Sunday, 10 February 2019

Musaca de Cartofi

"Potato moussaka"

Moussaka is a fairly common dish over the Balkans with many different variations and using a variety of 'on-hand' ingredients. The dish is thought to have originated in the Middle East and spread throughout the region during the period of Ottoman rule. It's name suggests a dish that was continuously 'fed liquid' to keep it moist as it baked, although most common versions are more solid. Many Balkan versions spurn the eggplants so popularised by the well-known Greek version, and quite commonly have a top layer of cream solidified with egg. This version mixes the cream with the middle meat layer but its slow cooking results in a tasty and perhaps lighter-feelings dish with less stodge.

Time: 2 hours
Servings: 4 big slices or maybe 6 smaller ones.
Ingredients:

750g of potatoes, peeled and sliced
500g of minced meat (could be lamb, beef or pork or a mixture)
1 carrot, peeled and grated
2 onions, finely chopped
An egg
1/2 cup of 'smantana de gatit' (unsweetened cooking cream)
1/2 cup of white wine
1 cup of tomato bullion
1 level tablespoon of caster sugar
2 juicy ripe tomatoes
Salt, pepper and thyme
1/2 cup of soup stock (or half a beef stock cube dissolved in 1/2 cup of boiling water)
Oil for frying, butter for greasing dish, and some breadcrumbs or flour for dusting.

Method:

1. Pour a few millimetres of olive oil (traditionally you can use 'untura' (pig lard)) into a frying pan and brown off the potato rounds in batches on each side, removing them to a plate as the turn colour.
2. Gently fry the onion for a few minutes in the remaining oil and, once it has turned translucent and taken on a little colour, add the minced meat and the grated carrot and cook on a low-ish heat until the meat has changed colour.
3. Add the bullion, watered down a little if it seems too thick, and simmer the meat gently for about half an hour, being careful not to let it burn or stick (add a splash of water if and when needed), until a rich meat sauce, not too runny, remains. Allow to cool when done.
4. Meanwhile, grease a tray with butter or lard and sprinkle the sides and bottom with breadcrumbs ('pesmet') or flour.
5. Into the cooled meat sauce, mix in the egg and the cream and add salt, pepper and thyme to taste.
6. Place a layer of the potato slices in the bottom of the tray, then spread the meat sauce of top, followed by another layer of the remaining potato slices on top of the meat.
7. Thinly slice the ripe tomatoes and place them in a layer on top of the potatoes.
8. Pour the wine and stock over the top.
9. Put it in the oven on the relatively low heat and allow to cook for about an hour or until it starts browning off on top and most of the liquid has disappeared.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Gogosi

"Traditional Romanian doughnuts"

These little puffy balls of delight are a typical home-cooked treat. The kind of thing mothers make to feed the family, and the neighbour's family, and visitors, and anyone who happens to be in the area. While they take some time to make, the are wonderful fresh and warm and can be eaten as they are, or stuffed with jam or chocolate spread.

You sometimes see them in the markets, although they might have different names or shapes, such as their bigger, flatter cousin, the "langosi" (which are often sold with sour cream or even savoury cheese). You sometimes see shops selling them as 'gogosi infuriate', which translates as 'infuriated gogosi', I suppose because they are cooked in boiled oil.

Time:3 hours
Servings: about 60 gogosi

Ingredients:

1kg of plain white flour
1 teaspoon of salt
400ml of milk
1 egg
2 small packets of vanilla-flavoured sugar (8g each)*
1 teaspoon of grated lemon rind
200g sugar
100ml of oil (sunflower) or melted butter
Fresh yeast ('a chuck the size of a large walnut' - probably about 35g)
More oil for deep frying
Icing sugar for dusting

*This is a common ingredient in Romanian shops, but if you can't find it where you are, just add a couple more teaspoons of sugar and perhaps a few drops of vanilla essence.

Method:

1. Prepare the yeast starter by mixing 3 tablespoons of milk, the yeast, a teaspoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour in a bowl (better if the milk isn't too cold) and leaving it in a warm place. You should quickly see a froth forming on the top, which lets you know the yeast is good and activated.
2. In the meantime, gently warm up the rest of the milk, add the rest of the sugar, the teaspoon of salt, the two packets of vanilla-flavoured sugar, the lemon rind, and mix until the sugar has dissolved.
3. Into a large mixing bowl, put the rest of the flour, break an egg into a well in the middle of the flour, add the yeast mixture from step 1 and the milk mixture from step 2 and incorporate the flour into the liquid slowly until a dough starts to form.
4. Knead the resulting dough until it starts to become more consistent in texture and de-sticks more easily from your hands and the bowl.
5. Step by step mix in the oil or butter and knead into the dough mixture. It should be less sticky now and easier to work.
6. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough ball and put, covered, in a warm spot and leave it to prove for a couple of hours, until it has doubled in size.
7. Put about 4cm of cooking oil in a pan and bring to a high temperature.
8. While it heats up, take a handful of the mixture, and on a floured board with a rolling pin (maybe also sprinkled with flour to prevent sticking) roll it out until it's about 3-4mm thick. Take a drinking glass, dip it in flour, and use it to cut out some rounds of the rolled out dough. Collect up the remaining parts, form into a ball, roll out again, and so on until all the dough is used up. The rest of the dough should remain in the bowl, covered, until you have fried the first batch.
9. In batches of two or three (depending on the size of the pan), fry the dough rounds for a couple of minutes, turning once if necessary or making sure the oil covers them well, until they've puffed up and turned golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon, shake off the excess oil, and drop them into large bowl in which you have put the icing sugar and shake them around to coat them well. Remove them and put them on a large serving tray.
10. Repeat step 8 and 9 with the rest of the dough, a handful at a time, leaving the rest covered in the bowl, until you've used up all the dough.
11. Eat and enjoy!


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Urzici cu Usturoi

"Garlicky nettle spread"

You know spring has come around when the local markets and street-corner vendors start stocking those gorgeous spring leaves: nettles, wild garlic, red orache, patience dock and spinach. Here's a quick a simple toast topper for the spring that uses stinging nettles (urzici).

Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 3-4 servings (enough for 1-2 people)
Ingredients:

A bag of nettles. These should be the young tips, not the large older leaves.
An onion, finely chopped
Some spring garlic (2-3 stalks) or regular garlic if you can't find the young stuff
Olive oil
Salt
A little flour

Method:

1. Wash the nettles thoroughly in four or five changes of water. In the meantime, heat up a pan of water.
2. Plunge the nettles into the boiling water, simmer for about 5 minutes till soft and intensely green.
3. Leave the nettles to drain and when cool enough to handle, give them a squeeze to get rid of excess liquid.
4. Heat up a couple of glugs of olive oil in a pan and gently saute the finely-chopped onion for a few minutes. When soft, add the nettles and stir for a few more minutes. Turn off the heat and add the finely chopped garlic (a clove will do if you don't have the spring garlic to hand), add a pinch of salt to taste and a teaspoon of flour to help the consistency.
5. Serve on crackers or freshly toasted bread.