Springtime in Catalunya….Calçots!!

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Braised Chicken and Shiitake

with Calçots and Young Garlic.

So you’re probably wondering what are Calçots…well to the average person who hasn’t had the pleasure of being invited to a traditional Catalan barbecue (Calçotada), they look like spring onions but slightly larger and a much more subtle taste. Here in Catalunya the season for calçots is from late January through to the middle of April-I have been a little tardy in my efforts to post this recipe. I am lucky enough to have been to two Calçotadas in my  short time thus far here in Barcelona, and the experience is nothing short of immense. The quantity of onions some people eat is quite impressive-I was sat next to a ravenous Italian at my last calçotada. I’m not sure if he had been enduring a self-imposed fasting period in the days leading up to the event or if hoovering up at a rate of five-a-minute was the done thing around here. Needless to say I was astounded and impressed in equal measures, so much so that I duly obliged and within 20 minutes surpassed his paltry 20 or so calçots. Satisfaction quickly transformed into regret as I saw the plates of lamb and sausages and blackened artichokes approaching.

 How they are cooked, is traditionally over the initial flames of a barbecue, hot enough that it completely chars the outer layer of skin on the onions to leave a sweet and tender heart ready to be dipped into a secret family recipe of Romesco sauce. This gastronomic affair calls for inhibitions to be left aside and a giant bib tucked into your shirt…it gets messy.

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So all that being said I decided to use this sweeter version of the spring onion and mix it with some Asian flavours and another seasonal produce, young Garlic. Any kind of Asian cooking grabs my interest due to how simple and quick a lot of the dishes can be and the result is almost always something worthy of a dinner party. Shiitake mushrooms are my favourite type and I especially like the dried type as soaking them beforehand can create a beautiful liquor to add to your dish during the cooking process. If you don’t have a wok don’t worry, this dish can easily be done in a normal frying pan with a lid or a casserole dish, this is one of the few Asian dishes that isn’t going to be stir-fried on stove top requiring insanely high cooking temperatures.


What you’ll need

Serves 2

8 Dried Shiitake mushooms

1 or 2 large chicken thighs de-boned and de-skinned (about 250g)

1 tbspn dark soy sauce

2 tbspns Shaoxing wine (chinese cooking wine)

1 tbspn brown sugar (palm preferably)

2 large calçots

2 young garlics

3cm piece of ginger

300ml of stock

salt 1 tspn sesame oil

2 tbspns peanut oil or sunflower oil

White rice


1. Soak the mushrooms in hot water for 20-30 minutes while prepping the other ingredients. Keep the water for cooking with and once fully soaked cut each mushroom into quarters.

2. Slice the ginger and garlic thinly and add to the preheated oil and fry for a few minutes over a medium heat until fragrant and soft. While frying, slice the chicken into small pieces. Take out the ginger and garlic and reserve. Fry the chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Chop the white part of the Calçots into lengths of about 2 inches and add with the ginger and garlic to the chicken.

3. After another minute frying on a high heat you should notice small brown sticky deposits in the bottom of your pan, this is the moment to deglaze it with the cooking wine. Stir a little and add the mushrooms with their stock (about 300ml), the sugar and soy sauce. Taste and add salt as required.

4. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to the boil then reduce to a quick simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until the chicken has become tender, remember there should be enough broth to partly cover all the ingredients. Take off the lid to thicken the sauce if necessary and finely chop the green parts of the Calçots and Garlic. Serve with boiled white rice and drizzle the sesame oil over the top.

Moroccan neck of Lamb

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Moroccan neck of lamb, cauliflower puree,

couscous & cauliflower florets.

I chose this dish as I feel neck of lamb is a seriously under-rated cut and takes well to a heavy hit of dry spicing. Cauliflower (like the lamb) is a great spring ingredient, is very versatile and reasonably priced: I picked up two at the Farmer’s market in Partick for £1.30. This is great dinner-part material as the meat can’t really be overcooked and the accompaniments are really easy to assemble.

  • Marinade the lamb the night before cooking; I used cumin, fennel and coriander seeds. Mix the seeds in a mortar and pestle and cover the lamb with a little oil, wrap tightly and set in fridge.
  • Season the lamb and sear in a pan for around 5 minutes, ensuring the meat is well-coloured before de-glazing with red wine and chicken stock. Place in oven at 180 degrees for at least two hours.
  • For the puree, separate the cauliflower into florets and sauté in butter and oil for a couple of minutes. Once they are slightly browned add about 300ml of whole milk (or until the cauliflower is immersed) and place to a low boil for about 8-10 minutes. When soft, add to blender with about 200g of butter and a 100ml double cream, season to taste.
  • Place a cup full of couscous into a bowl with 1 ¾ cups of hot water, cover and leave for five minutes, stir with fork then add herbage—parsley, mint—plus a glug of olive oil and half a lemon. While the couscous is cooking, finely chop hazelnuts and toast on a dry pan.
  • Once the lamb has cooked for the requisite time—try the spoon test, if it gives after a gentle press then it’s sufficiently braised. Take it off the oven and roll in the toasted hazelnuts. Your cooking liquor should be ideal for a little drizzle of sauce: if not, reduce slightly until it’s the right consistency.
  • Assemble dish, starting with the couscous, lamb, and puree. For garnish, I parboiled a handful of cauliflower florets and sautéed them quickly.

Ingredients:

750g neck of lamb (available at most butchers and supermarkets)

Cup of couscous

Two cauliflowers

Fennel seeds

Coriander seeds

Cumin seeds

250g butter

200ml red wine

200ml chicken stock

Parsley

Mint

Lemon

Hazelnuts

100ml double cream

Pasta for starters!

Homemade Squash Ravioli and Sage Butter

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I always envisaged the art of making homemade pasta rested entirely on the shoulders of Italian nonas with hands like shovels, kneading dough in some rustic kitchen and following a recipe that had been handed down for generations. Eschewing from this romantic stereotype, I’ve managed to roll my own pasta on a couple of occasions now, and this butternut squash ravioli dish has easily been my favourite. This works well as a starter or can be served as a lunch the next day with salad. Ravioli freezes well too, so after all that hard work save some portions for a future date.


 

1. Start with your ravioli filling by cubing the squash, place in a roasting tin, season with salt and pepper. I let this roast at about 180 degrees Celsius for around 40 minutes.

2. I follow, although roughly, the rule of thumb of 100g of flour (pasta flour) to each egg. On a work surface, make a mound of flour (400g) and break each egg into the well in the middle. Add salt and a little olive oil.

3. Knead the dough until you feel it has the right consistency, for around 10 minutes—again this isn’t an exact science, you may need to add some more flour or a little water to get the right consistency. Once happy, place the dough into a bowl and cover for 20 minutes

4. When the squash is ready—you want some colour but not too charred—take out of the oven. Place in blender with Parmesan and a touch of ricotta cheese. Once blended, check seasoning and consistency, you want it to be firm enough to hold in the ravioli mold. Take some of the remaining filling to make your puree. I did this by simply adding to a pan, adding a bit of cream.

5. For the pasta, quarter the dough and begin the process of rolling it out. Once it is thin enough, place into your machine at the highest setting and gradually work your way down; idea is to get the pasta thin enough so that it’ s just transparent. Once you’re happy with this lay out the ravioli strips (I use the back of a chair) and lightly flour your work surface.

6. Place the first strip down and add filling, giving enough space for each portion. Egg wash the bottom of the strip, add the other layer of pasta on top and separate each portion (I just used a sharp knife) and press out air pockets around the filling.

7. Once you’re happy with this, place the ravioli in heavily salted water to boil. At the same time, make a start on your sage butter sauce. (I think the trick for this is to use a fairly high-quality butter), cook down until it goes nut brown and add sage leaves to crisp up.

8. When the ravioli has risen in the water its ready. Prepare plate with a swipe of the puree, add pasta and top with sage butter sauce and some toasted walnuts for texture.