Monday, 21 March 2016


When it comes to food, there are a couple of things that Katie and I just don’t meet eye-to-eye on. Firstly, she thinks that anchovies are the food of the devil. This is a terrible shame, as they are potentially up their as one of my favourites. I love them in salads, stuffed into legs of lamb, dressed with lemon and herbs or simply straight out of the tin (that shirt goes in the wash swiftly afterwards). She has an incredible micro-sensitivity to them, to the point that if I melted one measly fillet into a vat of sauce, to add depth rather than flavour, she could tell in a heartbeat. Instant ticket to the doghouse right there. Another food-based conflict is her insistence that all pizzas should have tomato sauce on the base. This is pure craziness. A delicately-flavoured pizza bianca, full of herbs, cheese and green vegetables is a thing of pure beauty. Thinly-sliced, crispy potatoes, thyme, garlic and parmesan would be barged out of the way by a sloppy, tangy pomodoro sauce. Surely there is room in the world for both! 

Last week I had one of those dreaded days spent waiting at home for a delivery. It could arrive at any time “between 9am-9pm” they said. Thanks for nothing. Scowl face. So I decided to make pizza, or more specifically pizzetta; dinkier versions perfect for a snack, or as a first course before a hunk of meat or fish. On a day previously written-off in my head, it was a total joy sitting in a bright and sunny living room, listening to Ruth Rodgers on Desert Island Discs (if you haven’t heard this, find it. It’s lovely) with a bowl of gently rising dough in the corner.
When it came to topping the pizzettas, of course bianca was the only way. Don’t get me wrong, I like pizza in every form. But with spring ingredients, fresh orange-yolked eggs and lovely fontina cheese, a heavy sauce just wasn’t needed. But the great thing about pizza though is that you can customise exactly to your wants and needs, so don’t take the below arrangements as gospel. Add mozzarella, parmesan, wild garlic and asparagus. Even add cheese, tomato, ham and pineapple. Just be safe in the knowledge that that last one is all yours.
Makes 6-8 pizzettas
For the dough:
2 tsp dried yeast 
185ml warm water 
1 tablespoon milk 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
A good pinch of salt 
250g Italian ‘00’ grade flour 
75g polenta or semolina
For 6 pizzettas with purple sprouting broccoli and broad beans:
400g fontina cheese, torn into small rough pieces 
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped 
8 sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped 
A pinch of dried chilli 
18 stems of purple sprouting broccoli 
12 broad beans pods, beans podded and shelle
For 6 pizzettas with porcini, garlic and egg:
400g fontina cheese, torn into small, rough pieces 
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 
6 medium eggs 
3 small handfuls of dried porcini mushrooms 
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked 

To make the dough, pour the flour, polenta and salt into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl or large jug, stir the yeast with the water, milk and olive oil together until well combined. Make a well in the flour and pour in the liquid. Use a wooden spoon to form the mixture into a dough, then use your hands and knead for 10-15 minutes. The dough will still be relatively wet at this point, but that’s ok. Coat a separate large bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough into it. Drizzle a little more oil over the top, then cover with cling film and allow to prove in a warm place for about 2 hours, until doubled in size. 

When the dough has risen, quickly knead it a few times to knock most of the air out. Replace the cling film and allow to prove again for 45 minutes.
Lightly flour a large work surface. Take a tangerine-sized piece of the dough and quickly roll it into a thin base around 20cm in diameter. Transfer carefully to a lightly floured greaseproof sheet. The pizzeta is now ready for topping with your choice of ingredients. Repeat with the rest of the dough until you have the required amount.
Pre-heat the oven as high as it will go.
To make the broccoli and broad bean pizzettas, fill a saucepan will lightly salted water and bring to the boil. When the water is ready, blanche the purple sprouting broccoli for 2 minutes, then drain and shake dry. 

Get a small bowl and add the chopped rosemary, garlic and dried chilli. Season well, and pour in enough extra virgin olive oil to create a loose, spoonable sauce.
Crumble the fontina onto the base of each pizzetta, to about a centimetre from the edge. Top with the blanched broccoli and a scattering of shelled broad beans. Spoon over a little of the rosemary and garlic oil and sprinkle some additional seasoning. Slide the pizzettas, in batches if necessary, on the greaseproof paper bases, onto the top shelf of the oven. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the dough is cooked and starting to brown around the edges.
Top the cooked pizzettas with an additional spoonful of the rosemary and garlic oil and tuck in.

For the porcini, garlic and egg pizzettas, fill up a kettle and switch on. Tip the dried porcini into a heatproof bowl and cover with the boiling water. Allow the mushrooms to soak for about 20 minutes, then drain and pat dry with kitchen paper (do not discard the soaking liquid, it is excellent used in risottos, soups and sauces).
Crumble the fontina onto each base, to about a centimetre from the edge. Carefully crack the egg and break in the centre, then scatter the porcini mushrooms all around. Top with a few slivers of garlic, a good pinch of fresh thyme leaves and seasoning. Transfer to the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes, until the dough and egg are cooked.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Fillet carpaccio with anchovy mayonnaise, baby artichokes, broad beans and lemon

Hot on the heels of the scallop carpaccio ‘starter’ described in the last recipe on this blog, was a more traditional beef carpaccio ‘main’. It’s been that kind of day. When you get a deep craving for something, the best thing is to go big. Have it twice. As Gary Busey famously (!) cries in Point Break: “Give me two!”. I now feel satisfied with my carpaccio fill, and it will be a little while before it comes around again. In the meantime, I can go back to craving pasta. All of the time. 

As with the last recipe, this one was inspired by the flurry of amazing springtime ingredients. Okay, so you can get a fillet of beef pretty much all year round, but as soon as I saw baby artichokes and broad beans available, I knew they would be best friends. Also served raw, both vegetables possess enough subtle flavour and crunchy texture to hold their own, whilst not clouding the all-important (and bloody expensive, thank goodness it’s only a sliver) piece of meat. Although I’m always a sucker for the dead trad carpaccio with parmesan, rocket and oil, I fancied something a touch different and thankfully it worked a treat. Anything with a pile of anchovies chucked in normally does.
Today I discovered how making carpaccio really showcases the sharpness of your knives. In my case, I could have done a better job with a teaspoon. Blimey, what a mess. I love my knives, and they’re treasured and essential in my kitchen, but my god they’ve taken a pounding over the years. Perhaps it is time to finally send them back to the wonderful I O Shen to bring them back up to shape. In my next blog post I’ll no doubt be telling you how I no longer have any fingertips.
But my inadequate kitchen equipment was saved by the good and trustworthy rolling pin. They never let you down. They have just the one job, and they always rise to it. They never need sending back to the supplier. Here’s to the rolling pin! Anyway, the rolling pin made short work of making my frankly shite slices of beef serviceable again. Despite such bodging and faffery, the texture of the beef just melted away. So in that sense, this is truly a recipe that caters for any skill level.
Serves 2
200g of excellent quality, dry-aged fillet steak. Trimmed of sinew. 
2 baby artichokes 
3 broad beans 
1 Sicilian lemon, juice only
For the anchovy mayonnaise:
2 egg yolks 
1 garlic clove, grated 
½ tsp Dijon mustard 
1 Sicilian lemon, juice along with zest of half 
4 anchovies 
200ml vegetable oil
To finish:
A few bruscandoli shoots (optional) 
½ a Sicilian lemon, juice only 
Extra virgin olive oil

Wrap the trimmed beef fillet tightly with a couple of layers of cling film and pop in the freezer for 1 hour to firm up. 

While the beef is freezing make the mayonnaise. Put the yolks, garlic, anchovies, lemon juice and zest and mustard into a small food processor along with a good pinch of seasoning. Blitz well to combine. With the engine still running, start to slowly pour in the vegetable oil. Continue to add the oil until it has all been emulsified, and you are left with a thick mayonnaise. Taste and adjust the seasoning and lemon, then spoon into a squeezy bottle. Set aside until needed.
Make a dressing by combining the juice of half a lemon with 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Pod and shell the broad beans and transfer to a bowl. Strip away the outside leaves from the artichokes and trim the top about 1 ½ cm down. Use a vegetable peeler to trim any hard bits away from the stem. Use a knife to thinly slice, then add to the same bowl as the broad beans. Immediately toss with the lemony dressing to stop the artichoke from discolouring. 

After an hour, remove the beef from the freezer and use a very sharp, long knife to thinly slice. If you want the carpaccio to be wafer thin, put each slice between pieces of greaseproof paper and flatten with a rolling pin.
To serve, arrange the meat slices onto each plate and dot on the anchovy mayonnaise. Scatter the broad beans, artichoke slices and bruscandoli over the top. Finish with a good glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a good pinch of seasoning.

Scallop carpaccio with monks beard, winter tomatoes and fennel

I’m so happy that the winter dreariness seems to be lifting as we welcome the first few sunny days of spring. I am often asked what my favourite time of the year is for produce, and although I love the orange and yellow earthy yields of autumn, the vibrancy and freshness of spring fruit and vegetables really take some beating. I always look forward to embracing the colder months with a glut of steaming soups, stews and slow-cooking. Comfort food at its best. But I’ve had my fill, and now even the slightest tickle of the new season has got me craving small plates of delicately-flavoured morsels. Specifically, carpaccio. 

As a fishmonger I am lucky to see this seasonal shift at a hands-on level. At this time of year, although the mackerel seem have performed their annual early spring disappearing act, many UK fish and shellfish are at their peak; nearing spawning time and benefitting in condition from the months of cooler water. I am always really inspired by the fish that we sell every week, and there is always something in particular that really shines out. Recently I was excited about the first proper wild black bream run of the season, and it won’t be long until we see the first sea trout. But last week the things that really caught my eye were the scallops. They were real beauties, diver-caught and still housed in their tightly-clenched shells. They immediately got the old recipe-cogs in my brain turning, and I just had to place a greedy order for some.
When I opened the box I wasn’t disappointed. I really enjoy scallops seared in a stinking hot pan, basted in butter until a burnished crust forms on the outside, encasing a tender, just-cooked middle. But with something so fresh (still very much alive), I almost didn’t want to waste them by adding an element of heat. A simple, tomato-based dressing and a few other seasonal bits and pieces were all that was needed to create a really delicious plate of food.
It’s always best to go to a fishmongers with an open mind, and let them tell you what is good on the day. So if scallops aren’t the thing for this recipe, they can be substituted with other raw white fish such as seabass, bream, or even flatfish such as brill, halibut or sole. The other flavourings will allow whatever fish you choose to be the main event.
Serves 2
5 very fresh hand-dived scallops, in their shells 
1 small bunch of monks beard, roots trimmed 
1 large handful (approx. 300g) of winter tomatoes, such as camone 
1 small fennel bulb, fronds kept 
1 Sicilian lemon, zest and juice 
Extra virgin olive oil

First make the tomato dressing. Take two-thirds of the tomatoes and tip into a food processor. Add a good pinch of salt, the zest of the lemon (and any leaves) and about a quarter of the fennel. Pulse the vegetables until coarsely chopped. Line a fine sieve with a piece of muslin, and position over a bowl. Tip the blitzed vegetables into the sieve and allow the clear juices to slowly run into a bowl for about an hour, without squeezing or pushing through. Once the liquid has been collected, pour it into a smaller bowl and set aside. Discard the vegetables. 

Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Season well with salt. Fill a large bowl with cold water and have it standing by. Blanche the monks beard for 20 seconds, then transfer straight into the cold water to stop the cooking. Once cold, drain the monks beard and pat dry with some kitchen paper. Tip into a bowl and dress with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.
Halve the remaining tomatoes and cut into thin wedges. Scoop out the middles and discard. Transfer to a small bowl and dress with more oil and a pinch of salt. 

Prise the scallop shells open with a butter knife, then run a sharp, flexible knife flush to the inside of the flat shell to cut the scallop away. Carefully sever the muscle that attaches the scallop to the bottom shell, then use your hand to scoop up the contents. Run your finger and thumb around the scallop and peel away the frill and roe (this can be used in a different recipe). Repeat until all five are done. On a clean chopping board, slice the scallops into thin discs.
To serve, arrange the scallop slices onto each plate. Spoon over a little of the tomato dressing, then top with the monks beard, fennel fronds and the tomato wedges. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, a good drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Cappelletti with potato, thyme, ricotta and truffle butter

Leftovers are funny old things. When I grew up, they would refer to the half-portion of grey-looking cottage pie right at the back of the fridge, or the tatty looking carrots in the veg drawer. Leftover curry or lasagne was the best, really developing in flavour after a good day or two of chilling. As a student, leftover pizza scraped out of the box was often essential to ward off some killer hangovers, getting me to the lecture in the nick of time. Leftovers were just that. There was nothing glamorous about them, they served their exact purpose. 

As time has gone on, I’ve often been amused at the elevation of what consists of a leftover. Gazing through twitter, I’ve noticed gleaming plates of ‘leftover’ racks of lamb, prime steaks etc etc. It strikes me as funny how once upon a time leftovers were the thrifty scrapings of dinners, cobbled together to make an extra meal. Now people are commonly starting out with a glut of expensive ingredients. No wonder this country is gripped with a mounting waste crisis.  
And I hold my hands up fully at this point, as this recipe is fully based around a leftover truffle that I had sitting in my fridge. That’s right, a leftover truffle. My parents would fall over at the thought. In all fairness, I didn’t need a full, whole truffle for the intended recipe (the last steak and celeriac recipe on this blog), and it’s not as if I could have gone to the deli and bought half of one. So I was indeed left with leftovers, and I was damned if I was going to let it rot and go to waste. I read somewhere that making truffle butter would extend its life for a good few weeks, and that sounded very good to me.
The rest of this recipe was easy peasy. When I think of truffle butter, the only accompaniment to it has to be pasta. And nothing nearly complicated either. People give me a funny look when I talk about pasta filled with mashed potato, but it’s a glorious thing. These little, light pockets do an amazing job of letting the truffle speak for itself. And when it’s in front of you on a plate, it certainly doesn’t seem like leftovers.
Serves 2
For the pasta:
200g strong ‘00’ grade flour 
2 eggs, plus 1 extra for sealing 
A good glug of extra virgin olive oil 
A good pinch of salt
For the potato filling:
2 medium-large maris piper potatoes 
150g ricotta cheese 
3 tbsp finely grated hard pecorino 
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
A good knob of butter
For the truffle butter:
A small black truffle 
100g salted butter    

To finish:

2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
A grating or two of pecorino

To make the truffle butter, tip the soft, room-temperature butter into a small bowl. Finally grate in the truffle and mix well with a spoon. Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper onto a flat surface and transfer the butter on top. Wrap the butter with the paper so that you are left with a small, sealed parcel. Pop into the fridge until needed (up to a couple of weeks). 

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C.
Put the potatoes onto a baking tray and scatter with salt. Bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until the middles are very soft. When cooked, allow to cool slightly, then halve and scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Mash well, then combine with the ricotta, thyme leaves, pecorino, butter and a good amount of salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Cover and allow to cool.
For the pasta dough, measure out the pasta flour in a large bowl and combine with the salt. Use a wooden spoon to make a well in the middle, and break in the eggs. Pour in a good glug of olive oil, then use a fork to whisk the eggs, gradually incorporating the flour until a dough forms. Tip the dough out onto a work surface and knead really well, until it in no longer sticky and has an elastic texture. Wrap with cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 

When the dough is ready, roll it through a pasta machine until it is at the thinnest setting. Lay the sheet of pasta out and cut 2.5” squares. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl. Add a teaspoon of the cold potato filling to the middle of each square, and brush a little egg around one half of the edge. Take a filled square of dough in your hands and carefully fold it diagonally into a triangle, sealing the edges around the filling, and expelling any air bubbles. Take the two points of the folded side, and bring them together with a slight twist, so that they meet opposite the remaining point. Crimp with your fingers to seal. Repeat, until you have 20-30 cappelletti.
Fill a large saucepan up with well-salted water and bring to the boil.
When the water is at a rolling boil, add the cappelletti and cook for 3 minutes.
Whilst the pasta is cooking, melt the truffle butter gently in a large frying pan. As soon as the cappelletti are ready, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the butter pan, tossing them gently to make sure they get covered on all sides.
To serve, spoon the filled pasta onto the middle of each plate, and pour over all of the remaining butter. Finish with a few fresh thyme leaves and a little more grated pecorino.