Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Scallop and crab ravioli with basil oil, tomatoes and fennel fronds

When I cooked crab for this blog a couple of months ago, it made me realise that I really don’t eat enough of it. It ticks all of the boxes, with wonderful sweet flavour, great sustainability and reasonably priced. On that occasion I served it very simply, boiled and then eaten with fresh bread and lemony mayo. While this was delicious, it also inspired me to think of loads of other ways to use it; crab tian, crab roll, crab linguine, crab green thai curry... you get the picture! 

Crab ravioli is a really lovely way to make the most out of fresh crab, with light fresh summery flavours. Cooking a fresh live crab and then making pasta may seem like a major hassle, especially for a starter, but there are loads of ways that you can turn it into a quicker meal. When I tested the recipe for this blog I made it as a midweek, after work meal. To save time, the crab can be cooked in advance, or you can buy one that has been already cooked and dressed from a decent fishmonger. Once you have this, the only time consuming thing is making the pasta, but after a few practices this process speeds up dramatically. To make the meal really quick, you can even make the ravioli well in advance and freeze it until needed. This would be great for when having friends over as all you have to do is thaw it out and prepare the finishing touches. 

Skinning tomatoes and adding fennel fronds may also seem like too much work, but it is all worth it. By discarding the bitter skin and seeds you are left with just the sweet flesh, and the texture harmonises with everything else on the plate. The fennel adds a subtle, fresh flavour and makes the dish look delicate and inviting. 

Scallops and crab are both very delicate flavours, and mixing them with lemon, chilli and herbs lets that flavour really shine through. As with sourcing anything, try and find local, independent suppliers who will often be able to give you the best quality produce. I only use a little of the brown crab meat in this recipe, spread the leftovers on hot toast with a squeeze of lemon.

Serves 4 


For the pasta:

400g strong 00 flour
4 eggs
salt and pepper

For the filling:

1 crab, cooked, white and brown meat removed
8 scallops
2 small red chillies, finely chopped (or to taste)
2 lemons, juice only
Small handful parsley, finely chopped 
40g butter, melted

To finish:

4 tomatoes
1 small chilli, finely chopped
Large handful fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juice only
Fennel fronds 
Rocket leaves (optional)

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 at least half an hour to rest.

While the pasta is resting, make the ravioli filling. Put all of the white crab meat and 2 tbsp of the brown meat into a bowl, and add the chilli, parlsley, half the lemon juice and salt and pepper. Mix well and stir in the cool melted butter. Taste the mixture before you add the raw scallops and adjust with the remaining lemon, you want to slightly over-season the mixture to cater for this. Chop the scallops, but not too finely as you want the cooked filling to have texture. Mix everything together for a final time and set aside.

After you have made the filling and once rested, 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 left with a long sheet - you want the finished ravioli to have nice thin pasta.

Roughly mark on one of the pasta sheets with the pastry cutter that you are using for your ravioli. Carefully place a spoonful of the filling mixture in the middle of each marking. Brush a little water on the pasta sheet around the filling and then place the other sheet on top. Gently seal the pasta around each pile of filling, making sure that no air bubbles are left. Using the pastry cutter, cut through the pasta around each filling until you are left with the finished ravioli parcels. If you don’t have a pastry cutter then you can just use a knife - traditionally they are square shaped anyway. Dust with a little flour and place on greaseproof paper; they can now be refrigerated until needed or frozen.

Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Score a small cross in the bottom of each tomato and drop into the water for 10-20 seconds, or until the scores in the skin start to expand down the sides. Remove the tomatoes from the water and peel off the skin, then cut into quarters. Spoon out the seeds and discard with the skin. You will now be left with the flesh. Cut into very small squares and put into a small bowl. Add the finely chopped chilli, salt and pepper and a little olive oil. Taste, season and set aside. 

To make the basil oil, blitz the basil with the lemon juice, salt and pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil in a food processor until finely chopped and smooth. Adjust the seasoning and pour into a bowl. 

Bring a large saucepan of very salty water to the boil. 

When ready to cook, drop the ravioli into the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. When cooked, remove from the water onto heated plates. Quickly drizzle over the basil oil and spoon over the tomatoes, making sure each ravioli gets some. Decorate with the fennel fronds and rocket if using, pour over a little more extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Everything bagels

A soft, chewy bagel stuffed with cream cheese, smoked salmon, dill and lemon has got to be up there as one of my favourite things to have for lunch. In London I am spoilt for choice with the amount of bakeries making them just a stones throw from my flat, often open around the clock for when that bagel craving comes a knocking. After a couple of drinks, a salt beef bagel from Brick Lane beats any kebab hands down!

As I have written on this blog before, I’m still a bit of a novice when it comes to bread making. I can bake a simple white loaf, but am yet to experiment with more advanced things like sourdoughs or ryes. I thought that bagels would be really difficult to make at home, but after a couple of attempts they are a doddle. Bread has a reputation for taking ages, but in reality most of this time is just waiting for the dough to prove. If you’re at home anyway it isn’t much extra effort, and so worth it when that glorious baking smell fills the flat.

I started making bagels using Dan Lepard’s recipe from his excellent book Short and Sweet. I cannot think of a more ironic title for this huge book, containing over 500 pages of fantastic breads, cakes and pastries. I have adapted this recipe by adding the roasted onions and garlic, reducing the yeast and water and by changing the baking methods slightly to create a bagel that is perfect for me. I have also doubled his quantities to make larger bagels. The best thing about this recipe (and most other bread recipes) is that it can be tailored to exactly how you want it. They would also be delicious with lots of dill, sun-dried tomatoes or even a hard cheese running through them. 

As for bagel fillings, the choice is yours. Aside from the smoked salmon or salt beef bagels that I love, they are also great with a soft cheese such as Tunworth or just simply toasted with loads of salty butter. If you go for the smoked salmon, it’s well worth searching out produce from Hansen and Lyndersen’s amazing North London smokery.

Makes 14


1kg strong white bread flour
3 large onions, cut into large wedges
2 tbsp brown sugar
12 cloves garlic, left whole and unpeeled
12 sprigs of thyme
4 tbsp sesame seeds, plus more for sprinkling over the top
4 tbsp poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling over the top 
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 large pinches salt
500ml warm water
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Olive oil

For the poaching:

50g brown sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.

Put the onions, garlic and thyme into a large oven tray and toss in a little olive oil and seasoning. Roast in the hot oven for 20 minutes before removing the softened garlic and scattering the 2 tbsp brown sugar over the remaining onions. Put the onions back in the oven for another 10-20 minutes until soft and golden. Peel the skins from the garlic cloves and chop finely with the cooked onions. Allow to cool. 

Mix the flour, yeast, salt, caster sugar, seeds and cooled roasted onions and garlic in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and vinegar and combine until the mixture forms a firm dough, before covering the bowl with a cloth and leaving for 10 minutes. Once rested, knead the dough for 10 seconds on an oiled surface and then return again to the bowl. At this point the dough will still be quite sticky, but it will firm up by the end. Repeat the kneading and resting process twice more before allowing the dough to rest in the bowl for 1 1/2 hours. 

Using your hands, portion the dough out to the size that you want each bagel to be. This recipe makes around 14 large bagels. Shape each piece into a ball by rolling it on the work surface with one hand, cover loosely with cling film and allow to prove again for 20 minutes. 

Heat up a large saucepan of water, adding the brown sugar when it reaches a rolling boil. Put the oven on to 200ºC. Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper and scatter over some seeds.

Once the dough balls have proved for the final time you can make them into bagel shapes. With lightly oiled hands, poke your fingers through the middle and ease the dough outwards. 

Carefully drop the bagels in small batches into the boiling water for a minute before turning and allowing the same on the other side. Remove and place on the lined and seeded baking trays. Sprinkle more seeds and salt over the tops and they are ready to bake. 

Place the baking trays on the top shelves of the pre-heated oven, and tip a small glass of tap water into the bottom of the oven before closing the door. The water will steam up and keep the outsides of the bagels nice and soft. Remove from the oven after 20 minutes and allow to cool slightly on a rack if you can resist for long enough!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Courgette flowers stuffed with goat’s cheese, oregano and lemon with a tomato and sombrasada dipping sauce

I first tried courgette flowers a few years ago, randomly enough from a food stall at a Cornish music festival, and have always wanted to have a crack at cooking them myself. They are one of the only things that manage to turn what is basically deep fried cheese into something delicate and beautiful. They also have the wow factor, but despite looking complicated, with a little care they are really easy to make. 

The only difficult thing about courgette flowers can be getting hold of them. Only very good greengrocers and food markets will stock them, and when you do find them they can be quite expensive. The most satisfying and cheapest way would be to grow them yourself. I had high hopes of doing that this year, but my plans were scuppered by hungry slugs with educated palates. So with my tail firmly between my legs I found myself walking to Borough Market, knowing if anywhere would have them it would be there. 

There are some really fantastic food markets and local suppliers in London and around the country, and they often have a much wider range of great quality produce than you would find at the supermarket. My trip to Borough didn’t disappoint: it really is a mecca of food produce that cannot fail to inspire. I had to control myself and remain disciplined to the recipe in hand, and I emerged with a bag of ingredients that had me excited to get home and start cooking. 

As well as the courgette flowers, I also needed to find ingredients for the stuffing and the dipping sauce. The cheesemonger recommended that I used a soft goat’s cheese from Poitou Charentes, which has a sweet and mild taste to complement the courgette. With that bought, all I had to find was something to flavour the dipping sauce. Originally when planning this recipe, I wanted to get hold of some ‘nduja sausage, which is a spicy spreadable salami from Calabria. On this occasion I couldn’t find any, but upon stopping at a Spanish delicatessen I saw some sombrasada, which looked like it would fit the bill perfectly. This is a soft chorizo that has similar qualities to ‘nduja, and I knew that it would melt through my sauce giving it a strong, hot flavour. 

Courgette flowers are seasonal, and you can only really source them in the summer. With this in mind I urge you to make the most of them over the next month or so!

Serves 2


For the courgette flowers:

4 courgette flowers
200g soft goat’s cheese, I used a Poitou-Chareutes
1 lemon, zest and juice of half
5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves picked and finely chopped
20g parmesan, finely grated
Salt and pepper
1.5 litres vegetable oil  for deep frying

For the dipping sauce:

120g sombrasada, skin removed and roughly chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 anchovy filllets, finely chopped
2 handfuls good quality cherry tomatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

For the light batter:

100g plain flour
200ml sparkling water
salt and pepper

First get the dipping sauce on. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (one with a lid) to a medium heat, and when hot add the shallots, garlic and chilli. When they soften, add the sombrasada and anchovies and cook for another couple of minutes. Finally add the cherry tomatoes and season well, mix everything together and put the lid on the pan. After 15 minutes, the tomatoes will be dissolving and the mixture will be looking like more of a sauce. After another 5 minutes transfer the contents into a food processor and blitz until smooth, adding a little water if if needs thinning down. Season and adjust if needed, before  pouring the mixture into a saucepan to be heated up later. 

While the sauce is cooking make the batter. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl, mix with a good amount of seasoning before slowly whisking in the sparkling water. Once the batter is thoroughly mixed and the thickness of double cream cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes. 

To make the filling for the courgette flowers, mash the goat’s cheese, lemon juice and zest together with a fork to loosen slightly.  Mix in the oregano, parmesan and seasoning before tasting and setting aside. 

Pour the frying oil into a large, heavy saucepan and heat up to 170ºC.

To prepare the courgette flowers, carefully part the petals until you can just squeeze your fingers through to remove the stamen. Spoon your filling mixture into a piping bag, and once any air pockets have been removed, carefully squeeze in the filling. You want enough filling in each flower to create a nice full pocket, but not too much that you can’t fully seal with the petals. Repeat until all flowers have been filled, trimming the ends of the courgettes if necessary at the same time. 

Put the saucepan containing the dipping sauce onto a low-medium heat and gently warm up.

When the oil is hot, very carefully dip the courgette flowers into the batter mixture, making sure they are completely covered. Allow any excess to drip off before lowering into the hot oil. Quickly repeat with another. I usually do this in batches of 2 flowers to stop them sticking together. Cook for a few minutes, or until the batter turns a light golden colour before removing from the oil and draining on kitchen paper. 

When all of the courgette flowers are cooked, arrange 2 on each plate, adding a small bowl of the dipping sauce and a few fresh oregano leaves. 

Any leftover dipping sauce can be used as a fantastic base for a pasta sauce or soup, and goes particularly well with butternut squash.