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Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Under pressure

As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, Mr. F and I celebrated our nuptials this summer.  Amongst the vast array of fabulous wedding gifts was a Tefal pressure cooker.  I have to admit that this was Mr. F's choice rather than mine.  My mother doesn't own a pressure cooker and I had never before used one or even knowingly sampled anything cooked "under pressure".  To be honest, pressure cooking was for me a method redolent of 1950s scrimping and saving, a technique which would be used to extract maximum flavour and texture from unsuspecting vegetables and cheaper cuts of meats.

In the past two days I have successfully used the pressure cooker to create two lovely suppers.  On the first night I cooked Rajma, a Punjabi kidney bean curry.  I cooked 225g of dried kidney beans (which I had soaked for a couple of hours) in the pressure cooker with a litre of water, two pierced green chillis and a teaspoon of turmeric.  Whilst this was cooking I fried two chopped onions in vegetable oil, adding finely chopped garlic and ginger once the onions were transparent.  When the onions had turned brown three de-seeded fresh tomatoes and a good squirt of tomato puree were stirred in.  Garam masala, ground cumin and ground coriander and a little cold water were added to the tomatoes and onions to make a fragrant gravy.  I let this bubble until the oil separated from the tomato mixture.  When the kidney beans were cooked I removed both of the chillis, discarded one and added the other to the tomato gravy.  I then blended the sauce until it was smooth.  The beans and sauce were then combined in the pan with a little more water and the curry was brought to the boil and then simmered for ten minutes.

I served this curry with raita, fresh rotis and buttery rice.  Cooking the kidney beans in this way made them taste wonderfully smoky.  They were soft and yielding, but also retained their texture.

Yesterday evening I decided to experiment with one of the soup mixes that Mr. F and I bought on honeymoon in Tuscany.  The mix is comprised of dried borlotti and kidney beans (again) and farro.  I soaked 250g of the mixture for an hour. I then added it to the pressure cooker, along with about a litre and a half of water, a bay leaf, four sliced shallots and two sliced cloves of garlic.  This mixture was then cooked, under the highest pressure, for ten minutes.  When the beeper on the cooker sounded (!) I turned off the heat and added some more hot water, seasoning, a chopped red pepper, a de-seeded and chopped tomato, a squeeze of tomato puree, some chopped fresh parsley, a pinch of dried oregano and a teaspoon of vegetable bouillon.  I then cooked this for another ten minutes. 

When I tasted the soup it needed a bit more oomph, so in went half a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a pinch of dried chilli flakes.  The soup was then brought to a simmer and cooked for another couple of minutes without the lid on.  I served it with a drizzle of E.V. olive oil and Parmesan sprinkled on top.

In place of bread I made some green olive and feta cheese scones to go with the soup.  To make eight delicious and tender scones you will need:

325g of self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
150ml double cream
150ml milk, plus extra for glazing
2 eggs
Salt and pepper
100g of feta, crumbled
75g of pitted green olives, sliced
Butter for greasing

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.  In a jug combine the eggs, cream, milk and black pepper.  Stir the wet ingredients into the flour.  Before the mixture has fully combined add the feta and olives, and continue to mix until you have a moist light dough (you may need to add a bit more flour).  Turn the dough on to a floured surface and form it into a circle about an inch and a half thick.  Cut the circle into eight wedges and place on a buttered baking sheet.  Brush the scones with milk and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes.  Eat when hot and fresh!

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