Spaghetti with mussels

I’m tiring of the format, reporting how many centimes I’ve spent on garlic and whatnot, so I expect everybody else is too. Instead I’m going to cost dishes from time to time.

Eat seasonally.

It is the mussel season here. I always buy mussels from Globus, having had a dreadful experience at Manor. It’s the old story, you get what you pay for. At Globus the sign may say 15.90CHF/100g for mussels, but it does mean 15.90CHF/kg. So that’s alright then. They are cheaper than truffles.

Today we had them like this.

Spaghetti with mussels

Ingredients for two

200-250g dry weight spaghetti
500g mussels (a generous quantity, it could certainly feed 3, 4 at a pinch)
garlic finely chopped
shallots finely chopped
fresh chillies finely chopped: I used 3 bird’s eye
100-200g good quality tomatoes seeded and slivered
spring onion green tops snipped into small rounds
olive oil for cooking
up to 1 cup of dry white wine

Method

While the spaghetti is boiling, clean the mussels, discard any that are open.

Heat the oil and gently fry the garlic, shallots and chilli until softened. Raise the heat, add the wine and let the alcohol burn off. Add the tomatoes and leave on a low heat, get all those flavours mingling.

1-2 minutes before the spaghetti is cooked, raise the heat to high, throw in the mussels along with the small amount of liquid that will have accumulated with them. Put a lid on the pan. While they are bubbling away, drain the spaghetti – I don’t do this too thoroughly as the whole thing probably needs a little more liquid still. Throw the spaghetti into the pot with the mussel sauce, stir thoroughly, turn off the heat.

Serve with the spring onion scattered on top. You need a bowl for shells and, if you are being posh, finger bowls, it’s a fingery sort of dish.

It is SO good! If you can’t get good tomatoes, consider something more like a vodka cream sauce. Might report on that another day.

Cost:

mussels 8
spaghetti 1.50
wine 1
tomatoes 2
sundries 1

Total 13.50

Definitely an extravagance, but worth every penny and as I said, the two of us could have made do less mussels without feeling the least hard done by.

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Fish cakes as the English have them.

Boys love this. Surely that’s evidence of intelligent design, how easy it is to keep boys happy.

Fishcakes

Ingredients for two

A smallish tin of tuna in oil preferably, but drained
2 largish potatoes
Thai fish sauce
Lemon rind finely chopped or grated
Freshly ground pepper. Salt if you please: it might depend on the tuna.

For the crumbs:

Flour in a flat-bottomed bowl
A beaten egg
Dry breadcrumbs, preferably made yourself, honestly, it’s worth it.

Method

Peel the potatoes and chop, then boil until cooked.
Mash and thoroughly mix in the other ingredients. The fish sauce is imperative.

When cool, pick up a handful or so and flatten a little. Cover with flour, then egg and lastly dry breadcrumbs.

Cooking: heat butter, ghee or olive oil in a pan. Don’t be mean with it, enough to make the crumbs happy – they love fat. Fry until golden brown on both sides.

There just isn’t a way to serve seafood with vegetables except potato, of course, so that’s it. A few of them on each plate and serve.

Feel good food for any time.

Prawns with cocktail sauce

One of the things I’ve been doing in excess while in Australia is the devouring of South Australian king prawns. This is a favourite way.

Rick Stein’s cocktail sauce it is the only way I drink whiskey and I really do mean drink. I can stand at the fridge, door open, shovelling this into my mouth. If you happen to have prawns about, so much the better.

Ingredients for sauce:

* 4 tbsp mayonnaise
* 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
* 2 tbsp single malt whiskey
* 4 tbsp natural, unsweetened yoghurt

Mix the above and serve with prawns.

I buy green king prawns and cook them myself: a large pan of water to a good rolling boil, toss in the prawns, they will rise to the top and be pink after a couple of minutes or so. Quickly plunge into cold iced water and then chill until needed.

If you are serving this formally in glass bowls with salad leaves underneath and prawns mixed into the sauce, then I guess you shell them. If you are simply serving the prawns as a free for all fight, maybe best not to shell them, this is probably supposed to be part of the fun of the dish.

One of my favourite Christmas Day dishes for when I’m in the climate God surely intended for that occasion.

The one the restaurants always get wrong

Manny looked a bit sad when I told him what lunch was, and I can’t say as I blame him. It’s the dish restaurants always make so badly you can’t even believe it. You order it several times at several places thinking this time will be better, but eventually you wise up.

Spaghetti with smoked salmon sauce

Ingredients

butter
Shallots, finely chopped
Garlic, finely chopped
white wine
cream
spring onion green part cut into small rounds
smoked salmon
parmesan for those that must

Method

While the spaghetti is cooking:

In a wok, gently fry the shallots and garlic in the butter until soft. Increase heat, add wine and vigorously reduce. Turn down heat and add cream. When the spaghetti is cooked, add to the sauce along with the salmon and toss thoroughly.

Serve with the spring onion rounds on top and lashings of freshly ground black pepper. Best practice, in my opinion, is for everybody to have their own pepper grinder.

Livers I have eaten

Lunch yesterday was fois gras spread on toast and a salad of rocket, pear and pecan. Not that I disliked it, but I suspect I must be too peasantine to appreciate liver presented as a product.

More to my taste was a dish I had in Finsbury Park a few weeks ago at Season Kitchen, which describes itself as modern British. Most of us had pheasant for our main course, but I began with a mixture of livers, duck and chicken. That was almost all there was to the dish. They were cooked not quite whole, but in chunky pieces, very plainly and acceptably timed. It’s hard for a restaurant to cook liver correctly as in general they need to err on the side of over-cooked, this being what the average diner is prepared for, not to mention, in the distance it takes to get from pan to table it is still cooking and those few seconds can make all the difference. I want my liver to be soft, but not bloody…

…and to be frank, I want it dead, which was not quite how I had it in Japan a few years ago. I appreciate the Japanese insistence on freshness, but may there not be some trust in the transaction between chef and customer? Here the liver we ate was from a squid which had been chopped in the kitchen but was still alive as it was cooked in front of us and even when it was on our plates. Like it hadn’t put the pieces together yet: I guess it was the squid equivalent of a still-live but headless chook.

At any rate, a fairly plain way to have liver which I can’t cook at the moment because Globus has stopped selling chicken livers and I know not where else to acquire them in Geneva, is this Italian style. I wrote it up a while ago here.

spaghetti with salmon and basil

Just one of those infinite variations….this is a summer one too.

While spaghetti is boiling:

Prepare and combine gently in olive oil slivered and seeded small tomatoes, garlic, shallots. Add a small tin of salmon with its liquid. Throw in basil that has been washed and torn into smaller pieces, mix.

Basil now or later? The jury's out.
Basil now or later? The jury’s out.

I like to keep this sort of dish fairly wet and spoon the spaghetti into it when it is still a little too hard, let it soak in those lovely tomatoey, garlicy, shalloty, fishy, oily juices. Stir for a few minutes while this is happening. It may be better to put in the basil right at the very end. I remain undecided.

Keep stirring to make sure the spaghetti cooks evenly since it is a little undercooked at this point.
Keep stirring to make sure the spaghetti cooks evenly since it is a little undercooked at this point.

Serve with optional parmesan.

Salmon and basil are a happy union.
Salmon and basil are a happy union.

Wonton soup

My Totally Fabulous (if I do say so myself) Wonton Soup

Wonton soup
Wonton soup

Ingredients for about 30 wontons

Packet of circular wonton wrappers (square will do)
100g pork fillet very finely chopped
6 king prawns very finely chopped – keep the shell heads for the stock (see later)
2 more prawns per serve of soup, peeled and left whole
dash of Tamari soy sauce
“ “ rice vinegar
“ “ sake
“ “ chilli oil
“ “ sesame oil
generous pinch caster sugar
crushed/very finely chopped ginger
2 spring onion whites very finely chopped
a little cornflour

Options: coriander, waterchestnuts, dried soaked shitake mushrooms

Wonton soup ingredients
Wonton soup ingredients

Method:

The idea is to make this a very fine, but not minced mixture. I guess if you are the sort of person who’d rather whack it all in a food processor and hope for the best, so be it. Mix all the above ingredients thoroughly.

I trim the wonton wrappers so they are somewhat smaller than the original size. You want them to be one-mouthful size. Place one small teaspoon of mixture in the middle of the wrapper. Wet the inside edges with water and twist shut. Place on greaseproof paper on a flat oven tray. Freeze flat on tray before storing in a bag – they won’t stick once frozen. Don’t forget to move them from the tray, they don’t take long to freeze enough to move. Of course, you may wish to use some or all of them fresh. I like to make a lot and freeze them as the basis of a number of great soups where the lion’s share of the work is already done.

Stock:

To chicken stock, either your own or good shop bought, add the prawn heads, boil for a few minutes, strain, put the strained stock back in the pot and add some tamari, sesame oil, a couple of slices of ginger and some bruised lemon grass. Simmer for a while and then strain.

Elegant soup, or do as I say, not as I do:

About 6 wontons, 6 baby bok choy leaves left whole, a small quantity of udon noodles. Garnish with the whole prawns. In Japanese fashion, make the soup bowls look neat. Having brought the stock to a simmer, add the noodles and they really need only to be heated through. Take out, place on the bottom of each bowl. Now add the wontons to the stock, which will take maybe a couple of minutes to cook if fresh, longer if frozen. Like dumplings, when they rise to the surface they are cooked. Place neatly on top of the noodles, quickly blanch the green leaves, neatly place on one side of the wontons, and then a couple of minutes for the prawns. Place them, perhaps as the centre piece, and gently add stock to each bowl taking care to keep everything neat.

This is a lovely soup, an every day soup – hard to tire of. And, once the wontons are made, which takes an hour or more, the rewards pay off over a number of meals. It’s a no-brainer. It’s fun making your own and MUCH nicer than shop bought, even hand-made shop bought.

I serve this in large Chinese/Japanese bowls with chopsticks and ceramic spoons.