Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Week 22 - Polpo

This week's #cookbookchallenge is from a much-loved classic; Polpo. A cookbook gifted to me by Stealth that features Venetian inspired recipes from the London-based restaurant chain that, as I sit writing this, I realise I still haven't actually ever visited. Although Spuntino (RIP), where I remember spending a perfect afternoon with Stealth and several negronis, was a favourite.  

In fact, it's such a firm favourite that it turns out I have already written about it on this very blog, way back in 2013. Which feels like a lifetime ago now (in fact, despite priding myself on my elephant-like memory, I did actually have to search back to check and it seems I made a fennel and chickpea soup I have absolutely no recollection of). I also particularly liked the picture of a negroni, in the snow on my front lawn.

One dish that I really wanted to try was the fritto misto. Squid rings, whitebait and shell on prawns, dusted in flour and dipped into a mixture of egg whites and sparkling water before being deep fried in vegetable oil and served with a spritz of fresh lemon. What could go wrong?

Well, pretty much everything. But I did manage to cobble together all the ingredients (more difficult than it may sound in the midst of a pandemic) and cook it - along with some sticks of courgette, which also feature on the Polpo menu as a popular side order - and get everything in and out of a boiling cauldron of oil without any serious burns occurring. I think it was almost worth it as I ate the fruits of my labour in the garden, along with a chilled vino blanco.

There were also some simpler options, aided and abetted by top class ingredients from The Italian Shop in Maidenhead, which is an Aladdin's cave of wonderfulness, and has helped keep me sane on essential shopping trips to buy pasta and fruit and veg (and cannolis).

First a bruschetta (on homemade sourdough) with stracchino cheese - a fresh cheese made of cow's milk that was a first for me. Slightly chewy, I'd liken it to a cheese spread on steroids. Which is a pretty great thing. The recipe paired it with fennel salami and fresh figs, and it was the perfect mix of salty, creamy, crunchy and sweet.

I also dusted the mandolin off and (carefully) cut radishes and fennel into wafer thin slices, which I then draped over a pile of fresh Sicilian ricotta, topped with chopped fresh mint leaves. The ricotta was transcendental; like eating a tangy cloud of loveliness, set off with the fresh bite from the veg. 

Of course, I couldn't neglect the classic Polpo meatballs and tomato sauce. If you came to visit Chez Famy circa 2013, there was a pretty high chance you were going to get a bowl of this. In fact, there's a pretty high chance you still might.

I still make the sauce (which is still my favourite) in exactly the same way with three tins of tomatoes (occasionally, I also throw in a few fresh ones, if it's the right time of year and I've got them to hand), an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a glug of olive oil, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of chilli flakes. Salt and black pepper to taste. after it's finished cooking, I add fresh oregano from the garden and whizz with the stick blender until it resembles a certain well known brand of tinned tomato soup. 

I'm still not sure why something so simple is so quite so good; but it is. At Polpo they serve a plate of the meatballs with the sauce and a toothpick and let you get on with it, but I prefer to make mine slightly smaller than the recipe and serve with spaghetti and fresh flat leaf parsley, which is growing in abundance on my patio at the moment. There aren't many dishes I make more than once, but this has remained a firm favourite. Stay tuned for the 2027 update, to see if it's still on the menu.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Week 21 - Momofuku - David Chang

Life in lock down has sometimes felt hard, and and has often felt long, but it hasn't been without its merits. Who would have imagined at the turn of the year that being on a work conference call in your dressing gown while eating cheese on toast for breakfast (don't worry, my camera was off...) would be seen as acceptable behaviour.

One of the highlights has been #cookbookchallenge (it seems at least I picked the right year to do something that's pretty much based around being at home), which has proved a comforting certainty in stormy times. Although it has also seen my cookery book collection grow exponentially at a time that most other people are having a clear out (in my defence, my new 'office' features my laptop balanced on a pile of cookery books....).

Another highlight has been our Saturday treks, through the woods and up the hill to our local butchers (which may sound idyllic, but that hill hurts after a Friday night drinking Too Much Beer). While our visits are usually to buy supplies for #cookbookchallenge, sometimes it's just for the Marmite sausages. A guaranteed hangover cure.

These visits are often supplemented with a visit to the allotment on the way home, to pick up some greens and further cement or slow metamorphoses into Tom and Barbara Good (although the Ewing won't really be satisfied until we have a goat munching on the lawn, a brood of hens laying eggs and a cockerel to annoy the neighbours). 

And this week's challenge - David Chang's celebrated bo ssam pork shoulder that currently has over 3 and a half thousand (mostly) positive reviews on the NY Times website - perfectly combines meat and veg. The shredded Korean-style pork being wrapped in the Ewing's home grown lettuce leaves, something that eagle-eyed readers (hello Mrs P) might remember also turned up in the Hawksmoor kimchi burgers a couple of weeks ago.

While the dish is traditionally served with slices of cold steamed pork belly, here a whole shoulder, or boston butt, is marinated overnight in a rub of salt and sugar and then slow roasted until the meat pulls away from the bone. A sprinkle more of sugar is then rubbed into the skin and it's put in a hot oven for a final blast. The result being tender shreds of meat with a crisp carapace of lacquered skin. 

I'm usually firmly of the belief that more is more, but here I stuck ridgedly to the recipe, seasoning with only salt and sugar, and the results were fabulous. Helped, no doubt, by a very fine piece of free range pork with plenty of creamy fat. Not cheap, but very much worth it.

Alongside we also served, steamed white rice (Uncle Ben's finest), quick pink pickled onions - a thinly sliced red onion mixed with the juice of half a lime, a couple of tbsp of cider vinegar, a tsp of sugar and a tsp of salt and left to marinate for an hour or so - and the never-ending kimchi from the aforementioned burgers. 

A bit of heat to counteract the sweet-saltiness of the pork came from a jar of Indonesian sambal olek chilli sauce. Most chilli sauces would work well here, such as sriracha or, most authentically, gochujang, and the spice also helps cut through the richness.

Bo ssam - adapted from David Chang's Momofuku

2.5 kg bone in pork shoulder
100g caster sugar
100g sea salt
50g light brown sugar

Place the pork in a dish (I used a shallow roasting tin I cooked the pork in the next day). Mix the caster sugar and the salt together in another bowl, then rub the mixture all over the meat. 
Cover it with cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
When you're ready to cook, heat oven to 150C. 
Remove pork from refrigerator, brush off any excess sugar mixture and discard any juices. Place the pork in a roasting tin (if not already) place in the oven and cook for approximately 4 hours.
When the meat is starting to fall off the bones, take the pork out the oven, uncover if you have wrapped in foil, and sprinkle the brown sugar onto the meat.
Turn the oven to 180, place the pork back in and cook for another 20 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and sticky. Be careful not to let the sugar burn.
Leave the pork to rest for at least a hour.
When ready to serve, carefully remove the skin, which should be crackly and crisp and the perfect pre-dinner snack, before shredding the meat and placing on a serving dish. 
Serve with your chosen accompaniments.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

week 20 - Gather Cook Feast

Back in a dark, gloomy January, when we could still go to the pub, hug people and watch Final Score on a Saturday, one of the very first things I set my sights on making for #cookbookchallenge was blackcurrant leaf panna cotta. Propped up in bed, browsing through a giant stack of cookbooks, this unusual twist on a classic immediately leapt out. 

Buoyed by the fact the Ewing confirmed there were blackcurrant bushes at the allotment, I excitedly began planning what type of cream to use and which gelatin would work best for the perfect wobble.

Of course, in my excited fervour, I had neglected to consider that there wasn't a bud on any branch yet, let alone the handfuls of big, green leaves that are needed to infuse the dairy, giving the delicate dessert its gently perfumed flavour. And, furthermore, they wouldn't be ready until the end of May, just before the bushes start to fruit and the leaves lose some of that flavour as the plant puts all it's energy into the intense dark purple berries.

Not known for my patience, I waited, and waited, and waited some more. Inspecting the progress every time I visited the allotment; rubbing the leaves gently between my fingers (try it next time your near a blackcurrant bush. Or fig tree, whose leaves can also be used to flavour panna cotta or ice cream); and checking how many were on each plant, lest I stripped them bare.

Finally, they were ready. Of course, by this point the idea of artisan cream and different setting agents had been replaced by queuing up to get into the corner shop in the hope they would still have some milk, but I did successfully manage to get gelatin and vanilla paste (which has all the lovely speckles in it that are missing from extract) plus cream and fresh raspberries.

Alongside I also made rye flour shortbread, which was inspired by the recipe on the back of a bag of rye flour delivered by Dove Farm. Made from rye flour, butter, sugar and ground almonds. I would highly recommend it as an accompaniment, or just to scoff warm from the oven with a cup of strong coffee. If you haven't got a bag of the specific flour in question to consult, you can find the recipe on their website.

Blackcurrant Leaf Panna Cotta
Serves 2

225 ml double cream
50 ml whole milk
handful of blackcurrant leaves (around 15/20) 
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
25 g of caster sugar
1 1/2 leaves Dr Oetker gelatine

serve with
Fresh fruit (I used raspberries)
Shortbread fingers or crunchy biscuits of your choice

Wash and dry the blackcurrant leaves.
Place the cream, milk, blackcurrant leaves and vanilla in a lidded box and place in the fridge overnight to infuse.
The next day, tip the cream mixture and sugar into a pan and bring to a simmer. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.
Bloom the gelatine leaves in a little cold water until soft.
Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, then add to the pan and take off the heat. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved.
Divide the mixture among two ramekins and leave to cool. Place into the fridge for at least four hours, preferably overnight, until set.
To serve, run a knife around the edge of each panna cotta, dip each mould into hot water for five seconds and then turn out onto a serving plate. 
Garnish and serve immediately. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Week 19 - Hawksmoor at Home

Having more time at home does come with some unexpected benefits. A much shorter commute (yes, I am still showering and making it downstairs each morning. Although the trousers have been jettisoned...). There seems more time to go online and spend ridiculous amounts on hipster wines and beer that looks like orange juice. And, of course, far more time for cooking.

There's been #selfisolation sourdough bread; obviously. Made to rise using Keith, my yeasty starter. Yeasty sourdough starter. There's been buttermilk-brined chickens, and southern fried chicken (who need the Colonel anyway?). And there's been some fermenting. A project I pretty much undertook solely in order to make the famed Hawksmoor kimchi burger.

While there is a recipe in the book, I went slightly off-piste with my version, picking suggestions up, magpie-like across the internet. While the traditional uses napa cabbage and Korean chilli flakes (gochugaru), I used a bog standard white cabbage and red chilli flakes I bought from a market in Palermo, on our last trip to Italy.

Having tried a reasonable amount of Kimchi (sadly on these shores as we haven't yet made it to Seoul) I was very happy with my effort. While not entirely authentic, it tasted salty, hot, crunchy and a little bit funky; perfect to cut through the fatty beef and oozy cheese in a burger.

Kimchi, my way

1 cabbage chopped into large chunks (traditionally Chinese or napa, but I used an ordinary white one)
1/4 cup rock salt

1/2 cup of fish sauce
1/2 cup red pepper flakes (Korean gochugaru if you can, but I used some I bought on holiday in Italy)
1 tbs light soy sauce
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 knob of ginger, peeled
a bunch of spring onions or chives, washed, trimmed and chopped into chunks
2 carrots, peeled and julienned

Place the cabbage in a large bowl, add the salt and massage in.
Leave for at least three or four hours, turning the cabbage every hour. (I got distracted and ended up leaving mine in the fridge overnight)
Place cabbage in a colander and wash thoroughly with cold water to get rid of excess salt,
drain and dry cabbage very well, place in a large bowl and add spring onions and carrots.
Whizz the ginger, garlic, soy, fish sauce and chilli flakes in a blender until it becomes a smooth paste.
Tip the paste into cabbage mixture and massage in (use rubber gloves to stop the chillies irritating your hands).
Pack the cabbage into sterilized jars or a clean plastic box, put the lid on and leave at room temperature for about 48 hours, undoing the lid each day to release any gases that have built up.
When you can see small bubbles, store in the fridge, where it will keep fermenting and should keep for at least a couple of weeks.

As I frequently say to my wife (to her displeasure) if you're going to get wet, you may as well go swimming. So, as well as fermenting the kimchi, we also grew the lettuce at the allotment (well, it had already been growing, but we harvested some fresh for the purpose); I ordered some Ogleshield (a kind of English raclette, made on the same farm in Somerset as Montgomery Cheddar); and we hiked to the butchers for some freshly ground chuck to make the patties. The Ewing even made the Dan Lepard brioche bun recipe from the book. 

If you find yourself with free time then the buns are well worth a bash; she also shaped some into finger rolls which are the perfect vehicle for a sausage, also picked up from the butchers. Well, would be a shame to walk all that way without stocking up on some extra pork products. And the burgers themselves? Well worth the wait.

Hawksmoor brioche buns

50g custard powder (or potato starch or cornflour)
550ml milk
25g unsalted butter
2 tsp sugar
750g strong white flour
1 (7g) sachet of instant dry yeast
2 tsp salt
A beaten egg for glazing

Whisk the custard powder into the milk and pour into a saucepan. 
Bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and sugar until melted, then pour into a mixing bowl and leave until barely warm. 
Add the flour, yeast and salt, mix well and leave for 10 minutes. 
On a lightly oiled surface, lightly knead the dough until smooth, then return it to the bowl and leave covered for an hour and a half.
Divide the dough into pieces (the Ewing went with 90g, but I'd recommend about 120g) and using a little flour, shape them into balls. Place them on a lined baking tray and flatten slightly with a rolling pin. Cover and leave to rise for about an hour or until they have doubled in size.
After waiting for the buns to double in size, brush with beaten egg sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake at 200°C for about 20 minutes until lightly golden. 
Leave to cool before using.

Kimchi burgers serves 2
Adapted from Hawksmoor at Home

2 burger buns
200g minced beef (I used chuck containing about 20 per cent fat)
Ogleshield cheese - one thick slice per burger
Hellmanns mayonnaise
Lettuce (romaine or baby gem)

Divide the meat into two and shape into rounds about 12cm-14cm in diameter. Press the meat firmly together. With your thumb make a slight hollow in the centre of the burger – this will prevent it from rising up while cooking and looking like a meatball.
Season the burgers with salt and pepper.

Preheat a ridged grill pan over a high heat until almost smoking.

Lay the burgers in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. You don’t need to oil them first, just don’t be tempted to turn them too soon.)
Flip the burgers and repeat the process until they are nicely charred. This will give you a pink interior. Cook them longer if you prefer them more well done.

Preheat the grill to melt the cheese. While the burger is still in the pan add the slices of cheese and place under the hot grill for a few seconds until melted.

Remove the burgers from the grill and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes.

To assemble the burger, toast the cut sides of the bun and spread with mayonnaise. Place the lettuce leaf and kimchi on the bottom of the bun. Place the cooked burger on top and sandwich with the top half of the bun.