Monday, 28 July 2014

Vanilla panna cotta with poached figs, honeycomb, thyme, yoghurt and Rioja syrup

After last week’s truly delicious charred octopus recipe, the second part of my series with Campo Viejo wines will focus on something sweet. The main problem with this being that I don’t really do ‘something sweet’. Regular readers will note the sheer absence of any post dinner snackage, and it’s a definite failing on my part. My passion for cooking started in baking cakes and seeing the joy that they inspired, and I always feel satisfied whenever I am persuaded to order one in a restaurant. I bow at the sheer technical skill and precision required to make top level desserts, and I scoff at the telly at ‘chefs’ who scratch their head at the mere thought. I guess the real reason for my lack of recent practice is the usual lunchtime timing of my recipe testing. I find it hard to feel inspired to cook for a whole morning or longer before sitting down to an elevated trifle. Now you say that it doesn’t sound all that bad… 

But anyway, this series at least forced me to change these bad habits and come up with something more than the usual bread and butter pudding or fromage frais. And not only that, one that featured Rioja. Enter second problem. Wine in desserts and me aren’t normally the bestest of friends. A wine-poached pear or Christmassy glass of mulled wine can back off. So this was clearly going to be a challenge. Luckily the balance of flavours in this recipe really worked for me, with the panna cotta and yoghurt creating a mellow contrast to the wine and tempering it to an almost chocolate taste. I was very happy with the way that the recommended Reserva performed, and it has made me slightly rethink my previously aggressive stance towards this kind of dish. With the cinnamon and bay there was a hint of Christmas there, but like everything it was all about the balance. 

Panna cottas have to be the ultimate standby dessert dish, especially if entertaining. They are so simple to make, and you can have them setting happily in the fridge for days before you need them. Then it’s just a case of tipping them out and adding any accompaniments. The beauty is in the detail though, and getting the amount of gelatine just right. You basically want it to be on the cusp, and famously when finished it should wobble like a voluptuous bosom. The texture should be meltingly soft and creamy, but any heavy handed attempts will normally be pretty forgiving and still joyful to eat. If you don’t quite add enough and the cream remains unset, you can always gently melt them in a saucepan before dissolving in another leaf and setting again. Once you have nailed it you’ll make them again and again. A more summery dessert with berries, fruits or in this case, figs, I cannot imagine.  

Serves 4  


For the panna cotta:  

300ml double cream 
375ml whole milk 
170g caster sugar 
3 leaves of gelatine 
1 vanilla pod 
1/3rd lemon, zest 
1 tsp vegetable oil, to grease  

For the poached figs and wine syrup:
6 ripe figs, halved 
500ml Rioja 
1 cinnamon stick 
5 sprigs of thyme 
100g caster sugar 
1 bay leaf  

For the honeycomb:  

100g caster sugar 
3 tbsp golden syrup 
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda  

To finish:  

1 tsp thyme, leaves picked 
4 tbsp natural yoghurt 

Start by making the panna cottas. Put the gelatine leaves into a shallow bowl and cover with cold water. Use the vegetable oil to grease the sides and bases of 4 ramekins. Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan along with the sugar and lemon zest. Split and scrape the vanilla pod and add both the seeds and the pod to the pan. Gently heat up until just simmering, stirring occasionally. When the sugar has fully dissolved, remove the gelatine leaves from the water and tear into milk mixture. Continue to heat for another five or so minutes, or until all of the gelatine have been incorporated. Tip a few handfuls of ice into a large mixing bowl and place a smaller, metal bowl on top. Strain the mixture through a sieve into the top bowl, then stir frequently until the liquid is a very cold temperature. Pour into a jug and use this to fill up the ramekins evenly. Cover with lids or cling film and refrigerate overnight. 

Now make the honeycomb. Use a wooden spoon to combine the sugar and syrup in a cold saucepan. Stop stirring and put onto a medium heat until the sugar syrup has fully melted and is bubbling away. Do not be tempted to stir again at this point, just gently tilt the pan to move the mixture around. When the sugar turns a deep golden brown colour, remove from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda. Stir vigorously at this point to combine well, then tip out into a deep oven dish lined with greaseproof paper. Allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate to set. When ready, tip out of the dish and use a rolling pin to smash into small pieces. 

For the poached figs, add all of the ingredients to a large saucepan and put on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then cook for another 3-4 minutes. Transfer the soft figs into a bowl with a slotted spoon and add a few additional tablespoons of the wine syrup. Raise the temperature in the pan and reduce the wine by two-thirds, then pass through a sieve into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate both the figs and the wine sauce for at least an hour, or until needed. 

To plate up, use a sharp knife to carefully cut around the edges of the ramekins before tipping the panna cottas onto each plate. Arrange three fig halves around, then sprinkle over some of the honeycomb. Dot on a little yoghurt and spoon over some of the syrup, then finally finish with a few thyme leaves.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Chargrilled octopus with red wine and sobrasada sauce, saffron and lemon mayonnaise, basil, peas and girolles

This week my blog is slightly different to normal, in that I have been asked to create a recipe around a certain ingredient; red wine. It is the first of a two-parter, with this entry covering a savoury dish and the next tackling a dessert. I have been challenged by Campo Viejo wines, who I first met up with a couple of months ago for a Spanish ham and wine tasting event. On that occasion I found it so interesting to discover different pairings between the two, and even for a relative wine novice like myself I learned so much. Despite loving to eat Spanish food, I very rarely cook it and I left hugely inspired and eager to rectify that fact! 

When I was initially challenged to create this recipe, I was really keen to create something around the iconic Iberico pork. During the wine and ham event I discussed it with the Spanish food expert, and I loved the idea of a barbequed piece of the pork shoulder; cooked rare in the middle like a steak with a beautifully charred crust. However, in the days leading up to testing my recipe I hit a pretty crucial snag, I just couldn’t get my hands on any of the meat. Working nine-to-five with blogging squeezed into any spare evenings or days off, this is a surprisingly common problem when it comes to some specialist ingredients. This was indeed the case here, and I was forced to consider a last-minute alternative. In the end it was a pretty easy substitution, and something also inspired from my recent travels to Barcelona: octopus. I have wonderful memories of sitting outside picking on juicy, tender bits of tentacle in the sweltering heat, and it also happened to match my other intended ingredients. So a no-brainer really.

When it came to using the red wine, I wanted to create something that was almost like a dressing instead of a thick, heavy sauce. Usually I would associate red wine in cooking with hearty winter dishes, clinging to soft mash potato or slow-cooked meat. But here it combines with lovely light, seasonal vegetables in a very summery plate of food. Campo recommended that I use the Tempranillo for this recipe, which with the sobrasada was perfect with the octopus. It’s almost a take on the classic squid and chorizo combination, but the addition of the red wine helps give a greater depth which ties everything together.

A lot of the more time consuming elements of this dish can be made in advance. Choose a double-suckered, Mediterranean species of octopus that has been frozen and defrosted. This process helps to initially tenderise the flesh, and means that a much shorter braising period is required. This can be done the day before, along with making the red wine sauce and the mayonnaise. The other elements take minutes to throw together and make a lovely midweek meal.

Serves 4:


For the octopus:

1 large octopus, about 1.5kg, cleaned and previously frozen 

1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped 
2 onions, roughly chopped 
1 leek, roughly chopped 
1 carrot, roughly chopped 
3 cloves of garlic, crushed 
1 bay leaf 
3 sprigs of rosemary

For the marinade:

3 tbsp olive oil 
2 garlic cloves, sliced 
1 small dried chilli, crumbled 
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked 
1 lemon, zest only

For the red wine and sobrasada sauce:

2 red onions, finely sliced 

170g sobrasada, cut into small pieces 
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped 
3 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked 
1 tbsp hot smoked paprika 
500ml red wine

For the saffron and lemon mayonnaise: 

1 clove of garlic, grated 
A splash of white wine vinegar 
½ tsp Dijon mustard 
1 lemon, juice and zest 
A pinch of saffron strands 
2 egg yolks 
250ml vegetable oil

For the charred spring onions:

12 spring onions, trimmed 

½ a lemon, juice only

For the girolles: 

20 girolle mushrooms, trimmed and brushed of any dirt 
1 knob of butter

For the peas:

3 handfuls of fresh peas, podded

To finish:

Basil leaves 

½ a lemon, juice only

First cook the octopus. Put the octopus and all of the vegetables and herbs into a large saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for 30-45 minutes until the octopus is very tender. Allow to cool slightly, then remove the octopus and cut the tentacles into individual pieces and the body into strips. Put into a bowl and add all of the marinade ingredients and a good amount of seasoning. Stir to combine, then cover and refrigerate overnight. 

To make the mayonnaise, put the garlic, saffron, mustard, vinegar, egg yolks, seasoning and lemon zest into a food processor and mix together really well. Trickle in the vegetable oil very slowly, until the sauce comes together into a thick mayonnaise. Squeeze in the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

For the wine and sobrasada sauce, put a large frying pan onto a medium heat. Fry the sobrasada, onions, garlic, rosemary and paprika in a little oil for about 10 minutes, or until everything is very soft. Turn the heat up slightly and pour in the wine, then bring to the boil and reduce by half. Transfer to a food processor and blend together really well, then pass through a sieve lined with muslin. Keep warm.

Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil.

Melt the butter for the mushrooms in a frying pan on a medium-high heat.

Set a heavy griddle onto a very high heat. If using a barbeque, make sure the coals are really hot.

Roll the spring onions in olive oil and season well, then cook on the griddle for 2 minutes each side until slightly blackened. Remove to a plate and squeeze over the lemon juice. 

When the onions are done cook the octopus on the same griddle. Fry very quicky for 1-2 minutes each side before removing and squeezing more lemon over the top.

While the onions and octopus is cooking, fry the mushrooms in the melted butter for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured and cooked through.

Cook the peas for about 2 minutes in the boiling water until just tender. Drain and season.

To plate up, arrange 3 spring onions on each plate and top with three pieces of charred octopus. Dot some of the mayonnaise around the sides and scatter on some peas and girolles. Spoon over some of the sauce and finish with a few basil leaves.