Crispy Pork Belly with Mashed Pumpkin & Wilted Spinach

Osteria Francescana, a restaurant in Modena with three Michelin stars, was named best restaurant in the world in 2016 and again in 2018. We were in the neighbourhood in late summer 2018, but you need to book months ahead and we hadn’t.

Chef-owner Massimo Bottura also runs a bistro in Modena called Franceschetta 58, so we decided to try and get a reservation for their three course 25 Euro lunch. We arrived in Modena late Sunday morning and while Matthew double parked I dashed in to book a table for one o’clock. There were only two spaces left, at a long thin table for eight where patrons sit on bar stools with other guests. Perfecto, I said, in my best Italian.

A couple of hours wandering around the Sunday markets allowed us to work up an appetite. As we were finishing our meal, which was excellent, a lady sitting next to Matthew, whose son was next to me, asked where we were from and how we had ended up at the restaurant. By her accent she was obviously American. I told her I had watched a Netflix documentary called Chef’s Table and one of the episodes was on Massimo Bottura. Actually, I said, his wife is American. Yes I know, she said, that’s me.

Lara told us a bit about her life in Modena and maintaining the high standards of a world-renowned restaurant. Then she recommended some places to eat well in the region. Today’s blog is my take on the main course we had that day. Simple, but a great combination of flavours.

800g-1kg boneless pork belly with skin
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp each cumin and fennel seeds
½ cup water
500g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 packet baby spinach leaves
Butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic glaze

Pour boiling water over the pork, then pat dry with paper towels and leave in the fridge overnight, uncovered, to dry out.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Pat pork dry again with paper towels. Using a very sharp knife, score skin all over. Place pork in a roasting pan, rub oil over the skin, then sprinkle with salt and seeds. Pour water around the pork, cover with foil, then roast for two hours. Check from time to time and add a dash more water if it dries up.

Turn oven up to 220°C, remove foil and continue to cook for about half an hour, or until pork skin is crispy. If liked, add some parboiled potatoes drizzled with a little oil, to the pan for this last half hour. Cut pork into portions and serve with the pumpkin, the spinach and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Pass the potatoes separately.

Pumpkin: cook in boiling, salted water for 15-20 mins or until tender. Drain then mash thoroughly, adding butter and seasoning to taste. A shake of ground nutmeg goes well. For a more intense flavour roast the pumpkin rather than boiling it.

Spinach: place in a small frying pan with a knob of butter. Stir fry until wilted, then season to taste.

Serves 6

 

 

Pan-Fried Fish with Baba Ganoush & Caper & Olive Salsa

Baba Ganoush is a delicious Middle Eastern dip to serve with pita bread or pita bread toasts. It also goes well with some starters or main courses. Try it with smoked salmon. Or with today’s pan-fried fish.

The recipe makes more Baba Ganoush than you will need for this recipe which serves 2. Keep the rest and serve it as a dip. For a gluten-free version of this recipe leave out the flour.

Baba Ganoush:
500g eggplants (2 or 3)
1 large or 2 smaller cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs olive oil
lemon juice and salt, to taste
Pinch of ground cumin
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1 small pot Greek-style plain yoghurt
Fish:
2 portions of firm-fleshed white fish
2 tsp plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Good pinch ground cumin
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp butter
Salsa:
1 Tbs capers, drained
1 Tbs chopped green or black olives
1 Tbs chopped parsley
1-2 anchovies, chopped
½ small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Lemon juice to taste
To serve:
Extra Virgin olive oil

Baba Ganoush: If possible, barbecue the eggplants over charcoal which gives the dip a distinctive, smoky flavour. Or cook them under a hot grill on both sides, until they collapse and the skins are black and blistered. You can also cook them in an oven at 180°C for about half an hour.

When cool enough to handle, cut in  half lengthwise and scrape out the flesh, discarding the skins. Chop flesh finely by hand, then add remaining ingredients. Using the food processor makes it too smooth, so best done by hand. If there’s time you can chill it for several hours or overnight for flavours to develop.

Fish: Mix flour with salt, pepper and cumin and coat the fish. Heat oil and butter in a frying pan and cook fish till golden on both sides.

Salsa: Mix all ingredients together.

To serve, place 2-3 Tbs Baba Ganoush in the middle of 2 serving plates (you will have some left over to use as a dip). Place a piece of fish on top. Top with the salsa, then drizzle a little oil around the edge.

Serves 2

 

Fiona’s Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

My friend Fiona follows a gluten-free diet. I love the nutty texture of her Gluten Free Chocolate Cake which keeps her sane when she’s studying for law exams.

Today’s recipe is adapted from Fiona’s. I’ve adjusted the quantities slightly, adding less sugar and a bit more chocolate and nuts. I’ve also added a topping of unsweetened cocoa powder, an idea from one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s chocolate cake recipes.

I served the cake as a dessert, with whipped cream and some cumquats I preserved a year ago, but it’s perfectly delicious just as it is, with a cuppa. As a dessert you could also serve it with berries or a ball of coffee ice cream.


250g dark chocolate
250g butter
250g almond meal*
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
To serve:
About 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
Candied oranges or cumquats or fresh berries
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat butter in a saucepan and when melted add the chocolate, broken into squares and turn off the heat. As chocolate melts, stir to combine. Mix in egg yolks, then sugar, almond meal, salt and baking powder. In a large bowl whip egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Scrape in the chocolate mixture, in two lots, gently using a spatula to thoroughly combine.

Scrape mixture into a greased and bottom-lined 22cm round cake tin and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check after 35 minutes. When ready cake will feel firm on top and a skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean. If you have a fan-forced oven you may find the cake is ready in just over half an hour, as mine was. Chocolate cakes are best under-cooked rather than over-cooked.

When cool, remove cake from tin and cover the top with cocoa powder, using a sieve. Serve cake with berries and whipped cream or just as it is.

Serves 12-16

* buy almond meal or make your own by blitzing nuts in food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. I used half bought and half I made using unskinned almonds. If you don’t have any almonds substitute walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or even a mixture.

Salted Caramel Slice

This recipe is adapted from one by David Lebovitz. One of those sweet, sinful snacks you have to hide, to avoid overindulgence. Trouble is, I know the hiding place.

When a friend emailed to ask for the recipe I wrote back asking if she also wanted contact details for Weight Watchers. She thought I was suggesting she was fat so I said she would be if she ate too much of this. It’s something you might describe as moreish, a word which I see has made it into the English dictionary and which has nothing whatsoever to do with Moorish, used to describe things with an Arabian flavour.

About 6 sheets Salada crackers (called Saltine in other countries)
250g unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
Large pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla essence
250g dark chocolate
1 small piece of Copha (vegetable shortening) the size of a large walnut
1 cup flaked almonds (optional)
Salt flakes

Line a shallow baking sheet approximately 28x42cm with baking paper. Or use two smaller tins which come to about the same total area. Cover with the crackers, breaking them as necessary to cover the whole area like a jigsaw puzzle.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan, then boil for 3 minutes, stirring all the time. Add salt and vanilla then pour over the crackers, spreading evenly. Bake for 15 minutes, watching carefully that it doesn’t burn.

Melt chocolate and Copha in a bowl over boiling water, then spread evenly over the caramel. If using nuts, toast them lightly in a dry frying pan over moderate heat then sprinkle over the chocolate. Sprinkle with a few salt flakes. Cool.

To serve, break into uneven sized pieces
Variations: use milk chocolate or a mix of half milk and half dark

 

Sesame Salmon

This delicious recipe was given to me by my daughter Catherine. She and her husband love raw fish and meat dishes, so they eat a lot of ceviche and carpaccio. If you’ve never eaten raw fish, this is a good way to start as it honestly doesn’t taste raw. The recipe serves 2 as a starter, but it’s easy to multiply the ingredients to serve 4 or 8. It’s also very quick to make.

The black sesame seeds add a nice colour contrast and the fried shallots add a bit of crunch. The fried shallots do make the photo look a bit dark, but they make a great garnish for all kinds of savoury recipes. If preferred leave them out or garnish with some chopped herbs such as coriander or chives.

If I had to describe this dish I would say it’s like a Japanese prawn cocktail, made with raw salmon instead of prawns!

1 portion salmon (about 180g)
1 small or half a large avocado, cubed
Zest and juice of ½ lime
2 tsp sesame oil*
2 tsp Mirin
1 Tbs pickled ginger, finely chopped*
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbs Kenko Creamy Sesame Dressing*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To garnish:
Black sesame seeds*
Fried shallots*
Lettuce leaves
Olive oil

Remove skin and any bones from salmon then cut into small cubes. Mix with remaining ingredients. Taste and see if it needs a little more lime juice or sesame oil.

Serve immediately on lettuce leaves, garnished with black sesame seeds, fried shallots and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 2

* sold in Asian supermarkets. For the Kenko Dressing you will need to find a shop that sells Japanese ingredients. If you can’t find it substitute mayonnaise. Not quite the same but it will do.

Lancashire Hot Pot

Lancashire Hot Pot originated in the north west of England and was a popular winter dinner throughout the British Isles when I was growing up. My mother, who didn’t have a large culinary repertoire, made it regularly and we loved it.

It’s basically a lamb stew covered with sliced potatoes, cooked until crisp. In the old days it would have been made with mutton, something we don’t see in the shops these days because the animals are killed much younger. My mother fried the onions and meat in dripping or lard, but I prefer to use butter or canola oil, or a combination.

2 Tbs butter or oil or 1Tbs of each
1 kg stewing lamb, cut into 2cm cubes
2 Tbs plain flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large or 2 smaller onions, diced
500g carrots, peeled and cut into slices or chunks
2 cups beef stock (or water and 2 beef stock cubes)
3 Tbs sherry or red wine (optional)
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
750g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tbs melted butter or oil, for brushing
1 tsp dried thyme

Preheat oven to 170°C. Mix lamb with the flour, salt and pepper. Heat butter or oil in a large frying pan and cook the meat over high heat, stirring, until browned. Place in a casserole dish. Add onions to the frying pan and cook, stirring from time to time, until softened. Add to the casserole with the carrots, stock, sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well. Cover and cook for 30-60 minutes, or until meat is almost tender.

Remove lid and cover the meat with the sliced potatoes, starting from the outside and overlapping them slightly. Brush with melted butter or oil, sprinkle with thyme then cover with the lid or a piece of foil. Return to the oven for 45 minutes  or until potatoes are tender. Turn oven up to 200°C. Remove lid or foil and cook casserole until potatoes are browned and crisp. Serve with a green vegetable.

Serves 6

Ricotta Cheesecake

I’ve made a lot of cheesecakes over the years and this one ticks all the boxes. The recipe was given to me by my daughter Catherine who said it was easy peasy and delicious.

Instead of topping with marmalade, you could serve the cheesecake with sliced strawberries, macerated with a little sugar and perhaps a splash of orange liqueur or brandy. Instead of marmalade I used about a cup of pureed fresh apricots, which I had frozen during summer, mixed with some home-made cumquat jam and heated to combine, then cooled. Use your imagination – this cheesecake would go well with any jam, marmalade, fruity sauce or fruit compote. Or just some fresh berries.

Use half the amount of biscuits, butter and cinnamon if you prefer a thinner crust.

Crust:
200g plain sweet biscuits
100g butter at room temperature
1 tsp cinnamon
Filling:
250g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
¾ cup cream or sour cream
2 Tbs grated lemon rind
Topping:
½ cup marmalade
¼ cup water
Icing sugar

Grease and bottom line a 22cm springform pan. Preheat oven to 170°C. Blitz biscuits in a food processor with butter and cinnamon to make fine crumbs. Tip into cake pan, spread evenly and press down. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Place ricotta, cream cheese and sugar in food processor and process until smooth. Add egg yolks, cream and lemon rind and mix thoroughly. In a large mixing bowl whip egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Scrape mixture from food processor into the egg whites and mix gently with a rubber spatula until combined. Scrape into the cake pan, then bake for 45-50 mins or until set, but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Remove from the oven, cool then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake, then remove sides from pan and dust top with sifted icing sugar. Heat marmalade and water in a small saucepan until combined, then cool and spoon over the top of the cheesecake, or serve separately in a jug.

Serves 10

Variations: use orange rind instead of lemon. Serve with fresh fruit or fruit compote of choice.

Chilled Beetroot Soup

Maggie and Richard served this delicious chilled soup when we were staying them last year in St Germain en Laye, on the outskirts of Paris.

Richard, who was chef that day, said the recipe came from Honey & Co. As per the recipe he garnished the soup with roasted yellow beetroot, diced and mixed with a crushed clove of garlic, chopped fresh oregano and a splash each of lemon juice and olive oil. This made a spectacular contrast. Unfortunately I didn’t have any yellow beetroot, so just used yoghurt and some chives as a garnish.

The original recipe says to roast the beetroots on a bed of salt, but as you’re going to peel them I decided this wasn’t going to make a huge difference to the end result. I just sprinkled them generously with salt before roasting.

This soup goes down a treat at a relaxed weekend lunch in late summer.

6-8 beetroot (a bit over half a kg)
2 tsp salt for sprinkling on the beetroot
2 cups plain Greek-style yoghurt
Between 1 and 2 cups cold water
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed (2 if small)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Diced roasted yellow beetroot (optional)
Plain Greek-style yoghurt
Snipped chives

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash beetroot, but leave whole and unpeeled. Place on a baking tray lined with foil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for an hour or until tender. When cool enough to handle peel the beetroot. Grate very coarsely – a Magimix with a coarse grating blade makes short work of this.

Mix beetroot with remaining ingredients then chill until serving time. Add one cup of water first and see if it needs more. Serve garnished with a dollop of yoghurt and the yellow beetroot, if available.

Serves 4-6

Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb grows like a weed at our farm so I’m always looking for new ways to cook it and I give away what we can’t eat.

This recipe can be adapted to use other fruit and is perfect to serve with a cuppa or as a dessert. I used wholemeal flour in the pastry, because I had some which needed using. Anything that hangs around in our pantry for too long is an attractive target for pantry moths. They especially love flour, nuts and, as I discovered recently, dried chillies!

1 shortcrust pastry case
800g rhubarb, washed and cut into 3cm lengths
¾ cup raw sugar, or to taste
125g butter, at room temperature
125g (½ cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp almond essence
Finely grated rind 1 orange
1 cup almond meal
3 eggs
To serve:
Icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt

Go to the link for the pastry. Bake the pastry case as instructed, with foil and something heavy like dried beans or corn, to stop it rising. Remove foil and beans and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave the oven on 180°C.

Meanwhile, cook rhubarb in a saucepan with the raw sugar for 10 minutes, or until tender but mostly still whole. Stir often so it doesn’t stick or burn. Cool then spread into the pastry case.

If you used a food processor to make the pastry there’s no need to wash it out before you make the filling. Place butter, sugar, vanilla, orange rind, eggs and almond meal in food processor and process until smooth, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Spread evenly over the rhubarb. Bake for 40 mins or until well-risen, golden brown and firm to the touch.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt.

Serves 8

Variations: use ground walnuts or pine nuts instead of the almond meal. Use cooked apples or pears, tinned pears or peaches, or a punnet of berries mixed with a cup of jam instead of the cooked rhubarb. You could also use frozen berries.

Pumpkin Soup with Caramelised Pumpkin Seeds

It’s often the garnishes which make Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes unique. This soup, with its unusual crunchy topping of caramelised pumpkin seeds, is no exception.

They can be used to garnish any soup and are a delicious addition to salads, so you might like to double or triple the recipe. They keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ottolenghi cooks the seeds in the oven, but I prefer to use a frying pan where I think you have more control. I have a bad track record of burning nuts and seeds in the oven.

You need about 750g of vegetables which can be all pumpkin, all carrot, or a combination of the two.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
550g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 tsp saffron fronds or a pinch of saffron powder
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tsp grated orange zest
6 Tbs sour cream or crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
60g pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs maple syrup or honey
½ Tbs soft brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Put the pumpkin seeds into a non-stick frying pan with the other ingredients. Stir over moderate heat for a few minutes, or until starting to colour. Cool. If they stick together it doesn’t matter as you can break them apart when serving.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion then cook over high heat for a minute or so, stirring all the time. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, but not very dark. Add the pumpkin, carrot, saffron, stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until pumpkin and carrots are almost tender. Add the orange zest and simmer for five minutes longer. When vegetables are thoroughly cooked, blitz the soup in a food processor or blender, or with a stick blender. Add extra water or stock if it is too thick. Season to taste.

Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the caramelised seeds.

Serves 4