Authentic, Amazing Lasagna Bolognese. Just like Nonna’s.

Good grief! I cry inside when I remember how good this tasted...
Good grief! I cry inside when I remember how good this tasted…

For some reason I find myself channeling my inner Italian grandmother (I am in no way Italian) with my cooking as of late. Gone are the attempts at making foams and jus and fiddly dishes; it’s been all about the rustic, homey and big flavors recently. One of the most quintessential Nonna dishes must be the traditional lasagna from Bologna. Not only does it take some time to cook, but its star component, the bolognese sauce, is a slow cooking stalwart. Having recently learned Italian, I figured the best place to find a no nonsense authentic recipe would be on an Italian cooking site, and as recommended by my tutor, the website Giallo Zafferano does not disappoint. Sure, having just a portion of the calorific beast can decrease your life expectancy by a couple of weeks, but I assure you, it’s all worth it. This is definitely right up there with the best lasagne I’ve ever tried.

Continue reading “Authentic, Amazing Lasagna Bolognese. Just like Nonna’s.”

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Perfectly Cooked Duck Breast with a Wild Mushroom and Cognac Sauce

Perfect color and crispiness on that skin.
Perfect color and crispiness on that skin.

Sometimes all the culinary gods decide to bless your endeavor and you end up with an almost identical interpretation on the plate of what you had in mind. Here we have it, beautifully crispy skin duck with all the fat rendered and beautifully pink on the inside, and an earthy gooey rich wild mushroom sauce with sweetness and just a touch of tartness to cut through all the richness. Best thing about it, it’s all surprisingly quite easy to make. Recipe after the jump.

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Quick recipe. Sure-fire Bechamel Sauce

Depending on the application, you can thin the bechamel with some more milk.
Depending on the application, you can thin the bechamel with some more milk.

Bechamel sauce is one of the 5 Mother sauces of classic French cuisine. Mother sauce basically means it’s pretty important and that all other variations of a (French) sauce can be traced back to one of the five bases. A bechamel is creamy, rich and decadent, it works wonders when something sharp is added to it, like mustard or cheese and goes really well with baked dishes. A bechamel is a fundamental component of a traditional lasagna (as well as many other baked pasta dishes) and adds sin to usually healthy baked vegetables. The essential thing about a bechamel is to ensure it is silky smooth (absolutely no lumps) and that the flour is cooked through before the addition of the milk. Below is the recipe.

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Steak for Winter. With Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Celeriac Puree, Mashed Potatoes and a Vermouth Sauce

One day I will convince our new photographer extraordinaire to retake this photo, till then, this will have to do...
One day I will convince our new photographer extraordinaire to retake this photo, till then, this will have to do…

This is a very solid dish. There’s nothing here that will become a taste revelation/revolution. Everything here you’ve probably tasted before, however, when all are executed properly, it can become a real classic. To me, nothing quite beats a well cooked piece of meat, and with the marinade shown below and some attention during cooking, your steak can go from very good to exceptional. The dish is bound together with the sauce, a thick velvety meaty dream that brings it all round. Although there are no difficult techniques here, the very number of components make cooking it a challenge, especially if you’re looking to serve it plated and in multiple servings, but it’s a lot of fun to make! Below is the recipe, and I hope you enjoy cooking and eating this as much as I did.

Continue reading “Steak for Winter. With Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Celeriac Puree, Mashed Potatoes and a Vermouth Sauce”

Lamb Shank Gnudi. This is Food for the Soul.

I'm dying here just remembering how tasty this was.
I’m dying here just remembering how tasty this was.

Imagine this: The dutch oven has been on the stove for about 2 hours, releasing the smell of the lamb shanks braising in the wine and tomato broth all over the house. It’s irresistible. You can’t wait to plate. Everything is finally ready, the gnudi have been cooked and plated, the lamb shredded and tossed over them and then the sauce poured all over. As your plate is placed in front of you, you finally get up close and personal with the aroma and get a good look at these funny looking dumplings. With your fork, you cut open a gnudo and the melted ricotta cheese hidden within the firm doughy shell almost oozes out. It’s teasing you. A couple of bits of lamb and a healthy dip in the sauce create the perfect bite; and finally you’re there, the creamy dumpling, the tender lamb and the almost divine sauce come together to give you a truly remarkable dining experience. You wish to make the meal last longer, but it’s so good, you can’t stop eating. Recipe after the jump.

Serves 4

For the lamb:

3 large lamb shanks on the bone

1 Osso bucco bone or a similar beef bone

2 carrots chopped roughly

1 carrots peeled and paysanned

1 1/2 celery sticks roughly chopped

1 large onion roughly chopped

4 button mushrooms sliced

3 garlic cloves peeled and squashed

2 tbsp of tomato puree

A couple of rosemary sprigs

1 cup of white wine

1 cup of red wine

Water

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup of cream

For the Roux

2 1/2 tbsp of butter

2 tbsp of flour

For the gnudi:

1 cup of Ricotta cheese

3/4 cup of freshly ground Parmesan cheese

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 tsp of fresh chopped rosemary

3/4-1 cup of all purpose flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the bone and lamb shanks in some regular flour, then heat some oil in a large dutch oven over a medium high heat. Brown the meat and the bone in the dutch oven on all sides, it will take about 10-15mins. Remove the meat and add a couple more lugs of oil. Then add the celery, carrots, onions and garlic and fry up for about 7-10 minutes until softened and fragrant but not browned. Then add the tomato puree and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Return the meat and bone, add the herbs and wine and add enough water to cover the shanks until they’re almost submerged (normally about 1 more cup). Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, amply season with salt and pepper and cover. The shanks will cook for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check on them every half hour or so just to make sure the liquid hasn’t reduced too much. About halfway through the cook, you’ll have to turn the shanks over just to make sure they cook evenly. Finally, about a half hour before you remove them off the heat, add the finely chopped carrots and the mushrooms, they’re actually be served on the plate, so you’ll either have to pick them out of the sieve or colander when the sauce is strained, or you can just tie them up into a cheese cloth and add them to the sauce. The reason they’re added so late is to make sure they’ll still have some bite to them.

While the shanks are cooking, start to make the gnudi. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together until a dough forms. While it should be wet, it can’t be sticky, so you may have to add more flour than prescribed, don’t worry too much about it, just make sure that the mixture is nice and wet and not overworked. You can then roll them into individual balls (about 4-5cm diameter) using floured hands and placing them on a floured surface or form quenelles and drop them straight into fast boiling salted water. Each gnudo will cook for about 2 minutes, they’ll basically float to the surface like gnocchi when done. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside, keeping them warm until you finish the sauce. Ideally, you shouldn’t let the gnudi wait longer than 10ish minutes until plating.

Check to make sure that the lamb shanks are cooked and that the meat almost falls off the bone. Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan and keep warm on a low heat. Shred the meat off the bone and set aside along with the carrot and mushroom that will join the plate and set aside. In another saucepan, make the roux by melting the butter on a medium heat and then gradually adding the flour, whisking constantly. Cook the roux until it reaches a golden sandy color. Add the cream to sauce in the other pan and then add half of the roux, whisking constantly. The sauce should thicken a bit, just enough to cover the back of a spoon. Assemble the plate by laying the gnudi, covering with the lamb, carrots and mushrooms and then adding the sauce. This is a really really good dish.

Thank you Naila for the new photography!

If you happen to frequent this site with some regularity, you may start to notice that the quality of photography is vastly improving with some posts; case in point here and here. This is the work of the very talented Naila Fateen, and if you would like to reach out to her about getting some food styled and shot, you can reach her on naila.fateen@gmail.com

Prawn and Baby Squid Bruschetta, Clinging to the Last Strings of Summer

Super fresh and tasty yet surprisingly deep in flavor!
Super fresh and tasty yet surprisingly deep in flavor!

I have to say, this here was probably the best bruschetta I’ve ever had, and I know what you’re thinking, it’s just tomatoes on toast, how the hell can it be any different to the stuff we’ve been eating as a cheap and cheerful starter in almost every Italian restaurant we’ve been to? My answer to you is: I don’t know, it just is. Tender baby squid, fresh tomato, slightly cooked (and plenty of) garlic and spring onion topped with lemon zest and rocket leaves for freshness and drizzled with some amazing olive oil. I guess it’s just that; it’s a dish so simple that investing time in finding really really good ingredients will totally pay off. This dish takes very little time to cook and assemble, and is generally viewed as a bit of a cop-out “no real cooking” plate, but I guarantee you, with the recipe below, you’ll be able to serve this plate as a starter to the most refined of meals… well not the most refined, but pretty damn refined!

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Masterstock Chicken? What is this sorcery I ask?

This was never going to win a beauty contest. But you'll have to take my word for it, it's worth totally delicious.
This was never going to win a beauty contest. But you’ll have to take my word for it, it’s totally delicious.

So a master-stock is a Chinese cooking liquid that is used to poach or braise a protein in. The reason it’s called a master-stock is because it is usually reserved after use and frozen for reuse later, gaining depth in flavor and general richness with every use. Sounds pretty badass right? Not only so, but apparently some master-stocks in China are kept for so long that they’re passed from one generation to the next! Faaantastic. So what does it taste like then? The chicken, once cooked or poached in the stock, is left to swim in it for up to 3 hours to let the flavors of the stock infuse and really penetrate the chicken, leaving you with the moistest, tastiest, juiciest piece of Asian chicken you’ll have ever tasted. Not only that, but it’s damn easy to make. The recipe is after the jump.

Continue reading “Masterstock Chicken? What is this sorcery I ask?”

Mock cheese platter pair, a cheddar foam with a thin short crust cracker, a poached pear with a blue cheese cream.

 

Another one of those starters where I shoot for the moon with creativity but get let down somewhat with execution. This was one of the tastiest starters I have done, the cheddar foam was amazing, kind of like cheese whizz but all natural, along with the cookies and the almond crumble that component was delicious. But I was let down by the runniness of the foam, it needed to be cooler before I stuck it in the foamer… as for the pear with the blue cheese cream, well there’s very little to screw up there, and you know that the flavours are gonna be right on! As usual, I’ve incorporated corrections to my mistakes in the recipe below. The recipe is after the jump:

Serves about 4

For the cheddar foam:

250g of finely grated mature cheddar

1 cup of water

1 tsp of Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon of gelatine powder

2 tbsp of cooking cream

In a small pan, heat the water for a few minutes; make sure the heat is quite low, because it shouldn’t boil. Add the gelatine and dissolve it, then add the cheddar cheese and keep on the heat until all the cheese has melted. Stir in the mustard and cream and whisk gently together to form a homogenous mixture. Remove off the heat and set aside to cool down a bit, you don’t want it to re-solidify. Once it’s cooled down a bit (3-5mins) place in a foamer and dispense the foam onto a bowl on the side.

For the short crust crisp:

Preheat oven to 180degrees C

125g of all purpose flour

50g of butter cold, and cut into small cubes

1-2 tsp of ice cold water

½ tsp of salt

Generally a short crust pastry should be worked very quickly and handled lightly so that it doesn’t turn greasy and then turns hard in cooking. For our purposes here, because we want achieve isn’t a traditional pastry base but more of a cookie or biscuit. Put all the dry ingredients into a food processor, and pulse a few times, add the water in single teaspoon portions and pulse until all the butter is incorporated into the flour and you’re left with a sandy crumbly mixture. On a clean work surface, bring the crumbs together and then combine to form a ball of dough which you’ll wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for about 15-30mins. Remove the dough from the fridge, and on a non stick baking tray, roll out as thin as you dare (1mm if you can), and using a cookie cutter, cut out into the shape you desire. Remove the excess dough and place in the oven for about 10-15mins. Usually thicker crust requires about 20min, so you’ll have to use your judgement here. It needs to be nice and golden brown and solid.

For the almond crumble:

Use same 180 degree oven

Toast a small handful of almonds in the oven until they turn a deep golden brown and start to release their oil. Once toasted remove from the oven and set aside to cool down. Once cooled, place in a thick plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin to the desired consistency.

For the pear:

1 Large pear peeled and cored but otherwise whole

2 cups of red wine

1 stick of cinnamon

1 fresh sprout of thyme

1 red chilli chopped

In a small pot, heat up the wine and herbs and spices with the chilli, and bring to a simmer. Add the pear (make sure it’s covered with the wine) and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes. Remove the pear and set aside to cool down (make sure to serve slightly warm). Quarter the pear and serve a single quarter per plate.

For the blue cheese cream:

About 100g of good quality blue cheese, cubed

About 100g of ricotta

1 tbsp of cooking cream

Basically just through everything into a stand mixer and mix until homogenous.

Plate as shown in the picture and hope you enjoy!

Beef bourguignon. Tastes as complex as it’s spelled!

Here with the carrots reserved and the sauce needing an extra kick in the nuts to reduce it a bit more, but still, deeeelicious!
Here with the carrots reserved and the sauce needing an extra kick in the nuts to reduce it a bit more, but still, deeeelicious!

Aaaah, the king of braises, the big kahuna of one pot wonders, a casserole of meaty, deep and rich flavours, smokiness from the bacon (anything with wine and bacon should win) accents from the herbs and lots of red wine to hug your insides. There’s really nothing one could add to this dish from the tried and tested original rendition which is near perfect. Really the only points of concern are to make sure that the beed is browned very well, and to add the vegetables later in the braise so that they still have some crunch or character to them once served. Otherwise it’s a very straightforward dish. You’ll find the recipe after the jump.

Continue reading “Beef bourguignon. Tastes as complex as it’s spelled!”