When I pause and look at the cracking dishes being sent over the pass at my restaurant, I am so proud of what we do. Training the next generation of chefs, keeping to our sustainability policy, and supporting Slow Food and farmers’ markets, are all important. But the act of cooking will always be my first love.
The basics of cookery are very simple, and I believe they always should be. You put a pan on a heat source, and you cook food. It’s such a simple formula and I feel that unnecessarily complicated techniques and processes can muddy the water.
This month I want to highlight the incredible regional food we have in Britain. Classics like Bakewell tart, Cullen skink or Sussex pond pudding are all staples of different regions and part of our culture.
This is Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, an important time to think of the regional dishes which are so much a part of our social history; ingredients and dishes that have fed us and kept us warm. There are so many, it’s astonishing to think that some could be lost, so it falls to us to buy local, regional food and to continue to pass on the old recipes.
The UK Slow Food movement keeps a special list of ingredients and dishes of a cultural and regional interest called The Ark Of Taste. It’s a way of protecting these ingredients and dishes to ensure the tradition continues. I would like to see a few more things added to the current list, such as Scottish kale and sourdough made using locally-grown grain, and I’m sure these will be added in time as the list grows. But for now, enjoy my classic recipes.
ARRAN BLUE CHEESE AND CARAMELISED ONION TART with ARRAN MUSTARD DRESSING
Arran Blue is a wonderful addition to any cheeseboard with its velvety texture on the palate. But I like to cook with it too, and the combination of onions and cheese works so well.
MAKES FOUR SMALL TARTS
100g plain flour, and an extra sprinkling for lining tart shells
50g unsalted butter, diced, and a little extra tart shells
200g Arran Blue Cheese
2 large (or 4 small) onions, peeled and shredded
1 tbsp Arran mustard
50ml cold-pressed rapeseed oil (Stark Rapeseed Oil is brilliant)
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp cider vinegar
a few salad leaves
good salt and pepper
1 egg yolk
1 To make the shortcrust pastry, rub the flour and butter into a mixing bowl until it has a texture like sand. Then add the egg yolk and enough cold water (about 3 or 4 tablespoons) to make a ball of dough. Add a pinch of salt and divide the dough into 4 smaller balls. Rest for 20 minutes.
2 Line four 4-inch tart shells with butter and a sprinkling of flour to make them non-stick. Roll each ball of dough out to about a 1 to 2mm thick circle, and line the inside of each shell. Rest for 20 minutes.
3 Line the pastry in each tart shell with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake at 180C/Gas Mark 4 for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown, removing the baking beans and cling film or paper towards the end of the bake. Cool.
4 Heat half of the rapeseed oil in a medium-hot pan then fry the onions with a little salt and pepper until just golden, then lower the temperature and cook for a further 45 to 50 minutes. They shouldn’t still be a light colour, and soft.
5 Fill the tarts with the onion mix and top with slices of the cheese. Place under a low to medium grill until lightly melted.
6 Make a dressing by mixing the Arran mustard, honey, vinegar and the remaining rapeseed oil.
7 Plate the tarts, drizzle over the dressing and add a little seasoning. Top with some crisp salad leaves.
Bath chaps are a delicious forgotten food, and now on the Ark of Taste list. To make, I’ve salted, cured, braised and crisped up a pig’s head. I know I don’t usually do difficult recipes, but this is worth the extra effort for many reasons: taste, tradition and fun! Pre-order a head from your butcher and ask them to remove the eyes, hairs and fatty cheeks for you. Serve with mustardy kale and buttery mash.
1 pig’s head (I use Berkshire or Tamworth pigs from Grierson Organic or Peelham Farm), fully boned and in 2 pieces
5 litres of water
6 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme
1 onion, sliced
a blade of mace
25ml rapeseed oil
good salt and pepper
4 handfuls of kale, stalks removed
1 tbsp Arran mustard
a knob of butter
1 Tie each piece of the head into a thick sausage shape using butcher’s twine.
2 Make brine by adding the salt to the water and bringing to the boil along with 3 bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, the onion and the blade of mace. Remove from the heat and when it’s cool, submerge the pork and leave it covered in a cool place for up to 7 days.
3 Add the chaps to a pan of fresh, clean water with 3 bay leaves and cook them slowly in the oven for 4 to 6 hours (at around 140C-160C/Gas Mark 1-3) until they are very soft and well cooked. Allow to cool in the liquor, then remove and set aside.
4 Lay 2 or 3 layers of cling film on a work surface and remove the twine from the chaps. Now roll them up in the cling film – nice and tight – and pop them in the fridge overnight.
5 Put a frying pan on a moderate heat on the hob and add the rapeseed oil. Cut the chaps into 5mm thick slices, and fry for 7 to 8 minutes on each side until golden.
6 Blanch the kale in boiling, salted water for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan, and stir in the mustard before adding the drained kale. Season.
7 Divide the kale between four warmed plates and top with the chaps.
CHOCOLATE AND ALMOND PITHIVIER
Named after the town south of Paris, this dessert is traditionally served in winter when the maker would put a little coin or gift in the mix and whoever got that lucky slice would be king or queen for a year.
500g plain flour
500g unsalted butter, softened
50ml cold water
a small splash of vinegar
100g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
100g ground almonds
100g chopped chocolate, I like Original Beans’ 66 per cent Beni Wild Harvest
10 egg yolks
750ml double cream
2 shots of good, fresh coffee made with a very course grain that won’t go through your sieve
1 To make the puff pastry, combine the flour, 500g of butter, salt and vinegar but don’t over mix. Slowly add the water. You should see flakes of butter through the dough. Chill for 20 minutes.
2 Roll the chilled dough into a long scarf shape, then fold the left side into the middle, and the right side onto the (now) top of the left side to create layers. You may need extra flour. Repeat this process another 3 times, rolling and folding as you go.
3 To make the coffee custard, place the cream on a moderate heat with the coffee for 5 to 10 minutes.
4 Whisk the egg yolks and 100g of sugar together in a clean bowl until combined, then add the hot coffee cream, stirring all the time. Add this mix to a clean pan and cook until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Pass through a very fine sieve.
5 For the filling, beat 100g of butter and 100g of sugar together until light and add the almonds. Sift in the cocoa powder and add the rum and chocolate, chopped into small pieces.
6 Add a spoonful of coffee custard to help bind the mixture and combine. Shape the mix into a hockey puck-sized shape and allow to rest.
7 Roll out the puff pastry to a 3mm thickness and cut 2 circles, each the size of a side plate. Place the filling in the centre of one piece of pastry and brush egg wash round the edges, before covering with the other piece of pastry. Crimp the edge with a fork and score the top in a swirl pattern. Brush with egg wash and bake at 200C/Gas Mark 6 for 15 minutes.
8 Remove from the oven and when cooled, dredge with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold.
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