Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Oval chicken

This is Ronan's recipe, created from his time living in Oval, where friends were always welcome and you never quite knew how many people might or might not drop in for dinner.

The beauty of Oval chicken is you can increase the number of joints and always have perfect, lemony, juicy meat with crisp skin. Its important to have a pan (or more) that will fit all of your joints as snugly together as possible.

Its so easy to do and univerally loved that we make Oval chicken all the time - for lazy evenings in, dinners with friends, relatives or picky eaters.

The quantities of seasonings are given as general guidelines only, go with what you think looks good to eat.

For two:
4 thighs, or 2 whole legs jointed into 4 pieces
6 fat cloves of garlic
6 sprigs of thyme (or lemon thyme or rosemary)
a pinch of chilli flakes
half a lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper
a glass of white wine

Preheat a fan assisted oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Find an ovenproof dish that will fit all the joints snugly with skin exposed and flesh hidden. Oil the dish, season the joints with salt and pepper and add, turning to cover in oil. Slice the lemon into quarters and place a segment underneath each joint along with a sprig of thyme. Tuck the rest of the thyme and the garlic cloves (unpeeled) into any remaining gaps between the chicken. Scatter over the chilli flakes and season again lightly.

Place in the hot oven for 20 minutes, it should come out sizzling lightly in the fat, with the skin just beginning to brown. Add enough white wine to come about halfway up the dish, being careful not to splash the skin. This will keep the meat moist while the skin crisps.

Return to the oven and lower the temperature to 180 degrees. Cook for a further 20 - 25 minutes until the skin looks crisp and brown.

Remove, serve and pour over the delicious juices. Salad is a great accompaniment, or little potatoes roasted on a rack under the chicken for the same time. We had purple sprouting broccoli, steamed for three minutes then tossed with butter and salted.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The best Kim Chi, at last

After months of experimentation and kilos of cabbage eating, I finally have a kim chi recipe I am happy with. This probably sounds ridiculous, I mean, its kim chi, how hard can it be? Cabbage, chilli, garlic, ginger - mix it up and Bob's your uncle, right? Apparently with me, wrong.

With a vegetable as watery and bland as Chinese cabbage (really, its only redeeming quality is its crunch), a few flavourings go a long way, and for weeks I ended up with batches of Korean pickle that veered between having waaaay too much salt, sugar, chilli (creating 'Atomic Kim Chi'), ginger, garlic or any combination of these. You name it, I overdid it.

I have finally learned my lesson and realised that less is more, but the rate at which I am churning and fermenting kim chi at a rate is still being overstripped by how quickly I eat it. Want some crisps? Kim chi! Feeling peckish? Kim chi! Feel like breakfast? Kim chi! Hell, any time you feel like munching? Kim chi!!

My method is not the traditional way of preparing classic kim chi, but I think it suits modern kitchens as it is significantly less stinky than fermenting the cabbage whole in a cool dark place, with seasonings layered between each leaf. I'm no expert but I thought this was a pretty interesting round up of general kim chi related info.

Try to find Korean chilli flakes and fish sauce. You could substitue fresh or crushed dried chillies with no seeds, and Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, but the results won't be quite the same. I'm afraid I have no idea how to pronounce the names for the ingredients you need in Korean, but here's a picture - I showed a similar one to a nice lady in Korean supermarket and she was able to help.

You can leave out the daikon and/or the spring onions, but I like the flavour they add to the mix.

1 large Chinese cabbage, approx. 1.25kg, cut into thick 5cm rounds, then quartered into squares
10% of the cabbage weight in sea salt, so 125g in this case
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed or finely grated
A small chunk of ginger (equivalent to half of the garlic), finely grated
3 spring onions, finely sliced
an equivalent amount of daikon, peeled and cut into 1cm wide batons
2 tsp Korean fish sauce
2 tbsp Korean dried chilli powder
1 tbsp sugar

Combine the cabbage and salt together in a large bowl, or two, and toss together until all the leaves are well salted. Leave the bowl(s), uncovered, for four hours. If you happen to be passing by give them a quick stir. Fill the bowl(s) with cold water and let the cabbage soak in the brine for one more hour. Try a leaf - it should be very salty, but not so salty it is unpleasant to eat. If you find the latter, drain the cabbage, rinse and soak in cold water again for half an hour or so before trying again.

Drain the cabbage and while it is in the colander push down on the leaves with your hands. You want to squeeze out some of the moisture. You will see the cabbage turns from opaque white to a more translucent clear colour as you squeeze. The cabbage should now be about half its original size, having lost about a third of its weight in salt water.

Put the cabbage into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients.

Now, using your hands, get right into the cabbage and squish, squelch and squeeze away so the dried chilli powder bleeds red into everything and the garlic, ginger and oniony flavours are mashed into the cabbage and daikon. Take the time to do this thoroughly so that you really work the seasonings into each piece of cabbage. Wear plastic gloves if you don't like the garlicky, onion-y smell on your hands as it can linger a bit (I love it). Definitely wear gloves if you have any kind of cut, even a paper cut!

When it looks and smells delicious, taste a piece and then put the whole lot into an airtight container, seal and leave for up to a week or so, depending on the ambient temperature. Right now in my relatively warm London kitchen, three days is enough.

You'll know its ready when your cabbage changes in taste and takes on a lovely sourness. The chilli might taste a little hotter, and all the flavours will have melded into one - kim chi!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Osteria di Passignano, March 21

The Osteria is in the Antinori family owned Abbey - Badia a Passignano. Opened in 2000 with Marcello Crini at the helm and Matia Barciulli in the kitchen, the restaurant earned its first Michelin star last year. Its ethos is to showcase classic Tuscan cuisine, ideally complemented with Antinori wines.

Dinner was very good. Some dishes did not quite hit the mark, in particular it was a shame that the pasta lacked the delicate, silken quality that one would expect. As well as accolades, the pressure that is often associated with Michelin Guide awards can become an unhealthy influence on restaurants, for guests and staff alike. There is a long, hard road marked out for those wishing to rise through the ranks to achieve the celebrated three star status, but the stigma associated with losing just one star can be detrimental to a future success.

This is what I ate:

Le Nostre “Frattaglie”
Panino al Lampredotto
Animelle Croccanti
Millefoglie di Lingua e Verza

Our Interpretation of Offal
Lampredotto Sandwich
Crunchy Sweetbreads
Millefeuille of Tongue and Savoy Cabbage

Taglierini al Profumo di Timo, Colatura di Acciughe,
Briciole di
Pane e Crema di Cavolfiore

Thyme Flavoured Taglierini, Anchovy Essence,
Breadcrumbs and Cauliflower Cream

Agnello di Latte:
Il coscio Stufato con Crema di Sedano Rapa
Il Carré in Crosta di Erbette con Flan di Asparagi

Milk Fed Lamb:
Stewed Gigot with Celeriac Cream
Herb Crusted Rack with Asparagus Flan

Goccia di Gelato di Lamponi
e Vin Brulé in Gelo su Succo di Ribes

Raspberry Ice Cream Tear
and Frozen Mulled Wine on Redcurrant Juice

Osteria di Passignano
Via Passignano 33
Loc. Badia a Passignano 50028
Tavarnelle Val di Pesa (FI)
Tel./Fax +39 055 8071278
Website: www.osteriadipassignano.com

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Marinella's octopus salad

Marinella lives in Sardinia. She comes to Corzano e Paterno every spring to help with the holiday cottages on the farm and your stay is not complete without her octopus salad.

An octopus is a terrifying thing to behold in the raw flesh.

If your octopus is fresh it should be frozen first to tenderise the meat. Put it in the freezer the day before, then leave it in the fridge overnight to thaw. Some fishmongers sell frozen or thawed octopus which is cheaper and a little less work.

The recipe below will serve four as a main course with crusty bread to soak up the juices, or up to eight as a starter.

1kg octopus, frozen then thawed
plenty of salt
a fat clove of garlic, crushed
a handful of parlsey leaves, roughly chopped
juice of half a lemon
1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
75g pitted black olives
3-4 tender stalks of celery, depending on their size
4 medium tomatoes
salt and papper

Fill a large pan with water and bring it to the boil. Salt it heavily so it tastes like seawater, then add the octopus, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

Remove the octopus and allow it to cool enough to handle. Cut the whole thing into large chunks the size of a good mouthful. You can use every part except the tough beak. Dress the octupus while it's still warm with the garlic, parsley, lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil. Leave aside to marinate.

While the octopus cools, put the black olives into a new bowl. Cut the celery into pieces roughly the same size as the olives. Slice the tomatoes in half, use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds, then chop them into pieces a similar size to the celery. Add everything to the bowl with olives and toss together with salt and pepper.

When the octopus is cool add the vegetables, not before as they will cook and become mushy. Mix everything together one last time and you're done.

The Corzano e Paterno villas are available all summer long, if you're interested take a look at www.corzanoepaterno.it.

While you're here you can visit the dairy, eat unimaginable amounts of the cheese they produce and taste their delicious wine. If you mention my name when booking I might get brownie points (hmmm... and maybe some cheese?) from the Gelpke family.

Our favourite picture of the trip is of Rupert, who was very fond of the octopus.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Trattoria Mario, March 19

Florence for lunch at Trattoria Mario. Its a tiny room with less than 10 tables covered in green checkered laminated cloth. We had excellent trippa fiorentina, tender soft tripe in a meaty tomato sauce with the consistency of silk, spiked with pepper. Bollito misto wasn't bad either, slices of boiled tongue and beef, parsley and olive oil sauce, piquant pickles to add sparkle.

The bill, including a carafe of red wine, salad and water came to just 20 euros.

Signs on the wall separating us from the chefs read as follows:
Qui si mangia insieme a quegl'altri dal 1953
Communal eating since 1953
L'osso della bistecca si ciucca con la mani
Eat your steak-bone by hand
01/03/1953 La bistecca si coce come ci pare!!!
The steak is cooked however the hell we want!!!

Noi i'brodo coi dado un si fa!!!
Stock cubes have no place here!!!
Noi i'congelatore un ci s'ha!! Qui non s'adopra la panna!!
We don't have a freezer!! We don't use cream!!

Trattoria Mario

Via Rosina 2r
angolo Piazza del Mercato Centrale
50123, Firenze, Italia

Tel: 055 – 218550

Web: www.trattoria-mario.com

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A sauce for artichokes

I am in Italy. It is the artichoke season and the Mercato Centrale in Florence offers a bewildering number of varieties. Should we choose the carciofi Romani from Sicily, tightly budded globes the size of an orange, only edible after long slow cooking? Or the thorny purple petaled Morellino artichokes from the Tuscan wildlands of Maremma, teardrop shaped and tender enough to eat raw?

We bought Morellini, removed their tough outer leaves, cut off their spiny tops and boiled them for about 20 minutes in salted water with half a lemon. You can also add the stalks, but peel off the tough fibrous skins first, once softened they are equally delicious. Cover all the cut parts with lemon juice while you work to stop them going black.

Here is the recipe for a sauce:

1 hard boiled egg
1 tin of anchovy fillets
a large bunch of parsley, chives, fennel and tarragon
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
125ml natural Greek yoghurt
grated zest of half a lemon
juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper

Purée all of the above until you have a sauce with the consistency of thin mayonnaise. Adjust the olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as a dipping sauce for hot artichokes petals, hearts and stalks.