Mushroom & black pudding ravioli.

Almost two years ago, my mum came round for dinner and I made a small starter of wild mushroom ravioli served with a little rocket and some crispy slices of black pudding. The combination of black pudding and mushrooms worked well and since then, lots of different ideas have been floating around in my subconscious.

The success of my first pasta attempts emboldened me enough to resurrect this flavour combination and see if I could make it work as a whole dish. Here is my recipe and a few photographs of that successful experiment. Is it something you’d eat?

Mushroom & black pudding ravioli with creamy mediterranean herb sauce

For the pasta-

300g ’00’ flour

3 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the filling-

250g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

150g Bury black pudding

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the sauce-

150ml double cream

large nob of butter

small bunch of thyme

small bunch of oregano

salt & pepper

I combined the ingredients for the pasta in a bowl and mix to a soft dough.  I then kneaded the dough for ten minutes until it was smooth and silky.  Then it was time to chill the dough by wrapping it well in clingfilm and putting it into the fridge for an hour.  I fried the mushrooms on a very high heat until they began to brown and set them aside.  Then I sliced the black pudding thinly and fried it at an equally high temperature, making sure to break it up and cook it until it was crispy.  Once it had cooled, I blitzed it with the mushrooms using a hand blender.  A little seasoning finished the filling.

Back to the pasta.  I don’t have a pasta machine.  I may well invest.  Apart from great results and inner satisfaction, rolling your own pasta also provides you with a workout.  Slightly out of breath (but no less happy), I made sure that I could see through the pasta before stopping.  At this point, I spooned the filling onto the sheet of pasta at regular intervals.  I used a pastry brush to wet all around the filling.  This would act as glue when the top sheet was laid upon it.

Ravioli waiting to be cut.

The hardest part was laying the top sheet over the filling and getting rid of all the air in between.  This is where the water helped to bind the pasta.  Pressing firmly around the filling, I pushed as much of the air out of the sides as possible.  This would prevent the trapped air expanding in the pan and bursting the ravioli.  Admittedly, as a novice, I hated this part of the process and was extremely relieved when it was accomplished.  I hadn’t done a great job of shaping the pasta sheets into regular shapes.  This made cutting a little tricky.  All went well, though one thing I’ll remember for next time is to leave less pasta between the filling and the edge of the ravioli.  Frightened of the ravioli not being secure, I left far too much pasta around the edges.

Fresh ravioli and some herbs from the garden.

I started the sauce a few minutes before dropping the ravioli into a pan of boiling water.  Loads of butter into a milk pan.  Chopped fresh oregano and thyme straight into the foaming butter.  Then the double cream with brisk stirring and a little salt and pepper.  More butter if necessary and then a gentle simmer.

The ravioli needs three or four minutes of cooking once it has risen to the surface of the water.  In terms of taste, the flavours all worked well and the creamy sauce softened what is quite a bold pasta dish.  In retrospect, I would serve two or three ravioli with this sauce as a starter.  It was way too filling as a main.  It’s a really distinctive dish and one that I’m proud of.  It’s certainly a great way to enjoy Bury’s best in a unique format.

A lovely dish, but so filling.

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Pasta Master.

First of all, no, I’m not a master of pasta in any sense of the phrase.  I’ve eaten plenty and in the scheme of things, most of it has been poor.  I’ve not visited Italy, but that doesn’t stop me realising the difference between good quality pasta and the stuff I’ve boiled up & thrown in a bowl over the years.  Rubbery, flavorless and less than appealing.  Buying fresh pasta has been a regular choice in recent years since supermarkets have seen the demand for tasty and more authentic pasta.  Given the range available and the convenience, is there reason enough to crack some eggs into a bowl with some flour?  This pasta novice says, “Yes and yes!”

Did someone say rustic?

Having invited my mum round for something to eat last week, I decided to try my hand at some pasta and get her opinion on it.  A gamble, since we were both hungry and I’d never done it before.  I found the kneading to be very satisfying in that I could actually see and feel the change in the dough.  I cut some rather rustic ribbons once I’d rolled out the pasta.  I don’t have a machine so it was time-consuming.  The photos below should give you some idea of how things went.  An incredible sense of pride and achievement flowed through me upon serving a successful plate of homemade pasta in a creamy sauce.  Is that really all there is to it?  Well, no.  There’s endless scope for variation, experimentation and of course the development of pasta making skills beyond a few roughly cut ribbons of hand-rolled dough.

That actually looks the way it should!

With that in mind, I decided to make some pasta that was a little less conventional.  Mushroom and black pudding ravioli.

A light and creamy mushroom sauce was perfect.

Don’t risk it, brisket.

I’m not sure if it’s the value for money or the wonderful results that are currently making brisket my go-to cut of beef.  There’s something about brisket that screams, “Weekend treat!” and I guess it’s the amount of cooking time involved.

I first used brisket in a Tuscan recipe from Jill Norman.  The beef was slowly braised for three hours in a combination of red wine, carrots, celery and tomatoes to achieve a rustic and altogether delicious dish.  Despite the success of that first attempt, I wasn’t too excited about the recipe itself because of how predictable it was.  “Next time,” I thought, “I’ll do something very different.”

The wind began to drive against the windows and the sunny morning disappeared behind a gloomy veil of the North Wests’ finest rain.  It was time to bring the beef up to room temperature.  My father-in-law is a massive fan of beef with ginger and spring onions and he makes a bee-line for the local Chinese as soon as he arrives from France.  It’s the combination of tender beef and serious amounts of ginger that really make it for him.  I thought that perhaps brisket would lend itself to these Asian flavours if it was cooked for long enough and given strong ingredients.

Brisket with ginger and spring onions

1-1.5kg rolled beef brisket

12 spring onions (chopped)

2 medium white onions quartered

3 stalks lemon grass (finely chopped)

Copious amounts of fresh root ginger (finely chopped)

2 large cloves garlic (1 chopped, 1 crushed)

1 glass white wine

1 red chilli

butter

olive oil

pepper

salt

How much ginger? That much.

I started by rolling the brisket in a mixture of sea salt flakes and cracked black pepper.  Once coated, I threw a knob of butter into a 20cm casserole with a little oil and browned the meat on all sides on a high heat.  I removed the meat and prepared the vegetables.  I got half way through grating the ginger and decided to chop the rest.  The rain had stopped and I needed to walk the dog.  I added all of the vegetables including the chilli which I left whole.  These cooked gently on a low heat until soft, but not brown.  I added a little hot water if the mix got too dry.

Butter, oil and a satisfying sizzle.

A good stir and it was time to return the meat to the casserole.  At this point, I added the wine and then topped it up with water until the meat was almost covered, but not quite.  A hard boil for 2 minutes got things going before I turned the heat down to the lowest setting and put the lid on.  It’s important that the meat fits snugly into whatever you cook it in and that the lid is on firmly.  You don’t want the liquid to reduce and leave you with tough meat sitting in a salty puddle.

Lots of flavour.

That was it!  Done.  I just had to find something to do for three hours.  I turned the meat over occasionally and I basted it when I got restless, but it really does take care of itself.  Today I used a cut weighing 846g so it only needed two hours of cooking to be really tender.  I rested it for twenty minutes before carving into thick slices.

The beef has a rest next to the spring greens.

Seasonal food is always a treat and this was no exception.  I’d already used plenty of spring onions and to serve the beef I boiled some Jersey Royals and quickly fried some spring greens in a little butter.  Since the sauce was so punchy, I didn’t need any other strong flavours on the plate.  A nice glass of the same white that went into the beef sauce and you’re laughing!  I can’t wait to make this for my father-in-law.  C’est magnifique!

Beef brisket with ginger & spring onions served with Jersey Royals and spring greens.

Outlandish claims of moisture.

I guess it depends on what you want from food as to whether or not you rate a recipe highly.  In terms of carrot cake, and perhaps cake in general, people seem to respond well to high levels of moisture.  If a cake is dry and mealy, it is deemed a failure.  Shop bought cakes tend to be dry if they have been on the shelf for some time.  The addition of other ingredients to retain that all-important quality are not always welcome.  For those wishing to bake their own cakes, it’s always important to make sure that there is a good texture without sacrificing the structure of the cake itself.  Nobody wants a pile of crumbs, no matter how much sugar is in there.

What I’ve found with recipes that have ‘moist’ in the title or include an introduction that champions the moisture content, is that they often contain an amount of sour cream, creme fraiche or even buttermilk.  Indeed, there are plenty of good brownie recipes that include a good dollop of sour cream.  The carrot cake recipe that I tried last night is no exception.  However, sour cream and creme fraiche were missing from my fridge when the carrot cake urge took me.  I had to think on my feet.  The results were interesting.  Well, that is if you find the outcome of baking a carrot cake interesting.

Grated carrots ready to go into the batter.

Plenty of nutmeg, cinnamon and even desiccated coconut went into this version.  I added some lavender water after steeping a fresh lavender bud in boiling water for 10 minutes.  It was a nice background flavour, but I don’t think it’s easy to detect.  The lack of creme fraiche didn’t cause too much of a problem.  I didn’t want to leave out that element since it would provide a lot of the softness in the texture of the cake.  I had some Greek style yoghurt in the fridge and put in a couple of table spoons to substitute.  Don’t laugh!  It was coconut flavour so I figured I could get away with it.  The gamble paid off.  The cake cooled and revealed itself to be extremely moist.  Any more, and the cake would be too delicate to cut and serve.  The topping for the cake was a last-minute throw together.  The original recipe called for mascarpone, but again, I didn’t have it in.  Philadelphia to the rescue.  A table-spoon mixed with plenty of double cream and icing sugar did the trick.  I finished it off with cinnamon and some grated lemon zest.  Not too shabby.  I was very pleased with it.

The last minute topping did the trick. I'm not entirely convinced that I can close the case on the search for the perfect carrot cake. This one is certainly soft, moist and full of flavours. I'm going to keep experimenting until I hit the jackpot. This one was very close indeed. I'll put the recipe up soon and see what you think of it. Greedy slice.

This came close to being perfect.

Cheeky little paella

Passion, history and honour bubble and swell in the paella debate.  I don’t wish to enter this arena, but I feel that I may have no choice in the matter.  My paella, and it is my paella, has a lot of ingredients, takes a fair amount of preparation and is neither traditional nor groundbreaking.  “Why make it, then?” I hear you cry.  It’s delicious.  The flavours give you a gentle slapping around your chops and make you beg for more.

I started cooking this as a way to eat more of the things I love.  I include peas and Chorizo, prawns, lemon juice, parsley, olive oil and garlic.  Lots of garlic.  In fact, I use so much garlic that some would find it overpowering.  However, this is something you’ve got complete control over.  I just feel great after eating garlic.  It doesn’t make you popular, but hey.

Arborio rice is great to cook with and I use it to get a nice texture in this paella.  Again, I’m going with what I like and what’s available.  There comes that magical moment when I realise that I have all the ingredients that I need to make paella.  When the moment arrives, I jump into action so that I have time to enjoy preparing it.  The quantities change each time, so I’ll simply recount the events of yesterday that led to this hearty and comforting dish.  Valencian?  Nowhere near, but I love it.

Cheeky paella

250g Arborio rice

900ml strong chicken stock

1 tin garden peas

200g raw peeled prawns

150g Chorizo (chopped)

1 onion (finely chopped)

6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

1 tsp smoked paprika

juice of 1 lemon

1 tomato (chopped)

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp fresh oregano (chopped)

3 tsp fresh parsley (chopped)

Plenty of olive oil

Pepper

A little butter

I began, as always, by heating olive oil in a really wide frying pan.  The oil should cover the bottom of the pan.  I added a little butter at this point and then tossed the rice until coated and glistening.  I let it cook for a few minutes and gently stirred the rice once or twice.  In went the onion until just cooked and then all of the garlic.  All of it, I tell you!  At this point, it’s a little balancing act.  You don’t want the garlic to burn, the onion to brown, or the rice to stick to the pan.  When the garlic is just cooked, add enough stock to almost cover the rice and stir gently.  Throw in the paprika and the dried oregano.

In the past, I’ve cooked the onion at the same time as the Chorizo and then added the rice to the orange-coloured oil.  This works quite well, but I don’t really want the Chorizo to be cooked for so long.  I prefer it to retain most of the flavour.  Onwards!  I continued adding stock each time the rice absorbed it.  Since my wife is heavily pregnant, no open bottles of wine were on hand to add a dash of fun to the rice.  Still, a good squeeze of lemon helped.  I added the Chorizo once all of the stock had been used and stirred in the parsley and fresh oregano.  I’ve been growing these in my garden and this year the parsley has gone crazy.  It’s got a great flavour and if you’ve put as much garlic in as I did, you need it!

So what was left on the work top?  Some prawns, peas and pepper.  All the ingredients were doing their thing.  By adding butter at this stage, I would get a nice, nutty socarrat (the crunchy base of the paella).  The peas went in next, though I was careful not to stir the bottom of the pan and risk disturbing the rice that would gently brown.  A little pepper next.  I always find it hard to restrain myself when it comes to grinding pepper.  Too much just isn’t enough for me.  Finally, I laid the prawns on top and spooned  hot rice over them to cook.  More lemon juice.  Quick taste.  Finished.  Once the prawns were pink and the bottom of the pan was nicely browned, it was time to serve.  More butter or olive oil can loosen up the paella if it is too dry upon serving.  I didn’t need to add salt because of the stock and Chorizo, but it’s better to check the seasoning before you take the paella off the heat.

A few lemon wedges and some more fresh parsley help to garnish this hearty bowl of comfort.