Pizza Baguettes

Most of the time, when dinner or lunch is “leftovers”, it is hard to get excited. Even when you create a new dish out of already cooked ingredients, like my cheeseboard quiche, because the ingredients are not fresh, and at the end of their life, you often lose something. Obviously, to help the environment, and to be fiscally and gastronomically responsible, we want to eat up leftovers as much as possible. So finding recipes which make the most of them, and actually get people excited about eating them, is a worthwhile endeavor.

Here’s one of my favourite recipes for leftovers, pizza baguettes. The only ingredient you need in your store-cupboard, that isn’t leftovers, is tomato purée. Since you can buy tomato purée in squeezy tubes now, we tend to have one or two of these sitting in the fridge ready to be made use of here. Otherwise, it’s stale bread, and leftover cheese you might have, some herbs and spices, and whatever toppings you have or fancy. Sometimes we bother getting one or two extra ingredients fresh, or you can even go the whole whack and just make pizzas. But usually this lunchtime treat is just what we have lying around, and, given how quick and easy to make they are, it’s a wonder we don’t make them more.

Home-made Pizza Baguettes

Pizza Baguettes

Recipe here is for one person, but you can easily make more.

One stale half baguette
Tomato purée (approx 2 tbsp)
BBQ sauce (optional)
Leftovers for toppings (I like ham, mushrooms, and red onion)
Cheese, to finish

Make the baguettes. Preheat the grill to a low heat, about 160ºC. Cut the baguette in half lengthways, then spread the tomato purée and BBQ sauce on, if using. Add your ingredients, then top with the cheese. Place under the grill for around 5 minutes until the bread browns and the cheese melts.



Pulled Pork with Prunes and Polenta Toasts

I find designing main courses quite hard. To cook something exciting- not just some meat, some potatoes/rice/beans, some veg, perhaps a sauce- really requires some thought. Traditional cooking can taste lovely, but something like cassoulet or a homely stew is not fundamentally interesting. Even recipe books are not that inspiring here. It might just be that, in some sense, cooking has evolved to suit our tastes, and our body likes to have protein, carbohydrate, and vitamins and minerals all in the same meal. But that doesn’t make the meal novel and creative. Starters and puddings are much more fun, since you can play around with ideas, and there aren’t many preconceptions as to what the course should be like. So recently, I’ve tried taking different things I have used in starters, or as part of other meals, and combining them to make a fancier main meal. Perhaps a little strange some times, but much more interesting.

Cooked Pork

My latest attempt has been using pulled pork. Pulled pork is slow cooked pork, which become tender enough to pull apart, and is then mixed with a sauce or spices. Normally I make this as a fajita or sandwich filling, and it’s great for feeding a crowd, as you start off with such a large piece of pork. The sauce I use in the pork adds a huge amount of complexity- chocolate, smoke, spiciness, earthiness, sweetness, and nutty flavours are all there. It’s always gone down very well with friends who have ended up with some for lunch, so why wouldn’t it make a good main course? Since it is a little similar in texture to pork rillettes, or a course pâté, I thought some sort of bread/chutney would help bring out the flavours.

Cooked Polenta

Polenta toasts are to be the accompaniment here. In the same way you might have pâté on toast as a starter, this makes the main course ‘strange pâté on strange toast’. Polenta is maize flour, so making toast out of it is not completely out of left field. I’ve also tried polenta chips before, which have worked very well. You end up with a crispy yet granular texture, but a much denser texture than normal toast. Also, the process cooking polenta is great fun, as it can only be described as ‘volcanic’- if you do cook it, be sure to put a lid on the saucepan. Once cooked and set, just finish off under a grill, or frying pan, to get your thin and crispy toasts.

With some roast cherry tomatoes and prunes to provide the ‘chutney’, the course is complete. I really liked it, as did the others who had it, but I will admit the texture of the polenta was a little strange with the smooth pulled pork- definitely an interesting course. If you are wondering what to cook, it can be as simple as just taking your favourite starter and turning the dish into a main.

Pulled Pork, Polenta Toasts and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Pulled Pork with Prunes and Polenta Toasts

Serves 6, with a good amount of pulled pork left over. Takes a long time, but the results are well worth it. The recipe for pulled pork is based on one from BBC Good Food.

1 pork shoulder (~1.5kg)
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 litre chicken stock
1 orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig thyme
2 onions
250g pack cherry tomatoes
2 corn tortillas
50g flaked almonds
50g raisins
2tsp each ground coriander, cumin
1tbsp chipotle chilli paste
25g plain chocolate
9 prunes, best quality you can reasonably get
200g uncooked polenta
1 litre vegetable stock
24 cherry tomatoes, best quality you can reasonably get
oil, for frying

1. Soften the pork. In a large casserole dish, mix the chicken stock, tomato purée, zest and juice of the orange, and cinnamon stick. Add the pork shoulder, top up with boiling water, then simmer for approximately 5 hours, until the pork is tender and falling apart. Remove the pork from the casserole, allow to cool, then pull apart with your fingers, discarding the fat.
2. Make the sauce. Dice the onions, fry, then add, with the chocolate and chipotle sauceto a food processor. Dry-fry the tomatoes until they blister, fry the tortillas, and add to the food processor. Heat some oil in a pan, add the coriander and cumin, then the raisins and almonds. Heat until the raisins absorb the oil, then add to the food processor. Whizz until coarse, and add around 3tbsp of the pork stewing liquid. Mix the sauce into the pork.
3. Make the polenta toasts. In a pan (with a lid on), heat the polenta along with 1 litre of vegetable stock, stirring occasionally. The polenta will spit, so make sure to keep the lid on. After an hour, pour onto a baking tray to cool, spreading as thin as possible. When cooled (~1hr), cut the polenta into triangles. Heat some oil in a frying pan, and fry the polenta toasts for around 4 minutes each side until crispy. You can also do these in a griddle pan for prettier toasts, but I found the charred effect taste too strong.
4. Assemble the dish. Roast the good quality cherry tomatoes for around 30 minutes. Put some pulled pork in a mug, then turn over onto a plate. Slice the prunes, and place them on top, then add the roasted cherry tomatoes and polenta toasts.

Food and Wine Pairings IV: Regionality

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about regionality when it comes to food-wine pairing. My theory is this: that if you are cooking a dish from a certain region, using ingredients from that region, then a wine grown there will pair well with the food.

I came about this idea not through reasoning, but through experience. Trying to find some charcuterie and cheeses to have with leftover wines at a wine tasting, I’d originally just bought a selection that I’d liked. But the winner was some leftover Sancerre, which is sauvignon blanc from the Loire in France, with my favourite goats’ cheese, a Clochette. Some northern Italy salami went very well with the dregs of a Chianti Classico, also in northern Italy. This got me thinking- it this a particular example of foods and wines that work, or a general trend? Since then I’ve been experimenting with regional pairings, for example duck confit in south-west France, a Valpollicella from northern Italy with spag-bol, or even Normandy cider with a Normandy apple tart.

In some sense, the idea of pairing a food with a local wine might seem obvious, and why wouldn’t it? Firstly, you might expect the regional cuisine to evolve with the regional wines. Until recently, when logistics allow for people to eat and drink whatever wine they want, you would drink the wine that was produced locally, with the food that was grown locally. Winemaking styles and preferred grape varieties would be chosen based on how much people enjoyed them, which would likely include how well they paired with local food. Perhaps history has already figured out this for us.

A selection of Italian Foods and Wines

A selection of Italian food and wines.

Secondly, there are climatic factors which would make you want to pair food and wine regionally. ‘Terroir’ is the French phrase for the expression of the landscape in the climate, soils, altitude, and so on. The idea of ‘terroir’ is usually applied to growing of grapes, but there is no reason that it shouldn’t be applied to other produce of the region. In the same way that southern Italy wines are soft and fruity, we see tomatoes from southern Italy are fruity, ripe, and sweet. This will likely extend to milk and cheeses as well- the grass cows or goats eat will be affected by climate and soils too. Loire goats’ cheeses are austere and subtle, as are their wines. So far, so good.

However, food-wine pairing is never quite that simple. The biggest thing that makes food-wine pairing tricky is considering every part of the meal. Take my porcini and scallops tartlets, for instance. Porcini mushrooms, crispy bacon, chestnuts- the main flavours in the dish- are all things that might make you think of pairing an northern Italian wine, as these ingredients are often found there. But then you’ve got a creamy mushroom sauce and puff pastry, which are fatty, and so need a lighter wine with acidity- back to the drawing board. In the end I went for a pinot noir from Burgundy, falling back on food-wine pairing experience, rather than ploughing ahead with something regional.

Furthermore, for many regions, there is quite a lot of variation just within those regions. I am continually shocked at just how much Argentian Malbec can vary, from restrained, low-alcohol wines, to high-alcohol fruit bombs. But when you think about how much altitude varies- and the temperature changes that go with it- it’s not surprising the wines come out so different. Wine-making styles may have changed as the market has changed, and so the time-evolved food-wine pairings may just not apply anymore, at least unless you know exactly what is coming out of the bottle you’ve bought. Similarly, food styles are evolving very quickly with globalisation. Just looking at the spread of Indian cuisine in the UK, or the hotch-potch of cuisines we see in the USA, I would guess that changes in viticulture can’t keep up. Don’t think that it can be difficult to source proper ingredients too. If you are using local British tomatoes to make your lasagne, you will get a different flavour profile than had you used Italian tomatoes.

A selection of French food and wines.

A selection of French food and wines.

Finally, the idea of regionality is only really helpful, though, for countries that have a wine-growing tradition. If you are looking for something to pair with an Indian curry, or Thai cuisine, the ideas here don’t really take you very far. But is there a way you could take some of the principles here- looking for a wine growing country with a similar climate, for example- to get a good wine pairing? I have to say, I’m not so sure. I’ve recently become a fan of pairing the Argentinian grape ‘Torrontés’ with curries, with it’s acidity, florality, citrus flavours, and lack of sweetness, it makes a great match. Can I somehow justify that Torrontés has a similar ‘regional flavour’ as something that might come from India, or Thailand? Any link would be pretty tenuous. In my experience, for regional cuisines without regional wines, you have to fall back on other food-wine pairing principles.

Overall, I think this idea works well, if you restrict the application to more traditional fare. If you are cooking something very traditional, like the southern French ‘cassoulet‘, in a traditional manner with local ingredients- great, go for a Languedoc bottle, or other southern French wine. But as you move away from this, perhaps using beans sourced from somewhere else, and British vegetables, the wine-pairing may not do as much for you. I suppose, though, that’s all part of the fun. Experiment, have fun with food-wine pairing, and see what works and what doesn’t. At the end of the day, if you don’t like the food you are eating, or the wine that is going with it, it’s not worth putting the effort in.

If you are interested in food-wine pairings, check out my other posts on food-wine pairings, Food and Wine Pairings: The Blind Tasting Black Tie Dinner, and Food and Wine Pairings II: Wines for a Wedding, and Food and Wine piarings III: Creating a meal around sweet wines. Also, The Wine Society has a great section on food-wine pairings, and a good food-wine matcher.

Book review: Vino Italiano

Italian wines can be confusing at the best of times, and with a large number of different grape varieties that aren’t grown much outside of Italy, it can be difficult to know where to start. Vino Italiano, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, fills this hole nicely. It breaks down Italian wine region by region, discussing red, white, sparkling and sweet wines, and the different methods and regional styles for each. There are many useful wine maps, both of Italy and given regions, and well designed summary pages for each region, which are useful if you just want to use the book as a reference.

What jumped out at me though was the book’s accessibility. It doesn’t assume you know anything about Italian wines or grape varieties. Each chapter begins with an anecdote about the region of interest, talking about the people, climate, and history, so you really get a taste for the region, rather than just a list of facts. For each region, there are designed tastings, so that you can go through some wines with guidance if you want, and a section on food with the wine, with recipes for local cuisine. There is serious discussion on wine-making and viticulture too, with a discussion on a few producers thrown in if you want to go deeper.

If one thing disappointed, it was that this book is clearly written for an American audience. Often there was discussion about what was or wasn’t imported in the US, or current US wine trends. All of the guided tastings are designed to be wines you can get in the US, and the recipes for the local cuisine are measured in cups. Obviously the content about the wine and grapes is country independent, but if you are looking to access some of the tasting material, this is worth considering.

Overall though, I was very pleased with the book, and at the price I paid for it (around £8), it represents excellent value for money. I learnt a lot about Italian wine, and, rare for a long wine book, was able to read it cover to cover. If you are looking to learn something about Italian wine, it is difficult to see a better place to start. 9/10.

Making Sausages

Home-made sausages, tomatoes, sweet potato wedges, and chicory.

Home-made sausages, tomatoes, sweet potato wedges, and chicory.

Sausages are one of my go-to meals. I’ve liked them ever since I was young. They’re meaty, filling, and flavourful, as well as being versatile in cooking- in casseroles, sandwiches, or toad-in-the-hole, for example. Recently, I’ve been trying some more “gourmet” sausages, which I’ve bought from farmers’ markets or food shows, including varieties such as pork and black pudding, venison, or pork, parmesan and pancetta, and they have all been delicious. Trying these gourmet varieties has only spurred me on to try and make my own sausages and experiment with different combinations of flavours, with a long-term goal of creating things like salami, chorizo, merguez, and perhaps even an andouillette.

As it turns out, making sausages is pretty straightforward- at least once you have a way of getting the meat into the sausage casings. I was given an attachment for my Kenwood for Christmas, which has a sausage filling function. Once you’ve tied a knot in the end of the sausage casing, filling the casings was as easy as putting the meat in the Kenwood attachment, and sliding the casings on to the nozzle- similar to the way you might fill a water bomb. Then, every time you want to ‘finish’ a sausage, just give the casings a few twists. Tie a knot in the end when you are done, and there you have it: sausages.

Could you make sausages in your own home without all the kit? Probably not. It’s hard to see how to get the meat mixture into the casing by hand- you could try just pushing it in, but I would be concerned about breaking the skins with a fingernail or something. Even if you could fill the casings by hand, it would be very time consuming. Similarly, if you don’t have a mincer, you’re stuck with the varieties of mince which are readily available. These are certainly fine for most of your sausages, with pork, turkey, beef, and lamb mince easily available, but if you want to experiment with other meats, you’ll need to invest in a mincer. But if you do like sausages/burgers/charcuterie, you could consider getting a mincer with sausage-making attachments. Anything you make with them would be great to serve guests, will freeze easily, and will likely taste better than most of the things you can buy.

The sausages we started out making were pretty simple ones, really just trying to get the hang of making them, working with the casings, and getting the texture right, before going on to more complicated varieties. The recipe I’ve included here is for the ones we made, so if you are looking to start making sausages, hopefully this will get you going. But the first attempt turned out very well, and I’ll soon be moving on to more exciting recipes. As Mrs. Oxfood put it: “it’s like…they’re…sausages!”.

A length of home-made sausages

Simple Sausages Recipe

Makes 8-10 (large) sausages. You’ll also need some sausage casings. I was given some, but you can likely get some from your local butcher, or online. This recipe is adapted from one in Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

1kg pork belly (minced, or pork mince)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
75g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp herbs/spices (I used paprika)
approx 2m sausage casing

1. Make the sausage mix. Mince pork belly if required. Combine pork, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and herbs/spices in a large bowl and mix until homogeneous.
2. Make the sausages. Use the sausage making kit as instructed to get the sausage mix into the casings.
3. Cook the sausages. Heat the oven to 190ºC. Put the sausages on a baking tray and place in the oven for 40 minutes, turning over halfway through.

Cooked Sausages

Cookbook Recommendations

A selection of cookbooks

I have accrued many cookbooks in the last few years. They are great to suggest for birthdays or Christmas, make a good treat for yourself if you need some “retail therapy”, and often appear cheaply in charity shops. Some I use a lot, some I’ve barely cooked from, and it isn’t immediately obvious- even when you’ve looked through the book- how useful it will be.

The first thing to consider when looking at recipe books is BBC Good Food. BBC Good Food is brilliant. There are almost 10000 recipes on there, and that doesn’t count those contributed by readers. You can search through all of the recipes- something you can’t do in a cookbook- to find something to make out of, say, chicken. A lot of my weekday cooking is done from recipes on BBC Good Food, as you can get hold of the ingredients easily, and the writers are conscious of the price of the ingredients and cooking times. I’ve always had great results from these recipes, and they helped me get confidence with cooking as I started. So if you are looking for a more general recipe book, or even an introduction to a type of cuisine, chances are you just want BBC Good Food- it’s right there, and it’s free.

Consequently, if I am looking to get a recipe book, it has to offer something more than what I can get from BBC Good Food. It could be a particularly specialised type of cooking, like making patisserie, or a type of cooking that needs a whole book to treat it properly, like baking bread. It might be a cookbook of a certain cuisine, like Thai, where it is worthwhile talking about the different regional recipes, and how the food culture evolved, so you develop a better understanding of that cuisine. But these potentially useful books can come with pitfalls. If your Thai recipe book asks for, say, palm sugar and shrimp paste in every recipe, you had better make sure you can get hold of these, or know what suitable replacements could be. Similarly, equipment required is worth considering. If you have to stone cherries for a recipe, and you don’t have a cherry stoner, it’s going to be a miserable time cooking. The price of the book is not unimportant either.

So, with these things in mind, here are some of the recipe books I love, and some I don’t like so much. Obviously I can’t go in to loads of detail for each of them, but if you want more information or a suggestion, get in touch.

Recipe Books I love

Gordon Ramsay has brought out a large number of recipe books, and some of them are really good. I love his trio Chef’s Secrets, Chef for All Seasons, and Desserts– they are my go-to dinner party books, with moderately complicated, but varied recipes. If you want to start getting into cooking a bit more seriously, I would highly recommend these. Similarly, Gordon’s Passion for Flavour and Passion for Seafood will give you a lot to think about.

I have a few regional cuisine cookbooks, but two that stand out to me are David Thompson’s Thai Food, and Camilla Plum’s Scandinavian Kitchen. Both have the right balance between keeping recipes traditional and making them accessible, and there is plenty of background writing that really gives you a feel for the cuisine. Similarly, both feel ‘complete’, in that you wouldn’t need to buy another recipe book on that cuisine to fully understand it. Jamie’s America and Jamie does Spain/Italy/Sweden/Morocco/Greece/France are also good introductions to regional cuisines, and everything I have cooked from them has been delicious.

More specialised books can end up used a lot, and these three are ones I would highly recommend. Michel Roux Jr.’s book on sauces is cheap, and does what it says on the tin. Often I might be using up some leftovers, or just cooking a lamb chop for dinner- making an interesting sauce to go with this really makes the dinner exciting. This book gives lots of ideas for sauces, and is indispensible to me in my day to day cooking. For Saturday afternoon cooking, I love to make things from The Home-made Sweet Shop– with recipes for things like nougat, marshmallows, or rhubarb and custard sweets. It’s often hard to find good recipes for sweets online, which are well explained and the steps illustrated, like they are in this book. Finally, How to Make Your Own Drinks is another fun book, with many ideas of novel drinks to make, with a particular application to foraging. From this I made elderflower syrup, lavender lemonade, and mead.

A couple of books that aren’t recipe books, but are utterly useful, are McGee on Food and Cooking, and The Flavour Thesaurus. McGee is basically a food science encyclopedia, so if you ever want to know why the recipe works, or even for things like how to brew the perfect cup of tea, you’ll find great information there. The Flavour Thesaurus lists different flavours- like mushrooms, or cumin, for example- and, for each flavour, has a list of other flavours it goes with. This is brilliant for designing courses, for example in my porcini and scallop tartlets.

Reference cookbooks

Average recipe books

Most of the other recipe books I have fall into this category. Usually they are good products- just when you have a lot of recipe books, they don’t get used much, and if I am feeling creative about cooking, I don’t immediately reach for them on the shelf. A lot of these are ‘everyday’ kind of cooking: Gordon Ramsay’s Cooking for Friends, Sunday Lunch, Jamie’s Italy, The Return of The Naked Chef, Delia, Nigella’s Kitchen– all good books, but there are probably better ones out there.

A couple of specialist ones fit here as well. Mad about Macarons is a good book for making macarons, but you feel like another macaron book would be just as good. Similarly with Canapés,  Indulgence Petits Fours, Mark Hix’s British Seasonal Food, or The Roux Brothers’ Patisserie. If you want to make these things, these books are okay, but there might be better ones out there.

Lastly I have a couple of ‘Healthy Cooking’ recipe books, which I either picked up at charity shops or when I started out cooking. In general I’ve found these to be reasonable, but cooking healthily is in general not something fundamentally interesting to me. You could probably find a lot of these recipes online, too. 1000 low-fat recipes and Gordon Ramsay’s Healthy Appetite would fall into these categories.

Recipe books I am less keen on

Restaurant cookbooks are the biggest disappointment, I think. Either the dishes are (unsurprisingly) impossible to cook, like Gordon Ramsay’s recipe book from Claridges, contain ingredients that are impossible to get hold of reasonably, as in the Ladurée Sucré book or Desserts from The Champignon Sauvage, or spend more time talking about the restaurant and restaurant philosophy than focusing on recipes, as with The French Laundry Cookbook. Restaurant cookbooks aren’t cheap either, so I’d just rather buy one or two other recipe books with the money. The one exception, though, is Raymond Blanc’s Recipes from Le Manoir, which I think is great- tough, but great.

Older recipes books often disappoint as well. It might seem romantic to cook from Escoffier, or an old family cookbook you found in your grandmother’s attic, but there are reasons recipe books are different today. Ingredients are all in pounds and ounces, the recipes pay no attention to how healthy the food is, and require cooking techniques- like boning a lamb shoulder- that most people nowadays won’t have. The lack of pictures make inspiration hard, and the results I’ve had have been mixed. Fun for posterity, but that, I think, is all.

Lastly, cookbooks which come from TV shows are ones I’ve seldom found good value. What’s usually good about the TV show is the story that goes along with the dish- whether it is travels abroad, like Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escapes in India and South-East Asia, a food reality show like Masterchef, or cooking techniques in Raymond Blanc’s Kitchen Secrets– but that story goes away when you create a book from the TV show. These can still be good cookbooks (like the Gordon Ramsay ones), but I might go for something that was intended to be a cookbook in the first place. Often worth, perhaps, choosing to spend your money on another book instead.

Porcini and Scallop Tartlets

I really like cooking at Christmas time, and this year I had the responsibility of making a starter. I kind of feel like this is the most creative course in Christmas dinner, as you know the kind of thing you are going to get for the main and pudding. What’s more, Christmas this year was spent with the inlaws, so that starter had to be good- since they knew about my culinary hobby, I had a reputation to keep. With all this in mind, I decided the course was worth a bit of effort, and instead of using a recipe, I tried to come up with something myself.

Designing a course from scratch can be a tricky business- mainly because there are so many different ideas out there. So how did I go about it? Well, first off, I decided I wanted the starter to contain mushrooms as the main idea. Mushrooms are highly underrated, especially as most people only have tried the boring varieties you can find in supermarkets. Furthermore, I think they are a great Christmas flavour, work as a starter before turkey, and pair well with wine.

Next, I had to figure out how to serve them. I remembered my mushroom picking trip in Denmark, and the mushroomy meal we had. One of the courses that stood out to me was some mushroom tartlets- simply mushrooms in pastry with sauce, but since the flavours were brilliant, it worked really well. Mushroom tartlets it was.

Then to decide what other flavours to go with the mushroom tartlets- which meant a trip to a book I often use for designing courses: The Flavour Thesaurus. This book simply lists flavours that go well with other flavours. For mushrooms, you have suggested flavours like anise, apricot, asparagus, bacon, beef, chestnut, dill, egg, and so on. For the mushroom tartlets, I originally got intrigued by ‘blue cheese’, thinking of something like ‘mushrooms on Gorgonzola polenta tartlets’, but blue cheese is not the favourite of Mrs. Oxfood. After considering a few more flavours, I settled on scallops, chestnut, bacon, and mushroom tartlets. Very seasonal, I thought.

Now that I had decided what to do, it was time to do a practice run. I was going to make the tartlets out of puff pastry, but didn’t know whether or not to trim the pastry before or after cooking- I’d only made shortcrust pastry tartlets before. So in the practice run I did one tartlet trimmed, one untrimmed. The untrimmed tartlet puffed everywhere, and it was very hard to get the pastry out of the tartlet case. Trimmed tartlets it was. A practice run can help you get various presentation things right, as well as knowledge on how long various cooking tasks take, what can be easily cooked beforehand, or how thick to make a sauce. Your dinner that evening might not be as nice as it could be, but you’ll get the dish right when you have to make it for real.

The tartlets went down very well (as well as very quickly). I paired them with a pinot noir from Burgundy, which has with it lots of earthy and “sous-bois” (under-wood) flavours. Pinot noir is also an acidic wine, so could cut through the creamy mushroom sauce. An obvious, but very enjoyable pairing. Overall a great starter, which followed a lovely Christmas lunch- but I’ll make this recipe again.

Porcini, Chestnut and Scallop Tartlets

Porcini, Bacon, Chestnut, and Scallop Tartlets

Serves 8. You’ll need mini tartlet tins for this, they are a good investment for starters. A muslin is also useful for passing the porcini mushrooms through. I used ready-made puff pastry, just because of the time constraints, but it’s worth having a go at your own.

50g dried porcini mushrooms (porcini mushrooms are also known as ceps)
200g chestnut mushrooms
8 rashers streaky bacon (as good quality as you can afford)
8 scallops, roe removed
12 chestnuts
2 packs (2 x 250g) ready-made puff pastry
450ml double cream
1 sprig thyme
2 tsp dark soy sauce
8 sage leaves, to garnish

1. Cook the ingredients. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Fry the bacon until crispy, and dice into small pieces. Pierce the chestnuts, put in a baking tray, then put the baking tray into the oven for 30 minutes. Wait until the chestnuts have cooled a little, then shell, and dice the chestnuts into small pieces. Pan-fry the chestnut mushrooms for around 15 minutes until their moisture has been removed. Dice the chestnut mushrooms into small pieces.
2. Make the sauce. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 500ml water for 20 minutes. Keeping the mushroom water, pour the mixture through a muslin. Add the double cream, thyme sprig, and soy sauce to the mushroom water, and reduce the sauce down until it is at the desired texture. When the sauce is done, remove the thyme sprig. Pan-fry the porcini mushrooms for around 5 minutes.
3. Make the tartlet cases. Heat the oven to 170ºC. Roll out the pastry to the thickness of around a pound coin. Cut into a size big enough to cover your tartlet case, then put another tartlet case on top. Repeat with the rest of the tartlet cases you have. Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, until the pastry is cooked. Keep doing this until you have made all your tartlet cases.
4. Assemble the tartlets. Warm the ingredients if necessary. Pan-fry each of the scallops for around 2 minutes each side until they are cooked. Place the cooked scallops in the middle of the tartlets, and fill the rest of them with bacon, chestnut mushrooms, and porcini mushrooms. Pour a little sauce on the plate, put the tartlet on, and garnish with the chestnut and sage leaves.

Making Tartlet Cases