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Some dregs of Christmas last a long, long time, but who wants a taste of the festive season while Spring’s in full swing? With all the sunshine bouncing about, it’s time for a tart.  Stilton: sufficiently patriotic for a royal wedding;  walnuts: perfect nibbling for a long, long weekend.  So  here’s my Stilton and celery tart in walnut pastry, made of yuletide leftovers dredged from the depths of the freezer, with a savoury spring in its step.  Talk about resurrection….

Walnut pastry

100 g walnuts
200 g plain flour
100 g cold unsalted butter, diced
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
1-2 tbsp cold water if needed to bind

Grind the walnuts finely on the pulse setting of your food processor; add the flour with a pinch of salt and pulse to combine.  Add the butter, pulse again until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, then add the egg incrementally through the funnel, pulsing gently all the while.  As soon as the mixture looks like it’s starting to come together, stop!  If it doesn’t, add a tablespoon of cold water, then check again: it will.

Turn out the mix onto a floured surface and roll out gently or press it together with your fingers, then use it to line a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin to about the thickness of a pound coin.  Cut away the excess but don’t trim the edges yet, place it on an oven tray (you don’t want the bottom falling out) then cover with a plastic bag (or cling film if you must) and refrigerate 30 minutes or so.  This will let the pastry “rest” as the flour absorbs the fat and moisture.  I think we all know by now that it will shrink dismally in the oven if you omit this step.

Bake blind at 190C/Gas 5 for 15-20 minutes until the edges are starting to colour, remove baking beans* and prick bottom all over with a fork then return to the oven for a further 5 – 10 minutes until that looks nicely cooked through. Remove from the oven and, once it has cooled enough just enough to handle, trim the pastry edge level with the top of the tin.  Reduce oven temperature to 180C /Gas 4.

Stilton & celery filling

25 g butter, unsalted as ever
1 leek, shredded
3-4 sticks celery with leaves, finely chopped
250 ml double cream or as I did, a mixture of DC and fromage frais
4 eggs, beaten
200 g-odd Stilton (frozen leftover Texford & Tebbutt is terrific – thaw before using!)

Melt the butter in a sauté pan and fry the leeks and celery with a good grinding of black pepper – and a whisper of freshly grated nutmeg if you like such things – gently until softened, but still with a bit of texture.  Cool slightly then sprinkle across the base of the tart case.  Crumble the Stilton evenly over the vegetables.  Stir the dairy liquid into the egg yolks to amalgamate, then pour over the Stilton and vegetables.

Gently transfer the tart into the oven – middle shelf – to bake 30 minutes approximately; the second the centre stops wobbling take it out to cool.  Serve a green salad with a sharp dressing on the side.

Incidentally, liquid legacies from last December, Sainsbury’s TTD Dry Amontillado and Oloroso sherries,  made an auspiciously deliciously happy marriage with these punchy flavours.

*my baking beans have gone awol so I substituted with glass nuggets (the kind used in floristry), which seemed to work just as well.

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our bill for lunch at Le Cafe Anglais

Well, fo-di-oh-dee; what a wonderful weekend!  Kicked it off on Maundy Thursday with a visit to the remarkably beautiful Le Café Anglais, courtesy of their magnanimous Friend for a Fiver offer: this consisted of halving the total food bill for the two of us and adding just five pounds to the remainder.  For the mathematically minded, our alimental equation was thus:

£ (12+9.5+24.5+29.5+3)/2 +5 = £44.25

And what a terrific deal: we descended as a pair of locusts  intent of bankrupting Rowley Leigh by our greed but, on finding ourselves defeated by the gentlemanly generosity of his portioning, declined dessert.  A cover charge, wine, coffee and service boosted the bill considerably, but every penny was worth the spend.  What a thrill to sip chilled Saumur  (blanc et rouge), over a sunny spring luncheon in such stunning surroundings: a total treat.

No pix though; I’ve become a bit squeamish about photo-ing food in public and there are plenty already online… suffice to say the icy oysters could not have been fresher, a holy trio of hors d’oeuvres lived up to their legendary status, the St. George’s mushrooms were an earthly delight, the salsify cooked to perfection – yes, every complimentary cliché about this place is true.  And as far as I’m concerned, no photo could do justice to the majesty of the art deco architectonics either.  I recommend you go and enjoy.

Talk about putting a spring in our step; we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling across the western edge of Hyde Park,  admiring the view from the upper deck of a Number 9 bus before winding our way across Soho and Covent Garden to Charing Cross and then home.

Well, with the stunning weekend weather I think we all felt a bit resurrected by Easter Monday; fit and ready for fresh somethings – anythings after the long winter hibernation.  But, having forgotten to go to the farmers’ market on Saturday our only “fresh” fixings were frozen peas.  What? Ok, frozen peas: they’re “fresher” than fresh peas, so there.  What was at first a disappointment and a waste of ingredients I transformed into something that blew us all away, hooray:  fresh herbs and fresh ricotta can take you a long, long way.

pea, lettuce & lovage soup with pea & ricotta bruschetta

The soup took inspiration from Mark Hix’s multiple versions on The Independent’s website, or those given by Hugh Fearnley-Wittingshall at various locations.  I did it this way:
Soup
a goodly knob of butter – about 15g or 1/2 oz
1 or 2 leeks, washed and shredded
1 little gem lettuce, shredded
200g frozen peas
500 ml vegetable stock (I haul out the Swiss Marigold)
6 lovage leaves (strong flavour, taste as you go)
salt, pepper

Sweat the leeks in the butter until soft, about 10 minutes. Add lettuce and peas, turn to coat in butter and soften gently under a lid for 5 minutes-odd. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil then cover and simmer until the peas are tender – about 10 minutes. Blend, adding lovage leaves gingerly, tasting all the while. If, like me, you have a not-very-good hand blender it won’t do a great job and your soup will never attain the desired smoothness. I kept going to no avail, so eventually decided to sieve it. This produced a fine-flavoured thin soup and a mountain of debris – far too much to waste indeed, hence the bruschetta.
Bruschetta with pea and ricotta
leftovers from sieving pea soup
sufficient ricotta to lighten the leftovers to a spreadable consistency (2 tablespoons perhaps)
a grating of fresh lemon zest
several drops fresh lemon juice
small sprig fresh mint, chopped fine
a scattering of fresh chives, chopped fine
one small clove fresh garlic, any central green shoot removed
a couple of slices pain de campagne
a drizzle (YES – a drizzle) extra virgin olive oil, or, even better, lemon oil

Stir together the pea solids and ricotta, add the herbs to taste and season.  Grill the bread on both sides, and once lightly toasted, rub the garlic clove  over the surface, as when making Pa Amb Oli (minus the tomato, natch).  Top with the pea and ricotta mixture, apply the drizzle of oil and sprinkle with the scatter of herbs.  Serve the soup in small cups alongside the bruschetta.

ps – I can report that the soup tastes just as good, if not better, chilled the next day – perfect for the hot weather of late.

Le Cafe Anglais on Urbanspoon

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Somewhere between ratatouille and caponata lies the Spanish Pisto Manchego, (pedestrian translation: slow cooked summer vegetables) cooked without hurrying to a lambent jamminess, in contrast to the toothsome integrity of each separately sauteed vegetable in a Provençal ratatoille nicoise or the pickle-icious unctuousness of the small dice caponata.

I use Elizabeth Luard’s recipe from The Food of Spain and Portugal: a regional celebration.  She notes:

The essential ingredients are the aubergine, the garlic and the olive oil – everything else is negotiable.

(more…)

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enoki-dokey

Who could resist a heavily discounted package of enoki mushrooms?  And yet it comes with a dilemma: what to do with the contents…

enoki wrapped in pancetta with chives

I don’t do stir-fry, which puts 90% of recipe suggestions out of the question,  I don’t subscribe to that (largely north american) practice of throwing a number of costly ingredients together in a bowl and calling it a salad, and neither am I keen on mushrooms in their raw state;  options diminishing by the nano-second.   But I dislike wasting food more than anything:  time to get my imagination into gear.

Inspiration wafted up from the pages of  Lorenza’s Antipasti. This fab charity shop find delivers masses of recipes but also, and what I love most of all in any decent cookbook, interesting and informative introductions to its several sections: lots of text!  It’s beautifully organised: Part I is a pair of essays, Types of Antipasti and The Antipasto Pantry, while Parts II and III are Finger Food and Fork Food respectively, both sub-divided, and Part IV is Preserves and Basics.

I used the method for rotolini – or involtini – and wrapped a few enoki with chives in half-slices of pancetta and baked them for about 15 minutes at Gas 4-ish (375F, 190C, moderate-to-hot) to crisp: simple, genius!

photo of enoki and pancetta rollsA delightful nibble, with the appearance – and texture even – of some strange sea-creature; a hitherto unknown species of squid, perhaps?  Definitely to be repeated; this time I seasoned with nutmeg and ground Espelette pepper but next time, furthering the seafood idea, a sprinkle of dashi-no-moto and some shredded nori could be killer-delish: watch this space…

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ephemeral art

Some folk see the Virgin Mary in a slice of toast and some folk see just a piece of toast


whereas I see a Keith Haring in my sink: put some sausages on a tray, bake them in the oven, eat the sausages and make some art while it soaks.  Amazing what you can do with a pound of chipolatas, eh?  But seriously, those earth colours and Rothko edges just blow me away, so I give you a strangely fitting quote from Madonna in Vogue:

“Beauty’s where you find it (not just where you bump and grind it)

or eat it…

and I can’t risk !! resist including a weirdly Chris Ofili-like version of the same phenomenon taken the following morning, complete with stunning glinty bits:

Very little image manipulation went into the making of this post, btw, I just selected for different light settings.

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Hugh Fearnley-Wittingshall’s article in the Observer had me all steamed up the other week.  An ice age having passed since I last made a savoury steamed pudding and the extended winter chill providing exactly the right context, it was a touch frustrating to not fancy Hugh’s suggestions. But with an imminent delivery from the Blackface Meat Co. forcing a bit of a clear-out, a little frozen package of mixed feathered game sprang before my gunsight.

Steamed game pudding assembled without suet pastry lid

During the long google-trawl for appealing alternatives I came across Claire MacDonald’s recipe in the Scotsman, which featured an irresistibly fragrant-sounding lemon and thyme suet crust:
lemon and thyme suet pastry lid which more than lived up to its promise after a 3-hour steaming
mixed feathered game pudding in a lemon and thyme suet crust

Delectable, golden suet pastry encased an aromatic cascade of tender morsels:
a great result partnered perfectly by this Pinot Noir from the Pfalz.

Steamed Game Pudding

lemon & thyme suet pastry
300g plain flour
1 TBS baking powder
150g shredded suet
1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper
finely grated rind of 1 lemon
about 1 TBS fresh thyme leaves
a little cold water – approx 50ml

Butter a 1.5 litre pudding basin. Put the suet in a mixing bowl and sieve over the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the lemon rind and thyme leaves then, initially stirring with a fork, add only just enough cold water to make the pastry come together in your hands.

Cut off about a quarter of the pastry and roll it to a circle of the same diameter as the top of your pudding basin. Roll out the rest of the pastry nice and thinly and use it to line the pudding basin.

game filling
500ml bold red wine – I used corked Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon
5 or so juniper berries, crushed, and a sprig of thyme
375g pack mixed feathered game pack from Waitrose
50g button mushrooms
1 TBS flour, seasoned with salt & pepper
2 shallots diced fine
a bayleaf
1 can game consommé

Boil the wine with the juniper berries and thyme to reduce by half, then leave to cool: strain. Check over the game pieces, removing any obvious sinews, and toss them with the shallots and mushrooms in the seasoned flour, making sure everything is lightly coated. Pack the lot loosely into the pastry-lined pudding bowl and carefully pour over the reduced wine.  Inveigle the bayleaf into the centre. Help the wine soak down by easing a knife or spoon handle between the chunks of filling, then top up with game consommé to almost cover; if there’s any left over heat it and serve as extra gravy.  Lightly dampen the edge of the pastry disc then place it on top of the pud and seal together the edges all around. Put a disc of baking parchment over the pastry then double wrap the whole in tin foil, leaving plenty of room for expansion by making a pleat over the top. Put this package on a trivet in a large saucepan and pour in boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the pudding basin.  Cover and steam gently for 3 hours.
Remove from pan, unwrap gingerly, then invert onto a deep-rimmed dish and serve with buttered kale, steamed carrots and a large serving of pride.

Disclaimer

Thrilled to bits with this magical dome I made it again last weekend with the Blackface equivalent: not such a good result by any stretch. Whereas Waitrose game packs consist solely of our feathered friends, Blackface’s Game Mix seemed much more of a four-footed mixture – frustratingly not identified on the pack. Cut larger, some bits were frankly gnarly and the whole better suited to quick searing followed by a long, slow braise than relatively rapid steaming-from-raw. Mr. T. liked it fine but he’s a carnivore’s carnivore and enjoys a good chew.  This showed up the one big disadvantage of a steamed pudding: it requires a leap of faith as there’s no way of checking how it’s coming along and you simply have to live with the consequences once it’s cut open; quite the Pandora’s box.  So, no more game pudding until next autumn but hey, we’ve got a mighty game stew to look forward to before this winter’s out…

Update:
I emailed Blackface to ask what was in their game mix and their very prompt reply stated:

You received your order on the 18th February therefore the seasonal game pie mix would have contained approx 70% venison and the remaining amount made up with woodpigeon, rabbit and hare.

so there you go!

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¿Cocido? ¡indeedo!

2 bowls of chickpeas and pork products Spanish-style

Chickpeas – a gift from the gods and a staple over here at Gastro Towers.   They’re notoriously tricky to cook, but ever since I learnt their secret of success – do it in earthenware and keep them hot & wet until tender, by the way – it’s been plain sailing.   In hommage to one memorable lunch in a Barcelona working man’s café (no trendy tapas types in that rinconcito) I riff on their basic premise: legumes long-simmered with barely identifiable cured pork products;  nuggets of ham, chunks of chorizo and morsels of morcilla bobbing about amongst root vegetable hunks dropping anchor in a spicy broth.  Add a tangle of shredded cabbage and you have a warming one-pot dish that improves over however long your leftovers last: an unbeatable bowl full of beautiful flavours.

chickpea chorizo stew with ham and morcilla

When it’s been a while since the last time I refer as always to the ever-reliable Elizabeth Luard’s The Food of Spain and Portugal.  When chickpeas are the legume in question I work from her recipe for Cocido Madrileño, but adapt the meat main players to match those inhabiting my fridge;  I suggest you do the same until comfortable with the routine, which stripped down to skeleton basics is cooking everything together on a long, steady simmer.  Get the chickpeas right and the rest follows suit.  Don’t know about you but I think when it comes to traditional recipes, striving for authenticity out of context is an absurdity, what’s imperative is to stay within the spirit.  And I like to think I do…

Cocido Madrileño comes to Kent – serves 2 twice

250g dried chickpeas (a cup and a half or so)
optional but nice: a pinch of saffron, lightly toasted – I do it in a serving spoon held over a gas flame
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 onion, cut in sixths through the root, stud 3 segments with a clove
2 ribs celery, in 2cm slices
2 large carrots, sliced in 5cm hunks
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 juvenile turnips, chopped in 2cm pieces (no need to peel if sufficiently young)
same again but with waxy potatoes (if you remember, unlike me)
2 bay leaves and some parsley stalks tied into a faggot – these silicone cooking bands do a great job
1/2 a small savoy cabbage, shredded fine
olive oil

Indispensable Meats, rations approximate

  • dry-cured ham or bacon, cut into lardons – about 100g?
  • chorizo – 1/2 a supermarket one
  • morcilla – 2 or 3

Ms Luard utilises a chicken in her cocido but I don’t fancy that idea at all and would rather stick with pork: remember what I said about authenticity!

Method

Rinse, then soak chickpeas overnight in plenty of water in their earthenware pot. Drain, then add enough water to cover by 5cm.  Add the ham and chorizo (in one piece), onion, celery and carrots, plus garlic cloves and the faggot of herbs – don’t stir in any of these additions, just let them sit on top of the chickpeas – then top up with water to barely cover them.   Pour  over a couple of quick glugs of olive oil.  Place over gentle heat and replace lid.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.

Reach down with a spoon through the vegetables to the chickpeas and retrieve a couple to check if they’re tender.   They should be, but if not cook another 30 minutes or so and check again.  When all is well add the turnips, potatoes and cabbage: stir these into the pot and return to a simmer.  Place the morcilla on top and cook through gently for half an hour to an hour – whenever you’re ready to eat, this stew will happily oblige.  Retrieve and discard the herbs, slice the chorizo thickly and remove the strings, if any, from the morcilla – which should have broken up into delicious crumbly bits and stained the cooking liquid an enticingly dark hue – then return these to the cooking pot, stir about a bit then ladle generously into shallow soup plates.  Serve with some good, honest bread and sleep well afterwards.

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