Monday, 7 September 2009

The finest lamb on the Isle of Dogs

Last weekend saw the second Mudchute Kitchen farmyard feast, this time starring the farm's own lamb, who've spent their summer grazing their field, deep in the heart of the Isle of Dogs.

As well as the lamb, the menu placed a lot of emphasis on the garden and allotment vegetables that have spent the last few months making good use of all the rain we've been having. So, on the night we served allotment caponata, with grilled flatbread for starter; a late summer lamb stew with watercress salad, or vegetable mezze for the non-meat eaters; followed by chocolate and blackberry tart, with wild rosehip sauce. Outstanding work from head chef Philippa Davies, and hopefully a big hit with those who came along.

To begin with, the caponata seemed to go down well. There's a really interesting combination of flavours in there, with capers and balsamic for acidity, but sweetness coming from juicy raisins, and almost-caramilsed onions. It's served at room temperature as well, which means all the ingredients have time to marry together as it cools, giving it an intense but rounded flavour.

Quite a few people commented on it, so here's a rough recipe. One of the beauties of this dish is that as long as you get the sweet / sour combination, you can improvise and add different vegetables, depending on what you have to hand. One thing I would say, though, is that I think it gets the depth of flavour from cooking the veg separately (see below), instead of stewing it all together, like a ratatouille. But feel free to experiment...

We did ours for 60, so I've tried to scale down the quantities. Try it with whatever you have to hand - I'm sure it will still taste very good.

Serves 4-6 as a starter / side dish:
6-8 vine tomatoes, depending on size, cut into quarters / eights, slow roasted with olive oil
3-4 skinned tomatoes, or a tin of good quality plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 aubergine, cut into a chunky dice - say 1-2cm
A good couple of table spoons of olive oil
At least a table spoon of Balsamic vineagar
2 handfuls of raisins, soaked
4 sticks of celery, very finely diced
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Peppers, courgettes, or other veg, depending on what you have
A handful of capers, drained and rinsed
A handful of chopped parsley

To serve:
A handful of toasted pine nuts
A handful of toasted basil
(And we used some home-smoked egg, and a nasturtium flower, but both of these are optional)

Fry the aubergine in a large pan with a generous amount of olive oil. When they're nicely softened, but not browning, remove and put them in a large bowl or tray.
Sweat the celery, onion, and garlic slowly in a little more oil, until they're translucent and soft. You want the onions just on the edge of caramelising. Remove and add to the aubergine. Do the same with any other veg you're using.
Add the tomatoes, capers, raisins, parsley, and mix together. Season generously, add olive oil and the balsamic.

Leave to cool for at least 2 hours, if not overnight. If you are leaving it overnight, put it in a sealed container in the fridge, but make sure you get it out a couple of hours before serving, so it has time to return to room temperature. Check the seasoning and flavours, and add more Balsamic if necessary. You want a bit of a vineagary twang to cut through the oil.

Serve with toasted pine nuts and handful of basil on top, and a warm flatbread to mop up the juices. This would also be great with a grilled lamb chop or some roasted chicken thighs as a main.

We also made full use of the wood-burning oven, roasting the veg for the mezze, and finishing off the stew in there as well.

As well as being packed full of lamb, the stew also contained mini orange and cinnamon dumplings, cannelini beans, and allotment spinach. Served with a watercress and spring onion salad, it was a dish that nicely summed up the September transition from late summer into early autumn. Nice and rustic too, as is the Mudchute Kitchen way.

Dessert was also pretty special, and extremely rich... A chocolate and blackberry tart, which blended a silky, almost granache-like texture of the filling with a short and crumbly pastry below. First class baking (well done Philippa). Served with a sauce made from wild rosehips foraged from the farm hedgerows, and strawberries from the allotment.

I haven't got the recipe for this one yet, but it is coming, so keep checking... This one was also very popular. And head down to Mudchute Kitchen anytime to sample more of Philippa's excellent baking... Possibly some of the finest in East London.

So that's that for now then. There is talk of beef taking centre stage at the next feast, which I'm already very excited about. And a Halloween feast soon to come as well...

Lots and lots to look forward too. In the mean time, I'll try to get my hands on some more of those recipes. And good luck with the caponata.

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