Italian Lamb Stew

Oh, this is so delicious, I would cook it every week if I had enough local lamb. I got the basic recipe from ‘Dear Francesca‘ but adapted it to use some ingredients that I already had. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 to 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 1 kg (+) gigot chops (or other chops) or lamb shoulder – trim the chops of fat, 
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pinches of dried thyme, or 1 tsp of Italian dried herbs
  • 1 tbsp red pepper paste
  • 200ml stock or water
  • 8 small new potatoes, or 4 large potatoes peeled and cut into chunks. 

METHOD:

  • In a large casserole dish, heat the olive oil, and fry the garlic and onion over a low low heat for ten minutes. 
  • Set the onions aside, and fry the meat in the olive oil to seal it. 
  • Return the onions and garlic to the pan, and add the tinned tomatoes, pepper paste and herbs. Bring to a simmer. 
  • Cook in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes. At this stage, the stew can be frozen or kept in the fridge to finish cooking alter. 
  • Add the potatoes to the pan, and the extra stock if required, and cook on the stove top until the potatoes are cooked (about half an hour or so) 

And you’re done! The book suggests chicken or beef versions of the same stew, but with lamb it is just glorious. We served it with a green side salad. 

Tomato and butter sauce for penne or gnocci

This is a very easy recipe from ‘Dear Francesca‘ – it feels very indulgent adding all that butter, but the sauce is unbelievably tasty. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • One tin of tomatoes (I used chopped tinned tomatoes)
  • A small shallot, peeled but not chopped
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp caster sugar
  • A pinch of dried rosemary (a sprig of fresh rosemary is better if it is available)
  • salt
  • Penne pasta or gnocci – allow 60 to 75g per person
  • freshly grated pecorino cheese

METHOD:

  • Put the tomatoes through a mouli or sieve to get rid of the seeds. It is easier if you blend them in a liquidiser first. 
  • Put the sieved tomatoes in a small saucepan with the shallot, sugar and butter, and bring to a slow simmer. Put a wooden spoon in the pan and then put the lid on, so it is propped open a little. Keep simmering and stirring to reduce the sauce. Cook for 30 minutes
  • When the sauce is cooked, take out the shallot, add the rosemary and season with salt. 
  • Cook the penne or gnocchi, and drain, pour over enough sauce and then add freshly grated pecorino cheese

Pastone – Italian Ham and Egg Pasty

I am so glad I got round to making this at last, one of the recipes from ‘Dear Francesca‘ – although I did need a couple of tweaks to suit my kitchen. It is a delicious highlight for a summer supper, or a packed picnic lunch. The ingredients are mostly available in the co-op, and also available from Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g flaky pastry or puff pastry
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g ricotta
  • 50g pecorino, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • 75g smoked pancetta, diced, or smoked streaky bacon if you can’t get pancetta
  • 75g fonteluna sausage, diced
  • 2 fresh bayleaves

METHOD:

  • Heat the oven to 220C
  • Beat the eggs lightly together with the ricotta, and cream until well combined. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the grated pecorino
  • Grease an oblong dish, around 30 by 20 by 3 cm, or a round tin around 23cm across. 
  • Roll out around half of the pastry to line the dish, and fill with half of the egg mixture. 
  • Add the chopped pancetta and diced sausage, and add torn-up bayleaves. 
  • Cover with the rest of the egg mixture. The recipe calls for a couple of egg yolks to be added at this stage, but I prefer without. 
  • Roll out the rest of the pastry to fit over the top. Use milk or beaten egg to dampen the edge of the pastry and crimp to seal. Glaze the top of the pasty with milk or beaten egg, and score a pattern on top. Make a few holes to let out steam. 
  • Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until browned. Take it out, and when it is cool enough, remove from the tin, flip it over and return to the oven for another 15 minutes to cook the pastry at the bottom.

Chickpea curry

This is a very easy curry to serve with baked potato, baked sweet potato, or with nan bread. It is best served warm rather than hot.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 inch of ginger root, finely chopped
  • 1 green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cans of chickpeas, drained
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • chopped coriander leaves. 

METHOD:

  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan to a medium heat, and fry the cumin seeds for around 1 minute, before adding the onion, and frying until it is soft, around 7 minutes
  • Add the garlic, ginger, and chilli, and cook for another three minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn or stick. 
  • Add the remaining spices and cook for another couple of minutes
  • Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer and then add the chickpeas, and cook for another 20 minutes. I covered the pan for the first ten minutes, and then took the lid off and stirred the curry, to ensure it didn’t stick. 
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. 
  • Serve garnished with chopped coriander.

 

Curry Easy

Madhur Jaffrey has been teaching me how to cook Indian food since I got my first flat at university. First there was a series of her recipes in the Sunday Times, or was it the Observer. The recipes looked at the authentic tastes and styles of cooking around India. Then I acquired a copy of ‘Eastern Vegetarian Cooking’, which was a sensation when it was published. 

I had enough fabulous recipes to think I didn’t need another recipe book for Indian food, but then Curry Easy came along. Bright and modern, the recipes are pared down and quick to cook. Each recipe comes with a little context and some serving suggestions. The instructions are easy to follow, and the dishes I have made so far are delicious. The index is good as well, listing recipes by ingredient as well as by name. 

Just about perfect. 

Kale with mint, garlic, cumin and lime

I’m just getting to the end of the curly kale from last year. What a great vegetable to grow, it survives cabbage root fly, is edible through the winter and early spring, and Alex’s chickens will get a good feed off the old plants when I root them up. 

We’ve had a lot of stir-fried kale this winter, often with garlic and chilli flakes. If you haven’t enough kale, you can bulk it out with broccoli. This recipe comes from SIMPLE by Ottolenghi. He also sells a range of the ingredients from the book – cunning marketing. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 500g – 600g prepared kale tops or a mix of kale and broccoli
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 to 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 10g mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • salt

METHOD:

  • Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. When it boils, add the kale and cook for 90 seconds before draining and rinsing in cold water. You may need to do this in batches. Do the same for any broccoli
  • In a large wok or sauté pan, heat the oil and fry the garlic and cumin for a minute or two, until the garlic is browning. Fish the garlic out and set it aside. 
  • Add the kale and fry for around 3 minutes. Add half the chilli flakes, and a good pinch of salt, broccoli and keep cooking for another minute. 
  • Mix through the remaining chilli flakes, lime juice and mint, and garnish with the fried garlic slices. 

Muhammara – red pepper and walnut dip.

Sometimes, the co-op has some really good deals. Last week, they were selling lots of red peppers greatly reduced, so I made this. It is great as a dip along with hummus, and served with flat bread. It is a traditional dish, and there are loads of recipes online, twisting up the flavour in different ways. I’ve added a few suggestions of alternatives in brackets. The basic ingredients are red peppers, garlic and walnuts. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 5 red peppers
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (you can increase this quite a bit, according to taste, use a mild pepper such as pul biber, or Aleppo chilli flakes))
  • (I have also made this by adding a couple of fresh hot chilli peppers to the roasting stage)
  • (You can add toasted breadcrumbs too)
  • (1 tsp cumin)
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • (you can use a pinch of powdered sumac instead of the vinegar or lemon juice)
  • (you could use pomegranate molasses and/or lemon juice instead of vinegar)
  • 60g walnuts (you can toast the walnuts first) 
  • salt

METHOD:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 220C
  • Quarter the peppers, remove the stalks and seeds, and mix with the oil. Spread them out on a baking sheet, skin side up and put them in the oven for 15 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, spread the walnuts out on another baking sheet, and pop them in the oven for around 10 minutes. Set them aside to cool.
  • Once the peppers have been in for 15 minutes, add the garlic cloves and pop them back into the oven for another 15 minutes. The peppers should look charred, and the garlic should be soft. 
  • Put the peppers in a food processer with all of your other ingredients and blitz to form a rough paste. Adjust the seasoning to taste. 

You can make this as smooth as you like, I like it slightly rough. Some people remove the skin from the roasted peppers, and make a smoother paste. 

 

Fresh tomato sauce with ricotta and pecorino – to serve with spaghettini

I’ve just read ‘Dear Francesca’ from cover to cover. The recipes use a relatively small range of ingredients to create wonderful food. This is one of the first recipes I tried, using a tray of cherry tomatoes that had ended up in my fridge, along with some of the staples from the book: ricotta and pecorino. 

I didn’t have spaghettini, so I used spaghetti, which is very slightly thicker. It was fine, I had no complaints. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil
  • A punnet of cherry tomatoes, or a couple of good handfuls, quartered
  • a clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 180g spaghettini (or enough pasta for 2 people, whatever your usual measure is, I allow 60 to 75g per person)
  • salt and black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tbsp ricotta cheese
  • two good pinches of dried oregano
  • freshly grated pecorino

METHOD:

  • Heat the oil in a pan, and add the tomatoes and garlic. Turn the heat down low and let them cook for ten minutes. There will be a bit of sizzling. 
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water, according to the instructions. 
  • When the tomatoes are completely softened, add the oregano and the ricotta cheese, and mix well. Check for taste and add salt if required. 
  • When the spaghettini is cooked, drain it, return to the pan and add the sauce, pecorino and a grating of good black pepper. 

 

Nightingales and Roses

When I was 10 years old, we moved to Teheran. My dad is a civil engineer, and he was working for Sir Alexander Gibbs, specialising in dams and irrigation. The Shah of Iran was investing in infrastructure, building the Lar dam in the Alborz mountains, to the north of Teheran. 

We lived in north Teheran, in a dilapidated house that belonged to a dentist. It had a walnut grove, cherry trees, red and white mulberry trees, and a pomegranate tree. It was lovely. Our family employed Zara, a woman from Tabriz in the north west of Iran, to help out. She cooked us traditional Persian food. 

Particular favourites included Lubiya Polo, barbary nan, thick white yoghurt sold in blue-glazed earthenware bowls, nougat, salted pistachios, chicken stuffed with walnuts and plums. Zara showed us how to wash long-grain rice and cook it so it formed a delicious buttery crust at the bottom of the pan. I’ve longed to try these dishes again, and I’d love to revisit Iran to eat these dishes as an adult. 

It is only in the last few years that I have been able to find recipe books for Persian delicacies. Nightingales and Roses has to be the best. It is written by Maryam Sinaiee, who was born in Teheran, and only moved to the UK in 2011. She writes a food blog, and keeps alive the very strong tradition of Persian cookery. The book takes care to explain the balance of ingredients, how meals are structured and how the seasons bring their own flavours. The recipes are easy to follow, and any new techniques are well explained. 

An excellent book. 

 

Lamb stew with dried limes, vegetables, and borlotti beans (Khoresht-e Gormeh Sabzi)

I can’t believe I haven’t shared this recipe before. It uses the vegetables that are making a come-back after the winter, and is also a good way to use some of the Allium triquetrum leaves as they start to grow. It is a very unusual flavour for western palates, the dried limes and turmeric give the stew a rich flavour. I used the recipe in ‘Nightingales and Roses’ and added the vegetables growing in the garden. I wonder what it would be like with a bit of lovage?

INGREDIENTS

  • 3-4 dried limes (from Persepolis or other online shops)
  • 100g parsley
  • 100g coriander
  • 100g spinach or chard
  • 1 handful of kale tops
  • 1 handful of Allium triquetrum or inner leaves from small leeks
  • olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 500g lamb (from shoulder or best end of neck) in large pieces. 
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 can borlotti beans, drained 

METHOD:

  • Cover the limes in hot water, and weigh them down with a small plate so that they soften over the next couple of hours. 
  • Strip the leaves from the parsley and coriander, and rinse all of the green vegetables, and leave to dry. 
  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a casserole dish and cook the onions until they are golden.
  • Add the lamb and turmeric and fry until the meat is browned. Add enough stock or water to cover the meat and bring to a slow simmer. Continue to cook on a low heat for an hour. 
  • Use a food processor to chop the green vegetables finely. You’ll need to do this in batches. 
  • Heat 2-3 tbsp oil in a pan and add the chopped vegetables, and cook until they begin to darken. Add the fried vegetables to the stew. 
  • Add the limes to the stew. To enhance the flavour, stab them a few times before putting them in. Braise for another 30 minutes
  • Add the borlotti beans and simmer for another 30 minutes. Check the flavour and add salt to taste. 

We had this with plain rice, and it was phenomenal. The main part of the stew is the beans and vegetables, with lovely tender lamb morsels.