Friday, February 22

Ragu of Oxtail & Pork Belly, Rigatoni, Pecorino

I've been cooking a lot of pasta recently, perhaps due to the winter blues. It is after all a wonderful comfort food. Our local organic supermarket sells one of the best brands of dried pasta I have tried - La Terra e il Cielo ( It's pricey, but what Italian would begrudge a few extra pounds for quality (I'm not Italian by the way!).

In past blogs I have waxed lyrical about the merits of a slow cooker and once again it is put to good use here to effortlessly knock up this superior ragu. Speak to your mum or granny, she is sure to have a slow cooker gathering dust in the back of the cupboard - go and nick it. Long slow cooking is the way forwards with this dish - 8 hours or more. Chuck everything in the pot, set the slow cooker running in the morning or overnight and Bob's your Uncle. Will easily feed 6 to 8.

Oxtail cut from the thick end - 500g
Pork Belly - in one piece - 300g
Chuck steak in one piece - 300g
A little olive oil
1 medium onion, peeler and finely chopped
Carrots - 2 large, peeled and split down the middle
Celery - 2 sticks, finely chopped
Garlic - 4 fat cloves, peeled
Passata - 500ml
A glass of bog standard red wine
Rosemary - 1 large sprig
Thyme - 3 bushy sprigs
Bay leaves - 2
Parsley - 1 large handful of leaves
Pecorino - 100g

There are two ways to proceed, the proper way or the quick way. Both will result in a fantastic ragu but browning the meat and vegetables does add a extra depth of flavour - your call.

Have a look at the chuck steak, trim off any visible sinew (fat is fine) and cut into chunks in such a way that when the meat is tender and shreds down, you are not left with very long  strands of meat. Cut across the grain to ensure the resulting strands are less than an inch long. De-rind the pork belly and cut into chunks the same as the beef. Trim the oxtails of any huge lumps of fat and skin but don't go mad....the slow cooking will melt most of it away, you are just trying to reduce the oil content in the finished stew.

Season the meat well and then brown in a little olive oil in a searing hot pan. You may need to cook the meat in batches. Transfer the meat to the bowl of the slow cooker and then fry off the vegetables until they have taken on some colour. Add those to the slow cooker bowl. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scrapping any residue off the base - loads of flavour in those little caramelised bits. Reduce the wine by half and then chuck that into the slow cooker along with everything else except the pecorino and parsley.  If you don't have the time or inclination to brown everything - just chuck the lot into the slow cooker skipping all of the above!

Season the contents of the slow cooker well, lid on and set the machine to low. Simmer for 8 hours or more - you can't really overcook this dish. The dish is done when the oxtail bones can be lifted from the mix clean - the meat should just fall away. Allow the ragu to cool then by hand, pick through the sauce removing any bones, the herb stalks, the bay leaves and any fatty nasty bits. Shred the meat and squish the vegetables as you go. Mix well and taste  for seasoning. 

Cook your pasta. Blitz the pecorino in a food processor to get that 'nibbled' appearance. Warm the ragu and throw in the finely chopped parsley at the end. Toss the pasta through the sauce adding a little pasta water if the end result looks too dry. Finish with the pecorino.

Sunday, February 17

Milk Poached Smoked Haddock, Parsley Sauce

I was feeling a little under the weather this week, a bit tired; sleep deprived even; malnourished most likely. I needed something soothing, something my Mum or Gran would cook a poorly child. 

There is no easy way to make poached haddock and parsley sauce sexy. It's merits lie within, an unconventional beauty. A bit like the 'girl next door' don't fancy her until your paths have crossed a few times.  Smokey haddock, parsley, buttery mash, irony greens, an almost bland white's all there flavour wise.......just remember to look beyond the 'boat race'.

Full fat milk - 1/2 pint
Plain Flour - 1 heaped tbsp
Butter - 1 heaped tbsp
Onion - 1/2, peeled and roughly sliced
Clove - 1
Lightly cracked black pepper corns - 10
Bay leaves - 2, scrunched up
Parsley - A big handful once picked and chopped.
Naturally smoked and undyed haddock - 2x200g portions taken from the loin.

First infuse the milk with the onion, clove, pepper and bay leaves. Put in a suitable pan and bring to just under the boil. Take off the heat and allow to infuse for 20 mins. Pass the milk through a sieve saving the milk, discard the rest. Return the milk to the pan and add the haddock portions - no need to season as smoked fish is usually cured and therefore salty enough. Cover the fish with a circle of baking parchment and bring the milk back to the simmer. The baking parchment ensures the fish cooks evenly by holding the steam in. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the fish to gently cook in the residual heat of the milk - this should take approx 10 mins. Gently remove the fish and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a small cup in the microwave. When melted, add the flour and stir in until all the lumps have gone - this buttery mush is called a 'beurre maniĆ©' in the trade. Bring the milk back to the simmer for the last time and add the beurre maniĆ© whisking the sauce to incorporate. The sauce should thicken almost immediately but you need to simmer for another minute or so to cook out the flour. Check the seasoning of the sauce, remove from the heat and whisk in the finely chopped parsley leaves. Serve immediately with buttery mash and green vegetables of your choice.

Friday, February 8

Spaghetti with Purple Sprouting, Chilli, Pinenuts & Basil

Purple sprouting broccoli is one of those early vegetables that signifies Spring is around the corner. Although in season, you may find it a little hard to find at the moment as my veg-man says the cold wet weather has been playing havoc with supplies. I managed to get some though so not that hard to find!

This pasta dish may sound unusual but really is just a twist on a classic Italian dish from Puglia where Orecchiette pasta (it's just one of the myriad of shapes) is combined with turnip tops and chilli. So, so, so easy to make, it is just an assemble job really. For two:

Good quality spaghetti - 120g
Purple sprouting - 200g prep'd weight
Big fat red chillis - 4, deseeded
Garlic - 2 fat cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Butter - 50g
Parmesan shavings - 50g
Pinenuts - 50g
Lemon juice - a good squeeze
Basil - 1 large bunch, leaves removed from stems, stems discarded

Toast the pine nuts & cook the linguine as per the packet instructions. Drain the pasta and reserve the water. Bring the water back to the boil and quickly blanch the purple sprouting. In another large saucepan, melt the butter and gently fry the garlic and chilli for a minute or two. Toss in the pasta, pine nuts, half the parmesan, half a ladle full of the pasta water, the lemon juice and the basil. Season and warm through to wilt the basil. Drain the purple sprouting and toss into the pasta. Taste and adjust the seasoning and lemon juice. Plate in large bowls and top with the remainder of the parmesan.

Sunday, February 3

Parsnip Latke, Severn & Wye Smoked Salmon, Sour Cream & Chives

Just the most delicious foil for this outstanding locally smoked salmon from the Severn & Wye Smokery ( Latke are a Jewish version of a Rosti, which is a Swiss version of a hash brown, which is an American version of a potato cake...... 

Ok, there are numerous versions, but it is the parsnip that make these ones outstanding. A perfect late Sunday breakfast or that ghastly American invention - brunch. Makes four latke (enough for two):

Maris piper - 200g grated weight
Parsnip - 100g grated weight
1 egg white
1 tbsp corn flour
1 spring onion - very finely chopped
Salt and pepper
A splash of vegetable oil and a knob of butter
A small handful of chopped chives
Sour cream - 4 tbsp
Severn & Wye smoked salmon - 100g

Peel and grate the potato and parsnip. Place over a colander and give the gratings a good squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer to a bowl and add the egg, corn flour, spring onion and a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat the oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Divide the potato mixture into four. When the butter is foaming, add one portion of the potato mix to the pan spreading out to a ragged circle approx. 3 inches in diameter. Repeat for the other three portions and gently fry until deeply golden on one side. Don't rush it as you want a crispy finish which is only achieved by controlled heat. Flip the latkes and fry to the same colour. When cooked, drain quickly on kitchen paper then plate and top with the smoked salmon, sour cream and chives. 

Saturday, February 2

Pheasant, Pancetta & Prune Pie


The Pheasant season ended on the 31st January but I was lucky enough to be given a brace from a local shoot by the Landlord of the Pub. He made out they were a thoughtful gift, but I am pretty sure he didn't know what else to do with them and wanted them out of his garage!

The two birds in question had taken quite a peppering of shot and were not pretty enough to be roasted, so a long slow braise into a juicy pie filling was the order of the day. This pie falls somewhere between a gravy laden and a game pie. It will be juicy when eaten warm, but sets to sliceable solidity when chilled. 

A small footnote on baking tins: it really is worth investing in heavy anodised aluminum cookware. The heat of the oven is conducted extremely efficiently through cookware of this sort and you always end up with crisp pastry and evenly cooked cakes. I use the 'Mermaid' brand which gives great results and, although expensive, will ultimately last a lifetime.

Plain flour - 400g
Cold butter - 200g
2 medium eggs
1 more egg for glazing, beaten
Pinch of salt

Pheasant Filling:
A brace of pheasants, gutted, plucked, skinned and portioned (ask your butcher to do this)
Pancetta - 200g, cut into small chunky lardons
Prunes - 200g
1 medium onion - sliced
A knob of butter
Reduced chicken or game stock - 100ml
Double cream - 50ml
A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves picked from the stems
Salt and pepper

Season and braise the pheasant portions in a slow cooker (or in casserole dish set in a low oven - 150c) with the stock until falling off the bone - this will take approx. 2 hours. Allow to cool then pick the meat from the bones being vigilant to remove all bones, gristle and any shot pellets. Pass the pan juices through a sieve and reserve. 

Gently fry and pancetta and the onion together in the butter until the onion is soft and turning golden and the pancetta is giving up it's fat. Deglaze the pan with the reserved pan juices and reduce to 100ml or so. Add the cream and thyme and return the pheasant meat to the pan with the prunes. Taste and season well with salt and pepper. Chill until required.

In a food processor, blitz the butter into the flour and salt until completely incorporated. Add the eggs and run the machine until the mix just starts to come together - don't over work or the pastry will become tough. Tip the mix onto a work surface and bring together into a ball by hand. If the mix is a little dry add a tiny splash of milk. Cling and refrigerate for 30 mins. 

Cut the ball into 2 portions, one 2/3, the other 1/3 of the whole. On a floured surface, roll the larger portion until 2mm thick and use to line a deep 8 inch loose bottomed sponge tin. Fill with the chilled filling making sure the pie is packed to the brim (you may have filling left over depending on the size of the birds). Roll the smaller pastry ball to the same thickness. Egg wash the rim of the pie and lay on the lid. Crimp, trim and use a fork to make a neat pattern around the edge. Egg wash the pie top and make a large hole in the centre to allow steam to escape. 

Bake at 180c for 40 to 50 minutes - glazing again half way through cooking - until the pie is deeply golden and crisp. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. 

Tip: To extract the pie from the tin, ensure the rim of the pie is released by using a small knife. Upturn a coffee mug on the work surface and place the pie on the cup. Gently tease  the edge of the pie tin downwards so the ring falls to the work surface and the pie remains perched on the cup supported by the base of the tin. You can now lift the pie clear and release the pie from the tin base using a palate knife.

Linguine Arrabiatta with Chicken

I mentioned in my last post that I had a use for any leftover Piri Piri chicken and sauce. Here it is in all it's unauthentic glory.......but saying that, shredded chicken in a spicy tomato and basil can't be that far off the Italian classic can it?

Barely a recipe and a truly frugal way to make an expensive free range bird go a lot further. It also means that chicken dinner number two takes only as long to prepare as the pasta takes to cook - it's a win win.

Piri Piri chicken leftovers, about a leg and a halves worth will feed two with a couple of big ladlefuls of the sauce.
A big buch of basil, leaves picked from stems, stems discarded.
Linguine - 60g per person or more if you like.
Parmesan - lots, grated.

This dish really needs no direction but for the hard of cooking.....

Boil water and cook pasta to 'al dente'. Shred the chicken leg meat off the bones discarding skin, bone and gristle. Warm the remaining sauce with the chicken. Drain the pasta adding to the sauce with a little of the pasta water if it is a bit dry. Wilt the basil in the hot pasta and sauce. Check the seasoning and serve in deep bowls with large fistfuls of Parmesan scattered on top (in my experience you can never have to much Parmesan)