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Headline image, inside North Star Deli at the JoinUs4Supper event

Northern Stars supper club. Pt.1: the meal

Northern stars main 1

For someone with an overly healthy interest in food, there could be few things more exciting than being set loose in a professional kitchen. Last Thursday saw my debut in the kitchen, at the latest JoinUs4Supper evening at North Star Deli. If, however, you’d seen me on Wednesday night, I’d probably have looked more than a tad pensive, mildly nervous, and concentrating deeply. A little part of me was starting to think I’d bitten off more than I could chew by accepting the challenge to collaborate with Deanna, Ben and the North Star Deli team. That and the fact I was helping stuff a pig’s intestine with blood, desperately trying to ensure it didn’t drop and burst in an ignominious end to our efforts to make fresh black pudding. All this from a throwaway comment about having a go on a TV food quiz to a couple of fellow foodies

Northern stars final 1

After weeks of thoughts, discussions and debate, we were clear in what we wanted to do. At the heart of the meal was the intention to place Porcus pork in the limelight, with local cheese and veg as superb supporting actors. We wanted to find a flavour and feel which properly encompassed the character of our TV team.

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All Boar, No Bore…

Up bright and early and filled with the joys of summer on Sunday I headed into Brixton to take advantage of the season’s finest. Already chuffed to bits about getting some very reasonably priced donut peaches and baby plum tomatoes at the fruit and veg stall opposite the back of Brixton Village on Coldharbour Lane by the bridge, my day was made when I discovered a stall at the Farmers’ Market selling, (amongst other things) wild boar and duck eggs. Almost before I knew it, my money had found its way out of my purse and a bag with a rolled wild boar loin and two double yolked duck eggs was nestled in my hand. Suddenly dinner seemed a long way away…

Back home, I tucked into a delicious cooked breakfast with the eggs and the tomatoes and set to reading the Sunday papers. Seeing Jay Rayner compare Red Dog Saloon and Pitt Cue Co in the Observer got me thinking that I just can’t have enough pig and pulses in my life and that slow roasting the boar loin over beans would be the perfect twist on that American classic this Independence Day weekend.

Being all organised when I made the root beer beans a few weeks ago, I soaked and cooked more haricots than I needed at the time and then froze them. So while the oven heated to the maximum temperature to blast the boar skin into crackling, the beans defrosted and I prepared a rub of salt, butter, oilve oil and home grown fennel seeds for the skin. Once the meat was at room temperature I slathered the skin with the rub, working on the premise that the only thing better than pork fat, is pork fat with butter on it!

The loin went into a very hot oven for 20 minutes to crisp up. I also chopped up fennel, red onion and some of those baby plum tomatoes and some cloves of garlic to mix with the beans as a bed for the meat to slow roast on.
I then took the meat out, set it aside, deglazed the pan with some water and then tossed the beans and veg well in the juices, put the meat on top and popped in the oven at 160℃ for about two hours. Or until I remembered about it again…

It smelled amazing when I opened the oven, but I was worried that the fennel was the wrong side of caramlised and would just taste burnt. But the meat looked so mouthwatering moist and tender I didn’t really care. Slow roasting on the bone had turned this into something really special. I left it to rest to make sure I didn’t miss those precious juices and chopped up a quick slaw of white cabbage, fennel, carrot and golden beetroot to go on the side.

If you aren’t just as fennel obsessed as I am, feel free to leave it out of the beans. But do keep it in the slaw where the anise cuts through the sweetness of the beets and carrot and tempers the mustardiness of the cabbage. The fresh crunch of the slaw is its selling point, so don’t be tempted to chop too finely or drown it in dressing like a shop bought version. I used a tablespoon of yoghurt, a dessertspoon of mayonnaise, cider vinegar, fish sauce and a tiny bit of Dijon mustard to make a light yet flavoursome dressing that coats the vegetables well without being overwhelming.

Then after all the chopping, shredding and roasting, I dug in. It was so good. The meat was so juicy and tender even compared to the equivalent piece of pork, falling off the bone beautifully. The crackling wasn’t just as shatteringly crisp as pork can be, but the slight chewiness and caramelly finish from the butter made up for that in abundance. The beans were deliciously meaty whil even the slightly burnt fennel was very enjoyable. Everything just burst with flavour, especially the boar itself.

And best of all, it didn’t feel like a heavy dish thanks to the refreshing crunch of the slaw and the fresh flavours of the beans so you could eat a hefty portion of the meat with feeling defeated. It’s dishes like this that remind me why seasonal food is so worth the wait…

Get stuffed…

The cold and icy weather has made me less than enthused about going out to shop this week at the market, so it was with delight I espied a particularly splendid Savoy cabbage in the local Tesco Express on offer for 50 pence. Since I had some lamb mince and some leftover tomato sauce in the fridge, I could whip up some stuffed cabbage leaves for a wholesome hearty winter dinner with ease!

Stuffed cabbage leaves are a popular dish throughout most of Europe. I’m not sure that mine would be considered particularly authentic, but they are utterly delicious and very quick and easy to make, especially as I had leftover cooked mince from the previous evening and the sauce already made, but neither of these stages is difficult or time consuming if done from scratch.

While the cabbage leaves were blanching quickly in a pan of water at a rolling boil, I added some cinnamon, sweet paprika, allspice and garlic to the cooked mince, before allowing the leaves to cool slightly on a tea-towel. At this point, I removed the thick stem with a sharp knife to make the leaves easier to fold.

Two dessertspoons of cooked cold mince later, the leaves were ready to roll. I rolled them from the cut section toward the top of the leaf and then set the leaf into the cold non-stick pan with the join underneath, repeating until I had filled the pan nicely. I topped the leaves with some leftover home-made and home-grown slow roast tomato sauce, added in two or three small ice-cubes of chicken stock from the freezer to help steam the leaves, added the lid and placed in the oven to cook for about 20-25 minutes at 200°C until cooked through with a slight bite. I then served them with some mashed potato I had leftover from the previous night. They are also excellent with rice.

I had some difficulty lifting these out of the pan without them unrolling slightly, but I think that was more to do my being too lazy to find a fishslice than anything else, but it does mean they look slightly dishevelled in the dish! Aside from this minor aesthetic crisis, the cabbage leaves were excellent. The cabbage itself was full of flavour after all the frost of the past few weeks, the meat was a delicious mix of sweet lamb and warm spices and the tomato sauce and chicken stock had mingled to create a rich flavourful sauce to anoint the creamy mash. It was a warming hearty meal without being heavy and well worth the slightly old fashioned boarding house smell the cooking cabbage created in my flat!

I love stuffed cabbage leaves for their quickness and versatility. They are an excellent vehicle for leftovers and make an attractive meal for either meat eaters or vegetarians depending what you stuff them with. Your imagination is the only restriction with this lovely dish!