Friday, 23 January 2015

Braised lettuce - a main course

A friend was asking what was for dinner tonight and my response - braised lettuce - set an eyebrow twitching. Once I'd explained it, though, it seemed to meet with approval. It is, after all, only my own tinkering with a very French classic.

Serves two

Two romaine or sweet gem lettuce
A large shallot
A stick of celery
A handful of diced bacon or pancetta
A handful of frozen peas
A clove or two of garlic
A teaspoon of dried herbes de Provence or mixed herbs
A pint of vegetable stock
A glass of dry white wine
Olive oil
Fresh thyme and mint
Green legumes of your choice, appropriately prepared *

The reason for the asterisk above is that what you can get - or want to use - may depend on the season. Sliced runner beans are great, as are (peeled) broad beans. Green beans, sugar snap peas, edamame - the list goes on. You only want a couple of handfuls, adding them in with ten minutes to go.

Chop the shallot and celery and mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large pan (for which you have a lid) and fry the bacon till the fat begins to brown. Add the onion, garlic and celery and some dried herbs and cook very gently for five to ten minutes.

Trim the lettuce root and remove any ageing leaves, reflecting on your own mortality. Quarter each head and rinse under cold water.

Turn the heat up and pour in the white wine. Add a sprig of thyme, then simmer for a couple of minutes.

Now add the lettuce and pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, cover, and braise on a low heat for around twenty minutes, till the lettuce is just tender. Add the frozen peas and green asterisks (*), moving the lettuce aside to make room for them in the liquid and then sliding the lettuce back on top. Huddle the tomatoes atop all, re-cover and cook for ten minutes.

Warm a serving dish and transfer the vegetables and bacon to it, leaving as much of the cooking liquor as possible in the pan. Keep the dish warm while reducing the liquid by about two-thirds.

Stir in a little chopped mint, season to taste and pour over the braised vegetables.

Serve with warm brown bread.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Chicken and bacon pasta

This sounds boring, but the sauce turned out really well, so... It's a grown-up pasta bake in a cheesy, herby, winey sauce topped with parmesan and crumbled crispy chicken skin.

Serves 2

Three chicken thighs, skin on.
A good handful of diced bacon
Four handfuls of fusilli (or whatever you like)
A small shallot
A clove of garlic
A stick of celery
Dried fines herbes or tarragon
A third of a bottle of dry white wine (NOT oaked)
A quarter of a litre of chicken stock
A hundred millilitres of double cream (possibly more)
A good handful of grated gruyere
A tablespoon of plain flour
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan for sprinkling

Heat the stock if using fresh.

Fry the bacon slowly in a non-stick frying pan till crispy. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Mince the shallot and the garlic and finely chop the celery.

Cook the pasta, refresh in cold water and drain.

Remove the skin from the chicken and fry it (the skin) slowly in the bacon fat till golden brown, pressing down to get it nice and crispy. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

De-bone the chicken if necessary, trim any sinew and excess fat and slice the meat into thickish strips. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan and stir-fry the chicken strips on a medium-to-high heat for three to four minutes, till nearly cooked. Remove from the pan and turn the heat down to medium-low.

Add the shallot to the saucepan and fry gently for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Finally add the celery and cook for another minute or two.

Turn the heat up high and pour in the wine. Add a teaspoon of whatever dried herbs you're using. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer till reduced by at least half.

Pour in half the hot chicken stock, bring to the boil and sieve in the flour, whisking as you go. Simmer for five minutes, then stir in the double cream. Simmer for five to ten minutes till thickening well, then stir in the gruyere on a very low heat till melted. Season to taste, remembering that salty bacon is going to be added.

Add the almost-cooked chicken and the bacon and stir, then put the lid on and leave for another five or ten minutes till the chicken is fully cooked.

Heat the oven to 180C.

Break the crispy chicken skin into crumbs. Mix the pasta with the sauce, adding a dash of cream if needed, and transfer to an oven dish. Sprinkle over some more dried herbs, then the grated parmesan.

Place the dish in the oven for ten minutes, then sprinkle over the chicken skin crumbs and bake for another five to ten minutes, till the sauce is bubbling and the top is beginning to brown.

Serve with crusty bread.