Monday, 23 September 2013

Oxtail Ragu

You would think that after almost two years and over three hundred posts that I would know if I had written something before.  I know that I have repeated recipes in that time, some things* crop up quite often, but now that Tonight's Menu isn't daily I just manage not to write about those meals.  However, it turns out that my ageing memory is still prone to playing tricks on me.

I could have sworn that I had told you all** about the joys of Oxtail Ragu.  I was certain that I would be going over old ground if I told you that The Geometry of Pasta is one of my favourite cookery books.  At least three other people held the same opinion, but I have been through the archives with a fine tooth comb and I can only find fleeting reference to this wonderful dish, so here we go.

I've been looking for an excuse and the time to cook oxtail ragu for months.  The last time I made it was back in December when we had a house full of guests for Christmas.  One tail makes easily enough ragu to serve five people, so it's the perfect dish for a big family gathering, or two greedy people who love leftovers.

There isn't much point reducing the recipe either, as even when sold cut up, oxtails are always sold as the entire tail.  This is a hangover from the days of Mad Cow Disease and the threat of CJD.  One tail, some stock veg, half a bottle of white wine*** and two tins of tomatoes are all you need, but you could add some bay leaves or other hard herbs.  The whole lot gets cooked together for as long as possible.  I suppose if you have a slow cooker you could use that.  I just left my pan on a very low heat for 6 hours the day before we planned to eat the sauce.

The original recipe in The Geometry of Pasta suggests that the oxtail should become the meal on day one and the sauce reserved for day two but I like to strip the meat from the bones, shred it between two forks and mix it back into the sauce.  The book also claims that this is a sauce for penne, but I don't hold to much stock in the assertion that you need the right pasta for a specific sauce.  Use whatever shape of pasta you have, but do try the oxtail ragu.

*see spaghetti bolognese, and sausage and bean casserole.
**hello Mum.
***yes white wine, trust me.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Summer Vegetable Lasagne

Yesterday I proclaimed that our star find at last weekend's Headingley Farmers Market was an enormous Pattypan Squash.  Although it is quite a thing to behold, it's size was not the deciding factor in us buying it.  We have tried on numerous occasions to grow pattypans with very limited success.  On the allotment we only got two or three tennis ball sized squashes and at home the seeds failed to germinate.

Pattypans are closer to courgette than pumpkin on the squash scale.  I love courgettes but the pattypan has become ellusive so when I saw one on the market I bought it without hesitation.  My plan was to thinly slice the pattypan, gently fry the slices and use them as a replacement for lasagne sheets.  This plan was scuppered when I realised that the mammoth squash's skin wasn't as soft and delicate as the tender young squashes that I had managed to grow.

The skin was as hard as Rhino hide and once I had managed to halve the pattypan I discovered that the flesh wasn't as yielding either.  I decided to include the pattypan in the tomato sauce that I would have made for the lasagne and use the mixture to stuff cannelloni, only to discover that the packet of cannelloni that was tucked at the back of the cupboard only had three tubes in it.

Luckily we had enough sheets of lasagne to make a fantastic meal.  The sauce had onion, garlic, peppers, fresh tomatoes, oregano, basil and of course half of the pattypan squash.  It was simmered together and seasoned before becoming the first, second and third layers of the lasagne.  It was topped with a cheesy bechamel sauce, some mozzarella and baked for half an hour.

The resulting lasagne was honestly the best I have ever cooked at home.  They often dry out when I cook them, but the moisture from the vegetables helped to cook the pasta sheets perfectly.  I didn't even miss the obligatory meat layer.  I still have half of the pattypan left over too, if you have any ideas what I should do with it I'd love to hear them.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Tagliatelle with Cauliflower Leaves, Bacon and Pine Nuts

Well, Mum has gone after a lovely week visiting us from Auld Reekie.  It's nice having her around and the extra pair of hands is always welcome when we're trying to get things done and R is playing up.  Last weekend, before she left, we took a trip up to Headingley on a two pronged mission.  Z wanted to visit Heart and Craft to meet up with some of her crafty friends and I felt the need to mooch around the Headingley Farmers Market.

We were specifically looking for something to have for our dinner on Sunday but we ended up with our bags full of exiting ingredients.  The star find was an enormous Pattypan Squash, but I'll come back to that tomorrow.  From the same stall as the squash we also picked up a Kohlrabi that was turned into a gratin that we had with a beef stew on Sunday, and a cauliflower.

We will be having cauliflower cheese later in the week but, unlike shop bought cauli's, the beast we bought from Headingley came complete with a bushel of foliage.  I hate chucking food away but had never considered cauliflower leaves to be a source of nutrition.  A quick internet search later confirmed that I was not going to poison myself or Z by eating the leaves.  Google didn't serve up much by the way of recipes however, so I pretty much made up Tonight's Menu as I went along.

We cook pasta with kale quite often so I was happy that I could do the same kind of thing with the cauliflower leaves.  I fried onions, garlic and some bacon in a little olive oil before adding the greens and a splash of white wine.  With the wine reduced and the greens wilted I added some toasted pine nuts, cooked tagliatelle, a splash of the pasta water and some grated parmesan cheese.

I have got absolutely no idea why I have never done this before, but cooking cauliflower leaves just makes sense.  They aren't as strong as kale or even cabbage, but they were tasty and as it keeps less food going into the bin, I'll definitely be cooking with them again.  Oh, and this would easily make a good vegetarian meal but I'm sure you can work that out for yourselves.

Three Good Things - Three good meals

Since starting Tonight's Menu I have tried to steer clear of the weekly round up of meals style blog post.  The main reason behind this* is that it is "Tonight's Menu" not "This Week's Menu".  That aside, I have had good reason not to be writing this week, my Mum is visiting.  It may not sound like a good reason to you, but I like to spend time with my guests, especially family, rather than spending the evenings typing.

Luckily, a wonderful blog concept from the glorious Liz, who writes at Margot Barbara, may well have saved my blogging conundrum.  Three Good Things is a roundup of three things that Liz is grateful for over the space of a week.  As this blog is about my evening meals, here are the three best ones that I have cooked this week

Good Meal One - Harissa Baked Trout

The thing with Mum is that she is quite a fussy eater.  There are very few meals that are completely off the menu, apart from any form of cured pork.  Ham, gammon and bacon are all persona non grata when she visits**.  We are making progress with some of the other foibles, fish being one of them.  The problem with fish is the fiddly nature of them.  It is written that Mum will find a bone in every portion of fish she is served.  With this in mind, I took extra care to pinbone the trout fillets before applying some harissa paste and baking them in a tinfoil parcel.

I served the trout with couscous, roast peppers and cherry tomatoes.  By the time the fish had been flaked off the skin and mixed through the couscous Mum was more than happy.  As were Z and I as we love fish and don't eat it often enough.

Good Meal Two - Tuscan Bean Stew

With the drawing in of Autumn and the shortening of the days, I have already started thinking about comfort food.  One of my favourite and most comforting combinations is that of sausages and beans.  The combinations of flavours that you could use is only limited by your imagination and good taste.  We bought some Italian inspired sausages from Sainsbury's over the weekend and cooked those with onion, celery, borlotti and haricot beans in some pork stock for a couple of hours.  The stew was finished with green beans and spinach.

Good Meal Three - Gigot Chops

The third good meal was courtesy of Mum.  We had decided to have some lamb as Z, who can't stand the stuff, was out for the evening.  I pointed Mum in the direction of Kirkgate market, told her who my favourite butcher is, and left the rest to her.  I imagined a Barnsley chop or some shanks but Mum was on a mission.

Having found B & J Callard, she walked in and flummoxed the young butcher by asking for two Gigot Chops.  He didn't have a clue what she was after, but one of the more senior members of staff was there to help.  The Scottish gigot chop is what the English call a leg steak and although I will have eaten it in the past, years of living in England had let it pass from my memory.  It is easily my favourite cut of lamb.

So there we have it, three good things, three good meals, all completely different and all wonderfully tasty.

*other than my odd obsession with following unwritten rules that I have set myself.
**I have been known to smuggle bacon into dishes but once it is cooked down it acts more as a seasoning than an ingredient.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Savoury Duck

There is no way that I can claim that I was always an adventurous eater.  I had never eaten a curry before I went to university and I only knew what a butternut squash was because of my Saturday job at Sainsbury's.  It's the enthusiasm and adventurous nature of some of our TV chefs that has opened my eyes to the endless culinary possibilities that are waiting to be found.  People like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Stephan Gates made me think about eating more than what most shops choose to sell us.

One of the things that changed was my attitude to food.  No longer did I accept that I didn't like something until I had tried it.  I had a new outlook, if people were eating it, it had to be good enough to eat.  One food that epitomised this view is tripe.  It is eaten the world over and has only recently fallen from the menus of Britain.  I was unconvinced, but once I get an idea into my thick head it sticks.  How bad could it be?

I didn't go out of my way to buy and cook tripe but I did start looking out for it on restaurant menus.  The first time I found it was on honeymoon, in Mexico.  For the first and only time in our lives we had booked an all inclusive beach holiday, the idea being that it would force us to unwind after the chaos of the previous couple of months wedding planning. 

The buffet counter was really set up for American families on Spring Break.  Past the burger bar, beyond the rotisserie chicken, hidden by the tex mex build-your-own-burrito bar, was a small counter with some traditional Mexican food.  It was possibly the safest way to try a new food.  It was an eat as much as you can buffet counter, so if it was a disaster and I didn't like the tripe stew that I had chosen, I could just go back and get something else.  That is exactly what I did.

I wasn't defeated though. I have had tripe several times since and am happy to say that I found a really good plate of tripe and beans in a small tapas bar in Barcelona.  Knowing that it is edible, tasty and has a good texture, if cooked well, means that I no longer feel the need to eat tripe.  I certainly still have no desire to cook it for myself.  Apart from one thing.

The Tripe Shop, Unit 145, Row B, 1976 Market Hall in Leeds Kirkgate Market, has been flirting with me since I moved to Leeds.  Hidden away from the rest of the butchers, it would be very easy to walk through the market and never see the small counter.  Malt vinegar bottles and white pepper pots stand guard over the cuts of meat that most people probably feel should be thrown away.  I realised that I had been telling people about it without ever shopping there.  Last weekend I decided to rectify this situation.

Rather than tripe or esophagus, I decided to buy a couple of the more appetising sounding Savoury Ducks.  To the uninitiated, savoury ducks, or faggots, are large meatballs made of pork and offal, covered in caul fat and baked.  I can't tell you exactly what is in the Tripe Shop's ducks but I can tell you that the stall owner thinks that old recipes used to contain dock leaves, hence the name.

That pearl of wisdom was all that I got, no ingredients list and no serving suggestion.  I decided to re-heat the ducks in a rich beef gravy and serve them with a pile of mashed potatoes and steamed leeks, it is autumn after all.  Having now tucked into my first savoury duck I'm happy to say that they are very nice.  Somewhere between sausages and burgers, very rich and as you would expect, savoury.  At £1 per duck they aren't expensive, but if we do go back for more we'll probably share one between the two of us.