Simple food full of flavour

Alison Lambert
Alison Lambert

I love the festive season. Not only does it mean spending quality time with loved ones, it also means a time to indulge and get creative with our fantastic local seasonal food.

This year I have made entertaining easy with simple dishes full of flavour, and they will adorn your table and impress your guests.

Have a very merry Christmas.

Photos by Simon Lambert.
Photos by Simon Lambert.
Baked ricotta, crudites and sesame lavosh

Making ricotta is easy and hugely satisfying. It can also be used for sweet dishes as well as savoury.

Serves 8 as nibbles

Ingredients

Baked ricotta
250g ricotta
50g butter
25g parmesan cheese, grated
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
200g cherry tomatoes or olives
extra virgin olive oil
3 free-range eggs
100ml creme fraiche
4 sprigs fresh thyme
sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper

Ricotta
4 cups whole milk
2 cups cream
½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp good white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Sesame lavosh
1 cup plain flour
⅓ cup wholemeal flour
2 Tbsp each black and white sesame seeds or 4 tbsp just one kind
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
½ cup water

To finish
extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt

Method
Begin by making the ricotta. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl.

Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

Pour the milk and cream into a non-reactive pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar or lemon juice.

Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl.

The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta.

Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Baked ricotta
Preheat the oven to 200degC.

Grate the parmesan cheese and set aside.

Butter a 20 x 18cm oven dish (you can also do individual ones is desired). Dust the dish with the grated parmesan cheese.

Mix the ricotta and eggs in a food processor until light.

Put into a bowl and add the creme fraiche, thyme and season to taste. Mix well to combine.

Pour the mixture into your prepared dish, scatter over the tomatoes, sprinkle over a little more thyme and drizzle over a little olive oil.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until it has risen, and the surface is golden and feeling slightly firm.

Remove from the oven and enjoy immediately.

Sesame lavosh
Preheat oven to 165degC and line an oven tray with baking paper.

In a mixing bowl stir together the flours, sesame seeds, oregano and salt. Mix the oils and water together and add to the dry ingredients, stirring to form a soft, pliable dough.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll each out on a lightly floured board as thinly as possible.

Each piece of dough should yield a rectangle about 34 x 16cm. Cut each rectangle into strips measuring about 4 x 17 cm and roll again. They need to be virtually see-through.

Carefully transfer strips to a baking tray, brush lightly with oil and sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake until crisp and pale golden, about 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool fully then store in an airtight container.

Crudites
This simply means raw vegetables so this can mean anything from petite radishes to fragrant fennel, carrot and celery sticks. I even like cauliflower and broccoli florets.

Just remember to use fresh, seasonal vegetables and keep the size appropriate for finger food.

Chargrilled marinated summer veges

This salad is all about flavour! I use as much variety as possible so I get amazing flavours, textures and colour. It is summer after all and you want this to ''wow'' your guests!

Serves 10

Ingredients
1 large aubergine
1 bulb fennel , leafy tops reserved
2 courgettes
1 bunch asparagus (if in season)
2 red peppers
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch fresh basil, oregano or marjoram leaves, picked
Small handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic , finely chopped

Method
Let your barbecue die down ready to cook or put a griddle pan on a high heat to get nice and hot.

Slice the aubergine about 1cm thick, slice the fennel bulb at an angle about 3mm thick, then slice the courgettes lengthways to about the same thickness as the fennel.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus. Leave the peppers whole.

Pile everything onto a large tray ready to cook. In batches, add the veges to your barbecue or hot griddle to cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until charred, soft and delicious.

Remember that each vegetable will cook at a different rate so keep checking and turning everything and as soon as it is looking good, transfer it to a large bowl (keeping the cooked peppers to one side) and get the next lot of veges on.

Carefully remove the black skin on the peppers, open them up and scrape away the seeds. Don't worry about getting all of the skin off but do the best you can.

This is a messy job but totally worth it! Tear the peppers into strands and add to the bowl, along with the extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and a good pinch of salt and pepper .

Butterflied leg of lamb, salted yoghurt sauce and rosemary and lemon-roasted potatoes

Smoky, flavoursome lamb, cooked to perfection on the barbecue will make a grand centrepiece this festive season.

Serves 8

Ingredients
2kg leg of lamb, boned
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ cup (small handful) fresh rosemary, oregano or thyme leaves|
½ tsp pink peppercorns
1 tsp black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic
salt
salted yogurt sauce (see below)
250g Greek-style yoghurt
1 tsp sea salt flakes
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Salted yoghurt sauce
250g Greek yoghurt
½ tsp sea salt flakes
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

Rosemary and lemon-roasted potatoes
1.5kg Jersey Royal potatoes
1 bulb of garlic , unpeeled
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Method
It is best to marinate the meat the day before, if possible.

Place the butterflied leg of lamb on a board and pierce the thicker parts of the meat with the tip of a sharp knife. This will allow the marinade to penetrate more.

Pound all the remaining ingredients together in a mortar, if possible, to make a paste.

Massage all over the lamb and place into a non-reactive dish, cover and chill overnight, if possible.

Preheat the barbecue to hot, or if doing it in the oven turn the oven to 200degC.

Remove the lamb 30 minutes before cooking.

Cook the lamb for 40-45 minutes (medium-rare) turning every 10 minutes or so on the barbecue or halfway through if using the oven.

Cover and rest for 15 minutes before slicing thinly.

Pour over any juices that may have formed.

Salted yoghurt sauce
Mix all the ingredients together and chill until required.

Rosemary and lemon-roasted potatoes
Preheat the oven to 190degC.

Place the potatoes in a medium pan of boiling salted water, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Drain and leave to steam dry.

Heat a roasting dish in the oven.

Toss the cooked potatoes in a bowl with the garlic, season well with salt and pepper and drizzle with a generous glug of olive oil.

Pour all the contents into the hot roasting tray, return to the oven and cook for around 30-40 minutes or until crispy and golden. Enjoy!

Frozen summer berry, mascarpone Christmas pudding

Desserts like this are a blessing as they can be made in advance and frozen until required. I am using a combination of summer berries, such as strawberries, raspberries and boysenberries, but you can use your favourite berry or cherries or whatever makes you happy!

Serves 10-12

Ingredients
2 litres good-quality vanilla ice cream
2 tsp vanilla paste
2 Tbsp brandy (optional)
250g mascarpone
1 orange, zest only
300g summer berries, plus more for garnishing
2 Tbsp icing sugar
rose petals (optional) for serving

Method
Line a deep 2-litre bowl with muslin. This will give you a lovely effect on the outside, or you can use plastic wrap to line the bowl.

Remove the ice cream from the freezer and soften slightly.

Spoon into the bowl of your electric mixer, add the vanilla and beat for 1 minute.

Working fast as you don't want the ice cream to melt, transfer the mixture to your prepared bowl, spreading the ice cream around the surface, leaving the centre empty.

Lightly brush the outside of a suitably sized smaller bowl with a little neutral oil. Place into the centre of the larger ice cream-lined bowl. Freeze for at least 1-2 hours or until very firm.

Toss the berries through the icing sugar and let macerate for 30 minutes.

Whip the mascarpone, brandy, orange zest and 1 tablespoon of icing sugar together until well combined and smooth.

Gently fold the 2 mixtures together, ensuring you don't mash up the berries too much.

Remove the inner bowl from your ice cream.

Spoon the berry mixture into the hollowed-out centre. Cover and return to the freezer to completely set, the longer the better.

When you are ready to serve, remove from the freezer and place the bowl upside down on a serving platter. Rub the outside of the bowl with hot cloth to loosen the bowl. Gently ease the pudding out.

Decorate with more berries and rose petals and enjoy immediately.

This will last in your freezer for up to 1 month.

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