I’m in Rome and have been trying to force myself inside to write this up for all of you because I had an excellent week in the kitchen and want to share – but, oh it’s hard to sit in this dark hotel room knowing that the sun is out and that it’s warm (at least compared to London) and I have work to do. Alas, I’m getting this done and off my to-do list so that I’m free to write about all of the amazing food adventures I’m having in this new city. Bear with me if I’m brief!
Last week I told you that I purchased April Bloomfield’s cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig. It’s a terrific read and flipping through I found many things I couldn’t wait to prepare, but, alas, my diet is somewhat restricted at the moment and hence entire sections are not for me at the moment (I will be coming back to them as soon as I can though!). I settled on Bloomfield’s radish salad to go alongside some lovely grass fed rib-eye steaks I bought at our butcher and roasted sweet potato fries. A sort of healthy steak frites, if you will. Radishes are something I think Americans really overlook in their cooking. They are so fantastic in both their texture and their spice – it’s a subtle vegetable that can and should be used in a variety of ways (I’ve even roasted them to great success). In this recipe you simply take a bunch of radishes and cut them into chunks, add some chopped basil which you sort of press into the radishes with your hands so that it releases the fragrant basil oil, then do the same with thin slices of Parmesan cheese so it melts into the radishes a bit, squeeze on some lemon juice and little olive oil, salt and pepper, all thrown on top of a bed of rocket (arugula to you and me). There you have it, a simple and delicious salad for spring.
It was a little bit of a meat heavy week – not on purpose but just sort of how it worked out. My butcher had short ribs and I couldn’t resist them – never can. Back in January I fixed these as the celebratory meal when my darling husband got his British citizenship. The reviews were raves all round. I thought they were outstanding and wanted to try this cheap cut of meat again. These Balsamic and Beer Braised Short Ribs are from Smitten Kitchen again (I know, I know, I should just get over her book, right?). You can find the recipe on the Lucky Penny blog here: http://www.theluckypennyblog.com/2013/01/beer-braised-beef-short-ribs-and.html And if you don’t do anything else do try the parsnip puree that accompanies the short ribs. Literally, you just peel and roughly chop up a couple of pounds of parsnips (another underrated vegetable in my opinion), boil in salted water until easily pierced with a knife, drain and mash up, add a little heavy cream and lots of horseradish, some butter and season with salt a pepper. To me, this is the perfect meal and only takes about 30 minutes of actual hands-on cooking. The rest of the time your home is just filled with the aroma of delicious braising meat!
Sardines are another ingredient that has gotten a bad rap (perhaps that’s what my theme this week should be). I think they’re one of those items that was long abused by being packaged in a really unappetizing way. At the fishmongers here, you can buy bright-eyed Spanish sardines that are quite a good size and lovely tasting. I bought ours whole and scaled and gutted them myself (probably why all four only cost me £2). If you don’t care to do that job – it’s not particularly pleasant if you’re squeamish – ask the fishmonger to to it for you. Then I placed the cleaned fish in a baking dish, scattered them with chopped parsley stalks, red chillies, lemon zest and juice, some fennel seeds and garlic. A good glug of olive oil over the top and some salt and pepper and you’re ready to put these into a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes. I served these at lunch with some hummus and a very simple red lettuce salad with a tart dressing. Seriously good – give sardines a chance people.
Oh, the joys of the wonton wrapper. As I think about it, I think these paper thin pastries perhaps deserve their own entire entry. They aren’t just for wontons by any stretch of the imagination. I use them to make Italian style raviolis (my goat cheese with lemon and fennel pollen is particularly good), put them into an oven to make a crispy base for many different canapes, stuff them with chocolate and then fry them for as a dessert, the list goes on. I always keep several packages of them in my freezer and this week decided that they’d make a lovely dinner for one, stuffed with a spicy shrimp mixture. I steamed some edamame and had a delicious and filling meal.
For the wonton filling:
3/4 lb shrimp, uncooked and peeled
2 spring onions
2 tsp ginger
4 tsp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp fish sauce
In a food processor blitz together the spring onion and ginger first so they are really fine. Now add the rest of the ingredients. Lay out a bunch of the wonton wrappers on your workspace and place a heaped teaspoon of the filling into the center of each one. Take your finger and wet the edges of the wrapper with water and then bring each corner of the wrapper together in the middle, pressing together the sides so the wonton is completely sealed and your filling won’t escape when cooking. Once you’re done with all of the wontons (this makes about 24), heat some canola oil in a skillet and place the wontons into it – flat side down. Don’t move them right now – allow them to get nice and brown on the one side – about 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add about 1/2 cup of water to the skillet. Cover immediately and place back on the heat for about 3 more minutes. Remove the lid and allow any additional water to evaporate.
For the dipping sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp lime zest and juice of one lime
Mix these all together while the wontons are cooking.
Finally, a little happy accident that happened this past week (well, sort of). I had 2 heads of lovely chickory (endive to you and me) that had been in my fridge for almost too long and had roasted some beetroot (plain old beets to you and me) but had to hurry up and use them before we left for Rome. And the last wayward item that had to be used up was some truffled buratta cheese we’d picked up at last weekend in a flurry of truffle-love (there’s a truffled parmesan at the Selfridge’s food hall cheese calls my name whenever I’m in 10 blocks of the store). Well, what’s a girl to do but throw them all together in what ended up being a really delicious salad. I used the leftover salad dressing from our sardine lunch earlier in the week and I had a winner on my hands. I love it when things like this happen. Here’s the salad dressing recipe I find myself using over and over again – a must in anyone’s repertoire, I think.
My favorite salad dressing (it should make your mouth pucker when you taste it!)
pinch of sugar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper