Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Simple Suppers: Tagliatelle with Confit Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil

Now that my cooking hours have sharply increased this year (more about that when I can talk about it..), I tend to find myself cooking projects at the weekend, particularly things that require patience and slow, sustained cooking. Confit is one such method, and is one that is particularly in vogue with countless chefs. I figured that this method would work well with tomatoes that I had shamelessly bought out of season - but would yield a delicious bounty that would grace some perfectly cooked pasta and a torn ball of Buffalo Mozzarella. You need many hours for this, so it's a perfect job that you can start in the morning and enjoy the fruits of your labour in the evening.
To prepare the tomatoes (I used plump vine tomatoes for maximum flavour) they were first blanched in hot water and refreshed in iced water to remove their skins. The seeds and ribs were removed and the tomato flesh cut into quarters and laid flat on a shallow baking tray. These were then anointed with slivers of garlic and a few thyme leaves, some good extra virgin olive oil and Maldon or Halen Mon sea salt.
The tray is then put into a low oven (80 degrees) and left for at least three to four hours until the tomatoes are softly cooked and silky.
These became the perfect base for a light pasta sauce with a hint of garlic and tumbled through some Tagliatelle. Torn Mozzarella and basil leaves finished the dish off, along with a final drizzle of good olive oil.

Prawn to be wild... Langoustines in a White Wine, Garlic & Parsley Butter

It was my best friend’s birthday recently and as a treat I had decided to cook her one of her favourite foods, Langoustine. I absolutely adore these creatures, even if they do cost a small fortune – but are worth every penny for their succulent, sweet meat and imposing rosy armour. I picked up a kilo of these beauties alive from Billingsgate Fish Market (which I must confess is a great place to buy speciality fish of all persuasions, if of course you can deal with a 4am alarm call and schlep to East London). These Scottish Langoustine were loving transported back to my fridge where they lay under a wet tea towel until they were swiftly dispensed with.

My kilo and a bit bought me 20 juicy crustacea - which deserved the very simplest of treatment and complimentary flavouring. The pairing of garlic and white wine seemed the most delicious and obvious choice, their flavours melding well with butter, a twist of half a lemon and parsley to create rich winey, garlicky juices that are perfect mopped up with crusty white bread.

20 Live Langoustines (Scottish ones are best)
1/2 bottle of White Wine (Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice)
2 Cloves of Garlic
50g Butter
Handful of Parsley
Zest and juice of 1/2 Unwaxed Lemon

Firstly pull the meats off from the heads and set aside. Keep the heads as these will be used for the sauce. Remove the intestinal tract from the Langoustine (by pulling the middle section of the tail out - the intestines will be pulled out too). Shell the body meats, leaving the tail section as decoration. Cover in cling flim and keep cool.
Put the heads in roasting pan and place in a hot oven and cook for 15/20 mins until the shells start to sear. Transfer heads and any juices to a saucepan on a high heat and add the wine. Cook down to burn off the alcohol, and smash the heads with a rolling pin to release as much flavour as possible from the Langoustine heads. Strain the juices through a fine sieve, reduce by half and set aside.
In a non stick shallow pan, melt the butter until it foams and add the garlic - cooking it until it's aroma is released, but doesn't burn. Add the Langoustine and cook for a minute or two on one side. Turn the Langoustine, then pour in the winey stock and turn the heat down to a simmer, coating the meats constantly. Cook for a minute or two and turn off the heat.
Finish with a squeeze of lemon, seasoning and some chopped parsley. Serve a peppery salad, and hunks of crusty bread on the side.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Clams with Sea Kale in a Miso Broth

After what has been such a splendid Christmas and New Year I am most certainly feeling the effects of my excesses. Not that I have gone crazy, but I wish to reinstate a wider balance of foods that feel alive, vital and fresh - and to cut right down on saturated fat content, whilst upping intake of Omega 3s and 6s. There are many cuisines that naturally lend themselves to this eating ideology; Japanese being the foremost in my mind (Thai, Vietnamese, Malayasian also other great examples), as the Japanese diet as we all know includes a great deal of fish, vegetables, soya protein, green tea and many delicious broths.

As I was in Borough yesterday to wish some suppliers a Happy New Year, I happened across a box of sea kale at Tony Booth's. I have to admit I hadn't really cooked sea kale before, and was intruiged to both cook it and taste it properly, as it had been some time since I had eaten it. I decided to create a dish around the sea kale - a dish that was light, with the essence of the sea. Naturally I needed some seafood, and a few handfuls of Palourde clams seemed like a perfect compliment to the delicate flavours of the sea kale. Keeping in a Japanese flavour tradition - the base of the dish would be a miso broth, given extra depth of flavour with an added piece of Kombu seaweed. The dish was finished with some very finely chopped spring onions and a sprinkling of Arame seaweed.

For 2:
400g Palourde or Venus Clams
6/8 stalks of Sea Kale
A good splash of Sake to steam open the clams (I used Vermouth..you can use white wine)
1 packet of Miso broth or a generous teaspoon of Miso paste mixed with 300ml of Dashi
1 piece of Kombu seaweed
3 Spring Onions
Zest and the a squeeze of half a Lemon
Arame seaweed to garnish

Firstly blanched the sea kale in salted water for three to four minutes until tender. Refresh in ice cold water to keep the green and pat dry on kitchen paper. Make the miso soup - I used a packet (not the best I know), but a fresh miso broth is best made with miso paste, mixed with Dashi and Wakame. To my miso I added the dried Kombu and let it steep for 5/6 minutes before removing. Keep the broth warm - but don't let it boil and check the seasoning, adding some good soy if need be. Next steam open the clams with the Sake or Vermouth and the lemon zest in a hot pan, clamping down the lid until they are all open. Discard any that haven't opened. Sieve the liquor from the clams into the miso broth and plunge the kale into it too, to warm it through. To serve, layer the sea kale in a deep bowl and pile over the clams. Pour over the broth and garnish with the spring onions, arame and a light squeeze of lemon juice to add a sparkle to the flavours. To make this a little more substantial, I would add some beautiful cubes of fresh tofu that are one of the best sources of protein and iron, (as well as also being low in calories).

Friday, 4 January 2008

Gazetteer : Fifteen, Watergate Bay, Cornwall

One of the excursions out of Penzance I made during my stay was to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen at Watergate Bay, Newquay. As I was flying back to London that afternoon, I figured it would be a great place check out as I am already a fan of Fifteen in London. The restaurant is flanked by the most awesome views of the the beach (which had huge waves crashing onto it that day), as well as feeling smart and very buzzy, even for a wet post-Christmas lunchtime. With my usual head for timing (ie. not great) I had not figured in enough time to finish lunch, as I had a mad dash to the airport with my friends Katie and Nic, needless to say what I did have was fabulous, fresh and very delicious. We ordered a an appetiser platter for three; brimming with the vivid colours of smoky chorizo, salami, roasted crown prince squash, unctuous mozzarella and deliciously cooked broccoli spears with chilli. I love plates of food that can be grazed and picked at; this was definitely one of the best I have had in a long time and came with fresh Italian breads and a bowl of luscious extra virgin olive oil. Based on that one dish alone, I will certainly be going back there on my return as it is well worth a visit if ever you are in Cornwall.


Tuesday, 1 January 2008

The random beauty of Newlyn

Christmas Lunch is served!

Christmas Lunch as enjoyed by John, Dean, Nikki, Bela, Katie, Nic, Becky, Steady & Steven.
Three Bird Roast with two Stuffings and trimmings,
Cranberry Sauce & Bread Sauce
Roast Potatoes in Goose fat
Brussel Sprouts with caramalised Chestnuts
Roast Parsnips, steamed Carrots
Spiced Red Cabbage
Port Gravy

The burnished bird and the trimmings

This was the last stage of a marathon morning of cooking - getting all the trimmings cooked and ready to serve with the bird. I had opted for a fetching lattice work with bacon, that gave the bird roast a very Victorian feel. I had some left over Quails which were roasted along with chipolata sausages and prunes that went soft and beautifully sticky. Two solid days and weeks of planning later and I was nearly there; about to serve up Christmas lunch, Stevie Wallis style.

Christmas drinks at the Navy Inn

With Christmas breakfast out of the way, the bird in the oven and everything else peeled, prepped and ready, it was decided that we all take a stroll on the beach and take in a Christmas drink at the Navy Inn in Penzance. The Navy Inn is really great pub that not only is a great place to hang out and read the paper, but also is a great place to try local Cornish Ales and eat their fabulous food which utilises locally caught fish and shellfish. Here are some us in all our Christmas finery.

Russian inspired 'Tzar's Christmas Breakfast'

So with the salmon beautifully cured, I got on with creating a 'Tzar's' breakfast, don't ask me why - but it was an idea that I had, which included me extravagantly rolling a soft boiled egg in gold leaf and scattering the plate with 'jewels' of beetroot. If ever there is a time when silliness and extravagance prevails, Christmas morning is it. So there we have it - a breakfast fit for a Tzar (or Maharajah!).

Christmas Breakfast - Salmon cured two ways: Beetroot and Fennel & Juniper

There's something obligatory about having Smoked Salmon for breakfast on Christmas morning with scrambled eggs and a glass of Bucks Fizz (sounds very suburban - and it really is, in fact it is teetering on naff...). But I do love it anyways, although I must admit that with a colossal lunch ahead all I really fancy is a soft boiled egg and some granary toast, especially if you have a few hours of cooking and slugging Champagne ahead of you. This year I had bigger plans and set to curing my very own salmon in two ways, not only to impart some extra flavour, but in the case of the beetroot I wanted the salmon to be stained with the deep crimson of this lovely root. This incidentally works rather well on Smoked Salmon - which helps cut through the fattiness of the usual packs sold in most supermarkets.
For the first piece I salted the fish liberally, then finely sliced a bulb of fennel (I used a mandolin) with which I covered the fish with. To this I added a marinade of
100ml of Gin, a pinch of caster sugar, the zest and juice of a lime and some crushed juniper berries. Pour over the salmon, cover with cling film and leave for an hour. The beetroot version is more simple but visually very pretty when served. For this I just boiled a smallish beetroot for 20 minutes or so, which I peeled and sliced into thin slices, again layering over the salted fish. I left this for a bit longer as there wasn't as much acid present to 'cure' the fish. Both pieces were then cleaned of their marinades and sliced finely ready for breakfast.