Two weeks to go and apart from the Herculean task that is cooking Christmas Dinner the festive season means relatives, guests and assorted hangers-on rocking up and expecting to be fed, ideally well. Whilst we all accept a kilo or two may be added to one’s weight, no-one wants to end up looking like the proverbial bloater come twelfth night, so we at Gastrotastic have come up with three recipes that are big on flavour, low on carb and best of all look pretty on a plate:
Scallops wrapped in Pancetta with Quails Egg, Asparagus and Hollandaise (please note the Blow The Budget, BTB hereafter item which is Quails Eggs)
Difficulty Factor: Easy Peasy
Four Scallops with their coral (that’s the deep orange claw shaped flesh)
Four rashers of Pancetta
12 spears of Baby Asparagus
Four Quail’s Eggs
Hollandaise Sauce* (today we cheated and bought Waitrose’s fresh version – as egg yolks, tarragon vinegar and lemon juice would make this recipe BTB all the way – but if you have a blender you can make from scratch)
Black Pepper (optional)
This dish relies on you getting your timings spot on as both the prep and equipment used are pretty back to basics simple. First things first prepare your scallops by separating the coral from the main scallop and wrapping each in a strip of pancetta. The pancetta should go round the scallop once and when you do cook them cook them on the ‘join side’ first, thus allowing for the fat on the pancetta to act as a natural adhesive.
Heat a heavy based frying pan with just a drop of olive oil and cook the scallops for approximately one and a half minutes. Ever putting JC at the centre of much of what I do I normally time it to my saying the Lord’s Prayer thrice before flipping over, or if you aren’t religious, take the pancetta as your cue – deep pink in colour with slight crisping of the fat is the sign for the scallops to leave the frying-pan party.
Meanwhile you would have a separate saucepan with boiling water in which you would have plonked your quail’s eggs in for precisely two minutes – any longer and they will be very hard boiled and you won’t get that cheffie two-toned yolk that always makes guests ooh and ahh before they have tasted anything.
In the same water pop the asparagus spears for two minutes (this way everything will be ready and hot at the same time) remove and leave in a sieve ready for assembly.
If you are cheating this is the point where you gently warm through the shop bought Hollandaise in the same pot you used for the eggs and the asparagus. Why? Because you do not want to put Hollandaise be it freshly made or shop bought on a high heat stove as it will make it more likely to curdle. To avoid the dreaded curdle, keep whisking rapidly and do not on any accounts bring to the boil.
All the elements are now ready to plate up and serve.
We are all visual creatures. We’ll notice a winning smile before we discover the winning character and the same is no different with food. Plating food is rather like fashion, trends come and go, from the precision of molecular gastronomy, to the home spun rustic where chunkily cut veg will have a protein casually resting a top. Or a hearty carb will be dressed in an inky rich sauce that goads you to mop up the remnants with bread or if needs must, one’s own finger.
The above dish has been plated up two different ways. The first is best described as old school classic – ideal for a sit down dinner where the best porcelain may be out and a deal needs to be struck somewhere between the pudding and the cheese course. The asparagus is laid out like paving the scallops sit atop, the quails egg is cut in half and the sauce arranged in circular dots around the plate.
In contrast the second is plated in a more contemporary style, think puddle of sauce, asparagus in a criss-cross formation a scallop and claw nestling both between and atop and the quail egg betwixt the two. The plate is cosy yet still yummy, ideal for a kitchen supper where you still want to wow, without looking like showing off, it is the culinary equivalent of the no-make-up make-up look or the perfect pullover thrown on with just the right side of worn in jeans. You get the picture.
As you can see there is no ‘right’ or wrong way to plate but do not think about it and the meal might not be as gastro-tastic as it could be as the eyes need to be fed too!
Seasonal Salads – Two Cracking Ideas
Salads may not be associated with winter, but these two combine exotic ingredients to make everything altogether more festive, after all why should only Northern Hemisphere ingredients have a starring role; some of us may be dreaming of warmer climes! Better yet, they are easy to prepare in advance and have on standby for additional guests, or for those who are done with their carb-comas and cannot face another roasted potato or parsnip!
Baby Octupus Chick Pea, Tomato and Coriander Salad
Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy
Four Baby Octupus
One Clove of Garlic
Juice of One Lemon
A Can of Chick Peas
A bunch of Coriander
Two Large Vine Tomatoes
2 Table Spoon of White Wine Vinegar
4 Table Spoons of Olive Oil
Salt and Black Pepper to taste
Seeded red chilli (optional)
Season the Baby Octupus and place under a grill or an a grill pan on a medium high heat for two to three minutes. When cooked, cut into irregular slices, put aside and mix with half the clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and some olive oil.
In a separate saucepan place the remaining clove of garlic and add the chick peas cooking on a low heat for five minutes – do not stir too much as this will break up the chick peas, add the coriander and stir through for 30 seconds
Cut in quarts then half again the vine tomatoes stir them into the bowl that has the chick peas and coriander mix, then add the remaining olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. If I am preparing this meal for an adult crowd I would have also flung in the seeded pepper as an introduction of heat to proceedings.
Now place the octopus artfully on top, remembering some of the visual tricks from before and serve with wedges of lemon on the side for guests to squeeze to taste on their own serving. If you are not keen on Octupus you can substitute with king prawns instead, but trust me the Octopus rocks.
Warm Chorizo, Roasted Pepper and Spinach Salad
Difficulty Factor: Easy Peasy
One Ring of Chorizo
Four Red Peppers
Four Cloves of Garlic
One Red Onion
500 grams of Baby Spinach Leaves
Salt and Pepper to Taste
First things first preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade (Gas Mark 6)
Cut the Red Peppers length-ways into sixths; not too thin otherwise they will burn, not too thick otherwise they’ll take forever. Peel the garlic and put in whole, cut the red onion roughly and put in an oven proof dish, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil, and cook for 20 minutes,
Remove and turn over, so that the bake is cooked evenly and add the roughly chopped chorizo to the tray and cook for a further 20 minutes taking care to make sure that the chorizo does not burn.
Remove from oven and combine the spinach leaves into the tray – the spinach leaves will pretty much wilt due to the heat of the other ingredients and allow to cool to warm/tepid before serving
These two salads work excellently together – think surf and turf but remixed!