Generosity and the Art of Gourmet Camping

Campervan in Mackay Creek DOC Campsite, Fiordland, NZ

Camping Kitchen

As you saw from my last post, the Big Guy and I are in New Zealand. I have to tell you, it is spectacular here, although I was very surprised to find that some of the foraging is pretty similar. It’s autumn, and the trees are groaning with rowan, elder, apples, and the fattest haw berries I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t expecting these plants to be so similar, given how far away it is. I also bought a Forager’s Treasury by Johanna Knox  and on looking through, most of the wild edibles are very familiar from a Northern European perspective. Luckily, it seems that most of the poisonous plants are also the same, which is handy.

We have also been bowled over by the people here. Everyone has been friendly, welcoming and have gone a little out of their way to be helpful. The lady in the supermarket told us how to get the best bargains, and went the extra mile to find out where we might buy harissa. The petrol station attendant caught us up on the international news and gave us a free cookie each.

New Zealand Trout

There Is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch (And Dinner, And Breakfast)!

But by far the nicest thing that anyone has done to date is the fisherman we got talking to. We have a campervan, but in our first days here, we got caught out by jetlag, and simply could not drive onto our intended destination, so we had to book into a motel en route. As is common here, the gentleman in question was friendly and chatty, and we got talking with him over breakfast. It turned out that his parents were both Dutch, so we chatted about the differences in life here and at home. As we were leaving, he tapped on our window and offered us one of his catch. We were stunned, but he very kindly kicked off the gourmet element of our trip with a fresh trout. He had three fresh, and two that were being smoked in a local smokehouse, and he was heading out that day to get some more. This was no small fry, either. He gave us the smallest of his catch, but it still weighed in at just under 3 kg. It really was beautiful.

I spent the entire day thinking about how I was going to cook that trout. My foraging book was helpful, because it mentioned that wood sorrel can also be found here. So, I planned to look for some, and make a cream and sorrel sauce to go with the trout. Unfortunately, where we had chosen to stop for the night, on our way to Milford Sound, offered up no wood sorrel. We had chosen it specifically because we could barbecue there.

Trout and Spring Onion Omelette, with Campers Mayonnaisse

Breakfast, Not at Tiffany’s

Luckily, I had a back up, because I had the foresight to buy some dill when I stopped at a shop for potatoes. So, a plan was born, for a gourmet meal, made with basic equipment, to be served under the Southern stars. We have eaten many gourmet campsite meals since; including succulent lemon and pepper lamb, venison and mushrooms, and even shakshuka for breakfast. But that trout, which served us three hearty meals, plus a little more to pick at was the nicest.

Outdoor Natural Winecooler

Camping Cooler

The first night, we barbecued the trout and served it with a green salad with mayonnaise. Served with a nice local Riesling, that we had cooled down naturally. The the leftovers kept nicely in a couple of ziplock bags in the cool box (which also had a big bag of ice), and made excellent omelette, and went nicely with pasta in a creamy sauce, with more dill.

You can’t get more gourmet, or more generous than that. Thank you very much, kind stranger!

Campsite Trout, Mayonnaise, potatoes  and green salad

Campsite Trout

Recipe: Campsite Trout

Ingredients

1 large trout or salmon

Dill fronds

Lemon slices

2 egg yolks

Juice of half a lemon, plus more to taste

About a quarter of a small bottle of plain oil

Salt and pepper to taste

15 g fennel, finely chopped (I had to do mine with scissors, due to the very blunt knives I was dealing with)

Method

Barbecued Trout

Gourmet Stay

Wash the trout and pat it dry with kitchen towel. Season the cavity of the fish with salt and pepper, and put the dill and lemon slices inside. Barbecue for about 40 minutes on a camp barbecue that is too high off the coals. If you are doing it on the barbecue at home, then you can put the fish closer to the heat source, and so it will take less time. Turn once during cooking, so it cooks well throughout.

Campsite Sauce Equipment

Basic Sauce Equipment

I have previously only made mayonnaise with a balloon whisk, so I was worried the fork would take ages. Now I’m sure this won’t work if you are trying to whisk egg whites for meringue, but the simple fork makes surprisingly speedy mayonnaise.

Whisk together the lemon juice, egg yolks and a little salt. Gradually add the oil. My tip is to add a little, then make sure it is thoroughly whisked into the egg before adding more. This way, the mayonnaise is less likely to split.

Thick and Glossy Mayonnaise

Thick and Glossy Mayonnaise

Once the mayonnaise is thick and glossy, taste it. You may need to adjust for seasoning, and possibly add more lemon juice to get the right balance of flavours.

Finally, chop up the dill. As I said, I resorted to some scissors, because the knives I had were less than sharp, but you chop yours however you like. Add it to the mayonnaise and mix well.

Serve the fish with a nice green salad, some simply boiled potatoes and a lot of the mayonnaise. Best served under the stars, but this is still good, even if you are forced inside by the weather.

 

 

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All Aboard: The Last Kitchen

image

Since I seem to be unable to remember that the default on the mobile app is to publish rather than to save as a draft, here is a rather hurried post from yesterday’s evening meal, which I had intended to take a bit more time over creating. But, since some of you have already seen where I am, and liked the post that only basically contained a link to the site, here we go.

The Big Guy and I are in New Zealand. We’ve been doing a bit of gourmet camping, of which more a bit later, but there is only so much one can do with a tiny gas stove, with gas that lasts about an hour, and a three course dinner isn’t one of them!

We’ve been travelling around the Fiordland of the Southern Island, where life has been great, but the internet access has been patchy. Now we have moved towards the West coast, and have been on a number of pleasant walks and trips, including to the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. It’s a tough life, eh?

I wanted to share a very good meal that we had here, by way of recommending the Last Kitchen in Fox Glacier Township. It is a small, rather unassuming little place, that you might completely overlook, but that you probably shouldn’t. Not only is the food rather special, but it is a brilliantly warm welcome after a days hiking. There is nothing like great food served with a smile after physical exertion, is there?

Arancini with Chorizo and Brie at the last kitchen, Fox Glacier

Arancini with Chorizo and Brie

I started with the arancini. I’d already tucked into one of them before I remembered the photo, so the initial presentation was a lot neater. These were outstanding, golden and crisp on the outside, and the chorizo is a welcome peppery hit. It is served with a fresh pesto, and balsamic reduction.

Calamari at the Last Kitchen, Fox Glacier, NZ

Calamari

The Big Guy loves to go for the familiar classics, and yesterday was no exception. He started with excellent calamari, in a very light batter, served with salad. It was a well-done take on this classic dish.

Pistachio Crusted Lamb at the Last Kitchen, Fox glacier, NZ

Pistachio Crusted Lamb

Main course took full advantage of the great local produce that you can see ranging all over the place here – namely lamb, beef and venison. I chose a beautiful piece of pistachio-crusted lamb, with a really buttery potato and celeriac mash, and wok-fried vegetables. This was lovely, and perfectly balanced. There was a delightful citrus element to the crust too, and the pistachios were in big lumps over the meat. The only criticism I have for the whole meal is that my lamb could have done with a slightly longer resting time, because it leaked  the juices back onto the plate, making my mash pink in places, but that really was a minor quibble.

Lamb Burger and Sweet Potato Chips at the Last Kitchen, Fox Glacier, NZ

Lamb Burger and Sweet Potato Chips

Burger was the order of the day for the Big Guy. But this was no ordinary or staid burger, this was made from well seasoned lamb, and topped with a rich and spicy beetroot relish. Beetroot is not my favourite, but I loved this way of serving it. I was very pleased to see that the burger came in the correct order, too. It really annoys me that some establishments think that the salad should be atop the burger with the relishes, but this is clearly wrong. It’s always great to find a restaurant that knows that salad and relish should have burger in between!

Affogato and Shortbread at the Last Kitchen, Fox Glacier, NZ

Affogato and Shortbread

Although we had eaten heartily, we could just about manage some dessert. I had an affogato, which is essentially vanilla ice cream with an espresso poured over the top. The simplicity of the dish requires excellent ingredients, and I am happy to say that both really were. The ice cream was rich and smooth, whilst the coffee was deep and had the right balance of fruity and bitter tones. The shortbread was very buttery, and light, perfect for dipping in te ice cream, as one might a soldier into a runny egg (and who doesn’t love that?).

Warm Chocolate Brownie at the Last Kitchen, Fox Glacier, NZ

Warm Chocolate Brownie

The Big Guy does love a chocolate brownie, and will always order it from a menu, although I have to say it was a tough choice for him this time, between this and the Chocolate and Baileys Cheesecake. As you can see, this was a big hitter in the chocolate stakes, and none the worse for that.

We washed this all down with a very good local Shiraz/Syrah called Barnstormer, and had a really excellent meal. It was also one of the cheaper places that we dined in, which is surprising, because it’s out of the way location must mean delivery costs alone are higher. This meal  was excellent value for money, and the wine prices were exceptionally good value too. So, I can thoroughly recommend this great little spot, in a very out-of-the-way location. Just remember to arrive hungry.

The Last Kitchen

Main Rd
(Cnr Sullivans Rd & State Highway 6)
Fox Glacier
Westland

T: +64 (0)3-751 0058

 

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Blessed Are The Cheesemakers!

I have had a lot of fun with this month’s Cheese, Please! Challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage. This month, we were asked for recipes containing fresh cheese, which we had to make ourselves. I think it is great, encouraging people to develop skills of entry-level cheesemaking, as well as being creative in coming up with recipes to use the resulting curds. I have certainly found it inspiring. There are a lot of fantastic recipes on her blog, so do come over and have a look.

Shaped Mozzarella ball

Cheese Balls

First, I made mozzarella. That was a very interesting experience. My first efforts were a little rubbery, I think because I cooled the water to 80°C, as was mentioned in one of the posts I bodged my recipe together from. The second efforts were with unpasteurised milk, and hotter water, and they were a world apart from the first batch. I could already see the difference between the curds when they were forming in the pan, they were much creamier, and there were a lot more of them!

Curds from Unpasteurised Milk

Rich, Creamy and Unpasteurised

Then I had a go at ricotta, which was disappointing at first, but also vastly improved by using unpasteurised milk. From this I made gnudi, which I have always wanted to have a go at making. They were lovely, and light as a feather. I definitely recommend having a go at this, even if you can’t be doing with making fresh cheese. They were delightful, light and really very tasty. They will go with a lot of different sauces too, so also very versatile.

I smoked some of the mozzarella, which was mostly an experiment. It was successful in terms of flavour, but I think it needs longer between heating the wood chips, so that it has a better chance of staying spherical.

Breakfast Pizza - Bacon, sausage, mushrooms, spinach and egg

Breakfast Pizza

With all this cheese, there was only one thing for it – pizza! Which turned out to be both the perfect party food, and a hearty breakfast. It also had the added benefit of using up some of the whey.

Talking of which, I tried my hand at lacto-fermenting vegetables and making Gingerade; which is what you get when your ambition exceeds the time that you have available to brew the assortment of drinks that you had planned.

Cheese Please blog badge

From 4 l of unpasteurised cow’s milk, I got:

  • 500 g mozzarella (I smoked the cheese that I made from the pasteurised whole milk)
  • 200 g ricotta
  • 3.25 l whey
  • Pizza dough for 20 individual pizzas using the whey
  • Gnudi for 2 adults
  • 2 l lacto-fermented gingerade
  • The raw ingredients for a few more lacto-fermenting adventures
  • Lacto-fermented fennel
  • Lacto-fermented cucumber
  • A load of leftover vegetarian rennet, ready for more cheesey adventures.
  • Hands softer than kittens on a velvet pillow

Next, I think I’m going to try to find some buffalo milk, to make mozzarella di buffala, for that authentic fresh cheese. I’d also like to try to make a washed rind cheese, similar to a brie. I had a very good triple cream one from Neals Yard Dairy that I may try to recreate, if the brie goes well. But before I can do that, I’ll need to bodge up somewhere to age it, unless I can use the fridge?

I have also managed more blog posts in a fortnight than I managed for most of last year. This is a warning though, that I have a few other exciting projects on the go, including a new collaboration, in Dutch, with the Tweakfabriek, where I will be doing some basic recipes, then two different tweaks to make with them. I’m very excited about this collaboration indeed! It does mean that I will not be posting as many recipes as you have seen from me in the last fortnight, but if you’d like to read some more in Dutch (or using Google translate) then watch this space for more details.

For this month, I’ve made the most of new inspiration. I’ve had a lot of fun, with and without guests, eaten well, and learned new skills, as well as a few bodges to make a hot smoker colder. What could be better than that? So, thanks again, Fromage Homage, and here’s to the next challenge!

 

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Land of Milk and Ginger

Lacto-fermented Ginger Ale

Like Lemonade, but With Ginger

Well, I was intending to make three flavours of lacto-fermented lemonade and wittily call this post Lemonade, Three Wheys, but I’m afraid I’ve rather run out of steam and time. So, today you get the latest recipe in my cheesemaking adventures, but it is only one flavour of lemonade – ginger (perhaps confusingly).

If you Google milk and ginger the most common result is a ginger milk pudding, which is a rather soothing-sounding Chinese dish, apparently. Obviously, I did this, and had a look at some of the pictures. It reminded me a bit of junket, which I had to make for some historical food thing for brownies once. I am not a fan of junket. But then again, my junket did not have ginger in it. I am quite fond of ginger, so I may end up giving this a go.

I really wanted to have a go at lacto fermenting ginger beer, but that requires a starter or ginger beer plant, which I didn’t have time for. So, that is the reason that I am going to call this Gingerade. And let me tell you it is no worse for that!

This method is one of two ways to naturally carbonate drinks, without the need for a Soda Stream. The other way is to add yeast. It is also a really healthy drink – the whey has loads of probiotics, which you have to pay a good deal for if you buy those fancy yoghurts. Any bloating that you may, or may not relieve is entirely your own business.

I never really got fed the standard carbonated drinks when I was a child, so I never really developed the taste for them. I’d rather have water, or fruit juice than a fizzy drink (only if wine isn’t an option, obviously!), but I could definitely develop a taste for this. I tried it after three days, so it was lightly sparkling, which I liked a lot. You can get a fiercer bubble if you leave it in the warm for longer. I was happy, so put it in the fridge. It will continue to ferment in the fridge, but at a much lower rate.

I will definitely be trying to lacto-ferment ginger beer, and other lemonades, So I may be able to use my witty post title after all, and of course, I will be blogging the efforts. I’m also going to have a go at alcoholic ginger beers too, and why not – makes a change from Belgian beer for me, for sure!

I tried it today, in the my sunny spring garden, which is the perfect setting for this drink, in my opinion. Well, until I can have it with ice in the summer, of course!

Spice Trail Blog Badge

As well as this appearing as part of the Cheese, Please! Fresh Cheese Challenge (which really has been the gift that keeps on giving for me this month!) roundup, which I will be posting tomorrow, I’m going to have a second bite of the cherry at this month’s Spice Trail hosted by Vanesther of Bangers and Mash. Mostly because I really do love ginger, but also because I covet those beautiful little spice tins that are being offered as a prize this month. I can only hope, but this month there is a lot of stiff competition, with a lot of entries, many of which I have bookmarked for later.

Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Gingerade

Ingredients
30 g ginger
Juice of 2 lemons
150 g runny honey
1 tsp rock salt
4 tbsp fresh whey
2 l water

Method

Sterilise enough bottles to hold 2 l of gingerade. I used the sterilisers from my home-brew, which I find the easiest method for the types of bottles that I used. If you use wider necked bottles, then you can run them through  a hot dishwasher cycle, or wash them and put them in a low oven, as you might for making jam or lacto-fermented vegetables. At the same time, sterilise a funnel that fits into the top of the bottles that you are using.

Finely grate the ginger. I used a microplane, but if you don’t have one, use the finest side of a box grater. Mix the grated ginger with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, making sure that the honey and salt are really dissolved in the lemon juice before you add the water and the whey.

Before bottling, stir the gingerade well, so that you can be as sure as you can that there are bits of ginger and lemon pulp in each bottle. Fill each bottle with the gingerade. You will need to leave about 5 cm at the top.

Leave to start to ferment in your living room or kitchen. You may need to get it started by tipping the bottes over once to stir things up once or twice a day. Be careful, because once it starts to ferment, the pressure will build. After three days, test to see if the carbonation is to your liking. If it is, then store in the fridge. Remember that it will continue to ferment in the fridge, but at a much lower rate.

Serve on a sunny day. Maybe at a picnic (serving suggestion).

This recipe makes slightly more than 2 l of liquid. I used up the rest in a rather fantastic raspberry coulis, but you might just as well drink it, or add it to stewed apple or even rhubarb. Very good indeed.

 

 

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Under the Milky Whey

Fresh Whey and Vegetables

Chop A-Whey!

A quick look on Pinterest reveals that you can lacto-ferment pretty much anything – from garlic to hummus. I saw fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, beers, mayonnaise, BBQ sauces and even mustard on there. Apparently it is amazing what won’t be improved by bunging in some whey.

As you know, I happen to have quite a lot of whey taking up all the space stored very carefully in my fridge.It is the yellowish liquid in the photo above, and it is the by-product of making your own cheese, or straining yoghurt.

Apart from the miracle of being the new superfood, due to all the probiotics; you can feed whey to animals, use it as a fertiliser, make various toiletries for skin benefits, and body builders dry it then consume it by the bucket load.

You can also soak beans, or grains in it before cooking, use it instead of the liquid in pancakes, cakes, and bread (or pizza dough). soups, and stock. You can even add it to shakes and use it as a cheese starter in some kind of lactose Inception.

Whatever you do with it, you should not pour it down the sink. Apparently, it can de-oxygenate water systems. So, for this reason, and the fact that I hate waste, I’m going to use mine. Don’t worry, it also freezes really well, so if you can’t get through it all, you can keep it for later.

You may have noticed that I enjoy a nice pickle, go crazy for chutney, and take pleasure in preserves. It is only natural, then,  that I should have a go at lacto-fermenting as a novel way of preserving food, and as a way to use up leftovers. I’ve had a good dig round the internet, including over at the lovely host of Cheese, Please!, who lacto-fermented cucumber and carrots to come up with the following recipes.

For the first, I wanted to be able to make a direct comparison with a pickle that I already know. I make pickled fennel a lot, based on the River Cottage Preserves book, so I used the same aromats and dill here.

The second lot are inspired by a friend of mine who makes amazing pickled cucumber from a mysterious Asian salt. I have no idea what this stuff is, but it is hot, sour and sweet at the same time. I have tried to recreate this with the whey – we’ll see where we get to.

Apparently, lacto-fermenting is pretty long-lasting, but depends on how strong the cell wall of the thing you are preserving is. You can expect the fennel to last between 4-6 months in cold storage, and the cucumber to last up to 3. The fermentation will continue, even in cold storage, so it is something to be aware of, and date the jars well before you store them in a cool, dry place.

 

Lacto fermented fennel and cucumber

Perfectly Preserved

Recipe: Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

Ingredients

For the Fennel:
1 tsp mixed peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
Fronds of dill
100 ml whey
300 ml boiled water, allowed to cool
1 tbsp rock salt

For the Cucumber:
1 tsp mixed peppercorns per jar
1 tsp juniper berries per jar
1 large cucumber, in 3 cm slices on the diagonal
1 red chillies, sliced on the diagonal but seeds left in
Fronds of dill
200 ml whey
600 ml boiled water, allowed to cool
1 tbsp table salt
1 tbsp sugar

3 jam jars

Method

Sterilise your jars on a hot cycle in the dishwasher, or by washing in hot soapy water, drying and placing in a low oven for an hour.

Prepare the vegetables, and boil the water for your fermenting liquid.

To the sterile , still warm jars, add the relevant spices, then layer up the vegetables, making sure to get a layer of dill fronds in between them as you go. Pack them as tightly as you can.

Mix together the whey, water and salt, as well as the sugar for the lacto-fermented cucumber. Fill the now packed jars with the fermenting liquid, up to 3 mm from the top of the jar. Screw on the lids tightly and store in a cool dark place for between 3 days and the maximum time for the vegetables.

I intend to leave these for about a month, before I try them. When I do, I will be sure to let you know what I thought.

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Fresh Cheese – In the Gnudi

Ricotta Gnudi and Tomato Chilli Sauce

Naked Food

Following on from my cheese making efforts, I thought that I could have a go at making ricotta. Literally translated as “twice cooked”, ricotta is right up my alley, as a way to reduce waste, and maximise leftovers. So I set about gently heating the whey left from my mozzarella to 92ºC,  and left it to cool to about 60ºC, before straining it through a thick muslin. I was so dismayed to find that it yielded next to no additional curds – 35 g to be precise.

35 g Ricotta

Bitter curds

Convinced it was something I had done badly, I turned to Google for reassurance. Whilst the technique was sound, it appears that the whey is acid, which is not conducive to making ricotta, which needs a “sweet whey”, or one that is produced from bacterial coagulation, instead of one brought on by acid. I probably should have done a bit more homework on that before I started, it would have saved time and gas!

Not one to be put off by such things, I bottled up the whey for later use. And made more mozzarella with unpasteurised milk. Having nothing to lose, and because I wanted the whey from this batch, I decided to try and extract more curds in the only way I knew.This time, I also strained it through cheesecloth, although I found that I couldn’t squeeze this out, because the curds simply fell through it.

The difference was amazing, I got 200 g of fresh, soft curds! Whilst it is perfectly possible to make cheese with any kind of milk, I think using unpasteurised milk pays off, if you can get it. I may also have a go with milk powder just to see if this is a cheaper alternative. Plus I have a lot of rennet that I need to use up now.

I have always fancied having a go at ricotta gnudi – soft Italian pillows, not dissimilar to light gnocchi. Gnudi (pronounced nyoo-dee) are, as the name suggests, “naked” ravioli. That is; they are the ravioli filling, naked of its customary pasta. They are best served with the simplest of sauces. The Big Guy and I were both coming down with colds, and so I wanted some chilli spikes in this sauce. I wavered over chilli, garlic and olive oil; but in the end settled on a tomato sauce with chilli, in order to take it from a starter to more of a main course with the addition of a nice green salad.

As well as a delivering a lovely pasta dish, my inner four year old enjoys sniggering when I announce what is on the menu. Reports that such pronouncements were accompanied with an impromptu dance of joy are totally unfounded. Cheese Please blog badge As you have probably guessed by now, This is yet another entry for the Cheese, Please! fresh cheese challenge. I have enjoyed myself this month, and you know I hate waste, so I’m determined to use up every last bit of the milk.

Recipe: Ricotta Gnudi With Tomato and Chilli Sauce

Ingredients

For the Ricotta:
Whey from making any type of cheese, the best being sweet whey from bacterial coagulation, otherwise unpasteurised acid whey will be good.

For the Pasta Sauce:
1 tbsp oil
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped, removing the seeds are optional
1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
250 g tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper

For The Gnudi:
200 g ricotta
Zest of one lemon
Good grind of black pepper
1 tsp thyme leaves
40 g parmesan, plus more for garnish
1 egg, lightly beaten
Approx 70 g plain flour
Large knob of butter, 1 tsp and the thyme stalks for cooking

Method

Heating whey to 92ºC to make ricotta

It’s Getting Hot in Here

Make ricotta by heating the whey gently to a temperature of 92ºC. You will need to watch it, especially as the temperature exceeds 85ºC, because you do not want this to boil over, unless you especially like cleaning. Allow the whey to cool again, to a minimum of 60ºC, but preferably lower.

Strain through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth into a container large enough to hold the whey. Keep this for more things later – such as some pizza dough, other bread, stock, soups, and something else I have up my sleeve for later this week.

What you have left is ricotta. You will need to use a spoon or a spatula to remove it from the cloth. If you have left it to dry long enough, you may have to crumble it off. This is great in sweet and savoury dishes – I’ve even found recipes for ice cream. What you do with it is up to you.

For the sauce, sweat the onion in the oil until translucent. Add  the chilli and the garlic to the pan, and allow to cook for a minute. Next, add the tomatoes, and cook them down on a low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent them sticking. When the sauce is thick and the gnudi are ready,  season to taste.

While the sauce is cooking, make the gnudi. Mix together the ricotta, zest, thyme, pepper, parmesan cheese and the egg. Gradually add the flour, and mix in until the mixture forms a ball. It may take a bit more or a bit less than 70 g flour.

Shape the gnudi with wet hands. A lot of people shape them into balls, but I liked to form more elliptical gnudi. Put them on baking paper, or another non-stick surface.

Get a deep pan full of boiling water with the salt, butter and thyme stalks in. It is important to have the pan at a rolling boil. Put the gnudi into the water and cook for about 5 minutes. When they are cooked, they will float. Drain with a slotted spoon, and add to the sauce. You may also need a tablespoon or two of the water that you cooked the gnudi in to loosen up the sauce.

Coat the gnudi with the sauce, then serve immediately with a sprinkling of extra parmesan cheese.

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A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza Party

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza

 

Do you remember those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books you had as a child? The ones where if you wanted your hero to fight the dragon, you should turn to page eight, but if you preferred her to choose the better part of valour and retreat to come up with a cunning plan, then you should head straight for page thirty-four. All of the building blocks were there; you just had to decide how to put them all together to come up with what you hoped would be a sensible plot. I have stumbled upon the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure pizza as the perfect way to cater a party.

Of course, I cannot lay claim to the invention of choosing toppings for pizza any more than I can, or would, the adventure books. Children’s cafés have been doing this for years. What I didn’t foresee was what a low stress way it would be to feed adults too, nor how much fun they would have doing it either.

Picking out the perfect pizza - fun for kids and adults

Relaxed dining

Normally, I am rushing about at dinner parties, because I make a lot of food, often that has to be prepared at once. I am not one of these people who comes up with dishes that can be prepared in advance. If you are like me, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure pizza party is a great way to allow you to relax. Everything was made in good time for the guests to arrive, or sliced, as appropriate, and laid out on the dining room table so people could choose what to put on it.

Of course, because it was me, I had made most of the components, including the mozzarella, and the smoked mozzarella, as well as the dough, and the pizza sauce. I didn’t make the charcuterie, though, maybe that is for another pizza party another time. But in general, it was pretty relaxed, with no fancy elements to put on, or to be pureeing as the guests arrived. I also split the dough into individual portions, and placed them ready and waiting for the final proving inside a ziploc bag. All in all, it was a success, low stress, meant I got time with my guests to have fun, and they got time to make the pizza of their choice.

Breakfast Pizza - Bacon, sausage, mushrooms, spinach and egg

Breakfast Pizza

We even had two servings of dough and just enough pizza sauce leftover the next day to make the perfect hangover breakfast, with bacon, sausage, mushroom, spinach and the egg. The dough kept well in the fridge, and should freeze well too.

Made with Love Mondays

And, because I made all of the elements of the pizzas, and my friends loved to make their own, I’ve decided to enter them into this week’s Made with Love Monday hosted by Mark of Javelin Warrior. Of course, it will also appear in the round-up post for this month’s Cheese, Please! because I used the fresh cheeses that I made, and the dough had the whey from the cheese in it.

Also,

Recipe: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Pizza

Ingredients

Home-made mozzarella

Home-smoked mozzarella

Pizza dough – I made 2 double batches of this recipe,which is really great, but I used whey from the cheese making in place of the water, which worked out really well

For the Pizza Sauce:
The amounts given below is enough for 4 individual pizzas. I made enough for 20, but I’ve scaled it down here.
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic
Splash red wine
200  g tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano (flowers and all), or 1 tsp dried

For the Toppings:
Whatever you feel appropriate, really. I used
Red onion, sliced
Raw mushrooms, sliced,
Raw pepper, deseeded and sliced
Artichoke hearts
Blue cheese
Ham
Chorizo
Fennel sausage
Speck
Cooked spinach
Eggs
Olives
Method

On the morning of your party, make the mozzarella, and bodge up a smoker to smoke about half (or buy both, I won’t judge).

Make up the dough, according to the recipe I’ve linked to – or use another favourite of yours. Allow to prove for 90 minutes. You can totally relax or eat lunch, or do whatever you like for a bit at this point – most unusual for getting ready to host a crowd.

At some point chop up and lay out your toppings, in a very leisurely fashion. You even have time to decide you should offer pineapple after all, and run out to get some. It’s up to you.

Fold over the dough, as Dan shows you in the recipe I linked to. Leave it to sit for another half an hour. Treat yourself to a cup of tea – or something stronger if you prefer.

Divide the dough into your ziploc bags, and place them on the table with the rest of your toppings.

Then you need to make up your sauce. In a frying pan, so that you can get a lot of evaporation, soften the red onion. Add the garlic and cook off until the scent hits you.

Splash a good helping of red wine into the pan and cook until it has almost evaporated. Finally, add the tomatoes and oregano. Cover the pan with a lid for about five minutes, until the tomatoes breakdown a little. Remove the lid and cook on a medium heat, until the sauce is really thick. Put this in a large bowl on the centre of the table.

Serve up the mozzarella, and open the smoker, hoping you still have resplendent balls, and not smoky little discs, unlike mine. Even if they are, use them anyway.

Stand back and watch the children show the adults how to get stuck into the shaping and topping of their pizzas, closely followed by the adults trying to top one another’s efforts.

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