Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Asparagus and Lemon Risotto with Chili Prawns or Chili Mushrooms

Asparagus Risotto with Chili Prawns
Risotto is an Italian rice dish, whose fame is said to have come about through jealousy and rage. In 1574 a man named Valerius was put in charge of creating the stained glass windows for the Cathedral Duomo Di Milano. The windows were amazing but people mocked him, saying that it was not his skills but the herb saffron that created the brilliant colours. Valerius was furious and wanted the townspeople to suffer, so he planned his revenge. At his master’s wedding feast, he added masses of saffron to the rice that was being served as the main dish. Instead of causing distress, the saffron rice was an instant success and everyone wanted the recipe. 
Risotto is now a staple in the Italian diet and a popular dish worldwide. It is versatile and can be prepared with a variety of ingredients. These days some dishes use saffron, and some don't. This time I decided not to.

As I love asparagus and the season is ending soon, I wanted to make the most of this delicious ingredient by adding it to my recipe. The lemon zest gave the risotto a great kick.

Serves: 1 vegetarian, 1 meat-eater

200g risotto rice
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
400ml vegetable stock
100ml white wine
½ onion, finely chopped
2 garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
½ bunch of asparagus, woody bits removed, cut diagonally into 4 or 5, tips kept whole.
Few sprigs of basil, torn
Chunk of Parmesan
1 red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
Olive oil
Knob of butter
Black pepper

M: ½ garlic clove
½ red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
Handful of jumbo prawns
V: ½ garlic clove
½ red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
A few mushrooms, sliced

Heat a small knob of butter and a glug of olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion, garlic and half of the lemon zest until soft.

Add the rice and stir until the grain starts to appear almost see-through. Pour over the wine and smell the alcohol as it evaporates, stirring frequently so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.

Gradually add the stock a little at a time, only add more stock as the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue until the rice is cooked and the stock has been used up.

Stir in the asparagus with the final ladle of stock.

M: In a pan gently fry the chili and garlic in a little olive oil and toss in the prawns
V: In a pan gently fry the chili, garlic and mushrooms in a little olive oil for a few minutes.

Finally add the remaining butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, basil leaves to the risotto and finely grate over a thin layer or Parmesan cheese. Cover with a lid and leave to stand for a minute or two before giving it a shake and serving.

Serve with chili prawns or chili mushrooms.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

More Pizza Please

My Pizza

The Vegetarian's Pizza
Having spent lots of money on dinner last night I decided to do things cheaply today and use up the Italian ‘00’ flour in my cupboard and make pizza for lunch. I made the dough this morning and while I waited for it to rise, the Vegetarian and I took our little dog Sally for a long walk on Hampstead Heath. When we got back we had lots of fun trying to spin the dough the Italian way with many attempts just missing the floor. 
For the toppings I had tomato sauce, mozzarella, asparagus, char-grilled artichokes and Parma ham. The Vegetarian had mushrooms instead of Parma ham.

325g Italian ‘00’ Flour
7g sachet of easy-blend yeast
1tsp salt
Glug of olive oil
25ml warm milk
160ml warm water

To make the dough mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the olive oil and milk and gradually add the water, mixing well to form a soft dough.
Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface and knead for about five minutes, until smooth and elastic. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour. The dough will double in size.

When the dough has risen, knock it back and knead it again until smooth.

Heat the oven to the highest setting.

Divide the dough in two and roll each out onto a lightly floured surface until you have about an 8inch diameter.  Hold the dough in your hands and gently

Spread a little homemade tomato sauce over each pizza base and top with your favourite toppings.

Bake the pizzas in the oven until the bases are crisp and golden-brown around the edges and any cheese on the topping has melted.

Restaurant Review: Mestizo Mexican

Mmm Margarita

We both had a craving for Margaritas yesterday and we haven’t eaten out in ages, so the Vegetarian and I decided to treat ourselves to a Mexican dinner (we also wanted a change from Italian cuisine). We spent the afternoon looking up and reading reviews of Mexican restaurants all over London before finally deciding on Mestizo on Hampstead Road. After calling and not being able to book a table until 9.30pm and noticing the price point was a little more than we could afford, we cancelled the booking and continued searching for more restaurants. We then called a few more places, were unable to book a table, got bored of the idea, fed up with each other and were very close to ordering a take away pizza. Luckily we managed to redeem ourselves just in time and jumped on a tube to the Vegetarians second choice, Lupita in Charing Cross. We soon realised that this was a bad idea, it was already 9pm, there was a 45 minute wait, we were starving and the streets were full of tourists.  Not wanting to give up on our Mexican evening we quickly jumped back on the tube to Warren Street and ran down the street to Mestizo where we managed to get a table. 

The meal began perfectly. When we sat down we were given homemade tortilla chips with a spicy avocado dip to accompany our perfectly made Margaritas served on the rocks. As a starter we shared vegetarian nachos, which had a generous amount of all the trimmings.

Sadly we were both let down with our main course. I ordered the Chef’s special Mole Poblano a boneless chicken breast served with a traditional mole sauce made of dried chilies, herbs, spices, almonds, chocolate and more secret ingredients, served with beans and rice. The sauce drowned the chicken and although there were many ingredients, there wasn’t any depth to the flavour. I did however enjoy the beans, which were sprinkled with feta cheese.

The Vegetarian ordered the Crepas de Cuitlacoche, a Mexican specialty of thin crepe pancakes filled with black corn mushrooms, sautéed with onion, garlic, button mushrooms, Serrano chili and sweet corn in the Chef’s special white sauce, served with grilled vegetables. The sauce was congealed, the vegetables were overcooked and it all tasted rather bland, lacking in the vibrancy of flavour that you expect from Mexican food.

The staff were knowledgeable and very friendly, although the service was perhaps a little rushed. Our food was delivered very quickly and removed whilst we were still chewing our last mouthful. Although this was all very efficient we barely had time to take a breath before the next course arrived.

To finish, they recommended sampling three Herradura tequilas; blanco, aged and reposado with a tomatillo liquid to clear the palette between each. It was a lovely touch to the meal and left us high-spirited, and perhaps a little drunk.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Peperoncini in padella: Sautéed Peppers

Baked egg with sautéed peppers
The salvaged lemon-roasted potatoes!

I was extremely excited this evening as I knew the Vegetarian would be at band practice so I was looking forward to a meaty feast.  The rain was pouring down and I had forgotten my umbrella so instead of taking my time visiting the butcher, veg lady and Mediterranean store I darted into my local supermarket. I spent ages choosing which meat I wanted to eat and finally decided I was in the mood for chicken. I wasn’t sure how I was going to prepare it so I bought a few options and walked up the hill thinking about all the different delicious things I could cook. When I got home, now completely soaked, I discovered the Vegetarian was there along with the band as practice had been moved to our sitting room, and in all my earlier excitement I had forgotten to buy the chicken! Not wanting to face the rain again I opted for a vegetarian dinner after all. But luckily I found some sneaky salami in the fridge to tide me over for the night.  
I managed to concoct a tasty pepper dish which I planned to serve with lemon-roasted potatoes but unfortunately disaster struck again at the last moment when instead of tossing the potatoes, I threw them into the air along with my grandma’s serving dish and both came crashing to the floor.
To top things off, whilst I was salvaging what I could of the potatoes, my friend Catherine sent me a text with a photo of her and her newly purchased Ginger Pig sausages!

2 sweet red peppers, de-seeded, de-skinned and sliced into thin strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed and sliced
Handful cherry tomatoes
2 celery stalks, sliced
Few leaves of basil, torn
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsp liquid from caper jar
2 free range eggs
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil

Heat the oven to 180º/ Gas mark 4.

In a large frying pan gently fry the onion, garlic, celery and peppers until soft. Add the cherry tomatoes, capers and liquid from the jar the capers were in. Season and stir in the torn basil. Continue to fry over a medium heat until the tomatoes are cooked through and the liquid has evaporated.

Divide the sautéed peppers into two small round dishes. Make a well in the middle of each dish and break an egg into it. Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes.

Serve with lemon-roasted potatoes and dip asparagus into the egg yolk.

Catherine and her Ginger Pig sausages

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Fresh Pasta

My pasta machine working its magic
Doesn't it look pretty?
Ribbons of silk!
I was so very tired after work yesterday, I just wanted to curl up on the sofa and watch TV but strangely enough I found myself in the kitchen making pasta from scratch! My talented Italian friend Nadia Romano (renowned for her amazing reclaimed furniture), who I met when I lived in Barcelona recently gave me her fresh pasta recipe which has been passed down from generation to generation within her family. It has been playing on my mind for a while so this evening I decided to use it to make tagliatelle. I have attempted making pasta a few times but this was the most successful batch yet. My flatmate Zanna said it was like eating 'ribbons of silk', that's got to be a good thing, non?

I served mine with a puttanesca sauce.

Serves 2 plus leftovers
200 grams of 00 flour
2 eggs
Olive oil

The ratio is 1 egg for every 100 grams of flour.

Pour the flour into a large bowl, make a hole in the centre and break in the eggs. Add the salt and glug of oil and stir well. Use your hands to mould the dough into a ball. The final texture of the dough should be firm and springy – it shouldn’t be too dry that it breaks, or too moist that it sticks to your hands.

Place the ball of dough in greaseproof paper in the fridge for at least half an hour before rolling out into the pasta shape you want.

Begin with the widest setting on the pasta machine and gently roll through the dough. Lightly dust the pasta with flour if it sticks at all. Click the machine down a setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Fold the pasta in half, click the pasta machine back up to the widest setting and roll the dough through again. Repeat this process a few times and you’ll start to feel a difference in the dough – it will become silky.
Next, work the dough down from the widest to the narrowest setting. Then choose the shape of pasta you wish to make.

Fresh pasta only takes a few minutes to cook.
One of the first things I remember my dad teaching me was how to cook pasta properly. The trick is to use lots and lots of boiled water. Salting the water makes the pasta taste even better by bringing out the natural flavor.

Puttanesca Sauce

400g tin of chopped plum tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Handful black olives, stoned and chopped
1tbsp capers
1tsp cayenne pepper
Olive oil

2tbsp fresh parsley chopped, to garnish
Parmesan, finely grated

P: 5 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped

Heat a glug of olive oil in a pan, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes over a medium heat until it starts to brown, stirring frequently. Add the olives, capers, chopped tomatoes and cayenne pepper to taste.

P: Divide the mixture into two and add the anchovy fillets to one, use a fork to mash them to a pulp.

Cover and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta (click here for my fresh pasta recipe) and toss with the puttanesca sauce before sprinkling with the parsley and finely grated Parmesan.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Ginger Pig Meat Book by Tim Wilson and Fran Warde (Mitchell Beazley, £25)

Last night I was lucky enough to go to the launch of The Ginger Pig Meat Book at the Daunt Books store on Marylebone High Street. Tim Wilson, farmer and owner of the award winning butcher the Ginger Pig, believes that the best meat comes from the best animals raised in the happiest of circumstances. He has now teamed up with food writer Fran Warde and together they have created a fantastic book not only full of recipes for pork, lamb, beef, poultry and game, all arranged by season but also expert information on where to buy and how to prepare meat.

The venue was packed as I walked in and delighted to eat lots and lots of delicious meat.

Obviously the Vegetarian did not attend this particular event, referring to my evening's entertainment as a barbaric festival of death.

I said feast your eyes on this...

Pork scratchings made an appearance too mmm

Tasty, salty beef skewers
Lamb meat balls with mint yoghurt
The best sausage rolls I have ever had
Slow roasted pork
The moment I was waiting for


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Underground Night Market

The Underground Night Market

Last week I had the best Friday night I have had in a very long time. I got to go food shopping and eat lovely organic food at Kerstin Rodgers - aka Ms Marmite’s Underground Night Market.
Famously known for her successful pop up restaurant, Kerstin Rosgers soon published a book ‘Supper Club’ and now she annually holds a market in her home!  I am yet to taste her cuisine but will be signing up to supper club as soon as possible after hearing all the night market guests rave about not only what a wonderful person she is, but what delicious food she has to offer. 

The Underground Night Market was set up to attract a younger, after work crowd and it certainly did. The place was packed and we all squeezed past each other and politely waited for our turn to walk down the tiny yet amazing spiral staircase that took us from the terrace down to the garden where there were rows of market stalls offering all sorts of delicious produce. There was everything you could wish for - a bar in the bathtub, cocktails on the ironing board, music from Shekoyokh and Tom Baker by the bonfire, cooking demonstrations in the kitchen, hot food, food to buy for the weekend, crafts and the dragon's den for food businesses.

The things that stood out for me were the kimichi cheese burger and spicy Italian Squisito sausages (I bought a few Tunscano and Chihuahua’s to take home with me). For the weekend I also bought a pack of organic duck eggs from Treflach farm, smoked goats cheese and smoked blue cheese from TheArtisan Smokehouse and Fino Robiola (cow/goat/sheeps milk), which is a fresh, young, creamy northern Italian cheese from La Cremerie

The event was such a success that a friend and I now want to host our own. It’s no wonder the underground food market/'food rave’ (click here for more details) is the great new sport to grace the streets of San Fransico, let's hope that this trend really takes off in London too.

The View from the Terrace

Squisito Italian Sausages
Squisito Tuscano Sausage
Marmelo Preserves
Kimchi Cheese Burger
Talking Treflach Farm
Cocktails on the ironing board
La Musica

Sunday, 8 May 2011



Bruschetta was originally created in Italy in the 15th century as a way of salvaging bread that was going stale but now it is a very popular starter across the country and found on the menu of most Italian restaurants, if not all. There are many variations for the toppings but I have created a basic recipe below. 

6 plum tomatoes, diced
¼ red onion, finely chopped
1tbsp parsley, chopped
A few sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, halved
2 ciabattas, halved

For the topping, place the red onion, chopped tomatoes and olive oil into a bowl and mix well. Add the parsley and oregano and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Toast the ciabatta under the grill for a few minutes on each side, rub the garlic in, drizzle with a little oil and spoon over the topping. Serve.