Mussels with Tomato, Fennel and Feta

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Weekend trips to Holland are not the best for my waistline. Holiday food traditions have sprung up over the years, and are difficult to escape. A kaasbroodje, liquid cheese wrapped in puff pastry, as a late breakfast on the train out of Schiphol. Bitterballen, balls of shredded meat wrapped in bechamel and deep fried dipped in mustard, as a reward after long cycles across the coastal dunes. Freshly made Turkse pizza, or lahmacun, from the elderly Tunisian/Greek man on the main street who takes more pride and satisfaction in his culinary skills than a Michelin chef. Fresh bread from the market with chunks of hard goats cheese, devoured on the banks of the canal because the ducks there have developed not only the size, but the tenacity of feral cats and will snatch food straight from your hands.

One of the only healthy traditions which has sprung up is cooking a large pot of mussels, a staple at Dutch supermarkets, at some point in the weekend. Mussels are full of vitamins and acids which are said to help brain function and reduce inflammatory conditions. While this may not be the most photogenic dish, it is a very tasty one, especially combined with a dollop of aioli and fresh bread to mop up the sauce. The recipe is adapted from the ever reliable Morito cookbook. The recipe allows for some mussels to be thrown out, because it’s never a good idea to take a chance on shellfish.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter/tapa

Ingredients

  • 1 sliced bunch of spring onions, green and white parts
  • 1 thinly sliced bulb of fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 5 finely chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey
  • 50ml white wine
  • 1 kilo mussels
  • 150g feta, crumbled
  • 1 handful of chopped fresh tarragon
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Sort through the mussels and find every mussel that is open, even slightly.
  • Tap each opened mussel sharply on the side of a counter top or sink.
  • If it closes, keep it.
  • If it stays open, throw it away.
  • If you’re not sure, throw it away.
  • Rinse all the now fully closed mussels thoroughly with water.
  • Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat and cook the fennel and fennel seeds slowly for five minutes.
  • Add the chopped spring onion and cook for another five minutes.
  • Add the garlic and chilli flakes and cook for a minute or two more.
  • Add in the tomato, sugar/honey bay leaves and white wine and bring to the boil, then reduce to the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  • Bring the mixture back to the boil and add the cleaned mussels to the pot.
  • Put on a lid, and cook until the mussels are opened (about 3-4 minutes).
  • If there are any closed mussels when the majority have opened, discard them.
  • Stir in the tarragon and feta, and stir immediately.

 

 

 

Smoky Tomato Falafel

DSC_0187Falafel have been a staple part of my diet for as long as I can remember. As a child, my favourite restaurant was the Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in Dublin. How exactly my parents managed to get two incredibly fussy eating children to devour falafel, hummus and other things that were incredibly exotic in Dublin in the eighties is beyond me, but it was one of the few places the whole family loved.  One of my favourite childhood memories is emerging from the basement restaurant onto the street above to discover that the whole city had been freshly coated in snow while we’d been having dinner.

When I first arrived in Holland, with a giant suitcase, a map, and very little else, falafel was my first meal. It hadn’t really occurred to me that not speaking a word of Dutch might pose any problem, until I realised I was hungry and had no clue what anything on any of the cafe menus were. Too embarrassed to ask, I ended up finding one of those fast food places with pictures of everything, relieved I could recognise a plate of falafel. Later, living in Aarhus, a roll of freshly baked flat bread stuffed with falafel, cabbage, chilli sauce, leaves and tahini from the Palestinian take away a few doors from my flat cost about €4. It was one of the few things my two day a week salary would stretch to, and became a weekend staple.

I was always disappointed when I tried to make falafel myself.Many past attempts ended with bland results. The key to this recipe is using dried chickpeas soaked overnight, but not cooked. I tried using tinned chickpeas, and ended up with spicy garlic mush that dissolved on the frying pan.  Being completely honest, this recipe, while delicious, is a million miles away from the falafel you get in Middle Eastern cafes, with their crispy brown deep fried shell giving way to tiny grains delicately spiced grains of broad beans. For starters, broad beans are difficult to track down in Dublin, so I make these with chickpeas. Also, pan frying just doesn’t give quite the same effect.They’re inspired by falafel sold from a Turkish deli stand at the market in Leiden. The recipe makes about 20 falafel. They freeze and keep well, and are great combined with tabbouleh to make a packed lunch for work.

Ingredient

  • 250g dried chickpeas, soaked in lots of water for 12 hours
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 8-10 slow roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or coriander
  • 1 teaspoon toasted cumin
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
  • Rapeseed or sunflower oil

Method

  • Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl or measuring jug.
  • Use a stick blender to break them down and mix them together.
  • The chickpeas should take on a consistency like grains of sand, you don’t want them completely pureed to a paste.
  • Check the seasoning, they can take a good amount of salt.
  • Form the mixture into golfball sized balls, flatten them slightly into patties, and then roll them in a bowl of sesame seeds to coat.
  • Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  • Fry the falafel in batches, about 2 minutes on each side (watch carefully, they burn easily).
  • Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm.

Scallop Tataki

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This recipe comes courtesy of my dad. My dad is a far better cook than me. I would say he missed his calling as a chef if he hadn’t become a doctor, which is pretty much the vocational trump card. He has been collecting his recipes into a cookbook for years now. It was an activity I spent quite a lot of time taking the piss out of him for, until I left home and realised it was really useful, at which point I asked him to send a copy. I then ended up setting up this blog, which was basically the same thing. I previously discussed the need for subterfuge and/or a good relationship with a fishmonger when you’re trying to buy raw fish, and this is another situation where that applies. The scallop in this recipe is nearly raw, so you need it to be exceptionally fresh. As per EU safety guidelines, you probably should really use defrosted frozen raw scallops, but where is the fun in that?  This looks far more complicated to make then it is, so it would make a very impressive dinner party starter. You can make the different components a few hours ahead, store the whole cooked scallop in the fridge and then slice and put together quickly at the last minute. I ended up doing this when my dinner plans were delayed by 4 hours thanks to an impromptu baggage handlers strike at Copenhagen Airport. This made part of a great midnight feast along with beetroot tartare, bread and dips.

Serves 4 as a light starter

Ingredients

  • 6 large scallops (8 if you want to make it a bit more substantial)
  • 3-4 tablespoons of sesame seeds (black and/or white)
  • 2 teaspoos wasabi
  • 6 teaspoons good mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Pickled sushi ginger
  • Sunflower or vegetable oil

Method

  • Roll each scallop in the sesame seeds until coated.
  • Wrap each scallop tightly in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 45 minutes.
  • Spray a frying pan with a little oil and put it on a high heat.
  • Once the pan is very hot, cook each scallop for 30 seconds, turning it constantly with a tongs so it is seared all over on the outside, but still nearly raw inside.
  • Put the scallops on a plate and put in the freezer for 15 minutes (not any longer or they may freeze, this is just to stop them cooking further)
  • Meanwhile, mix the wasabi and mayonnaise together in a bowl.
  • Mix the lime zest and chive together in a bowl.
  • Mix the soya sauce, lime juice, sugar and sesame oil together in a saucepan and heat gently on a low heat to combine.
  • Slice each scallop so you are left with 4-6 thin circular slices.
  • Divide the scallop slices between four plates, fanning them out.
  • Drizzle a teaspoon or two of the soy-lime sauce over the scallop slices.
  • Sprinkle the scallop slices with the mixed chive and lime zest, and serve with some sushi ginger and a dollop of the wasabi mayonnaise.

Chicken Liver Paté

I have loved chicken liver paté since I was a small child while resolutely remaining in denial about what it is actually made of, as I have a fairly visceral horror of all innards and offal, despite liking the taste of quite a few. Thus making this paté for the first time involved some inner conflict between my disgust at actually handling livers and my desire to see how easy this was to make (though I could have done without knowing exactly how much butter is involved). This was not helped by the fact that when I went to buy the livers, the woman at the checkout gave me a look of undisguised disgust before enquiring as to what I was planning to do with them. This resulted in my explaining the nuances of a recipe I had yet to make to three attentive and slightly repulsed check out ladies.

This recipe is an amalgam of various recipes, ideas and techniques, but it did create a very smooth, rich and creamy pat.

Serves 6 as a starter.

Ingredients

  • 200g chicken livers
  • 225g butter
  • 1 large banana/Echalion shallot
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Method

  • Finely chop the banana shallot.
  • Trim the livers of any membrane or green coloured parts.
  • Melt 25g of butter in a large frying pan until it is foaming slightly and add the shallot.
  • Cook for 3-4 minutes until softening and a little coloured.
  • Add the chicken livers and fry for 5-7 minutes until there is no pink showing on the outside (though mine still had a little bit of blood coming out).
  • Puree the livers with the onion and remaining ingredients (reserving another 25g of butter) until smooth.
  • Season well.
  • Push through a sieve with a wooden spoon to get a very smooth consistency.
  • Pour into ramekins (this makes 2-3 large ramekins worth) and leave to cool.
  • Melt the remaining butter and set aside to cool for 2-3 minutes.
  • Scoop off the solid crystals at the top of the butter to get to the clarified butter below.
  • Pour over the pate to create a seal and leave to cool before refrigerating for 24 hours to set.

Creamy Mussels with Fennel, Bacon and White Wine

Mussels are almost certainly the quickest and cheapest food you can turn into a restaurant quality meal. Although fresh mussels are elusive in my part of London, when you do find them, they tend to cost around £3-4 per kilo, which is enough for two people. I cooked this dish a few weeks ago during a visit to Holland, after a day wandering around the seaside at Marken where mussels are very easy to track down, and more importantly, where I had a helper for the fiddly and tiresome cleaning and debearding process. By helper, I of course mean person who undertook the bulk of this task while I sampled the wine to make sure it was fit for purpose (both equally important tasks, I like to think). I know frites are pretty classic with mussels, but I have to say I prefer some good crusty bread to mop up all the sauce.
Serves two as a main dish (if served with a baguette or some such)

 


Ingredients

  • 1kg mussels
  • 100g chopped bacon
  • 1 head of fennel
  • 150ml white wine
  • 100ml cream
  • Sprig or two of thyme
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped

Method

  • First clean the mussels.This involves scraping any gunk  and barnacles off the shells, removing the beards (the strands of hair that protrude from the shell) and rinsing vigorously in cold water.
  •  As a general rule, mussels that are open and do not close quickly when given a sharp tap, or whose shells are quite damaged should be discarded as they may be dead (I would tend to err on the side of caution in this, there is no point being a hero over shellfish).
  • In a pan large enough to fit all the mussels easily (and cover with a lid) heat a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat.
  • Add the bacon and fry for 2-3 minutes until starting to crisp.
  • Add the fennel, thyme and garlic and cook down for another 2 minutes until it has coloured.
  • Add the wine and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Strain out the fennel,bacon, thyme etc and return the wine to the pan.
  • Add the cream.
  • Increase the heat slightly add the mussels and cook for 4-5 minutes with a lid until they have opened, shaking the pan once or twice to move it all around a bit.
  • Any mussels which haven’t opened after this time should also be discarded, as they may be dead.
  • Serve immediately with good crusty bread

Courgette (Zucchini) Carpaccio

This recipe is completely shamelessly copied from the Konobo Menego on Hvar in Croatia, after I overheard a waiter describe it to a fellow diner. Our meal there was probably the highlight of the trip to Hvar, along with being told by two separate people that my choice of drink was not suitable for a lady.  We managed to coincide with a massive rainstorm and the coldest days on record that year in Croatia (despite it being May and Hvar being famed for its year-long sunshine). It seems that rain in Croatia is taken as an excuse to skive off work, being the exact opposite of Ireland and the UK where sunshine causes everyone to spend all day lying in the sun like cats. Everything on the island closed, even the museum and churches, with the exception of a couple of restaurants and the supermarket.

Food in Croatia has quite an Italian influence, due to quite a lot of time under the control of the Venetian Empire, and this dish is a good example of that. It is very quick and easy to make, and can also have its component parts sorted out earlier in the day and be put together at the last minute. It is a great Summer starter or as a part of an antipasta. It is not strictly vegetarian, given the inclusion of parmesan, but a good strong cheddar could work as a veggie substitute.

Serves 2 as a starter, or 4 as part of an antipasta selection

Ingredients

  • 2 small courgettes
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan or vegetarian substitute
  • ½ tablespoon toasted pine nuts
  • ½ tablespoon toasted pistachios
  • 1 small finely chopped shallot
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)

Method

  • Trim and wash the courgettes.
  • Thinly slice the courgettes into ribbons, or peel using a vegetable peeler or mandolin.
  • Steam, or blanche in boiling water for 1 minute.
  • Refresh with cold water and leave to dry in a colander.
  • Pat dry with kitchen paper once it has cooled.
  • Mix the oil, vinegar and lemon zest to form a dressing.
  • Lay the courgette slices on a plate and drizzle over the dressing.
  • Top with the shallot, grated cheese, pine nuts and pistachios.
  • Season well and serve.

Baked Scallops with Spiced Tomato and Chorizo (Vieras al horno)

I seem to be going through a scallop moment right now. They are very quick to cook, taste very rich but are actually very healthy (low fat, high protein) and they are pretty much the first fish I have figured out that I really like, as opposed to tolerate when deep fried into oblivion. I’m just back from a trip to Venice, where I managed to get some scallop shells from a restaurant (weirdly, they are not that easy to get with scallops unless you have a specialised fishmonger nearby).Due to Ryanair weight limits on luggage, my boyfriend very kindly agreed to bring them over state borders in his shorts pockets, making a rather hilarious clacking noise which led to many disconcerted stares from our fellow passengers (nothing is more uncomfortable in air travel than an unexplained and unidentifiable noise).

This is a very quick and beautiful looking dish. It would make a great dinner party starter as it looks complicated and time consuming, but really is only about 15 minutes of work, and you can pre-prep them and just throw in the oven at the last minute. I am also having a bit of a moment with Rick Stein’s new Spanish cookbook, where I got these from, it has yet to throw me a bad recipe, and they are all relatively easy. I could not source guandillo chilli’s, so I used my old favourite smoked paprika instead. Serves 4 as a starter

Ingredients

  • 8 large scallops
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 70g chorizo, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 roasted red pepper (from a jar is fine), chopped
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • a handful of breadcrumbs
  • olive oil

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200C.
  • fry the shallots and chorizo on a medium heat in a splash of oil for 8 or so minutes, adding the garlic for the last two.
  • Add the tomatoes, pepper, and paprika, season, and simmer for 3 minutes.
  • Clean the scallops.
  • Spoon the sauce equally between the 8 shells (use ramekins if you can’t find shells).
  • Slice the scallops in half horizontally and place on top of the sauce.
  • lightly season.
  • Top with breadcrumbs tossed in olive oil.
  • Bake for 8-9 minutes (the crumbs should be golden, the scallops a tiny bit coloured at the edges and springy)


Scallops with Black Pudding, Caramelised Leeks, and Tarragon and Paprika Dressing

I swore blindly this day would never come. I have spent my life avoiding fish with such meticulous care you would swear the smell of them would push me into anaphylactic shock. In the past few years, I have managed to gradually acclimatise myself to some shellfish if they were a) deep fried into oblivion or b) served to me by a guy I was trying to impress (I’m not sure if it was this that worked, but something did). I am not sure how, but sometime recently I managed to get talked into scallops, which seem like they would be the sidekick of the obvious fish hater archnemesis, oysters, but somehow managed to be delicious.  I realise saying they taste like chicken is cliched, but they do, a little, except much richer, and ok, a little seafoody. I’m not sure who in the world came up with the concept of pairing them with miscellaneous rich pork products (bacon, chorizo, black pudding) but I take my hat off to them, it is an unlikely, and wonderful combination.

This dish was kind of an improvisation, based in part on a Gordon Ramsay scallops + leeks recipe, on a previous seafood +black pudding combination, the fact that I had tarragon and yoghurt in my fridge, and finally, my belief that smoked paprika goes with everything. Fortunately, it worked. I have a sneaking suspicion that black pudding is a UK/Irish thing. It is similar to morcilla and also to boudin (although boudin tends to be softer). If none of these can be sourced, chorizo would be lovely too. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 12 large scallops (or about 24 little ones, as pictured)
  • 4 leeks
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 large slices of black pudding (or 8 of the narrower girthed pudding)
  • 3 tablespoons yoghurt
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • Handful chopped, fresh tarragon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • pinch of cayenne
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Finely chop the leeks.
  • Saute over a medium heat until soft.
  • Add the vinegar and sugar and cook down for 3-4 minutes, or until the edges of some pieces are starting to crisp.
  • Remove and keep warm.
  • To make the dressing mix the yoghurt, paprika, cayenne, garlic and most of the tarragon (leaving a few pieces to sprnkle on top) with a little bit of olive oil and a bit of water to thin it down. Season.
  • Cook the black pudding in a little oil in a frying pan as instructed on the pack (usually 6-8 minutes, turning occasionally).
  • Remove and keep warm.
  • Meanwhile, if using large scallops, slice in half into two thin discs. If using small, cook as is.
  • Season the scallops with salt, pepper and a tiny amount of caster sugar.
  • Fry in the oil leftover from the black pudding, over a medium heat, one minute on each side (the edges should be golden brown, the scallops still a bit bouncy when pressed).
  • Assemble as desired and serve immediately.