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Beetroot and lamb's lettuce salad with anchovy dressing [Recipe]

Hard pellety shreds of beetroot are a grim staple of plastic bags of supermarket salad, but this dish reminds you how well the root can work with soft green leaves. Ideally the beets should be just above room temperature here, with a trace of warmth from the oven or the pot. (If they're completely cold, don't worry – it'll still be good.) Sweet onions mellow the piquant anchovies, making this a fine and earthy summer salad. As always, everything is best mixed at the last minute, so that just the faintest ruddy beetroot smears fleck and stain the leaves.

I prefer to bake beetroot because it holds more juice that way, but it does take a little longer than boiling.

Beetroot and lamb's lettuce salad with anchovy dressing

Serves 2

A couple of biggish beetroot, or 3 or 4 the size of golf balls, washed and trimmed but unpeeled
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 tbsps olive oil
3 anchovies, preferably packed in salt
1 tsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
3 big handfuls of lamb's lettuce, washed thoroughly

Preheat the oven to 140ºC. Place the beetroot in an ovenproof dish, cover loosely with tinfoil and bake for around 3 hours for large beets, 2 for smaller ones. If you're shorter on time, you can lightly boil them: they'll need between 1 and 1½ hours.

While the beets are cooking, sauté the onion gently in a bit of olive oil until very soft. Let it colour a little if you want. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, then blitz with the anchovies, vinegar, mustard and olive oil to make the dressing. Taste and correct seasoning – you shoudn't need much salt.

Once the beets are tender, remove from the heat and allow to cool almost completely. Rub the skin off them if you prefer, then slice into strips and toss quickly with the lamb's lettuce and dressing. Serve immediately.

Consider yoghurt [Article]

A bowl of Bulgarian-style yoghurt

I've considered yoghurt for the Guardian. Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 19/07

Abu Zaad, W12. A 'truly great neighbourhood restaurant'.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.com.


Consider cheap bread [Article]

A slice of white and a pat of butter

I've considered cheap bread for the Guardian. Truly vile stuff, once you start looking at it. Link here.


Restaurant critic round-up, 12/07

Ye Olde Bell, Berkshire. Hopefully the couple had a better time than Matthew Norman.

My weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics here.


The Times: Stevie Parle [Article]

Stevie Parle slicing tomatoes on deck. Crappy phone pic but I was too busy gawping at the view (and, should my editor be reading this, taking copious and professional notes) to whip out my blogger's point-and-shoot.

I've written a piece for today's Times magazine about the young chef Stevie Parle, who cooked lunch for me and a few of his friends on his houseboat in Hammersmith. It was a lovely afternoon. To read it, you'll have to sign up to the Times – as all good boys and girls are doing anyway. Link here.


Restaurant critic round-up, 06/07

The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge as it neared completion. A 'horrible place'.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.

Consider syrup [Article]

I've considered syrup for the Guardian. Click here to read.


Souvlaki [Recipe]

I've written a recipe for Fiona Beckett's Beyond Baked Beans site, an outstanding resource for students or anyone else on a budget who wants to eat well. I chose the healthyish Greek kebab souvlaki. Click here to read.


Waitrose Kitchen: The blood oranges of Sicily [Article]

The lovely people at Waitrose Kitchen were kind enough to send me to Sicily the other week to cover the blood orange harvest. It was an amazing few days: we stayed in a beautiful old farmhouse deep in the orange groves, the air thick with citrus. We also explored a little of the island, including the Roman theatre above, and we ate a ludicrous amount of fresh fish, wild asparagus, risottos, pastas, and oranges spiced Moorishly and moreishly with cinnamon. Yuki Sugiura's superb photos accompany the piece.

Waitrose Kitchen remains a true bargain at only a quid. Do pick up a copy – this month, there's also a lovely feature from the Greek island of Santorini (home of the ancient saffron art I mentioned on Word of Mouth this week), a fine column from Mimi Spencer about barbecues and, as ever, plenty of excellent recipes.


Consider saffron [Article]

Saffron stigmas. Photo: The Greasy Spoon

This week I've considered saffron for the Guardian. A truly amazing spice. Click here to read.


Boiled leg of lamb with caper sauce [Recipe]

A largely forgotten English classic, ripe for revival. I've timed this post to run alongside a piece I wrote for the Guardian today on boiled meats.

If you've never cooked meat this way then I strongly recommend it: the lamb emerges perfectly tender. The sauce is essential: it piques the meat and brings the dish zip and oomph. I served it with baked potatoes but perhaps Jersey news would have been better at this time of year. I also had un-English broccoli because I found a head lying the fridge, but any green veg would have done. Mutton is more traditional, of course, but lamb works just as well. A big glass of red is mandatory with this one.

Boiled leg of lamb (or mutton) with caper sauce

Serves 6-8

2.5kg leg of lamb or mutton
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3s
2 onions, halved and peeled
4 sticks celery, cut into inch-long sticks
2 bay leaves
Few sprigs of thyme
Few sprigs of rosemary
1 swede, peeled and roughly diced (optional)
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered (optional)
10 black peppercorns, whole
1 tsp salt

For the caper sauce

2 tbsps butter
2 tbsps flour
6 tbsps salted capers, rinsed
Good handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Put the lamb in a big pot and add the vegetables, herbs, salt and peppercorns. Pour over enough water to come 3/4 of the way up the lamb. Slowly bring to the boil, removing any scum. Put the lid on and simmer extremely gently for 1 hr 45 mins to 2.5 hours, turning a couple of times. The lamb is ready when a skewer slides in without much resistance. When the lamb is done, drain and reserve 750ml of the lamb liquor and let the lamb rest in the remaining stock.

For the caper sauce, make a roux by heating the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and adding the flour. Cook for a minute or so then gradually whisk in the reserved lamb stock. Simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce has reduced a little and deepened in flavour, then stir in the capers and parsley. Check seasoning (you shouldn't need much salt) and serve with the carved lamb, some spuds and green veg.


Restaurant critic round-up, 21/06

Tom Aikens.

Click here to see my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.com


Consider custard [Article]

This week I've considered custard for the Guardian. Click here to read.

A summer way with spaghetti and meatballs [Recipe]

A tarted-up midsummer version of what mamma proverbially makes. I used fancy dried egg fettuccine here: at this time of year I think lighter pastas work better than the wheaty carb-loads of January. Dried egg pastas, incidentally, are nothing like the 'fresh' ones you get from supermarket chillers, which always taste slimy and which never have enough bite. I could have made my own, of course, but it wasn't that kind of evening.

Fettuccine with roast tomatoes and meatballs

Serves 4


1kg of fresh tomatoes, the best you can find
250g beef or veal mince
600g good-quality dried egg pasta
The leaves from a few strands of fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, grated with a Microplane
1 tsp dried marjoram
A little plain flour to coat the meatballs
Perhaps 2-3 tbsps double cream to loosen the sauce
Big handful fresh basil leaves
Pecorino, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Slice the tomatoes in half and put them with the garlic and thyme on a baking tray. Season and cover with olive oil. You don't want to leave any dry bits – best to coat them by hand. Roast for 30 minutes and set aside.

While the tomatoes are cooking, put the mince into a large bowl. Season well, add the marjoram and shape into balls. Coat lightly in flour then fry in olive oil until they've take on a good colour and are still slightly pink inside. Remove from the heat and place on kitchen paper.

Put the cooked tomatoes in a medium saucepan over a low heat. Throw in the meatballs and add enough cream to loosen the sauce. Cook the pasta in well-salted water until al dente (a matter of three or four minutes) and toss it through the sauce with the basil. Serve at once with a few grinds of pepper and plenty of parmesan or pecorino.


Taste of London 2010

Taste of London was a cracking day last year, so I was delighted to attend a couple of sample tastings in the run-up to the 2010 festival.

You might know the deal at Taste already. A hefty contingent of the capital's best restaurants set up tents in Regent's Park to cook some of their trademark dishes for (hopefully) sun-drenched food-lovers. It's a great idea and, if you choose carefully, you experience some of the best eating in the city for a lot less moolah than you would if you visited the restaurants themselves.

Restaurant critic round-up, 15/06

Gauthier Soho. Great food, shame about the atmosphere.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Slow-roast Chinese duck [Recipe]

A lovely way to roast a duck. The bird marinates in some classic Cantonese flavours then cooks very slowly, with the occasional baste, until its skin is auburn and glistening and its flesh is tender. Perfect, as here, for a latish Sunday lunch for two.

Slow-roast Chinese duck

Serves 2-4

1 free range duck
Piece of ginger a bit bigger than your thumb, peeled and finely chopped
2-4 red chillies, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsps oyster sauce
3 tbsps honey
2 tbsps rice wine
2 tbsps dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
2 star anise
2 tsps five-spice powder
2 tbsps sesame oil
1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil

Score the duck in a criss-cross pattern across both breasts. Mix together all the marinade ingredients, slather over the duck and place in a snug roasting tin, breast-side down. Leave to marinate for as long as you can, ideally overnight.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Turn the duck breast-side up, sprinkle generously with sea salt and place in the oven. Roast for an hour, basting half-way through, then drain off as much fat as possible from the roasting tin and baste again before returning to the oven. Cook for a further 90 minutes, basting as often as you can be bothered – at least every 30 minutes. When the time's up, leave the duck to rest for 20 minutes, loosely covered in foil.

If you like, concentrate the 'sauce' by boiling the tin over the hob while the duck is resting. Pour this over the carved, sliced duck and serve with rice, fresh coriander and pak choi steamed with oyster and soy sauces and a few drops of sesame oil.


Consider mustard

A hot dog with mustard.

This week I've considered mustard for the Guardian. I love the stuff. Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 07/06

The splendid dining room of The Milroy at Les Ambassadeurs.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


A summer supper [Recipe]

I don't blog midweek cooking anywhere near as much as I'd like. Often that's down to practicalities – I'm typically hungry when it's time to sit down, and hardly feel like pulling out the camera and snapping a congealing bowl of noodles. But this was supper last night and it wasn't untypical, so I thought I'd share it. It really was good – and all the better for having been made with stuff I found lying around the kitchen. Proof, if we needed it, that to eat well in summer you hardly need to cook at all.

I boned a couple of chicken legs, seasoned them and let them sit for a couple of hours in olive oil, lemon juice, lots of fresh oregano and sliced spring onions. I griddled them for a few minutes on either side until they were branded and scarred. I let them rest while I sliced some ripe tomatoes and scattered them with more spring onions and oregano, then sploshed the lot in extra virgin, a few shakes of red wine vinegar, sea salt and pepper. I also knocked up a raita of sorts by stirring peeled, seeded, finely diced cucumber and a load of mint into full-fat yoghurt, and quickly made some couscous with fresh parsley, lemon juice and a seeded, finely sliced chilli that was looking a bit miserable in the fridge. A bottle of very chilled rosé made this a lovely, harmonious supper.


Consider marmalade [Article]

Paddington Bear enjoys some marmalade.

This week at The Guardian I've considered marmalade. Apparently, many of its fans are deserting it – not me. Click here to read.

Restaurant critic round-up, 01/06

Roux Parliament Square. Mixed reviews.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Consider liquorice [Article]

Liquorice in many forms. Photo: Bah Humbugs

This week I've considered liquorice at the Guardian. Did you know it was poisonous? Click here to read.


Riverford Farm [Review]


A few weeks back Riverford Farm invited me and some other bloggers down to the West Country for dinner and a look round. If you're British and interested in food you'll probably have heard of the farm. They run the largest box scheme in the country – Cain to Abel & Cole – vanning ethical cardboard and contented swedes to people just doing their bit.

Organic is a strange, regressive movement. A lot of food lovers are rightly conflicted about the impact of industrialisation on the way they eat. Yields in American farms quadrupled over the last century: a triumphant, localised victory over starvation. But the world's population has doubled in my parents' lifetimes and will double again in mine – and non-organic farms produce a lot more food than organic ones. It's ostrich-headed and irresponsible to argue that this crowded planet will feed itself on heirloom tomatoes and hessian good intentions. To survive, we'll need GM, super-intensive farming and enough pesticides to torch every ladybird's home in Europe.

What's more, the British abused organics. They took a hale, wholesome, rootsy idea about bringing good food to good people and twisted it into a pathetic debate about class. Too much organic food is now the province of weepingly awful delis, mauve labels on chilly Tesco shelves, and tasteless restaurant mark-ups.

Restaurant critic round-up, 24/05

Surbiton station. According to AA Gill, 'the railway invented the suburbs'.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Consider Pimm's

My thoughts precisely.

This week's 'Consider...' at The Guardian is on Pimm's, a drink very dear to me. Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 17/05

Daniel Boulud

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Consider the processed cheese [Article]

Velveeta Shells and Cheese. Oh lordy.

I've considered the evils and virtues of processed cheese over at The Guardian. Click here to read.

Restaurant critic round-up, 10/05

Atul Kochhar, co-owner of the much-drubbed Colony

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Consider the HP Sauce [Article]

Harold Wilson with "Wilson's Gravy"

This week's Consider the... is on HP Sauce, an appreciation for which I discovered quite recently but with enormous enthusiasm. I liked the way the Guardian tweeted the article, so I've nicked their joke below. Please click it to read what I've written.

"This week is your chance to get that Brown out - but do you prefer HP or Daddies?"

Restaurant critic round-up

Zucca. Near-unanimous acclaim

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Pétrus [Review]


Pétrus – never "Château Pétrus" – is famous for being the most expensive wine in the world. That's not a good thing. Most people have a knee-jerk hatred of brands like that, and the rest – the ones who drink it – hardly ever appreciate it. It's a truism that sheikhs and oligarchs and robber barons know the price of everything and the value of nothing: rappers buy the cognac because of its cost, not its taste. Expensive plonk is typically just a bonanza of willy-waving, so for a restaurant to align itself with a wine like that, and all its dreary affluent pretensions – smacks of grasping inertia, of being hopelessly out of touch.

There's a bottle on the list here for 49,500 quid. What a brazen, hilarious amount to spend on fruit juice. That, and the resurrected name, tell you everything you need to know about the ambitions of this place. And if the food were stellar, they could almost get away with it. But it isn't, so they don't.

Belgravia smells of second homes and stucco; the local brothel would be called the Non-Dom's Condom. "We have lots of regulars already," says Jean-Philippe Susilovic, the maitre d', sometime Hell's Kitchen personality and an eminence grise in the embattled Ramsay empire.


The World's 50 Best Restaurants awards

Even to those of us who had seen the leaks, Noma's victory last night at the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards was a bit of a surprise. Nobody at the shindig was sure whether the "leaks" were real or a piece of slick, sly marketing. Thomas Keller's predictions proved catastrophically wrong, at least for him, and the jostling between El Bulli and The Fat Duck was always going to be too close to call. (There's perhaps a joke in there about bulldogs chasing ducks, but I'm far too hungover now to make it work.)

Every year, much is made of these awards. They attract an inevitable slew of criticisms: the 800 judges can't have eaten in all the shortlisted restaurants; the awards focus too strongly on European and American places; the process assumes that food in the best restaurants will always be technically dazzling. Whither the Tayyabs lamb chops, a conspicuous member of the London food scene asked pointedly last night.

Consider the Soreen, Doreen [Article]

The second of my "Consider the..." series at The Guardian is on Soreen, "the fruity malt loaf".

Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 26/04

A rare negative review for Manson

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Rhubarb syllabub with ginger and star anise [Recipe]

I spent last weekend in the West Country on a lovely bloggers' trip to Riverford Farm in Devon. If you're an assiduous reader of British food blogs, you might have seen posts elsewhere on this lamentably brief excursion.

Among the goodies I came away with was some firm young rhubarb. I hadn't made a syllabub for yonks: they seem strangely out of fashion nowadays, which is rather a shame. The best are delicious and fruity and a tiny bit grown-up. Serving them in martini glasses is no doubt wincingly naff, but they were all I had, and the dish still rounded off a nice dinner with some friends.

Rhubarb syllabub with ginger and star anise

Serves 6

1lb rhubarb, washed and cut into 2cm-long chunks
2 ripe oranges
100-150g caster sugar, depending on how sweet your rhubarb is
4 tbsps of sweet wine (I used Muscat, which was on offer in Waitrose)
2 star anise
6 cardamom pods, seeded, husks discarded
300ml double cream
A small lump ginger, finely sliced
3 tbsps of flaked almonds, toasted

Zest one of the oranges and squeeze both of them. Finely chop the zest, then place it in a pan along with half the orange juice, the rhubarb, star anise, ginger, cardamom and 50g of the sugar. Cook over a low heat until the rhubarb has softened without turning into mush – about six minutes. It'll carry on cooking off the heat, so err on the cautious side. Taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if necessary (though you want it reasonably tart), and allow to cool.

Mix together the rest of the orange juice, the wine and the remaining 100g or so of sugar, and stir until dissolved. Whip the cream into soft peaks and fold in the wine mixture. Assemble the rhubarb and its juice in the bottom of individual glasses, reserving a few rhubarb pieces for garnish, then top with the cream mixture. Place in the fridge for at least two hours. Just before serving, top with the flaked almonds and a little more rhubarb. Serve with the rest of the wine bottle.


Consider the scotch egg [Article]

The scotch egg at the Harwood Arms. Photo: thecattylife.com

I've started a new series at The Guardian's Word of Mouth considering individual ingredients. I'm inaugurating it with the scotch egg. Click here to read.


Restaurant critic round-up, 19/04

Restaurant Michael Nadra. 'Heartbreakingly effortful'

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


Restaurant critic round-up, 12/04

Petrus. The restaurant may represent better value than the wine.

Click here for my weekly round-up of the national restaurant critics at iStarvin.


I'm on BBC Radio 5 Live

Tony Livesey

Last night was the final of Masterchef, and a fine series it was. Many congratulations to the whimperingly talented Dhruv Baker and, of course, an awestruck big-up to fellow food blogger Alex Rushmer, who missed the title by the breadth of a Rizla.

To coincide, BBC Radio 5 Live asked me along to Tony Livesey's show to speak in a discussion about whether "posh" TV cookery has any relationship with food prepared at home. It was thrilling to be whisked over to White City to take part, and to see the bleeping interior of the Beeb.

You can listen here on iPlayer
– it all lasts about 15 minutes. Our segment starts 1:11 into the show, and I begin spluttering inconsequentially at about 1:15.


The Ship, Wandsworth [Review]


The Ship is known as a "destination" pub. Not because you'd cross London to eat there – though you might, and you'd do well to – but because it's miles from anything. It lies on a silty, sallow U-bend in the river, and the cars swoosh yonder over Wandsworth Bridge and the water slops beneath it. It's a dead, desolate zone; the landscape is as battered and past-it as Detroit – and yet, weirdly, that splendid isolation turns out to be the source of its charm.

A couple of hundred years ago, when they built it, a road ran alongside (whether the oddly Dickensian Jews Row or not, I don't know). It was a pub at a hub, a villagey inn. The phone box in the garden – a modern replica, apparently – was there when they bricked off the road and amputated the pub from civilisation. To compensate and bring in the punters, the owners have updated the place freely and tastefully over the years: there's a languid patio, a bright conservatory, a barbecue outside and a space-age metal buttock-warmer in the main room, which are all welcome. They asked me along. (The owners, not the decorations.) I brought some blogging friends, and the day was a reminder how setting, welcome, service and company can raise a meal beyond the sum of its parts.