Archive for Appetizer

Pintxos

Pintxos are slices of bread topped with some nice ingredients, skewered together by a pincho (hence the name). They are a speciality of the Basque region of Spain. Often they are eaten as an appetizer, together with a glass of wine or beer. But it is also completely normal to go from bar to bar, eating and drinking, with a group of friends. This makes the pinxtos the complete meal, eaten over the course of many small bites.

I first came across pintxos in Barcelona. Of course they were called pinchos in Barcelona, because pintxos is the Basque spelling, and Barcelona is in the Catalonian part of Spain. But I immediately fell in love with the concept, and I still am. It is the perfect way to sample all kinds of lovely ingredients in a simple and tasty way. A display of pintxos looks incredibly inviting. And I like the social way of nibbling and chatting away with your friends. So when we thought about what to serve on New Year’s Eve, I decided to make a selection of pintxos.

You need good bread for pintxos. If your bread isn’t right, it will muddle the flavours of the ingredients you top it with. I wouldn’t use toasted bread, this would make it quite hard to eat. That is also the reason why you have to slice the bread quite thinly. I used a good baguette, but maybe something like ciabatta would work too. Often the toppings are quite simple, but you can make them as elaborate and complicated as you like. Use good ingredients, they can’t hide behind something, the flavour has to be good.

Pinxtos2

On the photo (top to bottom, left to right):
– grilled sliced of goat’s cheese with a drizzle of honey
– slow cooked red paprika with boiled egg and anchovies
– aioli, slow cooked green paprika, spicy sausage
– jamon iberico, slow cooked green paprika, anchovies, boiled egg, mayonnaise
– tuna salad (canned tuna packed on oil, drained, with a drizzle of lemon juice, some mayonnaise and a bit of salt)
– aioli and sauteed mushrooms

Other possibilities:
– manchego, membrillo, walnut
– grilled goat’s cheese, jamon iberico
– manchego, jamon iberico, slow cooked paprika, boiled quail’s egg
– jamon iberico, fried quail’s egg
– aioli, shrimps
– tomato and sardines
– pimiento filled with tuna salad
– smoked salmon and egg mimosa
– egg salad
– mascarpone with berry sauce and chopped nuts
– …

Croquetas de Jamon

A delicious appetizer (maybe for your new years eve party?); a crisp outside and light and creamy filling. They need to be served immediately after cooking.

You can substitute the jamon for anything you like to flavour the béchamel. Try cooked chicken breast and cooked egg, chopped prawns, flaked cooked bacalao, wild mushrooms or grated well-flavoured cheese. Or maybe add some herbs. Or don’t make them Spanish style and fill them with something completely else.

The croquetas on the photo are slightly odd shaped. I was a bit impatient, I did not cool the mixture long enough, so it was quite impossible to handle. Normally, they are cork-shaped.

Croquetas2

Croquettas de Jamon (serves 8 as a tapas/makes about 24)
Adapted from “Rick Stein’s Spain”

85 g butter
115 g flour
500 ml full fat milk
100 g good quality thinly sliced Spanish air-dried ham (like jamon Iberico or jamon Serrano)
salt and pepper
flour, egg and breadcrumbs for crumbing
vegetable oil for deep-frying

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, then gradually stir in the milk, little by little, so that you end up with a silky smooth béchamel sauce. Bring to the boil and cook gently for about 5 minutes while stirring to cook out the flour.
Stir through the jamon and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a bowl, then press some clingfilm on top. Place in the fridge for at least 6 hours (yes, really!) but ideally overnight, until really firm.
Take about 1.5 tbsp of the mixture and roll it into a cork-shaped barrel with lightly floured hands. Place on a large plate or something, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Take three shallow dishes, put some flour in the first, a whisked egg in the second and breadcrumbs in the third. Heat the oil for deep-frying to 190C. Take the croquetas from the fridge, cover with flour, coat in the egg and then dip into the breadcrumbs. Lower them in the hot oil and cook 2 minutes, or until lightly golden. Lift out and drain on kitchen paper, then serve immediately.

Buñuelos de Queso

Buñuelos de Queso, or deep-fried cheese puffs. A delicious appetizer (maybe for your new years eve party?), lovely cheesy and with a spicy, smoky kick from the pimentón. But you must eat them fresh from the fryer, otherwise they will be very sad and deflated, instead of lovely crisp and puffy. Because the recipe is basically choux pastry flavoured with cheese and pimentón, I imagine you could also bake them in the oven instead of deep-frying them, I haven’t tried this and it will give a different result, but it is a bit healthier and you don’t have to deep-fry that way. With all the beating involved, it is one of those recipes that does need a bit of elbow grease.

BunuelosDeQueso2

Buñuelos de Queso (serves 6 as a tapas)
Adapted from “Rick Stein’s Spain”

100 g butter, cubed
250 ml water
150 g flour
1 tsp pimentón dulce
pinch of pimentón picante (or more, if you like it spicy)
4 eggs, beaten
200 g finely grated Manchego
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for deep-frying

Put the butter and water in a pan on medium heat, until the butter is melted. Then bring to the boil and add the flour and pimentón. Beat (with a spatula) until the flour is incorporated and the mixture leaves the sides of the pan. Then place back on low heat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Then add the egg bit by bit while whisking to make a smooth, glossy paste. Stir through the cheese and the parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat your fryer (or oil in a pan) to 180C. Drop heaped teaspoons of the batter in the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd them, they will puff up quite a bit. Fry for about 4-5 minutes, or until puffed up, crisp and golden. They should turn over themselves, but if not, give them a nudge. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately, piping hot.

Easy Carpaccio

Traditionally, carpaccio is an Italian dish made with thin slices of raw beef, with a mayonnaise or olive oil dressing, some shavings of Parmesan and sometimes some rucola. Nowadays, carpaccio often refers to any dish consisting of a thinly sliced ingredient. And with all popular dishes, some version are incredible and some are really atrocious. But in the basis, it is a nice dish.

My way of making this takes a short-cut. I don’t use raw beef, but use pre-sliced roastbeef instead. This makes it a perfect simple and fast starter, for example when you have lots of people over for Christmas dinner. One less course to worry about. But because of the beef, it has still the luxurious feeling to it you want for a special occasion.

The recipe is really simple. Make a dressing by mixing some tasty mayonnaise with a little juice from a jar of pickles, and season with salt and pepper. Roast some pine nuts. Use a vegetable peeler to make some shavings of Parmesan (or another hard, salty, flavoursome cheese). Cover a plate with some slices of roastbeef, drizzle with a little of the dressing, and sprinkle with the pine nuts and Parmesan. If you like, dress some rucola with a little olive oil and place that on top.

Easy Carpaccio2

Marinated Feta and Olives

I secretly like those tubs in the supermarket with olives, some herbs and garlic, some feta and a drizzle of oil. Unfortunately, those olives are of varying quality, and the oil they use is never very nice. So one day I decided to make something similar myself. I bought some nice olives and good feta cheese, took the bottle of special and extra tasty extra virgin olive oil out of the cupboard, foraged some thyme from my garden and finished it with some thinly sliced raw garlic, a sprinkle of red chilli flakes and a little salt. I mixed everything together and left it for a few hours before serving. Delicious!

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Blini with cream cheese and salmon

Blini with cream cheese and salmon is a classic, perfect on parties or as appetizer. Do keep in mind that blini are nicest when you serve them fresh. I used plain cream cheese, but you could season it with herbs (chives would be delicious) or horseradish. I used hot-smoked salmon, alternatively you can use cold-smoked salmon, but also smoked mackerel. I’m not a big fan of using caviar since it’s not really sustainable. But if you can find (imitation) caviar that is, go ahead. You could also top the blini with herring salad, or guacamole (as a vegetarian alternative). You could even do a sweet variety, with honey-sweetened cream cheese and fruit as topping. But you do need something to put on top of them, plain they are quite boring, they come to life with a topping.

Blini

Blini with cream cheese and salmon (makes about 40)
from “Marie Claire De Ultieme Keuken – Michelle Cranston”

100 g flour
70 g buckwheat flour
3/4 tsp dry yeast
pinch of salt
200 ml milk
2 eggs, separated
2 tbsp sour cream (or yoghurt)
butter/oil for frying

50-185 g cream cheese (amount depending on how generous you want to be)
200-400 g smoked salmon (amount depending on how generous you want to be)

Mix both flours, yeast and salt. Add the milk and mix well. Leave to rise for 1 hour on room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.
Mix the egg yolks and sour cream through the batter. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and fold them into the batter. Leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Grease a frying pin with butter or oil, scoop dollops of the batter in it and turn over when bubbles form on the surface. Cook for another minute, or until brown. Medium heat usually works best.
Dollop cream cheese on, and place the smoked salmon on top. Serve immediately.

Baked ricotta

When you bake ricotta, the structure changes completely. Unbaked ricotta has a quite grainy texture, the baked ricotta becomes silky smooth, while still having that fresh, milky flavour. And where unbaked ricotta is scoopable/spreadable, baked ricotta is delicately firm. You can cut it, instead of scoop it, but only very carefully, or it will crumble. Because it is so delicate, it will taste very, very creamy.

I served my baked ricotta as part of a main dish, with pasta, tomato sauce and fried aubergine, as a variation on pasta alla norma. But you could also sprinkle it with fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice and more olive oil after baking, and serve it with bruscetta as a party snack or appetizer. Maybe add some chilli flakes, semi-dried tomatoes, olives, or roasted paprika. If you omit the salt and pepper, you could even make a dessert version, with honey, walnuts and figs.

I’ve tried this both with ricotta that I left to drain overnight, and ricotta that I didn’t drain. Although both end up nice, I prefer the drained version, because it browns better/faster, is less wet, and becomes even smoother than the undrained version. So if you have the time, drain your ricotta. Some recipes ask you to mix the ricotta with a few eggs and the seasoning, and to cook it in a ramekin, but I like my version better because of the shape. Also, the texture will be completely different, a lot more airy from the eggs. I prefer this silky smoothness.

Baked ricotta
1 tub of ricotta
olive oil
salt and pepper

Start the day before you want to serve the ricotta. Line a sieve with a cheesecloth (or clean tea-towel), rinsed well under cold water and squeezed to get rid of most of the water. It is also possible to use a carefully rinsed coffee filter. Place the sieve over a bowl. Open the tub of ricotta, inverse it on top of the cheesecloth and gently squeeze the tub to release the ricotta in one go. It is important to keep it whole. Gently place the container back over the ricotta (I found this the easiest way to cover up the cheese), and place the whole thing in the fridge. Leave overnight to drain.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Transfer the ricotta to a lightly oiled baking tray, the ricotta is vulnerable, so be careful! Use a pastry brush to very carefully dab oil all over the ricotta, again being very careful not to damage the shape. Place in the oven and bake 45-60 minutes, or until nicely golden. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Italian pumpkin soup

A delicious autumn soup. Hearty, warming and bold of flavour. Sometimes pumpkin soup is icky sweet and lacks other flavours, but this soup certainly doesn’t. I’m not a big fan of cooking with wine, because you always only need a glass and have to finish the rest of the bottle in some other way, which often goes wrong around here. And the small bottles of wine generally aren’t that tasty. So usually I just omit the wine in the recipe without any problem, but this is an exception: the soup needs the acid and the complex flavours of the wine. Serve the soup with something cheesy, like cheese straws or cheesy croutons.

Italian pumpkin soup (serves 4)
Slightly adapted from James Martin

1 small pumpkin, peeled, seeds discarded, in large cubes (about 1 kg)
1 onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
2 sprigs rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil
500 ml chicken stock (from a cube is fine
1 glass dry white wine
75 ml cream
Salt, pepper, chilli powder and lemon juice to taste

Preheat the oven to 220C.
Combine the pumpkin, onion, garlic and rosemary in a baking tray. Add the olive oil, mix until everything is coated. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender and nicely roasted. Mix halfway through the cooking time to ensure the bottom of the cubes roasts as well. This also prevents catching (pumpkin is quite sweet, which makes it prone to burning).
Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil. When the vegetables are cooked, put in a blender with the hot liquid and white wine (or use an immersion blender). Blend until smooth, then add the cream and return to the pan. Warm through on low heat, don’t let it boil. Taste, then adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, chilli powder and lemon juice to taste. Serve immediately.

Mixed vegetable soup

As so often, I used a BBC programme as an inspiration for this recipe, this time it was Saturday Kitchen Best Bites. The vegetable soup they made reminded me of the vegetable velouté you can buy in cartons in the French supermarket, absolutely delicious, great to have something reasonably healthy that is ready-made and unfortunately not available in the Netherlands. So I decided to make my own, which is quite a bit more work than opening a carton, but definitely worth it. It is a lovely vibrant, fresh soup tasting of all the lush vegetables that are available in summer. Vegetable patch soup is maybe a good name for this recipe, because you can use up all kinds of vegetables, perfect for finishing the bits and pieces that you sometimes have growing around your vegetable patch. The recipe below shows the vegetables I used, but you could use all kinds of other vegetables as well. I think that for example cauliflower, broccoli, fennel and green beans would also be delicious.

Mixed Vegetable Soup

Mixed vegetable soup (serves 2)
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/4 small celeriac, in cubes
1 large carrot, in cubes
1/2 courgette, in cubes
500 ml water
2 vegetable stock cubes
a handful fresh peas
a few tbsp mascarpone
1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper

Heat the butter in a large pan (I like to use my Dutch oven for this). Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, celeriac, carrot and courgette and sauté until softened, but not coloured (5-8 minutes). Add the water and stock cubes, stir well and leave to simmer until the vegetables are soft. Optionally, fish out the garlic. Add the peas, cook for another 2 minutes, then blend the whole thing with a stick blender. Stir in the mascarpone (don’t let the soup boil after this!), parsley, chives and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Note: to make this recipe suitable for vegans, use olive oil instead of butter and a plant based cream instead of mascarpone.

Broad bean purée

This purée is very versatile. It is delicious as a side-dish with all kinds of meats, it is delicious as a dip for bread sticks, it is delicious as a spread on bruscetta and it works also great as a pasta sauce (thin it with some water in that case). Double-podding all the broad beans is a bit of a job, but the end-result makes it certainly worth it. And I kind of like the repetition of podding beans, it is quite a meditative activity. So why not make a big batch even when you will not eat it at once? It keeps for 4 days in the fridge, so it is a great stand-by for an easy dinner, or a delicious snack.
On the photo you can see I served the purée with a beefburger and fried polenta squares. You make this squares by cooking your polenta according to the instructions on the package. Season with salt, pepper, a knob of butter, some cream or mascarpone and parmesan. Pour into a greased baking dish (so that it forms a thin and even layer) and leave to cool. It should be completely cool, so I like to place the baking dish in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Cut into squares and fry in a hot pan in some olive oil until golden and crisp on the outside, and warm in the middle.

Broad Bean Puree

Broad bean purée (serves 4-6)
Adapted from “Annabel Langbein – The Free Range Cook”

1 kg podded fresh or frozen broad beans (or 5 kg fresh broad beans in their pods, podded)
3 cloves garlic, chopped very finely
4 tbsp extra vergine olive oil
50 g grated Parmesan
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp water
Optional: squeeze of lemon

If broad beans are fresh, boil them for 2 minutes then drain. If using frozen broad beans, pour over boiling water and leave until cool enough to handle. Slip off greyish outer skins by grasping each bean by its grooved end and squeezing gently. Discard skins.
Put the beans, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor and purée. Taste for seasoning, add more salt and pepper if necessary. The purée can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for 4 days.
To serve, add the water and warm on low heat while stirring regularly. Add a squeeze of lemon juice if you like. Serve.

Note: to make this dish truly vegetarian, use a vegetarian alternative for Parmesan cheese.