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Nine Minute One Pan Linguine with Tomatoes, Chilli and Basil

The 9 Minute One Pot Pasta Dish from Puglia that is Taking the Internet by Storm

Yeah, that is right, the 9 minute one pot pasta dish from Puglia that is taking the internet by storm. It surely can’t be good, can it? I mean, really?

I gave it a try and I was pleasantly surprised. I will make it again, and again. I am obsessed with pasta and all the good carbohydrate things (hello potato!), but I like to do things properly, and well. This doesn’t mean that they need to take a long time. I love geekery and tricks, I love surprising new ways of doing things. I like to cook something really good in just a few minutes (my first book has a chapter on Speedy Suppers which are a regular feature of my week). 

It is easy to be suspicious of simplicity, but I think we are all agreed that simple good things, taste really, well, good. My curiosity around this pasta dish was based mainly in the fact that nothing was sautéed first. Wouldn’t that affect the flavour? Most dishes require a little bit of sauté, whether that for pasta is simply starting with a speedy hot oil bath for garlic or pancetta to release their joy and goodness.

It was in Asia that I first realised that this is not essential for flavour. I have cooked with home cooks and restaurant chefs there who don’t sauté a thing, not even the meat, and the finished dishes don’t miss a thing. What about the lack of sauté here? Well, you don’t get any browning and the garlic slices leave a pungent (and gorgeous) taste, but when this dish is finished, you top it all off with some glorious extra virgin olive oil and parmesan. When you use good tomatoes, the flavour is so round, you don’t miss a thing. 

Cooking pasta by absorption, another great pasta trick and one that is similar to what is used here, is a superb way of cooking pasta. In Italy this is called pasta risottata (cooking pasta like risotto), and it simply means that in the same length of cooking time and with a little more care, you can create a perfectly textured pasta dish by adding hot water a little at a time and letting the pasta absorb it. The flour that coats the surface of the pasta remains in the sauce instead of in the water in the pot that you throw away. For this, you need very good pasta for it to work well. 

The advantages of this dish? Speed, flavour, and it really delivers. But you must use good pasta, you must pay attention and stir it regularly, and ensure you finish just as the pasta is al dente and no later. Like all simple dishes, the quality of your ingredients will determine the end results, so best tomatoes and best everything else. I always have a stash of great pasta in my pantry, it is a worthwhile investment, and there is no going back once you start using it. Hit your local Italian deli and ask their advice, or seek out Rustichella d’Abruzzo* (which you can buy from Odysea in the UK) or Pastificio dei Campi (which you can buy online from Food in the City). Both cost a little more but are worth every penny.

*I visited Puglia with Rustichella d’Abruzzo recently but this did only served to reinforce my faith in their product. I highly recommend it. They have lots of gluten free pastas too but more on that soon. 

Nine Minute One Pan Linguine with Tomatoes, Chilli and Basil

Based on the original Martha Stewart One Pan Pasta recipe, as told to Nora Singley in Puglia. The story of which is detailed nicely here on Food52 (along with 7 further recipes).

Nine Minute One Pan Linguine with Tomatoes, Chilli and Basil

Nine Minute One Pan Linguine with Tomatoes, Chilli and Basil

Adapted to serve 2 people (generously) and with metric measurements, I didn’t include onion in mine

Ingredients

200g linguine
200g cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large or a diced peeled great tomato
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
a pinch of chilli flakes (to taste)
2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500ml water (you may need to top it up a little – I didn’t – have some water boiled just in case)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

a large pan that will fit the linguine horizontally, I used my sauté pan

Method

Combine the dried pasta, tomatoes, garlic, chilli flakes, basil, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper and the water in a large shallow pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until the pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes. But keep an eye on it.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 2 bowls, and garnish with fresh torn basil. Serve with a drizzle of oil and Parmesan.

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Paradise Garage – New Kid on the Eastern Block from The Dairy

A quick one for you today! Another London restaurant for your lists, I think this is an essential. Chef Robin Gill of The Dairy, The Manor and The Delicatessen seems to have the midas touch or is that the lardo touch, right now? I say with that with great respect and affection, lardo is one of the most delicious things on the planet, and Robin has the good sense to wrap some around a gorgeous egg.

With head chef Simon Woodrow and Robin’s wife Sarah, Robin has created one of my favourite new openings this year, Paradise Garage, in the railway arches near Bethnal Green tube station. They have delivered a menu that is as exciting as it is comforting. I went for lunch recently and it was one of my best lunches this year. So, I just had to let you know.

Venison tartare, preserved egg yolk & watercress

Venison tartare, preserved egg yolk & watercress

Venison tartare, preserved egg yolk & watercress – a lively and gorgeous dish to start my meal. On top was grated preserved egg yolk, tasting a little like bottarga.

Tilley's farm egg, charred grelot onions, spinach & lardo

Tilley’s farm egg, charred grelot onions, spinach & lardo

Tilley’s farm egg, charred grelot onions, spinach & lardo – I thought that I had crossed a line when I started covering my breakfast eggs in lardo, I was thrilled and relieved to find Paradise Garage were doing the same. This was a terrific dish, the spinach purée underneath a perfect rumbling contrast to the bright egg.

Lady Hamilton's pollock, Norfolk Peer potatoes, seaweed, pied de mouton

Lady Hamilton’s pollock, Norfolk Peer potatoes, seaweed, pied de mouton

Lady Hamilton’s pollock, Norfolk Peer potatoes, seaweed, pied de mouton – a very elegant dish, the pollock was covered in a layer of brown butter gorgeousness.

 

Iberico Presa, pig head, coco beans, anchovy & lettuce

Iberico Presa, pig head, coco beans, anchovy & lettuce

Iberico Presa, pig head, coco beans, anchovy & lettuce – don’t be nervous to read pigs head, the pressed pigs head in this dish is one of the tastiest things that I have eaten this year. This dish brings pork and beans to the next level, seasoned with anchovies and lifted with some lightly fermented lettuce. 

Apricot tart, milk ice cream & lemon thyme

Apricot tart, milk ice cream & lemon thyme

Apricot tart, milk ice cream & lemon thyme  – I often skip dessert, I am much more of a salty individual, but Kira Ghidoni is a woman of rare talent and produces the most amazing desserts at The Manor and now Paradise Garage too. This apricot tart was nectar sweet and soothed with a milk ice cream. Joyful.

Prices are fair, and the drinks list is interesting. I went at lunch time and had 5 dishes and a couple of glasses of wine and my bill was not far over £50 (I have mislaid my receipt!). For the calibre of the food here, this is terrific value. There is also a £45 tasting menu which I will be returning for.

If all of this was not enough, Robin was awarded Chef of the Year earlier this year by the Good Food Guide.

Ps you could do a lot worse than start with an aperitif at gorgeous Mission E2, a Californian wine bar a few doors down from the folks behind gorgeous Sager & Wilde.

5/5

Paradise Garage
254 Paradise Row, London
020 76131502

http://www.paradise254.com/

Whipped Feta with Roast Tomatoes, Oregano & Mint

Whipped Feta with Roast Tomatoes, Oregano & Mint

Yes, feta dip. All your problems solved. Salty and sweet. The perfect weekend indulgence for when the weather is just being a pain outside. Crackers, feta dip, juicy pop-sweet tomatoes. Are you ready?

This is so very easy. All it is is a little single cream (or heavy cream if you are stateside), some cream cheese, and then the bulk of it is feta, proper feta from Greece. None of that fetta or anything that looks like feta but isn’t. Real feta is protected and nothing else can be called feta, that is f-e-t-a.

Feta is made from sheep’s milk, or sheep and goat’s. Never with cows. If there is cow milk in there, it is not the real deal. You want real feta for the sweetness and richness of the sheep’s milk which is brilliant with the salty brine. I thought I didn’t like feta until I went to Greece when I was a student, all I had had before then was the weird inferior stuff with the odd taste.

You can of course just shovel whipped feta into your carcass but it is a little better and nicer with gorgeous lightly roasted tomatoes. Staying Greek, I roasted them with oregano, a small pinch of salt (the feta is salty enough) and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Some crackers as a delivery vehicle work perfectly, as does toast. Anything really, but try to get something that isn’t flavoured or salty if you can. There is enough salt and flavour here and you want to focus on that.

Whipped feta with roast tomatoes, oregano and mint

Whipped feta with roast tomatoes, oregano and mint

Recipe: Whipped Feta with Roast Tomatoes, Oregano & Mint

Ingredients

200g feta
75g cream cheese
50ml single cream (heavy cream)
a handful of gorgeous small tomatoes
1 tsp good dried oregano
1 tsp fresh mint
extra virgin olive oil
freshly cracked black pepper

crackers or similar to serve with

Method

Preheat your oven to 18 deg C. Put the tomatoes, oregano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil in an oven proof tray. Roast for about 10 minutes until just squishy.

While the tomatoes are roasting prepare your dip. Whip the cream first, then combine the feta and cream cheese separately in a blender, then fold the cream in with a spoon.

Serve with the tomatoes on top and a little fresh mint and black pepper.

Enjoy!

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An Ode to Lardo, and a Recipe for Spatchcock Lardo Roast Poussin

I have this thing with lardo. I want to help you embrace it. It is so misunderstood. All of this clean eating lark, well it is a bit depressing, isn’t it? All of that unnecessary deprivation, where is the joy? I am not suggesting you go out and eat fried chicken for a living (although certainly you must eat good fried chicken once in a while), what I am saying is, it is important that we just enjoy eating, eat what we like, and what our body needs and enjoys. Throw off all the anxiety related to it, eat well if you can (many can’t), and take pleasure in it. If we don’t eat well we suffer, we become ill, we can become neurotic when we obsess about the details. Walk a little bit to balance it out, dance occasionally. Life is good, right? 

I try to embrace a balanced diet, and eat a little meat, I try not to eat a lot of it. I love vegetables. I adore fruit, I love salads, I love lightness. I adore fish, and avocados. I try everything and build a naughty list of stuff that I won’t try again. Before avocado toast was trendy, people considered it too high fat to have regularly at home. I always did because it is delicious, and it is healthy. Those fats are good for your brain, and for your soul. I love lardo too. Lardo? It is pure cured aged pork fat that you eat by the slice. Bear with me. 

There is always some confusion about lardo because people confuse it with lard. (Pork) lard in Italy is called strutto, and it is used for many things including piadina, those lovely Emilia Romagna flatbreads (which I have a recipe for, and which I will share later on). Lardo is charcuterie, or more accurately salumi (which is different to salami). Salumi is an umbrella term for Italian cured meat products, predominantly but not exclusively made of pork. It gets more confusing when you see that you can buy lardo in a jar that is spreadable, or when you come across pesto Modenese (a lardo based pesto made with lardo, rosemary and garlic). These are made with lardo, but look like lard. It doesn’t help that almost everyone translates lardo as lard. It just isn’t the same thing. 

Lardo is the jewel in the salumi crown for me. The cured back fat of a pig, a pure white block of cured slippery gorgeous fat, flecked with herbs  and very occasionally striped pink with a little meat. It is usually served sliced so fine that the minute it hits your tongue, it succumbs and releases its gorgeousness, it lasts just a minute, it is divine.  Lardo has incredible flavour and texture and there are many regional variations to explore.  

If you already know lardo, it is likely that you know or have tried lardo di Colonnata, a Tuscan lardo that has been made since Roman times in the hamlet of Colonnata in the Apuan Alps. Lardo di Colonnata has an IGP just as parmesan does (Protected Geographical Indication – it can’t be made anywhere else in Europe and called this, by law). Carrara marble is also mined here, and lardo di Colonnata has been traditionally cured with salt and fresh herbs in large carrara marble boxes over a period of months. I really need to visit. This is no ordinary pig fat, and it demands our respect and attention. 

Lardo selection appetiser at Roscioli in Rome

Lardo selection appetiser at Roscioli in Rome

There are many more types of lardo, and one of the joys of Italy is that you can order things like a lardo selection as an appetiser (pictured above in Roscioli in Rome last year). It is also relatively inexpensive, and once you vac pac it, it is absolutely fine to take home (within the EU anyway). I brought four types of lardo home from my last trip. Pre sliced, as you need it really thin to appreciate it as it is. Unless of course you intend it as an ingredient for pesto Modenese or similar, then you can just chop it. I love lardo so much, I am contemplating investing in a small meat slicer so that I can slice it finely at home.

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Lardo egg – dream breakfast

It has been a fun week at home of lardo play and indulgence. Lardo is wonderful on toast, yielding slightly on it, but still standing strong. Lardo makes the most perfect soldiers for your dippy boiled egg when draped over sourdough toast and cut accordingly. I have covered my breakfast egg (mainly the yolk) with fine slices of lardo and allowed it to gently protect it as it cooks. This is bacon(ish) meets egg in a delicate and intrinsic fashion. The lardo shelters the egg and then becomes part of it. For me, this dish is an expression of love.

You can do almost anything with lardo. Lardo is divine when allowed to melt into a steak as you finish cooking it, just on top, just as it finishes. Better still on the BBQ. I made lardo chicken wings recently which were as good as you are now imagining, I also covered a spatchcock chicken in lardo and allowed it to roast tenderly. For a speedy evening meal for one, spatchcock a poussin, season it and cover it with a lardo blanket before roasting it with some bright veg on the side. It will be done and on your plate in 45 minutes. One of the best things about poussin is the ratio of skin to flesh is perfect. Lots of crispy skin. 

Spatchcock lardo roast poussin

Spatchcock lardo roast poussin

Go on. Do it. And enjoy! 

Buying lardo: any good Italian deli will have it, and you can source it easily online. The Ham & Cheese Co in Bermondsey Spa Market have a particularly good one.

Recipe:  Spatchcock Lardo Roast Poussin

Ingredients

per person

1 poussin
enough finely sliced lardo (of your choice) to cover it – I used 6 slices
a little sweet hot chilli flakes (like Calabrian chilli, pasilla chilli or Turkish pul biber)
fresh rosemary, the needles from one sprig, chopped really fine
black pepper

veg of your choice – I used baby courgettes, tomatoes and peas
sea salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 deg C.

Spatchcock your poussin (or have your butcher do it) by cutting out the breast bone using a sharp knife or poultry scissors. This is the bone in the centre of the two breasts (I know, obviously but just in case!). Press it flat with your hand and put it in an oiled ovenproof tray that will accommodate it.

Sprinkle a little chilli and the rosemary on the poussin. There is no need to salt it as the lardo is quite salty already. Cover the poussin with a layer of lardo and put it in the oven to roast. It will take 35 – 40 minutes. It will be done when the juices run clear, as with a chicken. Baste it every ten minutes or so and keep adding that lardo flavour to the poussin.

After about 25 minutes add the veg and spoon the fat over them. You can roast them separately in olive oil if you prefer.

When the poussin is done let it rest for 5 minutes. Serve on top of the veg with a very light sprinkle of salt, it won’t need much. How good is that crispy lardo? I can still taste it.

Enjoy!

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Walking Piedmont: From Barolo to Monforte d’Alba (& Where to Eat)

I left Barolo full of the joys of Spring, or was that the intense heat of summer? The first half of my walk was joyful, through the upper terraces of the Barolo vineyards, passing gardens rich with vegetable bounty, courgette flowers, plums, so many tomatoes. The occasional yappy dog, they do love them in Italy. I knew I was tired when I was overtaken by an elderly man walking two tiny dogs as I approached Monforte d’Alba, yet another of Piedmonts beautiful hilltop towns. I was in no rush, I smiled, attempted to communicate in Italian, and carried on. 

My arrival was less glamorous. The Hotel Villa Beccaris, a beautiful four star property at the top of the hill was beautiful, relaxed and had the most glorious views. But after a long walk in the sun, the hill was a challenge. It surprised me that it ended with a sprint, one of those yappy dogs fled his old lady owner in pursuit of me when he decided that my ankles were much more appealing. Speckled with mosquito bites, sprayed with deet, and covered with sunscreen, who could disagree? She yelled at him, I shrieked and ran. And there I was in Monforte d’Alba. 

The evenings are lovely there, in July still warm and scented with jasmine. Monforte d’Alba is lively, there is lots of music, particularly Jazz throughout the summer. One of my evenings there on my walk home uphill, I was enticed enough to descend again by the sounds of live jazz on the soft summer breeze. I followed it, winding down and around the narrow streets and up some steps where I met a crowd watching a jazz band playing on an open piazza. 

I had two nights in Monforte d’Alba, one of my non walking days (although plenty of options are offered for those that want to keep going). I focussed instead on the food. 

Lunch at Trattoria della Posta

I only realised after eating at Trattoria della Posta that it was featured on The Trip to Italy last year. In a country house a few kilometres outside of Monforte d’Alba, the first thing I noticed was the beautiful large country kitchen which you can see from the reception desk. I sat outside in the hint of a breeze and chose between primi and secondi – I know, but truly, I can’t do a crazy large lunch and a large dinner too, this much I have learned.

There was a very enticing rabbit roasted in lardo on the menu but the pasta was too good: I ravioli verdi di caprino con salsiccia di Bra e porri – green ravioli filled with a fresh goats cheese with cooked Bra sausage on top. It was gorgeous, the pasta so thin and delicate, the cheese bright and so fresh and the sausage a beautiful crumbly contrast. I also had a very pleasant vegetable soup, why I ordered hot soup on such a hot day, I will never know. I will be back for the rabbit some day. 

Dinner at Il Giardino da Felicin

Il Giardino da Felicin is bubbling. A restaurant set in a garden, also a hotel, the terrace was packed and very lively the evening that I ate there. The food is based on tradition but is not conventional. I had a beautiful handmade pasta, but I also had a salad which is a twist on fried chicken (it is tasty and fun). The details are impressive, tiny herbs picked fresh from the kitchen garden garnish the dishes, and the flavours are bright, the tomatoes in particular were divine. There is an impressive cellar for wine lovers wishing to explore the region with dinner.   

Dinner at Osteria dei Catari

The night I arrived in Monforte d’Alba, I was taken by the sight of this little alley, painted in bright colours with a cat at the top of it. I was still making my way to the hotel, but I made sure I found out what was down there, and it was Osteria dei Catari, one of the restaurants at which I had planned to eat at. Another open courtyard restaurant (you can eat inside in the winter as with da Felicin), Monfortina ham with summer truffle was gorgeous, the colour seductive and the flavour intense, almost like a bresaola. For primi I had buckwheat maltagliati (misshapen pasta) with bra sausage and fresh tomato. They really care about the sourcing here, sourcing mainly from local small farms, and you can taste it. 

Breakfast at Hotel Villa Beccaris

The breakfast at Hotel Villa Beccaris is buffet style, as with most Italian restaurants. There are eggs you can boil to your liking, pastries, beautiful jam tarts and juices. But what is most impressive is the incredible glass room in which it is served. It is like a Victorian greenhouse. I loved my mornings there. 

My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

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The New Sunday Roast at Bob Bob Ricard

It would be improper of me not to let you know about the new Sunday Roast at Bob Bob Ricard in London. Or to mention Bob Bob Ricard at all, it has been a while. Bob Bob Ricard is a most under rated restaurant. It doesn’t care about trends, the food is classic, and it is very well executed. It is refreshing and it is fun. Even though Bob Bob Ricard is in the heart of Soho, it feels like it could be a grand restaurant from 100 years ago or a very large carriage of a luxury train. When I have visitors in town, we often go.

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It is famous for being the home of the famous Press for Champagne button. I always allow myself to press it at least once. When you do, your table number lights up above the bar, and a glass of house champagne is delivered to you. Another essential drink for every visit is the rhubarb G&T, bright pink, intensely flavoured and textured with egg white. The cocktails generally are very good.

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The menu is part Russian, and I always order some Russian dishes. Baked Oysters Brezhnev were like a parmesan truffle soufflé with a delicate oyster underneath.

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For starters, I had the beef tea soup, a crystal clear gorgeous broth with Siberian pelmeni, traditional beef and lamb dumplings. Others at the table had lobster, crab and shrimp pelmeni; seabass ceviche with avocado and truffled potato and mushroom vareniki (also traditional dumplings served with crispy onion and shimeji mushrooms).

Then the main event, the Sunday Roast arrived. Preceded by plates with perfect Yorkshire puddings, slow roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips roasted in beef dripping with honey and thyme, horseradish cream and truffle gravy, the USDA prime black angus was delivered perfectly pink. The beef was a roast rump cap, a cut that I love for the rich beautiful flavour that it has. We don’t see enough of it here, but is is hugely popular in Brazil, where it is called picanha. We also had bright sweet creamed corn and buttered greens. To drink, we had Crimson Pinot Noir from Ata Rangi in New Zealand. I would normally go for something fuller, but at lunchtime, something light seemed more in keeping, and I do love a good pinot noir, particularly from New Zealand.

I opted for a simple dessert of a trio of sorbets (lime, lemon and pink grapefruit) served with platinum vodka. Bob Bob Ricard specialise in vodka too, so I felt it important to have a tipple. The signature chocolate glory is a must for chocaholics, and there was one at my table. It is a chocolate jivara mousse, chocolate brownie, berries and passionfruit and orange jelly served as a perfect gold ball on which warm chocolate sauce is poured, which collapses it. Very dramatic, and tasty too.

I loved it. Bob Bob Ricard is a place you go because you love to eat, and you want to be a little decadent. I am planning to go back very soon. 

I attended a press preview of the Bob Bob Ricard Sunday Roast. The Sunday Roast is available at Sunday lunch time, a 16 oz portion of USDA prime black angus with all of the trimmings costs £29.50. Opinions, photos and words are all my own as always. Of course!

Breakfast Eggs with a Lively Black Bean Chilli Sauce

Breakfast Eggs with a Lively Black Bean Chilli Sauce (Trust Me)

You might think that I have lost the plot here. It isn’t the most attractive of recipe titles but, trust me, this new recipe of mine for boiled eggs with a lively black bean chilli sauce is GOOD. And it is simple and speedy too. I mean, we all love black bean sauce, right?

Fermented black beans, also called salted black beans or preserved black beans, are a Chinese staple. You can get them in most Chinese food shops, often with ginger. They are really inexpensive plus a little goes a very long way. I recommend that you all get some for your cupboard, you will find them indispensable on days when you want something speedy with a flavour punch. The work has all been done in advance for you with the fermentation of the beans.

These are superb in a speedy sauce with pork, they are excellent with clams and thin strips of pork belly too. I have used them with beef in a speedy Asian ragu that I had with rice noodles (fusion much?). These little black beans are super versatile. Treat yourself to some (they won’t cost you more than £2) and play around. They are easy to source online too if you don’t have a Chinese shop nearby.

Start here! Enjoy.

Recipe: Breakfast Eggs with a Lively Black Bean Chilli Sauce (Trust Me)

per person – although you might want 2 eggs, I did! So maybe double up :)

Ingredients

3 tbsp black beans
2 spring onions, chopped finely (white and green parts)
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp mild flaked chilli or one fresh mild chilli deseeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
light oil like groundnut oil
1 gorgeous egg

Method

Soak the black beans in enough water to cover them for a few minutes, then drain. Heat a tablespoon of oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic, spring onions and chilli if using a fresh chilli. After a couple of minutes add the chilli if using dried chilli, and allow to cook over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes.

In this time boil your eggs until just done. For me, and the eggs I like to use (Old Cotswold Legbars that are usually large but sometimes more medium), I add them to boiling water and take them out after 6 or 7 minutes. A trick I learned when I was a kid is that your eggs are boiled when the water evaporates off the shell immediately when you take them out of the water. Peel and quarter.

Stir the coriander leaves through the black beans, saving some for a garnish. Spread a little of the black bean mixture on the plate – those eggs can be slippy! – then place the eggs on top. Place the remaining black bean sauce on the eggs, gently with a spoon. Garnish with the remaining coriander leaves.

You will notice I don’t salt them, the beans season the dish plenty. But yours might be different, so taste first and then decide.

Enjoy!

Barolo - the most gorgeous of Piedmont towns

A Gorgeous Day in Barolo, Piedmont (and Where to Eat)

Barolo is an aspiration, in every way. I want to drink the wine, all the time. The Barolo, the Arneis, the Barbera and the Chardonnay. I had wanted to visit there for a while, who wouldn’t want to go to the epicentre of Barolo production, home to truffles in summer & winter, the food must be good too, right? 

Getting to Barolo (when already there) is a mission, when on foot, at least. I could not believe my eyes when faced with a sneaky hill seemingly hidden behind of and leading into this pretty town. I was in denial at this point, you see.

But, it was worth it.

I spent the bulk of my day there, choosing to walk early in the morning to Barolo from the top of that hill where Castiglione Falletto is perched. That hill. That vicious one. It was a gorgeous walk, through vineyards, by a stream, under boughs of elder tress laden with enthusiastic overarching elderberries. It seemed as though they were playing in the sun. It was hot, and so I paused by a fountain and in a moment of sweet release, poured a bottle of water over my head. Finally a use for long thick hair in that heatwave, soak it and let it cool you down. 

It was hot, I walked from tree to tree, stopping for some shade each time, up the hill to the arch through which you walk (or drive), to reach Barolo. One of the nicest towns in Piedmont (and they are all pretty gorgeous) Barolo is well set up to cater for tourists, there are wine tastings everywhere, lots of shops selling local food and wine, a wine museum and a corkscrew museum, and plenty of places to eat. Yet, it doesn’t feel in any way tatty, as some tourist towns can be. It is elegant, and refined, and in general tastes really good. I had planned two lunches, an early and a late one, just you know, so we know where is best to go? I did this for you, and for me. Oh yeah, I did, really, you know I did. Don’t look at me like that.

I started with Barolo & Friends, a trendy modern affair, and the first place I spotted when I turned into Barolo after that wretch of a hill. A glass of Barolo to start, some very good veal crudo (a veal tartare essentially), with summer truffle on top, a whisper of what is to come with the white truffles in the Autumn. Then some pasta, some plin ravioli filled with three kinds of meat, very good too. The good thing about Barolo & Friends is that it is open all day, which is rare in this part of the world. It can be difficult to eat outside of meal times in Italy.

As charming as it is, I would suggest that if you are in Barolo for just one meal head up the road a little to the wonderful Rosso Barolo. I am so glad I decided to have a late lunch here, just at the end of service. I loved everything about it, the room, the service, the lovely wines by the glass and the food. It was my perfect kind of lunch, I just had my book for company, and all the time I needed to enjoy it all.

I started with vietello tonnato, sliced veal with tuna mayonnaise, particular to the region. I think this is the best version of that dish that I have ever had. I struggled to finish the large portion, and at one point raised my eyes from my book to see that the lady of the house had her eyes level with my unfinished dish, at which point she looked directly at me, intensely, she tutted, in a slightly stern but funny way, and then she walked away. I finished it. For primi, I had a wonderful tajarin with fresh summer truffles, tajarin is a local fine pasta noodle, and it was handmade, of course. And that was all I could eat. 

I proceeded back down the street and sat on a bench in the shade next to two local ladies gossiping intently about everyone who walked past, saying hello and then passing comment as soon as they were gone. I allowed the sun to go down a little, and then I proceeded on my walk from Barolo to Monfort d’Alba. This was my my favourite walk of the week through the vineyard terraces out of and above Barolo, affording the most gorgeous views of that prettiest of Piedmont towns.

My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

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Linguine Vongole with Guanciale, Tomato & Chilli

This post is about vongole (clams) but we must first talk about guanciale, the magical bacon that is cured from the jowl of the pig. It has a flavour that is different to all others. It is bacon, sure, but it has a volume to it, a roundness that consumes you when you eat it. It is big, it is present, and it is one of the best things that you can eat. It is traditionally Italian, and can be tricky to find here, I think because in the main we are so nervous about fat, which is ridiculous as fat is flavour, and we are built to digest it. Partially, it may be because it was traditional to eat the whole of the pigs head here, and maybe not cure it. Guanciale is perfection, eat it, just don’t have it every day.

Clams are perfect with pasta and so good with pork. There is something about the subtle brine and flavour of the sea released from each shell, the slick saline sauce that coats the pasta and compliments the sweet pork meat. The pop that is each small clam as you retrieve it as you eat. 

I have made many versions of vongole (Italian for clams) with linguine or spaghetti over the years. This time I had a gorgeous plump sweet Roman tomato, so I put that in. Peeled and deseeded, which is so worth the effort, so that you just get the purity and intensity of the tomato flesh. And who wants to pull tomato skin out from between their teeth? Chilli, because I love it, and it is a perfect flavour enhancer plus it gives a vibrance to the dish. Guanciale is perfection wherever it sits, and it is brilliant here. Peter Hannon makes a terrific guanciale which is stocked at Fortnum & Mason in London, and any decent Italian deli will have it too. If you can’t get guanciale, I would suggest looking online for it, or substitute with pancetta or streaky bacon.

Recipe: Linguine Vongole with Guanciale, Tomato & Chilli

takes 30 minutes
per person

Ingredients

350g fresh vongole / clams
100g linguine
1 gorgeous fresh tomato, peeled and deseeded (peel by cutting a cross in the base & covering with boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and peel skin)
1 mild chilli or some fruity dried chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
50g guanciale, chopped into 1 cm dice
a handful of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
sea salt
a little fresh cracked black pepper

Method

Soak the clams in water for as long as you have, up to an hour, although just 10 minutes will be ok too. Just to remove any sand that might be still in them. Then drain, discard any that are open and won’t close when you tap them (these are dead) and leave the remaining to the side.
Sauté the guanciale in its own fat for a few minutes over a medium heat, stirring as you do. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a minute, then add the tomato.
Cook your linguine in salted water until al dente. When there is just a few minutes to go, add a ladle of the pasta water to the tomato and guanciale mix, then add the clams. Cover with a lid for a couple of minutes or until the clams open.
When the pasta has a minute or two to go, drain it and add the pasta to the clams. Stir through ensuring the linguine is well coated in the sauce.
Add the parsley, stir through, check the seasoning and add salt if necessary (with the guanciale and clams you may not need to), and finish with a little black pepper.
Enjoy!

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Sponsored: Uncovering the Best & Most Surprising Food As We Travel (In Partnership With Travelex)

This post is sponsored by leading foreign exchange provider Travelex, whose research revealed that over half of Brits now choose their holiday destination based on what food they’ll eat. Since then they’ve been eavesdropping across Twitter to uncover the hottest food trends around the world.

The world is a peculiar place, there is no doubt about that. People travel to London to find the best British food, while us Londoners obsess with ramen, udon, and gourmet hot dogs. Go to Bubbledogs, we roar, and eat fantastic and quirky hot dogs, wash them down with grower champagne! Don’t neglect Koya! Do you fancy some Peruvian food while you are here? Let’s swing by Lima! And when in Lima, the city in Peru, not the London restaurant, you must eat Japanese food. It is excellent there due to the wave of Japanese immigration in the 20th century. 

Noodles and quail at Koya Bar in London

The report by the travel money provider also delved into social media to check out where in the world people were getting excited about different food, revealing Londoners to be a little obsessed with gelato and we do it really well. I eat more in London than I do when I visit Rome. Where? Where? Gelupo is London’s essential gelato stop for blood orange granita or bergamot sorbet. Seasonal, fresh and flavourful, you can taste before you decide too. It is also home to London’s best affogato (ice cold gelato with hot espresso) and ice cream cakes too. We all need at least one point in our lives where a good ice cream cake at the centre of it. I had my first for my first birthday, and it is one of my first memories too. Long live the Arctic Roll too! A swiss roll sponge with jam and ice cream within. (Although, I don’t think Gelupo do one of these, but they should!). 

Rose granita at Gelupo in London

Who knew that in New York, curry is your friend? According to the Travelex social media analysis, NYC tops the list for most buzz around the dish. London always had the curry crown but we now have competition. Brick Lane Curry House, named after our own East London restaurant strip specialises in Phal, a habanero curry. Tamarind Tribeca is renowned for their take on Britain’s Chicken Tikka Masala, a dish that originated in the UK, not India at all. NYC also does wonderful food markets. Smorgasburg, a Brooklyn flea food market, is home to Asia Dog, which serves an Ito dog with Japanese curry and homemade kimchi apples. The Bombay Sandwich Co serves a chana masala sandwich, slow cooked spiced chickpeas topped with mixed greens, pickled onions and homemade date chutney on a tasca ciabatta roll. With so many dining options, it’s no wonder the average person spends £250 on food alone whilst away.

Smorgasburg and Asia Dog in New York

The figures also show Toronto is obsessed with Japanese sushi, and has its own twist on that. They even had a Toronto Sushi Festival this year which was so popular, they had to change to a bigger venue to accommodate Torontonian sushi fans. Nami, in downtown Toronto, is like a slice of Kyoto, and is famous for its spider roll. Purists should splurge on Omakase at Sushi Kaji, and don’t neglect the spicy tuna rolls. Ja Bistro does a seven piece sushi platter, but the blow torched sushi is the thing here. Reviewers claim “it is as close to raw fish heaven as you’re going to get”. That sounds pretty good to me. While in Canada, I must mention Richmond in Vancouver which has some of the best dim sum outside of Hong Kong and three massive Asian shopping malls

Toronto and dim sum in Richmond, Vancouver

I am hungry now, aren’t you?!

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Dispatches from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Where to Eat & Stay)

Even though it is only a couple of hours flight away, Sarawak feels very different to mainland Malaysia. Sarawak is hotter, the humidity is particularly intense, and it feels very rural. There is a lot of jungle, and you know, orangutans and proboscis monkeys. Lots of lovely primates. And while Sarawak may only be one of two Malay provinces in Borneo, most of which is actually Indonesia, you could fit the whole of Ireland into it one and a half times. It ain’t small.

Kuala Lumpur by comparison felt very urban, and while I was prepared for a very sticky situation in terms of heat and humidity, it felt cooler, although so would almost anywhere. Kuala Lumpur is a tall city, with the Petronus twin tours and several bars perched high with great views. Despite this, Kuala Lumpur feels very accessible and not overwhelming, and people don’t feel rushed. It is very doable as a stopover which is essentially what I did.

I laid my head at The Majestic Hotel, a Kuala Lumpur institution still very attached to its colonial roots (the doorman is dressed in old colonial gear). I had a Junior Suite, a large room with four poster bed, day bed, sofa, table for 4 and 2 desks! A bath too, and all of this at a very accessible price (rooms start at £170 a night). I hadn’t realised until I got to KL that it has a reputation for luxury on a budget, something that I plan to take advantage of another time. 

We started with an afternoon tea in The Tea Lounge, there is also a beautiful orchid room which unfortunately was booked out. Breakfast was the best of the trip with a broad selection of dim sum, sushi, curries and my favourite fresh roti canai with dal. That roti canai was perfect, and I am trying to work out how to make it at home. It is all technique, swirling and swishing, teasing the dough like a tissue and introducing air. Then folding, frying and tearing it to dip it in dal or curry, which clings to the grooves and the pockets. So lovely, I could eat one every day.  

We were very lucky in KL to have Guan lead us, and introduce us to some Nyonya food. Guan was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, and while he is based in London now, he is devoted to his food culture through his own Nyonya supper club. You may remember Guan from The Taste, right?

Guan brought us to one of his favourite restaurants, Limapulo, which strictly speaking is Baba food (baba = grandfather and nyonya = grandmother). Guan ordered and the table was filled with food not long after. A rich Nyonya curry laksa was my favourite. We also had kuih pie tee (aka “Top Hats”), crispy outer shells with turnip filling, sambal sotong petai (sambal squid with ‘stinky’ petai beans), ayam rempah (braised chicken in nyonya spices, chillies and coconut milk), ayam pongteh (chicken stewed in fermented soy bean paste and palm sugar), hu chnee rempah (mackerel stuffed with sambal spice paste and udang masak nanas (prawn & pineapple curry). You mustn’t miss this restaurant when you visit KL. It is incredibly good value too.

There is lots more to see in KL, I am sure of it, but start here, and you will be very happy. 

Related posts from Malaysia and Borneo:

Read my previous post on my trip to Kuching and surrounding Sarawak directly before

Cooking in Sabah: Two Healthy Sea Gypsy Recipes (Fish Soup & a Fish Salad)

The Street Food Markets of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Sabah: Observing Orangutans at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabiliation Centre

Visiting Sabah Tea Plantation & Facing My (Non Tea Related) Fears

A Postcard from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Dispatches from Brunei’s Bandar Seri Begawan in Borneo

My trip to Sarawak was sponsored by Malaysia Airlines, who are the only carrier to offer a twice daily non-stop A380 full service link between the UK and Malaysia. UK passengers can also take advantage of frequent onward connections to destinations across Malaysia, Asia and Australasia. Economy class return flights from London Heathrow to Kuching via Kuala Lumpur International Airport start from £817. Business Class from £3167 (prices including taxes and charges). To book visit www.malaysiaairlines.com or call +44 (0) 871 4239 090.

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Brunch This: Potato & Tomato Hash with an Egg & ‘Nduja Onions

Yes! I am back in my kitchen after 10 days in Italy. My trip was split between Abruzzo and Rome and was deeply inspirational, if a little hot. No very hot, and all the mozzies got the memo that the pink Irish person was in town. Little gits.

Italy always gets my cooking neurons firing, I go there as often as I can, but this trip was particularly interesting as I was travelling mainly with talented chefs and food writers. The trip in general was centred around one of my favourite things, pasta! But, more on that soon.

I got back last night, very late after lots of delays. I was tired, my luggage was heavy with wine, charcuterie, beans and maybe a small arrosticini grill. There may have been a chitarra too. I know, I know, I have a problem. It was a lot to lug home solo, but the people of London were awesome, as always, and so many total strangers offered to help me as I went. I got home eventually, hungry, and enthusiastic to cook. I needed to make something speedy with a punch. The answer to that turned out to be a steak salad with ‘nduja onions. And it was good.

‘Nduja onions? What even are they? Red onions, caramelised gently for half an hour or so, with firey ‘nduja stirred through. ‘Nduja is a magical concoction of pork, fat and Calabrian chilli, in a spreadable sausage. I mean, YES. I actually can’t have it in the fridge all the time as I find it hard to go past it. The ‘nduja goes perfectly with the sweet onions, and the onions disperse the chilli a bit? You will want to put them in everything. You will want to dry them, and grind them to a powder, and well… use as a rub? (Gotcha!). I think these are a perfect garnish generally, and I plan to make a big batch and keep them in a jar in the fridge to use as I go.

Along with my brazen onions, I also had a perfect Roman tomato that I had brought with three others in my hand luggage home. I had some sorry looking potatoes which I revived by peeling off the limp skin, dicing, par boiling, and then frying gently until completely crisp and fluffy inside. I love a fluffy spud, it tickles my insides and awakes childhood culinary memories as it does. Memories of fields and flowers and summers spend gathering leftover small potatoes to do whatever we wanted with. Usually we tried to make crisps, but we were always disappointed (I have mastered the craft now ;) ). Anything, a country childhood forces you to be creative and I am still grateful for that.

Almost there. (Puglian) oregano is about the only thing that can shout over ‘nduja and calm it down a bit, so I popped some of that on too. For contrast, a little bitterness and some texture, I wilted some baby gem lettuce in the last minute or so. Then an egg, fried until the white is perfectly set and the yolk still runny.

It is good to be back in the kitchen! And back at my desk too.

Happy Monday, all! I hope your week is a good one.

Recipe: Potato & Tomato Hash with an Egg & ‘Nduja Onions

45 minutes
serves 1

Ingredients

‘Nduja onions – I would recommend quadrupling this and storing it in the fridge, if you can

1 red onion, peeled, cut in half and finely sliced
2 tbsp ‘nduja

Potato, Tomato & Lettuce Hash

1 average potato, peeled and diced
1 meaty tomato, peeled, deseed and roughly chopped (or a handful of good cherry tomatoes, halved)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (removed from the stem)
1 small head of baby gem lettuce, washed with leaves removed

1 egg
sea salt
light oil for frying

Method

Heat a tablespoon of oil and add the onions. Cook gently for half an hour or so (longer if you have time), then stir through the ‘nduja. Leave for a further 5 minutes then turn off the heat.

Parboil your potato until just tender, which will take just a few minutes. Heat a further tablespoon of oil in a new frying pan and fry over a medium heat until crisp all over. Add the tomatoes and oregano, the potatoes will get a little squishy, but that is what you want. Cook them for a further 5 minutes. Add the lettuce leaves for just a minute.

At this point I would normally just crack an egg in the middle here, but this morning I fried it in a separate pan. Up to you! I find I get my eggs perfectly right when fried over a medium heat with a lid on top. This allows the white to set perfectly while still having a runny yolk. I am a bit freaky about egg whites, I must confess.

Season the egg and hash with sea salt, and serve the hash with the egg on top, and finish with those feisty ‘nduja onions.

Joy! Enjoy it.

Castiglione Falletto

Walking Piedmont: Castiglione Falletto for Dinner & First Tastes of Barolo Wines

Have you ever had a nemesis? Something that makes you want to swear and shout, a thing that you think that you can’t beat but you still try, something that makes you want to throw your arms in the air and fall down and not think of getting up again for a while? Maybe just stay there, you know, forever. Was it ever a vineyard on a hill? 

Yeah. I am deadly serious. 

One day of my recent trek from town to town in Piedmont, my last kilometre or so was up a hill. It looked bad as I walked down the hill before to get there. I say a walk, more of a slow deliberate trot through woods and vineyards, winding and meandering and looking at that hill with Castiglione Falletto perched on top.

I had my book, my saving grace, and every now and then when the heatwave became too much, or the hill started to defeat me, I would stop in the shade of a hazelnut grove or a vine, crouched low, avoiding any spot of sun, and remove my head from the situation for 10 minutes, immersing myself instead in the West of Ireland at Christmas time via Anne Enright’s The Green Road. I could almost feel the cold. 

You shouldn’t think badly of Castiglione Falletto, of course, even though it is the villain of this piece. It is a hilltop Piedmontese town of less than a 1000 people, all seemingly perfectly harmless and lovely, ensconced on top. When I arrived, triumphant, I was shattered but I felt good. I could see that it was a pretty little place with a bar perched over the hill, a favourite stop for weary walkers, and just beyond that the main piazza with the Locanda del Centro, and next to that a shop selling all sorts of things, staffed by a sleeping elderly lady with her shoes kicked off. Castiglione Falletto is charming. 

For dinner I went and raised a glass to the hill, overlooking it. I may have been a bit gloaty (just in my head). Maybe more than one glass of wine, I had beaten it, I had triumphed after all. I had more than earned it.

I spent my evening at Ristorante L’Argaj which has a terrace overlooking those fateful vineyard terraces beneath. Sun setting, wine in hand, and my book that gave me the illusion of the cold, I had lightly fried courgette flowers, not stuffed but stiff and proud in their batter, and all the better for it.

Lasagnetta with buffalo mozzarella and courgette was a light small flavourful lasagne crisp with cheese on top.

How could I resist the milk fed suckling pig to finish? I couldn’t and it was very good served with pink lady apples and fennel.

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After all of that walking I still had room for dessert – this rarely happens, I always prioritise savoury – and had ripe peaches (which I had been looking at longingly on the trees as I walked), lightly oven roasted with chocolate gelato and almond sauce.   

And with that, back to bed, and to sleep, for the next morning, I was walking to Barolo.  

In Castiglione Falletto, I stayed at Hotel Le Torri. My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

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Vietnamese Summer Rolls Two Ways: Chilli Salmon & Samphire Rolls and Pork Belly & Crackling Rolls

I am summer roll crazy right now. When at home I have made them at least twice a week, and always with different fillings. Sometimes prawns, sometimes tofu, and yesterday, with chilli and lime salmon and samphire, and then the ultimate pork belly & crackling. Crunch, swoosh, zing. 

A summer roll is really just a beautifully packaged noodle salad. And  a very portable one. Hello, lunch? Rice noodles (vermicelli) and friends, all neatly packaged in a water softened rice paper wrap. They seem complicated but they are not all that difficult to roll, with practice. After 3 or 4, you will have the knack, and they will take over your summer. I keep the noodle content low, as I find they get a bit rubbery if there is too much. I like to keep them packed with colour and freshness, grated carrot, fresh coriander and mint, and the zing of a fresh fruity not-so-hot chilli. 

The wraps are fairly easy to source, I buy them in Chinatown usually but my local health food shop and supermarket stock them also. You can buy different sizes, I go for the bigger one, they are just easier. You can put whatever you want in your summer roll, I love these flavour combinations, and any leftover filling, should you have any, is perfectly good as a salad on its own.&nbsp

Recipe: Vietnamese Summer Rolls Two Ways; Chilli Salmon & Samphire Rolls and Pork Belly & Crackling Rolls

Makes 12 – 16 depending on how big you make them

Ingredients

Vietnamese rice paper wraps  – 12-16 to start but I suggest stacking up

50g vermicelli rice noodles, prepared according to packet instructions (mine needed to be soaked in boiling water for 12 minutes)

a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves
a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 mild fruity red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
4 spring onions, finely chopped

Salmon filling

350g salmon
1 lime
good dried chilli
sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper
greaseproof paper

a handful of fresh samphire

Pork belly filling

750g pork belly with skin on (allowing some for the cook to nibble on while they work ;) )
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp black peppercorns

Method

Pork belly – score the top using a sharp knife (or stanley knife – really, that skin is tough!) cutting through the skin until before the flesh. Don’t cut through to the flesh as it will lose moisture while cooking which affects the crackling making it rubbery, and also makes the flesh dry. Put the pork on a wire tray (like a grill pan) skin side up and pour boiling water over it to puff the skin up. Drain and dry the skin with kitchen paper. Leave at room temperature for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220 deg C. In a pestle and mortar / spice grinder combine 1 tsp sea salt / 1 tsp black peppercorns / 2 tsp final and grind until a rough powder. Dry the pork belly skin again, completely, if you own a hair dryer this works well (again, really), I use kitchen paper, and rub the fennel mixture all over the pork – skin and flesh. Place in the oven at 220 deg C for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 170 deg C and cook for a further 45 minutes. Check the skin, if not puffed up, blast at high heat for 5 minutes or place under the grill and keep a very close eye on it – it will burn quickly. Remove and leave to cool down a bit.

I cooked the salmon in the same oven for the last 20 minutes. Squeeze the lime over the salmon and top with a little sea salt, some chilli and pepper. Place on some greaseproof paper, enough to make a parcel (about 3 times the length and width) and fold the greaseproof paper tight on top to secure it. You can tie it with string but mine was fine like this. Cook for 20 minutes at 170 deg C. For the last two minutes add the samphire to the parcel, just to soften it. The samphire is also lovely raw so you can just put it in raw too). Remove from the oven and allow to cool down.

Combine the rest of the ingredients for the rolls – noodles, herbs et al.

Put about an inch of water in a bowl or deep plate large enough to fit the wraps (one at a time). Soak each one for 30 seconds or so, until just soft and pliable but not too soft (they will tear). You will get a feel for it.

Place a small amount of pork belly and crackling or salmon and samphire in the bottom centre third leaving an inch at the end (see photo). Place some of the noodle mixture on top. Fold each side over, then roll from the bottom (see photos).

Leave on a plate while you roll the others. Leave space between them or they will stick.

Eat immediately or store covered in cling film in the fridge.

Good, eh?!

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Walking Piedmont: Roddi to Grinzane Cavour & Dinner at Al Castello

Sunday morning was the day of my first Piedmont walk. And it was HOT. Italy is experiencing a heatwave right now. I gathered my bags and had my briefing with the Headwater team before they dropped me at my first stop.

A little about the Headwater setup first. As you will have read in my last post on Piedmont, my trip to Piedmont was part of the #30activedays blogger project with Headwater Holidays. 5 bloggers were involved in Italy, France & Austria, each doing an activity holiday. Not my usual travel style, although I am keen to be more active, I love slow travel and I love to walk. Headwater make it easy, the walks are already detailed in notes and maps which they send you before you go to Italy.

Every morning that you walk, the team move your bags to the next hotel, not just that, they have a wine delivery service and will pick up any wine that you buy too, delivering it to your final hotel for you to collect before you go home. Easy! Headwater also book your dinners (and they pride themselves on their local food and wine knowledge – the restaurants booked were testament to that). Lunch is your own affair with mention in the notes of local restaurants, trattorias and shops, picnic location suggestions and also advisory on where you can buy food en route. I stuck to the local restaurants, I love them and wanted to maximise my pasta scoffing opportunities while I was there.

My first walk started in Verduno, a sleepy place where all awake were at morning mass. The streets were deserted but I heard the familiar mass refrains and singing through a net curtained window. It was hot, very hot, so I hid every now and then in the shade an occasional wood might offer or in a hazelnut grove, arriving a couple of hours later at Roddi, my first stop, and where I had planned to lunch.

Roddi is a university town, not that you would know it to look at it. It is tiny, and there is hardly anyone about. But a university town it is and it is home to the Truffle Dog University, which was founded in 1880. Bright canines can be taught to sniff out one of the worlds finest delicacies here, Albas white truffles are some of the best. Have you ever tried one? They are incredible, so pungent and gorgeous with just an egg, perfect on a vacherin cheese. Truffles love fat, they are very indulgent, and quite pricey, but I do try to treat myself to one every year, just a small one for one dish. 

I had to eat. But it was Sunday and nowhere was open and I hadn’t planned anything. I started to worry, could my first lunch be foiled?! I spotted a restaurant down a side street. It didn’t look open, nothing did, but I was just the first customer. Around here people don’t lunch until 1pm and it was 12.30. La Crota was open and was serving home made pasta. Hello! I will have that, yes, please. 

I started with a typical dish, Tajarin with Ragu & Black Truffles. It is summer truffle season now and while summer truffles are just a hint of what is to come with white truffle season, when fresh as they are here, they are good. Tajarin is a thin cut egg pasta and the ragu here is served sparingly, as I have found often in Italy. Which on a hot day makes perfect sense. With some crisp white wine, a local Arneis, even more so. Then I packed my bag again and made my way. 

This was when it got challenging. It was hot. Really hot. So I continued to dip in and out of hazelnut groves having gentle rests and reading my book. Down a hill, and a gentle walk through some woods, a stretch on a quiet road, and then the ascent through a wooded park area to my next stop, Grinzane Cavour, home to a UNESCO heritage castle and the annual World Truffle Auction. I had a little lie down en route and luxuriated in the shade of a passing cloud. I ascended the final stretch, turned on to the street and, then – boom – loud speakers. I had landed there on the day of their annual fiesta, Fiesta della Madonna del Carmine.

Later that evening, all of the locals gathered in a marquee to eat a set menu cooked by some local volunteers. It was served by those in the area who had been born in 1997 (and they all had a t-shirt that said 97, too!). Next year it will be 1998 etc. It looked like fun but I was headed to Al Castello Ristorante.

Marc Lanteri is chef here, originally from Tende in the French Alps, Marc’s food reflects both cultures, but with a twist. Marc started cooking with Alain Ducasse at Louis XV in Monte Carlo, before working in Paris and then in Piedmont where he was worked primarily in michelin starred kitchens since. There is a terrific wine list too, which Marc’s wife Amy, front of house and a sommelier, looks after, matching being a keen skill, so do take advantage of that should you visit.

Hand chopped raw beef (or crudo, as it is called here), served with beautiful raw red prawns from San Remo and perfectly ripe buttery avocado started my meal. I ate lots of crudo in Piedmont, and this was one of my favourite executions.

Tajarin with piedmont hazelnuts and a wonderful rich ragù of pigeon and chanterelle mushroom followed.

Piedmontese beef is renowned, so I opted for it a second time in one meal, this time cooked as a steak served with potatoes and mushrooms with Barolo wine reduction. Served medium rare, the flavour of the meat was deep and the reduction rich but not overwhelming. I did also taste the duck, just a bit, and it was one of finest I had tasted in a while, I would order that on my return (which I hope to).

I couldn’t resist a cheeky dessert of spiced pineapple carpaccio with Piña Colada sorbet with a little rum on the side.

At which point something sounded like a canon, and I jumped out of my seat. I was in a castle after all. Seconds later I spied that it was the fireworks to finish the fiesta that evening, a lengthy spectacle, impressive for such a small town, which I watched through the castle window.

The party was still in full swing when I returned to Casa Pasevi, my hotel. A townhouse with a terrace perched over the hills and vineyards beyond, my room had a balcony overlooking it all. I had breakfast on the terrace before hitting my next Piedmont town, and my next walk. More on that soon! 

My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

Barolo - the most gorgeous of Piedmont towns

A Postcard from Piedmont, Italy: Walking Hilltop Towns, Hazelnut Groves, Truffles, Wine & Pasta

I was in Italy this past week to walk it. Yes, I was walking in the country that is shaped like a boot. Specifically, Piedmont in the North, and its UNESCO protected vineyard terraces, castles and gorgeous hilltop towns and villages. 

This was quite the workout, ensuring that I earned every bite of pasta that I ate. And there was a lot to eat. And yeah, I did. Of course, I did! Italy is one of my favourite countries for food and I love the culinary education that I get with every visit. This wasn’t my first trip to Piedmont but I still discovered new pasta shapes and sauces, each enthusiastic forkful fired my brain and filled my head with ideas and plans for kitchen adventures. 

I love slow travel, I wish that I could do it more often. Walking, boats, trains, time by myself where I can tune out and just be. Time to get to know the place that I am visiting and soak it all in, at pace. Piedmont is perfect for this. Piedmont is rich, green and undulating, dotted with small towns and villages perched on hills. All surrounded by stunning UNESCO protected vineyard terraces which weave through woods, hazelnut groves and the occasional cheerful field of enthusiastic sunflowers. If feels like it has stopped in time.

My walking tour was self guided, I did it on my own, and it was a joy. Walks were planned in detail with comprehensive instructions and maps, but there was plenty of time for leisurely lunches and there was lots of time snatched to read in the shade of trees and hazelnut groves, especially in the hottest part of the day. I love solo travel and I have so enjoyed wandering the vineyard terraces and admiring the beautiful views with nothing but my head to contend with. Headspace! The joy of it. I recommend it. 

While ambling there are a few things to consider. I was on my own and occasionally saw a farmer or a cyclist, once a guy riding a horse through the vineyards, but very occasionally I was on a road. Few people remember that Italy is home to the worlds fastest moving panda, a Fiat Panda, and you must look out for them as they zip around the corners, but honestly I think I was only on a road for 5% of the time. To the point where after a day wandering vineyards, hazelnut groves and woods, I started to notice just how loud cars are. Really loud! 

Lots more to come on the gorgeous towns of Piedmont including Grinzane Cavour with its UNESCO protected castle which I visited on the day of its annual fiesta; sleepy gorgeous Castiglione Falletto perched on the top of my most challenging hill; Barolo, perhaps the most beautiful, with that wine, and my favourite walk of the week; Monforte d’Alba, the most characterful and lively;  and Benevello, where I started and finished my trip.

My Gastronomic Walking Tour of Barolo was sponsored as part of a #30activedays project, a partnership between Captivate Digital Media and Headwater Holidays to celebrate 30 years of  activity holidays by Headwater Holidays, including Gastronomic Walking and Cycling TripsI maintain full editorial control of the content published on this site, as always.

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Where to Eat, Drink & Stay in Menorca

I bumped into a friend on my flight back from Menorca recently. I was very tired and so I squinted, but no, sure enough it was Will. And he reminded me how much he loved Menorca, and how he had got married there. He visits all the time, and all I could think was, yes, of course you do. It is such a lovely place. Surprisingly so, and not because it isn’t lovely, it is, but because it feels so untainted by tourism. Aren’t all of the lovely places already very busy? Read More

Poached egg with chorizo, almonds, tomato & basil

Cook This: Chorizo, Tomato, Almonds, Basil & a Poached Egg

What? You never thought of having almonds with your eggs? Well think about this: how good would a fried almond slick with chorizo oil be dipped into a runny egg yolk? Yeah! Lets get cracking. This is so simple and you will have your breakfast of champions on your table within 10 minutes.

First, lets tackle what is likely at the forefront of your mind. THAT poached egg. Let me let you in on a secret, I poach eggs all the time and my first poached egg for this dish was a disaster. I created my whirlpool as I always do, I even added vinegar as I knew my egg was not as fresh as I would like. I would need a very fresh egg for a great poached egg but vinegar helps tighten a tired white and pull it all together. My poor egg couldn’t handle the whirlpool and the yolk bolted away, the white clinging on only just. The yolk poached perfectly and it is the best bit anyway, but you know, that was a disaster of a poached egg.

Do you feel discouraged? Don’t, 95% of the time these work out fine. My second one was from the same box and so I let the water relax and be still then cracked the egg into a small cup before gently easing it into the water. This one was perfect. And there we are. None of the fuss was warranted, all this egg needed was some water that was not quite boiling (and that is very important too – tiny imperceptible bubbles are what you want). You can fry your egg or even boil it if this is too much of a pulaver but I would walk across hot coals for a perfect poached egg on the mornings that I desire one.

This requires less of a recipe, it is more of a conversation. Fry a handful of chopped chorizo until it starts to release its oil, then add a couple of tablespoons of almonds for a couple of minutes, stirring as you go, coating them in the lovely chorizo oil. This whole time your egg should be cooking, whichever way you want. Add the tomatoes and cook briefly so that they stay firm. Finish with a little salt, to taste, and a flourish of basil. Egg on top.

Lovely, eh? Enjoy!

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Cook This: Chicken Rice Noodles with Peanuts, Chilli & Coriander

You know how it is. You have leftovers, and you need to use them. Or you are tired, and all you want to do is use the leftovers. Either way, this is leftover city and we have to use them up. Leftovers get a bad rep but they are the best thing in a kitchen. Flavours are usually at their best the next day, at the very least they can be livened up quickly and you can have a terrific meal in minutes. 

Take a chicken. Say, leftover roast chicken. So good on its own, wonderful with mayo and stuffing in a sandwich, but what about looking East and giving it a little heat, then pumping it awake with some aromatics, some nuts for texture (I am putting peanuts in everything at the moment) and you have a dish that will make you want to roast a chicken and not eat it, but save it for this. Of course you can just roast a chicken thigh for one person to order, which I also did today.

Plus, isn’t it hot? I want something refreshing, bright and quick. This takes 10 minutes to put together and I have eaten this three times since I came up with it last week. Rice noodles with shredded chicken, fried peanuts, spring onions, a little hot chilli, a pinch and punch of garlic and ginger, tickle of fresh coriander, lick of fish sauce and sprinkle of fresh lime. 

Sounds good, right? Here is how. 

Recipe: Chicken Rice Noodles with Peanuts, Chilli & Coriander

Serves 2 

Ingredients

100g thick rice noodles (thin will do fine too)
300g leftover chicken, shredded
1 chilli, as hot as you like, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp peanuts (peeled or unpeeled are fine)
4 spring onions, chopped finely
a handful of fresh coriander leaves
juice of one lime and extra lime wedges to serve
2 tbsp good fish sauce
sea salt to taste
light oil for frying

1 tbsp fresh mint leaves (optional – they give another fresh layer)

Method

Cook the rice noodles according to packet instructions (mine needed to be soaked in boiling water for 12 minutes).

Sauté the chicken and peanuts in a little light oil for a few minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and sauté for a further 2 minutes. Add the spring onions, stir through, then add the noodles. Mix until well combined. Add the lime and fish sauce and taste for seasoning. The fish sauce acts as a salt (it has a lot of salt in) so you may not need any. Adjust lime and fish sauce for your taste if required. Finish with the coriander and mint (if using), stirring through, and serve with an extra lime wedge on the side.

Enjoy! This eats really well hot or cold. Perfect lunch or picnic food too.

Caldereta de Langosta at Es Cranc in Menorca

A Perfect Sunday Lunch: Caldereta de Langosta in Menorca at Es Cranc (Traditional Lobster Soup + a Recipe)

On a quiet street in Fornells in Menorca is an unassuming restaurant, Es Cranc. Es Cranc has a large menu, but most come here for the Caldereta de Langosta, a popular lobster soup from Menorca made with the native blue spiny lobsters which Es Cranc is particularly well regarded for.

Caldereta gets its name from the pot that it is cooked in, a caldera. Traditionally this was a fishermans dish, cooked with the broken lobsters that they had caught. Now, it is a luxury and an indulgence, cooked at home for special occasions and at specialist restaurants like Es Cranc in Fornells.

Behind a side door next to Es Cranc is a path that meanders to a room of large water baths, and these are full of spiny lobster. Spinning and weaving, large and small, these lobsters are mostly destined for the caldereta, some will be served simply grilled on their own. This is where the fishermen deliver their catch, for Es Cranc that is 5 different day boats that go out up to 7 miles out to sea. . 

Es Cranc was full on the Sunday that I went for lunch. Jovial large tables with extended families, all there for the caldereta. The soup has a base of tomato, onions and green pepper, and is light and fruity, with lovely lobster cooked just so inside, still sweet and tender. It is served on top of thin sun dried slices of bread, like crackers. A bib is provided – and you need it. We had some lovely local white wine on the side.  

The langosta lobsters can only be fished between March and August, so pencil it in your diary for then. Alternatively, you can recreate it at home. One of my favourite food writers Claudia Roden has a lovely recipe for caldereta from her superb book The Food of Spain. She serves it with a picada of almonds, garlic and parsley. Here it is for your Sunday lunch pleasure. Lets let the sunshine in, even if it doesn’t want to be here!

Notes on the recipe: As above, this recipe is adapted from Claudia’s Caldereta de Langosta in The Food of Spain. Claudia includes monkfish and fennel which I have omitted (including extra lobster instead) so that it is closer to the one that I had. Buy your lobsters just before you need them and have your fishmonger kill and chop them for you into chunks just over an inch. The sun refuses to play frequently enough for us to sun dry the bread, and even though it is considered a cheat in Menorca to roast it, if they were here, they would have to too! :)

Recipe: Caldereta de Langosta

Serves 6

Ingredients 

For the caldereta

3 x 700g raw live lobsters (as your butcher to prepare them as per the notes above)
1 large onion, chopped
1 green or red bell pepper,cored, seeded, and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
350g tomatoes (4 to 5),peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 litre fish stock
125ml brandy or cognac
salt and pepper

For the picada

12 blanched almonds
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp brandy or cognac

One good baguette, sliced into narrow slices and toasted or roasted in a medium hot oven until crisp

Method

Fry the onion and the pepper in the oil in a large pot (I used my shallow casserole which was the closest I had to a caldera) over a low heat until very soft. Add the tomatoes and sugar and cook until the sauce is reduced and jammy. Blend until well combined (in the pan with a hand blender or a food processor – whatever you have, you can mash coarsely if you have neither).

Meanwhile, for the picada: Fry the almonds and garlic in the oil in a small skillet over low heat for moments only, turning them once, until they are golden. Pound them to a paste with the parsley in a mortar, or blend them to a paste, and add the brandy.

Add the fish stock and brandy to the tomato mixture and season with salt and pepper. Add the lobster, and bring to the boil. Boil for five minutes and stir the picada into the lobster soup. When the lobster shells are bright red and the meat is firm the soup is done, this will take only a few more minutes at most. Take care not to overcook it, lobster is best when tender.

Serve immediately in bowls with the bread and savour your work. A crisp white wine or rosé perfect this. Aim for a Menorcan or Spanish one :)

Easyjet have just launched direct flights from London Southend to Mahon.

I travelled to Menorca as part of a project between iAmbassador and Visit Menorca, who sponsored this project.  As always, I’m free to write what I like and I do! Life is short etc. :)