Friday, 31 May 2013

Lemon, Black Pepper and Chicken Spaghetti

I always think that pasta is is one of the most versatile meals one can make.  This is another example of a pasta dish that can you can whip up in minutes... whether you're cooking for one or an army of friends.  I actually cooked this pasta dish for over sixty people yesterday among a few other things... and it was a huge hit! 

I love the sharpness from the lemon combined with the warmth from the black pepper.  The lemon element comes not only from the juice, but also from the zest which contains all the lemony goodness, both fragrant and taste... And for this particular dish, it's best to use coarsely ground rather than finely ground black pepper.  It adds to the texture and it's quite nice to bite into tiny chunks of peppercorns with every mouthfuls.  

If I were to cook this spaghetti for myself, I would have used chicken thighs because I think dark meat has more flavour, but yesterday I used all breast meat to be on the safe side.  And if you've got some around, a handful of chopped parsley is not a bad thing to add at the end.  Though there must be some sort of parsley shortage here, because I have been looking for them the past couple of days and they are nowhere to be found!

Cook the spaghetti in a big pot of salted boiling water until just al dente.  Whilst waiting for the pasta to cook, in a big skillet, over a medium heat, sauté some chopped onions in olive oil until soft and translucent.  Then add finely minced garlic and stir for few seconds.  Add the diced chicken and cook until browned.  Season with salt.  Next going in the pan is some quartered mushrooms.  They won't take long to cook.  I then add lots of coarsely ground black pepper and the zest of a lemon, giving them a good stir.  Then add the chopped bell peppers.  I add them almost at the end because I don't want to lose their crunch. 

When the pasta is cooked, drain it but reserve some of the pasta cooking water.  Toss the spaghetti in the what now look like a chicken stir-fry... Add the juice of 1 lemon and some of the pasta cooking water to make everything sleek.  Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning.  I tend to add more lemon juice, because I love lemony things, but that's just personal preference...

Friday, 17 May 2013

(Sea Salt and Rosemary) Focaccia

After few months of absence at Random Recipe challenge, I am so glad to be participating again.  The theme this month is all about bread.... And lucky me, the only cookbook I brought with me is River Cottage Baking: Breads and Puddings.  I have truly enjoyed baking home-made breads and with practise, I've gained  more confidence and now I can't stop baking breads at home.

The recipe I selected at random is Focaccia.  I love this Italian bread, especially simple ones like this, topped with the classic olive oil, sea salt and rosemary.  I think focaccia is best enjoyed warm, few minutes after it's out from the oven... lovely by itself or you can make a dipping with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar... delicious!

This is a pretty easy recipe and if you want to, you can make the dough using a food mixer; but I like playing with my food and I find kneading to be a great workout :)

As you can probably tell from the picture below, I didn't use fresh rosemary because I have no idea where to find it here.  So, I used dried rosemary instead and it worked just fine... And one quick note on the recipe below: it states that you need 325 ml of water, but I ended up using 375 ml to get the nice smooth and elastic dough.  But obviously only add extra water if yours needs it.  

Recipe from River Cottage Baking: Breads and Puddings
Makes 1

500 gr strong white bread flour
5 gr powdered dried yeast
10 gr fine salt
325 ml warm water
About 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra

To finish
A generous drizzle of olive oil
A sprinkle of flaky sea salt
A couple of rosemary sprigs, leaves stripped and finely chopped

Lightly oiled, shallow baking tray, 26 x 36 cm

To knead by hand, in a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, salt, water and oil, and mix to form a sticky dough.  Then, transfer to a clean work surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and silky.

Or, if you want to, you can make the dough using a food mixer that's been fitted with a dough hook.  Add the flour, yeast, salt and water to the mixer bowl.  Mix on low speed until combined, then add the oil and leave to knead until smooth and silky.

Shape the dough into a round and coat it with a little extra oil.  Leave to rise in a bowl, covered with clean tea towel or plastic wrap.  Leave for 45 minutes to an hour.

When the dough has doubled in size, tip it onto the work surface and press into a rough rectangle.  Then place in the prepared baking tray.  Press the dough with your fingers, right to the corners.  Cover the tray with tea towel or plastic wrap, and leave to rise again for half an hour or so.  In the meantime, pre heat the over to 250 C.

When the bread looks puffed up an airy, use your fingertips to poke deep holes across the whole surface, almost to the bottom.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with seas salt and the finely chopped rosemary.  Bake for about 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 C and bake for a further 10 minutes.

Take the bread out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack for few minutes before serving.