about tender and the stock has been poured in. There should be a little liquid still remaining to be absorbed.

Stir in the salad leaves, toasted pine nuts, spring onions, lemon zest and juice, then grate over the Parmesan cheese. Mix everything well, then season with the sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Serve the risotto in shallow bowls, with the broth either poured over the risotto, or around each portion.

Finally, we come to dessert. A Venetian carrot and orange cake that’s not only dairy-free, but also gluten-free! Nigella’s version of this uses lemon zest, lemon juice, sultanas and rum, but I’ve opted for something a little more vibrant with orange zest and oranges combining with the carrots to give you a delightful orange explosion of taste.

You’ll need:

  • 3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 125ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 250g ground almonds
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste
  • ½ navel orange, finely grated zest and juice

Start off by preheating the oven to 180ºC and lining a 23cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Grate the carrots in a food processor, or by hand. If you do this in the food processor you should wrap up the grated carrot in a double layer of kitchen towel and leave aside to absorb the excess juices so that your cake doesn’t get too soggy.

Cream together the caster sugar and olive oil in a large mixing bowl, then whisk in the vanilla extract and eggs one by one until all have been well-combined.

Fold in the ground almonds, nutmed, grated carrots and finally the orange zest and juice.

Then you should transfer this to the lined cake tin. It will be fairly shallow in the tin as this is a fairly dense cake. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts over the cake and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the cake tin.

I do have to say this cake was incredibly successful – we ate almost all of it up with a drizzle of cream over each portion. This was all that was left in the morning!

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