Showing posts with label recipe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recipe. Show all posts

Hake, tomato & anchovy-stuffed olive roast – happy recipe & ingredient tinkering!

Hake, cherry tomato, & anchovy-stuffed green olive roast
Tomato and anchovy olive hake-bake.

Hake, tomato & anchovy-stuffed olive roast recipe - "The pimentón imparts a lovely wood-fired spiciness.  Rather than Nocellara olives, my version of the recipe uses Spanish green Manzanilla olives stuffed with anchovy puree.  This brings a wonderful, subtle seafood umami flavour to the dish but doesn't overpower the flavour balance at all."


When it comes to recipes, and cook books for that matter, I've always been a bit of a magpie. I love perusing and using them to discover how other enthusiastic cooks and foodies have combined familiar, and not so familiar, ingredients to make an enticing dish.  I remember as a child thumbing through the volumes of my parents' Supercook magazine collection, reading in wonderment the instructions on how to prepare, what seemed in the 1970s, seemingly exotic meals.  As a student, I used to snip recipes from the Sunday supplements and save them in scrapbooks for future reference. Nowadays, I can just as easily do such snipping online, of course. Yet I still love turning and gazing at the pages of cookbooks both new and old.

Now I'm not sure if it's down to my scientific background, but much as I savour a good recipe, it's not often I don't think about having a wee tinker with it.  The thought "I wonder what it would taste like if..." frequently pops into my head.  Usually my experimentation is subtle; I might substitute Rosemary with Thyme, or add a further - hopefully complimentary - spice or vegetable to the mix of ingredients.  Sometimes things go well, sometimes they are not so successful, but I like to think my tinkering never produces any total disasters.  And truth be known, I suppose it's through exactly this process that the multitude of variations in such standards as, say, pasta Bolognese, or fish pie, come into existence.

A successful example – at least to my taste buds – of my ‘freestyling’ involves a super, yet straightforward, recipe I happened across in this year’s Olive magazine calendar.  It’s for a tray roast involving cod wrapped in Parma ham, and cooked with cherry tomatoes and Nocellara green olives. A cinch to cook and, as both JML and I agreed, delicious and quite healthy to boot.  But when I thought about cooking it again a few days later, that little voice inside my head piped up “I wonder what it would taste like if it the emphasis was a bit more Spanish than Italian?”…

Hearty spring eating - Spanish-inspired stew with lamb heart, chickpeas, peppers and olives

Spanish-inspired stew with lamb hearts, peppers, chickpeas and olives.
Spanish-inspired stew with lamb heart and chickpeas.
The transition from late winter to early spring can be a bit of a disorientating time of year.  In terms of weather - and I speak here as a Scot - one minute clear blue skies and bright sunshine hint of a glorious summer that is, hopefully, to come. Yet within an hour or two the wind changes direction, leaving the populace shivering in horizontal sleet.

Cooking and eating at this time of year can be equally hit and miss, especially when trying to use seasonal ingredients. On one hand there can be a longing to dine on fresh, green produce, but it's usually still too early in the season in late February or early March for many spring crops to be making any sort of meaningful appearance. On the other hand, days are still quite short and nights can sometimes be frosty, perpetuating winter-time yearnings for hearty meals.

At a time when fresh, local ingredients can be limited, it's sensible to make best use of what is available. And if you are a meat eater one thing that is synonymous with spring is lamb. Make mention of cooking with this delicious meat and most people automatically think of a roast leg, slow cooked shoulder, or grilled chops. Smashing as all these joints may be, my northern English heritage possibly makes me a wee bit more adventurous.  After all, as a child I was no stranger to the delights of cheap, cheerful and flavoursome cuts such as tripe, chitterlings and trotters.

I remain an adventurous omnivore to this day, even though JML and I are attempting to cut down on our meat consumption for a number of ethical and environmental reasons.  And I heartily agree with the ethos of Fergus Henderson - chef, restaurateur, and author of Nose to Tail Eating - that if we are going to kill an animal for food, we should make use of as much of it as possible. Basically, as Fergus maintains, "You should be nice to your offal".  All of which leads me to this recipe for a Spanish-inspired stew featuring chickpeas, olives, peppers, and lamb hearts.

I actually can't remember how the original recipe for this Hispanic-influenced casserole came to my attention, but it's a dish I have been regularly cooking, and refining, for years. It's straightforward, economical, and - most importantly - very tasty, combining the earthy flavours of chickpeas and cumin, sweetness of red peppers, fried onions and tomato, umami notes provided by mushrooms and olives, and subtle spiciness originating from smoked pimentón (paprika), thyme and a pinch of dried chilli.  Left to feature just the above ingredients it's a hearty vegan dish.  Sometimes however I like to add chunks of chicken thigh or pork shoulder to give things a meatier twist. So why not lamb hearts as well?

Recipe: ¡Viva Tortilla! - A scrumptious take on "Spanish omelette", to welcome the return of al fresco dining

Spanish tortilla based on a "Moro" recipe.
Spanish tortilla based on a scrumptious "Moro" recipe.
When I was a wee lad, there was an advert on TV hailing from a major food producer.  It extolled people to be exotic in their cooking by preparing a "Spanish omelette".  I can't remember exactly which non-egg ingredients said dish was meant to include to make it "Spanish" other than frozen peas. I suspect some of you are realising which major food producer was the sponsor of the advert...


Exotic eating was very much in vogue in the 1970s, which represented a time of transition in terms of the UK's culinary heritage.  Historically, British cooking had been diverse and inventive, but coinciding - and probably as a result of - the great wars of the 20th century, our relationship with food seemed to lose its way.  Wartime rationing meant that our cuisine became bland and mundane.  At least until we discovered, and took to our hearts/stomachs, food from across the world.
 
Like many people growing up in urban areas of the UK in the 70s I became aware of, and fascinated by, the increasing prevalence of restaurants serving the food of India (technically, more usually that of Pakistan or Bangladesh), China and Italy.  This growth in "exotic" new fare was no accident, but resulted from those who emigrated to the UK from across the globe during the last century expressing their culture in culinary terms, and sharing this with people already resident here.  And we Brits loved it!

Yet surprisingly, there was one culture that Britons became increasingly familiar with during the 1970s and 80s that seemed to have scant influence on our eating patterns.  With millions of us annually jetting off to Spain each year, why was it that the superb food of that country failed to become ingrained in our culinary psyches?  Maybe it was because the nature of the package holiday meant that holidaymakers from the UK had only limited exposure to authentic Spanish cooking.  Or perhaps (at least until the relatively recent economic turmoil within Europe caused significant migration) there simply wasn't a large enough Spanish community within the UK to provide a genuine Iberian dining experience for those returning from the fortnight of sunshine on the costas.

This all goes to explain why the pea-festooned "Spanish omelette" of my youth bore little resemblance to the "tortilla española/de patatas" I first sampled in Barcelonan tapas bar in the mid-1990s.  It is a dish that exemplifies the, often, uncomplicated nature of Spanish cuisine (although Ferran Adrià might dispute that assertion). Fundamentally it comprises merely three ingredients; onion, potato and eggs - plus seasoning.  Yet it is also a dish the flavour of which is substantially greater than the sum of its parts, simultaneously being sweet, earthy and rich, but also fresh tasting.

In an ideal world, tortilla de patatas should be enjoyed on a sunny Spanish terrace, accompanied by a cool glass of beer.  But as balmy spring weather starts to make its presence felt in the UK why not rustle up this simple and delicious dish to be enjoyed - hot or cold - as part of some home-based al fresco dining?  The recipe below is pretty authentic, being my evolution of one contained within the truly splendid Moro - The Cookbook.  Rather than deep-fry the potatoes (as the original recipe requires) I prefer to parboil them until they are just cooked, drain them and allow any excess moisture to steam away.  I have also been known to add a small green pepper to the onion, to give an even greater sweet-earthy, grassy accent.

Recipe: Fresh meets mature - Mutton braised in sherry, garlic and rosemary, with char-grilled asparagus and salsa verde

Mutton in sherry with asparagus and salsa verde
Mutton, asparagus, salsa verde - yum!
Sometimes, it can be good to mix things up a little, especially when it comes to cooking. Pairing a just-in-season ingredient with one that is more mature. Matching fresh and vibrant flavours with those that are more rich and complex. During spring – when new-season crops become ready to harvest, and certain produce from the preceding year matures – it can be a great time to partake in this form of culinary experimentation. As I found out last weekend…

With JML in the USA on business, rather than rattle around Scrumptious Scran Towers by myself I decided I would head for Edinburgh Farmers’ Market to purchase something interesting for Sunday lunch. In terms of vegetable ingredients I already had a specific idea in mind. Early May means that we are smack in the middle of the British asparagus season, and for me this has to be one of our finest, home-grown, seasonal vegetables. I love the fresh grassy flavour to be had from the bright green spears, and it is an ingredient that really doesn’t need much in the way of adornment.

So, with the vegetable component of my Sunday repast taken care of, my attention turned as to what to pair with it. The idea of a nice cut of lamb sprang to mind, but unless you are someone who favours very early spring lamb, it's a bit too soon in the season for Scottish-reared examples of this meat. Plus, for me, early spring lamb can be a bit underwhelming in terms of flavour. This is why I often go for cuts from more mature incarnations of sheep, in the form of either hogget (over one year old) or mutton (over two years old). These have a much greater depth of flavour, and the meat benefits from longer, slower cooking which all combine to produce some mouth-wateringly good meals.

Schmoozing amongst the stalls at the farmers' market I was delighted to encounter the pitch occupied by Annanwater blackface and blackface-cross lamb and mutton. Blackfaces are an ancient Scottish breed of sheep, which are both slow-growing and ideally suited to the rough upland grazing found in many areas of Scotland, including the Borders region of Dumfries and Galloway, where the Annanwater farm is based. And nestling on their stall I spied an appetising-looking neck cut of Blackface mutton. Combined with the right ingredients, this richly-flavoured succulent meat would make an ideal pairing for my asparagus. But how to cook it?

Recipe – Zesty lemon drizzle polenta cake

A lemon polenta cake in a cake tin
Deliciously zesty lemon polenta cake.
A thought entered my head the other day.  "I really must post more recipes on the blog that involve baking" is how the thought went.  Those of you who are regular followers of Scrumptious Scran will know from my "quaking baking" post that my control-freakery makes me a bit afraid of cooking bread, cakes and tarts.  I'm generally fine mixing the ingredients together, it's when these riches have to be abandoned in the oven – a bit like a parent leaving a child on its first day at school - that I start to fret.  I mean, what if they just sit there without doing what's expected of them?

Lemon polenta cake mixture in a cake tin.
Cake mixture in lined tin, ready for the oven.
I had mixed feelings a couple of weeks ago, when one of my work colleagues - who knew I was a food blogger – suggested I might want to contribute to a charity bake sale at work, in aid of Sport Relief.  Deep down, I knew this was the sort of challenge I needed to encourage me to have another bash at a baking recipe.  But what if the dish I produced was rubbish and nobody wanted to buy any of it?  Oh, the potential shame!  In order to avert such a disaster I would have to choose my recipe carefully, deciding upon something that was relatively simple to prepare, pretty foolproof to bake, AND that looked and tasted good.  It also occurred to me that it might be nice to produce something that wasn't entirely based on flour, eggs, butter and sugar.

Recipe: Bravo Belgium! - Carbonade flamande, or Belgian-style beef and beer casserole


A pot of carbonade flamanade - Belgian beef and beer casserole.
Flaming tasty - Carbonade flamanade ready to eat.
It’s nearly the middle of March, so as a “foodie” I suppose I really should be clambering to the likes of Edinburgh Farmer’s Market to fill my bags with early spring vegetables in order to cook a recipe that’s both fresh and tasty. Well that’s all well and good in theory, but whilst southern England may have been basking in double digit temperatures last Saturday, in Scotland it certainly didn’t feel very spring-like. Consequently my yearning for comfort food continues, meaning that last weekend I decided to draw inspiration for dinner from the Low Countries – Belgium to be precise.

Softening carrot, onion and celery by frying.
Sweating the veg until soft.
Belgium has a surprisingly varied and rich cuisine, featuring really great meat, fish and vegetable dishes that often have overtones of influence from neighbouring cultures and countries. I’ve heard it joked that Belgium food combines the straightforwardness of the Dutch, the portion control of the Germans, and the cooking skill of the French. We all know that, in terms of food and drink, Belgium is particularly famous for three things: fries (frieten/frites); chocolate; and beer. What might not be so obvious however it that the Belgians have not only mastered the art of producing a fantastic range of excellent beers, but also cooking with beer as well.

Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.
Chunks of beef shin coated in seasoned flour.
Ample chunks of shin of beef, combined with complementary vegetables and a few herbs and spices, and simmered slow and long in a bitter-sour-malty beer. This is basically carbonade flamande (or in Flemish, stoverij or stoofvlees, which sounds pretty close to the Scottish “stovies”), often described as Belgium’s “true national dish”. It is a sumptuous casserole where a tough cut of meat softens superbly - through slow cooking – and melds its flavours with the acidic-sweetness of the hoppy beer and aromatic vegetables to produce a rich gravy. It’s both splendid and really simple to prepare.

Recipe: Peas please me, and ham it up too! - Split pea and ham hock soup


A bowl of pea and ham soup
Pea and ham soup - a real winter warmer.
In my last review on Scrumptious Scran – for the excellent The Apiary bistro – I mentioned how, at the end of a long winter, we often need something comforting (food-wise) to provide a bit of cheer. Spring, may be about to bring us warmer days and the year’s first crop of fresh produce, but even March can have a wintry sting in its tail.

When we can now skip to the supermarket to purchase out-of-season asparagus jetted in from South America, or fresh tomatoes grown at any time of year, it’s easy to forget that historically during this season people would mostly be cooking with produce harvested the preceding year, and preserved to last through the winter. Personally speaking I think that some of the best comfort food to be made uses these preserved ingredients, and a fine example of this can be found in a steaming-hot bowl of split pea and smoked ham hock soup.

Split peas, vegetables and herbs in a pan about to be boiled.
Split peas and flavourings about to be cooked.
There’s something truly lovely about the look of this deep khaki-green concoction, punctuated with pink flecks of meat. But if it looks good, it tastes event better. Drying the peas imparts a really earthy mellowness to them, totally different to the taste of these legumes when fresh out the pod. By salting, then smoking the hock (or hough), the rich meaty flavour of this cut is further enhanced and transformed to yield (once simmered for a couple of hours) tenderly smoky, almost gamey meat. The further addition of good quality stock and some complimentary herbs and spices all combine to produce a splendidly tasty and filling dish. And what’s more, given that the ingredients are usually pretty cheap, it makes for an economical meal, too.

Recipe: Going for the Burns (supper) – A reconstructed take on haggis, neeps and tatties

Reconstructed Scottish classic - haggis, neeps & tatties.
This is set to be an interesting year for anyone living in Scotland – a county that has been my home for the majority of my adult life. Firstly, 2014 has been designated the year of Homecoming Scotland – a programme of events and activities showcasing all that’s great about Caledonia. Secondly, for sports fans there is golf’s Ryder Cup, and the excitement of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games – having experienced London 2012, I personally can’t wait. Oh, and there is September’s referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent nation again, which will have repercussions, whatever the result…

It’s somewhat appropriate then, given that this is such a big Scottish year, that a Burns supper was my first celebratory meal of 2014. For those not familiar, Robert (or Rabbie) Burns is Scotland’s national bard, an 18th century poet, writer and lyricist, claimed as an inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and author of works that include A Man's A Man For A' That and Auld Lang Syne. Burns suppers are traditionally held each 25 January to mark the poet’s birthday and celebrate his life and work.

A Burns supper may vary from formal to casual, but will almost always have three elements in common: the reciting of Burns’ poems at some point in proceedings; the partaking of a “nip” or two of Scotch whisky; and a main course that consists of haggis, neeps (bashed turnips or swedes) and tatties (mashed potatoes). This is very traditional Scottish fare, historically eaten by people of limited means. The vegetables used were cheap and plentiful, and haggis consists of lamb offal – usually liver, lungs and heart – mixed with oatmeal, onion, suet and spices, all encased in a sheep’s stomach and simmered in water.

Recipe: A brunch that's "muy bien" - Huevos rancheros (rancher's eggs)

Tasty huevos!
I like cooking. I wouldn’t be writing a food blog if I didn’t. Yet sometimes, no matter how well developed someone’s culinary skills might be, a hankering develops for a dish that is tasty whilst simultaneously requiring only the minimum of effort in the kitchen.

Breakfast is always one meal that I prefer to be flavoursome and simple, even at weekends, when I have a bit more time to prepare food. Saturday and Sunday morning staples at Scrumptious Scran Towers tend to consist of the likes of a decent bacon buttie (dry cure on sourdough, preferably), maybe scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms, or if I have the ingredients to hand, a ham and cheese omelette. Yet now and again I yearn for something a bit more adventurous that’s still easy to prepare and speedy to cook.

Bring on the toms & eggs...
So this Saturday I decided to rustle up a breakfast dish that certainly packs a flavour punch, is relatively healthy and, most importantly, is a cinch to prepare - my own particular take on huevos rancheros. A staple of rural Mexico, the literal translation of this delicacy is “rancher’s eggs”, as it was staple breakfast fare for those working the fields or tending livestock.

Traditionally, huevos rancheros combines a spicy, tomato-based sauce with fried eggs, maize tortillas, with a side of refried beans. But to be honest, this is a wee bit elaborate for me, especially if I’m cooking on a Sunday morning following a somewhat ‘lively’ Saturday night. So my recipe concentrates on an adapted version of the spicy sauce, which – when ready – is used to poach a couple of fresh eggs. This is all served with ample slices of crusty bread.

The recipe below serves two people generously, and I leave it entirely up to taste as to how spicy or otherwise the sauce is made (think of it as a sort of edible Bloody Mary mixture, but without the vodka). Of course, if you have house guests for breakfast it’s very straightforward to just double or triple the ingredients to ensure everyone is properly fed.

 ¡Buen provecho!

Feature Article: A cure for cod - I hope...

Coley, awaiting more cure.
Hopefully, alchemy is currently occurring in the kitchen of Scrumptious Scran Towers. Fret not – no work units have been sacrificed in order to install a smelter that converts base metal to gold. The transformation occurring in the fridge is more subtle, but no less remarkable. It’s all because I have discovered a cure. And it’s for cod. Well for coley, if I am honest - it’s a more sustainable seafish.

I fear a little bit more contextualisation is called for. Back in July, a dear friend bought me a great cookbook as a birthday present. This was Tim Hayward’s Food DIY. His book is a veritable encyclopaedia of how to prepare food and drink many of us love, but few now make themselves. From corned beef and bacon, to smoked salmon and even gin – with no distilling required – it re-acquaints people with the techniques that enable such culinary staples and delights to be prepared at home.

Given my love of Spanish cuisine my attention was immediately drawn to salt cod – or bacalao. This preserved white fish is ubiquitous across the Iberian Peninsula, having originated as the favoured means of preserving the abundant catch captured in the Atlantic, in the days when refrigeration was not an option. Unlike Spain and Portugal, in Edinburgh there isn’t a market just round the corner offering this cured delicacy. I suppose I could buy some online, but how to guarantee the quality?

Well thanks to Food DIY I have no need to worry. I am making my own salt cod (coley), with three simple ingredients. Fish, sea salt and Prague powder #1. “Prague what?” you may ask. Well it’s an additive – to be used sparingly – that ensures that the curing process sees off even those bacteria that cause botulism, and with good reason. Trust me, I have no desire for my laughter lines to be static, let alone those muscles that keep my lungs bellowing, and blood circulating. And neither should you.

Cured, wrapped, now dry...
I am cooking for an smashing dinner party soon – watch out for further news on “lamb wars” – and have a dish in mind featuring salt cod. So, sprinkled in a kilo of cure, wrapped in cheesecloth, tied in string, two lovely fillets of white fish are now sat in my fridge having all their liquid content pulled from them. And there is some major osmosis going on. Hayward describes it as a “fierce cure”. Judging by how dry my hands feel merely rubbing the salt into the fish, he is not wrong.

Wrapped in their shrouds, and exuding inherent moisture, I want to keep peaking at the alchemy occurring to the fish in my fridge. I know I must just leave them to dehydrate – bar turning them over twice a day. If all goes well, soon the fillets will be as dry as biscuits and then I can rehydrate them again, in order to cook with my salt fish. Why go to this trouble, some of you might ask? You really just have to taste salt cod, to discover the answer…

Be sure to check back soon to see exactly what I cook with my salted fish.

Recipe: Autumn in a jar – Spicy plum and fig chutney

Jar of plum and  fig chutney.
Chutney, ready for maturing.
OK, we shall get all the autumnal food writing/blogging clichés out of the way, right from the outset. The equinox is definitely marking the turn of the seasons. From the long, dry(ish) summer we move to the soft, mellow months of autumn (fall, as it is sometimes called). There is mist in the morning, a nip in the air of an evening, the crunch of fallen leaves under foot, and trees hang heavy with sweet, plump fruit…

Oh to hell with blinkin’ cliché avoidance, I love autumn! It’s that bit of the annual cycle when it almost seems like nature does home delivery. Around every corner things are ripening or coming back into season. For those who like to cook with seasonal food, the available larder undergoes a veritable explosion of flavoursome produce. Sweet, ozone-tinged native oysters, the subtly gamey flavour of the first roast pheasant of the season, and the sugary tartness of soft fruit, they all compete for the food-lover’s attention. Yeah, yeah that’s probably a complete middle-class foodie cliché, but…

Lovely home-grown plums
Smashing plums.
There is no denying this has been a bumper year for fruit of all kinds, especially the soft fruit that excels in Scotland. The delayed spring, followed by a pretty decent summer has resulted in a bumper crop of raspberries, brambles (blackberries), currants and plums. Ripe – clichéd pun intended – for cooking and preserving. Sadly, the drying green (wee patch of garden) to the rear of Scrumptious Scran Towers is not blessed with fruit trees. Yet I am fortunate that some friends of mine abandoned Edinburgh earlier this year, to renovate a property in the city’s rural hinterland. And in the lovely garden that adjoins their house are some impressive fruit trees. We are talking amazing plums!

So, how delighted was I to be offered a punnet – well actually a couple of kilos in a posh carrier bag – of lovely looking, fragrant fruit? “Very”, is the answer. They might have been of the “Victoria” variety, to be honest, I’m no expert. That they tasted “amazing” – yes, another cliché – is beyond argument. Lovely as the fruit was, there was too much for two of us to consume before the plums went past their best. Preservation was the answer. As I don’t have a very sweet tooth, plum jam really wasn’t in the running. A chutney, however, that would mature for a couple of months and be prefect to serve with cheese and cold cuts during the festive season. Oh, yes please.

Plum and figs stewing in vinegar and spices.
Cooking chutney.
So, combining the tasty plums with a few left over figs that I didn’t use in a pudding when my parents recently paid me a visit, I present to you my spicy plum and fig chutney. Mixing the fruit with sour sherry vinegar, Demerara sugar, a blend of spices typical of Spain and North Africa, together with a chilli zing and a good glug of rich Pedro Ximénez sherry, this is pickle has a smashing combination of flavours. Left for a couple of months to mature, the chutney will make an ideal accompaniment to cheese or cold cuts of meat. And by way of a thank you to the lovely friends who supplied the plums – a few jars will be winging their way to you soon.

Recipe: Crab and prawn croquetas

Picture of crab and prawn croquetas with lemon slice and a glass of beer.
Hot croquetas, warm day, cool beer, perfection!
A couple of posts ago on Scrumptious Scran, I reviewed José Pizarro’s excellent cookbook of Spanish cuisine, Spanish Flavours. Following on from the review, I really wanted to try one of the recipes from the book for the blog; proof of the pudding (or pagination) is, after all, in the eating. So packed is Spanish Flavours with alluring recipes, one might think my choice of what to cook would be a tricky one, but this wasn’t the case at all. Newly armed with my trusty deep fryer, I knew I was going to attempt my take on José’s recipe for crab and prawn croquetas.

Whenever I’m lucky enough to be in Spain, or in a decent Spanish restaurant in the UK, I always make a habit of sampling croquetas, where these are on offer. And to be frank, you would be hard pressed to find a Spanish bar or restaurant that doesn’t serve some version of this tasty little tapa, so ubiquitous is the dish throughout Spain. Crisp and golden on the outside, yet soft, moist and flavour-packed on the inside, the beauty of croquetas lies both in their simplicity and versatility. Fundamentally, all a croqueta consists of is a thick béchamel sauce with assorted ingredients added to flavour this. This mixture is then chilled, formed into lozenge shapes, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried.

They key to making decent croquetas is ensuring the béchamel sauce is suitably thick but silky smooth, and choosing an appropriately flavoursome additive to incorporate in this. And there are many such ingredients from which to choose. I’ve sampled delicious chicken croquetas in Barcelona, ones flavoursomely made with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, in Madrid, and a fantastically fishy variety containing bacaloa (salt cod), in Seville. To be honest, it’s possible – within reason – to enhance a croqueta with whatever flavouring ingredient takes one’s fancy. Also, every bar and kitchen will have its own tweaks for each basic croqueta variety, making for a joyful pastime that is bar hopping and trying to asses which serves the best.

Book Review: 'Spanish Flavours' to savour

Jose Pizarro - Spanish Flavours.
An abundance of Spanish flavours under the cover.
Squinting through my sunglasses in Edinburgh this past weekend it was almost possible to imagine I was in the Mediterranean, as opposed to Scotland. Clear blue skies, glorious sunshine and – best of all – alfresco dining. Eating outside on a balmy summer’s day or evening is one of my favourite culinary pastimes – whether in the UK or somewhere more exotic, such as Italy or Spain. How appropriate then that I found myself sat in the green behind Scrumptious Scran Towers snacking on tapas whilst thumbing through Spanish Flavours, the latest book by Spanish-born and UK-based Chef, José Pizarro.

Growing up on a farm in the western Spanish region of Extremadura, it was whilst he was studying as a dental technician that Pizarro discovered his love for cooking. This lead to him attending cookery school, and ultimately a stint at Madrid’s award-winning restaurant Meson de Doña Filo where he cooked nuevacocina - the deconstructed approach to Spanish cuisine made famous by Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. Fourteen years ago Pizarro relocated to London in order to “try something different”. After achieving this as a key player behind London’s new wave of Spanish eateries such as Eyre Brothers, Gaudí and Brindisa he chose to open his own sherry and tapas bar José, closely followed by his restaurant Pizzaro. So much for the biography…

Regular readers will know that I love Spanish food, and in Spanish Flavours Pizarro demonstrates how well he knows his way around the mosaic-like cuisine which stem from what sometimes appears to be “…seventeen countries all rolled into one”. Identifying links between history and culture, climatic influences, and the use of common ingredients, the book examines in turn the recipes of Spain’s North, East, Centre, South and its Islands. And in doing so, in each chapter Pizarro provides a lyrical snapshot of the flavours, bars and restaurants, and dishes that make these regions so memorable.

As might be expected from an author grounded in nuevacocina, the recipes are not without a twist and turn, an invention that develops Spanish cooking in a slightly different direction. It’s subtle; the sort of tweaking that might traditionally have allowed one village to steal an edge over its neighbour when it came to claiming the best paella. Yet it’s an alchemy grounded in a mastery of really knowing how those ingredients exemplifying Spanish cooking truly work together.

Feature & Recipe - Frying delight: When the chips are down…

Really good looking chips (fries)
Golden, crispy & NO brown sauce!
I have a guilty secret. I’ve been coveting a piece of kitchen kit for a while, one that doesn't always have the best reputation as far as healthy eating is concerned. Last weekend, I finally transformed my latent desire into a tangible possession, with the purchase of my first deep fryer. A bargain in the sales, of course.

Please try not to judge me, being – as I am – someone who is (usually) an exponent of eating healthily and sustainably. I’m not about to recommend we all gorge ourselves on deep-fried Mars bars at every meal. Ideally, deep fried food shouldn't really be at the centre of anyone’s diet.

Yet there are certain recipes that simply cannot be realistically completed without resorting to immersing ingredients into boiling fat (or preferably oil). Not previously being the owner of a deep fryer has meant I have been missing out on cooking such delights as tempura, salt and pepper squid, croquetas, and “proper” chips (fries, to those of you who are west of the Atlantic).

Now before anyone butts in, I know it isn't always necessary to have a dedicated appliance to deep fry food. But heating up oil in a big saucepan on a stove, and trying to guess how hot it is – with potential disastrous consequences – is not for me. Knowing exactly at what temperature you are frying food is really important in ensuring proper cooking, and also limits the degree of oil that will be absorbed. That’s why I am the proud owner of a shiny new frying device that allows fantastic cooking control, thanks to its nice big variable thermostat. So, having removed the packaging and given the components a good wash, my next task was to decide what I was going to fry first.

Recipe: Cheering spears – Asparagus and pearl barley risotto

Asparagus & pearl barley risotto.
Flavoursome asparagus and barley.
Last Friday was a sad day for anyone who, like me, strives to cook with seasonal British vegetables. “How so?” you may ask. Well, it’s because 21 June marks the official end to the British asparagus season. I love cooking with, and eating, asparagus. In bunches, the bright green spears look almost like mini modernist sculptures rather than plants, and their sweet, earthy taste is completely unlike any other vegetable.

I always endeavour to make the utmost use of UK asparagus when it is available, as springtime recipe posts on Scrumptious Scran bare testament. At around two months, this vegetable’s season is akin to a culinary firework display – dazzling, but all too short. Maybe it's pig-headedness on my part, but even though imported asparagus is now available year-round, my tendency is to avoid this. I simply don’t agree with flying food thousands of miles, just to ensure this is can be purchased when its UK equivalent is no longer in season. Plus, and I don’t think it is a psychosomatic bias on my part, but asparagus from South America just doesn’t seem to have the depth of flavour of that grown in Britain.

So, to mark the passing of the 2013 season, I decided to cook a dish that would be a celebration – or maybe a wake – for one of my favourite ingredients. My inspiration came from a dish I watched Suzanne O’Connor – Head Chef at The Scottish Café and Restaurant – prepare at the recent Slow Food event held at Edinburgh’s Summerhall. Suzanne cooked an original take on risotto, featuring peas, broad beans, mint and parmesan, but which substituted the quintessential Scottish ingredient of pearl barley, in place of rice.

Recipe: Get the hock out! - Smoked ham hock and summer vegetable salad

Tasty smoked ham hock salad.
Summery ham hock salad - keep the BBQ in the shed!
This is really pleasant. The sun is shining, which makes for a lovely evening, and as I write I’m sipping a chilled glass of white wine. It would appear that summer has finally arrived, albeit several months behind schedule. The smell of barbecues drifting through the open windows of Scrumptious Scran Towers confirms this.

Got to love a BBQ… Well yes and no. Done properly, they are great. Tastily marinated meat and fish, succulently cooked; chargrilled vegetable kebabs with squeaky haloumi cheese; and on the side, bowls of new potatoes coated in thick mayonnaise, chives and parsley. All shared by friends and family lounging around in a garden full of chat and laughter.

Enticing though this scene may seem, it isn’t always easily achieved. Forward planning is absolutely key to the success of a good barbecue. There’s the preparing of marinades, combined with the hours these take to work their wonder on the meat or fish of choice. Then there comes the stress of ensuring the charcoal is at just the right heat so that the fare that is on offer doesn’t get burnt to a crisp, or worse still, is revealed as being still raw in the middle when bitten into. Is it such a surprise then, that sometimes when the sun is shining I yearn for tasty, summery food this isn’t such high maintenance?

A great example of this is an appetising salad with smoked ham hock, and seasonal vegetables at its centre. The hock is cheap, and a good quality one – such as the one supplied by Simon Howie, which I used here – will provide all the smokey, meaty flavour you would normally expect from something cooked on a barbecue. All that has to be done to prepare the ham is pop it in a pan of simmering water for an hour and half and then shred the tender meat from the bone. Stress free lazing in the sunshine can ensue whilst this preparation takes place.

When ready, by mixing the hock with the salty-savouriness of green olives; the sweetness of tomatoes, beetroot and smokey, roast yellow pepper; and the spicy kick provided by radishes and red onion you will definitely achieve a winning taste combination. A salad isn’t a salad unless properly dressed, of course, and to accomplish this I douse the ingredients with a vinaigrette which mixes extra virgin olive oil with sherry and balsamic vinegar, and a good measure of grain mustard. Combining the two varieties of vinegar brings both acidity and sweetness to the dressing, which is then underlined by the gentle heat of the mustard grains.

The ham hock may take a little while to cook, but it can be left unattended once at a simmer, unlike meat on a barbecue, and the rest of the salad ingredients literally take a few minutes to prepare. What can be better than a great tasting, stress free dish that allows for plenty of lazing in the sunshine?

Recipe: Flavour fiesta – Tarta de Santiago

Tarta de Santiago.
Tarta de Santiago - delicious with ice cream.
Now shocking though it might seem for someone writing a food blog, I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. Even as a child, I was never particularly mesmerised by bonbons, biscuits, or chocolate and this is a trait that has remained with me to this day. Don’t get me wrong, if I am out to dinner I will more often than not finish proceedings with a sweet of some variety, but this tends to be somewhat of an afterthought.

The upshot of my apparent sweet indifference is that I rarely tend to cook puddings unless I’m entertaining. But when I do, as was the case when cooking my Spanish-themed lunch for friends a couple of weeks ago, one of the sweets I frequently serve is based on the delicious recipe for Tarta de Santiago to be found in the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Moro – the cookbook.

Tarta de Santiago is a deceptively simple, yet incredibly appetising almond-based tart which originates from the Spanish region of Galicia. It literally translates as “St James Tart”, in honour of the patron saint of Spain, the remains of which are buried in the Galician capital city of Santiago de Compostela.

This particular version of the tart combines almonds, with intense citrus notes provided by lemon and orange zest, exotically aromatic cinnamon, and the nutty-fruity flavour that comes from a generous glug of oloroso sherry. The quince paste which is spread on the tart base also gives a fruity, slightly tart hint to the pudding.

Tarta de Santiago can be served either warm or cold and is great accompanied by yoghurt or crème fraiche. Personally, I like to pair it with the delicious ice cream made with vanilla, and raisins soaked in Pedro Ximénez sherry, but you will have to obtain your own copy of Moro – the cookbook, for that particular recipe.

Actually, having just realised how effusive I have been about how good this particular pudding is, maybe it's the case that I’m not so averse to sweets after all…

Recipe: Flavour fiesta – In praise of pimentón; slow roast, marinated shoulder of lamb, with patatas bravas

Slow roast marinated lamb shoulder.
Five hours in the oven - off for a rest.
Pimentón – that’s the answer! This flash of inspiration entered my head when thinking about how I was going to frame a piece about the main course of the Spanish-themed menu I recently cooked. If you have read my previous two posts on Scrummy Scran you will have learnt how I fell in love with Spanish cuisine, and about the Galician seafood soup that kicked off a recent lunch for friends involving the cuisine of Spain. So now to provide some insight into that meal’s main course – marinated, slow roast shoulder of lamb with patatas bravas – and the role pimentón plays in both these dishes.

Pimentón (or paprika, to give the spice its more common Slavic/Hungarian-derived name) is an essential constituent in a plethora of Spanish dishes. It adds a savoury, even earthy element to cooking, which can also be smokey and sometimes fiery. The spice is produced from various varieties of red peppers (Capsicum annuum) which were originally introduced to Spain from South America by Columbus. Grown in the Extremadura and Murcia regions of Spain, when ripe the peppers are harvested and then dried (frequently over oak fires, which give the spice a deep smokey note) before being stone ground to form a fine powder. Depending on the variety of red pepper used, the pimentón produced can be sweet, bittersweet, or picante (or hot, if a species of chilli is the predominant capsicum constituent). The smokey, earthy flavours of pimentón are essential to both my main course dishes, but work with these in different ways.

Firstly, the slow-roast lamb. This consists of a shoulder joint with the bone in (in this case purchased from Edinburgh’s excellent Crombie’s butchers) which is marinated overnight in a mixture of garlic, smoked pimentón, sherry vinegar, oregano and olive oil. When preparing this dish, I place the joint in a large, re-sealable freezer bag and pour in the marinade, before massaging it into the lamb, and placing in fridge. The several hours immersed in this mixture allows the vinegar and oil to carry the herb and spice flavours deep into the flesh, beautifully complementing the taste of the spring lamb. It is then slowly roast for at least four-six hours, which makes the meat both succulent and so tender it can be carved with forks, as opposed to knives.

Patatas bravas.
Patatas bravas - the pleasure of pimentón.
For the patas bravas, the pimentón is of the picante variety. This really provides a kick of heat to the
rich, slightly fruity, tomato and herb sauce that compliments the crispy roast potatoes. And before any traditionalists jump in, yes the potatoes are normally deep fried but I prefer coat them in olive oil and seasoning and then roast them in a ceramic dish. They are just as beautifully golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and you hear a satisfying bubbling from the sauce as it is poured on the spuds just after they emerge from the oven.

When preparing these recipes they work best when using a good quality pimentón – either pimentón de la Vera (which is smoked), or Pimentón de Murcia (which is not smoked). Both these have their authenticity protected, and come in the sweet, bitter-sweet, and picante varients.

The following recipes are my interpretations of those to be found in the excellent Moro: The Cookbook, which – as I have mentioned in previous posts – has been a big influence on my ventures into cooking Spanish cuisine. I would accompany the dishes with either steamed, new season broad beans, or the excellent chickpea, tomato and cucumber salad, which is also listed in the Moro cookbook.

The dishes will easily serve four people as a main course.

Recipe: Spring fresh – Sautéed monkfish cheeks, with salsa verde, and asparagus and broad bean salad


Sauteed monkfish cheeks with salsa verde.
Green and tasty.
For me, spring is one of my favourite times for cooking with seasonal produce. Don’t get me wrong, I also love autumn for its rich abundance of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. Yet after a long winter – where the choice of fresh produce can be limited – there is something revitalising about being able to once again cook with a harvest of fresh, green ingredients.

So having purchased some “just from the sea” fresh monkfish cheeks from Clark Brothers fishmongers, I decided to keep things clean-tasting by simply sautéing the fish and pairing it with a salad of spring vegetables and vibrant green salsa verde. This classic, Italian sauce makes a great accompaniment for meat and fish, with the fresh flavours of the parsley and basil being complimented by savoury background tones provided by the capers and anchovy, and the acidity of the lemon juice.

For the salad, I turned once again to British asparagus – I always try and make the most of this vegetable during its all too short season – matching this with the first of this season’s tender broad beans, and roast baby plum tomatoes. I also added a few toasted walnuts to provide some crunch and flavour contrast to the zippy freshness of the other salad ingredients.

With all those fresh flavours this certainly is a recipe that should put a spring to anyone’s step.

(This recipe should serve four as a substantial lunch or light supper)

Recipe: Quaking baking - Crab and asparagus tart

Crab and asparagus tart.
Crab and asparagus tart with a crisp green salad.
I have a confession - possibly a shocking one, for a foodie. I’m a bit nervous when it comes to baking. With the popularity of the likes of The Great British Bake Off, it might appear a bit strange that an alleged foodie is intimidated by making bread and cakes; baking is so in vogue, after all.

Given my upbringing, this shouldn’t really be the case. My grandmother was a fantastic baker. She lived right next to my primary school, and I would always call round on the way home to be greeted by the smell of cupcakes fresh out of the oven, or – my particular favourite – a slice of freshly cooked apple pie. And this being the 1970s there was no resorting to packet cake mixes or pre-prepared pastry. My gran made everything by hand in a tiny kitchen, and without the assistance of a food processor.

Given how much I love cooking I don’t know why baking causes me such trepidation. Maybe it’s the control freak in me. Whereas with a casserole, roast or risotto you can keep checking how things are progressing; basting here, adjusting the seasoning there, but with baking it’s much more of a leap of faith. Ingredients are assembled, in common with any recipe, but bear little resemblance to how the finished dish should turn out, and there is no opportunity to sample and adjust things once the bread, cake, or tart is dispatched to the oven for the heat to work its alchemy.

So I thought it was time I pushed my cooking envelope, as it were, and did a wee bit of baking for the blog. Also, as my recipes to date have been pretty carnivorous, I also thought I would cook a shellfish and vegetable-based dish, proving to my pescatarian friend Christine – the women behind the excellent Vegemite on Oatcakes foodie blog – that my cooking isn’t just about meat.

Sticking to my guns in terms of trying to use seasonal ingredients wherever possible, I decided to have a bash at Valentine Warner’s mouth-watering recipe for crab and asparagus tart. All ingredients were purchased from Edinburgh Farmers’ Market (bar the flour and butter for the short crust pastry) – see my previous post for a spotlight on suppliers. For a vegetarian alternative, the crab could be substituted for a flavoursome, but not too sharp, cheese such as Emmental. This will complement the asparagus without overwhelming it.

So was my baking apprehension justified? Well, combined with a green salad the tart was delicious, with sweet/savory crab and the fresh – yet earthy – asparagus being perfect partners. So much so that the slice I had earmarked for today’s lunch was snaffled by my other half. Maybe I should bake more often…