Lamb and Piperade
Piperade is a classic Basque dish made with sweet bell peppers, onions, olive oil and most importantly…patience. The slow process of making piperade is worth the long wait. For a dish that’s completely meat-free, it has a remarkable savouriness and an intense depth of flavour. Not to mention the natural sweetness of the onions and peppers that is enhanced by the long cooking time.
There are various different ways to do this, but one thing is beyond debate: you must remove the skin from the peppers. If not, you’ll have nasty stringy bits ruining the texture of the dish. At Castle Terrace, we had to peel the peppers before slicing and cooking them, which is painstaking and fiddly process. An easier and more conventional method is to roast the peppers, cover them and allow to cool before easily peeling off the skin.
The basic method is as follows: finely slice the onions and sweat slowly in olive oil for 3 hours. Then add the finely sliced peppers and continue sweating slowly for another 3 hours. Much of the intense flavour in this dish comes from the slowly cooked onions, so make sure you cook for the full 3 hours to get them really dark and sweet.
You can pair this with many things - it’s a very versatile garnish. It goes particularly well with lamb, however. For this recipe, ask your butcher for a boned and rolled leg of lamb.
- 1 leg of lamb, boned and rolled
- 6 medium onions, finely sliced
- 4 red peppers
- 2 yellow peppers
- 2 green peppers
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 handfuls baby spinach
- vegetable oil, for frying
- a little sherry vinegar
When the lamb is ready, put in on a rack to rest for 10 minutes or so, then finish the piperade. Finely slice the baby spinach and add to the peppers and onions. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Finish with a little touch of sherry vinegar. Carve the lamb, and place on top of the piperade in wide bowls.
To cook the lamb: get a large, heavy based frying pan and place it over a high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of oil and wait for it to get hot. Season the lamb all over with salt and pepper and sear it in the pan, turning every couple of minutes or so until nicely caramelised all over. Place in the oven for 10 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 10 minutes. At this point, check the temperature using a skewer: insert the skewer into the middle of the lamb and wait for a few seconds, then press it to your lip. If it’s barely warm, it needs longer. Keep turning and cooking it until the middle feels hot but doesn’t yet burn your skin when you touch it to your lip. If it’s scorching hot, you’ve overcooked it! If you want to use a temperature probe it should be around 58C.
Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, take them from the bowl and carefully peel the skin from them. They should be roasted enough that the skin comes off quite easily. Tear the peppers into pieces, removing the core and all the seeds. Finely slice them, and add to the pan with the onions once the onions are ready, along with another pinch of salt. Continue to cook on a low heat for another 3 hours. It should be caramelised, dark and intense.
Meanwhile, get a large pot or casserole dish and add the olive oil. Place over a medium heat and when the oil is hot, add the onions along with a generous pinch of salt. Cook at this temperature for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. When the onions are soft, turn the heat to low and cook for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the onions are dark, intense and sweet. At this point,remove your leg of lamb from the fridge to come up to room temperature.
Set the oven to 190C. Place all the peppers in a roasting tray and cover tightly with foil, then place in the oven for about 40 minutes, until they are softened and you can see the skin starting to wrinkle. Transfer to a bowl or another tray and cover tightly with cling film. Leave to cool.
Cured Chicken Leg with Butter Beans
This is a great way to cook a chicken leg that gets the best out of the skin by exploiting its crispy crunchy potential. I’m sure most of you will agree when I say the best part of a chicken is the crispy skin! The secret here is to lightly cure the chicken skin by sprinkling rock salt on it and leaving for about 8 hours. This draws moisture out of the skin, meaning that it goes amazingly crispy when you fry it, much the same as a confit duck leg. I make a simple spice rub with some olive oil, garlic and paprika and rub this into the flesh side. The result is amazing!
The butter bean stew is rustic and unfussy, reminiscent of a French cassoulet or a Spanish white bean stew. I’ve finished it with some fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Add a bottle of fresh white wine and you’ve got a perfect summer’s evening meal.
You’ll need to bone out the chicken leg, ideally with the skin intact, with no holes. It requires a bit of finesse. Alternatively, you could just use thighs instead, which are much easier.
- 2 large chicken legs, bones removed
- 1 tbsp coarse rock salt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
- 50g pancetta, cut into chunky lardons
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 200g dried butter beans
- 500ml chicken stock
- 2 tsp worcester sauce
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 50g chorizo, diced
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 bunch basil, leaves picked
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- vegetable oil, for frying
Take the boned out chicken legs and score the flesh side several times. This will allow the flavour of the spice rub to penetrate effectively. Take one of the cloves of garlic and crush it to a paste. Place in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika. Mix to a thick paste, then add a generous pinch of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Mix well, then rub into the flesh side of the chicken legs. Place the legs on a plate, flesh side down, then sprinkle the rock salt evenly onto the skin side. Place in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight. Place the butter beans in a bowl and generously cover with cold water. Leave to soak, also for 8 hours or overnight.
For the butter bean stew, place a large heavy based pan or casserole dish over a medium/high heat and add a couple of glugs of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the lardons and fry until lightly caramelised, then add the diced carrots along with a pinch of salt. Continue to fry over a medium/high heat until the carrots are beginning to colour. Turn the heat down to low and add the onion and garlic. Cook gently, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. The onion should be nice and soft and starting to turn sweet. Drain the butter beans thoroughly and add to the pot with the vegetables, along with the chicken stock, the remaining 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and the worcester sauce. Bring to the boil, then turn to a gentle simmer for about 1 hour, or until the beans are tender but not falling apart. They may take longer depending on how dry/old the beans are.
For the chicken, it’s a good idea to remove it from the fridge to wash the salt off and dry it about 30 minutes before you cook it. This will ensure the skin is really dry and ready to go, and it’ll also bring the meat up to temperature a bit, allowing for more even cooking. Wash the salt from the skin side of the chicken under a running tap, being careful not to wash off the paprika on the other side. Take some kitchen paper and pat the skin as dry as you can get it.
Get a large heavy based frying pan or skillet and place it over a high heat. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and when it’s hot, add the chicken, skin side down. Don’t overcrowd the pan; if it’s too small, do it in batches. Press the chicken gently to ensure the skin is lying flat, and cook like this for about 20 seconds. Now turn the heat to medium/low. Cook for about 5 minutes like this, ensuring that the heat isn’t too high. You want the skin crispy, but not black! When you can see that the flesh side is about half cooked from beneath, flip the chicken and turn the heat right down. Cook for another 4 or 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
Finish the butter bean stew by adding the balsamic vinegar and diced chorizo and stir through. To serve, put a couple of ladlefuls of the stew into each bowl, then carve the chicken into strips. Divide between the bowls, and garnish with the basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Ricotta and Herb Dumplings
A while ago I decided to try my hand at cheesemaking - as a devoted lover of cheese I think it was inevitable that I would try to make my own sooner or later. The obvious starting point for any amateur cheesemaker is ricotta. It’s the simplest of cheeses - simply add something acidic, such as lemon juice, to some milk to split it into its constituent parts, and drain. Season the resulting drained curds with some sea salt and you’re done; it’s that easy. The nice thing about ricotta is that it’s typically made with either lemon juice or vinegar, rather than rennet like most other cheeses, so you don’t need any specialist ingredients.
This dish was inspired by a recipe for a Corsican/Italian dish called strozapretti, which consists of rustic ricotta dumplings loaded with chopped fresh herbs and chard. It’s like ravioli but with just the stuffing, and no pasta surrounding it. Traditionally the dumplings would be fairly rough and imperfect in shape, but I have shaped mine nicely into rounds. I’ve also baked them in the oven until golden, which is fantastic if you grate parmesan on top first. Baked in a rich tomato sauce, it’s pretty irresistible!
The ricotta for this recipe should be quite firm, which is easy to achieve if you make your own. Click here for my own ricotta recipe. Alternatively, you can use shop-bought ricotta and drain it overnight in a fine sieve.
- 200g firm ricotta
- 80g baby spinach
- 1 small bunch of mint, leaves picked
- 1 small bunch of basil, leaves picked
- 25g parmesan, finely grated
- ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 1 egg
- 2 tins of chopped plum tomatoes
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1 sprig of thyme
- sea salt and cracked black pepper
- vegetable oil, for frying
- olive oil, for frying
Place a saute pan over a medium heat and add a little vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the spinach along with a small pinch of salt. Saute until the spinach is wilted, then drain in a sieve.
Reserve a selection of the nicest, smallest basil leaves for garnish at the end. Finely chop the mint and roughly chop the remainder of the basil, then place in a bowl. Add the ricotta, flour and egg to the bowl also.
When the spinach is cool enough to handle, with clean hands squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as possible, then roughly chop and add to the bowl with the ricotta along with a generous pinch of black pepper, and sea salt to taste.
Line a large tray with greaseproof paper, then divide the ricotta mix into equal portions. Shape each portion into an approximate ball shape and set on the tray. The balls will be quite sticky but don’t worry, we’re going to re-shape them before cooking. Place the balls in the fridge to cool for 3 hours.
Meanwhile, make your tomato sauce; heat a medium pot or saute pan over a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, once it’s hot, add the onion and garlic and a couple of pinches of salt and cracked black pepper. Sweat gently for 10 minutes until soft, then add the tomatoes and thyme. Turn the heat to low, and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes. It should have turned darker and richer. Remove from the heat and discard the sprig of thyme.
Get a large pan of water boiling on the stove and season it generously with salt. Remove the balls from the fridge and, with floured hands shape them into nice round dumpling shapes. With the water at a rolling boil, cook the dumplings 3 or 4 at a time. The water should barely stop boiling when you add each batch. After they float to the surface cook for a further 30 seconds then remove and drain in a colander.
Heat the oven to 180C. In a casserole dish or oven-proof bowl, pour in the tomato sauce and add the dumplings. Scatter over the parmesan then place in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the dumplings are lightly browned.
Garnish with the reserved basil leaves and serve.
Spaghetti Carbonara is probably my all-time favourite meal. It was one of the very first recipes I posted on Grubdaily, almost 8 years ago, and I think it’s well overdue an update. Back then I used to put cream in it, but these days I opt for a purer and more authentic approach and use the starchy pasta cooking water as a basis for the sauce instead. A lot changes in 8 years, and so has my carbonara, too. The secret to this sauce is whisking some some of the starchy cooking water into the parmesan and eggs, before adding it to the pasta and gently cooking it over a low heat until it’s thick - much the same as the technique for making egg custard, or crème anglaise.
This dish is Italian cooking at it’s best; simple, quick and with an emphasis on quality ingredients. It can be deceptively tricky to perfect however; too much heat when adding the eggs can result in scrambling them instead of gently cooking them to get the desired silky smooth sauce. If you can, get a hold of some good quality spaghetti that’s been made with a bronze die, as it’ll hold the sauce much better.
- 75g pancetta, diced into lardons
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 180g spaghetti
- 2 generous pinches of cracked black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 30g parmesan, finely grated
- sea salt
- olive oil
Get a large pan of water boiling to cook the pasta in. Add a couple of generous pinches of salt.
In a frying pan or sauté pan, heat a glug of olive oil and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the diced pancetta and fry until lightly caramelised. Turn the heat to low and add the chopped garlic, along with a pinch of cracked black pepper. Cook gently for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic, then remove from the heat and set aside.
Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes less than it says on the packet’s instructions. This is because after draining the pasta we’re going to heat it again as we make the sauce, so it’ll continue to cook.
While the pasta is cooking, start to prepare for the sauce; place the eggs and egg yolks into a jug or bowl and add most of the finely grated parmesan (leaving some for garnish at the end), along with a small pinch of sea salt.
When the pasta is about 2 minutes away, drain it over another jug or bowl, making sure you reserve about 200ml of water. Whisk the eggs and cream together to make a thick paste, then pour about 4-5 tablespoons of the pasta water in, while still whisking. Now add the pancetta and garlic, pasta and egg mixture back into the pasta pan and place over a medium-low heat. Add about 100ml more of the pasta water and, using a plastic spatula, stir continuously, scraping the bottom of the pan until it’s the texture of custard. Be very careful not to overheat it as the eggs will scramble. If it gets too thick, add a little more water - you should have a nice sauce consistency that just clings to the pasta.
Divide into pasta bowls, garnish with the remaining parmesan and eat immediately.