Sunday 29 January 2012

Fusilli with baby vegetables

The thing about me and pasta is that it's my go-to food when I don't have time or can't be bothered. Theo Randall's book (Pasta) has got me thinking about it in a different way. With more care perhaps. I had fusilli in the cupboard and he suggests fusilli with cuttlefish (sadly, this seems to be the only fusilli recipe), as they curl around the pasta so nicely. It reminded me of the time my friend's boyfriend cooked for us in Treviso, using massive pasta shells to complement tiny little sea creatures perfectly - the little things all got stuck in the shells, so that each mouthful was full of sea flavour and there was no need to chase anything around the plate. That's the Italian way of choosing pasta - the shape depends entirely on the sauce. However, as today I have an early spring clean on my hands, thanks to the lovely Coco and some critters she's picked up, I really didn't have time to go on a mission to find cuttlefish. A few years ago, I would definitely have done that and got incredibly stressed out in the process, but now I am older and wiser, without the inclination to complicate my life
So I decided that I was going to use stuff that I already had in, and that shallots were going to have to do the job of the cuttlefish in Theo's recipe - of curling round the fusilli, I mean. It turned out to be something worth writing about, so here we are. I fried some shallots in olive oil, added some baby mushrooms chopped in half and finely sliced baby aubergines, and continued to fry throughout the whole time that the fusilli was cooking - so about 20min - stirring occasionally. Half way through, I seasoned with sea salt and some pepper. Then, I added a splash of this amazing balsamic vinegar. I had to, I add it to everything now. I'm sure you've heard this before but if you like your food, then it's really worth spending at least a tenner on good quality balsamic. That was followed by some tomato passata, and a handful of thyme. Allow to simmer for 5min. Finally, add the drained fusilli and stir everything together really well, no rushing. Finally, finish off with parmesan shavings, black pepper and more fresh thyme. Here are the ingredients

Olive oil
Baby closed cup mushrooms
Baby aubergines
Good quality balsamic
Fresh Thyme
Salt and pepper

Saturday 28 January 2012

Fisherman's spaghetti with courgettes and mussels

I once read somewhere, that in a certain part of Italy the fishermen eat spaghetti with courgettes, olive oil and garlic on days when they have no fish. For some reason, I have remembered this little fact for years. This will surprise anyone who knows me and my inability to remember facts, peoples' names, even songs I love. But with food it's different and the image of these fishermen, tired from a day's hard work and salty air, worn out from the sun, the toil, but somehow essentially content from living a life so close to nature... has always stayed with me. And I have made this dish many times, with many variations, and always with a thought for the fishermen. This one was the best I've made so far. Since they are fishermen, I reasoned, it therefore follows that this kind of dish would be especially good with something that comes from the sea. I imagined a fisherman's wife casually throwing in a handful of fresh seafood into the pan. Just like the mussels that I had left over from the paella we made the other night. As you can see if you clicked on that link, the paella really couldn't handle any more of them
I felt really mean waking up the mussels by splashing cold water on them until they closed their shells, then boiling them alive, but what can you do... I boiled them in fish stock with saffron. At the same time I also boiled the spaghetti in salt water, until it was al dente. In the massive frying pan, I fried small, fine, almost translucent chunks of courgette and garlic in plenty of olive oil, and some sea salt. Finally, I added both the spaghetti and the mussels to the pan, along with a splash of the saffron stock. I cooked this for a while longer, adding more stock to make sure it didn't burn, and squeezed some lemon in right at the end. I served it with ground black pepper and some cold beer. I love to imagine that by eating this some little part of me is right there with the fishermen, in a cosy kitchen somewhere in Italy

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Authentic Spanish Paella

When it's dark and cold as you get up in the morning, dark and cold as you leave work, and grey for most of the time in between, you need to try and bring some sunshine into your life in any way you can. And this winter, sunshine comes in the form of paella for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about eating seasonally and locally, and I try to do that even when making paella, yet there's no need to be obbessive about it, is there now? Just look at my beautiful paella and tell me it doesn't tempt you
A friend of mine, Mariana, who grew up in Spain, has taught me how to make this dish in the proper manner. It's always good to learn how to make something authentically first, as close to the original as possible, before experimenting I find. Like when I learnt to make risotto in the proper manner in Italy. It gives you a good strong foundation to build upon. Incidently, the only thing those to dishes appear to have in common is rice. And not even that really, since Mariana insisted that we used this particular rice, which sadly isn't widely available
Calasparra hails from Murcia, and although paella is traditionally Valencian, I've visited that part of the world and the arroz-type dishes are just as common in both the regions, though the meats, fish and vegetables vary. I had a beautiful rabbit paella in the mountains of Murcia for example. Of course, Valencian rice is just perfect. But do not be tempted to make paella with risotto rice, because it is simply too creamy
Here's Mariana hard at work, when she made it the first time a couple of weeks ago and I decided that when it comes to winter get-togethers with friends, paella is the way forward. Especially, if your friends are willing to help, because two pairs of hands come in really useful here!
Ingredients (serves 3)

2 cups rice
3 tablespoons olive oil
Red pepper, chopped into tiny cubes
Small onion, chopped into tiny cubes
1 tsp saffron
3 tsp paprika
Mussels - 3 handfuls
3 tiger prawns
2 squid, in rings
Fish stock cube
2 garlic cloves
Sea salt
Black pepper

Ok, bear with me here because I will need to go into quite a bit of detail. It's not my usual style, but as we've established, you need to do this properly the first time round. Firstly, the red pepper and onion need to be chopped very, very small, but not minced. Crush the garlic cloves and heat the olive oil in a large pan. Fry the garlic to flavour the oil then discard. Fry the onion until golden, then add the red pepper and continue to fry, not stirring too much as it needs to caramelize. Add salt to taste and some paprika. Meanwhile put the seafood in cold water, with the saffron and salt, and bring to the boil. Make sure it's all covered. Cover and cook for about 3min, then remove from the water. Add half a fish stock cube to the hot water, and allow to simmer. Now add the rice to the first pan and stir in for a little while, maybe 3-4min, before adding some stock. You do not stir again. Ever. You shake the dish a bit instead, to spread everything out evenly
It should look like this. Now leave it until the water evaporates, when you can add some more. Keep doing this, shaking the pan a little from time to time. Finally, arrange the seafood on top of the paella in an attractive manner. Cover the pan and allow to cook a while longer, until the rice is perfect. Basically after about 10min, try a bit and see what it tastes like. Sprinkle with more paprika and serve with lemon wedges. When you serve it, you'll see how it's all caramelized at the bottom in a slightly crunchy and incredibly tasty way. That's exactly how it should be - enjoy

Monday 23 January 2012

Cha Ca La Vong - Catfish at Little Hanoi

I just have to tell you about this dish I ate at Little Hanoi (147 Curtain Road) not long ago, because I've never had anything like it and my mouth still waters at the memory! It's called Cha Ca La Vong and it is a well known thing apparently, with some restaurants in Hanoi specializing in cooking only this. And what it is, is a sizzle-in-front-of-you, melt-in-your-mouth-delicious catfish - a great starter for 2-3 people, though you may want to wait until you've eaten it to decide what you want to follow, as it is filling. The owner recommended it to us, and from now on I plan to seek him out to recommend other stuff. The thing with Vietnamese restaurants is because the menu is so extensive and the choice so large, I often wonder if I'm not missing out anything. It turns out that I have been...

Sunday 15 January 2012

Cabbage soup with apple and ginger

I was inspired to make cabbage soup by this lovely lady. However, the only ingredients out of the ones I needed for Bess's ketchupy soup was an onion, cabbage and ketchup, and that didn't sound too appetizing, so I actually made a completely different cabbage soup with apple and ginger instead. The sentiment is the same though, because this is not the diet kind either. I used plenty of butter and parmesan to make it really lovely. This is not the time of year for detoxing and dieting in my opinion, I am literally just trying to get through. For me that involves sleeping for at least 9 hours a day, sitting in a hot bath a lot and eating whatever I feel like. I firmly believe we should all be hibernating right now: cooking, eating comforting food, sitting by the fire with our loved ones drinking mulled wine, and not getting up at 7am to go to work. This seems like an unnatural and evil madness to me at this time of year

Onion, chopped
Half a cabbage (I used a green leafy one)
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Apple, peeled and chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
Chicken stock
Parmesan, grated
1/2tsp chilli
Splash of single cream
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion in the butter until soft, then add the ginger, chilli and apple. Fry for a little while longer, before adding the shredded cabbage and the stock. I used a stock cube, which was fine, though if I'd had a bit of chicken on the bone, I would have taken my time and made some proper stock first. Allow this to cook for at least half an hour. Then blend a little bit. I allowed it to cool first before blitzing for literally 2 seconds, you don't want it too smooth. Now add the potatoes and bring back to the boil. Cook until the spuds are soft, another half an hour or thereabouts. Finally, season, stir in a splash of cream and some parmesan. Serve with more grated parmesan on top, and preferably a fruit crumble to follow. Proper comfort food that is

Food Landscapes

I came across this book at a friend's house and was immediately mesmerized by it. Food Landscapes - what? why? And yet...
These were a couple of my favourites. I mean, a salmon sea at sunset - genius. And that little house down there surrounded by broccoli I actually want to live in. But there were so many of them: a meaty wild west; a vegetable-heavy London skyline... It was a seriously massive project. I wish I'd read more about the logistics of it, what I do remember is that it was extremely time-consuming, although clearly you have to also be careful about certain food products going off
 It just goes to show that the weirdest, most unlikely ideas can be amazing if you feel passionate about what you're doing 
We all get brilliant ideas, but putting them into practice is another thing altogether and it's inspiring to see someone take such an strange idea all the way and see it through from start to finish

Thursday 12 January 2012

Cuban green plantain soup

Hello! I'm still here, I just haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to be recently. I might have mentioned before that I have an emotional relationship with food. And so when my emotions are all over the shop, as they have been recently, I can't focus on what I love to do. Which is a shame, as it would probably help. This plantain soup (from A Taste of Cuba by Beatriz Llamas) sure managed to comfort me. I knew it would, which is why I've been meaning to make it for a week now, but even though there are plantains all over Hackney, I couldn't find the right ones in my closest shops, and I didn't have the tenacity or emotional strength to go searching further afield. They need to be green, you see, not speckled or yellow. Apart from that though, it was so simple - only four ingredients! Or five if you count the tabasco

2-3 Green plantains
Beef stock - about a pint
Juice of 1 lime
2 Garlic cloves
Tabasco to serve
Salt and pepper

You peel the plantains, cut them into inch long chucks and cook for about 40-50min in the stock, then blend along with the garlic and seasoning. I was making the soup last night, so left it in the fridge overnight then blended it today. I don't like blending hot liquids, as I tend to get burnt one way or another. Beatriz now asks you to sieve the soup. I started to do this, but then realized that I liked the grainy texture and stopped, you carry on if you must. It will probably make the soup look nicer. Then heat it up along with the lime juice. I'd suggest serving it with tabasco, but again, this is my own innovation, apparently Cubans aren't into spicy food

Monday 2 January 2012

A Bean and rosemary dip or How to Make the Best of a Bad Situation

The Experiment: Stuffing onions 
The Outcome 
Conclusion: Some things shouldn't be stuffed
The Solution: Blend the cooked onions with cannellini beans, fresh rosemary, some olive oil or a bit of butter, and salt and pepper for a delicious bean dip to have with bread, vegetables etc

Sunday 1 January 2012

Rhubarb martinis for New Year

I try to keep New Year's simple, as from experience I know that this one evening of the year has the most potential to go horribly wrong. At least for me anyway, most people seem to think that it's the best night of the year - I think perhaps that's a part of the problem, the pressure to have a good time, people whooping around you everywhere you go, I just can't get that excited and end up feeling tired and grumpy. But luckily for me, I seem to have finally got the knack of it - keep it simple, stay off public transport, don't arrange to meet lots of people and make sure the people you do meet are on the same wavelength as you. Last night we kicked off with Rhubarb Martinis at a friend's house before going out dancing. These were introduced to me by my auntie in Holland, who got the recipe from a German neighbour (they live on the border). Apparently, it's been in her family for years, passed down the generations, so it's a little bit special. You need a good quality, unsweetened rhubarb syrup. We bought this one in Germany, as you can see, but I reckon you may be able to buy a similar one in a health food store, or perhaps online. Make sure you mix the vanilla sugar in really well with the vodka first. Needless to say, the vodka needs to be ice-cold. We used Wyborowa. Then shake vigorously with ice and strain into a martini glass. Or a desert glass if you don't have any. And if you can't find any vanilla sugar then you can replace that with caster sugar and vanilla essence

Rhubarb Martini - serves two

500ml Rhubarb syrup
500ml Vodka
2 Tblsp Vanilla sugar

Happy 2012!