Posts

Stuffed Squid…

I don’t think Shirley Conran and I would get along. She thinks life is too short to stuff a mushroom and I seem to have a fascination with stuffing just about any food I can get my hands on. Stuffed cabbage leaves are a winter staple in my house, I loved my recent dalliance with a stuffed marrow and last Saturday I feasted on these amazing garlicky stuffed tomatoes as suggested by Nigel Slater. Having exhausted all the vegetables I can think of stuffing, I needed a new challenge…

And what better than nature’s very own windsock in the shape of a whole squid? Inspired by another Nigel Slater recipe from last week’s Observer Food Monthly and some stunning looking squid on my local fishmonger’s counter, I couldn’t resist.

After getting the fishmonger to clean the squid, my eye was caught by the last of the beautiful rainbow hued Bright Lights chard in the garden and I decided to base the stuffing around this. I also dug out the last of the wonderful breadcrumbs from the freezer from a stunning rye loaf from the Tebay farm shop to add a nutty hint of flavour to it all. A pinch of mace, a slug of olive oil and some lemon zest followed suit. But the crowning glory was the rest of the tin of smoked anchovies Mister North gave me for my birthday. These add a stunning depth of rich complexity to the already amazing umami taste of these fabulous little fish.

I combined everything and stuffed the squid as full as I could get it without ripping the beautiful soft flesh. The excess stuffing went round them and tentacles and I dotted them with the very last few Tumbler tomatoes from the garden before covering them in a rich tomato sauce made with the leftover oil from the anchovies and a few home grown chillies for a kick. Add in a splash of vegetable stock and it was ready to go in the oven for around 45 minutes.

It looked majestic when I opened the casserole dish. The tomatoes had intensified in the colour to a deep ruby red flecked with a hint of emerald from the chard and the milky white squid bathed in it like a less malevolent Moby Dick. It was so soft and tender from the long slow cooking that it was quite difficult to lift out of the dish without it falling apart. I served it with some of the Shetland Blue potatoes from the garden and well anointed with the silky soft tomato sauce and it was fantastic.

The squid cut beautifully and was delightfully tender with just enough of a bite to keep it interesting. The stuffing was umami and iron rich and the tomato sauce was sweet and tasted of the summer we didn’t really have. It was great with the potatoes to soak it up, but even with that, I had a lot of sauce leftover. I froze this to eat with pasta some night or to form the base of a quick fish stew.

I can’t think of a single flaw with this dish. Easy to make, perfect for using up odd and sods in the fridge in the sauce or stuffing and stylish enough to serve at a dinner party or as a Friday night treat at the end of a hard week. Try it with baby squid to cut the cooking time, because this dish is so good you’ll be driven to distraction waiting to taste it!

Ravioli

I have had a hankering to make pasta from scratch for quite some time, but the precision of Marcella Hazan’s instructions have made me cautious. I remember my mum making fresh pasta as a child and it always seemed like a grown up version of Play Dough in its simplicity, but this seemed much more tricky and likely to go wrong, especially as I don’t have a pasta machine. Then I stumbled across a much simpler sounding recipe online which seems to have been adapted from this Jamie Oliver recipe and decided that I would take the plunge…

My friend G came for dinner on Friday and I decided to try the ravioli recipe since he would simply laugh if I messed it up and be happy enough to eat pasta out of a packet instead! Plus I could rope him into pouring extra flour or water into the dough if needed to save on getting my sticky paws everywhere!

And I’m glad I did have him on hand. As usual, the recipe called for large eggs when I only ever buy medium (a friend who keeps hens tells me the large ones are bad for the hen) so I immediately wasn’t sure if my proportions were right. I added an extra teaspoon of olive oil and the whole 55ml of water called for, but the dough seemed incredibly sticky, so G sifted in a tablespoon or so of extra flour and it seemed to come together very nicely. I then kneaded it for about 5 minutes and it was beautifully glossy and elastic at that point and very easy to work with the rolling pin.

I quartered the dough, learned from my mistake with the pretzels the other week and oiled the worktop before rolling the dough as thin as I could with my rolling pin. I then used a shot glass to cut circles from the dough, before rolling them again to make them thinner and easier to fill.

My choice of filling was some chard fresh from the garden, sauteed down with some anchovy and garlic, cooled slightly and chopped even finer before squeezing any excess liquid from it. I thought the iron rich tang of the chard would complement the pasta perfectly, like spinach on steroids. The leaves and stalks had a lovely texture and I put a teaspoon full of the mix onto each a pasta circle, brushed the other half with water and then pressed them together, before using the shot glass to cut the dough again to give a neat looking finish.

This is all very simple, but unsurprisingly since it was the first time I had ever worked with pasta, mind-numbingly time consuming. Making enough ravioli to cover a dinner plate, took me about an hour and used a quarter of the dough. G was almost ready to eat a tea towel by the time I started on the second quarter. I made about 2/3 of the same amount again before I ran out of chard and abandoned the pretence of making any more ravioli before one or other of us actually fainted with hunger.

The home grown tomatoes had been slowly roasting in the oven throughout my protracted pasta session and were perfectly cooked and ready to go so I got a large pan of boiling water going on the cooker and realised in my glee at making recognisable ravioli I had forgotten to oil the plate they were sitting on or even dredge the pasta with flour like the recipe instructed. So my lovely little ravioli were stuck fast and required some almost surgical attention with some warm water and a knife to prise them loose, meaning some of them looked a bit stretched and others had actually holes in places. I patched them up as best I could and cooked them for about 4 minutes til they came to the surface of the water.

Slightly battered, but beautiful!

I drained them in a sieve, put them back in the pan to dry out further on the heat, added a teaspoon of oil to prevent them sticking together and served them up with a splash of ruby red tomato sauce and some grated parmesan on top…and they were great!

The chard worked beautifully with the pasta, the tomatoes tasted like heaven and the pasta was soft and silky and even where it was a little bit thick at the edges in places, it wasn’t heavy or claggy on the tongue, just a reminder that when you think the dough is thin enough, roll it again! But despite this, we were both impressed by the pasta and ate every scrap in record time.

I’ll definitely been making fresh pasta using this recipe again, but making sure I roll, roll and roll again first. Hopefully with a bit of practise my ravioli won’t take all night in future. I was certainly a bit faster when I used the leftover dough to make a fantastic summer vegetable lasagne the next night! I might even manage to take some half decent photos too!