Monday, 25 June 2012

Polenta Double-Team Action Part 1 - Tony Soprano Sausages

Welcome to the first of a two-part mini-series showcasing the versatility of polenta.  It's a form of ground cornmeal that's popular in the North of Italy but not quite so well-known over here (yet).  It's one of those staples you can have stashed in your store cupboard along with your pasta, rice and potatoes.  The texture is like creamy mashed potato, though it tastes very different.  In this case, I've used it as an alternative to the latter.

This is the kind of dish I can imagine Tony Soprano sitting down to after a hard day's work.  And by work, I mean shooting people in the kneecaps for money they owe him.

Ingredients to feed four fat Mafiosi:
  • 300g polenta
  • 12 good quality garlicky sausages
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • Generous drizzle of Worcestershire sauce (I do love precise measurements)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • A few sprigs of thyme tied together
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 50g butter
  • 25g Parmesan
  • 250ml Chianti
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat up a large frying pan.  Peel your onions into half moons and leave them to one side for now.  Finely dice the celery, then peel and finely chop the garlic cloves.
  2. Add some oil to the pan and sear your sausages on all sides on a high heat.  Remove them to a plate.
  3. Reduce the heat, then chuck in your onions with a knob of butter and the sugar.  Season with a bit of salt and black pepper.
  4. When the onions have caramelised nicely, turn the heat back up and add your celery and garlic and grate the carrot in.  When the garlic is fragrant, add the tomato puree, letting it cook in the centre of the pan for a bit to take the edge off it.  Stir it all together, then deglaze the pan with the wine.
  5. When the wine has reduced by about half, add your tomatoes, bay leaves and thyme and throw the sausages back in.  Simmer for at least half an hour until the sausages are cooked.
  6. Get a measuring jug and measure out one part polenta to four parts cold water.  Bring it to the boil in a saucepan and then reduce it to a simmer.  Stir it frequently for at least half an hour, making sure you give it a good scrape on the bottom of the pan.  When it's finished, add the remaining butter and grate in the parmesan.
  7. Do a cool Masterchef swipe with the polenta and arrange the sausages on top like the picture says.  Serve with a bottle of Chianti and two Russian prostitutes.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Unholy Mackerel with Fennel, Apple and Walnut Salad

I love it when a plan comes together!

Since it's been a while since we put a new recipe on here and it's a (relatively) warm time of year, I thought I'd come up with a seafood dish using the underused but cheap, sustainable and delicious mackerel - no, it's not just for cat food.  The walnuts, apple and fennel compliment the meaty flavour of the mackerel with their respective saltiness, tartness and aniseediness (I just invented that word), and the vinaigrette binds it all together on the pallet.

Ingredients (for one):
  • 2 mackerel fillets, pin-boned
  • Half a fennel bulb
  • Half a braeburn apple
  • Small handful of walnuts
  • About 1 tbsp olive oil, for frying
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful of parsley leaves
  • For the vinaigrette: 1 dsp cider vinegar, 3 dsp extra-virgin olive oil, salt, 1 tsp English mustard and 1 tsp honey
  1. Put the vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl and whisk until they emulsify.  Check you're happy with the seasoning and then refrigerate.  This makes a bit more than you strictly need for this recipe, but it makes more sense to make this in bigger quantities and you can always use it for other salads.  It also means you can have a ready-made supply in the fridge ready for action at a moment's notice, like Chuck Norris.
  2. Get a pan nice and hot.  While you're waiting, pin bone the mackerel fillets using tweezers and slice the fennel into julienne strips (matchsticks to you or me).
  3. When the pan is hot, make a few very small incisions on top of the mackerel skin and season, then pour some oil in the pan and put them in skin side down.  If they don't sizzle vigorously on contact then the pan is not hot enough - take them out and wait.  Once the fillets are cooking, leave them alone and don't touch them until you can see that almost all the flesh has turned white, which should take a few minutes.
  4. While the mackerel is cooking, cut the apple into julienne strips.  The reason I recommend doing that at this stage is that apple can start turning brown if it hangs around for too long.  Chop up some fresh parsley and toss all the salad ingredients together with some of the vinaigrette.
  5. Get a hot plate ready with the salad on as a base.  As soon as you can see that the mackerel is almost cooked, flip it, take it off the heat and place each fillet on the salad - fish isn't hard to cook, but it will be very unforgiving if you overcook it.
  6. Serve immediately with a glass of crisp, dry white wine or cider.