Carbonara

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Mention you’re cooking Bolognese to an Italian and you’ll get a serious rolling of the eyeballs. Risotto? More of a sceptical narrowing of the eyes. But Carbonara? That’s a fighting word.

Per person you will need: 120g dried pasta, 60g pancetta finely diced, a whole egg, 10g of butter and 20g of Parmesan or your favourite Italian hard cheese. It’s allegedly a Roman dish, so perhaps Pecorino might be better. Use whatever long dried pasta you have to hand: spaghetti, fettucine, linguine etc.

Pancetta can be replaced with sweet-cured belly bacon, but see below about getting some help from nutmeg and garlic. Fancy supermarkets often sell Pancetta pre-cubed in little sealed plastic pouches that can be popped into the freezer, meaning this can be whipped up al pronto if needs must.

If you have a bit of practice, then you should be able to prep and cook the sauce in the same time it takes to do the pasta, but I’d err on the side of caution, and start with the pancetta.

  1. Gently fry the pancetta and the butter, stirring occasionally, until it starts to colour.  Grind over some black pepper.
  2. Get the pasta going.
  3. In a bowl or jug, combine the egg and Parmesan.
  4. Once the pancetta is lightly browned, but not crunchy, turn off the heat.
  5. Once the pasta is done, use a teacup to fish out a few tablespoons of the starchy cooking water, and put to one side.
  6. Drain the pasta, and add to the saucepan with the pancetta, combining thoroughly. Add a splash of the reserved cooking water to loosen it up, and then the cheese and egg mixture, stirring like mad. Serve immediately, with more Parmesan.

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Stuff you could add…

This is where controversy begins. Don’t mention any of this to your Italian friends.

  • a clove of garlic, split down the middle, fried with the pancetta, and then discarded, is nice
  • a small grating of nutmeg won’t hurt – if you can’t get Pancetta, and you’re using bacon, then the nutmeg is useful
  • I don’t think cream is necessary
  • a spot of peperoncino, fried with the pancetta could be fun

Baked Pears

Don’t know where this one comes from. To feed six you’ll need:

  • six large pears (doesn’t matter if they’re a bit bland or a bit woody, this recipe works with all sorts)
  • two lemons
  • 50g sugar
  • 50 butter
  • vanilla pod

Peel the pears and slice them thinly. Modern breeds of pear don’t need coring, but pick out any gnarly bits. Arrange the pears in a shallow dish and squeeze the lemons over them. If you’re going to leave them for a while, give them a good toss, as the lemon juice will stop them going brown. (Ditto, if you’re using apples instead of pears.)

Meanwhile, melt the butter and sugar in a small saucepan, split the vanilla pod, and throw it in. Not worth trying to extract the seeds. Bring to a gentle simmer for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar, stirring constantly, and if the mixture darkens very slightly, all the better. Pour this over the pears.

At this point, you can leave the dish until required.

When ready, pop into a hot oven, around Gas 5, for about forty five minutes. Keep an eye on them, and occasionally rearrange, so all the pears are coated with juice, and none dry out. I use a pair of barbecue tongs to do this. They may get a little brown and sticky about the edges (good!) but you don’t want to burn them.

The sophisticated would probably serve this with mascarpone, I’d go for vanilla ice cream.


Aglio ed Olio

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Not sure I really qualify, but I have Stinking Man Flu like only a Real Man can get, and it’s interfering with Life. The solution, of course, is aglio ed olio, which looks quite daft on paper, but does the job nicely.

The procedure is slightly vague, as it depends upon the strength of your cold, and how much of a devil-may-care attitude it inspires. Start by peeling and finely slicing as much garlic as you dare. For me that’s somewhere in between four very fat cloves, or half a head. Fry a teaspoon of peperoncino (that’s a posh way of saying chilli flakes) in a couple of tablespoons of cheap vegetable oil, and then add the garlic. You’re aiming to get it slightly golden about the edges, but not burnt. Once almost there, turn off the gas, and let it finish in the residual heat.

Cook around 150g of dried pasta the usual way. I use linguini. Finely chop a handful of fresh parsley and grate loads of Parmesan.

When the pasta is done, add it and the parsely to the pan with the garlic, turn on the heat, and combine well. Add a couple of tablespoons of fancy olive oil and maybe a few tablespoons of hot water to loosen up.

Don’t book a hot date that evening.


Simple Stew

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Sorry about the slightly murky photo, but it’s that kind of a dish: essentially one pound beef, one pound veg, and a pint of porter.

In this case the beef was just some generic stewing steak, and the veg were some baby charlottes, a large carrot, and a leek. The beer was Guinness’ West Indies Porter, which is a strong, fruity brew, with undercurrents of bitter chocolate. The meat was tossed in seasoned flour before browning in oil and butter, the beer added, followed by some vigorous scraping and stirring to dislodge the fond and then the veg added after that. I had a small bunch of thyme handy, so that and a bay leaf were popped in for good measure. (You could use dried thyme and maybe also add a few peeled cloves of garlic.)

Brought to the boil, and then reduced to a firm simmer. It can’t just gloop gently, or the collagen in the meat won’t break down; it needs to be bubbling gently. Around two hours, but it’s one of those things that’s done when it’s done.

Serves two; obviously with more of the porter to wash it down.

Suet Dumplings

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A quick note: per person you will need 50g plain flour, 20g suet (the shredded stuff in packets, e.g. Atora), 1tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt. Mix dry ingredients, and add just enough water to bring it together into a ball of dough.

Divide into four pieces and roll between the palms of your hands to render them spherical and dust with a little extra flour if they’re sticky. Pop them on top of a firmly simmering stew for 20 minutes; covered.

If you forget the baking powder, then you will end up with quite solid dumplings: still very tasty, but unmistakably Victorian.

Winter Salad

Just a quick improvisation: chicory leaves, walnuts, black grapes, satsuma segments, and a very basic honey mustard dressing.

Gravadlax

A few quick notes on gravadlax.

  • 1kg fish will yield 650g finished product as moisture is sucked out by the cure
  • 1kg fish will need 200g cure: 100g salt plus 100g sugar – I used sea salt and caster sugar – Him What Knows uses a spot of muscovado
  • on one occasion, the shelf in the fridge where I placed it was too cold and the necessary reactions did not occur – use a fridge thermometer to ensure it’s around 5°C
  • I chop the dill very finely and layer it on the fish first, so it sticks
  • I put about a quarter of the cure on the outside of the fish, and the rest between
  • on the morning of serving, I give the fish a very light rinse, to remove any solid salt crystals, slice it, and place in a fresh dish, with about a third of the liquid, which is drained before serving
  • I don’t think it needs to be served with anything other than some interesting bread, black pepper and lemon wedges

 


Stocking the Cocktail Cabinet

Upon being served a pre-dinner White Lady, a young fellow of my acquaintance confessed that whilst he fancied the idea of being able to make cocktails, he had only ever acquired a bottle of vodka and some coke, before being bamboozled by the vast array of recipes and ingredients. But given that all his clothes had fallen off, I think the cocktail was doing its job rather too well. Don’t ask. These things happen. Here’s a quick outline of what every young lady or gentleman ought to keep in their cabinet.

Bourbon. Although originating in the 19th century, cocktails really got going during the Prohibition in the American twenties, when something, anything was needed to disguise the taste of the awful Canadian rye whiskey. We don’t need to go this far for authenticity, but Bourbon is definitely the right thing, and much better value for money than Scotch. Look out for Buffalo Trace, which is cheaper than the well known brand, and much nicer.

Gin. An essential, but don’t feel the need to buy the really premium stuff unless you’re planning on making lots of dry, dry Martinis. Something middle of the road, like Bombay or Tanqueray will do nicely.

White Rum. A less important spirit, but essential for Daiquiris, Mojitos, and other Caribbean loveliness.

Vermouth. Both kinds. The red stuff is sweet and more common in cocktails, the white stuff is dry and not only useful for Martinis, but also for when a splash of white wine is required in a recipe and you can’t be arsed to open a bottle.

Cointreau. This turns up surprisingly often; any sweet orange liquor will do, e.g. Grand Marnier, but not Southern Comfort, which is a little too dry.

Campari. If you think Marmite divides people’s opinions, wait until you get a load of this stuff.

Angostura Bitters. An obscure but handy thing to have. Served by the drop, a bottle will last you a decade.

Sugar Syrup. Make your own if you’re inclined, or spend a few quid at the supermarket.

Lime juice. A squeezy bottle at the back of the fridge for emergencies. Fresh limes are always better.

Mixers. A stash of the little 150mL tins of tonic, soda, and dry ginger ale is always handy. Note that one very popular brand seems to have Aspartane in everything, and some people dislike it immensely. But everybody dislikes a bottle of flat tonic that’s been sitting at the back of the fridge for three months.

Equipment. A cocktail shaker is de rigeur, certainly for appearances. The traditional ones look quite smart on the shelf, although the Boston shaker is probably more useful, but can fly apart in the hands of the unwary. Some muddling spoons, a zester, and a citrus juicer are all good things.

Other spirits. Brandy is sometimes useful, but I rarely use vodka, other than for preserving cherries. If you feel the need for Kahlua, Advocaat, or Malibu, then I don’t think I can help you.

Oh, and I suppose I’d better offer a few cocktail recipes next time.

Righto, on the case.

(Hic.)

Steak Stir Fry

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Barely a recipe at all, but jolly useful when one is cooking only for oneself, and nobody is watching.

Get a deep pan or a wok going on the heat, add a couple of glugs of vegetable oil, and slip in a 200g piece of rump steak. I don’t particularly care how you do it, whether it gets thirty seconds a side in an incandescently hot wok, or whether you prefer the low and slow approach. Whatever. The end result should be a piece of meat with some nice colour on the outside, and still fairly squidgy when you poke it with an implement: this and this alone is the key to working out whether or not the meat is done. It should be less soft than the raw steak, but by no means hard. Retrieve it from the heat and pop it on a chopping board to rest.

Turn up the heat in the wok, and throw in 300g of stir fry vegetables; whatever you fancy. Stir like mad until they’ve softened up and are starting to colour. Turn the heat down, and add a splash of soy sauce and a generous squirt of sweet chilli sauce. If you’ve yet to make the acquaintance of the latter, then I warn you: it is addictive.

Meanwhile, turn your attention to the steak, and slice it thinly, trimming any bits of fat and gristle that you don’t fancy. I use a chopping board with a rim to catch the juices. Return the steak and juices to the wok, give a good stir, and then serve.

No witnesses.


 

Sausage and Beans

A kind of elemental cassoulet, this is a good thing to cook when you’ve got a large hungry group to deal with. Maybe your church choir has been playing drinking games in the crypt. Who knows. To feed sixteen (not the sixteen) you’ll need the following quantities:

  • 3kg pork sausages (they need to be moderately fatty, some expensive sausages are commendably lean, but no good for this recipe)
  • 1kg onions
  • 1kg carrots
  • 1 large head of celery (800g or more)
  • 1kg tinned chopped tomatoes and their juices
  • 1kg tinned canellini beans (that’s four 450g tins’ worth)
  • one head of garlic (or as much as you dare)
  • a bunch of thyme
  • a few dried bay leaves

You can cook this in two stages:

  1. Start by putting the sausages into a large roasting tin (single layer is best) and into the oven at Gas 6. They’ll need around an hour – but check and turn them every fifteen minutes or so. We’re aiming for dark wrinkly skins and sticky fatty juices at the bottom of the tin. So maybe they’ll need longer.
  2. Meanwhile, chop up the carrots, onion and celery: no need to dice, just 1cm pieces. I don’t bother peeling the carrots, but just give them a good scrub to get any dirt off the outside. Peel the individual garlic cloves; no need to chop or crush.
  3. When the sausages are done, fish them out of the roasting tin, and leave them somewhere to cool. The tin should have a layer of fat in it, do not discard.
  4. Put the carrots into the tin, combine with the sausage fat, and return to the oven for half an hour. Carrots are tough little bastards, and they need a head start.
  5. Add the onions, celery, garlic and bay leaves, plus salt and pepper. Return to the oven for another half an hour. Check them regularly and turn every ten minutes or so, making sure they’re lightly coated with the sausage fat. Again, we’re aiming to get them properly cooked, and lightly caramelised, with a hint of brown about the edges. Onions have a slight tendency to burn, so feel free to reduce the temperature if they’re browning too fast.
  6. When they’re done, decant them, and if there’s a particularly good fond on the roasting tin, then deglaze it with a little hot water, reduce, and add that liquid to the veg.

At this point you can stop, and park the cooked sausage and veg into a large container. When you’re ready to continue:

  1. Into a large pot, pour in the tinned tomatoes, and about a litre of water, bring to the boil, and simmer for about half an hour. (This is just to get the tomatoes properly cooked, which makes them sweeter and less acidic.)
  2. Add all the other ingredients: roast sausages, roast veg, beans, herbs.
  3. Gently simmer, stirring from time to time, until everything is hot, and you’re ready to go.

A few things to note:

  • If you want to double the quantity of garlic, then go for it. Double it again if you need. Go on. You know you want to.
  • You can perform the second stage in the oven if you have a large enough roasting tin, or tins. Make sure that the meat and veg are poking above the liquid, and the heat from the oven will make them get sticky and crisp.
  • You could replace the sausage with an equal quantity of hacked up pork shoulder.
  • If you want to use dried beans, then you’ll need to soak and cook in advance.