Monday, 27 June 2011

Chou Farci or Stuffed Cabbage

Inspired by TLI's little jaunt to Paris last week we began to flick through Elizabeth David at the weekend. He has been making me jealous with tales of dauphinoise potatoes, veal, red wine in the Marais, little lunchtime back street restaurants where they only serve a few dishes but everything is delicious... One such dish was a Chou Farci, a French stuffed cabbage dish. Be warned it isn't that pretty... Before we cooked it it looked like an alien's brain, or a weird dishevelled cabbage chicken... But once sliced up it was a bit more rustic looking and incredibly tasty. I imagine a bowl of it in the countryside with some crusty bread to mop up the delicious juice and a glass of good red wine. Rustic is definitely the word for it. Next time I will try and make smaller individual parcels per person that may look prettier than a large cabbage brain.

So we set off for the Grainger Market and returned with spring peas and baby turnips and lots of bits of pig. Mince, chops and a trotter to be precise, and some chicken livers just to up the meat quota a bit more...

This recipe is loosely based around Elizabeth's Chou Farci a la Mode de Grasse, a speciality of the town of Grasse in south east France, she actually has a whole chapter of stuffed cabbage recipes, this borrows a little from the others as well. These amounts could easily serve 6, we will be eating it all week... The concept is to separate the cabbage leaves out and then layer them back up with the meat mixture between each to reform a cabbage shape, tie it up and cook...

Firstly I set about shelling the huge bag of peas, you will need about 225g. At the same time blanch a white cabbage in a pan of boiling water for 5 minutes to loosen its leaves, drain and leave to cool when the time is up. When it is cool enough to handle peel away the leaves individually and leave to dry. I only got about half way into the cabbage before it was no longer blanched enough to continue, it was not a problem as there was too much food as it was... Put the peas in a large bowl, add a finely chopped leek, the finely chopped heart of a lettuce and 30g of uncooked white rice.

Now for the meat. Add the meat of 4 pork sausages, 4 slices of bacon finely chopped, one pork chop finely chopped and 3 or 4 chicken livers also chopped. Mix all of the meat with the pea mixture, add an egg yolk, and season with salt, pepper, mace, nutmeg, a crushed clove of garlic and some chopped rosemary and thyme. Then spread a layer onto each of the cabbage leaves.

Now you need to layer up the leaves one on top of the other, until they are all used up, finally rolling them round to reform a cabbage shaped ball... I freaked out a bit at this stage and am not at all sure I did it correctly. I will definitely make smaller individual parcels next time, I think it will be much easier, less stressful and prettier. Then you need to tie the whole thing up with string. Voila...

Line the bottom of a large casserole dish with squares of bacon and add 3 or 4 chopped baby turnips and 3 chopped carrots, the pigs trotter and a herb bundle of thyme, parsley, rosemary and a bay leaf. Put the cabbage into the centre of the pan and pour over a tumbler of chicken stock and a glass of white wine. Cook in a low oven, about 160°C for 2 to 3 hours.

It may be an ugly little rustic dish but it is definitely full of flavour. Serve in a bowl, with a big ladle of the gravy and the turnips and carrots. I will definitely be continuing my exploration of the Chou Farci, especially into autumn as I have already book marked a version with chestnuts, smoked sausage and partridge...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Spring Panzanella Salad

The EAT! Festival is in full swing in Newcastle and Gateshead at the moment, with markets and events happening everyday, all over the city. On Monday I went to an Eat-a-long film, we watched 'Julie and Julia' whilst being served the same food appearing in the film. We all sat at little tables and chairs in Gateshead Town Hall, checked table cloths and menus laid out and began to watch the film. Every so often the film would pause as the characters were about to tuck into something tasty and waiters would scurry around bringing us the same dish. It was a brilliant idea and a brilliant evening. We were served pepper and basil bruschetta, fresh bread and butter, little cups of lobster bisque, brie and grapes followed by beef bourguignon and raspberry and white chocolate truffle for pudding. We left incredibly full having thoroughly enjoyed the film...

Some salads were called for, to balance out huge French feasts on a Monday night... This is a lovely spring salad of bread, peas and asparagus. A traditional Italian panzanella is a stale bread salad made with squashed tomatoes and basil that soak into the the toasted bread. This is a green version that I found on the '101 Cookbooks' blog full of lots of spring greens, it will serve 2 or 3 people as a main dish or more as a side.

To start cut some day old bread into chunky cubes, I used a traditional wheaten Irish loaf which I love. Place the bread in a bowl and add a finely chopped shallot, a finely chopped clove of garlic, the leaves from a few springs of thyme, a pinch of salt and a large glug of olive oil. Mix everything together and then turn the bread out onto a baking tray and bake in the oven at 170°C for 15 minutes or so, until golden and toasted.

In a cold frying pan pour a splash of olive oil, a large splash of water and a pinch of salt. Turn the heat up high and when the water is bubbling furiously add about 8 spears of asparagus cut into segments, boil for about 20 seconds, then add 2 large handfuls of peas. Fresh or frozen, I used frozen as mine are still tiny pods on my pea plants. After a few seconds add 2 large handfuls of spinach and allow to cook until the spinach begins to wilt. There should still be a small amount of liquid left with the greens, this becomes a dressing for the whole salad.

Mix the greens with the toasted bread in a large bowl and add a handful of shredded basil and mix again. The bread is toasty and warm with garlic and thyme and the greens are tasty and perfumed with basil, all combined together it is a very fresh delicious spring salad.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Black pudding, Broad Beans and Mint

This isn’t really even a recipe, more just some tasty things gathered together to make a tastier thing, and it really is. Black pudding, mint and broad beans. That's all.

My broad beans are coming a long nicely, but not quite big enough to eat yet. I'll have to try this again when they are ready. They are such beautiful little things when you have taken them out of their sleeping bag furry pods. I think they look like little green aliens. I read that the Egyptians believed that when a person died his soul temporarily resided in a broad bean before passing into the next life. It made me smile.

Dry fry some cubes of black pudding. I got some from Donald Gilbert butchers in Gosforth, it was especially good. I am keen to try making my own some time, I think it's pretty messy and I'll have to look in to where I can buy gallons of blood... I'm going to start with my own salami and brasola first. I've been reading a lot about salting, curing and preserving and am going to make a start.

Fry the black pudding until it is crispy and dark brown on the outside and still soft in the middle. While it is frying boil the broad beans in an inch of salted water for 3 or 4 minutes, until they are tender, timing really depends on their size.

Then simply combine on a plate with some shredded fresh mint. The mint goes incredibly well with the black pudding, it's really delicious...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Allotment update

A little update from allotment land... The peas have started flowering so hopefully should produce some pods soon, I’m going to put some more seeds in so I can have them all summer hopefully. The broad beans on the other hand have produced their first little pods and look really healthy, I'm looking forward to tasting them. I have a lovely little Broad bean, Black pudding and Mint Salad I need to tell you about, it'll be even better with my own beans I think...

The apple tree is covered in tiny little red apples, it only had one last year so I’m very proud of it... The strawberries are coming along with pretty little white fruit ready to ripen. I doubt I will be serving up a feast from them as there are only about six of them... might have to put a few more plants in next year, I only have three!

I planted some savoy cabbages this week, and also some nasturtiums. You can eat the flowers in a salad and I'm also thinking tempura nasturtiums alongside courgette flower tempura might be tasty. I've also planted out the French climbing beans and the sweetcorn, both are currently looking incredibly shell shocked but I'm hoping they will pull through!

The cauliflowers are much bigger and look very healthy, I hear they are quite difficult little fellas to look after, but I have been watering them a lot and so far so good... When I first got the allotment it had been planted as a vineyard by the man before me. I have kept quite a few of them growing in amongst the vegetable beds, I doubt I am going to be bottling up Jesmond vintage bottles of wine any time soon, but they do have some tiny little grapes starting to form.

Back home I've been feeding and watering the tomatoes and they have grown about a foot and are starting to flower. I'm not sure how long till tomato time. The window sills are packed with runner beans, green courgettes, yellow courgettes, ball type courgettes and turks turban squashes, all waiting to appear... I'm finding everything takes longer than expected, but will persevere and be laden with produce any time soon I imagine...

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lamb Shish Kebabs with Smoky Aubergine Yoghurt

It was a lovely, sunny, warm Friday evening last weekend, which called for the trusty bucket bbq to be brought out of hiding. I remember lots of bbq's last year but we seem to have got to June without one this year strangely. So I invited a few friends round and welcomed them with cold fizzy wine and salty cashew nuts in the yarden (not quite a yard not quite a garden)...

This is by far my favourite bbq meal. Lamb shish kebabs with salads, sauces and toasted pittas. A spicy thick tomato sauce, a smoky aubergine yoghurt and a sweet cumin yoghurt. They all compliment each other perfectly, alongside the lamb and a simple chopped salad.

Prepare the chopped salad in advance, small cubes of cucumber, tomato and red onion, with a large handful of chopped flat leaf parsley. Seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Put the cubes of lamb into a big bowl, allowing enough for about 5 pieces per skewer. Add a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper, a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary and a pinch of allspice and leave to marinate until you are ready to grill.

The tomato sauce is made by sweating half an onion until soft, add a chopped clove of garlic, a pinch of chilli flakes and a tin of tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and add a teaspoon of caster sugar. Allow to simmer on a low heat for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is thick sweet and spicy.

While the bbq is heating up you can put on the aubergine. It needs to char and smoke so it is perfect to pop it on when the bbq is still flaming and getting hot, before it is ready for any meat. Turn it now and again so it is blackened all over and soft all the way through. The smoky flavour that comes from cooking it this way is delicious. When it is ready take it off the BBQ and slice it open to allow it to cool. When it is cool enough to handle scoop out all of the soft insides into a bowl, avoiding the black charred skin. Chop the flesh finely and add 3 large tablespoons of yoghurt and the juice of half a lemon and mix it all up.

Finally put the lamb onto some wooden skewers that have soaked in water, to stop them burning. Grill on the bbq for about 5 minutes, until they are browned all over and still a bit pink in the middle. Add a big pile of pitta breads to the bbq while everyone is helping themselves to kebabs, sauces and salad. Remove when warm and toasted. The cool smokey aubergine yoghurt with the charred soft lamb is delicious. Pile a little bit of everything into a pitta and away you go....

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Asparagus, Manchego and toasted seed Salad

I invited some friends over for some supper and a TV premier the other week. Supper was good, three lovely fresh salads and honey and sunflower bread. The less said about the TV premier the better, it's new, it's on MTV, it's set in Newcastle, it's full of awful people...

I decided on my Mackerel and Horseradish Salad, without the eggs this time, and with crème fraiche instead of yoghurt, it's much creamier. I also made the Ottolenghi marinated Mozzarella and Tomato Salad.

The new addition to the salad club was an asparagus salad with manchego, toasted pumpkin seeds, pine nuts and a balsamic dressing. The toasty nuts go really well with the nutty asparagus, creamy nutty cheese and sweet sharp dressing.

Scatter a large plate with mixed leaves. In a dry frying pan toast a large handful of pumpkin seeds and a large handful of pine nuts until lightly toasted. Transfer them to a bowl and leave to cool a little. Crumble the cheese into small pieces over the leaves, about a handful per person.

To cook the asparagus fill a frying pan with about an inch of water, add a large pinch of salt and bring it to the boil. Snap the hard end from the bottom of the asparagus spears and add them to the boiling water, about 5 or 6 spears per person. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until soft, but with a bit of bite still.

Drain the asparagus spears and drizzle a little bit of olive oil over them. Place them onto the salad plate in amongst the cheese and salad. Scatter over the still warm seeds. Quickly mix a simple dressing of two parts olive oil, one part balsamic vinegar and some salad and pepper. Whisk it all up and drizzle over everything.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Saffron Cauliflower, pinenuts and raisins with Belly Pork

In honour of the Champions League Final at the weekend, we decided on a little Spanish meal, we were supporting Barcelona, controversially... Some slow cooked belly pork with herbs, cooked the same way as my previous post 'Belly Pork and Beans' teamed with Spanish side dishes. Moros y Cristianos, which is a white rice and black bean dish with orange zest and parsley, and a saffron cauliflower with pine nuts and raisins. We even took a little trip to Carruthers and Kent in Gosforth for a lovely bottle of Spanish red wine to complete the plan...

This isn't one of my cauliflowers, they are still babies, just four or five little leaves. I don't know when the actual white cauliflower part, the curd, starts growing but I'm keeping a close eye on them. They seem to be doing quite well so far. Fingers crossed.

I have not really been much more adventurous with cauliflower than a basic cauliflower cheese in the past, and as I'm growing quite a few of them this year I guess I need to learn a few alternatives. The cauliflower is quite earthy and can hold its own with quite strong flavours and spices. My 'Flavour Thesaurus' pairs it with anchovies, almonds, chilli, cumin, garlic, hard cheese and saffron. I doubt all at once.... I'd like to make some sort of smoky cauliflower purée and also a ground almond cauliflower curry at a future date... I will keep on experimenting.

This recipe is enough for 2 or 3 people as a side dish and comes from the 'Moro' cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark. You need to cut your cauliflower in half and keep one half for another day. Remove the leaves, keeping any tiny ones and break the cauliflower into little florets. I tried some of it raw and it is actually very tasty, a bit nutty and musky. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the cauliflower, bring back to the boil for one minute and then drain and set aside.

Slice half a Spanish onion into thin slices. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil until hot and add the onion, cook it with a pinch of salt for 15-20 minutes over a low heat. Stir them every 5 minutes to stop them sticking. When they are done drain them, keeping the oil.

While the onions are cooking add about 25 strands of saffron to 3 tablespoons of boiling water and leave to infuse. Also soak 35g of raisins in warm water. Finally lightly toast 2 tablespoons of pine nuts in a dry pan until golden.

Return the pan to the heat and add the reserved onion oil until it is hot. Add the cauliflower and any small leaves and fry until it begins to colour, then add the onions, the saffron water, the pine nuts, and the drained raisins. Mix everything up and cook for 5 minutes until most of the water has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

This was delicious with the slow cooked soft pork and the mild creamy rice and beans. The football was quite good too...