Return of the veg

Since we finished our EU food tour, we have neglected our blog somewhat, so I thought it was about time for another entry.

Although I miss seeking out recipes from our (still 😀) fellow EU members, the end of our challenge has enabled us to reinstate our weekly veg box from Riverford. So instead of hunting out European delicacies, I have shifted my focus onto finding recipes that best use the seasonal delights delivered to our door.

One of the items in our first box was a bag of wild garlic – lush green leaves with mild garlic flavour and a scent reminiscent of many a spring-time woodland walk. We used one of Riverford’s own recipes to make the most of these, cooking some wild garlic and ricotta fritters. Served alongside some new potatoes and a tomato salad, they made an excellent light evening meal. The fritters were fluffy and light, with the hint of garlic working well with the citrus hit of the lemon zest and the woody tones of the nutmeg.

Another treat was a bunch of asparagus from one of Riverford’s farms in Spain. A tasty Iberian pleasure to whet our appetites for one of our favourite periods of the culinary calendar – British asparagus season. Every year we (over?) indulge, with the delicious green spears making a weekly, or even bi-weekly appearance on our table. With this bunch being our first of the year, we had one of our favourite lunches. I steamed the asparagus until tender and served on hot, freshly buttered toast, topped with a fried egg, a grating of parmesan and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. It is amazing how such simple ingredient combine into an utterly delicious and satisfying meal.

To use the pak choi I turned my attention towards the Far East and tried my hand at the Caramelised Onion Ramen featured in Meera Sodha’s column in the Guardian, swapping the choi sum in the recipe for roughly chopped pak choi. The smell of the slowly caramelising onions was divine, and combining them in the stock with soy sauce and miso created a wonderful soup packed full of deep savoury flavours, brimming over with umami. E was excited to see we were having noodles for dinner and took delight in slurping them up. “Mmmm… tasty” was her summation, a comment repeated by myself and K.

Growing up I was never a fan of mushrooms. However, they do, from time to time, crop up in our veg box, and this week was one of those weeks. When we went through the weaning process with E (and when we continue to introduce new foods to her), we didn’t want her to see people disliking food so that she could make her own mind up rather than be influenced by others. So for me, this meant I had to start eating mushrooms. The dish I chose to cook this week was rare for me, as rather than hiding the mushrooms in a meaty casserole or Bolognese, it was one that featured them as the main ingredient. In my copy of River Cottage Veg Every Day I found a recipe for Mushroom Ragout with Soft Polenta, which looked rather appetising. So after frying off the mushrooms until nicely browned and then slowly braising them in red wine, with plenty of garlic, I served the ragout on top of the polenta, with a side salad of peppery rocket, watercress and spinach. The rich, flavoursome sauce worked incredibly well with the creamy, cheesy polenta. It was greeted by two smiling faces on the opposite side of the table (both K and E are big mushroom fans), and I have to say it went down pretty well on my side too.

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The Last Post

And so we reach the end of our challenge, with just one country left, the UK.

We decided, yesterday, given the fair weather and warm spring sunshine to celebrate completing our culinary tour of the EU with a quintessentially British meal and one that would involve no cooking (by us anyway). We went out for fish and chips. And what delicious fish and chips they were, washed down with the ideal accompaniment, a bottle of dandelion and burdock. A perfect way to round off our month of continental eating.

I should say the title of this post relates just to this challenge and I plan to keep writing about the happenings in Snooks Kitchen.

Great codfish

Today is the last of our continental meals, and we’re off to Portugal for our inspiration. I don’t think I have cooked anything Portuguese before, so I have been looking forward to this one, and as Portugal’s cuisine features quite a lot of seafood, it offers a chance to move away from the meat laden dishes that we have been eating recently.

The meal we picked was Bacalhau à Brás. Bacalhau is the Portuguese name for salt cod, and the “Brás” part of the name supposedly refers to the name of its creator. This very traditional Portuguese dish can be surmised as salt cod, scrambled eggs, fried potato matchsticks and marinated olives.

We found a recipe on Jamie Oliver’s website and the next challenge was finding some salt cod. Once again the local shops and supermarkets left me empty handed, so we returned to the internet. We found an online Spanish supermarket that stocked bacalhau, so placed an order. The salt cod arrived in the post yesterday, allowing me to put it on to soak overnight so that it would be ready for today’s dinner.

Abandoning my gardening in the glorious spring sunshine, I came inside to get on with preparing tonight’s meal. I followed the recipe almost to the letter, with the only substitutions being just black olives (instead of the mixed ones that Jamie asked for) and using up whatever potatoes I had in the cupboard rather than the stated Maris Pipers.

Despite having several pans on the go, and creating quite a lot of washing up, the recipe was fairly straight forward and the kitchen soon smelled pleasantly fishy.

The combination of salt cod, onions and potatoes bound together with scrambled eggs and topped with marinated olives might sound a bit mad, but it was a really tasty and satisfying meal. After all its soaking and poaching, the salt cod wasn’t at all salty, and was just like a slightly firmer version of fresh cod. The potatoes were crisp and delicious and the marinated olives delightful, the chilli adding just a hint of warmth and interest. We all really enjoyed the dinner, and given the difficulty in sourcing the salt cod, and its lengthy preparation, I’d be interested in trying this again with fresh fish instead.

Going Dutch, more meatballs and a Luxembourg legend

On Sunday night I arrived home to a delicious smell filling the kitchen. Fragrant and savoury, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

“It’s just the potatoes” K said.

“But why do they smell so good?” was my response.

“That’ll be the bay leaves.”

Who knew adding a couple of bay leaves to a pan of boiling potatoes could create such a wonderful aroma?

The meal K was creating was Boerenkoolstamppot, a Dutch classic, comprising of mashed potatoes mixed with braised curly kale and shallots, topped with rookworst – a smoked sausage common in the Netherlands. Given the limited ingredients, we thought we should try to be as authentic as possible, so earlier in the month we set about searching for a rookworst. Unsurprisingly the local shops and supermarkets yielded no appropriate sausage, so we turned to the internet. We found rookworst on the Holland Supermarket and duly placed an order, throwing in some Tony’s Chocolonely and Borrelnootjes to make the postage worthwhile.

I enjoyed the stamppot. The mash was flavoursome, with the hint of nutmeg working well with the earthy kale, creamy potatoes and slight sweetness from the shallots. The rookworst was tasty too, but I would have to say it was not my favourite sausage, I think because of the firm, close texture more than anything. Overall another good meal, especially when followed by some tasty Dutch chocolate while we relaxed on the sofa.

Sweden was Monday’s country, and having a jar of lingonberry jam in the cupboard from a recent visit to Ikea, I turned to my copy of Jamie Does to cook some Swedish meatballs. However, as we had a pack of ready made pork meatballs in the freezer, rather than make some more, I just used these and made the sauce from Jamie’s recipe to go with them. So after frying the meatballs and removing to a plate, I made the sauce in the same pan, using the lemon juice to help scrape up the tasty bits from the base. A word of caution. The recipe tells you to add the flour to the pan along with the stock, lemon juice and cream, however this will result in a lumpy mess. So it is best to add some water or stock to the flour in a cup or small bowl and mix until smooth before adding to the pan.

As my pre-made meatballs were lacking any of the herbs in the recipe, I also added some dill to the sauce, bringing a hint of aniseed to the sweet-sour flavour given by the lingonberry jam. The meatballs were served on a mound of mashed potatoes, drizzled with plenty of pinkish sauce, and partnered with some local purple sprouting broccoli. Yum.

Last night we visited the last of the founding members of the EU, the small, land-locked country of Luxembourg. According to Wikipedia, Luxembourg’s cuisine is heavily influenced by those of its neighbours (France, Belgium and Germany), but the meal we chose, Judd mat Gaardebounen, may have its origins in Spain rather than those bordering this tiny nation.

The recipe calls for a smoked pork collar, not a cut of meat that is readily available in the UK. So, given that I assumed it’s the smokiness that’s more important to this recipe than the actual cut, I substituted a smoked gammon joint instead. This was not the only swap I had to make. It is a bit early in the season for broad beans (our plants in garden are barely a foot high), so I used frozen instead of fresh, and although I have plans to grow savory in my herb patch, I am yet to find a plant, so I added some thyme to the sauce instead.

The end result was another cracking meal. The succulent, smoky gammon balancing the fragrant sauce and beans perfectly, with the potatoes helping to scoop up any remaining drips on the plate. E happily munched her way through her plateful, “this is a good one Daddy”, and K and I had to agree.

Pancakes, but not for breakfast

Today we are off to the Czech Republic for our dinner inspiration. I had originally planned a Czech classic of roast pork and bread dumplings, but after all the meat (and dumplings!) we’ve been eating recently, and with some meaty morsels coming up in the next few days, I did a bit more research to try to find a vegetarian Czech recipe. I was in luck and discovered a couple of websites with a few vegetable based meals, and with E in mind, I chose some cauliflower pancakes, called květákove karbanátky.

These were really easy to make and the results were deliciously light, airy, cauliflower pillows. To round off a perfect meal for E, I served these with some new potatoes, peas and sweet corn, and she wolfed the lot down. She really liked the pancakes, although she was a bit mystified when I said there was no cheese in them. In fact these pancakes are completely dairy-free! This did, however, lead us on to discuss how we could do them a bit differently the next time. I suggested topping them with a knob of softened herb butter, E suggested herbs in the mixture, but the consensus was to add some cheese. K thought about some mature cheddar melted on top, but I thought maybe we could crumble some feta, goat’s cheese or even stilton into the mix before frying. Either way, I think these fluffy delicacies will crop up on our menu again in the future.

Cauliflower Pancakes

Ingredients (for 8 pancakes):
1 cauliflower, broken into florets
3 eggs, separated
4 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Cook the cauliflower in a pan of boiling water, for about 10 minutes until soft. Drain off the water and mash the florets with a potato masher to a smooth-ish puree. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to firm peaks.

Add the egg yolks to the cauliflower puree and beat well. Mix in the flour and some salt and pepper.

Carefully fold the egg whites into the cauliflower mixture until fully incorporated.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan, and when hot, reduce the heat and spoon in four pancakes, roughly 10cm round and 1 cm deep. Cook for around 3 minutes on each side until nicely browned and fluffy. Place these pancakes on a plate in a warm place while repeating the process with the remaining batter.

Dumplings, pork, repeat

Our tour continues with two more countries in Eastern Europe, both of which joined in the 2004 influx. Yesterday we went down dumpling lane again, this time in Slovakia, with some potato dumplings called Halušky. The recipe I found was to serve them with Bryndza Cheese, but as hinted at in the recipe, this cheese is somewhat hard to source outside of Slovakia, so I went with feta instead.

Out of the three lots of dumplings I’ve made so far, these were by far the most straight-forward to make, just a simple mixture of grated potato and flour. Even cooking them was pretty painless. I adopted the “traditional” method of cutting them in from a chopping board. It was easy enough to chop them off using a palette knife, although I did end up with a collection of uneven, and odd shaped dumplings, and a rather sticky mess on the board!

Also, out of the three sets of dumplings, I think these were my favourite. There were definitely gnocchi-like in taste and texture, and mixed with the feta, cream and bacon they went down very nicely.

Tonight’s meal was Bigos, the national dish of Poland, a hearty stew packed full of flavour. In researching recipes for this challenge I have noticed that pork appears quite frequently in European cooking and bigos is no exception, with both pork belly and sausages featured. I found a recipe courtesy of the Hairy Bikers, and after a quick bit of preparation, the kitchen was soon full of delicious fragrances. After making the Slovenian jota earlier in the month, I had plenty of sauerkraut left over for this stew, and the kabanas were easily sourced in the local supermarket’s Polish section. The only substitution I made was to use the left over Savoy cabbage from Lithuanian night, rather than white cabbage, but I don’t think that made a huge difference.

The stew was delicious. The pork belly mouth-meltingly tender and the kabanas providing an interesting smoky taste. The juniper berries gave little pockets of floral gin flavour, amongst the backdrop of a rich sauce packed full of umami. Served with some simple mashed potato to soak up the juices, the bigos was met with approval by K and E, and this is another recipe that may well be cooked again.

Meatballs of love

Today is our wedding anniversary, so I thought I would re-create the first meal I cooked for K when we were at university. Handily it is an Italian recipe, so it also fits in nicely with our challenge.

Pasta featured quite heavily in my university diet, not only because it is cheap and versatile, but as a rower, it was very handy for carb-loading. I’m not sure, however, how many students had their own pasta machine and made their own pasta (even if it was only once, to impress their new girlfriend).

The recipe I used was a combination of one from my mum’s copy of The Good Housekeeping Best Pasta Dishes and an old Sainsbury’s recipe card celebrating the release Lady and the Tramp on video!  I’m not sure how authentically Italian the recipe is, but it impressed K fifteen years ago, so I thought it would be worth another go.

I mixed and shaped the meatballs and put them in the fridge to firm up. Then I got on with the sauce, letting it bubble away on a low heat while I made the pasta. Whilst I was rolling out the tagliatelle, E walked into the kitchen. “Noodles” she exclaimed. “Pasta” I corrected, which she was more than happy with.

There is something about homemade pasta. I think it’s the texture, and the fact that it has been made by hand, from scratch, that makes it more delicious. The meatballs were a winner too. E was delighted to find the olives buried deep within, stating “these are good-er than Ikea”, and K said “even better than last time”, so I was happy with that!

Meatballs of love

For the meatballs:
400g beef mince
50g white breadcrumbs
50g finely grated parmesan
1 egg
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
12 pitted black olives

For the sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
125ml white wine
500g passatta
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper
Pinch sugar
Handful fresh basil leaves

For the pasta:
300g pasta flour
3 eggs

Green salad to serve

For the meatballs, mix all the ingredients, except the olives, in a bowl, using your hands to get them thoroughly combined.

Divide the mixture into 12 equal parts. Take one twelfth and flatten out between your hands. Put an olive in the centre and bring the meat mixture around it. Roll between your hands into a ball shape so that the olive is completely hidden inside. Repeat with the remaining meat and olives. Put the meatballs on a plate in the fridge to firm up.

For the sauce, gently fry the onion in the olive oil in a large frying pan until soft. Add the garlic and fry for one minute more.

Add the wine to the pan and allow to bubble for a few minutes before adding the passatta, chopped tomatoes and tomato puree. Season with the salt, pepper and sugar and stir. Bring to a gentle simmer and then cook, uncovered, over a gentle heat for 45 minutes to an hour until you have a rich, thick sauce.

While the sauce is cooking, mix the pasta flour and eggs together in a bowl to form a dough. Tip out onto a floured worktop and knead until smooth. Allow the dough to rest for 10-15 minutes, before rolling out into tagliatelle or spaghetti using a pasta machine. Hang the finished pasta on a pasta stand or clothes airer, or form into neat little bundles until ready to use.

Remove the meatballs from the fridge and heat the oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Once hot add the meatballs and fry, turning carefully, until nicely browned on each side.

Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce pan, cover, and cook gently for 15 to 20 minutes.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and when the meatballs are almost done, add the pasta to the water and boil for 2 minutes. Drain.

Tear the basil leaves and scatter over the cooked meatballs. Serve them on top of a pile of pasta, with a green salad on the side.