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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Smoked mussel quiche and a recipe for roasted squash with sesame and sumac

Apologies again for being less than regular in posting on here (it would seem that I am blog-stipated).  Life has been pretty hectic recently, and not in a good way.  I've cooked on through though with varying degrees of success.  Here are some of the most notable highlights:


I must say that I find pastry an incredibly versatile and convenient substance.  I've never tried to make puff pastry, although I know a man who has.  When he made it for me it tasted exactly like decent shop-bought all-butter Saxby's, which was something of a relief.  Now I use and serve up ready-made puff with total impunity.  Short crust on the other hand is a different story because it's quick (save for the resting time) and easy.  Yes easy.  Anyone who wants to know more about why short crust (or pie crust as our American friends would say) can become tough if handled too much is directed to one of the later chapters in Jeffrey Steingarten's utterly brilliant book "The Man Who Ate Everything".  Essentially, the addition of water means that ones pastry is generally more likely to become tough and shrink.  A revelation.

200g plain flour, 120g unsalted butter, one beaten egg, and salt (usual method: fat and flour rubbed together with the salt, egg added gradually to bring the crumbs together, kneaded together to form a disc and then placed in the fridge for anything over 30 minutes) yields enough pastry for a shallow 25 cm fluted tart tin.  Some people insist that adding something acid to the mix (sour cream or Greek yoghurt for example) makes the pastry wonderfully tender, but I must confess that I've not had much luck with this mix.

A couple of weekends ago Mr. F and I went to the lavish wedding of two friends.  The starter was a mussel quiche which was absolutely delicious.  I decided to create an approximation of it using the smoked mussels sold by a chap on Broadway Market.  They're about £3-ish for around 150g which I think is decent if not exceptional value.  The mussels keep for a week or two and are a good standby: I've used them in a mexican black bean soup and also as an accompaniment to a glass of dry sherry.

To fill the aforementioned 25cm fluted tart tin you will need:

150g smoked mussels
A medium sized onion
Five eggs
Greek yoghurt or cream
Fresh dill
Smoked paprika (the sweet kind)
Salt and pepper

Blind bake the pastry case for about fifteen minutes in an 180 degree oven. 

Whilst the pastry is baking, saute the onion in a mixture of butter and olive oil until soft and translucent, not browned.  Beat the eggs and yoghurt/cream together.  I would reckon on needing three dessert spoonfuls of cream or yoghurt, but I don't like my quiche too wobbly.  Add more dairy if you do.  Season with the salt, pepper and paprika (half a teaspoon).  Roughly chop the dill so that you have about two dessert spoons worth.  Add to the egg mixture with the onions.  Mix thoroughly.

Remove the pastry from the oven.  Place the mussels in the case, spreading them about evenly.  Pour over the egg and onion, and return to the oven for about twenty minutes or until lightly golden on top. 

Once cooked, leave to cool for ten minutes before eating.  I serve this with a tomato and onion salad, with dill, capers and cornichons.


Living with a vegetarian I find I often tire of eating pasta, and am frequently depressed by the impact that a carbs-heavy diet has on my waistline.  I am always eager to try alternatives to rice and couscous.  On honeymoon in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany Mr F and I were struck by the deliciousness of various soups and stews which relied on farro to provide the bulk.  Farro is a type of grain, similar to spelt.  Unlike spelt however it cooks in around twenty minutes and does not need soaking.  It tastes similar to bulgar wheat: nutty and wholesome.

For this recipe (for two) you will need:

For the squash
One large butternut squash (or two small ones), peeled and cut into chunks approximately 2 " by 2 "
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
A teaspoon of: cumin seeds, coriander and sumac
Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
A dessert spoon of sesame seeds
A medium sized onion
Salt and pepper
75g of feta cheese

For the sauce
4 dessert spoons of Greek yoghurt
Fresh dill and fresh mint (about a dessert spoon of each, finely chopped)
Cucumber, about 2 " worth, de-seeded and chopped
One clove of garlic

100g of dried farro
A lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Place the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and grind to a fine-ish powder with the mortar.  Add the sumac, cinnamon and sesame seeds and reserve.  Finely chop the two cloves of garlic.

Slice the onion into half moons and place in an oven-proof dish.  Cover with the squash cubes, and pour over a generous glug of olive oil.  Season very well, particularly with salt.  Pour the spice mix on to the vegetables, scatter over the garlic and toss well.  Put in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes to one hour. 

Boil the farro in salted water for twenty minutes, or until soft.  When cooked, drain well and allow to stand for a couple of minutes.  Then transfer to a serving bowl and dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Mix the yoghurt with the fresh herbs, finely chopped garlic, cucumber and salt, and set aside.

When the squash is ready (golden and fragrant) remove from the oven and scatter the feta cheese over it.  Make a well in the middle of the farro and fill it with the roasted squash and cheese.  Top with the yoghurt sauce.

This is now a firm favourite in our household.  It is nourishing and delicious.

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