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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Post the Fourteenth (in which our heroine apologises yet again)

Ok, I know this song is starting to get really old, but I am sooooo sorry for the extremely sporadic nature of my posting recently.  Two days of temping in Dublin turned into two weeks, so all routine has gone out ye olde fuinneog.  I've been living out of my sister's wardrobe in my parents' house, and my mother seems to have some kind of fundamental mistrust of my cooking, so there hasn't been a whole lot of kitchen action in my life recently.  Fear not, however - I'm going to make up for it by giving you not one, but TWO recipes today.  Never let it be said that I'm a dirty welcher.

First up is pesto.  The end of our (abysmal) summer approaches, and with it comes use-it-or-lose-it time for my basil.  You can grow basil indoors all year round, but I have mine in huge pots outside, so rather than watch it wither and die on the plant, I decided to make pesto.  Homemade pesto is almost ridiculously easy to make.  I'll be honest, though, it's not worth doing unless you have the basil to hand - if you were to make it using those stupid flat-pack packs of basil you buy in the shops, it would cost you a bleedin' fortune.  But, on the off-chance you happen to be looking at a huge basil plant right now and wondering what to do with it, here you go:

Pesto - makes one large jar

110g basil                           200ml extra-virgin olive oil
50g parmesan, grated          25g pine-nuts, lightly toasted

1) Wash and dry your basil.  110g doesn't sound like a whole lot, but believe me, it is.  I scalped two whole plants and still managed to come up 2g short.  So here's what 108g of basil looks like:

2)  Whizz the basil, cheese, pine-nuts & oil in a food processor.  Taste, season & add more oil if you need to.  Give the whole lot another good stir, then spoon into a sterilised jar*, wipe the neck of the jar clean, cover the surface of the pesto with a layer of olive oil, and enjoy.

NOTE:  If any of the surface of the pesto is exposed to air it will oxidise and go a horrible brown colour.  Every time you use the pesto, wipe the neck of the jar clean again and re-cover with a layer of olive oil.  This sounds like a righteous pain in the hole, but to be honest with you, you'll use the pesto so quickly (cause it's bleedin' gorgeous, like) that you won't have to do it very often.

*How in god's name do I sterilise a jar?  Boil the jar and the lid in loads of water for ten minutes.  Allow them to cool completely before putting the pesto in.  Handle the lid with tongs and only touch the outside of the jar.

And today's second recipe is authentic French baguettes.  Thanks to Jude at http://www.applepiepatispate for this recipe.

A word of warning  - this recipe looks a bit intimidating at first glance, simply because there's so many steps. Please, please, please don't be put off trying it.  There's literally four ingredients in it and apart from taking a bit of time, it's not at all difficult and the end result is, to borrow a phrase from my friend Niamh, totes amazeballs.  Give it a go, that's all I ask.

Pain a l'ancienne Francais - makes 3 baguettes

500g plain flour                        325ml cold water
9g salt                                      5g dried yeast
50ml cold water

Day 1
1) In a large bowl, mix the flour and the 325ml water with a fork til you get a rough ball of dough.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 4-6 minutes until smooth & elastic.  Stick in an oiled sandwich bag and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2
1)  Remove the dough from the fridge an hour before using.  Mix the 50ml of water, salt and yeast in a bowl, add the dough and knead well until all the extra water is absorbed.  You'll be looking at it initially going "This is never going to happen" but believe me, it will, and quicker than you'd expect.

First Improvement  -cover and stand at room temp. for 90 minutes

2)  Stretch and fold the dough over itself a few times.

Second Improvement - re-cover and stand at room temp. for another 90 minutes.

3) Stretch & fold again.

Final Improvement - cover & stand at room temperature until doubled in size, about 3 hours.

4) Cut the dough into three pieces.  On a floured baking tray, gently shape into loose ovals by tucking the sides under.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes, then gently stretch into baguettes. Preheat your oven to 240C while they're resting.

5) Cut 3 or 4 diagonal slashes into each baguette.  Place a pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven (don't be tempted to skip this part, it's very important!) and bake the loaves for 9 minutes.  Rotate by 180 degrees & bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the crust is a gorgeous deep reddy-brown.  Cool on a wire rack, then devour with real butter.

Yet another tip:  My life changed for the better the day I thought to wear surgical gloves (which I always have at home for handling chilies) while handling dough.  No more icky-goo between your fingers.  No more spending days picking concrete-hard bits from under your fingernails.  I genuinely wouldn't bother making bread anymore if I hadn't copped onto doing this.  Oh, and rather than using a fresh pair of gloves every time you handle this dough (cause let's face it, you'd fly through them) simply wash & dry your hands while wearing them, and re-use them for the next stretching & folding/kneading/whatever.  You're welcome...

Today's Top Tip: Regular-sized Mars bars make great fun-sized Mars bars for giants.

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