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Archive for November, 2013

Simply Gnocchi

GnoochiMDLiving in Central London is a privilege, but it also comes with a few drawbacks. One of them is sourcing fresh ingredients.  Taking the car anywhere during the day for me is a fraught affair, and even if I actually manage to get to my destination, finding a parking space is like trying to find a hen’s teeth.  So I resort to either catching a bus or walking.

My quest for ingredients takes me all over London. The Athenian in Moscow Road for Greek, Green Valley in Upper Berkeley Street for Lebanese, Church Street Market off Edgware Road for fruit and vegetables, not to mention an array of little shops dotted all over the metropolis.

Today I wanted Italian, so I took the twenty-minute walk up to Little Italy in Clerkenwell, cutting through the busy Leather Lane market – giving the sole surviving vegetable stall a quick glance as I strolled past.   The market mainly caters for lunch time office workers who want fast food and cheap clothes.    Right at the end of the market on the opposite side of the road stands Terroni & Son – the oldest deli in London that has been going since 1878.  I have been visiting them now for nearly twenty years.  As the years have gone by the shop has changed beyond recognition.  I know change is good but I hanker after the old days. When the deli was packed to the rafters with produce and there was always a noisy background of Sicilian banter.

The shop has been opened up, allowing the light to flood in.  The islands of shelves that were once tightly packed with every imaginable Italian produce now gone, replaced with long sleek modern tables and chairs.  Terroni’s now serves coffee, lunches and snacks and very good ones at that.

There is still a trace of the old shop in the two large glass counters that sit at the back of the shop showcasing an array of charcuterie, cheeses, Italian sausages and a fine selection of Italian sweets and cakes.  I tend to stand at the charcuterie side to give my order so as not to be tempted by the cakes.  I can resist as long as I don’t catch sight of the sfogliatelle – then all is lost.

Today I had a bigger problem to deal with – they no longer appear to sell pasta flour.  I haven’t visited them all summer and so it came as a bit of a shock to find the eating area has expanded and as a result their selection of dry goods has decreased.  This is not good.  It throws out of the window my carefully planned meal of ravioli.  I am not good with change and cannot think what to do.  I buy my cheese and bread and leave.  Succumbing only to the smallest box of sweet delicacies – I need to ponder on this new problem of where to get pasta flour.

As I walk back through Hatton Garden I try and think what I am going to cook for supper.  To add to my misery it starts to rain.  I rack my brains of what is in the cupboard that will make a meal and save me from trekking elsewhere.  All there is in the fridge of any note is a large bag of potatoes. Then it comes to me – Gnocchi!!!  Necessity is the mother of invention.

It’s straight back home, feet up and maybe a small reward from inside the cake box before I put my potatoes on to cook.

Gnocchi is the simplest and most heavenly of recipes.  A few potatoes can be turned into light soft potato dumplings that melt in the mouth.   As my ingredients were limited I went for the simple accompaniment of sage and butter with a generous heap of Pecorino.Gnoochi2MD

Gnocchi

2 –3 servings

Ingredients

500g  floury potatoes (Maris piper, King Edwards or Desiree are good).

Salt

50-75 gm 00 pasta flour

1 egg yolk

Extra flour for rolling out

Method

Put unpeeled potatoes in a pan filled with cold water and bring to the boil.  Cook until tender.  Drain.  Allow to cool slightly and then remove the skins.  Push the potatoes through a ricer.  The potatoes should be cool before adding the egg yolk and some of the flour.  Knead lightly.  If you feel the mixture is too wet add more of the flour.  I start off with 50 gms and add more if needed.

Flatten the dough into a rough flat square and cut into roughly 2cm wide strips.  Take a strip and lightly roll into a sausage shape.  Cut into 2/3 cms pieces.

Take each gnocchi piece and with your thumb gently push it against the tines of an upturned fork which we give you a groove to one side and roll back.  This will make an indentation to the gnocchi.  Place the gnocchi onto a floured tray and repeat.

To cook – bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and then carefully drop them in – be careful as they can splash back which can be a little painful on the hand.  Give the pan a gentle stir and wait for them to start to rise to the surface.  This will take about a minute.  Once they have risen wait ten to twenty seconds and then remove them with a slotted spoon.

Butter and Sage Sauce

Ingredients

2/3 oz butter

6 sage leaves fresh

Salt and pepper

Method

Put the butter in a pan and heat.  Add the sage leaves and seasoning and tilt the pan to turn the sage leaves.  The butter will turn a caramel colour.  Take off the heat and toss the gnocchi in coating them well.

Serve with a generous helping of Pecorino

N.B:

I didn’t have even shaped potatoes so I put in the pan what I had, checking the smaller ones first, and as soon as they were tender taking them out.

Instead of a fork I used a gnocchi ridger which also doubles up to make garganelli pasta (which is similar to penne).

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potted shrimp

I first ate potted shrimp when I used to visit a boyfriend who was studing in Morecambe.  We ate them served on toast sat by an open fire and they were delicious.  Buttery and sweet with a hint of spicy aftertaste.  They always remind me of winter and Morecambe.   Like the boyfriend, potted shrimps seem to be a dim and distant memory!  The recipe has gone out of fashion which is a shame if not a scandal.

Years ago I lived in Norwich and each lunchtime I would visit  Norwich market which had a wonderful shellfish stall.  The shellfish would be stacked into huge piles separated by wooden dividers.  There was always a long queue. The shellfish were sold by the pint or ½ pint and usually by a team of women who would use a pewter tankard to measure the amounts out before emptying them onto a sheet of paper, which would be wrapped and handed over to the customer before turning to the next person in the queue – all at greased lightening speed. There was no time to ask any questions.   I was always tempted by the sweetness of the 2 inch browny pink shrimp but opted for the prawns – I was too impatient to sit and peel the shrimps.  Maybe the massive decline in their sales over the decades is because we just don’t want to sit and do fiddly little jobs like peeling shrimps anymore?  It’s all about fast food.

What I didn’t know then was the skill and hard work that went into catching them.  The two main sources of shrimp come from  Morecambe Bay and Kings Lynn off the Norfolk coast.

In Morecambe the brown shrimp in years gone by were fished by horse and cart, in bitter conditions of winds and freezing temperatures.  The horses would go out as far as 2 miles, with the water coming right up to their necks.  The last of the horse and cart was seen around the 1950s, along with the Nobbies.  A Nobby is a small wooden 32ft fishing boat which dates back to the 1840s, they were fast and designed for the shallow waters of Morecambe.  Sadly now these too have nearly died out. Today the shrimps are caught with nets attached to a rope on a trailer behind tractors. These scrape along the sand disturbing the shrimp who then jump up and are swept up into the mesh bag.  It is a dangerous job as the tractors can sink in the sand and there are the tides to contend with.

Morecambe Bay is the most beautiful sight – when the tide is out it leaves a vast area of golden sand broken up by  little channels of seawater.  These sands are treacherous and have taken many lives over the years because when the tide turns it is said to come in faster than a galloping horse. The fishermen who do this job need expert knowledge of the shifting quicksand and tidal patterns.  There is a fantastic short film which shows the men going out with the horses, taken around the 1950’s.   It really does give a glimpse of how hard the work was for a Morecambe Bay shrimper.

Sadly, only three companies shrimp in Morecambe Bay now whereas there used to be thirty.

The most popular way to eat brown shrimps is Potted Shrimp.  A traditional British recipe and much loved but hardly ever eaten now.  Tossed in spiced butter and potted, and then covered with clarified butter to preserve it.  Potting with clarified butter is a method that has been used for centuries, dating back to Tudor times.  Very simple but effective.

Potted Shrimps

Serves Two

Ingredients

90gms peeled brown shrimps

1 oz butter

pinch of cayenne pepper

pinch of mace

pinch of white pepper

Worcestershire sauce a few drops

Clarified butter (see below)

Method

In a pan melt 1 oz of  butter do not allow to brown.   Take the pan off the head and add the spices.  Taste and adjust.  Put back onto a low heat for a minute so that the spices have a chance to infuse the butter.  Remove from the heat and stir in the prawns making sure they are well coated with the spiced butter.

Divide the shrimp mixture into two small ramekins pressing down with the back of a spoon to compact the shrimps.  Now gently pour over with clarified butter, covering the shrimps with an extra 1/4 inch layer.  This is the preservative factor.  Put into the fridge and allow to set.

Clarified Butter

Ingredients

2 oz unsalted butter

Muslin for straining

Method

Put 2 oz of unsalted butter into a pan and slowly heat.  Allow it to come to a gentle bubble making sure not to burn it.  Patches of white clouds will appear.  Carefully spoon this off.  You don’t need to be too precise as the next step is to pour the melted butter through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of muslin into a jug.

The clarified butter will keep in the fridge for a couple of months and can be used for other dishes.

Clarified butter

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