Tuesday, 23 August 2016
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.
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
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
Every year, Katie and I throw RoLo Fest, an evening of feasting to celebrate the birthdays of my sister-in-law Lois and her fiancé 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.
For the tortelli:
300g ‘00’ grade pasta flour
3 medium eggs
3 large bunches of rocket, roots trimmed
150g soft goat’s cheese
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
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.
Wednesday, 27 July 2016
Around this time of year, gooseberries become the darling of social media. Shiny cherries, old, grumpy looking pumpkins and heritage tomatoes can briefly step aside from the iphone lense and form a queue behind these plump, veiny orbs. Restaurant menus also jump on this seasonal bandwagon, tempering their tang with creamy fools, or scattering raw slices with halibut crudo (which if I’m honest, makes my stomach turn a little). Yet gooseberries rarely turn up in home cooking, possibly losing ground to more user-friendly strawberries. I always associate gooseberries with when I was a child. Being relatively greedy and already knowledgeable of other types of sweet, messy summer berries, I stuffed my face without realising the cheek-raspingly sour consequences. I lived and learned the hard way.
Like anything bitter, sharp or sour, a little guidance from contrasting ingredients can conjure magical results. Sugars and fats seem to work best at this balancing act, and in this case a plump, laden duck proved the perfect sidekick. I’ve often struggled to cook duck in the past, with most methods that suggest frying and then roasting the breasts consistently producing overcooked, disappointingly grey results. So this time I stuck to the hobs and was much happier with the pink, juicy flesh.
As with many savoury dishes, there is nothing quite like a deep, meaty sauce to tie everything together. These intense reductions need a bit of time and care to get right, but are definitely worth all the effort spent browning, simmering and straining. In the end, a shockingly small puddle of sauce is produced, but it is compressed flavour, and only little is needed with each serving. The same principles of sauce making can be reproduced with beef, lamb, chicken etc etc…
It’s hard to ignore the other green, vibrant summer produce at the moment, with beautiful lettuces and, of course, peas working their way into lots of meals. The end result is a warm salad of sorts, a combination of rich, gamey duck and refreshing, multi-textured accompaniments.
1 duck, portioned into breasts, legs and wings. Carcass bones cut into pieces and reserved
For the pan-fried breast:
The breasts from the duck, trimmed of sinew and excess fat
1 large knob of butter
For the duck sauce:
The wings and bones from the duck, fat removed
1 shallot, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
A few sprigs of thyme
1 large glass of white wine
500ml chicken stock
1 large knob of butter
For the gooseberry puree:
500g gooseberries, trimmed
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
3 tbsp of caster sugar
1 knob of butter
For the torched gooseberries:
1 handful of gooseberries, halved
2 handfuls of fresh peas, podded
A few large lettuce leaves, washed and torn into small pieces
½ a lemon, juice only
Preheat to oven to 160⁰C. Season the duck legs all over with salt and pepper. Place a metal rack above an oven dish and top with the legs, then slide into the oven and bake for 2 hours, or until the duck is tender in the middle with a crispy skin. When the legs are cooked, allow them to rest for 15 minutes, then strip from the bone in large chunks.
While the duck legs are cooking, make the gooseberry puree. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, thyme and a good pinch of seasoning, and sauté for a couple of minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Add the gooseberries and the sugar, and continue to fry for a further 5-8 minutes, or until the berries start to melt. Taste a little of the sauce, and add more sugar if needed. Pour the contents of the pan into a food processor and blend well. Add the butter and blend for a further few seconds, until fully emulsified. Pass the puree through a sieve into a bowl, cover and set aside.
For the sauce, pour a good glug of olive oil into a saucepan and bring up to a medium-high heat. Season the duck wings and bones and brown well in the hot pan, cooking in batches if necessary. Add the shallot, carrot, garlic and thyme and continue to fry for a couple more minutes, until the vegetables are slightly caramelised. Pour in the white wine and allow to reduce by two-thirds. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the crust from the bottom of the pan. Top up with the chicken stock and return to the boil. Reduce the liquid a second time, by around three-quarters, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a smaller saucepan, and stir in the butter. Keep warm.
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Pod the peas and add to the water with a good pinch of seasoning. Blanche for 1 minute, then drain. Pour over lots of cold water to halt the cooking process. Shell the peas into a small bowl. Tear up the lettuce and add to the peas.
Season the duck breasts all over and place them skin-side down into a cold, dry frying pan. Turn on the heat to medium-high and fry for 6 minutes, until the skin is crispy and has released its excess fat. Turn the breasts over and continue to cook for a further 4 minutes. Transfer the cooked duck to a side plate and allow to rest for 10 minutes, then slice in half lengthways.
Halve the spare gooseberries and arrange cut-side up on a metal tray. Use a blow torch to char the berries, holding the flame over for about 10 seconds, or until they are slightly blackened.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the lettuce and peas, and sprinkle on a little seasoning. Use your hands to mix well.
To serve, arrange half a duck breast and a few pieces of leg meat to each plate. Add a large dollop of the gooseberry puree to the side. Scatter the torched berries, peas and lettuce around the sides. Finish with a generous amount of the duck sauce.
Monday, 18 July 2016
My local greengrocer in North London has recently started stocking a range of the most beautiful baby vegetables. Shelves are stacked high with technicoloured little pointy carrots, miniature fennel bulbs with amazing long fronds and perfect, blemish-free turnips the size of a radish. And then there is the beetroot, all gold, red and pink. When I first saw them I was shopping for a different recipe, but I was instantly inspired and vowed to return soon.
Thankfully those sweet little beets were still there upon my next visit a few days later, and I grabbed a few bunches, along with a rather elegant treviso radicchio, a bulb of fresh garlic and a few broad beans to form the foundations of this little salad. Next stop, a proper old-school Italian deli close-by for some thin slices of silky lardo and a wedge of amazing strong pecorino (I’m a little obsessed with this at the moment). I skipped home a happy and hungry man, and it wasn’t long before everything was assembled on the plate and ready to eat.
I’m so pleased that I managed to grow up and shake off my childhood fear of beetroot. I think it was something to do with the violently staining red colour, or the strong association with vinegary pickle (a definite no-no for a younger me). Now I adore it, although I’m pretty sure that I’ve managed to marry a girl who loves it even more. Apparently when she was younger, Katie’s grandmother nicknamed her the ‘Beetroot Queen’, for her ability to consume so much. I’ve certainly never witnessed anyone get through a (large) jar of pickled beetroot with such gusto. So naturally, I expect that this salad will become a staple in our house.
For the beetroot and garlic:
2 bunches of baby beetroot, washed and trimmed
1 bulb of fresh garlic
A few sprigs of thyme
For the balsamic dressing:
½ a lemon, juice only
1 garlic clove, grated
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the beans and leaves:
2 handfuls broad beans
A few big treviso leaves
A handful of fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp pine nuts
A few shavings of strong pecorino
10 slices of lardo
Preheat the oven to 200⁰C.
Toss the beets, whole garlic bulb and thyme into an oven dish and coat with a glug of olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning. Slide into the oven and roast for 25 minutes, turning occasionally. Once cooked, allow to cool before carefully peeling away the skins.
Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Blanche the broad beans for 30 seconds. Fill a large bowl up with very cold (ideally iced) water. Transfer the cooked broad beans into the cold water to cool quickly. Once cooled, drain away the water and squeeze the vibrant broad beans out of their shells.
Bring a dry frying pan to a high heat and scatter in the pine nuts. Toast for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.
Make the dressing by combining the garlic, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar and a good pinch of seasoning in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, until fully emulsified.
Roughly tear the treviso leaves and add to a mixing bowl with the broad beans and basil. Dress will a little of the balsamic oil.
Plate up by arranging slices of lardo onto each plate, layering the beetroot, treviso, garlic cloves, broad beans and basil on top. Finish with a sprinkle of pine nuts, a generous amount of pecorino and an extra drizzle of the dressing.