Saturday, May 30, 2009

Harissa beef with couscous

Serves 4

The middle eastern heat and now the humidity, damn it, are making some days more tiresome than others right now, and the novelty may just wane on the odd occasion. Good job I've got access to some of the most remarkable flavour packed foodstuffs then. This particular number for example, fast, effective and foolproof. Couscous makes a great bed for a great chunk of crusty beef spiked with garlicky, blow-your-socks-off North African harissa chilli paste, and any of the couscous left at the end will happily turn itself into a gorgeous salad for tomorrow.

600g beef fillet, rolled and tied
1 tblsp harissa
1 tblsp olive oil
300g couscous
1 red onion, halved and finely sliced
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
sea salt and pepper
600g asparagus or green beans, trimmed
1 tblsp coriander leaves

Heat the oven to 220c/gas 7. Coat the beef with harissa and heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Sear the beef on all sides until browned, transfer to the oven and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove the beef, cover with foil and rest for 10 minutes. Toss the couscous with the red onion, extra virgin olive oil, spices, sea salt and pepper in a heatproof bowl.

Pour 500ml boiling water over the couscous, cover with foil and leave in the switched off oven for 10 minutes.

Cook the asparagus in simmering salted water for five minutes, then drain.

Arrange the asparagus on the couscous. Scatter with coriander leaves. Slice the beef thickly and arrange on top. Awesome...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Artichoke and prosciutto salad with rocket

Serves 4

This salad is perfectly light and fresh; the dressing is quite lemony and goes well with the saltiness of the prosciutto and Parmesan, and the acidity of the dressing stops the raw artichoke hearts from discolouring.

Try and get some young purple tinged artichokes if you can, trimmed and kept in acidulated water, then shave them on a mandolin straight into the dressing at the last minute: this isn't a salad that sits around for anyone. The true texture and flavour of raw artichokes is something I discovered while working in Mougins in the South of France a few years ago, and still to this day it's the sort of light first course I'm always looking for in restaurants.

3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
4 large globe artichokes
100g thinly sliced prosciutto (air dried ham such as Parma)
25g wild rocket leaves
50g piece Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the dressing so it is ready for the artichokes as soon as they are prepared. Put 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and plenty of seasoning into a large bowl,whisk together well, then add the olive oil and whisk once more to bring together, then set aside.

To prepare the artichokes, cut off the top and the stalk, then trim away at the dark green outer leaves, until you've exposed the almost white flesh of the heart itself. Scoop out the bristles from the centre with a spoon and drop the artichoke hearts into a pan of acidulated water (water and the remaining lemon juice) to prevent them going brown.

Just before serving, arrange the slices of prosciutto over the base of 4 plates. Very thinly slice the artichoke hearts across, ideally using a mandolin, straight into the dressing and immediately toss them together to avoid any discolouration.

Scatter the dressed artichokes on top of the prosciutto and then loosely scatter over the rocket leaves. Thinly shave the Parmesan cheese over the top and serve straight away.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Apricot meringue tart

Makes 1 gorgeous tart

I've often been in the mood for sun warmed stone fruit like the apricot but rarely in the right place nor season to enjoy at it's absolute best. In the spring, when the landscape promises so much but offers no berries or buds, preserves are the traditional way to brighten what we eat. Here, crisp pastry holds a layer of conserve under a puddle of semolina covered with meringue. Clearly making jams and chutneys at the time of year when the key ingredient is at it's best isn't a new concept, but with apricots there are few better examples of capturing the spirit of how the fruit should taste at the peak of their season.

100g plain flour
¼ tsp baking powder
175g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
225ml milk
50g semolina or ground rice
125ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond essence, if you like it
About 150g good apricot conserve

Sift the flour, baking powder and a scant tablespoon of sugar into a bowl, and then rub the butter through evenly. Beat one egg yolk (save the white) with a couple of teaspoons of water, add to the bowl and work to a dough with a dash more water if needed.

Wrap and chill for 30 minutes, roll out thinly, and then line an 18cm deep tart case. Press baking parchment against the sides and bottom, weigh down with baking beans, and bake for 30 minutes at 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Remove the paper and bake until golden.

Tip the milk, 50g sugar, the semolina and cream into a pan, and whisk over heat until boiling. Separate two eggs; beat in the yolks, vanilla and almond essence, and cook, stirring, until thick.

Spoon the semolina over the pastry base and spread with conserve. Beat the egg whites and 100g sugar to a stiff meringue, pile it high and bake at 200c/gas mark 6 for around seven to ten minutes until coloured.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Egyptian tomato salad

Serves 8

My Cairo trip last week is still lingering and there are just a couple more food ideas to share from those few precious days there. Although it sounds a lot of bother blanching and peeling the tomatoes, all in fact it involves is leaving the tomatoes for a few seconds in a bowlful of just-boiled water, after which their skins will come off without any trouble. It is worth doing this: the tomatoes will be more seductively tender and the nubbly dressing then permeates them better. If a shallot is beyond you, use the white parts of two or three spring onions.

1 shallot, peeled
5 medium-sized vine tomatoes (approx 750g)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
3-4 tblsp olive oil
good squeeze of lemon juice
Malden salt salt and pepper
handful freshly chopped chervil

Chop the shallot and garlic as finely as is humanly possible – or just blitz to a pulp in a processor – and put in a small bowl with the oil, a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper, and leave to steep while you blanch the tomatoes: that’s to say, put them in a large bowl then pour boiling water over them so that they are hotly submerged. Leave for 5 minutes then tip into a colander and run under cold water.

Using a sharp knife, peel off the skins (which is now easy), then cut these fuzzy spheres into slices, as thick or as thin as you like.

Arrange the tomatoes in a dish and pour over the dressing, using your fingers to mix well. I find it easier to use one bowl for steeping purposes and another one, later for serving. You can let the tomatoes sit like this for a good couple of hours. Yes some liquid will collect, but the flavours will deepen wonderfully.

When you’re ready to eat, either leave the dressed tomatoes in the bowl or decant to a new one, but either way, using your hands, turn them to coat, squeeze over some lemon juice, and sprinkle with Malden salt and a tablespoon or so of freshly chopped chervil. Use another herb if you like, but there is one inflexible rule governing this salad: it must be served at room temperature. Leave it in the fridge until the last minute and all will be lost.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quick roast pigeon

Serves 2

I had some of the best pigeon ever just before leaving Hong Kong - a discovery too little, too late - and just to emphasise how good it was, I went twice in two weeks, now with the strength and variety of the local food scene there, that is a rarity, and believe me I'd make it a weekly pilgrimage if I could. I also had some roast pigeon in Cairo last week which sadly failed to hit the mark, but was worth trying all the same... Here's a quick pigeon dish so easy to cook at home, and with most major food stores selling pigeon now, try getting birds that are young - then they can be very good - piquant and succulent, particularly if you pick the legs up to eat them. Disaster stories with pigeons can be off-putting, most of these involve slow cooking. I now prefer to flash-roast the birds, cut into portions, in a very hot oven.

2 wood pigeon, oven prepared
1 wineglass of red wine
2 tblsp olive or nut oil
thyme, a couple of sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp black peppercorns, roughly crushed
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Cut each of the pigeons into 4 pieces, 2 breasts and 2 small legs. Put the pieces into a flameproof glass, stainless steel or china dish with the wine, oil, herbs, garlic and peppercorns.

Set aside for as long as you can - an hour will just suffice, though overnight would be better. If the worst comes to the worst, 15 minutes will do.

Heat the oven to 240C/475F (gas mark 9). Place the breasts on the top shelf of the hot oven and cook for five minutes, six if the breasts are large. Add the legs and the marinade and cook all for a further 6 minutes or until the birds are cooked to your liking.

Remove the birds to a warm plate to rest, - the switched-off oven will do - put the roasting pan over the heat and get the cooking juices really hot; stir in the balsamic vinegar, taste for seasoning and add a little salt and pepper if you wish.

Serve the roast meat, generously sprinkled with coarse salt, the pan juices and lots of bread. Cabbage, stir-fried with a little soy, would be a wholesome addition, or pan-fried mushrooms.