Life has been getting in the way generally the last few weeks. It hasn’t left much time for posting or visiting your blogs, but I’m playing catch up this week.
Last week we managed a speedy hop over the channel. Well, under the channel, to be more precise as we travelled via the Eurotunnel. We spent a night in Boulogne-Sur-Mer and stayed in the old town – very picturesque but I can’t get the photos off my phone to show you. We also stocked up on lots of wonderful wine, cheese and other delicious goodies like all good Englishers on a “booze cruise”. So many wonderful things to choose from and I had to smile as I bought some freshly sliced beef carpaccio – thin slices of raw beef which I served over a salad with griddled asparagus and drizzled with lemon oil. (If you want a chuckle at my not so successful attempt at making octopus carpaccio, take a look at this post).
I was smiling because in England a few weeks ago with some pals we went to a Steak Grill and one of us ordered a burger which they wanted served rare. “Sorry” we were told “local restrictions only allow us to serve minced beef when it is cooked through”. Couldn’t they rely on the quality of the beef they buy and their suppliers we asked? “Legislation” we were told. So a finger up to whoever in England decides how we should eat our meat, and a big round of applause to our French cousins for letting us make our own choices.
In an effort to work off some of the cheese calories we had consumed, yesterday we took the pups off to nearby Beachy Head for a walk.
Perhaps not such a good idea to visit this beautiful headland with amazing views across the south coast on quite such a windy day, but (as my granny used to say), it certainly blew the cobwebs away!
As a child celebrations were always marked with great big meals for friends and family. Starters were a giant “antipasto” – the dish before the main meal. This became more elaborate the bigger the crowd and the grander the celebration.
Of course, the temptation was to fill up on the antipasti and then bemoan the fact that we were too full to enjoy the pasta, the meat, the fish, the cheese and salad and the desserts that followed. A lucky predicament to be in.
My mum was great at pickling and grilling vegetables, a mainstay on the Italian table. But for me the highlight was always her seafood salad. Back in the day it wasn’t as easy to buy affordable, fresh seafood as it is nowadays. And to be honest, even now it’s still a luxury and for many people, living far from the coast, it’s not always available. This great thing about this dish is that, as you’re packing it full of so many fresh and zingy flavours, frozen seafood is fine. Yes, you heard it here, don’t be ashamed of making your seafood salad with frozen seafood – just be sure you defrost and cook with care and store chilled until serving. No one will be any the wiser!
Another great thing about this dish is that quantities are not important. If you can’t get squid, add octopus, if you can’t find mussels, leave them out or add a few more prawns. It’s up to you, so this is not really a recipe, just an inspiration for you to mix it up your way. What is important is to make it ahead, at least a few hours, or even overnight to allow the dressing to soak into the seafood and the flavours to develop.
For the seafood mix, use peeled king prawns, small prawns, sliced squid or baby squid and mussels. Ensure all the fish is cleaned and defrosted and well drained if necessary. Chop up a couple of cloves of garlic and reserve.
For the dressing make up a vinaigrette with two thirds extra virgin olive oil, one third acid (I use part lemon juice and part white wine vinegar), a sprinkle of sugar, half a teaspoon of made up mustard (or ¼ teaspoon of dried mustard powder) and salt and pepper. Put it all into a jar and shake it up well.
As a main course for 2 people, one tin of drained cannellini beans and two sticks of celery finely chopped.
For the salad a mix of finely chopped lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, and flat leaf parsley. For garnish and flavour at the end, some finely sliced hot chilli pepper and the zest of a lemon.
Keep the seafood separated out (each item takes a slightly different time to cook). In a wok or large frying pan add some olive oil and the garlic. Heat the oil gently and add the king prawns. Cook until the prawns have turned pink and the garlic is just starting to turn brown. Spoon out the prawns and garlic into a large bowl. Add more oil if necessary (no more garlic) and stir fry each of the seafood ingredients and add to the bowl. Mix the seafood together and allow to cool. Don’t worry if you are left with some lovely fish flavoured juices at the bottom of the bowl, these will add flavour to the dressing. If you are using pre cooked seafood, just mix it all together and move onto the next stage.
After the seafood has cooled down, add the celery and beans and pour over the dressing. Mix well and chill for a few hours or overnight.
When you are ready to eat, bring the seafood and beans back to almost room temperature and add your salad ingredients. Mix, taste and adjust the seasoning. Plate up and garnish with the chilli and lemon zest.
Perfect as a filling main course, a special starter or as part of a celebration antipasto. Buon appetito!
A typical tapas here which offers the best from the sea and the best from the salad garden is a Salpicón de Mariscos. We also enjoy it as a light lunch or supper dish or a starter. Of course, there are many ways of making it, depending on what you have available. Avocado? Yes, put some in. Don´t like cucumber? Leave it out.
Here´s my version which I also made a lemon vinaigrette for. Typically though it would just be dressed with salt, white wine vinegar and olive oil.
Serves four as a starter or two as a main course.
Vegetables (all to be chopped into roughly 1cm squares)
Two long thin green peppers or one green bell pepper
Half a large red bell pepper
One medium red onion (or a sweet white onion). Tip…if you thinly slice and then leave in iced water for about 30 minutes and then drain before adding to your salad, it will remove any harshness of flavour
One small cucumber, partly peeled
Two carrots peeled and cut into thin strips with a peeler (this is not typical, but I enjoy the crunch and colour) and then cut into smaller pieces
One large salad tomato (add this just before serving)
Two heaped tablespoons of chopped flat leaf parsley
A mixture of cooked prawns, octopus, mussels – I had about 2 cups in total
One clove of crushed garlic, half the juice of a lemon, olive oil (you want 3 measures of oil to one of lemon), salt, pepper, half a teaspoon of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of English mustard powder (or use half a teaspoon of made up mustard)
Also – the grated zest of one lemon
Mix together the salad and seafood. If you are using tomato (and/or avocado) add just before serving.
Shake the dressing ingredients in a jar, taste and adjust seasoning to your preference. Pour over the salad and mix gently.
This benefits from sitting somewhere cool (but not cold) for at least an hour before eating. Otherwise you can make ahead, store in the fridge and then remove it an hour before serving. Add the tomatoes and/or avocado if using, grate over the lemon zest and give it one final stir.
Have plenty of crusty bread to hand to mop up all those lovely lemony juices.
Now, don´t go getting all squeamish on me, because today I´m going to explain how to cook an octopus! This is a dish which traditional comes from the north west of Spain in the autonomous community of Galicia. It sits on the border with northern Portugal and has both an Atlantic and a Bay of Biscay coastline.
This coming weekend we´re taking a little holiday and heading north to Galicia and Asturias, so I´ll be able to show you some photos of the “real deal” soon. In the meantime, I´ll just set about cooking one of Galicia´s most famous dishes, Pulpo a la Gallega.
First take your octopus….ok, so I appreciate some of you may not be able to get hold of a fresh, whole one, but if ever you do, you´ll know what to do with it. They´re white when raw and turn a beautiful purple colour when cooked. All the nasties (i.e. the muck and eyes) are contained in the head. If you´re game, just chop the head off, cut off the section with the eyes and scoop out the nasties from the inside. Give the whole thing a good rinse, including the tentacles and you´re done. Alternatively you can clean it after it´s cooked, but it leaves you with mucky stock. And no one likes mucky stock, do they?! Ok, that´s the messy bit over, the fainthearted can join us again now.
For info, you don´t need to beat your raw octopus against a rock until it´s tender like you may have seen in quaint fishing movies. Just freeze it first for a day or two and when it´s defrosted you´ll have a lovely tender octopus.
Put the octopus into a heavy saucepan and just cover with water. No need to add salt, this is done when it is cooked. I think this is where the Galicians leave it, but I like to add a little extra flavour which then gives me an amazing stock at the end to use in other dishes like Seafood Stew. I add a few tablespoons of olive oil, a bay leaf, a dried chilli and a couple of cloves – but this is entirely optional.
This will now need to be cooked slowly for up to a couple of hours (depending on how much your octopus weighs). You can´t really over cook it if you take it slowly, and you can either do this on the stove top or in a slow oven. Test it with a skewer in the thickest part of a tentacle – if it slides in as though through butter, you´re done! Some people do like to go for the quick and fast cook – I think it would be great in a pressure cooker, but I´ve never done it like that so I have no idea of timings.
Meanwhile you are going to boil about 2 medium potatoes per person in their skins. When you are ready to serve, peel the potatoes and roughly chop into smallish chunks. It´s traditionally served on round wooden platters, but I know some people won´t have one or prefer not to use them for hygiene reasons. We throw caution to the wind and are both, so far, still standing….but I promise not to tell anyone if you use a large flat plate.
Lift the pulpo out of the delicious stock and either chop with scissors into little pieces or chop with a knife. Make a base out of the cooked potatoes, pile the pulpo on top and now a good seasoning of sea salt, plenty of pimentón (hot or sweet according to your preference) and a good dousing in olive oil which will soak into those chunks of potato and pulpo.
It´s not a tricky dish to make, it can be pulled together for serving at the last minute and looks pretty impressive. Most importantly though it tastes amazing….go on, get brave with an octopus!
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....