Thursday, 20 July 2017

Rocky thymes but foraging ahead

Photo copyright jardimbotânico Antonio Crespi
what we foraged
The last few days have been days of learning and discovery and one of the greatest discoveries was on our doorstep.Like Flor de sal, the spread of thyme throughout Europe was thought to be due to the Romans and Phoenicians.We found this growing on the dry cracked ground around the salt pans.On researching what we had foraged we discovered that this attractive herb  was Thymus camphoratus which makes a salty and slightly peppery garnish to salads and fish dishes.

The common thyme (Thymus vulgaris ) that many of us grow and love is a cultivated form of the wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum). If lucky enough,( its about being in the right place with the right thyme ) you can encounter and forage the wild variety growing on Mediterranean hillsides. Having a bit of quality thyme is something we  all strive for and know to be rewarding. My love affair with this more than versatile herb is fairly recent, not that it was absent from my herb garden in London,but it wasn´t until my new life  in the Iberian peninsular that thyme became an essential in the Casa Rosada kitchen.I use both the fresh and dried varieties in marinades,dressings and even to infuse syrup for puddings and it also makes a delicious lemonade. 
another wild thyme Thymus carnosus   Photo copyright jardimbotânico
Thyme is a plant that  tolerates drought well. and therefore wild thyme is found covering large areas of droughty, rocky soils in southern Europe where it can be plentifully foraged.Almost all of these wild thymes are comestible and have many different culinary uses.No kitchen should be without the heady, aromatic flavour of thyme.A delicate looking herb with a penetrating fragrance.Whether used by the pinch or by the bunch, fresh thyme infuses any dish with unparalleled aroma and flavour.Thyme has what I could only describe as a vigorous flavour,almost peppery in character,and is for foods that can carry strong flavours.It is one of the essential ingredients of Herbes de Provence, along with rosemary, bay and savory and is also always included in bouquet garni for stock and soup making.All thyme species are nectar sources,and therefore an important plant for honeybees.Check out Thyme honey.

Thyme is usually cooked with food rather than thrown in at the end.When cooked in stews and casseroles the leaves fall away from the branches infusing the stock and then the branches are removed at the end of cooking.Thyme is used both fresh and dried. The fresh form is more flavourful, but also less convenient; there is no thyme like the present and thyme waits for no one. Its storage life is rarely more than a week.
Here are some recipes if you have the thyme...........
Ginger-thyme Lemonade
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 1/2 oz. fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 oz. fresh thyme leaves
2 cups fresh lemon juice

In a medium saucepan, combine water, sugar, ginger and thyme over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and remove from heat. Once cool, strain into a clean glass pitcher and add lemon juice. Stir to combine, and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
Another thyme lemonade
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs, additional for garnishing
2 cups fresh lemon juice (I needed about 13 lemons)
Persian cucumber for garnish

In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, thyme and 1 cup water to a boil; stir until sugar is dissolved, about three minutes. Stir in lemon juice and 6 cups cold water, strain into a large pitcher. Refrigerate until cold (will stay for about a week). Serve over ice and garnish with thyme spring a a few thin slices of Persian cucumber.

Green Pea Thyme hummus
It is delicious and pretty, too. 

2 cups peas: fresh, thawed frozen, or canned
1/2 square vegetable bullion  dissolved in 1 Tbsp hot water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp finely grated Pecorino Romano (sheep’s milk cheese)
Salt and pepper to taste
If using fresh peas, steam in a saucepan with a bit of water for 3-5 minutes or until soft. Put peas in medium bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Blend with a food processor or traditional blender. Serve as a dip with fresh vegetables, crackers and baguette rounds.

Flor de sal, thyme and olive oil crackers
Makes 24
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
115ml water
25ml olive oil,plus extra for brushing
1/2 tsp Flor de sal
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp smoked picante paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
Generous sprinklings of Flor de sal mediterranica 
In a large bowl,mix together all the ingredients except the flor de sal to form a soft dough.You can do this by hand or in a processor fitted with a dough hook Work the dough until you get a firm consistency,then cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 220c/gas mark 7.Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface or board.Have a bowl of flour ready at your side for dusting.Use a large sharp knife to cut  off wanut sized pieces (roughly 15g each) from the dough. Roll out each piece as thinly as possible with arolling pin,dusting with plenty of flour as you go.They should end up looking like long oval tongues,almost paper thin.
Place the crackers on a tray lined with baking parchment.Brush them with plenty of olive oil and sprinkle generously with Flor de sal. Bake for about 6 minutes,until crisp and golden.
Adapted from Ottolenghi ("Ottolenghi the cookbook")

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Yesterday´s roasted onions todays salad

A crisp, cool, and delicious answer to the thespians question “what’s for dinner?”. Perfectly grilled steak, balsamic roasted red onions and crumbled goats cheese  atop peppery rocket, grated beetroot, chilli and green lettuce.A loose interpretation of an Ottolenghi salad but with the addition of steak and a different type of dressing.After the excessive feasting of the last few days we were looking for a light "sustainable" supper.Last week was a big lesson in food sustainability.The question often gets asked, “What does sustainable food mean exactly?”Most people seem to agree that when it comes to farming, cooking and eating, sustainable is a good thing. But it also seems to mean something a little different depending on who you ask.It’s important for people to know about the source of the foods they consume; how it’s grown, raised, caught and prepared.Once that knowledge is fully understood consumers can make choices that support sustainable agriculture, humane practices for raising poultry and livestock, and the responsible harvesting of seafood. We need people to buy from those whose conservation practices protect the health of the environment.This meal which packs a flavour and punch answers to all of those and at the same time provides an observant use of leftover food.A beautiful combination of colours and textures,and probably the sexiest thing to be flagged up as an onion salad.Enjoy and keep our world sustainable.

Steak salad with balsamic grilled red salad onion salad
Already half baked red onions from yesterdays barbecue
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
flat leaf parsley
1 red chilli julienned
grated strands of raw beetroot 
50g semi-cured goats cheese grated
torn green lettuce leaves,cos,little gem or regular lettuce
wild rocket
Take the pre-baked onions and cut sides up drizzle them first with olive oil then with balsamic.Roast in a hot oven for 1 hour turning them cut side down half way through.
Finish them under a hot grill until you get a nice char.Set aside to cool.Meanwhile brush the meat on both sides with ketjap manis to give it a resulting glaze.season the meat with flor de sal and pepper.Sear the meat for about 2 minutes each side until it takes some colour and then set aside to cool.When cool cut the steaks al tagliata (thin strips).Toss the salad leaves in a vinaigrette of your choice and assemble the salad with the leaves on the bottom then the grated beetroot and chilli top with the strips of steak and finish with a carpet of grated cheese.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Lovin´ listening and learning with Luciana

Pan fried  sea bass in a pea and leek broth with green bean nibs
We have been honoured this week to have gastronomic royalty in town.Chef/Writer/book author, food and travel journalist, editor, speaker at conferences, consultant, gastronomy lecturer and food researcher,Luciana Bianchi has been staying here at Casa Rosada. She describes herself as "Frequent gourmet traveller,terroir obsessed and serial gastro-twitter.Having met her i think that sounds quite modest.
Luciana´s choice from the market
"She has been here on the invitation of Salmarim and I was lucky enough to have the chance of showing her round the market, showcasing the best producers and selecting items for the dinner I was privileged enough to cook for her that evening.The moment she stepped through the door of Casa RosadaI felt I knew her and we were old friends.She felt the same.The thespian and I were able to catch up on what was happening gastronomically in London since we left and gossip with her about old and new haunts and key figures in the hospitality trade,in particular how Nuno Mendes and Portuguese chefs have been putting Portuguese food on the capitals map.
On her first evening we schlepped her across the bridge to Ayamonte for an aperitif and tapa at Alimentacion Orta and then on to LPA where Fabio  had pulled out all the stops to present us with a creative selection of tapas fit for a queen.On the second night it was up to me to present some of the the best of Casa Rosadas menu offerings.I started the dinner with a ceviche of sea bream followed by a bruschetta of insalata di cannelini bean com pesto gengibre,hortela,basilico e coentros.(ginger mint basil and coriander pesto)
We served pan fried  sea bass in a pea and leek broth,a tribute to the late Santi Santamaria,the first Catalan chef to recieve 3 Michelin stars but who unfortunately died in 2011.Having cooked this dish many times before I realised its development and on this occasion I tweeked it with green bean nibs.
"a modern ceviche"
Bream ceviche with chilli, lime,avocado, 
radishes and foraged thyme
Serves 6
600-g fresh sea bream, filleted, boned, skinned, diced into 1⁄2″ cubes
tsp flor de sal
1clove garlic minced
3 1⁄2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
3 1⁄2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 avocado diced
2 'Fresno’ chilli pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
1Portuguese heirloom tomato, quartered, seeds removed (pictured above)
Thymus camphoratus
2 'Red Lilia’ salad onion, finely sliced
4  radishes, very finely sliced
Handful of foraged wild red thyme heads shredded from its stalks

Place the prepared bream into a bowl. Sprinkle the minced garlic and 1 teaspoon salt over the fish and
leave to stand for 5 minutes. Pour over the lime and lemon juice, mixing gently to ensure all of the fish is evenly coated and covered. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 mins. Remove the fish from the citrus marinade, retaining the juice.Gently mix the avocado chilli, tomato, onion, and radish  in with the fish, season with salt and pepper pour over the reserved marinade and scatter with.Serve.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A mesa do chef primeiro

Yesterday saw the first chefs table hosted by Salmarim in its new "showcase," armazém. Michelin starred chef Alexandre Silva invited us to experience a slight digression from his usual distinctive cuisine. Inspired by fresh local produce and Salmarim´s artesanal Flor de sal, Silva demonstrated to us his creative flair that is something out of the ordinary in reinterpreting the Portuguese tradition.Yesterday it was the Portuguese tradition of barbecuing.What he brought to the table showed us his pure creativity in adaptation with no sense of having to stick to any guidelines, even Portuguese ones.We were treated to Tuna,Berbigao,conquillas,pink Algarvian prawn from the Bay of Monte Gordo,home made bread,sea bass, sweet potatoes and roasted red salad onions.The food was perfectly complimented by three Soalheiro Alvarinhos.One in particular that was quite unique. We ended the feast with some out of this world local figs grown by João Sol.What shone through was not only Silva´s creative skills but that the Algarve is the land of fresh produce, harvested not only from the land but also from the sea, and Castro Marim is no exception, showing some of the best offerings nature can provide for our dining tables.

Alexandre Silva and Luciana Bianchi.
What a great day we had, and we look forward to the second Mesa do chef.Thank you Alexandre,Soalheiro and Salmarim.
Tuna loin
Pink Algarvian prawns
Berbigao,commonly known as the common cockle
An entirely different Soalheiro.
Made with organically grown grapes of Alvarinho, not subject to filtration

the white salt carpet

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Pan fried sea bass with a Thai style vichysoisse

Yes, we know it’s hot. It’s July. This is what summer does: It turns up the heat then seals the deal with a blanket of humidity veiled by the warm winds from Morocco. We complain,though we shouldn´t, ignoring the fact that there was ever a cold wet winter with cold north winds and we just headed indoors for cover.Casa rosada does not have air conditioning so I have come to rely on my mother´s cold-soup recipes to do the same for us when temperatures soar. But my search for her well-worn, hand-written vichyssoise recipe took a slight turn last week when my files turned up a different approach: a Thai-style vichyssoise using the distinctive flavours of Southeast Asia to up the flavour quotient.Because we love Asian flavours I have a ton of lemon grass growing in the garden, along with fresh coriander and a freezer stocked with a variety of home made stocks, fish sauce ( Thai nam pla) and unsweetened coconut milk. All that was needed were a few potatoes and leeks.

Pan fried sea bass with a Thai style vichysoisse
4 large stalks lemongrass
4 spring onions
50g coriander stalks
thumb fresh ginger thinly sliced
250g leeks
250g new potatoes quartered
2tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon of green chilli powder (optional)
4 shallots
6 kaffir lime leaves
heaped teaspoon golden caster sugar, extra to taste
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1 tablespoon of Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce
300g young peas
1 small cucumber peeled
handful chives for garnish

Trim off the tough outer skin and leafy parts of the lemongrass and put in a large pan with 2 litres of water.Chop the rest of the lemongrass very finely and set aside.Trim the tops off the spring onions and set aside the remaining parts for garnish.Weigh out the coriander stalks. Trim the green tops from leeks saving the white parts for later. Add all these trimmings to the stock pan.Bring to a slow boil and cook  covered for about 1 hour.Drain the stock through a sieve until you have 1 litre of stock.Set aside. Meanwhile heat the olive oil in a medium sized pan and sautée the chopped lemongrass and potatoes with the green chilli powder for 10 minutes.Finely slice the white parts of the leeks and rinse them well with hot water in a colander.Finely chop the shallots then add the leeks and shallots to the potato and lemon grass mixture.Cook on a medium heat for a further ten minutes.Add the reserved stock to the vegetables with  the lime leaves,sugar, soya sauce and fish sauce and cook gently for 30 minutes.Blitz 150g of the peas with a scant teaspoon of sugar, a handful of mint leaves and sufficient boiling water to achieve a soft paste.Set aside. Shred the spring onions lengthwise, dice half the cucumber and peel the remaining half with a potato peeler to give you thin slithers.Stop peeling when you reach the seeds, and discard the centre part of the cucumber.
When you are ready to serve heat the broth through with the remaining peas and add the blitzed pea purée, and the diced cucumber. Serve the broth  in large soup dishes with the pan fried sea bass on top.Finish by garnishing the top of the fish with the shredded spring onions and slithers of cucumber.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Thai me up,old school Thai - Tomato lemongrass and chilli soup

summer´s coolest soup
Unless you live in one of the capitals or a big cosmopolitan city,sourcing ingredients to make good Asian food in Europe can still be a bit of a scavenger hunt.
For many people, the major obstacle to preparing this type of cuisine is sourcing the ingredients. 

If one wanted to make Thai food from scratch it can be a bit more difficult to find the necessary ingredients. There are some ingredients in Thai cuisine like coconut cream,coriander,ginger, Thai birds eye chillis, limes and garlic that can be found in most large supermarkets and others that are only available at specialist Thai or Asian stores.
Finding Thai basil for example may be quite difficult if an Asian store is not close by. If you are lucky enough to find it, buy a lot of it and freeze it. The best method to freezing Thai basil is to pulse it in a food processor until it is ‘paste-like’. Then put them in ice cube trays and freeze them. Once frozen, transfer the Thai basil cubes to freezer bags.Likewise kaffir lime leaves,if you find it invest in bags of freezes well and has a long freezer life.With these ingredients I have to travel sixty odd kilometers to a specialist supermarket or pick stuff up when visiting the capital.For those of you who are regular followers of this blog you wil have become aware that I make a lot of my own sauces and pastes-among others Sriracha, ketjap manis, Thai green curry paste.Surprisingly I have also been lucky enough to grow lemongrass and chillis in our garden here at Casa rosada.In the summer, the Portuguese close relative of basil, manjerico is not far distant from Thai basil and can be substituted in Thai dishes.The main physical characteristic is that leaves are much smaller than traditional basil and the fragrance is sweeter.
Last night I cooked a Thai dinner for our guests and started with a chilled tomato lemongrass and chilli soup, my simplified version of Dtom  yam gung in David Thompson´s book "Thai food."My original inspiration came back in the nineties from a soup I ordered at Belair House in Belair Park West Dulwich.I believe this fantastic restaurant is still there.

Tomato lemongrass and chilli soup
This soup serves four
2 sticks of lemongrass
4 whole red chillis
bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks plus extra for garnish
1 large red onion
2 large cloves of garlic
500ml bouillon
600g plum tomatoes chopped 
500ml good quality fish stock for diluting the soup
dash of nam pla,thai fish sauce
60ml good quality tomato puree or passata
Chop the onion,garlic,lemongrass,chillies and coriander( including stalks )
Sweat slowly in 2 tbsp oil until soft.pour int the bouillon and season with salt and pepper.Cook for a further 20 minutes on a simmer.Add the tomatoes.Cook for afurther 15 minutes.The soup will be quite thick and when it has cooled you will need to pass it through a sieve diluting it with the fish stock.Stir through the tomato puree and allow to chill until you are ready to serve it.the soup can be made well in advance and freezes well.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Squids in

Squid, glorious squid!! Squid is a versatile, underused ingredient that makes dishes that are easy to cook, impressive to look at,delicious to taste and it is a fine basis for a quick, easy supper that makes you look like a pro.That is why I´m telling you it´s time for a bit of squid pro quo.Apart from going to the dark side and using squid ink to add dramatic effect to your dishes, the most important thing to remember when cooking squid is that it needs to be cooked either hot-and-fast or low-and-slow to achieve that perfectly tender, springy-but-not-chewy texture—anything in between is going to result in unpleasantly tough meat.Sear it, boil it, braise it, grill it, fry it.And what do you serve it with? I usually consider the simplicity or complexity of my squid preparation when picking a side dish to pair it with. Simple grilled or quick-sautéed squid flavoured only with lemon, chilli and garlic can take a more involved side dish than a braised or stuffed squid. With the latter,something like a braised squid with tomatoes, wine and harissa, I try to keep any accompaniment rather plain, so it doesn’t interfere with the flavours of the main dish.I love the tiny pellet texture of Israeli-style couscous. It’s less fluffy and more like regular pasta than the standard couscous.You could use fregola but I preferred to lightly toast the cous cous for a similar result but different texture. Combine this with Tarator (one of Turkey's finest sauces) a creamy nut and garlic blend, and you have the makings of a fine squid dish.Although the true tarator uses walnuts, local cooks often make it with whatever nut grows in their area.I thought I would put an Algarvian spin on it and make it with smoked almonds.
Griddled Squid with smoky almond tarator and peppers
serves 6
3 red peppers 
olive oil, for brushing 
900g (2lb) squid (cleaned weight) 
juice of ½ lemon, plus lemon wedges to serve 
2 red chillies, deseeded and shredded 
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

25g (1oz) coarse country bread, crusts removed
4 tbsp milk
50g (1¾oz) blanched almonds
¾ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 garlic cloves
125ml (4fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil (Greek is good for this)
juice of ¾ lemon, or more to taste

200g (7oz) Israeli or pearl cous cous,lightly toasted before cooking
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp coarsely chopped coriander leaves
juice of 1 lemon
3½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small avocado diced

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3tbsp lemon juice
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil   

2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed with tsp flor de sal
Stir the cumin and coriander seeds in small  heavy dry saucepan until toasted and fragrant (about 30 seconds).Remove from the heat and stir in the turmeric and cinnamon.Allow to cool completely.Grind in a pestle and mortar. In asmall bowl combine the spices with the lemon juice,garlic,and olive oil.Whisk to blend well.this dressing can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for a few days.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F/gas mark 4. Brush the peppers, deseeded and halved, with olive oil, season and cook in a roasting-tin for 35 to 40 minutes, until tender and slightly blistered. I love the charred skin, but remove it if you prefer. Slice into strips once they are cool.
Make the tarator. Soak the bread in the milk for 15 minutes. Purée in a food processor with the almonds, spices, garlic and seasoning, adding the oil and lemon juice as you go. Add 75ml (2¾fl oz) of water and whizz again. It should be thick but not stiff, so add more water if needed. Check the seasoning. You might need more lemon.
To prepare the couscous, you'll need about 1 1/4 cups of water or bouillon for every 1 cup of dry grain.For a  a bit more flavour, toast the dried pearls for a minute or two in a bit of butter,or olive oil before cooking, just like you would do for making a risotto. Simmer the grains stovetop, covered, for about 10 minutes. The grains fluff up just slightly, and, like barley, they have more an "al dente" mouth feel when done cooking.Cover while you cook the squid.Wash the squid, removing any whitish gunge from inside, and pat dry. If they’re small, leave whole. Otherwise, cut off the wings and put them aside with the tentacles. Cut the bodies down one side to open out. If they are very big, halve lengthwise and score on the inside with a cross-hatch. Put everything in a bowl with olive oil  to moisten.
Heat a griddle pan until really hot. Season the squid and cook in batches, pressing down to pick up the griddle marks. It needs only about 20 seconds on each side to turn opaque and golden. As each batch is ready, remove it to a plate and squeeze lemon juice over it. Add the chillies and coriander once it’s all cooked and toss together.
Toss the rocket with the cous cous in the dressing, top with the squid and peppers and put a dollop of tarator on the side of each plate, serving the rest in a bowl. Serve with wedges of lemon.