Black Truffle Linguine

An indulgent splurge on the man’s birthday left me with no choice but to smother butter coated Linguine with generous shavings of Black Truffle. A very simple recipe, no fuss allowed.

Boil the Linguine in salted water till al dente, saving a little of the starchy water back when draining.  Add a generous knob of  unsalted butter to a frying pan and allow to bubbly way till nutty and brown but not burnt.

Add the drained pasta to the frying pan and coat the Linguine with the butter, adding a little of the starchy water to loosen and provide a little more moisture. Season generously with salt, and transfer to a plate immediately. Top generously with shavings of freshly grated black truffle (or as generously as the wallet allows) and devour!

Squid-Inky Orzo

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Perhaps not the most aesthetically appealing dish in the world to some, this Squid Ink Orzo may look like Orc food, but it certainly doesn’t taste like it.  Combining two of my favourite ingredients, orzo and squid ink, the result is a silky, bouncy grain engulfed in a slick of glossy, briny ink and subtle hints of the sea.

An intensely morish dish, I had to put my spoon down a few times and remind myself to savour the taste before wolfing it down. The sautéed squid really is secondary to this dish – of course it adds contrast in both texture and colour, but is by no means the star of the show.

Orzo is a type of pasta shaped like a grain of rice, also known as Risoni.  I use it as a substitute to arborio or carnaroli rice in risottos more and more these days.  The flavour is more delicate, and not heavy or creamy like risotto rice. It’s ideal for a dish like this where you want to show off a particular ingredient such as squid ink, and need something to ‘carry’ it and absorb the flavour without giving off too much creamy starch.

Squid ink is fairly easy to get hold of these days from good fishmongers or even online. I picked up 4 sachets from Borough Market for just 2 squid quid, so it’s pretty inexpensive too. It keeps in the fridge for months, so you don’t need to worry about having to use it within a few days should you come across it.

Ingredients
1 sachet squid ink
2 whole squid, or tubes (medium size)
250g Orzo
3 shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50g unsalted butter
dash olive oil
1 glass of white wine
500ml light chicken or fish stock (approx – you may need to add more water during cooking)
black pepper
wedge of lemon
grated parmesan
 
Method

Score the squid (outer side) in a diagonal about half a cm width apart, then score on the other diagonal to give a criss cross.  Cut into strips and put to the side.

Heat up the stock in a separate saucepan so it’s ready to add to the Orzo as needed.

Add a little olive oil and half of the butter to a saucepan, add the shallots and fry on a medium heat for a few minutes to soften, without browning.  Add the garlic, and fry for a further minute or two.  Then add the Orzo grains, stirring for a couple of minutes to coat each grain.  Pour in the wine and stir until it has reduced, then add one ladle of the hot stock at a time.  Stir frequently as the orzo will stick to the bottom of the pan otherwise.  Continue adding and reducing the stock, adding a little water if you need to.

The Orzo will take about 12-15 minutes to cook – it should be soft but slightly al dente, as with any other type of pasta or risotto.  A few minutes before it’s done, stir in the squid ink straight from the sachet.

Meanwhile, season the squid with salt and pepper.  Then fry in a separate saucepan in a little butter and olive oil on a high heat for no longer than a minute. Turn off the heat and squeeze the lemon juice over the squid.  Add the last knob of butter and some grated parmesan to the Orzo and give a final whip to melt it in.

Serve immediately with the sautéed squid on top.

 

Carluccios @ Spitalfields

Antonio would not be pleased. 

Quick 2 course lunch at Carluccios and it was very disappointing indeed. I’ve been to Carluccios a handful of times before and from memory have always thought it to be averagely decent.  Not the kind of place to set your rockets alight but you’d eat what was on the plate without too much of a grumble.

Well today the standards seem to have dropped substantially. First course of Crostini al Funghi from the Specials menu at £5ish.  When it arrived it looked appetising enough – a mixture of sautéed mushrooms with heaps of red chili and a little parsley, served on a slice of toast and a splatter of rocket on the side. Eating was a little tougher, the crostini was brittle and shattered upon cutting.  The really underseasoned mushrooms tasted more of oil than anything else.  And the chili seemed ‘fake’ – from the amount of red on the plate I expected it to blow my head off but I didn’t detect even the faintest of kicks.

My friend had Calamari.  A rather large and unwieldy portion – the battered rings clung together to form a mass. For the first time in a long time, I declined on even trying.

Now for the mains, I opted for Spaghetti Vongole with clams, garlic, herbs and chili. I was given a knife and fork which was annoying. Any restaurant claiming to serve ‘authentic Italian food’ should not be giving a knife and fork to eat spaghetti with.  More fake chili, enough red colour on the plate to indicate I’d soon be reaching for the milk, but alas no heat or kick to be found.  Bring on the chili oil – drizzle drizzle – still no heat.  After eating a few mouthfulls I then discovered a rod of pasta on my plate – a clump of 20 or so strands of spaghetti clung together at one end.  Very unappetising.

My friend had the seafood Linguine, which also had large clumps of inedible hard pasta stuck together.

Not sure if its the overall standards that have dropped or the Spitalfields branch in particular that is letting the side down. We paid £17 each for 2 courses and tap water – a high price for a meal bearing little resemblance to authentic italian food. Shant be rushing back here in a hurry.

Tomato & Shallot Tarte Tatin

Ingredients
 
For the Filling
Tomatoes (1 per person)
Shallots (1/2 per person)
Thyme, destalked
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
Short Crust Pastry / Puff Pastry (ready made
Rocket Salad
Parmesan Shavings
Balsamic Reduction
Toasted Pine Nuts to serve
 
For the Short Crust Pastry
200g Plain Flour
100 Unsalted Butter – cold and cubed
1 Egg
Pinch of Salt
A little grated Parmesan (optional)
Splash of cold water
(this will be enough for at least 10 Tartes)
 

Method

Take the tomatoes and core the tops out of them.  Peel the tomatoes by blanching in boiling water and plunging into ice cold water.  Cut into Quarters (or thirds if large tomatoes) and place on a baking tray (seed side up).  Peel the shallots and blanch in hot water for 30 seconds and place on the baking tray.  Sprinkle with Thyme, Olive Oil, Balsamic, Salt and Pepper and a pinch of Sugar.  Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes at 170°C.  Remove and leave to cool.   Keep an eye during the cooking, adding a splash of water to avoid the bottom catching if it looks a little dry.  Once cool slice the shallots in halves or quarters lengthways.

Meanwhile, make the savoury Short Crust Pastry.  Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt and butter.  Rub the mixture together with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs, keeping palms faced up to ensure the mix stays cool.  Add the parmesan.  Make a well in the centre and add 1 lightly beaten egg.  Using the handle end of a metal fork or spoon, roughly mix the egg in with the rest of the mixture (this avoids your fingers getting coated!).  Add a splash of cold water, and lightly knead to bring the mixture together into  a ball.  Only add a splash of water at a time as the pastry can become too wet quickly (a good tip is to dip your fingers into a little cold water to bring the final bits of the mix together).  Avoid kneading too much, as soon as the pastry comes together pack into a ball and wrap with cling film.  Once wrapped, roll the pastry into a fat sausage shape the same width as the ramekins for the tart and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes – doing this means you don’t have to roll the pastry and cut out before using, you can simply cut each slice off before it goes on the Tarte.

Make a caramel by melting sugar on a medium heat with a tiny splash of water until all the water has boiled out and you have a nice amber colour.  Pour a little of the caramel mixture into the bottom of each ramekin.  Arrange 4 tomato quarters on top of the caramel, seeds facing inside, followed by 3-4 slices of shallot placed in between the tomato and a few in the centre.  Sprinkle with parmesan shavings.  Unwrap the pastry and slice a thin disc (less than 1cm) and place on top of the ramekin, tucking in the edges a little.   Cook for 20-25 minutes at 180ºC until the pastry is golden.

To turn out the Tartes I quickly flip the ramekin upside-down onto a side plate (hold with a tea-towel), then slide the ramekin onto the serving plate before lifting the ramekin up.  If you do this whilst its still hot it comes out easily – don’t let it cool too much or the sugars will harden and stick to the ramekin.  Serve with dressed rocket salad and sprinkled with a little parmesan and some toasted pine nuts.

Casa Sibilla

Born of Paola Sibilla and located in the heart of Brixton Village, Casa Sibilla is a cosy Italian restaurant with a modest range of deli products on offer too.  Paola’s food philosophy is “…exalting food in all its goodness and simplicity, to avoid spoiling it by adding too many ingredients or flavours.”

The core ingredients are sourced on a weekly basis from Italy, hence the menu changes frequently to showcase seasonal produce.  The menu is limited (in a good way) with several choices for starter, main and dessert and a separate menu for drinks and nibbles.

We came on a Sunday afternoon and the restaurant wasn’t too busy, compared to some of the competition with queues leading outside the doors.  A little squashed inside, this was more endearing than annoying with most of the restaurants in Brixton Village sharing the same characteristic.

To start with we shared an antipasti for 1 – the size was much bigger than expected so we were glad we chose to share.  The cold meats were salami and mortadella, accompanied by various warm nibbles – roasted aubergine with tomato and black olive, stuffed mushroom, red pepper and tomato and baby courgettes topped with breadcrumbs, a little square of omelette/fritatta, a meatball with tomato ragu, and finally, new potatoes topped with something (i’m not sure what it was!).  It was all quite tasty – non-fussy and rustic italian flavours.

For main, my sister opted for Ravioli with Tomato Sauce, and I chose the slow cooked Lamb Belly with Parmesan Mash and greens. My lamb was incredibly tender and melted in the mouth, simply cooked with herbs and carrots for a little sweetness. The Parmesan Mash, speckled with fried onions and parmesan was tasty and added a savoury note without overpowering the lamb. Two types of green were served – stems of Chard, and what I think was Barba dei Frati aka ‘Monk’s Beard’.  This was the first time I’ve tried Monk’s Beard, cultivated mainly in Sicily, Spain and Northern Africa from March through to July and I’d like to see more of it in the UK. It adds an earthy, mineral rich flavour and has a more delicate texture than other leafy greens. I think this showcases Paola’s dedication to sourcing seasonal ingredients from her country of origin.

The Ravioli dish was not the one advertised on the menu for the day since it had run out. Unfortunately I can’t remember the filling of the ravioli – I tried one and it wasn’t especially distinctive or memorable but the pasta was well cooked and still al dente. The accompanying Tomato sauce was flavoursome and quite light.

All in all, from the dishes I sampled today I think Paolo Sibilla demonstrates her food philosophy by serving rustic dishes based on seasonal produce without over complicating flavours or sacrificing the essence of an ingredient. The service was friendly but I have to comment on the slow turnaround times – in a restaurant less than half full we waited 40 minutes for 1 starter and another 40 minutes for the mains to arrive which I did feel was excessive given that the dishes we ordered would have largely been cooked in advance. At £41 for 1 starter, 2 mains and a bottle of sparkling water, it wasn’t especially good value for money.  That said, I would try it again – but next time I’ll remember to put that extra hour on the parking ticket!