Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Honeyed Pigeon and Beetroot Salad

The weather has much improved, and though it's not exactly hot out I decided this week it was time for salad. Really wanted that fabulous melange of flavours and textures that a good salad delivers. Too cold yet for great tomatoes or cucumber I wondered about a warm salad, using tiny potatoes and earthy beetroot. Nuts of course, and garlic crumbs as I seem to have accumulated bits and pieces and ends of loaves and do love the way they fry up to gorgeous. Thought about it for a bit longer then set my heart on pigeon. No idea why - the challenge of cooking something new perhaps, and the swiftness with which they're done has a definite appeal. Robust rather than delicate I figured they would be a good match for the rest of the plate.

I had a jar of Sarah's Wonderful Blueberry Honey, a new Irish product kindly sent to me by Bord Bia. I had a hankering to use that too for St Patrick's Day, to go with potatoes and pigeon and lots of green salad - just seemed right. I made a simple walnut vinaigrette to toss the leaves then made a spectacularly wonderful dressing with the honey and coriander - seeds and root - and a touch of shallot to tease out the sweet earthiness of the beetroot and the pigeon.

Seriously good.

Warm Pigeon and Beetroot Salad

Serves 2

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients - it really is very quick to make and assemble and you can do pretty much all of it in advance except cook the pigeon

1 or 2 small beetroots
sprig of thyme
1 tbspn cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter

8-10 new potatoes

50g hazelnuts, lightly toasted and roughly crushed

Small head of oakleaf lettuce
Generous handful of rocket
2 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, washed and left whole
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 rashers smoked bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
4 pigeon breasts
2 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 shallot, finely chopped
2cm piece of fresh coriander root, washed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon blueberry honey
1 tablespoon olive oil

50g hazelnuts

2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs,
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
A grind of black pepper

Put the beetroot into a large square of foil along with a sprig of thyme, the vinegar and butter and season generously before sealing up the foil. Steam or roast for about 90 minutes until the beetroot is tender. Allow to cool a little then slip the skins off and cut into large dice and put the still warm pieces into a bowl and seal with clingfilm to keep them moist.

Wash and halve the potatoes then bring to the boil in a pan of salted water and cook till tender, 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Put the pigeon in a shallow dish with the thyme sprigs and the oil and allow to sit for a few minutes while you make the salad dressings.

For the green leaves, mix the walnut and olive oils with the lemon juice and season.

For the main dressing, crush the shallot, coriander seeds and root and salt with a pestle and mortar till a smooth aromatic paste is formed. Add the honey and mix well then add enough olive oil to give a slightly runny consistency. Season.

Peel and crush the clove of garlic then fry it in a small pan in the olive oil for a minute. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to fry till they are golden and fragrant, then season with pepper and remove from the heat. Drain on kitchen towel.

Gently toast the hazelnuts until they turn golden, remove from the pan and crush them slightly.

In a small pan fry the bacon on a low heat till the fat starts to rend and goes crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Turn the heat up under the same pan add the thyme sprigs for a moment then add the pigeon breasts. Cook for about 2 minutes till well seared on one side then turn them over and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the meat in the pan to rest while you assemble the salad.

Toss the leaves with the walnut vinaigrette and strew artfully across a couple of plates. Add the potatoes and drizzle with the remains of the vinaigrette. Add half the blueberry honey dressing to the beetroot, mix well and then add them to the salad. Slice the pigeon into bite size pieces. Scatter the bacon and pigeon across the bed of leaves and drizzle the rest of the honey dressing over the top.

Add the nuts and garlic crumbs and dinner is served!

Thoroughly wonderful meal for us, and I hope you all had a brilliantly enjoyable St Patrick's Day too!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lentils with curly kale, garlic and pork

Kale is an interesting vegetable. I had never come across it before I came to London - the most exotic green we had in Oz in my day was chard and we called that spinach. There is spinach there now but it is always prefixed 'english' and commands a premium. (Chard is of course still the one that locals go to for real spinach.) I brought my confused ignorance with me. I had no idea what kale was for a long time - and given that absolutely everything was new it took me some time to even notice it. Eventually I took in the big mounds of dark leaves, thick and frilled and totally alien. It looked so incredibly chewy, like it will never soften down, more like the outside leaves of cabbage you discard before cooking. Can't recall seeing it much on menus or even used widely on recipe sites, local or otherwise.

It demanded no attention so I paid it none.

More fool me. The trouble with ignorance is that it is so easy continue unenlightened through the simple failure of curiosity, the omission of enquiry, an unintentional blinkering - and this is probably the source of the definition of its blissful state. But to stand before a pile of unknown veg and wilfully persist in unknowing each time you catch sight of it? That is when ignorance turns to stupidity. To be ignorant is an acceptable thing - it holds within its very definition the possibility of learning something new, and knowledge dispels ignorance. To choose to not know knowing that you don't know but that you might? That's just plain wrong. And I do hate being wrong.

Baby steps - shredded and steamed some and served it with butter and pepper with roast pork and it was good. Braver, I made a kale salad with spiced sweet potato and almonds and loved every mouthful. Then last weekend I found a new Ted's Veg at Venn Street Market in Clapham and they had mountains of fabulous veg, including purple curly kale. Its deep rich colour was beautiful.

I could not resist the frill of those pretty leaves and brought it home without a plan, it's true, but with high expectations. Was a bit chill still in the evening and I had a small piece of cold roast pork and a new packet of green lentils. With the last of a head of celery and lots of garlic I could see what dinner might be.

Lentils with curly kale, garlic and pork

I used the last of the roast pork from earlier in the week but you could use 100g of fresh minced pork or omit it entirely if there's no meat in the house. Most important of all - be generous with the garlic, it is the secret.

Generous serving for 2 with a little left for one lunch next day

4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
2 tbspns olive oil
2 sticks celery, cut into 1/2cm slices
If there are some celery leaves, chop them separately and leave to one side
About 100g cooked pork, finely diced or 100g fresh pork mince (optional)
250g green or brown lentils, sometimes called Egyptian lentils, rinsed
1 bay leaf
250g curly kale, very thick stem removed but leave the rest, shred the leaves into 2cm strips
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a wide pan and gently fry the garlic and chopped celery for a couple of minutes till fragrant and slightly softened. Add the pork and stir to coat, and cook through if using mince, for about 5 minutes.

Add the lentils, bay leaf and enough cold water to cover by about half a centimetre and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pan, and leave to cook for 20-30 minutes till the lentils are almost tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse the chopped kale well then tip into the lentil pan and stir to incorporate. Put the lid back on the pan and let the kale wilt for 3 or 4 minutes. Stir again and add the celery leaves for garnish, if you have some.

Serve in big deep bowls with some bread if you have it.

Blissfully good. Just so many textures and flavours in one bowl.

The meat is optional, it adds more dimension but I have cooked lentils in versions like this for years with and without it and all are good, especially if you drape a gently poached egg on top for extra unctuousness.

All in all, this is a meal worth knowing!