13 December 2011

Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, creme fraiche and bottarga

Bottarga's a bit of a funny one. Incredibly expensive (an entire dried roe in a Bologna Deli whose price I enquired was valued at over forty euroes), and strongly redolent of fish food in its little jar, it sits in the cupboard waiting for moments such as this. It's a luxury item like truffle oil that's best saved for an occasional treat. Used judiciously and simply (like truffle oil) it gives an extra kick to standard dishes. For this combination try and get hold of very sweet cherry tomatoes and cook them slowly to give a wonderful flavoursome sauce.

  • cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • a few cloves of garlic, chilli flakes
  • bottarga
  • creme fraiche

    The key here is to give the tomatoes plenty of time - be generous with the olive oil and garlic and patient with the cooking time. They will break down and form a wonderful sauce. Add chilli flakes to taste.

    Serve with a dab of creme fraiche and a sprinkle of bottarga. These can then be mixed on the plate to make a beautifully rich but simple sauce.

    Some fine parmesan may or may not be gilding the lilly. You decide.

    2 December 2011

    SD, ON's chilli con carne

    Beautiful huh?  The dark orange of those little chillies in the middle is just amazing. After a bit of a scatter-gun approach to chilli inclusion in the pork stew I made a few months ago I would like to ID these ones. The top chilli is ancho (massive, mild, rich, sweet/smoky). If you know what the others are can you please let me know.

    Having nabbed an enormous bit of beef in the supermarket (a silverside roast on one of those half price deals) I wanted to make some sort of spiced beef stew. Now the obvious cultural touchstone is the oft used and abused chilli con carne. There are purists and pragmatists - there are dilettantes and devotees. I've enjoyed all sorts and do not take a hard-line on these matters. (Why is it always made with mince thought?)

    So I made up the recipe with some background reading informed by hollow legs and the Guardian. I did not include beans (though there were some on the side, refried style) but did include some tomatoes (not too many though).
    • cheap cut of beef, roughly cubed
    • lots of carrots (1/3 the amount of beef)
    • lots of onions (1/2 the amount of beef)
    • spices: cinnamon stick, five cloves, a big-ish spoon of cumin
    • a sprinkle of oregano
    • one head of garlic
    • one big handful of sweet cherry tomatoes
    • a selection of dried Mexican chillies
    • two limes

    Toast the chillies and then soak them in boiling water for half an hour.

    Brown the beef in batches.

    Fry the onions roughly chopped in vegetable oil for ten minutes. Add the spices and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the whole head of garlic - cloves peeled but un-chopped (they will disintegrate). Add the chopped carrot and tomatoes. Add the beef. Add the oregano.

    Blitz the chillies to a paste in the magimix. Add this to the mix.

    Cook for two and half - three and a half hours. Mash down any big bits of beef and the garlic cloves. Squeeze two limes in.

    Serve with delicious thinly sliced red onions softened in lime juice, refried beans, salad and sour cream.


    Messy and vary tasty. This preparation certainly had the heat that the pork lacked but it was a slow and rich heat the lazily penetrated the mouth, pleasurably tempered by the vegetable content. Very pleasing and very easy to prepare. This is a rough and ready dish which doesn't suite fussiness so will be easy to adapt.

    21 November 2011

    Chickpeas with saltfish, tomatoes, garlic and kale

    Assemblages. They are the business. Not quite salads, stews or anything else, assemblages are the pragmatists' favourite - a type of mixed dish which can take everything from fridge skulking vegetables to the finest of treat produce. With something filling and carbohydrate based in the mix they constitute an entire, discrete meal. Beautiful.

    This cracking dish is from a small River Cafe fish book and centres around three central earthy ingredients: saltfish, chickpeas and kale.

    • saltfish
    • chickpeas
    • kale
    • tomatoes
    • garlic, dried chilli, olive oil

    The night before you cook put the chickpeas in a bowl of boiling water. They are so central to this dish that it's worth the bother of soaking your own. When the cooking has started in earnest put the chickpeas on to boil - they'll need about forty minutes. Put your saltfish through three boils of cold water and see how salty it is. It may need one more.

    Chop loads of garlic and and slowly cook in plenty of olive oil with a handful of sweet cherry tomatoes. After ten minutes add the chilli to taste. When the saltfish is satisfactorily de-desalinated push the tomatoes to one side of the pan and briefly fry the fish in the flavoured oil. Meantime, cook your kale down in some water until tender; ready your chickpeas. Combine everything in something big and add a splash of sherry vinegar and another of olive oil. I also chucked in some nice, sharp rocket. Lashings of pepper also advisable.

    A wonderful mix. In turn resistant and giving - taste sweet and salt, iron and pepper. One might easily make it vegetarian compatible by using some nice grilled halloumi instead of the fish. On a similar tip the St John cookbook has an assemblage of tomatoes, boiled potatoes, roast garlic, roast tomatoes, saltfish, chopped boiled egg and parsley which is also amazing and probably next on my list as I bought three packs of saltfish for a fiver.


    11 November 2011

    Aubergine and bread salad +

    This was one of those spur of the moments meal. I'd been down to Ridley Road and picked up a bag of baby aubergines for £1. (Yes: one pound for about fifteen or so hand length aubergines). Also four packets of beautiful baby plum tomatoes for a pound and a load of dirt cheap fennel. Crazy.

    So I got back and pottered about with the back of my brain wondering what to cook for lunch: Szechuan aubergines, curry, some sort of soup... How about just sticking the aubergines and tomatoes on to roast and then chucking together a salad? Ok, let's give it a go.

    • baby aubergine
    • cherry tomatoes
    • fennel or some other raw veg
    • flatbread
    • feta or salad cheese
    • yoghurt, garlic, pomegranite molasses, lemon juice, olive oil and sherry vinegar

     Roast the aubergines and tomatos with olive oil for thirty minutes or so

    Meantime: chop the fennel or other raw salad veg. I advise going for something with a little crunch here to contrast with the soft and silken vegetables. Roughly chop or mash your cheese (I used a cheap, mild Turkish salad cheese which was 1/4 the price of feta).

    When the veg is half done in the oven put in your flat-bread (I used wholemeal pittas to nice effect). The aim is crisp them up and put them in the salad fattoush style. When they are getting semi-crisp take them out and chop roughly. Add to the veg and cheese. Dress with a bit of olive oil and stir. The bread will start to absorb the essence of the vegetables, especially via the liquid insides of the tomatoes.

    Mix the yoghurt dressing - 80% yoghurt, 7% water, 7% olive oil, 4% pomegranate molasses and 2% sherry vinegar. Add one clove of garlic chopped very fine and some salt and coarse black pepper.

    Layer up the salad base with the bread, put on top the roast veg and then dress liberally.

    some preserved lemons would also work here with the cheese and bread

    Very nice, though I say so myself, and substantial enough for a complete lunch. The roast vegetables are still warm, rich and comforting, the fennel faintly regal and stand-offish, the bread the doughty workhorse of the piece. A nice balance.

    7 November 2011

    Two ways with hot and nutty vegetables, Szechuan style

    I'm blogging these two together as they are variations on a theme. Like the kindling noodles I cooked earlier this year, and heartily recommend, the selling point here is the combination of rich and oil nuts and/or seeds with chilli and vegetables. Sesame oil is used pretty widely in Chinese cooking for frying and flavouring and I know sesame paste is also utilized. I'm not sure exactly what that looks like but I've used tahini successfully in stir-frys and the like and it's ended up pretty well every time. All you need then is a load of vegetables and the rest of the ingredients take care of themselves - dried noodles or rice from the cupboard, sesame paste, chilli oil / dried chilli / pickled chillis, maybe a few nuts or preserved vegetables to liven things up and you're good to go. All things from the store cupboard. Crack a few eggs into the veg at the end if you're looking for more protein.

    watch out for this type of pickled chilli - it's by far my favourite type so far and available in Chinatown - at about £1.50 it's worth stockpiling

    pretty hedgehog patterns
    • mixture of peppers OR loads of sliced up aubergines
    • tahini, pickled chillies
    • soy sauce, shaoxing wine
    • garlic
    • mix of peanuts, walnuts and sesame seeds
    Toast your seeds and nuts lightly in a pan for a few minutes, keeping an eye on any burning.

    Fry your peppers or aubergines with some veg oil. With the aubergines it's of course essential to get them really soft and silky. I did this by putting a bit of water in with them and adding a lid - this ends up half steaming and half frying them. Do what ever works for you.

    When the veg has started to cook down add a couple of teaspoons of tahini, a few shakes of soy sauce and your choice of chilli heat. Taste and adjust. Chuck in some other vegetables if you fancy - shredded cabbage went very well with the peppers, giving a textural foil and preventing monotony.

    When the veg seems nearly cooked add your toasted nuts and again taste and tweak the seasoning as you see fit. Serve with noodles or flat bread if feeling lazy.

    To compliment the sesame paste strategically deploy some sesame oil too.

    Hot-and-nutty is up there combo wise with the holy mix of Szechuan food - the hot-and-numbing mala. I'm sure there must be a proper Chinese name for it if anyone knows..? Regardless, from satay, to West African peanut soups to Chinese sesame kindling noodles it's doing it for me big time.

    2 November 2011

    Sea bream with spiced couscous

    I've just been to Hastings. As well as checking Bexhill's excellent De La Warr Pavilion I was kindly gifted three fish (two bream, one bass) by someone big in the sea-fishing game with a big freezer and a kind heart. I took them home frozen: stiff and leaden and kept cool on the sluggish journey back to Liverpool St. with frozen bottles of water. With one bream and one bass somehow stuffed into the freezer for future use I left a bream out to cook the following day.

    I'd been instructed to cook the sea bream simply and after reading about it's geographical spread and presence in the Mediterranean as well as the South of England I opted for something vaguely Middle Eastern and fairly faff-less to go with it. Couscous mixed with preserved lemons, chickpeas and cauliflower, flavoured with cumin and dried chilli and dressed with olive oil and sherry vinegar.

    • sea bream or similar
    • couscous
    • can of chickpeas
    • cauliflower
    • olive oil, sherry vinegar
    • preserved lemons, cumin, dried chilli

      Put your cauliflower florets in boiling water until cooked (but still with a good crunch). Rehydrate your couscous. Chop some preserved lemons. Toast some whole cumin and chilli flakes (can't recommend Turkish kirmizi biber highly enough in this department). Open a can of chickpeas and rinse them. Combine everything in a bowl and stir. Perk with oil and vinegar. Sorted.

      Chickpeas in couscous are wicked! Such a great switch-up texture wise. I'd recommend heartily. The other ingredients are your standard middle eastern-ish flavours and gel nicely. This mix is best served warm but not hot.

      Grill your fish (with a sprinkle of salt and a little lick of olive oil) and serve with the couscous.

      Delicious! Sea bream is quite a meaty fish - a nice white dense meat with an appealingly moderate flavour. I think grilling it is a good choice which allows the fish itself to be foregrounded and focussed upon. I might try roasting its twin or frying it in steaks, as the one thing grilling leads to is a lack of crispy bits.

      Thanks for the fish Shaun.

      27 October 2011

      SD, ON's back in the pot pork (hui guo rou)

      This is a delightfully rough-and-ready stir fry with a prominent black bean flavour suggested in Fuchsia Dunlop's Hunanese cookbook. It's best to use pork on the bone in some form - I used some pork chops and they worked admirably.

      Best also to avoid parsimony with the beans here. I am sometimes over cautious in my allotting as they looks so potent but use a generous hand. The overall vibe is robust and farm-housey: whole cloves of garlic, big slices of ginger and the salty black beans.

      • pork on the bone for two or three
      • a small handful of back beans, a thumb of ginger and a head of garlic
      • a couple of handfuls of some type of greens and/or spring onions
      • soy sauce, sesame oil
      • a couple of fresh chillies

      Simmer the pork for a few minutes in some water (the first stage of cooking - it being 'returned to the pot' when stir fried). Remove and slice. This is the traditional Chinese method of removing impurities from the meat and partly cooking it before stir frying. I'm still on the fence with it to be honest but open to suggestions.

      Peel the garlic cloves and slice the ginger thinly. Fry them both on a medium heat in some oil for a few minutes. Add the meat and cook until it has some colour.

      Add the black beans, fresh chillies, greens and a few slugs of soy sauce and a little sesame oil. I used some super pokey home-grown rocket here which worked well. I also added some celery and pepper to turn it into a complete meal. Use anything you have to hand - FD presents the recipe as something a Hunanese mate of hers cooked for her and I guess it's a home-style dish unbound by the dogma of restaurant process or official recipe. Cook everything for another couple of minutes and it's done.

      Very pleasing. It's not a very moist dish so it might be nice in future to have alongside some steamed aubergine or similar.

      21 October 2011

      Pasta with roast cauliflower and pumpkin

      Cheap cauliflower is a boon. It's one of those vegetables (like aubergines) that isn't often had for bargains on markets. When you see some cheap snap it up, take it home and roast it. I was prompted to roast mine by this post. I did it slightly differently, but the great thing is if you cook loads you can then have it in the fridge and ready to use in different things - a little side dish, the basis of a salad (would be great with chickpeas, turnips and preserved lemons) or, as here, with pasta.

      • cauliflower
      • pumpkin
      • garlic, chilli flakes, cinnamon, olive oil
      • pasta

      Roast your cauli: in florets, with butter and salt. It will need half an hour - forty-five minutes on a medium heat.

      Make the sauce: fry lots of garlic in olive oil and add the pumpkin chopped small with a little twig of cinnamon. Chuck in some chilli flakes. Put a little water in there and add a lid. Allow this all to cook down for ten or fifteen minutes, using your spoon to mash the pumpkin into a sauce. You don't need loads here - it's designed to lubricate the pasta and augment the cauliflower. If your pumpkin is anaemic and lacking taste, as mine was - from our communal garden, sprinkle a little veg stock on.

      When the pumpkin is well cooked and the sauce has come together de-engage the cinnamon and discard. It has done an important job here - a slight sweetness that boosts the pumpkin and bonds with the chilli. Stir into your pasta and toss in the cauliflower. Anoint with oil or bless with parmesan as you see fit.

      Yes. Sheer niceness. Where the cauliflower browns against the metal of the tray you are rewarded with a wonderful sweetness, whilst the roasting in general gives the vegetable a savour not attained through boiling or steaming. It gains an almost truffle like richness which combines with the pumpkin to make a wonderful sauce.

      17 October 2011

      Chickpea and pumpkin with creamed feta

      You know those brown chickpeas with their skins still on that you get in curries sometimes? Get involved. They're well nice. They need to be soaked overnight in boiling water and will then cook in about half an hour. No need to mess around with bicarb of soda or anything. Just a minute's prep the night before and then thirty minutes on the hob while you get everything else ready. I still have canned chickpeas in the cupboard for impromptu salads etc. but the texture of these dark chickpeas makes them well worth a go if you have time to plan. They seem hard and under-cooked in their jackets but when bitten into are delightfully earthy - initially resistant but ultimately giving.

      This is one of those simple assemblages that makes a lot of sense on an inclement mid-week evening.

      • lots of chick peas
      • a third - a half that amount in pumpkin/squash
      • a third that amount of onions
      • a few nice ripe tomatoes
      • a block of feta
      • preserved lemons
      • olive oil, cumin, chilli flakes, garlic

      Soak your chickpeas over night. Put them on to boil on a moderate heat. After twenty minutes check their progress and add chunks of pumpkin/squash.

      Chop lots of garlic and fry in plenty of olive oil with cumin and chilli. This is my Turkish holy trinity of flavours which you can use all over the shop to flavour soups, salads and stews. Add the onions in slices and cook these down on a medium heat. They are a key ingredient here, not just background mulch, so make sure they are good and soft.

      Meantime mash and thin the feta with a little olive oil and a drop of cream (or water if you have none to hand) in a bowl. Add plenty of black pepper and some rinsed preserved lemon sliced thinly. Mash until you have a thick paste - this is the taste bomb necessary to perk the mash beneath it - salt, sheep, adult/child lemon sherbet. Herbs such as thyme and rosemary would also work well.

      When the chickpeas are done put them in with the onions and a a few ripe chopped tomatoes. Cook this all for five minutes to relax it and so the tomatoes break down to make a sauce. No need for salt as the feta will supply this. Serve with a dollop of creamed feta on top and some red wine or Turkish beer.

      12 October 2011

      Spicy green tomato chutney

      As well as cucumbers my communal garden has lots of tomatoes. Unfortunately they too have been a bit neglected and I fear that it's a bit late in the year for them to ripen. So I picked a load of them and made a spiced green tomato chutney. I like Nigel Slater's suggestion of putting a few ripe tomatoes in the mix as well, so I chucked in a few shop bought ones.

      In the spirit of educating myself about chutney-making I did everything by eye.
      • the amount of tomatoes above (two kg?)
      • 400g sugar
      • 350 ml vinegar (try malt/white wine mix)
      • chopped fresh chillies to taste
      • two onions chopped small
      • a handful of raisins
      • a few cloves, peppercorns, star anise, cumin, coriander seed - take your pick

      Fry your onion in oil for five minutes then add everything else (easy huh?). Cook on a low heat for fifty - sixty minutes.

      After finding the plum chutney (which I recently broke out - very nice. It had softened and rounded over time.) I made a while ago a little bit liquid I was careful to leave this one for an extra twenty minutes or so. It probably had about an hour in total. The tomatoes break down very thoroughly and make a wonderfully jammy matrix for the other bits.

      Push a bit to one side and if it doesn't rush back immediately it's nearly ready.

      Have your empty jam jars immersed in another pot with boiling water and decant your hot chutney into them.

      My chutney draw is getting pretty healthily populated!

      7 October 2011

      Guinea fowl with cabbage and bacon

      Ever since making Da Pan Ji way back in June I've had a second guinea fowl in my freezer. Now I'm a big fan of the fowl - to me it's like a farmyard-charged chicken. Not as fully gamed up as pheasant by a long way, but a hint of something beyond the quotidian enjoyment of the much abused chicken.

      This recipe is a piece of piss I have to say. It's also really, really nice.
      • one guinea fowl
      • one cabbage
      • two glasses white wine and a bit of water (by eye - about half the amount of wine)
      • some smoked bacon
      • sage and/or bay, juniper berries, peppercorns

      Brown your bird in some fat. You can walk around here and do a few odd jobs, just coming back every so often to flip the fowl.

      When it's brown add the bacon in biggish pieces. It's really worthwhile using something smoked as this merges with the wine and meat juice to make an amazing light broth.

      When this is cooked toss in all the other ingredients. It's nice to keep the cabbage fairly large, but small enough to cook through, so use your judgement here. I lifted the recipe from Ripailles, which suggested sage but I lacked that herb so substituted bay. I think the occasional peppercorn adds a certain pleasurably spicy note to this otherwise deliciously moderate combination.

      Cook it all for forth-five minutes to an hour on a low simmer. The bird should stay very moist. Serve with boiled potatoes, a ladle of broth and some wholegrain mustard if feeling exotic.

      This dish is that wonderful type of French farmhouse or basic bistro cooking and hits all the right notes - smoked meat, fresh green veg, fowl, wine, herbs. It doesn't get much easier for a top-notch Sunday dinner. I think I prefer this type of thing to a full on roast with all it's greasy crispness, but then I am generally predisposed towards things in liquid or stock.