Sunday, 31 July 2011

Spinach and Chilli Pancakes

A little old man at the allotment gave me armfuls of spinach on Saturday while I was there watering. He's very kind, last time I saw him he gave me some rhubarb and planted it on my plot for me. Unfortunately this meeting led to a conversation about how the rhubarb was doing, which in truth is dead. I told him this... he is confident it will come back to life next year. I didn't tell him that it was my stepping on it that may have led to its death...

So I wanted to try these little spinach pancakes that are based on a recipe from the Ottolenghi book Plenty. I've been looking through their books a lot recently and want to get back into making more of their salads now that summer is sort of here...

To start you need to wilt the spinach in a pan with a splash of water, I used about 150g of Jesmond spinach... While that is happening add 55g of self raising flour to a mixing bowl, with half a teaspoon of baking powder, a free range egg, half a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of ground cumin, 75ml of milk and 25g of melted unsalted butter. Whisk everything together until it is smooth.

When the spinach is wilted transfer it to a sieve and squeeze as much water as you can out of it. Add the spinach to the pancake mixture, along with a finely sliced green chilli and 3 finely sliced spring onions. Finally whisk the white of an egg until it forms soft peaks and fold it into the mixture.

These amounts will make about four little pancakes. Heat a splash of olive oil in a heavy frying pan and then spoon in the mixture, a couple of tablespoons for each pancake. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side. They should be about a centimetre thick. You might have to do them in batches depending on the size of the pan.

Ottolenghi make a lime, chilli and coriander butter to serve with their version of these little green pancakes, which sounds delicious, but I opted for the healthier option and chopped a large handful of coriander into a couple of tablespoons of Greek yoghurt. I wanted to make something worthwhile with the spinach gift and they didn’t disappoint. They are lovely little green light pancakes with a hint of spice from the chilli and warm with cumin spice.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Homemade Salami

I have been reading a bit about preserving, combining salts, sugars and spices to make cuts of meat or vegetables last for months or years. It comes from the days before refrigeration, and although I don't have that problem I still think it is a good way of cutting down on waste if you have too many vegetables or cuts of meat that aren’t perhaps the best. I already need to plan what to do with the millions of courgettes that have begun to appear at the allotment, and am thinking about a courgette, apple, raisin and chilli chutney. So I have been interested to see how difficult it would be to make my own salami, a homemade air dried sausage... It turns out it's not that difficult if you have the right equipment... I'm already planning bresaola and potted shrimp as my next challenge...

Start with a pork shoulder on the bone, I used rolled, but I think getting the meat sinew and fat free might be easier with a boned shoulder. My joint weighed about 1 kilogram and I ended up with about 700g of chopped meat. You also need 200g of back fat, I was told by the butchers in the Grainger Market that you can't get it, I still haven’t worked out why, but he gave me a load of fat they had trimmed from another piece of pork, it was a bit short on weight, but hopefully it will be enough. I have since been to various butchers and found it really easy to get hold of if you ask in advance.

Slice the pork shoulder into pieces, discarding all fat and sinew, and then dice it so you end up with 1cm cubed pieces of meat, or smaller. This process takes a while, my knives weren't sharp enough and it did test my patience... but I persevered and got there eventually. When the pork meat is done also dice the back fat into small cubes of a similar size.

It is now time to salt the meat. I decided to do two different types of salami so I divided my meat into two bowls, half the meat and half the fat in each. The amount of salt is critical for the curing process, so you should weigh everything very accurately. You must add at least 25g of salt to every kilogram of meat. Each of my bowls weighed 422g so I added 10.5g of salt to each, Maldon sea salt that I crushed finely in a pestle and mortar.

Now it is time for the flavouring. I decided on one quite simple combination of half a teaspoon of fennel seeds, half a teaspoon of black pepper corns and a clove of garlic, all crushed to a paste in the pestle and mortar. The other became a bit more adventurous and also perhaps more French in style, with red wine and walnuts. I added half a teaspoon of black pepper corns, a couple of crushed juniper berries, a clove of garlic, again crushed to a paste and added to the meat, along with a handful of chopped walnuts and a splash of red wine. I mixed both of the bowls up to combine the meat, salt and spices thoroughly and put them in the fridge to mingle for a few hours.

Next comes the stuffing. I ordered 38mm natural hog casings for the job, a salted pig's intestine, and soaked them overnight to remove the salt and soften them up. They come bunched up tightly on a tube ready to pull off and pipe in the sausage stuffing. They don't smell very nice I warn you... If you have a mincer they often have a sausage stuffing attachment, or you can use a small sausage funnel or pack it by hand. I did not really have the correct tools for the job, lots of frustration ensued... It took a while to get the salami packed tightly without air gaps and lumps, but I got there finally and ended up with 6 salami in total. I tied up each end with string, tying the intestine into the knot so it doesn't slip through when you hang it. I have found on further attempts that cutting a length a bit longer than you need and stuffing by hand to be the easiest method.

Each salami needs to be labelled with its full ingredients and also its weight. This is important as you will know when the salami is ready when it has lost 30% of its total weight. Hang them inside for a few days while the skins dry out and tighten up. Then hang them either outside in a cage so wildlife can't get to them, and under shelter or in a draughty porch or garage. Mine are currently up in the roof of my porch... it smells quite meaty and garlicky every time I come in and out of the house...

So that is where I am at, they will be ready in 3 weeks, and I'm already looking forward to them. They may start to develop a dry white mould on the outside of the skin, which is ok, but patches of fur or coloured mould should be washed off as they develop with a weak solution of vinegar in water. I will let you know how they taste in due course...

And finally here is the finished article... It was better than I could ever have hoped, really delicious. Rich and deep meaty flavours. When I get some better equipment I will be starting on the next batch...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Allotment life

I thought I'd share a small pictorial update from the allotment. Harvest wise we have been eating lots of broad beans and peas, and incredibly peppery rocket. The cauliflowers are about tennis ball size and coming on well. Still going strong but yet to fruit I have sweetcorn, french and runner beans, savoy cabbages, green courgettes, yellow courgettes, ball type courgettes and turks turbans. I planted some more peas, corn and rocket this week and some pumpkins. The pumpkins have to be planted in their own hill, surrounded by a moat, like the new kings of the allotment. I have put four of them in, hopefully they should be ready for Halloween...

There are lots and lots of sweet peas and sunflowers that are about to burst into flower, they have about five flower heads on each which will look lovely, they are a short dwarf type variety. The nasturtiums are creeping around different flower beds but yet to flower and there are lots of swaying purple aliums which look very pretty. The apple trees have lost a few apples in the wind but there are still a few left to eat. The raspberries and currants are full of fruit in the wild patch along the back of the allotment, behind the 'lawn'... The lawn we planted with grass seed so we could laze around in the summer sun, but is now just some hidden tufts of grass amongst some kind of super power weeds that are as tall as me... perhaps next year...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Butter Bean and Rosemary Hummus

We wandered up the hill in the sunshine to The Cumberland Arms for lunch this Friday. It was really beautiful and hot, which seems hard to imagine as I now watch the monsoon type rain chucking it down outside. I just had a simple ham and goats cheese sandwich, but it came with a lovely feta, olive and pea shoot salad which I thoroughly enjoyed sat in the sun on the terrace looking over the Ouseburn. It was a lovely start to the weekend... A weekend that has been packed with cooking. Four hour Braised Shoulder of Lamb, leftover lamb and pea patties, butter bean hummus, Home-made Salami...

We were invited for drinks on The Terrace, a little known Jesmond drinks spot... So we sat in the sunshine again with fizzy wine, flowers and friends while the lamb braised at home... I took a simple little hummus with me for us to snack on while we chatted in the sun. A butter bean and rosemary houmous that takes two minutes to make and is delicious.

Simply add a drained can of butter beans to the bowl of your blender, then add a large sprig of rosemary, just the leaves. Add a large pinch of salt and black pepper, the juice of half a lemon, a handful of lightly toasted sesame seeds and a large glug of extra virgin olive oil. You will need more oil than you think to get a loose paste. Then just blend until it is really smooth. It makes a much milder hummus than others packed with garlic and tahini, it is smooth and creamy with a lovely rosemary perfume.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Broad Beans and Bacon on Toast

We had the Blonde and her fella over at the weekend, with Boozer too, we ate pork and broad beans; bacon and black pudding with a broad bean and pea purée, it was delicious. We ate pork and broad beans last week, and here I am cooking pork and broad beans again for supper... The theme will stop, I will tell you about other ingredients again after this I promise... Like the fact that I have ordered stuff to start making my own Homemade Salami this weekend. By 'stuff' I mean 3 spools of 38mm English hog casings to be precise, yes, intestines... I have been reading all types of different advice on how to go about making salami and I think I'm ready with a chosen method... I will keep you posted on how I get on, during construction and the end results... They will be ready in a month, I'm looking forward to it already and I haven’t even begun...

So as a result of left over bacon and my broad bean plants still rapidly producing pods I cooked up a simple supper that was pretty quick and easy to put together.

Start by podding the broad beans, about a handful per person. Blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes if they are very fresh, longer if they are not. Remove and drain them and keep to one side. Chop 4 slices of unsmoked streaky bacon per person into small strips and add to a dry frying pan, it will produce its own fat so there is no need for oil. Fry until it is crispy and browning at the edges, then add the broad beans, the juice of half a lemon, some black pepper and cook for a minute longer.

Pour the beans, bacon and lemony juice over some toasted brown bread, I used an Irish wheaten loaf that I love, and finally add a large handful of chopped flat leaf parsley. I suppose you could call it beans on toast, only it is a bit tastier... The sweet soft beans with salty bacon, tart lemon and warming brown toast are delicious all together.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Chorizo, Broad Bean and Mint Risotto

While I've been off gallivanting around Cornwall the allotment has really come on. The cauliflowers are huge with tiny curds, the cabbages have come up, the wall of sweet peas is in full bloom. The broad beans are covered in pods, as are the peas and the runner and french beans have shot up their canes. The courgettes and squashes are coming along well, still small but surviving. It looks like a proper vegetable garden, I'm really quite pleased. There are still hundreds of weeds but I just keep on pulling them up over and over in the hope that one day I will be in control of them...

This is my first dish with my own broad beans, and you can really tell the difference, they are soft and sweet, compared to the big sometimes bitter supermarket ones. Broad beans love chorizo and vice versa, the mild sweet creamy beans go so well with the spicy salty sausage. So I decided on a simple risotto for the beans first outing. With shredded mint to finish, another great friend of the broad bean.

We listened to quite a lot of radio on our 15 hour round trip to Cornwall and back, part of which was Angela Hartnett on Radio 4 cooking red wine and chorizo risotto, I took her advice and made the simple risotto first and then topped it with the ingredients instead of cooking them through it.

Heat a pan of chicken stock through, I used about 600ml of stock reserved from poaching a chicken. I keep it in the freezer in old soup pots labelled with the type of stock and when I froze it. It makes me feel incredibly organised... my freezer is probably the most organised aspect of my life actually!

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and add a finely chopped onion and a pinch of salt, cook until the onion is soft and sweet, add a finely chopped clove of garlic half way through. You don't want them to brown so keep them on a low heat. When the onions are ready turn the heat up a bit and add 200g of arborio rice, this is enough for a modest sized serving for two people, add a bit more if you're really hungry. Allow the rice to heat through with the onions, this starts its cooking process, after a few minutes add a glass of white wine or a small glass of vermouth. Allow the alcohol to bubble off for a few minutes before you start adding your stock. You then need to continue adding the stock a ladle at a time, stirring slowly as you go until all of the liquid has been absorbed. You want the rice to be creamy, but still have a slight bite to it. It will take about 20 minutes.

When it is almost ready blanch a couple of large handfuls of broad beans in boiling water. I only left mine for about 2 minutes as they were small and very fresh, some of the larger supermarket ones may take 4 or 5 minutes. Fry off about 150g of diced chorizo in a frying pan at the same time until it begins to crisp up.

Finally stir a handful of grated parmesan and a knob of butter through the risotto and ladle it into bowls. Divide the chorizo and broad beans over the rice, drizzling over a little of the cooking oil too. Then add a handful of shredded mint over the top of everything. It really is delicious, especially knowing they were my own broad beans planted from a few little seeds all those weeks ago.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


I've been taking in the Cornish sunshine over the past few days. Celebrating my birthday and a friend's wedding, the weather could not have been better, I don't think we actually saw a cloud... The journey started with birthday macaroons from Gaga, Pierre Herme macaroons no less, highly recommended to improve a seven hour drive to the south coast. The sweet pea and mint one was a high light...

We stayed in a beautiful little manor house called Erth Barton, and arrived to chickens and dogs running around, ponies poking their noses through the gate to see who we were, and gin and tonics in the garden. I've never been so well looked after, our hosts Nick and Jenny were always there with another refreshment, a story about the surrounding area or a beautifully poached egg for breakfast...

The wedding was a hazy day in the sunshine with a beautiful bride, bunting and a hog roast, all set against a Cornish backdrop of rolling fields, orchards and grazing cows... A lovely way to spend your birthday. We also managed to fit in a bbq on the beach, lazing around in the gardens at Erth Barton, and quite a few trips to different local pubs. The highlight of which was our final night at the Rod and Line in Tideford, we arrived to the whole pub singing Que Sera Sera and feasted on local crab, king prawns, salads and homemade chips. We brought our time in Cornwall to a close with a large local cheese board and an apple crumble with a large dollop of Cornish clotted cream...