Nduja in the Style of a Moussaka, with Baby Fennel & Tomato Salad

Our standard use for nduja has been in a tomato based sauce, served with pasta – a bit like an über spicy Bolognese.  This is very tasty, and all well and good, but the nduja needed new ways to express itself.

AubergineThis plump, purple aubergine got me thinking about moussaka…which got me musing about the probable wondrousness of a creamy sauce against fiery nduja…which, eventually, lead to the creation of this dish.

It’s actually nothing like a moussaka, apart from the aubergine, but it was inspired by… 😉

Finished dish with saladThe salad of fresh tomatoes, crisp, slightly aniseed fennel, and zesty lemon dressing cuts perfectly against the richness of the cheese sauce and oily nduja to make a beautifully an ugly, but flavour balanced meal.

Note:  I accidentally got beef mince, instead of pork, out of the freezer so that’s what’s in the pictures.  However, pork mince would work much better with the spicy pork nduja paste, so that’s what I’ve listed in the ingredients.

Ingredients
1 aubergine, sliced
1 courgette, cut into small chunks
1 red bell pepper, cut into small chunks
A glug of olive oil
2-3 hands full of soffritto
1 teaspoon chopped smoked garlic
400g tinned tomatoes
100g nduja
400g minced pork
250g ricotta cheese
150g Manchego cheese, grated
150ml single cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Baby fennelFor the Salad
4-5 baby fennel bulbs, sliced into rings
2-3 fresh, ripe plum tomatoes, sliced
½ lemon – juice only
Olive oil
2-3 sprigs of fresh basil, leaves stripped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Music

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190°C/375ºF

Baby fennel in olive oil & lemon juice dressingPlace fennel rings into a small non-metallic bowl.

Mix together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper until to preferred taste and pour over fennel. Set to one side.

Sliced aubergineLay the aubergine slices onto a triple layer of kitchen roll, sprinkle liberally with salt, top with another triple layer of kitchen roll.and leave for 20-30 minutes, until plenty of water has been released.

Alternatively, layer in a large, non-metallic sieve set over a bowl.

Soffritto

Smoked garlic

Heat oil in a heavy based, lidded pan.  Add soffritto and garlic then cook over a low to medium heat, with lid on, until vegetables are soft but not brown.

CourgetteChuck in chopped courgette (yup, still working our way through them!) and red pepper – cook, with lid off, for 5-6 minutes.

Nduja

Add minced pork and nduja and cook over a medium heat, stirring and turning until the nduja has ‘melted’…

Fiery red nduja oil…and all those gorgeous, hot, peppery, orange coloured oils have been released.

Pour in tinned tomatoes and simmer with lid off until sauce has thickened, with almost no liquid remaining.  Remove from heat.

Cheese sauce ingredientsNext, make a cheese sauce by gently heating the single cream, ricotta and about ¾ of the Manchego (keep some back for sprinkling on top) until everything’s melted together.

Cheese sauceAdd a splash of milk if it gets too thick.  Season to taste.  Resist grabbing a piece of bread to dunk in.

Layered and ready to bakeRescue the aubergines from their soggy tissue shroud – pat dry.  You can fry them to brown them off if you want to, but it’s not really necessary.

In an oven proof dish build alternating layers of aubergine slices, meat mixture and cheese sauce, starting with aubergine and ending with cheese sauce.

Topped with cheeseSprinkle reserved cheese over the top and bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.

Tomato and fennel saladTo finish salad – place sliced tomatoes onto a plate, shred basil leaves over the top and season well with salt and pepper.  Spoon fennel rings and a little of the dressing over the top.

Finished dish with saladI really should have taken a good shot of the baked whole dish as nothing was going to make a served portion look terribly pretty!

If you make it, I’m sure you’ll agree that the taste explosion is ample compensation for the explosion-like appearance.  I hope so anyway! 🙂
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Chargrilled tomato bisque

Q. Why is this a bisque and not a soup?

A. Because the definitions are a little unclear and I liked the sound of ‘bisque’ better.

Tomato bisque with crumbled fetaHonestly, I did look into this but, as with most things on t’internet, opinions vary.  Whilst it is accepted that traditionally bisque is made from shell fish, some schools of thought now feel the term can be applied to any smooth, thick, creamy soup (the smoothness being what differentiates it from a chowder).

By some definitions the thickening agent determines whether something is a cream soup or a bisque.

To confuse things even further, some otherwise detailed definitions do not include a category for smooth soups made with puréed vegetables and cream.

In the end, I walked away from the internet with a shrug, and declared it to be a bisque 😉

This recipe was created to go on Big Sis’s birthday banquet menu.  Despite seeming a bit faffy it’s actually pretty quick and very easy.  Packed with flavour, this is definitely one of those dishes that is more than the sum of its parts.

To serve four

Ingredients
A splosh of olive oil
A couple of (good sized) handfuls soffritto
2 garlic cloves, minced
Approx. 500g fresh, ripe tomatoes – get good quality, flavoursome ones, not those watery, insipid ‘salad tomato’ numbers.
A big bowl full of iced water
400g tin chopped tomatoes
Approx. 200ml vegetable stock
2-3 good sized sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped
150ml (ish) single cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Feta cheese, to garnish
Music

Ok, before we get started…if you don’t have a gas stove, or some other form of flame suitable to cook over, you can oven roast or grill the tomatoes at a very high temperature in order to get the blackened skins.  If you use this method, your tomatoes will inevitably end up more cooked and squashier to handle…much messier but it will still produce a tasty end result.

TomatoTake one superb fresh, locally grown, still-smelling-of-greenhouse, ripe, red tomato and stab it onto a fork.

Charred tomatoHold tomato over your flame (your cooking one, not your lover), twisting and turning it until you have a superb fresh, locally grown, burned-to-buggery, black and red tomato.

Keeping it on the fork, immediately plunge into the bowl of iced water.  Gently rub the skin, which should just fall away – if it’s clinging a bit too tightly to the tomato, put it back into the flame for a while longer.

Remove the skinned tomato from water and fork – set to one side.  Continue this process until all the tomatoes are done.

Skinned chopped tomatoesCut tomatoes in half, remove seeds (the majority is good enough – no need to get finicky).  Roughly chop the de-seeded tomatoes.

SoffrittoHeat the olive oil and cook soffritto over a low to medium heat until softened but not browned.

Add crushed garlic and cook for about another minute.

Skinned chopped tomatoes, garlic, veg stock potBring up the heat a little, add fresh chopped tomatoes, tinned tomatoes and stock.  Simmer for around 15-20 minutes, with the lid off, until liquid has reduced by around half.

ThymeTip everything into a food processor and add fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper – blitz until smooth.

Single creamReturn to pan, add single cream and warm through, stirring continuously – don’t let it boil!

Tomato bisque with crumbled fetaAdjust seasoning, sprinkle with crumbled feta and serve with buttery garlic bread.

Don’t forget to wipe your mouth when you’ve finished 😉
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