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Crimp, rocket and roll… salmon ravioli

This weekend saw the latest round of our longstanding local dinner circle: an informal gathering of friends to enjoy good food, drink and conversation around a table. We’ve previously themed each event around a country or geographical region, for both food and drink. It was my turn to host again and I decided to combine Italian influences with locally sourced ingredients. Perhaps unwisely I decided to set the bar rather high, and make a meal from components bought on the day from the market, in a way I’d never cooked before. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I suppose.

The first course was my most ambitious, and allowed me the chance to try out something new which would hopefully be as pleasing on the eye as the palate.I ended up with home-made giant ravioli, filled with fresh lemon, salmon and local East Lee soft cheese, served with a fennel and vermouth hollandaise foam on a bed of rocket, and topped with pickled samphire and Morecambe Bay potted brown shrimps…

When Miss South and I were young there were few kitchen activities which beat the excitement and spectacle of making fresh pasta. The large kitchen table would get dusted with flour, a broom handle which was reserved for the occasion would be brought out from under the stairs, and would be placed across the back of two chairs, ready to hang and dry fresh tagliatelle. Finally the pasta making machine would be clamped to the table, ready to pummel, roll and cut.

There was palpable anticipation and excitement in our house, as these activities inevitably heralded a dinner party for the adults – an exotic and adult activity from which we were normally excluded, predominantly as they went on way past our respective bedtimes. However this didn’t preclude us from either hanging around as the pasta was being made, nor sampling it later on. Little would stop me from enjoying the pasta in any way, and I used to snaffle leftovers of the cooked, ungarnished linguine straight from the pan. Sorry mum, if you ever wondered where it disappeared to…

Strangely, despite my love of fresh pasta, I’d never attempted to make it myself. However, with the advent of the dinner circle, I rather fancied rectifying this gap in my culinary canon. So, on a wee bit of a whim, I picked up a pasta maker on the way home on Friday evening (at £17.99 thank you Argos). I suspect when our parents had brought back one from Italy in the 80s it would’ve cost significantly more, if it was even possible to source one in Northern Ireland back then.

I consulted my two favourite Italian authorities for all things kitchen-related: Marcella Hazan, and Giorgio Locatelli. Perhaps unsurprising there was some contradiction in their advice. This pasta-making business seems at least partly based on personal preference. The basic components were, thankfully, consistent – flour, eggs and salt. Previous pizza-making escapades ensured I had plenty of finely-milled ‘Tipo 00’ flour squirrelled away at home, but I picked some duck eggs and some double-yolkers from the market on Saturday morning. Locatelli subscribes to the ‘more yolks are better’ school of thought, and as we’re such a fan of duck eggs here at North/South Food I thought I’d take advantage of their renowned attributes for baking and see if that would apply to pasta dough too.

After finely sieving around 500g of flour I made my ‘fountain’ for 3 duck eggs (reminded me more of the way we eat champ) and got mixing. At first the dough was really hard work and I thought I’d got the mixture all wrong, but after adding an extra hen’s egg double yolk and about 10 minutes of heavy going, the dough started to come together more as I remembered it. The duck eggs helped imbue the dough with a wonderfully warm hue (with more than a passing resemblence to polenta). I then separated the dough into 2 balls, and wrapped both in clingfilm to sit for an hour. Thankfully the dough was much easier to work after it had sat around doing nothing… so I got out the shiny new pasta making machine and tentatively fed the dough into its waiting maw. As the dough got thinner and longer, and longer and thinner, I was glad of an extra pair of hands to assist with the increasingly giant lengths. Eventually it was tamed and fine enough to be laid out on the table to cut.

We cut out large circles, trimming gently around a bowl, then added the filling. I’d finely sliced a fresh salmon fillet (from Paul, the great fishmonger at Todmorden Market), mixing it by hand with some of local food hero Carl Warburton’s East Lee soft cheese. Add the juice of half a lemon, a good portion of zest and a generous handful of chopped flatleaf parsley; some coarsely ground black pepper, and mix up by hand. Form into patties and place in the centre of the pasta circle, before enclosing, sealing and crimping. These sat for an hour on a tea towel, looking pretty drying slightly, ready for the pan. When they were almost ready I started to make the sauce, a variation on Delia Smith’s always reliable foaming Hollandaise. I used less wine vinegar and added a generous glug or three of vermouth just before adding the egg whites, which gave the whole thing a hint of anise. Not quite a béarnaise sauce, but the addition of some fennel tops, finely chopped like dill, added to its slightly aromatic character.

After poaching the ravioli for about four minutes each they were ready to be placed in a bowl, on a star of rocket, and drizzled generously with the foaming sauce. The crowning glory was a garnish of pickled samphire (from the wonderful Brixton Cornercopia, courtesy of Miss South) and some potted brown shrimps from Morecambe Bay. Incidentally, if you’ve not had these little beauties before, snap them up if you’re lucky enough to spot them. They’re so moresome and flavoursome, but not worth the fiddle and faff of preparing them yourself. The dish did look at least as beautiful as I’d planned, and the combination of flavours was balanced and delicious. Thankfully it was also well received by my dinner guests. Phew!

The next day, buoyed up by the success of the ravioli, I used up the rest of the pasta dough and quickly created some tagliatelle. This provided the basis for a rapid leftover lunch to die for: sautéing some fennel in butter, adding some pieces of salmon and the rest of the shrimps, a splash of lemon juice to help wilt the rest of the rocket leaves, and a squirt of harissa to add warmth. This certainly helped to temper the fluffy head from the previous night’s drinking, and underscored that pasta making is nothing to be afraid of. I will be attempting much more of this in the near future… can’t wait until the wild garlic season comes round so I can make fresh pesto and spaghetti!

Outside the Duck Egg Café on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

The Duck Egg, Brixton

Outside the Duck Egg Café on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

Thanks to the lovely (and informative) iheartbrixton on Twitter, news reached me that the premises that used to be Honest Foods and latterly the Burning Bread Cafe on Coldharbour Lane has been reborn as The Duck Egg Cafe. So when hunger struck while the fridge was empty this Saturday morning it seemed like a good excuse to go and try it out…

The cafe is so newly opened that there’s no sign out front declaring it, but the whitewashed tables and chairs and light interior make it inviting enough that you’ll want to go in anyway. We went about 11.30 and had to queue for about 5 minutes for a table, but didn’t mind too much as it gave us time to peruse the menu.

There is a good choice between breakfast dishes (which I think are served all day) and an ‘everyday’ selection of dishes. I had my mind on breakfast though and now can’t remember what most of the other dishes actually were, but did note that they do a Sunday roast too which sounds promising.

The breakfast menus is extensive, but won’t be for you if you don’t eat eggs. Pretty much everyone comes with eggs, but the twist is that you can choose between hen’s eggs or duck eggs even with your fry up. I narrowed it down to a choice between eggs Florentine and eggs Forestier, having established I wasn’t in the mood for anything with scrambled egg or smoked salmon. A moment of rock, paper, scissors with myself meant I went for the eggs Forestier in the end. This is poached egg on English muffin and grilled Portobello mushroom with hollandaise sauce, grilled tomato and a hash brown on the side and sounded just the ticket for a Saturday morning treat, especially with a cup of tea on the side.

G went for a double Full English with extra hash brown and a cappuccino. The waitress was pleasant, but didn’t ask whether we wanted duck or hen’s egg. We forget to state that we wanted duck eggs and then had to go up to the counter to request them before she placed the order. Between all of us it seemed a bit disorganised. But our drinks arrived promptly. My tea was good and strong and G was very pleased with his cappuccino which was made with Illy coffee. We also rather liked the fact the cutlery came wrapped in duck egg blue napkins.

Although it was busy, we didn’t have to wait too long for our food, but we were disappointed to see that our eggs were hen’s eggs rathe then the larger duck eggs we had requested. The waitress was off serving someone else before we could complain and we decided to just go with it.

Both plates of food were attractively served, but I was a bit let down to see that my eggs had the shape of a poacher rather than being done ‘freehand’ in water. The yolks were also overcooked for my liking and the mushroom and muffin missed the extra lubrication a bit. Apart from this, it was a lovely plate of food. The big flat mushrooms were tasty and juicy, the hollandaise was appeared to be homemade and the grilled tomato was beautifully ripe and packed with flavour. If the yolks had been runnier, this would have been just a perfect breakfast.

G’s fry up looked great and the plate was groaning. The sausages looked to be good quality and he said they were very tasty, as was the bacon. His fried eggs were much runnier and more appealing than my poached numbers and he had lots of wholemeal toast on the side. The one disappointment of the fry up was the beans which looked rather watery and made the toast a bit soggy. He also thought the HP sauce wasn’t the real deal despite being in the square bottle and that the ketchup wasn’t Heinz (although it was a Heinz bottle). This wasn’t per se a criticism as he thought the ketchup was nicer than regular old Heinz and since G is the condiment king, I’m inclined to trust his word!

We both cleared our plates and enjoyed the food immensely, but we did remind our waitress as she cleared the plates that we hadn’t got the duck eggs to make sure we weren’t charged the extra for them. Each dish has a one pound surcharge for these larger eggs. She was pleasant and slightly embarrassed by the mistake, saying it had been a kitchen mix up.

When it came to paying the bill, we had been charged the slightly higher price and we decided to pay the £6.50 for mine and the £7.95 (plus £1 for the hash brown) for G’s double fry up, remind them we hadn’t had the duck egg and leave the £2 extra as a tip since they were pleasant about the mistake and we generally felt the food was good quality and the coffee was excellent (although note that only regular tea and coffee are included in the price of a breakfast). They apologised again and seemed pleased with the tip and lack of fuss about the small error. This was only the second weekend they’d been open so we felt kindly toward them finding their feet and since I enjoyed it so much I’ll be back fairly soon, I’ll be able to see how things progress.

If you’re in the mood for a breakfast that feels like a bit of a luxury of a morning then The Duck Egg is a great spot. It is more expensive than The Phoenix across the road, but the ingredients are better quality and the vibe is moe upmarket plus it offers fancier coffee and a range of fresh juices. I think the two will compliment each just fine, but I hope The Duck Egg doesn’t succumb to the bad luck that seems to afflict this particular spot as I think it’s a great addition to Brixton.

PS: I’ve been back several times since and had duck eggs every time. I love the poached eggs on toast as a simple breakfast, but can’t resist their homemade hash browns for a treat. I love The Duck Egg. It’s bedded in very well!

Asparagus and Hollandaise sauce…heaven on a plate!

It is of course asparagus season right now here in Britain and I like to do my patriotic duty by eating as much of it as possible. After buying yet more at the farmers’ market yesterday, it came to my attention that about the only way I haven’t sampled this delicacy is the traditional way with hollandaise sauce… Read more