8 April 2014

Sprouting broccoli carbonara

There is a purple light at the end of a wintry tunnel. When you feel as if you might never want to look at another root vegetable, purple sprouting broccoli peeks its head out and everything starts to feel more spring like. Our local sprouting grows throughout winter, though is best in February and March, leading up to the first asparagus of the season. Whilst I like the calabrese variety of broccoli, it is sprouting that I look forward to more.

Whether it be the purple or white variety, it becomes the ever present green on our plates. The thin stems and broad leaves have a mild bitterness, which is great with a piece of grilled cod or a robust stew. It's also delicious when steamed and dressed with warm oyster sauce and ginger. Though perhaps my favourite way, is with pasta.

Tomato based pasta sauces are plentiful and delicious (if a little repetitive), so excluding the "golden apple" can be a bit of a challenge. Melted leeks with prosciutto, or slow cooked peas with mint are delicious but most people will probably reach for carbonara when they want a change. Cooked properly, carbonara is rich, cheap and easy to make. A little crumbled Italian sausage combines beautifully with the eggs, cheese and broccoli for an interesting twist on the classic guanciale.

This will serve four people.

Whisk 1 whole egg and two egg yolks with a good handful each of parmesan and pecorino until well combined. Blanch two good handfuls of sprouting broccoli until tender, then drain and shock in cold water. Crumble two fat Italian sausages or well spiced English bangers in to a frying pan with a ton of ground black pepper and heat slowly to release the fat and crisp the edges. 

Boil 400g of penne in well salted water until al dente. Toss the pasta and broccoli in the sausage fat with a few tablespoons of the pasta water. Then, off the heat, add your egg and cheese mixture to the pasta and toss as if your life depended upon it. Add more pasta water as you go to achieve a silky sauce. 

Serve with more grated parmesan or pecorino at the table.

25 February 2014

Beef. Low and slow.

It is my belief, that there are two ways to treat great beef. High and fast, or low and slow. High and fast meaning a well charred, blood oozing steak or burger. The low and slow approach is for the more gnarled, well worked muscles. After a week of mainly eating vegetable based dinners, our flesh lust got the better of us. So on a beautifully crisp, spring like Saturday afternoon, I went the slow route.

2 February 2014

Slow cooked Savoy

Right, this may be a hard sell but bare with me. 

I can appreciate that, to some, the idea of cabbage cooked for thirty minutes plus, is a major culinary no no. The bitter, sulphurous smell of over cooked cabbage emanating from the school canteen, is not something I remember with great nostalgia. But that water logged, green-brown mush, was a million miles from the sweet, earthy, buttery cabbage I'm imploring you to try.

There is the argument, that if you cook anything in enough butter, it will be rendered delicious. I whole heartedly agree. Butter is magical. When it's bitter outside, what could be better than a mound of buttery mashed potatoes. Or thick toast, soaked in the glorious, golden grease. Cabbage is no different, especially savoy.

I don't subscribe to the notion that all veg should be served al dente. Slow cooking some vegetables brings out whole other layers of flavour. Yellow beans slowly simmered in a garlicky, basil perfumed tomato sauce is a thing of beauty. As are broad beans and peas in the Roman classic Vignole

Give this method a chance, it might just change the way you see cabbage forever.

Get yourself one medium savoy cabbage and remove the tougher, dark green outer leaves. Half the head and remove the inner most core with a sharp knife. Eat that raw, it's crunchy and delicious. Divide each half in two and chop roughly. 

Melt 100g of unsalted butter in a deep sided saute pan with a lid. When solid has become liquid, but before any sign of browning, drop in your cabbage and toss in the butter. Season well with sea salt and ground white pepper before adding a splash of hot water. Cover the pan and leave on a low heat, moving the cabbage around periodically. 

It really depends on the freshness of the cabbage so taste after thirty minutes, though it could take up to forty five. It should be sweet, buttery and full of strong, irony cabbage goodness. 

I love serving this with a thick pork chop or tossed with crisp pancetta, taleggio and farfalle.

9 January 2014

Long time, no speak

I last blogged in April. Why? I'm not totally sure. The arrival of our first child, as well as our third house move in four years threw me. With so much to do each day, something had to give. Being as writing a blog is a pretty vain, time consuming thing to do, it had to go. I thought I might only write one a month but when I drafted out a blog on my excitement at the coming of spring,

"Has the arrival of spring ever been more glorious than this one? After what seemed like eternal darkness, cold and snow, the first few shafts of light have finally begun to burst through the leaden sky. But after such incredible harshness many questions are being asked. Will the asparagus have survived? Will we get broad beans and peas this year? How will the Welsh hill farmers, who suffered twenty foot snow drifts, bounce back from a crisis that seems to have outdone foot and mouth. Now more than ever our local producers need our support.

For a while, I thought I was doomed to an eternity of cabbage and..."

14 April 2013

Chicken necks, bacon fat

I fear this is a blog post that you will either love or hate. In the same way people can't bring themselves to eat liver or heart, to some, the idea of eating a neck is incomprehensible. But I ask, what is the difference between a neck and a shoulder? Or a leg? And what could be nicer than a braise of lambs neck? If you put silly squeamishness behind you, a whole world of intriguing tastes and textures awaits you.

21 March 2013

Macarons & More. Norwich

I first came across Tim Kinnaird and his macarons, at Creake Abbey farmers market. After a brief chat with the amiable Mr Kinnaird (one of the great things about farmers markets), my wife and I purchased some of his wares. The chocolate brownie was great but the macarons were exceptional. They make for  a wonderfully delicate treat. Crisp yet yielding meringue, sandwiching a soft almond based filling. The flavours range from the slightly obscure green tea, to comforting creme brulee. We were instantly hooked and have bought them when ever we come across some. So imagine my delight when I found out the first shop was to open in Norwich.

12 March 2013

Spiced Cauliflower

Is there anything more depressing to see on your plate, than some plain, over cooked, wishy washy cauliflower? The sort of gormless vegetable I was routinely forced to eat in the school canteen. They were water logged, mushy and smelt obnoxiously sulphurous. But cauliflower can be so much more. Who doesn't love cauliflower cheese? Swaddled in a rich, cheesy bechamel, then baked until crisp and brown, the humble cauliflower is transformed into a classic comforting side dish or meal.