Sunday, 30 October 2016

An Actually Quite Simple Lasagne

It had been quite a while since I’d last made lasagne. I’m pretty sure that when I did it was Jamie Oliver’s “Simple Baked Lasagne” which is, quite frankly anything but. I seem to recall it took me 4 hours, a million ingredients and a dozen different cooking pans. It was incredibly delicious though so maybe I will blog that some other time. Under a different name though of course: “Jamie’s Far From Simple & Pretty Damn Labour Intensive But Super Delicious Lasagne”. Snappy.

This one though really is quite simple even if it is does use three different types of cheeses and two different types of meat. You only need a lasagne dish, frying pan and bowl. Plus, there is no bechamel to knock up. Yay!

In lieu of a bechamel you make a sort of cheesy sauce mixture which is where the three cheeses come in: Parmesan, ricotta and mozzarella. I was also going to add cream cheese - hence it’s appearance in the photo below - but changed my mind. If you can’t get a decent ricotta though, try cream cheese instead. Next time I’ll add maybe a couple of tablespoons extra cream, or maybe a little whole milk, just to make the cheese mixture easier to work with when layering up the lasagne.

I also used a mix of meats in the sauce: beef and Italian sausage meat but if you’d prefer to keep things more simple, just use all beef or maybe beef & pork mince. And if you actually prefer the slight sloppiness you get from bechamel please feel free to make one.

An Actually Simple Lasagne
serves 4-6

6 sheets fresh lasagne
For the Meat Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g beef mince
250g spicy Italian sausage, meat removed from casings
400g tin chopped tomatoes, whizzed up with a stick blender (or use a finely pulped tin of tomatoes)
1 tbsp tomato purée
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp dry oregano
1 ½ tbsp fresh basil, chopped
pinch red pepper flakes
100ml red wine
For the cheese mixture
250g ricotta
1 egg beaten
50g Parmesan, grated
1 ball mozzarella, grated
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
7.5g flat leaf parsley, chopped
50 ml cream
To finish
25g Parmesan, grated

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions, sprinkled with a little sea salt, for about five minutes over a medium heat. Add the garlic and cook one more minute.

Add the meats, allow to brown undisturbed for a few minutes and then stir and break up bigger lumps and cook until there is no pinkness. Turn up the heat if necessary to boil off any excess liquid.

Stir in the red wine, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, about ¼ tsp salt and a good grind of pepper, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes.

Bring to the boil then reduce to a fierce simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, most of the mozzarella (keep back a small handful), beaten egg, Parmesan, ½ tsp salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and the chopped parsley & cream. Mix to combine and set aside.

Preheat oven to 200C.

Grease a lasagne dish with olive oil and while the meat sauce is cooking spoon out a little to just cover the bottom of the dish. On top lay 2 lasagne sheets, overlapping slightly.

Spoon in a third of the meat sauce then a third of the cheese sauce.

Repeat with two more lasagne sheets, one third of meat mixture, one third of cheese mixture.

Finish with two more sheets, the remaining meat sauce, the remaining cheese sauce then top with the remaining mozzarella and grated Parmesan.

Place in the oven on the middle shelf and cook for 30-35 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Allow to rest for five minutes then serve alongside a crisp salad.

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Monday, 24 October 2016

Spice Pork Belly & Chicory Gratin

As usual when I wanted a good hunk of meat I went to Ginger Pig in Borough Market. One of the other things that I like so much about them is that while they do not have a full range outside of main market days they are still open and there is still plenty of choice. On this occasion for instance I bought my slab of pork plus spicy Italian sausage to mix with minced beef for lasagne and chicken legs for fricasée.

The inspiration for the pork lies mainly with Niamh Shields of Eat Like A Girl while the chicory gratin was in an issue of Olive magazine.

Gratinating the chicory brings out a slight sweetness but they still retain their mildly bitter kick which works well with the cream and fattiness of the pork.

This was amazingly good - the pork was beautifully tender, juicy and flavourful while the crackling was the best I have had in, well, possibly ever. And as for the chicory, which uncooked I’m not a massive fan of usually, was sublime.

Spiced Roasted Pork Belly
serves 2

500g good pork belly, skin scored
50ml white wine
½ tbsp fennel seeds
½ tbsp sea salt
½ tbsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp chilli powder
½ lemon, zest only
1 clove garlic, chopped

Preheat oven to 150 degrees celsius.

Grind the spice rub ingredients fennel seeds through garlic to a fine paste in a pestle and mortar.

Put the pork in a colander or on a wire rack in the sink and pour over some boiling water to fluff up the skin a little. Blot well dry with kitchen paper.

Rub the spice mix all over the flesh, underside and sides, of the pork only. Not the skin.

Rub the skin with about ½ tablespoon olive oil and plenty of sea salt.

Add to a roasting tray just a little bigger than the meat, and pour in 50mls wine at the side. This will keep the end of the meat moist and will prevent it drying out (you can just use water if you like).

After two hours, the belly should be cooked through but still very moist.

Turn the heat up to 220C for 20 minutes or so, until the crackling is crisped up but not burned. If you prefer you can do this under the grill.

Rest for 10 minutes and serve in slices or chunks.

Chicory Gratin
serves 2

2 heads chicory, halved
½ tsp soft light brown sugar
½ tbsp cider vinegar
75ml double cream
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parmesan

Fry the chicory cut-side down in a large pan until they start to brown then sprinkle in the sugar, shake the pan and keep cooking as the butter and sugar further caramelise the chicory.

Add the cider vinegar and flip the chicory over.

Cook for 3-4 minutes then add a splash of water, pop a lid on and cook on a low heat for ten minutes until the chicory is tender.

You can either leave it in the pan if that can go under the grill or spoon into a gratin dish and then drizzle over the cream, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan.

Brown under a hot grill until the top is bubbling and golden.

Rest for 5 minutes.

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Sunday, 9 October 2016

Black Pepper Tofu

Very many years ago I acquired a tiny little recipe book (I think it may have been a Guardian or Observer giveaway) that had Ottolenghi’s black pepper tofu recipe in it (it can also be found in his book Plenty). It was granted a turned corner - the only time I ever turn corners in books is cookey books, though I am more likely to use those little strip post-its, elsewhere it is a crime against books and should be punished - but relegated to fairly near the bottom of a long list of ‘one day I will cook this’ recipes. Even when my friend Phil cooked and raved about it I didn’t get around to it.

So I don’t know what prompted me to cook it on this occasion. I wish I could remember.

I cut the chilli and black pepper quantities back from 4 & 2½ tbsp to 2 and 1½ respectively - we normally have no problem with spicy heat but everywhere I had seen people write this up on blogs etc they talked of how super fiery it was and as it wouldn’t be just me eating it thought I’d err on side of caution in the first instance. I also cut down the garlic & ginger slightly as well as the spring onions (all the ingredients are in large quantities!) and added some Sichuan peppercorns. Oh and of course I cut back on the the butter because 75g? That’s a hell of a lot of butter.

To be honest and in retrospect, I’m not sure that cutting ingredients and adapting is such a great idea with Ottolenghi recipes as generally speaking his ingredient quantities often seem excessive (and far out according to a lot of people for many of them but I quite like that) but by and large the recipes work despite any misgivings at the beginning.

But anyway this was still good. Very good. As it turned out I soon realised that I had been unusually & excessively timid with the spicing and we could have easily handled the original quantities of chilli and black pepper.

Black Pepper Tofu
serves 2

400g firm, fresh tofu, cut into 3cm x 2cm blocks
vegetable oil
50g butter
150g shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red chillies, deseeded and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1½ tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted & crushed
1½ tbsp sweet soy sauce
1½ tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp dark soy sauce
½ tbsp sugar
6 small, thin spring onions, cut into segments 3cm long, plus some green parts shredded to serve

Toss the pieces of tofu in the cornflour, shaking off the excess. Pour in enough oil into a large frying pan so that it is at a depth of 0.5cm and heat. Fry the tofu in batches in the oil, turning as you go. Once they are golden all around, and have a thin crust, transfer to some kitchen towel on a plate.

Clean out the pan and add the butter. Once it has melted over a low-medium heat, add the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger, and sauté for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until totally softened.

Add the soy sauces and the sugar.

When the soy is thoroughly stirred in add the crushed peppercorns.

Warm the tofu in the sauce for a few minutes, then add the spring onion, stir through and let simmer for a few minutes to wilt the onions a little.

Serve hot with steamed rice and some of the shredded spring onion greens sprinkled over.

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