Some café customers actually look forward to winter, when they have an excuse to return to that heavy, filling, comforting stodgy fare, that everybody claims not to love in these health-obsessed times, but which secretly we all scoff at the first opportunity.
Winter is a quiet time for the restaurant trade in most of provincial New Zealand, particularly in the tourist areas outside the ski fields, and even in the cities people dine out less in winter.
It’s time to draw the punters in with soup and bread deals, time to serve hearty, filling dishes, such as the two we feature here.
Besides being suitably wintry, both these dishes can be successfully refrigerated and also freeze well, and thus can be thawed to order in the microwave over the winter months when trade is slow.
1. Eggplant Parmigiano
A wintry, warming Italian classic, Eggplant Parmigiano is yummy for the usual wrong reasons – it’s wickedly rich and decadent. Calling for two types of cheese – parmesan and mozzarella – this is a dish a café owner hopefully finds appealing both to tourists and the dairy-loving Kiwi mainstream.
Grated Mainland mozzarella
Grated Mainland parmesan
Cut the eggplant into 1.8 cm slices and sprinkle on both sides with salt and leave in a colander for 15- 20 minutes. This is not an old wives tale, and has nothing to do with removing supposed bitterness from the eggplant, nearly all of which has been deliberately bred out of modern cultivars in any case.
Rather, the point of salting is to extract moisture from the eggplant, making it better absorb the olive oil, tomato and cheese with which it is baked.
For food safety reasons as much as anything, use fresh paper towels to pat the beads of salty moisture that will now have formed on the eggplant slices.
Now dip in flour, shake of the excess, then dredge in egg wash, and fry on a medium-low heat until browned on both sides.
In a big cast iron casserole dish with a tight fitting lid, successively layer the fried eggplant, tomato puree and grated mozzarella. Add a good sprinkling of grated parmesan for every layer, including the top.
Bake tightly covered at 180 for about half an hour. About five minutes before the end of cooking, take the lid off the casserole dish, switch the oven to fan grill mode, and put some brown splotches on top, taking care not to burn.
Rest for several minutes, then criss-cross vertically with a large chef’s knife into portion-sized cubes.
Use tongs and a fish slice, or better still a wok shovel (bought cheaply at any Asian store) to help neaten the service.
2. Three-cheese Macaroni Cheese
– 3 tablespoons Mainland butter
– 3 tablespoons flour
– 6 cups cooked macaroni
– 125g Mainland Special Reserve Gruyere
– 125g Mainland Grated Mozzarella
- ½ cup Mainland Special Reserve Shredded parmesan
– ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
Melt butter in a saucepan, blend in the flour and cook for two minutes. Add milk and bring to boil to thicken, stirring continuously.
Pour this mixture into a large ovenproof dish and add the cooked macaroni. Mix through the cubes of gruyere and mozzarella.
Mix together the parmesan and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the top of the dish.
Bake 25 minutes at 180 C.
3. Pasta with Rosemary, Tomatoes and Blue Cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
200g Kapiti Kikorangi cheese
125g Anchor butter
2 tablespoons Anchor cream
In a saucepan, heat the olive oil. Crush the rosemary sprigs in your hands to bruise the leaves and bring out the flavour, and add to the olive oil along with the tinned tomato.
Leave to simmer, covered, over a low heat for about 10 minutes to infuse the tomatoes with the rosemary flavour. About three minutes before the end of cooking, add the garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper near the end of cooking. Pick out the spent rosemary sprigs and discard.
Chop the blue vein cheese and butter together and place in a double boiler, or a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Melt them slowly, stirring to amalgamate. Add the cream and stir well.
Boil the spaghetti and when just al dente, drain it well and toss while still hot, first with the tomato sauce, then with the blue cheese sauce. It is important that the spaghetti is hot, in order for the strands to be properly coated with the sauce.
4. A Surefire Recipe for Mash
Floury potatoes (not waxy!)
Potato cooking water
Lots of Mainland butter
Peel and cut the potatoes into large chunks. Boil very gently, with just enough water to cover, until you test them and a chunk easily slips off the end of a thin fish filleting knife.
Drain the potatoes into a colander, with a bowl underneath to catch the cooking water. Save the cooking water.
As top contemporary French chef Joel Robuchon famously replied, when asked for the secret of his superb mash - “Beaucoup de beurre!”
He’s right – you’ve got to really heap on the butter, forgoing the extra food costs for the immeasurable benefit of wowing the diner.
As you mash vigorously with your potato masher, add the potato water a quarter of a cup at a time, until your mash is soft and snowy.
The basic mistake of many commis chefs and most home cooks is never adding enough liquid to their mash, so it ends up dry and unpleasant.
Some chefs and many mums add hot milk, but taste the potato water (which you have been careful not to use too much of - or to over-salt) and you’ll see it contributes to the mash a delicious potatoey flavour of its own.
So save your food costs on the milk or cream, and lash out on the butter.
To really get the best, smoothest mash, you need to use a potato ricer, which forces the boiled potatoes through small round holes.
However, such gadgets are laborious to use, and nothing beats vigorous hand mashing with a standard masher.
If you make mash in a food processor or Hobart-type mixer, be very, very, sure your commis doesn’t over-process them, as the action can easily turn the batch into sticky, unsalable glue.