Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Roasted Aubergine, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad

Roasted Eggplant, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad 1

Sad to say that my posts have been a bit thin on the ground over the last week. Oh, I've been cooking plenty, but I have been trying to get used to a new camera and all of my photos so far have been diabolical, rendering any potential posts completely unblogworthy.

Perhaps I should go back a bit. A few months ago my neighbour, Alli of Pease Pudding and The Gourmet Gannet cooking school, organised a photography workshop with Sean Shadbolt for some enthusiastic Auckland bloggers. To a woman, we were all greatly inspired, no-one more so than I to discover that there was a good deal more to my little point and shoot camera than just turning it on and off. Talk about the scales falling from my eyes - all of a sudden a whole new world of possibility (albeit it still a rather confusing one) opened up before me. The terms aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance had previously meant nothing to me, and the notion that these were things that I could manipulate even on my point and shoot was a complete revelation.

Fast forward a little now. You know that I have just recently been overseas for several weeks, and having been smitten by the photography bug I decided, since I would be passing through Singapore on the way home, to invest in my first DSLR camera. So ever since I got back, I have been playing with this new toy - exploring it, and trying to get some understanding of what different settings will achieve. The results have not been flash. Until yesterday - I went out for a few hours with my camera, took a whole lot of photos, rushed home to download them, and actually felt reasonably happy with my results. They weren't fantastic photos, but I did feel as though a penny had dropped somewhere, and I could see and understand the outcome of different things I had done.

Buoyed up by my new-found confidence, I got cooking and photographing and these are the results. Not brilliant photos by any stretch of the imagination - there is such a long way to go. However, I can safely say that since I started my blog, just over two years ago (gosh, I actually just realised my blogoversary slipped by a couple of weeks ago) these are the first photos I have really felt happy with, and certainly the first photos that I haven't had to edit in anyway other than a tiny bit of cropping here or there.

As for the food, waiting for me when I returned from overseas was a nice stack of new cookbooks that I'd ordered before I went away. Amongst them, Plenty from Yottam Ottolenghi which I had been wanting for ages. As I leafed through the book, one of the first recipes that jumped out at me was Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango. I love soba noodles, and was intrigued by the combination of aubergine and mango. Whats more, it may be winter here but I would still rather eat some kind of salad any day of the week, than a stew or a casserole. Of course I don't mind a braised lamb shank or a really good osso bucco on a rare occasion, but in the main I am just not a stewy, casseroley kind of girl.

I loved this dish. Even though this is not a hot dish, the aubergine provides enough "meatiness" and substance to compensate. I love the lightness of soba noodles - there is nothing about them that weighs you down - and they are a great vehicle for carrying flavour. The mango is tangy and refreshing, and did indeed complement the aubergine beautifully. All of this is bathed in a bright, tangy dressing which hits all the right notes of sweetness and sharpness, with a little kick of chilli heat. I ate this as a meal on its own - it would be perfect for a light lunch, or would also be great as a starter to a larger meal. On that subject, a note about the quantities - the original recipe claimed to serve 6. Since I was making this only for myself, I halved the recipe (which in theory should therefore have served 3) and anticipated that I would have some leftover for the next day. As it turned out, I ate the lot! I didn't have anything else though - this was my dinner - and if I had been serving this as an appetiser I think it easily would have delivered 3 portions.

Roasted Eggplant, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad 1

Roasted Aubergine, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad Recipe
Adapted from recipe in Plenty, by Yottam Ottolenghi
Makes 3 appetisers, 2 light meals or 1 generous main
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small hot red chilli, finely chopped
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 lime, grated zest & juice

1 medium aubergine, cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes
sunflower oil (or other neutral-flavoured oil)
90g-100g (3 to 4 oz) soba noodles
1/2 large mango, flesh diced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup coriander (cilantro), chopped

Begin by making the dressing: Put the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt into a small saucepan, and heat gently for about a minute - just until the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat, add the garlic, chilli and sesame oil, and then set aside to cool. Once the dressing has cooled completely add the freshly grated lime zest and juice.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C (425 degrees F). Line a shallow baking dish with parchment paper and set aside. Cut the aubergine into cubes, add them to the paper lined baking dish, drizzle with oil, and toss well to coat.

Roasted Eggplant, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad 6

Once the oven is hot, put the tray of aubergines into the oven, and bake until golden brown and cooked through - this will take about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. (Note the original recipe called for the aubergine to be fried, but why stand over a frying pan, when you can let the oven do all the work. I think baking them in the oven also uses less oil, which is not really a big deal to me, but it might be to you.)

Roasted Eggplant, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad 5

Now onto the noodles. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt liberally. (Note: My packet of soba noodles stated that salting the water is not necessary, but I do it anyway, and I note that Yottam does too.) Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until al dente - mine only took 4 minutes, but yours may take a minute or two longer depending on your brand of noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, drain and rinse them well under cold running water. Shake well to remove as much of the water as possible, and then spread them out on a clean tea towel to dry.

Roasted Eggplant, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad 4

Transfer the dry noodles to a large mixing bowl, add the dressing (you will probably only use about half of it), the aubergine, mango, onion, and two-thirds of the coriander. Toss together well.

Roasted Eggplant, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad

At this point you can either serve the salad immediately, or allow it to stand for a couple of hours and let all the flavours infuse. If you do allow it to stand, you will probably want to add some of the leftover dressing before you serve it. Pile it up onto a platter, sprinkle over the remaining coriander, and serve.

Roasted Eggplant, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad 2

I hope you'll give this one a try - it's definitely on my repeat list.

I am sharing this post at Presto Pasta Nights which will next week be hosted by Debbi Does Dinner ...

Also this post is entered in the July Culinary Smackdown. The challenge this month has been laid down by Eggplant To Go, and the theme ingredient is .... eggplant.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pasta e Ceci

Sadly the sun has definitely set on my Greek island holiday where, as you know, I have been doing a 5-week yoga retreat with my teachers, Graeme and Leonie Northfield.

Paros Sunset 1

Paros Sunset 2

From past experience, I have found Graeme and Leonie's workshops to be deeply profound on many levels, and this year was no exception.  For me this was a much needed time of letting go, after all the stresses of the Christchurch earthquakes and their aftermath, and I am enormously grateful to Graeme and Leonie for having allowed the space and the support for me to find a way in my practice to both honour and overcome what I have been through.  I have come home with the inspiration to take a more joyful and compassionate approach to my practice, letting go of much of the judgement that has always "dogged" my practice up until now;  a new-found gratitude for what I can do, rather than harsh judgement of what I can't.  It was wonderful to come together again with special friends made at previous workshops, and to make some new friends too.  The bond which seems to develop between people practising together in this intense way is unlike any other.  Off the mat also, the retreat did not disappoint. We enjoyed glorious, sun-filled days (not a single drop of rain in six weeks), mornings at the beach after practice, leisurely breakfasts, mid-day trips to town for coffee and a bit of shopping (which may or may not have included pastries), afternoon siestas, and long dinners at the local tavernas.  We even managed to take in a cooking class, which was one of the real highlights of the trip for me, and which I will tell you more about in another post.

And now I have returned to wet and wild here on the Auckland west coast.  Day after day the coast has been lashed by fierce winds, bringing with it huge surf.  Even in normal conditions the sea here can be treacherous, but right now we are witnessing mother nature at full force.  Then at night come the electrical storms.

Muriwai Beach, Winter 2011

It is of course all very spectacular, and although it has its own dramatic beauty which I love, there is no doubt that being thrust into the midst of wintery storms after weeks of endless 30 degree C days is a bit of a shock to the system.  Crisp, fresh salads and summer fruit have had to move over in favour of more warming food such as soups and pasta dishes, and yet I still want to cling to some of that lightness of summer foods - my body is not quite ready to plunge into heavy stews and casseroles just yet.  In a recent issue of Jamie Magazine, The Italian Issue I came across this recipe for Pasta e Ceci, which seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  The pasta and chickpeas provide just enough substance to provide comfort and warmth;  spinach, herbs and lemon add lightness and brightness to the dish;  and the accompanying mixture of creme fraiche, garlic and paprika adds some extra warmth and creaminess without a trace of heaviness.  Actually in the original recipe Jamie uses a mixture of yoghurt and harissa, but since I didn't happen to have either of those on hand I used a little creative license.

I'm sharing this recipe with my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs, where we continue to cook with Jamie Oliver.  This weeks theme is Pot Luck, and I think such a dish would be a great contribution to a pot luck dinner anytime of year.

Pasta e Ceci Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Jamie Oliver
Jamie Magazine, The Italian Issue (March/April 2011)
Makes 3 generous servings
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

Pasta & Ceci 1A

250g pasta shapes (I used strozzapreti)

400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp fresh mint, coarsely chopped
flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, grated zest and juice
4 generous handfuls of baby spinach leaves

200g creme fraiche
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoky paprika

Bring a large pan of water to the boil over high heat, salt the water liberally, then add the pasta to the water and cook until almost al dente.

Meanwhile, put the chickpeas into a bowl.  Add the chopped mint, salt, pepper, olive oil, grated zest and juice of the lemon.  Toss well to combine.

Pasta e Ceci 3

Add the spinach to the bowl of chickpeas and toss together.

When the pasta is almost, but not quite al dente, remove it from the heat, and reserve about one cup of the pasta water.  Drain the pasta and then return it to the pan, adding in the mixture of spinach and chickpeas.

Place the pan over medium heat, add the reserved cooking water, and cook until the pasta is fully cooked through and the spinach has wilted.

Remove from the heat, add a little more olive oil, and taste, adding more lemon juice, salt or pepper as necessary.

In a separate bowl mix together the creme fraiche, garlic and paprika and serve alongside the pasta.

Pasta e Ceci 2

I really enjoyed this dish, in fact I ate it three nights in a row - it is certainly not a heavy dish, so could easily be enjoyed anytime of year, and if you're after quick and easy it doesn't get much better than this.

Interested in getting to know Jamie a bit better?  Then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all been cooking up ....


.... or check out Jamie's Italy and many of his other great titles, available from Amazon or Fishpond NZ.

Jamie's Italy     Jamie's Kitchen     The Naked Chef

I am also sharing this post at Magazine Mondays (hosted by Cream Puffs in Venice) and at Presto Pasta Nights (which will this week be hosted by Tandy of Lavender and Lime).

Magazine Mondays Badge           Presto Pasta Nights