Sunday, 3 November 2013

Aubergine and Portobello Lasagne / Pineapple Tarts

There was a big storm up in Britain recently which resulted in my having to take a detour at Seven Sisters because the overland had stopped running for the entire day. This resulted in me walking past the Tescos at Seven Sisters which then led to my discovery of LASAGNE SHEETS! And I thought that since we have been eating lasagne at Grodzinski's in Stamford Hill, why shouldn't we also try to make it ourselves?


Aubergine and Portobello Lasagne

Aubergine Sauce
1 large aubergine or 2 smaller aubergines
half a box of mini portobello mushrooms
some tomatoes
handful of spinach
onions or shallots
3 or more cloves of garlic
extra virgin olive oil

Bechamel style white sauce
50g butter
50g flour
500g milk
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

You will also need lasagne sheets and a square baking tin.

Aubergine Sauce
Slice the aubergine and steam for about 15-20 min. In the meantime, in a heavy pan with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, fry the garlic and onion until fragrant, then the mushrooms and spinach. when the aubergines have been steamed sufficiently soft, transfer them to the frying pan and pan fry them till they are brown as well. The browning imparts a much desired taste (Maillard reaction) so it is important to brown the ingredients after steaming (which is done to quicken cooking time and improve the tenderness of the aubergine). Finally, add the tomatoes. if you have tinned plum tomatoes use that, otherwise a fistful of fresh tomatoes with a bit of tomato paste and a generous dash of sugar and water will replace that just fine. The sugar helps cut through the inadvertent tartness of fresh tomatoes, a feature which is often not present in tinned tomatoes. Season to taste. And that'll be the aubergine sauce.

White Sauce
Melt the butter in a pan on low fire and add the flour. It'll froth and bubble up and you'll have to keep stirring so that the flour is evenly distributed throughout the roux (a combination of fat and flour, which is traditionally used as the thickening agent for our sauce). Then gradually stir in the milk and cheese. The parmesan cheese is not traditionally added in béchamel sauce and I have omitted a dash of grated nutmeg as I do not have any nutmeg, but I find that the sauce still turns out very agreeable this way.

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Lasagne Assembly
Butter the square tin and put in alternate layers of aubergine sauce, followed by white sauce, followed by sheets of lasagna. You usually don't have to precook it the noodle. Top with some cheddar and white sauce and bake for about 25-30 min at 200 deg c.

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Lasagne with a salad of mozzarella cheese, basil and tomatoes.

Pineapple Tarts

I also recently made a batch of Pineapple Tarts. This is something that is commonly eaten around Chinese New Year in Singapore. A few years ago I made pineapple tarts from scratch but because I lacked the distinctive tart cutter, the outcome did not look not very professional. I think I've gotten to the point of where I would like to make some seriously kickass things but also be quite detailed about it.

Pineapple Jam
2 Pineapples (about 1.2kg after removing the skin)
200g golden caster sugar

Pastry Base
200g butter
pinch of salt
260g all purpose flour
2 tbsp cornflour
30g icing sugar
2 egg yolks

You will also need baking parchment, a food processor, and a pineapple tart cutter.


The pineapple tart cutter is really key to the look of this pineapple tart. This time around I've been collecting cookie cutters and moulds and I got a pineapple tart cutter when I was in Malaysia earlier in the year.

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We start with fresh pineapples. Some people also think its hard to make the pineapple jam from scratch (it can be bought pre-made in Singapore, so I guess people are wont to say "why make your own if its already available?"). I personally find that its quite easy and foolproof to make, just takes a bit more time but at least you know what's in every tart!

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Slice the pineapple in this manner to get MAXIMUM PINEAPPLE. It is quite manual work but this seems to be the best way to cut a pineapple - other methods can be a bit wasteful - so you should cut it out in the round like this. The way a pineapple grows is quite standard - each prickly segment is from a single carpal of the flower and if you count the spirals there will actually be 5 spirals if viewed from a vertical angle, and if you look at it from a slightly more horizontal angle, it will have 8 spirals in one direction and 13 from another direction (Fibonacci Numbers!). The main point is to cut along one of these spiral directions to remove the prickly parts of the pineapple. Either will do, whichever direction is easier for you to cut.

After you do that, blitz all the pineapple in a food processor to make it into a paste. Boil this pineapple paste with the sugar. The jam takes a long while to come together, so let it reduce until it is very viscous and behaves like a kind of thixotropic paste.

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Pastry Base
While the jam cooks, make the dough by rubbing ALL the pastry ingredients together until it forms a dough that is quite soft yet malleable. The purpose of adding in the cornflour is actually to give it a sharper crunch. If you search around for recipes, many don't mention this cornflour but from my experience of following various Scottish Shortbread recipes, I've realized that the addition of cornflour or rice flour to the mix really makes a difference in how the final bake turns out, making it taste significantly lighter.


Roll out the dough and cut out the dough shapes with the cutter.


Top with the jam and you're ready to bake. I didn't glaze my tarts with a beaten egg but if you are feeling fancy you can do that to give it a more glazed appearance. Bake at about 165 deg c for about 20-30 min. I think my oven has a tendency to be too hot so you should adjust accordingly - when the dough is golden it is done - a visual check is the best determining factor, as you really don't have to let it go too brown.


Use a wide-mouthed jar to store the baked tarts when completely cool. Cut out a stack of baking paper circles which are the size of the jar lid and use these paper circles to divide the tarts up into layers. If not, without the baking paper, these open-topped tarts might stick to each other.


Pineapple Tarts!

I must admit that I've been enjoying learning the reason for certain cooking methods in terms of how the ingredients react chemically to temperature or the other ingredients. And knowing the precise way in how an ingredient reacts also means I can make more logical variations on recipes....

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