Tuesday, 16 March 2010

FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER WITH FRIENDS


It's my very good friend Jacky's birthday and I'm cooking a special supper, while her husband is bringing a pudding. For my birthday last Autumn, Jacky and Nick gave me a huge tome of Italian regional food, so it seemed appropriate to cook something from the book for them.

I am a huge fan of food which requires little preparation, allowing me plenty of time to socialise with friends who come to dinner, rather than slaving in the kitchen, getting increasingly hot and bothered, and missing out on any choice gossip. I also love slow-cooked food, which can be put in the oven at tea-time, forgotten about for three hours, and then brought out at dinner time.

Osso bucco a la Milanese is a classic Italian dish. My mother used to make it in the 1970s, when she was an expert at cordon bleu/Fanny Craddock style cooking, but when I mentioned it to her the day before I made it, she rattled on about flattened veal, provolone cheese and Parma ham. I pointed out that she was thinking of Saltimbocca, another delicious dish, but not the one I was planning.

Traditionally, Osso Bucco is made with shin of veal, but these days people can be so sensitive about veal, so I bought pork instead. In my local Waitrose, the butchery counter has a pork cut called Osso Bucco. It's cut straight across the shin so has a nice bit of bone in the centre, which keeps the meat moist during cooking. It's also a very cheap cut (unlike veal, which is very expensive).

The recipe called for a casserole dish, but because this is a slow-cook meal, I turned to my trusty tagine, which I use for all sorts of slow-cooked dishes. When using a tagine, you just have to remember to use less liquid than the recipe states, because the shape of the vessel creates steam, which in turn moistens the food. Slow-cooking is essential for Osso Bucco because the long cooking time releases the bone-marrow and gives the sauce a lovely silkiness. The gremolata, which is the traditional topping for the dish, creates a wonderful piquancy, cutting into the rich, garlicky sauce.

This recipe is my version of the classic dish and it was deemed a triumph when I served it with fluffy polenta.

1-2 osso bucco pieces per person
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Chicken stock (about the same volume as tomato tin)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
couple of stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
small bunch of marjoram or oregano, roughly chopped
3-4 fresh bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the Gremolata
2 tsp lemon zest
1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped
4 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Oven 200C for first hour, then 150C for rest of cooking time. (About 3 hours in total.)

Heat some oil in a pan. Dust the meat with flour and brown. Remove from pan. Add the chopped veg and fry until soft. Add the garlic, herbs, tomatoes and chicken stock. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Put everything in a casserole dish or tagine and cook uncovered for about 30 mins. Then cover. After an hour, turn down temperature and check liquid content. Keep checking during cooking to ensure it does not dry out. The resulting sauce should be thick rather than slurpy.

Serve with mashed potato or fluffy polenta, risotto or pasta.

CARROT CAKE


I don't know anyone who doesn't like carrot cake. Even those people who profess to hate carrots or would not dream of eating a vegetable, enjoy it. I think, secretly, we all love the obligatory cream cheese frosting.

The following recipe is the Sainted Delia's Low Fat Moist Carrot Cake. There is something faintly toe-curling about the word "moist" (like "flange", "clematis", and "toilet"), but it is an apt description of this cake's springy, mouth-pleasing texture. It's called "low-fat" because the fat content is sunflower oil rather than butter, but of course the cream cheese icing bumps up the calories. But hey, you only have to have a small piece, don't you? I use Nigella's recipe for the cream cheese frosting as it yields more and carrot cake absolutely must have a thick, luscious layer of icing; that is a huge part of its appeal, after all!

When I made the cake earlier today, I was puzzled, as I spooned the mixture into the baking tray, why is was so stiff, and why there was so little of it. I turned back to the opposite worktop and saw the grated carrots, still in the bowl of the food processor. Doh!

Delia's Low Fat Moist Carrot Cake

6oz/175g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
4 fl oz/125ml sunflower oil
7 oz/200g self-raising flour (wholemeal if you're feeling extra virtuous)
1½ level tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 rounded tsp mixed spice
grated zest of 1 orange
7 oz/200g grated carrots
6 oz sultanas (optional)
6 0z walnuts (optional)

Cream cheese frosting
250g icing sugar, sifted
125g cream cheese (Philadelphia or similar)
A couple of tsps of lime juice

Oven 170C, Gas mark 3

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and sunflower oil. Sift the flour with the bicarb and mixed spice and pour into the egg mixture. Then stir in the orange zest, carrots, sultanas and/or walnuts (if using). Spoon the mixture into an oiled baking pan (16 x 25.5 cm, lined with baking parchment) and bake for about 30 mins, or until the top of the cake is springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack.

I make the icing in the Kitchenaid, using the paddle attachment. When the cake is cool, spread the icing thickly over the top and dust with cinnamon.

Eat.