A little blog about food with recipes, reviews, commentary, and honesty.

I also offer event catering and private chef services; check out Earls Barton Eats! for more details.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Puttanesca with Belly Pork and Chilli

We don't need to talk about the origins of the puttanesca sauce do we? We're all adults here...

Regardless of origins some of you will be looking at the title of this dish and thinking "But puttanesca does have chilli in it?". Well yes and no; it all depends on the region of Italy your puttanesca comes from. I have specifically included chilli in this recipe, and in the title, because it plays a very important role. The heat from the chilli cuts through the fat of the belly pork and the salt of the other ingredients a treat, so it thoroughly deserves a mention in it's own right. 

And yes, this is a recipe which involves belly pork but that is also quick to prepare and cook (about 30 minutes in total, but even quicker if you use fresh pasta). Here we're cutting the chunks of pork really small and quick frying them until the meat is crispy on the outside but the fat is still soft. 

This isn't actually entirely my recipe; it's inspired by a dish served by my favourite Italian restaurant in my home town (which is sadly no more). They served puttanesca with belly pork as a speciality dish, I first ate it when I was about 14 and it was wonderful. 

Ingredients to serve 2: 

300g of belly pork
100ml of passata
1 fat clove of garlic, sliced
1/2 a tsp of dried chilli flakes
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
50g of black olives, sliced
1 tsp of Nonpareille capers (drained and rinsed if in brine)
2 tbsps of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Dried tagliatelle, spaghetti, or fettucine pasta, cooked to al dente according to packet instructions
Olive oil
Ground black pepper
Grated parmesan to serve (optional)

Firstly put the water onto boil for cooking the pasta. Then put a non-stick sauté (or frying) pan onto a medium heat, ready for the pork. 

Remove the rind from the belly pork (Don't throw it away! Save it and roast later to make pork crackling) and cut the meat into 1cm square cubes. If your knife isn't as sharp as you'd like it to be this might be a bit tricky, so cut the pork into larger pieces and chop it smaller after it's cooked. Drizzle a little (only a little) olive oil into the sauté pan and add the pork. Cook on a medium heat, turning regularly, for 6-8 minutes until the pork is cooked through and is a bit brown and crispy on the outside. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside on a plate. 

Your water should now be boiling so add the pasta, a pinch of sea salt, and cook for around 8-9 minutes (for dried). 

While your pasta is cooking you can make the puttanesca sauce. Put the sauté pan back onto a medium heat; you don't need to add any oil as it will have the fat from the pork. Add the sliced garlic and chopped anchovies and cook for about a minute, taking care that the garlic doesn't burn. The anchovies will melt into the oil slightly, but to help them along just mash them up with the back of a wooden spoon. Next add the capers, olives, chilli, passata, and a good grind of black pepper and bring to the boil. I like bursting the capers into the sauce with the spoon so that they release all their flavour. You won't need to add any salt to the sauce because of all the salty ingredients. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for about 5 minutes, until it's reduced and luscious. 

When the pasta is done turn off the heat and remove the pasta from the water with a pair of tongs and put them straight into the sauce; this way the pasta transfers a little of it's starchy cooking water into the sauce and makes it shiny and stick to the pasta better. Add the chopped parsley and toss the pasta together with the sauce. Serve with any extra bits of pork, olives, and capers spooned on top and a little parmesan if you need more of a salty kick. 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Pippa Problem

Today we were treated to Pippa Middleton's new column for Waitrose Kitchen; full of 'Friday Feast' ideas for all the family from a writer with a "wealth of experience of entertaining" (according to the editor, William Sitwell). 
Some of the recipes sound OK, some even sound quite nice (tangerine and sake jellies: yum). The writing is just as you'd expect from Middleton if you'd already read extracts from her infamous book; faintly patronising and a bit dull. One of the more exciting lines reads: "Friday night is the perfect time to cook". Stone the crows. 

But it's not the recipes that are the problem. It's not even the writing that's [all] of the problem. It's the lack of graft, the lack of heart, the lack of sincerity that's the problem. 

When news broke of Waitrose's latest signing back in February food writers and bloggers were aghast; the appointment reeked of cronyism and headline-chasing. Sitwell, quite expectedly as editor, defended the decision by citing Pippa's aforementioned experience and even today responded to my Twitter enquiries by stating "Try her recipes...they're great". Hey my recipes are bloody brilliant but you're not going to give me a column are you? Don't pretend that your readers are idiots, Sitwell.

What Sitwell needs to acknowledge is that food writing isn't just about the recipes. The best food writers are the best writers; they write with passion, they're engaging, they're genuine, and they've been practising their craft for years. I don't just try a recipe from any old hack, I am inspired to use recipes by fantastic writers. Middleton could be the best writer since the invention of the written word yet her talent (ahem) is invalidated by the intentions behind her appointment (controversy + posh = advertising) and her lack of maturity in the field. It causes her writing to be insincere and bland. 

Now, regardless of who she shares chromosones with, if Middleton had spent the last 5 years plowing away at food writing, refining, tasting, learning, blogging, then her appointment would be much less of an issue. She would have earned that column through sweat, not blood. Having a quick think there are 20 food writers that I know of who are better writers, create better recipes, and have been grafting for years, but who will probably never get the same opportunities that Middleton has. Sitwell has previously hit back at critics by citing jealousy on their part; it's not jealousy, it's anger. Anger at having their talent trampled on by famous usurpers. Yes they would probably give their right arm to have a column in a supermarket magazine with a readership of many many thousands, but they won't because talent and experience isn't as important as 'the brand'. 

The Pippa Problem isn't necessarily Pippa's problem; she seems to be malignly following the yellow brick road to wherever it leads, but it is Sitwell's problem and it is Waitrose's problem. And as a whole it's the industry's problem. And as readers it's our problem too; demand more from the people who really make food writing what it is and don't accept the pretty, posh pretenders because there's more of them waiting in the wings for when Middleton's 15 minutes are done.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Fondant Potato

It's cold, it's snowy, it's icy; it must almost be time for...erm, Easter? 

The new-born lambs may need jumpers and the Easter Bunny may be using skis, but yes next week is Easter Sunday; a day to feast on chocolate eggs and gorgeous, seasonal British lamb.  

So why not try having your lamb like this; tender cutlets with a flavourful duvet of fresh herbs, served with a soft, buttery fondant potato. It'll warm you right up. It's also quick to prepare so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time chocolate eating. 

Ingredients to serve 2: 

One 6-cutlet rack of British lamb, trimmed
2 tbsp of thyme leaves
2 tbsp of finely chopped rosemary
50g of fresh soft white breadcrumbs
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp of Dijon mustard
3 tbsp of olive oil
Sea salt

For the fondant potatoes: 

4 medium Desiree potatoes
400ml of vegetable stock
100g of unsalted butter
2 fat garlic cloves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme

Firstly prepare the potatoes; peel and then use a 48mm cookie cutter to cut out a small cylinder from the middle of the potato, making sure it's even in thickness. You may need to use a mallet to bash down the cutter, but be careful because the edges of the cutter may be sharp. When the cylinder is cut out trim the ends to straighten and, if you want to be extra-cheffy, round off the edges. Alternatively you can use a small paring knife to cut out the cylinder, but it won't be as consistent in thickness and may cook unevenly. Put the potatoes in a bowl of cold water until you're ready to cook. 

For the herb crust put the breadcrumbs, herbs, and lemon zest into a bowl with a pinch of sea salt, then stir in 2 tbsps of the olive oil until the mixture is moist and sticks together when you press it with the back of the spoon. 

Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan until hot, then add the rack of lamb and sear all over. Remove the rack from the pan when browned and set aside. Brush the top, fatty side of the rack with the Dijon mustard and then pack the herb crust down on top. Place the rack into a roasting tin and put in the oven; cook for 15 minutes for rare (as in the photo below), 20 for medium-rare  or 25 for medium. 

While the lamb is in the oven cook the fondant potatoes. In a heavy-based sauté pan (that has an accompanying lid) melt the butter over a low heat, then turn the heat up to high so that the butter is sizzling. Add the potatoes and fry until the bottoms are golden. At this point add the garlic, thyme, and stock. Bring the stock to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, put the lid on the pan, and cook for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are soft. 

Remove the lamb from the oven and rest for 5 minutes in a warm place, then carve into individual cutlets. Remove the potatoes from the pan and serve them golden side-up with the cutlets and the vegetable of your choice (I had this with buttered leeks). 

I like my lamb almost bleating. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Baked Pears stuffed with Brie

This recipe is simple, straightforward, a cinch, elementary, no sweat, snap, a piece of cake, *insert synonym here*. 

It has only 4 major ingredients; pears, Brie, thyme, and prosciutto. The pears take a few minutes of prep, but other than that it's all about stuffing, wrapping, and baking. 

They're best served hot with warm crusty bread to mop up the melted Brie. 

Ingredients to serve 2:

2 Rocha pears
4 slices of prosciutto
60g of ripened Brie
1/4 of a teaspoon of finely chopped thyme
20g of unsalted butter, melted

Firstly preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

Using a small paring knife core the pears from the bottom in order to create a cavity for the Brie, but don't cut through the top of the pear and keep the stem intact. Trim the bottom of the core to create a small plug (about 1cm thick) and set aside. Then peel the pears, again leaving the stem intact. 

Sprinkle half the chopped thyme around the inside of the cavity of each pear and then stuff with half of the Brie, pressing it firmly inside the cavity with your finger. Finish by pushing the trimmed plug into the cavity to seal it. Brush the melted butter all over the outside of the pears and wrap each with 2 slices of prosciutto, making sure you wrap the prosciutto under the bottom of the pear to keep the plug in place. 

Place the pears on the baking tray and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pears are tender. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Goi Cuon (Vietnamese Spring Rolls)

I've spoken before of my deep love for Vietnamese food; it's light, fresh, and zingy, and a perfect accompaniment to the Spring season emerging from hibernation right now. 

These goi cuon are a Vietnamese version of the Chinese spring roll, but instead of being deep-fried and crispy, they're made from soft, sticky gluten-free rice paper. I've swapped the traditional pork loin filling for a lighter pork mince, and removed all traces of peanuts from the recipe. Don't be put off by the exotic-sounding ingredients; I bought all of mine (except the rice paper) from a normal supermarket.

Ingredients to serve 4: 

12 sheets of 22cm diameter rice paper (I used Longdan's; available from Asian supermarkets)

For the filling: 

300g of lean minced pork
175g of small ready-cooked and peeled prawns, roughly chopped
100g of ready-cooked vermicelli rice noodles
50g of raw beansprouts, roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tbsp of sesame oil (plus a little extra for greasing)
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
1/2 tsp of five spice
1 tsp of fish sauce
1 tsp of Chinese rice vinegar
2 tbsps of coriander, finely chopped
1 tbsp of Thai basil, finely chopped
1 tsp of palm sugar, ground in a pestle and mortar

For the nuoc cham (dipping sauce): 

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 a red chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 tsps of fish sauce
2 tsps of Chinese rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsps of palm sugar, ground in a pestle and mortar
2 tbsps of warm water

Firstly prepare the nuoc cham by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and whisking together with a fork, then set aside until needed. 

For the filling begin by mixing the pork mince in a large bowl with the five spice and sesame oil, then fry in a pan with the vegetable oil for 10 minutes until cooked through. When done remove the pork from the heat and transfer to a large bowl (complete with residual juices). 

When the pork has cooled for a couple of minutes add the prawns, noodles, herbs, and sprouts and mix together well. In a separate bowl whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce, rice vinegar, and palm sugar and then add to the meat mixture and stir together so that the dressing coats the other ingredients. 

The rice paper is packaged dry and needs soaking before use. Firstly fill a large tray with 2cm deep of cold water, grab a clean, dry tea towel, and lightly grease a large plate with sesame oil; this prevents the rice paper from sticking and ripping. Take a sheet of rice paper and soak for about a minute in the water, then remove and blot dry on the tea towel. When the paper becomes soft and slightly sticky to the touch lay it flat on the greased plate. Spoon some of the filling mixture (2-3 tbsps) into the middle of the rice paper sheet and fold both the left and right side of the paper inwards, over the filling. Then fold the bottom of the rice paper up over the filling and tightly roll away from you, up the paper. The paper will stick together without any need for additional water. For more advice on rolling, have a look at this video

Divide the nuoc cham between 4 small bowls; serve 2-3 goi cuon per person with a bowl of nuoc cham each. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Coconut Tempura

Tempura is a very common thing and I'm sure many of you have eaten it umpteen different times, but this batter is different to the traditional. The coconut milk gives it a subtle sweetness, rather than a hit of heavy flavour, and when paired with fresh white fish and green vegetables it's  both light and incredibly moreish at once. 

Ingredients to serve 2: 

100g of plain flour - If you're making this recipe GF swap this for a GF white flour mix; don't use extra cornflour instead as the coconut milk needs something heavier to carry it. 
100g of cornflour
6 tbsps of coconut milk
200ml of sparkling mineral water, cold
1 large pinch of sea salt
Vegetable oil for frying

You can use the batter with any white fish and vegetables but I used: 

1 lemon sole fillet, deboned and cut into 2cm-wide strips
1 sea bass fillet, deboned and cut into 2cm-wide strips
3 baby courgettes, halved
1 small aubergine, cut into 1cm slices
6 tenderstems of broccoli

Firstly heat the oil to 190c; using a deep-fat fryer is safest but you can use a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan if you don't have one, just be careful.

For the batter sift the plain flour into a large glass bowl, add the cornflour and mix together. Then add the coconut milk and salt and stir into the flour; this'll make a bit of a dry, lumpy mess but don't worry. Next whisk in the water bit by bit, until the batter is smooth and has the consistency of double cream. You may not need all the water, hence adding it gradually to get the best consistency. 

When the oil is at temperature start dipping the fish and vegetables into the batter, covering the pieces completely. Add the pieces in batches of 4-6 so that they don't stick together. Gently drop the pieces into the oil rather than placing them into the basket, as the pieces will stick to the basket, but remember to be careful as the oil is super-hot! The fish and vegetables that I used will all take 3-4 minutes to cook; thicker pieces of fish or denser vegetables will take longer. 

When the tempura is cooked serve hot accompanied with either a soy or vinegar dip. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Healthy Chilli Beef Tacos

Alright, alright, so that title is a bit of a fib. Not the healthy bit, these are *really* healthy and they don't compromise on taste to do it. 

But they do compromise on the tacos, because there aren't any. The tacos are substituted with lettuce cups to save on calories; similar crunch, similar feel in your hand, but HEALTHY. 

And healthy is important. HA, sorry I couldn't keep a straight face whilst typing that, seeing as this blog is normally full-fat. But it is important; it is *sincere face*.

Ingredients to serve 4: 

500g of extra lean beef mince
1 small white onion, diced
2 fat cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
400g of chopped tomatoes in juice
250ml of beef stock
1 tbsp of tomato puree
2 tsps of smoked paprika
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp of chilli powder
1/2 tsp of dried chillies
3 tbsps of chopped coriander
1 tsp of sea salt
 1 tbsp of olive oil
2 little gem lettuces, leaves separated.
Sour cream, to serve

Firstly fry the onion in the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, until the onion is soft but not coloured, then add the garlic for about a minute to soften. Turn the heat up to high and then add the beef mince and fry for a couple of minutes until browned. 

Now add the spices; paprika, cumin, chilli powder, and chillies, and stir into the beef. Then add the tomato puree, tomatoes, beef stock, and sea salt and mix together well. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the chilli for 35-40 minutes until it's thick and glossy. 

Remove the chilli from the heat , allow to cool for a few minutes (don't serve straight from the heat or it'll wilt the lettuce), and stir through the coriander. Then serve spooned into the lettuce leaves and top with a dollop of sour cream.