Top 10 Eats from #Sicily

One thing becomes obvious as soon as you arrive in Sicily, this island is big and diverse. We didn’t have time to visit the whole island, but where we went, we ate. Here’s our top 10.

10. Rigatone Norma

Far from ordinary, this rich, thick, sweet and perfectly balanced tomato sauce with Aubergine was really something. The only downside, it was often the only veggie option. We had three, the best at Ferro Di Cavallo in downown Palermo. Read full review of Ferro Di Cavallo

Nothing ordinary about this Rigatoni Norma.

Rigatoni Norma from ferro Di Cavallo.

9. Tomato and Mozzarella Crêpe

A wildcard. We were surprised when this simple café, just off the beaten track in Taormina produced a crêpe so thin and crispy it barely contained the tasty filling of local cheese and tomato. If you’re in Taormina, and you need a snack but want to escape the tourist hoards, then venture up to the simple, no fuss Cafe Solaris on Via Don Bosco.

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8. Mini Cassata from Bakery Rosciglione

Cassata cake is available all over the island. It’s a Sicilian favourite of sponge cake, ricotta cream and mazipan icing (that’s martorana in Sicilian). They look great, and taste kind of sublime. These one’s were purchased from Bakery Rosciglione in Palermo, via Gian Luca Barbieri 5.

Mini Cassata, tasty little numbers.

Mini Cassata, tasty little numbers.

7. Mushroom Carpacio

If funghi is in season, then you gotta try this deceptively simple looking dish. Sliced mushroom dressed with lemon juice and pepper, served with rocket and salty cheese. Fork all of these ingredients into a mouthful and you’ll be in heaven, I promise. We saw this one at Casale Drinzi, provinciale 9, Collesano.

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6. Orange Mousse

Light, citrusy and fluffy, with a crispy base and topped with deliciously tart candied orange peel, this dessert was the triumphant finalé of a dinner at Baglio di Pianetto. Full review coming soon. Via Francia – Contrada Pianetto, Santa Cristina Gela. www.bagliodipianetto.com

Orange Mousse at Baglio Di Pianetto

Orange Mousse at Baglio Di Pianetto

5. Maria Gramattico’s Ricotta Cheesecake

This is the lightest, fluffiest cheesecake I’ve ever had. And I’ve had cheesecake. It bounces into your mouth, and the pastry, short yet sweet. Visit for the cheesecake, but also enjoy the hilltop town of Erice (which feels more Umbrian than Sicilian) while taking in the hopeful story of Maria. Via Vittorio Emanuele 14, Erice. Mariagrammatico.it

Maria Gramattico's ricotta cheesecake. Try it you must.

Maria Gramattico’s ricotta cheesecake. Try it you must.

4. Arancine (Meat warning!)

I was no stranger to Arancine (that’s the correct spelling in Sicilian) before arriving in Sicily, but I’d never had anything as delicious as this. During our streatfood Palermo tour (review coming soon), Marco led us to a stall on Il Capo, one of the less visited of Palermo’s markets. The Arancine is to die for. The veal (sorry veggies) filling is insanely tasty, but it’s the rice which grabbed me. It’s not as compressed as I’ve had before, so the crumb layer on the outside is more spacious, allowing more frying, more crispiness, more deliciousness. 5 star.

Arancine, complete with air holes for extra crispness.

Arancine, complete with air holes for extra crispness.

3. Sfincione

Staying on the Streetfood theme, this Sfincione is a street baked slab of pizza, topped with tomato and oregano (plus sausage if you’re that way inclined). But this pizza dough is no ordinary dough. It’s from a one of a kind bakery in Palermo and you can tell. The dough is so light and fluffy, yet tasty from the wood fired cart. I’ve never had anything quite like it.

Sfincione: exquisite streetfood pizza.

Sfincione: exquisite streetfood pizza.

2. Basil Pesto Linguine

I know what you’re thinking, how can basil pesto make a top 10? Well think about the freshest, perfectly cooked spaghetti, with a basil so rich and full of goodness it tastes like it’s grown in the light of 1,000 suns. We found this gem at Ristorantino da Spanò, Via degli Scalini, 7. www.ristorantinospano.com.

This is no ordinary Basil Pesto.

This is no ordinary Basil Pesto.

1. Fusilli pasta with Brocolli

I’ve had brocolli and pasta hundreds of times for dinner. But never, ever like this. This is a thing of precision, perfectly balanced textures (broccoli puree as well as pieces), wonderfully salty (the Parmesan see’s to that) and dressed with Baglio di Pianetto’s home grown olive oil to bring in the flavour of the land.

This dish truly sang and no other could have been our Sicilia no. 1 (for this trip, anyway).

Via Francia – Contrada Pianetto, Santa Cristina Gela. www.bagliodipianetto.com

Fusilli with Brocolli. OMGF, foodporn!

Fusilli with Brocolli. OMGF, foodporn!

Dessert is the new main course @thepuddingbar (Guest post by @FelicitySpector)

Fizzy_Portuguese_vino_number._Popped_on_in_to__thepuddingbar_with__felicityspector

Now I’m one of those people who asks for the dessert menu before ordering dinner…always best to be prepared, I’ve found. So what better than a place serving entirely dessert – now, we’re told, a fast growing London trend. Enter the Pudding Bar, the brainchild of Oliver Whitford-Knight, Emily Dickinson and Pete Cawston: open for a limited time only in the heart of Soho, bang opposite the theatre district and perfect for those seeking a post-drama sugar hit.

We were booked in on a busy Thursday night: the faces of envious passers-by peering through the windows at the indulgence within. At the tail end of summer, all the desserts on offer were chilled: probably the only way that chef Laura Hallwood can juggle the rush on orders at busy times, but more hot puddings are promised as the nights draw in, which will provide some variety to the menu.

We chose three between the two of us, strictly in the name of research – one of the Pudding Bar’s most popular dishes – a chocolate S’mores cheesecake, a special of the day – madeleines with poached peaches and a white chocolate mousse – and a new dessert, banoffee mousse with crushed shortbread, white chocolate icecream, and caramelised bananas.

The banana confection was fabulous, incredibly rich, the mousse sandwiched with thick discs of crunchy shortbread, the whole thing brought together by a slick of caramel and those sticky, melty bananas. The icecream was probably redundant, but we managed it anyway.

Caramalised banana banoffee mousse - £8.

Caramalised banana banoffee mousse – £8.

The madeleines – also a generous portion, were light and moist, and the peaches provided a welcome note of freshness among all that cream. Petty as a picture, too.

The madeline's were as pretty as a picture.

The madeline’s were as pretty as a picture.

I admit to being a die hard baked cheesecake fan, but as set cheesecakes go this was a pretty good one, more of a rich cremeux with a home made ginger nut base, and a dollop of lightly toasted marshmallow crowning the lot. I think there may have been more ice cream, but by this stage we were riding on a sort of sugar and dairy induced haze, which carried us out of the restaurant and all the way onto the 19 bus home.

S'more cheesecake, peanut butter icecream - £8

S’more cheesecake, peanut butter icecream – £8

These are not delicate little morsels of sweet nothings – you need an appetite to finish one, let alone the ‘sharing platter’ of everything on the menu – £28 between two.

If this really is a hot new foodie trend, I’m glad to say I’m well ahead of the curve.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for a number of UK food blogs. Her iPad, brim full of food photos, been known to appear in background shots of many a food bloggers photos.

3.5 / 5

Dessert is the new main course @thepuddingbar (post by @FelicitySpector

Pudding Bar

26 Greek St, Soho, London W1D 5DE
Phone: 020 3620 4747
Web: http://www.puddingbar.co.uk/

Reviewer: Felicity, August 28, 2014

Pudding Bar on Urbanspoon

Ferro di Cavallo: Authentic #Sicilian Small Plates in the heart of #Palermo

2014-09-20 22.08.31

It’s not often I consider queuing. Perhaps it was the heaving street side atmosphere that invited passers by to stare. Perhaps, the young, dedicated Palermo family who run this popular downtown cucina. Perhaps, the two litre plastic bottles of home-made wine being decanted into carafe’s that instantly were covered in condensation from the humid Sicilian air. Perhaps, it was catching a glimpse of delicious looking small plates whizzing past, or the grandma sized portions of the freshest pasta you can image being served up to tables of ten or more local lads. Hmm, perhaps it was that.

It’s not often I consider queuing, and tonight I’m glad I did.

Awesome vibe, eclectic interior at Ferro di Cavallo.

Awesome vibe, eclectic interior at Ferro di Cavallo.

We didn’t have to wait long and ended up sitting inside a bustling red painted interior, walls crammed with everything from religious iconography through to family portraits. As soon as we were sat a large sheet of brown paper, with the menu printed was thrown in our direction. We sorted that out, and began to devour the menu. Four main sections, all dishes within a section equally priced; antipasti (€4) , primi piatti (pasta, €5), fish (€8) and meat (€7)  courses. Plus some sides (€2) and desserts.

Cavallo offered heaps of choice, and everything looked and sounded extremely authentic. The style of menu you’ve probably seen if you’ve been to any of the Sicilian styled Italian small plates places in London, in fact I’d not be surprised if this place might have inspired at least one of them.

We ordered everything veg, plus, and this is probably my only gripe, I felt I had to order a squid dish. There wasn’t a lot of choice beyond the starters for the pure veggies. This being our first proper night out in Sicily, I’m hoping this wont be a trend.

Almost omelet like, these are Panelle, fried Chick Pea flour fritters. €4.

Almost omelet like, these are Panelle, fried Chick Pea flour fritters. €4.

The Panelle is simple, but tasty. A base for adding more flavour, we thought.

This Caponata (an Aubergine and tomato stew) was quite simply stunning. €4.

This Caponata (an Aubergine and tomato stew) was quite simply stunning. €4.

And the Caponata was a prime candidate for dipping. Beautifully seasoned, with a zingy, singy, balanced tomato sauce. Big chunks of celery, added something striking.

At risk of Aubergine overload, Pasta Norma, a simple Penne again with a perfectly balanced sauce.

Pasta Norma, an aubergine, tomato sauce on Penne with Parmigiana

Pasta Norma, an aubergine, tomato sauce on Penne with Parmigiana

We’d heard about the desert, so we saved some room. I suggest you do the same, this Cannolo is EPIC! The Ricotta cream delicate and yet rich. The crispy biscuit shell cracks into shards of sweet ecstasy.

Apparently one of the best in Palermo; Cannole, just €1.50

Apparently one of the best in Palermo; Cannole, just €1.50

Ferro di Cavallo does that magical, authentic, casual effortlessness that touches you much more deeply than well crafted food alone can do. There’s something extra. We were caught up in the buzz, so much so that the three times a fuse blew and the lights went out, nobody batted an eye.

Go there when you’re in Palermo, it’s well worth the queue.

4 / 5

Ferro di Cavallo: Authentic #Sicilian Small Plates in the heart of #Palermo

Ferro di Cavallo

Via Venezia, 20, Castellammare, Palermo 90133
Phone: 091 331835
Web: http://www.ferrodicavallopalermo.it/

Reviewer: Jared, September 21, 2014

Visit @HeirloomN8, it’s so very now

Mop worthy. Butter poached leeks, coddled duck egg & roasted walnut - £7

Words by Felicity Spector. Pictures by Jared (@foodstinct)

It all sounded so very now: a north London restaurant which grows vegetables on its own Buckinghamshire farm. Even the name – Heirloom – conjured up visions of specially nurtured tomatoes and purple carrots with clods of dirt still clinging on.

I’d seen the daily changing menu, though, with the promise of home made treacle loaf with greengage compote shining like a beacon at the end. I couldn’t wait to book a table.

The first thing which strikes you is the calmness of this grown-up space: tables not too wedged together, a noise level which allows for proper conversation. Bookshelves, along the wall overlooking the bar – bearing a single volume: the NOMA cookbook.

A grown up space, not crammed at all.

A grown up space, not crammed at all.

My friends had already arrived by the time I got there, following a scenic bus journey taking in not one, but two prisons. Always a treat. They’d started without me – apparently the Winterdale cheese fritters were excellent. I had to believe them.

The winterfale fritters were lovely (apparently). 4.5

The winterdale fritters were lovely (apparently) – £4.5

Some excellent sourdough bread and salted butter arrived, and we decided to order every vegetarian dish on the menu to share – on the night we went, there were seven. Courgette fritters were fine, perked up by a good slug of herb pesto, and a dish of pineapple and zebra tomatoes were sweet and juicy, scattered with some slightly medicinal hyssop.

Provence pineapple & zebra tomatoes & hyssop. 7.50

Provence pineapple & zebra tomatoes & hyssop – £7.5

Best of all was a plate of buttery roasted leeks with a puddle of coddled egg and some roasted walnuts: a gently warming, comforting dish which we mopped up with the rest of the bread.

Mop worthy. Butter poached leeks, coddled duck egg & roasted walnut – £7

Next – a couple of larger plates – a bowl of vibrantly green barley stew with parsley root and peas: a not-quite risotto which was thick and hearty and felt as good for you as it looked.

Barley & parsley root stew, fresh peas & parsley butter - £10

Barley & parsley root stew, fresh peas & parsley butter – £10

With it, another dish of roasted celeriac and trompette de la mort mushrooms, fat ceps and some dollops of goats curd – a triumph of a vegetarian dish. A side dish of champ didn’t last long either: lots of butter, soft potato, plenty of greens.

Bouchon ceps, Cerney goast & salt baked celeriac - £10

A triumph: Bouchon ceps, Cerney goast & salt baked celeriac – £10

And then – the prospect of that treacle loaf. It didn’t photograph well – but what a match with that sticky greengage compote, incredibly moist and not too sweet: there was clotted cream too – like a cream tea on steroids.

Treacle loaf, poached greengage plums - £6.5

Treacle loaf, poached greengage plums – £6.5

Another dessert, saffron poached pears with crumbled shortbread and more of that cream was more delicate, but with no compromise on flavour.

Saffron poached pears, Jersey Chantilly cream & shortbread crumble £6.5

Saffron poached pears, Jersey Chantilly cream & shortbread crumble £6.5

There are biodynamic wines on offer and a selection of cocktails – the kitchen even rustled up an off-menu whisky sour.

the kitchen even rustled up an off-menu whisky sour

Nothing felt rushed: service was friendly, and there’s a cool but relaxed neighbourhood feel. The sort of place you’d be lucky to have at the end of your street – and a place worth a scenic bus journey across town, for the cooking, and the care and respect that Heirloom clearly has for its home-grown ingredients. Just save room for that treacle loaf too. I can promise, you won’t be disappointed.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for numerous UK food blogs. She’s known an uncanny ability to document cultural happenings seen from the 91 bus.

4 / 5

Visit @HeirloomN8, it’s so very now

Heirloom N8

35 Park Road, Crouch End, London N8 8TE
Phone: 020 8348 3565
Web: www.heirloomn8.co.uk/

Reviewer: Felicity, August 22, 2014

Heirloom on Urbanspoon

The best #beach near #Florence

Take a break from Florence, take a trip to the beach.

If you tire of the gelato, art and fashion of the land-locked Tuscan capital of Florence, then escape is at hand. We’ve found a place you can lie on a beach, gaze into the sea, have a spot of lunch, and best of all, do it all within an easy day trip of Florence.

Due west of Florence is the somewhat industrial port city of Liverno, travel further south and you’ll find a stretch of rocky coast, sandwiched between national parks and the Mediterranean, speckled with seaside towns and beaches.

Getting to the beach from Florence

The Italian train system, while notoriously ritardo (that’s Italian for late running), is certainly well thought out for recreational travellers. Three “beach trains” (as we named them) leave Florence St Santa Maria Novella station each weekend morning, direct for this stretch of coast. The journey is about 1h20, so bring a book, but as these trains travel direct, you’ll not have to fuss about with changing. Check Trenitalia for timetables.

Arriving at beautiful town of Castiglioncello

Arriving at beautiful town of Castiglioncello

Welcome to Castiglioncello

After the frenetic hype of Florence, we were expecting something similar when we disembarked the train. But no, while Castiglioncello is popular, it’s mostly so with locals and the small streets have an air of calm. Castiglioncello is situated on a small point, jutting into the Mediterranean and is covered in pine trees. There’s a row of shops and cafés in the centre of town on Via Renato Fucini, so you can pick up any essentials. But the town’s not so overdeveloped to detract from the real reason you’re here: escape.

The gardens at Castiglioncello

The gardens at Castiglioncello

Head to the beach

There are two beaches, the longer stretch on the northern side is filled with deck chairs which you can rent for between €10 and €30 per day. This beach is quite rocky, but well placed jetties mean you can easily clamber in to enjoy a refreshing dip, or even snorkelling amongst the shallow, rocky outcrops.

The larger beach on Castiglioncello is popular amongst locals.

The larger beach on Castiglioncello is popular amongst locals.

Time for lunch?

There are a number of restaurants in the main strip of the town, plus several overlooking the bay on the south side of town. We ate at Ristorante Il Porticciolo, which serves salads, and pasta, though is mainly focussed on fresh fish. We managed to rummage up a lovely bottle of a local white chianti, too.

Tomato and Mozzarella, lunch by the bay in Castiglioncello.

Tomato and Mozzarella, lunch by the bay in Castiglioncello.

As perhaps to be expected, our train home was delayed. But we were still back to Florence in time for dinner, refreshed, sun-kissed, and recharged.

I want to #vegify your favourite dish

So as well as free-styling, I like to #vegify. Taking a meaty dish and making it veg-friendly. Is there a meat dish, something that you love (or loved) but had to leave behind due to meaty ingredients?

If so, tell me! Leave a comments below. and tell me what dish you’d like vegified. I’ll pick one, give it a go and share the recipe.

Go on, tell me the meaty dish you want to vegify, in the comments below.

Win 2 Tickets to see VegFest in London

I’m running this in conjunction with VegFest UK, one of Europe’s biggest veggie events, which runs September 27 & 28 at London Olympia. If you’d like to win 2 Sunday tickets for VegFest, just retweet this tweet.

vegfest.co.uk

vegfest.co.uk

Get your hands dirty @RitasDining #Hackney

Bitter chocolate pie with soured cream £5

It was a hot summer eve and Rita’s was calling. In fact, news of the cocktails, starters and pies had been calling me for months. We rocked up and snuck past the tables of young trendy hackney things with their frozen margarita’s in paper cups. Sat down, and soaked up the atmos. A clean, light interior. It’s miles from the Mare Street of greasy Vietnamese and 2am nights at the Dolphin that I recall.

We started with cocktails and a few items from the snacks menu. While my carnivorous friends tried the bacon peanut brittle, we opted for some of the pickled veg. Daikon, carrot and fennel, still crisp and vinegary-finger licking good.

Start with snacks. Cocktail, house pickles.

Start with snacks. Cocktail, house pickles.

Don’t let the polished interior fool you. There’s a down and dirty edge to the food. It’s part diner style: buttermilk battered fried chicken, burger in a bun, steak sandwich… a story you’ve no doubt heard before. But keep reading, because this place does plenty of veg too. And plenty of veg, really well, and with the same dirty diner style. Tres bon.

I couldn’t resist the grilled whole ear of sweetcorn.

Elote Grilled Corn £6.5

Elote Grilled Corn £6.5

It’s impact was enormous. I resisted Freudian interpretation. But I did need a wet one to wipe myself clean. It was delectable, a smoky flavour to the corn from the grill plus more in the paprika. And a rich cheesy topping in case you wanted to indulge. I did. And so much fun to pick up and devour.

Avocado with spring veg and mascarpone dressing.

Avocado with spring veg and mascarpone dressing £7.5.

Hands man ordered well, a plate of spring greens, including a whole half of an avo; dressed in a mascarpone dressing. Spring onion ends, too. Dirty. Me likey.

Sweet potato gnocchi, smoked buttermilk, pecan gremolata £11

Sweet potato gnocchi, smoked buttermilk, pecan gremolata £11

On well informed recommendation, we both had the Sweet potato gnocchi. I enjoyed the gnocchi, and the grilled baby gems that came with it were quite a treat. But found the whole thing a bit too oily. Sadly, it was the only veg main choice too.

Luckily, the sides were killer, especially the green chilli mac n cheese. One of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Green chilli mac & cheese. £4.5

Green chilli mac & cheese. £4.5

And then the deserts. The pictures almost speak for themselves. The Bitter Chocolate tart was TOTAL foodporn.

Bitter chocolate pie with soured cream £5

Bitter chocolate pie with soured cream £5

But I loved (and I don’t use that word lightly), the salt caramel ice cream sandwiched between two perfectly soft choc peanut cookies. I picked it up, stuffed it in my gob, then fetched myself another lemon scented wet wipe. Bliss.

Ice cream sandwich £5.5

Ice cream sandwich £5.5

The strength of the desserts and the sides far outweighed my gripe about the Gnocchi, I really rated this place, and would have even more so if there was a second veg main. Rita’s is welcoming and fun, serves food to be enjoyed not just for it’s taste, but the eating of. After all, fingers if dirtied, are easily wiped clean.

4 / 5

Get your hands dirty at @RitasDining

Rita’s Dining

175 Mare Street, Hackney, London E8 3RH
Phone: 020 7251 9032
Web: ritasbaranddining.com

Reviewer: Jared, July 26, 2014

Square Meal

Rita's Bar & Dining on Urbanspoon

Freestyle diary: #ShopFreeWeek

Prep now, use later. Lentils, leavening bread, caramelised onions.

I took a little week out just lately, went to the country and totally switched off. No phone, no twitter. Not much of anything really. I had a real detox from the noise, tweets and mobile devices of modern living. It was bliss.

When I got back, handsman helpfully pointed out that perhaps my kitchen was in need of a detox too. I took a peak in the cupboards. Loving a culinary challenge, I took his feedback on board, and decided to have a #ShopFreeWeek.

The rules were simple:

  1. No food shopping.
  2. Cook/Eat at home.
  3. Do a little clearing out.

I’ll just get it out there: I had quite a lot more than I realised. Rose water expired in 2012. Persian rose flowers which I thought were still good, but weren’t. Three types of fruit syrup or reduction in the freezer. At least 1kg of flour and 2 separate sealed containers of icing sugar, both of which I had forgotten about.

From left. A secret weapon: salad growing on the balcony. A handicap: the fridge was almost empty.

From left. A secret weapon: salad growing on the balcony. A handicap: the fridge was almost empty.

And while I’m bearing all, I must admit to one cheating moment: I forgot I had a veg box delivery scheduled; and a secret weapon: the massive container of lettuce and rocket growing on my balcony.

But for the rest of the week, I stuck to the rules!

Here are some highlights.

It started with salad

There were plenty of salads. This one, with cannelli beans, pine nuts and the grilled artichokes that had been in a jar in the cupboard, hiding. I topped with some mint flowers.
2014-07-21 16.26.02-1

Prep for later

I often do this, just get a whole lot of things prepped. Not knowing what they might be needed for. I roasted two heads of garlic and caramelised three red onions. I wasn’t sure what, but figured they’d come in handy.

Prep now, use later. Lentils, leavening bread, caramelised onions.

Prep now, use later. Lentils, leavening bread, caramelised onions.

Breaking bread

With time to spare I decided to bake some bread. Two batches, one with kalamata olives, another with the caramalised onions.

The first batch with olives. A bit of an experiment.

The first batch with olives. A bit of an experiment.

The second, was an improvement on the first. If you will. Caramalised onion, plus rosemary. I added a little extra salt and let it leaven longer. It was lighter, tastier.

The second, was an improvement (if you will). Caramalised onion, plus rosemary. I added a little extra salt and let it leaven longer. It was lighter, tastier.

Plenty of pasta

I’ve always got tinned tomatoes in the cupboard and dried pasta. So I mixed a bunch of tomatoes up into a super rich tomato sauce with plenty of smoked paprika and a touch of chilli. I had some on fettuccine, but kept some for later. Such sauces always come in handy.

Fettuccine with smokey tomato sauce.

Fettuccine with smokey tomato sauce.

There were always going to be a lot of beans

Veggie kitchen + using up dry goods can mean only one thing right? Plenty of beans. But they were put to good use.

This roast garlic hummus was sensational. Six cloves of garlic, roasted, then blended with chickpeas, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and tahnini.

Roast garlic hummus in the making.

Roast garlic hummus in the making.

Some brie, the garlic hummus, bread and artichoke salad were great picnic snacks, but I needed a lentil, bean and basmati salad to make it go a little further. Dressed with fresh chives (again from the balcony), dried chilli flakes, white vinegar, sesame and groundnut oils.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to stop at M&S before your picnic.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to stop at M&S before your picnic.

Waste not want not

And again, not wanting to waste anything. I saved half the basmati salad and made a lentil ragu with the rest of the smokey tomato sauce. It sure did me for lunch the next day.

Smoked tomato lentil ragu, basmati and broad been "pilaf".

Smoked tomato lentil ragu, basmati and broad been “pilaf”.

Let them have cake

Perhaps most shocking, was I had all the ingredients for a delicious cake. Some orange and cardamom syrup was in the freezer, along with some plums I had stewed. Together with my regular dry stores, I had all the makings for a fab cake: Orange and Cardamom almond cake with Plum and Pistachio frosting.

A sugar high to end #shopfreeweek.

A sugar high to end #shopfreeweek.

What a week. The scariest thing is, I’ve hardly made a dent in the dry cupboard. Perhaps I should do this again!

@Platterform launch @hackneyempire

The night was warm, the night was young and the night was definitely loud. In a throbbing corner of the Hackney Empire, pop-up veterans Platterform have moved on from their trademark rooftop dining to a new venture which combines music, food and art – think Copacabana meets Clapton. On launch night, a DJ was enthusiastically pumping out tunes as people spilled out onto the road outside, clustering round the bar and snacking on foot-long prawn crackers, certainly not something you see every day.

We were ushered upstairs to a narrow mezzanine area to try the evening food menu, a global list of spicy, spiky sharing plates which take you from Mexico to Vietnam. Via Tokyo, it appeared – as a lady dressed in full Geisha regalia carefully poured out what looked like tea, but turned out to be pots of oolong heavily laced with a mix of Kamm and Sons, aloe vera and ginseng. Good and bad for you at the same time.

A lady dressed in full Geisha regalia carefully poured out what looked like tea...

A lady dressed in full Geisha regalia carefully poured out what looked like tea…

Plates of food arrived, starting with ‘snacks’: a selection of vividly coloured dips, beetroot and butternut squash and babaganoush with some charred strips of flatbread to scoop them up – irresistibly packed with flavour, and the perfect vegetarian dish which was almost too good to share. Some flash-grilled squid was heady with smoke: little salt fish fritters were lapped with a hot scotch bonnet mayonnaise, while Vietnamese summer rolls came stuffed with spicy prawns and some crunchy shredded veg – there was a veg-only version too. For spice lovers, there were mini roti breads topped with a neat pile of beef rendang, cut with a scatter of pickles.

Beetroot dip topped with  curd and Hazelnut

Beetroot dip topped with curd and Hazelnut

There was more to come: some sticky ribs coated in a chilli-laced barbecue sauce and then my favourite, little corn pancakes known as arepas, topped with black beans, avocado swirled with queso fresco and a fresh tomato salsa. Another fine vegetarian choice from a place happy to accommodate most menu requests – even my chilli allergy.

Little corncakes known as arepas

Little corn-cakes known as Arepas

My (non-teetotal) friends tried a selection of cocktails – including a ‘Jerk and Stormy’, which combined rum with jerk bitters, and a tequila daringly mixed with guava and baobab.

A (passionfruit) Jamm and @kammandsons in the making.

A (passionfruit) Jamm and @kammandsons in the making.

Platterform’s phase three promises all sorts of events throughout the day as well as providing a meeting point for the east London creative community and music lovers. The aim, they say, is to turn Hackney Empire into “one of London’s most pioneering cultural institutions”. There’s certainly no lack of ambition. And judging from the happy, buzzing crowd enjoying the food and drink and sounds on launch night, no lack of imagination, either.

A tropical paradise on Mare Street. Hackney: how you’ve changed.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for numerous UK food blogs. She is quite particular about the quantity of toffee sauce served on her sticky date pudding.


 

@Platterform launch @HackneyEmpire

Platterform #Stage3

Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, Hackney, London
E8 1EJ

Phone: 020 8510 0792
Web: http://www.platterform.com/

Reviewer: Felicity Spector, July 9, 2014

Easy #Chickpea and Carrot Salad (contains #Recipe #Foodporn)

chick_pea_carrot_salad_lime_dressing

Usually when I free-style something it takes a bit of refining before it’s ready to be a published recipe. This salad, was an exception. It just worked. Maybe I’m getting good at this or something? What’s more, it was SUPER easy.

Free, what? If you’re new to this free-styling business let me give you the low down. In short, I make up stuff. Usually from what’s in my veg box and what’s the cupboard. (See: Stocking the larder).

Chickpea and Carrot Salad with Lime and Garam Masala dressing

Ingredients

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 small carrots, peeled and julienned (see tip, below)
4 salad onions, cleaned and sliced thinly on a sharp diagonal
2 tsp nigella (black onion) seeds
1/2 tsp dried parsley

Dressing
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil (not olive oil)
juice of half a lime
1/2 tsp palm sugar
1 tsp garam masala
pinch of salt

Method

I like to begin by prepping all the veg and adding it to a large flat tray. You could skip this step and just go for the serving bowl, but I like to get my hands in, experiment with flavours, etc, so this is where I started.

Carrots, salad onions and chick peas, prepped and ready.

Carrots, salad onions and chick peas, prepped and ready.

Sprinkle the carrots with Nigella and the chick peas with the dried parsley. Toss them around to coat. This just gives individual ingredients a bit more colour and texture.

Mix all of the dressing ingredients into a jar. Shake, taste. Adjust as necessary, likely you’ll need more sugar or salt, depending on your tastes. If your Garam Masala isn’t so fresh, you might need to boost that.

Toss until dressed, serve.

Tip: I think the easiest way to Julienne carrots is either with a mandolin, or if you want funky curls, get yourself one of these Gefu’s. They are just great.

I’m also adding this recipe to Credit Crunch Munch: all the ingredients for this dish come in at a steal! Created by Helen and Camilla the challenge is being hosted by Sarah from Maison Cupcake this month.