Friday, 28 March 2008

In the Bag, March 2008: orrechiette with PSB, bacon, and gorgonzola, with PSB and chestnut pesto

OK, so this month's challenge. Use PSB.

That's it? Oh, ok, then. Fair enough.


So. Let's have one of my usual, hopelessly vague measurement-riddled recipes.

Take some orrechiette and cook according to manufacturer's instructions.

Grab some purple sprouting broccoli (from here on, and ever after, PSB) - a handful and a bit more for each person. Blanch for a minute or two in boiling water, then plunge into iced water. Set aside.

Chop up bacon into small strips - the equivalent of about 2 rashers per person. I use dry- or sweet-cured. Fry until slightly browned and crispy. Drain onto kitchen towel, and set aside.

Crumble some creamy gorgonzola - not too much, or it'll overwhelm the whole dish. Start with a little, and then you can always add more. In contrast, trying to take out molten cheese from food is not a good way to go. It hurts, and it's messy. Again, set aside.

In a food processor, blitz a good handful of blanched PSB, a small handful of cooked chestnuts, half a clove of garlic, and a small handful of parmesan, and a good glug of a decent olive oil, plus seasoning to taste. Whizz it all in the processor until you have a pesto consistency - it shouldn't be too thick, as you want it to properly coat the pasta. Taste, and adjust according to your preferences/fussiness/perfection levels.

OK, so your pasta should be ready now, so go drain it.

In the same (large) frying pan as you fried the bacon in, add a glug of olive oil and heat through. Tip in the pasta, bacon, and PSB. Once mixed, add the pesto. Finally, lob in the gorgonzola. One final stir, and you can serve it and start getting your chops round it all.

orrechiette with PSB, gorgonzola, and bacon, with PSB and chestnut pesto 1

orrechiette with PSB, gorgonzola, and bacon, with PSB and chestnut pesto

And there you have it. 'In the Bag', again.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

lunching at Launceston Place - a review of sorts

Easter calls for something special, doesn't it?

Well, I think so, anyway. But maybe that's just me looking for excuses. Whatever. We decided to go along with it, and booked in for lunch at the newly re-opened Launceston Place, tucked away in a quiet and ridiculously desirable residential street (average house price £3.5M - cough, splutter) in South Kensington.

Launceston Place exterior

So? I hear you say... Well, the 'so' is that it re-opened on 18 March, with a new head chef at the helm - Tristan Welch, formerly head chef at the 2 Michelin-starred Petrus. On hearing the news, I felt a compelling need to get ahead of the crowd and go before it becomes the latest must-visit on the London restaurant scene.

Good Friday, then, was the appointed date. I'll spare you my foodie wibblings-on (hence 'a review of sorts'), and just let you peruse the menu for yourself...

Launceston Place menu 1

Launceston Place menu 2

... before moving you swiftly along to our first pre-prandial nibble - potato crisps with herring taramasalata....

Launceston Place amuse 1

... and then the second - a dreamy cauliflower and white onion soup, with a magnificent head of truffled dream.... sorry, cream....

Launceston Place amuse 2

... followed by our starters: the roast duck foie gras with rhubarb compote and elderflower milk soup...

Launceston Place duck foie gras

... and the scallops with foaming apple mousse.

Launceston Place scallops

So far, so good. In fact, very good. Very good. In the interest of research, we felt we had to keep going. The things I have to do... ;)

A couple of mains, then, of the milk-fed lamb:

Launceston Place lamb

... which was so good that it deserves another photo:

Launceston Place lamb 2

Wonderful. From the different cuts of perfectly cooked lamb, through to the well-balanced and spectacular beetroot puree, it was all absolutely exquisite, and much more than the sum of its very fine parts. One of the best main courses I've had in quite a while.

As if we weren't doing well enough already, on came the next amuse - a distinctly Easter-themed and deliciously eggy creme brulee with hazelnut crumb...

Launceston Place amuse 3

Launceston Place amuse 3 close-up

Oooff! (Or should that be 'Oeuf!'?). Starting to feel a little full now. But gamely, we soldiered on.

Puddings. For my all-too-willing accomplice, a warm chocolate truffle with oatmeal porridge and bay leaf ice cream...

Launceston Place chocolate truffle

The truffle was wicked. It should be licensed. The bay leaf ice cream was a real stand-out, too. Limey, with a hint of smoke about it. A great dish. I wasn't allowed to sample the porridge. So draw your own conclusions.

Oh, and I had this....

Launceston Place toffee mousse, banana sorbet, walnut cream

...toffee mousse, banana sorbet, and walnut cream (at the bottom). With the finest, most delicate biscotti (biscotto?) I've ever had to pleasure to eat.

Oh, you want a spoonful?

OK, then, here you go:

Launceston Place toffee mousse etc spoonful

Good, huh?

Again, each element was outstanding, and lighter than light - but together they were sensational. A great end to a memorable meal.

Marks out of 10? Probably 9. My only minor quibble was with the foie gras - the rhubarb was perhaps a shade dominant, but it was only a shade. Everything else was a complete joy.

As was the entire experience. The restaurant itself is light, cosy, and beautifully furnished, with plenty of space between the tables. No unseemly rubbing of elbows here.

Launceston Place interior

The staff were all suitably attentive - without being overbearing - charming, and keen to please, from the restaurant manager to the junior wine waiter.

And the chef? Tristan himself came out to chat towards the end of service. A more gentle, pleasant, modest, slightly shy (in a you-want-to-mother-him sort of way) chef you couldn't wish to meet. No sign of monstrous ego here. Apart from mine.

It's very early days for the newly revamped Launceston Place. If our experience is anything to go by, I sincerely hope it's a massive success and that it's around for a long time yet. So long as they always hold me a table.

Oh, and we're already planning a return visit. Obviously. ;) Well, what would you do?

Launceston Place on Urbanspoon

Monday, 17 March 2008

oui, it's ouillade

A previous conversation.

'What are we having this evening?'



'Ouillade. Oui-ARD. But with a soft d. And spelled A-D-E at the end.'

'Right. And what the flying *?&! is weeard when it's at home?'

'It's a kind of soup, you ignoramus.'

'Oh, terrific. Sell it to me, why don't you? Any other compelling reason I should come home tonight?'

'Yes, it's Wednesday. So it's Torchwood on telly.'

'I'm getting my coat.'

Ouillade, my friends, is the kind of thing that will never sell itself to a crowd. If you don't frighten your diners off (particularly if they're rampant carnivores) with the mention of cabbage, you might just do so with the word 'beans'. Your only hope is to give a big shout out for the bacon. So perhaps shout 'BACON!' bacon first, and whisper the other two quickly afterwards.

So that's the essence of ouillade - cabbage, beans, and bacon (or ham). It's less of a soup, really - more an entire meal in a bowl. There are as many versions of ouillade around as there are excuses for coming home late, so I'm not going to bore you with the long-hand version of mine. (Google is your friend.) All I'll say is that I used carrots and potato in with my soffrito of shallots, carrots and celery, puy lentils instead of beans, and bacon instead of ham hock. The cabbage is the traditional savoy cabbage. Other than that, my top tip is to use the best stock you can make or buy - it needs to have a good, deep, rich flavour. A thin stock won't give the oomph the ouillade really needs. It's got to be gutsy - warming, tasty, and full of flavour. So that the carnivores don't complain.

If they do, tell them they can get their coat.

ouillade 1

ouillade 2

Friday, 14 March 2008

Monday, 10 March 2008

comfort in the storm: tarka dal and kale with garlic and ginger

Yes, ok, it's true - us Brits do have a tendency to bang on about the weather. Believe me, if you lived here, you'd go on about it, too.

Right now, though, there's some justification. As I type, it's as black as hell out there, the rain is lashing against my window (thank God for double glazing), and the wind is blowing the trees around like there's no tomorrow. Oh, and the cats are going mental. Yes, we're having something of a storm.

There's nothing for it in times like these but to batten down the hatches (if you don't have hatches, then at least check your windows), and to settle down with the kind of food that'll warm you up from the inside and make you feel glad that you don't have to go outside. Except, in my case, I have to take the bins out tonight. Grrr.

I digress.

So, um, how about some dal and kale? Sounds ok? Lovely, buttery tarka dal with earthy, chewy kale with garlic and some zingy ginger? Great - let's crack on, then.

The tarka dal I make comes from Madhur Jaffrey's Simple Indian Cookery. This is my remembered 'free' version - I make it so often, I never get the recipe out these days.

So - for a couple of healthy appetites, you'll need 3oz red lentils and 3oz chana dal. Rinse in cold water, and put in a pan with 750ml cold water and half a teaspoon of turmeric. Bring to the boil with the lid off - then turn the heat down to a simmer. Skim off the impurities. Let it all bubble away, with the lid 3/4 on, for about 40-50 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the water has almost all disappeared. Pour yourself a glass of vino, or go and do something else in the meantime.

Once the lentils are done, turn off the heat and stir in half to a teaspoon of salt, to taste. Put the lid on fully. Set aside.

In a small frying pan, pour about 2-3 tbsps of groundnut or olive oil, and place over a high heat. When the oil is hot, throw in half a teaspoon of cumin seeds, and let sizzle for 10 seconds. Then lob in 2 dried red chillis and as many peeled garlic cloves as you fancy - I think the recipe says one or two, but I always end up doing about 4 or 5. Fry until the chillis go dark and the garlic cloves take on some colour - a matter of a few seconds. Take the lid off the lentil pan, and pour the hot oil, spices, and garlic into it. Slam the lid down again - the lentils and oil will spit at you. It's not personal, it's just what happens. Done. You might want to add in an extra knob or two of butter for additional yumminess. I'm not policing your cholesterol levels for you.

For the kale, I really just make this up. Pour 2-3 tbsps olive or groundnut oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Quickly saute some chopped ginger and garlic - whatever quantities you like - and chilli flakes and garam masala. Drop in the chopped kale (again, however much you fancy), and add a tbsp or so of water. Slam on the lid, and let steam for a few moments. Take the lid off, and turn the kale over to ensure it cooks evenly, and that the garlic et al coat the leaves thoroughly. Season the lot. When the kale's wilted, but still bright green and with texture, it's ready.

Serve, and eat immediately. Not that you wouldn't. Your only problem at this point should be whether to eat the dal first...

dal and kale

... or the kale...

kale and dal

Tricky, isn't it?

Oh, and if you really can't manage all the dal in one sitting, it keeps brilliantly. It's fantastic for breakfast. Honest. Or lunch, then, if you really must be so conventional.

Sigh. Don't tell me you never eat weird stuff for breakfast?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

earthy goodness: baked semolina gnocchi and mushrooms with parsley and chestnut pesto

OK. Tasty, light supper. Involving mushrooms. Mustn't take too long. Has to be tasty.

Here we go, then.

First, make your gnocchi. This version of gnocchi is adapted from Denis Cotter's recipe on p207 of his 'Wild garlic....' book. For a couple of people, you'll need 375ml stock (I use vegetable stock, but a meat stock would be fine), 90g semolina, 60g parmesan, and seasoning to taste.

Bring to stock to a rolling boil, and then whisk in the semolina (while pouring it in in a steady stream - the equivalent of patting your head while rubbing your belly at the same time), together with your seasoning. I tend to be generous with the pepper, less so with the salt, as a good whack of salt will come from the parmesan. When the mixture comes back up to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, and stir continuously for as long as it takes the semolina to cook - go by the instructions on the packet. Once it's ready, stir in the parmesan.

Spread the lot over a swiss roll tray to a thickness of about half an inch - you might want to line the tray with baking parchment first, but I didn't use it, and no damage was done. Leave to cool.

Once cool, cut into whatever shapes you want - I prefer diamonds of about an inch by and inch and a half. You don't want dinky little things for this recipe, but shapes you can see and get stuck into.

Heat the oven to 200/400/Gas mark 6. Bake the gnocchi on a high-ish shelf for about 8-10 mins, or until deliciously golden.

While they're cooking, whizz up a pesto of cooked chestnuts, parsley, a little parmesan, and plenty of olive oil - plus a dash of lemon. Please don't ask me for measurements - I just make this by sight and taste.

In a frying pan, heat a little olive oil and butter together. Slice about 350g or so of mushrooms (for me, chestnut mushrooms give the right earthiness and intensity of flavour here), and a couple of fat cloves of garlic. Saute quickly over a medium/high heat - you don't want the mushrooms to stew or the garlic to burn. Once the mushrooms have taken on some colour, they're ready. At this point, chop a handful of parsley, and throw into the pan. Stir in, and add another knob of butter so that it's all lovely and unctuous. If you're feeling uber decadent, add a few drops of truffle oil - it really makes it.

Right, you're nearly there. Assemble the gnocchi on the plate, and tip the mushrooms over them. Finally dribble the pesto around it all and anywhere else you want it.

Eat. Enjoy. Have some more.

gnocchi with mushrooms 2

gnocchi with mushrooms 1