Savoury French Toast

Spring is almost here at Fat Weka Farm…but not quite. The daffodils are starting to make an appearance but this flowering cherry taken last year  on 1 October is my true sign of spring.  Perhaps it will flower earlier this year. It’s still holding out with it’s tightly wrapped buds.   In the meantime I won’t be saying goodbye to the nightly warmth and handy cooking space of our wood burner.

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A fire and a dark beer is the perfect matchings for this easy dinner option in winter.

Throughout winter I’ve utilised this radiant warmth to also cook our dinner most nights. One quick favourite has been savoury French toast with a winter slaw.

French toast for breakfast is generally sweet and is a great way to use up sourdough bread.  Sourdough tends to get hard rather than go mouldy.  Sometimes it’s so hard you can work up a sweat just slicing it.  But it magically revives as does any stale bread with the french toast treatment.

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I was lucky enough to be given some duck eggs making a richer custard and a good yellow colour.

Simply mix one egg with half a cup of milk, salt, pepper and about 1 Tbsp of parmesan cheese grated.   If you want a herby punch then add a little sage or thyme. One egg should be enough for four slices of bread and 2-4 people depending on what you choose to add as toppings.  It needs to be thin enough to soak in and coat the bread with the eggy milk liquid.

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I tend to soak the bread in a flat bottomed plate – a pasta dish is ideal. Give it a minute to soak in.

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This bread is a wholemeal from Gilberts and I’ve added some thyme to the egg and milk.

Heat a heavy pan (ideally cast iron) and add a knob of butter or your favourite oil.  Once it begins to sizzle add the soaked bread to the pan.  Cook each side until it browns.

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To assist with the melting of cheese I cover with a pot lid for a few minutes.

Once you have turned over one side you can add a slice of cheese on top.

I like to add slaw on top but you can top with anything you like.  In this case I added some smoked mackerel along with the slaw.

 

20170907_084518 Another option for breakfast is a topping of bacon. When I do this I first begin cooking the bacon and then the french toast in the same pan.

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In summer it’s delicious with tomatoes, basil, black pepper and a drizzle of your favourite oil.  It’s a year round easy breakfast, lunch or dinner depending what you have in the fridge or garden to top it off and an option when the bread is no longer fresh and needs reviving.

A  weekend treat is to have a classic sweet French toast.  Just replace 1 tbsp of parmesan and the salt and pepper for 1 tbsp of caster sugar and either a dash of  vanilla essence or a grinding of nutmeg.  I like to make this sweet version using a raisin bread or sweet bread. Our local bakery Gilbert’s Fine Food’s Date and Walnut sourdough or their delicious and rich Brioche works a treat but when I use a sweet bread like these I just add 1 tsp of sugar.

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Date and Walnut sourdough from Gilbert’s Fine Food bakery, Dunedin.

Top with sliced banana or cooked apple, kefir or yoghurt and a little maple syrup. Our grandson Beau’s favourite is just with maple syrup.  My favourite of course is with my son’s preserved apricots – Augustines of Central.

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Augustines preserved apricots are available at Farro Fresh stores in Auckland, Moore Wilson’s in Wellington, Provisions in Cromwell and Florences in Wanaka. They are tree ripened, spray free and processed by hand in a Central Otago Riesling syrup.

When spring gets here with longer days of daylight, I will want to spend more time outdoors so time saving dishes like this are useful.  One real time saver I have discovered this winter on a trip to Melbourne has been three little hand peelers….more on that next posting.

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Pasta e Basta

Pasta e Basta is a restaurant situated in Amsterdam, in the old part of the city, and is perhaps the most unusual and entertaining restaurant I have been to. No its not the food you go to Pasta e Basta for  – its the waiters. Young students hopeful of a singing career from the Amsterdam Music Conservatorium wait on your table and every now and then break into song singing an Italian aria or a pop ballad.

Maybe it was the Italian arias or the romantic notion of being like an Italian mama making long threads of pasta from my kitchen that influenced my decision to purchase a pasta maker. Two years have passed and I haven’t managed to get it out of its box. I decided to gift the Italian pasta maker to my friend Jan.

Imagine my delight when we walked into Jan’s kitchen in Christchurch to witness the pasta making in progress and later enjoyed the fresh pasta full of the flavours of summer.


Jan serving up the summer pasta dish featuring shelled prawns tomatoes and basil

Jan had waited for our arrival to complete the pasta making so that she could show me just how easy it is to make pasta. The sauce Jan made is simple, quick and delicious and you can make it as a quick meal idea with commercial fresh or dried pasta.



The pasta has to be hung to set and to keep separated – Jan used a pole between two chairs

You can make pasta out of ordinary flour but to increase your chances of a successful pasta you need to use Italian flours.  Jan used 50/50 Semola (which has the same texture as fine corn meal) with 00 grade very fine Italian flour.

Pasta

For every 100g of flours add one egg – Jan used 200 g of Semola and 200g of 00 Italian flour with four eggs – no salt required as the pasta is cooked in salty water. You can mix the Italian way on a large board or benchtop by hand but Jan used the Kenwood mixer with the dough hook and this saves time and mess. The eggs should be enough for the flours to form a soft dough – if not no more than a flick of extra water is required. You need to sit the dough for at least an hour before rolling. Jan stored the dough in the fridge overnight.
Divide the dough into two and roll out like a thick short pastry

Next process is called booking – you fold over both ends of dough to centre – just like a book!

Set the roller dial at the highest number and wind the handle and roll oout of the dough

After each rolling turn the dial to a lower number 

When the dough is thin enough you can move to the next stage
Thread the rolled pasta through the cutting blade turning the handle and if the pasta sticks sprinkle with extra semola to keep the threads separate

Pasta now hangs on a stick to dry and set and is ready for cooking.  You can also use coat hangers to hang the pasta.

Cut up a packet of cherry tomatoes, add 1 Tbsp of chilli oil and 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic (if you don’t have chilli oil just use a chopped chilli or chilli concentrate) with the zest and juice of two lemons.

Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and heat another pan with olive oil

Add one pack of raw shelled prawns and stir
 
Add 1 tbsp of salt to boiling water and then gently add the pasta to ensure the water keeps to a rolling boil – the pasta only takes 2-3 minutes to cook. Strain and run over cold water to stop further cooking.

Add the tomato mix to the prawns

Cook a few minutes
 
Chop up a large handful of basil – this magnificent basil is growing in Jan’s glasshouse

Serve with layer of pasta, tomato mix and chopped basil.

If you are not fond of prawns you could replace with courgette or eggplant for a summer vegetarian pasta dish and a good finishing touch would be a grating of parmesan cheese.  The courgette and eggplant needs to be cooked longer at a lower temperature. You could also opt to use other fish instead of the prawns.
 
Making pasta does take time but the edible result is much better than what you can buy.  It’s an absorbing process to watch and could be part of a social gathering with friends.   Jan was shown how to make pasta and in turn showed me.  I am now passing this on to you in the hope that you might get that pasta machine out of the cupboard, or borrow a friend’s machine and give it a go.   I won’t be making pasta in the short term but I will certainly make the sauce again.