Monday, May 21

Risoni, Peas & Shoots, Goat's Curd, Crispy Parma Ham

Ok, the presentation maybe a bit much; a bit Michelin wannabe; a bit wanky. I was bored at home on a Monday night and I just kinda went a bit mad. If you can look through the pomp, the recipe is sound....a real exercise in getting some serious flavour from these beautiful and delicate fresh peas. Early summer on a plate. For 2:

Fresh peas in the pod - 1kg
Risoni or Orzo pasta - 75g
Garlic - 1 fat clove, grated
Dried red flaked chilli - a good pinch
Best extra virgin - 50ml
Parma ham - 2 slices
Goats curd - 75g
Pea shoots - 1 punnet
Lemon zest and juice - 1 lemons worth

Pick your mint and peel the garlic. Pod the peas. Just cover the pods in water and bring to the boil with the mint stalks and the garlic skins. Simmer for 5 mins then strain and reserve the liquid - discard the pods. Bring the pea stock back to the boil and simmer the peas until just cooked - a minute or so. Strain reserving the liquid and refresh the peas in icy water to preserve the colour.

In a large frying pan, gently fry the parma ham in a little olive oil until crispy. Remove the parma ham to some draining paper - keep the dirty pan to one side. Blitz half the peas in a liquidizer with a little pea stock and some seasoning until a smooth puree is achieved. Pass the puree through a sieve and keep warm.

Bring the remainder of the pea stock back to the boil again with a good pinch of salt and cook the pasta until 'al dente' and drain - maybe 7 mins. Gently fry the garlic, peas and chilli in the parma ham pan with some more olive oil until warmed through. Toss in the cooked pasta, the lemon zest, the mint and a good squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Season well and keep warm.

Build the dish on warmed plates with the pea puree on the bottom, risoni, goats curd, pea shoots and a drizzle of extra virgin.

Friday, May 18

Spring Nettle 'Saag Aloo Gobi'

I was out for a walk the other day and followed a path through some allotments which were thick with nettles. It had been raining and the sun had just come out. The new shoots on the nettles just looked so vibrant and fresh that I thought I would try cooking them. Eating nettles is not a new or uncommon thing - I believe in past times they were commonly eaten as a soup to break the winter diet of roots, preserves and dried goods. 

When you pick nettles you want them to be young and tender. I believe we maybe getting towards the end of the eating season but mine were delicious none the less. When you select your nettles, try not to pick roadside or near busy public rights of ways - I am sure traffic fumes and dog piss don't aid the flavour. You should pick only the tips - the top four leaves - and to avoid being stung you must 'grasp the nettle' from underneath the leaves. The stinging hairs are only located on the upper surfaces. For two:

Nettles, about the same volume as a bag of spinach
1 small onion, finely chopped
Butter - 75g
Garlic, 5 fat cloves 
Fresh ginger, a thumb sized piece, peeled and finely grated
Potatoes, 200g peeled and chopped into chunks
Cauliflower - 1/2 a small one, cut into florets
Vegetable stock - 300ml (I use Marigold Vegetable Bouillion Powder)
Turmeric - 1/2 tsp
Ground coriander - 1 tbsp
Ground cumin - 1 heaped tsp
Chilli flakes - 1/4 tsp
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh coriander stalks, washed and finely chopped. Save the leaves for your salad.

In a large saute pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in the butter until very soft and golden. Add the spices and gently fry to release their flavour. Add the ginger and potatoes along with the stock and simmer until the potatoes are half cooked. Add the cauliflower and continue to gently simmer.

Really wash the nettles well using a wooden spoon to slosh them about in the sink. Blanch for 1 minute in rapidly boiling water then plunge into icy water to preserve the green colour. Squeeze well using a tea towel (the nettles won't sting once blanched). Run your knife through the nettles to roughly chop them. When the cauliflower is almost cooked, add the nettles and coriander stalks (loads of flavour in the stalks!) to the curry and season well with salt and pepper. By now the potato should be starting to break down and will thicken the curry slightly. 

I eschewed rice in favour of a shop bought Peshwari naan, some Greek yoghurt, mango chutney and a finely sliced salad of cucumber, red onion, tomato and fresh coriander leaves dressed with salt and lime juice. As with all really good Indian food, the magic is in the flavour combinations. Fresh, cool, creamy, hot, sweet, crunchy, sour - don't skimp on the yoghurt, chutney or salad and try a bit of everything together. Boom!

Saturday, May 12

Crisp Skinned Whiting, White Beans, Porky Bits & Samphire

Why am I so obsessed with food? I got very excited the other day when noticed my local greengrocer had just got in some Samphire. I even got it out of the fridge to show my wife when she got sad am I! Samphire is a great vegetable, sometimes called the asparagus of the sea it is slightly crunchy and salty like seaweed. More usually seen as a sprinkled garnish for fish, Ive not seen it in a bean stew before but it works really well.

Vince Castelleano - the Bristol Charcuterie King - was at the farmers market and I picked up some of his amazing pancetta. The smell when I fried this off was insanely good. I also had a couple of fennel sausages in the freezer that I tossed into the mix. I am sure that any quality pork products would work well in this dish, pancetta, salami, chorizo, belly pork etc.

Haricot beans - 150g
Chicken or vegetable stock - 1l
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 small carrot - finely chopped
Garlic - 2 fat cloves, peeled and minced
1 red chilli - seeded in or out, finely chopped
Pancetta - 100g, chopped into small lardons
Fennel or tolouse sausage- 2, chopped into chunks
Samphire - 100g
Chunky whiting fillet, 2x120g
Olive oil - 100ml

Soak the beans overnight. In a deep pan, fry the onion, garlic, carrot, chilli and pancetta in half the olive oil until soft and starting to colour. Drain the beans and add to the pan with the sausage and stock. Season with pepper only and simmer gently, uncovered, until the beans are soft - approx 30 to 40 mins. If your bean stew looks too wet, turn up the heat 10 mins before the end of cooking to evaporate some of the liquid - the beans should be saucy, but not soupy if this makes sense. Add the samphire to the pan for the last 3 mins of cooking - it only needs to be warmed through. Check the seasoning, it will probably be salty enough due to the pancetta and samphire. How do you know your beans are cooked? Eat one....they should be soft but not breaking up.

Put a metal handled frying pan on the heat and add a good slug of olive oil. Heat your oven to 220c. Season the fish fillets and fry on a medium high heat, skin side down for 5 mins. When you slide the fish into the pan, hold the fillets flat with a spatula so that the skin is completely in contact with the base of the pan. The skin has a tendency to curl up so pressing flat ensures really even crispy skin. When the skin side is golden and crispy, flash the fish through the oven until just cooked - maybe 3 to 5 mins depending on the thickness of the fish.

Plate up the beans, fish on top, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil - easy as that.

Tuesday, May 8

A Proper Burger

Chefs more than anyone get a real urge for junk food. I have to resist pretty much all the time, a mental revolt perhaps caused by overexposure to restaurant food?

Anyhow, when I get an urge for the ghastly 'golden arches', I make a home made burger. At least you can control what goes into the mix and the damage is limited. Actually, there is no reason why a burger couldn't be good for you. Packed full of salad and protein, it's virtually health food......or add bacon, mayo, blue cheese, a fried egg, fried onions and blow out!

A note on beef: I'm sure I don't have to wax lyrical about the necessity for quality meat. If you are going to use Tesco value mince, then you may as well buy ready made burgers. Go to a quality butcher, ask him to mince some dry aged chuck steak. You want about 10% fat content so some fresh suet or fat can be minced through with the lean.  Makes 2:

Quality beef mince (not too lean approx 10% fat) - 400g
Fresh thyme - 3 sprigs, leaves picked from stems and finely chopped
Worcestershire sauce - 1 tbsp
Salt - 1 tsp
Freshly ground black pepper - 1 tsp
Some burger garnish - I used dijon, fresh tomato, ketchup, red onion, gherkin and Westcombe Cheddar
A couple of sour dour or ciabatta buns

I feel really daft even giving you instructions on how to make and cook these as they are so easy......

Mix together the beef, thyme, worcestershire sauce and seasoning. Shape into two burgers and barbecue or fry in a medium hot pan until cooked. Stuff into bun with chosen garnish and condiments. 

Sunday, May 6

Rack of Fallow Deer 'Wellington'

One of my ex-chefs and friend Joe is now a butcher at the beautiful produce store 'Source' in Bristol ( They get in whole animals and break them down for sale and for cooking in the attached cafe. Last time I visited, Joe pointed out a rack of Fallow Deer at the absolutely bargainous price of £10 a kilo. I got an 8 rib rack for just over a fiver - a mistake surely?

It has taken me a while to come up with a worthy recipe for this prime cut of meat. Racks of lamb are far more common and there are a million recipes for using that cut, but I wanted to do something more unusual. Given that the eye of meat at the end of the rib bone is the fillet, I got to thinking about a Wellington as this traditionally uses fillet steak.  It is quite tricky to get the pastry cooked and still keep the small eye of the meat pink - I only just caught it in time. Invest in a cheap probe thermometer to ensure you get the cooking degree perfect.

2x 4 rib rack of fallow deer or venison
500g field mushrooms or a mushroom mix including some wild mushrooms
1/2 tsp picked fresh thyme
2 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
100ml Port
Butter - 50g
1/2 packet of ready made all butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ask your butcher to prep the rack of deer for you. Ask for it to be french trimmed with chine bone removed. When you get the rack home trim any sinew, fat or skin so you are left with a perfectly lean eye of meat and nice clean rib bones. 

Next make your mushroom mix. Chuck the shallots and garlic in a food processor and blitz until very finely chopped but not a puree. In a large roomy frying pan, gently fry the shallot mix in the butter until starting to colour. Toss the mushrooms in the food processor and blitz to the same consistency as the shallots. Add to the frying pan with the shallots and turn the heat up to medium. Cook out for 10 to 15 mins until you are left with a dryish paste. add the port and thyme then bubble to nothing. It is important to drive off as much water as possible for two reasons, firstly it intensifies the mushroom flavour, secondly it will stop your pastry going soggy. Season the mushroom mix and set aside to cool.

Now the tricky bit. Roll out half the pastry (1/4 of a packet) to the thickness of a penny. Spread half the cooled mushroom mix in the centre of the pastry in a square shape. Season the rack then poke the rib bones through the pastry in the centre of the square wrapping the pastry around the meat. The aim is to seal the pastry underneath the meat with the ribs sticking straight up. The square of mushroom mix should completely encased the meat once wrapped in pastry (see photo). Trim excess pastry and using the egg wash, seal the pastry underneath - you will need to gently cajole the pastry around the meat. Egg wash the whole thing and then chill in the fridge for at least an hour or until required. Pre-heat your oven to 225c and bake for 12 to 15 mins until the core temperature of the meat registers 60c on a probe thermometer. Half way through the cooking I like to egg wash the Wellington again so it goes really glossy.

Allow to rest for 5 to 10 mins the serve with Jersey new potatoes and seasonal veg. I also made a little sauce from some beef stock and more port reduced to a light syrup.

Friday, May 4

Ricotta Baked with Pecorino & Chives

As with so many of my posts, a light lunch or supper is born out of desperation and an empty fridge. Some ageing ricotta, an egg and a dry end of the pecorino left over from my last blog sparked the idea for a baked ricotta. Despite extreme neglect, drought and a ignorance of where they came from - chives have sprouted again in my garden. These were violently harvested with blunt scissors and added to my meagre hoard. This recipe yielded two 100ml ramekins which I found to be perfect for a light lunch (for two) with some buttered toast.

100g fresh ricotta
1 large egg
2 tbsp double cream
50g finely grated pecorino (parmesan or any tasty cheese would work just as well)
A palm full of chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Beat everything together with seasoning to taste. Decant into two ramekins and bake at 200c for 15 to 20 mins until they have risen a little and are beginning to colour.