Monday, 21 November 2016

Burrata with crushed blackberries, castelfranco, fennel seeds and thyme

Late November and December sees the first of the bitter leaves emerge, with all kinds of multi-coloured radicchio, kale, chard and chicory now firmly on the menu. For me, learning to love these winter vegetables has been a struggle I’ve only recently overcome. Despite appearing beautifully sculpted and painfully photogenic, this produce requires a bit of work and balance to tease out the true delights. Eaten in a raw, undressed form they can be a trifle unpleasant. In the past I would often rustle up a chicory-heavy salad with very little else, and then sit dumbstruck as to why others considered it edible. But experience eventually taught me that tempering is the name of the game. Toss kale in an anchovy and garlic heavy Caesar dressing and it is suddenly no longer the yellowing bag of greens waiting patiently at the back of the fridge. Grill half a radicchio until singed and crispy and a hidden sweetness is released. Bake chard piled high with parmesan and be prepared to fight for the last spoonful. It felt like a new world had been opened, and now I actively look forward to the season coming around. 

This week I’ve been rather short of time during my days off, and with daylight hours at an absolute premium at this time of year it’s been a challenge to get anything on film. In the past I have been devastated when hours of cooking time have gone to waste due to a dimly lit room and unusable photography. These days I plan my testing days more effectively, and this recipe was more of an assembly of ingredients rather than a labour at the stove.
The winter leaf of choice for this dish is castelfranco, a beautifully marked and delicate type of radicchio. Sitting toward the lower end of the face-squirmingly bitter scale, left raw it provided the perfect balance with the rich, creamy burrata and the sweetness of the blackberries. In East London I’m luckily surrounded by a number of brilliant greengrocers, but I realise that castelfranco may be an elusive beast to get hold of. In which case, regular purple radicchio, rocket or even spinach would work as a handy substitute.
Serves 2
2 balls of burrata 
A few large leaves of castelfranco radicchio, washed and roughly torn 
1 punnet of blackberries 
1 tsp of fennel seeds 
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked 
1 lemon, zest only

Bring a frying pan to a medium-high heat. When hot, scatter in the fennel seeds and toast for a minute or two, then pour into a bowl. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil along with a good pinch of salt and pepper, the lemon zest, fresh thyme leaves and the blackberries. Use a spoon or fork to lightly crush the blackberries and toss everything together. Set aside for 15 minutes. 

Break the burrata into rough pieces and arrange onto each plate with the torn castelfranco leaves. Spoon over the blackberries and flavoured oil, making sure all of the cheese and leaves receive a bit of dressing.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Spaghetti with black truffle, egg and parmesan

Following on from the last recipe on this blog, I still had a good amount of black truffle in my possession and I was determined to turn it into another tasty dish. Although I have previously preserved excess truffle in butter to stretch it out for a week or so, this time I wanted to strike while the iron was hot, and no sooner had I finished scoffing my raw beef snacks I was back in the kitchen with the stove on. For this dish I wanted to keep things simple and very plain, maximising the pungent flavour of the knobbly tuber. 

Truffles and eggs have long been bedfellows, and it’s amazing that if you keep eggs and truffles close together, the flavour will seep through the shells. After an overnight stay in each other’s company, the eggs had a definite truffley whiff and were ready to be beaten into a pasta dough, along with forming the base of the simple sauce. Carbonara and other rich, creamy pasta sauces have been making a fashionable comeback of late, and it doesn’t seem like you can switch on social media without spying another take on cacio e pepe. The role of eggs in this recipe is further stripped back, acting as a rich binder to transform the parmesan and truffle into a thick and glossy sauce.
Like most simple Italian recipes, success lies in careful execution. I cringe when I remember my earlier attempts at carbonara, heating the sauce together in a red hot pan that instantly turned the smooth eggs into a grainy, somewhat scrambled affair. I also knew nothing of using the very handy glutenous pasta water, which tempers the eggs and helps a great deal to thicken everything up. Constant movement of the pasta is the key; it will stop the eggs from overcooking whilst emulsifying the sauce. It may take a practice or two, but it’s a technique well worth mastering that will enable a bowlful of comforting pasta to be made in minutes.
Serves 2
For the fresh spaghetti:
200g ‘00’ grade strong pasta flour, plus a little extra for rolling 
2 medium eggs 
Extra virgin olive oil 
For the sauce:
2 medium eggs plus one yolk 
A small handful of parmesan, finely grated 
1/3 of a black truffle, finely grated
To finish:
Thin slices of black truffle 
Extra gratings of parmesan

First make the pasta. Pour the flour into a large bowl and combine with a very generous pinch of salt. Use a wooden spoon to make a well in the middle, and crack in the eggs, along with about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Use a fork to beat the eggs and oil, slowly incorporating the surrounding flour until a dough starts to form. Transfer the dough to a flat surface and knead really well, for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic in texture. Wrap with cling film and put in the fridge to rest for an hour. 

Remove the rested dough from the fridge, and use a pasta machine to roll thinly (to the second thinnest setting using an Imperia machine), dusting each side with a little flour every few rolls. Use a spaghetti cutter attachment to create spaghetti. Cover the fresh pasta with a tea towel while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Fill a large saucepan with water and add a generous amount of salt. Bring to the boil. Set a large frying pan over a gentle heat.
Break the eggs for the sauce into a bowl and whisk well. Stir through the grated truffle, parmesan and a pinch of seasoning.
Drop the fresh spaghetti into the boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Use tongs to transfer the cooked spaghetti to the frying pan, adding a good ladle of the cooking water. Pour over the egg mixture and toss with the pasta really well. Cook for a minute or so over the low heat, stirring/tossing the pan continuously until the sauce thickens and coats the pasta. Taste and season if necessary.
To serve, pile the spaghetti onto each plate and top with extra shavings of truffle and grated parmesan.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Raw beef with girolles, chestnuts, parmesan and Wiltshire truffle

Snacks are always so overlooked, and I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ll happily spend hours in the kitchen preparing a hearty breakfast or intricate dinner, but when feeling a bit peckish I’m always so tempted to just crack open a bag of crisps or spread piles of salted butter onto hot toast. Although this sort of absent eating does its job and at least momentarily fills a hole, with a tiny bit more thought snacking can become that bit more satisfying. Be it stirring up a rich and tangy rarebit sauce, slicing ripe tomatoes to accompany slippery anchovies or simply toasting some almonds in a pan before coating in a slick of olive oil, salt and chilli flakes. Surely better than pickled onion monster munch! 

A day off last week saw me travelling by train across London to the ever excellent Andreas greengrocers on Chelsea Green. Although somewhat of a mission from deepest, darkest Hackney, I always enjoy seeing different parts of the capital on a bright and crisp morning. And all well worth it for the wonderful selection of seasonal produce, including many interesting and hard to get ingredients. Beautiful fresh porcini mushrooms, purple Italian treviso and heavily armoured artichokes gleamed in the light. But the real star of the show lurked in a small jar to one corner; knobbly black Wiltshire truffles. Although at that point I didn’t have a specific recipe in my head, I just had to take one to play about with upon my return home.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to eat a really delicious steak tartare whilst lunching at Phil Howard’s new restaurant, Elystan Street, and I have been craving it ever since. I thought that something similar would work brilliantly with my newfound truffle, so after a quick visit to my local butcher, I soon had a well-marbled slice of chateaubriand in my possession. Raw beef, particularly lean cuts like the fillet, can be rather bland, and need a bit of careful help to shine through. Salt is obviously most important here, and hard cheese such as parmesan is commonly used to add richness. But a little seasonal twist in the form of finely sliced girolles and sweet chestnuts worked a treat here. The key is to make sure everything is at room temperature, and to taste repeatedly and adjust the flavourings until just balanced.
Serves 2
For the beef:
200g good quality dry-aged beef fillet, trimmed of outer sinew 
1 small handful of girolle mushrooms 
8 cooked chestnuts 
3 tbsp finely grated parmesan 
1 small Wiltshire black truffle
For the sourdough:
2 thin slices of white sourdough bread
To finish:
More gratings of black truffle 
Extra virgin olive oil

Chop the chestnuts roughly. Pour a glug of olive oil into a frying pan and bring to a medium-high heat. When hot, add the chestnuts along with the mushrooms and a good pinch of seasoning. Fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until everything is tender and slightly caramelised. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then chop very finely and transfer to a bowl. 

Preheat the grill to high. Cut the crusts from the sourdough and discard. Using a pasta machine or rolling pin, gently roll the bread until very thin. Place onto an oven tray and drizzle with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt. Set under the grill for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until lightly golden and crispy. Remove and allow to cool, then break each into three equal pieces.
Chop the beef to a coarse mince texture using a very sharp knife and slide into a bowl. Combine with most of the cooled mushrooms and chestnuts and grate in the parmesan and about 2/3rds of the truffle. Season well and pour in about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Mix together with a spoon, adding more of any of the flavourings to achieve a balanced flavour. The delicate flavour and texture of the beef should still be the focus.
To serve, spoon generous amounts of the beef mixture onto the pieces of sourdough and arrange three on each plate. Top with lots more grated black truffle and a few drops of extra virgin olive oil.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Cured red mullet with marinated pumpkin, crème fraiche and mint

As with every October and November, gourds slowly begin to invade every meal. At the weekend there was roast chicken with crispy potatoes and a few slices of orange butternut sitting gingerly on the side. Then there was the post-bonfire night pumpkin soup, the roasted squash, steak and feta salad and there are still bulbous orange orbs sat atop most of the kitchen surfaces. If I’m really lucky, Katie will hopefully make her extra special pumpkin pies around Thanksgiving time. Don’t get me wrong, I really like it all, but sometimes you can definitely have too much of a good thing. So it was really good to recently stumble across a new (to me) preparation technique, something much more vibrant and fresher than the standard roasting, mashing or gratinating. The Duck Soup cookbook is definitely one of my favourite sources of cooking inspiration of late, and I was intrigued to see them treating butternut squash much like a summer courgette; peeling it thinly and tossing it raw into a salad. I’ve always been nervous about the taste of uncooked ‘green’ gourds, but after marinating briefly with a few trusty flavourings, I was dead happy with the results. The thin ribbons still retain a slight bite, but are reduced to a beautiful delicateness which marries perfectly with the other components on the dish. 

The concept of this recipe began way before the detail, to the point where I still didn’t know what fish to use on the day that I was due to start cooking. Luckily, with a large slab of glistening fish at my disposal, I had plenty of options to pick from. The old curing or raw favourites were all there; bright pink tuna, beautifully fatty salmon and wild seabass like cricket bats. But keeping with the autumnal spirit, it seemed more appropriate to take advantage of the tide of wonderful red mullet that have come into season lately. Although not traditionally served in an uncooked state, they carry a lovely sweet flavour and slightly oily texture which I thought would work well. They only require a swift dip into the salty cure, just enough to add a touch of firmness, before they are all set for the plate.
When serving cured fish, subtlety is king, and care must be taken not to interrupt the flavour of the main event. Although I have used garlic and dried chilli, only a slight touch is needed. The soured crème fraiche and picked mint leaves tie everything together, adding a final refreshing hit.
Serves 2
For the red mullet:
2 red mullet, about 300g each, scaled, filleted and pin boned 
200g sugar 
250g salt
For the marinated pumpkin:
2 1” wedges of pumpkin or squash, such as butternut, Italian stripe or delicate 
1 lemon, zest finely grated and half of the juice 
1/3 clove of garlic, finely grated 
A small pinch of dried chilli flakes 
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the crème fraiche:
3 tbsp crème fraiche 
A squeeze of lemon juice
To finish:
A few fresh mint leaves

Pour the salt and sugar into a bowl and mix together. Spread a quarter of the mixture evenly onto the bottom of a dish that is large enough to hold the mullet fillets in one layer. Place the fillets on top of the salt and sugar, then fully cover with the rest of the mixture. Use cling film to seal the dish, then refrigerate and allow to cure for about an hour. Once the fillets are cured, remove them from the dish and rinse clean, then pat dry with kitchen paper. Set aside. 

Use a vegetable peeler to strip the pumpkin flesh into thin, long ribbons and place in a bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice along with the zest, chilli flakes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning. Combine well until each strand is well coated, then set aside to marinate for about an hour.
Spoon the crème fraiche into a bowl and season well. Squeeze in a small amount of lemon juice, about a teaspoon, then mix together with a spoon. Transfer into a plastic bottle. 

Carefully skin the red mullet with a sharp filleting knife. Slice each fillet into three or four pieces.
To plate up, arrange the cured chunks of fish onto each plate, and generously squeeze on a few blobs of lemony crème fraiche. Top with strands of the marinated pumpkin and some fresh mint leaves. Spoon a little of the marinade over the top and serve.