Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas leftovers... some ideas

So, hands up who bought too much food for one? I manage this every year, always with the mindset that friends might drop by or I might have an unexpected dinner guest on Christmas Night who has nowhere else to go. At the moment I'm looking at a large slab of belly pork on a plate in my fridge - some of that will be simply reheated for dinner tonight, accompanied by some of a lovely savoy cabbage I have and the rest of yesterday's roast parsnips.

If you're stuck for ideas, here's a few.
The quick chicken supreme work well with other poultry such as turkey, if you bought a small crown, guinea fowl or duck. And so will my cheat's chicken cacciatore - just make the sauce without the uncooked chicken, then add the cooked meat 10 minutes before the end, so it's thoroughly reheated.

Pie and risotto will take almost any filling - both are a good way to use up whatever leftover meat and vegetables you have to hand. Try my chicken and vegetable pie or chicken risotto.

My recipe for lamb in date and lemon sauce says uncooked lamb, but cooked will be fine - you'll be basically reheating it in the sauce in the oven. You can do the same with my fruity goat tagine - it doesn't have to be goat meat: leftover lamb or chicken will both be fine. A couple of slices of cooked lamb can also substitute for fresh chops in my lamb chops baked in the oven.

Soup is a go-to for Christmas leftovers. My game soup is ideal for leftover partridge, pheasant or other roast birds. My quick winter minestrone is very adaptable - the tomatoes, greens and pasta are the backbone, then just throw whatever else you have to hand in it.

If you have too many root vegetables lurking in your fridge, the winter root veg casserole is tasty and also simple and light after the richer food of Christmas Day.

If you have leftover cheese, you could make yourself a thrifty cheesecake or use some up in a stilton, rosemary and walnut scone.

Don't forget, quite a few of these can also be frozen once made - handy for those days when you don't feel like cooking but can pull something home-cooked from the freezer!

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas dinner for one - 2013

Christmas dinner for one - time for a revisit. I offered some suggestions exactly two years ago, but it never hurts to look at some more options. (This topic is one of the main searches that brings you readers to my blog, all year round!)

Apart from the alternatives to turkey I suggested last time, a spatchcocked poussin will feed one very hungry person, or give you a meal and a bit for leftovers (using the carcass to make stock afterwards, for soup or risotto). You can spatchcock the bird yourself if you have a pair of poultry shears or very sharp kitchen scissors - it's very easy. If not, ask the butcher to do it for you. The supermarkets have them at this time of year, already prepared. All you need to do is oil the skin, add a rub if you like and roast for about 40 minutes at 180C. (I cooked the one above with a rub made of sweet smoked paprika and ate it with a plate of oven chips.)

I wrote about breast of lamb in October - it's cheapish, very tasty and very versatile. I stuffed the one in the photo a couple of weeks ago, with a homemade stuffing of breadcrumbs, a handful of chopped chestnuts, a few dried apricots and a little rosemary - very seasonal. If you opt for this, the October post has cooking instructions.

I can also recommend (again) looking in the freezers in Lidl and Aldi. I've already picked up a cooked, frozen lobster for £6 from Lidl, as I do every year, and both shops have a good selection of small three-bird roasts that will give you 2-3 portions - enough for Christmas Day, plus leftovers for sandwiches, curry, a casserole of some sort, a pie (swap the veg for leftover roast parsnips, carrots or sprouts) or soup.

Fresh ducks should also be appearing now. One duck feeds two people quite well, so you'll have some nice leftovers from that - it makes a good stir-fry if you cheat, like I do, with some bought stir-fry sauce.

What am I having? I don't know yet, is the short answer. I have a nice slab of Cheshire belly pork in my freezer but I'm also tempted to buy either a duck or a rack of lamb next week. A rack of lamb is quick and easy to cook, and cobbling together a quick crust of breadcrumbs and herbs adds extra flavour (I had this last year). These should be in the supermarkets from about now but you should also be able to order one from a butcher - a rack of 3-4 chops should be enough and you can make a pilaf (watch this space) if you can't finish it in one go.

If you have any questions, do post in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer.

Merry Xmas!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

REVIEW: Grey's Fine Foods Spanish gourmet hamper

A hamper is generally a welcome gift in my home, but Christmas ones less so - when you live alone, baskets full of Christmas pudding, family-sized tins of chocolate biscuits and the like seem like a wasted opportunity as well as useless (I hate Christmas pudding and it would take me half a year to get through a tin of biscuits).
Hampers like this, though? Now you're talking. This fabulous package came from Grey's Fine Foods, which imports a huge range of artisan Spanish produce, and is perfect for one person. I love Spanish food - I know my way reasonably round both standard and regional menus, sometimes cook Spanish dishes and am generally influenced by the cuisine. So a truckload of gourmet imported Spanish products is the sort of thing to put a smile on my face.
I tore into the charcuterie for a quick lunch. The Ibérico ham, produced from the renowned Iberian black pig, is a wonderfully dark red colour with a rich, nutty depth of flavour from their acorn and grassland diet. There was a good layer of creamy fat too, which for me is essential on an air-dried ham. The black pig salchiçon has a lighter flavour, with tones of fennel and something fruity that I couldn't quite place. I had these simply on a plate, with a handful of salted Spanish almonds (not in the hamper but lurking in my larder) and some of the roasted peppers straight from the jar. They had a decent, firm texture and a sweet intensity. The only thing missing was a glass of chilled fino sherry. 
I had a quick nibble of the chocolate, which was made with olive oil and sea salt - I could taste both of these, which cut nicely through the sweetness of the chocolate. The turrón I'm saving for when I crave a proper sugar hit - sticky Spanish nougat is always a winner for me because I love the chewy, nutty mix of honey, toasted almonds and egg white. It's a generous pack too, which will last me months. Alarmingly, when I took it out of the box the oils had leached out into the plastic vacuum wrapper so it will need to be opened carefully.
Of the store-cupboard ingredients, I dipped a little bread in the olive oil with my lunch. It was fruity with a distinctly peppery kick, definitely one for drizzling and dipping rather than cooking with. I love the pretty ceramic bottle - I'll be looking to reuse it in my kitchen for something. I was also blown away by the cute packaging of the piquant pimentón, which had a fiery punch beneath its dark smokiness. I'll be using that in my paella.
I'm not a big fan of tinned tuna, as most in the UK are cheap and nasty and taste very unpleasant - my larder tends to have sardines and mackerel instead. This can of bonito tuna (in olive oil, which really marks it out as a cut above) will make a great fallback staple though for a quick tuna and bean salad. I love gazpacho, the chilled tomato and cucumber soup - so easy to make yet never as good as the real thing. This bottle is also a great store-cupboard standby although I'll probably wait until the weather's warmer to eat it.
All in all, this is excellent value. All the products are artisanal and their total worth is slightly more than the cost of the hamper. The only item I missed was a wedge of manchego cheese, which would have rounded it out perfectly. Almost everything was in amounts ideal for one person: the charcuterie packs are 100g, for example. The packaging was beautiful and even the wooden crate - once I'd turfed Nelson out of what he thought was his new bed - was quickly repurposed as a storage box for my home office. 

Now the details... The Grey's Hamper costs £50 from Grey’s Fine Foods, one of a range starting from £35. Delivery is usually 3-7 days but they offer a one-day service too if you plan to order for Christmas (either for yourself - and why not? - or as a present).

Disclaimer: With thanks to Grey’s Fine Foods and Coffeepot Digital. I received the hamper free of charge, for review purposes. All views and opinions are my own and I was not paid nor obliged to write a positive review.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Beetroot and butterbean hummus

My love of beetroot is well documented on this blog. I simply can't eat enough of it. For many people, this fabulous root has been ruined forever for them by being exposed to the pickled variety, which completely kills off the earthy sweetness. You can roast it in the oven, wrapped tightly in foil and with nothing else added, for about an hour at 200C - afterwards, let them rest in the foil for 10-15 minutes then slip the skins off. Or you can cheat, as I so often do, and buy a vacuum pack of plain cooked beetroot from the supermarket for less than a quid.

Beetroot is also incredibly versatile - borscht is famous of course but it also works well in ice cream, for example, because of its sweetness and I recently stumbled across this recipe for beetroot rugelach, which I plan to make very soon.

Hummus takes less than 10 minutes to make in a food processor. This will keep in the fridge for up to a week in a sealed container.

What you need:
2 medium to large beetroots
A 400g can of butterbeans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 dsp tahini
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Sea salt and black pepper

What to do: 
Chop the beetroot into chunks, drain and rinse the butterbeans and put into a food processor along with everything else except the seasoning. Blitz into a thick purée, adding a dribble of water if you need to thin it a little. Season to taste, adding a little more lemon juice as well if it's on the sweet side.

Sprinkle a little dukkah over the top to finish.

Cook's tips: 
As with traditional hummus, quantities of ingredients are only a rough guide - it's down to personal preference so taste, taste, taste as you go. Beetroot can be very sweet, so I like to add a very generous pinch of sea salt. I also juice a whole lemon, so I have a little extra if the hummus needs more acidity.

Dukka is traditionally made with hazelnuts but you can use other nuts. This one in the photo is made with pistachios - I picked it up at a farmers' market but the recipe in the link is very easy and you can play with the ingredients.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Fresh tomato chutney

Autumn is definitely the time to start thinking of stockpiling food for the cold months. It's harvest time and a good opportunity to use up any excess fresh produce. I eat a lot of tomatoes - at least 500g a week - but an unexpected windfall from a veg box scheme meant I needed to use them up fast.

I've made this a few times and it always turns out well - it's simple to make and doesn't require a huge preserving pan or a thermometer. Because it is a fresh chutney, it will only keep for 6-8 weeks, so keep it in the fridge.

What you need:
250g finely sliced red onions
500g very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (including skins and seeds)
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2cm/1in piece of ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
125g muscovado sugar
75ml red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds

What to do: 
Prepare all the vegetables and put them in a big, heavy, non-aluminium pan. Add the sugar, vinegar and spices. Bring the pot to simmering point over a medium hob then let it simmer gently for an hour. Stir regularly. While it's cooking, sterilise a couple of jars.*

After an hour, most of the liquid should have evaporated. Now bring it to the boil to get rid of the rest of it - the mixture should turn thick, with an almost jam-like consistency. Don't take your eye off it at this stage. When it's thickened, take it off the heat and spoon carefully into the jars. Let it cool completely, then put the lid on the jar and pop it in the fridge.

Cook's tips:
Feel free to vary the spices. Fresh chilli (just one small one, or 1/2 tsp of powdered) will add some heat. Paprika also works well. If you haven't got mustard seeds, use 1/2 tsp of Colman's English mustard powder. I've also experimented with a couple of star anise, but it's a good idea to try and find them and take them out before bottling.

* To sterilise jars, wash well with hot water then dry out in the oven at 100-120C for half an hour or so. Bottle the contents while the jars are still hot. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Thrifty cheesecake

This is a great way to use up bits and pieces from the fridge and larder to make a small dessert. I started making this after I froze a spare packet of cream cheese and when I defrosted much later, I discovered it had split. I hate throwing food away so had to think up ways to use it up. This makes enough for two individual cheesecakes - perfect for when you want something sweet but just a small taste of it.

What you need:
1/2 packet of soft cheese, such as Philadelphia 
A level dsp of icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp lemon essence
2-3 plain hobnobs or other biscuits
A small knob of butter

What to do:
Put the biscuits in a paper bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Melt the butter in a small bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Add the biscuit crumbs and mix well. Spoon the mixture into two small ramekins and press it down well to make a firm base. Pop the ramekins in the fridge. 

Put the cheese and sugar into a bowl and mix well. Taste to check the balance of flavours - you want to be able to taste the cheese and it shouldn't be too sweet. Add the two essences and mix well. Spoon it over the bases, pressing it in and smoothing the top, and put back in the fridge. Leave for a good hour to set firmly. 

Cook's tips:
How much biscuit and butter you need will depend on the size of your ramekins. I find2.5 is about right to make a base of about half a centimetre deep. You need just enough butter to coat the crumbs so they'll stick together, but not so much they set rock hard in the fridge - the base should hold together but still be crumble. About a teaspoon should be about right.

I use the bowl over hot water as the amount of butter is too small to melt directly in the pan and tends to just dissipate across the surface without coating the crumbs.

For a slightly posher version, omit the essences and substitute a little grated lemon zest and some seeds from a vanilla pod.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Quick fig chutney

Occasionally when I have overrripe fruit I try to use them up in ways that preserve them, rather than eating them immediately. Bananas get turned into ice cream and I blitz overripe mango into a pulp in the food processor then freeze the coulis in portions.

Figs that are well on the turn make great chutney. The quantity this makes is small - only a couple of tablespoons - but for one person that's plenty. It won't keep, so store it in the fridge and use within a week. It's delicious with roasted or cold meat, or some cheese (especially goat cheese).

What you need: 
2 chopped overripe figs
About 50g leftover blueberries
1 dessert spoonful of raspberry vinegar 
1 heaped dessert spoonful of muscovado sugar

What to do:
Wash all the fruit well - figs can be dusty on the skin and pick out any blueberries that are starting to sprout a soft, white mould. Put everything in a non-aluminium pan. Cook it down over a medium heat until all the juices have thickened and the fruit has broken down - about 10-15 minutes. Pour into a clean (preferably sterilised) jar and let it cool. Put a lid on and keep in the fridge.

Cook's tips: 
This is the sort of fresh chutney you can whiz up with almost anything - very soft tomatoes, wrinkly apples, squishy apricots or nectarines - just stay away from harder ingredients such as carrots, which take longer to cook. It's important to keep the vinegar and sugar in more or less equal quantities - taste as you go to ensure you have the right balance of sharp and sweet, and don't be afraid to add a pinch of salt.

Because it's fresh, it really won't keep long - it simply doesn't have the array of spices, pectin and other ingredients that go into the kind of preserve you can store long-term. 

To sterilise a jar, wash it well in very hot water with washing-up liquid, rinse well and dry out in a hot oven. If you don't have the lid, as I didn't for the jar above, cling film is fine for a cover but it's a reminder to eat up the contents quickly!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Food banks - no recipe for a caring society

No recipe today. I want to talk about something much more important - food banks.

Two little words that conjure up much of what is horribly wrong in society right now. Please don't switch off - please read this. It matters.

How can it be that we are the 6th wealthiest nation in the world but millions of our citizens can't afford to feed themselves? Many of those going hungry are in work but simply don't earn enough to cover this most basic human need. Many are not working and don't have the money to eat because their benefits have been sanctioned for some reason or another, or payment has been delayed, or because they've had to spend their precious pennies on paying off debts or bills or bedroom tax instead.
More than half a million people in the UK are currently being referred to food banks by social services, GPs or churches. They get an emergency food parcel that will keep them going for a mere three days. Millions more are going hungry but haven't yet reached rock bottom enough to swallow their pride and ask for help. At the moment, food bank use has tripled in the last 12 months. A new food bank opens in Britain every 4 days. We are not a third world country but the Red Cross has started distributing food here to the starving for the first time since the end of the war.

It breaks my heart.

I shouldn't have to, but I consider myself extremely fortunate that I work. That I work enough to feed myself every day. That I earn enough to feed myself beyond the basics and am able to splash out on wine, organic rare breed steaks, obscure ingredients from delicatessens and other treats.

I shouldn't have to but I do because it could so easily be me. It could be any one of us if our circumstances change. In recession Britain many people are only a month's wages away from financial collapse. I have been poor and struggled to feed myself. It was a long time ago but I've never forgotten trudging from shop to shop checking prices so I could save a few pennies on a tin of beans. Once, I was skint enough and hungry enough to nick a pint of milk and a bag of bread rolls at 6am from outside a corner shop where the delivery guy had left them for the shop owner to collect when they opened up.

It was World Food Day yesterday around the world. Here it was being marked as a way to draw attention to the food poverty we have in the UK. Here are some articles you should read to find out the shocking statistics behind the headlines.

Food banks are testimony to the Tories' massacre of hope and dignity.

Food poverty is an attack on society.

The Nasty Party is back, sneering at food banks and those who use them 

Thanks for reading. If you have a few pennies to spare, next time you're doing the shop buy a little extra and donate to a food bank - you'll be helping someone not to starve.
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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Moroccan style roast lamb breast with lemon broad beans

Breast of lamb is a much underrated cut, usually overlooked in favour of shoulder or leg even though it makes a very good roast. It's cheap too (£3-4 average) and because it's small, it's ideal for the lone-dwelling cook. You'll have enough for a main meal and enough leftovers for sandwiches, a pilaf or risotto.

It's easy to make a mess of roast breast - it needs a good blast of heat to start with the a long, slow spell if it's not to end up greasy with a rubbery skin and chewy meat. Follow the rules to turn it into a dazzling dinner - tender and flavoursome.

This cut tends to be stuffed with the usual garlic and rosemary but, as mutton is eaten widely across north Africa, I prefer to give it a Moroccan twist with a good dollop of chermoula. The chillies and lemon help tenderise the flesh, while packing in extra flavour.

The warm side dish of lemon broad beans also originates from Morocco.

What you need: 
1 lamb breast
Chermoula paste
100 g fresh or frozen broad beans (podded weight)
1 preserved lemon
Juice of half a fresh lemon
Half a dozen black olives, stoned and sliced
Olive oil
1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp each of cumin and paprika
A little chopped coriander
Salt and pepper

What to do:
Make the chermoula paste. If the meat has already been rolled and tied with butcher's string, cut it off and unroll it. Put the meat skin-side down on a chopping board and spread a very generous heaped tablespoon of chermoula all over it, working the paste into every nook and cranny and ensuring all the flesh is coated. Roll it up tightly again and secure it with butcher's string or a couple of metal skewers. Pop it on a plate, cover it with cling film and leave it in the fridge for at least 4 hours (overnight if you can).

To cook it, heat the oven to 220C and roast it for 25 minutes. The skin should be starting to turn crispy. Turn the oven down to 160C, then roast it for another 2 hours, giving it a good basting every half-hour with its juices. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes after it comes out the oven.

To make the beans, boil them for 2-3 minutes in salted water, drain and cool quickly under cold running water. Leave to drain again then slip off the tough outer skins. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan and gently fry the spices and garlic. Add the beans, lemon juice and finely chopped preserved lemon. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, adding the olives for the last couple of minutes. Season to taste and garnish with the chopped coriander.
Cook's tips:
Breast of lamb can be very fatty so choose one that has a good ratio of meat to fat. If you're buying from a butcher and he's cutting it off the carcass for you, make sure he takes the ribs out. Don't undercook it - for such a small joint, it's easy to think it won't need too long in the oven. Trust me, it does. A lot of fat will come off during cooking, even off a lean cut. The skin should be wonderfully thin and crispy at the end.

I do advise boiling and skinning the broad beans ahead - I tend to do the skinning on the sofa as it's the sort of mindless task you can get on with while watching TV. You can finish all the rest of the dish while the meat is resting.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Beetroot and spinach tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is a traditional French dessert - an apple pie baked upside down - but it lends itself well to a savoury filling too. I saw a recipe recently by Yotam Ottolenghi for a potato version. That's a bit too carb-laden for me but other root vegetables work nicely, partly because they have an inherent sweetness.

Like the traditional apple tarte, you need to add a little sugar in some form or other to generate a caramel that will help hold all the filling together.

What you need: 
2 medium cooked beetroot
Half a bag of fresh spinach
2 tsp demerara sugar
Salt, pepper
Half a pack of puff pastry

What to do:
Heat the oven to 220C. First steam the spinach, until it's slightly beyond wilted, set aside to cool then squeeze out as much water as you can. Cut the beetroot into 5mm slices. Melt a generous knob of butter in a medium-sized (20cm) ovenproof frying pan then sprinkle the sugar in. When the sugar has dissolved and the butter has started to sizzle, add the beetroot slices and gently fry them off on both sides (they should fill the pan in one layer). Scatter the spinach across the beetroot and season.

Roll out the pastry into a round just bigger than the pan. Take the pan off the heat and press the pastry over the beetroot and spinach, tucking the edges under. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry has risen up and is golden.

Take it out, let it cool a little and the, using oven gloves, place a plate bigger than the pan over it and quickly flip it over. The tarte should slip out intact onto the plate.
Cook's tips: 
Those vacuum packs of cooked beetroots that you find in the supermarkets are perfect for this if you don't want to boil or roast then peel the beetroot from scratch, plus they are vinegar-free and cheap. If you don't like beetroot, you can make this with rounds of carrots or long slices of parsnip - scatter a few fresh thyme leaves over them at the frying stage.

If you don't have an ovenproof frying pan, start the cooking in your usual frying pan then transfer the beetroot to a cake tin and finish the prepping in that.

When I buy packs of puff pastry, I usually cut them in half or even quarters and freeze what I'm not using. Half a pack is about right for this (a quarter pack makes a puff pizza pie).

A whole tatin on its own is quite a filling meal. I like a generous slice on the side of a roast or some pulled pork or pulled beef, then I'll finish it for lunch next day.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Pork and coriander rissoles with sticky coconut rice

These rissoles are really easy to make and have a lovely, light flavour from the coriander and lemon. This amount makes 4 to 6 patties, depending how big you make them and how hungry you are.

What you need:
500g pork mince
1 shallot
2-3 cloves of garlic
handful fresh coriander leaves
zest of a lemon

For the rice:
50g basmati rice
50ml slightly sweetened coconut water

What to do:
Blitz the shallot, coriander and garlic in a food processor or chop very, very finely. Put into a mixing bowl with the pork mince, lemon zest and seasoning, then work it all together. Shape into burger patties and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. To cook, fry them in a little vegetable oil for about 6 minutes on each side.

To make the rice, put the basmati is a sieve and rinse well under the cold tap until the water runs clear. Put in a pan and add the coconut water. Bring it to the boil, then put a tight lid on it and turn the heat right down until is just simmering. It should take about 12 minutes for all the liquid to be absorbed and for the rice to be plump and sticky.
Cook's tips:
Uncooked rissoles can be frozen - wrap well in cling film, separately, then pop them in a container or freezer bag. They need to be thoroughly defrosted before cooking.

Coconut water is widely available now. Most supermarkets stock it and you can also find it in Asian grocery stores and health food shops. I like the plain version to drink but the slightly sweetened variety, which often has coconut shreds in it, is my preference for the rice. Add a small pinch of sugar to the coconut water if you only have the unsweetened sort. If you can't find coconut water, a mix of about 30ml low-fat coconut milk and 20 ml water works well.

It's a good idea to start the rice before you start frying the rissoles - it needs time to come to the boil and if it's ready before the rissoles, just take it off the heat and leave the lid on to keep it hot until you're ready to plate up. 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

10-minute Thai crab soup

As the weather cools, my thoughts start turning to soups. I like this recipe because it's both warming and quick to make, plus it's mostly store-cupboard ingredients, plus the sort of veg you'd normally have to hand - at a pinch you could raid the freezer. This makes one bowlful.

What you need:
1 small tin of crab meat
1 small onion, chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 red or green pepper, sliced
Thai curry paste
Vegetable oil
150ml vegetable stock
1/3 can coconut milk
Chopped fresh coriander

What to do:
Heat a small amount of oil in a saucepan and fry the onion and pepper over a medium heat until they start to soften. Add a generously heaped teaspoon of the curry paste, cook for a couple of minutes then add the stock and the spring onion. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, add the coconut milk, bring back to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes more then dish up. Sprinkle a little chopped coriander on the top before eating.

Cook's tips:
This recipe is very flexible. Substitute a handful of fresh or frozen prawns if you don't like crab. The pepper for me is a must, but I sometimes swap the other vegetables and use some beansprouts if I have them to hand, or a few sliced mushrooms, some julienned carrot or French beans. For a more filling soup, add noodles - I like to stir in some glass noodles a minute before plating up.

Green Thai curry paste will add more heat and sour if you prefer it. You can add some depth to the soup with a splash of fish sauce.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Lamb in date and lemon sauce

Poor, neglected blog. It's not that I've not been cooking. I have. I've just not been cooking much of my own food. Instead, I've been cooking other people's.

The problem with liking your food is it likes you back. And it got to the point where my hips were too gourmet-sized for my liking. At the start of August, I began fasting twice a week on the 5:2 "diet". I'm seeing very good results already but it means that 2 days a week I have been calorie-counting rigorously, planning my meals for those days and also being a lot more aware of what I eat on "normal" days.

Cooking on fast days is pretty much routine now for me, nearly 6 weeks in. I've been eating someone else's skinny version of shakshuka for a very late breakfast most times and dipping in and out of several 5:2 cookbooks. I've also discovered some of my favourite food bloggers are doing 5:2 too (see, cooking leads to gourmet-sized hips). Lavender and Lovage and Big Cook Tiny Kitchen have both been tagging their "thin" recipes and I'm enjoying exploring them.

But to the lamb. I've been cooking this on and off for years - the sweet, sticky sauce is offset by the lemon's tartness and the savoury notes of the lamb and the shallots. It's very simple to cook and makes 2 portions.

What you need:
2 lamb fillets (or decent-sized chops)
1 shallot, finely diced
A handful of fresh dates
1 lemon, juiced
A pinch each of ground cumin and ground coriander
Olive oil
A few almond flakes

What to do: 
Stone the dates, chop roughly and put in a pan with the lemon juice, the spices and a splash of water. Cook down over a low heat, crushing the dates with the back of a wooden spoon as they soften, until you are left with a thick, sticky mush. Add a little more water if if you think it needs it. Season well.

While the dates are cooking, pour a generous glug of olive oil into a hot frying pan and brown the meat quickly on both sides. Lift out, put in an ovenproof dish and turn the hob heat down. Sauté the shallots gently until transparent. Tip the shallots over the lamb, scraping all the oil and any crusty bits out of the pan too.

Pour the sauce over the lamb, sprinkle a few flaked almonds on the top and bake in the oven at 180C for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a bulghur salad.

Cook's notes:
Don't use the dried, syrup-laden dates that come in an oblong box with a plastic fork and are usually sold in the run-up to Christmas. They are far too sweet. You can easily find fresh dates in Turkish or Middle Eastern grocers - it's possible to pick up a box for £1-2. Keep an eye out in supermarkets too - as I type this, Asda is selling a box of fresh dates for £2. 

The bulghur salad has clean, sharp flavours that help cut through the richness of the lamb. To make it (serves one), cook a small portion of bulghur according to the packet instructions. Dice 5cm of cucumber, slice a spring onion diagonally and extract the seeds and juice from half a small pomegranate. Mix well with the bulghur and add a little roughly chopped parsley. Dress with a little olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar and a little salt and pepper.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Wild boar ragout

I've started going to the occasional Manchester Meat Club evening over the last few months - basically, it's an evening of eating, drinking and butchery, focusing on a different beast each time and with a proper butcher teaching us about different cuts and how to cook them. I'm solidly in favour of this, as I believe if you're going to eat meat you shouldn't just pick up a slab of it on a cling-filmed polystyrene tray at the supermarket. You should understand it, respect it and be prepared to pay a bit more and eat a bit less so you can get really good quality meat.

Back in the spring I went to a Meat Club night on ground game, came home with a whole hare and made hare au vin with it. Not long after, I went to their class on wild boar. Boar is something I've eaten a lot in restaurants, particularly abroad, but it's hard to find here unless you have a good butcher on your doorstep or the sort of artisan deli or farmers' market where you can pick up pate or boar salami. The boar on the night was butchered in front of us, as well as compared to a pig that was brought in so we could look at size differences etc, then cooked for us in different ways.

At the end of the night, I managed to scrounge a tiny bit of the scrag end from the butcher as he finished taking the meat off the carcass. The scrag is the neck and can sometimes be tough so be flexible with cooking times. This recipe here is something I've made a few times with one of the cheaper cuts of pork but lends itself well to its gamier cousin.

What you need:
150g stewing cut of wild boar (I used scrag)
1 onion, finely chopped
Olive oil
1 red pepper, roughly diced
1/2 fennel bulb, roughly diced
Chicken stock
1 tsp fennel seeds
Pinch of dried thyme
1 bayleaf

What to do:
Trim any fat off the meat and cut it into cubes. Sweat the onion in some olive oil then brown the meat. Deglaze the pan with a very generous glug of vermouth, then add the red pepper and fennel. Add the herbs and seasoning, then top up the liquid with about 150ml of chicken stock. Simmer very gently for 2 hours on the hob.

To serve, cut the other half of the fennel bulb into wedges and griddle until tender.

Cook's tips:
If you can't get hold of boar meat, use pork - the neck, chump,and the hand and spring are all cheap, tougher cuts that lend themselves well to a nice slow braise.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Couscous royale

When I lived in Paris, every Wednesday night without fail Parisian Boy and I went to a nearby Tunisian restaurant to eat couscous with friends. We were often a large group of 10-12 in total and there would be good-natured arguments over what type of couscous to order. Invariably, because couscous is a communal way to eat, we'd settle on couscous royale because the platter of mixed meats offers something for everyone.

When the food arrived, there would be one huge platter of steamed couscous laced with chickpeas, another huge platter of grilled merguez, lamb chops, skewers of grilled beef and chicken pieces, and perhaps other meats, and a huge tureen of vegetable broth. These would be passed round the table, along with the pots of harissa to add some fire to the mix.

Despite having three distinct components, it's fairly quick and easy to make for one. It takes about 30 minutes in total. The couscous grain itself is the most filling component (it can swell up in the stomach!) so start with a small amount on the plate and top up if you're still hungry.

What you need:
2-3 merguez sausages
1-2 small, boned chicken thighs, skin off
Olive oil
1 onion
1 large carrot
1 courgette
2-3 baby aubergines
1 baby turnip
1 small pepper
1.5 tsp ras el hanout
1/2 litre boiling water
Harissa paste
Portion of couscous, about 75g dry weight

What to do:
First make the broth. Peel and quarter the onion, leaving the root intact. Peel the carrot and slice into thick 2cm rounds. Trim the stalks off the baby aubergines. Trim and quarter the baby turnip. Quarter and deseed the pepper. Cut the courgette into very thick 3-4cm rounds. Heat the oil in a deep pan on a medium hob. Add all the vegetables except the courgette and pepper and fry gently for a few minutes. Don't let the veg brown. Add the ras el hanout, stir through and fry for a minute then pour in the boiling water. Bring it just to the boil then turn down the heat and leave it to simmer for 30 minutes. Add the courgette and pepper halfway through.

Cook the meat. Rub the chicken thighs with a little oil and either grill them on the hob in a cast-iron grill pan or cook them under the grill of your oven. They need about 15 minutes. Turn halfway through. Grill the merguez for 10 minutes in the same pan, turning halfway through. Turn off the heat when cooked and keep warm.

Make the couscous. Boil the kettle again. Tip the dry couscous into a heatproof bowl and pour over just enough boiling water to cover it. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it for 5 minutes to swell then fluff it up with a fork.

To dish up, pile the couscous into one side of a deep soup plate. Use a slotted spoon to take out the vegetables and pile them on the other side of the plate. Fill a ladle with the broth and stir in about 1/2 tsp of the harissa, then pour it over the veg. Pile the meat on top.
Cook's tips:
Harissa and ras el hanout are widely available in supermarkets. Finding merguez - a fresh, lamb-based, long and skinny sausage flavoured with paprika and harissa - is a little trickier. They sometimes turn up in the meat section in supermarkets, mainly in the summer barbecue season. I always buy them when I spot them, freezing the spare packs for later. You can buy them online too. If you can't get hold of any, grill a couple of small lamb chops instead.

Be flexible with the vegetables. It's traditional to use what's in season, so that could include chunks of squash, broad beans or green beans (haricots verts). If you are very hungry, you can add a spoonful of cooked chickpeas to the couscous grains (use the rest of the tin to make hummus).

If you have leftover couscous, you can use it up as the basis of a tabbouleh salad. I like to whiz any leftover vegetable broth in a blender to make a spicy and filling soup.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Warm chorizo and rocket salad

This substantial salad is ready in the time it takes to boil the potatoes - about 10 minutes - and is perfect for a cooler summer evening when you don't want hot food but still want something more filling than simply a plate of salad leaves.

What you need:
6-7 smallish new or salad potatoes
1/3rd of a loop of cooking chorizo
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
A large handful of rocket
Juice of half a small lemon
A dessert spoon of walnut oil
A crushed clove of garlic
Black pepper

What to do:
Put the rocket and cherry tomatoes in a bowl or on a plate. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters, so they are bite-sized, and boil until tender but firm - about 10 minutes. Slice the chorizo into rounds and fry over a medium heat until it just crisps. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. While everything's on the hob, make a dressing with the oil, lemon juice, garlic and black pepper. Toss everything together and eat.

Cook's tips:
Don't add all the lemon juice - start with half, taste and add more if needed. You don't want to overpower the flavour of the walnut oil.

If you're very hungry, add a few shavings of parmesan or a quartered hard-boiled egg.

Watercress is a great substitute for the rocket in this dish.

Sunday, 9 June 2013


I run a fairly thrifty kitchen as I hate waste. If I've had meat on the bone, the bones get turned into stock. I cut the mould off cheese and eat the rest (not that cheese is around often enough for the most part to turn mouldy). And stale bread gets turned into breadcrumbs, which I freeze, or croutons for frisée au lardons. I also use it to make panzanella, a traditional, rustic Italian salad that is the very definition of "waste not, want not" - it doesn't just use up stale bread but overripe vegetables too, turning all the ingredients into a juicy, flavoursome salad. For someone who lives alone, it's an ideal way to clear out the fridge and is surprisingly filling, given its simplicity.

What you need:
Stale bread, enough to make a half-bowl of salad
2-3 very ripe tomatoes
Cucumber, about 10cm, cut into chunks
Handful of black olives
Small handful of roughly chopped flatleaf parsley
Half a ripe red pepper, diced or cut into strips
Olive oil
White wine vinegar or the juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
4-5 anchovies (optional)

What to do:
Tear the bread into bite-sized chunks and put in the bottom of a bowl or soup plate. Roughly chop the tomatoes and tip into the bowl, with all the juice, and add the cucumber, pepper, olives and parsley. Drizzle over some olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, season, toss well and set aside for at least an hour so that the bread has time to soak up the dressing and tomato juices. Add the anchovies just before eating.

Cook's tips:
Good bread is essential - white sliced simply won't cut it. Sourdough, ciabatta, baguette or some other very crusty, dense loaf is what you need here. If the bread is very hard, soak it briefly - about 5 minutes - in a bowl of water, then drain and squeeze it out if you need to.

The tomatoes are the other core ingredient - well-ripened, even to the point of collapse, they provide the juices to soften the bread. Then it's just a case of using up whatever else you have to hand - a little shredded lettuce or some rocket, a few basil leaves, some capers, thinly sliced red onion... You could even throw in some cooked green beans, a few lumps of mozzarella torn off a ball, chunks of leftover chicken or tuna.

I don't bother to mix up a proper dressing, preferring to judge the quantity by eye. If you need to measure up, you need an oil to acidic ratio of 3:1.

Friday, 31 May 2013

A cracker of a box

When I'm snacking, savoury wins over sweet every time for me - crisps, pretzels, crackers, cheese twists, olives... I have chocolate in my cupboard that has lain untouched for weeks and months. Every month, when #FoodiePenpals comes around and my parcel sender enquires about my likes I always tell them I don't have a very sweet tooth. And this month I received a really exciting box from Jenna, who writes the splendid Sausage Tarts and Marmalade Rolls blog.

This was intriguing - a tiny wheel of waxed cheese, a jar of flour, two sprigs of fresh rosemary and a cookie cutter and what appeared to be a small jar of chutney (it was). There was also a brown paper package tied up with string, which immediately made me want to sing my way through the Sound of Music.
The mini parcel turned out to contain half a dozen heart-shaped crisp cheesy biscuits. And all was revealed when I opened the card, for it contained the recipe! All I had to add was some butter and an egg yolk to the ingredients from the parcel, chop up some of the rosemary then mix it all up into a pastry dough. I managed to get 17 heart-shaped biscuits out of the dough.

Mine turned out a little more overdone than Jenna's but I shall be making these again. You'll have to ask Jenna for the exact recipe, if it's not on her blog, but it's a basic pastry dough with a little paprika and seasoning added to the salt.

The final instructions were to enjoy with some paté and red wine. It would have been rude to refuse, not that I need any encouragement!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

On pans and pins

No recipe today. Well, not yet anyway - if I have time later today there may be one.

I'm blogging about Pinterest today, as it's just launched in the UK and I'm finding it very useful. You may have already heard of Pinterest, but if not it's a website for collecting images and ideas about the things you're interested in. You can "pin" things you find on the web - a bit like the corkboard I have at home where I pin things with tin tacks, only it's on the internet.

I joined Pinterest a couple of years ago and couldn't get the hang of it. But I rejoined when I realised that not only is it another way for me to share my recipes but also a way to discover other people's foodie delights. At the moment I have two boards - one for my recipes and one for repinning other people's food that has caught my attention.

I also love the introduction of secret boards - no one can see these except you although you can make them public later - I started one when planning my trip to Madeira last April as it was a great way to gather useful ideas and information in one place and I could access it on my phone while away.
This is because all the pins link back to the original site. If I pin my recipes and you click on one, it'll take you to my blog and you can read the whole recipe (and hopefully cook it!). If I pin my travel plans, it's a fast way for me to return to the tourist office website or look up the hotel I booked.

You can find the link to my Pinterest on the menu on my blog or you can follow me via this link. If you're not yet on Pinterest, you can join here and get pinning!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Spicy stir-fried rice

It's quite hard to cook one portion of rice for a meal and it hardly seems worth it - cooking two portions so you have leftovers is much smarter. And leftover rice is the basis of a plate of stir-fried rice - the secret to making it properly is to use cooked rice that has been chilled as when it's straight out of the cooking pan it's too warm and damp to get a good result.

This dish doesn't have to be Chinese in style - I don't own a wok and if I'm going to scramble an egg it'll be for my breakfast rather than for this. I take my inspiration instead from spicy rice dishes such as nasi goreng or kedgeree. As well as using up rice, I take the opportunity to clear out my fridge to use up some veg. Then all I need is some spice paste of some sort.

This is quick - just 5 minutes to prepare and 5-10 in the pan.

What you need: 
1 portion of leftover cooked rice, chilled
1 small chicken fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
2 spring onions, sliced 
1 small carrot, cut into julienne strips
A handful of peas
Curry paste of some sort, about a tablespoon
1 egg (optional)

What to do:
Prepare the veg and chicken. Heat about 2tbsp vegetable oil in a wok or sauteuse and get it very hot. Toss in the chicken and stir-fry it for 4-5 minutes then add all the veg and fry for another 2 minutes. Stir in a generous tablespoon of curry paste and fry for another minute. Lastly, add the rice - break up any lumps and fry it for a good 3-4 minutes so it's thoroughly reheated and all the chicken pieces and veg are evenly distributed through it.

If you're very hungry, top it with a fried egg Indonesian style - well-cooked rather than soft.

Cook's tips:
The chicken doesn't have to be fresh - frying off some leftover cooked chicken or diced lamb works fine, or use cooked prawns. Likewise, the veg are flexible - use diced pepper, sweetcorn, mushrooms or edamame beans, whatever you have to hand.

Cooked rice needs to be handled with care as it's possible to get bacillus cereus food poisoning from it. Chill it quickly after cooking, put it in a bowl and store it in the fridge. And be sure to reheat it thoroughly to kill off any toxins.

Which curry paste? If you're using an Indian one, go for mild rather than fiercely hot. I made this one with some rending paste. If you can find it, nasi goreng paste is the clear winner, but Thai curry paste also works - I use less than a tablespoon of the red sort and avoid the searing heat of the green.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Hare au vin

I regularly cook rabbit - finding hare is much harder but a good butcher should be able to supply it (and I know Lidl sometimes has packs of hare legs in its freezer section). There's a lot of meat on a hare, particularly the hind legs which are its powerhouse and thus have plenty of well-developed muscle. The forelegs are less meaty but still pack flavour, so if you have them then chuck them in the pot too.

I was lucky enough recently to attend a butchery class on game where I learned how to skin rabbits and hares plus butcher them. It was bloody but fun and I came away with a new skill. The pics are here. I brought a prepped whole hare home to joint. The legs went in the slow cooker - the breast fillets are in my freezer and will go into a game pie at some point.

This recipe is based on the classic French coq au vin (which uses a rooster rather than a chicken) and makes 2 portions, so you can freeze one for another day.

What you need:
Hare legs - 2 hind (and 2 fore, if you have them)
1 bottle of red wine
1 bouquet garni
2-3 bay leaves
4-5 slivers of dried orange peel
Freshly ground black pepper
6 sun-dried tomatoes
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme

12 dried prunes
6 baby onions or shallots, peeled and left whole
12 dried porcini
Tomato purée, about a tablespoon
Salt and pepper

What to do: 
Marinate the hare overnight with all the aromatics and the bottle of wine. Next day, add the rest of the ingredients - cut the onions in half leaving the root intact if they are a little on the large side. Then cook in a slow cooker for around 8 hours, or in the oven at 120-140C for around 5 hours. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed. Serve with plenty of buttery root mash (here, I used turnip, swede and carrot).

Cook's tips:
Keep an eye on the liquid levels during cooking and top up if it looks like drying out. The gravy should finish up thickish and glossy. The meat should be falling off the bone by the end of cooking - watch out for very small bones, particularly from the forelegs.

Making dried orange peel is very easy. Use a vegetable peeler to pare strips of rind off the fruit, taking care to avoid the pith. Spread the peel out on a baking tray and leave to dry naturally for 2-3 days (if you have an airing cupboard, it's ideal). Then store in an airtight jar. They keep for ages and are a good flavouring for red meats, particularly venison and game.

To add a note of spice to the marinade, try a cinnamon stick and 2-3 star anise.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Madeira - more than just cake

I've had a holiday. In Madeira. My usual three aims of a trip abroad are meandering round cities exploring museums, churches and other places of interest, hiking and walking, and food. Ah, yes, food.

I was mostly disappointed in Madeira's culinary offering (the eponymous sponge cake is not actually from Madeira, by the way). I had quite a few meals best summed up as meh, not least because many local dishes were not very interesting and side vegetables were generally cooked to disintegration point.

The local scabbard appears abundantly on menus in a variety of styles. It's mostly served deep-fried in batter and served with banana, or cooked in a sauce with tropical fruit. The latter was how I tried it (no pic) - the fish was mushy and overcooked and hard to find under the creamy, gloopy sauce. I couldn't identify the fruit - it might have been mango, or apricot, or papaya. Who knows?

The other famous local dish is espetada - cubes of fillet beef barbecued on a laurel stick.
The first time I tried it, the meat was overcooked and sinuous. But then I found a decent restaurant (O Portao in Funchal) that served this - beautiful tender, rare beef, a chef sauce to a secret (I asked!) recipe that really zinged and crunchy veg. A win.

I also had the grilled limpets at O Portao, cooked with butter and garlic. Limpets also appear in risottos in Madeira, as with the fresh tuna I had in Seixal - if you like mussels, you'll like them.
I also tried the hunter's rabbit stew at O Portao - another winner. A whole small rabbit jointed and cooked in a piquant tomato-based sauce with rice, cabbage and veg. This was possibly my favourite meal, although the huge pub lunch of beef in Madeira sauce with chips was also pretty damn good.

Out and about, the best street food I had was in the hills above Monte, where a cook was baking flatbreads stuffed with chouriço on a metal sheet over a gas flame. Slathered in freshly made garlic butter, they made a filling snack for just €2.
The local poncha was disappointing - while called "rum", the alcohol content is a mere 25% and it's so sweet you don't feel like you're getting a hit of anything.
Much more interesting was my exploration of Madeira wine. A trip to Blandy's was on the cards - in 45 minutes I'd learned all about grape varietals, fermentation processes (very different to sherry) and styles. I'd always found Madeira wine to be too sweet so I was pleased to discover that the style made with the sercial grape is really dry.

And so to the real Madeira cake - the bolo de mel (literally honey bread), made from molasses from the sugar cane that grows abundantly on the island plus honey and fruits. Light, spicy and crumbly, it knocks spots off its imposter.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Lemon and ginger pork skewers

Lemon and ginger are natural bedfellows, providing a blast of heat and sweet-sour contrast. I used to buy a ready-made marinating paste when I lived in France but on my last couple of trips back I've not been able to find it. I've been experimenting for some time with a homemade version.

It's nice to be back, by the way. I've not been living on takeaways in my absence (well, ok, one or two) - it's just that life got in the way.

What you need:
125g fresh ginger
2-3 very thin-skinned lemons
Vegetable oil
Sea salt
2 slices belly pork

What to do: 
Make the lemon and ginger paste. Peel the ginger and cut it into small chunks. Chop the lemons and discard all the pips. If a lot of juice runs off, set it aside. Put the ginger and lemons into a food processor, with a generous pinch of salt and a good glug of the oil, then blitz into a smooth paste. Thin it with a little lemon juice if very stiff.

Cut the pork into bite-sized chunks, put into a bowl and rub a heaped tablespoon of the paste in. Leave in the fridge to marinate for 2-3 hours minimum, overnight if possible.

Thread onto 2 metal kebab skewers and grill for about 10 minutes, turning frequently. Serve with sweet potato and coriander mash.

Cook's tips: 
The easiest way to peel ginger root is to scrape the skin off with the tip of a teaspoon. It comes off very fast. The lemons need to be very thin-skinned because they have almost no pith and this uses whole lemons. If you can't find thin-skinned ones, you could use preserved lemons, but the paste will be much sharper in taste. Don't be afraid to tinker with the proportions if you want more heat or more lemon. And you may need to add more salt to taste.

This makes about two jam jars' worth of paste. It'll keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks and it freezes well. You can stir it into tagines and curries, or pretty much anything where you want a hit of heat and sour. It's also very nice with chicken, either grilled fillets or rubbed into slow-cooked thighs (slash the meat to get the paste right in). I've even rubbed it over a whole chicken for roasting.

Use pork fillet if you prefer a leaner cut, just be sure to reduce the grilling time so the meat doesn't overcook and turn dry.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dutch-style meatballs and beans

Meatballs are a staple of the Dutch diet - I learned this fairly soon after beginning what turned out to be a 9-year sojourn in Amsterdam. Tiny little ones floating in a bowl of tomatoey vegetable soup, great fist-sized ones grilled or fried and then drowned in gravy, bite-sized and casseroled with beans...

The latter forms the basis of a dish called gehaktballen met bruine bonen, which translates as mince (literally "chopped") balls with brown beans. Every Dutch person will have their own recipe for this but the core ingredients are the meatballs and beans, onions and tomatoes. Brown beans are native to the Netherlands and hard to find elsewhere - kidney beans or pintos are good substitutes.

I like this dish because it relies on storecupboard staples - everyone has beans and onions to hand - and it's fairly quick. It's also hearty and filling, ideal for cold weather (last week, as my city bathed in sunshine and enjoyed a balmy 11C, I was eating salads. Go figure). This is a cheat's version using sausages that I make when I have no meatballs to hand, or mince to make any.

What you need:
2 beef sausages
1 onion
Small tin of kidney beans
2 tomatoes
Tomato purée
Worcestershire sauce

What to do:
Peel the onion and, leaving the root intact, cut it into 8 wedges. Heat a generous splash of vegetable oil in a sauteuse and fry the onions until they soften and start to caramelise. Cut the sausages into meatball-sized pieces and add to the pan.

Rinse the beans well and cut the tomatoes into wedges. As soon as the sausage pieces have browned, add the beans and tomatoes to the pan. Squirt in about a dessert-spoon of tomato purée and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Add enough water from a freshly boiled kettle to create a thick gravy, jam a tight lid on the pan and leave it to cook on a low hob for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes are collapsing.

Cook's tips:
The sausages should yield 8-10 pieces. If you're making meatballs, you want about 6-8 and they should be the size of an apricot.

A half-tin of tomatoes replaces the fresh tomatoes if you have none. Adjust the amount of tomato purée in that case.

Parsley is often added to this dish, both during the cooking and as a garnish.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Parmesan roasted chicory

Chicory is very underrated. We don't eat much of it here and it mostly seems to get sliced into salads. Its slightly bitter taste may be a reason for its unpopularity - across the Channel it's eaten widely and braising or roasting it mellows the bitterness and wilts the leaves into a soft, lush heap.

This very simple dish has only three ingredients and is surprisingly filling. I usually make it as a standalone meal but if I'm really hungry I'll grill a lamb chop to accompany.

What you need:
2-3 chicory heads
Olive oil
About 1 tbsp grated Parmesan

What to do:
Heat the oven to 180C. Halve the chicory heads lengthways and put cut side up in an oven dish. Drizzle over a little oil and season lightly. Cover with tin foil or a lid and bake for 30 minutes.

Take it out of the oven and remove the foil. Sprinkle over the Parmesan and return to the oven uncovered for another 30-40 minutes until the chicory has caramelised round the edges and the cheese has formed a crispy golden crust.

Cook's tips:
Make sure the chicory, either white or red, is super-fresh. Once it's on the turn it becomes more bitter. 

For a more substantial meal, you can add some chopped bacon or lardons before you put the Parmesan on. You can gratinée it by mixing the cheese with breadcrumbs.

You can roast fennel this way too - use 2 small bulbs halved or 1 large one quartered. Fennel is a natural partner for pork and good quality sausages are a good match here - you can roast them in the dish with the fennel once the foil is off.