I love special dinners. The kind of meal you have when you’re staying in but want to feel slightly luxurious. When I first went to uni my favourite meal was prawn Thai green curry, using a ready-made sauce from Sainsbury’s. And zero chilli. Needless to say my taste now goes a little hotter. Seafood carbonara was top of the list for a while.
These are dinners for one or two, no more. It’s a dinner you cook to impress a date or as at treat if you’re home alone when everyone else is out raving. They shouldn’t take longer than around a half an hour and tend to use more expensive ingredients than average. Epitomizing ‘because I’m worth it’, they suggest quiet hedonism. Not the cocktails and narcotics of them out on the razz, but Nigella-esque food porn. Damn sexy food.
Duck breast with linguine is my most favouritist meal of the moment. It ticks all the boxes: quick, fairly posh and of course decadent. The skin. Holy mother the skin. Crackling, crunchy and salty. Better than the best of pork crackling and roast chicken skin giving way to tender duck meat. The linguine is something else as well and I quite happily eat this on its tod. Flecked with ruby chilli, vibrant chopped parsley and fragranced with white wine and lemon, it is pretty in an understated way. Sophisticated comfort food. Makes you hum of garlic but who cares, the other one does as well.
Duck Breast and Linguine – serves 2
2 duck breasts
Enough dried linguine for 2
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
A large bunch of parsley finely chopped
1 – 2 red chillies chopped finely depending on your heat tolerance
Glass of white wine
Juice of half a lemon
Generous handful of grated parmesan (about 50 g worth)
2 huge nobs of butter (about a ¼ of a block – don’t be shy, it’s a special dinner)
About 150 g of fresh spinach (2/3 a bag of baby spinach leaves)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius and put a small oven tray inside to heat as well.
2) Get a large pan of water boiling and add a generous sprinkle of salt.
3) Put a heavy based frying pan on a low to medium heat. Score the duck skin with a sharp knife and salt heavily, put skin side down in the pan (no oil). The idea is to render a lot of the fat out and crisp up the skin so every so often spoon away the excess fat that builds up. It will take about 10/15 minutes to get golden brown and you can in the meantime chop up the parsley etc.
4) Once golden brown, turn meat side down just for about 2 minutes to get some colour on the meat then transfer to the warmed oven tray (skin side up). It should take about 10/15 mins in the oven to be medium cooked.
5) While the duck is in the oven put your pasta onto cook, it should take about 7 mins. Heat the now empty duck pan up to high and add a small splash of white wine, scrape up any burney bits as the wine rapidly reduces then add a 1/3 of the butter, half the lemon juice then the spinach leaves in handfuls as it wilts. This should only take a couple of minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
6) The pasta should be half way done. Heat another pan/wok (big enough hold the cooked pasta) to medium/high heat and add a splash of oil and the rest of the butter, then the garlic and chilli. When the garlic is just turning golden add the rest of white wine and let it reduce to about half its volume.
7) The pasta should be done now. Add to the garlic/chilli pan and stir well. Add the parmesan and the chopped parsley and the rest of the lemon juice. Take off the heat, season to taste and if it looks dry add a splash of olive oil. Keep warm.
8) The duck should be done – take out of the oven and leave to rest for 5 mins or so. Slice diagonally. Add resting juices from the duck to the pasta.
9) I serve the duck on top of the spinach with the linguine on the side.