Garlic bread. The ultimate in comfort food, this simple snack was elevated to superstar status back in 2003 by Bolton-born Peter Kay’s famous sketch. Since then, it’s become nigh on impossible for people in the UK to pass a packet, produce a plate or merely mention the stuff without some smart arse chipping in with a round of ‘Garlic bread?’ intoned in a slightly nasal Northern accent.
Kay may have had his reservations, but there are few things more satisfying than the simple combination of good bread and garlic. Bruschetta made from toasted bread straight off the barbeque – rubbed with garlic and drizzled in olive oil – is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but for something with a little more rib-sticking clout, it’s hard to beat a buttery stick of good homemade garlic bread. Continue reading
After green curry and tom yum soup (or maybe even before), pad thai is probably the dish we associate most strongly with Thailand, enjoyed for its combination of simple, fresh flavours, and consumed in restaurants and homes around the world. Surprising, then, that this ‘classic’ Thai dish was actually invented less than a hundred years ago.
According to Australian chef and Thai food expert, David Thompson, it came about as the result of a nationwide competition under the military regime of Martial Phibun. In an attempt to revive the Thai economy by encouraging the production of rice noodles, he tasked the country with devising new noodle-based recipes. Salty, sweet and sour with the crunch of peanut and a kick of lime, the winning recipe was named pad thai, or ‘fried Thai style’. The rest, as they say, is history. Continue reading
For the last week or so the blogosphere has been alight with talk of Da Polpo, the new venture in Russell Norman’s ever-expanding restaurant empire. The fourth to open in half as many years, it builds on the menus of Polpo and Polpetto, adding an expanded list of pizzette alongside incredible sounding variations on an italian classic, the meatball. Not surprisingly for the brainchild of one if the first restaurateurs to truly harness the power of social media, Da Polpo has been a highly trending topic on Twitter as bloggers race to get their bums on the seats and reviews on their sites.
Having read a number of reviews over the last couple of days, I was left feeling three things. Number one? Hungry. Not surprising given the mouth-watering menu, great photos and gorgeous descriptions provided by some of my fellow bloggers (for some stomach-grumble inducing snaps take a look at reviews from Eatlikeagirl, Crumpeats, Londoneater or The Skinny Bib). Two? Jealous. I’m off to Barcelona next weekend and trying to save pennies for some serious tapas-fuelled budget-blowing, so trying new restaurants isn’t really on the agenda for the next few days. Three? Itching to get in the kitchen.
This month Carniverous Boyfriend has decided to ramp his protein obsession up a notch by moving onto a strict no carb diet. A kind of crazy cross between Atkins and Dukan, it’s intended to turn him into a lean, mean, muscle-beach-bound machine in time for our trip to Spain in early June. Good for him. Possibly a little less good for me as I’ll no longer have a partner in crime to share the breads, brownies and other spoils of my baking obsession. Never mind, I guess my inner greedy child should see that as a positive anyway.
On another positive note, this new-found protein obsession means I’ve been experimenting a little more in the kitchen. Although CB seems pretty content to chow down on multiple chicken breasts, tins of tuna and dozens of eggs, I think it’s nice to tuck into something a little more adventurous of an evening. This weekend, I stuck my nose into our local fishmonger and came back laden with beautiful specimens; a crab shell packed with freshly picked meat, a dozen giant head-on prawns, thin opaque fillets of gurnard, some gorgeously glossy squid tubes and a little pot of tiny peeled prawns.
One of my favourite blogs at the moment is Food Stories written by Helen Graves. I’ve been eyeing up her various recipes for stuffed squid for a while now (recipe here), and thought this was the perfect opportunity to give it a go. Squid is one of my all-time favourite ingredients – flash-grilled with chilli, lemon and rocket a la River Cafe or slow-stewed with soft, melting ingredients like fennel and chorizo – but can be so easy to get wrong. A few minutes over or under and the resulting rubbery consistency is as pentitential as it gets. I was therefore a little concerned as Helen’s recipe called for baby squid, and my tubes were more of the giant variety. However a little common sense prevailed and I got the cooking time pretty much spot on, creating a dish of wonderful contrasts – melt-in-the-mouth squid packed with firm, textured prawns and punchy flavours.
What follows is recipe I pulled together using a few basic ingredients – pungent crushed garlic, fiery chilli, a zing of lemon and freshly torn parsley. If I hadn’t been under strict no-carb intructions from CB, I’d be inclined to throw in a handful of breadcrumbs or pulses (lentils or the black beans that Helen uses would be good) to help bind the filling (it slightly fell apart as you cut into the tubes), but if you’re looking for simple, strong flavours over presentation, what follows is more than adequate. My photo of the finished article is a little dodgy as by this point I was more interested in eating than snapping, but please take my word for it, these really are very nice. Perfect with some steamed woody green veg and a splash of fruity olive oil.
Squid stuffed with garlicky prawns
2 medium squid tubes, cleaned
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 birdseye chillis including seeds, chopped
Handful pinenuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
2 large handfuls tiny prawns, shelled and finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Large bunch parsley, chopped
Handful breadcrumbs or lentils (optional)
Heat a lug of olive oil in a small saucepan and gently fry the crushed garlic and chilli til coloured. Add the pinenuts and prawns and continue to cook a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley and breadcrumbs/lentils if using to form a thick, coarse mixture.
Stuff each squid 3/4 full with the mixture, securing the end with a cocktail stick. Heat a heavy based grill pan with a little oil until smoking, then grill the squid for around 3 mins each side, adjusting depending on the size of your tubes. This would also work really well on the BBQ, with the black grill marks adding extra flavour.
Test that the contents are warmed through by inserting a skewer. Serve drizzled with fruity olive oil and accompanied by earthy rich greens.
You might wonder why I’m posting a recipe for pesto. Pesto is something that appears on menus and food packaging around the world. Over-used and under-appreciated, there’s most likely a sweaty jar of mass produced pesto lurking in most people’s deepest cupboard space (am I right?). As a student it certainly formed an essential part of our storecupboard staple of pasta, pesto and frozen peas (the 3 P’s), possibly washed down with a pint (make that 4 . . . P’s, not pints that is). The ‘middle class ketchup’ phenomenon . . .
So why a recipe? Because this much maligned sauce doesn’t deserve these bogus impersonators; mean little jars of processed cashews, sunflower oil, preservatives and stabilisers. Pesto should be eaten fresh. It should sing with the rich green notes of freshly torn basil, toasted nuts and salty cheese. Yes, the ingredients can be expensive, but, as with good quality meat and other little luxuries in life, I’d suggest quality over quantity. Instead of plonking pesto onto every baguette, salad, sandwich and snack in sight, savour it, allowing the flavours to shine through.
This recipe is so simple, it’s hardly a recipe at all. Almost as quick and easy as opening a jar of pesto, but infinitely nicer, once you’ve tried it, I’m pretty positive you won’t look back. My recipe mixes rocket and basil for a really light, fresh flavour, and I’ve included few ingredient variations below for the budget conscious or more adventurous amongst you. If you have any other favourite or interesting pesto recipes, I’d love you to share them below.
Rocket & Basil Pesto (makes 1 jar)
2 tbsp pine nuts
Pinch of salt
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
100g freshly picked basil leaves
50g Parmesan, grated
300ml extra virgin olive oil
Dry fry the pine nuts in pan until lightly toasted and golden. Pound in a pestle and mortar with salt and crushed garlic. Add the rocket and basil leaves, continuing to mash until it becomes a thick green paste (you could do this in a food processor, althoug purists would argue against this, preferring the subtler flavours of the bruised ingredients). Add the grated cheese and most of the olive oil until fully blended, reserving a little oil for the top. Transfer to a jar, cover with remaining oil and keep in the fridge for up to one week.
Serve simply with al dente linguine, Ligurian style with trofie pasta, potatoes and green beans, as I’ve done above with ravioli or spoon over chicken or white fish. Delicious.
Some tasty pesto variations:
Basil & pine nut – the classic
Coriander & cashew – omit the cheese and try a little chilli for more of an Eastern feel
Watercress & walnut – earthy and rich, perfect in winter