Chicken & spinach lasagna: a recipe in four acts

Chicken & spinach lasagna

There's something deeply satisfying about making a lasagna. Totally unprepared it can be an afternoon's work, but it's relaxing, stress-free work. There's no bread dough to not rise and no large cut of meat to be perfectly cooked long before the vegetables are finished, rather you can work happily in your kitchen on each part of the lasagna and bring it all together when you're ready. Best of all, fifty minutes later your industrious self is rewarded with the similarly satisfying experience of eating lasagna, to enjoy while wondering why you don't bother making it more often.

You simply can't beat the traditional bolognese & béchamel lasagna, but my chicken & spinach lasagna is formidable competition. The recipe itself is made up of a number of smaller steps. The pasta, the sauce, the ricotta, and the chicken can all be prepared ahead so take your time. Now if you would kindly take your seats, the recipe will begin shortly.

Turn your oven up to 11: Garlic naan

Garlic naan

Continuing the Indian food theme, last night I made dal makhani and garlic naan. First things first: dal makhani. You might have heard of murgh makhani, better known as butter chicken. Dal makhani shares flavour elements with murgh makhani — particularly in the liberal use of butter and cream — but it is a distinct dish and by no means a 'vegetarian' butter chicken. This creamy, aromatic stew of pulses could take your butter chicken any day of the week. I used a recipe from A Life (Time) of Cooking, and in my opinion the recipe is flawless.

But I digress. This post is about naan, the second most delicious of Indian yeast breads (well-made Battura tops the list). This was the first time I've made naan — I could never be bothered making a yeast bread from scratch, measuring and mixing and kneading and rising and rolling and rising, just to serve as a side dish. I'm here to tell you that it's not a hassle. And if it were a hassle, it would be well worth it. Indian curries will often require you to wait for lentils to soften or meat to tenderise, and that's the perfect time to make naan. You could even make the dough in this recipe and freeze it for quick, fresh naan later on.

This recipe was adapted from Stef's at the Cupcake Project. I've made some minor modifications: these are flavoured with garlic, it's a half recipe with measurements by weight, and mine are cooked in an oven. Naan are traditionally cooked against the scorching walls of a tandoor oven, an appliance most Western homes don't have. However, by turning my oven to its hottest setting and preheating it with a cast iron pan inside, I managed to create a furnace that was off the scale of my oven thermometer and cooked these babies in less than 3 minutes. Next time I plan to turn the grill (broiler) on at the same time to boost the heat even further.

Oh yeah, the recipe...

Paneer parathas

Paneer parathas

I remember the first time I made parathas. It was a few years ago when I was starting to become interested in cooking. An indian friend heard about this, and suggested I make aloo parathas.

"They're so easy, just make a simple dough from flour and water, wrap it around some spiced mashed potato, roll it flat with a rolling pin, and cook it on both sides like a pancake."

In her defense, that is pretty much what you do. Although her instructions assumed a fair degree of prior cooking knowledge, she was so confident that I couldn't let her down by admitting confusion. The resulting parathas were a spectacular failure, suitable for little other than homemade grout in DIY bathroom renovations.

Fast-forward four years. I can now successfully boil water, toast bread, microwave beans, and if I may say so myself, cook a pretty decent paratha. This recipe would be nothing without Manjula of Manjula's Kitchen. While my paratha dough recipe is slightly different, I learnt the technique from her videos and my parathas feature Manjula's (extremely easy) paneer as a starring ingredient. I've used paneer (an indian cheese) here, but you can fill parathas with anything including potato, spinach, lentils, or minced meat.

Paneer Parathas

Ingredients (makes 4 parathas):

  • 70 g (1/2 cup) wholemeal flour
  • 70 g (1/2 cup) plain flour + 35 g (1/4 cup) for dusting
  • 2 g (1/2 tsp) of salt
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 15 g (1 tbsp) of ghee
  • 120 g paneer, crumbled
  • 1 tsp of grated ginger
  • 1/4 tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp of natural yoghurt
  • 1 handful of coriander (aka cilantro) leaves
  • Salt to taste

1. Combine the flours, water, and salt in a bowl. Once mixed, turn out onto a bench dusted with flour and knead for 5-10 minutes. Then, work the ghee into the dough. Set aside and rest for 10 minutes to 1 hour.
2. While the dough is resting, make the filling: mix together the paneer, ginger, turmeric, cumin, yoghurt, coriander, and salt.
3. Divide the rested dough into 4 pieces. Dust your bench with flour, and roll each piece of dough out to a ~10 cm circle. Put 1/4 cup of the paneer mixture in the middle, and bring the edges of the dough up around the filling, like sealing a dumpling. The technique is best illustrated in this video. Rest each dumpling for 10 minutes.
4. Once rested, dust with flour and roll out to ~0.5 cm thickness (again, see the video). In a heavy pan preheated to medium-hot, cook the parathas until browned on both sides (no oil required). Brush with ghee and serve.

Workday lunches: Foccacia

Foccacia

It's hard to find a good workday lunch that doesn't cost me $7 and taste like crap (yes that was directed at you, every hospital cafeteria ever). I've taken to experimenting with my own, with a few requirements:

  1. It should be quick to prepare the night before, or able to be made in bulk
  2. It should be relatively inexpensive — I would love to eat a chicken, avocado, and sundried tomato sandwich every day, but for now I have to be sensible
  3. The ingredients or bulk item should keep well for 5 days
  4. It should travel well — no fondue
  5. It has to taste good — I might be cheap and lazy when it comes to lunches, but I'm not about to eat canned ravioli

This focaccia recipe is based on Jamie Oliver's recipe from Jamie's Kitchen. I've added olive oil to the dough to improve its shelf life, and decreased the sugar and salt in his recipe — not for health reasons, just because the recipe needs it. These will take any topping you like, just be mindful that if you put things like cheese on too early they'll burn before the bread is cooked. My topping was simply canned tomatoes pureed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme, then toped with grated mozarella and basil leaves.

The basic focaccia recipe is after the jump. To help you I've made a video of me making the dough:

Chickpea & olive bruschetta

Olive & chickpea bruschetta

It's hard to beat dried chickpeas on economy or taste (there's a nice series of posts about chickpeas at A Life (Time) of Cooking), but the canned variety are great for quick, tasty, nutritious meals that don't need to be planned 24 hours ahead. Like most bruschetta, this is recipe is really simple. You'll need olive tapenade, which can be bought freshly made at continental delis or made easily at home (recipe here soon [Addendum: Recipe here now]).

Chickpea & olive bruschetta

Ingredients:

  • 2 thick slices of fresh Italian bread
  • 1 clove of garlic, halved
  • 2/3 cup cooked, drained chickpeas (canned okay)
  • 1/4 cup olive tapenade
  • Extra virgin olive oil (about 2 tbsp)

1. Heat the oven grill (aka broiler). Brush your bread on both sides with olive oil and grill close to the heat until toasted on the outside but still soft in the middle. Turn over and toast the other side. When toasted, rub one side with a cut garlic half then discard the garlic.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a hot pan, then add the chickpeas and sauté until the begin to brown.
3. Remove from the heat, and toss with the olive tapenade. Pile the dressed chickpeas onto the toast and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Serve warm.

How to make potato gnocchi

Gnocchi bolognese

Last week I posted about a failure, sweet potato gnocchi. It was ill-conceived from the beginning — sweet potatoes are different to regular potatoes in all but name, and I was a fool to think they could be made into tender dumplings using the same method as for potatoes. A gosh darn fool.

For regular potatoes however, this method works perfectly. Gnocchi is one of those things that is best done by feel rather than strictly adhering to a recipe but there are some things to keep in mind.