I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to cooking - I don't really like to try anything with more than eight or so ingredients, and definitely freak out at the prospect of 'preparing a day ahead'. I'm more a Donna Hay girl than a Julia Child devotee.
My darling friend Gemma though, gosh, she amazes me. She is always whipping up ah-mazing meals that I would skip straight over in a recipe book. She's not afraid to try something new and challenging and I take my hat off to her.
She impressed me with a lip smackingly good tagine last year and most recently, a rich and decadent duck ragout for our school girls get together (10 years on and still going strong!). As for dessert, she knocked our socks off with a fabulous twist on baklava a la George Calombaris.
Breaking it down, it doesn't look all that scary, so I might bite the bullet and try them both myself - the end result is definitely worth it!
Braised duck, Valpolicella, tomato and rosemary with polenta
Serves 6 | Cooking Time Prep time 35 mins, cook 3 hrs (plus brining, resting)
1 free-range duck (about 2kg)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 rosemary sprig
375 ml Valpolicella (see note)
800 gm canned diced Italian tomatoes
2 fresh bay leaves
Pinch of finely grated nutmeg
½ cup (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
To serve: soft polenta
300 gm fine sea salt
275 gm (1¼ cups) white sugar
5 juniper berries, coarsely crushed
2 fresh bay leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
- For brine, bring ingredients and 1.5 litres water to the boil in a large saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve, then set aside to cool completely.
- Place duck snugly in a non-reactive container, pour over brine to completely cover. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove duck from brine (discard brine) and pat dry with absorbent paper. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat, cook duck, breast-side down first, then turning until fat renders and duck is golden (3-5 minutes each side). Remove duck (reserve fat) and set aside.
- Heat 30ml duck fat in a large casserole over medium-high heat, add vegetables, garlic and rosemary, stir occasionally until tender (5-7 minutes). Add wine and simmer until reduced slightly (2-3 minutes), then add tomato, bay leaves and nutmeg and season to taste. Add duck (duck should be submerged), cover with baking paper, then with a lid, and cook over low heat, turning duck and skimming fat occasionally until duck is tender and almost falling from the bone (2-2½ hours). Cover and set aside to rest (30 minutes).
- Remove duck from braising liquid, then, when cool enough to handle, coarsely shred meat (discard bones, skin and sinew) and return meat to sauce. Season to taste, stir through parsley and serve hot with soft polenta.
Note Valpolicella is a light red wine from the region of the same name, typically made from corvina Veronese, rondinella and molinara grapes.
This recipe is from the May 2011 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.
Hot chocolate baklava with vanilla cream
Ingredients100 g walnuts, chopped
100 g slivered almonds, chopped
100 g pistachios, chopped
generous pinch cinnamon
1 tbs fine semolina
pinch of salt
400 ml Bulla Thickened Cream
200 g dark chocolate buttons (55% cocoa)
1 x 375g packet filo pastry (approximately 18 sheets)
extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
melted butter, for brushing
1/3 cup honey
finely grated zest of 1 orange
¼ cup caster sugar
¼ cup water
1 vanilla bean
- Place walnuts, slivered almond, pistachios, cinnamon, semolina and salt into bowl. Bring 100mL of the cream just to the boil, remove from the heat, add the dark chocolate and stir until melted. Add chocolate to nuts and mix until combined.
- Lay one sheet of filo pastry horizontally on a chopping board, brush lightly with olive oil, place another sheet directly on top, followed by a third sheet. Cut in half from top to bottom to form 2 sheets.
- Place two heaped tablespoons of the baklava mix in a line towards the bottom edge of the sheets. Fold over bottom edge, followed by the two sides and roll into cigar shape.
- Brush lightly with butter and place onto baking tray, repeat until all mix used, chill before baking.
- Pre-heat oven to 190°C (fan forced).
- Bake baklava ladyfingers until golden brown, approximately 10 minutes, then remove and place into a wire rack to cool.
- Bring honey, orange zest, sugar and water to the boil, simmer for 3 minutes. Generously spoon the syrup over the baklava fingers until all syrup used up.
- Split vanilla bean lengthways, remove seeds and place into a medium sized bowl. Add the remaining 300mL of the cream and whip till soft peaks form.
- Place baklava back into oven for 3 minutes to warm through, serve hot with vanilla cream.