Monday, 1 March 2010
Sad, sad news today that the co founder of The River Cafe has passed away at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer. The fact that a 26 year old plasterer sits and writes this with a lump in his throat is testament to this great cooks influence on British food over the past 20 or so years. She will be sorely missed.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Carrots are so important and versatile. Either added to the pot along with onion and celery (to become the classic soup and sauce base soffritto) or boiled and tossed with a knob of butter, they add a vegetal sweetness rarely matched. Forget the hideous luminous strips of your school dinner days (you know, the ones that seem to have been boiled for half a day in Radox), carrots can be a treat. My favorite way to prepare the enormous winter ones we receive in our weekly veg box is to fry them in thick slices until golden brown and tender then dressed with a few drips of syrupy aged balsamic vinegar. A match made in heaven.
Peel then slice the carrots on the diagonal, about half a centimeter. Get a deep sided saute pan hot and add a good glug of olive oil. Toss in the carrots and sizzle until you get a good all over brown on them. Season well then turn down the heat and leave to cook until just tender and toffee sweet. Remove the beauties with a slotted spoon to a warm plate and dribble over some excellent balsamic. Belazu is a good brand that can be found in most supermarkets. Enjoy!
Friday, 12 February 2010
Squid is one of those ingredients you either love or hate. There seems to be no middle ground. Enthusiasts are only too happy to polish off vast platefuls of this slippery cephalopod, while those who are in the hate camp lambaste it as being chewy or like eating rubber bands. Well I say to those that aren't in love with squid that they simply haven't eaten them cooked properly. Chargrilled over coals and served with a chilli sauce, deep fried till crisp with a squeeze of lemon are the fast cooking methods most suited to smaller, younger squid. While a long slow bubble with tomato, garlic, herbs and wine is best for anything larger than your hand. I usually go for the smaller squids and recently decided to deep fry some.
After being opened out and cleaned, I score the inside of the squid in a criss cross fashion. This helps to both tenderise the squid and help it curl and crisp up during cooking. The squid is then sliced up in any old style and dredged with fine semolina flour, salt and pepper. Get a deep fat fryer heated to maximum and drop the squid in, being careful not to overfill the pan. A few minutes should be sufficient to achieve tender squid surrounded by a crispy armour. Drain, season, dump on a plate and drip over some fresh lemon. Eat quickly with as much gusto as possible. And don't be squeamish about the tentacles.
Monday, 1 February 2010
Last Saturday I invited Mum and Dad round for a bit of a feast. No particular reason other than I was desperate to spend a day in the kitchen. And to see the parents obviously!!
After spending an exhausting fourteen hour day as commis at Theo Randall on Park Lane and eating the finest stuffed pasta I have eaten in London, I decided to put my own spin on his amazing Veal Cappelletti. Cappelletti literally means "little hats", although I can't say I have ever seen anyone wearing a hat quite in that shape.
I started the meal with a Prosecco and champagne rhubarb cocktail and some antipasti. I roasted the rhubarb with some beautiful Sicilian blood orange juice and vanilla before blending it up with a load of sugar. The resulting intense, cerise pink puree is then just mixed up with prosecco for a lovely seasonal tipple. I made some deep fried courgette chips, which I forgot to take a picture of, and we had some Coppa and Prosciutto with olives.
Then I served the cappelletti that I had made earlier in the day. I had slow cooked some beef with wine, herbs and tomatoes and roughly chopped the mix before combining with a good grating of Parmesan. This mixture gets loaded into fresh pasta before being boiled then tossed in melted butter with a dusting of yet more Parmigiano. Heavenly.
For a second course I simply roasted some beautiful Halibut steaks with parsley and capers and served them with slow cooked fennel. I got the fish from the fantastic local fishmonger. A real fishmonger who only sells the freshest most sublime fish. I have even seen fish so fresh it arrives still in rigor mortis!
To finish this eating marathon I dished up a cake from Nigel Slater's book, Appetite. Hazelnut, Coffee and Chocolate in the same pud is something I adore. It was a grown up, luxurious treat to finish a lovely evening with good company and one I will probably end up making again and again as it was so easy.
Monday, 25 January 2010
A "bacaro" is a Venetian tapas style place. A place to enjoy a drink and some small plates of various bits and bobs. The sort of bar come restaurant that I wish I lived round the corner from. It just so happens one has opened on Soho's Beak Street. So being in the smoke for a few days I had to see what it was like.
Polpo operate a no booking system for dinner and being impatient in a queue we decided to book for lunch. A long L-shaped bar strewn with people merrily eating and drinking, greets you as you enter. We were led to our table, at the impossibly small rear of the restaurant, with elbows firmly tucked in to avoid knocking a glass of prosecco out of someones hand. After a short browse of the menu we ordered an array of dishes to get a real feel for the food. Prices range from just over a quid to around seven pounds for the bigger main course style dishes. We started with a few "Cicheti"to go with our glasses of Bellini. Anchovy and chickpea crostini, salt cod on grilled polenta, two crunchy arancini (deep fried risotto balls filled with melting mozzarella) and a Tapenade and Tomato mini pizza. All the dishes were good but the mini pizza was excellent.
We were advised by the friendly waiter to stop ordering any more mains after our fifth. These included pork belly with hazelnuts and radicchio, split pea and prosciutto risotto, cotechino with cabbage and mustard, slow cooked duck with tomato and olives, fritto misto of sea food and a side of spinach with garlic and chilli. It really wasn't as ridiculous amount of food as it sounds. All the dishes are served on side plates and we shared everything, although I "shared" a little bit more than my girlfriend. My favourite dish was the fritto misto, a mound of squid, anchovies and prawns deep fried in a thin batter. No two words excite me more on a menu than "fritto misto" and this example didn't disappoint.
I finished my meal with a wedge of orange and almond cake and a double espresso. The coffee being one of the few down sides to a very good lazy lunch.
Memorable: The relaxed sharing plates concept and reasonable prices ( all that food and drink for £65!)
Forgettable: Coffee and the irritating me, me, me woman who was sat too close to ignore.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Polpette, or meatballs, are vastly underrated. My first experience of these savoury spheres was from a Campbell's tin. Yum! And I'm sure alot of people who have had hunger pangs whilst traipsing round the famous Scandinavian furniture stores, have eaten a plate of their Swedish meatballs. Italian Americans in New York tend to eat theirs as " spageddi n meatbawls". They are cheap to make and the sauce you cook them in can be tossed with some pasta as a first course. This recipe will serve six if you serve pasta first.
Mix 500g each of minced beef and pork along with 100g bread crumbs, 2 eggs, handful of freshly grated parmesan, chopped parsley or sage and a good dose of salt and pepper. Make sure the mix is well combined before shaping into balls as large or small as you desire. Roll the balls in some semolina and transfer to a tray dusted with more semolina and place in the fridge to firm up while you make your sauce.
To make the sauce, fry a large red onion in a good glug of olive oil until soft in a casserole style pan. Then add one clove of garlic crushed or finely chopped. Add two tins of plum tomatoes whizzed up till smooth or some passata and bring to a steady simmer. The next thing to do is to fry your polpetti to get a nice crust before adding to your sauce. You will probably have to this in batches as overloading the pan will stop a crust from developing. When all the polpetti have been added to the sauce, turn the heat down to a low bubble and leave to slowly cook for a couple of hours covered with a lid. Before serving test the sauce for seasoning, I sometimes add a swig of red wine vinegar to sharpen the flavours. Dish up a few balls with a slick of the meaty sauce. A dusting of parmesan is optional, I don't bother!
Sunday, 17 January 2010
It seems fitting that the first restaurant I am writing about is the very place that inspired me to take food seriously.
From browsing the books to watching the TV series, I had wanted to visit the River Cafe for years. When I finally ate there in 2007, with my girlfriend for my birthday, it was love at first site.
So on a cold, damp Saturday in January I took my Mum to show her what all the fuss was about.
Situated in Hammersmith a stones throw from the Thames, it is nicely away from the day trippers and walking billboards that clutter the streets in the west end. After a bit of a walk from the underground you suddenly stumble across a place that, from the outside, looks more art studio than foodie mecca. Friendly staff are on hand when you enter to hide away sodden outerwear and guide you to your table. That's when the sensory overload begins. Dotted among the intense royal blue carpet are tables packed with chatty people sharing pagnotta bread, langoustines, Chianti or whatever else happens to be on the twice daily changing menu. Like all good restaurants the soundtrack to the room is laughter, talking and the clattering of knives and forks. Directly ahead as you enter, at the far side, is the wood burning oven that dominates the room. Chefs busily preparing fresh pastas and chargrilling goodies, can be seen in the kitchen that is open for all to see. We took our seats, ordered an aperitvo of prosecco with pomegranate and tried to achieve the near on impossibility of choosing what to eat. We both ordered antipasti, primi and secondi in true Italian style. I plumped for the deep fried artichokes, a Jewish speciality from Rome, and Mum went for the chargrilled squid. Both dishes were a lesson in letting great ingredients speak for themselves. The artichokes were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle and enlivened by a last minute squeeze of lemon. Mum's squid was soft but toothsome and woken up with chopped chillies, a perfect combo. Pasta was then served in the guise of Pappardelle with slow cooked game and Linguine with crab. Both pastas were expertly turned out, being both silky and lightly dressed, exactly how you eat pasta in Italy. A bit of a pause was most welcome as we prepared ourselves for dishes of chargrilled lamb and wood roasted turbot. The lamb came with borlotti beans and roasted pumpkin, but what made the dish sing was the addition of a warm olive sauce. My turbot was seasoned with marjoram and capers and roasted in the intense heat of the wood oven. Served along with garlic and mint stuffed artichokes and spinach, it managed to be both light and intensely flavored. Although at this point we were bursting at the seams, we couldn't resist a pud and went for the lemon tart. This dish summed up all I love about the River Cafe. Dished up on a plate in a big wedge with a dollop of rich creme fraiche, it didn't need the unnecessary dusting of icing sugar or sprig of mint. The tart was sharp with lemon but smooth with egg, like a great lemon curd. The pastry was crumbly and dissolved in the mouth. After an espresso and a cup of tea we settled the bill and embarked on a much needed walk along the Thames to reflect on a superb meal.
If only I could eat here all day everyday. Then I know I would die having eaten my perfect last meal. If you ever get the chance, go! Then you can see what all the fuss is about.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
I put chickpeas before lamb in the title of this post because of the extra effort it takes to cook dried chickpeas. It is the same with any of the dried legumes and pulses. And if you try this I hope you will agree the effort is worth it. I used the method from the latest River Cafe book.
The hard work for the lamb was already done before I bought it, by the incredible organic farm shop just up the road.
500g Dried Chickpeas (look for a use by date as distant as possible)
2 Peeled potatoes
Bulb of Garlic
Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours with one of the peeled potatoes. The acid in the potatoes helps to soften the skin. The following day you drain the chickpeas and discard the potato. Put the chickpeas into a large pan and cover generously with cold water, the other peeled potato, a big sprig of rosemary and half the bulb of garlic unpeeled. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. This depends on the age of the chickpeas, but it should be between 1 and 1 and a half hours. When they are soft and buttery, drain them and discard the potato, garlic and rosemary. Warm another sprig or two of rosemary and the rest of the unpeeled garlic cloves with some olive oil in a pan to infuse the oil. Add the drained chickpeas and sizzle over a low heat while you deal with the lamb.
The piece of Lamb I used was from the top of the leg. I got the butcher to remove the bone and butterfly it ready for the char grill. I remove the lamb from the fridge a good hour before I start to cook it. Get the char grill heating up for a good ten minutes on a high heat, so it is searingly hot and heat the oven to its highest temperature. Then season the lamb well with salt, pepper and rub it over with olive oil. Wack the lamb on the char grill and leave well alone for a good few minutes to develop a good savoury crust. Turn it once and char the other side, before sticking it in the oven on a tray for around ten minutes. This should give you meat that is a beautiful rosy pink. Let it rest before slicing while you get the rest of the meal ready.
When i cook this sort of meal I usually just serve some braised greens. Either spring greens, cavolo nero, chard or in my dream world an Italian green called cime di rape. I blanch the greens until tender, then toss in a pan with oil and any number of flavorings. Dried chilli, salted anchovies and garlic to name a few. Bitter greens work particularly well with these punchy seasonings, as do acids such as wine vinegars and lemon.
After the lamb has rested for a good ten minutes pop it back into the oven you have warmed your plates in, to bring the meat back up to temperature. Slice the meat and serve with the greens and chickpeas.
Friday, 8 January 2010
Welcome to my Blog. A blog about living, breathing and sleeping all things edible. I am a twenty something male, living in North Norfolk UK.
I have dedicated my life to all things food. Italian in particular. I eat it, cook it, read it, smell it, watch it, dream it, lust after it.
By writing this blog I am hoping to spread the word that great food is a right, NOT a privilege. I am going to record some recipes of dishes that I cook regularly. As well as offer my views on the restaurants and other eating establishments I visit. Be it in Norfolk, London or anywhere else for that matter.
I am hoping to add photos as well, as soon as I learn how!!
PS. apologies in advance for spelling and punctuation mistakes.