Posts

raw pork heart

I heart pork!

Pork heart new

It may have come to your attention that Valentine’s Day is upon us again. My reaction to the sea of helium balloons, fluffy teddy bears, reduced priced fizz, enormous boxes of chocolates and red roses in the shops is to say ‘stuff it’…

Not just because I’m a grumpy 30-something woman who happens to be single, but because I found some suckling pig hearts from wild boar at the farmers’ market last week and felt my customary urge to make and use stuffing coming on again, especially since it would be somewhat apt this week.

The cold weather at the moment makes it the perfect opportunity to make long slow cooked meals rich with flavour and red wine and served with roasted seasonal veg and after a trip to The Fruit Garden in Herne Hill where I came across some excellent beetroot and the new-to-me salsify, I had the makings of an excellent meal for one.

Read more

Meatball stuffed tomatoes

There are somethings I never tire of and could eat for all eternity and one of those things is meatballs. I just adore them. Served with spaghetti, stuffed into a sandwich, as a canapé or just on their own, I can’t get enough of them. I usually use Allegra McEvedy’s failsafe recipe from the first Leon cookbook, but as the sun slowly came out over London a few weeks ago, I fancied something lighter and more summery. A chance encounter with some veal mince at Waitrose helped focus the mind and the next thing I knew, I had a plateful of veal, black olive and parmesan meatballs chilling in the fridge.

Pan-fried until well sealed and then steamed with stock until fully cooked through, I served them with some grilled courgettes and the pan juices for a treat of a Friday night dinner after a long week. And they were good. The sweet meatiness of the veal was enhanced utterly by the umaminess of the parmesan and the olives. I scraped the plate clean in record time and even recommended the combo to the little loaf on Twitter. But something was missing. It needed something to take it from good to amazing.

It had to be tomatoes. The July sun and heavy rains of the past few months mean that everything is better with a British tomato right now. Bursting with flavour and warmed up naturally by the flickering sun, they add a note to every dish that lifts it beyond just good. But even having decided on the welcome addition of tomatoes, it still needed something beyond just a sauce. And flicking through some stored up summer recipes, I saw an idea for stuffed beef tomatoes and it all fell into place. Meatball stuffed cherry tomatoes…

As I’ve mentioned before, my life is never too short to stuff anything. Not when everything is more delicious filled with something else. Taking the tops off and scooping out the middles of the cherry tomatoes is in fact no more time consuming than rolling individual meatballs and chilling them into shape. It’s almost as relaxing in fact.

I used about 200g of veal mince, a handful of fresh oregano, about 75g of parmesan and about ten black olives finely chopped and bound together with an egg yolk. I didn’t bother with the usual milk soaked breadcrumbs as I didn’t need the mixture to form such distinct shapes and then I stuffed the tomatoes nice and full. They then got baked for around 35 minutes until soft and collapsed and intensely tomatoey. This was longer than I thought they’d need and when I checked them about 20 minutes in, I added a splash of tomato juice to help steam them quicker. I then served them along with the pan juices on a big plate of pasta.

And they had gone up a notch from tasty to terrific. The tomato was exactly what they needed to set off the flavours perfectly and despite my intentions to only have half the meatballs for dinner, I found myself wolfing down the other portion immediately because let’s face it, there was never really any chance of me saying no to two of my favourite things combined. I enjoyed every single scrap and wished I had twice as many. I did miss the sticky cruncy crust that you get on a fried meatball, but I might just put them in upside down, pan sear them and go from there in future. But really these are the perfect summer supper. Stuff one immediately!

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!

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!