Monthly Archives: October 2012

Lamb Meatballs, Walnuts, Burnt Aubergine

You should know dear reader, that recently I’ve not had as had as much time as I would have liked in the kitchen. This should of course be met with exorbitant levels of sympathy. I can imagine the tears and hysteria now as you cry “poor fodderblogger – he must be so overworked” as you desperately search for my employers details to reprimand them for working me so hard. Not happening? Oh ok – fine, it’s probably for the best… Anyway. Not having a lot of time, I’ve found myself in a bit of food rut. I’ve been finding myself starving hungry and with little time to cook so I’ve been throwing things together pretty quickly. This has meant I’ve been relying upon my tried (or should that be tired?) and tested meals, the quick and easy staples upon which I can rely for a solid meal, but without the va-va-voom.

Time wasn’t about to present itself to me, so I was going to have to evolve like a Darwinian finch, and that’s exactly what this recipe is all about.  It’s a game changer. You can throw it together easily straight after work, and it doesn’t involve loads of waiting for things to cook. It’s one of those rare meals that when one part is done, it’s time to do the next and you won’t have to juggle five things at once. Minimal stress is required, it’s comforting like a big hug from a buxom madam, and most importantly it’s delicious. Put simply, it’s the perfect mid-week meal.

Now I’m not going to go all Jamie Oliver on you and claim you can make this in 15 minutes flat without setting the house on fire or losing a limb, but if you’re cooking tonight you could do much worse than this as a quick and easy meal. The zingy meatballs are guaranteed to hit the spot, and the sweet, smoky aubergine accompaniment, along with the rich crunch of the toasted walnuts means this dish doesn’t compromise on flavour and won’t tie you to the oven all evening.

Ingredients

500g lamb mince

Zest of half a large lemon

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

10 large mint leaves (small handful), finely shredded

100ml vegetable stock

 

2 good sized aubergines

Juice of half to two-thirds of a lemon (adjusted to taste)

2 Tablespoons of tahini

2 Tablespoon of pomegranate molasses.

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Loaded teaspoon of cumin seeds

Handful of walnuts, toasted

Seasoning

Method

1. Combine the lamb mince, lemon zest, garlic and mint leaves in a big bowl, mix thoroughly and season generously. Once well mixed, roll the mixture into small, ping-pong sized balls in your palms (it should make about 16) and brown these in a little oil in a pan.

2. Once nicely browned all over, place the meatballs in a small over proof dish with a lid, and add around the vegetable stock. Ideally most of the meatballs will be sat in the stock but don’t worry too much. Put the meatballs in an oven preheated to 190°C with the lid on and cook for 25 minutes.

3. While these are cooking, make the burnt aubergine. Take the aubergine and place it directly on a moderate flame. Keep turning it regularly until the flesh feels soft and the skin is all blackened. This should take 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them as you’re doing this – you don’t want them to catch alight although it would certainly would add some excitement to meal time, helping you break out of that cooking rut…

4. Once done, chop lengthways through the aubergine and once it’s cooled a little, scoop the flesh out and put it in a sieve to drain for 15 minutes. Add a little salt as this helps draw out the liquid.

5. Meanwhile in a bowl, combine the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, tahini, and garlic and toasted cumin seeds. Once the aubergine has had it’s time, add it in and mix thoroughly. Taste and season as required.

Serve the meatballs and aubergine with couscous and scatter toasted walnut pieces over the top. Garnish with chopped herbs – I used a tiny bit of left over coriander but parsley would work too – or with pomegranate seeds for an opulent finish.

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San Sebastian Pintxos Crawl – Best of the Best

If you’ve not been to San Sebastian, Spain then you need to go and book your ticket right now. Stop reading this immediately and sort out your flights. Done? Good.

So why are you going? Well San Sebastian is the closest thing that Europe has to Rio. Long, golden, sandy beaches which are watched from up high by a huge statue of Christ? Check. Charming old streets and churches? Check. Mountainous backdrop? Check. It’s got the works, but most importantly, it has some of the world’s best food. The city boasts 3 restaurants that each hold 3 michelin stars. Not half bad for a place with a population of 186,000…

If the prospect of a 100 Euro meal isn’t getting you excited, the great news is that to eat well in San Sebastian you won’t need to re-mortgage your house and take granny out of the care home. A passion for quality food permeates through every aspect of the city and incredible food is available in every bar in town in the form of Pintxos. Pintxos (Peen-chos), literally meaning ‘spiked’, are Basque bar snacks and take it from me, they put Gary Lineker and his potato snacks to shame. Traditionally these consist of small slices of bread loaded up with delicious ingredients secured in place with a toothpick. Arranged along the bar, everywhere in town boastfully displays their offerings – customers need only ask for a plate and get tucked in. It’s the ultimate in eating with your eyes – this vast array of delectable morsels spread out before you – and for a food pervert like me I was in ecstasy.

As good as these are, many of the best pintxos have evolved and strayed away from the normal on-the-bar display. In a number of places, dotted around the bar you will find small menus featuring hot pintxos which are, are without a doubt, some of the world’s best small plates of food.

I can’t express the excitement and anticipation of bar hopping around town, selecting the best pintxos in the bar to accompany a big oaky Rioja, and then moving on to the next place to raid their speciality dish. I was running around town like a madman, drunk on food and red wine and scouting out the very best food that San Sebastian could offer. Below are some of the very best pintxos which you simply must eat when you are there. My photos fail to do the food justice, but hopefully give you a taster of just how fantastic eating with your eyes in San Sebastian can be.

If you’re only in town for one night and are overwhelmed by the choice on offer, I can safely point you in the direction of La Cuchara de San Telmo, and Borda Berri. Both do sublime hot pintxos – you simply can’t go wrong!

Veal Cheeks – The speciality dish and star of the show had to be the veal cheek slow cooked in Rioja served with hummus. The tiniest touch with a fork and the meat fell apart into wonderfully rich flakes with not a bit of fat in sight. Soft, delicious and packed with flavour, we couldn’t help ourselves and came back to eat this 3 nights running…

Huge scallops wrapped in iberico bacon. Sweet, soft, delicate scallops were cooked on a high heat and served with iberico bacon. Divine.

Slow roasted Suckling Pig, its crispy skin flecked with salt crystals, the meat tender and falling apart on the fork. This is what pulled pork dreams of.

One of the most memorable dishes from Borda Berri was the Squid Paella. Fresh squid cooked until tender and mixed into paella rice loaded with smoked paprika to give it a big smokey flavour hit. There was a little sweetness in there too which balanced out the taste of the sea perfectly; this was a brilliant dish.

Aratjo serves just 3 dishes which the locals devour en masse: Muscles, calamari, and potatoes. If I’m honest the potatoes could do with some work but the muscles are to die for. Served with a very smooth, slightly spicy, garlicy tomato sauce this was a bold flavour pairing that went down a storm. The calamari, floured and fried, was crisp and soft and all the tastier for not having to battle with the taste of batter.

At La Cepa, we devoured Black pudding with peppery olive oil and silky piquillo peppers. The black pudding was fried, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, and  dressed in a peppery olive oil and silky piquillo peppers. Again, big bold flavours partnered to perfection.

Bread with anchovies, salsa, and peppers. They don’t mess around with anchovies in Spain. Plump anchovies are bursting with flavour, a far cry from the limp, salty corpses we find on pizzas in the UK. This simple pintxo of fresh bread, a soft layer of piquillo pepper, fresh anchovy fillets topped with a salsa of tomato and yellow pepper and a hint of red wine vinegar was perfectly balanced. This is some sophisticated bar snack.

And finally, this post would be incomplete without Iberico…

Iberico ham is ubiquitous in Spain for reasons that are clear at the first mouthful. The strong umami hit of that rich, all enveloping cured meat is wonderful. Every bar in town serves Iberico ham pintxos – rest assured it’s always going to deliver.

What are you waiting for!? San Sebastian and it’s Pintxos await!

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Smashed Celeriac

It’s been too long since I last posted. I’ve got some weak excuses; I’ve been on
holiday, and moved house, and life (and my current lack of internet at home) has got in the way. However I feel obliged to briefly share my latest revelation. I’m absolutely, totally, completely head over heels in love with celeriac. I feel like singing from the rooftops in a high pitched voice. The sun hasn’t stopped shining and the world looks rosy. I can’t think of anything else. It must be true love.

My love affair started after having it at the fantastic Trullo restaurant about a month or so ago and now I just can’t get enough. Unfortunately for celeriac, it doesn’t have beauty on its side. I can confidently say that this is one of the ugliest vegetables around and as the greengrocers’ most grotesque gourd, it hardly endears people to cook it. However those brave enough to jump into bed with the parsnips ugly sister will be richly rewarded with a sweet, delicately peppery vegetable with a hint of celery that goes with pretty much any meat you can name. Partnered with garlic (because everything tastes better with garlic), and thyme, smashed celeriac is a side dish you need in your life.

Not exactly a looker…

Smashed Celeriac.
Serves 4.

1 celeriac, peeled.
3 good size cloves of garlic
Small bunch of thyme
Pinch of sugar
Olive oil
Seasoning
Water/stock

Chop the celeriac into chunks about a cm squared and heat up a splash of olive oil in a pan on the hob. Finely chop the garlic, pull the leaves off the sprigs of thyme, and put this along with the celeriac and a pinch of sugar in the pan. Keep everything moving and cook for 5-10 minutes on a high heat until the celeriac colours a little. Then add about 100 ml of water (stock if you’re feeling fancy), season well, and put a lid on the pan. Reduce the heat down and cook for around 25 minutes until it’s reasonably soft. When you’re ready to eat, use a wooden spoon to then bash up some of the celeriac so it’s part mashed, but don’t go overboard. What you’re aiming for is really soft looking chunks in a bit of mash, almost as though they’ve broken up from being stirred too much.

Eat with red wine and meat whilst you struggle to not tell your partner that you’re in love with a root vegetable. Good luck.

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