Saturday, July 27, 2013

Basics: Stock, breadcrumbs and pesto

Over the last week, Wellington has been experiencing some shakes.  Nothing fatal but still a little scary after knowing the affect of the earthquakes in Christchurch and even more when we know the city is built over a fault line.  A big one shook us on Sunday evening, just after we'd been pigging out on midwinter Christmas leftovers (turkey, stuffing, gravy, mash and peas in a roll - yum) and we were certainly all thankful that we were together with friends at that point.  And also that we had some hot cider warming on the stove.

On Monday, the CBD was closed for inspection and we were told to stay home from work while they assessed building damage.  Bonus day off!  And I was happy to stay put as our house felt quite stable and a safer place to be than in town.  It became the perfect opportunity to do some kitchen-errands.  In the freezer, I had chicken carcasses and leftover bread (from hollowing the bread out of baguettes and cutting rounds out for makeshift slider 'buns') destined for stock and breadcrumbs, as well as the makings of broccoli pesto in the fridge, pantry and garden.

To give me the fuel, I treated myself to a superfood cooked breakfast salad. A mix of quinoa, millet and amaranth cooked til al dente was set aside while I boiled an egg (5-6 minutes from cold water to boil and then left to sit, continuing the cooking process, while I prepared everything else) and fried a few mushrooms.  I cut these into 1/8's as I wanted more bite than when they are simply sliced, so with a pinch of garlic-infused salt and cracked black pepper, the mushrooms went in with the seed/grain mix.  Meanwhile, I added a small handful of frozen broad beans into the hot water in which my egg continued to gently cook.  While the broad beans defrosted, I sliced the green of one green onion and added this with a tablespoon each of chia seed and flaxseed.  After removing the broad beans from the water and then their skins, I proceeded to peel my boiled egg which turned out lovely and soft.  Into my breakfast bowl with another pinch of garlic-infused salt, cracked pepper and a swirl of good olive oil to lightly dress my 'salad', I dug into this with joy.

With myself sorted, the first task was chicken stock.  Many Sunday roasts with friends saw our freezer stocked with many salvaged carcasses to ensure a never-ending supply (or at least possibility) of homemade stock.  Lately we've also been spatchcocking our chicken for quicker roast times, so removed backbones were in good supply, too.

I threw a couple of these with a carcass into a large stock pot with a roughly chopped onion (with skin), the green upper leaves of a leek (cleaned), a large carrot (unpeeled) and full celery stalk sliced diagonally (exposing the maximum amount of surface), five peppercorns, a large dried bay leaf and enough cold water to cover everything, and about a 1/3 more for good measure.  After bringing to the boil, I let it simmer for 2-3 hours.  The longer the better when making stock, so I always make sure I've got a few things to do around the house on these occasions.  When I eventually need to leave the house, I turn the heat off and let it cool at it's own pace atop the stove so when I come back to it, I know it's thoroughly extracted all of the stock flavours.  It's also then ready to go in the freezer.

Task two: breadcrumbs.  Easy.  Preheating the oven to 150degC, I placed my frozen bread, broken into chunks (if not already), in a single layer on a non-stick oven tray.  Straight into the oven, I checked it after 15-20 mins to test dryness.  All bread and ovens are slightly different, so it's good to gauge the progress of your bread to be able to safely guess how much longer you might need after that.  When completely dried out (e.g. nothing soft and squishy left behind) and starting to colour, remove from oven and blitz in food processor to desired crumb size.  Because the moisture is completely removed, it stores very well in a resealable bag or container until needed.

Lastly, some broccoli pesto.  I had a head of broccoli that was starting to turn colour so I figured a quick way to use it up was to make some pesto.  While not commonly thought of as a pesto ingredient, I remember reading a broccoli pesto recipe somewhere (I forget where) and thinking it was an idea worth trying.  Traditional pestos are made from fresh basil leaves, parmesan, pine nuts, crushed garlic and olive oil whereas I had broccoli, parsley, pecorino (a sheep's milk alternative to parmesan), cashew nuts, and garlic around the place so thought I'd try out the concept.

Broccoli pesto  Makes a packed 1/4 cup

A healthier alternative to a traditional store-bought pesto, the beauty of the recipe, like many of my favourites, is it's opportunity to tweak slightly according to what's on hand.  Next time, I'd like to swap the cashews for almonds and perhaps add some fresh baby spinach leaves.

1 head of broccoli, including stem, cut into florets/chunks
Handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 c grated Pecorino Romano
3 Tbsp cashews
1/2 clove of garlic
3 Tbsp good olive oil or enough to wetten mix (I prefer my pestos on the dryer side)
Pinch of flaky sea salt

Place all ingredients into a food processor and process until combined.  Check for taste and seasoning.

Perfect served on thick slices of toasted bread or stirred through freshly cooked pasta (with the addition of a couple tablespoons of cooking water) and topped with plenty of cracked black pepper.

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