Friday, 29 March 2013

Onion Tart with Lancashire Cheese - Perfect combinations

Slice of Onion Tart with Lancashire Cheese

I was saving this recipe for the the day I managed to plant this year's onion sets but, with the unrelenting cold we've been experiencing, I've decided this undeniably rich tart is exactly right for now.  I like to tell  myself a helping of watercress off-sets the richness!

Last year's store of onions have long gone and the onion sets I planted to overwinter are nowhere to be seen.  Some November-planted garlic clings on tenaciously but the leeks, which usually grow so well, are stunted.  A mixture of clay soil, copious rain and prolonged, numbing, cold has taken its toll.  My bio-dynamic planting calendar tells me it will be mid-April before I can start my Spring planting - assuming winter releases its icy grip.

Onion Tart with Lancashire Cheese
So, while I wait impatiently to get planting, I'm grateful to Simon Hopkinson for reminding me what a joyous combination cheese and onion make.  This recipe is adapted from his Onion Tart in Roast Chicken and Other Stories in which he mentions his mother's love of mixing a little Lancashire cheese into the filling. It's certainly a winning combination, though I prefer to scatter the Lancashire on the top just before baking.  A version of this tart is sometimes on the menu at 40 Maltby Street where an oat pastry is used.  Though more difficult to work with, it works as a great counter-balance to the richness of the filling.  Making this dish does leave you with a lot of egg whites, but that just gives you the excuse for a batch of meringues or macarons.

Onion Tart with Lancashire Cheese 
(Serves 4-6)

Shortcrust pastry:
100g (4oz) plain flour
50g (2oz) cold butter, diced
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water
Pinch of salt

75g (3oz) butter
4 medium-large onions, thinly sliced
4 egg yolks
300ml (1/2 pint) double cream
Salt & pepper
75g (3oz) Lancashire cheese

Lightly butter a 20cm (8 inch), 3cm deep loose-bottomed tart tin and chill.  To make the pastry, sift flour, add salt and rub in the butter.  Add egg yolk and water and stir with a knife until the mixture comes together.  Use your hands to form it into a smooth ball, working the pastry as little as possible.  Wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Melt the butter for the filling in a frying- or sauce-pan with a lid.  Add the onions and a little salt and pepper, stirring to coat the onions in the butter.  Cover with the lid and cook very gently, without browning, until the onions are soft (about 40 minutes).  The mixture will be very wet.  Remove the lid and cook down on a low heat for a further 15-20 minutes until the moisture has mostly disappeared.  Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (fan oven 180C).  Roll out the pastry as thinly as possible and line the prepared tart tin with it.  Prick the base of the pastry and chill for 15 minutes.  Line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans to bake blind in the oven for 10 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and return the tart to the oven for a further 5 minutes or so to cook the base thoroughly.  Remove from the oven and turn down to 180C (fan oven 160C).  

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the cream.  Mix in the onions and season with salt and pepper.  Place the tart tin on a baking tray and pour the mixture into the tart case as high as you dare before crumbling the cheese on top.  Bake for around 35 minutes until the filling is set and lightly browned.

Peppery watercress goes very well with this tart.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Monvínic Barcelona

Rockfish Pasta

I've long had a liking for Spanish wines and, although it's based on no great learning, I know what I like and I like the wines at Monvínic very much indeed.  Not that you'll only find Spanish wines here.  Their copious cellar houses several thousand bottles from all over the world, and a reference library satisfies the most discerning oenophile.  But a visit last week confirmed that's not all this stylish temple to viniculture is about.

Taking in the leather apron-clad sommelier/greeters behind the desk, the copper ceiling, low lighting and pony-skin seating in the bar area we did wonder on entering whether our wallets could stand the heat.  Being handed a digital wine list, initially, didn't help but a quick run-through by Ramiro allayed our fears.  Starting at under 20 Euros a bottle, and with around 50 wines served by the glass, for us this proved the best way to make discoveries at Monvínic.  The wines on offer are constantly changing, to the point where a second glass of the one you just enjoyed may not be available.  We were determined to stick to local Catalan wines so sampled a lovely crisp, dry Castellroig DO Penedès 2010.  We followed up with Portal del Montsant DO Brunus 2009, a Carignan, Grenache, Syrah blend which was  blackberries in a glass, for me. Finally a gorgeous, honeyed orange with white-pepper 2007 Moscat from Emporda in the North-East adjoining the French border   

Loin of Veal

As good as the wines are here's where it gets even more interesting.  A low-lit cosy bar opens out into a sparse glass-walled dining room. You can eat in either according to how you feel.  A Menu del dia of 3 courses for 20 Euros including mineral water and one glass of wine was on offer.  OK, so the day before we had eaten for 12 Euros, but this was in an altogether different league.

A bowl of Onion soup was presented with an egg gently poaching in the heat of the stock. A sweet/savoury and comforting introduction which we were glad we had both ordered.  Next, for me, Mediterranean Rockfish with Orzo pasta.  A dish which relied on exceptionally good fish stock, and this certainly came up to the mark.  A just-cooked prawn topped the dish off.  For N, a dish of tender and tasty Loin of veal with a lovely, sticky veal jus.  Pudding was a choice of Creme Caramel or a cream-filled choux pastry with candied fruits and pine nuts and a slick of sweet wine with a quenelle of goat's cheese ice cream alongside.

Choux pastry dessert
at Monvínic

You can spend a lot at Monvínic, if you're so inclined.  With a total of three glasses of moderately-priced wine, mineral water and coffee our lunch bill came to 52 Euros for a stunningly good lunch. With Sommeliers like Isabelle and Ramiro providing exactly the sort of service you want, this is definitely where I'll be heading next time I'm in Barcelona.

Diputació 249
08007 Barcelona
Tel: +34 932 726 187

UPDATE: Revisited March 2014: New chef.  Food easily as good as I remember.  Still offer this great value lunch - 3 courses for 22 Euros.

Tortilla Monvinic style
March 2014

Friday, 15 March 2013

Wild garlic leaves - Food Find

Last Saturday I spotted the first of the broad-leaved wild garlic at Tony Booth's Tayshaw arch at 60 Druid Street SE1 so I can reliably alert you to their availability this week.   Ramsons, Buckrams, Wood garlic or Bear's garlic, whatever you call it don't miss it over the next few weeks.  Wild Ramson, Allium ursinum, is a wild relative of chives.  If you go out foraging in deciduous woodland for it, be sure it is wild garlic by crushing the leaves to release the distinctive garlic scent.  They have an affinity with eggs and make a fantastic addition to soups but here's another simple way of enjoying wild garlic which I posted around this time last year.

Spa Terminus

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Honey & Co London - Food from the Middle East

Honey & Co London
Cakes of the day

I had intended waiting until after I'd tried dinner at Honey & Co but one lunch and a breakfast has told me all I need to know.  This is more than just "food from the Middle East", it's nothing short of manna.

You could easily walk past this tiny little Fitzrovia cafe - at least you could if you happen to pass by before they've set out their window display.  Without that you'd be forgiven for thinking it's just another quick lunch place on a sidestreet off Tottenham Court Road.  I know I did.  Then one day I joined the ranks of the pavement stumblers, wide-eyed and disbelieving at the sheer beauty of it.  I was in.

I was going to say if you like Ottolenghi you'll like this, but actually it's quite different.  What it does have in common are its Middle Eastern roots and that owner Sarit Packer has worked at, amongst other places, Ottolenghi and Nopi.  Husband and co-owner, Itamar Srulovich, trained and worked in Tel Aviv.  Walk in and, along with the fantastic aromas of Middle Eastern spices and baking, you get an immediate warm welcome from Rachel and Holly, front-of-house.  You'll be fed well and with generosity.

Honey & Co London
Fitzrovia Buns
The breakfast menu is light on savoury dishes.  On our visit there was Ijje (a featherlight herb and feta frittata) served with plump kalamata olives, tomatoes and sour cream and two kinds of lahma (spiced lamb, tahini, pine nuts and one with Spinach, herb, egg).  Add to this a dish of yoghurt, fresh fruit and Ashura cereal, Milk bun with butter and jam, Blueberry and sour cream baked doughnuts and plate after plate of those aforementioned cakes. You will be spoilt for choice and I haven't yet mentioned the two we ordered.  If you try just one thing make it the Toasted fig, walnut and orange loaf served with butter and home-made marmalade. Rendered toffeed and chewy by the toasting, it is sensational.  If you can manage something else then I'd go for the Fitzrovia Bun.  Oh, yes - move over Chelsea Bun.  This version contains sour cherries and pistachios and has spoilt me forever for that doughy, sticky fruit bun.  One of each plus a slice of Ijje, a pot of tea and two coffees came in at a very reasonable £16 for breakfast for two, excluding tip.

A luncthime visit offered a Mezze plate for the table at £5 per person; Jerusalem style falafel with cinnamon and sesame seeds and a tahini sauce £6; Chopped chicken liver flavoured with cumin & lemon served with radish and milk bread £6; and Fennel salad, blood orange, olives and feta £6/£10.50.  For mains there were dishes such as Gundi sabzi (Persian chicken dumplings in herb broth £12.50; Ox cheek sofrito with quince served on white rice £13.50; and Siniya (roasted cauliflower, with a tahini topping, pistachios and pitta £12.50.

A large portion of Marinated violet aubergine, tahini and poached Legbar egg with crispy pitta £10.50 was fresh and moreish, and Creamy hummus topped with spiced lamb and pine nuts served with pitta bread £11.50 was beautifully spiced, of great texture and deeply comforting.  With a portion of stunning Chestnut cake with salted caramel sauce and vanilla cream and a gorgeous, moist Warm marzipan cake with spiced plums, one Orange & orange blossom water iced tea, a glass of red wine,  coffee and a bottomless teapot of rose and cinnamon tea the bill came to £46.50, excluding tip.

Oh, and they do takeaway too and have an ever-growing larder you can buy from.  I think you should realise by now I can't wait to go back.  In fact I'm already booked for dinner.

Honey & Co
25a Warren Street
Tel: 020 7388 6175
Kitchen open all day Tues-Sat until 10.30pm
Closed Sunday
Monday closes 18.00
(You really need to book for lunch and dinner and at busy times it is a squeeze)

Friday, 1 March 2013

Fabrique Bakery - Food Find

Fabrique London

I’d almost given up hope of finding a really good baguette in London. You know the kind I mean; like the ones you take for granted in France, crusty outside, soft and springy inside.  Rather than a commercial yeast version, I prefer a pain au levain, or sourdough, to impart sweet, nutty notes to the bake.   These days, any number of bakeries in London are turning out decent sourdough loaves so it’s a puzzle why a good baguette eludes them.  Fortunately I've never given up looking and, finally, I’ve found that perfect pain au levain baguette, baked in the French style by Swedes - in East London.  Fabrique is a small bakery set-up in a railway arch next to Hoxton Station, just behind The Geffrye Museum.  After opening 7 bakeries in Stockholm in the past 5 years, this is Fabrique's first venture outside Sweden.  Now I have to say, I've been a little resistant to the charms of Nordic food.  An ill-advised purchase of a 'cinnamon bun', from an acclaimed bakery, resulted in an experience I can only liken to chewing on damp cardboard.  Fabrique, however, from my perspective, clearly know what they're about.  Not only do they bake superb cinnamon buns, but also delicious cardamom buns, a few tempting tray-bakes, biscuits and other fantastic-looking breads including a rye.  Sandwiches are available and there's a small cafe area in the bakery where they serve very good coffee specially blended in Sweden for them by Johan & Nyström.

Arch 385 Geffrye Street
London E2 8HZ
(Closed Mondays)