If you're anything like me, a new dietary restriction can send your whole life into a tailspin. No cheese? But what goes on my crackers? Vegetarian? Those steaks won't eat themselves! A few months ago, gluten free would have driven me 'round the twist. But ever since Mum's gone gluten and dairy free, I've managed to wrap my tiny brain around it and honestly, it's not so bad.
We tend to eat a lot of rice based dishes, and use different kinds of flours. Recently, we had a rolled roast of pork belly, stuffed with wild rice and quince. Out of this world and totally devoid of gluten. And potato flour is an absolute revelation. It thickens liquids without clouding it and results in a smooth, silky sauce.
Food at events are a different story. Totally gluten-heavy. Sandwiches, spring rolls, pastries upon pastries, mini burgers (guilty!)? Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty gluten-obsessed. I buy at least a kilogram of flour each week. But when considering dishes for those of us not so tolerant of the bad stuff at our engagement party, I needed to get creative.
These chickpea pancakes pop up in both Italian and French cuisine. Socca in Nice, Farinata in Italy, whatever you want to call it, they're incredibly moreish and, even better, incredibly simple to make. They just taste savoury. You can serve them super crisp or a little softer, as I did with this mushroom ragu. I remember my brother Paul made these for us one evening. They were intended as a light snack, but I made my way through about a kilogram of the stuff. I'm delicate like that.
The ragu is the more complex component of this dish. The fungi need to be chopped as finely as you can manage. They should be sauteed for a good while - they should release their liquid and then cook off a while. Eventually, they'll begin to brown. It's at that point you take the mushroom flavour up a notch by adding some dried porcinis softened in hot water. This takes the intensity from "ho hum" to "ooh ah" in a matter of moments. Cook for an hour or so, and you're good to go.
So this dish is not only gluten free, but vegetarian. If your red wine is animal product-free, it's also vegan. And I gotta tell you, you'd be wise to save some for the guests they're actually intended for - these will be inhaled in a matter of moments. People who have a serious aversion to mushrooms also begrudgingly admitted they were delicious. A people-pleaser if I've ever dished one up.
1 kg assorted mushrooms, finely diced
1 brown onion, finely diced
3 tbsp olive oil
3 sprigs thyme
15g dried porcini mushrooms, or other dried mushrooms such as chanterelles or trumpets
1 cup red wine
1 litre vegetable stock (make sure it's gluten free)
salt and pepper
1 cup chickpea flour (also known as besan flour)
1 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a heavy based saucepan. Add the onion and saute for 10 minutes over low heat. Add the mushrooms and increase the heat. Cook, stirring regularly, for around 30 minutes, or until mushrooms begin to brown. Meanwhile, soak the porcinis in 1 cup of hot water for around 10 minutes.
Remove the porcinis from the water, retaining the liquid. Chop the porcinis finely and add to the mushrooms. Add the red wine and reduce for around 3 minutes. Add the stock, thyme and the reserved liquid from the porcinis. Cook over low heat for around an hour or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season as required.
To make the socca, whisk the flour with the water briefly. Refrigerate for around an hour. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Grease some flat-bottomed patty pans and pour in a thin layer of batter. Bake for around 10 minutes or until set. Place the pancakes under the grill and grill until crispy. Repeat with remaining batter.
Top each pancake with a spoonful of mushroom ragu. Garnish with some snipped chives and serve.