The current series of Masterchef has been, I fear, not quite up to scratch. The programme proclaimed that it was starting out with the fifty best amateur cooks in the country, yet it soon transpired that some of them could not make pasta, nor pancakes, nor hollandaise, nor tell the difference in either taste or appearance between different kinds of meat. Why on Earth would you apply to a national cooking show if you didn’t even know the basics? John and Gregg have been as enthusiastic as ever, insisting it’s the most exciting and adventurous group of chefs yet, but even they seemed to lose their conviction in the semi-final week when Marcus Wareing absolutely savaged two of the remaining contestants. (Genuine car crash TV – he was just brutal and the reactions were horrible to watch, yet I couldn’t look away.)
The week culminated in each contestant serving three courses to a group of 12 restaurant critics and a tragic dropped souffle that had been trailed for weeks and was every bit as life-and-death as you would expect from Masterchef (although seriously, Gregg could have given his pud to the critic instead. I’m sure he’s a believer in the 10 second rule, especially where chocolate souffle is concerned).
While I’m a big fan of cooking three course meals, I’m glad I’ve only ever done it for my family. However peckish they might be, they have never walked into the kitchen bellowing “Five minutes left!” when I’m getting ready to serve, and their feedback has never reduced me to a sobbing wreck. These are one of my favourite starters when I’m on three course duty, though they could also be a nice little party nibble. I tend to think of them as very Christmassy on account of the chestnuts, but the leeks and the zingy relish make them welcome at any time of year.
Leek & Chestnut Filo Parcels
Serves 4, from BBC GoodFood
For the relish:
1 large red pepper
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
pinch caster sugar
For the parcels:
1 tbsp olive oil
100g leeks, trimmed and finely chopped
50g arborio rice
30ml dry white wine
300ml vegetable stock
60g chestnuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp soy cream
300g filo pastry, cut into 24 12cm squares
extra olive oil for brushing
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut the pepper in half lengthwise, deseed and brush lightly with oil. Place in a roasting tin and roast for about 30 minutes, until blackened. Set aside.
2. While the pepper is roasting, start on the parcels: heat the tablespoon of oil in a large pan and cook the leek for about 5 minutes until softened.
3. Add the rice and stir in quickly.
4. Pour in the wine and bring to the boil.
5. Add half of the stock, cover and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed.
6. Add the remainder of the stock along with the chestnuts and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed again.
7. Stir through the cream and seasoning, and set aside.
8. Work with 2 filo squares at a time: brush one with oil and place another on top on an angle to make a sort of star shape. Brush the tips of that square with oil too.
9. Place 1-2 teaspoons of the risotto mixture in the centre.
10. Scrunch up the corners to make a little pouch and place on a baking tray.
11. Brush all the parcels with oil once more before putting them in the oven.
12. Cook for about 15 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
13. While the parcels are cooking, peel the blackened skin from the red pepper. Chop the pepper and mix it with the ginger and sugar. (I always intend to blend this, but can never be bothered to make more washing up!)
14. Serve 3 parcels per person along with a dollop of the relish.