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.

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