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Homemade Malloreddus (Gnocchetti Sardi) with Bacon, Peas, Chilli, Courgette & Parmesan

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Fresh pasta is such a faff, right? You always want to do it but the stuff you get in the shop is just as good, right? I mean, who has that much time?

All of the above assumptions are incorrect. Fresh pasta is really quite straightforward and it is so much better (unless you are spending a lot of money on your dried pasta). It takes time but a lot of that time the dough is just resting and waiting for you. You make the dough – which depends on the pasta type, generally dough in the North is made with 00 pasta flour and eggs, and with water and semolina flour (a coarser grind of durum wheat) in the South – this usually takes 5 – 10 minutes. You let it rest as you have just beaten it about the place and it needs to unwind. Then you roll and shape it. Even hand rolling tagliatelle does not take that long, but some of the smaller shapes are super speedy, with practice.  Of course this is a generalisation, but I use it just to give you an idea.

The peculiarly named malloreddus (it originates from the Latin mallolous, meaning small morsel, however, every time I say or read it I see malodour, anyone else?!) originates in Sardinia. It was traditionally shaped on wicker baskets, now more commonly using a grooved piece of class called a ciuliri or a gnocchi ridger. I have a gnocchi ridger so I use that (I bought mine at Sous Chef for just £4), but I have seen people use sushi mats too online.[Read more]

Manicomio City Steak & Chianti Night
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Preview: Manicomio City Steak & Chianti Nights

I recently found myself in the Gutter, no, sorry, Gutter Lane in East London. Manicomio City, an offshoot of the original Manicomio in Chelsea, are offering a Chianti & Steak Night Special until the end of November. I laid my waistline on the -er- line and went to check it out for you.

On offer is a Longhorn T-Bone (750g) from the Ginger Pig, and a bottle of 2009 Castellare Di Castellina, Chianti Classico. The steak is available at lunchtime to share for £45 and the wine also retails at £45, so it is a bit of a bargain at £65 for both. The Ginger Pig is pretty well known in London now, and like most food obsessives, I am familiar with their steak, both from the Ginger Pig butcher shops and also steakhouse Hawksmoor, which uses their steaks exclusively. Great meat and steaks, and I especially love the blue cheese taste the Longhorn fat has. Fabulous.

The offer is for the steak and wine, excluding sides and starters and desserts (should you want them), but I am always looking for great gnocchi so tried the gnocchi with tuscan sausage and fennel ragu first. The gnocchi were pillow light and the ragu deep and rich with the fennel lifting it. My friend had the rabbit papardelle with leeks, capers and lemon – and of course I had a taste – another lovely rich tender ragu with the capers and lemon giving it piquancy and freshness.

Gnocchi with Tuscan sausage and fennel ragu

Gnocchi with Tuscan sausage and fennel ragu

Rabbit pappardelle with leeks, capers and lemon

Rabbit pappardelle with leeks, capers and lemon

[Read more]

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo - my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)
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Recipe: Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo - my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo – my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)

Gnocchi were a mystery to me until I went to Italy. The ones that I had tried before (this was before I moved to London before you roar), were leaden and rubbery and I could never see what the appeal was. I mean, everyone else must be wrong, right?

Wrong. I was just eating crap processed gnocchi.

The joys of gnocchi were revealed to me for the first time at the tender age of 22 on a trip to Naples to stay with a friend, her Neapolitan boyfriend and his family. Andrea’s Dad (the Neapolitan), ex military and the most wonderful and tender home cook, cooked for us every day. 3 courses for lunch with wine, an aperitif, and then us Irish girls had to go to bed for a bit because we were not used to this at all. Lunch in Ireland before then had been one course at lunchtime with no alcohol and back to business.

Everyday, Andrea’s Dad got up early in the morning to head to the shop to get buffalo mozzarella, straight from Campania and fresh every day. The shop owner would depart at 4am to get the best and the freshest and we would have it for lunch, cut thick like steaks and weeping sweet milk. I was in food heaven. Andrea and Shelley said, this is nothing, wait until you try his pumpkin gnocchi. And I did.

The pumpkin gnocchi were tiny, tender and divine. Light as sweet puffs of air, they were so delicate and beautiful to eat. I was determined to make them at home and quickly discovered that these were tricky and took practice (my recipe for them is in Comfort & Spice).

I have since experimented lots, with potato gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, and all sort of others. The pumpkin and the potato are traditional and best. Such frugal offerings, 4 potatoes, a little flour and an egg will offer sustenance for days or for lots of people. My sister thought that she didn’t like gnocchi but I made these for her, and she proclaimed them better than those she had in Italy, which is very high praise (or lies). I am going for praise.

The trick here is in the technique. Imagine that you are making the finest pastry and use the lightest hands. Work quickly while the potatoes are still hot. Use floury potatoes only (I am in Ireland and used Golden Wonders which worked very well), and make sure you have a mouli or potato ricer to pass the potatoes through. A potato ricer will cost about £12 and will render the stubborn potato fluffy and soft. For best results pass it through a few times, I passed mine through 3 times, working as quickly as I could. The heat is important.

When cooking the potatoes, be careful not to push them too far. Floury potatoes are guzzlers and once soft, will take in as much water as they can, rendering them a sorry soggy mess. Cook them until you can pierce them with a fork and they still resist a touch without being too hard. Peel immediately, if you don’t have asbestos paws like me use a tea towel.

How to eat them? However you want. Make a gratin with cream and blue cheese and cover with a good melting cheese. Perfect winter fare. Or make a tomato sauce and serve simply with the gnocchi and some parmesan on top. I did this today, making a sauce which started with a sauté of very finely chopped rosemary, garlic and red chilli, then a tin of good chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar. I cooked it for a couple of hours adding water when it got too thick every now and then. The secret to good tomato sauce is good tomatoes, flavour enhancer (chilli and garlic), balance (vinegar and sugar), time, and a good sprinkle of sea salt.

They are worth the effort and don’t be dismayed if you don’t get them right the first time. Once you crack them, you will be thrilled with yourself, and so will your family and friends.

Recipe: Homemade Potato Gnocchi[Read more]

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A Weekend in Watergate Bay: Dinner at Fifteen Cornwall

Watergate Bay, Cornwall

Fifteen is a very impressive place. Another one of Jamie Oliver’s socially enterprising projects, Fifteen started in London, a restaurant established with two purposes: serving good Italian food and training kids with difficult
backgrounds and limited hope for the future, as chefs.

This presents many problems. Lots of these kids are quite traumatised and struggle with routine and authority. It has been very successful despite this, and on the back of that first TV show and book, there are now many troubled kids that have become trained chefs and work in the industry. Lots of chefs with potential that we may hear more about in the future. The London restaurant is also successful (although it gets mixed reviews, some love it, some not so much) and is now an international brand and charity with restaurants/academies in Cornwall, Melbourne and Amsterdam.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

I find this interesting for many reasons. It’s a lovely twist on using food to nurture, not only providing diners with food, Fifteen provides the trainees with direction, focus, and a passion for and knowledge of food. Some of the kids that train there have limited skills and little exposure to food, certainly of the standard served in most restaurants.

The selection process is thorough, they ensure that they choose kids with potential, they ask them to taste food and describe it, and those that pass this, are sent on an overnight boot camp to ensure that they can work as part of a team and deal with the stresses that will come their way in the kitchen. No small thing then, this all happens before they ever pick up a knife and learn to chop, produce a stock, their first dish, it’s a long process.

I paid a visit to Fifteen Cornwall, which is socially enterprising as it’s London sibling is, but it takes it to another level. It takes in kids from all over Cornwall (a big county – the kids travel to Fifteen from all over daily at the expense of the charity) but also ensures that it sources 80% of it’s produce from Cornwall. That includes salt & pepper, everything. They encourage local producers to provide produce that the restaurant requires, be it duck, herbs, charcuterie, coffee, and durum wheat for pasta and as a result or in partnership with, Cornwall has a fantastic and thriving local food culture. They are a veritable force for good at a time when farmers and small producers are struggling against the commercial might of the supermarkets.

But, what of the food? The social enterprise nature of the restaurant is very important, but it is a restaurant, and customers pay for the pleasure. How do they maintain consistency and ensure that the food that comes out of that kitchen is good and worth the price ? For every trainee chef, there is one training chef, and not only is there a head chef, but there is also a head training and development chef, ensuring that along with the training, food of a high standard is sent out, as each trainee chef has a trainer accomplice. Makes sense.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

The restaurant is set on the beach and walled with windows, a stunning location. We were seated in the corner while the sunset and it was absolutely beautiful, it would be difficult to match the setting. We started with some prosecco and a natter, soaking it all in, before turning our attention to the menu. The menu changes daily, and depends on what food is available.

I was invited to try the tasting menu on my visit there. We didn’t match the wines in this instance, although I will do that on my next visit. Overall impressions of the food were that this is well executed Italian food. It doesn’t have the robust simplicity of The River Café, where Jamie cut his teeth, it’s more intricate and detailed, and on the evening that I ate there, very good indeed.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

We started with porcini mushroom and thyme arancini, crispy little risotto balls and roasted butternut squash with St Allen goats cheese. These were a lovely appetiser with some prosecco (Cartizze from the other Bisol family in Venice it turns out). I really liked both of these, nice little bites, the arancini were crispy and intensely savoury and the sweet roast butternut squash was lovely with the more tart Cornish goats cheese.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

The insalata course offered insalata of mozzarella di bufala with Italian blood orange, candied walnuts and Buttervilla’s micro herbs or Cornish Deli Farm coppa with beautifully dressed ruby beets, wild rocket and horseradish. I wanted both (greedy girl that I am) but forced with a choice, I really wanted to taste the coppa from Deli Farm Charcuterie in Cornwall. Luckily, one of my dining companions offered to share hers too, so we had half and half. The mozarella with blood orange was stunning, and very pretty with the bold walnuts providing a lovely bite, and the microherbs I loved for texture as well as flavour. Overall it was lovely. The coppa was delicious, hats off to Deli Farm, I adore beetroot and these were treated well, but the insalata was my favourite of the two for the dish as a whole.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

We’re now at Primi and I am getting full already as I have had an enormous lunch (call me a bad planner or a glutton, both work equally well). We had a choice of squid ink angel hair with Falmouth bay mussels Looe day boat squid and pangratatto or gnudi verdi (the lightest ricotta and spinach dumplings) with a lemon and sage butter sauce. I couldn’t resist the local fish, and was delighted that I had chosen it, it was delicate and very well composed tasting elegantly of the sea. The squid ink angel hair was remniscent of seaweed, and despite my appetite waning I wanted more.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

There were four options for secondi, and I won’t go through all of them here, but will tell you about the two I spent 5 minutes agonising over. The crispy fillet of line caught sea bass with winter vignole of borlotti beans, kale, violet artichokes, prosciutto di San Daniele and salmoriglio or pot roasted Primrose Herd balsamic pork shoulder with sage polenta, savoy cabbage and pan juices. I’d already had fish, and adore pork shoulder, and this balsamic treatment of it was interesting to say the least. But my appetite was waning, so I thought the lighter fish option might be better. The dish arrived with lovely crispy artichokes lying on top, as if a funeral for the fish. They did that fish proud, it was lovely, the borlottis and the kale providing savoury meatiness. I didn’t much notice the proscitto, but the fish was lovely and wonderfull fresh. Another well executed and pleasant dish.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

I needed something light for dessert so went with Amalfi lemon semi freddo, Champagne rhubarb and Clare’s lovely macaroon. It was a spritely dessert, RHUBARB again (I must be turning pink!), and the semi-freddo was lovely. It was a large dessert, but I did my best to finish it.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

We finished with coffee and petits fours, the petits fours were fine, but nothing really special, however I was really full at this point, and it would have taken something stellar to revive my palate.

Dinner at Fifteen, Cornwall

Wines? We had Nebbiolo D’Alba, 2007 from Ascheri a lovely light red that would be perfect for summer or with Italian food like here, and Les Fleurs d’Alsace Hugel, 2006, both recommended by the sommelier. I really liked them both and found them great matches for my light dishes. I found myself hogging the Hugel wine though. It’s delicious and creamy, but quite bright and lively, one of those lovely white wines full of personality and also elegant from the Alsace.

The overall experience was one of a lovely pleasant relaxed evening, eating delicious food by the sea. It was relaxing, despite the restaurant being busy, and the food felt delicious and healthy. A lovely break from a Londoner, I am going back this June and doing it all again, and all on my own dollar. Highly recommended.

Fifteen Offer for readers of Eat Like a Girl: From the 19th – 30th April enjoy a new season’s asparagus course free with each booking. I only wish I was closer to indulge!

Disclosure: I ate at Fifteen Cornwall as a guest and stayed in Cornwall courtesy of Beach Retreats and The Hotel Watergate Bay.

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Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I love the River Cafe. It’s so bright and cheerful. By the Thames, the room is lined with high large windows and the room is flooded with light. A big woodfired oven blazes at the end of the room, and the kitchen and bar line the restaurant. Staff buzz behind and high ceilings mean the surrounding customer chatter isn’t imposing. It’s really nice and lively. Even the toilets are cheerful with big bright doors of different colours.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

It’s at the high end of most budgets, and mine is no exception, so it’s been a while since I visited. Some years ago, pre blog days in fact. Imagine, there was a time when I didn’t blog?! I have long been a fan of their style of cooking, simple flavoursome Italian far so I was excited at the prospect of a return visit, especially as I had secured a reservation with the Winter lunch offer of 3 courses for £24.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray are accredited with changing perceptions of Italian food in this country, and many established chefs like Jamie Oliver have passed through their kitchens, crediting River Cafe as an inspiration, in terms of their food and their values. Sadly, co-founder and one of the chefs Rose Gray passed away after a long illness recently, and our reservation was moved as a result. Impressively, Ruth Rogers was there, manning the pass. I really like the fact that they never expanded or formed a chain, and stayed dedicated to their restaurant, still cooking and creating. It’s rare these days, no?

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The set menu offers lots of choice, and I wanted every main on it (there were four). We decided to forego the appetisers and to have a primi, secondi and dolce (starter, main and sweet). I was sorely tempted to go the whole hog, but that’s enough for lunch, when you’ve been eating out as much as I have been lately.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

I chose the Ribolita for primi, and my friend Caroline, fellow Irish gal and market buddy dining with me that day, chose the Gnocchi di Spinaci. I couldn’t resist two of my favourite ingredients, borlotti beans and cavolo nero but sadly it wasn’t remarkable. It was too wintry for me now that we are in Spring. I would have been happy with it at home, but at River Cafe I wanted something with more vibrance and more appeal. It just didn’t have any va-va-voom. The gnocchi were much better. Light, springy and bursting with flavour in a delicious lively sage butter.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

My main promised to be better and delivered. Coscia d’Agnello ai Ferri – chargrilled leg of lamb with cannelinni beans , parsley and slow cooked florence fennel. Bright pink in the centre with a gorgeous charred exterior and a beautiful texture, the lamb was perfect. The beans and fennel were a lovely compliment, the beans had a perfect bite, these were not depressing supermarket tinned beans that I loathe so much. Beans are so very underrated, I love the liberal placement of them in the River Cafe menu.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

Caroline had the Coda di Rospo alla Griglia – chargrilled monkfish with anchovy and rosemary sauce, soft polenta with butter and parmesan, and cicoria. Caroline was worried that the polenta would be heavy, but I was confident that this would be the real deal, light and fluffy having been made with great care and over time. Polenta, like risotto, needs careful handling and lots of love, and this had liberal amounts of both. She loved it.

Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe

The famous chocolate nemesis had to be ordered for dessert, it was mousse like in texture and utterly more-ish with the intensity of dark chocolate but none of the heaviness common in most chocolate desserts. We also ordered the lemon tart which was light and zingy, and a perfect end to the meal.

We had a bottle of Greganico with the meal, a Sicilian white compared to Sauvignon. I preferred it and found it lovely and aromatic with nice acidity that worked well with our lunch. It was light enough not to feel too guilty about a second glass that early in the day! It was a very reasonable £17.50, and was a good indicator for the rest of the list, being the cheapest available.

So, overall a lovely experience, even if the ribolita failed to impress. The service was charming, friendly and very helpful, even when I hopped around the wine list interminably, failing to decide. With wine it came to £40 each, which for the River Cafe is a bit of a bargain. The Winter Lunch Offer finishes at the end of March.

http://www.rivercafe.co.uk/