20/10/2013

Pumpkin Ravioli with Caper & Nutmeg Brown Butter

As a result of yesterday’s Foodie Fest, I had some salted capers and pancetta to use. I also had fresh pumpkin ravioli.

I thought of a caper butter sauce, then thought of adding nutmeg. Easy to do. I was going to fry the pancetta, but then decided I wanted something different to offset the soft pasta. Grilled pancetta crisps. Oh yes.

I grilled the pancetta, and then set that aside to cool.

Pancetta crisps

I soaked the capers for 5 minutes in warm water, and then drained them to rinse off the salt. I chopped them a little to release more flavour.

Then I melted 2 – 3 tablespoons of butter in a shallow pan on a gentle heat, with a drizzle of olive oil so that it browned a little as it foamed but didn’t burn.

Added in the capers, and let them infuse into the butter. While that was gently bubbling, I started cooking the pasta.

Plunge them into boiling water, cook for 4-6 minutes, then drain. They cool quite quickly but that’s fine.

Grate maybe 1/4 tsp of nutmeg into the browned butter, add the drained ravioli, and gently reheat, turning to coat each ravioli thoroughly.

Serve with the crisps asap!

Plated

Close  up

An Italian Flavoured Foodie Day Out

There are times when one finds oneself at a loose end, but can’t actually find the energy to go out and DO something. This was the case this past Saturday. I could have spent the whole day at home, just relaxing and being slept on by the cat but, much as I needed the rest, that wasn’t sitting well with me. My friend Becca happened to have a rare, free day and as we’d been talking about having a crawl of some of the Italian delis in London for ages, we decided to make it a reality. A quick natter to another friend, Kate, and we had our partner in crime for the day.

We started out at Bermondsey Square market. This much overlooked market really needs to be recognised. There were two organic veg stalls, overflowing with gorgeous looking produce, the tops of the leeks fair waving over the partitions, and an immense tumble of tubers, root veg and squashes. There was one selling highly scented cheese and Italian goodies and then there was the stall that was the reason for my visit.

Scarlet Rosita. A powerhouse of creativity when it comes to food. Her ranges of gluten free and RAW goods are simply amazing but she doesn’t just do that. I can’t praise her highly enough. She works so very hard to accommodate peoples’ needs, and she has a loyal customer following. She used to be based at Maltby Street, but for no reason that anyone can discern, they didn’t renew her place. Their loss. There’s no way that I would let a stall go that provided soups, curries, cakes and cookies for all. Her knowledge of food is encyclopaedic, and her warmth and kindness know no bounds. Go, and go soon. I get hugs and everything when I go, maybe you will too.

Cake for breakfast was the only way to go. It was coffee cake, so that counts as a morning food, right? This is what I call a proper cake. Moist, packed with flavour and with a frosting that wasn’t that overly sweet fluff that you seem to get a lot these days. I often think that the frosting is the very last thing, not the whole of the thing. Style over substance in cakes is a very sad occurrence, and it should not be so.

Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake

Becca chose gluten free carrot cake, and it was one of the nicest carrot cakes I have ever tasted. So fresh, and gently spiced with, I think, a hint of coconut, which never fails to garner my attention. I apologise for not getting a picture. We were eating.

I came away with some of Rosita’s roasted hazelnut biscotti – intense hazelnut flavour imbued throughout;

Hazelnut biscotti

and also some vanilla and sultana scones. The vanilla is subtle, but lends almost a softness to the scone.

Vanilla and sultana scone

Just the thing to have with a cup of tea on a dreary Sunday afternoon. (which it is as I am typing this.)

Full of cake, we stopped off for a beverage or two, and then took to knocking seven bells out of our travelcards by bussing it all over the place.

First stop was Terroni’s, on the Clerkenwell Road, just up from the blue and gold Italian church.

My first job was in Bowling Green Lane back in 1989, and Terroni’s and Gazzano’s were regular haunts. Becca lived in Northern Italy for four years, and I spent entire six week summer holidays in Southern Italy, almost as far south as you could get without being in Sicily. Our food experiences were fairly different, but we both have a passion for la bella lingua, and very definitely for the food.

Terroni has a different smell to how I remember, but then it has changed and branched out over the years, now serving cooked food as well as being a deli. They closed for a fair while, but it’s very good to see them back, just where they should be. That area is so much little Italy.

There was a certain amount of excited gaping at the shelves, and wishing that I had a car with me, or a bearer. They have a huge range of products at one end, and a large selection of wines at the other, with a cooked meat, cheese and olive counter in the middle. Friendly service, knowledgeable staff and excellent products.

Pancetta and mortadella are always my first choices, and I bought provolone cheese too.

Pancetta

We all stocked up on various things, bought some Neapolitan sfogliatelle and sat outside in the sun to get covered in crackling pastry shards and icing sugar.

Sfogliatelle

Next was Gazzano’s, about 100 yards further up the Farringdon Road, past The Eagle gastropub. (Well worth a visit.) My thanks to The Skint Foodie for his superb write up on the shop.

Gazzano’s used to be a tiny place, and I have a recollection of a stone floor and a cool, calm interior with not a lot of room but stacked to the ceiling. They moved over to what used to be the Guardian building while their shop was being totally refitted, and now they are back in place. I almost preferred the first incarnation, as it was far more reminiscent of Italian alimentari shops that I visited as a child, but this is London, with a different clientele and different weather.

The range of products is still every bit as good though, and I bought some gorgeous pumpkin ravioli and some plump, garlicky Italian pork sausages.

Gazzano fresh pasta and sausages

Again, lovely, friendly staff and an overwhelming array of goodies.

Our next bus ride took us to Kings Cross, to the Continental Store on Caledonian Road. Now that is a shop that hasn’t changed at all. It’s still run by the same man , Leo, that started it in 1964. He is 80 years old and you would not believe it to see him.

This shop is small, stacked high, and smells right. There’s always something new to try out on the counter, so this time I got pan forte for £2 and salt packed capers for 50p. Yes, that’s right, 50p. Oh and a can of San Benedetto orangeade. Beats the hell out of Tango.

Leo is so friendly, that when I go there, I go there as much to see him as to buy things. He and his shop bring all that I remember from my childhood front and centre and into the present day. If he tells you which olive oil is the best, then you know that it absolutely will be.

This time he took great pleasure in showing us a ‘cheese and ravioli’ board where the cheese and the raviolis were all made of white chocolate. Christmas anyone?

I hope that the council don’t manage to price him out of existence, but they are trying.

Go see, eat a sandwich that he makes you and shop. It’s is so very worth it.

06/10/2013

A NotHalloumi Sandwich

The squeakiest of cheeses has certainly become a hit in the last couple of years. There are many places that now offer a halloumi based dish as the vegetarian option, with some even going so far as to use it in place of the fish in fish and chips. (I’m still not sure about that one, but I am not going to turn it down if it’s offered to me.)

I’ve had a love for it for as long as I can remember. My uncle Lucas used to ship us great metal canisters of it over from Cyprus, squares of the stuff preserved in brine, that we would then use for grating over pasta and macaroni, so salted was it that it was akin to parmesan. The softer kind was bought here, and that is the one which exudes a deliciously tender chewiness when grilled or fried, but still retains most of its shape. It's sold here in rectangular blocks, and it squeaks.

As today was a very sunshiney day, I felt like having a reminder of my Cyprus home, and so bought some very lovely Turkish flat bread and a packet of halloumi. Halloumi sandwich here I come.
It wasn’t quite as I had planned it.
The brand of halloumi I bought definitely said halloumi on the pack. It said Pappas underneath that, and nothing else.

When I took it out of the packet it did seem very soft, but some of them do. Nonetheless into a non stick frying pan it went, sliced and with a touch of olive oil. 

While it cooked, I toasted the bread. The big, flat ovals of Turkish bread are quite airy, and so they stand up better to a warm sandwich if they are toasted. One drizzle of olive oil and balsamic and the base for my sandwich was ready.

Toasted Turkish bread

The cheese, however, seemed reluctant to play its part.

When I went to turn it over to cook the other side, it had melted. Anyone who has ever cooked halloumi knows that the bonus of this particular cheese is that it doesn’t melt, hence it being useful for barbecues. Sometimes it emits liquid when you fry it, but you just keep on cooking and it gets there in the end.

This stuff would have oozed through grill bars like ectoplasm through a cracked ceiling.

It eventually melded together like a giant flat doughnut.

NotHalloumi pancake

Perhaps it will taste okay, thought I, and proceeded along with my sandwich. Getting it out of the pan was interesting as bits just slowly and stringily fell off if you tried to lift it out. Eventually I just tore
bits off with the tongs and placed it onto the bread.

It didn’t smell halloumi-like either. In anticipation of extra saltiness, I added some gorgeous, sticky sweet blackberry vinegar that was a present from my friend Lynne. That and the balsamic on the bread really cut through the slightly greasy feel of the cheese and saved my lunch.

Sandwich stage 1
NotHalloumi with Blackberry Vinegar

It tasted like and had the mouth feel of a cheddar halloumi mix. It was okay, but not what I had hoped for. I won’t be buying that brand again, that’s for definite. I now have two brands that I won’t buy again. Lynda and Pappas. Lynda was just unbelievably salty (and I like salt) and this one was…well, it was just NotHalloumi.

Final sandwich

Cypressa seems to be the most consistent so I shall stick with that.

I feel it my duty to warn people of the gloopy nature of this cheese. It would make a total mess of any grill, and slouch lazily through the bars of a barbecue, coating the coals like a layer of thickened whitewash.

You can tell how unimpressed I was because there’s some left, and I am not even a bit tempted to eat it.

Halloumi should be as good in its uncooked state as  it is when grilled. It makes a fabulous filing for a sandwich with crisp, cool cucumber and juicy tomatoes. I think this one would have made everything else soggy and sad.

Leave this one alone kids.