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Archive for the ‘slow food’ Category

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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Treat time at Waitrose: Tarocco “blush” oranges are on the shelves again, it’s Blood Orange season!tarocco

Much as I disapprove in theory, I do understand blood oranges’ rebranding to something a little less daunting; I remember as a child when presented with a carefully peeled and segmented Blood Orange I used to wonder if it really might be blood I was eating, and if so, whose, and how did it get there and how did they die – and then losing my appetite.  It’s a hard sell to the impressionable.

Blush might not be original nor evoke the sunshine blazing from the heart of each fruit, but if it means we can still get hold of these sparkling gems of the citrus world then I’m all for it, and as wrote Shakespeare for Juliet,

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

And the Tarocco is certainly sweet:   it’s one of the world’s most popular oranges, apparently, thanks to its sweetness, juciness AND glorious subtleties of flavour.    I’m told it also happens to contain the highest Vitamin C content of any orange variety grown in the world, PLUS a bucketful of anthocyanin antioxidants (thanks to the red bits).  As if that weren’t temptation enough the wonderful Tarocco is seedless and its thin skin is easy to peel – very little pith too.

It’s also pretty right-on, what with having its own AOC – or is that IGT – or DOP?  Not sure, but it’s EU protected, its production having been under threat from the ubiquitous and frankly dull in comparison Navel and Valencia oranges (of no fixed abode).  BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme about blood/blush orange growing in Sicily is excellent, full of information and an aural evocation of sunny Sicily, most welcome with our bleak British winter as yet unwilling to relinquish its icy grip: listen again and again…

I don’t advocate doing anything with a Tarocco during its short season of availability other than devouring it raw and alone (the orange, that is).  You could admire its rosy beauty in a salad with chicory or fennel with a strew of black olives, but don’t waste the exuberance of its flavour and fragrance by cooking a Tarocco – better buy a Seville for that.

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duck fat galoreFollowing the laziest roast crispy duck in history my duck fat jar runneth over … almost.  So it should see us through the coming winter unless we take it into our heads to make confit and, considering the mess involved, I rather hope we don’t.

Duck fat is by far the best medium for roasting potatoes or greasing Yorkshire pudding tins and it’s ever my fat of choice for browning winter casseroles or starting off any dishes from the Basque or Languedoc regions.   Now I know goose fat is supposed to be even better, but given the price of a goose you might as well resign yourself to buying a tin of it and forego the satisfaction of making your own.  But duck fat is different: easier to come by and a most inconvenient waste product to dispose of if you can’t be bothered to save it.  If prepared with a modicum of care and kept in a reasonably cool and dark place it will survive for yonks outside the fridge: I keep mine on a shelf in the garage.

Just pour off the rendered fat during and after roasting a duck plain and slow (eg 6 to 7 hours at 140C) and leave it to cool overnight in the fridge.  Lift the fat away from any stray juices lurking underneath then reheat it to liquify.  Any moisture will bubble away, so when its puttering stops strain the liquid fat through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of muslin or even kitchen roll into a sterilised preserving jar and seal.  Discard the brown bits!  Enjoy its golden glow fading to white as it cools then hoard and scoop out as needed with a clean, dry spoon.

Depending on size one easily-available Gressingham duck should render at least 250ml fat. If you do nothing else with it, use a couple of tablespoons for roasting potatoes and greasing your Yorkshire pudding tin: you’ll be glad you did.

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fresh home made ricotta with muslin imprint
I don’t know about you, but I adore la cucina casalinga – Italian regional home cooking – so simple, so hearty, so life-affirming; but dependent as it is on the quality of ingredients, my heart used to sink whenever a recipe called for fresh ricotta. There’s no such thing for sale in my home town, no matter what the supermarkets say; it will never be fresh enough and they may as well seal it in a coffin as in anything with a bar code, for its soul will have high-tailed it out of there long before the lid snaps shut.

So with the summery weather (where did that go?) my time was ripe for making fresh cheese and serendipitously, The New York Times felt the same way. With instructions so elegantly simple all I needed was to calculate a couple of unit conversions, dig out a candy thermometer, snip off some muslin, then find me some buttermilk.

Fresh home made ricotta

heating the milk

heating the milk

Equipment

large, heavy based pan
thermometer
heat-resistant spatula
large sieve or colander
1 m² muslin/cheesecloth
fine mesh skimmer

Ingredients

2 litres whole milk
500 ml buttermilk
1 TBS salt

forming curds

forming curds

Combine milks in the pan, add salt and heat steadily to 70C, running the spatula gently across the bottom to prevent sticking. Stop stirring and heat to 80C, then remove the pan from the heat and allow curds to form for 5 minutes. Then, very very gently, skim off the curds and transfer to a sieve lined with 4 layers of muslin sterilised with boiling water.

draining curds in muslin

draining curds in muslin

Drain for 15 minutes, then decide if the moisture content is what you were hoping for.  For a drier curd, gather up the corners of the muslin and make a bag by securing with string or a sturdy rubber band and suspend it over a drip receptacle in the fridge (some simple improvisation called for here – I used a herb drying hook but a strong spoon or knife across the shelf above would work).

Peel away the muslin for immediate use in sweet or savoury dishes; alternatively, place the ricotta in a lidded container and refrigerate but use early; it doesn’t keep well although I’m told it freezes brilliantly.

So delighted to have such delectable stuff to hand we abandoned the idea of recipes entirely and savoured its snow-white tang with some chopped fresh oregano from the garden: spread over toasted slices of homemade artisan bread scraped ever-so lightly with garlic and topped with a drop or two of Alziari olive oil, it made immaculate bruschetti.

artisanal boule, homemade ricotta with fresh oregano

The following day ricotta spoonfuls perched prettily on top of a Menorcan vegetable soup splashed with a good and grassy Sicilian olive oil; a terrific trio.  In the picture below you can see the difference between ricotta made with two types of milk: goat’s milk for the first batch is on the upper left (easier to find than sheep’s) and cow’s milk alone is at the lower right; I found the goat milk’s texture and flavour superior to that of the cows, but both were better than any supermarket substitute.

ricotta made with goat's and buttermilk and all cow made with vinegar

Two essential yet priceless ingredients of ricotta are patience and gentleness, neither of which are my strengths exactly, but the process fosters a contemplative calmness. Trying too hard – stirring too much, squeezing too tight – will transmogrify the cheese into tiny, useless grains of curdled milk which may even drain away before your eyes right through the muslin, and that’s a more than palatable life lesson: take it gentle, take it slow and you’ll find there’s nothing bitter at all about this learning experience.

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fregola grains
Last time I visited Fortnum & Mason I picked up a packet of fregola sarda.  Interesting stuff, fregola: it’s pasta, but of Sardinian origin and in appearance it’s couscous on steroids, reminiscent of pollen grains at a billion magnification.  Also, unlike any pasta I can think of, fregola nuggets are toasted, which not only explains the colour variations, but also adds quite a bit of flavour complexity – well, for pasta anyway – due to the Maillard Reactions.  Cooked, fregola makes interesting eating; having been dried v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y it makes for a goodly chew, and the starch on the surface of each mini boule of semolina thickens the broth slightly: I hesitate to use the term slime for reasons obvious, but aficionados will appreciate my meaning.  It’s novel, but delicious and satisfying.

Fregola Sarda is traditionally served in a shellfish broth and with a surprisingly sunny afternoon putting us all in a Mediterranean mood a credible combination came to mind.  I should say here that although using both seafood and bottarga could be construed as gilding the lily – it’s conventional to have either one or the other – my seafood happened to be a frozen assortment from oriental emporium Wing Yip (into which I may sneak again on Saturday) so it needed a bit of a fishy kick and bottarga put the boot in beautifully.    In this neck of the woods, if it’s even possible it’s pretty pricey to get hold of sparkly seafood, so I stand by my sources: not quite tradizionale, but neither travesty – it’s a kind of cucina povera after all – simmer down you puritanical purists, we’ve got other fish to fry…


fregola sarda with seafood and bottarga

fregola sarda with seafood and bottarga

Fregola Sarda with Seafood and Bottarga

serves 4

  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced fine
  • 4 handfuls of frozen mixed seafood (squid, mussels, octopus, prawns)
  • 4 fillets frozen pollack
  • 3 chopped tomatoes or 3 TBS tomato paste or 250 ml passata
  • a couple of fennel stalks, if available
  • a pinch of saffron if wished
  • crumbled chile if you like
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • water or stock to top up
  • 4 tsp bottarga, grated

For the fregola:

  • 400-500 g fregola sarda
  • 1 litre fish stock – use a cube, concentrate, whatever
  • 1 TBS capers
  • 2 spring onions or a small bunch of chives, chopped
  • chopped fresh parsley, fennel, mint (any permutation you like)

Heat the garlic gently in the olive oil to release the fragrance, but don’t allow it to brown.   Add the white white wine and tomato, bubble up then turn the heat down to a simmer.   Throw in any or all of the flavourings if using, then sit the seafood and fish fillets atop to steam; cover and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes or so until the fish is opaque.  If there is insufficient liquid to go round, top up with a little hot stock or water.

While the seafood is cooking, bring the fish stock to a boil in another pan then tip in the fregola.   Mine took 15 minutes to cook, but follow the instructions on your pack as different brands vary.  When cooked al dente, drain the fregola in a colander then toss with the capers and chopped herbs.

Serve in shallow bowls as in the pic above, fregola on one side, seafood on the other.  Moisten the fregola with the tomato broth and sprinkle all with a little grated bottarga – and unlike me, try to remember lemon on the side for squeezing; saving a little chopped parsley to counterbalance the lurid orange wouldn’t go amiss either – buon appetito!

Footnote: this weekend’s Financial Times carries an interesting article on pollack – cheap, abundant and relatively eco-friendly – with chef endorsements and some valuable cooking advice from Anthony Demetre of Wild Honey and Arbutus; worth checking out.

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Another confirmation of the wisdom of a locavore lifestyle arrives with the news in The Independent that MRSA may have entered the food chain in Europe.  If that doesn’t get us buying British bacon I don’t know what will, as if I wasn’t sufficiently peeved with my fellow consumers over porky products.

Save Our BaconThis might be a good opportunity to repeat the point that the UK has the highest welfare standards in pig rearing of all Europe and yes, that does make our pork products a little pricier than Dutch and Danish, but surely folks, you can taste the difference!  If you doubt, give it a taste test: buy a pack each of Danish and British streaky rashers.  Start them sizzling (separately) and breathe in through your nose; you’ll get a good idea of the relative qualities of piggy diet and environment from that alone.  Don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat bacon that smells and tastes of pork than of garbage and latrines – literally.

I see the June 2008 Waitrose Illustrated magazine carries a feature on the Save Our Bacon (i.e. save our pork farms) campaign with top chefs Fergus Henderson, Angela Hartnett, Tom Aikens and a couple of hairy bikers plus Jamie Oliver’s pig farmer friend Jimmy Doherty lending their clout:

It’s a crisis but it’s not too late.  Consumers need to demand British pork.  If it doesn’t say British on the label, don’t buy it.

Well, Jimmy would say that, wouldn’t he?  But he’s absolutely right: this Save Our Bacon idea is great, only last time I checked, Waitrose packs of dry-cured smoked streaky hailed from Denmark.  Perhaps Waitrose buyers share my own quibble with our pork industry: the prevalence of the wet cure in processing.  Just like the wretched Chorleywood Process for bread, the wet cure for bacon accelerates processing time and turns a hitherto quality product into a damp squib, but with a bigger-better-faster profit for the manufacturer, natch.

Worst of all wet cures is the saline injection: you can tell if the label states more than 100% pork.   What? this is when saline solution is injected into the meat (so prior to processing, there was more pork per 100g of product than there is afterwards) to cure it from within.  And that’s the vile white salty stuff bubbling up from your bacon.  Conversely, with the dry cure, salt surrounds the piece of meat, drawing moisture out, concentrating the meat fibres and flavours, making for densely crisp and tasty bacon.  And bacon needs to be crisp and tasty or it’s not really bacon, is it?

So, Waitrose, I add my wholehearted support to your campaign with this one proviso: insist your sources stop shooting the saline: quality pork requires quality processing.

Here is a short and far from comprehensive list of respectable online UK bacon suppliers:

 You can read about the issues involved and sign the pledge here or here and if nothing else, avoid imported pork; it’s no bargain.

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Buma shimeji
No, that’s not a random collection of vowels and consonants: while meandering along the vegetable aisle in Waitrose I spied these exotic Buna shimeji, also known as Brown Beech mushrooms, at a delightfully exotic discount. Nothing boosts my culinary confidence like finding a food bargain, and with the summery weather in mind I fancied trying them as an antipasto: turns out it’s the easiest thing in the world and to have such a luxurious treat on hand makes me want to dance a little jig.

Mushroom antipasto, or funghi sott’olio*

    Buna shimeji

  • 2 packs Buna Shimeji mushrooms
  • 100 ml white wine vinegar plus 200 ml water
  • tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced fine
  • 1 chilli (fresh or dried – whatever you have to hand)
  • 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme
  • olive oil to cover

First cut away the solid base holding them together, then break off the individual mushrooms with your fingers; rinse and drain.  Bring the vinegar and water to boil in a non-reactive pan, add the salt, garlic, chilli (crumbled or sliced or not – depending on your tastebuds and your chilli!), bay leaves and thyme, then tip in the mushrooms.  Simmer gently for about 5 minutes.  Test one for texture after just a couple of minutes as they shouldn’t overcook; al dente, per favore.

Drain and spread them out to dry on a clean tea towel, giving it a little shake every now and then to coax things along, but don’t squeeze or press.  Tip them with the flavourings into a sterilised jar which they just about fill and cover with a little olive oil (*sott’olio is Italian for “under oil”).  Keep in the fridge and serve at room temperature with a scattering of parsley – if you have it – and good crusty bread: I wouldn’t expect these to keep more than a week, but they’ll be finished long before that, no doubt.

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