Monday, 18 January 2010

wintry letter to Nigel

Dear Nigel,

Freezing winter days urge me to eat something rich, filling, but not stodgy. So I decided to make cream pasta, following your cookery suggestions in the BBC TV series, “Simple Suppers”.

Well, I replaced chopped sausages with hand-rolled meatballs because to get hold of “good” quality sausages are not easy in my surrounding environment in Tokyo. Moulding plenty of edible balls is time-consuming, but the plain and repetitive action brings peace of mind in this floating world rather than causes a nervous breakdown... believe me.


* Serves 2
200g penne (or any other pastas as you like)

250g minced pork
1 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 tsp rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

200ml single cream
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
2 tsp Parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra to serve
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
A dash of white wine
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1. To make the meatballs, mix the minced pork, breadcrumbs, milk, Parmesan and rosemary together in a bowl until evenly combined. Season with salt and pepper, mixing with your hands.

2. Shape the dough into around 45 small balls (...phew!) and place on a tray.

3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the meatballs and fry for 5 minutes, swirling frequently. When browned all over, remove from the pan and lay on kitchen paper.

4. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Stir the onion until softened and add the meatballs, flat-leaf parsley, Parmesan, Dijon mustard and wine. Then, pour the single cream and simmer for 5 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Meanwhile, boil the penne. Bring a deep pan of salted water to the boil. Add the penne and cook until al dente according to the packet instructions.

6. Drain the penne, reserving a little of the cooking water, and toss with the sauce. Add a little of the cooking water if the consistency of the sauce is too thick.

7. Serve immediately, sprinkled with extra Parmesan and parsley.

1. The point of this recipe is to keep the meatballs almost “tiny” like a teaspoonful size to balance with the penne.
2. In the process of #4, you can add Dijon mustard as well as its grainy version as Nigel does. Yet, my personal palate is happy with only the former.

Nigel, I really fancy your honest, healthy and uncomplicated approach on daily food. Your latest book, “Tender: volume I”, which is my current read, is not just about growing, cooking and eating vegetables in a not-vegetarian-but-omnivorous way. Your writing style and photography heal my stressed soul, indeed!

Last but not least... Nigel Slater is the most successful food writer and cook in Britain.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

noodle salad, please!

In Japan, Chinese cuisine has been coexisting side by side with the Japanese counterpart. I know that they’re eaten around the globe, but our culinary relationship is a lot closer.

The number of Chinese restaurants is beyond your imagination just in Tokyo. (Most are Cantonese while Mandarin and Szechwan are minor.) They come in many ranges from swanky dinings situated in shopping precincts, through cheap chains such as “Bamiyan” and “Hidaka-ya” to local eateries run by Chinese descendants. Delis and food floors don’t exist without selling assorted Chinese savouries.

Chinese meals which have been long favoured by Japanese are diverse too, including "酢豚" (sweet sour pork), "麻婆豆腐" (mabo tofu), "乾焼明蝦" (bean curd Szechwan) and "青椒肉絲" (pepper steak). These recipes are modified to be less spicy (and less anisey) so as to cook easily in Japanese household as well as adapt for our palate. It’s no surprise to find that they are served together with Japanese dishes on a daily table.

Chuka-fu (Chinese-style) salad” is also one of popular recipes in Japan. My twist here is more japanised, as light in taste as possible.


* Serves 4
50g dried “green bean” vermicelli noodle (better use neither “potato” nor “rice” vermicellies, which are out of al dente when boiled)
70g carrot, thinly shredded
100g cucumber, thinly sliced
2 “fresh” shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tbsp chopped spring onion (as an alternative of Japanese “banno-negi”)
1 slice of hum, thinly shredded (unless you’re veggy)

2 tbsp soy sauce
1&1/2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2-1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 dried red chilli, deseeded and chopped

Small handful of coriander leaves

1. In two small bowls, place the carrot and cucumber respectively. Toss with a pinch of salt each, leave them until softened (approx. 10 min.) and drain under cold running water. In the meantime, parboil the shiitake mushroom for 10 seconds. Remove excess water from each vegetable with kitchen paper. Set aside.

2. Cook the vermicelli in a pan of boiling water for 3-5 minutes (or follow the instruction of your vermicelli) until just about tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water, cut in proper length and wipe up water with kitchen paper.

3. Combine all the ingredients of the dressing in a large bowl. Add the carrot, cucumber, shiitake, hum, spring onion and vermicelli, and mix together with the dressing.

4. Leave them for 15 minutes so that the vermicelli and other ingredients can absolve all the flavour.

5. Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve.

1. I recommend a mandoline to cut the carrot and cucumber. It gives the visual beauty to your dish, but, be careful of your finger!
2. In case your cucumber is too watery, scoop out the seedy part with a teaspoon.
3. You can also use wood-ear mushroom (dried or fresh) as an extra veg. The texture is really interesting!
4. If you prefer more Szechuan or powerful flavour, add a bit of garlic, Chinese chilli oil and huajiao (Szechuan pepper). Plus, try Chinese black vinegar in place of rice vinegar.

Being in tourist mode, I may visit “Chuka-gai” (Chinatown) in Yokohama. The one-hour train trip from Tokyo offers an opportunity to enjoy authentic dim sum, porridge or tea. Exotica! It however doesn’t really happen because there’re already enough food spots before reaching there...
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