Ham and Herb Stuffed Mushrooms

A lovely quick starter or fantastic side dish from the pages of my Grandmother’s cook book was this easy mushroom recipe.

It’s so straightforward – mix it, stuff it, bake it. Make it up in advance and refrigerate it until you’re ready to put it in the oven. For you veggies out there – just supplement the cooked meat with some couscous for an equally delightful treat.

Ingredients:
Large open mushrooms (about 10 open cups, or 8 portobello)
50g cooked ham, or pancetta bacon
Roughly 1 tsp oregano (chopped)
Roughly 1 tsp parsley (chopped)
3-4 sprigs of thyme (strip the leaves off the stalk)
2 tbsp parmesan
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Remove the mushrooms stalks and place the mushrooms upside down on a baking tray. Finely dice the mushroom stalks and place in a bowl with the parmesan, chopped herbs, cheese, breadcrumbs and finely diced ham (or couscous). Add a little olive oil and combine. Using a teaspoon fill the mushroom centres with mix. Drizzle a little olive oil over the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and top with a little extra parmesan. Place the baking tray in a preheated oven on 180º for twenty minutes, or a bit longer if you have used larger mushrooms like Portobello.

If you wish, serve it with a small fresh salad: sugar snap peas, gem lettuce, chicory – anything with a bit of crunch. They are also great as a side accompaniment to a meaty steak and chips or perhaps lamb chops.

Chicken, Red Cabbage and Kale Stuffed Conchiglioni

In an attempt to experiment with more vegetables, here is a healthy starter, full of anti-oxidants and high in iron and other minerals in the kale and red cabbage. Not two of the most interesting veg – but the punch of garlic and the smooth cheese sauce balances out the slightly bitter qualities of the kale and the sweet red cabbage gives added crunchy texture.

Ingredients:
1 chicken breast
Kale
1/4 head of red cabbage
2 shallots
4 cloves of garlic
10g salted butter
10g plain flour
1/2 pt milk
50g cheddar cheese
About 40 Conchiglioni shells

Start by preheating the oven to 180°C.

Fry together the garlic and shallots in a small amount of oil until soft. Dice the chicken breast into small pieces and add to the mix, along with finely sliced red cabbage and kale. Stir together, cook until the chicken is cooked through and draw off the heat.

Melt the butter in a pan and stirring the flour in to form a smooth paste. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk.  Once consistent and smooth, return to the heat, melt the cheese into the sauce. The result should be a runny but smooth cheese sauce.

Cook the over sized pasta shells (Conchiglioni) in a pan of salted water until al-dente. Drain and stuff each shell with the chicken and vegetable mix. Lay in rows in a oven-proof dish, and pour over the cheese sauce, covering all shells equally. Finish with grated cheese.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is golden.

Chicken Liver, Port and Thyme Paté

Paté: a simple starter, a party nibble or a lavish snack – have it as and when you please. This recipe is a wonderful addition to the Christmas and New Year food list over the festive break.

Ingredients:

800g chicken livers
120ml Ruby Port
100g unsalted butter
2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper for seasoning
1 bay leaf
Fresh thyme
Sprig of Rosemary
Orange zest
2 eggs
100ml single cream
100ml clarified butter

Chop the shallots and garlic as finely as you can. Fry gently in a of pan melted butter, until soft. Stir in the bay leaf, three springs of thyme and rosemary. Then lower the heat and pour in the port and simmer very gently on a low flame for ten minutes.
Add the livers and fry until brown with a pink centre. Do not over cook them, as this will make the livers difficult to pass through a sieve later and ultimately make the texture of the paté grainy. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool. Crush the livers with the back of a fork to start the smoothing process and mix in the eggs and cream. Then using the back of a spoon, push the livers and port reduction through a sieve. The resulting mixture should be smooth with a rosy-grey tint from the pink livers and port. You may think it does not look all together appetising at this moment but don’t worry.

Pour the paté into six ramequins and cover each tightly with a bit of foil. Place the ramekins in a warm water bath – use a roasting tray and fill with hot water to half way up the ramekin height.

Place carefully in a preheated oven on 160° for 30 mins. Then remove and allow to cool.

Clarifying the Butter:

In a thick based pan, melt 175g of unsalted butter very, very slowly. Do not be tempted to stir it. Just watch the butter sink into itself and the liquids will begin to separate. Be careful as the butter may spit.

Skim off the white pieces – these are milk solids. What is left is a clear golden liquid; the clarified butter. Allow it to cool.

Pour the butter over the surface of the cooled paté in the ramekins. A thin layer 1/2 cm will do. Sprinkle the surfaces whole peppercorns, orange zest and fresh thyme leaves. Then place the pots into the fridge to allow the tops to harden.

This is great dish to make up in advance. Keep chilled for a couple of days to bring out the best of the flavours.