Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chicken with Lemon & Oregano

It's easy to feel that going back to chicken is a bit of a cop-out come Sunday lunch, but the thing with chicken is it's just so versatile and tasty. I think every time I do it I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to do it, but then pretty much every time it comes out great anyway - don't know why I bother worrying really!

I long ago gave up buying cheap chicken, waste of time that stuff really even without worrying about the conditions that most birds are raised in. Flavour is enough of an argument to get me to switch, but these days I do try and be a bit more vigilant in other chicken products that I pick-up. That's what the 'Chicken Out' campaign has taught me if nothing else, that the buggers will try and stick cheap, nasty, exploitative food in anything given half a chance. That tasty looking chicken madras, a quick chicken bap down town for lunch, even those biscuits you've been buying for years. Turns out they put battery reared food in lots of stuff. Anyhow, enough carping on about that. Back to the food.

This recipe was inspired by the fact that I had most of a lemon knocking about in the back of fridge looking to be finished up, and some left over new potatoes that weren't quite as fresh as they could have been - sometimes the smallest things can inspire good cooking. The lemon went inside the chicken cut into about eight pieces along with a couple of garlic cloves, and the potatoes were scattered around the bird along with a large cut up onion. Then the whole thing was liberally seasoned scattered with oregano and then finally some olive oil. Then into the oven for the usual sort of time whilst we went down the pub.

The chicken before going in the oven

The idea with this style of cooking, something I've been doing for many years now although usually with lamb, is that the juices from the meat and the oil will combine and the potatoes will get covered in all this extra flavour but also start to caramelise and crisp up a bit. It works a treat and so long as your roasting time is not too long your vegetables will get that extra depth and sweetness to them. The onions this time around were particularly wonderful, somehow tart and sweet, soft and chewy, all at the same time.

Served this with broad beans - our first crop from the mini-allotment at the end of the garden - together with some pancetta that we had in the fridge from B's village back home in Italy. The beans were very quickly boiled whilst I rendered off the fat from the pancetta. Most of the fat was put aside and then the beans and bacon (what a classic combination that is) just tossed together - no seasoning at all, didn't need it.

The chicken once roasted

I thought this need a little extra something so made some focaccia bread to go with it. Turns out the flour I used was brown, which I wasn't expecting (it was local flour from down the road we hadn't tried before) so instead of the usual rosemary focaccia I make I turned this into fennel focaccia instead, and it turned out pretty good and a good foil for the strong flavours of the bird.

Fennel Focaccia

All in all a damn good feed, and what with some untypical English Sunday Summer Sunshine (!) added some much needed sanity into what has lately been a bit of a demanding life.

Lunch is served!

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

'Ziti' Al Forno

Bit of a cock-up last weekend, as what with one thing and another I never managed to get to the butchers in time to get some meat to roast, at least not a joint. As ever with these things though that forced me to be more creative and I turned to a recipe that I had been wanting to do for some time - Ziti al Forno from Antonio Carluccio's "Passion for Pasta".

"Passion for Pasta" is a fab book and well worth getting a copy. There are so many pasta books out there, which generally speaking I find a bit of waste of time, but let's face it, Antonio is the master when it comes to this sort of thing (well, one of the masters at least! I can't really write something like that without at least mentioning Gennaro Contaldo). What Passion for Pasta has though above most books is that insight which understands that pasta is not something just to pour sauce over, but is an intrinsic part of the meal in itself. Carluccio brings across to the reader the critical message that not only is the choice of flavour of pasta, i.e. combinations of ingredients such as egg or durum wheat for example, a big part of the dish, but also that the shape of the past itself has a very important part to play, and whatever pasta you choose will have a big impact on the finished dish.

So what, you may be wondering, is 'Ziti' Al Forno? Well first off it is not a roast, but a baked dish, hence the "Al Forno". It was Sunday lunch though! You'd probably be surprised how often a baked pasta dish like this ends up as the special dish of the week. Lasagna, for example, often ends up on the Sunday lunch table in Italy so my partner tells me. She should know - she is Italian after all. And the 'Ziti'? Well they are in fact effectively long tubes of macaroni, and difficult to get hold of here in Devon, which is why they're in quotes. I actually ended up using a style of penne as it was the closest I could get - which brings me onto the dish itself.

Preparation time - sorting out the ingredients

Now I should say that I did deviate a fair bit from the straight recipe, which on top of the missing Ziti also calls for the addition of chicken livers and salami. I have to say after eating it though that I'm kind of glad I did leave them out (not that they were exactly to hand at the time!) as even without these it was a pretty rich dish. Basically the whole thing is layers of pasta, mozzarella, beef meatballs and tomato sauce which is finished with beaten egg, plenty of parmesan and baked in the oven - serious food.

Creating the Dish

We're big fans of meatballs and these little guys were fab - simply made from some beef mince that we did find up the road, a little onion, garlic, parmesan, bread and parsley from the garden. Think these will be a common feature in the kitchen in future just cooked by themselves and served with a bit of pasta and sauce. I'm not sure the raw garlic in them worked so well though - personally I love garlic but this could of done with just a little cooking first I reckon.

Frying up the meatballs

The tomato sauce was simplicity itself as well, just a few tins of good Italian tomatoes cooked down with some seasoning, herbs and wine. For pasta we did have to use penne but these were De Cecco organic penne, smaller than most with a good rough surface and the kind of quality that can be baked and still keep their al dente texture.

Before baking, covered in parmesan

Overall a fab dish, not as complex as it at first sounds, and delicious and impressive to serve. Recommended!


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Beef Sirloin, Pan Roasted Potatoes & Horseradish Crumpets

Was after the classic this weekend, rib of beef on the bone, but no luck at the butchers as he had none left. That'll teach me for not ordering ahead of time. Actually that said I'm often glad when this happens as it makes me more inventive in the kitchen, and is the main reason I tend to go up the road on a Saturday morning with only a vague idea of what I'm going to buy when I get there. What he did have instead was a large piece of rolled sirloin which looked pretty good, so I had half of that instead and went home to have a browse through the cooking library.

I thought I'd spotted something in a Gordon Ramsay book and sure enough he has one for roast sirloin with pan roasted potatoes and shallots. Pan roasting potatoes isn't something I'd tried before so we gave it a go, and it turned out pretty well in the end I have to say. Lots of garlic went in too as well as thyme for a full flavoured selection.

The best bit about the dish though I think was my horseradish crumpets, at least that's what I'm calling them! They weren't really crumpets, actually it was leftover pancake mixture from the night before (lamb and leef stuffed pancakes flavoured with wild garlic - a blend I'd had in the freezer for a while wondering what to do with) to which I'd added a good helping of creamed horseradish. I figured I could cook them on the stove in a couple of rings in place of yorkshire pudding. You can see them in the front of this photo which I took just after I'd poured the mixture in.

They had a lovely flavour and texture, especially for someone who likes the squishy bit of a yorkshire best! I think I might try and polish this particular recipe up a bit and do a proper crumpet with bicarb to see what turns out. Could be onto a winner here I reckon! All in all a pretty satisfying lunch, and although Gordon might not like me ignoring large chunks of his recipe (just how much port am I supposed to add?) I'm sure he would have liked to taste a bit of crumpet ;-)


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