Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ricotta & Spinach Ravioli with Sage Butter

I learned to make ravioli and sage butter from Chef Steve Watts, after my first attempt ended up a squishy disaster and put me off making them for several years. They were effortless to make this time though, I think storing them individually and coating them with semolina was the best tip, and a firmer dough really helps. 
I wouldn't necessarily make these for a workday but they are a lovely weekend treat. They don't take too long to make and taste wonderful, but they are not particularly healthy!

I'm assuming that you've already made your pasta and that it's resting in the fridge. Ravioli is best made with slightly dryer, tougher pasta than my usual recipe. I used 2 eggs to 300g pasta and added a little water to bring it together. Kneaded it as much as I could until it had a texture not unlike cold blue-tack. This made a hearty dinner for 2 people, with enough left over to make tagliatelle to dry for later in the week.

Take a bag of spinach and cook through, using a mere suggestion of water to start them off; you want the leaves as dry as possible when they go into the filling. Once cooked, lay them out on a clean teatowel and pat dry.

Use a pair of scissors to cut the spinach into a bowl along with a pot of ricotta, lots of grated nutmeg, pepper and a small pinch of salt. Mix them up and that's the filling done. Try not to eat it all before it goes into the pasta.

Roll out your pasta sheets and pile a small teaspoon of the filling at regular intervals along each strip's length, placing them off-center, nearer the bottom edge. Dab your finger into a saucer of water and dampen the edges and in between the dots of filling, then fold the top half over the bottom half and firm down with the sides of your hands. Press down pretty firmly to make sure they are sealed, then cut into squares with a sharp knife. Sprinkle semolina over a clean tray, lay each ravioli out separately and sprinkle with more semolina.

When you're finished, boil up a huge pan of water and put a sizeable amount of salt in, then add the ravioli. They don't take long to do so keep an eye on them - when they're all floating at the top that's a good sign, a bit like gnocci. 

Put a nice, sizeable hunk of butter in a small pan and heat it up until it's bubbling away nicely, then add in a load of fresh sage leaves and cook until the butter is a lovely dark golden colour and the leaves are crispy.
Drain the ravioli out and lay on your plates. Use a spoon to drizzle the sage butter over the top, serve and then promise yourself you'll go to the gym in the morning.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Hedonethical Holidays: Sopley Farm Wigwam, Dorset

This is Part II of the Hedonethical Holidays post, you can click here to go to Part I. We stayed in a wigwam / tipi on Sopley Farm in Dorset. Truly this is the other end of the price scale, with the tipi and pitch costing just £40 a night for two of us; the usual cost is £50 per night, however I believe we were given a discount due to there being just two people. The tipi could, technically, sleep six; for comfort, I wouldn't recommend going above four though.

Glamping this is not. There are definitely both positives and negatives to this sort of camping holiday, especially if you find yourself battling inclement weather as we did; however, if you are a relatively flexible person and inclined to make the best of things, then you'll have an absolutely marvellous time.

Here are the main ethical positives:
  1. Again, the location, in the Uk.
  2. No electricity, heating or hot water, so you can't use (or overuse) any!
  3. If the weather is dry you can gather your own wood from the forest floor for the fire.
  4. Self-catering, so you're less likely to contribute to food and energy wastage.
  5. Few harsh cleaning products are likely to have been used at the site.
  6. Local free range eggs, organic fruit and vegetables are available from the Pick Your Own farm or shop. The Barn Owl farm shop just down the road also sells locally reared meat (you can see the pigs and cows for yourself) and organic tinned produce such as beans and tomatoes.
  7. Items like towels, soap and other toiletries are all bring-your-own, so you won't be using unneccessary miniature bottles, new hand soaps or getting your towels boil washed every day.
And the main hedonistic ones:
  1. No pitching and dismantling your own tent and the tipi is much bigger than all but the most expensive tents, you can easily walk around standing inside. 
  2. Parking right next to the pitch, with some gravel on the ground to prevent sinking.
  3. Absolutely gorgeous surroundings with plenty of wildlife and, in the right weather, stunning sunsets. While we were there we saw (or heard) rabbits, squirrels, barn owls, tawny owls, a kingfisher, ducks, geese, bats and suspected badgers and hedgehogs. There are also domestic pigs, cows and deer to see locally.
  4. Eating (and drinking) round an open fire, a true pleasure. Especially a jacket potato cooked in foil. And noone says that you can't bring a bottle of champagne if you want to!
    Using a combination of the fire and a small gas stove we were able to eat very well, including lentil dal, pasta, mixed bean casserole and
    fresh raspberry compote for toasted crumpets.
  5. Little "beaches" around the lake, ostensibly for anglers to fish from, but we took one over for playing mah jong and it was lovely.
  6. The Woolpack pub is a short way away. Be warned though, the kitchens don't open until 6pm. They allowed us to charge our mobile phones for £1, although I don't think this is a regular request.
  7. The fruit and veg from the farm are delicious and the super fresh bantam and duck eggs are among the best I've tasted.
  8. The farmer who owns the pitch also runs a deer safari which is absolutely fantastic.
  9. Peace and quiet - mostly. Outside of the sounds of wildlife, you may occasionally be disturbed by a family out on a walk, a couple of chatty anglers or (around this time of year) the ongoing drone of a combine harvester in the distance.
  10. For a pitch near an open body of water there were very few mosquitos.
  11. JCBs, John Deeres and various other tractors and combine harvesters. If you like that sort of thing. There's also a tank somewhere, but we didn't get to see it.
 And now for the negatives, ethical first:
  1.  You will probably use quite a lot of batteries to light the tipi at night, you can recycle them though.
  2. A gas stove is a must, but of course this does leave the empty cannisters to dispose of.
  3. If you buy logs and kindling for the fire which, if it is wet, you will have to, the chances are that what you buy won't be sustainable wood - although again, they might be, but it's very hard to tell if the sacks aren't labelled.
And the hedonistic negatives:
  1.  It is damp and it can be cold. If you haven't taken enough lights, it will also be dark. A bit of advice: load the car up with sleeping bags, blankets, jumpers, socks, lanterns and torches. I'd recommend at least one wind-up torch. There were two chinese lanterns in the tipi, which gave off a lovely yellow glow, but they ate up AAA batteries at the rate of 2 batteries for about 2 hours.
  2. The loo is a little walk away from the tipi, you're unlikely to want to make that trip on your own in the middle of the night. 
  3. There are no showers, in fact no hot water at all. We were stoic enough to wash in cold water, if you aren't then it's a trip to the local leisure centre for you.
  4. If you are a really rubbish cook then you're stuck, otherwise the goodness of your meals are down to what you've brought and whether you can turn them into something edible.
  5. If it really rains, for example like the thunderstorm we had on the last night, then the tipi will leak through the ventilation gap at the top. Take a brolly to pop over your stuff and make sure you have plenty of blankets to absorb the moist air before it reaches your sleeping bag.
In order to ensure a good time, here are a few of the items that we were the most grateful we'd brought with us:
  • Camping gas stove and spare cannisters. Saucepan, frying pan, kettle, easy-clean plates, cutlery, glasses and mugs.
  • Wind-up storm lantern
  • Torches, mp3 player and spare batteries
  • Dry kindling and some old newspaper
  • A rug for the middle of the tipi
  • A camp bed to raise you off the damp and draughty floor. Failing that make sure you take a waterproof foam ground mat, you'll be glad you did.
  • Spare loo roll, bin bags, compostable food waste bags, a pan scourer, tin foil and kitchen roll.
  • A 15 litre water bottle. The drinking water tap is a fair march from the tipi, you'll need water onsite.
  • Socks. Lots and lots of clean, dry socks.
  • Wellies and waterproof flip-flops
  • Wet wipes
  • A sealable cool bag, so you can keep some items like cheese or butter at the camp.
  • A plastic ground sheet and/or tarpaulin... for sitting on outside.
  • Salt, pepper, oil, sugar, bay leaves, oregano and chilli flakes.
  • A deck of cards
  • Cameras
  • Many bottles of wine!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Shime Saba & Tamago Yaki (Japanese Pickled Mackerel & Egg Roll)

Shime Saba is a great use for fresh, local mackerel. Mackerel has a rating of 2 from the Marine Conservation Society, however I suspect line-caught cornish mackerel is higher than this. If "pickled mackerel" sounds a bit too much like herring rollmops for your liking, I'd still urge you to give these a try. The Japanese pickling liquid is much milder and sweeter than the British version. 

Make sure your fish is really very fresh though, as you are just using the acidity of the marinade to "cook" the fish, rather than applying any heat to it.

I bought my mackerel whole, so had to gut, fillet and pinbone them myself. If you want you can get them pre-prepared into fillets, but try to get the fishmonger to do this to a whole fish in front of you, rather than buying ones that may have been sitting around with the flesh exposed to the air for hours, or sat in plastic. Two mackerel and one egg roll happily fed both of us; the original recipes can be found in "Japanese Home Cooking" by Harumi Kurihara.

First of all, heavily salt the fish on both sides and lay in a seive for 2 hours. This firms them up and removes excess liquid, which is essential to the texture and taste of the finished product.
Then place them in a non-metallic dish and pour over a mix of 100ml rice vinegar, a tablespoon of caster sugar and a teaspoon of shoyu (Japanese soy sauce - this is sweeter and milder than other versions, like Chinese). Leave them to marinade for half an hour, turning them every now and again.

While the fish is pickling, make your egg roll. In a jug, mix 4 tablespoons of dashi or fish stock, 50ml mirin, 4 eggs and a tablespoon of caster sugar and beat with a fork.
Lightly oil a frying pan; I would love to get a proper rectangular tamago pan but, as I don't have one, a regular pan stands in ok.

Pour a very thin layer of the egg mixture into the pan and cook until you've got a thin pancake. Lift up one edge and roll it up. Pour in another thin layer of egg, wait until it's cooked and then roll it up with the first pancake roll inside it. Keep going until all of the mixture has been used up. Put the roll into a peice of greaseproof paper and leave to cool.

Before serving up, remove the membrane from the back of the mackerel and slice it up into bite sized sashimi slices. Slice the egg roll into generous slices and chop some spring onions to go with them. A bowl of miso soup each and a dish of shoyu, for dipping, rounds the meal off nicely.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Lemon Sole with Crab & Sorrel Sauce, Potato Crisps & Samphire

Lemon sole has a rating of 2 from the Marine Conservation Society so, when I was standing at the fish counter, I remembered this and thought it was a pretty safe purchase. I later read that this is its breeding season (April to August), although it is at the very end of this period. Next time I'll go for a different flat fish during these months, such as dab or farmed halibut.

The white crab meat in this recipe is caught and hand picked in Cornwall, the potatoes are from our garden and the marsh samphire, which is in season at the moment, I got from the fish counter at the supermarket.

The first thing I did was to thinly slice the potatoes into crisps, using a mandolin because it's my new "toy", it probably would have been fine just to do it with a sharp knife though!

These crisps/chips are shallow fried in enough light olive oil that you can see it bubble when it's hot, it takes a few minutes on each side to cook them. We did them in batches and laid them out on recycled kitchen paper to absorb the grease, before popping them in a very low oven to keep warm.

For the sauce, heat up some oil and butter in a saucepan and add several sliced spring onions (or any onion) and a crushed garlic clove. Cook until soft, then pour in half a glass of white wine, salt and pepper, and let that bubble away gently to cook out the alcohol. Add around 100ml of vegetable stock and keep on a low heat while you cook the fish and vegetables.

Put a handful of beans into boiling water and put the samphire on greaseproof paper in a steamer on top of the saucepan. Both vegetables should cook through in the time it takes to prepare the fish.

Using the same frying pan as for the potatoes, reheat the oil and add a little butter. Lightly season the fish and place it in the pan when the oil is very hot. Leave it, without moving or pressing on it, for a good few minutes until the sides of the fish are starting to go opaque. Flip them over and cook for a final minute or two before plating up.

The potato crisps can be layered up to make a little tower, with the beans on top and the samphire to one side. At this point, stir some sliced sorrel into the sauce and remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the crabmeat as well and spoon over the fish.