Sunday, 12 December 2010

Rabbit ragu with roasted butternut squash raviolos and crispy sage

Another dish made with the game purchase from the magnificent Wild Meat Company - this time rabbit.

I like ragus very much, the classic Italian sauce is so comforting and intense and rich, nothing pleases me more than having a pan of it blipping away in the kitchen for hours, the flavours of carrot, celery, smoked pancetta and your chosen meat intensifying deliciously.

You can make it with various meats, for a 'traditional' ragu I like to mix pork and beef mince, though for a really authentic angle you should try adding minced chicken livers to the pot too, and I find that venison works very well also.

I happily use white wine or red wine to make it, both work well, but the thing that never changes in a good ragu is the base - mirepoix; the holy trinity of sauteed carrot, onion and celery, then garlic, crushed tomatoes and time - the longer the better and if you can bare to wait an extra day you wont be disappointed - leaving the dish to cool overnight helps its flavours deepen no end.

Anyway, enough of 'ragu according to Hannah', onto this dish...

Rabbit, butternut squash, Parmesan and sage - exquisite, rustic, wintry flavours that are so alive and vibrant you'll be happy to hibernate with them and a bottle of red over an evening.

Rabbit is sweet and gamey and creates a very rich ragu sauce. If you buy rabbit that comes with bones in it develops an even deeper flavour as it cooks, but to be honest I don't think this dish needs it, so I'd look out for diced boneless pieces of rabbit instead.

In case you were wondering, the raviolos get their name from their size. Raviolis are small and raviolos are large apparently, something new that I learned recently. In this recipe they have a lot going for them as the filling manages to be sweet from the squash yet savoury from the Parmesan and nutmeg, tastes which are all complemented brilliantly by the rich ragu.

Dinner for 2
For the ragu:
400g diced rabbit
One golden onion, finely diced
One large carrot, peeled and finely diced
Two celery stalks, finely diced
4 rashers smoked pancetta
One clove of garlic, finely chopped
A glug of olive oil
A knob of unsalted butter
400mls dry white wine
400mls pasatta
Sea salt and pepper
Parmesan to serve

For the raviolos - around 15 (this mix makes enough pasta for this dish and one other on another night, the pasta will keep nice and fresh in the fridge without a problem):
375g type 00 flour
3 eggs
A glug of extra virgin olive oil
A large knob unsalted butter
A generous glug vegetable / groundnut oil
A handful sage leaves
One medium sized butternut squash, cut in half and de-seeded
50g Parmesan, finely grated
Half a teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and pepper

- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees, once to temperature put the squash in and cook for 2 hours
- Saute the onion, carrot and celery until turning golden in some unsalted butter and olive oil on a medium heat
- Add the rabbit and continue to cook until it begins to brown, then add the garlic, and once you can smell the aroma of it come out of the pan, add the wine and cook off for about 5 minutes, then add the pasatta, a scrunch of salt and pepper, then stir and cover and cook for 2 hours on a low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking
- Place the flour, eggs and olive oil in a food processor and blitz until you have a dough or beads of dough, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and bring together
- Knead the dough to bring it together properly and make it feel silky to the touch - don't be shy when kneading this, it needs a good going over to get it ready! You're looking for it to become stretchy and elastic so when you prod it it springs back. Once this has happened divide it into two pieces, put each in a bowl with cling film tightly over the top, and set aside for at least 30 minutes
- The squash should be ready to take out now or once the pasta's had 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven and using a spoon scoop the flesh out of the skins and put into a bowl. Once its cooled a little mash it up with a fork, then add some salt and pepper, the grated Parmesan and nutmeg, combine with the fork and set aside
- Roll out through a pasta machine until you have sheets of pasta run through on the finest setting - don't forget to keep dusting the sheets before rolling through on finer settings to stop it dragging and pulling holes in the sheets on the way through
- Place a teaspoon of the squash mixture onto a section of the pasta sheet, brush the surrounding area with water and then 'drape' another piece of pasta over the top of the mixture, you'll need to press the pasta down where it joins the bottom sheet right next to the filling, smoothing any air out and away. Use your fingers to make sure the pasta sheets are connected then either use a cutter to cut them out into rounds or squares, or place a cup over the top and cut around it with a sharp knife. Discard the excess pasta (or collect it up and make some more with it if you have enough squash mixture) Repeat until you've used up all the squash mixture, placing them on a floured board to stop them sticking to it, flour each one as you place it down too to stop them sticking to each other
- The ragu should be smelling fantastic by now, using the back of a wooden spoon just gently break the meat up a little (you don't want it super fine so don't press it too much), remove the lid and continue to cook so the sauce can reduce a little
- Put a pan of salted boiling water on to boil and get ready to plunge the raviolos in
- In a separate small pan while the water is heating up, place a generous knob of unsalted butter and a big glug of groundnut or vegetable oil, turn the heat on until the butter really starts to foam
- Place the raviolos carefully in the boiling water and set your timer for a couple of minutes
- Put a couple of tablespoons 00 flour into a bowl with some salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg, mix together. Then run your sage leaves under the cold tap and toss them in the flour so it sticks to them, and put them into the foaming butter, gently moving them round to cover each side in the foaming butter - this will take around 60 - 90 seconds, once they're done remove them from the pan and place onto some kitchen paper
- Turn the pasta and ragu off, carefully drain the raviolos and them slip them into the ragu pan and cover them in the sauce
- Plate the raviolos covered in the ragu, top with the crispy sage and a fine grating of Parmesan, then eat

Coconut macaroon medley

Individually wrapped these would make a great little stocking fillers for foodies at Christmas. If you make them with this in mind, remember a liberal dose of willpower is an additional ingredient.

Of course, you don't have to gift them to people, just having a batch made up ready to give to Christmas visitors to munch on with a glass of cidre chaud or cup of tea is just as good. Or eating them all to yourself. Whichever you prefer.

I've dipped these macaroons in two different things to bring a bit more excitement to them, and it also makes them look very pretty (a very important consideration in sweets I think). There will be loads of variations and ideas on coatings for these little treats, but given the chill in the festive air the below recipe is for:
- Spiced orange chocolate dipped coconut macaroons
- White chocolate and cardamom dipped coconut macaroons

For 12-14 coconut macaroons:
Below is the basic macaroon mixture for all of the macaroons, and below that are the separate ingredients for their coatings:
2 egg whites, whisked until foaming but not stiff
100g golden caster sugar
125g dessicated/shredded coconut
A level tablespoon cornflour

For the spiced orange chocolate coating:
A quarter of a Terrys milk chocolate orange (you could use milk chocolate and add Grand Marnier, but I think this is much easier and as its Christmas time you're likely to have one of these knocking about)
Half a level teaspoon ground ginger
Half a level teaspoon ground cinnamon
A single stem ginger from a jar, drained and cut into very small dice

For the white chocolate and cardamom coating:
50g good quality white chocolate
4 cardamom pods, seeds removed from their skins, and the seeds crushed to a powder
A few tablespoons crushed hazelnuts

- Preheat your oven to 175 degrees
- In a bowl whisk your egg whites until they foam, then add all the other ingredients, combine thoroughly - the mixture looks quite dense and 'shredded' and is a bit sticky, you might think it doesnt look or feel like it will bind well but dont worry
- Make a ball shaped macaroon using about a tablespoon full of the mixture, and press onto a lined and lightly buttered baking sheet, pressing down gently to create domes. Repeat until all are done then place into the oven for 12 minutes. Once lightly golden topped remove them from the oven and set aside on a wire cooling rack
- While they are cooling you can make your coatings one at a time in a ban marie (simply a glass bowl on top of a pan of simmering water - note the water mustnt touch the base of the glass bowl).

When the macaroons are cooled it's time for the toppings
- In a glass bowl place the orange chocolate, cinnamon and ground ginger, and leave to melt over the simmering pan of water, use a teaspoon to combine the spices with the chocolate, once this has happened taste the mixture to check the spicing, you might want more - add them as you like
 - Lay out a sheet of baking paper
- Take each macaroon in your fingers and dome side down, wipe it through the chocolate to cover half of the top of the macaroon. Lay it onto the baking paper and sprinkle some of the stem ginger dice over the melted chocolate, which it will stick to. Repeat until you've done half the macaroons
- Clean the orange chocolate bowl and put it back on the simmering pan of water, add the white chocolate and the ground cardammom, and once it's melted mix together with a teaspoon and coat the remaining macaroons, laying them out on the baking paper and then scatter the crushed hazlenuts over the white chocolate
- Wait for them to cool and the chocolate to set before eating (this is optional, but I like them cold so you get to break through the chocolate)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Feta, roasted pepper and spinnach filo parcels with a warm wintery coleslaw

I adore homemade coleslaw, but when its -4 degrees outside the last thing you want to eat is something cold and salad-like.

Cue a warm coleslaw, made in this case with fennel, beetroot and carrot. And if having it warm temperature wise isn't enough you can turn the volume up on the mustard to bring in some additional heat.

This is a tasty little lunch that combines summer and winter flavours together easily. So that you don't have to worry about buying lots of things out of season the key ingredients for the parcel can come from jars, which makes it a bit of a store cupboard winner - handy when you might be snowed in.

This warm coleslaw is a very versatile dish, we've had it with pork and apple burgers and I can imagine it going very well with homemade kebabs and as an accompaniment to a Christmas ham. Plus its one of those dishes you needn't feel too guilty about eating, on account of it being full of veggies and certainly providing more than your five a day.

Lunch for two:
The parcels -
8 sheets of filo pastry
2 peppers from jars - the char grilled sort is possible
A block of feta - the standard supermarket sized version, crumble it by hand into bite size pieces
A few sun dried tomatoes
A large bag of spinach
Unsalted butter, melted for brushing
Salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

The warm coleslaw -
For the grated vegetables I recommend using a food processor, it makes it much easier and you're able to get a really fine grate. To finely slice the fennel and the onion I'd suggest a mandolin on a super fine setting. Of course, doing all this manually is fine, it's just a pain in the arse.

Two carrots, peeled and finely grated
Half a red onion, cut in half and sliced razor thin
4 cooked beetroots (not the vinegared variety!) finely grated
2 spring onions finely sliced
Three tablespoons mayo (I use light but full fat is good too)
Three tablespoons natural yogurt
1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Salt and black pepper

Method -
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
- In a saucepan on a medium heat add a knob of butter and when it starts to foam add your bag of spinach and put the lid on. Cook the spinach for a few minutes, turning occasionally until it's wilted right down, then remove it from the heat and leave to cool
- Take the red peppers and sun dried tomatoes and finely slice, put them in a large bowl and add the feta
- When the spinach has cooled enough to handle squeeze as much of the water out of it as you can, then run a knife over it and add it to the feta mix
- Add a slug of olive oil, the Parmesan, a scrunch of salt and pepper and using a fork combine the mixture in the bowl
- Lightly butter the baking sheet the parcels will sit on and set aside
Now it's time to assemble the parcels:
- Place a sheet of filo on a clean and lightly dusted work surface and brush it with butter, then lay another sheet on top of it. Place what is around three tablespoons of the mixture in the centre of the pastry, then just like wrapping a present, turn the bottom edges up to lay across the centre of the mixture, brush with butter again and then fold the top edge down to lay across the first fold. Brush with butter again and take each side and bring them up into the centre above where the mixture is held, then pinch the filo together, forming a pinch (as in the picture) brush with butter again and repeat with the other three parcels until all the mixture is used up.
- Place the parcels into the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes or until they're golden brown looking
With the parcels in the oven, it's time to make the coleslaw - this needs to be started 10 minutes before the parcels are removed so that the slaw is warm when eaten
- Combine the yogurt, mayo, spring onion, red onion, mustard, a scrunch of salt, some black pepper and cider vinegar in a large bowl and mix with a fork until combined
- Place the beetroot, fennel and carrot in a roasting tin and put into the oven for 5 minutes - this it to dry them out a little so that the coleslaw isn't overly wet
- After five minutes remove the vegetables and add them to the mayo mixture, combine thoroughly - this will make a gorgeous pink mixture
- Remove the parcels from the oven and serve with the slaw - a little glass of something white and chilled would go just nicely too

Saturday, 20 November 2010

White pepper and Parmesan gnocchi with pan-fried woodland mushroom, sage and cep veloute

It’s dark, cold, foggy and I have to say I rather like it!

Exploring and indulging in rich flavours reminiscent of the earth have been preoccupying me of late, I’ve been devouring woodland mushrooms, goat’s cheese, chestnuts, squashes, sage and rabbit – such deep, woody and English flavours that have been keeping me warm and snugly of an evening along with the fire, red wine and of course, Mathew.

Finding woodland mushrooms and fresh cep isn’t that easy on the high street but they are readily available online. I found several British mushroom growers and sellers pretty easily through Google and they delivered the box of mushrooms to me the very next day, and whilst they’re a bit more expensive than your usual fungus, they’re deliciously different and worth every extra penny.

The cep veloute may sound rather fancy but it's really not, a veloute is simply a bechamel sauce made with stock and then finished with cream, it's good for when you want something that packs lots of flavour in but isnt overly rich.

This dish really is quite simple to do, it just needs a careful eye on the timings, but if you can cook pasta and at the same time prepare a sauce to be ready for eating it with then this will pose no problem at all. I like to add the rocket to the finished dish as it brings a peppery and fresh edge to it, though you could do it without if you aren't keen.

Dinner for two:
For the gnocchi follow the recipe in my September 26th oxtail blog for quantities, but add in 100g grated Parmesan and half a teaspoon of white pepper, and don’t include the green herbs
A couple of handfuls of mixed woodland mushrooms, we had black trumpet, girole and chanterelle amongst others, so long as you get a few different types for variety for taste and look that's good
One medium to large cep (they tend to be pretty big anyway) - carefully slice the cep through its stalk and cap so that you have slices that are just less than half a CM thick - sounds precise but it doesn't have to be, just make them thick enough that they don't collapse
A tablespoon butter (for the roux)
Three tablespoons plain flour (for the roux, I use wheat free but normal plain will be perfect too)
25g dried porcini mushrooms soaking in 1pt cold water for 20 minutes - you'll be using the porcini and their steeping liquor
A large glass of white wine, I used a medium dry Italian wine
A handful fresh sage leaves
A couple of glugs sunflower / groundnut oil
250g Parmesan, grated, and another few shavings for finishing the dish
25g unsalted butter
100mls single cream
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
A couple of glugs of good quality extra virgin olive oil
Rocket to serve

- Make the gnocchi as per the recipe outlined in my September 26th blog. When you have them all on the board use the heel of your knife to make a few little incisions in the top of the gnocchi's, then squeeze them gently so they flare out slightly - this makes them look a bit like little pillows and the marks in them help them pick up the sauce
- After your porcinis have steeped for 20 minutes, remove the mushrooms and finely chop them up and set aside. Reserve the liquor and bring to the simmer in a saucepan with the large glass of white wine - you're going to use this to make the veloute
- Fill a large saucepan with cold water and some rock salt, put the lid on and bring to the boil, when it begins boiling simply reduce the heat to a simmer
- While you're waiting for it to heat, add the tablespoon of butter to another saucepan on a medium to high heat and when it starts to foam add the three tablespoons plain flour, whip with a wooden spoon until the two have combined and you have a firm-ish dough in the pan, turn the pan down to a simmering heat and ladle by ladle add the simmering wine and porcini stock, making sure you thoroughly mix in the roux and the stock before adding the next ladle
- When all the ladles have been added continue to cook the sauce for 10-15 minutes to cook the flavour of the flour out, then turn the pan onto its lowest heat and add the Parmesan, cream and a generous scrunch of salt and pepper. By this time the sauce should be as in the picture, so covering the back of a wooden spoon. Put the lid on the pan and turn the heat off, you'll briefly reheat it before serving. If the sauce is too thin make up some cornflour to thicken it, and if it's too thick add some water
- Put a large frying pan onto a medium to high heat, add the 25g unsalted butter and the frying oil and when it starts to foam add the mushrooms to the pan, including the finely chopped porcini, then reduce the heat slightly so they don't burn
- Cook the mushrooms and continue to toss them in the butter until they're all covered (you may like to add another chunk) and cook for around 7-10 minutes on a medium heat until they start to soften, then add some black pepper and a scrunch of salt
- Toward the end of the cooking time you can turn the veloute back on to a low heat to heat through and turn the heat right up on the pan of salted water. When the water starts boiling again put the gnocchi carefully into the pan to cook - these take less than two minutes to and are ready when they all float to the top of the pan
- Tear the sage up and add to the frying pan with the mushrooms along with the garlic, the aroma of the garlic will come through but not burn and the sage will sizzle as the water cooks off and once this sizzle stops you can turn the pan off
- Drain the gnocchi, take the veloute off the heat and shake the gnocchi into it, stirring gently to coat all the dumplings in the sauce
- Plate the gnocchi and top with the sage and mushrooms, finish with a handful of rocket and a shave of Parmesan and glug of good extra virgin, then eat

Friday, 19 November 2010

Slow roasted lamb shoulder with crushed roots and a mint and caper dressing

Ideal for a lazy, tasty Sunday...sear the meat, put in the oven with the peeled vegetables, combine with the wine and herbs, cover and roast while you head to the pub. When you come back you’ll be greeted by a smell so delicious you’d be forgiven for eating it straight out of the roasting pan.

For two greedy people:
Half a lamb shoulder, bone in
4 carrots, peeled and cut into batons
A handful floury potatoes, peeled
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
Half a swede, peeled and cubed
Two large glasses of dry white wine
A few large sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and gently crushed
2 celery stalks, trimmed and cut into batons
Oil for frying
Sea salt and pepper
Two tablespoons capers
A shot of red wine vinegar
A shot of extra virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets
A small handful of fresh mint leaves

- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
- Season the lamb with salt and pepper and in a frying pan sear the joint on all sides in the groundnut oil until it begins to brown
- Place the carrots, celery, onion, garlic and rosemary into a large roasting tin, sit the lamb on the top
- Pour the wine over the lamb and vegetables and cover the tin with foil so none of the vapours can escape
- Roast in the oven for 2.5 hours, remove the lamb and check how it's doing, you're looking for it to fall off the bone and this long should be enough
- Whilst the lamb's cooking, in a food processor combine the olive oil, anchovies, capers, mint and red wine vinegar and blitz until you have a thick dressing
- Just before the lamb is ready to come out of the oven bring a pan of water to the boil, then add the swede and cook for around 8 minutes until it's soft enough to mash
- Remove the meat from the oven and sit it on a plate to cool and rest a little, in the meantime, strain the roasting veg and liquor through a sieve, catching the liquor in a saucepan - put this on a gentle heat with a teaspoon of butter to reduce to a nice shiny jus
- Take the carrots and potatoes out of the sieve and discard the other ingredients, place the potatoes and carrots into a dish and pop back into the oven to keep warm
- Now the meat should have cooled enough to handle, using your fingers tear the meat into big chunks and discard the bones that are in it, you want to be left with a big pile of tender shredded lamb in large pieces
- Drain and mash the swede (use a fork, masher or ricer, whichever's easiest, add a knob of butter if you're feeling extra naughty)
- Time to plate; the mashed swede first, followed by the potatoes and carrots, then the lamb, a ladle of the jus over the top of it all, and finally a generous tablespoon of the caper and mint dressing
- Eat, then fall asleep :-)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Squash pots stuffed with gruyere and chestnuts in white wine and cream

I'm sure there aren't too many bowls that are edible, especially ones which are this pretty.

These are a jewel of autumn and devoured in abundance in my house, and there are so many things you can fill them with there's no reason to get bored. I'll be putting some of my favourite fillings on over the coming weeks but in advance of that, perhaps these might whet your appetites:
 - Moroccan mussel with cumin, chillies and preserved lemon
 - Blue cheese, walnut and smoked pancetta
 - Thai coconut with ginger and spring onion

And its not just the fillings that account for their variety, there are many kinds of these little squashes to choose from which all taste subtly different and delicious - though when picking them don't just pick the nicest looking ones, you need to put them on a flat surface and make sure they sit still and upright, otherwise using them as a soup bowl will be messy and impossible.

The roasting of the empty squashes prior to filling ensures the flesh is tender enough to be scooped out and enjoyed along with their filling, not to mention the lightly charred and chewy edges taste great.

I think these would be ideal food for a bonfire night party; they're seasonal, hearty and warming when it's cold outside, and easy to eat as they're the container and the dish at the same time, perfect for enjoying at the side of a roaring bonfire whilst watching fireworks, all wrapped up from the cold.

For two:
A squash each, we get ours from the grocers but they're also available in the big supermarkets
80g grated gruyere
One glass of wine
8 roasted and peeled chestnuts, cut in half
One red onion, very finely chopped
One clove of garlic, finely chopped
250mls single cream
Ground nutmeg
A handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil for cooking
Sea salt and black pepper

 - Preheat your oven to 190 degrees
- Carefully chop the tops off the squashes and with a spoon, hollow out their insides
- Melt a knob of butter in a pan and remove from the heat, brush the insides and cut top edge of the squash with the melted butter (don't forget the inside of the lids too).
- Now sprinkle the ground nutmeg into the squashes, lightly covering everywhere the butter was brushed, and also add a pinch of salt to the middle of each one too
- Pour a little frying oil into your hands and pick up each of the squashes and their lids in turn, covering their skin in the oil, then place them on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven for 45 minutes (oiling their skin prevents them burning and help them begin to brown better)
- About 15 minutes before the squashes come out of the oven its time to start their filling
- In a frying pan add a knob of butter and glug of olive oil and fry the onions until soft and translucent on a low-medium heat
- When the onions are done, add the garlic and stir through for a couple of minutes, then before the garlic catches, add the wine and cream, stir until the mixture is very gently simmering and the alcohol cooked off
- Now add the chestnuts and gruyere, continue to to stir until all the cheese has melted
- Remove the squashes from the oven and carefully spoon the mixture into them, put the lids back on them and put them back in the oven for a further 15 minutes
- Remove the squashes from the oven, take off their lids and add a couple of pinches of parsley and a little glug of oil to the filling, stir and serve

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Slow braised oxtail with crispy pancetta and green herb gnocchi

All hail the slow cooker, bringer of autumnal unctuousness

I adore this blessed 1970's bit of kitchen equipment, it makes it easy to produce hearty classics and interesting slow cooked dishes without having to sit by the stove for hours on end - anyone with a full time job and / or a liking for tasty food should have one.

I had a dish similar to this in a wonderful restaurant in Ibiza on the first holiday Mathew and I went on together. We'd rented a beautiful secluded villa and spent lots of time seeking out great restaurants in between sunning ourselves by our private infinity pool on our hillside retreat (a bit flash but worth the indulgence!)

I remember the oriental fusion restaurant and bar Bambuddah Grove, with fab (and rather OTT) glam interior, tasty food and potent cocktails. A brilliant restaurant in the middle of nowhere that served a delicious herb crusted rack of lamb worthy of any top fine dining restaurant. And a Sicilian outdoor restaurant run by husband and wife, seafood so fresh and good that you didn't mind the circa 60 minutes it took for your food to arrive. Ibiza might be the party island and have its gaudy side, but we found it to be a great foodie haven too.

I can't remember where the restaurant was that I tried the oxtail or what it was called, but I do remember we ate on a lovely outside terrace, surrounded by lit swimming pools with grapevines and climbing floral shrubs suspended overhead.

The oxtail fell of the bone tender as butter, just the way it should be after gentle and long cooking. Its sauce was almost black - thick and treacle like, intense with bold red wine and classic herbs. It was a highlight of the holiday and unlike anything else Ive had since.

The big and beefy sauce of course needs something to soak it up. Cue the gnocchi - recently Ive discovered a plain flour milled from various grains other than wheat, it behaves like wheat (I tried it in a bechamel and couldn't tell the difference) and creates light and fluffy little dumplings. I like to pack them full of fresh green herbs as they really complement and counter the unctuous oxtail and its sauce.

Be prepared for a post eating snooze - a dish best for a lazy Sunday perhaps.

Dinner for two:
For the braised oxtail
One oxtail cut into 2" rounds
3/4 a bottle of red wine
Two carrots worth of batons
Two celery sticks, cut into batons
Two golden onions, peeled and quartered
2 fat cloves of garlic, pressed to crush
3 bay leaves
2 large sprigs of rosemary
5 cloves
1 level tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Plain flour (wheat free plain if you need)
Oil for frying
Unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper
4 pancetta rashers

For the gnocchi
This recipe uses wheat free flour so is slightly different as wheat free flour needs more moisture, if you don't want to use wheat free flour, simply use plain flour and don't add the 1 whole egg or extra virgin olive oil. 
This recipe also makes enough gnocchi for 4-6 people, I like to make as many as I can get out of the mixture, flour the ones I don''t need and freeze them, they can be used from frozen.
500g waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
200g plain gluten and wheat free flour (I use Doves Farm flour that you can get in the Free From section in Sainsbury's)
10g fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
5g fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
5g fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
Several pinches ground nutmeg
One egg yolk and one whole egg, whisked
A generous glug of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

- In a large frying pan add a generous knob of butter and some frying oil, and once the butter starts to foam on a medium to high heat, fry your carrots, onions and celery (do in a few batches rather than crowding the pan as the veg will steam) until turning golden brown
- When you're a couple of minutes off the vegetables being browned, add the garlic to the pan and coat with the oil, once you can smell the garlic start to cook its time to remove the vegetables and place them in your slow cooker
- Wash out the pan and get it back on the same heat, add some more butter and oil to the pan
- While you're waiting for the butter to start to foam lightly dust the oxtail in some plain flour that has a good amount of salt and pepper in it
- Add the oxtail to the pan and turn over until every side is lightly golden brown, this should take around 10 minutes, once its done add them to the slow cooker with the bay leaves
- Carefully stir the meat and vegetables together so they are mixed together properly, then add the red wine, red wine vinegar, sugar and a scrunch of sea salt and black pepper. Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on a low setting for 6 hours
- In the meantime you can get your gnocchi ready - preheat your oven to 200 degrees
- Boil the potatoes until they are ready to mash, drain them and lay them on a baking sheet and pop them into the preheated oven for 5 minutes (this is to remove excess water)
- Rice the potatoes into a large mixing bowl and set aside
- Using a sharp knife chop the fresh herbs up as finely as you can get them
- Measure out your flour and add the salt, pepper and nutmeg to the mix and stir to combine
- Add the flour to the potatoes and the herbs on top of that, followed by the whisked eggs and olive oil
- Using a wooden spoon stir the mixture so everything is combined and the herbs are running through the whole of the mixture, then using your hands bring the stiff dough together into a large ball
- Bring the ball onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it for 2 minutes (don't do it for longer than this as the potato will turn unpleasant and elasticcy)
- Break a handful of the dough off and roll it into a sausage, keep rolling until you have a long sausage that's about 1.5cm thick
- Using a sharp knife again cut the sausage into the rectangular dumplings and set aside on a floured chopping board (making sure they don't touch each other) repeat the process until all of the gnocchi mixture has been used up
- Lightly cover the gnocchis with cling film and set aside until they're needed later on
- When the oxtail has had 6 hours strain the slow cooker mixture through a sieve - catching all of the cooking juices in a pan, do this carefully as you don't want all the meat to fall from the bones or the carrots to collapse
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees
- Turn the pan on to a low-medium heat and let the sauce sit there reducing gently
- Mix up a couple of tablespoons plain flour with a little stock to form a smooth paste and pour into the reducing sauce, stirring until mixed thoroughly
- Take the oxtail and carrots out of the colander and set them aside in a bowl, cover with tin foil. Discard everything else
- When the sauce has reduced by a third, carefully add the oxtail and carrots back to the pan, put the lid on and cook on the lowest heat your hob provides, just to keep the contents warm
- Lay the pancetta out on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 12 minutes
- While they're cooking boil a deep pan of water and add a generous amount of salt
- A couple of minutes before the pancetta is ready, turn off the oxtail and place the gnocchi into the boiling water, then remove the pancetta when they're just turning brown on their edges and set them aside to really crisp up
- When the gnocchis have all popped to the top of the water and started dancing around they're ready (takes around 1-2 minutes) drain them in a colander, then season with salt and pepper
- Plate the gnocchis with the oxtail and spoon the dark treacle like liquor over the dumplings and meat (gnocchi has the tendency to stick together so the sauce is needed to keep them separated)
- Add your crispy pancetta to the top and devour - a nice glass of red goes delightfully as you would imagine, perfect chance to finish off the bottle the dish was made with!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Our first wedding anniversary foodie roadtrip

San Sebastian is one of my top food cities, and every time I visit I feel a real connection to the place and a pull to stay.

Of course the food is a big reason for wanting to move there, but as a city it really does tick all my boxes; it’s on the coast with fantastic summer weather, it’s beautiful with some wonderful architecture, the shopping is good and there are one-off boutiques galore, its super stylish all over, there are loads of cultural things happening from cool art exhibitions to world class jazz gigs, and the Basques are really nice people – what’s more to want?!

Our visit a couple of weeks ago was to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than a trip back to France where we were married and San Sebastian where Mathew proposed. I’d been daydreaming the trip for weeks ahead and when it came, I loved every minute of it.

France as usual brought great eating treats...

Irregular tomatoes that we took to a picnic by a local lake looked so natural and knobbly and tasted so fresh, why can’t we get gems like that here? And we had some seriously tasty bavette steak with shallot sauce in the hotel, it’s a cut that takes a little getting used to but is well worth a try if you can get hold of it here.

We ventured out of the hotel to eat of course, a little restaurant in the opposite valley to my parents had delicious char-grilled steaks topped with Roquefort butter, tasty boudin noir, juicy queen scallops and succulent snails cooked just enough and given a dash of garlic butter, all served in the sunny outside terrace garden overlooking the fruit trees and mountains beyond. And in the next village square we enjoyed rich and creamy cep omelette followed by a cafe gourmand – a petit cafe with miniature dessert bites, all delicious.

Then came San Sebastian...

We ate some fantastic food, from pintxos in the back streets of the old town to a full on 13 course tasting menu at the top restaurant in San Sebastian, Martin Berasategui.

Now you know I love eating, but you don't go to a three Michelin starred restaurant like Berasategui to eat, you go to be entertained (or at least I do!)

Not that the food itself isn’t amazing, tasty and of course, filling – it’s an enhanced, extraordinary eating experience, one that goes beyond sustenance and sits firmly in the indulgent and pleasurable category, and they’re all so beautifully presented, it’s like eating little pieces of art!

Anyway, I’m not going to wax lyrical about the menu in some kind of restaurant critic style, other than to say it was incredible. Not the kind of place you go to all the time of course, and made all the more special because it’s an infrequent treat.

But San Sebastian isn’t just about Michelin starred restaurants, it’s full of delicious pintxos, and you can spend many a leisurely lunch or evening hopping around the pintxos bars in the back streets of the old town, eating gorgeous finger foods and drinking tumblers of wine.

We ate pintxos all over the old town in traditional bars like Gandarias Taberna and in the more contemporary bars like Fuego Negro, and we ate fantastic foods in all of them, some of our favourites were vinegared baby eels, iberico shoulder and goat's cheese lollipops, black cod on pureed cauliflower, and a plate of iberico shoulder with a red pepper puree.

If you like food, style, substance and value having a great time in a glorious setting you should visit the Basque capital – but be warned, you may never want to leave!