This week I have been mostly … reading and relishing the pearls of gastronomic wisdom that are Simon Hopkinson’s cookery books. In a matter of days I had devoured both first and second helpings of the epic Roast Chicken and Other Stories. Both copies are now sitting resplendent with a rainbow of legal tags gloriously sticking out of almost every other page as I mark each recipe I plan to try and recreate.
It has also been a week of regrets, nothing too serious and hopefully ones I can remedy. Firstly, regret at having been such an idiot for years and refusing to read recipe books without pretty photography – where was my imagination? – the essays at the start of each of Simon’s chapter conjure more of a taste and visial image than any photo could.
The reading seems to have taken over the cooking and I have so far only managed to recreate one of the masterpieces I have read about. But the recipe, and more importantly the results were reaffirmation of my love for these books.
The name of the dish i recreated, lists nearly all of the components and all 5 would be in my ingredient ‘premier league’: Red kidney beans baked with chorizo, chilli, garlic and olive oil. The dish is incredibly quick and simple – a bit of chopping and then the oven does all the work.
In my usual corner-cutting form I used tinned kidney beans where the official recipe calls for them to be dry, soaked in water overnight, boiled, drained then simmered for an hour and a half– if you have that much time on your hands then no doubt your version will be even more authentic, but I unashamedly admit to reaching for the can opener and the results were still splendid.
In an oven proof pan or casserole, cook 2 finely chopped onions with 4 cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil until they are lightly coloured, add chopped chorizo (i used about two thirds of a small ‘ring’ and cook for a further few minutes until the reddish oil from the chorizo starts to come through. Next, stir in chilli flakes (i used a tablespoon but judge on how spicy you like your food) and sherry (50ml). As I didn’t have any to hand I used a rather odd but again satisfactory combination of Martini Rosso and white wine to mimic the sherry. Finally add the kidney beans and a little water (if you did prepare the beans from dry this should be the cooking water) and stir in a good handful of freshly chopped mint.
I have created what I am calling a ‘Pimms garden’ for the summer which is really just a terracotta pot on my balcony planted with both strawberry and mint. I have yet to harvest the fruits of the strawberry plant, but mint on demand over summer has proved an amazingly helpful resource for jazzing up salads, peas, risottos and even puddings – I highly recommend a ‘grow your own’. The mint is much hardier than basil or coriander which I find never last under my not-very-green-fingered care!
Back to the recipe and after seasoning, place in the oven for around an hour. The book does not indicate an oven temperature – I winged it at 180 degrees but turned the oven down to about 150 after 30 minutes as it seemed to be cooking too quickly on the top. When ready (all the liquid has evaporated) you are left with an incredibly rich and satisfying texture with the amazing garlic and chorizo aroma, where every ingredient seems to have melted into each other. We enjoyed it with a salad and a small dash of sour cream.
My second regret of the week is one that has been niggling at me for some time. Despite my passion for food and eating out, and a great love of wine, I have very little knowledge about how to best pair it with foods. This is a disgrace for anyone of my age who considers themselves a foodie, however in my case it is doubly shameful as I grew up with the privilege of having a wine merchant and lecturer for a father.
Rewind several years and imagine if you can an even moodier, female version of Harry Enfield’s famous Kevin the teenager. I stuffed my brattish fingers in my ears and was ‘bored’ whenever my poor dad tried to talk to us about the amazing wine we were being served or why he had chosen it for that particular dish. My brother, who was far more sensible than me, seems to have soaked up every word and really knows his stuff, whereas I have a lot of catching up to do. Akin to the prodigal son, I have finally seen the error of my ways and my wonderful and forgiving Dad has agreed to be my tutor.
The final kick up the bottom that I needed to set myself on this path to enlightenment was a wonderful event I was invited to this week by the lovely people at Turning Leaf wines. Hosted at La Cucina Caldesi cooking school on Marylebone Lane, the event previewed some amazing recipes created by Turning Leaf winemaker Stephanie Edge and chef Esther Roling to compliment the different varieties of Turning Leaf wines by creating a recipe for each season.
We were greeted with a crisp glass of Pinot Grigio and delicious canapés of fennel and apple salad with pan fried mackerel and lime oil. The crispiness of the salad, zing of the lime and slight fattiness of the mackerel were indeed the perfect partners to the fresh, crisp and citrusy notes of the wine.
This was followed by Chardonnay, a grape I do not always favour, but was pleasantly surprised by the Turning Leaf Chardonnay’s creaminess. The recipe to go with the wine was an absolutely fantastic red mullet with golden Moroccan cous cous – the salty chorizo and sweet onion in the cous cous with the incredibly light textured (despite its meaty appearance) mullet was superb and the chorizo in particular bound all the ingredients together. We were reliably informed that the recipe had been selected as its spicy notes brought out the sweetness of the wine.
Already feeling thoroughly spoilt we went on to taste a Pinot Noir – the nose was almost pure black cherry and the taste was equally fruity while the wine as a whole was quite light. This was my favourite wine of the evening. As time was limited we were not able to taste or cook every recipe, so skipped straight to the next vino in the form of Zinfandel. Again incredibly fruity but this time I thought the nose was more blackberry or blackcurrant than cherry and the overall taste and mouth feel much stronger and richer.
The final wine we tried (luckily I strictly paced myself despite the very generous offers for top ups!) was the Cabernet Sauvignon and the highlight for me food- wise of the night – Rich red beef Carpaccio with a rye bread crumb and – wait for it – I nearly wept when it was announced – parmesan and truffle oil mayonnaise – as you can imagine – heaven on a plate! The combination of textures with the velvety beef and crunchy crisp breadcrumbs with the sweetness of roast tomatoes and the frankly orgasmic truffle and parmesan mayo is not a dish I will forget in a hurry, and the old Cab Sav wasn’t bad either! All in all a great evening both on the night and for inspiring me to kick start my wine pairing education.
If you want to recreate the mackeral or red mullet recipes, visit http://www.turningleafwine.co.uk/Colourful-Entertaining.aspx – the remaining recipes will be added seasonally .
With the bank holiday coming up I have visions of immersing myself in a world of cooking and more importantly eating – highlights of what I have planned include a Thai curry – my final ever attempt, a cocktail challenge and goats cheese popcorn – until next time ….