Friday, 17 October 2014

Chocolate Brownies

Double Chocolate Brownie 1

I never thought I would post a recipe for chocolate brownies.  There are a million-and-one takes on the brownie out there but not one has lived up to my expectations.  There are the tooth-jangling over-sweet versions, the much too 'cakey' ones, the brownie that's really a chocolate and the 'let's throw everything in' options.  Finding a recipe that suits everyone is a challenge.  The kids don't like the chocolate too bitter; the adults don't want it too milk; others can't abide nuts.  I give up.  At least for a while.  Then inevitably someone utters those dread words "can we have brownies", and I'm back on the quest for a good recipe.

Double Chocolate Brownie 2

I reach for my cuttings file - am I the only person who still does this in the age of the internet?  Biscuits to Vegetables by way of Eggs, Game and Preserves, scraps of paper carefully filed away in case they should disappear into the ether of the on-line world, or a fat finger should find the delete button.  There it was, an, as yet, untried recipe filed under 'Puddings, incl cakes' (such is my patent filing system).  OK, I didn't have all the ingredients - the wrong chocolate and nowhere near enough walnuts - so a bit of artistic licence would be coming in to play.  But look where sticking rigidly to recipes had got me up to now.

Double Chocolate Brownie 3

So thank you Tom Kitchin for the sound recipe, and excuse my tweaking it out of necessity.  By using two-thirds dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) and one-third milk (34% cocoa solids), hardly any walnuts and going easy on the vanilla, I produced a brownie everyone liked - even me.  Finally, I've got my recipe.  Just need to make sure I file that scrap of paper.

Double Chocolate Brownie (adapted from Kitchin Suppers by Tom Kitchen)
(makes 15 pieces)

200g unsalted butter, diced
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
100g milk chocolate (34% cocoa solids), chopped
90g plain flour
A pinch of sea salt
1½ teaspoons baking powder
3 medium eggs
250g soft dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50g walnuts, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 170C (Fan 150C)/Gas 3.  Line a 30 x 20cm x 4cm baking tin with baking parchment.  
Put the butter, 150g dark and 50g milk chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place of a pan of simmering water until melted.  Stir until smooth then remove the bowl from the pan and allow to cool a little.
Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together into another bowl and set aside.
In a third large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until slightly thickened. Fold in the melted chocolate/butter mixture then gently fold in the sifted flour followed by the remaining chopped 50g dark and 50g milk chocolate and the chopped walnuts.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking tin, gently spreading it into the corners. Bake for 20-25 minutes.  The top should be nicely crusted but the brownie still soft in the middle.  Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.  Carefully lift the cake out of the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting into 15 squares.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Give a Fig - stuffed and roasted

Roasted stuffed figs

It's peak fig season and if you were in any doubt that this has been an exceptional summer in the UK, check out the English figs reaching markets this year.  Yes, keen gardeners do plant fig trees but outdoor grown figs at best amount to a semi-ripe handful of fruit; at worst, a maddeningly unripe crop of waxy green globes.  Summer's lease usually expires right when we're thinking just one more week of sun, please.  So, if you don't have your own fig tree, the chances of getting even a single English-grown fruit is, usually, a forlorn hope.

The fig is a member of the mulberry family.  Notable European figs include Black Ischia, (dark purple in colour with golden flecks and a luscious violette-red pulp); Adriatic, (a green fig tinged with purple or red with a deep red interior); and the sweet Marseilles, (coloured yellow/green with green flecks and a white pulp).
"... couldn't give a fig"
meaning: to care little, or not at all

The Romans brought figs to England but very few of the more than 800 recorded species can be grown in our damp, cool climate.  They can do well grown in containers if placed in a sunny spot and brought into a cool frost-free place to over-winter.  Unlike Mediterranean areas where two harvests a year are expected, we're lucky to get a single useable crop.  Figs will not ripen after picking so fruits need to be harvested when they are yielding to the touch between September and October.  A droop in the stalk is a good invitation to try your luck.  RHS advice is to remove any large fruits that have failed to ripen in autumn but leave any pea-sized embryonic fruit.  If they survive the winter, these are the fruits that could provide you with a useable crop.  Fruits formed in the spring may ripen on trees grown in a greenhouse but rarely on outdoor trees.

Ripe fig

The best varieties of fig for our English climate are Brown Turkey.  Its skin ripens to a rich coppery-brown with whitish flesh shading to pink or light red; Violette de Bordeaux is a small purple/black fruit with a strawberry coloured pulp; Madeleine de Deux Saisons bears yellow, amber-tinged fruits with flesh a delicate shade of pink; and the Brunswick fig which ripens to yellow with red flesh.  If you yearn for your own fig tree, you might enjoy this recent piece by Anna Pavord on the subject.

Figs respond to both sweet and savoury pairings.  They go deliciously with a good pecorino or a slice of prosciutto.  As a dessert, a perfectly ripe fig is perfection just as it is.  Some need a little help to bring out their best, but less is definitely more - a sprinkle of sugar or a spoon of honey and a little heat work wonders.  If you want it to look like you've made an effort, try these almond stuffed figs. This recipe is based on a memory of a Rose Carrarini way with figs, which must go back 10 years or more.  I looked in vain for the recipe in her book Breakfast-Lunch-Tea.  My recollection is bound to be not quite accurate, but this buttery, orange scented almond mixture works for me.

Stuffed & Roasted Figs
(Serves 4)

8 large (or 12 small) ripe figs
50g (2oz) unsalted butter, softened
25g (1oz) unrefined caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
50g (2oz) almonds (skin on), roasted then ground
Zest of 1 orange

Pre-heat oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale in colour.  Incorporate the ground almonds and orange zest.  Slice the top of each of the figs and keep to one side.  Scoop out a teaspoon of pulp from each and mash it into the creamed mixture.  Spoon the mixture into the figs - pile it high - and replace the caps.  Place in a baking dish and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Test if ready by giving a fig a gentle squeeze - if it feels soft and releases a little juice they are ready.  Serve straight away with a little cream or crème fraîche.  However, you choose to treat them, give a fig!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Autumn in Berlin


Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Can four years really have passed since I was in Berlin?  Four years since that visit during the spargel  (asparagus) season when there was no time to take a train to Dessau to see the Bauhaus Foundation.  Ah, well next time.  So, let's try again.  A visit to the icon of modernism had to be top of the list.  But first it was time to get our bearings and renew acquaintances.  You'll notice there are very few photos of food in this piece.  It just doesn't feel right in Berlin to be photographing your food, so let's eat. Maybe it'll start a trend!

Kreuzberg, Berlin

We left our bags at the hotel and headed south into Kreuzberg where the Turkish influence is strongest.  There are many things to like about Turkish culture but, for me, Turkish Coffee is not one of them so we held out until we found the 'Coffee Roastery and Cake Shop' Five Elephant on Reichenbergerstr.  A couple of cortados each and a slice of walnut and honey pie were life savers, but, but ...  there was such a difference in the delivery of the the two coffee orders that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a lack of consistency - perhaps just down to different baristas.  The pie had a good filling but was spoilt by too much pastry.  I'd say it's worth a try if you're in the area but I'd probably head for Companion Coffee 5 minutes away on nearby Oranienstr.  OK, they don't roast their own coffee but they do brew up some fine guest ones including one of my favourites, a roast from Denmark's Coffee Collective.  Sometimes it's Square Mile or Workshop from London.  The Belleville (Paris) espresso, on when we visited, isn't one I'd seek out but there's no doubting the care and attention Companion Coffee pay to what they do.  They also serve up a delicious banana cake and the set up, in Voo clothing shop in a quite yard off the main street, is a bit of a haven.

The Barn, Berlin

I've saved the best for last.  The Barn roast their own coffee and it's the place in Berlin that reminds me most of my favourite London roastery, Monmouth Coffee.  I don't know The Barn well enough, yet, to be sure but there's a similar sense of sincerity that translates from what they say about themselves to how they deliver - keep close to the farmer and focus on quality and service. The Barn describes their roast style as "rather light" but it has never been too light-roast for me and I have an aversion to the new light roasts favoured by some roasteries.  The Barn, we soon learned, was the only place to go when breakfast called - a cortado goes rather well with a pot of Bircher müsli.  Sandwiches and cakes here are very good too.  Expect consistent standards.  It's tiny, so also expect to spill out onto the stools outside.  

A Mitte roofline, Berlin

There are a couple of useful places in Mitte district worth knowing about, particularly if you're looking for German/Austrian cuisine with its emphasis on meat.  Aigner close to Gendarmenmarkt serves up very good Beef Consommé, Wiener Schnitzel and various game dishes with, maybe, plum dumplings to finish.  The Kupferkessel (copper kettle) way with beef is particularly good.  Everything is done very properly but without fuss.  Rotisserie Weingrün is Aigner's sister restaurant where the, mostly meat, menu's success is down to careful sourcing and the flame grill.  Both restaurants stock good wines, some from their own 'Horcher' vineyard.  

Restaurant Pauly Saal, again in Mitte, had been recommended to us more than once.  Housed in a former Jewish girls' school, just down the road from The Barn, it's an easy place to miss.  An understated frontage conceals a courtyard dining area, a gentleman's club like bar and murano chandelier bedecked dining room.  No reservation and a pretty off-hand delivered "two hour wait" meant we went down the road to Cordobar instead.  This German/Austrian collaboration proved much more welcoming, despite the place being rammed with locals and no tables available.  OK, it's a bar but with really good wines, some natural and biodynamic served without making a big thing of it.  As partner Willi said to us, what's most important to them is that they "serve good wines".  We really enjoyed the natural wines we tried, all from Austria, all delicious, and none we had tried before. The fine glassware helped the flavours develop nicely.

A regular changing menu of small sharing plates is titled "Cold Bites, 'Warm Bites' and 'Sweets'.  I am, seriously, recommending you order the Bread & Butter - the best rye bread I've tasted comes with a bowl of whipped butter and it's a heavenly combination.  A Fritz Blomeyer cheese plate  was an eye-opener as to how good German cheeses can be (regrettably, I don't think these find their way beyond their homeland).  I would have liked a little more generosity for 15 Euros but every portion was perfect and the fig chutney was beautifully spiced.  You might find Oysters with almond emulsion & dill flower or Ribs with Jerusalem artichoke chips & a smoked vanilla dip on the menu, and maybe a chocolate cake with passionfruit cream.  If we'd had a table instead of standing at the bar we'd certainly have ordered more food.

Autumn in Tiergarten, Berlin

Despite several visits to Berlin we'd never managed to penetrate Charlottenburg in Berlin's far West.  So we walked along Unter den Linden, passed through the Brandenberg Gate and ambled through Berlin's green lung, the Tiergarten.  My expectation of a more conspicuously wealthy Western Berlin was turned on its head.  The former West looks much like the former East to my eye, the architecture being quite functional and there is generally a lack of conspicuous wealth.

Smoked Sardines at Rogacki, Berlin

Rogacki deli has been around since 1928 and here on Charlottenburg's Wilmersdorfer Str. since 1932.  It's very green - in colour rather than in credentials - and I have to agree with Foodie in Berlin that if it was in London it would have had "half a dozen facelifts" by now and probably be the worse for it.  Needless to say it's a German institution.  Although I'd give some of the food counters a miss - bakery and cheese are particularly underwhelming - the meat, poultry, game and fish sections are musts.  In their raw state they're impressive enough but the variety of smoked fish in particular is outstanding.  We paused for lunch at one of the standing bars where I confidently decided 'Krabbentoast' had to be Crab on Toast - it turned out to be prawn salad!.  Fortunately the staff are hugely tolerant of non-German speakers and, with the help of local diners, we were offered either North Sea (peeled prawns) or German Sea (brown shrimp) . The firm favourite that day was clearly the Fish Soup so that's what I had.  A huge bowl of good mixed white fish in a clear broth topped with chopped dill, the brown shrimp salad, bread and two glasses of Reisling and the meagre bill was under 20 Euros.

Manufactum, Berlin

Charlottenburg is also home to a Manufactum store.  With two floors of traditionally made household and gardening products, food and clothing, its presence just off Ernst Reuter Platz was like a honeypot to a bee.  Expect to see everything from a boot scraper to a dinner gong.  All is top quality and not necessarily German.  The prices reflect the quality, but it makes compelling browsing.  There's also a good-looking bakery/cafe next door called Brod & Butter which I wish we'd had chance to try.


Bauhaus Dessau 1

Bauhaus Dessau was calling and this time I would make it.  The train from Hauptbahnhof in Mitte takes less than 2hrs.  Once clear of Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf it cuts through the 827km Naturpark Hoher Fläming so the ride is far from tedious.  I'd waited so long to see the Bauhaus building and suddenly, 5 minutes after stepping off the train, it was right in front of me.

Bauhaus Dessau 2

A collective that lasted only 14 years, 7 of the most productive in Dessau between 1925-1932, the Bauhaus movement continues to influence art, architecture and design.  Recently restored, the building is once again brought to life with students attending classes in the Bauhaus Lab, College, Summer Schools and Workshops.  It's also now occupied by the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation.


Bauhaus Dessau Masters' Houses

The Bauhaus building and the nearby Masters' Houses, designed, furnished and worked in by their occupants - including Walter Gropius, Laszlo Moholgy Nagy, Lyonel Feininger, Oskar Schlemmer, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - are open to the public every day. You can even eat in the newly re-opened Bauhaus Canteen (though I have to say there is still room for improvement on the food front), and stay overnight in the Studio Building.  Well worth a 2-hour journey.  I made it!

Back in Berlin, Museum Island will keep you occupied for days.  A central area of the City where the greatest of Berlin's treasures are gathered - the architecture is a big draw in its own right.  My pick would be the Neues Museum, recently restored by the British architect David Chipperfield, where the surviving war damaged parts of the building have been beautifully integrated into the new.  Amongst its great works is the famous, and stunningly beautiful, bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti presiding over a room of her own.  Frustratingly, although we joined the queue for the Pergammonmuseum, we simply ran out of time to visit so this is top of my list for next time.  The closed-in architecture of the Jewish Museum Berlin adds to the experience making this the most affecting museum I've ever visited.  If you can't catch the train to Dessau, you can get a Bauhaus fix at the Bauhaus Archive right in the centre of Berlin.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hedone London Sourdough - Food Find

Hedone London Sourdough Bread

There are sourdoughs and there are sourdoughs.  There's the one that has a good crumb texture; the one that has great flavour depth; and the one that has the perfect chewy crust.  Rarely do all three come together - unless you're making it yourself, of course.  I'm not one of that happy band. For some of us, the search for the perfect sourdough is almost as obsessive as the search for the perfect baguette in London - you feel it must be out there but doubt it will ever surface.

For a while, Mikael Jonsson has been producing sourdough for his restaurant, Hedone, and I knew it already had its own fan base.  It was a fantasy sourdough for me.  One I knew, sometime, I'd have to try - but Hedone is located in Chiswick so I was never going to be a regular.  It surely wasn't going to turn up in Bermondsey, where I do my Saturday shop, was it?  Well, it just did.  Amongst the many excellent traders at Spa Terminus is Dynamic Vines, which just happens to supply wines to Hedone and many other good restaurants.  Three weeks ago I spotted the fabled sourdough amongst the wine bottles.  A nice bit of cross-border cooperation is going on and right now it's making this shopper very happy.  

The flours used are declared free of additives and chemicals and natural slow fermentation techniques are used.  The process is a high absorption one which means a wet dough which is more difficult to form so loaves vary a bit in shape.  The complex flavours range through nutty and dark treacle to an almost liquorice one reminiscent of some of the best Parisian sourdoughs.  Truthfully, in London now there are some pretty good sourdoughs but I think this one from Hedone is exceptional.  Now, how about that elusive baguette?

Nb.  Spa Terminus is open for retail sales Saturdays only.  Check the Producers List for individual trader hours.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Summer to autumn by way of Fried Courgettes

Fried courgettes (Zucchini scapece)

Jane Grigson credited Elizabeth David with introducing Brits to courgettes, asserting "She was the first to relieve courgettes of their italics".  David wasn't actually the first to offer a recipe to the British market but before David wrote her book Mediterranean Food in 1950, courgettes were largely unknown of here.  The Cucurbit genus came to us mainly in the form of marrows and, if you had access to a greenhouse, there were cucumbers and melons to try growing.  It is only in the last few decades that we have also come to appreciate the merits of pumpkin and squash.  If only we hadn't been focussed on growing those large, watery marrows we wouldn't have taken so long to appreciate the courgette.  These days, there are specific seed varieties bred for courgette and marrow production although they come from the same family and a courgette can still grow to marrow proportions if you let it.

At this time of year those of use who grow our own can never get enough recipes for using courgettes.  Fruits the size of stubby pencils can swell to monstrous proportions within 2-3 days if you don't keep a close eye on them.  If growing is not your thing you'll want to skip to the end of this piece for the recipe because this is the one time of year when I have the time and opportunity to share some gardening photos taken over the past week.  If you do read on, however, you will find links to earlier recipes you might like.

Yellow courgettes

I never seem to get around to writing about the allotment in June or July.  There's far too much planting and picking to get time to write about it.  Looking back, it's May and August when I feel the urge to tell you what's happening on Plot 45.  Unlike this time last year, there's no denying there's a touch of autumn in the air.  The first sign for me is a change in light rather than temperature, but cooler nights have definitely arrived.  This time of year suits me, not least because I can sleep at night.  Growth has slowed down a bit, no more frantic picking of luscious raspberries before they tip over from perfect to spoiled in the space of 24 hours; no more trying to hide my precious blackcurrants from marauding birds; and no more livid scratches on arms earned reaching for the last of those sweet golden gooseberries... Until next year.

Raspberries 'Autumn Bliss'

Not that I'm finished with raspberries yet.  Autumn Bliss is just getting into it's stride, but it's slow-pick-pick-slow for autumn fruiters.  They may be less prolific than the high-summer berries, but their deeper flavour more than makes up for that.  It's earlier than last year but a reminder of Blueberry & Raspberry Mascarpone Pots seems appropriate now that we may be gathering the last of the berries and you need to make a little go a long way.

Borlotti Beans

And now come the borlotti beans.  Definitely a harbinger of late summer.  My favourite way of using them freshly picked is in, punchy, Borlotti Bean Bruschetta.  Dried in their pods for a couple of weeks, they store really well for re-hydrating and adding to soups and stews when the temperature really drops.  This year's crop was grown from a handful of beans squirrelled away last autumn. The wigwams of lush green growth hide long, broad green pods which turn to deep pink with white marbling maturing through to purple/red if you leave them long enough before picking.  Once you can feel fat beans inside the pods, get picking.


Changing seasons fruits

This week's haul of late raspberries, juicy wild blackberries and unknown varieties of plum and apple makes it difficult to argue summer is nearly over.  It is the perfect excuse for looking to this Almond, polenta and lemon cake with Blackberry Compote or this Plum Tart, or even Raspberry Ripple ice cream if you have enough berries.


Calendula

Growing calendula (marigold) on the allotment is the best way to hold onto summer.  It's the plant that just does not want to stop flowering.  Once planted, it will also never go away as it self-seeds prolifically.  Having to weed out new plants that come up just where you don't want them next spring is a small price to pay for the joy of having the yellow/orange blooms right through into late autumn.

Courgettes and Pumpkins

Growing biodynamically, I'm constantly on the look-out for slime trails and white dust in the cucurbit patch but courgettes and pumpkins are going strong and, incredibly, are pretty much free of slug/snail damage and powdery mildew this year.  Once courgettes get going they come thick and fast so here are a couple of favourite recipes: a surprisingly creamy Courgette Soup and Courgette, lemon & thyme linguine.

Happily for us Brits, by the time Elizabeth David was ready to publish here book French Provincial Cooking in 1960 she could write "Enterprising growers are supplying us with little courgettes as an alternative to gigantic marrows".  So, here's another recipe.  Fried courgettes or more properly Zucchini Scapece (meaning marinaded in vinegar and mint) as it is surely the Italians who are the courgette's greatest appreciators.  It's based on the the recipe in Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy.  My copy is the original 1989 version so hopefully the recipe is in the new updated version published earlier this year.  I know in Italy it would be served as a separate course but I also like it alongside roast lamb.

Fried Courgettes (Zucchini scapece)
(Serves 4)

500g (3 medium) Courgettes sliced diagonally, about 4mm thick
Salt
1 clove of garlic, whole
1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small dried, deseeded, chilli crumbled
A handful of fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon wine vinegar (I prefer Moscato vinegar but red or white wine vinegar will do)

Salt the sliced courgettes lightly and leave them to release water for up to an hour (if the courgettes are small you won't need to salt them but do let them release their water).  Pat dry thoroughly with kitchen paper.
Use enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of a large frying pan.  Add one clove of peeled garlic and heat to soften and brown lightly before removing and discarding it.
Fry the courgette slices in batches to brown on both sides.  Drain on kitchen paper.  Layer in a serving dish with the chopped garlic, chilli, mint and vinegar.  Serve at room temperature.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Courgette, lemon and thyme linguine

Courgette, lemon & thyme linguine


At this time of year it sometimes feels like we've been abandoned in London.  There's a flurry of "see you in two weeks" from friends and family then silence. - sand and social media don't mix.  Fact is, I love it.  There's altogether more space to breathe and no pressure to do anything at all.  The tourists are still with us, of course, but although they know the trendiest places to eat, they don't know the best places to eat.  We can walk into a restaurant - "No reservation?  No problem."  We can sit in a cool, dark cinema watching a film without a disapproving "Why do you want to do that in summer?".  We can travel on the tube without fighting for a square inch of space - though, in the heat of a London summer, we'd rather not.  And when the heat of the city gets too much, we can take the train from St Pancras to Rye for a Camber Sands cooling sea breeze - but just for the day.

"Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea ....."
Trebetherick by John Betjeman


First courgettes
























All in all, summer in the city is good.  Here, glorious deep blue skies in the early morning morph into washed-out denim by mid-afternoon.  On bad days a sticky oppressiveness settles over the city.  Everything that involves moving is done as early as possible and here I am in the late afternoon sitting cross-legged in cool cotton pyjamas - well I'm going nowhere and nobody's around to be shocked.  What cooking is done is of the 'little energy used' variety and mostly composed of whatever's cropping on the allotment.  How anyone who has an allotment can go away at this time of year is a mystery to me.  There's fruit to pick, potatoes to be dug and onions to be pulled.  And there are the courgettes - slender little flower-topped fingers one day turn to monster mutants the next.

So, I guess my audience for this post, at this time, will be small, but probably like-minded.  I've kept it short because we stay-at-homes also want to enjoy the short, precious period of languor.  In this spirit, here's a recipe for the courgette glut that will hardly raise a bead of moisture on a fevered brow.  Cut your courgettes into the finest strips you can.  A mandolin will make life even easier if you have one.

Courgette, lemon and thyme linguine
(Serves 2 as a main course)

150g dried or fresh linguine pasta per person
1 medium sized or 2 small courgettes (a mix of green and yellow is good), cut into fine strips
50g unsalted butter
1 fat clove of garlic, thinly sliced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
Finely grated rind of half a lemon and a squeeze of juice
1 courgette flower, sliced (optional)
Salt and pepper

Boil the pasta in a large pan of salted water for the required cooking time, depending on whether it is fresh or dried.  Whilst it's cooking, melt the butter in a separate pan and add the garlic to soften. Add the strips of courgette and cook for no more than 2-3 minutes.  Take off the heat and add the cooked and drained pasta, a couple of spoons of pasta water (unless the courgettes have released enough water), the thyme and lemon rind and toss well.  Add the sliced courgette flower, if using, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Serve with grated parmesan.


Friday, 25 July 2014

Barrafina, Adelaide Street WC2

Baked John Dory
at Barrafina, Adelaide Street

Did I really need to stick to my two visit rule before writing about the new Barrafina?  I know the original Barrafina on Soho's Frith Street pretty well so could it be so different?  Well, yes and no.  First there's the room.  Occupying a corner site, it's curved frontage is hard to miss and it feels so much bigger than the Frith Street original.  Inside, all the essentials of the Barrafina I know and love are in place - granite, glass, stainless steel, red-topped stools, Estrella on tap, happy staff, and the aroma of damn good food coming from the open kitchen.  Long-time employee, José Etura is front of house.  In these early days, Nieves Barragan Mohacho, Executive Head Chef for Barrafina and Fino restaurants, is hands-on in that kitchen, and what capable hands they are.  Owners Sam and Eddie Hart don their white jackets and one of them will generally be greeting and serving.

The extra space in Adelaide Street has allowed for a longer bar accommodating 29 stools and more space to wait comfortably for one of them.  It's also good to see there's space to breath for the staff, more room for equipment and, hence, a more extensive and adventurous menu.  Don't get me wrong, after 7 years of eating at Barrafina in Soho I still feel a sense of excitement thinking of what might be on the menu this time.  But the two tiny cooking areas there do restrict what can be served up even by the best chefs, and Barrafina's are very good indeed.

Stuffed Courgette Flower
at Barrafina, Adelaide Street

At this second incarnation the Barrafina philosophy holds true - top quality ingredients served up with "minimum fuss".  The menu at first glance looks similar and you're likely to find some old favourites but a closer look reveals additional sections on 'Frituras' and 'Chargrill'.  Suckling Pig's Ears or Milk Fed Lamb's Brains, perhaps.  The biggest difference comes from the installation of a Josper charcoal oven which allows dishes like whole fish for sharing to be served up in 10 minutes.  It also produces those Milk Fed Lamb's Kidneys, served on their skewer grill over a little hillock of smoking charcoal.

Dishes we tried included Crab Croquetas which were outstanding; a lovely mix of dark and white meat, good consistency and just enough chilli heat to bring out the crab flavour.  A fried Courgette Flower stuffed with goats cheese, finished with honey and a bunch of micro herbs, was pretty as a picture and, though a safe choice, was summery and delicious.  The John Dory was succulent and perfectly cooked - simply baked with a crust of breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs and olive oil and dished up with a wedge of lemon. We ordered the deep-fried Ortiguillas - Sea Anemone -  out of curiosity but didn't really get the point of them.  But the hints of iodine brought memories of seashore rockpools.  A dessert of Milhojas was as rich as it looks in this photograph but a delicious version and perfect for sharing.

If that Estrella beer doesn't grab you, there is a good list of sherries and wines , including a specially selected Manzanilla en Rama.  Personally, I find a glass or two of the familiar Cuatro Rayas 2013 Verdejo Viñedos Rueda, at £5 a glass, difficult to resist.

Milhojas
at Barrafina, Adelaide Street

So, yes I did go twice, and so will you.  The biggest problem now is in choosing which Barrafina to head for.  Go to Barrafina Frith Street for the cooking of Allyson McQuade - perfect small tapas.  Go to Adelaide Street for more space, a bigger menu and the fish and meat dishes that come out of that Josper charcoal oven.  Join the queue at either Barrafina for the buzz, great food and drink and excellent service.

Barrafina
10 Adelaide Street
London WC2N 4HZ
29 stools
No reservations, first come first served
Adelaide Street has more space than Frith Street to enjoy a glass and a bite while you wait for a seat.
Groups of 8+ can book the downstairs private dining room


Friday, 11 July 2014

Cherry & Almond Strudel

Cherry & Almond Strudel

The soft fruit season is always a time of too much arriving too quickly and then come the cherries, sometimes before we've had time to eat our fill of strawberries and raspberries.  This year is racing along on the fruit front.  The cherries are here and very soon we'll be feasting on plums too. Checking the the allotments' communal plum trees today, it looks like we're in for a bumper crop.  The boughs are laden with clusters of green fruit just beginning to show a streak of purple.

So, while I continue to pick raspberries and gooseberries, and now the first blackcurrants, am busy bottling fruit and making ice cream, there are cherries to consider.  So, what to do with the first of cherries?  Well, as I have a few sheets of filo pastry left over from making a chicken pastilla, strudel immediately comes to mind.  A recent visit to Trieste, where a Mitteleuropean cuisine still fights for supremacy with Italian food, reminded me that strudel is not only about apples. Cherry Strudel was much in evidence, a legacy of Trieste's Habsburg era.

Cherries have an affinity with almonds.  Not surprising when you consider the tiny kernel inside the stone of cherries, apricots and peaches (all stone fruit in fact) has an almond flavour and is known as noyau.  Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest you take a hammer to the cherry stones here.  If you do want to try extracting the noyau, apricots are a bit more rewarding.  Add a few to an Amaretti biscuit mix for a delicious hint of bitter almond.  I have to give the warning to use sparingly as they do contain tiny traces of cyanide, though you'd have to eat quite some quantity for it to have any effect..

Cherry Strudel & cream

Having very good juicy, sweet cherries with just a hint of sharpness, (variety Summer Sun) I didn't want to interfere with their flavour too much so I've kept the filling simple for this one.

Cherry & Almond Strudel
(Serves 4)

350g (12oz) cherries (weight before removing stones)
60g (2oz)caster sugar (depending on sweetness of cherries)
1 level teaspoon of cinnamon
30g (1oz) finely chopped almonds or hazelnuts of a mix of both
30g (1oz) roughly chopped almonds (preferably skins removed)
2 sheets of filo pastry (about 45cm x 25cm)
60g (2oz) unsalted butter, melted
1 heaped teaspoon of icing sugar

STEP 1
Heat oven to 180C (160C Fan)/Gas 4.  Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Remove the stones from the cherries and mix with the caster sugar and cinnamon.
Combine both the fine and roughly chopped nuts.

STEP 2
Place first sheet of filo  pastry on a clean tea towel, narrow end closest to you, and butter the sheet, leaving 1cm unbuttered on the end farthest away from you.  Brush that strip lightly with water.
Scatter the nuts over the pastry to within 1cm of each side.
Add the cherries in a heap at the end closest to you about 5-6cm from the edge and leaving 3-4cm either side uncovered.
Place the uncovered pastry nearest to you over the cherries then use the tea towel to help roll almost to the far edge. Tuck the right and left edges up into the parcel to help seal-in the contents and finish rolling to the end.  Make sure the water-brushed pastry strip seals to the parcel.  Place it on the lined baking sheet.  Brush with melted butter.
Repeat STEP 2 with the second pastry sheet and then bake the parcels in the oven for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut each pastry in two, dust with sifted icing sugar and serve. 
Good with double cream or vanilla ice cream.

Note: It's also almost time for the Brogdale Cherry Festival - this year it's 19-20 July.

Other recipes using cherries:

Cherries with almonds & Sabayon sauce

Summer Pudding with cherries

Cherry frangipane tart