Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Random Recipe: Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Broadbeans & Lemon

I made these with a hangover.  It's the one problem with food planning, I find.  Unpredicted hangovers.  At the start of last week I was all, Monday: Pasta Bianco.  Tuesday: Pasta Bianco (oh yeah, I totally give in to my obsessions).  Wednesday: Out for a friend's birthday.  Thursday:  Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Broadbeans & Lemon.

In fact, it should have read blah...obsessive pasta...blah.  Wednesday:  Out for a friend's birthday.  Plus pre-meal drinks.  Plus after-meal drinks.  Plus staying out till 12.30am on a weeknight (you crazy cat).  Thursday:  YOU WILL WANT TO SLAM YOUR HEAD IN THE DOOR TO TAKE AWAY THE PAIN OF A HANGOVER. WHY IS EVERYONE SHOUTING?

But - and here's the really fun bit - I'd already taken the minced beef out of the freezer, meaning I had to use it that night, or lose it forever.  And as much as the thought of having to stand upright for as long as it took to make these was pure pain, so was the thought of not eating at all that night - remember, feed a hangover - or throwing good money after bad and not using up the beef.

So.  I made these, hungover and no doubt somewhat delirious.  They took a smidge longer than I daresay they would have done if I were in the prime of health, and they had a few more steps than were ideal in my delicate state but, still easy enough to do and, as always with Ottolenghi, his spices were bright and unusual enough for me to sit up and take notice.  And, please somebody pass me a medal, I even double-podded broad beans.  Heroic, undoubtedly, but also very worth it to get the contrast between the two kinds of beans.  It fed my hangover perfectly - the meatballs were substantial enough that it was just the right level of dense protein hit needed for a hangover, and the broad beans and lemon nudged any vitamin buttons I felt I was missing that day.

This is my entry into this month's Random Recipe challenge, hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen.  It came from my Christmas present from my lovely and generous inlaws, a book I've mentioned my love of already, Ottolenghi's Jerusalem.  I've also noticed it's my second Ottolenghi meatball recipe, but that's the joy of a truly random recipe.  Will it replace those lost brain cells?  No.  Will I make it again?  For sure.  Will I get hungover on a weekday again?  Who am I kidding?  Luckily I've now got some of these in the freezer for next time.

Beef & Lamb Meatballs with Broadbeans and Lemon
Adapted from Ottolenghi, Jerusalem

For the meatballs:
300g minced beef
150g minced lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
120g breadcrumbs
Handful each fresh parsley, coriander, mint, dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon baharat spice mix (shop bought is fine; I used a bargain buy I'd got a few months ago called 'Persian Spice Mix' which had mostly the same ingredients in - otherwise, look at those ingredients and DIY)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons capers, chopped
1 egg, beaten

For the sauce:
4.5 tablespoons olive oil
350g broad beans, fresh or frozen
4 thyme sprigs
6 cloves garlic, sliced
8 spring onions, cut into 2cm slices
2.5 tablespoons lemon juice
500ml chicken stock
salt and pepper

For the meatballs, put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.  Form into 20 balls, each about the size of a ping pong ball.  This is easier if you divide the mix in half, and then into half again, and aim to get five balls out of each section.

In a pan large enough to later take all the meatballs, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil.  In two batches, fry the meatballs so they are browned on the outside, a few minutes for each batch.  Remove from the pan.

While they are cooking, blanch the broad beans in boiling salted water for 2 minutes.  Drain and let them sit under the cold tap for a minute, to cool them down.  Double pod about half of them, by pressing gently on each one until the skin splits and removing the bright green beans from inside.  Discard the empty skins.

In the meatball pan, heat the remaining oil.  Add the thyme, garlic, spring onions and fry gently, stirring all the time, for a few minutes.  Add the unshelled broad beans, 1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice, and just enough stock to cover the beans.  Cover the pan with either a lid or with a double thickness of tinfoil, and cook gently for 10 minutes.  Return the meatballs to the pan, stir gently, then add the remaining stock.  Cover the pan again and cook for 25 minutes, when the meatballs should be hot all the way through.

Just before serving, add the remaining lemon juice and shelled broad beans.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Some Like It Hot - Pilpelchuma

To my recollection, there has been only one dish I have eaten that was so spicy it overwhelmed me.  It was a Som Tam salad, and I ate it at a Thai food stall in Kuala Lumpur.  I was weeping, Andy was mopping my brow and the owner of the stall brought me over some watermelon to cool down.  Alas, on that day in the case of Suze versus food, food won.  But (and this is the crucial bit), such is my obsessive relationship with chillies and spicy food, the second, the very second I woke up the next day, I wanted to go back and eat it all over again.

I always find it one of the peculiarities of life in New Zealand that properly hot food is quite hard to find.  Argentina was the same actually, and we ate at was, at that time, the only Indian restaurant in Buenos Aires  so often that we were recognised as regulars, and the Gosht Saagwala would appear at our table as soon as we sat down.  It's also quite odd to me that when you order at an Indian restaurant here, you're often offered the choice of three heats:  Kiwi hot (mild), Indian hot (medium), and English hot (supposedly hot, although us two chilli addicts never find it that hot) - when surely it should be served at the heat the recipe calls for?

So I always like to have some kind of hot sauce hanging round at home to add instant oomph to dishes that need spicing up.  I discovered this as part of the Ottolenghi carrot salad, and happily, there is now a jar of this intense, thick with garlic and chilli paste sitting in my fridge, just waiting to be added to some scrambled eggs, or rubbed over the skin of a roast chicken, or tossed through vegetables before roasting, or bringing new life to sorry leftovers.  This is very much an adaptation; I had to go with the quantities of spices I had in.  I can't vouch for it's authenticity, but I can vouch for it's spiciness, and that makes this chilli addict very happy indeed.

Adapted from Ottolenghi, 'Jerusalem'

10 dried Guntur chillies
12g ground cayenne pepper
12g paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
0.5 tablespoon caraway seeds
20 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
75ml olive oil, plus a little extra for preserving

Boil the kettle.  Put the chillies in a bowl and cover them with boiling water, then leave them for half an hour.  Meanwhile, pour some boiling water into a clean jar, to sterilise it.  Pour it out after 10 minutes, then leave to dry naturally, and be sure not to put your fingers inside the jar.

In a large, dry, nonstick frying pan, spread the cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and caraway seeds.  Toast them over a medium heat for a minute or two.  Let your nose guide you: when you get a lovely waft of toasting spices, they are done.  Put them into a small food processor bowl along with the garlic cloves and salt.

Drain and deseed the chillies, then put them in the processor with the spices.  Pulse a few times until everything is well mixed, then, with the motor running, pour in your olive oil until it all comes together in a thick paste.

Spoon into your jar, and cover with a thin layer of olive oil.

This will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.  Doubtful it will last that long, though.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Super Spicy Carrot Salad

It's a shame, really, that Wellington doesn't get much of a look-in with the tourists that ply New Zealand.  Time and time again, when we speak to visitors, we hear the refrain of "Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo-Wellington just for one night before we get the ferry - everywhere on the South Island".  No matter how many times Lonely Planet calls it "the coolest little capital in the world", no matter how often the guidebooks say it punches well above its weight, size wise, and no matter how much the locals shout loud about what a very interesting, friendly city it is to live in, those tourists just keep ploughing southwards.

And we do have lots, actually, to offer.  Not only the obvious stuff like Te Papa (been here 4 years and I still haven't worked my way round the whole thing) and The Weta Cave (those clever people who have worked on a couple of little local films), but how about taking a day and mooching along the Writers' Walk, or drive around the 30km of coastline that's right here in the central city, stopping off at Maranui Cafe for lunch then on to see the seals at Red Rocks?

Most of all though, at this time of year, you should check out Wellington Summer City.  There's, like, a million things going on, most of them for free and out of the goodness of the council's hearts.  The best ones are the concerts and the films.  Already this year we've been to an Ohmygodtherearesomanypeoplehere Beatles tribute band in the Botanic Gardens, but the one that has got everyone pretty excited is The Princess Bride showing.  Yes, all my friends and I are of a certain age.  What of it? 

At these events, it's up to you what you take with you, and you see all combos from the sleeping bag and a 6 pack of beer, to deck chairs and smoked salmon.  For us, I tend to go somewhere in the middle, with blanket and cushions (never forget the cushions, especially if you are at the same certain age as us), a bottle of our finest champagne (coughLindauercough), crisps, ostensibly for Andy although I will eat them and whinge about them being Salt & Vinegar, dips, and something delicious and homemade.

And this, people, this will be gracing my picnic blanket at every event from now on.  I'm utterly addicted.  It started off by daydreaming about those lovely carrot salads you get in France - do you remember those, doused in oil and lemon and parsely?  Divine - and ended up with me spying a riff on this in my new Ottolenghi book, Jerusalem, a Christmas gift from my lovely in-laws.  It has those lovely sweet, fresh flavours you get in the French carrots, but with a knockout spicy punch of flavours that come from the spice paste.  I dressed it with parsley, rather than the suggested rocket, at the end, because I had lots of it (seriously, it grows like a weed here), and I personally think that parsley is an even better fit for carrots than coriander is - I'd love to see Carrot & Parsley soup on a menu. 

And yes, I know, I know, it includes a paste that you have to make in advance.  Don't hate me.  BUT you can use shop-bought harissa, AND believe me, you want to make this paste, AND I will give you the recipe next time.  I just wanted you to really want it.

Come to Wellington, and you can share a bit of mine.  I'll even give you some of Andy's crisps to go with.

Spicy Carrot Salad

Spicy Carrot Salad
Adapted from Ottolenghi, Jerusalem

6 large carrots, peeled
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Pilpelchuma paste (recipe next time) or 2 tablespoons harissa paste
0.5 teaspoon ground cumin
0.5 teaspoon caraway seeds
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
0.5 teaspoon sugar
small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

In a large pan, cover the carrots with cold water and bring to the boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until they are just tender, 15-20 minutes.  Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, heat half the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the onion, and fry until golden brown.

Cut the carrots into slices about the thickness of a coin (pound or dollar; take your pick).

Put the carrots and onions into a mixing bowl with the rest of the oil, the spice paste, cumin, caraway seeds, vinegar, sugar and plenty of salt.  Mix well until everything is evenly coated.

Now, leave it.  Walk away.  Give the flavours at least half an hour, just to give them a chance to mingle.

When you're ready to serve, dish it up on to a platter or tupperware box, scatter your parsley over, and get ready for your tastebuds to be blown away.  As you wish.  And if you got that reference, welcome to the Of A Certain Age club.

Serves 4

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Alchemy - Pasta Bianco

I have a very addictive personality, which is why I don't let myself do certain things.  And in my case, 'addictive personality' is totally a euphemism for 'complete lack of willpower'.  Things that I like, I really, really like - I'm the ultimate page-turner, leaving the carpets shamefully un-vacuumed and the shelves woefully un-dusted until I have torn through the latest book I'm reading.  If I find a new tv programme that hooks me in, I want to race through the entire series until it ends and I come to my senses, room darkened, not certain if I'm looking out at twilight or dawn.

That's why I give a wide berth to those things like Candy Crush Saga that I keep getting invitations to.  Not going to go there.  Farmville?  Not for me.  I know, with an unshakeable certainty, that I would lose weeks I could barely afford to those things.  I'm filled with admiration for people who can play the odd game or two and walk away, but for me, it would go the way of my ill-advised Sims adventures, and end with the point where it starts to invade my dreams.

There is one exception to this rule, and it's something I love but can happily walk away from.  Called Little Alchemy, it's one of those ingeniously simple (or simply ingenious?) ideas that's a great way to while away a few minutes here and there, without desending into addiction.  It's based on the idea that you combine two elements to make other elements, and is much more fun than I've managed to make it sound.

I've recently discovered the food equivalent of Alchemy.  It consists of four ingredients - well, five, if you count the pasta water (and believe me, this is where the magic happens).  It is the absolute definition of being greater than the sum of its parts.  The ingredients, I'd be willing to guess, you have in your house right now, and if that's the case - well, what are you waiting for?  So simple, but please, don't let that fool you.  They combine into something unctuous and startling, and nothing short of magical.  This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver, but I've seen it cropping up all over the place, sometimes with the garlic, usually called something along the lines of Pasta with Butter and Cheese (does what it says on the tin!).  I like the name Pasta Bianco though, White Pasta, deceptive, like the dish itself in its simplicity.

I've had it twice this week already, and I'm trying to work out when I can next get my fix.  Can you spot my new addiction?

Pasta Bianco
Adapted from Jamie Oliver, Jamie's Dinners

100g spaghetti or linguine
30g butter, preferably unsalted but don't let only having salted put you off making this
20g parmesan, finely grated.  You don't really need to weigh this, just estimate as big as your thumb, and count yourself lucky if you've got big thumbs.
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper

That tiny pile of ingredients?  All you need to make magic happen.

Put a large pan of water on to boil, and salt very generously.  When it is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions - my linguine took 11 minutes.

While it is cooking, take a small pan and, over a low heat, melt your butter.  Crush the garlic, or grate it using a fine grater, and add it to the butter.   Cook gently, without browning, for a few minutes.  Remove from the heat.

When the pasta is cooked how you like it, and this is the important bit, before you drain it dip a cup into the water and remove a scoop of the starchy water.

Drain the pasta.  Put the garlic and butter into the pan that you cooked the pasta in.  Add the pasta back, and give it a good stir.  Add about half the parmesan, stir it round, then follow by a tablespoon or so of the water.  See how the consistency changes?  The water combines with the butter and cheese to make a creamy sauce.  Add the rest of the parmesan, save a small spoonful, and another spoonful or so of the water, until it is a glossy-looking sauce that coats the pasta easily.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Turn into a bowl and top with the small amount of remaining parmesan.

Eat, and marvel at the wonder of alchemy.  Ours is not to reason why.

Serves 1

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

My New Year's Gift To You

Now this, my friends, is the kind of salad you want to have in your back pocket, so to speak.  It is possibly the dish I have served to the most people, over my lifetime, and have noticed that it is both an excellent, rock solid standard, and a game changer - people wolf this down, and on more than one occasion I've had someone turn to me, cheeks stuffed full of new potato, eyes wild, and declare "but how can this be?  I don't even like potato salad".

I do claim an unfair advantage on this one, it's true - I come to it from a place of love.  Just as I'm convinced that the perfect roast potatoes can only be made by cooks who love them above all over things (in our house, it's Andy's job for this very reason - I'm definitely a mash girl, and boy do my roasties know it), so I believe the same is true of potato salad.  It's long been a true favourite of mine, and I remember a million years ago at university when my mum gave me some money for groceries and told me to make sure I bought a treat, potato salad was the thing I went for.

The secret is definitely in the dressing, and in particular, the white wine vinegar which isn't the most obvious ingredient, it's true, but it does amazing trickery in adding some tang and background flavour.

I have given you catering-size quantities, that's undeniable, but one taste of this and you will know why.  Whether you're feeding a crowd or just feeding yourself, this is comforting and fresh and tastes of summer.  Keep it in the fridge and dip into it as and when.  You will thank me, and so will all those in your life who are languishing in some misguided potato salad denial.

Potato Salad
My own recipe, developed through years of delicious experimentation

1kg new potatoes, with the peel still on
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 cup mayonnaise
1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
Handful chives, chopped
Handful fresh mint, chopped
Salt and pepper

Keep the smallest potatoes whole, and cut the larger ones in half so they are all approximately the same size.  Put them in a large pan, cover with cold water, add salt, and bring to the boil.  Boil gently for 15 minutes, until a knife slides easily in to a potato with no resistance.

While the potatoes are cooking, mix the vinegar, olive oil and mustard until emulsified.  Season with a good pinch of salt.

Drain the potatoes well and put into a large bowl.  Immediately, while they are still hot, pour over the vinegar dressing.

Cover, and leave to cool completely.

Before serving, mix together the herbs and the whites of the spring onions with the mayonnaise.  Stir this through the potatoes, making sure to stir through any vinaigrette that's lurking at the bottom of the bowl.  Check for seasoning and add any salt and pepper if you think it needs it.

Put into your serving bowl, sprinkle over the spring onion greens, smile, sit back and wait for the conversions.

Serves 8