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Bloody Taroccos

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.

timeless, elegant, essentialCooks are always wonking on about this or that great piece of equipment and now I’m joining the fray on account of this sexy beast.  Sorry folks, but just look and learn.

What makes this not-tiny-at-all tool terrific is the depth, fit and grip of its bowl, allowing me to pound and grind to my heart’s content without everything jumping out, flying around and splashing me in the face before I’m finished.  It’s pestle as pile driver, its own weight and impressive girth providing enough crushing power to take care of most comers; I just grip it tight, lift a couple of inches and drop – it hits the spot every time, saving my wrists for erm, other activities.

This is no sausage-in-a-bucket hog-the-kitchen-countertop and splatter-it-all-around Jamie Oliver-style mortar (and who grinds uncooked black-eyed beans anyway?).  It’s hunky-chunky, good-looking and it gets the job done: more of a Rowley Leigh – or newcomer Valentine Warner for that matter.  Solid, unpretentious, down to earth.

granite mortar and pestleThe granite interior provides a bit of rough grip too, fluffing creamy aïoli and red rouïlle to peaks of perfection.

With this monochrome monster I’m never looking back, but even so I’m holding on to my mini marble mortar for small quantities of spices or rough salt – that’s about it tho’.

Oh what lovely friends I have!  Dear (not my cousin) Vinny takes a trip home to Montebelluna,  65km north of Venice, 35km north of Treviso (this is important), and brings me back the best souvenir I can imagine:  three feisty heads of radicchio.  Not just any old radicchio, mind, these are the ne plus ultra of radicchios.  I quote Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers from River Cafe Cookbook Green (the ultimate River Cafe cookbook):

The most flavourful and prized, this comes last in the season.  It is less common, even in Italy, as it is only grown in a small area around the town of Treviso.  Identifiable by its large thick edible root and long, thin, pointed dark red leaves, it’s delicious simply grilled or pan-fried and is equally good in salads.

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Now poor Vincent had a few delays what with the weather and work commitments – I’m a little confused as to what exactly happened he explained so fast but the gist is he bought them last Saturday and now it’s Friday – so they’re getting on a bit, but what the hey?  They’re a darn sight fresher looking than many a head of common or garden radicchio rosso di Verona lurking about my local greengrocer’s stall…

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…and an hour or two spent  in the dark refreshing in the chilled water of my champagne bucket while I hunt for the perfect recipe might even perk them up.  Certainly can’t do them any harm.  What a joyful surprise to light up a dark chilly February day.  Oh, lucky Gastroplod! Thank you, Vincenzo!

Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall writes about the joy of chicory in The Guardian Weekend section:

Hibernation

Criminy it’s been a long while.  I can barely remember what it is to celebrate been so busy shivering.  And as for getting up in the morning – grrr fuggedaboudit if you can.  All that’s left for a sensitive soul trapped inside a chilly body is to cook, and cook good, food to warm the cockles without spending a fortune: between Christmas and the Credit Crunch it’s a blessed relief to put on a decent lunch.  To that end, I dug out my ancient french semi-glazed earthenware bean pot from the darkest recess of the attic.  I was always too timid to place it over direct heat, but since crossing that Rubicon I’ve been simply bowled over by the fabulous job it does on dried pulses: it just can’t be beat, nothing else has ever come close in achieving the perfectly cooked, mealy yet tender texture, even and especially with the hitherto-notoriously-impossible-to-get-right butter beans and chick peas.   Here’s a small selection of what’s been emerging from my kitchen, no tinned pulses here:

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I’m particularly proud of the fishcake/fishbomb, inspired by the tasty depth-charge served at Fishworks on Swallow Street and coated with panko breadcrumbs – waiting patiently in the pantry wings since last summer’s Wing Yip spree – but what should these friable morsels adorn next?  Hmm…just before Christmas Mr T’s starter chez Brasserie Blanc was the most delectable pair of Gruyere croquettes so I might have a go at replicating those … I foresee a bit of enjoyable research on my horizon!

bloodybrunchI won’t bore you with the details but something set me barking up the tree of making Bloody Marys with an Italian twist, my dilemma being how to add that sospetto d’Italiano without spending yet more money.

Unlikely inspiration strikes in the form of a Martini Rosso bottle, bought for a bout of Americano/Negroni mixing but left to languish on the shelf for many a month.  I mean, what do you really need Martini Rosso for, once you’re past legal drinking age?  I gave its neck a doubtful sniff while holding the taste of tomato in my mind and whaddyouknow – the herbal aromas which give vermouth its character conjured a pretty appetising spectre.  I’m not about to replace the vodka entirely mind – there’s a fine line between innovation and absurdity – but a dash or two of red vermouth could stand in quite nicely for the oft-suggested dose of dry sherry, surely?mariasanguina

You betcha it can.  It tastes so good that’s how I’ll be blending together this blessed brunch-time bevvy from now on …  until the bottle’s finished that is: waste not want not!

Maria Sanguinosa

  • 50cl vodka per person
  • 100 – 150cl tomato juice per person ( Big Tom spiced is brilliant)
  • 20cl Martini Rosso per person
  • 2 shakes each: Tabasco Green, Chipotle and Regular
  • 1 teaspoon grated horseradish
  • 2 smart shakes Worcestershire Sauce (couldn’t resist the Special Edition Extra Matured)

Combine vodka, tomato juice, Martini Rosso, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces and horseradish in a glass pitcher and stir (preferably with a glass swizzle stick) to mix.  Frost highball glasses using lime juice and celery salt and tumble a couple of cubes or so of ice in each, then top up with the vodka mixture.  Garnish with a leafy celery stick snapped from the inner heart.   Imbibe gently, not forgetting plenty of tasty brunch food to soak it up.

I love a mix of tradition and innovation at Christmas; mingling fresh with familiar keeps things comfortably interesting (and interestingly comfortable if we’re lucky).   I apply this rule of thumb as strictly to victuals as visitors – and generally have as good a day as Nigella might shake her spatula at, even when suffering from the dreaded URTI currently doing the rounds.

A Christmas morning cocktail is one essential tradition but presents the challenge of tiptoeing that tricky tightrope of merriment over mayhem, and as I didn’t want this year’s first-ever goose to be cooked before getting stuffed, so to speak, I needed a milder-mannered solution than usual.

xmas-cincincins

Christmas CinCinCin

1 part Campari
2 parts fresh clementine juice (in 1-litre cartons from M&S)
2 parts Champagne

It’s a cinch: take your champagne glasses, pour an inch of Campari in the bottom, fill halfway to brim with clementine juice then top up with Champagne:  cin cin! – cin!!!

I’ve hardly re-invented the wheel but no matter; this fluteful of festivity is deliciously more-ish yet allowed me to stay roughly vertical all day.  It’s a seasonal triumvurate of Christmassy C’s;  Campari, Champagne and clementine juice.  Don’t be churlish about the Campari, it couldn’t be a cheerier colour and it needed using up besides.  Champagne speaks for itself but Cava could slip in without disturbing the alliteration.  When we ran out of Campari it turned into a CinCin – at least at my house, from which that vulgar term Buck’s Fizz is forever banned while its alternative Americanism, the Mimosa, is far too fey for us febrile few.  The Cincincin on the other hand, looks festive, sounds festive and tastes festive.  Hardly surprisingly, it makes you feel pretty festive too.  I wouldn’t turn one down on New Year’s Day either, but  in keeping with Plod tradition I daresay I’ll be mixing Bloody Marys again…watch this space.

Oh bum – it’s just been pointed out to me that Sam and Eddie Hart of Quo Vadis, Barrafina et al make something very similar with their not-quite-so-catchily-called Campari and Cava cocktail.  Do go ahead and follow their recipe if you like a complicated life…but if you just want a great Yuletide drinkypoo, stick with mine.

btw – if you too succumb to the nasty throat attack, try lying on your stomach with a hot water bottle between the shoulder blades: best achieved in bed with a comfy blanket and spouse at beck and call.  Couldn’t have done it without Mr T-for-Terrific so it’s a good thing I got him a cashmere cardie for Christmas: definitely an investment piece…

Mmmm, yummy yum yum.  A brand new juicy cookbook from a great galumphing goofy guy with big heart, bold -not bolshy- bearing and a neat turn of phrase.  I shot to the online reservation page of my local library’s website and lo and behold picked up Valentine Warner’s hefty tome a mere two days later.   The writing is delightful, most recipes have an entertaining vignette to accompany and there are plenty of tasty morsels for tryouts.  As for this one, as there’s not much wild boar to be had (legally at least) on the Kent & Sussex border, pork had to be substitute in his deliciously different recipe.  A fine dish for a dim and damp winter night: the following is my adaptation and scaled-down version-for-two-with-leftovers-for-lunch of Valentine’s Tuscan original, which actually serves 6-8.
porkanchovyolive

Pork, Anchovy and Black Olive Stew on Polenta

500g boneless pork (shoulder or leg meat) in large-ish chunks
olive oil (or use anchovy oil from the tin)
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
4 cloves garlic, peeled
6 anchovy, fillets (use the whole tin if you’re opening one especially)
1 onion, diced finely
1 fennel bulb, diced finely
thick strips of rind of 1/2 lemon
2 large glasses big-boned red wine (preferably Italian)
1 cinnamon stick
1 TBS tomato purée
4 TBS niçoise olives

Heat a couple of TBS olive oil with the rosemary sprig in a heavy, preferably cast-iron pot.  When fairly warm add the garlic cloves and anchovies, stirring about so their flesh melts to a sludge.  Add the onion and fennel and cook covered for 10-15 minutes until seriously cooked through, only adding the juice from the lemon if it looks like drying out – which it probably won’t.

Throw in the pork (no need to brown it first!) and stir, then add the wine, cinnamon stick and tomato purée; stir again then tip the lot into a small slow cooker set to auto.  Cover and leave to bubble away for several hours (I’d give it a minimum of four) then toss in the olives, stir about and leave for another hour or two.

Serve over polenta with a scattering of gremolata if you’re not meeting clients the next day, just parsley if you are… and steamed spinach on the side.

Incidentally, this Tuscan method and flavour combination appears frequently now I come to think of it.  I have cooked lamb in just the same way, but never before with anchovies and now I wonder why not: they give such a wonderful rich, toothsome savour when melted down into the background, the very essence of umami.  Lemon peel and rosemary contribute their own pungent perfumes to an outstanding sauce, thickened only by softened onion and fennel, which now occurs to me is reminiscent of osso bucco – see? nothing new under the sun, yet new delights to discover every day.  It’s the miracle of cooking.

What to Eat Now by Valentine Warner

One of my all-time favourite dishes is brandade de morue – salt cod whipped up with olive oil and mashed potato plus a wee hint or more of garlic and a scatter of parsley.  Much as I adore the taste, though, I’m not about to pack in my suitcase a whiffy hunk of dried North Atlantic cod just so I can then rehydrate it under a running cold tap for a couple of days before cooking.

pureeAuthenticity be damned in this instance and come to think of it, I don’t remember when I last peeled a potato to make mash – certainly not since discovering this wonder-product from Lidl: 99p for a four-pouch box.  If you’ve ever read the ingredients list on a packet of Smash and its ilk, the relative purity of this product will come as some surprise, for it reads thus: Dehydrated potatoes (97%), salt, emulsifier (E471), nutmeg, spices, stabiliser (E450i), preservative: sodium metabisuphite (E223), antioxidant (E304), Acid (E330).  May contain traces of milk: that’s it. 

And before you start squealing in horror at the E numbers allow me to enlighten:

  • E330 = ascorbic acid = Vitamin C
  • E304 = ascorbic acid ester = Vitamin C+palmitic acid

The others are arguably possibly slightly dodgy, in that:

  • E223 can be an allergen, not recommended for consumption by children
  • E450i = disodium diphosphate, high intakes of which may upset the body’s calcium/phosphate equilibrium, so excessive use may lead to imbalance of mineral levels, which could potentially lead to damage to bone density and osteoporosis (drinking too much fizzy anything destroys your bones too)
  • E471 = mono and diglycerides of fatty acids; could be animal in origin or from genetically modified soya.

brandadefumee
I can live with that, especially when pretty much all you have to do is scald 250ml milk with 500ml water and sprinkle one sachet over the top for some pretty good pommes purées.  It’s definitely French-style though so don’t even think of using this stuff for fishcakes – for that you need the real McCoy! The consistency is purrrfect however, for a creamy brandade. I take a few fillets of smoked fish – here I was fortunate enough to have hot-smoked sea bass and cold-smoked haddock cruising around the freezer – and poach them in the milk & water with finely sliced garlic, a strip of lemon peel, bay leaf and a pinch of saffron.  I then remove the fillets, skin and flake them hot in the few minutes while the potato flakes do their magic in the hot liquid, then stir the fish back in with a fork to blend. Sometimes I shred them finely and actually whisk the mix to more closely approximate brandade but it’s not strictly necessary by any means.
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Piled into a ceramic dish and finished off in a hot oven it’s a fantastically hearty meal for two on a cold night, accompanied by a woodcutter’s pile of steamed carrots and courgettes and a lightly oaked chardonnay.  Somehow winter doesn’t seem so bad after all…

Don’t get me wrong here folks, I have huge admiration for Michelin-starred chef/restaurateur/TV presenter/cookbook author Richard Corrigan, with his salt-of-the-earth bonhomie, clear-eyed yet unjaundiced worldview and his solid, down-home cooking style.  But I did a double-take when I saw his latest publication, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons placed next to Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle – wouldn’t you?

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It’s a terrific image so I don’t begrudge it at all – that’s my charity-shop-chic silver plate cutlery! – and Corrie’s text is so environmentally and politically astute, I can even find the recycling of a cover idea eco-fabulously forgiveable.  It’s almost a shame he couldn’t have borrowed the title too, but the rattle of battered flatware on a hard surface is even more gorgeously evocative of his writing.  Not a plain celebrity chef collection of restaurant recipe formulae, this book follows the current fashion, being a collation of discursive thoughts and memories, favourite dishes and discoveries: recipes sharing equal space with long tracts of text and a smattering of mood-evoking photographs; similar to Georgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, for example.  To which I say hooray, by the way – who ever learnt anything about food or cooking from a mere recipe book?

On the other hand, I was going to recommend David Eyre’s excellent-in-parts Eagle gastro-pub-grub book – for its informative recipes but not its crummy index – until I realised it’s out of print and £95 – bloody hell! – so I’ll just be wiping the spills and splashes from my precious copy a little more assiduously in the future.  I will however, soon be sharing its best recipe: root vegetable & greens soup.  Prosaic-sounding, I know, but absolutely ambrosial, and to which I return time and time again: a soup apart.
Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle
The Clatter of Forks and Spoons

And if you’re not into reading or cooking, sample Richard Corrigan’s hospitality at Bentley’s Oyster Bar 11-15 Swallow Street, London W1 (just off Piccadilly) – bliss – or scroll down and watch this captivating video of him talking about this book
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His new place sounds pretty nice, too: Corrigan’s Mayfair 28 Upper Grosvenor Street London W1

rata-tata-touïlle retro

ratatouille1
Well hey, I’m not going to pay a visit to our place in Nice and swan about its perfect little kitchen, brave the snooty sales ladies at Alziari for a tin of their unctuous olive oil, fossick about the farmers’ stalls for vegetables and forage for fresh herbs on the Cours Saleya and NOT idle away an idyllic afternoon preparing the greatest Niçoise cliché of all, which also just happens to be one of my favourite vegetable dishes ever, now am I?  Its fall from fashion since its 80s heyday probably had much to do with the ghastly glutinous supermarket tinned travesties I remember not enjoying at all – and I only resurrected this recipe having enjoyed the real McCoy so much Chez Palmyre I had to recreate it myself at home. So delicious it could turn you vegetarian, ladies and gentlemen: I give you ratatouïlle.
vegetable market
Follow the correct principles using decent ingredients and you simply cannot go wrong.  I’ve never made the same one twice – vegetables vary in ripeness, juiciness, depth of flavour and the way they’re sliced or chopped makes a great deal of difference – but I’ve never made a bad one either.   Folk can get so precious about this sort of classic recipe but the fact is there is no one classic recipe.  In its home town nobody makes it the same as their neighbour, so why should you?  Just don’t undercook the vegetables nor stew them together without giving each its initial independent sauté – far less hassle than one might suppose. Oh – and don’t overdo the tomato.
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Roughshod Ratatouïlle Niçoise

1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced fine
4 – 6 medium sized, tasty tomatoes, chopped
good olive oil

1 red & 1 green sweet pepper, in .5cm slices 5 cm or so long
1 aubergine, in .5cm dice (do not peel!)
4 small courgettes, in 1cm slices
thyme, salt, pepper + a sliver of orange peel if you have it

Preferably in a cocotte, but if not at least in a high sided saucepan, gently fry the sliced onion in a couple of tablespoons olive oil until softening, then slip in the garlic and sizzle briefly before adding the tomatoes.  Stir to mix, drop in the thyme (and orange peel if using) with a pinch of salt then leave to cook down steadily on a low heat while you sauté the other vegetables.

I think it a nonsense to use separate pans for each vegetable – although one must respect their individual characteristics and sauté them separately – so take a wide and heavy-based frying pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and toss in the peppers.  Cook over a medium heat for 5-odd minutes until softened then add them to the pan of onion and tomato; stir to combine and continue cooking down gently.

Same pan, two tablespoons of olive oil: heat and throw in the aubergines.  Cook fairly briskly, tossing the dice about so they don’t stick, for between 5 and 10 minutes until they are definitely cooked, then tip into the other pan.

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Same deal with the courgettes: perhaps a little less oil and a gentler heat needed here.  Do make sure they have really softened sufficiently before adding to the ratatouille pot as they will not cook much further and a crunchy courgette is not what is wanted.  Give the master pot a good stir and allow to simmer a very few minutes.

Taste, season; enjoy.  Ratatouille is good eating right away and even better once the flavours have had time to settle in with each other.  Hot, cold, tepid; it’s both a fine accompaniment and solitary dish: good crusty bread is its best friend, especially if your ratatouille is on the watery side (no bad thing, btw).

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Fab to come home to: comforting when reheated on a wintry day and refreshingly cool on a sultry evening.