Saturday, 13 December 2014

Irresistible Profiteroles!

Recently I embarked onto a culinary tour de force in my kitchen: profiteroles. This relative of éclairs and beignets is one of our favourite desserts. Albeit, it can be difficult to find good ones here in Goa where we live. Profiteroles have to be fresh to deliver. They cannot sit around because they turn soggy very quickly.
 
The beginnings of this wonderful sweet reach far back. Legend has it that the chef of Catherine de Medici named Panterelli invented the choux pastry in 1540 because he wanted a dough that could be made while travelling. Over time, this dough developed into the choux pastry and was used to make fluffy cakes stuffed with sweet and savoury fillings. The father of the Classical French cuisine, Marie Antoine Carême, immortalized the choux pastry by describing it in his cookbook Pâtissier Royal.
 
I love profiteroles and éclairs. I can resist most sweets but profiteroles dissolve my will power. I write this after having spent an entire day making profiteroles for this newsletter. In the end, I rewarded myself with eating two of the most beautiful ones. The crispy exterior topped with dark chocolate revealing a soft crème makes me forget calories.
 
Making good profiteroles and crème pâtissière involves quite a bit of technique and a lot can go wrong. Today, I had to make two batches until I was happy with the result. The most difficult challenge is to gauge how many eggs you have to incorporate in the choux pastry. Not enough or too much will prevent the dough from rising.
 
Another thing you cannot learn from recipes is the baking time. You have to bake them a lot longer than recipes recommend. They need to turn golden brown all around. My profiteroles need at least one hour in the oven. If you take them out too early they tend to deflate.
 
I have tasted many soggy profiteroles over the years and they do nothing for me. You need the delightful contrast of crunch, sweet softness and almost bitter chocolate. Please follow me on this journey to the perfect profiteroles.

Wishing you happy cooking, always!

Kornelia Santoro

Irresistible Profiteroles

Profiteroles
Ingredients (for 24 big profiteroles):

For the choux pastry:

  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ½ cups (300 ml) water
  • 125 grams butter
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 or 4 eggs


For the crème pâtissière:

  • 500 ml milk
  • 30 grams butter
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup corn flour
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 vanilla pod


For the topping:

  • 100 grams dark chocolate
  • 50 ml espresso coffee or Nescafe


Method:

You start with the choux pastry. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. The choux pastry has to go into a hot oven or it will not rise properly.

melted butter and water
Place the water, the butter, the sugar and the salt into a pot and bring to a boil. The butter has to melt and the sugar has to dissolve. Stir this mixture to make sure everything has melted. Then add the flour in one go and stir quickly to incorporate the flour.
dough ball in pot
Turn the heat to medium and keep stirring until the dough forms into a ball and starts to coat the bottom of the pot. Keep stirring over medium heat for two or three more minutes. This step is vital for the rising of the dough.
dough and eggs
At this point I transfer the dough into a plastic mixing bowl because I incorporate the eggs with my hand mixer and I don’t like to do this in a metal pot because of the resulting noise.
glossy dough
Now adpiping bagd the eggs one by one into the mixture. Incorporate them completely before you add another one. The dough has to develop a glossy shine without turning too liquid. It needs to remain quite firm. If the dough is too pliable, it won’t rise.
dough in piping bag





Put the dough into a piping bag by placing the piping bag into a high vessel that supports it. Pipe balls onto a buttered cookie sheet or a silicone patch and smooth out the surface with a knife that you dip into water.


piped puggs
Put the profiteroles into the preheated oven and refrain from opening the oven for at least half an hour. Put the cookie sheet in the middle in a gas oven so the dough does not get burnt from the bottom. After half an hour check and turn the profiteroles upside down if you use a gas oven. The profiteroles need to be golden brown all over. If they are not cooked long enough, they deflate. I have baked profiteroles for one and a half hour for optimum results. After 40 minutes of 200 degrees I lowered the heat to 160 and kept going.
scraping vanilla
While the choux pastry bakes in the oven, start the cream. Place the milk and butter into a pot. Slice open the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add them to the milk. Also add the vanilla pod and half of the sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and let infuse for at least 15 minutes.
vanilla milk
Place the egg yolks into a mixing bowl. Beat them with a hand mixer until they are fluffy. Gradually add the remaining sugar. Don’t add the sugar all at once. Egg yolks contain the enzyme amylase that reacts with sugar and coagulates. You want to avoid this curdling to make a smooth cream.
egg yolk cream
When the vanilla milk has infused long enough, bring it to a gentle boil. Add one third of the milk to the egg cream while stirring it. Bring the rest of the vanilla milk to a rolling boil. Add the egg mix while stirring. At this point the milk should set almost immediately. Keep stirring until the mixture burps, then take it from the fire, place it into a bowl or a pan and cover it with cling film. Let it cool down. To make a smooth crème pâtissière, the eggs should spend as little time as possible over direct fire.

creme patissiereI take a mixture of flour and corn flour because flour makes the crème pâtissière more stable. Corn flour sets well, but if you try to loosen up the cream by stirring it, it tends to dissolve. When you use a mix you can keep the crème in the fridge overnight, stir it the next day and use it. Sometimes I make many profiteroles, only stuff some and keep some for the next day. You absolutely have to eat stuffed profiteroles immediately because they turn soggy after some hours.
filled profiteroles
When the cream and the puffs have cooled down enough, fill the cream into a piping bag with a thin nozzle. Push the nozzle into the puff and squeeze the cream into it. I like stuffing them a lot so the profiteroles explode in your mouth.
Cut the chocolate into pieces, place it with the coffee into a double boiler and melt it. You can easily make a double boiler by placing a small pot into a bigger one with some water in it. When you melt chocolate, it should never be exposed to a direct heat source. You can also melt chocolate in the microwave, but I don’t recommend that.
Cover the profiteroles with the chocolate. I dip them upside down into the chocolate and let it drip off. Place them onto a plate until the chocolate has set. Enjoy!
 

Monday, 17 November 2014

Broccoli, a super food!

Broccoli, the big cleaner

Experts consider broccoli one of the most beneficial vegetables. It contains generous amounts of vitamins and minerals. Its outstanding quality is its combination of vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and carotenoids that helps to eradicate toxins. Our body gets rid of toxins during a two-step process. Broccoli supports both of these steps through three different glucosinolates. It is the only vegetable, which offers these im­portant phytonutrients in this combination and concentration.
broccoli plant
The support of broccoli’s nutrients for oxygen metabolism makes this vegetable equally helpful in lowering the risk of chronic inflammation and cancer. Broccoli also has an unusually strong combination of both vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and vitamin K. For people with a lack of vitamin D broccoli is a food they should eat as often as possible. It is also a particularly rich source of a flavonoid called kaempferol that fights cancer cells.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Broccoli Asian Style

Both my men need some persuading to eat their cruciferous vegetables. Especially my husband wrinkles his nose in disgust when he detects a hint of sulphuric odour. Occasionally I insist that they eat their way through some kind of cabbage.
My son is happy with steamed broccoli, doused in soya sauce, but my husband needs a bit more convincing. The Asian flavours of this stir-fried dish mask the scent of the cabbage family sufficiently enough for him. This recipe combines green broccoli with vibrant red bell pepper tossed together with ginger, spring onions, garlic, sesame oil and soya sauce.

I don’t mind just stir-frying the broccoli for around two minutes or so. That leaves the little florets crunchy in the middle. If you have a nagging husband like me, you might want to steam the broccoli two minutes before stir-frying. That makes it a lot softer without damaging the vitamins too much.

Wishing you happy cooking, always!

Stir-fried broccoli, Asian style

Ingredients:
(for 4 servings)
  • 2 cups broccoli (one big or two smaller heads)
  • 1 big red bell pepper
  • 6 spring onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • ½ tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
Method:
Clean and wash the spring onions. Chop them as you like. Peel the garlic cloves and mince them. Wash the bell pepper and the broccoli. Cut the bell pepper into cubes or slices and divide the broccoli into small florets. If you want to steam your broccoli to soften it, do this now. Clean the ginger root and mince it. About one inch (2.5 cm) of ginger will give you one tablespoon.
oven ready for stir-frying
Place all your ingredients into easy reach before you start stir-frying. Heat the olive oil in a wok. Add the onions, the ginger and the garlic and stir them until the onions have softened and turned a bit translucent.
spring onions in wok
Add the bell pepper, the soy sauce and the sesame oil and combine well. Finally add the broccoli and fry for another two minutes or so.
veggies in wok
If you want some zing in this dish, add some chopped fresh chillies in the beginning. Add salt and pepper before serving according to your taste.
Tip:
The healthy components of garlic and onions need oxygen to become heat and acid resistant. Experts recommend cleaning, chopping or crushing garlic and onions about 15 minutes before use. By doing this, you get the maximum benefits of the anti-cancer agents in garlic and onions.


Friday, 31 October 2014

Facts about Basa fish from Vietnam

Is it safe to eat Basa fish?

basa fish
While surfing the net, sometimes I get really scared. Because I had read some negative comments about Basa fish, I wanted to learn more about the subject. Of course I found a horrible story with the title: Cause of Death: Consumption of Basa fish (http://talk.onevietnam.org/cause-of-death-consumption-of-basa-fish/). The author Kimberly Truong posted it in 2010 vaguely describing mercury poisoning by basa fish – without any reference to actual happenings. The headline screams for attention but the story is devoid of facts. It seems to be written to put the fear of god into mothers who want to feed their children affordable seafood.
 
Fact is that basa fish, Pangasius hypophthalmus and Pangasius bocourti, also known as Panga, Freshwater fillets, Vietnamese River Cobbler, Gray Sole and Pacific Dory, is one of the cheapest fishes available worldwide. Only small fishes like mackerels or anchovies cost less. Basa fish feed on plants and grow very fast.
 
For many years now, basa fish is one of the success stories of modern Vietnam. It started in 1960 under the supervision of the government. Aquaculture, producing mostly tiger prawns and basa fish, is now the third largest industry in Vietnam. This fresh water fish is farmed in the Mekong river system and in some places in Thailand.
 
As you can see from the graphic provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, basa production has increased a lot in recent years. The main reason is the overfishing of the oceans. If we all want to eat fish, basa is offering a solution.
statistic of basa fish aquaculture development
Basa fish is high in protein, low in fat and provides some omega 3 fatty acids, the precious substances that keep our hearts healthy and our brains working well.
 
The question remains however: How healthy is this kind of fish? According to the website of the Australian seafood importers, the Mekong http://www.seafoodimporters.com.au/news.item.php?pid=62 is one of the cleanest of the world’s large rivers – not one of the most polluted like the opponents of basa fish claim. To make female fishes spawn in captivity, they need a hormone injection.
 
In 2006, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service tested 100 samples of imported basa fish for chemical residues. Some showed residue of one or more chemicals. From all the sources I have read I find the following one the most informative: ‘Basa, from myth to reality, the story of a scapegoat fish’ by Margot Grosman. http://www.heliozoa.com/wfwsum/margauxgrosman/ass4/template_6/basa%20fish%20-%20investigation.pdf
 
I think everybody has to form his or her opinion when it comes to basa fish. Fact is our oceans are overfished. Fact is also our oceans are polluted. You can get a serious dose of heavy metals from wild fish as well. Maybe there are less hormones and antibiotics in wild fish, but who knows?
 
As long as you don’t get the fish you eat tested by a laboratory, you don’t know how much it is contaminated. Just remember that Fukushima in Japan is still leaking radioactive water into the ocean, the third year now.
 
So far, I have great experiences with basa fish. I prefer to make ceviche with this fish because it is hygienically packed – what I cannot say about the fish here in the market. I have eaten it many times and never felt sick afterwards.
 
If you want to know more about fish and the state of our oceans, I can recommend the website of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/issues/wildseafood.aspx

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Ceviche, a version with shortcuts


My version of ceviche has two small, yet significant shortcuts. Ceviche is a traditional dish from the coastal regions of South and Central America. Basically it describes the preparation of seafood cured with lemon or limejuice. The acid in the juice changes the protein in the fish so it seems cooked – but no heat is applied.
 
I have great experiences with ceviche. At parties it usually disappears in no time at all. Unfortunately, when you want to prepare a serious amount of ceviche you need loads of lemon or limejuice. I don’t like to use the commercial lemon juice sold in bottles because it contains ascorbic acid as preservative, which adds a distinctive, unpleasant flavour.
 
Because I don’t want to spend hours squeezing lime, I have worked out the following shortcut: I cure the fish overnight in synthetic vinegar, then rinse the cured fish and douse it in a lemon vinaigrette.
 
My second shortcut is the choice of fish. Instead of buying fresh fish, I use frozen fish filets. Here in Goa we can buy Basa fish filets imported from Vietnam. There is a big discussion going on if Basa is healthy or not. So far, I have had only good experiences.
 
I only buy frozen fish filets in packets that look well closed. I also pay attention that the fish is not covered in big ice crystals. That is a sign that the fish has been defrosted and refrozen. Some supermarkets sell Basa fish filets defrosted, but I avoid these. I don’t know how long the fish has been lying there. If you buy defrosted fish filets, you have to use them immediately.
 
My ceviche is a great dish for parties because you can prepare big amounts with relative ease. However, you cannot keep this dish longer than one or two days in the fridge.  
Wishing you happy cooking, always!

Kornelia Santoro with family

 Ingredients (for 4 big servings):
  • 1 kilogram frozen Basa fish filets
  • 1 litre synthetic vinegar
  • 12 lime, maybe less, maybe more
  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 or 4 fresh, big red chillies
  • 1-bundle spring onions
  • salt
  • pepper

Method:

Take out the frozen fish filets and let them defrost for one or two hours. They should not be completely defrosted because they are a lot easier to cut into equal slices when they are still slightly frozen.


Cut them into slices around one centimetre thick. Place the slices into a container and pour the vinegar over it. The fish should be completely covered by the vinegar so it cures evenly. I prefer synthetic vinegar because it does not imbue any flavour to the fish. I have tried to use toddy or other vinegar, but it leaves a flavour behind that I don’t like so much.
Close the container and leave it overnight in the fridge. Some people claim that you can overcook fish by marinating it and advise not to cure it for longer than 30 minutes or so. I think this is highly exaggerated. Anyway, Basa is a sturdy fish that withstands a night in vinegar easily without turning hard.


The following day, drain the fish and rinse it thoroughly with drinking water. Drain it again and place it into a sufficiently big container or plate. You have to work cleanly when preparing ceviche because you don’t cook the fish.

Wash the spring onions, clean them and slice them finely. Spread them over the fish. Wash the chillies and chop them finely. I put them into a jam or Nutella glass with a tight closing lid. This is the fastest way to make proper vinaigrette. Squeeze your lime or lemons. You need about 60 to 70 ml of juice.



This depends a lot on your taste. I like my ceviche quite tart. I want to taste the lemon or lime. You might need to adjust the amount of juice you use according to your taste. Start with a bit less, you can always add more. Place the lemon or limejuice to the chopped chillies in the glass. Add about half a teaspoon of salt, close the lid and shake the glass until the salt has dissolved. Adjoin the olive oil and some pepper and shake again until you have a fine emulsion.

Pour the vinaigrette over the fish and mix everything well. Adjust the seasoning according to your taste.

If you feel adventurous, you can take the taste of ceviche in different directions. I like the taste and the look of chillies with spring onion. But you could also make a kind of Mediterranean ceviche with oregano, thyme and garlic. Or you could add the Indian favourite herb coriander and maybe some garam masala with ginger and/or cumin powder. Enjoy!

Friday, 17 October 2014

The origins of lasagna


Diplomats dispute origins




Lasagna stands out as the Italian comfort food number one all over the world, for a really long time. Some people claim ‘Lasagna’ comes from the Greek word ‘lasagnum’ meaning dish or bowl. The Romans adopted this vessel and developed a dish carrying this name that spread all over the Roman Empire, also to the British Isles.

It may seem ridiculous, but in 2007 English and Italian diplomats disputed the origin of Lasagna. An article published in The Daily Telegraph sparked this exchange. The obviously British author stated that Lasagna is an English invention because a cookbook for King Richard II published a similar recipe in 1390 AD.

The Italian embassy in London strictly denied this. Italian historians produced records from 1316 AD, mentioning a Lasagna producer called Maria Borgogno.

Whatever the origins, Lasagna today is not only Garfield’s favourite dish but cherished all over the world. The article cited before mentioned also that Lasagna replaced Chicken Tikka Massala as the UK’s preferred comfort food.

Honestly, I believe the honour of inventing Lasagna belongs to the Italians. Some people say Marco Polo brought the idea of pasta from China, but I don’t believe this. For me, there is no doubt that dry pasta, as we know it, originated in Sicily around 1200 AD. The origin of the word pasta dates back to ancient Greece. Considering that the Greeks colonized Sicily like many other nations because of its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean, I cannot imagine that Chinese input was needed. 

The Arabs introduced the population of Sicily to the technique of drying pasta. They improved and developed this technique because Sicily’s fertile volcanic soil produces the best durum wheat known for pasta in abundance. In the 1600’s a press was invented to shape pasta. Manufacturing plants were founded all over Italy - people liked their pasta to look perfect. Over time, Italians took their pasta everywhere in search for a better life. In 1848, Antoine Zerega established the first pasta factory in Brooklyn, New York. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Vegetarian Lasagna


I would like to introduce my vegetarian take of the iconic comfort food Lasagna. Although this dish has developed countless versions all over the world, I remain a traditionalist. For me, Lasagna centres on the wonderful combination of aromatic tomato sauce with velvety béchamel sauce and Italian pasta, topped with a crust of melted cheese.

Accordingly, my vegetarian version features tomato sauce layered with mushrooms and a sinful amount of béchamel sauce. My guys prefer the traditional way of making Lasagna with a ragout sauce. However, recently I hosted a dinner for vegetarians with Lasagna as the main dish and I thought it would be nice to introduce my recipe here.

To make a proper béchamel, you need a rather large amount of butter. I believe Lasagne is not a dish where you can skip the calories. I would not advise substituting the béchamel with anything else. Au contraire, I suggest to splash a bit more cheese in between the layers. Lasagna needs to ooze buttery deliciousness. If you want to loose weight, don’t eat Lasagna.

I would like to warn you about one thing though. Don’t fill your baking dish to the brim. Remember, that the pasta sheets inflate quite a bit. If you don’t leave enough space, the Lasagna goes overboard and spills into your oven.

Because Lasagna takes quite a bit of effort, I always fill my biggest baking dish, which holds eight servings. If you want, you can prepare the Lasagna one day in advance. Bake it until almost done, keep it in your fridge and then warm it up for your guests. This makes Lasagna an ideal recipe for stress free dinner parties.


Wishing you happy cooking, always!


Kornelia Santoro with family
 

Vegetarian Lasagna



Ingredients (for 8 servings):


  • 400 grams mushrooms (2 packets here in Goa)
  • 250 grams Lasagna sheets (best Italian)
  • 500 grams Mozzarella (or any other cheese that melts well)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • butter to grease the baking dish
  • baking dish 34 cm (13 inches) long, 19 cm (7.5 inches) wide and 6 cm (2.25 inches) deep


For the tomato sauce:

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium onions
  • 4 big cloves garlic
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 medium beetroot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 2 packets tomato puree (200 ml each) or 1 big tin of Italian tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano



For the béchamel sauce:

  • 1 litre milk
  • 100 grams butter
  • ½ cup flour

Method:


I always start with making the tomato sauce. If you want to take a shortcut, you could substitute the homemade tomato sauce with a ready made one. However, making Lasagna is a lot of work anyway so you might as well make everything from scratch. For sure it is healthier this way.

Clean the onions, garlic, carrots, beetroot and the celery and chop everything into small pieces. I use my blender for this job. Place the vegetables into a pressure cooker, add the oil, the tomato puree or the tinned tomatoes and half a glass of water, close the lid and boil for half an hour after the first whistle. You can also use a normal pot and boil the tomato sauce until all the vegetables are really soft.

Season the sauce with salt and pepper and stir in the oregano. Dried oregano should never cook for a long time, that’s why it is better to add it after boiling the vegetables. If you want, you can take the taste of the tomato sauce into different directions with adding different herbs. You could for example use thyme or basil. Remember never to chop basil finely because the aromatic oils will evaporate.

While the tomato sauce is cooking, you can clean the mushrooms. I always peel them and give them a quick rinse with water. Never leave mushrooms in a bowl of water because they will soak up the liquid and not taste well. Grate the cheese and keep it aside.
  Now it is time for the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a pot over low heat. You don’t want to burn the butter. Stir in the flower and mix very well. There should be no lumps. 

Add a dash of milk to it. At this moment is it essential to keep stirring continuously. When the mild hits the butter-flour-mixture, it seizes up and turns it into a rather thick affair. Keep stirring until you have a homogenous mix before adding more milk. 

Always add only a cup or so and stir until the sauce has absorbed the liquid well. Keep adding until you have incorporated the full litre of milk. Now you need a bit of patience until the sauce boils. Keep stirring occasionally. When the sauce finally bubbles, switch it off and season with salt. Some people like nutmeg in their béchamel; I prefer it without. 
 
Now it is time to assemble your Lasagna. Slice the mushrooms and butter the baking dish generously. Keep everything in easy reach and use some big spoons or ladles.

Start with a layer of pasta sheets. Spread béchamel over it. Then follow with tomato sauce, sliced mushrooms and some grated mozzarella. Layer the ingredients into your baking dish. There might be some sauce left over (or maybe not). It is difficult to make exactly the amount needed. Remember not to fill the baking dish until the brim.

 
Finish with béchamel, a bit of tomato sauce and a lot of grated mozzarella. Bake the Lasagna in the oven at 190 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes. The cheese should form a golden brown, crunchy crust. If you have a gas oven like me, you might want to give it a few minutes under the grill to crisp up the cheese crust. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Cheese, a prime source for calcium


Take your daily dose of calcium!


Calcium is one of the most important minerals for our bodies. They are needed for many different functions, but I guess the most important is the health of our bones and teeth. Teenagers especially need a lot of calcium to grow healthy bones. Also elderly people need quite a bit of calcium to avoid osteoporosis (check the list below).

Cheese contains on average around 1000 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams. If you consume 150 grams of cheese every day, you meet your daily requirements. Of course, cheese and other dairy products are not the only sources for calcium but they are the most easily available. Small fishes like anchovies and sardines deliver around 400 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams. Calcium rich foods for vegetarians are broccoli, spinach, sesame seeds and other nuts.
Our bodies absorb calcium easily when they are young. However, you need vitamin D to be able to really use the calcium in your diet. Don’t be afraid of the sun. Around 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight helps your bodies to perform well. Recently, scientists discovered other benefits of high calcium intake. It may prevent weight gain because it helps the body to burn fat. It also shows beneficial effects with PMS, cancer prevention, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium:

Children (ages 1-3): 500 milligrams per day
Children (ages 4-8): 800 milligrams per day
Youth (ages 9-18): 1300 milligrams per day
Adults (ages 19-50): 1000 milligrams per day
Adults (ages 51 or older): 1200 milligrams per day

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Mini-Mushroom-Cheese-Pies

 

Dear all,

The best compliment for a cook is a hearty appetite. It is frustrating to put a lot of effort into preparing a lovely dish when you hear from your guests: ‘Only a tiny slice, please!’ I believe dinner parties are not the right place or time to think of losing weight and dieting. During a recent lunch party at our home, my guests ate almost everything. That made me happy. The Mini Mushroom Cheese Pies from this month’s newsletter vanished almost immediately.

Actually, I had prepared these pies by chance. I had made a spannakopitta, a Greek spinach pie, and I had some pastry left over. As I hate waste, I just threw the Mini Mushroom Cheese Pies together without a recipe. They turned out so well, that I decided to make them the subject of this newsletter. To be sure of the measurements and for the pictures, I made them again yesterday. Amazingly, my son and one of his friends (both teenagers) ate more than half of the two-dozen pies I had made.

These pies deliver a serious amount of calcium, always a good thing. The secret of the taste lies in the combination of three different cheeses; one of them is smoked cheese. Nowadays, you can find smoked Edam or Gouda cheese made in India in many supermarkets. I mixed this cheese with ‘mozzarella’ and goat cheese also of Indian provenance.

These Mini Pies are a great starter for a dinner party or a simple snack. You can prepare them in advance and just heat them in the oven before serving.
 
Wishing you happy cooking, always!
 
Kornelia Santoro with family
 
 

Mini Cheese Mushroom Pies


Ingredients (for 24 small pies):
 
  • 3 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 tablespoons cold water
  • 300 grams cheese, preferably three different kinds, one of them smoked cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup cream
  • 200 grams white button mushrooms
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • butter or ghee for the pie moulds
  • salt
  • pepper
Method:

I am not an expert on short crust pastry but this savoury version works well for me. It is important not to over mix the ingredients. You don’t want to activate the gluten in the flour, which makes pastry hard. Pour the flour into a bowl; add the olive oil, the water and half a teaspoon salt. Mix everything with a spoon first and then bring the dough together with kneading it by hand – only until you have dough that sticks together. You might need to add some more water. Never mind if it is not completely smooth. Cover it with cling film and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This helps the pastry shells from shrinking in your pie moulds.

The next step is preparing the filling. While watching Heston Blumenthal on TV, I learned that it is better to grate cheese finely when you want it to melt smoothly. Actually, that is a great tip. Sometimes, little things like this decide if a dish turns out just nice or great. Anyway, grate the cheese on the fine side of a cheese grater. I cannot do this with my Philips Blender because the holes of the grating disc are too big. Place the grated cheese into a bowl.

Peel the mushrooms, give them a quick rinse and chop them into fine cubes. If your mushrooms are clean, you might not have to peel them. I prefer to peel them. Just don’t bath them in water: Mushrooms are like sponges; they soak up the liquid and taste horrible. Add the mushrooms to the grated cheese. Crack the eggs into the bowl. Clean the garlic, crush it and add it to the bowl. If you don’t like garlic just omit it. Add the cream, a pinch of salt (be careful if you have used salty cheese) and freshly grated pepper according to taste. Mix everything well together. You should have quite a solid mix. You don’t want it to be runny. This would turn the pastry shells soggy because we don’t blind bake them.

Now it is time to prepare the moulds. I use trays with small muffin moulds for this recipe. You can use any moulds or ramekins that you have in your kitchen. It is important to grease them properly with butter or ghee so the pies come out easily after baking.

Take the dough from the fridge and roll it out on a flat surface dusted with flour. If the dough cracks, try spreading cling film over it before rolling. That works most of the times. Take a glass that is big enough to cover the bottom and the sides of your moulds. Cut out circles with the glass and tease the dough gently into the moulds.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees. Fill the mushroom cheese mix into the pastry shells and bake them in the oven for around 35 minutes, until they are golden brown on the top. I give them a few minutes under the grill in my gas oven to make sure they are properly cooked from the top. Remember that baking times vary according to your oven. The pies are done when they look cooked and there is a tiny gap between the pastry shells and the mould. Enjoy!