Sunday, 31 October 2010

Morito - Moro's baby

Morito menu 25 Oct 2010

Moro has been a favourite with London’s chefs almost since the day it opened.  With the behind the scenes backing of Mark Sainsbury, husband and wife chefs Samuel and Samantha Clark concentrate on Spanish and Muslim Mediterranean food, a culinary mix which is close to their hearts.  With a home in Moorish Andalucia and extensive travels in the southern Mediterranean, their cooking has a sense of place and coherence too rarely seen.  One other restaurant which comes to mind is the reverred Italian influenced River Café, where both Sams served time with Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, before setting up Moro.
Thirteen years of success later they have produced an offshoot right next door.  What was a small, but much-loved, shop run by the excellent Spanish food importer Brindisa (still to be found at Borough Market) is now an intimate tapas bar.  So busy was Morito on a Monday evening that, unusually, you could get a seat at the no-booking bar in Moro at 8.30pm.  Whilst Moro is a full-blown restaurant with a bar for tapas, the more extensive tapas menu at Morito offers the chance to try lots of different dishes in small, affordable portions.  As at Moro, ingredients are carefully sourced and sympathetically spiced.
Of the dishes we tried, salt cod croquetas were crispy and, with a high cod ratio, deliciously moreish; tortilla was made juicy with red peppers; nuggets of cumin coated pork with crackling were zingy with lemon juice; tender fried baby squid were served with an excellent alioli; beef tagine was meltingly soft and wonderfully sticky with the addition of prunes.  Only the tomato bread failed to hit the spot.  A scoop each of Malaga raisin ice cream with a shot of Pedro Ximenez was the perfect ending.  The Spanish wine list is small but perfectly formed and, as at Moro, the range of sherries is impeccable.  Six small plates, two desserts, two glasses of Verdejo and two glasses of house Tempranillo plus two cortados brought the bill to around £50 .
The space may be tiny but it’s well thought out.  Rough grey painted walls and a few simple wooden tables and chairs are countered with a sunny two-tone orange Formica bar.  In good weather more seating is available outside.  Behind the bar, half of the space is taken up by the kitchen with a tiny prep area just beyond.  Despite the number of plates passed over the counter during the hour we were there, the chef was calm and totally in control.  As at Moro, the staff give every indication that they love the place and you are welcome - very much like being in a good tapas bar in Granada in fact.  Sitting at a bar, chatting to the staff, and being able to watch the food being cooked is always an attraction for me.  Food, drink, good company and a cookery lesson, that’s a perfect night out for me. 

Update: Is it me or has this place failed to live up to its early promise?  My last two visits were disappointing.
32 Exmouth Market
London  EC1R 4QE
Tube: Angel or Farringdon

Mon 17.00-23.00, Tues-Sat 12.30-15.30 and 16.30-23.00 No pre-booking
No website as yet but you can find Moro at

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Poached Quince


As promised, (Quince - the versatile fruit), here are those quirky-looking quinces poached.  Delicious served with a ginger or other spiced cake, or simply with yogurt of crème fraiche, or added to winter fruit compotes. In my previous post I mentioned how Northern Europe grown quince could be disappointing as the climate is not perfect for them.  The ones I used this time were UK grown and the flavour was certainly inferior to the Southern European ones I have bought in the past. 

This easy recipe is inspired by one from Alice Waters of Chez Panisse café and restaurant in Berkeley, California. 

Poached Quince (Adapted from: Chez Panisse Fruit, Alice Waters)

400g (14oz) caster sugar
1.2 litres (2 pints) water
1 kilo (2lbs) quinces (4-6)
½-1 vanilla bean

2 slices of lemon
Combine the sugar and water in a large pan, bring to the boil, and simmer slowly until the sugar is disolved.  Quarter, peel and core the quinces and slice the quarters into inch thick wedges.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the sugar syrup.  Add the bean pod, the two lemon slices and the quince wedges to the syrup. 

To keep the fruit submerged in the syrup while it cooks, cover the surface of the poaching fruit with a round of parchment paper and weigh it down with a saucer.  Simmer slowly until the quinces are tender (45 -60 minutes).  Will keep, submerged in juice, in the fridge for 2-3 days or ladle fruit and syrup into clean jars, cool, cover and keep refrigerated for 2-3 weeks.  If you want to keep the poached quince for longer, prepare kilner jars and lids  following the manufacturer's instructions.  Ladle the fruit and syrup into the prepared jars and seal following the manufacturers instructions.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Quince - the versatile fruit


With the look of a monstrous mutant pear that has been consigned to a dusty corner, the quince is hardly a physically attractive fruit.  Get close enough to inhale its distinctive perfume however and you will be intrigued.  Related to apples and pears, there is a hint of both in its fragrance, but the quince is also related to the rose so there is a floral note.   Add a little guava and pineapple to the mix and you have, as close as I can get, to the fragrant, versatile quince. 
Turning from green to golden as it ripens, the best varieties are Smyrna or Pineapple.  The fuzziness of the skin depends on the variety, but the riper the fruit the less fuzz appparently.  Quince will keep in a cool room for a week or two.   As with the Seville orange, never, ever eat an uncooked quince as you will regret it. Although, according to Tony Booth, an authority on fruit, vegetables and fungi (see my posting of 16th September – The Bermondsey Trail) “the Croatians and some people from the Middle Eastern countries eat it straight from the tree because it grows softer in those regions, but it still has that really tart taste”.  I imagine this is the Mulvian quince, the one variety which, according to Pliny the Elder, could be eaten without cooking.
The raw flesh is off-white, hard, dry and astringent.  It oxidises quickly but a little browning isn’t noticeable as long, slow cooking turns it into a soft, rose amber delight (a few varieties turn beige), whilst losing none of its heady perfume.  Jane Grigson, in her invaluable book English Food, has a recipe for ‘Pears in Syrup’ which she describes as a Medieval recipe usually made with “Wardens or cooking pears” that were “as hard as quinces and first boiled until just tender, in water”.  Grigson also makes the point that although wine is necessary for poaching pears satisfactorily, with the much more highly perfumed quince, water is sufficient.
Originating in the middle-east/Central Asia, the quince grows happily in tropical and sub-tropical climates.  A quarter of the world’s crop comes from Turkey but it is also grown in China, Iran, South America and Europe.  They are grown in the UK but in Northern Europe they tend to rot from the centre so you may have some disappointments with those.
Quince is high in pectin so is perfect for jams, jellies or pastes.  Quince pastes are made in many countries – known as membrillo in Spain, cotognata in Italy, and cotignac in France – and are often served with hard cheeses.  A Spanish alioli made with quince paste instead of egg yolk is delicious with roast pork.  Added to long cooked meat dishes, the sliced fruit holds its shape well. It’s a particular favourite, used this way, in the Middle-East and North Africa in dishes such as cinnamon flavoured beef and Moroccan lamb and chicken tagines. 
To prepare quince, clean and rub off any fuzz.  For jams, jellies and pastes, there is no need to peel and core.  Core and slice for adding to slow-cook meat dishes.  Core, quarter and, maybe, peel, for long, slow poaching. The quince is cooked when a knife pierces the fruit easily.  I like to enjoy the heavenly perfume so usually I will leave them out in a bowl for a week or so before cooking them.  It's good to have something slightly tart and fruity at Christmas-time to counteract all the rich food we eat.  Poached quince fits the bill perfectly and if you want to get ahead, you can poach the fruit now.  Bottle them and keep in the fridge until needed (they should easily keep for 3 months if your jars are scrupulously clean).  Beautiful as this illustration by *Patricia Curtan is, check back in a few days, or subscribe, and you'll find a recipe and a photograph showing their transformation into a delectable dessert. 

* Illustrattion in Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters with illustrations by Patricia Curtan

Friday, 15 October 2010

Neal's Yard Dairy and Brogdale Farm

Red Beurre Hardy pear
Source: University of Reading/National Fruit Collection

Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy (NYD) has long been a supporter of Brogdale Farm, home of the National Fruit Collection at Faversham, Kent.  The Collection is one of the largest in the world and includes over 3,500 named cultivars of Apple, Plum, Pear, Cherry, Bush fruit, Vine and Cob Nut.   Every October crates of little known apple and pear varieties are stacked up outside the NYD shops  in London over the precious few weeks  when they are fresh from the trees.   
Apples and pears go well with a number of cheeses.  Apples team up with hard cheeses such as the cheddars – I suggest Lincolnshire Poacher, Montgomery’s or Keen’s  – or the  sheeps milk Berkswell.  Try pears with the hard, nutty flavoured sheeps cheese  Spenwood or a Pecorino, or a strong blue cheese such as Stichelton or Colston Bassett Stilton. 
This week’s crop at NYD included Belle de Tours - medium sweet, white fleshed, firm  and fragrant, it would surely be perfect in a tarte tatin, although I normally use Braeburn.  Also on offer was the wonderfully named William Crump (a Cox’s Orange Pippin and Worcester Pearmain cross) – described as aromatic, rich, sweet with masses of pineapple acidity, later in the season mellowing to the flavour of a Cox.  I’d say early pickings produce an interesting firm-fleshed  apple for those who enjoy a certain tartness in their fruit.  Other crates were filled with Blenheim Orange and Cornish Aromatic.  The star of the show was a deliciously juicy Red Beurre Hardy pear – described as “juicy tender with rose water flavour”. Perfect eaten just as it is but if you're in the mood for a seasonal pear cake, this one from Nigel Slater which uses soft brown sugar for a wonderful caramelised flavour is the best I've ever found.  I rate this recipe as outstanding.
Honey Pear Cake (Source: Nigel Slater)
3 medium sized pears
2 tbsp honey (for poaching the pears)

For the honey cream:
40g (1½ oz)butter
* 50g (2oz)soft brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 drop vanilla extract

For the cake mix:
125g(4½ oz) butter
125g (4½ oz) golden granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp milk
125g(4½ oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pre-heat oven to 180C/gas mark 4.  Peel, core and halve the pears.  Place them in a saucepan and pour over the 2 tbsp honey.  Add enough water to just cover the fruit then cook at a simmer till tender to the point of a knife.  Leave them in the syrup until you need them.
Cream the butter, soft brown sugar, honey and vanilla extract till light and fluffy.  Spread over the bottom of a 20cm shallow non-stick cake tin.  Drain the pears and place them in the tin, cut side down.
Make the cake mix by creaming the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little flour if they start to curdle.  Sieve flour with the baking powder and fold into the creamed mixture.  Smooth over the top of the pears.  Bake for about 45 minutes until golden.  It should still be quite moist.  Leave for half and hour or so then turn out onto a plate.
* I make the honey cream mix with mollasses sugar or muscovado.  This gives a grittier texture to the cream and I get excellent results.  The cake is delicious served just warm but also keeps well for a day, if you can resist it.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Oviedo - Bar Punto y Coma

Punto y Coma, Oviedo

Could this be the most perfect bar in the world?  Visiting Oviedo in June, in what was supposed to be the sunniest month of the year in northern Spain, left me in no doubt why the lush green Asturias region is renowned for its dairy products.  At such times finding a good bar is essential and a great bar can make even four days of unceasing rain bearable. Having practically lived in Punto y Coma, I doubt I will ever find a better bar.

If you're looking for stylishness or great music, you won't find it here.  So how did it draw us in?  Well, in the circumstances, opening hours of 06.30-01.30 was a good start.  Good value wines, Jabugo hams, great service and an instantaneous feeling that you are in good hands contributed.  Venerable, no-nonsense barmen moved like a ballet behind the long bar, never making body contact no matter how busy (and boy were they busy).  On our fifth visit we got our first smile.  We had proved we appreciated how they did things and were now as welcome as the locals.    

The food is entirely absent of artistry or gimmicks.  Dishes are simple and traditional, and I dare say haven't changed in decades.  We breakfasted on top-notch cafe cortado and perfect golden, chewy bocadillos stuffed with melting Jabugo jamon whilst waiting for the hands of the bar clock to reach 10.00.  This signalled the cooking of delicious, featherlight individual tortillas (tortilletis) within sight, and smell - completely irresistible.  Office workers and early shoppers drifted in and out continuously for their regular orders.  The heavier the rain came down, the more tots of rum found their way into the coffees.

A three-course lunch for 10 Euros can be easily found in Oviedo. Thanks to General Franco and his menu del dia (menu of the day), every restaurant in Spain is still obliged to offer a good, substantial lunch for workers for a small sum.  At Punto y Coma we ate Sopa de Pescado (fish soup) and a Fabada Asturiana (an Oviedan traditional stew of meat and beans).  Followed by main courses of Ternera Gobernada (a veal stew) and Parrochines frites con taquines de jamon (fried sardines with pieces of ham).  We somehow found room for Arroz con leche (the rich and creamy rice pudding with a caramelised topping).  A glass of decent wine and a cortado were included in the 10 Euro per person bill.  For quality ingredients cooked and served with pride it is amazing value.  There is a smart restaurant beyond the bar, but eating there you don't get the ever-changing parade which makes eating in a strange city so beguiling (for me anyway). 
The Asturias is a beautiful region and central Oviedo has plenty to see.  There are traces of occupation since the 1st century and King Alfonso II chose it as his royal seat in the 8th century.  A whole millenium of art from the 8th to the 18th century is represented and the architecture has Visigothic, Roman and Nordic influences.  The Pilgrim's route to Santiago de Compostela runs through Oviedo.  The food is hearty and the region is renowned for dairy products, seafood, dried beans, and ciders (there are plenty of cider houses - Sidrerias - in which to slake your thirst).  Oviedo has an excellent small covered food market in the centre of the old town - El Fontan just off Plaza Ayuntamienta and backing onto the beautiful Plaza del Fontan.

Visiting Spain, rain was not in my plans, but I am grateful for the four day deluge.  Who knows, if it hadn't rained, I may never have found Punto y Coma - unthinkable.

Punto y Coma
Calle Suarez de la Riva 5, 33007 Oviedo, Asturias, Spain

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Allotment Minestrone

Allotment Minestrone

There's nothing like cultivating an allotment for encouraging creativity in the kitchen.  But this time of year, when the last courgette has been picked, onions and potatoes lie snuggled dry in hessian sacks and the rain hangs heavy on spent drooping beanstalks, is the perfect time to mix it up.  This is my minestrone- infinitely variable depending on what is available.  The point is to use as much home-grown produce as possible.  The buzz you get from serving up 6 months of tender loving care in a bowl makes all that weeding well worth the effort.

The ingredients below represent what went into the soup pictured but are a guide only.  Other vegetables can be substituted.  Look for a balance of ingredients so that no one vegetable dominates.  This is a soup which tastes even better a day or two after making, so I always aim for a large panful.

Allotment Minestrone (makes around 3-4 litres)
*250-300g dried Borlotti beans (or other dried beans), soaked overnight and simmered until cooked (boil vigorously for first 10 minutes)
2 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped in half and sliced
3-4 medium carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced
2 medium courgettes, diced
8 fresh skinned tomatoes, chopped (or 2 x 400g tins tomatoes, chopped)
6-8 leaves of Cavolo Nero, de-veined and sliced

Tip: The discarded rind from a chunk of parmesan adds depth to the soup but remove before serving.

To serve: Pesto or basil & freshly grated parmesan

Gently heat the oil in a large pan.  Add onions, garlic, carrots, celery and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Add courgettes, tomatoes, the cooked Borlotti beans and enough cold water to well cover the vegetables.  Bring to the boil and add the Cavolo Nero (and the parmesan rind if using), salt and pepper.  Simmer for about 20 minutes until vegetables are yielding but still have a little bite.  Check the seasoning.  Allow to cool a little before serving with pesto or basil and freshly grated parmesan.

*I used half home-grown borlotti beans which I had dried the previous year and half shop bought.  It was very noticeable that the shop-bought ones took far longer to cook (2 hours) so don't believe the timings printed on the packet.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Violet Cakes

Violet Cakes - Fragolina grape cupcake

Following up on one of my Bermondsey Trail finds, we (my 'researcher' and I) headed for Hackney Central.  Wilton Way winds its way behind the Hackney Empire and on into seeming infinity.  Just when we were sure we must have walked past it, the white side wall of Violet Cakes with its retro green lettering beckoned us on.  The memory of a fragrant Fragolina grape cupcake fresh in my memory, and a weeping London sky doing its utmost to dampen our spirits, we quickened our pace.  The aroma of fresh-out-of-the-oven cakes, a warm welcome and the sight of a baker working contentedly right there in the shop was deeply comforting on such a drab day.  The retro feel continues inside with charmingly mis-matched, mainly 50's, furnishings and crockery.  The ground floor seats only about 8 people but there is an upstairs room.  On a fine day the space expands to a small back garden and a couple of small tables out front.  There's something about sitting down to eat in a shop with the produce all around you and a cook working away within talking distance that I find irresistible.

Violet Cakes shop at 47 Wilton Way, London E8

Good as Claire Ptak's cupcakes are, I now know this is definitely not her only talent. We went back a second time before I wrote this, just to make sure.  We tried five sweet morsels in the interest of research!  A salted caramel cupcake topped with Madagascan pink salt crystals was a good example of a simple clean-flavour cupcake; one flavoured with quince, whilst welcomingly seasonal, failed to deliver on the particular quince fragrance I was expecting - the taste was more of an oversweet membrillo but this one is a new introduction and may be a work in progress; an iced ginger mollasses cake was deliciously moist and sticky though a bit heavy on the ginger for my taste; a little iced Mirabelle almond polenta cake was beautifully moist thanks to the addition of this little-seen plum not only to top it off but included in the mix; perhaps best of all was the plum and greengage muffin - light and moist without any sogginess from the fruit, and finished with a crumble topping.  The new appetite for whoopie pies can be satisfied here too and I'm sure I spotted a copy of Claire's new book "The Whoopie Pie Book".

If you arrive at lunchtime, a savoury tart and a sandwich made with St John sourdough can be had too. Claire Ptak's time at the rightly iconic Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Caifornia was well spent.  Her commitment to seasonality, also a Chez Panisse trademark, in my view makes her baking even more appealing.  In all, well worth the hike.
Shop: 47 Wilton Way, London E8 3ED
Saturdays: @ Broadway Market, London E8