Wednesday, 29 May 2013

PAVLOVA WITH CHANTILLY CREAM AND BUTTER TOASTED ALMONDS



I will go on record and say that this is a great recipe for pavlova. The best.  It has a meringue with a delicate, crunchy crust and a soft marshmallow-like centre. The cream topping is a flavorful Chantilly cream that goes great with the fruit, especially the strawberries. The almonds? Well, they are buttered and then toasted. That gives them an incredible flavour. The dessert melted in our mouths. Literally. It was sweet, creamy, fruity, smooth, soft, heavenly. A great dessert for the Memorial day weekend! 

I guess I will make it again sometime next year and enjoy another slice. Even though it's an angelic dessert and one I have always wanted to make, ouch, those calories... 


Ingredients:


4 large egg whites at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cornstarch
sliced fresh fruit of your choice for topping
some butter cut up in small pieces
whole blanched almonds for topping, notes on preparation bellow
Chantilly cream for topping, recipe below

Directions:

It's important to cook the pavlova at a low temperature for a long time. This and beating the egg whites extraordinarily well insures success.


  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a pencil, draw an 8 inch diameter circle on the paper. Turn the paper over so that the pencil marking rests on the baking sheet side. The circle will still be visible.
  • Add the granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor.  Beat it until the granules become superfine and somewhat powder-like: this is superfine or caster sugar. If you can buy it ready made, go ahead and get it, but this is an easy, convenient way to make your own. Caster sugar is best for meringues because its fine granules dissolve quickly.
  • Preheat the oven to 225° F.
  • Make sure that the bowl of your mixer is really clean and dry. Place the egg whites into it.  They should be free of any presence of yolk.
  • Begin beating on medium.  When the egg whites start to get frothy and form soft peaks, turn the speed up to high and add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. After all the sugar has been added, continue to beat until the egg whites are very stiff and shiny. If you think the meringue is done, beat it some more. I took a short, refreshing nap while the egg whites were being beaten; try it! 
  • The meringue should be smooth, and the sugar should be fully dissolved, so that when you feel the meringue it should not be at all gritty but should be smooth and stiff, somewhat gluey, and it should look shiny.
  • At this point add the vanilla and beat to mix. 
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer, add the lemon juice and fold well.  
  • Sift the cornstarch over the meringue and fold that in as well. 
  • Place the meringue on the prepared tray and smooth it into a round shape using the penciled circle as a guide. An offset spatula will help with this job. 
  • Form a small indentation in the middle for placing the cream into once the meringue finishes baking. 
  • Place the meringue in the oven and bake it for one and a half to two hours, until the top of the meringue feels dry and somewhat hard.  
  • Turn off the oven and let the pavlova shell stay in there until it has cooled. 
  • Take out the shell. It will probably have one or two cracks, and that's fine.  The outside will feel firm, but looking through the cracks you will be able to see the marshmallow-like interior. 
  • The shell can be stored on its parchment in a cool dry place until ready to use.  You can make the shell one day ahead of time.

To decorate:

Gently remove the parchment paper while sliding the shell onto a serving platter.  Place the Chantilly cream on top and gently spread it all over.  Top with the almonds and fruit, creating a decorative pattern.

TO PREPARE THE ALMONDS:

Spread whole blanched almonds on a baking sheet and top them with pieces of butter.  Stir them around with your hands so that the butter covers most of the surface of the almonds. Toast them in the oven until they begin to get golden.  Keep a close watch because once they start to get golden they are on their way to getting burned, so it's important that they are removed from the oven before that happens. Butter gives the almonds a wonderful and totally different flavour than plain toasted almonds. It also makes them appear shiny.

CHANTILLY CREAM:

Ingredients:


1 cup heavy whipping cream, really cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons sugar

Directions:


  • The best whipped cream is made with cold ingredients.
  • Refrigerate the bowl and the whisk attachment of your mixer until they are very cold.  Bring them out and place them back in the mixer.
  • Add the cream, vanilla and Grand Marnier into the bowl.
  • Beat on medium until frothy.
  • Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat on medium high until soft peaks form, about 3 to 4 minutes.  
  • Do not overbeat.  You will know when it is done.  It will be nice and thick like whipped cream.  If you continue beating, the mixture will start to get grainy, and you will start to develop butter.  Or so I have been told.  Anyway, this is absolutely delicious, and it will remain thick. Chantilly cream doesn't tend to get watery like regular whipped cream because it contains sugar.


The recipe for the merigue is adapted from "The Joy of Baking." 

Monday, 20 May 2013

BORLOTTI BEANS IN A MEDITERRANEAN BEAN STEW (BARBOUNOPHASOULA)

Borlotti beans! Gentile's, my favourite grocer here in suburban Philadelphia, had them for sale. "Wow," I said to myself, "barbounophasoula!" I made a beeline for the display, got a  bag and filled it to the top. Since childhood, I've loved eating these beans! Cooked with olive oil and tomatoes, seasoned with parsley and bay leaf, they are so good, even children with finicky tastes will not refuse them. Or so I believe. The bean shells have a bright red colour, and I think it's the colourfulness of the crop that makes them attractive to children. That's how I learned to love them. I liked sitting in front of a table where the red borlotti beans had been scattered and helping to shell them.  


Cute!

Once the shells were opened, pearl-like beans spilled out, soft and fresh, their creamy flesh speckled with deep-pink markings. They were just beautiful!  

Of course, when cooked, the beans turned brown, but it seemed to me that the beautiful colours transformed themselves into tasty food notes that I just loved to gobble up. So I have always been excited about borlotti beans. The Greeks call them barbounophasoula, which I've noticed is quite a long word ... The word describes the appearance of the beans. "Barbouno" is taken from the word for red mullet, a fish that is very plentiful in Mediterranean waters and has the same red on white markings as the beans. "Phasoula" is the word for beans. Indeed, the common bean belongs to the genus Phaseolus vulgaris, and that is the genus that borlotti beans belong to. They are widely cultivated in the Mediterranean region. Italians love to cook them in "Pasta e Fagioli" and also include them in minestrone. We Greeks stew them with tomatoes in a sauce that turns luscious from the flavour of the bean liquor. I believe the best way to enjoy them is while they are fresh, so stock up when you can find them, shell them and freeze them for later use. Of course, they can be had dried, but the dried ones need to soak overnight before they're cooked.
 


Borlotti beans are sometimes referred to as Roman beans, and they are related to cranberry beans but don't confuse them with pinto beans, which have a somewhat similar appearance but quite a different taste. Here is my recipe for borlotti beans cooked Greek style:



Ingredients:

About 2 pounds fresh, shelled borlotti beans

1 large red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes (it would be marvellous to use fresh tomatoes)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 celery ribs, diced
1 small pepper: use a hot pepper if you like, or use a sweet Italian frying pepper.
1 bay leaf
dash of oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth
water

Directions:


  • In a large pot heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic. 
  • Add the beans, mix, then add the celery and pepper and stir for a few minutes. 
  • Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, the parsley, the oregano, the bay leaf, the black pepper, and the vegetable broth. Mix well. 
  • Add enough water so that the beans are covered by liquid. The amount of liquid should reach about 1/2 inch over the beans. How's that for scientific measurement?
  • Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer and cover. Let cook for 45 minutes to an hour.  Check occasionally to make sure that not all of the liquid has evaporated. About 30 minutes into cooking, season with salt and drizzle some olive oil (3 or 4 tablespoons), over the beans.  
  • When ready, the beans should be soft and most of the liquid should have cooked off. The stew is a stew and should not be soupy. You should have a  nice, slightly thickened sauce. 
  • Remove the bay leaf, place the borlotti beans into a serving bowl, and bring them to the table.  They are ready to eat. I hope you enjoy them!