Monday, 30 April 2012

I’m a food obsessive. I love cooking, eating, and talking about food (talking about food a lot - sorry!). This blog takes in all of this; I will write about things that I’ve cooked and review the food I’ve eaten. 
The recipes that I post will vary from simple day-to-day recipes that I’d normally cook on a work night, to more complicated recipes when I have a bit more time on my hands. The vast majority of food posted on here will have been cooked in my tiny home kitchen. 
Pasta is something that I will never tire of eating, from dried pasta boiled with a quick sauce and loads of cheese, to making fresh pasta from scratch. I was given my parent’s pasta machine a few years ago after it had lived on top of their cupboard unused, and it is something that I couldn’t be without. It looks great in the kitchen, making the surface look almost workbench like, and I find it really therapeutic spending an hour rolling the pasta sheets out before cutting them to the desired type and leaving them in various places around the flat as it dries out. Although there is definitely a place for dried pasta in a lot of dishes, freshly made pasta with a few simple ingredients is  amazing. 
My first blog recipe is:
Ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and goats cheese with wild garlic, crispy parma ham and a brown sage butter. 

This is a great starter, especially if you’ve got friends coming over  - although it is fairly time consuming, it can be made well in advance and takes only a couple of minutes to assemble. It’s very seasonal with the wild garlic, but if you can’t get hold of it then any other leaf like spinach or rocket will do. . 
Serves two, with spare pasta for leftovers.
For the pasta:
As a general rule, pasta requires one egg per 100g of flour:
300g ‘00’ flour
3 medium eggs (plus 1 for eggwash)
A small drizzle of olive oil
For the mushroom and goat’s cheese filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter 
3-4 large portobello mushrooms 
30g dried porcini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
1 shallot
a handful parsley, finely chopped
60g soft goats cheese
For the sage butter:
100g butter
6 sage leaves, left whole
To finish:
2 slices parma ham
Sage leaves, left whole
Wild garlic leaves
First of all, make your mushroom filling. Put the dried porcini in a bowl and cover with boiling water for 30 minutes. Once it has soaked, remove from the water, rinse slightly and chop finely.
Put your portobello mushrooms in a food processor and blend until finely chopped. Put the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan, then add the shallots and garlic and cook slowly until softened. Now add both types of mushroom and cook on a medium heat until all of the liquid has evaporated. Season well and stir in the chopped parsley and set aside to cool down.
While the mushrooms are cooking/cooling, make your pasta by putting the flour, eggs, a good pinch of salt and olive oil in a food processor, and blitz until the mix looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Tip everything out onto a floured surface and knead together until the dough has an elastic texture but is not sticky. Knead in a little flour if necessary. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour to rest.
While the pasta dough is resting, make the crispy sage leaves and crispy parma ham. For the parma ham, place the slices on a greaseproof-papered oven tray and put into an oven at 180 for 8-10 minutes. For the sage, put about 1cm of oil into a frying pan on a high heat and drop the sage in for about 10 seconds until crispy. Remove and drain on kitchen roll. 
After half an hour, remove the pasta dough from the fridge. Using your pasta machine, roll the dough through until it’s at it’s finest setting and you are let with a long sheet - you want the finished ravioli to have nice thin pasta. If you don’t have a pasta machine - you can use a rolling pin but it needs to be really thin - it’s hard work!

Cut the sheet in half and you are ready to construct the ravioli.

On one sheet of the pasta, add a tablespoon of the cooled mushroom filling, and sprinkle a small amount of the goats cheese on top of the pile before finishing with a little pepper. Repeat to make as many ravioli as needed, leaving about 10cm in between each pile. Once finished, whisk the spare egg in a bowl and brush it all over the pasta in-between the piles of filling. Now carefully place the second pasta sheet over the first, and press the two sheets together around the piles of filling, trying to release the trapped air before sealing. Using a large pastry cutter, cut out the individual ravioli and make sure edges are all sealed. These can now be kept on floured greaseproof paper until needed. 

When you are ready to cook the pasta, fill a large saucepan with salted water and bring to the boil, and heat a frying pan on a medium/high heat. Drop the ravioli into the boiling water, and put a timer on for two minutes. While the pasta is cooking, heat the butter in the frying pan. When the butter is frothing, add the sage leaves (not the ones you crispened up) and season, and when the butter turns a brown, almost burned colour, it is ready. 
To serve: arrange the wild garlic leaves on the plate, then top with the cooked ravioli. Top each ravioli with a crispy sage leaf and place a couple of large pieces of the crisp parma ham around the pasta. Finish up by spooning a little of the brown butter over the dish and it’s ready to eat!
This might all seem like a lot of work for a small dish, and you can certainly cut time out by buying the ravioli, but it’s very satisfying once everything is on the plate and it tastes great. You can also make a lot more pasta in one go, cutting the sheets into spaghetti or pappardelle and letting it dry out. It will keep for a few weeks after and be great for quick dinners.
Restaurant Review - The Spaniard’s Inn, Hampstead
Now a quick review from the weekend. Finding a decent place for a Sunday roast is a very difficult thing, and over the last couple of years my girlfriend Katie and I have been trying to search out the best one locally. It’s quite easy to find a pub that serves a decent roast, but one that leaves you with total, contented satisfaction is quite hard to find. I find that this is mostly because places concentrate too much on the meat, leaving the rest of the dish a fairly average selection of roast potatoes and a few greens that haven’t had that much care put into them. I guess that this is partly due to the logistics of serving a large quantity of roast dinners quickly, compared to making one at home where everything is timed for one sitting. But some pubs do manage to make the mark of a great sunday roast. 

The Spaniard’s Inn in Hampstead came quite close - but not quite. After an ill advised midday walk through the heath in mostly pouring rain,  slipping into the mud on quite a few occasions, we reached the very welcome warmth and ambience of the Spaniard’s Inn. As with most decent pubs at lunchtime on a sunday, it was very full, and with no queuing system in place, we spent two uncomfortable rounds standing around with the other vultures waiting for a table to come free (I would definitely book a table in the future). Once we’d finally nabbed a seat, the service was quick, and soon laid in front of us was exactly what we needed after all our trudging through the heath. 

I opted for an alternative to the roast menu with the haddock and chips, whilst Katie went for the roast beef. My fish was the best that I have had in a pub for a long while, being well seasoned and with lovely crisp chips and home made tartare. The only downside was the mushy peas, which were  very dry and came in a very slight portion. But that’s nitpicking really -  I enjoyed it a lot.

Katie enjoyed her roast beef, although it still didn’t hit dizzy heights (currently topped by the excellent Lion and Lobster in Brighton). Whilst the meat was good, and got bonus points for having cauliflower cheese on the side, it was the other things that didn’t quite match - the yorkshire pudding was a bit dry and the vegetable selection was a bit random with a heap of carrot and then only a small amount of greens. 
Again, not major things, and I would definitely recommend the Spaniard’s Inn. It’s just the small things - a bit of lacked attention and slightly rude service (a waiter actually shouted ‘service’ at me when i was slightly in his way!) that made it not quite hit the mark. The search continues.