It seems outrageously hypocritical to write a post criticising attitudes towards meat, accompanied by images of, and a recipe for a multi-layered meat feast. From my point of view, it is even more ridiculous to concentrate upon a subject I have put so much effort into not eating for the past few weeks and thus find myself uncontrollably salivating over the keyboard whilst editing said photos. Yet in times where meat is no longer consumed in terms of availability and quality, but in those of cost and quantity; in the context of a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity for a slightly less bleak environment of the future, I felt the urge to offer my humble opinion upon my public platform. And so, in keeping with the imagery and style I aim to maintain on here and so that this blog doesn’t become just a textual rant, I provide my view alongside a sustainable, 100% horse venison crepe lasagna.
As the supermarkets’ inability to act with any grasp on responsibility or sense of moral fibre increases alongside their profits, the horsemeat fiasco has led the British ones to immediately look, as is the trend with such corporations, to anywhere but themselves to place the blame. The unjust pressure they consistently place upon suppliers to conform to their drive for increasingly lower costs seemingly playing a trivial role in the whole thing. And as some shoppers reeled in disgust at the thought of (shock-horror) being lied to by their ‘trusty’ supermarkets, they started to read labels and look up from their processed plates of food to question what they were really throwing down their gullets. The latest consumer statistics show a decrease in processed meat consumption alongside consumer’s level of trust in supermarkets; a rise in sales at local butchers, of meat alternatives such as (the questionable) Quorn; and increased calls to action for a more tightly regulated food industry.
But equally as clouded as the supermarkets’ ethical position may be, and as sinister as the ‘Mafioso’ abattoirs that supply them, is the destructive path down which we as consumers are leading ourselves. I watched an inspiring documentary this week, ‘Surviving Progress’, which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in our planet and where it is headed. One of the standout moments was David Suzuki explaining our planet as a ‘natural economy’. For the hundreds and thousands of years up until around the 1980s, as humans we lived from the ‘interest’ of the land thus what we consumed was naturally replaced in a relatively harmonious cycle. Yet we have now reached a point where we are delving into the capital of the land and consuming much faster than resources can replenish themselves. With a spiralling world population and the rise of the middle class in some of the world’s most populous nations idealising the destructive Western culture of overconsumption, the demand on a whole multitude of industries has never been greater. At this pivotal time, this insatiable and deeply ingrained desire for more needs to be replaced with a culture of less.
The sad reality is that this objective, this necessity, is seemingly unachievable at any kind of effective scale. Changing that many attitudes to such an extent requires a time scale that is not afforded to us. So my new pledge to eat meat and fish just once a week bought from an independent butcher and fishmonger is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. On a problem of this scale, there is no ‘every little helps’ solution. As items make their way from the supermarket shelves into our packed baskets, we as consumers are voting. We vote for products to survive with their purchase and be discontinued through their lack there of. Thus the horsemeat scandal has been a fantastic and much delayed wake up call for those corporations to which consumers reacted so rapidly to with their purses and wallets.
The fear is that it becomes another short-lived phenomenon. Much as we have seen in the past with consumer reactions to BSE, it doesn’t take long for us to forget and move on, to return and to vote based on the lowest price. It doesn’t take long for their ‘more tightly regulated’ supply chains to slip in salience, so profit margins increase until the whistle is blown on them again. This change requires a rewiring of the mind-sets that constitute our Western societies so as to consume less, more responsibly, from the controlling oligarchies right through to those who are being priced out of buying sustainable items of food. For corporations to sacrifice their own profits and not pass the added costs of responsibility on to the consumer. For governments to demand more transparency from these overly powerful corporations and to regulate a self-destructive industry.
My very brief stint without meat or fish has left me with a deep found respect for vegetarians and vegans (not ‘pescetarians’ – your thinking is deeply flawed so feel free to climb down from your hmm… high horses anytime soon). My very insignificant project was a personal one, born out of a realisation that in the future I don’t want my meat and fish to come from a chemical lab as our stocks are so deeply depleted and the industry’s effect on our natural habitat so deeply scarring. I impatiently wait for it to be over and to sink my teeth into some meat once again, rightly unashamed that I will so eagerly return to eat it. However, I will become that cliché who checks the menu at a restaurant for sourcing information and who can’t just pop down to the local supermarket and pick up some fish for dinner. I know that the change for me is a positive one in terms of satisfying an ethical conscience; eating better quality food; and the innate feeling of goodwill derived from directly benefitting those working in a shorter, more transparent and mutually beneficial supply chain rather than playing into the paws of the fat cats.
I’m no sustainability saint but I endeavour to practice what I preach. I’d love to fly the flag of youthful optimism and believe that we, as a society, have the opportunity to change just slightly whilst there is time and adjust to be happy with a life of less. Yet more realistically, I believe that whilst the powerful are so comfortably in control, they will sit back and wait for reality to more brutally change it for all of us.
On a much lighter note, this rich venison ragú, so gluttonously trapped between thin layers of crepes and silky béchamel is a wonderful alternative to the denser pasta tradition. I guess the majestic beauty of a deer is quite comparable to that of a horse, but this is about as sustainable and efficient as meat comes in the UK and can be found at reasonable prices at butchers and even supermarkets, at most times of year.
n.b The photo of the dish was taken the day after it was made, and not wanting to ‘zap’ the colour out of it in the microwave, I didn’t reheat it. Thus it is not displayed to its full oozing potential… I guess you’ll just have to experience that for yourselves.
Venison Crepe Lasagna
For the Ragú
1kg venison meat, a cheap cut such as shoulder or neck either minced by your butcher or finely diced at home
200g smoked pancetta, diced
1 large onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stick all finely diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced or minced
2 tablespoons tomato puree
250ml red wine
1kg tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped or two tins of peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
fresh thyme sprigs
salt and pepper
In a large, heavy pot, brown the meat in batches on a high heat and set aside. Render the Pancetta in the same pan on a medium heat for 5 minutes and use this fat to sauté the vegetables for another 5-7 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes then stir in the tomato puree.
Deglaze with the red wine then add the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning to taste.
Bring to the boil then reduce to a very low heat and cook for 6-8 hours, partially covered until the desired consistency is reached. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves when done.
For the Crepes
60g unsalted butter, melted
300g plain four
2 medium eggs
pinch of salt
Melt the butter and leave to cool. Whisk the eggs and milk into the flour, leave to rest for 30 minutes and finally add the melted butter just before cooking.
Heat a crepe pan or decent non-stick frying pan, very lightly greasing with butter for the first pancake but not the remaining. Ladle in the batter, swirling the pan whilst doing so to cover the base. Flip after one minute and cook for another 30 seconds before setting aside. This quantity made enough pancakes for around 10 layers, thus adjust according to size of dish being used and layers desired.
For the Béchamel
100g unsalted butter
1 litre milk
pinch nutmeg, grated
200g parmesan cheese, grated
Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat, sieve the flour a little at a time into the pan, constantly stirring with a hand whisk. When a thick paste is formed, very slowly add the milk in small batches. Whisking until fully combined each time and so a silky béchamel forms. When all the milk is combined, stir in the nutmeg, parmesan and some pepper.
Oven @ 180C
Lightly grease a large baking dish, then add a ladle of ragu and a smaller ladle of béchamel. Combine and spread the two to generously cover the base, then cover with a layer of crepes, cutting them in halves if needed to ensure no gaps and as little overlap as possible. Repeat with the béchamel and ragu, then pancake layers. Finish with a layer of béchamel and extra grated parmesan then bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Leave to rest out the oven for a further 10 minutes before serving at the table.
Roast partridge with mascarpone and thyme, polenta and red wine braised radicchio.
I wanted to catch the end of the British game season so made use of the free weekend after exams to get a few different dishes done. I settled with partridge, and the cold weather served as the perfect excuse to eat it with hearty polenta and bitter radicchio to cut through the richness.
I pinched the idea for the mascarpone and herb stuffing from a River Cafe recipe I had seen and used the cooking juices to braise the radicchio with some red wine to serve as a sauce too. Getting my hands on radicchio reminded me of the constant variation in leaf vegetables available during my time in Valencia, so I trawled through my photos from the city centre taken around this time last year for respite from the unrelenting grey skies here and have included them in this post.
It was the first time I had bought real polenta and cooked it rather than used it for cakes. Despite the extra effort in making it, the resulting texture and flavour subtlety makes it worth the effort and a far cry from the stodge that instant polenta produces. It needs some sharpness to cut through it, so the radicchio really helped in balancing the richness.
2 tablespoons of both finely chopped fresh thyme and parsley
salt & pepper
250g thinly sliced pancetta
Oven @ 220C
Ensure the partridges are clean before mixing the the herbs into the cheese and seasoning well. Fill each cavity with the mix. Wrap each bird in pancetta and secure with string.
Heat some olive oil in a roasting tray on the hob until hot. Brown the birds on all sides before transferring to the oven for 18 minutes.
1.75 litres cold water
Bring the water to boil in a large, thick-based saucepan. Add the salt and slowly add the polenta flour in a continuous stream whilst stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Once completely blended, it will start to bubble. Reduce the heat to minimum and stir frequently for around 40-45 minutes until it falls from the sides of the pan.
Stir in the butter and any extra seasoning if needed.
handful of pinenuts
handful of sultanas, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes
roasting juices from the birds
3 or 4 round radicchio (or treviso if avialable), quartered lengthways
250ml red wine
150ml chicken stock
small handful fresh thyme and parsley leaves roughly chopped
Toast the pinenuts and set aside with the drained sultanas. Add the roasting juices to a heavy bottomed wide pan or skillet on medium-high heat. When smoking, add the radicchio quarters and turn frequently until caramelised on all sides. Add the red wine and stock, turn the quarters for a further 30 seconds before setting aside. Reduce the liquids to a desired consistency on a high heat, adding the herbs, sultanas and pinenuts for the last 10 seconds before transferring to a pouring jug.
Spoon some polenta to the centre of each plate, place the partridge on top and arrange the radicchio before pouring over the wine reduction.
Coniglio fritto, confit leg, rocket & walnut pesto, girolles, roast tomatoes and balsamic baby onions
It has been a while since my last post due to a constant stream of university work and ever shorter days, so I finally managed to put a dish together over the holidays and get some photos just before the light went. This will be the third post out of the last four which uses rabbit as a principal ingredient, reflecting my love for its tasty and versatile meat.
Instead of roasting or braising the saddle, I recalled a dish I had made with an Italian friend whilst living in Spain. Coniglio Fritto sounds a lot better than fried rabbit, but essentially that is all it is. The meat doesn’t dry out as so often can happen with roasting farmed rabbit and retains a wonderful texture enveloped in a crisp exterior. But laying down a couple of fried fillets didn’t really fit in with the rest of the dish so I wrapped them in Serrano which added a salty element to work with the sweet onions and tomatoes.
The Pesto adds an underlying nuttiness and earthiness to the dish, along with the girolles, which again made for some great flavour pairings. I made the pesto following the fantastic recipe for traditional pesto on Tales of Ambrosia, adjusting the quantities only slightly so it was less liquid.
If anyone takes just one thing from this dish it should be trying rabbit cooked this way, eaten with some aioli or some pesto, I defy anybody to not be going back for more.
saddle of rabbit, carefully cut from bone
flour, for dusting
1 egg, beaten
breadcrumbs for coating
oil for deep frying
Heat the oil to 180C
Roll the saddles in the flour, followed by the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. When fully coated, carefully place in the hot oil and cook turning when the underside has browned. After around 4-5 minutes, or when golden brown all over, remove and leave to rest on paper towel.
CONFIT RABBIT LEG
front and hind legs from 1 rabbit
salt & pepper
duck fat, pork fat or sunflower oil
Preheat oven to 130C
The night before, season the legs with salt and pepper and leave covered in the fridge. The next day, rinse off the seasoning and pat dry. Place in an ovenproof pan and cover with your choice of fat. Bring to a simmer for 15 minutes on the hob before covering with foil and cooking in the oven for 4 hours.
ROCKET & WALNUT PESTO
See recipe here, changing pine nuts for lightly toasted walnuts. (I made a larger batch to keep some in the fridge for another time)
handful of girolles or similar wild mushroom, lightly rinsed
knob of butter
Heat the butter in a frying pan and when hot, sautee the mushrooms for a couple of minutes until slightly browned. Remove from the heat until ready to serve.
cherry tomatoes on the vine
salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 180c
In a small roasting tray, move drizzle with some quality oil and season well. Roast for 15 minutes or until skins are starting to split.
BALSAMIC BABY ONIONS
10 baby onions such as cipollini, peeled
salt & pepper
20ml balsamic vinegar
100ml chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
In a bowl season the peeled onions and stir with a couple of tablespoons of oil. Meanwhile heat a heavy-based saute pan or skillet on \ medium-high heat, and add a tablespoon more of oil to this. Add the onions and brown for 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low, add the vinegar and stock, then cover. After 20 minutes, uncover, increase heat to high and add the butter, shaking pan and glazing she onions for 2 minutes.
Spread a tablespoon of the pesto onto the plate. Wrap the fried saddles in Serrano ham, cut off the ends and plate.
Heat some oil until smoking in a frying pan and quickly but carefully brown both sides of the confited legs. Split the hind legs if large, before plating.
Arrange the vegetables and serve.
It took me a while to decide on how to present this post about Spain’s most infamous and disputed dish. I thought about going down the history route and how it arrived to become the national dish of Spain for the rest of the world. I considered just discussing what makes a ‘true’ paella and why. But after a year of living in Valencia, I feel what I can best write on is what the Paella is and means to the Valencian themselves. The photos were all taken at an afternoon lunch on a friend’s farm in the heart of Valencia’s most fertile farming land where Paella and an addictive preparation of snails were served.
As a Londoner I have never been able to lay claim to a ‘regional dish’ of my own. In fact the only true London dish I can think of is some East End jellied eels. I am however a fierce defender of English food and believe we have some truly great dishes and a recent resurgence in British cooking has produced some amazing new chefs, restaurants and a realisation that the dishes and produce that we have can actually be wonderful with a bit of time and thought. But despite the resurgence here. there isn’t the same attitude and relationship to regional foods and their history that exist in the likes of Spain, Italy and France; amongst many other countries.
I remember my first flight to Valencia from London and reading an article from the in-flight magazine about the debate between Valencia and Alicante over the origins of the Paella and other rice dishes. I couldn’t believe things were so heated and unresolved after so many years, especially as it is barely a two hour drive between the two.
The first paellas I ate were very average and formed part of lunchtime set menus in restaurants. I kept asking where to go for a good paella and I was often pointed in the direction of Albufera (the National Park and principal rice growing region in Valencia) but the resounding answer was you need to go and eat it in a Valencian home. As cliché as it sounds, it really is true, and most simply because it is a Slow Food. Each paella needs to be done in it’s own pan, from scratch, preferably over wood from the abundance of orange trees and carefully attended to for flame intensity amongst other things – quite infeasible in a restaurant.
The beauty of the Valencian paella, lies not in fancy ingredients but like most truly great dishes, in the little touches and techniques that bring those basic flavours and textures together in perfect harmony. I learnt that the rice is the real star of the show: it holds so much flavour from the other components that their role is reduced to mere sidekicks alongside the perfectly textured and rich grains. It was a peasant food, using the things that were easily available to the inland ‘campesinos’. Water voles have been replaced by rabbits and chicken, snails disappear and reappear through time, but nothing else has changed in the recipe.
Ask a Valencian what their opinion is of chorizo in a Paella, or worse still the combination of chorizo, seafood and anything else that Costa del Sol restaurants throw in and watch as they shudder a little before composing themselves to ridicule what is known as ‘Paella Mixto’. Many just don’t understand why you would add chorizo which overpowers the other flavours of a seafood or Valencian Paella, or why the basic Paellas need changing at all. I guess that’s how the Italians feel about the thousands of abominations of Pizza and Pasta around the world too. And why wouldn’t they be frustrated? The gastronomic representation of their land and history is essentially abused and potentially given a bad name to the rest of the world that consumes it.
A memorable experience of this shared passion for their local food was during Las Fallas festival when I was invited to a sort of Paella ‘cook-off’ in one of Valencia’s tree lined streets. Fire wood, a paella stand and a table were provided and each group of guests supplied their own pan, ingredients and of course alcohol. Much like I imagine the ‘grillman’ culture to be, the men quickly congregated around the paella, each one giving his two cents throughout the fire building and cooking process but never daring to get in the ‘paelleros’ way. By the time the Paella was cooked, the competition had been forgotten for most, but this bringing together of friends over a dish that had always been in their lives left a lasting impression of its ongoing importance in Valencian culture
Returning from Sunday bike rides with my team was made an even more challenging task due to the midday air in the streets of every small town being filled with the aromas of Paella emanating from kitchens and gardens. As each member of the team recounted their personal stories with Paella, debating matters such as varieties of rice and varying flame strength I came to understand that it remains a very macho dish that the man of the house devotes a few hours to every weekend. If not to provide a good family meal, to uphold his reputation as a good ‘paellero’. There is an unmatched pride in producing a Paella which ticks all the boxes and presenting it to friends and family who all come with their own expectations of how it should be. Successful execution of this depends on controlling the numerous small variables throughout cooking.
It is perfecting the combination of developing a rich stock; the absorption by the grains; the speed of evaporation and correct cooking point of the rice – all this is very difficult and makes it the most challenging rice to cook well. This makes me wonder why its fame is so superior to that of the numerous other Valencian rice dishes. Ranging from dry to stock-heavy varieties, baked in the oven or on gas and with ingredients ranging from Cuttlefish ink to Morcilla (black pudding). In my opinion, nothing tops the ‘Meloso’ types of rice. These are cooked with a higher ratio of reduced stock to rice than Paella and therefore leaves a creamy rice almost comparable to a risotto but with flavours left true and not dampened by a parmesan and butter finish.
In writing this post, I came across an interview with a rice grower from Albufera in El País newspaper. Threatened by cheaper Asian imports, the rice growers of Valencia uphold a tradition dating back centuries. The passion with which he speaks about rice is typical of the attitude of many other Valencians:
“Rice has a neutral personality. It doesn’t have a particularly powerful or pleasant flavour, however we have such a varied gastronomic environment for it. There’s no other product with such a vast number of recipes; this is due to the capacity that it has to lose its personality and acquire the tastes of all that you combine with it”.
So, how do you recreate this masterpiece? I would start by visiting www.LaPaella.net which provides insightful information into the history of the dish and the region, tips and tricks (including correct pan size) as well as recipes for this and Seafood Paella.
As I learnt through watching, I will put down below what I took away. But in the words of the ‘paelleros’ that day, it is a dish that takes experience to perfect; so if you follow this recipe or the very similar one from LaPaella.net then you will recognise tweaks and how to improve its elaboration.
La Paella Valenciana:
Ingredients per person
30ml olive oil
1 chicken liver
50g chicken, bones in
50g rabbit, bones in
30g of broad beans
30g of green beans in pod, cut into 2cm chunks
30g butter beans, soaked overnight if they have been dried
40g tomato, grated
⅓ clove garlic, v. finely chopped
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch of saffron
80g rice (Bomba, Senia or Bahía)
small sprig of rosemary
In the correct sized pan over a medium-high heat, add the livers to the hot oil. Once browned, remove the livers and eat separately/discard, then add the chicken and rabbit. Brown the meat well, good caramelization here is vital to the stock.
Once browned, reduce the flame and add the vegetables. Stirring occasionally, leave them to sauté for a few minutes.
Make a well in the centre of the pan and add the grated tomatoes and the garlic, leaving it to reduce for a few minutes. Then add the paprika, stir and quickly add water so that it doesn’t burn creating a bitter taste. Fill the pan up to near the edge with the water. Add salt to taste, then leave it to reduce for around 35 minutes until the level is halfway up the pan and covering 75% of the ingredients. Taste for the correct level of salt here too, remembering that it will lose some intensity once the rice is added.
Add the rice to the paella in a line from one side to the other through the middle of the pan. This line should be about 5cm wide and come above the stock level 1-2cm. Add the saffron and then stir well to spread the rice evenly around the paella, ensuring no grains are above the stock level. Now leave this for 8 minutes on a high flame. In this stage you achieve the burnt crust on the bottom layer of rice.
Then reduce the flame to minimum and leave for another 6 minutes. Add the rosemary sprigs now too so they can infuse the paella. After these 6 minutes if stock is still visible then leave the paella on a medium flame for a further 4 minutes and if there isn’t any visible stock leave for another 3 minutes on minimum heat.
Remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes before proudly taking it over to the table.
Delhi is one of those cities that I think is quite hard to like as a tourist. As an arrival point in India, it throws you right in the deep end and leaves you wanting to escape the madness until you settle into the travelling lifestyle a bit more. This also had to do with arriving at a time of year when the hot summer sun and 90% humidity meant walking more than a few metres left you in dire need of a shower and lime soda.
Lucky enough to have a base outside of the city accessible by metro we managed to see most of the main sites in a few brief city trips. The one place that really took my breath away and was the the Spice Market situated on Khari Baoli.
The fact that it is the largest wholesale spice market in India should evoke some sense of scale, but it is only when you are there with every sense being invaded from every angle that you can fully appreciate the organised chaos of this famous bazaar. Vivid colours and scents of anonymous spices spill onto the street from hollow shop-fronts, then a sack of floral tea provides a brief relief before a rickshaw or cart laden with too many sacks of rice almost knocks you from your feet. It is intense but once embraced, a great experience.
Every town or city throughout India has a bazaar of sorts running along a main road or hidden down winding back streets. They were the best place to immerse oneself in the vibrancy of day-to-day life and get a feel for how this common ground was shared by all warps of life.
Braised Rabbit and Zucchini Fritters
There are some films which momentarily transport you to another time or place as the story unfolds and then there are those which when finished have a more lasting effect and allow your mind to wonder and wish you had lived in that time or place. For me, one film that produces the latter effect is ‘The Talented Mr.Ripley’. Aside from the playboy lifestyle and amoral / sinister behaviour and eventual murder the viewer is immersed in an idyllic lifestyle spanning various parts of Italy. One of those places is the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, now a heaving tourist destination, back then it was as traditional and untouched as Islands come.
On Ischia, rabbit is the major source of protein as the steep hills make farming larger animals near impossible. The Italians have a vast variety of preparations for rabbit and this was the first I tried. In Valencia where I lived for the past year, rabbit was the main meat in the traditional Valencian Paella, it was therefore cheap and very available which is much more than can be said for England. Rabbits there were lean and flavoursome, so I was shocked at the large size of the rabbit I picked up from my butchers here but left wanting by the reduced gaminess of the meat.
This braise is quick and for me it is more of a summer dish so to accompany I made some light and creamy Zuchinni fritters by adding a few tablespoons of ricotta to the mix. It was the first time I had made them and I was so happy with the result. They would go great on their own or as a side to other things.
I am in Northern India for the next 3 weeks so this will be the last post for a while.
Recipe adapted from the fantastic book ‘Al Dente’ by William Black. Serves 4
1 rabbit of around 1.5kg
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
150ml red wine
500g plum tomatoes, chopped or tinned
a couple of thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs
small handful of fresh basil
salt and pepper
Ask the butcher to cut the rabbit into large chunks, or do it at home yourself. Wash and pat dry before browning in batches in hot, smoking olive oil in a large casserole or flameproof terracotta pot. Add the garlic and chilli and replace all the browned rabbit.
Add the wine and bring to a boil to reduce slightly over a high heat before adding the tomatoes. Reduce the head to medium and add the thyme, marjoram and rosemary sprigs. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Add the basil 5-10 minutes before serving to leave a fresh, fragrant flavour.
The dish can then be served as it is, or for a thicker sauce (like I have done), remove the rabbit chunks and reduce the remaining sauce to the desired consistency. Passing through a chinois once or twice for an even more refined texture. Serve with zucchini fritters, the red wine used in cooking and bruschetta.
Frittelle di Zucchini
Makes 5-6 large fritters
2 medium zucchini
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper
70g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons ricotta
Olive or another oil of your choice, for shallow frying
Grate the zucchini or shred in a food processor into ribbons. Then mix through a teaspoon of course salt and place in a colander or sieve over a bowl with a weight on top to squeeze out the liquid (add extra pressure yourself to help squeeze out even more). Alternatively, place in a cheesecloth, tie and squeeze. Removing as much liquid as possible is vital to the mixture holding.
Then combine the rest of the ingredients with the zucchini in a bowl adding a little more salt if desired. When well mixed, leave in the fridge until ready to fry.
To fry, I used a cast iron skillet and poured a thin layer of oil in the bottom. Heat the oil over a medium heat and add a large spoonful (a serving spoon) of the mix to the pan, then flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. Leave for around two minutes before turning over with a spatula to fry for another couple of minutes or until lightly browned.
Over the past year the fig has climbed through the ranks to make itself my favourite fruit. This is no doubt down to having access to the best figs I had eaten in Spain and then during my trip to Italy, indulging in unhealthy quantities of ‘fichi caramelatti’. Their versatility as an ingredient seems endless in their fresh and dried forms, their aesthetics unsurpassed, whilst the previous fig post I made has been my most visited
Caramelisation of these sugar-heavy fruits is quick and produces some complex flavours, for me the near burnt caramel flavour really sets off the fresh sweetness that remains in the untouched seeds inside. Eaten raw or cooked, figs lend themselves to a huge range of preparations and combinations so try and buy in bulk and experiment especially with some conserves or jams. In the UK they are especially expensive but I have been fortunate enough to buy some cheap crates from the Italian baker near me who also holds a passion for figs and thus buys some serious quantities which he puts to use in some amazing cakes. We are also currently waiting for the figs on the neighbours tree which hangs conveniently over the fence to ripen.
Caramelized Figs with Ricotta Ice Cream and Fig Biscotti
The idea for this came from a ‘gelateria’ I visited in Italy which offered a fantastic caramelized fig and ricotta flavour. I decided the texture of the figs is too good a thing to put in an ice cream so serving them separately was logical. I made this at a dinner for 16 and so decided that quantity of ice cream wasn’t feasible with the small machine at my disposable and so asked my favourite Italian shop to make a batch. It is cream based and with a little sugar, but I can’t find a recipe on the web which sounds up to scratch, it had a really creamy texture whilst internet versions seem more flaky.
The fig and walnut biscotti recipe is from the infamous Smitten Kitchen which in turn is lifted from the Batali ‘Babbo’ cookbook – they are really flavoursome and worth making just to eat on their own. I omitted the cloves and probably left them in the oven slightly too long.
To Caramelize the figs, simply halve and sprinkle with sugar. Place cut side down in a skillet over a high heat until caramelized.
Millefeuille of Prosciutto, Burrata and Caramelized Figs
This could be a lunch for one, or divided as an antipasto dish. The combination of silky prosciutto with creamy mozzarella and the sweet fig flavours is fantastic and I feel this is a lovely way to display them.
Caramelize the figs as above and get layering!
Some snaps I got on my trip to Cesena last week (click an image to open gallery), got some more to put up soon. Next posts should be some recipes and ideas I picked up in my time spent in this beautiful part of the world.
At midnight last Saturday I stood with ten pigeons spilling out of a bin liner onto the kitchen counter, needing to be tended to before any flies could do their damage. Somewhat to my relief, my girlfriend’s father who had shot them all said there was no point in plucking the whole bird as they weren’t that big and so it was just a matter of cutting the breast out. This was relatively simple and caused far less mess than when I had attempted to pluck a couple at home the year before. Although it did seem like an awful waste to just cut out these tiny breast and discard the rest of the bird, at that time of night I wasn’t complaining.
I’ve always thought of pigeon as a particularly British game bird but it is put to use worldwide in all manner of preparations. In London I’ve always considered it as quite a delicacy, but this status also extends to Egypt and the Middle East where birds are stuffed and cooked whole; something I would definitely like to try. I had always associated a slow braise in red wine with the bird, but as I just had the breast I decided I would also go for a lighter, more ‘summery’ preparation and just sear the breast meat.
In Spain, the broad bean season is at the beginning of the year and each stall had machines through which the pods were fed, separating the beans to be sold and the skins to be put back to other uses. The fresh beans were then quickly bagged and sold that day. Although ‘de-podding’ broad beans isn’t such a difficult task, I quickly understood why they had these machines as after getting through a kilo I was surprised at how few I actually had to work with at the end; 250g would be my estimate, so enough for a small serving between 4 people. The beans have a wonderful sweet freshness, and my favourite preparation is one an Italian friend showed me, serving them raw or quickly blanched and tossed with balsamic, parmesan or aged pecorino. The freshness of this salad and subtle saltiness in the cheese paired excellently with the earthey and gamey flavours of the pigeon which had been marinated with juniper berries and coriander seeds.
I am off to Cesena, Italy to stay with the friend I mentioned above next week and so hope to return with a bounty of products and having learnt a whole set of new recipes. I am extremely excited, especially at the prospect of staying in a house with a wood-burning oven, a family with a passion for good food and of course, returning to a climate with some consistent warmth. I imagine I won’t get any more food posts in between now and my return, when of course I shall have a lot of photos and food to share.
Seared Pigeon Breast, Broad Bean & Pecorino Salad
serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main
For the pigeon:
6 small or 4 large wood pigeon breasts
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a pestle and mortar crush the berries, coriander seeds and peppercorns until fine, stir with the olive oil and then pour into a ziplock bag. Place the breasts in the bag, seal and shake well ensuring they are well covered with the marinade. Leave in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours.
When ready to cook, heat a frying pan or skillet with your preferred oil until the oil is smoking. Lay the breasts in the pan, being careful not to overcrowd the pan and flip every 15 seconds. A thin breast will take around 90 seconds, but obviously as size and heat varies, do one as a tester and apply this time to the rest. Allow to rest on a rack for a further 90 seconds or so before cutting.
For the broad bean and pecorino:
1kg fresh broad beans or 250g shelled broad beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon aged balsamic
20g pecorino stagionato in fine shavings
Shell the broad beans, then separate them into large and small beans. Place the larger ones in boiling, salted water and balnch for 2 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool.
Remove the pale green casing which should have split whilst blanching and place the bright green bean with the smaller raw beans.
Mix the beans with the oil, balsamic and salt adding half the pecorino.
To serve, plate the broad beans and lay the warm sliced breast on top, sprinkle over the remaining pecorino shavings either on indivifual plates or a platter.
And for good measure here is a photo of the red wine braise I did the remaining breasts in; definitely more of a winter dish, but this is a British summer.
Some time since my last post as I found myself put straight to work last week and catching up with all the people I had left here in England. Serious respect for anyone blogging that manages to work all day then come back ready to cook and put together a post. The problem here is that by the time I’m home and cleaned up from a day at the building site, there is barely any light (just rain – anyone in the UK at the moment will feel my pain) and I don’t have the equipment to shoot at night, so I will try and set aside dedicated cooking and shooting days but until I start university again I feel my post count will decrease.
To bring some Spanish sunshine back into my life, I opened up the box of treats I brought back from ‘Rafa the anchovy man’ of whom I spoke in my last post. Just the sight of them made me happy and the smells reminded me of starting my day at his market stall with a glass of young wine and one of his creations. I quickly got used to strong flavours first thing. The quality of this cured fish means that preparation should be limited, i.e served very simply. For me the best way is on bread with some good tomatoes to cut through their richness. He had also packed some of his own sun-dried tomatoes which he assured me would be better than any other I had tasted, and I had no reason to doubt him.
We, in England have some amazing produce unfortunately little of it seems to filter down to the masses, instead being sold in expensive markets or snapped up by the catering industry. But one thing we do have is an endless demand for Italian products and thus a copious amount of deli’s, cafe’s and bakeries in the capital. I am fortunate to live around the corner from what must be one of the best. The Bottega del Pane supplies the infamous River Cafe and other restaurants with their baked goods and I challenge anyone to leave empty handed after seeing what’s on offer. So I bought some of their famous sourdough and some amazing tomatoes (English grown!) to make some ‘Tostas’, the Spanish crostini.
I served the anchovy and tomato on slightly thicker cuts of bread because I wanted some of the juices to be soaked up without making it soggy throughout. I am positive this quality fish cannot be bought in a supermarket, so you’ll have to splash out somewhere but remember a little go a long way. The sardines should be on thinner slices as the flavours are more delicate and topping drier. The dried tomatoes were wonderful and very different to ones I had tried and slated before, and with the basil made for the perfect trio. These probably aren’t for standing up and eating at parties as these things have become fashionable for but would go perfectly at the start of a meal. Or if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with more that 8 days of sun a year then bask in its glory with some cold wine and make everyone in the UK jealous.
Anchovy and Tomato Tostas
sliced sourdough bread or similar
extra virgin olive oil
tomatoes, chopped finely
good quality fresh anchovy fillets in oil
Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. For 4 tostas I used 2 tomatoes.
Preheat the grill/broiler to a high heat and toast the sliced bread until golden around the edges. Drizzle with a little oil.
Spoon the tomatoes onto the bread using a slotted spoon. Lift an anchovy fillet from the oil, let just a little of the oil drip off then lay on the tomatoes.
Sardine & Sun-Dried Tomato Tostas
sliced sourdough bread or similar
sardine fillets in oil
Prepare the bread as above. Cut the sardines up into 1cm slices; the tomatoes into slightly smaller pieces and roughly chop the basil.
Mix well in a bowl with one tablespoon of oil from the sardines and one from the tomatoes. Spoon onto bread. Serve.