Mussels with Wild Garlic, Grape Tomatoes, and Guanciale

DSC_0653aI do not fully understand the synergistic relationship between shellfish and pork products, but I do not question it. Clams are delicious with smoky bacon, and at Spanish restaurant Pizarro, I ate seared scallops, each of which was topped with a translucent sliver of Iberico pork lardo – pure cured fat – which softened and clung lasciviously to the scallop. It was seriously one of the most pervy things I have ever put in my mouth. Guanciale is unsmoked cured pork jowl. The fat in guanciale, of which guanciale is mostly comprised, is more delicate and tender than belly fat. Guanciale is the key ingredient in classic Carbonara sauces (until you have tried Carbonara with guanciale, you have not truly experienced Carbonara) and it is a remarkably fortuitous item to have in your fridge when you’re casting about for a new way to prepare mussels. Continue reading

Advertisements

Awadh-Style Curried Asian Eggplant

DSC_0322aThe versatile aubergine is so gloriously exotic that it should occupy some mystical plateau, like chocolate. The Mayans weren’t mixing eggplants into their sacred ceremonial brews, but they should have been. The idea is not so farfetched, either – the eggplant apparently contains more nicotine than any other plant except tobacco (although you would have to consume 20 pounds of eggplant to ingest the same amount of nicotine in a cigarette). And of course the eggplant is a member of the nightshade family (along with potatoes, tomatoes, and capsicums). For this Awadh curry I used Asian eggplants, which have thinner skin and more delicate flesh than Italian eggplants. Unlike Italian eggplants, Asian eggplants do not have to be peeled: the skin is tender and not bitter. Fully cooked, Asian eggplants have a consistency like hot custard. Hot, savory, delicious umami custard. Continue reading

Chicken, Peanut, and Yam Stew

I have blogged before about my volunteer work with the Food Chain, and about the fact that I, a Polish Jew, am responsible for coming up with tasty recipes suitable for our service users who request “African” and “Afro-Caribbean” meals. The latter are somewhat easier; while the Afro-Caribbean population is incredibly diverse, at least the Caribbean is a relatively small geographical area. The produce in the markets in Trinidad and Domenica tends to be similar, even if their roti recipes are different. But “African”? Africa is a CONTINENT. It’s taken me a long time to gain a passing familiarity with Moroccan food, and that’s one country, in North Africa, out of 53 (if you include the island nations). So time and again I find myself seeking guidance from that indefatigable source, the internet. Everything’s true on the internet, right?

This lovely chicken dish, which I’ve now cooked to rave reviews at the Food Chain (twice) and at home (once) is a somewhat-adapted “Ghanaian” stew. I feel compelled to offer a disclaimer: I have not been to Ghana. I don’t think I’ve been to a Ghanaian restaurant. I have no idea whether I’ve gotten my proportions all wrong in cooking to my Eurocentric palate. But this stew, in which chicken cooks slowly with peanuts and tomatoes and ginger and spicy peppers until the chicken falls off the bone and the sauce becomes a rich thick fatty paste, is DELICIOUS, and it’s what I’m eating for dinner. Thank you internet! 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

Duck Egg Pasta with ‘Nduja Sausage, Grape Tomatoes and Arugula

I am overjoyed! I finally got my camera back after a three-week separation. I picked it up from Parcelforce on Thursday, and on Friday, one of a spate of truly lovely spring days we’ve been enjoying in London, I went to Borough Market, a market I’ve avoided lately because I usually spend a fortune there on lovely food. (Friday was no exception.) A week or so ago I bought some duck eggs which I planned to use for fresh pasta, and in Borough Market I was looking for one product in particular: ‘Nduja sausage. ‘Nduja is a soft, spreadable Calabrian sausage loosely related to Andouille. It’s seasoned with fennel and oregano and Calabrian chilis – apparently it can contain up to 60% chilli peppers – and the chilis give it a beautiful deep red colour. It pairs naturally with pasta 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

Fried Sardines with Tomato-Garlic-Anchovy Sauce and Arugula

The exciting new development in my life, and the reason why I haven’t been blogging this week, is that I’ve moved. In every way this is a good thing. I’ve got a whole new part of London to explore, this flat feels mine in a way that my previous flat never did (even though I’ve only unpacked half my stuff and I lived in the other flat for two years), and it gets tons of light all day long. While delightful generally, from the perspective of my food blog this is FANTASTIC, as it means that I’ve got wonderful natural light to play with when photographing the things I cook. And let’s face it. On the internet, at least, we eat with our eyes, and fluorescent lighting doesn’t do food any favours. The bad news is that my budget is even more constrained, which probably means much less dining out and more home cooking. But I love to cook, and this hopefully will inspire me to be creative in cooking delicious food for relatively little money.

Which brings me to sardines. 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

Aubergine, Slow-Roasted Tomato, and Chickpea Tagine

I regard the aubergine – that great, glossy, globelike sex organ of the nightshade – with something akin to worship. I didn’t always feel this way, however. Growing up in pre-culinary revolution New York, I only ever encountered the aubergine in eggplant parmigiana, in Bronx Italian restaurants. There, sliced thin, breaded, fried, and concealed under masses of garlicky tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, the aubergine was flabby and insipid. Why order it when you could have pasta? Or clams casino? But the aubergine crept up on me. I first comprehended the Power of the Aubergine Continue reading

Plantains in Spicy Ginger-Tomato Sauce

For the past three days, I have been in a quandary hated by food bloggers the world over. It’s called, “Goddammit, No Good Pictures.” I made this delicious plantain dish on Friday as part of my austerity regimen* and since then have been wrestling with the fact that thanks to the hideous fluorescent lighting in my kitchen, every photo I took was utter shite. After three consecutive nights of relishing the leftovers, however Continue reading