Roast 5 Spice Pork Belly With Spicy Kale Stir Fry

hinese pork belly and kale stir fry

So how has dry January been everyone? I have conscientiously abstained this year as I find little more comforting during the British winter than a good pub with good ale. Throw in some warm bar snacks and we have ourselves a key weapon in the fight again the post-Christmas Blues. Also, more exercise, fewer carbs, starting a new hobby and even more exercise, but the point stands.

This time last year however, I was getting to the end of a month spent free from meat, other than the type which comes out the water and to the very day a year ago, starved of inspiration and protein, I caved in and made a dish with oxtails in it. Sigh.

To mark this significant achievement therefore, I made this lovingly for all the carnivorous detoxers out there – a kind of porcine carrot on a stick to see you through the last few days until all the good work is undone with a whacking great burger.

In fairness only a third of this dish has questionable health benefits and wouldn’t you know, it’s the tastiest bit. It borrows heavily from my earlier post about roast pork belly but this time it’s getting the 5 spice treatment. The night before, the pork was rubbed with 5 spice before being braised in a cooking liquor of garlic, ginger, chicken stock and soy sauce for 3 hours covered with some tightly fitting foil. Then, it’s oven off and leave it alone until the morning. As before, you may want to remove the foil and replace with cling film before transferring to the fridge if you intend to have this for dinner, to be on the safe side.

I heartily recommend a layer of baking parchment between the pork and the foil as the salt in the stock can attack the aluminium, discolouring anything it touches.

As ever, finish the stir fry off last and have everything chopped and ready to go or much cursing generally ensues. I used kale here, primarily as I had it in the fridge, but it works well with the chilli. The only other aspect was the plain boiled rice to serve it with.

Lastly, you’ll have to take my word about the sauce being there, I put it under the pork so as not to ruin the carefully crisped skin….

Serves 2

  •  750g/1.6lb pork belly
  • 1 tbsp five spice
  • 500ml/2cups chicken stock
  • Good dash of soy
  • 4 garlic cloves, whole
  • 8 slices of ginger, don’t bother peeling.

To finish the sauce:

  • 1 tbsp hoisin
  • 1 tbsp honey

For the stir fry:

  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • Chilli flakes, as much as you like
  • 3 small peppers, cut into thin rings
  • 2 to 3 handfuls of sliced mushroom.
  • 6 handfuls of kale
  • Soy sauce or salt to taste
  • Oil for frying

Boiled rice

Place the pork in a tightly fitting tray and add the garlic, soy, ginger and chicken stock. Cover with a layer of baking parchment, tightly seal with foil and roast in the oven at around 150°C/ 300°F for 3 hours. After this, turn the oven off and go to bed (or go out for the day) – don’t open the oven or remove the foil.

When ready to cook, remove the pork (keep the cooking liquor – see below) and dry with kitchen paper, cut into nice squares and fry it in an oven proof hot frying pan, skin side down, to crisp up. Turn the pork over to colour each side then place it, skin side up in the oven.

A this point I placed the pan at the bottom of the oven and use the grill to crisp the skin properly and warm thoroughly (80°C 175°F should do it). Once done, leave to rest with some more foil over it.

Skin crisped, ready to go.

Skin crisped, ready to go.

Meanwhile, boil some white long grain rice in a pan, I use the absorption method.

In a small pan, pour in about half the cooking liquor and heat to reduce a little (unless you added too much soy, it shouldn’t be too salty). Stir in the hoisin and honey and whisk well. Keep warm.

Finally, chop the vegetables ready to go. Place a little oil into a very hot wok and stir in the mushroom and peppers and chilli flakes for 1 minute, moving it all the time. Add the kale and garlic and stir fry for a couple minutes more. Season with a little more soy, or salt if you prefer.

Spicy kale stir fry


Grilled Chicken, Roast Vegetables and Tahini Dressing.

Grilled chicken tahini dressing

You may remember a daytime quiz show on TV called Supermarket Sweep, or Dale’s Supermarket Sweep as it was known in the UK to acknowledge the camp Quiz Meister himself. Sadly overlooked at the BAFTAs throughout its lifetime it was well loved by the unemployed, those with sick notes and students. It also conveniently fell after ‘This Morning’ and before Countdown. Epic daytime scheduling.

Of course these days I work for myself and as such sick notes are a distant memory, as are my student days but I seem to remember the basic premise was to reach the final where the contestants sprinted around a mock supermarket filling a trolley with as much as possible at some point. Wiki reliably informs me however, this was the ‘Big Sweep’, building to a crescendo with the awe inspiring ‘Super Sweep’.

The reason for my rambling is that this dish was born from a typical mid-week ‘Big Sweep’ shop. No meal planning, no due regard for use-by dates, I just grabbed anything remotely interesting, swiped the club card and got out of there.

And so, after returning home and getting tutted at for forgetting, once again,  to buy anything dessert related, this roast vegetable dish was constructed from the results of my ‘sweep’.

It’s fairly near-East in style so maybe I had a subconscious plan but aside from a little chopping and flattening, it was very easy to do. This also means it’s eminently adjustable if you wish.

The tahini nicely offset the sweet butternut squash and peppers, but then millions of people around the Mediterranean Sea knew that already. I added Chorizo to balance the dish out and it worked nicely too.

Serves 4

  • 4 small or 2 large chicken breasts.
  • Olive oil
  • 2 x 1 tsp chilli flakes (one for the vegetables, one for the chicken)
  • 1 tbsp za’tar
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1 large red onion
  • 4 inch piece of Chorizo (or similar), diced quite finely
  • Small handful of seeds to finish (I used sunflower seeds)
  • Salt & Pepper

For the dressing:

  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Small squeeze lemon

Preheat the oven to 190°C/380°F.

Start by flattening the chicken into thin escalopes. If using large chicken breasts, halve them through the middle first.

Flattened chicken breast

Season the chicken with salt pepper and 1 tsp of chilli flakes and brush with the some of the oil. Leave aside for now.

Slice the butternut squash into 1 inch/2.5cm cubes and chop the onion and pepper into large chunky pieces. Place the vegetables (leave the garlic whole) with the Chorizo into a tight fitting tray and pour over enough olive oil to coat well. Add the Za’tar and mix once more. Season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes and roast in a fairly hot oven (190°C/380°F) with foil on for about 20 minutes.

Roast vegetables with za'tar

Remove the foil and roast for another 15-20 minutes until the butter nut squash is tender and the veg has some nice crisp edges.

Meanwhile – mix the tahini dressing by combining the ingredients in a small lidded container and shake well.

Lastly, get a griddle pan smoking hot and cook each piece of chicken until nicely barred on each side. They should only take minutes each if thin enough.

Serve the chicken on the vegetables (remove the garlic unless you want it). Drizzle over the tahini dressing and then the seeds.

 Grilled chicken with roast vegetables and tahini dressing

The Beef Wellington Burger

Beef Wellington Burger

Traditionally this time of year, a lot of folks join gyms and diet-classes and deprive themselves of all the good things eaten over the festive period with a view to maybe squeezing in the bikini or trunks (God help us) this summer. Well good for everyone, healthy and home cooked food will always get a big thumbs up from me.

That said, we all still need a bit of indulgence and I’d guess that this fits the bill pretty well. Using up some left over pate, cheddar and pickled red cabbage this is a kind of deconstructed beef wellington and a big nod to the recent holidays. It works together beautifully well together of course so do try it.

Makes two “quarter pounder” sized burgers:

  • 250g or 1/2 lb good minced/ground steak with some fat in, don’t use lean.
  • 1 large tomato, thickly sliced
  • 2 tbsp or so of pate (I used wild boar and mushroom)
  • Salad leaves
  • Pickled red cabbage
  • 2 handfuls of mature Cheddar
  • 2 burger buns
  • Salt and pepper

Add to the mince about a quarter a tsp of salt and a good twist of black pepper per burger. Mix well but gently with your hands so as not to ‘mush’ the mince too much.

Make into rounds and leave in the fridge to set. You might want to fry off a bit of the mixture to test the seasoning….

Griddle or grill the burgers until just done – I love them pink when I can get hold of good (or better still make my own) minced beef. Use a griddle pan to toast the buns a little with some nice char marks:

Burger buns

Then simply melt the cheese on and stack the burger up. Simple pleasures eh?

Warm Pheasant Salad

Warm Pheasant Salad

Happy New Year to you all!

I recently commented on a post by Mad Dog following his recipe for pheasant curry. I rarely eat it to be honest, but my folks back down in Worcestershire have a seemingly never ending supply. Local hunters on shoots struggle to get rid of the carcasses as there’s no commercial value to them it seems (there’s no ‘traceability’ in order to sell them on).

 On top of that, few people have the confidence (or stomach) to prepare them themselves and so don’t take them. It’s a crying shame as its such a nice lean free-range meat and not so ‘gamey’ meaning it could appeal to a wide range of people. You just have to keep an eye out for shot and feathers pulled into the meat.

 We visited over the Christmas holidays and they had a brace out the back (a male and female). Although dad prepares the whole bird, with there being little meat on the legs and depending on how much they have, he often simply cuts out the breast meat which can be done in minutes with a sharp knife. It may be frozen until needed.

I bought some fresh and frozen pheasant back with me and my first thought was this recipe. It’s one of my favourite warm salad dishes by the excellent Rick Stein. I don’t normally do recipes, rather take inspiration, but this is pretty faithful to the original book, so credit is due. I’m sure there’s something that can be done to tweak it further, but it’s so good, I don’t bother! The oven dried tomatoes were my addition though and adds a lovely sweetness.

I strongly urge the use of a thermometer as the pheasant can be overcooked easily and quickly! You want them to be just done (60-65°C) – a sous vide would be ideal for this, but that will be a purchase for another day..

Pheasant breast

I generally use ‘peppery’ salad leaves as they work best and tend to get the mixed bags as there’s little waste that way.

 Serves 2

  • 2 pheasant breasts, trimmed of any fat.
  • Oil for frying
  • 2 streaky bacon or pancetta rashers, sliced
  • 1/2 large or 1 normal red onion finely sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 3 small floury potatoes (King Edwards/Maris Piper etc etc)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Mixed salad leaves – I used spinach rocket and watercress
  • 2 large tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper

Start with the tomatoes: sprinkle the halves with some sea salt and pepper and place on a tray in a preheated oven (180°C/ 350°F) for 15-20 minutes until wilted. Leave to keep warm.

Turn the heat down to keep the food warm only.

Slice the potatoes fairly thinly and sauté in a little salt until crisp and golden on each side – about 10 minutes. You may want to do this in batches in a smaller pan as they need to be in a single layer. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm. If you can – try and do this at the same time as the meat so they remain crispy.

Saute potatoes

Add about a tablespoon of oil to a very hot pan and fry the bacon. Push to one side and add the pheasant breasts. Season with a little salt and pepper. If they are small, they will pan fry in a just a few minutes so keep the thermometer handy.

Leave the bacon in the pan but set aside the pheasant in the warm oven to rest.

Add a little more oil if needed and fry the garlic and onion. Deglaze with the red wine vinegar and turn the heat off.

Arrange the salad on a plate with the sliced pheasant and spoon over the warm onion dressing. Beautiful winter dish!

Warm Pheasant Salad

Cider Braised Pig Cheek and Bean Stew

Cider braised pork cheeks and beans

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!

I had the pleasure of cooking for ten of us again this year and once again we had turkey from the excellent Northumberland Free Range Poultry Farm. It’s almost as good going out to fetch it as eating it in fact being a lovely part of the country. But today, turkey sandwich aside, I really did feel like something…well…else really.

The obligatory leftover turkey sandwich - with pickled cabbage and sausage stuffing on black pudding bread

The obligatory leftover turkey sandwich – with pickled cabbage and sausage stuffing on black pudding bread

Being a beautiful day, we went out for a much needed walk to the beach to watch the hardy souls take part in the Boxing Day dip. It’s something of an increasingly popular tradition  in coastal towns, at least round our way and involves running in various states of (fancy) dress into the North Sea which is pretty cold at any time of year to be honest. Looked good fun though and no doubt a fair bit was raised for charity so kudos to them.

Good for them!

Good for them!

Before we set off, I started this slow cooked dish – pig cheeks braised in good cider, with Chorizo, and cannellini beans. Full of flavour, great to come into after a cold walk and, if you trim the pork, relatively fat free. Not a bad thing at this time of year…

Serves 2:

  • 500g/1lb of pork cheeks
  • Oil
  • 1 bottle of good quality cider.
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • About 50g Chorizo, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • About 400ml/14fl oz stock or water
  • 80g/3oz cannellini (or haricot) beans
  • Salt

Simply trim the pig cheeks and brown in an oiled casserole pot (in batches) to get good colour, remove and set aside. Stir in the onion, chorizo and garlic and fry until soft. Add a little cider to deglaze the pan then return the pig cheeks and add the beans. Top up with the remaining cider and water or stock. Put a lid on and bring to a simmer.

Add the bay leaves then slowly cook in a cool oven or on the lowest hob setting you have to simmer for at least two hours, mine was in for three. I removed the lid for a bit when I got back in to reduce the stew a bit.

Taste and season if needed, then sit down and watch a decent movie.

Braised pork cheek and bean stew



Goan Style Prawn Curry

Goan Style Prawn Curry

I’m often back in late and this is another one of my go-to dishes being quick, simple yet delicious. Much like myself really. It’s a Goan style curry that uses the brilliant combination of Indian spice, coconut milk and large prawns to serve up big flavours in a relatively light dish.

Don’t hold back with the oil, it’s the secret to eking out the flavour of the spices, but make sure you dry roast the first whole spices if you use them. It doesn’t take long with a coffee grinder and it’s really worth it as ready ground spices do lose flavour fairly quickly once open.

I’d normally use green chilli in this dish, for the flavour as much as the heat, but chilli powder works if not. I’m not sure how authentic the spinach is but it adds a lovely, slightly bitter taste and some much needed vitamins and iron, so it goes in. You can add a twist of lemon at the end too if you like, it cuts through the richness a bit.

Lastly, I used frozen (but thawed) raw prawns as there’s always a bag of them in the freezer. I urge to use fresh if you can, but like me this evening, if needs must…

  • 3-4 tbsp oil
  • 4 garlic cloves very finely chopped
  • Thumb sized piece of ginger, very finely chopped or grated
  • 1 whole green chilli. More if you like it hot
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp whole mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seed (1tsp ground) 
  • 2 tbsp whole coriander seed (2tsp ground)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp garam masalla
  • 300g/11oz prawns, raw. Fresh if you can
  • 4 large handfuls spinach
  • 400g/14oz can of good coconut milk
  • Salt and a little lemon juice (if using)
  • Handful of chopped coriander

Plain basmati rice to serve

Dry roast the spices (except the mustard seed) in a pan for a minute or two. Don’t burn them or they taste bitter and horrible. Place into a spice mill, or a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.

Start the rice. I use the absorption method (twice the amount of salted boiling water to rice in a shallow pan, lid on, simmered for 15 minutes until the water is gone).

Add the oil to a deep pan and fry the onion for a minute, then the garlic, ginger and whole mustard seed for a few minutes more.

Frying onion ginger mustard seed

Stir in the powdered spices and fry to release the oils. Lastly, throw in the prawns and coat well until pink all over, using little water if needed, or if it begins to burn.

Prawns frying goan curry

Add the coconut milk and reduce to thicken slightly on a high heat for 5 minutes or so (depending on the heat). For the last couple of them, stir in the spinach and the garam masala. Turn off the heat to ‘rest’ and add the coriander. Season to taste. Add a twist of lemon if you like to add some sharpness.

Serve it in a bowl with the rice in front of the TV with your feet up…..

Goan Prawn Curry

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat’s Cheese

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat's Cheese

I recently wrote about seasonal food and the urge for all things rich and hearty at this time of year. Well I seem to have taken this to heart a little too enthusiastically of late having stocked up on my fair share of slow roast pork, beef stews and lamb shanks.

So as my waistline goes in search of the limits of my last belt notch and Christmas, that famous period of ‘fasting’, just around the corner I thought I’d make something else; something healthier. There is nothing elaborate about this dish, the ingredients are cheap and easily obtained and so I urge you to give it a try. My only recommendation is that if you think you haven’t made enough, you have – this is pretty filling.

The secret of this is the balance of flavour with its sweet butternut squash and onions, salty/lemony goat’s cheese, roasted hazelnuts, and earthy thyme. I got some good quality goat’s cheese for this and it’s worth it, avoid the cheaper supermarket feta style cheese if you can.

I used a chicken stock for this, as I had some knocking about in the fridge, but you could easily use vegetable stock of course. I may try this again one day with some game bird though, I reckon it’d work beautifully.

Butternut squash barley risotto ingredients

 Serves two/three:

  • Half a butternut squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • Knob of butter
  • A little olive oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
  • 100g pearl barley
  • 500ml stock, chicken or vegetable
  • About 60g (2oz) good quality goats cheese
  • Small squeeze of lemon to taste, or if needed
  • A generous handful of skinned hazelnuts
  • Salt
  • Chopped parsley or a little mint leaf to finish

Heat the stock until almost boiling.

Heat the butter/some oil in a pan and cook the garlic until golden coloured. Stir in the barley and coat well.

Add a good ladle of the stock and stir well. Once nearly gone, add the rest of the stock – don’t worry this isn’t like a regular risotto, your really only looking to cook the grains. Place a lid on and allow to cook until softened but with a little bite – about 45 minutes.

Whilst cooking, soften the onion in a little more oil in a pan with a pinch of salt. Turn off the heat and add the thyme to gently heat.

Red onion & thyme

For the last 10 minute or so of cooking the barley, add the onion/thyme and butternut squash cubes so as they’re just done. Remove the butternut squash  and set aside if they are cooked but the barley isn’t – they need a little bite. Taste and carefully correct with a little lemon juice if needed, don’t go overboard.

Wipe the pan used for the onion clean and dry roast the hazelnuts until well coloured.

Place the barley risotto in a bowl and crumble over the goats cheese and hazelnuts.

Finish with some chopped parsley or mint, then completely blow away your good intentions by having a large glass of Chardonnay with it. Cheers!

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat's Cheese

Raby Hunt Inspired Roast Pork Belly with Celeriac and Fennel Puree

Pork belly fennel celeriac puree

Helen recently treated us both to a tasting menu dinner at the Raby Hunt, near Darlington. It’s the only Michelin starred restaurant in the North East of England currently, although with Kenny Atkinson currently working on a Quayside restaurant in Newcastle, fingers crossed, we may get a  second in the near future…

The Raby Hunt Inn Summerhouses

Luckily for me, it’s a very good restaurant. This was our second visit and once again, we pushed the boat out and went for the tasting menu. We stopped short of the wine pairing as last time I think we set sail completely, knocking back glasses as each new one arrived, rendering the last few courses a somewhat hazy blur.

So, with a little more sobriety this time, I can confirm that yes, the food is excellent. In fact, this was the first tasting menu I’ve tried where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every course. The theme is big flavour and locally sourced produce, with a nod to French cooking.

Being a belated birthday treat, Helen phoned ahead and I was delighted that the Head Chef James Close spent some time with us to chat at the end of the meal.

The story is really quite extraordinary. The restaurant has only been established 5 years or so and yet he has held a Michelin star for the last two of them. Not so long ago, by his own admission, he was serving gastropub meals – steaks and mussels, that kind of thing – so his rise to fine dining has been exponential.

We talked about the meal and I explained the highlight, for me was a smoked eel and duck parfait dish with various forms of beetroot. It was packed with flavour and I had to restrain myself from licking the plate. He looked a little weary when I said that (that it was my favourite, not me wanting to lick the plate) which I was surprised at initially, but he went on to explain that this has become something of a signature dish. With that comes the expectation by returning guests that it will still be available but also, at this standard of cuisine,  that it will vary slightly. This means he must try and come up something novel but strike a fine balance of keeping true to the original concept, but not straying too far. Very, very tricky.

 I was delighted to hear he takes a reccy every now and again to other Michelin starred restaurants for inspiration as it’s something I do shamelessly on a regular basis (though generally not Michelin starred joints of course). I chatted to his Soux Chef Ryan after a brief visit to the tiny (soon to be extended) kitchen and he explained that other restaurants have teams of chefs, even development chefs, to work on new ideas. This makes the Raby team’s accomplishments even more remarkable.

 And so, true to the spirit of reconnaissance dining, this dish is based squarely on Helen’s favourite course: (very) slow roasted suckling pig with artichoke puree.

I used pork belly from a local butcher and paired it up with a simple fennel and celeriac puree. I tried out a croquette of black pudding and apple, which was OK but the chicory addition was ‘acquired’ inspiration.

One of the reasons I made this was James explained that in preparing the pork, he leaves it to rest for a day, at which point it seems to gather up all the cooking liquor and flavour. I’d sort of discovered this by accident myself (I’d forgotten to take some out the oven after it had switched itself off and only remembered after work the next day), so it was great to hear this ‘qualified’ by him.

 The pork was simply roasted in a hot oven in a deep tray with half and half stock and cider filled up halfway. Once the skin was crispy, foil was added tightly and left to slow cook for 4 hours at low temperature. After, I simply turned off the oven and left it alone, completely until the next evening.

I didn’t remove the foil, not even touch the oven door, so in theory, everything inside was ‘sterile’, but you may want to put the pork in the fridge to rest, once cool, if worried. I didn’t as I wanted it to be room temperature when I arrived home, and it was absolutely fine.

For the pork:

  • 1 kg of good pork belly (with a decent layer of fat)  – skin scored
  • 400ml good dry cider
  • 400ml pork stock
  • Sea salt

 For the puree:

  • Half a celeriac
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 30g butter
  • About 200ml single cream (I find double cream a little too rich)
  • 2 garlic bulbs
  • Salt.

Celeriac fennel chicory

For the black pudding croquette:

  • 100g black pudding
  • 1 apple cored and peeled, chopped
  • 1 egg beaten
  • A few handfuls of breadcrumbs

Chichory, peashoots and more apple to serve.

 Get the oven on hot – 220°C/430°F

Boil a kettle and with the  pork in a clean sink, pour it over the skin to open it up. Dry thoroughly and rub the sea salt into the skin. Place it in a fairly tight fitting tray and fill with the cider and stock until it reaches the skin (don’t pour over the skin or submerge it)

Whack it in the oven until the skin crispens and reduce to 130°C/270°F. Top up the stock/cider and add the foil very tightly. Leave the pork to cook for 3-4 hours more (longer the better) then turn off the oven and leave it alone until ready to use the next day. If you want, put it in the fridge once cool.


Remove the pork and set on a clean board. Pour the cooking liquor into a saucepan and gently simmer to reduce and concentrate while you crack on with the rest. It’ll be delicious.

Neatly trim the pork into portion sized square and heat an oven proof pan. Fry each side to colour and turn onto the skin side. Put a heavy pan on top (like a iron skillet) to push it down to crisp it up better. Turn skin side up and leave in the oven at 80°C/180°F (or the lowest setting) to warm through.

Belly pork prep

Meanwhile, peel and dice the celeriac and simmer until done. Meanwhile, sautee the fennel gently in a little butter. Put the lot into a blender or food processor and blend with the cream (add a bit at a time, it shouldn’t be to runny) until very smooth. Season, return to a lidded pan and keep warm.

 Blitz the black pudding and apple in a processor with half the egg. Season with salt and roll into croquette shapes. Dip them in the remaining egg, then the breadcrumbs and deep fry (or shallow fry) for a few minutes until crisp and cooked through – use a thermometer if unsure.

Taste the stock reduction and season if needed – it probably won’t – and stir in a small knob of butter for richness and shine. Strain it through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.

Straining the stock

Serve it all up with some chicory leaves and freshly sliced apple at the last minute.

Rich and delicious – brilliant with a bit of Chenin Blanc too


White Pizza or Pizza Bianca. No tomato, basically.

Pizza Bianca

It wasnt all that long ago, I’m afraid to say, I only really ate pizza if it had meat on it (ham, salami, prosciutto – that sort of thing). Without it, it just didn’t seem enough somehow, even in the most caricatured of Italian pizzerias . I suppose I saw it the same way I view low alcohol-beer, skimmed milk or that chemistry lab low-fat ‘butter’. Pale imitations of what they could be.

But then we did a vegetarian January this year when, admittedly hand forced by a limited choice, I plumped for a simple stone baked Margherita at an Italian restaurant. It was a decent place and therefore I assume, decent ingredients, which no doubt helped, but I was proven very wrong. So much so that I don’t honestly think I’ve ordered a meat pizza since. I loved the simplicity of it.

We don’t eat, nor make pizza too often at home as it’s a bit of a lengthy process having to prove the dough. And then there’s the mess of course. It less ‘Italian Piazza’ and more ‘Winter Wonderland’ once I’ve finished. But it’s a simple pleasure to make once in a while.

Last Saturday, with Helen out shopping with her Mother and an arse-whooping against the All Blacks in the rugby coming on the TV soon, I took the opportunity to make some bread and whilst I was making a mess anyway, thought I’d sneak some pizza into the equation at the same time. Consolation for what was to come, I reasoned.

I was inspired by the Pizzetta in my excellent Polpo cookbook for these, particularly the potato topped version that I made with Bour garlic and herb soft cheese, which I preferred. Both were good though. It made a change not to use a tomato base to be honest, it allowed the other flavours to come through a bit.

I won’t go into the dough recipe, it’s everywhere, but I use the usual ratios of 500g strong flour, 300g water (70%), 10g salt (2%) and a sachet of yeast and a good lug of olive oil

Once the dough is ready, split into two. Keep one half for bread and split the other into two again. Make a ball, flatten with your fingers then roll them out onto the work surface.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow......all together now...

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow……all together now…

For the ‘Pizza Bianca’ style one:

  • 2 new potatoes, thinly sliced and blanched for 4 minutes.
  • A few small heads of broccoli, split and blanched with the potato
  • 1 smallish red onion, gently fried until soft with some thyme
  • Boursi Nice soft cheese with garlic.
  • Rosemary and more thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Uncooked pizza bianca

For the Roast Pepper version:

  • About six-seven small, sweet peppers, roasted and skins removed (plunge in cold water afterwards)
  • 1 ball of mozzarella, split apart and as much water removed as possible
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Roast Peppers

Uncooked Roast Pepper Pizza

I baked them both using a pizza stone. It was noticeable how much better the second rose than the first, suggesting I hadn’t got the stone hot enough first time. The secret is as hot an oven as possible. Mine goes up to 275°C/530°F which is pretty respectable.

Pizza oven

Getting a nice air bubble there. It’s the little things….

They only take minutes at this temperature.

Pizza Bianca and Roast Pepper Pizza




Duck with Spiced Butternut Squash and Muscat

Duck with butternut squash

As the days continue to shrink, I instinctively, like most of you, go after heartier food whether we need it or not. After all, most days of the week I leave my central heated home, in my heated car, to a warm office and then repeat in reverse. I mean, it’s not like I’m toiling in the fields or anything. If you are toiling in fields though, then you’d totally get this I suppose.
Maybe it’s the dark nights, I don’t know.  I thought I’d try and do something simple and filling but with a twist here though. This is a typical bistro dish at heart so my apologies for the simplicity of it, but if you try it, you won’t be disappointed.

The duck legs take a little time to cook but end up beautifully tender, full of flavour and with great crisp skin. The butternut squash mash is arguably tastier and healthier than regular mash as you can keep butter and cream to a minimum, if any at all. I simply flavoured it with ginger and cumin seed for a bit of edge and it works beautifully with the duck.

It was finished with a light gravy made from the cooking juices, some sweet Muscat wine and herbs which rounded the whole lot off nicely I thought.

I really should say ‘bon appetit!’. But I won’t.

Serves two:

  • 2 duck legs
  • A little oil for frying
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger
  • About 20g butter (leave it out if you prefer, health fans)
  • 1 tsp of cumin seeds
  • 2 handfuls of green beans
  • 1 small glass of Muscat wine
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • A handful of thyme
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 130oC/260oF

Well season the duck all over. Get an oven proof frying pan on the hob with a little oil until hot. Don’t add too much as plenty will render out the duck – it’s just to stop the skin sticking, which if the pan its hot enough, it shouldn’t do.

Yes, I know there are three - I squeezed in an extra one  for a work lunch salad....

Yes, I know there are three – I squeezed in an extra one for a work lunch salad….

 So add the duck, skin side down and brown well for a few minutes. Turn them over and put the pan in the oven for a couple of hours.

Browned duck legs

Turn the oven off, remove pan from the oven, remembering NOT to touch the handle with bare hands afterwards – as I often do – and return the duck on a plate to rest. Don’t cover or the skin might go soggy.

Keep all the goodness in the pan for the gravy later.

Peel the squash and chop into pieces. Bring to the boil in a pan of water and cook for about 15 mins until soft. For the last five, I added the steamer insert above the squash and steamed the green beans, otherwise, steam or boil them gently for a couple of minutes in a separate pan until tender.

Drain the vegetables and keep the beans warm. Leave the squash to steam-dry a bit in the colander. In the same pan (sorry washing up fans), heat a little more oil.

Grate in the ginger and add the cumin. Fry gently for a couple minutes and then mash in the squash. Add the butter, if using and season to taste. Cover the pan and keep warm.

Heat the frying pan back up. When warm pour or spoon out most the duck fat on the surface. Deglaze the pan with the Muscat until thick. Add a little more water than you need to bulk it out, lay the rosemary and thyme on top and allow to reduce over a low/moderate heat to infuse. Once reduced you could (or is that should?) add a little butter at this point, making it lovely and even richer, but either way season to taste.


Duck light gravy and Muscat with Herbs

I did find the gravy went a bit opaque, so I’d normally strain it through some muslin cloth, but it doesn’t change the flavour one bit.

 Service! Ding-ding.

Duck with butternut squash and muscat