28 September 2012

Carbonara. Ish.

Want to get a reaction? Announce your playing around with a recipe for Carbonara on Twitter. Apparently "playing around" and an established classic Italian dish are not phrases that sit well together. I can sort of see the point: there are a few dishes pretty much set in stone and, let's face it, generations of Italians can't be wrong. 

So, after an admittedly tongue-in-cheek discussion, I'm going to start this next Prosciutto di San Daniele / Grana Padano Cheese post with a few disclaimers and explanations. The recipe to be tested - or, indeed, played around with - comes from Giancarlo Caldesi who, ironically, is the man who taught me to make pasta. He might have been slightly disappointed then that this interpretation didn't involve handmade fresh pasta but I suspect he'd also appreciate that, once you've gone past the strict original recipe (and there's a great piece on that here at The Epicurean) that anything goes. Well, within reason. And when you're on a mission to clear a ridiculously overstocked kitchen of half and quarter-finished bags of dried pasta, that's reason enough to my mind if, as agreed with Dino, provided you call it Carbonara-esque or take the Russell Norman approach and name it "Carbonara of Sorts".

Essentially, you're looking at bits of pig and egg to create this... well, it's not a sauce really, more of an emulsion perhaps? It is, in any of its forms, as perfect a comfort meal as you can find and - whisper it soft lest Dino hears - the Caldesi "twist" is utterly delicious. 

Carbonara (of sorts) con prosciutto di San Daniele e formaggio Grana Padano

Serves six. Or fewer greedy people. 

20ml Olive Oil
350g Prosciutto di San Daniele
100ml white wine
500g dried pasta, such as bucatini or penne
Five eggs
6g black peppercorns, crushed in pestle and mortar or coarsely ground in a mill
100g Grana Padano Cheese, freshly grated

Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan and, when hot, add the sliced Prosciutto di San Daniele and fry until crispy. Add the wine and reduce for a couple of minutes. Set aside. If you can. I'd never thought of frying prosciutto before and some will no doubt declare it sacrilege but oh my it works. The melting fat crisps brilliantly and the smell... if you can resist that, you're doing better than me. I had to go and buy more Prosciutto di San Daniele after picking at the pan rather too long. 

As for the wine, it's a great touch. It stops the prosciutto overcooking and as it reduces, it also effectively deglazes the pan, bringing together all that lovely melted fat, as well as providing a thick base for the rest of the sauce / emulsion / whatever. 

Now put the pasta into the boiling water and cook until al dente. Beat the eggs and black pepper together. Drain the cooked pasta in a colander, return it to the pan off the heat and add the beaten egg, the crispy fried Prosciutto di San Daniele and wine reduction and lots of the Grana Padano Cheese; stir well to combine. Serve on warm plates with more Grana Padano Cheese scattered over the top and - assuming you've still got "spares", a slice of Prosciutto di San Daniele.

 As agreed, traditional Carbonara it's not. It's a tribute. An utterly delicious, virtually irresistible tribute. That serves six thing? Yeah, I'd ignore that. I'd go with two, because you're going to keep sneaking back into the kitchen to get another forkful. If you do resist any, it also reheats rather brilliantly with a splash of wine in the saucepan. 

26 September 2012

Simple Pleasures 17

After visiting Cafe Boheme a few weeks ago, I posted a rhetorical question on Twitter along the lines of "avocado on toast - who knew?" The non-rhetorical answer, judging by the number of replies, is "millions of Australians." OK, fair enough, but it's not like avocados are indigenous to Soho, is it? You've got to cut me a little slack here... 

Regardless, the Aussies have got this one spot on. A good piece of toast. Many fork-friendly lumps of squidgily ripe avocado. A scattering of red chillies. A poached egg ready to burst. Salt. Pepper. A squeeze of lemon. A great breakfast / snack / brunch / lunch / supper. Avocado on toast - I salute you. 

5 September 2012

Q-ing Up

And so it begins... As mentioned a few weeks back, this summer signals the start of Grillstock 2013. Well, you can never be too prepared, right? Particularly when the sort of self-set challenge has to cope with living arrangements - second floor flat, no balcony - and the gallons of rain that have made up Summer 2012. 

A few weeks ago, a group of my old college friends, their partners and kids got together for a BBQ. It seemed the perfect opportunity to have a first stab at some of the Grillstock rounds, particularly following a very generous phone call from the lovely Simon at Aubrey Allen. Having seen my Tweets about Grillstock - and having spent a great morning watching their butchers in action earlier in the year - Simon offered some very generous assistance: incredibly generous as it turned out. If I needed some "practice meat", he'd see what they could do. Having never cooked brisket, and knowing the importance of the cut in BBQ competitions, I was keen to have a crack at that. I also wanted to get to grips with "pork butt" which, despite the name, is the shoulder of the pig. "Do you want bone in or off the bone?" asked Simon. Thinking I should do this as old school as possible, I opted for bone in... which is why I returned home a couple of days later to discover two boxes on the doorstep, one of which had a trotter sticking out of it. The trotter turned out to be attached to some nine kilos of pork while the box below contained 12 kilos of brisket - like I say, incredibly generous. And the sort of generosity that required a lot of fridge shelf rearranging... 
Two litre milk bottle shown for scale

Storage wasn't the only logistical problem. The joints were also too big for the BBQs available so a little more butchery was required.  For the brisket, that meant me, a sharp knife and rough sense of how to hack it into workable chunks. For the entire leg of pork, that meant a trip to our excellent local butcher who happily sawed it in half: bet they wouldn't do THAT in Morrison's... 

The results were two pan-sized chunks of meat (plus "spares" or "Sunday lunch for the foreseeable" as I prefer to see them) that would now fit on the BBQ. Before that happened, of course, they had to be seasoned. While the plan for Grillstock 2013 / the magazine piece is a wide variety of recipes that don't all taste the bleeding same, for this first test I wanted traditional and Texan which essentially means dry rubs. Having pored over the ridiculous collection of BBQ books I now possess for that one killer recipe, I decided that the recipes were just a guideline... mostly because a lot of them prescribe pre-made spice mixes that you can't get in the UK or that you can but which require 28 days delivery. Cross referencing a few though and certain flavours - salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, chilli, garlic, onion powder, etc - featured everywhere so I decided I couldn't go too far wrong with variations on all of the above packed in and over the two joints. I also had a few "twists" I could bring to the table: some Indonesian Long Peppers I'd been given by the excellent Peppermongers and also some Raw Liquorice Powder from Lakrids. The Indonesian peppers have a sweetness to them that brings to mind cinnamon, which seemed an appropriate addition to the brisket. The aniseed of liquorice brought to mind the flavour of fennel and we all know how good that is with pork. 

So, rubs were applied, joints were left to absorb the flavours, ovens were fired up, time calculations were made - "if we want to eat this at 2pm tomorrow, it's got to go in about 6pm tonight" - and the "low and slow" began... 

I won't bore with the specifics of these dishes, the monitoring of temperature and a minute-by-minute account of how it cooked. I will though stress the importance of the resting time (much longer than you'd think - and amazingly the brisket was still warm to the touch some five hours off the grill) and to avoid my single biggest mistake, which was the use of the brisket cooking juices rather than the resting juices. The cooking juices were, thanks to the rub, massively salty. The juices that drip out during the two, three hour resting period, are deep and savoury. As a result the first slices were damn near inedible. Cock-up noted though and the remainder was one of the best things I've ever cooked and another reminder - like I / you need one - that if you start with good ingredients, it's very difficult to mess it up entirely. 

It was a similar story with the pork. I learned that I can certainly risk more liquorice powder - there was a fleeting pleasing hit but it needed more, but probably better that way than it tasting like an allsort - and that it could take greater heat in the final stages to get the fat really crisping without drying out the interior. Even so, it was a winner. The bone slid clean out, it fell apart into soft strands and, mixed with some homemade BBQ sauce (with a little habanero-infused peach juice in the ingredients) and the resting juices, it made a knockout sandwich or, er, 73. Seriously, there was a LOT of pork. 

All told then I'm claiming success.Not massive Grillstock-winning success, far from it. But certainly enough to warrant more attempts, more experimentation and more exercise to balance it all out. Oh, the beans were good too and completely vegetarian. Didn't see that coming, did you? There's been a second version of the beans recently too - allotment association BBQ - and feeling pretty good about where that's going...