It's been all change recently, a few weeks running around here, there and everywhere. At the end of February, my wife and I spent a lovely couple of weeks visiting my sister and her partner in Sydney, Australia. As you might expect, it was largely filled with food and drink. The food system in Australia is fantastic, with lots of emphasis on local, seasonal produce. Even basic supermarkets put ours to shame; piled high with superb quality vegetables, mostly untrimmed and unpackaged. One morning we visited the vast fish market (or course), and had some memorable sushi for breakfast. It was really interesting noting the huge difference in fish varieties available in the Southern Hemisphere. I thought that I was an expert, but this was all new to me. The highlight of the trip for me was a few days spent in the Hunter Valley, a couple of hours north of the capital. I'm rather naive when it comes to wine, so it was brilliant to visit the numerous wineries and learn more about the Shiraz and Semillon that the area specialises in. All in 37 degree heat, as kangaroos weaved between the wines just feet away. Magical.
In other news, I have just started a new job as Recipe Developer at Abel and Cole. I'm only a couple of weeks in and still a little green behind the gills, but I'm really enjoying everything so far and I look forward to the challenges ahead. I'm sad to be leaving all things fishy though, and I've had a wonderful three years working with astounding produce and wonderful people.
Now things are a little settled, it's high time that I kick started things on this blog. Surrounded by food every day, I've hardly been short of inspiration! Somehow spring has crept in and wild garlic season is now in full swing, and I also spied a lonely bunch of monk's beard in the corner of my local greengrocer. I quickly rustled up this dish on sunny afternoon, some simply dressed barley topped with the seasonal greens and a fried piece of local fish. Sometimes it's nice to spend the day cooking and constructing an intricate, complicated meal. But often a few ingredients treated in an unfussy manner is just the thing.
For the monkfish:
4 monkfish steaks, about 100-120g each. Membrane removed.
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp capers
A pinch of chilli flakes
For the barley:
1 mug of pearl barley
1 garlic clove, crushed
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 large handfuls of monks beard, roots trimmed and washed
A handful of wild garlic leaves
Fill up the kettle and switch on. Pour the barley into a saucepan and add the crushed garlic clove, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Cover with the boiling water by about 2cm. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 20-25 minutes. When the grains have absorbed the water and are al dente, dress with a good glug of olive oil, the lemon zest and juice and a pinch of seasoning.
While the barley is cooking, fill a separate saucepan with well salted boiling water. Fill a large bowl with cold water. Blanch the monk's beard for a minute, then quickly transfer to the cold water to stop the cooking. Once cool, drain well and set aside until later.
Pour 2 tbsp of olive oil into a small bowl and add the drained capers, dried chilli flakes and a little seasoning.
Heat a non-stick frying pan until it is smoking hot. Pour in a good glug of olive oil. Season the monkfish steaks all over and lay them into the hot pan. Fry for 2 minutes, then turn the steaks over and add the butter. Cook for a further 2 minutes, basting the monkfish continuously with the hot butter. Transfer the monkfish to a plate to rest briefly, and reduce the heat of the pan to medium.
Toss the blanched monk's beard and wild garlic leaves into the pan and fry for 30 seconds, until warmed through.
To plate up, spoon a generous amount of the lemony barley onto each plate. Top with the monkfish steaks and the greens. Finish with a good spoonful of the caper and chilli dressing.
Sunday 26 March 2017
Wednesday 8 February 2017
Pork chops have been somewhat cast aside as an old fashioned ingredient. The nose to tail movement spearheaded by the likes of Fergus Henderson did great things to parts that would usually have headed straight to the abattoir refuse bin. Tails are now the new scratchings don't you know, and every half-confident cook can relate to lovingly shaving a pig's jowl with a newly bought Bic. But the humble pork chop is Plain Jane in comparison, lacking the pure macho gore factor, the sort of thing served at those outwardly loved yet ill frequented London institutions. But out of the blue I really fancied one. Not one of those flaccid vac packed supermarket jobbies, a proper one from a proper butcher. The sort of chop that has you questioning whether your appetite has betrayed your true eating ability.
To make Jane less plain, anchovies are often the answer. Loads of them, mashed up with a whole head of garlic and a whole lot of fat. A delicate thing this is not. Italians use this sauce to good effect with simple raw or lightly cooked vegetables, but it also melts joyously into slices of lean pork.
Keeping things seasonal I opted for an old friend; the alert form of a red and white radicchio. Blackened slightly in the chop pan, the slight bitterness offsets the fatty others on the plate. Parsley is so often the bridesmaid, lost in a sauce or a retro garnish, and here fills a more substantial role.
2 large pork chops
For the bagna cauda:
1/2 bottle of dry white wine
5 sprigs of thyme
75ml olive oil
For the lentils:
1 mug of firm green lentils
1 garlic clove
1 small shallot
1 bay leaf
For the radicchio:
1 small head of radicchio, cut into quarter wedges
1 tsp capers
1 bunch of parsley
Start by cooking the lentils. Pour the lentils into a saucepan and cover with water by 1cm. Halve the shallot and crush the garlic clove and add to the pan along with the bay leaf. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, adding a splash more water if necessary. Drain the cooked lentils, and dress with a glug of olive oil and a generous pinch of seasoning.
For the bagna cauda, pour the wine into a saucepan and add the garlic and picked thyme leaves. Bring to a simmer and reduce gently until only a few tablespoons of liquid remain. Add the anchovies at this point and mash together well. Whisk in the butter, until everything is emulsified together. Remove from the heat and pour in the olive oil, whisking continuously. Taste and season if necessary, then set aside in a warm place.
Bring a large, heavy saucepan to a high heat. Slash through the fat of each chop every centimetre or so. Rub all over with olive oil and season well. When the pan is hot, hold the chops fat-side down for a minute, until it starts to blister and crisp. Turn the chops and continue to fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness and how you like it cooked. Transfer to a plate and allow to rest for 6-8 minutes, then cut into thick slices.
Add the wedges of radicchio to the still hot chop pan. Cook for a couple of minutes on all sides, until beginning to char. Transfer to a board and separate the leaves. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze over a little lemon juice.
Trim and discard any tough stalks from the parsley. Dress with some of the remaining lemon juice.
To plate up, scatter some of the lentils onto each plate. Arrange slices of the pork on top, along with some of the dressed parsley and the cooked radicchio. Finish with a generous amount of the bagna cauda and a few capers.
Tuesday 31 January 2017
One the most important lessons that I have learned in food is to cook seasonally. It is so effortlessly easy to plan new dishes by simply picking and choosing ingredients that grow together and are harvested at the same time. I used to be a slave to supermarket convenience, where shelves are packed with seemingly evergreen produce, and believed that seasonality was a pompous and irrelevant trend. But it’s all in the taste; a locally-grown asparagus spear in May is massively superior to a bendy Peruvian counterpart in the autumn. Squashy summer tomatoes are packed with sweetness, having not travelled under the duress of taste-zapping refrigeration. Shellfish are much fitter and healthier when the seas are cold. Even better is that most seasonal ingredients combine beautifully, with dishes becoming mere simple assemblies on a plate, each ingredient singing in harmony. It’s dead easy to work out what’s in season right now, ask your local greengrocer, fishmonger or butcher, or there’s a ton of information online.
This dish is wintry produce at its best. January king cabbages always bring a smile to my face with their sprawling, messy leaves; like a teenager’s fringe splattered with greens, purples and blues. This year’s blood oranges have just arrived too, along with beautiful sweet Sicilian lemons. A plate of shredded cabbage dressed with these, a pinch of salt and some good oil would be enough, but I decided to go a step further with the inclusion of mussels.
Mussels are still cheap as chips, and one of the best ways of feeding a crowd on a budget. Cooked simply and classically with white wine and garlic and served with chunks of French stick, I’d defy anyone not to be happy. A touch of smoke lends itself well to their strong molluscy flavour, so I decided that a bit of DIY smoking was in order. I can definitely recommend having a go yourself, it’s easy to set up and great fun experimenting with different ingredients. So far I’ve used it with meat, fish and cheeses, but I’d like to expand to vegetables too. I reckon broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes would all work well.
Sea rosemary was a bit of an impulse purchase after I spied a punnet sitting tucked away on a greengrocer’s shelf. Having never cooked with it before I was keen to have a try and give it a go. Tasting a little like samphire, its acts as a seasoning for the potatoes, giving the dish much more of a seaside feel. Never fear if you can’t find it, parsley, tarragon, chervil or samphire will all work a treat.
For the smoked mussels:
3 handfuls of large, live mussels, debearded
1 large handful of hay or straw
The peeled zest of 1 blood orange
For the cabbage:
1 large wedge of January King or Savoy cabbage, cut into rough ribbons
For the purple potatoes:
1 large handful of small purple or violette potatoes
1 handful of sea rosemary, leaves picked
For the dressing:
2 blood oranges
1 large unwaxed lemon
4-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 small bulb of fennel, finely sliced with a vegetable peeler
The fronds from the fennel
Wash the potatoes and pop them into a saucepan with a good pinch of salt. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Allow to cool slightly, then peel away the skins with the help of a sharp knife. Transfer the peeled potatoes to a bowl and add the sea rosemary leaves.
Make the blood orange dressing by squeezing the citrus juice into a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt, then whisk in the olive oil. Pour 3-4 tablespoons of the dressing over the warm, peeled potatoes and stir to coat. Put the rest aside for use later.
Bring a large saucepan up to a high heat. Tip in the mussels and a splash of water and cover with a lid. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until all of the mussels have opened. Transfer to a bowl and pick the meat out of the majority, leaving a few in their shells. Pour the liquor from the mussels back into a saucepan.
Top up the mussel cooking liquor with about a cup of water and bring back to the boil. Blanch the king cabbage for 1-2 minutes, until al dente. Drain and transfer to a bowl, then toss with a tablespoon of the blood orange dressing.
Line a large saucepan with foil, and arrange the hay and peel to one side. Tear off a smaller piece of foil, and use this to hold the mussel meat so that it forms one layer. Place this sheet to the vacant side of the pan (it’s ok if it overlaps the hay a little). Using a match or blowtorch in a well-ventilated area, set fire to the straw and immediately cover with a lid. Allow to smoke for 5 minutes. Very carefully remove the smoked mussels, making sure that the hay is properly extinguished.
To plate up, arrange the mussels, potatoes and cabbage leaves onto a plate, making sure to include the sea rosemary. Top with the fennel shavings and fronds. Finish with an extra splash of the dressing and serve.
Tuesday 24 January 2017
Last week dicey farming conditions created a “courgette crisis”, sparking newspaper headlines and shopper fury at empty supermarket shelves. Never has the humble courgette been so in demand, and the people of twitter rejoiced when new stocks finally arrived. For me this highlighted the gloomy state of eating in this country, and the frankly bonkers casual reliance on supplies of a summer vegetable in the middle of January. Despite the bleak weather, the winter months throw up some amazing produce, bang in season right now and much more perky than a sad box of zucchini that’s had to be flown in from who knows where. Surely people can have a little imagination and use what’s being harvested locally right now, which would surely be better for the food and farming system as a whole? January is clearly proving to be a ranty month for this blog, what with the torrent in my last post. I wonder what’s going to be on the receiving end of my food wrath next week.
Back to the recipe, something inspired by some decent food telly of late. I’ve been really enjoying the latest series of Rick Stein’s Long Weekends, providing the perfect blend of holiday escapism and his reassuring kind of food commentary that hasn’t changed in decades. You know what you’re getting with half an hour with Rick. It’s certainly nothing new, with a focus on fish and markets, yearnings for Padstow and countless swimming clips, but sometimes it’s nice to switch off rather than another programme on this year’s food fad, or another revelation that my favourite food is going to be the end of me. In one episode, Rick was in Italy wolfing down tortellini handmade effortlessly by a brilliant bunch of ancient women, and I had to have a go at making some myself. Served swimming in broth, it looked the perfect thing to combat the icy weather of late.
I was pleased to see some beautiful cime di rapa when picking up ingredients from my excellent local greengrocers in North London. These greens are often referred to as ‘turnip tops’, and are similar to very fine broccoli in taste and texture. Although it can be quite hard to track down outside of the capital, kale, chard or sprouting broccoli can be used perfectly as a substitute and should be widely available right now. Beaten with ricotta, parmesan and prosciutto, it makes a lovely rich filling for dinky little pasta dumplings. The broth made from chicken bones and shallots is simple and warming, the type that often provides just what’s needed when feeling the brunt of these cold months. Adding the parmesan rind is a great tip that I picked up a few years back, and it’s worth freezing them for such an occasion.
For the pasta:
200g ‘00’ grade pasta flour, plus a little extra for dusting
2 medium eggs, plus 1 extra for brushing
A pinch of fine salt
1 tbsp olive oil
For the filling:
1 large bunch of cime di rapa
100g ricotta cheese
8 slices of prosciutto, chopped
1 small garlic clove, grated
20g parmesan, grated
For the brodo:
600-800g chicken bones or wings, cut into small chunks
3 shallots, halved lengthways with the skin left on
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 glass of white wine
The rind from a piece of parmesan (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
A handful of cime di rape
Start by making the brodo. Heat a glug of olive oil in a large saucepan until hot. Season the pieces of the chicken carcass and brown well on all sides, in batches if necessary. Remove to a side plate, then add the shallots cut-side down. Fry for a minute or two, until well caramelised. Return the chicken to the pan along with the garlic and herbs and cook for a further minute. Add the wine and reduce by half, then cover with 2 litres of water. Drop in the parmesan rind and a pinch of seasoning. Cover with a lid and gently simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. When the broth is cooked, strain through a sieve into another large saucepan, and discard the now spent bones and vegetables.
To make the pasta dough, tip the flour into a large bowl and combine with the salt. Make a well in the middle, then crack in the eggs and pour in the olive oil. Use a fork to whisk the eggs and oil, gradually incorporating the flour until a dough is formed. Transfer to a clean surface and knead well for 8-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic in texture. Wrap with cling film and pop in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Whilst the pasta is resting, make the filling. Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Sprinkle in a generous pinch of salt. Fill a large bowl with ice-cold water. When the water is boiling add all of the cime di rapa to the pan and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the stalks are just tender. Use tongs to transfer the cooked greens to the cold water to halt the cooking process, then drain. Separate out roughly a handful to use as a garnish later and set aside. Squeeze as much of the water from the remaining leaves and stalks as possible, then transfer to a food processor. Add the garlic, parmesan, prosciutto and some seasoning and blend well, until everything is finely chopped. Spoon in the ricotta and pulse a couple more times to combine. Scrape the mixture into a bowl.
Use a pasta machine to roll out the rested dough until it reaches the thinnest setting, using the spare flour to dust if necessary. Lay the finished sheet across the worktop. Break the remaining egg into a bowl and whisk, then use a pastry brush to lightly cover the surface of the pasta. Dot small half-teaspoons of the filling at intervals along the sheet, allowing 6-8 per portion, then cut around with a small pastry cutter. Fold the pasta around the filling to form a half moon, sealing around the filling using your finger and thumb. Bend the two pointed corners back around the filling and press together to form a tortellini. Transfer to a well-floured plate and repeat with the rest.
Bring the strained brodo to the boil. Arrange the spare whole cime di rapa into the bottoms of each bowl.
Shake any excess flour from the tortellini, then lower into the brodo. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to the bowls. Top up with the broth, and drizzle over a little olive oil. Finish with a generous grating of parmesan and serve.