Wednesday 22 May 2013

They look a bit tired and sad and require a lot of cleaning but with the correct preparation and cooking they are full of flavour and can be used to good effect.

The Heart of the Matter

Fresh globe artichokes in varying shades of purple and green, and in various shapes and sizes, are a show stopper in any street market from spring though to summer in the Mediterranean. Not so very long ago, fresh globe artichokes (not to be confused with Jerusalem artichokes) were a rarity outside of specialist greengrocers but they are now creeping into mainstream supermarkets up and down the country.
These are not the young tender hearts we are familiar with preserved in oil.

They look a bit tired and sad and require a lot of cleaning but with the correct preparation and cooking they are full of flavour and can be used to good effect.
The artichokes can be cooked in advance and added to the freshly cooked pork when ready to serve.

NB a quick version of the recipe can be made using preserved artichokes. Simply drain a small jar of artichoke hearts and slice them thinly and arrange on kitchen paper to get rid of the excess oil. Prepare the pork tenderloin as below, top with the sliced artichokes, sprinkle with a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley mixed with 1 small finely chopped garlic clove, cover with a lid and leave for 5 minutes, shaking the pan from time to time.

Pork Tenderloin with Sliced Artichoke in Garlic, Parsley and White Wine
Serves 4

500 g pork tenderloin
Juice of ½ lemon
2 large fresh artichokes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A good handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
225 ml white wine
125 ml cold water
2 tablespoons of plain flour, seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper
A handful of flat leaf parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra finely chopped flat leaf parsley for serving

Cut away any sinew or fat on the tenderloin and cut into 2 cm thick slices. Arrange well spaced out, cut side down on a board and flatten them with the palm of your hand. Then cover with a length of cling film and using a rolling pin beat the pork pieces evenly to 5 mm thick slices and reserve.

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl of cold water. Clean the artichokes; trim the stem leaving 3-4 cm and scrape with a potato peeler. Pull away the tough outer leaves and scrape the base with the potato peeler. Cut the artichoke in half down through the stem, cut away the top of the leaves leaving the base and 1-2 cm of the leaves. Scoop out the choke using a serrated grapefruit spoon if you have one. You  will be left with the tender base and stem. See photographs. Immerse in the acidulated water until required.
When required, drain the artichoke halves, dry thoroughly on a clean tea towel and slice thinly.
Cover the base of a large frying pan with extra virgin olive oil, add the finely chopped garlic and parsley and put on low heat. When the garlic and parsley start to wilt, add the prepared artichokes and increase the heat. Cook for 3 minutes, turning the artichokes in the oil from time to time. Add salt, 125 ml of the wine and 125 ml cold water and cook for a further 20-25 minutes or until tender. Cover with a lid after the initial 5 minutes. Add extra water if necessary.
When ready to serve, dip the prepared pork tenderloin slices in the seasoned flour. Put a second frying pan on high heat and when hot add enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the base. Add the meat slices and brown on both sides then add the remaining 100 ml white wine. Reduce the heat and turn the meat in the pan juices.
When the artichokes are ready, transfer them to the pan containing the meat, making a single layer on top of the meat. Add the pan juices and cook for 3 minutes, lid on. Switch off the heat; add the finely chopped parsley and rest for a few minutes before serving with waxy new potatoes tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil or butter.

Asparagus time again!

Well it is asparagus time again and yet again, I cannot resist coming up with a new asparagus recipe for you. Enter, on cue, the first stubby, Wye Valley asparagus; probably rather later than usual as everything is way behind this year.
As you know from past years I get very excited about the new season’s crop of asparagus because I totally ignore all imports that arrive on our shores throughout the rest of the year. I feel much the same about, strawberries, raspberries, runner beans.....shall I go on?
There is no more delicious a starter than lightly cooked asparagus spears served in melted butter or with extra virgin olive oil. You might like to add a little grated Parmesan cheese or some black pepper, even some lemon juice but it is hardly necessary if the asparagus is freshly picked and freshly cooked. Dip them in a lightly boiled egg yolk or put them on toast with a poached egg. Add them to pasta dishes and risottos as the main event. This time around I have combed them with prosciutto and pancetta and put them in and on a tart.

Asparagus and Prosciutto Tart - serves 6-8

150g plain flour
15 g corn flour
1 teaspoon sieved icing sugar
pinch of salt
90 g softened butter
2 small free-range egg yolks
1 tablespoon dry white wine or iced water

8 tender thick asparagus spears
4 slices of prosciutto cut in half
4 eggs
250 ml double cream
50 g parmesan cheese
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
Freshly milled pepper
140 g cubed pancetta

Loose based tart tin 26cm, buttered
Rolling pin
A circle of baking parchment 2-4 cm larger than the tart tin
Dried beans for baking blind

Preheat oven to 220 F 425 C gas 7 then lower to 180C 350 C gas 4

Put the flours, icing sugar and salt in a bowl; add the softened butter, egg yolk and white wine if using. Quickly and lightly knead the ingredients together into a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and set in the fridge for an hour to rest.
While the pastry is resting prepare the asparagus; snap off the tough ends of the spears. Cut the spears in half. Wrap each tip half in a half slice of prosciutto; arrange in a roasting tin and reserve.
Put 250 ml of salted water on to boil. Cut the bottom half of the spears into 1 cm lengths and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until tender. Blanch in ice cold water, drain and pat dry.
When the pastry has rested, roll it into a neat circle on a well floured work surface. The pastry should be 3-4 centimetres larger than the tin.
Line the tart tin with the pastry, put the baking parchment on top and fill with the baking beans.
Put in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, or until golden around the edges, at the higher temperature. After this time, take out and discard the parchment and the beans. Paint the base with a little egg white.
Cook the asparagus and prosciutto rolls in the same oven for 5 minutes and reserve.
Put the eggs, cream, parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and pepper in a small bowl and whisk well, add the asparagus bits and the pancetta, mix once and pour into the tart tin and cook at the lower temperature until set, say 20 minutes.
Take the tart out of the oven, arrange the asparagus rolls around the top and leave to cool, take the tart out of the tin and serve with new potatoes and salad as a main course or on its own as a starter.

Surf and Turf Stir-fry

Stir-fry is a simple stand-by for mid-week suppers and this classic combination of steak and prawns is no exception. Rather than strips of steak this dish is made with minced steak. I have a favourite recipe from Cambodia that combines minced pork and smoky aubergines which is delicious, and it set me thinking about cooking other minced meats in a wok.  They cook really quickly and the addition of palm sugar and mirrin helps caramelise the meat giving it a rich texture. Serve stirred through boiled noodles tossed in sesame oil or plain rice.

We always drink jasmine tea with oriental food at home or in a restaurant; I find it is not only the perfect accompaniment, in that the fragrance perfectly balances the rich flavours, but it aids the digestion too. I recently bought some jasmine tea pearls. Whole leaves are rolled into perfect little pearly beads which unwind when brewed in boiling water; giving off their full scent. Expensive but heavenly!

1 bunch of spring onions
1 lump of root ginger
4 large cloves garlic
400 g minced steak
4 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
1 heaped teaspoon demarara sugar
1 large firm beef tomato, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 red pepper, cut into strips
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirrin
150 g ready cooked jumbo prawns
150 g sugar-snap peas
Vegetable oil

Finely chop the white of the spring onions, the ginger root and garlic. Put a wok over medium to high heat, when hot add 3 tablespoons vegetable oil then toss in the finely chopped vegetables and stir fry until soft but not browned, say 1 minute. Add the minced steak, a little at a time and stir fry until all the grains of meat are separate and browned well, say 5 minutes. Transfer to a dish to keep warm. Deglaze the pan with the rice wine, add the sugar and reduce by half, then add to the minced steak and stir.
Add 3 more tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan, add the prepared tomato and stir-fry on medium heat, to a mush, for say 5 minutes. Add the strips of red peppers and stir fry until they start to wilt then return the minced steak to the pan and stir fry to reheat. Then add the soy sauce and mirrin, stir fry to coat then add the cooked prawns and the sugar snap peas and stir fry for one or two minutes, add the spring onion tops (cut in julienne). Turn once to mix.
Prepare 3 - 4 servings of noodles as directed on the packet. Drain, toss well with 2 tablespoons of sesame seed oil and transfer to a large bowl, add two-thirds of the stir fry and toss well. Top with the remaining surf and turf stir-fry and serve at once with jasmine tea.

Monday 18 February 2013

For the love of food

When I was preparing for my ‘Getting ready for Christmas’ course back in December at the Chef’s Room, one of the men in the stores at Vin Sullivan’s said, tongue in cheek, “why bother; you can buy all that here”. And so you can!

You only have to run the gauntlet of any supermarket ‘ready-made’ aisle now to realise that the more cooking that is shown on TV, the more, what used to be aptly called “TV dinners”, there are to tempt you out of the kitchen. There will of course always be a place for ready meals; being able to put a meal on a plate without doing anymore than opening a packet and warming it is a convenience. But right now we are all asking what is in that packet?

The kitchen is the heart of a home, the place where everyone loves to gravitate, a place where magic and conviviality is made. Food that is made at home starts with thought and imagination; it contains the wholesome, possibly organic, possibly free range, possibly local or home grown ingredients that you have chosen. There is the time that you spend making the food and the care that goes in. There are the wonderful aromas that draw family and friends. Then finally there is the food itself and the enjoyment. Everyone eats and talks, sitting around a table together. This is the joy of cooking and there has never been a better way to show your love than cooking something yourself.

     Runaway Quails with Roast Squash - Serves 4

So much of my cooking is born out of necessity or rather what I have in the fridge. Last week I had some richly flavoured Trealy Farm black pudding that did not get used at Christmas. I had bought some chicken thighs for supper and it suddenly dawned on me that I could stuff them with the black pudding and in doing so created an interesting dish, fit for any occasion.

The name of the dish is a play on the Italian name for beef olives, Uccelli Scappati (Runaway Birds). The Italians traditionally, just as we once did, ate sparrow and blackbird. Chicken wrapped black pudding is bigger than a beef olive and looks rather like a roast quail - hence “Runaway Quails”.

8 chicken thigh fillets, skinned and boned (6-800 g)
8 sage leaves
100 - 150 g good quality black pudding
4 spring onions
8 - 16 thin slices of pancetta
8 – 16 cocktail sticks
100 ml white wine
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and cut into slivers
Salt and black pepper
Pre-heat the oven 200 C/Gas Mark 6.

Open out each chicken thigh on a board, season with salt and pepper and lay a sage leaf across the middle. Put a generous teaspoon of black pudding on the leaf.

Cut off the tops of the spring onions and reserve. Cut what is left of the onion into 4 cm lengths. Press one of these into the black pudding and roll the chicken up around it. Bind with one or two slices of pancetta and secure with 1 or 2 cocktail sticks depending on the size of the thigh.

Transfer to a roasting tin and add enough wine to cover the base of the tin. Chop any remaining spring onion into 1 cm pieces and scatter around the chicken with the garlic slivers.

Put in the oven and cook for 30 minutes then increase the heat to 220 C/Gas Mark 7, for 10 minutes to brown the pancetta. Switch off the heat and leave to rest for 10 minutes.  Pull out and discard the cocktail sticks.

Transfer to a serving dish to keep warm, on top of the squash (if using). See recipe below.

Put the roasting dish over medium heat and add a glass of cold water to the pan juices and stir to deglaze. Simmer for a few minutes and pour the juices and the bits of onion and garlic over the chicken.

Snip the reserved spring onion tops into short lengths and sprinkle a few over the chicken. Serve on or with sliced roast squash.

Roast squash with ginger - Serves 4

500 g butter nut squash or similar
1 knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
A few snipped spring onion tops

Pre-heat the oven to 200 C/Gas Mark 6.

Cut the squash into thin wedges and arrange in a lightly oiled oven-to-table dish, in a single layer.

Sprinkle with the chopped ginger. Put in the oven and cook until tender – say 40 minutes.

Leave to rest in the warm oven for 10 minutes. Serve with the chicken (if using) arranged on top and sprinkle with snipped spring onion tops.

A Simple Supper Party Menu to Cheer up the winter Blues

What better way to cheer ourselves up than to get a few friends around but can we be bothered? Getting motivated is never easy this time of the year. Well, take a look at this menu of simple recipes and see what you think. There is very little cooking involved and it is light and bright and comforting too! The salad starter is enhanced by the addition of rich sweet seasonal fruit and served on a bed of charcuterie. The main course is a tangy comforting pasta dish that you can make using up left over cheeses or buying new of course. To finish serve a simple colourful mandarin and pomegranate jewel salad. What could be simpler?
Visit your local deli and try some of our wonderful local charcuterie made by Native Breeds or Trealy Farm, oh yes – and pick up some interesting pasta while you are there and the cheese too.

Bresaola with Pear, Baby Leaf Salad and Walnuts - Serves 4

8 slices of bresaola or prosciutto di Parma
Baby leaf salad - 4 small handfuls
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 firm pears, persimmons or figs
Juice 1 lemon if using pears
A handful of broken walnuts

Put two slices of bresaola on each plate. Put the salad leaved in a bowl, add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and toss lightly. Make a pile of salad in the middle of each serving of bresaola. Cut the pears into wedges and toss in lemon juice and put on the salad. Divide the broken walnut halves between the plates. Serve immediately.

Rigatoni with Taleggio or Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Hazelnuts
- Serves 4 as main or 8 as starter

Delicious, simple and quick to make

Coarse sea salt
500 g rigatoni or similar ridged pasta
250 g taleggio, gorgonzola, stilton or any other left-over soft cheese
80 g butter
50 ml milk
75 g crushed toasted hazelnuts
Black pepper
100 g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Fill a large pan with water, add a handful of coarse salt and bring to a rolling boil, add the pasta, stir and cook on high heat uncovered. Taste a couple of minutes before the suggested cooking time on the packet is up.

While the pasta is cooking, trim off the rind from the cheeses and discard. Cut the cheese onto cubes and put into a small pan with the butter and milk on low heat and stir until the mixtures melts into a smooth sauce.

Drain the pasta when it is cooked al dente and transfer to a large serving bowl, add the cheese sauce, half the nuts, half a teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper, half the Parmigiano Reggiano and mix well.

Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top and serve with extra cheese.

Mandarin and Pomegranate Jewel Salad – serves 8

16 mandarins
1 pomegranate
Pomegranate cordial

Peel the mandarins and remove any loose pith from the peeled fruit. Cut into thin slices and arrange in a shallow serving dish.

Cut the pomegranate into quarters and turn out the jewels by pushing the pomegranate quarters inside-out; pull away and discard any pith.

Sprinkle the pomegranate jewels over the mandarin slices and add 4 tablespoons of pomegranate cordial and 4 tablespoons of water, stir and refrigerate.

Optional: add a tablespoon of your favourite citrus liqueur or brandy.