Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Raving. About Ravioli. I know. I know.

Well, I largely finished off the Juniper Berry cured pancetta from a while ago. I cooked up an Amatriciana with it, and finished off the last of it in some bacon and potato hash, with dried chillies and plum tomatoes. I think I favour the bay leaf cure thusfar. A nice, deep, sweetly subtle taste. Next up is the crushed coriander seed cure. And after that, I think I'll experiment. Black mustard seed. Fennel seed. Honey cured. The skys the bacon-based limit.

Consumed too quickly to photo, I'm afraid.

The next project was supposed to be some guanciale, air dried and salt cured pigs cheek. Its getting too close to summer for air drying though. And pigs cheek is difficult to track down. After 7 or 8 attempts, I finally tried Buckleys in Moore street, who will sell me an entire head, which I can take home and chop up myself. €5. Bargain.

Needing a break from the heart halting porkfest of death the last few weeks have presented, I wound up cooking for some Italian friends recently. A terrifying experience, as I cooked Italian food. Two Northerners, to be precise, a sommelier friend of mine, and someone I used to work with. As they talked about their plans to start up an import business - more of which, hopefully, i the following few months, I put the finishing touches to the ravioli I had prepared that morning, and served it up in a butter and lemon sauce, with some pate and pork rillette on the side. Beautiful. And it went down a treat. As good as homecooked Italian apparently.

To make the pasta dough.

1 egg per 100 g of doppio zero pasta flour - available from the best of Italy, or any good food store - is the recommended amount. But in Irelands humid climate, I tend to use less egg than this. I used about 350 g of flour, and 3 eggs. Make a volcano with the flour, sprinkle with a little salt, and crack the eggs into the well of the volcano. Using a fork, gradually break up the eggs and incorporate flour, a bit at at time, caving in the sides of the volcano as you do. Eventually, the mix becomes thick enough to mix all the flour together. Working it into an elastic dough, as it begins to come together, stretch the top of the dough slightly, and pull it back towards you over the rest of the dough and press it in with the heels of your palm. Turn the dough often. Add flour as required, or, if the dough is too dry, dip your fingers in a bowl of water, and continue mixing. Repeat as required. After the dough has initially come together, 10 minutes working it should suffice. Roll out the dough, to maybe a 1 inch thickness, and then clingfilm it, and allow to rest for 1 hour.

For the filling.

Spinach leaves.
Good quality ricotta.
Black pepper.
Fried pancetta cubes - small.
Fresh nutmegs.

Quickly wilt some spinach, circa 300g, in a little water - just the water used to wash the leaves - adding some sea salt. Drain in a colander for an hour, and allow to cool. Sqeeze out as much water as you can from the cooked leaves, and chop them roughly.

In a bowl, mix 250g of good quality ricotta - you have to go to a specialist deli for this - with some freshly grated nutmeg, some chopped and fried pancetta, and black pepper (the pancetta, or home cured bacon, should add enough salt). Mix in the chopped spinach, and add some egg to bind the mix. I normally use half an egg, lightly beaten just before adding.

Take your dough out from the fridge, and leave, wrapped, on the countertop for half and hour, to heat up. Flour a work surface with doppio 0 flour. Cut your pasta dough into quarters. cover three of the pieces with a damp towel, and roll out the fourth piece into a rectangular shape, about 1-1.5cm thick. Feed this pasta into your pasta machine rollers, starting at the highest setting. Pass though the machine once for each setting until you reach the thinnest. You should have a long, slightly oval shaped piece of pasta, partially translucent. Fold it over on itself several times lengthwise, until you can feed it back though the thickest setting, and again, run it through the rollers several times, dropping down one thickness at a time. Again fold it over, but this time, turn the sheet 90 degrees and pass it through the pasta machine from thickest to thinnest using this different orientation - this stretches the pasts in all directions. Refold along its length once more, and without turning 90 degrees, again pass though the rollers, from thickest to thinnest setting.

To make the ravioli.

You will need, a small spoon, a pastry brush, a pasta cutting wheel, and some lukewarm water. Flour a work surface, and lay out the by now several foot long sheet of pasta on your surface, Dot the pasta with small spoons of the filling. I tended to use a heaped teaspoon of filling, fitting the dots in rows of two halfway down the pasta. Lightly brush the channels between the fillings with water, and fold over the rest of the pasta, laying it lightly on top of the fillings. Working from the open top, press the upper sheet down on the lower, starting from the centre of the sheet, and moving out, trying to push out any air bubbles. Seal up the separate ravioli carefully, making sure there are no gaps, or trapped air bubbles, and cut using the wheel, or a scissors or serrated knife.

I'd suggest using them immediately, though if you do store them, lay them out in single layers. They stick very easily. To freeze, lay them out in single layers on a floured tray, in the freezer. When they freeze, you can bag them.

To cook, add them to boiling water (use a large full pot), and scoop out after three minutes - when cooked they change colour, and float to the top of the pot. Plate or bowl em.

For the sauce.

Juice of half a lemon.
Black pepper.
Butter(circa 200g).
Sea salt.
Fresh sage leaves(optional)(5 or 6 whole, two roughly chopped)

Heat the butter in a small saucepan, or cast iron frying pan. When the butter begins to froth add in whole sage leaves, and stir. Add the lemon juice, and some zest if you like. Grate in black pepper. Add salt. Taste, and adjust seasoning, and lemon as necessary. Take out the whole sage leaves. Pour over the pasta, and sprinkle with chopped sage leaves. Serve.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Made in Italy

"It is true that man does not live on bread alone;
he must eat something with it"

Pellegrino Artusi

I just picked up a copy of Made in Italy by Giorgio Locatelli. The quote is taken from the antipasti section. And it gives an authentic taste of Locatelli's take on food, and on life.

The main bulk of the book is a collection of stories, techniques, anecdotes and culinary thoughts, which are interspersed with recipes.
The formal recipe writing and instruction is clear, well thought out, and detailed. And the techniques he covers, for making bread, pesto, fresh pasta, are clear and detailed. The pasta description is the best I've yet read, on how to use a machine to press perfect pasta.
His perfectionist nature comes across quite well.

He pays the same attention to detail in his instructions that he expects a good chef to pay in their recipes. And the instructions have the feeling of being born of use and experience. Its restaurant quality food made perfectly accessible to the home cook, with the added twist of excellence that can only come from a Michelin starred chef. I have had more revelatory moments, in this book alone, about Italian dishes, both the classics, and the effortlessly perfect re-interpretations Locatelli provides.

The description about how he makes what must be the most perfect pesto outside Liguria is frankly stunning.

It is, for me, so far, the book of Italian cuisine. More informative about basic techique than the Silver Spoon. More broadly ranging than any of Carluccios books.
The bulk of the book, though, is anecdote. Around which recipes, techniques, and the almost inbuilt understanding of food in Italian life, are wrapped. About his grandmothers kitchen, and garden, about the family restaurant, about his families home garden, his travels and experiences in France and London, all tinged with a genuine and inherited love for his topic. The stories are wrapped around food, around recipes, around tastes and experiences. The ingredients punctuate the books stories. The ingredients are the very stuff of the book. They are the rhythm of the story, and the thing to which all Locatellis stories, recipes, tastes and feelings return.

Locatelli writes in such an unassuming fashion. The brash ego of some food writers is largely absent. Instead, he writes with genuine affection and gratitude about the people, the food, the
ingredients, and the experiences that seem to have all fed into the sense of conviviality with which he infuses his food, his writing, his chefs and his restaurant.

For 30 euros, it's a snip. Any lover of Italian food simply must have it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chicken Liver Pate

I seem to have changed butchers for the moment. My normal guy can't get in some of the more....arcane dead animal items I'm looking for. And evryone I as recommends the same place. So a quick trip into Moore street, and FX Buckley's butchers, netted me some oxtail(€5.99 each, cut up and bagged), a half kilo of chicken livers(€5.99 a kilo), some more ham hocks (€1.50 each), some belly of pork, a couple of beef marrow bones - a snip at 3 for a Euro, some trotters(3 for €1.50), and an answer to where you get pigs cheeks. You don't. You buy the whole head. For €5.

A bit bulky to cycle with. So I didn't. But I can use the cheeks, the ears, and the snout for recipes I have already. And I think I could make brawn with the remains of the head, or cut it up for sausage meat perhaps. Hrmm. Either that, or I stuff the butchered head, lipsticked lips, and swathed in a feather boa, in the toilet of some unexpecting and terminally surprised friend, ala Hunter S Thompson. A fitting tribute to the dead.

The meat doesn't seem to be as good quality as my regular guys though. The chicken livers were a little too wet to be perfectly fresh, the fat on the bellys is not quite good enough....still, it's serviceable enough.

Anyway. Time to take it to the mat with this. Offal. A fine thing.Tasty, unhygienic, messy. Slightly slimy. The stuff of life, in other words. And the essential ingredient in the finest pate you are ever likely to taste outside of France. I have a batch sitting in my fridge, the taste deepening as we speak. This recipe is for a rough pate, which I think helps bulk out the taste with a suitable, robust, inescapably rustic texture. If you want a finer texture, blast the cooked liver in a food processor.

This recipe is adapted from The Silver Spoon, bible of Italian mothers from Cuomo to Cagliari to Palermo and back. I've given the whole original, and put my adaptations in brackets.

  • 5 oz butter
  • 400 g chicken livers, trimmed
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped very fine
  • fresh thyme, (or fresh rosemary)
  • (2 fresh bay leaves)
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy (I used two)
  • 2 tablespoons of double cream, whipped (I used 4)
  • 2 tablespoons of Marsala (I used the same quantity of a robust Spanish Rioja I had opened)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste (I underseasoned with both)

To clean the livers....hrmm.....

Theres more than one school of thought. Generally, I quickly wash the livers in water, and pat dry. Some people marinade them for a couple of hours in milk and salt and then wash and dry. Most books don't suggest going this far.

When you handle the liver, gently spread it out on your hand. You should be able to see the liver as being comprised of two lobes. Technically, you don't want to pierce these lobes, as it makes cooking difficult (separating them is fine though). But you do want to get rid off all that white, sinew type stuff attached to them. Remove any veins or green material also. Best use a paring knife. I generally wind up piercing the lobes by accident. It just means being extra careful to cook them thoroughly. Or, being genuinely French about it, cooking them till pink in the centre. (This can be a tad dangerous from the bacteria point of view).

The livers will vary greatly in colour. From dark red to pale pink. This is normal, and fine. If the livers are off, well, you'll smell it. Perfectly fresh livers should be dry to the touch, and shiny. But that just doesn't happen in most Dublin butchers.

Take half the butter, and melt in a water bath. Reserve. Melt the rest of the butter in a cast Iron pan, and saute the onions, liver and herbs over a medium heat, stirring frequently. Silver spoon recommends 2 minutes. Sprinkle with Marsala (or, in my case, Rioja) and cook for 3 more minutes - this time will vary, depending on your taste. 3 minutes will probably give you pink in the middle livers - good for taste, excellent for texture, and yummy for bacteria. Not normally a problem, but hey...too much cooking time, and the texture will spoil). Take the pan off the heat, and chop the livers( I left the juice in the pan, took the livers out with a slotted spoon, and deglazed the pan with the cooking liquor, and some brandy). Chop the livers as fine, or as roughly as you like. The texture should be at least spreadable. Recombine the cooking liquor, and liver,and stir in the cooled, melted butter, and then fold in the cream (add the brandy first if you haven't already).

Slap in a bowl, ramekin, or your preferred serving dish, and chill in the fridge for 6 hours. If, as is possible, the cream doesn't initially combine well with the pate, take it out of the fridge after 30 mins, and fold again - it's easier when the pate has slightly set.

Serve on toasted bread, or buttermilk brown.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pesto Genovese

Easter weekend. A gooses egg, quail eggs, more bacon, and Pesto Genovese.

We fried up two eggs on Saturday. A giant, heartstoppingly big, blood clottingly giant goose egg, which took up most of the frying pan. Delivered to Dublin in the gentle care of the gorgeous C.

It took up most of my frying pan. Two thick slices of country batch sacrificed as cholestorol soldiers. As it were.

Delicious. It tasted incredibly fresh.

On Sunday, I whipped up another batch of homemade bacon, this one made with juniper berries. I'll report back later in the week when it's cured.

But this afternoon. I made one of my most beloved foods. Pesto Genovese. On the left, a young basil plant. For traditional Genovese, the plant should be less than 8 inches high. After a certain point of growth, the taste of the leaf changes, losing that almost electric sense of freshness the young plant has, and becoming a more mellow, and softer taste, that most of us are used to. Any older than this and it is not actually a Genovese pesto.

The only way to ensure this is to grow your own. Something I should do a lot more often. Garlic - as fresh as possible. The garlic used in pesto is raw, and the other ingredients are quite subtle to taste. So ensure that your garlic has no green shoots, is fresh, and still moist. Bitter garlic will run through your pesto and ruin it. Tear off as many leaves as you can safely harvest. I took about half the leaves from this plant.

Pine nuts, lightly toasted. There are a couple of ways to do this. I normally put some in my omelette pan and put them on the stovetop. Take them off the heat as soon as they even begin to hint turning brown - they will cook some more off the heat. Tip them into a cool container, and wait until they cool down. Extra virgin olive oil. The best you can buy. Pamesan - ungrated - and as good as you can get (or Pecorino) . Again, I recommend Best of Italy on Dunville Ave, D6 for Parmesan. Sea salt crystals, unground.

For this batch I used, roughly
  • a half teaspoon, level, of seasalt

  • half the pictured basil plants leaves

  • two small, fresh, cloves of garlic, cut into rough chunks

  • about 4 level tablespoons of parmesan, freshly grated

  • about the same of toasted pine nuts

  • enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the mix when ground

Put the salt crystals in the base of a stone or marble pestle and mortar. Whole crystals help grind down the other ingredients. Add everything else, apart from the cheese and olive oil. Grind in a pestle and mortar. It must be a pestle and mortar. Not a food processor. Far too much of the taste and texture gets lost in the heat and violence of a processor. The difference is very noticeable (cheap stone pestle and mortars are available from the Asia market, at the back of Georges Street in Dublin). It takes about ten minutes to get that rustic texture. (below)

Add the cheese, and mix in. Then top up with olive oil until the paste is just submerged in oil. Leave for four hours on a table top, covered with a plate. Uncover, taste - you may need to add salt - and top up with olive oil as required.

Its best kept until the next day, and eaten on open sandiches, or dipped with fresh foccacia, or ciabatta. It's good with fresh pasta - don't cook it at all, or the taste will evaporate, just mix in on the plate with roasted cherry tomatoes and some oil.

If covered with oil, this will keep in the fridge for a lot longer than it takes to eat it. The colour of the leaves will darken and change, but its fine to eat, the taste deepening over time.

It tastes like summer.

If anyone out there actually understands how to edit images in bloggers editing software, without actually causing ones head to explode, please leave a comment.

Failing that, help me track down the bizarre and atavistically twisted freak who designed it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Pork Rillette

No pictures of this particular bowlful of French and rustic heaven.

Edit: Pic uploaded......

But a recipe nonetheless.

A rillette - often made with pork, but also with rabbit, duck or sometimes salmon, is a classic French dish. Poor mans pate, using cheap cuts of meat - for the pork. And a damned fine way to use them. Terrify your local butcher by asking for arcane cuts of pig to make this bugger with.

Anthony Bourdain eulogises damned convincingly over Pork Rillette in his Les Halles cookbook. While ripping the piss out of everyone who isn't Anthony Bourdain. And he was right about the Rillette.

Theres also a recipe in The Cook and the Gardener, and between the two of them, and some disorganised necessity, I knocked up a creditable first effort.

Pork will kill me. I may well die happily.

Recipe: I used about a kilo of pork belly, again from Nolan's of Rathmines, and about 600g of diced pork shoulder - though ham hocks would have been a better choice here. Good for gelatin. Necessity, on my, and my butchers parts.

Cut the rind off the belly. In a Dutch oven, or oven proof pot, combine the pork with rosemary (I used 3 large sprigs), crushed cloves of garlic, and bay leaves and season generously with salt, black pepper and nutmeg - most recipes call for a bouquet garni, not just rosemary, or thyme and parsley instead. But hell. Heres to living dangerously, eh?

Cover with a cup full of water, and bring to a low simmer on the stove. Not quite bubbling. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to gas mark 2. Cover, and place in the heated oven. Read a book. Watch TV. Call you friends. Cooking times vary from 2 to 6 hours. Bake bread to go with your rillette. I cooked by eye, as it were, taking the pot out of the oven every 40 minutes or so, stirring to make sure it didn't stick, and eventually, forking the thicker parts of meat apart to allow it to cook a little more quickly.

The fat should largely melt to a clear liquid, and the pork cook until meltingly soft - it should fall apart in the pot when gently forked. When that happens, drain and reserve the liquid. Discard the herbs, and allow the pork to cool enough to handle. Best to keep it a little warm though. With your hands, or two forks, shred the meat into, depending on your taste, pistachio sized piece, or small threads of pork. Or less even. Taste the pork, and add herbs, salt, pepper - whatever you used originally - to taste. Place in a terrine dish (no grease or bacon required. Any more pork might actually kill you) or a regular bowl, or container, and compress. For ten minutes, or two hours. Again, your preference is, I think, prime, though I only loosely compressed it, and the dish soaked up huge amounts of fat.

Finally, pour over some of the reserved fat to form a thin layer of fat on top of the crock, terrine dish, bowl.....and leave covered, in the fridge, for three days. It can keep for ten days without the fat covering, and longer with.

Eat, with pickled cornichons, or black olives, on bread. To serve, take what you want from the terrine. Allow to come to room temperature, and serve.

Eating it is the most loved pig has ever made me feel.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Fillet of Soul, Manorhamilton.

The road to hell is paved with chicken Maryland.

The gorgeous C and I dined late, and somewhat tiredly in The Fillet of Soul, Main Street, Manorhamilton.

The decor is pleasant. A nice, faux coal gas fire, wooden floors, high backed, comfortable, black and white leather-backed wooden chairs.

The service is friendly and relaxed - they accepted or quite aggressively casual attire (sorry gorgeous C) entirely without comment, and we were never far from the waitress's attention.

The entrance hall is liberally plastered with awards. Is it just me, or is the current trend in Irish food awards equally meaningful, and meaningless? Egon Ronays award for actually existing. In 1987. The Irish food guides award for having a toilet. An Bord Bia Silver service award for gainfully employing mouth-breathers. Bord Faillte certified Botulism free since 1998.

Anthony Armstrong is Public Relations Officer for the Panel of Chefs Ireland(salt dough castle anyone? WTF?) , and patron chef at the Fillet.
Which is presumably why he couldn't wait and let his food market itsfuckingself.

Ahem. S'cuse me.

I couldn't make head nor tail of the menu. I had a main of "Maryland Twist Breaded escalope, bacon, sweet corn hash and kebab fruit fritters". I could almost, just about almost work out what I was probably going to get (What IS a Maryland Twist? An escalope of what?). Though it took a while to not quite get it. When whatever it was arrived, a kebab of deep fried fruit was poking impotently at a flailing 45 degree angle from a circle of bacon and potato mash. Like some hideous, fruit themed, priapic salute. Like some....god....jesus....I can see the bastard flailing genitally towards me as I type....ugh, I had that in my some hideously flaccid citrus penis. Dipping pathetically as the waitress somewhat embarrassedly brought the bastard forth.
I may well have told the gorgeous C "Its alive", as lightning played apocalypically across my insane plate.

It was a mash, not a hash, a simple typo, I think, on the menu - though it could well have been my tiredness. The chicken escalope, some bizarrely flattened wafer thin disc of incinerated hate, had been tortured in a deep fat frier until its shattered remains were placed atop the carnage on my plate. Dry, dessicated, it was impossible to tell whether it had been breaded, or just dipped in flour and egg. And this chicken tasted like it had talked before the end.

The fritter kebab was an interesting idea. Deep fried kiwis, black and green grapes. And something else. Which is about as accurate as I can be. Served up in a wet,damp, soggy, flaccid and lukewarm batter. Terrible execution. And I have no idea what it was doing on my plate with a bacon and potato hash, and a savoury gravy. A bizarre and freakish combination. Terrifying to think of.
Chefs night off at the chippie, methinks.

The gorgeous C ordered,let me see....from memory...trout, mixed berries, scampi in a cream sauce with cajun.

Which didn't seem to make any kind of sense.

We figured it was a menu mistake. A typo. A firmatting screwup. Scampi and trout. Odd. Mixed berry what? With trout? And cajun? So we asked.

I had visions of some Aran-besmocked Pierre-monickered rusticism bellowing folkishy in an enthusiastic French patois before setting about our earholes with accordion accompaniment.
The gorgeous C suggested freshly grated Pierre. Folkishly so or no.

"Is this item correct?"
"With cajun what?"
"Y'know. With cajun."

With cajun was, apparently correct.

Maryland Twists. Escalopes of uncertainty. Grated cajuns jiggling Frenchly. The menu was the worst, most confusingly written, fundamentally flawed missive of its type I've ever encountered. I think one of the food items is actually the beginning of Finnegans Wake. Theres a zombie Joyce in the back of that kitchen. And he's paid minimum wage.

The trout was well cooked. As were the scampi (soft, slightly shredded almost, beautiful colouring and texture). All three of them. Hidden underneath the trout to prop it up at a jaunty angle. The sauce, with cajun, was too sweet, and too strong. Almost as if the chef were afraid of the flavours they had created. And with little or no of the aromatih heat and depth I'd expect from a cajun style seasoning.

Accompanied by boiled veg - carrots, broccoli and potatoes, if memory serves. Boiled veg.

The whole experience was odd. A series of individually interesting ideas slapped together on plates they should never have co-existed on. Some ideas utterly lacked simple, basic, good execution. The overall impression was of an enthusiastic amateur chef hoping to overcome the deficit of skill and experience through sheer imagination. And it didn't work.

The basics were all wrong. Incinerated chicken. Fucking up the deep frying is a sign of aggressive incompetence. Oversweet sauces. Limp damp, lukewarm batter. And plates which made no sense to the palate, the eye, or indeed the pocket.

Two mains and a coffee set us back the guts of €50.

Fillet of Soul. Take the awards down, spellcheck your menu. Then bin it, and rewrite a simpler less ambitious affair. Keep penises off the plates. And out of your customers askance and utterly smacked gobs. Tell your service staff whats actually on the menu. Limit your plates to five ingredients apiece. Learn to cook the basics. And then it'll be worth €30.
Fillet of Soul, Manorhamilton. Co. Leitrim, Tel: (0)71 9856053, Email: