Ever since my sister introduced me to home coffee roasting and Rave Coffee‘s green coffee beans, I’ve been going to them ever seen for all my coffee needs, particularly fresh roasted beans when I’m not roasting my own, and the occasional Perfect Flat White. Rave Coffee is in an unlikely place, slightly hidden amongst a row of small businesses in the Cirencester industrial estate. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed another unlikely suspect appear in this same row of shops: a gelateria called Dolcetti. The doors have always been closed, but today, they were open, so I decided to go in.
Thh first thing I saw when I walked through Dolcetti’s mysterious doors was a big window looking into the room where the gelato is made (read: ice cream maker envy on overdrive). I then made my way to the ice cream case. I was in between errands, so gelato wasn’t really a practical purchase, but the owner, Rob Gibson, happily told me all about his new business and let me (or rather, insisted that I) try almost every flavour in the case.
Rob is serious about gelato, and even in these early days he’s done an impressive job at creating a niche, high-end product that defies the “local” cliche by doing it like he really means it. All of the dairy comes from a private farm up the road, and there’s even a “Rave Mocha” flavour using Rave Coffee from next door. Best of all, this is a dream realised (a dream Rob’s had for the last 20 years) and the enthusiasm shows, both in his words, and in his inventive flavours like “cherry yogurt” and “Swiss”, a combo of pecans and white chocolate. He also let me try his rum raisin gelato, made extra special by soaking the raisins for weeks in a very high quality rum (he wouldn’t say WHICH type of rum – “I won’t give away all my secrets” – gotta respect that!).
As a sorbet enthusiast, I was particularly inspired by the raspberry sorbet which had the most amazing colour and I loved that he kept the seeds from the berries in the sorbet. Also special was the lemon sorbet, crystal white and with the cleanest flavour. “Sicilian lemons”, Rob tells me: figures.
[Update: While at Dolcetti, I gave Rob my card and urged him to get on Twitter and Facebook (as you do when you do what I do). Yesterday I received this uber nice message from him: "Many thanks for all your tweets and fantastic photos. You were a breath of fresh air and just what I needed to get the twitter account open. My wife has been pushing me, but with so many other things to do, I have just not been able to get to this important part of marketing. I have however due to your visit now got going, and look forward to seeing what happens." So please give them a follow: @GelatoDolcetti.]
Last week I received a mysterious parcel. The box read “alternating pressure pump”, but inside was neither pressure pump, bicycle pump nor breast pump. Instead, this was box recycling at its best: what once held a pressure pump now bore a wonder of delights from my friend Tim Clinch, that rad peep photographer I met in Gascony last summer and who runs stellar food photography workshops in beautiful places like France, Bulgaria and Spain.
A few weeks ago I sent Tim a sample of the life-changing salsa macha, along with some dried chillies so he can make his own. In return, he sent me some of his homemade “oh fukkah it’s really good” dukkah along with an array of Turkish delights like date syrup, the best sumac ever (so far), dried gooseberries, a curious “raisin sausage” and this “limon tuzu”, aka lemon salt. Foodie pen pals are the best pen pals, don’t you think?
I’ve been having fun experimenting with the dukkah and spices (I’m saving the “sausage” for a special occasion). The dukkah is quickly becoming one of those “good with everything” sort of foods (much like salsa macha, and Chicago-style giardiniera since we’re on the subject). Today, it was time to tap the tuzu.
It was a spontaneous act, adding the lemon salt to the mushrooms. I was in a hunger-induced, post-swim, post-dog-walk panic, hastily frying the mushrooms, toasting the toast and barely finding the will to wash the rocket. It was time to salt the shrooms and I saw the tuzu before the sea salt, so in it went, and it totally transformed this fairly common breakfast into something totally tart, fresh and “fukkah yeah awesome”. A bit of thyme would have been great in here, but I couldn’t be bothered going outside so settled for a pinch of za’atar, which actually worked a treat.
In one sentence, here’s how it all came together: sautéed mushrooms with lemon salt and black pepper, served on sourdough toast with avocado, rocket and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
It took maybe 10 minutes to make, and I had to fight myself not to devour it in the same short amount of time.
My next mission is to photograph the dukkah as well as Tim photographed my chillies (see his blog – seriously, Tim, I will pay you for a print). Maybe Tim can help on this front, too… in fact, I know he can. And besides, I’ve always wanted to go to Bulgaria (I hear they have good cheese…and great photographers).
A couple weeks ago I wrote about making salsa macha with guajillo and chipotle chillies, a happy result of my having won a goodie bag from Cool Chile Company, which included masa harina among its dried chilli bonanza. Around the same time, I had an email from my friend, Patrick, suggesting he and our crew gather at Orchard Cottage for a Good Friday Easter feast.
The wheels began turning on a bit of Shaw family history: when I was younger, my Aunt Sue always hosted Easter with her husband Augie, whose family is from Mexico. The parties were some of the best of childhood memory because they brought together a weird combination of Lithuanian, Polish and Mexican tradition, including piñata-bashing to go with the requisite Easter egg hunt. Though we didn’t have tamales at our Easter parties, Sue often talked about her holiday tamale-making adventures with Augie’s side of the family, and on a few occasions she even gave me some leftover tamales to take home.
Sue probably didn’t realise how much I coveted these tamales, and they’ve always led to a weird longing for a tamale-making party of my own. So with life’s recent masa harina injection paired with Patrick’s Easter party suggestion, I decided to start my own tamale-inspired holiday tradition.
Tamales are usually made with lard and filled with meat like carnitas. I decided to take inspiration from last year’s Mexican Supperclub at The Vegetarian Cookery School, where I had some of the best Mexican food of my life – which is saying a lot given that I used to live in Austin, Texas! Among the dishes were Tamales Rellenos de Calabacin, aka tamales with butternut squash and feta, which she served with the most delicious mole sauce.
We ended up making two fillings: (1) butternut squash with goats cheese and (2) grilled red pepper, red onion, sweetcorn and feta. The tamales were surprisingly easy to make. The masa harina mixture is a simple dough of masa harina, butter (instead of lard), salt, baking powder, milk and vegetable stock.
The most fiddly part was rolling the individual tamales, but even this didn’t take very long, especially when you involve other people in the rolling. There are several schools of thought on rolling tamales – Jo and Rachel at The Vegetarian Cookery School seem to have a knack for making them extra pretty. I ended up using the technique shown in this allrecipes.com video, just because it made the most sense to me.
To serve with the tamales, I made mole poblano sauce – an epic adventure and worthy of a blog post in its own right (someday maybe?). I made it a few days ahead, with yet more of those Cool Chile Company chillies, using Thomasina Miers recipe from Mexican Food Made Simple (thanks to Charlotte Pike from Go Free for introducing me to that one).
Mole poblano is incredible stuff, containing about 20 ingredients, including dried mulatto, pasilla and ancho chillies, plantain, almonds, sesame seeds, prunes, raisins and not as much chocolate as you’d think. The result is an amazingly rich, deep, sorta sweet, sorta smoky sauce. I can’t imagine a better sauce for the butternut squash tamales. The richness of the chilli chocolate sauce seems ideal for the sweetness of the squash and corn masa, all rounded off by creamy goat cheese.
The number of tamales you get will depend on how big you make your tamales. I erred on the small side, which made about 16 tamales.
16 dried corn husks
For the masa
200g masa harina
50g butter, softened
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
100ml vegetable stock
For the filling
100g goat cheese
1 butternut squash, peeled and diced into small cubes
1 chopped fresh red chilli
4 cloves garlic, whole with the skin on
A few sprigs of thyme
Juice of half a lime
Roast the squash in a hot oven (180C / 350F) with the garlic, chilli, thyme, and olive oil until it is soft. This should take about 30-40 minutes. When cooked, remove the garlic from its skin, mush it up with the spatula and stir it through the squash. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir through some chopped coriander and lime juice.
Soak the corn husks in hot water for 30 minutes. When they are soft rinse them under running water as you separate them. Lay them flat on a plate and keep them covered with a damp cloth.
To prepare the masa, beat the softened butter in a mixing bowl, until soft and fluffy.
Mix the masa harina with the salt and baking powder.
Beat some of the dry mixture into the butter and then add a little milk then some more dry mix, then some stock until everything is combined.
The masa should be the consistency of scone dough, soft and pliable, if too dry and a little more milk, if too wet a little more masa harina.
To assemble the tamales, lay a husk on the table with the fat end away from you. Place a sausage of masa (30g) in the middle of the husk, starting at 1cm from the fat end press the masa down leaving a border down each side, big enough so that the husk can wrap over the filling. Press the masa down to about ⅔rds down the husk and flatten the sausage.
Top the masa with a little bit of roasted squash and smear on some goat cheese. Roll the corn husk with one end open and the other end like a burrito so that the filling gets sealed by the masa (this video is helpful).
Tear a thin strip off a long husk and tie around the open end of the tamale to seal it all together.
Steam the tamales in a vegetables steamer for 45- 60 minutes. You can tell when they are done because the masa will be soft and sponge like.
Serve them as soon as possible with mole and salsa.
Ok, it’s not pasta. It’s peelings of carrots and courgette given the pasta treatment. I mostly followed this recipe for Zucchini “Pasta”, which is basically a raw mixture of zucchini, tomato, basil, garlic, oil and walnuts. I added carrots, and also cooked the garlic in the olive oil, then added the zucchini and carrots very briefly. I used pine nuts instead of walnuts, and added a poached egg and an avocado (because that seems to be what I do).
Would make again. Next time, I’d like to try the raw version with walnuts.
The traditional way of making falafel involves soaking chickpeas, blending them up with onion, herbs and spices, then deep frying them into crispy balls of perfection. The key point here is that the chickpeas aren’t cooked – if they were, they falafel would fall apart and you’d need flour or breadcrumbs to hold the falafel together. To me, this defeats the purpose, especially if you’re serving the falafel in a pita. I want to fill my pita with beans, not bread (it’s the age-old veggie burger versus bread burger dilemma).
For lack of good falafel in the Cotswolds, I’ve tried making my own falafel the traditional way but it’s always been a disaster, primarily at the deep frying step. I don’t think I can get my oil hot enough on the electric hob (that, or I’m scared). So the falafel just ends up soaking up all the oil and then falling into greasy gross pieces.
I’ve experimented with several baked falafel recipes, all of which involve using cooked chickpeas, or in Leon’s case, chickpea flour. The baked falafel I made with my sister was decent, but not exactly ultimate.
I’ve made these twice now, and while they don’t have quite the same wow-factor as really good deep-fried falafel, they are still pretty damn good and, as it seems, worth making again and again. They also keep well in the freezer which makes them handy for lunches (I re-heat them in the toaster!).
I like to serve mine with a simple tahini sauce made with lemon juice, tahini and enough water to make a drizzle-able dressing. Chilli jam or harissa is nice, too.
The next thing to master are those great pickles you get with falafel in good falafel joints. The best I’ve ever had were the falafel and pickles from Arabica in Borough Market, though the last time I had them they weren’t quite as good as I remember. (I’ve since been told I must go to Mr. Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush.)
Is it pickled turnips I’m after? And I haven’t even touched on the falafel sauce. Tzatziki? Tahini? Hot sauce? All of the above?
I think I’ve discovered my new favourite thing to do with pollock: turn it into ceviche.
Pollock is all the rage at the moment as a sustainable alternative to cod. I got into pollock thanks to Rosalind Rathouse at Cookery School who uses it to make beautiful fish cakes and goujons (fish fingers for grown-ups). Her Fish and Shellfish class futher taught me how amazing poached pollack works with black butter sauce (but what wouldn’t be good with black butter sauce?).
Pollock is relatively inexpensive compared to most fish, but also, relatively flavourless. This makes pollock a good candidate for high flavour preparations like curries, fish tacos and, as I discovered this week, ceviche.
Ceviche is interesting – it’s an ancient method of preparing fish originating from South America where the fish gets diced and “cooked” by letting it marinate in citrus juice or other acidic liquid. Although no heat is applied, the fish obtains the colour and texture of cooked fish thanks to the interaction of acid in the citrus and protein in fish. To quote McGee, “the high acidity denatures and coagulates the proteins in the muscle tissue, so that the gel-like translucent tissue becomes opague and firm: but more delicately than it does when heated.”
Yotam Ottolenghi has a recipe for smoked corn and avocado ceviche using sea bass, one of my most favourite fish but also one I reserve for “special occasions”. Wild sea bass (the good stuff), is expensive, and when I have it, I like to cook it simply so I can really enjoy the flavour of the fish, not hide it in lime juice and spices.
Instead, I made his ceviche recipe with pollock, and I think it’s up there with one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever made. I served the ceviche on a crispy corn tortilla (which I achieved by heating a corn tortilla on an oiled frying pan until it was browned on both sides), with a dollop of fresh wasabi I recently acquired from The Wasabi Company. Total win.
This has been breakfast the last few days, a sort of glorified vegan version of the classic Waldorf salad, inspired by this season’s apple harvest and a few stalks of celery lurking in my fridge. You could bulk this out with added quinoa, bulgar wheat, maybe a few raisins, or even a blob of yogurt, but I found this wasn’t necessary. As is, this was my idea of perfect breakfast: delicious food that satisfies without over-filling. Major feel-good factor here.
A recent lunch re-affirmed two things I already knew: Helen Lawrence from The Vegetarian Cookery School is one of the best vegetarian chefs of all time ever, and Silvana de Soissons really knows how to pick ‘em.
The occasion was The Foodie Bugle Contributor’s Lunch Party, hosted by Silvana, who wisely chose Helen to create, cook and serve the meal. The end result was the smorgasbord of my dreams (veggie or otherwise). Get a load of this menu:
Roasted red pepper soup and harissa
Wild mushrooms with pinenuts and herbs
Roasted butternut squash and haloumi salad with tahini yoghurt and spices
Castelluccio lentils with beetroot & caramelised fennel
Tomatoes slow roasted tomatoes with fregola and herbs
This is my kind of food, and reading the menu filled me with promise. But it was in eating the food itself where I was reminded why Helen rocks my world.
I’ve known Helen for the past few years in my work with The Vegetarian Cookery School and Demuths Restaurant (where Helen used to be head chef). Helen is happy, fun and spontaneous. She works hard but never stresses. She loves ingredients. She loves to play. She loves to cook. All of this results in some amazing food, often with flavour combinations that surprise and inspire, and always beautifully presented as if each dish is an homage to the vegetables themselves. I’ve been a (mostly) vegetarian for the past 20 years and every time I take one of Helen’s classes or am treated to her cooking, I leave saturated with new ideas for how to make vegetables extraordinary.
Case in point was her lentils with beetroot and caramelised fennel, where the fennel was roasted on a very low heat over the course of two days to make the lentils absolutely soft, tender and sweet. Add to this deeply roasted beetroot and red onion, pomegranate molasses and edible flowers and you have something for which the phrase “lentil salad” simply doesn’t do it justice.
The other revelation came in her rose harissa – take your usual spicy harissa past and add rosewater and rose petals. The result: a world-rocking addition to roasted red pepper soup, bread, salad and pretty much anything that takes well to a bit of heat. (Following its positive reception, Helen has graciously shared the rose harissa recipe for all to enjoy.)
It wasn’t all fireworks and surprise flavours – Helen knows when to hold back and let great ingredients speak for themselves. Her sauteed wild mushrooms were going to be wrapped in filo and served with pine nuts, but in the end she served the sauteed wild mushrooms as they were – another example of Helen’s spontaneity resulting in beautiful results.
I asked Helen what her favourite dish was to make. Her response: “that’s like choosing your favourite child.” This was right before she commandeered the mint tea, opened the pot and threw in some fresh sage leaves: “let’s put some of this sage in there because it’s just so lovely.”
Like I said, Silvana knows how to pick em’, and that goes beyond chefs – she knows how to pick her friends, too. The lunch party was full of the coolest, friendliest and most talented foodies around. Authors, chefs, cookery teachers, food and drink “artisans”, journalists… mostly small business owners who have the freedom of life to disappear on a weekday afternoon into Silvana’s countryside wonderworld – the crockery, the linens, the Aga, the dogs, the wine, the food, the people – it’s all straight out of the “Make Life Awesome” handbook. It’s a sure sign that things are headed in a pretty swell direction.
I’ll finish this post the same way we finished the meal: with dessert. Semolina cake with roasted quince alongside rosewater and pistachio meringues, blackberries and vanilla labna. There are those roses again, kickin’ ass and takin’ names. I need to get some.
I used stock in place of soy milk, and didn’t bother straining out any solids: all hail the Vitamix and its ability to puree even the toughest of pea membranes and watercress stems into the finest puree. The soup is vegan, until you add the boiled egg, which makes it altogether awesome (I’m sure toasted sourdough croutons would also work a treat). On a whim, I also added some mixed seeds I toasted in a dry pan then tossed with a little soy sauce. This might be my new favourite soup garnish!
I particularly enjoyed this soup for breakfast, and as we move into winter, I expect to see more savoury breakfasts arrive in soup form.