Sunday, 25 February 2018

Ragù for pasta

This is a variation on Carluccio's ragù from 'An Invitation to Italian Cooking'. We miss you, Zio.

Serves 3
A lamb shank
Pork ribs (the pork and lamb combined should come to about 2 lbs)
A big handful of diced pancetta
A large onion
Two cloves of garlic
Two 400g tins of tomatoes
A stick of celery
A couple of sprigs each of fresh thyme and parsley
A sprinkle of dried marjoram
A bay leaf
A small handful of dried porcini
A glass of red wine
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Soak the porcini in a small dish or a teacup, in enough water to cover them.

Heat a little olive oil in a large, heavy, lidded saucepan and fry the pancetta till golden, then remove to a plate. Meanwhile thickly slice the onion and finely chop the garlic and celery.

Brown the lamb shank and pork ribs on a medium heat, then add the onions, stirring occasionally until they soften and begin to catch. Stir in the celery and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, then turn up the heat, pour in the wine and bubble for a while until the raw alcohol smell disappears. Meanwhile drain and chop the porcini, keeping the soaking liquor, and add the mushrooms and the liquid to the pan.

Nudge in the sprigs of thyme and parsley and stir in the marjoram. Season with a little salt and a lot of pepper. Add tomatoes to cover (you may not need all of the second tin, or you may need to top up with a little water), bring to the boil then part cover and cook on a very low heat for at least two hours.

When the sauce is coming together, remove the meat. Turn up the heat and reduce the sauce with the lid off while you strip the lamb and pork from the bones. Add the morsels of meat back to the pan, adjust the seasoning, remove the herbs and then serve with your choice of pasta.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Hedgehog gratin

Sort of a potato dauphinoise with wood hedgehogs.

Serves 2

Four or five wood hedgehogs, depending on size
Two or three large potatoes
Four runner beans
Two cloves of garlic
A small red onion
A handful of cubed pancetta
200ml double cream
50ml white wine
100g butter
A teaspoon of mixed herbs
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan

Slice the the runner beans and blanch in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain. Heat a large frying pan on a medium to low heat and fry the pancetta gently, till almost crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon. Mince the onion and soften in the bacon fat on a low heat, adding the minced garlic after five minutes. Meanwhile peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Remove the aromatics from the pan, add a third of the butter and fry half the potatoes, seasoning well. Remove to a plate and repeat with more butter and potatoes. Brush the spines/teeth from the wood hedgehogs under running water, pat them dry and cut them into thin slices. Remove the last of the potatoes from the pan, melt the last of the butter and fry the muhsrooms till they begin to give off their moisture. Turn up the heat, add the white wine and bubble vigorously till reduced by two thirds.
Layer half the potatoes in a small dish, add a layer of onions, garlic, bacon and beans, add the mushrooms and their cooking juices, season, sprinkle over the herbs then cover with another layer of potatoes. Pour in the double cream.

Place in a preheated oven at 200
°C for 35 minutes. Remove, sprinkle over the grated parmesan and cook for another 5-10 minutes until browned. Serve with bread and pickles. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Baked sea bream - an aide-memoire

I usually bake whole fish en papillotte, which makes it a bugger to judge the timing. I always forget how long the last near-perfect one took, so finally decided to make a note of last night's. I made this with the sorrel risotto from a while ago, so a stick of celery and a small shallot did for both dishes.

Serves 2

2 whole sea bream, cleaned
A handful of minced celery and shallot
A clove of garlic
A bay leaf
Quarter of a lemon
Olive oil
Fines herbes

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Wash the bream inside and out, making sure any lingering scales are banished to the sink, then pat dry and score three times on each side. Lay the fish on sheets of baking parchment.

Halve the clove of garlic lengthways and then cut each half almost into slices, so that it's held together at the tip.

Season the shallot and celery mixture and place a spoonful in the belly cavity of each fish with half a bay leaf and a half clove of garlic.

Rub a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper into the skin, drizzle a little olive oil and add a sprinkling of fines herbes. Pop a wedge of lemon beside each fish, wrap in the baking parchment and then again in foil.

Place on a baking tray in the oven for 25 minutes.

Serve with sorrel risotto and runner bean purée.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Tori Avey's Falafels

Having hunted over the years for the perfect falafel recipe - yes, the Guardian usually does a pretty good job on classics, but not in this case - I ran across the remarkably good Tori's Kitchen, whose version I reproduce here lest one day it should disappear from the web. Please follow the link if it's working, as

A) she has lots of pics with the recipe,
B) it's her recipe and she'll get ad revenue from your click,

C) she has lots of other delicious stuff on there, and
D) she's a lot better looking than me.

The following is just meant as a lifeboat for me. Ok? Cool.


1 pound (about 2 cups) dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans - you must start with dry, do NOT substitute canned, they will not work!
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3-5 cloves garlic (I prefer roasted)
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of ground cardamom
Vegetable oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, and peanut oil work well)

Food processor, skillet

Servings: 30-34 falafels
Kosher Key: Pareve
Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them by about 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight. They will double in size as they soak – you will have between 4 and 5 cups of beans after soaking.

Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans well. Pour them into your food processor along with the chopped onion, garlic cloves, parsley, flour, salt, cumin, ground coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cardamom.

Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that... but don't overprocess, you don't want it turning into hummus!

Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Note: Some people like to add baking soda to the mix to lighten up the texture inside of the falafel balls. I don’t usually add it, since the falafel is generally pretty fluffy on its own. If you would like to add it, dissolve 2 tsp of baking soda in 1 tbsp of water and mix it into the falafel mixture after it has been refrigerated.
Fill a skillet with vegetable oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches. I prefer to use cooking oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed. Heat the oil slowly over medium heat. Meanwhile, form falafel mixture into round balls or slider-shaped patties using wet hands or a falafel scoop. I usually use about 2 tbsp of mixture per falafel. You can make them smaller or larger depending on your personal preference. The balls will stick together loosely at first, but will bind nicely once they begin to fry.
Note: if the balls won't hold together, place the mixture back in the processor again and continue processing to make it more paste-like. Keep in mind that the balls will be delicate at first; if you can get them into the hot oil, they will bind together and stick. If they still won't hold together, you can try adding 2-3 tbsp of flour to the mixture. If they still won't hold, add 1-2 eggs to the mix. This should fix any issues you are having.

Before frying my first batch of falafel, I like to fry a test one in the center of the pan. If the oil is at the right temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to brown (5-6 minutes total). If it browns faster than that, your oil is too hot and your falafels will not be fully cooked in the center. Cool the oil down slightly and try again. When the oil is at the right temperature, fry the falafels in batches of 5-6 at a time till golden brown on both sides.

Once the falafels are fried, remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon.

Let them drain on paper towels. Serve the falafels fresh and hot; they go best with a plate of hummus and topped with creamy tahini sauce. You can also stuff them into a pita.
Troubleshooting: If your falafel is too hard/too crunchy on the outside, there are two possible reasons-- 1) you didn't process the mixture enough-- return the chickpea mixture to the processor to make it more paste-like. 2) the chickpeas you used were old. Try buying a fresher batch of dried chickpeas next time.

SESAME FALAFEL VARIATION: After forming the balls or patties, dip them in sesame seeds prior to frying. This will make the falafel coating crunchier and give it a slightly nutty flavor.

HERB FALAFEL VARIATION (GREEN FALAFEL): Add ½ cup additional chopped green parsley, or cilantro, or a mixture of the two prior to blending

TURMERIC FALAFEL (YELLOW FALAFEL): Add ¾ tsp turmeric to the food processor prior to blending.

EGYPTIAN FALAFEL: Use 1 lb. dried peeled fava beans instead of chickpeas; cover them with cold water, soak them for at least 24 hours, then drain and rinse. You can also use a mixture of fava beans and chickpeas if you wish; just make sure the weight of the dried beans adds up to 1 lb.
After the beans are soaked and rinsed, add the Classic Falafel ingredients to the processor along with the following ingredients – 1 leek, cleaned, trimmed, and quartered; ¼ cup chopped dill; ¼ cup chopped cilantro; and an additional ¾ tsp cayenne pepper. When mixture is processed to a coarse meal, pour into a bowl. Stir 2 ½ tbsp sesame seeds into the mixture with a fork until it’s evenly dispersed throughout the mixture. Refrigerate and proceed with frying. If mixture seems too “wet” when making the falafel balls, add additional flour by the teaspoonful until the mixture sticks together better. Continue with frying.

HOW TO MAKE A FALAFEL PITA: Making a falafel pita is actually really simple. The two main ingredients are pita bread and falafel.
Cut the pita bread in half to form two “pockets.” Each pocket is a serving size. Stuff the pocket with falafel, as well as any add-ons you fancy.
Here are some traditional add-ons that can be added to your pita; these are the ingredients most widely available at falafel stands throughout Israel:
Tahini sauce 
Shredded lettuce
Diced or sliced tomatoes
Israeli salad
Dill pickles
French fries
Here are some less traditional add-ons that are also tasty:
Cucumber slices 
Roasted peppers
Roasted eggplant slices
Sunflower seeds
Feta cheese

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

A vegetable kurma

Half a head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
One medium potato, diced large
One carrot, diced large
A handful of green beans, cut into thirds
A handful of frozen peas
A small onion, sliced
Three ripe tomatoes, skinned and cored
Three green finger chillis, roughly chopped (one with seeds left in)
A clove of garlic, minced
A small piece of ginger, grated
A good handful of cashews
A teaspoon of garam masala
Half a teaspoon of mustard seeds
A teaspoon of chana dhal
A teaspoon of salt
40g creamed coconut
A handful of fresh coriander leaves
Three or four curry leaves
Vegetable oil for frying

Cover the cashews in boiling water and soak for half an hour. Meanwhile prepare the veg and any rice accompaniment.

Place the tomato chunks, drained cashews, chillis, garam masala, salt and creamed coconut into a hand blender and blend till nearly smooth. Blitz in the coriander.

In a saucepan, heat a little oil over a medium heat and fry the onion till soft. Turn up the heat and add the mustard seeds and chana dhal, followed shortly after by the ginger and garlic, and fry for a minute. Add the vegetables and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, put the lid on the pan and simmer for three minutes. Uncover, pour off a little liquid if there's too much (you want about 200ml left) and then stir in the paste. Bring to the boil again and then simmer for a couple of minutes, until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Paella na cataplana

After the experiment with Paellotto, our lovely cataplana has done little more than hang on the rack looking, well, lovely. Today, however, it was called upon again.

Having made a tenuous, but to us entirely logical, connection between a little chorizo left in the fridge and an enormous pan of paella ("to use things up"), we set about looking for recipes adapted to cooking in a Portuguese copper pressure cooker. We found fewer than you might think, so we followed our usual course in these situations: nick some bits and make the rest up.

If you don't have a cataplana, get one before you start cooking.

Serves 3
paella rice, 250g
chorizo, 100g, in ½cm rounds
chicken thighs, (skinless, boneless), 2, cubed
raw king prawns, 12
a squid
a medium onion, thinly sliced

two tomatoes, deseeded and cubed
half a red pepper, diced finely

pickled red peppers, two tablespoons (optional)
peas, a good handful

garlic, 2 cloves, minced
fish stock, ½ litre
dry white wine, ½ glass
saffron, a big pinch
herbes de Provence, a big pinch
thyme, a sprig
olive oil, a tablespoon
parsley, a bunch, chopped

Note: we fried stuff in a sautée pan because we don't have one of those support thingummies for the cataplana, and when they're open they're dead wobbly without.

Heat the oil on a medium heat. Fry the chorizo for a minute or two, till it begins to release its oil. Add the chicken and brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat to the cataplana.

Add the onions to the pan and soften. Now tip in the garlic, pepper, tomatoes and herbes de Provence. Cook for five minutes and transfer to the cataplana.

Tip the rice into the pan and stir to coat in the oil. Pour in the wine and stir till absorbed. Add the stock and saffron, and bring to the boil, then tip into the cataplana.

Throw in the peas and the pickled peppers (if using), mix well, then put the cataplana on the flame. Heat till bubbling then seal and place on a very low flame for twenty minutes.

Open the pan, drop the prawns on top and reseal.

Score the squid, oil and season. When the paella's ready (another five to ten minutes), heat a frying/griddle pan on a big flame. Cook the squid for a minute.

Stir the squid and parsley into the paella, check the seasoning and serve.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Lamb sandwiches

I bought a rather larger than usual leg of lamb for Sunday's kleftiko, on the off-chance that The Muckart of Glenglass, who had joined us for dinner the night before, might stay on for a late lunch. As it was he rumbled off to his hermitage well before the threatened five hours' cooking time began, so we had copious leftovers on Monday.

We can rarely be bothered with proper cooking at the start of the working week, and often end up buying ready meals from the supermarket, usually delicious but also rather pricey. My Ukrainian conscience baulks at this unnecessary expense, so I suggested the compromise of a warm sandwich and a bowl of soup - precious little cooking and pretty cheap.

Lamb is, inexplicably, not one of the choices presented in even the better supermarket sandwich displays, let alone in the self-styled delis hereabouts (which are usually no more than cafés with delusions of grandeur). Why, I can't imagine, because it makes a fantastic sandwich.

I took a small red onion and sliced it thinly. Half went into a frying pan with a scattering of cumin seeds and a good glug of olive oil, followed a bit later by seasoned chunks of lamb. Some thinly-sliced sourdough - three slices each for double-deckers - got itself toasted on one side and laid white-side-up on a board. Base slice gets a healthy covering of garlic mayonnaise and some crisp lettuce; middle slice, a spicy Moroccan chutney; top slice, butter. Now to assemble it. Base, then lamb, then raw red onion; now middle slice, lamb, more raw onion, and finally the top slice.

If ever I needed an excuse to roast a leg of lamb on a Sunday, this Monday supper is it.