Tag Archives: recipe

Peach Tart with Rosemary Infused Mascarpone

There is a memory I have of sitting on a beach somewhere in Europe, sinking my teeth into the ripest, juiciest and most flavoursome peach of my life which seemed to melt in my mouth. So vivid was this bite that I have a near sensory experience upon thinking about it now and long to eat a fruit so perfect again.

Throughout my year in Spain I have eaten my way through the very best each season offers, purchasing from one of the World’s greatest food markets with a daily turnover of the freshest produce available. From this I have learnt the importance of exhibiting the natural qualities of ingredients and not over-loading dishes with too many flavours. I had thought about how to honour the glorious peach without just simply eating it, for I know back home in England that these fruits are not what I have become used to here over the last few weeks.

There is a distinct lack of sweet things on this site and I put that down mainly to lack of equipment here which just about stretches to an overheating hand blender. But a couple of weeks ago I met an editor who asked me to do a simple dessert for the 4th edition of her magazine ‘Revista Couche’. I was over the moon and immediately knew I wanted to do something with peaches, one of my favourite fruits, whose peak season is arriving and at least some Spanish people must be in search of new uses for the copious quantities they have.

I quickly decided on a ‘tarte fine’ as I feel its elegant simplicity wouldn’t vow for attention with the real star of the show, and to keep the recipe easy a shop-bought puff pastry can be used. I spent some time working on how to keep the peaches moist and flavoursome throughout cooking. Experimenting with poaching in syrups before baking but felt they imparted too much sugar and over-softened the already ripe peaches. However, this would work for the unripe offerings at home and allows for extra flavour to be infused if they were otherwise tasteless (star anise went particularly well). Finally, to retain their natural flavour I settled on a short maceration with brown sugar which drew out some of the juices but then allowed for a syrup to be poured over at the end of cooking, adding moisture and a rich peach flavour.

The idea for the rosemary pairing is taken from Heston Blumenthal’s peach ‘tarte tatin’ served with a rosemary and syrup cream. I instead infused mascarpone whose addictive creamy richness features more and more in my food. The aromatic peach boosted by a peach syrup sits perfectly alongside the subtle pine notes within the mascarpone upon a thin flaky pastry.

Unfortunately in a rather dramatic and rapid turn of events, the magazine has had to stop. Some powerful ans seemingly threatened competitors applied pressure upon the sellers of advertising space to cut their links and within two days the free magazine had no choice but to close. It is a shame and lost opportunity for me; but for the young, ambitious team behind it, it means losing their career and years of effort. I felt it captured the mood of the Spanish economy perfectly: the established staying put nicely at the top without many problems whilst the small man is left without any hope of joining and sharing with them.

Peach Tart with Rosemary Infused Mascarpone

makes 4 individual tarts

For the tart:

6 of the best peaches available

2 tablespoons brown sugar

250g puff-pastry

For the rosemary infused mascarpone:

4 tablespoons whipping cream

1 large sprig fresh rosemary

200g mascarpone cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

For the peach syrup:

liquids remaining from maceration

oven @ 180C

Using a heavy knife aim to cut the peaches first in half and then cutting through the stone into thin slices (some impact from above onto the blade should slice through it nicely). By cutting through the stone, the slices retain their shape well. Use a small knife to then cut out the stone from each slice.

Place in a bowl and mix well with the sugar. Cover and leave to macerate 1 hour in the fridge. If using unripe fruit then this stage can be substituted for poaching the whole fruit in syrup or macerating for longer and/or with alcohol. 

Meanwhile, roll the pastry to a 2mm thickness and cut out four individual tarts of around 5″ diameter. Place on baking parchment and use a fork to poke holes in the centre of the tart, around 5 stabs is fine.

Lay the slices onto the tart bases as desired, allowing a second for any excess moisture to drip off back into the bowl before placing. Place the tarts on a tray in the oven for 25-30minutes, checking regularly and removing when the pastry is golden.

Meanwhile, place the cream and rosemary in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat before it boils completely. Allow to infuse for 20 minutes.

Using a fine sieve strain the infused cream into a high-sided bowl or jug, discarding the rosemary. Add the other ingredients and whisk for 5-10 seconds with an electric whisk to combine well, soft peaks should also form.

With the tarts removed from the oven and allowed to cool on a rack for 5 minutes, add the syrup which is left in the macerating bowl to a small saucepan and on a high heat reduce until a syrupy consistency. Stirring constantly. Don’t allow to thicken too much as it has to cover four tarts and will continue to thicken whilst cooling.

To serve, place a spoonful of the mascarpone into the centre of each tart. Then, using a spoon, drizzle each tart with some of the syrup. Enjoy warm or cold.

Shredded Lamb Shoulder and Burnt Aubergine Kebabs

I once saw Nigella Lawson prepare this lamb in one of her shows and as usual was swept away by the beautiful simplicity and openness with which she makes and presents her food. There seem to be a few Nigella haters out there but I have nothing but respect for a woman with no training to make cooking sexy, inviting and easy for more than one generation of men and women. Besides how could I hate someone whose criticisms include: “flirtatious”; whose programmes include “scenes of gluttony” and who can “make dinner seem like the prelude to an orgy”.  Her huge success in the UK and abroad can be measured not only in her book and cookery line sales but the affect on sales of products she  uses in her shows; goose fat sales doubling in supermarkets after she named it as an essential Christmas ingredient.

This lamb shoulder became an instant hit with my family and everyone that has eaten it. A maximum of 10 minutes preparation and then it can be left to its own devices in the oven overnight to produce meat that happily falls off the bone to form a delectable mound of tender shreds ready to be plated.

I paired it with what I can only describe as a ‘high street’ Baba Ganoush. Not far off the real thing, retaining a strong smoky aubergine flavour but toned down with a little yoghurt for the masses. For me this smoky and slightly spicy dip goes perfectly with this the rich lamb and then is cut through with fresh bursts of pomegranate and mint leaves. What better way to eat it than wrapped up in a big flatbread I thought? And so I did; this is my kind of kebab.

Of course this lamb could be served on a large platter as an alternative Summer Sunday Lunch, served with some grilled peppers and tomatoes etc or mixed through with other herbs and fruits in season.

Shredded Lamb Shoulder and Burnt Aubergine Kebabs

serves 6

recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s found here

For the lamb:

2 1/2kg lamb shoulder (bone in) 

1 teaspoon ras-al-hanout

1 star anise

4 shallots halved, not peeled

8 cloves garlic

1 carrot, peeled

good quality sea salt

500ml boiling water

small handful of mint

seeds of one pomegranate

oven @ 120 C

Put the water to boil. Heat a little oil in a deep roasting tin on the hob until smoking and brown the lamb on the fat side. Set aside whilst quickly adding the spices, the vegetables and a good pinch of salt to the oil, frying for 2-3 minutes.

Pour in the boiling water, this will de-glaze the pan and carefully replace the lamb fat (skin) side up this time amongst the water and vegetables. Let the water come to a simmer before turning off gas.

Tent (seal) the roasting tin well with foil and then place in the heated oven.

Now you can leave it whilst you sleep and it will be ready to eat at lunch the next day. Alternatively start in the morning (early – mid morning) and it will be ready for dinner. At this temperature and in liquid the meat won’t dry out and will be perfect after around 10 hours, give or take a few.

For a quicker cooking time, have the oven at 170C and it will be done in 5 hours.

An hour before eating, remove from the tin and leave to rest for one hour. By then you will be able to flake off the meat with a couple of forks.

Finely chop the mint and mix with the shredded lamb and pomegranate seeds. Give another good sprinkle of sea salt and serve.

*at room temperature the fat will congeal so keep warm until needed. Any leftovers can be re-heated thus melting the congealed fat.

 

 for the Baba Ganoush:

2 large aubergines (eggplants)

3 tablespoons tahini paste

100g greek yoghurt

juice of 1 lemon

3 garlic cloves, peeled, de-germed and v.finely chopped or crushed

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

salt to taste

Place the whole aubergines directly onto the flame of a gas stove or the coals of a BBQ, turning every so often until blackened and blistered all over.  This will impart the smoky flavour.

Leave to cool, covered. Then rinse under a cold tap to remove the skins and leave the flesh to drain a couple of minutes in a colander or sieve, applying a little pressure with a spoon.

Then shred the flesh, it should come apart easily in natural segments. If there are many seeds, try to discard them. Then in a large bowl mix well with the other ingredients, adjusting to personal preference. Serve.

Nose-to-Tail #2: Trotters

It was the third time in less than a week that I was removing a pot of trotters from the oven. This time I had followed almost every step exactly and I was quietly confident that this would be a success. I donned my pink marigold and tentatively reached into the pot, barely able to look as I carefully pulled up one of the three trotters that had made it to this stage. The prized skin on this ‘little hand’ as the Spanish refer to it had split, revealing the unsightly bones and cartilage beneath as if trying to escape from their soft casing. I sighed. I had said this would be the last time I attempted the trotters for as important as it is to never give up or stop trying, one must also know their limits and know when to stop and after three attempts trotters and I seemingly weren’t destined to work together.

Nevertheless, I am posting this failure for what is a blog but to tell a story, to start a discussion or to share information. Some of you may have seen my start with a pig’s head, with which I was delighted at the end result and lack of complications. Like the head, trotters were a novelty to me, I had barely read anything on them before I bought 6 on special offer at the market. Upon closer inspection I was shocked at the lack of meat on them, it was just bone and cartilage! So after a bit of reading it dawned that the skin is what is wanted here. I searched for a Spanish style preparation for them but nothing really appealed to me so I went for the most distinguished trotter recipe of them all. Koffman’s stuffed pig trotter’s filed under ‘difficult recipes for masterchefs’ and made famous by Marco Pierre White at his restaurant Harvey’s, it is very 80’s and very, very French.  This video gives such an insight into a young and aspiring Marco Pierre White (and a timid Gordon Ramsay) as well as going briefly through the recipe in a professional kitchen whereas this blog excellently details the recipe stage-by-stage.

I decided to prepare the trotters in a similar way, just changing the filling. Less French (sweetbreads, morels, chicken mousse); more Spanish (black pudding, apple, serrano ham). I was actually happy with the filling as the black pudding called Morcilla de Burgos here is wonderfully soft, well-flavoured and spiced, whilst some finely chopped caramelised apple cut through it. Plus with my deadline fast approaching for cooking through a pig, I wanted to kill two birds with one stone. I also didn’t use veal stock as suggested. This undoubtedly affected the final colour and taste of the trotter, possibly even the texture but I can’t confirm that. I instead used a chicken stock I had already made, making a veal stock required another 3 days of labour in a kitchen that also functions as a sauna at the moment.

I obviously won’t put the recipe for this but I will score it like last time:

Porkiness: I really was not a big fan of the texture of the trotter. After a 3 hour braise in alcohol and stock it was soft and silky in texture but it just felt too fatty in the mouth. There isn’t much to be said for the flavour which is largely affected by the braising liquids, so a veal stock braise would be beneficial, but I can think of far better uses for such a fine stock. The saviour was the sauce which I followed from MPW in the video linked above, adding some of the gelatinous stock that remained after cooking it produced a rich, smooth, almost syrupy like ‘jus’ which went beautifully with the mustard pomme purée I served alongside. 4/10

Inconvenience: After two attempts this dish had become more than an inconvenience and my patience was non-existent. This is a 3-day dish for any normal person and if done like Koffman not a cheap one with ingredients that could be difficult to resource. I can almost imagine the young chefs in MPW’s kitchen festering hate for their boss as they hacked their way through the thirtieth trotter of the day. You need seriously sharp knives to initially prepare the trotters or a very nice butcher; this video outlines de-boning. Despite claiming about 5 minutes per trotter my attempt was one hour for 3. Next time I’d pay a restaurant to do the work. 10/10

Gratification: I imagined that the pain and frustration of making this dish would be forgotten if I had bitten into one of the best dishes in my life. But as I sat moving what felt like (and essentially is) very soft fat around my mouth all I could think about was why did I bother. For there are far simpler preparations with crispy skins which sound far more appealing as I write this. Perhaps I had just bitten off more than I could chew this time. 3/10

It is a shame that I can’t praise pig’s trotters in the same way as their heads. In a way I also feel like I haven’t exhibited and have let down the unpopular black pudding. Anyone that has eaten this outside of a greasy spoon can perhaps join me and appreciate its complex flavours and uses so I will try to revisit them shortly. In the meantime any suggestions of offal preparations would be greatly appreciated.

Black Figs with Serrano, Purple Basil and Balsamic

In the mighty world of hams in Spain, nothing surpasses the acorn eating, wild Iberico pigs that provide the cured meat world with ‘Jamon Iberico de Bellota’, to be served and consumed only in paper-thin, translucent slices. Despite it’s fame, as a student I can’t quite justify a price tag of around €90 per 100g of the stuff. However, I happily downgrade to Serrano whose silken texture; meaty yet fruity and floral flavour isn’t as rich as Iberico ham but whose uses are much more versatile without causing offence to any onlooking Spaniards. I’ve definitely eaten my fair share of these melt-in-the-mouth hams this year and fully intend on taking as much of a leg as possible to England.

To quote the godfather of Food Science, Harold Mcgee: “Hams are to fresh pork what long-aged cheeses are to fresh milk – a distillation, an expression of the transforming powers of salt, enzymes, and time”

Serrano (or parma etc) with figs is a tried and tested combination; flavours and textures readily complementing each other without any work required. It was something I ate regularly on arriving in September in time for fig season and have missed them ever since they disappeared from the market in October.  So I was very happy upon the appearance of these black figs, also known as giant figs which precede the smaller  varieties that arrive in August. Their fleshy interior isn’t red like many varieties but they have a wonderful flavour, not so syrupy but just sweet enough with some woody notes.

My ‘go-to’ man for herbs in the market introduced me to this purple basil which I believe is the Red Rubin variety. I had never seen such vividly coloured basil before. It has a lovely floral aroma, not quite as pungent as standard green basil, and has a bit of a citrus taste alongside the sweet basil flavour. I intend to make a ridiculously deep purple pesto with my next purchase.

The balsamic I used was of the ‘glaze’ kind, the overused, controversial plastic bottle stuff that any Italian would turn their nose up to. A raspberry balsamic glaze at that. But then I don’t think it is any worse than using a shop bought balsamic anyway. In Italy vinegars from Modena of quality are sold labelled with the age of the content, are syrupy in consistency (getting thicker the older they are) and extremely complex in flavour as they must be a minimum of 12 years old. Around 35 kilos of grapes are converted over time by acetification, fermentation, maturation, evaporation and other processes to produce 250ml of balsamic vinegar. So that ‘traditional balsmic of modena’ you get in your posh deli for £10 is most probably wine vinegar coloured with caramel and sweetened with sugar, with some young balsamic and cooked down grape must if you’re lucky. Unnecessary rant over.

Black Figs with Serrano, Purple Basil and Balsamic

Makes a great easy starter of antipasti

in-season figs

Serrano ham in paper-thin slices

purple basil or similar variety if unavailable

balsamic vinegar

Trim top hard stalk off the fig and cut a cross down to the midpoint of the fig. Press at the base of the fig at 4 points towards the centre so the top slits you made open up.

Wrap each fig with slice of ham and plate. Dress the fig and plate with the basil and vinegar. Serve

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus & Pitta Crisps

I stumbled across this article the other day and realised that I had never made Hummus in the proper way. Despite making many batches of the stuff at uni last year, I had never bothered with dry chickpeas, imagining that there really couldn’t be that much difference; after all it just cuts out a bit of work buying them tinned. So after having spent this year striving to use the freshest, most natural ingredients available I decided it was time to take on the classic that has been adopted as the dip of choice by most of the West. In fact the weekend saw a finger food foray in my flat as ridiculous heat and humidity made cooking and eating a proper meal unthinkable.

Recent popularity in the West doesn’t feature much in the Hummus story. After a bit of light research I learnt it is believed to date back to the 12th Century, favoured by the Sultan Saladin, whilst others cite it in the Old Testament. It is a source of modern political tension and made in unbelievable quantities as a means to settling origin debates. It is also considered a blasphemy to stray away from the most basic of Hummus’ preparations; rendering mine and most of the supermarket versions as frauds.

Although I am a sucker for sticking to the food rules and limiting my fusion there is something about this combination which is so right that I had to break them (plus I had a couple of peppers to use) . The result is a vividly coloured hummus, where the sweet/smoky flavour of the skinned capsicums didn’t overpower the nutty chickpeas and sat perfectly with the garlic, cumin and smoked paprika.

I will agree with most in the dry versus tinned debate in that flavour doesn’t differ that much, maybe a slightly nuttier taste with the dried ones, the real distinction is the texture. It was smooth but still had some of the grainy, wholesome texture that hummus should have – if that makes sense. And as for the extra time taken, I would deem it worthwhile, after all it only requires a little forethought to pre-soak overnight and with the addition of baking powder the chickpeas can be cooked in much less time and be left unattended, even quicker with a pressure cooker. The simple pitta bread crisps are an idea stolen from my mum and are not only extremely ‘moreish’ but are a great way of using up bread that is past it’s best.

 

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus

this makes a nice big dish of hummus with plenty left over for other uses. Lemon, garlic, tahini, cumin should be adjusted to personal taste. 

To skin the peppers (capsicums) 

Place 2 large red peppers  directly onto the flame of your hob or even better onto  hot coals until blackened all over. Cover in a bowl until cool then rinse under a cold tap to help remove the skins. When skinned remove the seeds and stalk and then blend until liquid.

For the Hummus

500g dried chickpeas

2 teaspoons bicarbonate  of soda

8 tbsp tahini

3 lemons, juiced

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoon cumin powder

salt, to taste

red pepper purée (above)

olive oil

smoked paprika

Stir 1 teaspoon of the bicarbonate into two litres of water and use to cover the chickpeas in a large bowl. Leave for 24 hours.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, covering with fresh water in a pan and adding the remaining bicarbonate of soda and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil over a medium heat and reduce to a low simmer until they are very tender, almost falling apart. Mine took around 2 1/2 hours. Add more hot water to the pan from time to time so the chickpeas are always covered.

Allow to cool in the pan, then drain, RESERVING the cooking water. Mix the tahini with half the lemon juice and half the garlic, then to loosen this thick paste slowly add a little reserved cooking water until the paste is loose and workable. Then transfer to your food processor or similar appliance along with the chickpeas, cumin, and a teaspoon of decent salt.

Blend until a purée and then loosen again with the cooking water until you reach the desired consistency, I also added a good dash of olive  oil at this point. Continue to blend adding the red pepper purée. Taste and add any of the remaining garlic, lemon juice or more cumin, olive oil or salt before transferring to serving dish.

Garnish with olive oil, smoked paprika and cooked chickpeas if you like.

For the Pitta Bread Crisps

pitta breads

olive oil

sea salt

dried rosemary

Oven @ 180 C

Cut the pitta bread into strips lengthways then separate each strip into two (they should come apart easily due to the natural air bubble in the centre). Drizzle a baking tray with a little olive oil, lay the pitta bread slices on then drizzle with more olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a pinch of rosemary.

Bake for 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towel to absorb any excess oil before serving.

Fiocchetti di Pera e Ricotta with Sage and Walnut Butter

With my girlfriend visiting and some scorching temperatures in Valencia I decided to have a short break from the labour-intensive pig parts and cook some lighter dishes. This is a wonderful flavour combination and inspired by a ludicrously expensive Italian stall in the market. I have been desperately searching for the origins of this pasta but to no avail. Naples, Sicily and Florence are all possibilities but no sign of the Ricotta combination, instead many using Gorgonzola or Taleggio.

I haven’t put a recipe down for fresh pasta because if you have made it before then you probably know what works for you, and if not then there are many resources that can explain the process much better. If you have access to fresh, large eggs then the classic combination of 100g flour : 1 egg should work for you. Most of us will find the need for extra egg yolks to compensate for the industrial quality eggs available. A good knead and rest time will make all the difference. I also find rolling quite satisfying and therefore people shouldn’t be put off if they don’t own a machine, just remember you’re aiming for a level of thinness where anything underneath the dough can be made out when held to up to light.

These pretty little ‘bows’ are a bit more special than the standard ravioli, but of-course this filling can be used to fill any shaped pasta.

Fiocchetti di Pera e Ricotta with Sage and Walnut Butter

serves 4

500g fresh pasta dough, rolled to a thin sheet

3 medium pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

40g butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

100g ricotta, drained

seal salt and black pepper

small handful of sage leaves

small handful walnut kernels

Heat 10g of the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat, add the sugar and a large pinch of sea salt, when dissolved add the pears. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until caramelised and cooked throughout.

Remove from the heat and blend well until a thick liquid consistency. Set aside to cool.

When cool, mix well with the ricotta and season with pepper and a little salt.

Cut the pasta into small rectangles and place a teaspoon of the filling in the centre. Pinch opposite sides together working your way around until the centre above the filling is pinched firmly closed and the pasta above fans out.

But the fiocchetti on a baking tray or plates and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to dry a little.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and when ready add the fiocchetti. Stirring carefully once to separate them. Leave on a high heat for around 2 minutes. They should start to rise to the surface when ready.

Whilst cooking, place the rest of the butter on a saucepan on a medium heat.

When cooked, remove carefully with a slotted spoon to a colander set above a large bowl.

Add the walnuts and sage to the now melted butter and combine. Add the pasta, stirring to coat it well but being careful not to break the casing. Taste one and add any further seasoning if  required. Serve.

Nose-to-Tail: Pig’s Head Croquetas

To celebrate my last month in Spain, I, like many before me will be cooking my way through a pig. I need not repeat the wise words of Mr. Henderson and co in stressing the importance of knowing where our food comes from. That the plastic-wrapped cuts of meat so easily placed in our shopping baskets do actually come from a living, breathing animal. So what better place to start this journey than in the land where a cured hind leg can fetch €1000; where care is taken over a well-fed animal; a simply prepared cut is juicy and flavoursome; and each body part is displayed proudly at every butcher.

Of course, I will aim for a Spanish preparation of each meal and I will score each dish on my personal P.I.G scale:

Porkiness  – flavour/taste/texture

Inconvenience – labour involved/difficulty

Gratification – value/satisfaction derived

scores from 1-10. 1 being low, 10 high. 

Credit where credit is due for this recipe is taken and only slightly adapted from a truly inspiring source. The British Larder consistently produces some of the most original dishes I see and share it over the web. Not only are they generous but a quick read of their ethos is insightful and heartfelt. I endeavour to eat at the restaurant on my return.

Croquetas are a sublime creation and a staple tapas throughout Spain, and almost every country seems to have their own versions. It was my first attempt and I was delighted to be able to incorporate them into this month. I could have served them on their own but I wanted  some freshness and acidity to cut through their richness so I served it with baby Red Chard and crispy Tatsoi leaves with a mustard vinaigrette and some pickled red onions which lent their own tartness and a beautiful colour to the dish. I also used the ears to make crispy ‘scratchings’ which I dusted with sweet paprika to add another element to the dish.

So before the recipe the all important PIG scores:

Porkiness: The tough gelatinous meat in the head needs a long cook , so after 4 hours cooking in stock melt-in-the-mouth meat was falling off the bone upon touch. I found the flavour lovely and subtle, but the texture is the real winner here. 10/10

Inconvenience: Unless your butcher delivers you will  be lugging at least 6 kilos of head home. It’s big. I didn’t have a pot big enough for all the snout to fit (how ironic my first dish misses the nose), and then you have to try and lift this slippery, flaky mass out of a pot filled with stock. But it took no more than 15 minutes to prep for cooking then to remove the meat (unless you live with a medic who wants to give a lesson in anatomy). However, much more inconvenience was found by my two vegetarian flatmates. fairly inconvenient 7/10

Gratification: The realisation of what I was dealing with only dawned when shaving off any remaining hairs then the head adopted a more human aspect. The pores in the soft, subtle skin; the beard-like growth; and a mouth and eyes which seemed to subtly smile. Cue vivid flashbacks of Animal Farm. But then at the same time I was proud to be putting this beautiful head to good use and it not being ground up into cheap sausages. Any simple prep and long cook would leave you with a wonderful meat. It’s also inexpensive, I scooped out around 800g  meat including the tongue and paid €5. It’s not something I will cook very often but I was truly satisfied with my experience and the resulting meal and am keen to try other recipes. Satisfied in more than ways than one: 9/10

Pig’s Head Croquetas with Crispy Ears, Pickled Red Onions, Baby Leaves and Mustard Vinaigrette

makes 25 croquetas

1 whole pig’s head

1 stick celery, cut into 4 even size pieces

1 carrot, cut into 4 even size pieces

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

1 onion, quartered

Once any remaining hair are removed from the pig with a razor, place it alongside the other ingredients in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring this to the boil, removing impurities that rise to the surface. Reduce to a simmer and leave for 3 1/2 hours, topping up with water to make sure it is covered at all times. Let cool in the stock for 1 hour more and then remove from pot carefully.

Flake off the meat and set aside. I also finely chopped the tongue into this mixture, but be sure to cut the rough edged from it first and use the centre.

To prepare the croquetas:

3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut in equal sized pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon ras-el-hanout

meat from pig’s head

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

4 tablespoons chopped soft herbs (chives, tarragon, parsley)

50ml milk

100g cornstarch

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, salt well and add potatoes, cooking until soft and falling apart. Drain and when cool enough to handle press through a ricer or sieve.

Meanwhile gently fry the onion until translucent then add the garlic, ras-el-hanout and season, cooking for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the meat and herbs stirring until well combined.

Add the pomme puree to the mix and stir again to combine continuing whilst adding the milk and cornstarch.

You should end up with a mix that is difficult to stir, if not, add a little more cornstarch. Refrigerate this mix until cool – around 2 hours.

Roll into individual croquetas and refrigerate these again on a plate

To cook the croquetas:

1 egg, beaten

4 tablespoons plain flour

150g breadcrumbs

Heat preferred deep-frying oil to 160C

Line up 3 plates, one with the flour, one with egg, and the other with the breadcrumbs. Panée them by rolling each one first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

Deep fry in batches until golden all over and leave to drain on kitchen towel. Meanwhile dress the salad and arrange with the onions on plates. Serve

For the crispy ears (optional):

I removed the ears after they had cooked with the head, sliced thinly and allowed to dry on paper towel an hour. Dust with flour and cook in the same oil as the croquetas for 4 minutes until crispy. Drain then season with paprika and salt.

Serve this as a starter or serve more croquetas as a main meal or tapas. I did this over two days, refrigerating the flaked meat overnight before preparing the rest the next day. 

Eggplant Timballo with Orecchiette al Pomodoro

Continuing with the series of lesser known pasta dishes this one probably rates amongst the more unhealthy and laboured plates of pasta you will make. But it is such a joy to eat and watch people’s faces light up upon cutting into this ‘drum’ that the extra work is well worth it. Besides it makes it dinner party material. My Italian flatmate and I served this to a table of Italians as part of a 5 course ‘fritto’ menu amongst olive all’ascolona, coniglio fritto and around 2 litres of oil – keeping things light.

I cooked this recipe from a picture I had seen but having researched a bit it appears there are hundreds of variations of Timballo (I should have guessed that with it being Italian) with fillings from rice to meat. The common theme being that it is baked, normally in a springform tin, however as you will see from my photo at the bottom, I tried to create individual portions by hand as I didn’t have the smaller tins. If you do, then you can save yourself the hassle of trying to create a leak-proof layer of fried aubergines, alternatively just make a large timballo and slice like a cake to serve!

There’s something so satisfying about making your own tomato sauce, not just in the rich taste but in filling the house with their aromas and making a big batch on the weekend can sort supplies out for months. I normally go along the lines of Marcella Harzan’s Sugo Fresco di Pomodoro – slow-cooked and kept simple. Paired with the ‘little ears’ that are Orecchiette to hold the sauce, some tender and crispy coated eggplant, each mouthful is amazing.

A beautiful insight into the art making Orrecchiete in Puglia (video by Tailored Media):

http://vimeo.com/32028266

I found it’s also important to really dry the aubergines out before the baking, so drain in between layers of paper towel to absorb residual oil  for at least half an hour. That way they will stay nice and crisp throughout baking.

This is the most basic Timballo around so experiment and let me know the results!

Eggplant with Orecchiette al Pomodoro

serves 4 as individual starters

For the Eggplant

4 eggplants, sliced thinly lengthwise into around 7 slices

2 eggs beaten

250g breadcrumbs

250ml oil for frying

Place eggplant slices in a colander and salt well, rinsing them in fresh water after 20 minutes and then drying with paper towel.

Heat the oil to 180C. Dip the slices in the egg then in the breadcrumbs.

Fry until golden on each side and drain well on paper towel.

To Prepare:

200g orecchiette pasta

200g tomato sauce

handful of basil leaves

3 tbsp parmesan, grated

1 ball of mozzarella, sliced

Oven to 160C

Cook the pasta al dente. Meanwhile heat the tomato sauce adding basil leaves just before mixing with the drained pasta.

Line the prepared eggplant slices how you wish, in a large baking tin or individual moulds. Divide the pasta equally, placing in the centre over the aubergines.

Wrap the eggplant ends around the pasta. Top with a slice of mozzarella and some grated parmesan then bake for 10 minutes until the mozzarella is melted. Remove  from the tin onto a plate, garnishing with basil leaves.

Watermelon Gazpacho with Prawns and Kumquat

Despite being hot here in Valencia most of the year one thing which has signified the start of summer and the need to refresh oneself is the appearance of Gazpacho on almost every menu. Made well it is truly one of the most satisfying things one can eat in the heat. Served ice-cold and filled with the season’s finest tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers; those adverse to ‘cold soup’ need to experience the real thing.

The idea for watermelon gazpacho came from a meal in Havana, in the well-established king of tourist restaurants – La Guarida. Having thought it was a very original dish and a welcome change from the never-ending mountains of rice and beans I was quite surprised to find not only was it a well-practised dish in Spain but that the shockingly pinky-red dish I had eaten was merely a more traditional gazpacho with watermelon added. Far from the simple, distinct flavour I had experienced. So I decided to create my own stripped back watermelon gazpacho.

Upon seeing some kumquats in the market I wanted to add another element to the plate. I had never cooked with them before but with their wonderful appearance; tart and slightly acidic taste I thought would sit well with the freshness of the watermelon and the spiciness in the prawn marinade. Then I tried the cooked Kumquat and was blown away, little caramelised rounds of goodness, serving it both ways on the plate starts to exhibit it’s diversity as an ingredient

I was so happy with how it came out, such vibrant colours and flavours yet so easy to make, it honestly won’t take you more than half an hour to prep and cook; plus some chill time in the fridge in-between. There can’t be a better place to eat this than sitting outside on a sun-soaked evening with the BBQ burning. It was also a great excuse to utilise my latest flea market purchase: a decanter with ice-compartment.

Watermelon Gazpacho with Prawns and Kumquat

serves 4 as a starter

For the Gazpacho

Half of a watermelon, de-seeded and flesh roughly chopped

Flesh of one tomato

2 capfuls of vodka

sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to season

Process the watermelon flesh with the tomato in a blender until smooth, add the vodka and season to taste. The pepper really added something to the dish and worked well with the melon giving it a more aromatic fresh taste whilst the salt takes off the really sweet edge.

Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours until ready to serve, then strain through a fine sieve into a jug.

For the Prawns

20 raw prawns, with shells

2 tablespoons of olive oil

small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

6 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds (if unavailable substitute for lime zest)

teaspoon of chilli flakes or 2 fresh chilli peppers

sea salt

 Peel the head, legs and shell from prawns, leaving the tail in tact (de-vein if you like – I didn’t) . Heads and shell can be set aside or frozen to make a good fish stock.

Add prawns to a bowl with the olive oil, parsley, kumquat slices, chilli and a pinch of salt. Leave covered in fridge to marinate for 15 minutes – we can’t leave this too long as the acidity from the kumquats could start to cook the prawns.

To cook the prawns:

In a pan: Heat some olive oil from the marinade on a high heat in a wide heavy-based pan until smoking then add half the prawns. They will need to be cooked just 1 minute each side if the pan is hot enough but cut into one to check before removing. Cook the remainder in the same way.

OR

On the BBQ: undoubtedly more flavourful and ‘smokiness ‘really works with the other flavours. Skewer prawns and kumquat slices from marinade and cook for 1 minute each side over hot coals.

To Serve

1 small cucumber cut into thin batons

5 kumquats, sliced into thin rounds

Arrange the cooked prawns, cooked and fresh kumquat and cucumber as you wish on the bowl. Pour over the strained Gazpacho at the table

Cherry and Apricot Tart

The idea for this tart came purely was based purely on sight, two fruits nestled next two each other in the market which looked so perfect together I knew I had to combine them somehow. There is something about mounds of fruit that is so appealing and I find it hard to believe I could be inspired this way walking around the packaged products of a supermarket. I love the idea as food as a sensory experience, how sight, sound and touch influence our enjoyment as well as the taste and smell. That moment upon seeing a dish so appetizing that one salivates and impatiently waits to eats it is surely most common in sweet things. With the great weather and the start of the season for both these fruits this is a perfect pudding with some cream, ice cream or just as it is.

As always there are cherry and apricot tarts/cakes/pies everywhere but this is my version. The recipe for the pâte sucrée I got from this amazing blog which provides a quantity for two tarts. I used the pastry I had left over in the freezer from the last batch which meant it was so quick to assemble but in an attempt to defrost it even faster I dried it out a little, the final result was still great it just crumbled around the top edges. Of course to make this really quick you could substitute for a shop-bought pastry.

I also list the recipe for the amount of almond cream I used, next time I would probably use less and reserve some in the freezer as it covered up the fruit more than I wanted upon rising.

Cherry and Apricot Tart

for a 9 1/2” tart tin

1/2 kilo ripe apricots half and de-stoned – I used two varieties

250g cherries

For the Almond Cream:

140g sugar

130g chopped or ground almonds, plus extra to garnish

120g butter, cubed

1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon flour

With a food processor or blender combine the sugar and almonds until well ground and combined. Add the butter and continue blending until combined and continue adding the other ingredients allowing each to combine before adding the next.

To Assemble:

Prepare the pastry and blind bake as explained in the recipe here, leave to cool.

Preheat oven to 170C

Pipe around 3/4 of the almond cream into the base and spread evenly.

Layer fruit on almond cream as desired and bake on middle oven shelf for 40 – 45 minutes when the cream will have a lovely golden colour and the fruit just cooked through.

Leave to cool on a wire rack then serve or refrigerate until ready to eat.