Saturday, 23 May 2009

Honeycomb tripe salad

I know that for most people, tripe is one of their least favourite foods, to put it mildly. It's associated with memories of gigantic pots of boiling stinkiness, force feeding in childhood, and acts of human unkindness. But I love it.

Maybe it's due to my Chinese upbringing and the constant encouragement to try suspicious looking foods, or just that the Cantonese cook tripe with such savoury, piquant sauces you'd be a lunatic not to like it. Nevertheless despite my fondness, until now I had only encoutered tripe hot, either 'a la fiorentina' (submerged in a sweet, smooth tomato sauce) or in dim sum. Cold tripe was a revelation.

We bought our tripe from an incredible stall in Florence's Mercato Centrale, called Nuova Tripperia Fiorentina. It specialises in all things cooked cow offal. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Sibilla and I thought we had found a small stall from heaven. Along with several different types of tripe, you can buy cooked trotters, snout, udder and uterus to name a few.

Feeling brave we bought a slice of udder (called poppa in Italian), procrastinated over cooking it, and finally seared it on a high heat with a dusting of seasoned flour. Sprinkled with lemon juice it was delicious, almost cheesy tasting. I know that sounds deeply wierd, but really it was delicious!

Serves two for lunch or four as part of lunch

300g cooked tripe, the one with a honeycomb texture works best, but any will do
Three large tomatoes, coursely chopped
Two sticks of celery, thinly sliced
Half a red onion, finely chopped
Juice and zest of a lemon
Half a tablespoon of red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
A good handful of parsley, mint, or both

Slice the tripe into thin, bite sized strips. Add the tomatoes, celery and onion, then season well and toss together with the lemon, vinegar and olive oil. This salad is best eaten cold so leave it to marinate in the fridge for a few hours.

Just before you serve, roughly chop the parsley and mint, scatter over and toss again. The tripe should have a cool, crunchy texture, which is lovely soaked in its earthy, lemony sauce and given sparkle by brightly flavoured herbs.

Here's a picture of some tripe from Nuova Tripperia. As soon as I can persuade Sibilla to translate the Italian, or sit down with my Italian-English dictionary, I'm going to try the recipes on the website.

Courgette and mint ceviche

Again this is best with small, sweet courgettes rather than the larger fatter ones that tend towards becoming marrow.

Serves four to six as part of a lunch spread

4 young courgettes
half a red onion, peeled and finely sliced
juice of a lemon
a good handful of mint leaves
a pinch of chilli flakes, crushed as finely as possible with your fingers or a mortar and pestle
olive oil
salt and pepper

Finely slice the courgette into paper thin rounds, or shave with a mandolin. Season with the crumbled chilli flakes, salt and pepper and toss with the red onion, lemon juice and a generous coating of olive oil.

This salad is even better if you have time to leave it for an hour or so to marinade. The acid from the lemon softens the courgette and onion, giving the salad an almost lightly cooked texture.

When you are ready to serve, layer the mint leaves one on top of another, roll them up into a sausage shape and slice into thin shreds, then scatter over the salad.

Baby broad bean Niçoise

This salad is best with young broad beans that taste sweet when shelled and eaten raw. You could use larger broad beans, but it would be a good idea to remove their bitter outer casings first.

We made this with gorgeous eggs with deep yellow yolks from Marcello's chickens and served the chopped tomatoes separately as one of the group was not a fan.

Serves four as lunch or six as part of a bigger spread

Around 800g to 1 kg of shelled baby broad beans
Half a tin of pitted black olives
One tin of best quality tuna in oil, flaked
Ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 hard boiled eggs, quartered
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Combine the beans, olives, tuna and tomatoes in a large bowl, squeeze over the lemon juice, season liberally and toss together with a generous glug of olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasonings, then scatter over the eggs when you're done.

Back in Tuscany

Sibilla's farm, Corzano e Paterno, seems almost like a different world from the one I visited in March. The plants have burst into flower and the vegetable garden is an explosion of green and already producing courgettes and mange tout, having finished offering up a bumper crop of sweet baby broan beans. It is sunny with blue skies every day, with hot, lazy days and cooler, balmy nights.

Last week New Zealand shearers came and gave all the Sardinian milk sheep a haircut.

We have been cooking up a storm so here's a bunch of dishes we have been eating since I arrived....

Saturday, 9 May 2009

The best gratin Dauphinoise

I love how richly comforting and almost naughty this side dish is. We don't make it too often, but when we do the first sight of butter and cream and bubbling up round light golden discs and overflowing the sides creates an excitement that builds as the time passes. When the gratin finally forms a speckled golden brown crust it's ready. The first hot breath taken when the oven door opens washes over me like a blanket of reassurance, combined with buttery expectation and sweet with roasted garlic. I grab a steamful bowlful and a spoon, curl up, and ignore everything else in the world for a while.

A deep, round ovenproof dish would be ideal. I use a 17cm square ceramic dish with rounded corners and flat handles on either side which is great. It is 6 cm deep. Try not to use anything with less than 4cm depth as you want to end up with lots of overlapping potato layers, sandwiching seasoned cream and infused with garlic, rather than a paltry three layer pancake. The base will be soft and giving, the centre moist and almost chewy, and the top browned and almost crisp.

Serves four as a side dish, or two greedy people.

25g/1oz salted butter
One clove of garlic, peeled
Three large waxy potatoes, peeled and any eyes or discolourations removed
150ml double cream (you may use less)
sea salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.

Rub about a half of the butter around the inside of the dish. Crush the garlic on a wooden board with flaked sea salt piled on top and the flat on a large blade pushed down to squash the clove and mash it into a salty, garlicky pulp. Smear this all over the base and sides of the dish, then season lightly with salt and papper.

Slice the potatoes into discs a few millimetres thick, like the thickness of a pound coin. I use a lethally sharp Benriner mandolin, which to me is worth every penny. Just be really careful not to cut your fingers; even Rick Stein managed to do this on one of his cookery programmes!

Layer the potatoes in the dish, with as few holes as possible in between. You might want to cut smaller pieces to fit awkward gaps but don't drive yourself mad - some space is good. It's really important that you lightly salt and pepper every new layer before starting a new one or the finished result will be bland.

Stop just before the top of the dish, push down on the potato layers one last time, and pour over the cream until the last layer is lightly coated. Pinch bits of the leftover butter and dot them all over the top. Season one last time, then put it into the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the kitchen smells wonderful and your gratin is golden brown and bubbling.

Photos to come - last night we finished this before even thinking about the camera...

Friday, 8 May 2009

Poussin and caribbean salsa

Serves two with a vegetable side dish or salad

One fat poussin, spatchcocked
A few good pinches of chilli flakes
Juice and zest of half a lemon
A few cloves of garlic
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Half a cucumber, peeled and seeds scraped out with a teaspoon
Two spring onions
A mild hot green pepper, seeded
A pinch of thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
Juice of a lime
150ml crème fraîche

If you have a mortar and pestle, pound the chilli with some salt and then add the garlic to make a thick paste. Otherwise crush the garlic with the flat of a blade and some salt and crumble in the chilli. Add the pepper, lemon and olive oil and mix together well. Smear the marinade all over the poussin and leave it in a bowl covered with cling film or in a clear plastic food bag for as long as possible before cooking. An hour is fine, four to six hours is brilliant. Turn and massage the meat if you happen to be passing by.

If you have a food processor, blend all the ingredients for the salsa but leave it a little chunky. Otherwise finely chop the cucumber, spring onion and pepper and mix in the other bits. Cover with cling film and leave the salsa to sit for one hour or more in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook, heat a cast iron grill pan over a low heat for at least ten minutes until the pan is hot and smoking. Add the poussin, skin side down and press down on the meat with a spatula so the skin gets lovely and charred. Cook the poussin slowly over a low heat. It will stick to the pan at first, but don't turn it over until the skin releases from the pan on its own. It should take 20-30 minutes to cook the poussin, turning once or twice. To check it is done stick a skewer into the thickest part of the leg and catch some juices with a spoon. If they run clear, without any pinky red blood, then the chicken is cooked.

Rest the poussin for ten minutes on a wooden board under some foil, then chop in half and serve, accomapnied with the bowl of salsa for dipping and smearing.

Photos to come...

Panna cotta with rhubarb compote

This is so easy to make it's almost tempting to mess with the recipe and infuse the cream with ginger, or orange or something to add a twist. But I'm a classicist and there is something pure and lovely about a wobbly, light vanilla pudding, cut with sharp sweet rhubarb.

Actually I did try using marmalade instead of honey but it was a little too bitter...

Serves six

400ml double cream
200ml semi skimmed milk
2 tbsp caster suger
2 cm of a vanilla seed pod
just under 2 teaspoons of gelatine
5 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into bitesize pieces
2 tbsp honey

You'll need six ramekins or small bowls

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Mix the rhubarb with the honey and about a tablespoon of water in an ovenproof dish and bake until the rhubarb is soft, but has not lost its shape, with a lovely pink sauce. Remove and allow to cool before refrigerating.

Combine the cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan (heavy based if possible) and set it over a low heat until the mixture starts to 'shiver'. This is the stage just before it starts to boil, if you see little bubbles rising up take the pan off the heat for a bit. Scrap the seeds out of your vanilla pod and add, along with the pod, to the saucepan.

While the cream is heating, put the gelatine in a small bowl in some hot water and let it melt. Spoon some on the hot cream into the gelatine and stir until well combined. Add a few more spoonfuls of hot cream and mix well, then pour the whole lot back in the saucepan and mix again.
Remove the vanilla pod and discard.

Divide the cream mixture between your six ramekins and allow to cool. If you're in a rush you can put them straight in the fridge but they will still need a couple of hours to set.

When you're ready to serve, just gently spoon chunks of rhubarb with their juices into each ramekin.

Sorry for the lack of photo, to be updated...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Norfolk nourishment

Happy Bank Holiday weekend! We're just back from three blissful days in Norfolk staying with Tikki's parents the Newmans, who Ronan has declared are 'the most perfect hosts' he has ever stayed with.

I ventured off the coast of England in a sailboat for the first time. We rocked gently in the sunshine and ate soft boiled eggs with pastel blue shells gathered from Derek and Carolyn's Legbar chickens. This was followed with freshly picked Norfolk crab, dressed with lemon juice and homemade garlic mayonnaise.

Other gastronomic highlights included a whole roast goose, rich with sweet goose fat, and a barbequed leg of lamb, marinated in garlic, lemon, parsley and olive oil for a day and charred until crisp on the outside but juicy and blushing rose on the inside.

We ate asparagus from a neighbouring farm, Wiveton Hall, picked just hours before. I have never tried such fresh asapargus before and was not disappointed. As many food writers have proclaimed before me, it really was even more delicious for being just out of the ground. The stems were sweet as sugar, in stark contrast to the earthy, spicy chilli oil and sharp lime crème fraîche sauces that we drizzled on them.

Walking along the dramatic Norfolk cliff tops and then back along the Coast road, we stumbled on Jenny's crab shack, serving up cold crab and lobster with no seasoning whatsoever. No salt, no pepper, not even any lemon. It was incredible - sweet but indeniably from the salty sea.

Photos to come!

Wiveton Hall
Norfolk NR25 7TE
Tel: 01263 740525
Website: www.wivetonhall.co.uk

Jenny's Crab Shack
On the A149 Coast Road from Sheringham to Weybourne
Tel: 07818 608 439
Open seven days a week from now through till autumn.