Monday, 18 June 2012

Goat's cheese, Montalbano and the Russia House

If I mention that I follow a goat on Twitter, would you think I have gone baaarmy? Well, I do, and Ethel the goat is a lovely tweep.

Hi, kids!

I was recently asked to take part in the Capricorn culinary challenge. Yippee, a challenge that involves creative cooking! Just my idea of fun.

Here is what Ethel herself has to say:
"How it works:
- I send them a hamper jam-packed full of all my fave foods from Somerset and beyond
- They use the ingredients provided as inspiration – adding other tasty extras if they fancy! – to devise a lip-smacking recipe and post it on their blog
- I’ll try each recipe (what a life!) and select 6 finalists over the coming months – these will appear on my website:
- To finish off the challenge, I’ll choose my overall favourite recipe and the winning chef will receive a trip to Babington House in Somerset (it’s so plush – beats my pen any day!) and a year’s supply of Capricorn Goats Cheese".

I knew that Ethel and Co were going to send me a selection of products including the Capricorn goat's cheese to work with, what I didn't expect was the size of the hamper. It was literally bursting with goodies. My head was buzzing with ideas, where do I start?

Salad Primavera

The first thing I tried was a refreshing salad with beets, goat's cheese, rocket, pumpkin seeds and the strawberry dressing.
 If you fancy trying the same salad, you will need a handful of rocket (roughly, per person), about 3 baby beets (I used the beets from the hamper, they were the variety that comes in vacuum packs, already in a vinegar dressing. I think it would benefit this salad to use non-vinegary beetroot, either buy precooked or bake your own in the oven, wrapped in foil), half a Capricorn cheese, 4 strawberries whizzed to the sauce consistency) and a good sprinkling of the toasted pumpkin seeds. I chopped the beets and mixed them with the strawberry sauce. Drizzle a bit of the olive oil on top, once your salad is assembled. It is a lovely salad, full of flavours and textures (you get creamy cheese and crunchy seeds). As for the name, it is totally random, I just like the word Primavera (i.e. spring in Italian).

Next dish: a plain quick pizza for lunch. You can make your own version with the olives and tomato bruschetta sauce. And if you fancy: add a few slivers of proscuitto or grilled artichokes too.

Savoury croissants

As a busy Mum, I do love my shortcuts whenever possible. One morning I fancied savoury croissants for breakfast. The Jus-Rol croissant pastry tin was waiting patiently for its turn. Having divided the pastry into triangles, I added a spoon of the red onion marmalade on top, a piece of goat's cheese, rolled the pastry and tucked the ends in, so that the cheese doesn't escape. I have blogged about this recipe in more detail here.

But all of the recipes above were not exactly challenging, so I was thinking what could I make that would be different?

Arancini with goat's cheese

Then Commissario Salvo Montalbano came to mind and his love of the arancini, i.e. traditional Sicilian stuffed rice balls. Apparently there is even a cafe in Sicily which serves Gli Arancini di Montalbano.
On the day before making them, I cooked some plain risotto. Take about 250g of dry risotto and cook, following the instructions on your pack. You can also use a saffron risotto rice. Once cooked, let it cool. The risotto has to be completely cold before you start working with it.
You will need 1 Capricorn cheese, a red onion (a half, finely chopped), some fresh herbs like sage and basil, or dried like oregano, breadcrumbs (about 4 heaped tbsps), 1 egg and about 3 tbsp of grated parmesan cheese (grate your own please, do not use the dust that is sold as grated parmesan)..
Mix the risotto rice with the egg and the grated parmesan.
I made a meat-free version though traditional arancini would have a ragu (minced meat in tomato sauce) inside and be cooked with the mozzarella cheese. Rather than adding tomato sauce inside, I roasted tomatoes separately and served them as a side-dish with the arancini. Fry the chopped red onion in the olive oil until translucent, once cooled, dip a chunk of cheese in the onions and chopped herbs, coat it well, then using your hands grab a handful of risotto rice and roll the rice around the cheese with onions.
Once you are happy with the shape of the arancini, coat them in the breadcrumbs and place on a big tray to bake at 180C for about 20 minutes. You could also deep-fry them for the more authentic flavour and do it in batches, if you add them all at once into the hot oil, the temperature will lower and the arancini will get greasy.
That's how they looked before being baked.

And that's the end result. For the roast tomatoes: wash them and put in a ceramic dish with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tbsp vodka, 1 tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1tbsp honey or maple syrup. Believe me, they are heavenly. Love them hot, love them cold the next day, added to a cheese sandwich. You'll want to lick your fingers too.

Having paid homage to my favourite Commissario, I was still not satisfied completely with my creative input.

Hasten to add that I kept buying more Capricorn cheese for my experiments. It is such a lovely cheese.

Pirozhki with goat's cheese and sorrel
After several attempts of being creative with the goat's cheese, I decided to go back to my Russian roots and find inspiration there. What could be more Russian than tiny pirozhki? Fab hot with the generous dollop of the soured cream or served with a cup of hot boullion (preferably clear chicken broth).

For this dish I used the readymade shortcrust pastry (but if you are feeling virtuous, please make your own, a mid-term break was not a good time for me to spend more time than necessary in the kitchen).

For the filling I used 2 bags of Uncle Ben's rice, 4 soft-boiled eggs, 2 packs of fresh sorrel (30g) and goat's cheese. I made enough for two batches, so if you're using just one roll of Jus-Rol pastry, half the amount. Cook the rice and eggs (you could also use hard-boiled eggs if you prefer), let them cool completely before chopping the eggs into the rice. Add wilted sorrel (pan-fry it in the olive oil for a minute) and crumbled goat's cheese.

Roll out the pastry, cut out small circles using a standard glass. Add a bit of the filling in a pastry circle, close it and pinch the edges. Continue until all the pastry is done. Place on the big tray with the pre-oiled parchment paper and brush each small pie with a bit of milk. Bake at 180C for about 15-20 minutes. Serve hot. You can reheat them the next day in the oven. They keep for a few days in the fridge wrapped in foil.

And as we are on the topic of Capricorn, I kept singing to myself "Sous le soleil exactement", just because the first few lines refer to the Capricorn. Do you remember how it goes or are you too young to know it?
Un point précis sous le tropique
Du Capricorne ou du Cancer
Depuis j’ai oublié lequel
Sous le soleil exactement
Pas à côté pas n’importe où
Sous le soleil sous le soleil
Exactement juste en dessous...


  1. Wow you did a great job with your hamper!

  2. Wow, some fabulous ideas there :)

  3. FABULOUS ideas! I have made THREE recipes so far and have TWO more up my sleeve! LOVELY entries Galina! XXX Karen

  4. Really enjoyed reading about all your wonderful dishes for the Capricorn Challenge. You have come up with so many great ideas. I have hopes of doing my entries this week but am struggling to find time, hopefully tomorrow. Good luck and happy eating. I really love the look of your Russian mini pasties/empanadas!