Category: Starters

Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes

April 30th, 2013 — 7:04pm

Oxford, despite being a rather famous and much visited city, doesn’t really have many good restaurants. At least, it didn’t when I lived there for a good five years and I haven’t really heard any news to the contrary since. Maybe I’m out of touch.

One diamond in the rough used to be The Magdalen Arms, a pub on Iffley Road, which served food that was everything pub grub should be but rarely is; un-fussed and generous, yet skilfully cooked. I remember a resplendent crab, nothing more than plunged into boiling water and served whole, ready to be worked over, the meat dipped in quivering mayonnaise. We sat in the sunshine and cracked, delved and mined its nooks and crannies for meat, rocking around in our seats on the back of copious amounts of rosé.

Another highlight was a stuffed artichoke, leaves splayed and crammed fat with goats’ cheese, herbs and breadcrumbs, shiny with olive oil. We teased away the leaves and sucked the creamy, intense stuffing from them. This was probably about 3 years ago and the dish still enters my thoughts occasionally, hence, this recipe.

Once the leaves are sucked clean, there is of course the sweet, soft heart to be had. A lovely, leisurely starter.

Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes (serves 2-4, depending on appetite)

2 large or 4 smaller globe artichokes
1 thick slice stale white bread, whizzed into breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
125g ricotta and 50g feta OR 175g goats cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus one more for cooking

Snip the tips off the artichokes leaves and stems, turn them upside down and give them a good rap on the counter top to make the leaves splay out a bit. Give them a bit more encouragement to open up using your fingers, then keep them in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. This supposedly stops them from going brown, although they always seem to do it anyway.

Prepare the stuffing by mixing everything together and adding some salt and pepper. Stuff the mixture into the gaps between the leaves then arrange the artichokes in a pan where they fit snugly, you don’t want them moving about in there. The advice is not to cook them in a pan made of reactive metal such as iron or aluminium, again because it makes them discolour although again, I find they do anyway.

Fill the pan with water so it comes about a third to halfway up the artichokes and add the other tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and put a lid on. Cook for 25 minutes, or until the leaves come away without too much resistance.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so, then serve. With napkins. Lots.

19 comments » | Cheese, Starters, Vegetables

Georgian Spinach Pkhali

April 9th, 2013 — 10:23am

Life has been a whirlwind recently. Aside from writing a book, doing my normal job and studying, I thought it would be a great idea to move house. Totally sensible.

Of course, I had flu at the same time as packing up the entirety of my belongings and shifting them from one place to another, which then evolved into suspected malaria (I’d been to Ethiopia). I haven’t told my mum that yet so when she reads this she’ll kill me. Anyway mum it turned out I don’t have it, because some things are actually, sometimes, genuinely, too dramatic to happen to me.

The point is that I’ve moved to Camberwell. I have betrayed Peckham. Well, sort of. If I walk about ten paces to the left then I am still actually in Peckham so I’ve decided I now live on the Peckham/Camberwell borders/badlands and I am entitled to enjoy the best of both worlds. There are several awesome things about the new world however. The first is that I am spitting distance from Silk Road and F M Mangal. Dangerous. The second is that I have discovered the Turkish Food Centre on Camberwell New Road where I basically just went mental, flinging money about and grabbing stuff off the shelves like a crazed, food-shopping-starved dervish which, essentially, I have been. I bought lots of things to go with spinach, which I’ve been obsessing about. I think it’s part of needing to get some vitamins in. Not being settled in one place can really balls up your eating, by which I mean there’s been a lot of eating out, buying crap or just not being organised or happy enough to even consider making anything like a decent packed lunch.

So, the spinach. As you will know (because I keep banging on about it), I went to Georgia and properly fell in love with the country and the food. I’ve therefore been thinking about making these little spinach and walnut balls, called pkhali, for yonks. This month’s issue of Saveur had a 4 or 5 page spread on Georgia (all of a sudden the food is getting attention) and they had a recipe so I gave it a whirl.

I have to say, it tasted pretty authentic, although there are a couple of amendments which I’d say are pretty crucial to consider. Firstly, they advise puréeing the spinach which I’d strongly suggest you don’t do. All the pkhali I ate in Georgia had a very satisfying coarse texture. I’d also say it is essential to let the mixture rest overnight in the fridge. Other than that, the recipe is pretty spot on. The final result is a lovely punchy vegetable spread, with a richness from the ground walnuts and plenty of flavour from the herbs, coriander and tarragon (very Georgian) and the ground fenugreek.

You can make pkhali with any vegetables really, and the Georgians also commonly use beets, which make a lovely colour contrast against the spinach if you’re planning your own supra.

This mixture improves the longer you leave it in the fridge and I’d say it will keep for up to a week.

Georgian Spinach Pkhali (adapted from Saveur)

600g spinach (the proper, big ballsy stuff; I’m done with baby spinach)
180g shelled walnuts
1 generous handful coriander leaves
1 generous handful tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek (I crushed the seeds in a pestle and mortar)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 spring onions
1 heaped teaspoon chilli flakes (I used Turkish)
1 pomegranate, for garnish

Chop the stalks off the spinach and then wash the leaves really well. Chuck it into a large pan while it is still wet, put a lid on and set it over a low heat. Let it slowly wilt down, stirring every now and then, until it is all wilted. Allow it to cool completely (the easiest way to do this is to spread it out on a plate). When cool, squeeze out as much water from the spinach as possible. You will be amazed at the amount of water that has come out and by how much the spinach is now reduced in size. I went from a pile of spinach that covered this whole board to this ball you see below…

Pound the walnuts in a pestle and mortar until they are more or less all crushed to a powder (a few chunks here and there are fine). Mix the walnuts with the spinach and all the other ingredients, plus plenty of salt (more than you think necessary) and pepper.

Mix really well, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, shape into balls about the size of a golf ball and make a small indent in the top of each one with your fingertip. Place a pomegranate seed in each. Serve with bread or toast for spreading. Ideally khachapuri.

21 comments » | Georgia, Nibbles, Snacks, Starters, Vegan, Vegetables

Hickory smoked hot wings with sour cream slaw

August 8th, 2011 — 11:34am

The first time I made hot wings they were good, but not hot enough. I wanted try again using the authentic, not very secret ingredient, Frank’s Original Hot Sauce. I also wanted to try my hand at smoking them so I sensed the opportunity for an Amazon binge and bought: 3 bottles of Frank’s, a tub of Old Bay Seasoning, a Weber chimney starter and a pack of hickory wood chips.

I would encourage anyone who owns a half decent BBQ with a lid to buy some wood chips for smoking immediately, if you haven’t already. There were almost tears of joy when we lifted the lid to find a rack of wings turned orange with hickory smoke; I was amazed at the results you can achieve with just a regular home kettle BBQ.

I’d marinated the wings overnight in herbs and seasonings, then smoked them for 25 minutes a side over indirect heat with the hickory chips thrown in. They emerged crisp and burnished brown, ready for a good plunge into a combo of Frank’s Original and melted butter before going back on the grill, over direct heat for another 20 minutes. To finish, a final lick of that sauce and straight onto the plate.

The smoking, together with the sweet, vinegar-chilli punch of Frank’s (it’s like a thick Tabasco) cut with velvety butter, makes the flavour incredibly intense – not to mention sticky. A mound of discarded kitchen paper stained orange with sauce rose before us as we worked our way, just the 2 of us, through 24 wings.

It seemed appropriate to cut the heat and umami with something a little sharp, a little creamy; a cool, crunchy pit stop between wings. Slaw. This is a classic mix of carrot, white cabbage and red onion; the sauce a mix of sour cream, natural yoghurt, a smidge of American mustard and my secret ingredient – a slosh of juice from a jar of dill cucumbers, which adds a lovely spiced-sweet pickled note.

Later on, we deep-fried more pickles and shoved them into a sandwich with shredded wing meat and slaw. So gluttonous. So unhealthy. So. Good.

Hickory Smoked Hot Wings

26-30 chicken wings

For the marinade

2 cloves garlic
1 white onion
3 teaspoons thyme leaves
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1.5 teaspoons ground black pepper

For the sauce

1 bottle plus 2 tablespoons Frank’s Original Hot Sauce (that’s about 12 tablespoons in total)
125g butter

You will also need hickory chips for smoking the meat.

Begin the day before by marinating the wings. Put the onion in a blender with the garlic and 1-2 tablespoons water and blend to a paste. Put into a large bowl (the one you will use to hold the wings) and add all the other marinade ingredients. Mix well. Add the wings and mix really well to make sure they are all evenly coated. Refrigerate overnight.

When you’re ready to cook the wings, remove them from the fridge to bring the temperature up and set up your BBQ for indirect cooking; this means lighting the coals to one side (you will cook the meat on the other side). Take a couple of handfuls of hickory chips and soak them in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

When the BBQ is ready, sprinkle a handful of chips directly onto the coals and put your wings on the other side in a single layer (you may need to do 2 batches as I did). Put the lid on (leave the holes half open) and smoke for 25 minutes. After this time, turn the wings and sprinkle on a few more chips.

Melt the butter and hot sauce together in a pan (don’t be alarmed at the strength of it, this will be tamed somewhat once on the wings). Remove half of it to a bowl and dunk the wings in it, then return to the grill, this time directly over the coals for about 10 minutes each side, until well charred. Dunk again in the sauce before serving. Get the kitchen paper ready.

Sour cream slaw

1/4 white cabbage, very finely shredded
1 medium sized carrot, grated, julienned or shredded in a processor
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
3 heaped tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1 teaspoon American mustard
1 tablespoon snipped chives
2 tablespoons juice from a jar of dill pickled cucumbers
Salt and pepper

If you can use a food processor to finely shred the vegetables, do. I used a julienne peeler for the carrot and just finely sliced the onion and cabbage by hand. Put the veg in a large bowl. In another bowl, make the dressing by mixing together all the remaining ingredients. Mix this well with the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper.

42 comments » | Barbecue, Beer, Meat, Pickles, Salads, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Side Dishes, Snacks, Starters, Street Food

Wedge salad with blue cheese dressing & candied bacon

July 11th, 2011 — 8:12pm

I just love how the Americans cut a big wedge of iceberg, drench it in blue cheese dressing and then call it a salad. Respect.

I’m rather fond of the poor old iceberg. It doesn’t have any flavour to speak of but as a big ol’ wedge of crunch, no lettuce does it better. So, you take a quarter of the lettuce and drench it; yes, drench it, in a blue cheese and sour cream dressing. Dribble. You’ll need something to offset all that richness and tang though, so why not sprinkle on a handful of sweet ‘n salty pig-candy pieces? Oh yes indeedy. Picture this: kerrrunch down through that wedge; creamy, salty; nuggets of blue cheese sneaking into every layer but then, hang on what’s this? Chewy shards of sticky, streaky candied bacon, that’s what. Salad garnish crack.

Caramelised walnuts would make a lovely alternative to the bacon but I wasn’t allowed to make those because that would have taken up time I could have been using to make more candied bacon.

Wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and candied bacon (serves 4)

1 iceberg lettuce (try to get a nice round one so your wedges look good)
150g blue cheese (I used Roquefort)
200ml sour cream
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus extra just in case; I found I wanted a little more)
1 teaspoon mustard (I used Dijon)
1 tablespoon chives, snipped with scissors

For the candied bacon

8 rashers streaky bacon
1-2 teaspoons of sugar per bacon rasher, depending on size

First candy the bacon by laying the rashers out on a baking tray and sprinkling the sugar evenly over them. Whack them under a hot grill until crisp and caramelised. Wipe the rashers around in the stick juices that have accumulated in the tray, turn them over and cook the other side. Watch them like a hawk once you’ve turned them as they will caramelise extremely fast. Once cooked, remove and let cool on a wire rack. Don’t let the pieces touch each other as they will stick together.

Crush the garlic with a teeny pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar until creamy. Blend the garlic with all the other dressing ingredients together in a bowl. You can do this with a blender if you like but I like my blue cheese dressing quite chunky so I mash it in a bowl to achieve the right consistency; it’s nice to get the odd nugget of cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper if you like; the cheese will already be quite salty. Taste again and add a little more lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Remove any manky outer leaves from your iceberg and quarter it. Wash it. Arrange each wedge on a plate, dollop on the blue cheese dressing. Cut the bacon into pieces and sprinkle over. Serve.

26 comments » | Barbecue, Dressings, Salads, Side Dishes, Starters, Vegetables

Salmon Tartare

April 28th, 2011 — 2:38pm


I’ve been enjoying the luxury of a few days off, taking full advantage of the fact that I can wander up to the fishmonger whenever I damn well feel like it. Yesterday, I craved something light but still a bit special; salmon tartare seemed to fit the bill.

I’ve long been of the opinion that salmon is best eaten raw. It has such a firm, silky texture and a clean flavour. When heat is applied, there is a very fine line between perfectly semi-translucent flakes and minging mush. This recipe is of course a fishy variation on beef tartare. The flavours are pretty much the same; tangy ingredients like capers and gherkins, herbs, onion and Tabasco all go as well with salmon as they do with beef, although you’ll want to skip the standard raw egg yolk. With fish, I think it’s nicer to cut chunks rather than mincing it quite small as you would with meat.

This is a lovely way to eat salmon in the summer when you want something cool and refreshing or can’t bear the thought of heat from a grill. Just make sure to buy your fish from a good fishmonger and let them know you’ll be eating it raw; although the citrus juice will partly cook the fish, you want the freshest piece possible.

I sometimes do an Asian twist on this, swapping lemon for lime juice and using shallot, chilli, coriander, soy and sesame oil. If you try this variation, mackerel works really well in place of salmon.

Salmon Tartare (feeds 1 greedy person)

200g salmon fillet, skinned (make sure to check with the fishmonger that it can be eaten raw)
1/2-1 teaspoon red onion or shallot, very finely chopped
1/2 – 1 teaspoon capers, very finely chopped
1/2 – 1 teaspoon parsley, very finely chopped
1 small gherkin, very finely chopped
A squeeze of lemon juice
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
A few shakes of Tabasco
Salt and pepper

Chop the salmon into small chunks. Mix in all the other ingredients then cover and let sit for about 10 minutes. Stir again and serve with toasted rye or other bread. You may want to add more condiments after tasting.

12 comments » | Fish, Fish and Seafood, Main Dishes, Seafood, Starters

Corn fritters

September 14th, 2010 — 6:38pm

I usually serve these with bacon. It’s sweet n salty amazing. This scotch bonnet salsa is also lovely, but there’s a clear lack of pork in the picture and for that I apologise.

Corn is dirt cheap right now and I constantly hear it begging me to shear it from the cob and fritter the living daylights out of it. The fresh stuff really keeps its succulence but canned and frozen will also work. There are all sorts of things you could add to the mix; Simon suggested cockles, which I’m dying to try. Salt fish is a favourite, if a little more effort. Often though I prefer a simple recipe – a touch of spice, a little spring onion and fresh herbs; it’s all about the corn.

Fiona Beckett asked me to contribute a recipe to her student cooking site, Beyond Baked Beans and so this is it. The recipe is easy, fun to make and when served with bacon and perhaps an egg, one of the best hangover cures known to woman. What more could a student want from a meal? If you can stomach it though, there’s literally no better accompaniment than an ice cold beer.

Corn Fritters

140g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
220ml milk
3 large corn cobs
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 spring onions, finely sliced
A small handful of fresh herbs, such as mint, coriander or parsley
If you’re not serving this with a hot sauce, try adding a finely chopped red chilli in the batter
Salt and pepper

Vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying

Sift the flour into a large bowl with the baking powder. Pour in the milk and mix well to make a smooth batter.

Remove any outer papery husk and strings from the corn cobs then stand one on its end on a chopping board and carefully run your knife down one side to remove the kernels. Repeat this until all the kernels are stripped off and then add them to the batter. Add the egg, spices and spring onion and season with two large pinches each of salt and pepper.

Heat a 1cm depth of oil in a heavy based frying pan or skillet and wait until it starts shimmering, but not smoking. Turn the heat to medium-high. Drop a tablespoon of the batter into the oil at a time and immediately flatten it out into a round fritter shape. It will take a few minutes to turn golden on the underneath – you can then flip it over and brown the other side. Be wary as the oil will spit a little and splash as you turn them. Set aside to drain of excess oil on kitchen paper then keep warm in an oven on its lowest setting while you make the rest. Don’t be tempted to try and put too many in the pan at once.

Serve with bacon. And perhaps egg. Or anything else you fancy.

13 comments » | Beer, Breakfast, Brunch, Dips, Main Dishes, Peckham, Salsa, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Side Dishes, Starters, Vegetables

Roast chicken and bread salad

September 1st, 2010 — 9:44pm

Apparently there is a place in San Francisco that serves a chicken and bread salad and is famous for it. I dunno, I’ve never been to America but that’s what I found when I googled the recipe to see if anyone else had got there first.

Original or not, it’s definitely one of the most delicious salads I’ve ever made. I love how it’s not really in any way healthy. There are two important things to remember when making it, and that is to buy good chicken (free-range, doesn’t have to be organic) and really good bread. With a recipe this simple, the ingredients need to shine, cliché or not. Burnished, crackling chicken skin is glazed with lemon and honey and seasoned a little bit too much. Bread from St. John is robust and when torn into pieces, drizzled with the chicken drippings and lightly toasted, turns into chewy half-croutons; crisp in some places, moist with meaty juices in others. Cue that noise that Homer Simpson would make if he were daydreaming about a heap of doughnuts, skewered with fried chicken wings, stacked on a giant table made from icy Duff.

Watercress is just the right leaf for the salad I think, not too bolshy. Curly endive also works. For the dressing, it’s mild mustard, a touch more honey to sweeten and then let yourself go with the lemon. That rush of acidity really makes it work.

There are various bits and pieces you could add I suppose but personally, the furthest I’ll go is a few barely-existent slithers of spring onion. It’s all about the flavour of that bird.

Oh, and there’s a matching wine. Yeah, you heard me. Ben asked me to come up with a dish to match a Raimat Vina 27 Chardonnay. I was worried it wouldn’t have enough acidity to cut the richness of chicken skin but it stepped up well. Apple and citrus were predominant flavours and I’m pleased I didn’t go with the obvious choice of fish. Having to plan a dish before you’ve tasted a wine is a challenge, particularly for a novice like me. It’s all about reigning yourself in I suppose and not over-complicating flavours. Start out modest and work your way up, and then when you get a bit good, you can pare it all back down again because at the end of the day, the simplest pleasures are often the best.

Roast Chicken and Bread Salad

1 x 2kg  free range chicken
200g really good, dense bread (I used St. John’s white loaf which has the texture of sourdough but without the sourness)
A couple of handfuls of watercress
1 large lemon and possibly another
1 generous tablespoon honey
A few cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/2 spring onion, sliced very thinly

For the dressing

Juice of half a large lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 teaspoon mild mustard
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 6

Put your bird in a roasting tin and scatter the garlic cloves around it. Peel the zest from half the lemon then scatter this around the bird too and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Warm the honey gently to make it runny then mix this with the lemon juice and brush the mixture all over the bird. Season it heavily, all over and then roast for 30 minutes. Turn the heat down to 160C/gas 3 and roast for another 20-30 minutes. The bird is cooked when the juices run clear when you insert a skewer sideways into the thickest part of the leg.

Remove the bird from the tray and allow to cool. Remove the majority of the crust from the bread and tear it into bite sized pieces. Put the pieces in a bowl and spoon over about 3 tablespoons of the chicken drippings. use your hands to give it a good mix about then pop them into the oven for a few minutes until lightly toasted, but not too crisp – you still want a good bit of chew.

To make the dressing, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard and honey together and season with salt and pepper. Give it a good whisking to emulsify the mixture.

Arrange the watercress on a plate, then arrange some of the bread pieces and chicken on top. Make sure to get plenty of crisp skin. Scatter over a few spring onion pieces if you fancy then drizzle with the dressing and serve. I’m jealous.

13 comments » | Bread, Main Dishes, Meat, Salads, Starters

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