Friday, 21 April 2017

In praise of warm salads

A Warm Salad of Broad Beans

I'm writing about salad.  Risky, I know.  Who needs to be told how to make a salad?  But I like to cook with the seasons and this is the kind of thing I put on the table at this time of year so here we are.

Now, when days can be sunny and warm and full of promise of summer to come, temperatures can still plummet at night.  We growers eye our early spring sowings nervously and hope Jack Frost stays away.  In the shops there are early new potatoes from Jersey and France.  Our own broad beans are just beginning to sprout but the Italians have sent over a welcome taste of their early crops.  The organised have salad leaves growing undercover.  It's the perfect time to move on to what I think of as 'warm salads'.  The basics are an ever-changing succession of leaves with warm, waxy potatoes, vinaigrette dressings, sometimes with the addition of herbs or mustards.  Broad beans or Asparagus kick off the season, moving on to peas, French beans and Runner Beans.  A little protein comes in the form of bacon, pancetta, chorizo, smoked trout or anchovy.  Seasonal food with still a little warmth in it, the salad leaf wilting slightly in the agreeable embrace of the other ingredients.  And now we've started, we'll be eating warm salads right through to autumn.

Broad Bean Plant illustration by Patricia Curtan
in my copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

The Broad Bean, Vicia faba, also known as the Fava bean, has been cultivated and eaten in Europe for at least 5,000 years.  It was the original 'bean' until other varieties arrived from the New World causing it to be then known as the 'Broad Bean' for its distinctive shape.  Broad Beans grow well in cool damp climates so the English spring offers perfect growing conditions for them.  When the pods grow to around 5cm they can be cooked and eaten whole.  Any larger and the casing needs to be discarded and the beans eaten either raw or cooked.  When the beans get bigger than a thumb nail the pale grey-green outer casing can become tough and indigestible so they need to be cooked and slipped out of their coats to reveal their pea-green inner.  At the end of their season they become mealy but are still good cooked, mashed to a puree and seasoned with lemon, herbs, olive oil and salt. Good herbs to use with Broad Beans are chervil, mint, dill or tarragon.

In Italy and France at this time very small, young broad beans are cooked whole in their pods and tossed in butter and herbs.  In Italy in Spring, raw broad beans are podded at the table and served with a salty local cheese - in Rome a pungent Pecorino, in Sardinia a ewe's milk ricotta called Marzotica.  In Spain, The Catalans have Fabes a la Catalana, a dish that marries broad beans (fabes) with black pudding, or other sausage or slices of pork fat. The Portuguese cook Favas Guisadasa stew of Broad Beans and Chourico sausage.  

Having picked up Patience Gray's Honey from a Weed in search of wise words on Beans, I'm thankful I chose to write about fresh, not dried, Beans.  A reading of her chapter on Beans, Peas and Rustic Soups is rewarding on the subject of 'beans make you fart'  I'm sorry, but this appeals to the English sense of humour so, having found it, I have to offer you this sentence  "... every cook will recall his/her favourite fartiste .... but I would like to put in a word for Papa Galeazzo, the 17th century priest who once stole the 'stopper' used by the Baroness of Lucugnano in the Salento on festive occasions, replacing it artfully with a bird whistle to startling effect in the country dance."

That gem alone justifies this posting, I think!  So here comes a fresh Broad Bean version of a warm salad - Italian beans for me right now as my own plants stand a mere 12cm high.  Broad Beans have a particular affinity with bacon so that's my choice with a peppery rocket.  It's worth knowing that 1 kg of pods yields around 300g of beans, but salads don't require exactitude, which is another reason to like them.

A warm salad of Broad Beans
(serves 4)

1 kg Broad Bean Pods (around 300g podded beans)
800g waxy potatoes
200g streaky bacon or pancetta
2 good handfuls of rocket (or other salad leaf)
2 tablespoons lemon juice or Moscatel vinegar
Salt and pepper
1 good teaspoon of Dijon mustard, if using
6-7 tablespoons Olive Oil

Wash the potatoes (skin on or off, as you prefer) and boil for c. 20 minutes until cooked
Pod the broad beans, wash and boil in salted water until just cooked - 1-2 mins for small beans.  Drain and plunge into cold water to retain the colour.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and fry in a hot pan until crisp.
Mix your vinaigrette in a large serving bowl.
Drain and slice the potatoes thickly before adding them to the dressing.  Add the cooked broad beans, the bacon (including the cooking fat), and the rocket/salad leaf.  Stir gently but well and serve.

If you grow your own Broad Beans, remember to nip out the top few centimetres once they are fully in flower.  This will discourage black fly from colonising the fleshy top-growth and encourage the plant to put its energy into the beans rather than growing taller.  You can cook and eat the pinched-out tops just as you would spinach. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Lemon Cake

Lemon Cake sliced

We all need no-nonsense cake recipes.  The sponge cake recipe that always rises to the top of the tin; the perfectly-spiced Carrot Cake; the most chocolatey Brownie and flourless chocolate cake; the retro Upside-Down Cake; the please-don't-be-dry fruit cake; and, these days, the failsafe Gluten-free Cake (thank you Moro the Cookbook) - essentials all.  I would add to that list a luscious Lemon Cake.  In fact I'd put it at the top of my list of go-to recipes, but then I'm a sucker for citrus.

Helena Attlee in her book The Land Where Lemons Grow tells us that Sicilian growers "call their beautifully cultivated lemon groves Giardini or even Paradisi".  As a grower - sadly not of citrus - this appeals to my bucolic senses.  Dipping into her book, which covers all types of citrus grown in the areas of Italy where cultivation is suitable, has just made me check my stash of marmalade now the season is coming to an end.  Helena reminds us that only the British are somewhat fundamentalist about what goes into marmalade, demanding Spanish Seville oranges when there are plenty of other bitter citrus fruits that do just as well, if not better.  This year my own favourite marmalade contains bitter orange, mandarin and lemon, but Seville Marmalade has a place on my shelves too.

Sicilian Lemons

I've hardly scratched the surface of Catherine Phipps's book Citrus: Recipes that celebrate the sweet and the sour but enough to be awakened to how much I take lemons for granted - the dressings and syrups; the curds and lemonades; the sorbets and marinades; the puddings and preserves; the stuffed chickens and braised chicories.  Enough to identify with the truth that "If a dish seems muddy or flat, with indistinct flavours that are not quite gelling, the chances are a squeeze of lemon will sort it out." Rachel Roddy in Five Quarters puts it most succinctly, I think.  Lemons "lift, cut, sharpen, encourage and brighten"  And she has a star recipe for Ciambellone di Ricotta e Limone (Ricotta and lemon ring cake), which vies for my attention with Carla Tomasi's recipe for Cassola (Lemon Cheesecake).

Which brings us back to cake.  I picked up the original of this Lemon Cake recipe when visiting the USA around two decades ago.  It's been tweaked and turned on its head many times since - I remember originally it contained poppy seeds and sometimes it still does.  Like so many recipes I make again and again I thought it wasn't special enough to merit a posting.  But if I've learned anything, it's that those are the recipes that we should be sharing.  I value this recipe as I value those lemons.

So here is what I think I can now call my Lemon Cake recipe.  Even after all this time I feel another tweak coming on.  Searching my bookshelves for a Jane Grigson quote on 'lemons' I noticed a reference to lemon syrup to be poured over a pound cake with a suggestion to add a "measure or two of gin"!  Maybe next time I will.  This one is just made for a cup of tea.

Lemon Cake

Lemon Cake
(21 x 11 cm loaf tin)

100ml milk
100g soft butter
175g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
175g plain flour
1½ teaspoon baking powder
Grated zest of 2 lemons
¼ teaspoon salt

Lemon Syrup:
60g granulated sugar
60ml lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan)/Gas 4.  
Lightly butter and flour the loaf tin.
Cream butter and sugar well.
Add the eggs, little by little, beating well.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest.
Add the dried ingredients to the creamed mixture in three portions, alternating with the milk, mixing each in briefly just until smooth.  
Pour into the prepared loaf tin, making a slight indent down the centre so the cake doesn't rise too unevenly.  
Bake until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean - 55-60 minutes.  Remove from the oven.
Gently heat the lemon juice and sugar for the syrup until the sugar has dissolved.  
Pierce the loaf with a skewer around 12 times and pour the hot syrup over the cake in the loaf tin.  
Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.  Cool completely, wrap in cling film and leave at room temperature overnight.  Keeps well for 3-4 days.

If you would like to add poppy seeds, add 3 tablespoons to the milk and allow to soak for 1 hour before making the cake as above.


Sweetmeat Cake

Spiced courgette and lemon cake

Courgette Soup

Cucumber Salad

Rosie's Blackcurrant and lemon posset 

Tarta de Santiago

Warm plum and citrus compote

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Barcelona January 2017

Silver Birch in January

We have "polar air" insists every swaddled Barcelonian we speak to.  It's mid-January and we were promised 15C but now the daytime temperature is hovering around 5C and it is shocking the locals. The skies are blue, there are oranges on the trees, few tourists, and it's warmer than London so we have no complaints.  We are regular visitors to Barcelona, so I've put links to previous posts at the bottom of this piece.  Let's dive in.

Croissant de mazapán
from Pasteleria Hofmann, Barcelona

First stop is Nomad Coffee to fuel-up on their Rwandan Muyongwe, a Bourbon varietal offering flavours of peach, caramel and lime.  I'm mentioning Nomad not for the first time but this remains, for me, the best coffee roaster in Barcelona. There are now three locations, two open Monday-Friday and the latest, in Raval, Every Day.  The original, Coffee lab & Shop in El Born, has the not insignificant added attraction of Pasteleria Hofmann being only a 5 minute walk away, close to Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and Parc Ciutadella.  Happily you are welcome to eat your croissant de mazapán (my choice) with your coffee at Nomad.  The Roasters' Home is in Poblenou where you can pick up a take-away.  Satan's Coffee Corner  in the Barri Gotic still retains my affection, and they serve good, freshly made light lunch dishes with an Asian influence too.

Bunyols de Bacalla
at Perello, Mercat de Ninot, Barcelona

What to do when you arrive too late for lunch?  Head for a food market, of which there are more than 40 in Barcelona.  There is the Boqueria, of course, but there is also the recently renovated Mercat del Ninot, on Carrer del Mallorca in Eixample Esquerra.  If you appreciate bacalla, Perello is an excellent stall to head for.  Have the Bunyols de Bacalla (little fried fritters) for sure.  We followed with a good Bacalla Omelette and a dish of Ou amb Moixama (egg, dried tuna and potatoes)  and finished with a Feran Adria style featherlight aerated Crema Catalana. There is plenty of choice in Mercat del Ninot, including Morales Xarcuteria, Carnisseria i Aviram for steaks and Catalan meat dishes.  Mercat Santa Caterina in El Born and Mercat de la Llibertat in Gracia are the other markets I would head to.

Bar Zim

It's surprisingly easy to go wrong when it comes to wine and tapas in Barcelona.  While we did try a couple of new (to us) bars, I still find the best place to start your night is in Barri Gotic at Bar Zim.  The link I've given, whilst a few years old, still applies well to this simple, perfect little bar.  It's bursting at the seams with 12 people in it, so don't tell too many people about it.

Torta del Casar with chestnuts and honey
at Quimet y Quimet, Barcelona

Everyone will tell you to go to El Poble Sec for drinks and tapas at Quimet y Quimet, and I completely agree.  The  various montaditos are exquisite and, much as I enjoy the wines, the house beer is like amber nectar.


And still there is Pa amb tomàquet with Anxova and fried Pescaditos at Bar La Plata in the Barri Gotic.  And Bar Brutal/Can Cisa in Born - La Ribera for natural wines (and food) of course.  I did, this time, make it to El Vaso de Oro in Barceloneta  It's a good place for a beer, I guess, but I don't really get it. Yes, I have failed to mention lots of places you might expect, but the ones I have here are what I needed on this visit.

Fish of the day (Corvina family)
at Monocrom, Barcelona

I probably can live on tapas but I must mention a restaurant or two and on this visit we found Monocrom, a restaurant which opened 6 months ago in the residential neighbourhood of Sant Gervasi-Galvany.  It's friendly and relaxed, they source their ingredients with a lot of care and 80% of the wines are natural.  A platter of out-of-the-ordinary sliced meats and sausage and Pa am Tomaquet started us off.  Fish of the day, when we visited, was a member of the Corvina family, filleted and simply cooked with tomatoes, fennel and saffron.  A dish of Costella de Porc came as a melting roast belly pork with an Agrodolce sauce, carrots and glazed onions.  The selection of Spanish cheeses were all new to me and included Lazana, Gamoneu and Casin from the Asturias, Extramuros from Castellón and Luna Rosa from Ávila served with a basket of the finest Carta de Musica bread.  There is a lot to admire here in food, wine and service.  Expect to pay around Euros 40 per head including drinks.  It's early days but definitely one to return to.  Cal Pep in el Born continues to please but eating at the bar, rather than the back room, will always deliver the best experience here.

Door in El Born

Next up, food shops.  Casa Vives at Rambla de Catalunya 58 in Eixample (and at Carrer de Sants 74) is a traditional style pasteleria.  Good for cakes, chocolates, delicious Empanadas and light as air Bunyols (Lenten doughnuts).  Forn Baluard, sits across the road from Mercat Barceloneta. You can pick up decent breads and bakery here.  They also have the bakery at Praktik Hotel at Calle Provenca 279.  Formatgeria la Seu in the Barri Gotic is the place to go if you want to choose from a carefully curated range of Spanish cheeses.  For Torrons of all kinds go to La Campana on Calle Princessa in El Born.  I ought to mention, again, Pasteleria Hofmann here as I'd hate you to miss it. 

Hivernacle (Winter Garden)
Parc Ciutadella, Barcelona

It's hard to tell someone else what to see but here goes.  All the Gaudi architecture you can possibly take in.  Museu Picasso in El Born.  The Museu Maritim in the former shipyard of the Drasannes at the lower end of the Rambla. The Mies van der Rohe Pavilion in Parc de Montjuic (Metro: Espanya).  Parc Ciutadella including the wonderfully neglected Hivernacle (Winer Garden) and the Umbracle (unglazed wooden greenhouse for shade loving tropical plants).


One place I didn't get to visit that sounds interesting was Vila Viniteca - Gastronomia in el Born for cured meats, cheese and wines to eat in or take home.  Next time for me but you might want to take a look.  

Now, go before the tourists beat you to it.  Take a scarf just in case the "polar air" comes too.

Links to earlier posts:

Barcelona January 2016

Barcelona Spring 2015

Friday, 27 January 2017

Food Book Fundamentals

Pole position Books

There was a time when if you wanted a good choice of books on the subject of food you sought out a specialist book shop.  Here in London, you took the tube to Notting Hill Gate, walked up Portobello Road and spent a glorious hour or so in Heidi Lascelles's Books for Cooks shop.  If the formidable Clarissa Dickson Wright was behind the counter, she'd find you the books you wanted, and one or two you never knew you needed.  Time it right and the smell of freshly cooked food would be wafting through the shop from the tiny test kitchen in the back.  Here the resident cook would be trying out recipes from the books.  You would, of course, linger in the hope of snaffling one of the very few seats for lunch.

Now every bookshop worth its salt has a large section for food books.  Often there's a cafe, though what's on offer is likely to be far less considered.  And now there's the 'stack them high, sell them cheap' kind of book shopping on-line.  Search, select, pay is less a joyous feast for the senses more a joyless interaction with PayPal.

Daunt Books
Marylebone, London

Judging by the number of new cookbooks coming out each year, our appetite for recipe books, in particular, seems to be insatiable. But if you live in a tiny flat, as I do, and hate parting with books, you have to sort the wheat from the chaff in the bookstore.

Fundamental meaningIndispensable, foundational, 
essential, necessary, vital, crucial, paramount

Eggplants Letterpress by Patricia Curtan
for Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

My bookshelves, and yours too, no doubt, hold Indispensable books owned for years.  I grow some of my own fruit and veg so on my metaphorical pole position sits both Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book and Fruit BookNigel Slater's Tender I and Tender II; and Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables and Fruit books.  Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere has earned it's place on the shelf as well.  There too is just about every book Simon Hopkinson has written, with Roast Chicken and Other Stories and The Vegetarian Option being most decoratively splattered.  There's a spine-cracked copy of Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, of course; along with Moro the Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark, which marries robust Spanish food with with the lighter, exotic dishes of the Muslim Mediterranean; and there's Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain.  There are no recipes in Derek Cooper's Snail Eggs and Samphire but his 'Despatches from the Food Front' are as relevant today as ever.  This book of food journalism at its best is a reminder of how much has changed in the food world and, worryingly, how much remains the same.  It's a book I dip into regularly for a helping of his sane, wise voice.  Also earning its place is the weighty McGee on Food & Cooking - an encyclopedia of kitchen science, history and cooking by the fantastically knowledgeable Harold McGee.  These are most definitely the foundation of my food book collection.

'How not to cook an octopus' from
Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters

But what of more recent acquisitions, and which became essential to my cookery year?  Undoubtedly Rachel Roddy's Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome, not only for the tried and tested recipes but for the generous acknowledgements, ladles of lyricism and spoonfuls of self-deprecating humour that comes with them.  Books from Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich Honey & Co - Food from the Middle East and Honey & Co - The Baking Book - heart and soul recipes spiced with just the right amount of anecdotes and memories.   What all three books have in common, apart from a publisher, is engaging writing styles, spot-on accessible recipes and evocative photography.  Fern Verrow - a year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley beguiles with its rythmic prose and simple food that follows the seasons and mirrors the way I like to cook.  My ice cream maker continues to be put to good use with the considerable help of Ice Creams, Sorbets & Gelati - The Definitive Guide by Caroline & Robin Weir.  Lastly,  Swallow This - Serving Up the  Food Industry's Darkest Secrets by Joanna Blythman is my invaluable reference book for navigating the murky world of the modern food processing business. My margin note on page 76, reads "feeling decidedly queasy", and it gets worse.  For me, it's Blythman who carries the baton of investigative food journalism passed on by Derek Cooper.

Brindisa - The True Food of Spain
By Monika Linton

So thoroughly have I explored these that I bought very few new books on food in 2016.  I did get Monika Linton's Brindisa - The True Food of Spain, the product of almost 30 years as a London-based Spanish food importer and, now, restaurateur.  Written from a deep knowledge, love and understanding of Spanish food this book delves into the culture and history of Spain and offers some of Spain's most loved recipes.  And Bee Wilson's First Bite: How We Learn to Eat which is full of good non-preachy advice on encouraging our children to eat well and on changing our own food habits for the better.  I also bought Do/ Preserve by Anja Dunk, Jen Goss, Mimi Beaven for a young friend as it's a great little primer for anyone new to preserving. Found it so useful that I have a copy on my sheves as well. It's aimed at the grower and forager and covers basic principles, the best preserving agents for types of food and offers over 80 recipes to get you started.  Which means there is still Salt is Essential by Shaun Hill,  Diana Henry's SimpleFresh India by Meera Sodha and Bee Wilson's This is not a Diet Book to consider.

And now 2017 is here and publications to look forward to include Sabore: My Spanish Cooking by Barrafina Executive Chef Nieves Barragan Mohacho covering her native Basque cuisine; Two Kitchens, the second book by Rachel Roddy which is to focus on Rome and Sicily; and Kaukasis, Olia Hercules's second book exploring food from the Georgian and Caucusus regions. And there are a couple of others I've heard on the grapevine may be published this year but may slip into 2018.

Pairing this list down will not be easy.  Maybe another bookshelf needs to be squeezed in after all.  Books for Cooks is still to be found in west London, by the way, though I can't guarantee you'll experience it in quite the same way I did.  I expect to be haunting Foyles in Soho and Daunt Books in Marylebone where, alas, there are no distracting aromas of food.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Books and Bookings

Cod with Coco beans and Trompette de la mort
at Brawn

The first week of January is ripe for reflection as well as for looking ahead.  This January in particular when one crushing blow after another in 2016 has left many of us feeling punch drunk and questioning whether we paid enough attention to things beyond our own orbit.  Outcomes that had seemed too ridiculous to contemplate are now only too real.  Friends' reactions range from burying their heads ever deeper in the beauty in their lives to donning battle fatigues for the fight ahead.  Some are happy with the new status quo.  Some have, sadly, already picked up their bags and moved on. The occasional foray into, this, the lighter side of my world is ever more necessary. So, here I am with my first post of January reflecting on eating in 2016 and looking forward to what 2017 will bring.

Sanbei Octopus
at Bao Fitrovia

So let's start with 'Bookings' at London restaurants - yes, my life is London centric and I know I need to get out more.  As I said in my first post of January 2016, I am as likely, on this blog,  to tell you about a restaurant that has been around for a while as about the new.  Re-reading that piece reminds me I still haven't been to Bao Soho (queues) but I have made several visits to the second restaurant of what started out as a simple 'steamed bun' market stall.  It's in less busy Fitzrovia and it's a great place to pop into for a quick bite.  Both Lamb and Black Cod have joined the Pork buns alongside delicious small plates like Sanbei Octopus which comes with a spicy plum sauce.  Just thinking about it makes me want to grab my coat.  You can read about it here - Bao Fitrovia   

It's interesting just how many intended 2016 openings I mentioned haven't yet come to pass - Clare Smyth (ex-Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) pushed back to mid-2017; Monica Galetti (ex-Le Gavroche), maybe sometime in January;  the return of Nuno Mendes to his Viajante roots was scuppered by the failure of his crowdfunding attempt.  And then there were the ones which simply didn't light my fire - if a restaurant is on this blog it's because I like it and think you might too.

Pork & Crab Clay Pot and Langoustine
at Kiln

Apart from Bao Fitzrovia, new openings that did impress me in 2016 are Kiln in Soho, an off-shoot of Smoking Goat which has been serving up Northern Thai street food on nearby Denmark Street for a couple of years.  There's a simplicity of preparation and insightful use of herbs and spices at Kiln that wakes up the tastebuds.  Cooking is over embers of sweet chestnut and flavours are zingy to say the least.  A Pork and crab claypot of glass noodles and Langoustine with chilli, ginger, lemongrass and sweet mint impressed on my visit.  I need to pay another call before I write about it but if you can get in (booking downstairs but first come, first served at the bar) don't hesitate.  Eating around Borough Market is, for me, a hit and miss affair but 2016 saw the arrival of Padella which is right on target.  This off-shoot of the excellent Trullo at Highbury Corner, which I wrote about ages ago, is all about pasta, freshly made, good sauces, no fuss.  Be prepared to queue - I try to go early but even then I will need to wait a while.

Barrafina's original tapas bar on Frith Street has now settled into its new home alongside sister restaurant Quo Vadis on Dean Street.  It's roomier and noisier as a result but the cooking and the staff have found their form in double-quick time. There is always a little tweak to the menu that identifies which of the three Barrafina bars you are in - if I want Rabo de Toro, I go to Drury Lane; it's Adelaide Street for Arroz de Mariscos; at Dean Street, so far, it's Bunuelos de Bacalao and Chickpeas Ropa Vieja.  

Noble Rot Wine Bar opened on lovely Lamb's Conduit Street in Bloomsbury in 2016 as a 'wine bar with food'.  If you are into good, "old school", wines then this is probably the place for you.  The food menu is overseen by Stephen Harris and Paul Weaver from Michelin-starred The Sportsman in Whitstable.  I've seen lots of positive comments and I've tried it once.  The bread and the simply cooked Slip Soles were lovely, the wines pricey.  Overall, I thought it pretty good food but expensive for what you got.  I notice they've now introduced a set-price lunch so, probably, worth another try.

Game and Bacon Pie
with a glass of Les Pierres Chaude
at 40 Maltby Street 

And still, I'm a regular at Brawn, 40 Maltby Street, and Rochelle Canteen.  Brawn for their food that is, as they put it themselves, "honest and simple with a respect for tradition" and for fact their love for what they do is so evident in what arrives at table; 40 Maltby Street for its love of seasonality, careful sourcing, flavourful combinations and so many 'that's so good' moments.  Both also serve up wonderful natural wines.  Rochelle Canteen may be byo but there's the cooking of the brilliant Anna Tobias.

That I have a few places that make me so happy is why I've yet to get to 6 Portland Road in the, for me, distant plains of Holland Park; or Morito's new place on Hackney Road where chef Marianna Leivaditaki, alongside owner/chef Samantha Clark, is bringing a touch of Crete to the Spanish/North African bias of the Exmouth Market original; or Sardine, close to the Old Street Tech City hub, where chef Alex Jackson has set up with the backing of Stevie Parle serving Southern French food cooked over a wood fire; or James Cochran EC3 opened in late 2016 - his CV having drawn comparison with one of my favourite chefs, Steve Williams of 40 Maltby Street, is enough to push him to the top of my must try list; or Honey & Smoke in Fitrovia, a second restaurant for Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, providing a space big enough to give their big-hearted food and service room to expand.

There are a couple of planned 2017 openings in the pipeline I know of that aren't general knowledge yet but I will eat my hat if they don't live up to expectations.  I will, I will, get to more places this year.

Brindisa - The True Food of Spain
by Monika Linton

In 2016 I bought three 'Books'.  None, as yet, digested well enough to write about them.  Truth is I've been getting so much use out of books published in 2015, and earlier, that I've barely got into them yet.  There are  a few other new ones on my radar but just like I don't get to a new restaurant in the first few weeks of opening, I don't rush to buy new books .  A pleasure deferred ... etc.  So, you won't be seeing a 2016 book roundup from me.  Instead I've got a posting planned for later in the month on the books I use most, new and old, and why I find them invaluable.

Meanwhile, I resolve to get out more.  You never know, I may even eat outside London.  Recommendations welcome.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Celeriac Remoulade with chestnut mushrooms


It's the week before Christmas.  The roast is ordered, the pudding is sorted, the wines are bought. But it's the food in between the celebratory meals that interest me more and it's time to give it some thought.  I like fats and carbs as much as anyone but over the next two weeks there also need to be plenty of vegetable-based dishes and fruity puddings.  I know I will be craving lively, stimulating, bitter and tangy flavours that ingredients like anchovies, capers, mustards, pickles, ketchups, citrus, herbs and spices deliver.

This year, apart from feasting days, there will be no menus here.  There will be a list of dishes that will be 'just the thing' at some point over the holiday to jolt the tastebuds.  This is a time to enjoy being in the kitchen not to be chained to it.  There will be soft polenta with spiced-up winter greens; roasted cauliflower with anchovies and capers; a sharing pan of spicy, hot Shakshuka; escarole for a warming bowl of Caldo Verde to come home to after a long walk;  Griddled chicory with goat's curd; punchy Puttanesca sauce for the inevitable plate of pasta; and a pre-cooked octopus to serve with potatoes, mayo and smoked paprika.  There are sure to be lemons for granita or curd; maybe a 'SweetMeat Cake', a tart which gives candied citrus a starring role rather than a supporting one; frozen fruit purees for ice cream and sorbets that are a reminder of summer on the allotment; and it's very likely there'll be a stash of Hot Gingernut biscuits in the kitchen.

Chestnut mushrooms

Here's another dish that fits-the-bill.  A marriage of raw celeriac and a punchy mustard mayonnaise, here served with raw Chestnut mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts and shards of hard cheese.  It's a blatant rip-off of a dish I've enjoyed at 40 Maltby Street.  Celeriac, also known as Celery Root, is one of the best winter vegetables and is at its peak right now.  It makes a good Celeriac Soup but, for me, its flavour and texture is best appreciated raw.

Celeriac Remoulade with Chestnut mushrooms

Celeriac Remoulade with Chestnut Mushrooms
(Serves 6-8)

1 medium celeriac, trimmed, peeled and cut into julienne strips (put into a bowl of cold acidulated water until needed and dry on kitchen roll before using)
250ml (9 fl oz) mayonnaise
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, according to taste
300g (12 oz) good, firm Chestnut mushrooms
50g (2 oz) toasted hazelnuts (skins rubbed off), and cut in half
75g (3 oz) Parmesan or a hard English cheese like Berkswell, peeled into strips with a potato peeler
Extra Virgin olive oil & lemon
Salt and pepper
Sprig of Parsley, finely chopped

Mix the strips of celeriac with the mayonnaise and mustard.  Pile onto plates.  Slice the Chestnut mushrooms finely, preferably on a Mandolin, and scatter over the celeriac remoulade. Top with the hazelnuts and strips of cheese.  Season with pepper and a little salt.  Add olive oil and lemon to taste.  Scatter the chopped parsley on top and serve.

I'll be baking bread to go with this.  Well that's the plan.  It's entirely possible that we'll have so many leftovers to consume that  we'll get through to New Year's Day fuelled entirely on meat and two veg and, of course, cheese.  I really hope not.

This will be my last post before Christmas.  Do have a good one - I think we all need it this year.