Pastitsio

One of those dishes everybody falls in love with at first bite.

An Italian and a Greek are arguing.
The Greek: ‘We’re the ones who invented sex’
The Italian: ‘Well, we’re the ones who figured out to do it with women’

If, from my heterosexual female point of view, the Italians were onto something there, I feel like the opposite applies to lasagne vs pastitsio. The Greek version definitely wins hands down.

This is as per Margaret Fulton’s original recipe, she seems to have lasagned the sauce in more recent renditions. I disapprove.

Pastitsio: serves 6-8.

I make the meat sauce ahead and freeze it, so I don’t need to bother with this part of the process on the day of making. I often divide the meat sauce in half and make two smaller pastitsios.

Stage one: the meat sauce

1 large onion chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
2 tablespoons butter
750g mince meat
3 tablespoons tomato paste
half a cup chicken stock
half a cup red or white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
half teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper

Gently fry onion and garlic in butter until onion is soft. Increase heat and add meat. Stir well. Cook until meat begins to brown. Add remaining meat sauce ingredients. Cover and simmer on gentle heat for 20 minutes or so.

Stage two: cream sauce (make stage two and three at same time)

60g butter
half a cup of plain flour
3 cups of milk
quarter of a teaspoon of nutmeg
1 egg lightly beaten
salt and pepper

On low heat melt butter in pan. Stir in flour, cook gently for two minutes. Add all the milk, bring to the boil stirring constantly. Flour will be lumpy at first. Boil gently for one minute. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let cool a little. Stir in the beaten egg. Add one third to half the cream sauce to the meat sauce, leaving enough to cover the casserole top.

Note: I find that this is not enough sauce and make about half as much again.

Stage three: the pasta

500g elbow macaroni, about # 34
4 tablespoons butter
half a cup of grated parmesan cheese
quarter of a teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated is so much better
3 eggs lightly beaten
salt and pepper

Cook macaroni until just al dente (it will cook more in the oven). Drain. Melt butter in the still hot pan and add macaroni, mix well. Add cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Toss well. Leave until cool. Add eggs. Leave.

Stage four: getting it all together.

Butter a large casserole dish (33 cm x 23 x 8)

Spoon half the macaroni evenly into the base. Top with the meat sauce. Cover with the rest of the macaroni, level top. Pour on the rest of the cream sauce and spread over the macaroni. Sprinkle half a cup of grated cheese on top. I tend to add the grated cheese half way through. Cook in a moderate oven for 50 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting as it holds together better then.

Comments

I used a tin which was 40cm x 28 cm x 8 on the weekend. I made a double quantity of pasta and cream sauce and used 1 kg of meat for the meat sauce. This was exactly right. It fed nine on the night (there was another dish as well) and leftovers for maybe 4 more.

Osso Bucco

Stephanie Alexander’s recipe goes something like this:

Ingredients

  • 4- 8 pieces of veal from the meaty end of the shin (there can be a large variation in size)
  • salt pepper plain flour mixed together in a plastic bag
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tblesps olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 250g tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic roughly chopped
  • veal or chicken stock, or water

To adorn when serving: Gremolata (2 cloves of garlic very finely chopped, 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley, grated zest of 2 lemons (I peel the zest carefully, no white, with a potato peeler and then cut very finely). Mix.

Method

In a large warmed frying pan:

Take the veal which you have shaken in the salt/pepper/flour and then brown in the butter/olive oil.

Lay in the pan, marrow-side up. Turn up the heat, add the wine and allow to boil intensely for a moment to burn off the alcohol. Then add the other ingredients BAR the Gremolata, of course. You want the stock to cover the meat, but only just, don’t drown it. Bring back to the boil and then turn down as low as you possibly can. All this can be done in a flame-proof casserole dish and then put in the oven at maybe 160C, but I’m happy with it on top as long as you can keep that heat down.

It’s going to cook for about one and a half hours, check it now and then. The sauce by the end will be reduced to a thick state, but if not, you can remove the meat and turn up the heat to reduce it appropriately. Scatter when serving with the Gremolata.

Frankly I wouldn’t bother with anybody who won’t eat the best part of this, the marrow. Stop cooking for them altogether. Toss as to which of you will leave home.

The traditional way to serve this is with Milanese risotto, of course (see section on rice dishes for this). But there are options. Risoni, perhaps tossed with butter, garlic and parmesan. Or even mash.

Braised red cabbage

Red cabbage doesn’t know when to die. No matter what you do to it. For this dish I cooked it for hours. Wasn’t particularly fond of the result. Froze some of it and improved it upon the recooking. But it was still only just soft.

I began with Rick Stein’s Taste of the Sea recipe, served on the side of a stuffed rabbit dish. We had the left-overs today with duck breast plainly fried in its own fat. I added chopped up soft prunes to the cabbage as it bubbled away. After I’d finished cooking the duck, I fried some pine nuts and stirred them through the cabbage. Mark II was much better than Mark I. Sorry about that, Jared. We’ll have to revisit red cabbage some time.

I would have simply dry roasted the nuts, but with the duck fat to hand, why would one resist?

 

Baharat spice mix

I realised the other day that I hadn’t made baharat for the longest time – never in Geneva and I’ve been here eight years. In Melbourne long ago I often used to put it on pork chops which were then put on a wood BBQ. The BBQ is not an option now, but pork abounds. Mix the baharat with olive oil and vinegar to make a paste. Rub all over the meat before baking in the oven until done. I cooked it fairly high, about 210C.

We had it hot on day one, but this is much better left and eaten cold, which is how we had it last night on a platter with stuffed eggs, falafels, cheese and so on. It is a good alternative to chicken in these summer rolls.

Like all these spice mixes, it is not written in stone. Like all good Australians, I’ve always used Tess Mallos’ version:

In a spice grinder:

70g black peppercorns
25g coriander seeds
10g cassia bark
20g cloves
35g cumin seeds
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
4 whole nutmegs, smashed with a mallet
50g paprika

I make half this at a time, though if you use it a lot it is definitely worth doing the full quantity.

Vindaloo one

One of the first Indian dishes I ever cooked was a Madhur Jaffrey vindaloo in her Indian Cookery. Some years later I discovered, in her Flavours of India, an entirely different approach to the same dish. Both are divine.

Flavours of India is a book that visits the kitchens of ‘ordinary’ household cooks in India. This vindaloo is attributed to Jude Sequeira.

Note: preparations for this dish start 48 hours before it’s to be eaten.

Ingredients

  • 1kg boneless pork cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1.5 teasp salt
  • 6 tblsps red wine vinegar
  • 4-10 dried hot red chillies
  • 1 tblsp bright red paprika
  • 1/2 teasp cumin seeds
  • 3″ cinnamon stick broken up into smaller pieces
  • 10-15 cloves
  • 1/2 teasp black peppercorns
  • 5-6 cardamom pods
  • 10-12 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1″ piece of ginger peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teasp tumeric
  • 3 tblsp vegetable oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 3 medium sized onions (250g) peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 fresh hot green chillies sliced lengthways in half
  • 1 teasp sugar

Method

The day before cooking, sprinkle the pork with 1 teasp of the salt. Add 3 tblsp vinegar, rub in well and set aside for 2-3 hours.

Make the spice paste: combine the whole spices and grind in a spice grinder. Add the ground spices. Put the garlic and ginger in a blender with 2 tblsp of the vinegar. Blend, add the dry spices and blend to mix.

Rub half of the paste into the pork, cover and refrigerate the pork overnight. Also cover and refrigerate the remaining paste.

Next day.

  • Heat the oil in a wide, preferably non-stick pan over medium-high heat.
  • When hot, put in the 3-4 garlic cloves. Stir and fry until they begin to pick up a little colour.
  • Put in the onions and continue to fry until browned.
  • Now add the tomatoes and 3 of the green chillies. Stir for a minute.
  • Add the remaining spice paste, the sugar and the remaining 1 tblsp vinegar. Stir and fry until the paste begins to brown a little.
  • Now add the marinated meat and all the spice paste clinging to it. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until the pork begins to exude its own liquid.
  • Add 300 ml/1 1/4 cups water and the remaining salt and bring to a boil.
  • Cover, turn heat to low and simmer gently until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened somewhat, about 40 minutes.
  • If necessary, raise the heat to reduce the sauce to a medium consistency towards the end. Add the remaining 3 green chillies and stir once.

Serve with rice. I cook this the day before eating, as it is so much better left to sit.

Comments: I use pork neck for this, it’s a wonderful cut for long cooking times. I suspect that I’ve most recently bought red wine vinegar that isn’t acidic enough for this dish – I’m inclined to favour rough as guts for vindaloo. We shall see. I will be using fresh red chillies, not green, as that’s what’s in the fridge. I will use tinned tomatoes. I imagine a standard tin would equal two large tomatoes. I ignore the 40 minute cooking suggestion, you’ll know when it’s done to your taste.

This is for Saturday night. Counting down, 46 hours to go.

 

Pistachio and prune pilaf

or…what my friend missed. Yesterday, having invited a friend around for lunch, I served up mince and lumpy mash. A sort of deconstructed shepherd’s pie? Not really. It was Indian, not the savoury mince Australians make. I wanted a different taste from the kheemas I usually make, so I cooked the (beef) mince with garlic, ginger, onion, Julie Sahni’s master curry powder, which I make often, chopped tomatoes, and at the end before serving, asparagus (instead of peas), chopped coriander and lemon juice. How bad could that turn out?

It was okay, but I wonder what I could have done to make it more than that? I mean, apart from serving it with a yoghurt and cucumber raita on the side, plus kasundi made by an Adelaide friend, and starring on the day, lumpy mash. I suck at mash.

Today we revisited the mysterious Indian mince dish but it was given a step up by the rice we had with it. Not that the rice was perfect, it definitely needs a little more than it got today. Nonetheless, for a start:

Ingredients

  • 450 ml basmati, washed and soaked for 30 minutes, then drained
  • 600 ml water
  • half a teaspoon tumeric
  • salt
  • several onions halved and finely sliced
  • half a cup of pistachios – salted because that’s what I had, shelled and chopped
  • half a dozen prunes pitted and chopped
  • grapeseed oil – I’d run out of ghee, which would have been better

Method

  • Put the basmati in a pot with the water, tumeric and salt to taste. I was easy on the salt on account of the pistachios being salted, but I should have been less cautious. Bring to boil, stirring a few times, cover and reduce to a simmer.
  • While the rice is cooking, in a non-stick pan fry the onions to a rich brown colour. By the time that’s happened, the rice will be dry on top. Quickly put the onions onto the top of the rice and let sit, covered, whilst
  • fry the prunes and pistachios in whatever bit of oil is left in the frying pan and then add them to the top of the rice.
  • When you are sure that the rice is cooked through, gently fold the onions, prunes and pistachios through the rice, let it sit for a bit longer before serving.

My next attempt at this will be better. Obviously, more in the tradition of a pilaf, stock would be better than salt. I’d run out of ghee, with its rich taste. Grapeseed oil shares the capacity for being used at high heat, but is neutral in taste. While the rice was cooking I should have added more whole spices, along the lines of Jaffrey’s yellow rice. Whole cumin seeds at the end, sizzled in oil/ghee would also have been a good addition too.

I wonder too if adding finely chopped onion to the rice from the start, as well as the fried sliced onion might be a plan. Garlic? For the first time in my life as a person who cooks, I’ve run out of garlic. Unbelievable.

The kheema you should start with….

Kheema

I guess there are just about a gadzillion versions of kheema. This is the version of the basic staple recipe that I prefer of the various ones I’ve tried. Leave out the peas, add spinach instead, or smoky pureed eggplant (see another chapter for making this), or….

Ingredients

  • 450g minced lamb (or beef)
  • 4 tblesp ghee/oil
  • 200g onions sliced coarsely
  • 4 large cloves garlic chopped finely
  • 2” piece ginger chopped finely
  • 1 teasp ground cumin
  • 2 teasp ground coriander
  • half teasp tumeric
  • 1 teasp chilli powder
  • tin of tomatoes plus juice, chopped
  • peas
  • fresh coriander, chopped

Method

Over medium high heat, heat the ghee and then fry onions, stirring constantly until a deep brown. Turn heat very low, add ginger and garlic, fry for a minute or so before adding all the ground spices, stir for another minute or so, DON’T BURN THE SPICES!!!

Turn heat back up, add the meat and stir to brown, being vigilant to break it all up, no big lumps please.

Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil, cover and then turn down to a vigorous simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, check now and then to make sure it isn’t drying out too quickly. At the end, it should be dry, with the oil seeping out. Add the peas a few minutes before serving and lastly, the fresh coriander. You may, for the last few minutes of cooking, turn the heat up high and stirfry to make sure it is a nice brown colour. In my opinion, if you’ve started out the right way, you won’t have to do that.

Serve with rice.

See another post for turning this into samosas.

(I’ve used Sameen Rushdie’s recipe for this post)

Kofta meatballs

So where were we? Singing the praises of mince. Mmm. Amazing what you can do with it in so many different cuisines, not least Indian. This recipe is always a huge hit. I serve it with the sauce and rice as a main dish. The sauce is utterly divine, it would be a shame to waste it, though you can, if you prefer, make it disappear.

Delicious cocktail koftas
By: Madhur Jaffrey
Serves: Makes 30 meatballs and serves 6 for snacks, 4 for dinner for the meatballs

Ingredients
• 450g minced lamb
• 0.5 tsp salt
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• 1 tsp ground coriander
• 1/4 tsp garam masala
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• 2 tbsp fresh, green coriander, very finely chopped
• 3 tbsp natural yogurt
For the sauce
• 5 cloves garlic, peeled
• 2.5 cm cube ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
• 4 tbsp water, plus 300ml
• 1 tsp ground cumin
• 1 tsp ground coriander
• 1 tsp bright red paprika
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• 5 tbsp vegetable oil
• 2.5 cm cinnamon sticks
• 6 cardamom pods
• 6 cloves
• 100g onions, peeled and finely chopped
• 100g tomatoes, peeled and chopped (a small can of tomatoes may be substituted)
• 4 tbsp natural yogurt
• a little salt

Method

1. To make the meatballs: Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs. Dip your hands in water whenever you need to and form about 30 meatballs.

2. For the sauce, put the garlic and ginger into the container of a food processor or blender along with 4 tablespoons water. Blend until you have a paste. Put the paste in a bowl. Add the cumin, coriander, paprika and cayenne. Stir to mix.

3. To make the sauce: Put the oil in a heavy, 23-25cm wide pan or frying-pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the cinnamon, cardamom pods and cloves. Stir them for 3-4 seconds. Now put in the onions and fry them, stirring all the time, until they are reddish-brown in colour. Turn the heat to medium and put in the paste from the bowl as well as the chopped tomatoes. Stir and fry this mixture until it turns a brownish colour. When it begins to catch, add 1 tablespoon of the yogurt. Stir and fry some more until the yogurt is incorporated into the sauce. Now add another tablespoon of yogurt. Incorporate that into the sauce as well. Keep doing this until you have put in all the yogurt. Now put in 300ml water and the salt. Stir and bring to a simmer.

4. Put in all the meatballs in a single layer. Cover, leaving the lid very slightly ajar, turn heat to low and cook for 25 minutes. Stir very gently every 5 minutes or so, making sure not to break the meatballs. Towards the end of the cooking period, you should scrape the bottom of the pan just to make sure the sauce is not catching. If necessary, add a tablespoon or so of water. Remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium-low. Stir gently and cook until the meatballs have a browned look. All the sauce should now be clinging to the meatballs and there should be just a little fat left at the bottom of the pan.

5. When you are ready to eat, heat the koftas gently. Lift them out of the fat and shake off any whole spices that may be clinging to them. Stick a toothpick into each kofta if serving with drinks.

6. If you have these koftas for dinner, you could leave more of a sauce.

Kheema Palak: one variation

Kheema-Palak

more or less as Rosemary Moon does it in Classic Indian Cuisine

Ingredients

4 tbsp ghee
half a teasp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 fresh chilli finely chopped
1” piece of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped, or grated or crushed
6 cloves garlic, ditto
500g minced lamb or beef, best quality
1 large onion finely sliced
2 cinnamon sticks, c. 2” each, broken up
half a teasp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
half teasp freshly ground black pepper
340g fresh spinach leaves chopped, or 225g packed frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 teasp salt
200g canned tomatoes, chopped or several ripe fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 teasp garam masala

Method

Heat half the ghee in a wide, shallow frying pan over a medium heat and fry the mustard seeds until they start popping. Add the cumin seeds, green chilli, ginger and half the garlic. Stir and fry maybe half a minute. Add the mince and cook until all the liquid evaporates, maybe 10 minutes. Set aside.

Heat the rest of the ghee in another frying pan (or empty the first one) over medium heat and stir in the rest of the garlic. Add the onions and cinnamon sticks and fry until the onions are lightly browned, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and add the turmeric, cumin and black pepper. Stir and fry for a minute and then mix in the spinach thoroughly. Then add the mince and again thoroughly mix. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Increase the heat a little, add salt and tomatoes, cook for a few minutes and then add the garam masala and keep cooking another few minutes. Remove and serve.

From Classic Indian Cuisine Rosemary Moon