Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Chargrilled monkfish with artichokes, speck and cannellini beans

After a brief break for a couple of weeks it’s great to be back with another recipe. It was fantastic to get away for a few days up to the Katie’s family farm in Scotland, where the deafening silence and surrounding plush countryside provided a stark and welcome contrast to the frantic rush of the city. I love the outdoors, but funnily enough I do find that it all links back into my love of food. Strolling through the fields we saw deer, hares, pheasants and partridges along with abundant cows and lambs. I couldn’t help thinking that they would all make a fine feast. Even walking next to the river had me eagle-eyed for wild salmon, now coming into their prime season. 

Alas on this occasion, those animals remained only for our viewing pleasure. But when it came to the eating there was certainly no disappointment. Upon arrival I marched straight into town to procure a weight of the finest Stornoway black pudding, carrying it proudly like a child who had won a sporting trophy. That was breakfast sorted. Other meals included hot, vinegary fish suppers (always haddock north of the border) by the side of a wind-battered loch, and soothing barley-filled broths huddled around the fire. All humble stuff, but in a situation that will be ingrained in my memory for a long while to come. On the last evening we celebrated with the rest of the family; I rolled a pig in foraged wild garlic and forgot about it in the oven for most of a day, only raising the temperature only at the last minute to blister the fat into a crisp brittle. I won’t even detail the quality of the leftover sandwiches on the journey home…
I truly digress as per usual. But now back in London I’m eager to get cooking again. Despite running round like a busy lunatic for most of the week, on my days off I love nothing more than messing around in the kitchen creating new recipes. This monkfish dish combined the comfort of a chunky, grilled bit of fish with delicate, beautiful artichokes, earthy Italian-flavoured beans and the tangy, spring tough of the wild garlic and sorrel.

Serves 2
For the monkfish:
2 pieces of monkish fillet, approx. 200g each. Skin and sinew removed.
For the artichokes:
2 large globe artichokes 
1 lemon 
1 garlic clove 
1 glass of white wine 
1 bay leaf
For the cannellini beans:
400g cooked cannellini beans, drained 
4 slices of speck, finely chopped 
1 garlic clove, grated 
2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped 
1 tsp dried oregano 
1 lemon, zest only 
A pinch of dried chilli flakes 
200ml chicken stock
For the wild garlic and sorrel oil:
A handful of wild garlic leaves 
A few sorrel leaves 
200ml extra virgin olive oil 
1 lemon, juice only
For the crispy speck:
2 slices of speck
To finish:
A few wild garlic and sorrel leaves

Make the wild garlic and sorrel oil in advance. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, and have a bowl of very cold (ideally iced) water ready. Blanche the wild garlic and sorrel leaves for 30 seconds, then immediately transfer to the cold water. When cool, drain and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Put the leaves into a small food processor with the lemon juice and some seasoning. Turn on the motor and slowly trickle in the olive oil until the herbs are finely chopped and everything is well combined. Pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. 

Prepare the artichokes by pulling off the harder outer leaves until only the lighter, tender ones remain. Trim the bulb halfway down the leaves and use a melon-baller to scoop out the choke. Peel and trim the stalks. Slice lengthways into quarters. Fill a small saucepan with water, squeeze in the lemon and add with the garlic, wine and bay leaf. Put the trimmed artichokes straight into this liquid to stop them from discolouring. Bring everything to the boil, then simmer gently for 20 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender. Remove the artichokes from the liquid and allow to cool.
Pour a little oil into a deep frying pan and set to a medium heat. Add the speck, garlic, oregano, chilli, rosemary and lemon zest and cook for a few minutes until softened and fragrant. Tip in the beans and chicken stock, reduce the heat and cook gently for 15-20 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 180⁰C.
Lay the 2 slices of speck onto a lined baking tray. Season with salt and pepper and brush with a little oil. When the oven is hot, bake for about 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Break into large shards and set aside.
Put a heavy frying pan or griddle onto a high heat. Season the monkfish fillets and cooked artichoke quarters on all sides and rub with olive oil. When the pan is hot, cook the fish for 2-3 minutes on each side, and depending on thickness about 8-10 minutes in total. Add the artichokes to the pan halfway through, allowing a couple of minutes each side until lightly charred. Once cooked, leave the monkfish to rest for a couple of minutes, then slice into thick pieces. 

To plate up, spoon a generous amount of the beans onto each plate. Position the slices of monkfish to one side of the beans and arrange the green leaves, charred artichokes and crispy speck pieces around the plate. Finish with a spoonful of the wild garlic and sorrel oil and a good crack of black pepper.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Ricotta and honey tortelli with pecorino, sage, almonds and butter

Continuing with last week’s theme of simple and quick Italian-based meals, it occurred to me that it had been far too long since I last dug the pasta machine out. I love the therapeutic nature of kneading smooth dough before rolling it into thin sheets and delicately shaping. And this is where the true beauty lies; once you have mastered the dough the options are limitless. On busy work nights simple, rough strips of pappardelle can be cut to be tossed through a swiftly made ragu. With a bit more time on your hands intricate and delightful little raviolis or tortellini can be made. Fresh pasta is always such a satisfying thing to make, and always tastes completely different to the shop bought stuff. 

This dish in particular was heavily inspired from a recent visit to one of my favourite Italian restaurants; Trullo in Highbury. Their simple ingredient and flavour-driven food never fails to be brilliantly satisfying. The starter that Katie had on that occasion was tortellini filled with ricotta and honey, a combination of salty and sweet that I had never experienced in pasta before. It was light and fresh yet carrying that sweet satisfaction and comfort of a good pudding. I was instantly inspired, and it wasn’t long before I was in the kitchen trying to make something along the same lines.
As with all simple Italian cooking, try and source the best quality ingredients possible. In Stoke Newington there are a couple of cracking little Italian delis that are like traditional treasure troves. Counters lined with rows of brilliant cheeses and cured meats, freshly made pasta and marinated antipasti. I could have stayed for a very long time.
Serves 2
For the pasta:
200g ‘00’ grade pasta flour 
2 medium eggs 
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
A good pinch of salt
For the tortelli filling:
200g good ricotta cheese 
3 tbsp grated pecorino 
2 tbsp honey 
A sprinkle of dried chilli flakes 
A few gratings of nutmeg
For the sauce:
60g butter 
3 tbsp flaked almonds 
6 sage leaves
To finish:
Finely grated pecorino 
A few gratings of nutmeg 
Black pepper

To make the pasta, mix the flour and salt in a bowl and form a well in the middle. Crack in the eggs and drizzle in the olive oil. Combine well with a wooden spoon, then use your hands to knead really well for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is silky smooth and elastic in texture. Wrap with cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
While the pasta is resting make the tortelli filling. Spoon the ricotta into a bowl and mix well with the honey, nutmeg, chilli and pecorino. Season well and taste; you want just the right contrast of salty and sweet. Cover and set aside. 

Fill a large saucepan with water, add a good amount of salt and bring to the boil.
Roll out the rested dough in a pasta machine right down to the thinnest setting. Cut 3-4” squares out of the sheet and carefully spoon a heaped tablespoon of the ricotta filling into the middle. Lightly brush around the filling with water. Fold the pasta squares in half to form rectangles, using your fingers to seal all around the filling and expelling as much air from inside as possible. Repeat until all of the filling is used up. Dust the finished tortelli with a little flour and set aside while waiting for the water to boil.
Put a large, non-stick pan frying on a medium-high heat.
When the water is at a rolling boil, gently drop in the tortelli and cook for 2.5-3 minutes.
As soon as the pasta is cooking, melt the butter quickly in the hot pan. Add the almonds and the sage leaves and allow to crisp up as the butter turns a nut-brown colour. When the tortelli is ready, transfer to the butter pan with a slotted spoon. Carefully toss to cover with the butter on all sides.
To plate up, spoon three tortelli onto each plate. Sprinkle some of the sage leaves and almonds over the top and drizzle with a little of the butter sauce. Finish with more grated pecorino and nutmeg.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Raw British shellfish with marinated cucumber, basil and Sicilian lemon

Recently I’ve taken a bit of a step back with my cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy trying out new and complicated techniques and spending hours putting a dish together. But often the food that I like to eat the most relies on simple flavour combinations and good produce. Italian food is my favourite by far, and more often than not comes in the form of a few ingredients, cooked well and arranged rustically on a plate. 

For this dish I drew inspiration from photos of typical Venetian appetisers; little plates of raw shellfish to be picked on with drinks before the main meal gets underway. Beautiful arrangements of little red prawns, clams sitting in half shells and plump queenie scallops, all dressed with the best oil and lemons. This is such a huge contrast to this country, where everyone seems shit scared of any fish or shellfish that hasn’t been cooked to within an inch of its life. For an island that produces such an abundance of wonderful, fresh shellfish we don’t half have a bonkers attitude towards it.
The weather is still holding a chill and we’re still bang in shellfish season. We’ve been getting some fantastic, energetic langoustines at work recently, and it’s always tempting to just split one in half, lash it with lemon juice and guzzle it down. More unusually, we’ve also had a good run of spiky sea urchins. These always rouse questions, curious and often squeamish looks from our customers. Then someone who knows all about them will come along and often snap the whole lot up. The bright orange roes are a bit funny to scoop out for the first time, but the taste is amazing. Like the best oyster ever with a soft, melting texture. 

I didn’t want to add too much to accompany such simple and delicate produce. The thin slithers of tangy cucumber give an additional crunch but allow the flavours of the sea to shine.
Stating the obvious I know, but if you do try and replicate this then you need to get hold of the freshest shellfish, all of which must be alive.
Serves 2

1 large live langoustine 
2 live sea urchins 
6 live clams
For the marinated cucumber:
½ a cucumber, peeled and very finely sliced lengthways 
½ a Sicilian lemon, zest and juice 
½ a tsp of dried chilli flakes 
10 basil leaves, torn 
A good glug of extra virgin olive oil
To finish:
A squeeze of Sicilian lemon juice 
Basil leaves 
Black pepper

First marinate the cucumber. Mix the lemon zest and juice, chilli flakes, basil leaves, olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning in a bowl. Peel the cucumber then cut in half and slice lengthways. Arrange the slices on a piece of kitchen paper, then top with more paper and press to absorb any excess liquid and dry the cucumber. Toss the slices in the dressing and leave to marinate for an hour. 

Prepare the shellfish just before serving. Use a butter knife to gently open the clams, similarly as to how you would open an oyster. Discard the empty shell halves. For the sea urchins, use a strong pair of scissors to cut a circle around the top of the mouth. Drain away any water from the shells. Split the langoustine lengthways with a sharp knife. Remove the claws and clean the head and stomach line.
To serve, lay slices of the cucumber on the bottom of each plate. Place half a langoustine to one side, then arrange three good pieces of sea urchin alongside. Place the clams around the urchin, then scatter over some basil leaves. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, a little of the cucumber dressing and a crack of pepper.