For the past few weeks my brother, in the midst of his cross-fit obsession, has bought a few Paleo Diet recipe books. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience cooking from these books, as it has taken me outside my comfort zone and required me to cook with some new ingredients, and, I guess more importantly, cook without some ingredients that over the years have become a major part of my cooking ‘style’.
Having said that, I am a little disappointed in how these meals are put together. I’m thinking that perhaps, with the way they are set out, that the idea is to take a main protein and mix and match it with the vegetable sides and the like, that make up all the different sections of the books. You know, there’s the ‘Meat’ section, ‘Seafood’, ‘Salads’, ‘Vegetables’ etc.
I don’t like this, at all.
You see, I come from a restaurant background, through and through. I’m the guy at home that plates up like its an episode of Masterchef, and elimination is imminent. Whilst I’m not going all out to impress my imagined judges; there are no elaborate sauces, stacks on the plate, or lamb cooked three ways, But it does look visually appealing, and I do put in quite an effort to make each component of the dish meld together harmoniously. I don’t really do meat and three vege. Or if I do, its a pretty damn fine three vege, and the meat is cooked medium rare, no question. And there probably is a sauce, starting with a mirepoix and roasted veal bones, simmered for anywhere from three to five hours, reduced down with red wine, and if I’m in the mood, clarified at the end with egg whites and shells, creating a consomme that just glistens with a dash of butter, reflecting back at me and whispering “I reckon I was worth it, I really do”. Best be believing the quality silverware is out for that one, and damn straight I’m having a glass of Burgundy with it …
So, I guess what disappoints me about these recipes is that they are not complete meals in my mind. I don’t mean nutritionally, or in the sense that they adhere to the ideals of a Paleo Diet. I’m coming from the angle of a restaurant quality plate; visually appealing, and each component there for a reason. The way I see it; if you’re gonna go Paleo, you deserve a little extra heart and soul you know?
If that’s the case, I’ve got a few recipes you might want to try out. And goddamn it; you’re certainly going to impress someone (even if it’s just your brother, who might I add, is eating like a Caveman King at the moment …).
So, over the next while or so, I’m going to post a few recipes I’ve come across and tweaked a little. They’re not too taxing on anyone’s culinary skills (I think …), and they are without a doubt a damn sight more tasty than some Paleo recipes you might find. Because these ones, well … its a complete dish; singing off the plate, a slow tune crooning “I reckon I was worth it …”.
I really hope you enjoy them.
Roast Chicken with Zucchini Ribbons, Cherry Tomatoes & Basil Pesto
- Chicken Breast
- Zucchini (or Courgettes … Just kidding, they’re the same, thats the French dialectal. You could maybe get a small green vegetable marrow … Got ya again! Seriously, maybe just a gourd … It doesn’t stop! I’m here all night, tip on the way out)
- Tinned Italian Cherry Tomatoes (go for gold, use some fresh ones, I’m just gonna say that the tinned cherry tomatoes available at my supermarket are pretty spectacular. First time my brother came home with some I certainly gave him the ‘only fresh is best bro, I’m more than a little disappointed (not angry …) that you’re going to serve me tinned anything‘. On the plate I took one bite, looked over, and gave him a ‘all is forgiven’ look, you know the one…)
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Basil (lots and lots of basil, seriously, by the bucket if you can get it. I wouldn’t use the ‘fresh’ tube stuff sold in some supermarkets, there’s just too much added salt)
- Pine Nuts
- Coconut Milk (NOT cream, very important distinction)
- Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
First … The Basil Pesto:
Get a pan going on the stove at a medium heat. Once ready place a handful of pine nuts in. Stir around and flip over regularly for a couple of minutes; it shouldn’t take too long to get some colour on them. Try avoid getting them too dark. Set aside when done.
Peel off two cloves of garlic and roughly chop up.
Blend garlic and pine-nuts together. I find it to be more of a cathartic experience to bash the pine nuts and garlic in a mortar and pestle, but you could also biff it into a small blender and blitz away. Did I say biff? I should be more respectful of pine nuts and garlic. Politely biff them in the blender …
After a minute or two add the basil, and continue bashing/blitzing until it’s a nice pulpy texture.
Add a teaspoon or two of coconut milk, a good slug of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, then mix it all together.
Take a deep breath, dip your finger in, and assess the need for more basil, oil, coconut milk, lemon juice or salt and pepper, adjust, mix away, re-assess etc, then set aside.
The salt shouldn’t be too overpowering, the lemon juice should be a background tang, garlic should be there adding some bite but not taking over, oil and coconut milk should be smoothing it all out. I reckon you can never really have enough basil …
Next … The Chicken Breast:
Hopefully you have read through the recipe already and have the oven pre-heated to 180 degrees …
Season chicken on both sides, crank up a pan to a high heat with some olive oil, and sear both sides till golden brown. Place in oven for around ten to fifteen minutes, and, as always rest afterwards out of the oven afterwards, perhaps with a bit of tin foil covering. I hate giving out direct instructions on how to cook chicken correctly, but if you’ve got through the basil pesto section without too much drama, I reckon you can cook some chicken okay? Have faith in yourself. Every pan and oven is different, just try and get that magical zone of nice and moist inside, not dry and over cooked, or, heaven forbid, under-cooked and poisonous … Don’t poison your guests, no one likes an extended stay in the bathroom if it can be avoided.
Next … The Zucchini Ribbons:
Wash the zucchini thoroughly (or gourds … … No? Too much? My mum says I’m funny …). Cut both ends off and then cut down the zucchini to get thin ribbons. Cut these in half or quarters then blanch in a pot of boiling salted water (it should be as if it were the sea, but in a pot, without the sand, just the salt) for a few minutes. Maybe you have one of those cool kitchens with all the modern gadgets, including a mandolin. You should definitely use this. However, my only advice is make sure you quit while you’re ahead. You know what I’m talking about; just look down at all those scars on your fingers, you know, when you thought to yourself “I reckon I can get one more ribbon out of- aarrrrgh!!! Medic! Medic!!!!”. I think its best to have them slightly under-done than over. A bit of bite and crunch should add to the texture. Make sure you season with salt and pepper when done, mix through a dash of olive oil and a few chopped leaves of basil, then set aside.
Next … The Cherry Tomatoes:
Mess this step up and I have serious concerns for your culinary skills … I’d recommend going back to 2-minute noodles or take out.
Drain the can of cherry tomatoes, heat a pan up to a medium heat, add a splash of olive oil, place tomatoes in, whack in a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar, bring to a boil then immediately take down to a simmer, leave for a couple of minutes, season, boom! Done. You got there okay, right? You didn’t? Noodles my friend, you’re in too deep.
Next … Plate Up:
Ribbons on the bottom, cherry tomatoes on that, beautifully sliced chicken breast on top, glorious dollops of pesto all round. A little drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and you’re good to go. Dinner is served.