Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Spring Time Cheesy Bake (Courgette, Wild Garlic, Comté and Pecorino)

I made this dish a couple of weeks ago when we were lucky enough to have some fantastic sunny spells and unusually hot weather, which now seems like yonks! Whatever happened to that beautiful weather? It has been nothing but freezing wind and hail ever since we crossed the Spring threshold. 

This dish is incredible simple to make and hardly take any time at all. Kind of the sort of cooking that is made for when the weather is good and the last thing you want to do is to be coop up in the kitchen over a hot stove. 

The idea came about because of my recent obsessions over Comté cheese. I simply cannot walk past the French Cheese stall in Borough market without succumbing to the allure of these nutty cheese. Hence there's always a considerable amount of Comté lying around in my kitchen. 

I was after something easy, nothing that will take up took much of my time. Soon, rummaging around the kitchen revealed a couple of firm and healthy looking courgettes, some smokey pancetta and a block of Pecorino.

As an amid fan of wild garlic, I also have bundle of these lurking around. Eggs - surely everyone will have fresh eggs in their kitchen - were gathered. 

All these ingredients made up the core of this dish.

As far as prepping goes, gathering the ingredients were the tedious bit, the rest is a doddle. 

Everything is more or less grated, sliced, chopped and then thrown into a large mixing bowl. The combined mixture is then transferred into an ovenproof pie dish and bake until cooked. 

Serve warm, it oozes rivers of golden melting cheese. 

See. Simple as that. 

Perfect for an easy supper to enjoy in the sun with some chilled wine.

Now let's just hope the good weather return soon. 

Ingredients (Serves 4)

6 medium free range eggs
2 large courgette, grated
a handful of wild garlic, chopped
1 medium red onion, sliced
100g smoked pancetta, chopped
200g self raising flour
200g Comté, grated (alternatively use Cheddar or Gruyere)
200g Pecorino, grated (alternatively use Parmesan)
2 tsp good quality curry powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli flakes or cayenne pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
butter, for greasing


Preheat the oven to 170ºC.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl.

Throw in the courgette, wild garlic, red onion, pancetta, flour, comté, pecorino and mix to combine. Add the curry powder, turmeric, chilli and olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Give the mixture another stir to mix throughly.  

Pour the mixture into a ovenproof pie dish lightly greased with butter and bake uncover for 40-45 minutes, until cooked.

Leave to cool slightly before serving with either some steamed vegetables or a light salad. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Xin Jiang Big Plate Chicken (Da Pan Ji) 新疆大盘鸡

You don't often find Xinjiang cuisine readily available in most Chinese restaurant. This underrated province in far west China has always been in the shadow of the more popular Szechuan and the ubiquitous Cantonese. Quite frankly, they have some of the tastiest dishes that are right up there  in terms of flavours on par with those popular Chinese takeaway favourites.

So, a brief breakdown on Xinjiang for you.

Xinjiang 新疆 means “New Frontier,” and the name couldn’t be more apt. This remote land is well off the beaten path and most visitors who make it out to Xinjiang do so on an itinerary following the Silk Road. It is a place of tremendous natural beauty and has a fascinating cultural heritage very different from what you’d find anywhere else in China. Majority of the population are not Han Chinese but mostly Uyghur, Kazakh, Mongol, Tajik or Kyrgyz.

As for the cuisine, muslim influence is quite apparent. Cumin, cardamon and other spices which are not common to other regions in China is prominent here.

Big Plate Chicken or Da Pan Ji 大盘鸡 is without a doubt the most popular dish to come from this region. This spicy, crimson-red chicken and potato stew is commonly served in a ginormous plate and hence the name. It is rich and full flavours and is often shared amongst many diners as to finish one plate on your own can prove a rather challenging task.

Traditionally, the chicken are eaten first before adding the mandatory flat wide hand-pulled noodles to the hot gravy. The flavoursome gravy will cling onto the noodles while you slurp away, devouring every drop of this tasty sauce. Immensely satisfying and oh so good.

For my version, I make do without the noodles but you can of course buy readily available noodles and cooked according to the instructions on the packaging and serve alongside. On this occasion, I had mine with a potful of steamed rice…..yes, enough rice to soak up all the wonderful sauce.

Try to use a whole chicken and chopped this into bite size pieces if you can or at least make sure the meat in on the bones. Believe me, the flavour will be so much better. I used beer to give the dish a more robust depth, water will do just fine.

Make sure you dish out onto the biggest plate you have, the bigger the better (you need this to do justice to the dish's name). It's not called Big plate chicken for nothing. Anyway, you will definitely need a large vessel in order to contain the finished dish. For styling purposes, my plate is a tad small so do not replicate.


1 medium chicken, about 1 kg, cut into bite-size pieces (or substitute with thighs and drumsticks)
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 tbsp sunflower oil
3 think slices of ginger
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 spring onion, cut into 2cm length, reserve the green part for garnish
10-12 dried red chillies
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 tsp cumin
1 black cardamon
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp hot broad bean paste
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
330ml beer (I used Budweiser), optional, substitute with water if not using
300ml water 
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp sugar


Heat the wok over a medium high heat. Add the sunflower oil and when smoking, add the ginger, garlic, spring onion, chillies, Szechuan peppercorns, cumin and black cardamon and stir fry for a 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Add the chicken and stir fry for 1-2 minutes to lightly seared the chicken and coat with all the aromatics.

Add the hot broad bean paste, stir the chicken to mix with the paste before adding the rice wine and beer, followed by the potatoes, cinnamon stick and star anise. Add the water, dark soy sauce and sugar, bring to the boil and allows to simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are cooked. Top up with some water if it's too dry. You want lots and lots of the delicious gravy.

Transfer to a large plate and serve with either flat wide noodles or steamed rice. The choice is yours.


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