Linguine with Sea Urchin Roe (Uni) Sauce

DSC_0255_01aStrictly speaking, the edible part of sea urchin – uni, as it’s called in Japanese – isn’t roe at all. It is the animal’s gonads, and will eventually turn into sperm (milt) or roe, depending on the animal’s sex. Uni is a delicacy, and an acquired taste. It is intensely briny, with a heady, floral, loamy aftertaste. In Japan, it’s served most commonly as nigiri sushi, on rice, and it is classified according to quality, based upon its color, flavor, and firmness. Uni is best eaten fresh, i.e., from an animal that you have just killed yourself, however you can also buy uni cleaned, packaged, and ready to eat. This dish – al dente linguine, served in a rich sauce made with fresh raw uni emulsified with melted butter and lemon – is a coastal Italian classic, and, cleaning of the sea urchin aside, it is quick and remarkably easy to prepare. It tastes like nothing you have ever eaten before in your life. Continue reading

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Roasted Mackerel with Radicchio, Black Olives, Red Peppers and Rosemary

I have three rules when cooking and eating fish: 1) eat sustainably; 2) only eat it if it’s fresh; and 3) do as little as possible to it. When I was younger and possibly more obsessive-compulsive than I am now, I strictly limited myself to five ingredients when cooking fish, not including salt. Yes, it was an unnecessarily lunatic culinary flourish, but it also taught me to respect the fish. The mark of a well-prepared fish dish is that two hours after you’ve eaten it, the flavor that you remember is the fish, not the accompaniments or the sauce. Continue reading

Braised Baby Artichokes with Chestnut Honey and Thyme

In the microuniverse of blogging, there are few controversies more spirited than the debate over sponsored posts and advertising. I personally don’t like advertising banners and badges on blogs – they’re distracting, unsightly, and (perhaps irrationally) they make me slightly suspicious of the blogger. My attitude may be self-indulgent – after all, great segments of bloggers’ conferences are devoted to “monetizing” your blog. (I admit I have never been to a bloggers’ conference.) But I figure this is MY blog and I can do what I like with it. I sneeringly turned down advertisements from a reputable Large London Grocer and I have decidedly mixed feelings about blogging restaurant reviews from places that offer free meals in exchange for a review. (Chris, at Cheese and Biscuits, does a nice job of describing the queasy internal conflict that goes along with the freebie here. He gets way, WAY more freebies than I ever will.)

All that said, however, I have a slightly different attitude to products. I think this is probably because I make everything from scratch and it’s hard to hide behind a raw ingredient. Plus if I’m lucky it gives me the opportunity to cook with something that I might not otherwise have tried. I’m pretty choosy about what I’ll accept – I have to like the people that are offering the item to me; e.g., I have to respect their ethos and their approach to food-sourcing. But I was pretty excited when the nice folks at Seggiano (a small family-run Italian food importer) invited me to choose some items from their catalogue. A box duly was delivered on Monday, and yesterday I took a crack at creating a recipe from one of the most intriguing of the contents: chestnut honey. To be clear: I got the honey for free, but I am not otherwise being paid to write this post. Continue reading

Rabbit Ragu

For a long time I didn’t ‘get’ rabbit. “It tastes just like chicken,” people told me. Why not eat chicken, then, I wondered. It was like frog’s legs (which, by the way, taste like chicken only if one imagines one’s chickens cold-blooded and amphibious). I.e., it seemed to me like bourgeois foodie one-upmanship. And there’s the cute factor. When I tweeted about making this ragu, someone replied mournfully that their father had killed their pet rabbit and they never got over it. I too had a pet bunny as a child, and I have cats, and the little rabbit carcasses uncomfortably remind me of my kitties. But if you are a carnivore, wild rabbit is about the most sustainable meat you can eat. Rabbits breed, well, like bunnies (apparently a wild rabbit will have five to six litters a season), unlike most animals we eat they spend their whole lives outdoors, they are killed humanely, and the meat consists entirely of lean white-meat protein. Rabbit beats all or almost all other lean meats for protein to fat ratio. In the UK, you can buy a whole two to three kilo wild rabbit for about £4, which, considering that nearly all of that is usable meat, is extraordinarily good value for those of us trying to cook well on a budget. And rabbit doesn’t really taste like chicken, any more than monkfish tastes like lobster.

When I’m cooking lean gamey muscular meat, I like to do three things to it, usually in this order: marinate it; braise it; and stew it. It’s a lengthy process, but once you’ve determinedly battered at the collagens with low, slow cooking, the meat relaxes, absorbs all the delicious braising juices, and attains mythic proportions of deliciousness. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu I was astonished by how flavourful it was. The meat stood up to the rich sauce, maintaining its density and distinct, subtle flavour. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu was also the first time I jointed a rabbit. Nobody had ever showed me how, and it’s possible that actual butchers and chefs would throw up their hands in disgust at my efforts, but it wasn’t too difficult.

When you are buying a rabbit (if you’re motivated by environmental concerns, do cook wild rabbit – farmed rabbits have almost the same impact on the environment as farmed chickens), look for a rabbit with firm, dark-pink flesh and a sweet smell. Rabbits shouldn’t smell particularly gamey. You probably will start out with something that looks like this (tender-hearted vegetarians, don’t read further; this blog post has bunny carcass photos): Continue reading

Foraging and Cooking with Wild Garlic

Last week a new friend of mine, Nicola (a brilliant cook and blogger in her own right), crowed on Twitter about a recent discovery: she’d found loads of wild garlic at a Secret Location. I immediately demanded to be taken to the spot. She agreed, but not before exacting a “wild garlic tax” (some of my orange-blossom-saffron-vanilla macarons). It was an easy trade. I adore wild garlic. Wild garlic, also known as ramps, wild leek, and wood leek, grows in cool damp woody areas. Its colour is strikingly chlorophyll green and it’s got a sharp allium flavour and intense aroma. It’s gorgeous stuff. Monday, the appointed day, was cool and very wet. Nicola picked me up from an Overground station, her sweet and excitable dog, Toro, in the back of the car, and drove us to the Secret Location, a lovely wooded path Somewhere In London. Continue reading

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi

A lot of people are intimidated by gnocchi. With good reason, too – it’s hard to get gnocchi right. We’ve all had leaden, chewy gnocchi, and chances are we’ve even had them at Italian restaurants. Chances also are we’ve made them. I know that my first few attempts at making gnocchi were failures – either I overworked the dough, or I added too much flour, or I didn’t add enough and the gnocchi fell apart in the water. Yet that Platonic ideal of gnocchi has always been out there, tantalizingly: delicate, light, feathery-soft gnocchi that hold their shape yet yield at the slightest touch of a fork. I can (and do) make good gnocchi now, and there are tricks to it, which can be distilled to two basic rules. Continue reading

Tomato-Garlic-Anchovy Sauce: A Sauce for Fish

This recipe post was originally intended to be about what I made for lunch. But the sauce I made was so delicious (really!) that I decided it deserved its very own entry, lest it be lost and forgotten with the fried sardines. It’s actually a wonderfully versatile sauce, and although it’s particularly nice with oily dark fish, like sardines, herring, or mackerel, I imagine it would also be lovely served, say, as an accompaniment to grilled shrimp, or even with more delicate fish like cod or sole (perhaps for dinner, with some boiled new potatoes). You could even put it on bruschetta and serve it on its own. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Il Corvo

I liked everything about Il Corvo before I ever ate there. The story: a fastidious craft-oriented pasta geek leaves his slick exec chef position at a trendy restaurant to set up what is, essentially, a pop-up in a gelateria. The concept: a few dishes prepared fresh daily by hand, using lovingly-accumulated antique collectible pasta-making equipment, priced within easy reach of budget-constrained diners like me. The principles: Il Corvo’s only open for lunch, Monday through Friday, so that chef Mike Easton can spend time with his family. This singleness of purpose bespeaks a degree of confidence Continue reading

Pasta with Calamari, Tomato and Caper Sauce

Blogging has turned me into a culinary diurnal vampire. “Huh?” you say. Let me explain: as a food blogger, you realize pretty darned quickly that without natural light your food photos look like … well … crap. This is the case even with a nice SLR camera. It all gets flat and yellow. You know what I’m talking about. It’s when the food looks kind of dessicated and (let’s face it) unappetizing.

I have a single window in my kitchen that faces vaguely north. So, being fairly obsessive-compulsive, I now find myself cooking dinner at 11 a.m. Then I take half a dozen photos of whatever I’ve cooked and I put it away. Or I eat it for lunch. In August I had no idea how grim things could get. Now, by three Continue reading