Involtini di melanzane – Sicilian aubergine rolls

Involtini di melanzane

It is now, officially, 110% Very Cold here in Boston. This morning was a cool -11C / 12F, which might just make this the coldest place I’ve ever been. On the plus side, my local friends have finally been forced to concede that it is Very Cold – talk of ‘you haven’t seen anything yet’ seems to have come to an end. On the minus side, it is Very Cold, and ‘you haven’t seen anything yet’ has been replaced with ‘this is only the beginning, there’s months of this to come’. Hurrah.

Griddling the auberines

The other plus side is that it is still lovely and sunny here – hard to believe it’s not a teeny, tiny bit warmer with the bright sun shining. We recently rearranged the furniture in our flat slightly – brought about by the need to fit twelve people around a table for dinner, we moved the dining room table and have decided not to move it back. I am now writing this sitting at the table, in the lovely bay window, in the sunshine. Funnily enough, when I imagined myself writing this blog, it was always sitting here, so it’s strange, really, that it has taken so long for it to happen.

Involtini filling

So – in a move designed to say ‘in your face, cold Boston weather’, my post today is a version of involtini from sunny Sicily. Involtini translates as ‘little rolls’, and can be made from meat, fish, or vegetables wrapped around a filling – my version uses slices of griddled aubergine as the wrapping. The slices are rolled around a filling, coated with tomato sauce, and baked in the oven – delicious, and just as good for a cold winter’s day as in summer.

Rolling the involtini

This is a wonderfully versatile dish – as I mentioned, you can use meat or fish for the wrapping (and there are some suggestions for recipes using meat or fish here, here, here and here). In addition, you can vary the filling based on whatever takes your fancy and/or whatever you happen to have in the house. One version I’ve seen includes a slice of prosciutto on top of the aubergine, which sounds wonderful – I might well have adopted this, but I was aiming for a meat-free day. When I suggested this to Noel, he informed me that he was, at that very moment, eating a carnitas burrito… Hey ho. 

Rolled bundles

In terms of stuffing the rolls, the world is your oyster – though I’m not sure I would use oysters themselves… The most ‘traditional’ filling includes breadcrumbs, pine nuts and small currants – however, I’ve seen lovely-looking versions which explore all sorts of different flavours, such as Nigella’s Greek-inspired recipe. I also think the basic premise of involtini could be used to make a sort of pasta-free cannelloni – using the aubergine slices in place of pasta, and stuffing them with, say, spinach and ricotta. Something to try in the future…

My recipe is definitely Italian-inspired, though I’ve jettisoned the currants… I also included a basic tomato sauce recipe here, though you could use a jar of passata instead, if you prefer. Most importantly, experiment with the flavours for the filling until you find your perfect balance – and let me know how you get on!

Ready to go in the oven!

Involtini di melanzane

Serves 4

Prep time: approx 30mins / Cook time 30mins

  • 2 large aubergines
  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2x 14oz/400g tins chopped tomatoes
  • A splash of wine (optional)
  • Salt & pepper
  • For the filling:
  • 100g / 3.5oz bread, crusts removed
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • approx 2 tbsp grated parmesan, plus extra to top the dish
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 ball mozzarella, cut into 1cm dice
  • Salt & pepper
  • To serve:
  • 4-5 basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F

Begin by preparing the aubergines. Cut each aubergine into slices lengthways, around 1cm wide. Try to slice them a consistent thickness, so they will cook evenly. Heat a griddle pan or heavy based frying pan over a fairly high heat. Brush each slice of aubergine with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until browned – you may have to do this in batches. They do not need to be completely cooked through as they will cook more in the oven later, but they do need to soft enough to roll. Once browned, remove to a plate and allow to cool slightly.

Next prepare the sauce [skip this step if you are using passata!]. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and allow to saute gently, until soft but not browned – around 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and stir to coat, followed by the tinned tomatoes, and wine (if using). Season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook and reduce for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you are left with a thick sauce.

To prepare the filling for the rolls, place the crustless bread in a food processor, and process to fine breadcrumbs. Place in a large bowl. Toast the pine nuts – place a small dry frying pan over a fairly high heat, add the pine nuts and toast until brown on both sides – take care not to burn them! Add these to the breadcrumbs in the bowl, along with the capers, garlic, and parmesan. Add the beaten egg and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the aubergine slices have cooled, take a slice and place a heaped teaspoon at one end of the slice. Add two pieces of mozzarella, and roll the aubergine slice up into a tight roll around the filling, and place to one side. Continue this with the remaining aubergine slices.

Spoon around a quarter of the tomato sauce into an oven-proof dish. Arrange the aubergine rolls on top of the sauce – preferably in a single layer. If you have any pieces of mozzarella left over, dot these around the rolls, saving a few for the topping. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the aubergine rolls, and arrange any remaining pieces of mozzarella on top. Grate parmesan over the dish, and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes, until the cheese on top is browned and bubbling. Top with fresh basil leaves, and serve.

Guest post: Noel’s Curry Corner!

Noel's Curry Corner

Last week, I promised you a surprise – and here it is, a guest post from my lovely boyfriend Noel. I’ve already mentioned how much I love sharing food with my family and friends, and so it seems very natural to me to share this space with them as well. So here is what is hopefully the first of several guest posts! He’s also kindly edited this introduction to include his thoughts…

Noel loves curry – I think it’s probably his favourite  (we are in America you have spelled this wrong) food (maybe after kebabs…)(You would make a rubbish PR exec but there is nothing libelous here). We have eaten a lot of curry together in restaurants (You passed the test and moved to level 2), and now Noel has perfected his curry recipe, and is ready to share it with you – in Noel’s Curry Corner. He’s been pretty excited about this, and even has his own theme song – which involves singing ‘Curry curry corner’ to the tune of the theme tune of the Chuckle brothers’ hit-TV show ‘Chucklevision’. (Think we should have kept this one between us, please don’t take up PR) So here it is – Noel’s Curry Corner!

Toasting the spices

That was quite the introduction, thank you. I have edited it slightly in red. It is true that I have a passion for curry. Love the stuff. Some people have said that I left the UK on Doctor’s orders because of my curry intake.  I took those people to the best curry place in the world: Spice Lounge in Summertown, Oxford, and infected them with the curry bug. My spice addiction got to such an extreme that they put a new curry on the menu to satisfy my hunger based on the naga chili.

When I arrived in Boston I didn’t feel homesick for family, friends and my girlfriend (sorry guys). What I truly missed was my one true love The Spice Lounge and its fiery goodness. I set about on a quest to find decent curry. I worked my way through Yelp and was disappointed each time. Most of Boston’s curry offerings have been mediocre and surprisingly expensive.

Preparing the chicken

I spoke to my boss back in the UK and told him I wanted to return home, telling him that I couldn’t handle the lifestyle changes that I was being forced to make in the US. He talked me down and I had a brain wave. Why don’t  I make my own curry? I did some intensive research for recipes, spoke to my guru for spiritual guidance (cough* Googled “chicken vindaloo”)

After approximately 12 minutes of searching I stumbled across this recipe

Cooking a curry at home is not difficult once you have stocked up the cupboard with the required spices. My tip is don’t buy the spices at your standard supermarket/grocery store. It will cost you loads and you may as well fly back to London, jump on the X3 bus and then get a taxi to the Spice Lounge.

Instead, hunt down your nearest Indian supermarket. Luckily for me I have 3 on my doorstep. Here you can find every spice under the sun, in quantity and not very expensive. With a fully stocked cupboard you can now wage war on crappy curry. Once you have the ingredients you can cook cheaply, only needing to buy garlic, onions and the protein of your choice. I have also substituted potatoes during meat amnesty’s to make tasty meals super cheap.

Curry after it's been reduced

Before you begin you need to get yourself “in the zone”. I typically like to get all my spices ready on the plate and then chop them into patterns and possibly words, if you are feeling super adventurous. This is more difficult than you might think and took me as long as the actual cooking.

Thank you and goodnight from Noel’s Curry Corner.

Chicken Vindaloo

The Chicken Vindaloo

Serves 4 normal sized portions

Ingredients

Vindaloo Paste

  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 or 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2cm cube of peeled ginger
  • 3 tbsp distilled vinegar (normal recipe asks for white wine vinegar I don’t have this in stock)
  • 1 tsp sugar

Vindaloo Base

  • 150ml vegetable oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed or blended
  • 3 finely copped onions (original recipe says red onions but I have had great results with you common yellow onion, use whatever you have in stock)

Other Ingredients

  • 3 red chilies ( I use the dried out ones and de-seed, be careful though this is really, really hot. Dried out does not mean that they don’t pack a punch as Sarah and myself can testify)
  • 4 skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
  • 800g good quality chopped tomatoes or chopped tinned tomatoes (the original asks for 500g of tomatoes, I have found that 800g works fine and this means you get an extra portion of curry)
  • 1-2 tbsp of tomato purée to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This is where the magic happens

Step 1:  Heat the oil in a large pan or whatever is clean and large.  Add the garlic and onion and cook on a medium heat for around 7-10 mins. Don’t let them burn or brown too much.

Step 2: After leaving the garlic, onions and oil to do their thing heat all of your dry spice powders in a shallow frying plan for around 5 mins or until they begin to smoke a little.  This should release their flavours and make your house smell like curry for 3 days. (curry is the world’s strongest aphrodisiac)

Step 3: In a small dish mix the vinegar, ginger and sugar.

Step 4: Mix the spice powders with the vinegar, ginger and sugar into a thick vindaloo paste.

Step 5: Salt and pepper the onions &  garlic & then add the chicken to them. Cook for a few minutes until the chicken starts to color.

Step 6:  Add chilies, tomatoes and tomato puree and begin to stir in the vindaloo paste.

Step 7: Salt and pepper to taste.

Step 8: Bring to the boil and then simmer for 1hr +. The curry might dry out depending on how watery the tinned tomatoes were that you put in. If it is starting to look dry then add a cup of water.

I would serve this with Basmati rice and also some lime pickle (you can find both of these at your local Indian supermarket).

This curry tastes even better the next day and freezes very happily.

Winter Chicken Salad with Plums & Soy

Winter Chicken Salad with Plums & Soy

Hello, hello! I am sorry about my unscheduled absence last week – I was all ready to greet the new year with a new post, but sadly the lurgy got in the way and instead I greeted the new year with ibuprofen, my duvet, and many, many episodes of How I Met Your Mother. (Including the episode with this song in it – enough to cheer anyone up). But now I’m back on my feet, and to make up for it, I have this lovely winter salad post, and… later this week or early next, a *surprise*! I know, exciting, non?

So while I leave you in that orgy of suspense, let’s talk about… commuting.

I never, ever thought I would say this, but one of the things I really miss about my life back in the UK is my commute to and from work. It’s a strange thing to say, not least because one of the characteristics of being a Londoner, and one of the things which binds us together, is regular grumbles about the transport system. In truth, it’s a love-to-hate thing, because, let’s face it, the London transport system is really quite incredible – something I’ve come to realise all the more since moving away. This isn’t why I loved my commute, though – or not the only reason.

The reason I loved my commute is because it gave me at least 30 minutes a day of unadulterated, uninterrupted reading time. There is almost never phone signal on the tube in central London, and this gives you a wonderful sense of freedom. You can’t be anywhere else, or doing anything else, while you’re on the tube – you can’t receive calls from angry orchestra managers asking why a venue isn’t open for them to load in their instruments, or pleading emails from stage managers asking if you know anywhere in central London to park a truck full of instruments (true stories, both…). In the busiest, most stressful patches of my job, these short journeys provided me with a wonderful sense of peace. True, there are days when you don’t get a seat – for that matter, there are days when you have to wait for three trains to pass through before you can get on a train, and if your journey includes getting on at Oxford Circus (among other stations), there are days, more frequent than you might imagine, where you have to wait to even get into the station. But these are the exceptions.

People do all sorts of things on the tube – some listen to music, some do their make up, some sit quietly with their thoughts, some sit… less quietly with their thoughts. I read. Mostly, I would read my book – but once a week, I would read the treat that is Stylist magazine. Stylist is a free magazine which comes out once a week, and which is distributed, among other places, at stations in London. It’s something I looked forward to every week, and which brightened my commute. It is a wonderful mix of fashion, culture and events, aimed primarily at women – they have great columnists, they do interviews with inspiring, interesting women, and they tackle important issues facing women today. They also have a weekly food column, often featuring recipes from ‘celebrity’ chefs – many of these are cut out and stuck in my recipe scrapbook, some still waiting to be made, others which have already become firm favourites.

One of these is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken with Plums and Soy – I made this a few times before I left London, it is a wonderful recipe. It’s very simple, but so delicious – the chicken is crispy skinned and tender, with a wonderful dark, salty glaze from the soy. The plums are sweet and sour, and the whole thing is pepped up by the aromatics – garlic, ginger and chili. I have always been deeply suspicious of fruit in savoury dishes – pineapple on pizza is just wrong, as are raisins in curry – but I am willing to waive these suspicions for this dish, the plums really make it.

Chicken, garlic, ginger & chili

The first time I made this, I thought it’s something that might work well as a salad – particularly with the chicken served warm, with peppery leaves such as rocket (/arugula) and watercress. Nigel Slater has a wonderful recipe in The Kitchen Diaries for chicken salad with watercress, almonds and orange – beautiful hunks of warm chicken with juicy orange and crunchy almonds, which work so well against the peppery watercress – and I wondered if I could make something similar with this recipe. In this cold weather, I eat a lot of warming, hearty, stew-type meals, and sometimes I miss the freshness of a salad. This meal has that freshness from the leaves, but still has a comforting warmth – both literally, in the form of the chicken and plums, and figuratively, in the form of the aromatics.

Toasting the walnuts

When I went shopping to make this, I couldn’t find plums anywhere, so I settled for nectarines instead – it was ok, but nothing like as good as with plums, so the recipe below sticks with plums and I would urge you to use these, if you can. Nectarines have a slightly floral note which does not work as well with the flavours – though at a pinch, it is an option. I added some toasted chopped walnuts, for crunch, which did work really well, so they’re in the recipe!

Chicken, plums & soy

Winter Chicken Salad with Plums & Soy

Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken with Plums and Soy

Serves 2

Cook time – 1 hr

Prep time – 2omins

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1/2 tbsp sunflower (/other flavourless) oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 or 2 chilies (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 inch piece ginger
  • 4 plums, halved and stoned
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 75-100g salad leaves, such as rocket, watercress or baby spinach (or a mix)
  • handful of walnut pieces
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Put the chicken thighs in a roasting tray – season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Roast for 30 minutes, turning once or twice.

De-seed the chili(es) and slice into thin strips. Peel and slice two of the garlic cloves – reserve the third for the salad dressing. Peel the ginger – you can either grate it, or slice into match-stick pieces. Reserve around 1/2 tsp for the dressing. After 30 minutes, add the chili, garlic and ginger to the chicken in the pan, return to the oven, and roast for another 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the chicken from the oven, and add the halved plums to the tray. Try to arrange everything in one layer. Pour over 2 tbsp of the soy sauce (reserve the remainder for the dressing) – if the tray is dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. Return the tray to the oven and roast for another 10-15 minutes.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove to a plate and allow to cool slightly. You may find you need to cook the plums a little longer than 10-15 minutes – if so, drain off most of the liquid from the tray to a bowl, and return the tray to the oven for 5-10 minutes.

While the chicken is cooling, prepare the salad. Put the walnut pieces in a dry saucepan over a medium heat, and toast for 2-3 minutes – watch them carefully to make sure they do not burn. Spoon off the fat from the juices from the pan – discard the fat. Crush the remaining garlic clove, and add to the juices with the chopped ginger. Add a small amount of sesame oil – it is very strongly flavoured, so add it a little at a time and taste as you go. Add the reserved soy sauce, again, tasting as you go, and top up with a little sunflower oil. Stir together to create a dressing.

Arrange the salad leaves in a bowl. Remove the chicken from the bone, and cut to bite-sized pieces. Arrange the chicken, walnuts and plums over the leaves, and top with the dressing. Serve with crusty bread.