Thursday, April 25, 2013

Prawn and Noodle Salad

I have been thinking of  late about what it takes to put a meal on the table. So not just the chopping and the stirring but also the planning and the shopping and assembling and then the chopping and the stirring and - finally - the washing up, the clearing away, the cleaning of hob and benches and floors and the making sure that all the dishes and pots and plates are returned to their rightful place. I'm wondering about the balance - what makes it worth it and how much that influences what I choose to make and then whether I make it again.

I have been known to remake something that didn't work the first time in the hope that I will crack it the next time, so it's not always about taste. I have been known to really like something and never make it again as it's simply too much faff, so - again - it's not just about taste. I have been known to make something that is an enormous amount of faff, tastes great, and I mentally file it away to be made for special occasions only. It does get made again, and enjoyed, and mostly I am thinking I'm glad I don't make that every week... So - once again - not only about taste.

The last category is things that I'm expecting to be relatively straightforward that turn out to be an enormous faff which taste amazing and - with knowledge aforethought - I put straight on the menu for next week because I loved eating it so much that all the effort required in the washing up and the chopping and the extra trip to find the right noodles or sauce or particular veg or whatever is as nothing to the pleasure of  this food. Which is entirely about taste! There are some dishes that bring so much pleasure, such delight in every mouthful, that whatever it takes makes it worth it.

Such meals are remarkably rare - possibly fortunately! - but are a real joy to come across. We had one such last week, a Japanese inspired prawn and noodle salad that I've been meaning to make for weeks but, for one reason or another, it wasn't coming together. Then Friday I bought some wonderfully sweet prawns from Shellseekers and was sure that dinner would be whipped up in about 20-30 minutes. Ha!

The recipe comes from a recent cookbook purchase, Citrus and Spice, by Sybil Kapoor. It's a seductively lovely book written to match each month of the year and it's very evocative of the movement of flavour with the progress of time through the year. It's one of those books where you think mmmm, that sounds good, or yum must make that about pretty much every recipe. This was the first thing I'd made - there will definitely be more - and because the prawns were already cooked and nothing else was complicated or unknown I just assumed it would be really really quick. What I should have factored in was the book has a foreword by Heston Blumenthal, whose food I adore but, in truth, everything I've ever made from his recipes has taken vast amounts of time - again almost invariably worth it but it is already in my head that this will be slow before I set out. His admiration for the book and the cook is well placed, but it is a hint of what might be involved!

Buckwheat Noodles with Nori

This is included in February but will work all the way through spring and onwards

Serves 2

Sybil Kapoor notes that the nori adds an addictive ozone note to these noodles which will ensure that you feel virtuous and healthy as you slurp them up. She's right.

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
6 small spring onions - I used 2 very large ones
170g Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles
150g peeled, cooked North Atlantic prawns
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 medium eggs beaten
1/2 tablspoon sunflower oil
7.5g toasted nori sheets - a sheet about 12cm x 8cm

Put the ginger, sake, soy sauce and mirin into a small saucepan. Set over a low heat and slowly bring up to a simmer, then cook for 2 minutes. Leave to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Trim the spring onions and finely slice their pale green stems. Place in a large mixing bowl.

Bring a large pan of unsalted water to the boil. Gradually add the noodles, making sure the water doesn't stop boiling. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente. This is usually about 5-7 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly under the cold tap.

Meanwhile, pat the prawns dry on the kitchen paper and mix into the spring onions. Set a non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Whisk a teaspoon of sesame oil into the eggs. Add 1/2 tablespoon of sunflower oil to the pan and, once hot, add the beaten eggs and cook as a very thin omelette. Fry for 2 minutes or until cooked through. Tip the omelette out onto a wooden board and, as soon as it is cool enough to handle, roll it up and slice it finely into long thin shreds. Mix it with the prawns and spring onion.

Hold the sheet of nori with some tongs and wave it across the gas jet on the hob or over an electric plate to just warm it through. Snip the nori into small pieces and add to the prawns with the well-drained noodles. Whisk 2 tablespoons of sesame oil into the soy dressing and mix it into the noodels.

Serve immediately and be prepared for fabulous.

How much washing up is too much washing up?

I am so very glad I did make this unknowing - if I'd thought about the time involved without eating it first I  might never have done it and my culinary repertoire would be the worst for it. What's your tipping point for making - or not - new things?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The ultimate sausage sandwich

This week, anyway....

Early in the week, I bought a pound (money) scoop of peppers at Nour Cash & Carry in Brixton, but they were not as crunchy as I'd hoped when I got home. So cubed them and tossed them onto a flat roasting tray with some basil oil, a roughly chopped onion and a couple of flattened garlic cloves. Roasted them at 180C for about 30 minutes and they were transformed into a richly frangrant, brightly coloured tangle. Better even than I was hoping for, and good to eat with a tuna salad.

Next night we were off to Oval House, a tiny theatre local to home, so I wanted a quick and easy bite before we set out. Toyed with collation - the man does love a cold collation - but it didn't inspire. Thinking round it I decided the best use of the leftover silky peppers was with an Italian classic that I have loved since I first ate one a gazillion years ago - fennel sausage.

I've bought them all round London from different Italian delis, almost all of them stock them in some form or another, they're like a fresh version of fennel salami. Lina Stores in Soho has been making their own for decades and they are some of the finest I have ever come across. Quick bus journey and they were mine.

 While they cooked in a little pan, hissing and spiiting like a cornered cat, I buttered some crusty bloomer fresh from Di Lieto and split the rest of the peppers bewteen two plates. Handful each of greens

top it with a hot sausage and

there's a quick dinner fit for the man. And me.

I do love a good sandwich.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013


 The blog has changed a bit of late - Borough Market was once the focus of my food but it has changed and so have I. Nowadays my quest for fabulous encompasses lots of other places as does my weekly food shop. So, welcome to tidbits - all the other stuff I ate this week!

 We had a light supper at Fernandez & Wells at Somerset House, one of the most beautiful rooms I eat in with its impossibly high ceilings and enormous windows and utterly fabulous selection of mostly pork - hams, salami, chorizo, morcilla to go with a couple of well chosen cheeses, and a couple of  perfect nibbles of grilled padron peppers and salted marcona almonds. With a glass of wine there is no finer way to dine before the theatre. Sadly, the play - The Captain of Kopenik starring the inestimable Antony Sher - was a little less than the sum of its parts.

 Maybe one in twenty padron peppers is really hot - and it's always a suprise!

In our second cultural outing for the week we were headed to the Young Vic for A Doll's House, a play I'd never before seen on stage. We started with dinner at The Anchor & Hope, a place that I have really loved for years for its brillaintly cooked, gutsy British food. There was a time when, if there was a dish I'd never eaten but fancied, I would order it in this pub knowing that it would be the best rendition possible and I could decide if I liked it or not. And now, sadly, it's not so. It has many changes of staff over the years and it feels like the puff has gone. Dinner was perfectly reasonable - the man had sweetbreads with peas and bacon and I had a Barnsley chop with sweet potato - but we didn't come out zinging with the pleasure of our meal. It was the same last time we ate there, and I've heard similar reports from others that have eaten there lately. Shame.

The play, however, was brilliant, if you're in London and can get tickets, I urge you to go. It was one of the best nights at the theatre we've had in a while.

Friday brought with it the possibility of adventure. I had booked  to go to A Balkan Dinner, at the Frog on the Green, an event organised by Foodtrips, a brilliant foodie adventure that creates fabulous holidays I lust after and occasional nights like this. I know nothing of the food of the Balkans but it turns out the unifying elements is yoghurt. Which works for me - I am very fond indeed of a good yoghurt.

Chef John Gionleka stems from Albania, but his family and interests both span the entire region. His love of peasant food is paired with not quite so peasanty technique. John runs "Frog on the Green", the amazing deli on the Nunhead/Peckham borders that was host to us for the night.

My favourite of the night - chicken with a lemony yoghurt finished with hazelnut butter and mint

Globe zucchini stuffed wtih pork and pine kernels was well matched with soured goats' yoghurt

Loved the spring lamb but was almost defeated by the yoghurt gratin

 It was a brilliant evening - the shop had been converted into an ad hoc dining room and a group of fairly random strangers gathered to indulge in this lovely feast with musical interludes between courses.

 Saturday morning I nipped  up to my local farmers market at Oval. There's a good organic fruit and veg stall - the loss of Tony Booth from Borough is what really made the wheel fall off my food trolley, finding a new supply of great veg is an ongoing challenge. Bought potatoes, candy striped beetroot - because how could I resist?! - and probably the final purple sprouting broccoli of the year. Was planning a salad but alas is still too cold.

This is my biggest delight of the week. It's a tofu mould that I had to send to China for as they seem to be unobtainable any where closer than that. I have bought Asian Tofu, largely because I have never been able to buy tofu that comes anywhere near the bean curd flower we eat at Baozoi Inn. It is one of the best things I have ever eaten and it is more seductive every time I try it. So, adventures in tofu coming up!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Cheese and Shallot Quiche

My best piecrust ever!

We had some of the man's family to stay over Easter, so I'd taken myself to Borough on Thursday in order to be well on top of planning. As a concept it worked a treat, except that I discovered when I got home that I'd managed to leave behind the eggs I'd bought from Lizzie - and what's Easter without eggs?! I picked up some more elsewhere but then popped back in to the market Saturday to show the visitors and reclaimed my eggs, ending up with far too many for the week. Made a rich chocolate mousse for suppper Saturday and still had lots of eggs. Had to be quiche....

I was interested to try using lard to make the pastry - specifiically some I'd bought at Brindisa a while ago that is made from the fat of acorn fed Iberico pigs and mixed with a little pimenton to give a gloriously rich sunset red jar of silky fat. It is fabulous stuff, mostly used till now on hot toast thick sliced and topped, sometimes, with an egg. I'd done a bit of a google and the consensus seems to be that the best balance for shortcrust pastry is half lard/half butter mixed into double that weight of plain flour, then enough cold water to bind. The finished dough was a fairly vibrant orange and after a bit of blind baking it came out of the oven looking like a perfect summer. Crisp and short and wonderfully rich, it was possibly the best pastry I've ever made.

 The filling was easy - had a handful of banana shallots that I cooked down very slowly to a soft winey mass, then lifted it with a tiny splash of balsamic for added ooomph. Our visitors were from Cornwall and had kindly brought us some yarg,  a semi hard Cornish cheese made from grass rich milk and wrapped in stinging nettles. To keep the Cornish theme running I used a tub of clotted cream that was in the freezer to whip with the eggs, and the whole lot baked beautifully.

 Served with a herbed white bean salad and a crunchy mix of fennel, carrot and celery it was a seriously good meal for early spring - now we just need the weather to match!

Cheese & Shallot Quiche

This takes a little while to make as the pastry needs to rest before being blind baked but there is very little actual work involved for this lovely supper. It's such a beautiful colour, you can even pretend it's spring!

Serves 4 - or 2 warm dinners and 2 lovely lunches next day

For the pastry
200g plain flour
Generous pinch of salt
50g lard - iberico if you can get it
50g unsalted butter
About 100ml ice cold water
1 egg white, beaten

For the filling
400g banana shallots, peeled and roughly diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
200g yarg or other semi hard cows milk cheese, grated
4 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
100ml of cream, rich as you like
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Make the pastry first - sift the flour into a bowl with the salt and cut the lard and butter into it in small lumps. Using just your fingertips, mix the fats into the flour as fast as you can - you want to keep everything cold as possible for the lightest result. When it looks like breadcrumbs add half the cold water and mix in with a knife. Keep adding the water gradually till the pastry comes together in a ball. Push it all together in a ball, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or for a day or two if you're planning ahead).

While the pastry is in the fridge, heat the butter and oil in a skillet over a very low heat and add the shallots and garlic. Cook, covered, for about 30  minutes until you have a soft oniony mess. Take off the heat and leave to cool

Sprinkle some plain flour onto your worktop and rub a little into your rolling pin. Take the pastry from the fridge and roll it out into a circle that is big enough to fit your pie dish - I used a 23cm loose bottom dish but use what you have. If you keep turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll it out you end up with a reasonably good approximation of a circle. When it's big enough, drape it over the rolling pin then gently fit it into your greased pie dish. Use a little ball of pastry to push the edges into the base of the dish so it all fits snugly. Trim the overhanging pastry and put it to one side. Prick it all over the base with a fork then put the pastry back in the fridge for another 30 minutes or so. You can freeze it at this point for use another day if you want to.

Heat the oven to 180C. After the pastry has rested for half an hour line it with baking parchment and fill it with baking beans - I re use about 500g of butter beans that are now almost as hard as ceramic but cost pennies not pounds. Bake the piecrust for 30 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment, repair any little holes with the pastry you saved from trimming the edges and seal it with a little beaten egg white. Bake for another 5 minutes, brush the whole base with beaten egg white and bake for a further 4-5 minutes.

 Take the piecrust from the oven and allow it to cool slightly for 15 minutes or so. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and cream together until lightly foamy and season with salt and  pepper. Spread the soft cooked shallots across the base of the pie then sprinkle most of the grated cheese on top. Pour the eggs over the top, then sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

I'm a scaredy cat through bitter experience of having more than one quiche leaked onto the bottom of the oven so I always put the quiche onto a larger flat tray to bake - it's way easier to clean! Bake the quiche for about 25 minutes till it's gloriously golden on top and still a bit wibbly in the middle.

Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving out big slices to go with some fresh salads.

One way or another I will make spring come!