Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Spaghetti alla Vongole/Stewkey Blues

I love this picture, which captures the somewhat chaotic cockle lunch we had on Sunday.  Spaghetti alla Vongole is all about timing - timing is not my forte.  But we managed it - Cockles open, hot, Spaghetti still al dente, Samphire perhaps a touch undercooked.

Picnicking at Stiffkey (or Stewkey) on Saturday, a friend came upon a crock of the famed blue cockles, blue because of the mud they live in, and sent me home with a sackful and a recipe.  I have to admit, despite being local to Stiffkey - I have never cockled, and never eaten a cockle.

Much impressed, I set to purging them overnight in sea water with a handful of oats, that they spit the sand out.  Next day I rinsed them.  Then followed (more or less) his recipe:

Soften Shallots and Garlic in a mixture of Butter and Olive Oil.  Add about 300ml of White Wine, tiny touch of Salt and loads of Pepper and heat.  Meanwhile, get the salted water boiling for the Spaghetti.   Once the Spaghetti is in the water and boiling away, toss the Cockles into the wine, put the lid on.  Drain the Spaghetti when not quite cooked.  Shake the Cockle pan, after about 3 or 4 minutes all should be open, remove any that are still closed.  Add the Spaghetti to let it finish cooking in the winey cockley juices.  Meanwhile chop loads of Parsley, or in my case, for lack of Parsley: Spring Onions, Oregano, Rocket, Celery tops, Thyme...

Serve still hot, having removed most of the shells, with blanched Samphire on the side and doused in herbage.

This was so utterly delicious, and to my mind is even better than local Mussels.


N.B. On the purging front it seems a few hours will suffice.

Friday, 22 August 2014

La tarte verte...

The green tart - just visible at the bottom of the picture - is a year round staple.  I have my days on Clare Island to thank for this recipe, though no doubt it appears here somewhat adulterated.  There, I remember, it is made with their Ducks' eggs and home-made Ewe's Milk Yoghurt and Cheese.  As for the greens, I think it best made with a Chard or Beet, though do alternate with Kale, with Sorrel,  with Sea Beet or Beetroot Tops, with wild or bitter greens.  Ideally throughout all the seasons there will be some wild or cultivated green abundance asking to be used in la tarte verte.

For the pastry -

In this case I have used: 4oz Flour 2oz Butter 1 Egg 1 drop of cold water (if necessary, often not).  Rub flour and butter together to breadcrumb texture, add egg, mix in with hands and if not forming a whole add the smallest drop of water.  Refrigerate.  

Try with wholemeal flours, particularly Spelt, which gives a delicious pastry.

Wash, dry and chop a large basketful of Leaf Beet, Chard or greens of choice.  Soften an Onion in butter, add the leaves handful by handful until the whole lot has reduced enough to fit into the frying pan.

Mix 3 Eggs, 1/4 pint of Cream/Yoghurt according to preference and two handfuls of grated hard Ewe's or Goat's Cheese.  To this add grated Nutmeg, Salt and Pepper.  Then add the Chard and blend the lot with a stick blender.

Roll out the pastry and press it into a tart dish.  I use my knuckles, fold it over and patch it up as and when.

Pour in the green mixture.

Bake until risen in the middle.  Say 180C 30-40 minutes.

Eat warm or cold, and (as above) with allotment salads, new-potato chips and mayo.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Courgettes à l'étouffée

By now you have eaten Courgettes raw, roasted, grilled, steamed, barbecued and stuffed.  You have made zucchini cakes and breads and pies and tarts.  You have made chutneys and jams, potted ratatouilles and even fermented a winter's worth of jars.  Still the Courgettes grow!

Courgettes à l'étouffée, literally "smothered courgettes", is an unlikely but brilliant way of cooking the fruit.  The Courgettes are cut into thick rounds, spread over a shallow non-stick pan to which a lid is tightly fitted, and cooked over a medium to high heat.  Once they begin to brown, they are turned, until coloured on both sides while still juicy in the centre.  

The magic of this recipe lies in the fact that - you will have noticed - no fat nor liquid nor extraneous substance is used to cook the Courgette.  It cooks in its own moisture.  These little courgette rounds are in fact essence of Courgette!  The difficulty is that for the full effect you should not remove the lid, except the once to turn them.  You have to trust your judgement.  

Mine are rather blacker than they should perhaps be.  But so delicious - the almost bitter exterior, the still juicy interior.  You can eat these hot or cold.  The temptation is to further smother them - in Oils and Herbs and Garlic, to toss them with Chili and Feta, to add them to Potato Salads. Do this, do all of these - and add salt and pepper, mix them with Rocket and Basil, with Grilled Halloumi, lather on Vinaigrettes, Lemon Zest, add Chickpeas or mix into Couscous.  

But first, before you do so, taste them, eat a few just as they are.