Food: Labours of love

Some recipes are just too good to be thrown together. By Simon Hopkinson
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I feel there must still be some of you who like to cook complicated dishes. Like me, you will look forward to a happy Saturday morning's shopping: choosing your produce with care and excitement, lugging it home and putting it neatly away into cupboard and fridge. Then, almost immediately, getting it out again, this time in the right order. The attending-to can now commence, with surfaces, implements and peace of mind all in order. It has to be just so, don't you think? And we are happy in the knowledge that this is cooking in hours rather than minutes.

But when did you last see an introduction to a recipe that states, "Don't even think of attempting this dish if you don't want to cook all day long"? More often, and usually without the slightest attempt to interest the cook in how the dish will taste, the premise will promise that, "This tasty Mediterranean snack is simplicity itself." The ingredients, nevertheless, will run something like this: sliced and chargrilled chicken breast with seared leeks, chopped black olives; tomato concasse (prepared, of course, from vine-ripened fruit); a whip of fromage blanc; anchovy fillets; caperberries; extra virgin olive oil and the inevitable splash of balsamic vinegar.

What is it about these dishes that annoys me so? Well, apart from anything else, they are nothing whatsoever to do with cooking. They might well be seen as being "composed", but then a split doughy bun, with ketchup, onion, a slice of dill pickle and a warm beef patty, is composed (I enjoy such a thing from time to time, with some of those delicious, thin, curiously sweet, un-potato-like chips and a carton of freezing cold milk), but it ain't cooking.

So here are a couple of recipes for those who enjoy a day in the kitchen. I have chosen them with the time of year very much in mind: a sunny day, the windows flung open, shorts and T-shirts, a Pimm's at noon, Sancerre cooling in the fridge and lunch in the garden.

Chilled beetroot consomme, serves 6

2 small pig's totters, split in half by the butcher

1kg chicken wings, chopped up

150g carrots, peeled and chopped

150g celery, chopped

150g onions, peeled and chopped

150g leeks, trimmed, chopped and rinsed

2 bay leaves

4 cloves

1 x 500g carton (or the equivalent from tins) chopped tomatoes

312 litres water

500ml red wine

1 tbsp redcurrant jelly

1 beef stock cube

1 large raw beetroot, unpeeled, but well scrubbed

3 large raw beetroot, peeled

600g minced beef

3 egg whites

I tsp salt

to serve

sour cream

chopped chives

Put the first 14 ingredients into a large pan and slowly bring to a simmer. A great deal of froth will form on the surface, which you should spoon off into a bowl. The whole beetroot is included in this basic soup stock purely to be cooked through, so keep an eye on it; it is tender and ready when the skin can be rubbed off easily with a thumb movement. Whip it out then, and leave to cool. The stock should simmer for two-and- half hours.

Strain through a colander straddling another large clean pan. Allow to drip at its own pace for 20 minutes. Lift off any fat from the surface using a ladle and sheets of kitchen paper. Strain once more through a very fine sieve back into the first pan, rinsed clean. Leave to cool.

Grate the beetroot into a bowl (use a food processor if you have one) and mix together with the beef, egg whites and salt. Whisk into the cold stock and, very slowly indeed, bring up to a simmer and leave to blip and murmur for 1 hour. The beef/beetroot/egg white mixture will form a crust on the surface, and this is what will clarify the stock, magically transforming it into a clear broth.

Make sure that this beef mixture does not attach itself to the base of the pan, stick there, and burn. I only say this because it has happened to me more than once. To ensure it doesn't, run a wooden spoon gently over the bottom of the pan as the soup is coming up to a simmer, but do then leave the solids alone to do their work. You will also notice, from time to time, that the liquid will flow up through the crust. This is fine.

Once the hour is up, switch off the heat and allow the consomme to settle. Make a hole in the surface with a ladle and lay the dug-out piece of the crust on the surface. Carefully ladle out the clear red liquid from beneath, and pour it through a double layer of muslin fitted into a sieve, suspended over a scrupulously clean bowl. Keep going to the bottom of the pan (it does not matter if a few solids end up in the muslin). Leave to drip. Let the consomme cool. Place in the fridge.

Once it has chilled, you may notice a few fat globules on the surface. Scrape these off and wipe the surface with damp kitchen paper. Peel the cooked beetroot and finely dice. Gently turn through the jellied consomme with a whisk to break it up into a manageable slurry. Do not do this too vigorously, as this will cloud the jelly. Ladle into chilled bowls, spoon over a little sour cream and sprinkle generously with chives.

Egg mousse with cold curried dressed prawns, serves 6-8

If you have ever made Coronation chicken, you will recognise the method here for making the sauce for the prawns.

for the bechamel sauce

400ml milk

12 small onion, peeled and sliced

2 cloves

1 bay leaf

salt and a few white peppercorns

a scraping of nutmeg

40g butter

40g flour

12 large fresh eggs, boiled for 7 minutes exactly, then cooled under cold running water for 5 minutes

4 leaves gelatine

75ml dry sherry

300ml mayonnaise

a little salt and freshly ground white pepper

a few good shakes of Tabasco

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 dsp anchovy essence

150ml double cream, loosely whipped

for the cold curried prawns

600g cooked whole shell-on prawns (frozen is fine)

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp curry powder

1 heaped tsp tomato puree

100ml white wine

100ml water

1 tbsp mango chutney

juice of 2 limes or 1 large lemon

100ml of double cream

1 tbsp finely chopped mint

First make the bechamel. Heat together the milk, onion, cloves, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns and nutmeg. Simmer for a couple of minutes, cover and allow the flavours to mingle for about 15 minutes. In another pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Make a roux and gently cook the butter and flour together for a minute or two, but on no account allow it to colour. Strain the milk into the roux and vigorously whisk together until smooth. Now, on the lowest possible heat, put the sauce to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain into a bowl, cool, and cover with clingfilm, which helps to prevent a skin forming. Put aside.

Put the gelatine leaves into a bowl and cover with cold water to soften. Shell the eggs and chop finely or, if you have a mouli-legumes, force the eggs through the coarsest "grater" disc into a bowl. (I have been told that certain models of this marvellous contraption don't include this disc, which I find is the most useful one. Look in the box before you buy, is my advice.) Anyway, drain all the water off the gelatine and put the now squashy leaves into a small pan with the sherry. Warm through until melted but do not boil. Cool for a few minutes, then mix thoroughly into the bechamel with a whisk. Fold in the mayonnaise and also the seasonings, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and anchovy essence until well amalgamated. Put to chill in the fridge until wobbly but not completely set. Fold in the loosely whipped cream and pour into a lightly oiled dish or individual ramekins. Put into the fridge once more to set, covered with clingfilm, for at least 3-4 hours.

To make the cold curried prawns, first remove the shells and heads. Place the prawns on to a plate and put the shells into a pan with the oil. Heat gently, together with the onion and garlic. Cook for three or four minutes over a moderate heat, until these items smell good together and are well coloured. Add the curry powder and fry gently for a little longer, until the spices give off a toasted aroma. Stir in the tomato puree, and add the wine, water, chutney and citrus juice. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook gently for 20-30 minutes. Strain through a colander - pressing down well on all the solids - into a clean pan, and reduce until it has the consistency of thickish soup. Add the cream, mix in well and bring back to a simmer. Cook for a few more moments until nicely homogenous, then strain once more, this time through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in the chopped mint while still hot. Leave to cool.

Turn out the egg mousse (or mousses) on to a serving dish. Dress the prawns with the cooled curry sauce and spoon over the mousse. Eat with the inner hearts of the nicest lettuces you can find. Just make sure they are green lettuces, crisp and fresh, with no frills or silly red bits

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