Italian food. And other stuff. And my new place for food.

I thought a few days about going across to Italy for inspiration. Now, I won’t patronise you by telling you how great pizza is, or this extraordinary new thing called pasta… I think most people know what they are. However, let us, for a second think about Italian food. It is, very generally, food that makes the most of a small number of fresh and quality ingredients, cooked quickly (or very very slowly). It is a light cuisine, different from the heavy and hearty depths from France or the rich stodginess of Russia.

Italian cuisine, therefore is far more diverse than might be expected. The Italians love their game, and they boast one of the most diverse collection of mushrooms used in any cuisines. Italian cheese is let down by the fact that attaining proper mozzarella and Parmesan is very difficult. Proper Parmesan is bone-dry and doesn’t carry with it the almost vomit-like aroma of supermarket Parmesan. Proper mozzarella is a milky cheese that should require pressure to break into, but once you have ripped apart the bocconcini, you should be left with a centre so milky that you treat with similar care to that which a puppy might receive. Some of the best Italian cheese that I have found in London is in the “THE HAM AND CHEESE COMPANY”, based in bermondsey, who also sell some of the best Parma ham this side of anywhere.

Veal is a unique type of meat. It has the same irony richness as beef, without the heaviness. For those who don’t know, veal is the meat from calves. After images of cruel breeding procedures were published in the 80’s, veal sales plummeted, but if you get veal from a good supplier, there really is no problem. The best veal I have found in London is from THE BUTCHERY, in Bermondsey. Veal is seen as an expensive meat, which it can be, but you should be able to get a decent sized escalope for less than £3 each, so less than a steak.

It is very important in Italian, French and Austrian cuisine. Funnily enough, all cuisines seem to cook veal in a similar way; namely to dip in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs. Then to deep fry (to make Austrian Wiener Schnitzel) or grill (to make cotoletta alla palermitana) or fry in clarified butter/olive oil (to make Cotoletta alla Milanese). In this article, the recipe is for “Cotoletta a orecchio di elefante” (literally, elephant ear cutlet). This differs from Cotoletta alla Milanese, which has the bone kept in, whilst we are using boneless escalopes.

Cotoletta a orecchio di elefante with Pesto and mozzarella.

This can be served with any carbohydrate you want. Boiled potatoes tossed in olive oil, salt and parsley would work a treat, whilst I used tagliatelle, because I felt like it.
Homemade pesto is completely different from the shop-bought stuff. It is far more aromatic and very quick to make. I maintain that a sauce like pesto should be made with your cook’s sense, not just a recipe. So if “half a handful” means nothing to you, I apologise!

Ingredients:
Cotoletta: 1 escalope of veal per person. 1 beaten egg per 3 escalopes. Plenty of breadcrumbs. Flour.
Pesto: half. A quarter handful of pine nuts. A handful of basil leaves and stalks. Quarter handful of grated Parmesan. Half a clove of garlic, crushed. Salt and pepper. Olive oil.
Mozzarella; 150 grams will be enough for 4. Olive oil for drizzling. Fresh vine tomatoes to complement (as many as you want!). 1 avocado Salt and pepper.

Method.

Place your veal escalopes one by one between two pieces of greaseproof paper and flatten out with a meat mallet/rolling pin/any hard object lying nearby. Cut into smaller pieces if desired (I do as it cooks more quickly).
Dip in flour to cover, then coat in the beaten egg before covering in breadcrumbs. Shake off excess crumbs so it looks roughly like the picture! Keep on a plate until ready to cook.

To make pesto, in a small blender/pestle and mortar, blend up the pine nuts, Parmesan, basil and garlic until they are all chopped up. Then drizzle in enough olive oil to form into a sauce. Keep until ready.

Chop up the avocado, tomatoes and mix with torn pieces of mozzarella. Alternatively arrange in a pretty pattern on a platter (if, like me, you like that sort of thing…). Drizzle in olive oil, chopped basil or parsley, salt and pepper.

To cook the veal, melt a large knob of butter (about 40 grams) with a glug of olive oil in a frying pan. until it is melted and the butter is bubbling. Then put in the veal, carefully, so it doesn’t break apart. When one side is golden brown and crispy turn over. Only turn once! Once both sides are golden brown and crispy, and the veal is cooked thoroughly inside. Leave to rest on a board for 3 minutes.
Whilst the veal is cooking cook up your pasta (75gams per person), and make sure there is 1 litre and 10 grams of salt per 100grams of pasta. Seriously, it makes a huge difference!
Drain the pasta and toss in the pesto, reserving a bit of pesto for garnishing.
Slice the veal in halves/slices as desired and place on top of the pasta. Grate some Parmesan over the top and serve!

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Obsessions with Wood Pigeon

I have a new favourite thing. Wood pigeon. It all started in Tavern Tasty (my favourite butcher in Norfolk, btw). They were selling them frozen, so in the spirit of youth I leapt at the opportunity of cooking a new meat.

Here’s how to cook a really nice pigeon dish then, which puts to best use all parts of the bird. There are basically three methods;
1) poach the whole thing for 6 minutes at least and then pan fry in butter till golden brown all over.
2) Roast the whole thing. I wouldn’t recommend this, but you can do it. Look online for options.
3) Separate the bird; remove the breasts and set aside. Meanwhile casserole the carcasses/leg meat in red wine, port, onions and carrots for a couple of hours. Then shred the leg meat and serve as I’ll describe further. Then pan fry the breasts quickly in butter till caramelised on the outside and “saignant” on the inside. I used a French word! How bloody civilised.

Anyway, to serve this I made a sweet potato Rosti. OMG it is a nice thing. All you need to do is grate a couple sweet pots, then mix with a bit of olive oil to bind it. Season well. Then fry in a frying pan, not stirring (so it keeps in a cake-ish shape). When it starts to caramelise, turn into an oven dish and roast for 20 minutes to finish it off.
Shred the leg meat and use to stuff leeks. Roast or steam until the leeks are soft.
Use the casserole liquid for the sauce. Thicken with cornflour. Enjoy! It’s bloody nice.

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Mackerel with scallops and other lovely things

Sorry for the vague title, but sometimes we have to cut corners in life. Such is the way, sigh. Anyway, here goes, fish! was the last review I did, and today I cooked fish! (You can sense my excitement, can’t you). In fact, today was recipe book creation time, and this is what I came up with.

Serves 2.

Get a whole mackerel (as fresh as poss.) from the fishmonger and ask him to fillet it (seriously, it’s not worth doing it at home.) With one half, the night before eating it, cover in a cure mixture (3 of teaspoons of salt, 2 of caster sugar, 1 of black pepper (I know most use white, but frankly I’m a bit of a maverick)). Once everywhere is covered, weigh it down and cling film all over. Leave in the fridge overnight. In the morning, pour off the juices and return to the fridge till the evening. You can leave it overnight again if you want to be super safe, but I have never had a problem.

For the pickled cucumber, get a whole cucumber (so you have spares) and peel it. Then cut in half and remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Julienne the cucumber into matchstick-esk pieces. In a pan, heat up 100ml white wine vinegar and 50 grams sugar until it reduces by half and all the sugar has dissolved. Then pour it over the cucumber and leave for 5 minutes. Then drain and keep until ready to serve. (You can do this up to a day in advance).

A couple minutes before serving, get EVERYTHING READY. This is a real restaurant dish in that everything is cooked just before serving, so get your plates hot, get water in the steamer, etc.Tidy up your cured mackerel (pour away any more juice and slice). Cut four thin slices of ciabatta. Prepare your hand dived (be kind to the Environment, ok?) scallops by removing the white lump on the side and, if you want, the orange roe type thing on the other side. Heat up a pan with olive oil and butter on a medium – high heat. Ready? Lets go!

1. Get some fine beans into a steamer and steam for 5-6 minutes, until tender.
2. Get the second half of the mackerel and the scallops into the pan and cook, turning occasionally until the scallops are golden brown on the outside and the mackerel is firm. Half way through, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon for acidity.
3. Remove cooked seafood and place on a plate. Season well.
4. Pour in a glass of white wine into the hot pan and reduce. Chuck in some parsley. When reduced, pour in double cream to the colour you want! Keep warm until serving.
5. Arrange it all nicely on the plate. You can serve the cured mackerel separately. The bread is the perfect carb for the dish: it soaks up the lovely sauce and isn’t too heavy.

Enjoy!

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The smoker returns

I started smoking food a few days again. There is a post back in time about this, and how I do it, but in short, I use a cheap barbecue with tea leaves in the bottom which are lit by a blowtorch. This is repeated with the lid on 5 times until the smoky flavour has permeated. Lapsang souchong is m y tea of choice, which has a really deep smokey flavour. This technique can be used for any fish, and if you want to smoke beef, then use Wood Chips.

Once the salmon fillets, or a whole salmon, has finished smoking, put it on a plate, dab on a vinaigrette of olive oil, soy sauce and garlic. Then we fry it up in butter, just till firm, and serve it up. I use a soft boiled egg which provides a sauce and a richness that otherwise would be lacking. Some green beans and mash potato finish the dish off.

I really like this dish. It has a nice contrast of flavour. The trick, if you want to make this dish, is to experiment with the smoking so that it is enough to lead the dish, but not so much that it overpowers the egg. Lovely.

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Thelonious Monkfish

I hope you’re impressed that I used the name of a jazz musician in a crude food based pun. How funny of me. In any case, what I want to say is that five years ago, I ate a dream of a meal in France; firm but moist monkfish in cream sauce with bacon, and ever since then, being the lame obsessive that I am, I have wanted to recreate it.

So to John Lewis Food Hall I went, as I was nearby, and I got a 400 gram monkfish fillet, some horrendously expensive Duchy Estate bacon (it was there, ok!), and, just because I saw them and had an urge to make Hollandaise, I bought some globe artichokes. ImageThese were prepared as above; (trimmed etc, very middle class). And they were steamed/boiled in an inch of water for 30 minutes until tender. The hollandaise was a simple affair: 3 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, heated until just thickening, and then 120grams chopped butter whisked in. Hollandaise is actually a simple thing to make, just a careful eye needs to remain on it. So, a simple starter, and nothing needs to be more complicated than a family having hollandaise dripping down their chins and drawing the fleshy artichokes through their mouths. Fantastic.

Image ImageSo moving on to recreating that meal from five years ago.

I rubbed the monkfish in garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and olive oil, left it to relax for a bit and then just fried it in butter. It does take a long time (10-15minutes) so keep the heat medium, and no higher. You want it firm but white the whole way through. So, keep turning in the pan, and as you are doing it grill some Duchy ultra organic ultra expensive bacon (streaky smoked is best- the smoky notes just echo through the monkfish so well and it is, fairly magical.

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ImageSo, fish rests for a few minutes; and then we slice it up, and prepare the vinaigrette to serve with it. Olive oil, chilli, salt and pepper, soy sauce, lemon juice, mustard, and whisk. This is poured on top, and adds bite to the dish.

ImageThe dish is served with creamy mash potato, and some rocket. The dressing makes up for a sauce, and adds a freshness and kick to the dish, that would be missed without it. I think this dish does justice to the one I had all those years ago, and monkfish is an expensive, but fantastically rich and dense fish, with character. I hope these pictures show part of the dish at least! Enjoy!Image

Back in the UK

Nice to be back. Start of the new recipe book.
I cooked a rack of lamb, with an oat and garlic crust. Strange but lovely. I browned it then ovened it, 30 mins at 180C. Rest for 5 mins and the carved. Lovely.
Served it with braised lettuce. Chopped celery, prosciutto ham, olive oil, red cos lettuce, butter, 4 tablespoons water. 30 minutes low heat.
It was fantastic. Photo attached 

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The smoker

I’ve become a smoker. Not in the normal sense of the word, no, I am a food smoker. I got a 12 pound bbq from sainsbury’s, and some charcoal. And I started smoking. I got some cooked salmon fillets. i filled the bottom of the barbeque with lapsang souchong tea, and I lit it with my blowtorch, shut the lid, and it was amazing.
5 minutes later I had smoky salmon which I glazed in soy and ginger and stir fried.
I hope to get some wood chips soon so I can do bacon and lamb. Basically it is going to be great.

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What a week!

Sorry to be so late to post this week: in fact Wednesday in particular was the most important day in my recent cooking life that I can remember. I cooked duck breast sous vide (a first), with risotto and orange ice cream. For pudding I cooked a chocolate cream tart ( quite simple) BUT I made ice cream at the table with dry ice and also the aroma of a summer field (also using dry ice). It was very pleasant.

So, how to do sous vide without a fancy machine? Well it is very simple. Just wrap your meat (seasoned and, if you want with butter) in cling film, then in a sandwich/freezer bag. Try to squeeze out as much air as you can, but you only need to squeeze enough out so that it floats. Then, place in a large pan of water, and the water needs to be at 55-65 degrees for meat, and, I would suppose the same for fish. Leave it for two hours, and every 30 minutes I just move the bags around a bit and check the temperature. After two hours dry and season the meat and then place in a hot pan with some oil for a few minutes to caramelise it up. So simple, and yet we got the best duck ever: slightly blushing in the middle and very crispy skin. Heaven, in other words.

The ice creams? Well they were both made with dry ice. I ordered it from a local supplier, and if you order just follow these steps to success:
1. Order it as pellets.
2. Wrap the container in towels when not using.
3. Use heavy duty gloves to handle.
4. Use it within half a day of getting it.
Anyway; the orange ice cream/sorbet was simply made with the juice of six oranges, and I actually made it into orange “snow” in the end, by scraping the surface of it. The strawberry one for pudding was also very simple: about 600grams of strawberries with 600ml of double cream, and there will be videos up of me MAKING THE ICE CREAM, and the choccy tarts. On youtube hopefully by this evening.

However the best bit of supper for me was the aroma of a summer’s picnic. This was made by macerating a packet of raspberries, then squelching in some strawberries, some chopped mint and some elderflower. Then, at pudding time, I simply filled a bowl with dry ice, added some boiling water to the bowl, and amazed everyone. As the thick fog went over the table, it really was as if we were in a field in summer. True beauty in food then.

Anyway, hope some of that was interesting/useful!

Mushrooms

I just love mushrooms. Pretty much everyone my age hates them, and I just cannot understand why! Sure, school cooked crap is not great, but nothing beats this recipe. I love it as a starter, or a side dish. THE BEST, is to have it with some garlic bread. These are buttery, soft, garlicky mushrooms. Perfection!

Heat up a large frying pan. When it is warm pour in some olive oil. Cut up as many mushrooms as you want: I love A LOT, but cut up as many as you want. The important thing is not to cut them too small: if you use button mushroom leave them whole. Any others, quarter them.

Chuck the mushrooms in the pan. Season generously. Don’t touch the mushrooms; let them brown. When the underside is starting to brown shake the pan, and move them around. Now add 2 tbsp each of basil and parsley, chopped finely. Then add some chopped garlic. About 1 clove per handful of  mushrooms. Add 2 tbsp of red wine. Stir, shake around until nice and soft. There we go. Mushrooms done well.

Have fun.

Croutons related rant

This is one of my foody rants. Sorry, but these things must be said.

Croutons should be crispy. They should, or can be I should say, lightly flavoured. When in soup, they should REMAIN crispy for the whole duration of the bowl. Croutons should be made of good bread, and you should be able to taste this.

With this in mind, here’s how you make your own:

1. Cut up into small cubes some nice sourdough or baguette. If these are “moist”ish, then place in a warm oven for 5-10 minutes until slightly dry.

2. In a large frying pan. Melt some butter or olive oil. It needs to be a relatively large amount of fat, otherwise they won’t crisp up. When this is nice and hot, throw in the cubes of bread. DON’T stir or shake the, about, Just let them brown on one side. When they are golden on one side, then flip them over with a fish slice. Then let them continue to brown on the other. Ok, now you have a choice…

3. You can add a clove of crushed garlic. Or a tsp of dried thyme. Or any dried herb. Or any fresh herb. Its your choice!

When they are done, take them out onto kitchen paper and make sure that the most of the fat drains off. I would recommend serving these  as soon as possible, so they remain crispy. YUM.