Chargrilled Tuscan Lamb

Chargrilled Tuscan Lamb

Tradition dictates that barbecuing is a summer sport, but the method is ideally suited to cooking throughout the year.  Admittedly, you’re unlikely to get much success from an open barbecue in the driving rain, but a kettle bbq can account for most weather conditions, and effectively gives you an entire additional oven for cooking in.  Believe it or not, our Christmas lunch joints have been cooked on the barbecue for three years running now.

This is a beautiful, simple recipe that is ideally done over charcoal, but also works under a grill (broiler for our American friends).  It is a variation on a recipe from Maxine Clark’s fantastic book ‘Flavours of Tuscany’, which gives a range of traditional Tuscan recipes with an exciting modern twist.  Maxine is a cooking school teacher in Tuscany, so she knows her stuff.

Ingredients

2 kg leg of lamb
4 crushed garlic cloves
4 tbsp chopped rosemary
200 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper

to serve:
chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley and good extra virgin olive oil

– Ask your butcher to bone and butterfly the lamb, or do it yourself by cutting towards the bone where it is closest to the skin, then trimming closely around the bone until you can remove it.

– The meat should lie fairly flat – place it skin side down and score through any areas that are thicker to even out the thickness, and remove excess fat.

– Mix all other ingredients together except for the salt and pepper and rub into the cut side of the meat.  Season with pepper only:

marinading lamb– Leave to marinate for a minimum of 1 hour or ideally overnight. Remove from the marinade and reserve any left over marinade for basting.

– If you have one, put the lamb into a square grill rack, which should allow for easier turning and control flare-ups:

grilling lamb

– Cook for around 30-40 min each side, basting every so often and turning regularly to ensure the surface does not burn.

– Once cooked, season with salt and rest in a warm place before slicing, then dress with the chopped parsley and olive oil.

Tips

– The picture above is actually a smaller leg of lamb than in the recipe (about 850g boned), so I just halved all the quantities and cooked for around 15 minutes each side.

– You will need to control flare ups if you’re cooking on an open barbecue – keep turning the meet and move it off the heat if the flames are out of control.  On a kettle barbecue, cook over direct heat with the lid on and all vents open, turning occasionally.

– Although I’ve given cooking timing guides above (which produce medium done meat), it is best to get familiar with the feeling of meat as the temperature of your barbecue could vary – have a look at this link.

Wild Mushroom & Madeira Sauce

 Wild Mushroom & Madeira Sauce

I feel somewhat guilty about calling this ‘wild’ mushroom sauce, having read Mark Williams post on his excellent and informative site Galloway Wild Foods about restaurants habitually claiming any remotely unusual mushroom ingredient to be ‘wild’ when they are no more wild than than a punnet of mushrooms from the local supermarket.  I accept it entirely – I’m only adding on the wild bit because it sounds better than ‘mushroom and madeira sauce’.   Shameless really, though I do recommend if you can actually find some wild mushrooms this autumn then use them instead of the shitake. I tried it with dried porcini but they took over the flavour too much, which is a shame as then I could have legitimately called it wild mushroom sauce…

Anyway, guilt aside, it’s a lovely rich yet light (is that possible?) sauce that would go fabulously with lamb or as a gravy for a vegetarian sunday roast.  This recipe is dedicated to @moretomushrooms and their hard work throughout October, the month of mushrooms!

Ingredients

1 finely chopped shallot
1/2 finely chopped carrot
same volume of finely chopped celery
small cube of butter and 2tsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt
1 tbsp worcester sauce (vegetarian and gluten free version if needed)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
500ml vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 ‘sprigs’ of sage
200g shitake mushrooms (wild looking ones)
butter and olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon
100ml of madeira
1 tsp of cornflour
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

  1. Mix madeira and cornflour thoroughly and set aside.
  2. Lightly saute first 5 ingredients in small saucepan for 10 minutes
  3. Add stock, worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar, sage and bay leaves.
  4. Cook mixture until reduced by 1/3, add cider vinegar, continue to cook for 5 minutes
  5. Meanwhile, tear shitake mushrooms into 3 pieces per mushroom,
  6. Heat small cube of butter and olive oil in pan then add the mushrooms. cook for 5 minutes, turning only a couple of times.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze of lemon juice, then add the reduced stock, and the madeira/cornflour mix, check and adjust seasoning.
  8. Add parsley just before serving and stir.  Serve with lamb or roasted portabello mushrooms.

Wild Food – Gourmet Foraging

Shaggy Ink Cap

Foraging can be a journey of delight and disappointment – my highlights include finding a glut of field mushrooms on my doorstep (literally, I trip over them when I leave the house), while 2 hours of fruitlessly pouring salt into razor clam burrows in force 9 gales on Padstow beach is a memorable low point.  But over time, just an awareness that there is food all around can introduce you to a world of free gastronomic delights straight from the source.

The act of ‘foraging’ is something that appeals to some and repels others.  The term itself is hardly inspiring, it conjures up images of someone frantically looking through a drawer for batteries or perhaps a misplaced safety pin.  For me, as for many, the interest started with the gift of the book ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey.  This is a great book that will not only give you the means, but also the motivation to find those hidden treats all around us – and with honest appraisals of the culinary potential for each. The book is broken down by season, and also gives you a general idea of the kind of locations to look in.  There is a great section on mushrooms too showing the main European mushrooms of choice, together with any potential opportunities for an upset stomach or early demise.

 rock samphire Watercress
Rock Samphire & Watercress

Autumn is perhaps the peak time for foraging as the mushroom season comes into full swing.  Mushroom hunting in the UK and USA is much less popular than in many European countries where it is fundamental to the cuisine of the country.  In France, all chemists offer the service of identifying collected wild mushrooms, and the incredible Italian white truffles exchange hands for huge amounts of money in the November auction in Alba.  Admittedly there are higher numbers of fungus poisonings in these countries, but these are often due to tourists seeing locals picking mushrooms and trying their hand themselves.  If you try to use three guides to identify your mushrooms, stick to the easily identifiable (most of these make the best eating anyway) and don’t eat it if you’re in any doubt, then you’ll be fine.  I use Richard Mabey’s book, the highly entertaining River Cottage mushroom handbook, and the very detailed online Rogers Mushrooms guide (the latter can be a little overwhelming; usually I manage to narrow my find down to about 40 potential species).

Agaricus Bitorquis, 'Pavement Mushroom'

So, in the interest of spreading interest in this joyous pastime, I have produced a public map on Google maps showing my most interesting finds and the exact locations for each.  I’ll continue to update this, and as it’s public, I’m hoping that others will do the same.  This may be tantamount to asking people to tell everyone where they keep their pot of gold, and I hope that others will use the maps for general interest rather than financial gain, but I think that a renewed interest in this subject could help not only to broaden peoples attitudes to wild food, but also provoke action to protect the habitats of these increasingly rare finds.


Click Here to view ‘Alifeinfood.com Wild Food Locations’
in Google Maps and add your own locations.

My philosophy is that you benefit most from supplementing your diet with choice wild food, rather than existing entirely from it, Ray Mears style.  There are numerous foods that can be found in the wild that can be eaten, but relatively few of them are actually worth seeking out – familiarise yourself with the best, try to be on the lookout at all times rather than setting out to find them, and you’ll get great enjoyment (and even save yourself some money).  From common grocery items (e.g. thyme, rocket, fennel, mint) to items not out of place on Michellin starred menus (chanterelle mushrooms, porcini, samphire), there is much to be found.  For mushrooms, my tip is to look in car parks.  They always seem to have the best ones (all the mushroom photos on this page are from car parks), and are most ignored. You might not have too much luck in multi-storeys though…

Twitter: @foragerltd, @markwildfood, @WildMushroomMan
Links: http://www.wildmushroomsonline.co.uk/
http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/
Also, a general Google search will likely bring up foraging courses in your area.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan – Harvest Time

Apple label, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Today marks the beginning of the ten day harvest display at The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Megavissey, Cornwall.  For those who’ve never had the pleasure of visiting, the story behind the gardens is a romantic tale akin to ‘The Secret Garden’; after decades of neglect the gardens were revived to their original splendour in the 1990s by a team including Tim Smit (who went on to create The Eden Project).

The real centrepiece of the gardens for me is the ‘Northern Gardens’ section, made up of the vegetable garden, walled flower garden and melon yard.  These are all in full production, and all through the year you’ll find a huge array of food being produced – amazingly, this includes oranges, lemons, melons, peaches and even pineapples!

The photos below are from our visit in early October when the weather was glorious, and should give an idea of the kind of things that will be coming together this weekend. The harvest display really needs to be seen to be believed, an army of fruit and vegetables toppling over one another, there is a temptation to dive headlong into the display and start biting…

Twitter:  @HeliganGardens
Links: Main Website, Heligan Blog

Riverford Farm – Fresh, Tasty & Organic Autumn Vegetables

Riverford Farm vegetables; butternut squash, sweet potatoes, multicoloured

On Saturday we schlepped across the countryside for a much-anticipated trip to Riverford Field Kitchen near Buckfastleigh in Devon, and learned two things in the process: one, however tempting it is to cut across Dartmoor, don’t bother – the roads get curlier and slimmer the further on you go, and as beautiful as the scenery is, it does not make for relaxed driving.  Two – if you miss the sign with the lorry on it and take the sign for the farm shop, you’ve gone too far.

However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the small but perfectly formed Riverford Farm Shop needs to be seen to be believed – a huge array of vegetables toppling over each other and begging to be popped into a basket and driven straight home.  We spent a frantic 5 minutes gathering armfuls of candy-like tomatoes and chillies, luscious green tuscan kale and swiss chard, spiky romanesco cauliflowers, squashes, sweet potatoes and sweetcorn, and still had to leave behind mountains of other tempting morsels too numerous to mention.  Even for an hour and half drive (curly roads or not), I can’t wait for the return visit.

And the field kitchen?  Just, amazing.  A real celebration of food, presented in beautiful surroundings by a team of people who have the desire and the ability to give you one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten.  We were treated to guinea fowl on a bed of kale with cannellini beans, romanesco cauliflower and fennel with walnut dressing, beetroot and squash salad, swiss chard gratin and an aubergine and tomato bake.  Perhaps the descriptions don’t really do justice to the food, though to be honest if you are looking for a review there are plenty more authoritative critics than I who have sung its praises. The freshest ingredients, produced with love and care, cooked with respect and expertise, and served humbly and unpretentiously.  I can’t think of anything better.  The whole experience was surreally but perfectly framed by a large group of local apple growers, young and old alike, engaged in the frantic but efficient process of pressing and bottling apple juice on a huge old press in front of the restaurant.

Needless to say, after following up the above with freshly prepared mango pavlova and baked cheesecake (plus the sticky toffee pudding my fellow diner graciously offered me), we left with taut trousers and big smiles, only to attempt to replicate the experience the next day with a huge sunday lunch made from the vegetables you see in the picture (and more!); creamy leeks with mature cheddar, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted butternut and onion squash with chilli and sage, heaps of greens (chard, tuscan kale and purple kale) with caper and tarragon dressing all washed down with a rich wild mushroom & madeira sauce.  At some point I’ll upload some recipes for these delights, but for now I need to find some elastic to sow into these shrinking jeans…

Golden Manchego & Polenta Tomatoes

Polenta tomatoes
In the spirit of Nigel Slater’s programme last night on soft and crisp food textures, this is a great recipe that combines the winning combination of tomato and basil with that most desirable of things – crispy cheese.  You know when cheese pools in the bottom of the grill pan and forms that delicious hard disc of salty cheesiness, the kind of stuff that wars could be started over?  Well that’s what you’re getting on each of these tomato slices. The tomatoes cook down and intensify in flavour, the cheese bubbles away and the polenta soaks up all of the flavour from everything else and seals it into a crunchy coating. Just fabulous.  I last made them in Spain, so Manchego cheese seemed the right thing to use, but you could also use a firm goats cheese, or even a crumbly English cheese like Lancashire, Cheshire or Wensleydale.  Ideal for when you need to cook something both vegetarian and gluten free.

INGREDIENTS

6 tomatoes
250g coarse polenta
Manchego cheese (or alternatively a firm goats cheese)
Basil
1 egg
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

 

  1. Cut the tomatoes into slices – try to keep them uniform, put the ends aside and use them in a salsa instead.
  2. Put the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl with 2tsp salt and leave for around 20 minutes until liquid has formed in the bowl.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the manchego cheese into small squarish slices around two thirds the size of the tomato slices. Set aside as many single basil leaves as there are slices of tomato.
  4. Season the polenta with pepper only (the tomatoes will already have enough salt) and put into a dish, whisk the egg and place in another bowl next to the polenta. Put a grill rack to the other side of the polenta dish.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200 C and dry the tomatoes on some kitchen towel.
  6. In one motion, dip each tomato in the egg, then into the polenta on one side only, then place on the rack.
  7. Place a basil leaf on each tomato slice, followed by a slice of cheese:tomatoes ready for the cheese
  8. Brush over with the remaining egg (I didn’t have a brush, so had to just fling the egg in the general direction of the tomatoes, but they still came out fine).
  9. Scatter more polenta generously over the tomatoes, then tap the grill rack to dislodge any loose grains.
  10. Transfer the tomatoes to a lightly oiled oven tray or baking tray, then drizzle olive oil over the top.
  11. Cook in the oven for around 15-20 minutes until the tomatoes are golden brown (you can finish off under the grill briefly to add some colour).
Serve hot with aioli and big smiles.

Smoky Chipotle Paella – Warming Autumnal Fare

smoky chipotle paella

After a summer trip to Valencia, and a rather beautiful Paella Valenciana, I’ve been inspired to come up with my own alternative interpretation.  Paella was traditionally cooked over wood from orange trees which gave it a smoky aroma, so I’ve used smoked ‘Chipotle Meco’ chillies to try and reproduce this effect.  Chipotle Meco are Jalapeno chillies that have been smoked for long periods of time (often several days) to impart a really smoky and rich flavour that can do incredible things to a dish.  They’re quite rare, and most of them don’t get outside Mexico (the chipotle more often seen in the UK are the smaller and cheaper ‘Chipotle Morita’ variety).  Handily I have a small store that I sell them through on ebay, so I always have plenty to hand!!

The dish is medium hot, a mild version can be made by using only 1 chipotle meco chilli.  This version contains no meat, but is richly flavoured thanks to the chipotle chilli – feel free to use chicken stock and add meat if you like, I’d recommend rabbit or hare in the spirit of the original recipe (they’re also at their best in Autumn), duck is also an option.  Use seasonal greens, and add green beans or runner beans if they’re still in season.  Remember – whatever you think the authentic paella is, it probably isn’t, so experiment!

RICE

1 shallot
2 carrots
1 long red pepper
1 small chilli pepper, deseeded
olive oil
1-2 chipotle meco chillies
1 pint (568ml) vegetable stock
1 tsp tumeric
1tsp paprika
250g short grain rice (paella rice or
arborio)

GREENS

1 handful sliced kale (cavolo nero if in season)
1 handful sliced pointed cabbage or savoy cabbage
small handful frozen green peas
juice of 1 lemon

CHIPOTLE FINISHING SAUCE

1 tsp fennel seeds
9 black peppercorns
1-2 tsp sea salt crystals
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tsp red wine vinegar
soaked reserved chipotle from
above

1. Put the chipotle meco chillies into a pan with the hot vegetable stock and turmeric and keep on a low heat.

2. Meanwhile, dice the shallots, carrots, peppers and chillies and fry in olive oil with the paprika over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes.

3. Add the rice, stir for 5 minutes until coated.

4. Remove the chipotle chillies and reserve, then add the vegetable stock to the rice mixture. Put the lid on and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, slice the greens and place in a bowl with frozen peas and the lemon juice. Set aside.

6. Grind the dry dressing ingredients then add the reserved chipotle chillies, olive oil and vinegar and puree.

7. Add the greens to the rice mixture and cook for a further 5 minutes.

8. Take the rice mixture off the heat, stir through the finishing sauce, serve and enjoy!

Autumn Pork Pie – Handmade and Local

Pork Pie, Cheddar and Chutney

Many people recoil in terror at the site of a pork pie, but come back and sit down, there’s nothing to be afraid of.  In fact, if you’ve been put off by the greasy supermarket and petrol station excuses for pork pies, it’s really time you tried them again from a decent local supplier.  Yes, the best ones are supposedly made in Melton Mowbray (the PDO and PGI says so), but you’ll benefit from the freshness of a locally made pie much more if you don’t live in Leicestershire and the supermarket is your only other option.

The pie above was made by Bude Meat Supply (not the most romantic of names, I grant you), and is huddling between Denhay Farm mature cheddar and Ma’s Apple & Date chutney (not commercially available, but my mother makes so much of the stuff she’d probably send you a jar if you asked). Cue closed eyes and dreamy murmuring sounds.

So, give them another chance this autumn – crisp pastry yielding to rich pork that sits perfectly with chutney, cheese and a pickled onion if you’re feeling adventurous – it’s a food that represents traditional British cuisine at its best.

empty plate