Kay’s Covid Cookery Class No 15. Mindful asparagus risotto.

d0XQRRTjRoSuwT86Xd2fuQ3 people to thank for today’s recipe; Barbara Vance for her observations on cooking for one, and Rick and Su (once again!) for the delicious, ridiculously tall asparagus from their garden.

I love cooking alone. Even when I’m cooking for 8 or 10 (which is not an uncommon thing for me to do in normal times) I love to do as much of the prep as I can before they arrive. Sometimes I play music, but it has to be instrumental, words distract me. Preparing and cooking food for me is like a meditation. I like to be really focused on my senses. The stronger the smell of something, the tastier it’s likely to be. I like to mix up, contrast and complement the colours. Most of all, though, I love to feel the range of textures as my knife cuts through… every carrot, every potato has a different density and that affects how I chop it. Harder, more solid vegetables take longer to cook so need to be in smaller pieces than the slightly softer ones. Even vegetables from the same plot and batch can vary.

The asparagus from Rick and Su’s garden was a fine example of this. It wasn’t just about the thickness of the stems – in fact some of the skinny ones were quite tough and the thick ones surprisingly soft.  I decided to make this an exclusively asparagus risotto (normally I would fry up some celery with the onion and garlic, and use vegetable stock to cook the rice) so chopped the stems into 3 batches. After removing and discarding the earthy, really tough base (only a couple of cm) I chopped the woody bottom part into very small slices, the middle into approx 2cm chunks and left the tips quite long. Each stem was different, some with more of the tough stalk and some with a higher proportion of tender tip. This is where the joy comes in for me. Focusing on nothing but the texture of asparagus stems for several minutes.

Yes, I know, I’m weird. But harmless.

Here are the 3 batches:

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More solid bottom part of the stem chopped very finely, middle section about 2cm.

Add the thinly chopped, tougher pieces in step 1, the medium bits in step 2 and the tips in step 3.

Ingredients:

1 medium onion

About 9 or 10 asparagus spears (more if you’re using shorter shop-bought asparagus)

2 garlic cloves

500 ml hot water (or vegetable stock if you want more than the taste of asparagus)

200 g (1 cup) risotto rice

a glass of white wine

50 g grana padano or parmesan cheese. Grana padano is less salty and a little creamier.

1 dessertspoon mascarpone cheese

salt and pepper

What to do. …roughly speaking

Stage 1.

Chop the onion, garlic and the woody bottom part of the asparagus stems very finely.

Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan until smoking, and add the chopped veg. Stir it all around quickly for a few seconds and then turn down the heat, put a lid on the pan and sweat the veg for about 6-8 minutes. If you taste a tiny piece of the asparagus at this point you will notice how it has softened and picked up the garlic and onion flavour, but still maintained its own character.

Stage 2.

Take off the lid, turn up the heat a bit and add the rice. Keep stirring. Add the wine. Keep stirring. When the rice has absorbed the wine, add the second batch of asparagus (the middle of the stems) and stir it around.

Start to add the water – a little at a time. Wait until the rice has absorbed the liquid before you add any more. Taste the rice from time to time to see how you’re doing. (I’m always fascinated by the way that flavour as well as texture changes during the cooking process). When the rice is almost cooked (after about 20 minutes) you’re ready for…

Step 3

Add the tender ends of the asparagus and salt and pepper. Keep cooking until the rice and tender tips are cooked (when the rice is no longer gritty in the middle, its done).This will probably be approximately 5 more minutes.

Step 4.

Turn off the heat and add the parmesan and mascarpone – mix it all around thoroughly.

Taste it and add a little more salt and pepper if you like.

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parmesan and mascarpone

Serve immediately.

This is enough for 2 large portions or 3 small ones, but back to Barbara’s point about cooking for one… I must confess that most of the time I just eat way too much, but the options for the rest of it are:

a) Eat 1/3, put the other 2 portions into freezer bags. Risotto freezes surprisingly well but make sure that you de-frost it really thoroughly, and then I like to re-heat it in a shallow dish covered in foil in a low oven for about 20 minutes. Of course, you can use a microwave or place it in a pan on the hob on a low heat with a little more white wine to stop it from sticking. If you re-heat it this way, make sure you keep it moving all the time.

b) Call a neighbour and ask if they’d like some.

Unfortunately, you probably can’t donate it to your local food bank as most of them only take unopened, packaged food for security reasons.

Kay’s Covid Cookery Class No 14. The poshest dinner for one in the history of lockdown.

Life is good: I have friends who grow asparagus in their garden. Not just any asparagus, the t-a-l-l-e-s-t asparagus I have ever seen. These in the photo are as long as my forearm. Thank you, Su and Rick!

Life is good: I live around the corner from Steve Hatt the fishmonger in North London.

Life is good : I’ve been spending so little money during lockdown that I didn’t think twice about buying myself 6, yes SIX tiger prawns this morning.

The tiger prawn recipe is already on the blog from a couple of years ago. You can find it here.

For the asparagus, I simply chopped the woody end off the stem, boiled it for 6 minutes, drained it, melted a little butter over it.

Next up, asparagus risotto recipe. Yes, they gave me LOADS!! Watch this space.

Step 1. Butterfly your prawns

Step 2. Marinate in lime juice and vanilla essence

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Step 3. Fry some garlic and chilli flakes in oil, then add the prawns flesh side down.

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Step 4. Gently turn them over and fry the shell side til it’s nice and crunchy

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Step 5. Yum

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Kay’s Covid Cookery Class No 13. Kedgeree/khichri

kedgereeI had never heard of kedgeree until I went to boarding school, where a particularly disgusting version would occasionally be served for breakfast. (All food at my boarding school was disgusting, which probably explains why I was so skinny then, and why I’m obsessed with cooking good, tasty food now).

The original Indian version, khichri, is a rice and lentil dish, colonised by the Brits who replaced the lentils with fish and eggs and changed the spelling.

When I arrived at Steve Hatt fishmonger this morning (5th May 2020 – day thirteen thousand six bazillion of Covid lockdown) I was early enough to catch some hilarious banter about a bay tree (check their Facebook page), and to spot the lovely smoked haddock fillets in the window. Proper smoked haddock is pale yellow and not too salty, not like the bright yellow stuff you might find sweating in a sealed plastic bag in a supermarket.

For some reason, I thought of kedgeree, a dish I haven’t cooked or eaten in years. While it’s traditionally a breakfast dish, I had it for dinner this evening because who knows what day it is, much less cares what time of day……

Here’s how I made it. This is enough for 2. (Well, probably enough for 4, but I’m greedy these days).

Ingredients

2 smoked haddock fillets (there will probably be a few tiny bones in there, so watch out for those)

120 g basmati rice

1 tbsp oil and a knob of butter

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp cinnamon

1 small onion, finely chopped

500 ml mild vegetable stock or water

2 eggs, hard boiled (about 7 minutes).

1/2 cup chopped parsley or coriander leaf (US friends – cilantro to you.)

What to do, roughly speaking:

Boil the eggs. Let them cool. Remove shells and chop very finely

Place the haddock fillets in a frying pan with enough water to just cover them, bring to the boil, cover the pan and cook for 4 – 5 minutes. Drain, allow to cool, remove the skin and chop the flesh into small pieces.

Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan. When it’s hot but not smoking, add the finely chopped onion, fry for a minute then turn down the heat, cover the pan and keep cooking the onion until it’s soft (3 or 4 minutes)

Add the powdered spices. Mix well and keep frying for a couple of minutes.

Add the rice and mix it around until it’s coated with the oil/spice/onion mix.

Add stock or water, bring to the boil.

Cover the pan, turn down the heat and simmer for about 10-12 minutes stirring occasionally. If the rice is drying out, just add a little more water. Taste the rice to see if it’s cooked.

Gently stir in the fish pieces and then the egg, mix it all up well and keep cooking on a very low heat for about 5 minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste along with the chopped green herb (parsley or coriander/cilantro).

 

Kay’s Covid Cookery Class No.12. Swordfish isn’t very photogenic.

Appearances aren’t everything. This swordfish steak, for example, is no oil painting (totally overshadowed by that primadonna of a salad) but tasted absolutely delicious.

I simply squeezed the juice of half a lemon into a bowl, added about a teaspoon of mixed, smashed up coriander seeds and black peppercorns, a finely chopped clove of garlic and a little salt. Dipped the swordfish steak in the juicy, spicy mix and grilled it under a very hot grill for about 4 minutes each side.

That’s it. Yummy.

Steve Hatt the fishmongers like us to post pictures of our fish dishes on their Facebook page, but they might not thank me for this one!

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Kay’s Covid Cookery Class No.11. Missing El Pescadero, so next best thing is Essex Road Fish Tacos.

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El Pescadero Sunset…

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in the seaside village of El Pescadero, Baja California Sur, Mexico, there are *several wonderful restaurants for you to visit. Each one of them serving the tastiest of fresh local fish and produce, with generous helpings of local charm and banter. The other day one of these, Barracuda Cantina, shared a sweet little video of the opening of a bottle of Pacifico, which gave me that happy+sad feeling that I get so much in these strange times. Happy to know these wonderful places and people, happy that I have learned to cook food from all over the world, sad because I miss my amig@s Mexican@s and my comadres and compadres at Modern Elder Academy, and sad because I won’t be going to visit them as I had planned to do in a couple of months time.

I’ve also been in conversation this week with a few medics and dieticians about the importance of a good diet in maintaining an efficient immune system, and have been reminded of how colourful a healthy diet is.

Inspired by all this, I made myself some fish tacos and washed them down with a bottle of Corona. (Yes, of COURSE I prefer Pacifico, but it’s hard to get here in London, and Corona is soooo cheap these days!!)

Steve Hatt have some very good cod fillet at the moment, which is very good for this recipe, and they have some very tasty swordfish if you’re feeling extravagant.

Ingredients:

150 g filleted white fish cut into bite-sized pieces

A squeeze of lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 medium onion – sliced

1 red pepper seeded and sliced

1 yellow pepper, seeded and sliced

1 smoked chilli finely chopped (optional)

2 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons of tomato sauce (no, not ketchup!! If you don’t want to make the tomato sauce use passata di pomodoro or some puree slightly diluted with red wine)

Salt and pepper

(These are the ingredients for 1 person. If cooking for 2, double the amount of fish but keep the rest the same. For 4, 4x the fish and double everything else.)

What to do. …roughly speaking:

Squeeze a little lemon juice over the fish pieces in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle the smoked paprika over the fish and mix it around gently. Leave to stand for about 30 minutes

Heat some oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic and onion for a couple of minutes, then add the sliced peppers and chopped smoked chilli if you want a little more bite. Fry for another 5 minutes.  Add the fish for about 5 minutes, turning gently all the time. then add the tomato sauce or passata. Stir it together gently so not to break up the fish.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place a lid on the pan and keep cooking for 5 minutes until the fish is cooked through (test by tasting).

Serve in warm corn or flour tortillas with sides of guacamole, tomato salsa, mango salsa.

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*Other favourite places to eat in El Pescadero are Hierbabuena (fabulously fresh garden to table food), Baja Beans for the best coffee and Carlito’s Place for Mexican/Asian fusion including some of the best sushi you will eat anywhere.

Kay’s Covid Cookery Class No.10. Breaded haddock pieces

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3c89In lockdown, and missing fish and chips, I decided to invent a fried fish dinner for myself. Not battered, but breaded, so, (guess what?) you’ll need breadcrumbs. If you’re lucky enough to live near Essex Road, Raab’s the Bakers sometimes sell bags of fresh breadcrumbs, or you can dry a couple of slices of bread in the oven on a low heat, and then blitz in a blender.

I used haddock, but if Steve Hatt (other independent fishmongers are available!) don’t have any, then any meaty white fish will do.

Ingredients per person:

200g haddock fillet chopped into small pieces.

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

2 tsp smoked paprika powder

generous pinch of salt and pepper

squeeze of lemon

Place the chopped haddock in a bowl and squeeze some lemon juice over the fish. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes. The lemon juice helps the crumb to stick to the fish as well as giving a little zest to the flavour.

Mix together the breadcrumbs, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Sprinkle the seasoned breadcrumb mix over the fish pieces, gently moving them around so that they become coated in breadcrumbs. Alternatively, put the seasoned breadcrumbs in a freezer bag, add the fish pieces and gently shake to coat the fish.

Cover the bottom of a frying pan with cooking oil (I used olive oil) and heat until smoking. Turn down very slightly and add the coated fish. Move and turn the fish pieces very gently with a fish slice or spatula as it cooks. It will take about 5 minutes. You can lift out a piece and try it to make sure that it’s hot all the way through.

The more observant among you see from the photo that I treated myself to a glass of wine with this; a lovely Rosa Bianca Pinot Grigio that I bought from the Alpaca pub which is right next door to Steve Hatt the fishmonger and open for off sales of beer, wine and some food from 12 noon til 6 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.

Wherever you are, stay safe, eat well and please support your local, independent food shops.

Kay’s Covid Cookery Class No.9. Baked red mullet.

What are you missing most in this physical-distancing, lockdown world? For me, it’s definitely having people over for food, drinks, conversation and silliness.

Today, I found the up side to not being able to cook for others. I’m calling it risky fish cookery.

You see, when I cook for others I like to be fairly confident that I’m going to serve up something they’ll enjoy. And today I realised that cooking for myself means that I can take chances and learn how to cook those things that I usually avoid.

As I waited in the safely separated and beautifully illustrated (thanks, Jason) line outside Steve Hatt, I was pretty sure that I was going to buy myself a nice, safe salmon fillet. But then, as I waited and looked at the lovely display in the window, my eye was drawn to the gorgeous red mullet. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love red mullet, but I don’t cook it. I associate it with open air seaside restaurants and barbecues, not my kitchen.

CogIyc1RSL2AXfqQAhBCtw_thumb_3c24So, I bit the mullet (geddit?!?!?!) and bought one. So glad I did. It was so easy to cook and so delicious. I really wish you could smell and taste this photo.

Here’s how I cooked it:

Preheat the oven to really hot 230ºC, 450ºF Gas mark 9

1 red mullet cleaned, not filleted

1/2 tomato

1/2 red pepper

1 clove garlic

1 tsp sumac powder or juice of half a lemon

salt and pepper

Chop the garlic finely, slice the tomato and red pepper and place them inside the fish

Rub the sumac on the skin of the fish, or drizzle the lemon juice on it, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper.

Wrap the fish loosely in foil and place it on a baking tray in the pre-heated oven.

After 5 minutes, turn the oven down to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas 6 and cook for another 20 minutes.

Unwrap the foil and finish under a hot grill for 2 or 3 minutes.

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Here’s Jason creating the “distant wait line art” on the pavement from Steve Hatt to Popham Street past the Alpaca pub… genius! Steve Hatt are offering deliveries and click and collect. You can find them here