Mains, Pasta

Pasta with Stilton, jalapeño and cavolo nero

This serves 2 hungry people.

Ingredients for Pasta with Stilton, jalapeño and cavolo nero:

225 g Stilton cheese
200 ml crème fraîche
5 garlic cloves
2 anchovy fillets
1 big teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Splash of Noilly Prat or similar vermouth
0.5 – 1 fresh jalapeño, deseeded and finely chopped
200 g Cavolo Nero
40 g butter
50 g vegetable stock
Olive oil
190 g pasta, fusilli or similar
Handful of hazelnuts, for garnish
Handful of walnuts, for garnish
Small amount flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Small amount of chives, for garnish

How to make Pasta with Stilton, jalapeño and cavolo nero:
Start by putting on water for the pasta.
Slice two of the garlic cloves in medium-fine slices and also slice the anchovy fillets. Heat a medium large saucier or pot on medium heat and sauté the garlic and anchovies in olive oil and half the butter, stir constantly with a spoon or fork so the anchovies break up and flavor the oil. Cut the cheese into chunks and add to the pan together with the vermouth and Dijon mustard. Stir and then cover the pan with a lid. Lower the heat to low. Let the cheese melt and stir from time to time. When the cheese is melted and smooth add the crème fraîche and the chopped jalapeño. Use at least 0.5 jalapeño and up to 1 if you like it hotter. Do not use the seeds.
Let the sauce bubble away slowly without a lid. Stir occasionally.

For the cavolo nero start with making a garlic fork to stir with, this will lightly perfume the cavolo nero with garlic. Put the remaining garlic cloves on the tins of a fork. Chop the cavolo nero roughly. Put a big sauté pan on medium to high heat and add the remaining butter and the vegetable stock. Swirl the pan to make a liaison between the butter and the stock. Add the cavolo nero and stir with the garlic fork and toss to coat with the butter mixture, season with salt. Put a lid on the pan and let the cavolo nero cook over low to medium heat. Stir with the garlic fork from time to time and try a piece to judge for doneness. I like them a little bit al dente but not too crunchy.
The cavolo nero takes maybe 5 – 10 minutes to cook.

For the nuts roast the hazelnuts first in a 180C oven until the skins are starting to blacken. Take the nuts out of the oven and put them in a clean kitchen towel, fold the towel over the nuts as to make a package and then rub the towel hard with the palm of your hand to loosen the skins. Unwrap the towel and pick out the nuts with the least skin on. Chop the nuts  coarsely and reserve until plating.
Roast the walnuts until darkish brown, chop coarsely and reserve until plating.

Salt the pasta water until it’s salty as the sea and then cook the pasta as per the instructions on the package. Drain the pasta by putting a lid on the pan slightly ajar, try to reserve a little bit of the pasta water in the pan.

Add the pasta to the cavolo nero pan and dump the sauce on top. Stir and toss to combine properly.

To plate put the pasta in a deep bowl, top with the roasted nuts, the herbs, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some black pepper.


Beef cheeks braised in red wine

Also known as Joues de Bœuf à la Bourguignonne in it’s native tongue, this was a great autumnal dish full of flavour and richness. As often with braises it’s better the next day so make it in advance if you can.

This serves about 4 people.

Ingredients for Beef cheeks braised in red wine:
100g plain flour
10g salt
10g pepper
700g beef cheeks, cut into 12 large pieces
50ml rapeseed oil
150g carrots, roughly chopped
150g onions, roughly chopped
1.1 litres good-quality red wine
4 cloves garlic, chopped

For the bouquet garni:
1 stick celery
4 stalks flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
3 green leek leaves

For the garnish:

120g baby onions or small shallots
30g unsalted butter, plus extra to glaze
½ tsp caster sugar
200g baby carrots
120g, smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons
12 button mushrooms

For the mashed potato:
800g potatoes, such as Maris Piper, King Edward or Idaho
1 litre water
25g salt
200g unsalted butter
100ml double cream
salt and pepper
flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, to garnish (optional)

How to make Beef cheeks braised in red wine:
For the mash, peel the potatoes, cut into quarters and place in a large saucepan. Cover with the water and add the salt. Slowly bring to the boil and simmer until tender – if you boil them too hard, they will take on too much salt. The timing will depend on the size of your chunks.

Drain in a colander and allow to dry by leaving them to sit and steam in the colander for a few minutes. Pass the potato and butter through a mouli or return them to the pan and mash until smooth.

Meanwhile, pour the cream into a small saucepan and warm it through gently. Place the pan of mashed potato back on a medium heat and stir to dry the potato out. Add the warm cream and mix it in with a spoon until very smooth. Check the seasoning, garnish with the parsley, if using, and serve immediately.

To make the beef cheeks, heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Place the flour on a plate, season with salt and pepper, then roll the pieces of meat in it until lightly coated. Heat the oil in a large, heavy casserole until very hot. Brown the meat quickly and evenly. Add the chopped carrot and onion, cover, and leave to sweat gently for 10 minutes.

Holding the lid over the casserole, pour away all the cooking fat. Add the wine and stir to deglaze. Bring to the boil, then add the garlic and bouquet garni, and season. Replace the lid and cook in the oven for about 2½ hours, until the meat is very tender. Stir regularly during cooking, adding a little water if necessary.

Meanwhile, place the baby onions in a saucepan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Cover with 50ml water, or enough so that the onions are only just covered, and stir in the butter and sugar. Place a circle of greaseproof paper (a cartouche) over the surface of the liquid and bring to the boil. Simmer until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions are glazed and shiny. Keep warm, covered, over a very low heat.

At the same time, blanch the baby carrots in boiling salted water, drain well, then return to the pan and toss in enough butter to coat them until they are shiny. Fry the bacon in a small frying pan over a high heat, until crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, then add the mushrooms to the pan, frying them in the bacon fat, until golden and tender.

Remove the casserole from the oven. Lift out the pieces of meat with a slotted spoon and discard the vegetables and the bouquet garni. Place the meat in a clean pan, pass the sauce through a fine sieve over the meat and gently stir in the bacon and mushrooms.

Serve the daube on plates with mashed potato, the glazed button onions and carrots, and the sauce over the top.


Bologna 2016


Le Stanze

Very nice bar in a vault like room with enormous ceiling height and a beautiful painted ceiling. Very cool interior. Wonderful service and staff. Aperol Spritz fairly expensive at EUR7, however offset by the nice antipasti bar with a choice of 15 or so delicious antipasti that you get free access to for only EUR1 per person. Antipasti bar seems to start around 6pm. Very good place for a pre-dinner drink and snack.

Trattoria Anna Maria

Very traditional Bolognese trattoria. Seems quite popular with tourists without being too touristy. Had a nice tortellini in brodo and tagliatelle a ragù. Antipasto Tipica was a huge plate of cold meats, a bit overwhelming. Nice Sangiovese by the bottle at good prices. Nice efficient service. Lots of photos and memorabilia on the walls which was fun to look at.

Camera A Sud

Bohemian bar run by young staff. Very nice service. No cocktails per se, more spritz and wine place. Very cool interior decor. Free wifi and very good music. Aperol Spritz prepared with Aperol and Prossecco only which was nice for a night-time drink.

Mercato Delle Erbe

Green-grocers market. Nice stalls and a few shops selling wine and stuff. Didn’t go to any of the eateries which are situated at the far sides of the market.

Stefino Bio

Very modern and cool ice-cream parlor with amazing sorbetti and gelato. Very young and friendly staff. Small selection of confitures and similar deli products, very nice quality. Lemon sorbetti that contained a big amount of salt was a revelation, absolutely amazing. Went back three times. Both Hazelnut and Pistachio gelato was top drawer as well.

Sartoria Gastronomica

Progressive cuisine looking place. Very smart looking inside the restaurant, very modern. Outside on terrace more traditional. Quite busy with traffic around but nevertheless nice to sit outside on a Friday night in Bologna. Terrace filled up very quickly after restaurant opening. My starter was a tartar of Piedmont Fassona beef with three sauces which was very nice, seasoning was pitch perfect and the tartar nicely chilled but not too cold. Presentation was definitely modern with dots and powders, progressive Italian. Main was large tortelli with chicory and ricotta cheese in a chicory and Gorgonzola sauce. Again seasoning pitch perfect and the slices chicory on top of the pasta pleasingly acidic to offset the richness of the sauce. No house wine in carafs but a choice of either bottles or glasses. Went for two glasses each. Service not quite on the ball, had to ask three times for my second glass of wine. Granted the restaurant was very very busy so they might be excused by that.

Trattoria Leonida

Traditional trattoria with an enormous menu! Service efficient and good, not too nice but didn’t really matter too much. No carafs of wine but rather bottles or half-bottles. Went for a half bottle of local sparkling white. Starter was an insalata mista which was properly prepared with impeccably good salad and also a celery salad with crunchy celery, shaved Grana Padano cheese and slices field mushrooms. Quite unusual and definitely a nice salad. A squeeze of the accompanying lemon and some olive oil completed the dish. Mains were tagliatelle a ragù again which was very good, vivid yellow and light tagliatelle, and lasagna alla bolognese which was made with green pasta sheets with flecks of herbs visible. Very nice.

Osteria del Sole

Old school very rough and ready wine bar. No frills and wine only. Bring your own water and food if you wish. Wine generously served and nice service by an old bar man with good English, welcoming and helpful. Long tables and non padded seats, no AC but lots of fans. Cool place for some old school drinking. Wines seemed to be EUR2.50 a pop no matter what, we didn’t have champagne though…

Rosarose Bistrot

We only had drinks here so no food at this visit. Wonderful outdoor seating with nice tables and chairs, great for people watching. Good cocktails in nice glasses, well prepared. Free (I think) selection of apertivos; pancetta type cured meat, salami and diced tuna all served on slices of very good baguette type bread, fantastic crust. The standard Italian bowl of potato crisps too. In summary, very good for afternoon cocktails. Free wifi, handy

Ristorante Scacco Matto

Wow, definitely the meal of our one week trip to Verona, Venice and Bologna. Beautiful dining room, very classy without being stuffy. Felt a touch out of place with sandals but not too bad since it was a day with 35C heat. Nice Slow Food Movement connection and details about ingredient purveyors connected to Slow Food outlined on the menu and beside dishes, without being too informative about it. Starter of stuffed artichoke hearts was good without being too memorable. The stars were the pasta, first a ravioli filled with onion and Parmesan mixture served with mushrooms and hazelnuts. Second small tortellini served with asparagus and little daubs of something like a hollandaise or possible sous vide egg yolk. Punchy flavors while still being light and fresh. Amazing. Wine by the glass was fine and generously pored. Enticing desert menu with 6 or so yummy options. Fortunately we didn’t have to choose since a degustation of 3 of the deserts in mini form was available for only EUR10. A bargain and perfect for sharing.




Vegetable stock, en sous vide

I’ve made vegetable stocks in many ways. The traditional way, in a pressure cooker… and finally this way – sous vide.
Cooking the stock sous vide is almost like a very gentle infusion. It makes the vegetable flavors very clean and distinct whereas vegetable stocked cooked other ways is stronger and a bit more mono flavored. It’s also quite easy and you can do other stuff while the stock is cooking sous vide for hours. Preparing the vegetables will take a while though, it takes me around 1.5 hours.

The final yield will be around 500 g stock.

Ingredients for Vegetable stock, en sous vide:
500g ice
280g onion, thinly sliced
200g carrots, thinly sliced
100g celery, thinly sliced
100 leeks (white parts only), thinly sliced
50g button mushrooms, thinly sliced
50g tomato, chopped
10g chives, sliced
10g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1g coriander seeds
1g black peppercorns
1g thyme
0.5g fresh bay leaf
0.5g star anise, crushed

How to make Vegetable stock, en sous vide:
Preheat your water bath to 85C.
Put the ice in the sous vide bag (I use a 1 gallon/3.8 liter bag) and then the rest of the ingredients. Vacuum seal on full vacuum and then cook sous vide for 3 hours.
When done put the sous vide bag in the fridge and let infuse for 12 hours. This will let the flavors infuse more fully. Strain and pass through a SuperBag.
Portion then refrigerate or freeze for later use.



Mushroom stock, pressure-cooked

This is my go-to mushroom stock. It’s made in the pressure cooker so it’s really fast. Cleaning the mushroom will take a while, maybe 30 minutes.

The final yield will be around 750 g stock.

Ingredients for Mushroom stock.
100g unsalted butter
750g button mushrooms, halved
200g Dry Madeira
8 sprigs of thyme
5g black peppercorns
1500g spring water

How to make Mushroom stock:
To clean the mushroms I put them all in the sink filled with water, then clean them one by one with papertowels, brushing off the dirt. Once cleaned place in a bowl, when the bowl is full place your hand on top and tip over to drain off any water, then place the mushrooms on a plate topped with kitchentowels to drain further. Once kinda dry, half all mushrooms with a knife.
Melt the butter in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and stir and shake the pot to coat them with the melted butter. Raise the heat to medium-high and continue to cook until the mushrooms are golden brown. The mushrooms will release loads of water but continue to cook until the water is evaporated. When evaporated the mushrooms will brown quite quickly so keep a close eye on them so they don’t go too far.
Deglaze the pan with the Madeira. Once it’s boiling set fire to the alcohol with a match or lighter while standing well back. Once the flames subside let it boil down to a thick syrup.
Add 1500g spring water, the black peppercorns and the thyme to the pressure cooker, put the lid on. Bring up to full pressure over high heat then reduce the heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.
Take the pressure cooker off the heat and allow to cool. Once the pressure dissipated remove the lid and strain the stock into a clean saucepan through a chinois. Reduce the stock by half over high heat.
This reduction is easily done by first weighing the empty saucepan, then weighing the saucepan with the sieved stock in it. Then take this total weight minus the empty saucepan weight, divide by two and add to the empty saucepan weight. This is the final weight we are aiming for when the stock is reduced by half. Keep weighing your saucepan while reducing until this weight is hit.
Pass the stock through a SuperBag or a sieve lined with two layers of wet muslin cloth. Portion then refrigerate or freeze for later use.

Mains, Soup

Roasted red pepper soup with almond potato croquette

This soup is really easy to make and super tasty. The taste of peppers and almonds of course evoking Spain.

Ingredients for Roasted red pepper soup:
30 ml olive oil
25 g unsalted butter
1 banana shallot, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
0.5 tsp smoked paprika
2 sprigs thyme, chopped
2 tbsp tomato purée
400 g roasted red peppers from a jar, drained
400 ml brown chicken stock
100 ml double cream, plus a bit extra for garnish
Salt (smoked salt preferable)
Extra virgin olive oil

Ingredients for Almond potato croquette:
1 litre sunflower oil (or other veg oil for deep frying)
1 kg of bake potatoes
500 g rock salt
2 tbsp flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
100 g plain white flour
100 g flaked almonds
2 large eggs, beaten

How to make Roasted red pepper soup with almond potato croquette:
For the red pepper soup; start with heating the oil in butter in a saute pan, add the shallots, garlic, smoked paprika and thyme and saute for a few minutes. Add the tomato purée and cook it out for a minute or so until it turns from red to brown. Add the peppers, stock and about 10 leaves of basil and cook for about 6 minutes. Add the cream and cook for a few more minutes. Transfer to a blender and blend until silky smooth. Pass through a chinois and reserve until ready to plate.

For the croquettes; preheat the oven to 200C (non-fan), put the rock salt on a sheet pan and then put the potatoes on top. The salt helps draw out moisture making the final potatoes lighter.
Bake the potatoes in the oven for 90 minutes. When the potatoes are done, split them in half lengthwise while still hot, scoop out the hot flesh and pass through a tamis. Let cool down to room temperature.
Mix the parsley into the mashed potato, season with salt and pepper and then roll to little egg shapes.
Heat the oil for deep-frying in a saucepan to 180C.
Put the flour, beaten egg and almonds onto three separate plates. Roll the croquettes in the flour, then in the egg mixture and then in the flaked almonds.
Carefully lower the croquettes into the hot oil and deep fry for about 3 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Remove using a slotted metal spoon onto a plate lined with lots of kitchen paper.

When ready to plate carefully ladle the soup into warmed bowls, add a croquette to the bowl. Finish the soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a drizzle of cream and a few young small basil leaves.

Mains, Pasta

Casarecce with gorgonzola, broccoli and tomato

This is a nice pasta dish that I cook a lot because it’s relatively easy and really yummy.
The nuts and vegetables can of course be varied to whatever is available in the shops or in season. When wonderful purple sprouting broccoli is in season I tend to use that, otherwise tenderstem broccoli works just fine.
On this occasion I’ve used Casarecce pasta but any short shaped pasta shape will do.

Ingredients for Casarecce with gorgonzola, broccoli and tomato:
200g Gorgonzola Piccante, cubed
200g tenderstem broccoli
250g Casarecce (or other short-tube pasta)
100g Crème fraîche
0.5 tsp Dijon mustard
15g butter
2 preserved anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, concasse
Handful of pinenuts
Handful of walnuts
Splash of white wine or Vermouth
Olive oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

How to make Casarecce with gorgonzola, broccoli and tomato:
First thing to do is to put a sheet pan in the freezer, which we will use later for the broccoli.
Start with putting on water for the pasta and when it’s cooking salt the pasta water to the salinity of sea water (around 10g salt to 1 liter water). Put on another pan of water for the broccoli, again with sea water salting levels.
Make a cross top and bottom on the tomatoes then put in a bowl with boiling water for a few minutes. When the skins are softened peel the tomatoes and then with a paring knife remove the bit of stem left at the top. Concasse the tomatoes and reserve.
Put the oven on 180C fan. Oil two sheetpans and put the pinenuts on one and walnuts on another. Lightly salt both the nuts. Roast the nuts in the oven until nicely golden. Leave the nuts on kitchen-towel to drain some of some of the oil off. When ready you can crush the walnuts with the underside of a pan or in a pestle and mortar.
Start the sauce by melting the butter with a touch of olive oil in a smallish stainless steel pan. When the bubbling subsides add the garlic and anchovies, stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the anchovy is dissolved and the garlic is slightly brown. Add the cubed gorgonzola to the pot together with a splash of white wine and the dijon. Lower the heat to low and continue stirring and basting the gorgonzola cubes until they melt. Add a large tablespoon of the crème fraîche and stir. Taste the sauce as you go along to see how dominant you want the gorgonzola to be, tame it with more crème fraîche if the sauce needs to be milder. That’s the sauce pretty much done, let it bubble away ever so gently on a low flame.
Boil the broccoli until tender, not too al dente but not too soft either. When cooked (test doneness with a sharp paring knife) drain the broccoli and then spread out on the frozen sheet tray to cool rapidly without leaking flavour. Set aside.
Boil the pasta. When done to al dente drain but save a bit of the starchy pasta water. After draining put the pasta back in the pasta pot and put some extra virgin olive oil through it.

To assemble the dish, roughly chop the broccoli and add to the warm pasta pot. Toss to heat through. Check the consistency of the gorgonzola sauce and if too thick thin it out a bit with the starchy pasta water. Add the gorgonzola sauce to the pasta pot too and stir through. Finally add the tomato concasse and stir through.

Serve the pasta on warmed pasta plates and top with the nuts.


Crème Caramel (all yolk version)

IMG_0003-1For a long time I wanted to make Crème Caramel since it’s one of those French desserts I really enjoy. When I was recently left with six egg yolks after clarifying some stock the time was ripe.

Normally Crème Caramel, a free-standing custard, is made with milk, cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Since I was stuck with my egg yolks I “had” to make a kind of super-rich version with double cream to boot. It was rather nice though, with January being a cold and miserable month.

The only pitfalls would be making the caramel, which in my opinion should be rather dark to give a bitter contrast to the creamy sweetness, and also to bake the creme caramels. Like Crème Brûlée it’s easy to overdo it so check the Crème Caramels carefully towards the end of the cooking.

Ingredients for the Crème Caramel:
400g double cream
75g whole milk
6 medium egg yolks
1 medium egg
120g caster sugar
0.5 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod
150g caster sugar for the caramel

Preparing the Crème Caramel:
Start by preheating the oven to 140C non-fan.
Heat the cream and milk in a pot, let it boil briefly and then let cool.
Place the egg yolks and egg, 120g sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl and mix softly with a whisk. Be careful not to produce any foam, since foam would lead to bubbles in the crème caramel later.
Stir in the cream-milk-mixture carefully. Set aside.

Melt the remaining sugar until you desired caramel stage and then pour it into 6 ramekins (approx 100 ml each). Let cool until the caramel sets. Pour custard cream carefully on top.

Prepare a baking tray by placing some parchment paper at the bottom of the tray, then place the ramekins on top of the parchment paper. Pour in boiling water in the tray, you want the ramekins to stand in about two fingers width deep water. Pour the rest of the water in when the baking tray is in the oven if that is easier. Cover the baking tray with parchment paper when it’s in the oven.

Place the baking tray on the middle rack of the oven and bake the creme caramel for about 50 – 60 minutes. Checking the Crème Caramels consistency by jiggling the ramekins towards the end of the cooking time. Remove cups from baking tray, let chill and place into fridge for 4 – 6 hours.
To serve, dip the bottm of the ramekin briefly in a bowl of boiling water then run a small sharp knife around the edge of each bowl and turn upside down on plates.


Roast Chicken

This recipe utilises brining to uniformly season the chicken and also to make it more moist. After the brining the chicken is rested in the fridge overnight to dry out the skin so you get really great roasted skin.
The brine is 3.5 % salt.

This recipe is a lot easier to make if you have a large plastic container (6 – 7 liter) that you can place the brine and chicken in. Just make sure that the container fits in your fridge.

Ingredients for the Roast Chicken:
5 liters water
175g sea salt
100g honey
12 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, skin left on, smashed
2 tbsp black peppercorns
10g fresh rosemary leaves
10g thyme leaves
50g flat-leaf parsley
2 lemons, halfed

One free range chicken, about 1.5 kg
15g thyme (twigs)
Rapeseed oil

Preparing the roast chicken:
Place all of the brine ingredients into a large saucepan. Cover with a lid and boil for one minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Rinse the chicken thoroughly under cold running water. Add the chicken to the brine. Chill in the fridge for six hours.
Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Place the chicken on a cake rack and place uncovered in the fridge overnight, this will further dry out the chicken skin.

Preheat the oven to 240C.

Season the inside of each chicken with a light sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To truss the chicken, place one chicken on a tray with the legs towards you. Tuck the wing tips under the bird. Cut a 90 cm piece of kitchen twine and place it on top of the neck end of the breast. Lift the neck end of the bird and pull the twine down around the wings and under the chicken, then bring the ends up over the breast, towards you, and tie the twine into a knot, pulling it tight to plump the breast.

Bring the ends of the twine around the ends of the drumsticks and straight up. Tie as before to pull the drumsticks together and form a compact bird; tie again to secure the knot.
Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before roasting.

Season the outside of the chicken with a light sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Place a heavy-based, ovenproof frying pan over a high heat. When the pan is hot, add half the oil and heat until hot.
Put the chicken breast-side up into the pan, and then into the oven with the legs facing the back of the oven. Roast for 40 minutes, checking the bird every 15 minutes and rotating the frying pan if the chicken are browning unevenly.
After 40 minutes, check the temperature of the bird by inserting a thermometer between the leg and the thigh. The temperature should read approximately 68C. The chicken will continue to cook as it sits, reaching a temperature of about 73C.
When the bird are cooked, remove from the oven, add the thyme leaves to the pans, and baste the bird with the juices and thyme leaves. Set aside in a warm place for ten minutes.

Carve and serve.