Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Loving Lisbon

Museu do Nacional Azulejo Cafe

Three nights in Lisbon was not quite long enough to explore all the sights, cafes and restaurants that had been recommended to me, but it was long enough to realise I need to return.  I have to say at the outset that Lisbon was not the food hotspot of my year so far.    You won't find the wondrous markets of, say, Paris, Barcelona, Valencia or Venice - but at least that means you don't feel compelled to get up at an ungodly hour to check them out.

In a 1980 edition of Quentin Crewe's International Pocket Food Book - "an essential companion for the traveller" - the writer does not mince his words.  Describing Portuguese food as "rather dull stuff", he at least finds merit in the simplicity and honesty of their "peasant cuisine".  His advice to look for "simply cooked plain things" may be a little out of date, but essentially it still holds true.  They claim to have 365 ways of preparing Bacalhau (salt cod) so you will find this hard to miss.  Iscas or Figado (liver) and Caldeirada (fish stew) pop up on almost every menu.  You can also expect plenty of Sardinhas (sardines) and Porco (pork), particularly in the form of Salpicão (smoked spiced pork sausage). 

Gaspacho at Taberna das Flores, Lisbon
You can eat perfectly well with a little forward thinking.  So, where to go?  Taberna das Flores is an honest, simple and friendly family run lunch spot on Rua das Flores.  A bowl of Gaspacho cooled by ice-cubes was the perfect start on a day when temperatures were in the low 30's.  A dish of Iscas to follow was hearty and the other main course choice of Caldeirada was tasty if a little boney.  A couple of large glasses of decent house white and some bread and olives brought the bill in at Euros 22.50 for two (add a little something for service).

Lisbon is built on hills which means there are some spectacular viewing points, Miradouro, dotted around the city.  A ten minute walk from Rua das Flores is the Miradouro do Adamastor where you can sit on the terrace of the Noobai Cafe and enjoy a view of the river Tagus.  They serve simple salads here too.  Another Miradouro not to miss is in the Principe Real district on Pedro d'Alcantara.  There is a welcome cafe, Quiosque de S. Pedro where you can enjoy a glass of Sumo Laranja (orange juice), a cooling breeze and a fine panoramic view taking in the spectacular Castelo de S. Jorge.

With appetites taken away by the unaccustomed heat (London's summer had not prepared us) we were looking for a light dinner.  Sacramento on Calҫada do Sacramento was a bit more formal but welcoming, with a cosy bar off to the left and a high ceilinged dining room at the back.  An admittedly rather safe order of Risotto do Dia was a dish of rice topped with raw sliced vegetables - it was no looker but tasted rather good.  A pot of Arroz Polvo was even better - tender octopus with the distinctive slightly piquant rice, tasting of the sea.  A plate of juicy strawberries dipped in white chocolate was perfect to follow.  With a very good bottle of Herdade dos Grous from the Alentejo and a coffee the bill was Euros 58 for two before service.

Another restaurant which proved worth the effort to find - climb up the steep Calҫada do Duque off the Praҫa Dom João da Cãmara - was Restaurante Paladar.  though we weren't as bowled over as the Wallpaper* City Guide which describes it as "the complete experience".  This was however the one place where a tomato spread tasted just of good tomatoes and not tomatoes flavoured with dried herbs.  We ate starters of tender Salade de Polvo (octopus), the star dish, and Calamares (squid fried in rather heavy batter) with Picanha (rump) beef and a Black Angus beef burger to follow.  A bottle of delicious red Alentejo Cartuxa wine and water brought the bill to Euros 64.50.

Another viewing point well worth the climb is Praca do Principe Real, more for what it has to offer than the view.  A small organic market takes place here on Sundays.  Overlooking the Praҫa is Orpheu Caffé, a friendly place with a small courtyard out back.  It makes a good pit-stop for a quick and filling lunch.  They also do breakfast and brunch, or you can just pop in for a glass of wine. 

Terrace at Poison d'Amour
Just off the Praca you'll find Poison d'Amour, a stylish French cafe and patisserie.   The cakes are good but its biggest selling point is the courtyard separated from the city's Jardim Botanico by no more than a low wall.  A fabulous spot to take coffee and a fancy cake.

Nearby, too. is the Pastelaria Sao Roque.  The plain exterior gives no hint of its ornate interior of marble and Art Deco tiling.  Probably the best place we found in cenral Lisbon for coffee and Pasteis de Nata. 

But if it's the best Nata in town you're looking for then you'll have to head for the Belém district, which means taking advantage of Lisbon's great transport system.  You need to take a No 15 tram to Belém from Praҫa do Comercio to Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.  The stop is practically right outside Antiga Confeitaria de Belém.  It's the home of the original 'Nata' and it's still the best place to buy one.  Order at the till, turn your back on the groups of tourists passing through and wait at the bar for your order.  The pastry is perfect and the custard filling, I would swear, is free of cornflour - excceptionally good and not too sweet (a dusting of sugar or cinnamon is optional).  Behind the bar is a warren of rooms where you can sit if you prefer.  It's worth wandering through to see the kitchen where the Natas are made. 

Next door is a spectacular monastery,  Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, and across the road the Museo Coleccao Berardo Belém has a great collection of modern art housed in a modern castle-like building with a beautiful roof garden.  By the river you'll find the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) honouring Portuguese explorers.

Museu de Design e Moda
Returning to downtown Lisbon, seek out Conservaria de Lisboa on Rua dos Bacalheiros in the Alfama district for Tricana tinned fish. It's a bit touristy but the products are good and beautifully packaged. The service is how it has been for 80 years, down to employing someone solely to wrap your purchases in brown paper and tying with string. Close by is the Museu de Design e Moda. Worth seeing for the space itself (a former bank with its sweeping counter retained) but it has an extensive permanent collection supplemented by permanent exhibitions.

Head for the river and the Av. Infante Dom Henrique.  The old Ferry Ports still stand, forgotten, alongside newer versions.  A stretch of buildings right by the river houses DeliDelux.  Architect owned and designed it's a sytlish spot for picking up a mix of European deli products.  There's a small cafe serving Mediterranean food and a deck outside with views across the Tagus.  A few metres further on is John Malkovich's restaurant, Bica do Sapato.  A favourite of the glitterati, you need to negotiate the rather forbidding fascade to gain entry.  Not exactly welcoming.

Grande Vista de Lisboa
Museu do Nacional Azulejo
From here take the 759 bus to Museu do Azulejo, Lisbon's fantastic tile museum.  Get off when you see the LIDL sign, just before the bus starts to head inland.  The Museum is housed in a 16th Century convent behind the supermarket.  The Museum has a stunning collection of Portuguese tiles dating from 1580, including a 23m long panel illustrating the city before the 1755 earthquake.  There's also a simple cafe with a cool plant-filled courtyard.

Take a glass of Ginginha from one of the tiny kiosks off the Rossio before you leave.  All this and still so, so many places I didn't get to.  Like, I said, next time...

Taberna das Flores
103 Rua das Flores

Noobai Cafe
Miradouro do Adamastor

Quiosque de S. Pedro
R. San Pedro d'Alcantara

40-46 Calҫada do Sacramento

43a Calҫada do Duque

Orpheu Cafe
5a Praҫa do Principe Real

Poison d'Amour
32 Rua da Escola Poletecnica

Pastelaria Sao Roque
57 Rua Dom Pedro V

Antiga Confeitaria de Belém
84 Rua de Belém

Conservaria de Lisboa
Rua dos Bacalheiros

Museo Coleccao Berardo Belém
Praҫa d Império, Belém

Museu de Design e Moda
24 Rua Augusta

Av. Infante Dom Henrique

Museu Nacional do Azulejo
4 Rua Madre de Deus

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Tarta de Santiago for the Feast of St James

Slice of Tarta de Santiago

The Feast of St James is celebrated in the Basque Country and Galicia by a public holiday on 25 July so it seems appropriate to post this piece now.  Not that the Spanish need such an excuse to bake Tarta de Santiago.  You can find it throughout Northern Spain at any time of year.  It is mostly associated with Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the town's cathedral is reputed to hold the relics of the apostle St James the Great.  A network of pilgrim routes originating in Western European countries lead to this place of Christian pilgrimage in the north-west corner of Spain.  The trails are marked by the symbolic scallop shell for St James the Great, the fisherman apostle.  The tarta, or torta in Galician, has been offered to pilgrims as a journeys-end food for hundreds of years. 
Tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago is a fragrant almond tart or cake.  Sometimes it's baked with a pastry base, other times without.  Having a long history, naturally its origins are disputed.  The splendid writer Claudia Roden believes it has its roots in a Jewish Passover cake and arrived in Galicia with jews fleeing Moorish rule in Andalusia. 

Tarta de Santiago is easily identifiable by its coating of icing sugar with a cross of St James picked out.  Some versions can be quite bland, and others too dry, but a good recipe really delivers.  This one is a adapted from a version I have enjoyed at Barrafina tapas bar in Soho.  They have more than one version and this is based on the recipe for "Santiago Tart 2010" in the cookery book 'Barrafina - a Spanish cookbook' It produces a moist, sweet tart lifted by fresh citrus and the heady quince paste.

Much as I like the idea of a version made without pastry - not least because it would be easier to make and would offer a gluten-free version - I love the contrasting textures you get from this tart.  If you want to try a recipe without a pastry base then I can think of no better authority than Claudia Roden.  Here is a link to a Guardian article for Claudia Roden's recipe for Tarta de Santiago which also appears in her new book The Food of Spain

Tarta de Santiago
(makes a shallow 23cm tart)

115g (4oz) plain flour
40g  ( oz) icing sugar
70g (2½ oz) unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk

115g (4oz) membrillo (quince paste)
175g (6oz) whole blanched almonds
1 tablespoon Amaretto (optional)
Zest of 2 oranges & zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 orange & 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
80g (3oz) icing sugar
150g (5½ oz) softened unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg

For the pastry, mix icing sugar and flour.  Rub in the butter until the mix resembles breadcrumbs.  Stir in the egg yolk until the mixture comes together  (add a few drops of milk if the mix doesn't come together).  Use your hands briefly to form it into a ball then wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan).  Lightly butter the 23cm shallow tart tin and dust with flour.  Lightly flour a worksurface and roll the pastry thinly into a round a little larger than the tin.  Place in the tin with the edges overlapping  (don't worry if the pastry breaks up, just patch it in but do keep it thin).  Line with greaseproof paper, weight down with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and return to the oven for a few more minutes if the base is not cooked.    Trim off the excess pastry to neat edges and turn the oven down to 140C (130C fan).

Melt the membrillo with 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Spread it over the tart base. 

Pulse the almonds, zest, juices and Amaretto (if using) in a food processor until mixed but fairly chunky.  Mix the soft butter and icing sugar until creamy.  Add the almonds and mix in well.  Mix in the egg yolks then the whole egg.  Spoon the mixture into the pastry case and bake for about 35 minutes.  Allow to cool before turning out.  *Dust with icing sugar and serve. 

* A template for the cross of St James can be downloaded from the internet if you would like to have this symbol on your tart.  Cut out, place in the centre of the tart, dust with icing sugar and carefully remove the template.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

"Polpo - A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts)"

Polpo - A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts)
Russell Norman
This book was born out of a love affair.  Anyone who has visited Venice has special memories and for Russell Norman a one week stay in his youth kindled a love for the city, the food and the drink which has never dimmed.  Several years and many more visits and a plan began to form.  Inspiration did not come from the restaurants of Venice, which Norman points out in the tourists areas are".. about as authentic as the plastic golden gondolas for sale on the Ruga dei Orsi .." but the tiny Bàcari (wine bars) of the authentic Venice.  Here locals meet to chat, eat chichèti (Venetian tit-bits) and down a Prosecco or Spritz, or two.  A dish of warm octopus was the catalyst that lead Norman to open a sixty-seater Bàcaro in London in 2009.

I recognise the Venice of Russell Norman and I know Polpo the Bàcaro so I'm familiar with some of the dishes in the book.  Reading it takes me right into the heart of the kind of Venetian food I love.  Not all the recipes are strictly Venetian but the influence is clear.  The dishes are deliberately uncomplicated, made with admirably few ingredients and most are quick to prepare.  Some are hardly recipes at all but a ".. delicious exercises in assembly .." of good ingredients. 

Polpo's Broad bean, mint
ricotta & bruschette
Anchovy and Chickpea Crostini is an inspired coupling.  Broad Bean, Mint, Ricotta and Bruschette is fresh, light and summery and whilst I think the flavours would overpower a good fresh ricotta, it works brilliantly with the type available to most of us.  Pork Belly, Radicchio & Hazelnuts produced a dish of tender fatty pork cut by a sweet, sharp vinegar and bitter leaf, the crackling and hazelnuts providing the essential crunch.  Mozzarella Pizzaiola uses tomatoes slow-roasted with oil, vinegar and oregano.  Pairing them with a milky mozzarella makes for a deeply comforting dish.  The recipe for Rìsi e Bìsi is quite similar to my own but the simple addition of mint lifts this Venetian classic to a higher plain than any I have previously achieved. Recipes I have book-marked for cooking include Spicy Pork and Fennel Polpette, Pilgrim Scallops with Lemon and Peppermint, Burrata with Lentils and Basil Oil, and a Blood Orange and Campari Cake.

The photography by Jenny Zarins captures both achingly beautiful Venice and the simplicity of the dishes very well.  I must mention the design which blew me away on first sight.  An Old Venetian style typeface is used and the stripped-away spine reveals bright green stitching.  The book is lovely to handle, looks good and is eminently practical for kitchen use as it sits flat without breaking the spine (would that some of my other books were like this).

So, if you're planning a trip, how do you find the authentic Venice.  Well, there's help on that here too.  A Gazetteer at the back of the book includes two of my favourite places in La Serenissima.

UPDATE 23 July 2012: Alessandro Swainston @touchfood read this piece and very kindly got in touch to offer the use of his beautiful video of Russell Norman talking about how Venice influenced Polpo.  Here is a link  https://t.co/CnGBt2SZ

Book courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub

Gooseberries 'Invicta'

If you love rhubarb, chances are you also appreciate gooseberries which share an acidity that people seem to either love or hate.  This sharpness does mean both fruits need quite a bit of sugar to make them palatable to most.  You could add a leaf or two of the herb sweet cicely which is a natural sweetener and reduce the amount of sugar.  At this time of the year gooseberries have a grassy tartness which I love.  A week or two from now they will have mellowed to a yellow gold colour and need less sugar.  There are a few red varieties, such as 'Pax', which are sweeter and look pretty but the old variety green 'Invicta' is good for me.  It fruits reliably and prolifically and has good flavour.  Having picked these beauties from my allotment I couldn't wait to get cooking with them.

Like rhubarb, gooseberries are good with oily and smoked foods such as mackerell and are useful for cutting the richness of fatty foods such as pork, duck and goose.  Their possibilities for puddings are many, from crumbles, tarts, jams, jellies and sorbets to creamy panna cotta, fools and ice creams.  They make a fine take on Eton Mess and are gorgeous in a Gooseberry Meringue Pie.  Pair them with cream for a luscious pudding, such as this rich syllabub which complements the poached fruit perfectly. 

Toasted Hazelnuts
With a history going back to at least the 17th century, originally syllabub was a frothy drink made by milking directly from the cow into a bowl of wine, cider or ale which you consumed on the spot.  It progressed to a firmer textured cream by the whipping in of tart fruit syrups or wine.  As the resultant dish was more stable it was possible to keep it for a day or two.  Hannah Glasse describes a recipe for 'Everlasting Syllabub' in her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, first published in 1747 which calls for  "Rehnish wine, half a pint of sack and two large Seville oranges".   She also stipulates the addition of calf's foot jelly.  A step too far for me.  

Here then is my easy version.  Wine or elderflower cordial to flavour the syllabub? The choice is yours. If you opt for elderflower then you might want to leave it out of the poached gooseberries. 

Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub
Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub
for 4-6 servings

100ml sweet white wine or elderflower cordial
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lime
50g caster sugar
300ml double cream
600g Gooseberries
125g caster sugar (if you add sweet cicely, reduce the sugar content to around 100g, taste and adjust as necessary)
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
50g hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed and roughly chopped

Mix the first three ingredients together and leave to stand for several hours or overnight so that the flavours are fully blended.   

Wash and top & tail the gooseberries.  Gently melt 125g caster sugar and the elderflower cordial in a heavy based pan and add the gooseberries.  Cook gently until the fruit is soft but not mushy (about 10 minutes).  Leave to cool completely then refrigerate.
Start to whip the double cream and, as you do so, add the liquid.  Continue until soft peaks form.  This will happen very quickly (the mixture will stiffen further in the fridge).  Spoon gooseberries into serving glasses top with the syllabub.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (will keep in the fridge for at least 24 hours) and, when ready to serve, scatter with the toasted hazelnuts to add texture.

A version of this article also appears on James Ramsden's blog

Friday, 6 July 2012

Trullo Restaurant, Highbury Corner

Pappardelle Beef Ragu
at Trullo

With a lunch offering of a main course primi plus either a starter or dessert priced at £12 the only wonder is why it took me so long to get to Trullo.  Everyone I know who really likes their food, as opposed to just liking to eat out, had told me to go and now I know why. 

At that price we had to try the bargain lunch and with five starters, three pasta courses and four desserts to choose from we didn't feel we were missing out.  We ate Braised cuttlefish with chickpeas and escarole.  The cephalopod was as tender as could be and came with whole chickpeas in a lovely seafood broth  Norfolk asparagus with Gorgonzola fonduta was passable though the aspargus lacked the strength to stand up to the sauce.  Normally I wouldn't expect to see English asparagus on 3 July but I know from my own allotment experience that it's a weird year for crops so I went with it.  Pappardelle with beef shin ragu was a plate of perfectly cooked ribbon pasta with good, sticky long-cooked beef and Fettucine came with broad beans and a pecorino sauce lifted beautifully by Amalfi lemon. 

Caramel Pannacotta
at Trullo
We did break away from the bargain lunch for a couple of desserts.  A Caramel pannacotta was the best example of this classic Italian dessert I have tasted.  The vanilla seed-spotted pudding just on the point of set covered in plenty of dark caramel.  A request for an Affogato instead of the listed Vanilla ice cream with apricot sauce was readily met and appreciated.

Head Chef Tim Siadatan was an early graduate of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen and, after spells at St John and Moro, presides over a perfect neighbourhood restaurant serving simple, seasonal Italian influenced food.  The room is pretty non-descript, probably an ex-pub, plainly furnished in brown and white with a kitchen off to the side.  It's just off Highbury Corner and cheek-by-jowl with pizza and kebab shops.  Don't go expecting fancy or atmospheric, though when it's busy I'm sure you won't notice the room.   It's very welcoming, whether your a twosome, a group, or eating alone.  The food is the thing and these guys are doing a lovely job of it.  The rest of the menu has headings of 'Oven' and 'Charcoal Grill' which I intend exploring next time.  It's open for dinner every day and also for lunch except Sundays.  Wines start at below £4 a glass. Three courses, home-baked bread and two glasses of wine each brought the bill to £25 per person plus service.  Extraordinary value in my book.

300-302 St Paul's Road
London N12LH
Tel: 020 7226 2733

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Forage Fine Foods - Food Find

Forage Fine Foods has been on my radar for a few weeks as a font of knowledge about British wild herbs and flowers so it was a nice surprise to see some of Liz Knight's products on the sideboard at The Butchery in Bermondsey yesterday.  There are quite a few "foragers" out there - some people buy in to it, others don't.  Forage Fine Foods strikes me as the real deal.  What caught my attention was the fact that Liz has allied a long-held passion for cooking wild food with knowledge she has picked up from talking to her countrywise elders.  She has found working in a day centre for the elderly a fascinating education in folklore and some almost forgotten practices.  Gathering wild herbs, berries and petals in the Herefordshire/Welsh Borders area, in the shadow of the Black Mountains, she produces Elderberry and Lavender jam, Rose Petal Syrup and Jelly, A Wild Herb Rub and an exotic Wild Rose el Hanout to conjure up Marakkesh.  Or there's the piquant 'Pontack' sauce made from elderberries soaked in cider vinegar which I'm looking forward to adding to a beef casserole.  Forage Fine Foods currently have a handful of stockists including The Butchery but you also can buy on-line and at special events and festivals.  Or you could take advantage of Liz's enthusiasm to pass on her knowledge by booking a foraging course.