Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Real Cooking: Mushroom Pasta

It was probably my mum who said to me that the cooking you do when you look in the cupboard, look in the fridge and wing it, that’s the real cooking.  Not the flamboyant ‘here you go darling, now THAT’S how you cook a steak’, or the slightly panicky recipe following of a newbie baker.  Real cooking is behind the day to day dinners of someone who knocks up a respectable meal from half a can of baked beans, some limp parsley and frozen prawns.  My mum probably said this because it is, invariably, mums who are the dons of this kind of cooking. 

I learned the rudiments of cooking watching my mum get the dinner ready.  Granted, the attention I paid to dinner’s production was based less in a desire to chef, and more in impatient greed.   A weeknight family dinner isn’t about flash cooking or following an obscure recipe, it’s about feeding people quickly, cheaply and reliably.   Being able to cook isn’t just about following a recipe to the T, it’s about having an instinctive understanding of what will pair well from a perhaps uninspiring larder.  What helps is enjoying food.  If you love eating, cooking and all that goes with dinner, you will be interested enough in making something taste nice to be able to produce something out of nothing. 

Now, that’s not to say that a lot of these muddled creations aren’t forgettable or downright disgusting.  Sometimes you just get it wrong.  It takes something really quite revolting for me not to eat it if I’m hungry though.  Which is why I eat BBQ chicken wings from Tops Pizza when they come with the meal deal.

Occasionally you hit on something fantastic; that makes you wonder why on earth you never made it before and makes you swagger around the kitchen safe in the knowledge there will never be a better cook than you.  Sometimes the incredible occurs suddenly after you’ve done a bit of tweaking to a fairly predictable set of ingredients.  Mushroom, bacon and cream.  Of course it’s good.  Add it to pasta and you’ve got edible comfort.  Concentrate the mushroom flavour with some dried porcini; add a splash of white wine and shit loads of chopped dill and you’ve got something worth shouting about.

This is an example of a weekday dinner becoming something to show-off with.  The dill exaggerates the earthy, savory taste of the mushrooms.  The white wine gives the cream a slightly perfumed sharpness without clashing with the comforting richness of the dairy.  You would probably be enormous if you ate this all the time as its damn fattening, but with July pretending it October, who cares. 

Mushroom and Dill Pasta for 2-3 people

Enough pasta for two people – I usually use tagliatelle, but this time I fancied conchiglie
100 g of smoked pancetta, roughly chopped, or 5 slices smoked bacon, chopped.
50 g dried porcini mushrooms (I’ve used dried Portobello before and its been fine)
250 g mushrooms, sliced
2-3 crushed garlic cloves
Half teaspoon crushed chili flakes
150 ml double cream
100 ml dry white wine
Juice half a lemon
Handful grated parmesan
Bunch of dill, sprigs removed and finely chopped
Olive oil

1)    Soak the porcini mushrooms in a couple of tablespoons of boiling water for about 15 minutes or until soft, them remove, squeeze out the excess water and roughly chop.  (You can keep the mushroom water for something else.)
2)    Set a pan of boiling, salted water to boiling and add the pasta.  Cook to instructions and set aside. Reserve pasta water.
3)    Meanwhile, set another pan over a high heat; add a tablespoon of olive oil and nob of butter. Add the chopped pancetta/bacon and fry for about 6 minutes till the fat looks crispy and slightly golden.
4)    Add the sliced mushrooms and the porcini mushroom, stirring well.  Add more butter if necessary, but remember the mushrooms soak up all the oil only to release it again after a few minutes so be patient.
5)    When the mushrooms have browned, turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic and chili flakes, fry off for about 30 secs.
6)    Turn the heat back to high and add the splash of white wine to the pan and using your spoon/spatula scrape up any of the sticky burnt bits on the bottom of the pan whilst the wine is boiling and evaporating away.
7)    Add the double cream and give a good stir.  I love how the white cream turns a lovely muddy brown. Season generously with salt and pepper.
8)    Add the chopped dill (reserve about a tablespoon).  Add the pasta and stir thoroughly.  If it looks a bit dry, add a splash of the pasta cooking water.
9)    Add the handful of grated parmesan, stir. Add the squeeze of lemon, stir. Sprinkle on the last tablespoon of dill and serve. Get fat.

Monday, 2 July 2012

YUMMY YUMMY: Dr Pepper Pulled Pork

I’ve mentioned before my horn for American food, and London’s current preoccupation with barbeque and burgers would suggest there’s more than a few others who share a penchant for the dirty naughty dinners of the US. 
It ain’t fine dining, and by extension, isn’t pricey.  Given we’re all a bit poorer these days perhaps it makes sense we’re discovering the joy that a steamingly perfect Meat Liquor or MotherFlipper burger can bring for around £7.00.   This food isn’t any less researched than your haute cuisine dish either; cult burgers are cult because they’ve been meticulously fine-tuned and are nigh-on perfect beasts of decadence.
Where we often use the cheaper meat cuts with root veg in stews and pot roasts, the US slow smokes its brisket, or braises its spare ribs in very different concoctions.  After eating Anna Mae’s pulled pork I was drawn to the Pioneer Woman’s Dr Pepperrecipe.  Trust the US to braise its meat in a soft drink, bless em. 

Maybe there’s some magic chemical in the pop that tenderises the meat cause dear god it was succulent.  The Pioneer Woman’s version called for a can of chile in adobo which I didn’t have, so did a mix-match job with Heston’spulled pork recipe on the Waitrose website.   Not wanting to lose the smoky chipotle flavour I bunged in a heaped tablespoon of chipotle paste and emitted the chicken stock in lieu of the Dr Pepper. 
Sweet, spicy, smoky and tangy this was unbelievably moreish.  It took all my willpower not to eat the meat as I shredded given it was swooning at the merest pressure from my fork. Served with a sideorder of mac and cheese, the creamy pasta balanced the sharp heat of the pork.

Gonna make an ultimate sandwich with the leftovers. Man Vs Food has nowt on me…

Dr Pepper Pulled Pork
·       800g to 1 kg boneless pork shoulder (I used a crackling joint and removed the skin when shredding). Remove the butcher’s string and make some deep cuts in the thickest part of the flesh.
·       4 cloves garlic, crushed
·       1 shallot finely sliced
·       1 onion, roughly chopped
·       ½ teaspoon mustard powder
·       ½ teaspoon ground ginger
·       ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
·       ½ teaspoon salt
·        1 tablespoon tamarind paste
·       1 – 2 heaped tablespoons of chipotle paste
·       1 heaped teaspoon dried chili flakes
·       2 heaped tablespoon dark muscovado sugar
·       3 heaped tablespoons tomato ketchup
·       300g  soffritto passata (a useful short-cut for this recipe but you can always make your own)
·       Splash of white wine or cider vinegar
·       1 bottle (330ml) Dr Pepper
·       Oil or beef dripping. 

1)   Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius if fan-assisted, 170 if not.
2)   Mix all the dry spices together.
3)   Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil/dripping in a large frying pan or saucepan on a low/medium heat and sweat the shallots and the onion for about 5-10 minutes.
4)   Meanwhile, heat another pan with about 2 tablespoons of oil/dripping until smoking hot.
5)   Rub half the spice mixture on the pork flesh (don’t bother with the skin bit) and fry on all sides. It will smoke and spit, don’t be scared, you’re hard. Once browned and sealed all over remove and set aside while you finish the sauce.
6)   Add the garlic, chili flakes and the remaining spice mixture to the onions and increase the heat. Add the chipotle paste and the tamarind paste and fry for about 2 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.
7)   Add the muscovado sugar and the soffritto passata to the onions.  Stir well and taste, add a splash of the vinegar.
8)   Bring up to boil.  In a large ovenproof, lidded pot add the browned pork and cover with the hot mixture. Give it a good turn around so every nook and cranny is covered in the sauce.
9)   Pour over the Dr pepper, cover with lid and put in oven for about 4 hours. Start checking on it at about 3-3 ½ hours: prod the meat with a knife, when it gives way with only slight pressure, it’s done.
10)  Remove from oven and remove the pork from the pot. Leave it cool for a few minutes then remove the skin and excess fat. Using two forks shred the meat into bite-size pieces. 
11)  The sauce will have a lot of fat on the surface, using a metal spoon skim this and discard. Add the shredded pork back into the sauce and keep warm until ready to serve.
12)                  Hell yeah.