Fava is a greek dip or appetiser, somewhere between dal and hummus, and two weeks ago I had some at The Olive Grove. I’d forgotten how tasty it was: thick and soft and simple and savoury. So of course I wanted to make some. It’s dead easy, after all – just yellow split peas (not broad beans, ignore the name) boiled with some onion and herbs for flavour. A bit of oil to serve.
Then last week my friend Niall made a rather excellent lentil and squash dip for a party. It was quite rich, a bit sweet, and heavily loaded with smoked paprika.
What a good idea.
Now, I haven’t just nicked it, despite having morals only fractionally more robust than a carrion crow. But if you can cook and you’ve read the intro, you may not actually need a recipe.
Puchero is a soupy Spanish peasant stew. It’s also one of the earliest things I remember eating. My mother used to make it when I was growing up; a bastardised take, worked up from a half-remembered recipe with whatever she could find in 1980s & 90s Darlington.
You can find a lot of recipes for South American puchero, and the Spanish variants are multitudinous. Standard for those rustic dishes named after a stewpot a few hundred years ago. Elisabeth Luard tracks it back to Andalusia, making it as a simple broth of roasted chestnuts and whatever ham’s going spare. That sounds amazing, but it’s not what I remember.
No, what I remember is a vivid broth of tender pork belly and plump chickpeas, flavoured through with scant chunks of chorizo. They were always the best bits – an unusual ingredient in that time and place, a treat to be hunted out in any bowlful. The sausages were a finer-grained Lincoln, sometimes a Cumberland, giving a plainer offset, but with the pepper adding interest.
I’ll wager we ate it with a good deal less meat per head than I’ve allocated here, and likely more carrots and chickpeas. I’ve amped up the indulgence, but you can dial it back down and go in hard on the veg. A little fatty pork goes a long way after all.
Anyway, here’s my best guess. I think my mum’s old recipe notebook is still floating around somewhere. It’d be fascinating to compare.
Lamb neck doesn’t exactly sound tasty. It’s that terminal ‘k’ sound, I think. It’s hard to sustain an appetite in the face of a harsh wet plosive. Indeed, lamb neck isn’t something I started cooking with until quite recently, having written it off as a slow-cooking cut less interesting than shank or shoulder.
A mistake, but an understandable one.
On the bone, lamb neck slow cooks nicely – there’s plenty of fat and flavour. But the filleted neck behaves a bit differently. Raw, it looks like a well-larded pork tenderloin, and you can almost treat it in the same way. It’ll flash fry, barbecue, or grill. It loves a bit of char, and a deep marinade to carry some flavour through that harsh cooking.
Elizabeth David is probably best known for bringing French cuisine to British tables. But her 1954 book Italian Foodmade a reasonable stab at introducing rural Italy’s fresh, simple flavours to a United Kingdom only just relaxing from the grip of rationing.
One of the fun things in Italian Food is a scrappy, half-explained braise of pork in milk with marjoram. Plated up as a main it would have all the appeal of stringy cement. But conceptually it’s a nice way to keep slow-cooked pork moist and flavoursome.
So how about wrapping it up in pasta, a rich carby cloak to hide its shame?
Tortelloni are great (even if I did fold mine wrong), and keeping them large cuts down the hassle. What’s fun here though is the addition of a little lemon zest, just before cooking. It steams in the filling so that when you slice into the pasta, you get this flash of zingy aroma, but the flavour doesn’t overpower.
Canadian wine. It’s not really a phrase to set the world on fire, is it?
The thing is, when you’re on the same basic latitude as most of Burgundy – with a lake shore microclimate that keeps the air warm and fresh – you’ve got a shot at belting out some serious grapes. Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, a bit of Chardonnay – it’s all going on around the Niagara Escarpment. There’s Syrah and Gamay in the mix, too; not to mention the funky hybrids and the icewine. No, Ontario’s got a lot going for it as wine growing country, and the actual oenology is getting serious.
In 2011 we visited wineries around Lake Erie, and were not wowed. In 2015, we spent three days tasting around the Niagara Peninsula. Four years had passed, and the grapes we saw on the vine in 2011 were now on sale in bottles. We hit a different region, one or two more up-scale wineries, and had a knowledgeable local guide. That is to say: I don’t honestly know if the wine has got better, or if we were just drinking better wine, but it was pretty great.
When I was a teenager, my dad taught me to cook. I mean, he tried. I was a truculent little fucker even then, and I doubt I really listened. Still he taught at a catering college, and somehow some basics of technique and flavour sank in. I don’t think I really learned to cook though until a bit later, living in a grotty shared house, having rage-quit the family home, post graduation.
As tantrums go, “I’m moving to Cambridge” was a bit dumb, and more than a little expensive. But not wanting to let the cooking shtick wither entirely, my dad packed me off with a few books. Some core catering texts, a well-thumbed Delia, and a couple of quirky extras that have since become two of my favourites. They were Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery, and Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican, and they massively influenced my early cooking forays. The latter introduced me to Tinga Poblana, one of the first things I learned to cook then really ran with.
It’s bound up in a whole bunch of memories – if I cook for you at all in person, the odds are you’ll have eaten some version of it. Hell, I’ve been titting about with Tinga Poblana for about ten years, and this won’t be the final version I settle on by any means.
It’s smoky and deep, with a sweetness I’ve brought to the front using sweet potato and extra onion. The chorizo and chipotle give some and darkness, so you don’t need much extra by way of spice. But I do like to add some allspice just to round it all out. Continue reading →
Like a gentler, more subtle Gorgonzola, Dolcelatte is one of those creamy-sharp soft blue cheeses, but with a bit of sweetness that lets it be a flavour enhancer as well as a big main kick.
Still though – lentils with cheese? Yeah, I know, but stay with me on this one. It’s all about the creamy savoury.
There are plenty of dairy-backed lentil dishes, often sausage casseroles or general piggy constructions. In fact, there’s a sensational one in Pork and Sons. But I wanted something that would be a big veggie umami fest, with a sharp hit to go through what can otherwise be a bit of a cloying set of flavours.
You could think of it as a kind of cockeyed dal makhani, but then you could do a lot of things.
A few months ago on some product management training, I had the opportunity to geek out about cheese with a lovely French lady called Mirissa. She was also kind enough to share her mustard pork loin recipe with me, and it was bloody tasty. Unable to leave well alone, I’ve tweaked it a bit, so what’s here is an onioned-up version of a quick and easy French classic.
The mustard cuts through the cream without being too vinegary or overpowering, and you can get this together in a little over half an hour.
I say “noodle bar” – it serves mostly udon, with a range of soups, sauces, and dressings. Some are hot, some are cold, the specials are nifty, and it’s a good time. We ducked in for lunch, making it barely in time for their 2:45 last orders, and there was still a (very short) queue. That’s encouraging. As was the service – friendly and attentive, and from a gentleman who seemed like he’d be more at home in a Jeffrey Bernard era Soho all-night Italian dive. Splendid.
Décor is simple, specials skew seasonal, livening up the rather dull basic sides, and udon are probably my favourite noodles. Continue reading →
Egg yolk ravioli are rich and creamy and incredibly simple. They’re just what they look like – large, round or square pasta parcels encasing a runny, just-cooked egg yolk, and a little soft cheese. You can add a few flavours (here, pecorino because it’s delicious), but the core idea is to foreground the eggs.
They’re surprisingly easy to make, but not all that quick. I won’t lie to you – this is a horrendous parade of buggering about. It’s fresh pasta, what else would it be? But if you’re careful with the yolks, these are simple, reliable, tasty, and kind of impressive.