Saturday, 28 January 2012

Fish and chips to dine for

Some of my fondest memories are from annual childhood holidays to Cornwall. No trip would be complete without an evening visit to the local fish and chippie. With the saliva inducing scent of salt and vinegar rising from the newspaper parcels, we'd quickly drive to the favoured spot overlooking the sea, wolf down the fish and chips, before walking along the beach and skimming stones in the general direction of Padstow harbour.

I say fish and chips, but in my formative years, the jumbo saviloy was king, turning my nose up at mum's slimey looking alternative. When pushed, the only redeeming quality I can think of was that at least the saviloy wasn't battered.

As I've grown older (not that much older), my palate has improved and I regret not savouring the taste of fresh, locally sourced produce. But this recipe goes someway to make up for that.

Fish and chips to dine for

You will need:
  • Three chunky white fish fillets (preferably something sustainable, but cod and haddock will be OK. Purchase it from the fish counter on the day of cooking)
  • 15 to 20 Charlotte new potatoes
  • Half a bag of kale
  • A good handful of thyme
  • Light soy sauce
  • Four wedges of lemon
  • Two hungry grown ups and two braver than I was children
Begin by placing a glug of vegetable oil into a large roasting tin and popping it into an oven heated to 200c.

Slice the potatoes to roughly 3mm thick (thin and even is what we're going for) and discard the ends. Others will argue that there are far better potatoes to roast, but I've chosen charlottes as even when sliced this thinly, they still retain their structure...and this BBC recipe says so too!

Add the potatoes to the sizzling roasting tin and liberally cover in thyme, with a sprinkle of salt.

These need a good 45 minutes to cook through.

Halfway through is a good point to prepare your fish. When fish is super fresh, it really does speak for itself so treat it delicately when it comes to flavour. Season the flesh with pepper and a drop of extra virgin olive oil (Oliviers are top notch, but Bertollis would be great for this too). Heat the grill as hot as it will go and place the fish skin side up and cook for eight minutes. My fillets were super thick so after eight mins, they needed a tad longer so I turned the grill off, flipped them over and left for another minute to be piping all the way through.

For the fusion element (tenuous link I know as it's only a bit of soy, but I'm going for it), heat a deep, non stick pan and add the kale (kale's bang in season - I love this site). Dot with six or seven...well dots of light soy sauce and gently wilt for no more than 30 seconds to retain the goodness - 'simple science': boiling or steaming vegetables can boost their antioxidant properties - actually more so than raw vegetables. Frying is bad as these antioxidants are lost trying to counteract the effect of heating oil. We're not using oil so smiles all round! Kale in this way is a great accompaniment as the salt from the soy compliments the dish, and the crunch make the kale taste great, making it a perfect way to get young ones to eat their greens...and unlike the packets of 'vegetable crisps', you have complete control as to what goes in.

To assemble the plates, take the beautiful thyme infused, crunchy tatties and add the respective portions in the centre of the plate (biggest for the biggest bear, and so on, you know the story). Place whole fillets of fish on top of the potatoes for the grown ups, and cut the third fillet in half for the youngsters. Whip off the skin (personal preference) and squeeze the juice from the lemon on top, garnishing with a sprig of fresh time. Add a portion of kale and serve.

Unlike the fish and chips of my youth, this feast requires eating at the table (hence the 'to dine for' bit), and presents the perfect opportunity to discuss your next seaside trip...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Spicy granola

When running my eye down the side of cereal boxes, my vocabulary expands with an array of questionably pronounceable ingredients. The helpful danger signs were already on the fronts of course, all packed full of sugar and salts. For those that market themselves as 'healthy', once you look beyond the chocolate coated calcium, I'm sure the net nutritional gain isn't all it's cracked up to be.

So, inspired to create my own breakfast alternative, where I controlled the content, for a reasonable price, I came up with this, my spicy granola.

Begin by adding 400 grams of large oats into a baking tray. Sprinkle on top a layer of mixed toasted seeds (20 grams)  and a dusting of cinnamon, grated nutmeg and crystalized ginger. Next, cover the mix with diagonally drizzled honey one way, and maple syrup the other (note, the diagonal is purely for aesthetics, smiley faces are also acceptable). For the final twist, dot on a few even blobs of marmalade. This cuts through all the natural sweet with some sharpness, which will make the front of your tongue dance with pleasure on every bite. The best marmalade for the job is Bettys marmalade - we have a contraband whiskey infused jar, a present I always look forward to from my partner's mumbie.

Mix together all the ingredients evenly, give the tray a quick shake to roughly level - "top tip" don't compact the mix, unless you want to make these into bars (which would be a great idea, I'll have to try that) - and bake on the middle shelf at 180 (gas mark 5). After 15 minutes, turn the oven off (save the planet) and leave for a further five minutes, until lightly crisp and golden.

Enjoy your granola with a splash of milk or for a truly delicious dessert, sprinkle it on top of some mixed berries that have been cooked with butter and sugar in a pan, and top with warm custard. Heavenly.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bella pasta

For Christmas 2010, my wonderful girlfriend Miss Crumpet gave me the gift of pasta with an Imperia pasta machine. I have never looked back.

Making pasta from scratch, process-wise, is surprisingly simple and a great way to involve the whole family (mainly small people that like to get their fingers sticky!) to learn the origins of the classic Italian staple.

I loosely follow Lorraine Pascale's method, halving the quantities to:
  • 200g of type '00' flour
  • 2 medium free range eggs
  • a healthy glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • a 360 degree twist of mixed peppercorns (white, red and black)
Begin by adding the flour to a bowl and creating a well in the centre in which to crack the two eggs and add the oil and pepper. With a fork, start working the flour into the eggs until a crumb-like texture forms. Now the fun bit. Add a light dusting to the head chef's hands and get them in the bowl! Bring the dough together and gently knead for a few minutes until it comes together fully, but being careful not to overwork - "simplified science" flour contains wheat; wheat contains gluten; kneading combines proteins that give the dough its structure. Over knead and the pasta will be tough and rubbery - not yummy.

Once you're happy the dough is ready, pop it in the fridge for at least 10 minutes before you roll it out. After many botched rolling efforts, this step has proved crucial.

Set your pasta machine up on a sturdy bench, take your dough from the fridge and with a rolling pin, give the machine a head start by rolling it out to an inch or so thick. Then on the highest setting, feed the pasta through the machine, and work through all the settings, down to the thinnest roll. Be careful as your dough will get collosal, so unless your work bench is the size of a diving board, you may want to make the pasta in batches.

Now you have your sheets, the pastaworld is your oyster. From rigatoni, to fusili, to lasagne, there are over 35 different pasta shapes, and that's before you get into the realms of your raviolis and other filled pastas. My advice, start simple. My pasta machine came with a spaghetti and taglietelle attachment, but if yours doesn't, simply fold the pasta end on end, twist and cut into thin strips and unfold - taglietelle, voila.

With your pan of bubbling hot, salted water crying out to be filled, place your pasta in, give it a quick stir, and literally a minute later when it's slightly lightened in colour and risen to the service - off the heat; drain it, pop it in a warm bowl and there you have your very own, handmade, mumma's special recipe, pasta!

But what to have with it? Again, simplicity can often be divine. One of our faves is courgette, lemon and basil. Simply heat some oil in a pan, cut the courgettes in half, add them to the pan and cook until they have a healthy brown colour. Add a squeeze of lemon, quick stir, then straight onto the pasta, garnished with a few chopped/ripped leaves of basil and some parmesan. Delicious.

That may all sound like a lot, but now that I've got my technique down, it really does only takes a few minutes longer than emptying dried pasta into a pan and the result is so much nicer. If you are loyal to your dried pasta, opt for de cecco, pound for pasta, it's our personal fave.

I love pasta, we eat it weekly so in a few weeks time, I'll follow this up with a seasonal recipe for filled pasta.