My friend Olivia and I drove up on Saturday afternoon and were welcomed with a glass of red and a roaring fire. Robyn had prepared a simple and delicious 3 courses. We were treated to fennel, pear and parmesan salad, a Donna Hay lamb shank pasta with boccocini and pesto, and then yoghurt pannacotta with stewed tamarillos. A rather lovely way to spend a Saturday night, especially with never-ending rain outside.
On Saturday we perused Robyn's infinite supply of cooking magazines, and she thought it might be nice if I cooked for them. I decided on a simple 3 courses also, and after dropping Olivia at the train station, got right amongst the well-equipped kitchen.
We began with Pan fried Haloumi served on a bed of rocket, served with lemon wedges and chilli oil drizzled on top (heat 1/3rd of a cup of olive oil on medium heat, grate in the zest of a lemon, add a finely chopped chilli and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and heat through for about 10minutes before leaving to cool to room temperature)The main course consisted of ricotta (and lemon zest, thyme, sage, and shallots) stuffed chicken breasts, with a sage leaf and a strip of prosciutto wrapped around it. I seared the chicken first, then finished it in the oven. This was while the fennel and potato gratin was baking, which is a recipe worth sharing:
Potato and Fennel Gratin (from Dish magazine, spring 2009)
*Preheat oven to 180*C. Take 1 kg agria potatoes, peel and cut into 3cm chunks. Cook in boiling well-salted water until just tender. Drain well.
*Heat 2 tblsp olive oil and a knob of butter in a large pan
*Add one large onion, thinly sliced, one large fennel bulb, cut into 1cm thick slices, some chopped thyme, and 2 crucshed garlic cloves: saute for about 10 minutes
*Add 1/4 cup cream and 1 and a half cups chicken stock. Bring to the boil. Season and simmer for 5 mins
*Put the potatoes in a greased 6-cup capacity gratin pan and pour over the fennel mixture. Sprinkle with plenty of parmesan and bake for 35-40 mins until golden and bubbling.
I served it with these peas from Orangette
The piece de resistance however, were the individual Pear tarte tatin.
Holy shit, these things were incredible. I reckon I could have destroyed Brett if I'd whipped these up in the Masterchef final, I'm not going to lie. They were from an old Autumn edition of Donna Hay magazine (issue 8), and they were simply delicious. Those who know me well know I have a wee addiction to pastry at the best of times, but these were small, just enough, and an ideal finish to a gorgeous dinner. I've been dreaming about these all 24 hours since I made them.
I was going to try and make a funny comment about not needing men if you have pastry and toffee combined, but I didn't really want to be left open to the jokes that would undoubtedly follow...it's much too soon...
Anyway. They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and by god if you want to impress, make these. I sure will be next time I have anyone to cook for.
Pear Tarte Tatin (individual ones, from Donna Hay)
Make basic caramel sauce first:
*place 1/3 cup water and 2/3 cup caster sugar in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves
*simmer for 6 minutes until golden
*remove from heat and carefully pour in 1/3 cup cream
*stir until combined
*preheat oven to 180*C. Pour 2 tbspl of the caramel into the base of small greased pie tins.
*put in half a cored pear, cut side down (I put in a star anise here too)
*Use a round cutter to cut rounds of flaky puff pastry
*Place over the top of each pear
*Bake for 25mins until the pastry is golden
*Invert onto plates and serve immediately with runny cream and leftover caramel, or just a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream
It is heaven on a plate, and will cure whatever ails you. Even the broken-est of hearts, momentarily. I promise.