Monday, 5 October 2009

Casa Cosmic

As regular readers will know, the For Those That Love to Eat HQ, or the Cosmic Loft, as it is more commonly referred to, plays to host to the odd culinary get together. Last Friday was one such occasion, partly in order to say thanks to some good friends for being ace, and also to test out some of the recipes and inspirations I'd picked up during my time at Moro.

So, on the menu that evening was...


Jamon Iberico with caramelised figs


Moroccan bread salad


Roast lamb shoulder, stuffed with saffron rice,

Pear, pomegranate and orange coleslaw


Yogurt and pistachio cake


Manchego y membrillo


Lots of Spanish, north African and eastern Mediterranean influences. The idea was that there was that certain ingredients were carried between a few dishes in a row, with the flavours of one dish were built upon by the next. So the figs were caramelised in some fino (Spanish Sherry), and I also added a dash to the dressing for the bread salad to counteract the nuttiness of the cumin. The cumin in the dressing was echoed in the marinade rub used on the lamb, along with the zest of an orange, and some garlic. The orange made an appearance in the coleslaw, and again to add a sweeter citrus dimension to the yogurt cake. The cheese was served with grapes and fresh figs, so that bookended the whole thing.

Some of the recipes were adapted from what I learned at Moro, others were sort of made up, so excuse me if some of the info is a bit patchy.

After having prepared the yogurt cake, my next task was to make a very pleasant trip to Borough Market in order to visit the excellent deli, Brindisa. My Spanish haul consisted of a bottle of fino, one bottle of Madiera, some olive oil biscuits, manchego, and membrillo – a sweet quince paste which is perfect with cheese, some paprika corn kernals for a pre-dinner snack, and some of the finest (if not the finest) jamon in London. I went for the Dehesa Extramedura Bellota, as it had the richest, nuttiest flavour. As a little treat for myself, I also picked up a bag of Iberico ham bones, which were used in a stock on Sunday night to make an excellent Spanish variation of French Onion soup. Ham stock instead of beef stock, and Madiera instead of white wine, plus a little rendered ham fat to cook the onions in, if you were wondering...

First course was the jamon with figs caramelised in fino, served on toasted sour dough, rubbed with a little roast garlic puree.

And from the decadent to the simple and peasant-like, Moroccan bread salad. The emphasis is on the cumin, so be generous – and make sure you use seeds, not the pre-ground stuff.

Tear up some sour dough / rye bread and leave to dry out for a couple of hours. Crush some garlic, and add to a blender with a few whole tomatoes, and tsp or so of roasted, freshly ground cumin seeds. Finish with olive oil, a little cider or white wine vinegar, a dash of fino and salt and pepper.

Put the bread in a bowl, add chopped tomatoes, skinned peppers, sliced spring onions, and any fresh, leafy herbs you have to hand, and coat with a little of the dressing. Serve with more dressing poured on top, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Then on to the roast shoulder of lamb, stuffed with saffron rice. A bit of a wow dish, according to Samantha Clarke... The flavours of the cinnamon and cardamom alongside the richness of the lamb work really well. I prepared the saffron rice the night before which worked fine, and made a rub for the outside of the meat with crushed garlic, grated orange zest, and more roast, ground cumin seeds.

Saffron rice
1 shoulder of lamb, about 1.6-1.8 kg, boned and trimmed of most skin and fat
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
juice of 1 orange

1 glass fino

to serve:

blanched and braised chard or braised spinach
200g homemade or Greek yogurt, thinned
with 2 tbsp milk, with crushed garlic clove
and a good pinch of salt

Cook the saffron rice (see recipe below) and set aside. Preheat the oven to 220 C/gas mark 7.

Place the shoulder, skin-side down, on a board and open out fully. Put half, or as much as will fit, of the saffron rice into the pockets of the boned lamb, roll up and tie with string. Place a large roasting tray on the hob, over a medium heat, add the olive oil and brown all sides of the lamb until sealed. Season the lamb with salt and pepper, place in the oven and roast for about 1 to 1 hours or until the meat is pink inside. Remove, transfer the lamb to a board and let it rest for 10 minutes, loosely covered with foil.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. Pour off any fat and return the roasting tray to the hob and heat over a medium heat. Add the orange juice and fino, and bring to a gentle simmer, scraping the meat juices off the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning, transfer to a small saucepan or bowl and keep hot. When you are ready to eat, slice the lamb and serve with the orange-fino gravy over the top, the rest of the saffron rice (warmed) on the side, some greens or a robust salad, and some seasoned yogurt.

Saffron rice

Saffron rice is eaten at weddings and on special occasions throughout much of the Muslim world. It is an elegant rice, subtly scented with butter and spice. This dish can be made in 15 minutes if the rice has been soaked. Serves 4.

80g unsalted butter
cinnamon stick
5 whole green cardamom pods, cracked
3 whole black peppercorns
200g basmati rice, washed and soaked in salted water for 3 hours
2 tbsp roughly chopped pistachio nuts (optional)
2 tbsp barberries (optional)
sea salt
1 good pinch of saffron threads (about 100 threads) infused in 4 tbsp boiling water

And for dessert, Moro yogurt cake, which has already reached legendary status as far as I’m concerned. Find the recipe below... Another impressive and very interesting dish. I’m beginning to think of variations, so will keep you posted!

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