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Recipes: Let your ingredients take charge

Hibiscus-poached Scottish strawberries, Italian meringue, sweet cicely. Picture: Contributed

Hibiscus-poached Scottish strawberries, Italian meringue, sweet cicely. Picture: Contributed

  • by STUART RALSTON
 

AT his Aizle restaurant in Edinburgh, Stuart Ralston lets the best ingredients on offer dictate the menu

The way I like to cook is based around what markets have available. I leave it to suppliers, producers, foragers and farmers to tell me what’s good and what should be on the menu. I say menu, but at Aizle we give our guests a list of ingredients and from that list we create dishes that are only revealed to the diner as each plate appears.

I like to find new ingredients like wild plants, edible flowers and anything with an enticing flavour. Blending this with a lifetime of travelling the world has led me to new and interesting combinations and techniques.

I use a lot of vegetables and I’m very passionate about “single ingredient” cooking. For example,

if the base item of a dish is a carrot, I’ll think about the best ingredients to relate to that carrot using different techniques and flavours.

We start every morning with almost-empty fridges and change our ingredients list according to what’s best that day. This creates a challenge to us as a restaurant, and benefits our guests as they can always be assured of the freshness of every dish. There’s also a genuine sense of excitement when people visit as they wait to see how we have transformed our often-intriguing list of ingredients.

STARTER

1 cucumber, peeled, cored, chopped (retain some for garnish)

½ garlic clove, chopped

3 cups crustless 1-day-old white country bread

(we use sourdough, utilising the old restaurant bread)

1 cup seedless green grapes, halved (retain some for garnish)

½ cup whole blanched almonds

¾ cup milk

¾ cup extra virgin olive (plus a little more for garnish)

3 tbsp red wine vinegar (plus a little more for garnish)

freshly ground black pepper

pinch of salt

MAIN

4 170g pieces of sea trout, pin-boned and scaled (ask your fishmonger to do this for you).

2 tbsp olive pomace oil

pinch of salt

2 bunches Wye Valley or green asparagus, trimmed of thick skin

juice of 1 lemon

340g sea spaghetti, or blanched seaweed

4 tbsp crème fraîche

1 tsp fresh horseradish, grated

splash of olive oil

DESSERT

1 punnet Scottish strawberries

475ml water

435g caster sugar

juice of ½ a lemon

2 tbsp good quality

dried hibiscus tea or a few dried hibiscus flowers

200g fresh egg whites

a few sprigs of sweet cicely, or mint leaves

AJO BLANCO

We serve this cold Andalusian soup as part of our “snacks” section. It’s a light way to start a meal and wakes up the tastebuds nicely. It’s a very popular tapas dish in Spain and is said to aid digestion. For us, it’s also a great way to use up ingredients and reduce waste. But most of all, it’s delicious.

Serves 4

1 Marinade all the ingredients together overnight, covered in the fridge. In the morning, blend together until really creamy and smooth.

2 Divide between four small bowls and garnish with chopped grapes, diced cucumber, a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar.

HIBISCUS-POACHED SCOTTISH STRAWBERRIES, ITALIAN MERINGUE, SWEET CICELY

We buy our strawberries from Fife, not far from where I grew up. I absolutely love them in summer. This is a simpler form of a dish we do at the restaurant – it’s easy and quick with a good texture and flavour contrast between the sweet strawberry and the creamy meringue. You can’t go wrong.

Serves 4

1 Add 350ml water, 300g caster sugar and the lemon juice to a pan and bring it to the boil. Then add the dried hibiscus and let it steep for 5 minutes.

2 Place the washed strawberries in a bowl, then strain the hibiscus liquid over the strawberries and cover with clingfilm, allowing the strawberries to softly poach while they cool.

3 Make a sugar syrup by adding 125ml water and 135g caster sugar to a pan and heat until it reaches 115C (240F/Gas Mark 9). This is what we call soft ball stage.

4 Whisk the egg whites until light, fluffy and forming stiff peaks. Incorporate the hot sugar syrup and continue to whisk gently until it cools. This is important as it gives the whites enough time to cook and be safe to eat.

5 Divide the poached strawberries between four dessert bowls (or one large bowl if you prefer sharing) and cover with the hibiscus liquid. Top with a dollop of Italian meringue and finish with some chopped fresh sweet cicely. Fresh mint also works well if you can’t find sweet cicely.

LOCH ETIVE SEA TROUT, WYE VALLEY ASPARAGUS, SEA SPAGHETTI, CREME FRAICHE

I love trout so much – it was one of the many Scottish ingredients I missed while living abroad. It’s super versatile, relatively inexpensive and good for you. We pair it with asparagus and horseradish – pretty traditional, but the local sea vegetables make it into a fresh and seasidey dish.

Serves 4

1 Heat the pomace oil in a non-stick pan and cook the trout, skin side down on a medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn it over on to the flesh side and cook for a further one and a half minutes. Remove from the pan and drizzle with a few drops of fresh lemon juice (this really brightens up the fish).

2 Meanwhile, trim the asparagus any way you please. We remove the tips and around 2in from the top, before slicing at an angle to create 2cm-thick pieces. Only use the green parts, as towards the bottom the stalk

becomes woody and not very nice to eat. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes in a pan with just enough water to cover, a pinch of salt and 4 drops of lemon juice. Add the sea spaghetti to the same pan and cook for a further minute until hot.

3 Mix the crème fraîche and horseradish together with a few drops of lemon juice and a splash of olive oil to make a creamy, slightly spicy dressing to go with your fish.

4 To plate, place a piece of trout on each plate, and arrange the vegetables on top of and around the fish. Drizzle the horseradish dressing around the plate, with some on top to finish it off.

• Stuart Ralston owns Edinburgh’s Aizle restaurant (107-109 St Leonard’s Street, 0131-662 9349, www.aizle.co.uk) with his wife Krystal Goff. He was previously Chef de Cuisine at Sandy Lane in Barbados and worked with Gordon Ramsay in New York.

 

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