Saturday, November 28, 2015
started making bread about two years ago. It had been in the pipeline for a while, within my general trend to opting out of processed foods, but the tipping point came in May 2014. As we drove down a stretch of the Adriatic between Istria and Montenegro, I noticed that in Croatia it is apparently legally required to display bread ingredients in a visible, readable fashion. Going through long lines of unpronounceable chemical compounds has tripped off the final alarm in my brain. Back in London, I discovered that supermarkets guard such information for their dear lives. It took me an arduous, drawn-out email exchange with M&S to get them to reveal what they put in their baguette.
As I started digging around, I found out that the Chorleywood bread process, invented in the UK and then spread all over the world, puts speed, bottomline and efficiency ahead of compatibility with how humans digest their food. What it turns out, the bastards only let the dough to proof for a few minutes, barely letting yeast break down things that the human stomach is not well equipped to process, such as gluten and various sugars. The recent upsurge of celiacs, people who can't seem to stomach bread and pastry might well be credited to that wondrous innovation introducing the values of capitalist production into your digestive system.
That's how I got converted into hand-made bread. My two specialties are largely inspired by wonderful custard-running Gino d'Acampo. Every now and then I diversify and try other recipes, but my two mainstays, week in, week out, still are pagnotta con finocchietto, farmhouse loaf encrusted with fennel seeds, and pagnotta ligure con patate, Ligurian rustic loaf with potatoes and rosemary. I do modify and jazz up the recipes, with quite splendiferous outcomes, so please feel free to contact me, should you fancy a recipe.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Lapas (limpets) seem to be a common treat in the Atlantic islands. I first came across them in Madeira, and then all over the Canaries. They are the kind of shellfish that you would see stuck in droves to large rocks submerged in the sea and the bottoms of boats. Like oysters, they probably used to be the poor man's food, but these days they are served in restaurants at quite a price. I tried to recreate the local way of cooking them in our holiday apartment in Fuerteventura.
- Rinse 500 g of limpets in a lot of cold water.
- Stir-fry half a head of garlic crushed and a bunch of parsley chopped in 3 tbsp of olive oil.
- Put the limpets in the pan as you would see them on rocks and fry on medium fire for 3-5 minutes.
- Serve with local bread, lemon and white wine.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
I've never been a big fan of Malvasia, even after drinking my way through the entire stretch of the Adriatic where this grape variety is the white wine: Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Greece. At best it is a resiny drinkable vino, at worst vinegary plonk to chase down copious amounts of food with. It took a wine sampling 90 km off Africa's coast to get me completely converted. At Lanzarote's Bodega El Grifo, Malvasia is grown in jet black volcanic soil, each vine individually submerged in a dug-out crater surrounded by a wall of volcanic rock to protect it from the wind. This ridiculously laborious approach yields tremendous, perfectly balanced whites, with just the right notes of volcanic sulphur.
The rest of the wines too are simply los nectaros de los dioses (we did not really warm up to the reds though.) Their Malvasia Dulce is out of this world, with exciting floral notes and the perfect level of sweetness, reminiscent of the best Clarette de Die. Their whiskey-coloured Caribi (sherry) and amber-yellow Moscatel too are superbly crafted and highly enjoyable. Each time we left El Grifo laughing with happiness.
The wine tasting is organised very nicely, just the way we like it. Don't believe their website that says you need to book, just go there. For ten euros you get to choose any six wines to be accompanied by some crackers and local goat cheese, smoked and unsmoked. You can enjoy them unhurriedly either inside the tasting rooms or in a patio strewn with volcanic gravel.
Shame for the idiotic and entirely pointless liquid ban on airplanes, a classic bureaucratic knee-jerk imbecility just proving how impotent and self-serving the entire scare-mongering is, else we would haul home a crate each.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Greek recipes are nearly always straightforward, relying on the quality of ingredients to achieve the desired oomph. Even the notoriously difficult to get the knack of avgolemono requires skill rather than any convoluted kitchen gymnastics - and, of course, locally grown organic produce that in Greece is known simply as food. That's, perhaps, why it's so hard to achieve that gobsmacking level of meals so common in Greece when cooking Greek elsewhere.
So I decided to commit a sacrilege and spritz up the good ole octopus stifado with just a couple of very modest innovations. It has proven a major success when I made it for dinner in our vacation house in Lanzarote.
So here are the cooking instructions:
1. Warm up a very generous glug of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the spices you are planning to use to infuse the oil with their essential oils. This time I used adobo canario, to pay homage to the host land.
2. Sautee one and a half heads of garlic until golden brown, then add three finely sliced red onions. Sautee until golden brown.
3. Add one gutted, cleaned and chopped up octopus (about 1 kg weight) as well as one and half heads of garlic broken down in cloves but unpeeled. Turn down the heat and stew until tender. Takes about an hour.
4. Add 700-800 g of chopped tomatoes, salt and ground pepper to taste. Stew 10-15 more minutes.
5. Serve with papas arrugadas - potatoes boiled in skin with lots of salt (or even better n sea water) until they get all wrinkly.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The most satisfying recipe for that simple and hearty Manchego farmer treat, the pisto.
- Sautee crushed garlic in olive oil.
- Add chopped onions, red bell peppers and tomatoes.
- Season with salt, black and red pepper.
- Serve on top of slices rustic bread, topped with fried bacon dices and fried egg.
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
- Cut a fennel bulb lenghtwise in four and baste with some olive oil.
- Heat a ribbed skillet and slowly fry the fennel on both sides.
- In the meantime, crush three cloves of garlic, mix with a few tablespoonfuls of full-fat Turkish yoghurt, and season with black pepper, salt or fish sauce, and a generous amount of chopped mint or parsley.
- Serve as the main for lunch, a starter for dinner, or an entry for a tapas feast.
I am not entirely sure how I came up with this. I knew of the chocolate stew, the concept pops up here and there in Mexican cookbooks and food blogs. But then when it came down to cooking it, adding the tangy, smoky pepper known as chipotle, just seemed like the most natural thing to do. After all, both are Mexico's gifts to the world. My gut did not lie. The stew came out luscious and scrumptious, definitely chocolatey, yet savoury and spicy.
So here goes the recipe:
- Briefly marinate bite-size chunks of organic free-range beef in freshly ground black pepper and fish sauce. Pat the beef dry with kitchen rolls and fry in a cast-iron pot with a bit of oil. Do it in batches, if necessary, to make sure that the meat gets nicely browned, instead of getting steamed in its own juice. Remove to a plate once done.
- Slowly sautee crushed garlic, finely chopped onions and celery in the oil until golden brown.
- Add the meat, red wine to cover, bring to a boil and let simmer until tender.
- Add a nice chunk of good quality chocolate (or pure cocoa powder) and some chipotle peppers to taste, as spicy as you prefer. Let bubble away slowly for another 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve on top of steamed rice and beans, with red wine to wash it all down. As with all stews, it tastes better the next day, but also benefits from sitting an hour or so on the counter before being served.
Monday, May 4, 2015
It's again this time of the year when foodies and those aligned with them start cooking foraged weeds. What used to be (really) poor man's grub, these days is a social marker of the educated classes. Now, I've seen and tried and number of nettle soups this year and, I hate to say that, people you need to get a grip. Just boiling leaves with random veggies does not do the trick, or any trick for that matter. That's what my 85-year-old farmer uncle cooks for his piglets, literally. Nettle has its own special flavour that, if served to humans, needs to be cherished, flaunted and taken proper care of.
So here I will share the proper nettle soup recipe, as it's been cooked in my family for at least three generations.
- Pick a bunch of young nettle leaves, they need to be light green and with no flowers forming.
- Remove the stems and rinse well in cold water.
- Sautee in butter on a low heat.
- Add chopped shallots or onions. Cook until soft.
- Add a can or two of chopped tomatoes with juice. If too thick, add water.
- Beat a nice large biodynamic egg and add into the boiling soup, as you stir it, making sure it comes out stringy, not cloudy.
- Let it bubble away for a little while to let the tastes mingle.
- Salt and pepper in moderation. Sprinkle a few drops of fish sauce to enhance the flavour.
Old wives' tales (that are quite likely true):
- Nettles are supposed to stimulate your liver to cleanse blood.
- It is not recommend to eat too much nettle soup, not more than 2-3 times a year, naturally in the spring.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
There's about the same, very straightforward algorithm to having seafood dinners from markets around the world: you pick, you pay, let them cook it for you, enjoy. The experience can vary from rather simple, if linguistically challenging, like in Abu Dhabi's Al Mina, to quite intimidating and nearly fraught with trauma like in Maputo's Mercado de Peixe. Sometimes, you end up cooking yourself, like in Split's Ribarnica or Venetian Pescheria, because cooking in the market is not a done thing (any more?). Sometimes, they do all the job for you, except for chewing: it can come out sublime, like in Barcelona's Boqueria, or seriously underwhelming, like in London's Billingsgate Market.
Geared with our experience in the above, it was a cinch to get hold of our fruits de mer fix in Sihanoukville's Phsar Leu Market. It's a sprawling, pungently smelly venue in the centre of Cambodia's prime sea resort city. Although it would not pass even the most lenient Health and Safety inspection, I would not trust it any less than any restaurant or market in the West. Thing is that despite its striking organic messiness, there is a very clear distinction between the clean and the unclean: food and waste are always kept on different levels, separated by space or the walls of buckets and tubs. If you let your nose be your guide, you will also realise that despite the omnipresent odour of discarded waste disintegrating in the tropical climate, the food itself is so fresh, clean and properly chilled that it only smells the way it's supposed to: chicken like chicken, fruit like fruit, and fish like the sea. Placated by our supermarkets' odourless displays of ostensible hygiene, we are ignorant of the amount of unnatural processing as well as food waste that goes into maintaining that. Besides, following recent revelations by the media, not all that looks shiny clean is necessarily germs-free: e.g., 8 out of 10 chicken in UK supermarkets in 2014 were contaminated with campilobacter. In other words, it is our own complacent obliviousness that lulls us into a false sense of Western superiority when it comes to cleanliness. In Phsar Leu, you see how food is handled in front of your eyes, in Tesco's we have no idea what goes on in the backroom. So those feeling oh-so-superior in relation to the "locals", get a life!
The variety of seafood in Phsar Leu is quite decent. Oysters (all on the smallish side) are sold shucked and thus, sadly, deprived of their juice, so not to be enjoyed raw but rather grilled over coals with a dab of XO sauce.
Various kinds of clam-looking shellfish are on offer. Shellfish is steamed or grilled to be eaten with spicy dips, or stir-fried with herbs and garlic.
Live crabs and shrimp are sold in aerated water tanks. Prices range from US$5 per kilo for smallish spider crabs and shrimp to US$10 for large mantis shrimp and largish stone crabs. Everything above that is a foreign tourist surcharge and I wouldn't even bother because, say, live crabs at London's Brixton market are sold at 6 quid per kilo.
Whatever you have bought can be cooked (=steamed) for 50 cent or 2000 Khmer real per kilo. The surly mama will promptly stab your crabs' brains to put out them out of their misery...
and put them in wicker trays to steam for 10-15 minutes.
To be honest, I think mantis shrimp, just like rock lobster, is best fried Thai style with garlic. At the moment, we had no choice.
There is enough funky fruit of the sea in the market, like these meat-looking shells. Sadly, my macaronic Khmer did not allow me to inquire more about it...
For those into shark steaks (not yours truly though), they got it covered too.
The Occheuteal beach is a magical place to enjoy your seafood. You can bring your own and as long as you order something else, the restaurant proprietors do not mind. The beach itself is not yet overdeveloped and overrun by tourists (probably, because most can't pronounce the name). The setup with comfy wicker chairs and candles in the Beachy Bar is perfect, the Khmer seasoning sense is so much more flattering for the food than the Thai penchant for fire-eating and the prices are still well affordable. At night, the sky becomes full of fire floats and fireworks, and music only starts blasting after 10PM. Some food shops just behind the beach have very decent wines. They do not yet sell chilled whites so I would drop by in the daytime, hide a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc in a cooling case behind the rows of Coke and Fanta and pick it up nicely chilled in the evening. Perfect for your freshly cooked seafood.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
On the sunny Dalmatian coast of Croatia is where the Roman emperor Diocletian famously retired to grow cabbages. Inside and around his former palace sprawls Split's fresh market...