Category: food (page 1 of 11)

Cacio e pepe a casa mia

Pasta alla Norma

Post-Italian holiday induced perhaps, I’m pretty obsessed with pasta at the moment.

Pesto pasta

Visiting Sicily made me realise how the regional differences in Italian cooking are so pronounced. In the south they make all their pasta with purely water and flour: no oil or eggs and barely any kneading or resting time. That makes it very fast to make, but you get a chewiness and bite to it that might be a little strange if you’re more used to dried or fresh egg pasta.

Tischi Toschi, Taormina

I didn’t like it much at first but came to appreciate it after cooking it ourselves in a day class we did at Ristorante Nettuno in Taormina and eating it every day during the trip; with pesto, simple pomodoro sauce, or the handily-vegetarian local speciality dish, alla Norma, with aubergines and ricotta. (Above: alla Normas at Vineria Modì and Tischi Toschi in Taormina, and spaghetti pesto at Red&White. And yes, that other dish is just a bag full of melted cheese – it was stupendous.)

pasta

Even the shapes are different: in Sicily it’s all about bucatini – stubby tubes like a cross between spaghetti and macaroni (which we made by hand in our class by rolling the dough around the metal spokes of a broken umbrella) – and ‘maccheroni’ which is actually ridged tubes like rigtoni, the better to hold sauce. Northern Italy is where you’ll find gnocchi and filled pastas like ravioli, though we did have a go making gnocchi in class anyway.

cacio e pepe

I was really hoping to try cacio e pepe in particular in Sicily after having a knockout version at Borough Market’s Padella, but that’s decidedly a Roman thing so there was none to be found. So I had to DIY once I got home. Luckily my favourite recipe site Serious Eats had my back and I made a pretty passable version; I went to town making fresh egg pasta and all. The most critical step is the very end where you emulsify the oil, butter, pepper and cheese with the starchy pasta cooking liquid to make a creamy, combined sauce with the perfect texture. I found you have to get over the fear of slopping in quite a bit of water and making it look quite wet, since the pasta will soak a lot of it up and leave you with the perfect creaminess, rather than something that dries up as you plate it.

Next I really want to try spaghetti all ubriaco: cooked in red wine, the strands of pasta take on a freaky oxblood hue and I can just imagine how richly complex it’d taste. I don’t actually like drinking red wine much, but this recipe jogged my memory of a dish I had at Estela in NY of endives and walnuts with a ‘drunken’ red wine marinated cheese. Damn, that was a fine dish. Maybe I could throw some nuts and endive into this pasta dish…

I’ll just have to get to Rome sometime to try a true cacio e pepe. But in the meantime, my top three places to eat pasta in London: Rotorino, Burro e Salvia, Padella. Any more to add to the list?

The Ivy Cafe

Ivy Cafe

I had the pleasure of being invited to review the Ivy Cafe recently. Little sister to the famous west end haunt, it’s newly opened on the lovely Marylebone Lane serving an all-day menu, dinners and cocktails.

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Making cheese at Wilde’s

On just your typical Tuesday, trudging up to Tottenham on a gale-force rainy evening to make some cheese on an industrial estate! In fact we were there to take a mozzarella-making class with the lovely chaps of Wilde’s Cheese – in their own words, ‘a small award winning independent artisan cheese making company based on an industrial estate in Tottenham, North London.’

Wilde's cheese

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Slow food: dal and pizza

I’ve got a bit into slow food lately – by which I mean that plan-ahead variety of cooking that requires soaking, simmering, fermenting and proving for days on end. Yeah, you need to think about what you might want to eat several days from now instead of right now, but there’s such a satisfaction when you get to eat something that’s been so long coming!

The first thing I tried was a dal makhani, after visiting Dishoom again and being reminded how insanely good their version is. After a brief Twitter discussion trying to persuade them to give up their recipe and/or let me stockpile ten tupperwares’ worth for my freezer, I turned to Google for some recipes. I picked this one because it especially mentioned Dishoom in the write-up and I figure that if any recipe takes 4 days it has to be bloody amazing by the end of it…

dal

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Recipe: Winter tomato and bread salad

Winter panzanella

For me, one thing that’s up there amongst the suckiest things about winter is the lack of tomatoes that actually taste of anything. The only way I’ve found to coax some flavour out of them is to smother them in salt and olive oil and roast them long and slow in the oven. Then they’ll reluctantly relinquish some sweet concentrated flavour, along with delicious umami-rich cooking juices to boot.

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Mexico City: eats, drinks and markets

Mexico City

Obviously, one of our main reasons for visiting Mexico was for the food. London has some good Mexican places but I was really interested to see how the real stuff compares – and what actually constitutes a real Mexican dish and which are fake exports. I’m looking at you, burritos. In general we ate really well, almost always going for Mexican food (not that there is that much foreign food around anyway – mostly Italian, Argentinian or American places) and we tried the whole gamut from 50p streetside tacos to a high-end tasting menu at supposedly the best restaurant in Mexico City. I was pleased to find that it wasn’t hard at all to find vegetarian options nearly everywhere – and honestly, they looked a heck of a lot more appealing than a lot of the meat!

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A week with a veg box

veg

My cooking has had a boost lately, thanks to both a neighbour plying me with veg from her Norfolk allotment and Wholegood kindly sending me a veg box to try.

veg
It’s been nice to try some ingredients that I don’t often buy for myself, and it’s much easier to make a non-lazy carb-based dinner when you’ve got a veg drawer overflowing with this colourful loveliness.

vegbox1

Greens are some of my favourite veg, as long as they’re carefully cooked so as to keep their crunch and colour. The mix on the left is broccoli, chard and leek which I semi-steamed in a pan with a cup of hot water with the lid on. I served it simply with seasoning and lemon as a side dish (um, to macaroni cheese). On the right, a bit of a made-up tart of the same veg together with some stilton cheese in a quiche type custard nestled in filo pastry.

vegbox2

Left, a filling tea of a sot of tartiflette (oven-baked patties of grated potato and courgette with taleggio cheese – I modified this recipe) with a saucy chickpea, tomato and spinach side. Right, a surprisingly filling solo dinner of Portobello mushrooms topped with stilton, breadcrumbs and parmesan. I didn’t need anything else with them – truly the steak of the veg world.

vegbox3

I love tomatoes at this time of year, especially when roasted to concentrate their flavour. Left, using up the last of the filo with a roasted tomato, onion and mozzarella tart (with some of Josh’s chilli chutney smeared on the base). Right, a roasted tomato soup which did me for three work-at-home lunches. I also used a huge glut of spinach for more soup, which is waiting in the freezer.

veg

Of the new things I tried, two things I’ll definitely buy again are leeks and chard. They are both robust enough to last a good week or more in the fridge, which is important as I really don’t like to throw food away. Leeks give that oniony savouryness to any meal, but can also be the star of a dish when griddled or roasted. I use chard rather like spinach: chucked into anything saucy near the end of cooking to give a bit of texture and bump up the veg count. What are your veg box favourites?

Veg box supplied by Wholegood for review

Picklin’ at Rita’s

Pickling

I had fun last week at a night-time pickling workshop, put on by Sarson’s vinegar and held at Rita’s Bar & Dining in London Fields. Our hosts were food historian Peter Ginn and Rita’s chef Gabriel Pryce.

Pickling

Peter gave us a lowdown on the history of pickling as a method of preserving fresh ingredients, and talked us through all of the ingredients that can be pickled: eggs and shallots are perhaps the most well known, but any fairly firm fruit or veg is a contender.

Pickling

The brine (the vinegar liquid that does the pickling) can be flavoured with any herb or spice you like – chilli, peppercorns and mustard seeds are common, but we could also pick from lemongrass, ginger, tarragon, fennel seeds and loads more. The process is really simple: you just heat up the pickling vinegar in a pan with your chosen flavourings (Sarson’s produce big jars of vinegar especially for pickling, which are pre-seasoned and at the correct acidity of 6%), pop the ingredients in a sealable jar and pour the vinegar over the top to cover the ingredients.

Pickling
Pickling

Pickling

After we’d stuffed and labelled our jars we sat down to a delicious meal put on by Rita’s – platters of fried chicken, amazing mac and cheese, sweet potato gnocchi, slaw and their own pickled hot sauce. Must come back here soon for a full meal because it was tasting gooood.

Pickling

Here’s my rather odd concoction – quail’s eggs, plums and mooli (Japanese radish) in a brine heavily spiked with chilli and mustard seeds. The proof is in the tasting, but it needs three weeks to do its thing first… I’ll report back.

Thanks to Rita’s and Sarson’s for a fab and informative night.

Three non-boring (non-)salads

salads

I’ve been trying to get back into some healthy wheat-light cooking lately, and have recently made several twists on that summery staple, the salad. My definition of salad is pretty loose as I don’t really like leaves: for me a salad means any combination of cooked and raw vegetables together with a carb and a protein element, all soused in a zingy, spicy dressing. Oh, and usually with cheese on top – OK, they are basically the least healthy salads ever, but they are really filling which is my usual concern with having a non-heavily-carb-based dinner.

pinnedsalads

I like to start with a recipe (I have lots pinned) and adapt it to my taste and what I have available in the fridge, freezer and cupboard: having a few basics in stock means you can make a substantial meal even when the veg drawer looks a bit sad and empty. Here are a couple I’ve put together in the last few weeks…

fattoush salad

A sort-of-not-really take on fattoush, the middle-eastern bread and tomato salad.
Veg: Raw tomatoes and courgette, roasted sweet red pepper
Protein: Canellini beans, toasted off in a frying pan
Carb: Toasted pitta bread
Dressing: Garlic, red wine vinegar, sumac, olive oil
Cheese: Feta

mexican salad

My infinitely tastier version of the sad non-carb Mexican salad bowls you get from burrito places when you’re trying to be saintly. Liquid smoke* is a salad’s best friend for a bit of umami punch – a little goes a long way.
Veg: Toasted corn (from the freezer), pink pickled onions (in the fridge from a previous day), raw tomatoes
Protein: Black beans, Quorn fillet
Carb: Mix of brown and white rice
Dressing: Wahaca habanero sauce, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, fresh coriander (from the freezer).
Cheese: Feta

lentil salad

This is a standby dinner for us: smoky lentils, charred veggies and soft cool mozzarella, marinated in the same dressing as the lentils. It’s also brilliant with pan- or oven-roasted wedges of squash.
Veg: Grilled tenderstem broccoli and spring onions, plus babaghanoush (charred aubergine puree)
Protein: Puy lentils
Carb: None
Dressing: Olive oil, red wine vinegar, liquid smoke, oak-smoked tomatoes, oregano, chilli flakes
Cheese: Mozzarella

* Liquid smoke is my favourite condiment EVER. I have no idea how they make it, but a drop or two imparts an amazing smoky flavour to anything you drop it into. Really good for giving veggie food that ‘meaty’ umami punch. Not many supermarkets have it, but you can buy online at Sous Chef.

Review: DF Mexico

DF Mexico

DF Mexico is the latest creation from the stable of London-based Mexican stalwart Wahaca. It takes the same Mexican-street-food-with-an-Anglo-American-twist concept and goes a bit hipster on it to match its location bang in the middle of Shoreditch in the Old Truman Brewery. Every aspect is ramped up in the cool factor: the branding and interior decor are boldly industrial, food is counter service, drinks are self-serve and bottomless… even the social media team is sharp and well-pitched. If you were being cheesy you could call it Wahaca’s younger, cooler brother or something. Naturally it wasn’t going to be long before I found myself there, and that day came on Monday evening.

DF Mexico

It seems to have got off to a flying start, with a short queue at the door even on a Monday and a lively buzz around the dining room. There’s a huge communal table next to the obligatory open-plan kitchen and plenty of smaller tables and booths, so the wait to be seated wasn’t long.

DF Mexico
DF Mexico

The concept is explained via a cool brochure and the menu reads very well indeed. Unlike Wahaca, the food isn’t tapas-sized but built for large appetites and/or sharing. The main offerings are burritos, large tacos, tortas, build-your-own boards, grills and salads, with a (un)healthy sprinkling of sides and sharing dishes too. The hardest part is deciding what to go for.

DF Mexico

Obviously, we massively over-ordered just to get a little taster of a few things. The Bad Boy burrito comes with white and blue corn chips and an optional side for a couple of quid extra. It packed quite the whack of flavour, with tomato and habanero running through the rice and a core of tasty feta cheese, all wrapped in a chargrilled tortilla.

DF Mexico

A side of veggie nachos was huge for just £4.95 and was similarly punchy. The topping of refried beans, cheese, pink onions and salsa wiggled into the all the gaps in the chips so you didn’t get that disappointing moment when you run out of topping before chips. Not that we got near to that point; it was too big to finish!

DF Mexico

Chilli fries were ordered just because, but they were probably my favourite thing: properly salty and hot with a chipotle dip on the side. The cup of corn, sweetly served in a teacup, sat in a creamy puddle of moreish broth and was topped with tangy Lancashire cheese.

DF Mexico

Self-serve bottomless horchata cooled it all down nicely. There’s also soft-serve ice cream for dessert, but we rolled out defeated before considering it.

The bill for this feast? Like Wahaca it’s a real bargain: just £22.50 for a large main, smaller sharing dish, two sides and two bottomless soft drinks. My only critique is I actually wish the portions were a bit smaller more like Wahaca, so you can mix/match and share easier. It’s pretty great to have this place pretty close to home for when I get peckish for big, bad Mexican flavours, and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before I’m back again to try more of the menu and soak up more of the DF vibes (also I’m working nearby and they do take-out…). Nice job, chaps.