Sunday, 5 June 2011

Bella Roma


 What a trip! What a waistline! What melt-in-the-mouth pasta! What an engagement!

So back in April The Prawn King and I took a cheeky trip down to Rome to get away from the Royal Wedding, and spent our five days walking and eating very, very well. I know Rome is full of museums and galleries but for me you get to know a place by walking around, sitting in little cafes and just generally absorbing everyday life. Also given that food is the heart of Italy it would have been wrong not to eat as well and as often as we could during our time there. No? 

We stayed in a sweet little apartment on Via Giulia near Campo dei Fiori, whose owner Alessandro was a real foodie! He gave us some great recommendations and we headed straight out for lunch at Dal Paino on Via di Parione. There is something about that first meal in a place when you’ve just got off the plane, feeling a little tired and weary; Dal Paino’s thin, thin pizza with a cold Peroni just hit the spot! Yum.  

Alessandro’s next recommendation was PierLuigi where we went for dinner that night. PierLuigi’s location is what you dream of when you think about eating in Italy – quiet little piazza, white table cloths and a warm evening to sit outside and people-watch. We started with a carpaccio of salmon and moscadini fritti (tiny baby whole squid deep fried), both which were amazing but I would go back to Rome just for another plate of the moscadini. We then went and -chose our fish and decided on a turbot cooked au-gratin, with baked radicchio and taleggio. Delicious, delicious, delicious.

The next day went walked over the river to Trastevere and had a delicious cappuccino and an arrogosto (literally means “lobster”) which is a little filo pastry delicacy filled with ricotta and orange. THAT is the way to have breakfast! 

Lunch was a recommendation from a couple we met the night before, Le Mani in Pasta which unless you knew about, you’d walk right past it. We got a seat next to the kitchen so we could see what was going on and started with a delicious plate of buffalo mozzarella and proscuito crudo. We then went on to have the home-made Ravioli with butter and sage and Fettuccine ricotta prosciutto, both made in-house and both completely divine. Definitely a highlight of the trip and a must if you go to Rome.

The Saturday night had been planned by The Prawn King. We left the apartment and strolled hand-in-hand through the streets of Rome to the restaurant. Looking back, I now realise why his hands were slightly clammy but at the time I wondered if he might be coming down with something. Think “wet fish” and you get an idea of what they were like. The restaurant was a gorgeous little place called Il Bacaro, covered in ivy and very romantic. We went inside and ordered our food and just after the starter came The Prawn King said “There’s something I want to ask you” and he got down on one knee, produced a beautiful ring and asked me to marry him! It was truly romantic and beautiful, but please don’t ask me what the food was like there as I honestly can’t remember. The wine and prosecco flowed freely that night and we woke up with a suitable hangover the next morning! The rest of the weekend was spent in a glorious bubble and a great excuse for lots of celebratory cocktails and glasses of prosecco.

Some other places of note were Colline Emiliane where the family running the place were actually from Emilia Romagna further north in Italy. We had a delicious Lasagne which is typical of the region and Tortelli di Zucca (pumpkin) which was outstanding. Gelateria del Teatro was also amazing with their sage and raspberry gelato and my favourite, pistachio.

On the last night we went out for a drink at Bar del Fico in Piazza del Fico and had a couple of delicious basil martinis. We then went over the road to a restaurant we had seen during the day and thought looked fun, Da Francesco. It was absolutely heaving, very noisy and complete chaos. We had a great meal but the highlight was really the atmosphere and the buzz, and the fact that we were the only tourists in there. We had great chats with all the waiters and by the end of the night The Prawn King was on first name terms with the owner, and everyone in the restaurant was celebrating our engagement!

A great end to a truly amazing weekend we really won’t forget.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Easter Madness

What an epic Easter weekend! This definitely goes down in the family history books for the extraordinary weather (25˚C), the 17-people family get together, the amazing food and the witch-hunt over the missing Lint Lindor egg.

It all started with a perfect picnic under a shady tree in the parents’ allotment. We were meant to be digging and planting, but eating and drinking seemed more appealing. I had made a Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia that morning and Mum brought the rest – salami, finely sliced dried pork loin, cold BBQ chicken thighs, mozzarella with basil, Dad’s home-made pate, home-grown green salad and homemade elderflower – all consumed on a rug in the blossomy shade.

Saturday was the family get-together and we all piled over to my uncle and aunt’s, so that 17 people could trash their house rather than ours! The Gang: Mike, Sal, Avril, Tom, James, Annie, Rob, Kate, Justin, Laura, Garvin, Martha, Elijah, Petra, Mia, Josh and Nyah. The whole day was spent in the garden eating delicious barbeque shoulder of lamb with herb-covered new potatoes, grilled peppers, green salad and a delicious mix of shelled broad beans, peas, green beans, spring onions and mint. Uncle Mike was a fab host offering champagne, Pimms and beer but on a day like that there was only one thing for it – ice-cold Rosé.

There was also a frantic Easter Egg Hunt where all the adults tried to hide the eggs as fast as possible with the kids following in hot pursuit picking up melting blobs of foil covered chocolate. Thank you Burrows for hosting a fantastic day and as The Prawn King said "Family days don't get better than that."

Mrs. C outdid herself on Sunday night when we had Slow Cooked Belly of Pork. I am not a huge pork fan as I think it can be dry and seriously dull with the only real reason for eating it beaing crackling. But this was outstanding – succulent and juicy, yummy little strips of meat with bits of good fat on. Oh, and the best part …… THE best crackling I have ever tasted (which of course had to be weighed and measured to ensure equality). We had a big green salad on the side and that was perfect as it was so filling. Don’t be tempted to serve it with anything too heavy, the pork is the star of the meal here and it doesn’t need much else.

The recipe for Easter 2011 needs to be written down as it was an all-time classic. Perfect.

Sea Salt and Rosemary Focaccia (Dough – Richard Bertinet)

500g strong bread flour
20g coarse semolina
15g yeast (fresh if possible) – same amount if dry
10g salt
50g olive oil
320g (320ml) water
4tbsp olive oil plus a little extra
A few springs of fresh rosemary
Rock salt

Preheat the oven to 250C. Mix the bread flour and semolina together and rub in the yeast, using your fingertips as if making a crumble. Add the salt, olive oil and water then mix the ingredients using your hands or a scraper to bring the dry up into the wet. Lift out the dough onto your work surface.

Again like the previous bread do not flour or oil the surface – it may look sticky, but it will all come together. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes, stretching and pulling, getting as much air in as possible. Put the dough into a oiled bowl and leave to prove for an hour in a warm place, until it has roughly doubled in size.

Turn the dough onto an oiled tray. Chose a tray size depending on how thick you like your focaccia – the bigger the tray the thinner the focaccia. Drizzle the oil over the dough, then, using your fingers, push and prod the dough so it spreads from the centre towards the edge of the tray. Try not to stretch it too much. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest somewhere warm for 45 minutes.

Prod again, dimpling it with your fingertips, and rest for a further 30 minutes.
Take the leaves off the sprigs of rosemary and push them evenly into the dough. Sprinkle on the rock salt and immediately put into the preheated oven. Turn down the heat to 220C and bake for 25-30 minutes, until it is light golden brown. Brush with a little more olive oil while still hot.Cool on a wire rack. 

Slow-Cooked Belly of Pork (How I Cook - Skye Gyngell)

2kg pork belly with skin and ribs
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and ground pepper
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
6 garlic cloves, skin on and smashed
5 bay leaves
Handful of rosemary, roughly chopped
250ml of verjus or dry white wine
4tbso red wine vinegar
5 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas 6. Using a small sharp knife, score the skin of the pork belly 2cm apart and 1cm deep (or far easier, get your butcher to do this as they will do it better!). Rub in the oil and sea salt into the skin.

Place in a large roasting tray skin-side up and cook for 50 minutes on the middle shelf until the skin starts to colour and blister. Remove from the over and take the pork out of the tin. Remove all the fat that has been produced. Scatter the veg, garlic and herbs in the bottom of the tray and pour over the liquid. Put the pork back on top of the veggies. Cover with foil and return to the oven. Turn down the heat to 160C / Gas 2.5 and cook for a further 2 ¼ hours, turning the veg from time to time.

Uncover the meat and turn the heat back up to 200C / Gas 6 and cook for another 15 minutes to brown the meat (and crack the crackling!). Allow to rest in a warm place for 20 minutes (discard the veggies).

Cut the pork into 2-3cm slices , sliding out the bones as you go.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

And the “Best Breakfast Award” goes to ………….. Little Chef, Popham

Last weekend we went down to see some friends in Wiltshire and our journey took us past the services on the A303 at Popham and the famous “Heston” Little Chef.  In 2008 Heston Blumenthal set about re-vamping Little Chef and the one at Popham has been in The Good Food Guide two years running (2010 and 2011). So we decided to break our trip on Hector (The Prawn King’s trusty Ducati Monster 1100) and, in the spirit of London 2012, stop for an “Olympic Breakfast”. Completely delicious. A very clean and tasty true British fry up with crispy bacon, proper sausages and black pudding which could convert any nonbeliever.  I went for fried eggs which were nice however not quite crispy enough on the bottom for me, but the scrambled eggs were seriously good, creamy and silky. Yum.

The only issue comes when trying to zip up your already tight leather biking jacket post-Olympic Breakfast……………………..

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Prawn King:1 Yotam:1

The gauntlet was thrown down on Friday night – The Prawn King vs Yotam Ottolenghi (cooked by me as Yotam was busy). As it was such an amazing sunny evening we decided that it was the perfect night for The First BBQ of 2011 and this is where The Prawn King comes into his own. I come from a family of serious BBQ men – actually man, my father Tom Collins is a barbeque genius, the yoda of the charcoal pit – and I have to say The Prawn King is making his way up to the lofty heights of Mr. C.

So while he was up slaving (?!) away in the heat of the fire, I was preparing what I consider to be one of Ottolenghi’s best salads from his first book Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. This is a man’s salad, not for the faint hearted and it allows you to eat fried haloumi and still say you are having a salad, brilliant! The other great thing about this salad is that you can break it down and use all the component parts in other salads. I think is a perfect addition to barbequed meat.

Here’s the full recipe though – try it you won’t be disappointed.

Ottolenghi char-grilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri (or haloumi)
(serves four to six)

350g cherry tomatoes, halved
140ml olive oil
coarse sea salt and black pepper
24 asparagus spears
2 courgettes
200g manouri / haloumi sliced 2cm thick
25g rocket (I like baby spinach in there too)

for the basil oil:
(I know this is not very Yotam, but if you have some fresh pesto in the fridge you can always take a spoon full and let it down with some olive oil and use this instead. Has to be fresh though, not the yuck you buy in a jar.)
75ml olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
25g basil leaves
a pinch of salt
¼ tsp black pepper

Preheat the oven to 170c/325f/ gas mark 3.

Mix the tomatoes with three tablespoons of oil and season. Spread them out, skin-side down, on a baking tray lined with parchment, and roast for 50 minutes, until semi-dried. Set aside to cool.

Trim the woody bases off the asparagus and blanch in boiling water for four minutes. Drain and dump into a bowl of cold water until all they are properly cold. Drain fully. I then spread them out on a clean tea towel to make sure that they are 100% dry - nothing worse than a watery salad. Transfer to a bowl and toss with two tablespoons of oil, salt and pepper.

Slice the courgettes very thinly lengthwise (a mandolin would be very useful for this job, otherwise use a vegetable peeler) and mix with a tablespoon of oil, salt and pepper. Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and leave for a few minutes until very hot. Grill the courgettes and asparagus, turning after a minute - you want nice char marks on all sides. Remove and leave to cool.

To make the basil oil, blitz all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Heat the remaining oil in a pan and fry the manouri / haloumi for three minutes a side, until golden. Drain on kitchen paper, or char-grill the cheese on the griddle for two minutes a side. However I found that when I tried to char-grill the cheese it all stuck to the griddle so I'm afraid I fry my haloumi in butter. This was a tip from a Greek girl (so you can pretend it's authentic!) and it does taste AMAZING. Face it, you are eating fried cheese so don't try and be healthy, go the whole hog and use butter.

Arrange the rocket, vegetables and cheese in layers on a flat serving plate - build up the salad while showing all the individual components. Drizzle with as much basil oil as you like (save the rest for another dish) and serve.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

It's started.... woo hoo!

So it's started. And what better way to commence than with fresh bread on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the roof terrace with The Prawn King.

I have just made "Fougasse" these delicious bread pretzel-looking things. They are my first attempt from a book called DOUGH by Richard Bertinet and were very easy - flour, salt, yeast and water.... and setting off the smoke alarm three times. We have just devoured one with olive oil and a black olive tapanade,  one has gone to my neighbour (as a I'm-sorry-we-kept-you-up-all-night-with-heavy-dancing present) and the rest will be taken to the office tomorrow.

10g Yeast (fresh if possible, but I used dried)
500g Strong Bread Flour
10g Salt
350g/350ml Water (this needs to be as exact as possible)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and once you have a sticky mess tip it out onto your work surface, but do not flour the work surface. It will all come together - Richard promises this, and so far I believe him to be a man of his word as it worked for me.

Now you have to stretch the dough and then fold it back into the centre, working it to get as much air in as possible. To begin with I found that I could not stretch it very far and that it kept breaking off, but the more you work it the more elastic it becomes. I reckon it took about 10 mins of stretching and pulling before you get something that comes away from the surface. Now you can very lightly dust the surface and do a couple more stretches, tuck the ends underneath and make a nice little round of dough. Put it in a lightly floured bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm for an hour or until it has doubled in size.

Turn your oven on to 250 and put a small baking tray of water in the bottom to create a nice steaming oven. Then Richard recommends a bread stone but if you don't have one, like me, get a heavy baking tray and turn it upside down. Works a treat.

Then take the dough as carefully as you can without deflating it - he says to use a plastic scraper but I didn't have one so I was probably a bit rough with it and it did deflate a bit - and put it onto a lightly floured surface. I used polenta to dust the surface as I like the effect that it give on the bread. Then halve the mixture and third each half to get 6 pieces. Stretch them out a bit and cut once diagonally and then on each side make two more slits so you should end up with 5 slits - stretch them apart with your fingers so that they don't close up when cooking. You can then put them on an upturned baking tin so it is easier to slide them on to your tray in the oven. Then open the oven up and slide the fougasse onto the bread stone as fast as you can so not to lose heat. Turn the oven down to 230 and cook for 12 mins or until golden brown.