Saturday, 28 February 2009

Jme - get it?

The Jamie Oliver juggernaut rolls on. The first of his new chain of Recipease (get it?) food and kitchen shops has just opened near London’s Clapham Junction.

Beyond the girly pink shop-front fascia, piles of Jamie Magazine, Habitat-style “Jme” (get it?) kitchen paraphernalia and £12 trays of ginger and orange Belgian chocolate brownies there is an open kitchen where punters can drop in and cook up their supper to take home. It’s mostly simple homely fare on the menu such as fish pie, mega mozzarella meatballs and rogan josh and there are knife skills classes (

It’s not a new idea. The Kitchen in Parsons Green has been helping budding Jamies to prepare a week’s worth of meals in one session for more than a year now. With an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, home cooks can try their hand at the likes of sweet and sour Gloucester old spot pork belly with runner beans, organic salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes, free-range Thai green chicken curry and winter fruit crumble (

The bonus about both places: no washing up after cooking.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Champagne popping rhubarb

This weekend, a food festival in Wakefield celebrates the candle-lit world of champagne rhubarb with a snap, crackle and pop.

Each winter, a small community of farms in Yorkshire’s "Rhubarb Triangle", transfers acres of rhubarb plants by hand into long, dark nursery sheds to be "forced". They grow at an accelerated rate in the light-free hothouses, which are so completely silent you can hear the "pop" as the buds of new stalks burst open. From mid-February workers harvest armfuls of stalks by candlelight to preserve the younger stems that are still growing.

The harvested stalks are tender, sweet, and a distinctive bright pink in colour with tiny curled yellow leaves that make forced rhubarb instantly recognisable. Known as champagne rhubarb it is a seasonal delicacy and is dearer than its more fibrous and bitter outdoor equivalent.

Chefs have long championed rhubarb as a versatile ingredient that works as well with savoury dishes as it does as humble crumble filling. Its sharp-yet-sweetness makes it an ideal companion for high-fat meats such as duck and oily fish.

For more information on rhubarb walks and candlelit tours visit

Friday, 20 February 2009

Seville oranges

In the depths of winter, citrus fruit from the northern hemisphere is at its best adding colour, vitamins and energy to the kitchen.

Bitter Seville oranges are a seasonal treat most commonly used for making marmalade. This is partly because their high acidity makes an ideal setting power for preserves. But the fragrant zest and sharp juice of these tough-skinned non-eaters also works well instead of lemons in many recipes.

Add a squeeze to make a tangy salad dressing with grilled chicken and crushed walnuts or a classic sauce blended with port to mitigate the richness of roast duck.

Or try it as an alternative to lime juice in ceviche, South American-style super fresh seafood marinated in citrus juices. Queen scallops bask beautifully in Seville orange juice, shaved onions, coriander, chilli and salt. Savour them with an Argentinian Susana Balbo Crios Torrontes 2007 Cafayate Salta (£8.75;, a honeyed white with crisp acidity and a creamy finish.

The organisers of the rather grandly named The World’s Original Marmalade Festival held earlier this month at Dalemain House, in Cumbria ( have compiled their own Recipes with a Citrus Twist book that features 80 zesty dishes made with Seville oranges, lemons, or limes. Try a slice of almond and orange cake drizzled with marmalade syrup served with a Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambre, Roussillon, France (£7.99, Tesco). The dessert wine’s spicy notes of caramelised oranges add depth to the cake’s flavours.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Purple patch for sprouting broccoli

The poetically named purple sprouting broccoli and its trendy acronym psb are not an invention of the pr industry to boost the flagging brassica family.

A rare yield from the late winter garden this seasonal super-veg packed with iron, calcium and vitamins A and C has been available to buy for about 30 years in Britain.

Psb is particularly good when young and tender. Look for stems that are snappy not bendy. Ultra fresh stalks can be washed and dipped in hoummous.

Simply steamed or boiled for a few minutes and served with lemon juice and butter, psb goes well with most white fish and meat. Try it for brunch with a plate of Iberian ham and soft boiled duck's eggs or mixed in a classic Southern Italian pasta dish with chilli, garlic, anchovies and a splash of the best olive oil money can buy. The slender spears are ideal for a stir fry cooked with ginger and sesame oil and added to quinoa or Thai curry style with rice noodles.

Dates in your food diary

A Middle Eastern staple, glossy dates in a box stuck to a stem and dusted in sugar are a classic Christmas extra.

The fruit of a date palm or Tree of Life, dates keep well for several months (which is just as well in many cases). Fresh and dried dates can look very similar and are both sweet and rich with a chewy, sticky texture.

Of the 350 or so varieties the Medjool date is known as the “king of dates” and was once reserved for Moroccan royalty and their guests. Medjool dates are deep amber-brown and have a slightly crinkly skin. They taste of toffee, wild honey and a hint of cinnamon.
Like many delicacies, Medjools are pricey because their cultivation is a complex and labour-intensive process.

Stuff them with walnuts for a snack or chop them into a bright winter salad with endive and orange segments; add dates to roasted butternut squash with cinnamon and toasted almonds, or make an apple, date and ginger chutney to go with a festive cheeseboard. The Leon cookbook has a recipe for a date and banana smoothie made with Greek yoghurt and string bark honey.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Return of the turnips

It’s been a long, slow journey for the turnip from cattle fodder to gourmet ingredient. This versatile, good value vegetable is still nowhere near as popular as fellow roots squash, pumpkin and parsnips but chefs are on the look out for different varieties of small, young turnips of the sort cultivated in France.

These are usually globe shaped with a creamy complexion and a hint of purple. They have a sweet but mustardy flavour that intensifies with cooking. Mature turnips are available now as opposed to the baby ones of early summer.

Try cooking them whole like roast potatoes, pan-fried and served with duck or lamb, or caramelised in honey and butter. Alternatively use them as the main root ingredient in a dish of Gordon Brown’s thrifty favourite: rumbledethumps.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Chocolate for a chilli day

Like tea and sausages, chocolate is one of the most prolific artisan products available at any food fair or deli. To sift out the quality from the Quality Streets and promote a greater awareness between fine chocolate and mass-produced confectionery the grandly named Academy of Chocolate was set up in 2005 by five of Britain’s leading chocolate professionals.

The academy’s annual awards have just been announced and the winner of the “Golden Bean” is… Amedei No.9, an Italian chocolate bar made with 75 per cent cocoa solids. This Super Tuscan of the chocolate world blends and refines beans from nine cocoa plantations to make a strong and balanced dark chocolate with expressive flavours ranging from cherry and molasses to blueberry and coffee.

On the homefront, William Curley scooped six gold awards, including the best UK chocolatier, for the delicately crafted chocs he sells from his shop in Richmond, in south-west London. Curley excelled in the filled chocolate category with praise for his toasted sesame, Japanese black vinegar and rosemary and olive oil chocolates.

Other winners included Amano from Utah, French chocolate houses Valrhona and Pralus, London based Paul Wayne Gregory and Sir Hans Sloane, and regional companies Chococo, in Swanage, and Co Couture, in Northern Ireland.

The cold snap is a perfect excuse to drink hot chocolate.

It was the Aztecs who first made cocoa beans into a bitter-tasting hot drink flavoured with chilli, and the Spaniards who sweetened it with sugar and vanilla.

When cocoa butter is removed from chocolate liquor it creates a fine, bitter-tasting cocoa powder. These days, there are no excuses for not buying Fair Trade cocoa powder with plenty of options available from Divine to Green & Black’s Organic.

For a taste of the original Aztec-style drinking chocolate, try Hotel Chocolat’s Aztec Chilli Liquid Chocolat flavour (just add milk to the flakes) or the Chocolate Society’s Valrhona dark drinking chocolate with chilli ( Both have a mouth-warming kick absent from the average cup of cocoa.

There are more flavours on offer at Hotel Chocolat’s in-store Concept Café on High Street Kensington in London. Hot liquid chocolate is served in jugs with china cups and long handled spoons. Choose from six flavours including wintry praline with a tingle of cinnamon and seasonal Valencia oranges (

Thursday, 12 February 2009


Like rhubarb at this time of year, Italian radicchio is a forced crop that has distinctive claret and white leaves. The less light the vegetable has seen the deeper the red coloured tips of the leaf. It has a strong, bittersweet taste and is related to the chicory family. These “bitter principles” are said to be beneficial to the liver.

Shaped like a pert mini cabbage, it’s mainly used in salads where its tart flavour and crisp texture contrasts well with milder leaves such as rocket. Look out for the seasonal Tardivo variety of Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, which has locally protected status and comes from a small town in North-East Italy.

The tougher winter leaves and the heads can be grilled, braised with balsamic vinegar or shredded and wilted into pasta or risotto. The bitterness of radicchio nicely complements both sweet and creamy ingredients. Try baked figs, goat’s cheese and radicchio or penne with pancetta, mascarpone and radicchio.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Cavolo Nero

Like so many ingredients that have reached our dining tables via pioneering Italophiles such as Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of London’s River Café, the Italians have been eating cavolo nero (black cabbage) for donkey’s years. What’s more they don’t make a fuss about it. We say superfood, they say versatile yet tasty vegetable.

Unlike cabbage, Cavolo nero, also known as Tuscan kale, does not form a head, but is made up instead of long, loose dark green leaves. A British variety, which we could call “Lincolnshire kale”, is now being grown in the fertile, loamy soil of this country.

Like cabbage, the leaves should be boiled or steamed for about five minutes and dressed while warm with peppery oils with chilli, garlic and anchovies. It’s delicious in classic soups such as ribollita, which is traditionally left to thicken for a day before serving to intensify the flavours, tossed through pasta with speck, or served with slow-cooked meaty winter dishes.

For more recipes visit