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.

Photo blog: when we went to Portland

Charcuterie boards at Olympic Provisions

It seems like an absolute age ago now, but I was in Portland in September for FEAST – the city’s annual food festival in association with Bon Appetit magazine. Feast is a three day feeding frenzy which sees the city’s top chefs come together and cook superb Oregonian bounty at events like the Sandwich Invitational – a night where they all competed to create the tastiest meal between two slices of bread.

The whole trip got off to rather a rollicking start, as it turned out that we were staying in the Jupiter Motel, whose ground floor was the venue for the festival’s industry launch, so that night, after attending the ‘Sandwich Invitational’, Jamie and I found ourselves rubbing shoulders with the city’s chef and food big shots, dancing like maniacs to My Sharona and drinking free-flowing gin and tonics until 3am. I met a lot of people that night, and I’m sure I don’t remember all of them – but one thing’s for sure, the food scene in Portland is one of the friendliest and most inclusive anywhere in the world, and (said like Frank Gallagher) it knows how to throw a party.

I was there writing a food and travel piece on the Oregon city, which has, in the past ten years, become one of the finest US food cities thanks to all the amazing punk rock restaurants, food carts and cafes that have sprung up serving a global mish-mash of kick-ass cooking. I write about this in more depth in a forthcoming piece for Escapism Magazine (out soon), but here is a little snapshot of the place we visited and the things we ate.

Ned Ludd: nedluddpdx.com

 

Nong’s Khao Man Gai food truck

Nong's Khao Man Gai food truck

Pok Pok: pokpokpdx.com

For more information on Portland see travelportland.com

Vancouver feature in January’s Jamie Oliver Magazine

Wahoooo! Anyone who knew the 15 year-old-Rosie will know how fricking exciting it is for me to appear in Jamie Oliver Magazine. I’m not going to even try and be cool or understated about this. The Naked Chef rocked my teenage world, and changed my ideas about cooking. Jamie Oliver was just so enthusiastic, relaxed and good at making food, and sliding down staircases, and riding scooters to Borough Market, where he knew all the traders by name. I loved it! I used to record every single episode and watch it at least twice. OK, I’ll admit I did the same thing with Jonathan Creek, but it’s obvious which show has had more of an actual impact on my life. And I’m thankful it was the former.

Like the show so many years ago, Jamie Magazine captures all that is exciting and modern about food. It’s incredibly well made, creative and inspiring, and features fantastic food writers, stylists and photographers from across the globe, so I am suitably stoked about contributing to it. This food-led travel guide came about when good friend and work co-conspirator Helen Cathcart decided to take a well-earned break and come visit me during my sabbatical. Five days of cycling around Vancouver, eating and shooting all the best restaurants, bars, cafes and street food ensued, with me taking furious notes for the piece. Along the way, we met Renee, who would go on to become such a good friend and fixture of our time in Van. This is the kind of work I relish!

My favourite thing about Vancouver – apart from the friends we made – was the food, and getting the chance to document it, complete with Helen’s vibrant, evocative pictures was a real treat. Eating out there is very easy because there is just so much choice – from amazing, affordable sushi to incredible Baja-inspired Mexican, or brilliant West Coast farm-to-table fine dining. But you can read about all that in the feature, so check it!

 

My little Vancouver kitchen and salted chocolate popcorn recipe

Crysanthemums from Mr Choi's garden

So the time has come for me to say goodbye to my little Vancouver kitchen, as we head off for our long journey home, via Nashville, Mexico (yay!!), Montreal and New York. It’s been good to me, this little basement room where I’ve cooked some of my best recipes yet. Sure, me and the oven have had our ups and downs – the temperature settings can be more than slightly temperamental, but in general this is a space where I’ve had the time to be creative, and inspired by all the frankly amazing produce they have here in British Columbia. Because it’s the fresh, seasonal produce that has to be my favourite thing about Vancouver, apart from gorgeous new friends. That’s what I’ll miss, Mr Choi’s garden bounty, and walking for 10 minutes to be on Commercial Drive, surrounded by little independent shops selling fresh apples, peaches and pears from the Okanagan Valley, Normans (my favourite shop) with its big crates of orange-frilled chantarelles, local beets and kale, and the Hungarian-run smoked sausage shop where a delicious hot, paprika-packed preserved sausage is only $1.85.

We’ve had some good times here, some fabulous dinners with our friends Renee, pictured, (who never failed to bring a lovely bottle of Zinfandel or two) and Cyril, who was always on-hand with chocolate, and shares my addiction for roasted hazelnuts.

In fact, the chocolate popcorn recipe below that I created for Suitcase magazine’s chocolate week content is partly inspired by Cyril. So I’ll leave you with that, and keep you posted from our travels. Mexico here we come!

Salted popcorn with dark chocolate and toasted hazelnuts

Ingredients: 

  • 100g dark chocolate, broken up (I like Green and Black’s)
  • 
Large handful of popcorn kernels
  • 30g roasted hazelnuts, skins rubbed off, and blitzed in a food processor or roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 
1 tbspn ground nut, rapeseed or vegetable oil

Method:

  • 
First, pop your popcorn. Put a large pot with a lid on a medium high heat and heat up the oil and half the salt.
  • Add the kernels in an even layer and put the lid on.
  • When the corn starts popping, shake the pan around gently to make sure the unpopped kernels get to the heat.
  • Put the slid slightly ajar so as to release some of the steam and make crisper corn.
  • Once the popcorn has stopped popping every few seconds, take it off the heat and rest it until all the popping has stopped. You don’t want to burn it!

  • Now heat up half a pan of boiling water.
  • Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt it gently with the rest of the salt until it’s liquid. Add in half the hazelnuts.
  • Line a large plate or baking tray with baking paper and scatter the popcorn over it in a layer.
  • Pour over the melted chocolate and hazelnut mixture and toss it around the corn until it’s coated, and leave to set at room temperature for an hour.
  • Serve in a bowl with the extra hazelnuts and an extra pinch of salt. You could add some chilli flakes if you were feeling adventurous…

Special fried rice recipe and Chinatown with Mr Choi

When our lovely landlord Mr Choi offered to take me and Jamie down to Chinatown for a little show-round, of course we jumped at the chance. We’ve had many a conversation with him about the sorry fact that Vancouver’s previously buzzing Chinese district is now just a shadow of its former self when it comes to Chinese-run businesses, in particular restaurants, with most of the restaurateurs swapping the rising rents of the area for those of Richmond – a nearby suburb. If you want really good Chinese food, that’s the place to get it. If you want really amazing Chinese-influenced food, Bao Bei, a  is the spot in Chinatown proper – and for sure one of my favourite places to eat in this city.

But this was less of a food tour, more of a guided tour from a man who’s been hanging out there since the 50s. He told us how, when he was a teenager attending high school here, the racism he experienced led him to wag lessons and retreat to Chinatown, where, when the ‘white kids came down looking for trouble, we showed them what was what – and they didn’t come back.’ It’s so hard to imagine our gentle, sparkly-eyed, sweet-toothed Mr Choi brawling in the streets of Vancouver, but things were pretty back different then. There was far less of a drug problem, for one thing – something that you can’t miss these days when you head to Chinatown. Tony (as he revealed his first name is) went on to be something of a mover and shaker down there, owning various properties and businesses, including, for the most of his working life, a car wash.

He showed us around what’s left of his old stomping ground, including highlights like the world’s narrowest building (who knew?) and the Dr Sun Yat Sen Chinese garden, which was very pretty and quite an oasis of calm amidst the clamour of the city. Of course I loved the little shops selling trinkets, and picked up a cute Chinese lantern and lovely vintage poster. We ate char sui pork buns from a little dim sum shop he showed us, and later some bok choi, ginger tofu and fried rice from Kent’s – a cheap and cheerful institution where a huge amount of food (one portion was enough for me and Jamie, and THEN SOME) will set you back six bucks. It was great to see that there are still plenty of amazing food shops and Chinese grocers selling dried fish, prawns and even lizards (for medicinal purposes) among other exotic things, as well as butchers filled with Chinese sausages and glistening, fatty pork cuts. We even spotted  some durian, but I was way too much of a wuss to buy one and try it. I did get some amazingly ripe mangoes though – two for $1.

This is a little recipe I made for fried rice, inspired by our little visit. I basically muddled it together from what we had in our fridge and cupboard. Putting lettuce in it was something I picked up from Bao Bei – which has a ‘kick ass’ fried rice with pancetta and iceberg running through it. This is best served with some chilli oil drizzled over it.

for the rice
1 cup basmati
2 cups water
pinch of salt
2 eggs
tsp soy
3 drops sesame
half a head of iceberg lettuce, cut into squares
two sticks of celery, finely chopped
chinese sausage, chorizo or 6 slices of prosciutto, finely sliced
half a white onion, chopped
handful of mint leaves
2 tbsps nuoc cham/fish sauce

quick pickled carrots and radishes
2 carrots, brunoised
radishes, chunked
2 tbspns sugar, dissolved in 2 tbspns cider vinegar, topped up with 3 tbspns water

Start by quick pickling the carrots and radishes in the vinegar and sugar solution.

Put the rice on to cook: place in a pan with double the amount in cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer – do not boil or stir, but cook until air holes puff through the surface of the rice and all the water has evaporated, checking occasionally that it’s not sticking to the bottom – about 12-15 mins.

While the rice is cooking put 1 tbsp of oil in a wok and stir fry the onion until browned – about 8 minutes. Reserve. Fry the ham/sausage for three minutes and reserve. Then add a bit more oil, scramble the eggs with the soy and sesame and add to the wok. Swirl around to make an omelette, when it starts to puff, flip it and cook for one more minute. Reserve and finely chop.

When the rice is cooked, remove from the pan onto a plate and fluff/separate grains with a fork. Then add remaining oil to pan, add onions, ham, rice, then egg, lettuce, celery and pickled carrots and radishes which you’ve drained and reserved pickling juice. Add a splash of soy, the nuoc cham, and two tbs of sweet pickling juice and toss it all together with the lettuce, celery and carrot. If your diners don’t mind spice, also finish with some chilli oil. Otherwise, stir through a bit of olive oil for gloss.

Tongue sandwich?

As I was struggling to peel the skin, taste-buds and all, from the massive beef tongue I’d been poaching for a couple of hours, my French housemate walked past me. “I’d offer to help you, but it disgusts me,” he said, totally straight-faced. And that’s the thing with tongue, isn’t it? Some people just can’t do it (he later tried it and liked it) – they find the idea of chewing on another animal’s tongue just too repulsive. Lord knows the photo below got a mixed response on Instagram. I might be among the grossed out, had my mother not fed it to me from a young age. I somehow maintained the opinion that ‘tongue’ was a colloquialism for another kind of meat, or pate or something – until she confessed that it was exactly what it sounded like: tongue. Still loved it, still do. Love that beefy (it tastes like brisket, no?), earthy flavour. Essentially, it’s a muscle just like any other, and it has a really delicate, delicious flavour. Especially poached in a fragrant bouillon like this one. Plus, once it’s cooked and prepped and chopped up, it’s just a piece of beef. Saying that, the prep can seem a little gruesome if you’re a bit squeamish – like I mentioned, you do have to peel the skin and tastebuds off the thing before you serve it, so do bear that in mind before you embark on the recipe.

One thing I learned on this occasion is to not serve it warm. The texture is all flobby and fatty, it’s just too much like French kissing a cow. But once it’s been chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours, and taken as a cold cut, it is divine. The flavours settle in and it has a meaty, satisfying texture.

Why the sudden urge to cook tongue? I recently got back from Portland, armed with a copy of the beautiful Le Pigeon cookbook, which has a whole chapter dedicated to this cut. Will certainly have to try the ‘elk tongue stroganoff’ and ‘lamb’s tongue fries’ – but first I just wanted to reacquaint myself with beef tongue, which is best poached gently and slowly, with lovely fragrant aromatics for a couple of hours. I got mine from the amazing organic, biodynamic butcher here on Commercial Drive, called Pasture to Plate. I’m now a regular here because their meat is second-to-none, well priced and they can get you unusual cuts, plus they usually have a nice stash of frozen tongues and beef cheeks etc. And all their meat comes from one ranch!

Having discovered that my tongue was better as a cold cut, sliced quite thin, I put it on an open sandwich with lovely toasted sourdough from the Italian bakery also on the Drive. To go with it, and give the sandwich a smoky piquancy reminiscent of a deli sandwich, I made a celeriac remoulade with a smoked oyster emulsion. Oysters and beef go really nicely together, and the punchy, smoky mayo created by blending the oysters with garlic, lemon juice and parsley works well against the crunchy, creamy celeriac. It’s a good way to create a smoked meat effect – without having to actually smoke any meat. Give it a go and let me know what you think about the remoulade/tongue combo.

Beef tongue and smoked oyster and celeriac open sandwich

1 beef tongue,
1/2 bulb of fennel,
1 big carrot
1 onion, halted and studded with cloves
2 cups white wine
sprig or two of parsley
6 black peppercorns
1 clove garlic
3 cloves
bay leaf
sea salt

for the celeriac
1 tin smoked oysters in oil
1/2 clove very fresh garlic
extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice

For the sandwich
sliced white sourdough
mustard
1 large tomato, sliced
2 small leaves of baby gem or romaine
salt and pepper

Method

First prep your tongue. Give it a good wash, then pop it in a big casserole with a lid, or curl it around in a large pot. Add in the aromatics – the carrot, onion, parsley, fennel, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves and salt. Cover with the wine and fill up with water until it covers the tongue. Bring to the boil on the hob, skimming off any scum as you go. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with the lid, and let poach for around 3 hours.

In the meantime, you can make the celeriac remoulade for the sandwich. Peel the gnarly celeriac and slice in half. You’ll only need a half for this recipe. Then julienne the celeriac into matchsticks.

Blend the oysters, garlic and parsley in a food processor with half of the smoky oil from the tin. Add a drizzle of olive oil until the mixture is the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. Add a squeeze of lemon and pinch of white pepper to taste.

Put the celeriac in a large bowl and pour over the mayo. Use your hands to coat it evenly and refrigerate.

Once your tongue is feeling tender – poke it with the prongs of a fork at the base and tip to check – remove it from the stock onto a chopping board. (NB Reserve the stock – it’s good for cooking potatoes or making gravy, just like a more funky beef stock!)

Wait for it to be cool enough to handle, but while it’s still warm you need to peel it. Peeling becomes impossible once it’s fully cool. To peel it, use a pairing knife to get under the skin and create a flap which you can then peel off – hopefully pretty easily. If you’re finding it difficult to pull the skin off, use your pairing knife to cut it off.

Once it’s fully peeled, leave it to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To assemble the sandwich

Use some really nice sourdough. Pop it in the toaster until it’s deep gold and crunchy. Hot butter. Remove the tongue from the fridge and slice it finely. Top the toast with the lettuce, tomato and tongue and slap a bit of mustard on the tongue, if you’re that way inclined. Top with the smoky celeriac remoulade and some salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Mr Choi’s Swiss chard, onion and three cheese tarts

I’ve spoken to you before about the amazing Mr Choi. He’s our landlord in Vancouver, his favourite catchphrase is ‘holy mackerel!’ and he keeps a mean kitchen garden. But he’s anything but mean. In fact, he couldn’t be more generous with the bountiful fresh produce he grows, and is always knocking on our door with armfuls of amazing things. So far we’ve had the sweetest, most delicious tomatoes, fragrant basil and these prickly Mexican pears which I’m yet to successfully cook.

This time he brought us Swiss chard – a huge glossy bunch of it. I had some cheese in the fridge which was going a little dry around the edges, some left over sour cream, half an onion and enough butter and eggs to make pastry, so I decided on making a tart out of the earthy greens. Then I realised I didn’t have a big tart dish, so it would have to be little tartlets. A bit more fiddly, but in fact the result was rather a hit – the earthy chard perfectly tempered by the sweet onion and nutty cheese.

Mr Choi is so happy and kind, and full of stories of when he was a chef in the 60s in a now-defunct hotel in Vancouver. He’s been such an inspiration to my cooking, and we wish we could bring him back to London with us. I hope you enjoy this recipe, which I thank Mr Choi for!

Mr Choi
Mr Choi's beautiful chard

Makes 6 little tarts
(use springform tins) or one 23 x 2.5cm large tart

for the pastry
175g plain flour
1/2 tsp dry thyme leaves
1 tbspn parmesan/ grana padano
1 egg yolk
100g cold butter, diced
4 tbspn iced water

For the filling
bunch of swiss chard, thoroughly washed – stems and leaves separated
half an onion, finely chopped
1 tbspn olive oil
bay leaf
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper
1 tsp butter
3 eggs
1 egg white
1/2 cup sour cream
25ml whole milk
50g gruyere, finely grated
30g sharp white cheddar, finely grated
1tsp cider vinegar

To make the pastry
Put the flour, parmesan, thyme leaves, egg yolk, butter and iced water in a food processor and whizz until it’s a sandy texture, and melds together. Pour it out onto a floured surface and squish it into a ball. Wrap in cling film and blast chill it in the freezer for 5 minutes.

To make the tarts

Preheat your oven to 180. Brush your tart tins with a thin coating of oil.

Take the pastry out of the freezer, divide in half and then each half into three equal thirds. Squidge each third into a ball-like shape, and, on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out thinly into discs.

Line the tart tins with the pastry discs, being careful to tuck the pastry right into the base and press into the fluted edges. To remove the excess pastry, press your finger against the edge of the top of the tin to chop it off. Pierce the base of each pastry case lightly with the prongs of a fork. Refrigerate again in the freezer for five minutes and place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up.

Place the cases on the baking sheet and line them with baking parchment. A good tip here is to scrunch up the parchment so you can mould it into the base of the tarts. Fill with lentils, baking beans or coins and blind bake for 15 minutes.

While that’s baking, you can make the filling. Heat the olive oil and butter on a medium heat in a frying pan and gently sauté the onion, thyme, bay and garlic for about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft and sweet. Be careful not to burn the garlic at this point.

Slice the chard stalks and add them to the frying pan, sautéeing for about another five minutes. In the meantime chinois the green leaves, then add them into the pan and wilt along with the onion and stalk mixture. Once the greens have wilted, transfer to a bowl and add a tsp of cider vinegar, mixing it in.

Once the timer goes off for the cases, remove the parchment and baking beans and bake for a further five minutes, until golden.

In another bowl, break the eggs and lightly whisk together with the egg white. Add in the sour cream, cheese, salt and pepper and milk and mix.

When the cases are ready, divide the chard mixture between them and carefully spoon in the egg and cheese mixture being careful not to overfill the cases.

Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool on a wire rack for five minutes before removing from their cases. Serve warm, with a dressed green salad.

Hot corn with Mexican butter

I ruddy love corn. Popcorn, sweetcorn out of a tin, corn on the cob – you name a corny foodstuff and the chances are I’ll be into it. Even if it does leave me picking at my teeth for the rest of the day, it’s worth it for that crunchy, buttery, addictive goodness. Gimme!

Anyway, I picked up some corn on special offer the other day and, inspired by a little dish I had at my favourite Mexican restaurant here, Tacofino Commissary, I decided to get all Mexican on its kernals. This is a really simple recipe and it seems to work pretty well. I love the way the acidic lime and salty parmesan (used in lieu of queso fresco) work with the sweetness of the corn. The herbs offer a nice fragrant lift to the whole thing. You can use coriander in the place of parsley, but I just used what I had to hand, which was a nice bunch of flat leaf.

Serves four as a starter
Two ears of corn, stripped of their husks, cut in half
120g butter, at room temperature
2 tbspns of grated grana padano or Parmesan
the juice of half a lime
tsp red chilli flakes
2 tbpsn of chopped mint and parsley
Grind of black pepper and salt

First mix the butter with the cheese, lime and salt and pepper, then add in the herbs and chilli flakes. Now heat up a skillet really hot, rub your corn with a little vegetable oil and place them in the skillet. You could use a barbecue, if you had one to hand, but a really hot skillet works just as well. You could par-boil them before grilling, but I found that a few minutes on each side worked well. Turn the corn at intervals – some of the kernals will char and blacken but this just adds to the flavour. When the corn is tender and a good, deep yellow – after about six-eight minutes, remove from the skillet and smother in the butter. Eat immediately, with the butter dripping down your wrists. This is an optional extra, but it’s a little ritual for me when I eat corn: when you’ve chomped all the corn of the cobs, smear the ears with more of the butter, let it soak in, and then suck it out. SO good!

Slow braised octopus with tomato, fennel, mussels and orzo

I have always been fascinated by octopus. I remember eating it on family holidays to Spain as a child, usually pickled or coated in oil and at the end of a cocktail stick, pleasingly chewy. I delighted in the texture of the tentacles – their beautiful gruesomeness, tinged with purple. I loved the way they felt against my tongue, the grooves of texture, their pleasing tangibility – they always reminded me of the suckers on those funny little furry toys I’d stick to every available window.

Whenever I’m at a fishmonger I’m drawn to the octopus – lying resplendent on the ice, dangling tentacles glistening like fishy chandeliers; but it’s never something I’ve attempted to cook. I suppose I’ve always been too scared to take such a magnificent, mystical creature and do the unthinkable to it: render it rubbery and inedible. But a gorgeous dish of slow-braised octopus eaten a few months ago at Rochelle Canteen has stuck in my mind as one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten this year, and something that I could at least try to recreate. It was deep, rich, velvety and heady – the octopus soft and tender and melding wonderfully with the olive oil, fennel, tomato and aromatic braising jus.

I’d also always assumed that cooking octopus would be super pricey, but when I was out shopping on ‘the Drive’ the other day I came face-to-face with a frozen whole octopus, priced very well at $7.99 (that’s under a fiver in British pounds!) so I thought I’d give it a go. I threw some mussels into the mix at the last minute because I was feeding three and was worried the octopus wouldn’t go so far – I was actually wrong as there was in fact leftovers – and the resulting dish was a bit of a hit. I will be making it again, and really the fact that the octopus was frozen didn’t seem to affect the flavour or texture at all. That’ll be the wonder of slow, careful braising!

Serves 2-4

1 octopus – fresh or frozen, about a kg
400g mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
half a small bulb of fennel, finely sliced
three large ripe tomatoes, chopped or, if not in season, a tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbs tomato puree
half an onion, finely chopped
One large carrot, diced
2 sticks of celery, chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
two cloves of garlic, minced
1 glass of white wine (preferably a good chardonnay for its aromatic richness)
2 bay leaves
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
Pinch of dry thyme or a few fresh thyme leaves
Bunch of cavolo nero
Handful of chopped parsley

Prepping the octopus
First, if you’re using a whole fresh octopus you need to tenderise it, by either freezing it a few days before you cook it, or whacking it with a mallet for 10 minutes until it foams. If you’re using frozen octopus defrost gently on a plate in the fridge for about 24 hours, you don’t need to worry about tenderising it as the process of freezing does that.

Then you must remove the head, innards, ink, eyes and beak.  But don’t be alarmed! This is not as hard or as horrible as it sounds. You just cut below the eyes, separating the head from the tentacles. You’ll see there’s a hole where the tentacles meet, and inside that is the ‘beak’. It’s easy to remove – just push it out with your finger or thumb. Now take the head, cut the eyes off the bottom and discard. Rinse it inside and out, getting rid of the insides, and also rinse the rest of the octopus under cold water. Separate the tentacles too.

NB if you’re using a frozen octopus you won’t have to do this as the innards will have been taken out before it’s frozen. It’s still worth cleaning it in cold water though.

Method
Put the tentacles and sack into a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, cover with about 130ml of water and cook for 20 minutes on a low heat. This serves to partially cook the octopus, but also to extract its flavourful juices, which you can use later.

When that’s done, reserve the cooking liquor and chop the tentacles up into chunks of about 3-4cm or whichever size you prefer. I like to keep nice meaty chunks.

Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onions, fennel, carrots, celery and sautée until the onion and fennel is turning translucent and soft – about five minutes. Then add the garlic, bay and thyme and cook for another one to two minutes. Now add the octopus and sautée for a further few minutes, stirring, before adding the tomato, tomato puree, wine, octopus juice and black pepper.

Bring to the boil and then lower to a gentle simmer and cook for about 40 minutes. It might be a little less, you just need to keep testing the octopus until it’s tender but still meaty and not in the least bit mulchy.

About eight minutes before it’s ready, cook some orzo in boiling salted water until al dente and dress with a little extra virgin olive oil.

When it’s nearly there, de-stem your cavolo nero and chiffonade the leaves. Throw in the mussels and kale, cover with a lid and cook for about three-to-four minutes, until the mussels have opened and exuded all their tasty juice into the braise. Then taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. Stir through the parsley and a dash of extra virgin olive oil, and serve in big ladlefuls on top of piles of orzo, making sure to dish out some of the octopus.

Enjoy!

Blueberry, basil and almond pudding pie!

Nowhere does blueberries quite like BC, and at the moment it is the season, so I am loving all the local bakeries with their blueberry pies – bursting at their golden, cross-hatched pastry seams with molten purple sweetness. Because they are in season, and plentiful, they are also very easy to come by: big, heaving punnets of the super fruit setting you back just a few bucks.

I wanted to create a cooked dessert/bake with the blue beauties, but it being so hot, couldn’t be faffed with pastry proper. Plus, I love ground almonds with any kind of soft fruit, so I came up with this incredibly easy pudding recipe which is somewhere between a clafoutis, sponge cake and a pie. I used half shop-bought ground almonds and half whole, skin-on blitzed-up almonds to give a bit of texture and rusticity, and the result is rather lovely – the squidgy, ever-so-sweet fruit melding with the sponge and the crunchy almonds. I popped some basil leaves into the mix as well, because Mr Choi grows the fruitiest, most fragrant basil I’ve ever tasted and I think it goes just lovely with the sweet blueberries, giving them an extra flavourful edge.

This recipe makes a whopping big pie, because I was using our massive cake tin (sorry, no ruler to measure it yet), so if you have a more diminutive vessel it might be worth halving the quantities. Or you could make two and pig out! I really like this with sour cream or yoghurt rather than cream as the blueberries are so sweet I think they benefit from slightly piquant dairy.

600-800g blueberries
Five big, fragrant basil leaves
4 eggs, at room temperature
Soft butter, for greasing
120g caster sugar – I like golden caster
180g ground almonds (option: you could use 90g finely ground, 90g blitzed whole, skin-on almonds for a bit of crunch – as I did)
20g flour
Sour cream or creme fraiche, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180. Grease a big cake tin or flan dish with softened butter and place the basil leaves on the bottom of it. Pour over the blueberries and put to one side. Combine the flour and ground almonds. In another bowl whisk the sugar and eggs until frothy – for about 3 minutes. Gently fold in the flour and almonds, keeping as much air in there as you can. Now pour this on top of the blueberries, let it settle for a couple of minutes, and cook for 35-45 minutes – until the batter is golden and the blueberries’ liquid is bubbling up the sides of the tin.

Remove the tin from the oven and run a palette knife around the edge to loosen the pudding. Leave to stand and cool a little for five minutes, then put a big plate on top of the tin and flip it upside down to plate it. This is nice served warm, with a big dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche, or kept in the fridge and eaten cool and squidgy at any time of the day. Hell – it’s got blueberries in it so you can happily have it for breakfast! NB – don’t put it in the fridge until it’s cooled to avoid condensation.