A Lot On Her Plate Supper… in Paradise

IMG_2266

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of inviting some of my finest food-loving friends to a little supper at Paradise By Way of Kensal Green in West London. The idea was to introduce my cooking and some of the recipes from the forthcoming book (named after this blog) to my peers, in a fun and fabulous setting with plenty of drinks to wash it down. I had my 25th birthday at Paradise, and I know what a great venue it is – rather ahead of its time in terms of decor and outlook: channeling a sort of relaxed, eccentric decadence, but because it’s all the way over in West London it’s not somewhere I go often enough.

Lucky for me, the guys at the venue are an absolute joy to work with, and gave me a huge amount of autonomy in everything from styling the table, to what I was going to serve for dinner – making the whole experience enjoyable, rather than stressful. We decided to keep things intimate – with a sit-down meal for 25, starting off with Aperol Spritz (my all-time favourite drink), kale chips and Marmite Gougeres in the twinkling conservatory, before heading into the candlelit private dining room for the meal.

IMG_2282

In the dining room the table was laid with a grey tablecloth and decorated with flowers and succulents by my favourite florist Grace and Thorn, as well as some pineapples that I brought along because I love using them as table decorations. This wasn’t planned, I promise – but the room is painted a lovely turquoise blue, matching the vintage turquoise blue and gold dress I was wearing, and while coordinating with the decor wasn’t the first thing on my mind, I got lots of compliments on the outfit and on the styling – people loved those pineapples!

IMG_2272

When we were all sat down the wine started to flow and people got stuck into the bavette carpaccio and leeks vinaigrette – two of the dishes from the ‘starters’ section of the book. It was pretty surreal to look around me and see respected food folk like Felicity Cloake, Clive Watson, Rebecca Seal, Victoria Stewart, Alice Levine, Elly Curshen and Uyen Luu eating my food in a restaurant setting. It was such a fun night, and I was so happy and heartened by the supportive turnout, I soon forgot my nerves and got stuck into the plates with everyone else. David, the brilliant chef from Paradise translated my recipes absolutely faithfully and was kind enough to say that he thought my food was the sort of thing he’d serve in the restaurant. David you charmer!

IMG_2289

That day, while David had been grafting for the evening’s service, I’d been cooking up the dessert (huge thanks to Uyen Luu for allowing me to commandeer her brand new oven for perfect results): two huge cherry pies I brought along, balancing the overspilling, crumbly pastries on my lap in the car on the way. They went down very well indeed (the recipe will be in the book), and while some people left after the sweet course to make the last tube, some of us stayed on for more Aperol and to have a dance in the conservatory. I remember rapping to Jay-Z with Clem from Paradise and Antony Rettie, but that’s about the last thing I remember.

IMG_2278

Massive thanks so Shelley Martin-Light for making this thing happen and feasting with us on the night, despite being very close to giving birth. You are such an inspiration lady!

IMG_2290

If this is the kind of thing you’d like to come to, watch this space because hopefully there might be some more next year, to tie-in with the book’s release. We might even throw a copy of the book in with the ticket price…

The night’s menu:

Rosie Birkett Supper Club

IMG_2286 IMG_2288 IMG_2275 IMG_2293

Food styling for Guardian Cook

PancakesCook

If you’re a follower of this blog, my Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed that the old Cathcart/Birkett dream team was recently reunited for a shoot for the Guardian’s Cook supplement, which comes out each weekend as part of the Saturday Guardian, sharing some wonderful recipe ideas and relevant, original food content. You can read a couple of pieces I’ve written for the supplement here. Being a massive fan of Cook, which has been taken up a notch by hot-shot editor Mina Holland, (author of the wonderful Edible Atlas), and always includes gorgeous photography and styling, I was super excited to work on four of its 10 Best spreads, which included cover shots.

The 10 Best feature takes one ingredient and shares recipes that are brilliant because you’ve probably not made them before. Our ingredients were pepper, plums, sweet potato and ‘sauces’, and the recipes included things like dairy free, gluten free sweet potato donuts and one of my faves, walnut romesco sauce, from amazing cooks including Michel Roux Jr, Anna Jones and Anissa Helou.

During the shoot we were spoiled rotten with the food – I particularly loved Michel Roux Jr’s plum tarts, which while being fairly demanding (I needed to make a proper creme pat and stock syrup to poach the plums in) are worth every effort once you sink your teeth into them. They also look beautiful because the plums sort of melt into the creme pat, their skins scorching and shrinking, their flesh turning to sweet, unctuous pulp. Hurry up and make them while plums are still here! 

Hemsley and Hemsley’s beef Lok Lak was also delicious, and will certainly be gracing my table again, not least because it’s fabulously quick and satisfying.

You can find all these delicious recipes here:

I love working with Helen because her pictures are always beautiful, natural and evocative, and she always makes food I cook look its best. It’s amazing to see these pictures in print on the cover of a supplement I’ve been reading (and writing for) since it started. Here are some of the pics – I hope you like them. With thanks to Linda Berlin for her ace prop styling and Jenny Brown for her brilliant assistance during the shoot, check out her excellent blog Bake here.

gdn.cokdonutsgdn.cokplums

 

gdn.cokduck

gdn.cokromescoGetInline-6 GetInline-17 GetInline-18GetInline-7GetInline-12 GetInline-16

Porky pasta with green tomatoes, kale and preserved lemon

photo

I made my makeshift porchetta (pork belly infused with herbs and spices, wrapped around the loin and slow roasted) for friends the other night, and we had sufficient leftovers to warrant making a whole other meal out of it. That said, the porchetta on its own wasn’t quite enough for two, so I turned to my favourite pasta shape trofie: short little twists from Liguria, usually served with pesto Genovese – to bulk it out.

My mum sent me an email this weekend alerting me to her recipe for steak sauce involving green tomatoes – which I, like most people who grow their own, have a glut of right now. While you can ripen them up on your windowsill, when fried into the sofrito they provide a nice perky astringency, so I threw them into the mix along with some kale and preserved lemon. The result was a rather lovely pasta dish: rich and satisfying, yet fresh and fragrant: somehow perfect for late summer, when the nights are starting to get darker quicker, but there’s still some warmth in the air. I would really recommend cooking up if you ever find yourself with leftover roast pork, or even better, porchetta to hand. I think it would also work pretty well with rabbit and even chicken as the sauce is creamy enough to liven up lean meats. If you’re a veggie you could omit the meat altogether, it’s still a nice sauce on its own.

photo

photo

Ingredients 

Extra virgin olive oil 
1 white onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped 
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 slices of preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed and finely chopped
handful of green and red cherry tomatoes, larger ones halved
splash of white wine – the fruitier the better
2 tbsps double cream
red chilli flakes
150-200g leftover roast pork or porchetta, roughly chopped
2 large leaves curly or black kale, thick stems removed, washed and roughly chopped 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 
parmesan

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan or cast iron skillet over a medium heat. Add in the rosemary, bay, onion, and carrot and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about five minutes, until the veg are soft and fragrant, then add the garlic and preserved lemon and cook for a further minute. Add in the tomatoes and cook until they’ve softened – a further five minutes, then add the white wine to deglaze the pan, before adding the cream and a generous pinch of chilli flakes. Cook for three more minutes and then turn off the heat.

Now cook your pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente: 6-7 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water. 

Return the sauce skillet to the heat and add in two tablespoons of the cooking water, stirring, followed by the pork and kale. Cook, stirring to thoroughly incorporate all the ingredients, until the kale is tender and wilted and the pork is heated through. Stir in the drained trofie pasta, season to taste and grate over some fresh parmesan. Divide between plates and serve with extra parmesan.

Recipe: Swiss chard, pecorino and preserved lemon tart

photo(10)

I was recently sent a box of produce from the organic supplier Wholegood, whose Instagram account I’ve been stalking thanks to all the pics of the banging produce that goes up on there – they have romanescos for god’s sake! While I’m normally one for shopping at the green grocer or market, and have never before subscribed to a box scheme, these guys have really impressed me with the quality of their stuff, and it’s not surprising given the fact that they supply lots of restaurants with produce from some of the best organic growers just outside London. Now you can get their boxes (from about 15-20 quid) delivered to your door through Ocado. 

My box was a veggie one, and came complete with huge bunches of beautifully glossy,  golden-stalked Swiss chard, cavolo nero, the sweetest baby courgettes, fennel, carrots and these gorgeous purple potatoes, which I loved roasting with chorizo, garlic and rosemary and smashing with jalapenos.

photo(11)

With the courgettes and fennel I made a soup for Jamie’s sister who’d just lost a tooth and was finding it hard to chew. It went down very well indeed, and was super healthy, with just courgettes, fennel tops, chicken stock, onion, garlic, bay and tarragon. It kept her going for a good few days. 

But the by far the most stonking thing I made from the box was a tart of Swiss chard, preserved lemon and pecorino (kindly sent to me from the amazing Originario Foods) with a black pepper and parmesan crust. I always find I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do with Swiss Chard, because I can find that it just tastes quite earthy and bitter. This recipe matches it to the intense, salty hard cheeses pecorino and parmesan, the aromatic, woody herb sage and deeply citric preserved lemon, which really lifts it. It got quite a lot of love on both mine and Wholegood’s Instagram, so here is the recipe for you. Despite most of my courgettes rotting before they were big enough to harvest, I did get some flowers, which I used on top of the tart to pretty things up.
For the parmesan and black pepper pastry:

photo(9)

180g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
50g parmesan, grated
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 
2 tsp chilled water (more if needed)
For the filling

tbsp extra virgin olive oil
knob of unsalted butter 
half a red onion, finely sliced
4 slices of preserved lemon, flesh and pith removed, chopped
6 sage leaves, chopped
clove of garlic, minced
Bunch of swiss chard, washed and stems separated from leaves, both chopped
2 eggs
4 tbsp creme fraiche
40g pecorino, sliced
salt and pepper 
courgette flowers (optional)

To make the pastry, sift your flour into a bowl and add the butter. Rub in until you have a sandy texture, like very fine breadcrumbs. Add in the parmesan and black pepper, and then the cold water, tsp at a time, mixing it in until the dough clumps together. You might not need to use the whole 2 tsps, you might need more – it all depends on the flour, but you DO NOT want a wet pastry, so be cautious. When you have a ball of combined, smooth pastry, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for half and hour.
Preheat your oven to 180.
Remove your pastry from the fridge and roll it out to pound coin thickness. Use your rolling pin to lift it and drape it over a greased tart or quiche dish, and gently line the dish with the pastry, lifting and tucking it into all of the crevices. Prick the bottom all over with a fork, and line with crumpled baking parchment. Fill it with baking beans (or failing that, dry rice, lentils or coins), and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the parchment and beans, then cook for a further 10 minutes, until golden and set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool while you make the filling.

To make the filling, fry your onion gently in the olive oil and butter with a good pinch of salt, until softened and starting to caramelise, about 12 minutes. Add in the chopped preserved lemon and stir with a spoon until it’s melted into the oil. Add in the chard stems, sage leaves and garlic and cook for another five minutes, and then add the leaves and stir until coated and wilted. Remove from the heat.

Crack two eggs into a bowl and lightly whisk with a fork to combine. Whisk in the creme fraiche until combined, and stir through the pecorino. Season with black pepper. Fill your pastry case with the chard mixture and then pour over the custard. Top with courgette flowers and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until puffed, golden and set. Serve with a simple tomato salad.

Book shoot and summer supper club fun

photo-19

It’s been a while since I put up a blog post, but I have a good excuse, promise. For the past few months I’ve been working, cooking and sweating my not-so-little ass off to get my cookbook (WHOOP) submitted to the wonderful Hardie Grant. As seems to now be the pattern (remember last summer’s Christmas photoshoot for Booths?), I spent the June heatwave split between my tiny, dark basement kitchen and the lovely light, airy kitchen at  Helen Cathcart’s location house cooking and prepping for two solid weeks for the shoot.

Never have I cursed my wretched rented kitchen, or loved my dweeby trainers and their comfy orthotic inserts more. I am so lucky to have worked with Helen on this as she always takes the most beautiful photos, and we are really on the same page when it comes to styling and props, which we sourced together for the book. I am really excited about the way the book is going to look – you may have caught the odd glimpse on Instagram and here are some more outtakes:

photo

photo

To celebrate finishing the shoot – which was genuinely one of the most full-on working experiences of my life – but great fun thanks to the wonderful company I was in (thanks also to my amazing helpers Maggie, the hilarious Stephanie Boote, Jenny and Ben), Helen and I – ever suckers for punishment – decided to throw a little supperclub in Helen’s magical garden in Hackney. We invited some of our friends, laid on Sacred gin and elderflower cocktails, had some beautiful floral table dressings from fab local florist Grace and Thorn, and I cooked up a selection of recipes from the book including potato and rosemary pizzas and my famous homemade porchetta.

We served everything on big platters in the middle of the table, and the food went down really well, along with too many bottles of wine to recount. After all the courses had been served, I took off my apron and headed outside to drink and dance the night away with the guests, who seemed to be enjoying themselves. The whole night was a real team effort, with Helen taking some beautiful shots (below), some of which will feature in the book, and my pal Ben Blackburn stoically helping in the kitchen, despite having graduated from his cookery school the day before. Helen’s gorgeous sister Lilee (pictured) waitressed, and Jamie was chief KP, keeping the kitchen ticking over very smoothly.

Supperclub

Supperclub

Supperclub

Supperclub

This was the menu:

A Midsummer’s Supper Club

Snacks
Bagna Cauda and raw veg
Rosemary and potato pizzas

Starter
Seafood orzo salad with slow roasted tomatoes, baby squid and roasted pine nuts

Main
Homestyle porchetta with green lentils

Salads
Panzanella
Fig, rocket and gorgonzola

Dessert
Lemon meringue posset

Doing the supper club was huge fun, and it’s definitely something I want to again, it’s just a case of finding a venue that will work. So watch this space, because you’ll be invited to the next one…

Cooking with elderflower: simple cordial and rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake

Elderflower picking, Hackney
Photo by Helen Cathcart

I really love the start of spring, when rhubarb comes into season and the trees are fragrant and floral with little white elderflowers. I’ve never lived anywhere where elderflower season has been so apparent, but I’m near the River Lea and Hackney marshes, and suddenly my morning runs and bike rides have become heady with the gorgeous scent of these pretty, fragrant and short-lived white flowers, which seem to be growing from every tree and hedgerow. I’ve been collecting it by the bag-load, covering myself in pollen and making cordial (some of which is now fermenting into wine) and more besides. Elderflower is such a versatile ingredient, wonderfully pretty for garnishing desserts, great as fritters dipped in a light batter and eaten crispy and hot, or made into cordial and used in cocktails or baking. The season will be over soon, the flowers will start to turn brown – so hurry, get out there and get picking!

photo(7)

Here’s my very simple cordial recipe – it uses less sugar than normal and I’ve put the citric acid as optional because I’ve made it with and without, both successfully. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to wash the elderflower before you make it as that will wash away all the aromatic pollen which gives it its special scent and flavour.

photo(5)

20 heads of elderflower
2 lemons, zested and finely sliced
 into rounds
500g caster sugar
1/2 tsp citric acid
 (optional)

Put your sugar into a large saucepan or casserole, cover with about a litre and a half of water and bring up until it’s not quite boiling, but the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool slightly, then add the lemon, zest and elderflower, and citric acid if you’re using. Stir, and steep for 24 hours.

Line a colander or sieve with a clean tea towel and place over a large bowl. Carefully pour the elderflower mixture into it in stages if you need to, and allow it to drip through, filtering. Remove to a jug and fill sterilised bottles and jars with your cordial. It should keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge.

Rhubarb and elderflower upside down cake
Serves 6

photo(6)

This recipe combines elderfower with fruity, tart rhubarb in a light, gooey-bottomed, self-saucing sponge cake. This is best enjoyed with a large dollop of cool creme fraiche.

40g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
300g trimmed rhubarb, cut into 3cm pieces
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
80g caster sugar
4 heads of elderflower, tough stems removed, plus another head for garnish
40g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g natural yoghurt
2 medium eggs, separated

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Lightly grease a pudding dish or cake tin. Place the rhubarb in a saucepan with the elderflower cordial and a tablespoon of the sugar over a low heat. Simmer gently for 5–10 minutes until it’s softened and part-cooked but still holds its shape. It will release its juice during this time.
Put a sieve over a bowl and strain the rhubarb, reserving its juices. Set aside to cool.

Once cool, arrange half of your rhubarb on the bottom of your cake tin/pudding basin, as neatly as you can, along with some of the elderflowers. This will be the top of the cake and look very pretty once you take it out of the tin.

Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Slowly add in the flour and baking powder, mixing well, followed by the yoghurt, the rhubarb juices, and the remaining rhubarb and elderflowers, mixing well after each addition. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and lightly fold into the batter.

Spoon the batter on top of the rhubarb in your baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden. Leave to cool for and settle for 5 minutes on a wire rack, then use a palate knife to loosen it from the tin. Serve immediately with loads of creme fraiche.

Restaurant crush: Lardo

photo

The food at Lardo is so good, that I found myself chowing down on a radicchio, gorgonzola and walnut pizza about an hour after eating a HUGE bowl of nduja pasta and raspberry jelly at home, like it was the most normal thing in the world. I know. I’d popped in for a ‘drink’ with a pal (thankfully it’s in my new hood Hackney), and I wasn’t intending on eating, but once I saddled up on a high stool overlooking the chefs at work and the pizza-spewing wood oven, it was like I’d never eaten… well I suppose this blog isn’t called ‘A Lot On Her Plate’ for nothing.

photo

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been there twice, and I will continue to go there as long as it carries on being what I reckon is one of the best informal, reasonably priced Italians in London.

From the outside, looking in on this pared-back, understated restaurant near London Fields, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is simply a pizza joint, thanks to the huge, disco ball-esque wood-fired pizza oven that looms large through the window. But great as the pizzas are, this place is about so much more than that.

For starters, you might not know this, but Lardo – which takes its name from the delicious cured back fat of the beast – has its own extra special charcuterie made from Mangalitza pigs that are bred especially for it in the West Country. These pigs are furry and cute, so you might not want to Google pictures of them too much, but they’re also perfectly suited to yielding cured meats, thanks to their marbled meat and plentiful, flavourful fat. Try the deliciously fragrant fennel pollen salami and silky, silky coppa.

photo

To keep it true to the inexpensive, local Italian restaurants on which it’s modeled, the team at Lardo put huge effort into sourcing exceptional fresh produce and making things like pasta, simple cheeses, breads and even the syrups for its drinks from scratch. There are specials on all the time, and the menu changes according to what’s in season, sometimes on a daily basis, meaning that even though I visited twice in a few weeks (and ate the same pizza twice – it’s that nice), there were different things to try, and seasonal gems like stuffed tempura courgette flowers (£6), spaghetti with clams and wilted wild garlic (£12), or beautiful pale green nettle tagliatelle (£12) which comes wonderfully al dente and slathered in a creamy sauce with mushrooms and cheese.

The wine list at Lardo is focused and reasonably priced, honed on Italy and flitting between Northern Europe in winter, and Southern Europe in summer, with an emphasis on lesser-known European grape varieties. You can just pop in for a carafe and a bite, and sit at the bar watching the chefs (as I did) if you just fancy something light. But really, everything is so good you’ll just want to order and order – and I’d heartily encourage you to do just that.

photo

photo

LARDO will open its summer rooftop bar and grill COPPA this summer on 24th May 2014, and I can’t wait for this as I stupidly managed to miss it entirely last summer. Bring it on!

Kale and coriander pancakes with avocado butter and roasted tomato

kalepancakes

It was Pancake Day yesterday. This post was supposed to go up then. But you, know, life happened (and I may just have forgotten to update WordPress in ages, rendering it unusable). But boy, did I get busy with the pancake pan. I did this smoked haddock pancake with frazzled leeks and lemony creme fraiche recipe for Fish On Friday – an amazing new fish website, and I also made these little beauties for breakfast – mostly because I wanted to feel better about eating pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner (dinner was the talented Uyen Luu’s Banh Xeo – thanks Uyen!)

Here’s my recipe – yes, sorry, another kale one, but it’s tasty, I promise! – for an alternative, and wonderfully healthy Pancake Day dish. The pancakes themselves are stuffed full of goodness in the form of very finely chopped kale, with the slow-roasted tomatoes lending a richness and acidity. The creamy, perky avocado butter is made with tahini and is dangerously addictive. Make too much and then smear it on hot toasted sourdough. Or just eat it with your fingers like I do!

Pans

Kale pancakes with avocado butter and roasted tomato 
Makes two big stacks of pancakes

For the avocado butter
Half a very ripe avocado
1 Tbspn tahini
Pinch of red chilli flakes
Tbspn lemon juice or more to taste
Half a shallot, peeled
Pinch of salt and a good grind of freshly milled black pepper

For the kale pancakes
85g plain flour
15g rye flour
Half tsp baking powder
Tsp garlic powder
Tsp cumin powder
Lime zest
Tsp Maldon sea salt and a good grind of freshly milled black pepper

100ml milk
1 beaten egg
1 tbspn olive oil
Two big leaves of kale, destemmed and blitzed in a food processor until VERY finely chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, blitzed until very finely chopped
15ml cold water
Rapeseed oil, for frying

For the slow roasted tomato
1 large tomato, sliced into rounds
Olive oil
Maldon sea salt and pepper
A sprig of thyme

Preheat your oven to 160. On a greased baking tray or enamel plate, place your tomato. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until it’s softened and slightly shriveled.

Toms

While they’re roasting, you can make your pancake batter. Put your flour, baking powder, the lime zest, spices and salt and pepper into a mixing bowl. Combine the beaten egg, olive oil, chopped kale and coriander in another bowl or jug. Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and whisk with a fork or balloon whisk, until you have a batter, adding the water to loosen it – you want it about the consistency of double cream. Leave to rest while you make the avocado butter.

Blitz your shallot in a food processor until finely chopped. Scoop the flesh of your avocado into the food processor and add the tahini, lemon juice, chilli flakes and salt and pepper. Blitz until you have a smooth paste – it should be the consistency of whipped butter. Scrape out of the food processor and into a bowl.

Now it’s time to make the pancakes. Dig out your best non-stick pan (I love the ceramic coated ones) and a silicone brush. Pour about a tablespoon of rapeseed oil onto a small plate and brush your pan with the oil. Heat the pan up over a high heat and then spoon about half a ladleful of the pancake mixture into your pan. Swizzle to evenly distribute the mixture – you’re aiming for small, thick pancakes rather than traditional thin, large ones. Cook for two-to-three minutes and then shake the pan. If the pancake comes away from the bottom easily, flip it over and cook on the other side for another two minutes, until golden. Remove to a plate and keep warm in the oven – which should be turned off but still warm from cooking the tomatoes. Repeat the process with the rest of the mixture, divide the pancakes between two plates and serve topped with the tomatoes and avocado butter.

Woodland Pie Recipe

Chocolates and flowers are all very well, but I think if you really adore someone, making them something hearty and full of love is the way to go. And who doesn’t love a pie? Which is what my boyfriend will be getting this Valentine’s Day (well he did go and take me to Venice for my 30th, so I thought I should make a leetle bit of an effort!).

A raised, hot water crust pie takes some time to make, especially if you’re filling it with something other than sausage meat, but it’s worth it in the end for a nice chunk of flavour-packed pie, succulent with jelly. And it’s really not as scary as it sounds, you just need to make sure you put aside an afternoon when you’ll be pottering in the kitchen to give the dough time to cool and rest, and you time to poach the chicken, make the filling, bake the pies and them wait for them to cool before you make and add the jelly. But it’s a satisfying process, and a pie like this should last you a while, especially if you just dip into it – it’s perfect as a snack to have with drinks, or as a little starter before a main meal.

I decided to fill mine with chicken, pork belly and mushrooms, because I wanted something a bit lighter than solid pork, and had some fab dried porcini I brought back from Venice. You could easily substitute chicken for game like guinea fowl or pheasant when during game season. I used the stock from poaching the chicken and the rehydration stock from the dried mushrooms to make the jelly – giving it a sort of woodland character. I also put some dried tarragon through the pastry to give it a little lift, and because obviously tarragon is great with chicken and mushrooms. I also used pork belly rather than sausage meat as I couldn’t get hold of any decent fresh pork mince. I’ve made this pastry twice now, and I found using my Kitchen Aid stand mixer a massive help the second time because it incorporates the hot fat and water more smoothly than my rather lame mixing action, but it can obviously also be done by hand in a big bowl. Let me know how you get on with this recipe if you try it out.

Woodland (chicken, pork and mushroom) pies

Makes two medium pies or one big one

It goes without saying that you should use the best quality meat you can find and afford. Corn-fed chickens have more flavour and make for a better stock. I prefer to use pork belly and mince it myself than using pork mince. Marscapone adds a bit more fat to the mix and lemon zest keeps it fresh.

For the filling
1 medium chicken (you will only use 300g of this, but keep the rest for salad, sandwiches etc)
300g pork belly, skin and bone removed
1 tbspn olive oil
5 g butter
2 star anise
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1 leek, halved and washed
2 cloves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
Large pinch of dried red chilli flakes
zest of one lemon
30g dried mushrooms, keeping their rehydration stock for the jelly
2 rashers of smoked bacon, chopped into lardons
Small bunch of sage leaves, torn up finely
1 tbspn marscapone
Very good grating of nutmeg
1 tsp fish sauce
pinch sea salt
good grinding of black pepper

For the pastry
100g lard
75g unsalted butter
2 tsp dried tarragon
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
475g flour
160ml boiling water
1 egg, beaten (for the egg wash)

For the jelly
200ml chicken stock
100ml mushroom stock
50ml dry white wine
3 leaves of gelatin.

Fill a pot big enough to poach an entire chicken full of water, add the anise, black peppercorns, cloves, leek and bay leaf and bring to the boil. When it’s boiling, add the chicken and gently poach for 1 hour, skimming off any scum that comes to the surface as you go. When an hour has passed, pierce with a skewer to check the juices run clear, and leave to cool. Pass the stock through a sieve and reserve – you will need this for the jelly. When it’s cool enough to handle, shred 300g of breast and thigh meat into a bowl and reserve.

Then make the pastry. Place your flour and tarragon in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the beaten egg and stir in until it’s incorporated. You could do this in a stand mixer for ease.

Now melt the lard and butter in a saucepan with the salt and sugar. When it’s almost all melted, add the boiling water and bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once it’s boiled, remove quickly from the heat and leave it for about half a minute.
Now stir it into the flour and egg mix, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon to form a smooth, sticky dough. If you’re using a stand mixer, put it on the lowest mix setting with the paddle beater and let it mix until a soft, smooth dough forms – being careful to not over work. Cover with a tea towel and rest for one hour.

After the pastry has cooled and rested for an hour, tip it out onto a floured surface and flatten it out with your hands, shaping it into a rough rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds by bringing one end into the middle and pushing down with your fingers. Repeat with the opposite end, folding it on top of the other. Press down again with your fingertips. Flatten it out again into a rough rectangle and place on a floured plate or tray, covering with foil or grease-proof paper and refrigerating for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

While the pastry is resting you can get on with the filling. First rehydrate the dried mushrooms in 100ml of boiling water. Put 5g of butter and olive oil in a frying pan and gently sauté the onions with 6 shredded sage leaves. After three minutes, add the chopped bacon and cook until the bacon is lightly cooked – about five minutes.

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the stock, squeeze out the moisture from them and chop them up. You want them to be about the same bulkiness as the shredded chicken. Add the mushroom stock to 200ml of chicken stock and put in a separate pan.

Put the pork belly chunks in a food processor and whizz until you have a chunky mince, adding in the onion and bacon mixture for a blitz. Put this in bowl with chicken, lemon zest, garlic, sage, marscapone, fish sauce, nutmeg, chopped mushrooms and mix together well with your hands, rubbing it all together to get the flavours incorporated. Put this in the fridge to infuse while the pastry rests.

Preheat the oven to 180. Grease and flour (tapping out the excess flour) two enamel pudding bowls or high-sided pie moulds.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and transfer it to a floured surface. Cut it in half and roll out each half as follows. Sweep it in a circular motion across the surface to coat it in flour. It should feel much stiffer and firmer to the touch now it’s cooled. Roll it out lightly, and then fold it into thirds, as before. Rotate it by a quarter turn and roll it out to about 4mm thickness, being sure to rotate it by a quarter turn every two or so rolls so it doesn’t stick.

Once it’s your desired diameter and thickness, drape it over a smaller cup or bowl that will fit inside your pie mould, reserving the rest of the dough for the lid (you may need to cut off the excess, press together the scraps and re-roll for this). Put the pie mould over it, and then flip the right side up. Remove the inner bowl and press the pastry into the bottom of the mould and against the sides. Chop of the excess off that’s draping over the rim and use this for your lid. 

Divide the filling between the pastry bowls. Put the lid on and squeeze the edges together with the side crusts, being sure it’s well sealed. Crimp the edges with your fingers and put a hole in the middle with a skewer – it needs to be big enough to fit a piping bag nozzle for the jelly.

Egg wash the pies and bake them for 40 minutes, checking that the tops aren’t burning as you go. If they start to blacken or burn, cover them with tin foil and return them to the oven. 

When they’re baked, check using a meat thermometer inserted through the skewer hole that the meat is 80c or more. If you don’t have a thermometer, insert a skewer – it should come out piping hot. 

Leave the pies to cool for two hours.

When they’re cool, make the jelly. Put the gelatin in some cold water for a few minutes until it’s squidgy, then squeeze out the water. Heat the stocks and wine up to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in the gelatin until it’s dissolved.

When it’s cool enough to handle, but not so cool that it’s setting, put the jelly into a piping bag and carefully pipe into the hole in your pie. Fill it with jelly until it’s coming out the hole. Wipe any that leaks onto the surface of the pie with kitchen roll.

Cool in the fridge for about 8 hours. Cut up and serve with a nicely dressed green salad.

x

Kale me now: kale and almond pesto recipe

While Jackie Stallone has said that the secret to her – err – longevity is eating a bag of spinach a day, I’ve got to admit I’m more of a kale girl.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to bang on about all the reasons I love kale – you can read that here in this food trends piece I did recently for the Independent.

But I will say this – as you might have guessed from my Instagram and Twitter feeds, I eat a lot of our green (and sometimes red) curly leaved friend. Me and Elly Pear (who started the – initially tongue-in-cheek – #100wayswithkale tag on instagram) are forever swapping ideas, and I just never seem get bored of it.

I always had it growing up, as a nice robust green often as a side to a slow braise or beef stew, but it was my time in Vancouver that really converted me to this hearty, wholesome green. It was EVERYWHERE, and in a city where ingredients were very expensive, it was one of the most affordable and available ingredients. I really like it with my poached egg in the morning, or, in summer, blitzed up into a smoothie with banana, ginger and coconut water. It’s so fricking good for you!

Photo: Kale smoothie time. So West Coast right now.

A bag of kale goes a long way too, and doesn’t wither in the fridge like spinach or broccoli. I know I sound a bit like shrimp-obsessed Bubba in Forrest Gump, but you can steam it, roast it into wonderfully crisp chips, saute it in a little bit of olive oil, use it to bulk-out and health-up various soups, stews and salads, and even make it into a tasty pesto to slather on spaghetti.

It’s fair to say there’s going to be the odd kale recipe in my forthcoming cookbook ‘Fresh: 80 new recipes from market to table’, which, very excitingly, is being published by the amazing Hardie Grant next spring, but for now, here’s my recipe for kale and almond pesto for you to be getting on with. It’s delicious, super-simple to whizz up, economical, and will completely negate any guilt you might feel (you shouldn’t) about eating a big old bowl of pasta…

Kale and almond pesto
Makes a small jar of pesto for smothering on toasted sourdough, gallettes, fish, steak or for stirring into spaghetti

60g/three big handfuls of washed curly kale, stems removed and discarded
Large handful basil
Large handful parsley
three spring onions, roughly chopped
four cloves of garlic
40g sliced/flaked almonds
25g of grated parmesan – the best you can find
Large pinch of red chilli flakes
4 tbspn extra virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling
Good grind of black pepper
Large pinch of sea salt
1 tbspn lemon juice
75g spaghetti

Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Add the spring onions and garlic once it boils and cook for three minutes, until they’re soft. Add the kale and cook for about 40 seconds, until it’s bright green and floppy – could be less. Don’t overcook it as it will lose that lovely bright green colour.

Lift out the kale with a slotted spoon and put it onto a plate. Lift our the garlic and spring onion and blitz them in a food processor with the almonds. Add the parsley, basil and chilli flakes and blitz again. Squeeze the excess water out of the kale and add that to the food processor too, blitzing, followed by the lemon juice and zest, Parmesan and 4 tbspn of the olive oil. Season with black pepper and salt to taste, and stir. Store your pesto in a clean jar and drizzle with olive oil to seal in the freshness.

You can cook your pasta in the same water. When the spaghetti is al dente – do not overcook- it will take five or six minutes, drain, reserving a splash of the pasta water. Stir in generous tablespoons of the pesto and cooking water and top with freshly ground black pepper.