Monday, 27 June 2011

Barbecued potatoes

My default accompaniment for anything barbecued is either a garlic-heavy panzanella salad, preferably heavy on the cucumber for ultimate refreshment or cubed potatoes roasted in the oven with rosemary and garlic. However, we appear to be going through what the BBC and the dear old Met Office are endearingly calling a heatwave (I would call it summer and slap on the sunscreen, but then I am not paid for hyperbole and panic-mongering) and the thought of having the oven on was enough to make me hyperventilate and swoon to the floor (you can have that hyperbole for free).

Flicking through the excellent Barbecue for their Memphis recipe for pork ribs, I came across their recipe for barbecued potatoes which fitted the bill entirely perfectly and justified the turning on of the BBQ. I of course jigged it about a little, because I can never leave well enough alone, but the idea is in essence theirs.

Serves 2 with leftovers:

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add roughly two good handfuls of either scrubbed new potatoes or larger potatoes but in half. Cook at an enthusiastic simmer for 5-6 minutes until just tender but offering a little resistance to the point of a knife.

Drain them thoroughly, even drying them out over a low heat for a few seconds, toss in olive oil and season liberally.

Whisk together the juice of 1/2 lemon, 5-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp olives, stoned and chopped, a sprig of rosemary, finely chopped and a crushed garlic clove and season.

Thread the cooled potatoes onto skewers and leave them on the BBQ for around 15 minutes until they start to crisp and turn gold. When done to your liking, toss them in the dressing and serve warm.

Monday, 20 June 2011

An Italian slant on steak and chips

or, in other words, without any chips at all. We love steak, love it, but I have to admit the whole idea of steak, chips and bearnaise sauce does pall and so I look for other ways to get the juices flowing. I should add at this point MCD Sr is always very happy with chips and bearnaise; was in fact disappointed when I announced my intention not to do chips at all, so I worked hard to find a happy substitute. I think I did it.

My basic premise was a ‘spread’; you know, the kind of thing that makes elderly ladies’ eyes mist over a little at the effort and sheer abundance visibly displayed on the table. I had at my disposal an ageing fennel bulb, some ok tomatoes and mozzarella, a can of cannellini beans, a cornucopia of fresh herbs growing outside and a couple of hours off from MCD Jr to play. Here goes…

First : none of these dishes are time-consuming so do them in the order suits you – they can all justify hanging-around time.

Patate al forno: Oven-roasted potatoes to you and I, but once you’ve cubed and tossed the potatoes in olive oil, put them in a 200C oven for 20 minutes. THEN and only THEN add a few cloves of garlic and some sprigs of rosemary, otherwise the flavourings will burn and it all tastes of forest fire. Once they’re cooked through, usually another 20 minutes, leave them in the switched-off oven till you’re ready.

Fennel: Ok, this is just genius. MCD Sr hates fennel, but I noted he ate 2 strands of this, so I count that a win. Make an envelope out of some foil and shove in the fennel bulb, cored and thickly sliced, the juice of the other 1/2 of the lemon plus the squeezed-out half, seasoning and a good glug of white wine and a little olive oil. Bake alongside the potatoes for about 30 minutes. It comes out tender, delicious and submissive – just how you want a vegetable.

Insalata Caprese: Again a plain old tomato and mozzarella salad, but I came up with a fiendishly clever dressing. Slice or chop the tomatoes, then lay on a plate. Whisk together a good few tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, a little red wine vinegar and seasoning then drizzle over the tomatoes. Tear apart a mozzarella and lay on top, channelling Jamie Oliver as you do so. If you happen to have any fresh mint and oregano around, this is what I used, but use basil or parsley or whatever you have, just simply smash them up in a pestle and mortar, then whisk in enough extra virgin to make a loose dressing and some seasoning, then drizzle over the cheese.

Beans al’Italia: When we went to Florence many years ago, on our first night we had authentic Florence bistecca and white beans on the side. Dead simple, absolutely perfect and a bugger to recreate ever since. I may have come up with a second-best, given I am using canned and not fresh or dried. (If you do have either of the latter, then can I direct you to Jamie’s Italy, where there is a lovely recipe). I simmered the beans very gently in quite a strong vegetable stock*, along with the zest of 1/2 a lemon, a garlic clove and some rosemary. Don’t go too fast or too long or they’ll break up. Once they’re soft and heated through, season and set aside. You won’t need all the liquor, so just spoon them out onto plates to serve.

The steak I simply griddled to medium-rare, so I won’t bore you with the details. Serve along a table interspersed with wine bottles and candles for full effect. Don’t forget bread for all the juices. We didn’t have any and I regret it still.

NB: Any leftover beans are delicious heated up with a spoonful of cream and served on toast the next day.

*I hate to boast but I am so proud of this thriftiness. My veg stock actually came from cooking MCD Jr’s noodles, chicken and veg for lunch; I simply saved the cooking liquor for the beans with all its ready-made flavour. I rock. You have my permission to use a stock cube.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Venison chilli–sort of

Yeah, not really sure what to call this. It’s not one thing or t’other but it was really really nice. I had some venison shoulder steaks in the freezer and I thought they might not be meltingly tender cooked just as steak, so thought I might slow-cook them. Browsing, I came across Clarissa Dickson-Wright’s recipe for a Texas Hash in her Game Cookbook, which I adapted and messed around with and came up with this:

Slowly fry a sliced onion and diced green pepper (or whatever colour you prefer) in a casserole dish until softened. Meanwhile, chop up your venison; I cut it up into quite small pieces then add to the pot. Brown, then stir in a good tbsp of tomato puree. I poured in about 100ml passata, or use a can of tomatoes, and around 200ml beef stock, a good slug of Worcestershire sauce and a little smoked chipotle Tabasco which I happen to love, but ordinary will do fine. I simmered it for around 30 minutes, until the sauce had thickened and reduced a little, then seasoned and poured into a shallow lasagne dish.

Peel and finely slice some potatoes (sometimes, in the spirit of adventure I like not to use my mandoline but test my knife skills. The mandoline wins every time) and arrange prettily or haphazardly on top of the meat. Drizzle with oil and seasoning and bake in a 180C oven until the potatoes are tender. Frankly, this could take up to 50 minutes, so just keep checking. If the sauce reduces too much or the potatoes start to darken, slosh a tiny bit of water in and cover with foil. When all is tender top with slices of cheese and pop back into the oven for the cheese to melt.

Serve with a large helping of greens on the side for health.

Technorati Tags: ,,,

Friday, 10 June 2011

Cottage cheese–a retro pleasure

Frankly, the whole cottage cheese issue is a bit like Marmite. So, if you’re in the camp that goes ‘yack’ at the mere mention, turn away now. Or be brave, stick around and try it again.

I quite often whisk extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and sometimes a little garlic and herbs into yoghurt to make an impromptu sauce for chicken or lamb. It’s particularly good in BBQ surroundings. I also do something similar to ricotta if I have it in, spooning it over pasta for a quick dinner. I had bought some cottage cheese a little while ago for MCD Jr, thinking to spread it on toast for lunch and so on. However, it was a big tub and going nowhere fast, so I had to come up with something like this.

Spoon some cottage cheese into a bowl and whisk in the e-v olive oil – perhaps a couple of tbsp. Season and then stir in a few fragrant fresh herbs. I happen to have a particularly pungent oregano growing outside the back door so in it went, but basil, parsley, even mint would work well, although in the latter case I would bring out the cheese’s sour notes with a squeeze of lemon.

I cooked an over-generous portion of pasta – trottoli actually, those tight, fat spirals – and tossed with some tomatoes I had diced and left to macerate in good oil, garlic, seasoning and a squeeze of lemon. You may like to add a few chilli flakes. Stir the pasta and tomatoes together in the warm saucepan, spoon into a bowl and top with the cold cheese mixture.

The concept works well enough for breakfast too, with the tomatoes laden on toasted sourdough and topped with the cheese; something I often have with a pot of good coffee.

It’s a budget supper, to be honest, but it’s also a good alternative if ricotta or yoghurt proves elusive; everywhere sells cottage cheese, and if you can overcome any textural difficulties – and I understand that point of view – it’s a bonus in the fridge.

Technorati Tags:

Monday, 6 June 2011

A motley crew

I am just appalling at keeping up with myself, but I am back again. I thought it might be an idea to jot down a few suggestions to try over the summer, particularly as the lying BBC weathermen have us desiccating slowly away over the coming months (as I write this, it’s the wettest Monday morning in months...)

Suggestion no. 1 is a take on salsa verde, that pinging green sauce that goes so well with lamb, fish and practically everything else and ratatouille, given I had no courgettes or peppers. I had some lamb chops I particularly wanted to roast until rosy pink inside and wanted a refreshing side dish. I whizzed up in the food processor (you don’t want a smooth sauce, more of a sludgy paste), three to four  anchovies and a little of the oil, a good squeeze of lemon, a big handful of mint leaves, a few oregano leaves, a tiny bit of grain mustard and enough olive oil to loosen. Check the seasoning and lemon juice in particular. Drain and rinse a can of borlotti beans (or cook your own fresh, naturally) and toss in the dressing. I roasted some cubes of butternut squash and aubergine alongside the lamb, then tossed the vegetables with some fresh chopped tomato, a handful of rocket leaves, then stirred them through the beans and dressing.

Coming back to the missing ingredients above, roasted peppers would work fabulously with the dressing, with or without the lamb.

Suggestion no. 2 is just a very simple dressing to spoon over squid or fish fresh from the BBQ. Squeeze a lime into a dish, add a little chopped chilli, half a tsp of cumin, a little salt and then whisk in some olive oil. It just lifts like nothing else.

No. 3: Going back to the asparagus and pea puree I made a few weeks ago, my most recent batch found a culinary bedfellow in the scooped-out insides of a baked potato, piled back in the skin and topped with a little grated cheese before being heated through in the oven. It would be lovely with something porcine – perhaps even such an old-fashioned thing as a gammon chop.

The hot sunshine of last week prompted a flick through some books to find an exciting salad recipe for no. 4. Jamie at Home has a recipe for strawberry and halloumi salad with speck ( a cured ham), which was just the ticket. Macerate the strawberries with a tbsp balsamic vinegar, a little lemon juice, salt and pepper and a little olive oil. Fry a few slices of halloumi in a pan until golden. Toss the strawberries through a salad leaves, top with the halloumi slices and if you have anything in the way of crispy bacon, ham or even speck, it’s terribly good with – and not so bad without.