A pictorial guide for the adventurous:
This is a fake post. Just to make you think I’ve written something when I really haven’t. But seriously, look at that lamb ! Is it not the sexiest looking thing you’ve ever seen in meat form ? I think so too.
I cook my lamb racks whole, first rubbing them all over with olive oil, salt, pepper, and then smooshing as much rosemary as I can into them. I then searing it all over in a very hot pan til it’s nice and brown. Finish it off in the oven for about 15 minutes on 180C to cook through to a lovely pink and juicy rare. Slice down through the gaps and enjoy the succulent pleasure of natures lamby bounty… always remembering that If God hadn’t wanted us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat.
Incidentally, these would go fantastically well with a West Australian wine. I’d pick a Great Southern Shiraz from Frankland River (a Howard Park Scotsdale if I was feeling fancy), or something from Margaret River like a lovely Cape Grace Cabernet Sauvignon.
Also if you’re interested in seeing how crappy my photography used to be, check out this lamb based blast from the past: Rack of lamb with honey/balsamic sauce
I find it simultaneously strange and wonderful that I’m writing a recipe for the dish that single handedly made me loath pasta.
As a younger man I once graced the hallowed halls of an institution who’s culinary aspirations were not what I’d call astronomical.
I’m sure some of you may have fond memories of your school days, but my final years of high school were spent confined to a boarding school who’s idea of catering was to open a large can of something mysterious and pour it over toast.
The list of things that boarding school food turned me off was actually fairly extensive. Among them, steak diane, ham steaks with pineapple, lasagne, meat pies, hot dogs, and pretty much all forms of vegetable. There was very little that the lovely ladies in the kitchen could not make taste disgusting and industrial. I’m quite surprised I developed any kind of food obsession at all after doing my time there.
The carbonara of course was on it’s own existential plane of badness. A thin, watery, creamy sauce, with stodgy pasta and either thick chunks of mostly raw mushroom or a slurry of mushroom goo (depending on whether you were the first or last table to get your food). The older and wiser would pick out the bacon and chicken (or whichever meat they’d decided to add), and leave the rest, and then intimidate the young and new into handing over theirs.
It should come as not too much of a surprise then that it’s not the first thing I’d ever order on a menu at my local Italian restaurant. But then as is often the case, it seems I’ve had carbonara wrong all these years, and it took Mr Vincenzo Velletri to set me straight.
Vincenzo is a man who’s love of food and his Italian heritage knows no bounds. A chef, caterer, butcher, and educator. It was after talking to Vincenzo at a Slow Food Perth event that I realised he had in his possession some very special cured meat, namely Guanciale, that he’d made himself from a friends pigs.
Never having heard of Guanciale before I did what any good food nerd does, and headed to the internet for enlightenment. Soon discovering that it’s the meat that should be used in a traditional carbonara. My investigations into carbonara then led me to the shocking revelation that the traditional recipe contains no cream, mushroom, or watery goop whatsoever ! Amazing !
Armed with new knowledge and a hefty chunk of cured meat, it was time to reinvent my taste buds.
How I made mine
Now I know this is going to be annoying to the majority of the world, but the simple fact is that Guanciale is hard to find. Unless you have a great traditional Italian butcher or know someone who makes it, then your chances of stumbling across it in a shop are relatively slim. It’s a particularly fatty piece of meat, and is actually the pigs cheek which has been cured in salt, pepper, and chilli for a few weeks. All I can say is that is gives the dish an intensity that you don’t get with just bacon. Pancetta (being cured pork belly) is probably the closest thing you’ll find to use as a substitute.
So firstly slice your meat up into small pieces, mince the garlic and fry it in a hot pan with olive oil until it’s soft, then add the meat and fry them together. The fat will start to come out of the guanciale, and create a lovely slick.
Put your pasta into a pot with plenty of salt and boil it til it’s al dente (or a little before, because it’ll continue to cook once it comes out of the water).
Once the pasta is done, drain it well and then add it to the pan with the guanciale, tossing it well.
Now comes the magic. Crack the eggs and mix them together with the cheese, take the pan completely off the heat and then pour the eggs into the pasta, stirring constantly to combine it. What you’re making is a very simple sauce where the egg cooks just enough from the heat of the pasta to bind it all together with a lovely creamy texture. Add a little of the pasta water if you need to get some more movement happening.
Toss it all together well, add the handful of parsley and a sizeable portion of fresh cracked pepper to give it the bite it needs, a little salt to taste, and that my friends, is that. No cream, no mushroom, no white wine… Just some very basic ingredients combining together to make a very beautiful result.
Now to get started on changing my opinion of chicken nuggets…
I’ve posted this everywhere else in the world so far, so I figured I may as well make an
actual post about it on my blog, for the future generations to marvel at. I’ve had some interesting reactions so far, ranging from “that’s amazing, I might try it” to “I just threw up in my mouth”. Feel free to take whatever side you’d like, I won’t be offended… much.
So the story goes like this:
I scrambled these eggs using my espresso machines steamwand.
I cracked three eggs into a milk jug, added a few splashes of milk and about 50 grams of melted butter, added some salt and pepper, and stirred it all through.
Then I went and put it under the steam wand of my Isomac Mondiale, prayed that the coffee Gods would not strike me down, and turned on the steam… Using roughly the same technique as I would for steaming milk for cappuccinos, but leaving the tip immersed lower down in the eggs, rather than at the top, for around about 30 seconds.
For about 20 seconds it all looked very strange, like a creamy yellow vortex of uncertainty. The steam wand was also making the kind of noises that tend to indicate it’s not happy, roughly akin to the noise a cat might make while you’re repeatedly stepping on it’s tail. Then suddenly the eggs began to set it all came together in one thick solid gooey mess of bouncy eggishness.
At that point i turned off the steam, using a large spatula to stir the eggs through, as there was some parts more runny than others, and stirring it they seemed to combine nicely and the residual heat of the milk jug brought it all together some more.
Then I poured it out onto some toast, and served the eggs with bacon and fresh cracked pepper.
It took me about 10 minutes to clean the steam wand back to a point where i’d want to use it for milk again… The egg cooks and cakes on to the metal in ways that milk can only dream of.
In the end though, it was a perfectly tasty rendition of scrambled eggs, with a lovely airy consistency.
Thanks to Adam from Amateur Gourmet for the inspiration: www.amateurgourmet.com/2009/11/steam-scrambled.html
I tried to take a video of the whole process but failed miserably. Think blair witch project if they were trapped in the forest with only an espresso machine, a chicken, and a really long extension cord to fend for themselves. But because I’m such a nice guy who can handle the embarrassment, here it all is in all it’s horrible grainy video glory.
Whenever I want to rediscover my love of cooking, I go back to the classics. The dishes that I learnt to cook years ago and which have brought me many moments of good eating. For me, that dish is risotto.
In the fanciful youth of this blog I cooked risotto all the time. I was mad for it. I’d toil away with ladle after ladle of stocks (chicken, lamb, duck, mushroom), experimenting with types of rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano), and generally throwing anything into them that I thought might work. Cream, cheese, wine, champagne, fistfuls of parmesan and knobs of butter, all absorbed into the mess that were my creations.
I used to be under the impression that you could make anything into a risotto… and in following that theory I came up with a Chinese risotto, a Japanese Risotto with wasabi, a beef and red wine risotto, and curried chicken risotto. All of which seemed like a good idea at the time, but now haunt my blog like the ghost of bad cooking past, only to appear when a lonely web searcher puts a few fatefully wrong keywords into their search engine.
These days I’ve gone a little more classical with my eating and cooking. I lean towards clean flavours, simple combinations of a few main elements with as little bastardisation of styles as possible. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting of course, but I think you need to know the basics before you can really appreciate anything expanding on it.
So the risotto milanese is one of the most classic forms around. It’s essentially a plain risotto flavoured with saffron and parmesan (and traditionally bone marrow). It’s often paired with Osso Buco for a power packed duo of formidable comfort food.
My risotto starts out with finely chopped onion, sautéed in olive oil and a little butter til it’s soft and translucent. At this point I add in a cup or two of rice, tending to favour carnaroli for it’s high level of starch which results in a particularly creamy consistency. The rice gets tossed through the oil and onion mixture until it’s well coated, at which point I turn up the heat just slightly and add a cup of dry white wine (It doesn’t have to be great wine, but generally something you’d drink).
From there the magic of the risotto begins. A pot of chicken stock sits side by side the risotto pan, and I take a ladleful at a time pouring it into the risotto and stirring gently til it absorbs into the rice. You don’t want to rush this process, but people who think it takes hours to make a risotto should not be put off.
The absorption process takes a little time, but the rest of the bottle of wine sitting next to you (this is why it’s important to use something you’d drink) makes it a leisurely affair of stirring and swirling and tasting that I often get lost in the simplicity of (read: I get drunk while cooking).
There are a couple of different ways to add the saffron to the dish. One being to add it to the stock, and the other being to infuse it in some warm water to draw out the colour, and then add the liquid and strands to the risotto towards the end. I normally use a hybrid approach, and have adopted a little trick I saw on a cooking show, whereby the chef crushed some saffron threads in a mortar and pestle with some salt. Creating a rich yellow saffron salt that both seasons the dish and imbues it with saffron flavour. Stingy cooks beware though…a generous dose of saffron is necessary for the richness of flavour this dish deserves.
Then as the rice is becoming softer and closer to that elusive “al dente” we hear so much about, I add a final addition of a large knob of butter and a good handful or two of parmesan cheese (freshly grated is always best, generally a nice Reggiano). This gives the risotto it’s final glossy appearance and creamy texture (without adding any cream).
A quick season with salt and pepper at the finish and this dish is complete. I quite enjoy it on it’s own, or as the base to a host of other options. In the photos above you’ll see I served the risotto under some pan fried fish (Pearl Snapper), that was fried in butter. A combination that I think worked quite nicely, but not one you need to follow.
Because If you’re anything like me, you don’t follow recipes prescriptively, you take a bunch of starting points and references and then head off on your own merry dance… often at your own peril. But when it all comes together and you put that first spoonful into your mouth and it tastes like liquid gold dripped from the wings of angels… It makes all your efforts that little bit more worthwhile.
Since it’s been so long between posts here, I figured I’d give you all a two for one. So this is a restaurant review and a recipe all rolled into one.
So recently while dining with a dear friend in Subiaco we ventured into Meeka. It’s a relatively new restaurant, having been around for a year or so now, down the not so business end of Subiaco’s Rokeby Road. The menu is middle eastern in appearance, with a hat tip towards Morocco, serving a number of classic Morrocan dishes and a series of tagines.
Unfortunately the names of the dishes on the menu were about as close as Meeka got to ever giving us a North African experience. We ordered a chicken pastilla (bastilla, bisteeya, b’stilla – take your pick), and a meatball tagine. Some Israeli couscous as a side dish and a bottle of wine.
Sadly the chicken in the pastilla was dry to the point inedibility. We picked at it like disinterested vultures might at 3 week old roadkill. Hoping to find at least one juicy morsel worth eating. Sadly, there was none. The meatballs on the other hand, were a whole different story. Simultaneously raw on the inside, and completely devoid of moisture, is not something i thought was actually possible. They came presented in a tagine with a tomato sauce of nondescript origins, and defied all attempts to be enjoyed.
The couscous however was tasty and refreshingly edible. A small bowl of hope in an otherwise desert of a meal.
Somewhat incensed by how something that should have been so good, wasn’t. I went home and started looking up meatball tagine recipes. I love cooking with a tagine and I love Moroccan flavours. The combination of sweet and savoury elements coming together to confuse the palate and build layers of complexity is always rewarding when done well. So I was glad to be able to find this dish that completely restored my faith that it was indeed just a miraculously bad experience.
For the meatballs
Minced beef or lamb (I used beef, but a combination might be good)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 onion chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 egg to bind
salt and pepper to season
sprinkling of finely chopped parsley
ghee for frying
For the sauce
1 onion, finely sliced
2 cans chopped tomatoes (or equivalent passata)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp hot paprika
1 tablespoon honey
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
4 eggs (or more)
How I made mine
Combine the meatball ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the meat and spices through thoroughly with your hands, add the onion, garlic, and parsley and crack the egg in. Mix the egg throughout the mixture well so that it binds together well.
Then start to form small balls by taking a palm full of the mixture, flattening it out to remove air pockets, and then rolling between your hands to make golf ball sized meatballs. Obviously you can make them as big or as small as you want, and at this point I often start playing around with the seasoning to add more of a particular spice if I think it needs it.
Now get your tagine (you can just use a regular frying pan with a lid if you don’t have a tagine, but then you have to call it meatball frypan dish, which is infinitely less sexy) and add a little ghee to the bottom, then fry the sliced onion til it’s mostly cooked through.
Add the meatballs on top of the onion and fry them til just browned all over. Turning them over every few minutes to make sure they’re cooking evenly.
Once the meatballs are browned, add the tomatoes (or passata) over the top til it’s mostly covered. At that point sprinkle in the other spices and drizzle over the honey. Give the whole dish a gentle stir mix the spices through. Now put the lid of the tagine on, and turn the heat down to quite low to let the flavours infuse and the sauce to soak into the meatballs. If the level of liquid in the dish is a bit low, then add some more tomato passata.
Now give this ten minutes or so to simmer and for the meatballs to cook through, and then the master stroke of this dish is ready to happen. Take the lid off and crack the eggs into the sauce (in between gaps in the meatballs). Add a sprinkling of fresh parsley and perhaps some coriander over the top, and another good seasoning with salt and pepper, and then put the lid back on the tagine. Now basically you’re poaching the eggs in the sauce until they’re cooked to your liking. I left mine in for a few minutes til they were just soft and still runny inside.
To serve, either get authentic and make up some couscous, or just do what I did and gingerly spoon the meatballs into a bowl while trying not to break the eggs, and then devour with thick slices of crusty bread.
A short story of a quick meal entitled “Leek and Broccolini Frittata”
3 splashes of milk (maybe 1/2 cup)
a healthy knob of butter
a handful of chopped leek
a handful of chopped broccolini
a clove of chopped garlic
a sprinkling of parmesan cheese
a smattering of chopped parsley
a drizzle of olive oil
a seasoning of salt and pepper
Beat the eggs gently, stir in the milk, season with salt and pepper.
Sautee the garlic, leek, and broccolini in butter in a small omelette pan. Once they’re cooked to mostly soft, but still have a little fight left in them, pour in the eggs.
Stir the eggs through so the vegetables are well separated. Once the base of the eggs sets, sprinkle the top with parmesan and put it into a hot oven (or under a grill) to finish off.
When the top is solid and the level has risen slightly, take it out of the oven and slide / manhandle it onto a plate.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the top, add some parlsey, salt, and pepper to finish. Decide that it could go very nicely with some lovely chilli jam (courtesy of Hank)
Serve. (and gloat at how simple and easy it was).
Pour a glass of superb 2007 Mantra Reserve Chardonnay (graciously sent to me by the affable Brad of Wine by Brad) and marvel at it’s subtle length, buttery warmth, toasty oak, lemony fragrance and old school charm. And how delightfully well it goes with the eggy resonance of the frittata. Pat yourself on the back and go to bed happy.