Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Smoked octopus with charred peppers, preserved lemon and almond puree

The octopus had been in the freezer for a long time. A spring purchase, I had taken it home with big intentions; a light green broth perhaps, or fried in chilli to top a pea risotto. But somewhere along the line I was distracted, and the eight-legged beast had a little more time to acquaint itself with the lost myriad of ice-burnt fish fingers, three-quarter used packets of peas and random chunks of meat jostling for a way out of the cold. But as the summer came on, the octopus was the over-familiar leftover at the party and was more than starting to outstay its welcome. It’s shear bulk in such a tiny icebox meant that competition was tight, and with this heatwave, when a decision needed to be made between having room for an octopus or a box of Soleros, there was only one winner. 

But the octopus was not alone, and was joined by many of my culinary outcasts in this recipe. Enter the humble bell pepper, which has rarely (if every) appeared on this blog. Sometimes too sweet, sometimes just the wrong texture, I have no malicious feeling towards peppers. But they are just something that I never seem to crave. Until now that is. The combination of smoky, salty octopus and soft charred peppers seemed to get a big thumbs up in my head.
Of course, the smoking side of this recipe isn’t essential. It would be perfectly acceptable (delicious, even) to grill the tentacles after the initial braising process. But I do like a bit of DIY food experimentation, and I’m always surprised with the amount of flavour that comes out of a bit of hay and a deep roasting dish. As with anything that releases your inner pyromaniac, it’s always best performed in an open, outdoor space, with a fire-quenching aid to hand.
Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch
1 x 2kg octopus (double sucker variety), previously frozen and thawed out 
A few good handfuls of hay, to smoke
For the charred peppers:
2-3 red and/or yellow peppers 
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
1 lemon 
A pinch of dried chilli flakes 
2 preserved lemons, centres scooped out and discarded 
A few sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked
For the almond puree:
300g blanched almonds 
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced 
2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped 
1 lemon
To finish:
A few more oregano leaves

Pop the octopus into a large saucepan and add 250ml of water. Bring to the boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until the tentacles are very tender. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from the liquid and slice off each tentacle. Discard the head. 

Set a heavy griddle pan over a high heat. Rub the peppers with a little olive and sear for about 5 minutes on each side, until blackened and blistered. Remove to a deep bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to cool down, then slice into thin strips. Pour a good glug of oil into a small saucepan and add the garlic and the chilli flakes, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes until softened, then remove from the heat. Finely chop the preserved lemon and add to the pan along with the oregano leaves, lemon juice and 2 tbsp olive oil. Stir well, then pour all over the sliced, cooked peppers.
Bring a large frying pan to a medium heat and add the almonds. Toast for a few minutes, until lightly browned, then pour over a good glug of olive oil. Stir in the garlic and chopped rosemary along with some seasoning, and fry gently for a further 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and blend well. Squeeze in the lemon juice and slowly add 3 tbsp of olive oil. With the motor still running, slowly pour in a little cold water to loosen the puree, until it is soft and smooth. Taste and season, and pass through a sieve if necessary. 

To smoke the octopus, scatter the hay onto the bottom of a heavy baking tray and top with a wire rack. Arrange the tentacles onto the rack, and use a large sheet of foil to seal. Carefully light the hay with a long match and allow to smoke for a couple of minutes. Place the smoked octopus onto a metal tray and use a blowtorch to crisp up the edges.
To serve, spoon the puree onto each plate and top with the octopus, pepper slices and a good drizzle of the flavoured oil. Finish with a scattering of fresh oregano leaves.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Summer lamb stew with pancetta, artichokes and borlotti beans

Ok, I know that it’s one of the hottest days of the year, but I want stew. Diana Henry recently announced on Twitter that she had mostly spent the last few months “cooking for autumn”, and I can totally get behind that. The weather this year has most definitely been playing silly buggers, conditions that my instincts always look to solve with a broth or a soup, some lentils or grains slowly blipping away for hours on a hob. A piece of meat, tender and falling apart, usually gets in on the act too. Settling and comforting food, and this time I don’t intend on waiting until the later months. I draw the line at bulbous, suety dumplings or piles of buttery polenta, but with a few light touches here and there, I believe that a summer stew of sorts is a wonderful and appropriate thing. 

Summer sees excellent lamb, and a whole host of brilliant sidekicks to bob around a saucepan with. Spikey artichokes and almost hippy-like, vibrant pink borlotti beans are in their prime, with zingy sorrel giving things a refreshing boost where needed. The cut of meat chosen is the neck fillet, possibly my all-time favourite. Versatile enough to cook pink and charred over a barbeque, or in this case low and slow, and containing all of that flavour so common in the working muscles. I’ll leave my more refined cookery for another time. This is all about chunks of meat soft enough to break with a spoon, melting slabs of fatty pancetta and a rich liquor the result of patient simmering.
One large saucepan and a steaming bowl of happiness. More salads and summer fare next week. But for now I just want stew.
Serves 4-6
800g-1kg lamb neck fillet, chopped into rough large chunks 
150g smoked pancetta, thickly sliced 
1 large onion, sliced 
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 
A few sprigs of thyme 
1 bay leaf 
1 large glass of dry white wine 
1-1.5ltr chicken stock 
2 large handfuls of fresh borlotti beans 
4-6 small artichokes, tough leaves, stems and chokes removed and hearts quartered 
1 bunch of sorrel, roughly torn 
1 lemon

Pour a good glug of olive oil into a large, deep saucepan and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the chunks of lamb with salt and pepper and brown in the hot pan on all sides, in 2 or 3 batches if necessary. Transfer the cooked meat to a side plate. Add the pancetta to the now empty pan and cook for a couple of minutes, until the fat starts to render and crisp. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and bay and continue until softened and slightly caramelised. Season well. 

Pour in the wine and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the crust from the bottom of the pan. Return the lamb and top up with enough stock to cover the meat. Bring everything back to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours, or until the lamb pulls apart easily.
Drop the prepared artichokes and beans to the saucepan and continue to cook for a further 30-45 minutes, until the vegetables have softened.

Tear up the sorrel and stir through the stew a couple of minutes before serving. Taste and check for seasoning.
Spoon the stew into bowls, finishing with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Tortelli of rocket and goat’s cheese with garlic, butter and lemon

Every year, Katie and I throw RoLo Fest, an evening of feasting to celebrate the birthdays of my sister-in-law Lois and her fiancĂ© Rob. I spend the day in the kitchen lovingly putting together a four-course meal, before the evening arrives and we all sit in the (hopefully sunny) garden outside. A bottle or two is popped open and we all tuck in and catch up. 

Putting the menu together is both immensely fun yet immensely challenging. As it’s a family meal, I want to be out at the table with everyone else instead of stuck in the kitchen, so practicality and planning is key. Yet I also always want to do my best to spoil everyone rotten with impressive and elaborate food. In the past I’ve served up beef wellington, guinea fowl ravioli and fast-grilled leg of lamb. But on this occasion the centrepiece was an enormous piece of rolled porchetta, tender and herby in the middle with blistered golden crackling around the edge. I was overjoyed with how it turned out, a future recipe for this blog for sure.
Before the pork was served up, I made this pasta dish as a little primi. Rocket often seems to be used as an afterthought, chucked randomly to one side of a dish to add a splash of colour. But I wanted it to be the focus here, and I balanced the deep, bitter flavour with rich and tangy goat’s cheese. The little tortelli were served swimming in a little pool of garlicky melted butter, which is so simple but always a total crowd pleaser.
Making filled pasta is dead simple with a little practice, and once the basics have been mastered, the world is oyster with all of the different fillings and shapes that you can make. They’re also perfect for any kind of dinner party scenario, as they can be made and stored hours in advance, ready to be whipped up in a few minutes in front of your guests.
Serves 4
For the tortelli:
300g ‘00’ grade pasta flour 
3 medium eggs 
3 large bunches of rocket, roots trimmed 
150g soft goat’s cheese 
200g ricotta 
4 tbsp pecorino romano, finely grated 
1 egg, for brushing
For the sauce:
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced 
4 tbsp unsalted butter 
1 bunch of rocket 
½ a lemon
To finish:
A few gratings of pecorino romano

Start by making the pasta dough. Tip the flour into a large bowl and mix with a generous pinch of fine salt. Make a well in the centre and crack in the eggs, and also pour in a good glug of olive oil. Using a fork, whisk the eggs, incorporating the flour at the same time until a dough is formed. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, until elastic in texture and not sticky. Wrap well with cling film and put in the fridge for an hour to rest. 

Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add a good pinch of salt and the rocket leaves for the pasta filling. Blanche for 1 minute, then strain through a sieve and allow to cool. Squeeze out the excess water from the leaves then transfer to a food processor. Add the ricotta, goat’s cheese, pecorino and season well. Blend until the rocket is finely chopped and the filling is well combined. Tip into a bowl.
Use a pasta machine to roll the pasta dough to its thinnest setting, and lay the resulting long sheet onto a well-floured surface. Place tablespoonfuls of the filling mixture along the middle of the sheet, leaving gaps of about 8cm between each one. Break the remaining egg into a small bowl, and use a pastry brush to lightly coat the pasta around the filling. Carefully fold the long edges in over the filling, creating a seal with the other edge in the middle. Use your fingers to seal the pasta in between each bit of filling, making sure to disperse any air bubbles. Use a sharp knife to separate each square tortelli, and use your fingers to seal the pasta together one last time. Repeat until all of the tortelli have been made, rolling out more pasta if necessary.

Fill a large saucepan up with water and bring to the boil. Add a very good pinch of salt.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and gently cook the sliced garlic for a minute or two, until lightly golden. Add the remaining bunch of rocket and wilt down.
When the water is boiling, drop in the tortelli and cook for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pasta to the butter pan. Carefully toss the tortelli to coat with butter, then squeeze over the lemon juice.
To serve, arrange 3-5 tortelli onto each plate, along with some of the wilted rocket leaves. Spoon over a good amount of the butter and garlic. Finish with some additional gratings of pecorino cheese.