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.