8 October 2012

Spelt Incorrectly...

A pattern often emerges when I'm following a recipe. Somehow, despite kitchen cupboards heaving with random things, a spice collection that's extended across one and half shelves AND an entire draw and an allotment that's producing all sorts of lovely veg, whenever I come to a specific recipe, I'm always missing a key ingredient. 

As mentioned several times already, I've gone willingly to the dark side of - clutch on to your integrity dear innocents! - sponsored blog posts. The price? San Daniele Prosciutto and Grana Padano Cheese. The moral dilemma (ahem) was debated and dismissed here. It's not like I'm endorsing something I don't like and don't buy on a regular basis. If you ever see me celebrating Marmite or Iceland Prawn Rings, then you have my permission to shun me but until that point... besides, it's not like I haven't gone on about cheese and ham here before. The blog - like me, probably - is about 80% cheese and ham. 

The next recipe I'd agreed to test was Risotto al Radicchio con prosciutto di San Daniele e formaggio Grana Padano, and no, I won't insult you with a translation. It's another recipe from Giancarlo Caldesi and the ingredients are pretty straightforward (serves six): 

1 banana shallot or half a medium red onion
150g butter (125g at start, 25g at end)
50ml olive oil
1 radicchio (150g), finely shredded, or, if you cannot find this, try chicory (also known as endive)
50ml sunflower oil
200g carnaroli rice
100ml red wine
50g Grana Padano Cheese, finely grated
150g Prosciutto di San Daniele, cubed
2 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
Drizzle of good aged balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Can you guess what I was missing? Nothing major, just, er, the rice. As a lover of risotto, there are very few days of the year when the cupboard doesn't contain at least one packet of carnaroli or arborio. This though was one of them. I could have nipped out to a local supermarket and we have an excellent little Italian deli pretty much over the road (next door to Majestic Wine - seriously, could we be more North London?) but as I may have mentioned before, we're on a bit of a mission. When I say our cupboards are full of randomness, I mean they're full of randomness and, for the next few weeks, we've made a vow to stop buying new stuff and have a clear out of cupboards and freezer. We're allowing ourselves to buy the basics - bread, when we don't make it, milk, fruit - but, where possible, it's time to empty the shelves of the assorted dried noodles, oddball pastas and things I've been sent or have purchased on a whim. I reckon we've got about six weeks of reasonable dining there... and then a fortnight of utter weirdness. 

So, no carnaroli wasn't a big problem as I did have a packet of Sharpham Park's excellent spelt which makes an excellent, slightly nutty alternative and behaves pretty much the same way in the pan. 

As with the previous recipe, this starts by frying the Prosciutto di San Daniele in sunflower oil until it's crispy. If you can resist the smell - you have no idea - you leave this to drain on kitchen paper, while you prepare the main event. 

In a large pan, melt the b utter and oil together, and fry the onion until soft, with the thyme. Add the radicchio and Prosciutto di San Daniele - the recipe calls for cubed but I used the usual thin slices torn into strips - and fry together for a few minutes. Remove the time, and add the rice / spelt, stirring it into the onion and radicchio and then, a couple of minutes later, adding the wine. Stir for around three minutes, then start adding the stock, stirring over a medium heat, adding more stock when you can see the bottom of the pan. But you probably knew that.

The next bit is pretty much up to you. After 20 minutes or so, taste the risotto / spelt-er-otto, and check the texture. If it's how you like it, stop adding stock and remove from the heat. If you prefer something a little soupier, add more stock, keep going: your pan, your rules. Season to taste, stir in the cheese and butter, then serve drizzled with balsamic. And, frankly, more Grana Padano: it's not a salad, is it? 

 The result? Seriously comforting bowls of loveliness. When making it again, I might keep some of the Prosciutto di San Daniele back and add it at the end, to keep more of that crispiness, and will perhaps try endive instead of the radicchio as I felt that flavour got a little lost. Hell, I might even buy some carnaroli...

3 October 2012

La Vide Loca

You know those days when everything clicks? I had one of those a few weeks back. In the space of a few minutes, two e mails dropped into the inbox. The first was from Sous Vide Supreme asking if I'd like to have a play with a sous vide machine? The second was from Blackberry Farm, UK breeders of black footed pigs, telling me they'd recently slaughtered a couple of pigs and could they send me some meat? 

The answers, in both cases, was obviously "YES" and in a massive font size and with a number of exclamation marks normally only seen in teenage girls' diaries. In geeky food-loving terms e mails like those are like getting all six numbers. 

 There will be many posts relating to the sous vide in due course, particularly in advance of Grillstock preparation for 2013. I'm told that short ribs are particularly amazing when given the water bath treatment for many hours. I've only had a couple of dabbles with it so far, the best being a combination with Blackberry Farm's incredible pork. As well as some incredible bacon - and if you've seen better crispy bacon than this recently I want to know where - the parcel also contained a couple of chops, the likes of which I've never seen. A sous vide machine. Those chops. An allotment BBQ to run some 24 hours later. You can probably tell where this is going... 

The chops were vaccuum sealed with some traditional BBQ-friendly herbs and spices (cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, a sprinkle of chilli powder) and a spoonful of something not so traditional (Lakrids liquorice powder which is a new obsession c/o Harvey Nichols) and then dropped into the sous vide, at 60 degrees, for around 24 hours. 

By the time they came out, the fat was soft and melty and, all that remained was to char them on the grill for a few minutes each side. I'm guessing the meat would have cooked brilliantly without the additional flourish - these guys do seriously good meat - but that slow infusion, the smoke and the char made these chops one of the best things I've eaten all year.