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EASTER: CASSATA ICE CREAM WITH AN ALMOND CAKE

Cassata is one of the most glorious cakes – a pastel pink and green marzipan exterior envelopes layers of liquer- soaked sponge, ricotta studded with finely chopped chocolate. Topped with dried and candied fruits, this beautiful dessert hails from Sicily, and more specifically Palermo, where it originally was eaten during the Easter period, but now is available all year round. Here I've made an ice cream inspired by the flavours of Cassata and served it with a buttery almond cake, damp and fragrant. A few fresh figs don't hurt either. 

Cassata ice cream

Makes around 1 litre

4 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

1tsp ground cinnamon

400ml pure cream

200ml milk

1 cinnamon quill, broken in half

150g fresh ricotta

Large tablespoon each of candied cedro, candied orange and dried raisins

1/4 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated

1/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Place the egg yolks, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk for a few minutes, until pale and thick. Set aside. 

Place the cream and milk in a large saucepan, along with the cinnamon quills. Heat over a medium heat, stirring to avoid the mixture catching on the bottom, until just before the mixture breaks into a simmer.  Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain and discard the cinnamon quill. 

Slowly pour the milk mixture over the egg mixture, whisking to combine. It is really important that you don’t add the hot milk all at once, otherwise you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Return the mixture to a clean saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring continuously, for about 4–6 minutes until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cool the mixture completely, either by pouring in into a bowl set over some ice, or placing it in the fridge. Transfer to an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Half way through the churning time, add in the ricotta, candied and dried fruits, chocolate and pistachios. Continue to churn then freeze for 2–3 hours before serving.  

Almond cake

Serves 6-8

4 egg whites

Sea salt

170g unsalted butter, softened

140g caster sugar

200g ground almonds

1tsp almond extract, or to taste

Zest of a lemon or orange

Icing sugar, to dust

8 figs, to serve. 

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter and line a 20cm round tin.

For the cake, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to firm peaks and set aside briefly. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the almond meal, essence and zest until smooth and combined. Now add in a large spoonful of the egg whites into the mixture and stir to loosen the batter. Add in another large spoonful, this time gently folding the egg whites into the batter, being careful not to beat the air out of it. Continue with the remaining egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth out the surface. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until the cake feels set and is golden. It will puff up during the cooking but then come down again towards the end, telling you that it is nearly or is ready. Allow to cool in the tin then remove. Dust with icing sugar and serve wedges of it alongside a scoop of the cassata ice cream and ripe fig.  

 


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EASTER: ROAST CARROT AND FREGOLA SALAD

Fregola or Fregula is a Sardinian pasta which has a lovely nuttiness and texture. It is said that the pasta was brought to Sardinia by Ligurian immigrants who lived in Tunisia and thus shares similarities to the cous cous of North Africa. Whilst more traditioanlly cooked almost risotto style with clams, here I've turned it into a wonderful Autumnal salad. If you cant find fregola, you could use cous cous or even a grain such as barley, freekah or wheat. 

500g carrots, preferably small heirloom varieties

2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

2tbsp marsala

2tbsp olive oil, plus extra for dressing

Sea salt

200g fregola

large handful each of tarragon and parsley, finely chopped

50g walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

Zest of an orange

Sherry vinegar

Preheat oven to 180C. 

Scrub and trim the carrots. Halve any larger ones then arrange them all in a large roasting tray. Nestle the shallots around the carrots. Drizzle over the marsala and olive oil and season with sea salt. Toss with your hands to coat everything then roast in the preheated oven for around one hour or until the carrots are tender. Set aside to cool briefly.  

Meanwhile cook the fregola in a pot of generously salted boiling water until al dente, around 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Transfer fregola to a large bowl and stir in the herbs, walnuts and orange zest. Add the roasted carrots, shallots and any liquid from the roasting pan. Toss to combine and drizzle with olive oil, a good lug to coat everything. Check for seasoning and drizzle in some sherry vinegar to balance the salad, around 1-2 tablespoons. Toss to combine then tumble the salad onto a serving plate 


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EASTER: ROAST DUCK WITH JUNIPER, BAY AND APPLES

Autumn has well and truly arrived. I am loving the cooler days and the abundance of produce at the markets – chestnuts, apples, grapes, figs. There is something old worldly about Autumn. However when I usually think of Easter, it is more the food in season in the Northern Hemisphere which springs to mind, pardon the pun. Here and now I am wanting to serve more hearty food, things that are warming and comforting. I never really thought about it until this year – have I always been thinking of Spring when it has been Easter? Maybe, but not this year. 

I've made this wonderful roast duck rubbed in a heady mix of juniper and sea salt. Once I crush the Juniper berries, I almost immediately want a gin and tonic in my hand. Juniper's distinct pine needle aroma is the flavour of gin. (Recently we've been drinking this one from Kangaroo Island and it is so amazing). 

But, back to the duck, it is roasted for a rather long time, probably longer than you may like, but I think the flavour of the duck comes through so much more this way. It is not pink, but more falling away from the bone and all the fat has rendered, leaving you with wonderfully crispy skin. Try and find fresh bay leaves, their flavour is incomparable with the dried stuff. The house across the road has a big tree which hangs over the fence – I just pinch a few when needed. In fact there are often lots around, so have a wander and see. The apples go all sticky and roasted and become infused with scent of bay. If you can't find duck or prefer not to cook with it, a rack of pork would be a wonderful substitute here.

Before the duck, I would serve small portions of my tomato and porcini pasta from a few weeks ago, but perhaps with some beautiful fresh tagliatelle. 

 

Serves 4

1.kg duck

10 dried juniper berries

1tbsp sea salt flakes

3 apples, quartered

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled

200ml dry white wine

6 fresh bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 200C. 

Ensure the duck is completely dry by patting it with paper towel or allowing it to sit in the fridge, uncovered, for 1 hour. 

Sit the duck in a deep roasting tray and set aside. Pound the juniper berries in a mortar and pestle then add in the salt. Continue to pound until the salt and juniper is all combined then rub the juniper salt all over the duck. 

Arrange the apples and garlic cloves around the base of the tray, then pour in the wine. Nestle in the bay leaves, ensuring they are covered with some of the liquid or else they will scorch in the oven. 

Cook for 1 hour at 200C then reduce the temperature to 170C and continue to cook for 45-50 minutes or until tender and the skin is crispy. 


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