Sunday, December 5, 2010

Salad of Asparagus with Artichokes, Arugula, Pomegranate and Beetroot with White Balsamic Dressing

Salad of Asparagus, Artichokes, Beetroot & Pomegranate 1

I know that many of you right now are wrapped in thermals and "downy" jackets, and shivering beneath several feet of snow.  Meanwhile, down here in the southern hemisphere, we are throwing off our "cardies", booking in for an emergency pedicure and breaking out our jandals (that might be flip-flops or thongs where you come from).  It's time to bring out the sunhats, beach towels and togs (or that may be bathers, cossies, or swimsuit to you), which of course raises the issue of how far away from the beach can you wear your togs before they become undies ... check out this hilarious NZ television ad which addresses the issue.

Okay, so I headed a little off topic there, but as we head towards Christmas you might now be starting to get the idea that down here it's definitely not all about holly berries and snow, roasted turkey and plum pudding.  Down here, it's more about sun, sand, surf and pohutakawa flowers, barbeques, seafood, shandies, salads, strawberries and pavlova.

The recipe I'm sharing with you today, could not be more quintessentially Kiwi summer if it tried, and I make no apology for that - even if it doesn't fit with you right now, bookmark it for later because I'm pretty sure you are going to want to try this one.  The dramatic colours of this salad give this a very festive look, making it the perfect addition to the Kiwi Christmas table, very reminiscent of those flowering pohutakawa trees.  In my opinion, this salad has real class - it is stylish and sophisticated in its choice of ingredients and compositon, which is a great counter-point to the flavours which are bold and earthy.  This would be perfect as a main course salad for a light lunch, or would make a very elegant starter to a more substantial evening meal.  And, as if all that is not Kiwi enough, I chose this recipe from "Salads: The New Main Course" by Peter Gordon - a Kiwi chef, now living in London where he co-owns The Providores and Tapa Room, he is considered by many to be at the absolute forefront of "fusion food".

A couple of small changes I made to the recipe - I couldn't get pretty pink striped beetroot, as suggested, so used regular red ones instead;  also, I couldn't get purslane and nasturtium leaves, so substituted rocket (arugula) instead - I think watercress would also be a good alternative, and Peter Gordon also suggests that sea kale if you can get it is a great substitution - really any good looking, great tasting leaves will work.

Another note - this salad uses white balsamic vinegar, which you should be able to find in most specialty stores (New Zealand residents refer to my Source Guide).  This has a similar, though less intense flavour, to regular balsamic vinegar, but is pale in colour - this makes it perfect to use on occasions where you don't want such a dominant flavour profile (for example to accompany a fish dish perhaps), or where you don't want the colour of your dressing to spoil the look of your dish.  If you can't get white balsamic vinegar, then I suggest that you substitute with something like a cider or champagne vinegar.

Salad of Asparagus with Artichokes, Arugula, Pomegranate and Beetroot with White Balsamic Dressing Recipe
Slightly adapted from Peter Gordon's
Serves 2 as a main meal or 4 as an appetiser
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

2 medium sized beetroot
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (refer Source Guide)
4 globe artichokes
2 lemons
1 large pomegranate
12 asparagus spears
fresh rocket (arugula), or other leaves
nasturtium leaves to garnish, if available
extra virgin olive oil

Put beetroot into a pan with the cider vinegar and salt, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, and cook until tender - about 30-40 minutes.  Set aside to cool in the cooking liquid, then remove and peel.  Slice as thinly as you possibly can with a sharp knife, or even better with a mandoline if you have one.  Mix with the white balsamic vinegar and set aside.

Slice one of the lemons into rounds and put into a pot of cold water.  Juice the other lemon (don't discard the shells), and add the juice to the pan of water.  The artichokes oxidise quickly, so keep rubbing them with the inside of the reserved lemon shells as you work.  Firstly peel off the tough outer leaves - they will kind of snap off near the base.  Then using a knife, trim around the bottom of the artichoke and peel away the tough, fibrous, outer layer of the stem.   Cut off the top half of the leaves. Then cut them in half lengthwise,  and scoop the "hairy" choke out of the middle.  Add each one to the pan of "lemony" water as you go, and once they are all done, set the pan over heat and bring up to the boil.  Cook at a fast simmer until a knife slides easily into the thickest part of the heart - about 20 minutes.  Drain, run under cold water, then leave to cool.  Slice into pieces about 1cm thick.

Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the jewel-like seeds - I find the "spanking" method works best - hold one half of the pomegranate over a bowl, flesh side down, and "spank" firmly and repeatedly on the shell with a wooden spoon until all the seeds and any juice drop out into the bowl.  Discard any of the white pith that might also fall into the bowl.

Lastly, bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the asparagus, bring back to the boil, and cook until the asparagus is just tender - about 2 minutes depending on thickness of the spears.  Drain and immediately refresh in iced water, and drain again.

To assemble:  Arrange asparagus spears on a plate and place slices of artichoke over the top.

Scatter over the rocket, or whatever leaves you are using.

Salad of Asparagus, Artichokes, Beetroot & Pomegranate 3

Nestle the beetroot slices in amongst the leaves.  Scatter the pomegranate seeds and their juice over the top, garnish with the nasturtium leaves if you have them.  Drizzle the vinegar from the beetroot over the salad, and finish with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.

Salad of Asparagus, Artichokes, Beetroot & Pomegranate 2

I hope you give this beautiful salad a try, and if you're interested in more wonderful and innovative salad ideas then I highly recommend this book - imagine Cape Gooseberry, Smoked Duck, Sunflower Seed, Yoghurt & Chive Salad on Deep-Fried Tortilla Chips as an appetiser, or Panko-Crumbed Turkey, Honey-Glazed Parsnip & Watercress Salad, Cranberry-Pomegranate Compote & a Deep-Fried Egg as a substantial main, or Warm Salad of Brioche-Honey Croutons, Saffron-Poached Pear, & Rum Sultanas with Vanilla Mascarpone for a heavenly dessert.   Of course, I'll be bringing you more recipes from this wonderful book, but why wait? - why not get your very own copy by following the link below.

Salads: The New Main Course

Available from Amazon

I'm submitting this post to Cookbook Sundays, hosted by the lovely Brenda at Brenda's Canadian Kitchen.  She's worth a visit any day of the week, but why not head over there right now and see who else has dusted off their cookbooks - you'll almost certainly find some great recipes, and maybe you'll discover a new book you'd like to add to your collection.

cookbook sundays          

I'm also submitting this post to the Hearth and Soul blog hop, a place where you'll find lots of wonderful people who are passionate about great food and cooking from the heart - do go and have a look at what they're all cooking this week.

I'm also sharing this post at Food on Friday:Beetroot hosted by Carole at Carole's Chatter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Going Crackers with Bittman

Parmesan & Rosemary Crackers 1

Funny how things just kind of fall into place sometimes.  I had been going ever so slightly "crackers" for about two weeks trying to decide what to make for my contribution to this month's Tackling Bittman event.  Don't get me wrong, this was not because there are any shortage of great Mark Bittman recipes to make, as a browse through his fabulous book "How to Cook Everything" or HTCE iPhone application will reveal.  It was more a case of there being so many great recipes to choose from that I was having trouble deciding.  The solution in the end, virtually found itself.

You see, lunchtime rolled around yesterday, at which time I headed for the fridge and pulled out the bowl of hummus I'd made the day before, which quite coincidentally had been made using this Mark Bittman recipe I've posted before.  That was when I realised that I was completely out of the pumpkin seed crackers I usually like to have.  Toast didn't seem right, no pita bread in the freezer, and I didn't feel like going out just to get crackers, and that was when I decided to turn to Bitty for help.

Out with my trusty iPhone, and sure enough a quick search turned up a recipe for homemade crackers.  The dough is very simple, takes just moments to make, and is infinitely variable.  I chose to use olive oil instead of butter as the shortening (as I wanted the olive oil flavour);  I also added in some freshly grated parmesan and fresh rosemary, and sprinkled a little flaky sea salt over the top before baking.  You could really add any herbs or freshly ground black pepper to dough;  nuts and seeds would also make good additions either gently kneaded into the dough or sprinkled over the top;  you can also make cream crackers by substituting cream as the binding liquid when you make the dough.  Are you starting to get the picture?  All told, about 20 minutes from start to finish and I had a batch of beautiful, crispy, Parmesan and Rosemary Crackers.  These tasted fantastic, and were a beautiful compliment to the hummus.  I'd like to be able to tell you that these keep well, but the truth is that they're gone already - next time I'll be doubling the recipe!!

Parmesan & Rosemary Crackers
Adapted from Mark Bittman's
Makes about 24
Click here for a printable copy of the recipe

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup water, plus extra as needed

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).  Lightly dust two baking sheets with flour or line with parchment paper.

Put flour, salt, olive oil and parmesan together in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until combined.  Add water and let the machine run for a bit, then add extra water a teaspoon at a time until the mixture comes together but is not sticky.  Lastly pulse in the rosemary.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out thinly, adding more flour if needed.

Transfer the rolled out dough to your prepared baking sheet.  Score lightly with a sharp razor or pastry wheel to form squares or rectangles.  (I think that next time I would also prick each of the squares in a couple of places with a fork - you will see why in a moment.)  Sprinkle flaky sea salt over the top.

Parmesan & Rosemary Crackers 4

Bake in the preheated oven until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack, and store (yeah, right!) in an airtight container.


My first sheet of crackers turned into something that looked rather like a giant puff ball, and whilst it was nice and crispy on top was still soft on the bottom - tasted fantastic, but was rather more like very thin pita bread than crispy cracker.

Parmesan & Rosemary Crackers 3

This was where it became obvious to me that I needed to, firstly score the dough a little more firmly than I had originally done, and secondly prick the dough.  I also reduced the temperature of my oven for the second sheet of crackers to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F) - you may need to play around with that according to your oven - and set the oven rack a little lower down in the oven than the first time around.

Final verdict - perfectly crispy little crackers, made in less time than it would take to dash out to the supermarket, and at a fraction of the price.  With numerous variations to explore you can bet that I will be making these again - often!!

Parmesan & Rosemary Crackers 2

Interested in cooking some more with Mark Bittman?  I highly recommend any of these Mark Bittman books:

How to Cook Everything, Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food   How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food   Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express: 404 inspired seasonal dishes you can make in 20 minutes or less

Available from Amazon, Book Depository UK, and Fishpond NZ

This post is my submission to this month's Tackling Bittman blog hop.  If you're a Bittman fan, please come on over and join in the fun.

Bittman Button

This post is also submitted to the Tackling Bittman Giveaway at girlichef - she's giving away a copy of Bittman's "The Food Matters Cookbook" - entries are open until 31 January.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tackling Bittman Recipe Hop Volume 2

Bittman Button

If you've been following this blog for a while then you know that I am a big fan of Mark Bittman's, and you will probably have stumbled across several of the dishes I posted while I Heart Cooking Clubs was cooking with Bittman.  You may also recall this post last month, in which I told you about the Tackling Bittman blog hop started up by my friend Alex at A Moderate Life.  I'm very excited to now be able to tell you that I am now joining in with Alex, as well as Christy at Frugality and Crunchiness with Christy, Dr Laura at Who is Laura?,  and Chaya at My Sweet and Savoury to co-host this event.

So drag your copy of How to Cook Everything down off the shelves, and get cooking.  You may of course use any other Mark Bittman book that you can lay your hands on, or even the How to Cook Everything iPhone Application (which I highly recommend).  Other places to source Mark Bittman recipes are here on the How to Cook Everything website and here on the Mark Bittman website.  Post your dish, and then join in the "hop" by linking your post here (or at any one of the other hosts - your link will automatically show up on all four host sites), following the instructions below.  You could of course link up one of your previous posts - it may be an old post to you, but it could well be new to our audience.  I hope you'll join us - we'll be "hopping" the first Thursday of every month, and the linky will be open for one week.

Now for the necessary part - the rules. They are pretty simple, especially if you are familiar with hops.

Rules for linking:

Please use your best blog hop etiquette when linking. The rules are in place to help everyone have the best blog hop experience possible.

If you are new to a blog carnival, or blog hop, it is very easy to learn how to join in the fun! Simply go to the current blog post for the hop and scroll down to the bottom where you will see a small box that will say, "You're next" or "Your link here". When you click on that link, you will be asked to enter the URL of your recipe or article.
  • Please link to your article only and not directly to your blog front page. The linky may ask you to upload a photograph from your computer, then you click next and leave a comment on the blog host's post.
  • We also ask that you place a link back to the blog host at the bottom of your post - this means adding in the URL of the blog hop post, which you can copy from your browser address bar.  You could also choose to place a blog badge into your post, which is explained below. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!
  • At least one host will visit each link before the next linky period opens, because this is personal for us…we want you to know that we appreciate that you’ve taken the time to create a post, add a link back to the hop, and add your link!  We’ll be sure to acknowledge this with a comment and a tweet on Twitter (using hashtag #bittyhop).
  • One link per blog monthly on the Tackling Bittman Recipe Hop, please.
  • Must include a link back to one/any of the host sites (through worded link or badge) in your actual post, not just on your sidebar…although we love having links on your page as well (this benefits all of us). You will be sent a gentle reminder if no link is added to your post, we understand that sometimes people forget…but if it becomes a regular occurrence, (even though we don’t like to do it) your post may be removed.  It’s just not fair to those who do take the time and show the grace to link back.
  • Linky will stay open from 5:00 AM the first Thursday of Every Month, to 11:59 pm the following Thursday (EST).

If you would like to use a badge, please copy the code in the box beneath the badge below and paste that into your post, and also into your sidebar if you wish:


Lets's get cooking and thanks for joining in!
Sue, Alex, Christy, DrLaura, and Chaya