Thursday, January 04, 2007
Dinner for the Relos
Two of my cousins from Queensland have been staying with us for the past week, and last night we had a big dinner at my house for all the family who live in Melbourne. There were 10 of us in total, and I wanted a meal that was simple to make, fresh, light, healthy and delicious. Finished with a massive crème brûlée, naturally.
Pasta al forno con pomodori e mozzarella (Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Italy)
Roast pumpkin and red onion with honey dressing (Bill Granger, Every Day)
Rocket, parmesan and pomegranate sald with balsamic (Tessa Kiros, Falling Cloudberries)
Crème brûlée (Nigella Lawson, Nigella Bites)
These dishes, I thought, would be suitable for a large family dinner. They're all large and easy to share, look very welcoming lined up on the table, are not-too-challenging for the eater or cook, and are fine if left to stand around for a short time after being cooked. This gives you all the time you need for your aunts and uncles to exclaim how much you've grown! As for the dessert, my cousins had never had crème brûlée before, and wanted to try it. More importantly, though, I have a brand new blowtorch which really needed to get broken in! Can you see it in the top picture? My dad bought it for me half-price blowtorch in the Boxing Day sales. Woo-hoo! Filling the thing with WARNING: HIGHLY FLAMMABLE butane gas is a bit of a scary experience, but my mum and I managed between ourselves. (Well, I say "between ourselves", I really mean she did it while I cowered behind the island bench).
I started off my afternoon of cooking by making the crème brûlée. Nigella's recipe is a little different from most other ones that I've seen. Rather than cooking a custard on the stove, and then in a waterbath in the oven, she simply instructs you to make a very thick and rich custard on the stove, then chill it in the fridge until firm.
Whilst it was chilling, I got on with the roast vegetables. The roast vegetable dish consists of wedges of unpeeled pumpkin and onion, tossed through chilli flakes and olive oil, which you then roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes. At the end, you boil honey and red wine vinegar, and pour it over, finished with a good sprinkling of mint.
I have made the baked pasta once before. It's fantastic! You just make a simmered tomato sauce (onions, garlic, tinned tomatoes, red wine vinegar & basil - easy peasy)...
There's nothing like a big pot of tomato sauce to make you feel like a hot Italian Mamma.
...boil the pasta (I used penne instead of the orechiette specified because it was vastly cheaper in such gigantic quantities), mix the pasta with half the sauce, and layer it in a dish with parmesan and mozzarella. I ended up filling 2 large dishes, with more pasta leftover. I do love cooking in industrial quantities! Then you just shunt it in the oven for 15 minutes until it is all hot and golden and bubbling and making your house smell just like a home should.
Here it all is...
Rocket, pomegranate seeds and juice, parmesan shavings, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss together in whatever quantities please you, and there it is.
I had doubled the quantities for the pasta, but not for the vegies or the salad. You can't make friends with salad, and I've generally found that people don't really go in for side dishes when you're cooking for a crowd. This time, however, I was wrong. The salad and the vegies got absolutely demolished! I guess I forgot... I wasn't cooking for a "crowd", I was cooking for a Malaysian family! I needed double of EVERYTHING. (Triple quantities probably wouldn't have hurt).
After dinner, I retrieved the custard from the fridge. It wasn't exactly firm enough to hold its shape out of the dish, but it looked and smelled good anyway. I suppose if you're not going the waterbath route, then you need to cook the custard until super thick, and it'd need a good long time to firm up in the fridge.
It was easy enough to sprinkle demerara sugar over the top, and use the blowturch to transform the custard into crème brûlée...