I was tempted to title this post “F***ing fantastic garlic bread”, because when people taste it, they tend to say something along the lines of: “Cripes. This is f***ing fantastic garlic bread.” But my Mum reads this blog and has a habit of looking horrified and exclaiming: “Elizabeth!” if I so much as say “Damn” in her presence, so plain old “Garlic bread” it’ll have to be. Sorry, Mum.
I wooed a boyfriend with this stuff once (and swiftly thereafter wished I hadn’t, but that’s by the bye). It’s powerfully good; you won’t go back to shop-bought garlic bread once you’ve tried it. The trick here is to simmer the garlic in the butter to sweeten it up and release its aroma before you let it anywhere near the bread, alongside the judicious application of some herbs. Use whatever loaf you fancy here. Something reasonably open-textured to soak up all that butter is a good move. This recipe will make sufficient garlic butter to anoint a whole baguette, but you can make a smaller loaf and keep any leftover butter in the fridge for up to a week. There were just two of us eating when I made this, so I used a ciabatta and steeled myself for leftovers – if you put the remains back together into something that resembles a cut-down loaf, rewrap it in the tin foil and refrigerate, you can take the recipe from the point where you put it in the oven again the next day.
2 large, juicy heads garlic
15g fresh chives
15g fresh flat-leaf parsley
15g fresh oregano
½ teaspoon salt
Several turns of the peppermill
Peel the garlic, and use a knife to mince it until you have a heap of garlicky rubble in the middle of your chopping board.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a very low heat, and spoon the garlic into it. Allow the garlic to cook very gently in the butter for about ten minutes, until it is soft and fragrant. While the garlic is cooking, chop the herbs and put them with the salt and pepper in a bowl.
Pour the hot butter and garlic mixture over the herbs in the bowl, and stir well to combine everything. Leave at room temperature for ten minutes, then cover with cling film and move to the fridge. Refrigerate until solid. (The butter doesn’t need to be rock-hard – a couple of hours should be sufficient.)
When the butter is stiff enough to spread, warm the oven to 150ºC (300ºF).
Slice the bread and spread each side of each slice generously with the garlic butter. Reassemble the loaf, and wrap it tightly in tin foil. Bake on a metal tray for 20 minutes, and remove from the oven. Unwrap and serve piping hot. You will be unable to avoid getting garlic butter all over your chin as you eat, and possibly on your elbows, so have napkins standing by.
Secret restaurants will not be a new idea to you if you’re a London foodie – they may be a little more of a surprise if you’re not based in the capital. Over the last couple of years in particular, I’ve met more and more people running small, uncertified restaurants from their home dining rooms. You’ll hear them referred to as supper clubs, underground restaurants and secret restaurants; the usual procedure will involve you buying a ticket at one of these word-of-mouth places’ websites, and being emailed an address to turn up at the day before the meal. Many of the secret restaurant folk also write at the extremely extroverted end of the food bloggery spectrum. (You have a food blog either because you are a genteel introvert who wants an excuse to spend the day with a spatula and a keyboard, or because you love to share your sticky, greasy passion with as many people as you can. I like to feel I fall comfortably in the middle.)
The Secret Larder is one of these outfits operated by James Ramsden, a man with a smile and manner of the kindest, cockle-warmingest sort. (Check James’ website for details on the restaurant and bookings.) He wears an impeccable white apron, and has a heap of the kind of soft curls that are fun to ruffle on a ten-year-old. He has a brother, also radiating waves of loving-kindness – this family could start a cult – who was on waitering duty the night I visited; a sister also helps on other evenings and provided much of the artwork in the room we ate in.
Clearly, in order to operate a secret restaurant, you need an eye-bleedingly spectacular space to run it from. An Edwardian découpage screen separates the kitchen from a vaulted living/dining area full of soft chairs covered with throws and cushions, and limed, pickled and painted wooden furniture. Fairy lights twist around the cast iron rods holding the high ceiling in place, and there are books of the sort you’ll want to steal all over the room. A good conversation starter, actually; I know I’m afflicted with a horrible urge that makes me stock the bookcases downstairs, where people might actually see them, with some of the more interesting crags and peaks of the Upton book mountain, and I’d love to know if that copy of Take a Buttock of Beefe, the two (two!) copies of the Silver Spoon cookbook and the books on Joseph Beuys had been positioned with the same venal impulse.
Although the Secret Larder can cater for dozens of covers, the night I visited was much more intimate; a table was laid for eight. The room was velvety with candles, those fairylights and the lovely luminosity that only a bloodstream full of fermented grape juice can give a lighting scheme. The books, the pictures, the furniture, the lights – just the sort of environment calculated to get people talking even before we all got settled on the food and drink.
I was, along with some other food bloggers, here as a guest of Prosecco Riccardo, who were providing the evening’s wines. The brand is new in the UK, and the owners of the vineyard, held up by weather over Verona, arrived an hour or so later than the rest of us, at first appearing slightly nervous about the restaurant being – you know – in somebody’s flat. This secret restaurant thing has not yet percolated as far as the sunlit hills of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. Happily, any lasting resentment against the British left over from their awful flight with BA was instantly soothed by the application of a fillet of fresh, oily mackerel on an earthy base of artichoke purée and a glass of their own fizz. I was reminded that my Italian needs some work. I trained years ago as a classical singer, and this meal really brought home to me that a vocabulary consisting of vaguely operatic stuff like: “Lo! Gentle shepherd! A thieving magpie! What is life without thee, Euridice?” and phrasebook stuff like: “I would like two tickets for the exhibition and a hot chocolate, please; oh, and some stamps for the United Kingdom,” does not serve you well at a dinner with wine producers. As always, though, a big smile and some elegant miming will mitigate most of the damage.
Prosecco hasn’t always been a sparkling wine; until World War 2, the Glera grapes went to make a still wine, and it was only after some bored experimentation with a demijohn in the 1940s that the standard Prosecco became a fizzy one. The still wine is still produced, but only makes up about 5% of production from the region (which now has Denominazione di Origine Controllata status), and seldom makes it out of Italy. We tried a couple of bottles of this fizz-free Tranquillo, and it knocked my socks off. At 11% ABV with the odd bubble from natural fermentation, it will remind you of a Portuguese Vinho Verde. All tart apples and flowers, it’s a lovely wine against the sort of dense earthy flavours we were tasting in the mackerel with its artichoke puree and shallot marmalade.
It’s a challenge to construct a whole menu around Prosecco, but James worked it in seamlessly. The Brut we started with – easy-drinking, not too dry, with a very jolly bubble – worked as an aperitif and performed really well against ramarino in culo, which translates loosely as “rosemary up the bum”. Little balls of steak tartare are seared on the bottom, with a spear of rosemary pushed into the still-raw top giving the whole mouthful a resinous lift. Gorgeous. The (perfectly seasonal, as was most of the meal) strawberry salad worked pepper flavours from the balsamic dressing and fresh leaves of rocket against the Brut in a way that had me making a note to try matching the wine to peppery dishes myself; I’ve spent far too long treating Proseccos as wines to drink without food, or as something to make Bellinis with.
A switch to the Tranquillo for the fish and the back to the Brut again for pork belly, served with chicory and a punchy salsa verde. My notebook has a drop of olive oil on it from this point in the evening, and a scrawl which I can’t interpret. I think I am trying to make the point, sozzled, that this is a very nicely prepared slab of pig, the fat rendered out over hours of slow cooking, the meat tender and herby and the flavours balanced, especially with that sharp salsa verde, the bitter chicory and the mouth-filling richness of the pork itself. What I have actually written appears to be “Not too swiney! Fat – whee!” Perhaps I should consider a dictaphone for these things in the future.
James produced something so good for dessert that I considered kidnap. Peaches caramelised in Marsala pushed into the bottom of glasses were topped off with a boozy zabaglione. And he’d made cantucci. And terrific coffee. A glass of Riccardo’s grand cru, the Cartizze Valdobbiadene, was pushed into my hand. I have to admit to a certain haziness to proceedings at this point, but I have scribbled “refined, sweeter, minerals, small bubble” just underneath the thing about the pork, and seem to remember enthusing about what a superb digestif it made.
I will (and did, thanks to pints of Prosecco – I shouldn’t have, it was rude and I apologise) admit that something about being served in someone’s home, especially when they are a mere ten feet away and so much of your conversation is about the food, is a little uncomfortable. I ached for James and Will to take a seat and join us in putting the culinary world to rights rather than slaving over a hot pig. This, though, is just a result of the fact that they made the whole evening’s experience feel like going to a friend’s house for a dinner party. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough, especially if you’re going to be sharing a table with friends – something about this set-up makes conversation flow, and the food is joyous.
This recipe is based loosely around an Elizabeth David one my Mum used to serve up regularly as a cold antipasto when my brother and I were tinies. We couldn’t get enough of it, and I know he has his own version of the recipe too.
These peppers must be served at room temperature, when they are, unaccountably, much sweeter and juicier than they are when warm. The original version calls for bell peppers, but I’ve found that pointed Romano or Piquillo peppers tend to contain more in the way of fruit sugars and taste far better. (It goes without saying that the peppers you choose should be ripe – red, orange and yellow ones are all find, but avoid the green peppers when you go shopping.) If you have guests whose stomachs are made sensitive by peppers, advise them to peel the indigestible skins off before they eat, which should prevent any upsets.
This is a recipe it’s worth trying out on anchovy-haters, several of whom I’ve brought round using these peppers – not necessarily to a whole-hearted embracing of the anchovy, but at least to a whole-hearted embracing of it in this particular dish. The final result isn’t a fishy one, rather a deeply savoury, umami dish, full of sweet and buttery juices (you’ll use a lot of butter here – it’s worth it) to dip some good crusty bread into. If you love the sweet, fruity bite of a roast pepper (god knows, I do), you’ll find this is one of the best ways to showcase that flavour.
To prepare six peppers as an antipasto (how many you’ll eat depends on how much else you prepare, but you’ll find these disappear quickly) you’ll need:
6 Romano or Piquillo peppers
3 plump tomatoes
6 plump cloves garlic
olive oil to drizzle
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, discard any seeds, and chop each half into half again across the short edge. Lay the peppers out in a large baking tray (use two if you have to), the skin side down.
Chop the tomatoes into quarters and put a piece in each little pepper boat. Cut each clove of garlic into four fat slices and put one in each pepper, along with half an anchovy fillet. Cut the butter into small pieces and scatter them all over the dish. Sprinkle everything with a generous amount of salt and pepper, drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over the whole dish and put everything, uncovered, in the oven for between 45 minutes and an hour until the edges of the peppers are browning. (The cooking time is imprecise here because a riper pepper will cook faster than a less ripe one – I find this recipe performs differently at different times of year and with different peppers, so you’ll have to use your judgement here.)
Remove the dish from the oven and leave it on the side, covered with a teatowel, until the peppers are at room temperature. Serve with plenty of the juices from the bottom of the dish drizzled over, and lots of crusty bread to soak them all up.
Inevitably, it took longer than I was hoping, but after a few days of PHP and Python hell, we’ve moved the platform Gastronomy Domine is published on. You’ll still notice some peculiarities today – internal links will still point you at the old template. We’re hoping to get redirects put in overnight, so things should be (ha!) seamless when you check in tomorrow. Many, many thanks to Dr W, without whom and all that. I am typing this one-handed while crossing all the fingers of the other and simultaneously touching wood, but everything (pictures, comments, tags, links) should be working now. Today I’ll be working on the template, so what you see at the moment is probably not the way the blog will look when I’m done.
I’m new to WordPress, and I’m still feeling my way around a bit. I’m also only able to check the appearance of the blog on the monitors I have in the house, so if you see anything odd, I’d really appreciate it if you could email me at email@example.com or leave a comment to let me know.
Meanwhile, here are some photos from Polpo (follow the link for menus and booking details), a Soho restaurant doing bacaro, a kind of Venetian tapas, which I visited with the spiffily dressed Douglas from Intoxicating Prose – always a very enjoyable person to shout at about food, who is much worse at reading maps than is natural. Polpo is spackled fashionably across UK magazines and newspapers at the moment, and was packed with the beautiful and famous on the Monday afternoon when we visited, but I detect a spot of Emperor’s-New-Clothes-ness about the place. The food is, as you can see, very pretty, but it’s unsubtle and a bit two-dimensional in flavour. The tapenade spooned carefully onto my halved egg turned out to be a big minced olive, without any additional spiking with zest, garlic or anything else; puréed white beans on crostini were singing out for a squirt of lemon. Seasoning is heavy, encouraging you to apply yourself to the drinks menu, and the larger dishes were jolly, but not particularly memorable. Cuttlefish in its ink was gloppy, rich and tender, but salted so densely we couldn’t finish the dish. The pork belly with hazelnuts and radicchio was my favourite of the ten or so dishes we sampled, and it’s good to see endive, radicchio and drinks like Apero and Campari get such a showing on the menu; that bitter quadrant of the mouth doesn’t get the exploration it deserves on many menus in the UK, even Italian ones. Still – these days, you’d be shocked to find a London restaurant that didn’t offer a good pork belly prep. And generous applications of cream and chocolate didn’t disguise the fact that the fat our pastry discs were fried in for dessert had been on the go for far longer than it should have been, and tasted stale and elderly. (Admittedly, we arrived right at the end of the lunch period, but still.) Three cheers for the belly, three boos for the tapenade and the contents of the deep-fryer.
My sense is that since a bacaro is such an unusual thing in London, and since little, sharing plates are such a good thing to do enjoy with friends, Polpo’s success will continue irrespective of any niggles over what’s on the plate; this is a social event more than anything else. And it’s a good spot for celeb-spotters (we recognised a few faces at the other tables); it’s also a nice reminder that your own anonymity is a very precious thing. David Mitchell, a man I find it a bit hard to look at because of his very unfortunate resemblance to an ex-boyfriend I’d rather forget all about, was doing an interview over lunch in a nearby corner. On his leaving, the entire dining room erupted in a chorus of: “Goodness. He’s much thinner than I’d expected,” and: “My. Doesn’t he have a big face?”
I left thankful of the certain knowledge that no room full of diners has ever felt the need to discuss the proportions of my head.
This is a very, very tasty use of all of those bits from a roast chicken that you don’t get round to eating on its first appearance on the table. I rather enjoy stripping a cold chicken carcass after a roast: popping the oysters out of the underside, shredding the meat from a leftover leg with my fingers, and spooning any jellied juices into a bowl with the scraps. Now, those bits of chicken will serve to make a very fine sandwich with plenty of salt and pepper, but you can also make them work a bit harder as part of a rich, creamy risotto for supper the next day.
The quality of your chicken stock here is all-important, and the risotto will be much better if yours is home-made. I like to buy those very cheap boxes of chicken wings and pop them in a stockpot with the stripped carcass, some aromatics (bay, carrots, shallot and celery), a covering of water and a slug of white wine. You can make a handsome amount of stock like this, and freeze what you don’t use immediately.
To serve four, you’ll need:
As much meat as you can save from a roast or poached chicken (I had a whole leg and thigh, and scraps from the breast and underside, but you’ll be fine with less meat) 1 dried chorizo ring 320g Carnaroli risotto rice 1 litre hot chicken stock 75ml vermouth 3 banana shallots, diced finely 2 sticks celery, diced finely 2 bay leaves 1 teaspoon fennel seeds Zest of 1 lemon 75g frozen peas 60g grated parmesan cheese 30g butter Salt and pepper
Chop the chorizo into coins, and each of those coins into quarters. While you cook the risotto, cook in a frying pan without oil until the chorizo is becoming crisp and the fat is running – once it reaches this stage, remove it from the heat and set aside.
In a large pan, saute the shallots and celery with the bay and fennel in the butter until the shallots are soft, but not taking on colour. Add the rice and continue sauteing over a low heat until the rice is coated with butter and looks translucent. Stir in the shredded chicken meat and pour over the vermouth, and stir until all the liquid is absorbed into the rice.
Add a ladle of the hot stock and simmer, stirring until the stock is absorbed. Add another ladle of stock and repeat until all the stock is absorbed into the rice, and the risotto is thick and creamy, the grains of rice al dente. This should take about 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest with the peas and parmesan, and check the seasoning, adjusting to taste. Remove from the heat and leave covered for 5 minutes.
Remove the lid and stir the chorizo with its oil through the risotto, reserving a few pieces to scatter over the top. Serve immediately.
I’ll admit it – one of the motives in coming up with this recipe was in ensuring that the first word I typed on Gastronomy Domine in 2010 could be “Spatchcocked”, a word which hasn’t got any less fun since I last typed it.
It being just after the festive season, the shops are still full of meats a little beyond the ordinary, so my local supermarket has shelves full of lovely fatty bacon collars (three are in the fridge at the moment, waiting for a little boiling swim in some Chinese aromatics which will turn them into interesting hams); veal mince (superb in a cottage pie); turkey crowns (I walked straight past these grimacing); pheasant and venison mixtures for stewing; and poussins, ready-spatchcocked.
I really enjoy cooking a bird prepared like this. Cooking times are reduced massively by flattening a bird out, so the meat can be passed very quickly under the grill, leaving you with wonderfully moist meat. If your poussin hasn’t been spatchcocked, it’s very easy to do it yourself – there are instructions here for spatchcocking a full-sized chicken.
I just couldn’t bring myself to go outside into the freezing winter with the barbecue, so I’ve cooked this under the conventional grill rather than over charcoal. If you’re in a position to use charcoal here, please do – it’ll be delicious.
Reckon to serve one poussin per person (try saying that after a glass of post-festive Prosecco – incidentally, Prosecco is a very nice match to this dish with its Italian aromatics). Some packaging will suggest that one bird will serve two. It won’t. They’re small, they’re bony and they’re fiddly to eat. Much better to serve a generous whole poussin to each person than to find yourselves squabbling over too little food. To marinade two flattened-out baby birds, you’ll need:
75ml extra-virgin olive oil Juice and zest of 2 lemons 1 bunch (about 15g) fresh oregano, chopped finely 3 tablespoons capers, chopped finely 4 fat cloves garlic, crushed 1 heaped teaspoon Italian chilli flakes (use more or less according to how spicy you fancy it) 1 teaspoon salt A generous grinding of pepper
Mix all the marinade ingredients and smear them all over the poussins in a large bowl. Refrigerate for 24 hours with a cover, turning a few times.
When you are ready to cook, position the birds on a rack under a hot grill, as far from the element as possible, skin-side down. Spoon over some of the marinade and grill the non-skin side for about 12 minutes. Flip the poussins over so the skin is uppermost, baste with some more marinade, and cook for another 12 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. Check the meat is cooked through by piercing a thigh at the thickest part – the juices should run clear. if the juices are bloody, leave the birds under the grill for another five minutes and repeat the test.
Sprinkle the cooked poussins with a little more oregano, and serve with buttered rice and a sharp salad.
Tomatoes and bread have an amazing affinity, from Basque slices of toasted sourdough rubbed with the cut side of a tomato, to British teatime tomatoes on toast. For me, though, a garlicky, herby Italian bruschetta is the very king of bread and tomato preparations.
There is a simple trick in making this sunny, fresh appetiser. You need to marinade the cut tomatoes with the aromatics and a hearty amount of your very best olive oil the night before you mean to eat – but that marinade should contain absolutely no salt. Salting the bruschetta just before serving means that the tomatoes’ texture will remain firm and juicy. The oil will have absorbed a fabulous wallop of tomato flavour (no salt, you see, so the juices of the tomato won’t all run out and separate), the tomatoes will be redolent with fragrant oil, herbs and garlic, and your tastebuds will want to shake your hand.
It’s very important that you select tomatoes with the maximum flavour. If you’ve grown your own, these will be by far the best. Otherwise, buy tomatoes which are ripe and have been kept on the vine after picking. That glorious smell you get in tomato greenhouses is from the green stalk and leaves, and doesn’t seem to make it into the fruit itself. If you buy vine tomatoes, they will be riper, and you can use the stalk in the marinade to inject some of that greenhouse flavour into the finished bruschetta. I’ve used some yellow tomatoes alongside regular red ones because it’s pretty, but you can use any good, ripe tomatoes you can find.
To serve four, you’ll need:
1kg vine tomatoes 2 fat, juicy cloves garlic 1 large handful basil leaves 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano 100ml olive oil Freshly ground black pepper 1 ciabatta Salt to finish
Chop the tomatoes into small bite-sized pieces, and put them and any juices in a large bowl. Crush the garlic and the herbs, and stir them into the tomatoes with the olive oil and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add the vines from the tomatoes, mix well, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to make up the bruschetta (don’t do this too far ahead of eating, or they will go soggy) grill slices of slightly stale ciabatta and cool on racks. Fish the stalks out of the marinade and discard. Heap the tomato mixture onto the slices with a tablespoon, sprinkle with fleur de sel or another crystalline salt like Maldon, and serve immediately. There are very unlikely to be any leftovers.
This risotto is perfect for those days when you’re feeling in need of a bit of love and comfort. The sweetly caramelised squash works perfectly against rich, savoury sausagemeat, and aromatics like fennel, sage and lemon lift the whole affair.
Find the best sausages you can for this – preferably something with a garlicky bite. I’m currently having a love affair with Waitrose’s pork and fresh garlic sausages, but if you can find Italian sausages with fennel and garlic, they’ll be an authentic and tasty base for your risotto. As always, I’m going to stamp my foot and insist you use Carnaroli rice for your risotto – I talked about the difference between rices here a couple of months ago if you want to read some more about it.
To serve four, you’ll need:
320g Carnaroli rice 1 litre hot chicken stock (home-made if possible) 1 large glass white wine 500g good sausages 1 large onion 1 medium butternut squash 1 teaspoon fennel seeds 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage, plus a few leaves to garnish Zest of 1 lemon Juice of ½ lemon 1 large handful grated parmesan Olive oil Salt and pepper
Slit the sausages and pop the meat out into a bowl, discarding the skins. Dice the onion finely, and peel the squash, cutting the golden flesh into 1-2 cm cubes.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a medium flame. Saute the sausage meat with the onion and the fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar, until the meat is crumbly and starting to brown. Remove the sausagemeat and onion to a plate, and in the same pan, saute the squash in some more olive oil until it is soft, the edges starting to caramelise and turn brown. Fish out a few cubes of squash and reserve them to use as a garnish. Return the sausage and onion to the pan with the squash, and tip the rice in. Stir well to make sure that the rice is coated with any oil in the mixture.
Pour the glass of wine into the pan and stir until it is all absorbed into the rice. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the rice and bring, stirring, to a gentle simmer. As the stock is absorbed, add another ladleful while you stir. Continue like this for about 18 minutes, stirring and adding gradually to the liquid in the pan, until the rice is soft, tender to the bite and velvety.
Stir the lemon zest, the chopped sage, the parmesan cheese and the lemon juice through the risotto. Garnish with the reserved squash and some whole sage leaves to finish.
As a contrast to the budget-consciousmeals I’ve been writing about recently, I decided to shove the boat out and make something with a bit of pre-Christmas luxury. Prawns, asparagus, saffron and salty, savoury pancetta cubes don’t come cheap, but if you mix them all together in a boozy risotto like this they’re delicious beyond all reason – worth every penny.
There are a few different kinds of risotto rice available in shops. I always use Carnaroli, which can be less easy to find than the more common Arborio. It’s worth hunting some down. Carnaroli rice has a slightly longer, slimmer grain than Arborio, and has a higher starch content and firmer texture when finished; you can hold a risotto made with Carnaroli rice at the al dente stage without worrying about the grain collapsing into a sandy sludge as Arborio might. That extra starch makes a world of difference in a risotto, resulting in a really velvety, creamy finish that you just don’t get with other rices. Carnaroli is still grown in the Po valley, where a network of canals constructed in the 19th century irrigates the rice terraces with water from the Alps. American readers can find Carnaroli produced in South America, but the Italian product, raised in the traditional way, is supposed to be the finest, and is really worth hunting down.
To serve four, you’ll need:
320g Carnaroli rice 1 litre fish or chicken stock 1 large glass white wine 2 banana shallots 3 stalks celery 4 cloves garlic 100g pancetta cubes a few sprigs of thyme 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle 1 large pinch saffron 1 large pinch chilli flakes 180g raw, shelled prawns 150g asparagus tips 1 large handful grated parmesan 1 handful chopped parsley 40g butter 2 teaspoons olive oil
Put the saffron in an eggcup and pour over boiling water. Bodge the saffron around in the water with a teaspoon, and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
Chop the shallots, garlic and celery finely. Sauté the pancetta in a teaspoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a high heat for about five minutes until its fat is running, then add the butter, shallots and celery to the pan with the fennel, reducing the heat to medium. Sauté, keeping everything on the move, for two minutes, then add the dry rice to the pan, and continue to sauté until any liquid from the vegetables has started to absorb into the rice. Pour the glass of wine and the contents of the saffron eggcup into the pan and stir until it is absorbed. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the rice and bring, stirring, to a gentle simmer. As the stock is absorbed, add another ladleful while you stir. Continue like this for about 18 minutes, stirring and adding gradually to the liquid in the pan, until the rice is soft, tender to the bite and velvety.
When the rice is nearly ready, saute the prawns in a a teaspoon of olive oil with a pinch of chilli flakes until they turn pink, and chop the asparagus tips into bite-sized pieces. Stir the asparagus into the hot risotto for two minutes. The heat from the rice will cook them to a bright green. Immediately before serving stir the prawns (with any juices and the butter from the pan) and parmesan into the mixture with salt to taste (you shouldn’t need much, depending on the saltiness of your pancetta and stock) and a handful of chopped parsley.
Four hundred-plus posts on this blog, and there are still some really basic, popular things I’ve not written about. Would you believe that I haven’t cooked a spag bol since 2005? I spent yesterday evening remedying the problem – here’s a recipe for a rich, savoury, gorgeously gloppy version, full of wine and herbs.
As any self-respecting Italian will tell you, if you ordered what we call spaghetti bolognese in Italy, you would get a funny look. In Italy, this sauce is called ragù or ragù alla bolognese, and it’s not usually served with spaghetti – you’re more likely to find your ragù as a layer in a lasagne or served with tagliatelle.
Back in 1992, the folks in Bologna decided that they had had enough of the world’s bastardisation of their hometown sauce, and the Bolognese chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina issued a proclamation. From that point on, bolognese sauce would be defined strictly, and could only be called ragù alla bolognese if it was made with a limited set of ingredients: beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, passata, beef stock, red wine and milk.
Inevitably, I’ve strayed away from the strict letter of the Accademia’s law here in (cough) a few details, but I don’t think you’ll be too saddened by this, because what results is damn tasty. Please use the anchovies even if you don’t usually like them – they add a subtle depth to the sauce, but they don’t make it taste fishy.
To make enough spaghetti bolognese to serve four, you’ll need:
500g ground or minced steak (ground steak is more authentic here, but if you can’t find it, mince is fine) 4 banana shallots 5 anchovies 2 bay leaves 2 carrots 2 sticks celery 500g passata (pressed tomatoes) 1 tablespoon dried oregano 4 cloves garlic 5 sundried tomatoes in oil ¼ bottle red wine 1 ladle beef stock 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 large handful fresh oregano 1 large handful fresh basil Salt and pepper Olive oil Parmesan to garnish
Chop the shallots finely and sweat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid over a low heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for about 20 minutes, until translucent but not colouring. Add the anchovies and bay leaves to the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the anchovies disintegrate into the shallots. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the beef to the pan, cooking, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browning all over. Add the finely diced carrot and celery with a tablespoon of dried oregano and the chopped garlic and chopped sundried tomatoes. Sweating off these vegetables will add some moisture to the pan – keep cooking and stirring until the pan is nearly dry again.
Pour the wine into the beef mixtures, bring up to a simmer and add the passata and beef stock with the Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently with the lid off until the sauce has reduced to a thick texture (20-30 minutes), and continue to simmer with the lid on for as long as possible, checking occasionally and adding a little water if things seem to be drying out. Mine was on the hob for four hours – if you have time to leave yours even longer, feel free – the longer the better.
Immediately before serving, stir through the chopped fresh herbs. Cook 100g spaghetti per person according to the packet instructions, and serve with the sauce and parmesan cheese.