Basil and garlic focaccia

 

Whenever I bake bread I always find myself marvelling at just how easy it is to make something that tastes and looks so good for such remarkably little effort.

While it might take a little time and is therefore not the kind of foodstuff I fancy making after a long day at work, baking bread is definitely my idea of a perfect weekend activity. And home-baked bread makes for a perfect weekend lunch, served still slightly warm from the oven with a spread of tasty cheeses, cold meats, olives and salad.

Baking often makes me a little nervous as the end result is usually meant to look neat and tidy. But thankfully bread is different and focaccia in particular should look a little rustic and rough around the edges. Which is obviously another reason why this is my kind of bread.

You can top your focaccia with whatever you fancy really – a light scattering of your favourite herbs, cheese, olives, or maybe someone caramelised onions and sun-dried tomatoes. But here I use my all-time favourite: basil and garlic.

Basil and garlic focaccia

500g strong white bread flour
15g salt
15g sugar
10.5g dried yeast (one and a half 7g sachets)
300ml lukewarm water
Semolina
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Large bunch of basil, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
Half a lemon
Salt and pepper

Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and mix together. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Gradually work the dry ingredients into the liquid to form a soft dough. If it’s still a little dry, add a drop more water; if it’s too sticky, add a little more flour.

Flour the work surface and tip out the dough onto it. Knead the dough for five to ten minutes until it is elastic and smooth. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm, draught-free place for around an hour, until it has doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and give it a punch to knock the air out of it. Knead for another minute or so.

Split the dough into half. Roll each half into a rough circular shape about half an inch thick. Place the dough on a baking tray dusted with semolina.

In a small bowl, mix together the chopped basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Smear generously over the top of each piece of dough. Then push your fingers deep into the surface of the dough to make those little holes you always see on focaccia, allowing the flavours to get down deep inside the bread. Leave in a warm spot for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

When the dough has risen again to just over an inch thick, bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the top is a beautiful golden colour. Drizzle the bread with a little more olive oil and sprinkle sea salt over the top. Leave to cool slightly but try to eat while still warm if you can.

As my focaccia features lots of lovely fragrant basil, I’m linking up with September’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage. I’m looking forward to working my way through the delicious looking recipes that have been submitted so far, including Recipe Junkie’s rosemary focaccia!

The perfect Father’s Day breakfast: fried egg with garlic portobello mushroom on ciabatta

Here’s an easy way to put a smile on Dad’s face this Father’s Day (Sunday 17 June in the UK). Toasted ciabatta topped with a portobello mushroom baked in garlic butter and a heart-shaped fried egg. The perfect way to start the day; after a lie-in and a cup of tea in bed, of course.

To make the garlic butter simply crush a clove of garlic and mash into a decent knob of butter. Add some chopped, fresh parsley if you happen to have some. Smother this onto a portobello mushroom and bake in a hot oven for 15 minutes.

Cut a ciabatta roll in half and toast.

Place a handful of salad leaves in a bowl and toss with a little vinaigrette.

Fry an egg just how Dad likes it – sunny side up or over easy. I cooked mine in a cute heart-shaped frying pan or you could fry your egg as normal and then cut it out with a heart-shaped pasty cutter.

To assemble, simply place the ciabatta on a plate and cover with some dressed leaves. Carefully place the mushroom on top of the leaves and spoon over some more of the gorgeous garlic butter.

Finally, place the fried egg on top and serve, along with a copy of the Sunday papers. Enjoy!

Thai-style cauliflower soup with garlic and coriander bread

There are certain vegetables I get quite excited about when they arrive in my weekly veg box. Like celeriac or asparagus. Or Jerusalem artichokes. But cauliflower? Whenever I see a cauliflower in there I must admit to giving out an internal groan. Cauliflower cheese again? is generally my immediate thought.

But the last time a cauliflower turned up, I decided to try and be a little more creative. I’ve tried making cauliflower curries a few times but they’ve never been wholly satisfying, although I know the idea of spicy cauliflower is a good one. A quick search on the internet led me to this very tasty and spicy cauliflower soup recipe, which elevates the humble cauliflower to heady new heights. I found it on the Oxford Times website but apparently it first originated from a recipe in the Women’s Institute’s book Soup for all Seasons.

It’s incredibly easy to make and, despite looking quite a heavy soup, is surprisingly light and very fragrant. I swapped the Thai green curry paste for the red version, as it’s slightly milder and hence more child-friendly. I also used low-fat coconut milk but feel free to go full-fat if you prefer.

I served the soup with garlic and coriander bread. Again, very simple. Slice your baguette all the way along on the diagonal at intervals of an inch or so, just as you would for normal garlic bread. Fill each slash with a generous spread of butter into which you’ve mashed crushed garlic and chopped fresh coriander. Wrap the baguette in foil and bake in a hot oven for 10 minutes. To brown it slightly, open up the foil for the last couple of minutes. Easy as.

But now back to the main event…

Thai-style cauliflower soup

Serves 4

1 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp red Thai curry paste
1 potato, peeled and diced small
1 cauliflower, broken into florets
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
400ml tin of low-fat coconut milk
300ml vegetable stock
Small bunch fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Spring onions, finely sliced to garnish

In a large saucepan, gently cook the onion in the oil until golden. Add the red curry paste and cook for a minute, stirring constantly.

Stir in the coconut milk and stock and bring to a simmer.

Add the potato, cauliflower and garlic and simmer for 15 minutes. Leave to cool a while.

Add the coriander to the soup and pour half into a liquidiser. Blitz until you achieve a smooth velvety finish, and then stir this back into the chunky soup in the pan. Check for seasoning and add if required.

Heat through again and serve garnished with a sprinkling of spring onions, and warm garlic and coriander bread on the side.

Haricot bean and garlic dip

I am rather partial to wraps at the moment. I like to eat them stuffed full of salad, cheese and different dips. They make for a really simple supper at the end of a busy day.

This haricot bean and garlic dip is  one of my favourites to have in a wrap. It’s also great served as part of a mezze. Similar to hummus, it is very cheap to make. The garlic is roasted with rosemary giving the dip a soft smoky flavour, which isn’t overpowering.

Haricot bean and garlic dip

4 heads of garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
2 stalks fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 (400g) tin haricot beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp ground cumin
5 tbsp soured cream
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp paprika

Preheat oven to 190°C/gas 5.

Toss the garlic in two tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper, and then loosely wrap in foil along with the rosemary. Bake on a tray for around 45 minutes until the garlic is soft and the skins come off easily.

In a saucepan, heat the remaining oil and fry the onion until it is golden brown.

Squeeze the garlic out of their skins into a food processor with the onion, haricot beans, cumin, soured cream, lime juice and a little of the rosemary. Season well with salt and pepper. Blend until it resembles porridge. You don’t want it too smooth; it’s good to have a bit of texture. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Pour into your serving dish and garnish with a sprinkling of paprika.