Potato tart with pickled fennel, green apple, sheep’s feta and wild rocket

Molten (422 Mt Eden Rd, Auckland, Ph: 09 – 6387236) is an award-winning neighbourhood restaurant nestled in quaint Mt Eden village. Michael Van de Elzen, the chef of Molten is also known as the star of the TV series, The Food Truck, where he deconstructs common fast food to come up with their healthy and tasty reincarnations.

Recently, Michael released the Molten cookbook where recipes from the kitchen of Molten which have been modified to suit a home kitchen, and shows you how to create a fine dining experience to wow your guests.

I attended the Molten cooking demonstration at Nosh Mt Eden where chef Michael demonstrated two of the dishes from his cookbook. Michael has a brilliantly engaging nature, and makes the recipes look so simple, lulling you like a culinary siren into a false sense of bravado that yes, you too, can cook like a head chef with 20 years experience.

I tried to recreate these dishes at home and quickly realised, if you want to serve the sort of food you get at Molten, be prepared to be blown away by the meandering list of ingredients, put in a lot of time, and even more patience. These recipes have multiple elements to them; it may look like all too much effort but really, each element is straightforward in itself. There were times when I questioned my sanity in even bothering to do this, but the end result is some of the most delicious food I have ever cooked.

The ‘essentials’ that Michael lists are actually quite stunning in themselves. Pickled fennel (see below) is a fantastic mellow, herbaceous salad ingredient, and I can see myself using this to jazz up a simple garden salad.

Potato tart with pickled fennel, green apple, sheep’s feta and wild rocket (my slightly ghetto version is potato tart with pickled fennel, green apple, cow’s feta and cultivated rocket)

For the potato tart:
6 discs puff pastry, size of saucer
18 baby potatoes, peeled and cooked al dente and cooled (I used medium potatoes)
2 tbsp garlic oil (see note)
1 tbsp rosemary leaves
salt and pepper to taste

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
150g sheep’s feta (I cheated and got the cheaper cow’s feta)
36 leaves wild rocket (or any store bought rocket)
rocket oil (see below)
almond salt (see below)
pickled fennel (see below)

For the tart:
Preheat oven to 200°C
Cut and place pastry discs on a baking tray
Slice potatoes 2mm thick and arrange in a wheel on top of the pastry
Brush with garlic oil and sprinkle with rosemary leaves and salt and pepper
Bake in a preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden

To assemble:
Place potato tart on plate
Toss apples through pickled fennel and arrange on top of tart
Dot with knobs of feta and garnish with wild rocket
Drizzle with rocket oil and sprinkle with almond salt

Pickled fennel (makes 2 ½ cups):
1 large bulb fennel (or two medium ones)
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 star anise

Fine slice fennel (use mandolin if you have one)

Bring vinegar, sugar and star anise to the boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Add fennel and allow to cool in liquid. Store in refrigerator.

Garlic oil (makes ½ cup):
½ cup canola oil
10 cloves garlic, skin on

Heat the canola oil, and add garlic cloves
Heat to simmer, then remove from heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes
Drain, strain and discard garlic. Store in a glass jar.

Rocket oil (makes 1 cup):
1 handful fresh rocket
1 tbsp white wine
⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup avocado oil
salt and pepper to taste

Blanch rocket and refresh in iced water. Drain and remove as much water as possible by squeezing gently in a clean tea towel
Place blanched rocket in a food processor and pulse quickly so the rocket does not heat and discolour
Add wine, olive oil, avocado oil, salt and pepper to taste and continue to process for about 2 minute
Adjust seasoning and pour through a clean muslin cloth. Discard solids. Store in a screw-top jar in refrigerator.

Almond salt (makes 5 tbsp):
4 tbsp alomds, skin on, toasted
½ tbsp flaky salt

Crush almonds in mortar and pestle with salt. Store in an airtight container.

I did say he demonstrated two dishes … but I’ll leave the main course for the next update

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