Sometimes writing a blog feels a little bit like confession – or at least how I imagine confession might feel. Forgive me readers, it has been two weeks since my last posting. I’ve had my parents in town here in London – a rare treat as they live in Australia. It’s been really lovely to show them around how we live in our new house and we even managed a sneaky trip over the long weekend to Champagne to taste lots of different varieties of everyone’s favourite bubbly drink. We even managed to choose one for the Wedding and come back home to the happy problem of trying to store mountains of champagne. However, none of that detracts from the fact that I owe you some more recipes from my recent celebration of springtime. I’d been playing around a little before that meal about how to get the most out of vegetables and how to keep their flavour. This way of cooking carrots genuinely means you end up with something that is just _so_ … I suppose the only word is…”carrotty”.
In truth, that’s one of my favourite moments in cooking – when you make something so pure and so honest that it tastes more like its ingredients than the ingredients did in the first place. Think slow cooked tomato ragus or a really well cooked steak. They both have that intense feeling of being exactly what they are. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be simple or even recognisable by site. I’ve been lucky enough to go to some great restaurants and both Noma (Rene Redzepi’s restaurant in Copenhagen) and Fera (Simon Rogan’s restaurant in London) produce exceptionally technically complicated dishes which taste pure, simple and intense. Whilst my parents were here, we went to Fera and some of the dishes Simon Rogan and his team are turning out are truly incredible.
For me, I used two vibrant vegetable purées to act almost like a sauce and offset the meaty monkfish and spiced, nutty farro. They bound the whole springtime lunch together but in order to cope with such strong flavours they really needed to sing of what they were. It was here I remembered something I’d read in one of the myriad cookbooks G kindly puts up with dominating our living room (I think I’ve used all of them at least once…I think). This particular gem came from Heston Blumenthal’s book Heston at Home. He talks about how different vegetables retain their flavour differently depending on the liquid in which they’re cooked. For carrots, the chemicals that give them flavour dissolve in water but not in fats like oil or butter. This means that they are more likely to retain their flavour if they’re not boiled but rather cooked in a little butter. In fact, what I do is put sliced carrots in a pot with a knob of butter and salt over a very low heat and covered with a lid and foil so the carrots steam in their own liquid.If you’re worried that you can’t get the heat low enough and the carrots will burn then add a little water – really as little as possible to stop the carrots caramelising, a tablespoon will do. The absence of lots of water locks in the flavour of the carrots. A quick blitz and a little bit of a season and you’re off to the races.
For the peas you also don’t want to lose lots of flavour. In this case, the trick is how long you cook them for. Peas’ fresh taste disappears as they break down, this is why fresh peas out of the pod taste so much better than peas you’ve boiled for fifteen minutes. It’s also why I always use frozen peas and not fresh peas. Not only are frozen peas cheaper but they’re actually fresher, nowadays peas are flash frozen within hours of picking and this stops them breaking down. Fresh peas may in fact be days old and have lost far more flavour. So unless you’re eating them from the pod, which remains one of the best food experiences of all time, I would always recommend frozen peas. However, there are two tricks to using frozen peas and they both relate to cooking the peas for as little time as possible. Firstly, you want to cook your peas in rapidly boiling liquid for no more than a few minutes. Secondly, if you add frozen peas to boiling liquid, it cools it down significantly and this increases cooking time – so you should defrost the peas first. This is most easily done by taking the peas out of the freezer and placing them on a clean tea towel for 20-30 minutes. Honestly this makes all the difference! For my pea purée I cooked them in a little chicken stock, blitzed them and passed them through a sieve before seasoning.
I really hope you guys enjoy these recipes as much as I do! Both these purées can be kept in the fridge for up to a week and you only need to gently reheat them over a low heat to serve – that’s why I love them for dinner parties
- 1 kg carrots, peeled and sliced into thick rounds
- 1 large knob of butter
- If necessary, 1 tablespoon of water
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Place the butter and water (if using) in a heavy bottomed pan with a fitting lid and heat gently (a very low heat) until the water and butter have combined or just until the butter is melted.
- Add the carrots and season with salt and pepper
- Place a foil layer over the pan and put the lid on top, keep heat on a very low setting and cook the carrots for 15-20 minutes or until tender but not mushy
- Purée in a blender. if necessary, loosen with a little tepid water. If you want to increase the richness (I don’t find this necessary) add a knob of butter to the pan.
- Allow to cool slightly and then season with salt and pepper.
TIP: You’ll see I say to let the carrots cool slightly after blending. This dramatically alters the taste and will increase the “carrottiness” – you’ll end up needing less salt and it tasting better. If you want a more technical explanation, it alters the mouth feel as some of the fat and sugars (both naturally found in the carrot and in the small amount of butter) cool. This more creamy mouthfeel alters the way you taste the food (think cold stew versus hot stew).
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 2 cups chicken stock – depending on the strength of the chicken stock, I sometimes use equal parts chicken stock and water – you only need enough to cover the peas
- Sea salt
- Defrost the peas on a tea towel for 20 minutes
- Meanwhile place the stock (or stock and water) on to boil and when rapidly boiling, add the defrosted peas and cook for about 3-5 minutes or until tender but with a little bite
- Remove the peas with a slotted spoon and transfer to a blender, add a little reserved stock and blend on high for a full 1-2 minutes. Adjust the consistency by adding more stock – don’t season at this point
- (Optional) Strain the purée through a fine sieve or chinois, you will need to push the liquid through the sieve. This will remove the pea shells which otherwise leave the purée grainy
- Season the purée with salt