Archive for the ‘winter food’ Category

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All-day luscious lamb

November 22, 2010

If you’re cooking for a crowd, this all-day, slow-roasted leg of lamb has to be just about the easiest – and most meltingly, lipsmackingly good – way to do it. I’ve adapted this recipe slightly from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking, but there are countless recipes around for similarly slow cooked lamb.

For some reason, when I’ve attempted this kind of thing before I have sometimes found that the lamb has been a bit dry and stringy, but this time it was perfect. I suspect in the past I actually haven’t cooked it for quite long enough, but also on too high a heat, so it dried out before getting to the fall-apart stage that makes it so divine. This time, I made sure to use a very large leg – about 3.5kg – and of course, being from Feather and Bone, the meat was top, top quality which I’m sure helped matters. And after an initial blast for browning, I kept the heat very low all day, at about 120 degrees C, and turned off the oven’s fan function.

Circumstances made me start this in the oven an hour or so earlier than I would have – had to go out for lunch, poor me – but in hindsight I think this was very good, because it made sure there was plenty of time. In the end, I cooked this for almost nine hours! The outside of the lamb had a burnished, golden crust, but was incredibly moist and succulent beneath the skin, breaking apart at the touch.

Do try this if you get a chance, and let me know how it goes, because I want to see if this recipe is actually foolproof or if it depends too much on ovens and sizes of meat and so on. For serving, I was going to shred the lamb and serve it in a bowl on a bed of the cooked vegetables, but my guests talked me into simply plonking the whole thing on the table in its baking tray, and we all dug in. The meat was so tender you could literally pull it away from the bone with a spoon, so that’s what we did. Rustic and slurpily good. This fed seven guests who are good on the tooth, with a hefty heap leftover, so I think you could safely say it serves eight to 10 people.

Luscious all-day lamb

  • 1 large leg lamb (around 3-3.5kg)
  • 6 onions, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled & chucked in
  • 6 carrots, quartered
  • 6 bay leaves
  • bunch thyme
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1½ bottles dry white wine
  • tiny chat potatoes, as many as you want

1. Preheat oven to 220°C  (I put ours on the full fan-force setting).

2. Layer the onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaves and thyme over the base of an uncovered large roasting pan (you need one that has a lid – a few layers of foil might work but you need to seal it very carefully at the next stage).

3.  Plonk the lamb on top of the vegetables, rub with salt & pepper and a little olive oil and roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

4. Remove from oven and turn the heat down to 120°C. I turned the fan off at this stage, which I think helped keep the meat moist.

5. Pour the wine and tomatoes into the pan, cover with lid or foil and return to the oven.

6. Leave it in there and go about your business, checking from time to time. The first time I opened the oven was after it had been cooking for around four and a half hours. It looked wonderful, but when I prodded it, it didn’t quite yield very easily, so I bunged it back in for another several hours, checking every hour or so. Patricia Wells, who doesn’t turn the heat down, says:

“Timing will vary according to the size and age of the leg of lamb, and type of roasting pan used. But once the wine has been added, it will general take 4 to 5 additional hours of baking. Obviously, it is best to check on the lamb from time to time, reducing the oven heat if the lamb begins to burn or the liquid begins to evaporate too much.”

7.  An hour or so before you want to serve, add the potatoes to the liquid, pushing them down so they are well covered. Cover and return to the oven till the spuds are tender.

There’s no need to rest the meat – to serve, remove the vegetables (now very soft) to a wide, shallow serving dish, pull the meat apart with tongs and pile it on top, and serve the delicious cooking juices separately. Or go rustic and serve directly from the roasting pan as we did, with a green salad on the side, and a good red wine.


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How to make a vegetarian smile, pt II

September 17, 2010

The last entirely vegetarian dinner party I cooked was a wintry little number, but very satisfying, with a few  nicely contrasting elements I think. The mainstay was a mushroom ragu served on creamy polenta, paired with a side dish of a punchy green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese.

There are a couple of things that made this work well. First, both the ragu and the lentils used  the roasted vegetable stock, as I described ages ago here. This time though, I took a leaf out of Skye Gyngell’s book – her secret flavour weapons often include tamari sauce and maple syrup, so I added a tablespoon of each to the reduced stock. I swear this little combo, while not leaping out as separate flavours, really gives a layered depth and complexity to the stock.

Next was the assortment of mushrooms. I used about 600g of combined chopped Portobello, field and Swiss brown mushrooms, and later added – importantly – a good tablespoon’s worth of dried porcinis to the mix. Again, this gives a big hit of rich flavour.

Mushroom ragu with creamy polenta

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 600g chopped fresh mushrooms
  • 1 x can peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup roasted vegetable stock
  • 10g dried porcini, rehydrated & chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • grated Parmesan, to serve
  1. Heat oil & add celery, carrot, onion, garlic and some sea salt, sauté until soft.
  2. Add a good big knob of butter & a little more oil, turn up the heat and – gradually, in batches – sauté the fresh mushrooms with the mirepoix over a high heat until the mushrooms lose most of their moisture and are nicely browned.
  3. Add wine, tomatoes, stock and herbs and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
  4. Add the chopped porcini and liquid to the sauce.
  5. Stir, then simmer uncovered for around 30 minutes (or even up to an hour),  till the sauce has reduced and thickened, adding another good slug of oil if it looks too watery. Add stock or water if at any stage it becomes too thick.
  6. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Not long before you’re ready to serve, make the creamy polenta – this is dead simple, as described here, but does take a little time. Just do the onion & milk bit ahead of time, and if you need to, have your guests chat with you in the kitchen while you stir.

Spoon the polenta into shallow pasta bowls, and top with a heap of the mushroom ragu (add a tiny swizzle of olive oil at the last second, if you dare), and sprinkle with Parmesan at the table.

Green salad with lentils & goat’s cheese

This zingy little salad can be made completely ahead of time and simply dressed & tossed just before you eat.

1. Sling half a cup of puy lentils into a pan of hot vegetable stock, and simmer for 20 minutes or till tender. Drain and return to the pan with a splash of olive oil till ready to assemble the salad.

2. Have some slow-roasted tomatoes (scroll down on the Essential Ingredients page) ready to go.

3. When you’re ready to serve, toss some good green salad leaves (specially good with some texturally springy ones, like curly endive and radicchio as well as soft lettuce) together with the scattered lentils and tomatoes in a bowl with a dressing of three-parts good extra-virgin oil to one-part best-quality balsamic vinegar. Then tear up some marinated goat’s cheese  (or even better, your homemade labneh!) and toss it into the salad in chunks. Serve in a bowl at the table.

Sweet ending

For dessert, I can’t recommend this whole orange cake highly enough – and because it’s made with almond meal instead of flour, it gives your guests another dose of good nutty protein. Serve it with some more yoghurt or cream on the side. Another almondy option is a frangipane tart, and although I haven’t made this particular one, there is a beautiful-sounding recipe here. Otherwise, I’d go for some other fruit-based dessert.

So there you have it – a simple but I think nicely varied vegetarian dinner menu for four, with heaps of punchy flavour and texture, and also providing a reasonably diverse mix of protein, dairy, carbohydrate and lots of other goodies.

I would love to hear comment from our vegetarian visitors about how this combination might be improved – and as well, keep your ideas for zingy vego dinner party dishes coming.

V

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Dusky secret: the power of porcini

July 15, 2010

You know those slightly unusual ingredients that give a layer of extra flavour and complexity to any dish they’re in?

Well, I think the porcini mushroom – Boletus edulis – is one of these, and certainly deserves its own entry on the essential ingredients page. Apart from being lovely to look at, they’re earthy in flavour, silky in texture, store well and have a cooking aroma to die for – which in my book makes them a perfect zing-thing pantry staple.

I’ve used both dried porcini and the frozen fresh variety, but the frozen seemed to have only about as much flavour as a good fresh mushroom, whereas the dried really pack a punch (if you are very keen, there’s a long discussion about the comparative flavours here).

The way to use the dried porcini, of course, is to toss them into a cup with a little water to rehydrate, and then chop roughly to throw into any ragu or mushroom dish. I use them in mushroom risotto along with other fresh ones, but lately I’ve also used them a couple of times in this very luscious duck ragu.

From what I can tell a typical Italian ragu is basically any Bolognese-type meat sauce for pasta, cooked as slowly as possible depending on the meat you choose.

I made this ragu by combining elements of this recipe from The Cook and the Chef (oh, how I miss them!) and this one from Mario Batali. Duck legs can be hard to find; I’ve made this both with fresh duck meat from the wonderful peeps at Feather & Bone and with confit duck legs from the butcher – either way it’s delicious. (If you use the confit, just shred the meat,  put it into the sauce after it’s been cooking for a good hour and warm the meat through. I left it for a couple of hours to absorb the flavour of the sauce.)

This is quite a simple but decadent dish to serve when you want something fancier than spag bol. And with the addition of the mushrooms, it becomes even richer and more velvety. What’s not to love?

Duck ragu with porcini

  • 4 duck legs and thighs, skin removed
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2 x cans tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 30g dried porcini, rehydrated & chopped
  • handful chopped fresh field or other mushrooms
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Remove as much fat & skin as possible from the legs & discard, then remove meat from the bones & chop into small pieces.
  2. Heat oil & add celery, carrot, onion, garlic and some sea salt, sauté until translucent. Add the bones from the duck.
  3. Add wine, tomatoes, stock and herbs and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer.
  4. In a separate pan, heat some oil and add a pinch of salt and sauté the duck meat till lightly browned, and just cooked. Set aside.
  5. In the same pan, fry the chopped fresh mushrooms till liquid has evaporated, then add these and the chopped porcini and liquid to the sauce. Stir, then simmer uncovered for around 30 minutes or till the sauce has reduced by half.
  6. Remove the bones, add the duck meat and cook over low heat for another 20-30 minutes or until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick and rich. Add stock or water if at any stage it becomes too thick.

Serve with rigatoni or papardelle or other boofy pasta, plus grated Parmesan or Pecorino.

Have you used porcinis in other ways? Do tell …

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Baker’s delight

June 22, 2010

How I love winter.

Well actually I don’t love winter, at all; I hate the cold. Ugh. Awful. But I do love winter food, specially the long-cooked, rich, stick-to-the-ribs decadent weekend variety.

And this potato bakey number, which I proudly invented on the weekend and then discovered to be an aeons-old classic called pommes boulangère, is my new favourite thing in the world. It’s got stock. It’s got spuds. My version’s got cream, and it’s got leek. If you can name one thing that’s not to love in this dish, I will personally come to your house and take it off your hands. It is also possibly the simplest potato gratin you’ll ever make, and your dinner guests will get down on their hands and knees and kiss your little toes for it.

I learn the origin of the name (‘baker’s potatoes’) from Damien Pignolet’s lovely book , French: “Tradition has it that one assembed the gratin at home and took it to the baker for cooking in the residual heat of the oven when the day’s baking was finished.”

Quantities and times are a little loose here and will depend on your oven,  the dish and the spuds, but the idea is that the spuds slowly absorb the creamy stock and brown to a lovely chewy crisp on top while remaining soft and creamy beneath.

Pommes boulangère a la Marrickville  (serves 4-6 greedy people)

  • 1kg potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups (ish) chicken stock
  • ½ cup thickened cream
  • salt & pepper
  • small sprig rosemary
  1. Layer the potatoes and leek & garlic mix in a shallow, oven-proof glass dish.
  2. Pour the stock and cream over the top, and push the rosemary sprig into the middle of the dish till hidden. The liquid should be just enough to come up to the top layer of potato – don’t drown them.
  3. Season (but be careful with the salt, depending on the saltiness of your stock as it’ll intensify as reduces).
  4. Cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and check whether spuds are too dry – add more stock and press the potatoes down into the creamy stock if needed.
  6. Return to the oven without the foil and bake for around 1 hour, or till golden on top, occasionally pressing the spuds into the liquid if necessary.

Remove the bubbling, golden, glistening joy of it from the oven, rest for a few minutes while you carve your roast lamb or chook and pour the wine, and serve hot from the dish at the table.  Then swoon.

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Sweetness and light

June 10, 2010

With all the slow cooking and braising we’ve been doing lately, the question of accompaniments arises. It’s easy to tire of couscous, polenta can be tricky and for some reason I’ve never been a big fan of plain rice with non-Asian food. Which is where Skye Gyngell’s sweet potato mash comes in.

You may know of Gyngell, the Australian chef whose Petersham Nurseries Cafe at Richmond in south-west London is now internationally famous. It is a beautiful place to visit when you’re next there – even if you discover, as I did, that the cafe is closed because Gyngell is back in Australia cooking at Sean’s Panaroma! But the nursery’s inexpensive tea house is lovely too, and the whole place is infused with that warm, gentle green softness that only comes with an English summer.

To get there from central London you just jump on a train to Richmond and then take a leisurely walk along the Thames. It seems so peaceful, and yet of course I kept thinking of how much Virginia Woolf is said to have hated living in Richmond (“if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death,” Michael Cunningham has her say in The Hours), and of the river, and the stones in her pockets …

Hmm, how to segue into sweet potato from here? Um … it makes life worth living?

Well, if made with  love, it certainly might help.

This mash recipe is from Gyngell’s book A Year In My Kitchen and is a very classy side dish. Its main claim to fame is Gyngell’s secret-weapon combo of tamari and maple syrup, which give many of her dishes their mysterious richness of flavour.

Add to that the single chilli in the boiling water, and you have a lovely warmth and complexity in what could otherwise be a rather dull side dish. Give it a shot. It’s especially good with Middle-Eastern style braises or tagines.

And buy the book – it is one of my favourites.

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 small red chilli, halved
  • Small bunch coriander, washed
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Peel sweet potato and cut into large chunks. Cover with salted cold water and add the chilli. Bring to the boil, then lower heat and simmer  for about 15 minutes or till soft. Drain.
  2. Blend potato, chilli and all remaining ingredients in a food processor, pureeing till very smooth. Adjust seasoning to your liking – the final result, Gyngell says, should be ‘a deep, sweet, hot, velvety taste’.

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A fine kettle of fish

May 23, 2010

Sunday lunch in winter is a very fine thing, and a big pot of shellfish stew has gotta be up there as one of the easiest ways to make it happen. I don’t think I’ve ever made a proper bouillabaisse according to a recipe, but over the years various versions of this fishy number have made their way to our table.

Great for a crowd or just few, as we discovered today it must also be one of the easiest meals to take to someone else’s place – just make the stock base at home, stick it in a container, then throw it in a pot with the seafood five minutes before you’re ready to eat. The prawn stock is the important bit. This quantity makes a hefty bowl for four.

Ingredients

  • 12 large prawns
  • 1 small fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • splosh white wine
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 3 strips orange peel
  • few threads saffron
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • ½ kg black mussels, cleaned
  • ½ kg perch or other firm white fish, cut into 4cm chunks
  • 1 blue swimmer crab, cleaned & quartered
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  1. Peel & devein prawns, leaving tails on and setting aside the shells & heads.
  2. Heat oil & toss in shells & heads, stirring over high heat till pink, then add leek, fennel, garlic & celery and stir till softened & starting to caramelise.
  3. Deglaze with the wine, then add stock.
  4. Remove as much of the prawn shells & heads as much as you can using tongs – but if a bit of leg or shell remains, what’s a smidge of crunchy crustacean between friends?
  5. Add tomatoes, saffron, orange peel & chilli flakes. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  6. A few minutes before you’re ready to eat, add the fish and cleaned seafood and turn the heat to low or even off.
  7. Check for seasoning, serve in big bowls with a drizzle of olive oil.

Make sure you have some great bread for dunking. Today our family from the beachside burbs provided some incredibly good sourdough baguette from Iggy’s Bread in Bronte – I’d never heard of this guy before today, but he’s obviously the business.

And if you have any other fishy stewy recommendations or ideas for giving this version some extra zing (a la a splash of Pernod), I’m all ears…

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Purple reign

May 19, 2010

Aren’t aubergines beautiful?

I routinely wish for a luxury garment in that exact glossy colour, and have never found anything near it. The search goes on …

Winter has  finally arrived here. Last weekend while staying at our friends’ cocoonish beach house (thankyou Caro & D…) I revisited Neil Perry’s recipe for ‘Cinnamon Scented Lamb’  casserole, of which eggplant / aubergine is a central ingredient.  The recipe is a corker, from that big fat white book of his (and theirs) called Food I Love. I don’t yet have it, but it does have an awful lot of good things in it and I think it must go on my list.

Not only because I love pictures of aubergine, but also because it is a very good recipe, I’m sharing here a very slightly adapted version of Mr Perry’s dish, which is full of those irresistible Middle Eastern flavours. This quantity is quite generous for seven or eight, I’d say.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg lamb shoulder, cut into chunks
  • 2 solid small aubergines, cut into large chunks
  • 6 baby aubergines, thickly sliced into rounds
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons currants
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 brown onion, halved & then sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes & juice
  • 1 small red chilli, split
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • juice 1 lemon
  • ½ bunch chopped mint
  • ½ bunch chopped coriander

Method

  1. Sprinkle the aubergine generously with salt and leave for half an hour. Then rinse salt and any liquid away, and dry eggplant with paper towel or clean tea towel.
  2. Soak currants in vinegar in a cup or bowl.
  3. Using a cast iron cassserole or heavy pot, fry eggplant in batches in hot olive oil until golden on both sides; remove & drain on paper towel.
  4. Add lamb pieces to the pan in batches over high heat till lightly browned; set aside.
  5. Fry onion & garlic  till soft, then add tomatoes, currants, chilli, spices & stock, return lamb to pan and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 1 to 1.5 hours or till lamb is very tender.
  6. Return cooked aubergine to pan along with lemon juice & seasoning, and stir to combine. When well combined, remove from heat and add herbs.

This dish is great served with plain couscous (or rice) and steamed green beans.

While winter evenings are fab for cooking, not so great for photography – but here’s a pic of the casserole anyway to give you an idea. Shame about the lack of natural light … it actually looks much more luscious than this in real life.

Anyhoo, if you’re a meat eater, I urge you to have a go with this one. And I think I might have a crack at a vegetarian version too, with chickpeas – do you think that would work?