I’ve mentioned before that I used to be not so good with baking. General cooking, no problem, but the mysterious alchemy of baking? Not so much. But things are improving – proving, hah – and I had a fun experiment recently thanks to a lump of fresh yeast, bought for just 50p at my lovely local bakery.
Making the perfect from-scratch pizza at home has become a bit of an obsession, and I’m getting very close now. It has a Franco Manca style raw pulped tomato sauce on top, finished simply with mozzarella, basil and olive oil. I just need a wood-fired oven to get that perfect bubbly charred finish.
Then I made these Nutella-spiked brioche buns (based on this recipe) to take into my first day at Sidekick. They were pretty tasty, though kind of more cakey than bready in texture. I also realised that Nutella is pretty delicious, after years of thinking I wouldn’t like it. I still maintain it is not appropriate breakfast food, however: I couldn’t even face these bad boys first thing in the morning.
I have the leftover yeast sitting in my freezer now – any favourite bread recipes I can try next?
I really enjoyed watching Michela Chiappa‘s recent Italian cooking series on Channel 4. The short series went from the basics of pasta making up to showstopping occasion pasta. Lots of veggie stuff too that was more exciting than the standard Italian fare too, like these ‘Nidi’ rolled pancakes.
Pic: Channel 4 Food
I’ve already had somesuccessfulexperiments with pasta making, so decided to level-up and try this lovely ‘silhouette’ pasta: the sheets are sandwiched with herbs before being cut into strands, leaving a pretty see-through effect as well as extra flavour.
I used some herbs from my garden pots – basil and sage – shredding them instead of keeping the leaves whole to distribute the flavour a bit more, and also added a generous amount of chilli flakes.
My pappardelle could have done with being a bit thinner – though you do add thickness from having two layers and risk ruining the effect if you re-roll too thinly – but the colour effect and extra flavours definitely came through.
The cold no-cook tomato sauce Michela paired the pasta with was really punchy and fresh, a great complement to the spiced herby pasta and perfect for a warmer evening. As the recipe warns, the sauce is VERY garlicky, so you might want to reduce the amount if you’re not a garlic fiend. I also blitzed mine a bit with a stick blender to make it coat the pasta better.
You can find the recipes for the pasta and sauce here. Making your own pasta is so much fun and really easy after a few practice runs. All you need is a basic cheap machine and you can even make the dough in bulk and freeze portions so you have fresh pasta practically on tap.
I was invited to spend a night eating at the Global Feast on Friday, a series of suppers running alongside the Olympics which celebrate the cuisines of most of the competing countries. The nightly dinners each feature guest chefs cooking alongside Kerstin Rogers, the location of each night’s origins moving west round the world. A hugely ambitious project combining my loves of food and travel? How could I resist…
The evening started with a gin and tonic in the pretty setting of Stratford’s Old Town Hall, just a skip away from the Olympic Park.
The stunning banquet table, dreamed up by Alex Haw of Atmos Studio, who we had the pleasure of company with for the meal, is laser-cut into the shape of the world complete with longitude lines, topographic accuracy and a hole bored in to mark each large city. We were sat on the coast of Brazil facing the Andes!
Besides the amazing table itself, the effort put into the presentation was really impressive. I loved the map flowers and mini herb gardens sprouting up.
The food was equally impressive. After canapes and a started of curried egg, the main was a thali-style combination of paneer biryani (chicken for the meat-eaters, and a spiced lamb chop) with peanut aubergine and a little glass of yogurt soup called khadi, complemented by brilliant pink beetroot raita and warm chapattis. It looked as good as it tasted, the spicing containing Persian-influenced ingredients like rose and pistachio which are often found in Pakistani cooking.
After an interlude of brilliant Northern Indian dancing for entertainment, dessert was a trio of chocolate tarts by Pistachio Rose, each spiced with a warming background of chilli, fennel and chai. The white choc with fennel and rose was my favourite, yum yum.
The Global Feast runs every night of the Olympics, so there’s only 8 days left. Read more about the Indian night on Kerstin’s blog and grab tickets to the remaining nights here. Much more fun than that sports malarkey, eh?
Time for a roundup of what I’ve been eating lately. Sorry for mostly iPhone pics, my semi-broken camera means I don’t carry it around as much as usual..
We went to the soft launch of the new Wahaca on the South Bank. It’s constructed from shipping containers, beautifully designed and decorated, and the menu has loads of new dishes (hellooooo, 3-chilli tacos) as well as old favourites.
Macaroni cheese, tacos and griddled corn, washed down with lethal slushie margaritas, at the super-hip Rita’s pop up in Dalston’s Birthdays bar. In fact it was probably all a bit too hip for Sarah and I, and the food and hectic service not quite good enough to encourage a return visit.
Courgette pizza from the amazing portable wood-fired pizza people Homeslice, who had parked up at Broadway’s Schoolyard market..
… followed by delicious coffee gelato from Chateaux Gelato‘s stall and a bask on the very-packed out London Fields.
A bit of afternoon work getting the garden tidied up pre – proper makeover. Then rewarded ourselves with a little beer and sit-down.
The cats are enjoying the sun, too.
Fake indoor BBQ of halloumi, mushrooms, peppers and shallots marinated in a chilli-lemon-paprika oil. Then off to my favourite cinema – where else serves a Cuba Libre and popcorn to your chair? – for Moonrise Kingdom.
More grilled halloumi? Go on then. Real barbecue feast care of Laura & Tiago on Sunday.
Bethnal Green is a funny place: studded with gems like Hurwundeki, the V&A Museum of Childhood and the lovely Gallery Cafe, but still rough enough for me to spot a man snorting coke off a bus stop in broad daylight (yes, really). Nestled amongst all of this is the Town Hall, a decidedly upmarket hotel and boutique apartment complex which also houses two restaurants from ex-El Bulli Portugese chef Nuno Mendes: the fine dining Viajante and its baby sister, the more informal Corner Room. Since it was mine and Josh’s five-year anniversary we popped there for dinner on Friday.
The small restaurant is beautifully done out with white subway tiles and vintage wood furnishings with stunning statement lighting. There are no reservations taken so we were prepared to wait for a table, but we got seated immediately at 7pm and the restaurant filled to a buzzy three-quarters full as we ate.
You know it’s a good sign when even the free bread and butter is mouthwatering: I think the bread must have been freshly baked and the butter tasted hand-churned and properly seasoned with lots of salt and pepper. The cheapest bottle of white wine – a French sauvignon at £28 – was absolutely delicious, and unlimited filtered water is offered for £1 a head.
There was only one vegetarian option for each course so my decision of what to order was easy. Starter was beetroot with goats’ curd, accompanied by crisp spring green leaves and a grassy-tasting green puree. It was beautifully presented and tasted cold, fresh and zingy, perfect for the summers’ night.
My main course was Jerusalem artichoke with enoki mushrooms and asparagus. I think it was my first time trying Jerusalem artichokes: they had been charred which left the skins tough but gave the insides an amazing smoky barbecued flavour. The sauce was a wonderful combination of silky mushroom with acidic lemon cutting through it. A really clever, exciting dish.
The portions, though flavour-packed, are small, so we had room for a dessert each. Rhubarb with buttermilk sorbet and mint was good, but the star was the stewed apple with frozen pannacotta, which contained surprise chunks of apple jelly and fudge – wonderful. They even make a good coffee – rare for any restaurant!
We both agreed it was one of the best, most interesting meals we’ve had lately. At around £50/head for 3 courses with wine it’s great value for high-end dining in a lovely informal setting with charming service. Brave Bethnal Green and visit it.
We had a great time last night learning how to make pasta properly at Fifteen restaurant, thanks to Google London. If you didn’t know, Fifteen is the restaurant set up by Jamie Oliver to train young apprentice chefs, and all profits are put back into training the next generation of chefs. Alumni of the scheme have gone on to open their own restaurants and work at other top kitchens in London, so the scheme’s definitely a success, and the flagship Fifteen is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.
We started our class with chefs Alex and Nathan talking us through making the basic pasta dough. It’s just equal quantities of liquid (egg, water or flavourings like tomato, spinach or mushroom paste) to fine ’00′ flour, and a glug of olive oil. The dough is then kneaded to stretch out the gluten, then should be rested for up to 24 hours.
The rested dough is flattened by hand then fed into the pasta machine.
I picked up a top tip here that I’ve been missing out on at home: fold both edges of the dough back into itself on the first few goes to get a smooth ‘leathery’ texture and create a sharp straight edge. Genius.
When it’s long and thin, time to fill with a ravioli filling, in this case a mix of roasted squash, garlic, ricotta and chilli – yum.
Use a piping bag for pro results and make sure to leave plenty of space between each dollop for sealing.
Then ‘cup’ each little mound with your hands to seal and push out any air.
Finally, cut around each mound (a fancy ravioli cutter looks good but a pizza wheel or knife will do fine) and voila – perfect little raviolo. They just need boiling for 4-5 minutes and tossing in a butter sauce.
We got to take our proud creations with us to cook at home, along with some brilliant tips for making pasta at home. I learned loads that I hadn’t thought of while trying my own efforts, but it really is quick and easy when you know how.
We then headed down to the restaurant for a lovely meal of antipasti, the squash ravioli (properly prepared by Nathan!) and chocolate brownie, complete with a matching glass of wine for each course. Fab night, thanks Google and Fifteen.
Google are running loads of foody events at the moment due to acquiring respected restaurant reviewers Zagat, and lots of them are open to anyone who applies by reviewing some restaurants on Google Places, so keep an eye on their Twitter to see how you can get involved.
For this week’s pasta dinner I made orecchiette – one of my favourites but sometimes hard to find in the shops. The name means ‘little ears’ and they are thickish little domes of pasta with more bite than some of the usual shapes. I didn’t quite nail the cut ‘n’ roll technique so mine turned out a little too thick and chewy – one to try again.
But I have to say the sauce I made to go with it was delicious, which i why I’ve written up the recipe to make it again. Inspired by an awesome sandwich I had for lunch at Fernandez & Wells, I tried a smoky, spiced mixture of charred aubergine with my usual concentrated tomato base, and some spicing that’s unusual for pasta pairings: Middle Eastern-inspired cumin, sumac and chilli. In fact the ingredients are all pretty similar to last week’s lasagne, just the spicing gives it a twist. Try it – this sauce would go with any shaped pasta, or would be great with gnocchi.
Orecchiette pasta - fresh or dried. Farfalle, fusilli or gnocchi would work, too.
1 medium aubergine
1 tin plum tomatoes in juice
4 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
Half a white onion, peeled and halved again
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp sumac
1/4 tsp dried cumin powder
For the sauce, add the tinned and sun-dried tomatoes, onion and butter to a pan and simmer on a medium heat for 25 mins until jammy and reduced. Discard the onion, season, and stir in the spices.
Slash the aubergine's skin all over with a knife and place onto gas hob, turning often, until deflated and charred all over. Alternatively, halve and place skin-side-up under a hot grill - or barbecue it! When completely soft, pop into a bowl and cover with clingfilm to cool and soften some more.
Cook the pasta. Peel and discard blackened skin from the aubergine and tip the flesh into the sauce, mix to combine, and reheat. Mix in the cooked pasta and serve with feta cheese crumbled over the top.
It was starting to feel like ages since I’d properly cooked anything – been really busy with work lately, plus another cat in the household = busy times! So I made sure to uphold Pasta Sunday this weekend, my mini-mission to try using my pasta machine for a different dish every week. So far we’ve had ravioli, tortellini and last week, tagliatelle with broccoli and cream (actually knocked up mid-week with some frozen unrolled dough, which works great):
This week I made a lasagne to use up some of the vegetables in the fridge. I’m getting speedier with the pasta machine each time, and the bonus of lasagne = no fiddly cutting or stuffing required. This was ready in under an hour from start to finish.
The thinness test – I can see the placemat through it!
This lasagne is really richly flavoured from the concentrated tomato sauce, charred veg and made extra-rich with the cheesy top. Josh (not a vegetarian) said it was one of the best lasagnes he’s eaten.
Chop the vegetables into 1-inch chunks, spread on a baking sheet with the pine nuts and a liberal glug of olive oil, and season. Pop into a 200-degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until soft and a little charred round the edges.
Tomato sauce - chuck the tomatoes (tinned and sun-dried) and onion into a pan with a knob of butter and bubble on a medium heat until jammily reduced. Discard the onion and mix the roasted veg into the sauce.
Bechamel - Whisk together a tablespoon each of butter and flour and cook for a minute. Pour in a mugful of milk and whisk until smooth and thickened. Season well and stir in a handful of cheddar.
Assemble the lasagne. If you're using dried sheets, parboil them for 5-6 minutes until slightly soft. Butter a baking dish and layer up, pasta first, ending with béchamel. Top with a crumble of feta and a little more cheddar and bake for 20 minutes until bubbling and browned.
Kopi is a new coffee subscription service which delivers a new gourmet coffee to your door every month. They asked me to try out their January blend, and of course I was happy to oblige.
The coffee comes nicely packaged in a resealable bag alongside a beautifully-designed booklet explaining the origins and tasting notes of the month’s blend. This month’s is a Geisha tree coffee from Malawi which is supposed to have notes of jasmine, lemon and lavender.
Brewing up in the cafetière, it certainly smells good – floral and acidic.
The tasting notes suggested it goes well with chocolate, as the acidity cuts through the richness, but I had it with my Saturday breakfast. I’m no coffee expert, but the sharp lemony-ness was very clear and it had a roasted fruitiness that reminded me of Square Mile‘s signature blend. Personally I found it a little too sour – my taste is more for chocolatey caramel notes like some of Monmouth‘s blends. It gave me a pleasing jolt of morning wake-up feeling though, and I also think it’d be nice as an after-dinner drink with a square of chocolate.
Is Kopi for me? Probably not, because I have a certain ‘type’ of coffee that I know I like, and I also don’t brew an awful lot of coffee at home so wouldn’t get through the 250g bag in a month. But I loved the whole experience of getting a blend from a specific area and learning about the origins, and it’s clear that a lot of expertise and care has gone into selecting and packaging the coffee. I’d definitely recommend Kopi‘s service if you’re interested in trying lots of different high quality coffees and learning about where they all come from. Membership starts at £9/month, going down to £7 if you buy a year in advance.