Chicken Parmigiana

I’m not sure how “Italian” this is, but it is a dish we’ve made and enjoyed for over thirty years. I think it started life from a “Food Aid” cookbook. If you like Aubergine then thick slices can be used in place of the chicken breasts to make a veggie alternative.
We use dried herbs in this. The dried oregano is not that unusual but we also use dried basil in place of fresh. It does create a different flavour and I think it’s the familiar comfort of that flavour that I like. Use fresh if you like.
The quantity below is generous for 4 people.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes (with nothing added, ie. no herbs, spices, salt)
  • 2 courgettes (zucchini) sliced
  • 75-150g mozzarella (mozzarella in brine, not the hard plastic stuff), sliced
  • 50-75g parmesan grated from a block (not the horrible pre-grated stuff)
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • Salt to taste (I find 1 teaspoon per tin of tomatoes a good guide for anything)
  • Ground pepper to taste
To coat chicken breasts:
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 75g wholemeal flour
  • 50-75g finely grated parmesan

Method

  1. Put the onions in some oil and soften them gently till they are translucent and soft. This can take about 20 minutes.
  2. Mix the flour and parmesan in a plate, and whisk the egg in a bowl
  3. Coat the chicken breasts by dipping in the egg and then in the mix of flour and parmesan. Leave to the side while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This lets the coating bind better to the chicken.
  4. Add the garlic once the onions are soft. (Garlic cooks much quicker than the onions and easily burns to the bottom of the frying pan if put in too early.)
  5. Now add the tinned tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt, pepper. Keep the heat low allowing everything to simmer and the herbs to flavour the sauce.
  6. Add the courgette to the sauce and warm up. You don’t really need to cook these as the whole dish goes into the oven.
  7. Heat a separate frying pan with olive oil, I often add a knob of butter too. Brown the chicken breasts (or aubergine slices) until golden, but not cooked through.
  8. Take a baking dish and put the chicken breasts on the bottom. Lay slices of mozzarella on top of the breasts. Finally, pour over the tomato sauce mixture to cover the chicken.
  9. Cover with foil or a lid and put in a medium oven (180°C) for about 20-25 minutes. After this take the lid or foil off, sprinkle over the remaining parmesan and cook in the oven for a further 20-25 minutes.
I like to serve the Chicken Parmigiana with some plain boiled rice but it works with pretty much anything.

Lamb Shawarma

Lamb Shawarma is a spicy barbequed lamb. It is best eaten cut into slices or small pieces with pitta bread, salads and yoghurt.  Make this with a butterflied leg of lamb. It’s fantastic.
This dish is good because you can prep the lamb in advance and have it marinading for a couple of hours. The lamb cooks on the BBQ with little supervision (as long as you have the temperature right) and delicious smells tempt your guests. While the lamb rests you can roll out your pitta bread dough and cook the fresh pitta breads on the BBQ after the lamb. By the time you sit the salads on the table, it’s time to serve the lamb. It’s a great sharing meal.
After marinating I cook it opened out on the barbecue. It only takes about 20 minutes to cook at a medium heat, depending on your bbq size. I use a temperature probe to ensure it is cooked to my taste, which is caramelised tasty outside with a pink inside on the thicker sections. You must rest it after cooking for about 20 minutes somewhere lukewarm to get the best result.
It’s hard to go wrong with this if you serve it with Lebanese style salads, yoghurt, tahini and some homemade pitta bread.

Ingredients

Dry

  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves
  • ½ tsp cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 star anise
  • ½ a cinnamon stick
  • ½ a nutmeg, grated
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp sumac
  • ¾ tbsp Maldon sea salt

Wet

  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 40g chopped coriander, stems and leaves
  • 60ml lemon juice
  • 120ml groundnut oil
  • 1 leg of lamb butterflied with the bone removed

Method

  1. Grind and mix the dry ingredients together.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients together and add to the dry.
  3. Rub over the lamb and leave to marinade for up to 24 hours.
  4. Cook the leg on a hot BBQ at a medium heat for 20-30 minutes.
Once the lamb shawarma is cooked sit it somewhere warm to rest before slicing up thin enough to put in pittas.
Stuff chunks of the lamb shawarma into pitta bread with yoghurt and salads.

Milk Braised Ragu With Peas and Beans

One of those dishes that doesn’t sound so appealing, but, it is simple and delicious, and completely unexpected. A great ragu for any “tomato haters”. Or just if you fancy something new and different.
I use a good sized deep saute pan or frying pan to make this ragu.
Serves 3-4

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 50-70g of diced pancetta
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1-2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 400-500g minced beef/pork/veal (any one will do, and the beef, surprisingly, really does work well)
  • 2-3 tsp fennel seeds lightly crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 rosemary sprigs, needles removed and chopped
  • 200ml white wine
  • 1 small lemon, zest pared with a vegetable peeler, and juice. If it’s a larger lemon just use half. It depends how lemony you like it.
  • 200ml whole milk
  • 200g peas (frozen are great)
  • 200g small broad beans (frozen, or fresh if you are lucky enough to have them)
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 400-500g rigatoni or similar pasta shape, shells would work

Method

  1. Heat some olive oil in the pan and add the pancetta till it begins to gently brown and renders its fat.
  2. Add the onion and cook it gently till it goes soft
  3. Add the garlic for a couple of minutes to cook it off
  4. Now add the minced meat and cook it a slightly higher heat until the meat is beginning to colour
  5. At the same time add the fennel seeds, rosemary, and bay leaves
  6. Once the meat is really cooking, a couple of minutes, add the wine and let it simmer down to about half
  7. Add the lemon zest and juice, and the milk, don’t worry about it curdling, it will be fine once cooked
  8. Add a little salt and pepper
  9. Simmer gently with a lid for about 30 minutes to gently cook the dish
  10. You can either blanch the peas and beans in a pot of boiling water or just cook them in the ragu, whatever you prefer.
  11. Boil a pot of water and cook your rigatoni
  12. Stir in the grated parmesan to the ragu and let it melt and incorporate
Serve the rigatoni in bowls with the ragu spooned over. Some extra parmesan on the side is useful. A nice olive oil for drizzling might be to some people’s taste. A sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley wouldn’t go amiss….

Lemon Tart

A simple delicious lemon tart. A classic recipe that’s pretty easy to make. You could buy pastry but you will benefit from making your own sweet shortcrust pastry. And, you can feel a bit sanctimonious when your guests ask….
The pastry uses egg rather than water. This means the pastry shrinks less when baked blind.
You will need a tart dish, with a removable base, and about 22-24cm in diameter.

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar to sweeten the pastry
  • 100g chilled butter in cubes
  • 1 beaten egg

Lemon Tart Filling

  • 3 eggs
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon, which you can later juice below
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 150 ml double cream
  • 3 medium lemons, juice only
  • 1 medium orange, juice only, For juicy larger oranges just add half the orange juice.

Pastry Method

  1. Add the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl
  2. Cube the butter into 1cm cubes and add to the flour
  3. Either use a food processor or a Kitchenaid, or your fingers, to rub the butter into the flour till it is like sand.
  4. Gradually add the beaten egg till the pastry just begins to come together, you don’t want to make it too wet.
  5. Work it briefly with your hands into a ball, wrap it in cling film, squash it flat, and then refrigerate to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to about 170C fan.
  7. Remove from the fridge and roll to a thin sheet between two pieces of cling film. When it is big enough to cover the tart dish use the cling film to guide the pastry into the dish.
  8. Ease the pastry into the corners by lifting the edges and feeding down into the dish, Don’t stretch the base as it will tear or later shrink. Trim around the top of the tart dish. Keep the trimmings in the fridge in case you need to patch holes later.
  9. Put some baking paper in the dish and fill with baking beans or rice to keep the base flat.
  10. Bake for about 15 minutes before removing the baking paper and beans. Leave it cooking for another 5 minutes to cook the base properly. Watch it’s not getting too dark, and turn down or remove if it is.
  11. While the case is cooking make the filling.

Filling Method

  1. Adjust your oven to 150C fan
  2. Add the eggs, sugar and lemon zest to a bowl. Whisk them for a minute till well mixed.
  3. Add the cream and juice and stir to mix
  4. If the mix is frothy you can skim off the bubbles to make it look cleaner.
  5. Place the cooked case in the oven (still in its dish), pulling the tray forward so you can fill it.
  6. Pour the filling into the case taking care not to spill over.
  7. Bake until the filling just has a gentle wobble, which should take about 20-30 minutes. Check it from 20 minutes. It continues “cooking” when you take it out, so a soft wobble will firm up.
  8. Take it out to cool.
You can dust lemon tart with icing sugar when cooled. I think it’s best served at room temperature. Serve with whatever you fancy like vanilla ice cream, lightly whipped cream, or some creme fraiche.