Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Pasta Arrabiata

There are few dishes that are truly as easy to make, as cheap or as utterly fucking delicious as this little gem. You could buy a jar of factory-made pasta sauce, but you'd be frigging stupid when this will take probably just as long and tastes infinitely better. It's really like the difference between Corn Flakes from Kellogg's and corn flakes from a chiropodist.

In our house we call this recipe "bacony thing" for some historic reason we can't remember. It is probably the stupidest name for a meal there has ever been, but it's ours. This is especially the case because, in many restaurants, arrabiata is made as just a spicy tomato sauce without the bacon (or in some cases the bacon is replaced by salami or even chorizo). There would be other differences between "bacony thing" and "arrabiata" on a menu, most obviously about ten quid a fucking portion as a second language supplement, because anything in a foreign language costs more.

Naming issues aside, I started making this many years ago when I was a student. A wanky, pretentious student with a foul mouth so, obviously, I've changed in the intervening time: I'm no longer a student. Yet, I still come back to this fantastic dish. It's a family staple which we have every week. It's usually the first thing we make when we have our first dinner after coming back from holiday. I got the idea of this from a recipe book I purloined from my Dad before I went to university. That recipe is called penne arrabiata, meaning angry (pasta) quills.

Funnily enough, in Italian, spelling penne with one fewer "n" apparently means penis. Pene arrabiata is therefore "angry penis". This makes me think of Noel Edmonds getting upset and stamping on the pavement after receiving a parking ticket. Why is he called "Noel"? Because there's no "L" in "smug, hideous shirt-wearing, bearded prick"

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed (or more, you can't put too much garlic in this dish)
220g smoked bacon, finely chopped (an odd quantity, I admit, but that's how they package it)
1 medium red pepper, finely chopped
1 tin tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
Black pepper
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1/2 tsp mixed herbs (dried work, but fresh are better if they are available)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Arrabiata Ingredients
The bacon, finely chopped along with the fresh vegetables. Note the fresh thyme on the plate

Pour the oil in a pan and heat before adding the onion and garlic. Fry for 5 minutes until translucent then add the bacon and continue to fry until that's cooked. Throw in the pepper and fry for another minute or so. Pour in the tomatoes, add the puree and stir well. Grind in plenty of black pepper, add the chilli, the herbs and bay leaf then pour in the balsamic vinegar and stir well. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 30-60 minutes. You may need to reduce the liquid in the pan if it's especially runny.
How it looks when it's finished
Note bay leaf

 Serve it over pasta with bread on the side to mop up the sauce

The recipe I developed this from didn't have red pepper in it but it bulks out the dish and works well. It needs to be fairly finely chopped like the other ingredients to make a smoother pasta sauce.

As I mentioned above, this recipe can be made without bacon for an even cheaper, vegetarian/vegan version which is still better than some ready-made crap you can buy in a jar.

Unlike most of my previous entries, whilst containing chilli, it's only there to add a slight kick. It does need shitloads of garlic though. It can't really have too much garlic.

While the original recipe was penne, virtually any type of pasta would do: spaghetti, fusilli,even tagliatelli. You'd probably be best drawing the line at tinned ravioli, mind.

Steak night! Peppered steak, potato wedges and the trimmings

Vegetarians might be advised to skip over this entry, though the wedges will go with anything.

Former Smiths front-man, longstanding vegetarian and twat*, Morrissey, stopped a festival show at Coachella, California in 2009 because he said "the smell of burning flesh is making me sick". Personally, I find the smell of burning flesh generally makes me feel fucking hungry rather than nauseous and it doesn't get any more orexigenic than the smell of searing steak. A good piece of steak really doesn't need much more than seasoning to make it fantastic. However, thanks to the queen of TV chefs and the GILF of modern cuisine, Delia Smith, this recipe makes a good thing great. Of course, this recipe was taken from a more innocent time when when the fondu set was the height of sophistication, Vesta curries were regarded as exotic food/foreign muck (depending on your POV) and Delia herself was such a young slip of a girl, she was a merely a MILF (do I need to put a link in for this, after the one for GILF? Isn't it fucking obvious?) and I have updated it a little. It was also before this happened:

Fucking chips! As Kevin Kline's character said in A Fish Called Wanda: "the English contribution to world cuisine: the chip". Go to any regular/"family" pub and whatever you order will be served with fucking chips. You can have shepherd's pie which is generously topped with mashed potato and they still serve that with fucking chips. Even, in the north of England, if you sample some of the delights of exotic oriental cuisine you get them with fucking chips. Lamb shish kebab WITH FUCKING CHIPS! Chicken tikka masala WITH FUCKING CHIPS! Sweet and sour fucking chicken WITH FUCKING CHIPS! The humble and overworked chip does have a time and a place, however. There is little better than enjoying good fish and chips on a windy seafront, or a tray of chips slathered in gravy as you walk down the street. More relevantly, a great steak is so much better when it's got a side order of chips. As anyone will tell you, real chips are hand cut and deep fried which is a bit awkward since deep frying is a regal pain in the arse. Also, as much as I loath to bring healthy eating into this blog, real chips are relatively high in fat. A great alternative is this recipe for potato wedges which are baked with a generous covering of oil and turn out like a cross between baked potatoes and deep-fried chunky chips.

*Just to be clear, these two qualities are not in any way related. I have many family members and friends that I love dearly who are vegetarian - indeed, I was vegetarian myself for a short while as a student - and many meat eaters who are such twats I wouldn't waste a full bladder on in the vanishingly remote possibility that it might prevent their nasty and painful death from spontaneous human combustion.

2 steaks (personally I like ribeye or sirloin, but rump is also great)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp black pepper corns
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
Dash Tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp English mustard
Half a glass of red wine (about 100ml)

500g potatoes, washed but not peeled
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
pinch mixed herbs
A good pinch of salt (to taste)
Lots of black pepper (to taste)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 big portobello mushrooms, whole (you could use big field mushrooms or a few regular small mushrooms)
1 onion, sliced

Tomatoes (depends on size, but 1 medium one each or more if they are smaller)

Crack the black peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Alternatively, if you're not as big of a foodie wanker as me, you can put them in a freezer bag and bash them with a rolling pin for the same effect. Add these to a large, flat dish (big enough to lay both steaks down flat) and pour in the olive oil, garlic, Tabasco and mustard then mix. Place the steaks into the mixture and turn them over in order to give both a nice coating of pepper. Repeat a few times until they are both well studded with the peppercorn fragments. Cover the dish with clingfilm and leave on the side for at least an hour or two before you want to cook them. It is important that they are left at room temperature.

Steaks marinating

For the wedges, cut the potatoes lengthwise into thick chunks, or wedges, and dry them with kitchen roll. Throw them into a roasting dish and sprinkle on the rest of the ingredients. Toss the wedges so they all get an even coating of the mixture. Preheat an oven to 180 and put the wedges in for 45 minutes, turning them half way through. At the same time as putting the wedges in the oven, put the tomatoes in a shallow ovenproof dish and put them in the oven at the same time. As an alternative, you could actually just griddle the tomatoes at the same time as the steak but roasted tomatoes have so much more intense and concentrated flavour.

Potato wedges before cooking

Potato wedges cooked and ready to serve

Add a little oil to a frying or a griddle pan and fry the onions, long and slow, (OK, 5-10 minutes, so not that slow) on a fairly low heat. If they get too dry, add a splash of water to keep them moist. Add the mushrooms and fry them gently on either side along with the onion. When they're done, remove them and keep them on the side.

A good couple of minutes before it's time to cook the steaks, stick the same pan on to heat. Once it's nice and hot, throw on one of the slabs of meat. There is no need to add oil to the pan because the steaks are already oiled from the marination. Obviously, cooking steak depends a lot on how you like them between rare to crucified (and if it has to be very well done you have no business reading a food blog you fucking philistine), and how thick they are, so this step is about trial an error. Pressing the steak will give you an idea: the softer, the less done. As a rough guide 2-3 minutes per side will make it rare, 5 minutes for medium. Any more than that and I'll deal with you later, see below.

When cooked to your required level of doneness, put the steaks on their serving plates and leave to rest for a few minutes, adding a little salt to both after a minute or two. Meanwhile, turn down the heat on the hob and return the mushrooms and onions to the pan for a minute or two then throw in the red wine to wash out the pan. plate up the mushroom and pour the rest of the pan's contents onto the steaks. Serve up the wedges and tomatoes and eat, washed down with the rest of the red wine.

Steak night! All ready to eat

Steak is truly wonderful, but only if it's not overcooked. Personally, my instructions for a perfectly done steak are "wipe its arse and walk it onto the plate", or "blue" if I'm in a restaurant amongst polite company. However, if the steak is taken out of the fridge just before it's cooked, rather than being cooked from room temperature, a blue steak will be cold in the middle (hence the point of stating the marinating steaks are not put back in the fridge). The steak must be at least as warm as it was when the animal was slaughtered, in my opinion. However, blue isn't for everyone but it should be at least pink in the middle (little more than medium-rare). If you like your steak well done, remember that a cow died to give you this piece of itself. It deserves to be treated properly. It needs to be trans-substantiated so it can gambol on your tongue for one last time in the succulent juices of your steak. If there are no juices this isn't going to happen and that herbivore will have chewed it's last cud in vain. Worse still, it will probably be tough as shoe leather and taste like shite.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Orange-fragranced couscous

Couscous is the New York of starchy meal bulkers: so good they named it twice. Before the British public became all up to date on their international foods, if you asked the man in the street what it was, he might have thought couscous was some horrendous tropical disease, up there with dengue, ebola or gonorrhoea contracted from a kathoey you picked up in a bar in Pattaya. Now, of course, it's common knowledge that it's the stuff that's a bit like rice that they have in Morocco. It's the height of sophistication, Mockney wanker Jamie Oliver uses it because it's "pukka" (whatever the fuck that means). It's made of wheat. If you were a foodie wanker, in fact, you could say couscous was deconstructed pasta or pasta not yet constructed. It's so fucking exotic! It's semolina made from durum wheat. Hang on a minute, but isn't semolina that gruel-like stuff they used to serve for dessert in school dinners in that dazzlingly day-glo pink sauce? Oh, yeah. So it is. Shows you, repackage any old bollocks and you can make a fortune.

Anyway, that reminds me of a joke. What is the Pink Panther's favourite type of wheat? Durum, Durum, Durum-Durum-Durum-Durum. OK, that works better if you say it out loud and you know this tune


1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small red onion, finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
5 cherry tomatoes (or about 100g regular sized), skinned and chopped
handful of green olives, sliced
pinch of saffron
1 mug of dry couscous (see instructions, but should be about 125g for two people)
1 mug of boiling water

In a shallow pan, heat the oil and fry up the onion and garlic on a medium to low heat until soft.

Add the celery and pepper and continue to fry for another couple of minutes until they are also soft.

For the saffron and orange zest, put it in a cup and add about a tablespoon of boiling water and let it steep for a couple of minutes.

Add this to the pan along with salt and pepper to taste.

Throw in the chopped olives, tomatoes and pour in the couscous.

Stir well so all the grains of couscous get a good coating of oil. Pour this mixture into an oven or microwave-proof dish.

Next add the boiling water and orange juice. The total volume you add needs to be the same as the volume of the couscous added, so add the orange juice to a cup then makeup the volume with the boiling water.

Mix well, cover as tightly as possible and put in an oven for 5-10 minutes if you happen to have something in it (such as the previously posted recipe of lamb tagine) or else, stick it in the microwave for about a minute then leave to stand for another two or three.

This dish is a great accompaniment to Moroccan food such as my lamb tagine, but it can work as a meal in its own right, especially if you add a few more vegetables. Also, it's got no meat in it

There's none of this "boiling for a few minutes" bollocks with your couscous. Oh no. Just add boiling water, let it soak in and it's pretty much cooked.

I said it above and I'll say it again. It's made of wheat. There's a big, faddy movement against wheat in some circles, especially in the fitness business. Wheat is often portrayed as the most evil foodstuff in the larder, responsible for many of the dietary ills of modern life. Probably the most vocal of these critics are those selling the Paleolithic Diet. Proponents of the Paleo diet believe that we should be eating only food that cave-people ate before the dawn of organised agriculture because it is is what we evolved to eat. This is the cuisine of Luddites. These people really are drawing the fun out of food. They are the Jimmy Savile presenting a really good episode of Top of the Pops 2 of the food world. No pasta, no couscous, no bread, no beer and absolutely no scientific basis for the whole Paleo dietary movement. If, however, you do want to make a Paleo version of this dish, simply substitute the couscous for shredded sabretooth tiger.

Sorry for no pictures in this recipe. I shall take some next time I do this recipe and post them as an update.

Lamb Tagine

Eat tagine and you too could look like this.
Morocco Mole, popular sidekick of Secret Squirrel and also the first indication you've got malignant melanoma after spending too long in the sun in Marrakech

You can't do any recipe of North Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean without mentioning the name of arguably the most trendy cook of the moment, Yotam Ottolenghi. He has a reputation for delicious food which is simple and rustic. However, he also has a tendency to use authentic ingredients in his recipes which, although they may be common in a souk in Tripoli, are not so easy to come by in the UK outside of a few small, wanky, over-priced delis in Notting Hill. For example, you have more likelihood finding a 70s male celebrity without a sex-pest-shaped skeleton in his closet than finding freeze-dried organic gerbil spleens down your local Co-Op. Anyway, I've mentioned him now, so onto my own recipe for lamb tagine.

A tagine is the name of the cooking pot which is essentially a glorified casserole dish with a lid shaped like a slightly squashed witch's hat. The dishes that take their name from the pot are usually mildly spiced stews that are cooked long and slow. This is actually doing an entire cuisine a huge disservice since, if cooked well, Moroccan food is fucking fantastic.

As well as being famous for its subtle, aromatic, spicy flavours, Moroccan food also uses a lot of dried fruit. Now, forgive me for riding rough-shod over centuries of culinary culture, but I largely think that dried fruit has as much place in a savoury dish as Clostridium botulinum. This goes doubly for dried apricots which, though commonly used in Morrocan tagines, are the dessicated haemorrhoids excised from the infernal arseholes of the devil's own herd of Apocalyptic wombats, in my opinion. I mean, if you want to add fruit, why not go the whole hog and stick in a packet of Fruit Pastels while you're at it and maybe serve it up with custard?

Anyway, the upshot of this preamble of dissing the Yot and admitting how much I despise dried fruit in main courses means this recipe is about as authentically Moroccan as a fez made from polyvinylchloride in Taiwan and purchased on Blackpool seafront. You want authenticity, piss off to Agadir and eat there. Meanwhile, this recipe tastes fucking great and it's well worth the time and effort to make it.

2tbsp olive oil
500g cubed lamb
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic
100g mushrooms sliced
2 preserved lemons,
150g fresh tomatoes, peeled then halved
2tsp paprika
1 tbsp cumin
10cm cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
pinch of saffron
vegetable stock cube
500ml water
1 red pepper chopped into sticks
1 courgette cut into sticks

Spice: the final frontier

Heat the olive oil in a hob- and oven-proof casserole dish and fry the meat to seal it. Remove it with a slotted spoon and add the onions to remaining oil to soften. Add the spices and garlic for about a minute, mixing to make sure they don't stick to the dish. Throw in the mushrooms and fry for another couple of minutes.

Add a little of the water to a cup and mix up the stock cube.

For the preserved lemons, cut them in two and scoop out the middle with a spoon. Discard the flesh and finely chop the skins.

Return the lamb to the dish and add the preserved lemons, tomatoes, water and the stock cube mix. Bring to the boil, mix well then layer the pepper and courgette on top of the rest of the stew. This means that the vegetables steam rather than boil and totally disintegrate over the long, slow cook.

Cover and put into the oven at 145°C for 2-3 hours

Tagine ready to go in the oven
Note the vegetables layered on the stew. Also note this is a Pyrex casserole dish and not an actual tagine pot. I'm not that much of a foodie wanker

This serves two people easily. Dish it up with rice, bread or couscous, like the recipe I'm writing next  for orange couscous.

Preserved lemons are available from supermarkets. They are not the same as fresh lemons. They look like this:

You could put any combination of vegetables in this. Well, OK, not any combination. Lettuce would be a mistake, for example and cabbage would be a bad idea (cabbage is actually generally a bad idea in any situation, to be fair). However, carrots work well, as does aubergine, green beans or squash.

In best Rick Stein style, I could twat on about how I tasted something like this recipe, as cooked over a bottled gas stove in individual pots, in some street-side cafe in Marrakech a few years back. A place which had a spice shop round the back where I bought a large bag of saffron at a really good price, but that's really not the fucking point of this blog, is it?

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Shepherd's Pie with garlic and rosemary mash topping

To paraphrase erstwhile football hooligan and current market gardener-cum-podgy, cheekie-chappy-apples-and-fackin'-pears Masterchef judge, Greg Wallace, "food don't come any more rustic than this!". I mean, how could it? It's named after someone who raises sheep for a living; who smells of lanolin and moss on a daily basis and for whom ticks are sexually transmitted.

Of course, the dish is also a British classic and piece of piss to make, as well as being cheap. That's probably why it's popular in pubs because they're often too tight to invest in the pricier ingredients needed to make better quality food and or invest in culinary training of their staff. Of course, in most good old British pubs, it's often a second rate version of the dish, as cooked on an industrial scale by some big catering multinational. The meat will be mechanically recovered; comprised mainly of lips and assholes; and probably not entirely ovine in origin, such that it could legitimately be called "jockey's pie". Saying that, industrially-produced shepherd's pie is an ideal accompaniment for that great British beer, Carlsberg, as brewed under licence in the UK in some massive industrial scale plant in the middle of fucking Wales. Food don't come any less rustic than that.

This version is easy and so much better than some crap from the freezer or chiller counter at your local supermarket.
Serve with vegetables and you can feed four adults

500g minced lamb
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1stick of celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
250g mushrooms, chopped
half a tin of tomatoes
200ml water
1 beef stock cube
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 bay leaf
sprig of fresh thyme
1tsp mint sauce
black pepper
1 tbsp Worcester sauce

500g potatoes. peeled and cut into chunks
Leaves of a sprig of fresh rosemary,finely chopped (around 1-2 tsp)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Splash of milk
ground paprika

Fry the mince in a pan, pour it into a sieve and drain off the fat. Lamb really is fatty so there will be shitloads of grease in the sink. Add oil to the pan and add onion and garlic. After a couple of minutes, when the onion starts to go translucent, add the celery and carrot. Sweat for 10 minutes then add the mushrooms. Continue to fry (or sauté if you prefer foodie wanker terminology).
for another couple of minutes then add the tomatoes and water. Crumble in the stock cube and add the tomato puree. Add the thyme (strip the leaves into the pot), bay leaf, pepper, mint sauce and Worcester sauce. Stir well and leave the lot to stew for an hour.

Meanwhile boil the potatoes for 20 minutes or so. While these are boiling, fry up the garlic and rosemary in a couple of teaspoons of the olive oil. Drain the spuds and put them back in the pan. Start mashing them. Add milk and olive oil, salt, pepper and the rosemary and garlic and continue to mash. If you're feeling energetic, use a whisk as the texture gets smoother to get rid of lumps.

Add the mince mixture to a casserole dish and spoon on the mash so you cover the top of the meat. A this stage some of the TV chefs would probably tell you to pipe the mash onto the meat because it looks nice. Personally I'd say fuck that for a game of soldiers as it all goes down the same way. Just smooth it so it makes a single layer without any gaps. If you want to be vaguely poncey you can do that fork thing to make little peaks and sprinkle on a bit paprika to make it look poncier still. Bake in the oven at 160 for 45 minutes so you get a nice crispy skin on the mash.

Pie ready to go in the oven.
Calpol is optional

As I mentioned for other recipes, replacing the water with red wine makes the meal tastier. This is all well and good, but if I open a bottle of wine I want to drink it and not put it in my dinner.

Like most good cookery pundits, no recipe would be complete without some advice on what to ask from your butcher. Ask you butcher to ask the abattoir worker to give the sheep that is to become your mince a damn good shagging because it really makes the meat tender. Actually, that's not strictly true, since mince doesn't need tenderising, but it's nice to try to brighten the day of someone who kills animals for a living.