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Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

Cracking stuff: in praise of the duck egg…

Three green and one white duck egg

So that moveable feast, Easter, is well and truly behind us for another twelve months or so. It’s a time of the year which is synonymous with eggs – as a symbol of life, of change, as a treat or gift, and as the rebirth inherent during spring. Our modern Easter is a convenient, contradictory and sometimes conflicted mélange of pagan, Christian, and (increasingly) consumerist influences; and there’s plenty of scope for debate about the origins of many of the things we associate with this time of year. Sidestepping much of the ideology and etymology, I’d just like to talk about eggs…*

Actually, it’s hard to think of a more elemental, universal and iconic foodstuff than an egg. Considering eggs (and duck eggs in particular) are one of the favourite and most-used ingredients in my kitchen, it surprised me to realise we’ve never written a piece in praise of them.

They crop up in plenty of our recipes; they’re the first thing I buy when I go to the market each week; they’re my number one packed lunch item (the ultimate self-contained foodstuff). So this is a celebration of eggs, and especially the duck egg, which is indelibly wrapped up in my past memories and modern routines.

Three beautiful duck eggs on display at the Todmorden Agricultural Show

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Local northern food to put a smile on your face

Northern Stars supper club. Pt.2: local food for local people

sliced rhubarb

(This is the second article on our Northern Stars supper club… you can check out part one here)

When we had to name our team for the recent ‘A Question of Taste’ TV show, I rather glibly chose Northern Stars… it chimed with our team’s all-northern roots, and echoed North Star Deli’s title as the genesis of our team. When we hatched plans for our recent supper club after the show, that name morphed to became a genuine manifesto for the evening. I was keen to make the JoinUs4Supper evening a showcase for some of our favourite local food stars and producers… the products I’ve known and loved for sometime… and those which I take down to Miss South in London, to bring a taste of the Pennines to the big city.

The combination for the night of farmer, chef and foodie gave us a chance to share some of these tastes with friends and fellow foodies in Manchester, and now we can share them with you too.

Northern stars local specialities 1

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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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hare_plated-1.jpg

Hare removal… or who killed Roger Ragu…

Hare ragu, plated and ready
It’s game season again, and my thoughts have been straying towards furred and feathered fare as the hills and woods around here turn various gorgeous autumnal hues. Here at North/South Food we seemed to have cooked a disproportionately large selection of locally-sourced wild beasties over the last couple of years, perhaps motivated by an interest for something a little bit different, combined with a healthy desire to keep food miles low and quality levels high.

The blackboard in the local butcher’s been filled with a good variety of game in the last month: it’s been a bumper year for berries and fruits, so it stands to reason that many of things which feast on them will be in particularly fine fettle. Time to sharpen the steak knives, check the juniper berries, dig out the redcurrant jam and pour a glass of home-made damson gin!

I was gutted to have missed out on hare recently at the butchers (hare today, gone the next… buy it when you see it is the moral of this tale) so I was extremely chuffed to be offered a hare and three rabbits from another source; all local, lean and super-fresh. I’ve had hare in the kitchen once before, but it was more memorable for the cooking than the eating, perhaps as I’d ad-libbed the ingredients and found the beast a bit stringy and wanting for flavour. Since then I’ve read a lot more about hare – how in many respects it’s more akin to venison than rabbit – and wanted to give it a proper go before I made up my mind. So I took no chances and decided to follow a proper recipe this time, rather than make it up as I went.

The beast had been jointed and came without blood or giblets – jugged hare obviously wasn’t an option – so I delved into the excellent ‘Game: A Cookbook‘ by Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies (now my go-to book for all things game) and plumped for a classic northern Italian dish of Hare Ragu. It sounded perfect for these cooler autumn evenings. I’m not a great fan of that hardcore, machismo-laced strain of game eating: you know, when the meat’s been left to hang for so long it’s high to the point of walking around the kitchen on its own. Not appealing to me… I’m all for flavour, but not so dominant it threatens to overpower everything else. This hare had been caught the day before I had it, and it spent a day resting before I started cooking. I reckoned the extreme slowness of the recipe would compensate for a lack of extended hanging.

Before going to bed I finely chopped up the veg and aromatics to make a marinade, gave the joints a good coating, mixed up everything and left it overnight to mellow and rest. I then did the same, minus the marinade. Next day I chopped up the last of some wonderfully smokey Porcus backfat and bacon (to keep with the local, hilltop vein), and rendered that down, substituting this for the oil in the recipe. Then the veg got sweated down, accompanied by what few drips of marinade juices were left in the bowl, then in went half a litre of red wine. This took a while to simmer down and evaporate, then I added a dollop of tomato puree and some cocoa.

The addition of cocoa powder might sound a tad unexpected… but after the frankly amazing rabbit with morcilla and chocolate I’d previously cooked, I didn’t need much persuasion to whack a generous teaspoon into the mix. The cocoa-y flavours add a richness with a slight tang, just enough to play off the tomato and sweetness of the veggies. Finally in went the meat, the pot was filled with water, and everything simmered slowly, softening and bubbling away for a few hours until the meat threatened to slip unbidden off the bones. It was at about this time that my guest for the evening, a good mate who’s recently recanted an adult lifetime of vegetarianism, helped me to clean the cooked meat from the bones for the second stage of the cooking. To be honest,  this was above and beyond the call of duty, but he threw himself into the task with more gusto and enthusiasm than many a seasoned carnivore would; driven by a combination of curiosity and hunger. I’d at least warned him that wild beast would be on the menu before he turned up, so it wasn’t too much of a shock for him…

Everything went back in the pot, bar the carcass which was reserved for later use, and the ragu reduced for an hour or so, until it more resembled a dark pulled-pork dish than a normal pasta sauce. By this stage the collective groans of our stomachs ensured the pasta was cooked and garnished. I’d originally intended to dig out the pasta maker and roll out a few sheets of home-made ribbons, but this was a bit ambitious for a midweek work night, so I decided to go with something already in the store cupboard instead. I went for Orecchiette Pugliesi, that curious ear-shaped pasta, reckoning its bite and open shape would work well to catch the thick ragu. It did the trick…

A good helping of pecorino and a twist of parsley topped off the hearty, steaming bowls, and we tucked right in. You know it’s a good meal when there’s little conversation and less left in the dishes by the end. The hare had a big flavour… deeply rich and meaty, with more than a hint of game, but the tastes were balanced rather than overwhelming. Cooking it so slowly meant the meat was soft, succulent and very moist, and had absorbed all the other flavours in the pot, reducing everything down to a dark, unctuous delight. The only criticism is that it was almost too dry for a sauce to coat and accompany pasta… if I made this again I’d take it off the hob slightly earlier.

As is so often the way, the flavour got better over the next couple of days – just as well, as there was a lot of meat on this hare. I was (happily) eating it for days, and there’s still a tupperware container in the freezer, holding at least three generous portions, ready to meets its match with some home-made pappadellle one evening as the nights draw in. And, as the bones were substantial enough to boil up, I’ve also got a good selection of hare stock (or should that be hare restorer?) ice cubes in the freezer, ready to add to something special in the future.

Brown hare are powerful, elegant but shy native creatures – normally the most I see of them is a browny-grey blur when I’m out walking in the hills – so I’m pleased to have gotten a second chance to savour this beast… and that we hit it off better on our second dinner date. I can highly recommend this dish… stop reading this now and make yourself a hare appointment!

kohlrabi-2

Slaw Food Movement

I’m picking up the slaw baton from Miss South, after last week’s delicious-sounding fennel slaw. Coincidentally I was busy making kohlrabi slaw here in the Pennines at the same time.

I’d clocked the distinctive and slightly alien shapes of kohlrabi last year when I was in Hungary, pottering around the markets. I knew what they were, but wasn’t sure I’d ever tasted them.

Here at North/South Food we’re both well-known for our love of all things brassica –  from roots like turnips; leaves like cabbage and kale; and flowers to cauliflower and broccoli – so of course I was keen to add these swollen stems to our checklist of brassica we’ve known and loved.

To my mind there’s something very mittel European about these light green orbs, so it was fitting I was introduced to their flavour by a friend who’d lived in Germany for many years, and had picked up a taste for them when she out there. This was one half of the dynamic duo behind Porcus, our local free-range pork producers (and general self-sufficiency experts).

We had some kohlrabi to accompany a fantastic spread of roast pork and other goodies, as part of a medley of vegetables, but while this was being prepared I was given a chance to sample a slice of the raw kohlrabi. It had a crisp and crunchy texture, and a ‘bright’ and fresh flavour, a little like celeriac with a hint of apple and a pinch of nuttiness. Very nice it was too.

So when I was given a couple of kohlrabi and some radishes, all freshly picked from their hilltop garden, I felt it was worth making the most of this flavour and texture. In the spirit of all things summer I knocked up a quick. light, refreshing slaw to accompany some other salad-y goodies.

I started by peeling and slicing a kohlrabi stem, before julienning it.


I did the same with a carrot, then grated the radishes (don’t you love the form and colour of grated radish?).


These were all combined with a wholegrain mustard mayonnaise (Hellmanns, rather than anything made by my own fair hand… I was far too hungry to go through all that palaver)

Finally, in what proved to be a mildly inspired flourish, I added some sliced chives and a few mint leaves from my windowboxes. These added a touch of clean coolness to the dish which really played off the other ingredients.

A few minutes later I was sitting in the sunlight, eating hardboiled sliced duck eggs, some tomato & feta salad, and a massive dollop of the coarse-cut kohlrabi-slaw. Gorgeous. Kohlrabi’s not terribly well-known in the UK, but it you spot some at a farmer’s market, or if you fancy growing some yourself, I think it may become a firm favourite for you. It’s certainly got a place in my kitchen any time…