Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pot roasted pork

Serves 4

There is simply nothing more satisfying, intensely flavoured and pure than good solid one pot cookery. We're all busier than ever, and it's the simple things in life like a complete meal in one dish that makes that precious time we seem to be spending in our kitchen all the more rewarding. Ask your butcher for a four-rib rack of free range pork, taken two ribs back from the best end, and please don't be put off by what seems like a lengthy method here, it's spread out over a couple of days and all make sense in the end.

1 4-rib rack of free range pork
1 large bunch thyme
200g salt
4 garlic cloves
A little more salt and some black pepper

For the cooking process
2 large onions
4 large carrots
3 leeks
1 celeriac or 4 parsnips
8 cloves garlic
100g unsalted butter
50ml groundnut oil
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch marjoram
100ml rich meat stock

For the glaze
3 egg yolks
2 tblsp honey
2 tblsp soy sauce

Two days in advance, chop the thyme leaves; mix them with the salt and reserve. Peel the cloves of garlic and cut into slices, making sure you have at least 18 of them.

Put some salt and freshly ground pepper in a small ramekin — about 1 tsp of salt to a ¼ tsp of pepper — and drop the garlic slices in. Mix well, then reserve.

Next, turn the pork upside down, so you are looking at the flat, bony side and make 9 incisions, each 1.5cm deep. Push one garlic slice into each incision. Turn the rack so that you are looking down on the ribs and again make incisions in between each rib. Stuff these as before.

Lay out some cling film, enough to wrap around the pork twice. Cover an area the same size as the meat with half the herbed salt. Place the pork skin side down on the salt, cover all the sides, except for the exposed meat ends, with the rest of the salt and carefully wrap the joint twice in the cling film. Leave the meat to cure in the fridge for two days. After this, thoroughly wash off the salt and pat dry the meat.

On the day of cooking, preheat the oven to 170c/gas mark 3. Peel and roughly chop the onion, leek, celeriac or parsnips and carrot, just peel the garlic. In a lidded casserole large enough to fit the joint, melt the butter and oil over a moderate heat, add the pork and lightly brown on all sides.

Remove the pork and colour the vegetables, returning the pork on top, skin side down. Rip and add the herbs, put the lid on and place in the oven for 25 minutes while whisking together the glaze ingredients and setting aside.

Remove the pot from the oven, take out the pork and put on a board, turning the oven up to 220c/gas mark 7. Carefully remove the skin from the pork, leaving as much fat as possible on the meat.

Return the pot to a moderate heat and allow the vegetables to caramelise to golden brown, pour out any excess fat and add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain this reduction into a smaller pan, removing the vegetables to serve with the meat.

Brush the pork fat with the glaze and return to the hot oven for about 10 minutes until nicely caramelised. Put the skin in the oven for crackling.

When ready to serve, remove the pork from the oven and put on a board. Cut down and across against the contour of the bone to leave just the joint of meat. Collect any juices that may have come out of the meat and add to the sauce, carving the meat into nice thick slices, and serve with the caramelised vegetables.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Radish, mint and feta salad

Serves 4

Most salads' impact comes from the dressing that adornes them, this salad on the otherhand has little more than a splash each of oil and vinegar almost purely for lubrication. The resulting combination has crunch, bite, salt and acid - all individually identifiable rather than tossed up together.

1 medium to large cucumber
1 large bunch bright red radishes
6 spring onions
350g feta cheese
1 small bunch mint
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
olive oil
red wine vinegar

Peel the cucumber lightly, so as to remove the coarse skin but leaving behind as much of the bright green that lies directly under the skin as possible. Otherwise the salad will appear insipid.

Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, then scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon and discard them. Slice each long half again, lengthways, then cut each piece into short, fat chunks and tip into a large mixing bowl.

Wash the radishes, then top and tail them. Cut them into bite size quarters, according to their size then add them to the cucumber. Trim the spring onions and slice them into thin rings.

Crumble the cheese and tear the mint and parsley leaves into large pieces - then toss them all together with the cucumber, onions and radishes. Drizzle over a little olive oil and vinegar and then grind over a little black pepper. No salt should be necessary due to the feta, but it's always worth a taste test before it goes to the table.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Springing lamb - it's a brand new season

With cheese at this time of year, I can't help myself looking towards sweet cream and youthfulness. I'm a massive fan of anything cultured that's been transformed from milk to something I can slice into a sandwich or drape over a cracker - there isn't a cheese I've tasted and rejected - ever. There's a new season flood of fresh goats’ cheeses at the market right now, and these are floating more than just my boat, I'm also on the look out for the less familiar. A young Lancashire , mild, milky and perfect to throw into a slightly warm salad of early spring vegetables we've only just been talking about, and an early Explorateur, being the stuff to drape over a proper oatcake, both of which snuck into my shopping basket only yesterday.

Generally I’m not a massive fan of spring lamb as I find it dull both in flavour and texture. But I'm in the Middle East now, and as beggars simply cannot be choosy over their imported meat goods, I was almost overcome with one of those must buy now young lamb frenzies I'm sure I'm not the only one to experience, the butcher here may not have seen that sort of enthusiasm since the recent first day of the spring goat season. It mattered not once home and in the kitchen armed with a plan, and a snippet or two from the newest shoots of rosemary from my window box.

Lamb with goat's cheese, rosemary and pesto

Serves 2

4 new season's lamb steaks or chops
1 tblsp olive oil
1/2 tblsp fresh young rosemary needles
100g fresh soft goat's cheese
2 tblsp pesto

Half a cucumber
250ml thick, natural yogurt
2 spring onions
1 handful mint leaves

Grate the cucumber into a sieve or colander, sprinkle lightly with sea salt and sit it in the sink for half an hour to rid the cucumber of much of its water and any bitterness.

Finely chop the spring onions and stir them into the yoghurt along with the mint leaves, roughly chopped. Squeeze the liquid from the cucumber, then stir it into the yoghurt. Keep this mix cool until you need it.

Bruise the rosemary with the back of a knife, and add to the olive oil with a seasoning of salt and black pepper then rub this mix gently into the meat. Cook the lamb under a hot grill until the outside is sizzling and just about to turn a nice golden brown and sizzling. The meat should still be a fresh rosy pink inside. Top each chop with a dab of pesto, then a spoonful of your goat's cheese, return to the grill for barely a minute more.

Serve the lamb with the yoghurt dip, and any remaining cheese tumbled through a crisp green salad on the side.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Saffron and yoghurt - Summer is coming

It's as good as summer now and the emphasis is on high impact flavour, shiny bundles of strawberries left at room temperature to steep in their own juices, fresh hams and what was left over from yesterdays joint served fridge cold with some tongue stinging mustard, and some lovely soft lettuces brought to life with no more than a squeeze of lemon juice are what’s filling my table right now. I'm seeingoung asparagus even, sweet little bundles of it, and at a decent price are must haves.

The glorious sun has to be good news after the long months of cooler weather and uncertainty. Produce is swelling and ripening, I've already mentioned those first new season peas from France, now I'm looking at some tiny turnips; perfectly miniature courgettes and broad beans. Looking forward to recieving some early peaches next week that I know will dribble down my chin.

For the first time in months the market vegetable stalls have something approaching variety and abundance not only in colour, but in their richness of aroma, the excitement is infectious... It's all about fresh, clean and full of flavour.

Saffron, tahini and yoghurt soup

Serves 4

1 egg yolk
Good pinch of cornflour
500g natural yoghurt
50g tahini
2 splashes of extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice and finely grated zest of about ½ lemon
Sea salt and white pepper
750ml light chicken or vegetable stock
Pinch of saffron threads, infused in 2 tblsp boiling water
3 tblsp of chopped parsley, mint, dill and basil

Easy to get wrong, a delight when this soup blends together. Take your time and the benefits are well worth the patience

Gradually stir the egg yolk into the flour, avoiding lumps, and then vigorously whisk in the yoghurt, this will prevent any curdling once you add heat to the soup. Add the tahini, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, a pinch of salt and the stock, whisk again until all the ingredients are combined. Transfer to a saucepan and very gently heat the soup over a medium heat, stirring carefully.

Just like custard, keep a close eye on your pan at this stage, and never allow the soup to boil but remove from the heat just before it begins to simmer.

Stir in half the saffron infusion and all the herbs, and check the seasoning – at this point season generously with pepper and check for extra salt. Serve with a the remaining saffron drizzled at the end, and serve some oatcakes or even some of my rosemary shortbread on the side.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rosemary shortbread

Makes about 20 biscuits

Usually associated with savoury dishes, rosemary is a great, robust winter herb that can give shortbread a different dimension, at this time of year when new shoots might just be appearing in your garden is the ideal season for this recipe.

340g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
¼ tsp fine sea salt
225g unsalted butter, softened
140g caster sugar, plus extra to sprinkle
2 tblsp chopped rosemary leaves

Sift the flour with the salt. Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.

Turn the mixer to its lowest setting and add the rosemary then the flour, a little at a time. Stop mixing as soon as the dough comes together. Shape the dough into a flattened ball, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. For bars, gently pack the dough into a lightly buttered Swiss roll tin. Score the surface to mark out bars and prick all over with a fork. For biscuits, roll out the dough on a lightly floured board to 5-7mm thick.

Stamp out the biscuits using a cookie cutter, and then transfer to two lightly buttered baking sheets, leaving a little space between each biscuit. Prick each biscuit with a fork.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden. Let the shortbread cool on the tray for 10 minutes until firm, then transfer to a wire rack for them to cool completely.

Sprinkle with caster sugar, if you like. Keep in an airtight container.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lemon and cherry posset

Serves 6

Lemon posset is a terrific old classic pudding, delightfully tangy and quite rich. It's usually served on its own with some biscuits for scooping and dipping. For a contrast, I've added a cherry layer on the bottom that contrasts well with the tang of the lemon. You could of course use a pre-prepared cherry compote, but try to do this fresh if you can. Layer this up in a large bowl, but they also look great miniaturised in shot glasses.

500g cherries, halved and stones removed
170g caster sugar
2 tblsp Amaretto
500ml double cream
Juice of 2-3 lemons
Grated zest of 2 lemons
100g of dark bitter chocolate
Almond biscuits, or some rosemary shortbread to serve

Set aside a few of the better looking cherries you can find. Halve and stone the rest then tip them into a saucepan. Sprinkle with 25g of the sugar then heat until the sugar begins to dissolve and the cherries start to release their juices. Add the Amaretto and cook for a few minutes more until the liquid has reduced and turned to syrup. Tip into a bowl and leave to cool.

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and add the remaining sugar. Slowly bring to the boil, stirring constantly, to dissolve the sugar. Once it comes to the boil, let the cream simmer for a further 3 minutes, stirring all the time.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the juice and zest of 2 lemons, stirring the mixture as you do so. It should start to thicken instantly. Taste the mixture and add a little more lemon juice if it's not tart enough. The posset should be sweet, tangy and creamy. Allow to cool then chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Remove the posset and cherry mixtures from the fridge 15 minutes before you are ready to serve. Divide the cherries between glasses, spooning over any juices that have collected in the bottom of the bowl. Now spoon the posset mixture on top. Finely grate over some chocolate, then balance the reserved cherries on top of each one. Serve with the biscuits on the side.