Saturday, 30 June 2012

R is for... raspberry and Ricotta roulade, roasted rhubarb, rhubarb sorbet and raspberry coulis

Raspberry and Ricotta roulade, roasted rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet with raspberry coulis

You can't beat a meringue roulade. It's light, fluffy, sweet, moreish and really bloomin' easy. If you are one of the deluded masses who think these crisp, white pillows with marshmallow insides, are so fiendishly complicated that they should be left to top patisserie chefs, get your whisk out and have a rethink. Meringue is easy. So easy, in fact, that it's always my dinner party pudding of choice when I can't really be bothered to make anything else. I'll make a pavlova when I want to make something fast, but have time on my side and I make a meringue roulade when I want an easy dish that's quick to the plate. If you're scared of rolling a roulade because you've heard they take immense skill and years of practice, take a word of advice from me. Ignore the scaremongers, they're talking nonsense. If you can roll up a sleeping bag, you can roll up a roulade. It's just a bit smaller and stickier. Delicious results with almost no effort? Sounds like a win-win to me. 

Raspberry and Ricotta Roulade

Raspberry and Ricotta roulade with raspberry coulis

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan) and line a 9 x 12 roulade tin with baking parchment

4 large egg whites
200g/8oz caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Half a tub of Ricotta
Half a small pot of double or whipping cream
A punnet of fresh raspberries

Whisk the egg whites with the salt to stiff peaks. Keep whisking and gradually, a little at a time, add the sugar. You should be left with a stiff, glossy meringue. Spread the meringue out gently in the roulade tray and pop in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden and crisp on the outside. Leave to cool completely in the tin - it doesn't take long. Then lay out a big sheet of baking parchment and upturn the roulade on to it. Peel off the used baking parchment. 

Whip the cream and whisk in the Ricotta. Spread the Ricotta cream over the roulade and then scatter over the raspberries. Using the baking parchment to help you, roll it up. Transfer it to a serving dish and sift over some icing sugar. Slice to serve.

Raspberry Coulis

I know strawberries are big business right now, and the nation is going mad for the Wimbledon berry of choice, but strawberries are not the only fruit. I, for one, think a sweet but slightly sharp and juicy raspberry is hard to beat. 

A punnet of raspberries
Icing sugar to taste
A squeeze of lemon

Pulse the raspberries with the sugar and lemon and then pass the whole lot through a fine sieve. Taste for sweetness, adding more if required. Drizzle a generous slurp over each slice of roulade.

Roasted Rhubarb

Roasted rhubarb

I am a real sucker for a stick of rhubarb. Fragrant and tart, soft and yielding. I like a fruit that's not too jammy, something with an edge of mouth-puckering sourness to counter the sweetness. I know others find the tartness too much, but I was brought up on gooseberry fool, rhubarb crumble and blackcurrant tarts, and find that level of "picked from the garden" sharpness comforting and homely. Rhubarb needn't be confined solely to crumbles though, it makes a delicious accompaniment to pork and the forced rhubarb of winter is excellent for flavouring gin to make pretty pink presents for Christmas. 

Rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3" pieces
1-2 tbsp caster sugar
The scraped out seeds of a vanilla pod
The zest and juice of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan)

Mix all the ingredients together and roast for 20 - 25 minutes. Leave to cool before serving.

Rhubarb Sorbet

Rhubarb sorbet

This rhubarb sorbet hits the spot - sweet, tart and refreshing. It is a recipe from the brilliant David Everitt-Matthias' Essence, one of my all time favourite cook books. I wasn't entirely sure if the rhubarb and raspberries would be fighting for attention on the same plate, but I actually thought they complemented each other beautifully to make a really fresh, pretty pud'.

1 kilo rhubarb, finely chopped
250g caster
30ml liquid glucose
100ml water
1.5 leaves of gelatine
Lemon juice, if needed

Put the rhubarb in a bowl, sprinkle over the caster sugar and cover in cling film before popping it in the fridge to macerate overnight. Strain off the juices and reserve for later. Chuck the rhubarb in a saucepan with the liquid glucose and water and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft.

Soak the gelatine in cold water to soften for about 10 minutes. Squeeze out the excess and add to the hot rhubarb, stirring it until it's completely dissolved. transfer the rhubarb into a blender to purée. Add the rhubarb juices and blend again. Taste for acidity, adding a squeeze of lemon if needed. Strain through a fine sieve and leave to cool. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturers instructions before scooping it into a Tupperware box and popping in the freezer. Move the sorbet to the fridge 10 minutes before serving to soften it slightly.

Friday, 29 June 2012

R is for... Rose petal jelly-topped rose mousse

Rose mousse topped with rose jelly
If you'd been threatened by your teachers as many times I have*, that they'd wash your mouth out with soapy water for using rude words, maybe you'd feel the same way as I do about flowery food. Why would you want to spoil some perfectly delicious dish by squirting eau de Granny's handsoap all over it. I can handle a little splash of orange blossom in something pistachio-y, but if you chucked lavender in my chocolate cake, I'd find it hard to forgive you. Luckily, Richard shares my disdain for floral food (though he loves a floral shirt), but I know we're in the minority. Given other people's enthusiasm for petals in their pud', coupled with the very important fact that rose begins with the letter R, it seemed churlish not to include them on R night's menu. 

Although I was rather pleased with their prettiness, the taste made me long to reach the bottom of the glass as quickly as possible, which, luckily, was fairly swift, as I'd made them in shot glasses. Richard was even less enamoured than me, and after grimacing his way through to the last mouthful, he declared that the rose mousse was even more awful than the olive fondants. Luckily, not everyone felt the same way. Others lapped them up, apparently finding them "delicious', "light" and "refreshing". So, if you like roses in your food, this one's for you, otherwise, hold out for the next course - it gets better...

Rose petal jelly topped rose mousse

Enough for 8 double shot glasses and a bit extra

1 large egg, separated
25g caster sugar
250ml double cream
2 leaves of gelatine, soaked in cold water for 10 mins
3 tbsp rosewater
A few drops of pink or red food dye
2 tbsp water
Unsprayed rose petals

First, make a custard. Place the egg yolk and sugar in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Heat 100ml of the cream to scalding point and pour the hot cream onto the eggs. Whisk together and pop it back in the saucepan over a low heat. Whisk constantly until the custard has slightly thickened and transfer to a cold jug. Stir through 1 tbsp rosewater, taste and add more if you must, pop some cling film over the top to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool completely. 

Melt 1 pre-soaked and drained gelatine leaf in a splash of boiling water and stir it through the custard. Whisk the remaining cream and fold it through your custard. Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and fold through before tinting the mousse pink with food dye. Pour into shot glasses and leave to set for about an hour.

Make the jelly by stirring together the remaining rosewater and water and adding a little dye to prettify. Melt the remaining leaf of gelatine with a splash of boiling water and stir it through. It shouldn't be hot unless you overdid it on the "splash", in which case, leave it to cool before pouring a little puddle of pink jelly over the top of your pink mousses. Position a rose petal in the jelly before leaving them to set in the fridge.

*No threats were ever carried out, which is probably why my potty mouth is still very much intact.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

R is for...Rosemary-crusted roast reindeer with red currant reduction, röstis and red cabbage

I have already given you my tuppence-worth about the ethics of eating reindeer meat, but now to the taste. Reindeer is mildly gamy and iron-rich. The meat is meltingly tender, full of flavour as well as light on the waistband. Reindeer meat is lean. So lean, in fact, that its calorie and fat count is lower than a skinless chicken breast. I finely chopped an enormous bunch of fresh rosemary and mixed it through with salt and pepper. Next, I laid a large sheet of cling film on the worktop and created a square of rosemary in the middle, then I rolled the reindeer up in the rosemary like a Swiss roll and popped it in the fridge until an hour before I cooked it. As it's so lean, don't be reserved with the butter. Preheat the oven to 180°C. I simply heated some butter and oil in a skillet and seared the outside (make sure you don't burn the herbs) and then transfer it on to a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the meat rest before carving it into delicious, ruby discs. I served it with a simple ruby port and redcurrant reduction. 

Just in case the rice and pasta of the previous courses wouldn't be enough to sate the carbohydrate hunger of my guests, I slung some extra starch in their direction with the main course. I've never been shy about expressing my deep and unflagging enthusiasm for the humble potato. To me, they will be forever entangled with the words comfort and home. Smash and bash them with milk and butter and you have soft, velvety mash, parboil them and chuck them in bubbling goose fat in the oven and they transform into roast potatoes so good, they'll bring a tear to your eye. And all that before we even mention chips, crisps, gratins, gnocchi or röstis. I love a good rösti. Crunchy and buttery on the outside, soft and yielding in the middle.

To serve 8 (or 4 greedy) people, simply peel and grate 4 waxy potatoes. Submerge the grated potato in cold water to wash off the excess starch. Drain the spuds and squeeze out any excess water by squashing the potato between two clean tea towels. Heat a generous knob of butter in a pan and form small patties of the potato gratings in your hands, before pressing the röstis into the hot butter to turn golden brown. Cook the rösti for about five minutes on both sides, it should be cooked through and crispy on the outside. Season generously and serve with reindeer and steamed and buttered red cabbage. You can make the red cabbage more Christmassy, if you like, by slow cooking it in a saucepan with onion, grated apple, a few spices and a generous slug of port. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012

R is for...Reindeer

Some people who have taken an interest in the menus of Alphabet Soup have thought nothing of me serving up crocodile or ibex, but have balked at the thought of anyone eating reindeer. I served reindeer again for a pre-Christmas dinner party and it went down a storm with our guests, but when I mentioned it during a shoot for my new book (*clang*), it made a couple of people uncomfortable. One in particular thought it was a "brutal" step too far. He slowly shook his head and tilted it with concerned sympathy at me, before asking, "why did you feel you needed to do that?". I must admit I was genuinely surprised by the reaction. Perhaps it's because I've had so much positive feedback about this project and the lengths I've gone to to source unusual, alphabetically appropriate ingredients, that I wasn't prepared for hearing anything different. But it did make me sit up and reassess. Memories of the drive down to Devon for family holidays came flooding back, when we would roll down the windows to shout, "Mint sauce!" at fields of sheep. I've always thought that was a funny, perhaps even charming, story, but was this, in fact, an early indication of my natural heartlessness.  

The uncomfortable judgement I felt that day stayed with me for some time and made me question my motives. Should I be judged as insensitive for some of the choices I've made for the sake of this self-imposed culinary mission? Had I become inured to the strangeness of what was on my plate, or indeed, who had died to make its way onto it? Was this all just some savage stunt, in which greed and novelty had thrown my moral compass off-course? And were some people right to view this project as a callous attempt to shock? Was I being deliberately perverse?

In truth, it didn't even enter my head that reindeer might be an unpalatable idea to anyone. It's beautiful, wild Scandinavian venison that is entirely organic, having lived a happy life roaming  pesticide free land. OK, the carbon footprint might be an issue for some, but food importation is so much more of a complex issue to unravel than that. When I asked the company I bought it from, how the reindeer made its way to Britain, I was told that the wild meat was processed (i.e. cut up and packaged) locally, before being frozen and shipped to the UK. In terms of animal welfare, it seems a no-brainer that eating reindeer is a more ethical choice than battery chickens, who are fattened up so quickly that their legs buckle under the weight of their own unnaturally bloated breasts, leaving them able to do little more than sit in their own filth until they are sent down a conveyor belt to their untimely deaths. Little research is needed to uncover some terrible truths behind the transportation of livestock for days on end in disgusting conditions and I, for one, find the idea of eating an animal who has led a carefree life in their natural environment an easier mouthful to swallow than a bite of a bacon sandwich made from intensively reared pigs. 

Is the issue with eating reindeer less about ethics than emotions? The images from childhood of red-nosed Rudolf and his chums pulling Father Christmas along in his sleigh, so that we could all wake up with present-filled stockings at the end of our beds on Christmas morning, are richly evocative. I can fully understand and appreciate that the magical charm we attached to them as children along with the carrots we left out for them on Christmas eve, are enough to make the idea of serving them up for lunch an abomination too far for many.

I see reindeer meat differently. I am as struck by their elegant majesty as the next person, but neither am I immune to the charms of all other doe-eyed deers, wide eyed cows and snuffling pigs. I am a meat eater and, as such, although I try as much as possible to ensure the flesh on my plate has come from a good and happy place, I tend not to anthropomorphise my Sunday roast. I don't think this makes me brutal, I think this makes me honest. Reindeer meat is low in fat and rich in iron. It is a brilliant source of protein and also happens to taste wholly delicious. I have read the arguments against eating meat, but I have decided not to tread the path of vegetarianism. Instead, I try to source my meat carefully and as ethically as possible, which is why I will be serving and eating reindeer meat again.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

R is for... Rabbit ragù ravioli

"What," I hear you cry, "is the difference between ragoût and ragù? (except, of course, for enabling you to use different types of fancy accented Latin over the letter u)". Well, it's simple really. Ragoût is French for a slow cooked stew and ragù is an Italian meat based sauce commonly served with pasta. It's usually made from minced or finely chopped meat, which has slowly cooked down with vegetables and liquid - stock, passata, wine. Ragù is basically what my mum (and probably your's) would call Bolognese sauce, but we can't allow you to use that name here, especially today of all days, when the letter "R" is on the menu.

I bought the rabbit from Moen's of Clapham, my favourite London butcher's by a mile. Not only are they incredibly skilled and knowledgable, but they are unfailingly helpful and irrepressibly jolly. They boned the bunny for me, then bagged the bones for me to take home for my stock pot. Rabbit is quite a subtle meat, so be generous with herbs, seasoning and wine. I popped the bones in a large pan filled up with cold water, an onion, carrot, a couple of sticks of celery and a leek all cut into chunks, along with a scattering of peppercorns, a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and a couple of bay leaves to make stock. I brought the water up to boiling and then turned the gas down and left the stock to simmer for a few hours. It can be used for Richard's Roquefort and rocket risotto and various other bits and pieces from R night's menu.

Rabbit ragù ravioli 

For the rabbit ragù
1 rabbit, boned (you can ask your butcher to do this for you, but ask to keep the bones for stock)
3 rashers of smoked back bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 large glasses of red wine or, even better, ruby port
2 level tbsp tomato purée
A sprig of thyme
A couple of bay leaves
1 pint of rabbit stock (or, if you haven't made it yet, chicken stock)
Salt and pepper

Place the onion, celery, carrot, bacon and garlic in a large saucepan with a generous glug of olive oil and lightly sauté until soft. In the meantime, finely chop the rabbit meat, including meat leg, kidneys, liver and heart into small pieces and add it to the pan. Stir it all for a few minutes to brown the meat. Add the tomato purée and stir again for a couple of minutes before adding half the port, stirring to deglaze the pan. Once the first glass has evaporated, toss in the second and leave to reduce by half. Add the stock and herbs and leave to simmer for about an hour and a half or until the sauce has thickened and the meat is tender. Season to taste and take the pan off the heat and leave the rabbit to cool completely.


200g '00' pasta flour
2 whole eggs or 4 egg yolks
A pinch of salt

Sift the flour and salt together and make a big mound on your worktop. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs. Whisk the egg a bit with a fork, or your fingers, and start to incorporate the flour into the egg. Ditch the fork and start bringing the dough together and knead for about 10 minutes. Use the heal of your hand to stretch it away from you and folding it over and repeating this action. You'll be left with a beautifully silky and elastic dough. Wrap it in cling film and leave the dough to rest for about 20 minutes, before rolling out.


Pasta dough
Extra flour, for dusting
Cold rabbit ragú

If you have a pasta machine, use it. Otherwise a rolling pin will suffice, though you'll have to put some real elbow grease into getting it thin enough. Cut the pasta dough in half and wrap the half you're not using back up in cling film. Flatten it with your hand until it's about half an inch thick and put it through the pasta machine at the widest setting. Fold the two ends inwards and put it through the machine again. Repeat this another couple of times, dusting the dough with flour if it starts to get sticky. Repeat this with each setting, 3 or 4 times, dusting whenever necessary, until your pasta is 1 - 1.5 mm thick.

place the long sheet of pasta on a flour dusted surface and trim off the rough side edges and cut the sheet in half. Cover one half of the pasta with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out. 

Place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the centre of one end of the pasta strip, leaving a 2 inch margin from the edge. Repeat, leaving about 2 inches between each mound of ragú. Once you have got to the end, brush around the mounds with a water dipped pastry brush. Lay the other half of the sheet of pasta over the top. Cup your hands and press gently around each mound of ragú until each is tightly sealed all the way round. Cut the ravioli to shape, either with a knife or a cutter and place on tray generously scattered with semolina. Repeat with the whole process with the second half of the dough. You can cook the ravioli straight away, or pop in the fridge for a few hours until needed. 

Once ready to cook, boil some generously salted water in a large saucepan before plunging in your ravioli and cooking for 4 - 5 minutes, or until they have risen to the surface. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and serve simply, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a crack of black pepper and a little Parmesan, if you like.