Castelfranco radicchio

February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Since discovering the Natoora range of unusual vegetables and salads now supplied by Ocado I’ve become obsessed by trying every kind of radicchio on offer. Radicchio originates from the Veneto region of Italy and many of the varieties are named after local towns.

First up is the gorgeous Castelfranco radicchio with its cream and deep-red variegated leaves:

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It’s as pretty as an old-fashioned rose and you just have to admire it before adding it to your salad bowl:

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The delicately bitter leaves of Castelfranco are best suited to salads which brighten up the winter table. The leaves are not as delicate as they look either in flavour or texture so partner well with robust ingredients such as bacon, citrus fruits and nuts.

Here’s one of my recent slightly over-the-top lunchtime creations:

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Here are the recipes for two simpler salad recipes, the first from Italy’s legendary “Il Cucchaio d’Argento” cookbook, and the second inspired by a Skye Gyngell recipe published in 2011 in her Independent column. Finally, another “Il Cucchaio d’Argento” recipe, this time for ricotta and walnut stuffed Castelfranco leaves which are briefly blanched in boiling water before being used to encase the filling.

Recipe for Castelfranco radicchio and pancetta salad

Adapted from a recipe in Il Cucchaio d’Argento. Serves 4.

Ingredients

250g Castelfranco radicchio
200g cubed pancetta
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few spritzes of white balsamic vinegar (optional)
Lightly toasted small slices of baguette/ciabatta/country bread to serve

Detach the leaves from the radicchio head and wash and dry them carefully. Arrange them attractively on a large salad plate.

Place the cubed pancetta in a frying pan and heat gently to render the fat. Once the fat is rendered increase the heat and cook until the pancetta is lightly browned.

Pour the pancetta and its rendered fat over the Castelfranco leaves, crumble over a flew flakes of Maldon salt and a few twists of black pepper and quickly toss the salad to distribute the pancetta and its fat evenly. If likes, spritz the leaves lightly with white balsamic vinegar (you can buy it in plastic bottles fitted with an atomiser top).

Serve with lightly toasted small slices of toasted bread alongside.

Recipe for Castelfranco radicchio, orange and hazelnut salad

Adapted from Skye Gyngell’s recipe published in the Independent on Sunday in January 2011. As the author says, it makes a refreshing winter salad, perfect as a light first course.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 small to medium head Castelfranco radicchio
handful shelled blanched hazelnuts
2 oranges, preferably blood oranges
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons hazelnut oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the leaves of the radicchio from the head, wash, dry carefully and tear into large pieces. Arrange in a salad bowl or on a serving platter.

Lightly toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan being careful not to let the toast too much. Chop roughly and sprinkle over the salad leaves.

Cut the peel and pith off the oranges using a very sharp and/or serrated small knife. Slice the naked oranges into pinwheel shapes and arrange these over the salad.

Finally make the dressing by whisking together in a small bowl the mustard, red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons hazelnut oil and a little salt and pepper. Taste and add more oil,salt and pepper if required to balance out the flavours. Spoon the dressing over the salad using just as much as required as the salad should not be overdressed.

Recipe for Castelfranco radicchio rolls stuffed with ricotta and walnut

Adapted from a recipe in Il Cucchaio d’Argento. Serves 4.

Ingredients

10 large handsome Castelfranco radicchio leaves
100g ricotta
2 tablepoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
20 walnut halves (I like Serr walnuts from Chile available from Sainsbury’s)
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
butter for the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Blanch the radicchio leaves a few at a time in a large pan of boiling salted water for 1 minute. Remove and set out to dry carefully on clean teatowels.

Roughly chop the walnuts and put them into a bowl along with the ricotta, a little freshly grated parmesan, salt, pepper and egg yolk. Mix thoroughly.

Put a tenth of the ricotta mixture onto each blanched radicchio leaf and roll to form a neat rolled bundle. Place each stuffed roll into a generously buttered baking dish, arranging neatly side by side.

Bake for 15 minutes and serve straight from the baking dish.

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Bergamot preserves

February 8, 2013 § 3 Comments

I drink quite lot of Earl Grey tea and enjoy the instant flavour hit that bergamot can bring to an otherwise indifferent teabag. So when I recently saw bergamots on sale in their natural state for the first time ever I just had to buy a bagful. They’re a spherical greenish-gold citrus fruit the size of a small orange, a speciality of Calabria in Southern Italy. They don’t look anything special but scratch the surface of the skin and the powerful and unmistakeable aroma is released.

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Having inspected and admired by bag of bergamots, the question was what on earth to do with them? They look a bit like small oranges and have a sour juice so they are obvious candidates for marmalade. I decided that for starters, I’d make a half-size batch of marmalade, modifying my favourite seville orange recipe to suit these strange and exotic citrus fruits.

I decided that a fine shred marmalade would be most appropriate so as not to overpower the preserve with overly-thick chunks of that highly aromatic peel. This requires carefully peeling the fruit with a sharp potato peeler, in a single spiral if you’re up for the challenge, then cutting the peel into the finest shreds possible with a sharp knife.

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The shreds of peel together with a muslin bag containing the peeled half-fruit shells and pips are soaked overnight in the quantity of cold water specified in the recipe to which the squeezed fruit juice is added. This soaking has a dual purpose: it begins to soften the peel and helps dissolve the all-important pectin which is mainly contained in the white pith and pips.

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The next day, the peel is boiled, partly covered, for a full 2 hours so that it softens thoroughly. It should be meltingly soft, the texture of overcooked pasta at this stage as, weirdly, once the sugar is added it stiffens up again.

The boiled liquid, once cool enough to handle is measured (or weighed if you prefer) in order to calculate the required quantity of sugar (450g sugar per 500ml liquid). Also at this stage you can decide whether you want to remove some of the precious bergamot shreds to achieve the right balance between clear jelly and pieces of peel. You could always try and crystallise any spare peel for an unusual cake ingredient.

You’re then finally ready to combine the calculated amount of sugar with the citrus liquid in a preserving pan to achieve a set. This shouldn’t take long so it’s essential to have all your preserving bits and pieces laid out and ready (sterilised jam jars and clean lids ready; jam thermometer and funnel to hand; and several saucers chilled in the freezer). It’s also worth tasting the liquid before you begin boiling to check acidity levels. The liquid should taste distinctly sour and if it doesn’t, you can add the juice of a further bergamot (or a lemon if you have bergamots to hand!) to the pan.

I would guess that the bergamots have a high pectin content as I achieved a set quite quickly (less than 15 minutes’ boiling) and rather suddenly. I took the mixture off the boil at about 103 degrees C, ie before the mixture reached my seville orange soft set temperature of 104.5 degrees C. The set I ended up with was quite firm though not the dreaded “rubber set” but ideally I’d have gone for something softer.

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The end result was a delicately coloured marmalade with greenish tinge and, though I say so myself, exquisite flavour, not too sweet with plenty of acidity. My only quibble was that in a jar the marmalade looks a tad cloudy, and as I mentioned before, the set was just a little firmer than my personal ideal.
Rereading my notes from last year (should have done this before I started!) I see that one suggestion to avoid cloudiness is to skim regularly during boiling rather than adding a knob of butter to prevent scumming

I reckon the marmalade is still good enough to send off to the 2013 World Marmalade Competition so a jar is winging its way to Dalemain in Cumbria as we speak, entered under the “Any Citrus” category. Fingers crossed…

A fortnight later, the rest of the bergamots had ripened a little and become more golden in colour:

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This lot were destined for an experimental batch of bergamot curd. I decided to use a lemon curd recipe, swapping the lemons for bergamots which are approximately the size of large lemons and have similar acidity levels. Recipes for lemon curd are many and various so, for simplicity, I chose one using whole eggs rather than just egg yolks. This gives the curd a tendency to become a little lumpy as the coagulation temperatures of yolk and white are different, but this is not a problem as the finished curd is sieved before potting.

You need to rig up an impromptu double boiler but this is easily achieved by setting a heatproof bowl into a pan of water and then it’s simplicity itself to combine the zest and juice with the eggs, butter and sugar:

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The curd will thicken quite quickly but does requires constant stirring with a wooden spoon or balloon whisk as it does so. Once it’s passed through a sieve you’re ready to pot:

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The end result is silky smooth, golden and packs a punch in terms of a powerful perfumed bergamot aroma. Personally I think it’s a bit much spread on your morning toast but it’s perfect for puddings, swirled through Greek yoghurt or combined with crème fraîche and fruit for a pavlova or roulade filling.

Recipe for Bergamot Marmalade

Makes approximately 1.1kg marmalade – 3 regular sized jars

Ingredients

850g bergamots
1.3 litres cold water
Approximate 1kg granulated sugar

1. With a potato peeler peel the skin from the bergamots, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible. Slice the peel into thin shreds and put into a large pan lidded pan.

2. Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin, leaving plenty to overhang the sides of the bowl. Cut the bergamots in half. With your hands, squeeze the juice from the fruit over the bowl, dropping the leftover squeezed fruit, pith, pips and flesh, into the muslin. Lift the muslin out of the bowl, gather the sides and squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl. Tie the muslin together to keep the fruit in and form a bag.

3. Place the muslin bag in the saucepan with the peel, leaving the top of the muslin overhanging the saucepan. Add the squeezed fruit juice and 1.3 litres cold water to the pan. Heat until boiling, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, until the peel is tender.

4. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze all the sticky juice from the bag into the pan. An easy way to do this is to put the bag in a colander and use a spoon to press it out. Measure the contents of the pan in a jug (or weigh in the pan using a suitable pair of scales having had the foresight to weigh your pan in advance). Return to the pan and add 450g of sugar for every 500ml liquid. Gently heat until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 5 minutes.

5. Test that the marmalade has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of the liquid on a cold saucer and gently pushing with the back of a spoon. If the liquid starts to wrinkle, setting point has been reached. If no wrinkling happens, keep boiling and retest every 5 minutes. If using a sugar thermometer, setting point is likely to be achieved at about 102 degrees C. Turn off the heat as soon as you reach setting point.

6. Skim any scum from the surface. Leave the mixture to stand for 15 minutes. Stir gently, then carefully spoon into warmed sterilised jars. Put screw top lids on while the marmalade is still hot and turn upside down for 5 seconds to sterilise the lids.

Recipe for Bergamot Curd

Makes about 600g curd enough to fill 3 or 4 small jars.

Ingredients

4 bergamots
4 whole eggs, lightly beaten
150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
350g golden caster sugar

Before you begin, you need to set up an impromptu double boiler. I did this by setting a medium sized metal mixing bowl over a large saucepan of cold water. It’s OK in fact desirable that the bowl sits in rather than over the water as it would if you were aiming to melt chocolate.

Grate the zest and squeeze the juice from the bergamots and put into the bowl part of your double-boiler set-up. A microplane grater makes grating the zest a doddle. Add the eggs, butter and sugar to the bowl, set it over the pan and turn on the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon regularly as it slowly warms through.
Once the water is boiling, keep stirring as the eggs coagulate and the curd thickens.

As I’m a curd-making novice, I checked the temperature of my curd once it looked sufficiently thickened and removed the bowl from the heat once it reached a temperature of 80 degrees C. This worked well as the finished product has a soft spreading consistency and for my taste is neither too runny nor too thick.

Don’t worry if your curd is not perfectly smooth as the next step is to push it through a sieve into another very clean and dry medium bowl. This removes the grated zest and any stray eggy lumps that may have formed.

Once the curd has been sieved, carefully spoon it into small jam jars sterilised in your preferred way. As the flavour of this curd is so intense, small jars are best. I like to warm them in the oven set to its lowest temperature of around 120 degrees C. Cover and once cool, the curd is best stored in the fridge.

Cambodian breakfast

February 4, 2013 § 4 Comments

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

New Year, new letter of the alphabet – we’re finally onto the letter C! – new country.

In preparation for our Cambodian breakfast I watched Roland Joffé’s “Killing Fields” on DVD documenting the friendship between New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian colleague Dith Pran. The Vietnam war spills over the border into neighbouring Cambodia and the Communist Khmer Rouge take control of Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh in 1975. Schanberg gets away unscathed but Pran, as an urban intellectual, is taken prisoner by the Khmer Rouge and made to work in harsh labour camps and witnesses Pol Pot’s in the killing fields.

How things have changed in the last 30 odd years. Cambodia is now very much on the modern-day Grand Tour with the holy city of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat a must-see destination. And a tourist website gives the following cursory directions to another top tourist attraction:

“The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are 15 km from Central Phnom Penh. To get there, take Monireth Blvd south-westward out of the city from the Dang Kor Market bus depot.”

So what to eat for our Cambodian breakfast? The opening scenes of “The Killing Fields” feature Schanberg and colleague Al Rockoff (memorably played by John Malkovich) ordering café complet and aspirin at Phnom Penh’s Café Central but I was after something altogether more authentic. Fortunately, travel blogs are almost unanimous in identifying Nom Banh Chok – bowls of rice noodles with fish curry ladled over – as the ubiquitous breakfast dish in Cambodia.

You can read about the extremely laborious process of making Nom Banh Chok rice noodles by hand here, a link to the fascinating and beautifully photographed Eating Asia blog.

The list of ingredients required to make Num/Nom Banh Chok (spellings transliterated from the Cambodian language are many and various). I succeeded in tracking down an authentic recipe which comes from another West/Eastern duo – not Schanberg and Pran this time but Austrian and Cambodian chefs Gustav Auer and Sok Chhong who co-authored the cookbook “From spiders to water lilies” containing recipes from their Phnom Penh restaurant Romdeng (Cambodian for the key flavouring ingredient galangal).

Having tracked down an authentic recipe I wanted to do my best to use authentic ingredients. Whereas most large supermarkets now stock lemongrass, Thai basil, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai fish sauce and coconut cream and milk (and you can get hold of Kaffir limes from the Natoora range carried by online supermarket delivery service Ocado), some of the ingredients listed necessitated a special expedition to Manchester’s Chinatown.

I was delighted to be able to track down galangal, fresh turmeric and something close to the recipe’s specified “Cambodian rhizome” at Kim’s Thai Food Store. What I bought was Boesenbergia Pandurata aka Kaempferia pandurata, Chinese Keys, lesser galangal (though this name is probably incorrect), krachai (Thai), kcheay (Khmer) and kunci (Indonesian).

The aromatics were chopped then blitzed in the food processor to produce 15 tablespoons of precious yellow curry paste:

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To complete the curry, a whole new batch of ingredients were needed. Coconut cream, fish sauce and coconut milk are now readily available in supermarkets. I had no idea at the time what type of fish to use, or even if it should be sea or freshwater fish so I chose a fresh and healthy looking Anglesey farmed seabass from my local fishmonger who expertly converted it into fillets. It was a shame to carefully poach and skin it and then pulp it into oblivion as the recipe specifies!

I’ve since read about Cambodia’s enormous inland Tonlé Sap lake which apparently supplies 70% of the protein consumed in Cambodia, including not only fish but shrimps, crabs, snails, frogs and snakes.

The only ingredient I couldn’t get hold of was the Cambodian fish paste called prahok. According to the helpful Cambodian food leaflet “Cambodia on A Plate”, prahok is “a grey paste of preserved fish…(that is) probably the most distinctive flavour in all Cambodian cooking”. I had to make do with a Thai shrimp paste instead (on reflection the UK anchovy paste we call “Gentlemen’s Relish” might have made a good substitute too).

Curry complete, all that was left to do was prepare the all-important rice noodles, accompanying salad and Thai basil and red chilli garnish. Yet another long list of ingredients, some, such as the cucumber and beansprouts easy to obtain, others, such as banana flower (?) and water lily root (??) a little trickier. I was delighted to find a fresh banana flower in Chinatown but the water lily root request defeated both the Chinese and Thai shop assistants. In the end I went for the helpful suggestion of a lotus root which is apparently used raw in salads in some Thai recipes.

The resulting plate of salad was a thing of beauty:

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And finally, after about 6 hours spread over 2 days of shopping, chopping, pounding and boiling, we sat down to breakfast:

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Contact details

For Oriental vegetables in Manchester:

Hang Won Hong
Connaught Buildings
58-60 George Street
Manchester M1 4HF

Telephone 0161 228 6182

For Thai (and Cambodian) specialities in Manchester:

46 George Street
Manchester M1 4HF

Telephone 0161 228 6263

For the UK’s only Cambodian restaurant

Lemongrass
243 Royal College Street
London NW1 9LT

Telephone 0207 284 1116

http://www.cambodianlemongrass.co.uk/

Recipe for Num Banh Chok – yellow fish and coconut curry with rice noodles and raw Cambodian vegetables

This recipe is adapted from one in the book “From Spiders to Water Lilies” by Gustav Auer and Sok Chhong published as a fundraising project by the Friends International organisation.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

For the lemongrass paste

200 g young lemongrass stalks (about 15-16 stalks) trimmed and sliced
2cm cube of peeled and roughly chopped galangal
3cm cube peeled and chopped fresh turmeric
4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, halved
Peel of half a kaffir lime, chopped
2cm cube peeled and chopped Cambodian rhizome

For the curry

300 g fish fillets, poached
3 tablespoons lemongrass paste
2 tablespoons roasted chopped peanuts
500 ml fish stock

250 ml coconut milk
250 ml coconut cream
1 teaspoon prahok (Cambodian fermented fish paste)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
salt to taste
1 tablespoon palm sugar

To accompany the curry

400 g dried weight thin rice noodles, cooked al dente
2 small cucumbers, cut into matchsticks
half a banana flower, soaked in cold water acidulated with kaffir lime juice then thinly sliced just before serving
200 g bean sprouts
2 pieces of water lily root, peeled and thinly sliced

To garnish

red chillies
few Thai basil leaves

First, prepare the lemongrass paste. Using a food processor, blitz the chopped lemongrass into a paste. Add the remaining ingredients and 4-6 tablespoons cold water and blitz again until well combined. According to the original recipe, this paste will keep refrigerated for one day only, so take what you need for the recipe and freeze the rest in individual containers. This quantity of ingredients produced 12 tablespoons of neon-yellow paste which I froze in 3 tablespoon portions.

Next, poach the fish in the stock until just cooked – for thin fish fillets this will take just 2 or 3 minutes. Leave to cool a little then drain off and reserve the stock to add to the curry and skin the fish fillets making sure no small bones remain in the flesh as you do so. Set aside.

Prepare the raw vegetable accompaniments and garnish, leaving the banana flower pieces in iced acidulated water until the last minute as they discolour very quickly.

Weigh, measure and set out all the curry ingredients and necessary kitchen equipment so you can complete the curry quickly without overcooking the rice noodles and fish.

About 20 minutes before you plan to serve the curry, take the banana flower from the iced acidulated water, dry it and shred finely. Add to your serving platter of accompanying raw vegetables.

Next, soak the dried rice noodles in hot water for about 15 minutes until they soften to just al dente. Keep an eye on them as overcooked rice noodles have an unpleasant mushy texture.

You are now ready to complete the curry. Place the cooled cooked and de-skinned fish fillets with the 3 tablespoons lemongrass paste and peanuts into the bowl of a food processor. Blitz to a coarse paste. Set aside. Put 500ml fish stock, the coconut milk, coconut cream and prahok into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring frequently to mix. Add the reserved fish paste, fish sauce, salt and palm sugar, and simmer for 5 more minutes, mixing to incorporate.

To serve, put a large handful of vegetables into each person’s bowl. Add a portion of cooked rice noodles then ladle the fish curry over the top. Garnish with finely sliced deseeded red chillies and a scattering of Thai basil leaves.

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