Monday, 13 November 2017

The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

I used to dread those last few sepulchral hours of the weekend, particularly in winter when it can feel like all traces of colour have leeched into the sodden earth.  That Sunday night feeling when the prospect of a whole week of school hit like a freight train.  How much more bearable those last few hours would have been if we had embraced the opportunity to cook together in the way chef Rosie Sykes's family did.  Based on the kind of food they liked to cook and eat, The Sunday Night Book is the antidote to that Sunday night curtains-drawn glumness.  But whatever the day of the week, it's uplifting cooking to banish the blues.  There are failsafe recipes for comforting dishes on toast; one-pot dishes that you deliberately make too much of just so you have leftovers for later in the week; a bowl of pasta, of course; something eggy; light salads for when the weekend has been too good; ideas for leftovers; and, at the end of the book, "if all else fails" there's a chapter on Cocktails and a little bite to eat.

Rosie Sykes has worked in the kitchens of some of the greats in British food, including Joyce Molyneux, Shaun Hill, Alistair Little and Margot Henderson.  I've eaten her food in a number of restaurants over the years and I know it pays to 'follow the chef'.  Her menus make your heart sing and the food she prepares is invariably delicious, soothing and heartwarming.  The recipes in this book are quick to prepare.  Many make use of fresh ingredients but a good number reach for store cupboard staples. The chances are high of finding a recipe that is easy and satisfying despite the fact you haven't been able to shop, and we all need a book like that.

Caerphilly with leeks and mustard
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

I've cooked Caerphilly with leeks and mustard, a less cheesy take on Welsh rarebit.  The 'can we have this again soon please' request came on first bite.  Bacon and egg pie was a real flashback to childhood.  Easy to make and so easy to eat.  Next time I want to wrap it in newspaper and take it on a picnic.  A Spanish recipe for Eggs in a pestle and mortar came next for the promise that I will be "amazed that something so seemingly unconventional can taste so utterly delicious"  It did and I was.  There is nothing in the ingredients lists of these recipes that doesn't need to be there.  In my experience, this is a rare thing in the current crop of cookery books.

Bacon and egg pie
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

Among the recipes I've place-marked are Fregola with bacon and peas, and if it tastes half as good as Patricia Niven's photograph suggests I'll be a very happy diner; Bouillabaisse of peas and beans, inspired by the French classic fish soup; Coddled eggs Ivanhoe for the delight of egg married with smoked haddock; and the Quick cheese straws to remind me of the start of a sublime meal at Joyce Molyneux's Carved Angel restaurant - yes I still remember it, and that River Dart Salmon in a butter sauce in particular.

Beginnings of Eggs in a pestle and mortar
from The Sunday Night Book by Rosie Sykes

The final chapter, on 'Pick-me-ups and pop-it-in-in-ones' makes a high-spirited ending.  Original and imaginative Cocktail recipes are from the inimitable Gimlet Bar.  Born out of of a performance work at the Slade School of Fine Art, this movable cocktail bar-for-hire makes in my view, the best cocktails in London so it's no small thing to have some of their recipes here.  Rosie's knowledge ensures each glass is paired perfectly with an edible treat.    A Light-emitting diode - a variant on a whiskey sour?  Try a plate of Squash and truffle brandade; feeling like a citrusy, bitter Reichenbach Falls?  You'll be wanting a few Shallot, parmesan and olive toasts.

It may seem odd to mention the size of the book but I love the fact it is hand size - A5.  It feels good and it's the perfect size for popping in your bag for those weekends away when you are going to have access to a kitchen.  And the beautiful block-print cover by Alexis Snell with restrained little stamps - a tin of anchovies here, a dog-in-a-basket (Rosie's beloved Florence) there - punctuating each chapter makes it look good too.  I'm a bit of a fan of Patricia Niven and here her photography is crisp and bright, true and unfussy, just the way I like it.

This is unpretentious cooking at its best and it's one of those rare books I bought two copies of - I've only ever done that with Simon Hopkinson and Rachel Roddy's books before now.  And I know exactly where the second one is going.  Yes, those "How to ..." books are invaluable but this is the perfect book for anyone leaving home who needs a heartwarming book that makes them actually want to spend some time in the kitchen.

The Sunday Night Book: 52 short recipes to make the weekend feel longer by Rosie Sykes
Published by: Quadrille

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Turin Time

Time for Dinner in Turin

I live in a city of around 8 million people and, yet, when I need to breathe some distant air I'm far more likely to choose another city than that beach holiday or country house hotel break.  Venice, Florence, Paris, yes please.  I like the hustle and bustle of cities, but I like a sense of lives being lived too.  Some places can be just too set in aspic and a bit of grit in the oyster is not a bad thing.  So, to Turin - an industrial city with a baroque heart.

Alpine view, Turin

I was there in 2004 when Turin was preparing to host the 2006 Winter Olympics.  The spectacularly beautiful Alpine range filling the skyline to the north was at odds with our evening taxi drive from the airport.  The City was grimy, noisy and confusing thanks to the construction of stadia and a new Metro system which was part of the Olympic package.  Next day we discovered the almost 10 miles of baroque colonnades and over 40 museums offered an escape from the cacophony.  And then there was the food.  Piedmont, of which Turin is the capital, is after all where 'Slow Food' was born and we were there primarily for the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto.

Open door in Turin

On returning to Turin this Autumn that Metro proved invaluable and there were signs that more tourists  - though, thankfully, not too many on our visit - were now enjoying those collonaded walks, museums and cafe's.  Turin's Olympian effort has paid off in terms of attracting visitors.  But there are also signs that not everyone has benefited.  Homelessness is more visible and there is a legacy of crumbling Olympic structures with migrants and refugees occupying the former athletes' village, not altogether comfortably.

Piazza Reale, Turin

For 300 years Turin was the capital of Savoy and became the first capital of a unified Italy in 1861.  But a mere 3 years later the seat of power was relocated to Florence then centrally located Rome.  Turin turned to industrialisation and the automotive industry became vitally important.  There were many companies but it's Fiat we associate with Turin thanks to the construction of its Lingotto car factory opened in 1923.  These days Fiat is less important to Turin's economy. The hugely successful Fiat 500, in its new guise, is manufactured not in Italy but in Mexico and Poland, though their luxury brand Maserati is locally made.  The Lingotto 'Centre' is now in commercial use.

With 8 Royal Palaces amongst those 40+ museums, colonnaded streets, tree-lined avenues, elegant architecture and good food, Turin is no longer just an industrial city but a centre for culture and tourism too.  So, what to see and do?

Walk the Colonnades and tree-lined avenues; the City is built on a grid system, so you're unlikely to get lost.  A walk up the Via Roma from Metro Porta Nuova is a grand central start taking in four of the main Piazzas and the ritziest of shops.

Pasta e Ceci
at Caffe Platti, Turin

There are so many cafes and bars in Turin that frequent stops are inevitable for coffee (this is the home of Lavazza) a Bicerin, the local chocolate/coffee/cream indulgence, or an aperitivo.  The grandest and most recommended of the old guard are Caffe Torino and Caffe San Carlo where the price of a coffee is low despite the splendour of the rooms and the locations.  Historic Caffe al Bicerin at Piazza della Consolata 5 is considered the best place to order a Bicerin.  Piedmont grows very fine hazelnuts, many of which go into the hazelnut and chocolate spread called Gianduja and into filled Giandujotto chocolates.  The chocolate making industry goes back hundreds of years in Turin and bean-to-bar maker Guido Gobino is considered one of the best here.  If your taste runs more to Nutella, you may be interested to know Turin is its home.

Papardelle Funghi
at Caffe Platti, Turin

We had fond memories of the belle époque Caffe Platti at Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II, 72 and were so happy to find it again.  I read that it had closed in 2015 but if this is so then the new owners have done a fine job of making it feel like it never went away.  Plates of Paccheri Rigati Pasta with chickpeas (Pasta e Ceci) scented with rosemary was wonderful, and local Porcini came in the form of Papardelle Funghi.  We noticed restaurant Sotto la Mole (at the foot of the Mole Antonelliana) was still going strong.  The memory of a plate of truffled cheese agnolotti still lingers in my mind but we were a little early for the white truffle season and we ran out of time to visit this time round.

If it's Michelin stars you're looking for, head for Del Cambio where Matteo Baronetto is serving up one star food overlooking unified Italy's first Parliament building in Piazza Carignano.  Expect glittering chandeliers, red velvet, crisp linen and baroque mirrors along with traditional Piemontese dishes.  The restaurant has been feeding the great and the good since 1757 - from Cavour, Casanova, Balzac, Nietzsche and Verdi to Maria Callas, Audrey Hepburn and the Agnelli (Fiat) family, of course.

Veal braised in Ruchè wine
at Consorzio

For a much more recent addition to Turin dining, book Consorzio at Via Monte di Pieta, 23.  It describes itself as "Well-rooted in the Piemonte area with an eye on faraway regions ..".  The sourcing of ingredients here is exemplary, the handling deft and the service without fuss.  The Steak tartare Piemontese style was served starkly as a disk of raw beef with salt, pepper and good olive oil; Agnolotti Gobbo pasta was stuffed with three different kinds of meat with enough fattiness to make them luscious, rich little morsels; Veal braised in Ruchè wine, a Piemontese red wine, was deep and succulent; and then came the best Panna Cotta ever, so light on gelatin that it barely held, yet every one emerging from the kitchen wobbled to its table intact.  Wines are mostly Natural and a bottle of Barbera d'Asti Trenchiro Terra del Noche sated well our increased liking for the Barbera grape.  Consorzio is one of those rare places where you feel there is a real meeting of minds and appetites in the kitchen and out front.

Banco Vini e Alimenti, Turin

We also liked Consorzio's bar, Banco Vini e Alimenti a short walk away.  With a narrow frontage at via dei Merchant 13/f, it's easy to miss.  It is quietly friendly, keeps a great range of natural wines and serves up simple dishes like farinata fritta and Alice fritte and larger ones like roasted hake with crispy prosciutto or spaghettoni all vongole.  It's small and can get busy but there's a deli counter at the back which means you can pick up some slices of mortadella, a piece of cheese and a bottle of wine to take out.

Porcini Seller at Mercato Porta Palazzo, Turin

Shop the Markets.  There are 42 open-air markets in Turin.  Mercato Porta Palazzo at Piazza della Repubblica is the biggest and is open Monday-Saturday.  There are scores of stalls surrounded by buildings housing fish, meat and cheese halls, but the north-eastern corner was where we found the 'farmers market' - where the best stuff was.  But it was the outdoor market in Piazza Madama Christina we fell for, where there were the most signs stating "nostrano (ours/home grown) and where we watched one smallholder clean and place his haul of porcini like each was a precious gem.  What we saw on the market stalls was reflected in the restaurant dishes - seasonality is alive and well in Turin.

We stopped for coffee, several times, at Orso Laboratorio at Via Berthollet 30g.  And, joyfully, right next door - through a connecting door in fact - we found Mara dei Boschi Laboratorio del Gelato which is very good indeed.  The memory of the Nocciola and, also, the Fichi gelato will stay with me for some time.

For taking in those Alpine views you couldn't head higher than the Mole Antonelliana on Via Montebello.  This unmissable building, standing at more than 167 metres, was originally conceived as a synagogue until the architect's desire to go upwards went too far and the money ran out.  It's now home to the Museo Nazionale de Cinema.

Rooftop Test Track at Lingotto Centre, Turin

It's nowhere near as tall, but the view from the Lingotto Centre on Via Nizza (Metro: Lingotto) would be my choice.  The old factory was redesigned in the 1980's by Renzo Piano and now includes an hotel, conference centre, theatre, and shopping mall.  I love the industrial architecture but it's the rooftop test track that is the draw, along with the 360 degree view complete with that Alpine horizon to the north.  As everyone will tell you, scenes from the original 1969 The Italian Job were filmed here.  If you stay in either of the hotels in the Lingotto building you can ask for a key to access the rooftop but, as part of your entrance charge, you can also gain access when visiting the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli - Canaletto, Canova and Matisse are represented in the gallery's permanent collection. For real petrolheads, the Museo dell' Automobile is nearby.

Natura Morta (1957) by Giorgio Morandi
at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna (GAM)

There must be a museum to suit everyone in Turin but I would head for the Museo d'Arte Orientale (MAO), and the Museo Egizio which has one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities in the world.  Also, the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea at Castello di Rivoli - out of town but there is a free shuttle bus.  I have to admit to being a bit underwhelmed by Galleria d'Arte Moderna (GAM) but they do have some admirable Morandi works.  I wish I had visited the Museo della Frutta!

Cheese 2017 in Bra

Our visit was timed to coincide with the International Cheese festival which is held bi-annually in the lovely small town of Bra, around 50km south-east of Turin.  So, along with what seemed like half of Turin, we took the train to this highly regarded Slow Food event which this year, bravely, was all about raw milk.  Neals Yard Dairy explain the importance of this event best.

Apart from tasting and learning more about cheese, it's a chance to get up close to the Slow Food movement whose HQ is in Bra.  Here the association plans and promotes their worldwide projects. Their philosophy "envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet".

Roast Goose Leg
at Boccon di Vino, Bra

In the HQ's courtyard sits the cooperative Osteria Boccon di Vino (Via Mendicita, 14) where we lunched very happily on plates of pasta: Tajarin with shavings of black truffle, Agnolotti del plin al burro e rosmarino; Melting roast goose leg and slow-cooked veal in red wine; and, inevitably, Panna Cotta to finish.  Oh, and more delicious local Barbera wine.  Despite having to queue, this was a lovely relaxing place to lunch with great staff and very good food.

For coffee we took the recommendation to visit Bottega delle Delizie at Via Polenzo, 6, Bra. Specialising in sourcing and serving up northern European style roasts, this is not coffee in Italy as I know it and it's all the better for that.  The coffee we drank had been roasted locally but they also had guest coffees from Five Elephants and Paolo told us they were expecting some Nomad Coffee from Barcelona soon.  Really good coffee served with genuine charm and enthusiasm.  I loved this place.

So, what is Turin Time - or Piemontese Time?  For me it has to be autumn, when the hazelnuts have been harvested, the grape harvest is well under way, the porcini are in the kitchen and there's the promise of truffles arriving.

Border Crossing

If you have the time, going to Turin by train is the scenic option!

Friday, 29 September 2017

Porcini, Ceps and Penny Buns

Porcini, Ceps, or Penny Buns

I love early autumn for many reasons - turning leaves on the trees, misty mornings, steamed-up windows, long walks, ankle-deep piles of fallen leaves, pub fires, thick wooly jumpers, mugs of hot chocolate.  To be honest, this year, apart from the very first hints of leaf colour, I've seen none of these yet.  Summer and autumn are battling for supremacy here, the seasons see-sawing back and forth from day to day.  Summer is reluctant to give way, which means at the end of September I'm still harvesting courgettes and runner beans from the allotment.

But one day of dampness and another of warm sun seems to be perfect for the growth of wild mushrooms this year.  I don't forage for them because I really don't know my mushrooms from my toadstools.  Only a few mushroom varieties have been successfully cultivated and none of those can match the flavour of uncultivated ones.  They lack the predictability of cultured mushrooms so are expensive, but a little goes a long way.  If you dehydrate them, the flavour goes even further.

In Scotland, conditions have been perfect for Chanterelle mushrooms with their delicate brown caps and spindly yellow stems and the stockier yellow Girolles (of the same family as Chanterelles and, so, sometimes also offered as 'Chanterelles') whose flesh is white when cut and smells faintly of apricots.  The earthy flavour of uncultivated mushrooms, redolent of bosky, mossy woodland is the essence of autumn in the kitchen.  But its the strapping Boletus edulis - Porcini, Cep, Penny Bun - which have a symbiotic relationship with oak, beech, birch and coniferous trees, that I'm focusing on here.  Although they do grow in the UK, they are much more prolific in Italy and France and, having just returned from Piedmont I can tell you they are all over the market stalls there right now.  They can range hugely in size and the small ones are good sliced and eaten raw.  They have a cap that looks like a crusty bread roll - hence their English name, Penny Bun - and a stem that is thick and swollen.  Underneath the cap, the fine pores are white but age to yellow before becoming green and spongy.  The stem should be thick and firm but it becomes yielding with age and/or the attention of worms, who like them as much as we do.  With proper cooking this fungi's firm texture and earthy, mildly-meaty flavour takes on a caramelic quality.

It's generally agreed that frying is the best way to cook mushrooms.  The oil or butter, or mixture of both, should be heated highly enough to sear the mushrooms rather than stew them.  I always season mine at the end of cooking as salt draws out their water content in the pan affecting caramelisation.  The simpler the treatment in the kitchen the better.  Garlic and parsley are essential, I think.  You could stop right there for me and just pile the contents of the pan on a slice of toast.  But I am fond of this recipe which introduces its carbohydrate in the form of potatoes.  Not just any potato but a firm, waxy variety like La Ratte, Anya, Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple.  It's based on Simon Hopkinson's 'Persillade of ceps & potatoes' from his book The Vegetarian Option.  A book which is on and off my bookcase with remarkable frequency, as it is packed with dishes which appeal whether you are vegetarian or not.

Persillade of Ceps & Potatoes

Persillade of Ceps & Potatoes
(Serves 2)

2-3 medium-sized waxy potatoes (like La Ratte, Anya, Charlotte or Pink Fir Apple), peeled
4 medium sized Ceps, brushed clean of soil and trimmed
A good handful of fresh flat-leaved parsley
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Finely shred the potatoes and wash in several changes of cold water until the water is clear.
Drain and dry well.
Slice the ceps thinly.
*Chop together the crushed garlic and parsley leaves.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan.  Fry the ceps until lightly coloured, season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a plate and put aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan and sauté the shredded potatoes until beginning to colour.  Season with salt and pepper.
Add the cooked ceps and the mixture of chopped garlic and parsley and cook on a medium high heat for another minute or two.

Eat immediately!

* Simon Hopkinson is insistent that garlic and parsley should  be chopped together, not separately, for the particular aroma and flavour this produces - I think he's right.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Birch, Bristol

Tomato Salad with summer herbs and salted elderberries
at Birch, Bristol

It's late summer and you see a 'Tomato Salad' listed on the menu.  How many times has it been a let down?  Being presented with some tough-skinned, watery, flavourless sliced fruit happens far too often, and yet still we order in hope.  As you can see, there was no such experience at Birch, my favourite restaurant in Bristol and one of my favourites anywhere.  Ripe, juicy, herb-dressed and pepped-up with salted green elderberries.  Summer's peak.  Home-made Sourdough bread, which came with home-made butter, mopped up the juices.  Perfect, and if I could eat this dish every day for the rest of the season I would.

Courgettes with Westcombe ricotta and oatcake
at Birch, Bristol

Local and seasonal is what Birch is about.  True seasonality.  No "spring lamb" in March, when well-farmed lambs aren't ready until mid-summer.  No out of season peas or broad beans.  When ingredients are at their best, they go on the menu.  And a great many of those ingredients are grown organically by the restaurant owners, in a three-quarter acre field on the southern fringe of Bristol. Gathered in the morning, prepped in the the kitchen in the afternoon, and on your plate in the evening.  Excess bounty is cannily preserved for the leaner months.  If they can't grow it, they forage for it and source it from people they know well and trust implicitly.

Sweetcorn and Langoustine broth
at Birch, Bristol

The dedication required shows in plate after plate.  This is a truly ingredient-led restaurant in the hands of owners Sam Leach, in the kitchen, and wife Beccy who runs the most welcoming front-of-house you are ever likely to find.  The menu is usually mostly small plates with a couple of mains, a few puddings and a perfectly ripe cheese.  I don't live in Bristol but have managed to eat at this little neighbourhood restaurant on a residential street in Southville four times.  Each visit has been a joy.

Speckled face Mutton with monk's beard
at Birch, Bristol

Last week we were served that very Tomato Salad with summer herbs and salted elderberries; slices of Air Dried Beef, made in-house, were a superior Bresaola; Sweetcorn and Langoustine broth was deeply fragranced with summer herbs; freshly picked sliced raw courgettes came with a house-made oatcake spread with Westcombe Dairy cow's milk ricotta; Spider crab rolls were rich crabmeat encircled by flavourful ribbons of cucumber topped with borage flowers; a main of Speckled face mutton, served pink, was juicy, tender and full of flavour, and came with the restaurant's lovingly grown monk's beard and a deep-green kale sauce.

Greengage and rye pudding
at Birch, Bristol

Dessert included a Greengage and Rye pudding with Jersey cream, the rye flour bringing a depth of flavour but no heaviness, a nice pairing with these most luscious of plums.  After all that, a Blackcurrant Baked Alaska for 2 was, sadly, out of the question, but a scoop of deeply-flavoured Blackcurrant and yogurt ice cream came with, as you might hope, a crisp buttery biscuit on the side. Prices start at £2.50 for oysters, £6-8.00 for small plates, £14-17.00 for mains and £5.50-7.00 for desserts or cheese.

Blackcurrant and yogurt ice cream
at Birch, Bristol

Wine is from suppliers who specialise in low intervention, small domaine, producers.  I particularly enjoyed a glass of Les Vignerons d'Estezargues Rhone red for £4.20 and a Henri Lapouble-Laplace Jurancon at £6.00.  Cider and Perry drinkers are well catered for, this is the West Country after all.

So good to see Birch packed with regular customers on our visit.  Do book and cross the Gaol Ferry Bridge to neighbourly Southville.  

47 Raleigh Road
Bristol  BS3 1QS
Tel: 01179028326

Currently open for
Dinner: Wednesday-Saturday
Lunch: Saturday

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Westerns Laundry

Cockles with Fennel
at Westerns Laundry

Finding a really good fish and seafood restaurant in London is, to my mind, a challenge.  We are an island so how can we consistently get it so wrong? Yes, I know there are a few names that come up when fish is mentioned but the place that always has Lobster Thermidor and Grilled Dover Sole on the menu is not what I'm looking for.  What I want is a place where the menu is lead by the fish that has been landed by day boats; where the menu changes daily and where a quick look at the chef's notepad for that week gives you a coherent picture of the thinking going in to it.  I don't believe I'm being unrealistic in expecting this yet I am so often disappointed.  So, here is my dream London restaurant that is "Focusing on produce from the sea" Westerns Laundry.  Not only does head chef David Gingell sit down to write those notes but he posts a photo of the notepad before service.

Front Row
at Westerns Laundry

The name, Westerns Laundry, doesn't so much conjure up pictures of pan-fried John Dory as memories of hauling a bag of washing down to the laundrette.  The space was once a laundry and I like a bit of history.  A single visit will have you appreciating the semi-industrial feel, attention to detail and convince you this is a seriously good place to eat.  The 1950's factory-style building stands out in the middle of a residential street on Lower Holloway's Drayton Park so even though, at the time of writing, there is no sign to draw your attention, you really can't miss it.  Part of the ground floor is now home to this second neighbourhood restaurant for the team behind Primeur, with its more meat-based menu a 20 minute walk away in Stoke Newington.

John Dory with Roasted Fennel
at Westerns Laundry

Westerns Laundry has a truly ingredient-led kitchen where David Gingell's true love of fish is clear. Expect British and southern European flavours with a little Asian influence.  Prime ingredients are highly seasonal and sensitively cooked, whether they are dealing with a fillet of Brill or a fennel bulb, the skill of the kitchen in bringing out flavours in everything I have eaten here, in two visits, is joyous.  Cod cheeks, crumbed, deep-fried and served with an exemplary tartare sauce; a bowl of Cockles with shaved fennel followed by the freshest fat, juicy fillets of John Dory with fennel which, in some hands I can think of, would have been a bad idea to order.  Here the shaved fennel had been acidified to a slight softness and, for the John Dory, roasted to bring out the vegetable's natural sugars.  On a second visit I've had a plate of roasted courgettes and fennel with the freshest ricotta and an opalescent fillet of cod on a bed of braised courgette.

Roasted Fennel and Courgettes with Ricotta
at Westerns Laundry

I'm drawing attention to these vegetables to make a point.  They appear on the menu a lot right now, and rightly so as they are at their best.  By judicious use of cooking techniques and flavouring - with herbs in particular - they have never been at all 'samey'.  I've had Beetroot with roasted shallots and parsley which sounded way too simple, even for me.  Next time I see it on the menu I won't hesitate to order it.  I've shared a scalding pan of fideo - one of their favourite dishes (and mine too).  This one was Baked Squid with Cockle, making use of the squid ink, of course, and veal stock, with the finest of pasta and a generous dollop of alioli.  I'm on for the Baked Lobster version at some point.  The pudding list is short and sweet.  If there are at least 2 of you, go for the fantastic Rum Baba for sharing, and/or a glass of Botrytis Pinot Gris.

Rum Baba for two
at Westerns Laundry

Plates are for sharing, with appetisers £2.00 upwards, small plates to large ranging from £4.50 to around £16.00.  There's a large sharing table too.  There will be good bread - if ever there was a place for needing bread to mop up, it is here.  The food achieves a fantastic juiciness and you won't want to leave a drop.  The wine list is mainly natural/low intervention and range from £4.50-£12.00 a glass.  They had a particularly lovely Savagnin Cavarodes 'Pressé' Jura on my last visit at £9.00.  If you enjoy water kefir, as I do, you could start with a refreshing glass of Agua de Madre.   

Currently Westerns Laundry is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday, but only Friday-Sunday for lunch, reflecting its neighbourhood nature.  Dinner gets busy, so best to book ahead.  The kitchen brigade are highly skilled and front of house staff are amiable, knowledgeable and attentive.  For me, this is my go to place in London where the focus is firmly on produce from the sea and where there is a really good wine list to go with it.  And, carnivores, don't worry, there's always something on the menu for you.

Out front
at Westerns Laundry

Westerns Laundry
34 Drayton Park
London N5

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Two Kitchens

Peaches poached with rosé and honey
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

First things first; I know the author of Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome.  I also tested some of the recipes in the book before publication.  This review is, naturally, informed by both.  I hesitated to write it but how could I not when Simon Hopkinson, no less, says "Rachel Roddy describing how to boil potatoes would inspire me.  I want to live under Rachel's kitchen table.  There are very few who possess such a supremely uncluttered culinary voice as hers, just now".  I agree completely, so, here is my review.

Born and raised in England, Rachel Roddy took flight to Sicily 12 years ago with a vague idea of finding a Caravaggio, a volcano and a degree of equilibrium.  Needing to learn the language, she went to Rome.  Here she found her balance in an area of the city called Testaccio - in the day to day life of its people; in learning more than just the language but the habits and traditions; in finding love with Vincenzo, a Sicilian no less; and in becoming a mother to Luca.

Panelle di Fabrizia made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

Rachel Roddy's second book, Two Kitchens - Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome is a closely linked follow-up to her award winning Five Quarters - Recipes and notes from a kitchen in Rome and, again, you get so much more than just recipes.  This time we join her in both Rome and Gela, the little town which guide books advise you to drive straight past.  To Rachel it is "... full of disrepair and despair but quietly beautiful and intriguing if you give it time ...".  It is Gela that blew away any romantic ideas about Sicily for the author - the utopian Mediterranean holiday island is a far cry from real life in the south east corner of the island.  Poverty, dilapidation and bad agricultural practices are a fact of life that are not glossed over in the book.  Yet the way of life in Gela has captivated her.

Pesce alla Ghiotta made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

"Ask someone to show you how to cook something and there's a good chance you will get more than just a recipe.  Recipes live in stories .....".  It's this approach to everyday life that enables Rachel Roddy to bring her Italian and English food worlds together.  In Five Quarters it was the lives of her friends and neighbours in Rome that inspired her writing as she got to grips with cooking Roman food.  In Two Kitchens she immerses the reader once again in her Roman life interweaved with the kitchen in Gela which for so many years was the domain of Sara, Vincenzo's Nonna.  Each year now the family returns for sojourns in Sicily to unlock the house, pull up the blinds, and stand at the faded, slightly sunken marks in the kitchen, testimony to Sara's long hours at the stove preserving the harvests of Sicily.  In this tiny space she made bread, preserved the tomatoes, reduced wine dregs to must, and salted ricotta into a hard grating cheese that would keep.

Much of the book is devoted to life on Gela, even though the town's central market is long gone. These days the produce borne out of hard work on the land is sold on street corners and pavements, at front doors and from garages.  It is available for what seems like a pittance to a non-Sicilian.  Here, the food they eat is the food they grow - intensely flavoured tomatoes, dense and creamy aubergines, cucuzze squash greens,  onions "the size of frisbees", honeyed figs, peaches that go from perfectly ripe to mush in hours, and grapes "that burst in your mouth and taste almost drunken".

La torta salata di Carla made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel 

So, what of the recipes?  This is straightforward, family cooking that follows the seasons and the author is generous in crediting sources and influences.  They are rich in vegetables, pulses and fruits, are adaptable and need little in the way of equipment to prepare.  This is reflective of the way the author lives and cooks in a small flat in Rome and a little ramshackle house with a tiny kitchen in Gela.  Whilst respecting the traditional ways of both, the recipes are her own interpretations of what she has learned - "anarchic, resourceful and personal".

The book is structured as: Vegetables & Herbs; Fruit & Nuts; Meat, Fish & Dairy; and Storecupboard.  Within these chapters lies the essence of the food of Rome and Gela.  A Sicilian dish of Pasta chi vrocculi arriminati (Pasta with cauliflower, anchovies, saffron, pine nuts and raisins) is high on my list of 'must cook'.  Peaches poached with rosé and honey is the dish I prepared just before sitting down to write this review.  With skins removed, in the Sicilian way, they were as soft and pink as a baby's bottom, luscious and lightly perfumed with bay leaf.  It's a recipe I know I'll reach for every time those first irresistible, though not quite ripe, peaches of the season arrive.  I'm already hooked on Pesce alla Ghiotta (Fish in spicy tomato sauce with capers and olives), a dish from Messina which was traditionally made with swordfish but which is adaptable and, in my experience, particularly good made with salt cod.  Oh, a and I badly want to make Salsiccia alluvia e cipolla (Sausages with grapes and red onions) straight out of Middle-Eastern influenced Sicilian cuisine.

Pesce al forno con le patate made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

In the Meat, Fish & Dairy chapter you'll find Pesce al forno con le patate (Baked fish with potatoes) with a method straight out of the kitchen of the wonderful Carla Tomasi; and a recipe for Brutta ma buoni (Ugly-but-good) biscuits which are great for using up leftover egg whites and feed my love of hazelnuts.  From the Storecupboard chapter I would bring to your attention Zuppa di lenticchie e castagne (Lentil and chestnut soup) - sweet, nutty earthiness in a bowl which I will be eating through the coming winter; and Pasta, alici e cipolle (Pasta with anchovies and onions) because it's an irresistible combination.  

I urge you to start cooking from this book with the first recipe I tried: Panelle di Fabrizia (Fabrizia's chickpea fritters) - "Ideally the first one should be so hot that it sizzles in your mouth".  Just the best thing to get you into the rhythm of this book.   The very last recipe comes as a surprise as it's the very English Queen of Puddings.  It's there not just as a gratuitous link to the author's Englishness but an example of how she sees the connections that are constantly bringing her Italian and English Food worlds together.  In this case, a Sicilian ricotta, lemon and breadcrumb cake brought this classic English pudding to mind and provides a sweet ending to the book.

Brutta ma buoni made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

The introductions to each chapter, and to each of the sections within, are evocative and full of warmth, wit and understanding.  Every chapter makes you feel you are there; chatting with Filippo at his stall on Testaccio market and sampling the peas he has grown on his farm near Scauri; reassuring Rosa that whatever her husband Giuseppe is growing and hauling back to her garage shop is exactly what you want to buy; glimpsing private lives through the ubiquitous 'curtain doors' in Gela; or teaching English to enthusiastic five year old Romans using the language of food.  If I use this book half as much as I use Rachel's first, Five Quarters, it will have earned its place in my little kitchen.

Peaches poached with rosé and honey made to the recipe in
Two Kitchens - Family recipes from Sicily and Rome
by Rachel Roddy

Read Two Kitchens and you too will "want to live under Rachel's kitchen table".  As I said, I have a little partiality about this book but can such respected food voices as Simon Hopkinson, Anna del Conte and Jill Norman be wrong?

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart

Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart

I'd like to say this 'rustic' look was deliberate but, in truth, I overfilled the tart case and just got away without a Vesuvius-like eruption all over the oven floor.  As it turned out, it was definitely worth the risk.

For the first year I can remember the start of the gooseberry harvest didn't coincide with the blossoming of the Elder trees, at least not on my allotment.  Gooseberries and Elderflowers are linked so intrinsically in my mind that when one appears I look, and expect to find, the other. There is no arguing with some seasonal pairings.  The pulling of the first garden rhubarb calls for the leaves of Sweet Cicely which I grow alongside the rhubarb; the arrival of the first peaches makes me look for sherbetty Lemon Verbena which each year sprout from the most unpromising looking stems, and the best high-summer tomatoes co-incide with the short time, in our climate, when we can grow basil outside.

The elderflower being over before the gooseberries were ready meant reaching for the Elderflower cordial for a flavour of flowery muscat in syrup form this year - arguably even better!  Right now we can't pick gooseberries quickly enough.  Containers of green to honey-coloured globes are being passed to friends to feed a need for the unique, grassy, tartness.

I've posted a few recipes for gooseberries before but here's a new one inspired by some particularly delicious frangipane tarts recently eaten, but cooked by others.  I often pair hazelnuts with gooseberries - sprinkled on a compote topped with a creamy syllabub, or with hazelnut meringue and cream so the frangipane here is made with ground hazelnuts rather than the more usual almonds.  Pre-bake the tart case really well and, if the compote is very loose, sieve out excessive juice to prevent  too liquid a bottom layer.  You could, instead, use gooseberry jam if you have it.  Out of Gooseberry season you could dispense with the whole gooseberries and use compote or jam for your base.  You'll get the flavour of gooseberries but without the sharp tang of the unsweetened berries which adds an extra dimension.

Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart slice

Gooseberry and hazelnut frangipane tart
(Serves 6-8)

PASTRY (makes 2 x 20cm x 3.5cm deep tart cases – you’ll need one for this recipe, but raw pastry freezes well):
250g (10oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) ground almonds
Pinch of salt
150g(6oz) cold butter
75g (3oz) icing sugar
Grated rind of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk

150g room temperature unsalted butter 
150g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
150g ground hazelnuts 

150g gooseberries, topped and tailed
20g butter 
30g caster sugar
1tbsp elderflower cordial (optional)

150g whole gooseberries, topped and tailed

Make the compote by melting the butter and adding the berries.  Place a lid on the pan and cook for about 5 minutes until the berries turn yellow.  Remove from the heat, mash lightly with a fork and add the sugar and elderflower cordial (if using). Put aside to cool.

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds and salt. Add the butter and rub in with fingertips. Sift in icing sugar and add grated lemon rind and mix. Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and stir it into the dry ingredients. Mix just until the dough just comes together then turn out and knead gently to smooth the surface.  Wrap half of the pastry and rest in fridge for just 30 minutes (wrap and freeze the other half for another time).  

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven) Lightly butter a 20cm x 3.5cm deep loose-bottomed tart tin.   Roll out the pastry thinly and line the tin, smoothing off the top and pricking the base. Rest in the fridge for a further 15-30 minutes.  Line with greasproof paper and dried beans and bake the tart blind for 12 minutes.  Remove the lining and beans and return the tart to the oven for a further 5 minutes or so to make sure the base is cooked and lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and put to one side. 

Turn the oven temperature down to 180C (160C fan oven).  
Mix the butter then add the caster sugar and mix really well.  Mix the eggs together and add gradually to the mixture beating really well.  Gently fold in the ground hazelnuts.  
Spread the gooseberry compote over the base of the tart.  Spread the frangipane right to the edges of the tart.  Push the whole gooseberries into the frangipane.  
Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes then check to see if it's browning too much - if it is, place a piece of foil over the tart and continue cooking for a further 10-15 minutes.  The filling should be set almost to the centre of the tart.

* If you'd prefer a more refined looking tart with the gooseberries visible, reduce the frangipane ingredients to 100g butter/100g caster sugar/1 large egg/100g hazelnuts.  Or you may have a slightly bigger tart tin you can use to contain any possible lava flow!

Links to other Gooseberry recipes:

Gooseberry Elderflower Syllabub
Gooseberry Polenta Cake
Gooseberry Meringue Pie