My soon to be brother-in-law recently had some fantastic news at work so we decided to have that whole side of the family round for dinner. It was a big celebratory day and we all had a few glasses of red wine and bubbly and G and I made the food. We were eight people in the end spanning across four generations, a really lovely celebration. However, between the wine that was flowing, the kids running around and the congratulations on the day it didn’t leave much time for the cooking so I was very glad that I’d done almost all of the work the day before! The pork was already spiced and part cooked, the duck pastilla was made and all the bits and pieces for the dish were already done so it was really an assembly dish by the end.
However, my favourite bit about the meal was the elaborate description of the fancy dress costume my brother-in-law will have to wear for his job. To put this in context, he’s not a clown, or a performer or anyone you would normally associate with funny clothes. But in the fantastic way that Britain never ceases to amuse and astound, history dictates that lawyers should wear the same clothes that were apparently fashionable in the times of Elizabeth the First. Buckled shoes, wigs, robes – truly the whole kit and kaboodle. I’ve sworn blind I won’t post a photo so you’ll have to take my word that it’s very, very funny.
What with all the merriment and general good cheer, I didn’t want to be away from the table very long. I’d made a starter of broccoli soup with goats cheese and walnuts – I’ll definitely have to do a post about the soup one day because whenever I tell people it’s delicious, no-one ever believes me. To be fair, the only ingredients are broccoli, salt, pepper and water which does sound horrendous. However, it’s thoroughly fantastic and has a rich creaminess that defies logic. It was actually a recipe taught to us in cookery school to teach us how salt as a seasoning differs from a spice. It accentuates the natural flavour of the soup rather than adding its own. It also is totally do ahead, warm through and serve. However, I digress…
For dessert we had a gorgeous white chocolate and raspberry souffle that G made. Souffles are great because they impress the pants off everybody but are actually quite simple to make. However, they break my rule slightly because you have to whip the egg at the last minute, and if you’re like me and use a stupidly large whisk and copper bowl that can take a little while… although I promise we weren’t away from the table more than 10 minutes. You make the souffle base up to a day before, and to finish you whip the egg white (5 minutes), fold into the base, place in ramekins and put in the oven. Then you go back to the table and come back 12 minutes later.
The main course (which was meant to be the topic of the post but I find myself 500 words in and I haven’t talked about it yet. It was spiced pork loin with aubergine puree, duck pastilla, crackling, broccoli stalks, saffron fondant potatoes and an apple and pork sauce. The pork loin I had actually cooked in advance. I am lucky enough to have a sous vide, the importance being that you can cook meat to the exact right temperature and because it doesn’t have a chance to oxidise, hold it at that temperature until you sear the outside just prior to serving. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a sous vide you can’t really cook it in advance. However, depending on the loin size, it cooks in 15-20 minutes with 10 minutes resting so I often put it on just as I’m serving the starter, that way I only have to disappear just as people are finishing their starters to check on it and possibly take it out to rest.
As this post is already long, I’ll do other posts about the aubergine puree (here it is) and the sauce, both of which are some of my favourite things and quite versatile. The star of this meal, anyway, was the duck pastilla. It’s a little parcel of pastry, I used puff pastry (store bought as life is too short – having made puff at cookery school a few times it takes a day and isn’t any better than store bought), although filo would work brilliantly. This gem of pastry is stuffed with duck confit, pistachios, cranberries, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and a touch of cinnamon, quite frankly it’s delicious and would be as a snack or as part of a larger dish. I’d even happily make it as a giant pasty!
- Store bought puff pastry rolled to 5mm thickness
- 2x Confit duck legs (Here’s the recipe)
- Handful of cranberries (soaked in dry sherry)
- Half a handful of pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped
- Half a tbsp each of fennel and cumin seeds
- Tsp ground cinnamon (a cinnamon rich ras el hanout actually works very well)
- Half a tsp of sumac
- 1 egg for an eggwash
- Roll the puff pastry out, portion into squares of about two and a half inches and place (separated) in the fridge to chill.
- Shred the confit leg and mix with a touch of the duck fat to keep moist.
- Add the drained cranberries and the pistachios and mix thoroughly.
- In a dry pan, lightly toast the seeds to release the aromas (a few minutes) and add the to the mixture.
- Add the ground spices, taste and season. If a little dry add a little of the duck fat and reserved liquid in which you soaked the cranberries. Adjust the spicing if necessary.
- Roll into small balls and place each little ball towards one corner of each square of pastry. Fold the pastry diagonally to form triangles encasing the duck.
- Seal the pastry tightly, at this point you can stop and place in the fridge. The pastries will happily remain uncooked for a day or so in the fridge.
- When you want to serve, pre-heat oven to 190 celsius, brush each pastry with eggwash being careful not to drip onto the tray and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and pastry cooked through. Sometimes they take a little longer if your fridge is very cold. However, it’s actually best to cook from cold as the heat “shocks” the butter causing rapid air expansion which cause the pastry to puff up, it also prevents the butter from softening and damaging the laminated structure of the pastry.