Monday, 30 August 2010

A Very Boozy Brunch - Boston Turkey Hash

What to eat before a dance festival is a tricky one. Filling up too much beforehand can be capering suicide, but there’s too high a risk of pungent festival food repeating on you throughout the day.

The solution? Disco hash.

This is tasty fare that will last you the day and just yearns to be knocked back with a spicy juicy bloody mary. Testament to the ease of this recipe, we stumbled in the night before the festival, chopped, mashed, made hash and left overnight. The next morning, when everyone came round, we just fried the hash off and looked like stars - drink in hand and ready to rock.

We picked this Turkey Hash recipe up in Boston from the best diner I’ve ever been in. Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe in Boston’s South End - fine purveyor of pancakes, homefries and a good dose of Southie chat. Open for eight decades, Charlies has served musicians through the Jazz age, cops their heavy cream and cornflakes sitting next to gangsters with their coffee and guns. But the star of Charlies (and what to order when you’re perching on those red stools) is the Turkey Hash.

Back in England, the Turkey Hash has now made it out after Christmas, after hangovers, to stave off hangovers. And now it’s festival fodder. If it’s good enough for the gangsters, I’m sure it’s good enough for the revellers.

Music Recommendation for the Hash below.

Turkey Hash
This is a great way to use leftovers - and whatever veg you might have.
Serves 6

1.25kg mashing potatoes
1 big onion
2 sticks celery
1 red pepper
1 Turkey leg
A big sprinkling of paprika
Salt and Pepper
6 Eggs (or 12 if you are feeding hungry hoards)

Preheat the oven to 190C, and when ready, roast the turkey leg for an hour. Leave to cool.
Peel, halve and boil the potatoes.
Whilst the potatoes are boiling, finely chop the onion, celery and pepper, and soften in a frying pan for at least 15 minutes on a low-medium heat until translucent.
Shred the turkey and chop finely into very small pieces.

Mash the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. lubricate with a little butter if needs be. Add the onion, celery, red pepper, turkey and the paprika. Mix together thoroughly.

Pack the hash mix tight - into a big sausage shape and wrap in clingfilm.
Chill overnight.

To serve, all you need to do is slice off the amount of hash you want per person and fry in a little butter and olive oil over a high heat until a satisfying crisp edge sets. Serve with a fried egg on top (two eggs for the starving), a spattering of tabasco and a big squidge of tomato ketchup.

Soundtrack: Hospitality: Drum & Bass 2010

Thanks to T for making the hash look delectable, and La and Fe for bringing disco with them.

Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe
429 Columbus Avenue
Boston, US
+ 1 617 536 7669

Monday, 23 August 2010

Recipe: Stir-Fried Beef with Broccoli

It’s been a long day. Today I officially called time on a six year career in advertising. I also got an amazing haircut where I was served a bottle of Prosecco. Today is not a normal day.

All I know is there is a juicy rump waiting for me in the fridge and a friendly head of broccoli and I don’t want to spend time messing with it. This is a classic supper - reassuring and damn simple.

Very Quick After-Work Beef Supper
Serves 2

Slice a nice piece of rump steak (about 300g) across the grain into strips about 2 mm thick. Marinate in a tablespoon of light soy sauce, half a tablespoon of Shaoxing wine, a few drops of sesame oil, a few drops of dark soy sauce, a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of cornflour. Leave for at least 15 minutes.

In the meantime, start putting on the rice to cook (white, long grain would be best).

Cut a broccoli into small florets, and blanch in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes until just cooked. The broccoli needs to be vibrant green and still got a satisfying bite to it.

Slice either 3 shallots or a small onion into strips, finely chop 2 garlic cloves and a small knob of ginger. Heat groundnut oil in a wok on a high heat. Throw in the onions, garlic and ginger, and fry until smelling incredible and before they turn brown.

Add in the beef, and mix quickly. Brown the beef until just cooked - I like mine a tiny bit pink inside. Add a few drops of oyster sauce (optional), more soy sauce (dark and light), Shaoxing wine and sesame oil, then mix in the broccoli. Fry until all mixed in and heated through.

Serve with rice.

if you want heat, just crumble in some chilli. If you fancy peppers, fry it in first. I usually like mine with spring onions.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Caldesi Recipes: The secrets of Pappardelle con Ragù di Cinghiale and Other Stories

The Ragù

Our teacher is insistent that we ‘do not rush’ when it comes to making this wild boar ragu. And whilst I like to think this is an encapsulating ethos of Italian philosophy or way of life that has transcended through to the cooking, it’s actually that the dish will smell of pee otherwise.

The flavour of the wild boar depends on where the pig comes from. If it is a Mediterranean beast from the wilds of Spain or Italy, then the strength of piggy gaminess will be higher. Giancarlo suggests - if you smell it, and think it’s too strong then you can soak it overnight in milk, but he would just cook it out. Today, our meat is actually from the north of England - much milder. He’s upset by this, but no matter - we are still going to make this taste good.

The ragu takes at least three hours to make. The photos show industrial amounts for feasting, but I’ve scaled down the quantities to feed about 6 as a starter.

Slug a good amount of extra virgin olive oil into a deep pan. ‘It upsets me all the bloody time that people say you can’t cook with Extra Virgin.’ explodes Giancarlo, our teacher at Caldesi in Campagna. ‘You’re not frying, you’re cooking with it. If you change the oil the quality will drop!’ Extra Virgin it is.

Heat the oil and add a few smashed and peeled cloves of garlic - just to release the flavour, a couple of rosemary sprigs, and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Heat gently until starting to smell fragrant- this is to flavour the oil.

Add a soffrito of finely chopped celery (2 sticks), an onion and a carrot to the oil and fry gently until the vegetables turn translucent and the smell starts whetting your appetite. This may take a good 5-10 minutes.

Add a few fresh bay leaves, stir some more, turn the heat up slightly and add 1-1.5 kg of wild boar mince. The meat will yield a lot of water and start to smell gamey - almost uriney - this needs to all come out - so the idea is to cook it and stir every now and then until all the water has evaporated and the meat is all cooked evenly. Be patient. This will take a while - perhaps an hour.

Once the piggy smell has gone, add half a bottle of red wine - a Sangiovese would be good. Cook this down - again - gently until it’s reduced significantly. Then add half a can of tinned tomatoes. And cook this down. This may take another hour.

Fish out any protruding rosemary sticks. Add a glorious slug of shiny olive oil. Check for seasoning. Serve with a nice Chianti (see Ruth’s Must Drink! for wine recos in previous post)

The Pappardelle

Whilst this is happening, we might as well make the pasta. We have the time after all. Equip yourself with a pasta rolling machine and a long farmhouse table. If you don’t have these, I suggest buying fresh pasta in like I do instead.

It’s terribly simple - and all you need are three ingredients. Eggs, flour and a pinch of salt. But of course, the flour should be “00” flour - which even Asda sells now - and the eggs are preferably from corn-fed chickens which lends a sunshiney yellow colour to the pasta. The salt - well, as you please.

Pour your flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Crack the eggs into the bowl, and using a fork - mix and mix - gently stirring the flour into the egg. When the mixture is thick enough not to run, start kneading the dough on a floured work surface until it holds together well. Continue to knead rhythmically - without too much force - but just to make sure the elements get to know each other well.

After about 6 minutes of kneading, the dough should feel elastic, and slightly colder. Wrap in cling film and put aside for about an hour.

Cut the dough into quarters and keep three parts aside whilst you run the first quarter through the pasta machine. Flatten the dough, then pass the pasta through the widest setting. Once through, decrease by a notch and pass through again. Repeat this until the thinnest you’d like - but do not pass through more than 5 times. Repeat for the rest of the quarters.

Once through, cut into sheets into lengths you’d the pappardelle to be, roll the ends in from either side - as in the picture - then slice into thick ribbons.

Pour the ribbons into a tray full of semolina which will keep them separated and leave them to dry for 20 minutes.
When ready, get a pan of salted boiling water ready and cook briskly for two minutes.

Serve with the ragu. Devour.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Caldesi in Campagna: The Promise

On 7th May 2010, Giancarlo Caldesi made a promise. Declared over salsicce fatte in casa, veal saltimbocca and steak tagliata and made sacred with red wine. This exuberant chef from Montepulciano, Tuscany vowed to bequeath the secrets of ragù di cinghiale - that very Tuscan dish of wild boar ragu - to his students after a lesson in his Marylebone cookery school – La Cucina Caldesi. The students had been exerting themselves over Italian Butchery and thought he had been exerted too.

We didn’t really believe him. Did he really like us as much as he claimed that he’d give up a whole day to give us a free bespoke lesson in Bray? Just for us? I wasn't sure we'd been that good at making sausages.

It’s 9.30 on a chilly August morning in Bray. 14 people are staring at a skinless bunny - teeth skeletal and clenched in agony. Giancarlo lops off the feet and enjoys the morbid fascination we display. ‘Always buy rabbit from the butcher with the head on,’ he says conspiratorially. It must be for taste reasons, perhaps buying prior to decapitation stops it going off? ‘You never know - you might be sold a cat’. Oh, right. Several knife flourishes later the rabbit is in pieces ready to be casseroled.

Next it’s pigeon. Feathers fly everywhere after enthusiastic plucking. In a second its skin is un-peeled, breasts teased off, and blood clots from bullet wounds disposed of. Giancarlo’s whites are patchy with gory smears, but his grand figure captures his class’ attention, and if he doesn’t he will spatter you with kisses or pick you out like a naughty schoolchild.

This is all terribly gratuitous. Especially as neither pigeon nor rabbit will be served up to the hungry masses.

‘This is us,’ he declares in thick Italian. ‘A day for us. I don’t want nobody to interfere’.

The restaurant run by Giancarlo and his wife Katie itself is refined and stocked full of art. The floor of the bathroom is the sparkliest marble I ever did see. The garden is ours. We will cook there, learn there, eat there. It is parasoled and kitted out with a ballsy outdoors forno - a boy-meets-man chef’s wet dream. Although only open since 2008, the customers are regular, the dishes elegant but true to its rustic maternal roots.

Yes we are here to learn the intricacies of this ragu, but Giancarlo's generosity stretches further and further as he directs our attempts to devil poussin, create crispy rosemary garlic potatoes, make Italian love, and digest the principles of good cooking. We make pasta, we make ragu. We disturb the amazing and accommodating staff who are just trying to do their day job by wandering in and out of their kitchen with deadly knives and poultry-wrung hands.

The interesting rapport between the head chef Allan, and Giancarlo is a joy to watch. Spat-like and banterous. And the drama unfolds when we learn that the patisserie chef Maria is Allan’s wife, and the Sicilian lemon cheesecake - a star of a dish - is designed by her fair hands.

The three hour lunch matches the three hour lesson. We are the guardians of the secrets of ragù di cinghiale - (to be divulged in my next post). Giancarlo has fulfilled his promise. And more.

So here is what we eventually eat and drink when we sit down at lunch. Do scroll down for Ruth’s Must Drink recommendations. A special thanks must go to Jude, without whose loveliness and organisation, this day would not have happened.

‘I’m totally stupid’, Giancarlo admits, ‘but I know what I’m doing.’ That he does. And I guess, we do now too.

Pappardelle con ragù di cinghiale - Recipe to come in following post

Gilthead Bream - absolutely beautiful. Salmon over coals, with a honey-dressed salad. Devilled Poussin with Rosemary Garlic Potatoes (The recipe in a future post)

Desserts...Lemon Cheesecake with caramelised orange and lemon sauce, pannacotta, churros
The cheesecake was simply the most exquisite dessert. Made with Sicilian lemons, it was the perfect balance of oozy tartness, light sweetness and crunch from the amaretti biscuits.

Caldesi in Campagna

Old Mill Lane, Bray, Berkshire
01628 788500

La Cucina Caldesi Cookery School
118 Marylebone Lane, Marylebone, W1U 2QF
0207 487 0750/6/8

Ruth Ford's Must Drink!

Greco di Tufo is a characterful dry white wine from Tufo in Campania, Greco being the name of the grape. In a glass of this golden wine you can almost taste the glorious sunshine of the warm Italian south: Greco is delicately fragrant like white blossom flowers, and tastes of ripe peaches, and apples, and lemons, with a touch of honey. It is rich and sometimes oily in the most pleasing way, like the salmon Helena ate with it. And yet it finishes crisp, leaving you eager for more of this bright, flavoursome wine. Greco is grown and made all around Southern Italy, and is now very easy to find in the UK, even in the supermarket. I suggest you buy yourself a bottle as an antidote to Pinot Grigio.
With the wild boar, Helena drank Chianti.

There are Chiantis and there are Chiantis...
A good rule when faced with a dizzying choice of wine, or olive oil, or most things really, is to go for the one that has been well made and is therefore good quality. How do you know this with wine? You check the name of the producer on the bottle or wine list. Then you look it up on your Iphone, or whatever piece of smart technology you happen to be carrying (a reference book, perhaps). It’s like looking up the difference between a Rolex and a Casio.
Imagine you went into HMV and you wanted to buy a death metal CD but you’d never heard of any of the band names before. There are hundreds to choose from. Which one is good? What to do? You look around and see a couple that grab your attention and you Google the band names, or simply the topic “good death metal”. You read the reviews and comments. Now you are better equipped to choose your CD.
(Alternatively you could take home several bottles/death metal CDs/watches and try them all out to see which one you like best. This is much more fun where wine is concerned, but I realise not necessarily practical, especially if you’re on your way to a dinner party and already late.)
A bit of research is certainly required where Chianti is concerned. There is too much Chianti. Some of it is wonderful – savoury, rich, and appetite-whetting - and some of it utter dishwater. Chianti is the name of a region in Tuscany where red wine is made. The red wine takes the name of the region, as long as it is made with the correct grapes (Sangiovese is the principal grape, it can be blended with some others including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). But there are so many different red wines with the Chianti name, of wildly varying quality, that caution must be exercised when choosing which one to drink. For Helena’s cinghiale I recommended the Frescobaldi Castello di Nippozana Riserva 2006 Chianti Rufina which was £40 on the wine list. Frescobaldi is a reliable producer, ‘06 was a great year in Chianti, and Rufina is one of the best areas of vineyards for growing the Sangiovese grape. It worked; the wine tasted good with the rich ragu, and more importantly, Helena enjoyed it.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Wholesomeness. Recipe for Marinated Minced Beef and Fat Courgette

Radiant Physalis

So, gardening. Creation and cultivation of life. I can’t bear that sort of responsibility amidst our daily frivolity. Oh, and given that even the supermarket parsley plant is doomed from the moment I choose it, I’ve resigned myself to the knowledge that I’m simply no good at it. My friend Sonia tended to lettuces in Cornwall, nursing them through bruising winds for weekly salads, but I assumed that was just what you did in Cornwall. (I’m slightly scared of the country. The natural silence, the lack of cars, the visible stars. The light pollution I’m used to fills city skies with a comforting gray or a lollipop orange. I fear the dark).

I’ve been following the progress of chef Alex Mackay’s tomatoes with a sort of envy. Every now and then a twitpic will appear of a stripey or purple variety of tomato and I turn green. Especially when he tells us they taste so good that they don’t ‘even need any salt’ but just a ‘brush…[of] Provencal oil and very thinly sliced basil.’
Have a look here and here and here judge for yourself.
So very wholesome. I like to admire from afar.

To me, an edible garden is ever so alien, but the absolute ideal. Decorative and full of food. When I popped to my parents last weekend I was astounded by what they’d produced and began to nurture a hope that latent gardening genes will reveal themselves when I grow up. There were…

Incipient Tomatoes


Fat Slob Courgette and Baby Courgette

Courgette Flowers

Goji Berries - Good dried and in soups, but equally tasty fresh with honey


I came away from berry-nibbling and with an armful of fat courgette (overgrew as my parents went on holiday and forgot about it). It would waddle if it walked. I have vowed to start small and really look after that parsley plant next time. Baby steps.

Here’s a recipe for the fat courgette. The base of which is similar to the classic Chinese dish ‘Ants climbing trees’.

Marinated minced beef with fat courgette

Serves 4
500g minced beef or pork
Half a fat courgette - diced into large chunks
Sunflower/vegetable oil

2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons Light Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Sesame Oil

3 bulbous spring onions - finely chopped
3 fat garlic cloves - finely chopped
Knob of ginger - finely chopped
1 dried birds-eye chilli (optional)

2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons Light soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
275mls chicken stock
1 teaspoon sugar

Marinate the beef for at least 15 minutes. It won’t hurt to leave it to settle longer.

Heat oil in a wok or a pan over high heat. Add the mince, and brown all over, stirring every now and then.

Take out the beef and put to one side.

Add some more oil over a medium high heat and add the spring onions, garlic, ginger and crumble in the chilli if using. Fry until smelling irresistibly fragrant.

Add back the beef, then add the sauce ingredients. Bring to boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the fat courgette pieces, cover and cook for 5 minutes more.

Serve with just cooked long grain rice.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Blacks Members' Club: A Descent

Candlelight. We are flickering silhouettes against the heavy-framed Hogarths and Duluxed wood-panelled walls. We listen to the music of low-levelled chatter charged with drama and frippery. Soft champagne opens the evening in this tall and slightly dishevelled Georgian building which nestles next to the new polish of Dean Street Townhouse. Our host for dinner this evening is the proprietor of Blacks members' club, Giuseppe Mascoli - also Mr Franco Manca of Brixton.

Little is written of this club compared to the institutions of Groucho or Soho House, but that closed mystery seems an English eccentricity. The three floors of Blacks is a world - the world of Samuel Johnson colliding with Mascoli’s - a thoroughly gentlemanly affair edged with the air of depravity. One imagines regular occurrences of opium eating and poetry readings; this is a club for artists and actors, wordsmiths and lovers of excess. And if I’ve not left with gout I would consider this failure.

We begin with the most humble of victuals - bread, wine and olives. But everything at Blacks sits on the edge of convention - you would do to cast expectation aside. A Languedoc red that comes to the table is what Mascoli calls ‘the crazy wine’ - and it is most extraordinary. Every time I raise the glass to my lips, the waft of horse manure is simply alarming. This alarm does not depreciate - but the peppery nature of this warm red makes it a drinkable beast.

Each subject on the weekly menu will have an anecdote or a story. The piquillo peppers are stuffed with coley salted at Blacks, the hake fillet baked with mussels, chorizo, tomato and white wine is a particular favourite of our host. The surprise is the hard boiled egg. ‘The egg works doesn’t it?’ he says eagerly as I unceremoniously mash it into the rich liquor. I mop up all traces with bread fashioned from Dorset rye - a heavy bread - not one for everyday eating. Livers soaked in Pedro Ximinez sherry is a treat, the onglet steak has the unusual beefiness of braising meat. It comes as no surprise to learn that the head chef had been a rock star - 'Not a good rock star - but definitely a good chef' - the food does have something of the hedonistic about it. The affogato (incidentally, my favourite dessert) - club-made ice cream drowned in espresso is simple and elegant. The vanilla is soprano as it sings through the coffee.

The big toe is starting to twitch.

Then the mezcal. Oh the mezcal - in a sniff already carries evocations of lost evenings. Softer than tequila, the golden warmth of this Mexican spirit turns into a harsh kiss at the back of the throat. I am distracted by rakish figures wandering back and forth. A vitiating haze begins to leave its taint as I vaguely recollect the whole bottle landing on the table. We are as significant as silhouettes by the end - art bores and babbling fools. But do not let this put you off. If you have the chance, seek out the basement entrance, attach yourself to a member and prepare for the Blacks descent.

67 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4QH

Blacks on Urbanspoon

For a more comprehensive review, have a look here.

We drink:
- Blacks House Champagne, Beaumont des Crayeres, Grand Reserve, 2010
- The Crazy Wine: Domaine Fontedicto, Cotêaux du Languedoc, Pirouette 6, VDT