Starch and Lard

  

  I think pasta was the first thing I really learned to cook properly, graduating from Super Noodles to the real stuff via those powdered-cheesy-sauce-in-a-packet ones (c’mon, they’re delicious) and taking notes along the way. (Disregarding the packet instructions, I would quickly reduce my barbecue beef sauce to a rich coating consistency, or mess around with butter:milk ratios – a foodie even then). I ate a LOT of pasta, perfecting the basics – the deep boil of the water, the cupped palmful of salt needed, the slick of oil or butter at the end – and still really like it for itself, rather than just a vehicle for sauce. A bowl of spaghetti with plenty of black pepper and cheese is one of my favourite meals.

Although I’m less inclined to eat huge expanses of starch these days, pasta is still my go-to quick dinner, my need-to-line-the-stomach-but-there’s-nothing-in-the-house fix, and as such I have a small but honed repertoire of very quick dressings for it. (I think pasta sauces should be either ridiculously long-winded – ragus of rabbit / ox cheek – or ready in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Anything in the middle isn’t really worth messing around with). The classic here is spaghetti with garlic and chilli, but I’m not going to sit here and give you a recipe for that; I’m also a big fan of the Sicilian sautéed brassica school. This, though, is my current favourite, born of the few oddities I had in an otherwise empty kitchen. There’s nothing worse than food writers talking about their ‘store cupboard’ dishes, assuming you have salted anchovies and the rinds of fine cheeses knocking about the place, so I won’t call it that. It was, though.

SPAGHETTI, PIG FAT, PICKLED GARLIC & BREADCRUMBS

For one

100g spaghetti

75g salted pork fat, diced (lardo or salo, depending on where you’re shopping)

2 cloves pickled garlic, sliced

a pinch of chilli flakes

a splash of balsamic vinegar

a handful of dried breadcrumbs (pangrattato, if you’re buying them)

salt and pepper

I assume you know the pasta drill; a deep pan of water, a good teaspoon of salt, a proper rolling boil. If I’m cooking spaghetti for one and therefore not in a huge pan, I like to break it in half before adding it to the water. You might feel that defeats the point of spaghetti, though.

When that’s on, put the pork fat in a cold frying pan and heat gently. When some of it has rendered out, add the garlic and chilli, and increase the heat, tossing it around to get colour on both the garlic and fat. When they’re nicely sautéed, add a splash of vinegar and let it reduce slightly. Put aside til the pasta’s done.

When it is, drain it, keeping a bit of the cooking water, and tip back into the pan with the fat and bits, and a spoonful of the reserved water. Give a good stir, and add the breadcrumbs, a load of pepper, and some salt if it needs it. Some parsley might be appropriate here too, but I didn’t have any.

Meat Free Week?

Strange though it might seem, I’m doing a series of blogs in support of Meat Free Week, starting today and running til Friday. Before you fling accusations of hypocrisy at me, let me explain myself a little. My blogs are for World Land Trust, who are involved in the project for reasons of conservation; specifically, the deforestation required globally to house and feed the hordes of livestock we eat.

The aim is to encourage people to think about where their food comes from and to eat less and better meat – wild or happily farmed, local or sustainable – and although some of my recipes will be fully vegetarian, others will look at different ways of consuming meat, as I always try to. I hope this is a thing that people can get on board with.

You can read my first guest blog here; more about the WLT’s involvement here; and have a read about MFW in general over here. I promise not to get too preachy.

Rabbit, Rabbit

photo Apologies for the rather long break (I’m sure you’ve all been on tenterhooks). I’ve just started a new job and have been rather busy testing dishes, writing menus, and pickling lots of things, so while I’ve had plenty of new recipes to share, I haven’t had the time to write anything about them. Even if I did, I’m not sure a lot of them would translate that well into the home-cooking format – like a lot of professional recipes they are broadly split between “take a lot of expensive and hard-to-source-ingredients and put them on a plate” and “subject cheap ingredients to a three-day process of dismemberment”. Still, I feel I’ve got to write about something, and putting things on a plate wouldn’t be very interesting, so dismemberment it is. This recipe uses one of my very favourite meats, and is one I’ve been working on – I don’t like to say refining, but certainly improving – for the last few years. Despite the increasing fashionability of game, rabbit is still pretty cheap to buy, and is a plentiful and guilt-free meat, the things being a pest in most of the country. Like most wild meat, though, it does need careful cooking, and can be a stringy and unpleasant eating experience if handled badly. This recipe is designed to minimise that possibility. People seem to treat the cooking of game as if it’s some great mystery, requiring an almost magical touch in the kitchen; basically, though, the meat is both hard-working – think how much a rabbit runs in its short life – and lean, and requires a healthy dose of moisture and fat to help it along. In this, as in so much, pigs are your friend. So. This is a lengthy process, but none of it is particularly hands-on, and is, I think, worth it. (I would say that though). To shorten things a little I’ve assumed that you’ll get the rabbit jointed, although as this is a satisfying procedure in its own right, I do suggest you give it a go sometime.

RABBIT RAGOUT

Happily serves four.

DAY ONE

All this can be done some time in advance.

TROTTER JELLY

3 pig feet (you’re not using the flesh for this, so don’t worry about shaving them)

2 onions

2 sticks of celery

2 fat carrots 2 leeks

1 head of garlic

A few cloves, peppercorns & juniper berries

Put the feet in a large pan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Blanch for about 15 minutes, to drive off some of the scum. I’ve skipped this step before and ended up with a pan of sickly green, so please do it. Chop the veg into chunks, washing the leeks, and halve the garlic along its tummy. Drain the feet, rinse off any clinging scum, then put all in the pan and cover with fresh water. Bring to a bright simmer, and leave there for at least three hours, maybe more, until the trotters have completely collapsed, with bones poking all over the place. Drain the stock into jars or tubs, and discard the solids somewhere that won’t attract rats. Leave to cool, then refrigerate.

BRINE

300g fine sea salt (not table salt; it’s got stuff added to it)

200g granulated sugar

2 cloves of garlic, lightly squashed

A few cloves, juniper berries and peppercorns

Put everything in a pan, cover with two litres of water, and heat gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and boil for a couple of minutes. Leave to cool, then refrigerate this too.

DAY TWO 2 wild rabbits, jointed

The brine

Put the rabbits in the brine, or the brine on the rabbit. Weigh down with a plate or something, and put in the fridge.

DAY THREE RABBIT Brined rabbit (you don’t need the saddles for this; they are much more tender and quick to cook than the legs, so save them for something else)

1 onion

1 fat carrot

1 stick of celery

1 leek

trotter jelly

chicken stock (if you have some)

Again, chunk the veg, and use them to make a rabbit bed in a suitable pan. Drain the rabbit, and rinse under running water for a good few minutes, then arrange the joints on their bed. Add enough trotter jelly to cover the rabbit once melted; it might need a top-up with stock or water. Cover and braise gently for a couple of hours, until the meat starts to fall off the bone.

SAUCE

1 large onion, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

1 stick of celery, finely diced

1 lemon, zest only

2 sprigs of thyme, stripped

2 tblspn tomato puree 100ml full-fat milk

50ml white balsamic or other nice vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

Sweat the vegetables in a good slosh of oil until very soft, then stir in the zest and thyme leaves and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add the puree, increase the heat, and fry for a minute or two. Turn down again, add the milk, and let it bubble away to nothing, then do the same with the vinegar.

TO FINISH

rabbit sauce

a handful of chopped parsley Shred the rabbit meat of the bones and add to the sauce, then strain in enough of the braising liquid to just cover. Simmer until everyone seems happy together, then serve with something bright and green, and polenta or pasta.