Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Crab Ravioli with Chorizo Oil

I'd been invited for dinner and was asked if I would mind making a starter. The thought of getting under someone's feet in their own kitchen didn't appeal to me. I wanted to be in, bang, and out. These Crab Raviolis seemed like a good idea because all the prep was done back at the flat, all I had to do was rock up with my tray of raviolis and drop them in some boiling water for a few minutes. They tasted brilliant, a nice strong flavour of crab meat with the cut of some drizzled chorizo oil and some peppery rocket. I made them quite large using a 10cm diameter cutter so each person got one nice big ravioli with the meat to pasta ratio just right. Pork products with seafood makes me smile immensely, my two favourite things. They work terrificly well together and a favourite in my kitchen arsenal is chorizo oil. A recipe for making some is found here.

Hunting down good produce down here is kind of fun. There are hardly any fishmongers in Poole, which is pretty appalling, but I managed to get hold of two Dorset brown crabs from Pete Miles. Pete distributes Othniel Oysters and also owns Storm seafood restaurant in Poole. I arranged to meet him early on a Saturday morning at the back door of his restaurant. Stood in the alleyway I felt more like I was about to do a drug deal than buy some fresh local Crabs, but after a short wait the door opened and Pete invited me in. At the back of his kitchens we went through two big containers of crabs as we rummaged through to find the two largest specimens. Pete even gave me a crab pick to extract the meat out. I bagged the lads up, (I think they were boys) and went home to set about them. I won't tell you how much I paid for the two large brown crabs but I will say that at those prices, I will be eating crab far more often.

You hear a lot of people say that pasta machines usually get used once or twice then sit at the back of the cupboard forgotten. I use mine about once a fortnight and subsequently it doesn't take me very long to knock up some dough, run it through the rollers and clean up afterwards. It really doesn't take that long once you have the hang of it, you could always just buy fresh lasagna sheets if you don't fancy making your own pasta.


This recipe makes 7 raviolis.

200g Tipo '00' flour
6 Egg yolks
1 tbsp Milk
1 tbsp Olive oil

You can still get good results with less refined flour if you can't get hold of any '00'. I've used plain all purpose flour before now.

2 Brown crabs, boiled and picked of all white and brown meat
Salt and black pepper to season.

Some washed wild rocket
Chorizo oil, for a lightly spiced porky pick up.

Place the egg yolks, milk and olive oil in a large bowl and add half the sieved flour. Use two bent fingers in a circular motion to bring it loosely together before adding the rest of the flour a bit at a time. You should end up with a flaky dough with lots of little flecks all at the bottom of the bowl. Tip all this out onto the side and work the dough with the heel of your hand for 10 minutes. During this time you'll find the dough becomes silky and all the small bits will come together. Wrap in cling film and stick it in the fridge for at least half an hour. You've made twice as much dough as you need here. You can use the extra another day for taglietelle or more Raviolis.

Once you have boiled your crabs, remove the flap that covers its bottom and separate the legs and body from the main shell. Remove the gills or 'dead mans fingers' (it is a myth that eating these will kill you but they will upset your stomach and make you need the toilet so make sure you remove them all.) Crack the legs and claws and pick all the fresh white meat. Make sure to pick the body and the sockets where the legs once joined. Now, pick the brown meat and add it to your bowl of white meat. The brown crab meat is where all the best flavour is in my opinion, it's also much wetter so add just enough to bind the white meat together into a coarse, thick paste. Season with plenty of black pepper and a little salt and set to one side. This is also a good point to add a splash of tabasco if you fancy a little kick but to appreciate the full flavour of these fresh crabs I kept it very simple with just salt and pepper. I cracked the crab shells and roasted them along with the legs and set them aside for a crab stock.

Cut your pasta dough into quarters and roll through the largest setting several times folding the rolled dough in half in between each motion. You will see the pasta become much smoother, now run through the machine settings until you have fresh lasagna sheets, I stop at the second the thinnest setting for raviolis. With a 10cm round cutter, cut 12 discs of pasta. I used to use a mug and then cut around it before I had one. With teaspoons place generous sized balls of your crab filling into the centre of the circles and brush water around the edge of the pasta. Place another disc on top and crimp the edges together with your fingers making sure not to squeeze any filling out of the other side and also not to trap air bubbles which could pop and split your ravs. With scissors trim around the ravioli approximately 1cm away from the edge of the filling to tidy them up a bit if necessary. Lay on a flour dusted tray and repeat until all your raviolis are done. Dust with more flour and cover with cling film and leave in the fridge until ready to cook. They will take 3 minutes in simmering salted water.

Dress your rocket in the chorizo oil and form into tight balls. Place a cooked ravioli on top and then drizzle with a little more of the chorizo oil.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Marred With The Efforts of The Kitchen

When I left home my mum handed me over two wooden utensils. A spoon and a spatula. I didn’t realise it at the time but these would soon become great allies. They have both become old and trusted friends of mine and although I have collected silicon and metal alternatives over the years, my fingers always reach for these when my eyes are on the pans. Metal peers of the utensil will never look old and weathered, they will never darken and smooth through love and excessive use. Simply cold and hard, uninspiring, bringing no warmth to the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lost in a fairy tale of enameled tin dishes, cast iron casseroles and Agas, quite the opposite. But I find the wooden spoon has been provoking me of late, nudging me. I’m sure every keen cook has an old wooden spoon with a smooth sheen and slight bend to the handle. Perhaps your wooden spoon has some black marks on the back of the face where it has been left idly in a pan while you answer the phone. As fundamental to my kitchen as the chefs knife, the fridge or even the oven, yet I can’t help but wonder whether the wooden spoon will one day be defunct. Inglorious health and safety inspectors have stamped out the likes of wooden handled knives and chopping boards in professional kitchens in favour of plastic, stainless steel and silicon. The wooden spoon has already been on the decline. In the want for minimal and clean looking kitchens, uniform stainless steel utensils have become a desired essential while the wooden spoon has been overlooked once more.
When I think back to when I was a child and reminisce of Sunday dinners and making cakes, I remember my mum creaming the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. There’s a certain romance with them. The images it conjures up in the imagination. I can be inspired to cook by simply looking across to my utensil pot and notice that cheeky friend eyeing me up. It may have taken on a slight odour of garlic but who doesn’t love that smell and although my wooden spoon is tainted yellow and orange from spices, functionality far outweighs aesthetics and matching my other kitchen tools. If I am bringing dough together, it won’t bend like its silicon equivalent. When tasting a little of my Bolognese, I am less likely to burn my lips as I would on its heat transferring metal counterpart. To own a well-used wooden spoon, tainted and worn from a history of kitchen conquests and catastrophes, is to own an autobiography of your cooking pilgrimage. The spoon wears its heart on its sleeve, it’s honest, it signifies time served, mistakes and hard work.
It shows you’ve been through something together. For all our victories won, we have also been outdistanced on occasions, we have shared those times at the cooker and it shows. Is your silicon spoon marred with the efforts of the kitchen? Or is it simply still black?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hurn Honey Farm - Dorset

There's a lot of love involved when it comes to bee keeping. Tremendous amounts. I had no idea quite how much back-breaking work was involved until I visited George Mantzikos on his honey farm in Dorset. George is from Greece, a country that has grown synonymous with honey. "Growing up in Greece, honey was everywhere", George explained. "I always knew that it took a lot of work to make honey." Much later, after making a permanent move to the UK and during his career in engineering, George's interest spurred him to begin keeping bees, on a small scale and just as a hobby. His interest grew and subsequently so did his colonies. It wasn't long before he acquired some land and in 1984 he not only built an impressive workshop but also his home, slap bang in the middle of his honey farm. "Beekeeping takes up a lot of your time and I wanted to be close to them". George now has over 300 colonies which equates to hundred's of thousands of bees.

George led us down the path to the hives he had to check on. As we drew nearer the theraputic hum of 150,000 bees lulls me into a calming numbness. I'm so relaxed about it that I don't feel the least bit worried when George tells me I should not have worn deodorant or aftershave, "The bees are going to be very interested in you but try not to panic." My Dad, who has joined me on this visit, looks like he is having second thoughts, especially when George tells us that he doesn't like to use smoke to calm the bees any more. "It's not nice," he says. Dad's eyes widen. Inside each hive is a series of frames which is where the bees construct the honeycomb. The full frames are lifted out and replaced with freshly cleaned empty ones. Each section of the hives is incredibly heavy and after moving a few I realise just how tiresome this can be. The bees start to become very interested in me and it's not long before both my dad and I are edging away from the area and back down the path.

Back in the workshop, the honeycomb has to be cut away from the frames, some is cut into neat rectangles and placed in plastic boxes to be enjoyed simply as the bees have left it whilst others are put to one side to have the honey extracted from the waxy comb. The wax is then melted down and sold off. Emma Dick, Buyer for Lush Cosmetics says, "We have been using Georges beeswax since we first started out making soaps."

After showing us how the honey is made we finally get to tasting some. "Some people don't realise that honey changes with the seasons, right now, the bees are making their honey from bell heather. Later in the year, when it is pure heather honey it sets like jelly, if someone offers you heather honey and it is runny then it isn't the real thing." I chomp down on a chunk of fresh honeycomb and instantly decide, that this is my favourite. All the empty frames then have to be boiled clean, bleached and then tightened up and stacked, ready to be used on the next swap over. "Cleanliness is very, very important. When you see dirty colonies, disease is close behind." I ask if Colony Collapse Disorder has been a problem. "We all have to deal with CCD on occasions. I have been a very lucky man and fortunately it doesn't happen very often here." Although George is telling us vast amounts of information, it is clear we are only scratching the surface and that there is a lot to consider. Each answer is delivered with a concerned pause that leads me to believe that everything is subject to change. That, with bees, you are constantly learning and adapting. George politely excuses himself to return to the mountain of work that lies before him over the summer. His time is very precious and so I leave him to get on with cutting out the honeycomb of what looks like around two hundred frames.

The next morning, I drizzle some of George's honey over my porridge. The amount of care, time, patience and love that goes into producing this honey is phenomenal, and that's before you even begin to consider the work of all those bees. It's so very easy to overlook how much work goes into the sweetening of my porridge and at just under £4 a jar, I think it's the best value for money to be found.

Hurn Honey Farm,
Barrack Road,
West Parley,
BH22 8UB
01202 593 040